Like Watching Turtles Choose Shells

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blog faceless mannequinIt’s a Saturday afternoon and I need a shirt. Really, I need much more than a shirt – a whole new wardrobe would be better, and maybe a stylist, and maybe an endless supply of socks – but whatever, on this day I’ll settle for a mere shirt. I take the 52 Bus to one of the many malls in Beijing, where I stumble upon a store called ‘Jack Jones.’ The place is darkly lit and features faceless mannequins with shiny non-faces that are better dressed that I’ve ever been in my life. They’re also much more muscle toned, and I debate whether or not I’d sacrifice having a face in exchange for better clothes and abs. Really, if someone looked like one of these Jack Jones mannequins, I’d be willing to bet that he’d score more dates than 2/3 of men with faces.

Anyways, I’ve noticed that there’s a Jack Jones in basically every Chinese mall I’ve stepped foot in. All of them, as though the malls of China are like those faceless mannequins, the exact same replicated mirror image being constructed over and over again. Go into a Beijing mall and you’ll be sure to find a KFC, the Japanese fast food joint Yoshinoya, a Jack Jones, a few clean bathrooms, a few nightmarishly unclean ones, and a strange emptiness that pervades the place and invokes sadness the same way your house might the day you move out of it.

blog waldo mallFor a country with 20% of the world’s population, the malls in China are surprisingly vacant and ghostly. Floor after floor, all connected by inconsistently functioning escalators, you’ll find clean and open space, territory unclaimed, stores sitting idle and bored. At an H & M in Dongzhimen, I explored the racks of clothes completely alone while the salespeople stocked the already overstocked shelves. Or, wandering aimlessly around the mall in Xizhimen, I passed by the same t-shirt shop probably a dozen times, never seeing anyone, consumer or employee, inhabiting it. Then there’s the strange mall around Lishuiqiao station, which requires a short pilgrimage from the subway, a ten minute walk down a desolate road where hopeful shoppers slowly move in droves, staggering in the direction of the mall with the enthusiasm and countenance of someone forced down the Trail of Tears in 1831. 

That’s what I’m thinking as I step into Jack Jones. Immediately, only seconds after I enter, a young Chinese woman in her work uniform approaches me.

“Ni hao!” she smiles. “JACK JONES!”

She nearly screams it, as though she’s shouting out his name in orgasm.

“Yes,” I say, unsure of how to respond. She smiles and walks away, only to be replaced by another shop girl, this one also flashing an oddly frightening smile.

“Hello!” she says in English.

“Hi.”

“Jack Jones!”

“You’ve got that right,” I say.

blog men explore outfitsShe doesn’t say anything else, but parks herself directly next to me. This makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable, awkward, having this salesgirl shadowing me, and I walk towards the back of the store hoping that she won’t follow. My plan doesn’t work. Keeping a safe distance of a few feet, she glides to the back of the store after me, like I’m the sound and she’s the echo. I try and try but I can’t lose her. All these shirts and sweater vests, I can’t even think, all I’m aware of is this stupid salesgirl three feet to my right. She recommends a green flannel shirt and I run. I dart through two full racks of clothes, a tight squeeze, praying that she’ll get stuck between them, but she doesn’t, and moments later she’s practically on my back, the closest I’ll come all day to wearing anything from the store.

I know, I know. This is good customer service, right? I tell myself that. This girl has devoted so much attention to me, it’s amazing, the polar opposite of the neglectful clerks working back home at JC Penny or TJ Maxx. Still, I hate it. I just want to be left alone, by myself, so I can pick something that I personally think is hip, even if it makes me look like I belong in a New Kids on the Block video. It would probably be difficult for her to understand any of this. I don’t really want to be helped. I’d prefer the freedom to fashionably sink or swim on my own.

Without saying anything, I quickly make my way out of the store. I don’t look back to see if she’s tried to follow me. I can still hear that name in my head, over and over, the way they kept saying it.

Jack Jones.

Jack Jones.

Jack Jones.

It’s almost like a siren call, pulling me back. I mean, maybe I should go back, I have no new shirt, and I’m not sure where else to go. But none of that matters, because I’ve returned to the embrace of this empty shopping mall and I’m sure I can find some store, somewhere in the deserted landscape, where the only thing that will tell me I don’t look good in a pink cashmere sweater is the mirror.

*

Sunday Thoughts on Books and Flies

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blog fliesIt’s Sunday afternoon in China and I feel a strange sense of optimism today. Happiness. I think I generally feel this way when my apartment is clean. That’s sort of the key to happiness, I think. Being able to keep your place in a condition that most human beings would want to live in. There have been times in the past when I’ve allowed my apartment to turn monstrous, clothes all over the floor and rotting vegetables on the counter. It’s hard to be happy when that’s what you’ve got. Show me an upbeat individual that’s always smiling, and I’ll show you a person that knows when to throw away lettuce.

Last night it really poured here. Torrential downpour. I sat on my bed and tried to write a blog about people falling in love in Taco Bell, but I just couldn’t concentrate because there was a stupid fly and it kept landing on me. This may sound like an excuse, but it’s really what happened. I literally couldn’t write because this fly kept landing on my knees. And it’s presence wasn’t even logical, because my apartment is finally clean for once and I thought that would mean the flies would go away or something.

So I ended up chasing the fly around my apartment, trying to kill it with a paperback copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The fly kept landing in various locations and I would slam the book down only to realize that the fly had dodged the blow, flown off split-seconds before the words “65 Million Copies Sold” came crashing down on its face. It reminded me of action movies, where the villain fires like 80 bullets at the hero and they all miss. That’s how I felt trying to kill the fly. It was frustrating and it made me wonder if I’m a villainous person, because if I was the good guy, I would probably be able to kill an entire army of flies by myself without much trouble.

Eventually I gave up and decided I’d just have to accept that the fly was going to land on me every few minutes. It was a really smart fly, actually – I mean, landing exclusively on the person trying to kill you is probably the best way to avoid death. Not like I was going to slam The Alchemist into my own head or anything. But then I started thinking about books, and I realized something I hadn’t thought of before.

blog bookI’m not the type to get all romantic about real, actual books versus electronic books. I don’t care about the feel of a book in my hands or any of the stuff I’ve heard friends say. But there is something neat about how a book can become something else in one’s day to day life. I thought about how much goofy nonsense I use books for. I use books as paperweights; I use books as decorations; I’ve used a book as a fan on a hot day; I sometimes use books to put on top of chairs to reach things; I’ve used a book as a pillow before; I use books to kill flies. And that’s what I would love to someday accomplish myself. To write something that becomes old and battered, that a person might scribble something on the inside cover of or put under a wobbly chair leg. Because that’s when your book has really become a part of somebody’s life. When it’s not just about words and themes and all that literary stuff, but is the difference between sitting comfortable and falling over.

These are the things I’m contemplating this Sunday afternoon. The fly seems to have somehow left the apartment, which makes me nervous because I don’t know how it did that and now I believe there must be some hidden entrance/escape route somewhere. Whatever. I’m glad that it’s finally gone. I imagine that it’s in someone else’s apartment, and I wonder what bestseller that person is using to smash the damn thing into oblivion.

How Thai Curry Helped Me Conquer My Fears

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blog funnier plane crashI’ve never been good at flying. In fact, every time I step onto a plane, I immediately transform into a crying little baby. Everything about flying terrifies me – the sounds and the movements and the existence of phrases such as ‘shoe bomber.’ Whenever the plane makes a loud noise, I panic and crotch down, assuming the crash position while everybody else quietly naps. If the plane hits a patch of turbulence, my hands shake and I start praying to God like I’m the Pope or Kirk Cameron or someone. And on landings I’m a total disaster, allowing my mind to envision images of wreckage and wondering if my chipped tooth will help the authorities identify my remains.

So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on what would be about nine hours of flying, from Japan to Singapore, with a layover in Kaula Lumpur. This was on the Scoot airline, which I’d never heard of, and whose goofy name inspired about as much confidence as the phrase “Directed by Alan B. Smithee” does appearing in the opening credits of a movie. United Airlines? Air Asia? Now those don’t sound like airlines that would crash. But Scoot? It’s bound to go down. Let’s just say for a second that these airlines were stocks: who on earth wouldn’t choose to invest their money in American Airlines or Air Asia over Scoot? Investing in Scoot would be ridiculous, like pouring all your savings into a company called Boners Inc.

blog flying cartoon not confidentAll that’s to say, I was a nervous wreck the second the plane took off. I tried to stay cool, flipped through the airplane magazine looking at the pictures, and then I just waited for them to come around with the drinks. And then I waited some more. And some more.

See, Scoot is what’s called a “low cost airline.” That means that all the stuff you expect the airline to do for free – like checking your bag or giving you a thimble of orange juice – is not free anymore. This is how low cost airlines make their money. The tickets are mad cheap, but then you have to buy everything. That’s their clever racket.

“There’s no meal with this flight, right?” I asked the flight attendant, already knowing the answer. “Like, I mean, I have to pay for it.”

“Hahaha, of course!” the flight attendant said, laughing at my foolish question. “There’s a menu right in front of you. We take Japanese yen or Malaysian ringgit or Singapore dollars or credit cards or gold or kidneys or anything else that has value, really – whatever’s most convenient for you.”

I sighed. If only I wasn’t so tight with money, then maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. But I’m cheap, or ‘frugal’ as I like to say, and so this meant that I was going to try and make it through the nine hours without eating, and save money and to spite Scoot and their games. I figured if people can make it through periods of fasting, like Ramadan, then I could get through one flight.

As it turned out, I was wrong. My commitment to frugality didn’t last long. Yes, if this was Ramadan, a mere five hours would’ve passed before I threw in the turban.

“I’m starving,” I said to myself. “I can’t take it anymore. Scoot has defeated me in our war of cheapness.”

blog thai curryDisappointed, I called the stewardess over and ordered the curry meal listed in the menu. She disappeared into the back, then returned only to tell me some bad news.

“It’s going to be about twenty minutes. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” I said. “That’s fine.”

As it would turn out, by ‘twenty minutes,’ she really meant ‘an infinite amount of time that cannot be measured.’ Twenty minutes went by with no sign of the curry’s arrival. I was dying, wiggling around in the chair and staring helplessly at the back of the plane.

'I thought we'd never break through those clouds!'And then, what had been my worst fear began to come true. Suddenly, the entire plane jerked. It was sharp enough to produce an audible gasp from the crowd. The jerk was followed by another jerk, then another. Within seconds, the seatbelt sign went on and the pilot was making an announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve turned on the seatbelt sign,” he said. “We just hit a pretty rough patch of turbulence. All passengers and crew please be seated.”

blog shatnerNow, normally this would be a complete nightmare. Normally, I would have been screaming and freaking out like Shatner in the Twilight Zone. But this time, while the plane bobbed and weaved, all I could think about was eating.

“This better not affect the curry,” I thought, looking at the seated flight attendants. “They better get their asses up and go get it. I don’t care if we’re crashing.”

It was probably the worst turbulence I’d ever experienced and yet I had no anxiety whatsoever. My fear had been displaced, my thoughts spiraling all around the hunger I felt. I began to realize that maybe I’d stumbled onto something brilliant. Maybe fear could be replaced by other things – hunger, thirst, a need to go to the bathroom, the physical discomfort of tight underpants. Minor physical sensations that could work as a distraction, could displace neurotic anxiety, sending one’s focus onto an alternate outcome (eating curry, obtaining water, etc.) that would assist them in achieving the original desired outcome (making it through a flight, robbing a bank, etc.).

The plane was still unsteady when the curry arrived. I couldn’t have been happier. I knew I’d done it – I had conquered my fear, and I’d even gotten a side of brown rice to go with it.

*   

Destiny Can Be So Overrated

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blog hippie guyI might not have noticed them had he played guitar better. There were three of them, sitting together in the hot sun. This was on the island of Gili Trawangan, about an hours boat ride off the coast of Bali. I was there with my girlfriend, S___, while the three strangers sat about fifteen feet from us, the sound of the guitar and their voices coming together into some sort of off-key musical jamboree.

I like the way you walk,” the girl sang. She was white with braided brown hair that sat on the top of her head like the trays of fruit the island women carried. “I like the way you walk, I like the way you talk, oh Susie Q.”

blog bali woman thing on headThe dude playing guitar had blonde hair and a blonde beard, a tan body and the type of posture that suggested he’d spent his life abstaining from laziness. The other guy had all the same features as the first guy – blonde, beard, no slouch to read into – but lacked the first guy’s charisma. They were like two photographs of the same person. The first guy was the picture in which the subject is smiling and has his eyes nicely opened, while the second guy was the picture in which the subject’s mouth is woefully crooked and the eyes have just shut, making the subject look drugged.

“It must be the guitar,” I figured, trying to determine what exactly made the first guy more charming.

Whatever the reason, the brown-haired girl seemed to agree. If she was a moon, she would clearly have been in his orbit and not the other guy’s. She continued to sing as he haphazardly plucked away at the guitar strings.

Give me one reason to stay here,” she sang, stopping now and then when the guitar player screwed up, making it sound as if she was singing while having the hiccups. “And…I’ll…turn right…back around.”

Gili Trawangan photoMore time passed and I wondered why I was drawn to watching them. They were really bad, the guitar and vocals all over the place, and yet they appeared to be having a blast. The girl had this huge smile on her face. The guy with the guitar beamed at her. And the other guy drummed away on his thighs with his fingers and nodded his head like he was witnessing a Lennon/McCarthy songwriting session.

“How cool,” I thought. “They don’t give a shit. They truly don’t. They just dig the vibes of the beach and the island and the music. I think I love them.”

It was about then that S___ turned to me and said she was hungry. She’d spent the last few days eating fruit and island coconuts while I gorged on hamburgers and beer, sort of providing a hint in case any of our waiters were wondering which of us would die first. The sun was starting to go down anyways, and so we got up and went back to the hotel, showered and dressed and assessed the severity of our sunburns.

The whole time, I kept thinking about the trio we’d seen on the beach. I wanted to know more about them. Where did they come from? What did they do? Were they really as free and divorced from the working world, the paycheck world, the non-island world, as they appeared to be?

blog adorable kittenS___ and I walked back down the beach, looking at menus and dodging stray cats. That’s an important part of the story. All her life, S___ has been terrified of cats. They fill her with an irrational sense of terror, similar to how Anne Coulter fears soccer. Every so often I’d point and shout ‘cat!’ and S___ would duck behind me so that an oncoming kitten wouldn’t brush her leg with its adorable head.

Anyways, we ended up eating at a place called Ocean 2, right by the water. We ordered our food and that’s when I looked to my right and saw them, the same trio of people from earlier on the beach. They were seated at a table diagonal from us, the girl sitting next to the guitar player. She was still smiling, he was still shirtless, and the other guy was still there. I ordered some Thai curry and a beer and began wondering if there was more to this than simple coincidence. If maybe, just perhaps, they’d popped up again for a greater purpose, something deeper. To any extent, I definitely enjoyed spying on them.

blog hippie loveThe girl was so drawn to this guy and yet he seemed oblivious. Wait, no, not oblivious, it was more that he was extremely cool about it. He just kept doing his thing, drank his water, chilled out, didn’t desperately try to return her flirtations. I liked the dynamic he’d created. They were obviously going to sleep together but there wasn’t anything sleazy about it at all. They weren’t using each other for pleasure or for ego. This was more real. More natural. They were two people simply being together for one specific moment in time, making a connection.

I drank my beer and secretly nodded in appreciation, although I still wasn’t sure what greater purpose their presence suggested. A few minutes later, I heard the loud, conspicuous cry of a beach cat. Since we were at an ocean front restaurant, it wasn’t unusual for the beach cats to wander around the tables begging for scraps of food. The cat cried again and I saw S___’s eyes widen with horror.

“Where is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, sure that it was close.

blog scary catIt cried again. We both knew exactly where it was.

“It’s under my chair!” S___ shouted. After that she screamed. “Aaaaaaaaagh!”

The whole restaurant turned to look. Some people laughed. I took S___’s hand and told her to breathe, that she was okay. And then it happened.

Fate stepped in.

blog fate is sealedThe shirtless guitar guy calmly leaned over and held his hand out. He made kissy sounds with his lips. The cat slinked its way out from under S___’s chair, over to his fingertips. He dropped some bits of fish down on the ground for the cat to come eat. While it did, one of the restaurant staff picked the cat up and bounced it out of there like it was an unruly drunk ass customer.

I was stunned. There it was, my proof that the trio had indeed been brought into our lives for a greater purpose. That purpose being to save my girlfriend from a kitten.

“That’s it?” I thought, a bit disappointed and let down. “That was the greater purpose? To distract a kitten with fish?”

blog coincidenceThen I thought that maybe that’s how fate works. Maybe we all want fate to appear in ways that will change our lives forever, when actually fate just does things so miniscule it’s barely noticeable. Maybe all the great big things in life come about due to hard work or knowing the right people or just plain coincidence, and all the small bits of shrug-worthy minutiae, maybe those are fate.

Met your future husband at the pizza place?

Coincidence. 

Had some guy pick up your sunglasses after they fell out of your pocket on the bus?

Fate. 

The next morning I saw them again at breakfast. It was only the two this time, the guitar guy and the girl. She still smiled. He still avoided shirts. They both still beamed at each other. Like a couple in love. Like two people that were free from everything.

I guess that’s what their significance was. Just to be there, and to not look like everybody else.

*

A Sentimental Journey, Somewhat Lacking in Sentiment

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blog split pantsIt was the middle of July, and I was back in South Korea.

For the previous six months, China had held me like a (somewhat abusive) mother, kept me close to her heaving breast. But now I’d broken free from her, fled back to Daddy South Korea. That might sound goofy, but it’s how I viewed the two of them. My second life had begun inside Daddy South Korea; I’d formed inside his scrotum and was eventually shot out into Mother China, somehow penetrating her Great Wall, which, in this analogy, I suppose would represent a diaphragm. Yes, it was all an accident, just like when my actual parents conceived me one sunny afternoon in the 1970s.

It felt good, being back in Seoul. Sitting around a deserted restaurant, eating dongkas by myself, I realized that it had blog dongkasbeen an amazing five years since I’d first set foot in South Korea. That was back in 2009, when I worked at an English Academy for the summer, before I returned to the USA and completely blew my life up. I came to Korea that summer with a wife by my side and a house back in North Carolina. One week after returning, the summer about to end, I had neither.

Suddenly, while savoring my delicious dongkas, the significance of those last five years seemed enormous. Meaningful. I could feel the wicked
pointer finger of nostalgia poking at me – nostalgia, that most awful of emotions, more prevalent in Americans than in others, the desire to relive one’s past through pictures or objects or stories. Nostalgia is almost blog blow up dollpornographic in a way, masturbatory, both sometimes revolving around home movies or toys, substitutions for a real something. I knew it was happening yet I couldn’t stop it. I wanted so badly to go back to my first apartment in Seoul, just so I could look at its façade, as though it was a kind of ancient ruins, standing there as a symbol of an era that ended long ago.

blog nostalgia comicYes, I could picture everything. All the images I’d snapped in my head five years earlier. There was that big fountain by the subway station, the one where thin arcs of clean white water would shoot up from the ground as if by some miracle the concrete was spraying out champagne. Then there was the apartment building where I used to live, old and exhausted, my former place on the second floor, sitting on top of a pig meat restaurant. And finally there was the building where my wife – prior to ex status – used to live, an all-girls dormitory, the place in which she sat and decided she didn’t care for Korea (her feelings alone) and didn’t like our marriage much either (that one was mutual).

So I went back. I got on the subway and traveled to Sinjeongnegeori Station, walked out of exit number three and, stepping into the sun, I immediately knew exactly where I was. It was weird, sort of like seeing a movie for the second time, remembering most of it, filling in the details that hadn’t seemed important the first time around. I easily found the all-girls dormitory, the pig meat restaurant, and the fountain where I used to sit and chill after work. All the locations were close to each other geographically, exactly as they’d shared the same space in my memory.

Now, I’m not totally sure what I expected to feel. Awe? Wonder? Anxiety? As it turned out, I felt very little of anything. I looked at all the stuff and kind of shrugged. Said, “Yeah, that’s cool,” in my head. Really, it’s probably
the way I’d react if my guardian angel came and transported me anywhere in my past. Replacing George Bailey with me would significantly lessen the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I would go through my past vaguely interested, bored, and then, at the end, jump off the bridge.

 

To heck with Christmas.

To heck with Christmas.

Undistracted by emotion, I sat down by the big fountain, opened my journal, and wrote this. I’d gone back in time and realized that nothing had really changed, although I don’t mean that in a negative or cynical way. The locations were the same, the people seemed the same. I was still writing in journals with a black pen, still amusing myself with my own thoughts. I was still in Seoul, even after all that time had passed. But more than all that, and most importantly, I still felt all the hope that I’d felt sitting on the same bench half a decade earlier. The belief that I could make my life better, create this brilliant new start to things. I thought about the future, just as I had before, and again it seemed beautiful, filled with limitless possibility.

The past is not a pretty place to get stuck in. I’d taken a sentimental journey there only to find it lacked sentiment, and for that I couldn’t have been happier.

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10 Facts That Will Hopefully Get This Blog Nicely Re-Booted

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blog pop art worried manUm, hey. What’s happening?

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? We should, like, catch up or something. Really it’s my fault. All my fault. I’ve been distant and I realize that. It’s just…I’ve been busy. No, really, I have been. Yeah, I know I’ve used that line before, said it a million times in the past, but this time it’s true. For once I’m not lying.

It's technically impossible not to love MJ at least a little bit.

It’s technically impossible not to love MJ at least a little bit.

What’s that? You don’t care? You’ve lost interest? Well, I can understand that. It’s sort of like Guns ‘N Roses, how all those years passed and by the time Chinese Democracy came out, nobody really cared anymore. And I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be Chinese Democracy. No, I’d rather be more like Michael Jackson, disappear for a long time and then be widely embraced when the new material finally surfaces. In fact, I’m listening to “Love Never Felt So Good” right now. Just to put me in an optimistic mind set. And I’m even dancing. Trust me, if you could see it, you’d love me for sure.

Just FYI: Paradise City is on a different album.

Just FYI: Paradise City is on a different album.

Huh? Say what? You loved Chinese Democracy? Thought it was the best record of 2008? Wow. Seriously?

Oh, I get it. You were just being sarcastic. You always were such a joker. It might take awhile to get your sense of humor again. It’s so dry. But things will work out. Trust me, they will. Now let me fill you in a bit on what’s happened over the last year. Just, you know, in case you’re curious. And I’ll make it snappy. Ten quick facts, shorts burst of truth, that encapsulate the last 12 months nicely.

1. I am indeed alive.

2. I still live in China.

3. I like China now. It’s cool. I’m even going to stay here another year.

4. While it may seem as though I haven’t been writing much, that would actually be untrue. I’ve written a lot. Boatloads.

5. In fact, I’ve written so much, I’ve completed a novel. Well, not totally completed it, but it’s mostly done. I’m sure that if I just tinker with a few sentences here and there, it’ll be perfect. A masterpiece!

'I found it to be the kind of book that once you put it down you never want to pick it up again.'6. This wasn’t the novel I set out to write. Not even close. I sort of wrote two novels…but the first one was so bad, I had to jump ship. The second one is good. In all honesty, I think it’s really good. A masterpiece!

7. Writing a novel is such an intense, agonizing, fantastic experience. Everybody should do it. You reach such a level of catharsis when it’s all over…it’s unexplainable. Better than any therapy you’ll ever pay for. Believe me. Knowing that you’ve completed something, such a personal and arduous task, will cleanse your mind in ways you didn’t think possible.

8. I won’t say much more about the novel in this post. I will in future posts. This blog will definitely not become about the novel or about the writing process in general, but, as I begin to enter the phase of trying to publish it, I think some people might be interested in what happens. Sending it out to agents. Trying to get it read. Perhaps having to self-publish the thing. It could be interesting, especially when you go ahead and write that novel you really should be writing now. The one you’ve always wanted to write. So every now and again there will be novel updates. Hopefully the tale does not turn out to be tragic. Although, if it does, that could make for decent material, because everybody enjoys stories of failure.

9. Topiclessbar will go back to regular posts starting this week.

10. The posts will be funny, entertaining, reflective, easy to relate to, enjoyable, purposeful, and worth reading. This is a new beginning. There’s much to be discussed.

So that’s about it. Come back in a couple days. I’ll have a nice piece about visiting Korea up and ready to go. And two days after that, I’ll post that thing I wrote about the hippie couple I inadvertently stalked in Bali. This is going to be fun. I can even fix you a cocktail to sip on while you read if you’d like.

I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing now. But I hope you decide to stop by again.

Trying to make sense of this crazy thing called life is too difficult, so let’s just laugh at it together.

*

Some Random Thoughts on Dating and Writing

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Back in 1995, when I was at the peak of my failures with the opposite sex, scoring a date was about as easy as getting accepted into college (ie, not easy). Luck had nothing to do with it – it was all about finding someone who was willing to look past your grades and/or pimples and give you a chance. Getting a date, like applying to uni, involved a shitload of hard work. Just meeting the girl in the first place, having the luck or courage to exchange names, was a trial – after that, I would have to create a good impression, get the phone number, successfully call the girl, and then, finally, trick her into agreeing to meet me someplace. Usually a movie, or dinner, or something. And let’s not forget, this was before the days of cellphones and Caller ID, so procuring the phone number was harder, and calling meant you had to figure out the right time to do it, greet the parent, and then actually have a conversation with the person. Talk about stressful – no wonder I settled for the companionship of my pet dog and the sexual fulfillment promised by late night Cinemax.

But then two things came along that totally revolutionized dating – Texting and Starbucks.

Yes, that’s correct: Texting and Starbucks. Suddenly, getting a girl’s phone number became easy. The number exchange involved no commitment; there was no looming conversations, no fathers to get through, and the ability to screen calls allowed girls the freedom to pass out their numbers like they were handing out party invitations. Nearly anyone could get an invite; it didn’t mean a whole lot. The other big dating revolution came in the form of Starbucks. No longer did the male have to arrange such a formal occasion, meeting for a meal or a long movie, something that had an unavoidable date vibe to it. Nope, now the two people could go and hang out, informally, grab a cup of coffee and get to know one another. Making an ulcer-inducing phone call that culminated in a date request faded out, in favor of sending a cute text with the suggestion of getting a cup of coffee sometime. Whenever is good. What you doing Wednesday? It was that simple. People now had the freedom to make commitments without making commitments, and everyone was happier, with the exception of the people that run Cinemax, because their ratings dropped.

Writing, I believe, has followed much the same arc. A mere 20 years ago, I was typing up stories and putting them in big envelopes, mailing them out to magazines via snail mail with a SASE inside. I’d typically send out two or three stories a year, and I always got rejected, which sucked royally since just sending the story out was such a production. The other strange thing was trying to find magazines – I had a big book called “The Writer’s Market” that spoke of literary mags I had never heard of or seen before. Sending out my work was odd because it felt like I was submitting to some phantom venue with an unknown phantom audience of an indefinable number.

But then, just as texting and Starbucks changed dating, two things would come along that changed writing: Blogging and Kindle.

Really, I should say ‘self-publishing’ instead of Kindle – I was trying too hard to stick with the –ing verb/proper noun setup. When I learned that I could start my own blog (and for free too!), suddenly the stress was gone. I didn’t have to worry about mailing something out, getting a rejection letter back in an envelope I paid for. I could write an essay, a story, whatever I wanted, and put it up on the Internet without worrying. It was great! And hot damn! – thanks to places like Kindle and Smashwords, I could even write a whole novel one day and publish it myself. Formality had left the building, the old ways gone, replaced by the writing equivalent of hanging out, having fun, and hooking up.

The reason I’m blabbing on about this is because I’ve been spending tons of time lately writing what will eventually be my first novel. In my life, I have never worked on anything harder than I’ve worked on this, and I’m not even remotely close to finishing. Focusing on the novel has lead to a dramatic fall-off in blogging, a social life that lacks many of the social elements, and a constant sense of guilt anytime I spend a few hours watching TV and not ironing out Chapter 9 for the 127th time.

And yet, as frustrating as writing the novel has been, I kind of love doing it. The sense of ambition and, yes, satisfaction too, is unlike what I experience writing my blog. Don’t get me wrong – over the last two years, I’ve LOVED writing this blog, and have been hella lucky that people have read it. That said, like scoring a coffee date, there’s been the feeling that the blog can’t be the be-all-end-all – that it should be a step, something that leads to something else. Hopefully that’s the novel…although God knows when I’ll finish the thing. I completed the first draft in January (weighing in at a ridiculously bloated 125,000 words) and am currently in the process of basically writing everything all over again. It’s challenging and thrilling and I’m not sure what it will lead to, if anything – a lot like beginning a new relationship with someone.

If there’s any points to be made here, I guess, first of all, I want to thank texting and Starbucks, and blogging and self-publishing, for filling my life with hope and possibility where none existed before. And the second point, I further guess, is that everyone should sit down and push themselves to do something that takes more work than texting and blogging, because even though those things are great, there’s a different level of pleasure that comes with pushing oneself into areas less certain.

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