Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Jump-Off

I thought I knew a thing or two about cruelty. To be honest, I might have called myself an expert on the subject. I mean, I’ve seen movies like Pasolini’s Salo and NoĆ©’s Irreversible, and I’ve read everything I could get my hands on that’s been deemed transgressive or cruel. I’ve even tried emulating it in my fiction—one short piece about a man whose fingers split and cracked and fell from his body with each keystroke, or another about a car thief who moonlights as a life thief. All for the fun of it. So, I’m an authority on what it means to be cruel, right?

Here’s what I’ve been learning over the past few weeks. Cruelty, at least in the theatre (though it’s tenets would appear to be entirely fruitful in all mediums), isn’t about pain and suffering. True cruelty isn’t a splatter film; it doesn’t exist simply to turn a stomach. But to turn a heart, a mind. When I watched those films, read those books, and imitated them in my own work, it was a matter of exploitation, a search for a higher body count, more red dye and corn syrup (ex. Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive). There was nothing provoked in me other than a drive to see something I hadn’t seen before. 

Where the theatre of cruelty differs, is that the cruelty isn’t limited to the content, and is certainly more than mere acts of violence. The cruelty, at least for me, lies within the audience’s response to the performance. Are they uncomfortable? Do they feel queasy? Is everyone dying to run from the theatre? Now, is this because there’s a bloodbath on stage? It can’t be. We’ve seen Saving Private Ryan. This is nothing new, we’re used to gore. In fact, I’d argue most of us are less interested without it. Instead, if we’re feeling tense, it must be a product of how it’s presented. That lack of content, the tilting off center, is the cruelty. 

What I found interesting was this: as I went into writing my first scene, I wrote with the word “cruelty” in mind. I thought, let me take all the violence I’ve internalized over the years and boil it down to a single act of violence. I thought I’d shock the audience by staging a murder without reason or purpose, and the cruelty would pump out like a torn artery. I still thought that the cruelty was in the act, rather than the presentation. To add a spin, I made the murderers female, because that never happens, right? After, however, and continuing to think about the theatre of cruelty, I realized that this was just like all those exploitive pieces I searched for. I was trying to shock, not move. 

And so I set out with my second scene. This piece, I, much like the other scenes brought to class, featured very little, if any, violence. It was as if I shied away from violence, with purpose or without, simply because I recognized my reliance on it. Strangely enough, a suicide to end the scene would have tied in perfectly with the cruelty I’d been aiming for. I wanted the audience to be forced to crane their necks to see the actors up on the catwalk. I wanted them to dodge the trash and debris being thrown at them. I wanted them to get off their phones on the stage, in the line of fire. Letting the character with seemingly no intention to do so,  jump straight at them would have capped off the discomfort and movement (emotional or otherwise) I’d been seeking in my audience. 

Cruelty then, I’m continuing to discover, is violence and it isn’t. It’s the discomfort found in extended silences, in contorted bodies, both physical and emotional. Cruelty is found in what isn’t said, and whatever is elicited in the audience. I was blown away by Josie’s piece because I was forced to answer the questions myself. We’ve seen the scenes in movies, and heard the news reports. We’ve listened to lawyers and fought through testimony and such inundation has made us immune. All we have to do is change the channel or walk out of the auditorium. But with the theatre of cruelty, if done right, you can’t. You have to step into the shoes and feel the production strum a nerve that had otherwise been desensitized. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Little Blue Boxes

I had a workshop leader, Frank, who, during the discussion of my work, laid out the pages side by side, three rows of five so that my fiction formed a rectangle on the long conference table. This was his copy, and justifiably covered with the blood of a red pen. I’d seen this with plenty of my fiction teachers—slashes through sentences and whole paragraphs and notes like “could cut” or “What are you thinking?”—but there was something different. Frank had drawn large blue boxes around blocks of text, and most of the bloodshed remained in the spaces between each box. “These,” he said, by his estimation, were “the active scenes of my work.” They drove the story, propelled the reader forward. From that moment, I began to focus my efforts on the crafting of scenes and stringing them together to tell the story. Everything else, all the expositional nonsense in between became superfluous and excised when I began drawing my own boxes.
Because of this, I thought I had a handle on writing scenes, and in the realm of fiction, I still think I do okay. Though, in attempting to write my first scene for the stage, a short two person scene, I realized just how limited I am. This isn’t just to point out my downfalls with putting the actual words on the page, but with all the other details one needs to account for when writing for the stage. I’d like to equate to process of writing fictional prose to a digital art program like photoshop or the archaic MS Paint.
I begin with a blank canvas, and an idea of what I’d like to create, and for the most part I can dive right in. What aids this process, is the available tools surrounding the white space, the fills and splashes and borders, all at the click of a button. With fiction, if I have scene in a bathroom, I can describe the lighting, the putrid, jittery flicker of aged fluorescence bouncing off the cesspool of stained, green tile, the beads of sweat and spatter of blood contrasting the vivid blond of the woman standing and deepening walnut brown of the kneeling brunette. The hammer she drops can be as big or as small as I want. The dead man in the bathtub can be anywhere in the room, because I, with all my readily available tools, am the architect.
When writing for the stage however, I found myself really starting from scratch. The luxury of free-roaming creation wasn’t available. This isn’t to say that anything your mind can fathom couldn’t be performed, but instead, that everything you fail to consider when writing fiction comes into play.
My process for writing fiction is as follows: roll out of bed, smoke, guzzle coffee, smoke, put on a Vangelis record, open up the document, bang on the keys, smoke, smoke, guzzle more coffee, write a page I think is brilliant, then delete it upon further reflection, smoke, nap. I do all this from the comfort of a shabby blue leather couch with my feet propped on a repurposed coffee table. I don’t need to leave, save for research if necessary, because everything I’m creating exists in my mind, and my job then, is to appropriately transcribe this to the page all the while considering the mythical reader in my mind—a cross between the subway commuter reading my work on the way to the drone factory and the delegate sent from the canon to judge my level of worthiness. This person doesn’t exist, and never will, but as I sit here on the couch, I’m writing to them.
The first difference I discovered when writing for the stage began with the confirmation that my fiction instructor was still correct—the scene is paramount, and the words between prevent the audience from being propelled forward. The second, and more terrifying but essential difference, is that another step is needed for the stage. Now, the world in my mind must be transferrer to the page, then transferred to the vast expanse before a viewing audience. No longer am I writing for the mythical consumer/critic beast I’ve imagined, but now I have to write for the public. The world I’m used to laying out for the reader to fill in the gaps crumbles as I fumble with props and lighting and lines of sight.
What I tripped over was tangibility. I can’t just write in a lamp, or the glaring fluorescence, but now I must write the physicality into my scenes. I have to consider not only the fictional world, but how it will translate into reality. Will everyone in the audience, from the back corner, to the front row, get the same experience based on my stage directions. Can everyone see? Can they hear? In a short story, no characters need to face one another, or position themselves in such a way that the general public can watch their lips move, but on the stage, these amount to only a fraction of the necessary considerations. Where editing my fiction is for flow, for syntax, grammar, the hunt for the most beautiful sentence, it has grown to include not only all of that, but also the daunting task of editing to create a performance. And even further, an accessibility for every attendee.
In a way, writing for the stage, to me, removes some of the, for lack of a better word, laziness that I’ve grown accustomed. I can’t let my reader to the work. I’ve got to get up there, walk around the creaking stage, blow the dust off old props, move actors around like rooks and bishops, then return to the page to make adjustments. It is the ultimate recursive process, one that reflects, maybe, the very thematic elements of all creative endeavors—the arduous slog of trial and error, of success and failure—and in doing so, I might be able to create something that has the ability to transcend medium and speak to more than that invented reader I have been pandering to. But first, I’ve got to get up off the couch, hop onto the stage, and put in the work.
Frank, my instructor, had the right idea: break everything down into scenes and see where your story takes you, but I’m learning now that within those little blue boxes, amidst the bloodshed of hacked away prose, the real action isn’t simply text, but must encompass every single seemingly insignificant detail that creates a new reality.

Friday, September 4, 2015

New Found Pride (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lions)

Everyone—teams, coaches, fans, and every bartender from New Orleans to Anchorage—is gearing up for the season. I can feel it, that same electricity that permeates the waking hours of Christmas day before your parents get out of bed. A new year, another chance. And another few weeks of people looking at my funny when I tell them I’m a Lions fan.
Growing up, I didn’t play sports. There may have been a kickball game or some pick-up touch football I was picked last for, and sometime during middle school, I begged my folks to get me a basketball hoop for the front yard, but really, I just wanted to neighborhood kids to be my friend, even if they were only pretending. And I was happy to bribe them with a shiny new Plexiglas backboard, and unlimited cans of Surge from inside the house. 
As a family, we didn’t watch sports either. My mother and father didn’t grow up with any allegiances in their own families, and with my father’s military career taking us to various points around the country, I never had enough time to form one of my own. I remember watching Super Bowls—the earliest being Bills-Cowboys in the mid nineties—but instead of actually watching, I was busy sneaking sips of beer from uncles and making my G. I. Joes tackle each other, and kick field goals with tiny plastic footballs through cardboard uprights. The World Series played in the background sometimes, and I even cheered at the bar during NBA playoffs. Once I met Gordie Howe and got him to sign a poster, but let’s be real, I only liked hockey for the possibility of thrown gloves. 
So, how the hell did I become a diehard Lions fan?
I’ve never set foot within the Detroit city limits, not even with a layover at the airport. I’ve only driven through the Southwestern corner of Michigan on a road trip. None of my family, or friends really, are from that far north. The closest I’ve lived to Ford Field was a little town outside of Akron, Ohio. And living there, it would stand to reason I might form an affinity for the Bengals, the Steelers, or, the closest, the Browns. But, as a kid, I had no idea what any of those team names meant. The following may have resembled my feelings on those closest teams: why is Steelers spelled wrong? There should be an A in there, or, a Brown? I get called worse in the locker room, but not by much. I know the references now, but they were lost on me then. And in hindsight, if I knew what a Bengal tiger was, I may have been swayed to Cincinnati. No, I looked to our neighbors across the lake. Lions? They’re the king of the damn jungle. Now there was a name I could get behind. Still, thoughts of football on any legitimate level took up very little space in my head. 
Fast forward to my time in Oregon, a state in desperate need of a professional football team. A number of years ago, I took a bartending gig in the Northwest neighborhood of Portland. The bar itself was on the second floor of a converted Craftsman, and was wallpapered with a dozen TVs. Signs were posted behind the bar, in the men’s room, and a flag hung outside telling the anyone who was walking by that they could watch every game, every Sunday. The owners wanted me to tend a few nights a week, and all day Sunday. I thought the tips would be good. I thought I’d pour a bunch of beers, some shots, and take out a few sloppy burgers and orders of chicken strips. What I didn’t plan on, was having to “talk football,” with the clientele. 
From the first kickoff, I was bombarded with terms I’d never heard, like Pick Six or Intentional Grounding or Bubble Screen. I’d be covered in sweat and ketchup, carrying out four full pitchers of Pabst and think, what the hell is encroachment? (If I’m being totally honest now, I still don’t have a proper working definition.) But I did my best, smiling and nodding at the varying levels of anger or excitement from these droves of football fans, and on occasion, I’d even try to engage when they asked their barkeep what I thought of the last play, using terminology I’d heard along the way. Yeah, that was a total chop block throw, was one. Another, he should totally have just kept throwing to the pocket. I was hopeless, and my customers smelled blood in the water. I needed to do some homework, some serious study on this foreign language. But where does a twenty-six year old start? There were too many teams, too many rules. And far too many names to keep straight. I half considered giving my shift to someone who could keep up. 
Then, a few weeks into the season, there was a flood of blue and silver on the bar stools. All walks came into my bar. Bears fans. Ravens fans. Even a Bucs fan. The majority were Seahawks of Niners fans, but we had them all. And suddenly, I was inundated with Lions fans. The core group numbered eight—a couple, a pair of friends from the midwest, and four other random folks who made my bar their spot to watch Detroit on Sunday. Thing was, none of them knew one another, but by the end of that game, you could have swore they’d been friends since diapers. They shared something, an unspoken bond. 
Every fan, of every team, had their passion, their sudden outbursts and near breakdown inducing depression as they left the bar after a loss, but I was drawn to these Lions fans. By this point, I’d heard about Bobby’s curse. I’d always known to think of the Lions in a certain tier, to consider them of a certain caliber. This was, after all, very soon after going 0-16. On paper, they weren’t exactly the team with the right bandwagon to hitch onto, but the more I was drawn to the Lions fans, the more I found myself drawn to the team itself. 
One Sunday, maybe six or seven weeks in, I slid a pair of beers in front of the couple sitting at the far left of my bar. They both had vintage logos on jackets, and hats, and T-Shirts. The outfits were stained and frayed, and seemed to cling desperately to their bodies. I said, “I think I want to be a Lions fan.”
The bar was quiet, most of the games having reached halftime. The couple, in unison, said, “how are you with humility?”
The rest of the Lions fans nodded and watched for my answer. I told the couple that, yeah, I could handle it. 
“Then get ready,” they said. But they weren’t snobby about it. They weren’t trying to sway me either way. In truth, they were preparing me for the peaks and valleys of one of the oldest teams in the league. And for heartbreak.
As that season progressed, I looked forward to the their arrival, eager to here more about the Den, about the best stadium in the NFL, and about Detroit itself. In listening, taking mental and sometimes physical notes, I found myself picking up the lingo, and eventually utilizing the terminology (properly) in conversation.
By the end, the Lions finishing with a decent record, I’d developed a new passion, and a somewhat healthy obsession with a sports team. I began doing my own research, checking stats and even watching the moves made in the offseason. I was a officially a Lions fan, and I had a whole new group of friends to watch the games with when the next season started. And I’m not just talking about those whom I’d met at my bar. Everyone wearing that bright Honolulu blue, in every bar and restaurant from Oregon to my new home here in Louisiana, each and everyone one of them is my friend. We’re all in the same pride. 
I’m in. I’m hooked on the Lions, their history and their future, but I also love their fans. There’s a familial vibe with those in the pride, and even though I didn’t grow up with them, I feel honored, now, to count myself among their numbers. And what’s more, that camaraderie, that inclusive spirit, gave me more than a love for a team, but for the whole sport of football.

Now, all I have to figure out, is how to continue dating a Packers fan.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Neighborhood Watch.

Every morning, I’m greeted by one of two things: a wet nose and a “sudden” sneeze, or a steady whine, a whimper starting in the subconscious recesses of my dreams, like an approaching siren or wailing bank alarm, then breaching reality when I realize the sound is actually coming from the beast at the foot of the bed. My dog doesn’t have to go out or need his bowl filled, though he’d go for either if given the chance. No, Jackson is ready for his walk. He’s gotten spoiled. This, he’s grown to think, is how a day should begin. I try to take him every morning, which translates to four or five times a week. Sometimes we leave before the sunrise, and get home as it begins to peer over the Cajundome, and others the sun paints the whole path before us. He has a certain pride to his stroll, his head held at the same upturned angle as his fluffy, flag-like tail. We see other dogs, behind fences and on leashes, but Jackson never barks at them—though he will pee on the nearest tree to let them know he was there. If he finds discarded food, left over Taco Bell or chicken bones that have been tossed out of a car window, he vacuums them up. There are smells. Everywhere. And Jackson investigates them all.

He’s got a route, he’s got a neighborhood to patrol. And when he gets home, after a period of pant and shake, he collapses on the hardwood floor. Most often, he spends the rest of the day there. His job is done for the day. Sometimes, I watch him when he sleeps, watch his breathing hitch and paws twitch when the dream hunt is on, when sheep or goats or maybe even people need to corralled and brought back in from the pasture. And honestly, I’ve never seen a more perfect picture of contentment. He seems to sleep like he’s got nothing plaguing him, no worries or anxieties. Sure, I know I’m talking about a dog here. What does he have to worry about besides the next bowl of food, or how far the ball has been thrown? But you know what I see? I see a certain calm, a serenity that comes from doing exactly what you were meant to. 

That’s how I feel when I finish writing, after I’ve gotten on a roll, when I see a story taking on a life of its own. When I’ve saved my progress and closed the laptop lid. There’s a sense of: okay, now I can relax. Because I’ve done what I know I’m supposed to. It is, for lack of a better term, my job. The save button is how I punch out. And the paycheck? That doesn’t find its way into my mailbox every two weeks, and I shouldn’t expect a W2 anytime soon. Christmas bonus? To me, that just means more days off, which translates into more time to write. 

So why do we do it? Why do we stick with a position that is devoid of medical benefits, and 401K plans, and two weeks paid vacation—where there isn’t any room for “advancement” or managerial training? This is a job that pretty much every person in our lives (save for those along the same path), thinks is more of a “hobby” than a career, though they would never dream of saying it aloud. There are conferences and retreats and Facebook pages and support groups to remind us that there are others like us, that share the drive, the desire to create, but really, writing is a solitary endeavor. Because at the end of the day, after the line edits and end comments and networking with agents and publishers and the inevitable off site conversations about what Camus was really trying to say, we go home to our saved manuscripts, our misplaced commas, and our unparalleled insecurity about the ability to create the world, the characters, and the lasting impressions that only our minds can see. So, again, I could have been a firefighter or an astronaut. Why the hell did I decide to be a writer?

Because when I’m done for the day, after I’ve carved out five pages or two or even a single snippet of dialogue, I can circle the hardwood, pick the most comfortable spot and fall down, relaxed enough to let my paws start kicking, and dream of chasing down another story tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Absolute Beginners.

September 2nd. That was the last time I posted on here. And it seems every time I do, I make these promises about posting more. This time, however, there will be no promises. I'm just going to start anew. And to celebrate my newfound foray into the blogosphere, here's a list. This isn't a best or worst of list, but some confessions, admissions, and discoveries. Like getting back on the treadmill after too many years (or beers) away, I'm gonna take it slow.

1. While driving to Florida with a friend, we were caught in traffic for some time. When we reached the origin of the stoppage, there was no accident, no overturned semi or crushed Volkswagen. A massive crate had fallen from a truck bed and scattered what looked to be five, or six inch nails across the interstate. Nails. Thousands of them. The next ten mile stretch was littered with hobbled vehicles on the shoulder.

2. Linklater's Boyhood deserves all the attention. Also, with the exception of Alien 3, I could watch all of David Fincher's films on repeat. In fact, for the past few weeks, I have.

3. The worst thing about Louisiana isn't the oppressive heat in the summer months (which, I can only equate to being buried under a pile of wet towels) or, now that we've entered the new year, the extreme shift into near freezing temperatures, but the red light / speed cameras that reside at every single intersection. In the immortal words of Mr. Sammy Hagar, I can't drive 55. Or pretty much any limited speed below that.

4. After much anxiety and reservation about my (lack of) skill in front of a classroom, I discovered that I really enjoy teaching.

5. The Lions had their best season since the mid-fifties, but in the end, were eliminated by America's team. And rather than the majority of this blog raving about the terrible referee calls and near conspiratorial robbery of the game's outcome (of which I could write volumes), I'll simply say: next year. Man, I should get that tattooed on my knuckles.

6. I've traded energy drinks for coffee. Cigarettes are still a problem.

7. All systems go on my first trip to AWP. I have no idea what to expect, but I hear Minneapolis is beautiful in April.

8. Speaking of writing, and conferences about writing, I've begun a new project. A novel length work taking place here in a the great state of Louisiana. And while we are at it, here's a confession: as much as I revel in the horror genre—film and fiction and so forth—and as much as I've always wanted to be a horror writer, I've begun to stray. I'm becoming less and less interested in writing gore and shock.

9. Listen to Run the Jewels. And Amusement Parks on Fire.

That'll be it for now. I'm already out of breath. More soon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them?

We left Portland three weeks ago today. Our friends, Miles and Amy, had been gracious enough to open their home, hearts, and liquor cabinet to Paige and I, and we spent the last week engaging in as many “Oregon” activities as we could. Restaurants we hadn’t tried, trails we’d put off hiking. We finally got around to trying craft cocktails at new (and old) hipster bars we’d never set foot it in. We made the rounds with our border collie, Jackson, letting him say his goodbyes to his furry friends and the street lights and sign posts he’d left his mark on. Paige put her toes in the foam of the Pacific while I took her picture and she took mine while we filled inner tubes on the banks of the Clackamas river. There were going away parties and BBQs, concerts on the sprawling lawn of Portland’s backyard, and goodbyes. 

Too many goodbyes. 

And then it was time to go. What we couldn't fit in the moving truck, or deemed too vital to our lives (everything from birth certificates to signed books), we shoved into the back of our car, coaxed Jackson in with a month's worth of MilkBones and started out, careful not to spend too much time looking in the rearview. The first day we listened to a good chunk of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, barely looked out the window at the state of Idaho, and ended up at a Best Western on the Utah/Wyoming border. Behind the hotel was a manicured park where Jackson saw his first school of Koi fish swimming in a clear pond and promptly looked at me as if I'd been depriving him his whole life. The first (and probably the greatest) surprise of this stop was that the town had an In-N-Out Burger. Oh, how that neon sign gleamed like the waters of an oasis. It took some effort to stop eating when shredded wrapping paper was all that remained.

Day two brought the expansive beauty of Wyoming, the "Wild West" I'd always pictured in my mind, followed by the mind-eroding traffic of the greater Denver metropolitan area. In a flash of stupidity, I decided I could keep driving, put another hundred miles in our rearview, and we ended up in a small Eastern Coloradan town where the locals stop their conversations when you enter the room, like a priest pushing through swinging saloon doors, where hastily typed "Boil Water Due to Contamination" notices are posted on the windows of the only businesses within fifty miles, and where insects—fellow travelers themselves I assumed by the town's minuscule population—crawl through the massive crack in the door frame, seeking shelter and sustenance in the same lodgings you and your family have. 

Flynn's novel came to an end just as we rolled into Tulsa on the third day. We'd burned though most of Kansas and Oklahoma, on a few hours a fitful sleep from the night before, and pulled into another hotel parking lot. To make up for the previous evening, I secured a room with air conditioning, a jacuzzi tub, and a reliable pizza delivery service. We gorged ourselves, had a drink or two, then crashed hard while a marathon of home remodeling reality shows flickered on the TV. In the morning, we left the city along with the ice cream we’d been pining for, forgotten in the hotel room’s tiny refrigerator. 

Texas was exactly as I’d hoped, small towns with burger joints, populations hovering in triple digits, and tremendous amounts of love for their high school football teams. Even as we blew through each burg, the highway doubling as Main Street in most, we saw the blue and red and green banners hanging in store windows and down from old-fashioned lampposts. License plates and rear windows smeared with shoe polish, showcasing jersey numbers and crudely drawn renderings of mascots. Life appeared to be simpler, more focused, and just as I began to think that might the sort of lifestyle I’d been looking for all along, we crossed a line—from one state to another, from a county to a parish. We found ourselves in the dense green of Northern Louisiana. 

Jackson, relatively comatose in the backseat for most of the trip, began to perk up, pacing back and forth between the windows sniffing at the thick, humid air. It was as if he knew the journey was almost over, that we’d soon be in the next place he would call home. Little did he know: the three of us still had a few nights of hotel life ahead of us. Without a book for us to listen to, we flipped on the radio, trying, as we closed the gap between us and Lafayette, to program in new stations into the preset keys. We found a multitude of great rap and jazz stations, with decent classic rock sounds sandwiched somewhere in there, and the DJs spoke of cities we’ve never heard of and festivals we’d never been to. They talked football and shrimp. These were the voices, the instructions, of our new home.

The sun was reduced to a sliver when we pulled off the highway. The haze burned on the horizon, deep reds and oranges like the high octane swirl of color in frozen daiquiri machines. We booked a room, decompressed for a few minutes, then took a tour of our new city. Lafayette. Colorful beads hung in the trees around campus. Billboards and banners advertised upcoming music and food festivals. The fleur-de-lis was everywhere, etched into the skin of the city. Nearing nine, ten in the evening, the temperature was still in the B+ range. We’d entered a whole new world. And I felt, above the anxiety of change, simply electric with possibility. This was a place of culture, of heart. And I now called it home.

The first few days were a blur of carpet replacement, parking permits, get-togethers with other new students, school orientation, grocery shopping with Mom and Dad (without whom none of this would have been possible), getting lost in the car and on foot, more school orientation, sweating while standing still, unpacking and the discovery of what had been broken in the move, dinner with old friends and new, office and classroom assignments (after still more orientation), and the thrill of a real thunderstorm. Then suddenly, there I was, babbling in front of twenty-five freshman students, telling them I would be teaching them how to write college-level essays. It felt as though I’d just been on the Clackamas river, somewhere between Barton and Carver parks, ropes tied between my tube and Paige’s, between mine and the floating cooler, between us and the world we knew. Then, I blinked. Just a fraction of a second and I was here, telling a room full of strangers to call me Mr. Attana. Or Mr. Drew. 

Just Drew, if they liked.

I really have no idea what to expect. There is no way to tell what I’ve gotten myself into—on a teacher, student, and social level—, but I feel so blessed to be a part of this program, and a part of this thriving culture. Leaving behind our lives in Portland, the wealth of friendship and memories, has been more difficult than we could have imagined. Much harder than we pictured when I received word that I was accepted, back when a new life was only a theory. When we were doing Google searches about alligators and Cajun county. When we were deciding what we should take with us, and what we should leave. Back when we were making our friends promise they’d come to visit, and assuring them, in turn, that we wouldn’t be gone forever. It felt like a dream, something intangible, always on the horizon. In the future.

Now that it’s here and our little family unit has boots (or paws) on the ground, the ethereal, pixelated images of the fourth largest city in the State of Louisiana, have begun to sharpen. This is all real now. There are alligators here, though they aren’t waiting on the new carpet in our apartment when we get home. The humidity is rough, unlike anything we’d ever experienced on the West Coast, but the air conditioning works just fine most places. And hey, a second shower never hurt anyone. Standing in front of a classroom of freshman really is just as terrifying as I pictured it would be, but what I hadn’t factored into those fever dreams, was the support of my new classmates and colleagues. We truly are in this together.

And what has lessened the severity of this entire transition, the reality of what our family has undertaken, is the warmth of not only the friends we’ve made—folks from here, and from across the farther reaches of the country—but of the city of Lafayette. Everyone here is smiling. They’re sweating, but smiling. New friends and strangers alike seem like they want us to be here, to find the beauty that they have. They’ve made us feel welcome, a part of. 

At home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sweets to the Sweet.

I know, I know. I keep saying that I'll come back more often, I'll post more, I'll keep whoever is happening upon my website or blog abreast on the current state of my life. Of my career. But I haven't. My most recent post was the last day of February. I aim to rectify that. Let's check the pedals and get up to speed. Today, let's talk school.

To my credit, I have been busy. For a good chunk of the last few months, I have been engaged in the application process for the Creative Writing PhD program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. This was a battlefield of deadlines, essays, and lost transcripts, but with the help of those on staff in LA, and the support of my friends and family at home, I got the letter. Well, I received a phone call first, telling me I'd been accepted, but I don't think I fully let myself celebrate until the letter came in the mail. Official Letterhead and all. And riding shotgun with the letter was the terrifying notion of leaving this city behind. Portland, the place I call home. 

I came to this city almost a decade ago, with little more than a backpack full of cigarettes and paint pens. And the youthful lust that urges a twenty-year-old boy to leave everything in Southern California behind after a chance encounter. That tryst lasted, as you can assume, the appropriate three week period and I was left, by myself, in the City of Roses. I've lived in every neighborhood, drank in every bar. I've lost almost as many friends as I've made. This city helped me find the love of my life. Paige, my partner, a woman without whom I would never be the man I am today. And here I discovered who I want to be. Not the guy I pretended to be, not the badass I thought I was, but who I am. I'm a writer. 

We've got two months. Eight weeks to figure out the move, to pack our books and spatulas. To fill out change of address cards and say our goodbyes. But I'm not ready. Not yet. We've got the summer to hash out the details. And to spend as much time as we can on the river, around the bbq, at the old haunts. And I plan to savor every last second.

So, where does that leave me right now? Well, the clock is creeping up on 10am and my dog is stretched out on the hardwood like a rug, panting. Candyman, the criminally underrated horror masterpiece, is chugging and burning on the TV just beyond the glow of my laptop. Paige is plugging away at her work in the other room, finishing her last week of undergrad. And I couldn't be more proud. In a little more than a week, I'll lose myself in the clapping, the cheering, the shimmer and sway of her gown and she walks across the stage and receives her degree. 

And then we are off, off to the land of crawfish and glittery beads. To Southern hospitality and thunderstorms. To make new friends, and to encourage the old ones to visit. I cannot wait to see what life will bring next.