LEARN

I have recently released a poetry collection entitled, “Ouroboros.”  The poems are all thematically linked through discussion of time, hidden intentions, memory, the infinite return, and some other strange ideas.  It’s a collection I am very proud of, I feel that with t I have accomplished a true poetry collection in the classic sense, where one piece is essentially linked to the next, and that they all build toward a short, and surprisingly hopefully climax.  I do have copies available for sale if anyone is interested, they’re only $5 a pop.

The following poem is included in that collection.  It originated when I had been asked to write a piece on “Empowerment” for a small group I was speaking in front of in early summer.

I had trouble writing a traditionally empowering piece; trying both something that functioned to empower a certain community, and earnestly commenting on the importance of empowerment in progressive philosophy.  Instead, I found myself commenting on empowerment as an ideal, and our society’s prickly relationship with it.  Hopefully the tricky balance of black humor/seriousness comes across as I intended.

I share this poem today as its relevance has recently deepened and I am feeling uncomfortable about the future.

Learn:

A bird singing in a cage is silenced by a pen piercing its heart,
Thrown by a drunk man flipping through late night infomercials on television.

Click, click

“Empower Mints!
Try our new Empower Mints!
The only surefire way to self confidence!
Supply and demand, that’s our motto!
Just pop one of our tasty mints and feel the burden of patriarchal oppression melt away!
Now available through your local snake oil salesman!
Liberate yourself…through consumption of our goods!
Empower Mints!”

Click, click.

BEWARE!
Freedom is not possible.
I repeat, freedom is not possible.
Do you understand?

Click, click.

We are bound to acquiescence,
Whether it be by politeness,
Or privilege,
Or panic,
Or paranoia,
We are bound.
Our time is limited,
Our bodies will perish,
And then decay.
It is inevitable.

Click, click.

And you,
Do you dare defect?
Well, good luck to you, fine sir!
Prepare to be ostracized.
Prepare to be judged.
Prepare to let go of sentimentality
Prepare to resent the soul-suffocating burden of happy memories.
Prepare
To be unprepared
For the
Repercussions
Of that.

Click, click

“Enlighten Mints!
From the maker of Empower Mints!
Guaranteed transcendence!
Keep consuming, that’s our motto!
Just one of our tasty mints will send you floating miles above the murky mire of societal expectation!
Available wherever fast food is sold!
Liberate your mind…through consumption of our goods!
Enlighten Mints!”

Click, click.

The television turns off, the screen blackens.

Early morning’s light
Peeks in through blinds,
Illuminating the sleeping drunk’s
Fat stomach.
The dead bird
Bleeds out
At the bottom of its cage,
Silently.

We must LEARN or
Spend our time worshipping false gods,
Their skin painted orange,
Their faces made up, an illusion of humanity,
A facade manufactured
By a focus group
In the basement
Of a large corporate complex
Full of men
In stuffy suits
Sick with radiation from microwaves and cell phones
At a conference table under fluorescent lighting,
Spines curved and asses chapped
With saddle sores
From sitting in office chairs
And staring at computer screens.

We must UNDERSTAND why the dead bird bleeds.
We must KNOW why the dead bird bleeds.
We must LEARN.

Or become it.

On Being Fat:

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The ‘666’ benches at UMass Dartmouth.  Brutalist style Architecture by Paul Rudolph.

On October 28th, I turned 28 years old and for most of those 28 years, I have been fat.  I say “fat” because it scares me.  “Overweight” is a much more easily digestible word—ah, puns.  Saying you’re overweight feels more acceptable, like it’s a temporary stage in between periods of fitness.  Almost like a season.  And if being overweight is a season, it would surely be winter.  I say this for two main reasons; winter is the season in which animals hibernate and pack on pounds—namely bears, which I have often been compared to—and, as anyone unlucky enough to have been fat during a humid summer knows, there is almost nothing more unbearable.  In fact, on those humid days in the summer, you almost fantasize that someone will come with a giant knife and carve the fat off of you because the pain of that temporary flesh wound is more tolerable than the agonizingly annoying experience of standing still and sweating for no apparent reason.

Most of my fat is carried around my waist, particularly in the love handles.  My face also takes some of the weight as well as the upper portion of my arms and a little in the chest.  Though I should acknowledge the fact that I am lucky enough to have my fat resting on a particular large and muscular frame.  I am 6’1 with a 53 in chest, a 20ish inch neck, and a massive cranium.  My legs are enormous but solid.  I have a history of participating in high-level athletics and intense weightlifting, power-lifting and Olympic style lifts specifically.  Though my exercising has significantly dropped off in the past few years, my body is mostly solid, save for some specific areas.  So the reality is that even if I dropped all of my excess weight, I would be well over 200 pounds.

I’ve always been a large human.  I was just over 23 inches and about 9lbs when I was born, always one of the tallest in my elementary and middle school until high school and college where my frame was still larger than most, but had somewhat normalized as I was encountering more peers who were roughly my size or larger.

My size has been one of the defining characteristics of my personality.  It has made me cautious of antique furniture—always slightly paranoid that it may be utterly destroyed by my large frame, keenly aware of personal space—as I’ve always felt like I’m invading someone else’s, and completely contemptuous of shopping for clothes—it’s rare to find something that fits someone with my frame that doesn’t look absolutely ridiculous (ie, the shoulders of a shirt fit but the stomach is a tent, or the waist fits fine but the thighs and crotch practically neuter me).

Some of the earliest memories I have—probably because they were so painful at the time—were of some older male cousins making fun of me when I took my shirt off at my great aunt’s pool.  I remember in pre-school a crush liking a friend of mine over me and being utterly convinced it was because I was fat.  I remember not being able to wear the popular clothes that my classmates wore because they didn’t fit me right, and not getting to have the “cool” haircuts that I wanted because my face was far too big for them to look right.

Of course I recognize now that the haircuts and clothing were silly issues, but it felt isolating, and made this lower-middle-class-too-smart-for-his-own-good only child feel completely isolated and horribly alone.  These early incidents were some of the first fuel for the repressed self-hatred and neuroses that would start to devour me years later.

My chubbiness, and my nerdiness, got me plenty of bullying and the occasional after-school rough-up, but perhaps more damagingly, it made me hyper self-conscious.  I was always concerned with how I was looking or what others may think of me.  It didn’t help that family members were always offering up comments about what I should and shouldn’t be eating to help lose some pounds.  I have one particularly sad memory of being on the large trampoline outside of my grandmother’s house, lying on my back, looking up at the darkening sky on an early autumn evening and wishing to the stars that I wouldn’t be alone forever, that there would be someone who would want me the way I wanted them to, who would love me in the ways I was incapable of loving myself.

Around this same time, my elementary school had started to do aptitude tests with me and suggested to my parents that they skip me from 3rd grade to 5th and move me to the Advanced Placement program at another city school.  I was completely insecure, unhappy with the way I looked, terrified of being ostracized, and paralyzed with a Sartre-esque neurotic fear of how other people saw me, and now they wanted to move me to another school in a whole other grade where I’d be almost two full years younger than everyone else?  It was a legitimate nightmare for me.

My parents decided against moving me, or skipping me the grades, allowing me to make the decision for myself.  In reality, it probably would have been the best move for me.  Maybe I would have been challenged early on and developed studying skills, and you know, learned how to be a student?  Anyhow, that didn’t happen and I remained at Charles S. Ashley Elementary school, a neurotic and pudgy overthinker.

The insecurity about my weight led to a realization that many fat people have, particularly fat males; if you’re funny or clever, people won’t pay as much attention to your weight—or at least it feels that way.  In reality you’re still the fat kid, except now you’re funny so people want to be around you more.  Being naturally adept in the classroom, class clowning came fairly easily.  I could goof off in class and still manage to pull high marks, As with the occasional B, and a near constant C in conduct.  I was never a true class clown, rarely getting detentions, never getting suspended.  I just wouldn’t pay attention in class, and would hope that my wit would get the attention of girls I had a crush on, and maybe even get them to like me…oh gosh! 

What’s ironic is that my self-hatred and neuroses were so pervasive that even if a girl had shown interest in me, I would have been too doubtful of my own position to recognize it.  Instead, I would hope that the personality I was fabricating—to protect my true sensitive self, in part—would be what they would latch onto.  Who could ever like the nerdy and sensitive fat kid?  The thought was absurd.  So instead, I acted out.  Sometimes I wonder how many crushes, friendships, and relationships I rebuffed with that type of behavior between elementary school and college.

This personality issue was compounded as I flew through puberty and into college; relying on relationships with women to determine my self-worth, being incapable of facing rejection, staying in relationships I had no reason to be in due to only the paralyzing fear of abandoning a partner and the prospect of being alone again.  Self-worth was at zero, brash personality at 100, and my weight still above average.  Even when I’ve been in my absolute best shape, from late high school to mid college, I have felt fat.  It’s a nasty self-image problem that I drilled into my own head, which came back around with guns blazing, attempting to destroy any ounce of self-confidence and self-worth that I managed to muster up.  In place of that self-worth I developed an attitude which often came off as arrogant.

Truthfully, it was an almost satirical position for me to take.  I wasn’t actually an arrogant person, in fact I was cripplingly insecure.  The arrogance was a front in which I could simultaneously protect myself and lampoon the generally self-centered approach to life that I felt most of my peers had adopted.  The only problem was that I hadn’t let many people in on the joke, and I was too insecure to be comfortable enough explaining myself.  What if someone else liked my fake-self better than my real-self?  I felt that I couldn’t afford to lose that opportunity.  So instead, my personality remained nebulous and my behavior confusing.  After all, in my own head I was fat, and no one wanted fat people to be around them. What’d Vonnegut warn about?  Something like, be careful of what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.

This perhaps exhibited itself most dramatically in college.  By this time I had figured out how to get what I physically desired from a woman without opening up and risking being found out as the fat and nerdy kid who cries sometimes.  I was acting.  The closeness of a physical relationship, even if only temporarily, provided another haven for me from my own fiercely judging eyes.  I could use my own self-hatred to fuel whatever yarn I was spinning in order to get to the result I wanted and I could feel okay about it because at least the woman I was with liked me, if only for that moment.  It was a way to build what I thought was self-worth.  I recognize now that it was empty, a fact I probably recognized then as well.  But, it was easier to pretend and carry on. It was all such a vicious cycle.

Last Saturday I went to Cable Car Cinema in Providence and saw David Lynch’s Eraserhead.  It was a fantastic experience, anyone who likes film, or movies, or art for that matter should make it a point to see that in a theater.  The sound system was absolutely jacked, the walls were literally shaking.  Anyone who is familiar with that film knows the sound is the most important part, it unsettles you, and at one point during the concluding portion of the film, it unrepentantly devastates you.  [spoilers here for you lame-os that would complain about not having seen a 40 year old movie yet] After Henry kills his child and the electricity starts to short, there’s a crescendo, some unholy combination of organ, industrial noise, and the cries of a baby (and maybe wild animals?) that sustains for what feels like an eternity.  While the sound is eviscerating you—my seat was actually shaking it was so loud—images start to flash that are at the very least disquieting.

The film had completely swallowed me, I didn’t know what to do with myself, it almost felt like I was going to die, or explode, or have a heart attack, and that’s when I noticed it.  My natural reaction to the discomfort was to take the collar of my t-shirt and hold it in my lips.  BOOM!  It was in that moment that I had an out-of-body experience and saw myself neurotically putting something into my mouth when I felt supremely uncomfortable.

So, “Why am I still fat?” I ask myself.

“Habit,” I reply.

It was in that moment in the theater that something became very clear to me about my fatness.  Though slow metabolism may have been the reason why I was a fat child, the neurotic behavior I had adopted as a coping mechanism had fulfilled my own prophecy and kept me an overweight teenager and now, an overweight twenty-something.  All I had been doing for years was providing myself with more fuel for self-hatred and doubt, standing in my own way, creating a problem for myself when there needn’t be one.  And now, here I am recognizing that I have basically trained myself to be fat.

After a few years of turmoil, and now reaping the benefits of taking responsibility for my own life, I no longer am a fat person in my own mind.  I am able to talk about my painful memories because I understand that they shaped me, but they don’t define me.  I am unafraid of sharing my insecurities because I now understand it as empowering, not self-defeating.  I have been able to shed those walls of personality that I built up around myself and I work every day to develop a better relationship with myself and my family/friends/community.  But, I am still fat.  Currently, I am lighter than I’ve been at my heaviest, but I’m still fatter than I would like to be.

Why?

It’s easy to see why food is so good at comforting us, it causes our bodies to dump a bunch of chemicals that make our brains scream, “Fuck yeah!”  It puts an exciting item in our mouths, so we don’t have to worry about something stupid coming out of it.  It’s something we can do by ourselves while we’re still around other people—so it doesn’t feel quite so lonely.  It’s an engaging experience.  And worst of all, it’s an easy habit to defend; “I’m hungry,” or, “I didn’t eat breakfast.”  What’s funny is that as a fat child, you are deprived of certain foods or treats, you don’t get to have the soda or the cake, and adults make you feel bad for wanting them, You know, that’ll only make you even more husky!  So then, the food becomes more desirable and even more comforting, so you sneak an extra cookie and run to your bedroom to eat it, just because you feel shameful for desiring it.

Woah, shame.  I hadn’t thought of it that way until I just wrote that word down in the last paragraph.  Shame for being fat, shame for being different, shame for wanting the same foods that your peers do, and shame that you’re denied them.  Shame for your self-hatred, and shame for the shitty way you cope with it.  Hmm…

Being fat is a funny thing.  Other people remember you by it, you constantly get the dreaded, “How ya doin’, big guy?”  You even start to resent the cutesy politeness that some people take in trying to avoid talking about your size, “He’s like a teddy bear!”  You start to wonder how many people are looking at you and thinking, “Yeah, he’d be totally cute if he wasn’t fat,” or, “Yeah, I like being around him, but I don’t like big guys,” and there’s even the devastating face-to-face, “You’re just not my type,” aka, “You’re fat and that’s gross.”  Many fat people become over-thinkers as a result of this, the type who just want to crawl into themselves or disappear into a corner.  But the great irony is that it’s nearly impossible to disappear when you’re one of the most noticeable people in the room.

You do not know what it is like to be fat if you haven’t been fat yourself.  Every time you hear a floorboard creak, you think it’s your fault.  Every time a glass shakes against utensils on a table as you walk by, it had to have been motivated by your excessive weight.  There’s no second thought that the creaking may just be a poorly fastened floorboard in a 100-year old house, or the table that the glass is resting on may have uneven footing, and the people sitting at it may have leaned on it the wrong way.  In the mind of the fat person, everything that could be a result of your weight is a result of your weight.  It’s even embarrassing when someone offers you seconds or a larger portion of a meal.  It does not matter if in reality they’re just generous, or that they’re trying to get rid of extra food.  It’s because you’re fat and fat people eat a lot.  And never mind social media, woof!  Face pictures only, please!  And don’t ever post an image of your food, that’s asking for an avalanche of judgement.

Maybe shame really is the answer. A painful emotion resulting from an awareness of inadequacy or guilt, that’s how shame is defined.  I might alter that definition to include ‘or an awareness of perceived inadequacy or guilt.’  Maybe, in a way, shame has become habitual for me as well?  Just a thought…

The fact is that I don’t enjoy being fat, and I’m not naïve or delusional enough to champion a body-positive position like, Be what you are, we’re all beautiful!  I’m fat today, and I’ve been fat for 28 years.  It’s been one of the defining factors of my existence and I don’t want that to be the case anymore.  Though now, in my mind, what I look like when I glance into a mirror, and who I am when I envision myself are two different people.  And now, I think I’m just mature enough to understand that I am the only one capable of making that change.

I’m not writing an inspirational piece here claiming, I’m gonna change, and I’m gonna do it now!  In fact, I don’t really want to change much, only one thing really.  I don’t eat too poorly, I do compulsively eat occasionally, but I really don’t exercise enough.  I walk an awful lot, but that’s not enough to effect the type of change I desire.  So, I need to exercise, probably to run.  When I’ve regularly run in the past I have really enjoyed it.  I totally get a runner’s high—blame my addictive personality—and I like the exhaustion and restful sleep that comes after a good workout.  I’m just a poor self-starter when it comes to exercise, probably because I often find myself feeling mentally exhausted.  Maybe because I’m guilty of over-extending myself, but that’s another issue entirely.

Almost 3 decades is enough.  I’ve forced enough foreign and domestic laborers to make extra-large clothes for longer than I consider fair—though in reality, I’ll probably always be at least an XL, not a XXL-Tall as I currently am, sorry laborers.  Addiction psychology says that change only happens when you A) Truly want it to, or B) Truly have to.  And if I have understood my position correctly, that my fatness is a habit, I guess what I’m saying is that I want to quit being fat before I have to.

Short Story: Johnny & Annabelle

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Edgewater Road in Fairhaven, MA minutes before Hurricane Hermine hit.

I wrote this a few months back for inclusion in a small literary zine.  There is a short post-script and an invitation to take part in a writing exercise after the story.  Enjoy!

Johnny & Annabelle

Johnny’s knees were shaking, it had been two years since he had last seen Annabelle. Sure, they’d sent some letters to one another, but what’s a letter when compared to an embrace? Johnny’s mind was spinning. What if it felt awkward when he hugged her? Would she still fit perfectly in his arms? All of the push-ups he was forced to do in basic training made that seem unlikely. Does she still have the same haircut, that short brown bob that perfectly framed her heart shaped face, and her big, round hazel-green eyes sparkling under her long, dark lashes?

They hadn’t been together since September of 1943, he had spent the last two years kicking around somewhere in Eastern Asia. Johnny was resistant to war, and until he enlisted, he would have considered himself a pacifist. But when he saw the clips of that German fascist psychopath waving his hands around and sending thousands of innocent people to be cooked in ovens and choked with poison, he couldn’t help but sign up. He felt it was his civic duty.

Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t sent to fight the hordes of leather-clad fascists that he had hoped for, instead the US Army had decided that his bachelor’s degree in accounting would better serve them on the Pacific front, aiding his commanding officers with tactical math as they attempted to guide themselves through the thick foreign darkness of the Orient’s jungled wilderness.

It had been two long years since he and Anna lay under his parent’s over-grown magnolia tree and had eaten cucumber sandwiches and drank sweet tea. Two unbearable years that he had not held his love’s perfectly manicured hands and kissed her bright red lips, plump and salty with tears.

“Just don’t go back Johnny,” she had said, “They can make it without you! I need you! Here! Now!”

Annabelle had been right, they hadn’t needed him. All he had done was help cut through brush and draw some dotted lines on maps. He had barely seen any violence, save for the two burnt-out farming villages they had run across on their seemingly never-ending trek through the Asian forests.

As soon as Truman had made the decision back in August to drop a couple of big ones on Japan, the war had effectively ended which had made Johnny even more useless.  So now, three months later, after some medical evaluations and lots of time in airplanes, he was back in Texas standing outside of Rosie’s Roadside, a silver-sided de-commissioned passenger train car turned diner. He knew Annabelle would be working, her parents had told him so.

“Here goes nothin’,” he muttered to himself, nervously wrenching his hands around a bouquet of red roses and bright yellow daffodils, in his uniform pocket a velvet-lined case containing an opal necklace he had bought for Anna with part of his military bonus on the way home during a stop-over in France.

Bells hanging on the back of Rosie’s heavy glass-and-metal door jangled as Johnny pushed his way through, his perfectly shined shoes coming down with a click-clack on the black and white tiled floor. Patrons looked up from their meals toward the broad-shouldered young man standing in full military regalia, eyes matching the blue of his jacket, holding a large batch of flowers bursting with reds and yellows at his chest. There was Old Mr. Watson, and his farm-hand Jessum stirring fresh cream into mugs of muddy coffee, white beards stained a rusty brown from the smoke of the pipes dangling from their lips.

“Hi Johnny,” said Jessum, pulling the pipe from his lip and smiling, “Been a long time since we seen you round these parts, there’s some space for ya down T’bacca Row if yer lookin’ for some workin’.”

“Thanks Jessum. How’s it goin’ Watson?” replied Johnny, settling down at a stool by the bar.

“Crop good. Soil been dry, gon’ get wetter soon,” Watson raised the mug to his lips, “Coffee still ’bout as holy as a whore on Good Friday, but I figure it keeps me wakin’ and rakin’ all the same.”

Johnny smiled politely, spinning on his stool and turning his smiling face toward the frumpy middle-aged waitress behind the bar.

“Hi Ed,” he said gently, “Anna out back?”

“Johnny-boy, nice to see you in town now that gat-dung war’s over. She’s catchin’ some air, it’s hotter than the blazes back here today, want me to let her know you’re lookin’ for her? She’ll be squealin’ like a gat-dung baby hog when she done see your handsome young face hangin’ there all smiles and teeth-like.”

“No, no. Just tell her someone’s here to see her.”

Ed slid a plate of blackberry pie and a tall glass of cold milk to Johnny–his childhood favorite–and turned on her heels, storming back through the kitchen to find Anna. Her husband, Charlie the Chef, poked his head through the window to the kitchen.

“Heya John-boy,” he said, his large white teeth beaming, “Pie’s on the house.”

“Thanks Charlie,” said Johnny, plunging his fork into it, watching the crust crack and crumble onto the sticky purple-black of the pie’s filling. It reminded him of a landslide his troop had narrowly avoided during one of the hundreds of torrential rainstorms they experienced in his first year overseas. It would rain for what felt like weeks, and then there would be fog, thicker fog than he had ever seen at home, the type of fog where your shirt gets damp just from walking through it. Then, a day or two later there would be more rain. If Old Watson was having trouble with drought, Johnny though to himself, maybe he should move his crop over to the Orient.

“Johnny!”

Annabelle. It was her! Beautiful Annabelle! His life. His love. The image he had kept in his mind every day and night. The outline he had drawn in the sand on the beach while sitting by his lantern during his second year encampment. His motivation for staying strong when they ran out of food and were forced to eat raw fish and seaweed–he never could understand what the Oriental troops seemed to like so much about that. Oh Anna, it really was her! That face. That beautiful face! That same face he had seen smiling back at him when he was hallucinating, delirious from dysentery, doubled over, rolling back and forth on the ground in his tent, praying for the stomach pain to subside. That face. That perfect face! Here she was. Finally.

“Your hair, it–it’s longer!” he exclaimed, hands shaking with excitement.

“Why don’t you two love-birds go take a seat in the corner over there and do some catch-up,” said Ed, grinning from ear to ear, “let ol’ Edna here fix you up a nice lunch.”

“Do you not like it?” Anna asked, tucking one of her loose curls behind her ear, plopping into a corner booth, “I can cut it like it was before if—“

“Oh nonono, you look beautiful!” Johnny said, face beaming, his eyes tearing up and throat tightening, “I’m just so happy to be–”

SHWAPSHHHHH!!!! Rosie’s front door flew open, its metal frame snapping off of its top hinge and smashing into a table, sending glass shattering across the diner. A wiry figure dressed in black stood just inside the door’s frame. His thin and scraggly brown hair tumbled over a jagged scar that ran across the front of his forehead and down over his right eyebrow. Underneath it, his eye twinkled; a pearlescent blue marble veined with deep purple streaks.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” asked Johnny, standing up and reaching across the table and grasping Annabelle’s hand.

“I think,” stammered Anna, “I think I–what was that?”

“Some guy, I don’t–,” said Johnny, dumbfounded, staring at the stranger, his reply interrupted by Old Watson pointing at the man in the doorframe and shouting, “Well daggumit, you done got glass in my eggs!”

Ed popped her head up from behind the bar, where she had ducked to avoid the thick shards of flying glass, “Aw, don’t go and blame him, Watty!  That door’s been needin’ repairs for ages now,” she said, brushing broken glass off of the counter and putting a plate and coffee mug at a bar stool in front of her.

“Everythin’ alright out there?” shouts Charlie from inside the kitchen, bacon sizzling on the griddle in front of him.

“Ain’t but that gat-dung door Charlie, done scared me and this nice man here half ta death,” she layed utensils out on either side of the plate and filled the empty mug with coffee, “Now why don’t ya have a sit right there mister and we’ll done get that taken care of for–”

Ed’s reply was abruptly silence by the stranger as he grabbed the butter knife from his freshly-laid table setting and violently swung it up under her chin, piercing through the soft underside of her bottom jaw and into her tongue. His hand still on the handle, the stranger jerked the knife further upward again, sending the dull blade through her soft palate and into her brain.

Ed’s normally bowed posture rigidly contorted, jerking backward as if jolted with electricity. Blood ran down her nose and out of the spaces in between her yellowed teeth, bared in a lock-jawed grimace. Her eyelids twitched and fluttered out of sync with one another, like two fleshy moths attempting to flee from her face.

The stranger stood inflexibly, glowering at Ed, drops of her blood flecked across his face.

Ed, body tremoring, took a shambling half-step forward, her knees buckling, posture slackening. With a final bloody exhale, her pupils dilated and her limp body fell to the ground, her skull bouncing off of the black and white tile with a thwack and sending her headband sliding underneath a butcher block stacked with off-white ceramic plates and shining silverware–now dotted with spots of her blood.

A pool of dark crimson formed a halo around Ed’s face. Her cold, open-eyed glare gazed upward into nothing.

The aforementioned post-script and exercise:

I haven’t really written horror stories, and considering ’tis the season, I figured I’d share the closest thing to that genre that I have written.

This was originally intended as a strange little experiment in the shape of stories, i.e. where they should start and end, and the “journey” the characters are supposedly supposed to go on.  It’s interesting what the ending of a story can do to the Set-up.

Considering this particular ending, if you re-read it, hopefully you’ll be in on the joke and interpret the intentional cliches and poofy dialogue as being written with a dark wink and tongue planted firmly in cheek instead of just silly romantic gushing.

At one time I had the idea of turning this into a writing exercise for the classroom:  Imagine this as the first chapter of a two chapter story.  What is the next chapter?

If any reader of this blog would like to submit their second half to the story, I’d love to hear it, and I’ll gladly post the submissions here!!

 

On Nearly Dying:

img_2685This is an essay I had written on October 17th, 2015 and subsequently released in a book of mine–specifically a collection of short works, poetry, and essays–titled, False Profits.

I have given it a quick once-over edit, as part of the original point of writing these essays was to stay true to the moment and not edit any of the material.  Now, being a year away from the project I don’t feel quite as strongly about that so I’ve improved the essay in places that I now find clumsy or redundant.

While I still figure out how to create an online store for my little publishing venture, Domesticated Primate, copies of False Profits are available through contacting me at my e-mail: nickdleblanc@gmail.com

Mention this essay and get 2 bucks off!  You know…marketing?

On Nearly Dying:

“I ‘yam what I ‘yam.”–Popeye the Sailor Man

When I was a freshman in college, I got hit in the back of the head by a hammer throw. Not a hammer being thrown at me by some angry carpenter, but the Olympic sport of hammer throwing–the thing the Trunchbull from Matilda was so adept at. It wasn’t purposely thrown at me, there was a hole in the protective cage around the throwing area through which the implement happened to perfectly soar through as if guided by the hand of an angry God.

The rest of the throwers and I were standing outside of the caged-in throwing circle waiting for our turns to throw. When we heard it hit the cage, and saw it slip right through the hole, we scattered. It was going to hit one of us. It just so happened that I was lucky enough to pick the worst direction to scatter in. Seconds later I felt the punishment of a heavy steel ball slamming into my skull just above my occipital lobe.

I already had at least one official concussion on my personal record from playing football in high school, but this time felt different. When the implement hit me, I all but lost my hearing. There was only a high pitched hum as my field of vision flashed white and faded from clear to blurry to black to blurry and back again. In conversation I usually describe this moment as similar to an old cathode-ray television being turned on, where there’s a quick flash of light accompanied by an electronic hum and the picture fades in slowly.

I hit the ground immediately. The impact wasn’t all that painful but I was in shock. Somehow, I hadn’t lost consciousness. I hopped back up onto my feet as quickly as I could. The hood of my sweatshirt had swung up over my head as I fell and when I peeled it off to check the back of my head with my hand, I immediately felt an abundant warm stickiness. I was bleeding from the head, and it was gushing.

My teammates rushed over to check on me, I heard a few of the women crying (most likely because they thought I had died) and the other guys were asking in chorus, “Nick, are you okay, man? Are you okay, dude?” I don’t remember what I said, all I remember is grabbing a towel from one of their hands, wrapping it around my wound and bounding up to the athletic trainer’s office.

Later, my teammates would go on to make fun of me as my butt-crack had risen above my shorts when I hit the ground, providing the team with a half-moon as they watched me lay on the ground motionless. I secretly resented them for making fun of me for this, this was a much more traumatic event for me than I Was ever comfortable admitting. I wasn’t really comfortable admitting a lot of things at that time.

“I need a trainer,” I said as I walked into the office.

“Is everything okay? What happened? Are you bleeding?”

“I think I’m okay, I got hit in the back of the head with a hammer.”

“And you’re still walking?!” they exclaimed incredulously.

They sent me to the hospital where a doctor gave me a CAT scan, shoved a needle full of local anesthetic in the wound, closed the jagged cut with twelve staples and sent me on my way. They said my skull hadn’t cracked but that I was certain to have a massive concussion. They gave me a prescription for antibiotics and a packet detailing what steps I should take to recover from the concussion and sent me on my way.

That weekend, I made the mistake of going to a party and drinking. It was there that I learned–the hard way–that an antibiotic’s greatest enemy when about four beers later I was projectile vomiting off of a second story porch.

Back then, I honestly never considered the effect that this event may have on me. Apart from the expected jokes–“Maybe it knocked some sense into ya!” “Musta been that thick Polish skull that absorbed that blow.”–the event was rarely discussed and relegated to a good story that I could whip out at parties.

I have spent the past few years trying to make peace with myself and attempting to take a lesson out of my experiences at Holy Cross. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve forced myself to own my decisions, and to take responsibility for my actions. Sometimes it feels like I was another person entirely then, like I’m analyzing some character on a television show or in a novel. I just can’t believe it was me who was there.

Recently my mother and I were talking about my time at Holy Cross and some of the struggles I have gone through since. Luckily, many of the reprehensible and embarrassing decisions I made then have since faded into the distance, but knowing the little she did, she said to me, “Maybe when you got hit in the head it had a bigger effect on you than we wanted to consider at the time. This stopped me in my tracks, I honestly had never really considered the possibility.

These feelings of regret and embarrassment have eaten at me for a long time and now that I’m willing to consider the fact that some of it may be attributed to a head injury, I feel some combination of relief and unease. It’s scary to consider that your personality may have been shaped by something beyond your control. No?

I know the trope, “it’s just college, you were still young!” But that didn’t change the fact that I was saddled with self hatred and beat myself up for years after I finished at Holy Cross. It was a painful time. Maybe I was just confused, misunderstood, and a little anxious about the impression that I had left on a lot of people. I’d like to think that, that’d make me feel a bit better.

Maybe I’m just a poorly adjusted normal guy who thinks too much, or maybe I’m just a well-adjusted lunatic. Whatever and why-ever I am what I am, I’m grateful to be alive and cognizant enough to write an essay about that time my head was almost caved in by a cannonball attached to a 3-foot metal wire.

Reactions to 2016

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Me, reacting.

I have strong reactions.  So strong in fact that occasionally it feels like I will light myself on fire, claw my own eyes out, and throw them at the nearest person if I don’t get some of my thoughts out of my brain.  In lieu of self-immolation or bodily massacre, I often write my reactions down, occasionally sharing them on social media.  I thought it would be a clever idea to round up these reactions from the last year and share them here in chronological order.  I will be actively updating this post as it is only September, and that leaves plenty of time for me to do some reactionary writing, especially with the election in November.  Uh-oh.

The date and context of the reaction are in bold italics so that should give you some clue as to where one thought ends and the next begins.  Though, if this post is supposed to be anything like life, maybe all of these scary and intense thoughts should just blend together into one giant, confusing, and ultimately meaningless hurricane and decimate our existence, damning our poor souls for all of eternity…

2016 has been a year.  Oh boy, has it ever been a year.

Reactions to 2016

1/11/16: Making a Murderer: I’ve been sporadically watching “Making a Murderer” and have a few thoughts:

Though this is a horrifically disturbing account of a justice system in need of serious reforms and accountability safeguards, and that is an important conversation that has to be brought to light and discussed, I can’t help but feel a little disgusted by the reaction I’ve seen to the documentary.

The type of conversation I see about this series–which centers around a VERY white group of people–and the practical consensus that’s been reached about how badly conspiratorial and just plain evil the justice system/law enforcement acted in the Avery case gives me pause…

How come I’m not seeing long police-apologist posts about the actions taken in this case, defending their ineptitude? I’ve come to expect it. Why would we publicize a petition to the White House to free this man–which was a ludicrous idea to begin with, but that’s an entirely different story–are we that comfortable with his innocence?

He openly admitted to dousing a cat in gasoline and throwing it into a fire, he wrote notes to his children saying he was going to kill their mother when he got out of jail because of how she was treating him, and there’s more too!

Why do we seem so torn up with the way this Avery shmuck was treated, but people still support and defend the police and courts in cases like Tamir Rice and Eric Garner? Both cases where there is video evidence of an actual murder taking place with innocent, non-violent people falling victim to police brutality; innocent people who happen to be black. Hmmm…

Is it that there has to be bureaucracy involved for people to take this type of corruption seriously? Do we need to have white DAs and white film-makers and low-IQed white small town residents narrate the tragedy for us to make it real, or to make it okay to admit that sometimes not only is the system fucking up, but it’s ACTIVELY trying to get you?

It frustrates me to see the way that we bias our realities in order to avoid uncomfortable truths and clearly it has frustrated me to the point where I can no longer just sit back and enjoy my murder-porn (as South Park so aptly called it).

But, oh well I guess, who knows, maybe in ten years if I constructed a documentary about mass race-targeting by statewide and federal law enforcement and stretched it out over an unnecessarily slowly paced ten episodes, people would feel a little more comfortable calling things like the Rice and Garner cases exactly what they were.

It’s just so damn confounding sometimes.

1/26/16: Doomsday clock: Given the media’s attention to certain–specifically more modern–doomsday scenarios like biological warfare, natural disaster, economic collapse, and “terrorist” takeover, I sometimes find myself ignoring the fact that there are weapons on this planet capable of utterly devastating the infrastructure and population of our world’s largest cities, as well as radioactively poisoning the gene pools of anyone unlucky enough to be exposed to their fallout.

In my mind, nuclear weapons are paranoid and destructive monuments to humanity’s unbridled will-to-fear. I hate the idea and use of them and I am completely disgusted by their continued use by world political leaders as leverage in some violent–and soon to be irradiated–chess match.

Every year the Doomsday clock announcement acts as a reminder to me of humanity’s most base tendencies: our want to destroy, mutilate, and pillage, all at the expense of our species’ lives and planet. It seems no highly politicized nuclear deal, nor our ‘great’ county’s ‘sustained efforts’ to curb nuclear proliferation can save us now as we remain but three minutes away from our symbolic judgement day.

3/8/16: Capitalism:  Terribly upset to find out that there is an ATM in Antarctica. Our species has managed to infect even the most unlivable part of Earth with our most vicious and cruel disease.

*as an appropriate side-note, it only dispenses US currency.

6/12/16: The Massacre in Florida: It’s interesting to see people’s posts about the massacre in Florida. From the memes of empty support to people rallying against what politicians have or hadn’t said–ironically drawing more attention toward the people whom they are supposedly criticizing. It really has my gears turning.

I just can’t believe that a MASSIVE number of people were shot to death or seriously injured AGAIN in 2016. It reminds me what fantasy world I am either privileged or crazy enough to live in, where I’m allowed to see positivity and hope for change in humanity without too much fear of oppositional violence.

It’s so sad that this happened, I can’t stop thinking about it. But what I’m thinking about isn’t that this happened at a gay club, or that the shooter supposedly pled allegiance to a foreign Anti-American organization (two things of which the media keeps trying to remind me). I’m thinking about people using violence against other people because they don’t know how to express themselves otherwise.

Maybe I’m completely insane, but I actually believe that if people like this shooter were capable of expressing themselves in a non-violent way, they would. I think this is a truth for humanity and I have a strong feeling that the instant propagandizing of tragic situations works to prevent us from reminding ourselves of this thing that I perceive as a universal human truth.

A quick thought experiment:
What if this shooter was a full blooded “Blue Lives Matter” bumper sticker toting, all-out American, Trump-voting, patriot. What if he wasn’t a jihadist bigot, and instead he was positioning himself as the physical embodiment of everything he hates–that he’s sacrificing himself and the lives of a certain number of people just so that his beloved country can rally in support behind the tragedy, finally once-and-for-all putting a stop to these type of tragedies from ever happening again. Almost like he’s Ozymandias from Moore’s Watchmen, or that he’s pulling his own version of the Kennedy-rejected Operation Northwoods.

Let’s imagine this is true, and that the media catches wind of it and turns him into an All-American Hero–someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the moral fiber of his country and its people.

My question is this: What would that change? Would that make him a hero? Would that toss him into the annals of history as a pillar of American strength and fortitude with Washington (an imperialist), Lincoln (a pretend progressive), and FDR (a borderline socialist warhawk)? Would the actions suddenly change from violent and tragic to heroic and brave just because the media understood the facts that way? Is it really all perception?

What do you think?

My answer:
It doesn’t change anything, just like the specific facts of this tragedy don’t matter–just like they didn’t the last time, or the time before that, or the time before that, ad nauseum. I think these “facts” and “details” are the things we tell ourselves to try and feel okay when we’re confused or scared; when the relatively youthful age of our species is exposed and we’re reminded that there is an awful long way to go before fear can disappear and true progress–evolutionarily, socio-economically, culturally–can happen.

What I’m saying is that I feel like we’re searching for a larger or deeper or more specific answer when the facts are already clear, chilling out right in front of our noses. I always leave these situations feeling this way, that cosmically speaking we are bloated babies with God complexes, scared little monkeys running around terrified of our mortality and creating things behind which we can hide our inadequacies, fetishes, and neuroses.

I believe that violence is disgusting and sad, and whether it was a jihadist bigot killing a bunch of innocent people, or a national hero-in-his-mind, or any other possible combination of random bits of information, what we are told by the TELLERS does not matter as much as what we feel as HUMANS and I, right now, feel sick. I know I can’t flee or flag-burn and condemn the system or tote some Sanders-style “revolution,” but I can definitely say how I feel.

I think that what I’m trying to communicate is that if more of us felt comfortable expressing ourselves–and conversely if more of us helped other people feel comfortable when they express themselves–some hopeful metaphorical sun may peek out from behind the dark clouds that hang over us on days like today and help illuminate the possibility for a better tomorrow that it feels like we so actively avoid–or at least clue some more of us in on its existence.

7/7/16: Police murdering black men: White police murdering black men. A man was murdered in front of his wife and child last night because he reached for his ID and the cop got scared. Think about that.

Because I’m white, I have less to worry about when a cop pulls me over. That’s not privilege, it’s disgusting. Why so much violence? Why so much fear? Why so much denial? Do these police apologists want to live in a world where cops function as in-the-moment executioners? I know I don’t. I thought in America we were afforded the right to be run through the–admittedly corrupt–justice system before the decision was made at a federal level to murder us? Apparently not, especially so if you’re black.

“But Nick, what would you have done? Given the increased violence against police officers wouldn’t you be more than a little scared?”

No, because I’d never be a cop. I don’t feel anyone has the right to make a decision that ends someone’s life, especially myself. And is it so scandalous to expect that a law enforcement agency would be trained well enough so that they could control their fear and not unjustifiably murder someone? What a concept! Furthermore, what are they so afraid of? That he’s black? Finally, there is no increased violence against police officers, in fact the world has become less violent over the past 100 years.

C’mon guys.

How will gun lobbyists defend this one? “Guns don’t kill people–racist cops kill people.”

At this point it’s completely undeniable–well really, it’s been undeniable in America for about two centuries–that there is a rampant epidemic of racism in law enforcement that runs right alongside the longstanding American practice of unjustifiable and senseless violence. Why are we so afraid to admit this?

Violence begets more violence and distrust. If the goal really is to create a peaceful free society, something needs to be done now. But if the goal is to continue toward a violent and cold military-industrialized dystopia where policemen walking the beat are responsible for ending the lives of people that they deem to be criminals through no other indication but the color of their skin, well, we’re doing just fine.

7/22/16: Media’s coverage of violent events:  This politico bullshit plaguing every one of my media outlets is starting to drive me up the wall. I just can’t help but feel that we focus on this crap to avoid talking about (what I feel) is the most obvious root and symptom of almost every one of our societal ills.

Violence.

In 2013, roughly 842,000 deaths were attributed to self-harm (suicide), 405,000 to interpersonal violence, and 31,000 to collective violence (war) and legal intervention (cops killing people/death penalty). [sourced below]

I think it’s easy to be a violent psychopath. Almost any human at any time
Is capable of inflicting a shocking level of violence on any other human within a reasonable distance. Yet, it doesn’t happen constantly…why is that?

After all, humans are just fearful primates struggling to stay alive in a world they’ve created that’s too big and has become nearly incomprehensible with information and certainly unmanageable, right? And there’s so many of us who are just complete Trump-voting morons who suck up the TV politico nonsense as if it means a single damn thing in reality and jerk off to our right to own a weapon that allows us to mow down other humans as if they were dried up hayweed, right? And the ones of us who aren’t waxing nationalistic are just over-privileged bleeding heart liberals plagued by guilt and a complete inability to address–never mind solve–our own problems which rarely consist of more than trying to figure out whether to call a Lyft or an Uber in order to get to brunch. Right? Doesn’t that sound like reality? Isn’t that who you are and who I am? And aren’t those the designations we are continually coerced to ascribe to?

Maybe not. Maybe we’re just a young and scared species with brains too big for our own good who continue to create remarkable systems and inventions that righteously scare us right out of our piss-soaked pants. Maybe that’s why we look to religious zealots or bright orange reality TV stars or the wife of an oligarch or people with lots of make up, styled hair, and sharp looking glasses who talk like they actually gave a fuck in their classes during undergrad.

I feel completely ill about this, I feel so lost in details. If a man driving a large truck drives over 80 people who cares what fake pie-in-the-sky he prays to before doing so? It’s a human killing humans because he’s uncomfortable being a human. Just look at the information I cited. In 2013, more people died violently at their own hand than at the hand of someone else. Why is that? Maybe because they were scared and they hated them-self for it and they were afraid to talk to anyone else about it because that person may react negatively and berate them in order to distance themselves because they too are fearful of admitting their own self hatred which is rooted in the same notion, that existence may be completely empty and meaningless and that its awfully scary to consider that possibility. Hmm? How about that?

And what of interpersonal violence? Well, I’d be willing to bet my life that almost every act of human-on-human violence has at least some component of psychological projection that could have been better solved with a time-out in the big chair, a slap on the ass from their mommy, and a conversation with the object of their frustration that could go something like this;

A: “Hey, I’m sorry about that. I’m really confused and scared, and when I realize this, I act out like an animal being put in a cage.”

B: “That’s okay, I’m sorry too. Gee golly gosh, I guess it turns out you and I have something in common after all.”

So again, if life is meaningless and uncontrollable and our species is little more than animals motivated by reproduction and food, why aren’t we just tearing one another apart constantly? My guess is that we actually don’t want to hurt one another and what we really want is some form of companionship in our individual lonely journeys on this big scary planet. Is that really a radical idea? Does it really sound that unlikely?

Maybe I’m just the most cynical man on Earth but I just can’t buy that there’s a solution buried in the facade of the great orange asshole or Hillary the hawk or anyone else for that matter. Every post I see just makes me sadder because I realize that violence continues and will continue while we focus on rudimentary details that distract us from the real problem: we’re scared and don’t know what to do with ourselves.

I plead with anyone who’s persistent enough to stick with me on this rant to at least consider the fact that we are being played like pawns in a game between giant interest groups with lots of money who care for little more than profit. Please don’t let the political games or liberal buzzwords or republican bigotry or corporate benefits or what-the-fuck-ever fool you, none of these figureheads care a damn for us no matter what “side” they’re on, and the only thing we can do is try to build our own communities up to be the strongest versions of themselves through local commerce and staunch anti-violence (which does not mean having a police force that is allowed to commit violence at their whim without consequence).

It’s nearly two in the morning and I’m exhausted, exasperated, and embarrassed to be human so I post my unedited thoughts to a social platform where they can exist outside of myself and maybe generate some kind of discussion that will more likely than not just lead to an empty trading of words with other people who a soul-less algorithm–developed by a capitalistic billionaire and owned in part by corporate marketing interests–determines should view my thoughts.

7/25/16: Cambridge, MA: Cambridge might have the highest concentration of men that smoke cigarettes, have letter-carrier style bags, and wear their shirts tucked in.

8/15/16: The 2016 ElectionI find it interesting the angles that the two major political parties take during election season. This cycle it seems the Dems are sticking to their stale “hope for the future” platform whereas the GOP has adopted the “holy shit, it’s the goddamn apocalypse, be terrified” stance. This leads me to think that maybe the parties aren’t speaking to the global worldview as much as they are referring to the status of their own organizations.

If we look at it this way, then the GOP isn’t crying about the world being doomed as much as they are experiencing the final gasps of their party’s life as the orange haired and bigoted megalomaniac squeezes the life out of them with his smaller-than-average hands.

Similarly, the democrats–led by an imperialist war hawk–are grasping at straws, forging some kind of shaky lean-to (built with empty promises of military withdrawal and more vigilant tax spending) to protect themselves from the truth that their party is doomed to the same fate if they don’t learn to adapt. In this sense, their declaration of “hope” is a cry-out for themselves. As in, “hey, let’s hope this horseshit doesn’t happen to us next cycle.”

I think this is a helpful perspective to try out. Just remember that every time you hear a right-winger shout, “Apocalypse!” that he is referring to the firey death of his own party. And every time you hear a left-winger shout, “Hope!” he is referring to a deep insecurity that his party will no longer be able to hide their sly bigotry and imperialistic tendencies behind structurally compromised walls of social justice and economic reform.

Maybe that’ll help you feel a little better? It did for me when I though of it today.

The sad reality is that no matter the outcome of the election, there is a large probability that an uncomfortable majority of us blue-collar more average than average Joe the Plumber types will blame the US political system for our problems and continue living our short–and ultimately meaningless–lives in a some nebulous spot occupying the space between neurotic paralyzing fear and purposeful mind-numbing (but arguably blissful) ignorance. I guess realistically, not all that much will change until the Earth gets so pissed off at our wastefulness that it decides to forcefully rid itself of its infestation of land-dwelling parasitic louses that vaguely resemble deformed primates. And then, who knows?

Have a positive day! 🎷🐬💥👽👌

8/24/16: Murder of a New Bedford Teen: Looks like at least 3 teens were involved in a stabbing that has ended with at least one of the kids dying from his wounds. How awful.

News like this sends me to a dark place with very little hope. This kid had barely lived. Who knows what type of opportunities he had or what type of support was available for him? How is it that he was able to make choices at such an early age that led to such dire consequences? And in the same community where I was raised?; Where a death by stabbing was a very distant, almost laughable, possibility? What was so different about his upbringing and mine? Evidently we lived in completely different worlds running parallel to one another, how awful and confusing. It makes me feel really sad to see young kids creating such a hopeless reality like this for themselves and falling victim to the disturbingly violent and bleak narratives that society has already constructed for them.

15 years old. That means that 5 years ago he was a 10 year old kid. Do you remember being 15? Man, I love New Bedford but this is a straight up unacceptable occurrence. I know I rail on about violence here on (empty echo chamber) social media sometimes, and I apologize to those of you who may misunderstand my pleas as self-righteousness but again I find myself compelled to bring it up.

How in our community can we eliminate violent behavior and replace it with open dialogue? Is it even possible to realign the values of a community when the surrounding world is so apparently hell-bent on destroying itself with capitalistic and authoritarian ideals? Is there an organization in New Bedford that works to promote peace and empowerment in the community directly (apart from any sly political or fiscally motivated programming)?

Man, this has me feeling like shit. Just so sad.

8/29/16: Starbucks: For me, Starbucks mostly functions as a public bathroom that happens to sell burnt coffee.

9/11/2016: 9/11:  My generation grew up watching the footage of the towers collapsing and living with the global/social fallout. Being a skeptic, I don’t know what happened that day. Realistically it probably doesn’t matter. Every explanation that I can imagine or that I have heard leaves me with the same sick feeling about the human capacity for fear and violence. I just wish I didn’t annually see so much empty nationalism on this day. Almost anything is better; humor, thoughtful recollection, anything.

I think peace is possible, at least I hope it is. Today I worked a farmer’s market where I met a lot of nice people and sold them really beautiful fruit and veggies. Aside from the humidity and the glaring sun it was a great day. If only…

9/20/2016: September 20th, 2011:  On September 20th in 2011, my car was in the shop. I was working in Fall River at the time and needed a ride home. My mother, having the day off, offered to give me a lift. She was spending the day with a friend of hers, helping them run some errands and take care of some personal stuff.

When my mother arrived to pick me up, I hopped in the driver’s seat, “Nick, I had a long day, would you mind driving?” and started down 195 to take us home. Just as we hit 140 south toward New Bedford she got a phone call.

“Hello?”
“No, I’m not sure where she is. When I left she was about to lay down to take a nap.”
“Ok, sure. Keep me updated.”

It was a call from the son of her friend *****, the woman she had spent the day with. He had woken up from a nap 20 minutes earlier and couldn’t find his mother. Her car was in the driveway but she was nowhere to be seen. My mom supposed that she had run across the street to the store, or had maybe gone for a walk.

About ten minutes later her phone rang again, this time the voice on the other line was frantic, a near shout. I saw my mother’s facial expression change to horror and my blood ran cold.

“What’s going on, Ma?”
“Nick! Turn the car around, go to *****’s house now!”

*****’s son had found his mother hanging in the backyard. I illegally banged the car around exit 1 where 140 meets Route 6 and floored it to Kim’s house. My mother called 911 on the way and tried to get in touch with *****’s boyfriend.

We got there before anyone else, just in time to see *****’s body hanging and her son struggling to pull her body down from the tree. About 45 seconds after we arrived, her boyfriend screeched into the driveway, followed moments later by the police. She was dead.

The next few hours were a blur, EMTs arrived, some of her family showed up, more police came, statements were taken. Everyone was sad, or angry, or some combination of the two. My mother was inconsolable, her eyes distant and detached. Being the most personally removed from the situation, the police decided to use me to help corral the family–a decision I’m still not sure I entirely understand.

“Hey, keep an eye on her son for us, make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Could you ask her boyfriend to come speak with us?”

At some point, one of her family members found a suicide note and started to read it aloud from the porch for all to hear. It apologized to her boyfriend, told her children she loved them, and said something I’ll never forget, “this world is hell.”

I don’t really remember the rest of the day. At some point it started raining and I went home with my mother, unsuccessfully tried to console her, and eventually found myself in my bedroom holding my acoustic guitar. I was completely exhausted. I was confused. I was terribly sad.

Watching the rain drop down my window, I remembered something. I had a phone call to make. Earlier that day I had been texting with someone who I had a major crush on and was trying to set up a date. She didn’t live nearby so we had decided that I would give her a call when I had gotten home from work to catch up and make some plans. That was supposed to be around 6 o’clock and it was now at least 11:30. Shit, it was too late, I hadn’t texted her, and I was in no place to talk.

Instead of calling and trying to explain myself, I started noodling on my guitar. Minutes later some chords started unfolding, and then out of nowhere, words came.

A few weeks later I recorded an album with two of my friends and included this song. I still hadn’t called my crush nor had I texted her. Call it anxiety, call it nervousness, or call it selfishness, I’m still not sure which is the truth.

That evening the words just came to me. The first verse addresses me sitting in my room watching the rain fall, the second comments on my anxieties about missing a chance with a woman I liked, and the third and fourth are me feeling the pain of witnessing the suicide of a friend. The last section, a singular line, came up in studio.

We had finished tracking all of the vocals and instruments for the song and we felt like the last portion needed some kind of a vocal line. I decided to just hit record and wing it. What came to my mind instantly was an image of me, standing at a bar somewhere with the girl I was crushing on, telling her the story of finding *****’s body and how it made me feel. In that moment I felt complete doubt and shame with myself and thought, “Well, that’s one way to guarantee you sleep alone tonight.”

*****’s death haunts me. The image of pulling into her driveway and seeing her hanging is burned into my brain. That moment has shaped me and has been instrumental in how I understand my life, and how I shape my experience. I believe to be true her final comment that this world is hell. But, since her death I’ve found that I’d add a postscript; that this world can be heaven too, If we’d only allow it.

9/22/2016: News:  I’m pissed. What is it with these “news” articles from alt-right sites that people post after every police officer shooting that try to tarnish the image of the victim? Whether or not these victims had warrants or had a history of crime does not matter. They were wrongfully killed by police officers. That’s the point! Cops are not bastions of moral fortitude and judgement, they do not have permission to execute based on a difference in principles. Helloooooo…

Why do you scumbags who repost those articles feel the need to relish in the fact that the victim may not have been a Dudley-Do-Right? Do you get off on it? Do you think about it when you’re lying in bed alone and squeal with delight? Do you feel pleasure in your loins when you sit there imagining a father/brother/son lying on the street bleeding out and telling yourself “he’s a bad man, he deserves it, I’m so much better than him.” What kind of a sorry excuse for a human are you?

Also, white people, why is there so much fear of #blacklivesmatter? Does it make you feel threatened to see a historically oppressed population stand up for themselves and fight back against the status quo? Has it been easier to live with your eyes closed, telling stories to yourself that all of these victims of police violence were bad people, and that every cop is a stand-up everyday goody guy gun-toting American foot soldier?

Get real here. This is gross. Every person has the right to a voice whether or not you agree with it–yes, including Colin Kaepernick. It’s a goddamn song and a banner. True patriotism is standing up for an ideology of freedom, and that means freedom of expression you closed-minded wack jobs!

To me, violence is wrong in any capacity whether it be a protester gone mad, a cop killing someone, a drone dropping bombs on a small village in the desert, a soldier cutting down some enemies, or even schoolyard bullying. Admittedly this is an extreme and un-pragmatic position to take, but it’s what I’ve arrived at and I just can’t take the type of hypocritical banter I’m seeing every day on social media, in the news, or even just walking down the street. It makes me want to jump in the ocean and just swim off the edge of the Earth. So much fear. Gross.

10/7/15: Trump:  I’m still quietly hoping that Trump is really just a genius satirist or maybe a performance artist. Just instead of nailing his balls to the sidewalk like that guy in Russia, he’s nailing the American political systems’ balls to a rocket that’s set to fly into the farthest reaches of our galaxy. Wackadoo.

Free write: 9/6/2016

Processed with Snapseed.

Late Summer patiently waiting to give way to Fall.

It’s coming, can you feel it?  It blew against my face today as I stood barefoot in a sandpit in a family member’s backyard.  I heard it in between the notes of Leonard Cohen’s guitar as I listened to him mumble/croon on “Chelsea Hotel #2.”  I felt it tickle the bare skin on my triceps as I stood in a parking lot in Boston at 1:30 in the afternoon on a particularly muggy day.  Shadows are casting longer than just a month ago and the sun hangs lower in the sky, already starting the descent to its hiding place below the horizon when I’m driving back to my apartment from a long day of work on the farm.

Fall is here, patiently waiting for summer to end, throwing its subtle reminders at us: “Buy some sweaters!  Make sure your jacket doesn’t need to be dry cleaned!”  Even the beers are changing.  Gone are the crisp citrusy pilsners and hop-bomb IPAs and here come the thick, caramel colored, malty lagers, the kind of beverages that are meant for a sweatshirt and a campfire, or maybe a large turkey leg and a bratwurst.

Autumn is the best, especially here in southern New England.  Nothing beats that crisp air, that urge to sit outside at night drinking high ABV beers and chatting for hours with your friends, that overwhelming beauty when you drive on the highway and see the lush green leaves turning to vibrant shades of rusty red, burnt orange, and golden yellow.  If you think another season is better than Fall, you’re wrong.  Plain and simple.  Summer might be the only season which can challenge autumn, its arrival itself a similar experience to the elation that the first licks of the autumn season bring.  Though in summer, the sun is higher in the sky, warming your face up, pulling you out of the sorry, wet, and cold excuse of a season that we call the New England spring.

Fall brings me back.  Suddenly I’m in high school.  I’m stuck in the past picking that first outfit for the year, receiving a new schedule, scoping out the classrooms to see who I’ll be checking out and/or avoiding.  It was always the best part of the school year, when teachers were still sweet and excited to be working with you, before they’ve reached their first half of the year burnout.  It was a time when your relationships with fellow students were still blooming, not enough having happened to fuck up the pleasantly innocent early-in-the-schoolyear vibes.

You still have butterflies in your stomach, wondering what will happen next, and where, and with whom. Fall brings back suiting up for football games, my body steaming in the crisp night air when I rip my pads off and head to the locker room.  It brings back my first experiences with love and romance, holding my high school girl friends hand at the annual Thanksgiving  bonfire,  the tips of my ears stinging because I forgot to wear a hat.

Then, I’m in college.   I remember making mistakes in my first few weeks at Holy Cross, making decisions that ruin relationships before they’ve even begun, destroying school property, waking up too hungover to function, making a fool of myself to some woman somewhere who knows about something stupid I did with someone else at some other time in some other situation.  I’m at alumni weekend, drinking with some middle aged men who convinced us, “Hey, we used to live in this dorm room!”  They drank our beers!  Not even their own!  Now that I think about it, I can’t believe how cheap that was of them.

Maybe I haven’t had enough time away from Holy Cross yet to remember my Fall seasons there with any kind of pleasant nostalgia.  Really the best times I had during the Fall in college were with two of my best friends in Western MA, a place that became a refuge for me after my sophomore year, when I could no longer handle spending time on the Holy Cross campus.  I would whisk away there just about every weekend, if not every other weekend.

I remember wearing sweatshirts and jeans, riding through Western MA blasting music, drinking beer, letting a high taper off as I rolled down the windows and breathed in the fresh farmland air.  I remember crashing on couches or in two hundred year old houses on the Connecticut river where we would eat steak and drink all night long, laughing, playing music, and enjoying life with some of the most interesting people I have ever met.  There were crazy costume parties full of fuzzy memories, dancing, playing beer pong with Kathleen Turner, teaching a girl how to play ukulele who’s name I can’t remember at a party in some weird version of a dorm at Hampshire college where there was far too many people and too much smoke and too much liquor.  Sitting on someone’s bed, seeing them take pills out of small sandwich bags or rub some mysterious something on their gums.  Laughing, laughing so hard that you think you are going to puke.  Strolling through downtown Northhampton and getting ice cream even though it’s far too cold, digging through used book shops in Amherst, and falling in love with every girl I met that would have a real conversation with me like a regular Holden Caulfield.

There were times sitting on porches, rapping about life with friends, playing harmonica with some weirdos who I didn’t know, skyrocketing a beer in protest of us getting kicked out of two parties in the same night, one where we had pretended to be a Jewish acapella group, and another where I had made an off-color joke to a particularly sensitive crowd.

There were people dressed in costumes, strained drunken meetings with an ex-girlfriend, walking for what felt like two decades just to grab a few slices of pizza, being woken up in bed with a girl on her birthday by her roommate who burst in holding a cupcake with a birthday candle in it which neither of us could get up and grab because we were naked under the sheets.  I remember the cold autumn air creeping in through a window as we played guitars and recorded albums of improvised music, or ran through the plot lines and jokes of a screenplay we had written inspired by our own lives.

Picking up a hitchhiker and bringing her to a job interview, filling up hookah with wine, discussing philosophers, and drinking the shitty coffee that she made us in her french press.  Later in the night, I would leave her with my friends as I slowly started to realize she would impinge on our evening plans of bar-hopping.  It was now their job to figure things out while I was waiting for them to meet me in some pub, where I was drinking beer and telling the story to whomever would listen.  I don’t think my friends have fully forgiven me since.  I saw it as pragmatic decision making, you know the whole self preservation thing, they saw it as abandoning ship.  Difference of opinions I guess.  Oh well, it all worked out in the end, at least for us.  Who knows for her?

Every year these feelings and memories blow in on Fall’s crisp winds and I heartily welcome them, so really my love of Fall may be more of a chicken and the egg argument than I would have imagined.  It’s the only time of year when I feel even vaguely nostalgic and frankly it’s the only type of nostalgia that doesn’t make me feel like I want to double over and spill the contents of my stomach onto the floor.  So, for that, I am especially grateful.

When I was in Western MA, I was in a different universe, a place I had created with my best friends where consequence didn’t exist and the world was there for us to explore.  It was the ultimate escape from the nightmare reality I had created for myself back at Holy Cross–an experience I have written about extensively on this blog in the past, so no worries dear reader, there will be none of that here today. The biggest concerns were how to pay for beer and/or weed, and to maybe find some women we could flirt with.  My time out there was wholly necessary for me,  to this day I relish every moment I get to spend there, and I am forever grateful for my friends who supported me and helped me get out there when I could’t find a way or couldn’t properly afford to.  You guys helped save my life!

In October I’ll be going back out there with some of the same friends and loved ones who were there with me in the past, as well as some new ones, to make new memories and I can hardly wait.  I hope by that time that Fall is in full swing, and I cannot wear a T-shirt outside without a jacket or an over shirt.  I do not want to pack any shorts and sneakers with me, only jeans and boots…oh, and malty, high ABV beers.

Though, if climate change continues its terrifying pattern of rapidly warming the planet into a giant ball of soupy humidity, my beloved crisp autumns may not be very long for this world…PLOT TWIST!  This was an anti-climate change PSA the whole time!

Sleep well and don’t let the super storms destroy you.

Soapbox Social 3/25

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New Bedford Book Festival, my first customers.

I wrote this piece to share at the Soapbox Social in Downtown NB last week.  It was a great experience, I got to listen to some heartfelt stories told by interesting people and I really look forward to the next one.

The theme of the evening was, It’s a Sign!

With that being said, I leave you with the piece.

It’s a Sign!

I’m not really the ‘Faith’ type. In fact I don’t really believe in a God, or follow any one religion, and it seems fairly likely that human life is nothing more than some crazy mishap that farted itself into existence in the middle of some big cosmic nothing. But I’m open. I do believe that we are supposed to learn from our experience, as if the universe or life itself is passively dialoguing with us and our bio-physiological makeup; helping us to learn and evolve and whatnot? I can buy that, that seems reasonable. But, I’ve always had a hard time believing in “signs.” You know, messages directed explicitly at YOU, like the Universe is pointing a finger in your face and shouting, “You! Listen!” Those instances are dangerous as they feel like delusion, like whatever grasp you have on your mental health is slipping through your fingers and spilling you out into some crazy world of schizotypal psychosis. It’s a dangerous road to hoe.

With that being said, would you like to hear about the single craziest thing that has ever happened to me?
During my sophomore year of college, I was accused of plagiarism—or more accurately, academic dishonesty. It was due to a paper I had written on Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts. Like most of my work at the time, I had waited until the very last minute to commit my thoughts to paper, I was—and still am–no fan of that book, or her work in general. But hey, a man’s gotta do yadda yadda, right? In an attempt to avoid doing as little analysis about the novel as possible, I used a historical framework in structuring my thesis, looking at Germany’s Slitzkrieg and Blitzkrieg and focusing on the impact that these WWII events had on Woolf’s writing. I think there was also some other corollary point in there about Freud’s influence on Woolf’s exploration of the implied sexuality of her characters, but that’s neither here nor there.

What matters is this:

•At that point in my academic career I was an abysmal student, hardly showing up to class, turning in the bare minimum requirements, and generally having to force myself into a manic state in order to accomplish anything at all. There were a few reasons for these struggles:

•I was completely obsessed with a woman I was dating—I mean head over heels, holding a boom-box outside of a window obsessed.  I was suffering from undiagnosed depression, fueled by self-hatred that I was doing everything in my power to avoid—most likely out of the fear of actually having to fix my problems (a truly terrifying prospect).

•My poor academic performance had rendered me nearly catatonic with shame and self-consciousness. This combined with my depression and the fact that I had been a misfit since setting foot on the campus provided ample sustenance for the beast of self-hatred that was crouched on my back digging its claws into my shoulders and draining every last ounce of my life force; a situation which often prevented me from even passing through the threshold of my bedroom door. Unless, of course, my girlfriend was visiting from Connecticut College, oh boy! Then I was Hercules fighting the lion, I was Beowulf, I was Leonidus…and his brave 300! I was all-powerful, a God amongst men!

You see, I had sunk what little self-worth I had into that relationship, as if it were a lifeboat in which she and I could weather any storm. When she was there, I was strong! Shit, I was invincible. But when she wasn’t I was unmanageable, a complete wreck, I was the crack in the hull sinking our lifeboat. I just didn’t know it.

Anyhow, that’s just the basic snapshot of what I had going on back then. The Nick LeBlanc of that time was a sad, confused, pissed-off, anxious, helplessly in love, and hopelessly depressed young man. Things weren’t the best.

I turned in the paper after a night of furious typing, cursing myself aloud, and tearing through bags of candy and cup after cup of coffee. A week later, I was called into the professor’s office where she told me she would be bringing the paper forward to my dean and an academic committee.

“Why?” I asked, “What did I do?”

“You plagiarized,” she said, her words echoing off my skull and stabbing me deep in the roots of my soul.

Long story short, my horrendous class attendance and suspicious behavior when I was actually in class led her to believe that I was incapable of writing something with that depth of analysis. Working against me was the fact that once upon a time some other poor Virginia Woolf-hating schmuck had also decided to avoid analyzing Between the Acts by burying his thesis in an analysis of Hitler’s wartime decision-making—something she found when scouring the internet, plugging in my phrases and trying to gather evidence that I had nicked my ideas from someplace else, something she found far more likely than me actually writing the paper. Though there was no exact phrase-matching, the mere existence of a similar paper was enough to turn her suspicion into action. That was a deep cut that I was unsure I could recover from.

Looking back on it now, I can’t really blame her. She was probably frustrated with me, and thought that somehow her actions would help straighten me out. After all, I had never demonstrated my academic potential with her. How was she to know that I had taken so much Adderall when writing the paper that I could practically levitate? How was she to know that I had gotten through all of my previous classes with some version of the same pattern: don’t go to class> read most of the assignments> enter manic hyper-intellectual trance> write a great paper> go back to ignoring class and skipping homework> end semester with a low B/high C.

I hadn’t plagiarized, and wasn’t convicted of academic dishonesty—as there was no evidence–so it never went on my record. In lieu of taking the investigation any farther, everyone agreed a semester away from Holy Cross would do me well, so I did just that, took a semester off and went to work.

Shortly after this, my girlfriend who I had fallen even more in love with—or I should say, who I had buried even more of my self-worth in–broke up with me. Soon after, my friends returned to college and I was stuck in New Bedford working 9-5, alone and more depressed than ever. Over the next few years my situation would fluctuate, mostly going downhill–though I did go back to school and work my way through the last few semesters…barely.
I came out of college a complete mess, self-medicating with marijuana and alcohol, ignoring my problems, and continually distracting myself from the reality of my situation. I was manic, then depressed, then manic, then depressed, then less manic, and more depressed and then more manic and less depressed…and my feelings, psshhhh, feelings? I hated myself too much to take my feelings seriously: C’mon man, you loser! You’re sad? Grow up, maaaan! I could be a real jerk to myself. I just had no balance. Things were not good.

In 2012, everything collapsed when one evening—after a particularly bad work week (11+ hour days, working 15 days straight)–I thought I lost my mind. I had some version of a nervous breakdown that kept me out of work for 2 weeks. I was at my lowest point, and it had all started with that accusation made by Professor Reynolds during sophomore year at Holy Cross…

After a few years of research and soul searching, I’ve come to understand my incident in 2012 as something like a revelatory experience, the type of thing that psychologists like William James write about. It was the mark of a complete turnaround in my life. It was my moment of clarity. It was the first time I had considered that existence may be more than some kind of nihilistic accident. My mind opened up, and things became clearer than ever before. I learned to understand and accept myself for who I was…and I actually started having feelings again, how profound!

Writing has helped me tremendously since that revelatory moment in 2012, I now do it every day and recently have started to take it a step further. Since 2014 I have written 3 books and I am currently working on 3 more. I have published these works through a small venture I started, Domesticated Primate, which very soon will be open to submissions from the public–something I am incredibly excited about. Things have turned around for me, I now listen to myself and address my problems, and luckily, this has freed up my mind to the point where I can pursue things that I think help the community around me, like my most recent career change to teaching at a public school. I feel fortunate.

Recently, that good fortune continued when I was lucky enough to have a table at the New Bedford Book Festival put on here at Groundwork. It was a wonderful day had by all. I was just about done setting up my table when I had my first visitors, a child of about 10 or 11 years old and his two parents in their 40s. The child picked up a copy of my book, OTHER PEOPLE, and was inspecting the cover. While still adjusting my displays I got into a conversation with his parents about the book’s plot and what constitutes the difference between chapbooks and zines—a question inspired by some of the work I had on display from local authors. I finished my fiddling with the table and stepped behind it when his mother looked up at me, wondering if OTHER PEOPLE would be appropriate for his age range. I looked down at the child, briefly considered the question, fixed my gaze up toward his mother where we locked eyes and WHOOSH!

Has that ever happened to anyone else? When you notice something and your mind just, ZOOM, travels across time? Suddenly you’re somewhere else but you’ve left your body in the present, a façade, a shell of a person staring into nothingness?
I was suddenly sitting at that academic conference in 2008. Flanked by my parents, wearing a shirt with too tight of a collar and an uncomfortable tie, I scan the faces staring at me from across the table: my advisor, my class dean, the head of the Holy Cross English department and…no, it can’t be…WHOOSH—time travelling again, back to the present.

Professor Reynolds?

Yes. It was. The very first person to visit me at the New Bedford Book Festival, in fact the very first person to ever buy a book from me was the woman who in 2008 had such doubt in my ability that she accused me of academic dishonesty and was the impetus for me to go on an almost 5-year journey of self-discovery; the very woman who dealt me the single most necessary slap in the face that I have ever experienced—metaphorically of course; the very woman who without her (admittedly severe) intervention, I may have never gotten into writing or found any semblance of balance in my life. She was standing in front of me, not recognizing me, handing me money and congratulating me on the great work I’m doing.

When I figured out it was her, my heart dropped through the floor, Ka-Bung! Is this real life? Am I dreaming? I must be losing my mind, this has to be a delusion, there’s no way I…

She walked away with her family to go check out some other tables. I gathered my composure and approached her, reminding her of who I am and thanking her for calling my shitty behavior for what it was back at Holy Cross. She hugged me and said that educators never like having to go through that and that my outcome was exactly what people in her position always want to hear.

I haven’t told you the craziest part yet. That day at the Festival, I was set to do a reading at 3pm. The piece I had chosen was a chapter from an in-progress novel inspired by my college experience titled, “Paul is Dead, or Nodus Tollens.” In that chapter, which I had settled on the night before, I directly reference my plagiarism experience with Professor Reynolds and quote something she had said to me during the conference that always stuck with me; that my behavior was a “master-class in inaction.”

Apparently they were at the festival because her husband works at UMass Dartmouth, and they had some affiliates with work at the Festival. It was something like that, I was honestly too shocked to really process her reasoning.
Now, I know—or at least I think–it wasn’t God, or Mother Nature, or the Universe or some other cosmic being speaking to me, but c’mon, what kind of experience is that? How can I not see that as a sign? Unless it’s some kind of Truman Show-esque conspiracy that you’re all in on…hmmm?

Anyhow, in the next few weeks she will be highlighting me as a Feature Writer on the website and social media pages of the Holy Cross Creative Writing concentration as an example of an artist who has taken the non-traditional route and has started to find his place within his art and his community. I can comfortably say that things are good.

Who would’ve thunk it? Certainly not me.