Monday, June 16, 2014

The Storyteller's Dilemma

"These things you write, these stories- they matter as much to you as real life, don't they?"

It was a party.  She hovered over the storyteller. She was alive in a scarlet silk dress.

The storyteller's face shifted slightly as he glanced up from his notebook. "Sometimes they matter more. In my stories, my dreams come true and things make sense. Even when the stories are sad and the people in them are broken and unfulfilled, the stories still make sense in some secret way that only fiction can. When I find failure and a lack of fulfillment in my own life, there is just no reason for it, no logic, no symbolism, no literary significance. But things in stories mean something. Somebody said that stories are 'pregnant with meaning', and that's how they feel to me; they feel somehow alive and kicking, always happening in a particular direction, always leading somewhere, and that satisfies and excites me in ways that real life sometimes can't seem to match."

She ran her left hand through the folds of her dress, feeling intensely the softness, the lightness of the material. "So why spend all your energy writing them? Can't you just read other peoples' stories?"

"No, that wouldn't work. Not by itself, at least... I mean, I pay attention to the stories other people create, too. But there's something different about telling my own." He laughed. "Maybe I just like playing God. Maybe it's just an extreme sort of narcissism. Maybe I’m secretly so disappointed and even angry that my own real, important story, the one that matters, hasn't turned out the way I want it to that I write stories to distract myself from the pain. I write them to cope with failure and disappointment."

She felt the sensation of the soles of her feet as they came into contact with the insole of her heels, compounded by the vibrations of music spiraling their way up from the floor. "That isn't a way to live. That's a way to stagnate in the dark all alone. You're avoiding all of the things that make you human and replacing them with forgeries. Sometimes they're convincing forgeries, but that doesn't make them any more like life than a counterfeit painting is like a real one."

"You're right, of course. Like always, I'm telling a story right now. All of this is just me avoiding responsibility, shying away from any exposure of who I really am. I’m afraid to lose control of things. I’m constantly afraid that something or someone will force me to crack this whitewashed eggshell of mystique, the aura of someone who knows what he’s doing with his life. If the people around me swallow this story I’m telling about myself, this story I’m desperately trying to sell to the world, then I don’t have to show them the truth, which is that I’m really scared. I’m scared that I can’t control everything, that things just happen and I can’t do anything about it, and that real life won’t always make sense.

"So if I'm being honest with myself and with you, when I say that I write my stories to find refuge in meaning and to cope with my real life, I guess that's garbage, or at least a garbage way of saying something a lot simpler. What I really mean is that I write stories to stay safe, to stay insulated from the things in life that I know could hurt me. But the problem is that I also know that those things are the things I really want out of life, the things that would make me not want to hide behind my stories anymore. It's pathetic and stupid. I'm done with this. It's time to change. I want to change. I want to come alive."

Her open hand escaped the labyrinth of the dress and hovered in front of him, within easy reach. "So will you come dance with me?"

"What? No, no, I need to keep writing this."

Sunday, June 8, 2014


This is a moment in time
A concreteness intensely felt
By all of those concerned
Being, in this particular case
Primarily myself
Along with two small furry cats.

And in this moment of time
Despite the undying affections
Of the aforementioned beasts
I feel...
I feel essentially nothing
The same lack of specificity
That I have felt increasingly
Or maybe that I have simply
Grown less content to live inside
As those around me escape it
At an alarming rate.

So what to do? The usual infusion
Of someone else's life
Through a song or a film
Seems to be the most likely candidate
To sweeten my bitter soul
But admittedly only a temporary fix
For a larger, more systemic problem
Namely, loneliness, a notable
Lack of color, the present a tableau
Of black and white, monochrome
Like my memories, with a few
Notable bursts of firework hues
At specific points along that timeline
Points which I have carefully enshrined
And which I revisit with an alarming

And so the question still remains
After the last frame has faded
Of these brief Technicolor respites
On a screen or in my mind's eye
What to do? So I go to work
And I keep very busy, and I hope
That with enough time (and enough
Green money, because that is a color,
Isn't it?) I will stop noticing these moments
And maybe if I stop noticing them
That will be the same as actually
Making them go away, the same as
Filling the empty spaces with something
Substantive, because they aren't real
Things, are they, they only exist
In my mind, so if they just stop existing
There, then they will exist nowhere
Which is to say they won't exist at all
But in the end this charade won't work
Because Nowhere is a place, the very place
In which I find myself waiting, a vast
Waiting Room, filled with the ghosts
Of everyone I have ever liked or hated
Or Loved, but simultaneously devoid,
Entirely unlike all of my Somewheres
Which were (and I hope will be)
Very full indeed.

And that was a very long stanza, wasn't it?
But only equivalent to that same sense
Of waiting, of wading, through time's
Throngs, that I hope I have just made you
Understand. So please know, my friend,
That I don't want you to feel sorry for me
And I don't take compliments very well either
But if you would just listen, then maybe
I would feel better just having told Somebody.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Haunting

The house is small but not overbearingly so; an unseen observer would likely describe it as cozy rather than constricting. A pretty pair rests together, sitting engrossed in each other's very existence, separated by the strength of their mutual gaze from the troubles and worries of life. They are cocooned in forest, apart from the world, cut off from the constant flow of information that is the curse of the modern age. They are an archetype of innocence, the beautiful ignorance of the young and in love. A warm saccharine haze permeates the very air of the room.

You watch them. 

How is this possible? How are you, living your own life, wholly apart, wholly other than the cozy house in the woods, capable of perceiving the lives of these two? Your eyes see words printed on a page, and in your mind's eye an image is constructed, one that shows you a world which is real, alive, existent. And so you watch and wait; you observe. You listen to the voice of the book and of its author, explaining the rules of this world and the details of the reality you are observing. And yet, your task is not an entirely passive one. You also create this world, you inhabit it with your imagination. You act, and your action changes the reality you perceive.

So act. Imagine. Imagine movement. Imagine a cupboard door swinging ever so slightly on its hinge in the adjoining kitchen. Does it make a noise, a tiny, barely audible rustle or squeak? The characters certainly think it does. They hear it, ponder it briefly, allow it to fall out of their minds. Just the house settling, nothing to worry about when compared with the immediacy of her eyes, his smile.

But it's more than that, it must be. It was the result of a choice, an action, not a coincidence. You chose to imagine it, to inhabit the words on the page, and so it was: the cupboard door moved. So why don't you try something else? A bedroom door, perhaps? It’s done, the door moves, just a few inches but enough to be noticeable. Can you see it? Can they? No, not yet. Take your time. Or perhaps the sight lies just on the edge of perception, the uncertain part of vision where the imagination (real or fictional) has free rein to create its own unconscious monsters or movements. Perhaps they wonder, Did that door just move? No, my dear, I didn’t see it. Your actions shake the tranquility just a bit more profoundly this time, enough to warrant a moment of doubt, but still not enough to break the reverie.

Still not enough? How much will it take? Turn the lights off. There, that's it, just the simple movement of a switch and they're up now, the combined sequence of events forcing themselves on even the most oblivious pair of minds. Ah, but they have not yet experienced terror, only shock, inconvenience, annoyance. They are reaching out, moving into the darkness now, earning their bruises, searching for the simple piece of plastic that will save them. But you do not really want them to reach it, do you? Maybe the switch has disappeared, or are they just disoriented?

In any case, perhaps a change of scenery is in order. Imagine it now, imagine them groping, stumbling, crawling out of the room and into an adjoining one. The kitchen, full of knives? No, too easy, the bedroom would be more appropriate. Remember the door you imagined earlier? Now perceive the other side, a bed, a few tables, a mirror, and little more. For now, at least. They fall into the room, hoping for the reprieve of tabletop lamplight. Do they find it? Perhaps you imagine it away. Or even better, imagine the lamp lighting for just a moment, the comfort of familiar light and familiar faces for only a fraction of a second. Alienation melts, the two faces ease, horror recedes into humor. There, that is the moment, the instant, tension and release, the story arcing back upon itself. And that is the moment for you to choose terror, for the light to flicker and waver before receding in a flash. And for fear to dominate once again.

The tempo is picking up now, hearts beating faster, narrative twisting and breaking along with the rules of normality you and I have established for this world. The characters are panicking, grabbing the room’s furnishings in an attempt to establish some grounding, a place for themselves in this unsettled space. It is time for the end, time for encounter, time for you to reach out. It is time for you to touch them.

Imagine just a tap at first, the barest hint of contact on each of their shoulders, but in this time of heightened senses it is more than enough. It is incarnation. You are becoming more bold now, scraping and scratching. The characters, the people, are screaming. Now, imagine the finale: you pick them up, suspend them in the air for a single beat, a baited breath, a moment of complete quiet. And then sound, whipping wind, as the two escape the hold of gravity and fly at a sickening speed into the wall. But you need more than this, you need punctuation. And so, the moment the two hit the wall, glimpsing each other in a moment of sheer terror, a new sound fills the air: the mirror shatters, shards spiraling through the room. Impact.

And then silence. No consciousness. You could murder them if you wished. You could twist them, break them, leave their bloody corpses on the floor for some other innocent character to find. But that would not be terror, only exploitation. The most fearful thing about terror is that it lingers, remains, continues to stand forever just offstage, waiting to once again emerge into the spotlight of perception. And so you will play the ghost and let them live, leave with their bruises and their memories. This is denouement. This is haunting.


And as you continue to haunt these lives, these pages, consider the nature of fear, of the desire to escape the torment of the unknown and the unknowable. Consider the emptiness which resides within the hearts of both real and fictional characters, and the lengths to which an author, a reader, or a character will go to avoid an encounter with that which terrifies them the most. Ultimately, we cannot entirely hope to escape that reality of terror. It continues to lurk around the edges of consciousness, the borders of memory, reason, and emotion. And sometimes, on more or less rare occasions, it is not content merely to remain there. Sometimes that terror will emerge, will disentangle itself from the darkness on the other side of every mirror, will show itself to you in all its hideous glory. You will truly see the face of the Other, not the human Other which we encounter every day, but the alien, the truly unknown, the truly secret and sacred and sacrilegious, the true Face that haunts our dreams in dark nights and darker days, and the true nature which, ultimately, we fear not only because it is Other, but because it is somehow also Self.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

On Feeling Home

Home is a powerful concept. My friends write about it, my favorite bands sing ballads about it (or about love, which is the same thing), and authors much more compelling than I will ever be have said all there is to say on the subject. I cannot hope to contribute anything new, only to recount something of the last time I felt home.

It was a trip to the beach. My first time on the West Coast, really my first time on an actual beach, but not a big deal, just a change in visuals, maybe a slightly altered perspective. I had brought books, great ones, and I was looking mildly forward to an afternoon of postmodernism on the beach. I even had in mind the inevitable Facebook photo op for my books, Eco and Borges superimposed, dominant against a backdrop of sand and surf.

My vocabulary is adequate to express most of the things I need to say in my life, but I am at a complete loss to describe the unimaginable, existent feeling that took hold of me when I finally arrived, when I (somewhat begrudgingly) removed my shoes and socks and put my bare feet in the sand for the first time. The power, the energy, the realness of it was simply overwhelming.

There is something heavily symbolic, even in the moment, in the activity of casting aside all the best ironies and deconstructions postmodernity has to offer in favor of the warm, visceral, authentic, REAL experience of the beach. In the face (the Face) of what my senses were experiencing, I was simply overcome with the desire to drink it in, to feel more sand and water, smell and taste the fresh, salty air, hear the rippling water and the gulls, and see the movements of the waves against the purest pearlescent sky.

This was home. This was fullness. To use a nice bit of Christianese, it was shalom. It was a moment when the world was right, when the realities of existence were demonstrated to me as manifestly good, an echo of our teleology, our end.

And that is the point. That is what I need, what I desperately crave but only find at a few sacred moments. I want home. I need home, not just a place but a state of existence where things aren't broken anymore, where relationships between people are good and loving and where the sky is blue and the water is warm, and we can experience beauty without emptiness, love without selfishness, and quietude without loneliness. That is what I crave, and that is what I tasted on that beach and only on a precious few other occasions.

So when I am depressed, it is not because I fail to adequately be aware of the joy and goodness of God. It is because I am waiting, yearning, desperately desiring something that has not arrived yet in full. That joy does exist in my life; in fact, it consumes my life completely, because it is too much for the realities of the present to support. I refuse to experience a simulacrum of that joy, a kitschy, shallow happiness that fails to refer to the sense of home that I crave so much. Home is not cheap. It is rare and unexpected, and it is the only thing I ever want. And I believe with all my heart and soul that one day I will always feel home.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” And the one seated on the throne said: “Look! I am making all things new!”
-Revelation 21:3-5a

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


How can I capture the texture of this rock?
I can say that it is grey
that it is rough
that it is big
but not too big
exact dimensions unknown, roughly 14"x12"x5"
that it is sitting at a jaunty angle
pointed up into the wispy sky
that it is part wet, part dry
dipped in this deep black lake
like baptism
or is that not concrete enough for you?

Monday, February 17, 2014


what is embrace?

first: it is certainly not
“giving you a hug”
a mere social party trick
performed without regret.

embrace is not easy or cheap
it carries inevitable meaning
it is not vacant or empty
it is not just a greeting or a farewell
a hello or a goodbye

instead, a proposal:
embrace is a negation of space.
my space
your space
becomes our space, our-space, ourspace.

embrace is the experience of the other
mutual subjugation of identity
it is love, connection, unity
a sacrifice of selfness

embrace is a code, a symbol
intensified meaning
simultaneously two things:
opening and closure
externalization and internalization

but most of all
embrace is you and me

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cold World (A Relic of a Bygone Age)

"Sir? I found this in the wreckage..."

This is a story that I wrote a few summers ago and have been occasionally revising ever since. I thought it would be interesting to share mostly as a snapshot of the sort of emotional states my words were attempting to produce at that point in my writing life. It seems almost foreign to me now in a lot of ways, but I still think the (for lack of a better word) coldness came through fairly well.

Of course, it is also winter, so literal coldness is very much on my mind right now.


Cold World

Her shivering was getting worse. Soon the cold would consume everything, and her body’s desperate attempts to shake itself out of apathy would no longer matter. Why do we try so hard, so viscerally, so instinctively, to live in a world in which death is the only inevitability?

He jumped out of the hurtling train, landing violently on the gravelly slope below. His bones made awful noises as they broke. Somehow he would carry on anyway. If he had to pull the world past him instead of pushing his way through it, then so be it. The cold made his muscles stiff, resistant to the demands he was making of them, but it didn’t matter. None of it mattered anymore. He had to save her.

She felt the relentless cold absorbing everything into its inevitable white void; sensation, thought, emotion. She involuntarily curled up into a ball, trying to conserve what little warmth was left in her world. This was appropriate: to leave the world in the same way she entered it, a helpless, senseless fetal mass, powerless against the elements. Why does the world provide us with this circularity, this morbid, fatalistic symmetry?

He carried on, his movement as much an act of creation as of locomotion. When there was no strength left to carry on through the contours of the world, he reshaped the world into the form of his destination, willing himself to reach her. Regardless of the boundaries of the possible, finding her was simply a matter of necessity, and he would not- could not- allow the limitations of existence to stand in the way until he had achieved his goal. But he was cold... so cold.

She was far past any distinguishable feeling now. Identity itself became meaningless in the unrelenting assimilation of the cold. She became the cold, just as ultimately the world itself would; it was inescapable. Death was the only thing that remained. And yet life continued. Why is this infinitely small spark of life so persistent?

He saw her. Through parched eyes frozen open by the bitter cold, he could only catch a glimpse of her before she was diffused into the infinite white, but it was her. Just a little farther now. He tore down the world before him, pulling nearer and nearer but never quite attaining his goal. She was so far away.

She could not be saved. Finally the last infinitesimal impression of her life was gone, vanished into the cold world. In the end, only the cold persists; biting, tearing, breaking, shattering. Nothing endures. How can we live in a world in which the cold consumes all of our hope, all of our courage, all of our strength?

He could not save her. His broken body shuddered to a halt in the face of the advancing cold. The world he was remaking remained unbuilt; his hopes and dreams froze and shattered as they crashed against the icy inevitability of the cold world. Everything is frozen into place, and in the end nothing really moves forward or upward. Only the cold remains.

Nothingness. White world. White world cold white world cold white world. White cold cold world. Cold world. Nothing...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


In the streets
She calls out to me:

Don't be a little idiot, darling
Don't go down to the deceitful place
Don't go looking for counterfeit love
Down where the door lies open

Don’t listen to that harlot Aphrodite
Who promises you cheap love
With cheaper words.
Her path leads down to Hades.

The truth is,
All love is the love of wisdom.
And it don't come cheap
Don't come easy
But it’s beautiful, my dear
It’s beautiful.
Let me give it to you.

Take my hand
Let me teach you
Step by step in the narrow way
The way that leads to true love.
Learn, love, rejoice
For I am a fountain
In the midst of your weariness
A hand to hold
When there’s nothing under your feet.
I am the grace and the peace of God,
I am the most lovely of His creatures,
I am the stars and the moon,
I am calm oceans and silent glades.
I am vision, I am word, I am truth.

I am Wisdom.

I was always in love with Athena.