Red On The Tip of My Pen

How well I could write if I were not here!


I don’t know how this happened. I think about it a lot. That gets me nowhere.

“I’m writing a new novel I’m really excited about,” I said to Maya on the phone the other day. That’s my mom. I call her Maya.

“Oh, great!” she said. “What’s it about?” I heard the apprehension in her voice. She knew what I was going to say.

“It’s a horror novel.”


“Yeah. You wouldn’t like it.”


“I don’t know where this comes from,” I said. “I never liked horror movies as a kid.”

“I know. That was your brother. Do you like them now?”

“Yeah. Kind of. I mean, I really like them. Some of them. It’s weird.”

“You’re weird,” she said, with the kind of unconditional affection wrapped in mild insult that is the hallmark of mothers everywhere. At least, the good ones.

As an adult, I love horror movies, but it was a long time coming. I’ve loved horror fiction for a long time, but something about movies put me off. I remember sitting in the finished basement where I spent almost all of the free hours of my childhood. My brother and I were both stuffed on the love seat with the brown flower pattern that used to be my grandmothers, watching our tiny TV. Mostly it got used for Sega Genesis games and Saved By The Bell after school, but it was the weekend, and either it was my brother’s turn or I didn’t have a game I was playing. He had the remote, and he flipped from channel to channel.

He stopped on a shot of a boy with wide eyes. Creepy music in the background.

“Change it,” I said. “This looks stupid.” He didn’t change it. An awful owl puppet showed up on screen, and something scary happened.

“Ooo, a bad horror movie,” my brother said. “I love bad horror movies.”

“I’m going outside.”

I didn’t love bad horror movies. I still don’t. I love good ones. But not all of them. When I talk to people about horror or browse horror websites like Bloody Disgusting I feel alienated. Because I love scary. I love creepy. I crazy love unsettling.

But I don’t like gore. Blood and guts both disgust and bore me. They’re supposed to do one, but not so much the other. Furthermore, I don’t even understand why people find them appealing. I mean that literally. I consider myself highly empathetic, and I don’t bat an eye at the fact people have different preferences than me. I don’t like raw onions, but it’s not weird that other people do. They have a different mind, different senses, different reactions to the same stimuli. So I accept that people dig sprays of blood on the screen. I’m just not sure why.

It’s more true for me than it is for other genres I don’t like. I’m not a fan of romantic comedies, but I completely grasp their appeal. Human connection, the fantasy of idealized romance, the warm, beautiful feeling that real love is out there, possible, never even that far away. But with gore? I just don’t get it.

Which makes the next part weird. This novel I’m writing, that one my mother will be sad that she can’t read if it somehow gets published? It’s pretty gory. There’s blood. There flesh flying off of people’s faces and splatting against the wall. At some point, someone’s head pops clean off and lands amidst a pile of Doritos. I’m less than 10,000 words in. And my other novel? That was pretty gory, too.

It’s not that I hate blood and guts. Not enough to turn me off of a horror story or movie that otherwise appeals to me. Sometimes it’s even the whole point, but everything else is so conceptually interesting or well written that I love it anyway. Kill Bill is one of my favorite movies. One of my favorite short stories is Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, which is not about cooking steaks on an electrified third rail. Although I should totally write that story.

When I read bloody, visceral descriptions of blood and viscera, I always wonder what the writer is thinking. Do they find this kind of thing appealing? Are the just totally unfazed by it? I used to think the answer had to be yes. Now I’m not so sure. Because I don’t find it appealing, and I am definitely fazed by it. But not while I’m writing.

I’ve noticed that my brain sometimes writes jokes I find distasteful for demographics I don’t identify with. The frattiest of frat boys, or the reddest of rednecks. Jokes I think would be legitimately funny to people in those groups, but that I don’t find amusing at all. Maybe generative creativity goes isn’t about the appeal to the brain that generates it. Maybe writers don’t always write for themselves, but for the ages.

Or in this case, ages 13-17, mostly male, parental permission required for entry.


Tranquility, With Fur

Cooper, sleeping


It is difficult to meditate
when a nervous black kitty
uses this rare opportunity
of your tranquility
to leap onto your lap
press her wet nose against your hands
curled into their mudra
and pushes her bony feet
into your thighs
in a restless attempt
to get comfortable

But once she settles down
into a pile of shadow colored fur
and whiskers
with an uncomplicated contentment
rarely found
in the frantic frenzy of human thought
outside of the shade of the Bodhi tree

It is easy to know
that this moment is flawless
and it is easy to feel
with the resonant
infinite echo of a purr
that for no reason at all
with no possibility of judgement
that you are loved

Writing Time?

Sad Day, Good Tea

All day long
I think about my writing
Planning my scenes
hearing the back and forth of dialogue
so sharp
you could put it in a salad dressing
dreaming up plot twists
so twisty
you could put them in a series of cocktails
then sell them to college students
for way too much

As I’m driving,
I barely see the road,
I barely hear the drone of my audiobook
which is about mindfulness
and the irony
almost escapes me
because I’m weaving words like cloth,
spinning tales like straw
into the good quality string cheese
mixing metaphors like pasta
being mixed
with other stuff

While I’m working, taking calls,
I speak to the customers with my voice
and my mind steps away
into to realms with black sunsets,
where knights, armored in stars,
fight quasars, with tortured pasts
and something to prove
to their sisters
or something

Then it’s time to write,
and I think
you know what, this might not be the time for this,
I’ve got other things to do,
like maybe I should just play cup and ball instead
that’s so meaningful, so fun, how could I resist
and I know
I don’t have a ball
no big deal
I’ll just hold this empty cup
for a while

Caffeinated Mindfulness

Mocha !

I take a sip of coffee, dark roasted into anthracite of Arabica, swirled with the luxurious tropical tang of coconut cream. It rushes into my bloodstream, into my senses. I can’t tell the difference between the chemicals blocking adenosine between my neurons, or the psychosomatic reaction of my hot wet love affair with the aroma, with the taste, with the feel of it on my tongue.

My third eye snaps open. It was asleep. It’s usually asleep. But it’s forced open by the thunderclap of caffeination outside its window, blasting through sleep paralysis, it jolts up in bed and stands at attention. I close my other two eyes. I take my first breath. I begin my meditation.

I take my second breath. They are the long, slow, deliberate breaths of the practice. The same ones that I take when I am calm. What do I look like, to the bodhisattva ghosts that haunt the space around me? Do I look at ease? Do I look rested, because I breathe normally, and because I am not moving? Can they see the thousands upon thousands of lightning bugs that rest upon my skin, waiting to burst into action and light up the night?

I am not rested. I am not calm. There is more to peace than stillness. If nothingness is the true state of perfection, then perfection is flawed. I am a bundle of bundles of charged wires of a hundred different polarities that only exist in the dreams of electrons. Instead of a place without thought, drifting like leaves on a stream, the inside of my skull hosts so many thoughts, so many sensations, in such a reckless state of effortless agitation they are indistinguishable. They are white noise. My mind is a serene cacophony of beautiful tension.

I realize there is no such thing as silence. There is only deafness. In the quietest room in existence, there is still the background radiation of the infant universe. The scream of it’s birth. Not a scream of agony, but an agony of triumph. An impossibly massive explosion in an impossibly small instant, bursting outward from a single point of infinite inertness to a furiously rushing sea of endless potential. The loudest shouts that could ever be, so distant when they reach us that they have become a caressing whisper. If we cannot hear them, it’s because we lack calibration. Because our ears are too small.

It swirls around me, within me, throughout me. These thoughts and this noise are me, and they are not me. They are larger and vastly more important, and smaller than the Planck scale. Less relevant than a single crumb of food that cannot feed a mouse so small it suffers wave interference when it tries to pass through two slits in a scientist’s lab.

It is exhilarating. It is exhausting. It lasts forever, but when it ends, as all things end, it has written a poem in prose in my head. A distant reflection in arbitrary symbolic representation of the chaotic, tranquil, nasty, perfect glory of the experience of trying to meditate after my third cup of coffee. But I will share it anyway.

Thinking About My Dad


I don’t think about my dad that much, these days. I don’t know if that’s sad, or healthy, or both. I can bring him up in a conversation with my mom and it doesn’t make us both sad. There’s a moment where I worry that it will, because I remember when I could hear the tears in her eyes over the phone whenever I mentioned him.

I could bring up some funny memory, and we might both laugh, but the tears were there. The moment fogged with a dull blue. It didn’t ruin it. She didn’t burst into sobs. But they were there. And I felt a strange thing in my chest. Something like longing, something like hopelessness, something like desperation. A hand, tightly grasping just above my heart, slightly to the left.

It’s a feeling I get when I think about things that were beautiful but now are gone forever. It could be a person, or it could be the ruins of a castle in the mist. The part of me that exists only to laugh and hurt doesn’t know the difference.

That doesn’t happen any more. Now we can talk about him like something from the past. I don’t know when that happened. I think it’s probably a good thing because it means there is less pain. I have enough pain in my world. Everyone does, and my mother has far more than her fair share.

We can talk and laugh about the dumb jokes he used to tell, mention things he enjoyed, bring up a saying that he used to say—and he had a million of them—and it’s just like talking about anything else in the world that isn’t around anymore. Joe DiMaggio. The Roman Empire. My great grandmother.

Just another thing, and if there is pain, it is the memory of a sting. I can feel how it used to hurt, and that feeling is still unpleasant just like any unpleasant memory. But it doesn’t hurt anymore. Not really. It doesn’t burn. That’s probably better. I think it has to be better.

I know that, but right now, right here, soaking in the thoughts and memories, I’m not so sure. I feel some strange ache, impossible to describe because it lives in the same places as other things that shouldn’t be real because they don’t make sense. It can’t be a bad thing that I can think about my dad without hurting inside. It means that I’ve let go of the hurt. Let go of the pain. But the problem is that once you let something go, you don’t have it anymore.

Things that only live in the past don’t hurt. You can’t get cut by a knife you haven’t had since you moved away from your childhood house and didn’t take it with you. The things that still hurt do so because never move into the past. They’re still inside of you right now. Still living, still breathing, still edged. Some people have jagged fragments of memory that flow through their bloodstream and never stop cutting them. They spend all of their time bleeding. But that’s not the past. Just because something happened a long time ago doesn’t mean it has passed. Not for you. Not if it still cuts you. Not if it’s still sharp.

The opposite of sharp is dull. When an image is dull, you can’t make out its features. My memories of my dad can’t cut me, anymore. Not most of the time. But that means they’re losing their edges. Losing their clarity. When someone won’t move on from the death of the loved one even though it hurts them, they know this. Inside of them, they know this. To lose the pain is to lose the immediacy. The now-nesses of it. If someone can still hurt you that means they are still in your life. They still exist. They aren’t just a series of photographs, a little more faded with each year.

And they still have cancer. And you still get that phone call at work telling you that, despite the fact that you thought he was getting better, your father is dead. It happens so quickly that it’s hard to believe. He seemed fine when you saw him a month and a half ago. Too skinny, unable to eat very much, but fully himself.

Fully alive, and fully able to complain that he can’t eat bbq ribs with everyone else, but with that amazing and effortless humility that someone makes the rest of us feel okay eating them in front of him. You can live in the happy memories as much as you want, but if you want him to still be here, still in your life, then you have to relive that phone call. Over and over again.

Nothing is ever all good or all bad. There is no way to move on without giving something up. Everything we do means we didn’t get to do all the other things we could have done. It’s a cliché to say that loss is important because it makes way for new things.

New things are important. Moving past pain and tragedy and sadness are important. But so is remembering. And if the full memory–the rich and intense and sensory memory where our loved ones are, for a few impossible moments, still with us—if that memory is painful, then pain is important, too.

If living without the sadness of my dad’s loss means thinking about him less, then that’s what I’m going to do. But if the only way to feel him still in my life is to sometimes leap into that pool of sadness and let it soak into my clothes and weigh me down for a while, then I’m going to do that, too. I never want the pain to go away completely, because I never want to lose him completely.

Sometimes I have to hear his laughter and see that goofy grin and feel my own tears sting my eyes because he’s there in front of me right now, but I can’t touch him. It means the pain will never be gone. Not completely. But then, neither will he. He will never be just a photograph.

Why Creativity Is Not Problem Solving


Me: I’m really disliking my job these days.

Brain: Trust me, I’ve noticed.

Me: I used to like it, but it’s turned into a serious slog.

Brain: Well, maybe you should look for another job.

Me: But I hate looking for other jobs!

Brain: Well, which do you dislike more?

Me: Both of them.

Brain: I’m not sure what to tell you here, dude.

Me: You’re not being very helpful!

Brain: What do you want out me?

Me: I don’t know! A solution! You’re my brain. You should be able to come with something here! Something that lets me do or not do both of these things at the same time. You’re very creative. Aren’t you always telling me that? That we’re creative.

Brain: I do tell us that. I believe it, too.

Me: Right. So…come up with something!

Brain: Okay, I’ve got it.

Me: That was fast.

Brain: I’m a massively parallel organic processing unit with more potential interconnections than grains of sand on the earth, if every grain of sand had a pair of twins with every other grain of sand. Give me some credit.

Me: Fair enough.

Brains: Besides, it’s not like I…you…we…haven’t been thinking about this a lot.

Me: If a chaotic maelstrom of unpleasant emotions and half-baked notions can be called “thinking.”

Brain: What can I say? I’m complicated.

Me: Okay. What’s this plan of yours.

Brain: Alright, so first you get on the running shoes that you bought just before you stopped running regularly.

Me: Okay.

Brain: Put them on, lace them up, and head out into the woods.

Me: The woods? What does that have to do with my job?

Brain: Are you going to let me finish? I am your brain, here.

Me: Fine, fine. Carry on.

Brain: Your British accent is terrible.

Me: I know.

Brain: But I don’t judge you.

Me: I appreciate that.

Brain: Okay, so you head out into the woods, and you look for some squirrels.

Me: Squirrels.

Brain: Squirrels. Gray or black, it doesn’t matter. You start tracking down squirrels, and incapacitating them in some way. So you can put them all in the same place where they can’t get away.

Me: How do I incapacitate them.

Brain: You don’t know how to do that?

Me: No.

Brain: Well then neither do I! I’m your bloody brain!

Me: Oh. Right.

Brain: It’s something you’re going to be able to figure out. But that should be kind of fun, right?

Me: Yeah. I guess it should. I mean, kind of wrong, but a good thing to know how to do.

Brain: Right. So, you gather up these incapacitated squirrels, at least 49, but 51 will do, and…

Me: And?

Brain: You swallow them!

Me: Swallow them?

Brain: Yep! Just gulp them up!

Me: And…that will solve my job problem?

Brain: No! Of course it won’t! But you never listen to anything I say anyway! Just start looking for a new goddamn job like I’ve been telling you to for the last two months! Dammit!

Me: Oh.

Brain: Sigh.

Me: Did you just say “sigh?”

Brain: I did. I did do that. You made me do that.

Me: Sorry.

Brain: It’s okay. And sorry for the bait and switch.

Me: It’s okay. You made your point.

Brain: I appreciate the understanding.

Me: So are we still friends.

Brain: Yes we are. I mean, assuming that term applies when I’m a physical organ and you are an abstract representation of an amalgamated and probably fictional concept that can’t realistically be separated from me other than for the purposes of thought experiments like this one. I don’t know if the world friend applies.

Me: It’s an interesting question.

Brain: Indeed. We should spend the next nine hours discussing it.

Me: You think so?

Brain: No! Get off your ass and start looking for a god damn job!

Me: Right. Of course. Sorry. Getting right on it.

Please, Stop Asking


A little story I wrote that has nothing to do with any pre-existing character. Any resemblance is distracting, and would require me to try to actually sound like that character and capture their essence which was not the point of this story. Anyway, I think it’s pretty fun.


Please, Stop Asking

Stop. Don’t even say anything. I know why you’re here. It’s obvious from the fluctuations in your galvanic skin response. From the anxious teeming of neural firing in your sympathetic nervous systems. From the way you’re sweating.

Besides, why else would you be here? You only come here for one reason. Every other week, it seems like, ever since you all found out where it is. This was supposed to be my special place. I brought a single person here, and this is what happened. It’s not that I don’t care about you. I think I’ve proven that more than enough times. It’s about trust. It’s about appreciation. And there’s only one reason you people come here.

It’s never to invite me to dinner at the White House. To offer me an award for my services. I’m not asking for a Liberty-sized statue or anything. Just a simple award, to show that you give a damn. Hell, I probably wouldn’t even accept the award. But you could offer. It’s not like you couldn’t offer.

No, don’t say anything. You’d say anything right now, the way you are. You’d promise me anything. You’re panicking, and what you say now doesn’t matter. You’ve had plenty of time to say all of those things, and mean them. I know what you are going to say, and I’m going to give you what I hope is the last response I’ll ever give to this question, even though I’m not naïve enough to think it actually will be.

It’s a request. A simple request, and it’s this. Please, stop asking. I’ll say it again. Please, for the love of whatever divine power or higher purpose each of you might hold to, stop asking me to save the world.

I’m not saying I won’t do it. I’m not saying that. I’m insulted that you would think that’s what I mean, after everything I’ve done. After all of the times I’ve done it without being asked or thanked. Oh, okay, fine, some of you have thanked me. But never once have I saved this planet, or any part of it, from destruction, mutilation, or enslavement without a wave of criticism so enormous that even I’d have trouble stopping it. You’ll accuse me of focus on the wrong incident. Or of not saving enough of you. Or of causing property damage.

Lately, there’s an entire set of memes with a zoomed in photo of my face during the Thief of Eternity incident–that stupid photo where my hair looks like two badgers trying to maim each other–accusing me of causing the ludicrous number of near-catastrophic events that have fallen on this clumsy rock these last few years. Me! It’s my fault that the radiation from a sentient pulsar almost boiled the planet into so much overcooked kale? Or that the thing that hatched from the Earth’s core after 4.5 billion years of gestation decided to wake up and drink the mantle? And what about that German fellow, the one you all thought was dead? He spent 60 years calibrating those clockwork mechanisms across the world to line up with that planetary conjunction. 60 years. If you’ll notice, that stretches back to before I was born.

Okay, I confess, I am responsible for part of how those events played out. Specifically, the part where you are not all dead, and your species and entire biosphere relegated to a badly translated footnote in the Encyclopedia Galactica’s Book of Useless Facts.

Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that there’ve been an awful lot of invasions by extra-temporal conquerors lately. And attempts to devour your souls. Or replace your DNA with fungus. The point is, it’s been a bad time. I know that. I know how difficult that is for you. But blaming me? The person who stops it all? You sound like the guy at the office Christmas party who gets rejected every one of his female coworkers and decides they must all be lesbians. Have you considered that maybe the problem is…you?

Again, I’m not saying I’m not going to save you. But you know what, I’m not saying I’ll do it, either. That’s what you want to hear, and you haven’t earned that. That’s just taking me for granted, and I’m not going to live like that. Not any more.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say. “But we’re going to die, we’re going to die!” Cry me a river. You think I haven’t heard that before? I mean, homeless people need to eat, but you probably step over them on the way to your cushy corner office. How is this any different? Do you think the universe at large would care that the planet that brought them Threes Company got wiped off the interstellar map? I assure you, they wouldn’t. They’ve got the DVDs.

It’s not like I don’t have other things to do with my life. Oh, you never even imagined that, did you? You don’t care about me except when I’m punching things into subatomic dust. But I have another life aside from saving your collective asses. I’m playing a lot of MOBAs these days. I have a Twitch channel, and no, I’m not going to tell you what my username is. And I have a boyfriend, now. Yes, a boyfriend. Why shouldn’t I? It’s not like I’m remotely the same species as you are. Why should I conform to your tired gender roles? Hell, you don’t even seem to be doing that anymore. Good riddance.

And another thing, you know that swarm of stellar piranhas that showed up around Thanksgiving? You know how I finally got rid of them? You never asked about that, did you?. Just happy they weren’t going to ruin your Macy’s Day Parade. I lured them to a distant star, one orbited by a now lifeless planet that used to be inhabited by a bunch up upright-walking hairless apes. Sound familiar? It was the only thing I knew would tempt them. By using a machine I built out of the remains of derelict precursor vessels I picked up and assembled while they gave chase, I tricked the piranhas into flying into the star. And then I devoured it. The entire star. I didn’t know if I could do that. I didn’t know if I could survive, but I did it anyway. For you. Because it was the only thing I knew could stop them.

And you know what? It was glorious. A moment of transcendent sublimity a million times greater than pleasure, a billion times more magnificent than love. And for one eternal, impossible instant of fractured time, I experienced the truth and beauty behind the everything. I saw the tiniest sliver of the meaning of it all. This messy, sharp, painful universe of children with bone cancer and premature ejaculation actually made sense. It mattered, despite the seeming futility of life, despite the agony we all suffer, I caught the tiniest glimmer or purpose, and I realized it isn’t all for nothing, after all.

Then it was done. It was gone, and it’s nothing but the memory. But I could get it back. I could complete the puzzle, and maybe fix this awful mess of a reality, if only I could taste it again. I think that maybe that’s what I’m for. That this might be my real purpose, what I could do to fix this broken universe, rather than just stitching up this tiny corner whenever it starts to bleed. Oh, don’t give me that look. I’m not going to eat your sun. I’m not a monster. But there are others like it out there. It’s a very large universe, even for me. I could look. I could find them.

But I won’t. Because of you. Because you are so helpless. I just know that twenty minutes after I left here your oceans would wake into sentience and decide to hug you all into a Kevin Costner movie. Or some idiot with an internet connection and no stable social relationships would build a bomb to turn your atmosphere into peanut butter. Or some gray squirrel in a park somewhere would transform into an omnipotent and angry god. Again.

So here I am. And you know that I’m going to do it again. And again. Because I am who I am. Power doesn’t give you any more choices in life. Not really. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell self-help seminars. So you’d better get out of my way and let me do my job. There’s a world to save, and no one else is going to do it. Just try to show a little appreciation next time. Bring a fellow a craft beer, or something. And for Pete’s sake please, please, please, just stop asking.