Apples: A Discussion

I consider myself a man of fine taste. I watch good television, I dress and groom well (since August, anyway), and I only choose the best foods to enter the temple of my body. Imagine my surprise then when I saw the following headline screaming across Facebook: “Good Riddance to the Red Delicious, an Apple That Sucks.

One of my favorite snacks is apples with peanut butter. It’s quick, easy and tastes good. I eat Red Delicious apples because…well, those are the apples I’ve always eaten. On some level I’ve been dimly aware that there are other kinds of apples, like the green ones, but no one eats those. Here was the suggestion though that not only was my preferred apple inferior, but that I’d been missing out on a series of taste sensations this whole time. Was it possible that I was an apple plebeian, stuck in the ways of orthodoxy simply because Red Delicious was what I knew?

I shared my concerns with one of my coworkers. The next morning, I came into work and found the three apples above. I was humbled by her generosity, but also baffled: what the hell is a “honey crisp” apple? I felt like I’d had a Macintosh apple before, but didn’t remember it well enough to say. And isn’t a gala a party or something? I figured it was time to stop asking myself rhetorical questions, and start letting my tastebuds do the talking.

Eating those apples one at a time was a revelation of flavor and textures. The honey crisp was sweet and sharp, biting at the corners of my mouth as I bit into it. The Macintosh had a twinge of bitterness, and I could feel my cheeks tingling with each chew. The Gala was something of an enigma, somewhere between the two but not strong enough to have its own flavor. Each apple felt like meeting someone new and distinct. And then I returned to the old standby, the Red Delicious.

Hello, old friend

After the others, the Red Delicious tasted like paper. Its flesh was dry. The skin was waxy. The seeds were big and prominent. If eating the other apples was making new acquaintances, then eating the Red Delicious was realizing that all the negative things your family has been saying about your best friend for years are true. But despite all that, your best friend is your best friend, warts and all. Those new apples might seem interesting and sexy, but their flavorfulness is also kind of disconcerting. Drake put it best- no new friends.

In the end, it seems that I am but a commoner, a man rooted in tradition and expectations of what an apple should be, instead of what it could be. Yet my eyes have been opened. The Red Delicious is an inferior apple, but that inferiority has its purposes as well. There’s no pesky flavor to get between me and my crunchy peanut butter.

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Afterwards

A Feeling That I Never Knew

by Anonymous

I still remember how you used to kiss me..
One kiss was never enough, You had to kiss my forehead, each cheek, my nose, and finally my lips..
That was my favorite…

There was something about you…
A flame in your eyes and a tenderness to your soul that I never knew… It intrigued me..
Drew me in like a moth to a flame..

You emanated passion.. When you made love to my mind & body it was slowly, meticulously, vulnerably…
It was as if you were trying to peel back every layer of my being until I was left bare…
Left naked…

What we had was real, it almost felt like it was destiny or divine timing…
But it came fast & it went fast..

I’m Writing this so you kno that when I think about you I still smile…
There’s a shock thru my body and a tender feeling in my belly…
I Indulge in those feelings..Hungry…Greedy

When I hear jazz music my spirit smiles..
When someone mentions spaghetti I giggle to myself…

You Inspired me to open up my horizons & perceptions…
to what true intimacy feels like…
to what a real man looks like…
to not be afraid…
to be brave and love fully…

But most importantly…. you inspired me to write…
So I am writing….
About You…

 

This Too Shall Pass

by Jamil Rashad Ragland

I just smelled your pillow. Or is it back to being my pillow already?

It’s still your side of the bed. It was my side. Sleeping next to the wall. But you told me that you liked that side of the bed. And I liked you. So it became yours.

I don’t want to lie there because it still smells like you. Like some cheesy ass R&B song. Like something Bobby Brown would say. Who you also liked.

Venus really is in retrograde. Ain’t that a bitch? I learned that from you. My moon is in Aquarius, your sign. Air signs. Plans not grounded in reality.

Summer was really great. Really great. I kept it in the back of my head, “This too shall pass.”

I wanted holiday sex. Veteran’s Day sex. Thanksgiving sex while we tasted the grease and flavors of the day on each other’s lips. Martin Luther King Day sex.

You smelled like soap, like someone who had to be clean for a living. Airy. You became the 301st thread.

The scratches on my shoulders remind me of you. I like to look at them.

You called “Letter from Birmingham Jail” poetry. You were the first person I told that I’ve never read it.

You encouraged me to write.

So I’m writing.

About you.

 

Photos by Alex Jones and Rene Böhmer on Unsplash

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Black Women and Community College

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The overwhelming majority of students I tutor at my job are Black women. Part of that is the nature of the work- you develop a rapport with students and they come back to you. But even the one-off students who just need a second set of eyes before they submit a paper are typically Black women. In the last week, every student I’ve seen has been a Black woman. They’ve hailed from the US, Jamaica, Haiti and Tanzania. They’re bright and studious and funny and dedicated. They’re also tired, frustrated and overworked in every area of their lives, and especially in school.

Others have written at length about the systemic racism within education institutions, and that usually looks at large universities, Affirmative Action and admissions, and other controversial topics such as those. What’s been bugging me lately is the little stuff though, like MLA format. I don’t understand why we force this insanity onto these students. Unless you’re going into academia later, MLA is a weird style of writing that requires alot of energy and focus to get right. The spirit of plagiarism is far more important than the letter of it, but every semester I see the same syllabi with the same dire warnings that plagiarism will not be tolerated. My students stress so much about their margins and spacing. My students also happen to be Black women.

These are the guys you have to thank for your works cited page. Source: https://www.mla.org/About-Us/About-the-MLA/MLA-Archives/Time-Lines/MLA-History

So is the opaqueness of MLA format a racial and gender issue? Like many things, it was developed by a bunch of white guys who probably couldn’t have predicted that someday a Black woman whose first language is French would ride a bus for an hour after her job to sit in front of a computer and try to understand why a comma goes here in her citation and not there. A thing being a racial or gender issue is not so much about whether the intentions were racial, but rather whether the effects are racial. After five years of watching women of color, particularly Black women from around the world, legitimately struggle with margins, pagination, citations and other utterly meaningless minutiae, yeah, I’m ready to say it’s a racial, gendered issue.

I’m picking on MLA because it’s easy to point a finger at a cold, lifeless style guide, but it’s honestly much bigger than that. It’s non-credit remedial classes which students are required to take and must pay for. It’s financial aid guidelines which require women with families and jobs to take more classes than they should to qualify for aid. It’s department guidelines which force students to blast through multiple styles of writing in one semester which they will literally never use again. It’s lack of access to even basic technology education. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent in tutoring sessions teaching students how to use a computer before we could even begin working on their writing.

It frustrates me because we tell these women to get an education to earn a better living for themselves, and give them almost nothing to actually achieve that. No child care, no time off from work, no food assistance. Then we burden them with learning a very specific kind of writing- academic writing- which is divorced from their otherwise full lives. Then we grade them on it and say, “Yeah, remember that thing about a better life through education? Well, you got a D in English 101, so that’s not gonna work out for you.”

I think I’m just venting here, because any solution I can think of requires a fundamental reorganization of education. It would be nice if students didn’t have to write in MLA format, but that wouldn’t address the myriad other issues that lead to the crazy attrition rate at our college. The more time I spend working in a school, the more I realize that I’m very lucky that I’m a man who likes to write.

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The 2018 MLB Postseason – League Championship Series

It’s October, and that means it’s time for the baseball playoffs. It’s the best time of year. While I follow baseball all season long, I understand that some people only tune in for the postseason. So, I figured I’d write up a quick and dirty rooting guide for those just tuning in.

The National League went OK in the Division Series with the Dodgers beating the Braves and the Brewers beating the Rockies. Now we have the Dodgers travelling to Milwaukee for the LCS. This should be a fun series. The Dodgers are in a thirty-year championship drought and the Brewers have never won, so both score points in that department. The Brewers have Christian Yelich who is incredibly watchable and should be this year’s league MVP. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw who is one of the all time great pitchers. It’s a bit of a toss up in that regard. The Dodgers have the fun advantage with Kiké Hernandez and Yasiel Puig. Kiké is insanely likable. And Puig’s tongue alone should go to the Hall of Fame. The Brewers just don’t have anyone that compares. And the Brewers get a Ryan Braun demerit. He’s just completely unlikable. He cheated and got caught and tried to get away with it by running a smear campaign against the poor guy who was just doing his job collecting a sample. He’s the reason why Tony Kornheiser doesn’t trust anyone anymore. So, when you add it all up, unless you’re from Wisconsin, you should be rooting for the Dodgers.

The American League Division Series didn’t go as well. The Red Sox took care of business against the Yankees, which was good, but the Indians just rolled over against the Astros. So, now we have the Astros heading to Boston to face the Red Sox. At least it’s easy to pick a side. As I talked about in my last piece, the Astros condone, if not flat out support, domestic violence. They certainly sent a strong message that victims don’t matter. And it’s not like you can just blame the team’s management. All it would have taken is for someone to speak up, for the manager or Verlander or Altuve or Bregman to say, “No. I won’t take the field with an abuser.” They all decided that winning a couple of baseball games was worth more than a woman’s safety. Luckily, the Red Sox are a very likable team. Mookie Betts was the best player in baseball this season and is a ton of fun. Brock Holt hit for the cycle in the Division Series, you just never know with him, but it’s always worth watching. And even though they had the best record in baseball, the press is treating them like an underdog, so they have a fun chip on their shoulder. Everyone should be rooting for the Sox in this one.

Let’s hope this goes well so we can see the Dodgers take on the Red Sox in the World Series. I’ll check back in when that’s about to start.

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33

Photo by Lora Mipsum on Unsplash

There’s something about palindromes that I enjoy. I don’t think there’s anything unique about that. People seem to generally like symmetry, patterns and repetition. 33 is a short palindrome, not like race car, but there’s even something appreciable in its simplicity. It also happens to be the age that I’ll be in two weeks. Palindrome birthdays only happen every eleven years, and if my life continues in the average way, I’ve got three more left. This birthday feels like a more momentous one than other recent years.

That’s partly because 33 pops up in some interesting places. The first reference that comes to my mind is the Battlestar Galactica episode 33, where the Cylons appear every 33 minutes and attack the human fleet. I recently rewatched the Battlestar Galactica miniseries. It was thrilling to finally watch the show again after so many years with someone who had never seen it before. It was like watching it again for the first time. I’m not sure if I’ll keep going with the series on my own. Maybe I’ll watch 33 on my birthday for kicks.

The more famous reference to 33 is the death of Jesus. I’m not religious, and I don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God or that he was resurrected. I do believe that he was a real person, a radical thinker in an extraordinarily conservative time period. Without the Messiah overtones, Jesus sounds like a cool but really annoying guy, depending on your vantage point. Some carpenter hanging out with prostitutes and a bunch of guys, talking shit about Caesar Augustus and flipping over tables, challenging the very foundation of the society he lived in under pain of death? Yeah, I can see how you would either really like him or REALLY hate him. I was recently asked what historical time periods I would like to visit, and my answer was to see Jesus as he lived.

I’m not sure I’ve done anything as interesting as Jesus in my 32 years so far, and I don’t anticipate becoming a major religious icon for more than three billion people in the next year. There are some things I want to do in my 33rd year though, and I think that’s what I’m writing about. I say “I think” because every time I pretend to know what I’m doing, thinking or writing, life has shown me that I don’t know anything.

               

I wrote earlier this year about how my friends had helped me to shift my perspective on self care and my life, and how the results had been an unmitigated success in terms of my confidence and my experiences since. Friends I hadn’t spent time with in months were suddenly hitting me up to hang out; a year-long relationship drought turned into dates and awesome experiences; my wardrobe, which consisted of an embarrassing number of novelty t-shirts and bad-fitting jeans, got a sudden upgrade to match with the new style. I felt happy, and I liked feeling happy.

A major shift occurred over the weekend. I’d decided last week that I was going to take a four day weekend to spend time with my friends, and a woman I really liked. My ex-wife had asked to keep our son for the weekend so that they could go to festivals and celebrations in their town, so that gave me free reign over the house for the weekend. I joked to one of my coworkers that I was considering taking Tuesday off too, but that if I did that, then I knew I would never go back to work. The four days would have to suffice- a weekend of sex, drugs and videogames. I needed it. Things started off that way, and I had a great Friday night with the woman I liked, and played a bunch of videogames with my friend on Saturday.

Then came the Lord’s Day.

Photo by Sander Dewerte on Unsplash

Before that though, I need to talk about this song. I’ve been listening to Frank Ocean’s Nights almost nonstop for the last few weeks. I found it on Twitter, in an Arthur meme which is legit amazing. I looked the lyrics up, and that’s when the song went from good to masterpiece:

Drop the baby off at home before my night shift
You know I can’t hear none of that spend the night shit, Kumbaya shit
Want to see nirvana, we don’t want to die yeah
Wanna feel that lovin’ when you come by
Fuck with me after my shift
Know them boys wanna see me broke down
Wanna see me bummed out
Stressed out
Everyday shit
Shut the fuck up I don’t want your conversation
Rolling marijuana, that’s a cheap vacation
My everyday shit, every night shit
My everyday shit every night shit

Those lyrics stayed with me, because I was experiencing that. I wanted to spend as much time with the woman that I liked as possible, but between my 50 hour workweek and her 60 hour workweek, it was a struggle to find the time to make it happen. We snatched time on the weekends when I could, a time that was traditionally reserved for me and my son. No, I wasn’t dropping my baby off before my night shift, but I was sending him home early or picking him up later because I wanted and needed a kind of company that directly conflicted with my role as a father. I’ve long since gotten over my feelings of guilt about that sort of thing, but the song spoke to the conflict of trying to squeeze everything into an insufficient 24 hour time frame. I wanted her to spend the night, but she had to be up and at work the next day, with enough rest to handle her double shift. I didn’t give a fuck about falling asleep at my job, I did it all the time anyway. She worked a job where alertness and attentiveness actually mattered though, so she wasn’t trying to hear that Kumbaya shit.

Listening to Frank Ocean’s life made me feel like someone else understood the ways in which my desires to be a father, a man who loves a woman, and a person who isn’t struggling to make ends meet collide with each other. It doesn’t matter that he’s far richer than me, singing about a man and doesn’t have children of his own. The specificity of his experience allowed me to see myself in the details of his story. I’ve always been kind of embarrassed to write about myself and my life, not because I’m embarrassed to share details about myself (in fact, I’ll tell you everything, all you have to do is ask), but because I’ve always seen it as a creative failure, as the “last resort” when I can’t get myself to imagine some fantastic scenario or interesting take on the world outside of myself. Nights is about Ocean, and that’s what makes it about me too. I understand my own frustrations better after I listened to this person, who has never met me, sing about them.

I write because I have to. It helps me to make sense of myself and the world around me. I often feel a little ashamed that I can’t create entire worlds like Jemisen and Toriyama and Tolkien. I’m beginning to understand that all of those stories, no matter how fantastic they may seem, are about their authors first and foremost. N. K. Jemisen said as much in a tweet. She wrote,

All artists process their world into their work. That’s how we do what we do. Even the most escapism-obsessed writer, who claims to have no whiff of reality in his skiffy, is processing by aversion.

Nights has helped me to feel better about processing my world into my work, which is useful because I’m still trying to make sense of these last few weeks of being 32.

               

As I mentioned earlier, I started dating again recently. My last relationship had ended a year earlier, and was marked by lots of lying from me. I decided right at the outset of this journey that I would always tell the truth. That didn’t mean recklessly volunteering information, but if I was asked about anything, or chose to talk about anything, it would always be the truth. I thought it was the best way to avoid the heartache and fights of my last relationship. You don’t have to keep up with your untruths and be confronted with your lies if you don’t tell any, right?

Well, as it turns out, the truth has consequences too. I naively thought that there couldn’t possibly be any problems with telling the truth. Of course though, people have the right to react to the truth that you share, and they may not like it. I shared my truth with the woman I liked on Friday, and three days later it rose to cast our budding relationship into eternal hellfire. She told me that she’d sat with what I told her, and it made her uncomfortable. That she didn’t think we could continue as a romantic pairing anymore, but that she’d like to remain friends if possible.

What followed was the typical negotiations that occur at the end of a relationship, even a fledgling one like ours. Was there any chance she would change her mind? Did I actually want to still be friends? I say “typical,” but this was all new to me. My usual pattern is, “Oh, we had sex? I guess we’re married now!” That was literally the case with my ex-wife, and I was with my ex-girlfriend for three years before we broke up. The relationships had time to grow, mature and sour. This was different- we’d only been talking for a couple of months before it ended. The lesson here isn’t that I should have lied. The lesson is that some things simply do not work. Our truths were incompatible, and while that’s sad, it’s not regrettable. I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made for myself, and I don’t regret being open about them. I don’t regret her honesty and forthrightness.

But could I be friends with her? The other part of my typical pattern is to hold onto things for too long, to hold out hope that something will change. That was my other lesson, that wanting love and affection from someone may be honest, but it’s harmful when it clashes with reality. Would I be interacting with her based on what I appreciated about her as a friend, or would I be remembering the oddly pleasurable sensation of her fingernails digging into my shoulders?

I arrived on what was the best thing for me: distance for a while, with friendship later. Again, this was a new but necessary step for me. I ate dinner at my ex-wife’s house for an entire year after we separated. That situation eventually worked itself out, but it took more time than it reasonably should have. This is an experience that I can learn from and carry forward with me into my 33rd year. It’s a painful lesson, but it could be worse- I could have been dumped and then got hit by a car or something.

Actually, it was much worse- I got dumped, and my son got hit by a car.

Before I start getting a ton of phone calls and text messages, he’s perfectly fine. It was a minor, low-speed accident. He was riding his bike, and came to a four-way intersection. He tried to ride across the road on a red light, but a car made a right-hand turn on red and bumped into him. He fell off his bike. The lady who hit him stopped to make sure that he was okay, and then another lady stopped and checked on him too. He was the one who called me, while I was taking a walk to mope about the fact that my blossoming romance was over.

“Hey Dad.”

“Hey Gabe, what’s up?”

“Um, I just got hit by a car.”

Intellectually, I immediately understood that if he was calling me, he had to be fine. If there was a real emergency, the call would have been coming from his mother or, God forbid, the police. But hearing that cuts right past the intellectual part of the brain and goes straight for the emotional center, the part that reacts with completely unreasonable fear and panic. I didn’t betray any of those feelings to him. My job at that moment was to be his father and comfort him, not a parent that worries about every little thing that could possibly harm my child in this insane world where two ton missiles race down twelve-foot wide lanes with nothing separating them except paint on the asphalt and human judgment.

Photo by Brett Patzke on Unsplash

I told him to head back home, and then I called his mother and we talked. I hung up with her, and I called my friend and cried. She gave me a ton of good advice, but it wasn’t enough. I called the woman I still liked.

“I know we just finished having that talk, but I really wish you were here right now.”

And she came to me.

There’s a level of humanity that I feel like I’m still being introduced to, and that’s the level of expressing a genuine need, and then having that need fulfilled. I’ve always been afraid that I burden other people with what I want because at heart I’m very emotional. I do my best to hide it, but I’m quick to laugh, quick to cry and quick to every other emotion. That felt like a weakness for so long, and I was afraid of being rejected. I was afraid of being told that my needs were too much, that I needed too much attention, that I was being a crybaby and a chump. But I was overwhelmed by the reality that life is going to fucking happen whether I’m there or not. My son has a life that puts him in places and in situations that I can’t protect him from. He’s never been seriously sick or hurt before, so I’ve never had to truly confront that. Even now, he wasn’t really hurt. But he could have been, and there was nothing to do but hear about how fortunate he was after the fact. That’s a a low feeling. Like bottom of a well low. All of the love in the world can’t form a force field around the ones we care about. All we can really do is hold the people we care about close when we can, and hope for the best when we can’t.

And she came and held me that night. We played chess. We played Spit. We ate McDonald’s. And then we went to sleep with my arms wrapped around her, and it made that night bearable. She left at 2:00 AM in the morning, because she had a double the next day and my snoring was keeping her awake. None of that kumbaya shit.

I went to see Gabriel the next day since it was Indigenous People’s Day. He was pretty much unphased. We played videogames. We went for a walk along the Connecticut River, on a bike path he’s ridden on every day and was so excited to show me. We talked about how Ninja is overrated and TSM Myth is too serious for him to enjoy. I kept marveling at how this boy, who I watched being born, was now taller than my shoulder. His voice gets deeper every day. He said to me that he’d be driving in five years. Five years! That’s nothing! Eleven have gone by so fast, it’s going to be 2023 before I know it. He’ll probably be as tall as me then, if not taller. What am I going to do with a sixteen year old?

               

The weekend I’d planned for rest and relaxation had instead turned into one of the most stressful I’ve had. I drank and smoked Monday night, not to excess, but enough to take the edge off, and then some. I woke up Tuesday morning with just a bit of a hangover, and went to wake up my roommate. I told him that I was thinking about calling out of work, and he said he was considering the same. So we both called out of work. Remember that joke I told my coworkers about not coming back if I took Tuesday off? Looking at it now, that wasn’t a joke.

I write, but I didn’t want to be a writer when I was a kid. I wanted to be a teacher. There were no examples of the kind of writer I am when I was growing up. Believe it or not, I’m not that much of a reader. Or let me rephrase that: I’m not that much of a novel reader. I read all the time, but it’s always in short form: essays, articles, short stories, that sort of thing. My child’s mind never made the leap that writers wrote those too. Writers wrote novels, and I had no interest in novels.

The journey towards wanting to be a writer as a profession is very recent. As in the last 2-3 years recent. It’s been a fitful journey, with a bunch of freelance jobs and bouncing between full-time jobs that I really didn’t like, just to bring some steady money in. My most successful writing stint was with the website Black Nerd Problems. I produced some good stuff for them on a regular basis. It was a volunteer job, but I really liked the people and the vibe of the site. I’m all for paying writers an excellent wage, but I also recognize a labor of love when I see it, and I’m down to struggle with others like me as long as some fat cat isn’t making bank off of our free labor.

But not getting paid is not getting paid, and children do cost money. I found a full-time job, riding a desk like I had at the Connecticut Mirror, and Wesleyan, and Hartford Healthcare, and Trinity. I don’t know what made me think that this experience would be any different. I thought that doing the exact same thing would yield a different result. Isn’t that someone’s definition of insanity?

It did have a result that I didn’t anticipate- I had to stop writing for BNP. After a full day of work, I didn’t have the energy to watch an hour-long show twice, and then spend two to three more hours writing about it and screen capping it. That was a sacrifice I had to make, I told myself. No matter how much I liked BNP, $48,000 > $0.

I also stopped writing on this blog as often. I’ve never been consistent with my writing, but this has been a low point even for me. I’ve posted 17 blogs in the last 125 days, including two separate stretches where I promised myself to post something every day. Of those 17 posts, only six are any good. Writing takes time, and good writing takes even more time.

And that’s been the problem- time. That became very clear on Indigenous People’s Day and the Tuesday I took off from work. With those two days, I finally had the time to talk to other people, reflect and write the way that I wanted to. It was also a matter of timing. The woman I liked told me on Sunday that I should stop saying, “I need to write,” and start saying, “I get to write.” That small semantic shift has made a world of difference already. I started this essay on Tuesday and wrote 1800 words. That’s four and a half pages. I was able to accomplish that because I had a topic, the time, and the positive perspective. This essay is almost 4800 words long, written in three days. Life gave me the topics, and she gave me the inspiration. I just needed to provide the time.

So I quit my job.

               

I think the main lesson I learned from this summer is humility. I’ve been openly hostile to the idea of being humble before, and no one should take my enjoyment of self-deprecating humor as humility. However, I did learn, to my surprise, that I don’t know everything, and I’m not always right. My friends were right about my haircut, and several people have been right about the various topics I’ve discussed with them since. I had to learn to shut up and listen.

Shutting up and listening applies not only to other people, but to the universe as well. I said that I’m not religious, but that doesn’t mean that I’m so arrogant that I don’t concede there are probably forces far beyond our limited human ability to comprehend influencing, and even guiding, our destinies. While I attribute this perspective to the influence of family and friends, it’s also been a result of the universe being really, REALLY obvious about its intentions.

I was still deciding on whether or not I was going to quit my job yesterday morning when I thought of one of my friends. We’d had an argument about a month ago, and thanks to our equal amounts of stubborn self-righteousness, hadn’t spoken to each other since. I thought about how much I missed her, and was considering giving her a call as I walked towards work. At that exact moment, she drove by and honked her horn.

I reasonably interpreted that as a sign to make the call. We talked for about half an hour, and I told her that I was considering quitting my job to pursue writing more seriously. My other friends had cautioned me to wait, line up opportunities and bide my time. She said, “Sometimes you just gotta pick up what you have and cross the road.”

Of course, I chose to interpret the signs of the universe in the way which confirmed my preconceived notions. But in case I had any doubts, as I was sitting at work, looking at the email I had drafted to tell my supervisor I was leaving and considering whether I should send it or not, I got a text. It was from a friend I’d seen at a fundraiser a few weeks ago where we exchanged phone numbers. The very first text she sent me was for a freelance writing opportunity.

It honestly doesn’t get more obvious than that. My last day is October 24th.

               

Things feel different. I’ve been sober for the three days that I’ve been writing this essay. No alcohol or marijuana. I woke up on Tuesday and chose to be lucid, because I needed to focus on what my future was going to be.

It’s funny how you incorporate your own destruction into your routine. When I was sad, I told myself that there needs to be sad people in the world to balance out the happy people. When I was high all the time, I had a whole spiel about how smoking connects me with the self that I’ve hidden behind walls for thirty years. That’s still true, but I was also getting high to run away from the dissatisfaction that I felt.

I took a day off from work to make weed brownies a few weeks ago. They were initially made for fun because I’d never tried them before, but I realized that this was a convenient way around an issue I had at work. During my onboarding, I was explicitly told not to show up to work drunk or high. “Believe it or not,” my HR person told me, “We had an employee who used to show up high in the mornings.” I laughed politely, but that meant that I couldn’t plausibly deny that I didn’t know there was a “No THC on the clock” policy. But if I ate an edible before work, there was no smoke smell, no red eyes, just a low-grade full body buzz to keep me going.

It got to the point that I stopped baking the brownies all together. I simply scooped some of the weed butter into a bag and went to work. I stopped by Dunkin Donuts on the way and asked for a plain, untoasted bagel. I went into the kitchen at my job, toasted the bagel, melted the butter in the microwave, spread it on the bagel and got high at my desk while I was ostensibly eating breakfast. I told my friends this story to be humorous, but now that I’m writing it, I realize how not funny it is. How miserable it is to feel like you need to be high every single day. How common it is among the people that I know, a little grease on the wheel that’s grinding us down.

Three days of sobriety is not alot of time, but it’s monumental for me because it’s three days where I haven’t felt like I need something to make things better. It’s the longest amount of time I’ve been sober in years. I’m not giving up marijuana or alcohol all together. I enjoy their effects, and I enjoy both socially. I’m simply at a place where lucidity is also desirable. When I write. When I talk to people I love. When I have a goal to work towards. There will also be times to let loose and relax, or hard days like Sunday when a crutch is necessary. But I’m looking forward to going home tonight, reading a book and writing. The weed can wait.

Photo by April Pethybridge on Unsplash

What does any of this have to do with turning 33? Isn’t that what this essay is about? Or is it about Frank Ocean? Or my love life? Or writing? I think all of those things are about turning 33. October 21st is just another day, completely indistinguishable from the one that came before or the one that came after, except for the importance I’ve bestowed upon it as the day I entered this world more than three decades ago. Maybe there’s more to it than that though.

One of the most important things the woman I liked taught me was about astrology. I’ve always known that I’m a Libra, but I kind of dismissed that with the haughty arrogance that has been a trademark of mine for far too long. “How can the alignment of the stars and planets affect my decision-making?” Well, when you think about it, how can they not? How can subtle changes in gravity across our solar system not have an impact on what you think and feel? The moon is powerful enough to pull the entire ocean towards it; do I really think it’s not affecting the insignificant molecules that form my gray matter? I can’t see gamma rays, but they’re there. What other energy flows across the universe are passing through me, moving me towards this thing or that?

I don’t know, which is why choice still matters. I can look to the stars and heavens for guidance and insight, but then I have to make a choice. A choice to love. A choice to try. A choice to make October 21st important. To take the things I’ve learned and make October 22nd different and distinct. And then October 23rd. And so on until I rejoin the universal energy flow.

Until then, you’re going to have to keep reading really long essays about the things I’ve learned. Sorry.

 

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This Too Shall Pass

I just smelled your pillow. Or is it back to being my pillow already?

It’s still your side of the bed. It was my side. Sleeping next to the wall. But you told me that you liked that side of the bed. And I liked you. So it became yours.

I don’t want to lie there because it still smells like you. Like some cheesy ass R&B song. Like something Bobby Brown would say. Who you also liked.

Venus really is in retrograde. Ain’t that a bitch? I learned that from you. My moon is in Aquarius, your sign. Air signs. Plans not grounded in reality.

Summer was really great. Really great. I kept it in the back of my head, “This too shall pass.”

I wanted holiday sex. Veteran’s Day sex. Thanksgiving sex while we tasted the grease and flavors of the day on each other’s lips. Martin Luther King Day sex.

You smelled like soap, like someone who had to be clean for a living. Airy. You became the 301st thread.

The scratches on my shoulders remind me of you. I like to look at them.

You called “Letter from Birmingham Jail” poetry. You were the first person I told that I’ve never read it.

You encouraged me to write.

So I’m writing.

About you.

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The 2018 MLB Postseason – Division Series

It’s October, and that means it’s time for the baseball playoffs. It’s the best time of year. While I follow baseball all season long, I understand that some people only tune in for the postseason. So, I figured I’d write up a quick and dirty rooting guide for those just tuning in.

One wildcard game went well with the Rockies beating the Cubs in thirteen innings. The other went poorly with the Yankees beating the A’s. No we’re on to the division series.

In the National League there is the Colorado Rockies going to Milwaukee to play the brewers. You can’t really go wrong in this series. As I mentioned before the wildcard games, the Rockies have some really fun players in Blackmon and Story. Arenado is flat out amazing. We should all feel lucky that we get to see him play. They have never won a World Series and they’re the underdogs. The Brewers also have a bunch of fun players like Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. Christian Yelich should be this season’s MVP in the National League. They have also never won a World Series. You can’t call them an underdog in this series, but it would be nice to shine a light on an oft forgotten baseball city. The one thing going against the Brewers is the fact that Ryan Braun is on their roster. He’s among the top five most unlikable players in baseball. This will be a fun series.

The other National League division series is the Atlanta Braves in Los Angeles to face the Dodgers. It’s hard to go wrong here as well. The Braves are a young, exciting team. Acuna and Albies and Freeman are a joy to watch play. No one expected anything out of this team, so they have the element of surprise. They are the underdogs. And, it feels weird to say this, they haven’t won since 1995. The Dodgers are also a fun team. Yasiel Puig is in the top five most fun players in baseball. Justin Turner is great. And Kiké Hernandez is right up there with Puig. The Dodgers also have Kershaw and Manny Machado. Like Arenado, we want to cherish every opportunity we get to see those two play. The longer they stay in it, the better. The Dodgers haven’t won it all since 1988, so they have the longer drought. Like I said, it’s hard to go wrong.

In the American League we have the Cleveland Indians traveling to Houston to face the Astros. The Indians are the team to root for here. First of all, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are almost too much fun. The Indians have the longest title drought of any team in baseball. And they’re the underdogs in the American League. I really liked the Astros last year. This year, though, they went out and traded for Roberto Osuna while Osuna was serving a seventy-five game suspension for domestic violence. Knowing there would be some controversy around the trade, they cited their “zero tolerance” policy towards domestic violence. When it was pointed out to them that zero tolerance means they should not trade to get a domestic abuser, they said that the policy doesn’t count because Osuna wasn’t a member of the Astros when the incident occurred. It’s as disgusting as it sounds. I hope the Astros lose and lose badly.

The other American League series is the New York Yankees going to Boston to face the Red Sox. This is the matchup that TV executives have been dreaming about. The most storied rivals meeting in the postseason. This seems like an easy call for the Sox. I already talked about all the things wrong with the Yankees before the wildcard game. It basically boils down to the fact that they’re the Yankees. They’ve won more than everyone else and they’re the most bandwagon team in sports. The Red Sox are a very fun baseball team this year. The press keeps saying they have two MVP candidates in J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts, but realistically, Betts is the MVP and a joy to watch. The Sox outfield is amazing. It’s where fly balls go to die. Brock Holt, aka the Brockstar, is up there with Kiké and Puig in the fun rankings. I have a feeling this series is going to be a long slog, though.

What it boils down to is the National League will be lots of fun. If the right teams win in the American League, then the Championship Series will be great. I’ll check in again when those are ready to start.

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The 2018 MLB Postseason – Wildcard

It’s October, and that means it’s time for the baseball playoffs. It’s the best time of year. While I follow baseball all season long, I understand that some people only tune in for the postseason. So, I figured I’d write up a quick and dirty rooting guide for those just tuning in.

The National League wildcard game will be the Colorado Rockies traveling to Chicago to face the Cubs. This one is easy, you have to root for the Rockies. In the Rockies favor, they have Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, two of the most fun players in baseball. Plus they have Nolan Arenado. Certain players are just so good, you want to watch them every chance you get. Arenado is one of those players. The longer he stays in it, the better it will be for everyone. Add to that the fact that the Rockies have never won a championship and it’s a no brainer.

The Cubs have almost nothing going for them. They just won it all two years ago, even though they probably shouldn’t have. They made a mid-season trade for Daniel Murphy, a vocal homophobe, and seemed to be completely shocked that their gay fans were upset. And they have a pretty sketchy history with domestic abusers the past few seasons. Like I said, this is a no brainer. Everyone outside of Chicago should be rooting for the Rockies.

The American League wildcard game is between the Oakland A’s and the Yankees in New York. This is an even easier call than the other wildcard game, Oakland all the way. The A’s are this year’s surprise upstart team. No one expected them to be good. They are the underdogs, and, all other things being equal, you should always root for the underdog. And the A’s haven’t won a World Series since 1989, so they know a little bit about championship droughts.

The Yankees, on the other hand, are the Yankees. They wouldn’t know a championship drought, because they’ve never experienced one. They are never the underdogs. They do have some young, exciting players in Judge and Andujar. They did do us one good service this year. They got Aaron Boone out of the broadcast booth. But that is completely cancelled by the fact that they have known domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman closing games. There is just no choice here but to root for Oakland.

If these two games turn out right, a fun postseason is almost guaranteed (Houston could still mess things up, but I’ll talk about that later). I’ll be back Wednesday night to talk about the Division Series.

 

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Defending the Essay as a Form

“What is an essay?”

One of my friends asked me that question when I explained my goal to write an essay every day until my birthday. I knew what I was writing were essays, but I didn’t really know what that word meant. After grappling with a definition for a moment, I finally said, “It’s something between a short story and a poem.”

I’m not sure what else to say about it, because there are almost no other rules about what an essay is or isn’t. James Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work is often described as “a book-length essay.” Well what the hell does that mean? I thought essays were short?

When all else fails, fall back on the appeal to authority, and the authority I’ve chosen is Wikipedia:

An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author’s own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by “serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length,” whereas the informal essay is characterized by “the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme,” etc.

That doesn’t help at all either. If there’s no place to find a definition that works, I suppose that I might as well take a crack at it.

To me, an essay is a complete thought, in writing. Sure, we have our fleeting thoughts (tweets) and our long-term plans (novels). We have really good daydreams too (short stories), and then we have our things that we roll around in our heads for a bit, turn over a few times, and then move on to the next thing. That’s what an essay feels like to me, and that’s what I like about it. It gives me just enough of a topic without boring me.

I try to make my essays fun because reading should be fun, even if you’re learning something or commiserating. Books have always felt like a chore to me, and I don’t mean that as a judgment for anyone else. I just mean that I don’t have the attention span to read a book, and I certainly don’t have the attention span to write one. I like to get in and get out to the next interesting topic. I’ve recently started reading manga, and while I still greatly prefer watching anime to reading it, I like reading manga now more than I like reading books. It’s no wonder- the average manga volume has between 7,000-10,000 words, which is right in the sweet spot of my attention span.

I can’t draw, so I don’t do manga. But I can write, so that leads me to the form that I like reading the most. My brother used to box, and he explained to me the month before a fight, where you cut out all the smoking and drinking and really prepare your body to be in peak condition for the fight. I’ve started thinking about this 36-day challenge as my training for when I go big time. The original idea was to write 36 essays, and maybe one or two of them would be any good and I could edit them later. But no, this is all training and practice, and the real writing doesn’t start until day 37. That’s how I’ll stay motivated to keep going. Right now, I’m teaching myself how to create. Once I turn 33, I’ll be ready to create something good.

I want that something good to be an essay, because I want you actually read it and I want to actually write it.

 

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I Saw My First Drug Overdose Today

I was walking past the park on the corner of Russ Street and Putnam Street with my coworkers. We go on a walk once a day or so for the exercise and to take a break from work. We were talking, and one of my coworkers looked into the park and pointed.

“Uh, guys?” she said. We followed her fingers and saw a man laying halfway out of the port-a-potty. His feet were still up, and he was sprawled face up, laying in the dirt. “Should we go see if he’s okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll go check,” I said. I walked down the slight hill towards the man. His upper body was covered in tattoos. A needle was clenched in his left hand. His eyes were closed, and it didn’t look like he was breathing. Was he dead?

A couple of other guys carrying groceries came over. “Is he okay?” they asked.

“I can’t tell,” I said. I took out my cell phone.

“Is he breathing?”

“I don’t know.”

Then, as if summoned by the question, the man let in a sharp, jagged inhale of breath and shot it out just as quickly. He went back to being perfectly still.

“Call 911,” one of the men said.

As I was on the phone, two other people approached, a man and a woman from Putnam Street. The man had on a teal polo with grey slacks, and the woman was wearing a slick black suit with kitten heels.

“Did he overdose?” she asked.

“We think so,” I answered.

“Go get your Narcan,” she said to her companion. He ran off back in the direction he came from. “¡Dale!” she yelled after him. She turned back to face the man and shrugged. “If you can hit them with the Narcan, then you can save their life,”

We stood there, looking down at the guy and commenting about what a shame it was. Shame isn’t the write word though. Crime is the more appropriate way to describe it. Pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to addict millions of people to pain medications, and when their money runs out, has sent them running into the arms of heroin, fentanyl and early death. The magnitude of this crisis is hard to imagine. It’s true that no one gave a damn when crack cocaine was having a similar effect on black communities in the 1980’s, but now it’s that everywhere. Morgues are filling up faster than they can be emptied. All of this human misery, in pursuit of more money.

The man returned to the park with a bookbag. In it he had gloves and two different forms of Narcan. “We’re from the Department of Public Health,” she explained. But it was clear that they weren’t EMTs or medical professionals. They were office staff, but the opioid epidemic is so far reaching that even they’ve been trained in how to administer Narcan. He’s prepared and ready to deliver the drug when a paramedic arrives.

“Hey everybody. Has he received Narcan yet?” she asked as soon as she got out her truck.

“No, I tried to give him the nasal spray, but it didn’t work. I was going to give him the shot now,” the man in the teal shirt said, speaking for the first time

“I’m going to need your help. I’ll grab the pointy,” she says, moving the man’s hand with the needle into a safe position.

Apparently it’s common knowledge that Narcan works fast. Well, it works SUPER fast. The man I found looked like he might have been on the edge of life and death; he was certainly beyond consciousness. The paramedic jammed the needle into the man, and almost instantaneously he came back to life. He sat up with no help, placed his own needle on the ground, stood up and put his shirt back on in a matter of seconds. There didn’t seem to be anything else to do, so my friends and I started walking again. And that’s where I find myself now, not sure what there is to do.

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