Category: Personal (page 1 of 3)

Wilbo of the Nine Fingers

No, those aren’t devil horns. That’s where Gollum bit off my ring finger…get it? Oh, never mind.

and the Ring of Dooooom!

On March 16, 2015, I started a strange project: using this website as a guide, I started running and counted each mile along Frodo’s journey from Bag End to Mount Doom, a total of 1, 779 miles.

Tonight at about 8pm in Boone Park, I ran the final 2.21 miles of that journey.

Here are the numbers:

  • Miles Run: 532.46 in 2015, 812.54 in 2016, and 434 in 2017 for 1,779 miles total
  • Total Hours: 379.78
  • Average Miles Per Hour: 4.7
  • Total Number of Runs: 615
  • Average Miles per Run: 2.89
  • 5K Races: 28
  • Ortega River Runs (5 miles): 2
  • Gate River Run (15K): 1
  • Weight Lost: about 15 pounds
  • Injuries: Plantar Fasciitis in my right foot, pulled muscle in my chest

What did I learn?

For one thing, I seem to really like running, enough to keep doing it even when it hurt, which was strange. They talk about a runner’s high but I don’t think I’ve ever quite felt that. I think the real reward is the sense of pulling off a stunt with each run: “Hey, look! It’s a fat guy running a 5K!”

Some people are motivated by being asked, “How did you do that amazing thing?” I’m motivated by being asked, “Why would you do that amazing thing?”

Another thing I learned is that running five or six times a week does nothing for your weight if you still eat like an idiot. Guilty as charged. That’s the next thing to work on, now that I know I can do crazy things like run all the way to Mordor.

What about writing? Certainly there’s some poignant parallel to be made between the determination it takes to run 1,779 miles and the grit it would take to, say, finish another novel, but why bother to make it? The truth is that with running, I always knew exactly where I was going and when it would be over, even if my foot was hurting. I never get that luxury in my writing, so the metaphor doesn’t fit.

For what it’s worth, I did run each of those 1,779 miles without much self-doubt or introspection, simply leaning forward when the timer started or the gun went off and starting my ragged shuffle forward. When I failed (slowing to walk), it was almost always because of dwelling too much on how hard it was. I psyched myself out too often, which I’m sure has nothing to do with my writing career.

What’s next? Well, I’ll still keep logging the miles and I’ll bring milestones to your attention every now and then, but I’m letting the eagles fly me back to the Shire.

 

On Writing These Days

I’m sorry to sound melodramatic, but I’m finding it harder than ever to write stories when things like the hoedown in Charlottesville are going on in the world.

That is by far the least important consequence of that fiasco, but it’s the only one I’m qualified to talk about.

I think the reason I’m finding it harder to write stories right now is because I have the sneaking terror that stories are a part of the problem. It seems so easy for dumb and purposeless people to watch a deluge of entertainment about plucky heroes breaking all the rules solely on the basis of their own convictions and see that as the only way to be truly alive.

To be fighting for something. Even if something isn’t really fighting them first.

What I see in that terrible crowd in Charlottesville are people who want to be the heroes of stories without knowing what that really means, who want to be special for believing things they think no one else is smart or brave enough to believe. There’s hatred and anger of course inside them, but there’s a petulance, too – a resistance to what’s true because they don’t want to be told what’s true.

They’re certain they’re right because everyone else thinks they’re wrong, which is what they see always happening with heroes.

They’re the Dick Rebellion, the Bro Alliance, and we’re the Evil Galactic Empire.

It’s not the fault of the stories or the storytellers, really. These are terrible readers and viewers, people who skip or fail to grasp the second act when real heroes learn that strength also requires some doubt and introspection. They’re also suffering a lack of variety in their entertainment diet, too much Transformers and not enough Grapes of Wrath.

I’m not blaming entertainment for their attitudes, and I’m not suggesting their own bad comprehension is the only factor behind them. There’s plenty of institutional racism and sexism involved, not to mention the simple endless pulse of hormones that have nothing useful to do in a civilized society.

On days like today when my fingers hover above the keys instead of pressing them, it is because the already daunting task of sending words to another mind seems even more futile when the receivers are hellbent on hearing so little.

It isn’t stories that are beating and killing people, but I can’t shake the feeling that the people who are find succor in the stories they’re misreading. I have no idea what to do about that.

I suppose it’s always been that way, and it is only the quantity of the misread messages and the easy access to news of the consequences that’s different.

That’s not helping today.

Why I Call My Mother “Mother”

In early July, my mother collapsed from a seizure on her way down the stairs in her home, and the cause turned out to be a golf ball-sized mass in her brain.

Yep, there it is.

She was losing strength and feeling on the right side of her body, and the doctors decided to remove the mass. They gave her steroids to control the growth leading up to the operation, but she reacted badly to them and the scary side effects (infection, weakness, plummeting blood pressure and platelet count, soaring blood sugar) delayed her surgery until yesterday. In the morning, they wheeled her in for a four hour surgery and finished in about ninety minutes. The mass turned out to be encapsulated as the doctors say, so it was removed all in one clump.

(To simulate the sound it made, cluck your tongue on the roof of your mouth.)

She’s already moving her right side again and she seems stronger than even before the surgery.

It would SEEM to be a miracle, but then, so is she. That brain pictured above contains the works of George R.R. Martin and Anne McCaffery and Lee Child, how to run a bookstore, which angels and crystals are most effective for which problems, two husbands (one bad and one good), three children, a bemused yet potent hatred for Donald Trump, the taste of an egg crème from Kissena Drugs in Queens, the relative value of various antiques, the phone numbers for Home Shopping Network and QVC, how to cultivate a garden, the recipe for a dish we call “Soup of the Red Death,” all of her prescriptions by generic and brand name, bracket ranks for all of my former girlfriends and spouses, and the story about how her grandmother picked up Rudolph Valentino’s hat from the ground on the day he died in Manhattan in 1926.

That’s a lot. As they say, she’s seen some shit. And endured it — twenty-two years being knocked around by my father could very well be the CAUSE of that mass in her brain, though we were all disappointed to discover she could remember him after the surgery.

I kept friends and family up to date on social media about her progress, and it occurred to me late in the day that I refer to her in public as “Mother,” kind of like I’m this guy:

So maybe it’s time to explain why I call her “Mother” instead of, say, “Mom” or “Mama” or “Ma.”

I started calling her that (instead of “Mom”) around 1987, when my parents divorced. There wasn’t any one reason. Part of it was I got older and it wasn’t cool. Another part was that I was getting pretentiously literary. It also sounded better when sighed in mock exasperation at her dreamy foibles: “Oh, Mother! You bought someone’s failing antique business?”

The real reason now that I’m thinking about it, though, is that you can’t call a person the same thing after a heroic experience as before it. When you shuck off your sociopathic husband of 22 years, you get an upgrade from “Mom” to something else. We’re not liberal enough to call her by her first name, and we don’t wear overalls so that nixes “Mama.”

The only title that has the right amount of gravitas, the right authority, is “Mother.”  Mother of Nations. Mother of Earth. Mother of Dragons.

You know how Jules’s wallet in Pulp Fiction has “BADASS MOTHERFUCKER” embossed on it? My mother needs one with a comma in the middle that says, “BADASS MOTHER, FUCKER.”

My mother has spend her seventy years rather cheerfully enduring (and often enjoying in a wry sort of way) everything that has happened to her, good and bad. I used to think that this was a dreamy obliviousness on her part, like she didn’t SEE all the shit around her. What I’ve realized as an adult is that she sees it just fine…she just enjoys the experience of being alive more than any single setback, disaster, or success.

She is, as the saying goes, a spiritual being living a human existence, and “Mom” doesn’t quite cover it.

The Father Map

As a person whose sociopathic, murderer-inciting father is pretty much the most interesting thing about him, I can’t let Father’s Day go by unremarked, can I? Even though both my bad and good fathers are dead, it’s still a day that evokes some feeling in me.

(Not, interestingly, as a person concerned about not being a father himself. I know that whole scene would be bad news for all involved.)

This year, with the revival of Twin Peaks, it has me thinking of how I’ve grossly underestimated the role of Dale Cooper’s influence on me as a surrogate father in late high school, teaching me that being intuitive and weird and appreciative can be assets, and that cynicism isn’t the only (or even a good) source of inner power.

One of the nice things about having a terrible father who fled our family like the Nazis getting routed from Paris when I was young is that I had the luxury of picking better fathers, and I’ve mentioned them all individually before in various places, including my stories.

Here, for the first time, is the comprehensive map of my fathers all in one place for our mutual reference.

What I Learned Running the 15K Gate River Run

I am not a thin man. I like soda and doughnuts too much.

But in 2015, I decided to start running (as exercise, not from the law or the Sandmen or anything) because it is the only workout I’ve found that is boring enough to listen to music but not TOO boring to lose my interest. It is, oddly, the only kind of exercise I’ve ever liked.

I run a few times a week (or more) on a treadmill, but I also participate in 5K runs (3.1 miles for those of us not caving in to Jimmy Carter’s world government measurement coup). They’re actually fun, and I enjoy running in places I wouldn’t normally go. I have a weird relationship to crowds, though, and I tend to enjoy observing than interacting with them. I do my own running time, thank you very much.

The Gate River Run is a 15K (9.3ish miles, fellow colonials) race through an odd cross-section of Jacksonville, and it’s a sort of gold-standard for runners around here. 14,000 people ran it this year with me, for varying definitions of “run” including long stretches of walking, which is just fine. For a person like me who sometimes staggers to the end of a 5K, it can be intimidating run a race that’s basically three of those in a row over two bridges.

This is the second bridge one mile from the finish. Most people just jump off the side to their deaths to avoid it, but not me.

So I did it anyway.

I prepared, sort of: I did my usual treadmill runs of around 5K with a few longer ones. I fully expected to  face some long moment of the soul around mile 8 where I’d hallucinate a dead family member or childhood hero telling me I had to keep going and I had everything I needed inside me all along, but it was just…fun.

Here’s what I learned/noticed:

  • There’s a certain point at which your body says, “Oh, fuck, for real this is what we’re doing?” and then shuts down your pain receptors. It hurt more to sit down after the race than to run it.
  • The course is essentially the world’s longest tailgate party. There are official water stations but then there are random people giving you food and drink from their front yards, everything from fresh strawberries to doughnuts to beer.
  • It was also a fascinating exhibit of Jacksonville class structure, with rich (or overextended) people drinking and offering mimosas on River Road in San Marco and considerably less flush (or showy) ones grilling chicken at 9:30 in the morning off Atlantic Boulevard.
  • Overall, the whole thing was this giant heartening show of community involvement and support.
  • There were Porta-Potty clusters all along the course and they always had lines. I never had to go because like our parents tell us before road trips, I offloaded my freight before hitting the pavement.

Here’s the big one:

There’s an amazing moment where you stop thinking about whether you can make it and simply focus on moving one foot in front of the other, when your energy shifts from doubt to action. Running makes it a nice pure thing (what are you going to do, quit at mile 7 and just camp in Arlington the rest of your life?) but the principle applies to things with more abstract results. Trust that moment will come.

Take heed, writers and artists and political activists: the demons of suck that swarm every worthwhile activity are scared away by not giving a shit about them.

Yes, technically it’s a participation trophy. Also, fuck you.

2016: A Retrospective

If it tells you anything about 2016, here are the two highlights:

  1. Receiving the galleys from Asimov’s for the story I wrote and sold this year, “Night Fever.” Yes, that’s right: THE story I wrote. One. Though it’s definitely one of my best.
  2. Being licked by a strange dog at Necronomicon.

That’s pretty much it. I also ran about 800 miles and participated in twelve organized races. Everything else was pretty much a shitshow.

Will Ludwigsen’s 36 Questions for Intimacy

This is old news, but apparently there are thirty-six questions you can ask someone new to your life to build a foundation of personal intimacy, and they’re…okay. They’re better than the usual ones you stammer out in a bar or on your online dating profile or across the Pokemon table at the local game store.

But they’re not as good as mine. I guarantee that if you sit across from someone and ask/answer these questions, you will know the depths of each other’s hearts by the final one.

  1. The three required elements of a perfect day are: ______, ______, and _____.
  2. People who don’t use the Oxford comma are _____.
  3. People who use two spaces after a period are _____.
  4. The optimum place to live is close to the beach | the mountains.
  5. When you are debriefed in the afterlife, what truth do you most want to know?
  6. Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
  7. What do you wish you had told someone before they died?
  8. What do you wish someone had told YOU before they died?
  9. What song would you send to space as the perfect representation of humanity?
  10. What book most changed your life?
  11. What movie most changed your life?
  12. If you could travel in time and stop one book from being written, which would it be?
  13. What day would you erase from your memory?
  14. What message of ten words or less would you send back to yourself in time?
  15. To what historical era do you think your personality is best suited?
  16. What is your go-to Freudian defense mechanism (repression | regression | reaction formation | projection | sublimation)?
  17. What does everyone else think is a flaw in someone’s appearance that you actually like?
  18. What does everyone else think is a flaw in someone’s personality that you actually like?
  19. You have thirty seconds to name a baby, a kitten, an infectious disease, and a battleship. What names do you choose?
  20. Which convicted member of the Manson family is LEAST morally culpable? Why?
  21. Who is the most overrated serial killer in history? Why?
  22. Lee Harvey Oswald did | did not act alone.
  23. D.B. Cooper did | did not survive his jump.
  24. What three convictions (historical or contemporary) would you pardon with executive power?
  25. After the collapse of society, what is your chosen weapon?
  26. Who was (or would have been) America’s greatest president?
  27. What amendment would you add to the constitution?
  28. What burning cultural question of the day do you truly not give a shit about?
  29. If you could design a recreational drug, what would it do?
  30. What is the worst decision you ever made?
  31. What is the best decision you ever made?
  32. Who has paid the highest cost for your success?
  33. What profession would have been perfect for you?
  34. What do you believe to be true without evidence?
  35. What is the least redeemable sin?
  36. What is the greatest possible virtue?

We Built This Foot Up Your Ass

Assorted wiseacres on the Internet are mentioning a recent article at GQ.com telling the history of Starship’s “We Built This City,” ostensibly the most detested song in human history.

Friends, WBTC isn’t even the worst song from 1985. It’s not even the worst number one song from 1985. Take it from me: I was there.

Starship was an admittedly bizarre Frankenstein creation from the corpses of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship headlined by a Grace Slick who was surprised to have survived into the 80s. They released WBTC into the world on August 1, 1985.

In 1985, I was twelve and looked like this:

xmaspc2

Now, let’s leap into the Wayback Machine and see what else was cooking on the Billboard Hot 100 number one singles that year, shall we? Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” owned the month of January as it rightly should. “Careless Whisper” by Wham! at least brought us the suspendered saxophone man, so that’s acceptable. The week of May 18, we had “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds, unquestionably a great song. “The Power of Love,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Take On Me”…that’s not a bad year. I’ve always disliked “Money for Nothing” and “Broken Wings,” but hey, I’ve heard worse since.

And there’s “We Built This City” for the weeks of November 16 and 23. Though I don’t want it played at my funeral or anything, I’ve always enjoyed WBTC somewhat mindlessly. It’s on my playlist for running even now, among a lot of other songs you hipsters would hate.

But lurking in the top singles of 1985 is the true worst song of that and every other year, the egregious insult to music for which we will all answer when alien invaders lay waste to our planet. The song, of course, is “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, and it makes “We Built This City” sound like “Hey, Jude.”

Here it is for your listening and viewing enjoyment.

Listen carefully to that. Let it seep into your ganglia. Imagine someone trying to pick you up in a bar or lure you into his wolf-painted van by saying, “I want to know what love is and I think you can show me.” You would punch that person and never stop even when the police came to cheer you on.

I completely understand that it’s jarring to see the psychedelic Jefferson Airplane seem to sell out for a quick buck in the 80s. But let’s not forget that Grace Slick clearing her throat in a recording booth is still a thousand times better than half the poor assholes who actually meant their music. Grace Slick ordering a Happy Meal in a rickety McDonald’s drive-thru box is better than the entire Hall and Oates catalog. Grace Slick howling from stubbing her toe on a coffee table is better than “Sussudio” or “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or “Red Red Wine.”

“Old Time Rock and Roll”? “Stuck with You”? “Walk the Dinosaur”? For fuck’s sake, there’s a lyric in Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” that says, “I’ve seen a million faces and I’ve rocked them all.”

Bon Jovi rocked FACES in the 1980s.

If you think that “We Built This City” is the worst song of even the 80s, you either weren’t there or too hopped up on Pixy Stix to remember it.

A Real Pick-Me-Up

Someone I care about has recently been reminded that at the core, most human beings are one perceived deprivation away from crushing the skulls of anyone in their way. If you’ve been to the grocery store before a hurricane or stuck at a malfunctioning traffic light, you know this is true.

It would actually be a relief if there was evil, if perhaps something icy and conniving could creep into our spirits and make us do horrible things. Then we could call it a sickness, a syndrome, some kind of awful infliction like locusts or a storm.

But what I’ve seen throughout my life is that assholery is always the same simple equation:

A = Deprivation (real or perceived) + Opportunity + Rationalization * Mob Think

I write horror, so lots of people ask me what scares me. Here’s what scares me:

All of our belief, all of our conscience, all of our intellect can be subsumed by the ancient callings of our beastly hearts if it means even the slightest improvement to our safety or group status. When it happens, we are masters at rationalizing it as justice.

And worst of all, it’s likely to be either by accident or exigency. Much of the time we don’t even “mean” it. (I know I haven’t when I’ve been the malfeasor.)

Cosmic horror? We should be so lucky to have an uncaring and ambivalent evil like Cthulhu instead of the flailing want-monsters all around us every day.

I don’t hate people (truly). I don’t call cataclysm upon us all. I just wish people were more…attentive? Perceptive? Careful? Contemplative? I don’t know.  

I wish I could hand out little business cards that say, “Really? Is this what you’re doing with 200,000 years of consciousness?”  

How We Went Off to College in 1991

Twenty-five years ago today, I embarked on my  journey to Gainesville to start school at UF. By an interesting coincidence, my niece Katie is starting her OWN college career at UF this fall, and I’m sure my sister will take the same pictures of her in the dorms that she took of me.

It's a desk, it's a closet, it's a bed, all in one!

It’s a desk, it’s a closet, it’s a bed, all in one!

I arrived with a milk crate and maybe two boxes filled with the following:

  • The CD boom box you see here.
  • The CDs behind me, heavy in U2 and Guns N’ Roses but speckled with Journey and REO Speedwagon.
  • A giant box of 5.25” disks for my portable/luggable SX-64.
  • A thin quilt.
  • A towel.
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush.
  • A couple of portfolios to write and take notes in.
  • Some clothes, including my fancy Hypercolor t-shirt that changed color when you touched it, as was the style at the time.

Karen, realizing I was an idiot, took me out to buy a dorm refrigerator, a toaster, some eating utensils, sheets for the bed, and some food. If I’d chosen to go to any other school, I’d probably have died.

(Insanely, I only applied to UF because, what, they wouldn’t take me?)

It’s hard to overstate how staggeringly dumb I was at eighteen going to school, a weird mixture of feeling divinely destined to do great things but also completely ignorant of how to actually function in the world. My total savings for college from high school jobs was $150. My plan was to get an English degree, get famous from writing, and then run for President of the United States some day.

(Which, to be fair, is shockingly plausible in this election year.)

What I needed was advice from someone I believed. Karen was as helpful as a sister could be, and so was her husband Marty, but they weren’t privy to just how deranged I was.

So here’s my advice to myself back then. Maybe there’s something here for you if you or a loved one is going to school this fall, too.  

  • English, really? You’re going to take ten courses for the major and enjoy the reading for only three of them: Intro to Science Fiction, Poe, and Major Critics. There’s a reason we have to assign this shit so it doesn’t get forgotten.
  • It’s going to take about half a decade to recover from the turgid kind of writing you learn to do analyzing dead fiction.
  • You’re going to feel inspired and happy with both the lectures and reading for your History of Journalism class. Follow that feeling.
  • Take some classes in public relations and marketing. You might be surprised. It’s like making up hoaxes for money!
  • Man up and put yourself in the way of actually writing stuff. Take writing classes. Submit short stories. Don’t chicken out when The Alligator agrees to publish an op-ed and all you have to do is go down to the office and give it to them on a disk.
  • Basically all you have is a weak talent for saying and writing weird things in surprising ways, and all that crap about programming and law school and psychology is a blind alley.
  • No, you aren’t crazy. Those weird emotional fight-or-flight explosions are panic attacks. Go tell a doctor about them. In the meantime, lay off the caffeine because it’s basically liquid anxiety.
  • You’re going to discover a book called The Outsider and Others one night in Library West and it’ll be awesome, but for God’s sake, don’t write like that.
  • The moped is fucking ridiculous and it breaks down all the time because it’s made by angry Yugoslavian communists. Just keep the bike.
  • It turns out that you learn mostly by creating outlines of what you read and hear in your own words.
  • It’s probably a good idea to shut the hell up about politics for the next few years because you really don’t know what you’re talking about. In fact, keep that up the rest of your life.
  • Don’t install Doom or Wolfenstein when you get that 486 PC. You’ve finally shaken the video game habit.
  • That girl you’re in love with is a person, not a destiny.
  • There’s a lot more I can tell you, but it all basically boils down to lighten up, for Christ’s sake. Swear more. Use more contractions. Use fewer participial phrases. Read more Stephen King. Don’t be so pissy about noise and football crowds. History isn’t watching.   
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