The No Man’s Land of Me

At times, I think I am a being of reason, and that foolish feelings distract me from that which is concrete and provable.

At times, I believe I am a being of emotion, and that heartless logic cuts me off from the deeper meanings of that which is elusive and intangible.

Usually, both of these conclusions assert themselves at the same time.

I’ve always resolved the disagreement with a concept of compromise. I’m not mere belief or mere thought, I tell myself. I am both. I am a hybrid, a fusion, a symbiosis where neither can exist without the other. By taking both of these sides of myself into me, I become stronger, kinder, wiser, more human.

It’s a nice idea, even if it isn’t true.

Because I–the real me, the being I picture when I say ‘I’, my true self-image–I am not one or the other. I am neither emotion hampered by thought, nor thought tainted by emotion. And I’m certainly not both.

I am the conflict.

I am the unbroken ground between two opposing forces, and I am the dust in the air as they meet. I am the blood in the sand that no longer belongs to any side.

I am the violent struggle, and the unsteady truce in its wake.

I am the coldly reported calculations of casualties, and I am the wails of mothers and orphans.

I am the space between, the emptiness, the void.

And this is all I ever want to be. For if the hostilities ever cease, if logic and belief ever find common ground, settle their disagreements, and become one, I will no longer exist. I will be gone, and something new and different will take my place.

So the battle will rage on, at all costs. War without end, amen.

I will remain the void, because I have always been the void.

And I fear the void that may wait for me.

heart and mind

 

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Monster of the Week

I’ve been looking for you on X-Files
Buffy, Star Trek, and Doctor Who
Any show with a monster of the week
Waiting for you to appear
For Mulder or Spock to explain you
Define you, describe you
Put a name to you

“The creature mimics the human form
But unlike human beings
It feeds on curiosity.
The creature cannot be known, cannot be understood
But it plants itself in the host’s mind
Stopping the host from thinking about anything else
Even fulfilling basic needs
Until at last its victim’s mind is lost in a spiral of obsession
From which it can never return.”

If I could just hear that
I think I could pull away
Live my life without looking back
But I’ve been watching these shows for so long
And I can’t find you
I’m worried you’re something new
Something the monster-makers never dreamt up

I wanted to be the person who survives to the end of the story
But I think I’m the one who doesn’t make it to the first commercial break.

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I’ve Grown Afraid of Words

I used to write. I used to write quite a lot. I don’t write so much any more. It’s the words. I’ve grown afraid of words.

I used to like words. Short words, long words, ugly words, beautiful words,silly words, profane words, negligible words, obstreperous words, finicky words, unspoken words, words of every kind. I thought every word had a place and a purpose, and if you used them correctly, you could do great things. I thought that words meant things, really truly meant things.

But they don’t, of course. A word doesn’t mean one thing. It means nothing, or else it means too many things, all depending on who uses it and how they use it. You can’t even trust your own words. It’s so easy for someone else to twist them to their own purposes, to make you say things you would have sworn you’d never said.

Words aren’t the only thing I fear. I’ve grown afraid of jokes. Jokes are supposed to be funny, but it seems they so seldom are any more. Sometimes people think your joke isn’t funny, and they think you’re a terrible person for saying it. Sometimes people think your joke isn’t funny because they think it’s actually a pretty good idea. It’s hard to know which of these outcomes has the worse result.

I’m afraid of names, too. I remember reading in mythology about gods and goddesses that would learn each others’ true names, and knowing this name would give them complete power over the named. I think there is power in a name, but I think it more often works the other way around. The thing or being named is what gains the power.  There are words I try not to speak or write any more. They have a habit of changing the words they are near, and you already know how I feel about words.

I’m also afraid of beliefs. I thought that good beliefs led to good occurrences. and bad beliefs led to bad occurrences. But I suppose you know already what happens when you use good intentions in place of asphalt.

Oh, and opinions. Ever so scary, opinions are. Everyone has good opinions and bad opinions. You’d think that we could share them, good and bad alike, learn from the opinions or others (or not), and let others learn from our opinions (or not). But the wrong opinion spoken at the wrong time can mean the end of you. Better to pretend you don’t have any at all, if you ask me.

Thoughts, now, those are pretty scary too, when you think about it. Which you shouldn’t, because, see: you just made another thought. The things proliferate, bubbling and billowing up until you think you’re prone to burst with them. And they tell you that they’ll leave you alone, if you would just give them, really, is it so much to ask, just a word or two to play with.

Words again. Damn words.

If you give a thought a word…it’s going to ask for a sentence to go with it.

When you give it the sentence…it’ll probably ask you for a paragraph.

And on and on it goes, until the thought has so many words that it doesn’t need anything from anyone any more, and off it will roll to terrorize the countryside.

Ideas are ever scarier. They’re like thoughts, except they’ve got bones in them, so you can’t even trick them into shlupping down a storm grate or dissolving in the ocean. If you’ve let an idea loose, your best course of action is to get in your bomb shelter and hope you’ve set aside enough supplies.

But you want to know the scariest thing of all? The last and greatest terror? The thing that keeps me up at night?

Even when I grew afraid of words and jokes and names and beliefs and thoughts and ideas, it’s because I thought they’d all gone wrong. That they were no longer doing what they were supposed to: guide, direct, and point to truth.

I always believed in truth, as much as I believed in the solid ground under my feet. I was convinced that if I put one foot in front of the other, stepping forward always on truth, I would never be led astray.

But look: see what the truth has made me do? It made me set all these words free. So many words. Too many words. I think there might even be some opinions in there. Beliefs and thoughts, too. Maybe even (dare I saw it) an idea.

I told you I’ve grown afraid of words. But I had to use words to tell you so. And to tell you what I was afraid of, I had to give a name to it. ‘Word’ is a name too, after all. You must be very careful when using names.

I could tell you this was all a joke…but we both know it’s too late for that. Even if I said this was a joke, you wouldn’t think it was funny.

I’ve come too far to go back now. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, left foot, right foot, stepping forward on truth. There must be truth. There has to be. If not…what have I been walking on?

It’s getting darker. I can’t see the ground anymore, but I feel it, left foot, right foot, I know it must be there, even if it feels at times like it’s about to give way.

The light will come back. It has to come back.

Left foot, right foot.

I’m almost there, I know it. I’ll know what it was all for, what it all meant.

Left foot, right foot.

Yes, up ahead, I see a glint of light. I see it. I see it! The light grows, and as it returns and I can see again, I look down to see what supports me and

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The Best Thing We’ve Ever Done, Month 1: Injurious Breadsticks, PBJ Soup, and The Adventures of Dr. Gamora

Welcome back to The Best Thing We’ve Ever Done, the show where Brandon and I eat some food and have some opinions about it!

Last time, as you’ll recall, we recounted how our restaurant bracket came to be. Now it’s time to find out how fared our first eight om-nom-nominees.

Week 1: Squealer’s Barbecue vs. Chili’s

For the first week, we decided not to try anything too unusual or potentially life-threatening. Our first contenders were Squealer’s Barbecue (Brandon had been there before, I had not) and Chili’s (both of us had been there on Indy Burger Week).

Squealer’s was up first. As we entered the door, we were met with an appetizing whiff of barbecue, preparing our palates for meaty goodness. This, and the appealing wooden decor on the walls contributed favorably for environment, one of our five factors.

On our way to the restaurant, we had agreed on a rule for the first round of restaurants. To judge each restaurant accurately, on the first visit, we would order something that was representative of the restaurant’s intent. If a specific food is mentioned in the restaurant’s name, we have to get that food (within reason). You can’t go to Blaze Pizza and order a salad (if such a decision is even humanly possible).

Barbecue was open-ended enough for us to experiment a bit, though. Brandon ordered barbecue pulled pork, while I opted for barbecue beef brisket, and we got beer cheese and pretzels as an appetizer. Brandon thought the pretzels were a bit too salty, while I thought the beer cheese was a bit too cheesy, but we both enjoyed our respective barbecues greatly.

On the whole, Squealer’s had made a very good showing. But a slight wrinkle manifested as we headed back to work: on exiting the parking lot, we found ourselves face-to-face with a damnable median! A couple U-turns later, we eventually made our way back to work a few minutes late. We both agreed we needed to deduct some points for feasibility.

Next was Chili’s. Having decided to make a rule specifying we would eat foods in the names of restaurants, we promptly ignored it here. While ‘chili’ was in the name of the restaurant, we did not consider chili to be the signature menu item of the restaurant. We got burgers. Or rather, I got burger, and Brandon got burgers–a pair of smaller sliders.

Chili’s was louder and populated with TVs, some loud and distracting. One in particular caught our attention.

“Is that TV permanently green?”

“It’s the Hulk channel. This is Lifestyles of the Rich and Angry (And You Wouldn’t Like Them When They’re Angry).”

“Does that doctor look like Zoe Saldana?”

After some debate, we decided that The Adventures of Dr. Gamora only added positively to the environment.

Both (er, all three) burgers were very flavorful, and Chili’s feasibility rating was higher, but ultimately, Squealer’s scored higher both on the paper and in our tummies, and we chose it to advance to round 2.

VICTOR: SQUEALER’S BARBECUE

Week 2: Jordan’s Fish, Chicken, and Gyros vs……….”Vitality Bowls”

With some trepidation, we chose a showdown between two complete unknowns. We started with Jordan’s, because we at least knew what fish and chicken were, as opposed to ‘vitality bowls’.

Jordan’s was a divey kind of fast-food restaurant with a very barebones aesthetic. We had debated whether to get fish, chicken, or gyros, but found they offered combos including both chicken wings and fish fillets. I got wings and whiting, Brandon got wings and perch. While we waited, I visited the bathroom, which was terrifying. The door was propped open with a high chair, warning labels were half-torn off of the machines, and the toilet looked vaguely broken. I decided to hold it. I returned to the table, where we waited for our food while Maury Povich blared at full volume from a TV on the other side of the restaurant.

Jordan’s got big points for value. For $7, we got three wings, two sizable fish fillets each, french fries, and a slice of untoasted Texas toast shoved in as an afterthought, in case the combo didn’t contain enough carbs. The whiting was a larger, narrower fillet, compared to the thicker, shorter perch. Brandon preferred the milder flavor of the perch, while I still enjoyed the fishier taste of the whiting. I did come across a couple thin fish bones, which slowed my eating somewhat. Also, everything in the combo was spiced up with an addictive salty-sweet seasoning that was hard to pull away from.

And then…there was no more postponing it. We would have to brave…Vitality Bowls.

At Vitality Bowls, we succumbed to mass hipsteria. The bowls in question were a base of pureed acai and other fruits, topped with granola, fruits, bee pollen, and other healthy organic ingredients. I went for the titular Vitality Bowl (topped with honey, granola, and strawberries), while Brandon opted for the Nutty Bowl (blended with peanut butter, topped with granola, bananas, and almonds).

“How’s yours?” I asked.

He mused on a spoonful of his bowl. “It tastes like peanut butter and jelly soup.”

“What.”

“I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.”

The restaurant was colorful, and smooth jazz played over the speakers instead of an endless barrage of Rihanna and Taylor Swift. And the bathroom was much less murdery than at Jordan’s. The two restaurants more or less tied for taste. Jordan’s won in the value department (the bowls were about $10 apiece), but VB won for environment and feasibility. And with nothing else like it on the list, we both felt that Vitality Bowls was the restaurant we found ourselves most wanting to return to.

Also, the day after visiting Jordan’s, Brandon added a second comment to his notes section for the restaurant:

From a history of continued mockery and derision, Vitality Bowls came from obscurity to steal an unexpected win.

VICTOR: VITALITY BOWLS

Week 3: Monical’s Pizza vs. Los Portales

In the wild, pizza and Mexican food have always been natural enemies, vying for dominance of nominance. We decided to live out one of nature’s great rivalries for round 3 of our tournament.

I’d been to a Monical’s Pizza, but not this particular one. The taste was about how I’d remembered, but the environment and service were both a little lax. We ordered breadsticks, which led to our first injury of the tournament: a badly-burned thumb on a Brandon.

I got a meat-lover’s sort of pizza, and Brandon got chicken bacon ranch. Both pizzas were good, and our personal pan pizzas were under $10 apiece.

Next on the docket was Alonso Taqueria. Slight problem, though: Alonso Taqueria was closed! After some discussion, we decided, for round 1, a permanently closed restaurant could be replaced with a different restaurant that was not on the list. Just down the road from the defunct Alonso, we discovered another Mexican restaurant: Los Portales.

My friends Tom and Candace joined us for lunch, as they also work in the same area, and had learned through the grapevine of our dining tournament. Tom got a veggie burrito and Candace got a steak taco and a cheese quesadilla. Brandon and I, however, were all about the tacos.

“What’d you get?” I asked.

“Steak taco, chicken taco, aaaaand pork taco. Can you believe some of the flavors on here? Who orders a beef tongue taco?”

“…”

“Oh god, you didn’t, did you?”

“And the goat stew taco.”

But you know what? The goat stew taco was delicious. It was the juiciest taco, and had a strong goaty flavor, while the beef tongue was rich and extremely tender. Brandon’s favorite was the steak, but he enjoyed all of them.

This was the hardest round to judge so far. Neither emerged as a clear winner. Los Portales had a slight advantage in flavor, Monical’s had a slight advantage in feasibility. When we finished our review, the numbers were ever so slightly in favor of Monical’s.

But we are not slaves to numbers!

The scores are there to remind us, to guide us, to advise us, but the ultimate decision is ours. And we both agreed, despite our calculations, Los Portales was the place we wanted to come back to.

VICTOR: VITALITY BOWLS

Week 4: Panda Express Vs. Philly Steak and Fries

No suspense this week.

VICTOR: PHILLY STEAK AND FRIES

Okay, we’ll still give the breakdown.

Panda Express was pretty much what we expected. The rice was sort of dry, the egg roll tasted–inexplicably–like spinach dip, the Beijing beef was…fantastic, actually. The cashier stared past me as if gazing into the abyss, the radio blared too loud overhead…the visit wasn’t terrible, but it was the typical fast food experience, though a little more expensive than most.

Philly Steak and Fries fared better in every category. The environment was improved by better music choices and the see-through shield that let you see the food being made. The service was only marginally better, but they gained points for serving quickly in the middle of a lunch rush. And the philly steak sandwiches are always delicious. Brandon is ambivalent on their fries, though.

Also, this was the first restaurant where we thought to document our meal photographically.

The left is Brandon’s Philly Steak classic, and the right is my Philly Steak Supreme (comes with grilled onions and mushrooms, and I added tomatoes.)

VICTOR: PHILLY STEAK AND FRIES, LIKE I SAID

That’s four weeks down…59 to go. Until next time!

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Past Me, Through Me, Anywhere But At Me

It’s hard to write when you’re people.

Prose, anyway. Poetry is easier. Poetry isn’t written by people, not in the way that matters. Poetry is written by ghosts. Poetry comes from hollow voices without faces, speaking secrets of the wind. When I read a poem, I don’t see people. I hear narration over forgotten forest paths and quiet autumn evenings.

Prose is different, or it’s supposed to be. Prose comes from people, who need to eat and breathe and poop and pay the electric bill. People are visible.

When I wrote before, I didn’t really think I was people. I thought I was a ghost, even when I was writing prose. And I said the things that ghosts say, secure in the knowledge that those who looked toward me would only look through me.

Until, in times when I was people, doing people things, others would repeat things back to me as if I’d been the one to say them. Things a ghost had said. Secrets of the wind. And I realized I was not a ghost after all, just a child peeking through holes in a bedsheet.

Ghosts don’t have to worry about people things. Ghosts don’t hurt feelings any more than wind leaves bruises. Ghosts don’t have to worry about consequences. Ghosts are consequences. Ghosts can’t lose friends or jobs or respect, because they don’t have any in the first place.

People, though…people can lose all sorts of things.

They didn’t disappear with rage and thunderclaps, no violence in their departures. They just faded away like mist, like dreams, like dew, like the strength of old similes. It was funny: I’d thought myself a ghost, but it was everyone else who was disappearing.

It’s not all bad. When everyone looks past you, it’s almost as if they’re looking through you. If they refuse to acknowledge you, your words like narration over forgotten forest paths and quiet autumn evenings. When there is no one left to bruise any more, you become something different from what you were before, like a hollow voice with no face, like the wind.

And there are so many secrets to tell.

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The Best Thing We’ve Ever Done

My friend Brandon, with whom I work, had an idea.

“We eat out a lot for lunch, right?”

“We do,” I agreed.

“And we eat at many different restaurants on the northwest side of Indianapolis, correct?”

“I feel like that level of detail is more for the readers’ benefit, but sure.”

“So here’s what I’m thinking. I propose…a tournament.”

The tournament, as he described it, would see each of our regular haunts set in battle against each other, only one victor emerging from each conflict, until an ultimate winner emerged. The only question, he said, was whether we could find an even 16 to compete.

Can we find an even 16,” I scoffed. “Gyro Stop, Blaze, Philly Steak and Fries, Ted’s, Charcoal Mike’s, Imperial Palace, Five Guys, Boathouse Grill, Chapati, Culver’s, Gatsby’s, Yats, Le Peep, DiBella’s, Eat Thai, Ruth’s Cafe. That’s 16, and I didn’t even have to think too hard.”

“You forgot Skyline.”

I did forget Skyline. That’s 17.”

“And Firehouse Subs. And Hotbox. And Noodles and Co.”

“Noodles sold me brown tomato soup.”

“So they probably won’t make it to round 2. Any more than Panda Express or Flapjack’s.”

“Hey, maybe we can even visit Vitality Bowls.”

(Vitality Bowls, a weird hipster-looking place sandwiched between Yats and Eat Thai, was a point of frequent derision. We laughed, but added it to the list all the same. Little did we know…)

“…Can we come up with 32?”

We did come up with 32. And then 47.

“Yakisoba,” I said.

“There’s a restaurant called…?”

“No, the 55 cent ramen we eat on rainy days.”

“Well, we do eat ramen more than we eat at most of these restaurants…”

And then we had 48. It wasn’t divisible by 2, but it was close enough. We gave our 16 most-visited restaurants a bye into round 2, while the other 32 restaurants would compete to go against the champs.

We then made the mistake of telling our friends Austin and Josh about this.

“Oh, so you’ve got bbi Cafe on the list, right?”

Brandon and I looked at each other in alarm.

“No…?”

“And Manhattan Pizzeria? The Loft?”

“……………………No?”

And back to Google Maps we went.

“Wing Bar 46268,” I said.

“…I don’t eat at restaurants with more than one number in the title.”

“But we already have Pho 54 on the list. And you just added the confusingly named First Wok II.”

“Okay, you have me there.”

“I think it’s a chicken restaurant from a dystopian future. I want to know what kind of wing sauces are Big Brother approved.”

“Fine. Then I’m adding White Castle. If we’re dying, I want you to suffer first.”

“If you’re adding White Castle, then I’m adding ‘Shrimp Hut’.”

“Shrimp? Hut? Shrimps don’t belong in huts,” said Brandon. “Shrimps have never belonged in huts. Shrimp should never go into a hut. Shrimp should never come out of a hut. I’m not eating shrimp from a hut.”

“You’re gonna go hungry, then.” I stopped. “Oh, dear lord.”

“What?”

“There’s a restaurant called ‘Grilliant Foods’.”

“…Is this the best thing we’ve ever done?”

The Best Thing We've Ever Done

This was our full bracket of 64 restaurants.

Our 16 most-frequented places were already spread out, one to each hemi-demi-semi-final. The remaining 48 were transposed to the bracket by random dice rolls.

We have decided to visit two restaurants a week, judging them on a number of factors before electing a victor. The factors are as follows:

Taste

Value

Environment

Service

Feasibility

(Feasibility relates to how easily we can eat at the restaurant within a one-hour lunch break.)

Each is rated on a ten-point scale and then we compare scores, but the scores are more for talking points than a final determination. Ultimately, when choosing a winner, we’ve got to go with our guts.

I’ll update in a few weeks with the results of our first four weeks of food competition.

Stay hungry!

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Who Needs Meth When You’ve Got A Library Card?

I went to the doctor and the doctor said
‘No more ideas in that little old head’
So he whipped out a pen and dashed out a prescription
For artistic elixirs to cure my conniptions

‘Take one dose of novels and one dose of music
A sprinkle of TV (but please don’t abuse it)
A film if you’re feeling extremely put out
And we’ll see if we can’t shake this creative drought.’

I went to the library, fearing no harm, you see
Who could be burned by this book-lending pharmacy?
I filled up with stories both low and respected
And promised to take them all just as directed

They worked like a charm; I soon started to write
The infusions from others had altered my plight
And I knew, was so certain, convinced I was cured
But instead I was simply becoming inured

The block soon returned, like a wall made of granite
I scribbled, I scrabbled, I slobbered in panic
My stories weren’t finished, they weren’t even close
It was then that I started to crank up my dose

You can always get Netflix–it’s over-the-counter
And I watched every show, both the uppers and downers
Binged on comics and novels of all shapes and genres
And poorly penned films stuffed with single entendres

These brought peace from pain, but came with enervation
My inkwell dried up from arthritic stagnation
I lost all my metaphors, mythos, and meter
And the urge to create something new sharply petered

They found me near death, my malnourished frame
Almost fatally OD’d on video games
Then they took me away to this place where I live
With the folk in white coats and the care that they give

They tell me the path to recovery is slow
But they’re oh so impressed with the progress I show
I’m sure very soon they will say I can go
And when I get home, what a party I’ll throw
With musical albums and books by Thoreau
And long, arcing dramas shown on HBO
And podcasts I pump through my car stereo
And indie-devved platformers on Nintendo
And conceptual videos by OKGO
And award-winning movies with Willem Dafoe

This poem will prove just how well I’ve adjusted
You doctors all see now that I can be trusted
I know that I needed this short-term reprieve
But when can I
when can I
when can I leave?

 

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