Super Bowl Sunday, Writing Eastward

2 02 2020

I turn my back to the TV

but receive corrections still,

proffered graces all and sundry

for unbelievable prices

we watch, to be fed

by needs unnoticed

amused by battles from war that only ends

when Nielsen says stop


A fast five years ago

on such a sunday, alone

led me here

though I couldn’t tell you how

Grace that grants changing mercies

is more constant than a timeslot

or a 30-second spot

soon interred in youtube


three points

often decide the day

though one be sufficient

two or more gather

in extremity

Beg your forbearance, my chief

but we are merry today

then tomorrow, continue to die




25 01 2020

Will you defeat them?

Your Demons

and all the nonbelievers

the plans that they have made? 


In high school, there would be nights where going to sleep was excruciating. I would be so hung up on something or someone that I felt like I had to punch a plate glass window just to externalize my angst. I guess now I would call that hormones, but even at 33, I’m not wholly freed from that same inescapable turmoil.

There are mornings, and there are nights. I suspect this is more human than eating, this powerlessness that breeds anger, and tears. This wanting something to want, this recognition of the inadequacy of current objects. The only thing worse than being alone is being alone with someone else, I remember someone saying, somewhere. Does that count as remembering?

Last weekend held a surprise trip (well, surprise for me, as I suspect myself a late addition to a previously established crew) to Albany, Texas. I slept outdoors, I joined a couple of would-be hog hunters in the back of a pickup truck, rifles at the ready. I did my usual social contortions in unfamiliar groups of desperately looking for someone with whom I could enjoy actual company while desperately doing my best to maintain a stoic comportment. One cannot be a delightful asshole right off the bat, oh no. These things take time.

But the angst, man. It still lurks. I still wander around my apartment on Saturdays, when I’m not busy, trying to figure out what to busy myself with. This is a skill I haven’t nurtured, is proper puttering. There are bookshelves to be bought, succulents to be sought. And yet I settle for the Budweiser of weekends unless I’m handed something else.

I crave conversations of deep vulnerability. In any meeting, when I sense kinship, my awful, rotten nervous system immediately starts probing the other person’s emotional strength, looking for holes in the net. I cannot cast all my cares upon anyone, and I oughtn’t cast even some upon most.

My demons are questions, and I feed them with the same old answers I had hoped therapy to have driven out. Why am I where I am, the way that I am, dealing with what I am dealing with? I think an external observer would say I am really asking how I got to be in my mid-thirties without any serious tales of my own heartbreak, or bliss. Or at least tales than anyone wants to listen to.

Someone asked me at a party last night, “Why are you here?” I didn’t have a good answer, because I don’t. Why am I in Texas? Because I was dying in Seattle, and it’s nice to change the laundry on a corpse every once in a while, for sport. Only that implies that I feel dead and hopeless, and that’s not right either (not to mention entirely too maudlin for my comfortable life).

It’s funny how quick we are to lament our singleness, how there is nobody for me. As if some people are granted the luxury of having to see someone else’s toothbrush in their bathroom, forever. But still we moan, or at least my heart does, for someone with whom I can really stop trying to gauge. For someone with whom I can be entirely myself, not just in an authenticity sense, but in a sense of restraint. I think I just need someone to talk me down from the ledge of my own woebegone subconscious every now and then. And here I go again with the maudlin stuff.

There is so much to love about life, right now and always. I’ve found a workplace filled with warmth and courage, and I am surrounded by people who really care about the work we do. It’s infectious, and all while somehow sparing me any sort of serious cold for five months of school, somehow. Miracles, all.

Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future. I remember an old youth pastor saying that in high school, or maybe even before. But now I’m forced to reckon with the utter lack of people to call, people with whom I can spend time, one-on-one. I covet community, but I also prevent myself from building it. I have a huge note on my fridge right now that exhorts me to ignore fear, because it is a liar. Sometimes I fulfill its prophecies, though.

You know what really sucks, in a Life Stage Like This? Going on a blind date, hitting it off, then texting for a week with the woman, only to have her cancel the second date on the day of with a five-text thread laying out that she sees me as “a good friend.” After one stupid date. I mean, really now.

I react badly to pity. Most people do, I was told by a friend recently. I am always eager to show my strength, to let people know that I am embodying the subtler characteristics of the Model Male. So when I get the sense that a girl just doesn’t find me attractive but doesn’t want to say so, I get angry at her for being shallow (which is the most blatant of hypocrisies) and then immediately start building up myself so that I can process my grief and move on as quickly as possible.

It feels like I’m waiting for someone else to answer the questions fear is asking, and they keep backing away right as the pencil approaches the SAT bubble. I want companionship, and as friends are best found organically (I think?), dating seems the only other recourse in the meantime. But even that has become loathsome, filled with either insecurity bombs that penetrate my bald bunkers or pure exhaustion at having the same conversation with so many uninteresting people, but feeling obligated to be kind while I am with them. I fear settling, but I have answered that question well, I think. Toothbrushes are too gross to put up with if I don’t have any interest in the mouth they’re cleaning.





Home, Away From

12 08 2019

Homemaking is one of the oddest words. Or perhaps all words are equally odd, but with varying degrees of familiarity.

Think about what home means. The smells you grew up with, the feel of your bedroom floor. Making those again is impossibility itself. We cannot make home for ourselves. We can only hope to make it for others.

At 33, I am beset with a weird sort of hollowness even as the thrill of a new job and a real sense of adventure has come upon me. I am here, far away from everything I’ve had, and I can do whatever I want.

I always could, in theory, but the actualizing is sobering–if not in practice.

How do you build a community while also relishing that daybreak before the noises of the day take over? I know the people will be there, that my life will fill up with somethings, all sorts of somethings. I have lived this before, and found life. Here too, I may find life, even if I have to harrow my heart in ways I’ve heretofore spared it. Look, these are the types of sentences I write when I don’t have anyone around to read what I’m spitting out.

It’s one thing, then the next. It’s looking for a job, then it’s starting the job. It’s looking for a new place, then moving into the new place, then furnishing the new place, then decorating the new place, then getting other people into the new place. Rinse and repeat. And rinse well, especially here. The sweat, man. The sweat.

For two weeks now, I’ve worked. I just got my first paycheck from this job, and it gave me a silly sort of delight to see it in my bank account. I am getting paid to teach chess, or to try to teach it. This is not how you draw things up, but I’m drawing a salary just the same, so thank goodness the drawing will start and end there. I still am rubbish at drawing.

I got invited to go two-stepping with some “hot young coworkers” last Friday. I chickened out, if that’s the right term for abstaining from something you won’t enjoy intrinsically. I’m all for putting myself out there and trying new things, but I mean, you can’t force someone to sign up for the “get punched in the face club” on day one. Not yet, anyway. Four more years though, and who knows?

I might go shop for a couch at The Furniture Store. Imagine that. Imagine it. If I’m living out some weird recursive DNA trip, I hope someone at least has the decency to write a book about it. Goodness knows it’s too hot outside for me to think about writing a book just yet, though.

Oxford is

5 11 2013


“Oh yeah? I’ll show you!”

22 07 2013


I do hope some enterprising youths have had their picture taken here. 

The possibilities exist.


21 05 2013

lu·dic adjective \ˈlü-dik\: of, relating to, or characterized by play


 I learned a new word while reading Sayers the other day.  Well, I should be honest:  I was reading a blog penned by an older English lady back in 2003 in which she reviewed Sayers’ Wimsey mysteries.  She (the blogger, I mean) was working on her dissertation, and she would often pause to write these really critically-constructed reviews of the mysteries’ characters and genre.  As a bonus[1] to an anglophile like me, the comments are largely written by other Britons, and so I find myself an wallowing in riches three times over:  Sayers, blogger “Truepenny,” and the commenting public of the island nation.  Witness my reverie for a moment, if you would.  Okay, that’s enough.

And so it was within the golden ashes of a long-abandoned blog that I discovered the word ludic, which is a rather old adjective relating to sport.  You’ll kick yourself in a moment if you haven’t already made the connection to the more contemporary adjective ludicrous, but there you have it.  I was delighted to realize that here, here was the legitimate grandfather of an adjective I had met in my youth and seen corrupted in my teens by a certain actor/hip hop artist.  Not since the discovery of burgle had I encountered a word so effortlessly peremptory, so readily available to one already afflicted with pretension in spades.   

As I thought more about ludic, I gradually began to wonder how it had dropped out of our vernacular, at least in America (although I believe its usage is rather rare in England as well).  Ludicrous had no trouble sticking around, but that is often the case with adjectives placed further toward the end of the spectrum.  We are a people who miss the forest for the trees, clearing them in a frenzy to expose the utter west of our nation.  England has retained obsequious, we’ve opted for suck-up.   That’s the way it is, and I think I’m okay with that.  We are a people defined by our unquenchable thirst for convenient consumption, but that need not restrict our and my vocabulary today. 

I played soccer tonight, and there was nothing ludic about it other than the rules.  We got murdered, not literally, although Sayers actually described some homicides less grisly than the one my team experienced.  Our frustration mounted along with the goal margin, and by halftime we were down lots of goals.  Like, all of them, basically.  Just so many, many goals that went in the wrong net.  Like the one where I, filling in for our erstwhile goalkeeper, accidentally batted a ball into our own net.  At first, I was utterly disgusted with myself, our team and the game of soccer itself.  Then I took a deep breath, thought about what was really important in life, and calmly retrieved the ball from a corner of our goal to drop-kick it into the netting surrounding the field, getting it stuck behind a post about eight feet off the ground in the process.  It’s kind of like when the basketball gets stuck in between the rim and the backboard, except much more humiliating.

“Oh,” I thought.  “This probably doesn’t make me look good.”  I looked around casually, and noticed the following:

  • That our celebrating opponents were jogging back to their half of the field unaware of my artistic little pout.
  • That the referee was discussing something with the scorekeeper and had his back turned to me.
  • That my team had their heads down in shame, looking anywhere but at the seething glare upon my not-really-sweaty face. 
    • (Goalies don’t exert themselves much in games like this for the simple fact that they don’t make much contact with the ball.)
  • That the only people who knew where the ball was other than yours truly were the spectators who had just witnessed my triumphantly petulant burst of idiocy.

It’s a funny thing about adult sports:  You tell yourself that you’re playing for the exercise, the camaraderie, the healthy competition or whatever, but eventually you will discover that your inner nine-year-old has always been the driving force behind it all; you will also eventually discover that he has just been dying for the opportunity to metaphorically pants you right when you’re feeling down.  At 26 years old, gainfully employed and moderately mature, I had summarily executed my dignity for everyone to see.  Good thing most of them weren’t looking.

That ball couldn’t stay there forever, though.  I stood there thinking about it.  If I did nothing, someone would eventually point out the location of the ball to the players on the field.  Adult soccer players are not known for their intellectual agility, but I would be found out one way or another, and it would probably be humiliating.  It was already humiliating.  Alternatively, if I pointed  out the ball to someone else, they would inevitably wonder how the ball got stuck up there and how I was the only one who knew where it was.  This had the tempting advantage of at least delaying my embarrassment for a few moments while everyone’s curiosity was piqued by the ball retriever hoisting himself up to get the ball.  But someone would ask him, and he would tell them, and they would say, “Really, that Robert guy?”  That part would suck. 

No, I had clearly burned every one of my ships back to the island of self-esteem when I punted the ball with all my pathetic might just a few moments ago.  There was no choice:  I had to get the ball myself.  The amused onlookers surely had a good laugh as I nonchalantly trotted over to the netting, jumped as high as I could, and supported myself with one hand while I artfully scooped down the ball with the other.  In case you don’t care much for sports and you’re not clear on how the game was going, let me clarify:  this was, by far, my most successful moment of the evening.  As I landed, I mediated on the fact that learning humility and maturity while playing a child’s game with other grown men is a rare event—granting that I learned anything at all—and hey, I at least executed the retrieval maneuver correctly.  I’m an athlete, you may have heard.

I’m not sure when I’ll give up playing soccer completely, but I know I’m closer to quitting today than I was last year.  I love the competition, but it’s pretty clear that I’m neither appeasing nor refining the most admirable of desires during this one hour a week on a soccer field.  If I’m honest, I probably get loads more healthy satisfaction (not to mention genuine exercise) from regular jogging than I ever will from sporadic competition.   Even the fact that I now talk about quitting as a “when” as opposed to an “if” is coldly real to me.  After embracing the ludic for so long, I’m reluctant to admit the increasing presence of the ludicrous along with it.  There’s a certain pride that comes from participating in sport well.  It’s tough to hold on to that pride when my age keeps whispering louder each week, sometimes voicing itself in aching joints and ankle braces, or if I’m lucky, only in my fruitless attempts to keep up with those 19-year-old college players.   I am not what I was, but I do know what I want to become:  a man willing to hop up and retrieve that ball shamelessly with a smile on his face.  And even more than that, a man who doesn’t have to run that far to retrieve it in the first place.  



[1] I originally started to write the phrase, “As an added bonus” before subsequently excoriating myself for exercising the “Biggest pet peeve” faux pas that has caused me no end of teeth-gritting over the past few years. Image

On Baehner

13 05 2013

I don’t remember most of my dreams. I remembered this one from the moment I woke up as vividly (if not as achingly) as I do now.

Here are some dumb words about it that proved to be insufficient catharsis.

* * *

A dream caught my breath
Gave it back and then some
Her surreptitious understanding
Knocked me over then and there
Siphoned tears from dull pupils
Her name is unfamiliar to me in this context
Where she pulls my shame onto her shoulder
Knowing me and responding to every word I speak
What is it to be known and loved and loved and understood?
The barren among the betrothed are well-aware: this would be enough
Assurance brought from witnessing laughter and smile easily simultaneous
On her face , her eyes delighting in me for no good reason
She shushes and advances at my demons with sly and furious anger drawn
I wake in tears and laughter with her name upon my damp forehead
Pad downstairs to enjoy my cereal
Quivering with fear and timid joy
It’s all a bit much for Monday morning