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.

 

Featured Image

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.

 

Featured Image

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.

Anagram Days

Days like magnet letters on a dusty refrigerator, speckle stains of barbecue sauce and ketchup like culinary crime scenes as an animal collects leftovers from where they’ve fallen–from a midnight sandwich or sunrise coffee-and-bagel.

You can learn a lot about someone from the stains they leave behind.

It’s collecting bruises in a ten-dollar-a-class dojo, swishing trial size mouthwash in the dojo bathroom because it always burns your mouth and helps distract you from the pain of the mistakes you’ve made.

It’s coming out in muddy brown dusk with sky the color of pre-tornado, leaves more like slush than tree structures, coming into the night that’s just now arriving, with lighter fluid in one pocket and a matchbook in the other, only feeling comfortable when you have the capacity to make fire at will, not even for nefarious reasons, just reveling in the fact that if you could go back in time, right now, even as you are, and show this to cavemen, you would be God to them. God in ripped jeans and scuffed-up sneakers.

It’s learning how to lucid dream and astral project, alternating every other night, living then living again, then taking off work for an entire week to do nothing but sleep, actual sleep, deep sleep, nothing but darkness and time to fill you all up.

It’s all about variety.

So the other day I was walking home from work, same route I always take, straight down Fourth, sun staring at me over the hills, feeling like a forlorn traveler from biblical times, not even one of the memorable ones, and I saw this, felt it, until the setting overtook plot, brought me back, to an old man with wild eyes in the middle of the street, pointing his finger, wearing flip flops and socks, accusing the man he was pointing at of stealing same, and the other man was looking for help, looking for a way out, so I got between them, got between as others watched or took out phones–not to call the police but to record–people watching people, an American pastime, and I assumed an authority that came from nowhere, that I gave myself, in order to do what I thought was right.

The old man called me a faggot.

But hey, there was no violence, and it ended with him flip-flopping his way away down the middle of the street while cars honked and tried to go around him. The guy I helped remembered my name a week later when I happened to walk past him again.

So that was cool.

To get home and to be lighting this cigar that we are looking at right now, in crystal-prism clarity, smoke trailing into clouds, and we can roll this CLOUD into the rest of the neighborhood, collect PARKED CARS and TREES so that they will all be one and we can gather this here, now, in our backyard, the one we pay taxes for, and build a bonfire, yes, a great big one, one that has STICKS and LEAVES and BITS OF PAPER that we have FOUND.

So what do we have?

An arm, a leg, a couple eyes. Two ears. Some other appendages. Hair, toenails, and an awful lot of capillaries. Enough inner piping to plumb a city. Cells that are themselves self-contained living things. Neurons and tissue that somehow contain memory. An aching-longing for connection and understanding in a vast, uncaring emptiness that’s occasionally decorated with the odd flower here, ray of sunshine there. And that?

That is okay.

Time to Live

Visibility’s better than he thought it’d be, through the holes that he poked in a repurposed shirt sleeve that would become his mask. He’d thought about it for years, considered putting on a mask and doing things he’d only read about in comics, dreamed of doing in childhood days when he’d come home from school with a bloody nose and drip onto his Batman blanket, looking for tissue, eyes clouded.

First time he went out, he had no idea what to expect. He’d done his research, he’d signed up for and taken martial arts classes, and he’d prepared his equipment. But there was nothing like actually going out there in costume, mask on, and walking the streets looking for trouble.

This was everything and nothing like the comics. He had the same nerves and excitement he’d seen on the page, same green eagerness about him, but he hadn’t been bitten by a spider, wasn’t injected with a super serum or enhanced by radiation. He didn’t have riches to fund his crime-fighting. His super power was that he could take a hit and keep fighting.

He’d taken accidental punches and elbows in training, gone home bruised, sometimes bloody. Hot showers, ice on wounds after, caffeine and aspirin for the pain. Going into the laundry room of his rundown apartment building at night and punching one of the concrete walls to toughen up his knuckles, sometimes wrapping his hands first.

He vacillated between feeling like a hero and remembering that he was just a man in a costume, a costume that now put a clear target on his back.

Some people gave him shit as he passed, waiting till they thought he was out of earshot to mock him. Others stopped conversations mid-sentence and gawked, and others crossed the street to avoid him.

He passed quiet nights this way, walking alone, not speaking for so long that he almost forgot what his voice sounded like. What should it sound like under the mask? There were so many things to consider.

He found a place for himself. It was a park near where he liked to patrol, and it had a bench overlooking a wide and empty field. If Superman had a Fortress of Solitude, he could at least have a Field of Peace. He’d go there nights to put his suit on and take it off, but it was more than that. It was a place and a time to gather his thoughts. To recommit to this path.

On a nightly basis, he had to make peace with the fact that he might not make it another day. Things were slow at first, but the more he went out, the more close calls he had. Stupid drunk people, punks puffing out their chests–the freaks came out at night. Sometimes he wondered if he drew them out, if his presence necessitated theirs, but they were always there. He just wasn’t looking hard enough before.

That’s what it was–an opening of the eyes. All his life, he’d had his eyes closed. Now that he’d seen this city’s underbelly, intervened in fights and turned down prostitutes and administered first aid to bleeding people, his eyes were wide open. It’d be so easy to live life in a rut, moving from home to work to home again. He knew this, because he’d been doing that for years.

He’d spent weeknights staring out the high rise window of his office building, convincing himself that looking down on the city was better than being a part of it. He’d eat frozen meals and binge shows he didn’t really care about in a big, empty apartment.

One day, he left his job, left his apartment, and left town.

There was no going back after that, and there’s no going back now. The future’s uncertain. Every night could be his last, but that doesn’t matter. He was already dead once. Now it’s time to live.

America’s Emerging Writers Link!

So this is one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me: My work is in an America’s Emerging Writers anthology! Z Publishing House mentioned that they’re now in a position to offer solo-author book deals, and they’re deciding on those deals mostly through Amazon reviews.

Long story short: If you read this and leave a positive review with a name drop for me, you will be doing me an incredibly serious solid, and I will legit be eternally grateful. Thank you!

fire thoughts at 3am

Identifiables go first. It’ll all burn the same, but I’m paranoid, and I want my IDs to melt and liquify till there’s no chance of being found before burning the other, more important things. There’s no way of googling this without looking like a weirdo, so the first time will have to be a charm.

I’m in the middle of the woods, looking like a witch preparing a meeting of a coven. I was responsible enough, though, to set up contingency plans. I have a fire blanket, for instance. I don’t want the whole forest going down with me.

Clothes are next, because I figure the fabrics will create a slow burn that can sustain the rest of it. I’ll only keep what can fit in a small backpack, and that sure as hell won’t include the clothes with dark memories attached to them.

So the fancy bras go first. I feel like a ‘70s feminist until I remind myself that mine is a selfish liberation–a revolution of one. And soon, that one will cease to exist to the rest of the world.

The slips, the graphic tees, the pajamas with cats on them. Truth be told, my backpack is already packed–filled with muted colors, whites and grays and blacks. Clothes I’ve never worn before, never would’ve worn before.

Everything must go. Like a going out of business sale at a store with sentimental value but no prospects of a future. I mentally prepared for this, knew what I had to do, but the tears fall anyway. There’s no way to practice dying, even if you know you’ll keep breathing afterward.

There’s an origin story. Of course there is. I won’t get too into mine, but it mostly consists of hurt and death. The real death of others, the almost-death of myself at my own hands, and now this fake death I’m staging. Permutations of death, caressed by a jazzy, sullen sadness. A singer under a lone and foggy spotlight, scatting the blues over improvised chords that somehow find their form.

Photo albums, old letters and notes, postcards from places I’ve never been but others have. All curling and yellowing inside the pale fire on this cold night, snow around the fire like a cosmic contradiction.

The rest of it goes in easy after that. Trash bags that I filled with my things, emptied out into the fire, trash bags that I dragged over from the trunk of my car, the car that I’ll douse with gasoline and torch when I’m done here.

This first fire dies, and I kick in dirt to cover the ashes, snow to cover the dirt. And just like that, I’m gone. Dead but still breathing.

I walk back to the car, gas can in hand and lighter in my pocket. The full moon’s peeking up low behind the bare trees of this quiet forest. There really is life after death.