Sunday, May 31, 2009

English Teachers Will Hate You...(2004)

The full title of this piece is actually "English Teachers Will Hate You if This is Your Paragraph Structure... (Yet I Did This for a Reason)", but that takes up a lot of space.
The photograph...God, you can't help but think about that picture--stare at it for hours. You don't know how to feel about it. I mean, are you happy or sad? Is it possible for one to desperately desire to laugh and cry and scream and sleep all in the same breath? It seems that the picture forces everything inside of you to boil to the surface, and nothing is left afterwards. Gone. Evaporated. Empty yet fulfilled. You don't know what it means, and the more you think about it, the less you understand it. If you've ever wondered why some cultures fear the taking of a photograph, let me suggest that you peruse one rather closely. It's haunting. You see yourself or your friends frozen in time, unable to be anything but what you are they are at that precise moment. A piece of life stolen from you and bled onto a glossy sheet of paper...Sometimes that hurts when you lose what the picture is trying to convey. It hurts to feel that sometimes you can never again have what you see directly in front of you. It's draining--and it's a rush--and you can't help but feel it when your mind refuses to believe that anything else exists in the presently minute atmosphere of your reminiscence. You have to think to breathe because all of your energy is dedicated to satisfying the conflicting desires of your soul. You want the pain to stop, yet forgetting means it never existed. All the structure collapses.; all the walls and fortresses erected for the protection of your most fragile pieces burn in a grey flame whose essence can be felt and breathed in times subsequent. The mental chaos spawned in such moments foils the order intended to be conveyed in the photograph. The single, purified, mint-condition occurrence becomes clouded and soiled with human emotion. No longer cold, inanimate sheet and ink, its faces wail to you. They speak the things that you cannot. They bring forth your tears and allow you to move on. You may stare at that photograph for 1 or 1 million moments, yet it is all the same to you. You close your book, hide the faces that made you feel what it is to be alive, and all the while that you go about your mundane, monotonous existence, that shiny sheet lies there in waiting for your return to once again pound and sear into your soul the ultimate fact that you are alive.

An Antediluvian Approach (2004)

Skimming through some of my old notebooks, I noticed the myriad of quotations and excerpts from literature which fill their pages with hopes, dreams, tragedies, and, indeed, life itself. Almost all of these adages and axioms had been procured from the internet with its glorious database of famous (and some not-so-famous) phrases. As I progressed in my perusal, something caught my attention in an epiphanic way: Every word, every line, and every single page--though written in inks of various colors--contained quotations, not made sterile by the technological norm known as Times New Roman but given passionate meaning in their imperfectly handwritten form. Looking back, I noticed the erasures, the scribbles, and the tattered pages of yesteryear. In those minute presences, I saw somewhat of a diary of my life: At times, my penmanship appeared flawless, reflecting a confidence and charisma with the ability to transcend even that which we call "time"; and yet there were periods when it seemed that each word--each letter--became agony to produce. But as I trudged onward, the lines began to flow more smoothly, my mistakes gradually became fewer, and my state of ease returned with full force.
I could have simply "copied and pasted" every line from a website and printed it into a neat little booklet, glibly labeled "Quotations." But I did not. There is something one feels in writing those words with one's own hand that makes them truly one's own. Even though they may have been brought into this world by another, they have the ability to become part of one's very soul when one lives them and knows them. Words cannot remain mere words when they are made the focus of an individual's being. They amass new powers incomprehensible even to him whom it overwhelms, and in those powers lies the essence of mortal existence: If ever one must endure a time when the world is brutally frigid and sterile, all that need be done for remedy presents itself in a transferal of power--a personification of dormant or lifeless words who then act as angels, lifting one out of his misery and bringing him to unsurpassable felicity.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


A little while ago, I finished reading a book entitled Born on a Blue Day, written by a savant with Asperger's. I think I'll save my feelings on the book for another time, but I will at least say that a lot of what he mentions in his book is quite familiar to me. Upon finishing the book, I was left with a hunger for more--more words and more information. Reading is one of those contagious little maladies whose presence many like myself welcome rather than scorn. I just wanted to keep the words going because of how comforting they are to me. In keeping with this theme, I decided to try to finish a book on cross-linguistic transfer, and the place at which I happened to stop at the culmination of my last read concerns itself with the internalization of new concepts: conceptual transfer, if you will. This concept of one's mind making room for yet more concepts when presented with models for thought peculiar to a newly acquired language is not difficult to grasp, though it may be difficult for some to relate to the experience and the feelings associated with it.
Through my experience in other languages, particularly ASL, I understand the power that conceptual transfer possesses to completely transform one's internalization of the reality around him. However, I'm now realizing that my ability to relate to conceptual transfer experiences has deeper roots in my personal communication experiences within my first language. Throughout my life, I've had to learn and sometimes memorize and practice behaviors seemingly intuitive to the rest of the world. A lot of these behaviors stem from the internalized concepts of other human beings, and some of those concepts still remain rather foreign to me. It's not that I don't have any idea about them; it's that they don't translate 100 percent for me. For example, the idea of personal space as being something sacred was something I had to get used to, at least when other people were concerned. I would pluck, poke, and touch my high school friends to express how I felt, and I always assumed that people who were averse to this did not like me at all. I had to learn the hard way that, just as there are types of touch and other stimuli that make me uncomfortable, other people too have these feelings about the space around them. I'm not really sure why I wasn't able to make the connection between my experience and that of my peers, though I'm working toward that as well. But when I finally understood the idea, my brain expanded and was opened up for even more new ideas.
Conceptual transfer is ultimately about making connections between the reality in your head and the reality of the greater universe, no matter what language is involved, and I brim with elation every time I get a glimpse of another person's way of experiencing the world or another way in which I can grow in how I experience it. I'm learning all the time. It's something that happens all the time, and I feel so fortunate that I'm aware that something this miraculous is happening right inside my own head.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Office Hours

I might be a relatively useless TA; however, that doesn't mean that I am incapable of being useful. I've just managed to become assistant to the worst professor in the department, during a six-week summer course taken mainly by seniors one class shy of graduating or underclassmen looking for an easy way to fulfill their general education requirements. None of these students intend to major in linguistics, so relatively few of them are going to develop a passion for the subject, especially when the vehicle for the transmission of the concepts crashes and burns about once every fifteen minutes. I often glance toward the students, gazing up at his unnecessary powerpoint slides and attempting to decipher his rambling, cryptic speech, and think how much I would have hated to be in their positions. This class has taught me that the right professor (or the wrong one, for that matter) can mean the difference between developing a lifelong career interest in a subject and absolutely despising that subject and never wanting anything to do with it again. My professor made every subdiscipline interesting and tangible, and I have her to thank for my decision to major in Linguistics, though my fascination with language has been an element of my being for as far back as my mind allows me to reach. I'm sure that some of these students decided to take this class because language interests them, and the desire for new knowledge and patterns of conceptualization captured their attention. Taught by any other professor, this class would most likely have kindled that interest. Instead, it has been smothered, and the class and therefore the subject itself have become drab and laborious. They really need to do something about this man because I honestly believe that he is deterring a great number of students from entering/continuing the major.

I have a lot of other things on my mind, and I have another hour and a half before I can officially leave this makeshift office, created from a table, a laptop, and a rather comfy chair in the coffee lounge at the university library. I've been ridiculously ill for nearly 2 weeks, and each time I see signs of improvement and prepare myself for the excitment of living a healthy, normal life again, my expectations are annihilated, and I return to the abysmal state from which I had seemed to emerge. In addition to the physical distress brought about by this state of illness, a compounding factor exists in that I have not been able to go to the gym in a week. I'm anxious and disconnected. My body feels even worse because of it. It's ugly and circuitous, and it seems quite cruel. I've resolved to go to the gym tomorrow, even if I'm still feeling like shit because at least I'll feel better about myself.

Drumline camp is approaching in less than a month. I should be absolutely terrified, but I haven't reached that point yet, and I hope it never develops into anything more than a sleepless night the evening prior to my audition. In years past, I have been almost incapacitated by my anxiety--by my fear of failure or of my own reaction to it--and it has prevented me from realizing fully my potential as a snare drummer for 3 years now. Last summer, I received a crushing email from Brad while sitting in Posvar doing Calculus homework at 11pm. I immediately called my friend and "drumming mentor" Todd, a four-year veteran of snare drum who had just graduated from Pitt at the end of the spring semester. I was frantic, and I probably scared the shit out of him. But the next phone call I made was to Brad 11:30 that evening. I told him that my individual audition was not indicative of my playing ability in any way. I begged for another chance. I told him to watch my video. That's how the story of the 9th snare begins. But that story, at least the chapter that has recently ended, has a far from happy ending. That story started out just fine, but the protagonist was overcome with nerves and the burden of having to prove himself every single day while the others did not. He became doubly nervous, and though it was clear that his playing had improved dramatically, he just look too scared. He froze too much. It's all about the confidence--the Look. After the second camp, Will informed me that they were going to start pulling me out. They had waited to tell me my official status as alternate because they saw that I could play everything as well as everyone else. But I still seemed to be missing something. I don't hate them for that decision. It may have been a horrible experience that did nothing to help me improve my playing ability or the ability to block out the rest of the world and the rest of my brain, but it was a horrible experience within which, through obsessive rumination, I have been able to find the secret to success.
As unhappy as the situation made me last year, I developed some really close relationships during the season, and as distant as my physical separation from the line made me feel from my fellow drummers, I know that they were there for me and with me at all times. They did not choose the scenario. I made that decision, and when I tried to explain to Griffin that I would have chosen differently had I been aware of what it would really be like, he told me that knowing me, I would have made the same call. And he was right.
I learned a lot about the way I approach difficult, even seemingly impossible situations. And I've survived. I'm alive, and I'm somehow better off because of going through that shit, though that wasn't immediately apparent, even a few months ago. I'm realizing more and more just how okay I am with performing in front of people as the audition draws closer. The emphasis has shifted slightly: While I am still a performer, I am ultimately a learner. While a goal of mine is still to impress those guys sitting at the table in front of my drum a month from now, far greater goals have become apparent: further development of my musical abilities, the strengthening of current and the forging of new relationships with my percussion-oriented peers, and proving to myself and myself alone that I AM capable. Being scared just doesn't seem to factor into the equation anymore. I still feel the traces of that fear from time to time, when my hands start to shake a little, or when I stop for a second and try to find my place again, but the former is not nearly as inhibiting as it has been in years past, and the latter I can attribute to my unfamiliarity with the new music.
This year is going to be different for me. One of three things is going to happen. I will make snare outright, I will return to the cymbal line after a year of absence, or I will be sent home without a spot. I can safely say that the latter is highly unlikely because I was actually very good on the cymbal line. I would never turn my back on this drumline. Not making the snare line is not going to make me quit. That would be selfish and stupid, and the biggest source of failure for a group of talented musicians is selfishness. A drumline especially requires self-sacrifice and the ability to lose oneself in the larger group. The goal is not to stand out but to blend in--the formation of a single sound, a single drummer from many. No matter where I am in the line, I know I can contribute. I now know that there is a whole lot more to this than I had in mind my freshman year. This isn't to say that I won't be upset if I don't make the snare line. I've worked my ass off, and it means that much to me that I'd be severely disappointed by such an outcome. But it will not kill me. It will not devastate me and demolish my confidence as it has done. I know what's important now. The story may not take the turns I had originally expected, but that doesn't mean that I have to close the book.

Drumline and Crew have been outstanding microcosms for me. I'm trying to deal with the way my brain runs away in other situations, and I think a large part of the answer lies in channeling whatever it is that keeps me going when I play on the spot now. The musical part of my brain has been restored to its original glory, for when I was younger, drumming became my world of escape, a refuge from the rest of life. Somehow the stablity of that world floundered as I grew older, and it has taken me so long to completely grow back into that state of security. Now that I have renewed this place of sanctuary in my head, I hope that I can find a way to open it to the rest of my cognitive abilities. I don't know how the hell this is going to happen, but I know I've got an army of people behind me to help me figure this out.

My head is spinning from this right now. The words are pretty hard to read. I've had a lot of that going on lately, and it either means that my sinus infection is so bad that the pressure is messing with my vision or that I have a ridiculous tumor that's eating away at my brain. If the latter is the case, I hope it gets indigestion. Shit, no. I don't want cancer to puke on my face. Yes, I clearly have brain issues, even if they have nothing to do with cancer.

Another forty minutes or so...What else do I have floating around in this sea of mucus and white blood cells?

"So how are you doing with that whole gay thing?"She asked me this as I leaned against the wall adjacent my bed, and I really didnt't know how to answer it at first. Part of me found it redundant. If I had not been okay with things, I would have broken up with her and cried about how pathetic Iam or something. I guess it really is that simple for me, in a completely logical sense. My brain sees no difference between how one should treat sexuality and how one should treat eye color. These things just ARE. But there's a great disparity between that part of my brain and the parts that have to keep me alive in this society. I have to hide it. Maybe I don't have to hide it so much now, but I'm eventually going to have to lie big time. And this scares the shit out of me. I don't know when it's okay to be okay about it. I don't know when it's safe. I guess my bigger problem is getting the rest of the world to see me as exactly the same person I used to be. I haven't really changed that much, and I would hate for people to think that I'm somehow completely different now that I have a girlfriend.

I've also been thinking about my brother a lot, and I really need to get a letter out to him soon. I spent a little time talking to my mom about this over the phone before my body decided to surrender. I envy all those whose siblings can visit them at college and give them advice. I envy all those families who can sit down together for a holiday meal and even those who can sit down together in their pajamas around a pizza box in the middle of the floor while watching a movie. I miss all of these things. For a while, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that my brother would be released at his minimum, but the reality of that situation became less and less obvious as I learned more about the way our prison system operates. It'll be at least a year or two before they'll consider it. My brother has never seen Pittsburgh. He's never seen me perform at Heinz Field. He never saw me graduate from high school. He's not going to see me graduate from college. If he goes to his maximum, he will never see me graduate from medical school. Given that his maximum is nine years from now, he'd probably miss out on quite a bit in my life. I've had to handle this for so long that it has stopped affecting me in the way that it used to. I'm still deeply upset about the situation, but my mind has coped with what has happened, and it has blocked the path from memory to emotion with an infinite wall of mental cement. I could go on and on about this, but that's not going to be very productive. I just want him back.

Friday, May 8, 2009

between two colors

it's a breath breathed beautiful catch it if you can

word blender bleeding juice bleeding ink

I have an image in my mind that you need to see

something about cutting things that are green that bothers me

sawing off my own arm fuck nature and what's right

all the b words are blue in the face boy

blackandwhite makes for a shitty rainbow

Leaving Home, Going Home

I've spent two weeks in a world the size of a petri dish, having had no contact with anyone except for my immediate family. I plan on changing that before my departure tomorrow, but plans follow a rather consistent spiral into the depths of hell around here. This place felt like home for a day or two last week, but something happened to change that--maybe not completely, but enough to make me want to get out of here. I keep wondering if my father means any of the things he says when he's sober or if he just likes to hear himself talk. I know in reality that it's some combination of the two, yet the ratio is perpetually perplexing. He's made it clear on several occasions that he wants me as close to home as possible--that he'd be perfectly happy if I were here all the time. It's a violent sort of wanting. It's like he wants me here because he misses me, even if he never sees me or does anything with me. It's like he's just happy to know that I am here, sitting on his couch, doing nothing. The first thing he said to me when I told him that I might be going to California was, "I'm not getting on no fucking plane." I've learned just how selfish my dad really is in the years I've had to live with him--in the years I had to skip school sometimes because he'd keep us up until 5 am, ranting drunk and half-naked. My brother and I never learned, so it seemed, because we would never back down. The fights would escalate. Things were broken and punches thrown. I managed to knock his teeth right through his lip one time. He'd kill me if he knew I were writing this. He cares more about his reputation than how this has affected me, and I know it has. It's probably a large part of who I am. The first time my dad ever saw me perform was when I was a freshman at Pitt, and I've been playing drums since I was eleven. I'm not even going to go into the rest of the shit because I'm just going to get upset about it even more. Where was I? So what happens when it's 5 am on a Tuesday morning, and you have a history exam for which you are now completely unprepared in just a few hours...and he's still awake? You get in the car. You drive to a parking lot with a donut shop to get an orange juice and a plain cake donut, cover yourself with a sweatshirt that you find in the backseat and try to sleep for an hour or so, hoping that'll buy you enough time. Did it happen often? Every few days, sometimes a few in a row. And sometimes we'd go two weeks without anything. But I always knew it was going to happen. I got sick of wathcing my mouth every night. I got sick of him coming after her, and so did Darrell. Since I've been at Pitt, I wonder how many times it has happened to her because I know it has. My dad is incapable of change, and my mom is incapable of leaving, it seems. She used to tell us how she was going to leave when this came around or when that happened or when we were older. But it kept happening. It got pretty bad after Darrell got arrested. That year drained so much out of me. I never wanted to be here. I tried to spend as much time away from this place as possible. I found safety at Jude's. I knew I was always welcome. This place became my prison. And I could see her suffering here too. And I know the worst of it is that she was doing it for me. She stays because of me. Or maybe she just doesn't know what else to do now. I used to scream to no one: "This is NOT a family!!" Things got a little better as the time for me to leave came around, and we always say that we are closer now than we were back then. I don't know if I really believe it, at least when my dad says it. Shit. My mom came in and started asking questions. Why do I still feel like I have to hide here?
That flashback incident..."you people out there voted for that Facist pig. you know nothing. you're stupid. you're all fucking idiots. he's the reason your loan got denied. you didn't know that did you? yeah, your mother's paying out of her retirment for your god damn school. the woman you yelled at the other day. what the fuck do you have to say to that you little prick?" there was probably more. There's always more about how stupid I am or how I'm doing something awful to him. "What am I supposed to fucking do then? You're selfish. You want to go out to fucking California! You could get shot! You could die. I'm just trying to fucking protect you!!" I don't have room for all of the exclamation points on paper or in my head. And for the first time since I can remember, I said nothing. He kept coming back with more and more. And I only managed to say one thing: "You're fucking selfish, and you don't give a shit about me. The only reason you don't want me to go is because you'll miss me." And I seriously don't think he sees a problem with that. So I tried to leave. I just wanted to be away from it all. But my mom begged me. We compromised, and she parked in some random ass parking lot again, and I had to relive that shit instead of just going for a walk by myself. Not being able drive means never being able to get away when shit like this happens.
These experiences taught me a lot about how to deal with things, for better and for worse. I'm still struggling with when I should run away and when I should stand up and fight. I never want to run away. I don't know why I chose it last week. I never have. And I don't know whether I'm progressing or regressing.
So what happens in the morning? They blow it off like nothing happened. We just pretend it never happened. There are no conversations. There are no apologies for specifics. I've never once heard my dad say he was wrong. I've never once heard him admit that he's got a drinking problem. And it always keeps on happening. If you do nothing, nothing changes.
I've been screaming on the inside. It's hard to describe what I see when I look at my dad. I never know how I am supposed to feel about him. I don't really like him, and I kind of hate myself for that. I hate having to deal with him. I hate that my mom has to deal with him. I hate that he wakes her up at 2 or 3 sometimes to make him food. I hate that he then makes more food and doesn't eat most of it anyway and leaves everything in the sink and on the counter, and I hate that there are beer cans everywhere I step every morning. I hate being reminded of that shit, and I think that's a major reason that I don't want to be here. This place tries to bring me down, and I feel like my dad does too, sometimes intentionally, as I have just seen, and sometimes not.
I could go on and on about this shit. I've told only a hanful of people about this, and I think I'm safe because only a handful of trusted individuals read this anyway. I fucking hate complaining like this. I feel like I have no right to it with the kind of shit that other families have to endure. It's just what has always been for me, and I've known for most of that time that it's not right, but part of me feels like everybody's got something.
As much as I hate saying that this kind of shit has made me who I am, I know it's true. The littlest things about my personality can be traced back to these incidents, and I don't know how I feel about that because the problem has yet to be solved. And I know it's never going to be unless he dies, as terrible as that sounds. Do I like to fight? Playfully, yes. But sometimes it's necessary to fight for real. You stop letting people hit you. Words don't always work with people. So you fight back. And there were times when I welcomed it because at least I would have gone down fighting. But it never came to that. There was that one time when she wasn't home to stand between us. I got knocked down 3 times, and my head hurt like hell after the first. I tried to push him out of the way on the third time, but I got knocked down again, and he just laughed at me. Then I punched him in the face. Bleeding must change your mind because he walked away after saying something that probably made me even angrier. My mom came back and then drove us away again. To this day, I wonder what would have happened had she not come home. That's the day I truly learned that I'd be okay in a fight. I don't even know where all of this is coming from right now. I had a plan when I started writing, but that's all gone now. I'm just getting feelings now, and words are coming at the same time or a little bit later. It's always harder when that happens first.
Sweat is dripping down my arms right now.
And I just don't feel like cutting the grass because it's not my job anymore.
And I just don't feel like being here anymore because it's not my home anymore, and it's not my job to pretend that it is anymore.
I don't know if I'll ever be okay with how I feel.
But I'm trying. I don't know if I should be.
I'm scared that this will happen when Darrell comes back here, and he won't know how to handle it anymore. I feel like he has changed so much and wishes that my dad has too. But maybe he knows better than to believe that. And maybe he's afraid of it as well. I'm so worried that this is all going to fall apart when he comes back here. It's held together with duct tape, it seems. But duct tape melts when exposed to heat.
I'm going home tomorrow. I'm going to a place where I can forget about this. I'm going to a place beyond this and beyond having to deal with this. I've made it a point to rise above this kind of shit in my life. I don't want to look back. It hurts to look back, and I'm afraid that someone's going to grab me by the collar and drag me kicking, screaming, biting, and punching all the way back here if I don't keep running as fast as I can.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Two Related Pieces on the Jazz Age (2005)

"The Gatsby Age"

With the culmination of the Great War occurring in the autumn of 1918, it seemed that Woodrow Wilson and his battalion of Progressives would merely have to bide their time until the nation surged forward into a burgeoning new age, one teeming with the venerated philosophy of Manifest Destiny and idealistic social movements; yet the abrupt armistice and the absence of a climactic victory left Americans seething with both unfocused agression and contempt for the generation which initially drove the United States into international conflict.
The essence of Francis Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby lies in comprehending this malignant amalgam that led the generation of the "Jazz Age" to reject the formerly esteemed values of idealism, faith, and moral purposefulness in favor of materialism, iconoclasm, and irresponsibility. Fitzgerald's deified Gatsby reflects directly the societal transformation from wholesome, moral, and religious rigidity to licentious pleasure-seeking and polytheism with regard to material possessions and certain human beings--such as Gatsby himself. Yet Gatsby also personifies the omnipresence and might of that heavenly virtue that serves as his primary impetus in the novel: hope.
A supernatural aura surrounds the mysterious, unidentified Mr. Gatsby in the novel's introductory chapters, instilling in the reader even before his presence is formally and directly acknowledged the concept that Gatsby is comparable to a mythological deity. Like a disciple of Jesus Christ in the period subsequent the Ascension, the reader becomes much like a disciple of Gatsby, attaching to him respect and magnanimity--or at least the accompanying notoriety--through insinuations and secondary sources, never once having encountered the man in the process of formulating those grandiose assumptions. The attendants of Gatsby's magnificent social engagements also traverse his kingdom without a glimpse of their Almighty entertainer, maintaining a superficial appreciation for their earthly provider, and in the center of the circuitous quandary that guides even these disciples of material polytheism to a state of indifference to their human god, lies Jay Gatsby.
As the mortal sin of pride eternally befalls those bombarded by power, praise, and prosperity, it, in turn, mesmerizes the "Great" Gatsby himself. The range of evidence offered to the reader includes even the minutest intricacies of arrogance, as well as Gatsby's psychologically catastrophic perceptions of his own temporal omnipotence. Though comparable to the Lord in several distinct manners, the fundamental difference exists in this point: that Gatsby, no matter how seemingly majestic and infallible, was inevitably human and subject to the worst tendencies of the race. Driven by his fiscally contrived sense of power, Gatsby believed that his might would allow him to transcend time and to recreate for the better his past moments of defeat and anguish, transubstantiating them into realities of exuberant, celestial felicity.
It was in this defiance and rugged individualism, which would eventually come to characterize the American 1920s, that Gatsby the god thrived, for indeed, the qualities themselves represented the most revered and most widely accepted ideologies of the time. However, just as the microcosmic deity of Gatsby tumbled into the ashen abyss of excess, so the deteriorating American society would spiral chaotically into the depths of destituteness and crash inevitably with the full force of its ignorance.
"The Loss and Gain of a Literary Generation"
(basically a revision of the abovewith sources and shit)

With the culmination of the Great War occurring in the autumn of 1918, it seemed that Woodrow Wilson and his battalion of Progressives would merely have to bide their time until the nation surged forward into a burgeoning new age, one teeming with the venerated philosophy of Manifest Destiny and idealistic social movements; yet the abrupt armistice and the absence of a climactic victory left Americans seething with both unfocused agression and contempt for the generation which initially drove the United States into international conflict.
Forged from the fires of moral controversy and indignation subsequent this First World War was a literary generation whose collective works would epitomize the malignant amalgam that led the generation of the "Jazz Age" to reject the formerly esteemed values of idealism, faith, and moral purposefulness in favor of materialism, iconoclasm, and irresponsibility. Though the government was apt to characterize the United States as an outstanding component of an economically and democratically beneficial victory over a tyrannous Germany, the writes of the Lost Generation (an appellation attributed to Gertrude Stein) harnessed the potency of elementary prose in an effort to rebel against the ideology that they believed had provoked American to belligerent status (Meade 26).
In novels of grim reality and psychologically twisted social lives, these master craftsmen placed disillusioned protagonists whose patterns of behavior had led them to a microcosmic depiction of the very dilemma faced by the entire nation (Dunmenil 191).
Rampant sexual overtness, as well as bewildering social crises, consumed the lives of the era's most legendary characters, seemingly content in the gloom and monotony of their daily lives, yet lashing out in unspeakable manners against the expectations of society. Perhaps the most profound example of moral decay exists in Sinclair Lewis's novel Babbit, in the character of Paul Riesling, whose misery and guilt intermingle, allowing an otherwise average, disgruntled man to perform the ultimate act of human indecency against his wife, securing him a three-year sentence in a state penitentiary (Lewis 292-301).
Though the abominable act performed by Riesling arguably escapes the consideration of other protagonists of the period, similar societal discontent and individual apathy and excess surround the fabricated lives of human beings whose very real situations seemed to epitomize the tortured American spirit of the Jazz Age. F. Scott Fitzgerald's deified Jay Gatsby reflects directly the societal transformation from wholesome, moral, and religious rigidity to licentious pleasure-seeking and polytheism with regard to material possessions and certain human beings--such as Gatsby himself. Driven by a fiscally contrived sense of power, Gatsby believed that his might would allow him to transend time and to recreate for the better his past moments of defeat and anguish, transubstantiating them into realities of exuberant, celestial felicity. Even in the brevity of such a description, the magnitude of Gatsby's tale is apparent; for as Gatsby himself desperately yearned for this nostalgic yet illusory conception of life, the entire American nation, ranging from the disillusioned reactionary government to the jaded, frustrated general population, seemed to long for the same sense of security (Miller 194-196). Hoever, the ultimate tragedy befalls both the fictional members of society as well as their non-fictional counterparts, damning each to a fate rendered necessary by the collective actions of his respective society. Just as the microcosmic deity of Gatsby tumbled into the ashen abyss of excess, so the deteriorating American society would spiral chaotically into the depths of destituteness and crash inevitably with the full force of its ignorance.
It would be an immense undertaking to discover the primary motivations of the often indulgent yet pacifistic members of the Lost Generation if not for the magnificent fashion in which they have elucidated the context of their dismal narratives. Undoubtedly the spokesperson against the abominations of all things concerned with war, Ernest Hemingway not only made evident the agony and bitterness of which the atmosphere was comprised; he lived and breathed that torment through his own experience with the Italian army during the Great War--an experience (detailed almost factually in A Farewell to Arms) that provided him with ample details of the most horrid sort, whose blatant animosity brought home to the people of America the atrocities of war in a language that they could comprehend (Meade 173-199). Portraying quite accurately the contempt for belligerency shared by these contemporary authors is the following passage from one of Fitzgerald's disillusionment novels, Tender is the Night.
This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer...See that little stream--we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk it--a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation. (Fitzgerald 97)
Accompanying the monumental shift from moral and social propriety to indecency of the most profound sort was yet another transformation evoked by the presence of the writers of the Lost Generation, whose contempt for the antiquated Victorian style of prose as a symbol of the rigidity of thinking that led the American nation into the Great War, culminated in the rise of the modern style of writing (Meade 261). Much acclaim was awarded these manipulators of the vernacular, for in defyng the convention of the past, they accomplished a far more encompassing result in allowing all walks of human life to enjoy the pleasures of literature without having to decipher the hidden meanings of "outdated" and "irrelevant" works (Miller 341).
Perhaps the most sobering eccentricity regarding the descending society of the 1920s lies in the disheartening reality that also enveloped the fictional society created by the somewhat prophetic writers of the age. The ultimate conclusion is undeniably morbid: that once the course of events had been set in motion by the disillusioned, reactionary response to the culmination of World War I, both the individual prowess of the common literary figure and the national renown of the United States would spiral irrevocably into damnation (Dumenil 342). However, an iota of hope, shining as brilliantly as the comfort and security of the green beacon at the edge of Daisy's dock, presents itself. For though the literary beings are but dismal creatures in their lives of utter predestiny, doomed to be manipulated and sentence to whatever whims to which their creators have succumbed, the uplifting aspect of humanity is that of the power to resurrect itself, becoming more glorious and more powerful than even the most accurate of prognosticators could have imagined.
I'm sure a bunch of those citations are bullshit.

The Hero with a Secret (written 2005, essay contest)

Misleading it may be to regard one individual with higher esteem and with greater admiration than another, for some tend to believe that idolizing another human being falls nothing short of self-deprecating. However, the intent is not to make a god out of man; rather, the man is to become the model and the stepping stone for another man to become an even greater man, a being whose charities and charismas become elaborated, celestially evolved versions of their former selves. The self is not lost amid the torrents of a personality crisis, but, having been given direction and purpose, swims toward a distant yet glorious goal.
As my personality fought its way through the societal wars waged upon my soul, my guiding light had always been my older brother Darrell. His virtues were and are classically admirable, yet there is a uniqueness--an understood individuality--about them. They do not bombard the psyche with awesome profundity or spiritual arrogance; rather, they are presented subtly and with the utmost reverence for a higher purpose in life. I cannot describe with perfect acuity the myriad ways in which this man has, through palmary accomplishments and sanguine efforsts to bring about harmony within in his home, developed in me my own zeal for a successful and charitable life. Yet, since this assignment requires me to do so, forcing my mental agility and verbal talent through the gauntlet of objectivity, I must relinquish all apprehensions of sounding childish and try to convey what sanctity surrouns the man I have presented to you.
Direction provides an individual with the proper focus for the talens he has nurtured and gives him a finite power of the major components of his destiny. Through repentance, penance, and the most bitter pain, my brother has found his direction and his purpose in this world. He no longer wanders about from task to task, searching for the man he shall become; rather, he advances himself further on the path of righteousness and self-betterment daily, leaving behind all traces of former vices. He bows not to the temptations to which other men so easily succumb; he is fixed in his ultimate purpose to make use of his life for the greater good of God and man.
Respect and respectability must accompany one another if they are to be of any use to an individual, for without respectability, a man is forsaken and ignored by others; he is broken and defeated even before the battle has begun. Yet, without repsect for both his superiors and inferiors, a man can fall nothing short of dictatorial and inhuman. However, I see in my brother the proper combination of these qualities. He is peaceful and benevolent, yet he commands and pays respect so naturally that he is automatically and instinctively a leader of men on all levels. His intelligence serves to educate the ignorant, his confidence serves to bolster the spirits of the emotionally destitute, and his optimism serves to inspire hope in the most hopeless and most pathetic of souls. I would contradict every world I have thus far spoken if I were to say that the latter of the categories was not my home and my classification for the longest period.
Humility and righteousness also seem to me qualities correlative, for the benefits of humilty are nothing without zeal for justice. My brother is content spending his hours toiling outside of the spotlight, allowing men more adequately equipped to handle such pressure; however, he is not content to let those same men despoil the chastity of justice and violate the decency of democracy through opposition and trickery. He speaks out against the guilty in his community, not to gain prominence but to inspire in others the quality of moral fortitude. Yet, through all of this discreet preaching and indirect proclamation, his eyes are not fixed on the mundane rewards offered by this life: He is focused on his path toward a heavenly kingdom, determined to bring about the will of God in the world.
My eyes swell with tears when I think of a man so close to me in morality yet so far removed from me in the physical realm. The distance between us has often been disheartening, for his home itself is the seed of turmoil in our society. This home has tortured my mother with its unforgiving discipline, provoked in her a bitter hatred for cruelty and injustice, and left her alone on those nights on which she had most desperately needed her son. Yet, this despicably volatile atmosphere has not only brought out the aforementioned qualities from a state of sepulchral dormancy; it has also tested and refined them into the heavenly models that they are today. My brother's home is at 99 Water Street in Wilkes-Barre in the sixteenth cell on the D-block of the second floor inside the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
No way that was going to win anything...

Unrealized (1st paragraph to a story never written)

In my infinite boredom rendered exponentially worse by the prospect of enduring a Saturday evening in isolation from all that is familiar and civilized, I present you this opening paragraph I found in my Writing Seminar notebook. I'm sure it was some sort of assignment that I had planned to expound upon, but that plan somehow got lost in the maelstrom that was that last year of incarceration at Bishop Hoban High School.
The feeling that came over me that night as I lay sprawled across that bitter hardwood had visited me many a time in the nights previous to the storm. I thought too much about everything, sometimes, but I always seemed to know when that feeling was about to rip control of my life from my emaciated hands. I couldn't control knowing this and a few other things I didn't want to know. Even my parents were afraid of me. Everyone was afraid of the boy that knew too much, though it hardly seemed to me cause for alarm that someone could accurately predict the weather forecast and subconsciously alter his mood to a correlative state. Of course, I didn't realize that at the time. I only knew that my desperation to fit in had led me to suppress my knowledge to the extent that only the weather had been revealed to me for quite some time. But as I approached my adolescent years, I began to lose control. I lost control in every sense of the word. The sensations were so immensely painful that I could feel the blood swirling around inside of me as if I were the carelessly tossed wine flask of a broken-down alcoholic ranting about whatever political nonsense he happened to overhear from the conversations of better--or at least sober--men. Perhaps I felt like the man too. I don't know. I do know, however, that the events after that storm were never quite as pure or innocent as they had been when I was a child, for I mark my entrance into manhood upon the day I witnessed that beautiful destruction.

A View From a Window (written Sept. 2005)

I find it fascinating that, during the course of events of quite a short period of time, one's deepest pleasures--the instances in which the heights of felicity are discovered and reflected upon--may, in fact, become one's most abhorred fears, permeating the atmosphere with sepulchral gloom and draining the individual of all ambitious pursuits. The occasions have been many when I have gazed through the dusty panes, longing to experience that transcendentally pure feeling of occasions past, though each attempt to do so proves more futile than the last. For my window is not merely a window into the world; it is a window into the world that stripped away a sibling's soul and drove out from him the desire to maintain his being. It is a window to my past--a window to my sorrows.
Looking upon the pavement where once stood the magnificent product of his labor, I see no Camaro, nor do I see any trace of the boy whose heart generated such fond memories of this automobile. A gap exists in this area as a gap exists in my heart. Both car and man are broken, far removed from their respective societies and regarded as if their very existence proved detrimental to civilization.
I avert my eyes; I persevere in my attempt to regain philosophical homeostasis, yet my tears detain me. I gaze upon the outside world with blurred vision and marred heart, just as he must gaze through that miniscule opening, significant as a window made of stone. My anguish inhibits my sight. These clouds, these trees, and these homes mean nothing, indistinguishable from any other blobs of grief to my eyes. I cry. I cry as if these tears might reveal to me the shadow of what used to be, as if this fantastic deluge could sprout my pridian reality.
My tears begin to dissipate with the stabilization of my breathing, and for the first time I see through--or rather on--this window something previously indistinguishable to my clouded eyes: a photograph. In this I see his face; in this, I see my epiphany. As much as I may brood over and contemplate his absence, his very presence is my ultimate impetus, for I am confident that as I gaze upon the world in search of his precious face, he must as well be gazing through his window in hopes of reaching mine.
This was the first assignment for my Senior Writing Seminar in high school, and I believe the title was the only prompt, though there may have been a random picture of a chick staring out of a window in an attic. My brother's arrest was still fucking with my head at the time, and it colored almost everything that I said and did for several months subsequent. I was rummaging through my room and found my notebook from that class, and it's rather interesting to see this piece, when the fourth anniversary (sounds painfully cheery when put that way...) of Darrell's arrest occurs this July. I still feel the same way when I see pictures of times past, which is why I am fascinated by them and hold them dearer to me than almost anything else in my possession. I'm pretty sure I wrote something about the power of photographs for the annual literary magazine that year, and this piece probably prompted me to do so.
I really miss purposeful writing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spring 2009

Fall certainly fell away from me. I watched it melt in the sun from the stands of the stadium at the Sun Bowl, smiling (at least,, maybe I was really crying) as they took the field yet another time, eight instead of nine, twenty-six. Not twenty-seven. It's hard to believe how much closer I became to those twenty-six, having been forced into a state of separation whose suffocating spell I hope to break in the coming weeks. My mind wavers a lot when it comes to the individuals, at least some of them, but I could not have survived without this group of guys. Through drumming and drinking and stupid we have passed and shall continue to, and what I wanted all season long was the chance to dance, but what I needed for years was the chance to say thanks because even though I never got my chance, I got through hell, not unscathed in any way but a far better human being. I looked into his eyes later that night, after the formal awards and the drunken drum major speeches, and I could see that this hurt him too, and that somehow made everything a little easier to take. A few drops of my soul still soil that carpet. A few drops of my soul I give in offering. I promise I will not take this for granted. I promise I will try. And that alone, is finally, enough.
This semester, I saw several sleepless nights. Thankfully, I was not alone for all of them.
My professors annoyed the shit out of me, with the exception of one. Syntax was a disappointment, Synaptic was a joke, and The Spirit that Physics Broke may very well have been the story of my life had this life not been so well fortified--had this spirit not already survived these years of experience. Yes, my grade is pathetic and nowhere near indicative of who I am. But maybe the other grades aren't either.
I saw New York City and got lost in Central Park, which normally would have terrified me, but I think the thing I needed to happen was exactly that which did. I saw Oklahoma City and nearly lost my mind.
Both of those trips taught me that I'm no longer on the outside. I'm inside the circle now and can't imagine finding my way back to believing those things. Ignorance knows no boundaries it seems, and it's fascinating what people take as common sense these days. "None of us are guys. Why would you want to go in there? You're not a guy." So matter-of-fact. She was almost laughing. Is it really that simple for some? That's sad.
"So, as a bisexual female..."
"So, as a bisexual male..."
"Um, you're getting closer, but..."
It was the first time (but not the last) where I felt that my internal dictionary was different from everyone else's. I somehow picked up the revised edition and found myself staring back at those old pages, which I could see quite clearly through his eyes. He really didn't know. "Well, why aren't you just a lesbian then?" He just didn't get it. He's the kind of guy who never will. I'm fine with never being able to grasp something. I'm not okay with not making an effort.
And then there was the basketball game that was supposed to be mine--my chance to make up for an entire marching season of silence. And then I found out who else was going. And I knew that chance was gone too. But I made the best of things. I had fun and screamed relentlessly. We lost. But what a ride.
Pride Week happened, and sleep became a dream itself.
Tension. My house. We were all pissed, and no one had reason to be. I felt like I had enough going on and didn't want to deal with it. I still don't.
The last week of classes came upon us, and the sun graced us with its fleeting presence in the prologue of summer; we devoured the pages (and the fried rice), salivating over the prospect of turning the page to find Chapter 1 of the Summer of 2009. But that book slammed shut as finals week consumed our souls and forced our faces into books without sunshine. I lived in the library, toiling over my final portfolio for the one class that kept me sane all semester long; calculating and memorizing and pondering for Physics, which was probably a waste of my time anyway considering how the grades were finalized; cramming more Physics and Brain Stuff (I mean, Synaptic Transmission) into my brain, while cramming Cheetos, Twizzlers, and eventually, cheap chocolate Easter bunny into my face.
"Chicken Soup for the Neuroscientific Soul"
"Oh Christ, it'd probably be toxic."
I remember not even going home that night. We went to her place, and I just couldn't stand being awake. My alarm went off, but she told me to stay. I stayed for as long as I could. It was 7 30 when I decided that I would save Joseph from suffering alone. It was only right that we should die together. Enter chocolate bunny and exit sanity. "If it's not pretty when I walk out of that God damn exam, I'm going turn around, walk right back through those doors, and punch Dr. Wood in the face." Well, we raped that exam. And it was pretty. So it was off to the Pete to renew my locker for the countless hours I new I'd be spending in the gym for the summer, then off to Schenley Plaza. We just lay there for hours. I took my shirt off and didn't care that I wasn't wearing a bathing suit top. Eyes closed, we talked about everything and nothing in one of those conversations whose details are irrelevant yet with which you are so glad to have been associated.
My parents finally called. They were sitting right across the street. We drove up to see my brother, and I made it back to the Valley around 8 pm Saturday night. I'm still here but not for long.