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.

…and Found

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On March 25th, 2016 I will be speaking at an event called the SOAPBOX SOCIAL.  It will take place from 7-9pm at Groundwork! in Downtown New Bedford, MA.  The theme of the evening is, “It’s a Sign!”  I had originally written this essay for the event, but now after having an incredibly coincidental thing happen to me–something I will most likely share here once I’ve written it–I am considering writing a new piece.

With this being the case, I have decided to share the essay here.  I’m happy that I can do so, it’s very personal and deeply meaningful for me.  Committing these thoughts to paper was cathartic, and I’m pleased with the result.  My hope is that maybe my experience can encourage others to share their experience as well.

I may very well end up reading this essay at the SOAPBOX SOCIAL if I don’t like the way the new one comes out, but that remains to be seen.  Anyhow, thanks for reading and enjoy!  The piece is titled, “…and Found.”

…and Found.

In February (I believe) of 2012 I spoke at a Soapbox Social event on the top floor of CORK wine and tapas.  The theme was Lost and Found.  I prepared for the event with—what was at the time—my normal ‘performing in public’ routine; ingesting too much marijuana, feeling like I’ve lost my damn mind, and then subsequently drinking a few beers to try to ground my thoughts well enough so I could improvise my way through whatever it was I had gotten myself into.  I walked to the front of the room, admittedly surprised by the amount of people in attendance, and nervously coughed and stumbled my way through a set about a lost and found bin at the back of my elementary school classroom, and the existential metaphor that came about from considering the purpose of that item.

Interestingly, completely by chance, I came across a recording of that performance when I was trying to figure out exactly when my last appearance at a Soapbox Social had occurred.  Upon first listen, I found it kind of funny, kind of thoughtful, but mostly a sloppy mess of would-be clever ideas if only I hadn’t been more-than-half-in the bag while speaking.  The biggest reaction to my words being when I recycled a joke from Austin Powers.

I went through a moment of total self-hatred as I sat there, phone in hand, watching the little orange bar take over the little waveform on the SoundCloud app while my voice–a shaky warble about ready to erupt into laughter at any moment–filled the room.  How could I have been that rude to other people taking the risk of putting themselves out there and telling a story?  Just because you’re comfortable with your own BS doesn’t mean everyone else is.  Did you think it was cool to do that?  Or was it a necessary thing?  How pathetic, how embarrassing, how…

I had to shut if off before the audio finished.  Most people probably weren’t able to tell that I was inebriated as I weaved that strange improvisation four years ago, and if any of you listened now, it may just come off as someone being awkward and sputtering out whatever came to his mind, or maybe I’m just being hard on myself.  It’s hard to tell, really.

About 3 months or so after I spoke that evening, something happened to me.  I was working a sales job, and on the eve of my first day off after a 15 day work streak–working at least ten hours a day the whole time—everything came to a head.  At that time I was a daily marijuana smoker, going through a little over an eighth per week, or sometimes more depending on who I was with and if any of them pitched in (which they usually did). I was with two friends, we had engaged in our typical ritual consumption of herb and alcohol and had sat down to watch the Bobcat Goldthwait-directed God Bless America.

Yes, the same Bobcat Goldthwait who spoke like he was swallowing a large, live fish.  Yes the same Bobcat Goldthwait who starred in Police Academy 2.  And yes the same Bobcat Goldthwait that set the Tonight Show on fire.  I know, odd choice.  But honestly, his films are pretty incredible, particularly a recent documentary he directed.  And given the reaction that God Bless America elicited from me, it would be safe to at least call his work affecting.

I should say here, before I proceed any farther, that at this particular time in my life I was especially unhealthy, incredibly depressed, and menacingly self-loathing.  I was using marijuana to self-medicate (whether I understood it or not) and didn’t see a way out of the corporate work->sleep->medicate->repeat until death cycle for myself.  My college experience, and my personal feelings of resentment about the whole of that experience, just sat on top of my shoulders daily, like a vulture on my back, pecking at my self-confidence.  Needless to say, things were not good for Nick.

Anyhow, the film, God Bless America, is basically a revenge fantasy of a guy who continually gets dumped on by life; at work, by his ex-wife, by his shitty neighbors.  Long story short, he finds out that he has inoperable brain cancer and snaps, killing every object of his hatred and loathing.  I was high and fragile, and it floored me.  I barely made it through the first 30 minutes of the film before I became possessed by an unshakable hunch that my father—who had the day off from work and was resting at home—was going to kill himself.  The two guys I was with didn’t understand where this thought was coming from, and it freaked them out—rightfully.  I called my father—who needless to say, hadn’t killed himself, nor had any intention to—and proceeded to have a complete paranoid collapse.

It went something like this:

Maybe it wasn’t my father I was seeing in the movie, maybe it was me?  And what about all of these little coincidences I had been noticing?  Wait, are these people really my friends?  Can I trust them?  Who can I trust?  If it has a conscious brain I can’t trust it.  What can I trust?  Art, I can trust art…and my dog, I can trust her too.  But what about this movie, what is it saying?  If this movie is communicating something to me, maybe all movies have been communicating something to me!  Maybe books too!  Maybe everything is communicating with me, trying to tell me something.  Patterns, synchronicity, everything!  It all is talking to me!  It all means something!  No, not to mewith me.  Oh my god! It makes sense!  It all makes sense!  Does anyone know about this?  Does anyone else know that I know this?  Has this all been a set-up to make me realize this?  Wait a minute, if it’s a set-up I really can’t trust anyone.

I was so freaked out, so terrified, my mind racing ten-thousand miles an hour.  My friends had called my family, letting them know what was going on.  I’ll say here, it pays to have good friends.  Soon, the whole of my close family would arrive.

But meanwhile back in my thoughts I had become Joseph Campbell. I had written The Hero With A Thousand Faces with a million of my own thoughts in one instant without ever having been exposed to his work!  I was Alan Watts dictating The Book and exploring the nature of its titular taboo even though I had never heard of Watts!  I was Timothy Leary’s eighth step in his model of consciousness, even though it had never been taught to me!  I was Luke Skywalker! I was Jesus…no…I was God himself! I had figured it out, I had seen the secret.  I had transcended my own miserable, depressed consciousness!

It was here that my whole family showed up, all somehow wearing either red or blue clothing.  Some with a combination of the two.  It was truly strange.

Back in my mind:

But wait, if I have transcended my own consciousness, does that mean I’m dying?  What happens next?  Is this enlightenment? Or am I going to have a heart attack?  I bet my blood pressure is sky high because I’m freaking out so badly right now.  Blood.  Wait, red…and blue.  Why is everyone wearing red or blue?  What can I trust? Who’s real?  Are they the real thing?  Do they know that they are all wearing those colors?  Are they doing it on purpose?  Am I dying?

I truly thought I was dying in that moment.  I got brought to the hospital, checked in as a psych patient, and given a tranquilizer that put me to sleep for an almost full 24 hours.  I took two weeks off from work and followed up with a psychologist at Butler Hospital who told me that people with my set of ingredients—high IQ, depressed, drug-using, stressed—sometimes create a vicious recipe that some of the unluckier ones never come back from.  He used the analogy of a door, “Some see the world through a keyhole, give them drugs and excessive stress, and that keyhole becomes a door.  Some are already outside of the door, and when given the same things suddenly they’re propelled across the whole universe with occasionally disastrous results.”

That made me feel a whole lot better.  Sincerely.

But like I said, something happened to me.  In the years since, I’ve mostly called it a nervous breakdown or a religious/revelatory experience (in William James’ sense of the word).  Now, I like to consider it with a positive connotation, and after doing much research, I have found that experiences like that aren’t unique to me, and that many people, like myself, consider it a blessing—albeit a confusing and horrifying one for anyone involved.  I know now that that moment changed my life for the better.  My mental levees constructed by social schemas and societal expectation were leveled, my consciousness-dam of self-hatred was washed away.  I was free because I finally understood that I was in control of my own life, and that the harder I tried to do the right thing—instead of just doing the thing that feels good—the better life would be for myself and those around me.

Last time I spoke in this program, the theme was Lost and Found.  Shortly after, I lost my mind.  How perfect!  In the years following, I plowed through my own self-doubt and worry that my revelatory experience wasn’t as significant as it felt, and that maybe I was just as crazy as I seemed that night, but I kept moving forward.  I started dating my wonderful girlfriend, became more disciplined in my work, artistically and professionally. I started making decisions based on what is good for me, and what is the right thing, not on what should or shouldn’t be happening according to some nebulous, all-powerful authority—societal or otherwise.  And now, most is good for Nick.

Though there is one thing I struggle with, and it is mighty powerful.  The ghostly presence of regret.  I think about my past lives and decisions and feel sick sometimes.  It haunts me.  If only I was given the opportunity to relive some of those past experiences and show how much I really have changed.  If only I had applied myself more in college, If only I had saved my money instead of blown it erroneously, if only I had paid those parking tickets, if only I had better managed the upkeep of my car, If only I was given the opportunity to redo my Soapbox Social from 2012…

Hey, wait a minute…

It’s a sign!

Free write: 2/21/2016

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Have you ever had Licorice Allsorts?  Do you know which candy I’m referring to?  The soft pieces of black licorice wrapped or stuffed with a sugary coating?  Some look like little quadrilateral sandwiches, others a non-pareil (usually colored either pink or blue), and then there’s some that are wheel-like with a spoke of licorice in the center, the “tire” portion of the wheel made up by some vaguely coconut-y fondant type thing with the texture of cake frosting that has been left in the open for a week and a half.  Do you know which ones I mean yet?  I believe they originated in England.  If you know what I’m referring to, or if you’ve taken the time to Google it, you’ll quickly understand how easy it is to picture some Little Lord Fauntleroy type begging his ‘mum’ for a ‘go at the Allsorts’ with his post-dinner ‘spot’ of tea–or maybe it’s just me?

Anyhow, they’re a candy that elicits a deep memory for me.  I remember my mother leaving them in a candy dish on an antique coffee table in the apartment that I grew up in.  I would parse through them picking out which were my favorite and concentrating deeply on what made the flavors up, trying to figure out why some were dyed pink (strawberry), brown (chocolate), yellow (vaguely lemon-ish), white (unflavored sugar), or orange (orange).  It’s a fond memory.  I would take the candy coating from one, remove the licorice, combine it with the coating of a different flavor, and then re-wrap the hybridized creation around one of the pieces of now coating-less licorice.  It was great.

Allsorts aren’t a particularly popular candy probably due to their very distinct flavor–in fact my girlfriend spit out both pieces that I had her try–so whenever I see a package of them at a store, I feel utterly compelled to purchase it.  This happened today when making a trip to Big Value Outlet in South Dartmouth to purchase some Liquid Plumbr for a pesky drainage problem in my apartment’s shower (something to be expected in old houses).  I was going through the aisles killing time when I came across the 14.1 oz package for $2.00 and immediately grabbed it off of the shelf.  I felt pleased.

And then, out of nowhere, I came within inches of my sanity almost completely unraveling…but before we go into that…

I had spent part of this weekend in Worcester, in fact we stayed not too far away from my alma mater, The College of the Holy Cross.  En route to the destination, I made a quick drive through the campus to take a look at the renovation job their athletic center is currently undergoing.  It looks nice, the renovation was a long time coming. The next day, on the way home, we even stopped at Purgatory Chasm for a three-hour hike, a location with a special place in my mind as a peaceful spiritual refuge that my close friends and I had shared once upon a time.

The weather was outstanding and the long hike left me feeling more centered than I have in weeks.  With this being the case, how come less than 24 hours later I was on the verge of a complete emotional collapse standing in a Big Value Outlet with a large bag of black licorice in my hand?

Well, the answer is quite simple, if not a bit confounding: Turok the Dinosaur Hunter.

My father’s mother, Doris Ellen LeBlanc, my Nana loved stores like Building 19, Big Value Outlet and Job Lot.  She was a famously thrifty bargain shopper.  With this being the case, as a child I was dragged through these type of stores nearly every time I was with her, which was almost every single day (both after school and during the summer).  She would let me wander off on my own, exploring the place, looking at the giant stacks of boxes filled with weird food and surplus garden equipment priced nearly half of what you would see it at any reputable retail store.

These places confused me.  At the time I understood them as ‘poor people places,’ a distinction I now am aware of as being horrifically offensive, but then was a schema I had developed from growing up in a lower middle class community where a lot of my classmates pushed against the stigma of being ‘poor’ by making fun of people who shopped at places like the BVO–a psychological phenomenon I see as being more powerful than ever today working at a high school with a population of students with below-average income who viciously compete with one another over who has the hippest (and thusly most expensive) shoes.  Anyhow, I didn’t appreciate being dragged through these places regularly, a fact my Nana recognized and usually pacified by allowing me a treat of some sort from the store.

So, as I was standing there licorice in hand, already ankle-deep in the murky waters of memory, a giant wave came and crashed down on me.  I was a child again, wandering through the BVO alone, searching for what I would claim as my so-deserved treat.  I weaved in and out of the aisles, watching my Nana fill up her cart with kitchen necessities and tiny foam rings to stick in her shoes to prevent her feet from getting blistered as her arthritis had started to make her phalanges and tarsals look more like the knotted, knobby branches on a tree than human toes and fingers.  I smelled the same smells, the sweet chemical sting of the cleaning supply aisles, the dense plasticky stink of the toy aisle, and the cold musty reek of the book aisle.  Ahhh, the book aisle, one of my favorites!  Maybe here I would find my treat.  Coloring books?  No, not that, I already have a few of those.  A puzzle?  No, too boring.  Stickers?  What am I, some type of little girl or something?  Comic books…wait, comic books?  I never see comic books here!  What are these?!  Turok the Dinosaur Hunter?  Wow! Isn’t that a game?  I didn’t even know it was a comic book!  And there’s a whole pack of them?  Five issues!  Wait, the first five issues!  All with special holographic covers too?!  Oh my god!  Nana, Nana!!!

And I was back in 2016 standing in the candy aisle of the BVO with my pupils dilated, staring off into the distant past, an old lady–whom I was too distracted to notice–standing a few feet in front of me, politely trying to excuse herself so she could get by me and into the giant box of sugar-free hard candies that I was standing directly in front of.  I felt the presence of my Nana, I chastised myself for being a stupid child, too naive and distracted by my own selfishness to be appreciative of her and our jaunts about the Greater New Bedford area.  I was so lucky to have that support structure, to have someone willing to spend her money on me to get me a set of stupid comic books that I loved so much and that helped me overcome the loneliness I felt as an only child in a house with working parents.  I now get that she was helping me, not torturing me, she was my best friend, my first real best friend…oh no…

Suddenly, BOOM!  I’m back in the past.  Collecting sea glass with her at the beach at the bottom of her street in Fairhaven, walking my dog Josie with her around my neighborhood in New Bedford with her after she had moved in with us.  Taking my new dog, Wilbur to see her in the hospital after she had fallen, again.  A diagnoses of Parkinson’s Disease.  Visiting a nursing home and taking her outside in a wheelchair for a walk around the facility.  Being woken up on Thanksgiving morning by a phone call from the nursing home telling us that she had died.  And finally, sitting down on my bed, crying my eyes out, and writing my college essay about losing my best friend to an awful, crippling, sad, sad, sad, disease.

Back in 2016, tears well up in my eyes.  I’m coming back into reality, I choke down the ball in my throat and take a deep breath, moving out of the way for the old woman trying to get her candies.  I apologize.  I start thinking I’m just vulnerable from the weekend, maybe the walk at Purgatory Chasm had really opened me up, made me more vulnerable than I had realized.  But why?

Well, when we were driving around Worcester I did realize that I felt no attachment to the place, that I barely knew my way around.  I hadn’t really ever explored the city, save for a few bars, and had only one or two places that I had brought dates to.  Man, I should have taken girls on more dates.  But, that was a culture thing wasn’t it?  Most people just liked to drink and hang out, dates seemed too personal…right?  Or was that just me?  I mean yes I was an insufferable ass, but I still had some friends right?  Or did I really?  I mean no one ever stood up and told me I was being crazy.  Uh-oh, oh no, I’m slipping,  here comes the past again.  No! not here, not now, not after re-living Nana, I’m not sure if I can take this!

Freshman year, walking down Caro Street after drinking too many beers holding ******’s hand and telling her she’s pretty while she smokes a cigarette with the other hand and tells me she doesn’t smoke unless she’s drunk.  She keeps kissing me on the lips and we’re heading towards her dorm and…No Nick!  No!  Come back, get out of the past, Go forward go forward!  Sophomore year meeting ******* and falling in love and lying and going to visit her at ******** and meeting her friends and…C’mon man, we’ve been through this, get out of it!  You’re in the middle of a spiral here!  Junior year, blacked out drunk getting into a fight in front of the campus center, slapping ***** and yelling and being loud, and then on a a date with ******, and later that night meeting ******** in the dark room at the art studios and we…I can’t believe we did that.Oh my god, there was so much more, I’m remembering so much, and I’m feeling the emotions, the sadness, laughter, mania.  I can smell the puke in the hallway, and the beer on my breath, and the booze on hers (and hers, and hers, and hers).

I remember the disappointment of professors, I remember the elation of their compliments, the ultimate highs, the lowest lows…and how quickly it all seemed to switch.  It all blends together at some point, especially when we got to senior year.  Oh God!  Senior year…No Nick, you’re almost through it, push out, pull yourself out, don’t go there, you’re standing in a Big Value Outlet!  Use this as material for the book!  Write about it, relive it when you’re at home on your laptop, not in the store, you can make it, man!  Senior year, hammered in Western, MA, sending questionable texts, falling in love with every woman I meet, self-hatred, ignoring ******, skipping class, sleeping all day, Staying up all night long, ordering food, and drinking by myself, watching movies, and listening to albums…Oh no and then there was *******, what an idiot, what a complete child.  Disgraceful.  You’re an asshole, you’re stupid, you’re weak, it’s your fault, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you…and no one else would help, they never said anything, I hate them too.  I hate everyone and everything and…Stop.  Just stop.  Take a breath, you’re alright, you’re alright.  You’re good now, things are good now.  Are you sure?  I don’t like feeling this way.  Honestly,  I’m not sure, but I know that I, that we, feel better, right?   Okay.  Plus, you got some Allsorts, those make you feel good, right?

And I was back.  No more than a few seconds had ticked by in 2016 as those past twenty some-odd years had shot straight through me.  I was still at the corner of the candy aisle, and the old lady was still trying to decide between sugar-free peppermint logs and watermelon discs–in case you’re curious, she ended up getting both.  I left the store with my Allsorts and some Liquid Plumbr, grateful to have made it through.

  

Free write: 1/28/16

 

image1 (2)I recently visited Vermont with a few friends.  I really love it out there, peaceful, beautiful, cold.  The cities are slow, but not boredom-inducing slow, just manageably paced.  Burlington is fantastic, though I do prefer Montpelier–if only for Morse Farm and their homemade Maple soft-serve.  Either way, it was a truly great experience.

Given the surroundings, I got to thinking a whole lot about existence and just how lucky I am to be alive and to have fantastic friends.  I felt and continue to feel truly grateful.  Considering this mindset, and having just updated my blogging site and finished a pair of books, I figured I may as well give free-writing a go again.  I’m interested to see what comes out.

So here goes nothing:

I don’t believe in God.  At least not in the traditional sense.  Sure, I hope there is one, and that he is all the things my Catholic lineage claims he is.  I’d love to meet a guy like that, though I fear he may not be too appreciative of those of us with a more prickly sense of humor.  Now that I mention it, I could see him being a bit overly sensitive, the type of nice guy to ruin a good joke, albeit poetically, “Oh yes, I understood your intention was good, Nick.  But we must remember to consider the rippling of our words, and how those ripples turn into wakes for some–depending on their distance from our words.”

Frankly, I just can’t see it.  I think our perception of God as a floating humanoid somewhere outside of space and time is nothing more than a classic case of human psychological projection; we take the nebulous and swirling confusion that manages our consciousness and force it into reality.

But why? 

Well, simply because it makes our existence easier to understand–at least that’s my belief.  Think of it like a good piece of fiction, where the author projects their meaning or literary/artistic purpose into a story through the use of plot, setting, metaphor, and any other number of writing tools. For Orwell, the danger of communism was easier to understand and communicate if he spun it into a fairy tale of talking animals, a fat pig named Napoleon, and the tragedy of the work-horse, Boxer.  For Pynchon, Oedipa Maas’ pursuit of Trystero was the right way to frame his obsession with pattern recognition and the confusing role of entropy in information theory.

I believe we turn our worlds into a representation of our mind that best allows us to understand the nature of our personal existence.  Our image of God as an all-knowing, omniscient, altruistic, and massively powerful–yet somehow still relate-able–being is a representation of our consciousness that we push out onto the world for ease of conscious consumption.  In other words, this representation makes for an easier way for us to understand the nature of our own existence because we are looking at it as if it exists outside of our own minds. Doing this removes our personal sense of responsibility in the construction of our perceived worlds, and allows us to believe that everything we see is coming from something that some-great-something–some would say God–is in charge of constructing and managing.

I don’t feel okay with seeing things that way,  I–somewhat frustratingly–want to take responsibility of my own fear (maybe that’s the result of being raised by Irish, Polish, and Portuguese old-world catholics?). Hence my doubt in the existence of a thing called God.  My conscience is screaming, ‘it’s all your fault!’

What I believe is that the universe, consciousness, and all of existence are all a part of the same thing, one great mechanism, actively churning out our perceived experience.  I believe that space, time, and depth are constructs that our human form uses to understand information that is being passed on to us and through us and that they exist inside of us, not outside.  I should clarify that statement: I believe that time and space are things that we use to interpret information, and that our recognition of those things is not us noticing that external forces exist and exhibit influence on us, but rather us noticing the tools that our consciousness uses to understand the information field that we are being exposed to.  As a corollary, I also believe that there are dimensions outside of human perception, and that it would be bad science to think that everything humans are capable of seeing is all that exists–in other words, these three dimensions aren’t it, there’s more!

I am not a physicist, and I don’t possess much more than a passing familiarity with the discipline, but what little–and it is very little–that I know about the properties of quantum physics and mechanics works to convince me that the majority, if not all, of our conscious experience is subjective, and that things only become what they are once they have been observed.  I look at humanity, and conscious life in general, as a key to a lock.  I see it as our cosmic job to observe and discern what information is being passed onto us by the giant informational field that is the perceivable universe.

Like Pynchon, I am obsessed with pattern recognition, and like Jung I am fascinated by synchronicity–and hypnotized by the feeling of importance that recognizing it gives me.  To use literature as an example again, I believe we should read our experience, and consider what it all may mean, and what it may be trying to tell us about ourselves.

In literature, metaphor and coincidence are frequently used as communicative tools to the reader, they imply a step forward in the plot, they provide foreshadowing, and they mirror character development.  In existence, they can be used similarly; things like shamanism–tribal and otherwise–and mysticism have based their entire philosophies on this practice.

And here is where I find a contradiction within myself.

I also believe that existence is entropy, that there was some kind of massive mess made by something which created random order, and that as a result, the fallout that occurs when that something returns to its original resting state causes disorder, or rather the disassembling of the randomly constructed order.  But how do I rectify these seemingly disparate beliefs?  How is it that synchronicity and chance mark places where information should be processed, if all of existence is rapidly tearing itself apart into an even less organized system than it currently finds itself?

Honestly, I am not sure.  My intuition wants me to believe that everything is some kind of large scale cosmic experiment, and that our role in this experiment is to discern certain subsets of information within a given set of constraints–similar to what I mentioned earlier about time and space.

Many philosophers and mathematicians have argued this, that an infinity exists between every two points.  To humanize this, imagine your parents as two points on a number line made up of genetic properties, let’s say 3 and 4.  When you are produced, you are placed on that genetic number line between them, and the whole of your life is spent within that infinite genetic depth in between those two points.  Now take that concept to a larger scale; extended family, genetic family tree, the whole human species, humans in relation to other species, those other species and their common relatives, so forth and so on. The infinities are endless.  I imagine DNA as a set of glasses through which our consciousness can view and interpret information, just as it uses the inherent frames of time and space to give shape to our experience.

Here is where pattern recognition comes in and brings us back to the literature model:

If we are discerning information based on a combination of inherited genetic predispositions and chaotic life experience, then wouldn’t an experience that registers as being mysterious or coincidental imply a certain level of importance–just like in fictional lit?  Even if not in the physical world, then at least within one’s own mind, much like how the incidents surrounding a character’s development influence the reader’s opinion outside of the life of the character himself.  Think of it like existing as both the reader and the character at the same time, your forced to simultaneously experience and interpret every given experience.  An exhausting prospect, no?  I think so.  But then again, I also see it as my duty to take advantage of this consciousness and to mine the depths of my own personal infinity for as much information as I possibly can and I just don’t happen to need a “God” to do that.  How about you?

 

OTHER PEOPLE (and some updates)

 

 

UPDATE 1/27: The copies came in!  The turnaround was much quicker than I had expected. Here are the final copies of both books:

image1 (1)

I am very happy with the result, it was an arduous process.  Though, I did have help along the way.  Alexa Catao aided me in editing OTHER PEOPLE, and Dan Letourneau fixed the color differentials on the image so that way the front and cover would perfectly match.

I initially had sent out OTHER PEOPLE to a few publishers for consideration, but now after having gone through the process myself, I have decided to just start a small independent publishing company.  Yesterday, I found a name and bought the domain.  It will be called DOMESTICATED PRIMATE publishing.

I have already filled out the local business certification and have gotten it notarized, now I am only waiting on the city’s approval and the Tax ID number.  Hopefully I can use this to put out my work as well as the work of other authors, local and otherwise.  It’s an exciting prospect for a little side gig.

Hopefully I will have more details available in time for the Book Festival which takes place from 11-4 at Groundworks! in New Bedford, MA on 5/5 and 5/6.  I will be sharing a table with Joselyn Feliciano and A Little Magazine as well as displaying zines and work from some other local authors.  I’m very excited at the prospect!

Some other updates:

Any previous readers of this blog will notice that I have removed all of my previous essays from public view.  This is because I have edited and rewritten a selection of them and included them in my first official collection,  FALSE PROFITS.  I will use this blog now for updates on writing, some essays, psuedo-journal entries, and the occasional fictional piece.

Two thumbs up.

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UPDATE 1/5: Wowee-Zowee, what a holiday season.  On top of finishing OTHER PEOPLE, I have also compiled a collection of short works, poems, and essays titled FALSE PROFITS.  I will be printing this up as well, and will hopefully have the both available in time for the upcoming first annual New Bedford Book Festival on 5/5 and 5/6.  I will have pictures of the covers posted up here soon!

Here’s Meaggsy’s beautiful, finalized piece for the cover:

otherpeople1-3

otherpeople2-3

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UPDATE 10/23: Meaggsy will be doing the art design for the book’s cover, I have seen the first half and let me tell you, it looks incredible.  More info soon.

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I am currently doing final edits and revisions on what I would consider to be my first full-length written piece.  I hesitate to call it “my first book,” because I cringe at the pretense of those words escaping from my lips.  I also pause to deem it a novel, as that sounds even more pretentious, and frankly, it probably qualifies as a novella with the final page count landing somewhere around 150 pages when properly formatted for printing.  So anyhow, I have completed my first thing-that’s-not-a-novel-but-should-probably-be-a-novella-if-I-wasn’t-too-scared-of-pretentiousness-to-refer-to-it-as-either.  Hooray!

Writing the thing was an experience unto itself, there are points when I felt so invested and manic that it seemed words were flying directly out of my fingertips and onto the page.  In editing, I was a samurai wildly swinging my katana at an all-too-fat block of wood, chopping away willy-nilly and distilling each concept to it’s barest,rawest, most “interesting” bones, until it was the truest representation of each individual character’s consciousness..  Uh-oh, there comes pretense again.

I love writing fiction, and recently I’ve felt incredibly motivated to produce it, though–as you can obviously tell–I fear the implication that the act of writing fiction creates.  What does it say about the author?  Is it representative of his world or some made up world?  Is he talking about me when he says this?  Yadda-yadda-yadda.  It’s truly an irrational fear, I recognize this.  I know that I don’t believe all of the things my characters do, I know that they aren’t necessarily some scary part of my consciousness that I am too hesitant to look at without the guise of fiction–even though it may feel that way sometimes.  It’s just a discomfort and a cautiousness that I feel in sharing something that felt so close to me as it was being created.  But despite these anxieties, I have made a vow to fear not and to begin sharing my creations–partially in the hope that maybe one day I canbe payed for them and not be subjected to the “real world” of a job (but that’s fodder for some other blog).

Right now I am in the process of finalizing the text and figuring out how I want to print them and whether I want to go straight indie and do it myself or somehow get a publisher to help.  But that’s not a matter for this web/blogsite, but a matter for the “real” world.  I will be updating this page with the progress of that decision making as I get closer to it.

I have and will have some exciting local collaborators and this process as well, particularly in the art directing department, but again that’s something we can address when the timing is more appropriate.

If you forced me to give you a backpage summary for the book I would say that it is a strange little mystery surrounding what’s going on in the heads of the various attendants of some kind of a holiday party, and what their psyches have to do with the party itself, if anything at all.  That’s all you’re going to get for now.  All that being said, I leave you with the first section of “Other People,” it is entitled, “1.”

Enjoy!

1

You’re at a party. It’s the sort of party where everyone seems just oh-so appropriately attired, like a scene from a competition where the winner is rewarded for appearing the least threatening.

The type of party where the eggnog is purposefully spiked, imbued with just enough brandy to lubricate the crusty bread-ends of stale conversation, yet not enough to risk the social liability of an individual delivering a romantically exaggerated soliloquy on the complicated nature of his reality and how it all just matters, man.

It’s the sort of shindig your upper-middle class grandparents may have gone to in the 1950s where discussing religion and politics was explicitly frowned upon but smoking indoors was socially acceptable. Where a lime JELL-O mold bundt cake stuffed with pineapples and sour cream represented a high watermark of American culture, and the warm familiarity of Bing Crosby’s voice crackled out of the old Victrola positioned thoughtfully adjacent to the wet bar, complete with faux crystal carafes displaying an ambered rainbow of mystery spirits.

It’s the type of get-together where obligation encourages your attendance, where your absence would make for a reputational scourge, but your arrival goes unnoticed.
You’re alone and your hands are cold, you left your gloves in your coat that you hung on the antique-looking, walnut-stained rack by the entrance. The welcome mat was dusted with snow from the guests’ boots and peppered by pine needles fallen from a wreath framing the heavy wooden door’s pineapple-shaped knocker. With every guest’s entrance, the door swings and another batch of needles falls from the wreath. Judging by the size of the pile, this party has quite a few attendees.

You saw your own collection of needles fall from the wreath to the mat as a light skinned woman with hair of brunette-turned-grey and particularly soft features had opened the door and welcomed you as a guest. You thanked her. Surely she wasn’t the host? Who is hosting this party anyway? In fact, what was it that brought you here in the first place? That’s strange.

Oh well, just chalk it up to a lack of sleep, or a lack of caffeine. After all, these holiday parties start to feel white-washed after a while, like nameless responsibilities hosted by, and populated with, ghosts.

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