The moment he took the taser out of the case, I sat down and waited. I knew what came next. In that inexplicable sense of destiny, or fate, or the complete and utter understanding of my best friend/meta-sibling’s personality, there was nothing I could do to stop it. It took only, “I wonder what it feels like?” to inspire him into action. For three seconds, he held the charge against his arm, smile twisted in a blend of shock and amusement. Anyone else and I’m running to stop them. But this is the guy who covered his face in shaving cream in order to act like, I don’t know, a rabid Frankenstein or something, then wound up screaming his way down the hall because he hadn’t expected it to burn so badly. This is also the guy who filled a plastic container with butane, stuck his hand through the opening, lit a lighter, thereby (shock!) rendering his arm hair to curled, horrible smelling, reminders of what once was.
This is the smartest guy I know. No, truly, he’s brilliant. In fairness, this all took place over twenty years ago, so perhaps his judgment merely lost its battle against youthful curiosity. A fight we all remember losing more often than not.
I, myself, have lost that battle numerous times, predominantly in the pursuit of the ideal connection (a.k.a. Twoo Wove, a.k.a. Aphrodite, a.k.a. Zach’s Insane and Somewhat Naïve Quest for Completion). The trick—the part I always lose myself within—is getting beyond the initial connection and immediately attempting to translate that into some state of permanence. Some might call this a, “relationship”. I have called them, “oops, nope”. Still, I persist. After all, life can be whittled down to nothing more than an ongoing series of connections, right? Like the charge through my friend’s arm, we absorb the shock and it fills us. It enlivens the mind and heart; and, sure, it scares the hell out of us, but we do it anyway because stopping seems as likely as travelling through time in a DeLorean.
Speaking of which, I read an article regarding the activity of particles in relation to time. The prevailing theory the scientists presented stated that particles show behavioral patterns based on future events, working then backward through the complexity of what we know as “time” in order to reveal their true nature. Now, I have neither a chalkboard, chalk, nor Doc Brown’s manic energy to explain any of that; but it did get me thinking about the connections (and disconnections, for that matter) I have experienced in my life.
Perhaps, in this context, connections are actually echoes from the future. Perhaps we know we’ve met someone important in our lives because—as with the nature of particles—we’re seeing the result that will be instead of the emotion of the moment. Perhaps all of this is utter nonsense and merely an escapist means by which to avoid the reality of the patterns in my life.
Until recently, that pattern has gone like this: I find a connection, I feel alive. I have a sense purpose, completion, and a dingle-dangle twinkle of the ever-elusive surge of happiness. I dive headlong, the connection following my lead. The connection is strong, the pairing complex yet thriving on simplicity, the bond like, I don’t know, every metaphor for love ever stated. Something with flowers and sunshine, probably. Or waves across an otherwise silent beach. I could probably invent one that has to do with tacos, but it might make me hungry and then I’ll spin off into some tangent on cheese.
The point. Right. The non-cheese point is that every new connection thrives on the euphoria of discovery. The newness, the elation of two people sharing commonality and dreams. Ultimately, this wanes in favor of reality, personality, behavior, and the truth that some people just like to shock themselves with tasers to see what happens. And that’s okay. I didn’t know that. I was under some deluded impression that every connection required permanence. It had to last forever, otherwise what was the point? Not quite a shock to the arm, but I did do it to myself and marvel at the results.
Sometimes you meet someone, you share a connection, it feels ridiculously good, then the river of life leads you to drift you apart. Or, sometimes you meet someone, you share a connection, it feels ridiculously good, then no matter how much you want it to continue, the one you’ve connected with drifts away on their own, leaving you to wonder what in the hell of hells you did wrong.
And that’s okay too, I suppose. Everyone deals with this stuff in their own crazy ass ways.
I’m no atomic particle travelling backward through space and time, but regardless of outcome, I’ll take the connection, no matter the result. Sure, I have wants, needs, dreams I can’t shake no matter how hard I try; but I can’t be without connections. Which means I might need to fill the container with butane and burn my arm hairs off from time to time. I might need to shock myself just to see how it feels. I might even need to act like a rabid Frankenstein just to see who runs away first.
Life’s a crazy thing. May as well be a little crazy with it.
Let me just hit you with a bit of shocking, unedited, truth so we can move on: I have no idea what I’m doing. Ever. I’ll give you a moment to digest that. It’s big, I know.
All good now? Maybe keep a glass of the bubbly handy, if not. In testament to my general lack of direction and understanding, I’m just winging this. Kind of a stream-of-consciousness type thing, if you will. That can be problematic for me.
I make no secret of the stupid things I’ve done in life. I’ve listed many of them here over the years and had a good laugh at myself in the process. Should you wish to know more about me and the stupid things I’ve done, take some time out of your busy schedule, keep the glass full, and have a read. I don’t know whether that’s a wise recommendation, or not; but as that keeps with the theme of the day, we’ll go with it. Have fun. I’m a bit of a likable idiot, in that, “Oh, my, what brand of stupidity will he be a slave to today?” kind of way.
I don’t plan much of anything. Sure, I dream and fixate, handle my desire as if it were the most valuable gem in existence, then fall apart when it drops and smashes into cosmic dust; but I never truly have what one might call, “a plan”. As I understand it, life takes a good bit of prognostication, should one wish to excel within it. Ask me how the Braves will do this year, and I’ll give you a prediction. Ask me how my latest book, venture, or attempt at a relationship, will go and you get ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. My father asked me, after I graduated high school, to draft up a five-year plan for life so he could go over it with me. I moved out the next day. Not a plan. Just a reaction. Pure gold.
There is a reason I identify with Tigger
So, as we sit here together, please do keep in mind I have no actual plan for this. Any of this. I tend to operate better at this stage in my life if I cling to each word and watch where it takes me. Any effort to create a visual end point will only carry me off track. We don’t want that. Well, I don’t want that. I can’t presume to speak for you. You’re not here. I can’t see you. I have no idea what you’re thinking at this moment. Perhaps if I did I might consider my words more carefully, or generate something more akin to a point. Something like a plan, maybe? A loose sort of dangly string of a point? Something you can wrap your fingers around, just as a reminder there is a point to it somewhere? I don’t know. Just spitballing.
I’m a patient person. I can’t say this developed from my lack of planning, or if my lack of planning developed out of my patience. There’s a link there, I’m sure. One seems as connected to the other as an appendage to the body. You’d think they would work in concert at all times, but it wouldn’t be true. Truth is my patience is more like this … whatever it is I’m doing now. It has an end, somewhere. Could be the next sentence, could be another 1,000 words from now. Depends on what fuels it, how the line of Reece’s Pieces leads it from the shed and into the house. I would prefer the line of candy, honestly. Hell, I guess I’d prefer anything to nothing. It’s a great deal easier to be patient with something guiding it, right? Regardless, I am patient because I want to see the point of it all. I want to watch the sunset to the day, to feel the warmth of the sky as the horizon blankets the light, as the clouds blush, as night takes the stage. That’s why I wait. Who needs to plan for that? In the moment, you just get to be in it. Sure, there’s the potential for clouds to move in, for the sky to diffuse the brilliance of the sun’s farewell, for any number of distractions to prevent full enjoyment of the moment; but I’ll take any chance on the potential for a glorious sunset I can find. The payoff is worth it, even if disappointment and life’s persistent clamor can occasionally blunt the joy.
That may best sum me up, actually. I’m looking for the perfect sunset. I believe it will happen at some point, but I may need to see far more sunsets than I can process to get there. I have no idea how many. For that matter, I have no idea what ‘perfect’ is. I have no idea what I’ll do in the moment I realize I’ve found it. I can wait, however, because the sunset keeps trying. I can be patient because each day I know it will return and try again. I can put effort into waiting on it because I know it will put effort into setting. And when the moment comes, when the sun and I find perfection together, it will own me and every ounce of my passion for it. That’s as much planning as I can muster, and in the end it’s less planning than it is a fait accompli. In the context of time and space, it’s already happened. I’m just bumbling my way toward it.
I tend overthink that which I do not know. It’s a product of an imaginative mind contemplating a path to the perfect sunset. I’ve tried to stop it, but the theater of dreams won’t close. I’m not sure how I afford it. The power bill is staggering. Most of my life I’ve overthought situations, emotions, interactions, you name it. Anything and everything beyond the bounds of what I know as fact. I don’t profess to have the answers. I have no idea what will happen next. I only know I want to find that perfect sunset; and when I do, I’m willing to make the most of every second it offers.
In the meantime, until I know what I need to know, I’m going to patiently do and say a lot of stupid things.
Recently, I was dubbed the Man of Zeal by a woman who is, by her actions and heart alone, a superhero. I thought it a comical title for a good three minutes until it occurred to me she wasn’t all that far off. I am, by nature, a zealous person, running around half-cocked on a mission to salvage some sense of purpose in this thing called life. Some times the quest pursues the fantasy list of happiness and dreams only an idiot–this one in particular–would dare expect to realize, the rest to serve those around me. The two entwine, often, but generally I find the latter balances out the failures of the former. In the end, though, I just like to help people. I like to be there when they need an ear, a voice, a shoulder, a heart, some muscle, whatever. It’s what I do.
I never stopped to consider why. I never questioned if I should let someone else handle it. I just did what my heart told me and hoped to hell it didn’t break me. I have no idea if this is healthy, if this is sane, or if it even matters. I know I’ve been taken advantage of. I know it’s blown up in my face from time-to-time. I know I’ve overreached when help wasn’t necessary. And still, I trudge on, zealous in my quest to do something, somewhere, anywhere, for anyone I can.
I imagine that sounds a bit braggadocious. I’m certainly no superhero. As far as I know it, superheroes tend to succeed more often than fail in their endeavors. That alone disqualifies me. However, that isn’t the bait on the hook here. The above is merely a train of thought leading to the station ahead. To narrow the field a bit: It’s only just now in life occurred to me that I never looked for any return of this way I have. I wanted it, somewhere within. Some quiet place where my brain sat idle in its desk, hand raised, patiently waiting to be called upon. Could very well be why my relationships have blown up, or why I don’t have a deep circle of friends to visit or hang out with regularly. No idea. I guess it’s irrelevant to me.
Truth is, I don’t worry about it. It doesn’t inherently change who I am. This is the way I’ve chosen to live my life, and I’m good with it. I’m at peace with it.
But it got me to considering the others out there. You know them. They’re in your life. The people who do, not for gain or reward but because someone needs to. The people who call, text, message, visit, invite you to coffee just to see how you’re doing. The people who aren’t asking for anything in return. They just want to help. Some will consider their motives suspect. Some might find annoyance in their do-goodery. Generally, however, they are beacons of light in an otherwise dim moment. You know exactly who they are.
So, should you actually be one of the ten or twelve people who read this, I ask of you a simple task: Find the superhero in your life. Thank them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they need any help with anything, or need to talk life and its myriad challenges, or would just like to sit silently with someone and have some coffee or food or whatever and not feel as though they fight the good fight alone. Don’t let them turn the conversation on you. For one day, one moment, one blink of an eye, be their hero. It will fuel them more than you know.
Twenty-three seconds into the accident, the nascent writer Joshua Alexander jumped for joy. Concentrating on the significant damage to the bumper of my Explorer proved challenging amidst the ever-maddening screams of “THIS IS MY MOMENT! I HAVE ARRIVED!” The poor kid who pulverized his car with my bumper, some student from George Washington University home on break, apologized repeatedly for his lapse in attention; though to be fair, I’m still not sure if he directed it to me or to the crumpled remains of his car. I consoled him, insomuch as I was capable with all the celebratory screaming coming from Joshua. To his credit, the kid remained stoic, clearly at war with the beside-himself-father in his head, taking complete blame when the officer arrived, while I stood at the back of my vehicle analyzing the damage.
“This is great. Fantastic. The best thing that could have happened.”
I countered that, citing that car accidents are not great watermarks of joy for anyone. Not that Joshua cared.
“This will pay for the conference. You should thank that kid.”
I hadn’t considered that. Granted, my bumper looked a bit as if the horrors of life had consumed its soul, leaving its remains to melt into a perpetual frown.
“It’s just a bumper. What do you even need it for?”
As far as I could tell, the moment offered an example as to the primary reason bumpers existed. If I learned anything from Bumper Cars as a kid it was to never play Bumper Cars with my older brother. He had this fixation on ejecting me from my car, or better, the entire ring. Of course, he also had a fixation with swinging me in circles from an arm and leg until my glasses flew off and I started crying, so maybe the Bumper Cars weren’t the issue. In the moment, however, I found my first appreciation for the lessons those ricocheting cars offered.
Still, I had a hard time arguing the point. It was just a bumper. What’s a bumper in comparison to a week’s worth of writing education that would certainly land me a contract with a publisher? Three days later, when the Insurance adjuster handed me a check for $1,100, Joshua’s elation caught up to me. The internal war began. Bumper vs. bills vs. writing conference. Bumper lost in the opening round, if for no reason than it shut Joshua up for a while, and the worst it could do was follow me wherever I drove, its downward slope of sadness perhaps warding off any other unwanted visitors. Bills … those were a trickier obstacle. Apparently, those are supposed to be paid? That’s what I’ve heard. Somewhere.
I guess I should probably mention I had quit my job three months prior in order to write a book. That seems important, in context. Bills and all. Sudden money at hand and the like. A lack of employment certainly made income a pestering nuisance in relation to actually paying for things. You know, the important things like bills. Food. Collectible Star Wars figures. Even writing conferences. Especially those lasting a week long and costing a thousand dollars. An amount I happened to have in my bank thanks to a careless kid fiddling with his radio at forty miles-per-hour as his car rudely greeted the stopped Explorer in its path.
Maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job, I thought for the one-hundred and thirty-first day in a row. As decisions went to this point in life, it ranked up there with the best of Not Good. Sure, I finished a first draft of the book (two if you count the less than stellar 1st person draft I finished in 21 days), and by the time the conference rolled around two months later I would have a good edit complete. The timing fit. The conference–my first ever–would offer me a chance to pitch it to agents and New York Times bestselling author David L. Robbins, who would be the judge in a fiction contest. My book, Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO was good, by my estimates. Okay, so I thought it was perfect. Something to behold. To cherish. To love and to squeeze and to call George. Surely the agents would agree and the whole suffering for my art thing would be worth it, just as I had envisioned. That singular dream in which I quit my job, wrote a book, went to a conference and BLAMMO … agent. Agent would become Publishing Contract. Publishing Contract would equal Advance. Advance would balance out Voluntary Unemployment. Success would follow.
THIS IS MY MOMENT.
Did I have a choice? Sure. I had many. Many, many, many, many of which began the day before I quit my job. Did it feel like it? No. No, between Joshua’s screaming and my inability to see the world of possibility as more than a single light at the end of a short road, the Universe basically sat on my head, declared itself the Master of My Destiny and urged the chariot onward. All of this wouldn’t have happened otherwise, right? Everything happens for a reason, after all.
RIGHT YOU ARE UNIVERSE!
Fueled by the need to risk it all, to bypass sanity in favor of chance (LIVE NOW FOOL!), I registered for the conference and submitted the first fifty pages of my manuscript for the contest.
Technically, yes? Officially … not so much.
The thing is … the thing I should mention is how incredibly tired of me I had become. I saw myself every day. In the mirror, staring back for that brief flash before looking away, lest I thought myself some kind of creepy pervert offering longing glances from the other side of the glass. I talked to myself incessantly daily (yeah, yeah talked … that’s the ticket), whether I wanted to hear me or not. I cooked for myself, cleaned for myself, got sick of my needy self and needed a break.
So, I sent Joshua Alexander to the conference. I’m not sure if I thought he would generate better results, or if it would simply be nice to not be me for a week. Truthishly, I can’t really recall a specific thought of why I should do such a thing. Maybe I took a back seat to the process and Joshua jumped in. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m just weird like that, I suppose.
Regardless of reason–and likely absent it as well–I made my way to the conference full of cheer and lofty dreams, toting my completed manuscript in a wooden box as if it were the lost Ark of the Covenant. I checked in under my name since Joshua, for all of his robust enthusiasm, still lacked both an ID and a bank account, settled in and made off for the Opening Remarks with another hundred plus writers. All of whom were likely themselves because they were smart that way. I sat next to a behemoth of a figure–a tall, muscular man stretched out across two chairs. As I have established, socializing is not my strong point. Joshua, on the other hand, seemed to have no issue with the complexity of Hello and jumped right in.
“Hi. Joshua Alexander.”
Good for you, Josh. Well done.
The man shifted, shook my hand, introduced himself as David L. Robbins and immediately launched into praise for my submission, about how he had planned on finding me to discuss it, and stating his wonder at the luck we would sit next to each other.
It’s possible, at this point, I considered dropping the Joshua persona to ensure Mr. David L. Robbins, New York Times bestselling author, knew who I really was. I offer the possibility of such a though only because I don’t particularly recall if I though much of anything at all. Not with Joshua in charge.
THIS IS MY MOMENT.
So, I let him run with it. Let him talk throughout the Welcome, carrying the conversation onward into my work, its strengths and weakness, the nuances of the craft of writing, echoing David’s belief that conferences were vital to the growth of a writer, and I don’t know, tacos or something. It went on for hours. The next day David even invited me to go watch him golf in between sessions. I became the envy of the entire conference, buddied up to David like a excitable, loyal, puppy. Everyone knew my name, curious about what I wrote, how I had managed to so quickly win the favor of such a notable author.
They were the best two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.
They were, in fact, the only two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.
On day three, David woke up and decided to invite good ole chum Joshua to breakfast. Strange thing though. The front desk had no room for a Joshua Alexander. David insisted they were wrong. Had them check and check again, taking potential misspellings into account. Nope. No Joshua. Confused and slightly embarrassed, David fell into full research mode, following the trail of Joshua Alexander to one Zachary Steele, in room whateverever. He called me. He grilled me. Questioned what reason a man with my name would possibly have to go under any other name, then laughed at me. For the rest of the week. As he told each and every person about the ludicrous tale of Zachary “Joshua Alexander” Steele. For the next few months, as we kept lines of communication open. For the next few years as our friendship grew, as he became a mentor to me as a writer. To this day, some sixteen years later, as the memory pops up and he needs a good laugh at my expense. His last words on this planet to me may very well be, “Tell Joshua I said hi.”
I will always accept life as a never-ending ride of Cause and Effect. For instance, I make really odd decisions, the effect of which tends to rail off into the deep recess of Shitsville. I get to relive them, marvel over them, and perhaps even grow from them, but damn. Just damn.
Every once in a while, despite myself, I get to follow a train of Cause and Effect that isn’t all bad in the end.
I quit my job to write a book, with the express purpose of getting said book published, thereby jump starting my career and minimizing the damage caused by Voluntary Unemployment. In order to facilitate this, I decided I should go to a conference to get noticed. Unable to afford said conference due to having no job, I made use of accidental money to fund my way. I changed my name for no reason, met the author I wanted to meet, made a sizable impression both due to my work and the fundamental identity crisis masquerading as me, and made a friend of David L. Robbins. David created James River Writers in Richmond, Virginia, invited me behind the scenes, to their conference, gave me time with other notable authors (um, hi there Tom Robbins) and awesome people, and taught me the craft. All of which made me a better writer. Fueled by the need for more, the hunger to be better in all aspects of life, I made other questionable decisions, one of which netted me a bookstore I called Wordsmiths Books. During my tenure as owner of Wordsmiths, I met a publisher interested in Anointed. She published it. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a good review. My career as a writer found first gear.
THIS IS MY MO … oh, wait. No.
SEVEN YEARS FROM … is that right? Seven years? Sevenish years, you say? Right.
SEVEN PLUS YEARS FROM NOW WILL BE MY MOMENT.
Sometimes the wrong way can be right. Just, like, way longer.
In the words of the reality firestorm that is renowned chef, entrepreneur, cheeky Brit and Tantrum King of the World, Gordon Ramsay, “Here’s the thing.”
I know I’m not dumb. I am, I will acknowledge, a few sprinkles shy of a full spread of shredded cheese on the taco of common sense, but I’m not dumb. Hey, I made all A’s in fifth grade. Not exactly A Brilliant Mind level accomplishment there, but it’s notable. Sure, I misspelled parsley in the school spelling bee, denied the notably visible crush I had on a girl who liked me quite a lot—to her face no less—and chartered my socially awkwardness bus of one onward to middle school with no sign of let up, but I made excellent grades. What did you do?
Point is, I rather like the mad festival of characters that comprise the committee of my brain. I would prefer they come to some consensus on what they ultimately want of me, but they do entertain me so. That has to count for something.
The problem is—the thing that has made my journey through this life so frustrating—I chastise my brain regularly as if it operates individual of the Me that is me, while moving through each moment like a spastic terrier in a thunderstorm. Can’t really blame the brain if I’ve soundproofed its walls, right? I’ve developed this utopian idea of what the world around me should look like and, ignoring my brain’s insistence I step clear of the cabin and move to the back of the plane please sir, I’ve gone ahead and bypassed the computer in order to pilot from the toilet.
In no aspect of my life has this whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice (see? not dumb … questionable … whimsical spontaneity) been more apparent than in my desperate quest to find the perfect woman. I want to say love here, rather than woman but it doesn’t fit the mold. Because, like any good writer, I’ve embodied this woman with a character, a persona, a name by which I might better define her. I call her Aphrodite. I know. Clever, right? Real original. She’s been at the forefront of every decision I’ve ever made, deeply ingrained in every story I’ve ever written. Moreover, she’s become a beacon to the greater dreams of life, thus rendering the name Aphrodite to a branding effort of all things I desire. Primarily, I seek her companionship. Tragically, every aspect of my life has fallen miserably short. Allow me to demonstrate. This tidbit is the into to my current work-in-progress, tentatively titled On the Market:
When night comes she falls asleep on my couch, hand tucked between face and pillow, crumpled folds of cheek powdered and soft in the moon glow, and I see Aphrodite. There’s a peaceful chaos to her hair, a darkness that betrays the night, finds refuge across a pale canvas of forehead and slips unnoticed behind an ear. She smiles, not much, a simple turn now and again, just a glance behind the curtain. Not enough to comprehend what is seen, but enough to know that whatever it is beats whatever dream I may conjure behind closed doors.
She’s a queen of beauty and magnificence when she sleeps, this Aphrodite before me. Time can only grant me a glimpse, I know, until sleep has abandoned her, until her body goes rigid, arms outstretched, fingers flexing, uncoiling, reaching for a heart that is not my own. Then she’ll flash that smile, say my name and never realize how much she makes me quiver. I’ll go weak in the knees, and know that I will love her forever.
Though I understand now how this image has trickled down into every nook and cranny of my desire, I channeled it all for years into this hopelessly romantic ideal of a perfect mate. I simply had to find her. I had to be complete. I put it all on the unwitting shoulders of every woman in my life in order to make it so.
From pretty, shirt-signing, Lori in third grade onward, every female I’ve fallen for has been unwittingly and unfairly compared to this image.
Hey, did you know my relationships haven’t gone well? I wonder if there’s a link? Probably not. Just life stickin’ it the man.
The great irony is that, as a child, I went about pursuing every girl I liked as if things would work out fine, as long as I just never ever talked to her ever ever. I mean, I made no secret about liking a girl. If my repeated stares didn’t cover it, my insistence on giving said girl a note to define said liking then sprinting off as if I had just dropped a ticking time bomb in her hands spelled it out without question. Granted, in the few instances in which I spilled my soul to a girl who actually liked me, the resulting connection was one of her trying to talk to some paralyzed, non-responsive, version of myself. I swear ladies, I thought you all were a different species. I feared any measure of contact, verbal or heaven-forbid physical, would result in complete annihilation of self and soul. This lasted all the way through high school. It got mildly better as an adult.
To deal with this, I began subconsciously (I’m leaning on hope here, otherwise I have to admit it was by choice) sabotaging my efforts to find a girlfriend by fixating on girls who clearly had no interest in me (if they even knew my name in the first place, which most didn’t), while simultaneously ignoring any girl I truly liked. I wrote notes to girls I knew would never respond. I wrote one to a girl who—I was told by a friend sitting near her on the bus—laughed her way through it with friends. Yay me! I actually spoke to girls with whom I clearly had nothing in common, fishing for any kind of attention, blinders set to the rest of the school’s female population in order to maintain my focus. I was thirty-five before I learned most of these girls actually liked me. You know … liked me liked me.
In tenth grade, I moved in with my father. The shift from small town Florida to small town Georgia wasn’t much of a transition. Leaving the one friend I had behind hardly registered. In fact, I don’t even remember being at all fazed by the move initially, other than missing my mother terribly. My brain might have had issues with it all, but I wasn’t listening.
My first day at school I made my way to First Period, drifting down the hall of a foreign land like a fading cloud against blue skies, ducked into class and found a seat in the second to last row, three seats from the front. I would have tucked all the way into the corner had other students not beaten me to it. About two minutes after I sat, a girl walked in the room. The second Lori life offered for me to crush on. Dark curly hair, incredible smile, piercing eyes, absolutely beautiful. To this day, I still think she’s one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. She sat in the last row, two seats further up. First bell hadn’t even rung and there she was. Aphrodite.
Any normal kid might have thought about talking to her, introducing himself, finding some way to at least say hello. After all, we were going to be in class together for a few months. Plenty of opportunity to get to know one another, right? Nope. I sat there through that class learning everything I could about her without ever saying a word. I mean, I didn’t say a word. To anyone. I managed to channel my inner-chameleon just to ensure the teacher never called on me. What a crushing blow to the universe it would have been had she actually heard what my voice sounded like.
Though I carried this quiet crush through the whole of the next three years—we managed to be paired in exactly zero classes going forward—I never spoke to her. Sure, I watched for her, put myself in positions where I could see her from afar (ahem, yes I will cover the football and basketball teams for the paper, conveniently watching from seats near the cheerleaders, ahem), but I didn’t do that whole Hello, my name is Awkwardhow can I make you run away? thing I feared so much. Instead, I actively pursued all the girls whose primary talent or hobby seemed to be syphoning my soul into a tin can and crushing it whole. There really were a lot of them. I got quite adept at it, in fact. Practice does indeed make perfect.
Now, this isn’t meant as a lament. I don’t regret not talking to this one girl. Well, I do, but for different reasons. I don’t fear I may have lost my singular chance with Aphrodite. Rather, I want it to serve as the foundation for the stories that follow. Though I’ve made my life into a continual barrage of “whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice”, they’ve all been tied to this quest for Aphrodite, how that became a greater symbol of all that I desired, and every single one is relevant to this moment. This one instance in which I didn’t talk to a girl I liked, while actively talking to and pursuing girls I liked far less (and who all bested my less than like with none at all). Or, as an adult, choosing women unavailable, be that emotionally, physically, or romantically and attempting to force them into the wedge that defined Aphrodite no matter how much they subconsciously protested.
As I said, I’m not a dumb guy. I just want a designed perfection in life that defies true definition and requires only one possible truly glorious and dream-worthy outcome in order to pacify my need to be happy.
In third grade I liked a girl named Lori. It’s fair to say I thought she was cute, and made me long to fly through the air a la Rudolph if only she would tell me the same. She never did. It isn’t because I wasn’t cute, because, well, I just was. Deal with that.
Pimpin’ it Hef style. Don’t be hatin’.
The problem is, she never had the chance. In retrospect, all the “I like you this much” signs were there, but I trembled at the mere thought of talking to her. Eight years old and I was afraid to talk to a girl. Why? I don’t know. I really don’t. Would she have turned into a dragon and devoured me? Maybe. Possible even. Might she have spat acid in my face, turned me into a head-bandaged-wrapped elephant man? Or might she have even been so bold as to do the unthinkable, and talk back? Perhaps want to talk further? EGAD!
I was terrified. And so I never spoke to her. We crossed paths many times on the playground, during recess, in the lunch room, or in the aisle between our desks, but I went stone faced every time she came near, as if I’d tried to stare down Medusa to work up my nerve. On the last day of the year, she asked to sign my shirt (For those of you who have never experienced Sign Your Shirt Day, I’m sorry, but no amount of chocolate will EVER make up for your loss). I have very few clear memories of my childhood, but I remember that moment vividly. I mouthed nothing, blankly handed her my blue marker and turned around quickly, lest she dare sign the front and force me to possibly make eye contact. She signed along the neckline of my white t-shirt. She picked a spot nobody else had signed, wrote slowly and legibly. I like to think there was meaning in that. Perhaps the next year I might have braved a conversation to find out. However, I never would get the chance to embolden myself up to the point of speaking before running madly in the other direction. We moved from Scottsdale back across the country to Florida that summer, and I began fourth grade wondering, for the first time in my life, “What if?” This would not be the last schoolmate named Lori I wish I had spoken to. Nor would it be my last regret.
Before I go on, I should say that this isn’t a lament of one singular moment in my life that might have completely altered the scope of the years that followed. No, this is something much worse. This is the beginning of a pattern. One that makes no damn sense at all.
In High School, I joined the school paper and took my hand at journalistic prose. Enthralled by the idea of exercising my love for writing, I dove in the deep end, the rambunctious idiot I was. At the back side of the first year, something happened that boggles my mind to this day: I quit. I had written several articles, some which were fun little escapades through the fields of my insanity, and had even received some praise. I covered the football team, which meant I got to be on the sidelines, near the cheerleaders–GAK!–immersed in the atmosphere of hyper-exuberant jockiness. But I quit. Why? Beats the hell out of me. Something within just suggested all of this fun and love and certainty of purpose was just not for me.
Same year. I join the baseball team. (Author’s note((which is a really absurd aside, because isn’t this whole thing just one big author’s note? Idiot.)): There is no adequate reference to how I feel about baseball. Best I can say is this: If you believe in Evolution, and see humanity as this ever-changing creature, from atomic particles to the ultimate source of energy we will eventually disperse into … that.) I had gone through a ridiculously stupid growth spurt. From five foot five to six foot one in six months. I was all arms and legs and leaner than a pole, like some kind of anorexic marionette. I was really good at baseball, though. It consumed me. But that year, for all my talent, I floundered. The coaches saw something in me, despite it all, and begged me to spend more time in the weight room. Maybe they were just concerned a good breeze would lift me away. I don’t know. I smiled, nodded, and never bothered. I just stopped playing. Why? Beats the shit out of me.
I entered my twenties at a dead sprint, the only running I’ve ever done by the way. Afraid to talk to any of the female species, I missed out on countless friendships, dates, conversations, and lest I allow subtlety to ruin everything because my mom is probably reading this, sex. It wasn’t that I was incapable of wooing, I was simply terrified of what would happen if it was received well. WHAT IF SHE WANTS TO SAY MORE THAN JUST HELLO OH DEAR GOD WHAT WILL I DO? So, I avoided it. This led to an overdeveloped sense of marital need, and far too much loneliness to expect rational decisions related to females going forward. Perhaps I believed if I locked one down, I could stop fearing interaction. I don’t know. So I married the first girl who showed me any desire to be with me long-term. We dated three months before we were engaged. One year later, despite my worries I had stepped in a pile that wouldn’t wash off, we got married. It lasted a year and a half. In anything shy of grand style and theatrics, I retreated into myself, proceeded to once again shy away from female contact, and spent the next six years without any emotional connection. Then I met someone else who wanted to connect. Never one to learn from the past, I thought the best thing to do was to repeat the same action and expect an entirely different result. So, we essentially decided we were getting married that first weekend, and I though that was as cool as a frozen banana in ice cream. Less than four months later, we were. Not a frozen banana in ice cream. Married. Just to keep things clear. That one lasted an improbable four years, and ended with her insisting I was cheating on her (at one point with my gay friend) and trying to kill her. Of course, she did get engaged two months after our divorce, but that’s neither here nor there, or an apple worth eating.
I have no idea where that apple thing came from. Sometimes, I tell ya.
The one thing I’ve never given up on: my dream to be a successful author. But I don’t talk about it much. I don’t talk publicly about much of anything. I opened a bookstore did you know–not unless you were there, since I HAVEN’T MENTIONED IT AT ALL ANYWHERE TO ANYONE–which fell during the economic collapse of 2008. Not to say there weren’t other problems. There were plenty, but if not for that downturn, I still believe it would have survived, even if in some other form. Regardless, when it closed, I didn’t talk much about it. To family, to friends, to my then wife, to my cadre of associations on Facebook. I got quiet. Depressed. Withdrawn. I have two books published, and I tend to shy away from discussing them? Why? Because I don’t like them? Certainly not. If you haven’t read Anointed, well, first of all shame on you. It’s fabulous fun, even if it isn’t the best thing I’ll ever write. It was nominated for the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction, so it isn’t bad. Publishers Weekly liked it, so hey, right? Flutter, my second book was a nice step up in ability and storytelling, but I don’t talk about it. I whine about the silence it received, with that being the only sound I ever make regarding it. Genius. I’ve been working on the Storyteller, an ever-evolving piece of children’s fantasy that–toot toot–is freaking awesome. I’ve had a few near misses (and there it is, I hate that term and yet I wrote it. As punishment to myself, I’m not editing it out. Idiot. Near miss. It makes no sense in any context shy of “Did you see those trains collide? What a near miss that was!”) on publication, got myself worked up in promoting it, then stopped when all momentum on finding it a home dried up. It’s been one year plus and I’ve not made a single public statement about it. I have a Facebook page, so yay me. And though it needed some more work, a slight tweak in direction, there’s been no reason for it.
I had a list of things I was going to troll through in order to demonstrate what I now have come to accept. Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I’ve been afraid for the better part of my life. Afraid to choose, afraid to act, afraid to live, afraid to succeed. I don’t know why, I only know that I can’t do it any more. That ends now. I’m tired of being afraid.
No more fear. From now forward, I am me. Idiot, yes. Afraid to talk to this girl we call Life, no.
But I am still afraid of 500 lb. roaches. You should be too.
I’m a bad friend, blog. What can I say? I tease you with my company, then vanish for months on end. But I have an excuse this time! It’s Broadleaf related. AND WRITING RELATED! That’s good, right? And, well, it’s life related too, but that’s none of your business, so don’t ask. Just accept it. It wasn’t intentional, I swear. I just got … busy.
For instance, yesterday we launched the event site for the 2016 Broadleaf Writers Conference registration! It opens Monday, April 4th. It’s kind of absorbed most of my time lately, if you follow. So much work. But the committee folks are awesome people and they’re really making it happen. I mean, what, we talked about this more than two years go, right? And it’s happening. Really, really, happening.
Writing? Yeah, well, I’d obviously like to be doing that more often, but my time has been limited of late. Still shopping The Storyteller, hoping that someone sees the passion I’ve infused in a project that began seven years or so ago. I’ve worked a bit on the YA project that I wrote about here, but hit a wall. I walked away from it, to get some clarity, and found I wasn’t all that pleased with what I was doing. So I tinkered a bit on another project for a while just to clear my head. But I recently was granted an idea I’m very excited about. One that puts me back in Middle Grade fantasy, where I want to be. One that keeps me in a universe I love. One that I’m not yet ready to talk about. Jinx or something. I don’t know. Right now, I’ll just say it’s a series called The Kindred. About half the size of The Storyteller, an idea that hasn’t been done, to my knowledge. I’m always more comfortable there anywhere. There and satire. And someday I’ll get back to that. I have a killer idea that takes us a bit before Anointed, and allows me to reset that universe, should I ever want to do anything with the rights I have back to Anointed and Flutter.
And life. That.
So, see? It’s not you, it’s me. I’m sorry. I won’t make some blanket promise that I’ll be here more often. I won’t. It’ll be a lie. I’ll disappear again, then come back and update you. It’s who I am. My priorities are rather focused right now. I have shit to do. Good shit. Just trying to reinforce the point. Sorry for the language. I promise I haven’t hanging around any bad seeds.
So, that’s that. Gotta go, blog. Take care. Keep a watch on my brand, or whatever it is I’m doing here.
I am Captain Impossible. I am also highly caffeinated¹.
That could mean that I am the captain of impossible things, or that I am so impossible to deal with that I’m often found wearing a fancy hat and tugging at my cuffs as I comment on the breeze. I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Nevertheless, here I am, prepared to undertake a project that could be–might be–an impossible chore. Blogging my way through a book project sounds a bit like bludgeoning myself with a hammer just to see what will happen, or at what point I begin screaming Why am I doing this? But FUN FOR YOU! You get to witness it!
I may need to rework that simile. Then again, the whole point of this is to offer a raw, unedited look at the madness that is writering, so you get what you get. It’s my hammer. Don’t tell me what to do with it. I’ll turn this whole thing into a Three Stooges free-for-all quicker than you click your way clear and run from the room screaming why, why, oh Dear God, why is Shemp?
From left to right, I believe they are Writer, Plot and Story, but I could have them confused.
I didn’t want to have to say that, but you left me no choice.
Anyway, if you’ll please stop interrupting, I’ll continue. I was talking about the book I want to write. The working title is Specimen A. It’s Young Adult. It’s one of those speculative fiction/fantasy deals. Originally, it was supposed to be a straight up adult fantasy, but then my main character quit and I found this teenage girl who said she could nail it. And she did. Originally I figured the story would be a one-book ordeal. Then the story told me to screw off and expanded while I slept. This happens. If a writer ever tells you they knew exactly where the story was going from the moment they started, they’re lying. Damn things are like kids in a sugar factory, bouncing all over the place while you run after, arms wide, expecting they’ll bounce your way any moment. Nope. I can tell you where the story is showing me it wants to go now, but it may change its mind. It may have no choice, because some random back-story character will probably pop his head up on page 101 and say Hey, I’ve got something say, all right? And you’ll be all, The Hell you do. And he’ll be so What if I was a woman and married to that guy? And you’ll jump out of you chair and scare the bejeezus out of your cat because you’re like WTF man? Where’d you even come from anyway? And the story will pipe in with I’m good with it, just so you know. And that will pretty much be the end of your outline.
Writing, ladies and gentlemen.
So instead of a general fantasy, one book story with a forty-something year old protagonist, I have a Young Adult trilogy with a female teen as my lead, and, oh, the forty-something year old wants to know if there’s a smaller role he can accept because his agent said it would be good for his career. What a putz. Fine. Whatever. But he’ll probably die. If the story is so inclined. Book One is called The Progenitor. I think. Yes. I like it. Done.
There is, gratefully, a constant in this all. The story hasn’t departed from the original concept, and I’m fairly certain it won’t. The story remains the tale of a main character who discovers … something … about something and something and something happens to … something … or someone and something.
No it’s not. But writing these damn one-sentence synopsis is a frustrating thing. Just find a book on your shelf that you’ve read and know ok well. Summarize it in a sentence and make me want to read it. Not a run-on sentence either. Like 25 words or less. I’ve edited more synopsis than I have pages of actual books I have written.
Specimen A: Ayoung girl discovers her ability to move through time is neither rare, nor unexpected, and leads to a revelation that will change her world forever.
25 words. Boom. Not happy with it, but it’ll do. I much prefer the fifty to hundred-word plus synopsis that allow a deeper crawl into the where the story is going.
I could take a different approach. One I would take if I were a bookseller rather than an author. In that case: Imagine you had the ability to travel through time, but you knew someone, or something, was watching you do it. They don’t like it. They want to find you. You’re pretty sure they want to kill you. So you try to keep your movements through time short, simple. A quick shot through a day of school, for instance, because you don’t want to see your best friend who you saw at the movies with the guy she knew you liked. Or to the night before because you want to study for the pop quiz you’re about to fail. Then you encounter a boy who has the same ability, only he isn’t trying to hide it. In fact, he’s quite reckless with it. Even worse: He moved into the future and found himself in a coffin, and he’s determined that he’s going to die in two days and the best he can tell is that it has something to do with you. However, his presence has awakened those that have been watching, and now they know your secret. They know what you can do, and if you don’t do something soon, the boy won’t be the only one who dies.
I’ll leave it there. As I’ve said before, I want to avoid spoiling the reveal of what is happening. At least until I write that bit. If the story lets me, that is. Ugh. Stories. Can’t live with ’em, can’t be a writer without ’em, amirite?
I have vowed to keep these posts around a thousand words or less, and with this sentence (technically, the footnote that follows, but, um, whatever) I have crossed that. So, that’s it for now. My next post will be after I write the first chapter, which may or may not be tomorrow, life depending. Might be Friday. Because, you know, you’re going to mark that on your calendar. But I’ll add a link to the entire chapter, and await the torrents of comments that will undoubtedly follow.
¹ Which is neither a by-product of, or leading to, previous or future statements, but rather a non-parenthetical aside lacking in necessary format and function to provide insight into much of anything except that I do, indeed, like coffee.
Nine months, twenty-five days, and some hours I’m too lazy to count. That’s how long it’s been since I last wrote here. I guess that qualifies as an appropriate gestation period of silence. Oddly enough, birthed unto the world, that silence now screams, betraying the calm that was my earnest effort to ignore it forevermore.
It’s not my fault. I just didn’t want to do it.
In part, I admit, because life has been … well, it’s been lifing pretty hard. That’s not to say that its myriad pokes and prods have left but puncture wounds and headaches. No, it’s pushed, encouraged, picked me up in moments of stress and told me it would all be okay, then kicking my ass because I looked like I needed it. Still, the lingering lifieness of life has left my writing focused to work I wish to get published rather than words that summarize my current state of mind. The need for those words to be structured properly, for the story to be conveyed with ease, perfect flow, characters worth remembering, everything that makes a book what you hoped it would be, has far outweighed the need to blog. In essence, I mean to say that I want to be damn good at it.
So there’s that.
Ugh. I just saw this picture. The webbernuts seems to exist solely to see how many different ways it can make people cry.
SO MUCH LOVE.
What’s interesting, and eternally frustrating to me, is that much of the lifingness of life these past months has to do with matters of a personal nature. I won’t talk about that on social media, or certainly not here. Which sucks because I’ve always viewed my blog as a therapist of sorts. One that offers no feedback, true, but one that patiently waits out my rants and thoughts and worries and fears and more thoughts and more fears and more worries and sad. So, the few times I’ve wanted to write about it, I’ve arrived to find the door closed, the Inner-me offering a finger waggle then pointing me away. And so I trudge off, hands in my pockets, lip pouted, mumbling about something inane that Inner-me just ignores because it’s inane.
And there you go. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?
There’s no real point to this. If you’re reading, I apologize. Thanks for stopping by. Leave a quarter on the counter on your way out, if you would. I just wanted to write … something. This is certainly something. Pride. Beaming. Smiles everyone. Welcome to Fantasy Island.
I actually do have something to announce. I just can’t do that now. Basically, I have the news, I just lack the trumpet. I mean, I don’t know how to play a trumpet, per se, but I can make noise with one. Which is a lot like writing. Making noise. I can make noise. I’ve also been working on a new book, with additional side projects, while continuing to push The Storyteller and the Shadowheart of Ahriman (which has endured more blood cleansing than a dialysis patient, but is somehow better off for it). Maybe for the sake of having someone read something I’ve written or am writing–which is a more difficult task than I could have imagined–I’ll just start posting bits on here. Maybe you can read a whole book out of it. For free. Why not? I wrote it for it to be read. Sure, I’d like millions of people to be enjoying it, but the simpleton mathematician in my head seems to think one is greater than zero, so okay then. If for no other reason than to keep him from mathing, I’ll do that. I hate math.
This is the only certifiable math I’ve done in a good many years:
This whole Talking About Wordsmiths thing is at a merciful end. Its intended purpose–to purge the final glistening dew drop from the leaf of my life (whatever that means)–has been fulfilled, as I find myself lacking the desire to post anything further. I’ll drop some pictures with brief captions tomorrow, in an effort to blast the final tidbits of favorable memory into the ether, and to honor those who meant more to my efforts than they might realize, but I think this will be it.
I can think of no better way to finish it.
I previously detailed the launch night of Anointed as one of my favorite nights. Though I must admit to the self-centered affixation to that’s night’s purpose, I can’t deny the book launch portion was but a reason why it was my favorite night. You see, Wordsmiths Books became the ring for a rather entertaining (and, admittedly, one-sided) tug of war. One that carried on like a fifty round bout, no ref in sight to stop the continual beatdown suffered by one of the contestants. Or better, it was like watching a train wreck, plane crash, and hundred-car pile-up, all rolled into one, unable to turn away, unwilling to ask why it must go on in perpetuity. It was mesmerizing.
Enter the ring, one Joe Davich. Undefeated. Unbeaten. Indestructable.
The Undisputed Featherweight Champion of the Verbal Smackdown.
His opponent, his defensive retorts weighing in at an unprecedented, and immeasurable, Zero G, Russ Marshalek.
Every war has an end. Every skirmish a victor. Every moment, a future defined. On February 22nd, 2009, the verbal spat that was Davich v. Marshalek came to a climactic conclusion, on the stage of Wordsmiths Books, before a captivated audience of 150. It will forever be known (by at least one local, who flings it with regularity every time he sees me) as the day the world paused in reflection, uttering the words “Russ Eat Meat” with nary a clue as to what they meant.
Setting the ground rules only encouraged the wine, and the whine.
Content is unecessary. In fact, ask me to recount the round by round commentary, and I’ll stare at you blankly for a time, finally bringing myself to say only, “Joe won,” with a notable shiver. I don’t remember the punches. I only remember the result.
I can offer for certainty that Russ fought with great resolve, challenging his opponent with cited passages in defense of … well, no idea really. In defense of something.
Joe responded, as only Joe can.
“Dear God, Mother Mary and Madonna” was uttered a few dozen times.
His counter left Russ reeling, coiling into a bottle like an infant to the teet.
At some point, you just have to forgo the glass.
Posters were brandished, slogans were uttered, Marisha Pessl was slandered, people laughed, people cried (out loud as part of laughter perhaps, but still), I was amused, the wine vanished. In the end, the champion stood, proud and victorious, stepping from the stage with a haughty grin, parting the crowd like Queen Elizabeth (for a more detailed description of anything Queen Elizabeth ever did, please see Sir Davich), off to celebrate his long-sought dominion over the defeated Wonderboy.
It’s not smug if you’re Joe. Neither is it ever misspelled.
It was a great night. A fitting end to a store that was about more than just selling books. It was a sitcom without cameras, a novel without a writer, an entertaining home without a pug. It took a great deal to organize (actually it just took a customer telling the two of them to put up their Hello Kitty purses and hash it out on stage, which was a glorious moment for all), a tremendous amount of wine, and a propoganda war unlike any ever seen, but it happened nonetheless.
Wordsmiths Books: Wage your verbal war on our stage. Please. We’re bored.