For someone who says a lot, I don’t talk much

It was April 1997 and a friend of mine approached me on the campus quad. She was a classmate from my poetry class, and as it happened also the editor of the campus literary magazine which I had been accepted into with a short story of mine. It was my second published story. It probably ran about 1200 words. I don’t remember. Anyway, Dana had caught me on my way to work and we chatted for a bit. The April clouds were rolling up in that dark, ambiguous way when you aren’t sure if the fickle gods of Colorado weather are going to deliver you rain or a blizzard.

“Are you coming to the release party tonight?” she asked.

“I didn’t know that was tonight.”

“You need to be there. Please come.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll think about it,” which meant no.

“No, you have to come!” she said.

When I got home that night, the place was its usual level of being trashed. One roomate in his boxers, slung out across the couch watching TV. The other two making something for dinner for the three of them. Another night of dealing with their bullshit. And me being the odd man out. So I decided to go.

When I got to the release party at the University Center, they had a whole spread going on. The event was catered. There were at least 200 people there. Professors. Students. Rows of chairs were set up in front of a podium. Stacks of the literary magazine were being handed out. I ran into Dana and she gave me a hug. “I’m glad you came! Congratulations!”

“For what?” I asked.

“You’ll see. I’m just glad you came.”

Ten minutes later, everyone sat down and listened to our editor in chief talk about the success of the literary magazine. Then she announced the winners of the the categories of Best in Poetry, Best Non-fiction, and Best in Fiction.” I was the winner of the Best in Fiction category. I was asked to read my story in front of the crowd.

In the beginning, I was choked up, I stammered over words, I laughed nervously. The last couple months had been rough. I had just gone through a breakup with my first girlfriend, and now my relationship with my roomates/bandmates was beginning to unravel. We had all known each other since early Elementary school yet somehow things were coming to an end. We had heated arguments. I had already secured a place to move into at the beginning of the next month and hadn’t told them yet. My intention was to just move out all of my shit in the middle of the day when they were all at class or work. They had found out a couple days before. They didn’t like how I stayed up til all hours of the night, writing, they didn’t like how I would sometimes disappear for a weekend and not tell anyone where I was going or when I would be back. In my opinion, as long as the rent checks kept clearing, what business of theirs was it? My self-confidence had taken some massive hits. I was set adrift. My support systems were changing. Those that I had considered my friends had been treating me like an outsider for a long time now.

As I read my story, the crowd was silent. Enthralled. They laughed at all the right parts. I got into reading it so much that I wasn’t sure if I should have read the entire story, but I did, and they listened. When I was done, they stood up and cheered and clapped. Jeez, I felt overwhelmed by it. For months I had felt like nothing and now this…

Out of the deal, I got a certificate (Which I still have), a t-shirt featuring an original piece of art which was also the cover for the magazine (which I still have, though it is faded nearly white), and I got to be interviewed for the campus newspaper. Looking back now, I’m glad that I have continued to write, because even though it might have been the high water mark for literary fiction at the University of Northern Colorado in 1997, it was far from being the best thing I have ever written.

I was thinking about this memory for another reason today. Blogging is pretty much dead. Lately I have been creating more content, publishing almost daily, and my numbers still haven’t changed much for either blog. Part of me thinks I need to get back into podcasting, but I think that wave is already retreating back onto the the beach. The Netflix show “Only Murders in the Building” have latched onto podcasts as this hip thing that everyone is into, which just means that it’s already on the way out.

I think maybe if I get back into podcasting, I can make something of that. But here’s the thing. I don’t mind writing stories. I have been told I have a great voice for radio. And back in the mid-nineties, the movie Pump Up the Volume gave me aspirations at one time to get into radio. That was just before J-Corp and other conglomerates ruined music radio for all time. I’m glad I didn’t get into broadcasting then, for the same reasons I’m glad I wasn’t a journalism major just before HuffingtonPost trashed journalism.

I’ve been told I have a wonderful voice to listen to. I usually humor them. I don’t agree. I’ve always hated the sound of my own voice.

I just keep thinking about reading up in front of hundreds of people and how even then I hated it. When I write something, I have a voice that sounds fine as something to read, but the times I have tried to read it out loud and record for a podcast, it sounds stilted. It grates on my nerves. There isn’t the flow of conversation that I enjoy in podcasts I have listened to. It feels like a really shitty audiobook read by someone I’d rather not listen to for long. Or listening to a high-school play.

So, I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to try to get my content out there and read or seen. Magazines are full of flaky editors who are busy jumping from one place to the next instead of responding to query letters. Magazines pop up and fold. People seem to have no attention span to read anything longer than a few paragraphs, yet when I write blogs for companies, they tell me to create good SEO content, each post should be over 800 words. I think I’m just writing to AI algorithms at that point. Nobody is really reading it.

Nobody wants to read the 2000 word narrative about your Hungarian neighbor, they just want the goddamned recipe for goulash.

So, I continue to write, because that’s what I do. It’s what keeps me sane. The 20 or so readers that I have are important to me. Would I like that to be 20,000? Sure.

Anyway, I might put this on my podcast, Gasoline Shower Thoughts and see if it gets any kind of traction. Sometimes I think I’m just missing some crucial step and nobody is being exposed to my work. Maybe more people would like it. Maybe I could make some money off of it to continue to create content. But it always seems that there’s some other component to buy or plug in to install or little secret trick nobody is telling you about.

There are gatekeepers everywhere and it is frustrating. And my thoughts are of sitting alone in a room listening to the sound of my own voice, talking to nobody else. And that bugs the hell out of me. Sometimes it feels like success in this kind of thing is for other people.

But hell, look what happens sometimes when you just bother to show up.

Crash and Burn

Tonight I tried to record a podcast. One of the most difficult things about this process has got to be the absurd concept that right now I’m sitting there talking to myself for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve been trying to keep it to around 20 minutes, but seriously, the process is really goofy. At least when I’m writing something, I get to construct a narrative. I can go back, edit. I think in writing. I use pretty words. When you are just talking to yourself in a quiet room, you have a moment of “What the fuck am I doing?”

I have no idea. I don’t even really know where I want to go with this whole thing. It’s not like I have the resource of knowing a lot of interesting people to chat with either, well, not many who live around here anyway. So, for now, it’s me, boring the paint off the walls with my goddamned monotone voice. The voice that a friend of my used to call my “pediatrician voice.” She said it was soothing and very wise sounding. Really, I find it annoying. Boring. Fuck.

I attempted two recordings tonight. I was trying to talk about graduation, but with all the ums and uhs and getting lost in the weeds, I just couldn’t do it. I scrapped it tonight. Crash and burn. So, I’m going to write about what I was going to ramble on about in the same dulcet tones that I would be explaining to a seven year old why it is important that they don’t put their fingers in their mouth.

Friday was my last official day at the university. I have worked there for the last 18 years, but I was also a student there for four years and worked just down the hall from where I have been for the last 13 years. I didn’t get very far, did I? Tonight I took a walk around campus to reminisce about where I have spent the majority of my adult life. Other than a year in Aurora, selling Big Mouth Billy Bass fish and a year in Laramie Wyoming trying to not starve to death, I have been in this town. Other than a few months, I have worked at the University. Academia has been a significant part of my experience. Not only as a student, but later behind the scenes, seeing how the sausage is made.

I have a lot of memories of that place. From the day that I went to pick up a girl I was dating for her weekend furlough from Frontiers of Science to go to Renaissance Festival to last Thursday when I carried in the box containing my computer and some other office equipment for my unceremonious layoff. That day of seeing that young lady sitting underneath a dogwood tree behind Belford Hall in a summer dress was a kinder memory than people trying to pretend they were sorry to see you go from behind the protection of N95 masks, maintaining appropriate social distancing. I would take that day in June a hundred times over any second of last Thursday.

Graduation in the years between became a day you could scope our really cute shoes the graduating girls were wearing, and make bets with the other volunteers as to who was going to collapse from being drunk during the ceremony. It was also a day to say last goodbyes to some of the students who would pop into your life for that brief window. I wish them all well, but I doubt any of the hundreds of people I have met and known over the last 20+ years think of me ever. Most of them, I can barely remember their names.

The ceremony. Ceremonies are important. This is Graduation weekend for many students after all. In a way, I think graduation is a stupid thing. It’s a lot of sitting on bleachers or folding chairs, listening to Important People blather on. Sometimes a noted speaker will jabber about why they are important, and why this moment is so crucial to your development as a young person. But we need the ceremony.

Okay, so I lied. Writing this, I got inspired, so I wrote a graduation speech and recorded it as a podcast. Here’s the link. I’m still working out the kinks with the new computer, so the sound might be a little wonky. It’s a work in progress. But hey, I didn’t completely fail. I posted a podcast, which is one of the things I’ve been wanting to do this week.

I walked around campus thinking about a hundred different stories. The way people have touched my life, for better or for worse. I’m soured by the experience of working there and being unceremoniously laid off. The exit interview was a lot of “I don’t know the answer to that question, call so-and-so and she can tell you!” Thanks. That’s great.

I dropped off my shit and left on Thursday. I’ve been walking the campus grounds for exercise. It’s a safe place to walk. Lots of students out not obeying the shelter-in-place or whatever the hell it is these days. I see a lot of people on walks. Clusters of roommates and friends spending time together. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one without a tribe. I’m the only living boy in New York so to speak. They say no man is an island, but there are times I wonder if that is even true.

There are days that I think about the day that my son moves out, a grown man and ready to take on the world. I’ve often joked with him that I will pack up my things and move and not tell anyone where I have gone. I will start over. He has made me promise to tell him where I have gone, and I will. He wants his kids to know their grandfather and the kind of man that he is. Today, this man is tired. He’s had the metaphysical shit kicked out of him for the last couple months and he could use a little disappearing right now.

Today wasn’t a loss. It was a challenge, just like every other day from here on out.