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.

Revelations

I hit a moment today when I wanted to post some kind of picture to Instagram. Because that’s what all the cool kids are doing these days. With the lockdown I haven’t been many places. My house. Writing. Coffee. I go on walks with my son. Tonight he was a little high maintenance, but he’s going back to his mom’s.

Last night I had some great ideas for the university book which humanizes it a little bit more. It becomes a comedy of sorts, rather than a rant about being discarded after 18 years in one job. This afternoon I used my machete to quarter up a large limb that had fallen in a windstorm yesterday. My hands are covered in blisters, but talk about a big difference from a few years ago. I didn’t get winded. My hands were just too soft and the handle of the machete wore through my skin pretty quickly. My arms are strong. My heart is stronger than maybe ever. I just kept chopping away until it was done.

Ten years ago, I did the same thing, only I had an axe and a saw and it took me an entire afternoon. I was lying in the yard, trying not to black out then. Overweight. Unhappy. Sick even. Today, the work was honest. My son stacked up the cut branches and I laid out the wood to dry for our next fire.

Last year right about now, I wrote two pieces on what makes you desirable to the opposite sex. It was a pair of fun, introspective pieces inspired by my blogging friend, Michelle. She is no stranger to matters of the heart herself. There are a lot of us out there–though our numbers are diminishing. Maybe we are all too stubborn or crazy to keep this up. Talking with my friend K today, we came up a list that pretty much covers everything for men and women.

  1. Listen to each other–be heard. Be seen.
  2. Respect each other–each of you is a person
  3. Be kind and show some compassion.
  4. Do what you say you are going to do
  5. Don’t be lazy

It’s just about that simple.

As I was seaching through pics to post on social media, because I figure why the hell not. Our society is coming apart at the seams. The world is turning upside down. I’ve been polishing brass on the Titanic for a while, so why not?

There is that book about Love Languages everyone tells you to read. At the top of my list is time and physical touch. At the bottom of my list is gifts. I think a big reason for this is even now I struggle with seeing a lot of gifts and the people who gave them to me are gone. The gift has outlived the relationship. So now I have a bunch of stuff around the house to remind me of what I’ve lost every single day.

I’m not a fan of gifts. I would rather have experiences. At least they get to live on in my memories, as bittersweet as those might be. Even if you crossed paths with someone who meant the world to you, you know the reality of it is you would never be able to trust them again.

In my photos, I kept running into pictures of her. I kept getting those reminders of how things were. How amazing it all was. I wondered if she even thinks of me anymore, or even considers what any of it meant. Or how bad it hurt when she left. I used to ask her where she had been all my life, and she would say, “Making sad choices.” Well, I had hoped that was all past tense. But I think she stuck with what she knew.

I might have friends who are yelling at the screen right now, “Just move on!” Well, this isn’t your grief! If you don’t like it, don’t read any further! I’m tired of writing things in hopes that people will like it or agree with it. I’m not writing for you anymore!

I don’t do happy endings. LIFE isn’t expected to, so why the hell should I?

I’m not just grieving the end of a relationship. I’m grieving the loss of myself. The end of an era. I’m not rioting or wearing facemasks and obsessively checking statistics on the CDC site in disbelief. No. I’m comfortable in my pain because it is familiar. I’m bored with it at this point. And I’m bored with trying to make anyone else happy.

When I think about the story I want to write, the words of Joe Lansdale come to mind. “Write like everyone you know is dead.” Now I know why Hemingway said writing is the loneliest profession. All your pals, all you family, lost loves…you can’t write like they are ever going to read it. Why? Because they are all dead.

I posited this question on Facebook today: I have an idea that would make for a great story. My only problem is I think it might make a lot of people hate me. Any suggestions? And if you are reading this, no it’s not about you.

The support was overwhelming. But I have to admit, that last sentence was a lie. It is about you. How could it not be? It’s about you because it’s about me and the rest of you get dragged along for the ride. Sorry about that.

I’m not writing this to give anyone else a happy ending. I write for me. If you need a happy ending, go pick up a Nicholas Sparks book. It’s pornography. If that makes me lonely and bitter, then you haven’t been paying attention for the last six years. I think all of that horseshit was prelude to this. I’m just tired. The world is falling apart, burning down, and I am lighting a cigar off the smolering wreckage–even though my doctor strongly advises against doing so. I’m tired of having to lie because it fits with the narrative everyone else bullshits themselves with, just to keep from putting a gun to their temples.

I don’t wear a mask in the grocery store, so why the hell am I wearing one when I write?!

I have been holding back a lot of pain these days because I try to fake that smile until it sticks. I have a few friends who have heard the story backwards and forwards. They’ve been there, and I appreciate them. But even I am starting to sound like a broken record. I hold back on the off chance that I don’t say the wrong thing and someone will hate me. Maybe a lost love will wake up and say, “I really miss him. What a mistake I made! Wow!” It hasn’t happened ever and it won’t. Once I’m out of someone’s life, I doubt they think of me at all. I still think about friends I had in Kindergarten, for fuck’s sake. I am cursed with a long memory and a sentimental heart. Well folks, bridges will be burned for good. But not for lack of trying on my part. Between my own kids and significant others, friends, and now my job, just let me make this perfectly fucking clear:

I didn’t leave. YOU did.

Maybe if I were more of an asshole, some of them would still be around. Because I tried…really fucking tried to use those rules. Or the one big one at least: Treat Others How You Would be Treated. Yeah, leaving somebody up shit creek isn’t my style, but I guess it was theirs. I’m tired of writing things in hopes that it will change anything. I’m tired of saying the right words so that other people will like me. Here’s two words on that matter:

I’m done.

Would you rather be rich and famous or well liked? Well, I’ve been liked and I’ve been poor and miserable. I’m not saying my writing is going to make me rich and famous, but if it did, I could at least see the difference for myself. Maybe it’s time to say fuck it and just get the words down. You see, all these years, I’ve had my ears and eyes open. Like a sponge, I’ve been taking it all in. Only it was as volatile as gasoline.

Now I’ve got a big old can full of gasoline in one hand, a lighter in the other, and a shit-load of bridges as far as the eye can see. Tomorrow, I will write with a pen dipped in hell. Tomorrow, it’s time to be fearless. Let’s see where the road leads.

Maybe the world isn’t ending, but it sure as fuck feels like mine has been. Now it’s time to write fearlessly–write like the world has ended.