The beginning of a book is so dangerous, from a writing point of view.

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Maybe it’s all dangerous.  But the first sentence matters a lot, and the first page matters a lot, so I feel better now than I’m 8,000 words into my current book.  I can go back and fix the first sentence later, if I want to, but now, at this point after the introductory part of the book is done, I can feel ok about characters doing whatever they want.  Of course they’ve already been doing that, but somehow it feels so much more homey, so much more interior, to be at this part, because a precedent has been laid out and in some ways I’m now operating within a pattern that’s been set up.

I have seven parts to my outline and I’m now on part two.  My story is about a girl who moves to LA and she is now in LA.  So my main outline can unfold.  I’ve been observing how I, as a novelist, choose what parts to expand and which parts to contract.  Which parts do I talk about, and which parts to I show.  I only want to show the parts that involve my main character doing critical things to herself and with herself (even though she may be with others when doing these things).

This novel is highly made up.  It’s also highly autobiographical.  It’s a mix of the two, with some elements being one and some elements being the other.  Right now I’m in areas that are made up, with less biographical source, so I’m hoping I’m doing a decent job at creating and characterizing it.  I’m writing a female protagonist, and even though I feel I’ve done well at this in the past, I am in difficult territory, doing this.  But it’s important to the story, so I’m doing it.

One of the other things I’ve been noticing is the punctuation I choose.  At the beginning of each piece, I make decisions about which punctuation symbols I use, and how.  In this one, I’m not using any elipses, em dashes, semicolons, or colons.  I use periods and commas, that’s it.  This has implications for how conversational interruptions are rendered, for instance.

I’m pushing further into the domain of unattributed conversation, having dialog lines where there’s no “he said”/“she said” to tell you who is saying what.  I’ve been pretty extreme about this in the past but I’m going further into this territory.  Sometimes there are group conversations where there’s no attribution at all in an entire conversation, because it doesn’t matter who said what, just what was said.

My writing life is boring/simple.  I’m surprised I’m even writing a blog post during it.  I have a schedule I write by.  My schedule for this book is to write during my nephew’s nap and to write 2,000 words a day.  So I write during his nap, quickly, to try and finish before he wakes up, when I will go back to watching him.  And the rest of the day and night, I try to maintain as clear and drama-free a headspace as possible.  Avoid the news.  Avoid arguments.  Avoid my emotions being drawn out by anything other than my writing, especially negative emotions.  And that’s what I do.  It’s very monk-like.  I’ll try to keep this going for the next six weeks or so, so I can finish this draft.

Speeding on bipolar disorder’s mania

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I am now.  I just realized it tonight.  It’s been rising for about three days, I can retrospectively tell, by my difficulty falling asleep and my waking up earlier and earlier.  I am hypomanic now.  I should have noticed by my skipping concentration as I’ve been reading, but it’s hard to notice things like that when you have no clue you’re supposed to be looking for them.  Gradually, I am learning things like sleep, which are cues I need to keep an eye on.

When I’m hypomanic I write things like this.  Which are perfectly sensible, which consist of good commentary, but which are overcharged.  It’s fine to say things like that to some company I’m never going to work for (and, yes, I did send them the link), but I would say things like that to my current employer, in email, when I worked.  When I’m manic it just seems like a good idea!  But it’s the sort of thing that can get you fired, and is part of why I’m unemployable.

This—how I am now—is just high enough to write.  To kindle this state and let it ride for a few months, balancing it with silences in the evening so it doesn’t get out of control, is what I did with ::HARD, and it might be what I’m about to do with this next project, if I write it.  I have a song that goes through my head.  I think I can time my mania to it: the faster I hum it to myself, the speedier I am.  I am humming it pretty fast now.

Words get me charged up—twitter, reading, writing, phone conversations.  The less there’s a visual component, the speedier I get: so an exciting phone conversation is the worst.  When I talk with my sister (a person who is intelligent, full of ideas) it can overcharge me.  We have to limit phone time, sometimes.

So I’m sitting outside.  Yes, I am writing.  Maybe it’s not the best idea.  But I have to remark on this, somehow, as my experience, and this is the best way to do it.  I ate some food, to ground myself in my body, and in a minute I’m going to take my nighttime medicine, skipping the antidepressant (per doctor’s instruction, during times of mania) and taking the prescribed repeat on the sleeping med, to hopefully get me to sleep.  I’m not in an unpleasant state, not quite, but I know where this can go, and where it goes is to a psych hospital, and I don’t want to go to one of those right now.

I just re-read this post, and found it difficult to stay on track.  But I’m glad I did re-read it because I had already forgotten that I was about to take my medication.  See, it’s tricky to remember things at times like these.

Shaking

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I see signs of falling apart, signs of collapse.  I’m tempted to stop taking or take too much of my medication.  I’m holding too much in, at my sister’s house, I’m worried I’ll blow up or do something offensive.  I miss the hospital, which I didn’t think I was going to do, but in a way, being at that hospital was the best thing that’s happened to me in a while.  I’m glad I’m with my sister, and being out of the hospital is wonderful: I can socialize with Amy and her husband, play with my nephew, write, be on the internet, listen to my music.  None of that I could do inside.  But there is some hope of going back there, that lingers—a wish for being safe, for being looked after, for being in a controlled space, and maybe a space with little responsibility..a simpler space, though.

Reviewing my life, I remember four times I’ve abandoned apartments, twice I’ve abandoned cars.  That’s my homes, my cars, that I’ve just walked away from because I put myself in a position where I had to run away, or where I just decided to let go of what was mine.  I want to understand why I do that so that I can stop repeating that pattern, do something different this time.  I want to break that cycle so badly that if there is no way to go forward in a different way, then I’m willing to stop moving forward.  As in: if I can’t rent an apartment without abandoning it, then I don’t want to rent an apartment again.  The fantasy of homelessness looms.  I don’t see how to live my life, so I begin to entertain alternate modes, modes of failure.

I feel like a burden, not only to my family, but to society.  I’ve applied for jobs.  Usually I get no response.  For the one interview I’ve had this year, I saw them, then never heard back from them.  My mind then runs to more basic jobs.  But what am I going to do, work at Taco Bell?  I’ve worked as a software consultant in Fortune 50 companies, I’ve made good money from the time I was young, I can’t go to work at Taco Bell.  I’ve seen too much to be satisfied at a simplistic job, I’ve been too many places to be contained within that narrow a space.  That might sound arrogant to some people but really, there’s supposed to be a progression of career, like as in once you’ve made $100k/year you don’t go back to making $8/hour.  It asks too much of a citizen to move that much in the downward direction.

I wish I had been diagnosed earlier, in some ways.  I wish I had had an earlier chance to adjust my course, to get treatment that could have helped my life be more sane.  Instead, I’ve been struggling with bipolar disorder on my own, without medicine, not even knowing I had it until my late twenties.  To me, all that chaos was just normal, I thought everyone’s life was going that way.  But most people I’ve known, as fucked-up as they are to me, aren’t as fucked-up as me.  To me they may be phony, bigoted, talentless assholes, but they’ve bought houses and progressed in their careers and gotten married, while I’m one step from homelessness, single, with almost no friends, living on a futon in my sister’s living room.  That’s what I’ve come to.  And you wonder why a person considers suicide; on top of manic depression, my actual life is fucked.  There has to be a way forward, but I don’t know one.

I’ve been feeling the need to shake.  So I shake myself.

Bipolar I Disorder, most recent episode manic

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About five years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder for the first time.  I spent one week in a psych hospital near Los Angeles after a week of crazed, little-sleep computer programming activity, which ended in an emotional crash and my calling a suicide hotline.

Since then I’ve been independently re-diagnosed as bipolar by multiple psychiatrists in a Vermont hospital.  These doctors’ opinions differ in the details, but the main diagnosis is the same: “Bipolar Disorder”, “Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified with psychotic features”, “Bipolar I Disorder, most recent episode manic”, etc.

To obtain these recent diagnoses cost me months in inpatient hospitalizations this last fall.  Doctors observed me, kept me from hurting myself, and prescribed medicine to stabilize my moods and manage the psychotic effects of manic states that occur in bipolar disorder, namely: delusions and hallucinations.  I have both.

I resent my medicine.  I didn’t have to take it before, and I like to think I was doing just fine (though I wasn’t).  To feel I need these medicines in order to function properly seems an insult to my basic nature—what is wrong with the natural me, such that my way of operating is unacceptable?  I wish it was as simple as saying I’d become unacceptable to others, but it’s not: bipolar disorder gets in the way of my life.  It makes it impossible to maintain normal relationships, normal work, normal finances.  Some of those are things I’d like to do.

Five years ago, when I got out of the hospital, I was like: yeah, ok, I have bipolar disorder, I’ll take my Lamictal and get on with my life.  I can still work, I’m not fundamentally fucked because of this disorder—am I?  But lately, things have worsened.  I can trace the onset of bipolar symptoms back to my high school years, but I was mostly functional through my early twenties.  Since then things have become increasingly..well..crazy.  I destroy relationships, I have become unhirable due to my past behavior (threatening suicide at work, for instance, which seemed perfectly normal to me), and my finances are all expressed in negative numbers.

My tendency is to blame myself and punish myself because I could have made other decisions.  We’re all responsible for our actions: can’t I just change mine?  After the trajectory of my life over the past 10 years, though, and given my failed attempts to control certain of my behaviors—or even recognize them while they’re happening—I become more willing to see myself through the bipolar lens.

In a way, my disorder is me; in another way, it’s something I have.  To my executive function, it’s not me at all, because the executive me wouldn’t do some of the things I’ve done in manic or depressive states.  Only sometimes am I aware that I have this problem: I’ve been incredibly resistant to accepting that I have this disorder.  Even with multiple independent diagnoses, all pointing in the same direction, I can still convince myself that they’re all a mistake, that I’m fine.  A panel of three California psychiatrists concluded I was bipolar.  Since then, fully five other psychiatrists have agreed on this diagnosis for me.  At what point will I accept that this paradigm might be helpful as I try to understand myself?

The United States National Institutes of Health say that

Patients often have trouble recognizing their own manic symptoms.

That rings true.  I mostly can’t tell which state I’m in, manic, depressed, or otherwise.  I can’t tell that I’ve entered a depressive state.  Mania doesn’t seem like mania to me, it seems normal.  When other people point out features of my present state, I can sometimes understand their point of view.  In general, I don’t see what’s so great or bad about these various states.  Except that when I’m depressed, I want to kill myself.  And right now, on all my medicines, I don’t want to.  That’s obviously a major difference; what I’m saying is when I’m depressed, I don’t know that I am, I just am it.

The NIH also says

Some people stop taking the medication as soon as they feel better or because the mania feels good.

I get this.  This is what I’ve been considering the last few days.  I can reason through the logic of continuing my medication, but it doesn’t feel right.  It feels like I don’t need it.  It feels like I was ok without it.  It even feels like I was better without it: like others with this disorder, I like my mania.  I like being overly personable and flirting with human beings, financial disaster, the danger of drugs, or whatever I can find.  I like being able to write 3,000 words of a novel each and every day for six weeks in a row.  I like dancing naked on my roof with some friends.  Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning of my craziness.

Once, on a whim, I quit a very nice job and moved across the country to live in a tent in my friend’s back yard.  I have bought hundreds of glow sticks (all that were available in the camping sections of several stores) which I then passed out to everyone dancing at a night club.  In an attempt to get a gallery show, I mailed the contents of my kitchen (as well as original art) to a New York art dealer.  I even sent my spice rack.  And I’ve telephoned both the NSA and CIA, believing I had unique and amazing software that was going to save my country from spies.  (I did not.)

What have I lost to this?  Jobs, lovers, money, family relationships, the chances on my life through one suicide attempt, my sobriety during manic phases.  The respect of others, through my wild behavior and emotions impossible to understand.  My trust of myself, through uncontrollable thoughts, and feelings that engulf me.

I’m in the deepest holes I’ve ever been in.  I’m lost.  My career is destroyed; I don’t know if I’ll be able to move ahead in the work world.  I’m lucky to have had some state health care in Vermont so that I could spend time in the hospital when I needed it, and so that I could focus on my illness seriously at a time in my life when I can no longer say: I have bipolar disorder, now let’s get some Lamictal and head into the office on Monday.  I don’t know what my life is going to look like from here on out.  So this post doesn’t have a tidy ending.  This is me somewhere in the middle.  In the middle of my life with my particular sickness and my particular health.  For now I’ll take my medicine, I’ll let my family help me, and I’ll just operate without needing to know.

“The Depth Of Salinger With Biting Lyricism”

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Review of Things Said in Dreams by Ryne Douglas Pearson, screenwriter of Knowing, bacon aficionado, and family man:

‘Things Said In Dreams’ doesn’t leap off the page. It spills from it and washes over you like a steady stream of consciousness, released in a singular breath of spoken word given life by the protagonist.

In a way, the plot is secondary to the sheer experience of chasing the story. It seems to race ahead, with characters and relationships appearing from nowhere, each quite organic, but some seeming to want further exploration. Yet that never seems to hinder the flat-out, take-no-prisoners style which Temple wields deftly.

When I finished, I knew what had happened, and how, with even a hint of ‘why’, but I realized that I was exhausted. This is not a bad thing in any way. Temple has created a mature, complex experience that is more pursuit than novel, where the story is first out of the starting blocks and you are close behind, never ahead.

A thoroughly enjoyable book for readers seeking a deep, driven narrative.

Thanks for reading, man; and for the review.

The critic and the creator

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Some have said that the best creators are also first-line critics in the field in which they create.  People talk of the interplay of these two disciplines.

I’ve thought about this some.

I think that’s true—that people who do something well do both this creative (expository) side and this critical (pruning) side.  If one is too strong, the other won’t happen.  And whether I’m “right” or not, I am a fan of balance (as elusive as it is) and I think that when these two sides, as Prince says, are “both friends”, that the results are stellar, compared to when they’re not.

I’ve written five book-length texts at this point, and some other texts.  Where I find myself in this critic/creator discussion, now, is this: what we do is rare.  When we are writers, when we are creators, there are not many of us.  This isn’t to build ourselves up: it’s not that anyone wants to have a party by themself.  No.  We want everyone to become the best they can, we want to have others to celebrate with, and to celebrate symmetrically.  The best party imaginable has the best, and the whole-est, and the most full, and accomplished, and centered participants.

But when I started writing, I looked to what other people had to say.  I did that more.  I was creating, and questioning myself.  I was saying: here’s what I have done..now what do you think?  My creator was more developed than my critic.  I wanted to make something, in a sense to manipulate others’ critiques, by getting better.  I wanted to make something people liked.  Is this poem good?  When you read it, do you think you could have done better?  Etc.

But I’m not there anymore.  This whole activity, as all activities, is about having a party.  Finding someone with whom one can reasonably celebrate.  Someone who has come to the same or a similar enough place that the two of you can then celebrate—can shluff off yearning and pretense and get down to the business of having fun..of reveling..in the—really: glory—of delight, and that kind of freedom doesn’t come without some symmetry and some oblivion.

The critic and the creator, whether they’re the same person or different ones, are involved in a glorious form of play—as are lovers, as are olympic competitors, as are children pretenders.  They are all on equal footing and delighting in a certain kind of lightness.

The lover analogy is a good one.

When you take your clothes off, are you doing it to see what the other person thinks, or are you doing it to play?

I’m at a point in my writing where—"published" or not—I’ve had enough feedback to know that my critic is alive and well, and on the money.  I know what I’m writing.  I know what’s good about it.  I know what’s lacking.  I know what it does and and I know what it does not do.  I like praise, but compliments and insults have approximately the same strength (or half life) to me right now.  My critic is good-to-go, at the moment.  I can tell this from the feedback I get..because my internal critic is functioning with or beyond the level of the external critics I know of.

So when I take my clothes off, I’m not worried about what you’re going to say: because by and large I’ve already thought of it.

I’m not taking my clothes off (so to speak) because I’m really curious about what you’re going to say when you see me naked.  I’m (in writing) taking my clothes off because I like to get fucking naked.

When you speak, after I disrobe, if you’re on the level, then we’re playing—we’re in that glorious interchange.  I learn, I am affected, but I am nowhere near putting my clothes back on due to your criticism—because, by and large, mine is better (my criticism).  My critic has (improved or) maintained his sanity, while my creator has improved (or maintained) his insanity, such that the creator is not naked at all.  The critic already told him what was coming, and together, we made what we made, with a pretty well-rounded idea of what was happening throughout that process.

I am seeking publication..because I would like to make money writing.  I think I can do that.  I think more people will say that they like, and say that they dislike, my writing, and I’m sure at some point I will come face-to-face with someone who has developed a critic who can do that kind of glorious play with me.  But I don’t need publication or any more compliments in order to know that I’m on the track I want to be on.  Somewhere in this process, I’ve come to see that this is what I do—in the sense that no compliment, and no insult, will deter me from it.  I kindof don’t care anymore: just in the sense that the way I feel now, I don’t think that anything anyone else is going to do, is going to elementally change what I’m doing.  If I get shunned for the rest of my life by publishers, I’m still going to be writing—I won’t stop on their behalf.  It’s as if, in my mind, the external critic (disdainful or appraising) is listened to, yes, but not that prominent an element in my decision-making process.

I just don’t care what you think.

Because, finally, I think, I trust myself.

::HARD (excerpt, opening)

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This is the opening of my book, ::HARD.  It’s a love story.  I’m editing now and will make an ebook when it’s done.

::HARD
Matthew Temple @clownfysh

Battle not with monsters lest you become a monster.
And if you gaze for long into the abyss,
the abyss gazes also into you.
—Nietzsche

I was born in Dayton Ohio.  You think the midwest is easy but it’s not.  Dayton has the highest murder per capita of any city in the US.  At least it did when I lived there.

We also have the highest number of Presidents, Ohio does.  More US Presidents were born in Ohio than any other state.  Ohio also has the distinction of always voting for the President.  In Presidential elections, Ohio is the state that most consistently votes with the winner.

It’s a testing bed, a litmus test.  Columbus is a model city.  That means when they’re testing a product, they test it in Columbus, because if it works in Columbus, it’ll work in the rest of the country.  And if it doesn’t work in Columbus, it won’t.  Columbus is miles and miles of malls.

Dayton has a combination of features from around the country.  The language is broadcast English.  There are white people.  There are black people.  There are Indian people.  There are some Asians.  There’s a lot of programming north of Cincinnati; we have some high-tech companies there.  You can go to college in Ohio.  You’ve got Ohio State, if you want to party.  And you’ve got OU, in Athens, if you also want to party.  And there are smaller schools.  Case doesn’t count.  It doesn’t fit with the spirit of the state.  Cleveland is just..you go too far north you lose the spirit of the Ohio I’m talking about.  If you have an engineering degree from Case, then: every offense intended.  And I’m sorry.  You got ripped off.

You’re not going to be well-rounded if you live your whole life in Ohio, just like you’re not going to be well-rounded if you live your whole life in California or Djibouti or wherever else.  Ohio isn’t exactly whitewashed.  In southern Ohio (which borders Kentucky) you have white people and black people who have moved up from the south.  They’ve come up on the bus.  They’ve come to join their cousins..or flee their cousins.  So you’ve got a southern mentality and a southern friendliness (not quite a hospitality).  But people come from Pittsburgh, which is only four hours away, and people leave Dayton to go to Pittsburgh, to go to school.  My friend Jenny did that; she went to school in Pittsburgh.  Four more hours east and you get to Philadelphia, another hour to New York, so if you were born in Dayton you can go to New York and if you were from New York you might end up in Dayton.  If your family’s there.  That’s what happened to Jules.  She was born in New York—well, she’s from New York—and she came to Dayton because of her family.  Then they moved back and left her, and she was the only one there.

Jules is black.  Black people and white people don’t get along in Dayton.  That’s why Dayton has the highest murder per capita in the country.  I know you’re rushing for your almanacs.  It’s gotta be Detroit?  Or “South Central”?  Right?  Nope.  It’s Dayton Ohio.  It’s not just murder in general.  It’s murder per capita.  Look it up.

People who are born there always want to leave.  If you came later you like it more.  But no one leaves—almost.  It’s a black hole.  People who live there say it’s a vortex..it’s one of the vortexes.  There are vortexes near Sedona, in the southwest.  And I think maybe there are vortexes in Brazil or something.  And then there are the vortexes of Dayton Ohio.  They’re supposed to be some sort of energy center.  It’s like a hurricane that you can’t see.  Or a tornado.  It’s special energy.  Maybe it helps you..you know..maybe you’re in tune with it.  Or maybe it kills you..you know..crushes you because you can’t take it.  I don’t believe in vortexes.  But my friends do.

I do believe it’s impossible to leave Dayton.  I don’t really care whether it’s due to vortexes or economics or magnetism or what the fuck it’s due to, but once you move to Dayton—or if you’re born there—it really is impossible to leave.  My friend Tuesday left for a while.  She lived a year in Sedona.  But she came back.  And my friend Anna left for a while.  I think she lived in Montana.  But she came back, too.

I finally left.  I drove to New York, left my car in a parking garage on 58th and Lexington, and never went back.  That car wasn’t there long, I bet.  This is New York.  I bet it was there for a day, maybe two days, and then they towed it.  I have no idea.  That was a great car, but I was done driving.

::

I didn’t have a car in high school.  I didn’t have a car in college.  It wasn’t until after I had graduated from OU and had started my first job.  I was working there three months before I got a car.  Before that I was driving my dad’s van.  When I did get my car I bought it new, bought a Honda.  Nowadays it’d be a Subaru but this was back a few years.  Mine was black.  A Honda Civic DX, hatchback, five speed.  It was a major step up from the van.

In high school I never worked; we weren’t allowed to.  My parents wanted us to focus on school.  Senior year I had a job in a library; that was about it.

I never drank in high school either, never smoked pot.  I did a lot of things late.

In high school I couldn’t drive, never drank, didn’t have sex.  So I had to find other things to do.  Mostly I did art projects.  And hung out in girls’ rooms, not-having sex with them.  We listened to music.  I was into video; it was later I discovered painting.  And it was later I discovered sex, real sex, fucking.  And later still that I drank.  And even later still that I learned to drive a car.  Now I don’t do any of them.  I’m retired.  It was in therapy, maybe five years into it, when I realized I had become a Puritan.  Maybe always have been.  We have a strict family, but not in the sense that you’re not-allowed to do things.  Strict in the sense that you can do whatever you want..but after you do it, we’ll judge you.  Freedom, then damnation.  That’s how all of us turned out.

A typical afternoon for me, once I had spent the entire day cutting class doing art projects, was to go home with one of my girlfriends and do art projects at her house until my parents called and made me come home, or sometimes until it had gotten to be so late that my parents would call her parents and promise to send me with money next time if they would please front the money, this time, for a cab.  I preferred the cab.  You didn’t want to have my dad pick you up when he was mad.

I liked girls’ basements, and I liked girls whose parents weren’t home.  Parents who worked late, who would be home an hour before they stuck their head into their daughter’s bedroom and discovered there were two of us.

“Who’s your friend?”

“This is Matt.”

“Have you two eaten?”

“We had macaroni and cheese.”

“When’s Matt going home?”

“We’re working on an art project.”

“Liz, come see me.  I wanna talk to you.”

“In a minute, ok Mom?”

“Elizabeth Ronstadt.  Right now.”

Liz and I did video together.  Our finest project was cut to some Pink Floyd she introduced me to, The Division Bell?  My parents were into the Beatles.  I grew up on Here Comes the Sun.  We just cut all these pictures together—black and white pictures from magazines—and we put some Pink Floyd over it and we called it our own.

When Liz came back from talking with her mom she said: “You have to go soon.”

Then Elizabeth sat next to me on her bed.

Before, she had been sitting kindof across from me on the bed.  Now we only had limited time, so we had to make out.

The first time I touched Liz’s breasts it was in school, and we were on camera.  For video, we were supposed to go into the hallway, or anywhere around the school, and get shots of things we thought were interesting.  Each shot had to be at least ten seconds long, for editing purposes.  If the shot was shorter than ten seconds, when you tried to edit it, you might not have enough footage.  What if you wanted to fade out?  Or fade in?  Even if it’s a still object, freeze-framing a shot doesn’t look the same as having a still shot, of the object, sitting there, not doing anything.  We had to make sure each shot was at least ten seconds.  We got shots of the stairs—this neat shadow that was happening.  We got a shot of Liz’s leg.  Then we got a shot of me cupping Liz’s breasts in my hands, as I stood behind her.  That was the first time I touched Liz’s breasts.  (Action.)

I touched them a lot after that.  We used to sit and play footsie under the work tables in the art room.  But in me and Liz’s version of footsie, we went straight for the crotch.  We weren’t playing around with any toe-on-toe stuff.  She went for my crotch.  I went for hers.  We got along fine in art class.  When the people sitting next to us found out why we were laughing, they were disgusted.  Maybe they were jealous; they acted disgusted.  I liked having Liz’s foot on my dick.  And I wasn’t sure exactly what I was doing to her, between her legs, but it felt hot and I liked having my foot there.

Liz was mixed.  Maybe that’s why some of my white friends didn’t like that I liked her.  I know that’s why some of my black friends didn’t like her.  It’s ok, with some of your black friends, for their black friends to have white friends, but sometimes with those same people it’s not ok if their black friends like their white friends.  You can like white people, you just can’t like white people.  Same with black people; it’s okay to like them, you just can’t like them.  Liz was mixed.

I really didn’t think of her that way.  It’s only looking back that I realize she had darker skin (darker than a tan, and more regular than a tan) and that her hair was dark and curly and unlike the hair of any “white” people that I know.  In high school I wasn’t aware that she was mixed.  I just thought she had nice breasts.

When we made out at her house, when her mother left the room, I would put my hand down her pants and feel her vagina, and put my fingers inside of it, and her door would be open, and we’d both be looking at it, imagining her mom walking in.

I’d feel her squishy parts and she’d tell me about her neighbors.

“You know that kid Rafael?  He was sitting on the fence when we came in.”

“Yeah.  I know Rafael.”

“Why?  How do you know him?”

“Because,” I say, “he’s a gangster.”

“Is that all you’ve heard about him?”  Liz sits up.

My hand is still inside her.  “Why?  What?”

Her jeans tighten over the back of my hand and she leans close.  “You can’t tell anyone this.  Don’t tell him I told you.  Don’t tell him.  You know that girl Brandi, the one they found behind the school?”

I nod.

“You know how the police are always around here?”

“Yeah.”

“They’re looking into Rafael.  They think he’s the one that did it.”  Liz grabs my wrist and my hand is frozen.  “Don’t tell anyone this, but I know he did it, because he told me.”

I look at her.

“He brags about it to everyone, around here.  I told him don’t you ever tell anyone you told me that.  He did it, though.  Those police are here every day.  I hope they get him.”

After that I lost my erection.

::

I wasn’t with Liz long, just in high school.  We weren’t even really together, we just made out.  I preferred making out with her in the school hallway, or in the prop room that had all the theatre costumes.  That was a scary room, but Liz’s house was scarier.  If you know that someone killed someone, and they go to jail for it, and you’re the reason they got caught, that’s a bad thing.  I was pretty sure Rafael had killed that guy; you could see it on his face.

When you’re a kid your ideas of things are lampooned.  Your idea of a kiss, before you do it; your idea of sex, before you do it; your idea of death, before it happens to someone you know.  Even your idea of murder.  When you’re a kid, it’s like: oh my god how could someone do that?  Then you grow up, and you’re like: yeah, if someone raped my daughter I can see running them over with the car.  You understand rage.  You understand accident.  You understand that some people are just fucked up, and have been since birth, and will never be ok, no matter what schools they go to or medication they take.

In high school, I just didn’t want Rafael to see me at Liz’s house, because if he told Liz, and he saw me with Liz, and he ended up going to jail, when he got out he might come looking for me.  It was worth making out with Liz in the prop room.

::

But yeah, next year it was Tuesday, and the year after that it was Meryl.  And Liz’s just someone I think about from time to time—like on a scale of years.  You wonder where these people are—and you don’t really care—but that’s a whole person out there, doing things.  Usually people become completely different.

I went to OU—this is in Athens Ohio—and I met another girl.  This one’s name was Kate.  And after that it was my roommate’s sister, Stacy (that was awkward).  Then it was some girl named Meg, who was very forceful, and there were a bunch of other girls in there and there was even a guy (named Chad) and..actually there was even another guy, Mark, and oh, yes, there was this girl named Christina, who was excellent and who I could never give up, even though we had nothing to talk about.  I’m pretty sure Christina was the best sex of my life.

But it’s hard to judge.

I mean, there are so many angles.  There are so many facets.  There are so many aspects of a relationship, even just the sexual part, it’s hard to say that Christina was bar none the best sex of my life.  But she was.  In a pure-fucking sense.  She was.

We would go to movies together and she would just suck my dick.

We would go to dinner—she would try the same thing.  (We got kicked out of restaurants.)

When we got home we never made it to the bed.  We fucked right on the floor.  We made out in the seafood section of the grocery store—and I hate it when couples make out in grocery stores.  Everything was sex to us.  At one point we were working through all the public library branches in Dayton, having sex in every one.  Public places was a thing of ours.  It was pathological, but it was good, good fucking.

The next day, though, was always a pain.  I had to hang out with her until about two in the afternoon, and she’d want to go on errands, buy things, random things like she needed to go get a tarot deck or a new crystal.  We were always in these gypsy stores.  I’d be sitting in the parking lot, in the car, thinking about just leaving, while she had her cards read.  And she’d always be talking about other guys.  That’s what she’d need the tarot reading for.  We were just friends with benefits but still, I don’t want to hear about the guy you’re getting engaged to, while I’m buying you a crystal.  I didn’t care about the money though; the worst part was waiting for her to get done with her errands, so I could take her home.  By noon the next day I didn’t care if I ever fucked her again.  I was done.  I was even done with pussy altogether if it had to be like this.  How can you be so good at fucking and have absolutely nothing in common with a person?  When we fucked it was like god had re-invented sex.  In the car with her, the next day, it was like god’s counterpart was doing some relationship experiments of his own.

Christina’s one of the only people I’ve ever cheated with.  Every time we had sex we were cheating on some engagement she was in, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  When she and I first started, we were cheating on a relationship of mine.  She was that persuasive.  And I was that fucking horny.  It’s hard to stay faithful when you’re twenty.

I was with this girl Ashley, who later became my friend.  But while we were together, I cheated on Ashley with Christina.  Once.  Well, twice.  Two nights.  And there was one other time I cheated on someone, with someone else.  And that time is one of the things I regret the most.  But even Ashley—I never should have cheated on her with Christina.  She deserved better.

::

Ashley I met at work.  She was the password girl, the account girl, she kept track of all the user accounts for the software I developed.  Ashley was from Florida, and she came up to Dayton for I don’t know what reason.  She’s extremely skinny, kind of a freak; she’s got wispy hair like she’s fifty, even though she’s only twenty-two.  If you need passwords for anything you go to Ashley.

“I need a ghost account for news.”

“Hold on.”  (She’s on the phone.)  She’s typing.  I didn’t see the headset.  “Glowacki.  You’re so nasty.”  That’s what she’s saying into the headset.  Glowacki is our boss.  One of them.  “Hold on.”  This time she’s telling Glowacki to hold on.  “What do you want.”  She turns around in her chair, spins the chair around, and spreads her legs.  She’s wearing jeans.  She runs her hands up the inside of her thighs, toward her crotch.

“I need a ghost account for news.”

Her eyes never leave mine.  “I’ll chat it to you.  Is that all you need?”

“For now.”  I turn and start to go.

Ashley turns back to her screen then says: “Wait.”

“What?”

“Why do you need a ghost account?”

Other people in the aisle of cubicles are hearing this.

I just need it.  “For testing,” I say.  I mean this is her job.  She could get fired for giving me the wrong password.  But she’ll give me any account I want.  You’re supposed to keep things separated—partitioned—for people’s safety.  Social security numbers and everything.  But in actuality everybody has everything, inside the company.  We’re always in the news for leaks.

In my chat I find a picture of a girl squatting over a boy.  They’re on a mattress with no sheets.  Paint on the walls is crumbling.  This is from Ashley.  She always sends me porn at work.  Technically, the pipe that chat runs on is unencrypted, so anyone in the office who had two brain cells to rub together could run a program and sniff out what everyone else was saying on chat.  But no one in this office takes that initiative.  They’re all busy surfing YouTube.

I delete the picture.  I type: ghaccount?

Ashley types back: a second!  Then she types: xoxoxxx++

Grisly.  Ashley is technically married, but they’re separated.  She got the house.  That’s where we fuck, typically, though sometimes in my apartment.  I fucked her one time in her desk chair on a Sunday morning, which was a really terrible idea but there’s no cameras in this area.  I think she has a thing for Glowacki.  It’s something about the way she presents to him in meetings.  Like a slave thing; like she’s getting off on subserviently presenting him with bullet items and completed task reports.  I can see when she does it.  Glowacki doesn’t notice but to me it’s obvious.  Something about the way she puts her elbows on the conference table and then where her chests rides after that, its altitude.  Glowacki is a fucking idiot for not noticing.  He’s an MBA.

Glowacki I found at the pop machine one day.  This is in the hallway outside the office.  He’s standing there in his pleated khakis.  When he bends down you can see how tight those pants are.  I hated tapered khakis, I just do.  It says something about you if you’d buy them.  This fucker is going for a nickel in the coin-return.  It’s not clear if he’s putting it in or taking it out.  He struggles with a dollar.  It’s folded.  It won’t go in the bill acceptor.  He sees me standing there and he says: “I’m an MBA, you’d think I could figure this out.”

MBAs.  I wasn’t going to critique him.  I wasn’t going to say a thing.  I was going to stand there quietly and wait my turn.  I might have even said something pleasant to him, even though he’s my boss.  Something like: “Hey.”  And maybe a smile.

But no.

This fucking guy.

Even a pop machine is about him being an MBA.

Does he remember using pop machines before becoming an MBA?  Does he remember that non-MBAs can fuck, drive cars, pick their noses, make telephone calls, drink water—even play golf!  Motherfuckers and their “golf shirts”.  Give me a fucking break.

If Ashley ever fucked Glowacki I would lose all respect for her.  But she wouldn’t.  He’s too fat.

I type: ..?  That’s an ellipsis and a question mark.  Two is the new three.  As in: where is my fucking ghost account?

Ash responds with another link: this time to some Sesame Street gag I’ve seen before.  Sesame Street crunk.  (“What’s the number for today?”—”I’o’n’know nigga!”)

I call her.  I don’t say anything.  I just breathe.

I can hear her lips.  Gum.

“What are you doin’ after work today?”

She says: “Making cards.”  She makes greeting cards out of construction paper, popsicle sticks, stuff like that.

“That’s not what I mean,” I say.  “What’s your pussy doing after work?”

“Oh that,” she says.  Long pause.  “I can’t talk about that right now.  Uh-huh.  One second.”  ppl at my desk! she types.

ghaccoutn I type.  I type fast and the letters get transposed.

……………..forthcumming she types.

Then it says Ashley has left the conversation.

I’m imagining her bent over on the carpet in her upstairs bedroom, the extra room, the craft room.  She’s got a popsicle stick in one hand and an Elmer’s glue in the other hand.  Maybe she’s licking the glue, I don’t know, but I’m fucking her.

Ashley wears the weirdest panties.  Her bras, on those tiny breasts..I always feel like I’m with a little boy.  Some cross-dressing kid who stole his older sister’s undies.  Yeah.  She would definitely have a popsicle stick in her hand.

Her husband lives in some apartment north of Cincinnati.  It’s kind of fucked up since he paid the down-payment on this house and Ashley never would have been able to get it without him.  She can just barely make the payments.  I know cause I’ve helped her.  Now that’s an expensive hobby.

Ashley is the only person in this entire office who makes any sense.  Well maybe Gao.  No—scratch that; Gao doesn’t make any sense.  Ashley is the only person here who makes any sense.  I hope she finds another job, she’s too good for this place.  A bunch of monkeys.  I’m not sure if I really like Ashley or if I like Ashley because of the contrast between her and everyone else.

She types back across my screen: GKHDDWN

That’s my ghost account.

I type back: txh

::

I follow her home after work.  She drives real fast.  We play cat and mouse on I-75.  When it’s just me I don’t drive like this but I use her as an excuse.  It’s flirting; it’s justified.  We don’t talk on the phone, though.  That’s a little too dangerous.

Ashley gets home she eats a banana.  That’s why she’s so skinny.

“Let’s get a pizza.”

“You get one.”

“You’re not having any?”

“I’ll have a slice.”

I dial a number.

“I want pepperoni.”

“I’m not getting pizza.”

She looks at me weird.

“I’m not getting pizza if you’re only gonna have a slice!”

“What are you getting?”

“Burgers.”

“I want extra mayo.  And no cheese.  And extra of that sauce they have.”

I throw her the phone.  “Order it yourself.”

“Look who’s cranky,” she says.  Then we fuck.

::

We don’t get pizza.  We don’t get burgers.  She eats bananas and I eat Special K with her fucking skim milk and beef jerky.  She’s making craft cards with glitter and ink stamps.  She’s got ink all over her hands.  Sometimes I don’t get into the tomboy thing.  I’m looking out the window with a glass of wine.

“We should throw another party,” she says.

This whole neighborhood is still being created.  There are lots in her cul-de-sac that don’t have houses on them.  Most of the houses on this street are empty.  They’re waiting to be sold.

I turn to Ashley and say: “What kind of party?”

She pats the carpet next to her for me to sit.

The last party Ashley and I threw was called the Ice Party.  We always do theme parties.  And we always require something of our guests.  It’s a trick to create ownership.  If you require something of someone, they become a participant.  When you participate, you feel ownership, you have more fun.  Like someone who never does chores at the house they live in: you’re not getting away with anything, you’re harming yourself by dealing yourself out of participation in the house.  You won’t ever feel you really live there until you participate..in whatever’s going on..chores or whatever.  At our parties the required participation is written on the invitation.  At the Ice Party, the participation was “Bring something to share”.  Simple as that.  Your participation can be anything, as long as it requires something from the guest.  It doesn’t matter what they bring to share, it doesn’t even matter if they share it.  The only thing that matters is that the person feel they’re a part of things.  “Bring something to share” accomplishes that.

Ashley and I were working on perfecting our parties.

“What should we call it?”

The “Naughty”.  I said that without even thinking.

Ashley’s patting the carpet next to her, trying to get me to sit.  “What’s the participation?”

I gesture with my wine glass.  “Wear something naughty,” I say.  I don’t sit down.  Now I’m pacing.  Pacing.  Because now we have the kernel of an idea.

::

Next thing you know I’m at Frederick’s of Hollywood—and this is before I’d ever been to Hollywood, so this was Frederick’s of Hollywood in the Dayton mall, in Buttfuck Ohio.

I’m picking out water bras with these women who are loving picking out water bras with a twenty-three-year-old man.  Most of these women are older than me.  But there’s one who’s about my age.  They have their hands on me: they have to in order to size the bra.  Turns out what looks good on me is a 32A.  Pink.  Water bra.  And I’m buying panties too.  I was going to stuff the bra until these women introduced me to the water bra.  Before I walked into Frederick’s of Hollywood I didn’t know such a thing existed.

If you’re the host of a party called the Naughty, and on the invitations you’ve charged each of your guests to “Wear something naughty!” then you better damn show up in something naughtier than all.  Pink panties and the rest of my Frederick’s of Hollywood get-up should do it.  You never know, though; some of these Ohio kids are freaks.

I’m squeezing this water bra to feel its plushness and this check out girl is squeezing it with me and we’re both standing over it like experts at Christie’s examining lot 666, the matching bra and panty set for a man.  Perfect!  Better than stuffing!  If someone feels me it’ll be oh so soft!  I’d like to take this girl in the back and feel her chest, do some side-by-side comparisons to the water bra, see which one is softer, swap out this pair of panties for the ones she’s wearing.  Etc.  Instead I settle for giving her an invitation to the Naughty.

“What’s your name again?”

“Janel.”

::

Ashley’s naughty outfit is this French maid thing.  It’s like a corset.  It’s not supposed to be a French maid thing, but that’s what it looks like to me.  She just looks like a whore.  Or a vampire or something.  It’s really not that hot.  I think I’m getting tired of Ashley.  Just sexually.  The maid thing is played out.

“What are you wearing?”

I show her the Frederick’s of Hollywood shit.

She touches the bra and looks at me.  “You’re gonna wear this?”

I put the bag on her craft couch, next to a bunch of Stampin’ Up! accessories.  “Want to see me in it?”

“Sure,” she says, but she’s not sure.  She’s not sure at all.  “Your boobs are gonna look bigger than mine,” she says.

“Are you jealous?”  Do you want to sit on me and think about it?”  I touch her tit.  She does have small tits.

“Do you wish I was..” she’s not looking at me “..more like that?”

I fingernail the shit out of her tit and she jumps back.

“Ow!”

I grab the top of her jeans.

“Do you wish I was more like this?”

“Do you wish I was more bodybuilder?” I say.  “Or more washboard?  Or more teen angst emo mothefuckin earlobe-plugged-out fuckin..skater..earthy..”

“No, no,” she says, “You’re pretty washboard.”

“Well don’t get worried about it.”

She’s touching the Frederick’s panties.  “I just..if you want..I mean my underwear aren’t like this.”

“That’s because your underwear have class.”

“If you want me to wear underwear like this—”

“I love your underwear.”

This is the kind of thing you say to end an argument.  You say this thing in private, when it’s just you and one other person.  “I love your underwear.”  I mean, you don’t love her underwear.  You might like them, you might have kinky great feelings about them, but no one loves underwear.  Love is reserved for animate, complex beings; responsive beings.  You might even love a cow.  You could definitely love a dog.  But underwear?

“You do, baby?”

“Of course I do.”

“You love my underwear?”

“Yes.”  I love to take them off you.  Does that count?  I love that they contain you—does that count?  I love them because you love them, I love them because they’re yours.  That’s the extent of my love for them.  I’m not a loving-underwear kind of guy.  “Come’ere, Ash.  What’s wrong?”

“Do you like my costume?”

“I like it.”

“Does it make you want to fuck me?”

“I always want to fuck you.”

“But does this make you want to fuck me?”

“Jesus, Ash.”  I pull away.  “It’s naughty.  It’s very naughty.”

“So that’s a no.”

“I can’t determine if it makes me want to fuck you, because I always want to fuck you; and hence, I can’t distinguish which of the multiple factors at play are making, me, want, to, fuck, you.”

“Do you really want to?”

“Yes.”  (I really did.)

“Do you want to do it on the counter?”  (The kitchen counter, this was a new thing.)

“Yes.”  Of course I want to do it on the counter.  Counter is fine.  Kitchen.  Bathroom.  Those are all fine places to fuck.

“Do you wanna do it with the vibrator?”

“Yes.”  Of course.  I want to do it with the vibrator.  No man can always be enough for a woman.  You need the vibrator on your clit.  I want you to have it there.

“You’re gonna play with my nipples?”

Of course.  Of course I’m gonna play with your nipples.  And you’re gonna cum.  And then I’m gonna lay you back and fuck the shit out of you.  You’ll be face-down.  I’ll come on your back.  Then I’ll lay on top of you and you’ll go back to craft..motherfucking..iPod holders or whatever you’re working on.

::

There’s a hollowness about sex—there can get to be.  You can avoid it.  You can maintain it sweet, you can maintain it pure..it’s just a lot a lot of work.  Because you do get used to their underwear.  And their shaving cream and their favorite lunch meat.  Those were all tiny little pieces of information that were new to you at one point.  Of course you knew that corned beef was a lunchmeat, before meeting that certain someone..you just never thought about it like that.  As a good choice..as the right choice.  Somehow this person, in moving around in the world and making sandwiches and learning how to eat lunch, has found such an optimal choice of lunchmeat..something you were unable to find..or not ready to find!  But now you are!  Corned beef is truly the best choice for lunchmeat, as is that certain kind of sandwich bread—the kind you had been getting before is too hard!  It’s too hard to chew.  This bread is much better.  It says “sandwich bread” on the package for god damn!  The bread I’ve been buying doesn’t even say “sandwich bread”.  That bread was good for my sandwiches—you know, honey and butter—but for corned beef and mayo this bread is ideal.  This is the bread.  This one right here.  Why does anyone do it any other way?

And then you eat that kind of sandwich for a while.

And it just becomes bread.

It’s just: the kind of shaving cream we always get.  The kind that’s in my shower.

It’s just: the way we do it, with the vibrator on your clit and you sitting on top of me and then me fucking you from behind while you smile blissfully with your face pressed against the sheets.  Then I come on your back and then you get up and then I fall asleep and then you put the sheets over me so I’m not sleeping naked and then I have dreams about dogs biting me who won’t let go and their teeth! and then I wake up sometime in the middle of the afternoon with afternoon sun shining in my eyes and I push off the sheets and I go in the next room past the bathroom with all the usual shaving cream and I find you in the craft room and I wonder why I don’t sneak a few of my clothes home with me this time when I go and you look at me thinking these things, which I’m sure you think as well, and then you reach for the craft knife and you’re cutting identical strips of iconic bears into the side of..side of..something..a cup holder for your mother..I don’t know..

::

You can put your junk in female panties even if you’re a guy.  It’s not 100% comfortable, but it’s ok.  My junk isn’t that big.

I’m wearing cargo pants, six pockets per side.  But underneath are my Frederick’s of Hollywoods.  On top I’m wearing a rainbow shirt, skin tight.  And under that is my water bra.  I did have to stuff it a little.  I’m not wearing makeup or anything.  And I’m wearing socks.  They’re these furry ones with little gripper things on the bottom.  I have to adjust my junk.

I look in the mirror.  I don’t look like a girl at all.  I look like..a guy wearing a water bra.  I push down the front of my pants.  Pink top of the Frederick’s.  Now that’s sexy.  It doesn’t make me want to fuck a guy.  It makes me want to be a girl getting fucked by myself.  Or maybe it makes me want to fuck a girl.  My dick is pointed straight up.  But it’s not hard.

::

Here’s who’s gonna be at this party.  It’s gonna be me.  It’s gonna be Ash.  It’s gonna be waaay too many of our work friends—the ones who like to do drugs.  The ones who wanted to make sure we’d have alcohol and ecstasy and that the party was going to be insane before they agreed to come.

“Is it gonna be insane?”

“Yes.”

“Is it gonna be ridiculous?”

“Yes.  Are you coming?”

“Let me check with Angela.”

Angela is Gao’s wife.  Gao is definitely coming to this party.

Who else is coming?  Let’s see.  It’s gonna be Ashley’s improv friends and it’s gonna be people from my neighborhood.  I live in town, in Dayton, in the Oregon District.  There’s gonna be people from there, people I met at the coffeehouse and people who live downtown.  These are people who come to art shows and who I know from bars, and from high school.  Ashley and I went to different high schools.  Some of her friends are coming too.  Aside from her improv friends, she’s bringing Kenzie Merriman, her best bud from high school.  And Nathan, someone else from high school.  He’s gay and his mom robbed a bank on television.  I mean she robbed a bank.  And it was on television.  On the news.  We’re pretty sure he’s gay.  Well, I’m totally sure; Ash is on the fence.

Who else?  Ashley’s notable improv friends: MJ and this girl Brooklyn.  And Zombie.  Brooklyn is this tightly-hot, kind of smouldering one of the three.  MJ is short for Mental Jiant—we call her that cause she’s smart.  And Elizabeth Ronstadt..that’s Liz, from before—who I went to high school with?  People call her Zombie now, or Zombie Lizard.  We never hang out; Ashley met her independently through class.  Now I only see her at the club.  Elizabeth is sort of the babydoll-murderer of the three.  The three of them plus Ash are in an improv troupe.  Improv comedy.  And they do some sketch.

From work it’s going to be—no managers, just people we work with—it’s going to be Hong Yang Gao, my work partner, me, Ash, this guy Brickman, a web developer, his wife (or girlfriend), this girl Karen, she’s a tester, she’s not very good but she looks like she needs to get out of the house.  She’s married but not bringing her husband.  There’s a story there, I’m sure, but I’m not going to be the one to tell it.  Who else?  Some girlfriends of mine from high school—that should be interesting.  That would be Sarah Garner, Arianne Bannister, Constance Page, and some others.  I guess you could count Brit.  And also Missy Horne.  They might be there too.  I just kissed Brit once, but it was an intense kiss.  She was grabbing my dick.

Ash is bringing some exes too.  Annoyingly, this fuckhead Christopher Whatever-the-Fuck-His-Last-Name-Is.  Muggs?  Miggs?  Something stupid; something that sounds like the military.  What was it?  Sergeant Fuggz reporting!  Fitz-something?  I don’t know.  The guy is an asshole.

And my friend Chad.  Chad is beautiful.  Chad is one of the guys I would fuck if I was gay.  Or maybe even if I wasn’t gay.  Chad has beautiful, long, dark, shiny hair.  Did I mention it was black?  It’s not curly; it’s wavy.  Down to the middle of his back.  He wears it in this ponytail; he looks like a martial arts master.  And he has the funniest sense of humor.  He’ll go off on a tangent about “The top ten reasons you never want to fuck a crack ho”—stuff like that.  It’s hard to explain but he’s just..silly.

Also I invited Janel—the girl from Frederick’s of Hollywood, remember?

That’s about it.  We invited the neighbors just so they have less reason to call the cops.

::

When I have a party I don’t fuck around.  We had to modify Ashley’s house a bit.

I mean it was our party.  But certain touches were just mine.  Like the disco ball.  And the strobe lights.  And the blacklight room.  And the bong, with a funnel at the top and a bunch of plastic tubing we bought at Home Depot.  That bong was a motherfucker.  You’d pour—whatever—in the top and it would slide down this one-inch plastic tubing, swirling around this pole in Ashley’s kitchen, and at the bottom—you’d have to lie on he floor to get it—you’d open your mouth and in would slide your shot, or your beer, or whatever you were drinking.

The blacklight room was for sex-only.  It was designed to be an orgy room.  Everything in there was meant to inspire sex.  We’ll see how it goes.

What else?  The bathrooms were all done out, decorations on the mirrors and shit.  There was a makeout closet—Ashley’s walk-in closet.  It was labeled “Makeout room” or something equally obvious.  You don’t want to be putting complex instructions on your party.  “Makeout room” is simple enough.  You can read that and understand it when you’re drunk.  Also: on the invitations: “Wear something naughty”.  A five-year-old could understand.  That was all our flyer said on the front: “the Naughty [date and time] [location]” and “Wear something naughty”.

This is what people wore:

(Some people dressed heavenly.)  Janel was one of those.  She rolled in early; she was one of the first to get here.  Janel’s idea of naughty was something like a lingere angel.  I didn’t think it was all that naughty but it was naught-tay.  Ash was in the kitchen, I open the door, Janel comes in, the house is mostly still empty.  Ash and Janel see each other, I know this is going to be a rough night.

“Janel!  Glad you’re here!”  (Slight kiss on the cheek.)

“I brought these,” she says.  She’s got two bottles, a Jamison and some potato vodka I’ve never heard of.  “It’s Russian.”

“Really?  Janel this is Ash, Ashley, this is my friend Janel.”

Ash stays seated on her kitchen counter.  “And how did you two meet?”

“Really?  That’s Russian?  I didn’t know Russians made potato vodka.”

“Or it might be Slovenian,” she says.  She twists the bottle in her hand.  She looks very, very good.

(Some people dressed normally.)  I mean normally for “naughty”.  These would be people like Brickman, from work, and like Karen, from work.  Karen comes in she’s got her mouth hanging open like she’s at the dentist.  She’s always like that.

“Is there cotton in your mouth?”

“What?”

“Close your mouth.  Is there cotton in the back of your throat?”

“What?”

I put my arm around her and bring her into the house.  “Come here, come here, there’s the kitchen, have a drink.  Ashley’s in there.”

Karen shows me some Bud Lights.  “We brought these.”

“Put em in the kitchen.  Where’s Gao?  There he is.  Gao.  What the fuck is up with you?”

“Nothin.”

Hong.”

“Matthew.”

“Hong Yang!”

Matthew!”  Gao leans in close.  “Do you have any ecstasy?”

“What?”  I pretend not to hear him.

He whispers in my ear.  “I heard there was gonna be ecstasy at this party.”

I put my hand on his head.  “Hong Yang.”  I kiss his forehead.  “Come do a shot with me.  Brickman, get your ass in here.  What the fuck.  I thought you were gonna bring your wife.”

(Some people dressed freakishly.)  That would be Elizabeth Ronstadt—Zombie Lizard?  These girls show up.  This is Zombie, Mental Jiant and that girl Brooklyn.  Yeah.  Babydoll Zombie murderer shows up in desert camo pants, combat boots, and a white bra, drenched in blood.  Mental Jiant is smearing the blood on Zombie’s stomach when I open the door to let them in.  MJ is dressed as a flasher.  When I open the door, she straightens from Zombie’s belly and opens a beige trenchcoat.  She’s completely naked.  Sweaty little clam.  She closes the coat and pulls down a dark pair of shades, overly-dark.  And Brooklyn.  Brooklyn.  It’s not like we had this party in January, but still.  Brooklyn is wearing electrical tape on her nipples—two little Xs—and a white pair of panties..and that’s it.

There were those types of people.  There were those that dressed heavenly, there were those that dressed normally, there were those that dressed freakishly.  And then there were other kinds of people.

(There were those who dressed devilishly.)  Well, there was one who dressed devilishly.  Actually she dressed as the devil.  But a naughty sort of devil.  And it was this one that I liked the best.

I’ve told you all I’ve told you, up to this point, not so you’ll think I’m a womanizer—by today’s standards I’m not—but so that you know what this story is about.  This isn’t about my job.  It isn’t about my using drugs.  It’s about my love.  And I had imagined love, held concepts of love, even thought I’d been in love..but before that night I had never had the chance to love.  Of course I’d loved my family, I’d loved my friends, I’d even loved my job and in a way I’d loved drugs and books and exercise.  I’d loved apartments I’d lived in.  I have this chair I love.  And I’d loved women—loved their bodies, even loved their minds.  Even—and this is true—even loved their emotions, even loved their person-ality, their chaos and their little quirks like wanting to see a nine o’clock movie and leaving the house at eight forty-five.  (That was Ashley.)  But before that night I’d never been in love, and that’s the kind of love I’m talking about here.  Did she sweep me off my heels?  Not really; I’m a guy, we don’t really get swept off our heels.  Did she blow my mind?  It’s more like she blew my spirit.  I just never knew anyone like that existed.  I spend my whole life acting—pretending to like people.  I don’t even know I do it—at least I didn’t before I met her.  It’s like you’re having these conversations, and you’re dialing yourself down to deal with whatever the person is telling you, whatever thing they’re going through, but without even thinking, you’ve filtered out the great and wild and real you, and you’re just dealing with them in the way that they need to be dealt with.  Because all they want to talk about is work—or all they can talk about is work.  Or dance.  Or improv.  Or painting.  Or sports, television, and all that shit.  I don’t care about the weather.  I don’t care about traffic.  I don’t care that the show was so goddamn funny last night.  It wasn’t.  It wasn’t funny.  It wasn’t scary.  It wasn’t great.  And it never is with people.

Except..eventually..when you meet the right person..it is.

::

Thanks for reading!  ::HARD ebook coming soon.  MT

Least common denominator conformity

Uncategorized

I hesitate to use the word “conformity” because talk of non-conformity sounds so adolescent.  But it’s the right word.

I’ve read some terrible writing advice lately.  Who am I to say it’s terrible?  Ok, let’s say I’ve read some terrible life advice lately.  I’m not responding in the comments of those sites, because I’m not in the debate business anymore.  I am still squarely in the business of self-reflection, however, so I’m pausing for a few minutes from my novel writing to write some words here about this fear-oriented, conformist, LCD meme that’s been popping up on my streams.

The meme is this: don’t offend anyone.  If something is unusual, don’t do it.  Don’t stand out.

We’re not talking about content, even, in writing or in life.  We’re talking about wearing a suit.  Don’t do anything that might offend or turn off a potential literary agent.  Don’t take yourself seriously enough to allow definition of your self.

I can almost cry thinking of people taking this advice.

To offer it up, is to have never known, or to have forgotten, any history.  Let’s keep it real: did Jesus have a path?  Did any writer who we still talk about?  No.  They couldn’t—essentially—just go to yoga classes and learn yoga.  They had to walk a new path.  No one’s saying we should all be historically-significant prophets, or any other kind of figure.  But we can each be a little bit of a trailblazer.

The level of fear present in my society—the society I live in—is tragic.  It’s nothing short of tragic.

Every day, I listen to my friend tell me how she is afraid to tell the truth to her boss because she is afraid of losing her job.  To tell the truth!  To simply say what she, and likely her boss, simply know is true.  That is reason enough for the fearful, crippled CEOs of today’s 1st world economies, to fire someone, to kill a career.  Is disagreeing with the popular mass trends, politically, enough to scare off a publishing house?

Lol.  If it is, fuck publishing.

I don’t personally believe in a heaven, so I think this life is my only shot to be “me”, to “do”, to operate the ego construct that we all loosely agree is a person.  How can you waste your time here in fear..by holding your real thoughts to yourself?  It’s—and you’re talking with an atheist here—it’s a sin to not give of your real self..to hold back your real individual value!!  It’s the worst crime against life, against the concept of the individual, that there is.

To me it’s not unwise not to wear a suit when, in order to fit in, economically, politically, howeverly, wearing a suit is required.  Those wearing suits are quite final in their exclusion of those who question wearing suits—I’m intimately learned of that dynamic.

I get it.

And from my point of view, it’s entirely silly to live your life in fear.  For me, I’ll just say: to live my life in fear.  It doesn’t make sense.  And here, I don’t mean this in some fru-fru mystic sense..I mean in terms of cost-benefit analysis.  Maybe for some people, their fear is so great, that the pittance they receive from social acceptance is worth the tradeoff of silencing their souls.  For me that is not the case.  For me, what I get in return, from acceptance—even economic acceptance which allows me to survive—that payment is not worth the cost of silencing my own, real perspective.

I don’t understand the other way of seeing it and I have never heard an explanation of why one would make this cost-benefit analysis differently..except fear.  Except that the person making the analysis has chosen—and it is a choice—to continue to accept fear as a part of their life.  To allow other people to control them and use them, via fear.

Fuck the fear!

(A tweep and I arrived at this crass little adage months ago in a conversation about writing.)

Will we get published?  Can any of us expect to make money doing this?  Who knows?  Who cares.  Take a step back: if you’re doing something that you believe in, that makes sense to your cognition, and the publishing industry spurns you until and beyond your death—who cares.  (If your writing is consistent with publisher aims, and you’re being true to yourself..then the former is incidental.  If your writing is inconsistent with publisher aims, and you’re being true to yourself..then the former is still incidental!  Neither reflects [positively or negatively] on you.)

What kind of short-sighted, base, senseless logic does one possess to come to the conclusion that living one’s life to please others, makes sense?  Don’t you see that other people’s praise is their most deceptive form of manipulation??  To conform yourself to fit the shape of an industry’s praise, or an individual’s praise..is terrible strategy.

Take it to the extreme: what if everyone did that?  We’d have the absolute lowest common denominator of creation, of insight, of invention, of value and flavor of our cultural species.

I’m scared shitless, but I’m not letting that stop me.  You know?

I risked physical danger and probably destroyed my software consulting career whistle-blowing a fraudulent business/government axis..because it’s the right motherfucking thing to do.  I don’t trust my government not to kill me (or unjustly spy on or watchlist me) for calling someone on fraud..because I’ve read a tiny bit of history and I know we have a history of covertly killing people to silence them.  I don’t trust my next employer to operate above-board, to treat me fairly, to tell me the truth; I don’t trust them not to end my career for simply doing my job..for telling them technical truths in fields in which I am more the expert than they.

I don’t believe that the best way to ingratiate myself with literary agents is by sending them query letters in the first person, as the character of the book I am pitching.  All the query letter books advise against it.  But I think it’s the best way to pitch Things Said in Dreams—because it has a nameless narrator.  Because the voice is central to the value of that text.

I’m not going to keep to myself my highly-logical, but unpopular opinion that censoring a pedophilia how-to book is not the most effective way to marshall resources in order to combat pedophilia—even though sloppy thinkers will quickly unfollow and otherwise distance themselves from someone not conspicuously waving this particular book-burning flag they have embraced.

Nor am I going to pretend that I have to be quiet when I read a so-called “literary agent”’s “list” and what they’re looking for is merely material that doesn’t say anything offensive against their pathetic impressions of some kind of neutered, conformist god.  If you’re a literary agent who wishes I was kissing the ass of pseudo-spiritual “literary” agents who only rep. Christian books, and you won’t represent me because of that..then I dodged a bullet.

Am I stupid?

Or am I being self-consistent.

If you’re always conforming to other people’s advice..then who are you?  You are—and no offense here, but you are—nothing if you do that.

I’m not advocating nonconformity for nonconformity’s sake, but holy shit, what have we come to as a human culture when we’re so god-damn afraid that we cease to be ourselves.

That’s a failing.

I don’t accept it in myself, and no, I don’t accept it in you.  When you catch me dulling down my flavor, you better call me on it.  When I feel like it, and in the most supportive way, I will be doing the same for those I care about, and those who are listening.