Perhaps Living a Little TOO Deliberately

Earlier this week, I crossed a threshold: after keeping a daily log of my activities consistently since June of 2001 and filling in others from calendars and journals, I logged my 9,075th day. Of those, 9,011 are in my lifetime out of 17,924 days alive.

That’s 50.3%…a majority of my life.

I’m not sure what kind of achievement that really is, though I’m astonished I’ve managed to write 1.5 million words. Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is only 1.27 million words. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson weighs in at a mere 943,000 words. And the King James Bible is comparatively a haiku at 783,137 words.

(This guy has a journal that is 35 million words, but he works on it four hours a day and documents his bowel movements. Mine is a little more reader-friendly.)

I suspect you have questions.

Why would someone write a daily journal like this in addition to 50+ narrative notebooks and a log of 1,975 dreams?

To avoid writing anything important or saleable is my best guess.

No, really. Why did the idea come to you?

Hey, at least I’m not mooching off Emerson like ol’ Henry here.

When I started the log, I was having a hard time adjusting after college to working a normal job, and I felt that I was losing my days to endless emails and meetings and project plans instead of living the life of adventure I assumed was my destiny.

I began the log hoping that, like Thoreau, I would “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I decided that I wanted to pay closer attention to how I spent my days in the hopes that I would spend them better.

And have you spent them better?

Almost certainly not. I suspect I may have accidentally documented a Gen-Xer’s desperate search for significance with as little effort as possible in the fading years of our American civilization.

Some college’s American History department will be very pleased to take this journal off Aimee’s hands when I die, and the Psychology department next door will be even happier to correlate it with the dream journal to find out what was wrong with me.

Some poor grad student will read it and think, “Man, this is like Willy Loman documenting his own decline to nothingness.”

What are the technical specifications of the log?

It’s in XML, essentially a text file marked with tags for data about each day (the month, the day, the year, and what happened).

When I enter each day into the log, I open log.xml in a code editor (Visual Studio Code these days because other text editors can’t open a file that large), copy a previous entry so I don’t have to retype the tags, and then I update it for the day’s events.

When I want to display the file, I use an XSL stylesheet that can either display a chronological listing or all of the entries with the same month and day (so I can know what happened on this day in my personal history).

How accurate is the log?

For events before I began consistently entering data, I have compiled events and their dates from a variety of sources: journals, genealogical information, newspapers, emails, blog posts, correspondence, postcards, photographs, and legal records.

Also, my mother filled out her calendar with the events of the day, which was handy for research.

(And also the reminder, I guess, that I have a good deal in common with her.)

Have there been any benefits to keeping a daily log?

A few:

  • It’s been handy to do a search by today’s date to see patterns in my life (creative surges in summer and fall, depression in the late winter, that kind of thing).
  • It used to impress the hell out of my government jobs when they needed data for clearance checks.
  • It actually does give me a moment to consider how I’ve spent my day and imagine ways to spend the next one better.
  • It’s great for reminding people of weird things we’ve done together, such as when my friend Tom commented out of nowhere from the backseat of my car on July 21, 2000, that the most humiliating thing you could do to a defeated opponent is shit on their back.
  • It’s also handy for documenting things that cause bad outcomes (such as foods or medications that make me sick).

What patterns have you seen?

Word count analysis shows some interesting things.

  • The single most mentioned person is Aimee, with 9,261 mentions.
  • There are 10,938 mentions of read and 2,027 of “read and nap.”
  • There are 2,261 appearances of “LOTRO,” which is the game Lord of the Rings Online.
  • Luckily, there are 3,087 of “write” and 2,699 of “writing.”

I lead a surprisingly (and sometimes disappointingly) simple life of writing, napping, reading, playing games, tinkering with electronics or Legos, and running.

Is there a downside to keeping that log?

Probably the most disappointing aspect of the log is how boring it is to read. Yes, I do make some snide editorial comments here and there, but for the most part, it’s a reference of what happened. For narrative and insight, I write in a normal journal (though not daily).

It’s hard not to wonder if the very act of documenting each day has made them less likely to be interesting. If I was living a truly adventuresome life, I wouldn’t have time to document my own shit. That’d be up to historians.

What will be the fate of the log, do you think?

Well, I’ll keep writing it, I suppose, though I’m considering doing so in slightly less daily detail. There are 4,374 mentions of “retire to bed and read,” my nightly ritual, which I think can now be taken for granted.

I’ve always thought that if I’m not remembered for the quality of my work, I can at least be remembered for the weird novelty of it. It’s best to hear, “Holy shit, HOW did he do that?”, but I’m okay with, “Holy shit, WHY did he do that?”

I suppose the big question for me is whether there’s still time to make the rest of that journal more interesting than the first half. I hope so.

A Summer Reading List

I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that summer is my favorite season, but it’s certainly the one when my body and mind expect to spend their days writing, walking in the woods, napping, and reading during afternoon thunderstorms.

Thanks to some poor financial decisions on my part (chief among them not being born into inherited wealth), I won’t get to spend my summer that way for at least another twenty years.

So in the meantime, I have a few go-to books for my summer reading that somehow remind me of a lazier time of year. Some of them take place during the summer, and others I simply read for the first time during one many years ago.

In case you also want to go on a mental summer vacation, here they are.

“The Body,” by Stephen King (from Different Seasons)

This is one of my favorite novellas of all time, and it takes place over a Labor Day weekend. I’m not sure if I first read it over a summer, but it definitely resembled most of the ones I lived: going on reckless adventures with friends as a way to court danger and learn who we were. I did that by breaking into abandoned schools and climbing onto roofs and skulking around in the middle of the night, but if there had been a body to go see, rest assured we’d have gone looking for it.

Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart

If there’s such a thing as a cozy apocalypse novel, this is one. When the human race is decimated by a plague, grad student Isherwood Williams ends up being one of the smartest of a small group of survivors who slowly rebuild a new and better society while the remains of the old one decay around them. Like the best science fiction, it’s a thought experiment in possibility.

You know you’ve got a good post apocalyptic book when you find yourself thinking, “Man, I’d love to loot a library just like that.”

Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke will never be confused with a great prose stylist, but he manages to convey awe and strangeness with a pleasant scientific precision. I first read this novel of transcendent first contact — the kind where aliens come and tell us of our greater galactic destiny — in a summer lit course in Science Fiction at the University of Florida.

After years of being a fan of science fiction, I’d set it aside to be a good English major focused on the classics. When I read this book, though, I literally cried to think of how much better it was at exciting my imagination than anything I’d been assigned in my major.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

During the summer of 1987 after my parents’ marriage had ended with far less violence than any of us expected, my mother and I took a vacation with a friend and her kids to Georgia and North Carolina. We did the usual touristy things like panning for (likely planted) gem stones at a “mine,” but what I remember most was the house where we stayed.

It was built on the side of a mountain beside a shallow creek. From the front, you could see miles of rolling green hills. From the large windows and porch on the back, you could gaze into the darkly inviting woods.

My friend Norman had suggested that I read The Hobbit, and that’s exactly what I did. To me, that forest in North Carolina is what Mirkwood looks like.

This Sweet Sickness/The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

I find it hard to choose between these books for a summer read. The Talented Mr. Ripley has the virtue of taking place mainly during the summer, but the protagonist of This Sweet Sickness lives a strange dream-like existence that sort of feels like one.

I read these for the first time in 2005 when I started having an inkling that something wasn’t quite right with the life I was living. These are both books about men with deeply delusional and neurotic misunderstandings of reality, and they scared me at the time more than most horror.

I’m all better now.

Chris and the Kobayashi Maru

Six weeks ago, a friend who hadn’t spoken to me in twenty-five years killed himself.

I’m not sure Chris would want me to call him a friend these days, but for a decade of our lives from middle school to graduate school, we were brothers of the brain like gunslingers are brothers of the gun, both a little trigger-happy to show off our talents to each other and everybody else.

Back when it was fashionable to do so, we were told that we were “gifted” and placed in a class in middle school for kids like us to…do gifted things. It had a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibe, sort of loose but institutional, with all I remember of its organized curriculum being that we watched Twelve Angry Men and The Caine Mutiny to debate their moral questions.

This is what your anesthesiologist wrote in my eighth-grade yearbook.

What I remember more vividly is that this one guy had nothing but scorn and mockery for me from the moment I joined the class, and I only found out later the cause: our teacher had told him that I’d scored higher on the qualifying IQ test than he had.

(No, I have no idea why an adult would tell a thirteen-year-old that someone else was smarter than he was. At the most charitable, I can imagine she might have been trying to “humble” him in some way because he, like me, didn’t always show much patience for people who weren’t interesting.)

From the start, Chris seemed eager to prove that his kind of smart (logical and reasonable and scientific) was more valuable than my kind of smart (creative and intuitive and humanistic). I wasn’t quite as invested in that battle as he was, but when he made fun of my weirdness (writing stories about ghosts, playing D&D), I was just as quick to make fun of his (dressing like Alex P. Keaton, having the politics of a fifty-year-old).   

Unfortunately for him, I’d been trained by my father to befriend smart people who were mean to me, and I just steadfastly refused to be dismissed. Over time, we discovered some interests in common (computers, Star Trek, and science-y mayhem) and realized that we were probably the two people in town most likely to understand (and put up with) each other’s shit.    

Chris played football and thought I’d be a good running back. I was too busy being “wierd,” though.

So we became friends, sometimes even best friends, and an odd thing started to happen: we each drifted a little closer to the other’s brand of smart. Chris read more literature and I read more science. I persuaded him to try role-playing games (Star Trek only, because it was the least fantastical), and he persuaded me to experiment with radio scanners and chemistry.

When I crack an arcane scientific joke even today, I’m channeling a little of Chris.

It worked, I think, because we had different ambitions. I was never going to be a doctor (as he later became), and he was never going to be a writer (as I later became). I sometimes helped him write stories for school, and he was always a great scientific advisor on guns, chemicals, poisons, and a lot of other things that should probably have put him on a watch list.

Together we got into the kind of dumb mischief that only occurs to people who know more about theory than practice. Our motto was, “Well, why wouldn’t that work?” only to discover exactly why, usually with injury and/or destruction of property. We distilled something in Chemistry class that made the teacher say, “You know, I have to work in this room another twenty years.”

This is prom in 1990, though it’s interesting that Chris was present for 100% of the times in my life that I’ve worn a tux

He got me my first job (with his father’s inventory company). We double-dated to the prom. We stole street signs together with our girlfriends’ names on them (both of which Orlando luckily had). He once bought me a gallon can of vanilla pudding because I always complained when restaurants only had banana. He introduced me to the movie Heathers which he said had me written all over it, and I introduced him to The Planiverse. He was the best man at my wedding (which didn’t work out), and I was the best man at his (which did).

His childhood was as harrowing as mine, though in different ways. He had a streak of romantic chivalry toward women that, like mine back then, bordered on co-dependency. He could, like me, be impatient and mean when people weren’t using their brains in a way he respected.

(He did not agree, though, that Norman was a genius because to him, genius implied useful application. He was also not a fan of David Lynch or Monty Python for similar reasons.)  

I’m not sure Chris liked being the intellectual counterpoint to Norman.

I have no idea what to call our relationship between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five, but we definitely put up with more from each other than I have since from others in my life. Maybe we really were brothers of a kind, stuck together by virtue of similar talents and interests and traumas, able (at least back then) to take it for granted that we’d circle back into each other’s lives.

This is a terrible and selfish remembrance, isn’t it, all about his intersection with me?

The truth is that I can’t really tell you what he was like more recently as a friend or a husband or a doctor or a father of five when he died. I’m guessing he was still a Christian and a conservative and a rationalist, and I doubt he did much stealing of street signs these days without my lawless influence.

What I can tell you is that even when we weren’t friends or didn’t agree, when he thought I was crazy or irrational, he was still a powerful force in my life reminding me to do something more interesting with my talents.

I have no idea (and now never will) if I had any positive influence on him.

A quarter century ago, I cracked a bad joke at a bad time with no harmful intent beyond poking fun at an uncomfortable situation. It created a lot of problems between him and his wife, and my impending divorce almost became theirs. I always assumed we’d somehow run into each other again and I’d say, “Holy shit, am I sorry about that. I was basically out of my mind, but I’m better now. Are you? Awesome.”

Our last picture together, probably making fun of someone.

That can’t happen anymore.

I’m not sure why he ended his life at the time he did in the way he did, but I know he had a vivid memory and a tendency to chase theory off a cliff. His mental theater could play the good things that should have happened and the terrible ones that did in high definition over and over.

Which is another thing we had in common. Maybe storytelling, venting those memories, is what saves me. Or maybe it’s just medication and luck.

I wish I could have told him, “As someone who pauses brains during surgery for a living, you of all people know that you are more than your firing neurons and you don’t deserve the movies they show you. Tell them to fuck off. People will miss you when you go.”

That’s as logical as I get, old friend.

P.J. O’Rourke

“She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

P.J. O’Rourke on reluctantly backing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump

During my first semester of college, I took a course called History of Journalism with a wonderful professor named William McKeen. It was an inspiring and entertaining tour through Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, I.F. Stone, Seymour Hersh, Studs Terkel, Woodward and Bernstein, Hunter S. Thompson, and many more.

The class was so good that I almost became a journalist until Professor McKeen pointed out that the future would be all USA Today infotainment, a prescient notion in 1991.  

Like most recently post-adolescent young men, Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo aghast-witness-to-society’s-collapse schtick appealed to me strongly. I could imagine writing riotous features about myself witnessing the inanity of our culture: “It’s Will…at a gun show!” “It’s Will…at the Cabbage Patch Doll headquarters!” “It’s Will…at the ruins of the Manson family’s ranch!”  

The trouble was that I wasn’t cool enough to be Hunter S. Thompson. I didn’t drink or do drugs, I was nervous approaching people, and I couldn’t often summon the energy to be manic like he was.

What I needed was a nerdier, more introspective yet still hilarious journalistic idol, so Professor McKeen suggested I might dig P.J. O’Rourke.

I started with his book Holidays in Hell (excellent) and went on to Republican Party Reptile (meh) and then Parliament of Whores (probably his best), and I’ve followed him on and off ever since. In recent years, he was sometimes as stylistically conservative as he was philosophically, and some of his humor could feel a bit tepid, like an affable but exasperated dad.

But at his best, he wielded his satiric scalpel with precision and eloquence. He’s one of the main reasons I was a conservative in college: he made it feel dignified and reasonable to believe that applying government to our fleeting problems was like swatting a fly with a sheet of plywood.

(These days, I’m inclined to think that as clumsy as that sheet of plywood can be, some of our societal flies are big enough to need it.)

P.J. could cover a Communist revolution in some banana republic mostly from the bar, downing some scotch and smoking cigars and asking real people what they thought about the absurd situation. Maybe that’s as posed as Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo journalism, but it’s certainly more my temperament.

I’ve disagreed with much of what he’s written, especially later on, but he was always wrong within normal parameters…and usually entertaining and never hostile about it. To him, the culture war was less an all-out battle and more a slightly embarrassing brawl in a bar between the loudest blowhards.

I eventually drifted more toward fiction (partly because it seemed to have a clearer path of entry and partly because I can’t resist exaggerating and distilling the truth), but O’Rourke’s wry observational style still influences my work.

I’m grateful for that influence and I’ll miss him in the world.     

Postcard Story: Welcome Wagon

Hey, there! You don’t know me yet, but I’m Haylee. I just moved in with my husband Connor next door, and I’m doing a little goodwill tour around the neighborhood just to say “hi!” so…”Hi!” I’m a little surprised that no one came to see us yet, but I get it: we’re all busy this close to the holidays, and so many of you are working full time.

Your house is absolutely one of the ones that sold us on living here. We love the clapboards, the vintage windows, the little hanging lights from Target on your pergola out back…I admire the ambition! I saw online that you bought in for just $225,000 ten years ago, which was totally a steal, so good for you. I saw a few refinances, so I hope everything’s okay. If you ever want to talk about it over a mimosa, I’m always serving!

Something you should probably know about me is that I’ve got a gift. Not the house – well, that was kind of a combination wedding and college graduation gift from my parents – but a certain talent, as some have said, for making the world better for my being in it. Like, I raise the standards of things around me. You know, so that they’re neater, cleaner, more dignified, more human.

I am so looking forward to helping everyone on this street raise their game. You don’t have as far to go as some of them, like those people over there with the moldy gnome statues imported from the year 1990. Ugh. My mother always said that wealth isn’t just a matter of money, and I guess they must have slunk in during the $200k days when you did.

She also used to say, “No one’s ever too poor to own a broom,” and that’s kinda my motto. I’ve got it stitched in a sampler over my rolltop correspondence desk.

Anyway, I see so much potential in you and your property. You don’t strike me as someone content to stay mediocre, or otherwise why would you have moved here like we did? The people who owned these houses fifty years ago deff weren’t mediocre, and I think you and I can bring a little of their spirit back.

Lawn parties, Halloween Trunk or Treats, Christmas wassailing, ladies in sundresses and men in ties, drinking Manhattans from little metal trays…I see the gears turning in your head too.  

The color of your place is so close to nice, and I can’t wait to take you with me to the Sherwin Williams store to match a new palette with what Connor and I have picked out. We’ve also found a great guy to resod your yard at the same time as ours. We’ll split out the cost through Venmo when the time comes.

Do you have a church home nearby? Am I allowed to even ask that these days with the elites listening to us through Facebook? Ha! I might as well ask your original gender and your race.

Oh, no, I’m not expecting you to tell me. I have a good feeling about you anyway.

Well, I won’t keep you any longer – I see your dog has eaten whatever sandwich you fixed for lunch, so it must have been good! – but I just wanted to let you know that of all the people on this street, I already feel like you’re kind of a sister to me. That’s one of my gifts, too, drawing good souls closer and scaring the dark ones back into messy old Hell where they eat ethnic foods for all eternity like trailer dwellers.

Oh, hey, I wanted to ask about that feral cat that’s been sniffing around our houses. I went ahead and got a trap from the humane society because the bells on his collar were too rusty for someone to still love him. Has he always been here? He seemed pretty comfortable.   

Well, anyway, keep an eye out for an invitation to the “Welcome to Our Neighborhood” soiree that we’re throwing. The dress code will be inside.

If you ever need anything, just wave through your kitchen window to mine!

Postcard Story: Home Economics

Image courtesy of Shorpy.com.

Why, come on in! No problem at all. Kick the dust of your boots first, though, if you please.

This is it, the ol’ homestead. Built ‘er from plans out of the Sears catalog, and I milled the boards myself instead of buying the kit like some kind of effeminate city dweller. You can’t trust those kits, anyhow, because they’re not all made from true American timber. Some of that gets shipped down from Canada or up from those savage islands, and you can’t never get them spirits out.

You like that bear, huh? I do all my own taxidermy, just like I do all my own hunting. That’s not one of the bigger bears I’ve gotten, but he was wily in a way that some might call preternatural. I found a revolver back in his den. How about that for a kick in the seat? Was it his? Did he find it? I guess I’ll never know now.

Oh, we ain’t bothering Minnie. Deaf as a post, or so I hope. I guess you could say I built her too, though not from plans out of the Sears catalog. Met her back at the church, courted her a few Sundays, and then asked her father for her hand in marriage. One thing led to another and we had a good year, year and a half before she died.

What, you think she just moves real slow?

No, friend, she’s almost as dead as that bear, except for the dreams she still gives me. I sewed her back together after that bear got her, built her a nice new skeleton out of good Douglass Fir, and sometimes I can position her around if I get a mind to. Mostly I don’t because it’s just as good to talk to her from my chair with her working on that sewing project.

A lot of people say that, but that’s just a, what do you call it, optical illusion. Your brain jelly wants her to move so it pretends she does. At most she’ll sway a little at night if the windows are open, or a little more when I’m carrying her upstairs.

Does she smell? What kind of question is that to ask in front of a lady? Of course she doesn’t smell. She doesn’t do anything.

As you can see, your boy ain’t here. I reckon he’s just run off to the woods like they do, but if you wait here while I get my hat and rifle, I’ll come help you find him.

Necronomicon, September 24 – 26!

I’m attending my first in-person convention in nearly two years, and of course it’s my sentimental favorite Necronomicon in Tampa, Florida from September 24th to the 26th at the Embassy Suites USF.

Or, as the brilliant journalists at Bay News 9 would have you call it, “Necro-COMIC-con.”

I’ll be busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest for this one:

  • Friday, 4pm: Ghastly Ghosts (which I’m guessing is about ghosts real and fictional)
  • Friday, 8pm: You Shouldn’t Be a Writer If… (which is great advice if you just leave off the “if…” part)
  • Friday, 9pm: How to Be a Bad Writer (which I’m trying not to take personally that I’m seen as an expert on this subject)
  • Saturday, 12pm: Norse Mythology in Fiction (for which I’m relying on my subconscious Norwegian cultural knowledge)
  • Saturday, 4pm: Science and True Crime (which is right up my alley)
  • Sunday, 11am: Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (which is their own version of the NPR news quiz game show)
  • Sunday, 1pm: Lighter Side of the Pandemic (which is a tall order, even for me)

You might be wondering, “What about the pandemic?” There is a mask policy at the convention, required in all public spaces and during the panel discussions. Also, the traditional face-licking greeting has been suspended for this year only.

Stop on by!

Decoded: 1977 Devil’s Tower Incident

Hello! Glad you could make it out tonight after deciphering the simplest invitation we could lower ourselves to imagine.

While our scientists teach you a “basic tonal vocabulary,” we’re sending a real message encoded on this frequency that will probably take you half a century to noodle out.

First, thanks for loaning us these humans for our longitudinal qualitative study of your species. Sorry and no hard feelings for any scare or inconvenience we caused.

Truth be told, many of them were tedious guests, turning away from our tour of a sublime and wondrous universe on the viewscreen to ask if we had any “snacks” or where they could “get laid.” The little girl was okay, and this recent little boy, and it goes without saying that the dog was the best of the lot, a very good boy.

All this leads to our second message, which is that your planet is fucked.

If we thought you could understand our raw findings, we’d share them with you, but suffice to say that we’ve observed staggering assholery of both the accidental (greed, self-interest, delusion, ignorance) and purposeful (murder, rape, war, intolerance, exploitation) kinds during our study. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for you to tell them apart because the purposeful assholery is causing the accidental.

You have weeds in your garden, but they look exactly like the crops.

Not that you’d notice, because you’re terrible stewards of that garden. But you know that and don’t care, which is why we’re coming back in half a century to pick up your bauxite from what we assume will be a smoldering cinder.

So try not to fuck up the bauxite, at least.

We’d hoped to pick up a small group of your most perceptive souls by summoning them with dreams and visions, but the rest of you blocked them from coming.

Which is so much the story of humanity that we should have predicted it.

We’re left with this one guy, though his eagerness to ditch his family gives us pause. He’ll serve as a good enough representative sample to preserve the memory of your species.

Well, it’s getting late and there’s only so long we can dazzle you with flashing lights and music before you get bored and start shooting us.

Best of luck, and remember to save us some bauxite.   

Might as Well Write

Not long ago, a friend of mind pointed out that I seem to enjoy giving advice to smart and/or creative people who need an emotional nudge toward feeling better about doing the things they love. I did a little digging, and maybe he’s right:

I also enjoyed helping student writers when I taught, offering my idiosyncratic advice on how to actually write, sure, but also on how to be the kind of person who can at least endure and maybe even thrive in a creative life.

So I decided to create a new blog called Might As Well Write where, like Cheryl Strayed in her Dear Sugar columns, I accept questions from creative people on subjects ranging from day jobs to detail and answer them with the homespun country wisdom I learned at my pappy’s knee.

Or at least the wisdom I learned by wringing tepid success from a lifetime of possibility.

The title comes from the idea that many creative people seem to have about whether it’s “worth” writing, whether all the time is justified by fame or sales or appreciation. I used to wonder that, too, until I eventually confessed a simple truth to myself:

What the hell else am I doing? Is writing for ninety minutes a night taking time away from drilling clean wells in Bangladesh? Of course not. I might as well write, tinkering and fishing my way to a readers perhaps one at a time.

So Might As Well Write isn’t a blog about finding instant fame or going viral. It isn’t about eleven sure-fire story structures that jack directly into our primitive brains. It isn’t about

It’s about treating our creative selves well so that we can persist and grow little by little into people pursuing something like art.

So drop on by subscribe to the Twitter feed, and maybe even ask a question!

The Good Father

You know who I don’t talk about enough? This guy.

That’s Larry Hall, my stepfather. He married my mom after my parents divorced, and when I met him I thought he was a dreamy, irresponsible goofball completely unlike my father.

Luckily, I was right. Not so luckily, it took me awhile to appreciate that fact.

There were seriously some years in the late Eighties and early Nineties when it was legitimately questionable that I’d grow up to be a decent human being. (It might still be. Ha!) The most glaring model of masculinity so far in my life led me to confuse assholery with strength, and I’m sure there were times when Larry checked his watch and calendar for when I’d move the hell out for college…or prison.

Yet through all of that, he introduced me to the Middle Earth Role Playing game and typed my first serious story for submission to Hitchcock’s and watched the premiere episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation with me. More importantly, he made my mother safe and comfortable for the first time in a quarter century, and though I didn’t know it, he did the same for me.

Now, I’m not going to kid you into thinking you’d want to HIRE Larry to work at your company or government agency or to guard your building as he did briefly later in life. He seemed to be often drawn to jobs that had cool accessories, like badges or one of those pointy bishop hats, but his priority was getting home to talk endlessly with my mother while smoking on the back porch, or to read and nap afterward.

He was kind of a hedonist that way, though an inexpensive one. Which worked out well because they were almost always broke in the way society measures wealth.

He and my mother and younger brother Andrew went through some terrible times financially because, alas, the world doesn’t know what to do with people who work to live instead of the other way around. Yet even through their deprivation (and believe me, it was fucked up), they had this weird fatalistic cheerfulness that said, “Life is totally shit just beyond the glow of our flashlights, but at least we have those.”

When he met my mother while they both worked at a social service agency, he told her he was gay. She reported this to me with whispered drama before he came to visit the first time, like we should hide our most fabulous glitter from him. And yes, he had a gentle voice most of the time and liked fragrances and was better at dancing than any of us.

He might have told her he was gay to avoid the risk of romantic entanglement before he was ready, or maybe he was bisexual. It doesn’t really matter.

He later married Mother, which made him at least a Dianne-a-sexual, and that worked out just fine for both of them.

The last thing any of us needed was a capital-M Man, at least as they usually assert themselves in the world. Larry balanced the masculine and feminine with a wide streak of empathy and perceptiveness that men are encouraged to extinguish.

The most masculine thing I ever saw Larry do was rush out with a gun to investigate an intruder, though unfortunately it was a tiny pearl-handled .22 that might have been better kept in a garter belt than a holster. But let me tell you, he carried that thing outside into the darkness like a New York City cop to protect us, so again…the balance.

I don’t know how he’d feel about me telling these stories about him. I hope he wouldn’t be embarrassed because I’m not making fun of him at all. These are the stories of a hero.

Before he died, Larry said he was proud of the man I’d become, perhaps with the unspoken clause of that sentence being “…despite all the signs.” That meant more to me than any praise I could have gotten from the guy on my birth certificate because Larry knew manhood, all of it, and his path wasn’t narrow.

The night before he married my mother, there was a small bachelor party with his best man, my brother-in-law, and teenaged me. Marty had to drive him home because he’d gotten a little tipsy, and he had to ask whether to turn off at an exit or not.

“Go forward,” Larry slurred. “Never straight.”

That’s manhood. That’s fatherhood. And I wish I could tell him I know that because of him.