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Sunday
Aug042013

WRITE CLUB, Damned - 4/16/13

“Have a blessed day.”

Even in our very darkest hour, when we stand at the brink of slipping into the volcanic pit of our loathing and brutality; when humanity seems poised to send its last weak ripple out into the pond of the world; and the cowl of hatred and fury threatens to blot out the sunlight of kindness and clarity for the final time – there will be calls in these times for the relaxing… of standards.

I say: NO. Now more than ever, we must cleave all the more closely to what we know to be true and right. Whether free speech, or civil liberties, or common sense – there are cries to leave these by the wayside – if only temporarily. They can be restored to us at some later, more placid date.

But once the soil is eroded – it is gone for good.

“Have a blessed day.”

Of all the farewells in the language, this one stands out as the grisliest of the bunch. As grating as it is presumptuous, as patronizing as it is sanctimonious, and as hypocritical as it is vapid.

“Have a blessed day.”

Listen Flanders – doesn’t matter what’s happening in the world: if you catch sight of THIS FACE, and still urge me to have a “blessed day,” you mistakenly believe that you and I share a sense of what constitutes a state of blessedness; you further believe – again, quite mistakenly – I concur that you are by some means imbued with the power to draw blessings from the heavens and to bestow them upon me; and finally, you further believe – and again, I hasten to add how badly off base you are, here – that I want your shabby goddamn blessings at all, ever, for any reason.

For you to say “Have a blessed day,” as you press my change into my palm, would be like me saying “Hail Satan!” Which I almost never do. Because it would have NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO with the Tacquitos I am seeking to purchase in your establishment.

I would sooner suffer every anguish conceived by the demon mind than to have you trying to insinuate your blessings into our transaction – I came here for a thing of Skittles and some piping hot Tacquitos, not for your tepidly conceived theology. Mine are secular Skittles, friend, and I frankly resent your attempts to make them some kind of sacrament in your half-assed church-less liturgy.

Now then – if my rejection of your blessings constitutes my damnation, then so be it.

The fate of my soul – assuming despite abundant evidence to the contrary that I have such a thing – is not yours to determine. If my “soul” is to be consigned to your totally made up lake of flames, or your make believe castle in the clouds, then it ain’t gonna be you that does the consigning – you feel me, Tammy Faye?

And even if you WERE so empowered, if you were handling the traffic flow of the afterlife, I would choose the Damned over the Blessed every goddamn time.

Cause “the Damned” is an apt synonym for “the Interesting”.

Whereas the Blessed – whether in this world or the next – are to me is like a congealing tower of rice pudding – a featureless and lumpy expanse of Boring distinguished mostly by its enduring capacity for self-congratulation.

My allegiance is with the Damned. And if you’re honest with yourself, so is yours.

You gotta be suspicious of any word that lends itself to the pretentious version: “blessed” here becoming “BLESS-ED.” The one exception is “legged” – but ONLY where it is used to indicate an off-count, like “three-legged dog” or “one-legged man.”

BLESS-ED is the way your eight-year-old ass feels during hour two of a sermon on the unyielding oak of a church pew. Damned is the way your lungs feel on that first drag of the cigarette you’re not supposed to be having.

BLESS-ED is the opening strains of a shitty song wafting over your cubicle wall – a song so generic, it could well be playing at the party in the After School Special about the perils of underage drinking – a song made infinitely worse when it dawns on you that your new officemate is VOLUNTARILY playing Christian Rock WITHOUT A TRACE OF IRONY – this naturally collapses your remaining affection and regard for the species into a bleak little wad of monkey-brain hatred. At 9:17AM.

Because if there is any more effective means than Christian Rock to make you wanna go do a bunch of heroin in the break room, it has yet to be discovered.

Look, it’s very simple: Damned is Highway to Hell, Blessed is Highway to Heaven – so what’s it gonna be?

The guitar licks of Angus? Or the helmet-haired syndication piety of Michael Landon? Because Eric Ruelle is asking you to choose the helmet-haired piety of Michael Landon. Which, listen… if you can live with yourself throwing in with the helmet-haired piety of Michael Landon and his earthbound minion Eric fucking Ruelle, then so be it.

I guess you wanna be a giant hopeless douche-twat. Which is JUST what Eric Ruelle and all his superstitious, ignorant, quivering little helmet-haired Army of God shit sticks want you to be: a giant hopeless douche-twat.

I don’t want that for you. You don’t want that for you. You don’t wanna look in the mirror and see a giant hopeless douche-twat looking back at you. A vote for BLESS-ED constitutes the unapologetic declaration that you believe yourself to be a giant hopeless douche-twat.

Though Damned, we know you to be a person of quality, a person of valor and moxie. We the Damned welcome you – in all your frailty and imperfection, all your strivings and struggles. Join us. Join the Damned. It is the only way to avoid becoming for all time a giant hopeless douche-twat.

Sunday
Aug042013

Untitled - That's All She Wrote, 4/14/13

My dad left when I was nine. My brother was eight. This was 1975.

When I say he left, I mean exactly that. He did not move out. There’s a distinction. Divorced dads move out, they do what they can to stay involved. They might try to minimize their own guilt by bribing their kids with sugary cereal and water parks.

I’m a dad now myself, and so have thought some about this. I have had moments where I can see my wife getting so fully fed up with my bullshit that she calls it quits. I have imagined myself newly divorced and moving into a dingy garden apartment to remain nearby. And then filling my shared-custody time with the kids with museum trips and turkey legs at Medieval Times.

But that isn’t what my dad did. He didn’t move out. He left. We only saw him sparingly from then on. Which matters for the thing I’m going to tell.

My dad’s name was Peter Belknap. He was ill suited for just about any adult responsibility you could name – steady employment, maintaining a steady address, fatherhood, marriage. I don’t know for certain, but I’d be surprised if he voted. Or paid taxes. Or kept the registration on his vehicle current. Or wiped his feet when he came in your house.

He was good at road trips. He was good at striking out on destination-less voyages of unknown duration in the dead of night. He was good at drinking into the small hours. He was good at slouching sidelong into precarious living situations with wild-eyed women in barely converted barns and former filling stations. He was good at forging shaky economic alliances with other marginal unstables who would sell weed with him, or help in the chaotic construction of steel drums, or barter his automotive know-how for room and board in some hovel or other.

He was good at eating a stick of butter like a banana.

He was good at bestowing nicknames – he called people not Jenny or Bill, or whatever their name was. He called them Ghoulie or Noogs, Pu Pu Platter or Steeltoe.

He was good at twisting your words and taking umbrage. Conversation with him could be a thicket of twining brambles from which you’d emerge dazed and lacerated.

What he was mostly good at, though, was self-administered anesthesia in various forms, and heeding his impulse to flee, which was constant.

I know this becauseI became exactly as he was. Like just about everybody in the checkered history of the species that’s pledged never to become like their forebears. There is a part of me that wants badly to burn my house down and head west; to stomp on that Thelma and Louise pedal and plummet into the ravine.

This is a common symptom of the alcoholic. I got that from dad. I got his low speaking voice. I got his insistently itchy impulse to flee and to destroy. I got the need to get black-out hammered.

In this, I am my father’s son. In this, I am a living testament to the truth that alcoholism is an inherited malady, a defect passed between generations – like brittle nails, or fat ankles, or diabetes.

So far, I am quite different from my dad in a couple of respects: 1) I quit drinking, which he never did, and 2) I did not kill myself when I turned 40, which he did.

For a while there, though – a long while, actually – it looked like I wouldn’t live as long as he had. I was a bleak alcoholic depressive and wanted to die all the time. But the great thing about having a suicide in your immediate family is this: you recognize suicide as the permanent and shitty decision of lasting consequence that it is, and you refrain from doing it till you are certain beyond all doubt. Doubt – however tiny or weak – is pretty life-giving stuff when you are related to a guy that’s died by his own hand; because as long as there lingers the slightest doubt, it can hold at bay the lethal certainty that must precede suicide.

But that’s all stuff I learned later.

The last time I saw my dad alive, I had no notion of how despairing he would become, no sense that he was in peril, no idea that I would come to regret being unkind to him. Because I was unkind to him. On the very last occasion I saw him alive. If I’m honest, I have to report that I was petulant and shitty to him.

But before I tell that, you should know this: my dad’s father, my grandfather had been murdered a few months prior to that last time I saw my dad. Papa was beaten to death in his own garage. His skull was bashed in with a pair of pruning shears. The crime remains unsolved to this day.

So. In ADDITION to being petulant and shitty with my dad on the last occasion I saw him alive, I was petulant and shitty with him in the wake of his own father’s homicide.

But I obviously cannot have known that the last time I saw my dad would be the last time. With the benefit of hindsight, it is tempting to believe that my every encounter with dad over all the preceding years had been a long, slow cry for help. But I was just a kid. I had only the dimmest understanding of the appetites and anguishes that impelled grownups to act in destructive and baffling ways.

The last time I saw my dad, I was a selfish and frightened teenager. The world had recently revealed itself to be a place where an upright and honorable man like Preston Belknap – my Papa – could get his skull caved in for no good reason; a place where the seeming safety of a person’s own home afforded nothing of the kind; a place where the few steps from a person’s living room to their garage can lead along a path of madness and suffering and blood.

If I speak to you the phrase “the last time I saw him alive”, in your mind I’ll bet you picture some more auspicious location that the parking lot where I spoke to my dad on the last occasion I saw him alive. A parking lot. Not a deathbed. Or a forest clearing. Or even a jail cell.

A parking lot.

It was a pretty nice parking lot, I suppose. On the crest of a hill overlooking the piny forests of the New Hampshire college campus I was about to get booted from because I’d run out of money. Had no business going to a private college – but I’d fucked up so thoroughly in high school, this academic slag heap was the only place that’d take me.

So it’s early spring of 1986. Around this time of year, actually. There were still stubborn crusts of snow in the shade under the Scotch pines and sugar maples. The pine warblers and gray catbirds had joined the sparrows and robins to split the clear tang of the spring sky with their song. The crocuses and snow drops had bloomed; the daffodils were still just tender green spears.

There is this kind of shock to spring that I love – this sense of having EARNED this dewy and bright bursting world by having suffered through the serial dick punch of winter.

My dad rolled up in one of the massive cars he always had – those long boxy gas-chugging things Detroit cranked out for a decade and half, those Buicks and Dodges and Pontiacs like a pontoon boat on wheels with a hood big as a king size bed.

I know it’s him, cause he’s still got that beard. That chest-length beard like a carpet of wiry brown moss on his face. And this is a time when the beard has been generally discredited – it wasn’t like now, with all these hipsters like dainty mountain men. This was 1986. Skinny tie time. Clean shave all the way. None of this twee Iron & Wine bullshit, son.

So he’s got on these bellbottoms. And just so you’ll be sure and notice that these are bellbottoms, they got these wide awning stripes in those colors that were only used in men’s apparel during the seventies: goldenrod, terra cotta, russet. He’s got these scuffed brown square-toed boots, this poly shirt in this… pattern. Like a Jimmy Buffet song rendered in vomit. And this buckskin jacket. With fringes. Like he’s a scout on a wagon train.

The reason my dad, who’s been MIA for much of my life to this point, has met me on the campus of the college I can no longer afford? He’s there to see can he “work something out” with the Bursar’s office. Now, somebody as chronically sketchy as my dad has proved himself consistently to be – when that dude says he will “work something out” about the THOUSANDS of dollars you’re in the hole for tuition, you can bet that is some dirtbag code for “string them along and piss everybody off.”

He was unusually adept with empty promises, especially where money was concerned. So it was obviously a desperation move for me to have called him in the first place. It’s like being in a foxhole and calling in reinforcements from around a card table at the VA hospital – with bullets whizzing over your head, you rely on the haunted and shuffling old man in the grimy sweats to save you. Dumb idea. Everybody dies.

So I got out of class – English Comp, I think it was. Hung over as fuck, like the kind of hangover where it would be not at all surprising to discover a hatchet handle protruding from your forehead like a grisly narwhal horn. I’m sweating bullets about getting booted from school, pulling hard on a Camel Filter. My dad looks like he’s pretty baked. He smells like bong water and is pupils look like squashed beetles swimming in the amber of his irises, rimmed in blood. He’s smoking an Old Gold.

Dad has already had the meeting with the Bursar.

“Well?” I said.

“What? No hug?” says dad. I haven’t seen him in like four years.

“No,” I said. “What did they say?”

He looks stung, and gives me some shit about stiff-arming him after all this time. Inside my skull, there are many rebuttals to this.

Then he went on to give me this song and dance about how he’s gonna set up a payment plan. I’m gonna get to stay. I’ll be back at school in the fall.

But I phase him out. I look around us. I know this is the beginning of the end. I’m never coming back to this campus. I am furious at him. Again. Still. He talks on – laying down a line of patter about the rosy future he’ll make for me. But what he’s laid down is just another rug for me to stand on, another rug for him to yank – leaving me flat on my back and staring at the sky, seeing white stars like maggots and tasting blood where I’ve bit my tongue.

But this time – this last time – I don’t step on his rug. I remain un-betrayed, maybe, but as I watch my dad talking on that blacktop, he seems to recede. And fade. And become even more of a ghost. A shifty-eyed, fast-talking hippie ghost.

Sunday
Aug042013

The Snaggling - Reading Under the Influence, 7/10/13

Most mornings, he woke to find some bruising someplace on himself, and, often as not, a newly forming scab or two.

Nothing big. Nothing major. He wasn’t a fighter. But he did black out a lot. And his forehead would meet the pavement with not inconsiderable velocity once every other week or so.

Or he’d misjudge things and the doorframe of the cab he was to slopping himself into would catch him on the hairline.

Or he’d pass out on the floor of the bar where he was supposed to be working and in addition to the cigarette butts and bottle caps mashed into his face – so it was like embossed – he’d find his spine all janked around so turning to face anybody was more like the turret of a tank than the fluid swivel of other mammals.

So. Even though he wasn’t getting into tussles with anybody, exactly, he was pretty beat to shit most of the time and you could very much say that his was a life of conflict.

People he’d gone to school with had, like… embarked. On something you could properly call a life. They had set sail for points distant, with a bracing mist dampening their faces and a briny wind at their backs. While he just seemed to remain… suspended. In a tide pool, warm and cloudy as milk.

He’d long suspected things had gotten bad. That HE had gotten bad. But he didn’t really KNOW it until he snapped off like half of his front tooth. It was an incident he came to call The Snaggling. As in, he was now snaggle-toothed, and so that the precipitating time his teeth became thus, he called The Snaggling.

To those that did not know him well, which was everybody, The Snaggling nested within his longstanding precedent of rueful humor at the expense of his own excesses. He’d roll in late to the bar with a scabby face, cock and eyebrow, and go “You oughtta see the other guy.” Shit like that.

But with The Snaggling, he couldn’t even muster this form of slack deflection, this oblique non-coping.

There’d been plenty of other incidents. In fact, if he was honest with himself, which he almost never was, he’d have to concede that his recent past was pretty strewn with red flags. Red flags that he’d disregarded completely.

There was that time The Girl had come into the bar, requesting his set of keys to her apartment, since his sloshing and bleary state stood in clear contravention to her longstanding refusal to let him in her place while hammered.

Or the time his landlord had come by the bar during a brunch shift to make a polite but firm inquiry about his back rent.

Or the time he’d made that readhead cry pretty hard in that back booth.

Or the time he’d passed out on the steps of that Methodist church a few blocks over. Not like on A step, but lying diagonally across SEVERAL steps, each perpendicular point of contact – shoulder, ribs, hip, outer thigh – had this abraded-looking blood-blistery bruise.

Then there was the plain fact that the whites of his eyes looked like rancid butter. Even though he was only twenty-eight.

No doubt about – he was a mess.

But The Snaggling seemed to represent a new plateau, an order-of-magnitude type deal. His vanity was a part of it, for sure – every time he caught sight of his scoured-out face in the mirror behind the bar, he saw that glaring little gap – askew, sharp-edged, a black little polygon of space where he till recently had a pretty good quality front tooth.

Because even though he was routinely pretty torn to shit, he remained a decent-enough looking dude who exerted a dark magnetism on certain among the “save-him-from-himself” ladies. He felt like that shit was now over, with this gaping absence in his mouth.

“Fuck it,” he told himself. “Chicks, man. I don’t need the fucking headaches.”

This was maybe as much in response to the fact that he didn’t have the money to fix his tooth as it was his to his whole deal with chicks.

Setting aside his vanity, though – it was this galling thing of the, like, incontrovertible-ness of it. The Snaggling was this starkly visible emblem of the chaos he was living in. His face was now the kind of face that would prompt longer, more probing looks from cops, and would cause moms to hustle their kids away from him in the food court or whatever.

With one sharp blow, he’d gone from a little rough-looking, maybe, to fully unsavory-like and ragged and presenting maybe some threat. The thing that really sucked was that this sharp blow was a blow for which he had no recall, since he’d it had taken place at some point behind that opaque whiskey curtain he drew over his mind each night.

The Snaggling had turned him into a sad piece of shit. Or, more likely: it had REVEALED to him and everybody else what a sad piece of shit he’d permitted himself to become.

He’d reached that fork in the road – go all-out and die a boozy mess, like his stupid father, or figure shit out and get a handle on this.

Which, on paper, is an easy choice. But in real life? Whole other thing. He’d have to haul his ass to those fucking meetings or whatever, and get some kind of real job. Go back to school, maybe. He was exhausted in advance by all the change he’d need to undergo. Just completely wiped out.

So obviously he did nothing.

Kept waking up on the floor of the bar, his faced waffled by the mungy rubber floor mats.

And trapezing from one financial crisis to the next, hitting up his step-dad for money every couple months, which felt like facing a firing squad every fucking time.

And things remained essentially hectic and stupid and shitty. And grew, of course, worse.

And he powered down shots and pints to try and drive from his mind The Snaggling. Except this was impossible, obviously. Because in addition to its being situated in the center of his fucking face, the busted stub of his tooth started to rot. He’d killed the nerve, or whatever, so even though he was hyper-diligent brushing and so forth, the jagged stump yellowed and turned brown.

After a few months, he had this speckled and slanty little chisel thing where a tooth should’ve been. Needless to say, he’d stopped smiling, at first because he wished to conceal this jutting little tusk, then later because he concluded on a more or less permanent basis that there was nothing to smile about. Like literally – he couldn’t think of a single fucking thing.

And he settled into a trough of habit and hatred and pointlessness, his life little better than a parade of face-plants and escalating fuckups.

And then The Snaggling started to blacken and hurt like a motherfucker.

So he finds this dentist who’ll take cash to pull the thing, which is all infected. This dentist smelled of gin only halfway metabolized and went to dental school in Grenada or some weird island nation. This hulking and fat-fingered waste case of a dentist – the only one he could afford – kept  pumping these gin clouds into his propped-open mouth, making him gag on last night’s gut-load of whiskey.

This sketchy dirtbag of a dentist, as he’s yanking, tells him how lucky he is. Tells him how if he’d waited any longer on this extraction, the infection would have claimed some of the bone in his upper jaw. Tells him he’s just in the nick of time and super lucky. He’s a lucky, lucky guy.

He pays at the counter, sliding a meager stack of worn and wilting bills through the slot in the glass that looks bulletproof, and griping a little bit that the fat-ass didn’t even write him a prescription for something good like Vicodin,

He lights a cigarette on the cracked sidewalk out front of the clinic, even though the dentist just now told him not to smoke for the next few hours.

He tongue-stabs the blood-throbbing, pulpy hole and squints at the sky.

A lucky, lucky guy.

Friday
Mar222013

Ray's Tap Reading Series - Manners, Please, 3/16/13

Ray's is a great, if infrequent (maybe twice a year) Chicago show curated by Chris Bower. He selects a theme, then gives contributors source texts to which they write in response.

[Produce Complete Book of Etiquette]

Complete Book of Etiquette, by Amy Vanderbilt.

In preparation for this piece, I read this book cover to cover.

By which I mean I skimmed sections of it over the course of a series of poops.

Poops, I hasten to add, I should not be discussing publicly. Or privately. Or, in an ideal world, not be having at all.

If I were a person of breeding and good character, I would stop myself here to collect each of your addresses and send you a thoughtful and heartfelt handwritten note of apology for both the temerity of having expelled poops at all, and for the scandalously poor judgment I have here demonstrated by making public and now frequent mention of these poops.

See? There. I’ve done it again.

But I am a person of questionable breeding and low character. And as such, I not only make mention of having expelled repeated poops from this, my ass, which decorum demands that I not describe as caved in and chalky. And my family crest, our coat of arms, which appears at the top of every sheet of my stationary – is a slaughtered pig on a field of genital warts.

Which, if you knew heraldry, you would recognize as an enduring symbol of our nobility. But to the untrained eye just looks like a slaughtered pig on a field of genital warts.

So, I mean…

Ancestors. What’re you gonna do? Am I right?

But I was drawn to a section of Chapter 4: Other Ceremonial Occasions on Funerals, which contains the following line, in Some Do’s and Don’ts For Mourners:

When talking about death, stay clear of euphemisms like “he passed away,” or “she’s found her resting place.” Death is what it is. Pretending otherwise is unrealistic.

Now, it is unreasonable to expect realism of a book that devotes two full pages to what constitutes acceptable content while fox hunting, and has I-shit-you-not forty-five index listings under “Formal seated dinner with staff.”

But this line – this one line – I actually found beautiful, in its way.

The word “polite” comes to us from the Latin politus, which means “accomplished, refined, cultivated,” and derives from polire, “to smooth or polish.” As much of an abrasive dick-punch as I tend too often to be, there is a principle at the heart of politeness which I actually value a great deal, and which I find reflected in this line about staying clear of euphemisms.

I have no use, obviously, for the forty-five index listings under “Formal seated dinner with staff,” as it will never have any direct application to my experience thus far or any of my experience yet to come.

But the notion that life is a rough business, a rude and vexing trial, a lot of it – that requires of us the consensual adoption of a code of conduct, a shared idiom and a set of conventions that make life marginally more bearable. I believe in kindness – despite most of what my public conduct and insistent poop-talk would lead you to believe. But I believe a bit of polish – a mild burnishing – is worthy and needful. We are jagged, most of us, and thorny, and we need some grinding off of our sharpest quills.

I believe that life is a difficult and often quite excruciating business, and that if we can all agree to adopt certain sensible positions, and follow certain rational guidelines, then it becomes more possible for us to refrain from smashing each other with hammers while weeping bitter tears.

It is the difference, I think, between Civility and Propriety. Propriety is mostly ridiculous and unhelpful. Taken to its logical extreme, it culminates in place settings with nine forks and dainty minuets of protocol. Propriety is oppressive – those who know its particulars lord it over those who do not. It is ungenerous and persnickety; ostentatious and starchy.

But civility is quite wonderful, really. It is a means by which we reach some accord – we yield something of what we wish, and take care to take into account the wishes of someone else. On the face of it, this may not seem especially lofty or rousing. But when you think on it carefully, it becomes plain that it’s actually sort of astonishing. For a snarled mass of predatory and self-seeking primates to have hit upon a way to consistently avoid melee and ruin, a voluntary compact that results in an uneasy peace is downright amazing, really, given how swinish and hostile it is our natural inclination to be.

When talking about death, stay clear of euphemisms like “he passed away,” or “she’s found her resting place.” Death is what it is. Pretending otherwise is unrealistic.

In this line, we find much that’s worth striving for: plain speech; acceptance of reality, even, or perhaps especially, unpleasant reality; and an agreed-upon basis for proceeding, whatever difficulties may come.

I watched a movie with my kids not long ago. It had a scene where these knights in armor were fighting with swords. The way it was shot and the sound design really conveyed the sense of peril and pain. My son turned to me and said: “Man, people used to be a lot tougher than they are now.” No doubt about it.

I think the same is true about how we interact with each other. I think we were once a lot tougher than we are now. In the sense that we were much better versed in the art and science of disappointment. Setbacks were more expected, somehow. And as such did not dismantle us in the way they seem to now. We could know defeat, and our hopes would remain un-dashed.

Now, though. To avoid the pain and disquiet and self-disgust that now seems to attend every hindrance, we grow more grabby and piggish by the day. Which ensures only the hindrance and vexation of somebody else. Which renders them more retaliatory. Which exacerbates our own escalating sense that the world is populated by selfish douchey clowns whom we are right to snub and cut off and disregard. It would be a violation of our own interests, in fact, to be accommodating or agreeable.

Civility, though – it is not the permanent cessation of these hostilities. That asks too much. That assumes a degree of evolution and selflessness probably not possible. But civility permits a détente – a mutually assured pledge to stand down. Civility acknowledges that we are predatory and self-seeking primates, but permits a world where our hackles may always be up, our fangs may always be bared, but we agree not to strike.

Friday
Mar222013

WRITE CLUB, Shaken - 3/19/13

To be shaken is to be wrenched from safety. It is to come unmoored from custom and habit. It is to be jolted.

To be stirred is – at most – to have a bittersweet moment. A moment that causes one to dab at one’s eyes with corner of a hankie.

To be shaken is to have undergone a seismic event.

To be stirred is to remain substantively intact.

To be shaken represents upheaval, to be sure, but is it not during times of greatest upheaval that we are tested, where we may emerge trembling and ashen, perhaps, but we by God emerge knowing what we are made of.

There is violence in any good shaking, to be sure. Shaking cannot be done with pinkie extended. Not so stirring.

“Shaken” is how you describe yourself – even months after the fact – when you gotta ditch out on your bike because a truck is suddenly making an un-signaled right turn in your path. Even THINKING about it amps you up and sets you quivering. When you tell the story, your throat tightens over the words and your heart rate jumps.

“Stirred” is the compliment you feel obligated to give the pastor in describing your tepid feelings about the dreary sermon he just droned his way through.

If your assumptions are stirred, they remain essentially undisturbed. If your assumptions are shaken, there exists the real possibility that the landscape of your outlook will be altered. Perhaps even in some fundamental way.

Shaken is the cannon fire in the 1812 Overture.

Stirred is your nephew’s French horn recital.

Shaken is the voltage delivered by defibrillator paddles. It is the power that penetrates to the core of you, that reaches inside your ribcage to yank you back from the brink – a power that in another age would have been denounced as witchcraft.

Stirred is the mild discomfort of the tongue depressor. It is the rudimentary blunt instrument delving no further than your scratchy throat.

Shaken is the most harrowing slide at the water park. Stirred is a piss-warmed kiddie pool.

To be Shaken by your attraction for another person is to STRICKEN by their beauty; to find them HEART-STOPPING in their allure.

To be Stirred by your attraction for another is to be at most inclined to make a booty call. If you’re hammered enough.

I’m not gonna lie. There’s a downside to That Which Is Shaken.

There are the byproducts of trauma. There is potential for grave injury. I’ll admit it.

There is, for instance, no STIRRED Baby Syndrome.

Stirring is a weak gesture, a languid one. It’s limp and diffident. The degree of agitation it causes is minimal. That’s why if someone is a gossip, they are stirring the pot, or stirring up trouble.

When you shake shit up, though, you are gonna change things for good. Whether an individual life, or a society, tectonic plates, or humankind overall – the only way to bring about transformative change, the only way that the chrysalis will split and the new creature can emerge, is by shuddering apart – by shaking to pieces and rebuilding afresh.

It is not by accident that Bond specified Shaken.

Stirring affords no such transformation, and never will.

But perhaps most tellingly, Shaken rhymes with bacon, you guys. Stirred, on the other hand, rhymes with turd.