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I watched the first five seasons of Vampire Diaries over the course of a week.  Something like 120 hours of bad special effects, betrayal, and outstanding hair.  During this time, I neither shaved nor bathed.  My apartment acquired a certain foetor unique to hoarders, cat ladies, and the heavily medicated.  Stale soup.  Ritz crackers and cheese whiz.  If you want a bowl, you better wash one.  And that pair of pants draped over the back of a chair?  It’s still wearable.  Smell it. 

When absolutely necessary, I went to the store in my sweats to stock up on frozen pizzas.  Eye contact was difficult and I used the automated check-out with my head down.  I had to move quickly, since whenever I wasn’t focusing with godlike intensity on Bonnie coming into her witch powers or whether Elena was actually in love with Damon and not Stefan, I thought about death.  Specifically, my own.  But also everyone else’s—my mother’s from cancer, my best friend from high school behind the wheel, all the pets I’d ever owned, my neighbor Herb who hung himself. 

I was depressed.  I knew this.  I also knew I had no control over when I might start crying.  Even though I had a certain degree of objectivity about it, I could feel the tears coming on like headlights down a tunnel.  I bought chips, microwavable “Mama Celeste Pizza for One” five at a time, and liter bottles of Diet Coke.  Then I went directly home like any other respectable basket case.

Boys don’t cry.  So I’d practice deep breathing while the pizza rotated and then get to the couch as quickly as possible.  The saga of Damon and Stefan Salvatore was sweet soul medicine: brothers, vampires, suitors for the hand of Elena Gilbert, the hot-yet-down-to-earth high school sweetheart with the body of a 17-year-old cheerleader and the emotional intelligence of a 54-year-old divorced therapist.  I could live with that.  It’s called suspension of disbelief.  I got involved.  I did what a good viewer is supposed to do.  I made myself receptive.  And while watching, I forgot about Herb.  I forgot to about death.  I forgot to cry.  I talked back to the characters and ate Pringles.

At that time, I was sleeping about 2-3 hours per night.  But I was alright with that.  If I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t dream.  And not dreaming helped in any number of ways.  If you had told my younger self that I’d someday be a weepy train wreck of a man, clinging to sofa cushions and a paranormal teen soap opera for sanity, I would have laughed manfully.  I was tough like that.

For the last 27 years, I’ve kept a diary in which I’ve made entries three to five times a week in a ritualistic obsession to document my life.  To be honest, I’ve also kept the diary to have someone to whom I can talk.  No one but a blank page would ever care to listen to all my complaints and worries (given their number and variety) and no one should have to.  When I was a child, it was my mother who listened.  Now Microsoft Word is my mother.

Many of the entries are short.  Some go on like essays.  But no matter how voluble or terse, joyful or upset I was when I wrote, I’ve been able to use the entries to bend time—essentially to bring my past more vividly into my present.  As a result, I believe that who I am now is more meaningfully informed by who I have been at various other points in my history, affecting the way I view my present place in the world and my sense of momentum through life.

Bending time is one of the most outstanding benefits to keeping a diary, maybe the only real benefit.  It may sound like a kind of hell, endlessly ruminating over people, places, events, and feelings long gone.  And one does pay a price.  I’d be lying if I said my diaristic habit hadn’t aged me in certain ways while keeping me young in others. 

In one sense, I carry a unique emotional weight.  Some things that happened decades ago may seem like they went down yesterday.  And what is happening right now may resonate in idiosyncratic ways, causing me to react unpredictably.  Why am I so angry?  Why did I find that so funny?  Well, you see, back in 1997 . . . I don’t heal very well from past wounds.  Some things I just can’t let go or forgive.  I wouldn’t even say I hold grudges because that would imply an unnatural or inappropriate degree of ill will or resentment over time.  My ill will and resentment are perfectly natural and appropriate, given my perspective.

I’ve also seen personal themes emerge, but I can’t say whether it’s because of character, destiny, or maybe just selective attention.  I only know that I’ve noticed cycles, repetitions, even echoes across the years.  Situations will happen over and over.  Similar personality types will appear and be magnetized to me or repulsed by me or both in their seasons.  People will say the same things.  Headlines will look the same.  I’ll often (though thankfully not always) make the same stupid mistakes. 

I’ll even have dreamlike moments of déjà vu in which I won’t be sure whether I imagined something, saw it in my sleep, or actually experienced it.  But I think I’ve reached the point where I care a lot less about the distinction between daydreams, actual dreams, misremembered dreams, and lived dreams.  Life really is but a dream and, if I experienced something, it was undeniably an experience. 

Ironically, my compulsive documentarianism has made everything seem a bit relative.  I celebrate many anniversaries, births, deaths, resurrections, departures, (not so) sudden arrivals, accomplishments, magical epiphanies, failures, desperate heartaches, humiliations, dignities, and small quiet moments.  I remember a red leaf from a chestnut tree that I picked up while standing in the German WWII graveyard outside Tallinn; walking behind an NYU undergrad through old town in Prague, how his T-shirt had male and female restroom icons made to look like they were at a wedding and the words GAME OVER underneath; dancing with a girl who’d driven down that night from the Flathead Indian Reservation at a bar called the Iron Horse in Missoula, Montana, the same night a friend of mine got high and chased two fraternity brothers through the frozen streets with a razor sharp hunting knife. 

I remember the night I met the woman who’d become my wife; the moment I learned that my father had been abusing my mother right up to the day she went into cancer hospice; holding my first book of stories when it finally arrived; the day I spent acting in a TV commercial; standing in the ruins of the Hell Fire Club on Montpelier Hill overlooking Dublin on a rainy day; lying down on a grave in Savannah, Georgia, and staring up at the night sky through the branches of a willow tree.

I’ve already lived multiple lives, died and been reborn multiple times.  And I feel this has modified the way I see everything, the way I write, how I speak, probably even the structures in my brain.  In a moment of absolute strangeness and synchronicity—not to be believed but true nonetheless—my neighbor is playing the Pixies’ Where is my mind? (poorly) on the piano.  Good question.

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I write fiction and nonfiction for magazines, work as a freelance writer / editor / journalist, and teach composition and fiction writing.

This blog is mostly dedicated to writing about politics and media, travel essays, creative non-fiction, discussions about books, the MFA experience, publishing, and work I’ve already placed in magazines. But I might write anything.

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“To educate is to seek meaning in everything. It is to teach others to seek the meaning of things. This means mixing the dreams of children and young people with the experience of adults and the elderly. This exchange must always take place, or else there can be no humanity because there would be no roots, no history, no promise, no growth, and no prophecy.”

— Pope Francis, 5 June 20

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“I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend time in prison for it myself.”

— Vladimir Bukovsky

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“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery—isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

“La lecture est un acte d’identification, les sentiments exprimés sont déjà en nous. Autrement, le livre nous tombe des mains.”

— Madeleine Chapsal

“Time is said to be irreversible. And this is true enough in the sense that ‘you can’t bring back the past’. But what exactly is this ‘past’? Is it what has passed? And what does ‘passed’ mean for a person when for each of us the past is the bearer of all that is constant in the reality of the present, of each current moment? In a certain sense the past is far more real, or at any rate more stable, more resilient than the present. The present slips and vanishes like sand between the fingers, acquiring material weight only in its recollection. King Solomon’s ring bore the inscription, ‘All will pass’; by contrast, I want to draw attention to how time in its moral implication is in fact turned back. Time can vanish without trace in our material world for it is a subjective, spiritual category. The time we have lived settles in our soul as an experience placed within time.”

— Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time