A perfect amount of less time

I certainly didn’t expect for this to happen. It wasn’t planned, calculated or intentional in any way. I’m entirely a victim of circumstance, and it was so organic and clever in the way it took over my life that I didn’t even notice it happening. It took the days hours, divided them up loosely so that I still felt I had control over the profound inertia of my life & wouldn’t notice until it was too late, and without even bothering to check with me, all of the sudden there is something of a schedule that dictates my days. Goddamn, it was sneaky.

The odd thing is that in the past I tried, tried desperately to have some kind of structure in my days, but the more strict I tried to be with myself & my time, the more a different part of me rebelled. My subconscious mind teamed up with my instinctive and astonishing ability to procrastinate and all my meticulous planning and promises to myself that this time, dammit, I will DO it – was inevitably shot to hell within a few days.

But then the schedule happened to me. I’ll get to how in a minute.
I’m still able to wake up & fall asleep at any odd hour I want, but once awake the gears are set in motion, and I have little choice but to just go along for the ride.

All I needed to do was write. That’s all. For a few hours each day, I would write, and the rest of the time I was free to fill with all the apathy & indifference for life that I could fit in.
The problem was that since I had so much freedom with time, I figured that I could write whenever I wished – when waking up & still in bed, or at one of the cafés that I would write on my “to-do” pad the previous evening (which held such gems as “Walk Ruby”, “take shower”, “call or write… anyone”) or if I had food, I could write after a dinner of tater-tots or rice & beans. I could write anytime – so I never did. I didn’t write, I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t do anything, with the exception of reading.  I even tried to make it exciting by actually going all the way over to my little couch (calling it a “love seat” would be depressingly misleading) – but I couldn’t ever seem to make it the six feet it would take to get all the way over there.

Then one day, while shopping on Amazon for the medicinal herbs I would be able to buy in a few weeks when I got my disability check as well as other things like knives, books, a new belt for my umbilical hernia, books, and anything else I could think of to fantasize about, I looked on the side of the screen and saw that Amazon figured that I might like a bag of around 4000 shiny aluminum jump rings. Because that made perfect sense.

Curious as to why in this empty grey existence of mine their bots would think that, and though I had countless other much more important things to search for like wing tipped tuxedo shirts, extension cords and creepy doll heads, I clicked on the picture.

Hmm. Chain mail? Make chain mail? You’ve got to be kidding me. There is absolutely no way I would have the patience to sit there for hours, weaving ring by ring into something that looked like anything good, unless some poor idiot somewhere could be convinced that what I created with the three rings I had the patience to sit down, open, connect, and close again some sort of brilliant minimalist art. As blindly optimistic as I usually am, sometimes even I need to open my eyes and see the reality of something so unlikely. I mean, it takes all the willpower I have just to write for 15 minutes straight – who am I do have the nerve to think that I could sit for hours and hours to make just ONE piece of jewelry?

But then I saw the book that people apparently bought when they bought the rings. And the pretty pictures, right there on the cover. The pictures of things that the book would show me how to make and that I would make and people would like because of my innate and incomparable sense of style, and I would sell them and be flown around the world with my dog in private jets to create amazing things for only the coolest famous people – or at least the ones that aren’t dead yet, I figured. It’s fun to think about, and while I could definitely see the cool stuff, I couldn’t see me doing anything that involved sitting at a desk for so long. Perhaps the biggest fear was the knowledge of how many things I have begun & never followed through on. Those things continue to haunt me, and I was terrified of this being another one…

I got a little sick when I ordered the rings & the book with pretty pictures instead of a couple bottles of the herbs I need to keep me alive & healthy-ish, but looking back all these weeks to the beginning of when all this began in January, that was a small price to pay – and besides, the infection seems to nearly be gone.

So now I have a schedule – or more accurately, I was mugged by a schedule which sneaked up on me from behind, knocked me unconscious, and when I woke up, it had already made itself at home in my life.

I find it interesting that when I have absolutely nothing to do, I can’t even find the time to sweep up the dog hair in my apartment. It’s like there is too much time to do anything. I’ve never been able to figure that one out. Is it just me? Do I have some weird mental disorder concerning time? Is it like a buffet where there is so much amazing food that I can’t choose anything, or an enormous bookstore filled with so much that I wander the endless aisles for hours and walking out with nothing?

Now my entire world has changed. It’s as if after years I finally thought of the last line to the best poem I had written. It’s the torn-out chapter that brings the entire plot together, found in another inmate’s cell a week before I’m released. It’s the rug that really, like, ties the room together, man.

I get up, read for a bit, write nearly without fail for a few hours, while drinking coffee in bed. When I feel either like I’m at a stopping point or mid-afternoon is creeping up far too quickly, I get dressed, take The Beast out while I do errands, and have even been taking her to the park more frequently. I get home, putz around briefly and nearly every-other day run my Swiffer over the floor to gather the nearly unbelievable amounts of dog hair that it acquires. I stretch a bit, sit down at my work desk (which unfortunately never lived up to its name of a “writing” desk. It feels far too strict and demanding when I actually try to use it for the purpose I bought it, like it’s secretly judging me) – and get to work on chainmaille. After a few hours I have an insatiable urge to take a nap for an hour or so – but the nap is the slippery part. When I started, the nap would fall at a vaguely decent hour, usually 3-4 pm, and I’d wake after an hour or so refreshed and ready to get back to work – but as the days progressed with the fun & challenge of making more creative pieces, I ended up feeling better and as a result worked later into the night, I sometimes not being able to put the pliers down until 4 or 5am. There was a glitch brewing.

I still follow the agenda, it’s just that the actual time of day has no place in it, and as the rest of this silly world has the audacity to run on their time instead of mine – that makes the time I have for writing sometimes unbearably short, and now that I’m regularly doing it again, I need my fix. Seriously. It’s like a drug. If I don’t have time to write when I wake up (which after a late night could be 1pm), I find myself being irritable, miserable and easily pissed off the rest of the day. I imagine that the people driving in traffic who can’t help but lean on their damned car horns when there is absolutely nowhere the person in front of them can go must feel this way – I just don’t have anything to honk.

I haven’t tried it yet, but if it ever does happen where I find myself around someone I’m just being a plain bastard to for no reason, maybe the solution is pulling out my notebook & pen while I ask them to wait for a moment? Of course, what I write may be something like “I think this person is an ignorant, idiotic, pathetic little subhuman whose cartoid artery I would like to puncture repeatedly with this pen.” – but the irony is that after I wrote that (then quickly closed my notebook I shoved it back into my pocket before anyone could see it), the urge would likely be gone and I could stand there silently, looking them directly in the eyes with a diabolical smirk on my face until they felt uncomfortable enough to go away.
Or I guess I could write something like “Chill the fuck out, Flux. They’re probably really nice, and it’s you being the asshole because you didn’t get your writing fix, poor baby.” That just wouldn’t be as much fun though. Did I happen to mention that there’s a somewhat wicked streak in me?

In order to make this “schedule” work inside the time frame set by those “other” people, I have created a reset button – which is why this morning’s therapy is edging up to nearly 1,500 words. All I need to do is take a break from the post-nap chainmaille creation for an evening, and get to bed at an absurdly early hour – such as 7 or 8pm – then wake up at 3 or 4 am, microwave the coffee I make much more than enough of every few days so I don’t have to wait for it to brew, light some incense, crawl back into bed, and start the day – with plenty of day left to enjoy this new life where, for the first time in far, far too long, I feel like I’m beginning to live a life of doing things I love again. I’m writing, I’m creating, I’m making things that people really seem to like and are eager to buy, and instead of days full of emptiness and ennui, instead of feeling valueless and insignificant, I feel good. Hell, I’m even getting some real work done on my book – something that is solid and workable, instead of the 5 years of constructive procrastination that I’ve been using to pretend that I was doing something on it.

I really should offer classes on professional procrastination. I don’t think that anyone can compare to my level of self-deception when it comes to that.

So yeah. Because of some shiny rings and the remembered courage not to let my fear stop me again, to at least try, and if that didn’t work, fucking try harder, things are looking up in my life.
I might even be able to honestly say I’m happy – at least with this part of it… and considering how I’ve felt for the past few years, that feels really good to be able to say, and mean.

Here are just a few of the things I’ve made, because I know you’re unbearably excited to see some of it. Mind you, I’ve only been doing this for about seven weeks…

Outside of Comfort

(Old Dog, New Tricks)

As I turned from O’Farrell St. onto Polk I knew that my chances of making a valid excuse to get out of this were deteriorating. Of course I could show up and *not* tell a story, forging some absurd reason that I couldn’t make it fit into the five minutes we were given, or I could simply tell David the truth; I was terrified of all that could go wrong.

I thought back to the few storytelling events I had been a guest at, and remembered that during each one there were times where I said to myself “Hell – I could do this, and I might even be able to do it better.” Then I would think about what stories I could tell, and the self-doubt inside of me was such a powerful presence that I couldn’t come up with any. I mean sure – I could come up with the *middle* of a story, maybe even the beginning – but the a good ending has always been elusive.

I thought of my life and all the amazing tales in it, but it seemed as if they all bled into the previous and the next, with nothing I could truly call an ending. I mean hell – what happens when our stories end? Maybe it’s a psychological thing – the story of my life has come so dangerously close to ending so many times that I blocked the completion of any of them, choosing instead to keep writing “and then this happened…”.

As I got closer to the venue, I slowed down & lit a cigarette, taking three deep drags in hopes of calming my nerves. I’ve wanted to do this for months just to see if I could, but fear has always gotten the better of me. Now, here was my chance & I wanted to turn around & run home. I dug deeper than the doubt in my mind & after a bit of moving things around, found my courage tucked away in back. I dusted it off, shined it up a little, and set it inside my heart. If I failed, so be it – but at least I would have tried.
As I opened the door to The Hemlock Tavern & walked in, this became my silent mantra. It’s been countless years since my last “First Time” doing anything – at least where I could and would be judged by others. I did my best not to think about it as the friend I was meeting caught my eye.

David, a storytelling veteran who had once won first place on The Moth Story-Slam, had put his name down early, second on the list. I was number five.

He offered me his drink ticket, one of the perks of telling a story, and said that when I get mine I could give it to him since the Porchlight Storytelling organizers weren’t around at the time. I looked at it as a promise – if I didn’t get up there, I would morally have to forfeit my drink ticket and not be able to pay his kindness back. I find it amusing how my mind creates little back-ups to ensure I don’t back out – and even more amusing that I actually honor them. Hell – whatever works.

I had finally written my story out in longhand (due to my rapidly dying laptop) about an hour before I had to leave, doing my best to commit the main points to a loose memory, something like writing them down on index cards then throwing them up in the air to see what order they landed in. I knew from long-ago experience that if I tried to memorize it word for word it would be a disaster.

Though we had planned on going to this small event over a month before, neither of us were even nearly ready until that day. He had a story that was 20 minutes longer than the five minutes we were given, and mine simply didn’t exist yet. Still recovering from an amazing weekend at The Edwardian Ball, I had completely forgotten that tonight was the night until I got his text in the morning. Shit.

The theme was “Stories of the Gig Economy”, and yesterday morning I racked my brain thinking of all the strange jobs I’ve had, all the things I have done to be able to eat – and all the odd stories that came from them. When I put my mind to it I found out that I had plenty – from being homeless & staying up all night at Denny’s frying on mushrooms so I could stay awake & get to work on time, to spending four months in Federal Prison due to a pot deal that went bad at a Harley shop I worked at, to finding myself standing under the world’s deepest diving diesel-electric submarine & needing to commemorate it by dancing the Charleston, to working as a mover & finding that my helper was into primal scream therapy only after he startled the crap out of me with a blood curdling screech while we were loading the truck – yeah, the stories were there, but I wanted more than a story. I wanted beauty, laughter & maybe even a lesson.

Then I found one – or more appropriately, it found me. One of the stories from when I was busking in New Orleans. It was more-or-less perfect, but still – I didn’t know how to end it. I decided to figure it out when I was on stage. What could possibly go wrong?

David’s story was fantastic, of course, with an ending that completed the story yet still hinted at the madness that came after. Then, two more storytellers, and thankfully, though their stories were good, I had the “I think mine might be better” sense of relief that thankfully boosted my courage just enough to quiet the demons in my head – because I was next up.
No turning back now…

I walked up onto the stage, and was instantly blinded by the lights. Good. Just me & the microphone. I raised the mic so I didn’t have to hunch over (noting that the guy before me was hunched, and it simply didn’t look good) – and began my story.

I don’t remember much of what I said, but I recall that people laughed at the right times, that words & sentences I hadn’t even though of appeared in my story to describe things that much better, and that somehow, my story found an ending to itself.
I did it. I fucking DID it, and instead of hisses and boo’s there was applause. Real applause, not just people being polite.
Crossing in front of a few people on my way to my seat in the back row, the woman sitting next to me said that the ending of my story made her cry a little in a good way. I had to refrain from asking her how it ended.

When the rest of the stories were told & it was time to determine who earned the prizes, I felt confident that I would probably get one. The difference in how I felt as I walked in the door just hoping to get through it did not go unnoticed. I closed my eyes and silently thanked the storytelling gods for reminding me of my courage.
Third place received a pound of coffee, which I certainly could have used but went to a woman & her lovely story. Second place was a crisp $50 bill, which I *definitely* could have used, but that, very deservingly, went to David. Cheers & applause echoed in the small room – but there was still one more prize left.
First place, the “grand prize”, is being invited to tell another story on February 23rd at some “Secret Location” in San Francisco – but it comes with dinner & the winner can bring a “date”.
They called my name. In a way I expected it, but I also TOTALLY didn’t, because I’m not good at telling stories.
I guess it’s time to change that way of thinking.
Great. Though I’m amazingly honored, now I get to go through all of this again, except most likely with people who have been telling stories & honing their skill for years – or at least more than a day. No pressure.

When I think about it, it’s really just telling a story – something that we do every day, and have been doing since the dawn of language – but although I’ve been writing the stories of my life for around 37 years, I have never felt that I was good at telling them. Hells, for the first 17 years of my life I was as close to silent as I could get away with, a tragically insecure & self-doubting child, choosing to listen & watch instead of talking.

But this is something new. A new way to make people happy, to make them laugh, think, and perhaps even cry – in a good way.

And I enjoyed it immensely, which, when it comes down to the nuts & bolts, is more important than *any* prize.

The Treasures Within

It’s the mornings that I like the most these days, at least when I have the energy to find them, to keep my eyes open regardless of how little I’ve slept & live in them. The dim grey light from my bedside windows, the yellow light of my table lamp, the sublime quiet in a world that is so otherwise noisy & obtrusive.
I feel the cold of the air on my chest and arms, the rest of my body tucked tightly & warmly beneath my comforter, the weight of Ruby snuggling up to me for warmth.

rubysnugle

Coffee heated up from the day before, I take a few moments to read or think and let my mind wake up just enough. It’s these times where I feel the most grateful for this life, even as odd as it is these days.

I find that in many ways writing this book, my memoir, is toxic to my current happiness if I let it be – I read and remember and write the adventures of a vagabond, a traveller with a heart so light I could feel it glowing inside of my chest, a heart so light it flew. I read and remember and write of love, of pain, of the joy of being untethered, free.
I wonder how a person avoids comparing their life to a more glorious one they themselves have lived, and find no answer to placate me – but we must keep on going, moving forward. That is the only way – but moving forward by writing of my past puts a different twist on it, makes it ever so much more difficult, and it comes down to forcing myself to get through every single word, every sentence, every remembered feeling.
Then there are the times where I simply need to stop. I don’t know what bothers me more – writing my past, or not being able to.

But we must go on, move forward – even as much as it sometimes hurts, even as confusing and frustrating as it sometimes can be…

And godsdamn it, I need to take Ruby out. Back in a few minutes…

* * *

I feel at times – frequently – that I’m not as creative as I once was. That I don’t have the spark in my soul that I had, that the passion that burned in my heart for life and living and creating and loving every single little fucking thing about this extraordinary existence has fallen away over the years, and now the fire has become only glowing embers and the ghostly smoke of yesterdays.
And the more I think about this – or better said, the more I write about this, the more I step away from the excuses. I begin to realize the level of bullshit I’ve had to tell myself, convince myself of, simply to hide one simple & obvious thing: I’m afraid.
I’m afraid that I don’t have anything to give anymore, I’m afraid that no one will hear me or care. Worst of all, I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten the words to sing this life, the steps to dance with it.
In this understanding I have a place to start, a new strength to use against it. Of course we will be afraid – it’s a part of life, a healthy one – but that doesn’t mean we need to let our fear control us.
We just need to make room for it, to invite it along for the ride but refuse to give it the wheel because godsdamn it, this is OUR trip, our life, our love and passion and need, the fire that does not go out – we just need to remember to breathe on it once in a while. We need to remember to breathe.

Years ago, perhaps when I was 16, I found a small book in a stationery shop that caught my eye – “Inevitable Papers”, by Cooper Edens. I bought it with the last of my money and carried it around for years, and though the entire book is wonderful, it was the last line that was burned into my heart. It was the last line that, quite likely, made me into who I am today: “And how long have you been the language of a story that could be true?”

This is my story. Our stories, and each moment is an opportunity to make them into what we want them to be. We can be afraid, but our courage needs to be stronger, bigger, more needy and persistent so that we don’t have the time to allow or fears to take over and stop us from being who we are.

We need to have the courage to bring forth into this world all the hidden treasures within us. They are there. They are waiting.
We just need the courage to let them sing.

Now on my second cup of coffee, the sun melts away the grey morning light – and until it becomes habit again, I make a conscious and effective effort to let my courage shine through the fear.

It’s a good morning.