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Story Notes on Merely Players

Me and my Digby

You never really know what your story is about until you finish writing it and sometimes not even then. Sometimes you don’t figure it out for years.

In 2015 I signed with a literary agent and I thought “here we go!” I’d been studying, writing, hustling for my whole adult life. I had a manuscript I was very proud of and a whole lot of optimism. Over the next few years I wrote two more books and my agent submitted all three of them to editors. We got some positive notes but nothing sold. Ultimately, in 2018 my agent left the business and, with three books that were effectively dead to publishers and no agent, I almost quit writing. I poured everything I had into the work that didn’t sell, into the proposals, and the grace I needed to survive rejection. I was crushed.

A couple weeks ago Kelly Sue DeConnick was a guest instructor for the Bad Dream Factory writing workshop masterminded by Chuck Palahniuk and Chelsea Cain that I’m privileged to be the TA for. Someone asked her advice on coming up with ideas. She said, (and I’m paraphrasing here, so apologies for not capturing her full Kelly Sue-ness), that ideas aren’t the limiting factor. What you really need as a writer, what’s really in short supply, is time and courage. I’d never heard it phrased quite like that before and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. In 2018, my courage was gone. I still had ideas, still put in the time, still wrote, but I was missing something.

At the bottom of my courage, I made a choice to start again with the fundamentals. I had a certain comfort level with novels as a form. I’d written 8 books before the one that got me an agent and 10 total by 2018. None of them got cover art or shelf space at Barnes and Noble but I at least knew I could throw hours and hard work into my keyboard and make something novel shaped out of it. What I was less sure of were short stories. I’d written some in college but rarely since. My agent said short stories were a waste of time but when he was gone and I was starting over, I committed to short fiction. I felt like it might be a good way to rediscover my love of writing and a way to connect with the speculative fiction community at a time when I felt most isolated. I tried out a few ideas that didn’t come together and ultimately stuck on this one about a lonely traveler in an empty world that finds a hint that someone else is out there.

In retrospect, the subtext isn’t even a little bit subtle.

With “Merely Players” I wrote my loneliness, my sense of purposelessness after that “here we go!” crashed into “what do I do now?” Jester, the main character, is an actor without a stage or an audience. He’s a comedian in a world without laughter and he asks himself, is he even alive if he doesn’t do what he’s meant to do? The same issues I grappled with as a discouraged writer in 2018. Jester scours the desolate landscape of my post apocalyptic world for batteries like I scoured my reserves for the courage I was missing.

I included an adorable dog sidekick because who doesn’t appreciate an adorable dog sidekick and I used Christmas as a counterpoint to the grim post apocalyptic reality Jester inhabits. What I didn’t know writing “Merely Players” is how much more it resonated with me– and maybe for readers– in a post-Covid world. Jester marvels at all the useless strip mall commerce that’s left behind when all the people he misses are long gone. Quarantined through 2020, I mirrored these same feelings. I would have gladly traded the boxes of old CDs in my office for a night laughing with old friends.

In early 2019 after polishing and sitting on “Merely Players” for several months– call me the Cowardly Lion, Kelly Sue– I finally submitted it. It was my first ever short story submission (in college, I wrote for classes not sale) and I picked the publisher I thought was most likely to reject it in a day or two so I could just get it over with. That didn’t happen. The story made the second round and I found myself awkwardly not mentioning that to the publication editor at a cocktail party at Norwescon. I finally got my rejection and submitted it to the two next publications on my list and they passed quickly and efficiently. I used it in my application for a writing workshop that I got waitlisted for and even though any writer not completely out of batteries might have taken that as a sign that it was a good story that just hit tough competition, I was not that kind of writer and with my battery light blinking red stopped submitting it anywhere. I decided it was probably a terrible story after all and I was a terrible writer after all and wallowed in ridiculous self pity. I worked on other stories and other submissions with limited confidence but effectively gave up on “Merely Players.”

Quick aside: don’t do this. Believe in your work and keep trying. I was a Sad Writer Dwelling in Darkness. The character in my story had more courage than I could manage then. Jester, I’m sure, would have offered me a song and dance and given me a hug.

I mentioned my truly self-destructive and not at all logical defeatist attitude about submitting short stories to my friend Luke and he told me I might try, you know, submitting a story to more than 3 places before I gave up and listened to Concrete Blonde in Self Pity Town. I figured I’d show him how foolish that kind of thinking was and sent off “Merely Players” to Escape Pod in October of 2020. I got the acceptance not long after. It was picked to be the Christmas story for 2021 so I needed to be patient for a very long year but that patience has delivered me an extraordinary gift.

People read the ending of “Merely Players” different ways. In the end does Jester find his audience or do his batteries just run out? I intend that answer to be a personal one, different for each reader, but for me right now listening to the incredible narrator Karlo Yeager Rodriguez bring this story that so transparently mirrors my writing journey over the last 3 years to life, I think Jester has just enough courage to get his happily ever after.

And I think maybe I found the courage to move on too.

This silly, sweet, sad story that will almost certainly never mean as much to anyone else as it means to me wouldn’t be possible without Divya, Mur, and Ben at Escape Pod plucking it out of slush and making it shine or without Karlo who I think might understand a little something about little dogs. Recognition also to my wife who still cries when she reads or hears it, my dog who has tolerated years of nicknames, and my friend Luke who was right. Thanks also to Chuck and Chelsea for taking in a stray Cowardly Lion and to Kelly Sue for helping me finally see what my own story was really about.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and cheers to 2022, may it give us what we all deserve. The trick, my friends, is leaning.

Escaping on an Escape Pod (for Christmas!)

Real quick website update! First off, here’s a holiday card for you! Second, maybe check out the Ink to Film podcast? I was just a guest and we talked about the Green Knight! You can look them up “Ink to Film” or here are some links!

Apple https://apple.co/3H38EXi

Spotify https://spoti.fi/3stYOd6

YouTube https://youtu.be/CahOSb26BXM

Third, this is a really cool thing for me! My first professional short story sale to Escape Pod dropped today! It’s a Christmas story! There’s a dog! It might make you sad!

Have a wonderful holiday and New Year!

Read My Stories for the Holidays!

December is a great month to fill your stocking up with stories I’ve written! You can, right now from the comfort of your wherever-you-are, order a fresh copy of Buckmxn Journal 007 featuring my all-new ode to one of my favorite musicians and traumatizing children in amusement parks, Either Or (for Elliott) right here! You can also get volumes 2 AND 3 of Space Cocaine including, yes it’s true, stories by me! Finally, and this one is very exciting, I have a story that will be running on Escape Pod on December 23rd! My story, Merely Players, narrated by a professional beamed straight to your listening devices!

Happy holidays to all of you and stay tuned for the New Year! I’m sure it will be a Hell of a ride.

Bad Dream Factories

Top Hat Means Business

It’s important from time to time to refresh your skills. Challenge your assumptions. Do something Dangerous.

For the last few months I’ve been studying writing with Chuck Palahniuk and Chelsea Cain in their Bad Dream Factory writer’s workshop and for six weeks or so I have also had the privilege to be their teaching assistant. These two best-selling mad geniuses are generous and inspirational. I’ve learned a lot from their examples, experience, prompts, and challenges. I won’t really get into much of that here (there’s that whole Blood Oath and First Rule of Write Club thing after all) except to say that Chuck has started a Substack newsletter that, I think, is pretty worth your time if you’re a writer or an enjoyer of Chuck’s unique perspective on the world.

I encourage you to take a step back from your writing practice (or your running practice or your <insert here> practice) and ask yourself “is this still working?” and “could this be working better?” Sometimes the internal dialog this prompts is invaluable. It’s easy to get in a rut, operate out of routine rather than enthusiasm. Enthusiasm has been hard to come by lately but I think you deserve, fine reader of these words, a shot at it. Try chasing it back to the root. What started your love of writing? Can you reconnect with that? Can you evolve from that? Can you try?

I think you can.

So You Want to Run Away From Your Problems (A How To Guide)

Marathon 3

I have become, as some of you may already know, a running evangelist. I talk about it and do it with very obnoxious frequency. I’m sorry! But also, why don’t you come along?  It’s fun! I present to you some plans for various skills and backgrounds to run so fast life can’t catch up with you. (Caveat: Life can still totally catch up with you but it’s fun!)

Starting from the Couch

You’ve maybe heard of Couch 2 5k. The program is an accessible onramp for folks that have never been runners and might be running-curious. It’s a 9 week program (sort of)  where in the beginning, you can only run a little bit and by the end you could conceivably run a 5k race (which is about 3 miles or around a half hour of running).  I did C25K and it was my onramp to talking about running like your weird Reddit cousin talks about cryptocurrency. It’s fun!

This program has been around for a while and it’s key selling features are that you can do it in about 3 half hour increments a week and there are plenty of cool apps that you can put on your phone to help with timing. The official c25K works pretty well. It’s what I used on iPhone and I expect it’s also on Android. You can also find the details online. Here’s a good one.

The program uses a walk/run/walk cadence which is good for muscle training but also heart rate recovery. Your heart, it turns out, gets stronger by being cajoled into beating fast and then getting a chance to slow down and then cajoled into beating fast again. Your heart is very weird. Some pointers/tips on C25K:

  • You can and should definitely repeat exercise or weeks if you need. Some weeks scale up considerably.
  • Don’t be fixated on speed. Endurance > speed. Speed will follow naturally. You decide the definition of “running” when you alternate between walking and running. As long as it’s quicker than your walking pace you are kicking ass.
  • Don’t get too self-conscious or competitive. Everyone looks silly running (or, you know, living) sometimes.
  • Sprinting is actually kinda dumb. When you run longer distances  (that is longer than a middle school gym basketball court) you generally want to hold back upfront so you can save your strength for later on. Don’t just go as fast as you can as soon as you start running. You’ll maybe hurt yourself and wear  yourself out.
  • Make sure you have good shoes. Go to a proper running store and invest in them. I swear it matters. You don’t want to wreck yourself running bad shoes. In the Portland environs wherein I do my foot slapping, I recommend Foot Traffic.

Leveling Up Before you become a recreational runner you understand that there are weirdos out there that run in strange hordes sometimes. And after you start running,  you can join us. Obviously Covid-19 remains a giant problem and running events are not what they used to be. On the plus side, many are going virtual which means you can be part of a virtual strange horde. It’s fun! The most common distances for these strange hordes are: 5K, 10k, Half-Marathon (13.1 miles), and Marathon (26.2). After you get comfortable running for a half hour or more you might feel like setting the next challenge. I am going to focus on the 10k but I have done and continue to do half-marathons and marathons. Watch for a blog sequel! Anyway: 10k Time Scaling up from running 5 to 10k is pretty straight-forward. There are different methodologies but here’s the simplest way to do it: run 3 times a week, increase your longest distance a little bit each week. Here’s a sample 9 week plan I’m giving you as a place to start out.

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8  Week 9
Run 1 2 miles 2.5 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles
Run 2 2 miles 2.5 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles
Run 3 3 miles 3.5 miles 3 miles 3.5 miles 4 miles 4.5 miles 5 miles 5.5 miles 6 miles

Some tips on longer mileage:

  • Don’t forget to NOT run! There’s a reason this plan (and most running plans) only recommend 3-4 runs a week. That is to allow you rest your running muscles or, if you feel inclined to do so, do other exercise for cross-training.
  • Electrolytes are important. It will take you around an hour to do the longer runs on this plan and your body will lose a lot of nutrients with the sweat. Replenish with a good diet and maybe some supplements.
  • Good shoes.  FOR REAL.

Making a Plan for the End of the World – A Personal Blog

Unrelated Chihuahua Yawn

Maybe you’ve heard this one before. How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.

Back in February I was talking to my counselor about the future. It used to be that committing to anything more than a few months in advance was challenging for me. It seems naive somehow, revealing your intentions to a fickle and arbitrarily malicious world. In eight months I’m going to go on vacation is dangerously vulnerable. If I put that on the calendar, someone’s going to get cancer or my house is going to burn down. I don’t like it but those are the rules. That’s life as I know it. I have receipts. Don’t get me wrong- I’ve always allowed myself aspirations as long as I remained sufficiently cynical about achieving them and never got too specific about when they might happen. This has all been generally manageable (I vacation rarely or spontaneously) but for mental health and marital/adult life reasons it’s not terribly sustainable. So, I’ve been working on it and earlier this year, I felt bold, and I looked across at my longtime counselor and I said I was ready. Buoyed by taking the first real vacation that required actual advanced planning I’ve gone on in ever last December, I had this whole 2020 masterplan worked out. I was going to do so many amazing things. And we high-fived (we didn’t high-five) and I decided that part of 2020 Erik’s Bold Masterplan was to take a break from regular counseling for a couple of months. Me and the world had an understanding. I was going to put things on my calendar (not too many, and all of them tentative of course I’m not a daredevil) and the world wasn’t going to give me house fire cancer. it was good and it was growth and I felt like a real grown up.

Enter Covid-19 stage left.

Yeah, that’s my fault everybody. I’m sorry. I made a plan.

Fuck.

I joke about this a little bit because I don’t have other viable coping mechanisms. My many amazing things for 2020 are insignificant shit things compared to the toll in life and community this unprecedented pandemic has wrought. Nothing I’ve ever wanted or could ever want is worth people dying. I’m so scared and angry and hurt at all this *flails arms, screams* that I just feel numb. I am, like a lot of the world, simply paralyzed.

Proof of life

Life- my life certainly but definitely not exclusively- is basically a tragicomic chaos buffet. You get your tray and you stand in line and sometimes you get chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs and sometimes you lose your job or someone you love too much finds the meth again. You cross your fingers for overcooked green beans but you know diabetic organ failure is coming out of the kitchen sooner or later. And the worst stuff is always the stuff you never even imagined. I was ready for slimy canned peaches or broken wine bottle soup or suicidal text messages or any number of calamities but I was not ready for Plague, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and his sidekick Proud Public Ignorance. Right after I got married a life insurance salesman asked me “BUT WHAT IF YOU GET DECAPITATED?” That was on my radar. I leave the house and I make sure I have my keys, my wallet, my phone, and my head still attached because I don’t want to be caught off guard. But this?

Fuck.

*deep breath*

Motherfucker

So what’s the plan now? I’m an adult man with multiple couches (they’re all from IKEA but they count, okay?) and equity in bank-owned things and at least three or four people that I’ve convinced that I have my shit together. I’m not willing to regress back to being scared of calendars.

The good news is that I’m really good in a crisis. Like plenty of totally well-adjusted maniac people, my brain operates best in a state of adrenalized panic. Like a moth born from a dysfunctional family flame, I am drawn to a vaguely sketched out metaphor for emergencies that I should really fix in the second draft. I’m thinking something something PTSD joke? Don’t worry folks. I can fix it in revisions! I can fix it all in revisions. *crazy man laugh turning to desperate hug-me arms* But I digress.

Anyway, I look in my trusty tool box and I’ve got bad jokes, good at crazy fucksplosions, running for far too long, and this. Writing. And that really seems like it should be the answer for me, right? I should be able to write my way to peace and the future and fixing that metaphor joke bit in the last paragraph.

Yeah, no.

(That metaphor joke bit isn’t going to be fixed in revision. There is no revision. The revision is a lie.)

Being creative- as a lot of creative people can absolutely tell you- is quite difficult right now. Some people can do it better than other people and even I’ve had days where it just came together but I can’t plan on work (writing is work) to give me solace right now. What I can do is go deeper, really set the way back memory time machine to the reasons and skills that led me to putting words together in fancy sentences (that’s what we, The Writers, call it). This journey of self-reflection leads me to two core concepts that insert jokey metaphor that’s maybe something about house foundations or concrete or something that I should maybe Google and what do you mean you don’t think I’m actually going to do that and this is just another joke bit? I’m not that predictable.

Anyway.

Two things: Vulnerability and empathy. They’re why I write. They’re what I look for in every story and my plan is to cling to them like a drowning man in a scary calendar sea lousy with Covid-19 sharks.

I asked my wife last night while I was lying in bed gripped by dread and uncertainty (like you do, #2020) if I’m Too Much? It’s something I worry about a lot. Do I talk too much? Am I too intense? Do I gesticulate my bony man paws too forcefully? I chatter when I’m nervous. And gesticulate. I’m always fucking gesticulating. I was a pretty quiet kid for a lot of my youth. I remember being afraid of speaking up too much because of what uncomfortable home drama I might accidentally vomit out. I felt like I was a dam holding back an ocean of feelings all the time and if I let anything through the dam would be washed away and suddenly I’d be telling the bus driver what that ambulance was all about in front of my house and a hundred other truths kids aren’t supposed to know or say or live with but I did because hey hey clap your hands for the childhood family trauma show. I felt a lot. I still feel a lot. Maybe too much. No one gives you the tools to measure these things but I’m pretty sure I have mid 90s McDonalds Super Size Me feelings. As I got older I needed a release for all of that Too Much and one release I found was writing about it. In a story (or blog post), no one can see you gesticulate (I AM GESTICULATING SO HARD RIGHT NOW AND YOU CAN’T JUDGE ME) and Too Much is often rewarded with approval. So, I was this weird kid that was sometimes rigidly self-repressed and sometimes Too Much and when I was Too Much people got uncomfortable and offered fake laugh excuses to leave and that felt Real Bad. But if I wrote a story or a poem or something I could just unleash that Too Much and teachers gave me extra credit. Sometimes they said I was brave which, and I am overdosing on the digressions here, but can we take a moment to reflect on how fucked up it is that me (a man in particular) being Too Emotional is upsetting but if I make it into a product other people can buy it’s socially acceptable?

Anyway. Thusward and undigressed, this was the genesis of a lifelong passion and a spiffy maladaptive coping mechanism. I invested a lot of years to learning how to communicate feelings outside of fiction. My first girlfriend one time when I was flustered asked me, “do you want to write it down?” and that pretty clearly defined my college years. Our relationship was largely built on emails and in-person I was curiously mute or when I was able to say something it was the wrong thing. It wasn’t what I really felt. It was something mangled and anxious and silly. I taught myself to be a present emotive person like a robot might and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But now I need to self-monitor for Too Much again. My wife said I’m direct by the way. I speak my mind. She’s diplomatic. I probably overshare too much. Invite me to your house party and you too can hear stories about burnt heroin spoons and the still Too Much pain I have set aside for special occasions!

And there’s the other thing, the other foundational thing at the core of my desire to write: empathy. A lot of people have done things I don’t like to me or others or my dog. In my Too Much autoclave it turns to white-hot anger. Some motherfucker abandoned my dog before I rescued him. What kind of hellbeast monster person would leave a little dog to die on the streets of Bakersfield, California? Bakersfield is undeniably the worst place in California and my dog is the sweetest dog in the universe. I’m capable of hating that person but I don’t want to. Or actually, if I’m being honest, I can’t. It’s one of those ha ha ha oh right the trauma side effects of having the people that are supposed to be ones you love and trust being the ones that neglect and hurt you; you learn to excuse them because the alternative is being the kind of hellbeast monster person that hates the people that are supposed to be the ones that you love and trust. If I carried around all the rage my Too Much autoclave is capable of producing, I’d be overwhelmed by it. So some of the storytelling has always been to come up with reasons why. That motherfucker that abandoned my dog surely had a preponderance of bad choices and terrible circumstances. Maybe it was a dumb kid that wasn’t allowed to have a dog and had to choose between letting him go or being homeless. Maybe there was an accident and he wasn’t supposed to be abandoned. There are better versions of the story that make better people. A lot of why I write is to give those better versions of the story a chance. I need empathy. I need to understand why people do wrong things sometimes (or even always). I can’t hate anyone, not completely, because if I hate anyone I’m not sure I wouldn’t slip into hating everyone. Maybe I cover it well (ha!) but I can be an awfully cynical person that struggles to not expect the worst. The world is already a cruel arbitrary place. I need people on my side.

Bringing it back to around to a circuitous point: I write so I have permission to be vulnerable. I want to be vulnerable. I want to be seen and understood. I imagine we all do. And I write so I can see the possibility in other people. I write to remind myself how to be empathetic. So, while I might not be able to write my 2020 plans back or write away the pandemic, I think the solution is what it’s always been for me, if I can just get the jokes and cynicism out of the way:

Hey everyone. I’m scared and I’m trying my best every damn day. I think you are too. I don’t know if we’re going to be okay. I don’t know what okay means exactly. But I know I’m here and so are you and that means something to me at least. I’m going to tell you who I am when I can and I’m going to listen with patience and empathy and all the stupid sincere love I’ve got. The tragicomic chaos buffet has to have your favorite food sooner or later, right?

That’s my plan.

With love and butt stuff jokes,

Erik

You Won’t Be Here Long – A Personal Essay

When you grow up with a lot of chaos, tragedy, and trauma “normal” transforms into this two-headed beast that you’re always chasing and running away from at the same time. When I was 22, freshly dropped out of college, depressed, lost, living with my mom and on the precipice of being thrown out to couch surf with friends, I was in training for a seasonal dead-end job and I wrote a note to myself on a piece of paper: “You won’t be here long.” I folded that note up and kept it in my wallet. I kept it for years, transferring it from wallet to wallet and finally just saving it with a trove of other random mementos. That note was my mantra and it meant– and still means– so many things to me. It was reassurance. No matter how bad things are, they won’t last for forever. I would think of it in times of uncertainty and in times of outright misery and it soothed me somehow. It was also a warning. Savor every good thing because change is the only constant. There’s a carpe diem kind of romance in it but there’s also constant fear. I’ve had moments of contentment interrupted by that note. It’s a distillation of anxiety, grief, and helplessness. There’s no agency in that mantra. There’s no choice.

One of my favorite songs is by Wolf Parade — “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” — and this is my favorite line:

Now we’ll say it’s in God’s hands
But God doesn’t always have the god damn plans, does He?

Life chooses for you and in my experience, life doesn’t generally have your best interests in mind.

So, this afternoon I was folding my laundry. About half of my closet is occupied with big bags of clothes I can’t wear anymore. Since I’m roughly an entire adult male lighter than I was a couple of years ago, I’ve had to completely replace everything except for some socks but I haven’t given away, donated, or thrown out hardly any of it. I got to thinking about why. I realized there’s a Venn diagram of reasons for this and as I consciously engaged with those reasons, my head filled up with scattered memories connected by my own peculiar psychological algorithms. I felt a lot of sadness but I also understood something new about myself and that note from a long time ago.

I guess I always start thinking about these things close to my birthday. August is a haunted house for me. My mom’s first big psychotic break happened the morning after my 10th birthday party. It’s one of the most vivid memories I have from back then. (A lot of my memories are Swiss cheese for a few years there). I remember the sun filtered through lousy curtains on the cheap mobile home carpet. I remember she told me that she had to get some help and the neighbors would look in on us and I couldn’t quite make eye contact.

Then, right before I turned 11, I regressed. After the first suicide attempt that I knew about and after a year of emergency room interventions, state hospitals, and what seemed like a Russian Roulette guessing game of psychiatric medications, my mom was home. We were very poor, she was unemployed, and ignoring calls from bill collectors and we lived far enough in the country away from other family or friends that the world felt tiny. I started sleeping in my mom’s bed next to her just about every night.

I was supposed to go to this great summer academic camp at the state college an hour away. My teachers pulled strings to get me in at the last minute because they knew my family was a disaster and I was a smart kid. My elementary school principle was the first counselor I had and he believed in me. Mr. Blue. He was one of the first in a long succession of strangers I would cry in front of. But when the time came to go away to camp– it would have been a week staying in a dorm– I couldn’t go. The idea of being away from home was too much for me to handle. I got next to my mom under an ugly blue and tan comforter that smelled like Merit Lights and I felt trapped. I was next to her then. I was safe. She was safe. But it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t. I felt it with an unshakeable certainty.

You won’t be here long.

My brother and I went to Washington DC that summer to stay with an aunt and uncle that I’d only ever talked to on the phone. I don’t think we’d been there a week before my mom was back in the hospital. I found out relatively recently as an adult that there was another suicide attempt. We had to stay in DC longer than originally planned– all summer, through my birthday– and I was fucking mess. I was fragile and emotional and clingy and it’s taken me a lot of counseling and maturity to have compassion for myself. For the longest time I would think back on my behavior at 10 and 11 and just think “quit your whining.”

Over the years that followed, things evolved and devolved in predictable patterns. My mom got worse. And then my brother. Yadda yadda yadda. Psych wards and methadone clinics in McDonalds and sundry felonies, suicide notes and a whole lot therapy. The full house of dysfunctional hereditary bad decisions. I’ve written all the trauma poetry about it so forgive my nonchalance. I got through most of it with only a weekend stay in the mental health ward at 21 and a lot of overthinking and baggage. Even now I feel a knee-jerk shame for all of it and how it feels when I remember it. There’s this vicious voice in my head: does the little whiny baby want his mommy? Does the sad little fake grown up want his big brother to give him a hug? Does the lonely bastard boy want a daddy? I’m almost 39 years old and I’m pretty sure that voice is never going to go away.

Mostly, I got through all of my childhood and adulthood fat. It’s inaccurate to say trauma caused my obesity because obesity is a super complicated thing (and really, that’s a loaded word anyway) but I definitely sought and found comfort in food. Most people do, I guess. It’s your birthday! Have some cake! Your grandma died 😦 Have some cake! Food is so often the emotional punctuation of our lives. I’ve spent the last couple years not so much denying that but learning new grammar for food. Instead of standing barefoot at night on thin sticky vinyl in the middle of a trailer park permeated with poverty and desperation eating white bread and sliced cheese until my stomach feels like it will burst just so I can feel something better than the alternative, now I have a plum. Again, food and fatness and all of the threads between them are super super super super complicated and I’m being glib here partially because well, gallows humor, and partially because I have written so many other substantive blogs about it. This essay isn’t about food and trauma. That’s just a digression. This essay is about the clothes in my closet.

I don’t know what it’s like for other people that lose a lot of weight. I know that I do a lot of work trying not to obsess about the number on the scale but I kinda do anyway. I have this not-so-secret fear of losing control and “falling off the wagon.” Like, I might suddenly go into a fugue and black out only to wake up having eaten 37 pizzas and 89 deep fried Twinkies and I’ll have gained three hundred pounds and I’ll be live-streamed on Twitter, farting, while people point and call me names. It’s beyond ridiculous for so many reasons. It’s the same fear I have about suddenly losing my mind and ending up a drug addict or schizophrenic. Or losing everything I own and ending up back in that trailer park. In my head, I’m always barely not poor, not crazy, not drunk, not fat. In my head, I’m always barely not alone. The lowest point, the worst thing I can imagine, has a gravity for me. It always has.

You won’t be here long.

So those clothes. Those 2XL shirts and big and tall jeans. Those poncho sized t-shirts and shorts that literally fall off of me without a belt much tighter than the belts in that closet that could wrap around me with a dozen inches to spare. I need them don’t I? Because no matter where I go, I won’t be there long. Elastic snaps me back. Gravity pulls me down. I am a marathon running, happily married, professionally successful man living in a half million dollar house lousy with stone fruit and I am also a 10 year old boy crawled next to a volatile open wound of a childhood every single night, teeth chattering afraid of everything just going away because God doesn’t always have the best god damn plans, does He?

“Quit your whining.”

“You won’t be here long.”

But.

I’m happy. I am so, so happy. And my life is good. It’s really good. I am healthy and I am strong and I laugh and sometimes close to my birthday I think about all the strangers I’ve cried in front of and I know it’s healthy. Sadness is like the itch you feel when a scab is healing.

Something Counselor 3.0 (or maybe 4.0, hard to keep all my mental health professionals separate) told me twenty years ago comes to mind. Life isn’t a straight line. It’s a spiral. You don’t get farther away from the past. You actually get closer. Everything gets closer. Progress isn’t distance. It’s integration. I’m thinking about that right now. I’m thinking about my mom and 10 year old me. I’m thinking about 22 year old me and that note. I’m thinking about all the bad and the good and the rest. I understand a little bit more and understanding is a lot closer to compassion and compassion is a lot closer to acceptance. There have been times– some pretty recently– where I’ve wanted to fight the world. I’ve wanted to swing until my knuckles split and scream until my throat ached. I was just a little kid. Kids cry. And sometimes they get fat. And sometimes moms are sick and dad’s are dead and brothers get lost and it’s not fair and it’s not okay. It makes me angry and it should. If I have kids they won’t have grandparents. They won’t have uncles. That hurts so much. But after that anger and that hurt, in stupid little moments, folding clothes, there’s this memory origami, there’s an epiphany.

So those clothes. Those fucking clothes. Time to take them to Goodwill, right?

Fat Writer Running – Oh Hey a Marathon Happened


Hey everybody! The Eugene Marathon was *checks calendar* WEEKS ago and I didn’t blog about it! Some of you may be wondering what happened?!?!? did you run all the miles?!?!?! I did run all of the miles and it was awesome! But! First things first! Look at sweet new FWR header image. Isn’t it awesome?!?! I had my friend and awesome artist Pete Soloway design it for me. That’s cartoon me running! I love it!!!

Ok! Now let’s get back to me running for a really really really long time. I completed the marathon in pretty much the time I expected based on my last long training runs. There’s a funny thing that happens when you’re running for hours; you just do what you can do and know that you can’y do it any faster or more. It’s weirdly peaceful. I am an incredibly thinky person, always wondering if I’ve done enough, if I could do more, if I’ve done too much etc. Running a marathon completely nullified the thinky part of me. I knew I was doing my very best, giving all I had out there on that course and while I was physically challenged more than I’ve ever been physically challenged before, I felt a serenity and acceptance of things as they are not as I would overthink them to be. It was a life-changing experience and while I don’t think it’s necessary to run a marathon to find that center, I’m really glad I found my way there.

The event itself was fantastic. I cannot commend the folks running the Eugene Marathon enough. Running long distances solo versus doing it in an organized event is a whole different experience. Running alongside thousands of other runners with hundreds of volunteers offering you water, bananas, high-fives and hugs created a sense of community and fellowship that really helped to power through the toughest miles. I was also supported and cheered by my wife and some of my very best friends in the latter half of the race. Seeing them alongside the course taking photos and calling out was like seeing an oasis in the desert. I’m sure I could have limped through to the end on conditioning and stubbornness alone but I didn’t have to and I’m super grateful.

Post-race I recovered well initially. I had a blister on one foot from a pebble that stowed away in my shoe but otherwise after a shower and some lunch I felt great after the race. A couple days later I went out for a short run though and found that I strained a stabilizer muscle running on the outside of my right lower leg. I’ve been rehabbing it and taking it a little easy on running since but I got the all-clear from my leg muscle expert guy and knocked out an 8 mile run this last weekend so I’m working my way back up to long distance running shape. I probably won’t run another marathon until at least next year (or later– it’s a real time sink) but I’d like to run one or two half marathons.

The weeks since the marathon have been a whirlwind. I delayed a lot of social and professional obligations during race prep and those caught up with me right away. I thought that once I got through my busy April my May would be one long weekend but that’s not how it’s played out. No rest for the runner. I’ve got writing projects, work projects, house projects, and backpacking trips all stacked up and now I’m imagining June will be long a weekend even though I already know it won’t be. Once you run a marathon, maybe you never really stop. I’m not sure, you guys. I’ll keep you posted.