Halloween II

“Let’s stay and starve the light a little while longer…”

Just a little longer, Blair pleaded- wide eyes, the result of a deliberate evolutionary process; puppies evoking sympathy as their only means of survival; cats as cold, distant bitches with a keen sense of human nature built in to the blood- manipulative, an inherent understanding that people chase what they can’t have. Just a little longer. Everything pushing toward survival- fleeting moments of comfort- everyone hiding from pain; refugees from trauma. Just a little longer- no one wants the night to end; cold and lonely mornings- your reflection looking more haggard by the day; bags under the eyes like sinkholes in sand.

Just a little longer. Get old enough and the goodbyes start to pile up. Perpetually watching dawn intrude on your perfect summer night- the summer between high school and college; infinite possibilities vanquished by the horrible light of the morning sun. Just a little longer- Michael Myers not letting six shots keep him down; determined to keep the party going all night long. Halloween II (1981), picking up where the first left off- more of the night he came home.

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Welcome to Hell

“Hey Mama, look at me, I’m on my way to the promised land…”

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I assure you, the story I’m about to tell you is true- all of it. Every small victory. Every little triumph. Every lesson learned. Every mistake made. Every misdeed cast. Every bit of bullshit. Every lie. Every defeat. Every disappointment. Every heart broken. Every tear shed. Everything I’m about to share with you, it all happened. It’s all true- all of it.

Impossible for you to know the emotional toll telling you this story has taken. The long days and endless nights, restlessly searching for the right words, in the right order; hoping it makes sense; hoping to be seen. Restlessly searching for meaning; enduring moments of despair; intense bouts of frustration; fists against the wall. Desperate to be understood. 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, submitted for your scrutiny and judgement, this is my story- this is my life- and I am proud to share it with you; proud to announce the release of my very first book.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, welcome to hell…

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After Hours

“If you close the door the night could last forever” 

It’s okay to do nice things, Blair explained. She had made a reservation for the afternoon at a winery operating on a working beef farm. Anything pretentious would be tempered by a kind of rustic authenticity. They’ll have cows, she told me. 

Although it can be managed, it’s impossible to entirely diminish feelings of hesitancy in a struggle that I can only assume is similar to the misnomer of the recovering drug addict– the same wishful thinking involved- that one can ever, successfully, erase the footprint- bust the ghost… thoughts wander; compulsions linger restlessly. There is no recovery for true addiction.

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Jennifer Lost the War

“…but will the morning headlines even say that it’s a shame?”

They’re all liars, she told me, all of them. While we had spoken a few times, only through text, in the years since things had come apart violently, I finally chipped away at Jennifer enough for a phone call. Years had passed, and maybe the resulting body image issues- collateral damage from getting off on calling her fat- had faded enough for the sound of my voice to be somewhat less nauseating. Or maybe it was the mid-August blues; five months into quarantine and just about any option seems great- a fact that I greatly benefitted from over the summer- but even if I had been excited to catch up with Jennifer formally, this wasn’t what I was expecting.

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Only Death is Real

“…beneath the sound of hope.”

It’s the same thing every time, she told me. It’s an act, the whole thing; it isn’t real. The eye contact, the pursed lips, hands in the hair, the inflection in tone- “baby, baby…” She’ll pick up on this and mimic it back to me- same eye contact, same pursed lips: “baby, baby…”

When you’ve lived what feels like a thousand lifetimes compared to the high school sweethearts; you’ve figured out every bit of the female algorithm- missile launch codes carved into your skull like the password to skip to Mike Tyson; right to the bedroom; right to true love, scientific discovery at the price of normalcy; at the price of family.

At the price of outliving your parents- at least numerically. Without anything else- anything to provide perspective- the single man will either self-destruct in addiction or grind himself into the ground; defiance, on the road to decay; defiance in the face of genetic limitations- trying to get muscle car performance out of an economy class. Your parents were shopping on a budget- who knew how bad things would get?

***

The cold void of an endless January seems even crueler when juxtaposed with the colored lights of December. It was a December morning, before first period, that our eyes met in front of her locker. In what couldn’t have been planned, at least consciously planned- perhaps, more like the march of the penguins, or a rosebud uncoiling before the relentless morning sun- perhaps, something guided by nature and etched into a plan that wasn’t within our power to modify. Our eyes met, guided by invisible forces so strong that they had almost revealed themselves- a proof for God, had we been more conscious of it in the moment- our eyes met, and hung in the air frozen. No words exchanged. Even a kiss would have spoiled the purity of the moment. We had from our surroundings what was needed, and we could make from it something more.

We stayed after school that day and spent the afternoon talking about the future as if we could write it. Too shy, of course, to include one another in these plans- but we spoke in ways where this acknowledgement wasn’t necessary; that it was maybe so pressing and obvious that it could be left unsaid.

That night, December 16th, 1996, I took the late bus home from school- and that night was the only time I wore a seatbelt. This was the greatest day of my life, and I couldn’t let anything ruin it.

***

You’re just like Stanley Kubrick, is what people must have told Shane Carruth. Absolute darling of the independent movie scene at the dawn of the new millennium, Carruth did what would have been considered impossible- made his first movie, with a seven-thousand dollar budget, and won the grand-jury prize at Sundance. To put this in perspective, it’s like your friend’s student film winning an Oscar- like breaking a law of nature, this was something that couldn’t happen… but it did, because Primer (2004) is incredible. Breathtakingly incredible- even with its flaws; flubbed audio and blown-out lighting; there is nothing like Primer and Primer is fucking incredible.

And even still, I can never decide whether I prefer Primer or Carruth’s follow-up Upstream Color (2013)– a film so uniquely outside the box that I wouldn’t know where to begin describing it. Part science fiction, part cold realism- broken people with interdependent relationships- Upstream Color examines the connection between identity and trauma, how the latter inescapably shapes the former- and, more so, how these elements, so crucial to how we understand the world around us, are often invisible.

Absolute darling of the independent movie scene, for a short time Carruth had tried to work within the Hollywood system- to the point of even pitching a Batman movie. When he couldn’t get funding for his big budget, trippy sci-fi adventure A Topiary he pivoted back to realism with A Modern Ocean– which caught a bit of fire, even making it to the casting stage… and then nothing.

Absolute darling of the independent movie scene, which is ultimately meaningless. No one wants to finance difficult, obtuse art. No one cares how good you are. No one cares if you’re just like Stanley Kubrick, or just like Delicious Tacos, your inaccessible art- your brilliance- means nothing in a world of Mickey Mouse superhero bullshit. Beauty means nothing in hell.

***

It was in the cold void of January that Kevin had slipped you the little blue sheet of paper, folded up with your name across the front, during second period Theology. You had nothing to worry about, he said. He wasn’t interested, he explained. He was already dating Michelle- a fact you all knew, but Jessica had still called him the night before, just to be sure.

It is only in the cold void of an endless January that all can be laid bare. Only in the absence of the ornate, and the emotions inherently consequent, that proper assessment can be made. Only after New Year’s Eve, 1996; making out with Jessica in her living room; Dick Clark with KISS ringing in the New Year; “I wanna rock and roll all nite and party every day”; drunk only on each other; hands in her hair, looking into her eyes- this is gonna be our year, baby– only in the absence of this can things be properly contextualized.

Terms and conditions; hypothesis and conclusion; the manager who won’t let the artist pursue their passion project for practical reasons. Hollywood who won’t give Shane Carruth money to make pure art. She was the prize and you were the runner up- second choice. She tried to negotiate for a better deal but chose to accept the offer on the table. You bought what you could afford and were happy with what you got. One little blue sheet of paper later and it was tainted- like finding a horde of ants behind the wall of your dream house or the new car that never leaves the shop. A heap of junk who’d tell you that she loved you but you weren’t buying it– it wasn’t good enough– who cried at your coldness and sucked your dick on Friday night. You wanted a fairytale; you wanted purity and you got mayhem.

The punchline is that Jessica loved me for years after we broke up. For years, she’d do her best to find me- in the years before social media, this wasn’t easy. Messages sent through friends. Showing up at the same goth clubs. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985); always a step behind, always on the prowl. She’d let a guy hit on her and I’d swoop in and pull her away by the waist.

No one could understand why I wouldn’t just date her. If you saw the dress she’d wear to Detour, you’d have wondered the same thing, but she just had the dumb luck of knowing me. She had the dumb luck of buying all those Seattle stocks at their IPO; the dumb luck of buying bitcoin for pennies; an early adopter– commendable, but now she could step aside ’cause this rocket’s not stopping ’til we hit the moon. Thanks for playing, baby. Maybe next time.

***

Writing is the pursuit of truth- this is what you’ll say when asked why you write. Greatness existing within your reach– brief glimpses of its Platonic form, so brief you can only sketch them from memory; scribble out words, inadequate substitutions for what you’re trying to impale with your ball-point spear; feel the juices stream down your neck as you indulge on the progress you’ve made. The pursuit of truth- there’s a purity to this.

Internet fame, a substitute for your relationship with God. This is what you say matters. This is how you get to sleep at night. This is how you justify a meandering existence, never having to commit, always thinking you could do better; you should do better. Incredible truth to be found in meeting desperate women on dating apps. There’s no room in hell for the happily married; only the dead walk the Earth.

As if David Foster Wallace’s suicide doesn’t haunt you. Poke holes in your theory. You’ll never be as good; you’ll never be as acclaimed; historically significant; critically well-received; famous- both Internet and real life. Even this, what you woke-up early to write, before work, in a spiral-bound notebook that you bought for a quarter; even this, your recent work- which you believe shows significant growth; your stylistic prime; your best, which by anyone’s judgement would have to be considered clever– will always be shit compared to Wallace’s worst… and even if you want to believe that turning words into art is enough to justify an otherwise meaningless existence, DFW’s hanging corpse is somewhere laughing at you.

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WELCOME TO HELL

Ghostbusters 2

“The ghosts that roam this house, like winter air right through our souls.”

You don’t have to write about my stairs, she said, and we can only be friends if you stop hurting my feelings. I didn’t have to be in the room to know what Nancy’s eyes would have looked like- desperate to hide the depth of her vulnerability- but like every other time, no matter how hard she tried, the way she looked at you betrayed her. This was what made you fall in love with her. She stopped talking to you when you posted the piece about her house- her house as a metaphor for every bit of hurt, every battle scar, every coping strategy and defense mechanism; walls and coldness- circles that needed squaring. Parts of her life to be compartmentalized; some locked-away, some delicately framed with self-talk.

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Razor Blades and Shame

There are moments in life, however brief, that an unspoken sentiment is shared by so many that it becomes an energy unto itself- the kind of energy that’s propelled nations to fight wars and outsider candidates to win elections. At the end of the decade, professional wrestling- fans, wrestlers, and promoters- had something to prove. It wasn’t enough to kindly explain to the uninitiated that despite the predetermined nature of match finishes that this shit- the battering taken on the bodies of performers- was, actually, far more real than anyone knew. To chase the respect of those who will never care, violence needed to be amplified.

The rise of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) may have been the direct result of this coalescence of energy. The convergence of two deeply felt sentiments: that a) professional wrestling was embarrassing because it was fake and the wrestling fan was an idiot for not understanding this, despite gladly acknowledging it any chance they had, and b) all those working in professional wrestling were performing on a show for children. The idea behind ECW was that they would explicitly define their show as one for adults, with a hard-R rating, and use profanity, sex, and violence as a means to achieve this end.

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You’re Just Like Delicious Tacos

“Whoever thought you’d be better at turning a screw than me? I do it for my life. Fuck yeah!”

You’re just like Delicious Tacos, he told me. He was messaging me for advice. Girl problems- but, more than that too, he said. His life felt empty. He was lacking direction; depression, anxiety. There’s something about my writing that suggests I could offer intervention- a quick series of bullet points or if/then statements. Something about my writing that’s aspirational.

I’m willing to believe this. Despite my failures which I’ve grown comfortable sharing with strangers, I’m a happy and centered person. I have positive habits- and even if my addictive personality will merely cut and paste beneficial habits in place of those destructive and pursue them with the same psychotic vigor, they’re at least theoretically contributing to my overall health and well-being. I read and write regularly. I lift weights and take long walks. I meditate and enjoy stillness. I love nature. I believe in God.

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Set it and Forget it

“Row like a felon, drown like a captain’s son. But say, how long can this go on?”

The goal is a clear stretch of highway long enough to keep your cruise control set at seventy-eight. Detach from the minutia of traffic while feeling connected to the reality of journey– wheels groping pavement, cutting through morning air. Not only does your attention to speed management ultimately save on gas mileage, but more importantly it provides space to sharpen the mind/body connection that’s crucial for when you walk into work at 6 a.m.- each motion light clicking to life as you pass- to sit at your desk and write in a spiral-bound notebook for twenty-five minutes before starting your work for the day.

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The King of Hell

“Darkness will show us the way…”

Dana wouldn’t let me fuck her before she went on dates. Losers she’d meet from pay-to-play dating apps- ones that supposedly offered a more serious assortment of romantic candidates. The kind she’d want to bring home to mom, assuming mom were still alive. Maybe, more accurately, the kind she’d introduce to her children- on a day trip to Adventureland, where he’d spend big money on artisan ice-cream and carnival games skewed against the player.

Big smiles while riding bumper boats. This could be something real- like they advertise on TV, where aging singles find their second chance; the one that counts, as insinuated by complex smiles on the faces of couples in their forties, sipping cocoa in cozy, female-owned coffee shops; discussing life after marriage.

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