Life at Sea

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I’m tired like a cliche. Like I’ve been alone in this raft too long with no food or water and the sun beating down on my naked body twenty four hours a day. It’s been so long I can’t even remember the shipwreck. Was there any ship at all?

Tell me I didn’t do this to myself. Tell me that life on that island wasn’t worth it. It has to be better on the next rock. Anything has to be better than this. I enjoy my own company but the jokes get old after a while and the silence becomes awkward.

I received a message in a bottle but I couldn’t get the cork off so I threw it to the depths. It bounced back out of the water and into the raft. Instead of repeating myself I use it as a pillow and spend sleepless hours thinking of what the metaphor might be.

Daily Ritual

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This morning I woke up at 9:01 to my alarm blaring. I rolled over onto my stomach, slammed my face into the pillow and screamed as loud as I could. After that I got up to use the bathroom, shadow box for thirty seconds, listen to a podcast, eat a bowl of cereal, and make a cup of tea. At 10:00 I sat down at my desk with the tea and a bottle of water. Next – and this is very important – I started chomping on a piece of Extra Polar Ice. Now I’m ready to write. I usually go strong till about 1:00 when I eat lunch. After lunch I write again till 4:00, take another break, usually a walk around the block, and then I go at it again until 6:00. I’m in bed by 11:00 to do it again the next day.

This is my ritual. This is what I do every day to get the most out my writing. Most of the time I don’t scream and sometimes I don’t punch the air, but I needed that little something extra this morning. I didn’t think of it as a ‘ritual’ until my mom sent me Daily Rituals: How Artists Work – great book with a pretty self-explanatory title. Some of my favorite writers’, composers’, and psychoanalysts’ daily rituals are put on display in this book. Stephen King, Joseph Heller, George Orwell, Goethe, Tesla, Chopin, and Freud just to name a few. Each of these amazingly talented and influential artists had specific, and most of the time, simple rituals to get their work done. Hemingway (I find this unbelievable) woke every morning, no later than 6:00 AM. Beethoven counted exactly sixty beans per cup of morning coffee. Gertrude Stein had to be looking at just the right cow in order to capture fifteen minutes of inspiration.

Reading this book has shown me how important rituals are to artists. These people worked every day in almost exactly the same way in order to allow their creative juices to flow at full speed. I’ve shown you my ritual, now you show me yours. That sounded dirty… What do you do every day in the same way? It doesn’t have to relate to writing, painting, or anything artsy. When I was little I would come home from school to sit on the floor with a bowl of Cheez-Its and watch Arthur.

How fun is it to read ‘Arthur’ and ‘ritual’ in the same blog?

“Only the ‘Hitlers of the world’ work at night; no honest artist does.” – W. H. Auden

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Jerry’s World

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He finally sat on his throne, looking out over the kingdom he had spent eternity battling to win. It was everything he had hoped for, but would soon become much more. He had plans for this world.

“Jerry!”

A small voice came from behind a large painting of Elvis with two hands attached to either side of the frame. “Yes, your majesty?”

“Put down the painting… Gently! That’s worth more than the souls of your entire family!”

“Of course, your majesty.” The two hands carefully guided the painting off to the side to rest on the wall, revealing a squat, hunched-over man, looking up at his master from a sideways glance.

“Can we get someone in here to get this throne…” The king fidgeted around and leaned forward. “I need to do something about this tail!” It came free and swung up to smack him in the forehead. “SHIT!”

“Already taken care of, your majesty. We have the finest carpenter of all time coming up on Thursday.” The small man smiled to reveal a mouthful of rotten teeth. He bowed and a kick was delivered to the top of his head, sending him backwards into the wall with a crash.

“You must consult with me before making any decisions!” The new king leaned on his left hip to let his tail get some air. “Where is he?”

Battered, Jerry used the wall to pull himself up. “The carpenter, your majesty?”

The king snarled and smacked himself in the head three times. “YOU! KNOW! WHO!”

Jerry looked around and whispered, “The previous occupant of… this facility?”

The king sighed. “Jerry, I don’t have time for this. I have work to do and I really don’t want to have spend another Tuesday with you in the Discipline Chamber.”

“About that… There doesn’t seem to be an adequate location to house all of your… belongings.” Jerry flinched as soon as he was done speaking. He looked up at this master through squinted eyes. A beautiful man if it weren’t for the horns and tail. Jerry always thought his master’s chiseled features and wavy hair would have made him prime for Hollywood. “God is out back having a cigarette.”

The king slouched back in the throne and scratched at the base of his horn. “He smokes?”

“E-Cig, your majesty.”

The king stood and smacked his tail back down behind him. “That doesn’t count!” He strode out of the throne room and down the hall, out into the back courtyard. “This is hideous!”

“Tell me about it,” a weary voice spoke. “I wanted the gardens redone last century, but apparently all of the plants I asked for are extinct.”

The king looked around, but couldn’t find the source of the voice anywhere.

“Over here, Satan!” the voice called from behind a low wall.

King Satan walked over to see an old man with long white hair stroking his beard with one hand and holding an electronic cigarette in the other.

“Just like the real thing,” God remarked, blowing vapor from his mouth.

Satan took a deep breath and sat on the wall next to God. “Listen… I know we haven’t always been on the best of terms, but I…”

“You need help?” God asked, suddenly appearing next to Satan on the wall. He leaned over examining his former rival’s face.

Satan pulled back. “Well I just don’t… Could you stop that?”

“Sorry.” God shifted back down to the ground.

Satan leaned over with his elbows on his knees, tail draped over the backside of the wall. “It’s just that I have so much I want to do, but I don’t know where to get started. Everyone’s telling me what a good guy you are and I was just wandering if you would help me out a little.”

God started to snicker and choked on the vapor from his artificial cancer stick. Satan patted him on the back. “I told you already, I’m done with this business. I handed it over as-is.”

“SHHH! Don’t say that! We had an agreement.”

“I mean what else could you want to accomplish? Look at them down there scrambling around, thinking up ways to destroy all that I’ve created.” God shifted into the middle of the courtyard with his arms spread open. “All you would provide up here is validation for those who aren’t yet fully committed to corruption. I say let your subjects rule for you. They seem to be doing a fine job.”

Satan sat on the wall and grabbed his tail, twirling it around his forearm. “That’s what you did?”

“Well… I guess. I actually tried in the beginning, but gave up around 90,000 years ago.”

“Ninety? Wait…”

“It was great. Then these humans show up, from where I can only imagine.” God chuckled then took another puff from his E-Cig.

Satan was shocked. “But what about The Bible? What about that Jesus business?”

“Bunch of bullshit they made up.” God flicked his wrist. “Most of the Bible is a load of horseshit. You know me! Would I command someone to kill their own son? I don’t think so.” God took another puff. “They make me sound like some sort of narcissistic asshole.” He jumped around and shot lightning from his fingertips up into the sky. “Look at me! Look what I can do! You all belong to me!”

Satan ducked a bolt and rolled out of the way.

God shifted back behind Satan and put his hands on his shoulders. The cigarette bounced in his lips as he told him, “It’s no secret, my man – they don’t want us. We’re the step parents that scold them for masturbating too much. This is my house, but I don’t belong here anymore. Are you going to take my place? For how long? I watched them grow up. They’re on their own now – nothing left to teach them. Are you going to watch them die? Is that what you want?”

Satan was at a loss for words. All he had strived for was quickly spinning down the drain with no plug in sight.

God shifted back down onto the ground in front of the wall. “Maybe I should have shown you sooner. We might have been able to teach these people and do some good together.”

Satan walked over and pulled his tail around in front of him to sit down by God. “So what now?”

“I’m outta here.”

“Out of here? This is it! What else is there?”

God took one last puff before offering to Satan who couldn’t resist. “There’s much you don’t know.” He looked Satan in the eyes and told him, “I can show you.”

“Show me.”

God nodded and smiled. “I will,” he said disappearing, not to appear in the courtyard or behind Satan or up on the wall.

Satan looked around and called out, “Where did you go? Where are you? Show yourself!” Receiving no reply he looked down at the subjects he had wanted to rule for so long. Revolution had scorched the land of Monarchy and Tyranny. No man that could rule himself would submit to a king. No man should. He rested his head on the wall and closed his eyes as he lifted the cigarette to his mouth for a long drag.

Having heard his master’s screaming voice, Jerry raced out to the courtyard as fast as his limp would let him. “Your majesty!” he yelled. Hobbling all around the garden, he could find neither God nor his master. “Are you there, your majesty?” he called out one last time. Still no answer. He returned back to the entrance of the garden and spun to face the hundreds of orchids, lilies, and violets. He squinted and made himself small, snarling his top lip before he whispered, “Screw you, your majesty.” No physical abuse. He popped up into his normal hunched stance, eyes darting all around. His master was gone. Jerry hopped back down the hall into the throne and climbed up into the high seat. He smiled a huge rotten smile. “My, my, my…” He rubbed the arms of the throne and snuggled into the back, examining the craftsmanship. “So beautiful… Mine, mine, mine.”

“Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear” – Thomas Jefferson

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Barbie Bulldozer

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Boredom is the root of all evil. They say that it’s money, but I’ve never had much of that, I wouldn’t know. I can say for sure that boredom is what does it for me. Growing up in rural North Florida can be great, but for a twelve year old kid it can be pure torture. No license, no car, and no friends for miles. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed a little Cartoon Network and playing some video games, but I was never one to sit in front of a TV for very long. You have to make your own fun as a kid in this type of environment. My idea of fun under these circumstances was mischievousness. By mischievousness I mostly mean getting my little sister into trouble.

There’s a specific detail I should mention in order to understand this story. My grandparents lived in a house in the corner of our four acre piece of property, opposite of my family’s home. My grandpa fancied himself a farmer and was still going strong in his late 80’s and early 90’s, plowing, sowing, and doing whatever else farmers did. We grew a lot of different things like corn, green beans, cabbage, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. I say “we” because I was his little helper. I did a lot of the work he couldn’t get around to doing. I didn’t mind planting the tomatoes. I didn’t mind plowing for the corn. I didn’t mind weeding the cabbage. I sure didn’t mind eating the fried okra. I found that I enjoyed most of these activities. The one thing I did mind was this plant that they called “mustard greens.” Scientific name: Brassica Juncea. I hated everything about them – the way they tasted, the way they smelled, the way I was asked at every family dinner, “Dylan, would you like some mustard greens?” No, I don’t want any of your nasty mustard greens. Never have, never will.

Another critical detail in this story of mine, and many others I might tell, is that my sister is eight years younger than me. At this time she had just turned four. Contrary to what some might think, it is actually pretty tough to get a small child like this in trouble. At times I had to work extra hard to achieve my goal, do some digging, scrounge around for ideas. Occasionally opportunities were placed in front of me as if the Devil himself had selected the scenario directly from a manila folder in the back of a rusty filing cabinet on the fourth level of hell. My hatred for this leafy green along with the penchant to get my little sister in trouble converged to a point that I considered at the time to be a stroke of pure genius. When it hit me it was a beautiful thing.

So it begins. It was a hot mid-summer’s day. I had gotten my fix of Banjo-Kazooie and Ed, Edd and Eddy and needed to find something to do outside. I walked around for a few minutes, got a couple chores out of the way, then went back inside for a glass of sweet tea and to ponder my next move. I was just about to step back into the humid oven that is Florida during summer when my mom stopped me. She told me that my sister was riding her Barbie Jeep and that she wanted me to watch her for a while. I definitely didn’t have an excuse not to, so I obliged. I took my glass of tea out on the back steps and sat down, scanning the yard for the purple wheeled monster. My sister noticed me, made a lap around the huge oak tree at the back of the property and sped over to the steps as fast as the little 12 volt battery would let her. We exchanged pleasantries and she took off. I watched her go around the oak tree again and then over behind the shed. As she passed by the patch of mustard greens on the back fence of the property a light bulb came on in my head.

There was a small climb in elevation at the end of the garden – a hill leading up to a strip of pavement that ran down the middle of the property, an early predecessor of the highway that ran parallel about two hundred feet away. I immediately knew what to do, but it took everything in me to just sit back and let this thing play out. A little impatience spoils great plans.

I took a sip of my tea and waited for her to rev back over. I had to do this before the battery gave in, which I estimated to be about ten minutes. She pulled up and almost like she was reading my mind asked where she should drive next. Perfect. I looked over to the old highway and said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if you went down that hill straight through those plants? No you probably shouldn’t do that.”

She glanced over at the hill and back at me with a smile. “Yeah, I shouldn’t do that.” She looked back to the hill once more. “Should I?” she said with her head tilted like a curious pup.

After taking a sip of tea I wiped the sweat from my forehead and spoke the words that would be remembered in my family for years to come, “It’s up to you.”

I stood up on the bottom step as she drove past the shed. She hit the hill at full speed. It took at least a minute for her to climb the eight feet. She stopped at the top to look over at me and I nodded like a mute general signaling his cavalry to charge. She looked ahead and waited, as if pondering whether or not to actually go through with it. After a few moments she mustered the courage to press the pedal to the plastic and take off down the hill. “Moment of truth,” I thought to myself.

She made the approach at full speed and like a good soldier, never once wavered – straight through the mustard greens all the way to the end of the patch. I watched as plant after plant buckled under the plastic bumper of that Power Wheels Barbie Jeep and a feeling of relief came over me. I never had to see or smell another pot of mustard greens in my life! No one would ever again ask, “Dylan, would you like some mustard greens? They’re good… Are you sure?”

No thank you. Not today. Pass the cornbread, please.

I took one more sip of sweet tea and walked back inside.

Four hours later I was sitting on my bedroom floor with a PS2 controller in my hand. I heard a knock on the open door. It was my mother. “Yes ma’am?” I said in acknowledgment.

“Did you tell your sister that it was up to her if she wanted to drive through the mustard greens?” I had been betrayed. “You’re grounded,” she said with a shake of her head as she walked away.

Falling back on the floor I mumbled, “At least I don’t have to eat any more of that nasty shit.”

“What was that?!”

“Nothing, mom!”

“The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year.” – Voltaire

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