Monday, August 15, 2011

Repeat Offender

"Dude, we should bounce some ideas around first. I think for the formal one it should say, 'To whom it may concern' and the fan-one should say 'Dear Dave Eggers or Dr. Haggis-On-Whey or Lucy Thomas."

"I think we should go get some donuts and cream sodas," I said.

"Ray, come on. Let's get at least some work done before we do something like that," Lester said, opening a black notebook and dropping it on the floor. "Do you have any ideas?"

I shrugged.

"Come on then! Think!"

"I can't. I'm hungry."

"You just don't want to work. You're being lazy, Ray. You quit your job, you're doing nothing. Surely you can work on this today. I'm working every day of the week and now I'm here on my day off, should of gone to church, but I'm here to work with you, dude." He sounded more serious than normal. As if this was a matter of life-or-death. Maybe it was.

"Dude, you wanna watch the Big Lebowski?"

"No, I want to work on this thing. I think it could be very good."

"I don't want to work. I don't ever want to think of writing as work. And now you're blatantly calling it that and making me feel like it is."

"I love to design. I do it on my own. But sometimes it feels like work, and I still do it. That's the nature of all art. It is good that it feels like work. So we can suffer and sacrifice for our art. That's the only way it's any good."

"Well, then. My writing must be terrible." I said this plainly, with no hint of emotion, which pleased me greatly.

"Dude, that's not what I'm saying."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying we should work on this."

"And I'm saying we should get some donuts and some sodas, then work on it. I can't write early in the morning."

"It's 11."

"Too early, man. I need about eight hours of fiddling around for every one hour of productive work."

"So you're gonna waste my time?"

"Dude, how are donuts and cream sodas a waste of time? And then we can watch the Big Lebowski."

"You hate that movie."

"I know."

"You're just procrastinating."

"Procrastination is a prerequisite for creating art. As a wise man once said, 'Procrastination is the creation of an exciting life by manufacturing tension, because suddenly you're off on this great adventure.'"

"Can't we just do a little bit of tossing around ideas before we do anything else?" he asked, earnestly blinking his eyes.

"No." I felt ruthless and alive because of it.

"Then I'm gonna leave, Ray. If you don't want me to help you, I've got better things to do."

He walked across the room and opened the front door. "Help me?" I called after him. He turned around, keeping his hand on the door frame. "I'm the one helping you write this thing."

"Right," he said. "Bye." He shut the door behind him and I decided I was ready to go.

I went out and walked to a store where I purchased a $100 backpack with the $134.11 I had left in my bank account. I walked back home and just sat for a few minutes on the floor shaking. From my closet, I grabbed a small, green sleeping bag and shoved it into the new backpack as small as it would go. Also, from my closet I brought out five T-shirts, two long-sleeve shirts, three pairs of jeans, seven pairs of underwear and socks, and a beanie and stuffed them all into my backpack. I added a water bottle, my wallet, a flashlight, my cell phone charger, a few pens, a sharpie, a small notebook, and an immense novel by Adam Levin. I zipped it up and set it by my front door.

In the morning I didn't take a shower, but dressed quickly and left my home with the backpack strapped to my shoulders. I started to walk.

In walking, I will get to new places. I won't give myself the illusion that I am doing something new and exciting by writing a blog. I won't fool myself into thinking I can be better friends with Lester or Anna, only to end up hurting them in repeated cycles.

As I walked across a bridge, my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. It was Emma.

"Hey, Ray. I really enjoyed catching up with you the other day. I bought this movie a friend of mine recommended yesterday. It's called Wendy and Lucy. I was going to watch it tonight, and I know how much you love movies, so I thought of you. And I can't eat a whole bag of popcorn myself."

"I've already seen that movie," I said.

She was silent for a slight second before saying, "Oh, Okay. Well-"

"Thanks for asking. I'll see you later. Bye."

I shut my phone and clutched it tightly in one hand, before tossing it over the rail of the bridge.

That was ten minutes ago, and now I've stopped by the library to write this post. As I look around at some of the patrons behind the computers, I smile, in anticipation of looking more like them.

And now I'm gone.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Sestina

I spent all day on this. Once I started, I couldn't stop. There was nothing else to do.

I Don’t Know About All This

The gals attending the annual bird pageant
peek through bead eyes, find it hard to swallow:
the lengths of men’s tails, leaving them to doubt
whether they might ever find any as long as a dog’s
and it is so very difficult to have so much patience.
The blind sages call all of this show a grave-sin.

Can there be with all of life, a beauty in the sin
or are all these attention-shows a meaningless pageant
the wise are forced to suffer through with patience?
Arise off of your perch, bright modest swallow!
Leave in the dust the world of chomping dogs,
fly free of pretense, false affection and self-doubt!

Be not like the famous ancient man Thomas of Doubt,
find the one redemption to free yourself from showy sin,
don’t let anyone find truth in calling you one of the dogs,
make your life the example, don’t attend the world’s pageant,
and be able to make the difficult decision to force to swallow
the phrase, “All good things come to those who have patience.”

The nurse-world has turned us all into her patients
kept in a hospital-cycle: from blissful hope to doubt
she sticks down our throats what is too easy to swallow:
the large, quick-acting, sleep-inducing, placebo medicine.
We pin a blue ribbon on the ugliest patient at the pageant
because the large pill lowers us all to the status of dogs.

We become bastards, bitches, sons-of-bitches, baddest of dogs
howling our complaints to our vets as we wounded patients
are criticized only because we enter ourselves into the pageant,
induced to see our own worth through the lens of doubt
and to never be able to forget our memories of naked sin
we ironically destroy what’s good, swallow the whole swallow.

We keep exchanging roles for one another: the swallow
to the swallower, the ruthless, toothful, chomping dogs.
So much switching must be what the sages say: a sin.
We must stop being so good at having easy patience
with ourselves and begin to forever seriously doubt
the value of our sticky lives at the long-lasting pageant.

If you can see it is a sin to swallow
the cotton-candy pageant, leave it to the dogs,
I have no patience left, and need a way out of all this doubt.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Café

Today I went out for coffee with Emma, an old friend of mine. My current friends are simply stale, not doing anything for me. In our conversation, she allowed me to have a sort of detachment from my current self, as I explained everything. She knows only the past me. Still, I have to pretend to still be filled by the current friendships I have. To that end, I must write that Eggers piece with Lester. Again, as a transitory piece of writing, I have written this poem about the in-between time of each of the circumstances with Anna and with Emma as I waited for Emma at the cafe. I think I'll try my hand at a sestina next.

A Café

As I sit in a twisted black metal chair
with a cup of Double Mexican Mocha
outside the café in the summer’s morning breeze,
I pull on a gray sweatshirt to hide a shiver
an hour after the discussion
discovering how we went wrong

Alone, except surrounded by various-sized dogs
tied to signposts and hydrants
who stare at me with blank eyes
no indication of whether they’d bite
if I tried to pet them

Alone, I feel like myself
for the first time in weeks

I wait for a friend I haven’t seen in years
as I listen to Tchaikovsky through big headphones
and wonder if she will remind me
of who I am or who I was
(or none of the above—

But mostly I think about
what will change after the discussion
If, in the naming of things
we can be renewed

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

No Writing

I haven't felt like writing. I quit my job at PetSmart and have been staying at home reading Charles Simic's poetry. Lester keeps calling, and we talk, but he's super busy at work right now. Anna even called once, but I didn't answer. Lester came over a few days ago.

"Dude, I have an idea for a collaboration project we should do together."

"What kind of collaboration?" I asked.

"Writing. For McSweeneys Internet Tendency. I have this idea where we write two letters-to-the-editor. One is an extremely formal account of how we believe Dave Eggers was born in the wrong time and place and should have been born around us because he would be the perfect third musketeer of our duo. We will explain how his and our true genius and wit have not budded into complete fruition yet. That it is impossible to flourish without the other and that something has seriously thrown the universe off balance by us not having grown up together. The second letter will be about the exact same thing, except stripped of its formality and clearly revealing the unhealthy and crazed obsession of the two fan writers who desperately believe they are as cool and talented and as Dave Eggers."

So, of course I smiled then because it is a truly brilliant idea, but the more I think about the project the more I realize I don't want to do it. But I know Lester is only trying to look out for me. I am aware I have pretty much just summed up what Lester wants us to do in this post, but I'm hoping to build up to the more creative juices and do this thing.

Then afterwards I can do what I have been preparing to do with all that walking with all the books in my hiker's backpack.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'm Not Lovin' It

When Anna called to say she wanted to meet me at McDonalds for dinner I was confused. On our road trip to California she convinced us to go to a Burger King drive-through instead of McDonalds because they sell a veggie burger.

When I got there, I stood in front of the counter and giant lighted board displaying all the foods in glorious pictures for small amounts of money with my arms crossed. When she came in she was smiling and I couldn't help to smile back, but only at first, and only for a short period of time.

She ordered an Angus Burger saying, "I thought the BigMac was the quintessential meaty meal here, but Todd told me it's the Angus Burger so I've got to try it."

"You've been a vegetarian since college," I said.

"Well . . ." She said, still smiling. "You know what happened."

"What happened?"

"You know, the whole story of how I met Todd."

"I'm sorry. I didn't hear it. I couldn't listen then. I felt all antsy for some reason."

She looked at me for a second, but I was able to keep my face plain, showing nothing, and I'm proud about that. "Well . . . do you want to hear it now?"

By this time we were seated at a small sleek table by a large window and I took a giant bite from a Double Cheeseburger. "Sure."

Her face became animated all the more. "Well, it all started when I rode my bike to the park next to Panera's and spent some time there reading this book, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. You know it?"

"Yeah. I know it."

"Well, I got to the part where Tod Clifton dies and the narrator makes that speech at his funeral and I got super depressed, angry, and all kinds of worked-up. I just couldn't beat, in that moment, thinking about how meaningless it is to even try to do anything, to make a stand, to try and change something. I couldn't read on, as I was so flustered. So I stood up and asked the nearest man where the nearest McDonalds was. He pointed me west, across the river, and the neighborhood it was in was in real bad shape. This McDonalds was next to the bus station so there were a ton of poor people milling about the place. In front of it, I was stopped by some bums. One was curled up asleep on the floor and the one with the mustache asked me for a dollar to buy a beer and I felt like I had to give it to him. Who am I to stop this man from dealing with his stuff however he wants? So I gave it to him, went inside and quickly ordered a BigMac, large fries, and a chocolate milkshake. I wanted to just go for it all the way. Anyway, when I was in that McDonalds this short stocky bearded man with tattoos and a bald head walked out the bathroom and grinned at me weirdly as he walked by. Then he quickly rounded back to me and asked, 'Do I know you?' I answered warily, 'I don't think so.' 'What's your name?' 'Anna McElhenney.' 'Anna. Anna. Did you go to Jefferson High?' 'No, I didn't.' 'Oh, never mind then. I thought you was someone you wasn't.' I smiled at him as he walked away and finished my food as I started to feel sick. That's when I decided to start going to help out at an after school program and to help at that writing lab and tutoring center. Todd was the one who signed me up and when he told me his name I just laughed. Of course, I had to explain myself so I told him about Tod Clifton and the entire story and I kinda just let loose a lot of stuff on him. After a couple weeks of working there he asked me out." Her smile had spread and begun to sparkle like in a dream.

I couldn't believe she was telling me all of this. As much as I didn't want to hear all of this, I did. So I just listened, but didn't look at her much, pretending to concentrate on my french fries.

"Do you have a problem with me?" she asked suddenly.

I adjusted myself in the chair, shoulders hunched forward and looked her straight in the eye. "No. I'm super-fine."

"How come Lester can treat me like normal, but you can't?"

I shrugged. "I really just don't know. I wish I could treat you the same." I paused and then said slowly, "Some days I can like you and can be fine with you, but some days I just can't."

"Well, that's sad," she said, no longer smiling. "I've felt like I've lost a friend."

I wanted to tell her that was all her fault or that it was all my fault. I wanted to tell her that I never wanted to speak to her again or that I still wanted to have long conversations with her. Instead, I said nothing.

"I don't know what to do about you," she said. "I don't even know if you-"

"How can you do that?" I said, my voice betraying the calmness I was trying to portray.

"Do what?"

"Be all smiling and telling me a story like you're a good buddy to saying you feel like I'm not your friend anymore?"

"Ray, I don't even know if you like to see me anymore. Every time you do, you look stiff, not yourself."

"When you came in I smiled at you."

"Yeah, I know you did." We stared at each other, me blankly, her concerned. "I don't know if we should hang out anymore if all I do is make you feel bad."

Instead of responding I thought about about an Incubus song.

To deal with how I felt I wrote this poem about Anna:

"The Importance of High Ideas and How They Affect Geography"

The university
hours of abstract high-talk
they talk at me about
expensive modest layering
and I decide to be a vegetarian
a sacrificarian
for those who are not here

Outside the McDonalds
next to the Greyhound bus station
with three wizened bums
the one in the middle huddled on the concrete
like a baby without a mother
they talk with me about
Harleys and life
and I give them $1 for a beer

Inside the McDonalds
with girls in small tight shirts
a short stocky man
with a bearded tattoo grin
mistakenly recognizes me
but at least we see each other

Two and a half years
after the big decision
I order fries chocolate milkshake
and a Big Mac

Before I even finished I feel sick

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Poem for My Current State of Mind

That night after the blueberry pie meeting, I wrote a poem. Also, Anna called and said she wants to talk.

"5:15 PM- Go Allow Love A Taste In A New Summer"

In the green stretch of backyard
like kittens on the quilt you sewed me
from your middle-school T-shirts
I stick a lemon-square through your lips
and we howl until it reaches the clouds

Inside the two-story house the kitchen mom
with her glovemits backs away from the heat
sucking her seared-raw wrist

In the oven the chocolate-chips dance
with the sugar and the butter,
the cult-ritual for the maternal love-pact
They are aware, unlike the jackal-lover-mom,
of the creatures that play outside

Inside the body the blood simmers because
of the way our sharp teeth bite

Of the way our sharp teeth will bite
into each other during the night

Worship-mom shouts out the screen-summer-door
“Honey, the cookies are done. Let’s prey and eat!”

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Blueberry Times

"She said blueberry is the best. She said we have to get blueberry."

"Okay, okay. Should we wait for them to get here?" I asked.

"Here they come right now," Lester answered, motioning behind me to the door.

I didn't look until she was through the door and spoke.

"Lester, Ray, hi!! This is Todd." She had her hand on his back. "Todd, these are my two good friends, Lester and Ray." He shook each of our hands and smiled artificially. His teeth were as white as I expected, but his handshake was less firm and his face was less good-looking. His facial hair made him look like a kid. The goat kind.

We each ordered a slice of blueberry pie. "My dad used to take me here when I was a kid," Anna said in her annoyingly cute, excited-about-life-and-just-everything tone.

I wondered why she introduced Lester's name first.

At the table Anna said, "Lester, Ray, and I have been friends since we were kids. You would never see us apart all through middle school. I think people made fun of us." She grabbed the vase of real flowers set on the edge of the table and pressed her nose into them. "Mmmmm. I love daisies. I love this place. The blueberry pie is always amazing. Never gets old." She was talking faster than normal, as if she was more excited or more nervous.

"What happened to us?" I asked, looking at her.

Her smile dropped only the slightest. "What do you mean?"

"Why did us three stop always being together?"

Lester swooped in. "She got past her awkward stage is what happened," he said. "Remember your big hair and big glasses? As soon as ninth grade hit, you were transformed, and all of a sudden she had a line of boys wanting to talk to her."

"Oh yes, oh dear, the awkward stage!" She turned to Todd and pressed his arm. "I must show you pictures."

"I can't wait," he said, not as clearly or confidently as I imagined he would be.

"You were still loyal to us though," Lester added. "Just that you got a load of new friends."

"I was more confident in myself and ready to be sociable and branch out a little. As were you two." She smirked and tilted her head forward. "You guys made other friends as well."

"Not like you," I said.

"How about that Emma?" she responded as if I hadn't said anything at all.

I thought Lester should surely be offended at that, but instead he asked, "So Todd, what do you do?"

"I'm an event coordinator for the tutoring and creative writing center for kids downtown. And yourself?"

"I'm a graphic designer for a few different companies, mostly freelance."


"I work at PetSmart right now."


"So how did you two meet?" Lester asked.

I wanted to go use the restroom, but I was polite and pretended to listen while I thought about the similarities between David Lynch and David Cronenberg. I was the first to finish my slice of pie and told them all I had to get home.

Even though I felt like Lester wasn't on my side the entire time, he did let me go without making a big deal out of it.