Thursday, August 2, 2012

I Never Think About That

     "It's fine," she said.  "Really, I'm not mad."
     "It's not fine, I need to stop," he said.  "I keep doing this to you over and over and eventually you're just going to be done with it.  Be done with me."
     "I know you've been through a lot and you are getting better," she said.
     She looked at him as he sat, head bowed, fingers interlocked.  Even at an angle she could tell his eyes were focused on some place a great distance away; some place before "she" was part of "them."  The fibers of the silence were filled with water, giving it an unnatural density.  She became aware of the refrigerator humming in the background.  The seashell din of highway traffic a short distance away.  His lips stayed frozen, his brain fighting a thought.  She didn't know if he could ever break the stalemate.
     "I...I know in the moment...that I'm wrong.  That it's me that I'm angry with.  I see it coming.  But then I do it anyway.  I yell at you.  And then you go into your 'Bastion of innocence' mode that we both know is bullshit and we both know boils my blood and it all falls apart in front of me, like I'm sitting back and watching it happen in third person.  And in that moment I love you and I despise you more than any person on the planet, and I see all of the ugliness inside of me and know that you see it to, then I'm lost and scared and angry, furious, livid, all out of this consuming fear and this black void inside of my chest.  And it's like I'm just learning how to feel things all over again and all of the dials are turned up to ten and I can't turn them down or off because they're all turned to ten and where do you start?  I look at you in the middle of this and see that you're behind this armor that I've forced you into and I wonder how long it will be before you just stay in it full time.  I wonder how I could forget that you accumulated your own garbage over the years and that I'm poking old sores with a ripe new stick.  I wonder how much I look like your dad right now and how you can even look at me," he said.
     "I never think about that, I just think of her," she said.
     "It's not fucking about her," he said.
     The silence settled in again and they could both hear the howl of the tires from the freeway.  The noise of the rubber forcing the heavy metal rectangles forward toward the lights of the city buildings, glowing quaintly against the black and purple sky.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


The table has an inconvenient
height, creating a scoliosis
and tennis elbow.
The writing desk with the appropriate number of
scars and water rings never emanated.
The right spruce never met the wrong

The lacquered top is an onyx abyss entirely created by
myself, from schematic to beam and bolt.
Another wonder of the world
snarling alongside the sphinx,
lines of visitors wending, managed
by nylon straps.

The queue is too long because there are too many empty
tall boys on the counter.
What was once a stream of sights grated into
word dust is now a struggle against
The moment is impossible to catch,
like a greased pig,
contriving metaphors out of a struggle for
movement. For forward progress,
gaining stability from the spin
the gyroscope stands on toes like a dancer,
tips of point shoes white as the satin
ages from the tension and retires.
White, it turns the white of strain
and grace.

For the dancer the audition is the terror,
a job offer more petrifying than
crucifixion because it binds the need for accuracy
in thick, iron shackles.
Audiences, expecting.
The tryout is a frying pan, the performance is a
Between a rock and a hard place.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Catch twenty-two.
Dichotomies, all.
Yes or no.
White or black,
or obsidian,
or raven,
or midnight.
The empty film frames at the end, whipping
the projector in spliced conclusion.
All things in twain. Any third
ignites them.
The middle child
of the step-parent.

That got too serious. Too close.
Sometimes the friction between the words
leaves an ember near the kindling
and the flame's tongue licks the edges off
the dream fog.
No more camel, no tiara,
no hopscotch, no orange, no watermelon.
The Princess' desert dunes
vanish back into heat waves above the asphalt.
The crumbs of the family picnic removed from their corner
with a fingernail.
If you've held on to it for so many years
surely it has a meaning.
When the fibers amass on the ballpoint
the moment becomes poignant.
A palm on the forehead, mouth slightly agape.
The same pensive feeling the dam has
when the water level falls.
The drought exposing the algae stains.
The high water mark drawn like a height chart
in a kitchen door jamb.
The concrete monolith bares its strength
on floods that will not come.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Am To Describe

It was written on the back of a case for my old favorite
pen. Funny how things change.
The excitement grays and then friends only keep up through technology.
The mole on her cheek becomes asymmetric
and kills her.
You wait in the waiting room for news
but you already know what the last page says.
Life creates punctuation through pauses
and endings.
I am telling, not showing.
I am to make the character want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
I am not supposed to tell how the dog makes the character feel,
I am to describe how the dog
has a seizure;
violent muscle spasms rippling under her white fur and bright pink skin.
Heaving, uneven breaths.
Eyes jerking senselessly, hijacked by an internal lightning storm.
And I am supposed to describe the pause he feels.
The locked gaze and lungs.
The ignored television, laughing in the background, changing volume periodically.
He fixes his sight on the convulsing body not realizing that he's holding
his breath.
That fourteen pounds of effeminate canine represent a tether to reality;
that the ropes tying the boat to the dock can snap
in the right wind.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It Sort Of Stuck

When I was in middle school I shared a carpool with my best friend Alex.  His dad was the Chief of the Volunteer Firefighter unit in Kearney and would take us to school in the mornings.  My mom would pick us up in the afternoons and bring us home.  This arrangement worked like clockwork.  Every morning I was late because both my mom and I hated mornings, and in the afternoons she was always on time because she and my dad owned their own business.  Both Alex and I had older sisters that were around the same age, so nothing was really secret between our families.  When my mom told me that I was adopted when I was eighteen, she also told me that my sister and Alex's older sister both knew, since it would have been hard to explain the presence of a baby without the presence of a pregnancy.  There were no secrets, tendency for tardiness or otherwise.  Our families just knew each other inside and out, because that's the way it was.

One slushy winter morning I piled in to the maroon minivan that had synthetic wood paneling on the sides.  A Chrysler, if my soaked memory serves me.  I was fourteen?  Thirteen?  Somewhere in there.  My birthday is in April so I have always been on the young side for my grade.  Starter jackets were the fashion trend.  Specifically, NFL football teams.  I was a New York Jets fan, predominantly because my tee-ball team had been the Mets, and at that age I had thought professional athletes played all sports.  Jets, Mets, they're close enough to confuse an athletically ignorant six year old, and it sort of stuck.  So I piled into the van in my Jets Starter jacket as I had for so many days prior when Alex's dad Ken turned around and said "You smell like marijuana."  Reminder: I'm a middle school student in Nebraska.  I know that booze, drugs, and sex were a problem for early teenagers in other states and cities in the 90s but Kearney, Nebraska was not one of these cities.  At that age I understood pot in theory, but had zero first-hand knowledge of the stuff.  And now I'm sitting in the middle row of a maroon Chrysler minivan with synthetic wood paneling, at 7:30am, being accused of spending enough time around dank smoke to smell like it.  Because of my older sister I was a foul-mouthed little child, but even so "What the fuck?" is the only thought that persists even through to today.

The foreshadowing involved here is breath-taking.  Around the age of sixteen, after Alex had gone the way of the high school theater crowd and we mostly stopped talking, I discovered what marijuana actually was and fell head over heels in love.  Sixteen through eighteen were just smoky hazes as I didn't have much to do beside smoke pot and, well, that's pretty much all I had to do. But we're not talking about older, high school Bret, we're talking about fourteen year old Bret sitting in that minivan, thinking "What the fuck?!?"   I didn't answer Ken.  He had turned and looked back from his driver's seat when he said it, and he just stared at me.  I sat there, look of shock and surprise, words stuck in my throat at the colossal What-the-fuck-are-you-talking-about-ness of the whole situation.  After a few eternal seconds he simply turned around, put the van in drive, and took us to school.

The whole experience sticks in my mind with no particular punctuation added.  There are some things in my history, in everybody's history, that you can point to and say "Yeah, that's why I don't like spiders, because my uncle got bit that one time and almost died."  This was not that.  I didn't start smoking pot because I forever wondered after that day "What is it like to be high?"  But it happened, and I remember it, and now I've told all of you about it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Charcoal Drawings

I talked with my sister for about half an hour tonight, and after hanging up Mandy commented on the avalanche of vulgarity that was used.  "I've never heard you cuss that much.  Ever."  There was a metric fuck ton of impolite words used.  I explained that my sister taught me how to cuss, and could make a peg-legged pirate blush and plead for modesty.  I had to explain to my girlfriend that my sister, being nine years older than myself, used me for her entertainment when I was younger.  Being a little brother, I was always eager to fit in with the big kids.  When I was seven or eight, my sister told me that teenagers showed their mothers that they loved them by calling them bitches.  I promptly ran through the house, found my mom, yelled "Mom, you're a BITCH," with a gigantic she's-going-to-be-so-proud-of-me smile on my face, and then spent the rest of the evening in my room wondering why my mom would ever slap me and ground me for loving her.

It took me several years to discover the meaning of the word fuck, but that never persuaded me from mastering its usage.  While my sister never dared to trick me with this word, knowing full well that they would know where it came from, I did overhear it enough that I started to learn all of its delicate nuances.  My young ears were able to discern the staccato, piercing nature of the word, and realized that it was an excellent way to convey intense frustration of draw somebodies focus for important matters.  My mom first discovered that I knew this word because of Tecmo Bowl.  I didn't handle losing well as a child (or now, for that matter) and my friend Tim was just better at it than I was.  My mom came into the room to discover her eight year old angel spiking a Nintendo controller on the floor screaming "THIS IS A FUCKING JOKE!"  Her shock was only compounded when, after informing me that I was grounded for using that word, my response was "What fucking word?!?"  Several years later I discovered the meaning of the word and subsequently increased my usage.

The oddity of my family is that while my sister and I are as foul as soured milk, my dad never cusses.  The worst you'll hear him utter is the occasional "Aw, hell," or, his favorite, "How could you be so damn dumb?"  He has used this one quite a bit over the years.  My mom doesn't cuss, UNLESS she gets flustered.  Then she undergoes this change.  My mom is a tiny little woman standing maybe 5'2" with big, curly hair.  When she's had enough, her little fists clench up, her face gets red, and her first profanity busts from her lips like a balloon with too much air finally succumbing to the rules of physics.  Much like the balloon, once the structure has ruptured everything gets let out.  The usual result is my dad uttering a shock-faced, breathless "Jody" and my sister and I laughing at the hilarity of the scene.  Unless we're in public, in which case we assume the posture of the caricatures that you are used to seeing on streets and in bazaars.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New York

Upon arriving in New York I didn't know what to think.  I knew that I was either going to love it or hate it but that there would be no middle ground.  I had the same feeling in my stomach as you get on the up down up down sections of roller coasters; either vomit or a big smile is coming very soon.  Being born and raised in Nebraska did not prepare me for the old school feather pillow that hit me in the kisser.  I was expecting more memory foam.  I had always told myself that I have traveled.  I have been in bigger cities.  Delhi.  Mexico City.  Despite all of this I had never experienced anything so intensely urban.  I had always heard the term "concrete jungle" in rap songs and other pop culture mediums, but I never understood it to mean pavement and iron and brick so deep that it writhes around your ankles and makes your body feel over-sized and incapable of motion.  I wondered how so many people managed to walk down the street every day because I had the urge to look up at the stone and steel and glass monoliths that are everywhere.  As with everywhere, people become used to their surroundings and jaded to the impressiveness of it all.  I recently told a born-and-raised Californian he needed to move away from the ocean because he didn't even notice it any more.  He has lived here his entire life and hasn't been to a beach in at least three years.  Somewhere there is a New Yorker who thinks of his/her daily 60 floor elevator ride as annoying.  That person desperately needs a dose of Kansas.

Being me I noticed oddities that I'm sure others miss.  People keep their trash cans on the street because there's just no other place for them.  A fact of their life but a blemish on my daily sojourns.  Everybody reads.  The awesomeness of the subway is that it takes all of the commuting part out of commuting.  Yes, you spend 30-60 minutes each day riding this metal earthworm but you're only requirement is to step onto and off of the thing at the right time.  And then you read, or work, or sleep.  I couldn't help but think of how better read and better informed most New Yorkers are, even those you want to stereotype as non-readers.  The city seems to be ESL.  Everywhere I went there was a rich blend of tongues from ports the world over.  My ear became more nimble in my week outside of SoCal.  I noticed the quality of neighborhoods by taking note of the amount of graffiti on walls and the amount of gum on the sidewalk.

It was only day two when I realized I was in love.  There are certainly things that I would dislike about living there but I left the city with that same hungover feeling that lingers after a one night stand.  The next day your head hurts and your body aches but you wear this wry smile that won't go away because you lost yourself for just one night.  Dangling were the severed strings of responsibility, ambition, failure, consequence, doubt, reality, and sadness while the warm embrace of pleasure and enjoyment pushes you onward.  New York and I are not lasting companions, destined for love eternal, but I will keep my eye open for a possible fling or affair.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

What I've Learned About Writing

I'm not a writer.  A writer is somebody who gets paid to write and makes a living out of it.  I just write.  I spill my life and thoughts out into journals or free websites but I've never made a penny.  Despite my amateur status, there are quite a few things I've learned along the way.  If I had all of the answers for writing I would have started this passage by saying "As you know, I am a writer."  Regardless, there are a few things that I've figured out that will hopefully be helpful.

  1. Just start writing and keep writing.  This seems like dumb advice, but I struggled for the longest time writing stories because I didn't know how to start my story.  I would try to start at word one and progress forward only to find that after a page or two I came to a place that felt like a better starting point.  Then I'd scrap all of the things that I had written and start from my new starting point.   I spent an ungodly amount of time worrying about what was the beginning, middle, and end.  I stressed about it, sought feedback from my friends, and generally did everything I could think of to devise a way for figuring out where to start.  This one just came to me of my own accord.  One day I was sitting in this usual quandary when I realized that I could just keep writing.  The beginning, middle, and end only matter if the story is completed, so I learned to just keep writing until I came to the end of the story.  When I reached the end, I knew that I could work backwards to find where the story needed to begin.
  2. Don't force a story.  My last sentence in the previous point says "needed to begin" because if the story ends a certain way, there are certain plot points that have to have happened.  The old theater adage says that if you show a gun in Act One it better go off by Act Three.  This makes sense because if the gun was never meant to be shot, it wouldn't be in the story in the first place.  If your main character falls in love, he/she has to meet their lover, and before that they'll have to be looking for another for one reason or another.  No matter how much we disagree, life happens as a logical progression.  If your story ends in a place that you don't like, change your main character's personality a bit.  Fire him from his job.  Have him be inside a bank when it gets robbed.  Do anything other than expect the reader to think "Well, sometimes people just snap, I guess," because they will never believe your story.
  3. Revise your story.  Then go back, read it again, and revise it again.  I'm only now learning the value of revision and I hate it, mostly because I didn't do it before.  Revision allows you to tweak details to make the story better.  It allows you to catch stupid mistakes.  It allows you to get inside the head of your character and learn things you didn't even know before.  Stories are intricate pieces of construction like cars, and you'll never make them better unless you crash them on purpose and sift through the wreckage to figure out how.  Sometimes you'll find out nothing is wrong at all, but if you smash the story by telling it through another character's eyes it comes out even better.  You'll never know unless you experiment.
  4. Write about your life and those of your friends.  I'm not advocating that fiction die off and everybody start penning essays, but use the things that you know.  The only things that are genuine are the things that come from you, so even if you're writing about an intergalactic war between octopus people and creatures that look like wire whisks, make one of those wire whisks a lot like you or a friend of yours.  Base its interactions off an anecdote from your own past.  If you want to make it fantastical you can do it by translating it into a weird world or starting at the same point and then exaggerating, but if it isn't grounded in reality your readers will never buy in.
I have more tiny nuggets of wisdom but it's two in the morning and my eyelids are pressing down on my eyelids and my will to write any longer.  Hopefully these points are useful.  Hopefully they make some manner of sense because I will certainly be skipping point three tonight.