Friday, December 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands upon thousands of people set aside the time to write a 50,000 word novel. It seems like an impossible feat, especially to a guy like me who spends his whole life writing. I’ve been working on a novel called “Lefty” since 2007, and I’m still in the middle of rewrites on that. But here’s the catch. The NaNoWriMo novel is doable, because a) it’s just a first draft, b) the operators of the site encourage writers not to edit as they go along, and c) if you write 1667 words a day (doable, no?)… you will have a novel by the end of the month.
So… it’s November 30th and I don’t have a novel.
I have 17,540 moderately kinda maybe good words. There are some structural issues in this first quarter of what will eventually be a novel, but it’s a good start.
But anyway. I didn’t win this year. I hope to win next year. I think I can win next year which, granted, Future Pat Who Lives In 2011 might be chuckling at, but I’ll try. And I’ll avoid the pitfalls that prevented me from winning this year. Maybe it’ll help some other folks.
Don’t start NaNoWriMo if you’re already working on something time-consuming. I’m lucky enough to be in super tentative-don’t-get-to-excited-nothing-is-set-in-stone-at-all-even-a-little-but-holy-shit-I-am-excited-despite-what-I-said-before talks with an agent about a novel that I’m writing. It’s called Lefty and a really cool lady read it, liked it, and gave me eight pages of awesome notes that I’m confident will change the novel for the better. I’ve been working on this new draft since September, and I decided to take a break for NaNoWriMo. Thing is, my head was still really in the Lefty place… so I didn’t really have any EUREKA! moments of brilliance during the writing of my NaNoNovel. I did finally realize what the hell I was writing about a few days ago, but I’d already thrown in the proverbial towel. So yeah. If your head is somewhere else when November rolls around… let it stay there. I could have already resubmitted Lefty by now.
Don’t get too attached. This is a tough one. Any writer worth his or her squishy will get attached when writing an extended (or even a short) piece. Try to ignore that voice that says “This character wouldn’t do that” or “How could I be so mean to this character?!” or “This is happened way too fast” or any of those kind of thoughts. If you get so involved in the story that you start examining the nuts and bolts while you’re NaNo-ing… you won’t get that shiny badge at the end. That’s what happened to me. Thing is, this might also be a good thing. If the “This isn’t right” voice is so consistent… maybe this novel is trying to tell you that it needs more time and thought than NaNoWriMo allows for. And I know that those are two conflicting pieces of advice, but I’m a novelist… What do you expect?
Twitter. Facebook. Video games. They’re all delicious, delectable distractions. I’m an addict, I admit.
This is the biggest and most obvious pitfall, but it tends to be the one that most people fall in. I blame a lot of my NaNoWriMo failings on the top three, but this is the Big Bad. Ready for it?
It's as simple as this: Not writing.
(I kinda didn't write.)
So the month is over, and I didn't win NaNo. But I’m happy. In November, I finally wrote my CV and applied for a teaching job. I got a better day job. I wrote and submitted two pitches to my favorite comic book publisher. I wrote a play called Jelly Pants that will be performed in the city December 6th. I wrote the first sixty-eight pages of the first draft of Commuters (my attempted NaNoNovel)… and I feel like I’m in a good place. Hell, after I wrote the first fifty pages of Lefty, I stopped for a year due to lack of inspiration. Then an awesome girl and some coyotes inspired me in 2009, and I completed the first draft and am currently nearing the end of the second. So here’s to NaNoWriMo and productivity.
A lot of writers hate on NaNoWriMo for being antithetical to what the writing process is. Cramming the first draft of a novel into such a short period of time is, yes, usually inadvisable. A novel isn’t born in a month, no matter how good you are. But here’s the thing. While those who win this month, thinking that their novel is ready to shop to agents… they’re in for an upsetting (and super funny) surprise. However, NaNoWriMo does two awesome things. If you’re successful, you leave the month with a full first draft. A first draft that is in dire need of edits, yes, but what first draft isn’t?
Perhaps even better than that, NaNoWriMo teaches discipline. Writers are supposed to write every day. I’d even say more than 1,667 words. Writers, we’re weird. We want to write and we want to be published and we want people to read our books… but we get distracted by daydreaming and life (and also Facebook and Twitter). Most people doing NaNoWriMo don’t have agents to light fires under their asses and make them meet deadlines… because they have no deadlines. NaNoWriMo helps those unagented writers (hi there) write every day. And that is pretty damn cool.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Alright, bit too late for Chris Crocker jokes? Yeah? Fine, fine. Though, you have to appreciate the expression of utter horror pictured above.
And that's kind of how it feels to be a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer right now. Kind of horrific. The Joss Whedon fandom is in the biggest turmoil since Firefly was canceled (read as: abused, mistreated, spat and/or shat upon, and then canceled) and things are getting ugly.
Here's the sitch.
Joss Whedon originally created Buffy as a film. People bought it. People made it. It sucked. Joss was super sad.
Joss pitched it as a TV series. People bought it. People made it. It became what many people consider to be the best television series of all time. Joss was super happy.
But here's the catch. They're doing this without Joss. Sans Whedon. Minus the original creator. So instead of rejoicing, fans are going pretty much batshit. Thing is, I understand that. I don't necessarily agree with it as I'm a bit more objective than the average fan, but I understand it. Buffy's voice is Joss Whedon's voice. The original movie didn't work, the series did. People remember Sarah Michelle Gellar's quippy, morally ambiguous, heroic, and emotionally raw Buffy... not Kristy Swanson's campfest. So I get why the fandom is upset that the folks behind the original movie might shape this generation's vision of Buffy Summers.
However, what I don't get is this:
"This freak is just as delusional as Fran Kuzui. :/ "
“Why can't Whit come up with an original idea of her own to sell? But this is the culture we seem to live in where people want to constantly feed off of others hard work to bolster their own futures.”
“Who the hell is she to think she has the right to get ‘her version’ of Buffy on screen?”
“Whit Anderson needs to just calm the eff down and just post her little thoughts in the FAN FICTION section because that's ALL this will be - a glorified FAN FICTION that has apparently been given a budget.”
“Once this whitless woman person, watches one episode of Btvs she will truly realise how out of her league she is.”
“This Anderson chick clearly decided she wanted to take Buffy from Whedon and run it herself.”
“I will be eagerly awaiting Whit Anderson's future autobiography: "How to Become a Pariah in One Easy Step."
“If you're a true fan Ms. Anderson, you'll change your mind and leave well enough alone!”
“This chick and Warners can go to Hell! How many people did she have to blow to get this gig?”
“This freak needs to stop writing fanfics and get an original idea. Retarded.”
Alright. After you wipe the vomit from your chin, skip to the next bit.
Bit of a catch-up: Who is Whit Anderson? Why, she's the writer of the new Buffy film of course. She's also a nice lady, a hilarious tweeter, and most importantly... a fan of the show. Not the movie. The show.
Now, reread those comments.
Just know that those are Whedon fans. Fans of the creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Doctor Horrible. I’ve often described his work as the best of our time. He has created some of the most philosophically, psychologically, and emotionally complex works of television, film, and comics that exist. For years, I’ve been proud to be a part of a fandom that watches his work and understands why these works are important. I’ve analyzed his writing with people I’ve befriended over the years, and the gratification I’ve felt while connecting with someone thanks to Whedon’s work is immeasurable. Buffy, Joss Whedon, and the fandom have changed my life.
But now this. I’m disappointed and disgusted to say the least. How is it that people who seemed to have grasped the metaphors of early Buffy, the philosophy of Angel, and the moral exploration of Dollhouse can stoop this low? Again, let’s rewind a bit. “This chick and Warners can go to Hell! How many people did she have to blow to get this gig?” A Buffy fan said that.
I’m fucking ashamed of this fandom.
Essentially, White Anderson took a dream job. She’s an avid Buffy fan, just like the people bashing her and, in some cases, threatening physical violence. She’s had to face this:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has changed my life. My Buffy will always be Joss’s vision. But I’m excited to see what another person who loves the show as much as I do has to say about the character. I’m excited to see new people talking about Buffy again. I’m excited that, if the film is good, a bunch of new fans will be buying the DVDs and discovering the awesomeness of Whedon’s work.
Too much energy is being wasted on being angry at Whit Anderson. She took a dream job. I’m a screenwriter who has been inspired by Joss Whedon to no end. I love the man and his work. But I would take the Buffy job in a second. It’s not an affront to Joss Whedon, Buffy Summers, or the fans. It’s a kick ass job. And I hope and sorta kinda know that Whit Anderson will do said kick ass job justice.
So yeah. Fandom. Leave the lady alone.
Slay ‘em, Whit.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Also, pretend there is a cool graphic of a zombie right here.
Oh, actually no. Pretend that this picture isn't shamelessly stolen from The Walking Dead.
Hot Dogs and French Fries
A Zombie Story
by Patrick Shand
No one in the world understands me.
I can see the looks of disapproval in their yellowed eyes. Those of them whose faces remain intact stare at me in slack-jawed astonishment as I eat my meal. “Blasphemy!” some of the more pretentious ones cry. “Disgusting!” the women say as they watch me swallow my food and lick my lips. Some of the younger ones say, “Mommy, what is he eating?” to which their parent responds, “Don’t worry about it, sweetie. Move along.”
Yes, I am the strange one. The freak.
I wish I could say that I was a nonconformist, but I wish I could be like them. I wish I could find their meals savory. It is what’s expected. What’s right, the leaders say. But as I watch them grab the human prisoners at random, crunching through their skulls and tearing, chewing on, devouring, lapping up the insides of their craniums, I have to wonder… why do they like brains so damn much?
Thanks to my graveyard being within close proximity to Matheson Power Plant, I was one of the first to be reanimated when the incident happened. The good folks at Matheson tried to cover up their mistake, which is funny considering every cemetery within fifty square miles was churning within forty-eight hours. Within the week, the country was in a state of all out war. Within the month, the world was ours. Enslaved humans, total chaos, free reign for us, and skulls filled with brains waiting to be eaten wherever you looked.
When I first lumbered away from my grave, confused to be back in my body, which was a lot more malodorous than I’d remembered, I had one clear thought. I was hungry. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I knew that my stomach needed to be filled. I looked around and saw the others, the kind folks I’d been buried next to, were outright attacking humans. Babies were thrown about like footballs, men were taken down by packs of my kind, and women were lured into dark alleys and devoured by the skeevier ones.
Everywhere, they were eating brains.
Well, I figured, That seems to be the thing to do.
I set out on my quest. I approached a couple sitting out on their deck. They’d fallen asleep, and were oblivious to the mass hysteria that was taking place before them. Silently, I crept up on them as silently as I could, which, granted, wasn’t very silently, as I was dragging my broken right leg behind me like a sack of bones and flesh.
As I ascended the three steps with a thonk, thonk, thonk, the woman woke up, staring at me groggily. Before she could react, I was upon her. As I dug my decayed teeth into her throat to silence her, I felt the scream vibrating through my mouth, and I swallowed it, stifling her. The taste of blood stinging my tongue, I pulled her away from her still sleeping husband and pressed my teeth into her skull. My canines slowly sank into her head, and when I felt the resistance of bone, I pressed harder. With a loud crunch, I’d hit home. I rubbed my hands together, curious to engage in the same culinary ecstasy that my brethren were enjoying all around me. I pressed my mouth to her head and began to suck up her brains with all the gusto I could manage.
The taste overwhelmed me like the stench of a passing garbage trunk. I gasped, falling back into the sleeping husband, coughing, spitting, trying to force myself to vomit in order to rid my mouth of the awful, rancid taste.
“AHHHHH!” the husband screamed, pushing me away. He repeated his scream, albeit a few octaves higher, when I was out of his line of vision and he saw what I’d done to his wife.
“Garrrrrgh!” I cried.
“Monster!” he screamed, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Garrrrrgh,” I repeated.
“Please, don’t kill me too,” he said, “please. Please. We have a kid, please…”
“Garrrrrgh,” I said, already quite tired of the exchange. The husband proceeded to collapse to his knees, needlessly pleading with me to not kill him. I didn’t want to do anything of the sort. I just wanted mouthwash.
I lumbered away, confused and displeased.
Maybe, I mused, she was an exceedingly dumb woman. Maybe dumb brains taste awful.
I continued to lumber down the street, wondering what to do. My hunger starting to scratch at my stomach, and I needed sustenance. I continued to walk on, until I found myself at the local university. There was a feisty young zombie on the walkway, feasting on the brains of a bespectacled man in a tweed jacket. The victim looked to be a professor.
Intelligence, I noted.
“Barrrrg,” I said to the young zombie. May I have a taste?
“Rackle marrf!” he replied. Get your own, mister!
A brief digression: Humans assume, based on the tropes of film and literature, that zombies are unintelligent creatures who live only to eat and kill. Incorrect. Humans have only seen the earth. We zombies have died. We’ve seen what comes next, and we have returned. Humans couldn’t dream of understanding us. Not our desires, not our intelligence, and especially not our language, which is so linguistically complicated that humans are just unable to hear the subtle nuances in our communication. What sounds like “Ughhhhh” to the untrained ear might just be, “Excuse me, don’t flee! I don’t wish to eat your brains! I’d simply like you to point me to the nearest hot dog stand” and what people may hear as “Garrrrrgh” is actually “Excuse me for gnawing through your wife’s skull, I was simply curious. My sincerest apologies!” and what may be misconstrued as “Braaaaaiiiinss…” well, that… yes, that is actually just “brains.”
So, back to my encounter.
“May I have a taste?”
“Get your own, mister!”
“I’d hate to have to resort to fisticuffs,” I warned the young zombie.
“Fine. Jerk,” he said, pushing the bespectacled man at me.
I shifted the weight of the man to my good side, as to not apply too much pressure to my broken leg. I sniffed the open skull of the professor, smelling nothing, which might be due to the fact that my nose had fallen off in an earlier stage of decomposition. Shrugging, I tentatively stuck my tongue into the folds of his brain, bringing a morsel of grey matter into my mouth.
I instantly dropped the man and vomited a black substance all over the poor young zombie. It was the first and certainly not the last time that one of my own called me a “freak.”
More to come! If you offer me love, devotion, and the hearts of twenty seven virgins. I kid. Twenty seven is way overkill.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
by Barry Lyga
Picture this. I’m at a horse show. Watching my equestrian girlfriend kick ass. Well, not literal ass, but kick ass at riding horses. While I’m cheering, whooping, etcetera, my phone is a-buzz in my pocket. I hit ignore. It continues. I hit ignore again. More vibrations. Frustration.
After the results are announced (SPOILERS: she kicked ass), I checked out my phone. Voicemails aplenty. My friend Caitlin was at a YA convention, and she met one of my favorite authors, Barry Lyga. She’d been calling me so that I could talk to him while he was signing books. Whoops.
I ended up meeting the guy later, and this time I not only got a chance to talk to him, but I got something free out of it. Yup. Free stuff. Can’t beat it. Picture this. New York Comic-Con. I’m walking. Barry Lyga is walking. Our paths cross. Music swells. Only, not really. I go, “Barry Lyga.” He thinks, “Who the hell-?” I introduce myself. He’s off to be interviewed by a dude, so the conversation is quick, but hey, I walked away with the goods.
An advanced reader copy of his new book, “Archvillain.” Gotta love it.
I just finished it, and I enjoyed it. It’s a big departure from Lyga’s usual work in the YA field. This book is a Middle Grade (ages 9-12) superhero (villain?) adventure. Think Dr. Horrible meets Hey Arnold, with less moral ambiguity and no singing. The protagonist is… well, as you’d expect from a novel that follows the “villain,” kind of a jerk. He’s got a superiority complex the size of Metropolis and he treats his parents like dirt. To avoid making him a totally unlikable character, though, Lyga gives the readers little glimpses at Kyle’s soft side through his relationships with the two people (well… things) he tolerates: His rabbit Lefty and his friend/obvious crush, Mairi. Also, young readers will love Kyle’s penchant for pulling pranks on oblivious adults, but I found it to be a bit of a retread. Pranking is a major part of Lyga’s earlier novel, “Hero Type,” so it felt weird to have pranks as such an integral part of this book as well. Even Kyle’s reasons for pulling these tricks (showing people that they’re foolish) is reminiscent of the motives of the Fools from “Hero Type.”
While I mostly liked “Archvillain,” a major problem I had with it was the repetition and the sudden, somewhat dues ex machina-ey bursts of memory. Kyle forgets all about his first “encounter” with Mike and then, when it’s convenient, suddenly remembers not only seeing him down to the last detail. Then, while his dad is talking about a camera, Kyle suddenly remembers a pants prank (best kind of prank, if you ask me) that he pulled in the third grade. Kyle is supposed to be a calculating—albeit somewhat, well, bumbling—genius. Yes, a bumbling genius. It happens. There are a few times in the book where I wondered why Kyle was being so slow on the uptake, which made the moments where his intelligence was overtly obvious a bit incongruous with the rest of the narrative.
On the plus said, it reminded me of Nicktoons, back in the pre-Spongebob days where Nicktoons were actually… you know, good. It’s set in a somewhat simplified world, where the mass public operates as one unit. Other than Kyle, the entire school… town… and world accepts Mike without question as a hero. A force of good. The government runs experiments on him, but it’s all voluntary. Nothing that would hurt him. It makes for an interesting, sort of hyperreality where Kyle stands utterly alone, a genius opposing a world full of skeptical albeit well-meaning simpletons.
The book doesn’t do for Middle Grade Lit what Lyga’s previous efforts have done for YA, but I’m not sure that it aspires to. While “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl” and “Boy Toy” both speak for the culture of being different in high school in a way that no other YA books have thus far, “Archvillain” is simply a fun story. Kyle Camden isn’t exactly relatable and it’s often hard to sympathize with him, but reading about his schemes and failures is enjoyable. Because hey, there’s nothing tastier than a healthy dose of schadenfreude, and this book offers it up in generous helpings.
I definitely recommend “Archvillain” to any 9-12 year old kids looking for an entertaining read, and I also encourage fans of Lyga’s YA lit to check this out.
3 ½ out of 5 squishies.
Click here to purchase "Archvillain."
Click here to read more about Barry Lyga.
Friday, October 15, 2010
But instead of resorting to hyperbole, saying things such as "This is a modern classic" and "Drop what you're reading, pick up this book" (see what I did there?), I'll tackle this from a more personal angle. "The Great Perhaps" has everything that I look for in a book, along with things that I would have been looking for in a book had I known that I could find them. It's one of those books that shows how deeply flawed people are, never shying away from letting our protagonists (all five of them) mess up in catastrophic ways. At the same time, as flawed as these characters are, I grew to love them. Meno's writing is so nuanced, so personal, so human, that he's not only able to portray the way that these five fully fleshed-out flawed characters mish and mash together in the complicated web of their intwined lives, he's able to show the remarkable heroism in the littlest of actions.
I loved the characters. I loved the oh-so-strange style which, with any other story, might have stood out a bit. But with the alternating POV (usually one chapter per character and then over again, sometimes with a short tale of one of their ancestors to break it up), the novel remains fresh throughout. It might be the only book like this where I had absolutely no preference which character's story I was reading. Even in the best written novels with shifting POVs, I find myself picking a favorite, a character to look forward to... but not so much here. Each character is equally fascinating.
I loved it. I was moved by the characters and their twisted, sad, lovely, happy stories. I laughed, I did the thing where I have to pretend I'm having an allergic reaction so the dude across from me on the train doesn't text his girlfriend that the guy across from him is weeping, and I was stimulated. In the intellectual way. Not in my pants.
...or was it in my pants?
But really, it wasn't. This book is wonderful. Smart and literary without being pretentious or dry. Read this, read this, read this.
5 out of 5 squishies.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
By Patrick Shand
I rarely ever look up into the sky at night, but tonight I do. I pause for a few long moments, despite the cold late-November air, and just stare at the stars. I’ve heard people describe stars in many different ways. I’ve read books where stars are diamonds glittering out from a dark abyss, and poems where they’re little will o’ the wisps stuck in the black, tarry sky. But now, looking at the clusters of the stars spread generously through the sky, I think that there is no better way to describe them than saying simply what they are: Stars.
I turn away and walk into my house. Before trudging into my room to start work on one of the last college essays of the semester—or, more honestly, surf the net aimlessly in a quest of endless procrastination—I feel one last pull back toward the stars. I turn to my mom, who is half asleep in front of the television.
“It’s a beautiful night out. So many stars.”
She gets up off the couch, sliding her glasses up the bridge of her nose. The two of us, her barefoot, step out onto our front stoop and look up at the unusually bright sky.
“Wow. So many,” she says. “Look at those three.”
“I think those are the Little Dipper,” I say, proud that I recognized the constellation. Then I take a closer look. “Erm, or Orion’s Belt.”
I can’t really tell what’s different about this night, if it’s the number of stars or just the way they each glow, but something about the sky has changed. Something is a little more beautiful. I wonder what it is.
Her head, which had been resting on my shoulder, nestled up to the crook of my neck. I closed my eyes and pressed my cheek against the fabric of the hat that covered her formerly jet-black, currently greenish/something-else hair. The smell, expensive hardwood floors and—oddly enough—Playdoh that I came to associate with her filled my nose. Under those two smells, there were traces of the sampler Bambi perfume she’d sprayed on her wrists and neck just a few hours ago at the mall.
I thought about extending my arm and reaching for her hand. It would have been a ballsy move, considering where we were. Her dad, a pleasant and quiet man, was driving us down the parkway after a trip to the mall, in which her entire family accompanied us. Her chipper mother sat in the front seat, her even more chipper brother sat alongside of us on the bench seat, and behind us was the middle child, a righteous dude in his own right, passed out due to exhaustive Christmas shopping. So that family environment was not quite the right time to go for the hand grab, especially since it was the first time I was meeting them.
It was only the third time I was hanging out with Jackie.
Also, I hadn’t really figured out our relationship either. As she was probably the warmest, most loving person I’ve ever known, she was a pretty hard girl to figure out. The closeness that had developed so quickly between us could have been a very organic start to an intimate relationship, but on the other hand, it could be me misinterpreting female signals again—emphasis on the “again”. It could very well be just a friendly, platonic thing. She’s tired, my shoulder is there, elementary my dear so-and-so.
I wasn’t even sure what I felt for her at this point. The only thing I knew was that it was something strong.
As her breathing slowed and she fell asleep, my head propped up against hers, the music of Pink Floyd pumped from the car stereo. The entire family seemed to dig it. I’d never really been interested in checking out the band, but that night, with Jackie’s quiet snore lulling me into a trance, I became their biggest fan.
I have no idea why I’m looking at the computer right now. I hardly ever go on Instant Messenger, as there are few people I can tolerate talking to for extended periods of time, so it must be that same weird pull that made me look up at those stars. Whatever the case may be, I surf the net aimlessly for a few minutes before logging into my Facebook account to check if anyone commented on my profile.
No profile comments. No friend requests.
I scroll down the page, looking at the recent activities of my friends. Facebook is busy tonight. People are commenting each other, RSVPing to events, joining groups. Something catches my eye. “10 of your friends have joined the group…” Before I read on, I realize that I’m seeing something very odd. What do any ten of my friends/acquaintances have in common with each other, other than misplaced love of reality television? And what would make all ten of them want to join a group to express their mutual happiness that they’ve agreed on something?
I read on.
“10 of your friends have joined the group R.I.P. Jackie.”
With each plod of my heart getting heavier, I click the link to the group, morbidly curious but not aware of my worry. It can’t possibly be anyone I know. Half of the kids at my commuter college are on my friend list, so it’s probably some poor albeit random girl from Molloy College. The page loads quickly, and I suddenly know without having read the first words of the group’s description. I probably somehow knew the moment I saw the words “10 of your friends have joined the group…” because I don’t have to read the next words to feel my lips tighten at the corners so quickly it’s almost painful, pulling down into a frowning leer that would surely just be the preface to the upcoming teary outburst.
Her first and last name. Car crash. Fatal. Instantly.
I race to join the group and comment on the page, feeling absurdly that if I let it out quickly that it will be over, like a band-aid being pulled off… which still always hurts. But as I type my meaningless vomit of words on the screen (which, sidebar, says “Don't even know what to say. I hadn't seen you in so long, but you're still such an important part of my life. I love you so much,” which is completely true but still not even close to what I really want to say to Jackie), I begin to realize that I don’t really believe what the group says. Because if it’s true, if this terrible thing had really happened as this memorial Internet group said it had, then how could the stars have looked so beautiful tonight?
Jackie, our colorblind friend Woobs who had a beautiful singing voice, and I had our hands stamped with a big red X by a lanky, tattooed bouncer outside the door to the Crazy Donkey, a venue I would later frequent pretty often. The first of the opening acts had just started to kick off their first song, and most of the kids were clinging to the walls, sipping their non-alcoholic beverages with their Xed hands, waiting for the band they came for to start. I doubted anyone had even heard of the dread-locked trio who were banging away at their drums and blaring their horns on stage. Then again, I was just coming to know Jackie.
When I saw her, skanking by herself in the middle of the dance floor, singing along to the spitfire lyrics, something moved deep inside of me. I was amazed that no one else heard it, because to me, it sounded like a ship making that fatal scrape against a gargantuan iceberg. I felt a dull pain in my gut as I watched her, watched the circle grow until a bunch of kids, Woobs included, were skanking along to the song. I heard Woobs’s beautiful sing along to the repeating chorus of the song, and I felt myself start to hum. The ache in my gut as I stared at her feet moving to the sound of the snare morphed into a pull toward the pit, the pull to join.
I trudged over to the middle of the floor, and she caught my gaze. There was a smile in her eyes, but it wasn’t the one that she always gave whenever she greeted me, or whenever she talked about one of the many things she was passionate about. It was encouraging, but fleeting. Just like that, she was absorbed in the music again, and swept away in the pit.
My cheeks burning and my heart racing, I decided to sit it out this time, and wait until the big band came on. Jackie had shown me some of their songs, so I was more familiar with them, so I wouldn’t, you know, look like an asshole in front of everyone else.
By the time that first band finished, I felt a warm hand grab mine. This time, I followed the pull and went with her to the outside patio, which reeked of smoke. Aside from a few people about as tattooed as the bouncer, everyone was inside.
She let go of my hand and by the time I was able to look at her, she had a lit cigarette in her mouth.
“I really wanna see you in the pit,” she said.
She always stood so close when she talked.
“I know, it’s just…”
“I taught you how to skank,” she said, taking a drag.
How come she never smelled like smoke?
“You did, and thank you, but I don’t really think I’m that good at it,” I replied.
“Ah, come on, you’re fine.”
As she talked, I remembered the first time we hung out. Just us. Her room. You don’t know how to skank, I’ll teach you. Laughing.
“What if… I don’t know,” I said. “All those kids, you. They’re all really good. I’ve never even been in a pit before, I wouldn’t know what to do. I don’t want them to…”
Her hands were on my face, making me look directly at her. Two thick braids stuck out from under her beanie, framing her pretty, simple face.
“No one’s gonna make fun of you.”
I sit outside 7-11, the beer I bought riding shotgun in my car. I know what I’ll do. I’ll take a drink and pour out some beer for her. It’s what rappers do when their friends die. I think.
Why hasn’t the world stopped?
I’m remembering. Remembering our times. Our most recent conversation, via Myspace. Her “son of a bitch, i haven't seen/talked to you in like forever and a half! how've you been kid?? happy [early] birfday!! i'm living in freeport now, we should chill like fo' realz. except less pretend-to-be-ghetto ~Jackie” and my fucking response, my “Ahhh you live in Freeport! Awesome, yeah we'll definitely chill.
:]” and I can’t take it. The dull pain turns into a pull which turns into a yearning for the past. I miss the blissful uncertainty of when I first met her, how I wasn’t sure what I felt or what she did, if anything. I can’t believe I hadn’t taken her up on her offer to chill, and as mundane as it seems, it feels like the last time I saw her until now was all one comically huge mistake. Would she even like the person that I am now? Would Jackie, if I were sitting next to her, talking to her, be able to find that timid, red cheeked kid who was afraid to dance under all of this person I’ve become?
I run my hand over the bag they put the eighteen pack in, feeling the texture, letting my mind wander.
Something clicks inside me, and I suddenly remember something. Years ago, in an oddly deep conversation I’d had with a friend, a conversation that seemed almost meaningless when we had it, this friend told me that she saw the ghost of her grandmother sitting on the basement steps as she slept. She said that the way the ghost looked at her, from the way the room felt around her, she’d felt a transforming state of peace come over her. As I talked to her, I was skeptical, but also a bit unnerved. She told me that the reason she saw her grandmother’s ghost was because she had been ready to. Simple as that. Ever since that conversation, I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I would never allow myself to be ready to see a ghost, as that would rock my comfortable little world a little too hard.
Many people I’ve known have died. Whenever I thought of a dead loved one, I would whisper the words notreadynotreadynotready under my breath.
I look in the passenger seat, where the beer sits. Clenching my fists, I scream for her, scream to see her, scream that I’m ready.
Tired as hell.
Waiting. Anxious. Amazed.
I trudged over to my door in my pajamas, almost not believing it when I saw her standing on my stoop, smiling, looking about as tired and anxious as I felt.
She came in, wrapping her arms around my neck in that slow hug of hers. When she hugged, she didn’t give fish arms. She didn’t even give you the hug-version-of-a-firm-handshake hug. She just wrapped you up, wrapped me up, in her. She smelled like expensive wood, Bambi, but now the crisp smell of August morning air clung to her faded green t-shirt. I used to wonder how I smelled when I hugged her, if she ever tried to pick out the specific scents, if she really ever thought about anything like that when we hugged, but now I knew her enough to know that thinking this stuff was dumb. After a long moment, she let go.
“Alright,” I said, my hands resting on her shoulders. “Walk to the Nautical Mile or… erm… loaf around on the couch?”
“Loafing sounds nice. But… hell, both?”
We walked outside. The sky was still dark, but God I knew it would be beautiful. We walked for an hour, talking, reconnecting. It had been only two months since I saw her last, but in the year I’d known her, I’d come to realize that Jackie didn’t move through life at the same pace that I did. She had been on family vacation in Australia for over a month, and I was the first friend she was visiting now that she was back. I felt insanely proud.
She told me everything.
She opened up to me in a way that shocked me, stupefied me, and made ship-to-iceberg sounds in my gut that I truly wondered if she heard. Since I’d seen her, she had done wonderful things, making people’s days like she so often tried to do here. She’d also done dumb things, that the two of us laughed at, but there was something profound going on in my heart when she told me all of this. All throughout our friendship, through all the time that I had grown to admire and love her, she was an idea. She seemed like the embodiment of confidence, this unstoppable force that went out of her way to make everyday people smile, even if it meant pissing them off first. But when she told me these mistakes, when she opened herself up to me, I realized that Jackie wasn’t just those things I thought she was. She was also a person. A flawed person, just like me, that loved and lost and fucked up royally. And that knowledge made her all the more incredible.
We went back to my house and made with the loafing. My mother greeted us in the morning, and asked Jackie how she got there and where she was supposed to be.
“My uncle lives a few blocks away. I was staying over there tonight. My family just got back from down under, so they figured I should spend the night over there. Something about them missing me.” She laughed.
“So,” my mom said slyly, “how did you end up here?”
“Happenstance. And sneakiness.”
“Do your parents know?” she asked.
“Nah,” Jackie replied. “Well, maybe. Probably. If I were them, I’d know. Where do you think I inherited my sneakiness from?”
My mom looked from her to me, smiled, and went into the bathroom to get ready for work. She left Jackie and me, on one of the last times we had hung out, alone. I loved her spirit, her smile, her way, and so much else, and she told me that I was one of the best friends she’d ever had… and yet, we grew apart. Not due to anything that was said, or how I felt about her, but simply because growing apart is the way of the world. Our flawed, beautiful world. But, thanks to that year and thanks to that night and thanks to Australia and thanks to my mom and thanks to happenstance and thanks to Jackie, she gave me something that night that, no matter how far we grew apart, I knew would be able to stretch across continents, a bond that would hopefully transcend anything that came our way.
The memories wash through my brain, some clear, some fuzzy, all of them out of order like a spilled deck of cards. Sitting on the hood of my car, the first and last full beer of the night in my hand, I squeeze at the memories, trying to find something palpable, something I could connect to, something I could do, because oh God, I am ready.
But, as it turns out, ghosts don’t seem to exist.
There are just memories. Flawed memories, the good and the bad in focus with all the intricacies and fodder blurry in the back. I grit my teeth, trying to put them all in order, trying to form a narrative in my head. Based on a true story. That was the title of her Myspace page. Hah. I remember that I would hardly ever comment on her page or her pictures, because there was a time when I was usually either at her house or talking to her on the phone. The first three digits of her number, 428, pop into my head, but I can’t remember the rest. Fresh pain hits when I look through my contacts, and realize that her number isn’t even there. My phone had been destroyed at an outdoor concert that got rained out a while ago, so I’d lost all the numbers. As deep as our connection was, I feel staggeringly guilty that I’d never made the effort, been too wrapped up in college and my career, to get that number again, to solidify that connection that once nearly defined my day to day existence.
The regret is almost as powerful as the grief.
I don’t want this night to be another bullet on my list of regrets. So I remember…
It was fairly late at night when she called me. I never questioned her impulses, so when she called me and told me that she wanted to watch the sunrise that morning, I instantly agreed. There was no foreseeable downside. I’d walk through my town, just about two miles or so to the train station, which was admittedly dangerous in Freeport, but I’d done riskier things. While that happened, Jackie would be taking her own adventure, down the long, long street that led from her huge house to the Rockville Centre train station, that—despite the smaller risk of being robbed—was still pretty frightening. In retrospect, I realized that I hadn’t even thought about any of that before I told her I’d meet with her. The way I imagined it, there wasn’t really anything that could stop us. We were unstoppable forces, pulled together like gravitation. Yes, if the sun would rise, we would be there to watch it.
Unfortunately, my parents didn’t agree.
Applying an odd little tactic called “reason,” they argued that it was very dark, very late, and I would indeed be robbed. I argued that I needed to go, which I fully believed. I had told Jackie I would. She wanted to. And I knew that she would be there, ready for that damn sunrise, the moment that I arrived. She, at least, was an unstoppable, uncontainable force.
Me? Maybe not so much.
I called her moments later and told her that I couldn’t come. I could hear disappointment in that voice that I knew so well, and I hated it, and I knew that it wasn’t at all directed at me, but I still felt horrible. I wanted to see something beautiful with her. She had a list of things that she wanted to do, and she told me that seeing a sunrise with me was now a bullet on that list. I didn’t want to let her down.
I wanted to show her something beautiful.
I can almost chuckle at how simple it is. The moment I think about it, it’s clear to me. How I had not thought about it before is a testament to how oblivious I can be at times. But now, now, with memories of her pounding in my heart, shifting like ice scraping against metal in my chest, I drive.
I drive down the Nautical Mile, where she showed me her flaws and her true beauty.
I drive into the closest parking lot and wait in my car. It won’t be long now.
When I thought about her, about my time with her, I only felt what I had felt for her, my side of the experience that I took away from our friendship. When I begged for her ghost, I hadn’t felt her at all.
But now, as the night sky turned pink, as I watch the sun rise through the windshield of my car, she is here. I don’t need to look in the passenger seat next to me, and I don’t need to pray for ghosts or grasp for memories. I feel her.
I drop my hand into the seat and touch the fabric, holding it as if it were her hand. I start the conversation simply.
Absurdly, I wait for a response. There is no disappointment when it doesn’t come, because I know now that our connection doesn’t just reach across continents, it reaches across the stars. How could anything as small as a car crash stop that? Jackie moved through life at an incredible pace, but she always found time to stop for anyone who needed her to be there.
My hand tightens on the seat.
I tell her how mad I am that the last words I said to her were so utterly devoid of meaning. How I needed to finally see the sun rise with her. How I wanted her to know how deeply I felt about her, and that though years had passed, our connection was something that I would always have, even though I would never see her again in this lifetime.
I’ll probably idealize the sunrise in my mind later on, filtering out the way it was so gradual, how clouds obscured the rising disc, how the sky just turned a shade of slightly grey blue by the time it was over, and I laugh. The sun, with its flaws, because of its flaws, is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Holding onto the seat, I smile, tears streaming down my cheeks, and open up to her. I tell her that I miss her, what I’ve done, who I’ve become, how I’ve fucked up, how I’ve succeeded, how I’m confused, and how I just love her so fucking much.
This morning, I tell Jackie everything.