A Guide to Apathy in the Face of Tragedy

  1. Remember that apathy is a coping mechanism.
  2. Eat all the chocolate.
  3. In the house. All the chocolate that exists in the house.
  4. Don’t go out to buy more chocolate if it is raining.
  5. If it is not raining, cuddle your cat, your dog, your fish (the fishbowl, don’t take the fish out), or your stuffed animal. Then go out and get more chocolate.
  6. Once you’ve eaten enough chocolate to make you throw up, let loose. Try to aim at the toilet bowl but if that doesn’t work, any surface is fine. Maybe even better. More memorable.
  7. Vomited chocolate looks remarkably like old blood. Brown and sticky and vaguely metallic in your mouth.
  8. Remember that chocolate is a coping mechanism.
  9. Look at the chocolate you threw up. Think of it as blood.
  10. Feel the pain in your stomach. In your throat. The pounding in your head. Imagine that after hours of dancing. Keel over. Pretend you’ve been shot.
  11. Realize that unless you go out and try it, you will never approximate what getting shot is like.
  12. Stop blaming other people.
  13. It’s all your fault.
  14. The apathy.
  15. The tiredness.
  16. The knowledge that you should be sad.
  17. The intellectual response that is being appalled yet functional.
  18. Remember that it is all.
  19. Your.
  20. Fault.
  21. Not the shooting.
  22. Only the aftermath.
  23. Try to imagine a loved one.
  24. Anyone.
  25. Your mom.
  26. Your dog.
  27. The fish.
  28. Picture them getting brutally murdered.
  29. If you feel something, let yourself cry. You’ve accessed it. The place you’ve been hiding all this time.
  30. If you feel nothing, find a box of pins. Or paperclips that you can bend and make pointy.
  31. Insert the pins, the pointy paperclips, anything sharp, into your eyeballs.
  32. See the truth.
  33. See why you’re unable to feel.
  34. Think of your history with violence.
  35. Think of how you’ve learned to be blase.
  36. Because you’ve had to.
  37. Or you’d always be scared.
  38. Afraid.
  39. Terrified.
  40. Remember you used to live this way.
  41. Remember you’re not useful this way.
  42. Remember you are giving into the oppressor when you are not useful.
  43. Remember.
  44. Remember.
  45. Never forget.
  46. Remember.
  47. That is the only way for you, apathetic slug that you are, to feel something.
  48. Cerebrally.
  49. Intellectually.
  50. Until you die a little inside. It’ll happen eventually.
  51. When it does, forgive yourself.
  52. Not too much.
  53. Just enough to keep going.

Quiet Space Spills

The sound of spilling in a quiet space is never a positive one. Either someone has peed their pants, or their drink has poured all over their computer, or else they’ve vomited up the vodka from last night onto the front of their expensive thrift store sweater.

The quiet space makes every nanosecond, every inch, every gram of noise carry across the ceiling and in between the cubicles like the measles virus. It is a bad place to be clumsy. It is a bad place to have a cold. It is a bad place to let rip a heroic fart or a miscalculated burp.

Our coats spill onto one another, hung over the sides of cubicles and backs of chairs. Boots tumble sideways from their tucked in nooks when the door opens and the entire place shakes. It is a bad place to be heavy. It is inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. It is discriminating.

Compassion and jealousy and hatred permeate one another. Who has an agent, who has a book deal, who has a publicist. It’s the loud voices that have the most, or maybe the least. How can we tell when we are all so full of hubris as to think we belong?

It’s a paradox, an anachronism, something like that. It’s impossible. A quiet space full of so much noise.

Mindfulness

It’s a hard sell. Mind minus body. The lumbering meaty thing is still there, with all its joints and hemoglobin and heart conditions. It doesn’t leave you just because you decide to value that tangled web of firing neurons and chemical imbalances called a brain.

You do value it. Of course you do. It’s what makes your body tick, it’s what allows you to run on the treadmill and eat falafelĀ from a food truck at 3am with your date,

No, that’s not right. That’s your brain.

Is your brain the same thing as your mind?

It’s that kind of night. The kind where you’re asking stupid philosophical questions and waving a white flag of defeat in front of your responsibilities. You’re done. You’re through. No more tonight. You need a rest.

So how do you convince people to see your mind over your body? It’s hovering there, your mind, above and around and in between all of your bodily functions and orifices and fortunate features. But it doesn’t overlay them. It just sort of shimmers. Sometimes it gets noticed. But not usually.

No, when you walk down the street to the post office to send the birthday present you’ve owed your mother for three months now and the rent check you’ve owed for slightly longer, you are not a mind above a body. You are a theoretical person, with a theoretical mind, but mostly you are simply a collection of limbs and features that are recognized as human.

Are you?

Is anyone?

It really is that kind of night. Shut your mind off. Let your brain wander. Watch some TV. Stop thinking about that girl you saw on the train and wanted to talk to. She’s long gone. She doesn’t exist in your world anymore.

Does she exist at all then?

Does it matter?

Shut up.

Things He Missed in Eight Years

IMG_20141106_084227Losing my virginity.

Falling in love with his best friend’s son.
Graduating high school.
Getting a big girl job.
Anorexia.
His son’s graduation.
Going to college.
Anorexia again.

Getting my heart broken,
though not for the first time.
Going to college
(for real this time).
College, college, acting, writing,
friends.
Coming out as bi.
My second girlfriend.
Oxford.
First publication. Second.
Literary award (shared).

His son’s ambitions,
to PhD and beyond.
His love, his happiness,
his cats.
His engagement.

Moving to New York.
Looking for work.
Writing. Writing.
Falling in love.
More cats.

His wife’s decision to move.

His retirement.

A Writing Prompt and Response

slightlyignorant:

Alright, ladies and gents and gender-neutral folk, here we go, my first writing prompt.

Take the nearest book and turn to the 34th page. Look at the last full sentence on that page. That is the first sentence of your story. Write between 200-500 words. GO.

Alright. MY TURN. Let it not be said that I don’t respond to my own writing prompts (because that would be sad…)

The nearest book to me isĀ More Pricks Than Kicks, by Samuel Beckett. The last full sentence on page 34 is: “We’ll pass him before we get to the main road.”

 

**

“We’ll pass him before we get to the main road,” you said. We were walking fast, basically jogging since you kept skipping ever third or fourth step and I had to run a bit to catch up. My pulse was so fast that I could feel it in my throat. When I answered you, I was panting.

“And? What’ll we do? Ignore him? Say hi? What?”

“Nothing, that’s the point. He’s an ass.”

“Yeah, but maybe he’s going through something.”

“That doesn’t make it okay.”

“Okay. If you’re sure.”

I wondered what you were hurrying towards, but I didn’t ask. You were all prickly, your porcupine spines were standing up, and I couldn’t get near enough to hug you, to tell you it would be okay, that you were allowed to be hurt.

When we finally saw his shape in front of us, you sped up even more. I caught your wrist and held onto my throat, trying to signal how out of breath I was. You slowed, but your cheeks swelled. You were pissed off. You wanted your prediction to come true, and the main road wasn’t that far ahead.

We didn’t catch up to him. He turned left and we were supposed to turn right. I didn’t even ask if you wanted to follow him. I knew that wasn’t the point. You weren’t going to go out of your way. That would be too much.

I pictured you leaving his bed and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for his phone call. Even though I knew that you’d been calling him nonstop and that it wasn’t in his bed, it was on the grass behind the party house, when you were both wasted. I wanted to tell you that you weren’t being fair, that he was probably embarrassed, maybe as confused as conflicted as you were. Freaked out, now, by how much you were calling. I wanted to tell you so many things, but you were too far away. You’d kept going as quickly as ever, and I was left behind, gasping for air.

One Way Trip

Correct me if I’m wrong, though I’m not wrong, but I believe you are having a psychotic break, my friend. Yes, you, that’s right, don’t look at me like that, all doe-eyed and infantile. Your nose is big enough to tell you something is rotten in the state of Denmark but you can’t tell when your own blood and guts are rebelling against you? Well, my dear, it might be time for you to end it, then, to end it all, to surrender to the great extinction that is, after all, the obvious end to our species. Don’t cry, weeping is only another way of avoiding the situation.
Looking at the moon, are you? It’ll do you no good, you know, to keep on howling at it, you only have two legs and your fur is hypoallergenic. Nobody needs to take Benedryl around you, they only take handfuls of Advil and hope their heads stop hammering. Yes, she’s as crazy as a bedbug, that’s what they say, you got it just right there, darling. It’s not a reflection on you, you know, it’s only what they all see in the mirror and scratch at their skin when they’re in bed.
Get off of there, don’t even try going overboard, it won’t work. Nobody believes you, that’s the problem. You need a break? I should say so. Let’s check you in, come on, I’ll hold your hand the whole way there and I’ll visit you every Sunday until I forget about you. By then you won’t like me anyway, so it’s fine. You don’t like me already? That’s wonderful news, it’ll make the whole thing easier, now tie your shoes and let’s get going.
It’s only a one way trip, nothing to be scared of. Think of it as your own personal visit to Mars, doesn’t that make it more colorful?

Quickie #3 – Uphill

She’d never experienced a more beautiful morning than the one on which her car broke down, her cellphone ran out of battery, and her period started while she was on the highway, waiting for the AAA people to come and get her out of the jam. She scratched her legs where they itched from the mosquito bites and thought, since she had nothing better to do, about how odd it was to stand there, on the side of the highway, with amenities that didn’t work. Even her own plumbing was betraying her, dripping uncomfortably into the expensive Victoria’s Secret underwear she’d gone to all that trouble to buy. Even with the fumes of the rush hour traffic creeping by, there was a natural beauty to everything. Even the man picking his nose in the car in front seemed particularly poignant on this of all mornings, as he dug into his nostril with a ferocity best kept to private spaces.
She leaned against her car, patted its hood, and told it that everything would be okay. “We can’t get any lower than this, baby,” she soothed the car. “It’s all uphill from here.”

Frivolicking, a writers’ retreat

Swamping a small space inside an inn that is surely not in Surrey despite its name are several dozen frozen faces, dripping in the heat lamps. Masked in social-butterfly expressions, they eat brownies, pretzels and sip white and red wine. A few of the brave clutch bottles of cool green beer, proving their ability to think outside the box, which in this case is the social gathering they have gathered socially for.
A white man with white hair speaks from a podium to a room of mostly white faces. He is shrivelling up like an acorn’s shell left in the corner of the room during several seasons; the signs of decay are barely there but if you chip the exterior with a fingernail, all the little outside triangles will dust right off and you’ll be left with a wrinkled and broken thing that used to hold a seed of something great.
Polite claps. The writers flee as politely and unobtrusively as they can, in groups of three or four, pretending that their greatest desire isn’t to hide under the covers with their antidepressants, whether in bottle, pill, teddy-bear, book, television, or person form.
It is the beginning of what promises to be a gruelling, frightening and terribly – in all the disparate meanings of the word – illuminating two weeks

Correctional [Flash Fiction]

Photo / National Library of Scotland

Raw red and stinging, the bite mark hurt Gavin more than any of the many wounds he’d been receiving. It seared through the small, perfectly round, puncture mark and spread through his arm the way wildfire spreads in forests: first in a way that makes sense, treetop to treetop, then in a sudden burst appearing a hundred yards away in an unexpected spot, signalling that it’s out of control. His entire arm was now inflamed, including the shoulder, which was sending bolts of sticky white pain down his back, through his spine.

Gavin sat silently, alternately sucking and biting on his lips. He didn’t intend to make them bleed – he was in enough pain already – but the motion calmed him. He could almost imagine that his own lips were another’s, a woman’s. He’d never kissed anyone before. Unless you counted his mother, which he emphatically didn’t. He hadn’t let her kiss him full on the mouth since his tenth birthday, when his friends had seen her kiss him goodbye before going to play and had made fun of him all day for it. He’d never forget that day. He’d felt stuffed with chalk and stone all day, both heavy and so fragile that the lightest scratch would make him crumble.

He hadn’t written his mother in over a week. Now was a good time. It would take his mind off the awful bite, and Lord only knew what terrible insect gave it to him, and off his belly, which was gurgling with emptiness. There was a ration van on its way to replenish their supplies, but it was running late. No one knew way, not even the commanders, and Gavin and the others were trying not to panic. Some fights had already broken out, though. It was going to be a long afternoon if the van didn’t get here soon.

Gavin pulled his pack closer to him and spread his legs to settle it between them as a kind of writing desk. But even the small strain of keeping the pack balanced with his arm was too much. It was ridiculous, but there he was, lying awkwardly sideways, kicking his pack out of the way. He found a block of wood among the detritus spread around him and used it as a surface to keep his atrocious handwriting more in check than it would have been on the uneven ground. His mother’s letters, when he got them, were usually full of complaints, and one of the repeated ones had to do with her inability to decipher his scrawl. It made the process of writing to her all the more frustrating for Gavin. He wanted to assure her that he was safe, but it seemed that he could never get the message across.

Then again, he wasn’t entirely safe. There was a war on. He and his unit were moving from one camp to another, and none of them knew when they’d face actual combat. But they all knew they would, eventually. They’d reach a field, a valley, a dale – somewhere – where they’d dig trenches and face the dreadful others. The enemy. They’d pull out their guns, and they’d keep their tomahawks handy, just in case anyone got close enough and needed a last minute blow, even though everyone knew the knives were really mostly for show, and they’d kill people. He, Gavin, would kill people.

It wasn’t until he finished writing the letter to his mother that he looked up and realized that the ration van, meaning food, had arrived. His mouth went dry, his stomach gave a leap and a particularly strong gurgle before trying to convince him that, in fact, he wasn’t at all hungry – it often did this when he was excited – and his lips rested softly together, tired f their kissing practice. Food was more important than the idea of killing a man, or many men, more important than a pretty girl, more important than writing home. He got up and ran to join the other latecomers, praying to God that he wouldn’t miss out on anything.

Introductions [in a post-ironic age]

I don’t quite know why, but I’ve apparently reached the point where I’m gaining new followers ever few days, whether or not I post. So – hi, everyone! I don’t now who you are, and you don’t know who I am, so let’s get some introductions out of the way. I’ll introduce myself, and my goals for how to keep you amused, and if you feel like saying hi and introducing yourselves in the comments, I’d be absolutely thrilled.

But instead of the usual introductions, which can be found at my About Me page, I’m going to list five things that are important to me, and why. Call it a journaling exercise. Maybe it’s just a late-night idea that feels good right now but will end up disastrous.

Important Thing number one: literacy. In the shape of books, in the shape of words on a screen, in the shape of the joy a child feels when she first realizes that the sign she’s seen across the street from her bedroom window since the morning she was brought home from the hospital reads “Abbas Hardware”. Literacy, the ability to read, the desire to read, and the access to life and knowledge that reading brings, is a relatively new priority in human history. More than any other technology, I’d argue that the printing press – invented in the 15th century – is the one that has had the longest-lasting consequences on humanity, and I am forever grateful for it. By being able to share and distribute ideas, we have developed into a people more humane in every possible way, which includes our direst deeds as well as our best.

Important Thing number 2: stories. Stories are everywhere. Did you tell your son about the coffee-machine breaking at work? Did your grandmother die yesterday, and did you run out of your town and into the forest and scream at the trees about how much you’re going to miss her? Did you see two brothers having a brawl in the street? Everything we experience, and the way we communicate it, is made up of stories. We tell stories about our lives, we tell stories about our histories, we tell stories about our opinions and why we hold them. Stories are the magical spark of life that brings two people closer together – what is pillow talk, if not mutual storytelling? – and can rip their relationship apart as well. There are two sides to every coin, but in my experience, people who are aware of the storyness of life, usually don’t exploit it. When they do, there is an element of the admirable fraud about them, a place inside them that seems to love the story for its own sake in addition to what the story can do for them.

Important Thing number 3: empathy. Since reading is my favorite thing to do in the world, and since my writing has been born of that love, I’ve found that empathy – as well as sympathy – are the most important tools for my trade. If that sounds cold… fair enough. You’ll have to trust me when I say it’s probably a defense mechanism and an attempt to not sound a) like a hippie or b) like a spiritual nutjob. Because I am neither. But empathy is important to me, and though I curse my emotionally roiling innards all too often, I wouldn’t exchange them for the world.

Important Thing number 4: comfort. A broad concept, yes, but it is important to me in the broadest sense. Comfort is something that I believe can be found and made for oneself. In a room that is messy, you can find the one spot that you can feel neat in, or, if you’re a messy person, you can find the one spot in a neat room in which you can feel sloppy and unhindered. Comfort doesn’t mean a certain kind of lifestyle; rather, it means making the life you live accommodating in the smallest, minutest of ways. Having a pair of pants that are soft and cozy and that you change into the moment you get home, for example. Or tucking the extra napkins you got at McDonald’s into your bag so that you’re never caught with a runny nose and nothing but long sleeves to handle it with. But comfort isn’t only physical. It’s also emotional, interpersonal. Comfort can be sitting with your friends, the people who you consider your alternate family, and being absolutely silent with them – without feeling awkward. Comfort is being able to tell a loved one that you’re sorry, but you have to cancel plans. Comfort is being able to be alone, with yourself, inside your head, and not want to scream and claw your way out of it.

Important Thing number 5: balance. Specifically, in this case, balancing introversion with the desire and need to lead a semi-extroverted life. Difficult, yes. Necessary, maybe. Possible, absolutely.

 

Well, there’s my ramble. New followers, if any of you are actually reading this and you aren’t spambots, either take up the challenge – what are five things that are dearly important to your life? Or, say hi in the comments, let’s be friends!