Shallow Water: A Journal that Reads Like a Survey

This one is kind of ridiculous, but I’m reposting anyway because it does share a few facts about me you may or may not find interesting. Originally posted to Facebook during the notes and surveys craze of 2008-2009:

April 22, 2009:

Not long ago I decided I was gonna stop leaving notes on Facebook. It seemed no one ever read what I wrote anyway. And this was the same reason why I stopped writing journals on MySpace. Yet, for some reason I’m not able to stick to that. Call it dissatisfaction if you want. There’s no other reason for it. Maybe I just need to write and not care what ends up being said.

It seems that surveys are more effective ways to communicate these days than actual letters or conversations. Short sentences seem to go a lot further than essays or heart-to-heart talks. It’s harder to misinterpret them. It’s harder to skim them or tune them out. The best a reader can do to a survey is to skip them, which is a blatant ignorance to the person who’s trying to communicate.

So I’m gonna leave some questions here. If you want to answer them, fine. If you don’t care, fine. But this is designed to elicit discussion. It’s designed to prevent shallowness. If you like being shallow, fine. But pretend I’d like to know what’s going on with you.

I’ll admit that I’m bad about asking questions face-to-face (probably because I always feel like everyone’s in a rush and they don’t have time to answer anyway), so I’ll ask them here.

You can be as brief as you want, but I find that depth is better.

I hope you’re not too busy to answer these.

I’ll go first.

1. What’s most important? Internet, cellphone, or dinner table?

Dinner table is the obvious answer, but I have maybe three family dinners a year (including holidays). I’m often (not always) turned down invitations to eat with friends so I tend to eat meals in front of my computer, either while I’m working or reading. So Internet (while least important) seems to be the most important social outlet right now, which sucks. I loathe busyness, by the way. There’s no excuse for it. If I’m overtaxing myself, it’s because I’ve got nothing else to do.

2. Would you rather swim in the ocean, a lake, or a swimming pool? What do you take with you when you swim?

I like sitting by the ocean the most, but fish creep me out, so I’d rather swim in a pool. I don’t generally take anything into the pool, but as a kid I loved a good raft and those games where you had to push your friends off the raft. One friend had a metal wash bucket by the pool and we’d sometimes put the cat in the wash bucket and turn the bucket into a boat. That was funny. I used to enjoy bringing action figures into the pool and make them play survivor. I don’t know—childhood was fun. Adulthood is kinda lame for that kind of thing. And I feel too old whenever I go to water parks now, or I did the last time I went…ten years ago.

3. How fast do you drive and why?

Depends where I’m driving, obviously. On average, I push the needle about five miles over the limit and rarely slow down on turns (unless there’s someone in front of me or coming at me in the intersection). I’m not a sports guy or abusive, so I have to get my adrenaline somewhere. Speedy cars and rock music tend to satisfy that for me.

4. Television, movie, book, or magazine?

I can enjoy a little of each. For television, it has to be Thursday night and it has to be tuned into NBC. If I’m not laughing or sitting on the edge of my seat, it’s wasting my time. It’s kinda the same for movies, but I tend to be more lenient with those since I can watch them on my own time, not on some network’s. Books I’m obligated to like because I’m a writer. But I’m not a fan of “literature.” Again, if it’s boring, it’s wasting my time. I usually keep that in mind when I write, so I do what I can to avoid writing boring stories. Magazines I really don’t care for, but every once in awhile I’ll open one up for the research. I find that none of it’s that great if I can’t talk about it at some point.

5. Any regrets?

I try to tell myself “no” most of the time. But the truth is that I regret almost every decision I made during my twenties. I don’t know if life would’ve taken a better turn if I’d chosen to work more and socialize less, if I would’ve gone to a town other than Orlando for college, if I’d been more serious about learning the basics of writing and less about the creativity behind it, but I haven’t been happy with the end result of the decisions I did make. And that sucks because I thought I made the right ones at the time. I suppose decisions catch up no matter where or how they were made. But I think I can put the original blame on my decision to fix an automobile that should’ve been junked. That’s about where the avalanche started.

(Note: I’m probably gonna stop here. No one’s gonna answer these.)

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Banana Dream: A Short Story Excerpt

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

April 2, 2009:

Note: This is the first section of a longer short story. I’ll post fiction from time to time to keep this blog from being too self-centered.

(the story – part one)

Fingers sticky with melted fruit, caked with the remnant of tropical wonder, Annihila cracked her knuckles and began typing at seventy words a minute. She had a napkin lying around somewhere, but with mounds of documents toppling on her desk and a deadline ten minutes out, she didn’t have time to search for it. Wherever it was, it was gonna stay unused for awhile.

Beside her monitor, a final banana hung from a piece of string, tied to a tack nailed to her cubicle wall. The skin had gone spotty from sitting in the air-conditioning for several days and it was almost beyond her capacity to love; she had an affinity toward fresh fruit. Once a certain date passed, all care went out the window. The last banana of the bunch was on the verge of rejection. One more day before it became food for the office roaches. But it hung in there, patiently waiting its turn for consumption. Its heart would soon emerge from within the peel and Annihila’s eyes would grow wide with anticipation. Soon, the banana’s purpose would be fulfilled.

Annihila usually stared at the monitor whenever she typed, but this time she looked at her keyboard, ensuring she didn’t misspell anything. Bits of leftover banana smeared across the keys, covering the letters like paint. She’d have to find that napkin eventually. After she finished her report.

She finished it in eight minutes. That left her two minutes to run to the printer, fish out all five double-spaced sheets, and hand deliver it to her editor.

At the printer, she skidded to a halt, reached for the tray, then stopped, her hands poised over the sheets. As a professional, she could only turn in a clean report, free of banana residue. She took a moment to lick her fingers.

With thirty seconds left, she burst into her editor’s office with the proposal flapping in the wind. He was on the phone.

“Green light this now,” she said, as she set the report on his desk, “and I can have the feature ready by tonight.”

The editor scanned the pages as he nodded to whomever he was speaking to. They were talking about a corporate CEO who fell from his pedestal. He checked his watch.

“Cutting it close there, aren’t you?” he asked. “No, not you. One of my staff writers just came in and—” He stopped on page three. “Are you serious?”

Annihila folded her hands as she waited for the editor to finish the report, or the phone call.

The editor pointed at her. “I’m talking to you.”

“Oh.” She opened her legs a little and wrapped her hands behind her back. “I thought you were still—”

“You realize what you’re suggesting, right?”

“Of course. I feel very passionate about this.”

The editor set the report onto his desk. He didn’t bother touching the fourth or fifth page.

“Let me call you back,” he said to the phone. Then he hung up. His wrinkled face creased into a raisin-like accordion. “Annihila, what’s gotten into you?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“What are you feeding me? How do you expect to pull this off?”

“With all due respect, the outline is right there.”

The editor rolled his chair backward, clutched the edge of his desk, and stood. Both the chair and his back creaked.

“I’m not suggesting an inability for you to write it. I’m expressing my doubt in your selling it. No one is gonna fall for this.”

She brought her feet back together, placing her fingertips against her hips.

“I don’t want anyone to fall for it.” Her collar warmed around her neck, and pressure entered her forehead. “I believe in my story.”

The editor picked up the report and threw it across the room. The pages blew past her knees.

“No one is gonna ban The Beatles’ music. Under any circumstance.”

“They will if you give me the green light—”

“Why should I green light this? Do you know how many sponsors will lose faith in us? You’re on a blood mission to nowhere.”

Annihila stooped to her knees and gathered the sheets around her. “This cause is important to me. We must ban their albums. We must rally nationwide support.”

“For what? Because you’re unhappy?”

She grouped the pages in order.

“I’m gonna write my feature, whether you approve it or not.”

The editor returned to his chair.

“I won’t approve it.”

“I’m still gonna write it.”

Annihila turned around and headed for the door. She half-expected the editor to stop her, to admit that he’s made a big mistake, but he did nothing more than breathe loudly.

She stopped a few feet outside his office. Her heart thundered. She knew this was the right call, despite her lack of support. It was as clear to her then as it was when she first woke up from her dreams of bananas that morning. People were under a vicious spell. They needed freedom. She knew it even in her sleep.

(end excerpt)

That Kid Who Drives a Yugo

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

April 1, 2009:

It’s hard to say how wrong Hollywood gets life. I mean, obviously, some things aren’t likely to happen, things like Monsters attacking Aliens, or Vin Diesel outrunning a train. But what of the life stories? Stories that unfold when Harry meets Sally? Those things that could, feasibly, actually, possibly happen?

I watched that movie Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist this morning. And it got me thinking, How much of my life did I waste?

I suppose I should elaborate on this question. But first it’s important to know what the movie’s about.

Imagine you’re a member of an indie rock band in the Tri-State area. You’re a high school kid, your best friends are all gay, and the girl you were in love with dumped you. You might think your life is normal, or you might think you’re going through an identity crisis. You’re not sure where you fall. You appease your angst through your favorite hobby, through building mix CDs for the girl who no longer wants you, for the girl who no longer takes your calls, for the girl you never leave messages for anymore. But it’s not enough. You’re depressed. And this goes on for a month.

Then your gay band mates come to your doorstep with great news. Your favorite indie band of all time, a band notorious for staying deep underground, is rumored to be in New York that night. It’s a message that does just enough to add some normalcy, nay, joy to your life. You decide to go with them.

Now, your car sucks. I mean, it’s terrible. If it manages to even coast off your driveway, you run the risk of never coming back. It’s, unfortunately for you, a Yugo. But it’s faithful. It understands your patience. It understands that you’re a high school kid who can’t afford anything better. It takes care of you, getting you into New York and to the club where your band is performing. It tells you, “I’m gonna make sure you enjoy your evening. I will not screw you over.” In their own special way, your gay band mates tell you the same thing.

So, I think I’ve given you a fair picture of how this movie starts, and more importantly, how Nick (played by Michael Cera) begins his road to recovery. He’s a nice guy who fell for the wrong girl. We’ve all been there. He deals with it, even though it’s hard. Even though the girl he loved shows up at his performance with another guy in tow. No one ever said infatuation played nice.

But good news for Nick: Hollywood intervenes. Norah also goes to the show that night. And he doesn’t know her, and she doesn’t know him, but she does know his ex, and she does know his mix CDs, and she does know that the guy playing rhythm guitar for that band called “The Jerk Offs” is candy for her eye. And in some odd twist of fate, in some desperate effort to defend herself in the eyes of her friend—the girl that Nick used to love—she meets Nick, puts on a show to ward off her friend’s accusations using Nick’s mouth, and realizes just a little too late that she just lip-attacked her friend’s ex.

And Nick, of course, doesn’t know what to do, but he’s pretty sure he liked what just happened, if not incredibly confused by it.

So he ends up driving Norah around town looking for this elusive band called “Where’s Fluffy,” because, you know, they develop a connection.

Okay, so that’s the summation of the movie. Why bring it up?

Well, as I said in the beginning, it got me to question if I ever really lived.

I didn’t do much as a teenager. I had indie rock friends, sort of—well, they were band geeks who listened to a lot of indie rock. But I never really went anywhere with them. We went to Taco Bell once. That was about it.

I spent more time with my church friends in those days, playing video games, going to Taco Bell—yeah, that was the thing to do if you were tame and living in the mid-90s—but never did anything adventurous. A few guys went to some warehouses to play paintball at midnight every Saturday, though I never went with them. Sometimes in the summer we’d play beach volleyball. But there was no indie-rocking. There was no mission to find an elusive band through extensive detective work or side missions to find missing drunk friends. And there was certainly no matchmaking going on—at least not in a boy-meets-girl romantic kind of way. Looking back, it all seemed kind of sheltered.

Now, I don’t regret my youth. I do regret much about by twenties, but not about my teens. I lived life the way life was given. I did what I was told, refrained from strange indulgences, and avoided that party lifestyle. And I came out of it without any baggage or addiction. So, yeah, I don’t regret those choices.

At least, not entirely.

I think I do regret my lack of adventure. Not that there was much I could do about the travel or financial costs involved, but a part of me feels like the shelter damaged me for adulthood. Psychologically speaking, I think I grew timid toward risk, and even more so toward failure. I didn’t start riding rollercoasters until I was twenty-three (after I’d spent four months playing RollerCoaster Tycoon and loving it) because I thought they’d make me sick. I didn’t drink my first cocktail until I was twenty-eight because I spent my youth being paranoid over developing an alcoholism. To this day, I still haven’t thrown up after a rollercoaster, or gotten drunk off an alcoholic beverage, and I don’t regret trying either. In truth, I feel stronger for having taken the risk.

On Halloween night 2003, I experienced a taste of life that I never really knew for myself, but did know in movies. It was a life I saw mimicked in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It was a night where I hung out with some friends, cramming for stools in a smoky second-floor bar, listening to indie rocker friends performing under the dim lights penetrating what little there was of the brick-walled cave. It was a night that ended with one friend getting a tongue pierced, another getting a tattoo, and some random stranger popping out of a costumed crowd of thousands in downtown Orlando, ripping off his clothes and dancing like the Party Boy from Jackass, and it made me think, this is one unusual evening.

And that’s when it hit me. For most people, it was just another night on the town. For me, it was surreal.

For all the adventure I thought I had in life, I realized I had nothing to connect me with anyone else. And it bothered me.

In the end, I still don’t go out much. I try to do it more often than I used to. But nowadays I can’t help feeling that it’s too little too late. I still don’t have a Norah in my life (and that’s too bad, because Norah’s a cool chick). I’ve never spent an entire night hunting for an elusive band (though, in fairness, that was never a desire of mine to begin with). And I’ve only had to deal with a drunk girl once or twice.

No doubt, my life’s been pretty safe. But it’s also been pretty boring.

I hope there’s still room to fix that before I’m too old to care. Until then, it gives me something to think about.

So, what have I learned from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?

1. I need some gay friends, as they seem to do a better job attracting women.

2. I’m lucky to have a Honda.

3. Just because I’m depressed one day doesn’t mean the night has to end on a bad note.

4. Hollywood still gets the high school scene wrong.

5. Life goes nowhere if I’m sitting around the house all day.

Anyway, I’m thinking of going out for some food now. Don’t know how adventurous it’ll be, but at least I’ll get some sunshine in the process.

Oh, and great movie.