All posts by crbfay

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day three.

The distant sound of transport*

*No, this is not the rejected title of a Pink Floyd from their sad late 80s chapter.
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The Lackawanna Valley by George Inness (c. 1856)

Because this is the frozen hellscape Ohio where the ice weasels roam, it’s been really cold the past few nights. Before I go to bed, I like to stroll around the yard to wind down. Most nights the cat accompanies me. She really doesn’t like to go outside during the day because birdsong frightens her. Some really bloodthirsty wrens had a nest near the porch this summer.

On nights like this the air is clear and cold like leaded glass in an old casement window. It’s frozen, but you can sense movement; the glass is thicker at the bottom. It’s flowing. The higher up you go, the thinner it gets until the glass will shatter if you so much as lay your eyes upon it. That’s how it feels to look at the stars.

railmapOne would expect, or hope, that the night would be silent. It’s not. I live in the middle of Columbus, the largest city in the Midwest that’s not Chicago. There’s stuff going on. I live a block from the High Street. One mile to the east are the CSXT and NorfolkSouthern railroads and I-71. One mile to the west lay both the CSXT tracks and six lanes of OH-315.

People and things and stuff are moving up and down these corridors all night long. Most nights, it’s just a soft woosh, about as loud as one of those beige metal white noise machines your shrink has outside his or her office. But on these nights, I can hear each individual car, truck, and boxcar. I even imagine I can tell whether a motor cycle is a Harley or some Japanese rice rocket —as the owner of the only motorcycle I have ever driven referred to his Yamaha. For the record, I went ten feet… and into the side of an Accord. Therefore, I am an expert on what bikes sound like.

It’s like lanes and lanes of individual stories to my east and to my west, heading north and south. I am surrounded by lives being lived, stuff getting done, things being used.

I am alone, but I am a part of something. My world is large even though I dare not venture out of the cat’s sights because, you know, wrens.

Distant transport has always sparked me. When I was a small child on Long Island, I fell asleep to the sound of traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Our street ended at Exit 50. By the time I was eight, I could tell what the weather was like even before I opened my eyes. Tires on dry pavement have a different pitch than on wet. Icy pavement screams.

Since then:

  • Fighter jets out of Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach off to fight the Commies.
  • The Hollywood Freeway competing with coyotes in the hills.
  • The Upper Deck of I-35 in Downtown Austin running over the roof of the Crazy Lady on the next block —a constant back and forth between “Twenty-one, and barely legal!” and “NO ENGINE BRAKES”
  • Tugboats on New York Harbor. There’s been bells helping move stuff there for over three hundred years. I doubt the sound of bells has changed much in that time.
  • All through high school, on cold glassy nights, you could hear the elephants at The Columbus Zoo. It’s the 19th century, and I’m i somewhere in the British Raj.

These are the machines in the garden, just waiting to take me out of my idyll. They appeal to my nomad brain, teasing me with what’s beyond the horizon.

But… I learned that the LIE was a different monster when I would visit my friend Francesca Klein. She lived up the hill, on Petit Court, and her backyard WAS the Long Island Expressway. Francesca liked telling elaborate stories in an odd cadence that made little sense if you didn’t catch every detail, but each car that screamed feet from her patio doors would jostle me out of the narrative. I don’t being jostled, just ask anyone who’s ever tried to get a beer with me.

A lot of Francesca’s stories involved cars that ended up next to her swings or that time a person hurt in an accident came to the patio doors and banged on the glass. Being too close to transport is scary. Cars are big; trains are even bigger. They go fast. Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s expressed in Newtons, which is too ridiculous of a unit of measure to be killed by. Dreaming of hopping on a boxcar and eating beans with jaunty hobos is one thing. Standing next to a moving train is another thing that recalls that time you swore you were going to tump off the subway platform into the path of a G Train. The G Train, not a way to die.

But from a mile away, it’s nothing to leap up from the alley and onto something going somewhere fabulous —even if it’s just heading down to Cincinnati. Cincinnati is exotic destination on clear nights. They have hills. That’s a change, and change is good.

Bonus joy…

I first encountered the painting at the top on the cover of Leo Marx’s seminal 1964 history book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in AmericaWhile researching what the name of the painting was, I stumbled upon a page that must’ve been made by some American Studies prof sometime around 2002. There, next to The Lackawanna Valley was The Peaceable Kingdom, which I just happened to mention in Day Two of this exercise.

I love when that happens. Stuff fits together even before we know it fits together.

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go figure

 

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25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day two.

Visible Storage at The Met

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Ecstatic about aesthetic.

When I visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I turn left once thru the main doors and enter the art proper thru the Greek and Roman Galleries. The other way leads to the Egyptian galleries, which are a little too samey and deathy for my taste.

The first attraction in the Greek and Roman Galleries is a giant column, ionic. Turn left here for the first bathroom break. When visiting The Met, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the locations of bathrooms as their locations follows no logic.

Beyond the Greek and Roman Galleries, I go to the Oceanic Gallery. It’s bright, and most of the stuff is huge and amiable.

From there, the route anybody’s guess. I just start turning and twisting from Islamic to Impressionist, from photography to iconography. I cannot rest. I must see it all. Or not. It’s too big. I’ve been to The Met dozens of times, and I still find new rooms full of new thing each time. I like to go with others. Half the fun of going to a museum is chatting with a friend and figuring out what they like. I usually pretend I’m following them.

But I have a destination, Visible Storage in the American Wing. Visible Storage is where I can finally rest.

Visible Storage is exactly what the name implies. Objects —all American, as the name of the wing would imply —are on shelves behind glass, labeled with accession numbers. So many objects. Ever want to see twenty-seven examples of 19th century American glass salt-cellars? They’re here, next to any number of chicken-shaped serving dishes. There’s bronze sculptures from St. Gardens and Remington down the aisle from a Tiffany Studios workstation. The Peaceable Kingdom is here, along with a very scary porcupine-themed screen. Empty frames as objects in themselves. Chairs on shelves!

It’s cool and dark. Orderly, yet chaotic.

And empty of people.

I can twirl and not knock anything over. My main standard for whether a location will or will not send me into a claustrophobic spiral is the availability of unencumbered twirling space.

When twirling’s done, there’s actual couches in the place of hard benches. This is good place to eat Cheetos without having to worry about getting orange dust on the art or being hassled by The Man.

I also think it would be fun to make out on one these couches with only The Peaceable Kingdom as witness.

 

Then we can twirl some more.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day one.

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When an algorithm serves me up an old song I’ve never heard before… and I love it.

 

Right now, I’m listening to a song you probably haven’t heard of before: “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” by Ambrosia. One day Spotify just played it based on my listening habits. It’s now one of my Top Songs of 2018. Without Spotify, I never would have heard it.

Now I can’t imagine my ears without it.

I’ve scrolled thru my list, and only one song is from 2018. It’s the Weird Al Remix of “Feel It Still” by Portugal, The Man. Still, the original is from 2017, therefore I still get to go around telling people:

Actually, I prefer music that can no longer be made under current modes of production.

That’s a way to sound both grad-school-y and crotchety.

Some of my favorite songs I discovered way after they hit.

Q•FM•96, Ohio’s Best Rock, really didn’t have the most expansive playlist during high school.

College radio assholes did a number on me in college:

You should listen to [insert name].
Great, can you play me some?
You wouldn’t like it.

And, sometimes you just miss a song.
“Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins
“74/75” by The Connells
“Pink Frost” by the Chills
Etc. Etc. Etc.

Hundreds of bits and bytes of joy, all served up by algorithms I’ve permitted to influence me –going back to the early aughts.

I have the best taste in music. 

Everyone has the best taste in music.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day zero.

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Part One… The return of the cheap advent calendar…

A few years ago, I did a Christmas writing thing on Tumblr based upon my purchase of a suspiciously cheap chocolate-filled Advent calendar. Just a little something each day. Helped keep my spirits up during a difficult Holiday season. And it really got my creative flows juicing:babyjeebus

$1.98 Advent calendar I got at the C-Town across the street

The other week, I found an even cheaper choco-calendar at the Tuesday Morning’s in the shopping center with the good Vietnamese food.

There is freshly-tilled brain dirt up in my head after a fun season of stuff you can read about in Part Two if you so choose: There’s medication withdrawal, hip pain, a not-stroke, a psychotic Valtrex reaction —all overlaying a year where I started, for lack of a better word, honoring my big-ass ADHD. If my ADHD were on the menu in a Thai restaurant, there would be four bright red peppers next to it, and the waitress would ask, “Are you sure?”

It’s been a scene. Continue reading 25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day zero.

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…

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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.

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

CUE VOICE (FROM BEHIND ME AND TO THE RIGHT):

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.

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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!