Serious Nonfiction #6

These class-related posts have led to an odd occurrence: each of the six posts I’ve made have earned me three or four new followers to my blog, which in a way, is depressing—I’m netting more followers from my classroom assignments than I was through my creative work. I’ve been telling myself this is because my blog has been more active lately—as if maybe these prolific posts are drawing people in—but I’m not sure if that’s true. But, whatever; this horse has been gifted to me and I promise not to look in its mouth. So, here’s my sixth class-assigned post:

As it pertains to my narration, and “keeping a serious human mind at its center,” it’ll be a difficult task vis-à-vis my sample chapter. The chapter I plan to write in concert with my submission package will be research-heavy, focusing on the chemical aspects of the human brain that allow a child like mine to become addicted to technology, and it’ll be hard to make my presentation read like a story. However, I’m not going to just “extract content from its original context,” thereby divorcing my information and emotion from the “circumstances that motivated those ideas,” because my work would be a failure if I did. And, I have a plan: I’m going to paint my daughter’s mind as a protagonist that’s battling against the research-leavened antagonist of chemical technology addiction.

Sure, here in these few words, I’m sure my plan sounds formulaic and somewhat superficial, but given the room to breathe that’s provided by a ten-page sample chapter, I’m sure I’ll be able to create the “narrative tension” that Rabiner stresses as important. Or at least, I’m going to try…

Serious Nonfiction #5

This hypothetical book is starting to feel more and more like a real book, and if I don’t battle back my OCD, I might actually write the thing in a fit of compulsion—oh well, worse things have happened. Below, I’ve listed five of the sources I’ll be using to create my sample chapter. This sample chapter will deal with the mechanics of addiction and brain plasticity that lead our youth to become addicted to, and affected adversely by, the internet and their cellphones.

1.) “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr

This book has been worming its way into my mind ever since we read the first chapter during our first week in this class. Specifically, in chapter two, Carr delves into the truth that our brains have more plasticity that we once thought, and this remapping adaptation can lead us into a downward spiral into internet addiction that effects the once linear thought process that made us who we were before digital emersion.

2.) “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” by Adam Alter

If I’m talking about how kids become addicted to cellphones, I’ll first need to prove that such a thing is possible, be it through a chemical or emotional addiction, and this book will help.

3.) “Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast” by Lorna Crozier

I want to blur the lines between cell phone addiction and other forms of addiction, and the best way to do this would be to talk about and list the signs of addiction as they relate to more traditional forms of chemical dependence. Doing so will lend credence to my claim that cell phone addiction is just as harmful as dependencies people are familiar with. Oh… and after finding these three books, I hereby swear to leave the colon out of my title, because it seems like every work of serious nonfiction out there uses one.

4.) “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” by Neil Postman

See what I mean about the colons? It’s super annoying. Anyway, I’ll most likely use this book as a baseline to discuss how we got to where we are, and where we came from societally speaking. Postman gives us in his work a wonderful tableau of life in a period of time that represents our move away from print towards the digital age. The man comes across like a prophet, and all of the things he said would happen are in fact happening. If we don’t do something to educate our youth about the detriments associated with cellphone usage, the results will be apocalyptic, and I need Postman’s help to prove it.

5.) “Cellphones and Distracted Driving” by Gail Stewart

I might not actually use this book because this Stewart person didn’t put a colon in her title, and now that I think about it, she probably isn’t to be trusted. Who does she think she is? But I’ll need something similar, because the most obvious repercussion of teenage cellphone addiction is death. Cellphone distractions on the roadway are now killing more people than drunk drivers, especially amongst our youth, and I’ll need a credible source to cite so I can prove it.

Garage Sale

          My cat is an asshole. It’s not like I don’t love her—she’s my life—but I’m getting sick of her claw marks. They’re everywhere, like feline graffiti, and I need to do something. There’s no way in hell I’m declawing her because that’s just inhumane. And there’s no way in hell she’ll wear the little booties I just bought her, regardless of the four-star Amazon review. So now what? Should I just let her do whatever she wants like the little pussy-cat princess she is? Should I just let my apartment go to shit?

          It’s doable, I guess. I haven’t had a date in a decade and all my friends are online, so it’s not like I need to impress anybody. But what if? I almost asked out Teresa the last time I got my teeth cleaned, and she had a look in her eye that makes me think I should’ve. Maybe she’ll come over someday. And if she does, she’ll see the claw marks—she’ll know I have a cat, and subconsciously, she’ll smell the air. That’s how it works. She’ll convince herself that my apartment is disgusting and then she’ll convince herself that I’m disgusting, and then I’ll have to find a new dentist.

          Screw that.

          I’ll fix up this apartment. I’ll throw away all this ratty furniture and I’ll get new stuff. It’s about time anyway; I’ve been calling this couch is “vintage” for years, but really, it’s pawn-shop-chic at best. So, I’ll switch to a modern look. I’ll get rid of all this cloth and wood and I’ll buy metallic things, sparse and utilitarian. A minimalistic look, like in the movies. There’s no way Princess will be able to mess that up with her claws. Purr-fect.

          I swipe right to unlock my iPhone and I open Facebook.

          I am the king of Facebook. Seriously. I have over two-thousand followers and nobody argues with me anymore on my posts. They know what happens.

          I check my notifications—sixty-three of them!—and then I search for the local garage sale site. I’m scrolling through the listings. Cars, bikes, beds…rooms for rent, ISO babysitters, spare tires. And then I see it: a Crestview estate sale. “folding furniture, a steel cot, a record player, knickknackery, and fifty years’ worth of collectables!” Wonderful. I’m only ten minutes away.

          I look around for Princess but I can’t find her anywhere; it’s her fault I can’t say goodbye. And then I leave through my apartment’s front door, on the ground floor of a converted hotel building on the north-side of Durango.

          It’s cold out, bright and wet on an early-spring Sunday morning. Actually, this is perfect garage sale weather. The hobbyists and tourists will stay inside leaving only the regulars like me, and there won’t be many of us because it’s so early in the season anyway. So I like my chances.

          I start my Nissan Xterra and head out. I turn on the radio and find some classic rock; all that other stuff is just noise. I crack my window and light a menthol, I let my thoughts wonder as I drive. Moments later I turn right on snowy twenty-fourth, and I kick-in the four-wheel drive. Unstoppable. I climb the wooded hills into the Crestview neighborhood.

          There’s a house for sale on the right side; I pull over just for the hell of it. There’s an information box staked into the front lawn, full of fliers. I walk through the crusty snow and pull one out, a full-color piece of paper with pictures and a description. I laugh. A half-million for a two-bedroom that hasn’t been updated in twenty years? Seriously? This neighborhood is effing ridiculous. No thank you; Princess and I don’t need anything this big, and I wouldn’t buy it even if I could afford it.

          I keep the flyer just in case, and get back in my SUV. I open Google Maps on my phone and put in the address. I’m three minutes away.

          The drive over is a daydream: fantasies about what my place will look like when I’m done and what Teresa might say if she ever sees it. I put my Xterra in park right up against the curb. This is perfect. There’re only two other cars parked on the street, both Subarus, and it’s still early.

          The house is a single-story anachronism. It’s plastered white with wooden shutters over the windows—they’re painted pink with cutouts of little tulips to match the pink door of the single-car, detached garage. There’s even a picket fence poking up out of the snow. The whole place just screams nineteen-fifty-something, from the square, snow-covered shrubbery to the brick chimney.

          I walk up the path, right past the homemade “come inside” sign stuck in the snow, and I grunt my disproval; it’s not a real garage sale unless the garage door is open. I walk inside.

          Oh. My. God.

          This house is a walk-in time capsule. The air is musky and rank, like a mixture of mothballs and moldy earth. The carpet is thick and green, with discernable paths crisscrossing through the shag. The walls are wood panels, dark brown with even darker grain. The popcorn ceiling is dirty with dust and smoke. And the furniture is incredible: patinaed period pieces mixed with plaid upholstered couches and chairs. Beautiful. It’s like whoever lives here kept up with modern fashion until nineteen-fifty-six and then just gave up, refusing to make even the smallest update as the years bled by.

          A quick look tells me that none of the furniture here will work, but I need to explore this place. If the living room is this freakishly cool, I can’t imagine what the kitchen is like.

          I walk past the furniture and curios cabinets in the living room—filled to brimming with bric-a-brac—towards what I assume is the kitchen. I push past the slatted double doors and stand in awe on the yellowed linoleum. This room puts the “kitsch” in “kitchen.” The avocado-green lacquered appliances all match, and they’re festooned with hand-knitted rags. The countertops are grungy Formica and framed pictures of chickens cover most of the wall-papered walls.

          It’s a walk-through kitchen, and through the slatted doors on the far end, I can hear voices. Two women talking. I walk over quietly to listen in; there’s a fine line between people-watching and eavesdropping, and I have no compunctions with crossing it.

          “…newspapers were fifteen cents on Sundays. Everything was cheaper way-back-when,” says one woman.

          “I know! And whoever lives here obviously has no clue what year it is! Did you see that record player in the other room? The big one with two built in speakers? The sticker said ‘twenty bucks!’” Says the other woman, in an excited whisper.

          “Yeah. My name is Anna, by the way.”

          “Christin. Nice to meet you. Is that your Forester out there?”

          “Yeah, I love it. Do you drive one too?”

          “I drive an Outback, so yeah, pretty much,” Christin says. They both giggle.

          “Anyway, I wanna buy everything here, but I feel bad. Kind of like stealing from a baby, you know?”

          “Not really, no. You know these people?”

          “I just met the old woman. She’s putting prices on stuff in one of the back bedrooms. I asked if she was moving to make small-talk, and she told me her husband died just two weeks ago. Fell down the stairs leading to the basement! And now she’s selling everything so she can move in with her daughter. See what I mean?” Anna asks.

          “That poor thing! But you know what? If she thinks these prices are fair, they’re fair. I’m getting that record player, but I won’t haggle.”

          I back out of the kitchen quietly and go hunting for the back bedrooms. I walk through the living room and down a hallway. I walk past a bathroom and get a peek at pink tile and a clawfoot tub. I walk to the end of the hallway and into what must be the master bedroom. There’s a set of matching twin beds nestled into the shag carpet, and the paneled walls are covered with framed pictures of Jesus and his mom. A brown ceiling fan is humming quietly above me, and an old woman is standing by the wall, staring out a small window that looks out over the back yard.

          “How much for the record player in the living room?” I ask.

          She turns to look at me with a smile, and I meet her watery green eyes with my own. Was she just about to cry?

          “Son, it’s polite to introduce yourself before you offer to buy something.”

          “Yes ma’am,” I say, surprising myself with the formality, “I apologize. My name is Justin.”

          “Oh, that’s okay sweetheart, I was just teasing.” Her smile is wide and bright; her expression is mischievous and smart, like maybe the years haven’t touched her mind. “It’s twenty bucks.”

          “Seriously? It’s worth way more than that. I’ll give you forty.”

          “Well, then you have a deal.” She nods her thanks, and smiles with her eyes.

          “Perfect! But I’ll need to come back for it. Tomorrow maybe? There’s no room in the car.”

          “Whatever works for you, Justin.”

          We stand quietly for a moment, looking at each other. Her hair is thin but well kept, and she’s wearing a dark dress, deep red or maroon. She walks over and reaches out to shake my hand, and I accept. Her hand feels so small in mine, thin bones and fragile skin, but it isn’t trembling.

          I let go and walk around the room, looking at everything else in a polite showing of interest. There’s a large picture of Jesus on the cross between the beds. I lean in close for a look at the little round sticker on the glass. Three dollars.

          “Are you looking for anything in particular?” She asks.

          “Yeah. Maybe some new furniture. Something my cat won’t mess up. I have a friend coming over.” Why is it so easy to lie to strangers?

          “Oh really?” she asks with a ruthless smirk, “is it someone special?”

          “Yeah. I asked her out last week. She’s my dental hygienist.” I smirk back, conspiratorially.

          “Oh that’s just wonderful, Justin! And you want to make your house look nice for her? You’re such a gentleman, doing nice things for young women and paying the old ones twice what they ask.” She gives me a wink. “Where does she work?”

          “Junction Creek Dental? You know, that place off twenty-second?”

          “Oh dear, yes! Is her name Teresa? She’s just so wonderful and gentle! You lucky man!”

          Son of a bitch! Stupid small towns and stupid old women, always chatting with everyone.

          “I have an appointment with her next week,” she says, “I probably won’t make it, but if I do, I’ll put in a good word for you.”

          “Uh, no,” I say, “it’s someone else. There’s a few offices over there, you know.” I look around frantically for an out, “how much for the luggage set?” I point at the two matching suitcases against the wall behind me. They’re just as old as everything else, brown canvas with leather straps.

          “Oh, I’m not selling those, sweetheart. I’ll need them to go see my Jenny.”

          “She’s your daughter? How old is she?” I know it’s an awkward question, but I need to make her forget about Teresa.

          “Oh, she’s, you know. Older, now.” She looks confused. “Anyway, go ahead and come back any time tomorrow afternoon for your record player. It was nice to meet you Justin. I need to go check on the other two.” She walks past me, patting my shoulder curtly as she does, and leaves the room without looking back—her dismissal is polite, but obvious.

          I find my way out of the house and drive away. The day is still bright and clear and cold, but it smells ten times fresher outside than the sepulture that woman called home.

          Why’d she freak out like that? Why’d she give me crap for not introducing myself and then leave so quickly? Actually, come to think of it, she never told me her name even after I told her mine. That’s super rude. Maybe her husband fell down those stairs because he was running away. Ha!

          I regret the thought as soon as I think it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to end up alone or what it would be like to sell everything you’ve collected with someone else, and even though she didn’t tell me her name, she was a sweetheart. And maybe she forgot? Old people are doing that kind of stuff all the time, so she’s cool, I guess. But I’m still worried she might say something to Teresa. If she does, I’ll look like an ass. How the hell will I explain it away? “Oh, I’m sorry, Teresa, I told some sweet old lady you were coming over for date night even though we’ve never really talked. Is that cool?” Damn it.

          I worry about it all the way home.


          I sleep with a fitted sheet and a comforter. One pillow. All my bedclothes are red satin. It looks a bit tacky, but cat hair doesn’t stick to satin as much as it would to high thread-count cotton, so I don’t mind. Princess is sleeping next to me—she looks like a miniature leopard, proud and majestic, all curled up—and I reach over to rub the little “M” in the brindled fur between her eyes. She purrs through her dream, and I smile in the morning light while dust moats sparkle in my bedroom air.

          And then it hits me: I don’t need new furniture. Actually, I have everything I need, we have everything we need. That old woman and her husband decided what they had sixty years ago was good enough, so why can’t I just do the same? If Teresa minds the smell, she’s not the girl for me. It’s not like I’d ever get rid of Princess for her anyway, so screw it. I’ll go buy that record player because I said I would, and I’ll get that old woman’s name. I’ll tell her it’s fine if she wants to put in a good word for me, and then sometime this week, I’m going to ask out Teresa. All my worrying last night made me realize I don’t have much choice, so I’ll just face it. And if I’m being honest, there’s a pretty good chance Teresa will say “yes.”

          She’s always so kind and attentive. There’s no way she’s not flirting, because girls aren’t usually that nice. Well, online they are, but just because they know how important I am. But Teresa is good to me in the real world, and that’s rare. She even touched my shoulder lightly the last time I sat in her hygiene chair. And then she asked if I was okay after leaning the chair back, and then she pressed her stomach against the top of my head the entire time she cleaned my teeth. Would she have done that if she didn’t want me to ask her out? Nope. And to cap it all off, when she asked me to hold that little suction thing—she called it “Mr. Thirsty” and I laughed—she joked that I was a “big boy” and I saw something in her eyes. Come to think of it, I know she’ll say “yes.”

          My morning ablutions take thirty minutes and it takes almost as long to clean out the back of my Xterra and fold down the seats. There should be plenty of room. The ride over takes a bit longer than yesterday because these narrow mountain-town roads are filled with lunch-hour traffic. Suckers. All these poor fools, rushing around in their nine-to-fives, it’s just so damn pointless. My dad always gives me crap, telling me that I’m a “leach” who’s milking the government, but he’s dumb. Life is about being happy, and I’m winning. Those idiots rushing from place to place are the real losers.

          I knock on the woman’s door and wait.

          There’s a panel of dappled yellow glass—the kind that always reminds me of old pizza restaurants for some reason—in the front door, and it looks like the lights are on inside, but that might just be sunlight from another window or something. I press the doorbell but I don’t hear anything, no electronic two-tone, so it must be broken. I hear a garage door open. I back up a bit and look over to my left; sure enough, the pink door of the woman’s detached garage is opening. I walk back down the path and along the sidewalk to her driveway. I’ll just wait here for her to pull out—I don’t want to give her a heart attack or something by startling her. I stare at my phone and smile—Princess’s picture on my lock-screen is just too cute—as I wait for her to come down the drive.

          She pulls up next to me and stops, I hear an electric whine and I look up as she rolls down her window. Her car is a boat, big and red with wings in the back, this thing is better than the boatmobile. And she’s resplendent, sitting alone in the front. Everything about this old woman is ebullient, from her little white driving gloves to the red handkerchief holding back her grey hair, she looks like Ms. Daisy if Ms. Daisy drove herself.

          “Hello Justin,” she says it as if she expected to find me here, calm and confident, “how are you today?”

          “Fine! How are you? I’m here for the record player?”

          “Yes, Justin,” she sighs like I’m daft, “I know. I remembered your name, after all.”

          “Right. Sorry.” I look around, searching for something to say. I see her suitcases in the backseat, the same brown canvas and leather straps I remember from yesterday. They’re strapped in with the seatbelts as if they were children.

          “I guess I showed up just in time, yeah? You going on your trip to see your Jenny?”

          “Oh, Justin,” she looks at me, an apology plain in her eyes, “I don’t have a daughter, I never could.”

          “What? But I thought that’s who you were going to see?”

          “No, I’m afraid that’s not why I’m leaving. But I am leaving.” She turns away from me, looking out her windshield while she speaks: “I’m leaving, and I’m taking this car. It’s the first time I’ve driven it in almost twenty years, Justin.”

          I have no idea what the expression on her face means. I can’t read it. It’s like there’re too many emotions mixed together, and it’s muddling her mien into something too deep to make out. So I just stand still until she speaks again:

          “But you can have the record player for free. I’m going to owe you at least that much. I left it right by the front door, and you can just load it up while I’m gone, you know, before you call anybody.”

          She still isn’t looking at me. Both of her hands, in their little white gloves, are glued to her woodgrain steering wheel. What the hell is she talking about? She continues:

          “And you can have all Harold’s records too. You could probably sell them for a pretty penny, if you wanted. You’ll find them down in the basement.” She turns to look at me finally, her eyes are green and watery, but her smile is hard. “Justin, I’m so sorry for the mess down there.”

          I’ll remember always the deep hum that came from her car as she drove away, and I’ll remember always the wonderful smell of the fresh air, outside.


Him, and Us

          This isn’t an article about him. I promise. People like me are getting just as sick of writing about him as people like you are getting sick of reading about him. This is an article about us, and what we need to do. However, it took me a while to figure out how he got elected, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my discoveries because what I’ve learned is something we all need to realize to move forward.

          As I’m sure you know, our high-school students test well below their peers from different countries. You can google it if you’d like, but globally, I think we come in thirty-sixth place or something embarrassing like that regarding test scores. But there’s still one place on the global statistics chart where America is number one: confidence. The nebulous “they” have started asking graduates from across the globe to guess about how well they did on their SATs, and American students lead the pack in confidence even though their final scores suggest that they shouldn’t’ve. Isn’t that crazy? Even though our students suck, they feel like they’re awesome. Unfortunately, we’re not actually teaching our children what they need to know to compete in the global market, but we are teaching them to be illogically arrogant, and we’re doing it better than any other country on earth.

          So, that’s how we came to be where we are right now. Somehow, we’ve become an entire nation of people who think that we’re the best even though we don’t have the evidence to support such a claim. And here comes the hard part: not only do we deserve our current president, we need him… bear with me, I’ll explain.

          Middle America came home last October and they turned on their televisions. They saw a strange, orange man on the screen with whom they could identify. He was fat like them. He was crass like them. He was ignorant and angry and arrogant, just like them. So they said to themselves, “you know what? That guy reminds me of me. I’m going to vote for him, because I am awesome.”

          Do you get it? Middle America thought it was awesome even though it wasn’t, just like our students think they’re the best even though they’re thirty-sixth. Our country as a whole has become propped up confidently on our collective worth, even though in reality, we’re culturally bankrupt. That overconfidence has become a bubble, and just like all the other bubbles in our past, this one is going to pop. Just think about the “housing bubble” or the “stock market bubble” and then think back to how and when they popped: eventually, reality caught up, and things fell flat.

          Right now, reality is catching up.

          Middle America put into office a person who reminded them of themselves, and now, that person has to produce. To stay in power, that person has to prove his base right by being a good president, but unfortunately, all he’s got is his opinion: that he is the best president ever, even though he has no fucking clue what he’s doing. See what I’m getting at? That strange, orange man from the television is failing in spectacular fashion, but we need that to happen so Middle America can see the truth: people who sound like them and act like them and think like them, in reality, aren’t actually good enough to lead the most powerful nation on earth, despite the fact that their arrogance has led them to believe otherwise. When Trump fails, they fail. They’ll see that maybe they aren’t as good as they thought, and in four years, hopefully, they’ll just stay home, sulking in their embarrassment while they watch Dale Earnhardt Jr. drive in circles, instead of firing up the ol’ pickup to go vote for the guy who “sounds just like me, golly gosh!”

          This is where I get to us, and to what we need to do. Look, I know I talk a lot of trash about Trump supporters, but the fact is that quite a few of them are normal, educated people just like the rest of us. They just made a mistake, and frankly, everybody makes mistakes. Even I put too much faith in Anthony Weiner, thinking him to be a rising star in the Democratic Party, right up until the point he proved me wrong by sending pictures of his junk to children. However, once I saw the evidence, once I realized that Weiner was a dick, I rescinded my support, admitted my mistake, and I moved on.

          I recently read an article that explains why people are so stubborn when it comes to open-mindedness. When we’re exposed to information that supports our beliefs, there’s a dopamine release in our brains, and it makes us feel happy. But we get addicted to that release, and eventually, we only open ourselves to information that supports what we already think because we’ve become chemically addicted to the result, to the dopamine. Unfortunately, we’ve evolved physically to become myopic, close-minded, stubborn asses when it comes to admitting that we’re wrong, but if you think about it, it’s understandable—stubbornness leads to survival, and without it, our species mightn’t’ve gotten to where we are today. Stubbornness is how we beat the saber-toothed tigers. But to go further, to continue to progress together, we need to let go of that stubbornness. As promised, that is what we need to do; this is what will help “us.”

          The good, educated people who mistakenly voted for Trump need to admit their mistake like the adult patriots that they are. They need to go cold-turkey from the dopamine that’s been keeping their eyes closed. And furthermore, since they are the ones who put us in danger by putting that man in office, they need to work harder than anyone else to get him out of office and back into that gaudy, gilded New York tower prison where he belongs. I know it’s hard to admit wrong doing, but as a grownup, I also know it’s the right thing to do. And really, that’s why I’m writing this. I swear to you that I’m not just another liberal who’s writing an “I told you so” article, but rather, I’m a fellow American, one who has made mistakes of his own, and I’m writing this to ask for help. I’m writing this in the hopes that a few of the good Americans who made a mistake last November might read this and finally admit that they didn’t have a good reason to vote for the orange candidate even though they felt like they did (“crooked” Hilary? Seriously? Are you reading the news?). Maybe a few of them will read this and understand what I’m saying about our unfounded arrogance, and maybe they’ll do the right thing and make amends for their mistake.

          Maybe they’ll help us, become part of us, and maybe we can make it through this together, repairing that which needs to be repaired, with the newfound knowledge that we aren’t the best, but together, maybe we can be.

Serious Nonfiction #4

          I’m allergic to proposals. I just finished and mailed a twenty-eight-page proposal for a work of fiction that I just wrote, and throughout all of it, I had to battle back the lazy, incredulity that Rabiner talked about at length. Won’t they just read my book and give me money? Can’t they just do what I want them to instead of doing what they’ve learned works throughout their careers? I knew my indolence was childish and ignorant, so I just muscled through and did what I was supposed to.

          And as a curveball, I’ve changed what I’m going to write about given the comments our professor posted on my last blog. The whole “cult” thing would’ve worked because it’s garishly interesting, but it would’ve only worked hypothetically because I have no particular expertise in that Kool-Aid drinking realm. So, in a nutshell, I’m going to write a work of serious nonfiction about the detrimental effects of cellphones on today’s teenagers. In this arena, I swear to you that I’m one of the premier experts in the field. And as to our assignment this week, here’s the story that piqued my interest in the subject:


          My teenager attends a charter high school. It’s one of those newer institutes that stresses all sorts of new-age thinking and alternative structure, but it’s a good fit for our oldest daughter. I was called into school because she had done something wrong, and they told me her phone was becoming detrimental to her learning. So, I asked the obvious question: as her teachers, can’t you guys just take her phone while she’s in class? That way, I’d still be able to get ahold of her after school, but the phone wouldn’t be a distraction. Problem solved, easy-cheesy.

          But they said no. As it turns out, teachers have learned that taking a child’s phone does more damage than good because when it’s taken, the anxiety becomes crippling for the child, and it becomes impossible for them to function throughout the rest of the day. Seriously. Some of the teachers even prefer it if the children leave their phones on their desks—facedown, of course—while they’re taking tests because the pacifying reassurance of having their phone on hand assures fewer distractions and higher test scores. Isn’t that crazy?

          So, I started doing a little research and I discovered that the problem is far more detrimental than most parents think. When we were children, we’d learn about the scary things in life piecemeal, and we’d do so slowly. And when we’d discover something shocking, we’d take it to our parents and try to process the new information organically. But now, every bit of that scary information is blinding our children through the lightning rods they hold in their hands and stare at incessantly. There is no filter; there is no natural time to process one piece of adult information before moving onto the next. And the effects are observable: children are growing more desensitized than ever before, they’re doing drugs and having sex earlier than ever before, and they’re considering themselves to be adults, even though they aren’t. And why shouldn’t they? If they’re privy to all the information that was once reserved for adults only, doesn’t that by default make them adults? The answer is no, obviously, but modern children disagree because their social media reassurances tell them it’s okay.

          I’m obviously not going to make the same mistake with my eight-year-old; she’ll get an actual phone when she’s mature enough for one. But I learned my lesson through experience. So, what about all those parents who’re looking forward to the teenaged years with trepidation regarding technology and social media? In all honesty, I think I could write a book—an actual book—that would scare the bejesus out of these parents to the point wherein they’d make a more rational decision than we did. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

Serious Nonfiction #3

Elegance is a crutch, albeit pretty one, when you think about it. But regarding serious nonfiction, it’s all I’ve got. Frankly, if I were to actually write a work of serious nonfiction, I’d be screwed because I don’t have any of the requisite credentials associated with the topic I’m writing about—at least, not any official credentials. So, I wouldn’t ever land an agent with this book, and even if I did, I’d never attract a publisher. It’s a good thing the book I’m writing for this assignment is hypothetical, because if it wasn’t, a quick trip to the discount table is the best I could hope for (and the knee-deep pile of the “polite rejection letters” mentioned by Rabiner would be more realistic).

So, given that the chapter we’re writing is for a hypothetical book, can I just make up some credentials? The chapter I’ll be writing (and the associated editorial proposal) is about Buddhafield. I’ve never joined a cult for a few obvious reasons, but for this assignment, can I say that I’m an escaped member? You know… maybe I lived in that commune for years before escaping with nothing more than a bag of Cheetos and my cult-issued pair of speedos. That would even make for a snappy chapter title: “Cheetos and Speedos.” Who wouldn’t want to read that?

Once I address the credentials shortfall, I’ll need to address all my “audience identification problems.” And admittedly, I had a few. I had originally intended to write what Rabiner referred to as a “character driven work of narrative nonfiction.” I figured I’d be great at “wringing” out the meaning: “meaning that transcends the details of an event,” but the specific meaning at which I’d aim was nebulous until I read about Rabiner’s fictional “women who kill.” She said that if the pretend author were to amend the scope of his work slightly to be about “women who kill their children,” it’d broaden the general interest because all mothers would want to read such a work. Supposedly, they’d want to learn what spurs mothers to commit infanticide so they’d be able to flesh-out the aberrant trait within themselves, if it existed. And once I started thinking about it, I realized that I could market my work similarly: we all wonder what leads people to join a cult—what convinces a heterosexual male to join a cult like Buddhafield wherein he’s raped routinely by a gay, failed ballet dancer slash washed-up porn star like “Michel,” the founder (I put his name in quotation marks because the guy changes it at least once a decade to avoid pitchfork-wielding mobs).

What is missing from these peoples’ lives that leads them to join a cult? Do all the members have some sort of deficiency, some sort of mental marking, which I can root-out and show to my readers? And if I did so, would my book rocket to the top of the best-selling list because everyone would want to make sure they’re not at risk for joining a cult? I’d like to think so, because that curiosity is alive and well in my mind. I remember the first time I watched a documentary on Jonestown. These same questions popped up in my head: is there any part of my psyche that’s weak enough to be seduced by a cult leader? Would I have let my wife be ransacked by that cult leader like the other two-hundred or so tranced male members of that cult? Would I be brainwashed enough to drink the poisoned Kool-Aid when the time came to “ascend”? Or worse, if I were a child, would my mom have given me the drink of death like all those other mothers did in the late 70s?

I think that if I address these questions, I’ll broaden my potential audience, and I’ll not “exclude even one potential buyer” as Rabiner put it. I think I’ve considered adequately the “people who buy books,” and out of them, I’ve also considered the people who’d be  receptive to my “treatment” of this subject, as she put it. Granted, I’ll still rely heavily on the gratuitous spectacle that’s inherent to cults—we all like to be outsiders looking in because it reassures us that it can always be worse—but I’ve decided to hone down my message per Rabiner’s suggestion, and I’ll try to pique that inner curiosity we all have in regard to this subject: would I ever join a cult?  And in that vein, I’ve decided to make that “big, daring decision about the scope” of my book. The title (or a rough version of it anyway): “Buddhafield Followers: Would you Join a Cult?”


Serious Nonfiction #2

O’ faithful readers, this week I shall try your patience once more with an assignment, and I shall winnow out the casual followers once more. But I know for a fact that a couple of you are serious nonfiction writers, and through this post, you’ll at least discover a new book that you need to own. Seriously, if you’re such a writer, go out and buy this immediately. Anywho, let’s begin…

Does Rabiner say anything to push or pull your thinking in a new direction?

It’s odd that she labeled as “genteel” the publishing industry of old, because to me—an outsider always looking in wistfully—the industry is, and always has been, a callous collection of elitists who look down on authors like myself (I’d like to think I put the “fiction” in “serious nonfiction”). But in her, I’ve found an agent/editor/writer with genuine compassion, and my thinking veered off from its normal tack as a result. It was awesome to hear her say that we lowly plebs deserve the “author” title just as much as the fancy best-selling folk, and it was reassuring to learn that someone of her caliber isn’t a stickler because she said that no author should be denied because he or she didn’t “understand the submission package.” If this industry were utopian, the submission package would be a single sentence: “Here, I wrote this book and it’s awesome. Now read it and throw your money at me.”

And at one point, when she said “if all you want to do is write whatever you want,” Rabiner spoke directly to me. As an author, I usually sit in front of this screen figuratively with my fingers in my ears, refusing staunchly to “write what sells.” “Oh yea?” I say, “you’re telling me collections of short stories about white trash hillbillies with super powers don’t sell that well? Cool. I wrote one anyway.” And admittedly, it hasn’t gotten me that for. Secondly, in that light, I might be screwed if I’m to think about my writing career “from the very first project” because my very first project was a middle finger held high to traditional publishing. Oops.

And lastly, when Rabiner prompted her readers to ask if their book was “important,” she alluded to the notion that “important” might not mean what I think it means. I hate the imposed subjectivity, but for something to be important, the masses have to agree. I can’t tell you how annoying this truth is because through it, the McRib at McDonald’s is “important” from a culinary perspective, and that just sucks. But it is what it is, and Rabiner makes a damn good point.

Does Rabiner give me a clearer sense of what serious nonfiction writing entails?


Writing serious nonfiction that actually sells seems to be more about the presentation of information than the information itself. I might be too much of a purist, but frankly, to hell with that. If “managing data” is more important than beautiful prose in this genre, I can guarantee that I’ll never be a best-selling author of serious nonfiction. Microsoft Excel is for managing data: writing is for creating beauty, and I hereby swear to never sellout*.

That being said, I understand the necessity. Thanks to her mentioned lack of co-op money for works of serious nonfiction, writing in a certain way—speaking broadly to cast a wide net—is probably the only means to a successful career as a serious nonfiction writer (Capitolisim-1, Creativity-0). And that’s just the way it is, so I appreciate Rabiner’s honesty because she’s giving benevolent advice from an experienced standpoint: “gone are the days” when books are published because they’re deserving, and here are the days when books are only published if they make a ton-o-money.

And lastly, Rabiner really got me thinking when she said that I’d need to “treat competing theses with respect” in regard to writing serious nonfiction, because not doing so would alienate a portion of the general public. I’m directing this question to the other students in my editing group: is that something I really need to do? The book I’ll be proposing will highlight the lunacy inherent to cult leaders and their meek followers. The only competing thesis to this notion would be that “cult leaders are okay and their followers might have valid reasons for drinking poisoned cool-aid.” Do I really need to act like this competing thesis should be respected?


*This is a complete lie and fabrication. If anyone ever offers me actual money, I’ll sellout quicker than The Backstreet Boys.

The Stranger

This is a copy of my article from this week’s edition of The Durango Telegraph, so if you’re a regular reader, here’s your spoiler alert. 


          He was wearing a leather kneepad, just one of them, on his left leg. It was tied to his dirty blue-jeans with knotted strips of hide that hung down, swaying back and forth pendulously as he walked in.

          The coffee shop was packed.

          He stood just inside the doorway for a moment, like a cowboy entering a saloon. I put down my phone; I stopped watching my beautiful wife; I sat back in my chair and wished for a bag of popcorn because I knew I was in for some epic people watching.

          He walked up to the counter and ordered a cup of black coffee. A simple drink, rugged and masculine. I tried to categorize him because that’s what people-watchers do: his coat was too clean for a homeless man, but his boots and shirt and skin spoke of a life lived outdoors. He wasn’t wearing any jewelry and he didn’t have a cellphone, but that might’ve been intentional: a choice. He paid in cash from his front pocket. No wallet. No identification. How interesting.

          He took his coffee from the pickup counter and walked around the room. It was filled with the attractive people who seem to be ubiquitous in this mountain town. Not too young and not too old, dressed well for the winter months and lost in meaningful conversation. He walked unnoticed around them and through their midst. He made a perfunctory stop at the corkboard. There wasn’t anything for him on that board, but I think he knew that before walking over. He turned and looked around the room for a seat. He dismissed the solitary chairs that would’ve made for a quiet morning lost in thought, alone with the fragrant steam rising from his cup. Instead, he spotted an empty chair at a four-top table against the window. There were already three people sitting there: a man and two women. He walked over anyway.

          I tried to get my wife’s attention. I stared at her as hard as I could, trying to tell her telepathically that something weird was about to happen… she was hypnotized by her phone. I looked around the room, frantically searching for another people-watcher so we could share a “holy crap, are you seeing this?!” look, but I was alone. Either nobody else noticed the scene playing out right in front of them, or they all had too much social grace to watch it openly. I didn’t suffer any such compunction. I crossed my arms and settled in. This is going to be good, I thought.

          Coffee held high in his left hand: it was a statement to all that he belonged. He put his right hand on the empty chairback. “Is anyone sitting here?” he asked the table. The man in the seated group answered politely: “no.” His answer came with a hand gesture saying “sure, take the chair wherever you need it.” But that wasn’t kneepad’s plan. Instead, he sat down confidently with those three strangers and ignored their incredulous looks. Those looks said “um, excuse me sir, but the three of us know each other, and we were talking about something.” Kneepad looked away—either he dismissed the table’s looks as irrelevant, or he was too oblivious to see them. Either way, I sighed in relief. Since kneepad broke a social convention by intruding on a group of strangers, I was justified in breaking a social convention by staring blatantly with wide-eyed, open-mouthed astonishment. Seriously, who does that?

          The two women grew uncomfortable. They shared guarded looks, disguised by sips from their cups, that said “oh…my…god…” Kneepad was sitting closely to one of them, looking over and seeking eye contact, making small-talk overtures. Both women stood up and went over to the corkboard. I smiled at the irony: those two women were sure to find something of interest on that board. They were the right demographic.

          Kneepad must’ve known that the women left because of him, but he just shrugged it off and looked across the table at his last chance for conversation: the man who let him sit. He was in his late thirties. Intelligent looking, with salt and pepper stubble, he was wearing one of those puffy coats that’re so popular here: colorful and filled with feathers, it looked expensive with narrow rows of insulation. He was staring at his phone intently, but not because he was ignoring kneepad: puffy-coat was tending to pressing business.

          I looked back over to the two women, drinking their coffee in exile. They’d already dismissed kneepad. He didn’t affect their morning, and their conversation carried on organically. Wow… These were good people, accepting and tolerant people. That’s not me (I’m far too cynical), so I looked back to the table.

          Kneepad leaned forward and said “excuse me.” He had something important to say, something intent. Puffy-jacket held up a hand and said “one moment please.” He finished his business on his phone, typing out a quick message or response, and then he put his phone on the table, face down, and said “how can I help you?”

          There’s a fine line between people watching and eavesdropping, and for the sake of journalistic integrity, I’ll admit to crossing that line. Here’s their conversation:

          “Do you believe in reincarnation?” Kneepad asked.

          “Excuse me?” Puffy-jacket was being rhetorical.

          “I said, do you believe in reincarnation?” Kneepad didn’t catch the rhetoric.

          “Look,” Puffy-jacket spoke slowly and clearly, gesticulating with wide hands, trying to get his point across, “you and I don’t know each other. We’re strangers. And that’s a rather deep conversation to have with a stranger. Okay?” Puffy-jacket was still polite, but firm.

          “Hmmm,” Kneepad made a begrudging noise, as if puffy-jacket might have a point.

          Kneepad broke eye contact and let the silence linger. Puffy-jacket picked up his phone and left moments later. Kneepad sat alone at that four-top long enough to make it look intentional. He didn’t mind being alone—that’s what he wanted all along—as per his body language. He got up and walked through the room one more time, looking at nothing and everything, and then he left the coffee shop.

          I wanted to stand up and clap. It was a bona fide show, the slice of life that I just watched, and as I looked around that packed coffee shop, I shook my head in astonishment. That show had a one-man audience! Everyone around me was trapped courteously in their own conversations, their own little worlds, and they’d missed a profound lesson in humanity.

          If I’m being honest, I’m not writing about kneepad. That man didn’t teach me anything about myself, and I’d have a ceaseless pool of inspiration if I wrote about all the rudeness I see daily. In truth, these words are about puffy-jacket. It doesn’t matter which metric you use: that man was a good human being, and he was the civil embodiment of everything I love about Durango. He was everything I could not be, in such an awkward moment, and I need to get there if I want to be a true local.

          If kneepad would’ve tried to sit at my table, next to my wife, his morning would’ve differed greatly. I would’ve said things that can’t be ignored and everyone would’ve noticed. Kneepad’s exit wouldn’t have been dignified, and later, I would’ve regretted the way I treated another human being, regardless of my reason for doing so. I regret it even though it didn’t happen, and I should try to change.

          So, how did puffy-jacket come upon his social wherewithal? How did he maintain his composure even though his morning was ruined, and how did he keep inside all the things he wanted to say? It was incredible. He used his “pleases” and “thank yous” even though he was dealing with someone who’d broken ties with propriety long ago. Hell, puffy-jacket even nodded affably to kneepad as he was leaving: I would’ve given two middle fingers, even on my best day.

          I was staring at the empty four-top against the window, thinking about how lucky I was to live in a town like this, surrounded by people like you, when my wife broke my reverie. I’m sure she noticed the expression on my face—the baffled look of wonderment that comes from good people watching—and she asked what I was thinking about. Her question was dry and sarcastic; she knew it’d be a while before I shut up. I leaned across the table and told it all in the salacious whispers of someone sharing a secret. She smiled at me and shook her head, knowing immediately what would’ve happened if kneepad sat with us, and then we got up and walked out, completely unnoticed by everyone else in the coffee shop.

Serious Nonfiction

Disclaimer: Once again, I’ll be using this blog for class assignments. I know I lost a couple hundred of you wonderful followers the last time I did this—tedium is a wonderful way to cull the herd—but if you stick with me, I promise to go back to posting random nonsense once my 4.0 is safe and secure.

And if you’d like to follow along just for the hell of it, my assignment this week was to apply a couple of these questions to a book of serious nonfiction that I’ll start writing (and maybe even finish) this semester.



1.) It doesn’t matter how austere or benevolent or socially mature you are—if you pass by a car-crash, you’re going to slow down ever so slightly, and you’re going to stare. Subconsciously, we use these little moments of schadenfreude to buttress our mental wellbeing. We look at the poor fools marooned on the side of the road and we tell ourselves that it could always be worse: “hey, at least that isn’t me standing next to that crumpled Honda Civic. Man, I hope everyone is okay… just like I am, right now.”

And there are plenty of authors out there who do the same thing for their readers: they put together a few thousand words that serve collectively to reassure their readers that “it could always be worse.” And the great ones do this on a grandiose scale: they don’t write about short moments of misery in the lives of others, but rather, they write about entire lives wasted. They write about blind devotion to fallacy; they write about profound regret; they write about misplaced devotion to cults in books like these.

So, I’m going to do the same thing. The book of serious nonfiction that I’ll start to write this semester is inspired by a documentary I watched recently (Holy Hell) about Buddhafield. And yes, as I watched that documentary, I stood back figuratively and I looked at my life… damn; compared to some, I have it great. I watched that crazy, glorified nut-job warp the minds of all his followers and coerce them into unspeakable acts: abortion, rape, misplaced zealous piety. And as I did, a warm feeling of security bubbled up inside of me. I may have made some mistakes in my life, but at least I wasn’t so empty inside, so lost, that I turned my soul over to a cult. Frankly, everyone wants this reassuring feeling of security, even if it’s garnered from a look at the lives of others, and it’s this need that I’ll capitalize on through my book.

3.) Of course this book will be unique and necessary. My sample chapter will be “necessary” if I want to pass this class, but the exigence of my subject matter will also make the hypothetical book as a whole necessary within the constraints of existing publications for the same reason that it’ll be unique: I’m going to take a meta approach to the subject matter and state blatantly that my work exists to make people feel better about their lives. I’m going to come right out and say the thing that’s omitted from other cult-based books. This book won’t be “an interesting look” at cults. This book won’t be an educational foray into the mind of a cult leader. This book will unashamedly tell its readers “hey, your life isn’t that bad. At least you didn’t spend a quarter century of your life following an idiot from South Africa who only wore Speedos.”


          The golden age of action movies happened in the early nineties, and Steven Segal was a demigod. I forget which, but in one of his movies, he wrote “fear of death is worse than death itself” on a mirror with lipstick as he stalked one of his villains. The villain came along and read it, became petrified with fear, and then died a few moments later after getting his balls blown off by a shotgun.


          I retired at age thirty-seven. Just to be transparent, I should tell you that I’m jerrymandering semantics quite a bit: my former supervisor would use a different word than “retired,” and I’ll eventually need to make more money, so my retirement is finite. However, regardless of labels, right now, I’m on top of the world. Decades from now, when they ask me about the best time in my life, I’ll tell them about the 2016 holiday season. I’ll tell them about how I lost my job right after my birthday and I’ll make mention of the fact that I walked into October with the biggest shit-eating grin that’s ever been worn. I’ll tell them that in the twilight days of this year, my life changed permanently.

          I’ll need to catch you up before you’ll understand fully. For the last sixteen years, I sold my soul daily to the oilfield. The money was good, but I loathed my occupation—it felt like socially accepted prostitution. My true opinions had to be smothered in ignorance and kept quite as to not startle the rednecks, and every professional moment was a lie lived. I went to work day after day as a sheep dressed in wolf’s clothing just so the rest of the pack wouldn’t sniff me out. “Hey, look over there,” they’d say, “that man isn’t one of us. He’s different and he writes things just for fun. He thinks too much. Get the tar, get the feathers.” My discontentment was a palpable thing. It grew and grew through years of accretion because I hated what I did for a living and I hated the people who worked alongside me: assholes in zipper-free wolf suits. I snapped a couple years back. The unhappiness was a whole bale of hay on my camel’s back. I made some changes and I faced a few things honestly. I went back to school and I started to write for real. I kept my job to pay the bills, but I was just going through the motions. A layman would say that I didn’t give a fuck. My performance was laughable but I was still the best at what I did because, frankly, my left testicle was smarter than my competitors. And I waited. I just waited and waited for the end to come. Every day was purgatory while I waited for the axe, and then when it finally came, life exploded: it exploded in a good, cathartic way, like the victorious bombs of flame that blossom in fanfare at the end of every Chuck Norris movie. I’m walking away from the oilfield in slow-motion as my past life burns behind me. I won’t even blink when the wind from the explosion tousles my action-hero hair. Boom bitch, I win.

          Just to be honest, I’ll put in writing the valid point you’re saying to yourself right now: if you hated your job so much, why didn’t you just quit? The short answer: I was a coward. After that many years of indentured service, I became institutionalized just like a Shawshank inmate. The outside world was a scary place full of uncertainty and murky paths. My job, even though I hated it, seemed like the lesser of two evils so I never mustered the courage to leave on my own. It’s pretty pathetic and it’s hard to admit, but if you’ve lived a lengthy life, I’m sure you can relate. I’m sure there were things you should’ve done that you never did because fear of the unknown kept you “safe.” So don’t judge me too harshly.

          Even though I wanted what came to me, those first few days were hard. Losing my job was like breaking up with a bad partner. You know in your heart that he or she is the problem, but he or she is too narrowminded to admit it. He or she thinks that you’re the problem, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and you never get the validation you need from you ex. It’s frustrating. There were tears and middle fingers held high, appalled laughter and regret and happiness, all mixed together like a confused soup. However, I had my family. When I lost my job, it felt like a too-taunt cord was severed quickly, it felt like freefall. Life was frightening chaos for a while, but it didn’t do a damn bit of harm because my girls came in and set things right. My cold teenage daughter warmed with love and encouragement. She supported me. Cacti rarely bloom, but when they do, their flowers are extra special. My eight-years-old daughter told me that everything would be okay. That’s her truth because for her, everything really is okay because I always make it so. And my wife came through. She asked me how long it would take to graduate if I didn’t go back to work. She asked me how long it would take to write a book. Those questions felt like mana from above and my vision always clouds when I think about her support because I might’ve crumbled without it. There’s really no way to fail when I have those three girls pushing from behind.

          I don’t care if this reads like a cliché, but I’m one of the lucky ones, and not just for the obvious reasons. I was just one of thousands who lost his job. The oilfield is dying. Some people who’re still in it will tell you otherwise. They’ll say that it’s coming back, that the bust is turning to boom, but they’re wrong. Sure, it’ll come back for a while early next term as commodity prices and greed surge, but it’ll be short lived. The oilfield is a feast or famine world, as many know, but what they don’t see is that the feasts aren’t as good as they used to be, and the famines worsen as the generations pass. Three steps down and two steps up still leads you down. This impending “boom” is nothing more than a final gasp before a drowning industry goes under. Who knows? Maybe I’m a bit too fatalistic, and maybe big-oil can kick to the surface three or even four more times before death comes. Whatever. The important takeaway is that death is coming, and most of the displaced cogs like myself don’t have my advantages. They don’t have means or education, they don’t have dreams. The oilfield is their life; for me, it was a means to an end. I didn’t lose any of my identity when the axe fell, but I know men who have. Just last year, if you would’ve walked up to one of these men and asked “what are you?” most of them would’ve lead with their job title. If you do something for long enough, it becomes part of you, you become it, and when it’s taken away, there’s nothing left besides feelings of inadequacy and depression. I despise the oilfield as I mentioned and I have similar feelings for the archetypical oilfield-man, but I also have boundless empathy for all the good people who’ve lost and who’re anguishing. Right now, there’s an entire demographic suffering through an identity crisis, but luckily, I’m not part of it. I’m the crab who clawed his way to the top of the bucket and escaped.

          You see, throughout all those days I sold my soul, I never let the oilfield get into my soul, if that makes sense. I never acclimated to oilfield culture, I was never assimilated. Even before my birthday, this is how our conversation would’ve gone:

          “What are you, Jesse?”

          “I’m a father, husband, writer.”

          “Okay, but what do you do?”

          “I make sure my family is good and I write things. I work in the oilfield, I guess, but that’s about as important as my job replacing the toilet paper when it runs out.”

          See what I mean? The secret is this: fuck it. Fuck all of it. Work to live, never live to work because that’s not living. Don’t get tied up in your day-job because what you do to buy toilet paper isn’t who you are. Don’t feel bad if you’re just now getting it; plenty of people never do. The trenches I escaped are still there. There are still people working there, blaming their woes on my departure and giving birth to rumors. Those fools are just crabs still stuck in a bucket, jealous of my freedom, clawing at their coworkers with negativity as they long for escape. They’re just like I was: they hate where they’re at but they’re too afraid to seek greener pastures. I know how that feels, intimately. But that’s not my reality anymore, and I have a plan.

          Plan “A” would be to take a year off and plow through my degree, earning money as a freelance writer along the way, and then lock down a remedial job of some sort while I earn my master’s. Maybe I’d publish a book along the way. Plan “A” is super sparkly, but it’s not too realistic. Plan “B” is to take a full-load for the spring semester and take just six months off work. I’ll find a job if I need it and it’ll only push back my graduation by a semester or two. This is where I’m headed. I have an internship at a local newspaper set up for the spring and it isn’t a stretch financially or morally to go through with it. It’s painfully exciting. Plan “C” is by far the most realistic: get a job, peck away at the degree. Wait to be a writer, wait and wait longer because it’s safe and secure and that’s what the fear says to do. My resume is on point and I’ve already turned down a few jobs. I had an interview this morning for a position that’d be a step up from the one I just left. Things went well. It has the six figures we’re programed to chase and all the benefits that lead away from unsure dreams. I have another interview the first week in January. This job would be a step up from the step up. I set these things up and chase things I’ve already had because I’m afraid to jump; I’m climbing down the cliff slowly.

          But what happens when one of these jobs is offered to me? It isn’t unrealistic to think that one of the two could be mine, and they’re both perfect. They’re local; they’re in a field that isn’t dependent on barbarian controlled fossil fuels; they pay ridiculously well. Will I be able to turn one down, and even if I could, should I? “Actually, sir, never mind. You can keep your perfect, realistic job because I want to be a writer when I grow up. I don’t need all your stupid money and benefits because I’m an artist damn it!” Right… that’s bullshit. My hypocrisy is alive and well, and of course I’ll take the money. Of course I’ll go back to selling my soul, albeit to a different devil, because principal and freedom just look good on paper. I like to travel and I like brand names and I like the crust of the upper-middle class because it tastes better than generic foods from the grocery store. But jumping on a job is just probably what I’ll do. I have until January seventeenth to make a final decision regarding my spring semester schedule, and that leaves me where I am, right here, right now: In the best months of my life, telling myself that the possibility is finally a reality, that maybe I can be a writer without waiting. There: you’re all caught up.

          This is going to sound trite, like a middle-aged man pining for younger years; I promise it’s anything but. I never had a young adulthood. My wife and I were married before she was legally allowed to drink, and we had a baby on the way. I went from living in my dad’s house with nothing more to my name than a burgeoning drinking problem all the way to living in my first mortgaged home with a new car. It took me about three months. A baby will light that proverbial fire under your ass. The point is that my wife and I skipped that whole “find yourself in your early twenties” thing. We didn’t travel the states in a piece-of-shit station wagon, we didn’t try to find some little town thousands of miles from home that we could call our own, and we didn’t spend the time trying to find our passions. The missed romance of such formative years is regrettable, but it wasn’t all bad. We got a head start on life—for it, we have investment properties to show, a nest egg for periods in life just like this one, and a lifetime of adult experience that many of my peers are just now jumping into. So, it is what it is. I’m not going to make some vain attempt to recapture a part of life that I missed: I’m just going milk out of these winter months as much enjoyment as possible because I feel like I deserve it.

          During these holidays, I have true freedom. The fall semester just ended, so this period is the first time in my adult life wherein I have nothing to do. No class, no job. And oddly enough, this period is the first time in my life that I don’t have a boss. Seriously. I went from living with a parent directly into a career so there was always an authority figure looming. There was always someone who could call and ask me to do something. But not right now. I’ve untethered myself from my cell phone. The first time I left it behind, I took my youngest daughter to the park. I told her that I didn’t bring my phone on purpose. I told her that I wasn’t available to anyone else in the world besides her, and the smile I saw was love painted into an expression. Hell, that single moment was worth all the stress that came along with my severance. And that’s how I’m living life right now. For me, for my daughters and wife, for the fucking moment. I’m watching cartoons and eating Lucky Charms. I’m working out like a beast and growing my beard in accordance. I’m cleaning and cooking (as it turns out, I’m quite the domestic diva), and for once, I’m writing daily. The twenty-five hundred words you just read equal only half of what’s come out of me today, and it honestly feels like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s wonderful. These three months will surely turn into halcyon days of remembrance and I’m not going to make the mistake of cherishing them less than I should while I’m living in this temporary-retiree paradise. And that’s why I wrote this. These five pages I just banged out are nothing more than a sticky note reminder, a string tied to my finger: Jesse, you have what you wanted. There’s no excuse to be unhappy. Don’t worry about what’s coming because it’s manageable, and just enjoy this time off because it’s okay, and it’s deserved.

          However, I need to write something for you as well, some nugget of verity. So, here it is. Steven Segal was right. All those days I waited for the end were far worse than the end itself. There were months and years of “something’s got to give” feelings before something finally gave, and when it happened, it didn’t carry with it the pain I saw coming. The world didn’t end and I didn’t lose who I was. My family didn’t reject me and I wasn’t instantly homeless. I wasn’t shunned by the rest adulthood like some beggar pariah and I found the support I needed and the tools that’ll take me forward within myself. Everything, every bit of it, has been awesome. So, if death is coming for you, if an end of your own is forthcoming in the near future, just deal with it when it comes. All the days between now and then are for living, and that’s not something you can do if you’re not right here, right now, where you’re supposed to be.