Open Blue

They told me, years later, that the guy had an entire galaxy in his mind. It was populated by nebulae and stars, planets and moons, some of them harboring life, others barren and wasted. He spent essentially all of his life cataloging his inner galaxy, and for all intents and purposes he was catatonic. His family took him for a vegetable. They’d pack him into the car for family trips and do things like sit him in front of mountain views, dip his feet in flowing streams, anything to get him back to the world, back to them, none of them realizing that he already had a world, or rather several trillion of them, and that every ounce of brainpower he had in him had to be devoted to exploring this galaxy, or else he’d be lost and insensate for the rest of his life. He’d tried to blind himself to the galaxy before, to come out and into the world, but he’d seen nothing but unending, featureless black. Heard nothing but the howling of an infinite wind. So he went back to his inner planets.

I guess I met him in 2005 or thereabouts, back when I was a grad student complete with bright eyes and bushy tail. They’d never gotten him beyond the occasional blink of his eyes, over there, at the center he’d been moved to, when his family had had enough of the family trips and the visits with experts and the hope that something would change. I’d take a lot of notes at first, observe vitals, notate scans, but eventually I just started coming to visit.

A lot of the technology was still nascent, and I remember picturing to myself, there at the foot of his bed, what this room might’ve looked like under the same circumstances 10, 20, 50 years before. What help could be given him, if it’d even be given. The doctors now did these scans mostly to placate the family, to assuage the inevitable guilt they’d accumulated after placing him in a home and coming first to visit daily, then weekly, then monthly, then only on holidays. I took to coming in on my days off from class, reading to him first from Kafka, then Wallace, then Murakami.

At that geologic scale of minute fluctuations of the body and micromovements, you begin to assemble in your mind a mental timelapse of the hours you’ve spent with the person, translating every twitch into something meaningful, prophetic even.

Sometimes I’d come in with a cheap bottle of gut rot and tell him about my day, pretend that he was drinking with me and commiserating, all the while popping mints after a finished bottle and accepting coffee when the nurses would offer it, not really needing it but not wanting them to smell the alcohol on me, to realize just how pathetic I was to be drinking midday and not facing any of my problems.

I’d been in and out of school, never settling on one thing in particular. Married and divorced before age 30. Aimlessly wandering in general, while doing my best to convince myself that the answer was right there, around the corner, or maybe after the next drink.

I knew this guy couldn’t really hear me, that even if he could it’s not like he could relate, but I kept coming anyway. I’d get a good feel for the nurses and orderlies as they’d come and go over the years, which ones actually gave a shit and which would be a problem–the ones who’d put him at risk of bedsores or worse. It sounds stupid, maybe, but he became like a little brother to me. I didn’t have any siblings of my own and had cut off all contact with my parents, so I guess he was really the only family I had.

He retreated from the world, physically left it, by degrees, intentionally, so that he could live in the world of his mind. I mean that in the literal sense. He didn’t wither so much as disappear gradually, nearly imperceptibly, to the point where I can hardly describe it even now, all these years later. But he did, he left of his own accord, bit by bit, until one day I came in and he was gone. He’d faded to the world inside his mind, physically departed, unalterably escaped, and he’d left me a note. Not a physical one, mind you. A mental note. He told me to find him. He didn’t leave coordinates; he left activities. He said I could find him in a night walk just past the edge of town. He’d be in the tire track of a motorcycle ride under open blue sky. Clear and vivid in the otherwise fading remnants of a dream broken by daybreak.

 

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Dust Off Your Soul

I guess the hunger never really leaves once it first hits, no matter how many achievements pile up, no matter how often, no matter how much older you get, etc. At least that’s my experience of it. You tell yourself not to get caught up in the endgame but to instead enjoy the journey, but the goalposts are always more interesting than the field. And so I vacillate, sometimes, between accepting and rejecting this tendency, sometimes scolding myself for killing the zen and not appreciating what I’ve got, what I’ve achieved, and other times acknowledging that this ceaseless drive, this endless hunger, is precisely what propelled me out of financial, spiritual, and emotional poverty. This push to improve, this refusal to accept my lot in life is exactly why I’ve gotten to where I am. That progress shouldn’t be a casualty on the road to happiness.

And that’s all good and fine.

Some nights, when the thinking becomes too much and mental defrag is impossible inside the house, I go, and I get out, and I get on my motorcycle, and I simply appreciate what it feels like to be propelled forward through the world, to shift and to vibrate and to feel and to see and to hear. The gears shift both inside and out these nights, maybe stuttering and awkward at first, but getting there, approaching normalcy, a smoothness, a vibrant coming together of potential and purpose, action and agitation. I feel myself recognizing the seasons of my life, now, as I near the end of my twenties, feeling the familiar old mental cycles repeat and experiencing new ones all the same, coming into my skin, and my body, and my heart, and my mind. I think these things without voicing their words as I ride, lights above and around me like staccato beats to a tune I know but haven’t heard in a while, so it takes a bit for my mouth-mush lip-syncing to segue into actual lyrics, vocal melodies, song. Sometimes you have to dust off your soul, and that’s okay.

You can get used to anything, including violence and struggle. For instance, my brain is in a constant state of hyper arousal as a result of persistent, ongoing, traumatic experiences. After years of that, it’s easier for your body to just flip the fight-or-flight switch on and leave it that way permanently. This has its perks, though, don’t get me wrong. For instance, when shit eventually does hit the fan, you’ve got it handled right away. The problem is having to remind yourself that here, standing in line at the grocery store, or there, sitting in a cafe, you don’t have to feel like you’re in a life-or-death situation. It might sound stupid if you’ve never experienced it, but it’s a thing.

So there is the one thing and the other, the wonder and the thunder, seamlessly transitioning between zen and meltdown, sometimes within minutes of each other, sometimes in the same moment. You get frustrated with your neurochemistry but then remember what it’s given you, what you’ve been able to accomplish with a little brain plasticity and a lot of perseverance. Because yes, it’s a thing. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the only thing.

 

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Plum Sky

Casting a line off the edge of a barge micronation somewhere off the Adriatic, plum sky undulating like some childhood experiment with oil and water, and all of a sudden that seems so long ago, that 1990s childhood spent tinkering with PC parts, putting together your first computer, and now here you are thirty years later, in unclaimed waters, undisclosed location, starting some religion, maybe a country, you haven’t gotten that far, it isn’t clear yet, but it’ll be something different, whatever it is, so you return to these old practices and prepare the precepts for the initiates who will be here next day, their boat is coming in then and will promptly be destroyed upon their arrival, because there will be no need for transportation when everything they could possibly need is right here on this constructed island, when all of their needs can be met by the Almighty Godhead and all that he provides, on this barge that’s been assembled from the repurposed garbage floating aimlessly through the ocean, you’ve gone to great expense to have it collected, and you’ve studied all the major religions to make sure that you’re not treading over tired territory, that you haven’t accidentally plagiarized Zarathustra or anything, and you haven’t, not that you can tell, so you will now establish this colony in the ocean, this empire everlasting with yourself as omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent leader who will rule for now and all of time, for you have teachings prepared on the nature of time, you’ve presented them to the internet and have been brutally ridiculed, but that’s the measure of a great idea, isn’t it, the ridicule of small-minded people, and that’s what convinced you that you were doing the right thing, convincing others to worship you as a god on a barge of garbage floating out in the ocean, this is what you’ve been working toward all your life, the unadulterated adulation of others, the drowning in their praise, happiness everlasting, it is all yours to take as you prepare your vestments you’ve created, a robe also made of reconstructed refuse, it still stinks even, but that is the last stink of the world to be washed clean from you, you’ve prepared the sermon, you can visualize the rite even now, with you and the others dipping into the ocean to rid yourselves of the scent of the world, to replace it with something unsmelled and unknown heretofore, it will be a glorious birth of a new state, a new state of mind and of being, you’re sure of it, or else you wouldn’t have sunk all your savings into this construction, wouldn’t have sold all of your things and left everyone you’ve ever loved behind, so you need to make something of that sacrifice, now, and here, you’re sure it will be worth it, so you look once more over that plum, undulating sky, that dark mass that will be either your salvation or damnation, and you sit on this barge, and you wait for the coming day, and you hope beyond hope that they will come.

 

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Moving Pictures

Cigarette smoke filling in from out of frame, an ’80s filmic haze accentuated by a smoke break on a movie set, hair as big as her dreams as she reads her lines to her warped reflection in a pink-tiled wall, knowing that the plan is for her singing parts to be dubbed over in post but still hoping that the director will change his mind when he hears her sing, I mean really sing, not like she sang in the audition room, where her nerves messed with her pitch and she was too breathy but where she otherwise nailed the look, sound, and movement of the character. Up till now, they’d filmed a few of the final numbers, songs where her character was singing with much of the rest of the cast, where her vocals weren’t an issue anyway. But soon, just after this smoke break in fact, she was set to belt out her first solo. And the director told her to go for it when she asked if she could really sing it in the take. He didn’t exactly finish by saying that they’d just fix it in post, but the implication was there, that was certain.

The production has that New Wave feel that’s just now starting to come up, and she can almost see future shadowcasts playing her in sticky-floored auditoriums at midnight showings. Stranger things have happened, anyway. Everyone told her she’d fall flat after dropping her first agent, but that turned out to be just the push she needed to really put herself out there. Now she’s freezing her ass off in an on-set location with no heating in the middle of winter with next to nothing in the bank, but at least she’s living out her dream, right here, with tinny audio playback to get the timing right, wearing makeup and costumes she doesn’t think she’ll be able to afford even after she makes it big, which, let’s face it, if it isn’t this film that makes her a star then it’s just never going to happen, is it, and she has to push this thought away as she sings contralto in a corner, flipping script pages and letting the cherry of her cigarette burn perilously close to her fingers, holding the hand up, out, and canted on an angle like she saw in all those glamorous old pictures in the movie magazines as a little girl.

Her nerves are such that she has to periodically wipe her hands on something to keep them from soaking the script she’s holding, trying to remember not to wipe them on this expensive costume but more often than not forgetting, and so she’ll interrupt her own tiny-voice singing to swear at herself for ruining this totally bitching costume, sweating off her makeup and trying to convince herself that it’s fine, she’ll do a Nina Hagen thing, when in reality she knows she’s a mess, her nerves are shot, and it’s to the point where she needs a fifth of vodka every night just to get to sleep for the next day’s shoot.

She takes polaroids of her life on set and attaches them to postcards, sends them back to Kansas so Mother and Father can see just how big she’s made it, so there will be no doubt in their minds that their daughter has Made It and is Going Places. She’ll take these polaroids before going to the next party, her castmates treating every wrapped day like it’s a wrapped shoot, and she’ll take this powder she’s given at these parties, inhale this powder that she can only have at these parties because she couldn’t possibly afford to keep up a habit like that on her own, and she’ll catch her face in the mirror sometimes after one of these parties, try to avoid seeing it but sometimes do it anyway. She doesn’t like seeing her face most nights.

But here she is, turning the page, then putting the script down, getting the blocking right, seeing her movement in the frame before it happens, knowing every facial expression, every vocal flutter, all of it perfect, just as it’s scripted, a performance that’s apart from this long string of nights, that will transcend all of that, she can feel it, and her head is spinning from something, don’t know what but it is, and the mood in the room is shifting, the final preparations are being made, and she’s about to be summoned, will hit her mark and sing this song like she’s never sung it before, to the point where the director will have no choice but to keep her vocals in the film, she will so totally embody the performance that to segment it at all would ruin the whole thing.

She turns, and she walks, and she moves to a staccato beat in her head to where she needs to be, a true moving picture.

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.