I Submit Now (For I Need Approval)

One should not read Plath for their morning poem. Thank Thermador this loft doesn’t come equipped with an oven.

Before showering, I went to the closet to choose my clothes for the day; remembering my doctor’s appointment later this afternoon, my mind shifted into a gear of old - fourth - and I thought, “No, you can’t wear that ugly old shirt! There might be a hottie in the waiting room!” I suddenly remembered the doctor I am seeing is my psychiatrist. I grabbed the ugly shirt.

If, as Lord Byron said, fame is the thirst of youth…then I was one dehydrated teenager.

Buffy Holt’s writing reminds me of antiqued white tables with brassy pulls, Appalachian trees aching in winter, June Carter’s cloudy crinoline dresses and I want to laze about in the underlying skips and shades of tall bellflowers whispering their blue scents amidst it all.

Always give a knowing look. Consider your alternative.

As of now, too many of my friends and loved ones are suffering, ailing and this drives into my heart a fresh stake of pain every time I stumble an avenue of reminding. “Social networking” does not bring me close enough to them to hold their hands, brush their hair from weary brows, bring them their medications, rent them a movie, make them dinner, sit back and make them laugh, lean forward and listen, watch them sleep and cry quietly over them rather than into a pillow on my bed that I’d so much rather be bringing to them, reverently, gift-like.

For one, imagined...magical.

Did you know I am multilingual? With Becki Barnett O’Brien, I converse in Pig Latin; Heather Gilbert and I talk in Ancient Geek; Laurie Clements Lambeth shares with me in odes unbreakable; no one can decipher the Twin Speak between Beth Johnson McCormack and me. And as for I and mine little bro…mostly, it’s historically speaking.

That is to say, historically speaking, nobody's ever understood a goddamn word we’ve said.

Usually, because we're laughing too hard.

The moments that most get caught in my throat at inopportune times, choke up the works and make me laugh when, oh cripes, I need to be silent, are connected to my family. Indeed, we put the “fun” in dysfunction. If I sifter through this sugar of life into even finer grains, what shimmers through most sparkling, dizzying, buzz-inducing - those times that - just now, did it - make me snort and guffaw - all refine to little brother, RJ, and many of those crystalline memories are also favored with the winks and flavor of my father. If I tried to write out most of them for you, the humor - its taste - would be lost. We are a weird collection of variant confections, my family. I promise, however - spend ten minutes in Wonka’s factory and you, too, will be raising cane.

I am home alone on the compound for the better part of a week - until Friday. For emergencies, my mother left me her cell phone, given I am now without my own. It’s a bit of a relic, so I didn’t know how to check for messages and didn’t bother to figure out how to do so until pausing from this writing to make a nice, stiff drink. (Water, on the rocks - shaken, not stirred.) A neighbor called at 8:21 this morning, while I showered. I don’t know any neighbors out here; we’re on acreage, not in the actual suburbanized area of what’s come to be known/cordoned off as Palmer Ranch. The property my mother and stepfather so generously allow me to reside on is rather large, with a main house, mother-in-law abode (attached to the main house by a back porch/lanai) and the loft, where I stay, which is - I dunno - 30, 40 yards away from the central dwelling? In any case, the entirety of the land is surrounded by wooden fencing; the long driveway guarded by an electronic security gate. "Neighbors" aren't exactly a stone's throw away. Hell, they're not a catapult's launch away.


Security gates.


To the voicemail:

“Hey, Jan. I don’t know if you know about this, but there’s been another rash of burglaries - three on Kennedy Lane, one on Debrecen, and the sheriff’s office are saying these are the same guys who are responsible for the robberies over on Clark last month. They say it’s gang related, that they’re from Manatee County but…based out of...Cal-i-forn-ia…? I don’t know. Anyway, keep your eye out for a silver Ford minivan with New York plates or a metallic green Jeep Cherokee. If you see them, the tip-line number is…”

Really? Really? Are you--


Well, I’m sure the arthritic Labrador who falls into a back-legged split every time he takes more than two steps, or my 14 year-old Chihuahua with his one ferocious snaggle-tooth, will rush to protect me when the...Cal-i-forn-ia...?-based Bloods and/or Crips come to call. That, or I’ll just jump on THE HORSE and ride to safety.

I mean…REALLY?!

Oh, but I am laughing. Maybe the neighbor’s rooster will come and peck the interlopers to death. Actually, I’d rather the interlopers shoot the rooster. I hate the noisy sonofabitch.

“He ain’t gonna diiie-ieeeeee…”

Oh, now I’m loopy. Pardon. This is just too comical. Also, the ice water’s gettin’ to me.

Speaking of hiLARious, my singular, malfunctioning ovary is going for round three in four weeks. Three. Mmm. I’m gonna punch me right in the ovary. Yep. Straight shot - right to the babymaker.

The ovary may be a female reproductive organ, but that goddamn thing is a bastard.

Really, the ovary is a funny thing, though not funny “ha-ha” - funny weird. I still haven’t finished Didion - The Year of Magical Thinking - because it is 90% detailing hospitals, procedures, surgeries, pains of physical and emotional kinds that, when I read these passages, my most sensitive areas - centers of pain response - flare up in these twinges and needlings of such refinement, it’s almost unbearable. My ovary is one of those centers; the lumbar area, knees, hands, chest (over the heart) and, for some reason, teeth, are others. The ovary, however, is always first and foremost - a torsion-like pain - I envision a translucent hand reaching seamlessly through my abdomen, grabbing the fallopian tube as stem, choking, then a sinister left, sudden, snatches at the delicate pink tulip, tears at it but the flower refuses to shed a petal and in doing, weeps bloody tears yielding the ache in my knowing gut.

Most of you are hurting right now. Physically; emotionally. Both. Most of you have thought unspeakable thoughts - or what you think are unspeakable thoughts; what others have told you are unspeakable. Committed unspeakable acts? Some. Have any of you hurt me? Have you ever lied to me, cheated me, talked behind my back? Ever said something awful to my face, torn me down? Yes. I remember. Have I ever hurt you in any of these ways? Yes. I remember. And other times, you recall in vivid detail and I...don't. I think about these moments crushing in fleeting glints, but I think of them. Sometimes, I want to discuss these awful blows but then...why? To know ourselves better? To know others better? To know we aren't so god-awful terrible? Sometimes, I want for you to speak up - show your real face, even if from behind a cloak or an identity of anonymity. Some of you do - private messages and such. But Facebook isn’t about anonymity; it’s about showing - and thereby saving - face.

Do I make you uncomfortable with all this? Do I make you uncomfortable a lot of the time?

I do.

The dogs are lying in front of the barn breezeway downstairs, alert - not lazing - as if they know they are to be on watch for something. This is uncharacteristic of both animals. Did they intuit my fear when I went outside ten minutes ago for a cigarette? No. They were already in guardian position when I walked out the door. Would they, too, struggle to read The Year of Magical Thinking? Would it pain them in their paws, their long spines, behind their sweet, upturned eyes? I think of our beloved Jack Russell, a few years passed now who, when I was in pain, would never take a step up the stairs before me; always, he’d pause on the stair with me and wait until I made the next one. Only then would he gather his four legs together - hup! - and, upon landing, roll his sweet, magical eyes up to meet mine, saying, “When you’re ready, we’ll take the next one. Only when you’re ready.”

Yet he could run faster than a goddamn greyhound.

I submit, weakly, that I am submitting, weekly. Or at least for the next few weeks. I only ever attempted journal publication once before in my life, and that came about by force - an assignment in fiction workshop at FSU - part of our grade, you see. We were even walked to the post office by our professor. She knew well, the laze and doubt of writers. I cannot tell you how loathe I am to do this. It’s like applying to grad schools all over again. What I did then was, I took my grad school applications and threw them all in the fireplace whilst screeching that I did not give one fuck of a rat’s ass about grad school, writing or the future - I’d live in a box on the street, goddammit.

Luckily, I live in Florida. The fireplace, of course, was unlit.

I scraped out my applications, chose three from the fifteen or so I’d originally intended on sending out, and finished them. One was a fallback; the other, my school of intention; the other, a cosmic joke - the school I had about as much chance of getting into as I did of becoming Queen of the Universe.

Fallback said no. I lost my shit.

School of intention said yes…but we cannot give you any money, benefits or teaching assistantship.

And then…I was Queen of the Universe.

I don’t expect not one of these journals to publish me, but this is a must-do. Like seeing the dentist. Which I haven’t done in over fifteen years. (I must do that...) All I know - writing, teaching; teaching writing. All I love. All my passion.

What else is there for me to do?

Like my Lord and Savior Peter O’Toole once said:

“...I don’t know.”

A History Lesson in Writing

For Dan Stern, from whom I learned patience, compassion and everything there is to know on building character.

A Poisoned Apple for the Teacher:
Bashful, Dopey, Asshole and Lazy

Mr. Fottler’s smile widened as his humming smoothly tuned into a perfect, warbling whistle. He eyed me, a knowing look in his eye.

“Bing Crosby,” I said softly, eyes downcast, my face blooming into varying shades of pink and red. “Blue Skies.”

“Right again, Miss McDermott. Right again. Two bonus points added on to that perfect test score for correctly identifying this morning’s tune. If the rest of you weren’t so busy smoking that wacky-tobaccy, perhaps you, too, would be more aware of your history, your government, and, more importantly, your musical classics.”

“I don’t even know who the fuck King Cosby is,” Dan muttered from behind me. —
Houston Daze, 2001-2002..ish?

Y’know, that ain’t too shabby for an utterly obliterated of mind/body/overall everything twenty-four-year-old chica. Obviously, the writing could be significantly better, but—shock me, Ace Frehley!—that I recalled with such detail my high school years, those written of above? Let's just say that, given the amount of dope in which I every day drowned back then, well… Holy Diver, Dio! There must've occurred some kind of divine intervention! Anyway, it's a miracle any memory was penned. Typed. Whatever.

I cannot get over these revelations given forth by this excavation into my writing history. Some of this stuff…is really, really good—mostly USF, undergrad writing. I was so young! So naïve! So…stupid! Which lent me enough of that oh-so-necessary ego and arrogance to dive right in, reassured in my inborn talent.

Hell yes, I’m good! Watch me take your breath away! Sit back in stupefaction, fellow classmates, while I systematically disembowel your gutty confidence! Wipe clean from your visage that self-righteous, “Wait’ll they get a load’a me…” smirk and make of it a useless Joker in your wasted hand, for I hold the Ace!

Truly—I used to think that way!

On the inside. On the outside I remained self-effacing, modest, demure… “Aw shucks, me? No, really—it’s not that good and I— Really? You think so? Well, if you wanna say that, go right ahead. Who’m I to stop you?”

To quote the great Denis Leary… “Whattan’ asshole!”

The irony, then, that I struggle so mightily this morning to author even ¼ of a page of pure tripe. Trifle. Truffle. Tribbles. Trekkies?

Terrible. Truly.


A Freudian Slip:
I axed you to be careful climbing up there…

He’ll shout in my face—he’s the type. Older—late-sixties—tan, a long, turquoise tattoo blurred with age snaking its way down his bronzed and still muscular forearm, probably etched into his flesh during a furlough in Korea. He has the distended, bloated belly of a beer-swilling retiree, yet the defined arms, barrel chest and silvery buzz-cut of a former fatigue-wearing, grenade-tossing upstart lieutenant. A crucifix caught in the matted swirls of his salt-and-pepper chest hair tells me he believes in God, and that his God understands there was a WAR going on and anything’s liable to happen in wartime: things like a spinning drunken stupor that rounded him and five of his troops about a screaming, bleeding Korean whore, the click-clack of his dog-tags keeping rhythm with his thrusting pelvis, thoughts of his young, leggy wife clutching a tear-stained black-and-white in her shaking hands far from his mind. His God understands momentary lapses of reason. His God realizes that war makes good people do crazy things. He’ll feel compelled to share a bit of his God with me; he’ll have something important he has to say to me.

Just a minute, Margie. I need to stop and say something to this young man here.

Oh, but Bill...do you think you should?

Now Margaret, don’t be like that. He’s one of God’s people, isn’t he? He needs to be talked to, just like you or I do—right?

I suppose but, Bill, he seems...it looks like something’s wrong with him mentally, or like maybe he has cerebral palsy or MS...or maybe he’s just severely retarded. Are you sure he’ll even hear you?

Of course he will. And even if he can’t, he’ll know what I’m saying, just the same.

Just as I expected—I can feel his spittle on my cheeks. He yelled his kind sentiments two inches from my face because to people like him, a wheelchair signifies hard-of-hearing, deafness, blindness—an insufficiency of every sense. He feels better about himself. He feels like he just did his goodly deed for the day. He is one of God’s chosen sons for having screamed into the face of a cripple. —USF, 1999

Twenty-three. Where, oh where, did that come from?

I don’t mean to sound oh-so impressed with myself, but I couldn’t write like that today, almost a decade later, if I tried. Nope, no way, nuh-uh.

I know the source of the subject matter: recall that with great clarity. I felt trapped in my own body back then, defined by illness: arthritic agony, my misfortunate face, the incessant, petulant voices begging me to return, come back to painful purging, sweet starvation… This nameless, faceless man and his lone companion (a similarly frozen action figure) for me embodied, in the most literal of senses, well…me!

That passage is cut from a short story without conclusion I once considered “art,” or as close to it as I'd ever reached. Whether it is or not argues itself dizzy in that special circle of hell reserved for critics and high school debate teams. Art, as always, remains a subjective medium. For so long, I separated, set aside in my mental gallery this particular work as my Van Gogh—the only writing from my twenties that mattered, the singular story bearing weight or consequence: the masterpiece worthy of an ear. However, this current digging into my massive, branching Rowan Oak of words past proves…


To be sure, there is a sudden winter—an audible
thud! as I fell in the manner of a dead limb into the dirt (ah, the duality of “dirt”…) below. It’s interesting to read the passage of seasons and their everything eventual: the simultaneous explosion of the Id concurrent with an inflation of the super-ego—an overwhelming sense of guilt and conscience—and the bizarre domination of depression into all of their infinite, internal, tick-tocking clockwork.

I mean, wow. “To every season,” right?

Yet even those blizzards of consequence—squalling into wordy white-outs, piling into slushy snow banks—even they have their moments: breakthroughs of shiny, star-pocked sobriety and consciousness where I managed to string together some light bulbs of ingenuity, sequence a pretty little threading of illumination to wrap ’round one of those itty-bitty artificial Christmas trees, sparkling and flashing with alternating speeds of glimmer and dim, brilliance and fade.

Stupidly, I tried to place atop its delicate, phony, plastic bristles one of those dazzling, luminous stars meant for greater, bolder, stronger trees. Just too heavy, too much for a form of such weak character, such small constitution. Damn thing kept falling from the top.


Artistic License:
Writing Under the Influence

I’m gonna write you a book. I hope it’s nice and long, so I can use it to get into grad school. I hope it proves to be an effort of marked brilliance and talent. I hope it makes me a millionaire…Upon having just moved to Tallahassee with BA in-hand, clean & sober, December 2000

It shouldn’t be so bright. Seems inappropriate, to be suicidal and have the sun blare in through your windows all at once. The feeling, the overwhelming urge to get it over with once and for all, is familiar yet abrupt. It had gone away a few years ago after a lifetime of hanging ‘round. From the age of six, quick mental flashes of my head, a gun at my temple, eyes squeezed shut as my index finger pulled the trigger – quick pictures that would fill my vision as a slide on a screen. They came so often back then, with such frequency that I'd grown accustomed to them; actually had come to find comfort in them. It was a possibility, a chance, a hope, a something I could do at any given time to make it all go away. I'd tried a few times, to no avail, obviously, but someone or something always messed it up.

The feeling is with me today, as it has been for months now. When it first resurfaced, it scared me, but I honestly thought it a temporary glitch; new environment, stressful settings, the newness of it all and the anxiety that brought upon me – it would fade soon enough, once I acclimated. Apparently, I was wrong, since it just roused me from a near-nap and led me to this keyboard to address it, out loud.

What would they say, in those hushed whispers, those pitying tones, those accusatory utterances behind secret hands? “Did you know she got into Houston? Oh, yes, I think that’s what did her in. Houston? Oh, didn’t you know? Yes, very prestigious. The number two graduate creative writing program in the nation. Well, I think everyone was shocked that she got in. I mean, we all knew she was a writer-type, but it wasn’t like she went to Harvard for undergrad or anything. Personally, I think it was a mix up.

In any case, she didn’t like it there from the get-go. If I’m not mistaken, she didn’t even want to go in the first place. She got in to Florida State, too, and wanted to go there – you know how she was about that school. Oh, sure, their program was good, but not number two in the nation. I heard she only went because Houston offered her money and benefits, a job and such, and also because her parents pushed her. But can you blame them – really? Wouldn’t you want your kid to go to the most prestigious university possible?

Oh, well, she didn’t fit in from the start. Apparently, she told people she was afraid of the pretense – the lifted noses and lengthy, award-winning resumes, the talent of the others. I guess she was right – why else would this have happened?”
Actually, I’ve made some wonderful friends at Houston – some of the best ever. But there’s this weird sort of secrecy of talent and of work. Many are poets, so they are obviously not in my fiction workshops, but they are close friends nonetheless, and I never once have laid eyes on any of their work. I asked in the beginning; now, I’ve given up. I’ve only really ever seen the work of two fellow first-year fictives, as we like to call ourselves, and that’s because they were in my workshop. Everyone keeps their writings and talents hidden. I would love to share, but I suppose I am alone.

Fictives. Isn’t that a hoot? I suppose I fulfill that nomenclature best. A fictive. I try to pretend like I belong here; that there hasn’t been some screw up in admissions, realized too late, too late, oh, we already notified her of her acceptance, nothing to do about it now, that poor girl Anna McDonald, that genius fiction writer from Iowa, she’ll just go elsewhere and we’ll be stuck with this half-talent, we’ll be benevolent, we’ll take her under our collective, upturned wing and make her think she’s one of us.

Didn’t work. From the moment I set foot in this city – a city that, in my head, has always been the “bad city” – I wasn’t happy. I wanted to leave as soon as I arrived. Then, classes started, I got to teach for the first time, and I had a hope, a beacon of light amidst the black hole of academics and bullshit I was enduring in the writing program. By November, I'd realized two things: that I was a phenomenal teacher and wanted to teach always, no matter what, and that I hadn’t learned a god-damned thing that semester in any of the classes I was taking. Not a thing. Each second of those nine hours I had to take, while trying to teach two classes of twenty-five students each three days a week, were worthless. I was wasting my time. I was stagnant. I was regressing back to age eleven, seventh grade, all black and angry and mental flashes of bullets and brain, splattering across my vision with an explosion of relief. Two semesters into Houston, under the prescribed care of a pain management specialist, 2002

Yeeeeeee! Whatta hoot! Wasn’t I a blast during active addiction? Not to mention, there's a tee-bit of undiagnosed/untreated manic-depression there. Just a tad. I mean, the skoshiest of skoshes. Still—wouldn’t you have wanted to spend every waking second with me?

Good Lord.

Truthfully, I have no flingin’-flangin’ clue how I remained upright at the computer long enough to type all of that out; I was a frigging mess of pharmaceuticals that summer. I must’ve written it in chapters, sayeth the author.

Terrible, god-awful writing. Professor Kauffman would have rapped me over the head with his wooden cane. Professor Kauffman, who both looked and sounded exactly like Yoda and abhorred “to be” verbs, much like his
Star Wars counterpart did The Dark Side, served as my first creative writing instructor at USF in Tampa. I can envision the scene clearly:

“All of these ‘to be’ verbs about your paper, Miss McDermott! Gone, they must be! Verbs! Adverbs! Adjectives! Your friends, they are! Just used the ‘to be’ verb tense, did I! Twice! Tell no one of this, you will!”

Yoda, awfully fond of the “to be” verbs…he

Beyond the writing…terrible, god-awful self-pity. No doubt I was very…holy shit sick. My mind flew well beyond the realm of depression into something much sicker: questioning my sanity until struck by the truth! Everyone
else was mad and I, the only sane one! Ah, narcotics. The cause of—and solution to!—allllll of life’s problems, Homer. Administer them to the already mentally unstable and you have the makings of a psychological Nagasaki.

My blessings at the time counted innumerable yet I couldn't see them. I dunno if the drugs numbed me so insensate that I suffered temporary blindness or simply stupefied myself beyond stupidity, forgetting where I last put my glasses. (Likely the latter, and more likely, they were atop my head.) But I felt entitled, due some sympathy, pathos, doling out of compassion from the world. These, my off-ramps, my exits from a highway paved with a program of prestige, a teaching assistantship straight outta undergrad, health and dental benefits packaged with this TA-ship when other graduate instructors at other universities were
on-strike for such profit! Students who adored me, a mentor who promised a published future and cared for me as a grandparent would, one opportunity after another to publish, garner, earn, win, more than just a mere roof over my head—on and on… A never-ending highway that could have led to a future of untold promise, success, continuance…


Yet what preceded and accumulated, from which I'd not given myself sufficient rest-stop or therapeutic refuge, left me spiritually and mentally exhausted. I was just so fucking
tired: too much happened too soon, too rapidly and in domino’s procession. I couldn't keep pace with, much less comprehend any of what raced about, around, and through me. So, I threw into reverse the whole damn thing and made it into a NASCAR race of self-righteousness.

“A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man!” —Jebediah Springfield

I felt… Ennobled of spirit! I felt… Embiggened of stature! I wrote… Aggrandized of prose!

I was… Bullshitting myself!

How’s that for a “to be” (or “
not to be”) statement?


Operation: Mindcrime: Bang Your Head!
I’ve got a headache this big! And it’s got…writing…written alllll over it!
It was right after my growth spurt – I’d shot up a foot in less than a year. Went from 5’5” to 6’5” just like that – swear to God – but barely gained any weight. Looked fuckin’ ridiculous – like “a scarecrow on steroids” Bundy’d say. 1981 – I remember ‘cause the Empire Strikes Back t-shirt Ma had bought me for my birthday that year was too small by that spring, exactly one year after the movie came out. Me and Sam were still kids – I was barely sixteen, and Sam had just turned fourteen a few months before, in December, and was such a little fuck then, he looked nine. Not me. That’s when people started calling me “Lurch” – or when Bundy started calling me that. I got so big so fast, and my voice got real deep at the same time – people’d hang up when I answered the phone. Bundy’d always laugh when that’d happen and say, real low, “You raaaaang?” Pissed me off something fierce. But he was 22, and even bigger than me, so I only went after him a coupla’ times – he beat my fuckin’ ass every single time.

Before I got big, he used to lock me in my closet – tied my hands and feet with gym socks and threw me in, on top of my tennis shoes. Fuckin’ stank like P.E. in there. Bundy’d leave me till Ma got home from work and couldn’t find me. She yelled at him and said stuff like You’re supposed to be taking care of him while I’m gone, Bundy but he’d just laugh at her, repeat whatever she said, copy her, piss her off. She couldn’t do anything, anyway – he was like, ten feet taller than her – swear to God.

But this one time he called her a dwarf-bitch – “Get off my back, you dwarf-fuckin’-bitch!” – and she got pissed. Wasn’t the first time either of us made fun of her for bein’ so frigging short – it was kinda’ hard not to, her barely five-feet and us almost two whole feet taller and all. Usually, she laughed – everybody said shit about it to her. How’d you fit those two in you? My Aunt Colleen, Ma’s sister, would say this to her every goddamned morning when they’d have coffee. How the hell did you squeeze those monsters out?

But Ma must’ve been having a pisser of a day when Bund said that dwarf-bitch thing, ‘cause she picked up his acoustic guitar that’d been leaning against the kitchen table and held it over her head, like Jack Nicholson with the axe in The Shining, and started screeching like Rob-Freaking-Halford. At first, Bundy’d played it off and started laughing.

“Gimme the Guild, Ma! Gimme the fuck-in’ Guild!” He was wiggling his eyebrows and growling and biting the air like a goddamn dog. I was laughing, too – it was dead-on Jack, swear to God.

“I ain’t gonna’ hurt ya’, Ma…Ya didn’t lemme’ finish – I ain’t gonna hurt ya, Ma…I’m just gonna’ bash yer brai–”

But then Bundy’s eyes got all big, ‘cause Ma took a fuckin’ huge swing at his head – barely freaking missed him, I swear – and he knew he was fucked no matter how tiny she was, so he ran to his room and locked the door. And freakin’ Ma, man – she flies after him, that guitar up in the air, and starts chopping his door down with the goddamn thing! Looked like a psychotic munchkin. The lock busted open before she did anything too bad – just some dents in the door and the acoustic – but once the thing swung open, she ran in his room, screaming like a freaking banshee, and started swinging the guitar at Bundy! I freaked – thought she was gonna’ club his fuckin’ head off – but that asshole just laughed! He put his arms over his face, she kept slamming that Guild into his ribs, and he just laughed his goddamn ass off! Swear to God!

That’s just how he was. Even Ma couldn’t stay mad at him. After she smacked him with the guitar for a couple of minutes, saw him laughing and I guess figured she looked pretty stupid, she started laughing. Called him a “fuckass” and left his room. That just made Bundy laugh harder – “‘Fuckass?’ Just what the fuck is a ‘fuckass,’ Ma?” Which made her laugh again, ‘cause she’d just made the word up, right there, ‘cause she was so pissed but couldn’t do anything, so she tried to come up with a word bad enough to call him, and "fuckass" was it. We started using it after that – it was too good a word. Tallahassee, a brief interlude with sobriety, January 2004

Donnie Darko stole the “fuckass” thing from me. I had that from way back in the 90s, dammit. To quote Carter, “Swear to God, man!”

And that’s an excerpt from the old, unfinished novel. Cart’s my most beloved guy. Well, he and Bundy both. They’re extraordinary dudes I absolutely enjoy the
hell out of writing. I’ve never had more fun describing or dialoging any characters, perspectives, plots—ever. That, I owe to my ex, as Carter's pieced together from friends we either already knew or people he introduced to me, and Bundy is my ex's older brother—100% freshly squeezed. So, there ya' go: thirteen years of relationship insanity for two outstanding dudes on paper. Ah, well. C’est la vie… Or, as Carter would spell it: say la v.

That novel will never again be touched: I know this, and it fucking hurts like hell because I truly,
truly love those brothers up above, laughing and bullshitting their way through every day. Writing them was very much like engaging in a love affair. But fiction is as fiction does, Forrest. Things are much too real these days to revert back to the unreal.

I don’t know if what I’m currently writing has any real value or if I’m just wasting my time—if this mental hemorrhaging and actual, physical anguish and exhaustion I’m exacting is a something potential or fruitless, wasted endeavor. Sure feels like it sometimes. My head
aches with words, ideas; my eyes rove with thought and desire for plot, notion, description. I crave the sculpted curves of adjectives, gorge on vocabulary, rise in honor of action.

Sometimes, it’s just. too. much.

So, I try to stifle it, Edith. Watch a movie. Listen to music. Read. Converse with others. T.V. Drive. Clean. (
Clean? Clean.) Chat with Buster. Surf the web. Smoke. Eat. (Eat? Eat.) Sleep.

Not one of these goddamned things shuts if off. Not

Much like sleep lights the ephemeral blue flame of dreams' candle, illuminating the darkened corridors of midnight’s mind, these boulders of intended obstruction prove so much flint for the steely trap: the forever falling, banging, clanging letters, words and I cannot douse the embers that eventually catch fire and set the pages to burn.

All, always, lead to sparks.


"Dan...I think I've lost my mind. I seriously think I'm crazy!"
"Oh, sweetheart. All the great ones are!"
UH Fiction Workshop, fall 2002

Goodnight, Dan...wherever you are.

January 18, 1928 — January 24, 2007

The Spirit of Romance: What the Thunder Said

Never love someone still in-love with the dead.

“I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it.” – William Faulkner

“Quem di diligunt, adolescens moritur” “Whom the gods love, die young.”


“It’s a twista’! It’s a twista’!” – Zeke, The Wizard of Oz

“Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?” – Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz

Language. History. Geography. Chemistry.

All altered. Unstable.

When you drive to getaway – to speed through, leave your turbulent current, find a steadier heading, a more aerodynamic mode of travel, a diversionary slipstream forward to tangle yourself in – and all you manage to do is steer yourself right into the path of the tornado, into the cyclonic winds of the damnable past, circling, repeating, over and over…

And not just yours, either! Debris leftover from another's storm – Jesus, it’s neck-deep what’s been saved! You can barely be seen but for all the detritus you wade through…

Before you can consider the construction of refuge made from relics and refuse crushing in their weight, there’s yet another siren: the screeching, robotic scream echoing off the walls of the one empty room, hot and necessary; the room you strongly considered trespassing in an effort to…make good your escape? Breathe? Find yourself suddenly visible in a little of its omnipresent shadow?

Abruptly, you’re jerked clear of its consecrated, impetuous, fugitive threshold – yanked straight-ahead by a once soft, now strange, callous hand. North? South? Direction points irrelevant here because you know, inevitably, you’re headed down and, simultaneously, backwards.

Then, your rough guide is gone; disappears through his misleading sigh of a lyrical cellar door heralding a basement unlit. Unfamiliar. You stumble a case of fortune reversed; upside-down stairs of M.C. Escher’s imaginings once so linear and easy, you knew them, saw them in memory stretching longer, kind and illuminated in autumn’s sweet ache of early sunset, stepping up and down but always genuflecting reverently, always sloping future-forward in a gentle shoulder’s nudge. Now, but now, they steep confusing in blind bluffs, no comforting railings to lean, no soft hands to reach and hey – Jude? That movement I need? It’s no longer on my shoulder.


“Most English-speaking people, for instance, will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful,' especially if dissociated from its sense and its spelling. More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, on the most beautiful phrase in the English language

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” – T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

“Better living through chemistry.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

All at once, sunken: in cavernous secret, in labyrinthine and recurring obstacles, disguised as safe-house from your roaring, raging tempest above. You numb the wits with slugs from Poe’s Amontilladon cask, making of all your senses dumb, as that is the only intelligent move.

And yet, you feel; feel your way around, through. The geography proves unkind and rises like the dead envious of the living – sudden, angry and vengeful in its bony juts of piercing angle, mocking rises of freshly exhumed dirt, over and over again, tripping your feet but weren’t they rested in pace, long ago? Yet laughing at you now stumbling them once more. The settling moans of this mausoleum: dust into ash, ash into memory, memory into skin. The abeyant arise in the remembrances – the words – of another and Fortunato laughs last. Skeletal jealousy is yours, now roiling bloody in marrow, in throat, in heart, in vain.

You push onward, though, because the words push onward – upward – from your neck; from amidst thick streams of tarnished copper that pool in your mouth yet drain down, all down into the red wound but you know he must hear them, know you can fumble them past the tongue, the teeth, let them slip, let them work.

Just as you’re adapting, softening to his form, learning his gentle contours and understanding his elusive shapes, inevitable yet unforeseen walls tumble forth from the mouth of his darkness, spitting sick teeth – decaying yellow bricks. On the lip of giving yourself up to his unexpected tongue, making of your resentment a worshipful whisper and melting among his soft arms, conjoining with the unknown, birthing fresh hope amidst all this rot – an infant benign labored from this cancerous corpse and God lock the doors of hot, necessary rooms, Darling – burn the choking debris and make Sundays of your palms again. Bury the dead silent for good, Darling Poet, beneath, beyond that lamenting, elegiac cellar door…

The cellar door – that bemoaning, impractical, most temporal of phrases, phases – gives way, pries open as the storm clears, tail whipping invisible the final beats of summer’s fading, dying pulse and darkness pulls, leaving you too much, too much in an empty armful of a specter’s sun.

And he whispers away with it, clutching your fear in a handful of her dust.


“No, Aunt Em. This is a real, truly live place. And I remember that some of it wasn't very nice. But most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, 'I want to go home.' And they sent me home. Doesn't anybody believe me?” – Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz

“You can't go home again.” – Thomas Wolfe

When this happens in the face of an escape, you get back into your car. You drive yourself home. And home, you are most angry to discover, shifts automatic. It moves on you. Click your heels all you want, Dorothy – you cannot ever, ever go home again.

I am tired of history. I am sick with it. History has altered my chemistry, my language – my geography. My home. I am homesick. I am heartsick. Too much, too much in an empty head full of her sun.