RIP Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, probably best known as Princess Leia, passed away today after suffering a heart attack days ago at the age of 60. It’s interesting, our relationships with strangers, and how the death of someone you might never have met and who you certainly didn’t know personally can still move you. I found myself deeply, deeply saddened this morning. Hearing the news was literally the first thing that happened after waking up and checking my phone.

The talented and versatile actress, the immensely honest and hilarious writer, the troubled and iconic artist meant a lot to me. I distinctly remember my dad popping in the old VHS tapes of the original Star Wars trilogy when I was four or five. I remember the very room I was in when I was introduced to Princess Leia for the first time. I remember how she stood stalwart in the face of evil, how she still didn’t break after her home planet was destroyed because the Rebellion was more important than that, how she mocked her enemies and called out shaky convictions, shot stormtroopers, strangled the life out of a mob boss with the very chain she was attached to, and led her people with poise.

Princess Leia could very well have been a first crush for me, but she was so much more: she was the strongest introduction into sci-fi and fantasy – something that has shaped my entire focus on fiction writing and escape through reading throughout my whole life – and, more importantly, my first introduction to a strong woman protagonist (a role that Ellen Ripley, Wonder Woman, Lara Croft, and Ellie from “The Last of Us”, among others, would go on to expand for me over the years). She showed me that you could be a damsel occasionally in distress and still be a kick-ass warrior, a canny tactician and politician, a romantic, and hilariously sarcastic. When I was writing the Convergence trilogy and creating characters like Alanna Ebere and Delia Bloom, Carrie would pop into my mind often, and served as tremendous inspiration towards creating characters I hoped were half as nuanced as Leia.

Beyond that, she was a fantastic writer, punching up screenplays, poking fun at herself, and through interviews and autobiographies, being unflinchingly honest about her issues with mental illness and substance abuse. She affirmed my belief that it’s unproductive, disingenuous, and actively harmful to lie or shy away from your past or your problems. She continued to convince me to always be open and honest in my own writing, even when it concerns myself. Especially then.

She was in other films, of course, and has done so much more. I could spend all day writing about my favorite interviews and stories about Carrie Fisher. I could write an entirely separate long post about When Harry Met Sally, another one of my favorite films of all time, or her hilarious turn in 30 Rock, but I’ve already written a lot, and it still doesn’t seem to be enough.

For some, Star Wars doesn’t make sense to enjoy. It’s fantasy in space. It’s ridiculous, the writing isn’t always great, there are plot holes large enough to fly a Star Destroyer through, and it largely centers around the same troubled family.

For me, it was the first avenue to a type of escapism that would literally save my life several times over the years, and the first inkling of the kind of storytelling I’d want to try and build a career on. A huge chunk of that was because of the strongest member of the Skywalker family, the princess who told Grand Moff Tarkin to his face that she could recognize his foul stench, the broken hearted but never broken willed woman who mocked a stormtrooper’s height after watching her entire planet explode along with everyone she loved.

You were my first heroine, Carrie Fisher, and have become an immortal icon. You were very, very much to me. Rest in peace.

We’re All Stardust

David Bowie passed away peacefully yesterday. He fought against the cancer eating away at his body for a year and a half, and all the while, he was creating more art to share with the world. Throughout his storied career, he put out 25 – twenty-five – albums. That is an absolutely insane body of work. That’s not even mentioning how many different times he reinvented his style and himself. He was never afraid to embrace new things (or if he was, he didn’t let that fear slow him down) and immerse himself in the sheer passion and beauty and weirdness that was life and this sad, strange, incredible little rock we ride through space.

Like millions of others, I was a fan of Bowie. I admired him as a musician, as an actor, and as a man. I was a weird kid, into learning and comic books and other things that got me labeled as a nerd and kept my peers from inviting me to things, so to see someone dress and act so flamboyantly/bad-ass/striking and still pull off so much charm gave me a little hope that some day I could just own my interests and quirks and pull off my own style with the same success.

And while the first time I think I really saw David Bowie was as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth (a movie I must have watched a hundred times as a kid), rocking an outfit nobody should have realistically been able to pull off, I was already a fan and didn’t know it. I got a lot of my musical taste listening to the bands and artists that my dad liked, so I had already picked up and jammed out to a score of Bowie songs before I even knew his name. They still put a smile on my face years later. It’s good music, great songs.

Now… all that being said, I have to admit that I was never the kind of guy to buy albums. I didn’t obsess over a band’s entire catalogue. Hell, half the time I couldn’t tell you the name of a song that’s playing, or even who performed it. I just know what I like and enjoy it when it comes on.

I wasn’t and am not as well-versed in David Bowie’s work as many others are or even as much as I probably should be, considering my tastes and how much I admire who he was, what he accomplished and what he put out. If you’ve paid any attention to the things I’ve written before, however, you’ll know there is at least one unshakeable truth about me: I believe in and unabashedly love art in all its forms. I may be the Story Man, but paintings, performances, poems, and especially music all serve to provide an outlet for energy, and an escape from the stress and the mundane.

To that end, when a brilliant artist passes, it’s felt less like a ripple than a wave. There is a sudden void where once there was vibrancy. A light was extinguished and with it, an eternal darkness covers all of the potential art that could have been. Even passing fans are deeply troubled by the ceasure of that existence.

But as that sadness permeates in our chest and behind our eyes, we find ourselves doing what we do whenever a great artist passes: revisiting the things they gifted to us. When Robin Williams passed away, we turned on the films that made us laugh and cry throughout the years of our lives. When the tragic news broke about David Bowie, we immediately turned the records on, we popped in Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell to Earth and even The Prestige, because even though his turn as Tesla was relatively brief, it was performed with gravitas.

We’re left with so much music and so much influence and we use what he gave us to help cope with the fact he can’t give us more, that we can’t see him perform live, that we can’t meet him.

David Bowie was an artist. He was more than that, especially to his friends and family, but to most of us, he was an artist. What puts him on a different level than so many others is that he was his art. Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the Goblin King. As many times as he changed his musical styles, he changed his personas and allowed it all to work together to create something haunting, strange, beautiful, captivating, passionate, and ethereal. He constantly shifted his art, but he always lived and breathed it. So rarely are there Michael Jacksons and Robin Williamses and Freddy Mercurys and David Bowies that when they leave us, everyone has to stop and take a breath because those people are creative giants who have affected not only the world with what they’ve created and how they created it, but also because of the inarguable imprint they’ve left on the sheer concept of art. They inspire new styles, new chances, new bravery. They help us cope by showing us beauty in the world when we’ve forgotten how to look for it alone.

Lou Anders wrote a touching tribute to David Bowie that puts into words so much better the things I feel and wanted to say. You can and should read it here: Something Happened On the Day He Died.

Rob Bricken wrote a more comprehensive analysis of the impact David Bowie left on music, art, science fiction, and really, the world. You can and should read it here: All the Ways David Bowie Changed Our Lives and Expanded Our Minds.

Bowie’s influence has and will stay with us on an emotional and inspirational level. It’s a juggernaut of strangeness and versatility that can’t easily be shaken. And why would you want to? I’ve heard it said that physiologically we’re made from the same elements as the stars. What better evidence that we’re Stardust than hanging on to Bowie?

When Everything Changed

Periodically throughout your life, you will meet someone who becomes a catalyst in deciding which direction your life takes. The experience itself can sometimes be negative – there’s no helping that, I’m afraid; it’s easy to be hurt – but many times it can just as well be a positive experience. An epiphany of sorts, or a kick in the ass, or a swelling of the heart (not… not literally, I hope).

However it happens, good or bad, emotionally thrilling or heartwrenching, these are people you never forget. Ever. They become one of the many pivotal building blocks in establishing your life and how you identify yourself as a person.

So let me tell you who saved me once and who put me on the path of being a writer.

The first time I saw her, I was a sophomore in high school. Jesus… eleven years ago, already. I was sitting in class, U.S. history, taught by the riflery coach, a large man who spent his summers big-game hunting in Africa. His classroom was situated such that it had windows and those windows opened up to the front lawn aka the direction from whence students would come and/or leave.

So it was that towards the end of the school year and seniors were being let out early, freed from the claustrophobic halls of public school, we got front seat views to their traipsing and gallivanting all across the lawn. I didn’t really watch them. I had two years left and classwork to do. Until.

She stuck her head through the window from outside to say goodbye to my teacher who had led a class of hers in the past. Blonde hair. The kind of blue eyes you see in the heart of glaciers. An Audrey Hepburn smile. She remains one of the most naturally beautiful women I have ever seen, and all I could think of was that somehow I needed her in my life.

I didn’t see her again that year. She was out, on the road to graduation, and I knew, deep in the cockles of my heart, that I wouldn’t have had the guts to speak to her anyway. This was confirmed, mind you, in the years that followed when I would see her out and about at the mall or at the club, and I simply walked past, eyes averted.

About a year and a half after she graduated, I happened to be perusing MySpace, probably a little drunk, when she popped up in my “People You May Know” or whatever the equivalent was. I probably muttered “fuck it” under my breath before sending a friend request. To my astonishment, she accepted a few days later. I finally said…

Nothing.

Still.

What was I going to say? That she stunned me? That I thought she was magnificent? That I had wanted to befriend her for ages but never had the balls?

Eventually, that’s exactly what I did. Several years back, I was going through some suicidal depression, so around Christmas time, I wrote a series of holiday messages to the people who had the biggest impact on my life that year. The first half was the same for everyone: an accounting of what I had done, what I had gone through, how I was feeling, and my hopes for the future. The second half was personalized for each recipient. Writing them out helped get me through my personal slump as I realized how much I had to live for and how grateful I was for the people in my life. It became an annual thing for a decade.

So Christmas time rolled around, I wrote one for this girl. I laid it all out: the first time I saw her, my shyness, how I felt about her, that I wanted to be friends, that I was shocked and ecstatic she would befriend me even via MySpace, and I sent it off.

Her response was sweet, kind, enthusiastic and caring. She was flattered by my words and glad to be friends. We resolved to keep in touch… and then never did, really. Real life happens. She went to college, and I got swept up in whatever my life is, and I forgot about it.

Cut to a few years later. I was up in Alaska to see my best friend’s newborn baby and killing time until I drove with another friend, helping him move to Florida. I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I was still heartbroken over my girlfriend leaving me, I was fired from my job due to poor decisions on my part, I was thrust into debt, I had to leave Los Angeles and move to a couch in Seattle where I was struggling to find a job. I had lost virtually everything, and I was living out of suitcases. I didn’t even have a family home to fall back to anymore.

I found myself out on the town that weekend, hopping from bar to bar, seeing who I could find after a couple years being away. I could feel tipsiness in my body, but my mind was clear. I stopped into a pub called the Anchor – now closed – and scanned the crowd from about fifteen feet in from the front door.

I saw her there, in the crowd, even more lovely than she had been six years previous. She had a grin on her face while she talked to friends. She turned towards me and locked those same stunning eyes on mine. To my tremendous surprise, she walked right up to me and embraced me tightly.

“You remember me?” I managed. We had only had one conversation, ever, consisting of one message sent and one received, online, years ago.

“Jered,” she said. “I love your writing. You have such a talent. I believe in you, and I can’t wait to see you be successful.”

We swapped numbers. We agreed to keep in touch. I left, completely… I don’t even know what the proper word would be. Transformed, maybe.

For years, this woman was something ethereal to me. Always out of reach, always out of my league, always more of an idea than a reality. She was a dream, a fucking incredible one, but no more than smoke to me. To have her in my arms, to have her remember me, but more than that, most of all, to have this person come to me when I was at my absolute lowest, when I hated myself the most… at THAT moment, out of everybody in the world, it was her that came to me and told me I was talented and that she believed in me.

It’s like meeting your favorite celebrity, on the moon, with million dollars cash. Probably a puppy, too, fuck it. One of the adorable types, not those drowned-rat-looking breeds.

The encounter completely shifted my mindset. It started an electric current through me. I helped my friend move to Florida, I flew back to Seattle, I got a job. I dug out three mediocre chapters I had worked on a year previous, re-tooled them, sat down and wrote my first novel in six months.

I moved back to Alaska about a month after I finished and self-published it, and this time she and I did keep in touch. We got dinner and talked and caught up, and we texted each other every day. She told me about her troubles in the science industry and I bitched about the stressors plaguing me while I sold jewelry. She became one of my best and most trusted friends. I could tell her everything and she never judged me for anything.

Time passed, as it does, and life happened again, as it will. She got engaged, then married. I lost my grandparents, another job, and another girl. We grew distant, but occasionally shot each other an encouraging text, or a hilarious photo. By and large, things had gone back to the way they were, with our friendship essentially being long periods of silence. Even so, I knew things had changed. I knew that I had a strong, beautiful, supportive friend if I ever needed to reach out to someone.

I didn’t dedicate my first book to her. I dedicated it to the proof-readers and the advanced copy readers, and to my friend Chelsea, who was the first person to really tell me they were proud of me. In retrospect, this woman should absolutely have been in there. Like I said, she’s the main reason I started writing!

I saved it, though. Over the course of four years, I wrote a trilogy and released it in five parts. The second half of As the Trembles was put out in the first quarter of this year. Her name was in that one. That one was the most important to me, because it showed me and it proved to her, one of the most important people in my life, that I could finish it.

Waypoint was always supposed to be the first book in a trilogy. I wrote that first one in no time, because she had fired me up and inspired me. The second and third book took much longer. I didn’t have faith in the second and third acts. I had so much stuff going on in my personal life. I wanted to give up. I almost did.

But I couldn’t. I needed to finish what she started so I could show her it was because of her. I had to put her fucking name in a book. So I did, and I did.

The middle of this year, as I’ve written time and again, was really rough for me. I’ve been slowly coming back from that and trying to get into a healthier mindset. Some days are better than others. I’m probably more stressed right now than I have been in a while, but I’m beginning to process it better.

In any case, as I feel myself reaching another crossroad in my life, I found myself out last night, tired and kind of pensive. I wandered out to the deck, turned a corner and – lo and behold – she and I came face to face again. I found myself smiling as her own crossed her face. We hugged, talked briefly, agreed again that we should keep in touch.

As we reminisced some, she told me again that she was proud of me, that I had talent, that I was a great guy. Things that I often have a hard time believing myself, things that people occasionally say off-handed somehow never ring false coming from her.

She’s amazing. As beautiful in personality as she was that first day I saw her, before I even knew her name. I truly owe her so much for the last few years. Not only for inspiring and encouraging me to write, but for the countless, patient support and advice she has given me. She is stalwart and reliable in a day and age where friendship and consistency are so often shaky. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend.

I’m not a believer in fate, and I’m agnostic at best when it comes to a higher power, but she has surfaced in my life at times I’ve needed someone or something to help me find some focus. The last time, I wrote a book. I look forward to whatever comes next this time.

Unless it’s, like, I’m going to become a hooker or something.

Anyway, you can find my novels here, or if the Nook is more your speed, head over there and type my K. Jered Mayer into the search engine.

A Beautiful Coin Flip

She had a weakness for writers. Maybe it was the brooding nature, the way that a sitting silence could fill volumes. Maybe it was the self-assured smirk that so often sat below haunted eyes. Maybe it was because she was never so good with words.

Her creativity was one of warmth, one that filled the lungs with flowered fields and the kind of sky with lazy clouds, cornflower and cut through by an occasional feathered journeyer. Her art was one where the heart beat by the sounds of a sonata, one with eyes that could look lovingly at the sun.

She filled finite spaces with frameless things, pieces unbound by logic and thrumming with a life felt far beneath the surfaces; the Marianas Trench of empathy and compassion. Her life, the artist’s life, was one in broad strokes and tight feelings, messy in practice and pure in completion.

There was something about writers, though, she thought as she stared over a mug of hot chocolate, through the whips and whorls of steam stretching free from it, through a window pane polka-dotted with drops of water. Something about the way they could take the ambient light of a rainy day – that light that was somehow both the warm gray of rabbit fur and the faded light blue of acid-washed jeans – and translate it into reflective comfort. The way they captured the pit-patter along the roof while muffled cars splashed past in the street while she sat curled up against the armrest of her couch and the cushion quietly relaxed for her.

She had a gift, but writers had a gift. It was easy for her to lose track of hours in bed, bath or beyond amidst the pages of a novel. It could be fantastic, with fire sprites and warrior women; it could be something futuristic, with strange worlds, clone companions and oceans of crystal; or it could even be something so simple as sudden, sensational love between two people meeting at the right place at the right time.

As she moved from that portal looking out at a drab day to a porcelain basin full of water (hot, to match her chocolate) and lavender scented bubbles, she brought along a dog-eared paperback she could practically quote.

A rainy day. A bath to soak in. A writer’s soul bound within a laminate cover. It  was something she was left to think about and to feel; she was never so good with words, after all.

…..

He had a thing for artists. Maybe it was the unbridled passion, the way each movement made was filled with purpose. Maybe it was the determined line their mouths made, set under eyes filled with lightning and focus. Maybe it was because he was never so good with visuals.

His creativity was one of specifics: a particular metaphor, a precise description, an aesthetic arrangement. It rattled around his mind like a Scrabble bag in a Yahtzee cup, like walking through a sandstorm while trying to picture the oasis. It pounded in his head like a timpani and roiled in his blood, a serpent stepped upon. His art was one that – when it worked – was Pandora’s box of emotion, flooding history and emotion over a barren page, twenty-six symbols tossed together to create an intangible picture, phantom lives, and ghostly worlds.

He filled blank space with puzzle, one in which linear parts formed a whole picture. He bled on paper with memories and anguish and love and what potion brewed from it was something altogether different, echoed by the familiar. His craft was stark honesty, a nude model dressed in the garments of a foreigner. It wept behind bulletproof glass.

There was something about artists, though, he thought as he looked through the glass in his hand, through the swirling amber whiskey that tasted like the dirty hands and knees of his childhood and gifted the deep stars of winter what told him a man’s life is equal parts the least important (to the universe) and the most important (to himself and the human race, a largely selfish and stressed creation but one that exists and feels and loves right there when you think about it) thing to be.

Something about the way they could capture the chips in the edge of his desk to show it has age and character, a piece of furniture with development, one kept from sentiment and usefulness, one built to hold love in its splinters. Something about how they could capture  the bags under his eyes and see every story there in vague detail, every worry line that told five years in the showing, every askew paper that demonstrated the most recent interests as he tore through his notes to find a project that currently spoke to his mind.

He had a gift, but artists had a gift. It was a gift that put a hundred thousand words and stories upon stories into one sight. It spoke of time and love and feelings, good feelings and bad feelings but true feelings. It was something he could  view fleetingly that would haunt him for days. A picture’s worth a thousand words until the one comes that takes them all.

As he moved from that desk, cluttered with things to read and things to do, away from the gun most people called a pen and a page that showed no mercy, he took to bed with him the last beautiful picture he saw. One painted with affection and care, and he pictured the gentle, no, tempestuous, no, dedicated (all of the above) hands that spun gold silk out of air. He went to bed, pillow grasping lightly at the contours of his busy skull, visualizing the artist poised to make a brighter future.

A bursting workshop. A mattress to cradle him. An artist’s soul drifting through the after-image clinging to the frame of the inspired. It was something he was left to think about and to feel; he was never very good with visuals, after all.

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

Muses

I fell in love with the voice of a photographer. While her talent behind a lens is without dispute, her voice is something altogether different. At times haunting and ethereal, at other times upbeat, crackling with the kind of energy that gets the foot tapping and the smile spreading, it’s the kind of voice that sucks the air out of the room and decides on its own the rate it will give it back.

It’s a voice that draws up every eye, a voice that quiets the chatter of a tipsy crowd. When she sings, the drab and poorly-lit world of mundanity peels back and away, and I’m left with explosions of color, fantastic concepts, and veins filled with ink ready to be spilled onto paper in thousands of words.

I fell in love with the soul of a painter. I don’t know where in the world she lives or even her real name, but that’s the funny thing about souls: they are elusive things, hard to grasp but filled with the purest content of a person.

In a world where millions of strangers can connect via a brightly lit screen and a few taps or swipes of letters on a digital keyboard, I found a kindred soul in a creative artist. She both creates and appreciates beautiful things, be they color on a canvas, the breath just after a kiss goodbye or the dance of prose in poetry. She finds beauty in love and in lust, the sculptures two bodies make when entwined with each other, the intimacy born in passionate submission to one’s id.

Sexuality and beauty, art and form, concept and creation. Through her understanding and elucidating the heart of these subjects, I found myself glimpsing a bit of her soul, and I found it was a soul that ignited a fiery love. A love for the love of lovely things.

I fell in love with the challenge of a thespian. Not that she was unwilling or abrasive. She was not a thing to “get”, not a goal to accomplish. She challenged me and my preconceived notions of myself. Through alcohol-infused bluster and arrogance, through oblivious ignorance, I spouted off about myself and my experiences with the fairer sex because…who the fuck knows? There are plenty stories in that chapter of my life filled with humor and circumstance, drama and ridiculousness, but the fact that those stories exist does not inherently mean they should be shared.

Instead of balking or scoffing or admonishing me, all of which would have been in her right, she called my bluff. I was unused to someone who would correct me grammatically or question my sensibility, someone who would match my barbs as one would parry and riposte. I was unused to find someone who paid attention to what I was saying, who saw through my walls and my distance, not because she wanted to use me or belittle me, not because she was blindly infatuated, but because she is alert and interested in the human condition and I had blundered my way onto her radar.

She was and is a strong woman, incredibly intelligent, immensely talented on, off, and in every direction of the stage. She is a woman who has a firm position on her interests and goals and accomplishes them from a humble position. She doesn’t bother with the bullshit. She likes to have her fingers on the pulse of the heart of the matter, and through the course of our friendship, she has forced me to do the same every time we’ve met.

She intimidates me, not because she is conceited or condescending, not because she is overtly threatening, but because she is honest, insightful, and supportive, and no matter how absurd or intimate our own connection has been, I have found myself in awe of her all the same. She intimidates me because she challenges me, effortlessly, subtly, and I am left constantly wishing I could impress her. I wish I were better at writing, better at life.

I fell in love with that challenge, because it is a constant pressure to keep my feet moving forward.

I fell in love with the lie of a love. I don’t know how big the lie was, or when it started, or if it was one or one of many, but I loved it. I loved that lie because I was vulnerable and scared and hopeful.

I had lost my mother figure and was stressed at my job. I had been lied to and cheated on, abandoned and abused, and nestled in the ribs of the Halloween skeleton that was my life, I found an old love, a connection that had casually faded into the years only to come back in the darkest time of my life. I picked up that old love and dusted it off and nurtured it, because I saw a flicker of light there.

She met me halfway and with enthusiasm. I fell in love with that, because she called me “my writer” and told me she loved me, because I could hold her in my arms at night, and when I felt broken down and weary, she would hold me. I fell for it because we would wake up in the middle of the night just to make love, and for once, I didn’t feel alone but truly cared for.

And it was a lie. And I loved that lie, even though it almost broke me all over again.

I wrote once about the times I fell in love. There is the faintest amount of overlap here, but where that previous article was about connections born from actual relationships, this is something much more abstract and subjective.

I have written of people who have affected me. I have written of the lives of others. I have written of love. These are things I have to write about. This post, though, this is about those who inspire me to write. I have created poetry and stories because of these people. I have been driven to work on my novels, to produce content simply because these people have spoken to me or shared their art with me or shared their lives with me. It’s something more, something that rails against definition by way of words.

Visual arts inspire me. Snippets of conversation, stories, scenery. But it is rare that I find inspiration – not content, mind you, but the desire to create and the metaphysical wind-filled sails to do so – because of a human being. These people are muses in truth, each for their own reasons, each with our own histories.

There is a beautiful thing in art, and there is art in love. In expression, there is vibrancy, and there is vibrancy is love. There are many types of freedom, and there is freedom in love. There are many ways to love, and many reasons for it, and I find more every day.

The Metal That Gave Me Mettle

The first computer I ever owned as a kid was some piece of shit desktop that did nothing for Internet and only basic script commands. I could play Space Invaders and Pong on it, green icons on a black screen with a laggy system so that I never got too used to winning. Around 11 or 12 or so, I got upgraded to a faster computer with Internet capabilities and a dial-up connection. I can recall the long screeching noises vividly. My friends and I used to vocally mock the sounds, as if the machine had feelings we could hurt.

My grandparents, God bless them, put a lot of faith in me to not go to any websites I shouldn’t have. I remember furtively venturing to “sex dot com” and laser printing out softcore images of naked women that I hid under my mattress and blamed on my friend when I inevitably got caught. Oh, you were holding drugs for a friend? Weapons? Yeah, I had topless photos of Denise Richards. “For a friend”.

I took my grounding and pleaded my case and gradually regained my privilege to be on the computer. I discovered Java Chat, a popular early chat room type often divided up by topic or demographic. The particular one I frequented…I don’t even recall how I found it. I think the subject for the room was “Miscellaneous” or some other inane shit.

Being a bullied kid with few friends and an awkward look, I found it easy and, in fact, a relief to meet friends on the Internet. There was JadeDragon (who was kind of a dick) and Topcat (who was my homie) and Spider and this chick Jess who I had a huge crush on and who called me occasionally and who betrayed me when I found out she lied about her age, even though her actual age was closer to mine. You remember when A(ge)/S(ex)/L(ocation) was a thing? Yeah, it was like that but with lies.

I think I was 13 or so when I met Amanda in the chat. She was a year older than me, feisty, funny. She and I bickered as much as we had each other’s back, but she was also there for me through some really hard times. We became friends, though I was in Anchorage, Alaska and she was in Toronto, Canada. We spoke a lot, almost everyday, in the chat room proper or in PMs (private messages). She was my girl, my go-to, the one person I could tell anything to.

She is still a close friend of mine, some 13 years later.

Amanda is the one who got me into Kittie. She started talking about it in the chats, linked me to songs, encouraged me to buy the CD (which, at that point, I think was only Spit). I’m not a big metal guy. I never have been and I probably won’t ever be super into it, but there was something about this all-chick line-up and they way they shredded and screamed and sang that reached whatever pent-up feelings I had gurgling in my chest cavity. I got hooked. I checked them out because a girl I liked asked me to and I stuck with it because the band fucking rocked.

As the Java chat wound down, Amanda and I found our way over to Kittie’s official message board on their website. It was free to sign up, there were hundreds of threads to contribute to (Band discussions, debate, general topics, art and poetry, tours, etc.), and the only rule, really, was don’t be a dick.

Did we follow that? Hahaha no. Not in the slightest.

Could we be warned and banned and suspended? Absolutely. But the moderators didn’t always get along and there were always favorites and sometimes someone said something so fucked up but inherently hilarious that the person would get a message asking them to tone it down instead of an official warning.

There were several regulars that frequented the board, myself among them. I was 13 or 14 when I started posting and I developed a certain kind of reputation for myself. Everyone who was anyone on that board built a rep for themselves. There were stern folks and smart folks and assholes and sarcastic assholes and poets and artists and dumbfucks and rock stars. I made friends with a lot of the right people, but I got warned a time or two. Everyone who was anyone on that board got warned a time or two.

There were costume contests and .gif request threads. There were board awards where people could vote for users to win things, and other people would make banner “award” images to post in their signature lines. There were threads about politics and threads about soda and an equal amount of energy and opinion went into both.

It was a community. It was a family. Not everyone got along, but it was a family all the same. The craziest part about it was the transparency. This was right when scanners and webcams were starting to get big so there was a level of transparency on the board that hadn’t been in the Java chat. Add to that the fact that several board members either lived in close proximity to each other or would road trip to hit up concert venues and meet there. We knew when people were who they said they were.

Additionally, as it was their official board, the Kittie band members would occasionally pop in to chime in on certain topics. The thing that struck me the most about them was that they never came in to address their “fans”. They came in to talk to their family. There was never an air of condescension or entitlement or a shortness of expression. They were our friends, and we were theirs and that was a huge thing.

See, in school, I had to be somebody different all the time. Quiet around certain people, bite my tongue with certain people, hide my intelligence or over reach it with certain people. As I got older and began working, I needed to have a professional face. I had to hide certain qualities about myself and felt ashamed about certain others.

But on the Kittie message board. Everyone could be themselves for the first time. I didn’t have to worry about being called ugly. I could hide or post a pic and at least one person would have something nice to say. I didn’t have to worry about my poetry. There was another poet who would encourage me. I could rant in anger or cry in frustration or celebrate losing my virginity or crack crass jokes or vent my family problems or voice my insecurities. I could be me and people fucking liked me for me and that was weird and so goddamn needed.

You know, people talk a lot these days about the dangers of meeting people on the internet. It is no more dangerous now than it was ten years ago. Less so now, in fact. You just need to not be a fucking idiot about doing it.

I met Diana when I was 17 and flew to Texas. We had spoken on the phone, had webcam chats, talked for years online. I may have gotten confirmation from someone else that she had met, and we met in an airport – practically the most public place you can meet. I stayed for two or three weeks. We went to Ozzfest during Hurricane Katrina, celebrated what I think was her 21st birthday, catcalled some meerkats at the zoo and walked the Galveston strip. It was a hell of a trip.

A year or so later, I flew down to meet my friend Tommy. When he first showed up on the board, he had some stupid fucking goggles that I would not let him get away with wearing. I flew down a couple times, actually. Once I met another board member, Ashley, visiting from Arkansas. The other time, Tommy and I decided to spur-of-the-moment drive from Prattville, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan to meet up with board member Crystal and catch what would be my first live Kittie show.

We arrived in 13 hours, stopping for fuel in Tennessee at a joint gas station/fireworks shop because God Bless You, Tennessee.

Which brings us back to Kittie. I never got to meet the full Spit line-up that had got me so hooked on the band, with Talena Atfield and Fallon Bowman. I did meet sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander, bassist Trish Doan and guitarist Tara McLeod and let me tell you, they were amazing to me.

They snuck us in to their sound check to hear some of their new stuff before anyone else. They recognized me immediately as “that dude from Alaska”. Mercedes made sure I had one of the two copies of the set list in hand and they took the time to take pictures with me after.

I flew to New York to meet board member Jenny D. We caught Kittie’s acoustic set in a mall where I surprised them. I hadn’t let them know I was coming. Jenny took me to my first and only college party where, at 18 or 19, I won some games of flip cup, vomited all over some frat house bathroom, got a girl’s number and suffered the single worst hangover I’ve ever had.

We caught the Kittie concert in Poughkeepsie and after, the ladies all signed my hat. Tara, who I had a tremendous crush on, gave me her number to keep in touch. I mentioned wanting to write books for a living. Morgan encouraged me to do so. I can’t express how much it means to have someone you look up to and whose art you enjoy tell you to keep at it.

I met board member Karen in Ireland and had one of the fondest memories of my life, holding her while a university group, amidst a light show, sang “She Moved Through the Fair”.

Skyler Martin, aka Skaz, is another board member. One I’ve never met but who is the best writer I’ve ever worked with or whose material I’ve helped edit.

Tommy, of Alabama fame, and his roommate (and board member) Ben once gave me a place to stay when I got kicked out of Canada and had no place else to go.

The last time I saw Kittie perform live was at the Key Club in Los Angeles in 2009. I had just moved away from Alaska for the first time. I was scared and mostly broke and too much in my head and in a rough spot. I scraped money aside to see them; my friends ditched me. Morgan greeted me with open arms. She gave me a shout out during the concert. Ivy Jenkins was playing bass at the time. I didn’t get to meet her then, but we’re friends now.

After the concert, after I forcefully interjected myself between a perma-fried, super-high fan and Morgan, I got to spend a little time with her and Mercedes just relaxing on the tour bus and drinking wine. And I felt okay. I felt like I could get through things, if only for a while.

Morgan and Mercedes Lander, Trish Doan, and Tara McLeod have absolutely been encouraging to me and my endeavors for the better part of a decade. They have never needed to reach out or wish me happy birthday or offer me to hang out. They have never needed to reach out to me.

Or anyone else, because they have reached out to so many people. They have touched so many lives, have encouraged artists and inspired artists and have left an impact on the industry.

Not only that, but the community they have built has saved lives. People who couldn’t be themselves anywhere else found an out. Those who were struggling found support. I personally have developed some of the strongest friendships in my life from interactions on that board, real friendships that have lasted over a decade without, in some cases, needing to meet in person. I’ve met my greatest inspirations through Kittie’s board. My best first kiss with a woman. Some of my greatest, craziest memories. Friends all around the world.

The best part? I’ve lived most of my life in Alaska. I’ve barely had the interaction with the band people elsewhere have. I know of at least two marriages from that board, one that crossed the world. Kittie is a band who is compassionate, inspirational and fun, a band whose presence ignites growth and whose very construction can build a global family that stands the test of time.

I love the band as a whole for their artistry, especially being outside of what I typically like. And those women I know personally? I love them dearly for the friends, the experiences and the encouragement they’ve given me. I may not have pursued storytelling had they not told me I was worth it.

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