The Spring edition of Folio came out last week. They published 2 of my pieces, The Silence Between Stars and & I am the Wizard, in the Print Edition. The Web Edition this spring also has some awesome multimedia work, including a great philosophical hip-hop piece from some good friends of mine. If anyone is interested in a copy of the Print Edition, let me know and I can probably get you a copy. In the mean time, enjoy the Web Edition, linked from image below.
I am the Wizard
My wife has settled into sleep, and I am left alone with my work. The blank space on the screen challenges me by its very existence. Its presence taunting me with potential. And I stare back, mind as blank as the space itself. The whiskey on the shelf nearby calls out to me in the voices of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Poe, but I ignore it. For while the lubrication it provides may let words flow more freely to the page, it may also send them sliding and tumbling, obscuring their meaning in a cascade of typos and syntactic missteps. If writing is to be a labor of love, then let it be a labor; the birthing pains and messy afterbirth a testament to its worth.
And while I sit and ponder this labor I have undertaken, I cannot help but to dwell on the difference I feel in knowing this is not a work of fiction. Why should this be, I wonder, for every work of fiction comes forth bearing a fragment of the writer’s soul. What matter then if I try to tell my truth and end up telling a story, rather than trying to tell a story and ending up telling my truth? Yet I know this to be the crux of my difficulty.
Ever have I tried to obscure my truths by couching them in verse and imaginings. I believe that in large part this was the work of a shy boy doing his best impression of the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” And now I have chosen to boldly draw back the curtain and exclaim, “I am the Wizard, and I need the curtain no longer!” Little wonder then if I fear that even Toto should be unimpressed.
That is the joy and the trial of non-fiction. To stand before the desperate wanders without pomp or circumstance, with no smoke or mirrors or special effects, and still have them believe that you are in fact the great and powerful Wizard, and not some schlub in a fancy suit. And so it is that with a mixture of determination and trepidation that I begin to type, explicit in my purpose to speak of who I am and whence I’ve come; trusting in myself, and in you, to believe.
The Art of Trolling
How to Have an Enlightened Political Debate Online
Have you ever had Thanksgiving dinner evolve into a verbal war across three generations, with occasional input from that dog; one that stops just short of a reenactment of your favorite grade-school food fight? It doesn’t take much, just mention to a certain relative that you don’t believe that George Bush really planned 9/11 as a way to fill Dick Cheney’s death quota for Satan; or that Obama probably isn’t actually the Anti-Christ/Secret-Muslim/Atheist/Marxist dictator that certain news channels make him out to be. My family is unfortunately tolerant of each other’s views, so I have never had this particular experience. But I imagine that at the end of the night, when you’re cleaning the gravy and spittle off the ceiling, you are overwhelmed with new insight to American politics.
Fortunately for my poor, deprived self, there is always the internet. Thanks to this wonderful invention, I no longer have to sit around after a dully polite family gathering and wonder how to get my daily dose of vitriol. It’s a simple matter of hopping on the computer and logging into my favorite news aggregator, then browsing the forums for a lively discussion. In a few short moments I can all but hear the rousing cries of “Fascist!” “Commie!” and of course the highest accolade the internet has to offer: “Troll! You’re a Trollololol!!!”
It’s such a heartening experience, and yet it seems I am always hearing the same few people arguing their sides. So, in the interest of getting some new blood (spattered on the walls perhaps), I have decided to help out those who have an interest in getting involved, but don’t know how. To that end, here is a useful How-To guide:
Step 1 – Pick a Username That’s Sure to Get Attention
Not all forums require accounts and usernames, but in those that do choosing the right one is crucial. Your username (or “handle” as it is sometimes called) is how you make a first impression. It is your face, clothes, and opening line. There are several different methods you can go with, but two of the most popular are: obscure yet memorable, or blunt and polarizing.
For an obscure username let’s take an example from someone who just happens to be online as I write this: randomjsa. I’ve no idea what his name has to do with anything, but it’s not JohnSmith6883; so I’ll be certain not to confuse his enlightened rants with those of some raving lunatic. Blunt and polarizing is far easier to do, and much recommended for beginners. After all, with such names as YoMamaObama, Envirodude, and 911wasaninsidejob your argument is half done before you’ve even said anything.
Step 2 – Choose a Side, There are Only Two and You Have to Choose
You may not be aware of this, but the fact is that there are only two sides online: left and right. The middle ground has been scorched clean by the fiery warring of the impassioned, so be sure to steer clear of it. Your only safe refuge is to pick a direction, lower your head, and run as far to the extremes a possible.
Don’t feel that you need to support a particular party though; if you have run to the right be sure to attack Democrats as demonic fetus hating socialists, but there’s no reason to treat Republicans as anything more than corrupt capitulators who are allowing liberals to destroy the country. Conversely, if you have chosen the left, be sure to call Republicans greedy fascist zealots eager to sacrifice the poor to their wealthy gods, but Democrats can always be referred to as spineless losers, too corrupt and weak willed to stand up for what’s right. Attacking both parties will assure that you are seen as the non-partisan voice of reason, thus earning you the trust of your virtual peers.
Step 3 – Formulating an Argument: Use of Strawmen, Ad Hominem, and Red Herrings
Now that you’ve chosen an identity and a side, it’s time to begin formulating an argument. Be sure to learn all the recent buzzwords, and use them as often as possible; this shows that you are an informed and engaged citizen. More importantly though, familiarize yourself with the above mentioned logical constructs, for they are the very basis of any good online discussion. If an opponent’s argument seems to be gaining traction with observers, misquote or misinterpret what they say, then tear their new argument to pieces; doing so will establish you as a person of insight and intellect. If that doesn’t work, attack their character, insinuate the worst possible things about them and their sexual proclivities. After all, no one wants to be seen to agree with a child molester. And if all else fails, divert attention to some other, preferably terrifying, subject. People won’t care that you’re wrong if they are distracted by their fear that terrorists may be secretly living in their own backyard.
Step 4 – Debating Points: Ignore the Facts, They Just Get in the Way
There’s really not much else to this step. If someone points out an inconvenient fact (especially if they have a citation to back it up) deflect, divert, or ignore. There’s nothing to be gained by addressing reality, because reality is gray, and politics are always black or white. If you find yourself having difficulty with this step, just repeat to yourself: “Facts are not my friends” and you’ll do fine.
Step 5 – Don’t Feel Limited in Forum: YouTube Comments and Unrelated Articles
A great deal of political discussion online occurs in the comments sections of news sites or in set political forums. Don’t feel the need to restrict yourself to these limited options. Your opinions are important damnit, and they demand to be heard by anyone and everyone. That YouTube video your grandma sent you of kittens playing in a yarn basket? The perfect place to mention that Obama’s birth certificate is an obvious forgery, and that Kenya is an undeniable Muslim stronghold. In fact, you’ll find that YouTube is an unparalleled location for spouting any political views you’ve a mind to, with a diverse audience of rapt observers. And that article you found on how to make authentic Peruvian tamales? It could not possibly be more relevant to mention that Anne Coulter has obviously had a sex change operation.
Step 6 – Never Retreat, Never Defend, Rinse and Repeat
Step six is arguably the most important on the list. No matter what, never apologize, admit that you’re wrong, or stop spouting things you’ve learned from chain emails. Keeping going at full steam, regardless of who opposes you or how much sense they are making. This is the very foundation of online political discussion: never back down. Because, honestly, where would we end up if people changed their minds when presented with clear and reasonable arguments as to why they are incorrect?
It has been awhile since I posted, especially any writing, and I apologize for that. I’m sure I could make all sorts of excuses, but I hate doing that, so I won’t. Anyway, I promised in my Notebook section to post my lyric essay when I finished revising it (which I think I have), so now I am. I want to say thanks to my workshop group (who will likely never read this), and to my teacher Kati (who might) for helping me with some of the more stubborn lines in the piece. In all I’m quite fond of it. So, without further ado:
The Silence Between Stars and
There are certain things which stand out as impossible to me now. The way the seats lined the wall, all the way around the back. The lack of other passengers on a flight across the Pacific. The quiet. I remember my mother’s whispers, though not her words, and nothing else. No questioning stewardess, no engine’s roar. Nothing but…
The black of ocean below, broken here –and there- by the pale white crests of waves. And the endless, endless, endless blue-black of the sky, its infinity spattered by sparkling specks beyond number. My young mind stood still in awe of a vastness I could not comprehend. Forever above and beyond us stretched a miracle of light and shadow, and below the swells and surges of the unknowable sea, while we hung suspended in a cylinder of near-magic, surrounded by a silence made of a world muted (in memory) by beauty.
Though I could not have stood for long upon that impossible seat beside my mother, face pressed to peer past the glass, the moment looms large in my mind: shading my youngest years beneath a starry canopy of deepest night and drowning out everything else until the birth of my brother nearly a year later.
We two lay on our backs, against cold concrete, hands clasped in comfort, eyes fixed on the multi-hued dome of light above. The querulous glow of the city -behind and below- shaded the sky in pinks and purples, obscuring the pale pinpricks for which our sight strove. Though I had a long made habit of watching the sky in the hours between dusk and dawn, she had never stopped to look up from the ground which bound her. And though what we had was not to last, the moments we spent there, gazing upward and forward, go on (in memory) forever.
Surely the sounds of the city reached our love-struck ears, straining as they were for the warning of steps coming up the hill, that we might shield ourselves from the disappointed stares of our parents had they seen. And surely we spoke, for we chattered incessantly in every other moment of our time together. Even in those tense moments when she stole through the basement window of her father’s house, and hurried to the open door of my idling car, we whispered and laughed together. But…
Though I recall the softness of her hand in mine, and the warmth in her lips and eyes, I hear no sound. Ensconced in our private world of light and love, all is calm and quiet, sure and silent, with no hint of the tumult to come.
The four of us stood at the edge of the lake, marveling in the perfect stillness of its surface. It was our second night away from civilization, miles and miles deep into the wilderness of the Uinta range. Weary though we were, after hiking with our subsistence on our backs and a day of ravenously reveling in the freedom of the mountains, we were wide awake in that moment.
The sky above, unmarred by man’s intrusive glow, was so very crowded with little lights that the blue-black of night became a soft and soothing purple-blue. Blue like ocean depths, purple as mythical mountains majesty. Below and before us the perfect black stillness of the lake reflected back the glory of the stars above. Points of light etched in nature’s glass a clear path across the night, and seeing this I understood the wonder with which the ancients so often termed our galaxy a road through the heavens. And…
No sound broke that perfect moment. We marveled in unison, and no one of us spoke a word. No cars or trains or other people assaulted our solitude with sound. No animals called in the night, nor crickets chirped their delight. No wind whispered through the trees to mar the mirror surface before us, as though the world understood our awe and wished to share in it for a moment. We share it still (in memory).
In the spirit of the season I have decided to post a ghost story. I overheard this story a year or two ago while eating by myself in a diner. Two older women were sitting behind me, and as I had nothing else to do I could not help but listen in on one relating this story to the other.I did not have my notebook with me at the time, but I did my best to remember every detail and immediately wrote it down as soon as I got home. I’m sure there are some things I missed and some things that I changed; but by and large I believe this to be accurate and wholly true, at least to the woman who told it.
“This was back at my mom’s place, the one over by the trailer park. I was just old enough
to stay home alone, maybe 13. Mom was out somewhere, I don’t remember.
Anyway, I was making myself I guess you’d call it dinner, it was kinda late, slicing
cheese and tomatoes for a sandwich. You remember my mom’s old house? How the kitchen’s
over here, and down the hall is the living room? Well I’m in the kitchen, home alone, when all of
a sudden the stereo in the living room comes on, loud.
Now I don’t think too much of it, I just go down the hall and turn it off and come back.
Well after just a little bit, probably not a minute, it comes on again. So I call out, “Justin? You
So I’m still holding the knife as I creep back to the living room. The stereo’s in the big
black entertainment center, you know, the old one, behind one of the glass doors. So the stereo’s
on, and the door’s open, even though I remember shutting it. So I go turn it off, shut the door and
call again, “Justin? Is that you?”
So I go back to the kitchen, and just as I get there the stereo does it again. Well I figure
Justin is messing with me, so I run back this time, to try and catch him. So I get back there, and
the room’s empty, and the glass is open again. Now I’m a little worried, so I hurry over, turn it
off, and close the glass. And this time, as I’m leaving the room, I hear a click as the glass opens.
So I turn around and see the glass swinging open nice and smooth. Now this scares
me, ‘cause you gotta understand these doors are heavy, and the magnets are strong. It takes a lot
of effort to open those doors. So yeah, that scares the crap outa me and I go running out the door
to the neighbor’s house, to get my friend Sandy.
So I tell Sandy what happened, and of course she doesn’t believe me. But after a minute I
get her to come back with me. We get back to the house, and you can hear the stereo from
outside, some country station, which isn’t what it was before, and no one in my family listens to
country. Well before we go in I go around back and grab Justin’s baseball bat, just in case.
Now this was early fall, and like I said, sometime in the evening; so it’s really noticeable
when we step inside: it’s hot. Like really hot. I look over at Sandy, and I can see she’s starting to
believe me. Well we go back to the living room and turn off the stereo gain, and it suddenly get’s
cold. Cold enough to see your breath. Now we’re really spooked, and we go to leave.
Well while we’re walking up the hallway Sandy all of a sudden yells and points. You
remember how my mom’s room was at the other end of the hall? And the big mirror she had
hanging on the door? Well Sandy’s pointing right at the mirror, and at first I can’t tell what she’s
so scared about. But after a second I see it too: this gray shape in the mirror, like a person, but
vague and smudged. I couldn’t really say why, but I was sure it was a woman, and that she was
mad, like she hated me almost.
So we stare at it for a minute, afraid to do anything I guess. And then it moves, like it’s
reaching out or something. Well that gets us going, I dropped the bat, and we both ran from the
Well my mom got home later, to the stereo on, playing country loud, and me not home.
So when I see that she’s there and come back over from Sandy’s she gives me an earful. I tried
to explain what happened, but of course she doesn’t believe me. Anyway, after that I never
stayed home alone at that house again, and I definitely believe in ghosts.”