“Contrary” – An Appreciation

If you look up the term “contrary” in any dictionary you receive a definition similar to, if not the same as this one:

Contrary [kon-trer-ee] (ADJ, N): 1. Opposite in nature or character; diametrically or mutually opposed; 2. Opposite in direction or position; 3. Being the opposite one of two; 4. Unfavorable or adverse; 5. Perverse; stubbornly opposed or willful. 

That particular definition was taken from www.dictionary.com, one of my many internet bookmarks and an app on both my phone and my Kindle Fire. “Contrary” is not what I like to consider one of my “chosen words.” You know the types of words that I’m referring to, especially if you are a writer like I am or I aspire to be (depending on whose opinion you ask). If you’ve ever read anything that I’ve written–be said “anything” one of these oft ignored blog entries or the novel that I just finished writing–you are likely familiar with my “chosen words.” Examples include: “Aforementioned,” “segue” and “frighteningly.” I don’t even think I used “contrary” once in “Endworld.” Not even “contrary to popular belief” or “contrary to what you might be thinking.”

I’m not sure if the omission of a relatively common word is conscious or subconscious. After all, I generally try not to be “contrary”: Not in life, nor love, nor… well sh*t, friends, anything. I try very hard to keep a positive outlook despite the precariousness or dreariness of a given situation. But some days? Well, some days I remember the words of a once-acquaintance who used the term “contrary” to describe a different circumstance. When said acquaintance was having “one of those days,” she called it a “Contrary Day,” i.e. a day where she was just… off. Not depressed nor angry, just “contrary.” I’ve heard others refer to it as everything from being “bleah” to being “out of it.” I didn’t learn a lot from that once-acquaintance. If anything, I learned how much of a dick with arms and legs I can be, and if that person is reading this right now–as I sit in what my wife Nicole calls “my divot” on the couch in our living room with the Sixers on mute across the room and Bach playing over the speakers of my laptop–I’d like to take this long, overdue opportunity to say that I am sorry.

Refocus. Eyes forward. Oh crap, if I look forward I catch a glimpse of the Sixers beating the “best team in the NBA” by 15 points late in the Fourth. Refocus. Eyes on the screen of my laptop. Back to “contrary.”

Lately, friends, I’ve been feeling quite “contrary.” Primarily over the last week or so. Said (“said” definitely equals another one of my “chosen words”) “contrariness” is due largely in part to my current work situation–down a person in my department for the next month/forced to do her work and my own during one of the busiest periods we, as a company, have ever experienced–and by association my newly elevated stress level. But there are other factors contributing to it, as well, some that I have been able to diagnose and some that remain a mystery.

One that I have been able to diagnose is ‘kinda simple: I’ve a hole in my soul where there once existed a novel. There’s an emptiness inside of me now that “Endworld” is done: A sense of loss that I can equate with many things, some that I would write about had I more time and energy and some that are somewhat… private that I won’t regardless of how lucid I am. As a wise sage of the cinema once said: “I keep those thoughts for myself.” The solution to my problem? I could start the next novel. I am, in fact, itching to start it. But beginning something as extensive as a novel directly on the coattails of something equally extensive is a daunting task, especially in light of the workload I am carrying currently. And considering that the fate of “Endworld” in many ways remains up in the air until I receive feedback first, from the person who is currently editing it, second from my wife who is currently reading it and third, from a collection of a dozen or two “beta readers” that have expressed interest in previewing it, I think its best not to begin the second until I know for sure if the first has appeal. So for now, “Endworld” book two will remain a plot in my head and a rough outline sketched out in virtually indecipherable cursive on a legal pad until such time as I am confidant that it has legs.

I also equate it to life: Beginning a serious relationship on the coattails of another, serious relationship is oft times doomed for failure. Some times it works out. Take Nicole and I: I came out of a serious relationship and within a few months I was inan even more serious one with the woman I would, eventually, marry, alias the mother of my one daughter, Cara, and the soon-to-be mother of my second daughter. For those of you reading this that don’t know yes: Nicole and I are expecting what I have been calling a “plus one” for the last few months. Cara Angelina’s little sister, Natalie Theresa Marsh is due in early June. But many times? What most people call a “rebound” relationship does not work out. It fizzles and the participants are left even more scarred than they were before beginning it. The moral of the story? Take a little time after you complete something epic, be that something a book, a relationship, a job or any number of “a’s” and a noun before you begin something equally or more epic. Sometimes the jump works out. Others? You end up in a worse place than you were before. I’m thankful… damn thankful that my situation turned out the way it did. If there’s one thing that isn’t contributing to my “contrariness” right now it’s my marriage, my family and my friends. Not to mention a surprisingly dominant home basketball team that just spanked the Bulls by 16 points. “Show ‘ya ‘luv,” Philadelphia. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a professional basketball team in this town that we can be proud of.

Diagnosed, then: Factors contributing to my “contrariness.” One: My work situation. Two: My desire to write the currently untitled sequel to “Endworld” (though my buddy Matt’s proposed title, “Red-Headed Stepchildren of Endworld” remains the frontrunner). Those are the two most prominent. But is there a third? A fourth? Likely, but I honestly don’t know. This little, psychological cross-examination of my current condition has thus far only yielded those two. I guess that my virtual incapacity to win a single game of “Words with Friends” could be a third. Consider: I have four years and some change (if you count my 24 Graduate credits which are currently sitting in educational limbo at Drexel) of experience with the English language in an academic setting. I have a relatively extensive vocabulary that, contrary to what you may believe is not limited to my “chosen words.” I can pull words like “redressed” and “factoid” out of my a** if given the appropriate tiles and board set up. Each word yields me anywhere between 30 and 40 points (my highest yet–“flux”–actually yielded me almost 60 thanks to good positioning). But then my opponent plays “axe,” hits a triple word score and a triple letter score on the “x” and completes “avoid” and “da” on a perpendicular and a parallel/ends up with a shade under 100. I can’t tell you how close I came to cursing that person out via the “Words with Friends'” chat function/throwing my brand new Kindle Fire through the screen of my television from my position within “my divot” upon the couch. If that person is reading this right now I am sorry. Reference my aforementioned capacity to be a dick with arms and legs. The moral of the story, friends? Extensive experience with the English language does not make you a “Words with Friends” ringer. If anything, it acts as a crutch when combined with your incapacity to do simple math.

Incidentally, current record on “Words with Friends”: 1-9 in my last ten matches. That one win was my only win and it came at the expense of my brother-in-law who has now avenged himself on me three or four times since, most recently by approximately 200 points. If I ever win another game I will likely leap up from “my divot” and dance a jig in the middle of my living room before I relapse in to my “contrary” state. But I digress. Refocus. Eyes forward. Oh f*ck, Nicole is watching “Phineas and Ferb.” Refocus. Eyes down and on the screen of my laptop. But… it’s… Skiddley Whiffers! 

What about a fourth? Perhaps the dearth of decent television right now (though blessedly, “The Walking Dead” is due back on a week from this Sunday) or the lack of time to do anything other than sleep, work, occasionally grab a bite to eat (down almost 10 pounds in the last week… nothing like a stress and “contrariness” crash diet to drop that extra coating of winter fur or in my case, holiday fat) and sleep again. Perhaps the fact that I am now blogging while watching the “Tour ‘de Ferb” for the umpteenth time and am desperately longing for a new episode of arguably the best cartoon on television before it stagnates. In truth? The third, fourth, fifth or dozenth factor (if one exists) doesn’t matter. I am “contrary” right now because of factors one and two. Little more explanation is needed save for this: I decided roughly two hours ago, right after Cara blessedly went right to sleep that I would take a little time to write an appreciation of “being contrary” and I did. Not just for myself but for the person who originated said concept. It’s a good one, friends. A worthy addition to the list of euphemisms people use for having “one of those days. “I’m having a contrary day.”

Take it out for a test drive the next time you’re feeling “bleah” or “out of it.” Try it on for size. If you like it, use it, and spread it around so that others can use it, as well. And while you’re at it, try writing about your state of mind. You don’t need to be a writer or an aspiring writer with “chosen words.” You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel afterwards. Much less like an overworked, stressed out, oft times dick with arms and legs that can’t win a single game of “Words with Friends.” You feel semi-normal. And maybe… just maybe “semi-normal” is enough to help you cope with your “Contrary Day.” At least, that is, until the resurgent Sixers play the Heat on Friday night.

Show ‘ya ‘luv. 

F.

Anniversaries, Ray Bans, Chronic Migraines, a Little ENDWORLD and the Awesomeness that is Spotify

Happy October 15th, everyone. Incidentally, October 15th just so happens to be my wedding anniversary so before I write anything, let me first take a moment to wish my words-can-not-describe wife Nicole a Happy 6th Anniversary. For some of you reading this that have been hitched longer than that six years might not seem like much of a milestone but for me it’s monumental. Pre-Nicole the longest relationship I’d ever been in was roughly seven months and most of my relationships averaged between one night (with the occasional breakfast thrown in for good measure) and four months. Amazingly enough, when you factor in the amount of time we’ve dated (or, if you’re more of a traditionalist, the amount of time we’ve “courted”) we’ve been together for 10 years this November 11th. Despite our proclivities towards a more casual, laid-back lifestyle now she still keeps things interesting on a daily basis. She’s about as good a mother as I’ve ever encountered and as phenomenal a spouse as I could ask for. Nicole, I know you’re reading this. I love you with all my heart and always will. OH! And thank you again for the Ray-Bans. I’m nervous as f*ck to wear them (I have a knack for breaking expensive things, sunglasses especially) but I’ve always wanted a pair. In the words of William (remember, friends: No longer Roland) MacNuff: “‘You ‘done good, kiddo.”

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me. I’m not going to lie. One or two people inquired recently why, in mid-September, I seemingly paused… at least publicly… all activity related to the writing of ENDWORLD. Fact is I did. Reluctantly. I ‘kinda had to. Shortly after I returned from vacation I had an… an incident I guess you could call it. I was beset upon quite suddenly by something that I had suffered from as a child but had, at least to my knowledge, kicked in the subsequent years since: Chronic Migraines. I actually ended up in the hospital for a weekend because of them. While I was released that Sunday afternoon and allowed to return home the damn things didn’t stop. In fact, they became more consistent albeit not as severe as they had been that weekend. I was forced to give up caffeine because the doctors considered it to be the trigger. I was asked to limit any stressful activities (also, they determined, a trigger) temporarily until I could meet with a Neurologist and work up a treatment plan. I was told to start going to bed earlier which sadly meant the end of my late night writing sprints… at least for a time. I followed all of this advice to a tee because no one should have to live with what I had to live with that week or two after I returned from vacation and continued to deal with in the two weeks after I was discharged: Constant pain is not a welcome companion on mine or any one’s journey through their own, subjective universe and if you are reading this and suffering from something similar you have my sympathies. I… truly… feel your pain.

So I did as was requested of me. I finally got to see a Neurologist who helped get me back on my feet via meds and a few recommended lifestyle changes and here I am. I’ve been virtually caffeine-free since mid-September (I am allowed to drink the occasional soda now but energy drinks, sadly, are no longer permitted), have been sleeping better (no more middle-of-the-night migraines, thank God, Allah, Buddha, or whatever deity/deities you worship), and… now that I’m feeling more like a reasonable facsimile of myself again, I’ve decided over the last few days that I am long overdue to return to the one thing that I have been holding off on, i.e. finishing ENDWORLD. So finally–as those of you that follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are aware–I finished up my read and revise of Parts One and Two and started Part Three (appropriately subtitled “Deceived”) yesterday. And after a five page writing jog (definitely not a sprint) over the course of about six or seven hours yesterday, things appear to be moving along (albeit somewhat less-frantically than before; I guess that’s what a limited caffeine intake does to you). I’ve got my fingers crossed that I can finish this thing by the end of this year. While that’s a significantly longer time frame than I had originally anticipated (the end of August and the end of September have both come on gone as you are all well aware) I’ve come to understand something vital over the last few weeks’ experiences:

I’m not under any pressure to finish this by a set date. No publisher is hanging a deadline over my head and while I hate keeping my editor waiting (I’m sorry, Amy, but I promise: When I’m done it you’ll be the second too know (right after Nicole)) I hope she understands. As for those of you–my friends and my family–that have been waiting for something to “Beta Test” if everything goes the way I hope it will you should have something in your stocking by this Christmas. That’s my new goal. ‘Cause to be completely honest with you? I want to finish this. Why? Because I’ve got some really cool ideas for the re-write of the sequel that I can’t wait to put on paper and because I owe it to myself and to the people that have most supported me to make this happen. That’s pretty much all I’ve got right now on the ole’ book. Thanks for your continued encouragement and advice. Specifically, I’m looking at not only you, Nicole, but you, Matt, Tom, Steve, Pat, Kim, Amy, Renee, Emily… all my “peeps” that have given me feedback and if I neglected to mention your name I’m sorry. Booyakasha. Respect. 

All that said, an unrelated topic: Spotify. Who reading this uses it and who loves it as much as I do? I read about it in the tech mags a few months ago when it first rolled out to the us here in the states and I never thought much of it. After all, I’ve got a couple thousand songs on my four year old iPod Classic. Who needs streaming music for $10.00 a month? Let me tell you something, folks: I finally gave in and downloaded the free service this week with the 15 day trial of the Premium service (the one that you can get on your mobile as well as your PC, iPad, Tablet or whatever you’re using) and in all honesty? I had no idea what I was missing. Pandora? Slacker? Shazam? Move aside. I have no doubt that when my 15 day trial of the Premium service is up I’m subscribing to it. I’m writing this from work right now and before you detractors out there reading this question why I’m blogging when I’m supposed to be working understand that I was working all morning. Now that I’m caught up and have some time to kill I’m blowing time so THPT! (much love). I’ve only created three playlists so far and the one that I’m listening to right now–entitled “The State Pen Years”–is loaded with music from the artists I used to listen to while I was in college. 335 tracks so far ranging from old-school Soundgarden to The Prodigy. Throw in a little Primus, Marilyn Manson and a dash of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones for good measure (shout out, Billy D) and I’m in audio heaven. Half the stuff on this playlist is music I used to own on either tape or CD. If on tape said music was simply lost over the subsequent years since I left school and multiple moves, and if on CD said music was likely sold for beer money back when I was in college or stolen by one (or more) ex-girlfriends. But now? For a couple of bucks a month I have all those songs back in mu possession. Consider the last five songs I’ve listened to while I was writing:

5. Rob Zombie, “More Human Than Human.”
4. Soundgarden, “Face Pollution.”
3. Smashing Pumpkins, “X. Y. U.”
2. The Prodigy, “Smack My B*tch Up.” (I apologize to those of you with sensibilities. Please note: I don’t condone, it’s just a cool song)
1. Soundgarden, “Superunknown.”

Now playing: “Save Yourself” by Stabbing Westward. All in all a well-rounded collection of tunes whether they are your cup of tea or not. Is it wrong of me to presume that this and similar innovations (like the iCloud) are going to eventually kill iTunes and MP3s? Feel free to debate that question if you so desire to do so but as far as this music-lover is concerned? I’m all in on the awesomeness of Spotify. Well done, Sweden. This may be perhaps the best thing you’ve given the western world since the watch. Or perhaps the utility knife. Every so often you come up big. Booyakasha. Respect. 

And with that, I’m about done, everyone. My boss has finally given me the green light to go home for the day and I plan to. I have a sixth anniversary to celebrate, a daughter to play with, a book to write and a soda to drink (I’m due for one: Haven’t had one since Tuesday PM). So with one, final salud and just one more Booyakasha for good measure I’m going to slip on my brand new Ray-Bans and roll. Thank you all, again, for your continuing attention, advice, support and friendship. I thrive on it more than you can imagine. Peace.

11:30 AM; 10/15/11

 

Retrospection Revisited

Back when we were all incarcerated for nine months in “State Pen” PA, and no one lived any place else, I had this idea. Said idea was the product of many pensive afternoons spent sitting in the shadow of one of the science buildings on campus. I can’t remember the name of it presently, but I remember I called it “The Shrine of Science” in multiple journal entries and poetry compositions. Hell, it might not have even HAD a name. It was just this really cool, U-shaped building that had its own courtyard. Said courtyard had the usual accoutrements: benches, trees, trashcans (no ash-trays then; society had not evolved in 1996-1997 to the point that it felt ash-trays were necessary). My customary position in said courtyard, however, was not reclining on one of the benches like the sun-lovers, or leaning up against one of the trees like the nature-lovers. No. My customary position was seated atop an steel grate, beneath which howled an ancient generator. Subsequent years and their accompanying wisdom have helped me to realize that what I postulated in my imaginative mind THEN to be a Morlock stronghold or a Gatekeeper of the Beam was, in fact, nothing more than a commercial-sized heater, and my reason for sitting there was not wholly symbolic—an English Major sitting in “The Shrine of Science,” scribbling entries in his journal—but practical, i.e. it gets really fucking cold in “State Pen” in October, and stays that way until late March/early April.

One frigid afternoon… I think it was in January or February of 1997… I formulated this idea whilst warming my ass on the completely pedestrian heater grate inlaid in the walkway that was my customary resting place in “The Shrine of Science.” I was smoking a cigarette and drinking a Mountain Dew (not an uncommon sight, as anyone who was incarcerated with me in “State Pen” for those nine months in 1996-1997 will attest to), and completely independent of anything else, I began thinking about my life. All 21 ½ years of it. Where I’d come from; where I was; where I was going. Admittedly, I was very, VERY confused at the time and this thought process quickly segued in to another: Why not write an epic poem called “Retrospection” looking back over the course of my life from a poet’s standpoint in an attempt to gain some clarity and direction on my current situation? At the time, the idea seemed ingenious. And the initial stages of composing “Retrospection” were quite enlightening. I started seeing my situation with a clarity that I hadn’t had before. The two-three weeks spent working on “Retrospection” were, academically, my best in “State Pen.” In fact, were it not for the sheer amount of “academic” work I did in those two-three weeks, I likely would not have graduated in May of 1997. My 60.7 average in my Ed Psych class would have ended up on the wrong side of the letter “D” and I would have been forced to prolong my stay in “State Pen” for another couple of months. Thankfully, my incarceration ended in May and I was allowed to graduate with my class, thus achieving the goal I’d set for myself of graduating in four years and NO MORE… albeit with a relatively meaningless undergraduate degree and a mountain of debt that didn’t get paid off until the summer of 2005.

Yet something happened around the 10th or 11th Stanza of “Retrospection.” I looked at what I was writing, and realized that what I was writing had absolutely, positively no bearing on anyone or anything but myself. It wasn’t even poetry. It was a glorified journal entry with one or two rhyming couplets per stanza. Was it serving its purpose? Yes. But did I foresee a greater purpose in what I was composing after re-reading the first 10-11 stanzas? No. And as any honest artist—writer or otherwise—will tell you, we do what we do not solely for our “art.” Any artist that tells you that is full of shit. We do what we do because we want our work to appeal to a greater demographic. In short, we want our 15 minutes of fame and god DAMNIT, we want it NOW. This desire doesn’t always pan out. I’m not exactly raking in the royalties from the work I’ve published. But long-term, THAT is my goal. Not simply to spend the rest of my natural life writing for ME and me alone, but to one day write things that will entertain others. Make them laugh, make them cry: kind of like “Cats” (shout out to the Royal Masque, circa 1992-1993, and Barricade Productions circa 1993-1994). Shortly thereafter, “Retrospection” perished, never to be seen again. I don’t quite remember what I did with the 20 or so hand-written, loose leaf pages that contained it, but knowing my propensity for extravagance back then I likely burned it or sacrificed it to the “Shrine of Science” gods.

Amazingly, though, this idea of “retrospection” has never left me. Privately, I’ve done it multiple times. Never publicly. I don’t think that the term “retrospect” or any derivative thereof has ever appeared in a single blog post or email I’ve composed in the last decade plus. Until now, of course. I feel that it IS important to look back over the course of your life on occasion. It helps put things in to perspective. Am I at a point in my life currently where I feel directionless? Confused? Am I sitting atop a proverbial heating grate of my own creation in my own, subjective reality, smoking a cigarette and drinking a Mountain Dew whilst staring out at the steel-grey sky overhead, and the small flakes of snow that alight gently, soundlessly upon the black-iron benches and the leafless trees that dot the U-shaped courtyard of my mind? No. I’m sitting behind my desk at work on a Saturday morning, listening to “But, Honestly” by the Foo Fighters, a Diet Dr. Pepper close at hand and the prospect of a cigarette about as far from my mind as it’s been in almost a decade (my recent bout of “sinusitis” has all but rid me of that nasty habit, it seems). The temperature outside is a balmy 71 degrees (Heat Index: 80+) and the next precipitation forecasted for Royersford, PA (where I am now) and Broomall, PA (where I’ll be in a few hours) isn’t until overnight tonight. Not snow, but thunder storms. “Thunder Boomers” as my little sister Katie used to say.

Directionless? Confused? Certainly not. During my incarceration in “State Pen” back in 1996-1997, I was penniless. I was not jobless, but my job as a nighttime circulation clerk at the Pollock Library paid me a $150.00 post-tax stipend every two weeks, a stipend that promptly went toward cigarettes, alcohol, McDonalds Chicken McNuggets and occasionally my rent and utilities. My relationships usually lasted no longer than 24-48 hours, generally from Friday night at midnight (when I got done work) through Saturday or Sunday evening (don’t get the wrong idea, friends. As anyone that spent any portion of those nine months with me in “State Pen” will tell you, I was not a man-whore. I was just a guy who liked to hook-up with random women from time to time, regardless of whether those women were people I just met or people I’d known for years. Not a man-whore, just a bit of a chauvinist). My home was a two-bedroom apartment on the seventh floor of Calder Commons which I shared with three rent-paying roommates (one male and two females) and one or two non-rent paying roommates (you know who you are “Vato”). I drank copious amounts of alcohol and smoked copious amounts of weed. And I was LOST in every sense of the word.

Now? I work a steady job that pays me well, albeit an, at times, less-than fulfilling employment. My bi-weekly allowance is the $50.00-$150.00 that my wife deposits in my checking account dependent on when our mortgage and our bills are due. I generally don’t see the rest and I’m fine with that (one thing my 34 ¾ year old, 6’ 1”, 280 LB frame does NOT need at this point is a bi-weekly rationing of Chicken McNuggets). I’ve been in a relationship with the same woman for nine years this November (married for five this October 15th) and my home is a three bedroom, one and a half bathroom Colonial on a little street in suburbia that I share with my wife and our 11 month old daughter, Cara, not to mention our two cats Pandora and Roxy, and this week, my “dog-in-law” Melanie. I drink copious amounts of Diet Dr. Pepper and haven’t smoked a joint in a very, VERY long time. But ask me if I’m directionless or confused and I’ll scoff at you before smiling and telling you that no, my friends. For the first time in 35 years on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, i.e. my subjective reality, I’m FOUND. I’m a gosh-darned living, breathing testimony to “Amazing Grace,” along with remaining a living, breathing facsimile of a smiley face.

“Have a Nice Day.”

But you knew that, didn’t you? If you’re reading this, everything that I just wrote save for the bit about my “dog-in-law” and perhaps my proclivity toward Diet Dr. Pepper is likely not “breaking news” to you. In fact, the last three or four paragraphs completely contradict my previous statement that artists create “art” not simply for the sake of their “art” or for their own, personal purposes, but because they want to appeal to a greater demographic. Before passing judgment on me, though, consider the following: At approximately 11:30-12:00 this morning/afternoon, I will be departing work and heading home, where I will eat a quick lunch and take a quick shower before getting ready to head to a first birthday party: that of our friends’ Sarah and John’s daughter, Ava. Tomorrow, I’ll likely be heading over to our friends’ Caren and Matt’s/Tom and Michelle’s to meet THEIR newborns, Josephine (Josie) Molly and Grace Learned. In less than a month, I’m hosting 50-60 family and friends in my three bedroom, one and a half bathroom Colonial on a little street in suburbia for my own daughter’s first birthday party. Of those 50-60 family and friends, many were in some way, shape, form or loosely connected fashion incarcerated with me for nine months plus in “State Pen.” I say plus ‘cause as anyone who knows me knows, my tenure there only diminished in frequency after May of 1997. Truth be told, I was still a frequent visitor through the summer of 1998. Said people—my fellow “State Pen” inmates—will not be arriving with a six pack of Yeungling or cold, now-defunct Pennsylvania Pizza in tow, but with THEIR little one’s and spouses in tow: “Vato” and Kim plus one; Austen plus three and Tom plus two to name a few.

And it doesn’t end there. Also in attendance will be my little sister Katie plus three and my mother plus three, not to mention my in-laws Mariann, Chuck, Deborah and Andrew plus one. Nicole’s friends whom I met nine years ago when THEY all lived somewhere between South Philadelphia and Temple Pharmacy School and no one lived anyplace else are ALL plus one’s or two’s, with one plus three to boot. And of course, I’m a plus two (plus four if you count my cats whom I’m helpless NOT to think of as my children). All will be arriving at 2:00 PM (RSVP’s pending, of course), and will not be staying until long after a midnight reveler who calls himself “The Mad Chronicler” decides to make a drunken run to the now-defunct Pennsylvania Pizza for “Boones” Malt Liquor. Rather, all will be leaving at approximately 6:00 PM to return home to their respective, nightly routines. Give the baby or babies a bath; get them dressed in their PJ’s and ready for bed; read them their favorite Dr. Seuss bedtime story (Cara’s is “The Lorax”); watch over them as they drift off to sleep in their cribs or beds, their little legs curled up beneath them, their little bodies rising and gently falling as they sleep the sleep of the peaceful… the innocent. Carefully tip-toe out of their room, being careful not to step on the creaky board that lays 14 ½ inches and to the left of the door; being FURTHER careful not to unlatch and re-latch the door too loudly as they exit the room. Retire downstairs and spend the waning hours of the day watching “The Hangover,” and silently muse about how the seemingly unbelievable anecdotes presented in that movie didn’t always seem so unbelievable. Back when we were all incarcerated for nine plus months in “State Pen” PA, and no one lived anyplace else. Silently reminisce… “Remember when…”

…And helplessly return to the U-shaped courtyard outside “The Shrine of Science” where—upon a perfectly pedestrian heating grate inlaid in a perfectly pedestrian walkway—a 21 ½ year old pre-adult sits beneath a steel-grey, central Pennsylvania, winter sky, pondering how directionless and confused his life currently is. As he sips from a warm bottle of Mountain Dew between puffs of a cigarette and watches the first snowflakes from what will eventually amount to a six-inch snow squall alight gently upon the black-iron benches and the leafless trees that dot the courtyard, said pre-adult conceives of a plan: he’ll write an epic poem entitled “Retrospection” in which he’ll look back over the course of his life from a poet’s standpoint in an attempt to gain some clarity and direction. Maybe THEN he’ll have a better idea of where the fuck he’s going. He begins…

“Life is a bloody, ongoing fight… peril is endless and counters the light…”

Said opening lines will eventually grow in to a 10 or 11 stanza, uncompleted epic poem called “Retrospection.” Said 10-11 stanzas will disappear a few weeks later, never to be seen again. Said poet will go on in the next 13 years to graduate college by the skin of his teeth (and 0.7 points in his Ed Psych class), meet and marry the woman of his dreams—the embodiment of his heart, soul and mind—purchase a home with her, begin raising a child with her—the physical embodiment of the his union to the woman of his dreams—and host a first birthday party in which his checkered and LOST past meets his and his fellow inmates from “State Pen’s” stable and FOUND present. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” From “State Pen” PA to suburbia, friends, it’s all academic. That’s “retrospection.” To be able to look back on where you were, and see how far you’ve come. To know that the confusion felt by that 21 ½ year old seeker sitting pensively within “The Shrine of Science,” imaginatively wondering if the low hum beneath the steel grate he sits upon is a Morlock stronghold or a Gatekeeper of the Beam resolved itself in to quite a nifty little life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, i.e. his subjective reality. Being able to see that isn’t simply something personal to the writer. It’s not “art” for the sake of “art.” It’s something that everyone should be able to do. You, me… EVERYONE. And THAT is a comforting thought.

“Have a Nice Day.”

The Dark, Eternal Heart of CouchEvilTrue

My friends! It’s been too, too long. I’m sorry, but my life has taken a hectic turn as-of-late. Are things settling down? No. But I’ve recently determined that the hectic pace of my life is no longer an excuse not too write. Besides, I’ve got way too much sh*t racing through my mind presently to ignore my need to get it down on paper (or in a .wpd file).

I guess that when it comes to writing, I’m a bit of a junkie. Have been, and likely always will be unless I suddenly and unexpectedly loose the mental capacity and stamina to ramble on about topics that have little or no significance outside of my own, and a few others people’s subjective realities (HOLY RUN ON SENTENCE, BATMAN!). Outside of my dependency on caffeine and my continuing struggle to quit smoking (down to three to four smokes a day, people. Almost there!), I have very few addictions save for this one. I guess it could be worse. I tell my wife on a regular basis that she lucked out. Instead of marrying an alcoholic-meth-head-wife-beating-man-whore, she married a guy who thinks he’s interesting and doesn’t know when to shut up.

“Good… trade?”

I guess, though upon reading the title of this Blog post, she’s likely wishing she were married to Walter White (that’d be the alcoholic-meth-head-wife-beating-cancer-stricken-man-whore from AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) and not me. Sorry, honey, but this needs to be done.

Subsequent to the untimely demise of my lawnmower a few weeks ago and my purchase of a brand-new, self-propelled Toro Recycler 6500, a certain someone who once went by the surname “’M,’ Prophet/NotProphet of COUCHEVILTRUE” postulated—upon seeing my OLD lawnmower standing silently by the curb of my house—that leaving it for Marple/Newtown Waste Disposal was a BAD idea. Had I learned nothing from my experiences with the dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue almost five, odd (and yes, they HAVE been odd, friends) years ago? What if, he postulated, said dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue had somehow vacated the lifeless body of its once-host upon its destruction, and floated around in the ether for a few weeks before choosing a NEW host: that of the lawnmower that my father-in-law purchased for Nicole and I as a housewarming gift in April of 2006? After all, my history with said lawnmower was anything but rosy. I’d cite examples (and will, eventually), but before doing so, perhaps I should take a few moments to sum-up, for any newcomers, the sad, sordid history of CouchEvilTrue.

Those familiar with said history, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.

THE SAD, SORDID HISTORY OF COUCHEVILTRUE

In 2006, when Nicole and I purchased the house that we currently reside in with our daughter, Cara, and our two furry, feline children Pandora and Roxy, there was a furious debate over a number of electronic and non-electronic formats about what should be done with my old couch, henceforth simply called COUCH. You see, COUCH and I had a history that went back to my first, post-college apartment in Jenkintown (Incarnation Two: Pat and Kim London and our live-in, Tom Noonan). Said COUCH disappeared from April of 2000 through November of the same, a period of time otherwise known as my “Vagabond Phase.” Thereafter, it reappeared in the living room of my apartment in Northeast Philadelphia with… um, Tom Noonan (damn, Tom, we’ve actually “lived” together three times? How f*cked up is that?) before following me to my apartment in Drexel Hill, otherwise known as its final resting place.

Said COUCH was, simply put, the one piece of furniture that I owned. Its estimated age at the time of its demise was 35 years in this reality, potentially more depending on which school of thought you adhered to back in COUCH’S formative years of existence (1998-2006):

SCHOOL ONE: COUCH was simply another piece of overused furniture, passed down through the generations that reeked of alcohol, cigarettes, Jim’s Cheese Steaks, New England Pizza’s Buffalo Wings and incontinent landlords. The prospect of bringing something so vile and foul in to a new house was about as appetizing as the thought of some of the actions perpetrated upon its surface, a surface that was, in appearance and texture, a hybrid of corduroy pants and a welcome mat. Said school of thought believed that it should be disposed of as all old, meaningful furniture should be—with sledgehammers and circular saws—and left in pieces by the dumpster at Talltrees Village in Drexel Hill, never to be seen again.

SCHOOL TWO: COUCH was more than another piece of overused furniture, long passed its prime. COUCH was the embodiment of evil: the physical manifestation of a deity that called itself “CouchEvilTrue,” a deity older than the universe or universes that had, for whatever reason, chosen to instill its essence or “black heart of ichor” (depending on who you asked) in COUCH. Those who adhered to SCHOOL TWO believed that not destroying, not abandoning, but KILLING COUCH would result in, among other things: the Flyers and Sixers having the worst seasons in their long and storied histories, my wife cheating on me with a man that looked like Mister Clean, me turning in to a Tequila-aholic and getting fired from my job, my wife divorcing me, me totaling my car and ending up as a stumbling, muttering wino, eternally stalking the dark and shadowy alleys of South Philadelphia (you can probably imagine which school of thought I belonged to). Rather than dispose of it, these “believers” in the oily tendrils of CouchEvilTrue (“Oyez, oyez”) advised me to carry it upon my back—my own, personal Ring of Power—throughout my life. Were I to dispose of it, they reasoned, I would be forever damned to misery.

The debate between the two schools grew over the space of a few months, and morphed in to “The Collected Couch Chronicles,” an almost 100 page treatise on what should/should not be done to or with COUCH. Said treatise was a compilation of various emails, Evites and other “E” words that circulated between a dozen plus members of my subjective reality, eventually culminating in the destruction of COUCH and a haunting final proclamation from “’M,’ Prophet/NotProphet of COUCHEVILTRUE”:

He mourned, alone, in a corner of the basement. To his eyes, moss, mildew, water dripped down the crags of the wall. Stroking a hand through his matted hair, eyes rolling around his sockets, fixing one place then another without comprehending the first. Breath whistling past teeth which had come undone and hung now like boxes placed randomly on basement shelves, he mourned. All his thoughts were bent towards one object. An object lost. All his hopes were fixed on it. His desires. An object lost. Rocking now, back and forth without heed, plucks a spider from the wall, stuffs it past his cracked and broken lips. “I’ll have it again, I will, they’ll see. I’ll have it again, my…. PRECIOUS!!!” You have been warned.

So ended the saga of COUCH, or CouchEvilTrue (depending on your chosen school of thought)… or so we believed.

THE SAD, SORDID HISTORY OF MY LAWNMOWER, AKA “THE BANE OF DOCTOR FRANK-EN-STEIN’S EXISTENCE”

Nicole and I received many housewarming gifts upon purchasing our first house in Broomall. Trinkets, appliances: our families and friends were incredibly generous. Among these gifts was perhaps THE most generous but controversial item that I can claim ownership of SINCE COUCH: my lawnmower. The first time I attempted to mow the lawn of our new house, I caught my finger on the starter cord and came within about a half an inch of slicing it off. 10 stitches later and an ignominious trip to Bryn Mawr Hospital riding shotgun in my father-in-law’s truck—my bloody finger protected by a bag of ice and a make-shift bandage of blue painters tape and Bounty—I was mended, though too this day, I still have little or no feeling in that finger (Bring a pin! Stick my finger! Watch me bleed but feel no pain! FUN AT PARTIES!). I developed quite an aversion to mowing my lawn, an aversion that it took me weeks to overcome. By the time I successfully mowed my lawn in late May of 2006 (a full six weeks after the finger incident), it was virtually beyond help. Crabgrass and Dandelion covered, it didn’t even begin to recover until this spring. Yet I labored with the blasted thing, regardless, year in and year out, toiling away to make my lawn look as presentable as possible given the circumstances.

What circumstances? A blade that jammed on an inch of grass regardless of having it set at the highest height. A 15-20 minute sequence involved with starting it that involved priming and pumping what I can only classify as the “GO” lever. In its latter life (the last two years), an acrid cloud of white smoke that belched out of the engine every time I made a turn and poisoned my immediate neighbors (said smoke could be marketed as a suburban chemical weapon). A handle held in place by an ill-fitting bolt and washer (the original bolt and washer having disappeared sometime in 2007) that I would need to stop and re-tighten an average of three times per mowing (four for my backyard). In essence, it was the Frank-en-stein’s Monster of lawnmowers, and God help me, it was MINE. Until this past spring when…

…When I finally purchased a NEW lawnmower, the aforementioned Toro Recycler 6500, complete with a self-propulsion system, “cruise control” (I can take my hand off what I can only classify as the “GO” lever and it… KEEPS… GOING!) and a detachable mulch bag that I can remove without turning off the mower! It requires no priming, and has a larger gas tank than my original mower. In short, it’s the Cadillac of Toros. And my lawn has never looked better. All memories of that original bastard child of Mother Nature and Mister Green Thumb were subsequently forgotten as I wheeled the blasted piece of garbage out to my curb on a Sunday afternoon. There the f*cking thing sat, waiting for a mercy that only God or a Waste Disposal Management Crew could give it. I left for work the Monday after I placed it there, stopping briefly to spit on it from the driver’s side of my car before pulling away…

…Only to return home that night and discover the blasted beast still sitting by the curb.

I was shocked in to silence, and sat staring at it for a moment from the driver’s side of my car. Since 2006, Marple/Newtown Waste Disposal had removed everything from dead animals to old furniture from my curb, due largely in part to the $50.00 stipend we give them every Christmas. My wife just informed me that we didn’t tip them this past Christmas (2009), which could rationally explain why they didn’t remove the unsightly piece of lawn care machinery that sat taunting me by the curb as the sun set on yet another GLORIOUS Monday in my subjective reality. But where’s the fun in rationality?

Dejected, I slowly rolled the mower up the coarse and cracked blacktop of my driveway, stopping ever-briefly at my car to push the OPEN button on my automatic garage door opener, and sighed as the garage door only opened half way. Forced now to not only keep the mower, but duck under the half-opened garage door and potentially snap my spine in the process, I bit back a sob. It was then—as I wheeled the mower in to its customary place between a stack of empty boxes and my garbage cans—that I remembered “M’s” prophecy from the previous afternoon.

Did I, thereafter, reluctantly face the realization that the dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue cannot be killed? Did I, thereafter, feel the need to call the “believers” in SCHOOL TWO and concede that I was wrong? Is this Blog entry nothing more than my concession, a concession that I am reminded of every time I walk in to my garage and see my own, personal Frank-en-stein’s Monster sitting silently… TAUNTINGLY…

I did not. In truth, I haven’t spoken or written of this until tonight. If SCHOOL TWO is correct in their assessment that the dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue now resides within the clogged fuel-line of my old lawnmower, then I have nothing to fear. Said beast has not moved from its spot in my garage since. In truth, part of me—the part that has oft been maimed by the red (RED! It’s RED!) demon-spawn of Suburbia—fears even touching it. I will not destroy it, lest I risk the POSSIBILITY (mind you, I’m simply calling it a “possibility,” not a “definitive”) that it is, in fact, the current host of an evil far older than the oldest of evils in this or any reality. Older even than Cheez Whiz: a tantalizing condiment, the mere thought of which causes shooting pains to travel through my left arm. “Oyez, oyez.” Mmm. Processed cheese product. Good on a steak sandwich, but better mixed with salsa.

But I keep my experiences with my original lawnmower in perspective, despite the fact that it no longer has any functional relevancy in my weekly lawn-care regiment. “Believers”: I will concede that it is conceivable that the four odd (and yes, they HAVE BEEN odd) years that I battled with said mower for lawn supremacy were nothing more than a penance for my decision to KILL COUCH in the Spring and Summer of 2006. I will concede that the dark, eternal and EVER-PRESENT heart of CouchEvilTrue has potentially spent the last four years avenging itself upon me and my lawn, and were I to dispose of my old lawnmower, said evil would float around in the ether for a few hours, days or weeks before possessing my new seed spreader and causing it to take one or more of my toes as a blood sacrifice. I will concede that the prospect of simply offering my old lawnmower to the Marple/Newtown Waste Disposal Department is about as conceivable as not having to spend a thousand bucks a month on day care for my daughter, Cara, especially if Nicole and I can no longer afford to offer them a stipend every Christmas. I will concede these points and will leave the damnable creature right. Where. It. IS. But…

If the black heart of ichor that was, is, and remains CouchEvilTrue still exists in my subjective reality; if it’s oily tendrils reach out, even now, from the confines of its prison within my garage, then by association, all of you—both “believers” and non—are in danger. If you are reading this, then you exist within my own, personal subjective reality, and YOU ARE IN DANGER. Despite your posturing to the contrary four years ago, each of you—even the most staunch Prophets/NotProphets of CouchEvilTrue—took sledgehammer or power tool in hand and howled in ecstasy while you dismantled what one “believer” called “The Velveteen Couch.” Even you “M”: you supplied a sledgehammer. Just because its evil influence hasn’t touched your lives yet does not mean that it won’t. Perhaps it is the inherent goodness that exists within me—a NON-alcoholic-NON-druggie-NON-wife-beating-NON-man-whore that likes to ramble incessantly about topics that only he seems to care about but believes staunchly in the providence of God and the Toro Recycler 6500 (AKA “The Escalade of Lawnmowers”)—that is keeping this ancient evil at bay. Or perhaps it is the inherent goodness in my wife, Nicole; or our newborn child, Cara. But I ask you as friends… my good friends… to help me come up with a means by which to eradicate this dastardly force from our lives once and for all. We need a plan, else the dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue may forever shadow our lives and enshroud our fates.

If what “M” said was true, then this may only be the beginning.

“Oyez, oyez.”

Join with me. I have Cheez Whiz!

Musings from within the Maelstrom

A quick note before I begin: the aforementioned “maelstrom” is a more elaborate way of describing the pseudo-blizzard blowing outside the insulated brick walls of the two story colonial in Broomall, PA that I share with my wife Nicole, our daughter Cara, and our two feline children Pandora and Roxy. The scene outside my window is pretty picturesque if that’s the kind of scene that you are partial too. Me? I’ve never been a big fan of snow. Never been a big fan of Norman (I like to call him “Normal”) Rockwell, either, AKA the master of the painting portraying a sleigh ride through the countryside complete with pine trees, a cabin and the occasional covered bridge. So “Hallmark.” So generic. I can almost here Burle Ives crooning beneath the reassuring cacophony of Alice in Chains’ “Rooster” emanating from my headphones. Crank up the volume, baby. “Rooster” seques in to “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” by Mother Love Bone and I can feel my creative juices starting to flow. NOW we’re talking. Or… writing?

Sure, a fresh snowfall looks beautiful and sure, a half a foot of snow when you’re of school-age is pretty significant (force of habit: I still listen for school number 356 on KYW, News Radio, 1060 AM; 356 was the snow number for my grade school some 22 odd years ago). But when you’re 34… When you have to get to and from work in the midst of it… when you can already feel your lower back tightening from the shoveling that is still hours away… well, what can I say? Snow excites me about as much as the prospect of lobotomy with a dull spoon. And anyone who’s ever had one of those will tell you they’re not pretty. Not that I know anyone that ever had a labotomy with a dull spoon. Now a RUSTY one…

I digress. Sorry.

Depressing, huh? Knowing me and my propensity for reminiscence, you’d expect me to be writing something reflective of my youthful days of “yore”: days when I’d wake up at 6:00 AM of my own accord (not because of the alarm on my phone booming the opening chords of ACDC’s “Thunderstruck”) to the intoxicating smell of pancakes and coffee, not the fading scent of the formula spit up on my shirt and the crap my eldest cat, Pandora, just took in the other room. What can I say? Not everything that happens in my life hearkens back memories of the 20 to 30% of my childhood (pre-16, mind you) that I speak so highly of. FACT: Save for the two plus hours that my wife and I spent trying to put Cara to sleep tonight (she’s been cutting her first tooth now for the better part of the last month. I wish the darn thing would just come in already!), I’ve been consuming musical tracks from the aforementioned two bands (Alice and Mother), along with Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, Seether, a sprinkling of Tool and more than a healthy dose of Soundgarden. Said music? Not exactly conducive to the psychological equivalent of a Normal Rockwell painting. More like something painted by Dali or Picasso, with a touch of Georgia O’Keefe thrown in for good measure.

FYI both Moto-Droid and iPhone users: Pandora Internet Radio is an amazing application. Pick a genre of music, and watch in awe as the app creates an entire, commercial free radio station of songs in that genre. This particular station that I am listening to is called “Mother Love Bone Radio.” I also have “The Who Radio,” “John Williams (yes, the composer) Radio,” and for my wife, “Meet Virginia Radio” (mid to late-90’s Top-40 Rock). My musical tastes remain incredibly eclectic.

Yet again, I digress. Let me take this opportunity to reiterate, or in Netspeak, “retweet” my previous apology.

Is there a point to what I’m writing, currently? Yes… and no. Yes, I’m writing with a purpose. Out of necessity, really. You see, I’ve known for a while now that I need to start writing again. I’m not simply talking about the occasional blog entry or rambling essay (though admittedly, Nicole and a few others DO enjoy a good piece of Mental Flatulence). No. I’m talking about something substantial. To continue to deny the writer in side of me the freedom to express himself is the proverbial equivalent of one of my pre-16 year old “friends” smothering my face in a snowdrift… what we used to call a “whitewash” back then, pre-learning it’s actual definition and etymology (per my old friend Wikipedia, “To whitewash is to gloss over or cover up vices, crimes or scandals or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data.”). It’s who I am. I’m also a husband, father, homeowner, taxpayer and working stiff, but before I was any of these things, I was a writer. I can’t afford to lose sight of the basic foundation of who I am. Without that foundation… let’s face it friends, without it, the whole goddamn house of cards that is your ole’ buddy Frank, AKA The Mad Chronicler comes tumbling down. Said collapse is generally followed under most, if not all circumstances by the once-secure and confidant individual curled up in a fetal position in the corner sucking his or her thumb. I’ve been there. I’ve been that poor soul. I’d rather not be that person again… EVER.

What about the “no?” The other answer to my previously posed question (“is there a point to what I’m writing, currently?”)? That’s easy. I’m not trying to change the world with this blog entry, friends. It’s a goddamn blog, not a mission statement. I’m attempting to exercise my mind. You know: get those neurons which have been dormant for too long now rolling belly to back, and back to belly; the psychological equivalent of my daughter’s new, favorite activity. I’m attempting to re-familiarize myself with the ACT of writing.

Which brings me to “Halcyon Days.” Not “The Endworld Trilogy.” I’ve realized over the last few days that in my subjective universe, “Endworld” relies heavily on “Halcyon Days” for relevancy. That was never my original intention when I started writing “Halcyon Days.” For those of you reading this that haven’t the slightest notion of what I’m talking about, I’ll give you the basic premise. “Halcyon Days” was… err, IS a novel I began writing about a year or a year and a half ago. I made it about 50 pages in before my Masters program at Drexel University began. After that, it was academic (no pun intended). School sequed in to Nicole’s pregnancy, which sequed in to Cara’s arrival, and “Halcyon Days” took up permanent residency in the “UNFINISHED NOVELS” folder on my computer’s desktop. But unlike so many of the other aborted attempts at novel writing in that folder, “Halcyon Days” has never been far from my mind. Has, in fact, grown MORE a part of my mind with the passage of time and experience.

It is the story of Robert Allen, and it is the story of Roland MacNuff. Confused? Understandable. In “Halcyon Days,” Robert Allen is actually the author of a series of novels called… you guessed it, “The Endworld Chronicle.” Robert grew up in a fictional little town in South Jersey called “Halcyon Bay” which resides on the shores of the Delaware Bay, known locally as “Little Atlantic.” Robert’s Hollywood lifestyle, burgeoning career (the movie version of the first of his bestselling books, “Endworld,” is in pre-production as the novel begins) and self-imposed exile from the small town of his youth is interrupted by the sudden passing of his mother, and he is forced to return and face the ghosts of his past while putting his mother’s affairs in order. He is reunited with the friends of his youth. Among these, his first love, Melissa Stark, who… well, I can’t give away everything. The bottom line is this: “Halcyon Days” has an outline. It has a framework. In my mind, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s lighthearted, but is underscored by a darkness that only I can see at present (after all, I’m the only one that knows the MacGuffin!). I have full scenes outlined in my mind… with musical accompaniment, no less. Not Alice or Mother, Soundgarden or Tool, but the songs of my pre-16 year old youth… those formative years when I was nothing more to most than a rollie-pollie, pear-shaped target for noogies and “whitewashes.” Songs like LA Guns, “The Ballad of Jayne” and Def Leppard, “Hysteria.”

And in order to re-write “Endworld,” I know now that I need to write “Halcyon Days” first. Why? Well shoot, friends: how deep do you want to delve in to my psyche? I know why it has to be this way. It has something to do with writing a character based on myself to get MORE in touch with another character based on myself, i.e. if I write about myself writing about Roland MacNuff, then it will be easier for me, Frank Marsh, AKA The Mad Chronicler, to write about Roland MacNuff… in Netspeak, IRL. Insert Winky Emoticon HERE. You have permission to smack me the next time you see me.

Do I digress? Not really. But it is getting late (12:30 AM, to be precise), and my thoughts are growing steadily more disjointed as this composition unfolds. Generally a sign that I should start shifting in to “wrap-up” mode, along with the shortening of my paragraphs and a growing reliance on frivolous punctuation like the ellipse and the semi-colon to make my point.

And that point is? Simple, really. Before I was Normal Rockwell, I was the love child of Salvidor Dali, Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keefe. I was reared on the literary stylings of Andrew Wood, Layne Staley, Chris Cornell and Maynard Keenan, though admittedly, my primary musical accompaniment since the late-90’s has been very Top-40’ish. Before I was a husband, father, homeownwer, taxpayer and working stiff, I was a writer. I remain a writer, albeit one that has spent the better part of the last decade plus hibernating within his two story, brick colonial in Broomall, PA. Said insulated brick walls have protected me and my family from a seemingly endless series of proverbial psuedo-blizzards, and within these four walls, our collective life together has been the equivalent of a Normal Rockwell painting, complete with a soundtrack penned and vocalized by good ole’ Burle Ives. Don’t mistake me, friends: I am thankful for this. Every day of my life I wake up and thank God for my family; every night before I close my eyes, I ask God to bless them and protect them so that I may see them the following morning.

But I lost sight of something integral over the last decade plus. I stopped taking chances; I started playing it safe. It’s been an eternity since I’ve been awake long enough to see 12:57 AM in bold, black letters on my Moto-Droid. By taking the occasional risk, i.e. fighting back the sleep that threatens to overtake me in favor of telling a bit more of Robert Allen’s, Roland MacNuff’s… OR Frank Marsh’s story, perhaps I will be able to discover a balance between the still, silent atmosphere of my home (broken only by Temple of the Dog singing “Say Hello 2 Heaven”), and the inspirational “maelstrom” raging outside my window.

Goodnight, world. Much respect. Insert Winky Emoticon HERE.

A Minor Elaboration

Hey, everyone. Your old buddy The Madchronicler here. It’s been a rough week. A sick baby at home—first a stomach bug, followed by a cold—means very little sleep. I think that it’s safe to assume that I am suffering from a combination of sleep deprivation and the beginnings of my second sinus infection this winter. Some might say, “Frank, go to the doctors! They have medication for that sort of thing!” Problem is my wife, my daughter and I are all on my health insurance presently, and my health insurance is pretty piss poor (I generally don’t mince words when I feel like shit). So rather than mortgage my life away for a PCP visit and some medication, I choose to suffer. Maybe when number three kicks in come March and we’re on Nicole’s insurance I’ll go see my PCP. But until then, it’s Claritin, Tylenol and burning sinuses for me. The only one we’re paying doc’s bills for right now is Cara. It’s better… and cheaper… that way. Trust me.

The question then becomes: why am I writing, presently? If I feel so utterly and completely shitty, why not just lie in bed and watch “Aliens” on AMC for the umpteenth time in the last month? Multiple reasons. The first and most important is that I’m at work. Of course I’m at work on a Saturday morning. When else do I write? But the other reason is more pressing. Considering the events of the last 48 hours, I feel the need to explain a bit about what I’ve been doing.

If you’re my friend on Facebook, or you follow me on Twitter (one of the whopping 14 followers that “madchronicler97” has therein), you’ve likely noticed something peculiar in my status updates and tweets. Beginning at 10:40 AM yesterday with the status update/tweet, “Will not be posting anything pertinent for the next 24 hours. Simply random thoughts,” and proceeding through this morning’s status update/tweet at approximately 9:00 AM, I did just that: I posted absolutely nothing pertinent or personal about myself. This was not a psychological experiment, nor was I participating in some sort of social networking study. I certainly was not losing my mind, though if you ask anyone that has seen my condition over the last week, they’d likely tell you differently (I’ve lost about seven or eight pounds, have complimentary black bags under my eyes and am in dire need of a shave). No, my staccato status updating/tweeting was undertaken as a direct response to the postings of a few former Facebook friends who apparently thought that spouting their own, personal, biased catechism was more relevant than people posting updates on their personal lives. As for whom these people were? I’m not going to mention names or throw anyone under the bus. But if you know me… if you know what my “Friends” list should look like, you’ll notice the conspicuous absence of a two people that should be there. But no longer.

Understand that this decision goes well beyond Facebook “friending” and “unfriending.” This decision carries over in to my personal life as well. With a single letter, sent this morning, and a quick tap of the DELETE button on my Moto-Droid, I have cut all ties to these people. I consider myself a man of principles and scruples; a man with a strong moral compass. I’m also a father, attempting even at six and a half months old to raise my daughter properly. I want Cara to grow up in a tolerant environment. If her foundation is pure… if her father and mother have done everything that they can to help her transcend everything from racism to sexism, to any other –ism you can think of, then she should grow up to be a tolerant person, not someone whose humanity is about as questionable as their taste in music. Allowing people who use terms like “ghettoness” to describe a ravaged city, and refer to the victims of natural disasters as “just more black people” access to my daughter as she grows up is not an option. Not for me, not for my wife… shit, not for anyone that I consider a member of my extended family (friends and blood relations).

You see (*BREAKS OUT SOAPBOX AND STANDS ATOP IT*), I’ve known all along that the world is fucked up. I think we all have. Anyone who tells you differently is either completely uninformed or denying the obvious. The world is fucked up, and our country is fucked up. I wake up every morning at anywhere from 6:30 to 7:00 AM, and I check my text messages from the night before. Generally, I have at least one or two CNN BREAKING NEWS ALERTS about something fucked up that happened somewhere either in this country or in the world. Political bickering between parties and government upheaval; a natural disaster in a country less than 300 miles south of our country’s border that is estimated to have killed over 200,000 human beings; the brutal murder of an 84 year old social worker in the town two boroughs north of mine, the only motive of the murderer the acquisition of some jewelry, a couple of bucks and a car; a heightened terror threat in Britain; five more American soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Nary a morning goes by in which something that tugs at my heart strings doesn’t show up on my phone. I’d unsubscribe to these breaking news alerts, but I want to stay informed… I need to stay informed. When I get in my car to drive to work, I turn on KYW to hear “Traffic and Transit on the Two’s,” and unavoidably hear the same stories I read on my Moto-Droid when I woke up repeated, save for one difference: I get local stories that tear at my heart strings, as well.

On and on it goes. My internet homepage, be it MSN, Yahoo, CNN or AIM cycles cover stories all day illustrating how fucked up the world is. Those CNN BREAKING NEWS ALERTS keep rolling in on my Moto-Droid all day. “Traffic and Transit on the Two’s” driving home is proceeded and precluded by news stories about how fucked up the world is. And then I get home, and I hop on Facebook, defined by Wikipedia as “a social networking website that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. on which users can add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves,” hoping for a brief respite from the fucked up-idness of this country and the world…

…And I read the following post on one of my “Friends’” walls in response to a thread about how we shouldn’t give a shit about Haiti. Spelling and grammar preserved, despite being completely fucked up (this coming from a once-English Major, who as my friend Tom will tell you could care less about spelling and grammar):

“I’m so sick and tired of hearing about Katrina. Coming from *LOCATION REMOVED TO PRESERVE ANONYMITY* where there’s natural disasters with several tornados a year that completly take down towns and no one cares to help. There is no reason that New Orleans couldn’t handle it themselves, but because they kept crying about it because most of those people were minorities, they got everything and are still getting everything handed to them. I will never travel there on my vacation, because I refuse to give them any more money. The people of New Orleans need to get over it.”

Helplessly, I think to myself, “Wow. That’s pretty fucked up.” And the next time a neuron fires in my brain seconds later, I think to myself, “why am I friends with this person, again?” But I stick it out… I make no comment because I deny no one their right to have an opinion. I don’t even comment about said person’s atrocious use of spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Days later, as I’m at home with my wife and daughter watching the biggest fund raising event in the history of fund raising events for a country that… apparently… we shouldn’t care about (if said “Friend” was correct in their assessment), I hear a sharp intake of breath from my wife, and the intonation, “oh… my… God.” My first thought is that something is wrong with the baby semi-sleeping on her shoulder. But no. She follows this statement up with, “*NAME REMOVED TO PRESERVE ANONYMITY* posted something.” I waste no time in reading the post, and am shocked to read that said person would rather contribute a couple of bucks toward renting a movie than watch the telethon showing simultaneously on every network/contribute a couple of bucks toward making sure millions of Haitians are fed.

Pause…

Neuron fires…

And I think to myself, “Why am I friends with this person, again?” Most people would wait for a third time before acting. Two was enough for me. My approach toward cutting ties with this person… with these people… was twofold. First, I would make a point by spam status updating/tweeting completely irrelevant topics for 24 hours whilst posting nothing personal or pertinent about myself. Because obviously, such things are unimportant. I discovered throughout this process that… surprise… people want to post personal information about themselves. In response to a post about the maximum clocked time of a flying chicken, one person shared an anecdote about the chickens on their farm. In response to my statement that “I always bet on black, and if I’m feeling frisky, 0 or 00,” one person told a story about the time she put $5.00 in to a roulette machine and won $60.00. People shared personal remedies for bringing down fevers; people expressed personal opinions on music, cinema, Anderson Cooper. You name it. Why? Why would such things matter if Facebook was, is, and always should be a site devoted to the expression of personal opinion… however detrimental or damaging… before personal information?

I guess you could say, then, that it was an experiment. But it was an experiment with no control; an experiment which I knew the outcome of even before I began it. It was not intended as such. Rather, it was intended to prove a point.

And that point…?

Simple, really. Meeting and sharing information on a social networking website is really no different than meeting at a bar, or meeting at someone’s house to do the same. We talk about what we did the previous day or week. We muse about our favorite movies, television programs and music. We vent about our jobs. We take useless facts as simple as the maximum clocked time of a flying chicken and come up with ways to improve upon them. One person mused that “we just need to toss them off a higher building. Bet you could get 20 secs.” And we do share opinions. That is an integral part of spending time together in a social setting, be it electronic or otherwise.

But think about this. Scenario: You are a liberal thinker with strong convictions. You believe in equality and equal opportunity, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or otherwise. You have a child, or multiple children that you are attempting to raise to think in the same way that you think. Obviously you will let your child make his or her own decisions as they come of age, but you understand that it is your job to lay the groundwork for a life approach free of bias… free of prejudice. In essence, you want to raise your child to be a good and wholesome individual. Do you surround yourself and your family with people that echo your views? Yes. Do you surround yourself with people whose views are in opposition to your own? Yes. Variety is, after all, the “spice of life.” But only to an extent. Add to this scenario a person or persons who refuse to acknowledge a post-indentured servitude society; a person or persons who see a natural disaster like the earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Katrina as a form of Natural Selection that weeds out minorities, and then asks a country that exists in 80% abject poverty to “help itself…” my friends, decide for yourselves, but admittedly? These are not the people that I want my daughter to grow up around.

To quote the aforementioned letter that I sent to these former “Friends” this morning:

“Look deep down to the national and international problems that you so conveniently express your uninformed opinions on. You’ll find that intolerant people like yourself are the root cause of all of our issues. I don’t need facts to back up that statement. The history books are littered with them.”

That statement pretty much sums up my “why.” Why break ties with someone I’ve been friends with for over a decade… someone who has helped see me through some of the toughest times in my life? Someone who stood with me on the day I got married and me on the day they did? Because, my friends, no amount of history… no amount of shared experience can disguise a person’s true identity. Said person… said persons have changed from what they once were to what they are now. You could argue that said persons were always intolerant and prejudiced, it simply took a bit of time for their true colors to reveal themselves. The sad part is? People have tried to tell me these things for years. But I was steadfast in my loyalty because loyalty is an integral part of my personality. To those people reading this who tried to convince me of the truth? Sorry it took me so long, but that’s the way I am: I need to learn things for myself; need to see things for myself before I can act. Thanks to a few random posts on Facebook and a re-evaluation of the last few years, I now have. I’m grateful, though admittedly, a bit sad.

And with that, I’m done. The burn in my sinuses has become more than even a chronic rambler like The Madchronicler can contend with. Work has ended; “Aliens” has sequed in to “American Beauty” and now “Batman: The Movie (1966).” My attempted nap was an epic FAIL, and it’s time for my daughter to eat. Some semblance of order has been restored to my own, personal Facebook and Twitterverse, and though my “Friends” list is diminished by two, as I stated in my 9:00 AM post this morning, AKA the first, pertinent or personal thing I’d posted in 24 hours…

“I feel fine. ;)”