It’s 2018 and I am lying on the living room couch listening to my son and nephew playing on the Xbox in my bedroom. It’s a hot South Texas day in August and my only thoughts are getting as much rest as possible after the tumultuous Summer Reading Program we had at the public library. It was the first program I ran as acting-supervisor of the department, as the children’s supervisor had left before summer began. There were some hopes that I’d take the title before Autumn Programming began, though I know there was a slim chance I’d even be their second or third choice for the position. Maybe their fourth? Possibly their fifth.
A black moth lands on the front screen door. Memory makes it the size palm of my hand, but it might have been much smaller, though still bigger than most moths that flutter around during the day.
I call out to the boys to come see the moth while snapping a picture with my phone for my Instagram. “The invasion starts tonight,” I typed and hit post. It is August 9, 2018.
Most of my ambitious DIY projects were simply ideas I had. Moments of delusions thinking I have talent or patience to pull off something fantastical. Most times, these ideas remained in my head because I knew – or at least, assumed I knew – that I could never do it. That I would never complete it. Ideas that stemmed from cosplaying characters – both established and original characters – to gardening: flower beds, backyard produce crops, fairy gardens with Shaun, landscaping, etc.
For nine years, I worked at a public library. And for several of those years were spent working in the Children’s Department. DIY crafts were our niche. These were all simple crafts with common household items and construction paper. During the big Stay At Home movement in 2020, we all became YouTube content creators – though we mostly worked on Facebook, our personalities had to be big and present. Our DIY crafts got a bit more elaborated during our Summer Reading Program. Still, most of what I presented and did wasn’t exactly what I’d call ambitious – you know, outside of putting myself in front of a camera almost every day.
I suppose my most ambitious DIY project came in the form of a chapbook. It was made for a creative writing class in college and contained all the pieces I wrote that semester. It took its title from a verse in Psalm 137, and several of the pieces contained Catholic images (and guilt). There were some pieces in that little chapbook that I was quite proud of. Maybe still proud of. Maybe it’s time to revisit that piece.
My son spins around on the extra wheeled chair in my office, staring blankly at his phone. Majority of his classmates are probably still in their beds, sleeping off late night excursions on Minecraft or Roblox or Fortnite or whatever games kids play on their tablets and phones these days. I can’t fathom the thought of me, at his age, finding joy in joining my parent at work. My mother, the food prep lady at a high school. My father, the mechanic. Still, my son finds some morsel of joy in spending an 8-hour day (plus one hour for lunch) with his father, the library assistant in the special collections at an academic library.
He doesn’t bore me, by the way. I realize opening my thoughts with a story about my son made it seem that way. No. Work bores me, though my job is fun and exciting. It’s just moments like this, when my son is not in school, I’m wasting time away from him at my desk.
Ok. Maybe work just frustrates me.
It’s not like my job is a slow-moving book. Or a meeting that “could have been an e-mail.” Or church – my gosh, I still wondered how I managed to go every Sunday and sit there, not letting my mind wander.
And I wonder if my son gets bored. We live in an age where boredom is a thing of the past. At least, it seems to be. Yet my son, like so many of us – me included – can find solace in his phone. Staring at the screen. Watching video after video. And while such a time-waste may bring the ire of any other parent, I noticed that he becomes inspired by what he sees. He wants to make content, remix others content, build a platform with his friends.
And trust me – I get it. The idea that my son wants to be a content creator had me exasperated for a while. But he enjoys it. He’s inspired to learn tricks of the trade. How to edit. How to speak to a crowd. What kind of shit parent wouldn’t want that for their child?
Let my fortune be rich in stories shared on quiet nights as we lay in bed drifting into sleep. Let the inheritance I leave to you be the sounds of our laughter as the whispers of your childhood. Let both be comprised of our memories as we took walks through my childhood neighborhood, as I navigated you through places long since erased.
The origin of this poem started when I first heard the news about the Quintanilla family releasing a new Selena album, three decades after her untimely death. It was a mixture of fascination and disgust. That’s the only way I can describe the feeling of seeing a family continuing to exploit the work of their deceased sister. And I wondered what sort of things I’d leave behind for my son to find.
I never intended to take poetry outside of composition books. And I never intended to take it off the stage. And now as I’m in the last year of my thirties, I’m wondering why not? There have bumps and hiccups along the way. Events that pushed me out of the local poetry scene. And while I’ve allowed myself to be angry about it, and possibly will hold on to this grudge for a while longer, I think it’s time I just pick up the mic and where I left off a decade ago.
So what do I intend to leave behind for my son? Memories. Written. Recorded. Penciled in the margins of my books where he will find them should he one day decide to read them. I want him to remember our stories and share them with his children – should he have any, that is.
I want to encourage him to follow this music path where it ever it leads him, just as I followed my poetry path for a while.
Normally, I record an audio and slap it on stock video but this is still in a rough draft process. I believe this is the eighth attempt to write this poem. And I liked it more than the rest. But it’s not quite finished. Not quite yet. And the title isn’t the one I intended but it’s the one that made the most sense at the time of this writing.
So maybe one day I’ll break out the old Yeti and record it.
I may have avoided Maggie Smith my entire life had it not been for the Libby App. When I first heard about a poet named by that name, I figured it was thatMaggie Smith; I had had enough celebrity poets. But I learned that the poet and the actor weren’t one and the same.
It was a disservice I did to myself, a realization made while listening to Goldenrod. Her words hit hard, deep, and in all the right spots. And, of course, I wanted more.
When “Good Bones” appeared during a YouTube search, I knew this was the poem that I had been seeking:
Life is short and the world is at least half terrible, and for every kind stranger, there is one who would break you, though I keep this from my children.
It made me think of the things I told to my son the day he was born. The promises I made to him. The idea of protecting him from the ugly, and hoping to show him the beauty of this world. Aren’t all good parents “decent realtors” trying to to sell “a real shithole” to their children? That despite all the ugly this world has to offer, there is still beauty in the world and our children – just possibly – “could make this place beautiful?”
I started this post last night. Then I backspaced it to oblivion, only to start again. Rinse and repeat until I closed the tab and shut off my computer. Writing hasn’t been coming easy for me, and that famous Bukowski quote echoes through my head: “Don’t try.”
While Bukowski speaks to a younger version me, lost to the times, that quote still holds heavy in my heart. Much like the one I scrawled in Sharpie on my teenage bedroom: “You have to be WILLING to write badly.” I’m unsure of the origin of that quote. Not sure if teenage me plucked it from the pages of Writer’s Digest, or read it in a writer’s manual. But it made sense to me.
You have to try to fail, and failures aren’t always a bad thing. Sometimes failure leads to something better. (Cue The Rolling Stones.)
As overly simplistic this is, failure led to Shaun. And I never once thought of it in that way. When I started in 1997, I was bold. And I don’t mean that I took great leaps and chances to stand out – though, I vaguely remember wearing this string in my hair for reasons that still baffle me. What I mean is, my freshman of high school I had this thought that if I took French, I’d get the girl. What girl? Who the fuck knows. Any girl. I can think of a number of crushes I had in the eighth and ninth grade and to 14-year-old me, either one would have sufficed. I wanted a girlfriend and French is the language or romance, no?
So I took French and, ultimately, I flunked French. Who would have fucking guessed that? So my “sophomore” year (better known as my second freshmen year), I took Spanish. Advance Spanish. Now I speak better Spanish these days than I did back then. And that’s very telling of the skill 15-year-old me had. Which is, if you haven’t guessed, none at all. Yet somehow I passed. So that in my junior year, I took Spanish II.
Spanish has never been a second language to me. It should be considering my upbringing and where I live. I’m good when it comes to ordering food and, most times, assisting patrons at work. But conversationally, I’m as gringo as they get. (In fact, I know a white girl who speaks better Spanish than me.) So in Spanish II, I managed to pass the first semester. I don’t know what happened that second semester, but I failed, causing to repeat it in my senior. Bear with me, I’m getting to my point.
In my second semester, I walked into my second attempt at Spanish II. I chose my seat carefully, sitting aside a pretty, green-eyed freshman girl with a unique spelling of her name. This girl, of course, was Jeanna. Now I didn’t fall in love with Jeanna off the bat. I was in a committed long distance relationship with a redhead in San Antonio, whom met through her friends here.
But that’s beside the point, because eventually, I did fall in love with Jeanna. I spent most of my post-adolescent and adult life in love with her. And we had our ups and downs. Our fights. Break-ups and make-ups. And we had Shaun, the best creation I ever had a hand in. More beautiful than any poem I’ve written or ever will write.
You see, if I hadn’t taken French my freshmen year, I would have started my Spanish lessons earlier. Thus leading me to have never meant Jeanna. And if I passed French my freshmen year, I would have taken French II my sophomore year. Whether I passed that or not isn’t important; I still wouldn’t have met Jeanna. Had I passed that second semester of Spanish II my junior year, same outcome.
Now I’m not saying things happen for a reason, because that’s balderdash and a strange way to look at the world.
I’m guess what I’m saying is this: Don’t just try to do something, do something. If you fail, that’s part of the process. Some times it might hurt; some times you find yourself in a better situation because of it.
Maybe you’re a writer trying publish for the first time, only get a rejection letter. Maybe you’re a freshmen kid wanting to learn French. Or maybe you’re sitting next to the woman you’ve grown really close, watching YouTube videos, and you get brave enough to ask if she wants more only for her to tell you she’s content on just being friends.
If there’s one message I want to impart here it’s this: It’s o.k. if you’re not o.k. right now. Failure and rejection have a way of making you feel like a lesser person. But I love my failures as much as I praise my successes. Because I wouldn’t trade all the hypothetical girls freshmen-me could’ve had speaking perfect French for what I have now. Even if what I have now is just being a single dad.
Dune author Frank Herbert once said, “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” This isn’t an ending. It’s just another beginning. Another chapter to be written.