Poor Yorick

He keeps his feet bramble-beat, mud-puddle sheen, elastic waistband stretched past use and hanging, sagging really, on hips left to mottle in the sun, worn down from it, but he’s not worn, no sir, and can’t you see that smile on his face meant to tell you as much? If you’ll give him a dollar for some food then that’s your prerogative, but he understands if you can’t, if you need it for yourself, etc.

He’s been out on the street long enough to know the prognosis of the city. He studies its lungs as they choke for air in the twilight hours, its murmuring heart as it wakes up for another day.  It susurrates to itself, leaves as whispered self-encouragement, until the rain sticks the words to the ground like haphazard tattoos from the city’s younger days.

They call him York, because that’s where he’s from, NYC, but the way it comes out his mouth when he’s been cold all day and he’s got brain fog and his tongue is stuck in a slow-mo movie, it comes out like Yorick, and that’s fine too, if people call him that, he figures, because it’s only a name. Just poor Yorick out here on the streets, trying to make every dollar count and stretch.

And he’s here, stretching too, under this melange of sunrise sky, these oranges, reds, purples in places, it’s beautiful if you notice it, if you really stop and see it and pay attention to the design of it, like a massive oil painting in appearance, but this one’s been done in photons.

He thinks he’s lucky, he says as much when people ask him, and he’s past worrying much beyond the next six hours or so. Anything further is beyond his immediate control, doesn’t exist, and so doesn’t matter just yet. It can’t matter.

Weightless dreams when sleep comes easy, which is rare, but these dreams are like glimpses of heaven when they come to Yorick, dreams not so much of flying as floating as a feather would, on the breeze, without sore ankles and tired eyes, dreams where he sees his kids again, and they’re safe, and happy, and the same age that they were back when he last saw them, when he could see them, when they called out to him in their sing-song voices and hugged his legs that were to them the size of tree stumps.

He isn’t hard on himself the way he used to be. Doesn’t curse fate, or God, or any other unseen force that might’ve put him where he is right now. He gets up with the light and goes to sleep with the darkness, fixing himself to the firmament because that’s the only thing he can count on most days, and that’s just fine by him.

He’s got a person over at the library who’s helping him with the internet and the computers and the websites. He was on the street long before the dot-com boom, and this librarian has been kind enough to show him how it all works, why it matters, what it can do.

Yorick’s got pages of research now, the librarian lets him print for free within reason, and he keeps it in his back pocket and reviews the data by the light of a streetlamp near where he usually sleeps for the night. Pages and pages of entries, permutations and possibilities of where his kids might be, separated by cities and states, their names common enough to give him scores of results, dozens of possible addresses and email addresses and phone numbers.

At night, he pores over these pages and eliminates the dead ends and the false starts, writes notes in the margins when he thinks he might be onto something. By day, the kind librarian helps him draft emails, encourages him to get even more use out of the library, and checks out books for him under her card, because you need a permanent address to get a library card, and Yorick hasn’t had one of those for the better part of 30 years.

It’s months of this, searching, hunting, crossing out, scribbling on the pages, checking the email inbox that the librarian set up for him, day in and day out, watching the sun rise and fall, his hopes with it, all of it, changing in the way that you only can with age, by the force of time, until that one day, with a simple reply, just the one word at first, but that’s all Yorick will need for now, because a simple “hi” from his daughter is worth more than hundreds of kind words from the mouths of strangers out on the street.

 

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Something Like Clarity

Getting up in the morning, so early that you’re the only one up in your household, maybe on your block, and just sitting and breathing.

There’s something to be said for emptiness–of not being devoid of something but of being inside that blank slate state of true happiness. Apart from excitement, from joy, because a real content is just itself inside of itself–the word and the definition.

Getting up and exercising, having breakfast, brushing your teeth, because you know that schedule and routine works for you, and though you’re not in crisis mode right now, you have been before, and you know that these little things can help keep you out of it. Of not being afraid of crisis anymore so much as respecting it, recognizing it, and taking regular, concrete steps to keep it contained. You used to think the crisis and chaos in you was something to be eradicated, but now you know it’s not that simple.

Of making progress, scary in itself, and a feeling like when you were a kid just learning to ride your bike and your parent let go of you, that realization of your progress mingled with the terror that you might fall at any moment. Of sipping this fear in your morning coffee, letting it pass before moving on to more important things.

It’s the quiet struggles that no one knows about, the ones that all of us have. It’s the whispered self-encouragement, the half-smile that you sometimes have to force but which you won’t give up on, the smiling past tears and seeing this cloudy world, this bubble world, and being okay with the momentary blurriness to get at something like clarity.

The Genesis of Genesis

When I was younger, I wanted to put everything I made into a category, a code, identifying theme and character, plot and arc, never fully immersing myself in the work, or else only in fits and starts before I’d look at the strings again and ruin the illusion. I guess that’s just how you have to start, or at least how I had to start, because it all seemed to work out in the end, but for a while there it was like banging my head against the wall, magic-appreciation-wise, because it didn’t seem as fun to constantly see what you were doing with a story, to not be in it but somewhere apart from it, outside of the action. But that’s the beginning of creation, the genesis of genesis, making every story about the creation of story, pieces populated by characters who know they’re characters, and the only magic you can find then is in look-ma-no-hands writerly showmanship, pointing out to the audience just how much you know about what you’re doing, making your characters just as self aware as you hoped you were appearing then at the time. That’s what I was doing. And it’s fun to go back and look at this work now, to see just how much it’s all changed, replacing sarcasm with honesty, irony with earnestness. Wanting to participate in a radical new sincerity, still, less jaded now than I was then, even though I know publication, know the slog of it, the hours and hours that go into rejection after rejection, until something clicks into place and gives you temporary respite, and you’ve gotten a piece out into the world, just to start the process over again. It’s like that now, and it makes it easier going through this process when I’m doing that for others now too, having to accept and reject and coach and advocate and do all the rest that comes along with editing, and the world seems much smaller than it once did, more accessible, less daunting, when you can read the work of people in countries you’ve never visited and get a piece of that experience for yourself, see the similarities that outweigh the differences, recognize these disparate struggles as the same as your own, and you realize that this is what they mean when they use that oft-tread phrase, coming-of-age, as if it’s something you just stumble upon one day, as if it isn’t something you have to work for, over time, developing your voice even as life develops your character, desperation giving way to something more calm, more sustainable as you develop faith in the process and let it happen the way it’s going to happen. And suddenly you’re back where you were when you started, in a room by yourself, smiling at something you’ve written, something you’ve read, seeing for yourself the magic of the written word, of the stories we can tell as people.

 

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Kodachrome Life

My girlfriend surprised me with an early Christmas present the other day: a vintage Kodak Instamatic M2 movie camera from the mid-60s. The estate sale she’d bought it from included a similarly vintage indoor lighting kit and a projector for home viewing after you’d gotten the super 8 cartridge processed at a photo lab. I’d once shot in 16 mm on a Bolex back when I was a film student, but I’d never shot on super 8 before even though I’d always wanted to. I mentioned it in passing once, and she remembered. Just a really, really good gift.

Inside the box the camera and assorted gear came in, there was a small metal box. I guess the estate sale people didn’t notice it, because they never mentioned it to my girlfriend, and she didn’t even know it was in there until I started rooting around and found it under the projector.

Inside the small metal box were a collection of film spools. Picking one up and holding it to the light, I could tell it was already processed, but it was hard to make out what was on the film. I found a YouTube instructional on that model of film projector, managed to locate a pdf scan of the original manual. I spooled the old super 8 film on the projector and set it against the wall for my girlfriend and I to watch.

It was scratchy at first, blown out in spots, but I chalked that up to the film’s age. But it kept happening, over and over. Almost like a pattern. Clear, vivid shots of blue sky sliced by cirrus, wispy, curling, like ethereal hair, then darkness, scratched film, and color flickering by one frame at a time, accumulating shape and weight like painted cells from a bygone era where color film was hand-colored. And I realized that that’s what this was. We were watching the work of a visual artist.

Miasmas of color gave way to eruptions of pitted black, simulated static from strategic distortions of celluloid. Then figures, maybe human, definitely moving, almost imperceptibly slow, but then with sudden, sped-up writhing, close-ups of grotesques and detailed makeup that seemed almost anachronistic for how vivid and real it seemed to be, how modern. This film had to be decades old, but it seemed fresh–hard-edged. There were elaborate stagings of musicals kept silent in the film, then abrupt cuts to sidewalks and streets, the camera sometimes placed on the ground perilously close to passing tires as cars rolled by and over it. Frenetic hyper-fast cuts of neighborhoods as they looked 60 years ago, the passersby and their fashions, the cars they drove the only giveaway that this film was made that long ago.

I dug around for his name, or for titles scrawled on film tins, but there was nothing. This was some of the best experimental work I’d seen on film, and by all accounts, its filmmaker lived without ever finding much recognition, if any. A lifetime of work, relegated to a cardboard box that can be sold after you die.

I started cataloguing as I waited for the new film cartridge I’d ordered to come in. I tried finding his name out later, but everything turned up a blank. So, for the time being, I catalogued the work under the name John Doe.

In time, I had over a dozen short films catalogued with runtimes, brief summaries, and considerations of artistic merit. I suggested titles where appropriate and went ahead and paid a company to make digital copies for posterity. I wanted to have a positive ID on the guy before I started sharing his work on the internet, but I never did find out his name. Either way, his work found a footing early on, the older folks considering him a peer of Stan Brakhage, and younger people noting the logical progression from work like his to people like David Firth and Jack Stauber. It was incredible to see the explosion of interest, the way this thing seemed to take on a life of its own.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do–I mean what I really wanted do with my life there for a while. But when that package came in and I opened it, when I loaded that fresh, first film cartridge into my Instamatic, I knew.

Soho in a Dream, 1971

I’m having a recurring dream that I’m a glam rocker living in London in the early ’70s, or at least I’m embedded in that scene at that time. In the dream, I don’t grace the stage so much as lace the pages of other singers with my music. I’m not myself, but some tall, lanky, bespectacled creature with mop hair and a crooked nose, and I’m getting drunk on brandy and writing at night by the light of the television, playing Top of the Pops. In the dream timeline, I’m living in Soho, paying my rent off the words I sell to others, making just about enough to also afford a pack of fags and a couple bottles of brandy, and I’m indulging in both, and it’s all starting to feel less like a dream and more like a long-forgotten memory.

I’m watching the Pops, and getting proper pissed on the brandy (I don’t know where these words are coming from), letting the ash of my fag come perilously close to dropping on my lap before ashing it, writing down chori and verses, then ditching them, scratching them out, as Pan’s People boogie to Jeepster by T. Rex. I stand up and mimic the moves, only partially imagining those people up and dancing to my music instead, sung by me, not belted out of the bleating mouths of addled singers snorting what wages are left to them like crumbs from their bloated record company, which is what’s presently happening in the dream. All of these things and more run through my mind as I keep myself locked in that flat night after night, writing about things I’m not doing, writing for people who are doing them but who just can’t find the right words.

On Saturday evenings, I find myself in the back row of the cinema, transported to other worlds where ghoulish zombies shamble over American countrysides and cities, where metal men come down to Earth in silver saucers that you’d swear were models hanging from strings, especially when they wobble as they “fly” through the air in what’s meant to be a vicious attack on our planet.

I come back home to my flat after these showings, still a bit pissed from the earlier brandy, and I lie down in this dream flat, on my dream bed, and I fall asleep and enter a dream’s dream, where I find myself standing in the center of a cutting-edge sci-fi film set (cutting-edge in 1971 anyway), with myself as the primary actor, makeup applied and prosthetics fitted as I am made into a monster and forced to sing my woes for no one in particular to hear, as everyone is too busy making sure the scene comes to fruition, milling about here and there as they go.

Like clockwork, I’ll awake from this recurring dream, still feeling like a creature with no agency over his creation, usually just in time to hear a song I’ve written being performed on the radio by someone I’ve never met personally. I can never quite seem to wake from this dream once I’ve entered, once I’ve heard those mangled words rendered in generic, saccharine melodies, the bubblegum banality. But at least my words are at the core, at least my words remain undisturbed, I convince myself, my thoughts like a pendulum as I consider singing along and throwing my radio out the window, alternately.

I wander the streets now, at dawn, knowing that I’m dreaming but not quite wanting to wake up, maybe not able to, stuck sometimes in a dream within a dream. I know in the back of my mind that I’m in a pod, alone, somewhere in a barren future I’ve only seen in passing glances when the simulation glitches. I’m somewhere in a world I’d rather not be in, but here in this dream within a dream I can at least make music, make use of my body and move through a world that is not torn.

I think tomorrow I’ll sing. If this simulation, this dream, is a lucid one, I see no reason to stand in the back of the hall, to lend my words to other people in other pods who are similarly comatose. I’ll put on the best damn glam rock opera show in all the great, wide wasteland.

FADE IN & FADE OUT

I guess one of the things that’s fucking me up is that I’m supposed to be some mentor figure, some example, I’ve got the office hours and everything, but most days I’m just trying to get through without drinking too much, or if I am drinking too much, then without it showing.

I started out adjunct, shit pay, enough where I had to settle for the rotgut at the convenience store before I could afford the good stuff. I guess they were impressed by the fact that I kept shooting, that I was teaching filmmaking while still making films, like that was some exceptional thing, as if I had a choice. Because, truth is, I drink a lot, but I’d drink a lot more if I couldn’t make movies.

All the classes I teach are things I learned out of necessity, pretty much. Writing on a strict schedule (because I couldn’t afford to dick around), studying acting tech (because I’d often have to act in my own films starting out), microbudget filmmaking (that one’s obvious).

I didn’t have the luxury of film school, so I created my own with early internet forums and bootleg software and library late fees. I learned how to write screenplays by reading and writing screenplays. I submitted to contests, and I lost every one, but I got some encouraging notes once, when I scrounged up enough for the extra fee for guaranteed notes, and there was no way for that anonymous reader to know that the contents of their notes would decide my future, that I was just about to give it all up until I read that encouragement, until I realized that my scripts weren’t bad, they just weren’t yet as good as the other scripts. And that’s just something you have to learn by doing.

I get up around noon most days, tell myself it’s because my first classes don’t start until later anyway, but it’s really to allow myself time and space to nurse the inevitable hangovers. I don’t know. I’ll sit at home, in my chair, for hours sometimes, and just bite at my nails. I’ll bite till they bleed, till my fingers hurt when I wash my hands. I can tell that I’m changing.

I try to write something every day, even if I end up hating it, even if it’s shit. I’ll jot things down on paper first, even with the pain in my fingers from the pressure of gripping the pen, because it’s a different process, writing versus typing. I drink every day now, I guess.

One thing that’s interesting is to stay up past the effects of caffeine from earlier that morning, past alcohol when I get home and past the melatonin to help get me to sleep. To watch that liminal part of the brain start to take over. The part that makes you dream and keeps you there. I’ll sit down like that, and I’ll keep my eyes open, and I’ll look at things without actually seeing them.

I want to write something big, and bold, and dangerous. Something real. I want there to be something left of me when I’m gone.

On nights like this, working past the sleep, I’ll see only the transitions of a screenplay as I write, only the cues meant to begin and end, the FADE IN & FADE OUT that I guess is going on all around me. I write past these things. I write through them.

 

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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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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.

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.