Correction, Not Compromise

“Be true to yourself. But that’s something everyone says and no one means. No one wants you to be yourself. They want you to be the version of yourself that they like.”

That’s an excerpt from The Young Elites, written by Marie Yu. It’s an interesting quote and a bleak one. I find it’s not always true, that most people are fortunate to find at least one person who will accept them during the good days and the bad. Conversely, you’ll find out who cares or even pays attention in situations that would often benefit from ignorance in that regard. You know, if you find yourself in the hospital. If you find yourself dealing with bleak feelings or bouts of irritability. If you lose someone and you’re mired in grief. Those are the times you most need people to be there for you, and those are the times you’ll find out who appreciates you for you and not just what’s convenient to them or what handful of aspects appeal to them.

I have several friends who have seen me hit rock bottom and stayed with me as I struggled to step back up. They’ve offered assistance and a shoulder to lean on, a couch to crash on, or money to borrow until I could get back on my feet. I am fortunate for them.

The thing is, even having people appreciate me for who I am, it’s often difficult to appreciate myself. Where friends, true friends, have been forgiving of my missteps and mistakes, I’ve often found myself having a difficult time forgiving myself. I don’t often feel worthy of their kind words or their assistance or their time. I struggle with being me because I don’t think I’m very good at it.

Additionally, I put myself out in the open a lot. I published and put out novels. I regularly post poetry and writing tips and opinion pieces. I write about my family, friends, and especially about myself, and I’m generally pretty open about it. On paper, anyway. I express my emotions as fully and deeply as I can, because I feel to do otherwise would be disingenuous.

Exposing those aspects of my life and my psyche is somewhat taxing, though. It puts a spotlight on me and allows others access to my life, and there is an inherent pressure in it. For everyone that messages me thanking me for talking about something they couldn’t or didn’t want to, I can feel others pulling away from me in disapproval or annoyance or disgust. It’s tempting to rein it in. It’s tempting to fudge the truth or to shy away from the embarrassing or negative aspects of my life, especially when I consider that by being so open, I could very well push away people who would otherwise be interested in me as a friend or something more.

The last week and a half, I’ve been tapering off from liquor and so have been sober (in so much as not reaching a state of even tipsyness), going through the day, going to bed and waking up with a clear mind for the longest period of time in… Christ, I don’t know how long. That clarity, though, has helped remind me, though, that I value honesty above all else.

I was raised to be honest, I was raised to try and help others where I can, and those lessons are ones I’ve spent my whole life trying to live up to. I haven’t always been successful at that. I’m far from a saint. All the same, I’ve done my best to do right by people and to be there when they needed someone.

I used to write long Facebook posts about thoughts and feelings I had. When I started this blog, I found my words could reach so many more people. It gave me an opportunity to talk about things that others found uncomfortable, to confess things about my life, to relate experiences that came from a difficult family or personal lifestyle. Not all of my posts are agreeable or wide-read, but they’re honest. They’re as true to me and my life as they could possibly be.

If even one person messages me or comments to tell me my words meant something to them or to thank me for talking about an experience, if one person feels better about the things they’ve gone through because they know someone else has gone through it, too, then it’s worth it not to compromise who I am.

I forgot that, for a while. I forgot I wasn’t just writing for me. I forgot I was writing in hopes I could reach others and help others and let people know it was going to be okay.

Shit, I forgot it was going to be okay. Probably. Maybe. Probably.

I wrote somewhere a while back that I’m starting to come to terms with the idea that it’s more important for me to sure others felt safe and secure than it was for me to be happy. Not that I was incapable of being happy, not that by not being happy I was necessarily sad. I meant that maybe I’m meant to be here more for others.

If that’s the case, I’m happy to put my demons on display. Maybe not immediately, but always completely. Honestly. Being true to yourself means not conforming to expectations, I suppose, but it doesn’t mean being content with damaging behavior. You can improve yourself without compromising who you are at heart or being someone else’s ideal, and I plan on doing that, and I plan on telling the truth about it.

I’ll tell you it’s fucking hard, that I’m struggling. That I want to tear my hair out and give up some days, that I wish I felt comfortable enough with others to not do this 95% by myself. I’ll tell you that sometimes I want to cry myself to sleep and I don’t because I don’t want to have to sleep on a damp pillowcase. I’ll tell you sobriety is bringing me nightmares and heartache and that I don’t know what to do with myself or who to talk to, and that I’m astonished at how much of my life I’ve wasted with grief and anger.

I’ll tell you I don’t know what to do, what I’m doing, what I’m going to do next.

When I started this blog, I made a promise to never lie to you. Not about myself, not about my life, not about anyone else. I won’t. Ever. I’ll keep writing about difficult things, my fuck-ups. I’ll keep sharing short stories and poetry, and stories of the people I love and the world’s beauty. Hopefully you learn something from my mistakes. Hopefully you’ll know it’s okay to make some of your own. Hopefully you won’t feel alone.

Most importantly, know that whatever I write about, whatever I’m going through, you’ve got someone here in your corner if you need it. Most importantly, know that you’re going to be okay.

Past Poetry

I wrote this nearly five and a half years ago. It’s not particularly good, but I stumbled across it in some old e-mails and I figured I’d share it anyway. Enjoy! Or don’t. You know, whatever. No hard feelings.

A drop
A tear?
No, an inkblot at the end of a sentence written without thought
On a page mostly turned but only half read, so
The message unreceived
The response, stammered
Enamored but prone to mistimed cues
Like inappropriate laughter or
More appropriately, a missed key during a key concerto
Which causes a beautiful whole to
Try and make use of its wayward parts to
Try and bring it back to the proper path so
Applause and enrichment override roughshod rhythm

But believe
That even this dissonance of emotion thunders in a paler hue
Compared to the steady beat of the howitzer
Pounding in a chest otherwise still with breath bated
Awaiting a sly glance
A cozy smile
A word at all from a form so pristine and enthralling
She is nothing short of a renaissance of beauty
Brilliant energy from both inside and out sending curls of
Delicate compassion, tremendous energy and love for life
To stand next to
Across from
Near by such a wonder; a blessing
For an undeserved but not unappreciative soul
Who wants nothing more than to bring out
The sensation of overwhelmed senses amidst an adoration unforseen
Unexpected and
Unexperienced before
Though a misstep may trip up attempts at a tango
That leave the head spinning and the feet swept
The intentions are as pure and passionate as an ivory flame

The birth of twenty-four more  beautiful hours yields
Fresh opportunities and brighter days and
Promises amidst even rain clouds

Gluing the Pieces Together

V├áZaki Nada said, “Fear those who are able to create in the midst of their own destruction, they are invincible.”

When I read that for the first time, I laughed. For a while, I still didn’t know if it was out of disbelief that that had ever been the case or bitterness that I don’t much feel invincible at all, yet I try and create even as I seem set on casting away or sabotaging the best parts of my life. And what is there to fear here, really? A rage born partly out of frustration at someone’s manipulation of me and partly of my own ineptitude at not seeing it coming? Even then, ninety percent of my anger is directed internally and who would truly fear a man lamenting the decisions he did or didn’t make?

I think now, though, that I laugh because the quote lends a misinterpretation towards “tortured” or “struggling” or “angst-ridden” or “addicted” artists, towards people who crank out poetry, prose, music and art despite being burdened with an emotional, mental or chemical dependency.

It is a rare thing for the people described to die of old age and even rarer for them to die happy. Those people aren’t invincible. Have they endured an anguish or a compulsion or both that most might buckle under or overcome at the cost of producing nothing? Possibly. This doesn’t necessarily make them stronger, though they are strong. It certainly doesn’t make them invincible.

Substance abuse, depression, and many other mental disorders runs heavy in artists, the creative mind running rampant in imagination, working overtime in analyzing and overanalyzing things, seeing and feeling things to degrees most people don’t. Creating, putting that content out there is – for most – the only way to calm themselves. To distract from the world and its problems at large, to get the content out to be seen and absorbed and have it stop pressing against the corners of their mind.

Others start out writing to say something. HP Lovecraft, for example, is famous for being the modern father of horror writing, but he’s also known for the thousands of letters he wrote to publications and other writers and aspiring authors. He wrote about writing and processes, the city, and the people who lived in it. He wrote because there were opinions and thoughts and ideas he wanted to get out and share. Journalists and travel writers, photographers and political writers, writers that have heart-rending experiences or speak to those that do, or people with all too common issues that simply want to lend a voice to the voiceless and a call to those who know what it’s like just so they know they’re not alone… these people create with a purpose beyond beauty.

But painters, writers, poets, musicians, those with a spotlight on non-fiction, they all bring out that material because there is a fire in them. It burns in their gut, in their heart, in their mind, under every inch of skin. It’s a compulsion, an urge, an irrefutable fact that needs to be shared, and it’s done no matter what. No matter the divorce or death, no matter the drink or drug, no matter not being able to look yourself into a mirror.

Creating, for beauty or for information or for expression (or any mix of those, natch) is the only thing that keeps those artists going. Beyond the desire to do it, it’s a need. That need keeps them moving through just mountains of shit. Decades of self-loathing. Bottles of whiskey. Heaps of debt. Stints of homelessness. Whatever the circumstances may be. They persevere and they create despite it, channeling that hurt and rage and sadness and love for what could be and what is and what’s desired and what others just don’t seem to appreciate as much as they should, they bring all that out and put it on display anyway.

But they’re not invincible. They’re doing the only thing they can do, that they know how to, in order to survive. And while some might give up sooner, or while some might find a way into a better life, for most it’s just delaying the inevitable.

Vincent van Gogh. Ernest Hemingway. Robert E Howard. Hunter S Thompson. Sylvia Plath. Kurt Cobain. Virginia Woolf.

Robin Williams.

I promise you that any artist you see publicly destructing is doing so on another level privately. Do not fear them. Fear for them. They are not invincible. They are trying to give this world what they can before they give the rest of themselves to this world.

It has been a while since I’ve put any serious thought into suicide. A few years, anyway. I do think about death a lot, and about life. I recently had what I can only call a quarter-life crisis, and it’s something I’m still… sorting myself through. I realized I’m only three years shy of thirty, and I haven’t accomplished any of the things I’ve truly wanted to. I’m not living where I want to or doing what I want, but I don’t have the money to get started with what and where I do want. Younger me was ambitious and confident and clever. He’d have pulled the trigger anyway, but younger me did so with a safety net to fall back on

I don’t have that safety net anymore. My family is dead or estranged. My friends have families and responsibilities of their own. If I pull the trigger and fuck it up, bright, handsome Jered the writer could end up just another guy on the street because he honestly can’t afford anything else.

There are solutions, but let me break for a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

“For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.”

Nietzsche is famous and infamous, controversial and revelationary. He was also an avid opium user and often misquoted, misinterpreted, and quoted out of context. For example, his opium use is largely attributed to treating his ample medical conditions instead of a raging addiction. It may have been that the soothing effects of opium may have been the only thing pushing pain away enough to be able to write cohesively and thoughtfully.

But Poe liked opium as well. Hemingway and Bukowski liked a drink. Hunter S Thompson was a veritable cocktail of illicit substances. Liquor especially has always seemed to be a common ally to the writer, and I’ll admit that some of my best stuff has come out of me under the influence. I’ve never needed to be fully drunk to write, but a glass or two to keep me loose never hurt.

Bottom line is I’m not going to shit all over booze and say it doesn’t help the creative process. Do you know what, though? It doesn’t help anything at all when the person consuming it is having an emotional breakdown.

When you’re losing it, really losing it, the cool thing is that you can realize it but mostly only from the outside. You know your problems have a solution, but the problems all seem so many and so overwhelming, you don’t want to pick a place to start. You know you’re relatively young, but everyone else has houses and families and careers and though you know you shouldn’t judge yourself by someone else’s life, you do so anyway, and you feel like you’ve wasted yours. You know you shouldn’t be at the bar, you should be working on your book, but it’s too quiet at home this early and maybe you’ll see someone you haven’t seen in a while and it’ll make you feel better.

I fucking crashed and burned. I hit a really depressive patch and I had a weekend where I went a little too hard, then St Patrick’s Day rolled around, then it became a series of excuses to just try and come to terms with the fact I’m not who I wanted to be while continuing to push myself in the opposite direction.

I once sad-clown joked, “I’ve hit rock bottom so many times I should open up a timeshare.” This wasn’t rock bottom. Not for me. I’ve been in a lot worse situations. I’ve done worse things. I’ve gone on worse benders. I’ve hurt people, lost my job, skirted jail time, almost killed myself both intentionally and unintentionally. All things considered, this was pretty fucking mild. But my body had enough of my shenanigans, and I finally had enough of my shenanigans, too.

I got really bad alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The shakes. Fatigue. Light-headedness to the point I almost passed out at work twice in one day. It got to the point where I very much needed liquor to keep my body going. That is a serious problem.

That isn’t me. This isn’t who I am. I party, sure, and I like the taste of liquor and beers, but I didn’t used to fucking need the shit to sleep. I didn’t used to be so aggressive about it all. I used to have self-control. I used to have self-respect.

I realized immediately, finally, that I need to regain control of my life. I happened to pull up an old conversation with my best friend (who, at this point, hasn’t really spoken to me in almost a year). She had said, “I really hope that moving forward, you can be happier, because I miss that.”

I didn’t, and I haven’t been. I miss it, too, and I miss her. I’ve made myself a misery to be around, and I’ve taken it out on myself. Something needed to be done.

“I understand that you care. I just sometimes feel that the people who know me best are people I’ve never met.” -Iain S. Thomas

When I started writing this blog, I really felt like I had hit a stride in finding an outlet to really say the things I’ve been wanting to say and talk about it in a way that would reach others without compromising who I am or the way I write. I’ve covered subjects like being adopted, losing family members, rape, loss, suicide, love, heartbreak, writing. I’ve had dozens of people reach out to me across Facebook, Twitter and even here, where I’ve got over 150 followers who are mostly strangers and who mostly know me strictly through WordPress.

That confidence bled into Facebook, where I keep in touch with most of my friends. I didn’t shy away from being honest or from sharing poetry and art and beautiful videos and pictures anymore, and I think people started to see that.

When I hit my rough patch, I threw a lot of that away. I slid back into the same old routine, the same problems, the same habits I always had. I hurt and I raged and I wanted more, but I wasn’t speaking anymore. There was no longer a purpose to what I was writing. This wasn’t introspection. It wasn’t examination. This was whining.

I feel like most of the people I know pity me to some degree. Some outright loathe me. I feel like I’ve let myself go so much that people have no picture of who I am beyond being a hard-drinker and a lothario, a retail worker who writes things sometimes and tries to talk them up.

Maybe they’re right, I don’t know, but I don’t want to be that.

My withdrawal symptoms had become bad enough that quitting cold turkey probably would have done more harm than good, but I was determined to get back control of my life.

The first thing I did was disconnect Facebook. I didn’t need the distraction of other people. Trying to put up a status update that made people laugh or one that kept people updated on my progress, as if they needed to know. I didn’t want to worry about anything or get side-tracked with conversations and links and pictures. I shut it off, dropping mostly off the grid, though if someone texted or called me, I let them know I just needed some Me time.

The second thing I did was look up different plans for alcohol detox. I found a tapering plan I liked and decided to stick with that. One standardized drink (a beer or shot) an hour from wake to sleep. The next day would be an hour and a half. The next would be two and so on, until I wasn’t drinking at all. This was perfect. It kept my body distracted and it eliminated any urge I had after a certain point to just, fuck it, have some more. It became a chore (time to take my vitamin) and not a pleasure. There was no loose allure, there was no swim to get caught in.

As I write this, I’m a few days into it. I haven’t faltered. I picked up a few different vitamin supplements to help with the withdrawal symptoms, and I’ll probably continue taking them for a while after I’m done. They cost $60 fucking dollars, those bottles are going to be empty.

The trickiest part is doing this more or less alone. I texted my friend to ask if he would do me a favor, intending to ask if he would help support me through it. When he asked what the favor was, I told him never mind. I was pretty sure I could go it alone.

My co-workers mostly know, primarily because I had to explain the pill bottles and word spread. When I told them I was quitting drinking for a while, their responses were:

-laughter
-“Dude, why you lying?”
-“Yeah, okay.”
-“Ew, don’t quit drinking.”

Only three other people know what I’m doing. Two don’t talk about me to any mutual friends and the third is my bartender, who not only also keeps my business to herself but who has been supportive and assistive during this whole process.

I trust my friends with a lot, but not with this. I think part of it is because I’m ashamed of myself. I feel like they already see me as a deadbeat, and I don’t want to have to come out and admit that I am, and that I have to actually fix something because I am broken. I don’t want them to discuss this with each other behind my back. I don’t want to see the disappointment or – even worse – the complete lack of surprise if I fuck it up. I just want to do it, have it be done, and then introduce myself back to everyone. I want it behind me so I don’t have the pressure of everyone’s vision of me and their expectations.

So I feel pretty alone, and I’m stressed, but I’m doing this. So far, so good. I don’t expect anyone to see my different. I don’t expect to win anybody back or win anyone over.

I’m not invincible. I’m the last person you should fear. I just want to be a good man that doesn’t feel so broken. I just want to be able to look myself in the mirror again.

A Perfect Place

The way she brushes
Her hair from her face
The world from her shoulders
Paint against canvas
Lips against mine

I picture a wide, open space. The interior of a warehouse, for example, with a paved floor. Concrete, probably, smooth and certain. A comfort in its consistency. It’s a place with a tall ceiling and high windows. A place with natural lighting which, mixed with white walls, lends a pale glow to the interior.

I say interior, but I mean work place. This is a place for art, a place to pull the demons free from a heart-filled ribcage, a place to spit beauty from our fingertips with all the grace of a maestro, the energy of an Olympic free-form swimmer, and the rage of a mother bear protecting its cubs. Or a mother elephant. Or a mother badger. Any mother, really, and like a mother, it’s in this place we give birth.

And like a mother, we deal with art with nurturing care, with frustration, with delicacy, with harsh words to get the point across.

In this space, there is a desk. It’s my desk, this wooden beast, clumsy and cluttered and gifted with two deep drawers. This is a dream, you see, so I can only guess what is in the drawers, but I imagine the top is full of notes and the bottom is home to a bottle of rum and a glass whose origins are lost to time. A gift, or more likely a thrift shop purchase, because I like thrift shops and any time I can give a loving home to a lonely-looking item on the shelf, I endeavor to do so.

The top of the desk is patterned with pages. There’s the book I’m working on, the book that’s next, a binder for the books left to come, and a book I need to read. I keep three pens by it all at all times, always. My primary, my back-up, and the one I use when I inevitably use or lose the first two into oblivion.

A desk is hardly a desk without a lamp, so I have one of those, too. A black one with an adjustable neck. Battery-powered, because who the hell wants to put a desk next to an outlet with all this open space, and if I brought an extension cord, I would find a way to trip over it somehow. The floor is concrete. Smooth. Certain. Hard.

This desk is where I work. Where I write. Where I give birth. Where I am. Who I am. I am the desk, the work, the art.

I am not alone.

The way she moves
Swimming through air
Gliding across the floor
Passing through the world
Across the canvas
Across my skin

She has an easel, and it’s a bit beat-up. It isn’t one of those fancy easels, not a socialite’s easel. It isn’t the easel toasting Jay Gatsby at a gala. The wood is scratched and stained and looks a little unreliable, but it stands straight and steady and she assures me it will last, and while I know a little bit about being unreliable, I know nothing about easels, so I take her word for it.

I asked her why she wanted something so… used when we could save up and have something fresh and completely yours, and she told me it was the same reason you should adopt a pet from the pound. “It’s got personality, it appreciates good care because it knows bad care, and all it really needs is a good home and someone to love it.”

Well. Makes sense to me.

Her palette, a dozen-welled beauty, is a different story, however, immaculate and well-maintained. I don’t know what she spent on it, and I didn’t ask. I’m simply impressed by how much care she takes of it and her brushes.

“One must treat their tools with respect so that they might produce the desired effect. Besides, a brush is much harder to replace than a pen.”

Well. Makes sense to me. I stole this pen from a bank yesterday. I imagine brushes are harder to come by.

She keeps hers on a tray, lined up in a row like a torturer’s kit. Like a torturer, she uses them to bring out the truth from her subject The Canvas. She exposes the truth of life, of love, of honesty and the universe. The brushes bristle at untouched space and the bristles rush to correct it. Or not. Sometimes they do so in measured strokes, methodically, deliberately.

Her tray sits on a cart that contains the tools of her art. Paint cans and pencils and a palette knife that she brandishes when she speaks to me, though never threateningly. Not yet, anyway. There’s a bowl of water for cleaning, a towel for drying, an eraser for…well, you know.

Everything has its place and she moves from memory, pulling and replacing, dabbing and rinsing, and when she’s done and the piece is dry, she sticks it against the back wall. Paintings sit there in a row, each with their own space to breathe and be, all waiting for the next art show in which most will be sold off to a new home with a new loving owner, like her easel and my rum glass.

She also has a lamp. Hers is tall and elegant where mine is short and crooked. Hers is white where mine is black. Hers casts a halo where mine is a spotlight. Such are our lamps. Such are we.

We work together in silence mostly, though one or the other of us will occasionally put on some music. Music is a great facilitator for great things, not the least of which is art. So we work, we listen, we pace, blood on the page, soul on the canvas. Occasionally we will do a thing like talk, and ask for opinions, and bounce off ideas.

We work into the day with sun pouring through our high windows like honey, illuminating and warming us without distracting us with visions of outside. We work into the night, hunkered over our pieces, aided by our halogen allies and warmed by each other’s company.

This is what I dream of. This craftsmanship and companionship. This private, shared workspace. The room to move and think and shout and punch the air and a spot to come back to and think and create. With her there. With her creating. With her.

The way she paints
Music with her motions
Love with her passion
The world with her mind
Me, with her inspiration

Today Has Been A Day

When I went to lunch today, I considered catching the bus to the airport, buying the cheapest ticket that would still get me out of Alaska and just figuring things out somehow when I arrived wherever I was going.

I obviously did not do that. I thought it would be better if I saved a little more money first. Then, we’ll see.

Some days I feel confident and charismatic, creative and smart. Even a little funny. Then there are days like today that just *crush* me and I don’t know why. It’s like some days I’ve got nothing to talk about or the words just spring forth, a tree bursting through concrete. Then days like today, I’ve got SO MUCH to say, I think? probably? But fuck if I know what the words are. They’re wrapped up as a cannonball in my ribcage. It’s a pressure, like my heart and my lungs are going to tear out of me to make way for some book that has an answer or asks a question or is filled WITH A SCREAMING OBSCENITY OVER AND OVER. This is Jack’s bullshit angst. All work and no play makes Jack tear down a door with a hatchet.

I’m so angry and frustrated with myself, and I’m sad that I can’t articulate that I’m fucking feeling everything all the time. I’m in love with beautiful things and I lust for the world. I crave intimacy but value solitude and the introspection and observation that comes with it. I’m scared of hurting – myself and others – because when a good person comes into my life, I never feel good enough for the friendship and/or relationship.

I love my job, truly, but it’s not me. I want to be out. I want to explore. I want to travel and just make it by the skin of my teeth if I have to and meet new people and hear their stories and write about them, and I can’t…quite pull the trigger. I can’t scrape together the guts or brain out the math because I’m bad at these things.

I don’t know what my life is, but I don’t feel like I’m doing very good at it or what I’m supposed to be doing or the best way to do it, and it builds up in me. This restlessness and this desire to be free while I’m following the same goddamn routine, putting the same work clothes on to deal with other people complaining about the phones they don’t need five days out of every week just so I can have money that FUCKING I CAN’T EVEN FINISH THIS SENTENCE. I’m bored with my own paragraph, because the routine is drivel and writing it down is giving me a fucking aneurysm because it shows just how much it takes over my life.

I feel crazy. Standing in a food court, trying to decide which unhealthy concoction to poison my body with and being on the verge of tears because who the fuck knows why is not normal. I don’t want to end up as another one of those artists that gets to a point in their thirties or forties and just gives up on everything. I don’t like quitting.

It’s exhausting. I’m exhausted. I’m going to get a hot dog and a soda and watch Run All Night (you’re welcome for the plug, Liam. Have your people call my people) and go home at some point and work on this book and take a bath, maybe, and get some sleep, hopefully, and go back to work tomorrow and look at pictures of the Maldives or New York City or flowers or some shit while someone tries to come up with a good excuse to not have to pay their data overage fees.

This is been Positive Thinking and Life Assurance with K. Jered Mayer. Tune in next week when I’ll be discussing the Satanic qualities of single-ply toilet paper.

A Hard Way to Gain a Good Friend

I don’t know what to write about, and it’s been over a week, so let me tell you about a woman. She’s one of those women, the proverbial “ones who got away”, though I would never describe her as such in any degree of seriousness. To do so would border on objectifying her as something I possessed and then didn’t, or it would diminish the fact that she was simply strong enough to walk away from a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere for her.

It was good for a while, though. We met on or around Halloween back in 2011. Everyone was dressed in costumes except for me – I’m terrible at dressing up and have been for several years. The last costume I had was Halloween of ’08, I think, and it consisted of my graduation gown and a blue luchador mask and when people asked what I was, I just screamed “HALLOWEEEEN” and drank more jungle juice.

On this Halloween, the night began pretty inauspiciously. I joined a group of friends who were seated around a couple of tables on the floor directly in front of the karaoke stage. The bar was dead, and we just had a few rounds and good conversation before ultimately bar-hopping to some place more lively.

I met her through a friend and was immediately taken by her. She wasn’t shy, initiating the conversation and driving it in whichever direction she wanted, finding out the things she wanted to know. She had a beautiful smile that settled into a self-assured smirk. She wore it comfortably and regularly and I found myself looking forward to it. I found myself looking forward to a lot of things. Her scathing wit. The way her eyes would widen and her mouth would pop into an open-mouthed grin whenever a truly offensive joke shot her way.

This woman was and is deeply intelligent. She was a fan of reading (she purchased my first book, even, which I had just put out a year before) and romance and humor. She was studying to be a nurse, because she likes to help others and because she wasn’t intimidated by anything, much less the notoriously difficult medical profession.

The first time I tried to kiss her, she turned me away. “I don’t kiss in bars,” she said. “That’s my rule.” She stuck by it, too, making me earn it. When she finally allowed me the kiss, it made my entire month.

We dated for a while. It was nice. It was fun. She supported me but challenged me. She knew precisely how smart I was (or wasn’t) and held me to that standard. She called me out on shitty jokes and laughed at the ones that…well, they probably weren’t great either, but if she liked it, she let me know, too. I bought her earrings. I introduced her to my friends, and even the skeptical ones loved her.

Honestly, she was probably the best woman for me. Certainly better than anyone I deserved. Of course I would fuck it up.

I was still hung up on an ex from a relationship that was far too poisonous to have been hung up on anyway, and I was still pretty loathing of myself and what I saw as failed dreams. I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I was monogamous but not committed. I introduced her as a friend, but got jealous like a boyfriend and by the time I was ready to go all-in, she had had enough of my shenanigans and decided we should just be friends.

Maybe I could have fought a little harder for it after that, but she didn’t need that from me. She deserved better and she found better. She graduated and works as a nurse now, and she’s every bit the intelligent, hilarious, amazing woman she has always been.

We would run into each other from time to time after we “broke up”, and we’d catch up on life. At one point she was single again and asked if I’d go in to a place with her to make her ex jealous. I thought to myself that there might be an opportunity for me to maybe rekindle something between us. Instead, the ploy worked a little too well, and her ex decided to give the relationship another shot. They’ve been together since, and she’s happy. I was disappointed for myself but happy for her. Like I said, she found someone better for her and better to her.

She remains a good friend of mine, one whose humor still makes me smile and whose intelligence still challenges and inspires me to live to my potential. Whatever that might be. She has been sympathetic and empathetic and patient, and I value that more than anything.

I’m not one for fate or destiny or divine design, but if I were the type to believe some things happen for a reason, it’s only fair to also believe that some things don’t happen for a reason, too. If that’s the case, I still came out pretty fortunate here.

You, the People

My co-worker asked me today what my favorite thing to do was. “And you can’t say writing.” It took me a moment, but when I replied with “traveling”, it was with absolute conviction.

I do, I love traveling. Different states, different countries, it doesn’t matter. I love seeing different cultures, I love eating foods local to the area, and I love feeling the street beneath my feet. When I travel, I walk around a lot. Certain places have the “must-see” landmarks, and I check those out – the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, Bill Hickock’s grave in Deadwood – but I don’t do it on a tourist bus or with a group of like-minded visitors. I like to go off the beaten path, I love seeing the city and the people who make it come alive.

I remember being in Dublin with my friend Sean and we got lost wandering around. We ended up in some neighborhood walking past a guy on his back, fixing his car and some kids out playing in the road. I will take that 10/10 times before I take someone pointing out landmarks with a practiced speech that doesn’t quite distract from the half-dead eyes looking through and past the audience.

“I love exploring,” I told my co-worker. “I’m restless by nature.”

That’s why Alaska fucking sucks the life out of me. The nature’s gorgeous, best in the world. Anchorage is easy to grow comfortable in. There’s work here, and good money in it, but it’s not for me. It’s funny how the biggest state with so much open space makes me so claustrophobic. I need variety, I need people, I need new.

“I love seeing new places, trying new things. I love meeting people, man.”

The minute those last five words left my mouth, I realised that they were absolutely true. I update my Facebook and my Twitter fairly regularly with stories about awful customers or asinine questions I’m asked, and people occasionally think I hate my job, or that I hate people. Hell, sometimes I think I hate people.

The truth is, those customers are rare. That’s why they stick out so much, that’s why they make such fun stories to tell and retell. Honestly, though, I work retail and I have worked retail for almost thirteen years because I goddamn love people.

Don’t get me wrong: if I could support myself with my writing, I would in a heartbeat. I’d even take a pay cut if it meant I could write full-time. I’m not a materialistic guy. I love diamonds and flashy shit, I love video games and cushy shit, but if I made enough money to buy a van to live out of, a gym membership so I could score showers, and enough to eat at least once a day, I’d fucking do it in a heartbeat.

But I don’t. Not yet. So I work retail, and I’ve got to tell you, even if one asshole can ruin my day, they are few and far between. You meet loads more interesting, hilarious, tragic, beautiful people working a customer service job. As a writer, that’s the best goddamn material I could have.

And traveling? I love meeting new people. I love the locals, who tell me about their lives and their culture and their families and the holes-in-the-wall. I love the tourists, who tell me of their travels with the same kind of free soul and wide-eyed wonderment I’ve got going on in my own cage of a body.

My first day in Munich eight years ago, Sean and I arrived early. Too early to check into our hostel, in fact, so we tottered down to the laundromat to clean our clothes. The machines were unfamiliar to us and the instructions weren’t in English, either. The German owner didn’t speak a lick of our language either, which was frustrating for all parties involved, but after spending several minutes trying to demonstrate how to operate the machines, he just did it for us. He must have seen the relief and embarrassment on our faces, because the tension immediately left his, and he laughed and smiled.

Sean and I dropped our stuff off at the hostel afterwards and went to Oktoberfest when it opened (10AM, if I recall correctly) and…well, it was an experience. I met loads of interesting people, all of whom I could write about at length, but it was after the festival that stuck with me.

Sean and I wound up at the hostel just down the street from ours. It may have even been next door. That hostel was the party hostel, and where a couple Australians we had met in Barcelona were staying. We hung out there a while, drinking more, and chatting. I wound up dancing on the table with a woman from the east coast. What the hell was her name? It started with an L. Maybe a D. Brunette, pretty. We danced on the table until we got kicked off, and I lamented that I wasn’t able to get a photo. She dared me to jump back up, promising to snap a picture for me. I did and she did and we laughed and bought another round.

The next morning, I was in the lobby of my hostel using the computer. She was on her way out, on to the next destination. I walked her to the door, we chatted a bit, and she kissed me. I kissed her back. She left, and we never spoke or saw each other again. She may never even have thought of me, and that’s fine. For me, it was an experience and experiences are stories. I think you know I love stories.

I fucking love traveling. I love people. That’s where the good shit is at. That’s where all the interesting nugs are buried.

I fall in love every goddamn day with people. Not necessarily a romantic love. I love who people are. I love their motivations. I love what makes them, them: their fears, their hobbies, their weird quirks, their first loves, their disastrous sex stories, their tearful losses and reunions, the girl or boy that got away and the one who didn’t that they can’t stop talking about.

I get frustrated with people who don’t appreciate life, with the things that they have. I get frustrated with people who are unnecessarily mean or who are unnecessarily difficult, and that’s hypocritical, because that has been me. I admit to being an asshole. I’ve hurt people. I’ve talked some shit. I’ve been selfish, and those are all things I try to work on, because I don’t like hurting and I don’t like hurting others.

You fuckers are so goddamn beautiful, so intelligent and creative and strong, you’ve got so much drive. You’re capable of so much, and I love meeting you. I love learning and writing about you. You’re everything that is right with the world, when you want to be, and I’ll travel all over the world to share in a little piece of that.