Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dental Case

I hate going to the dentist, but who doesn’t right? The big thing I hate, is you can have an appointment for eight in the morning so you’ll have the rest of the day to recover and they won’t get you in the chair until damn near nine. I’m not the patient they were looking for. I walked out of a dentist’s office one day and never returned because the woman at the desk told me at 8:45 it was “fairly common” for the eight in the morning appointments not to be seen until nine. When she told me she was going to charge me for a visit anyway, because I was already there things got downright weird. Clearly, I told her, she did not own the office so I wanted to speak to whoever did. Go back to your seat and bleat! The last thing they want is for someone to demand a service for their time. Other sheeple began to get restless. They gave me back my paperwork and my files and I walked. Baa! Baa! Baa!
            The medical profession doesn’t like me. I’m not taking a damn thing for anything unless I’m fairly certain that I can’t ride it out on my own. Normally, they treat the symptoms of what you have and you ride it out anyway, but with some chemical in your body telling you your body was wrong for acting that way and being stoned and sick is better than being sick. My doctor has stopped telling me what is good for me and simply asks what I want him to do.  I’ve never come right out and told him I didn’t give a damn what he thought, but I’ve hinted around that for all their white coats and stethoscopes, they’re basically a linoleum floor away from being snake oil salesmen. Oddly, if you went into a restaurant and they told you what you wanted to eat and didn’t listen to you, that might be the last time you ate there but when it comes to a doctor most people bobble head away at them and never think twice about what exactly is in those pills.
            Robin, the woman who cleans my teeth offers me a pill, in fact, and this time I take it. It’s suppose to relax me while she’s working and this will be one of those age old dichotomies where the person working gets less money than the person who isn’t. The dentist will come in to look me over for a few seconds and leave again. Robin will begin her soliloquy as I will be lying there with my mouth open yet mute. She’s a young mother, a young wife, and her family takes up all her space mind space. I usually nod or grunt or wink in agreement and I wonder if she finds herself repeating her words fifteen times a day. The pill kicks in and I can feel my own mind receding.
            I’m here to get my teeth clean, but the dentist comes in and gives me a shot next to one of my teeth. It’s suppose to numb the pain but it feels like a spider has wrapped all eight legs around the tooth and is digging into the gums. The numbness hurts, and my eyes water. Each shot feels worse than the first, and my teeth are buoys in a sea of pain. Robin sucks the spit out of my mouth, but it feels like blood. They speak in hushed voices and I can’t move my head. The background music is some light rock satellite station and Karen Carpenter is a surreal addition to our little family. There is the click of metal on metal. The sucking sound that rushes around in my head, the sensation of a warm piqued flowing in my mouth and an incredible numbness that is so painful my eyes bleed tears.
            My teeth are gone. They are all lying in a tray in from of me. I look in the mirror and a freak stares back. The pulled my teeth out. All of them are gone and I try to scream but it’s a muffled sound that sprays spit out like a weak fountain. I try to claw my way of the room but the dentist tackles me.
“We have never left you” he whispers. I know that voice but I cannot place it.

I woke up face down on the floor in the bedroom, the dogs freaking out, and with blood in my mouth. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Writer's Block

Have you ever seen a man with an axe walking out of the woods and he tell you that he had “Axeman’s Block”? Sorry, I just wasn’t cutting the way I feel like I should cut so I stopped and walked away until I felt better about the whole tree felling thing, you know. Go out, have a few beers, maybe smoke some pot, or run a few miles or hit the gym, clean the house, you know, until the groove comes back.
            Or maybe you’ve met someone who has had “teacher’s block” and took a few days off from class until things felt right again. You’ve heard of that haven’t you? You’ve seen people take time off of work simply because they can’t, can’t mind you, work anymore because of some mysterious psychological aliment for which goofing off cures.
            The simple truth of the matter is “Writer’s Block” is a cop out. Writing is hard work, just like swinging an axe all day, or teaching a room full of people pretending they don’t want to learn or can’t, or too stoned to care. Writing well is difficult. Writing well enough to make a living from it is nigh impossible. Writing is never easy, often unworkable, and at times it’s tedious and boring and mind numbing when you’re rewriting the same scene for the tenth time. It’s torture when you’ve nearly memorized a page, and then you have to edit it again.  How many times have you rewritten that one page, and edited and then redone it, and done it again? Writing is work. Writing well is hard work.

Writer’s Block is a cop-out.

            I’ve never lied to anyone in my life when it comes to writing. I don’t owe anyone a damn thing. You either have it, or you do not have it. You are born with the need to write or you were born to do something else, maybe swing an axe, I don’t know, that isn’t my problem. If you were born to write, I can see that in a person. I know a writer when I read one. The first thing I tell people is their writing, when they first begin, will be terrible. It’s like learning to walk, or cook Thai, or teach a dog who you want you to be. It’s supposed to be bad. It’s going to be bad. You have to work through those early years. As Anne Lamott said, “The first twelve years are the hardest.” She wasn’t kidding and I’m not either. A decade might pass before you see something that is truly incredible. But if you have that in you to write then it will be worth it to reach that point.
            If you do have it then you have an obligation. It’s a deeper calling, really, than swinging an axe. It is a lot like teaching. You can’t have a bad day. You aren’t allowed. You get more from it so you have to put more into it. You have to become worthy of what you have been given. You have to earn it. “Writer’s Block” is blasphemy of the highest order. “Writer’s Block” is laziness wrapped in psychobabble.  “Writer’s Block” is saying you can’t write because you’re black, or a woman, or poor, or uneducated, or Catholic, or from Alabama, or not in the mood, or because you’re just plain nuts and it scares you. It’s a form of self prejudice.
            If you have it then you will take one in the head and keep moving. An hour, two hours, a half a day, a week of pure dreck, maybe more, but dammit, do not quit. Don’t even surrender to the idea it doesn’t belong to you. Do not give in, do not give up, sit there and write until you pull it out, one letter at a time, and write. Own it. Make it work for you. Summon it at will. You are a writer. You have that gift. Earn it. Work for it. Make it who you are.
            If you have it, you have no right to surrender to despair, to mood, to darkness, to laziness, or even a really good movie on television. Unless it’s a movie about writing then that’s okay, because how often will that happen, really?
            Write. You want to be better? Write. You want to get past this point of nothingness? Write? You want to learn more? Write? You want to make a living? Swing an axe. Seriously, it’s hard work. But don’t, do not, ever, let two thoughts happen at once; do not think you are a writer and that you cannot write. Not all times will be good. Not all writing will be good, or even better than bad. But don’t let someone’s imaginary illness be a crutch. Set a goal, start writing, and I will bet you you’ll come out on the other side better than you will than becoming the world’s most clever procrastinator.

I get past those times by writing. I owe it to the craft to keep trying.

And so do you.

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This never gets old.

The Death of a Child.

Somewhere out there, in America, there is a missing child, and no one gives a damn. This happens nearly every day, and sometimes the child’s parents care, and sometimes they do not. Unless there is some sort of media circus, we won’t hear about it, and we won’t care. If the mother of the child is attractive and the child is cute the story is more likely to become something of a sensation and the search will widen.  If the child’s mother is unattractive and the child is not photogenic the attention will not rise past the local level and we will sleep very well at night regardless of the fate of this child.
            In the same sense that most average people do not understand nuclear science most average people do not understand infanticide committed by parents in general and mothers in particular. Not that it takes a an overabundance of intelligence, or schooling or education or something taught, no, it is exactly the opposite; most average people have some hardwired empathy for children, particularly their own children, and they cannot comprehend those who do not.  Love for a child, particularly one’s own, is not something that can be taught but it can be developed to a stronger degree, and to what degree someone can develop that bond is dependent on many factors. When someone isn’t well connected anyway, and there are outside distractions drawing that person away from a child then terrible things will happen. I suspect many things in this case will lean in that direction but we cannot know the truth for far too much of what is not the truth has been blasted out by the media. This has become an event. The death of a child is not the focus of the attention but the event itself has taken a life of its own.
            I, like many people, go no further than the fact, the stated fact that the child was missing for a month before the police was called. I could and would convict a young mother on this and nothing else, of first degree murder, were there a dead child laid out before me. A month? For thirty days a child was missing and you did not say a word? All the wild stories about kidnappings and drowning and all the smoke and mirrors about what this person did or did not do doesn’t get past the fact that for a full month this young woman did not say a word about her daughter being gone somehow. Were one of my dogs gone everyone on the internet would know it. There would be fliers out. Everyone who knows me would know it. If someone took one of my dogs I would burn everything in between myself and that person and leave ruin and destruction and despair in my path. Someone took this woman’s child and she did nothing? Like the inner workings of the atom this is inconceivable to me. Smoke. Mirrors. Everything past this fact doesn’t reach me. Your daughter was missing for a month and you didn’t create a hell on earth for the person who took her? Look at Fred Goldman. Someone killed his son and the man took to the ground and hounded the murderer day and night with a relentlessness that stunned the killer. Fred Goldman had been robbed of his son and someone was going to pay, and pay, and pay and pay. There would not be a day of his life he did not dedicate to justice. This father drained OJ Simpson of so much Simpson eventually took to armed robbery for money and got tossed in prison for it. Fred Goldman got his justice. He went after the real killer with an axe and the love of parent for a child. Ronald Goldman was not the biological son of Fred. He was a stepchild. The bond was one developed through love and time. It is hardwired, but it is also a premeditated and deliberate form of love.

            Unlike nuclear science, most people get this. They understand it to a degree that makes this sort of dedication nearly automatic even if it is the hardest job any human being can take on.

            I would put that woman, who lost her child for a month, and invented stories about kidnapping and drowning, I would put her in the ground tomorrow and never lose a moment’s sleep over her death. I might go after her parents for complicity. Someone she knew, knew. I suspect someone she drank with, and took drugs with, helped her and may some god have mercy on that person because if I ever get in the jury box across from that person I’ll bury them. If I was the judge in this case I would leave a crater. I would get that bitch and then work my way out from the epicenter. When we make being an accomplice of child abuse a crime then maybe we’ll get the responsibility out of some of these alleged human beings. Deep down, I know this won’t work. We cannot legislate care or love or parenthood. We either do that out here beyond judges or we fail. We, as a society, have failed, and there are a lot more missing kids out there we have failed, too.
            This failure is brought into sharp focus because in all the smoke and mirrors of the defense in this case is the idea of an abused young woman, and perhaps some relative is the father of the dead child. But where is the father? Who has asked this question? Who has searched for the man who during all of this, during that one month of a missing daughter, during the time of birth, during the trial, during the funeral and the search and during the circus and everything else, where the hell was the father? The child has no father and we do not expect there to be one.
            When our failure is of a mother it is newsworthy. We have gotten to the point where the failure of fatherhood is expected, a given, and not even noticed. We have few Fred Goldmans and we don’t mention it anymore. As we condemn, and rightfully so, a young woman for failing as a mother, we totally absolve a father for not so much as being named as such. We have given up on men to be good fathers. We expect them not to be there. We have lowered the standards and expectations to the point fathers nearly do not exist anymore in these cases. As a man, I watch helplessly as my gender is reduced to donating sperm to a news story that has turned the death of a child into a freakshow of sound bites. This event, this circus, this condemnation of a young woman totally frees some man, and all men, of any responsibility at all, and not one damn word is said.

That’s part of the crime in this case, and it doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to see it.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Great City Pool Girl’s Bathroom Massacre


I was five or six years old, and climbing a fence I had climbed many, many times before, but there was an electrical wire running above it, to the hog pen of our neighbors, and it was a little tricky to navigate. We boys did it because it was a manly thing to do and we would pretend we were sneaking into some top secret facility. We were of monkeys back then and even though the fence wasn’t easy it wasn’t impossible either. As I got to the top something hit me in the back and I fell, skinning myself up on the top of the barb wire fence.
            There was a pack of us young’uns out there, and the fact that I had fallen caused the girls to scream and the boys to yell so a parent came out to see which of us had been killed this time. Back in the 60’s, in South Georgia, all parents were the parents to all of us, and all of them had the same authority over all us as one of them did over their own. The woman in question wondered aloud how I fell, and her daughter said I had touched the electrical wire, which I knew I didn’t. The girl had thrown a piece of wood at me, and that was what had hit me, but her mother assured me I had touched the hot wire, even though I knew I had not. Arguing with an adult was paramount to sedition of the worst kind so even though I knew someone had hit me, I was forced to admit I had touched the wire because a parent had told me I had. The Fallacy of Adult Infallibility would haunt us all. We lived in a world of Parental Prescience and anyone over the age of eighteen as blessed with an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom.
                        There was a lesson, or two, to be learned that day and I realized the woman had lied to cover for her daughter. Parents, it seemed, came in two varieties; those who thought their children ought to learn humility, so they treated their children with less regard than they did other people, and those parents who thought their children were special, and treated their children with a higher regard than they did other people. Those of us who were learning humility were also being treated as lesser creatures by those parents who treated their children well, so life was not nearly as good for us as for the others.
            The One True Hero of our neighborhood was Dave, The All American Boy, who my parents worshipped. My father openly admired Dave, and for as long as I could remember I was being measured by my level of Daveness, which peaked out at about one half of one percent of a Dave, and it never got any better. If my parents asked me where I had been the answer was always “With Dave” because that meant all was well. The Great City Pool Girl’s Bathroom Massacre ought to have changed all of that, but as I learned that day, even when a One True Hero falls, it is usually on someone who was right below him anyway.
            We boys in the neighborhood were self judged by among others things, how powerful our BB guns were. My father went out and researched the entire line of BB guns and found the most weak, impotent, and barely functional BB gun and that was what I got. Some of the younger boys had pellet rifles which were nearly real guns that could kill squirrels. Tin cans, which were made out of real metal, were no match for a pellet gun but my BBs bounced right off. Glass jars and bottles, which we fired upon in the local pond, were decimated by the other boys’ guns but mine? They complained that all mine did was push the bottles into deeper water. In the nuclear arms race of BB guns I had a musket when others were using Phased Plasma Rifles in the forty watt range.
            So the day of the Great City Pool Girl’s Bathroom Massacre I was at home reading a book instead of being in the neighborhood’s largest firefight ever. Two boys were holed up in the Girl’s bathroom at the City Pool, and everyone else was blasting away at them, in the open, across the pool. Dave, The All American Boy, fired a shot from his most powerful and epic pellet rifle that slammed squarely into the temple of another boy, and the pellet lodged in the boy’s skull. My mother took the kid to the emergency room and in the aftermath, I learned once again, a lesson or two about family and neighborhood politics.
            My mother knew I was at home when this happened, but she and my father wondered what part I had played in all of this before the event had occurred. I told them there was no way I could have been involved because my BB gun was too weak to shoot across the pool, I mean, other than the fact I wasn’t there. My father, who was told The All American Boy had fired the injurious shot, test shot my BB gun from all angles, trying to figure out if it could have been me, instead of Dave. Other than the fact I wasn’t there, and it wasn’t a BB, I thought the man was doing his best for justice. He fired a hundred shots and each and every one of them fell helplessly into the pool, a dozen yards away from the car where JFK had been killed.
            In the end, I was grounded for a week and my BB gun was taken away from me. It didn’t matter that I had not been there. It didn’t matter it wasn’t a BB that had caused the damage. It didn’t matter because The All American Boy had committed a crime. Because that made my parents suffer, I had to suffer too. Even though I had not been there I knew there were having a firefight, and I should have said something to someone, they told me. I knew better. All of this had to do with my parents being disappointed in The All American Boy and so they punished the only person they could punish. They were used to punishing me for not being him, so when he wasn’t him either, I got punished for that too. The lesson in life is there are those who get punished and those who are admired, and if you are not one you will certainly be the other.

Take Care,
Mike

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Of This Mind

Anytime I plan to awaken early to get things done my brain goes into some sort of overdrive the night before and I wind up not sleeping even as much as I normally do. Insomnia, I suspect, is a byproduct of writing.  There is quite a crowd of people in my head, you know, and most people are like that, I think. Look at the people who are fictional characters. If you’ve ever written you take an old girlfriend’s face, and maybe someone you saw at the beach for a body, and then you add some quirks you saw in your sister, and you toss in some bitchiness from someone you once knew, and before it is over with you have a compilation who is a character of their own, and most people in real life are just that. Not that they are created out of the parts of other people, I’m not saying that but what I am saying is other people influence them, and sometimes you can even see that influence in a person, just like someone might be able to look at someone you’ve created in text and think, “Oh man, that’s Helena”
            You think it that odd? How many times have you seen or heard someone, who is a living person, do something and you think, “That is just like his father!”  I suspect it would be difficult to have a fictional character made of whole cloth, especially when it comes to speech and culture, both of which at the very minimum, have to be influence by the writer’s own life’s collection of personal influences. Writing mimics life. Writing is life described in letters and sentences, yes, but the craft itself is full of life and you know this to be true because were it dead of the human spirit it would not be what it is today, and you would not be reading this, would you?
            It’s deliberate insanity of the temporary kind to write about people who do not exist, but then again, firstly, who does exist? When we are alone in our cars or in the shower we’ll sing, pick our noses, curse the driver ahead of us, or examine some insect bite on a normally hidden body part, no in the shower not while you’re driving, I hope, but slip into the confines of a coffee shop and you aren’t likely to break out and sing “Ants Marching” or McLaughlin’s “Fear” or even so much as take s shoe off to rub your foot. With a few friends and a few beers you might loosen up a bit, but only when you are totally alone are you totally yourself. Only you know what you’re thinking when someone you are attracted to walks by, and it’s not like you’re going to say those things out loud in public, but if we all did the world would be a much more interesting place and barely dressed.
            Even fiction writers dress their character in culture and if you are a good fiction writer people notice something new and different while they are reading and if you are very good they don’t notice until your culture has influenced them. The problem here is someone who is out of culture is also out of context and might appear to be a little less sane than someone who merely reflects other people rather than inventing them.  If you start writing and creating other people you will soon realize it is a process that is much like raising a child or having a cat; there are some characteristics inherent in the sentient being outside the influence of the creator or keeper.  You may sit down to create a character that is one person and wind up with someone else who does things unexpected. This might to you sound odd but I have never met a writer who did not know it to be true.
            I have written everything that you have read so far in an effort not to describe to you the state of what is written but rather to describe to you the state of the writer. Necessarily, to commit yourself to the lives of people who do not exist but only in your head is to surrender some of the cultural contract in how reality is defined. More succinctly put, you have to be a little nuts to be a writer. Moreover, I will submit to you, there is some carryover from one sense to another in this ability, this talent, this penchant, this leaning, this thing called writing or for that matter, in other form of artistry where reality is not only redefined but lived another way. I hear voices. I see things that are not there. My mind won’t stop at night and allow me to sleep. Reality, as it is described to me by other people who do not write, or paint, or create, is a concrete thing, something well defined and easy to understand. This is not the world in which I live.
            When someone is in my house I usually look to the dogs to define this person as either “real” or someone who is just passing through my mind. Bert in particular isn’t going to let a strange human being within a dozen meters of the place without braying. If someone is there and Bert is asleep that person isn’t of the waking world. The audio stuff is a little harder to sort out. I hear gremlin voices, low growly and unintelligible, and background-ish. I hear music when there is none. I hear very distinctly the voices of people I have created. Sara’s voice is most clear because she was my first. I can feel her sometimes, walking within me, carefree and dangerous. I feel the spirit of Bonnie Parker betimes, warning me away from someone who looks a bit off (yeah and this coming from a man who is hearing voices) and sometimes the Demon Regal and I speak while I’m walking in the woods. Henry is there, and the cop who walked away, and never had a name.
            I see smoke sometimes when there isn’t a fire. There is a grey white fog surrounding my field of vision when there is nothing there. I see odd and unnatural creatures in shadows and in oddly shaped mounds of debris or trash. Objects sometimes change colors, and change back if I look at them long enough. I have true difficulty placing a name with a face when the person is out of context, and I think this is due to me being unable, or unwilling, to commit reality to people, and people to reality, such as it isn’t. I live between two worlds; one is a world invented by other people, inhabited by other people, and the creators of this existence do not realize to the extend they have spawned their own reality. The other world is the isomer world, one so very much like the other, but the difference is I understand my creation just a little bit better.




 Once in the woods in the blackest of nights, a herd of creatures passed through me and the dogs. Terrible and huge, they were the shadows of shadows, those things that exist only in places where light has never seen. Like dinosaurs, or mammoths, or whales that swim in the dark, they glided over the surface of the ground as if I was the one who did not exist at all, and was not worthy of a spare thought given to a trick of the dark. The procession ended, and when I had watched the last one pass through the walls of my house, and the dogs and I went back inside.

Take Care,
Mike