Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Pierre Is Strange

Everything is surreal at first. Drive a baby under the track lighting of a freeway tunnel with the sunroof open and watch his face transform as if seeing God. Forty years later, he’ll do a dead-eyed daily commute along that same stretch, unmoved as a Pac-Man frog, because each experience has a perceptual contour of spike and decay. Otherwise, honeymoons would last forever, the first hit wouldn’t be free, and the latest fashion would still be Cro-Magnon chic.

We thrive on the right kinds of change. Discovering punk rock in high school was a glorious, exploding gift from an alternate dimension after years of enduring the pedestrian sedation of Top 40. These days my favorite reality shifts occur through travel, where a foreign landscape becomes home over time, and home feels foreign upon returning. Then reality reestablishes itself, and I begin planning my next departure.

Long before our body collapses, our soul withers when starved of novelty. The agony of solitary confinement hinges on indefinite sameness, but the unincarcerated also cage themselves by uncritically settling into mind-numbing routines, slow boiling in the gradual cook of their rerun days until retirement hits with scarce time and energy for a spiritual recovery.

Now is the time for new. For getting a better job. For taking a different way home, at least. For catching a buzz or trying sobriety. Time to paint with the other hand. To be on the bottom or in front during the act. Time for a strange conversation with an unusual stranger. Today is the day to act on curiosity and inject some life into our lives.

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Friday, August 31, 2018

Can't Crop A Giraffe

You can’t crop a giraffe.

You can’t make a cat follow the rules.

Can’t make a kazoo subtle, and plaid always takes over the outfit.

Weeds will continue to sprout wherever, as sand won’t stay on the beach, as water finds its way out of any vessel.

Every rumor spreads like fire, like they’ll never censor every curse word.

You can’t force art inside the lines.

You can’t keep a viral trend from its time.

Nothing restrains true love or righteous revolution.

And yet all poems…

Must come to an end.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Faraway Needs

The less accessible a thing, the greater our desire. We’re cats, incessantly scratching at a closed door while ignoring the open one next to it, obsessing over what we can’t have.

Those late-night munchies intensify once you see that the takeout place is dark and closed for the evening. Husbands yearn for the woman next door as their wives lay close. Compare the panicked sprint to find a job with the dreadful slow-walk toward the time clock. Then you slump at your work station, lamenting all you could get done if only you were at home, but come your day off you’ll procrastinate that to-do list like a root canal.

The largest economy in the world is a carrot on a stick; the American dream is a long con of unfulfilled appetite, where every ad campaign presents a hole and sells the filler. How many companies would collapse if we recognized that fulfillment comes from within—the shortest distance of all?

We reach for faraway wants, leaning ever farther away from our innermost needs.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Cold Case Blues

Sometimes not knowing is ok, even preferable. You don’t need the Pythagorean Theorem to cut pizza into triangles, nor the unwelcome ridicule of the bathroom scale after eating most of them.

In other cases, missing answers are a torturous burden to those asking the questions, elusive as God. Why haven’t they called back for an interview? Where the hell did that lottery ticket go… Didn’t anyone see who she left with?

In this age of relentless informational bombardment, so many aching mysteries remain.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Cocktail Chic

Substance and style rarely come in equal measure. My mother's sister is as sophisticated as she is fun, as genuine as she is refined. Uses adjectives like "fabulous" and "smashing" without a hint of pretentiousness. There isn't space enough in her bookshelf-lined home to contain all she's read―and the couple she's written―but her closet was just as full of dancing shoes back in the day. 

She loved to dance. One of my early memories is being held, bounced, and whirled around by aunt Joan as The Beatles' "Come Together" turned against the needle, which would skip when we carried on too forcefully. Riding horses made her happier still, another sort of dancing.

Naturally, I've always known the older woman (she was in her thirties by the time I was born), but I also like to imagine her before that: in the 1960s sipping highballs at a Nina Simone concert, as the anecdote goes. The gravity of the music, the tricolored stage lights casting a soulful surreality over the room...  

The way her luminous life force and encouraging love have shined on me.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Faces are the hardest to describe and reproduce. The basic components are simple enough, like the exposition at the start of a fugue. But just as an increasingly varied musical theme gets harder to hum amidst the unfolding counterpoint, one's facial expression is a complex, dynamic intersection of physical and metaphysical attributes elusive to capture. There are no identical twins.

In novels, characters' faces are always blurriest in my mind's eye, the descriptions like molded plaster that won't stick to its subject. It's the same in nonfiction: police sketches never fully resemble the perp because the profiling software can't render the narrative behind the eyes, the life that led to the likeness. For that revelation, you need to meet someone's gaze directly.  When you do, you see a vivid page from an autobiography in progress.

So many sets of eyes, noses, and mouths, and the stories to go with them. Billions―collectively the same, individually distinct.  Past faces, living faces, and all those yet to come... 

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Beard Power

I grew my first chin beard in tenth grade. Not the pinecone that it is today, a half-inch at most, but enough to change the game. Less emasculating sarcasm from peers. More attention from girls. Feeling closer to adulthood than childhood, seeing that manly little outgrowth in the side-view mirror as I cruised along with a newly acquired driver's license.

The hair and its effect have been growing ever since.

On a three-week road trip from Philly to L.A., my friends and I ended up along the same route as 50,000 hogs headed for the 60th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Everywhere we went it was bikes, beer, and badasses. On the outside, from the neck up at least, I blended in and earned us a little cred in a subculture not known for its warmth (on the inside I'm too anxious to ride a ten-speed through town). Some years later I was in the Uygur city of Kashgar, where the Muslim men greeted my uncut bushiness with nods of approval, perhaps thinking that I was with Allah (when in fact I'm "spiritual but not religious," as my online dating profile would say). After that I took a teaching job at an urban Maryland high school, in which being a goat-like caricature of myself fast-tracked classroom rapport and greatly increased the number of completed homework assignments. 

Impressive, how a tuft of facial pubes can alter so many outcomes. How differently might events have unfolded had I shaved? Which triggered conversations and resulting relationships would never have occurred? Which ones would have in their place? Maybe I get carjacked or miss meeting the love of my life in the beardless version.

If nothing else, against my baldheadedness, it keeps me from looking like a crazed volleyball.

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