Reader

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I’m not a reader.

Now let me explain.

I’m a damn good reader.  No disorders that I know of, comprehension through the roof, the ability to cold read, out loud, in public, strong as it gets.  I’ve been reading since I was a little over a year old, or so they said when I was growing up.

No, I’m just not a reader.

I grew up reading every day.  Prose, mostly, and that, contained in the sports section of the LA Times.  I never read comics, except for the papers on Sunday, and I was never encouraged to pick up a book during my childhood, except by command of teachers, and then, not until high school.  Along the way, I read some things, mostly by accident.  Some Peter Benchley… sharks fascinated me… and some pulp journalism style stuff you could find on the book rack at the grocery store while my mom stood in line to pay.  Besides that, the only two things I read like they meant something were Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the World Book Encyclopedia, and the 1973 Baseball Encyclopedia.

But none of that is reading.

In the years that I should have been indulging my creative consciousness on everything from Swift to Burroughs and Dickens to Baum, I was memorizing batting averages, the etymology of 19th century English words, and the names the crew gave the mechanical shark in the movie Jaws.  I wasn’t reading, I was collecting… nonsense, mostly.  I read quickly.  I read to absorb, to obtain, and to satisfy curiosity, not for the love of the words themselves.

At least that’s the way reading was explained to me.  That it was a love affair with words, and with the stories that the words would unfold for me, if I would only let it be so.  As you might imagine, school was a nightmare for me.  I got by, barely.  Not by reading, but by listening.  I listened to every word the teachers said, and made copious notes.  Page after page of classroom notes, writing down every meaningless detail of these frustrated storytellers, never once looking inside the textbooks they ordered us to read.  Because of this, obviously, math was a killer.  English was hard because all the questions on tests were neatly tucked away inside the books I didn’t read.  History worked for me, because teachers of history fancy themselves “historians”, and would rather act out the full contents of the books themselves, than leave the interpretation of history to the transcribers of history.  I took notes, and answered the questions from them. 

That didn’t work out so well, in high school, or in college, after.

I gave reading one more shot in my 20s.

The girl I was seeing was a reader of book club selections, and I would read books over her shoulder, at night.  For a while, I became a reader like she was a reader.  Picking novels that sounded interesting based on my already-cultivated curiosities.  Bad sports stories, the occasional adventure, and spooky stuff.  Spooky stuff that would have caused childhood me to keep both hands and both feet inside the covers at night.  Blatty’s Exorcist.  King’s Stand.  A bunch of other crap I barely remember.

In this time, I realized that I read the way a cow eats, deliberately, and not in any hurry.  Not the way a predator hurriedly consumes its prey, but slowly, chewing on words and phrases, taking them all in, and then barfing them back up in the form of re-reading without actually finishing the book first.  It took me forever to read a book this way, but when I was done, I maybe knew the stories better than the authors.  

Then the girl became wife.  The wife stopped reading.  I stopped reading.

Because I’m not a reader.

At this point in this story, I’ll save you the exposition of the next 30-something years.  I’ll just tell you that, while I am not a reader, I am reading again.  I have to.  Something I discovered about the silence that only reading brings.  The silence that, I didn’t know until now, brings healing to a soul that fed on only noise, and a mind that, for most of a lifetime, knew only confusion and pain.  Words and stories that should bring healing, and a minimum of confusion and pain.  From Murakami to Bradbury, Goldman to Gibran.  I will read these, soon.

I’m not a reader, yet.

But I’m going to be.      

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday

When an Empath has no Empathy

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I undergo profound changes every November. 

Cataclysmic, visions-of-a-personal-apocalypse life changes.  It’s happened three Novembers in a row now.  Sure, it’s only a blog challenge, but I’m generally blog-challenged, being a poet and not really a blogger at all.  So when November rolls around, it seems like I’m just not allowed to ignore all the seismic emotional upheaval that something of this creative magnitude rips open for 30 days straight.

See, here’s the thing, because you knew there’d be a thing, right?  The thing is, I’m kind of an empath.  Not the ‘I shake your hand and know where you’ve buried the bodies’ kind of empath.  Just the ‘I feel things deeper than most people’ kind. 

My feelings. 

Your feelings. 

Friends’ feelings. 

Strangers’ feelings.

Hell, I even feel your dog’s feelings.

Did you ever see the movie “Species”?  The original, where the government assembled a team of previous strangers with varied skill-sets to capture and/or kill the Escaped Sexy Female Alien Hybrid, on the loose and looking to mate?  Then you remember the soft-spoken empath, played by Academy Award™ winning actor Forest Whitaker.  This version of the B-movie empath wasn’t a psychic, or in touch with the spirit world, or whatever other way B-movies portray the empath.  This version could simply feel what others around him were feeling, and tell you what those feeling meant

I liked that interpretation. 

Because at the roots, it’s the closet I’ve ever come to being introduced to mine. 

And then there’s the downside. 

The thing is, I’m kind of an empath.  Not the ‘I shake your hand and know where you’ve buried the bodies’ kind of empath.  Just the ‘I feel things deeper than most people’ kind. 

My feelings. 

Your feelings. 

Friends’ feelings. 

Strangers’ feelings.

Hell, I even feel your dog’s feelings.

Especially my feelings.

Which in the past, I could ignore for my own sanity’s sake.  But last November, after writing a super-concentrated month’s-worth of feelings, I lost the ability to bury mine.  No more clearly-marked boxes for emotions.  No more handy compartments for feelings to go.  No more mindless default ways to ignore them.  They were, for the first time, all on the same great big plate like a 64-box of crayons melted together in a microwave oven, and it was a fucking mess. 

My fucking mess. 

And I had to choose my path before it killed me.

The title of this post is, “When an Empath has no Empathy”.  It comes from a random thought that popped into my empath head a couple of days ago, about someone from my past, equally gifted with the ability to ‘feel all the feels’ like I do.  A random thought that goes, “What if you were an empath with no empathy?  Wouldn’t that just make you a sociopath?” 

And after reading everything… okay, a few things on Reddit… my non-clinical, non-scientific answer is, “Yeah… I think it would.”

But is that how I want to live the rest of my life?  Just surviving like a spiritual grifter, living off the feelings of others instead of feeling all the feels and helping those who need whatever it is I can do with all the messed up feelings.

My feelings. 

Your feelings. 

Friends’ feelings. 

Strangers’ feelings.

Hell, I even feel your dog’s feelings.

Especially my feelings.

So this November, I was left with a choice.  Do I want to spend the rest of my life finding new ways to shut off all the feelings and face the consequences of knowing and not caring?  Or do I stay on the path, as I suppose was originally intended, and learn how to be who I am?  Feeling, and dealing with my choices.

Like I said, I undergo profound changes every November.

And I can’t wait until December.

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday

A Ghost Story

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I am a ghost. *

I, in the beginning of my time here on this plane of existence, I could not understand what it was to be invisible to the world and those living in it, as I still thought myself a part of the world that I still saw before me.  I moved, I thought, I felt everything as I did before my transformation.  Little seemed to change from one moment to the next.  I was me, and the world was the world, and neither of us looked much different as far as I could tell.  But it was different.  I was different.  Because now, the world looked right through me. 

Because I am a ghost.

I am a ghost.

I know I am a ghost because, after what I’m guessing – since there is no clock or calendar in my world – many years of living.  I say “living” with some caution because, of course, ghosts aren’t alive.  At least not in the way all those around me who don’t see me are alive.  But they are alive, every one of them.  I can tell by the hurry and worry they carry with themselves everywhere they go.  Constantly in motion, even when that motion seems to take them nowhere in particular.  Just circles circling other circling circles, always in a rush to go everywhere, but never seeming to go anywhere.  Except that none of these concentric living circles ever seem to circle me.

Because I am a ghost.

I am a ghost.

I know I am a ghost because of something I saw in a movie once when I was still alive.  Those who still move in circles can hear me.  They hear the same sounds I hear when I make when I choose to make them.  They hear the groan, the belch, the occasional fart – although I don’t know where the belch and the fart come from, because as I learned from the same movie, ghosts don’t belch or fart – and also from the moving of objects that are, in my ghostly existence, important to me. 

I guess, because that’s what the movie taught me, that objects which were important to me in my previous life are still important to me in this life as well.  It makes me question my previous life’s life-choices as to why I didn’t place more importance on a nice car, or maybe a big house, or even on better clothes, because the only things that must have been important to me in that other life seem to be a raggedy overcoat, the morning newspaper, and a shopping cart that wobbles at the wheels and scrapes at the pavement as I walk.  Seriously, if I could give just one word of advice to those still living – but I can’t, because to my knowledge, none of them has ever heard a word I have said – it would be to acquire nice things for yourself in life, because one day you might be a ghost and need them. 

Yeah, the things you learn the hard way. 

Because you are a ghost.

I am a ghost.

I know I am a ghost because, after a lifetime of seeing no need at all for god or the church, I live behind a church, on the edge of a graveyard – how ironic on so many levels, being a ghost because… graveyard, and an atheist ghost because… church – but they let me stay as the church folk look right through me like the rest of the living do.  Oh, and they allow me to eat left-overs from the shiny dumpster next to the boarded-up back door.  I even sleep behind it when the wind blows extra cold some nights, and my overflowing morning newspapers can’t seem to keep the wind out of my ghost-self bones. 

Like on this night.

Because that’s what ghosts do.

And I am a ghost.   

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday

 

*A Ghost Story first appeared on Day 30 of “31 Nightmares” at Card Castles in the Sky.  Thank you to the nice folks there.

 

Six Tacos

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Today, I ate six tacos from Del Taco, and watched a movie that I wished had been about my life.  Also, I considered day drinking, but there was company in the downstairs, and I didn’t want to have to explain to anyone why I was crafting a boilermaker at 2:54 in the afternoon.  The movie was about a child musical prodigy, and his college age summer nanny.

And before you think that thought out loud, no… not because I have a fantasy about that sort of thing… although, hot nanny… but because I wish I had a childhood memory I held dear that didn’t involve loneliness, or being an outcast. The way the boy felt in the movie.

The way I feel now.

Over the previous bunch of months, in both my poetry and my blog posts, I’ve been telling the folks who read me that I was changing my life.  Changing it for the good.  Cutting the ties that held me to the old life…the job and other questionable choices… and I did.  Except, I realize, that the one thing I brought with me in all the changes, that I have not yet changed, is me.

So now, after all the changes, it is time for me to change me.

Changes begin the moment the first one happens, like eating six tacos from Del Taco, or stumbling upon a movie you wished you’d lived, decades before.  There’s a part in the movie where the boy and his nanny talk about past choices… hers… and the possibilities for the future.  And since I’ve already lived my past, it all made me think what those possibilities will be.  And to be truthful, I don’t know what they are yet.  But I know now that they aren’t as far off as I once thought they were.  They are as close as a story I wished I’d lived.  They are as close as six tacos from Del Taco.

They are here. 

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday

Catalyst

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There’s a poignancy to changes in an ingrained life, lived flawed, but still true to human nature.  Change is not natural, and it only comes by way of trauma, either physical or emotional.  And though the choices for our changes are brought about under the sovereign hand of our autonomy of spirit, there is always a catalyst, and never of our choosing.

I am no different than any other soul that must change.

My catalyst is emptiness.

For me, it was a two-step process.  First you lose most of what you have, and then, you give the rest of it away.  The losing isn’t all that hard.  Humanity is conditioned to lose.  It’s what we do most of the time.  We’re used to it from as far back as our earliest memories.  It’s the real reason we idolize winners.  A winner is humanity’s real life superhero.  They succeed where the rest of us fail, and we idolize them because of it.  To be human is to worship, and it is easiest to worship the demigod who looks like a better version of us.  Hero worship is as real a thing as hunger and thirst, and easier to satisfy.  Just find a winner and put your hopes on them, while all of us who aren’t them keep doing what we do best.  Lose.

But after the losing comes the hard part.  The giving away of whatever you have left.  You’re already a loser.  Not a day goes by when you aren’t reminded of it.  For most, the response is to try and hold fast to what’s left of your losses.  For the rest, there is a different choice.    

I used to be that guy who held on.  To everything.  Until there was nothing left to hold onto.  Until life removed the last of everything I thought I wanted.  And the thing you realize when everything you thought you wanted isn’t yours anymore, is that you can finally let go of the rest.

So after a life of losses, now comes my time to let go, because only empty hands can take hold of the good that comes after defeat.

And I’m going to need a new catalyst.

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday

Reading America

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I have, often wrongly, been called a poet.  I would argue that point right now, but doing so would defeat the purpose of the next 800 or so carefully spellchecked words.  So instead, I’ll say,

“Poetry is not my friend.”

At best, poetry is that crazy uncle who showed you which liquor store would sell to a minor without a fake ID, then introduced you to the college girl who worked the register, and even made sure you left with her number and a twelve-pack.  At worst, poetry is that same crazy uncle who introduced you to the college girl who worked the register and, it turns out, has a boyfriend with two cauliflower ears, an even more twisted nose, and the willingness and ability to kill you before you can even put your pants back on. 

Once again,

“Poetry is not my friend.”

I’ve got more words, so follow me.

While it is harder and harder to call America a country of readers anymore, America does read.  It reads news and fake news with equal ease, it reads movie reviews, and from time to time, it even reads a book.  The New York Times, that thing with all the book reviews on Sunday, is written for Americans to read.  And the New York Times is written on a 7th grade reading level.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that because, for the most part, America’s conversational grade level is in the neighborhood of Cash me Ousside Girl, which is also fine, because America kinda had to read to even find her. 

But here’s the thing.  Remember what I said about how America does read?  Well, there is one thing that America reads better than every other form of the written word.  The one thing that is the most powerful platform of thought conveyance there is.  A literary form so strong, it even got a morally bankrupt, hairspray-wearing, tiny-handed, Alec Baldwin impersonating, billionaire elected President of the Reading United States of America.

America reads Tweets.

Long Tweets, max of 140 characters (not including uploads), short Tweets, soft Tweets, hard Tweets, quiet Tweets, loud Tweets, stupid Tweets, and even… God knows how crazy THIS will sound… smart Tweets.  Tweets are America’s shit ticket to literacy, as literacy is measured anymore.  And America eats this shit up like it’s a dollar dessert at McDonalds.  It is the new literary paradigm, and no amount of MFAs working at McDonalds can stop it.  It is the mint on the pillow of the hotel so good, the first family would rather live there than the home reading America theoretically voted it into.  Tweets are sweet, and don’t even give you the cavities no longer covered in your soon to be lost, affordable dental care. 

Mmmmm, Tweets.

So now, let’s go back to the beginning and review.

I have, often wrongly, been called a poet.  I also know that poetry is not my friend.  It can get you drunk.  It can get you dead.  You know that, while America is really not a country of readers anymore, America does still read.  If you read above a 7th grade reading level, this post introduced you to Cash me Ousside Girl, who probably Tweets, and it taught you that the same Tweets that you can read from her are the Tweets that got a morally bankrupt, hairspray-wearing, tiny-handed, Alec Baldwin impersonating, billionaire elected President of the Reading United States of America.

And you learned that America reads Tweets.  Oh, and that no one cares about those kids in the paper hats with $100,000 worth of student loan debt behind the counter at McDonalds who have advanced college degrees in, well… poetry.

One last thing before the shocking conclusion.

Poetry should be everyone’s friend.

Have you read any Tweets today?  I hope so, and if you haven’t, there’s still time.  I hope so because, if you did, you might have actually read… poetry.

Long poetry, max of 140 characters (not including uploads), short poetry, soft poetry, hard poetry, quiet poetry, loud poetry, stupid poetry, and even… God knows how crazy THIS will sound… smart poetry.  Poems are America’s shit ticket to literacy, as literacy is measured anymore.  And America eats this shit up like it’s a dollar dessert at McDonalds.  It is the new literary paradigm, and no amount of MFAs working at McDonalds can stop it.  It is the mint on the pillow of the hotel so good, the first family would rather live there than the home reading America theoretically voted it into.  Poems are sweet, and don’t even give you the cavities no longer covered in your soon to be lost, affordable dental care. 

Mmmmm, poems.

Poems are reading America’s new literary paradigm, all over again.  And all because, while nobody was looking, reading America was being given an unconscious mind made ready for a brilliance that can be captured in 140 characters or less.  So now,

“Poetry is everyone’s friend.”

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday

The Theory of Tears

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Tears don’t scare me. 

I know people hate them,

in themselves and in others,

depending on just how manipulated

tears make them feel. 

Manipulated,

not by the tears,

but for the reasons they flow. 

There is a theory of tears,

known only by a few. 

Not by the ones who cry,

but by the ones who hold it in. 

They have learned

all the reasons for them,

and choose not to give them away. 

Unmanipulated,

and unmanipulating. 

They hold onto the tears

as tightly as they do the theory. 

Tears don’t scare me,

they say,

as long as I don’t have to see them.

At least that’s what their theory says. 

But the truth about

the theory of tears is this;

that tears are only scary

on the inside.

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday

Election Day

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November 8, 2016.  A date that will… a date that…

A date.

At the time of my writing this, it is the night before.  More accurately, the overnight before the morning of.  And as overnights before mornings of have a way of doing, I am left with my thoughts.  And the silence to think them.

And to write.

Thought number one…

In the mid-twentieth century, there was a man, a one-time German minister named Martin Niemöller, who became widely known for a quote that was an acknowledgement of the apathy of German citizens under the Third Reich, and Adolf Hitler.  This is the quote…

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

What Niemöller succinctly told the Post World War II world, at every opportunity, was that he, and all German citizens of the 1930’s and 1940’s, were culpable for the actions of those in power… power that was, at first, voted into existence by those very same citizens.  And while most of those citizens did not… could not… know at the time that they were turning over the reins of their government to what would be forever known throughout history as Nazi Germany, turn it over they did.  Again and again, with every act of cowardice that showed itself merely in their perpetual indecision.

Until, as Niemöller said, “…there was no one left to speak for me.”

Multiple millions of people, inside and outside of Germany, were tortured, starved, and murdered as the result of something as simple as saying, “Nah, I’m safe.”

Until they were next.

Thought number two…

In the early twenty-first century, who are the Socialists?  Who are the Trade Unionists?  Who are the Jews?  Not literal Socialists, Trade Unionists, or Jews.  But their figurative, metaphorical descendants.  Because every great country in the world has them.  Unpopular for many reasons with those who might have been here longer and reaped the benefits of that not-so-subtle favoritism based on nothing more than tenure, and beating the biological roulette wheel of unearned opportunity.

What if, one day, we who are still here are required to endure the words of a modern-day Martin Niemöller?  And what complicity will he, or she, be calling us to account for?

Because today is election day.  And for our choices, we all will be held to account.  So, will we who are still alive be culpable for in a second mass citizen apathy?  Shown culpable for our allowance of the following…

“First, they came for the Liberals, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Liberal.

Then, they came for the Working Poor, and I did not speak out, because I was not the Working Poor.

Then they came for the Brown, and I did not speak out, because I was not Brown.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Thought number three…

I am a writer.  That means that, if I’m doing it right, I take concepts that people talk about every day, and turn them into words that cause people to think, and then live accordingly.

Today is Election Day.  That day, every four years, when it is the right, the privilege, the duty, of every citizen, to act on what they know, and then vote accordingly.

History has been kind to all who, anonymously, stood with those who’s tragic ends came at the hands of unjust rulers.  History will again be kind to those who, anonymously, by secret ballot, stand with those who’s tragic end is in their hands to prevent.  To act on what they know, and then vote accordingly.

And see to it that one Martin Niemöller was enough.

Now vote.

 

Copyright © 2016 William S. Friday

Remembrance Day

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The day my life began, I was already seventeen-thousand, one-hundred and seventy days old.  And about one hour.  But what an hour.  I wasn’t ready for her, but she was ready for me.  She was brown, if brown could be its own shade of pastel.  Built like bull wire and tenderness in equal measure, beneath a newborn exterior.  Mine, and more than my redemption.

Today is her day.  The eighth celebration of her life that we, the ones who are graced by her, remember her with.  She is a normal eight-year-old girl.  She loves dolls and hockey, mac and cheese and Brussel sprouts, Shel Silverstein, and Bob’s Burgers.  She is loved, thank God, by her peers and her elders.  And she, thank God, loves her peers and her elders just the same.

And today, because there is love in this world that would not have existed had she not entered it, I write this.  For me.  For her family.  For her.  Because one day, she will read this, as she has already read my poetry.  And she will know that this is who she is to us.

She is the daughter of my daughter.  She is the heart of my heart.  And this day will forever be her birthday.  The eighth so far.  The remembrance day of when my life began.

And hers.

 

Copyright © 2016 William S. Friday

20 Inch Black and White Portable TV

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I disappear.

It’s something I have always done, even from my earliest days.  In the late ’60s, when most kids didn’t have a TV, I had one, in my room.  20 inch, black and white, portable TV.  No remote.  I can’t remember the brand anymore, but that’s just one invisible detail in a story about becoming invisible.  With that TV, I watched Japanese monster movies, and re-runs of Gilligan’s Island.  With that TV, I watched local news with anchors nobody remembers.  With that TV, I watched the Dodgers and the Giants.

With that TV, I would disappear.

In the late ‘60s, both my parents worked, and they had plans in place to counteract leaving a child on his own before the age of ten.  My grandmother lived with us, but by the late ‘60s, she was in her early eighties couldn’t keep up, and there wasn’t much she could do to make interesting to a child the things she was interested in. Just like there wasn’t much that a woman born in the waning years of the nineteenth century could understand from a kid growing up in the mid-twentieth.  So, when all the afterschool sports and games were done; after all the neighborhood kids were called inside for the doing of things like homework and family dinners; before my parents would return from work, in the dark; I would retreat to my cluttered room, with the 20 inch, black and white, portable TV.

With that TV, I would disappear.

It became a habit almost impossible to break.  The retreat from loneliness into a different kind of loneliness.  One of my own choosing.  With my stunted social skills, learned well, but honed badly by the lack of brothers and sisters, or hands-on parenting, I was more at home in my room, in front of a 20 inch, black and white, portable TV, as I was in the company of other kids, or their families.  When I tell this story now, to people who think they know me… and I seldom tell it… they have a hard time believing that I’m not a lifelong extrovert.  Only decades of well-rehearsed dealings with folks… of knowing when, in conversation, to press in and look genuinely interested, or when to back off, so as to come across as informally cool… have gifted me with the ability to keep myself from disengaging, yet remaining in a soothing isolation from the crowd.  All of it reminding me of a childhood in which I felt more in control in the shadows of a room lit by a 20 inch, black and white, portable TV.

With that TV, I would always disappear.

And now, because this is a blog post and not a novella, I end with this.

Today I live in the second decade of the twenty-first century, almost fifty years removed from a time when a kid could disappear into the world of a 20 inch, black and white, portable TV.  The second decade of the twenty-first century, where listing the potential distractions for a child of this space and time would take longer to write than it took you to read this.  And it is no great surprise, except to most of my friends who think I could not possibly be anything other than an extrovert, that my retreat is still TV.

But they will always be wrong.  Because I will always have that need.  To fade into the shadows, and hear only the voices of those whose words I can turn on and off at will.  To close the door on the outside world, and let go of things beyond my control.  I miss that 20 inch, black and white, portable TV.

Because with that TV, I would disappear.

 

Copyright © 2015 William S. Friday