a prelude for february

It's always hard to believe that a whole month has passed since we put another year behind us, but that's the thing about time: it doesn't care.

The stories in February are stories about isolation, because February is a month where you hide from the world. You've endured two months of winter and there's still at least one to go, and all the winter festivals to help keep you warm and human are behind you. February is a month to be endured alone.

There were five stories in January, which were told to me by five people, and which I've told here before. They're five people who know each other, and they're often stories about each other, and there will be stories from each of them every month. And every story will have a counterpoint, six months later: while January's stories were about hope, July's will be about regret.

But we're a long ways from the warmth of the July sun, or even the brilliant colors of May. It's still the winter, with all the winter's problems, and somehow the shortest month of the year is always one of the longest.


hope, pt. 5

Telling you that you bugged the shit out of me is probably not going to come as a great surprise, since I'm pretty sure you did it on purpose. But there was still something compelling about you, even if I couldn't figure it out. I remember sometimes you'd ask me why I even liked you, which was a fair question, and I'd always say something like "I don't know; you're a mystery, I guess."

And it's true. You were really the only thing I cared about, and it was as inexplicable as you were, and it was spiraling out of control and I had no idea how to stop it, and everything I did just made things worse. Then, without any sort of warning, you disappeared. You'd gone off to London, according to the letter I got weeks later. And you seemed almost apologetic.

You needn't have been. You needn't have worried about anything. I was relieved, at first, and then the future seemed brighter, like a cloud had been lifted from my life. There was nothing left to worry about. I could conquer the world, just then.

The feeling didn't last, of course, but that's the thing about hope, isn't it? It never does.


hope, pt. 4

I've never been easy to get along with, and I've never been good at actually dealing with the problems that causes. That's life, I guess. I always believed that it would all work out somehow, which maybe is why I never got good at dealing with it. It always worked out without my help, so why bother, right?

So that's why I disappeared without telling anyone. I was angry and confused and afraid, and I made some mistakes. We both made mistakes, I think. For a few months I didn't have to worry about that. I could focus on enjoying myself, seeing the sights--I never told you about that trip, did I? I brought back all these stories and I never got to share them.

Finally I bought a return ticket, and the first thing I did is I called you and I asked if you could pick me up at the airport. I was elated that you said yes. We hadn't left on good terms, and you probably had every right to be angry at me for disappearing. And you didn't ask where I'd been or why I'd left without saying goodbye or anything. You just asked when and where.

I also never got to thank you for that. For the last week of my vacation I felt utterly serene, convinced that I had changed, that the world had changed, all of it for the better. There was nothing at all to fear about anything. I loved you for that.


hope, pt. 3

I guess I was pretty depressed for a while after it all went down, but I never paid attention to that sort of thing. There's too much life going on to worry about feeling sad, you know? That was her problem, really. We weren't so different, but instead of soldiering on she'd just spend all her time worrying about it, like worrying ever did anything. The best cure is to just pretend nothing's wrong.

It was the weirdest thing, though. Suddenly I come home from work and she's just waiting for me like nothing changed, and I felt like . . . like feeling the first raindrops after months of nothing but sunshine. I'd been in this long stagnant period and suddenly things were alive again. I guess I was afraid, too, because what the fuck did she even want? But it was like getting a second chance.

That's the thing about hope. When it's strong enough, when it's real, it makes you ignore everything else, especially when you're someone like me, who says "fuck it" to all the second-guessing bullshit. Because I realized right then that life was shit when she wasn't around, and I was just lying to myself. And all these visions of a beautiful future started dancing through my head. And for a little while, I really believed it.


hope, pt. 2

For the longest time, I thought that plans would be a good replacement for hope. Plans and projects and other things I'd sink my energy into, because all my life I'd been told that's what you had to do in order to get somewhere. It never really agreed with my temperament, but I always thought I could bring my temperament in check. I just needed to work harder, do more.

Then--well, some shit went down, and at some point as I was trying to deal with it all the idea came to me to just let it all go. I quit my job and told my landlord I'd be leaving, packed up, and left. Then I sat down in my living room and turned all the lights out and lay there on the couch staring at the ceiling.

Usually when I tell this story, this part goes at the end. It's strange putting it at the beginning of something. This is the point where everything turned around, the point where I realized that the only person I needed to make happy was myself. I remember then thinking that for once I didn't need to have grand aspirations. All I needed to do was exist.

And of course this has to go at the end of the story, doesn't it? It's a logical end point: a key change, the promise of happiness in the future. That's how stories work. And I'll take stories over the real world any day.


hope, pt. 1

One of the most vivid memories I have from the day my entire life quite literally burned down is this: suddenly I felt free. Of course there were all these other emotions going through my head--I still have all the lists I made from the time, all the coincidences. How ridiculously unlikely it all was--not just this, but everything, everything, everything. I still have this whole thing I wrote about how there's really no such thing as coincidence or even probability. Either something happened or it didn't.

My mind, my sense of being, my sense of self, were completely shattered. And yet I remember, somewhere between the panic, this beautiful sense that now I could go anywhere. I could do anything. For once I felt empowered. I didn't care that buying a bus ticket east was a terrible decision. I fucking did it. The consequences didn't matter anymore because there were none left.

And I remember so clearly the feeling that anything could happen. I could make everything right again, all the things I'd fucked up so many years before. My house being destroyed, everything I own being destroyed--I felt this sense of purpose. For a few brief hours, sitting on a bus full of strangers--that was the happiest I'd been in my life.

I don't think I ever told anyone that. I didn't know where it fit in the story. I guess I still don't, but somehow it seems important now. Maybe someone else can make more sense of it than I can.

programming note

First of all: happy 2013. I hope it's a good one.

I've always had a certain affinity for the new year; certainly I've written about it here a few times. Of course, the years all run together eventually, and did that really happen more than two years ago now? and so on and so on. Maybe that's why I think it's important to periodically stop and take inventory.

We're coming up on two weeks into the new year, and I've been putting off this project I've been planning for a while, for reasons which are unconvincing and unimportant. It came from a casual suggestion sometime in November, I think, when I was telling someone about my ghost stories. "Oh, do you do that for every month?"

And I said, "I do now." Not ghost stories, of course, though there are ghosts in all my stories. I tried a bit in November and December but I didn't have the direction I wanted. Then I remembered another project I wanted to do, which is ultimately inspired by Jason Webley's excellent Counterpoint album ("Twelve songs in twelve keys, with recurring themes and each song written with a balancing counterpart," according to the website.)

There are twelve months in the year, and we're starting with the first one. January is a month about hope--there will be plenty of time for regrets later.

Finally, I'm still writing Vaudeville Ghosts, which is different from the things I put up here, and probably a little bit weird, but I'd like it if you would read it all the same. Who knows? You might even enjoy it.

So, I shall leave you with a belated New Year's benediction. We didn't do anything to earn this shiny new year we've been given, but by whatever you hold sacred, I hope you get some damn good use out of it before you have to trade it in. Twelve whole months! Let's build some regrets together.

Ever yours, ever truly,