Let’s take a moment to let our minds rattle with fear and inadiquacy over the fact that Tom Stoppard was fucking twenty seven years old when he wrote Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.
The thing about trying to submit writing is that it combines two of my greatest conceptual enemies: the possibility of rejection, and the need for self-promotion.
What I want to type in my cover letter is:
I’m the worst, but people seem to like the way I organize words. Here are about 3000 of such words. If you decide you don’t like them that is fine, but please don’t let me know. I don’t want to have to keep telling my family that I’m terrible and use too many sentence fragments in my prose.
They grow sick of it.
Thank you for your time.”
This is going to go great
Grace: “What’s gonna happen to you, Anthony?”“
Anthony: “Jesus Christ, what hell kind of question is that to ask me?”
Grace: “When are you coming home?”
Anthony: “Grace… I can’t come home, I’m an adult.”
-from Bottle Rocket
Directions To See A Ghost
Congratulations Junior Adventure Membership pendant holder! You have, by saving the appropriate box labels, employing Our Brave Letter Carriers, and responsibly and neatly opening the heavy duty yet environmentally-conscious packaging of the packet before you, taken steps 1 through 3 on your way to becoming a Fully Endorsed, Amateur Grade Spirit-Watcher.
“So what now”, you ask, greedily pawing through your generous allotment of supplementary materials, having already donned the Membership Amulet you have been dreaming of for an indeterminate length of business-days. You’ve been positively itching to lock your peepers on a phantom, and now the wait is over. Let’s get right to step 4!
Find a spooky locale, my friend! Aim not for halloween-supply-store-after-closing spooky, but instead unknown-voicemail-at-3-am potency. For Aspiring Ghost-Watchers of inter-moderate boldness, trespassing-in-the-upper-floors-of-someone-else’s-barn level spookiness may be permitted after consultation with a moderator. Nestled in? Avoiding or making peace with any and all exposed, jutting nails? Breathing furtively through a web of fingers, in futile hopes of avoiding dust or fiber inhalation? Great!
Now, comes the hard part. “But but but but” I can hear you stuttering, Junior Adventurer “but I already read half a page of painstakingly formal and legally ironclad assistive text! And I’m crouched in an officially sanctioned Spooky Locale!” And yes, it’s true you are doing this, but it isn’t the hard part.
Any chump can crouch in the dark wearing a metal necklace, but you must become a birdwatcher of the impossible, which, come to think of it, may actually be a catchier name for this overall family of services and products. Future editions of promotional materials may reflect this breakthrough. But back to immediacy:
Think of a missing loved one, because obviously that is who you need to see. Lets be honest here, you didn’t waste nine months and four hundred dollars collecting eighty box-tops to whimsically spy on some old colonial ghost you don’t even know. These bureaucratic hoops are not jumped through by the merely curious. Do not miss your ghost, long for your ghost. Concentrate with every fiber of your being that isn’t already concentrating on not breathing in fibers. Mouth their details to yourself, but DO NOT, and I apologize for the jarring properties of the capitalized text, speak out loud. You will invariably startle yourself, and, somewhat less importantly, you might creep out your ghost, whispering about it like that in the dark. DO NOT (again, apologies) simply list and pile on descriptors and memories of your beloved target ghost. Do not slap and slather on your heaving emotions like so much cold-cut sandwich guts. Boil down and distill your longing into a syrupy brine. Embrace the crushing pressure in your ribs that you feel when you think about your ghost for too long. Meditate on how you need, absolutely need your ghost back, how you’re going to die without them, how it’s impossible, how it’s a wonder you’ve even made it this far. Relish the agonizing tension in your throat as you strain to hear your ghost’s unmistakable laughter and offer desperate bargains to the spiritual power of your choosing. If tears should arrive, let them fall. Dampening down your immediate surroundings will help to reduce the possibility of fiber inhalation. Plus, everyone likes when someone cries on their behalf, even ghosts.
And that, Amulet Holders, is all it takes. Eventually, you will be see your ghost. And even if you give up, even if this is stupid, even if you hurl your amulet into a gross culvert on your way home and storm and rage and wallow all night, you will eventually think back on your attempt while you are showering before bed, and you will realize that somehow you missed it, but you did see your ghost, and oh maybe, its going to maybe be possibly potentially ok someday, and then you will probably cry in the shower for a while, but that is perfectly alright.
Good luck, deeply grieving but bravely unbowed Junior Adventure Membership Pendant Holders, and remember: we are not liable for any respiratory difficulties stemming from possible fiber inhalation.
Turns out that the phrase “Never Believe In Yourself” does not exist as a poster.
“ We take Ange’s car. It’s something like forty-five degrees out, and the sky is a looming grey frown, but the windows are down because last week Ange poured an entire bottle of her perfume into the air-vents while, by all witness accounts, incredibly high. I like Ange’s perfume, but even I have to admit that the intensity of the smell in the friendly confines of the Saturn is, objectively, disorienting.
“I feel like I’m getting strangled by flowers.”
Ange of the cloudy-day sunglasses shoots me a largely obscured glare, and turns up some song I’m not cool enough to recognize.
We pull up in front of Dad’s house. It’s I guess what you’d call a colonial, but you’d never really notice upon looking at it, because the gigantic stone edifice rising behind it kind of grabs the eye.
Dad’s building a pyramid in the backyard. Seriously. A real one. He’s gotten it into his head that “the goddamn pharaohs had it all figured out, except for all that bullshit with the cats.”
Well actually, Ruse Russo does most of the work. He drags around stone bricks under dad’s command. Designed and built a special harness and everything. Thirty-ish, large, and possessed of an indefatigable agreeableness, Ruse lives down the street in a sprawling, sagging house with like five other guys who work for the electric company. Ruse doesn’t really work. He’s a “Superior-Level Valued Consumer Consultant” which means he gets paid two hundred bucks a pop to take online surveys. As you might expect, and in his words, this takes “like, fuckin’ fifteen seconds, dude. seriously. Click click click click click BOOM done by 9 AM.” So, Ruse has lots of free time. I don’t claim to know the genesis of his weird partnership with Dad, but it is an alliance that has endured for over thirty-four months. Dad’s promised Ruse he too can be entombed in the finished pyramid, should he so desire, but I’m pretty sure Ruse is still part of the project because Dad lets him chainsmoke joints and the two of them talk about sports all day. But they have made progress. The entire thing is probably thirty-five feet tall at this point, and apparently, it’s not even half done.
From day one, Ange has treated the entire situation with an indifference that delights and fascinates me. ”
GEORGE SAUNDERS is such a good writer that all I feel when I read his stories is the jagged frustration of knowing I’ll never be even a fraction of the writer he is.
Not even a tiny fraction.
not even 1/79th.
There is nobody around. I look down the causeway. Fog vapor is weakly roiling and the only car I can say takes a left into the shipbuilding museum parking lot.
“Which one are you? You got a brother, right?”
I raise my head, used to being accosted out of nowhere. I pause and look around, not used to being accosted by thin air. The only movement is the seagull from earlier, who has hopped up on to the rafters above me. It’s cramped up there, it looks. Seagulls are not small birds.
“You’re, what, Calvin? Calvin something?
It’s the seagull. The seagull is talking to me. It’s (his? A male voice) beak is moving with the words and everything. A brief, panicked wave of thought and possibility washes over me, then subsides. There are two possibilities here. One: this isn’t real, I’m overcome with Steam-Hysteria, and I can go home early. OR: There’s no such thing as Steam-Hysteria, I’m stuck here for five more hours, and a real seagull is saying real words to me from a haughty perch in a rotting rafter.
Briefly, covertly, I check my phone. The bird ruffles his feathers, and I try to block it from my mind. Several desperate taps later, the screen meekly displays just what exactly the deal is.
There’s no such thing as Steam-Hysteria.
In a voice that is remarkably almost-steady, I say words out loud to a seagull. “Calvin, yeah.”
I decide not to volunteer my last name to the magic bird.
I wrote a thing. That’s a little bit of it.
George Clooney Sure Likes Stealing Stuff In Movies:
From Dusk Til Dawn- He Steals Money.
Three Kings- He Steals Iraqi Gold, and Some Vehicles Too, at some point. I think.
Ocean’s 11- He Steals Casino Money, He Romantically Steals His Ex-Wife, He Metaphorically Steals Andy Garcia’s Happiness.
Ocean’s 12- He Steals Some European Things. A Faberge Egg, some paintings, a building foundation.
Fantastic Mr Fox- He Steals stuff here, right? Like Michael Gambon’s claymation chickens or something?
Ocean’s 13- He Steals diamonds from terrible acting Al Pachino. Also at the beginning he maybe steals something from a toy store? Or was that Brad Pitt.
The Men Who Stare At Goats- He Takes A Truck Or Something.
(I don’t know what was up with my capitalization strategy.)
The most appropriate name for this paper I’m currently writing would probably be “A Creative But Not That Good History of the Berlin Wall and German Reunification.”
Here’s a thing that i didnt end up using as part of a larger thing, but it’s some dialogue you can choose to read with little to no contextual bearing, or, perhaps more wisely, ignore altogether. So, that’s what this blog is now, i guess.
Chelsea walks through one of several revolving doors, coming off the morning street just as her phone rings and she fumbles for it, shifting several papers to a hand already occupied by a hot beverage container. She grimaces while answering.
She fights her way through the lobby, up a glassy, modern staircase. She makes a harried gesture of greeting to a colleague while listening on the phone, occasionally making non-committal sounds of listening.
“So… Todd, TODD. So, It’s tonight? Oh, LAST night? Well, I’m sorry but I’m 3000 miles away. Which, you know.”
She keeps listening, struggling to open a door with her hands full, rolling her eyes vigorously.
“Maybe just tell me what you’re really angry about?”
Another lull as she listens, moving steadily down a hall with one or two other workers, and turns into a large open office area.
“I didn’t RSVP to your event? Did you send me a thing? Invitation?”
Dickie Alberta, all grey hair and limbs and enthusiastic anger strides up from the opposite direction, parting a sea of cowering interns. Chelsea puts her semi-free hand up, futilely demonstrating how busy she is, which Davy ignores with a broad, foreboding smile as he stops right in front of her, holding a piece of paper.
Her look wordlessly asks “not now?”, he shakes his head, smiling, and she goes back to the call.
“On facebook? Look. Todd. I’m not going to… Todd! I’m in New York. It’s first thing in the morning and… What time is it even where you are? Why are you awake?”
Dickie glowers at the general surroundings for a moment while she talks, gives an exaggerated shrug and tears into his own monologue, bringing a loud, acidic bombast to his words in an attempt to become the dominant conversation in Chelsea’s life
“Chelsea, good news! Now I know why your essay on that twitter rapper from the Bronx was four days late! You were inventing a new language! A new, surreal cadence. Free yourself from other obligations,” He mimes a phonecall. “And let me read to you a no-doubt familiar passage”
Chelsea shoots Dickie a pleading look, and half a sentence of protest to go with it.
“Dickie, come on- WHAT Todd. Look, I didn’t show up to your, fucking, ‘Artist’s Exhibition’, which is a BOLD fucking name for an event that you ADMIT is taking place in your ‘SURFER BUDDY’S LOFT.’ But: next time you invite me to some infantile nonsense vaguely near L.A. , I’ll call you first so you can hear me rolling my eyes from THREE THOUSAND miles away.”
Dickie studies her silently, the very picture of perfect impatience. He reiterates his earlier request.
Chelsea shrugs at him with nuanced aggression.
“Todd. Shut- Look, I’m at work, I gotta go. No, DON’T call me later. This is me, RSVPing to that idea with a brutal, serious, no.” She hangs up the phone, scowling.
Dickie smiles, a white crescent of insincerity.
She still is lost in the blank screen of her phone.
“Yeah, I mean, we were never really together to begin with, we just stayed close after college and-”
Dickie’s voice tramples over her.
“ Ok, nope. Look, being ‘wistful girl in the big city’ may be fun, but wistful boss in the big city is the one who’s running the show from now until the next…”
He icily checks an imaginary watch.
“Oh, looks like the rest of his life. Which is a long one, because the Wistful Boss In The Big City has a tremendously zen attitude which is only threatened in times of great unrest, such as when his employees don’t let him read things.”
He glares at Chelsea who now grudgingly motions for him to continue.
“Ok: YOU wrote “The absurdist haikus of this Outer- Borough Buddha are treated as holy scripture by a trendy, obsessive underground fanbase of his true believers nationwide.’ Ok. So. Lets, I guess, start with how you make this guy sound like the leader of Hip Hop Jonestown-”
“Hip Hop Jim Jones, then?”
But she’s immediately silenced by a finger of reproach as Dickie continues unabated.
“And then, after we slog through that quagmire together, I will try to at the very least reacquaint you with some of the broader ideas concerning the notion of syntax. This is a culture website, not ‘Finnegans Wake’! There are rules here, Chelsea!”
She acquiesces then hurries past her concession, to a new topic
“Ok, it is… Yeah, it’s too much, it sounds fanatical now. Dickie. The new assignment, the thing about the relationship between the two cooks from the 20’s-”
Reminded, he cuts her off.
“Oh yeah, fuck that. I took another look at it last night, and dumped it. It’d play too much like the Food Network version of that movie with the love letters and the psychopath and the old people.”
Chelsea falters, unsure.
“Love letters and the psychopath…”
He elaborates, speaking in halts and starts as he remembers.
“Yeah, the… fucking, the guy jumps off a ferris wheel and then he, like, lies down in traffic because the girl from the Muppets wouldn’t go out with him. Or whatever. The mother was the the bad guy in the Bourne Supremacy.
“Dickie, I really don’t…”
“There was a lot of old people holding hands and failing to remember things. Come on, it’s like a thing for your type.”
“My type? Women?”
A vague, all encompassing gesture.
Like, in your twenties, the whole thing. Half the movie is the crazy guy renovating a haunted house wearing a poor-person Charles Dickens hat.”
“That’s it. Goddamn. That’s the one. Made me wish I was the one forgetting my memories or dying or whatever.”
Chelsea makes a disapproving noise, then there is a pause, then she realizes something.
“She wasn’t in the Muppets!”
He shrugs past this, absurdly grave as he says:
“Muppets are not the issue here. Your new thing is. Assignment.”