First it is a sound on the stairs, a sound coming down the stairs, and then around the corner it is a boy, a small boy it is you. Around the couch, the two-couch. I am up and coming to meet you before you are around this couch and I realize your little brother woke you up. Yes he did you say when I ask. Back around the couch now, that couch I could lie on end to end and curl my toes and touch the arm with my head at the other end, yes back around and then we are on another couch. You must have climbed up because I only remember us sitting together and never carrying you no not carrying. On the couch now sitting up on two pillows with a little gap between us and your little arm on the arm of the couch with your feet dangling not really off the edge but off the edge of the pillows. And there should be your mom but there isn't there is just me and do you know where she is? Now I can see how tired you are, and how strong you are and she is at the hospital giving birth to your baby sister and again you are just so tired. There is only one light on in the room and it is soft. Bright enough to read and I was reading or starting to read because tonight how could anyone sleep and I think you agree. And you want a stuffed animal but I can't find the right one so we decide to read a book. Tonight is a night for reading and waiting and not sleeping and so all we can do with ourselves is find a book and in the end we find three. We are sitting again with a little space and two pillows and before I had my arm behind you but now I am holding the books and we are reading the first one. There was a moment in the stillness where I knew I loved you the most. Now we are both yawning and I have some heartburn and it is slow reading but we are both doing our best. We fold into each other during the second book and I almost think you might fall asleep here on the couch but then it is The End and there is a third book and we are sitting apart again. This book is a poem and at the end there is a song and across the room is a piano but I don't bring it up and now I think it is time for bed. And up the stairs we go but do you want to walk up or do you want to be carried. Carried but in your room you want to climb the ladder to your bunk. Holding you now it is not like holding you before it is a sleepy hug and a softness and then you have an owl and I am pulling up your new quilt. Up to your chin and you curl in your feet and there is just so much bed and so little boy and there is a memory of crawling the length of a bed under the covers and being hidden or of hiding the world and the bed was a world and it is good night.
There is a pain in my side and it reminds me of Paul, or Christ, or maybe Arthur if I am thinking of you. And I am thinking of you, of course, but still it reminds me most of Paul. There are many people with the same name, this is something you will learn. Right now your grandmother is driving to Mesa to meet you, or at least to be with your mother, and your brothers. She is in pain too and so I am thinking of her and maybe there is a parallel to be drawn but this isn't that sort of poem. She is in a different sort of pain, something she shares with you and your grandmother and maybe your brothers but not with me, because that is the way of things. And what do we share. Maybe in the end you won't turn out anything like me, and maybe that will be ok. But your middle name is Elaine and yes there are many people with the same name and maybe you don't have to be that Elaine but you need to at least know that I have been. Right now it is denim jackets and I want to hit myself. My grandmother asks me if I am nervous and I do not know about what. About the baby. No I am excited but I don't think I'm nervous and mostly I just hope she comes before you leave and Becky leaves. Did you come before then? I don't know yet. You certainly came early, almost six months early. I said to start trying three months early because of statistics but also I said this nine months too late, and it didn't matter anyway. Your parents wanted a summer baby and maybe after all it is only the time of year. Do you know they picked your name waiting for a table? They said they liked a name but many people have the same name and then there was another name that sounded the same and this was your name, Avalon. I think I will call you Ava, this is what I have decided, or Ave, but what will I call you when I hold you for the first time? My niece, and what am I. Increasingly I am realizing I will never be over her. I thought today, how often do I think about her. Only now, and then, but mostly I forget. Enough, and that is enough. I am looking into a mirror and hoping I see her. And if I turn away, I don't remember that part of the story. Someday you will read it and remind me, but for now you are only someday, you are not today. I do not remember you, but I am ready to remember you.
I do not know how to touch you, or rather, I do not know how to begin to touch you, and so we stand, not touching, half a yard apart, angled away from each other, our arms hanging at our sides, exchanging our half goodbyes. I stood here waiting for you outside the bakery bookstore only a few hours before, remembering a podcast about how to look cool waiting for someone. They had the Fonz give advice. I was wearing a denim jacket and while I wasn't holding a book I could have picked one up if I saw you coming. There was one book in particular I wanted to be holding, because I wanted you to read it, because I wanted to buy it for you. In the end we both found our own books and bought them, and this was for the best. We never really said we'd meet at ten but you said you'd text me in the morning and maybe we'd get breakfast at ten and when ten came you texted me and had slept in. I had not slept. But this is because I sleep too much, and would have slept long past any breakfast if I had allowed myself to sleep. When we part ways you seem sad, sad for me, something like pity but altogether not like pity. This is how it was the last time we said goodbye, and this was how it was when we met this morning. It is a tenderness. And maybe that is enough. Your sadness is unapproachable, and I feel only an ebullient hope. There are no long silences in our conversation but our words are sparse, and I cannot always hear you. You ask me to come outside with you like you are a child with a secret and it excites me like it did the first time we met, even though I know you are only asking me to join you for a cigarette. Here we stand at a greater distance than we will stand when we part, and I find myself sweating through my jacket in the sun of a warm December day, the sort of day I remember most Christmases being. There is a burning and then at some point it comes to an end. We pass by the sale tables outside the bookstore, and I leave a certain book unmentioned, or maybe I mention it, but we don't stop to take a look. A Marquez is on sale, and this diverts us for a moment but it is a hardcover and this is when I learn you have nerve damage. Once you said you wanted to be a Kerouac or maybe a Didion but it hurt too much now to write and I didn't know what you meant, but not knowing it sounded very poetic, and so I liked the sound of it. Because there is a melancholy about you I do not understand. And maybe it is because for so many years I played the doomed lover that I am so happy to find someone as blue as you. And I am very happy. But I message other people on okcupid. One girl asks me to talk dirty and all I can talk about is cum and I give up. I talk to boys and feel so deliciously gay that I forget for awhile the strange quiet of our conversations and all the things it makes me feel, but in the end that is unforgettable. I find myself after dusk at another bookstore in an unfamiliar part of town, where in between standup comedians and hiphop artists I read a simple poem about an old man in the last days of fall. As the night passes into further night without end I think to leave but then there are two girls who sing and for those five minutes.
You hear on that phone that your grandfather — your mother hears on that phone that her father — has had the necrotic tissue evacuated from a wound in his leg and is now bound from ankle to mid thigh and unable to shower. Later you know she is on the phone with him again because she asks if he needs someone to come over to wash his hair. He is unable to work and winter is settling in. There has already been snow and he is building a house. He may move to this house. For as immovable an object as he is or is in my imagination he has moved before, and this house is only next door to the house he lives in now. In my life there have been two houses. There have been many houses, but only two that could be called his own. The first was in mennonite country. Vegetable stands and horse and buggies. Visiting my grandfather in this house was visiting a different world, or maybe the same world but a different time. He is not a twenty-first century man, or even a twentieth century man. He is a builder of houses. Nevertheless he has an iPad and can facetime us whenever he wants. This is his first computer, but his second e-reader. In that first house I came to know my grandfather as a reader of mystery books and westerns, but it turns out this was because they were the books available in large type and at low prices. Once we visited the book shop where he traded in old books and it was not the sort of book shop I have since come to love. When his eyes were better he read every book there was to read. He pronounces Les Miserables "Less Miserables" but this is because he is the man he is. Now he is connected to the New York City public library and can read all the books there are left to read. At the first house there was a dog. This was the first animal my oldest sister ever loved, and perhaps the only dog, because she is allergic. I myself barely remember this dog. His new house which he has lived in for probably a decade now is on a lake, maybe a finger lake because that is where he lives but I cannot be sure. If he moves into the house he is building now, if he finishes it enough before winter, he will have a better view of the lake because it is farther from the lake and therefore on higher ground. He must finish it, because he is a builder of houses. But also he must finish it because it would cost too much to hire someone else to finish it. This is the time of year when grapes are in season, fall on the brink of winter, and he buys a basket a day all for himself, and we are all very jealous, until we visit him and find grapes are still in season and have a basket for ourselves. Then comes the slipping off of skins and the swallowing of seeded, concord grapes. There is a contrast to be made between the skin of his hands and the skin of the grapes they pluck. I have always wanted hands like his, rough, stony, but the best I will get is chalk stains or dry erase or graphite smears. Like all my grandparents and like me, my grandfather studied mathematics in college, but he was married at 18 and had a family to raise, and he is a builder of houses. This is who he is, who he must be. Then there are the wineries. We visit these, when we visit him, and an aeronautics museum. In the wineries you fall in love with the scent of oak and fermenting grapes and fear that you will become an alcoholic but instead you become a writer. When you visit now there are still oak casks and dusty racks of champagne bottles but more and more there are towering vats of steel, and only the scent of wine, with nothing intermingled. There is also the small town of Canandaigua, where Bob Cooley knows everyone and everyone knows Bob Cooley. He even helped renovate the library, the Wood Library, which is made of brick. There is no retirement for this man, because he is a builder of houses, but also because his savings have been drained by his heroin addict daughter. A few of his children still live nearby. Once he rented a room out to his ex wife, my grandmother. He eats watermelon with salt. Or ate watermelon with salt. Now his heart is failing and I do not know if he eats salt.
Note: I wrote this to be an illustrated book, so if anyone reading is interested in helping me bring that vision to life, just let me know!
Are people allowed to have two best friends? Because I do.
Oak is a boy I met on the moon the first time I visited, and Ash, well, Ash isn’t a boy or a girl, but I met them on the moon too.
There are other kids who can fly too, and I’m friends with lots of them, but Oak and Ash, they’re my best friends.
I have a couple older sisters who can’t fly, but we like to play pretend together. Sometimes they pretend they can fly and sometimes I pretend I can’t. For like eight years I pretended I was their brother and then I found out I didn’t have to anymore.
I used to go swimming almost every day in the summers before I knew I could fly. I don’t really know why I stopped, I mean, they’re pretty similar up to a point. The same weightlessness. It’s just, I found myself in a place where I was wearing both too many and not enough layers to feel comfortable in the water.
Oak has an old Sega Game Gear from like forever ago he found in a pawn shop in Australia or something. He mostly plays frogger on it which looks pretty fun but since he won’t let me play it I wouldn’t know. He says video games are just for boys which I’ve given up telling him is silly because I think what he means is that he likes video games and he’s a boy even though some people still think he isn’t.
Sometimes when I have to stay on the ground for awhile I get really confused. Like, maybe I can’t actually fly. And everything just feels too close. People say things to me, not even really mean things, and I just get so angry. And then I feel impossibly heavy, like I’m sinking into the earth.
You know that game where the older sisters dress their brother up in girls clothes and he pretends it’s the worst thing to ever happen to him? I got to play that once like five years ago.
So we were flying across the Pacific once, and, I don’t even know what it was, but some of the other kids started breaking off from the group to check something out. Some volcano maybe. And for whatever reason I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Ash was one of the first to go, but Oak kept on flying with me.
And then at some point I was flying alone.
Oak’s moms are having another kid, and they seem pretty excited it looks like it’ll be a girl. And of course, I know most kids don’t end up flying, but I get excited at the thought that it could.
The first time I went to boy’s book club I cried in the bathroom for about half the night, but that was before I knew I could fly. Now I go to a book club with Ash in Cardiff and sometimes Oak comes too and we’re reading Lewis Carroll right now. Sometimes before book club we stop over in Scotland and try on clothes. Ash loves kilts because they’re kind of girly but everyone says they’re for boys.
A lot of the girls keep their hair buzzed so it’s less distracting when they’re flying, but I just really like the way it looks.
I met an old woman who’d spent her whole life on the ground. Had children and grandkids who called her grandpa and dad. And one day at the library she watched me fly to the top of the shelves, and said, “I’ve always thought I could fly but I’ve never flown.” And then she left.
Sometimes birds die. And you see them like you’ve never seen them before. And it takes everything you’ve got to keep on flying.
There’s really something to just finding a nice cloud over Yellowstone to lie down in for awhile. You don’t even have to look at the park. Sometimes it’s just the best place to take a nap.
One time a bully came up to me and spat, “hey I heard your real name was Jacob” like there’s any such thing as a real name and so I just told him “nope, my name’s Willow and I’m going to the moon!” A little bit later I came back and asked if she wanted to come too.
There’s an essay I’d like to write, at the end of my undergraduate education, an essay based on my own experiences dropping out twice and some article I read about how the leading cause of death for college-aged kids is suicide, but that’s all I’ve got, and the problems facing higher education deserve better than the complicated emotions of one recent graduate, emotions too engulfed in the hazy intersection of personal and institutional trauma to ever engender clear and precise thoughts.
But here’s the brief of it: I’m bisexual, I’m trans, I’m autistic, I have OCD. Most of all I’m entirely unprepared to write the effects of each of these on each other and myself, nor the ways in which the university environment triggers and responds to each. Or, if by simply writing this I’ve given myself the lie, it’s just that I don’t feel like reciting the pain I know many of you have also experienced.
So here’s where I share something anyway, or try to start a conversation, or whatever, but none of that makes any sense to me. We all know what we’ve been through, what our friends have been through, what some of us are still going through, and writing it down might be therapeutic, but it sure won’t accomplish anything. And maybe this urge to effect change is just a silly attempt to change the past, when what I should be doing is moving forward with my life, trying to be what I wasn’t allowed (didn’t allow myself) to be. I wish I had an answer, but I’m just too tired to tell.
This was originally published on Medium in October, 2014.
~ A ~
Loner ghost. Haunts outsiders and introverts. Or at least it totally would but it’s kind of busy right now and needs some alone time.
These ghosts can assume both physical and spectral forms. While a few have distinguished themselves within intelligence agencies, most are extremely vain and have been known to haunt salons for decades at a time.
What most ghosts are to solid objects, solid objects are to angeists. They’re pretty much everyday ghosts, but with a lot more destruction.
Space. Ghosts. Space ghosts. Need I say more?
Ghosts that feed off of conflict, auseinandergeists possess the ability to perfectly mimic voices, a talent they use primarily to foster arguments
Extremely claustrophobic ghosts, außengeists have been known historically to haunt forests, but have lately taken up residence in city parks.
~ B ~
Particularly agoraphobic ghosts, binnengeists have proven resilient to exorcism. If your house is haunted by a binnengeist, you might as well just move.
Occasionally, a person will pass into the spectral phase without dying. Aside from technically being alive, biogeists are wholly unremarkable and annoyingly self-involved.
~ D ~
The most unsettling fact about dröhnegeists is that their distinguishing characteristic — an eternal, unbroken scream — begins not after death, but leads to it. Research has not yet uncovered what terror inspires this response, but the sight of its effect comes close.
~ E ~
“WoooOOOooo… I am the ghost that walks alone!” Einzelgeists have to be reminded daily that, in fact, most ghosts haunt alone.
Confined for centuries to manifest as ball lightning in thunder storms, elektrogeists now haunt the power grid, facilitating the work of other ghosts by triggering blackouts.
Centaurs, dragons, sorcerers, and other beings of immense power, having shed their physical form, join the ranks of the erzgeist. Above haunting and the like, the erzgeist orchestrate spectral initiatives spanning continents and centuries.
~ F ~
The formal descriptor for everyday ghosts.
These ghosts have evaded all known forms of elimination, and spectral pattern analysis suggests individual fortgeists dating back thousands of years.
~ G ~
Though ancient writings speak of The Gegengeist as a solitary figure bent on the destruction of all ghosts, modern pneumology speculates rather that gegengeists occur with a rarity comparable to that of antimatter.
~ H ~
A title of authority, rather than a classification of ghosts, “Haupgeist” has been applied to kings of ghosts, ghosts of kings, and (more recently) ghost bureaucrats. N.B. _never_ call an erzgeist a hauptgeist.
The clean-up crew. These ghosts haunt in the aftermath of other ghosts, making sure that people come up with rational explanations for paranormal phenomena. Somewhat snobbish, they particularly dislike poltergeists
By the light of our sun, a ghost casts no shadow. However, concentrated exposure to the light of Rho Coronae Borealis, a twin to our sun found in the northern crown, has been known to produce a spectral shadow, known as a hypogeist. Once cast, hypogeists haunt the shadows of rather more substantial beings.
~ K ~
Like the headless horsemen, but hopelessly romantic, kardiogeists haunt the poetry aisles of bookstores, their hearts held in their outstretched hands. Recent scandals have emerged (much to the delight of other kardiogeists) as an increasing number of these ghosts have been discovered haunting teen romance aisles.
An incredibly common ghost, the küchengeist never haunts alone. In fact, they do very little haunting at all. Instead, they set up shop in the haunts of another, more motivated ghost. Having attached themselves to an item of furniture (often an armchair), they begin to nag the resident ghost, offering unsolicited advice by the bucket load. Though relatively harmless, their main danger lies in the unpredictability with which the resident ghosts react.
We’ve all seen them, the Facebook profile that never got taken down, the Skype indicator that flashed green when it had no business doing so, the mysterious up-vote on a joke that only the two of you ever shared. We pour ourselves into the internet in life, and we leave bits behind in death.
~ M ~
The ghosts of mailmen, meldegeists haunt envelopes and packages, eternally vigilant. The nobler ghosts of this order consider it their duty to protect mailmen against rain, sleet, snow, dark of night and whatnot, but many simply act out revenge upon dogs.
Generic term for the living.
Humans are far from the only living species to pass into the spectral phase. Recent advancements in pneumology have discovered the existence of mykogeists, the ghosts of fungus.
Since the death of Cain, the spirits of the most transgressive figures in human history have been condemned to roam over the earth, watching society heal and move on, out of reach and powerless to reach out. Government research in the early 1970’s labeled these spirits mondgeists after corroborating folklore placing the location of their banishment on the moon.
~ N ~
In the field of evolutionary pneumology, a continuum of spectral development is described, from the first afterglows of life and other prägeists to modern ghosts, with nachgeist as the speculated next stage of paranormal evolution.
IT’S SITTING NEXT TO YOU RIGHT NOW. Well, I mean there’s always a chance.
Curses, undying revenge, binding promises, unsolved problems, and a general lack of fulfillment can all trap the spirit or essence of a living creature within this world after the death of its physical form. Still other circumstances can bring about the opposite fate, sustaining the body in absence of its spirit. Examples of these reanimated corpses, known formally as nichtgeists, include zombies, draugar, osteogeists, and revenants.
Generic term for all sub-rational ghosts, including mykogeists, phytogeists, tierischgeists, and most prägeists. Also used informally as an insult.
~ O ~
Knight’s Law of Codependence states that in the simultaneous deaths of a group of symbiotic lifeforms, their essences may be bound to the physical world as a single ghost. In 1843, Dr. Ambrosius Knight made his first steps towards the codependence hypothesis while studying the death patterns of coral reefs. The ghosts discovered in his research have since been labeled ökogeists, as they are effectively the ghosts of entire ecosystems.
Like sharks to the scent of blood, osteogeists are drawn to the aura of death. Appearing in the moments before and after death, osteogeists have come to be regarded universally as ill omens or even the embodiment of death itself. Spurred on by their reputation, many osteogeists have developed a sense of theatricality, arming themselves with scythes and draping their skeletal forms in hooded, black robes.
~ P ~
A speculated corollary of Knight’s Law, motivated by the precepts that on a cosmic scale all life is symbiotic and all death is simultaneous, is the existence of a pangeist. That is, that all ghosts are in fact only one ghost.
Prior to the discovery of mykogeists, there was a broad acceptance of phytogeists, particularly the ghosts of trees. N.B. außengeists are not to be confused with phytogeists. In fact, the ghosts of trees are far more likely to haunt furniture stores and carpenters’ shops than forests.
Attention. Without it, none could live, and for it, some die. Those who die for it, believing wholeheartedly that they never received it, drag on this madness through death and in time are dragged by it into a frenzy of contradiction, eternally demanding attention, eternally denying it.
Early paranormal phenomena now categorized as precursors to modern ghosts. The first discernible prägeists were simple lingering presences that lasted for no more than a few days after death.
~ R ~
Amidst all their legendary strength and lumbering power, it is easy to overlook the challenges of being a giant. Even the smallest of giants can only hope to squeeze through a doorway without smashing it to bits, and you’d be hard pressed to find any giant entirely comfortable with itself. For this reason, most giants remain as ghosts after death, relishing the loss of physical form.
~ S ~
I wish I could come up with a good in-law joke for this. You’ll wish you hadn’t made quite so many jokes about your in-laws.
Generic term for uncategorized or unconfirmed paranormal phenomena.
The most common application of Knight’s Law to human life can be observed readily in the death patterns of overly attached couples. From the morbid infatuation of youth to the undying devotion of old age, the suppositions of the law are met with fervor, and the spirits of the deceased prove as inseparable in death as in life.
~ T ~
For millennia, reports of luminous apparitions wreathed in flame have followed the path of destruction left by burnings at the stake. In allusion to the practice of crowning convicted heretics with straw sprinkled with sulfur, these spirits have been given the designation thiogeist.
The characteristics of tiergeists, the ghosts of animals, have been remarkably well-documented in folklore and superstition. Chief among them is a sensitivity to events of statistical improbability. Perhaps the most legendary subtype is the katzegeist, the shadowy remnants of cats now remembered as omens of luck, good or ill.
~ U ~
The origin of every übergeist is the same; an ordinary human, an ordinary hero, struck down by every obstacle in life until finally struck down in death — only to rise again, imbued with supernatural powers! So completely deluded by their own narrative, übergeists are to a one beyond persuasion, and typically find a suitably dramatic lair to haunt whilst they imagine all the heroism they’ll eventually perform once a good opportunity comes along.
Life, when ended incompletely, can linger on past death as an incorporeal spirt or a reanimated corpse (that is, as a nichtgeist). Though all such ghosts are inherently of the dead, they are by that same token forever tied to life. The ungeists, beings of animated matter, eschew this dichotomy altogether. Of greatest renown is the legendary Golem of Prague, said to have possessed the power to summon spirits from beyond. Modern pneumology speculates that an ungeist functions as a sort of negative spirit, and is thusly able to summon spirits in a process akin to magnetism.
The only ghosts more delusional than übergeists are their minions (or more properly, groupies), the untergeists.
Äther, the Urgeist, first of all ghosts, is revered as the first spirit to survive in totality after death. The identity of Äther’s former self is lost to time, but it is understood that as he was altogether insignificant in life, he forsook his name and styled himself Äther in death. To this day, ghosts will claim to have witnessed the Urgeist in the spectral plane, but no credible sighting has been reported since the 13th century.
~ V ~
More than a few philosophers, most notably Plato, have believed in the pre-existence of the human soul. In the field of pneumology, this theory has been advanced as the Vorgeist Conjecture.
The ghosts of real-estate agents, vordergeists identify houses desirable as haunts and assist in the creation of appropriately chilling backstories for new homehaunters.
~ W ~
No truly exciting haunt is complete without risk, and no risk is complete without a crew of disposables! Readymade, interchangeable, faceless spirits fresh off the assembly line — exercise ‘em, exorcise ‘em! Available at your local Walmart.
Corpses, over the ages, have come to be valued rather highly as vessels for any number of demons and otherworldly spirits. A body, no longer burdened by a need to survive, can be recast in the image of its parasitic, paranormal host. It is thus that many vampires command the power of therianthropy, twisting the necrotic host beyond all recognition.
~ Z ~
The universal origin of ghosts lies in a lack of resolution, that is, in some element of self held in tension. Though most modern ghosts are complete spirits, the earliest prägeists were no more than the slightest portion of a soul left unresolved. Even today, such phenomena can be observed in the dröhnegeists, distillations of sheer terror. A counterpoint to Knight’s Law proposes that within a single soul, multiple mutually independent elements of tension can be manifested in death as distinct ghosts. Each of these zergeists is incapable of recognizing its siblings, and the group typically disperses within a day.
In studying the separation of an individual into body and spirit, a few rare cases have been observed in which both survive independently, as a Nichtgeist and a Feld-Wald-und-Wiesen-geist respectively.
This was originally published on Medium in June, 2014.
Mental illness is a fucking drag. You can spend months in treatment, learn all the peculiarities of your mind, get to a relatively stable place, and still have to, on a very basic level, in what should be the safety of your own thoughts, have to question what is real — every day — and what is not.
In my case, overstimulation forces me into a fight-or-flight mode, causing me to alternately shut down or explode in environments where, for all purposes, I should be enjoying myself. This includes loud family gatherings (sorry Becky!), the gym, classrooms, and so on. My doctors have me working on situational awareness, but once I’ve locked up, the anger or anxiety feels entirely genuine, no matter how random it actually is.
Another side of my particular problem is OCD. Portrayals of OCD in TV shows like Monk focus on the compulsions (hand-washing, counting, checking things) and largely ignore the obsessive thoughts. For a primer on that, it’s basically where thoughts, sometimes as harmless as a word or phrase, but frequently violent or sexual, will repeatedly invade your brain. Growing up with this, at least for me, meant struggling to trust my own thoughts and feelings.
And so. Step into this mind and live in it through puberty. Cut that. Step into this mind and live in it through puberty when your guidebook was written by Dr. Dobson. I mean really.
Basketball. 9th grade. Putting 14-year-olds into sports is probably a form of torture somewhere. “Hey kids! Everything about your body is changing, so go exhibit your physicality in a group of your peers!” All of a sudden, the physical intersects with the social for the very first time. Sure, like a lot of little kids I had various occasional crushes, but (while I’m not a psychologist) I’m pretty sure that’s just a form of mimicry. Becoming a teenager means entering an entirely new dimension of society.
For me, the rush of thoughts and emotions felt hardly different from my OCD. The basic defense mechanism I had built up was to mentally flee anything that reeked of repetition or obsession, so a true crush was nothing short of terrifying. Even to this day, I clam up at the first sign that I’m attracted to someone, which is pretty much the worst way to respond to that. My sexuality has withered under repression, bottled up inside like something that doesn’t belong, but won’t leave. Only in the past few months, armed with a newly empowered ability to discern between real and obsessive thoughts, have I felt confident enough to even begin to confront it and a core reality of it.
Basketball. 9th grade. My guidebook doesn’t say much about this, but it doesn’t seem good. I’ll lie awake nights trying my hardest not to think about him, but it’s little use. Feelings of attraction have moved rapidly from terrifying to, apparently, reprehensible. The years pass; I get the heck out of sports. While I don’t completely shun physical attraction, nothing much happens. Apparently clamming up isn’t a very effective way to build a friendship towards asking someone out. High-school ends, and once I’m in college, my mental illnesses rapidly overshadow any other problems I might have, the problems I was running away from. I’m not even going to lie and say that what happened this January was some sort of blessing in disguise, but it did slow me down enough to gain some clarity.
Opening up about my mental health was incredibly cathartic, but I’d like to think that sharing that story might prove helpful for people like me. Similarly, opening up about my sexuality (even just to myself) has been personally rewarding, but I’m not just doing it for me. It is past time for my colleagues in conservatism to accept the full spectrum of sexuality. Traditional marriage is a beautiful thing, worthy of protection, and it’s a shame to withhold the joy of family from those whose attractions don’t perfectly mirror yours.
So! There’s that. I could end this article there, but I do really want to hear from you all. LGBT people! What’s next? How can I better support the cause of people like me? Socially conservative buddies! Don’t hesitate to reach out.
This was originally published on Medium in April, 2014.
“Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
— Sophie Scholl
Almost exactly three months ago, I tried to end my life; I’ve written about it, talked about it, gotten medical help in response to it, and done just about everything except understand it. Perhaps I never will; perhaps it’s simply outside of the realm of explanation.
It would be a lie to say I’ve moved on — you don’t just pick up where you left off after that — but as moves time, I’ve moved forward. The movement of time is the most inscrutable mystery of life; we can always return to the same place, but we can never really go back. Time moves us irrevocably, and to really live is to embrace that fully. The Old Man, chiseled by the years, with his timeworn, tender but textured hands, is a living portrait of time itself; The Martyr, cut down in her youth, leaves an imprint on the ages no less representative of the forward march of time. Both embody time; one is sculpted by it, and it, in turn, is sculpted by the other; one in life, one in death.
At certain times, I wish with all my heart for nothing more than to find myself slowly becoming The Old Man. In the days that fill in-between, I long for the death of The Martyr. Both, of course, are misplaced desires. The final form of The Old Man means nothing besides the paths that took him there. The finality of The Martyr merely illuminates her life. It’s clear why anyone would wish for either end: honor is due in either case. But the end is something we all come to, and something none of us can truly determine.
All we have is to choose in what manner we arrive.
Will it be in fear? Hating even that one last breath, gasped out alone? Or will it be in glory? Glory in a life well spent, glory even in that final exhalation?
We all live with the promise that time will not stand still. Each of us works his way to an end. An end not to be ignored, and yet not to be decided. Time marches on. Will I?
~ Part Two: Choices ~
Martyrdom and Old Age stand rich with the spoils of time. A life lived to the fullest can do no other. To march on with time, one must make choices continually; it is only in not choosing that we reject the inevitability of a future.
How should we choose? As a college student (on leave), I’ve come to accept that NOW! and NOW ONLY! do I have the opportunity to choose what I do with my life. If I look honestly (and I’m sure you’ll find the same if you look so too), most of my conversations with people in my station of life belie that assumption. “What are you majoring in? And what are you looking to do with that, you know, once you graduate?” I’ve asked and been asked those questions more times than I can recall. But really. Am I at 19 supposed to determine now what choices I’ll make for the rest of my life? To me, that seems more like trying to get out of having to choose as much as possible, and that, well, seems like a poor choice.
To live is to move forward; to move forward is to choose. Each choice is made in a moment, and though we may face new choices in the moment next, that first choice determines nothing outside of the moment in which it is made. To choose is not to plan the future, but to embrace it. Career-oriented thinking is a broken paradigm, proclaiming concern for the future, but based on a fear of it, or more specifically, a fear of having to choose in the future. That’s a far cry from moving forward.
Dwelling on choices made or to be made is nothing more than a distraction from making choices here and now. Don’t choose in a valiant effort to fix the past; don’t choose in a vain effort to plot the future. Choose instead that which best affirms the wonder of the ever moving present. In the present we have our best glimpse of eternity — a time that never slips away, so long as we choose not to ignore it. Life, and love, and beauty are fundamentally of the present. Life, so long as we seize hold of it, will not be wasted. Love, so long as we faithfully and fervently uncover the truest form of the beloved, will not wane. Beauty, so long as we focus, so long as we lie to tell the truth, will not go overlooked.
For each of us, there will come a time to choose how to spend out last breath. For The Old Man, it will be to seize that final day of a life lived fully. For The Martyr, it will be to proclaim an undying love for a beauty desecrated. Each will choose not in a way that suddenly and miraculously redefines their histories, but in a way perfectly in rhyme with each choice made before it.
This was originally published on Medium in April, 2014.
Coming up on three months ago, after 10 hours and a tank and a half of gas, I pulled my faithful Accord off the side of the I-10.
“I’m going to do it.”
I reached for a tote bag on the passenger seat, my sole companion for the night of driving. Strange to think that a day ago, it meant nothing, and now it was my life. So little in it.
Tearing open the paper wrapper on a gauze pad and setting a roll of tape on the dash, I removed the last item from that small, white bag. Empty. Would I have used the bandage? I think I might not have cared enough to try, once the deed was done. But perhaps I might have, and maybe, just maybe, a hospital would have been the final destination of my midnight trip, instead of, well, you know what.
The knife! The knife that in my many terrorized nights of stalking the hallways looking for a nameless danger had been my only hope. Anxiety fuels anxiety, fear hungers for fear, and the knife was thirsty.
But dull. And so I’m here.
I’ve got a lot of people to thank for being in the state I’m in today: my doctors, for showing me that I am not the problem; my aunt, for finding them; my family, for never giving up; my coworkers, for bearing an extra load; the Flinn foundation, for understanding. But I don’t know who to thank for where I was the next minute, though I know that I’ve never felt the presence of God more than I did driving into the sunrise that day.
How do I move forward from that? How do I process the fact that three months ago I almost killed myself? The fear that drives someone to take a life is nearly incommensurate with everyday life. I keep searching for a way to contextualize what almost happened, but I’m beginning to recognize that it just doesn’t make any sense, and that it probably never will. Still, one doesn’t simply hold something so valuable and so beautiful as a human life in one’s hands and then walk away. A moment so consequential as that is not to be forgotten, not to be filed away somewhere deep in the back of your mind. So how do I move forward?
When people ask, I tell them I’m taking a break from school; I’m not sure how much they buy it, but it helps that I had plenty of room to do so and still graduate early. Lying is something we all do, and knowing how to do it well is an art form; in fact, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that all art is a collection of lies that reveal just the part of the truth worth seeing. But it’s a sham to say the truth worth seeing in my life is my academic prowess and nothing more. Living is telling a story, and it’s up to each of us to choose what story we’re going to live, or to not choose, and have our story told for us. I could go on letting people settle for their own assumptions, and in the odd case when that’s not enough, go on telling an intentionally uninteresting story, but I already almost gave away my chance to tell a story once, and I won’t fritter it away now.
Rather than shrugging off another “I’m taking a break this semester,” perhaps it’s time to tell a deeper truth. Clearly, I don’t need to dump the full weight of it on any random person’s head at the supermarket, but I can’t see the harm in letting it be known that I’m taking off the semester to get my life back on track after being so overcome with fear and anxiety that I nearly threw it away. No one can predict what historians will say about our generation, but it’s clear enough to me that anxiety is our most defining trait. Why not be open about it? I know I’m not the only one with this story.
Less than a week ago, I drove past the very spot I had pulled off at with my tote bag of life and death. This time, I was on my way back from an event in Tucson for my non-profit, Voices for the Voiceless. Voices is an organization dedicated to ending abortion; our slogan is “we are the 78%” because, since 1973, 22% of our generation has been eliminated by abortion. Unlike the (largely inaccurate) stereotype, we don’t picket and shout. We don’t hate the women who choose abortion. Our mission is not to pass a law, but to tell a story, the story of the generation that remains. At the Tucson event, an attendee brought up a comparison I, for obvious reasons, had considered before: that abortion is in many ways similar to suicide. The anti-abortion movement has failed for the past five decades on the message that abortion is murder, that the most apt comparison is homicide, specifically infanticide. Once again, I can’t predict the future, but I’d like to believe that the moment at which the pro-life movement begins to succeed is that in which it recognizes the far deeper truth. Abortion happens out of fear, and a fear that has almost nothing to do with everyday life, a fear that cannot be contextualized. Abortion and suicide both center around an individual, overwhelmed with fear, with an empty future and a precious human life in their hands.
I’m far from the only one with this story. Each and every member of my generation has been touched by abortion; each and every member of my generation has been overwhelmed by anxiety; each and every member of my generation has a story worth telling.
I can’t justify the lie anymore. A boring story just isn’t worth telling at all. But the story I do have, and that we all have, is just about the only thing worth telling at all.
This was originally published on Medium in September, 2013.
Table of contents
- Websites & Blogging
- Instagram & Vine
This is an informal guide to social media for small organizations and individuals trying to manage a brand (corporate or personal) online. I’m not sure that anyone necessarily has credentials to write about social media, and often the people that claim to only offer advice that will turn you into themselves: shameless spammers and self-promoters. With that in mind, keep in mind that the fundamental rule of social media (and in truth any form of expression) is to be authentic and honest. If any of my advice contradicts that, no matter how much else it may promise, throw it out. However, the doctrine of authenticity must be comprehended in juxtaposition with the selective and subjective nature of social media. Though superficially the two may seem at odds, fundamentally the one cannot be understood apart from the other. To be authentic is at its core to be subjective, to present the truth through the unique lens of your experience and personality. Authenticity, in this light, is thus the heart of effective branding; indeed, only if you successfully communicate the truth through that beautifully subjective and entirely unique lens—either your own self or the core values of your organization—can you create a brand with true value.
Ah… Facebook. Perhaps the most important thing to know about Facebook is that about a billion people use it. If all that was needed to build a brand was an audience, then you could conceivably get by only with Facebook. To achieve authenticity and selectivity, though, it’s of the utmost importance to diversify across networks, because each has its own peculiarities and only through properly exploiting these can you maximize authenticity. Think about it musically: everyone can connect to a solid I-IV-V-I chord progression, so you’ll have a built in audience if that’s what you play, but if you don’t have anything else in your toolbox then that audience won’t mean anything, because you won’t give them any reason to care.
Facebook doesn’t give anyone a reason to care, but it does give you an audience.
So how should you use Facebook? Let’s start by going over what you can do with Facebook. First, you can create a personal profile. Second, you can make public pages. I’m not going to waste time here explaining exactly how to do that: this isn’t a tutorial. While it’s vital to have a personal profile, and to build up a network of friends on Facebook, you need a public page. Even if your brand isn’t for an organization, don’t make the mistake of conflating your brand with life. I don’t know for sure about the dichotomy of private and public life, but I can say for certain that your personal profile and public page serve two very different yet equally important roles.
Your personal page is for sharing things that you care about: the music you like, the books you read, the snacks you eat at 1:00 AM. None of these things belong on a public page, but they’re a huge part of what Facebook’s all about. I said before that Facebook gives you an audience, but that’s not the whole story; Facebook is about people, and thus it delivers audience over nuance, but more importantly it allows you to interact with people more naturally (if also more generally) than any other network. That’s why your personal profile is so important: it makes you a person among people, and unless attain that, you’ll be missing the heart and soul of Facebook.
Your public page is for sharing almost anything related to your brand. This could be videos, photos, links, or even just a sentence or two. One great thing Facebook provides for public pages is insights, and so I can provide some advice on the merits of each type of post, but I’d like to stay at a higher level for now. No matter what type of content you’re sharing here, make sure it’s a final product. Your page isn’t the place for informalities, but for crafted work. Even photos of the team should be shared in a way and at a time that tells in a constructed form the story of your brand. And now into the details: video posts can have great reach, but not necessarily great interaction; photos, especially albums, have great reach and great interaction; links and text posts fall short on both accounts. The reasons for this are innate to Facebook: videos are dynamic and interesting, but there’s no real way to engage with them; photos have a similar appeal, except that they can be tagged—and this is important—they can be tagged, meaning the heart and soul of Facebook, people, can be brought directly into what you share, and therefore people will engage with this content at unbelievable rates; links and text are interesting, but mostly informative, so there’s little to respond to or engage with. Each type has value, but photo posts exploit to the greatest degree the core strength of Facebook. Critically, driving interaction is more important than increasing reach; your audience will grow, but it only matters if you can make them care.
So how should you use Facebook? Make a personal profile, and make a public page for your brand. Use your personal profile to build friendships and to share those things you care about as a person. Use your public page to craft a public image and to engage your audience.
Before I get into the best way to use Twitter, I feel an urgent need to dispel an oddly pervasive myth about it. For whatever reason, a common belief among people who don’t use Twitter is that Twitter is made up primarily of self-absorbed people posting short, inane comments about their cats and lunches.
This is not true. This is not true now, and has not been true in the past.
It can’t be denied that people use Twitter for hopelessly stupid purposes, but even the origins of Twitter are not in this imagined inanity. Just the opposite is true: Twitter is and has been a network like none other for high-signal-to-noise-ratio topical publication.
OK, but what does that mean? Primarily, it means that Twitter is not very much like Facebook at all. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes one can make in using Twitter is to try to use it in the same way and to the same end as one would Facebook. More specifically, it means that if Facebook is about people, Twitter is about information. Because Facebook is about people, it’s valuable to share details and posts that may not at first seem relevant. They humanize you and your brand and increase engagement. On Twitter, people follow you because they are interested in your perspective on whatever topic you specialize in, and in order to keep them around it’s important to communicate that perspective often and undiluted. Share your links to the content you produce, of course, but also provide commentary on other content in your field, as well as on current events.
Before I conclude this section, I’d like to comment briefly about comedy. Interestingly, Twitter has proven a perfect platform for comedy; I believe that this is simply because the nature of Twitter is so exquisitely parallel to the nature of comedy. Comedians are topical communicators, and people love them for their unique perspective. Beyond that, however, I do not think Twitter as a format makes people funnier. Good comedians can take advantage of the obvious constraints, but those constraints won’t make you any funnier. The long and short of it is this: if you’re not already comedic in some way, don’t try to be on Twitter any more than you should try to provide commentary on any other field besides your own. Twitter users will follow you for your perspective on your topic, and they’ll expect you to deliver just that and little more.
Of all the infamous comments sections on the internet, those that suffix videos on YouTube are among the worst. Notably, YouTube is not a platform on which one can expect valuable interaction (as I noted in the Facebook section, videos don’t lend themselves to engagement). Rather, its greatest strengths are as a hosting solution and discovery method. If videos are a type of content that matter to your brand, then YouTube is probably going to be your best solution to put them on the web. Now, if you have very specific needs, perhaps to have a custom video player or to run ads of your own choice before the videos, then you’ll need to look elsewhere, but almost all individuals and small organizations will not have such needs. Creating a YouTube account is incredibly simple, the upload process is simple, and you won’t be limited in the number of videos you need to put online. None of that is valuable socially however, and since this is a social media guide I only include it as an introduction to the utility of YouTube. The social value of YouTube is twofold: first, YouTube videos can be embedded almost anywhere, and viewed on virtually any device, allowing them to be spread as far necessary; second, YouTube recommends videos related to the current video a user is watching (and in general does a fine job promoting videos throughout its website and in Google search results), meaning that YouTube users may simply stumble upon your content. This is a great way to reach new people. To wrap up this section, I have to say that YouTube is honestly kind of boring. It’s inestimably valuable to be sure, and having a solid lineup of video content is a great way to add credibility to your brand, but there’s very little to using YouTube aside from putting your videos on it.
SoundCloud is like YouTube for audio, so much of what I said in that section applies here. What I hope to offer in this section is an explanation of why you might want to share audio content. If audio is an essential part of your brand (if you’re a musician or radio station, for example), then SoundCloud can be an excellent way to provide samples of your work. You might, say, share clips of songs, or even the occasional full track. Unless you find SoundCloud incredibly valuable as the primary way to put your audio content online, I’d recommend using it as an auxiliary. If you’re a musician, you’ll have content in iTunes and Spotify, and should use SoundCloud to create interest in your music and drive people to seek you out on whatever your primary platform is for music sales. If you’re a radio show, you’ll want to share clips from episodes, condensed interviews, or highlight reels—maybe even the occasional full episode—to drive people to listen regularly on the radio or to your podcast. The key in most cases with SoundCloud is to leave listeners wanting more.
Websites & Blogging
This can go in a lot of different directions. First, do you need a website at all? For some brands, social media platforms may be enough. Take a moment to sit back and think about what your website would actually be for. The common uses are as a digital business card, linking to your various social media accounts and contact methods, as a blog, sharing your insights, and as a digital portfolio, featuring your work.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your website needs to be a complete picture of everything your organization is. Sometimes all you need is a digital business card, something that, even if it’s simple and small, is completely your own (not a part of any social platform). Keep in mind that social networks can come and go, and that even if Facebook isn’t going to die off anytime soon, you might at some point have to leave it behind. Don’t make your “home page” on the internet completely dependent on another company. Again, your home page doesn’t need to be an exhaustive compendium of your brand, but it should be something that can exist as a standalone entity and at the very least direct people to your other, more engaging platforms.
So how do you decide what your website should be? Especially if you’re trying to run a personal brand, a digital business card may be all you need. However, a digital portfolio can also be highly valuable, given that aside from platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud, social platforms are not ideal for preserving and displaying content of lasting value. If you have work that you want to be featured long term, you should do that on your website. Now, if you’re a writer, you’ll probably want to maintain a blog, but this doesn’t have to be included in your website. Platforms like Tumblr (which I’ll discuss in detail next), Medium, and other blogging networks offer features and communities that can make not only for a better blog, but also connect you more immediately to readers. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide where to host your blog; however, I would not recommend trying to build your website on a blogging platform. First off, you lose a certain degree of ownership that was the whole purpose of making a website, and second, they’re really just not very good at being anything other than a blog. Either have your website include a blog, or have the blog on a blogging platform. What if your brand isn’t about writing? Should you have a blog at all in that case? I would argue that maintaining a blog can be very valuable to almost any brand; a blog is often one of the best ways to share stories from within your organization (or about your work if you’re an individual) and to communicate your core values. As long as it remains the best way to express those ideas, you should maintain a blog.
Almost every brand should have a website, even if it’s just a digital business card, and if you have work that needs to be featured, that should be done on the website. Finally, you should probably have a blog, but that can be separate from the main website.
As an end note to this section, don’t be intimidated when going to make a website. Squarespace is a great way to make beautiful websites easily, and you can even get a custom URL as part of your service fee.
Tumblr can be a highly effective blogging platform, as I mentioned earlier, but its features extend beyond the publication of original work. Don’t just post your own work; make sure to follow other brands in your field and to share what they post. Tumblr readers aren’t just looking for what you want to post, but for what you find interesting. Because of this, there’s a lot of built in camaraderie on the network, which can work well to your advantage.
Instagram & Vine
These two ephemeral networks form a perfect counterpart to the constructed formalism of Facebook. First of all, both platforms are mobile exclusives, so if you’re going to use them, it has to be on your phone. Both fully take advantage of this fact to provide immediate capture and sharing of pictures or short videos. Because they’re mobile only, they’re fundamentally of-the-moment social networks, and therefore are best used for behind the scenes glimpses of how you do what you do.
One of the greatest downsides to Instagram and Vine is that even though they both have the capability to post to public pages or brand Twitter accounts, they are single user apps. With platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, you can post to your personal account and brand account without having to log out of one and into the other, but this is (for now) impossible with Instagram and Vine.
I have neglected certain platforms in this social media guide for the rather simple reason that I do not use them. The most obvious absences are Pinterest, Google Plus, and Flickr. As best as I can tell, Pinterest is like Tumblr without the blogging component, Google Plus is like Facebook, and Flickr is like YouTube for images. With that in mind, try these networks if you are interested in them, and consult the analogous sections of this guide for whatever help they might give. I have also entirely left out location networks such as FourSquare because they lend themselves much less obviously to brand development.