“Are we there yet?”
This is the question you never really want to ask. Not when you’ve been sitting in a backseat for 20 minutes that feel like two years and you’ve already eaten all the cheerios out of that zip-lock baggie. Not five years later when you’ve been sitting in a backseat for two hours that seem like ten, and you’ve already read all your Nancy Drew books twice. Not eight years later still when you’ve been sitting in a backseat for four hours that feel like eternity and you’ve already listened to every song on your iPod a half-dozen times. You don’t want to ask the question because you know the answer. You know you’re not there yet. You wouldn’t still be in the car if you were there. You’d be there. You wouldn’t still be moving. You ask anyway.
“Are we there yet?”
You need to hear the answer from an authority figure, from the person behind the wheel. The person responsible for getting you there. You need them to reassure you that, despite how long it seems to be taking to get there, you will get there — though you haven’t quite gotten there yet.
We don’t realize it when we’re young, but it’s kinda nice having someone we can ask that question to. Someone with some authority and responsibility for getting you there, someone who can tell you precisely how much longer it will be until you get there — give or take measurable and definable things like traffic and weather conditions.
Eventually, you’re not in the backseat anymore. When you’re behind the wheel, there’s no one else to reassure you that, although you’re not there yet, you will be soon. When you’re behind the wheel and you say “Are we there yet?” you’re just talking to yourself. There’s no one there to provide you that certainty you seek, and that can be frightening. Maybe you won’t have a map. Maybe there is no map. But maybe there’s something better than arriving at a pre-determined point.
“Are we there yet?”
With any luck, you’ll never be able to answer that question. Because you know you’re not there yet. If you were there, you wouldn’t still be moving.
“Are we there yet?”
Regrets are something you entertain when you don’t like who you are at this moment. To regret something means you wish it had happened differently, or perhaps that it happened at all. But I play the string game. That’s what I call it anyway. Take that moment you’re not so proud of and imagine it’d happened differently. Then follow that thread along that imaginary parallel existence in which that regretful thing hadn’t happened. Where would you be right now? Who’d be in your life? After a point you can’t say with any certainty, but you know what you wouldn’t have done, who you wouldn’t have known. We all have things we’d like to change or improve about ourselves, but if we’re able to say (all those things considered) that we like who we are right now, then logically we can’t have any regrets. Because if regretful wishes were fulfilled, you wouldn’t be who you are today. Perhaps you’d be someone else, and perhaps you’d love that someone else. Perhaps you wouldn’t.
We are the sum of our experiences. Every event, good or bad, shapes your persona (equally for good or bad). No one knows the exact calculus, and I’m sure it differs from person to person — that things I’d consider trivial have deep impact for you. Are four-leaf clovers lucky? Who’s to say? Years ago, George Kaminski set the Guinness World Record for number of four-leaf clovers collected. He was also a prison inmate, and meticulously scoured the grass of the prison yard each day to find them. He found 72,927 of them. Then another guy found more. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “And so it goes.” Grand Archives wrote a song about George Kaminski, and that song is far more beautiful and elegant than this essay will ever be. But what does Kaminski’s story have to do with regret?
Nothing at all. Life moves forward. If you want to keep up with life, that means you should look forward as well. That doesn’t mean you should forget, ignore, or disregard the past. It does mean you should learn from it and move on. Thinking “if only I hadn’t …” is a loser’s game. You did. Move on. Play the cards in your hand. The New York Times reported Kaminski had told a younger inmate: “you can do anything you set your mind to.” And you can. Regret is a wasteful thought exercise that accomplishes nothing of any value. Take what you have, and work with it. Use the full of your resources. You have more than you know.
Whenever I’m standing in grass I glance about for four-leaves. I’ve never found one. Do I regret not finding a four-leaf clover? No; because I haven’t finished looking yet. If anything, I think Kaminski’s story teaches us that four-leaf clovers aren’t actually as rare as we think — the rarity is the human being capable of patience and persistence to move forward with the things he has.
Charlotte Bacon, age 6. Daniel Barden, age 7. Olivia Engel, age 6. Josephine Gay, age 7. Ana M. Marquez-Greene, age 6. Dylan Hockley, age 6. Madeleine F. Hsu, age 6. Catherine V. Hubbard, age 6. Chase Kowalski, age 7. Jesse Lewis, age 6. James Mattioli, age 6. Grace McDonnell, age 7. Emilie Parker, age 6. Jack Pinto, age 6. Noah Pozner, age 6. Caroline Previdi, age 6. Jessica Rekos, age 6. Avielle Richman, age 6. Benjamin Wheeler, age 6. Allison N. Wyatt, age 6. Rachel Davino, age 29. Dawn Hochsprung, age 47. Anne Marie Murphy, age 52. Lauren Russeau, age 29. Mary Sherlach, age 56. Victoria Soto, age 27.
These are the names you should remember. These are the names you should know. People are saying this is “not the time” to talk about gun control, that this tragedy shouldn’t be capitalized on politically. Bullshit. Now is precisely the time. As Carol Hanisch said, “the personal is the political”. Now, when people feel, when people are hurting — even if they didn’t know any of the victims, have never even so much as visited Newtown, Connecticut — now is the time to take steps to make these incidents rare.
It’s not about gun control — although that’s certainly a part of it. OTC medications like Sudafed® are more heavily regulated than guns in many states. I don’t believe you shouldn’t be able to purchase guns. I do believe that there should be a licensing system, that there should be a waiting period unless you are a licensed collector, and that you should be required to insure your firearm. You’re required by law to insure your automobile, and an automobile is legally considered a deadly weapon for felony purposes (i.e., if you hit someone with your car but don’t kill them, you can be charged for assault with a deadly weapon). Most of us who own cars don’t go about mowing people down, just as most of us who own guns don’t do the same. The fact remains they can both be used as a deadly weapon against another human being.
Let not these deaths be in vain. Do something now to protect all life — children and adults alike. It’s not just about gun control — it’s also about the mass media gaining a conscience, and putting policies in place to not sensationalize the story and make an anti-hero out of a monster. I’m not saying anything numerous people haven’t said in the past, and for once, as a writer, I’m glad for that. I’m glad to add my voice to the chorus. I’m not
Morgan Freeman [EDIT: THESE ARE NOT MORGAN FREEMAN’S WORDS, THOUGH THE STATEMENT IS STILL RELEVANT]. I’m not a forensic psychologist. I’m just a blogger. But these are my words, and this is my plea. I know there will always be those who skirt the law. We can make them fewer. We can make these incidents rarer. We have it in our power. But we pass off that power, claiming it’s “too soon” and that we should give families space to grieve. Bullshit. A man attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The Brady Bill, named after the Secret Service agent who was permanently disabled in taking a bullet for the President, was passed in 1994. Bullshit.
America, do not let these deaths be in vain. Realize that we have to pass laws, now, to protect our future. We get so protective of our personal property, our personal freedoms. Not all people are like you. Not all people are responsible. Not all people are balanced. Laws exist to protect us from the rest of us. Bitch about an “inconvenience” all you want; it might just save you from being permanently disabled or killed. It might save a family member. It might save a child.
I’ve seen entirely too much of this not to write something about it. I’ve said things about it to people privately, but I’ve never spoken out publicly. I’ve never used this platform to speak about such issues directly, because I’ve not felt it was my place. It is now.
Anyone currently coping with depression, self-harm, and/or suicidal tendencies is not a child who simply needs to grow up and quit whining and get over themselves. Please. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain; it is a physical illness that happens to affect the brain and its thought processes rather than affecting some external physical function. Would you chide someone with cancer for being too weak, and tell them they should just go out and exercise? Would you mock someone who was paralyzed for being too “lazy” to walk? I’d hope not. Kindly consider not sending such mocking, ignorant, and condescending messages to people coping with depression.
Instead, educate yourself. Learn that what these people, myself included, are coping with is a daily struggle. It is a painful existence, and it is not something you can just “brush off” and go on about your day. Yes, medication can help, but being medicated for a mental illness is not the same as taking aspirin because your back is sore. Every brain is different, and every brain reacts differently to different drugs. It takes time to find the right balance of medications that will help the patient. You don’t just go see a shrink, take two pills, and suddenly become a happy, healthy, functioning member of society.
Writing, on tumblr or any other platform, is a healthy and therapeutic activity. Moreso, many write on tumblr not just for the sometimes cathartic experience of “writing it out”, but to find companionship, understanding, and support from other souls who are coping with similar issues. Such activity should be encouraged, not disparaged or condemned.
Find empathy, seek understanding, and above all — be good to one another.
It was 1977, and things were different then. There were a lot of things that are more accepted now, at least officially, that were not accepted then. I make no excuses for that and I am not an apologist for it; but there’s no denying that things were different. And in the American South, there were a lot of things that were not accepted at all.
In 1977, if you were a 17-year old white girl (as my mother most assuredly was), there were some very important things that you simply did not do: you did not have a romantic relationship with someone who was not of your race; you most certainly would not have a sexual relationship with that man, or any man, really, outside of marriage; and above all you certainly would not get pregnant out of wedlock. My biological mother did all of the above.
I do not know her family dynamic, for the simple reason I was never informed of such, but I do know that she carried that baby (me) to term, and gave that baby (me) up for adoption. And I was adopted by two white, middle-class teachers. My mom has told me the State did its best to “match” babies with families so that they could effectively “pass” as biological rather than adopted children — unless the adoptive family expressed a different preference. My parents just wanted a child — although they preferred a baby to an older child, they had no additional preferences. Regardless, they were “matched” with a baby girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. My dad has blue-ish eyes, and had blond hair. Growing up, many people often told me I looked just like my dad. It was meant to be a compliment, but the truth is, from the small description I’ve been handed down, I know I look nothing like my biological father.
We are all fucking hypocrites. That’s right: all. Me, you, you, you … ad infinitem. We’re all so fucking hypocritical I am, quite frankly, astonished the word hypocrite and all its various forms exist, because why would we need another word for human, really? Calling anyone hypocritical is so redundant the word sours in my mouth as I speak it, and I find myself spitting unnecessarily-produced saliva at the object of the condemnation, and that’s so unattractive.
Across all forms of consumption, we proclaim that we want something new, something somehow different. Yet when something new and different comes along, we eschew it in favor of the familiar. We gravitate towards the known. We have our favorite artists, our favorite musicians, our favorite writers, our favorite filmmakers, our favorite designers. We venture beyond them with trembling hearts and stilted breath, wondering if this new one will speak to our souls as the others have. Moments of “trial period” ensue where we hold back, unsure.
Because ultimately, we seek the security of the known, of the predictable. This is the essence of trust. In the film Jackie Brown, there’s a memorable (to me) exchange between the characters Ordell and Louis. Louis has just shot, and killed, Melanie, Ordell’s live-in girlfriend (if we can call her that). Louis is concerned Ordell will be concerned with him for doing such, because Louis assumes Ordell has feelings for Melanie, but Louis was convinced Melanie couldn’t be trusted. Ordell confirms he knows Melanie’s a liar, and says “You can’t trust Melanie. But you can trust Melanie to be Melanie.” Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. It’s really just another way of professing our love for, and/or attraction to, the predictable.
We say we want something new. Something different. Yet when such appears, we shun it. We ignore it and gravitate away from it and towards what anyone seeing such would categorize as “same”. Different isn’t comfortable; different isn’t safe. We embrace said safeness whilst whining we want something different. But truth is, we don’t.
We just want to sit in the same narrow space and see the same narrow shit. This applies on every level, in every possible genre of thinking. And if any of us were really introspective, really introverted, we’d realize this.
But we don’t.
Memory doesn’t exist, you see. Memories aren’t real — they never are. They’re a story you tell yourself of something that happened. Next time you tell it, it’ll be a story you tell of a story you told yourself of something that happened. Next time still, a story you told of a story you told yourself. Third time you’ll spin a story of a story you told of a story you told of a story … and so it goes. At what point do your memories cease being memories? At what point do we admit they’re simply lies?
There’s a photo I’ve seen probably a thousand times, a snapshot of a smiling child and three of her friends at a birthday party. You know it’s a birthday party because the kids are eating birthday cake and wearing birthday hats and they’re smiling, and kids usually smile at birthday parties, at least for a camera.
I was that smiling child and I remembered the moment. It was my birthday and I remembered that — until I was told the film rolls were swapped and that was actually my friend Kara’s party. I’d created a story — memories — to account for this photo that was not in fact what anyone thought it was. A thousand words my ass — more like a thousand lies.
I was housing memories of events that never happened. It was at that moment I realized we are not the sum of our memories. Our humanity is composed of all that we forget.
This morning I received an anonymous message criticizing the short story “Hope Never Frays”, which I co-wrote with Nick and posted last night. I deleted the message and resolved not to directly respond to it. This is what I do with most anonymous critiques. Yes, there is a social networking aspect to Tumblr; yes, we writers encourage feedback and critique — but I won’t engage in such a discussion with someone who can’t even be bothered to reveal at least their Tumblr “face” despite having full access to mine. Such begins an uneven playing field that only tilts further from there.
To summarize, this individual noted that when people try to write about war, they often miss the mark regarding what is realistic; and that our story was completely unrealistic. The message went on to admonish me (us) that a writer trying to play on emotions of real-life events should respect the honesty of those events and not offend those who’ve lived through them.
As I stated previously, I never intended to directly respond to the message, and I won’t. The core of the message, however, raised an issue I’d like to address, so I’m addressing it here, in this way. I’ll leave it to Nick to directly defend the piece, and the research that went into it, if he feels it necessary to do so (given he received the message as well). I will only say, from my side, it was my preliminary research that led to the decision not to peg the story to any particular conflict, place, or time. The astute reader will note no years are ever mentioned, nor is a specific conflict named. This story could just as easily be taking place in 1972 or 1993 or 2010 or 2027. As writers, we cannot be held responsible for the assumptions you make as a reader.
But I do want to touch on this strange belief that a work of fiction must be “realistic.” Of course, different people have different tastes in what they like to read. But these comments rather reminded me of my father. Dad is a voracious reader, and has been for as long as I’ve been alive. He reads primarily history and biographies. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him read more than 3 or 4 novels in my life — and even then, the novels he reads are books like Catch-22. He once told me that, although he’d tried to watch it several times, he could never get through the movie Forrest Gump — that he didn’t like it because it was unrealistic. Of course it’s unrealistic — it’s a work of fiction.
Fiction demands a lot of its readers — more so, in my view, than a non-fiction work. Non-fiction is social science — emphasis on science. A piece of non-fiction includes empirical evidence to back up the author’s theories, depiction, and conclusions. All of this can be recreated by an intrepid or skeptical reader who wishes to retrace the author’s footsteps through pages of footnotes and references and see if the picture presented is fair and accurate. If you believe it is not, you can create your own using the original author’s references.
You don’t have to take a piece of non-fiction at face value, and most scholars would prefer you didn’t. Fiction, on the other hand, provides no such empirical evidence. A story simply asks you to believe. The experts call this willing suspension of disbelief. But I call it trusting the writer unconditionally. And with all due respect to Anonymous, we, as fiction writers, did nothing to detract from our story — you did that all on your own, by not approaching the story with the trust fiction demands.
As fiction writers, we create our own reality. It might bear a passing resemblance to yours. It might remind you of events taking place in your walking world; hell — it might even reference those very real events. But don’t you for a minute mistake our reality for yours when you step into a piece of fiction. As fiction writers, no matter how much research we put into a work, all we really have to offer you is the story. And we give you that story, hold up our hands, and say: “This is what happened. Trust me.”
We live in an age of instantaneous free, in a world known as the internet. Space and time do not exist for us, all that exists is this and now. On the eighth day God created the internet. And yes, my friends, there is an eighth day. On the internet. And everything is there. For free. Wanna listen to new music? Download it for free. Wanna watch the latest film? Download it for free. Wanna read the latest writing? Read it for free.
Art is creative for those who produce it, but art is consumptive, and the creators depend on that consumption. How many artists could live freely and well off of their art if we paid them what we could, a token to demonstrate our appreciation for how their work has enriched our lives and embiggened our perspective to some degree? An open question, because we don’t think about the creators, we only think about ourselves, and our constant need for more. Our constant craving to take what they give. We are leeches; we are parasites.
Don’t be a parasite. If you feed on music and writing and film and image, feed on it — but do something in return. Those artists are as dependent on you as you are on them. Art is consumptive but don’t suck the marrow dry. Artists starve for their art because no one pays them for it — because they have an obsessive passion to do it or die trying and we have an equally obsession passion to consume it but we don’t want to fucking pay for it. Why would we want to pay for it when we can get it for free? As though “it” comes from some inhuman chasm; some thing that doesn’t need food and such to subsist but survives on ideas alone and regurgitates those ideas so you can eat them like a baby bird. No.
Don’t be a leech. Leeches will latch on and drain their host until the substance is nothing and the form is void. They provide nothing to the host, they simply take and take and take. And that’s all we do. Take and take and take. Support independent artists. If you follow a writer’s blog and they have a donate button on their blog, send ‘em a buck or two. They deserve it. You’ll pay over ten bucks to see a fucking weekend matinee of Batman in the theater this weekend, but you won’t spare a dollar for a writer who touches your soul every day. These independent writers need your dollar more than Warner Bros., et. al. does. For art to press forward we have to support those pioneers who aren’t waiting for huge corporations to give them the stamp of approval — they’re doing it on their own. We are doing it on our own.
We consume more art today than would even have been possible just a few years ago, and yet we pay nothing for it. Independent isn’t always synonymous with free. The trouble with the best art is that it seems effortless and you forget the person behind it. If you appreciate something creative, give that creator a little something back to keep them going. Tell the world what you value and put your money where your mouth is.
Occasionally a book comes along that manages to weave its way so thoroughly into the fabric of your own being that it actually changes who you are in some small way. These books never leave you, even if you forget details or plot turns or names of characters, because you will never look at anything quite the same way again after having read it.
It is my terrible misfortune to have just finished one such book. Having finished it, I was overtaken by a profound emptiness; my own thoughts echoing in the space the book’s words had once occupied in my mind. Having finished it, my first thought was to write. This is not typically my first thought after reading such a book — my more typical first thought is to sulk for days, convinced I should give up writing entirely because I’ll never create something with half the impact or merit or beauty of what I just read. This book, however, managed to have all of those things, and still be inspiring. Garth Stein wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain. I’d hate it if I didn’t love it so much.
“That which you manifest is before you.”
It was the first sentence I read that really did a spin cycle on my perception. I’ve trained at several performance driving schools but never really thought to apply the lessons I learned there to life itself and the living thereof. No matter what happens to you, on the track or in life, is a result of your own actions. Even things for which you bear no active blame, nevertheless occurred because your own choices, your own mistakes, put you in the position for them to happen. This doesn’t mean you should blame yourself for every trouble that befalls you. It means that you should accept that it happened and move on. You can’t change it, and dwelling on it gives it more power in your mind than it ought to have.
No matter what happens in life, you always have a choice. You have a choice of action or inaction, but both are choices. When things happen to you, you have a choice to react or not to react. There are consequences of every action and every inaction, of every reaction and every failure to react. We should take ownership of these consequences — not to beat ourselves up over them, but to learn from them. There is no destiny you have not created from your own thoughts and actions.
Sometimes things may happen to you over which you legitimately have no control. What matters is not what happened — it’s how you deal with it that matters. It may not be easy. To mix metaphors, amateur poker players will say (and are taught to believe) that not every hand is playable. Smart poker players know that depending on the totality of the circumstances, every hand is not only a playable hand, but potentially a winning hand. Whether you’re playing poker or racing cars or simply living, the art lies in knowing when a risk is or is not necessary; and in knowing to take the necessary ones and ignore the rest. The only destiny you have is the one you write yourself.
To move forward, you must look forward.
“The visible becomes the inevitable. The car goes where the eyes go.”
One of the first things I learned about performance driving, or driving at all, really, is that your hands on a steering wheel are hard-wired to follow your eyes. You intuitively know this if you’ve ever inadvertently swerved your car while reaching down to the passenger-side floorboard to retrieve something. The faster you’re driving, the further ahead you have to look, and this isn’t just to monitor stopping distance. Your brain can’t process a track moving that fast. The further ahead you look without losing focus, the longer you have to process changing conditions, turns, markers, etc. If you start sliding and you’re looking at the median, you’re probably gonna end up in it. If you keep focused on where you want to be, you’ll find a way to make it there.
Many of us (myself included) are often guilty of not looking far enough ahead in life. If I can just make it through the next 4 hours of work I can have a beer. If I can just make it through the week I have the weekend. If I can just get this paper done before it’s due tomorrow I can deal with everything else. Ad infinitum. The problem is that we become so hyper-focused on the next few hours that everything else slips through the cracks. You are white-knuckle driving through life and time slows to a crawl while you grind unhappily through it.
And then, some of us (myself included) are also guilty of looking too far ahead. Let’s face it: 10-year plans are fucking stupid. You don’t know where you’re gonna be in 10 years! Nobody does. If you do, then with all due respect your life is boring and you should get out more. When you look far into the future with idealistic plans of what that mythical future might bring, you lose focus of the actual road ahead of you, and when you lose focus of the road, you run the risk of missing something important. You fail to interact and react; you fail to recognize changing conditions until it’s too late to properly adjust for them.
The key is finding the balance: to look far enough ahead that you can smoothly navigate life’s many turns, but not so far that you lose focus and fail to make a necessary adjustment to changing conditions.
“Yes: the race is long — to finish first, first you must finish.”