Teenagers In Real Life (irl) – A Very Short Story

This actually happened:

Two seniors walked into the school courtyard yesterday. They were both holding their phones out in front of them.

Senior 1 said, “Who’s your best friend?”

Senior 2 said, “I’m not sure. Lemme check…” Then he looked at his phone. “Oh, it’s you!”

“Wait, what?” Senior 1 tilted his head his head to the side. “That’s not right.”

“No, it is. Look, you’re my best friend. It says so right here.” He tilted his phone’s screen so his friend could see it.

“Nope,” Senior 1 said. “See this?” Now he held his phone up to his friend’s face. “You’re not my best friend. It says so right here.”

The Internet Ruins Lives

love-of-the-internet

I’m trying out this new idea, an hour at a time:

Zero internet.

For an hour.

No checking email, no Twitter, no Facebook. No CBS Sports, no New York Times, no CNN. No following a rabbit trail from Eugene’s 10-Day Forecast on the Weather Channel’s site to Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live fiasco to Youtube’s “The Netherlands Welcomes Trump In His Own Words” (which, trust me, is worth 4 minutes and 4 seconds of your life).

But it’s SO difficult. Especially while writing on a laptop. I go to research something related to my writing, say, Hiroshima 1945, and suddenly I’m reading about how to make sushi with Willamette Valley trout, then off to a fly-fishing trout video filmed in western Montana, then how to pack raft down the Escalante River in Utah.

Wait, what was I talking about?

Right, the internet.

Yes, I recognize the irony of writing about no internet while posting on a blog…on the internet.

Meta.

But this is real. The addiction. The distraction that is the little guiding Safari compass or gorgeous little orange Firefox wrapped around a globe of pure, pure blue. I want to click them. I want to click them so badly.

Yet, I’ve found a way not to be on the internet, using a mantra. Each morning – when I get up to write, to write a real book, a manuscript, not a post or status update, but a real book – I say this to myself:

“The internet is broken. The internet is very, very broken right now.”

But sometimes I don’t believe myself, so I have to be emphatic:

“The internet is broken WORLD WIDE RIGHT NOW!!! So there’s no possible way it’ll work for the next hour. You can’t search or click anything. You can’t check your notifications.”

The only thing is, sometimes my finger acts of its own volition, just drags that little arrow down, down, down – to the toolbar at the bottom of the screen – and sometimes I even click that internet icon without meaning to and a page pops up, and…

I yell: HIT “COMMAND Q” BEFORE GOOGLE LOADS!

Damn. What is this internet thing, anyway? This vapid little pill?

I used to have a wrestling teammate in college who’d tried crystal meth once – only once, back when he was seventeen years old – and he talked about it for the rest of his life. He said, “There’s nothing like it. Nothing at all. And all I want to do is do it, do it all the time, every single night. I think about it all the time.”

I nod and smile. Say, “Yes, I know what you’re talking about. I too have this little addiction.”

Huff Po – The Soundtrack To My Novel

Music inspires so much written art, and it’s fun to think of the music that my characters might listen to. With that in mind, the Huffington Post just published my soundtrack written in the characters’ own words (Natalie, Travis, and Creature from This Is The Part Where You Laugh). Read here, and click the links to listen to each song:

A GIFT FROM THE CHARACTERS – THE 11-SONG SOUNDTRACK

Paddling North Five Days On The River – Day One

Mary_S_Young_Park_3633_Swart_ODFW

Plate-glass morning water with fish shatters. A hummingbird drops over the tent and hangs in the space created by the rain.

I read a Carol Shields novel and the daylight sneaks through the leaves of the cottonwood, white and green.

It rained steady all evening, and starting a fire was like baking without sugar or flour. But now the sky is striped by blue between clouds, and I think, “How many people in history have tried to write about clouds?”

Nubes como las olas…

Nubes sin mala intención…

Drifting thoughts of clouds…

Or some other cliché…

Better ideas waiting that I’ve never had…

It would be easy to steal. To Thomas Edison. To feed an image of greatness. “Look at me, a worker, a brilliant mind.”

But I am not brilliant. My mind is not a rare jewel. I only observe what is around me. Seeing the green grasshoppers collecting on my legs at the river’s edge. The blue heron shushing across to the other side. The osprey sitting sentinel on the fence-post above the cutbank. Flipping my spinner under the branch in four feet of water and the rainbow trout hitting the Rooster Tail in the first rotation of the reel.

We use two rocks as a plate and eat the fish with our fingers. Skin salted with Johnny’s, MSG, meat blackened over a stick-fire. Hot Tang and Folgers from boiled river water.

These are no proverbs.

These are no parables.

This is only the first day. How it is. How it was.

Poetry Illuminated – Whitman & Neruda

Reading the poetry of Walt Whitman, Song Of Myself Illuminated, by Allen Crawford (Tin House Books):

neruda-and-whitman

Neruda’s Love Sonnet #17 on my arm. Feeling poetic today. Inspired.

Whitman: “Electrical, I and this mystery here we stand.”

Neruda: “te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras…”

On Election Day, I’m Feeling Nostalgic About The Time When America Was Great

As a freelance writer, I’m asked to write op-ed pieces. To give my opinion. To say, “I know you might not agree, but here’s what I think.”

But so far – for some reason – I haven’t weighed in on the election. November is quickly approaching, and I’m supposed to say something.

Instead I’m overwhelmed by nostalgia. I keep thinking about how great our country has been in the past, and how many wonderful things Americans have done, and I have this desire to…

Make America Great Again.

make

It’s hard to go through 240 years of a nation’s history and pick out just a few things, but I’ll do my best. I’ll try to make a quick list of great moments in American history.

Let’s start right at the beginning with voting rights:

I love that this great nation was founded on citizens being able to vote. Imagine if those new Americans couldn’t vote in the 1770’s. That would’ve been terrible. No voting. Thank God that all (white) men could vote in local and national elections from the very inception of this nation.

I also love that all of our founding fathers were people of the same class and race. It’s important to have a unified group leading a young nation, to have a social bond, people who understand each other, and America was great to have unity in the beginning.

Some critics might argue that the founding fathers should’ve had more philosophical and religious unity, but being upper-class and white is enough for me.

Skipping forward into the 1800s:

I love that in 1819 Alabama was admitted as a slave state, bringing the total number of slave states and free states to equal numbers. It’s great that we had that kind of numerical EQUALITY. Eleven to eleven.

11 = 11

I love that balance.

Also, there’s the whole states’ rights thing, which has always been great as well. States’ rights is clearly a positive thing, and the autonomy of states’ rights has never been misunderstood or used for unethical purposes.

Skipping forward two decades, in 1838 and 1839, as part of President Andrew Jackson’s “Indian Removal Policy,” the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma.

This was the last of the great five-tribes removal that started eight years before.

2016-10-25-1477405380-2982486-indianremoval
Because of Jackson’s forward thinking, the Southeast was then open for European immigrants and U.S. citizens from the east coast. These migrating (white) people were free to move into newly opened territory. They were FREE to move in. And freedom is great. Free land is great. So clearly America was great in the 1830s as well.

But let’s not forget that the middle of the 19th century (1859 to 1865) gave us The Civil War. That was great too.

Yes, 1.1 million men died fighting in that war. I know. And dying is bad. But the Civil War was great because this great nation of the United States stayed together. And staying together meant more greatness to come.

Then, in the late 19th century – during the industrial revolution – child labor reached all-time highs. This was great because children’s small bodies could fit into tight factory spaces and mines where adults were unable to go. Imagine not having those small bodies to work in tight spaces. Imagine not having small hands to feed materials into machines.

That wouldn’t be great. Trust me. Great production requires great ideas…like child labor.

I mean, look at these kids after a good, character-building day of hard work:

child-labor
The economic depression called “The Panic of 1893” doesn’t seem like a good thing (since 500 banks closed that year), but it led to a great Broadway musical called “The War Of Wealth” in 1896. So that’s just America finding a way to be great again. Through art.

During that same time period, (white) democrats in the south banded together and passed new legislation to keep African Americans and poor whites from voting.

Again, that may not sound like a good thing, but it was a group of politicians working together, and actually getting things done. They set goals and attained those goals. These (white) democrats were really, really great at making new laws.

Which brings us to the 20th century – a time-period I’m especially nostalgic for – so I’ll just curb my enthusiasm and go with a quick-hits list:

– In 1901, McKinley was shot…which brought us the great president Teddy Roosevelt.

– The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake caused great fires that raged through the city.

– Then there was The GREAT Depression. Dust Bowl. Migration.

– The Jim Crow South in the 1930s was pretty great…(if you weren’t black).

And getting into the 1940’s, I’m sort of proud of this.

But I’m incredibly proud of THIS.

– Plus, during the McCarthy era, we were great at interrogating suspected communists.

– Then there were SO many sexual indiscretions in the second half of the twentieth century that showed the great virility of our politicians.

The 21st century has had some greatest hits as well:

– After 9/11, we did a great job routing Saddam Hussein and taking over Iraq:

saddam

– Hurricane Katrina was one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history, and FEMA’s response showed a great amount of dysfunction and mismanagement.

– Then there was a great recession.

And on and on and on…

Whew…

I could write so much more, but the word “great” loses its power when used too often.

So I’ll stop.

It’s 2016. We have an election coming up. Oh wait, that’s today. This afternoon. This evening.

And since I’m not really a political expert – just a humble freelance writer and literary novelist – I shouldn’t tell you who to vote for. That’s not my job.

Basically, I can’t help you with that dilemma.

But – either way – let’s go out and Make America Great Again.

Awkward Romance Scene #1: “Making Out With Mao Tse-tung”

Quite a few fans of THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH have sent me emails or messages on Twitter saying that I should write more romance (after reading Creature’s romance novel in progress, The Pervert’s Guide To Russian Princesses). Then there’s my friend KT who says I should write only romance. Just skip the rest.

The problem is, I don’t really know how to write romance. I’m not well versed in the genre. So I’ve decided to make an attempt. But to up the ante a little, I’m only going to write awkward romance scenes.

To begin, I’ll give you this:

“Making Out With Mao Tse-tung”

(The military leader of communist China who lived from 1893–1976)

 

There are more than eighty biographies of Mao Tse-Tung, the late Chinese communist leader, but this is not a biography. This is a short memoir of one of my intimate moments with a special man I liked to call “Mao Mao”:

mao-zedong-3

We hadn’t seen each other in three weeks. Mao Mao strode into the room in his military uniform – green coat with the red collar turned down. Red “Soldier” armband. Yellow writing on that band.

He was taller than me. 5’11” and 190 pounds. He didn’t acknowledge my presence when he walked in. He turned on his heels and commanded his personal guards to leave the room.

They bowed and closed the door behind them.

Then we were alone.

Mao Mao’s demeanor changed. He walked over to the bed, slipped off his shoes, climbed up on top of the comforter, and got on his knees. He was right there – not far from me – in his white socks, looking young again. That sad look in his eyes.

I smiled at him, but his face didn’t change. It was as if he had lost his mother once more, as if his first peasant-army’s defeat was fresh again in his mind.

I said, “Mao Mao,” gently. Let my voice drop.

He smiled – just a little – and began purring, like a cat, soft at first, then louder. More distinct than the purring of any house cat.

He beckoned to me and I walked over to the bed.

Before we touched, I looked at him. His uniform was always so rumpled. Frumpy. I felt bad during his speeches, embarrassed for him. I wanted – so many times – to mention his need to iron his clothes, but I didn’t want him to be annoyed by me. We were only able to see each other every few weeks. The rest of the time he pretended to like women.

He was right in front of me, on the edge of the bed, and I leaned in. Nibbled the mole on his chin. Sucked at it.

He breathed against my cheek.

As his personal physician was always saying to the press, Mao Mao didn’t brush his teeth. Ever. He simply rinsed his mouth with tea, and ate the wet tea leaves after, from the bottom of the cup. That was what he did instead of tooth-brushing, so his teeth had a greenish hue, a plaqued film over the top of them, with a consistency like soap-stone.

His breath was unique.

We began to kiss, and I ran the tip of my tongue over the mossy sheen of his incisors.

Mao Mao unbuttoned my shirt. Slid his index finger down the straight line of my sternum. I thought of all the places that finger had been. I lifted it to my lips and kissed it.

He leaned into me then. I smelled the musk at the back of his scalp, saw the white flakes of dandruff in his straight black hair. I nuzzled my nose along the horseshoe of his receding hairline. Felt his chapped lips rasping against my throat.

He was breathing heavy – we both were – but he put a firm hand on my chest. Pushed me back. Said, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“No,” he said, “It’s that…well…I struggle with impotency.”

This is something I already knew. Not a mystery. It was not our first time together. I said, “It’s not your fault.”

He started to say something else, but I cut him off. Put a finger to his lips.

I said again, “It’s not your fault.” Then I placed both of my hands on his shoulders, the green wool of his military coat over his soft shoulders. I said, “It’s okay, Mao Mao. It’s really okay.”

He dropped his head forward. Purred softly now. I couldn’t see his face, but I could hear his tears dripping.

Then I held him for a long time.