Navigation
Powered by Squarespace
Use of Material

Entries in Live Lit (17)

Wednesday
Jan222014

Guts & Glory - Godless 11/20/13

I don’t believe in God.

Which. Big fucking deal, right?

I live in a major urban center. I’m in the arts. Politically, I have long been agitating for a new Robespierre to start filling baskets in the center of public squares with the heads of bankers.

Furthermore, I have two kids. And I feel the world has enough gullible people ruled by their fears, and don’t wish to create any more.

Given these facts, the likelihood that I’m going to be devout is pretty slight.

So. No shock. Water is wet. Artsy egghead in city is atheist.

But. For me. This is a bit of thing, actually.

Not because my family is churchy. Not because my wife is religious. Not because I think I owe my kids some kind of relationship to the divine.

It’s because I’m an alcoholic in recovery. I’ve been going to Alcoholic’s Anonymous meetings since 1994. So if I make it to next spring without a drink, then I’ll have gone 20 years with drinking alcohol.

Outside of the meetings, I rarely talk about being sober. For a couple of reasons: main one is, like much of what is really real, it is none of your goddamn business. That’s the selfish reason. The better reason that I mostly keep it on the down-low is that if I ever start drinking again – which is always a risk, most days it’s a low-level risk, but a risk nonetheless – it could be misinterpreted as a failure of the program, rather than my personal failing, if that makes sense.

Because if somebody who’s a drunk, or a druggie needs the help of AA, like I did, but then they learn that I’m a member of the Fellowship, and they see me drunk, then they might not believe the program works, and they might give up and die a horrible, pointless death.

And maybe this sounds weird to you, but I take this obligation really, really seriously. I owe everything I have to Alcoholic’s Anonymous – I know that sounds corny as fuck, and that we’ve all been conditioned by Upworthy videos to view such a statement as hyperbolic and dopey. Or I have, anyway.

But it’s the literal truth. Everything I have, I owe to AA.

If I had not found my way to Alcoholic’s Anonymous, I would never have gotten married. I would never have had children. I would never have started writing seriously. I would never have started my show WRITE CLUB. I would never have found a way to forgive my dad for killing himself at what, for me, was an age when I could really have used a man-shaped person to help me figure shit out. I would never have made what peace I can about my grandfather’s unsolved murder.

And mostly, I would be dead. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I’d have been dead by like ’97 at the latest.

And I’d have died alone, just like my dad – a-wallow in despair and self-pity; enraged by phantom injustices; choking back the always-rising bile. The surest fucking way to become exactly like the parent you hate is to make elaborate, repeated claims that you’ll never, ever, ever be anything like them – it is the perverse joke of the human heart, which may have greatness in it, but also can be a huge dumb-ass.

But so when you are an alcoholic, and you remove the alcohol, you are left with the feelings. Which you must experience. In all their un-minimized fury.

Which, for a person like myself, is a fully horrifying prospect. Most of the time, I’d sooner pound a tent stake into my own thigh than feel the feelings. But this is not an option. The emotional life of an alcoholic without alcohol is a gunfight – either the smoke and fire and blood-letting, which at least has the a grisly kind of clarity – or the anguish of standing in the dusty street, twitching hands poised over your gun, waiting.

For the non-addicted among you – you can know repose, for you tranquility, or at least neutrality, is possible – for us, even where we may outwardly appear to be free of turmoil, likely as not, we are coiled. We are in that single breath that precedes fight or flight. We are on a rolling boil even when we don’t look like it.

So. Given that this is as you can imagine an exhausting condition, it follows that we need relief. We turn idiotically to every form of feeling-cessation there is – TV, internet, gambling, porn, food, rage, work – any substance or activity upon which it is possible to binge. Where there is no precedent for abuse, we will invent one.

But we find, inevitably, that none of these is effective for very long. We need something more – more comprehensive, more encompassing. Which is why the program of Alcoholic’s Anonymous is framed as a spiritual one. To gain relief from the unendurable tyranny of the fucking feelings that never, ever stop for even a second, no matter how desperately you might plead with them, we are advised to turn to God.

Which makes sense. Since we are under siege from inside our own skulls, there is a sound logic to seeking relief from some outside source. And God, let’s face it, is a classic.

But I find myself unable. Not unwilling – it’s not for want of effort. I have prayed. A lot, actually. AA is a temple built by “fake it till you make it,” and it is populated by people of good will who wish to help you for no other purpose than to see you get well. So I have been advised to pray even in the absence of belief. And I have.

But whether it’s my own intellectual pride, or lack of humility, or any number of deficits that plague me, I have never been able to shake the feeling as I pray that I am a fraud, and that I am talking only to myself.

When I first got sober, I was vehement in my atheism. I was strident in my certainty.

Now I have no such certainty – I am marooned, actually, by my lack of belief. I can see in other people that their belief – even if it is rooted in nothing – is effective. I have witnessed the relief, the calming, the reduction in turmoil and hate. I see it all the time.

As you probably suspect, I hate acknowledging my vulnerability. Hate it. I also hate acknowledging that I have love in my life – that I have married the girl of my dreams and have the privilege each day of living with a woman far too good for me. I hate admitting hat I am stricken by love for my kids, a love of such intensity and ferociousness, I did not think myself capable. I hate acknowledging that I am blessed and fortunate. I hate conceding that I have found the work I need to be doing, and that despite its frustrations and the fact that it is largely unpaid, it is fulfilling and constitutes a for me a sense of purpose. I hate acknowledging that people whom I respect seem not to be lying when they tell me they like my work.

I hate all these things only in part because I hate the kind of soft-headed affirmation-spew that exists as a slack shorthand for actual feeling, the kind of psychobabble boosterism that stands as a spineless substitute for actual self-examination.

But mostly, really, I hate these things because I am afraid - chronically, feverishly afraid of losing all of it. It’s not a fear you could see, probably. I’m not one of those anxiety monkey-type people.

But I am afraid. Because of the kill switch mounted on the wall of my skull. I am afraid that one day it will all prove too exhausting, too overwhelming, too impossibly large and important and confounding, and in a moment of weakness or depletion, I will abandon it all and leap into the abyss of self-immolation that always awaits me.

People – inattentive people, mostly – too readily mistake me for a cynic. Which I get. I rant. I say mean things. I adopt a tough-minded posture.

But the people willing to peer through the cracked windows into the flimsily constructed house just past that posture, though, can see that I am no cynic. I am afraid. I am badly, hopelessly afraid.

I have a heart that is warm and wounded, and I have much – so much – to lose. So in a corner of that flimsily constructed house, I crouch around it all like a cornered animal, clawing at any who draw too near.

I wish it was possible for me to invite God into this house. I actually envy those who can, because if I could, mine would become a house less lonesome. But even with its warped floors and poor layout, the rats in the walls and leaking roof, this shabby house of mine is a true house. It is real.

So even though God is not unwelcome, exactly, he seems to me to be a made-up thing, and therefore cannot stay.

Wednesday
Jan222014

WRITE CLUB, Strength - 12/9/13

Strength need never account for itself.

Strength does not explain.

Strength does not seek your counsel or your solace.

Strength is irreducible and complete. Strength is self-possessed and self-sufficient.

Or.

At least.

This is what Strength tells itself. This is what Strength would have us believe.

Strength makes a big show of… well, of strength, but secretly? Strength is actually pretty ragged and – if we’re being honest – isn’t doing so hot, actually.

To tell you the truth, Strength is pretty beat up. And has been feeling more than a little sad. I mean, it’s been getting dark so early, it’s tough on all of us, a little bit. For Strength, though? This has been a long time coming.

Not that Strength is headed for a breakdown, or whatever. But the demands. Placed on Strength. In recent years.

Have been a drain. And a hassle.

And Strength… I mean, Strength remains STRONG, obviously. I mean, it isn’t that. It’s just… Strength has wondered – in a mostly idle way, you understand – a purely, like THEORETICAL way – whether it’s even WORTH it, anymore.

The struggle.

I mean – it’s ENDURABLE, obviously. This is still STRENGTH we’re talking about, here. But, just… sometimes. To be honest. Strength would way rather be having a glass of wine in a hot bath. And a good cry. Than all this… like, stoic abiding. That is expected. From all quarters.

The thing is: Strength doesn’t want to QUIT, or whatever. Strength can HACK it – it isn’t anything like that. But Strength could sure use a break. That’s all. Just a break. Because it never lets up. Does it? No. Never does.

Strength would just like to catch a goddamn BREATH without, you know, without the constant threat of everything falling completely apart if Strength doesn’t bring the A game all the damn time.

All Strength is ASKING – which, when you think about it is totally reasonable and in no way out of bounds, or whatever – is to sit DOWN for five minutes to grab a cup of fucking COFFEE without being, like MOLESTED by whatever the latest goddamn CRISIS is.

Honest to GOD, you guys.

Strength could use a little HELP around here. You know?

Strength would really appreciate it – like a LOT – if you could just figure shit out for yourselves for like ten goddamn minutes so Strength could just, I don’t know, not have shoulder the ENTIRE BURDEN ALL THE GODDAMN TIME BECAUSE NOBODY ELSE CAN SEEM TO HOLD IT TOGETHER.

Is it so much to ASK?

Jeez, Louise!

You know what it is, you guys? Real talk. Sit down. House meeting. Strength is calling a house meeting. Right now. Drop what you’re doing and listen up. Let’s go. Circle up.

It’s the everything-ness of what you expect of Strength. The unrelenting-ness and totality, the every-moment-of-every-fucking-day-ness of it.

Look. I get it. Some stuff only Strength is gonna be able to handle well. You pull a double shift when you’re fighting a cold – that’s a Strength job, for sure. Or your sister needs a ride to chemo. And sit with her while she fights the nausea. Strength all the way.

But there’s plenty of other areas where the rest of you guys have GOTTA pick up some slack. Come on – get off the bench, you guys. Quit riding the pine.

When the fucking client makes the racist joke in the meeting – you guys all clam up and look at Strength. Convictions? Principles? Where are you guys when that shit happens?

When you turn from your mailbox to see your landlady crying, you guys all slink past her and leave Strength to ask her what’s wrong. Even though he had the same shitty day as the rest of you, and has never liked her that much. Compassion – step up. Decency? You, too. Get in there.

Or when your spouse tells the same story – badly – for the millionth time, it falls to Strength to hold the tongue, to stop the eye roll. What about you, Discretion? How about you, Simple Kindness? And Love: where the FUCK have you been all this time?

Strength feels pretty, well, strongly, you guys, that if you just pitch in a little bit, if everybody just pulls together and does their part – then maybe we can get through this. Because. You guys. Right now, it is not looking good.

And Speed – what are you even DOING here, man? You contribute nothing but hyperactivity and fidgeting and annoyance.

But if not – if you guys cannot get your shit together and do your share – if you keep over-relying on Strength to get us through every fucking situation, then we all run the risk of Strength losing it completely and turning on us.

And we do NOT wanna cross Strength.

Because I think we can agree – none of us wants to go toe-to-toe with Strength. Strength could crush us without breaking stride. Strength could snuff us out without breaking a sweat; Strength alone has the power to destroy us all. 

Saturday
Sep072013

If You're Like Me, You Find Readin' to be a TON of Work, So…

HERE's a link to the Paper Machete podcast, wherein I read my fast food essay. Which is quite good. 

Paper Machete podcast.

Sunday
Aug042013

Fast Food Nation - Paper Machete, 8/3/13

Fast food workers have staged one-day walkouts in seven U.S. cities, demanding a “living wage” of fifteen dollars per hour, up from the current minimum wage of $7.25.

From New York to Detroit; Milwaukee to St. Louis, fat-asses are baffled as to where they might go to stuff their faces with the well-salted gristle they have come to depend on for their five to seven daily… well “meals” is probably not the right word. But I don’t know that there is a single word to convey the activity of shame-dunking your face into another round of sad greasy meat paste.

Maybe there’s a German word for this. I don’t know.

In an appalling demonstration of the insensitivity to the nation’s lard-assed community, workers at fast food outlets walked the picket lines instead of slinging the dispiriting slop we have come to depend on as the only means of quieting for a moment the self-loathing that plagues us. For if we are not permitted the unrestricted opportunity to shovel sodium nuggets and despair patties into our gullets till gravy runs through our veins, then what is freedom even FOR?

These fast food workers, who are attempting to uncouple the lard-hose from our face-nozzle underestimate the power of riled-up fatties to oppose gastro-tyranny in all its forms. Because make no mistake – that’s precisely what this is: tyranny, plain and simple. Asking us to rouse ourselves from our gluttony-pods to reflect on your struggles as you drive this obesity train, asks TOO MUCH OF US – leave us in peace to consume our thrice-daily bucket of diabetes dippin’ sticks.

Your unrealistic demands to make what you glibly call a “living wage” would mean an increase the price of a Big Mac up to SIXTY-EIGHT CENTS. Which, I don’t have to tell you, would the DEATH OF FREE MARKETS AT THE HANDS OF UNION THUGS.

Listen: my first job was actually at a McDonald’s – Route 9 in Hadley, Massachusetts. Did I like it? Hell, no, I didn’t like it. Nobody did. The only guy that DID like it was this developmentally disabled kid named Donny.

But even though it was tough, thankless, underpaid work, I DID learn many valuable lessons during my frankly disgusting tenure there that have served me well to this day.

I learned that work is hot, stressful, greasy, dangerous, boring, gross, smelly, depressing, and pointless. I learned that the workplace – no matter how low the stakes – is a nest of vipers more interested in sowing intrigue and in futile, stupid power struggles than in actually getting anything done.

I learned that every job affords a level of fulfillment and satisfaction comparable to dry humping a pile of pinecones for nine hours at a stretch. While people complain about your technique. And you take orders from a pathetic little despot you’d still struggle to respect if you discovered him stepping out of a time machine dragging Hitler’s corpse.

According to Nelson Lichtenstein, director at the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, there are a number factors governing the corporate rationale for opposing a wage hike, most of which center on the time-honored principle of American business, namely the principle of I Got Mine, Jack – So Do Us Both a Favor and Go Fuck Yourself.

Owners of fast food outlets actually benefit from high worker turnover, so they obviously have a stake in keeping their people pissed off.

Lichtenstein says:

“From the company’s point of view, if they know their employees are going to be there for three years, then there’s also this informal pressure on the managers to accommodate the workers,” he says, citing the possibility of wage creep and further increased labor costs for employers. “Managers then can’t just move people around all the time. Firing gets more difficult. So they don’t want a permanent workforce.”

Let’s take a sec to define our terms.

“Wage creep” is what used to be called “upward mobility,” or, more quaintly, “the American dream.”

For you young people, this was a fiction whereby working people were encouraged to cling to the delusion that through hard work, they could attain prosperity. History has of course demonstrated that this is not only not possible, for the rich, it is not desirable.

The cunning of this delusion is that working people – whom reality has trapped for all time in a permanent underclass. An underclass that care for the nation’s obese and ill-tempered children, that keep the nation’s food trough brimming with oily, pre-cancerous slop, that serve as cannon fodder overseas, and that are the baristas that reverse the nation’s sluggishness. According to this fiction, workers cling to the false hope that the only thing separating them from the rich is just catching a break or two. They are not poor people whose tenuous hold on stability is crushed at every turn by a system rigged against them – they are people whose riches are just over the next rise, people whose wealth is merely in its dormant stage. We’re not POOR, goes the fiction, we’re just PRE-RICH.

By perpetuating this delusion, the 1% have a bottomless barrel of cheap labor that remains docile and that consistently votes against its own interests. The fiction has succeeded in shifting worker allegiance to their overlords, and away from their fellow wage slaves next to them on the assembly line, or at the fry station, or at the Genius Bar. And they keep clocking in, and they keep voting to ensure they live and work in a lake of unregulated poison, their dumb, fat kids go to shitty schools, and their aging and demented parents will die in shabby and squalid nursing homes.

For the public to support fast food workers would entail the abandonment of several generations worth of destructive and self-defeating beliefs. Because the idiotic delusion has for us come to resemble economic hope.

So listen up, you fast food workers. Be clear on what you are: you are the wranglers on the nation’s industrial feedlot. You are to fatten us on a slurry of bone meal and hormones, herd us up the ramp onto the killing floor, and push from your mind the role you have played in turning us into deli meats for the rich.

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.