JMHS Hall of Fame Speech, in the cyberflesh

Way back in 1996 I graduated from John Marshall High School in Cleveland. About six months ago I found out that this year I was among the honorees for the school’s Hall of Fame. It seemed unlikely that I’d be able to make it to accept the award in person, but I wrote a speech for my sister Dawn to read at the ceremony.  Now I feel inspired to post it here, in part because I’ve been far too quiet in the cyber-place, in part because it serves well to illuminate my brain space. Despite the obstacles of the past three years I’m infused with surprising optimism and creativity, and I suspect I’ll have a lot more to share with all of you in the coming months.  Thanks again to Dawn for reading this, and to my mom for attending the ceremony alongside her.

“It’s a great honor to be part of the distinguished (and growing) list of John Marshall Hall Of Fame honorees. I’m also grateful that my sister, Dawn, volunteered to serve as my stunt double for the purposes of this speech. As a teacher, she still goes to school every day, so this is kind of her thing. Organizing myself into a speech is a challenge for me, since my preferred topics are rarely casual fair. My favorite subjects in seventh grade were the first Gulf war and pandas. In fourth grade, it was the Holocaust. Once a year I get an email from one former classmate or the other that begins, “remember how you used to always talk about Hitler and the holocaust?” Yes, I remember. Dawn probably also remembers, which is why she’s standing in front of all of you and I’m safely tucked 3,000 miles away.

Still, the instructions on the paperwork indicated that this is an audience that “will be very receptive to almost anything that you may say.” This is a dangerous statement in the wrong hands, and I happen to have two of them.

On one hand: In 2016, after riding on a boat for three shivering hours to the borders of Vancouver, BC, I had the honor of observing the unexpected formation of a super pod of orcas. The resident whales of Puget Sound joined with transient whales from two other pods for socialization; this event was closely supervised by the resident pod’s matriarch, Granny, who patrolled the waters with two sister whales that mirrored her every move. The Pacific was alive, with bold males performing stunts Sea World isn’t ready for, and with baby orcas surfing waves in perfect sync with their mothers, one giant, bold head breaking the surface next to a smaller, rounder head. The orcas surrounded the boat, communicating through sighs and clicks and whistles and sprays of water, and every human fell silent and lowered their cameras and phones to honor this sacred moment with our ancestors of the sea. And I wondered what their means of recording was, what allowed the patterns of sound to be passed on from Granny to the small round babies, and whether their brains preserved and transferred things in a way our brains also could, if we simply lowered our gadgets.

a wee orca sprout sneaks to the surface

The other (wrong) hand: This year I observed a total solar eclipse through paper safety glasses on a tulip and filbert farm in Woodburn, Oregon. Just before the ring of fire the sky took on a green-grey cast, and every insect and bird fell silent. The absence of buzzing and chirping made space for other sounds that usual serve as static underneath the chatter, like the whisper of wind across grass, the plunk of a dew drop splitting earth. There’s no way to record this lack of sound; you have to simply sit in it. The sun was nearly swallowed and it was safe to remove our glasses, and my eyes searched the ground for the promised shadow bands, and instead I found a bee, unmoving on my sleeve. It was possible to pet it, so I did, before returning my focus to the sky, for the remaining minute of totality. When the sun returned the bee flew away, and silence sunk into noise. Later, a gentleman from the Astronomy Society heard me talking about the bee, and told me, “Oh, that bee was asleep. During eclipses, they go to sleep.” A bee dreamed on me. This is amazing.

the most beautiful thing I’ve seen

 

Both hands are to tell you what I do: observe and record and dream. These are the ingredients of a writer, to me.

The third hand (when you are the wrong hands, you can have as many as you want) is insomnia, without which I’d be a completely different well-rested person observing different things.  Not sleeping creates this black mirror of time where the brain has the ability to notice things, but lacks the faculties to make complex decisions or perform physical labor. Sufferers of this affliction know that 4am is a beautiful hour to craft unrealistic goals that can only be achieved with the full cooperation of a large bank, several startled friends, and the department of public works. 5am is the crossroads, where you either dive deep into a haze of coffee and grumbled conversations with imaginary demons at bus stations, or you like, watch TV or something. My first stint with insomnia happened when I was seven, when I waited until my parents went to bed and then went downstairs to watch televangelists weep and plead with viewers for big dollar donations. The theater of the whole thing was fascinating, the rhythm of their language, the way repeating key phrases functioned as a drum beat to soften the skulls of listeners. I waited for it to seem convincing, and it didn’t come, and I couldn’t tell if it was because they didn’t pick the right word or because they didn’t mean it. So I decided to observe and record the televangelists themselves, and their perceptions about the fate of my immortal soul. I wouldn’t call it journalism, but I would call it my first personal essay.

When I went to school to share these opinions with a teacher who always seemed startled by me, she told me that she could see me getting somewhere, but that I wasn’t going to get there in a straight line – it would have to be spirals and circles. And insomnia is what coaches me through the spiral, because at 6am you are back where you were at 1am, and by 1pm, there you are. Tired.

My senior year at Marshall, which was also my only year at Marshall, was heavily defined by insomnia, which directly informed decisions to leave early or not enter the front doors at all. There was a lot of eating sloppy breakfasts at Denny’s, wandering around city parks, and then watching Gullah Gullah Island and napping. Sometimes I talked to my Internet boyfriend, who I only knew as Hideo723. It should go without saying that I did not go to prom. All this behavior might have been acceptable if we were stoners, but we were just tired nerds.

The only thing that startled me awake was Mr. Wasowski’s European history lectures, which included a lot of detail about Katherine the Great’s questionable romantic decisions. Mr. Wasowski was also the basketball coach, and had an animated teaching style that was half on the court, half in the classroom, which meant he was basically yelling historic anecdotes at us for forty minutes a day. It was awesome. An extra credit question was introduced with “ding ding ding ding dong dong” which seemed to activate some dormant brain chemicals capable of immediately producing the desired factoid. I salivated over the return of my papers and tests, which would serve as evidence that I remembered everything this dude said. I wanted to be his history MVP. My final grade in the class bordered on absurd, since I scored 100% on every test and also managed to snag every extra credit point. At the year-end award ceremony, Mr. W gave me a trophy for this, and let me tell you, the best introduction you could hope for comes from someone with a gravely voice who shouts as their default communication, grasping the podium and leaning forward to emphasize the spectacular nature of your academic achievement. The only thing missing was a drumroll; I wanted to run down the aisle like Rocky with my fists in the air. Instead I just walked up and accepted the award, and spent the evening pleased that I was graduating from a high school that actually gave awards for such things.

In fact, I often tell people that I only really had one year of high school, and that was my senior year at JMH. My original high school, John Adams, closed at the end of my junior year, and even though I felt connected to the people there, it had a puzzling way of operating, and if there was any encouragement to pursue academic excellence, I never saw it. I arrived at JMH having been in the top ten of my class, and had no idea. JMH never let me forget I was in the top ten, or that I wrote for the Plain Dealer, or that the SATs were coming up, or that a scholarship application was due. If I was willing to walk a little, they were going to push me to run. So I did, all the way to a full scholarship I never would have received if not for the assistance of the guidance counselors and teachers.

And I never would have survived college at all if it wasn’t for Mr. Lakovic (sp?), the first English teacher to ever give me a C on a paper. He told me in terse language that my writing was overly emotional and that I’d failed to answer the question. He asked where my thesis was, and I asked him, “what’s a thesis?” Then he threw my paper in the air. That’s my kind of teacher. A surge of glee rushed through me as it dawned on me: my writing was going to improve, and this guy was going to help me. He did, and my work in that class crafted a strong foundation for my future academic writing. And he did not get in the way of my preferences to observe and record and dream.

I live in Portland now, but when you grow up in Cleveland and attend Cleveland Public Schools, you never forget where you came from. For these reasons, I’m probably the least passive aggressive person in the Pacific Northwest, which is useful when bargain shopping and in parking situations. I can see Cleveland in my Polish nose, my suspicious eyebrows, and my affection for the underdog. Continuing to create, to achieve, to help others, feels like a commitment I agreed to honor a very long time ago. Again, I think of the pods of orcas, joining together from three different places, whistling and chirping and groaning to one another, each asking to be witnessed. Language and story reaches all of them, generation after generation, while every human witness takes a different something from the collective agreement to simply listen, and watch, and wonder. To observe and record, or just remember.

This is story. And it’s 3:15am, and I am tired, but not sleeping.

Thank you again for including me in the Hall of Fame. Buy thousands of copies of my book. (I really mean this part. We all need to get paid.)

 

 

It’s a Purple Cow, and I’m a self-published author

A friend of mine once got a tattoo. She’s a Taurus, and the tattoo was of a bull. She picked it off the wall of the studio, and adjusted the coloring. Within ten minutes of getting it, someone asked: “Why did you get a tattoo of a purple cow?” She pointed out that it’s obviously a bull. Look at the horns! Look at the septum! It was pointless; it became the question she’d field again and again, until she gave up and started saying, “It’s a purple cow.”

I think of this when people ask where I’ve published. I used to say, “I’m independently published!” By this, I hoped to summon the literary equivalent of Ani DiFranco: I didn’t go with a label, I made my own! I’m not Suzanne Vega! All I need is a wicked debut and the next thing you know, stadium shows!

It didn’t take long to note that no one thought about stadium shows. They thought I was talking about a tiny press at a college. A trendy start-up with a typewriter logo. The side project of a major literary magazine. Most publishers of this kind don’t launch the endeavor with their own novel.

Now I say, “I self published.” Then I sit back and wait for what I was trying to avoid: the smug expression of someone with a limited edition chapbook at a tiny publisher, four minutes from being out of print, who is finally fulfilling her self-righteous dreams. Better? Good.

Or maybe I wait for the bookstore to confess the “special section” already has a lot of titles. Or for a professor to say, “you’re not really published then?” Or for a fellow author to say, “did you try to get published first?” even if the entire first part of the conversation was about a publisher’s lack of marketing support and their unwillingness to publish the book’s sequel.

Then: “So…why did you decide to go that route?”

Well, because I’m a woman. When James Joyce writes a long, complicated but well-crafted sentence, he’s fashioned a genius. If I write a long one, I’m accused of making my readers work too hard. If Cormac McCarthy writes a short, gruff exclamation, it’s poetry. If I do, what kind of emotion are you trying to communicate here? If I write a personal essay, I’m asked to make it a memoir. If I like a black cover, I’m asked if there can be a fish on it, or a girl with her foot in the water, or maybe a sunset, a pair of sunglasses, a bonnet. Almost every female book cover looks like a douche commercial. If I write on dark subject matter, there’s questions of who my audience might be, and whether the book would even sell. And that’s the keyword: sell.  Those doing something dangerous and innovative who get book deals (and happen to be women) really hit the lottery. Anne Carson clearly has naked pictures of everyone. I would like to send her mine. Or they’re writing about sex, which is the only acceptable form of feminism. Equal pay? You’re so second wave. Lean in, or something.

Two options: write differently to sell, or write the book you want to write, and accept the fact that maybe no one will read it, maybe no one will buy it, maybe no one can even find it — maybe it’s just the book you write.

Terror. If the story is just for you, then why would you even write it down? Writing is about communication, to present ideas and pictures and dialog that another will receive. Writing without response is the literary equivalent of the tree falling in the woods riddle.

And this is followed by: should I trust myself to know what is best about my writing? Sure, I’ve experienced dozens of writing workshops and excellent mentors, I’ve got a BA and an MFA, I’ve learned tricks and techniques and tools, I’ve buffed and polished myself into confusion and insanity and back around to hilarious. Really? Should I trust myself? Now?

In moments like this, the only question that can get me to stand at my desk and start working is: What would Virginia Woolf do?

This is an easy answer. She’d write her book. She’d agonize over it. And stick her foot in her mouth ten times in between.

This is still what I do. And just like her, I find myself repeatedly adjusting and pacing as my life changes and I learn new things, so it’s so very hard to call a book done without calling the same curse from yourself.

The downside: when you write the book you want, and no one reads it, it might be more devastating than writing the book you kinda didn’t want to write and don’t care if anyone reads.

I wrote the book I wanted, with the cover I wanted, and the quotes I wanted on the back. It took twice as long as I’d anticipated, because blood was squeezed from every word. There was no editor to herd me away from the book and urge an obsessive hobby that resulted in winter wear. There was no fact checker to consult with scholars about a village of immigrants in 1960s Cleveland. To this day I have the privilege of saying that the end result is exactly what I envisioned, and I compromised nothing. This is an achievement. This is joy.

No one would review it; most newspapers even have policies against self-published books. The accolades I earned came exclusively from online sources kind enough to note their reactions on Amazon or Goodreads or Powell’s. Bookstores that sold out of copies didn’t restock it, and offered no reason as to why. Others were left saddled with a stack of something no one wanted, and had to ask me to retrieve them and quietly slink away. The neglect I fretted about receiving from publishers was now arriving from other outlets, and it had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with an inability to network and a deficiency of cash to pay someone to do it for me. After a year of being on some shelves but not enough, I was backing myself into my own bitter corner of self-published self-loathing, and lowering the gate with a dose of depressed laziness.

I got back on the purple cow after talking to my niece, Rayne, about writing. She’s doing a lot of the same things I did when I was 9, like filling one journal after the other, and writing a book series with character traits from different books put together like Mr. Potato Head. She’s got a leg up on me thanks to her illustration prowess, and every time I return to Cleveland she’s got another something finished to show off. When I talked to her about writing, she said, “I want to be a writer like you.” And my response was, “You ARE a writer.” I didn’t want her to think she had to wait for some secret initiation. It’s not something that’s granted through degrees or contracts or book sales. It’s something that’s announced by writing.

Oh yeah.

This reminder doesn’t fully resolve the stall. Self-publishing requires business savvy and social skills, two areas in which I’m woefully deficient. On a good day I can make it all the way to the end of a conversation without bringing up the special deformities of a little known disease, or starting a telephone slideshow of cat pictures. An ill-timed question about my book returns a stunned expression that suggests I’ve never considered what it’s actually about. It’s a miracle if I can twist this gobbledee goo down to something resulting in monetary exchange. I’m more manic than pixie and only dream girl if someone wakes up screaming, but I’m not sure you can buy a book in the middle of all that racket. Still, I should have cards to hand people or something.

The same holds true if I ever want to tangle with the publishing world that is the PUBLISHING WORLD, and hope for a contract that isn’t adjusted for self-esteem deficiency and impatience when working with lawyers. These are skills. They are learned, and I wish I could just buy them.

See above, about the shortage of cash. 

 

Afterbirth

Greetings from a coffee shop state of pseudo-slumber. Bright flaming ball of essential daily nutrients in the sky, winged ants springing from sidewalk cracks in clouds before they settle into kitchens, spiders prepping complex webs and bracing for Hobo accusations, and pale peaking flesh gliding down the street attached to mouths munching stories about bicycle parts and allergies.

This thumbs up is brought to you by the end of January, the end of February, the end of every awful month that seriously needs elimination from the calendar. There’s never been a better case for hibernation than a slow walk down a rain drenched street on a shivering day where every shop owner says fuck it and just closes at five to retreat to the nearest bathroom for a little private mutilation. The rest of us adopt yellow pallets and stone sunk eyes, characteristics previously thought confined to addicts and dystopian novel characters, trying to summon inspiration through a cocktail of Vitamin B and Vitamin D and herbal hoodoo woowoo alongside wanna-be sunlamps and cancerous tanning beds. These attempts to self-resuscitate are chronicled on blogs and tweets and facebook, because internet communication is the only acceptable sport for sanitary sorts who arrive at Portland’s borders and instantly fall antisocial and ill. It’s retreating to caves, coughing and brooding, waiting for the rain to make moats and moss and green scenes so we remember what we’re doing this for. I hate you I love you I hate you I love you.

This is my oldest Sid and Nancy romance.

I’d like to reveal all the excellent events that have unfurled in the past few months, but as I already mentioned January and February don’t actually exist except to file your taxes and force you to attend expensive parties. What I really did was rewatch all six seasons of the Sopranos, and then spend hours considering minor scenes that involved submersion in water and horses, and whether or not Tony traded places with death, and what it all means in terms of self-absorption and the level of denial required to ignore or participate in heinous things. Yeah, that’s it, like the Milgram experiment that explained how the Holocaust could have happened, with the dude being shocked and people still pushing the button and maybe crying and still pushing the button, and…

Still: television exists to remind us that we’re all going to die, and none of us are going to wish we had watched more things before it happened.

So: Last night I organized my selves into a skin and stood while other people sat and made talking noises while dressed as a blue Keebler elf. This is apparently known as a reading, and it took place at Rain or Shine Cafe on Division at 6:30, and I sold four books. Two were sold through the Square, which is a stamped size piece of science you plug into the larger rectangle used to microwave heads, and then money happens. This is a much better use of a smart phone than talking. If you haven’t yet received this fantastic device in the mail, I highly recommend signing up. For all the complicated technology I can’t grok, my brain meats totally tossed this salad without error, and for the first time since its purchase I dared to love my Android phone for the three more days I’ll have it.

The crowd was also neat-o, and contained many of the kind Kickstarter contributors that allowed Psychopomp Volume One to make it to print. A small part of each of the three sections was read to introduce each of the four characters to the herd. At the end of each section everyone pawed the ground and cried “Four legs good, two legs bad!” so I knew I was really on to something.

It went well, and I hope to do more things just like this in the future.

The kind words that followed the reading made me think an audio production of the book should be in the works. When working on this beast I read it aloud to myself anytime my apartment was empty, a tip dispensed by more than one of my writing professors at Ohio University. This is a great means of detecting punctuation errors, and measuring whether or not dialog sounds authentic or like something Bob Saget would say when he’s under contract at a major network. It also zeroes in on garbage words and phrases that are utterly out of place in a paragraph and therefore need to be deleted. I used to consider this heartbreaking, but if you’re a writer you’re always going to write more. Clinging to a phrase you hope will one day arrive as someone’s tattoo to the detriment of the chapter results in a lot of people with ink they don’t understand.

Otherwise, I’ve been in a state of afterbirth, trying to get my body back, knowing all the while that the minute I can pull off a 50 mile bike ride I’ll be pregnant with book again. I mean it, pregnant: The time spent working on it is weird aches and pains and hormonal surges while fielding questions about how far along I am and whether or not I’m ready for this. When the golem makes its painful escape there’s no expectation of having to feed it and water it and clothe it and take it all around town in one of those strollers that swallows the sidewalk, smiling and squeaking, “Excuse me! Don’t you want to hold my baby?”

Then comes the doubt: what if I created a dumbass? Why did I bring this THING into the world to defecate in its pants? It’s totally gonna throw a tantrum in the coffee shop, and I’m going to have to sit there and rub it on my boob while everyone averts their eyes while circling me like the sun. This is bullshit. Who can I get to watch this for me? Can I leave it at Center Camp at Burning Man while I cover myself in blinky lights and run at the fire? I’m the Joan Crawford of authors, wearing lacy nightgowns and painted-on eyebrows and the sneer of someone who hasn’t had a pleasant thought in a decade. One minor disappointment of little consequence and I’m a tabloid, beating it with wire hangers, complaining about ingratitude for all I’ve sacrificed and how no one appreciates nice things, before I leave my book with the nanny and escape for another bender.

Still: I’m on the verge of my Steve Martin moment, where the sour is replaced with the glassy-eyed smile that makes parents often love their children despite their tendency to break things.

In the coming months I’ll be weaning, sending out more review copies, getting the ebook online, booking more readings, and trying to get Psychopomp to take care of itself. Then, Channel Insomnia and Psychopomp Volume 2, and with any luck I’ll have a crowded house and will feel overwhelmed all over again, which is a much more wonderful thing to experience than a hollow, empty bookshelf.

 

A writerly update of sorts: Hardcover?

After almost two years of financial woe, illness, natural disasters, layout snafus, lost files, perfectionist editing, emotional turmoil, and overwhelming workload, the hardcover edition of Psychopomp has finally arrived. Hooray! Thus far I haven’t noticed a single copy with a page printed backwards, any strangely embossed spines, or any hidden pan-flute piping gnomes asking to be inserted into envelopes. If your envelope contains a gnome, it’s not my fault.

The interior layout of this book comes courtesy of one Mr. Clay Fouts, who used GIMP to make the formatting a bit prettier than what’s found in the softcover edition. The cover and dust jacket are the handiwork of Nolan Ashley and myself. You’ll also note some new quotes making their debut on the back, including a few plucked from kind Amazon reviewers who also granted me permission to use their names. I was particularly pleased to receive a quote from Jack Matthews, a former mentor and National Book Award finalist who also happens to be the inspiration for a professor character named Daryl Gates.

All are encouraged to send comments to amanda (dot) sledz (at) gmail (dot) com, because I really would like to know if you enjoyed reading. Thus far the only person with the guts to confess not liking it is my younger sister, who didn’t like the “three stories mashed together” style. Fair enough. It’s not for everyone. I hope it’s for you.

Should you find yourself declaring: “HEY! I want Volume 2!” know that I’m in the process of writing a few grants for myself, in hopes of earning sufficient funds for a month long hiatus from everyday life for the sake of Volume 2 completion. The goal is to complete it by January 2014…in Hawaii. Aloha!

There are some events coming up, starting with a reading at Rain or Shine Cafe on March 28th at 6:30PM. If you haven’t already given my author page a “like” button on Facebook please do. I’ve also been maintaining an author presence on Goodreads, so don’t hesitate to “fan” me there, too!

When I’m not embarrassing myself in front of literary sorts, I’m finishing up Channel Insomnia. Fans of memoir/essays I’ve written over the years may find themselves more drawn to this collection. Much of it was written almost accidentally when insomnia left me nothing to do but monkey slap my keyboard and wait for the sun to rise. This affliction tends to hit me the hardest during daylight savings crime, so this book will likely arrive at completion in April and go to print in May. I’m doing softcover and ebook exclusively, which makes it less useful as a weapon but more useful as a pillow. I always think of you.

I’ll close by saying: the most important asset to authors (particular the unknown sorts such as myself) are reviews and recommendations. If you have the time and inclination after finishing Psychopomp, please consider posting a review on Amazon, Goodreads, Powell’s, Barnes and Noble, your own blog, etc. Each review (especially on Amazon) increases the likelihood that it will appear as a “Recommended” book to readers of certain genres, which means more sales from people who don’t already know me. Recommend it to friends, leave it in a bus station, pass it on to a neighbor, or display it on a shelf with your other treasures. Of course, you don’t have to do these things, but it would be nice if you did. 

Again, thank you all so much for helping my first book find its way to print. Without your support, and the contract created by Kickstarter, I might have found cause to further procrastinate and hoard all my words on my hard drive. That would be a waste.

Thanks again, and enjoy!

Observation Station: Bus #20, 3:45PM

I fold myself into invisible spaces. Like a cat, my tail forgotten.

The man next to me is foam packed, bloated with winter. A crooked old man hand escapes his sleeve and pulls me from my hiding space. He points: “I want to murder those birds.”

Other men who are never not drunk barely hold themselves erect and have lived in these seats forever. Each wears flannel shirt and wool knit cap and missing teeth from intentions and accidents. Each has never been young, ghost locked at forty and remembering.

The bus stops and the smell of whisky and crackers staggers upright to challenge his prison. He yells at the door, neglecting to note the gesture required to opensaysme. Resting his forehead against the glass he yells DRIVER again and again until one man holds his jacket to keep the marionette from earning his mouth more empty spaces, while another holds open the door. He doesn’t recognize this crack team responsible for another day without a head injury. Waiting for him is a woman bright orange and shit talking and far away from her own AA coin, waving a giant pillowtop mattress sign, half turned to her drive-by audience.

I can’t picture this man drinking from a straw, or wrapping a present, or repotting a plant. I can’t imagine him looking at the lines in my hand and comparing them to his own, wondering if they overlap and if they do will they click to key so we can both remap. I can’t imagine him having questions for the pharmacist, asking for more foam on his latte, coloring as a way to relax.

He probably can’t imagine me at all.

Teenagers travel in packs, wearing insides out, congested with canned laughter. Heart shapes drawn on cheeks and decorating tights and desperation, while others announcing the discomforts of business casual balance tupperware containers emptied of sugary treats a little too close to my head.

Valentine’s Day helps women hate each other. Velour balloons announce confections and give my face another something to dodge. Fat wads of fast dying flowers peek out of backpacks and wink at the downcast face of the sour-anointed someone who might just fatten her social network with ruminations on being alone. She adjusts hairclips cast as flowers that resemble stars. If such devices were used to puncture, she’d be left with wind spun hair.

Evidence that meth remains a problem despite the state-wide ban on effective allergy medication locks us all in place. It reeks of impatience and is sponsored by Apple. Some fucking fuck filled rant about whether or not a transfer is still valid, yells to move back move back, the snap of a plastic container being pried apart for a taste of cake and a guilty grin. Unwashed hair in front of me. Bleached hair beside me. All of us are itchy.

We pass strippers arranging themselves outside of clubs to smile at those looking for love. The unmarked graves of Chinese men and women who built this city in secret. Two elderly women with careful grey curls, holding a soup bowl between them. A pack of people dressed as sharks with paper hearts glued all over their bodies, twirling red gift bags and giggling. A sign that reads: “The really dangerous power lines don’t spark or slither. They just lay there.”

Arms arranged in triangles clutch poles and trap sounds. A single seat remains unclaimed, no matter the claustrophobia of passengers. Wrist tattoos drawn with hands sloppy or steady snake away from skin. Me, hoping to claim them. Me, slapped alive by earphones gone wild, the mortified wielder of the whip apologizing more and more. A pant leg hides something yellow. A sneak at something pink. Four rolling can of ceremony.

My stomach is in my hands.

Excerpt from Channel Insomnia: 1996

Everything in Channel Insomnia has been written with fewer than five hours of sleep. I did this today, working with a whopping three.

1996

My boss is wearing leather pants. She and her husband are sharing what most would call a midlife crisis, and what she calls remaining attractive. It hadn’t occurred to me to remain attractive post fifty; I figured as soon as your skin started sliding the best course of action was surrender.

 

Those two have something worked out, and it involves shopping at stores with exclamations for names alongside teenagers trying too hard. There’s something delightful about this, like the garments are finally being assigned their appropriate owners instead of stumbling into someone for more of the same. No adolescent body can own such accents; either there’s too much insecurity crossing arms over chest and slouching posture, or it’s all on display and the vultures are circling. Even a legit complement must be chased with another layer of something colored and bottled and chemical filled applied to hide what isn’t even there to conceal.

 

Really, adolescence is simmering, and everyone young should know it. High school is prescribed to vacuum the intelligence and beauty from your being and 19 is set to restore it.

 

And really, like my boss I’d say, you gotta be grown to own it.

 

She in turn doesn’t say anything about the transparent clothing I wear without even noticing, and the unclassified insect infecting my eyes. This is a new world, one where I’m suddenly eating food with ingredients I can pronounce that arrives hot and aromatic and without foil covering.  When a sound like a shot rings out it probably isn’t one. There’s a reason for going outside, other than to get to your car and to summon new complaints. There’s nothing to buy and I don’t miss it. Still, the startled expression translates to action and people with faces I can’t immediately read are trying to dissect what’s hidden. That’s mine. It’s in this place that I first consider snakes, as the sounds of coyotes bounce from hill to hill, chased by the returned cries of humans.

 

Her eyes track my descent, and fear of seeing one dim in my direction makes me a weaver of ladders.

 

My boss, she’s got scrolls of stories to unfurl. How she’s seen ‘O Brother Where Are Thou?’ too many times and is still going again next weekend. How the Kent State Massacre was a something that slid all over the country and made for strange days in Ohio. Boiling grief over the ongoing mass sacrifice of young men caramelized into a single incident. Being young then, boasting a body able to haul 50 pound bags of grain. Now she just wants someone to sexually harass her for God’s sake. She wants to retire with working heart and limbs. She’ll leave the work force before it leaves everyone else.

 

I wonder if the exclamation stores still find her. If her blackberry pie is still the best of them. If she knows it would still strip my insides to disappoint her, and that my clothes are soon slated for leather.

An almost-landmark

Only six copies left of my initial 100 copy book order. That means 94 of you saw fit to directly order from me for the sake of a personal autograph, or just so that I get a larger chunk of the haul. Ever so pleasing. Coming soon: hardcover edition. And ebook. And and and…

Generation Immobilization

The bitter old woman in me

This afternoon I broke from a sweat-soaked dream of fighting bears and garden snakes circling my ankles, to thoughts of self-destruction strangling voices from my slow-moving generation of internet thinkers and human-interaction dodgers. Friends and colleagues endlessly struggling with project completion and personal progression, understanding of self as independent entity and self connected to greater whole. Friends and colleagues struggling with an understanding of self, as they hamster wheel into obscurity.

As the most thriving parasite on satellite earth with no nameable opposing force greater than outraged oceans and man itself, it’s reasonable that a certain segment would suckle suicide by time.

Some succeed in dumbing and numbing through intentional wheel-spinning masked as accident.

Others lock into directionless courtesy of SOMA-stoked bored contentment, memory tricked into knowing the times before as instances where they were not themselves, victim to erratic emotions, unboxed and venom-fanged.

Others still reprogram impressionable mind-meat into regarding unpredictable terrain and internal missiles as those engineered to thwart the influence of logic, until the boys-don’t-cry rhetoric of the 50s has been cloaked in the garb of SCIENCE to keep them quiet, confused, disposable, and apologetic.

The bitter old woman in me claims that those dodging the charms of self-destruction most completely are those willingly disconnected from a comprehension of self with greater relation to the larger world. Those whose world view is informed by their day-to-day needs and the acquisition of stuff, who complain about the cost of gas without dot-connecting to the origins, who neglect to note that many of us are born equipped with transportation courtesy of functional legs.

The bitter old woman in me claims that those immune to this elixir are those who will drunkenly announce themselves to be evolved, no longer seeking the answer since they fuckin’ found it. This holy-fuck-I’ve-done-it world view is succinctly summarized on web sites and readily available pamphlets and paperback best sellers endorsed by your favorite talking head and televised wank fest. This sort of trumpeting seems to catch the ears of invisible listeners, who can’t wait to help the self-annointed guru stuff too many people into a sweatlodge.

The people who actually do something

However: there are plenty who, by whatever fluke of science and nature and love and work, somehow manage to engage with day-to-day reality without so much pacing, who find ways to pacify dark thoughts of shame and insecurity to commit to achievement of vision. Many drinkers have mastered the grumbling understanding that a majority of the human populace is destructive or useless. Only a few seem willing to truly consider their own capacity for greatness, which can’t be measured by externally constructed models, but created ones with personal means of measurement.

(Side note: others still don’t think about this shit that much. These are the people who look at me exhausted and wonder if addiction-commitment might derail my internal circle-jerk enough to stoke forward some semblance of laugh-riot. Sorry folks. I’m the hole in your garden hose.)

In a few determined hours I could produce a toilet paper roll of 10 point font names of courageous individuals thwarting pressure to mirror-mumble until expiration date. Each instance offers evidence of a combination of luck-prayer-hard work-clarity of will-sacrifice, though only some would agree on this list of ingredients.

Some would dismiss the luck component, neglecting the winning lottery ticket of being born in America where we don’t have to fear being recruited into a machete-wielding child army after observing the massacre of people we once adored.

Others might laugh off the prayer with a ho-ho-ho they won’t credit to Santa, insisting their repetition of heart’s desire was just for the sake of clarity — nothing was overheard.

And some of this group of achievers won’t even clock their achievements, will even shun the word success based on a definition constructed by some other, and will therefore express ingratitude, an inability to comprehend such good fortune. These are generally those who have achieved in a realm undefined by material rewards, who interact with culture in its birth canal, their material sacrifice for vision-preservation a mark of bravery without the badge.

Few among us planned on the luxury of so many decisions, only some of us even observing how many options truly exist, and many observing the endless rings with panic and paralysis, not willing to risk drowning to join a more interesting raft of refugees.

It’s important to take a moment to be astonished by human capacity to accomplish nothing. Even with no prison sentence offering boxes and walls to circumnavigate, no international crime lord rifling through plastic surgery records to uncover an assumed identity. No demands from a family of thirteen that each mobile adult take an extra shift at the shirt factory to provide a bag of beans that will last a week. No full body paralysis to explain the catatonic state.

So how does we crack alive? How do we muster together art and words in the midst of base survival, which calls for day jobs over daydreams, doldrums over danger, donuts over….just donuts.

How do we create anything to completion in the stranglehold of sloth, how do we break away from this pocked understanding that with science on our side we’ll live forever?

How do we smother the perception that opportunities are to be considered, not seized, as there will always be another chance for life and love and greatness?

And is it fear of death that keeps us locked behind invisible bars, or fear of life and our ability to navigate new complications that will inevitably present themselves as our decision-making grows riskier and our life choices become harder to defend?

 

International Customers – I’ve got your number

If you are interested in ordering and you live outside of the USA! USA!, you can still click the button below. The only difference is, your shipping charge will be $11. I can ship anywhere in the world for this dollar amount. Don’t be skittish about ordering. It’ll meet your mitts eventually with a proper autograph.