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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Make a Wish

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I’ve wished my whole life;
to be a helicopter pilot,
that WVU would win a championship,
for peace of mind.

I’ve been encouraged to wish.
It’s 11:11, make a wish.
See that shooting star? Make a wish.
Blow out your candles, make a wish!

I throw a penny in a well.
I break off the big part of the wishbone.
I whisper to a ripe dandelion and
watch the seeds float away on the breeze.

But wishes don’t always come true.
Sometimes they’re sure not to,
like when that dandelion you pluck
grows at the base of your uncle’s grave marker.

There’s horror in knowing
that no matter how hard you wish
he’ll never again be here
to pluck a flower for himself.

Still, for him, I wish.

I Think I’m Normal

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Last week I posted about having been checked out. I convinced myself that being isolated for the past six months while writing my book had changed me. The chemical composition of my brain must have reworked itself. There’s no way I’m equipped for social interaction any longer. I can’t feel real people emotions. I didn’t actually think these things, but it was clear that I needed to do something. Sitting by yourself in a room, jabbing away at a keyboard for hours on end isn’t ‘normal.’ Getting out into the world around other people would refuel my brain and recharge my creativity.

What I did to convince myself that I’m still capable of feeling emotion probably sounds crazy to most people. I spent a total of fourteen hours – ten hours on three greyhound buses and four hours in terminals – to travel a distance greater than 450 miles from my hometown in southern West Virginia to Morgantown, just across the Pennsylvania border from Pittsburgh. A trip that would have taken less than three hours on a straight shot took me around to Columbus and up to Pittsburgh before finally arriving at my destination. I could write a three book horror series on the bus ride alone, but that’s a blog for another day. The point is that I got to tell stories, laugh, eat, and drink with a group of some of my best friends.

I’d already planned on taking the trip up to the WVU Spring Game a couple weeks ago, but gave up on making it when all of my potential rides let me know they were committed to work. “Whatever… I’ll hitchhike,” I said. “It’ll be an adventure.” I had my bag packed on Thursday and was ready to hit the road Friday morning until I saw the weather forecast – sixty percent chance of rain most of Friday. I’ve never hitchhiked, but I have been stuck in rain and I can tell you that you don’t want to hitchhike in rain. You don’t want to do anything in rain besides take a nap under a tin roof, and even then you’re not actually in it.

I was really disappointed that I couldn’t make it. I was also somewhat relieved, because who actually wants to hitchhike? You may be asking who wants to ride on a bus for fourteen hours to a location that could be reached in two hours and thirty minutes by car. I didn’t want to, let me remind you – I had to. At least I thought I did. The Spring Game tailgate was most likely the last time I would see this many of my college friends together. The seniors are graduating next month and (most of) the graduates have jobs. This, combined with the realization that I’ve been in emotional hibernation for the last half-year, was enough reason to buy a ticket at 5:00 PM on Thursday and jump on the bus five hours later. I made it to Morgantown just before 1:00 PM on Friday and after a one hour nap got started on the best weekend I’ve had since before graduation.

Fast forward to right now – I spent the week with my mom, sister, and stepdad in order to drive back to my grandmother’s today for Easter weekend. What you need to understand about this situation is that my mom works 9 to 5, my sister goes to school, and my stepdad is retired. Essentially I sat around on the couch listening to this guy speak just to hear his own voice. No matter how focused I tried to make myself look, I couldn’t read a book or watch an episode of Seinfeld without him trying to tell me about the tankless water heater he put in or how many hundreds of pounds of meat he has in the freezer. I can’t take a single thing he says seriously after he told me he heard on the news that there was “talk about Parkersburg getting an NFL stadium.” You don’t have to know anything about Parkersburg or much about West Virginia to understand that the NFL is never coming here.

Bashing this man isn’t solely due to him being an annoying lunatic – some of it’s about me. On my quest to reassure myself that I’m a normal, social creature I spent fourteen hours with my knees rubbing against course Greyhound seat fabric, slept two nights on three futon couch cushions, drank more beer and laughed longer than I have in ages, and spent five days with my crazed stepfather to come to this realization: I need to be alone. I don’t need to see my family and friends all the time. In fact I don’t want to. I don’t need to go out and do something every night of the week to try to feel ‘normal,’ like I’m not a hermit. I’ve realized that I love being a hermit. That’s ‘normal’ to me.

As for my ‘emotional hibernation’ and the reason for my quest – I don’t need to be out in the world, around other people in order to feel emotion. My writing is emotion. What I feel is transferred to page, not the other way around. I thought my writing was controlling me by fooling me into thinking I had everything under control. The only thing I have under control is what I write. I’m not going to use this as an excuse to sit in isolation for the rest of my life, but rather as a reminder that I’m no different than anyone else – we all have the same problems. We all question ourselves and deal with the same doubt. It’s up to you to get past this and figure out who you are. This is me.

“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.” – Stephen Fry

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Paper or Plastic?

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I’m checked out, have been for a while now.

I received news from a friend yesterday that he and his wife were separating. These are two people I’ve known for years and love dearly. It’s easy to figure out what a “separation” is. I don’t have any stats to back it up, but I’m willing to bet that most separations don’t lead to a healthier marriage. Chances are that they’re going to get a divorce. I knew this and was devastated. It felt like someone punched a hole in my gut to reach up and grab the heart just to squeeze some life out of it. But in all the sadness I realized something: this might sound selfish, but I realized that I haven’t felt that much emotion in a really, really long time. It was like hearing a lyric from a shitty country song – “I just wanna feel soooomethin’!”

For the past half-year I’ve been in exile. Most of that time has been spent writing a novel which I’m super proud of. I love to write – I can’t think of a better way to spend time – but I’ve come to find out that I’ve isolated myself from nearly everything else I love. It hit me this morning that I haven’t seen a single friend since OCTOBER. I’ve been living in a fantasy world. Almost every emotion I’ve felt has come from a group of characters created in my own mind, now trapped in a word document on my laptop. Every problem I experienced was under my control. I could hit one button and go back a whole page or chapter if I didn’t like how it turned out. This book has been a barrier separating me from a world of real problems, I realize that now. I also realize that it’s cut me off from a world of real adventure and excitement.

Giving up writing this book isn’t an option for me so I need to fix myself. I hope that expressing this publicly will hold me accountable to take action on getting back to being a socially functioning human being; to get out more, to see friends, meet people, spend more time looking for a job, and actually live. Having found out I’m a hermit that refuses to deal with his problems disgusts me. What’s more repulsive is that I’ve used my imagination and love of writing as a crutch. I’m my own enabler.

Have I created my own world apart from the one that I used to love? I’ve been depressed before and consciously sought isolation. This isn’t anything like that. I feel content, but could I have fabricated that emotion for myself like I’ve done for my characters? Have any of you experienced this in your own creative ventures or seen it in someone close to you? It doesn’t seem like a healthy behavior, but is it normal to separate yourself like that?

Or should I put my faith in these words by Goethe: “A creation of importance can only be produced when its author isolates himself, it is a child of solitude.” He’s knows what he’s talking about, right?

Let’s Go

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Fish in a bowl. Feed me the good stuff.
Eating a Moon Pie; not as good as they once were.
Moon orbits Earth. Is this as fast as I go?
Spinning in a chair; make me go faster.

RHCP on the stereo; turn that shit up.
Open a window. Open that door.
Let some air in. Let it air out.
Let me out. Let’s go somewhere.

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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