Category Archives: Word Salad
By the looks of this blog Word Salad, I either died or was captured by Russian spies, but I am still alive and kicking, only with considerably less free time than I would like to have. Generally, the little I do have I contribute to professional projects rather than penning funny, sad, and weird columns for this blog. My output, however, has been tremendous, and I want to share with you some answers to the question posed in the title.
I have been churning out thousands of words a week, no doubt. One class I have enrolled in this semester requires at least one, sometimes 3, papers each week, as well as a book a week. Even for such a prodigious reader and writer as me, this class has taken a toll on me. It has also, however, taught me a lot and made me think about elements of politics I have never before considered. The semester is winding down (or rather accelerating toward the brick wall Dead End named Finals), and I am looking forward to a summer of fun, excitement, and scholarly activities (SIKE!, says the nineties teenager).
Two writing projects currently are still in the works. After months of sending query letters, I have received interesting critical feedback on my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County. Firstly, not many people feel comfortable reading about the Ku Klux Klan, even a comical modern version of it, and after extensive research, I have decided that I too find it distasteful. I expected to find a group of confused southerners emphasizing southern heritage, but mostly the organization is still quite racist (no surprise there). This couple with other problems have spurred me to begin working on other projects while seriously editing the book.
I ain’t no stranger to editing– most of a book’s life is spent in the dreaded editing stage, in my experience. Certainly, I won’t give up on the story, because it’s a story I find compelling: teenagers discovering themselves while encountering the pitfalls of adulthood in a small southern town. It’s a juiced-up, funny-as-hell, exaggerated version of my own experience and the experience of many of my friends. I spent nearly three or four months away from the manuscript and have now returned to engage in editing, and I’ll share some of my favorite passages:
“I had electric veins and ionic eyeballs. Like my heart was hooked up to a car battery, except the energy kept flowing the wrong way.”
” Some of the cities we lived in were actually less like modest hamlets and more true-to-the-core, redneck Nowhere’s. Towns where orthodontists went bankrupt on account of there being only so many teeth per capita.
The sorts of towns where no one had ever heard of smart phones or the Democratic Party or anal sex.”
“Boredom: our natural state, our default. For our entire teen lives in Lickskillet, boredom was true evil, our archenemies, the Darth Vader to our Luke Skywalker. We the free rebels fighting for sacred liberty from this, our mortal enemy we called “boredom.”
We tried everything to absolve ourselves from this carnal sin. Most drank heavily, even idiotically. Which was the best way to drink, with the high possibility of death. Most of the boys drank beer, challenging each other to gulp down more until all had passed out. Girls preferred liquor, mixed or straight. And then everyone, roaring drunk, would smash boredom against the walls. Would take off our boredom’s clothes or pass out on boredom’s lawn.”
Another project I have been vigorously working on (in the months Lickskillet lay dormant in my mind) is The Choke Artist, a story about bare-knuckle fighting, illegal immigration, obese hand models, Alabama lesbians, drug kingpins, murder, Walt Whitman, and time travel. Perhaps when I feel more comfortable with Lickskillet, I’ll post more information about this fascinating, bizarre work.
Essays, novels, and late-night scribbling have accounted for much of my weekly word count, but I have also re-delved into poetry. Last Wednesday, I came away from a school poetry slam, snagging first place. I won an incredibly awesome pen (made with wood from Ireland and GOLD), and it’s probably the best writing utensil I have ever owned in my life. Perhaps I’ll post a picture up next week with a video of me performing the winning poems?
Now you know “Where the Hell” I went and what I’ve been doing. Check in again soon for further shenanigans.
There’s something alluring about reading or writing about a character going insane or under the influence of drugs. Someone so lost inside their own minds that hippos prance across their dreams, leaves of fall graceful as ballerina marsupials in the stream of never going home.
I honestly have been considering the adventures of protagonists who are less with us mentally than physically. Sometimes, because the POV characters are snorting some serious stuff or injecting bee venom into their veins, their sentences come out uneven with the universe like gut-flavored Jell-O. Stories written in stream-of-conscious style are difficult enough to read without the character being so overwhelmingly addled.
Take for example Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (spoilers ahead). When not describing what shampoo he uses and criticizing business card fonts, Patrick Bateman likes to violently murder people. Mostly hobos and prostitutes, though, so it’s okay. Toward the end of the novel, Patrick discovers he may not have killed anyone, simply having hallucinated the murders. Of course in the film this is hinted at far more heavily. In the book, reality is up in the air. Do you believe Bateman has murdered people or simply suffering gory delusions?
The unreliable narrator lends a beautiful obscurity to events in a story. Once you realize he is a liar, you question everything you’ve told him up to this point. A lot of writers use this vagueness– this unreliable because of insanity as a plot device that can either seem awesome or like a joke. A good example of how the unreliable narrator can completely change the outcome of the novel is in Fight Club, but I won’t talk about that because I’m not supposed to.
When the character is not insane, he may simply be on drugs while writing it. Imagine Alan Ginsberg’s poetry in prose form. Imagine Naked Lunch. If not the character himself, then perhaps the author is on drugs or drowning in alcohol. And while many writers swear by their personal “muses,” I find much of this incoherent and pointless.
Sometimes, an author can be utterly sober and make no sense. I’m not a huge fan of Joyce and find him overrated, so I’m not afraid to say I quickly gave up on Ulysses.
I’m not saying this cannot be enjoyable, only that by writing it, an author is taking a huge risk. How Anthony Burgess ever published A Clockwork Orange I will never know. On a first reading, this thin book brimming with made-up language, drooges, and psychosis makes very little sense. You need a lot of patience to dismantle and understand such books.
There are good and there are bad, but the question: Are they worth writing? Are they worth reading?
Can we learn anything from writing straight from the mind of a drug-addled lunatic? Perhaps. Though written in harsh grammar and strange language, Requiem for a Dream proved quite readable and interesting, dealing in how addiction takes over
lives. Then again, I would contest that the film does almost just as good a job, so there may not be a purpose in reading the book. Yeah, I said it: sometimes movies are better than the books they’re based on. *Cough, cough, Jurassic Park*
One such book I read nearly a year ago was published by a dark, edgy, experimental publisher Two Dollar Radio. The book was The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich. Reading it is like being doped up while tied to the roof of a train car as it races down the track at a hundred miles an hour. The plot is a mix of local lore, mythic teenagers, hedonistic helplessness, and strange hallucinations. Despite the fact that I still don’t know what happened, the book affected me. I enjoyed at leas the experience of delving into the protagonist’s mind to see things through her warped eyes.
What do you think about reading novels that sometimes don’t make sense or with such unreliable narrators that you question their sanity?
Also, check out this comprehensive list on Litreactor of books about addicts.
Friday will be a quarterly Coffeehouse showcase at the Aiken County Playhouse. Featured will be The Company and Broadway Bound groups performing songs and some dance numbers. Try to come out and support the ACP. Tickets are $10.
I will also be performing some poems. As open mic season heats back up (for me, this is the summer because of the extreme lack of scholarly responsibilities), I will be amping up my poetry game. Firstly, I’m going to write new material. I’ve been using the same poems for a while now, churning out a new one now and then. But I’ve got to write more original pieces to share this summer. Also, I will be refining my craft, which means rehearsing pieces more often and memorizing them better. This is partly because I honestly want to perform better and partly because I want to win some poetry slams this summer.
So, this Friday, for ten dollars, you can see some amazing singers, amazing dancers, and one comic poet. Sounds like a plan? You betcha!
As an added bonus, I’d like to share some pictures of me performing poetry and of me at poetry events. Just looking at these gets me revved up for this summer’s festivities!
Check out my poetry this Friday downtown at the Aiken Community Playhouse in the Black Box! To see videos of past performances, check the sidebar called “POETRY.”
Two days ago, I blogged about the importance of paper. How writers, more specifically I, feel about paper and its uses for writers and within society. What about the notebook? With the innovation of the IPad and tote-worthy tablets, haven’t physical paper notebooks become a thing of a past for writers? I would contest no because I write in notebooks every day. Yesterday, I bought a new one.
When I first got the Nook tablet, I figured that I would no longer need a notebook. There’s an app called Fliq notes where I can type in reminders to myself. Of course, I cannot do so at school. And perhaps I cannot do so quick enough when the Nook is turned off. Just pushing onscreen buttons is a hassle which takes longer than writing down the note would be. So while Fliq notes is great, I do not use it to record lines of poems I think up.
Sitting in class and you think up a paragraph for a short story you’ve been working on. Here is a place to write it.
Personally, writing in journals gives me a sort of connection to the writers of the past. Ernest Hemingway wrote in notebooks before typing up his stories. Like those writers, I can practice thinking slowly about a story instead of rattling it out too quickly. Perhaps with more time, I will be able to write something more eloquent and less fraught with spelling mistakes.
When later, I must type up the draft of a story, I am allowed to again revise the story giving me an even better story than I started off with. It’s less obnoxious as well than carrying around an IPad or laptop wherever I go. Recently, I’ve created a rule for myself. I must only buy notebooks that fit in my pocket. That way, I can carry it whenever I am going out, and in the middle of the street, if I hear something brilliant or am struck suddenly with an idea, I can write it down.
I’ve filled an entire shoe box (and more) full of notebooks, both ornate and plain. This is a collection I’ve kept since about the ninth grade. Each notebook is completely filled with words. Stories, poems, and thoughts.
I realize, that is rather a lot of words inside of those notebooks. I even included my Nook, which can served as a note-keeper too.
Here are some of my favorites:
I bought this notebook in Germany two years ago. It has musical notation on the cover and inside to one of Chopin’s most famous pieces.
Here is a better look at the cover.
This next notebook was the one I bought during Black Friday, though it was decidedly not on sale. It is actually the larger version of my newest notebook.
This next notebooks is another definite favorite for two reasons. First off, it is small with rounded edges, also thin. Making it very easy to carry in my pocket wherever I go. Though my newer notebook is smaller, it is thicker, which can be irksome at times. Also, this poem was the last bought during my trip to Alabama three weeks ago. It is already filled with stories and poems.
Lastly, my utmost favorite notebook. My uncle bought this notebook for me in Karlsruhe at which point I stopped transcribing my adventures in marble notebooks and began in this. In fact, the journal entries and sketches in this notebook were the inspiration for my poem “The Savage Summer.” The cover design and spin held together by strings, the entire poem is just… a work of art. See for yourself.
I hope you have enjoyed viewing these and learning about my own notebooks. Do you hold notebooks dear to you as well? If so, share your stories in the comment section below. Tell me about what sort of notebooks you own and how you use them. Until next time, Ciao.
Normally, I might start off a post apologizing for not posting in a while as if my blog posts fuel the universe. As if the words are hooked up to someone’s life support system and if I don’t blog every day, that person might die. Unfortunately, I don’t hold such power in this world. When and how often I post matters only to me to bolster my self-confidence whenever I check the Stats page, to which I am unhealthily addicted. (Instead of Facebook or e-mail, it’s the first thing I check upon arriving home. I even have an app to check it on my Nook.) But I see no need to apologize for not posting. Laziness is merely a natural part of life and perhaps I am busy. With… well, work and school and learning things about the world I never knew before.
I spent the weekend in Charleston, touring the college there and learning much. But I can’t blame my lack of posts on merely being away. No, I have also been reading. As if reading so voraciously is a bad thing which I don’t think it is. In the meantime, I’m still getting excited about Game of Thrones and have seen The Hunger Games, but no, I probably won’t write a review. Everything to be said about it has been said. I thought it was great, but if I were to review the movie, it would only be to raise that magic number of views on my Stats page. Worst than opium, that Stats page. Addictive as a snakebite.
In a perfect world, I would like to say I have spent a lot of time not blogging because I choose to do “real work” on my novel. Or writing short stories. That fantasy dies quickly when I really consider how much I’ve truly written in the past week. So what? I’ve been reading and playing Angry Birds Space, which I will also not review though it is a lot of fun, but will include as a tag in this post to raise view counts and subsequently… well, you know where this is going.
The truth is, I enjoy procrastination. Nothing gets my heart beating quite like sitting to waste time, doing nothing. Such fervid inactivity makes my blow flow faster, I swear. Perhaps not doing things is what we were meant to do. Perhaps God meant for our species to laze about, sleeping, waking only to use the restaurant, eat fruit, drink, and procreate. Oh, Garden of Eden, how I miss your sweet benefits. I would also if within the garden, we might have been kin with the animals. We could ride on the backs of tigers and lions in between naps.
But of course, such paradise of doing nothing exists only in death. Unless I was a koala in my past life (highly possible), I am not dead. And so, “doing so” demands to be done no matter how much my own will wills me to do naught. Interesting thoughts, yes? So, what compels me to post an entire blog post about not posting? Am I blowing your mind, breaking the convention of the “I haven’t written a blog post in a while” post? Will I promise to stay ever-vigilent in continuing to post blog posts? No.
Perhaps one day I will quit. Perhaps I will change blog names and never tell you. You will be lost to me, forever, dear readers. But whoever deludes himself or herself into the belief that those readers NEED to blogger, they are so mistaken they might as well go back to the third grade. Blogging is nice and fun and connects you with people. In fact, blogging is far less pretentious than I imagined it might be. It allows us not just to communicate ourselves but our ideas. To circulate ideas about life which invigorate conversation and notions that might change minds.
It can be self-indulgent at times, like whenever I toast myself for scoring a week of days when the view count is consistently over 200. Or when I comment back and forth to every person who comments to ensure the blog post will read that many, many people have commented on it despite the fact that more than half of those comments came from me. Blogging can indeed be for those who love themselves as I do, but it can also help us learn things in a personal way. No one depends on you posting blogs, but that doesn’t mean to stop posting! What if you end up changing someone’s ideas?
That would certainly be interesting? Why now? Why have I now decided to post a blog to translate an idea which may or may not mean anything? We can only postulate. But the pen calls to me, so write again I shall and write much I shall. Rambling is merely the product of having too much to say, which perhaps is better than not having anything to say out of which procrastination is born. So when I stop thinking, I will stop writing and in extension, stop blogging. Not that this particular event will happen any time soon. We should wait to see, though, shan’t we?
So keep blogging. Take as many breaks as you need. Post as sporadically as you need. Write no matter whether someone is reading what you write. Of course it’s not necessary, but it gives a relief to the brain and if looked at through a queasily spiritual lens, the soul. This is not to say, keep writing or reading. Only to say, don’t stop.
If none of this makes sense, remember it’s only Word Salad. It’s life. It’s not supposed to make sense.
Reading a good story written by a talented writer is like watching a striptease. That’s Chuck Palahniuk put it in an interview I listened to concerning his newest book Damned. The metaphor was briefly discussed, but it was one I had heard before, and I felt like sharing it, putting my own spin on it. You can read the interview here.
I read an interesting novel that nearly killed me emotionally called Skippy Dies. 3/4 through the story, the main protagonist named Skippy indeed dies. In fact, he dies first in the first chapter only to die again 500 pages later. Some might see this as utterly pointless. If you know he will die in the end, why do we care about his story? Well, every character, fictional or reality-based, will die. So, it’s not as if we can truly not guess our own endings. The only difference is that in life, you are allowed not to care what critics and readers say about the plot line.
In Skippy Dies, however, the grand reveal isn’t that Skippy dies. If Skippy simply went to school, hung out with his friends, then died, it would be a boring story. We would feel cheated. But there is much unfolding. We must find out why Skippy dies and what happens before and afterwards. How do his friends, teachers, and family react? Essentially, though it may seem Paul Murray reveals the ending in the very title, he keeps a lot of information secret.
How is this like a strip show? Well, imagine going to a strip join, and the stripper walks out onto stage completely naked. That takes away the entire point. You miss the tease. Of course, you might go to the club just to see breasts. But because you miss the build-up to seeing them, it becomes less-than-special. The stripper has to tease you, to make you scream for her to take off her clothes. Because by withholding her own body from you, she makes you want it more and more. Only when she finally shows you her body naked do you relent. No longer do you even want to see her naked because you already have. The entire point is the tension building up to that moment. Then, seeing the breasts feels like triumph. The end to a long clothed torture.
This is a rather crude analogy, but it works extremely well. Take into account the book/film Fight Club. Imagine that at the start of the story, you already know that the narrator is Tyler Durden. It ruins the effect of the book. Otherwise, we know that the narrator destroys his own life, mucks up his own plans. We lose that beautiful sense of realization. As readers, we need that realization in the story that everything we’ve known is not quite true.
When scientists discover something astonishing, we the public are properly astonished. If we discovered how to travel back and forth in time, we would find this amazing. Years from now, however, our own ancestors will laugh at us. Of course you can go back in time. It’s not surprise to them. To them, the mechanics and effects of time travel have no wonder, no mystery. Growing up, I never questioned gravity. It was simply something I knew, something I took wholly for granted. I learned it young as an inevitability. A long time ago, though, scientists questioned the theory. They did not believe the Earth was round, and they believed that the sun circled the Earth.
After reading a story, the plot twists do not surprise us any longer. They seem inevitable. We have seen the breasts and are satisfied, so seeing them any more seems just excess.
In fiction writing, let this be a lesson. Don’t reveal all your character’s secrets right away. You don’t even need to reveal them at all, only hint at them. Hint them enough and your reader will slap his or her head, thinking, I can’t believe I missed that. We have these beautiful moments when readings, these mind-bending realizations.
Oh, so his father was actually himself, only he went back in time to impregnate his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother? Of course!
Use this element of surprise when not only writing fiction, but blogs and journalistic pieces too. If there is a big reveal, save it. Let your reader work for it. Readers love to be rewarded. While researching award-winning feature articles, my News Paper Production class came across an article about a dance student and dance teacher who met and began practicing together after a night in a club. Toward the end of the article, we learn that the woman the teacher has been instructing has spina bifida and is confined to a wheelchair. You feel stupid for a moment, but also relieved. Suddenly, the story makes complete sense. Remember that readers need little rewards, little surprises.
They can’t just be random, though. If I revealed now that I have written this entire post naked, it would not change a thing. But if I’ve been lying to you to prove a point, now that’s tricky writing. I haven’t been lying to you, but just imagine if I had been. You would feel overwhelmed. Or maybe I am Tyler Durden.
Breasts are great. Your reader definitely wants to see them. Without them, the story seems flat (get it?) But don’t just whip those babies out first thing. Tease them a little bit first.
Having so many books you’re excited to read, you can’t choose which to read first, that’s not exactly a problem. Today was the annual AAUW book sale here in Aiken where I end up buying about twenty books or more for the price of a single book. One book I really wanted was A Dance with Dragons, the fifth installment in George R.R. Martin’s series. (I’m on book four, and once I finish the first four books, I will do an extensive review on that first half of the series and a singular review for A Dance with Dragons.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with George R.R. Martin, watch this:
I bought a whole lotta books today, some of which I will review, some not. Some I have read before but did not own, and I loved the books so much, I just had to own them. That includes a few Ernest Hemingway classics and some Thomas Pynchon. Once I finish the fantasy series by Martin, I’ll finish reading The Flame Alphabet, which is a very intriguing book (only Martin is slightly more exciting, sorry). I will definitely be doing a review of that, the newest novel by author Ben Marcus.
Some of my stash includes books by Nick Horny, Joyce Carol Oates, T.C. Boyle, and Cormac McCarthy. I also picked up a few books on writing, just because I enjoy reading books on writing. One book I’m quite excited to read is On the Road by Kerouac. For some reason, though I’ve read much of his poetry, I never picked up the book. But leave a book on my shelf for long enough and I am sure to read it.
Sometimes, I can’t describe how fan-boy-ish-ly excited I get for books. Like my fervor for any new Palahniuk book. I must go out that day to devour it. He’s just that good. This morning, I stood for a little over an hour in line to get in. Before doors opened for the book sale, the line was stretched around the block. Book sales turn me on like a Victoria Secret model turns Larry the Cable Guy on.
Walk into to this building, which once was a Belk. Tables and tables lined with books. Walls of books. Mountains of books. It takes hours to pick through them all. I stayed up last night drafting a list of everything I might want. Not much of a post, I know, but my excitement is so brimming, I can hardly write.
Time to get my reading on, folks.
A friend currently reading a draft of my book The Savagery of Sebastian Martin mentioned that only once did I place the story in my home state. A single chapter takes place as Sebastian travels through South Carolina to escape being imprisoned. I don’t miss the opportunity to poke fun as Salley’s annual Chitlin Strut. While this was fun to write, I don’t think that portion accurately portrays the state in which I grew up.
So, instead, I want to bring forth a much more appalling work of satire. A mostly true one about a fictional town. After finishing the first draft of my second novel (tentatively titled Lickskillet), I realized I had missed out on something. While the plot and characters were fine, I failed to give a lot of character to the town which holds the town name. Why, the town itself is very much a character. In one way, Lickskillet is very unique and mind-boggling, though at the same time it is very familiar. We have met these people, been to these places, and lived in this town.
Lickskillet is the strange paragon of Southeast small towns. Quirky, qausi-historical, and to its residents, home.
Region plays a big part into a writer’s work, I believe. Traveling around Europe two years ago helped me solidify the setting of The Savagery. I could better evoke some of the cities I had previously never seen. My second novel, however, will be set much closer to home. In a town torn by crisis, but united by… simply being a town. I have spliced aspects of several southern towns (and huge chunks from my own) to form what I think represents a type of town not to big, but with personality.
When living in Paris, Ernest Hemingway wrote about Paris. Most of the stories by Mark Twain and Flannery O’Connor take place in the South. Because they lived in the South. They knew the South. I set some scenes in New York in The Savagery, but I might as well have called it Big City, because the story did not revolve around New York. It talked about a single hotel in New York and rarely expanded beyond that limited perspective.
In her short stories and novels, O’Connor shows ever facet of the South. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Because only someone from here can clearly say “what’s wrong with it.” Otherwise, you’re just reaching for clichés. We write about these places because we want to prove everyone else who writes about them wrong. We feel a need to tell “our story.” We have to defend what is attacked while also showing the true chinks in the armor. We simply want to represent our own towns the way we see them.
I am completely starting over with the writing of Lickskillet, to better include how the town functions not just as a setting, but a character. I want to be painstakingly realistic. Even in satire, even while writing humor, you want to tell the truth. Even if it’s about a fictional town, it can tell some sort of truth. Something that will make every person, no matter from where they hail, realize that they have known and lived in this little Southern town all their lives.
What we write about, these places are where we’ve grown up. Of course region affects a writer’s style and storytelling habits. We latch on to the unique rhythms of our own origins. We tend to mimic the sound of cicadas, chirp like crickets, and whistle like a nightingale. This translates to writing and the writing into a story that encompasses a place. Such as the ones we call home.
The tube lay hidden in the bowels of my bag. A gaudy red bag that I swing over my shoulder, ADIDAS written across the side in colorful letters. This bag is not a symbol. This bag means nothing yet something because that’s where I stuffed the fallen chap stick tube when I found it. I must have mistaken it for my own and hastily stuffed it into the front pocket where I keep pencils, flash cards, a calculator, and wadded up gum wrappers. In the bottom is a graveyard of used up chap stick tubes, the papered labeling worn and discolored. A new tube falls into the pile, maybe because I thought it was mine.
Months later, I’m reeling in my room, my lips blistering. Dry. Chapped.
Dry lips are the ultimate discomfort. You are allowed to forget your condition for some while if only you lick your lips and plug away at the internet. Or begin reading a book, becoming engrossed. Pulled away from your dry lips dilemma. As you sit, however, licking and licking your lips, it gets worse. Especially if it is winter and tonight is especially cold and your room does not have heating like the rest of the house. The best heat you receive is from an electric blanket that makes you sweat and doesn’t do anything to help your lips.
This discomfort, though, can be ignored for a time. Nothing like being stabbed. That hurts a lot. Or if you burn yourself. It’s impossible to ignore. Dried lips give the illusion that you’re not really in pain until they burst into fire. Metaphorically.
I’m digging through my desk, a wooden monster that takes up a fourth of the carpet space. The drawers broken and filled to the brim either with scrapbooking material (artifacts from one of my mother’s long-ago hobbies) or notebooks filled with scribbling. They’re not neatly stacked, instead crammed in boxes, placed every which way. In hopes one day I might go back to read everything I dropped into the drawers. Spiral notebooks mixed in with fancy journals, whatever the paper is, it’s overflowing with poetry or some story I wrote in the fourth grade. Odes and tall tales and bad emulations of famous writers.
No tubes of chap stick. My lips burn. Ever kissed a hot stove? The pain is nothing like that, but hyperboles offer themselves up freely at times like this. I begin scavenging through the bag, turning up moldy flash cards and broken pencils until I grasp a tube of chap stick.
I don’t look. I pop the top and apply it to my lips. Oh, heavenly moisture. Hallowed be thy purpose. I smear greasy wax to my puckered lips. At that moment, the whole universe rips open. I lower the chap stick. My lips cool. I examine the tube and realize, this is not my chap stick. But what does it matter when you feel this good.
I hold this crusted tube of Burt’s Bees up for inspection. This brand is far too expensive for me. I buy the cheapest, so this tube must be someone else’s. And by some strange chance or slice of fate, this tube came into my bag. My gaudy red bag. My wallet would never finance this.
I, desperate and chap-lipped, press the cold wax of the tube to my lips again. Sweet relief. I am experiencing pure ecstasy, even at someone else’s expense. You get that shiver of connection. Trembling up your spine, spreading its spider legs over your skin. You feel both fantastic and uncomfortable at the same time. You share something with the universe—a beautiful, foreign tube of chap stick. And you have that connection with some stranger. More intimate than a kiss, using someone else’s chap stick. Passive lip-rape. This is beyond sensual.
I am stumbling with chapped lips, searching for someone else’s chap stick. I’ll smear whatever I can find to feel that rush. That heavenly connection. That dynamic surge of relief. I am free. You are free. Yet then our lips dry again and we keep searching.
This same relief, people spend their entire lives trying to find. Even if it means using a stranger’s chap stick. We think if we can just apply some grease to our lips, we’ll feel loved. We’ll feel relieved. We’ll feel better. We do. But only until the grease makes it worse and the icy winds blister your forlorn lips. We need our lips to cry out, to express anything and everything.
You search for it, the feeling, even when the chap stick fails to give sensations. Hitchhiking even though you have money to buy gas. Slipping in and out of stranger’s bed, intoxicated with the feeling of connectivity. Some find it in lust. Others in love. No one is sure who feels it better, secretly jealous of the other. Living in constant suspicion that somehow your neighbor is having an ethereal experience in his bedroom, putting on someone else’s chap stick.
Sure, it’s a mistake. A folly. But you begin to wonder what strange strings of fate orchestrated this moment in time right now. What decisions have you made to bring you here? Begging on your knees for relief. Some find it in a bottle. Others find it in a gun.
Scouring the earth for the next great high, the next moment that will make the universe stand still. That will allow for the meaning of humanity’s existence to encroach upon your mind, if only for a second, before flitting away. So close, so simple to understand. Yet ungraspable. Always the smoke you can never catch. Always the sun: floating right there above you, yet so very far away.
Such is the relief we seek, spend our lives seeking. We begin to suddenly understand that we are indeed conscious. You feel it, as if you’re looking through a window or a mirror with two sides. This is suddenly your world in a third-person POV. You are not of yourself, but of the air, the earth, the universe. And in these rare existential moments, you understand you are alive. And that you have a soul that God created. And that though your body will die, your soul will exist forever. Some part of you will exist forever.
And whoever once owned this chap stick, his or her soul will go on forever. And somehow, your paths have intertwined in an almost insignificant way. Yet at the time, it’s amazing. You must be thankful that some person dropped his or her chap stick. Or set it down on a desk for you to pick up, thinking you might have placed it there moments ago. And in that moment of confusion, you bridge two souls across this small and vast universe.
Imagine living your entire life like that. Always being so awake, so conscious, so alive. Not merely breathing, but living. Every second of your life, you manage to appreciate the treble of someone’s voice, even if the person is only instructing you in Calculus. Or if you look away from the computer screen and absorb the intensity of colors around you. Everything on this earth is very beautiful, if you only look. Every time you eat, appreciate the taste of what you eat. Experience the rush of relief that chap stick can give.
Every experience you ever have comes not just because of your decisions but the decisions of others. So your fate and all our fates are tangled like vines. Your experiences are the indirect effect of some estranged cause. This is not always about butterflies. Sometimes just about someone else’s chap stick.
If we manage to appreciate this, we will not go searching for relief. We will not lick our lips until we are desperate. For that feeling of… anything. Some find it in lust. Others in love. Some find it in a bottle. Others in a gun.
But really, that feeling is all around us if only we can manage to remind ourselves. We are alive. This moment is only one moment in time for me and there will be an endless amount of moments ahead. Even when I die, I will live. And then without a body, I will feel always like this. Immortal. Invincible. Alive.
Wake up. Open your eyes. You are not a robot. You are not mechanical, to be wound up to operate until you need to sleep again. You have been given life so that you may experience this feeling, the feeling you get when you use someone else’s chap stick. And you can feel that forever. When we do, we finally understand what it means to feel so connected, so pulsing with entropy. We feel infinite.
The human race makes me SMH sometimes. (SHAKE MY HEAD, for those of you not familiar with text-speak vernacular). When you get down to brass tacks, our race does a lot more harm than, say, sharks. And sharks are feared a lot. Sharks get blamed for a whole lot of stuff, mainly eating people’s limbs. But the human race killed more people with the atom bomb in a single day than the entire shark population has killed in… a century. That’s a lot of people.
It’s makes us pretty easy to hate. But since we’re the only animals who speak English, we don’t catch any flack about it from dogs or giraffes or, more tellingly, sharks. Who is anti-humanity? Humans.
And I realize we probably don’t deserve the gold medal for “Best Animals Ever.” (That would probably be panda bears or sea otters, both very cute). We do a lot worse for the environment than any other animal, even worse than kudzu or mangrove trees. When you reach that level of destruction, something bad is going on? It is more likely you will be killed by a human than a shark, though not all humans think you’re tasty. For the record, I bet you’re delicious.
Despite all this, I don’t agree with hating on humanity. I know I just laid out a lot of very bad things we’ve done, but since I’m human, I’m on Team Humanity. I’ve heard a lot of fellow humans (I’m supposing most of you reading this are human- Sorry 1% sentinel cyborgs) do not think humanity is “good.” In fact, a lot of people believe that humanity is innately evil. We are savages driven to kill and destroy and a few systems of government and religion are all that keep us from tearing into each other’s throats.
For example, board games. Playing Monopoly alone would be less fun and less violent. Without other people, not only Monopoly is given up.
We can kiss, sumo-wrestle, or do both at the same time. We can hold intense philosophical conversations and learn from each other. We can help each other survive. We can’t play freeze tag alone without dying of starvation. Face it, we need each other and cannot turn away from humanity. The human race is all we’ve got, so why give that up? We need each other for the purpose of, for example, love.
Without getting too gooey and cliche, I’ll admit we need love. Maybe you’ve been broken up with, divorced, and chopped up into tiny pieces by a serial killer, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never need another person to be with you. To love you. Unless you’ve been chopped up into tiny pieces by a serial killer. Then, you’re dead.
If human beings were meant to live alone and hate each other, we may never have invented salsa dancing or sports games or parties or sex. All these things are what we get in return for being part of a somewhat horrid race. But perhaps that is the point of humanity. In a way, we’re despicable. But that wickedness is bred from the same race that brought you Super Mario Bros. and hang gliders. Do you realize how cool hang gliders are? Very much so.
We have this incredible duality: we have free will and so can commit either atrocities or great acts of love.
So, before condemning your own race to the bowels of Hell, think about what horror it would be if we were any different. Imagine us as clean robots. Sure, we may never spill ketchup on the floor of restaurants so waitresses are forced to clean it up. But we also would be unable to love.
That is more than can be said for sharks.