Being the Main Character

Last night I took Henry for a walk. The clock read 10pm, and the sleepy neighborhood I’ve called home for the past twenty-five years was silent and slumbering, the accumulating fog from the creek drifting up and through the aged brickwork that distinguishes Old Roseville from the rest of Roseville. I was dressed head to toe in black, as was my companion. It was cold. (Some readers will roll their eyes at a Californian calling 41 degrees cold, but that’s debate for another time.) I was walking Henry, admiring the old houses that line the series of one-way streets that make this particular part of Roseville so unique, when I found myself thinking about how I looked from an outside perspective. As we continued walking, I started writing. Not with any pen or paper, as some might think necessary, but instead in my head, where a shifting narrative was in full swing.

It was a cold, foggy, January night. He walked at a leisurely, albeit restless pace, pushing past houses that had lined his periphery all his adult life. Strutting beside him, attached by an orange collar, whose tension stressed and ebbed with each and every step, was his dog, whose surprise at being summoned for a late-night walk was overshadowed only by his anxiety at it being cut short; needless to say, he was on his best behavior.

The man who walked him (walked being a loose word here; everyone walks themselves, really) was hardly a man at all. He possessed all the necessary requirements to be considered one. He grew facial and pubic hair and had for many years; he had gone through school, a process continuously added to every spring and fall; he could drive a car; he could drink alcohol; he could enroll in the military (though he never would); his largest concern was debt and money—perhaps the largest qualification necessary of all; but despite these soaring stats, if asked, he would likely shudder at the notion of being called anything close to “adult.” 

He was, in his mind, severely underqualified for the job.

On this particular time of night, he was dressed in contrasting colors that resembled his conflicting pedigree: orange, white, and black made up the assortment of mismatched items adorning his body. Orange was his beanie, which was snug, and new, having been a gift leftover from the holidays; white were his trainers, which were not as new, and not as white as he remembered them being (although in the dead of night, any white, even a ruddy, strain-bedecked white, is of the purest whites); and a mismatch of conflicting assorted garments, those being a pair of sweats, a thermal, and a trench coat—the last of which being added as a last-minute necessity, for fear of looking anything close to ordinary.

To any onlooker, the man walking his dog looked as if he might have walked into a NYC (that’s New York City) fashion week event as a cutting-edge hipster; or perhaps be mistaken for a hip, tech-mogul billionaire; or a nobody tiktoker; or, perhaps even likelier, a hobo.

Now, I will admit that this is not precisely what I concocted in my head whilst walking, but that’s not so much the point here. As a writer (and I would assume other writers can attest to this) often the way we make characters (and fiction more broadly) is by imagining the ordinary, and then adjusting it, tilt by tilt, until the overall distortion is enough to be considered fiction, and the character has enough quirks to be considered interesting. We add flavors of oddity to the mundane, making it less so. We take ideas of normalcy and corrupt it with the strange, with the other. We do what we feel is necessary to make a character interesting, often relying more on the normal than the fantastical; and, often, it begins with ourselves, it begins with what interests us.

Lately (lately?) there has been a lot of talk on the internet surrounding the idea of being the main character. I debate using the word lately here, as too often I am late to comment on a trend (the time having been spent considering how I feel on a given subject, until I’m ready to put forward an opinion). I wanted to talk about it here today because from what I’ve seen, there tends to be a good deal of criticism towards those who do this, who act as if they’re the main character of their own story. Something about this criticism always confuses me, because it seems so natural to say that yes, of course they are, of course we all are.

That is not to say that egocentrism or narcissism ought to be encouraged (I doubt anyone would say it should), but I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive: I believe someone can acknowledge and even embrace being the main character of their own story, while concurrently being considerate of the macro world that surrounds them. This is because in order to be the main character, you must understand that your life, and what makes it mean anything, is contingent on the outside world and its influence. If you are the main character, then surely there is a larger story, a plot, at hand.

In stories (in this case, traditional stories; not those cutting-edge medias res stories everyone likes to make these days) the beginning often features a mundane character living a mundane life, and does not begin to pick up in terms of pace or interest until that character’s world is opened wide (a great example of this is Tolkien’s The Hobbit, for obvious reasons). The truth is that our viewpoint of this world, whether we like it or not, is limited to a single perspective. We can only view the world through our own eyes and see our hands and arms, our legs and feet, and call them our own. We are, in essence, the main vessel through which we filter and experience the external world. Here, the concept of we can become a tad bit ineffable, but really that is straying away from what I want to talk about today.

Being the main character does not necessarily mean an individual is thinking only of themselves and their story; rather, to see yourself as a main character demonstrates an appreciation for your place in the overarching world, the story that surrounds you. Just as we may be our own main character, and the people who surround us are side-characters, so too are we at the same time serving the role of a side-character in another’s story. To be one, you must understand that you are another.

I think it can be healthy to see yourself this way. Just as we romanticize the mundane, so too ought we embellish our lives with notions of importance, with moments of magic. When I walked through the fog and strolled past the houses and denizens of my small town, I was, in every conceivable sense of the word, a character. I decorated another’s life with my presence, just as their existence decorated mine. None need be given priority over another; we all work in tandem to make the story interesting.

So, next time you find yourself doing something cool, or recognize a moment in time that would make a compelling scene, seize it! Let yourself sit in that moment, arrested, as the main character, with the knowledge that only you can see yourself that way, only you are your own main character. And for any writers who may read this blog, allow that knowledge to inspire you to write characters (especially side characters) whose relationships to one another are not relegated to their causal relationship to the main character, but instead considers their lives amidst the whole of the story. Every character ever experienced the world through their own eyes. Consider that. I remember as a child always watching movies and seeing other characters (even the most irrelevant, fleeting ones) and wondering what the world looked like to them. In my mind I would make up stories for how they would see the world, or that scene they were in, and it often made for a more interesting experience of absorbing fiction.

But really it’s not fiction, is it? It’s the world—all of it.

And we’re all characters in it.

So, let yourself be the main character.

All in the Cards

Last night I had some friends over for what was supposed to be D&D night (Dungeons and Dragons to the uninitiated; yes, my friends and I are that geeky; no, I’m not especially embarrassed about it—quite the opposite). This friend group is the very same I’ve been playing with remotely for the better part of a year (probably more; pandemic time is a different sort of measurement). Unbeknownst to me, our D&D night, much the same as any middle-aged-only book club, would devolve into conversational gossip and excessive drinking and snacking (there is no such thing, really). But you won’t hear me complaining…

It just so happens that I have awesome friends. By what blessing I am afforded this privilege, I cannot say. Regardless, some two hours into our wining and dining, it was decided that we would have our cards read from a Tarot deck. The room sat in eager excitement as an assortment of incense and other such mystical accoutrement foreign to me were gathered and arranged, my default skepticism put aside for the time being. The cards themselves consisted of two decks, the first of which was shuffled, until the cards themselves seemed summoned forth from the ether. We were told that should we like to have any question answered, the cards would provide such clarity. We were also told we could select one of our ancestors from the past to effectively act as a guide for us. I opted not to, on the basis that I’d rather not perturb my resting ancestors for my bullshit, broke-millennial crisis.

“Please, Great Nana, tell me what I should do about my excessive student debt!”

In all sincerity, I did indeed have a question I wanted answered—one I have been asking myself a lot lately, despite it not being at the forefront of my waking conscience.

In life, so I’ve learned, some questions guide us, others haunt us, and then there are some that pick away at us, tapping at our head, keeping us awake in the latest hours of the night, until we eventually get around to answering them. In my case, as you can no doubt tell, the question I wanted answered was of the latter sort.

Watching the cards themselves was a treat. Something about the cards, the ambiance, the anticipation, the warmth of the room—it was comforting. As I’ve said, naturally a skeptic; but then, naturally, I’m also curious. Suffice to say I wasn’t sure what to make of these cards. On one side of me is the analytical, critical faculty that makes me a decent enough writer; on the other side is a maddened creativity that makes me a curious creature capable of writing complex characters; so, altogether, I’m a mess.

This mess of me stared at the shuffling cards and thought the flourish of movements and randomized selections I was witnessing were merely a trick of sleight-of-hand: a game meant only for the smoke-filled tents of the carnival; the other side of me looked at the cards and saw a moment in time, suspended, in which a question I was asking was about to be answered. This other side saw an opportunity, and me not wanting to be rude, listened to it. My question was simple; the reasons for my asking were hopelessly complicated.

The cards were selected; there were four in total. I was told such a number was unusual. According to my friend, for this particular kind of reading three is often standard; but here I was, with four sat before me. The analytical side of me said, “Ahhh, but of course! Naturally, to lead me into feeling special I have been given four. This makes sense.” The creative side held my suspended gaze upon the cards, not wanting to miss a moment of it. “This,” that side thought, “is fate speaking aloud, for me alone to hear.”

I tried my best to set aside my scruples. After all, what could it hurt?

Devout followers of Catholicism (one could argue there are none) would cry, “Blasphemy!” but to me, anyone unwilling to try new things sees only the trials and triumphs of others, and experiences none himself. So I sat in silence and listened to my reading. It didn’t take long—only a few cards being flipped and their meanings conveyed to me. I listened intently, my question at the back of my mind. Soon enough it was over. My question had been answered.

Now the last thing I would want is to leave my friends (or anyone, really) with the impression that I would ever be so reckless as to base the direct decisions of my life upon a deck of cards, and a ritual I have no familiarity with; such a decision would be made recklessly, impulsively—two things I cannot afford and do not intend to be. Regardless, the experience was enlightening, if not altogether inspiring. Now having done it, I think I understand why Tarot readings are such a timeless practice: there is a comfort in the readings, and an assurance one does not receive through simple prayer. There is a question, and there is an answer: what you want to hear is not necessarily what you will be told.

I couldn’t tell you what specific cards were drawn, as I can only remember a few; nonetheless the overall message I received resounded clearly, and my question’s answer came to me in that moment. I was going to include that question in this blog, but I don’t think I need to: if you’ve read any of my writing, you can probably figure out what I might have asked, or indeed guess at what it might concern.

I’m grateful for the experience. I’m certainly grateful for the assurance. In all, it was a lovely night, filled with lovely people, and conversation, and memories I would be sad to part with. We talked about a potential trip to Europe—more on that to come.

If you haven’t tried Tarot already, and aren’t afraid you’ll be smited by our overlord, then I’d say give it a go. Some things are worth trying once, and Tarot certainly was for me. But then, as I’ve explained, I’m a bit of a mess: parts of me dismiss and are eager to reject conspiracy theories, while others seek to carry around amethyst and avoid stepping on cracks in pavement; part of me scorns anyone claiming to know my future, while another part is merely frightened of what I might hear. But I don’t think these two sides have to be so mutually exclusive; I think there’s room for both, so long as there’s a capacity for respect and consideration. Trying new things is fine, experiencing new aspects of new cultures can be great, so long as you understand that you don’t understand, and won’t understand—at least not in the same way as someone from that culture does. It’s okay to be a skeptic, so long as you’re a respectful skeptic.

But despite my grappling with it, I’m grateful for this dichotomy, for my duality. I think it’s somewhat balanced, when all is working well. At the end of the day, we’re all just people, aren’t we? And some of us want help, many of us need it; and I don’t think we should judge another’s method of finding help, because that may indeed be the help we’re in need of.

Blow Out the Candles

Today is the day of my birthday.

I feel no different; it’s not as if at the strike of midnight my body has transformed into a frumpy pumpkin (despite it sometimes feeling like one). Instead, I went to bed feeling all but normal: the sound of the wind beyond my window sounded the same; the clothes I went to bed wearing felt the same; and the water I drank, the food I consumed, the toothpaste I used, all tasted the same.

But this morning does feel different. Today I am twenty-five. Yesterday evening, while driving home from the gym, I was quietly contemplating my age, and considering how different my perception of the mid-twenties is now that I’ve reached them.

I remember when I was young thinking my aunts and uncles in their mid-to-late twenties were so old, so mature, so cool. Strangely enough though, even then I knew none of them had it together; I knew deep within that all these “adults” around me were just as scared as I was, and that the only thing separating them from me was perhaps their height, and facial hair. I look to my younger nephews now and wonder if they too see how frightened their older uncle is, how terrified of the world he can be. I hope I come off as just the least bit brave, when needed.

But each year I get older, I feel more like myself, and so I suppose at some point, should I continue this aging thing long enough, I will feel like myself. I will have it together. And perhaps, someday, I will not fear as much.

My birthday coinciding with the end of the year, and a holiday I always brush off and refuse to think of being one, is a topic that if I asked about, I will likely say is meaningless. This is because I rarely do much of anything on my birthday; instead I spend it with family, in the quiet solitude of my childhood home, watching it pass as the new year arrives.

But not this year. Instead, this year I will try my best to be brave. I will go out. This year I will stretch my legs and lift my chin. This year I will smile for pictures instead of shying away from the camera. This year I will drink in the passion of my friends and feel hope at both the beginning and end of the night.

This year I will look to the new year and know it must be better, know it has to be better, for when hitting rock bottom you are left with a single conciliatory thought, and that is that it can get no worse—it can only get better. I will write more. I will write every day. I will put time into this, and effort. I will write every day and fill every page I can with every word I can and build every story I can because of how close I came to leaving the rest of my own book blank, my story unfinished.

This year, I will.

And before I blow out the final candle, I will appreciate all that twenty-four has afforded me—even the worst bits—because, truly, no good story was ever all good, just as none was ever all bad; we need both to feel.

And this year, more than anything else, I feel grateful to feel.

Dreaming

Lately I’ve been having dreams.

Vivid dreams: the kind where I wake up, roll over, and for the briefest of moments believe I have encountered something somehow real.

They’re not the happy sort. 

Not the sort of dreams that find me flying, soaring higher, before jumping and leaping, and dancing one by one, from pillowy cotton candy clouds, to Neverland. 

No, not that sort. 

They aren’t the kind of dreams you wake up feeling relieved from, either. They aren’t nightmares; not exactly. 

Instead, they are the kind of dreams I imagine Alice must have had after Wonderland; the kind of bizarre fever-dreams that find you wandering strange-yet familiar places, seeing real but distorted realities; the kind of dreams that you awake from, exhausted; the kind that make you wonder: Why did I have that dream? must it not mean something?

And maybe it does. Maybe it does. 

Most have centered around one person, around a time in my life that is no longer. I had a dream last night that I won the lottery, that my friends and I somehow managed to win eight million dollars each. I watched them rejoice. Watched them run to the bars and drink their troubles away, for once unafraid of this thing we call money, or for that matter a tab; I watched them buy apartments and houses; I watched them pay off their debt, free at last from those chains. I watched, already knowing all the while what I would do with mine.

I would give it away—I would give it to her.

“This,” thought I, “surely this will be enough, will make me enough.”

And I realized then that I wasn’t dreaming anymore. I realized then that there was a real realness to the dream, and it caused me to awaken. I awoke and stared at my phone and listened to the distant sounds of life beyond my open window, and I felt worse. I felt worse because I now know there are some things you can’t dream away, can never escape from even through sleep.

I am not enough—not in this waking world, nor in the dreaming one. 

I grow tired of sleep,

but I grow tired most from dreaming.

Will you?

Will you love me?

still, even when I run out of funny things to say; when the draw of my wit slows, and I can no longer keep up?

Will you love me when I cease to hold secrets? when the pages have all been turned, the dust disturbed, to reveal that which lies beneath as being nothing more than that?

Will you love me even when there’s nothing more to search for? when my body ceases to do as it’s told; when my eyes see no more of the room than your hands clasped in mine; when you need to repeat things so that I might hear?

Will you love me in spite of my failing intelligence?

The mistakes I make—will you love me despite those? Will you care to hear the things I say? Will you hear them at all?

Will you love me as you did, when you did? Will you tell me you love me like before? Will we embrace and warm ourselves? Will we share those quiet moments to ourselves? What then? What if I’m no longer interesting? What happens when that silence is no longer reassuring?

Will you think of me? Will you miss me and dream of me? Will you love me as no one can? Can you?

What happens when we wear away? when the shape of me changes, and my voice, what then?

This time of interest, of exploration, of excitement, I’ve watched it fade. The golden hour dims to darkness, a darkness inside which nothing more than ourselves can be found.

I’ve watched it dim so many times, that now I think I see better in darkness. I was loved. I was cherished. Adored. But now only darkness—myself alone in it.

And so to darkness I ask,

Will you love me?

The Passing Time

A few friends of mine were half-drunkenly talking about time the other night. 

Come to think of it, the conversation was about time travel, and I might have been the only one drunk…

I would attempt to recount it, but suffice to say the mixture of euphoric pizza and drowsy-inducing wine made that conversation a blur. Still, something about it stood out to me.

Lately, it has felt as if time has moved differently. “Seasons of our lives” yata yata, and what have you. I think it comes down to your state of being: whether you are happy and content and thriving or sad and suppressed and suffering. Lately, to my own surprise, I’ve been the former.

I’ve seen days pass into one another without ever seeing dusk. I’ve heard a multitude of conversations flow and mend and transpose regardless of place or time, or the voices shaping them. I’ve found myself living—thriving within this small and growing community of Sacramento; this city I’ve never given the time of day until now. I’ve been social. I’ve been busied. I’ve been happy. Time has felt different. 

A few months ago, December seemed as if this unattainable, distant dream. Might I live to see it pass? I had no incentive to. I felt as if it never would. Time was slow then: I counted it by each falling grain of sand.

One

Two

Three—

…but lately, I’ve lost count. 

I’ve spent more time away from home, which has left me feeling uprooted in the best of ways. I feel as if a house plant finally taken outside to feel the wind; there is a potentiality here that was not before. 

The people of my life have added, not detracted. The days of my week have blended, not harshly stood out. My body has felt tired—not from restlessness, but from exhaustion. Time has passed, is passing; and I am watching as it goes, watching these grains of sand fall and tumble away, with a smile on my face. 

I know I’ll have to frown sometime.

But not this time.

How are you measuring time? Is it by the number of smiles or frowns in your day? The number of times you think of quitting your job? The number of movies you’ve watched this week? The times you’ve gone to sleep sad?

I hope you’ve afforded yourself the time needed to consider time, because it’s not a waste of time to consider how you’re spending and counting yours.

Contrary to what society tells us, I think it matters. I think time is an individual experience, subjective in nature. How we measure it affects how we see and feel it.

But maybe we shouldn’t measure it. Maybe, instead, we should toss out our clocks, the phones we carry with us everywhere, and do away with it all. And what then?

What if you didn’t have to clock in at that precise time? You’re running in from the rain after driving through traffic. Your manager, a grubby, grumbly sort of man named Steven, whose balding head is hidden by an atrocious combover, glares at you as you do so. “You’re late,” he says, with a scowl whose lines are so deep they’re like valleys.

“I’m sorry,” you mutter, rushing over to clock yourself in.

“This is the third time this week,” he mutters bitterly. “On Monday you were five minutes late; on Wednesday, ten minutes; and now it’s Friday, and you’re—”

You wait in anxious anticipation, crumpling your face up like a discarded piece of paper as you wait to take the blow. But nothing more comes. You look up to see Steven staring dumbfounded at you. A new fear sets in.

“What?” you ask. “What is it?”

But Steven is lost, staring down at the watch on his wrist. Quickly he removes his phone and stares at the screen in puzzlement. An unnerved silence passes through the office, as the sound of clicking keyboards ceases. He looks up, past the whiteboard on which is written “IF YOU CAME LATE YOU STAY LATE; TIME IS MONEY” (a favorite mantra of his) and to the clock on the wall, which has stopped ticking, is in fact nothing but a blank white surface like the whiteboard beneath it. Nothing moves for a moment, in that moment; not a sound can break the spell. That is, until Paige from accounting emerges from her cubicle and shuffles past. Steven says nothing as her clicking heels grow distant. A sudden rush of shuffled paper, murmuring voices, and footsteps sounds as people begin filing out from the office, leaving behind their bitter coffee and claustrophobic cubicles. You look to see Steven, mouth ajar, watching them as they leave.

Another moment passes.

“So, can I go?” you say, unsure whether to comfort the man responsible for your three years of stress and sleepless nights. Suddenly manager Steven looks less like a manager and more like an upset schoolboy, put on timeout for being naughty.

“I-I sup-pose,” he mumbles, fiddling with the watch on his wrist.

You take a step forward, more sorry than bitter, and remove the name tag that says “Steven” from his shirt’s breast.

“How about a beer?” you ask.

The distant look disappears from Steven’s eyes. “A beer,” he says, and smiles, and nods.

“Steven?” you ask.

“Just Steve,” he says, and smiles.

You two walk out of the empty office, hearing not the sound of ticking in the silence, but instead that of your own walking feet.

“I’ve got some weed in my car,” Steve says happily, as if just discovering it for himself.

You pat him on the shoulder, and leave the time you spent there—three years in January—behind you, forgotten like the rest of it.

A Celebration for Henry

It was last December, which now feels like a century ago. 

We were in the aftermath of the pandemic, back when nothing made sense. I received a call from a family friend I hadn’t talked to in awhile.

“Hey, still want that puppy?”

For context, a year prior, the December before, actually, I had been promised a puppy from this family friend’s litter, only to have that litter be full of still-borns.

The news was disappointing. It was sad. Made more so because we knew the mother of the litter (she would come and spend time at our house, each of us kidnapping Sam so we could have an overnight snuggle buddy).

Suffice to say after that December I gave up any hope of getting a dog—a dream I had imagined since Portland, since I was nineteen. I took the still-borns as a sign from the universe: it’s not the right time.

And it wasn’t. 

It wasn’t.

When I picked up the phone and the question came, now a year later, I was suddenly filled with doubts: Is this the right time? Do I really want that responsibility? Am I sure I’m ready for it? I said yes because I could not very well say no. But even when I said yes, I wasn’t sure. Even then I was filled with fear, and worry.

I picked the name Henry because it’s an old name, and I like old things. I bought a painting during that same time and the painter’s name was William Henry Harlock. I took this as being significant because my middle name is William, and Henry was this gentleman’s middle name (I have yet to find a use for Harlock, but give it time). I was also reading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Naturally, I had to take “James” as well.

All this to say that I had the name almost instantly—I knew my boy would be a Henry. We (my brother-in-law and I) flew out to Portland Maine on a wintry February, me with my chosen name, already referring to the “it” or “he” or “him” as Henry. We were met with icy winds and a small snow-dappled town that looked a dream; everything during that time was, I suppose.

The anticipation was intense: How would we pick our puppies? How would we decide who’s whose? Only two puppies to choose from: not a huge margin for error….

We were sent a picture; this picture:

“Which do you feel is Henry?” my sister asked me.

“The one sitting up, with the big ears,” I responded, after considering the picture for a moment.

Despite this feigned decisiveness, we still didn’t know. How could we know? We decided we couldn’t decide; not until we were there, in person.

We arrived at the small little cottage, where the musty smell of babes sleeping in cramped corners filled the warmed air. I set my bag down. From the other room came a shuffling flurry of excitement, my heart pounding in my chest all the while. And then, I saw them: only paws, flappy ears, and puppy breath; wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. They clambered towards us sniffing, licking, bumping, sneezing, tumbling and turning. Two black shapes, before indiscernible from one another; two new brothers meeting two new brothers. I knew Henry’s name from the start; I like to think he knew mine, too. I say I picked Henry, but in truth Henry picked me.

They were cute, those puppies. Trouble is, puppies are easy to lose track of. In the chaos of the puppies running about, I had completely forgotten my bag, which I had set haphazardly down onto the floor behind me. Turning around, I found the puppy I now know as my boy, sniffing my bag, laying on it as if it were his own, as if to say “Hey, where have you been?” like he does every time I come home.

I knew then that this was the one, that this small little shape I was looking at was Henry.

The flights back were a whirlwind: Matt and I rushing through airport terminals with two baby puppies, neither of whom particularly preferred being stuffed into small carriers. (Can you blame them?) Many memorable moments during that trek back, but the one that strikes me the most was when I forgot my bag (a bag containing my insulin, my pump supplies, essentially everything I need to survive) on the plane, having forgotten it in favor of finding a place for Henry to go potty. I didn’t need anyone to say it for me to know things had changed, that priorities were different: I was a dad now, and I had a son to take care of.

Henry grew quickly, as all puppies do. Small paws turned to big paws, bushy tail to brandished whip. I found in Henry everything I had dreamed of—and I do mean that. He’s been my best friend, my baby boy, my comfort blanket. 

And today, he turns one. 

I imagine for him things lately have been very different, probably a bit scary, if I’m honest. The summer brought with it a new partner—something else to fall in love with. I suppose he and I both did.

Katie was the perfect person at the perfect time. When I first went to meet her I took Henry, because of course I wanted to share this part of my life, this everything of it (also doesn’t hurt to take a cute dog to meet a cute girl). She became for Henry a doting mother, at times stern (something she realized was necessary with how naughty my boy can be), but always happy, always filled with life, and joy, and love. It was a dream, that summer. I remember that time as being like the first part of Little Women, as being bathed in golden light. We took Henry places I never would have taken him on my own. We dared to dream with my little boy. And it was amazing. It was everything I could have asked for.

But, just as with kids, when you go through something, so too do they. Henry has seen me broken down, sobbing and clutching myself, a juddering mess of emotions. He’s seen me angry—frightfully so. He’s seen me at my worst, at the literal bottom of whatever chasm this life has. He’s seen me. He’s seen me.

This season has brought with it many changes, many unforeseen shifts that have been frightening for me to live through and experience, and undoubtedly terrifying for my sweet boy to witness. As a parent, you always hope to be your best, to leave the impression that everything is under control, and all is safe. But, truth be told, things haven’t been safe. It’s been a mess, honestly. All of it has. But Henry has been there through it all. He’s been a person to cuddle when I was alone. He’s been a comfort blanket when I was cold. He’s been laughter, he’s been happiness. He’s been responsibility. He’s been life; you’ll find he is full of it.

And so today, I celebrate his. I hope to see him live a long, long happy one; I hope I can provide it. I hope I’m able to be there for him as he has been for me.

Brave. My boy is so very brave. And loved. Deeply, deeply loved.

Happy Birthday, Henry James.

I simply adore you. 

Lately I’ve been reading

I’ve been reading a lot lately.

The past week has found me finishing two books, which I know isn’t much to brag for; but then, I suppose it is, me being near the end of finals and all.

I’ve also been doing a bit more writing. (Funny how quick I am to discount the writing I do for this blog as writing; in truth, I just see it as a different sort, not the same as when I’m writing fiction, for then it feels like I’m really doing something, as if I’m actively working towards my aspirations and whatnot. I should be better about that…) The writing I have done is small (a few pages, really) but nonetheless it extends the life of the novella I’m working on, and I’ll be damned if that doesn’t feel good.

It feels good to finish things; to close shut the covers, as I know I’ve talked about before, and just let that feeling of accomplishment touch me, embrace me for but a moment, before I’m picking up the next book so that I’ll feel it again.

Writing often feels one of two ways for me: either it is like one small staggering step after another up a hill; a hill that is ever-growing, and has been drenched in rain so that it is slick and I feel myself sliding down every now and again; or it is a dreamed dance: an elegant series of movements flowing into the next, with each one adding depth and complexity to the overall movement. Lately, fortunately, by miracle or not, it has started feeling like the latter again. Too often I forget how reading impacts my writing: it makes it all easier, you see, when the words you reach for are there at your fingertips, and not deep down inside you, dwelling. It feels good, this recent surge of productivity.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman (First Coraline, towards the end of October; then The Graveyard Book, a few weeks ago; and this weekend, Stardust). I bought two others at the bookshop with a friend yesterday (The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Neverwhere), and while I will certainly finish these first, I could always use more recommendations. If you have some, please feel free to share.

Ideally, I’d like to keep this going. I forget how much better I feel when I read. Too often I’m lured into the addictive world of online entertainment and find myself straying from the old ways of leatherbounds and hardcovers.

But it’s nice to be back. I always imagine the flow of writing I talked about being a lot like the feeling of reading a good book, with each page effortlessly turning after the next. I love that feeling of flowing.

It’s warm, and safe, like the hearth of a fire: a place where stories have always been shared.

Maybe I’ll start a book club, for I’d love to share this feeling with others; and together we can all sit by the fire and share stories, and laughter, and most of all company.

Cry

A friend of mine has been going through a hard time. Today, before the sun had yet risen, she told me she felt like she was going to cry.

I told her that was good, that sometimes it’s good to cry. Sometimes that release is all we need to remind us that we’re human.

After consideration, I realized I can place with decent enough accuracy each and every pivotal moment of my life by the tears that coincided with it, and the rush of emotions that accompanied that moment of breakage. Rarely will I cry. More often, I will tear up, or feel water well within my eyes and briefly blur my vision. But seldom will I sob, or release enough tears to be considered noteworthy.

When I do, I am always reminded of how out of control I am of everything: a feeling I think is healthy for everyone to experience every once in awhile—especially me. Too often I am contriving things, busy trying to control situations that are beyond my power.

Sometimes it feels negligent not to. Sometimes it can feel like letting things slip from out my grasp without attempting to grab them is losing; I am left feeling like I was careless, or didn’t try hard enough. 

But when I cry, when I allow myself the freedom to, that feeling of slippage passes over the whole of me, and I realize that this semblance of control I’ve been clinging to was only an illusion: there never was something slipping from out my hand; there never was anything in it in the first place, nor was there really a hand capable of grabbing. We hold tightly to these things we cherish, that we cling to so hard because we love them too dearly, and believe we suffocate them, when in truth they are suffocating us; we are suffocating only ourselves.

And to let go is to breathe. To cry is to breathe.

I wish I could cry more, and not allow myself and my insecurities to affect the way I do so. I find myself worried about what others might think, should I cry. I fear they will think something is wrong (or that they will recognize when something is). But I shouldn’t. I should be better about letting go and allowing myself to feel, to be human. 

Sometimes I think I forget that I am.

But the tears will remind me; they always do. 

And I hope they’ll remind you too. 

That we feel. 

That we hurt. 

That we love, and it is because of that love that we experience the other two. 

And that is okay. 

That is good. 

That is human.

And so, as with my friend, today I will encourage you to cry, to breathe, to allow yourself to feel your own humanity. I know I’m trying, too.


“After situating herself on a huge flat-sided rock, Baby Suggs bowed her head and prayed silently. The company watched her from the trees. They knew she was ready when she put her stick down. Then she shouted, ‘Let the children come!’ and they ran from the trees toward her.

‘Let your mothers hear you laugh,’ she told them, and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling.

Then ‘Let the grown men come,’ she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees.

‘Let your wives and your children see you dance,’ she told them, and groundlife shuddered under their feet.

Finally she called the women to her. ‘Cry,’ she told them. ‘For the living and the dead. Just cry.’ And without covering their eyes the women let loose.

It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath.”

—Toni Morrison, Beloved

Thank You

Regardless of the politics surrounding it, its problematic history and the harm done, regardless of the consumer-culture it propagates and the toxic American idealism it sustains, Thanksgiving is still a day we celebrate in my family. Call it something different—anything you’d like—but I think there is something to this holiday that can still be of worth, and that should still matter to the people of this world.

It’s good to say thank you. Yes, yes, there is indeed a toxicity associated with this holiday and superficial displays of saying “thanks.” Please, put your pitchforks to the side for but a moment. 

Thanksgiving might be a lot of things, is doubtless a lot of things, but to me it is a reminder of family; it is a time capsule of memories dating back to since I was a little boy; it is the anticipation the night before: hearing my mother in the kitchen busily chopping onions in preparation for next morning’s breakfast; it is family football, gathered around on the couch the people who added color and depth to my life; it is Music—that of the conversational sort, discordant at times, though its dissonance a thing of magic and humanity; it is seating around a table (sometimes small, others large), the anxiety of sitting with someone other than who you want to be beside; it is food—glorious food; it is indulgence; it is sloth; it is messy, greedy; it is American; it is my childhood.

And I’m thankful for it. 

Today is one of the few times during the year when we’re pressed to express that which we are grateful for, that which we are thankful for. If you’re looking for cynicism, you’ll have no trouble locating it on this blessed, accursed holiday. But leave that be. Let it lie, I say. Let me instead tell you what the writer of this blog is thankful for.

I’m thankful for friends—even those no longer in my life. Like a revolving door they come and go, though each has taught me something, imbued me with something, left me with something that has changed and affected me. And I’m grateful for it.

I’m thankful for family. As messy as it can be, as wretchedly dysfunctional and maddening as it can be, it is something I am blessed with, something I am truly thankful for. 

I’m thankful for writing—for this blog specifically. It’s small, so very small, but ever growing—and those who support it support me, and those who read it read every line left by my pen: and to me that matters. It lets me know I have things to say worth saying. It lets me know I have a voice and reminds me how to use it. It encourages me to explore, to create, to dream and to wonder. It encourages me to be alive. I’m so very thankful I am.

For those who today means something different (perhaps something worse than my idealized version of this complicated day), I hope you find some peace today, wherever it may be, and know that you are loved, that you are doing good in bad times, and that you have more to give to this world than you could ever imagine.

You’re always welcome at our table.

Thank you, 

J.W.