All I Need

Pretending there are any ideas other than this one, any places beyond where we find ourselves, now, trading traumas and swapping family war stories in the dark, under the artificial moon streaming in through the window, flies buzzing around it as it buzzes back at them, glowing orange, now red, now white hot, and we are all of us children stumbling around and searching for reason in all this fallow grace, this sickly daze that we’ve created for ourselves, this human sadness, a self-created void that’s as warm as a security blanket and just as well-worn, eating up the land, and I tell you about when I was small, so small I couldn’t talk but could watch, could see these things as they happened in my home, these horrible moments that shaped me into the person I am now, heal(ing)(ed) from these wounds, recounting them to put them in a glass box where they can be regarded like a plague contained, quarantined from its host once and for all, and I watch the way the light dances on your face as you lay down color on paper, something on in the background, but fuzzy around the edges, like a dream, and I’m similarly drifting in and out of sleep, with that nonsense thought process that comes along with it, saying things I can’t remember later but which I’ve needed to say, not to anyone but just in general, needed to speak these stories out loud so they couldn’t hold me hostage any longer, that’s what trauma is, a hostage-taker, laying claim to your body, your mind, your soul, your sanity, until it’s not anymore, until one day when you realize that you can function again, have functioned for some time now, and just realizing this is terrifying, because you don’t want to jinx it, don’t want to lose all the progress you’ve made, don’t ever ever ever want to be broken in that way ever again, and your breath hitches in your chest, vision narrows, it gets harder to breathe, and you have to go to the bathroom to catch your breath, and dry your eyes, and remind yourself, again, as many times as it takes, that you are okay, that you have been okay, and you will continue to be okay, and maybe this isn’t an exhaustive catalogue of post-trauma feelings, maybe it can’t cover it all, but it covers mine, even as I stand years removed from the trauma, years removed even from the most dangerous of episodes after the fact, as I enjoy peace in my time as they’d call it, writing and working and living and enjoying, I can see that this little parasite might always be there, might always squeal its insistence, but it’s a hollow cry, a desperation that goes unheeded, and I walk on into the night with nothing more than the stars and the moon to light the way, here in these hills, and that is, now, more than enough.

That is all I need.

Sake, Koji Kondo, Dreams

Shifting toward a redline you can’t see or hear, can only feel, the way Beethoven must’ve, delimbing his pianos, setting them down on the ground, to feel the vibrations and nothing else, probably turning off the light to starve all senses but the ones he wanted, the composition, the light that flicks on in the brain when a connection is made–a vital spark–a turning of gears toward something greater than oneself. All my life, I’ve wanted to create, and I’ve wanted to escape. Now I find myself in the position to do both at the same time. I’ve worked so many years at this, fostered the growth of others along the way, and here I sit, where it all began, watching the accumulating pages fall like so many raindrops in a summer storm, fogging up the glass to make a new face over the reflection of my own. I sit at the precipice of something great, but I have no idea what it is. I’m stumbling in the dark and figuring out how quickest to find the light. Stealing glimpses of unfiltered light through a window that’s just out of reach, gliding through mental pictures of other times and places, save points in this game I’ve been living, improv-ing and improving along the way, just going with it, trying to learn, staying hungry and moving forward no matter how agonizing it might be. Sometimes I feel like I am marching onward into a great and blinding storm. I know that there is light and clarity past this storm, but to find it I must move forward. Inexorably I travel this patterned ratchet-clank world, wandering Southern passageways toward a place I never expected but which I couldn’t imagine being without. Your life never ends up how you expect it to, and that’s a good thing. At least it was for me. So I climb plateaus and shift under tree boughs, sensing something beyond this plane I’ve been given, this flesh and blood monkey-body derived from retooled parts and millennia-old adaptations, with teeth that don’t even fit in my head. I had some sake earlier this evening, stood guard as it flowed through my body, put on some music by Koji Kondo and allowed the feeling to swell, the inhibitions to drop. These notes that fall like pieces into place on a grand and ancient puzzle, and I can do nothing else but accomplish these things that’ve been set for me, can only do what’s best for me, now and for as long as I’m here. So the notes crescendo, and I move, the stable waverings moving like something apart from physics, something beyond time and space. I am a human being, and I am glad to be so much more than that.

Where I’ve Been

I’ve been gone a little while according to the timestamp gap, a digital exit followed by a digital reentry. Keeping busy of course, but just not visible here.

When I was 21, I enrolled in my first semester at Columbia College Chicago, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman film student. Concentration in screenwriting, never quite able to shake the written word even when it’d be translated to the screen.

I took a grand total of one (1) fiction class, which is funny considering the direction my life has taken, and how much of my focus has shifted toward literary shit. You can’t plan these things.

I graduated, focused on flash fiction and novels, and used this site as a refuge (quarantine?) for written anxieties, understandings, and fictional journal-keeping. Mostly I stuck to the post-once-a-week rule, but sometimes (lately) I didn’t.

So here’s where I was.

Last month, I took a trip down to Asheville. I saw Tame Impala there and roamed the streets and hills all night after, cataloging the experience I just had, people-watching, and taking notes for a feature screenplay that hit me all at once as I walked those quiet, foggy streets and waited for day to break.

I was an anthropologist as I met strange and interesting people that night, all of them informing this weird, existential, cyberpunk, scifi, dark comedy thing that I was constructing on the fly. I started writing the thing shortly after getting back home, and I haven’t taken a day off from it since. I’m 60 pages in, the commonly-accepted midpoint in screenwriting, letting this thing shape itself as I listen to Jack Stauber in the early mornings, watch B movies in virtual reality, and take midnight walks. It’s exhilarating.

I met a couple filmmakers here in Winston-Salem, a filmmaking couple, separately, not at first connecting the dots that they were together. I met the dude at a Confederate protest as we stood down the Confederates together, talking film and filmmaking in between bouts of shouting them down. (Their statue was later taken down, by the way. Where it once stood there’s now a nicely-landscaped crop of flowers.)

I met his wife at a creative event I went to for work, and only after talking film and filmmaking with her did I realize that she was mentioning working on the same projects that he had. They were a couple.

I went on a road trip back home to Chicago for an extended weekend. Didn’t visit Columbia College specifically (I didn’t want to feel old), but I did point it out a few times to my girlfriend Harmony, all too proud to be like, “Hey! Right there is where I went to school. … I used to take walks down there in between classes all the time. … The film building is right over there. …” Etc.

I’ve long had an all-or-nothing, this-or-that brain, so it didn’t compute that I could maybe do fiction and film. Like I had to give one up to do the other. And then I realized: Hey. That’s bullshit.

So long story short, we had an awesome visit to my hometown. I took Harmony to all my old haunts, relived decades-old memories in the places that spawned them, reminded of details I’d forgotten by my friends and little brothers as we wandered these places together, letting it all come back like no time had passed at all.

I got back to North Carolina, and the filmmaking couple got in touch with me. They were doing the 48 Hour Film Project, a challenge where a film crew writes, shoots, and edits a short film in 48 hours and then competes with other film crews in their city. This is an international thing with screenings, prizes, the works. They wanted to know if I’d crew with them. They didn’t know this, but I’d wanted to do a 48 for over a decade, but just never had. They were both awesome people, and it didn’t hurt that they’d worked with the likes of VICE and PBS before. That was one of the quickest and easiest “yes” emails I’ve ever sent.

We shot the film, and it was a crazy amount of fun, and we screened it, and got a great response, and I got compliments on how great it was to work with me on set, how vital I was to the production. I’ve already been invited to crew on future projects, and I sent some old scripts over to the guy after being asked.

All this because I was friendly and talked with people. So yeah. This is an unexpected yet very welcome chapter of my life. A chapter where I’m open to all the possibilities in front of me, where I’m doing all the things I always dreamed of doing. That’s where I’ve been, and that’s where I am.

After Image

Splintering, alternate realities come to you just around the bend, like a train down a subway tunnel, lights shining, horns blaring, but it’s a doppler effect–sound warping before and after, and what it feels like to realize that the thing is never really the thing.

It’s experiencing a population bottleneck, soil polluted, seeds ungrowing, waters fetid and stationary. It’s going away, always away, to find something that always eludes, a staircase that adds stairs the more you climb. Taking a bus to a destination unplanned, cloudy-headed, foggy-brained, and yet seeing things so clearly, the beginner’s mind, shapes and places unfolding organically around you till you can almost see the pop-in of the simulation loading.

It’s hiding the real story inside the story you present, the bubble worlds you make yourself live in, worlds where suffering is allowed to be a concept and not an all-encompassing reality. It’s being hit by thoughts and memories of the past, breath hitching, eyes clouding into their own bubble world, having to go to the bathroom to turn on the fan

and stand

and breathe

and remind yourself that you are alive. You’re here, and you haven’t died, although you almost did, haven’t left this planet even though it sometimes feels like you’re only renting your body.

And this is the reality that we don’t want to face, this meat-sack body we’re all stuck in, making the most of it, thinking of passersby as nothing more than NPCs but knowing (hopefully knowing) deep down somewhere that they all have stories as rich and varied as our own, perhaps more rich and varied, stories that we can never possibly know (unless we ask), stories that we only catch passing snatches of, in phone conversations and whispered self-talk and childhood songs hummed anew.

This is what we mean by living, this listening in on states (both internal and external), or not, not listening and so moving always toward or away from something else. There’s launching mental states into the deep past or future, anywhere but here, while waiting in line at your local coffee shop. The woman in the apron sweeping after patrons is thinking about her family back home, the people she hasn’t seen in years, and this propels her to another image, of barbacoa and surf smell, water frothing on beaches that look like moving postcards, sitting in hamacas with friends and swaying, swaying to the beat of a tune she can barely hear anymore. Because when she recalls it, it isn’t the tune itself she’s recalling but instead it’s her last recollection of it, this permutation of memory from single-celled original recall to vertebrate myth, a story that becomes itself, separated from the truth of the occurrence, whatever that can be described as being, because the thing once gone is not the thing any longer. Not the thing itself but an after image, a double-exposed photo that you might’ve once discarded but instead,

here,

now,

you crop and touch up and frame and display.

Feral

I always said I might as well have been raised by wolves, with that practiced smile meant to shut down further inquiries, smile hiding sadness, no crows feet next to eyes so you can tell it isn’t real.

Not a sob story, really, not anymore. Just day after day of pushing through pain, learning to accept it, even embrace it, in a fucked up way, convincing yourself that this hole in your chest builds character.

It gave my brain a way of darting through temporal realities, flying backward and forward through time and space, because if you’re sequencing the genesis of man among hominins or imagining our ultimate end in the (hopefully distant) future, then you rarely notice the horrible reality you’re living in right now.

It makes you open to possibility, being feral does.

I’ve tried fasting, gorging, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, walking 37 miles at a stretch, biking all day, eating an entire pumpkin pie, drinking nine or ten beers in a row; water fasts and exsanguination and meds and meditation and breathing. I’ve tried breathing.

And now I’m here, scribbling words on a page that will be transferred to a screen, used to have to do this at the public library for the internet access and working AC, but now I’m at my desk, before work, with little more than the glow of my screen and the mechanical hum of the office, before anyone else gets here. Now I know comfort.

And you feel guilty for the most ridiculous things. Guilty for hot water, and an ice dispenser, and a coffee maker, guilty for no longer having to scrape by but instead, somehow, miraculously, being allowed to thrive. A survivor’s guilt that marks the death of souls and not bodies, others just like you from that same neighborhood, feral kids who never found a way out of the pit they were left in, could only make that pit as comfortable as possible–a home that became a grave. There are these facts, these realities.

So I walk. I move. I write and I draw and I read and I try to make sense out of this crucible childhood I was given, this tremendous heat I survived and escaped, that I can now chart and describe for others. I don’t want to go over the same ground, God knows I don’t ever want to be there again, but there’s a power-taking in the naming of it. If it can be seen clearly, with a light shining into even its darkest corners, then it need not have power over you. Over me, over us.

I read this over, think of deleting it but don’t. I click submit, because there was never any other choice but this.

Patience

As I write this, I’m listening to Tame Impala’s latest song, “Patience” on repeat. It’s the first single from an upcoming album that will break a four-year dry spell since their last one: Currents. You can listen to that song while you read this, if you want. “Patience,” I mean. Might help set the tone. Couldn’t hurt, at least.

I discovered Tame Impala during a Dark Night of the Soul of sorts, although of course I didn’t know it at the time. Denial works wonders, and we can never fully grasp the heavy shit we’re going through until we’re not going through it anymore. For me, it was being in a toxic relationship–one I’d sunken nearly a decade of my life into–with no way out in sight, and working at a job that was slowly chipping away at who I thought I was, who I thought I’d be. That and the onset of mental illness I’d been outrunning since my teens by engaging in compulsive, self-destructive behavior.

Short laps on foot around my work’s office building, at the time, maybe playing Tame Impala out of tinny phone speakers, listening to those songs of regret and loss (but hope) on repeat, alternating between that and placing calls to people I hadn’t spoken with in years, old friends I’d broken away from, trying to cling then to something familiar in the weight of all that Hurt.

Short laps growing longer, even during Chicago winters, bundling up and trudging through snow in boots, self-commentary becoming as biting as the wind, tears to clot my eyes in the cold and threatening to freeze, and having nowhere to go but going there with purpose anyway.

I fell, and when I did, I fell hard. In and out of the psych ward. Bandaged arms. Prescribed pills only taken at certain times for certain purposes. Relinquishing my dignity to get help, or so I thought, or so it felt. But going with it. Moving forward. Every day. Living life in stages and exercising (exorcising) patience.

Listening to those same Currents songs on repeat, writing out my story in fictionalized words that were basically the truth but which had been changed just enough to make me comfortable enough to share them.

But I don’t want to mask my words anymore.

So this song. It pops up in my YouTube notifications as I wake up to go to work, at a new job, in another state, a job I actually love. As I wake up next to someone who treats me right: an effortless love. As I have tickets sitting in my inbox to see Tame Impala in Asheville, in a couple months, for the first time.

It can’t be helped that I smile. All of this, all of this growth and change and experience. At the time, it felt like it took everything from me.

And yet all it really took was patience.

Sliding

Pet the cat. Thoughts coalesce when you pet the cat. It’s tactile, like a grounding method or something. You read that somewhere. Where did you read it?

It’s lost.

Do something. Touch the fabric of your shirt, smell the inside of a melted candle, but don’t touch the hot wax to your nose. Or maybe do. Maybe that’ll make you remember more. What are you trying to remember?

Lost.

Check your pockets. Some change, wrinkled receipts. A lighter. You don’t smoke, do you? You’re losing it. Okay, okay, what else? Keys. A little Buddha on a bent keychain. Buddha. Shakyamuni or Hotei? Skinny and serene or chubby and smiling? Why do you know these distinctions?

Gone.

Back to your pockets. Wallet, phone, knife. Phone. Unlock it with your password. Can’t remember what it is, but you’ll remember once you get there. Good. Check messages first. Nothing newer than three days old. You must’ve dropped off the face of the Earth. Vanished like a ghost. Ghost, spirit, scary stories, campfire, cold tent.

Gone.

Okay, sensory perceptions, then. Stale air on tongue, rusty breath. Need to brush. Itch on arm that’s getting worse the longer it’s ignored. Lifting up sleeve and finding a perfect, filled-in black square tattooed there. Three inches on each side, perfect lines, like it’s been stamped there or something. It hasn’t, though. Rubbing, scraping, and scratching do nothing. Spit shine. Nothing.

Gone.

Nowhere neighbors nesting near nurses, nails nipping notations (nevermind nightwood), notwithstanding nestled noses; nearsighted nuns negotiating Nicean niceties.

Name.

Gone.

Feel around darkened corners of a room you remember smelling once, like a dusty old book this room, and the feeling of remembering a memory that’d been missing for decades, that book with a page ripped out of same, crumpled up, burned, flushed down waterways only to reassemble in its current form, somehow, a simple impossibility, but here it is, a memory coming up and out of this inner abyss, this inward twistedness, can even taste its metallic clinging bitters like nettles on the skin, running water over same, cold in temperature but not in feeling, still burning, and isn’t it fucked how this is a memory you cling to, simply because It Is A Memory That Refuses To Fade, so you let it play, let it cycle through without stopping, because the celluloid will jam and burn if you don’t, so the picture flickers through.

Stop.

But it won’t, not now, not when you want it to, it will send its information filter flying through filament traps in your mind like shutters clocked at twenty-four, blistering past, data cascades like avalanches of ones and zeroes, interpretable only in sleep, in dreams that you accept at face value during the course of but doubletake at once awake, wondering what the fuck it is you just dreamt, and why, dreamt not dreamed, and that’s something else you remember now too, scrolling through this fetid feed like galoshes sloshing through sewer contents at night, running through the innards of your city like an intrepid intestinal traveler, tapering this way then that when your feet don’t make purchase, then do, contact imminent with bricks laid centuries before you were born, and you’ve never felt more alive than in this moment with the balaclava tucked tight over your nose, filtered breathing, thinking that a Cockney accent might render it bolly-clahv, can’t help but think in this accent now, internal monologue going British, that’s a right nasty meat piece you’ve got there, in prime primal fashion brandishing a peace that can’t be bought but can be sold, mass-produced and disseminated like so much newscopy to chew on, Chungus Leafleg V is your name, there’s a line of them, a lineage, all the Chungi really had a time, and it’s something to do anyway, watch the words tumble out your mouth like a 19th century Freak Show, acquiring language even as you’re speaking it, and the thing about multitasking is that you can never do every task completely well–call it an overclock of the soul, a restructuring of the mind, gathering memories like drops in a bucket that keeps overflowing from a summer storm, power flickering out, and heat like its own separate entity–you know this place (not consciously, but it won’t exactly leave your mind either), and it gets trapped to the point where all you can do is rattle off names and dates, your personal history, like you’ve got the textbook memorized (social studies class as a child taught you well), yes just names, dates, and places but nothing of their substance, none of the really juicy details that make up a personality and individual; anyone could have these facts, could spew these words, so you’ll need those things that can’t be replicated–you’ll need the look of realization when a memory of a childhood barbecue comes back with waves of heat refraction shimmering off the top of the grill, and the way that every burger managed to disassemble itself and flop onto your T-shirt before it could find your mouth; you’ll need the image of sliding down a plastic slide that’s been baked in the sun, nearly melted, with a garden hose propped under one of the handrails at the top, sending down water that should ostensibly cool it down but doesn’t, not really, but it doesn’t matter because you’re sliding down now, sliding toward an inflated pool at the bottom, sliding for a second, sliding for a week,

a month,

a year,

a decade,

a lifetime.