Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Lost Art of Talking Introduced by Walking

Everyone has a story and one of the reasons I write this blog is to tell my stories and others' stories. Often I will say something profound in front of people like, "Werner Herzog knows nature like Dean Moriarty knows time," and the people will change the subject to weather or just walk away. I understand people don't have much time anymore to listen to each other, but I always feel discouraged when this happens to me.

And so I go on walks with my backpack full of heavy books. If no one wants to listen to me, why put myself in the position of being hurt by being with people?

Not to mention, when I walk alone, I have time to become coherent to myself.

Of course when I got to the library there was people there, but I still didn't feel like talking so I sat down on a bench next to an old man with a white beard and asked him about himself. I asked as many questions as I could and he told stories of his work as a truck driver, his family, and all about the glory days of hitch-hiking when he was a young man. He talked to me as if he hadn’t talked to anyone in weeks. He spurted everything as it came to mind, as if his life was at stake for the telling of his stories. He was made alive by the stories because they were him and he was the only one who could tell them. He spoke as if the hours he spent alone in the truck were spent in deep thought, cataloguing the hard facts of who he was and what he believed about the nature of himself and everything around him. His family was lucky to have this resource of such deliberate humanity spoken through words.

His speech was eloquent in its simplicity and revolved around him as if in orbit, never contradicting or unsure of its path. Unlike anyone else I have ever met, including myself, he knew how to speak. He was pure and untainted. He had no hidden motives, like the rest of us. I felt something in my body telling me this man was the only one who needed to speak and incited in me the desire to be like him. I wanted deeply to be an oracle, but I didn’t know if I have it in me. My desire already makes my words impure.

But I tried. He started to ask me the questions and I found myself talking more than I ever had before. The exchange of stories was now made complete. I spoke of everything all at once, but clearly and with wild gesticulating.

At the end the man said, "You are an excellent speaker."

My smile turned instantly. This was the first time I heard such a thing. In fact, I had heard often I was the exact opposite. "I swear I'm not," I said. "You can ask my family or my co-workers and they would tell otherwise. I do not tell them the stories I know."

"Why not?" he asked.

I thought for a moment. "Because I don't like myself and when I attempt to tell stories about my true-self they come out all wrong. I get nervous, I mumble, and say outrageous and peculiar things. I might as well be speaking a different language."

"I'm not sure I understand. What don't you like about yourself?"

I thought once again for a moment. "Because I don't think I can give others what they want."

He was silent. He let me speak, maybe more for myself, than him.

"And so I can only tell the stories of my true-self to strangers like you, because I don't want to give you anything. I do want to give something to those I care about, but since I have nothing to offer, I make up stories or tell others' stories so they don't realize how I'm not actually giving them anything. Then they'd see how worthless I really am."

"Your great gift of story-telling is being destroyed by the very fact that you don't feel like you have any gifts to offer people?"

"Yes!" And I was in tears.

"What can you do about it?" he asked as if he had no answers; as if only I did.

"I don't know if there is anything. The desire to be accepted and to be a story-teller of my true-self don't work together. How can I eliminate these desires if they are already in me? Desire comes from a longing of what isn't there. Of what I am not. It doesn't work to do anything about it because only if I eliminate the desire to be a great story-teller will I become a great story-teller."

I was silent, excepts the gasps of air I was swallowing. After a time, I explained further and he waited.

"It is like how I like this girl. The only way I can truly love her is to eliminate the desire I have for her. Otherwise I desire her for what she can give me. Once I abandon the idea of caring what she thinks of me can I give myself purely to her for her sake and not mine."

It is an untrue story of me to become a great speaker or a great lover. But maybe I'm in good company.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lester on Love

"Tell me more. What was it like with Emma?"

"Well." He scratched his head. "At first it was all just exciting. We liked each other, but not really in a very strong way. Sure, it meant something. But we only liked each other for the excitement we provided for each other. We were new to each other and the mysteries were fascinating. We made each other laugh and smiled until the early hours of the morning. We did this, not for one another, but for ourselves. After the excitement wore off and there was hardly any mystery left, we just annoyed each other. We saw each other making the same mistakes over and over again and never getting any better. We'd talk through all our problems like we were improving each other and the next day we'd annoy each other again. That's when she finally ended it."

"You think there's any worth in it? That all seems just . . . depressing?"

"Well, the excitement was fun and good, but it just didn't last. It never will between two people, I don't think. The second part was horrible, but I think you can find someone who will be willing to work through a relationship even while annoying each other. And maybe that's love. Instead of the excitement, a sort of sacred, quiet awe of that person. This awe, unlike the excitement, is inspiring enough to forgive and let yourself be forgiven while trying to be self-sacrificial. They are more than you, at this point, even though you don't act like it all the time. And then all that is left is worry. You know you won't stop loving her, but other things like geography or time or death might just tamper with it. So you remain silent in your worry, because you don't deserve any of this anyway, but everything is out of your hands. The best part is she will always remain who she is. There's nothing she can do really, because even if she leaves, you know she's still lovely."

"You sound like you're talking about someone specific now."

"Do I?" He looked at me like George Michael in "Careless Whisper." That scared me so I didn't press him any further.

Instead when I went back home, I tried to write a poem about what Lester talked about. I divided his ideas on love in five parts and only really came up with how to say parts three and four. I'll try to keep working on the others. So here are the two:

"This Is a Love Poem"


I've never felt the profound ordination,
in the pure naturalness
of the declaration,
"It is good."
Until now.


To know me is to
know your stories.
To know me is to
be sure of your divine beauty.

To know me is to
know and be sure of
the proper hierarchy—
Your name above mine.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I have decided to go on a journey, but not for some time. Irregardless, I am preparing now.

I borrowed Lester's giant hiker's backpack and filled it with library books. I looked out my window and saw more gray than blue and so put on a sweatshirt. The walk to the library was rough. After only a few minutes my back was aching and my steps had smallened considerably from when I first set out. Once I arrived through the large wooden doors of the museum of human existence, I unstrapped my backpack and sat on a chair in the foyer for a full seven minutes.

After the break I went straight to the computers to post my new poem and to print out a few of Flannery O'Conner's short stories. I stapled them together and the librarian gave me a plastic grocery bag for me to put them in.

I knew I wasn't about to walk all the way back home so I opted for the city bus instead. Luckily, I had eight quarters in my pocket and the bus only costs six of them. At the bus stop, I took my backpack off and set it beside me for the wait. I held the plastic bag in my hand. A young man in a black coat sat on the bench. I stood and shivered. The outside was a lot more cold now that I wasn't walking. The glass barrier inside the bus stop helped a lot by blocking the wind. I shuffled my feet to and fro. Nine minutes passed and I began to spin slowly in place. A young man with a scrappy, almond beard, accompanied by a young woman in a ponytail walked into the bus stop. They both had vacant eyes. "Hey guys, how's it going?" the man asked. The man on the bench remained soundless as I slowly rotated around. The man with the beard looked at me and said, "Wassup?"

"Wassup?" I returned.

"Oh, you know, just barely gettin' by in these times."

I nodded and continued my rotation.

When I was no longer facing them he said, "I'm just trying to help this lady out. She needs to buy diapers for her kids, see."

Again, the man on the bench remained soundless and I felt the two extra quarters in my pocket. I wasn't going to say anything, and besides, by the time I had spun completely around again, the couple was gone.

By the time I made one more circle, the bus was already pulling up. The man on the bench stood up and walked to the curb as I placed my plastic bag on the bench so my hands were free to strap on the backpack. I lifted the pack and swung it, eying the bag and the bus as the same time. The bag was on the edge of the bench, slowly tipping forward. The bus doors swung open. A man ran from out of nowhere to board the bus. Just as I got my arm through the second strap the bag fell on the ground, spilling the packets of stapled papers on the floor. I bent to pick them up as the two men paid for their tickets on the bus. Once all the papers were gathered, I straightened up, and the bus pulled away. I ran and waved my arms, but it kept going. I cursed the man from the bench who knew I was waiting, but said nothing to the driver.

There was no way I was waiting again for the next bus sedentary so I started to walk around the block. Once I turned the corner, the couple with the eyes were there, walking towards me. When they were close, the man tried to be more direct. "Hey, can you spare some change?"

"Well, I need the bus." I fished the quarters out my pocket.

"I can getchya there."

I imagined some scam where he would take me in his car to a secluded back alleyway where he would beat me and steal everything I had on me. "No, uh, I will just take the bus."

"No, I mean, I can get you on the bus." He puled out his wallet. "I've got a pass with two rides left on it." He handed it to me.

I looked it over to make sure it was what he said it was and handed him my full stack of quarters. Now, I was penniless, but if the pass worked, I would have saved two quarters next time I needed to ride the bus.

After another fifteen minutes in the cold, my body angled forward under the weight of the backpack, another bus came and I was ready for it. The couple was long gone. Aboard, I put the pass through the scanner and it worked.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Poem for The New Times

"I Put on Shorts"

It is the time of year
when the Sun calls
upon me to sail

to the isolated mountains
and white islands

amongst the green seas

to aid in His conquest

I propel my feet
like a nuclear missile
power enough to
obliterate an entire country

until it is all wiped away

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lester Talks

I slept for eight minutes shy of ten hours and was late for work for the first time in my life. I still had four days until Lester returned and besides working, sleeping, and eating I read J.D. Salinger's complete collection of works. Sometimes it is easier to be concerned over Zooey or Holden than real life.

As soon as I knew Lester would be home, I pedaled my Schwinn right on over. He graciously let me enter and talk about what happened with Anna instead of what he did on his work trip. After, I told him he poured me a bowl of Lucky Charms with milk.

"Do you like her?" he asked.

"I don't know. I think I may have started liking her." I started digging through the bowl for the grain bits, eating them separately. "It kinda just hit me and I wondered why I hadn't ever thought about her like that before. I don't know what happened to me."

"You didn't have me around. You think you were just lonely?"

"Maybe. So feelings or attraction are contingent on environment?"

"Definitely, dude."

"So how do you know if they're real?"

"I don't know if they're any less real because they were influenced by . . . eh . . . stages of life?"

"But I will stop liking Anna now that you're back?"

"I don't know. Maybe not."

"I hope so. This is terrible." The grain part of the cereal was gone, and I started spooning what was left: all the marshmallows.

"Is it?"

"Is it?" I eyed him suspiciously.

"I mean, she's a cool girl."

"But she's Anna."

"She certainly is."

"Maybe I've missed other cool girls simply because I wasn't lonely enough to need them, to pursue them."

"You make it seem like that's the only reason to date someone."

"Isn't it? Isn't that why people get married? To be comforted by the fact that at least one person is supposed to be with them through the rest of their life?"

He fidgeted a little. "I don't know."

"Why did you want to date Emma?"

"Cuz she . . . she was a cool girl, I guess. I thought she would make me happy and that I could make her happy."

"Did you?"

He didn't say anything for awhile, and poured himself a bowl of Lucky Charms. I was tilting the bowl, slurping the remains of green milk. "Sometimes."

"I don't think I'm ready to date anyone."

"Me neither," he said.

"We never will be."

"No, we won't. But then, neither will they."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Beginning of the Hauntings

I made two horrible mistakes. The first was to forget to get Lester's new phone number before he left for a week and a half on a business trip. I usually call him every other day to update him on what movies are worth watching, which are not, how the ferrets are fairing at work, and the ratio of cute girls to people who look like they are probably sex offenders at the library. The ratio is rarely pretty.

The second mistake was to invite Anna over. It was six days post-Lester-departure, a day off of work, and I had just watched my fourth movie of the day, Edward Scissorhands. That's when I thought about Anna, and considered inviting her over. Instead, I tried to put on I'm Not There which I had just got from the library, but couldn't get past twenty minutes of it. Quickly, I dialed Anna's number and casually asked her if she wanted to come over for a bit. She agreed and said she would need half an hour to get here.

In the meantime, I got out my two peacock feathers and practiced balancing them simultaneously on each palm of my hand. I should have thought about a plan for being with Anna. We have never just hung out alone together. She was no Lester.

"Hello," she said at the door, stepping in.

"Hello," I said.

She took off her shoes, balancing herself with a hand on the wall, and left her jacket beside her shoes. I've never been more aware of her body until that moment.

She sat cross-legged on the wooden floor, opposite the television. I sat in the same manner opposite of her and she smiled at me.

I thought about telling her how many days it had been since I showered, but decided against it. "How was work?" she asked.

"I didn't have it today." She blinked. "But in general, well. Some of the fish are getting too grown up and fat to be sold. Some birds are molting."

She didn't say anything. I was about to ask her the same question, but she pointed across the room and asked, "Are those peacock feathers?"

"Yes. I just took them out before you got here."

"Why do you have them?"

I smiled, happy she found something interesting to talk about. Sometimes I don't think I'm eccentric enough to be friends with two fine artists like Anna or Lester. "They're very useful in relieving stress. They help calm me when I'm nervous. All I have to do is try balancing them, one on each palm. The only way to maintain balance is to reach a state of unconcentration. If you focus on one more, the other will fall. But then if you try to concentrate on the falling one, the other you had been concentrating more on will fall because you are now concentrating on the falling one. You must concentrate on neither or both to obtain balance. So when I find my thoughts unbalanced, dominated too much by any one thing, I break out the peacock feathers."

"So why did you break them out before I got here?"

My smile left. She had me. "No reason."


"No reason."

"Why would you need those peacock feathers for me?"

"I guess I've been thinking too much."

"About me?"

I was silent.

"Is that why you invited me over?"

"No. Lester's gone."

"You invited me over because Lester is gone?"

"I don't know."

Her tone of voice was something I have never known. "I'm gonna go," she said and I watched her silently, as she put on her shoes and jacket.



And she was gone and I didn't really know what I had done. Her tone scared me though and I went immediately to bed in order to escape thinking about it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Teller and the Listener

Most of the homeless people I encounter in the library are either old, missing teeth, or mentally unable to follow the simple structure having a conversation requires. Most are all three. That is why I like to talk to them. But Adam was none.

I found him lying on his back on an old, wooden bench in the fiction section, under a large window, the sun illuminating his dirt-stained shirt and torn-in-both-knees jeans. His legs were bent up with his shoes flat on the bench and he held a book above his face, as if it were some sacred text that he felt the need to raise higher than himself. His 90s jacket and blue cap were discarded beside the bench, along with a cloth satchel spilling bruised apples and scraps of scribbled paper.

"What are you reading?" I asked.

Without looking at me he answered, "Survivor. By Chuck Palahniuk.

"I've read it," I said carefully. "You like Tender? You on the run?"

He stuck a papyrus bookmark in the book, set it next to him, sat up and leaned forward while looking up at me. "How'd you know?"

"Why else would somebody so young be homeless?"

"There could be plenty of reasons."

"What's your story?"

He scratched his beard and stared at the bookcase behind me, folding his hands together, arms resting on his legs. "I'm only telling you this because I've had no one to tell a story to in a long time."

"That's all I'm living for right now. To listen to stories."

"The telling of them only gets old if the teller becomes bored."

"The listening of them only gets old if the listener becomes boring." We spoke the same language.

"I was a soldier in the Reserves right out of high school and went to weekend trainings once a month while going to college. While I was there I studied and became best friends with a girl who was in love with someone else. Alicia. She was deeply moved by, who she called, God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. And so it was only natural for her to be in love with a guy moved by the same, a guy she called John who was spending a year in Malaysia as a missionary.
We were in a lot of the same sociology and history classes and knew each other's intelligence. We could debate and argue and always convince each other to see another view other than our own. We taught each other how to see different while everyone else was trying to see everything the same.
I figured out I loved her the day she got a phone call from John's sister. She told Alicia that John was in a boat on a river when a girl fell into the rapids. John and another boy had dove in after her. When the three bodies were finally pulled from the waters, they were torn from the rocks along the way.
She cried for days and wouldn't tell me why. She told me this was one thing she couldn't make me understand. I've never been more pained or angry. She wouldn't talk to me. She wouldn't let me tell her I just found out my unit was going to be activated soon, that I was going to be fighting in Afghanistan within five months."

"What did you do?"

"I made the mistake of blurting it out when she wasn't ready. After she told me her story I knew I couldn't go to Afghanistan and so here I am, on the run, running away from her for her."

I think my story is to tell other people's stories. I'm willing to see all at once what is beautiful and horrendous.

Here is a poem I wrote:


The girl’s fingers are strong when they pump the keys on the piano,
her brain also, when she writes an A paper for Politics of Africa,
she laughs for a long time when jokes are told, but stops suddenly
when no one is looking, stifled by some memory, her big eyes

How was I supposed to know the boy she was in love with died
nine months ago while he saved a girl from drowning

when she said, I just watched Black Hawk Down. Please don’t go

I answered, I’m sorry. I have to. And maybe I will die,
but then maybe I’m supposed to.