Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Unrequited

I'm a bit behind on my blogging, but I'm hoping to get back to it soon.  Blame it on the strange illness I fought off this past holiday weekend.

In the meantime, I present a post from a few weeks ago, featuring a sample of my story, "Unrequited."


It was our second date when the world ended.
            This was someone’s basement once.  There’s a washer and a dryer down here and if the power were still working I’m sure we could use them.  The fact that the shower upstairs worked was blessing enough.  My clothes might not be clean, but at least my skin smells better.
            Sophy brought a few things down from the bathroom.  She found a compact.  She found some make up.  It’s still light out enough for her to put it on.  She’s just kind of sitting there, compact in one hand, eyeliner in the other.  I’d be flattered if I thought she was actually doing it for my benefit.  She’s not.  She’s doing it for her own.
            I brought a few things down from the kitchen.  I found a really big knife, the kind they only sell on the Home Shopping Network.  I found some canned goods that can be eaten raw.  I found some bottled water.
            I searched every inch of this house and every inch of the garage and the shed out in the yard and I didn’t find a shotgun or a hand gun or anything that could be considered a fire arm.  In the movies they always find a gun somehow.  In the movies they always know how to use it.
            I know she’d rather be sleeping upstairs in one of the beds.  But I feel like the rooms are too shut off with only one exit route.  The basement has a door to the upstairs and a door to the back yard.  The floor is concrete and the walls are cinder blocks.  I feel secure down here.
            There’s a small window, the kind made from a really thick block of glass.  I can see the swing set in the back yard.  I can see the sand box.

            I remember when internet dating was a joke.
            I don’t know when it happened, but at some point meeting people online became trendy.  I guess the ability to screen people was appealing.  You could literally type in the kind of person you wanted to meet and the computer would spit out results.  It was like natural selection with photos.
            That’s how I met Sophy.
            I think most people have a list of traits that they look for in a significant other.  And I think most people are smart enough to realize that they’ll never find someone with every single one of those traits.  To a certain extent, we all know that we’re going to have to settle.  You trade wit for kindness.  You trade taste in movies for taste in music.  You trade intelligence for looks.  Everyone knows that this is how it works and everyone knows that everyone else does it.  You have to sacrifice to survive.
            I didn’t feel like I was settling with Sophy.
            This holds true for meeting people online.  Go ahead and do a search for someone who has the exact same favorite movie as you.  I can guarantee that they won’t like the same music.  Do a search for someone with a post-graduate degree.  Chances are good that they’ll be dull as dirt.  When the facts are laid out and pixilated on the screen twenty inches in front of your face, you learn to pick and choose.  You learn to prioritize.
            It wasn’t like that with Sophy.  She liked the best movies.  She valued wit.  She enjoyed getting drunk.  She was nearly as aimless as me and just a few months younger.  There wasn’t a single trade to be made.  I didn’t have to pick and choose.  Everything lined up the way I wanted.
            And then, of course, there were the pictures.  As online dating had gotten more popular, more and more attractive people were actually using it.  I’m sure initially it was the last resort for the homely and misanthropic, but it turned into a veritable potpourri of beautiful people.  No matter what your type might be, you were bound to find someone to match it.  The problem, of course, is that everyone knew this.
            You get a lot of glamour shots, pictures that seemed to have been taken specifically for the purpose of having a great online profile.  You get a lot of action shots, pictures of people doing something “cool” with their friends.  Those are actually kind of intimidating because you’re getting a glimpse of that person’s entire life in one photo.  It’s a world that seems foreign and complete and not a world that needs you in any way.  You also get a lot of artsy shots, created to be mysterious and appealing when, in reality, they’re just annoying.
            Sophy was different.
            I found her by doing a search for favorite movie.  We were a match.  Her picture was candid enough (and cute enough) for me to think she had potential, so I clicked on her name to view her profile.  Not only did we like the same movies, we liked the same music, too.  It seemed to me that I had every single one of the qualities that she looked for in a person.  It seemed to me that her hobbies paralleled my own.
            Within a few minutes of reading her profile, I’d already fallen for her.

            We managed to slide a mattress down the stairs and we took sheets and comforters from the linen closet.  It felt weird to take them off the beds.  The mattress was one thing.  Sheets made what we were doing seem too real.
            Night time is always the hardest.  I watch as the last light from the sun fades away.  Sophy crawls on to the mattress and pulls the sheets up around her.  I look at my watch.  It’s only 6:30.  I wonder how much longer the battery will last in this thing.  I suppose at some point time will cease to exist.
            We sleep in four hour shifts.  I know it doesn’t sound like we’re getting a whole lot of rest, but it’s not as if either of us is getting any quality sleep.  You’re half awake the whole time, anyway.  Part of you doesn’t think you’ll wake up.
            There was one point when we felt comfortable lying next to each other.  I think we preferred it.  It was a way for us to stay warm.  I liked to think it was comforting, that I was just as comforting to her as she was to me.  But we’ve been pretty scared lately, too scared to be lying down at the same time.
            “I feel like we’re buried,” she says as she rolls over on to her side.  She always starts off on her side.  At some point she’ll end up on her back.  Gently, casually, and sound asleep, she’ll roll on to her back, no longer curled up in the fetal position, open and accepting of the world around her.  It happens that way every night.  It’s almost graceful.
            I’ve watched her sleep every night for a week now.
            I look back out the window.  The sun is going down and the last bit of light is starting to form shadows anywhere it can.  I try not to let my mind fool me.  I’ve got enough to worry about without imaging things.
Those trees in the distance are just trees.  They’re not moving.  They’re not headed this way.
            I almost wish they were.


The rest of Unrequited can be found as a 99 cent eBook, available on iTunes, for the Nook, and for the Kindle, as well as pretty much any other eReader or Tablet. Unrequited can also be found in print, as part of the short story collection, Unrequited and Other Stories.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Love in the Time of Internet Dating

Here's another little something that I wrote a while back, but this has never been published anywhere.  I mostly wrote it for my own benefit, which is something I seem to do a lot.

This is from a longer piece on my relationship with Nicole, something that has actually found its way into print in "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At," which is nearly as much of a love story about Nicole and I as it is about my grandparents.

If I remember correctly, I left all of these bits out of the book, though.

I just checked, and the document this is excerpted from is almost 70 pages long.  I am a crazy person.

Anyway, here you go, a little insight into how Nicole and I met...



            “Hey,” said Brandon in his usually upbeat, somewhat innocent manner.
            “Brandon,” I said.  This is the relationship we had: I was mean to him.  I mean, I wasn’t literally mean to him, but I joked around in a very mean fashion.  I knew he could take it though, or else I wouldn’t have done it.
            “I just got a message from some guy telling me I’m cute and funny.”  See, he said things like this and it was impossible for me to not be mean to him.  It was impossible.
            “I take it he’s never met you,” I said.
            “On Friendster,” he said, which is funny because the assumption here is that I not only knew what Friendster was, but I knew how it worked.  But it was a safe assumption to make.
            “You’re on Friendster?” I said as I typed the address into my web browser.  I wasn’t doing anything work related, anyway, and this gave me yet another source of distraction.  It was hard work finding ways to spend so much free time when I couldn’t leave the office.
            I pulled up the Friendster page and logged-in – as I said, I not only knew what Friendster was, I was well aware of how it worked.  Hell, the last girl I really dated I met on this thing, but that didn’t last too long.  Still, it was an interesting system, particularly for those of us who had a hard time braving the Los Angeles social scene.
            “Add me to your friends’ list,” said Brandon, so I looked him up and added him to my friends list.  “Isn’t that a great picture of me?”
            By this point, though, I’d quit listening to him.  I was now scanning the people in his friends list in hopes that they weren’t all gay men.  They weren’t.
            In particular, one photo caught my eye.  The name above it was Nicole.  So I clicked on her.
            “Hello,” I said as the page loaded, “who’s Nicole?”
            “You should send her a message,” said Brandon, “she’s totally chill.  You’d get along with her.”
            So I did.  And this is what I sent:

Date:
Sunday, October 24, 2004 11:42:00 AM
Subject:
Hello
Message:
Brandon said I should send you a message. It
happened much like this:

Brandon: Some guy I don't even know sent me a
message on Friendster telling me I'm cute and
funny.

Me: You're on Friendster?

Brandon: Yeah.

Me: Let me add you to my friends' list.

**I look up Brandon.**

Brandon: Isn't that a good picture of me?

Me: Yeah, it's fan-freaking-tastic, Brandon.

Brandon: Isn't that a good description?

**I ignore Brandon and scroll down the page to his
list of friends.**

Me: Hello. Who's Nicole?

Brandon: Nicole! She's a girl I used to work with.
You should send her a message.

Me: Okay.

It dawns on me, however, that this could be the
worst conversation starter ever. But I hold out
hope.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Back Inaction

Two points you should know about this blog post before going any further:

1) It will consist of things you will probably find hard to take seriously.

2) It was not my intent to write this blog, at least not today.

Writing isn't an easy thing to do.  I could go on and on about the mental, emotional, and social difficulties that come with making a go of being a writer.  Honestly, if I haven't gone on and on about those things before now, I probably will at some point down the line.

Here's the thing no one ever really thinks about, though: the physical problems that come from writing. 

No, seriously.

I'm a pretty fragile guy, I will admit that.  I have more ailments than is generally found in a person not living in a bubble.  I drew the short straw in the genetic pool.  But I also exacerbate a lot of my problems by writing.

Let's look at right now, for example.  I'm doped up on pain killers and this is the longest I've been vertical the entire day.  This is all because my upper back spasmed and the got progressively worse over the course of the morning, until I had no choice but to leave work, come home, pop pills, and lie on a heating pad.

And that was my upper back -- it's usually my lower back that goes out.  I was actually laid up 2 days before my wedding day because of my chronic back problems.

This all makes sense if you consider the fact that I spend upwards of 12 hours a day sitting at a desk, and probably another 1 to 2 on a couch in front of a TV.  I was also born Pectus excavatum which, while I had surgery for it when I was five, it left behind some physical issues (and a couple of major scars).  Needless to say, said physical issues have only been made worse by insane desire to write.

Funny enough, my back issues usually take a backseat to my carpal tunnel syndrome.  I've gotten a number of cortisone shots in my wrists to pat down the inflammation, but I've reached my limit.  At my last doctor's appointment I was told that surgery was basically my only option.  So that's something to look forward to.

All this is to say that writing has been strangely destructive to my body.  But who would ever even consider such a thing?  If you had told me 30 years ago that problems that could be attributed to writing would have me laid up in bed, I would have looked at you like you were crazy.

Not for nothing, but this could just be one more reason why writers drink.  Alcohol definitely helps with inflammation and pain, at least in the short term.  It also helps with all those mental, emotional, and social issue I mentioned earlier.  Sadly, it also only helps with those problems in the short term, too.

It'll be interesting to see which goes first: my mind or my body.  Right now, I'd say they're running neck and neck.

Monday, February 6, 2012

An uplifting short story to start your week


You can find this short story in the Literary Town Hall collection, conveniently listed over there on the right.

As the saying goes, never apologize and never explain.  But this short story is eight years old and I have to admit that there are parts of it that don't really hold up.  Then again, there are parts of it that, I think, hold up extremely well.

As you will probably be able to guess when you read this, much of it is based on real life events.

Also, I think there might be some swearing in there, not to mention a few disturbing metaphors.  This is probably a PG-13 story.


Gateway Drug
By Kyle Garret

            I am a guided missile without the guidance.
I’ve never been to this doctor before.  The only thing I know about him is that he accepts my insurance and that his office is less than ten miles from my apartment.  Unfortunately, each of those miles is shadier than the next.  By the time I get there, I’m beginning to question the validity of my new doctor’s qualifications, not to mention the quality of my insurance company.
            His office is in an old brown building.  There’s no sign on it anywhere that would indicate a doctor resides there, at least none that I can see from my car.  Mathematical deduction is the only reason I even find the place; this has to be his office because the building after his has an address that is two numbers higher.
            I park and get out of my car, making sure to hit the “lock” button on my car keys.  I hear the car honk and I’m suddenly very thankful for technology.  Then again, I’ll draw little comfort that my car is safe if I’m beaten to death inside this building.
            And then I see the sign. 
The sign is a piece of notebook paper with “Dr. Daley” written on it in blue pen.  It is taped to the front door of what I’m assuming is his office.  If my wrists weren’t actually throbbing as I stood there, I would have turned around.  But beggars can’t be choosers and apparently I’ve turned into a beggar.  I suppose every girl I’ve ever slept with would attest to that.
            When I enter I immediately notice two things: two attractive young women who appear to be medical assistants and a framed picture of who I am assuming is Dr. Daley.  The assistants are nice to see; the picture is less so.  The photo is a pastel looking shot of a middle aged man in a shirt, tie, and cardigan sweater.  He’s wearing those black, horn rimmed glasses – the kind they used to wear in the 50’s and 60’s.  And in the picture he appears to be about fifty years old.  Those pesky math skills quickly alert me to the fact that this man could be over a hundred.
            “Are you here to see Dr. Daley?” says one of the assistants, no doubt picking up on my look of complete bewilderment. 
            “Uh, yeah, I have an appointment,” I say.
            “Okay, just sign in for us here,” she says as she points to the sign-in sheet with one hand and grabs a clipboard with the other, “and fill this out for us.  You can sit over there.”  She points towards the opposite side of the room.
            Suddenly I notice that there are, in fact, chairs in this room.  I hadn’t noticed them before because there’s no one sitting in them.  I’m the only patient.
            I put my name on the sign-in sheet and sit down, wondering how long I could possibly have to wait since I’m apparently the only one here.  In fact, the medical staff outnumbers the patients in this scenario, something that really can’t be good for business.  Then again, maybe Dr. Daley gets a lot of wealthy divorcees who have been coming to him for decades.  Judging by the neighborhood, I tend to doubt it.
            I fill out all the paperwork that’s required of me and hand it back to the assistant.  She smiles and thanks me and goes back to talking to the other assistant.  I’m beginning to wonder how many assistants this guy could possibly need considering his average number of patients.
The door to what I assume is the examination room opens and all of my questions are answered.
            Slowly – oh, so slowly – walks out Dr. Daley.  If he’s a day under one-hundred and fifty I’d be surprised and it dawns on me that perhaps he’s some kind of medical miracle in his own right, and that’s why he’s still practicing: healing magic through osmosis.
            He doesn’t see me as he heads towards the main desk.  One assistant scurries up to him with a folder containing all of my information as the other one heads back into the exam room.  Maybe the assistants will actually examine me.  Maybe Dr. Daley is just here to put his stamp of approval on the HMO forms.
            The assistant with Dr. Daley points in my direction and he turns to face me.  He smiles and begins to lumber in my general direction, much like a mummy or a zombie who’s just noticed how so very tasty my brains are.  I have to resist the urge to scan the room for something to decapitate him with.
            “I’m Dr. Daley,” he says in that old man voice, and you know exactly what I’m talking about.  He holds out a quivering hand to me, undead body language for wanting to shake.  I grab his hand as weakly as possible and we do a quick up/down motion before I let go.  Depending upon which movie this is and whether or not he’s a mummy or a zombie, he could suck my life force away with just a touch, so it’s best not to take any chances.
            He sticks his hand out as if to indicate that he’d like me to head in the direction of the exam room, as if he wants me to go in ahead of him.  My ADD and entire lack of manners would have made this happen, anyway, as there’s no way in hell I could have handled walking behind him at half an inch per minute.  So I eagerly walk past, fully aware that this could be the part where I fall into the secret undead death trap.
            Everything happens in slow motion.  Dr. Daley asks me my symptoms, I tell him.  He gives me what most folks would call “practical advice,” in this case holding my arms under cold water for forty-five minutes every night.  This is all well and good and within the bounds of what I was expecting.  I wait for him to prescribe me some industrial strength painkillers.
And then it happens.
            “Jarred,” says Dr. Daley as his assistant suddenly appears standing beside me, “with your permission we’d like to include you in our prayers.”
            Okay, so that’s a little unorthodox (or very, depending upon your definition of the word), but I figure that’s fine.  If this elderly man wants to say a little something to god for me tonight before he goes to bed, then so be it.  I imagine I could use all the help I can get.
            But no.
            “Sure,” I say.
            And no sooner is the word out of my mouth than do he and his assistant each grab one of my hands while simultaneously grabbing each other’s hand – in essence forming a circle of three.  They then proceed to put their heads down and close their eyes.
            There is no praying for Jarred tonight.  There will be praying for Jarred right the hell now.
            “Our Lord Jesus, through whom all things are possible,” he says and my head is almost as not down as my eyes are not closed.  It’s like I’m in another world, a crazy world where insurance companies direct you to faith healers.
            “Please help our brother Jarred, who in these trying times needs your guidance.”
            There’s an implication in there somewhere.  I know there is.
            “If you could ease his pain, Lord, make his wrists feel better.”
            I once saw a stripper put her legs behind her head while felating a cucumber.  I’m more stunned now than I was then.
            “We are your humble servants, Lord.  In Jesus’ name we pray.”
            I’m trying not to laugh.  I’m trying with every ounce of strength that I have and I am not a strong man, physically or mentally.  And I feel like a total shit for finding any of this funny at all.
            There’s thirty second of silence and they both open their eyes and look up at me.  “Amen,” he says.
            “Amen,” I say.  I’m going to hell now.
            I give Dr. Daley and his assistants the most sincere sounding “thank you’s” I can muster and make my way for the door.  I try not to look like I’m fleeing, although I do look back to make sure they’re not following me. 
When I get outside my car is still there.  I pull my pack of Camel Wide Lights out of my pocket.  I light up.  I had assumed I’d be going to the pharmacy after this, that I would then go home and vegetate on federally regulated opiates.  Instead I’m left with Jesus.
I’m a little worried; I’ve heard he’s a gateway drug.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Writer's Block

I don't get writer's block, not in the traditional sense, at least.

Not long after "Pray" was released, I did a Q&A at the library in my hometown.  One of the people there asked me how I dealt with writer's block.  I'm pretty sure Nicole smiled when she heard the question, because she knows only too well that I have different types of problems with writing.

I have written three books and I have three more in the works -- literally, I have pages of work completed for each of them.  This doesn't even take into account various short stories, comic book scripts, and the random television or movie idea.

I have more ideas than I know what to do with, but I would hazard a guess that most of them are awful.  But that's the thing with writing: you never really know until you write it.  I've spent months working on something that I ultimately kill off because it's not going anywhere.  I might later go back and pick apart the carcass to find parts I can use elsewhere, but I don't get back all the time I put into it.

This isn't to say that I don't get writer's block, because I do.  It's just that my version doesn't involve ideas, it involves sentences.

I labor over every single sentence I write.  If I manage to make it through an entire paragraph without stopping to consider what I'm doing next, it's a huge accomplishment.  I read about people who just crank out first drafts and I'm always amazed.  I see writers on Twitter saying things like "Just hit 50K words, shooting for 75K before the end of the day!"  I can't even wrap my brain around that.

There's something more debilitating than writer's block, though: apathy.  I find that apathy kills more of my writing than anything else.  At some point, whether it's a paragraph into a new blog entry or ten chapters into a novel, doubt creeps in.  Why am I writing this?  Is it really any good?  Does anyone really care about this?  What's the point?

That shit can kill you, but I can't imagine there's a writer in the world that doesn't experience it.  Fortunately, I think most writers also have the ability to rationalize just about anything, so when those doubts do creep in, they can be pushed away.  The issue is how long that takes, and how difficult it is to recover.

In some ways, I might be better off if I actually had writer's block.  Perhaps writers who struggle with such things eventually break through with only good ideas, as opposed to my situation which has a undefinable signal to noise ratio.  Imagine being able to invest in one idea that you know is good instead of ten ideas that you're unsure about.

Maybe writer's block wouldn't be so bad.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Upside of Ditch Digging

This would all be different if I dug ditches for a living.

Back in the heady days of 2004, I got a promotion.  At the time, I was a leasing agent at an upscale apartment community in Los Angeles.  Because I had shown some aptitude with computers, and a willingness to own our online related activities, I was made the E-business Coordinator for all the properties the company I work for owned in Los Angeles.  Over time, that role would expand to include not just all of California, but all of the Pacific Division of AIMCO -- I was the EBC for the AIMCO PD ROC.

You heard me.

Anyway, the expanded job came with, among other things, an assistant, or at least that's what he was called, as Matt was never really an assistant in the traditional sense.  He actually preferred being called the "Deputy E-business Coordinator," because we both liked the West Wing.

Matt was (and is) a screenwriter.  He likes baseball.  He has vast knowledge of meaningless things.  We got along great, which was good, given that we shared an office.

Now, it would be easy for me to downplay the work we did in that office.  Matt's then-girlfriend-now-wife lived a good drive away, so he and I rotated weekends so he was actually able to visit her.  Eventually, though, we realized that no one in charge was around on the weekends, so we just stopped showing up altogether.  In other words, if you had the weekend shift that week -- which meant you officially had Thursday and Friday off -- you more or less had Thursday through Sunday off.

One afternoon we just decided to go see a movie.  It was Sideways.

I should point out that my extreme weekend hooky was initially Nicole's fault.  Not long after we started dating she wanted to get lunch on a Sunday, but I was at work.  So I skipped out and met her.  And then we went to Ikea.  And the next thing I knew, I'd been gone the whole day.

We did work, though.  Our job performance was measured in time, and it was the rare hour that at least one of us wasn't by a computer, even when we weren't in the office.  This, I think, justified our lackadaisical schedule; we were almost always working.

Still, it was a pretty cushy gig.

As I mentioned, Matt was a writer, struggling to break in, just like I was.  I wouldn't say that we talked about the process of writing a lot, since we were coming at it from different schools.  But we did talk about the work involved, and how thankless it could be.

Every so often, we would talk about the fact that our cushy jobs were probably a detriment to our writing, because it made us comfortable.  We didn't have a lot of motivation to change our current situations, at least not the extent that, say, digging ditches for a living would.

My cousin is a writer, newly graduated and out in the real world, working where she can.  I told her that such jobs are great because they don't just provide material, they provide motivation.  Seeing what you don't want to do for a living is a great way of driving you towards what you do want to do for a living.

I don't think the average person realizes how difficult it can be to be a writer who doesn't make a living that way.  Writing is hard work.  It's a second job to go along with the first job that pays the bills, but also takes 40+ hours away from you each week.  And while that day job makes demands of you that you can't ignore because you like being able to eat food and you like having some place to live and you need to read books to keep yourself sharp, writing makes demands of you in ways that you can never escape.

I'm 36 years old and I have every reason under the sun to stop with this nonsense, and yet here I am.

I'm actually okay with my current job.  In fact, it only has one real downside (aside from the fact that I could probably afford to be paid more): it's not writing.  And that's the thing.  I could have the greatest job in the entire world and it would still be second fiddle for me.

I have never had difficulty finding the motivation to write; I don't really have a choice in the matter.  As exhausting as it can be, I'd have it no other way.