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.
I had planned November to be all about the writing. I joined that whole NaWriMo, or whatever it’s called. thing. The Progenitor would stay on course, I said. I had a word count. A proud, distinguished target.
As it happens, November is traditionally a busy month on the Georgia Center for the Book schedule. The Georgia Literary Festival in Augusta, Children’s Book Festival in Savannah, Elizabeth George, Lynn Cullen, Diana Butler Bass, Sue Grafton with Amanda Kyle Williams, Jane Smiley, Tanwi Nandini Islam … you get the drift. Busy.
But wait! There’s more! I, as the Executive Director and along with my awesome Board of Directors, launched the Broadleaf Writers Association in November! No problem! Just a few things to take care of. Emails to send, posts to write, a website to set, meetings, social media to maintain, conversations with writers, a fundraiser to plan. Just a few things. No big whoop.
But wait! There’s more!
Twice a week I work with a friend of mine who runs an after-school chess program. Two schools, each thirty minutes away. Great work, I love it, but you may not know this … kids suck your energy away. I’m guessing this is what the soda bottle feels like after being drained in a few gulps.
BUT WAI … oh, never mind. You get it. Busy.
Oddly, I found time to write. The Progenitor moves forward. I’m nearing the halfway mark, which is not as far as I’d like to be, but is certainly not a disappointment. As action packed as it is to the end, it’ll zip by. I still expect to have it completed before Spring.
All of this activity made me realize that Voldemort may have been onto something with the Horcruxes. I mean, dude split himself into seven pieces and he was good with it. A little wacky, sure, but he went about his business. No fracture too difficult to manage. I’m split four ways and I’m exhausted. Maybe if I could parcel some of this into an inanimate object or four I’d be better off.
The most recent split of my attention launched today. Broadleaf’s initial fundraising campaign launched on GoFundMe. Lookit: (this is where a GoFundMe widget would go if I wasn’t too tired to figure out why it isn’t working. So instead, here’s a fancy link to the campaign!)
So, like, cool and stuff. People can donate. Though it’s foremost a writing organization, the hope is that my most wonderful friends and family (and those by extension of the Board of Directors and writerly folks of my world) will see this as a cool concept worth getting behind, or simply supporting. After all, we want to educate, to teach people how to better write so that they might pursue writing for publication, or better make use of in their workplace, social lives, or professional pursuits. Writing is an important thing, after all. Teaching people to do it well seems worth a few bucks tossed in the Broadleaf kitty, doesn’t it? Sure it does. Help a brother out. Help an organization looking to do wonderful things out. CHARITY ARE GOOD.
That’s all the pitch I have left, folks. Been a day. In baseball parlance I’m a good hundred and fifteen pitches into the eighth inning. Someone get the bullpen up. I need a drink.
But I’m here. I’ve posted. My hope remains that I will return to chronicle the process of writing The Progenitor at some point, though spending my available energy actually writing the damn thing seems a better use of time. We’ll see. I’m sure you’re on the razor’s edge in anticipation. Of course you are.
Boom. Done. Blog post written. Neato little flash thingy link for the campaign embedded (or not, but whatever). Words spent.
Hey, my coffee mug might be a good place to go from here. I wonder if you can drink out of a Horcrux?
Words is words, which are words that are words, being wordy.
This is the process of writing, you see. Learning perfection is attained not in the first sentence, but rather what the first sentence can become after you’ve written a few thousand other sentences that politely inform what that stupid first sentence should have been in the first place, if only you had the smarts to let them tell you first.
Sentences can be so bitchy.
The Progenitor is this. As is everything else ever written. Certainly, everything ever written by the dope typing this post. Every chapter calls me backward. To adjust something. To tweak some language. To modify dialogue. Because, as I discover the truths ahead, I’m required to align them behind. In this light, I’ve spent some time recently combing through the first few chapters and making adjustments. If you’re reading along you might now be screaming something like But I’ve already READ all that! Yes, you have. I warned you. Edits happen. It’s a process. It’s part of the writing life. It’s the realization the burger needed cheddar AND provolone AND swiss after you’re halfway through. You can still do it. Come on, you know you want that taste. Cheddar just isn’t enough anymore, is it? No, that burger wants MORE and it wants it NOW.
Did I mention I’m a bit hungry?
Agatha’s story is twisting, evolving into the latter 2/3 of the book that I believe might be best classified as WUT. As in, you know, “What?” but different, because you’re all WUT.
Time is tricky, as Agatha is learning. Time is screwed up when you screw with it. Time is a nightmare that may or may not be a pleasant dream when the Keepers find you.
Now almost 20,000 words in, I know I love this story. It’s insane. We’ve bonded and become good friends. We might be holding hands soon. It’s getting serious. Like, totally. I’ve also learned the story was, to no surprise, right about the beginning. Chapter One as it stands will go into the repository at some point, hopeful to be included in a potential opening of Book Two, or a story told along the way. Chapter Three, with its great opening of “The first time Agatha moved through time, she tried to save a cake,” will become the opening of the book. That line sells it. The flow it creates otherwise is ideal.
So, here it is. The end of Chapter Ten is completely raw. I haven’t even looked at them a second pass yet. I’m still hoping to finish the first draft by the end of the year. It’s ambitious, but much like this story, I’m not entirely sane. It’ll happen.
That whole “Day Whatever” thing? Yeah, I think that can go away now. I mean, posting in a succession of days that mark every day I have worked on the novel makes great sense. Not that I often make sense. I usually make not sense, and with great precision. So, it’s canned. On a shelf to be forgotten forevermore. Like Apocalypse Tuna. But NEVER FEAR! I am still here. Still hereing and being here and being not not here in order to post what I have written on the The Progenitor.
That said, in the time I have managed not to waste watching football, cheering my fantasy baseball team to a long-awaited league winner winner chicken dinner championship (Yeah that’s right, I play fantasy sports. What of it? I’m a dude who likes sports, all right? Back off, lest I pummel you with my sportish knowledge and bore you to tears.), taunting the cat, humoring the dog, and putting back a healthy dose of the Fall’s first batch of chili, I have created more words! Words that pair with other words to form sentences and paragraphs! Paragraphs that talk about stuff and lead to other stuff. Two chapters worth, in fact! In fairness, they’ve seen a light edit, but I tend to read through what I last wrote in an effort to drop back into the flow of the story, which always results in some alteration along the way. I edit, therefore I am, or something.
With these two chapters, Agatha’s adventure has officially begun. A bit earlier than I had expected (I’m at 12,000 words, and I thought I’d make it closer to 20k before everything really took off), but it feels right. The story’s never wrong. When it says it’s time to fly, you jump. When it says have some meat and chill, you better not be a vegetarian.
Speaking of jumping, as this story plays with the concept of jumping through time, the task I face is explaining this, and the results therefrom, in a way that is easy to follow and understand. If I have failed to do so at any point, fire away. You’re the reader, I’m the writer. I stand behind the curtain, while you fall asleep in a field of poppies, or head off on a witch hunt with but some sketchy courage, a tin brain, no heart and a stupid bucket of water. I know everything. You know nothing. NOTHING!
So, here it is. All six chapters. 12k words out of a projected 90k pushes me past 10%. It’s a small benchmark, but something about crossing 10% has always infused me with excitement. Hopefully it shows.
Not to say that I am, or have been, incapable of doing anything else. I know how to make toast, after all. That’s an accomplishment. No, really, it is. I mean, if the difference between starvation, and survival onward to tomorrow, is a slightly browned piece of bread with butter and jelly, I’ve got it covered. Not that I’m about to break into a refrain from I Will Survive, or anything, but if you hear some crunching in the corner, that might be me.
Anyway, enough about toast. We can all make toast, right? Please say yes.
So, I don’t remember my sixth-grade math teacher’s name, and it’s been bugging me for an hour. Come to it, I can’t even remember what he looks like, though I do quite clearly remember it being ahe. Of course, I only remember one classmate–a boy by the name of Scott. And I only remember him for that unfortunate vomiting incident that caused me to plead to my mother for new shoes, and forever altered how I respond to the smell of sawdust. Sorry Scott. Wherever you are, I hope you aren’t vomiting on someone’s shoes. In an effort to actually move forward, I’ll call my teacher Mister Mister Sir, and get on with it.
Mister Mister Sir did a rather curious thing in class. Each month he chose a Student Of The Month (the first letters were always in CAPS, lest the importance of the honor be diminished). Now, being honored as Student Of The Month is, in almost every case, a worthy title bestowed upon the one student that either kissed enough tush, or cheated on enough tests to have the highest grade in the class. It so happened I managed both with great skill. But being Student Of The Month wasn’t merely a title in Mister Mister Sir’s class. No, it came with benefits, the most primary of which was that you got to sit at a teacher’s-sized desk near the door, and grade papers all day, after which you went into the Grade Book and entered to grades.
The awesome nature of this power cannot be overlooked. However, it wasn’t the greatest of the honors bestowed upon the Loyal Brotherhood of the Student Of The Months. That honor came by way of a Polaroid picture taped to a piece of construction paper (mine was red, as I recall–odd that I can remember that but not Mister Mister Sir’s real name), with a brief bio underneath. It was a typical roll-call of information: Name, Age, Birth date, Favorite Food. I remember looking over the list and happily making it known to the world how incredibly special I was. They would know all the most important information about me and envy me each every one of those thirty days. The kicker was the last question, the one that nearly defined my entire life, post-Sir’s class.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Oh, boy. That was the question. The Question. But I knew the answer. I didn’t need to hesitate. Didn’t need to take even a second of time to contemplate exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
I wanted to bowl for Jesus.
Mister Mister Sir mistakenly translated this not-simply-a-tidbit of defining information, and noted for all to see that I wanted to be a Professional Bowler. Much though I was honored to sit at the High Desk, and spend a month of my adolescence grading papers and not learning a damned thing, I felt it was quite necessary to help Mister Mister Sir–enlighten even–understand where he had erred.
“Mister Mister Sir, sir,” I had said to him, early one morning before class had begun. “I believe you may have made a mistake on my biography. I don’t want to be a professional bowler. I want to bowl for Jesus.”
Mister Mister Sir seemed a little put off by that, or at least that’s how I perceived it. I now know he just needed coffee. I see that face every morning in my mirror. “I don’t understand,” he said, which I found to be quite obvious. Of course he didn’t understand. I needed to clarify.
“I want to bowl for Jesus,” I repeated. “You know, stand up with my ball of reckoning, keep my approach straight and balanced, steer clear of the gutters, and roll my way through the ten pins with a proper angel.”
“You mean, ‘angle’?”
“No, angel.” He stared at me, which I saw as an invite to continue. “The proper angel is important. You can’t just take the ten pins lightly, straight on. You have to have an angel to guide you through and help you to, you know, get a strike.”
He wasn’t getting it, which nearly frustrated me into silence. Months I had worked on this, trying to get every bit of it just right. And now here was a teacher of whom I greatly respected for choosing me as Student Of The Month, understanding none of it. “The Ten Pins?” I tried.
“What about them?”
“It’s a parallel, Mister Mister Sir. Ten Pins, Ten Commandments. Angels, and staying clear of the gutters–you know,” and here I whispered, “Satan?”
“Oh,” he said, rather dry and indifferent. “This is a religious thing, isn’t it?”
I felt my shoulders drop somewhere below my knees.”Well, no. I mean, yeah, kind of. But not, if you know what I mean. It’s kind of a religious sort of thing that I talked to my preacher about. Of course, he didn’t understand either. But I think that was just because the Idiot Gnomes got to him.”
“The Idiot Gnomes. That’s what my father calls them, anyway. They break into your room at night, on days when you’ve been particularly bad, and steal your brain cells. They turn you into an idiot. That’s why I try to be good and come up with good ideas all the time. I don’t want to be an idiot.”
“But you want to Bowl for Jesus?”
“Yes! I do!”
Mister Mister Sir smiled, laughed a little, then stood up and walked to the wall where my beaming visage sat in all its Polaroid-glory. He removed the construction paper, walked back to his desk, made quite a scene of crossing out Professional Bowler with a marker, then quickly wrote something I couldn’t make out. He walked back to the wall, and re-posted my shrine of glory.
He nodded, and returned to his desk, where he downed nearly a full cup of coffee in one gulp. After a moment of hesitation, I walked to the wall and stared at my biography. I stared at it for about two minutes, contemplating.
“You can bowl for Jesus all you want, kiddo,” said Mister Mister Sir, now standing behind me. “But you damn well better write about it afterward. Weirdness breeds entertainment, and I’m pretty sure you’re gonna breed just fine.” After which he walked out of the room.
I’m not sure at what point in the month that Scott vomited on my shoes, but I know that it was about the same time that I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. If not for Mister Mister Sir, and his biographical misstep, then for me and my wardrobe. I wanted to wear nice, clean, warm, slippers all day, somewhere free of random vomit, and the gag-inducing smell of sawdust,
The bitch thing about writing–for me, anyhow–is fitting it into a schedule that demands of me my attention so as I may pay my bills as required. I love my day job, both of them I should say actually, but I do long for the ability to write on my own schedule. The ability to channel all of my energy into my passion, rather than the divide and conquer mentality I’m forced to take right now. Throw in a dash of this issue, a touch of that issue, some stress to round out the flavor and boom. You have a fraction of time to actually write, and no bacon to soothe the pain. Add in the stress, fatigue, and otherwise fractured sense of concentration that comes with it all, and you get crap writing when you actually do sit down.
I’ve had two weeks of insanity, with some crap writing mixed in for pleasure. If I were the type of personality who pushed through these things, who said screw sleep I’m writing something, I’d have produced Chapter Four already. But through my earlier days of Writerdom I’ve learned it’s more work to write those pages, attempt to edit them and convince myself I can make something worthwhile out of nothing, than to can them altogether because, well, because they’re absolutely useless crap. I do better when I endure the hard times, write workable crap, then get my groove on when things calm down again. Granted, this is likely the primary reason I only have two books published to this point, but it would also be the primary reason why I’ve improved in the craft so much. It gives me time. Time to think, time to write in my head, time to get it right. So, it’s a wash. I’ll just be who I am and move on.
Much as I have with The Progenitor. After the two-week hiatus, Chapter Four didn’t end up taxing my eager brain at all. It’s quite short, against what I had expected. I just reached a line that said IT ENDS HERE and said all righty then, thanks. So, without any lengthy preamble, nonsensical picture, or loosely-related story about my life, here it is. As always, fire away. Input is welcome.
I’ve decided to end the chapter at a time approach to the file, instead opting to offer the entire manuscript each time. Chapter Four begins on page 18, for what it’s worth. Just to help you avoid feeling as though you need to re-read everything each time, and stuff. Heaven forbid.