The cure

img_4921In the future, they developed a cure for alcoholism. The cure was a serum injected in your body if you chose, but irreversible. And there was a small percentage of people where it didn’t take and the next time they drank, they died.

The man who developed the cure was smug and unlikeable indeed. The cure made him a lot of money though there were threats on his life from those who’d lost a lot, as a result.

One day, the man (who was very unhappy, and lived alone in a large estate in the countryside) returned home for his afternoon drink, and retired to his study. There, in the shadows behind his recliner, just outside the halo of the reading lamp, from the folds of the books there emerged a figure with no face who bent into the man’s ear without a word and breathed there.

The man who developed the cure forgot how to make it. Of course it was documented and well cared for in the lab but mysteriously, it disappeared—and once the serum was gone it no longer could be produced, and no one said much of anything, and it all went back to the way it used to be, and the shadowy figured returned to vapor, and everyone allowed a good time again, to extend that time for however long they were able or couldn’t quite control, to pass it down through their gene pool, this odd power to forget, a gift from the gods with a consequence for some, a curse.

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Don’t blame Belfast, ’16

Urban art, Dublin

Urban art, Dublin

It was in Belfast this time of year we learned Charlotte can sleepwalk. It’s not like a special power sleepwalking, more a defect. The house was really small with steep stairs and I had the coal stove going all night so we were glad she made it down the steps OK and onto the sofa where we found her the next day.

The coal stove made me sad for home, my dad’s family, all southeast Pennsylvania, shit towns like Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazelton.

The Paris attacks had just happened and we went to a Christmas market in the city, and there in a church they had a memorial for it.

It seemed about everything that could go bad in Belfast did. My birthday was on a Monday and we were trying to be good about home schooling the kids, and Lily and I were suffering our way through Brontë and I went out trying to find good coffee we could brew but didn’t turn up anything, just an old guy in a parking lot who tried to talk to me but I couldn’t understand a goddamned word.

And when I tried to buy alcohol they had to buzz you in. You stand outside waving at a camera then go inside and it feels like looking at porn somehow, all the bottles and cans. And I think there’s limits on how much you can take out they calculate somehow and I never knew if I’d have too much, but tried for the limit every time.

I got contacted by some publishing house while we were in Scotland and I couldn’t tell if it was legit. We scheduled a call for when I got to Belfast and I took it from the Titanic museum, in the lobby. They asked for me to tell them about the draft I said I was working on, on my blog. It was the first time I talked to someone like that, in a business sense, someone who seemed interested in selling what I had to write.

Though it sounded fishy I let the fantasy sit with me for a while. I figured the best thing to do was rework what I’d started, to use the opportunity as a way to pretend it could be real. I had another call with them by the time we got to Dublin.

Everything changed in Dublin. It’s like the sun came out as soon as we left Belfast and everyone stopped what they were doing and waved hello.

The old folks who rented the place to us left the fridge full of sweets and treats and milk, and a basket full of fruit. They assumed we were German and stocked up the coffee table with Dublin guides in German we couldn’t read. It smelled bad, the place, but they were so nice and the location was perfect, and they said we could stay an extra night for free: and at the end, they asked, could we write them a nice review?, and of course we did.

By the time we got to England I decided to take a month off from drinking to focus on my manuscript. I got up before dawn every day, which isn’t hard that time of year in the UK, and after I wrote I walked, and for an afternoon treat, I took a hot bath and drank a non-alcoholic beer, then made curries and listened to ambient music and read.

I started trying to control what I dreamed about and then the content of my dreams worked its way into my draft. I hand wrote all the entries to see what would happen. I got a Harry Potter Moleskin at the Harry Potter studios outside of London and believed perhaps it was charmed.

I found out I got recognized by the WordPress editors and I swear, it must have hit 60 degrees that day though I don’t know, it was all in Celsius. We were outside of Bath in a small village, we walked into town for the first time, and the kids tried climbing trees and we stopped for a hot cocoa by some patio lamps as the sun went down.

And a year later it’s funny, I think I can see it all better now.

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Whatever happens between now and December, keep it between us

img_1665This time of year 2012 I kind of snapped. Dawn asked what’s wrong and I started crying, said I needed to write. We went to Germany for Christmas and I had this transcendental sense reopening thing when I heard a train cutting through the tunnel in the middle of the night, and that was it. We went back a year later and in the middle of the night, drunk in my mom’s kitchen, crying again, more deciding we had to leave, we had to move there.

I have the same laptop now I type on, the one for fun that’s wafer-thin, and fast as hell. And the one I use for work that’s a bulky, Terminator thing but evil looking and hurky, I pull it out like a rifle. People are free to use their iPhones at Microsoft now since they abandoned the Windows Phone; I think some are relieved.

And still I drive the same piece of shit Volvo and get some looks but don’t mind. I pull in front of people; I park too close to cars much nicer than mine. The car smells. The speaker on the passenger side has come undone and the tweeter hangs like a gland or a separated lobe or something, it dangles from a wire. There’s dust on the dashboard I keep thinking I should clean but I don’t, a towel in the back to wipe off the dog after we’re done hiking, my trekking poles, a broom stick I use to hold the hatch open because the gas is gone from the hydraulic pistons that hold it up—and yet the car represents something more, which is dangerous. It represents a life my mom and stepdad had that’s no longer theirs, in Pennsylvania, and I feel the need to run it down to the end, to smoke it down to the filter.

I went back to the bar in Issaquah, my mom’s favorite, that gives you a free beer on your birthday and serves it in a special mug they reserve for birthdays, a Mass (one liter) like the ones they have in Germany.

I opened presents with my kids and we took pictures, and watched the rain hit the windows, so hard the bartender went out to watch. There weren’t many other people there and Dawn and I split a burger, and said how thankful we were for how good things are.

I said a prayer at the lake this morning, that rhymed: something like, I’m blessed, this life we have is the best…and thanked whomever I could for giving me the words, for what peace there is in the small things, how it all adds up day by day, like grains of sand in the bottom of a glass.

Charlotte said they’re learning about figurative language in school (she used that phrase), and her example: Christmas…is just around the corner!

And now the swelling of the clouds, the music, an operatic singer the words I can’t understand though it fills the space in my den, it overtakes the sound of my kids upstairs, it’s like the walls just disappeared and outside, the closing moments of some piece by Elgar, the London Symphony Orchestra, composed by Richard Elcox, who’s someone I will never know.




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Spellbound colander of treetops amid bruised cloud aperture

Belfast, 30 Nov 15

Belfast, 30 Nov 15

It’s funny, when I think about James Joyce now I wonder how much of his art is judged by what he said vs. how he said it, the fact he freed others to rethink writing: or that his book went to the Supreme Court and was banned because of a passage describing a woman’s feelings about sex, how those who ban books don’t create or free anyone, they just prop up old ideas of how to govern and subjugate, how to limit us.

How I spent a lot of my summer trying to figure out what to do for money, how I could earn money as a writer, and all the freelance copywriter courses that break it all down to eight easy steps (for $499), how anyone can do it—and it’s true, anyone can, everyone does, and studies show there’s a formula for post titles, how eight out of ten get opened if they follow this formula—and how angry and depressed it made me, how much it just made me want to be more myself.

I walked to the lake this morning, thought this is the best gift for my birthday, another day to come here alone: and an eagle caught me through the trees with its eyes etched on mine, they were all out circling and chirping, I sat on a rock and spotted the same fisherman’s line caught in a gnarled tree, an orange bob swinging in the breeze like the pendulum on a clock, a hypnotist’s watch—and though it looked like rain, it cleared over the lake, the wind made the sky and clouds pastels, it made a swishing sound as it combed the trees and swept out the dead, returned them to their beds where they could rest and we could all do the same, this season.

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A day in the life, a life in the day

29 Nov 16: Tuesday, got home from work, really felt like a man, spit in the toilet, regarded my slacks, my pose, thought I should heat the hot tub for later. Realized how petty I was and didn’t care, gloating over praise from my client, a full day’s work. Crawled into bed with the remains of a Scotch about 7:30. Set the coffee maker on Delay Brew, remembered the way they measure out the whiskey when you get one in Scotland, hardly enough to cover the bottom of the glass. Glimpses of that hollow feeling, of loss. The insides scraped out. You never knew how much you had until they took it out. Dreams with separation anxiety, my mom coming out from Germany next week: seven months already, it’s been. Playing the first record by Dan Hicks I heard, who also died recently, though so few people even knew he was alive. Driving to work in the morning sometimes blanking out, at the light. Seeing my arms fixed on the wheel, my expression, getting in the slot to turn on the freeway, pulling into the parking garage, the same spot, feeling more comfort there day by day, the routine. How when I started it had the staggered, stilted feeling of a dream, disjointed frames. Now it flows like a spigot. Eating lunch at the same stand-up bar in the cafeteria facing the parking lot, thinking about my next meeting, planning. How we shift in and out of roles like actors, onto the next gig. The art of make believe.

Neptune Theater, Seattle

Neptune Theater, Seattle

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Birth rights

Brad's cabin, '13

Brad’s cabin, ’13

Perhaps it was on that day I was very small,
I decided what I wanted to be.
There was a small satisfaction in that,
a place to sit and fit.
And we all need that.

I remember they were happy with me,
for who I wanted to be,
everyone was happy there was a place
for me, though it was hard
and we didn’t see that at first.

Now I walk to the lake and it’s become
something more, the lake:
and on the way, the moss grown
plump in the cracks, the sidewalk
soggy: the aspect of the trees and
sky this time of year. It makes me
glad for who I am, though hard
to reconcile, with what I do.

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November spawned a monster

"A simple truss"

“A simple truss”

Rainy Thursday morning, Thanksgiving at the lake, all to myself. The level’s come up to the rocks, nowhere to sit. Ginger has a private crap somewhere in the trees. The rain makes a pattern across the surface, little black dots rippling, disappearing, followed by more, repeating. I think there might be something special I’ll see like a blue heron or eagle, but it’s only the ducks. I think about Alan, Heidi’s English husband over in Germany, that year we met and I kept him company in the kitchen while he made the gravy. He smoked right up until he died I think, some kind of cancer, and that was his last Christmas. He handled the turkey gizzards like they were jewels, almost a precious way he laid them out in the frying pan and stirred in the flour, balancing a cigarette in his lips and wincing as he stirred, the blood and the flour turning brown.

I met him once and that was it. He had a bad complexion and long, black hair. There would have been that scene right before we ate we all had our dishes served and held each other’s hands or made a toast and Alan smiled, and we started.

I took the gizzards out of the bag and laid them in the pan like the recipe said, and when the neck was cooked and cooled I stripped what meat I could from it, and used the knife like I was sharpening the tip of a wooden spear.

The last time I wrote in the cook book it said the year with an exclamation point, 2006, pointing at the roast turkey recipe, the James Beard preparation where you cook it on 400, remove the turkey from the oven three times, carefully flip it so it roasts evenly on all sides, a kind of manual, rotisserie effect.

And we touched on that year briefly but I don’t think Dawn or her mom wanted to talk about it much, it was the last one we had with her dad before he got sick, it was the best Thanksgiving because it was just the four of us and Lily, who was only 1, in our little house in West Seattle. The first time I roasted a turkey like that, and it came out so fast it was still light out when we carved it.

Beth said she heard about families not getting together for Thanksgiving this year because of political differences. It made me think of Orwell, of turning people against one another, that divisiveness, and how sad.

But as I walked back from the lake with my dog and the rain kicked up, I realized I was happy as hell, air drumming, thinking about a Morrissey interview my friend Kevin sent (it’s with Larry King), where they talk about Morrissey’s depression, the fact he’s OK when he goes out on stage, Larry gets him to admit he’s even happy performing: Morrissey nods and says yes he is, half-smiles, even.

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