Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Lost in Space



There was a space in my summer, and I didn't tell you. And since I didn't tell you from the beginning, I refuse to tell you now, at the end.

Fine.

I'll tell you it was good, it was fun, it was easy, and then it was hard. I'll tell you the rest in a short story one day if I want. You know I'm stubborn. I can hold on. Typical Taurus. But I can also burn up. Typical Taurus on the cusp of Aries. If I keep anything to give you it won't be flames; it'll be ashes.

(Note: find a use for ashes. Keep them, spread them, or? Figure out the "or.")

A couple months ago I told you I traveled. What else? Oh, I was sick in bed for three days at the end of July from swimming in an unclean pool or eating at a pizza buffet or drinking beer from unlabeled bottles or swallowing a single bad shrimp. I don't know which was most guilty, but they were all decisions I made over the course of one day, so really it's me; I'm guilty. And I suffered. Boy, did I suffer. The saltines I didn't finish are in the kitchen cabinet going stale.

What else went stale this summer? Turns out not much. I pulled up a bunch of stories I wrote over the past three years since I sent Mother Ghost to my publisher, stories I wrote when I got stuck in places working on The Three Woes. They're still good. Most of them are still good. Some of them are still good. A few of them are still good. OK, the truth. I'm editing, cutting, killing, writing, and rewriting. Look for the resulting collection whenever I'm good and done with it, all right? Title: Slither Bomb. Publisher: ???

Other stuff I kept alive this summer but only just: basil, two cacti, a weird oregano varietal, jade (barely), and an elephant ear. The leaves on the elephant ear are bigger than my head, neck, and shoulders. The next step is something that sheds. People are convinced Josh and I need a cat. We don't need a cat. We walk at night and say hi to every cat in the neighborhood. We say hi to some men gathered on their porch offering to sell us a beer vending machine. Why aren't people ever convinced Josh and I need men on porches? I'm convinced we need those men more than we need cats. There are so many good cats but only just A Few Good Men.

I'm sorry. I couldn't help it.

Some nights in June and July I couldn't sleep. Not when I was sick. I slept when I was sick. Other nights. You know the nights. The outside screams through your window. Insects, not instruments. The ceiling fan stirs every hair on your body. The movement could be spiders. You convince yourself you're covered in legs. If you breathe, the mouths from which the legs radiate will chew your hot skin cold. Leftover fireworks drag your heart onto a familiar battlefield. If you're lucky the moon has no pull on you. Other celestial bodies tugged at your birth. If you're not lucky, if you're a moon baby, you're thirsty all night, your glass is empty, and the moon's a bottle you can see but never reach. Love, too, keeps your mind moving. Perpetual motion. Pleasant exhaustion after a run. Your legs stop. Your heart runs on fumes.

Those nights.

Somehow that's not horror. No matter what it sounds like. A person can be restless and content at the same time. I explore both territories. August is half in the door, half out. The space in my summer could have held a monument three weeks ago. Now it holds a stone. Easier to keep in my pocket. Easier to throw. I don't do either.

These days I look at the stone and love it for what it is.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

LA Again


If Seattle begged for meaning, LA begged for nothing. Two West Coast cities and only the latter feels like a place people go because they can't go any further, because there's an ocean in the way. I said after the first time I visited LA the Pacific didn't seem to attract me like other bodies of water but to repel me. Though in the other direction, toward home, there's a desert to cross. No wonder I'm uneasy there. No wonder.

Back and forth. A spider in a glass. A trap.

But this was my third visit, and the volley I'd found so exhausting before excited me. I talked about magic with Seattle. LA might be the other kind of place, one I've denied exists. Where insane events don't seem guided by your own hand but in spite of it. There's a line in LA, and if you find yourself on it, good for you.

Where I found myself: a reading downtown to surprise a friend who wasn't surprised. The pin in that balloon was another friend, and to be honest, it was her balloon to pop anyway. She flew me out there on a whim. When I failed to be a surprise, I turned to my other role as a supportive gift. (Happy birthday!) It's not hard to support these women, these friends. The reading was excellent. The readers were a unique force. A team.

I traveled alone. Teamless. Arrived early to the reading to secure a chair with a good line of sight to the microphone. Chair secured, I stared at my phone, the Internet. An attractive man (the word is "hot" when I tell you in person, "attractive" here) messaged me something playful, a pun on my screenname. He asked if I saw what he'd done. "From outer space," I said. We exchanged. He canceled his other plans ("just gay shit") to attend the reading with me. After, I waited in line to meet the writers, and he browsed the store. I met the writers. The crowd thinned. The attractive man vanished. My friends and I went outside to say goodbye while they waited for a car. Their plans were sleep. Mine were awake.

The man reappeared in the same moment my friends disappeared. A hand off from security to a stranger. Again, the fear of regret. I was tired. And yet, I had to see him through. My night looked like nothing before. Now it looked like him.

You don't get the rest of the story because I don't know how you'd take it if I gave it to you. Just know this: midnight naked meditation with a sexy film industry man in his personal bathroom sauna in his fun downtown LA apartment can be the right medicine. I had not meditated in years. I had never meditated naked with another naked man. Now, I have. There's your story. When you travel, don't act like you're at home.

Next day, the best sushi I've ever eaten, an all right beach but the best nap in the sun, good friends, ice cream with black olive brittle and goat cheese, gin and tonics and s'mores. If I sought to write my own fairy tale in Seattle, LA wrote a fairy tale for me. (I get it now, Roxane. I do. I get why you love this place like a woman.)

That line I told you about before?

I don't have to say it do I?

I rode it the entire time.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Seattle Again


Parsing the details. Assigning value to daily experiences. I eat hotel bacon for breakfast. No meaning for me in the hotel bacon. No meaning in the eggs, the yogurt, the bottle of water, or the view of men washing windows on the adjacent building. No meaning in breakfast at all, a meal I often forgo.

There's meaning in pastry, though. I'll get there.

But first.

I'm on vacation with my family in Seattle. We eat. We have fun. We nap. In the time I find for myself, I look for other people to hold my attention.

A man I met on the elevator in my brother's building had a Shiba Inu on a leash. I knew the breed, but I didn't say so when the other person in the elevator, my mother, asked the man what kind of dog it was. The Shiba Inu, like my breakfast, is not a meaningful personal symbol. It's the man, of course. The man holding the leash. The first Seattleite I met when I arrived and I didn't say a word to him. I let him tell my mother about his dog. We parted. Mom and I took a car down the hill home. Well, hotel home.

I realize now, at this age, it's people. People hold the most meaning. I can't write another story about someone looking at a deer or a snake or a spider, I swear. I'm writing stories where people look at each other.

Late one night, the man from the elevator found me on the, uh, Internet. And that's all I'll say about that. You figure it out. He didn't remember me from the elevator, but I remembered him. There's no value to be found in the social media mechanics beyond the obvious power of a kind of omniscience. Whatever you like is out there and easy to find. Even though you search, what you search for seems more like it searches for you. No, really, I won't say any more about it.

Magic.

I believed in magic for a while. I believe in magic now, but a few years ago I believed magic had meaning, that it floated around and changed the world all on its own. Well, no. The truth is you, the person, are the initiator of magic. All I'm saying is if a random event seems to happen like magic, it's invaluable to me. Even if I know better. There's a reason adults still love fairy tales. The cruel are punished. The virtuous are valued. Change is mourned at first, celebrated later.

Give it time.

Pastry seems to require magic. But really, it just requires time. The places I find to hold my attention, the places away in Seattle for a moment alone, are bakeries. Not even coffee intrudes. Only me, the occasional cute clerk, and sugar, butter, and flour. I eat. I don't eat alone.  Don't ask me to explain that. I drank expensive ginger beer down by the water three times, and every time I was lonely. Countless pastries, though, and I've been content. Sugar, I bet. There's science there, but let's not dirty happiness with science.

More magic.

I spent a few minutes visiting a man who has the same rectangle forearm tattoo I have. Mine is red. His is black. We met on the Internet, too. The daily experience. The tiny details of interaction. I knew I had to meet this guy or I'd regret it. In the end, there's not much meaning there either. He was nice. I was nice. I walked two miles to the home he shares with his husband and their dog. The man greeted me at a charming gate. He gave me a glass of water. We talked. I sweated. We hugged. I left. I thought maybe I'd assign the experience something more. A story or a feeling. Instead, it lives in the place small twists of the narrative often live. Neat. Cool. Fun. A moment in the woods, per Sondheim.

What else? The trip continues. My mother mourns the inevitable departure. My brother, like myself, is a rational statue. We would be punished in the fairy tale version of this trip. It would be up to the third brother, the youngest one, the stupidest one, to marry the princess, to inherit the kingdom, to tie the story with a bow.

No such brother exists. The fairy tale isn't the one written for us; it's the one we write. Why assign meaning at all? The older I get, the bigger the picture grows, and yet, all I want to see are the detail shots, the close-ups. The big picture is too chaotic and meaningless to behold. The details soothe and distract from the inevitable departure. The only animals I've seen on this trip are dogs, cats, and people.

I look closely.

I work with what I have.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Rat Bath


Last week, we were in New York City. I'm speaking for us both, Josh and me, when I say "we." We were twins if you passed us on the street and didn't inspect our faces, our bodies, our hair. We're husbands otherwise, if you get to know us, but we don't wear rings, and we don't call each other husbands. Marriage is now available to us even if we're unavailable to marriage. Like New York isn't home even if it seems otherwise on the outside, marriage isn't home either. Marriage is a place we travel when we're together and joking, another cute shirt we can share. But it's not our bodies like clothes aren't our bodies. Marriage seems so small compared to the rest of us.

We couldn't be on vacation while strangers accused us of being local, so we were Manhattan residents for a week. A woman asked me directions to the Whitney. I told her we were standing right in front of it. "I knew you were going to say that," she said. I didn't tell her I knew her question before she asked it. Someone else stopped me in Times Square and asked me where it was, where was the Times Square? "All around you," I said and gestured out with my hands like the place was rain and we were drenched. Our hosts gave us directions we didn't need. We live in a city, too. Smaller, sure. Kansas City is still a city, though. Right there in the name.

In other words, we've been around. Sitting on the fire escape one night, our first host called us Midwestern and unassuming, which was an assumption itself. If we don't seem regional it's because we aren't. A few years ago I tried to carry some of my Southern youth with me. Not just childhood signifiers. It was icons and tastes like smoking on porches and sipping bourbon and saying, "Ah." Nothing I ever did as a child. I attempted a foreign adulthood. I only grew up in the South; I didn't stay grown there. By the time I'd invested in the costume, it didn't fit. I donated it all to my stories. Read my first book, and you'll find the pieces there, the rags I couldn't wear in my actual life.

One afternoon in New York, Josh and I tried on rings at a clothing store. Fashion rings. Not the other kind. We're uncertain about jewelry. I used to wear a watch, but for the past eight years I've had tattoos on my wrist. A watch would intrude on the lines, cover what I want seen. That's my issue with marriage, too. Maybe it started out I wanted validation and rights, but in the meantime Josh and I built something better. The same way we can be regionless, at home in any city, we can be apart from marriage and appear married at the same time. Not above or below. Apart. 

Our umbrellas collapsed in the wind and rain. Friends warned us about hot city summers. The unexpected rain brought the temperature down. We waited for a train underground where the heat never left and watched water drain down the center of the track. Josh called it the rat bath. We saw rats and pigeons and squirrels, but not once did we see a spider anywhere. Maybe we weren't looking in the right places. Maybe we only saw what we wanted to see.

On the way home one night, another couple of men passed us and wished us Happy Pride. We were tired, and responded to the men as if they'd just awoken us. Not pleased, one of the men said, "You better get into it!"

We couldn't respond before they were gone. We didn't have the words ready to convey our pride.

"We're so far into it, you don't even know!"

Friday, June 12, 2015

More, More, More

No one has ever asked if I watch my snake eat. Last week, yes. After cleaning her tank, I caught the tail of a mouse hanging from her mouth like a foreign tongue. She swallowed it then readjusted her jaw against the glass. She's not a large snake. Not dangerous. Still, she can wrap herself around my arm and squeeze, and I wonder.

What else I wonder is if my upstairs neighbors know they sleep above a snake every night. I haven't given them any information beyond, "Your dogs bark when you're away," and, "We don't own a car. The driveway's yours." I find it best not to mention reptiles to strangers. My pragmatism is naked that way. My cold rationality. Some people have an effortless time smiling at dogs and children. In other words, they don't have to try. Do I even need to say it? I have to try.

I try to find the words. 

My friend and I argued years ago. In the end, she compared me to a villain. I turn that over sometimes. Even now I wonder if I conflate myself with my snake. 

What has become easier for me is excision. Cutting away. I write about a problem, and the problem (mostly) disappears. Less so with my obsessions. When I write about those, I'm writing about an almost inaccessible self, deeper than the stuff I've gathered and carried. My first book was about those weights. And just for the joke, I lost that weight. Now when I write, I find myself poking my influences right in the eye. Why are you here?

No answers. Of course. Only more obsessions. More, more, more. I could never do drugs, which is to say I could never do drugs and stop. A few years ago my friend began asking everyone she knew what this life is even for. I thought I knew, but I only knew how an animal knows. Snakes don't ask questions. Back then I told my friend we were here to pick something to do and do it until we died. I'm not so sure now I've started asking the same question. Not because there's nothing to do. There's too much to do, and moment to moment, I can't pick.

Let's start with tonight. I'm going out, and I don't know what to wear. Wait, wait. Don't tell me. Clothes, right?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dull Swords



I found my jar of shark teeth yesterday. My favorite is large and worn smooth by the ocean. Part of it is missing. Not a T like the rest but an L. Broken off long before I ever pinched it from the sand. I spent entire spring days in Florida with my family fishing for dull swords. No threat to anyone. In fact, so far removed from a shark's mouth, I don't remember considering the sharks at all. A world of them only a leg away, and as I later learned, eons past, an entire evolutionary line of bear trap faces.

In the absence of shells there were teeth by the thousands. But they weren't teeth, really. They were fossils. Over time, minerals seeped in and supplanted the teeth. We were removing ghost rocks from an ancient place and carrying them back to Kentucky, another ancient place that used to be a shallow sea itself. The fossils had no currency beyond the praise I received when I found the largest one of the day, small seeming now in my adult hands. Still, we collected them like they were important. Like they meant something. We curled over the water and held the sand tight in our fists, loosening our fingers a little as the waves ran in and we waited for the clear suck of the current to siphon away the smallest pieces.

Even on vacation we were beholden to chores.

My grandfather was a dentist. Teeth are part of my family mythology. I had braces longer than most children, so now I lack a charming gap between my two front teeth. Today, I would make a deal with evil forces to revive that gap, but back then I was grateful. In lieu of natural weirdness, I come up with reasons to receive tattoos. My newer friends haven't asked what they mean. Maybe we're all adults now. Maybe we've heard enough stories about people's tattoos, and maybe they weren't good stories. Even if I tell people my tattoos mean one thing, they don't. They mean more than I can say. They have origins compelling to me, but when I open my mouth to tell the stories, something has leeched out the meaning. The teeth have been pulled.

I've been drawing. Those teeth grew back. A long time ago, I thought I'd be an illustrator. People told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up. The problem is I still want to be everything.

A literary magazine emailed me a couple months ago. Nothing unusual. I've been writing pretty exclusively for a few years now. Sometimes magazines ask for stories, and if I have something I send it. But I reached the end of the email, and I got to the question, "Will you illustrate a future issue of our magazine?" I'd only been drawing again for a few weeks. I didn't know if I could do it. (Though of course I knew I could do it.) So I did it. You'll see those illustrations in the future, or if you come over to my house you can see them now, along with a bunch of dicks I've drawn. Why dicks? For fun? Sure. For fun. If you need a reason, take that one and rest easy.

I have other birds in the aviary, as always. I'm doing my best to keep them alive.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Versus the Dog



I turn 30 in a week. Out at a bar recently an acquaintance asked me if I could believe it. She said, "Doesn't it feel like we're still 25?" In my head I thought, "What's the difference?" But I played along because I was in a casual mood, the mood to talk about dogs and ham and the word "horny" as a jokey synonym for "thirsty" or "excited." My acquaintance claimed to be horny for real estate. I, myself, have never been horny for real estate. I don't need to be happy or sad. High or low. Most times you see me, I'm content. That's all. Simple. But it's also everything. If I'm horny, I'm horny for comfort.

Ha ha.

The truth is I can believe it. I've said before how I wanted to be an adult even as a child. If you were a lumberjack, and I was a tree, you could have cut me down any time in the last decade and counted more rings than should have been there. I have the bark is what I'm saying. Is what I'm thinking. Is what I believe about myself even if it isn't really true. Enough school teachers called me an old soul in elementary school, and I bought it. Even this past weekend, in the one place that might have the power to reduce me to childhood by overwhelming me, my best writer friend told me what I've always told myself: I was born old.

Well. There's me. There's my friend. And then there's the actual truth. I'm a man, and I'm a child. The bark grew over time, and it still grows. It wasn't always there like I wish it was. Nothing arrives fully formed. I can believe I'm almost 30 because I can trace the line of it, and I can examine the dots on that line, the years and the events and the love and the work. At a writing conference this past weekend I wore the same backpack I wore in middle school. The threads have loosened so the bag is transparent in places. I have stitched and restitched the seams many times. It's too small for an adult, and yet...

What else is too small for me?

Maybe I've grown out of this dream I've had once a year every year for so long. The dream where I'm walking down the street and a wild dog attacks me and I kill it to stop it. The jaws are strong, but somehow I'm stronger. The dog bites me, and I pull apart the machine of its mouth. I overcome the teeth. My hands bleed but don't hurt. I have not had this dream this year, but there is now an actual wild dog haunting my neighborhood. Blackened fur wets its belly. The rest of the dog is as gold as dry dirt. It's running to something or away from something. I've seen it once out the kitchen window while cooking. I thought it was a fox, but then I looked closer and saw it was my nightmare. Other people have posted pictures of the dog to our neighborhood's Facebook watch group. I haven't encountered the dog in the street. Give it time. Maybe when I'm 30. Which is next week. Maybe next week. Or maybe never. Worry over something enough and it takes a form. I'm not worried.


My new book, The Three Woes, has been announced by Spork Press. I worried over it, and here it is, about to exist. I'll tell you about it later, OK?

Look out.