I looked in the mirror today, and I was really quite surprised.
Turns out my head is a little pumpkin with small coils of wire protruding out, conducting purple electricity like veins pump blood.
How have I never noticed this before? How could I possibly have a small pumpkin head?
Clearly evolution will not provide any illumination in this matter. Experts might study me, but they will merely mumble and hedge about, unable to make any conclusions.
My head is simply a little pumpkin.
Debates could rage, courts could hold trials and testimony would establish nothing but the most minimal facts in this case.
Simply put, my head is a little pumpkin.
Not a squash.
Not a tuber.
Definitely not a legume.
Not like any other fruit, vegetable, or flower.
Only a pumpkin, which I think makes it a gourd. If you want to be technical about it.
That’s my head.
And all these wires sprouting out from it in a Medusa-like fashion? What the hell are they there for? This is starting to stress me out. I’ll probably get hives.
What would happen if I, or a friend, an enemy, or a curious stranger were to pluck one of these wires from my pumpkin head?
Would I die?
Would I convulse?
Would I simply smile and say, “What was that for, dear chum?”
For all this conjecture, let’s not and say we did. I’m somewhat worried about the whole situation, and I should probably calm down a bit.
I think I told you, this is a recent development. At least I think so. No one has ever told me and I honestly never thought to look. Imagine my embarrassment. Imagine the feeling that you may have been going through life with a pumpkin head and no one has ever had the courage to say anything to you.
You would think someone might crack a joke at Halloween.
What will the guys at work say? What sort of shame will my parents feel? How could I have never noticed this before? How will I get through this? What are the five stages?
Shock, Denial, Depression, Acceptance, and Thanksgiving? Is that how it goes? It’s going to take some time. Can you feel my pain? It’s OK, I don’t need your endless sympathy. I can figure this out.
I imagine that life with a pumpkin head will really not be all that different than life with a regular head. I bet that people won’t even notice, or be too afraid to say a thing.
Maybe at parties I’ll say, “I’ll bet the last thing you expected to see at the party was a guy with a pumpkin for a head.”
Or maybe I’ll say, “Go ahead and touch it. You know you want to.”
That’ll break the ice for sure!
I just don’t want people to see me as different. Pumpkin head, regular head – it’s all just the same.
I expect that some people will probably just burn in envy silently as they admire my pumpkin head, but I don’t want that. I want them to feel good about themselves. I might be a guy with a little pumpkin head, but really, I’m no different than anyone else.
Funny, I thought I would be much more upset about this whole thing, but writing it down made me feel a lot better about it.
I was super pissed to lose that newspaper job. It had been a part of my daily life for a couple years. I sacrificed a lot of bar stool time for that. I learned much during my time there.
If you are a regular blog reader, WordPress cruiser, or aspiring blogger you no doubt run across lots of sites that explain how to write. They have thousands of posts with helpful advice. Much of it is fairly useful. However, I can’t help shake the feeling that there is more writing about writing than there is writing about anything else. Hell of a market, I guess.
One thing I learned from that paper gig was that in order to become a better writer you need to write constantly. Deadlines are a plus as well. I wrote miles of copy at that damn place, and I was much better for it. So I made my statement to the publication board explaining why the decision to fire me was incredibly asinine, and I walked out the door.
I found myself in a creative writing class, the one I briefly mentioned in Part 3. It was fairly liberating to not have to work strictly in the realm of journalism, but instead I could try to be all deep and pretty with my words. I can certainly dish out the deep stuff (deep what I will leave to you). Pretty, well…pretty just ain’t me.
In that class, I met a boy. The story doesn’t get all Rom Com now, so just settle down. I met this dude named Todd. Todd was a dark and angry type, but had a searing wit. He was a fantastic writer, and he worked mostly in poetry at that time. Todd dyed his hair black, and completely stole Nick Cave’s look. Ask him, he’ll admit it.
Todd and I became buds quickly. We both wanted to do something with our writing. Todd was fairly determined to become a PERSONALITY. He was interested in performing and making a name for himself. He encouraged me to get involved with spoken word.
I never thought of myself as a performer. Never really had the inclination. However, and this is another great lesson about writing, reading your words out loud to a room of highly appreciative (or unappreciative) folks is a great way to get better. If it sounds like crap, it probably reads like crap. Being that this was about 21 years ago, getting on a microphone and sharing your writing was about the best way for an unpublished writer to go. You just had to have the balls to do it.
So, with Todd’s encouragement, I booked my first performance at the Shadowbox, a groovy little coffeehouse that could only exist in a pre-Starbucks era. Detroit had a solid coffeehouse scene back then, and over time, I would stand up and read at all of them.
Interesting historical note here: A massive ice storm nearly shut Detroit down the day or so before I was to perform. If it wasn’t for the heroic folks at Detroit Edison, I might not have had that gig, and I might have found a way to weasel out of future shows. I get fairly nervous when reading. It just might be all the coffee I guzzle before the show. I dunno.
Without a doubt, the amount of adrenaline that pumped through my veins that night could fire up a bulldozer. As I read my “pieces” (of what…again, up to you) I went into some kind of blackout. While I was gone, I was apparently a very entertaining guy. Writers rarely hear applause. We hide in dark rooms, bang out our thoughts, and then someone takes them off to another dark room to enjoy them. Writers don’t often get that immediate feedback. This is why many drink themselves into a grave or commit suicide. Too much isolation.
The best part was that I was able to finally work with my friend Scott. We also met in a college class (The History of Film, I think). Scott was and still is a highly talented musician. He provided some fantastic music for me to read over. After that night, Todd, Scott, and myself would begin to plot out our plans for world domination.
We kinda formed a band. Todd would read for half the show, and I would read the second half. Scott would play for both of us. Todd had angry, dark, almost industrial kind of poems. Mine, well if you spend any time on this blog you can tell I don’t stay in any particular hole for too long. This band, or performance group, or whatever it was became the FRICTION PERFORMANCE NETWORK.
I didn’t pick the name. Todd’s girlfriend did. She was such a Yoko. To this day, I think mehhhhh.
But that’s what we went with. Scott had us over to his house and we recorded enough material to put out a cassette. Yep, a good old cassette. I think we used a 4 track recorder. I recently got digital copies of those recordings, and man, my voice sounds even worse than it does now.
We started rolling. The three of us did several episodes of a radio show that featured local artists (The Homeboy Show on 89X for those scoring at home). The host, Kelly Brown was a big supporter. We also read on WDET, the Detroit NPR affiliate. The whole time, even with all this energy, I was still fairly nervous whenever I got on a mic. It was, however, a means to an end.
Now, time and other factors have blurred the timeline a bit, so this might be out of order moving forward.
Our biggest gig in that incarnation was at the Magic Bag, a nice-size concert venue where we shared the bill with two local favorites, Skinhorse and Discipline. We got that show together, and pretty much sold out the place. It was very cool to see Friction up on the marquee.
Friction also began to pick up additional members. Our friend Zach became our third reader. He had a jazzy, almost beat poet vibe. We brought in visual artist Dan Santoni (An amazing photographer, check his site out. I’m so proud of the guy) who created set pieces, lighting and mood. We also grabbed our friend Tim, who provided bizarre DJ mixes using odd albums and recordings. It was a THING, man. A total THING.
We played maybe a dozen shows. Hit all the coffee houses. Put together a press kit. Formed a publishing company. Had articles written about us in the Detroit News, some fanzines, and the like. We played at the Dally in the Alley, one of the seminal artsy fartsy street fairs in the Detroit scene.
I also cranked out a chapbook, so I would have something to sell at shows. We had sold the cassettes just fine (anybody still have one?) but I wanted a book for folks. This was my next foray in self-publishing. I had expert layout design, went to a printer, the whole bit. There are some early versions of my novel in that chapbook, and long after my book has been available, you just might get to see it.
I also managed to score a local host spot for Lollapalooza, the year they had a spoken word stage. I held the qualifying slam in a bar, and was able to put together the best group of readers you could ever want. A highlight of that day was getting the chance to read a piece with a guitar player from crazy-ass-art-noise-band The Boredoms to back me. Other members of that band videotaped that bit, but I never did get to see it.
In addition to all these gigs, I was spending time at a few spoken word nights. By far the best one at that time was Night of The Living Poets, hosted by Dan Demaggio. He’s the funniest writer I have ever known, and if I ever have the juice to publish him, you’ll read and agree.
Dan used to host this open mic every Monday night at Lili’s, a classic Detroit scene bar. There I met Jimmy Doom, as solid a joe you could ever meet. I had been a fan of his hardcore band, The Almighty Lumberjacks of Death, but I never knew the guy. We’re still friends, and he is making a nice name for himself as an actor. You can check out his IMDB here. I got to share the stage with Jimmy a couple times, my best memory being the two of us doing a dramatic reading of a Ginsu knife commercial at an Earth Day Festival. It was somewhat lost on the granola types.
So there is all this goddamn creative energy, a storm, a truly unstoppable force. Well, it stopped. At least for me it did.
I have mentioned that I was reading so that someone besides my friends could experience my writing. I wanted to SHARE. How vulnerable and sensitive of me. I was still always forcing myself to get on stage. I didn’t crave it. I didn’t NEED it. But, I did it anyway.
The first bit, Todd took over the Living Poets night, and he didn’t want to share the bill. I think he thought I was cramping his style. Ok, whatevs. The second bit was that I had started bartending at The Red Door, a blind pig that is still legendary for many. That’s a book right there, but I am sticking with fiction for now. Bartending lead to carousing, and carousing was far more fun at the time then lattes and feelings.
At this point, I threw up my sails and let the wind take me. It took me away from writing, although there were blasts of late night scrawlings. However, the call of the road and a litany of mistakes were on the horizon. It was time to actually live, and not just observe others and write about that.
Still, to live in the words, to collaborate with other artists, to CREATE. Beats the shit out of sitting at home with your notebook. This was a critical part of my life and I’m grateful to have done it and remained friends with almost everyone. Todd is the one guy who disappeared in the ether. Even a Google search brings nothing. Todd, if you are reading, contact me.
As for spoken word, over the past six months ago I have begun to revisit it by hitting an open mic or two and doing the recordings that I have been posting to this site. Although I would not consider them to be professional quality, it’s a great exercise and I expect to be doing a lot more of it in the future. It’s extremely healthy to get out there. It’s good for the spirit, and that in turn is good for the writing.
Next time, I’ll actually get to the part where I talk about writing my first novel.
I’ve heard a lot of motivational speak in my time.
You see it everywhere, and thanks to our culture’s insistence that every child get a participation trophy for putting in 5 minutes on a soccer field, we have given people this crazy notion that they can be or do anything they want. Some can, I’ll give you that. Many can only dream.
Perhaps you have been interviewing for that big job, and the jackhole behind the desk has one of those infuriating posters about motivation or potential, or even worse, perseverance. There might be a picture of a guy climbing a mountain (he fell off), or a stoic bald-eagle (which is moments from tearing another bird in half for a late morning snack).
Maybe you had a coach that made you feel like you could catch that touchdown pass and become a local hero. Follow your dreams, they tell you. If you truly want it you could have it.
Now, I am not faithless. I have overcome more than I will ever share. It’s my own damn business. I worked through a lot and I am still standing. I’m extremely blessed that it all worked out.
But there are many, many good people in this world that are born into bad situations, situations beyond their control. Victims of geography, if you will. Born under the wrong flag, and you might be forced into societal rules that don’t value your civil rights. Born in the wrong part of the world, and maybe you starve or lack basic human service. Maybe you’re sipping a Frappe in a glitzy shopping mall as you read this amazing book review on your diamond-encrusted iPad. Oh, lucky you!
A big part of the mystery that unfolds in this book has to do with handling the lousy hand life can deal. Doing your best in an impossible situation. Facing the reality that there is a lot of crap that is beyond your control. And for all the motivational language that is pervasive in our culture, most people never escape their societal fate. That’s about all I can share about the plot.
At its heart this book is about friendship. At the highest level, it’s about not having control over your own life, being a part of a system, one that grinds you up for hamburger so that others may have lovely, long lives. And accepting that fact.
But within this framework, we learn, laugh, cry, and love. This book will linger with you long after you put it away on the shelf.
Here’s another piece from my recent studio work. It’s the reading of the conclusion rant for my novel, Leather to the Corinthians, originally posted here. No music yet, would anyone like to put together some loops or something for this? Let me know via my contact form, I am always looking to collaborate.
Been gearing up to handle the final content revision of my novel Leather to the Corinthians. This is one of my favorite rants, and I think captures the experience of the modern job hunt well.
Hey, I think you need to check your email. Did you get the autoresponse that I sent in regards to your application? The one that reads something like “thank you for applying, you have excellent qualifications, but unfortunately the position is filled.” If you received this email, you can disregard it.
I was very impressed by your interview. You were well spoken, and you sold your skill set with panache. You have the hunger in your eyes, you’re a straight shooter, and clearly, as you told me in the interview, you are a PEOPLE PERSON. A real TEAM PLAYER.
It’s an incredibly tough market. It’s hard to get a job, that’s evident by the gaps of experience on your resume. Nice resume by the way. Love the parchment paper, and no one ever uses quill and ink anymore. Are you one of those steampunk cosplayers? Do you own goggles? Ah, nevermind.
Your personal pysch evaluation results proved very interesting. Never have I seen anyone so pliable and willing that was convinced they were smarter than 95% of the population. I love this answer about aliens being discovered. You say you would be fine with it, but you are worried what other people will do. Funny, that’s what everyone says.
Your gratitude should really begin now.
Do you know how many people applied for this job? Yeah, I know your distant Uncle Earl has been working on the loading dock here for 20 years, but surely you must know that he has no juice here. Think about it, he’s still on the loading dock.
Your gratitude should really begin now.
All kinds of roaches came out of the woodwork on this one. There were kids fresh out of the educational mill, elderly fuckheads that would rather work than die, and then folks like you, folks taking a step back on the career ladder because the shit happened and now they can’t keep up with the black card monthly payments. You just had to have it, didn’t you? Hey, no judgment, I had to have it too. I am just doing a better job of keeping it, that’s all.
But that’s why you’re here, and that’s why you are so grateful. Remember that feeling when my subordinate called you and told you to come in and talk with me? Do you remember how the mere suggestion of opportunity caused you to squirt right in your pants? Never lose that appreciation. It will protect you.
Let’s get the general agreement right out of the way. Don’t expect me to take care of you. I will not look out for you. I will expect everything you have to offer each and every day. I will create policies for intangible reasons and demand you follow them. I will remove them just as quickly. And if it is a policy you don’t care for, give it two weeks. If it sucks, no one will be following it then.
I will constantly bury you in emails, phone calls, documents, and website logins. I will have a new important resource for you to master each day, and the next day I will think you are an idiot for using it. I will create forms and surveys, demand you take them, then do nothing with the results. I will be pure chaos. You will love me for it.
Your gratitude should begin now.
The paycheck you receive will be the exchange of your time and sanity for an unstable currency that is ultimately nothing but a number on a page. Remember, the name of the game is to get that number as high as possible. I am counting on your blind dragon chasing to complete this equation.
Now that we have all the official bullshit out of the way, let’s take a good look at you. Ah, you are perfect. A true beauty. Has anyone told you how beautiful you are today? Well, let me be the first.
You want this job, don’t you? You know that there are a lot of people out there who would love to trade places with you right now. Trade places with you in this very moment? Don’t be nervous, it’s ok to smile a little bit.
Now I can’t just give you the job, you still need to prove that my instincts are right, and you are the perfect person for the job. That should make you feel confident as we move forward with your audition. And, as I have told you before, you really need to express your gratitude.
Your gratitude should begin now.
I will extract my pound of flesh. If you want to travel this road, you will have to pay the toll. I will accept nothing less. Now, as you look about the office, you will notice a number of strange devices on my desk. These are my special testers, and they will help me determine if you are indeed the PERFECT FIT.
You had to know that I would expect a number of things today. I require a blood sample. A urine sample. A drug test. A hair follicle test. A personality inventory. A fingerprint. A retinal scan. And, I require a highly invasive process of finding the largest objects that your mouth and ass can physically handle. Before you walk out, just remember what it is like out there. Remember what the streets are like. Remember the creditor calls and the potential lawsuits. Now, tell yourself you can do this.
I believe in you. I believe you can handle all I have to offer. You will need to if you plan to survive with the company. We will not relent, and you can expect to take it in the ass on a daily basis. I will fuck you in the ass so hard that your soul will die a little more with each thrust, but it will pay the bills. So, bend over my desk, don’t pay any attention to the video recording device in the corner, and brace yourself.