Personal

A Letter to 38yo Me

Photo by Jill Burrow from Pexels

Did you ever believe that you’d live this long? As a child, we used to map out our futures. What we’d be like as teenagers. In our twentysomethings, batting away quarter-life crises. And we’d imagine being 32. Then it was just dark, unplanned. Nothing lay beyond its horizon. It is uncertainty whether we thought our story came to a halt at 32, or if our imagination was limited. This Saturday, we will meet for the first time and we will have outlived our expectation by six years.

Continue reading “A Letter to 38yo Me”
Personal

More Time…

I spend a lot of time walking through bookstores. Well, just one bookstore. When Hastings closed several years ago, Barnes & Noble has been my one source for instant book gratification. Well, that and my Kindle. Most times I buy something. Sometimes it’s just therapeutic. Tonight I picked up J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beren and Lúthien even though I haven’t finished reading The Girl with All the Gifts nor have I started Michael Crichton’s Dragon Teeth. Lingering in my head as I made way down the aisles, scanning spines for titles that were familiar and new, was Shaun’s counseling session.

A few months ago, Jeanna and I agreed we’ve give child counseling a try. After all, we couldn’t explain Shaun’s sudden change in mood. Sure, part of it could be school. But his silent treatment and whispered conversation began to spread across non-school days. He no longer wanted to go to the movies because he feared the loud noises. He hated going to stores that weren’t Barnes & Noble for the same reason. We couldn’t figure out what exactly was going on with our child, so we looked for assistance. And today Shaun just wanted me to go into the room with him, while Jeanna waited in the lobby. A decision that I didn’t anticipate.

I won’t go over the details of the conversation, just the part that stuck in my head.

“Have you ever been to the beach?” his counselor asks. “Yes,” Shaun replies. “When was the last time you’ve been to the beach?” “A long time ago. But not too long ago.” “And who did you go with?” “Mommy and Marcos.” “Is Marcos another little boy?” “No.” “Who’s Marcos, Shaun?” she asks. He hesitates to answer, so she continues, “Is he Mommy’s friend?” She gives me a look, a pained smile across her face because maybe she’s uncertain if I knew about this possible interloper. “Yes.” “Is Marcos nice to Mommy?” she asks, and I understand that this is protocol. She’s not insinuating that the man who’s been planning secondary parent is abusive, but my intestines still clench with anxiety. “Yes,” he answers.

There was a time I saw Marcos as my competition, my adversary. It’s the first time I felt the bite of jealousy in my thoughts. This was before coming to terms that I was no longer in the running.

There are still times when I’m William Borgens “staring through the window into my ex-wife’s new life” and how seeing them together is “like turning on a familiar sitcom, and realizing they had replaced one of the lead actors with a stranger.” How the show remained the same but the actor who played Guillermo for nearly ten years was gone.

I close my eyes for a bit. The last night catching up with me this morning. I’m not a drinker, mind you; I’m just not as young as I once felt. The counselor pries a bit, but Shaun, like his father, holds back on discussing his feelings. Maybe when he learns to put his thoughts on the page, he’ll find a way through them. Until now, counseling sessions with this woman. After the session, she asks Shaun if he’s ready to visit her without one of us in the room. He wasn’t. Not just yet, anyway.

After eating and giving Jeanna the quick rundown on what was said about Marcos, I came into my room and just crashed onto my bed while Shaun played with his cousins. I placed my phone on the charger and started texting a girl. Someone who’s been on my mind a lot lately. Someone I’ll go out of my way to talk to, even when there’s nothing to discuss. Someone who’s like a better version of me.

Someone who’s found away to make me smile.

Me: So Shaun decided to give me the honor of going with him to the counselor’s room without Jeanna. It got awkward when Jeanna’s boyfriend was brought up.

Her: So, interesting day?

Me: Very. Because he doesn’t seem to understand what he is to her.

Her: Oh boy… Definitely awkward.

Me: And because I don’t interact with either of them (meaning counselor and Shaun) during the session, I just sat there dissecting everything in my head. The counselor just gave me this semi-pained smile.

Her: So, no reading?

Me: No reading. Just good old raw awkwardness.

Her: But no zombie apocalypse. I know it’s not much, but it’s kinda a bright side.

Me: It means a lot that you can put a positive spin on this.

Her: I try.

I’ve been transparent about my feelings without so much as voicing them. I’m uncertain about them just as much as scared of them. And while she’s met Shaun, he knows she’s just a friend. Not the same type of friend as Marcos is to Jeanna, but a friend. And I couldn’t ask for a better one during this second wave of uncertainty and existential crisis that a malevolent programmer might have set up in me.

Doldrums

These are not resolutions

The dry spell isn’t over. 2016 brought so much and gave so little away, creative wise. And it’s difficult to remain optimistic about the dawning new year. So many poor decisions were made this year. It started with the decision to only read books of a certain genre. It quickly derailed. Much worse than the year before. 2017 will be a low number goal for books, but do I promise to budget my time between TV, books, and, most importantly, being a father.

And exercise—shit! I forgot about exercise! Earlier this year, it was the first to go when things began to look bleak. Just cast aside after months of fighting with the Zombies, Run! app and my phone’s weak signal (just Sprint’s way to remind me it’s time to upgrade!). And with exercise, comes better eating. Having to watch your sodium and sugar intake isn’t fun at 33. Most things dietary aren’t fun at 33. Things aren’t fun at 33. And it’s necessary to stop expecting instant results. More so, it’s important to know that it’s not something a person can jump into headstrong. One needs to ease into it, otherwise, you’re bound to lose hope and enthusiasm. No diet books. No starving myself. Just better, healthier choices.

And spending time with friends. It’s beneficial to make time for yourself to spend with friends. No matter the activity. After binge watching The Big Bang Theory (don’t you dare judge me! We all have our vices), I brought up the idea of incorporating Dungeons & Dragons into our game night. We’re all nerds, after all. Why not take it to the next step? From the starter kit, purchased for $20 at Barnes and Noble, to purchasing the three main guides from Amazon (thank you Humana Vitality!), Duckie and I have been pouring over everything in order to make decent characters and stories. Of course, Cards Against Humanity, Exploding Kittens, and Betrayal at House on the Hill are also included in our reindeer games—plus whatever board and card games purchased in the new year. But the activity doesn’t matter in the end. Games or movie marathons or a TV show binge. The effort needs to be made at least once a month (twice, if you’re feeling randy).

And writing. After swearing that 2016 was the year that my creative process would resurrect itself, nothing came to fruition. A few jotted notes in my “bible” dealing with story ideas, quotes from stories and books read or skimmed through, snippets of science and astronomy and mythos lore—nothing that amounted to anything. I won’t say 2017 will be my year. But damn, I’ll need to put more effort into my craft. And not just my random thoughts in a journal or on this blog. But serious, hardcore writing.

And returning to the garden. I started a small garden for Shaun this year, but after the summer incident I lost enthusiasm. I always meant to spread the garden until it encompassed a large chunk of the backyard. And after watching Fuller House, I have an idea how to go about it. But it’ll cost money.

And finally, adulting. I haven’t figured out how to do this just yet. But I will.

Personal

The Collection of the Gently Mad

The first collection I recall keeping consisted of my baby teeth. I kept them inside a small glass jar which I tucked away in a drawer. Most children placed their fallen teeth beneath their pillows. I did this once and the Tooth Fairy left me some money. She also left my tooth behind. Into the jar it went. Not all my baby teeth made it into the jar. Just the ones that weren’t swallowed or lost down a drain. I don’t recall why or when the collection started. And I don’t remember when it ended, or what happened to the jar.

Throughout the years I have collected many things. I collected pebbles, stones, and rocks. Pogs and comics and cards. I owned an array of marbles. Kept business cards in a plastic sandwich bag. Fliers and posters for events I never intended to attend. I archived the letters written to me. I kept letters found in public places where former romantics accidentally dropped them. I owned several half-filled marbled composition notebooks filled with adolescent poetry. Journals are tucked away throughout the house. Some forgotten, others carried with me wherever I venture.

Bookshelves, Shaun's toys, and a foot.
Shelves

I am nothing short of a hoarder. Step into my house and you’ll see nothing but the sickness, this gentle madness, encoded into my literary DNA. There are four boxes of unread comic books stacked besides the collection I started a year ago. I have shelves upon shelves of books. Half of which remain unread. Some of these books were gifts. Most were purchased on whim. They come from many places. From boxes outside professors’ offices. From a withdrawn shelf at the university library. From recycle bins. From Amazon. Barnes and Noble. Better World Books. Several from Hastings during their last days in McAllen, Texas.

I purchased books because their covers called to me. Because there was an itch that needed scratching. Because they were written by authors I’ve come to love. Or authors that I want to love. Or authors who are loved by those I love. Some were purchased to fill an emotional void. Others were purchased by suggestion or recommendation or after reading an article about the writer or a review of the book. I purchased books for research. To educate myself further. To find my center. Because I watched a movie or TV show based on it. Or because an upcoming movie was adapted from a novel that just seemed right up my alley. Once I purchased a book on the sole reason that a girl was reading it in class.

Hanns Bohatta said it best: “The bibliophile is the master of his books, the bibliomaniac their slave.”

Of the two, which am I? Was the ever a time when I controlled these impulses? Can I say that I am the master of my library? Can I say it honestly? Have I always been its slave?

I never stole a book. Not really, anyway. Some were given to me after being liberated from a library. Some were borrowed and never returned. I’m not willing to throw down money for a signed first edition of a classic text. I’m not about to spend a life’s savings on a framed sheet from a manuscript written by James Joyce or Ernst Hemingway or Sylvia Plath. My addition hasn’t reached those extremes. My career choices will never make those fantasies a reality should they ever come to fruition. It’s simple: I buy books to own books.

I shop sales. Take advantage of memberships and free shipping and discounted prices. I hit bargain bins and tables. Lust after three-for-two deals. Kept track when local libraries held sales. I buy used copies of hardcovers or softcovers, but do my best to stray away from mass market paperbacks; they cannot handle my affection or my abuse.

Unboxed comics beside collection
Unread comics

Of all my collections, my library is the newest and, by far, the most rewarding. Those that I have read have molded my prose, my thoughts, my ideals and ideas. I borrowed personality traits and philosophies, making them my own. They have suggested music and movies and other books, which I come to love and adore. My library ranges from the literary to the realms of fantasy and horror. Graphic novels and comic trades and manga stand beside Joyce Carol Oates and T.C. Boyle and Umberto Eco. There are old college text books, not all of them mine. The cheap shelves purchased from Walmart curve sa they exceed the recommended weight. There are small stacks in my bedroom. There are more making it to my lists. Some I’ve already pre-ordered. I subscribed to Comic Bento just to see what it’s like.

What’s the endgame though? As Nicholas A. Basbanes put it: “Whatever the involvement, however, every collector inevitably faces the same harsh reality. After years spent in determined pursuit, a moment arrives when the precious volumes must pass to other shelves. Some accept the parting with calm and foresight; other ignore it entirely. Some erect grand repositories as monuments to their taste; others release their treasures with the whispered hope that they reach safe harbor in the next generation.”

There will come a time when I’m faced with the decision. And I am uncertain of how I’ll respond. Am I the master, or just the slave?

Personal

The End of Phase 2 Pt. 3: Notes.

From the pages of Thought Processing (my handwritten journal):

Purchase a copy of Yes Please by Amy Poehler and highlight the shit out of that book.

Screw the partnership. Start writing posts for the books we carry and hopefully others will follow. Maybe ask local writer friends to write a post about their favorite book (the one that said this is it. I’m a writer/reader/book lover). (Michael Jones, Richard Sanchez, Anne Estevis, etc.)

Start working on “Stories for Shaun” in lieu of “Letters to Shaun.” Regular WordPress blog?

What’s phase 3? More about life and writing? More books? More posts about being a father? Bug Ashton about new banner.

Write. Write. Write. Never stop writing.

Possible post titles:
1. Lessons in Letting Go
2. Letter to Jeanna—”The Greatest Bastard” Damien Rice.

Stop being so afraid of moving forward, goddamnit!

Find “gift of fear.”

“They are not long, the weeping + the laughter.”

There are shards of memories I want to share with you. Maybe to put together, or maybe to bury. Truth is, I don’t know what I want to do with them. The only thing we can be certain of is that these pieces aren’t meant to hollow a path to return to us. They aren’t bread crumbs from a crumbling romance grown stale and moldy. They’re simply shards of memories. A declaration. A proclamation. Just reminders that it was never in my intention to let you down.

Sometimes I forget [illegible] There are times when you don’t get a rejection. Sometimes this [illegible] rejectionlessness eats you up more than a no would. You begin to feel that you are so unworthy of anything

There are times when you don’t get a rejection. And, at times, this may seem worse than if she had just said no. A part of you There’s nothing you can do about this one. Asking again is just a set up [for] ridicule. If you were clear of your intentions the first time, a second time will not garner you an answer.

Never expose yourself to the world [illegible] Several people will say personality trumps everything else. However, I’ve noticed the vanity of those around on a day to day basis. This is not to deter you from trying to meet someone who is “out of your league.” There are no leagues. Just shallow and the deep. Shallow people are the here and now. They say things like, “Can you blame me for They create superficial high standards. They care only about chiseled features or unnaturally large tits. They worship cosmetics like a Christian Catholic on Easter Sunday.

[…]

I wonder when I grow old, my face will remain scowled. As if my expectations of the world have left me perpetually disappointed.

Books

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Where was Tim Tharp as I sat in creative writing class being torn apart by my contemporaries and professor for creating a unlovable character and throwing him into an adventure where he doesn’t learn a lesson? Sure, Sutter Keely might come off as your typical, everyday high school party goer. And sure, he might seem charming. And sure he might get the gist of knowing he has to grow up, but in The Spectacular Now I’m left wondering if he will ever get his head straight and start thinking about something other than the now.

The Spectacular NowDo not mistake charming for lovable. Sutter Keely will steal your heart and make you smile throughout the book with his misguided, quasi-jaded philosophy that puts Holden Caulfield to shame. There is no denying, however, that Sutter is a teenage alcoholic bound to grow up into an adult alcoholic. He’s disappointed with people who don’t embrace his idea of fun and living life. Still, you read through the book with the understanding that this is a coming of age novel. That Sutter will eventually have to grow up. And after seeing what’s in store for his future, watching his friends growing up around him, the reader expects an epiphany, a change. Screw up after screw up, mishap after mishap, trouble after trouble

Tim Tharp, however, doesn’t deliver that to the reader. The Hollywood ending doesn’t do Sutter justice because it’s just a manipulation of the atomic vampires in charge. And while I can’t help but to admire that this book just proved my creative writing class wrong, I still feel cheated.

Even through all the good of the book, the lackluster ending where the narrator learns absolutely nothing even though reflections of his future cheer him on, stare him in the face, ditch him constantly, he keeps on trucking as God’s own drunk. Romanticizing his dead-beat father until he becomes a carbon copy image of the bastard. The only lessons he learns he quickly forgets with his big 7Up and whisky.

Still the amazing ability of getting into his main character’s psyche proves that Tim Tharp is a writer that will get young adults to sit down and read. There isn’t a boring moment within the pages. And the information is delivered without the fluff that makes most books tedious to read at that age. The sort of writer that I yearned for growing up.

So if you’re willing to go along from the drunken ride and test your sobriety, it’s time you curled up with Tim Tharp’s novel.

About the book (from Amazon.com):

This National Book Award Finalist is now a major motion picture — one of the most buzzed-about films at Sundance 2013, starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.

SUTTER KEELY. HE’S the guy you want at your party. He’ll get everyone dancing. He’ ll get everyone in your parents’ pool. Okay, so he’s not exactly a shining academic star. He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men’s shirts for a living. But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram’s V.O., life’s pretty fabuloso, actually.

Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee. Aimee’s clueless. Aimee is a social disaster. Aimee needs help, and it’s up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a splendiferous time and then let her go forth and prosper. But Aimee’s not like other girls, and before long he’s in way over his head. For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life—or ruin it forever.

 
The Spectacular Now
by Tim Tharp
Ember, 9 July 2013 (movie tie-in cover)
ISBN: 978-0385754309

You can purchase a copy of The Spectacular Now at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. An e-book edition is available for Kindle and Nook.