Some Fires Just Burn a Little Brighter

I’m a subscriber to love. I don’t believe there is one type, or a specific intensity. I don’t believe that young love is a myth. There’s a woman I fell for when I was fifteen years old that I still miss deeply and hope the best for. I do believe love can be foolish and reckless and selfish, especially when someone doesn’t have much experience with it, or with life. You can love young, and you should love when that feeling presses up against your heart and seeps into your lungs, but it doesn’t always mean it’s going to work out. Love is messy, and like tungsten carbide, it can be the strongest thing out there and still shatter with the right amount of pressure to the wrong spot.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this.

Seven years ago, I still fancied myself an actor. I love acting, to be honest, but though I have a small circle of friends who were always seated in the front row for my shows, I don’t think I was particularly good at it. Keep in mind I moved to Los Angeles a year later to try and actually do it for a living. It backfired spectacularly.

But this is before that. This is before I could enter an American bar. I got into acting late in high school. The first show I ever did was the Outsiders (Dallas Winston. My very first performance, I yelled out FUCK in front of the entire school when my gun got stuck in my coat pocket during my super emotional death scene), followed by Grease (Kenickie, because I’m a whore and a hickie from me is like a Hallmark card: when you care enough to give the very best).

I did some community shows afterwards, including playing a lead in a Halloween show about werewolves where I played a pastor (*cue laugh track*). That show was great. The uncut script was phenomenal, and though we had to trim it down for time, it still ended with my stage wife blowing me away with a rifle.

Strangely, I kept getting cast in musicals. I’m a terrible singer. I never did choir, I don’t sing in the shower. I don’t like my speaking voice, let alone my singing voice. Then there’s the dancing. I’m the clumsiest, least coordinated guy you could meet. Now I’ve got to master dance moves and sing and act and holy shit, how many scenes do I have in this thing? I was the Pirate King in a showing of Pirates of Penzance and though I look dashing in a goatee and a red coat, I felt like an asshole trying to co-lead that show.

Anyway. I did that Halloween show and she saw me perform, although I didn’t know that at the time. We would meet a few months later, during a musical (again) in which I had a mercifully minor role. The show was set in 1920s France and I was set in the most ridiculous costumes I’ve ever set eyes upon. We met for the first time during our first rehearsal. I think even then, there was a connection.

We talked. A lot. The girl I was dating at the time broke up with me over text, and I didn’t handle it very well. It hurt my feelings, and I was mopey. This beautiful actress, six years my senior (older women is my fetish. And younger women. And women my age, but at 20, hey, this older women thing was something new and different and flattering) did a lot to build my confidence back up. She made me feel handsome. She encouraged my writing. She made me feel talented, and through spending so much time talking to and being around me, she made me feel desirable during a time when I really held myself to being worth so little as to be a throwaway text.

The first night I went to her apartment wasn’t a graceful one for either of us. We had met up for food at the tavern about a block down from her place and she invited me back for drinks. Adele was playing from the CD player, Chasing Pavements, the first time I had heard the singer. Candles were lit. Glasses were pulled from the cabinets. We both had a little too much wine and, coupled with the pasta she had ordered earlier, the night ended with my holding her hair back while she let everything return from whence it had come. She was embarrassed, and she told me so then, and she told me so later. I wasn’t bothered. I held her until she fell asleep and then I made my way home.

I fell for her then, I think, in that moment. Not because she was puking. That’s not… I’m not into that. Maybe because she was vulnerable and she trusted me enough to hold her there. I remember her nestled against me, my arm hooked under black and full hair. I recall the light freckles on her olive skin and the way her chest rose in soft breaths, exhausted from what she had just been through with the food and drink.

We talked about it the next day and hung out soon after, and I think the fact the experience hadn’t turned me away or shaken the feelings I was having for her made an impression that lasted. Not long after, we began seeing each other in a fashion I guess I would best describe as being intensely passionate and equally torrid.

We couldn’t keep our hands off each other. Not during the show, not after the show wrapped. When we were around each other, the chemistry was unbelievable. Rarely have I looked so deeply into a woman’s eyes and found so much art and life waiting to rush back at me. I wrote poems for her. I wrote short stories. I’ve written about muses and love before, and I’ve left this woman out, I think in part because of how things ended, but she was a fire inside me for several months and she lingered in me for years after.

She made me a journal. The cover was custom designed, and the pages were sporadically filled with pictures of her, of us, of my favorite things. There was a picture of the Eiffel Tower from when we lay curled around each other, wistfully talking about running away to Paris together. I lost it a couple years later in a cab in Los Angeles. The thought still pisses me off.

She introduced me to the Woodshed, the karaoke bar that became a second home to me for many years, a place that has brought me some of my favorite stories and best friendships. She was the impetus for my throwing myself into a life of art, be it acting or writing. Jesus, I don’t know if I ever would have had the balls to actually move to Los Angeles if it hadn’t been for her, and though that move broke me in ways I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered from, it still changed my life in a lot of great ways, too.

I felt confident with this woman. My creative synapses were like lightning around her. I’ve had very few physical relationships that were as full of intensity and aggression and expression as when she and I were together. Sexuality, emotion, inspiration ran together in a single, twisting, uproarious current.

Of course it didn’t last. In my experience, things like this rarely do.

See, here’s the rub: I fucking loved her, and I know she felt strongly about me, too. I don’t think it was love for her, and that’s fine. She wanted to be around me and with me, and often it was a companionship that vibrated with a whole different level of energy. But I was young. 20, 21. I liked to party, and party hard. I was dumb. I lacked the maturity that comes from tragedy and actual relationships and general life experience. She was in her mid-20s. She liked to party, too. She was deep in an art scene and fresh out of a relationship with her eyes on the world.

We were good. We were great. But there are other great people out there. And there are plenty of debilitating distractions.

We began to fight. I grew jealous. She was partying harder than ever, and I began to worry about her health. I expressed this by getting drunk and angry and yelling when she refused to listen to my concerns. I was a wreck. I was immature. She was merciless in her comebacks. It got bitter. We grew apart. We stopped seeing each other. We stopped talking to each other.

Years later, I had moved back to Alaska after two years of struggling to find myself in California and Washington. I was working at a jewelry store, a job I kind of really hated, and I wasn’t feeling too hot about myself either. A beautiful, familiar woman walked up to me while I was standing at the front of the store counting minutes. She said “Hey,” and flashed a smile. The smile, her smile,  the one I used to kiss hungrily, the one that left me weak in the knees, the one that made the words come quaking to my fingertips, begging to be unleashed upon the nearest parchment.

It was the smile I remembered looking up to from that fucking break-up text right before she told me things were going to be alright.

She apologized to me, saying she wasn’t in a great place back then. I told her she didn’t need to apologize, it was me that was in a bad place. We talked briefly. She’s married now. At the time, she had one kid. She has two now and is still happy, still in a good place.

I ran into her yesterday after watching the World Cup final. She was performing on stage, her voice as silky and lovely as I remembered. She came over to speak to me afterwards and we caught up. She dug up an old story I had written for her and e-mailed it to me. She seems happy, and I am so happy for her. She deserves it.

What’s funny to me is the timing. I don’t believe in fate. I’m not a believer in a divine plan. I do believe in chance, so maybe I just got lucky, but our paths crossed at a time in my life where I am hitting absolute rock bottom. I wake up in the morning feeling gutted, I’ve been bleeding money on bad decisions and intangible nonsense. Seeing her reminded me of some very positive things. A passionate love that, though tempered and tucked away in the art gallery of my heart, still remains. I was reminded of a woman I wanted to run away to France with, of a time when I saw the world in a woman’s eyes.

She found a good life, one full of art and passion and love and family. Maybe some day I’ll find something like that, too. She gave me one more gift, after all these years, after everything that’s happened: a little bit of hope.

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Recap Redux

I’ve written or shared a hundred posts now, and it has been an absolutely rewarding experience so far. From being able to experiment via short stories set in worlds I plan on exploring in more detail later to reflecting on my life/my relationships/my family and friends, what started out as sort of a trial outlet for my thoughts and creative endeavors has turned into a cathartic routine.

Even more so, by sharing it online and via Twitter and Facebook, I’ve received a number of comments and personal messages expressing a wide variety of emotions. That’s good! That has been the point of this. I want you to be able to experience my type of art. I want you to think and to feel things, and if you’re going through an experience or feelings similar to something I’ve gone through,  I want you to be know you’re not alone.

Every fifty posts or so, I’ll create one of these as sort of a recap. With so many posts coming out of me and with no real regular schedule,  there’s a chance you may have missed something that pertains to your interests. This is meant to act as a quick guide to the posts, separated more or less into different categories.

If you read something you feel particularly thought-provoking or touching or infuriating or garbage, I encourage you to share it with others.

First off, you can find a quick recap to the first 49 articles here: FIVE OH.

Then:

About Me:
My Own Worst Enemy
I’m a Man Who Was Raped
Oktoberfest, Or That Time I Crippled Myself
Vagabond
Distilling Who I Used to Be
The Metal That Gave Me Mettle
Hundo
I Fell In Love
Playing the Doldrums
Kisses Have Pictures Beat
Office Space
Story Time With Grampa Jered
Just Plane Silly
The A Word

Family and Friend Profiles:
Go Out and Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note
Mama Mia
Blondie
Father Of Mine

Writing Tips and Opinion Pieces:
Six Reasons Why 50 Shades of Grey Sucks, and Why It Doesn’t
Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy
Getting the Gang Together
Things I Love: The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Thanksgiving: A Better Christmas
No Place Like Home

Miscellaneous:
The Best Medicine
The Beautiful Last Breath of Day
Remembrance
The Wedding Bells Are Ringing
The Carolina Reaper

Fiction:
A Nice, Slow Day
Satori and the Key
The Wrong Kind of Flop
The Velvet Anchor
Love and Bullets
The Balloon Trick: An Absolute Zeroes Story
The Owl Part I: A Curious Shoppe
Trixie: A Flatliners Story
Yellow
The Lost Journey of the Stalwart

Poetry:
Shadow Hurt
Stoke the Fire
She, Of the Pale Stars
You Know
I Could Write
The House In the Ocean

Guest Entries and Shared Posts:
Life Is a Coping Mechanism by Jessica Michelle Singleton (follow @JMSComedy)
10 Tips and Tricks For Creating Memorable Characters by Charlie Jane Anders (follow @charliejane)
As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders
How to Create a Killer Opening For Your Science Fiction Short Story by Charlie Jane Anders
Cars. Booze. Central Oregon. by Robert Brockway (follow @Brockway_LLC)

So there you go. Hopefully you’ll find something you haven’t seen before that you like, or you’ll have a convenient way to link a friend.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, shared, commented, read, or even encouraged since Word Whiskey has started. It means the world to me.

Go Out And Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note

Through high school, there were teachers I hated, teachers I respected, teachers I had crushes on and teachers who left absolutely no lasting impression on me whatsoever. There are very few, though, that I genuinely consider friends.

I was a teacher’s aid for Chad Sant’s more traditional academic course (History, I believe, though I was more concerned with grading papers and giving girls back massages), but the class I was an actual student in was his acting class.

I had never really done acting before that class. I took it because I needed electives, it seemed easy, and a couple girls I had crushes on were in it. Participation was mandatory. There were a lot of improv games: park bench, questions, sausage…that last one isn’t what you might think. We also had to memorize monologues and perform them for the class.

I liked being a smart-ass. I liked pushing the limits and being a class clown. All the same, I had yet to acquire my comfort for the spotlight. I was nervous being in front of so many people and reciting something or becoming somebody I wasn’t or reading something I had written. So it was with complete skepticism that I met Chad’s suggestion I should audition for the school play.

Now, this was senior year. I had never acted on stage before where others had been doing it for 6 years or more. I had quit band after 8th grade because I was afraid of anything that might get me picked on. But Chad insisted, my friends encouraged me and I went in and did a cold read that I thought went fucking terribly. I tossed the script in the trash on my way out, headed to the mall and – I don’t recall exactly – probably got drunk that weekend. I was an angry, lonely seventeen year old. I had a routine.

Cut to a week later when I happened by Chad’s classroom and found the cast list posted on his door. To my surprise, I had been cast as Dallas Winston in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I hemmed and hawed over it for almost a week before grudgingly accepting. I had never read the book. I didn’t even finish the script. Chad brought the movie in for us to watch and that was the first time I discovered that I died in the end and fuck yes, this was actually going to be awesome.

Spoiler alert, but that book has been out almost 50 years and the film for over 30. Matt Dillon played my character. Tom Cruise still had a fucked up nose and crooked teeth. It was truly a different time.

Anyway, the show did not go off without its hitches. In the premiere show for the school, in front of the artsy kids, the special needs kids, several teachers and the principal of the school, the gun I was supposed to pull on the policeman got caught in the pocket of my leather jacket. I let out a frustrated, “FUCK”, at which point I was gunned down, the lights dimmed and I could hear one of the girls backstage say, “Whaaat did he just say?”

I didn’t get in trouble. It still makes me laugh, because it really did warrant at least a detention. At least one. But Chad told the principal to chalk it up to nerves and when I apologized, he turned to me and said, “Huh? Oh. Yeah. Don’t….do that again.”

There are plenty of other stories from that show and the two others (Grease, Pirates of Penzance) I performed in under his direction. But this isn’t about me, as much as I like to talk about myself.

I bring up my experiences in theater because it opened up a lot for me. It opened up a love for the craft I never could have imagined. I’ve only done six shows, some high school drama competitions, a couple Renaissance Faires and a couple short indy films, but holy shit has it influenced my life.

I began writing more – short fictions, poems with plot, starts of novels, screenplays – because I fell in love with the art of storytelling. I owe being an author, screenwriter and poet in part to that.

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 21 because of a want to be an actor/writer. I failed so fucking hard. But that dream led me to one of the loves of my life and some of the best friends I’ve ever known. I felt more at home there than anywhere and I want to move back. The dream of acting led me there.

My theater experience in school led me to a few shows with city theater groups. I met another love of my life through that, in a passionate, ill-advised tryst. Through her, I was introduced to the karaoke bar I fell in love with until it closed. Through experience in musical theater, I was given the opportunity to judge karaoke contests and everything that entailed.

Chad Sant set me on this path as an artist. He took me aside and told me he believed in me. More than that, that he needed me to help complete his casts and bring everything together. Now, that’s bullshit. I was absolutely replaceable. Almost all of us were. But he made me feel like I wasn’t. He drove me to and from rehearsals. He talked to me about life between classes. He treated me like an adult and didn’t hold back when discussing and debating mature topics. He didn’t treat me like I was stupid.

Chad has purchased each book I’ve put out so far. He has brought them into his classrooms and told his students about me. He’s made an effort to keep in touch since I’ve graduated and put in a good word.

And you know what?  I’m not the only one he does this for. He’s gone to Jessica Singleton’s comedy shows. He regularly goes out for dinner with several of his more prestigious former students. He keeps us all apprised on each other and instills in us a sense of accomplishment not just in ourselves but with these former colleagues we suffered through high school with. He helps us maintain a sense of camaraderie through years without communication.

He’s a good man. A kind man. An inspiring man. He’s funny and smart and he sees potential in people. I wrote before that testing doesn’t equal teaching, and Chad is a perfect example of the educator who goes above and beyond to make sure his students are invested in learning, in being something more than themselves. When he sees the capabilities a person possesses, he pushes them to accept that role and pursue that path.

He convinced me to pursue that path and gave me the confidence and encouragement to keep the journey going. Those dreams and experiences have taken me to some of the best, most adventurous, most instructive, most fun, most challenging moments of my life.

Anyway, it was his birthday yesterday. It isn’t much, Mr. Sant, but here you go:

***

The toll of the bell indicated the day was over. Christian watched his students push themselves out of folding seats and pull their backpacks up from the aisles before filing out of the theater. A few kids raised their hands to high five and fist bump him as they passed. He did so pleasantly, a smile on his face, and wished them an awesome weekend.

After the last of his pupils passed through into the lobby, he pulled the faded red doors shut and locked them tight. He turned and strode down the stairs, carpet torn from decades of trampling feet and inattention. At the front of the theater, he lifted one leg and hoisted himself up on the stage. It had been spraypainted the kind of shiny silver-black obsidian was, but each year more and more slivers broke free, revealing the dark brown wood beneath.

Christian didn’t care. This was his dominion. The stage. In front of the crowd and under the spotlight. He glanced out at the seats, empty now by sight but always occupied by the spectres of captive audiences past.

He turned his back to the audience. It was a faux pas during performance, but he stayed behind for himself tonight, unconcerned with the judgement of memories. Instead, he faced the set piece his students had spent the past few weeks diligently constructing and painting. The prized portion was the massive forefront of a castle, twisted through by artificial trees on either side.

The show wasn’t due to start for another month during which he hoped the rehearsals would smooth themselves out a bit more. They often did due to the power of repetition and the growing confidence of his actors in their own abilities. Unimpressed by the standard recycled fare of shows most schools used, he had penned his own fantasy epic with a compelling romantic subplot. His colleague described it as The Princess Bride meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream and implored him to submit it for more professional venues. Christian resisted, insisting he had written it for his students. He wanted to give the kids an opportunity to be a part of something that had never been done before. Something that would be wholly theirs.

Well, mostly theirs.

While Christian had indeed written it himself, he had yet to reveal where the inspiration for the tale had sprung from. Indeed, he didn’t plan on ever confessing. There was too much risk to his reputation, his life, and those who trusted in him.

He lifted his hands and held them before him, palms pressed together and fingertips pointed towards the set piece. He closed his eyes and slowly pulled his hands away from each other. Almost immediately, he felt the fabric separating. A warm gust of air hit him full in the face, fresh with the scent of berries that carried no name. He could hear the gentle songs of four-winged birds as they zipped on by. The fertile soil of a well-worn path stretched out until it replaced the worn wooden floor beneath his feet. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know the passage to the other realm had opened smoothly.

“Mr. Sant?” a voice asked meekly.

The teacher whirled to his right, eyes wide in surprise. He saw Billy Tamlin standing there, a sheaf of papers barely held in his shaking hand. He was a quiet boy that kept to himself unless he was on stage. On stage, he broke out of his shell into a truly wonderful talent.

“I forgot my script…”

Christian swore to himself. He must have forgotten to lock the back door, the one leading out into the side hall, utilized for quick changes and getting any actors who escaped through the crowd back into the theater unseen.

Well. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone where his inspiration had truly come from, but there was an expression about best laid plans.