A Lamprey with a Gavel


I had to turn away from the television during his testimony. I just couldn’t look at his garbage mouth any longer.

I got through hers. I rooted for her because I related to her being terrified, her asking politely for caffeine, and going all nerd under stress. Thank the baby jeebus nothing in her account triggered me too badly. I’ve never encountered physical sexual abuse. I have been “persuaded” into providing unenthusiastic consent on numerous occasions, some much worse than others. Example: here’s a special place in hell for the woman in college who asked “You do like girls, don’t you?” as a negotiating tactic. But nothing physical. I’m lucky. I’m a pretty big guy. As my grandpa would say, “Strong like bull; dumb like ox.” I can look real mean, like I’m about to go berserker, and I have a very low center of gravity.

But the Brett Kavanaughs of my life did physically abuse me. Sometimes it was fists. Once it was milk crate. Or it could be having to run until I felt like my heart would burst. Or it was the constant stress of never knowing where the next attack would come from.

And when the bullies cornered me —and they always eventually did —all I could focus on would be their mouths. I couldn’t look at their eyes because that would only enrage them. I would focus on the mouth because it was always pointed in my direction. And the mouths were always moving. I would fixate on those mouths until my entire field of vision was some twirling psychedelic bully-mouth kaleidoscope. Whatever crap they were spewing pulsated into almost-music. Sometimes it would seem like the bully’s toadies were dancing like go-go toadies to the almost-music of his hate. It’s easier to take the blows if you imagine they’re dancing.

If you turn away from the mouth, you start to react. People don’t like it when you react to bullies. How people react to you reacting is worse than whatever you’re dissociating away from at the present time. So you stare at the mouth.

Sometimes it seems like their teeth have come detached from their jaw and are just swimming around in pink spit.

All bullies have the same mouth. When that much anger, illogic, and saliva get forced thru a small opening, the force of the hate begins to change their faces. The mouths cease being human. They become mere conduits for an ugliness so old, so gross that you’d have to go really far back in time for an analog, to some back channel of the evolutionary tree. Continue reading A Lamprey with a Gavel


Telling a story about telling a story…

Look Comrade! I’m speaking! I’m speaking!

Last month I finally got up the nerve to get up in front of actual, non-cat, people and tell a story. I went down to a function called Speak Easy, got up on stage, and told a story about a closet case me stumbling into a donkey show at a cinder-block brothel a few miles outside of Ciudad Acuña, MX in 1991. People seemed to find listening to my Psychosexual Corn Maze™ somewhat amusing. And, really, what more can you ask for?

A day later I was on the phone with my ex-fiancée and part-time muse Lynda. After the requisite convo about politics and cats and the politics of cats, I told her about my experience.

“I like it. It’s an other-directed activity, but it’s still all about me.”

“I don’t think you understand what is meant by ‘other-directed,” said Lynda.

Normally, I concede all matters of semantics to Lynda because she is so much brain-having. However, I think I’m right. Storytelling is too other-directed. For five minutes or so last Thursday I took a break from skating on the Möbius Strip that passes for my psyche and interacted with people in a manner that didn’t involve me standing off to the side with my arms akimbo at them.

[Actually, my arms moved way too much; I need to work on that.]

For the first time since I moved to Columbus, I actually felt like I was doing “something.” I was putting something out into the world instead of reacting to things. I did something concrete, and people did something concrete in return. Continue reading Telling a story about telling a story…

It’s like Shark Week, but with despair instead of ocean.

This is what you get when you Google “melancholy shark.”


Remember how the Sugar Free Dr. Pepper fizzed in your mouth and all over your face? Remember how a little fountain of Sugar Free Dr. Pepper shot out of the gap between your front teeth? Remember how one of the Xanaxes got loose and, through a forced perspective, seemed to hover in front of the faces of your dorm-mates. And, drama queen, they’re there because you summoned everyone to their windows for the fountain spectacular. Now we’re just going to freeze it here and zoom in on your roommate, Larry, standing naked in one of full-length stairwell windows. And let’s put one of those shadow circles around Larry’s ridiculous penis. Wow, if everything had gone according to your impulsive non-plan, one of last things on your retinas would’ve been an image of quite possibly the largest member you’ve ever side-eyed.

Y’know how during August, when it’s Shark Week, how you have Shark Week proper on The Discovery Channel, but there’s also Shark everywhere else? All the little ancillary remora channels of the Discovery Network are shark-flogging. Then Colbert does a bit about how the Mueller probe is like Shark Week. Then one of those weird retro channels that have decimal points in their ID programs a block of sitcom episodes where the shark is jumped. Yes, the Fonz is there. Then your Facebook feed fills with sad pictures of sharks with their dorsal fins hacked off because shark fin soup is cruel, and sharks are not the mindless killing machines that Discovery portrays! Didn’t you know that?!? Why do you hate Mother Ocean? You suck at being woke. Then, in response, Discovery has a night where they assure everyone that sharks are perfectly reasonable denizens of Mother Ocean. Sharks gotta shark. Then they will show slow-motion video of hacked-off dorsal fin set to whatever Sarah MacClachlan-ish collection of chords they own the rights to. Then there will be a BP commercial.

You cannot escape Shark Week. That is the whole point of Shark Week. It is a merciless engine.

Well, it’s June, and this June it isn’t Shark Week. It’s Suicide Week. Continue reading It’s like Shark Week, but with despair instead of ocean.

“The Bear Who Auditioned First” [On parlaying a Jeopardy! audition three weeks ago into fifteen minutes of fame, then into a lifetime as a cherished cultural icon.]

Please note: For the piece itself I will forgo the exclamation point after Jeopardy. It is stupid. If they had one of those Spanish upside-down exclamation points before it, too, I would happily reconsider.

This morning I’m in a coffee shop writing. I forgot my earbuds, and I’m way too lazy to walk out to the car and grab my “emergency” pair. Then I remembered that I auditioned for Jeopardy three weeks ago, and, as parting gifts, they gave me a set of Jeopardy! earbuds and a Jeopardy pen. “Please do not use the pen as a ‘practice’ buzzer. We do not travel the country to hear people click pens.” Noted. The earbuds came in a little Jeopardy blue pouch –Pantone 2935 U, because if you want to be on Jeopardy, you need to know these things. I took the pouch out of my bag, removed the buds, and flopped the pouch on my table. It landed logo-side-down.

IMG_1183That would not do. I flipped the pouch over. Now folks coming through the front door of Luck Brothers Coffee can see the blue of the pouch highlighted against the black of the café table. This is by design. When the eye is fully adjusted to darkness, blue stands out against a black background more than any other color. This is why railroad signals and those little reflectors people in the country use to mark their driveways are blue. Yes, it’s bright sunny out today, and everyone’s eyes are adjusting in the opposite direction, but if someone does ask me about the pouch I can tell them all about blue reflectors. And they will say, “Wow! You certainly do belong on Jeopardy!”

In my time as a Jeopardy Auditioneer™ (I figure I should start trademarking various aspects of my upcoming fame and icon-hood), I have been amazed at how many people are interested in the audition process. As luck would have it, my audition coincided with a visit to NYC to see friends that I was already planning. (I used to live in NYC. If someone asks about the blue pouch, I can also work in that I used to live in NYC. Moreover, I will tell them I lived in Brooklyn because that’s more specific, and people crave specificity –especially specificity that involves the word “Brooklyn.”) So in NYC, instead answering “Why are you visiting?” with “Columbus is boring.” I could proudly say, “I had a Jeopardy audition.”

Then they would inhale a little bit, maybe subconsciously stroke their hair or beard with a couple fingers. “You did?!? Please do tell me all about it? This will certainly be enlightening and fill an intellectual void I did not know I had.” Continue reading “The Bear Who Auditioned First” [On parlaying a Jeopardy! audition three weeks ago into fifteen minutes of fame, then into a lifetime as a cherished cultural icon.]

Writer’s block and how to trick people into thinking you’ve “crafted” something.

Me, attempting to type words.
I’m currently enrolled in an online “generative” writing workshop. It’s main goal is to help you overcome blocks. This first assignment was to sit down and free-associate fifty sentences about what’s blocking you. “Let the words write the words” was the instructor’s advice. Everyone else turned in finely-crafted, well-edited essays. I turned in the following mass of free-association; immediately I felt shame at somehow doing the exercise wrong.

Every critique I’ve gotten has complimented me on my “craft.” If so, this is a powerful disincentive for multiple drafts and rewrites.

50-ish (too-unedit-y) Sentences about Blockage

  1. I suck.
  2. No, I really, really suck at this.
  3. I will do nothing but fret over choosing the right words and stuff and forget flow.
  4. Flow is nothing but a psychological buzzword.
  5. If I surrender to the flow, I may write stuff that will upset people, esp. when it comes to memoir.
  6. I’m too old to say anything that anyone will want to hear.
  7. I rely too much on pop culture references, and no one will understand them.
  8. There’s too much to write about.
  9. No one cares.
  10. Stories about mental illness, esp. yours, are trite and clichéd.
  11. Everyone else in this class has read more books than me.
  12. You can’t write unless you’re an avid reader.
  13. You lack the attention span to read, let alone write.
  14. You can’t even decide on a pronoun to use for this exercise.
  15. I am wracked by indecision.
  16. Shame is holding you back.
  17. I am too concerned with what other people will think.
  18. At the same time, I am too judgy; I write to be better than others.
  19. I will get my comeuppance.
  20. I am too clever by half –look at all that unearned alliteration.
  21. Everyone else is deeper.
  22. Todd Vogel was right… I am a disruptive element… I should be quieter.
  23. But my desire is to respond to the situation at hand, not come into seminar (or a story) with three questions written on a notecard.
  24. Fuck Todd Vogel.
  25. How did that professor at Michigan describe your packet? Quirky. Fuck her, too… You won a Hopwood.
  26. Run with the quirky.
  27. But quirky puts people on edge.
  28. No one wants to read funny anecdotes about trauma… trauma needs to be deep.
  29. Remember, everyone else is deeper than you.
  30. You always will be judged by people who are deeper than you.
  31. You always will be judged by people who sound deeper than you. Why can’t you sound deeper?
  32. You have no capacity for self-observation. Your mirror is warped.
  33. There are always too many distractions. The cat is not your muse.
  34. You don’t listen to the right kind of music when you write. I mean, what is this shit Spotify playlist you’re listening to now? Canadian Gold? What even the fresh hell is that? You’re no Canadian. Stop pretending you’re Canadian. You should listen to some sort of ambient drone… that’s what serious people listen to.
  35. Every time you get a good flow going, you have to get up to pee. Stop drinking so much Diet Coke. Trump drinks 12 Diet Cokes a day… you’re not far behind. See, you can’t even choose writing beverages correctly.
  36. Why are you stuck here? Your flow sucks!
  37. How do you pronounce the name of that guy that wrote about flow? Csikszentmihalyi? Too bad you only studied his stuff about material culture.
  38. Stop going off on tangents! And you went and googled Csikszentmihalyi… that’s cheating!
  39. Speaking of cheating… how many shortcuts will you take in your writing? Probably too many. Remember, you’re a fraud.
  40. Are you even sure these “memories” actually happened? Does your fevered imagination count as “memory?”
  41. How much of what you remember is just fairy dust you tell yourself to make your pitiful existence sound interesting?
  42. Gonna try fiction? Good luck! Hasn’t everyone always told you that you’re constantly misinterpreting what other people are thinking?
  43. How can you properly write dialogue if you constantly think everything you see and hear is some sort of personal affront?
  44. What are you supposed to do… run everything you write thru some sort of cognitive behavioral therapy filter to make sure your characters’ motivations are “correct”? That’s really gonna fuck up the flow.
  45. No? So, you’re a mindreader now?
  46. Sometimes screaming is more satisfying than writing.
  47. No one wants to read a scream.
  48. Slow and low. Slow and low. Slow and low. That’s what my bowling coach says.
  49. Your average is up 20 pins this season. Slow and low.
  50. Slow. Low. Flow.

Continue reading Writer’s block and how to trick people into thinking you’ve “crafted” something.

Behold My Big Hairy Internalized Homophobia!

dragqueenheelsThe words stung even though they weren’t directed at me. They stung even though they were only in a Facebook post about someone I did not know, existing only in ones and zeros. They stung even though the person who typed those ones and zeros has never been anything but really nice to me, and again, they were not directed at me.

But, you know what? Everything’s about me. The words stung.

The post’s author noted that he got blocked on Facebook a lot by “old white men suffering from much internalized homophobia.”

And then someone replied, “So no real loss.”

Ouch. Those couple of phrases divorced themselves from the larger context of the thread, which, again, had nothing to do with me. The second those words hit my optic nerve, my brain separated them out and transmogrified them into a Broadway marquee dripping with flashing, chasing incandescent bulbs. How could I not? I may not be sure of a lot of things about myself, but one thing I do know is that I AM AN OLD WHITE GUY SUFFERING FROM MUCH INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA.

At first, I tried to slough it off. It’s just ones and zeros. That didn’t work; still lodged in my brain. Then I tried to laugh along with it. I typed back something to the effect of “I’m a quivering, sentient mass of internalized homophobia, and I still like ya.” Ha ha… way to internalize a comment about internalization, Chris!

Nope, still stings. Then I decided to really use my words and write about it. After all, I’ve been blocked lately and was looking for something to cattle prod the muse. I thought about latching on to the word “old,” focusing on the all-too-typical and typically boring ageism rampant among the homosexual element. Everyone two or more years older than you is “old,” and everyone two or more years younger than you is “a baby.” I could go full Gen-X Cranky on it with something along the lines of a listicle titled “Eight Ways Millennials are Ruining Internalized Homophobia.”

That still didn’t scratch that itch because the ageism really didn’t trigger me. One gets inured to it. Turn, turn, turn. Sands through the hourglass. Blah blah blah. No, it was the phrase “internalized homophobia” and the way it was just tossed off like a random salad. Continue reading Behold My Big Hairy Internalized Homophobia!

Ways in which I may have sprained my jaw.

I’m going back to the doctor this afternoon to get my jaw looked at again. It’s been going on for a while now. I’m not sure I want it to go away. Judging by people’s reactions, me spraining my jaw is by far the most exciting thing to happen to me all year. “I have so many questions!” exclaimed one friend when I told him about the injury.human-jaw

“How did it happen?” they all ask. I wish I knew. I’ve wracked my brains and have come up with a few possible causes:

  1. I offered to help a little old lady across the street. She misunderstood my intentions and walloped me upside the face with her umbrella. I have never been called a “ruffian” before, and I’m not sure I like it.
  2. An elaborate fish-slapping dance.
  3. I found myself battling against noted competitive eater Joey Chestnut at the Franklin County Fair. Vegans were protesting the event, saying that hot dogs were murder; they tried to substitute tofu dogs for the Hebrew Nationals I was promised. Joey and I were disgusted by the idea of tofu, so we compromised and quieted down the protesters by agreeing to competitively eat KIND bars. My jaw gave out halfway through my second one. I am so ashamed.
  4. Had the ouroboros dream again.
  5. Went to the movies and got a box of Sour Patch Kids. Put seven in my mouth at one time, and the resulting wave of sour goodness caused my jaw to seize.
  6. Wanton fellatio.
  7. I was arguing against a Trump supporter on the TV. I am at my fiery best when I’m arguing against TV people. I like to use multi-syllabic words with them because I sure their smooth, orange brains can only handle one syllable words. Build the wall! Lock her up! Blood and soil! The list goes on. I felt something go wrong in my mandible as I growled “quasi-sentient Nazi-coddler” for the seventh time.
  8. About six weeks ago, under the advice of my therapist, I went off of all my psych meds. I had been on them in one form or the other since 1991. Thanks to a doctor I started seeing when I moved here to Ohio who seemed to be more concerned with controlling me than allowing me to live a full life, I was turning into a zombie. My emotions were being constrained to an ever-shrinking window. Now we’re trying to see what I’m like without six different meds coursing through my veins.
    Unfortunately, the first emotion to really return was a profound irritability. Don’t believe me? Just ask anyone who’s tried to sing along to the radio around me while I’ve been adjusting to the med-free regimen. My entire face clenches up. Things have calmed down over the last few weeks, but the damage to my jaw has been done.

I’d write more, but now I’m going to take a handful of ibuprofen and lay my face down a cold pack.

Chronicling these orange times


Online this weekend, I saw a meme or something that a Facebook friend had shared. The gist of it was: “If you sat in history class and ever wondered ‘What would I do?’ look at what you’re doing now. That’s what you would’ve done.” That led to a bit of soul-searching because, to be honest, I’ve done nothing since Trump got in.

I see friends attending protests and rallies, and I feel sick to my stomach. Those crowds! Am I going to let my deep-seeded fear of crowds prevent me from exercising my right to protest? Yes. The last thing a protest needs is some guy having a panic attack in its midst –it would take away from the Trump-hatred. Nor have I done that mystic act of telephony and called my representative. That’s due to a combination of a fear of cold-calling and a fear that Congress has already been neutralized via Executive Action.

I know I live in interesting times (in the full sense of the Chinese curse). However, years from now we will emerge from these dark times, all of us dancing around a maypole with a rotting orange head stuck to the top. On that joyous day, or maybe the day after, I’m sure the storytelling will begin. It’s then I see what my contribution –at least to my own sanity –can be. I can chronicle. I can commit to ones and zeroes what I see going on, at least with myself. I cannot live thru this time without an outlet, and words have always been an outlet for me.

This blog has been moribund for months because of some intense writers’ block. I felt I had run out of things to say. I was at the end of having experiences worthy of writing down. Frankly, I was tired of writing about my bipolar disorder. I felt writing about it was giving it too much power. So I stepped back for a while. Also, the election came as such a blow, it knocked my will to write out of my fingertips.

Then, on Saturday night, I found myself slumped on the kitchen floor, muttering “fuck”-s, and punching myself in the head. This was not good. This was about the time my Facebook feed was filling up with horror stories about he Muslim ban. I read the stories about people with Green Cards not being allowed to return home. Anger rose inside of me. I knew people were protesting en masse outside of JFK, but that just led to a growing feeling of impotence: A) I was in Columbus; and B) see fear of crowds above. All of a sudden, that anger and impotence I felt directed itself towards me. I started punching my head. I felt like I deserved it for not being at a protest. Luckily, my sister was within earshot and could come into the kitchen to calm me down.

I don’t like that Donald Trump makes me want to hurt myself. I don’t like that my anger towards him makes me feel my mental illness acutely. You know how when you’re in a nightmare, and you try to scream, but all that comes out in real life is a whimper? I don’t like feeling like that.

Side note: It’s the people who aren’t angry who are mentally ill, amirite? Wait, maybe “mentally ill” isn’t the best word for these people… It takes away from those of us who are legit mentally ill. I’ll suggest facist-philic for those other folks.

My mom always used to tell to not fight back at bullies. “You’re just giving them the reaction they’re looking for.” BULLSHIT! Trump is a bully, and he wants me slumped on the kitchen floor punching myself in the head. So I have to fight back. Maybe I won’t be showing up at any protests any time soon. I have to work up to that. (Do people even protest in Columbus? If so, invite me to one. I’m far too delicate a snowflake to show up to one alone when I’m ready.)

What I can do is write down what’s happening in my corner of the world. I know I’m going to want to read these words when we are free of the Orange Man. I would suggest everyone journal or something. Get your feelings down. Get the facts down. I have a feeling we’re entering a time when history, especially personal history, will matter.

Extra bonus: time spent at the keyboard is time spent not punching myself.



That tocking metronome

I live roughly eleven inches from the practice field for the Bishop Watterson Marching Eagles. All that stands between us is my front yard, the alley that passes as our street, backyards, a row of houses, a proper street, a small parking lot, and the practicing Eagles football team. See, eleven inches.

2016-02-01-om-43-mark-abel-52360The Marching Eagles practice with a monstrous, heavily-amplified metronome. It just tocks away there, forcing glockenspiels into line. I don’t mind the band itself; if the wind is right –and they’ve been practicing –I can make out what the song is. Apparently Katy Perry’s Roar has become a marching band staple. But beneath that all is the metronome drilling down. I never got to the point in my musical career where a metronome was needed, or deemed expendable enough. My theory on how they work is that they emit a noxious tock that will burrow right through the eardrum down to the spinal cord and then out to every last nerve… The only way to rid your body of this marauder is to do its bidding: You must toot, bang, or glocken that thing you’re holding. Do it now! Do it correctly, and the tock will seem like it’s not there. At least for that round.

Block out enough tocks for enough hours, and you’re a musician. I guess that’s how it works. Continue reading That tocking metronome

For art, go stand by an eagle.

It was the first day of kindergarten, and free time had begun. Importantly, I had done everything Miss Petersen had said to do –to the letter. In fact, I was pretty impressed with myself for having identified and found an eagle in the visual cacophony of the kindergarten classroom at Manasquan elementary. There I was standing underneath the flag to which we had earlier learned to pledge our undying allegiance to the great man who made America possible, Richard Stanz, and yet I still had no painting supplies in my hand.

I had art to create. I felt I had done some amazing work with finger paints in pre-school, and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do with an actual brush.

“Everyone who wants to paint, go stand by an eagle.” Those were her words. Eagle. I know –it made no sense. Some kids went into an alcove and stood by big, propped-up boards. I didn’t know what you called those big, propped-up boards in the alcove, but they certainly weren’t eagles. I looked around the room. You could say I had an eagle eye. (Sorry. Not sorry) We had a bird book at home, and eagles looked exactly like what was at the tip of the flagpole at the end of the blackboard by the classroom door. So I stood there. Certainly she would get around to me sooner or later and lead me to that arting heaven I was promised in church. But she never did. Why did Miss Petersen hate me? I had half a mind to tell on her to Richard Stanz if I ever met him. Continue reading For art, go stand by an eagle.