letters to myself

I never got around to watching the movie about a letter a girl wrote to older self, as much as I was in love with the sentiment. And the Radiohead song, "A Reminder," about not getting old, and remembering "the night where we kissed and I really meant it," while it brings a tear to my eye, didn't motivate me when my ex-girlfriend played it for me and told me how much I'd changed. I had changed, and I was glad of it. I love the sentiment, the "now is the best time of our lives" feeling. But I can't get behind it. I'm not afraid of the future, I'm excited. I am afraid of my past.

Tonight I almost wrote a letter to my past self, warning me to avoid all of those pitfalls--the lost love, the ruined plans. I want to tell myself to be more adventurous, more confident, more determined. I want to give myself a cheat sheet for life.

I sat down to start writing and thought about all of the mistakes. The stupid way I handled my relationships, how certain I was that my plans were my future. All the lost sleep, the arguments, the fear, the depression, how all of that culminated in my impulsive decision to go the opposite way I'd planned, and how from there everything looked so much brighter and clearer. "Mistakes," a writer once penned, "aren't always regrets." I could tell my past self that I shouldn't be afraid of mistakes, because it always ends up okay, but I've learned that now. I'm okay.

Perhaps I'll still write a letter to my future self. Maybe I'll even remember it.


so far from home

Three thousand miles from home, I've fallen for someone six hundred miles from here--about four hundred further than my first love, who was in Portland when I was in Seattle. We would drive about ninety miles when we wanted to meet halfway, almost two hundred when we wanted to visit for the weekend. The distance never bothered me. I always said I'd drive twelve hours just to see her for thirty minutes.

Distance has never been insurmountable. Three thousand miles is a few days of driving or a few hours on a plane, then a bus or a rented car from SeaTac and dinner in familiar places, visiting old friends. Then it's ten minutes almost anywhere, thirty by bus. They'll be snowbound right now. It never really was when I was home, except for once just before dawn, when the sky was blue, and the streetlights were yellow and it was beautiful and ethereal and foreign and I never captured it in words, though I tried many times.

From six hundred miles away, I can only see snapshots, but in them everything is perfect. From here, I have no influence. I keep up the same way I do with my home: with blogs, conversations. I'm not there anymore, and when I am, I'm a guest. Ultimately I'm expected to leave. It's ephemeral.

So she is outside of my five mile sphere of influence--she will always be six hundred miles away, her life lived through snapshots of perfection, something I will never be able to sully or experience.



I lost power to the ice storm that hit New England the other day. Just one of another million poor, cold souls--somehow I never felt so faceless. My girlfriend and I drove to the grocery store to find chaos. No more bread. No more bottled water. The store lost its frozen foods and its cold goods. We walked around and bought something so at least there would be some sustenance.

It was lucky I had firewood left. We lit a fire (it took some convincing but we managed) and huddled around it. It was the only light and the only warmth. No power, no gas--just me, her, the fire, and the vague certainty that we would get power back eventually, and we probably had enough food to last until then, maybe.

It was the work of a few minutes to find all of our blankets and winter clothes. I don't have a flashlight and there were only a few candles, so it was dark and there wasn't much to do--my laptop's battery was dead, she was conserving hers in case we needed it for something. We used our cell phones as illumination as we built a little stockpile in front of the fire.

We didn't say much. There wasn't much to say. We got a few phone calls and text messages, asking if we were okay. We always said yes, asked if there was news. They didn't know.

She fell asleep and I kept up, making sure the fire kept going. I was sure that was important.


home in the rain

I am reminded lately of a time not long ago when it was rainy and windy, but warm. I had a few miles to walk, and I had a jacket--but it was nice out. I didn't want to hide from the rain and be miserable, so I let it drench me and walked with my head up. It was a singularly marvelous experience.

On the way home I kept imagining what people would say when they saw me. Conversations danced around in my head. I wanted them to become captivated by this excellent joie de vivre I was demonstrating. It wasn't that I wasn't enjoying myself--but I wanted other people to know I was having fun. I'm exciting and live in the moment. I planned for everyone to see.

I got home and nobody was there. I still had hopes that someone would come home, but nobody ever did. I sat on the couch reading the newspaper (which was a little bit soggy but only in places). The cold was getting uncomfortable. I started shivering, water dripping down my face, clothes soaked, the blankets not entirely helping.


a quiet sort of problem

"I didn't want to say anything" has become my mantra recently. "It's okay, really." "I don't want to get in the way."

Sometimes there aren't any problems. I'm always polite and people generally think well of me--quiet but thoughtful, or something like that. But then there's the shouting, the fighting, me in the corner reading. Me on the couch writing. Sometimes it's in the next room, but their voices are raised and I can hear it. Sometimes they pretend I'm not there. But I never say anything. I smile sometimes. I leave sometimes. Then they apologize and it's always "don't worry about it." "It happens." "We all have off days."

I try occasionally, usually when I'm feeling confident or optimistic, sometimes when I feel trapped. But then they think I'm choosing sides. They tell me I should stay out of it. They apologize but say this is important. They wish they could do something but they can't this time--they are trying to be reasonable.

And of course I have to understand. I smile. I tell them things will be all right. I always, always remain calm. I just hope someone notices.



I've been hiding behind cars at street corners lately, or occasionally parking and hiding in one. I'm always worried someone will notice but nobody seems to. It's sort of a people-watching experiment. The one I really like at night is not far from my house, and at night the neon lights give the street a dull purple light to them.

I was hiding under a delivery van last night and this couple was walking along and stopped in the purple light. I couldn't hear what he said to her but he dropped to one knee like he was proposing. They embraced for a long moment and kissed briefly and then walked their separate ways.


anything but fine

I wasn't sure if I should call it rain or mist but I couldn't see the tops of the buildings downtown as I was walking home. Or not exactly home, just walking--headed north because that's where home was, even if it's five miles and I knew I wouldn't get home for hours and I wasn't entirely sure where I was going. It was dark but the sky was kind of grey and pale from all the city lights reflecting on the mist or the rain or whatever it was. It wasn't cold and there was no wind and it was exactly what a late autumn day should be in Seattle.

And I knew there were buses going my way, but I didn't have a destination in mind while the skyline I'd fallen in love with wasn't entirely visible and my hands were shaking and I felt restless from too much coffee and not enough sleep and not enough food though I probably had too much and sometimes I'm still not sure if it was caffeine that made me restless.

If you asked me I'd have told you everything was perfect. I still might if you catch me in the right mood. But still I was walking home and wondering what went wrong or what was going to go wrong or what was wrong. And I told myself it was really only bothering me because I always get like this after too much caffeine, and that might have even been true.

But Seattle is a coffee city. You ask people out to coffee. You go out for coffee late at night. It's a drug for those late nights that aren't supposed to end. Writing that paper. Studying for that exam. Your last night in town. Driving home late at night. Staying out too late with people who are too fascinating to leave until it's 5 am and the sun is coming up or it would be if it weren't raining or misting or whatever it was doing, and I wondered how I could ever think of this city as anything but a city of late nights.

After 45 minutes and a car drove by. I imagined it was a friend looking for me but if it was they didn't stop, they didn't notice, and anyway I'd rather be alone with my thoughts and a skyline I could't quite see.

raison d'être

I do not want your patronizing smiles and words
as if I were an ordinary man. When you
stroke my cheek with your thumbnail,
wiping away the tears I would never admit to,
telling me that everything will be okay--when you
kiss me softly on the cheek while my eyes burn
like my passions and frustrations and hope and
everything I have ever hoped for and wanted and believed--
when you embrace me as if you can make my fears go away
with your warmth--
I do not want you to treat me as if
you can make it go away.

There is no comfort in basic human comfort
and no dignity in basic human dignity.
There is no comfort in your comforting hands,
along the knots in my back,
along the ridge of my spine,
trying to massage away my demons. It is as if
you do not appreciate my struggle--and I do
struggle--and instead view me as
some troubled man, haunted by ghosts
from my past, as if who I am can be separated
from the ghosts that haunt me and guide me
and define me.

I do not want your consolation or your well-wishing.
I do not want this to go away. I do not want to abandon
my fight, my quest, my struggle. My raison d'être is
to prove that I can overcome any challenge,
not merely to will it away.
I do not want your protective arms around my shoulders,
warding off life's slings and arrows, telling me
that everything will be okay.


the holiday spirit

It's Thanksgiving and I'm flying home to see my family. We haven't spoken in years. Occasionally we exchange letters, so I'm hoping to surprise them. I'm sorry I haven't been a better son/brother/nephew. I hear I'm even an uncle now. I'm not a very good uncle, either. I've seen a picture of my niece. She is a smiling infant in every photo and looks the same as every other smiling infant and I'm not there.

I don't know if they miss me. I haven't been very good to them. Not since my work, or my wedding, and maybe I cared too much about my wife or my job or too little about them but I think I was happy and really I knew that there would always be my family if things went wrong. Things haven't gone wrong. My wife and I both decided we should see our families this time around, though she's been good about keeping in touch with hers and that's all right with me.

The airport is already festive and it's cold and everyone has winter clothes now. It seems too early for this sort of thing. I didn't have coffee this morning and I've been up all night worried about traveling, and I never worry about traveling. But this time was different. Maybe it'll go wrong. It feels like there's something at stake.

Over and over in my head I imagine all the different ways it could go wrong. The plane crashes. The plane gets hijacked. I see all of these scenarios, me frozen with terror, unable to do anything as the flight makes its way to its destination. I board the plane with trepidation. I've never felt it so important to celebrate the holidays with my family.


weather forecasts

I'd hoped that coffee would help us sober up. I should have--there's a hundred things I should have done. Right now all I can think about is the weather. It's been raining constantly since we rolled into town and the car broke down. Sometimes hard, sometimes a drizzle. I keep getting flood advisories on my weather reports. The locals say it's been like this for a month and no sign of letting up.

My girlfriend's angry, or maybe it's me who's angry. I know she's upset. I know I'm upset. I know we shouldn't talk about it, we should just go back to the hotel, but we're both soaked already, and coffee sounds perfect and we can talk it out, right? We can make it work. I shake her off angrily as she tries to slip a hand around my waist.

We've found a seedy truck stop, and as the hostess leads us to our seats--the place is almost completely empty. We both order coffee; she asks if it's all right to smoke. According to the hostess, it's all right. Now we're looking at each other I notice how unsteady her hands are. Is it from drinking? The cold? Emotion? I don't ask. She fumbles with her light, manages to light up, and doesn't offer me one. She spills some cream when she arrives. I take my coffee black. I can't stand looking at her anymore so I just glare into the cup.

I hear the rain picking up and feel her glaring at me. She hates the weather, is sorry we're still here, wants to know why we haven't left and I don't know, I don't have any answers. We haven't talked about it but I know that's what it is. She's mad and she's drunk and I say to the waitress, "Some weather." She says yeah.

"Is it like this often?" She says no.

I watch my girlfriend finish her cigarette. I can't tell if she's angry or sad or both as she watches me. I can't meet her eyes. I'm not sure what I'd say if I did but I can't. The smoke gets everywhere. We both look away and we don't talk and the restaurant is dead, and I know the hostess and waitress are watching us, we might as well be screaming at each other. It's hours before morning, a long trip back to the hotel, getting soaked all the way, and still no sign the rain's going to let up. And right now all I can think about is the weather.


fevered inspiration: cream invades the coffee black

While I wait for my sister at the Denny's, I watch the cream swirling into the coffee. Little intricate spirals, random, or not actually random. She sits down and bumps the table, disrupting the pattern. I smile at her and say it's nice to see her. She's tall and dark-haired and today she looks like business and smells like smoke. She compliments my suit, and I say thanks and begin to stir the coffee.

She takes her coffee black, and I never wait to watch the swirls once she's here. She says she's looking forward to Paris. I tell her I know. The waitress arrives and takes our order. The food is better than I expected. She talks about her plans in Paris, and I talked about my job. We haven't talked for months, but not because of any real distance. Unless you count literal distance. We've been busy. Sometimes we find the time to write.

And even now we act like it's just business. I don't talk about how weird it feels to be in SeaTac with her, the city of departures, but I mention the weather is funny lately. I tell her about the windstorm. I tell her I might be getting a job in Boston. I don't tell her about the desperation there.

We step outside for a smoke after I pour another creamer into my coffee. I don't stir. It happens naturally while we're gone. Some things happen whether or not you interfere.

The night wears on, we talk about everything but our lives. We leave it unsaid because sometimes words don't work like you want them to. Then the sun comes up and she flies away and I take the bus back to Seattle. I won't sleep until later tonight.


fevered inspiration: coffee liqueur

She was drinking coffee liqueur and that seemed unusual, and she must have noticed me staring because she said it made her think of all those nights in high school when she'd go out to the diner and have coffee and talk until the sun came up and she had to go to school. We talked until the bar closed and they kicked us outside and the wind was high and the rain was terrible, the streets filled with water, and neither of us had the cash for a cab--so we took shelter in the mouth of the subway station, leaning against the wall and watching the rain outside.

It wasn't too cold but it was cold enough, so we huddled close, and talked--about the religion we'd both left behind, the small towns we still called home for some reason. I talked about my comfortable upbringing and how I was never sure if I should claim it or reject it. She told me about her family and how she left it behind when she was 18 but she kept going back. Then we both thought of the line from Magnolia, "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us," and a part of me wished it would rain like it did in that movie.

But it's true. We drink coffee liqueur to remind us of those carefree days in high school we hated so much because we can't afford to forget about them. But, she says with a tired smile, it also reminds her she's not there anymore. The taste of alcohol wasn't there when she was young. Maybe it's cheap and artificial, but sometimes that's all we have.

"We're really fortunate, you know," she says. "Life should have been perfect for us."

I tell her I know.

She says, "Then why are we so unhappy?"

In the morning we go home and I'm left worried about the world but so happy for that one night, and I still don't know why.


fevered inspiration

Sometimes I feel lie I am only really alive when I'm sick. It happens maybe once a year and my mind just stops working--or at least, not like it used to. My memory isn't sharp and I don't notice details like I usually do but maybe that's just because my mind is racing. I drink a lot of coffee, smoke cigarettes sometimes, to try to replicate that but once the fever takes hold I just keep thinking and I usually can't write fast enough to keep up with--

--this sad girl at the bar tonight, and I didn't even mean to start up a conversation but we talked for hours and the trains stopped running and the bars closed and we wandered out into the night but it was raining and windy and we had to run for shelter and--

--the last time I really talked to my sister, at the airport just before she left for Paris. Well, before the airport, really. We spent all night at a Denny's in SeaTac, drinking coffee, occasionally retiring for a smoke--I always loved having a smoke with my sister--and then she was gone and so was I, on the last plane to Boston, leaving behind all the disappointment and regret from--

--that wide-eyed acceptance and optimism I've always had somewhere. I'm not a cynic. I've never been a cynic. But I'm also afraid. I'm afraid and desperate and frantic and that never comes out until--

--my fever.



Every morning I wake up at the same time to get ready for work. It is the same routine every day--I put the coffee on, take a shower, come out, have some breakfast and coffee. My girlfriend emerges to join me for my breakfast at this point. We are still warm and communicative this early in the morning.

I return to the bedroom to get dressed. My suit and shirt are neatly pressed. I pass my girlfriend on the way into the bathroom to adjust my tie in the mirror. This takes a few moments, as I must be perfect. I return to the kitchen to read the newspaper my girlfriend has left there. She is reading the financial section. I turn to politics.

When she returns she is wearing a sharp skirt suit in black with a white blouse. She is wearing glasses now. Her hair is perfect. I lower the paper to give her a cold look. I glance at the clock. "Shouldn't you be going?" she asks. I nod curtly and leave. I enjoy work. I run into her at lunch at the cafe, and we talk business over coffee. We are cold but polite--cold in the sense that there is no warmth left between us. She drinks an iced latte. I drink black coffee. We argue about the economy and stocks, but politely.

I work late tonight. When I come home she is sleeping on the bed. I hang up my suit and tie and change into boxers and a t-shirt. She wakes up as I slide into bed and smiles at me--no longer perfectly arrayed for work. I tell her she's beautiful and she kisses me softly, and we lie in bed, enjoying each others' warmth. In the morning it will be the same. We'll get dressed and pretend we are polite business partners. We will quarrel politely over coffee at lunch. We will present our perfect selves to the world.


unfamiliar territory

Despite going home to the same place every night, I have not stayed in the same house on any two consecutive evenings for weeks. I come home to an unfamiliar building--the furniture is different, the layout of the house, even the architecture. But it's home. The key fits, the same people are there--or at least they look the same.

I get used to the new arrangement and find my room--always in a different place--and go to sleep in a bed that feels like a stranger's. I dream of the house I used to know, but it seems distant, dark, and haunted now. Then I wake up and find myself somewhere entirely new. When I eat my breakfast, it doesn't taste like it should. I can never quite place what is wrong with it. I can never remember how I like my coffee, but it always tastes wrong. Now too sweet. Now too strong. Too much cream. Too grainy.

And my love is different every day. Today her hair is up and dark, she is dressed like a professional, a working woman, very serious. Last night when I went to bed she had her hair long, it was red, and she wore jeans and a striped shirt. She smiled a lot more. "Did you dye your hair?" I ask her today. She looks confused. I apologize and say I haven't been sleeping well, which is true.

Nobody knows about this disorientation, because they don't seem to understand when I start talking about it. Am I the only one that notices? Am I going mad? Can I trust my own memories? I don't know what is a dream anymore. I'm never sure what is happening. And I'm not even sure I'm the same person through all of it.


familiar accents

I spent much of the evening in a diner, drinking coffee with cream but no sugar, reading a newspaper. I usually put sugar in my coffee. I usually don't go out alone on a Saturday night. I usually don't read the newspaper. Tonight was not every night.

The waitress talked to me occasionally, but mostly just to make sure I was okay. She didn't say much to me. She talked to some of the other patrons, too, and some of them I got the feeling she knew. About half an hour into the evening, while I was eating my club sandwich and generally feeling tired, I noticed that she was greeting the couple behind me without an accent.

She spoke with an accent to me--not strong, but noticeable. Did I look like an out of towner, or did I look like a local? Was I just not hearing her right? I didn't ask about it but I left a good tip and smiled as I left. No sense acting like anything is unusual.


what i had in mind

I'm often guilty of overplanning. I want to make sure everything goes a certain way, and while I don't always write it down I always know the steps and exactly where everything is expected to be, when it's supposed to happen.

I saw a friend a few days ago that I hadn't seen for a year. I'd sort of given up on ever seeing her again. I had plans for the evening--I always had plans for the evening--but I didn't see any problem with her tagging along for a while. Then we stepped into an elevator and something changed.

I'm still trying to figure out what happened. I didn't mean to change it, but suddenly I felt like we'd gone off course. This was not what I had in mind. I've been uncharted for a few days now. It's completely new to me. I should be uncomfortable with it--I always am when something doesn't go according to plan.

But all I'm worried about is that I'm not worried about it.


legacies and paper trails

A dear friend of mine committed suicide recently, unexpectedly. I was looking through what she left behind with her brother, and we found a little box full of receipts. Her brother figured she was just keeping a record for herself, but the box intrigued me. I asked if I could keep it and he said sure. I put it in my bag.

While he continued looking through her things, I was looking through some of her jackets. She liked wearing jackets and had a lot of them. And the pockets were mostly full of receipts. Some were faded so only the server's name was readable, or only the restaurant, or only the price. Some were to places I had no idea what they were or that she had ever been to.

I spent the evening poring over these old receipts. They told me nothing, were kept haphazardly in a dusty box, obviously never looked at again, but there was something that kept her from throwing them away. There was nothing unusual about her spending habits, no way to create some narrative from it. Perhaps that was the story. I wanted something unusual. I wanted a marked deviation towards the end, or some dark secret that was revealed in a receipt for $17.76 at the grocery store. It's information for accountants, not for bereaved friends.

I saved a few of them. Times I remembered, things she'd bought that I recognized. I keep them in my own box, and never look at them. But lately I've taken to keeping my own receipts and putting them in the pockets of my jacket, just in case.



I'm at the airport, staring at the screen with the lists of departures, flights, arrival times, delays--people walking around me, brushing past me, leaving, arriving, waiting for friends, family, relatives.

Eventually I check my bags and shuffle through the security, thinking of all the other people who were departing. It wasn't their stories that interested me this time. I wonder how many of them are returning, how many of them are being replaced by others. Everyone in the airport eventually wears the same hassled look of too many security checks and too many excess fees, waiting in line, hoping everything works, being made aware that everything really important to you fits in a couple of bags, that it will be searched by people who have never met you, and that they will not find anything interesting about it. Whether that is a comfort or a fear--in the end everyone looks at the planes with the same mixture of boredom and trepidation.

Even the ones who aren't returning. I wonder if anyone notices the wistful quality to my gaze. There are no families embracing past the security checkpoints. None of the travelers look happy to be home, however many of them are coming home. I'm sure some of them are secretly happy, though. And I know I'm happy to be home, even if it's for the last time.

I'm one of the last to board my flight. I have a window seat. I close my window and close my eyes so I don't have to see when we depart.


where i've been lately

The past few days I've been wandering. Visiting old friends, exploring places I'd never been--carrying most of my stuff in a bag or the back of my car. It's always a weird sort of feeling. We never act like I'm about to leave forever. It's always casual conversation, asking about the last few days. It's like watching a clip from a movie or reading a chapter from a novel. I don't know their stories anymore, and I'm reading a little chunk of it. But they look happy now, mostly.

I wonder if they notice that I'm coming undone. I've got a few nervous tics. I fade in and out of attention as some little thing, a movement of her hand or something she says, draws me back to the time she--well, that's another story altogether. I return to reality and shake my head to get back. I blink a lot more, scratch my arms, look around--do they see me? Do they know? And I do it all more when I'm nervous.

And the night comes to a close and they ask if I need a ride back to my car and I say "No, it's okay." So then it's hugs and handshakes and fleeting glances and I'm alone in a darkened parking garage. It's a long walk to my car, a hundred miles to the place where I'm staying--and I realize I'm finally a man without a home.



Solipsism is the belief that you are the only person or thing which is real--everything else is the product of your imagination. Lately I've been wondering if I'm not an illusory being--maybe the world is real and I'm not really here, like a ghost or something. Oh, sure, people talk to me, even interact with me, but it seems like it's on a limited level. If I'm hallucinating my own existence, or at least my own interactions with the world, it's not a stretch to assume I can hallucinate some limited interactions with people. My ghostly brain just adjusts all the facts to make it seem like I'm really here.

It doesn't make sense, of course. But I feel dreamlike and detached, I feel like people forget that I exist--and that makes me wonder if I ever really existed in the first place, or if I just wish that I did. I cling to photographs, things I've written, a handshake--some desperate evidence that I'm really here.


express mail

I wrote a letter, a real letter, the other day. It was a personal letter, to someone I'd written letters to before--and sometimes they were never sent or never delivered and sometimes I'm sure she got them but never read them, but I know she read at least some of them. We still talk sometimes. The letters are a part of our relationship that I'm still not even sure I understand. It makes the moments real, somehow.

I don't have an outgoing mail slot so I walked out to the post office. It costs twenty dollars to ship something by express mail, and I wondered how many letters get shipped express. There by tomorrow a noon. Guaranteed. It's not important, or expected, and I don't even think she'll be home and if I really need to hear from her there's always email, which we use, but--

I decided to ship it express anyway. I dodged the questions when the woman at the counter tried to make conversation, because I didn't want anyone to think I was weird. Or at least, not yet. I'm sure it will all melt down soon, but I've long stopped trying to resist my whims. Anyway, I couldn't bear the thought of another undelivered letter.


with good behavior

I have never managed to keep a grudge. People have done things to me I've sworn I would avenge--and usually a month or two later we're pretending it never happened, or I'm apologizing or they're apologizing and then everything is normal again. I never forget. I just don't hold a grudge. They aren't bad people. Sure, they've betrayed me once or twice. That's fine--who hasn't, really?

So I can't keep a grudge. I can live in terror of someone else keeping a grudge. Against all assurances that they haven't, against all reason, against all evidence--when I've wronged someone I can't confront them. It will go horribly wrong. It will be awkward--all nervous laughs and walking on eggshells, testing the waters, hoping nobody says anything to bring it all back.

I know people are usually pretty good people and don't keep a grudge, water under the bridge and all that, I shouldn't worry about it--but I have to do my time.

my human interactions

I've known people who routinely spend a week or so going without something they feel like they are addicted to--television, the internet, sweets, unhealthy foods. Or they spend a week where they exercise every day or they don't sleep in or they always eat three meals a day at regular hours or they read every day.

I've never quite gotten the point, so I thought I'd try it this last week. I went seven days without any human interactions. I spent the days in my bedroom with a stack of books and wandered out at night to fix some of the foods I'd stocked up. It was challenging to avoid my roommates but I managed, mostly by listening to see if anyone was around, moving quickly and quietly, and not taking food that required a lot of preparation. I managed, though. I saw no one and spoke to no one.

This of course included interactions online. Those were easier than you would think. Ultimately I wrote several poems and filled up the rest of a journal I'd been working on and burned through several books that I'd been meaning to get to. It was nice to be able to focus and get rid of the distractions human interactions cause--and really I think we could all go without them for a while.

You shouldn't have to feel alone just because there's nobody to share your fears with.


camera shy

There was a photographer over the other night. She wasn't here just as a photographer, but he did keep taking pictures--not just of us, but the house, random objects, things she thought were beautiful, things I thought were silly. I asked her not to take any of me, and for the most part she respected that, but as the evening wore on she started trying to when I wasn't looking, trying to persuade me to let her, to stop looking away.

To be honest I don't know what I was afraid of. It wasn't just being genuinely captured on film--no one is genuine when they smile for the camera--but that had to be a part of it, right? She eventually asked me, when everyone else had gone to bed and I was still eluding her camera, why I was so camera shy. Answering the question would ruin it, I said. She insisted. I said it was so I could maintain an air of mystery. She said I was plenty mysterious enough--but that wasn't it, either. If I could have explained it I'd have let her take my picture.


cyanide capsules

I've been seeing someone who is glued to the political blogs, the news websites. There is a certain fervor that perhaps I never noticed in previous years, but it seems more pungent this time around. People are confident in a Democratic victory--the climate is sure of it. But the polls don't mirror that! What's wrong? Which statistics should we listen to?

Of course I've gotten into it, too. It's starting to dominate the topics of my conversations, and it's giving me this shapeless sort of fear, not just for politics, but for understanding. Causes and effects--does worrying change things? Will it make it better or worse? Does knowing about the climate affect how things will happen? Does it simply tide us over?

She's managed to get enthusiastic for November. I just want it to be over with. I wonder if this will make the little rift, some of the tense political conversations, get bigger. I wonder if my worry will affect my daily life--if the worried buzz going around the media is going to win the election but ruin my personal life. She treats my worry like it's a poison, and I agree with her that it probably is. She just thinks I'm doing it on purpose, and I'm not even sure I believe it when I insist I'm not.


uniquely you

After she died I found myself searching for someone else who could be her--her smile and the way her hair was always a mess and her laugh. It's been years now and I'm still searching. The hardest thing has been finding somebody with her smile. She didn't smile often, except when I was around. So it was almost my smile, in a way.

For a long time I didn't understand my failure--put it up to bad luck, perhaps, or being in the wrong city. Maybe I was too late, I thought. She would be older now, more mature. A lot can change in a few years. There were a lot of reasons I could have been failing. I never stopped to consider that I was hoping to meet her again.

There's a song with the lyric "I met a hundred people yesterday, and none of them were you." At some point when I was listening to it I realized that she was unique--not because of any special qualities she had, but because everybody else wasn't her. That there was a convergence of forces so intricate and complex that it would never be duplicated again when she was born, acting on every moment of her life--and that it would only be futility to try to reproduce them.

What else could I do? I gave up.


all my darkest secrets

I met a girl on the bus yesterday to Tacoma--I wasn't going there for any real reason, just to take a trip. It was a fairly bright, sunny day, as it so often is, so I had my sunglasses on, so I never had to meet her eyes. Traffic was terrible but we spent most of the trip talking--sharing secrets. I told her I was afraid I was unable to commit to anything and she said she was afraid she was desperate to commit to anything. I worried I was lying to myself about my quest for meaning, that I was trapped in the past, and so on, and so on. I told her everything I'd ever thought or worried about myself and she told me all of her fears and I realized, to my surprise, that this was a real conversation. Not just a chance to vent--I can vent anywhere, I do vent anywhere. This was reaching out to someone and actually getting something in response.

There was a desperation about us both--we both knew that even if we ever saw each other again it would never really be the same. So we held on to the moment as much as we could, bared our souls, said it was such a relief to tell someone all this even though we'd both said it a hundred times before to a hundred different people. We were both too poetic to have any dark secrets we actually kept.

But it was honesty not because I valued a relationship or because I thought honesty was the best policy or that lying or keeping secrets was morally wrong--it was honesty because it was safe. It could never come back to hurt me. I even told her that. I told her that she was the one girl in my life who could never come back to hurt me--she felt the same way.

I wanted nothing more than to live forever with her, despite knowing only that she had the same fears and problems as any number of similar people, caught in the moment. But I knew one day I'd have to take my sunglasses off, look her in the eye--and that would ruin the moment forever. She knew things about me some people had never heard but she didn't know what color my eyes were.


thoughts of the macabre

Driving across the mountain passes these days makes me uneasy, not because I'm afraid of an accident, but because I always find myself thinking of how easily I could end my life--just moving my hands a few inches, barely a twitch, and my car could go careening out of control, off the cliff--and I'm not afraid of this, no, but I have the power. I think about it. I even have to fight back the impulse.

I don't really know what it means. I could probably reference a handful of philosophers but that doesn't mean anything, it's just wrapping it up in words and making it sound palatable when the fact is it's just wrong--and it doesn't make it better if other people are the same way. And then I'm driving and the moon comes up over the mountains and somehow everything is better, but I still know it's only temporary.



Last night we had a blackout and a thunderstorm. Even the phones were dead. I was hanging out with my girlfriend at the time. I thought it was exciting. She thought it was a profound reminder of how much we rely on technology.

It struck me then that every five minutes we're reminded how much we rely on technology. It's nothing new. It's not even interesting anymore. Yes, technology is convenient. Yes, sometimes it breaks and we have to rely on more archaic methods. This is nothing new. It isn't paradigm-altering. I'm going to go right back to using my laptop and cell phone and electric lights when this is all over, I said.

But you can't now, she said. Doesn't that make you feel enslaved to technology? You're stuck with candles and you can't call anyone and you have to write on paper.

I tried to explain that I was really just enjoying myself with the candles, but she was bent on believing that there was something important to be learned from this. I think it's this: we have too much time to wax existential when our technology fails us, and not enough drive to just run with it, or find a solution.


how to disappear completely and never be found

It was sometime in the evening last night that I started feeling like I wasn't real anymore. I was at a show, watching the crowd between sets, and felt this weird sort of disconnect, like maybe I was imagining the whole thing--just a passing ghost that nobody could see or, worse, nobody cared about. I knew I wasn't, of course, but then there's that whole question: what if I'm wrong?

As I made my way to the bus stop I suddenly felt very ill and very weak, without any real prompting. I staggered into a seat and watched the empty 1 am streets, coughing occasionally, trying to fight off the sickness in my gut, the dreamlike certainty that the bus driver wouldn't even stop for me.

I heard a siren down the road, and I remember this very clearly, like it was a scene from a movie. A car sped past, going perhaps sixty miles an hour in the narrow downtown streets. The wind from its passing blew a bus transfer from the sidewalk, swirling it up and onto the ground at my feet. I stood up and looked down the road, where a police car was fast approaching, weaving past a few cars. I put a finger in my ear so the siren wouldn't deafen me and wondered if he saw me, if he was coming for me. I watched him drive past before I realized of course not, I wasn't really even here.

There was a crash down the road. Someone yelled something about it, but I wasn't listening anymore.


letters i'm afraid you read

I found this, yesterday, in my sent items folder. She never responded.

I'm worried that when I tell you I love you, you're dismissing it, like it's just something I say, some rote thing. I worry about that when I ask you how your day is, too. Or how you are. I want you to know that I ask these things because I care--about you more than about anything I've ever cared about. It is important to me that you know this, especially now.

I feel ridiculous but I feel lie [sic] you've come to define me somehow. Sometimes I worry that my love for you, my concerns, are selfish only--that's what they're telling me, isn't it? I love because it makes me feel better, to quell the empathic pain I feel with your pain--they use words like codependent and enabling and tell me I shouldn't try to help, I'm only making it worse, and I tell them I can't do that. We're in this together, you and I.

I'm worried you think I'm inconsistent, schizophrenic in my dealings with you--confident sometimes, worried at others. I'm a wreck, I'm a neurotic wreck, it's true. You know how they say the best way to see how a man will interact with a woman is to look at his relationship with his mother? I used to think that was silly--my mother passed away years ago, I would say--but now I wonder if I'm not forever five years old, trying to come to the rescue, feeling responsible. I want to save you, from everything. I want to take you away from all this.

I wonder if you recognize how much of what I say is planned? I wrote that last line in the last paragraph because it's a cliche, an old movie cliche--it captures everything so perfectly, so beautifully. I lace my letters to you with references to songs and movies and books because I'm sure you'll know them. Then I worry that perhaps you'll miss it entirely, and I will be left feeling vaguely ridiculous.

I hope you are well. I say this--I even write this in letters to others--but know that with you everything I say is uniquely sincere. With you I am incapable of lying, or of false sincerity, or of any ill intent. I truly hope that everything is well with you.

I am very truly yours,


is that me?

I go back sometimes and read things I've written. Old essays from high school, emails, rambling blog posts. Even just casual one-liners, things I wouldn't give a second thought to. Usually I remember writing them, but it's through a haze. I don't think like this anymore. I don't talk like this. I don't believe this. I remember holding these beliefs.

I often say things like "I am not what I was" and then I start to wonder, who was I back then? Is that part of the story not real anymore? How much of me, the core of who I was, is still there? It's entirely foreign to me, but has anyone else even noticed the difference? How much of that influences today?

I've been feeling increasingly fragmented lately. Like there are several aspects to me and they don't mesh, they don't fit. I have more self-awareness than some people and the cost of that is being self-aware. All of these glaring inconsistencies in my character--I want to go vigorously assert that I am myself but I'm not even sure how. And even if I could I'm not convinced it would be sincere.


upkeep, reprise

I had big aspirations for our house. Do you remember? It was run down, but I saw such potential in it. I told you we'd fix it up, make it beautiful, make it the best house we could possibly have. You told me it was too big, there was too much to do. I said that with the two of us, we could make it work, and you smiled.

I began our great work and you helped at first--cleaning up dust, getting rid of old furniture that was beyond repair. I thought we were making a lot of progress, and said we'd be done in no time. You said we'd never make it past the entry chambers, the dusting and the furniture. I said to just be patient, it would take time, but we could do it together. You and I. You smiled.

You took ill--from the dust and mold, maybe--and I did some of the cleaning on my own. I promised I'd do what I could but I needed you to get better. I needed you to help. This was too much for me to do on my own. You said you didn't think you'd get better and I said I was sure you would--and then you smiled.

You started telling me it was no use, the project was too ambitious, you preferred the house in its old, dilapidated state. Your health was still faltering--headache, fever, coughing--and I told you it was better for you if we fixed it up. You smiled and said it had more character the way it was, and the project was still too big. I kept working but never seemed to get anything done.

I tried to fix our room, at least, so maybe your health would clear up, but you were angry--so I was angry, and we shouted at each other and said things we both ended up regretting, and I fled the house, found somewhere else, swore never to come back. And I thought of your smile, and worried I never quite understood.


exhausted, finally

A few days ago I was filled with this inexplicable energy, where I was enthusiastic about everything and went about my daily tasks with an unmatched gusto. Whether it was eating breakfast or brushing my teeth, I did so with a singular joy for the activity I'd never known before. Everything seemed new and exciting. I didn't get that feeling of deja vu I always get when I do anything--like this is just the same day as yesterday but I'm wearing a different shirt. Life was fun again. I went for a walk in the morning and talked to my neighbors. I was vibrant and energetic and interesting.

It was only in the evening that I started feeling like this energy must have been some sort of curse. As I was winding down for the day I found that this new-found joie de vivre was keeping me from sleep--there was so much to be done tomorrow. It was quite literally like being a child at Christmas time.

This went on for a few days. I started increasing my daily activities, adding on some energy-intensive workloads, but nothing seemed to happen, and soon my newfound energy was troubling me for the whole day. Where did it come from? Why was I so ecstatic? I devoted myself more wholly to my tasks. I was more cheerful than ever, more talkative, more lively--even while I was tormented with the fear that this energy was bringing me to ruin.

The exhaustion hit me all at once a few hours ago. In the middle of a conversation with a dear friend of mine I found that the energy I had been relying on--even as I despised it--was gone, replaced only with that drained feeling and a hunger for sleep like I'd never known. I told my friend I had to go and made my way into my bedroom, collapsing onto the bed and shutting my eyes and finally found contentment.


a plausible narrative

I was writing a poem the other day, in the corner of a softly lit bar, waiting for a band to go on stage. I was struck with a sentiment that I immediately sought to put into words, and as I put pen to paper decided that I couldn't directly express it--couldn't acknowledge it, even in private--so I used an extended metaphor.

I'm still unwilling to mention it, talk about it, but now it's haunting my mind. I don't want to accept these thoughts, I still don't really believe they're there. And it seems like everyone around me notices that something's bothering me. They keep asking questions about it. I dismiss it with a shrug, say it's nothing, or provide a plausible narrative to explain my behavior. "I'm tired," I'll say. "I haven't eaten yet." "I have a headache." Sometimes it's even true--partly. Those little half-lies where you aren't actually telling any lies but you're only telling truths which make people believe something which is false, right?

It helps being given to mood swings so I don't have to tell anyone about it. But I don't actually care if they find out--I'm only really keeping it secret from myself.



A few weeks ago people started giving me disapproving emails. "Do you have a job yet?" "Are you seeing anybody?" "What are you doing these days?" "Anything new going on there?" It's started to make me paranoid. People ask me innocent questions when I meet them, ask what I do, just small talk and I answer in a defensive, dismissive way--I make little jokes, end up drawing attention to it. Or maybe they don't notice at all? I can never tell if they're smiling with disapproval in their eyes or if that's just me, just my paranoia. I keep smiling, keep joking, and meanwhile my interactions come unraveled around me.



In about two and a half hours, as of the writing of this post, an entry my friend Chris and I made for Scary-Go-Round's Feats of Strength will be running on the SGR website. I'll edit up a link when it goes live. I thought you'd be interested.

So, welcome to any new visitors from SGR. I hope you stick around.

To my regular viewers, stay tuned for a link to the live comic...

UPDATE: It's up and available here.


wrong decision

I drove through Spokane recently--a few times, really. It's become a sort of Mecca of existential angst--I always see the familiar sights and the exits and think of how it used to be my future. I stopped at a Spokane Valley exit this time. The gas station was closed, but I'd been here before, so I got out anyway, wandered around--I was looking for something. I wasn't sure what, but I found it, after peering in the darkened windows and walking around the edge of the building.

I stood in one of the parking spaces for a while, staring at the pre-dawn sky, picturing everything that could have been if I'd made one different decision. Eventually I walked back to the car and headed back west. Turns out I'd taken a wrong exit, but there would be plenty of gas stations between here and Seattle. I decided it was best not to worry about it.


secret notes

I've been writing a message since February of 2006. Everything I've written since then has been in code: misspelled words or weird grammar, cues--if someone were to analyze it all, or even most of it, I'm sure they'd find it. I never actually figured anyone would read it, or even take the time, but it's there. I've only just now completed it, but it's there.

I do that a lot: leave secret notes out in the open, hope someone will find it, will understand. One day I hope someone will say "I know everything you've been writing--all those secret notes." And they can't just say that, they have to know. We can sit down over coffee. I'll buy lunch. And we'll talk, and I'll really, truly be honest about everything. I need someone who knows my secrets without me telling them. I'm only ever honest when I'm wrapping my message in code--well, here it is. My coded message. It took me two years but I'm done.


insufficient postage, pt. ii

Ever since writing about the letter I found myself thinking about it more than I had before. I saw it more often and eventually grabbed it and put it in my jacket pocket, without really thinking about it. I subsequently forgot that I had done so.

Today I was digging through my pockets for a spare scrap of paper and found it again. I didn't read it very closely but in it I talked about how I had always wanted to burn a letter--how poetic it would be. I had hoped that letter, the one I wanted to burn, would be one written by the recipient, of course.

The letter I'd written had become a monument to all of my failures. I never considered myself the type of person who was capable of such venom--something I have always thought of as inexcusable in every way. For some reason I felt I needed to remind myself, privately, that I could still fail.

When I found it in my pocket I immediately thought of opening it and reading it, but the words, the writing, the shape, kept me from doing so. Then I thought of the matches I kept in my pocket, and without a word I went outside. It was raining and a little windy, and the matchbook had all but lost its friction, but on the second match I kept the flame going long enough to light the letter aflame. I dropped it on the driveway and watched it burn, staying to make sure the last remnants of ash and soot had burned away. The wind, and my breath on the embers, scattered the remains.

I haven't checked yet, but a pair of used matches ought to be all that remains--if even that much.


license information

Dreamers Often Lie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. This means you're allowed to share the content, or create derivative content, so long as it's for a noncommercial use and you attribute the original material. Have a burning commercial use for something on the website? Email Rob (an email link is available in his profile) or leave a comment and we can work something out.


making out in public places

I've started doing this thing with a friend of mine where we go to really public places, like street corners, parks, shopping malls--places where there's lots of people--and make out and just generally act like one of 'those' couples. It's not that we even like each other like that or even that we're really great friends. But there's the dirty looks we get, and it's like it's more fun than it would be if we were actually just one of those couples. Usually we get lunch after. Sometimes we sit on the same side of the table and hold hands and quietly giggle and kiss each other every few minutes, but mostly we figure we've had our fun for the day, so we talk and watch people. Sometimes I wonder how many couples are doing it because they think it's funny. I actually mind less when I imagine them laughing about it later.


traffic signal

Today I watched a traffic signal flicker erratically. Not the steady flashing of a signal which knows it's malfunctioning, but a frenetic malfunctioning sort of flicker--at first it was red, flashing on and off at random, like it was trying to flash but didn't know how. Then it turned green. The green seemed more steady, but every few seconds or so it turned red, for just a fraction of a second. Like it wasn't sure. Like it was getting mixed signals from whatever controls it.


insufficient postage

There's a corner of my bedroom I don't really use. There's a small collection of junk there which overshadows a little folded up piece of paper in the corner. On that piece of paper are written the most venomous words I have ever penned--a letter that I never sent. I wrote it in pen on a page of a notepad I had acquired. It filled the margins--I explained, in the letter, that I would rather not waste paper on the recipient.

I don't know why I still have it. I don't really know why I never sent it. It's been in the corner for a long time, and I don't know why it's there--I didn't even write it at this house.

I forget about it for months at a time, then I go into that corner to use the outlet, or to grab something, and there it is. For half a second I wonder what it is, then I recognize my handwriting, the folding, the shape of the letter--I would recognize that letter anywhere. It's always there to remind me of everything I did wrong, everything that went wrong. And I never sent it--I told myself it was so I wouldn't have to waste postage, but that wasn't it. I just don't know what it was.

All I know is I have this reminder sitting in the corner of my room. Not hidden, but out of the way. Just paper and ink.


horror films

My insomnia has returned, so I've started watching some of the horror films my roommate has laying around. At first I enjoyed the mindless entertainment, the bad camera angles and hackneyed writing. Late at night, alone in my room with just the glow of my laptop's screen showing brief shots of some monster that was no doubt very scary in the designer's mind, I could pass out. In the morning I would read the Wikipedia article about the movie to see which characters died.

One evening I actually paid attention to the movie and I started thinking how tragic it really was. These characters died completely senseless deaths--they were in movies but it wasn't cinematic. It had no emotional impact. It was expected. It was meaningless. I started to write obituaries for the characters that died in the movies. I mourned their passing. I made sure that they were remembered, that their deaths were not in vain.

I thought of a character I had created for a zombie apocalypse story. She was this pathetic and desperate character who felt trapped in her small-town life and was perpetually unhappy. I thought about how, if I ever wrote that story, I probably wouldn't have the heart to kill her because she is so beautiful and sad and lonely. I decided that if the zombies did kill her, it would be a sad moment. The characters in horror films and zombie apocalypse stories need to be real people. They need to have their own hopes and fears and when they die it needs to be the tragedy that it really is.

I don't think people are ready for that. They watch horror films so they can feel that cheap cinematic terror. It's already halfway there. Pity and fear, right? They're tragedies, every one of them. We just need to mourn for them.


ninety-degree angles

I was browsing books with a girl who was worried about the number of days in a year and the number of degrees in a circle. She asked me if I'd ever wondered about that and I said I hadn't, but I actually kind of started to right then. I said "There's probably some correlation there."

She nodded but didn't respond right away. She said "I guess that makes sense. I mean, we just kind of go in big circles, right?"

"Right." I ran my finger along a row of short story anthologies and selected one at random and started flipping through it. I read the phrase "It would be useless to repeat what Jane said." I decided to buy it.

"It's kind of bizarre to think about how we just sort of made up numbers that we've been using ever since." She smiled at me. "So, did you find anything fun?"


in the dark

Every important conversation I have had for the past six months has taken place in the dark. It started six months ago today, actually, when my girlfriend and I decided to take a vacation: a road trip on I-5 south, no plans, no itinerary, no warning. During the day it was all laughs and adventure, but as evening wore on, and we were tired or drunk or whatever, that's when things got serious. But the important conversations came when we were in the car, or the cab, or the hotel, and the lights were off. That's when we'd talk about the things that would change us forever.

It wasn't just her, or just then. I was on my laptop in my bedroom and my father came in and sat down on a chair--it was about eleven in the evening and the screen provided the only light. I was in my living room after watching a movie with my sister. I was in the car with my friend. I was outside of my girlfriend's apartment. I was on the roof of my sister's building. I was walking my friend home from the bar.

Always in the dark. I'm not sure why, but every fight, every promise, every shoulder to cry on, every piece of advice. No light. No eye contact, no facial expression. Just the promise that someone else is there with you, in the dark. I don't know if that's why, but it's a lot more comforting.


missed connections

I've been reading personal ads recently--specifically I Saw U in The Stranger. Some of them are fascinating, some less so. I'm trying to figure out what it is about them that really draws me. Is it the desperate prose, the way one person carefully recounts her encounter, the way another seems to be avoiding any details which might give her away?

Their words are laced with the romance of a late night, maybe after a few drinks. I know the feeling all too well. 'You were driving a gold Honda on 51st on Thursday and backed up a long way so I could get past. Thank you. I was in a rush. I really wish I could make it up to you with coffee or drinks.' 'Was it me or the band you were looking at all night Wednesday? I thought you were more interesting than the music.' 'I recognized that contemptuous look, but you didn't see me walk past. I want to make you smile some time.' They are words that hope for a response but don't want one. It would ruin the magic.


cigarettes and ennui

I stand at bus stops with a cigarette clenched in my fingers, carefully distanced from the rest of the passengers, gazing into the distance with a look of mingled disdain and listlessness in my eyes. Occasionally I look at the people walking past. I don't nod or smile at them, but our eyes meet, even if just for a moment. The stream of smoke I exhale with such contempt hangs in the air like my breath on a cold day--like I exist in frigid isolation. I occasionally glare at people who look too long.

Yesterday someone walked past and smiled when our eyes met, and my carefully constructed image of ennui collapsed on itself.


just like old movies

My roommate has this friend who I despise. She comes over sometimes and my only thought is 'please go away' but it's like my brain sort of stops working. But I feel so alive when I'm shouting at her, when trading these lines that I would never, ever say to someone I felt even the slightest amount of affection for. All these passions that lay within me--I'm not a passionate man--wake up.

I'm the only one in this house who stays up late and she seems to have the same tendency. We were alone and shouting and I caught her wrist before she slapped me and then there was a beat and we were making out, whispering lies to each other, all passion and old cinema. In the end, of course, she'll be left with the telegram, crying and smiling. I can see the closing shot now, me in my sunglasses, riding an airline off into the distance.

They don't make movies like that anymore, so I guess I'll have to live them myself.


something is missing

We'd just finished dinner at a fancy restaurant and I could have sworn she was having a good time. Then, on the way to the car, she said, "I feel like something's missing." She'd even just finished laughing at one of my stupid jokes.

I took her by the hands and said, "It's okay. I'm here." I was concerned. She wasn't usually given to existential angst. "Everything will be okay." I tried to give her a big smile, though it was probably tinged with the worry I felt. I just wanted to be comforting. I wanted to make everything okay for her, even if just for a little while.

She gave me a look, then said, "No, you jackass, I think I forgot my wallet. Can we go back?"

Suffice it to say I felt kind of stupid.


careful planning

I've been doing this for a while now. It's circling, it really is. It started out as nothing more than doodling, meaningless lines that popped into my head at the time, because if there isn't a pen in my hand I feel useless. When I found out she actually read them instead of just throwing them away, I started, unconsciously at first, making these little random lines about her, something I thought she'd write--I was telling her stories through these previously meaningless quotes, communicating, though she never talked back.

Then I started writing poems. I started making everything on a theme, and then, like it was an afterthought, I scribble my initials after the last line. That means it's mine, right? That means I signed it. And then she took it, so that means it's hers. At first I just thought maybe she'd like them, but the more I went on the more I was writing secret notes to her. Did she notice? Was I too clever? I think she knew. I had spent so much time targeting these little notes. She had to know.


parachuting narwhals

I was at a cafe earlier, eating a late lunch that was more of an early dinner with a friend of mine. The girls opposite me and behind him were talking about something or other--I never quite heard them. One of them was cupping her breasts and occasionally squeezing them together or pushing them up. It looked like she was trying to illustrate a point, but I couldn't hear what she was talking about. There was really nothing sensual about it. Sometimes she would remove her hands to gesture, then quickly and mechanically clap them back on like she'd forgotten about it.

Then the girl next to her said, "Parachuting narwhals are the best." I laughed. She gave me a look that I couldn't quite read--was she angry? Confused? I gave her a thumbs up and kept smiling. It was probably the best thing I'd heard all month.


When I moved to Russia I assumed I wouldn't think of you. It's been the coldest winter of my life, but you're still there. It's like you followed me in the guise of ivory-skinned girls with strong features and dark expressions. They ought to be queens--queens like they used to be, beautiful and fair. They would inherit this desolate white landscape, shroud themselves in dark furs. And never smile: like their demesnes, these regal ladies must be grim.

I'm wearing a heavy woolen coat and a furry hat. I'm wearing fingerless gloves and I can't feel my hands. There's a fire burning, for all the good that's doing. I've got a kettle on, but I'm afraid it'll go cold before I can drink it.

And the thing is these ice queens, these Russian princesses, look nothing like you. I don't speak the language, so I don't know what they're like, but--I can't see a sad story and not think of you. No desolate castle crouching on the horizon, no vine-covered ruin, fails to remind me of you. So bleak, yet so regal, so proud despite all the years.

The fire is starting to warm the house a bit. I think the tea is helping. I hope this finds you well. I think of you often. It's very cold.



The most emotionally intense dream I have ever had was about politics. I don't believe that there is such a thing as a good listener. I think I'm sabotaging my own efforts in love. I feel guilty every time I sleep. The more I like someone, the less I use their name. I use empty comments so people think I am agreeing or sympathizing with them. I talk in a different voice and use different words when I think certain people are listening. I'd eat vegetarian but I don't like vegetables. I have entire conversations in my mind and never even attempt to follow through. I'm afraid that WASP upbringing will bring me to ruin, but I'm even more afraid that it will bring me to ruin because I've rejected it. I don't think it's a problem that I'm sabotaging my own efforts in love. I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but only when I'm having a conversation. Sometimes I believe I'm a good listener. I sleep too much. I don't have anything to replace my WASP upbringing. I act self-confident because I want people to think I'm not.

I try not to think about it.


the problem with stories

In stories, everything happens for a reason. In stories, when everything is perfect, it really is, and when everything goes wrong for no reason, that's because, in the end, everything will be okay. The real world doesn't conform to narrative structure. In the real world sometimes everything goes from perfect to terrible and it just stays that way.

Like the story about the guy who fell in love with a girl right after the worst summer of his life,
and she helped him out and they became fast friends and then they started dating and then he proposed and it's coming up on four years now, but it still feels like only yesterday, and they have the whole world to look forward to.

Only sometimes he doesn't meet the girl and he never gets over that summer, or he does but on his own, or because eventually he just snapped and decided to stop caring. Or he does meet the girl but they have a fight and never talk to each other again, or he gets afraid that it's going to be the same as last time and dumps her so he doesn't have to put up with the pain. Sometimes he meets the girl and still doesn't get over it because he's so lost in himself and his own world.

But the whole time he's looking for stories. He knows how the stories go. They start like this and then this happens and then it all works out. Somehow he thinks no matter what he does the story continues and works out in the end. Then he makes a bad decision without thinking and suddenly that matters and suddenly that's the only decision he's ever made. So he wonders if it could have been different or if it's like a story and could only have been that way--and he can never quite remember that life doesn't work like that.


existential angst at a bus stop

A man at the bus stop said something to me while I walked by yesterday. I didn't hear what he had to say--it rhymed with twain. I think twain might have even been the last word, but I don't know why. What could he possibly have said? Was he talking about Mark Twain? It was after midnight and I was the only person in earshot. Was he talking to me? I thought. I turned to look at him for a moment, about to ask him to repeat himself. But I didn't. I kept walking. My thought process now baffles me--I assumed that there was nothing interesting about me, so he must not have been talking to me.

I was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and Converse all-stars. I had a red t-shirt rolled up under my arm, or possibly in my pocket. Do I look approachable? Do people often start conversations with lines that I can't make sense of? Why didn't I stop? He didn't look threatening. But I couldn't think of any words that rhymed with twain that meant anything to me. I kept walking.


the perfect girl

I had a dream about the perfect girl.

But not like that. I was trying to describe exactly what I wanted in a girl. I don't know why. I kept picturing this girl with a French name that sat next to me in my English class, and a girl I passed in the street a few days before, and the only girl I'd ever loved, who went from pretty to beautiful while I wasn't watching. They were all on a type, variations on a theme, but it seemed like I couldn't make up my mind. The girl I'd been seeing didn't make the list--I remember making a note of that in the dream. It's not that she is anything less than perfect. She just isn't variations on a theme. She isn't a skinny, shy, dark-haired girl with dark eyes and a name I'll obsess over. I think I'm okay with that.


nobody home

I moved to an old farming town recently, population two hundred. The locals are friendly, though they wonder what I'm doing here. I tell them I wanted to get away from the city, and they act like they understand, but that's not the real reason. I can't tell if they know that or not, but we both go on pretending.

I guess this used to be a big stop along the railroad, with grain elevators and silos and things like that--there's still a lot of wheat farms, for a town of two hundred. I'm not really sure what they do with it. I guess they sell it still. Sometimes I wonder if any of the bread I used to eat in Seattle came from here. Was I buying their livelihood indirectly? I'll probably never know. I could ask, but I'd rather not.

The local kids confuse me. Not the really young ones, but the ones in high school, or the ones that should be college-aged. I think I confuse them, too. They don't seem any different. When I lived in a small town I was just like them--only there is nothing to do in this town and there's a good chance they all know each other and there's an intricate social structure I'm missing.

I'm not really sure why, but I took one of them on what I guess you could call a date to the local cafe--delicious food, made fresh. The owner knows me now. I guess the whole town probably does. I'm not getting looks anymore. She had brown hair and a practiced smile. She seemed friendly enough, but distant, like one of us was missing the cues. Was she trying to tell me something? Or was I trying to tell her something?

She smiled one of those smiles that usually sends books worth of messages to someone, but I couldn't read them. I was thinking about something else. It's almost Valentine's Day. I'm not home anymore. And moving here didn't actually help. She picks up the tab, and I thank her and say that's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me, and we both know I'm not talking about paying for dinner. I take her back home and she kisses me on the doorstep.

I thank her and say that's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me.

I'd say I never saw her again, but that wouldn't be true. I saw her a lot. I never understood her, but I think she understood me. I almost wanted to leave right there, but there was nowhere else to go. Anyway, I can't leave until I tell someone why I'm here. Even if she already knows.

wallets and identities

I lost my wallet the other day, but it was a few weeks before that that I forgot who I was. It's one of those things that creeps up on you. One day you know who you are, the next, some pretty girl who's always smiling says, "So tell me about yourself" and you realize you aren't sure, you don't know. Do you make something up? Of course you do. You tell a story that's true but doesn't really mean anything, isn't really about you, about something that happened a while ago--a mix of wit and misfortune, something carefully engineered to get that girl who's always smiling to smile specifically for you.

I was nursing a Maker's Mark and Coke, and she'd gone to the washroom, when I started to really wonder why I bothered. All my efforts to get her to like me (and I think she did) didn't matter much because, I mean, I wasn't sure who 'I' was. I was concerned that 'I' would impress her and that 'I' would look good and 'I' would enjoy myself but I didn't know who 'I' was, and that made it all seem cheap.

And I lost my wallet, and I just told her that on the phone--"Want to go hit the bars?" "I can't, I lost my wallet." "No worries, I can spot you some cash"--and I realized I worry too much. This was no time for existential angst.


dreaming about forgetting myself

Sometimes I have these dreams where I'm not the main character, and it's got a narrative structure with conflict, climax, resolution, and so on. This wasn't one of those. I was in the dream, but I wasn't really there. No, this one was all about you. At first I was talking to you but as time wore on you just became more and more the object, and soon I just forgot that I was there. You went about your life and I guess I followed you--like you only could in a dream--and watched you. I don't really remember much about it, actually. You didn't do anything remarkable. In that perfect dream-like way, what I remember most is that I forgot that I was there. Don't let me do that again, okay?



Another evening pretending to read Hemmingway at the coffee shop, and I know, or part of me does, that it's not going to happen, she's going to call me an hour or so after we were supposed to meet and tell me she has other plans and I'm going to say "it's okay" or "don't worry about it" or some other stupid fucking thing because I'm nice and I say that and I don't want to call her a liar when she could be telling the truth--maybe she's busy?

Nice. It can be such a burden, being nice--letting people walk all over you and smiling and telling them it isn't a problem and worst of all thinking you should, like you owe it to them--you don't owe them anything. You stupid fuck. Grow a spine.

I thumb over the same passage over and over again. I feel like someone's staring at me; I don't look around. I'm pretty sure they know I'm frustrated, I just hope they think it's the book. People get frustrated at books, right? Are nice guys even allowed to get frustrated? I'm not even sure I am anymore--except maybe at myself for being frustrated in the first place.

Maybe I really shouldn't be so angry. I mean, being nice, letting it happen--that's me, right? That's what I'm all about. It's just--sometimes it doesn't work out like it should. Sometimes I want my due consideration. Sometimes I wish that being nice paid off.

I wouldn't change anything. Maybe. Well, okay. I'd like to be able to focus on this goddamn book. I order another chai tea to go and give up on reading for the moment. I give the barista a big tip. I'm nice like that.


ghost stories

When I was a kid, my sister said she'd seen our mother's ghost, and I believed her. I'm not so sure anymore, but I believe she meant it, anyway. I don't know if there's ghosts anymore. There's lots of things I'm not sure of.

I thought, do I want to believe her? Or maybe I didn't. Think that, I mean. I'm thinking that now. About believing her. About, well, wanting to believe.

I've got this photograph sitting on my computer, or above my desk, or something. It's her when she was young--my mother, I mean--like about twenty something, maybe. She was beautiful. I think of that picture now when I think of the funeral. I wonder if that's what she'd look like, as a ghost, I mean. If there are ghosts. She would be a good ghost, I think. If there even are good ghosts.

Ghost stories never frightened me. I always thought they were sad. People who died before their time, wandering around, doing whatever it is ghosts do. What do they do, anyway? It seems they would just appear in the likeness of a sigh, some sad story that doesn't have an ending. You know how when you're really upset you can never sleep? Or at least I can't. Like that. Delirious, never quite aware of what's going on, and when you pass out from exhaustion your dreams are haunted by it, and you don't understand but you have to keep going, keep walking, keep repeating it, some Sisyphean task only you're dreaming and don't know who that is.

He was Greek. The gods punished him. Sisyphus, I mean. Nobody's sure why. He tried to cheat death. I wonder if he was a ghost. I wonder if he's the template for ghosts. He had to push a stone uphill forever. It kept rolling back down.

But I was talking about ghosts. Creatures of twilight and darkness, right? The hours I can't sleep anymore. I listen to them, sighing past, creaking. I want to tell them it will be all right.



Or was it that she had been wrong all along? Amy found herself smiling for the first time in what must have been weeks. It was all so simple. She'd been so busy trying to prove--even if just to herself--that she was right, she never even considered what would happen if she wasn't. Yes, that must be it--she had been wrong. Everything seemed to click into place retroactively as she thought about it. Of course it would be another evening to make sure, but she was confident this time. She smiled and poured herself a glass of wine. This had to be it.

Then she frowned. And if it was? Did that change anything? Did that nullify what he'd done, or how she'd felt? So she had been wrong--nothing changed because of that, did it? No matter what frame she viewed it from, it had still happened, hadn't it? It still hurt, didn't it?

. . .
"Nothing she was saying made any sense anymore. It seemed like halfway through a thought she went from 'I love you' to 'I hate everything you've done to me' and this happened several times in every increasingly incomprehensible phone call. And was she crying because she was angry or because she was sad? I'm not sure even she knew. So what else could I do? I stopped answering the phone. I locked the doors. I only went out at night. I cut off contact.

"And I couldn't stop thinking about her. I never--you know how I never used to have any dreams? Now I kept having them. She would be there, smiling, happy, like she used to be. And during the day, the phone kept ringing, ringing, and what am I supposed to do about that? At least in my dreams she was--I'm rambling, aren't I?"

"No, it's okay."

"Sorry. I haven't talked to anyone in two weeks."

"Anyone at all?"


. . .

"He's not answering anymore." Amy sighed. "It's not right, him hiding from the world because of me."

"I don't think it's your fault."

"Yeah?" She smiled. "I'm not sure anymore. You know? I'm not sure." There was so much she wished she could say--"I've changed, I figured it out, it all makes sense," but that wasn't right, either. She didn't figure anything out, really. But she was happier knowing that she didn't have the answers and hadn't made sense of everything but--how could she communicate that?

"You--well, he took it pretty rough."

"Yeah. Listen, tell him nothing makes any sense and I'm okay with that. If you see him. Okay?"

"If you want."

"Thanks. It means a lot to me." She wasn't sure what, exactly, but it meant something. "It's a place to start, I guess."


a man without a plan

I've been worrying about success lately, because I know I'm on the wrong track to a corporate job with a suit, a tie, and a salary, where I'm respectable and reliable and have a week of paid vacation days to save up for something special. Something special. I imagine myself taking a week to relax in some stereotypical vacation spot like Hawaii or Florida or taking a cruise to the Caribbean so I can rest from work and I can even see myself enjoying it but then I realize I've forgotten that it was supposed to be something special. And then I wonder if I really want to succeed at all. At least I still have special occasions.

This was probably spurred by losing my very-much-an-in-between-jobs job, or maybe it was the conversation I had with my ex a few weeks ago. We both said we were happy and I think I meant it, but she's on a good track. It was seeing her so confident in both of us that did it, I think. "I'm glad everything's working out for you," she said. And was it? What was working out for me? Was anything going well besides myself? I'm single and unemployed--the difference between me and many other people is I'm happy about it.

So I wrote her an email because I was worried and she said "Maybe it's not about status. You just want to be happy--and you've succeeded at that."

Maybe, I said. I didn't say that there's a lot of things I didn't succeed at. Maybe she knows. Maybe success is all about pretending.


waiting room

She said she didn't think she'd ever waited in the DOL for so long. I nodded. She said she got a new ID 27 times in one year, once. I nodded. She told the lady next to her she had a nice tan. She nodded, and pretended she needed to make a phone call.

"Drive 'em off," she said. I noted that I would not be able to use that out.

She told me some other things. I nodded some more times. I didn't really figure out what she was getting at, but I stayed anyway. She smelled like bad cigarettes--and sounded like she'd been at them since she was twelve. I couldn't figure how old she was, but you're never too young to wash up. I've been afraid of that for a long time.


nouvelle année

At six I asked to stay up watching the new year. I imagined a swirl of lights and colors rushing past, some dazzling display when the clock struck midnight. My family explained that it was mostly just sitting around and watching the clocks, so, naturally, I envisioned a landscape of them rushing past.

I've since learned that there is no magic to the new year. If there is a dazzling light display to be had, it is pyrotechnical in nature. It is not a holiday to honor gods or encourage virtue; there is nothing sacred about it. And yet, people celebrate and make resolutions, welcoming the new year with champagne and old traditions--and ushering out the old year, whether it be a fond farewell or a hateful parting. It's a celebration of potential, of changes, of traditions, of starting over, of starting anew, of the past, of the future--a celebration, in short, of humanity.

I fully expect that 2008 will be a good year; I wish you all the very best, as well. So, happy new year, everyone.