The Non-Writing Yurt

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It’s clear to me now- I’m no writer. The sitting still! The sustained effort! Not my strong suits.

I’m in Shaboo’s writing yurt. The gracious and generous Shaboo has let me stay here for two months to write my fictional memoir. It’s stalled out and all I do now is drink and walk in the woods.

Yes, I’m drinking. Alone. Yes, I’ve talked to Carl and Lila after my most recent assholery. They’re housesitting for me. Together. “Seriously,” you ask? Yes, it’s true. My on again/off again soul mate and my longtime college bud- my two best friends in the world- are shacking up in my house on my farm. The best part? It’s a little fuzzy, but I think it was my idea! That’s how I am when I drink. I create the conditions necessary for self-pity so I can justify my own destruction. Alcoholism 101.

Shaboo has cranked out some good stuff in this writing yurt in the Berkshires. There’s a little shower and privy outside with plumbing, the only nod to comfort or civilization. No electricity. No wifi. He writes longhand then revises as he types into a computer back in town. That fucker published two novels like that! One was about below-decks love and murder on a whaling vessel. The other was about fascist sleeper cells in the US waiting for a charismatic bamboozler to appear, get elected president and make America white again. Very sinister stuff. Shaboo, successful novelist, is the same guy who wandered campus catatonic on acid half the time, looking hard at things, staring at trees, people, rocks, then wandering off to look some more. I took acid with him once and I was like, “Let’s go holy shit to the cemetery and read the gravestones whoaaaa”. And he just looked at me then wandered off.

I’m not doing so good here in the yurt. Peanut butter, crackers and Blue Label Smirnoff is my main fare. After I won the lottery, this was my fear: grinding to a halt, fog rolling in, a destructive inertia like a resigned wildebeest stuck in the mud.

The news from the outside world can’t be good. Here are some of the words and phrases I glimpsed on newspapers the last time I went to town: Death Toll, Rampage, Police Anguish, Coup Attempt, Supreme Court, #deflategate. I tried not to look any deeper. Clearly the world is going mad. It begs the question: Why even try?

“Why even try,” I asked Shaboo the other day when he came to check on me (check on the yurt).

“You have to cooperate in your fate,” he said. “Otherwise, the symptoms appear.”

“What symptoms?”

“Drinking, chronic masturbation, eating like shit, palpitations, Shadenfreude…”

“Shay done who?”

“That’s German for taking pleasure in the failure of others.”

“That’s a symptom? I thought that’s just the way of life.”

“Not everyone feels that way.”

It looks like I got me some symptoms. The diagnosis?

“You have soul sickness. You need to care for your soul,” Shaboo said and glanced around the yurt. “Maybe a trip away…”

“Out west! Back to Colorado!”

“That sounds abrupt but good,” he said.  “Maybe you can rediscover yourself.  Or even find that old love of yours.”  He pulled an empty vodka bottle from between the sofa cushions. “I can drive you to the airport right now, pardner.”

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JJ’s Memoir-Getting High in Mork’s House

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Now that marijuana is ostensibly legal most everywhere, and stensibly legal in Colorado, it seems quaint to think back to the sneaking and code words and blowing one-hitter smoke into exhaust fans. Nowadays you walk down the street and get a whiff of smoke from houses, cars, daycares. I guess They’re allowing us a little salve for the pain They caused when They crashed the economy. You know Those guys? They’re the ones who really run the country, the Ones who get rich off a rigged system and ruin shit for everyone else. Those motherfuckers.

Anyway, here’s the next part of the memoir:

 

When I look back, I wonder at my petty and mean business acumen, my instinct to make money off people who had no thought about money. Today, I am completely lacking in guile and I sometimes feel neutered by my honesty. Life in Twelve Step programs ruins dishonesty for people whose first instinct is to lie, cheat, and steal. But, healthy honesty has saved my life and I can now move toward death in a slow peaceful descent rather than on a rollercoaster.

Do I sound a little bitter? Writing and recalling my days as a budding, opportunistic, and anything-goes pot dealer has opened a spigot of impure but tasty juice that leaves me edgy and restless. In short, I miss being an asshole. Oh, it comes out from time to time. After all, I am in a relationship (on again, off again, limbo right now). But, as I write, I miss the charge, the certainty, and most importantly, the lack of regret. I really miss the lack of regret. Too much empathy does not get it done in the 21st century USA.

So, after landing in Denver, I went with Kyle to smoke some pot in Boulder.2000px-Cannabis_leaf.svg

Of course, it was super sticky and super dank and I wanted to know where it came from. We smoked some and sat back in the upstairs living room of this massive Victorian. “My sister lives downstairs,” Kyle said. “My parents actually bought this place so we could live here. This was Mork and Mindy’s house.”

So, Nanoo Nanoo. I had heard of such things and, back East, it was very common for parents to buy cars for their kids. But a house? “What do your parents do?”

Kyle exhaled a long plume of pot smoke so I couldn’t tell if there was a sigh there. “He’s into drilling, natural gas extraction. He rapes the planet to get rich.”

“So this place here is the fruits of his planet rape?”

Kyle laughed, “Dude, I gotta use that one. Next Thanksgiving, at the dinner table.”

“Yeah, “ I said. “At grace. And thank you Jesus for this food, the fruits of our planet rape.”

We laughed about the rape of our planet.

Someone was coming up the stairs. “That’ll be Sissy,” Kyle said.

And Sissy’s friend.

At first glance, she was not much to look at. Rosy cheeks, shortish, and almost plump, (she would become very plump in middle age. I checked on Facebook). Almost milk-maidish or peasant-like. But she had a gleam in her eye, a troublemaker with something loose and wanton in the way she moved. She looked at people frankly, daring them to say something or do something for her amusement. Her name was Camille.

“Not Cammy,” she said. “Got that?”

“No problem, Not Cammy,” I said from a stoned place a hundred miles from where I sat.

“Now get us high,” she said and sat down next to me, moving me over with a swing of her hip.  Did I mention wanton? That was the first word that popped into my head. Not sure I even knew what it meant.

“If I could bring this pot back East I could sell the shit out of it. We smoke dirt out there.”

“Why would you want to commodify something so beautiful,” Camille said. She pulled a massive bong hit. Nice lungs.

“Camille is taking some class about the commodification of culture,” Sissy said.

“Who are you, anyway,” Camille asked me.

“Jason. From the plane.”

“We sat together on the flight,” Kyle said. He packed another hit and handed it to Sissy.

“So, he picked you up? On the plane? You guys didn’t do it in the bathroom, did you?”

“It wasn’t like that,” I said, too quickly.

“So, a culture commidifier and a homophobe,” Camille mocked. I could feel the armor of my self-consciousness rising. I wanted to withdraw inside that armor, shut it down. Pot was never my favorite. Too much meaning.

“Fuck off,” I managed.

Camille punched my arm. “Don’t be sensitive,” she said. “You’ll learn that I’m never serious. Except when I am.”

“Oh, Shazbut,” I thought (or should have thought). I had already fallen for her.

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JJ’s Memoir- The Trustafarian

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I recently read a memoir by a very funny author named Gary Shteyngart. His family came to the US from Russia during the Cold War and he has to deal with identity crises, culture clash, and daddy issues. Gary’s family was allowed to come to the US during the Cold War because they were Jewish. From the little I know about history, Jewish folks are always moving on from one place or another, sometimes by choice. These events made for interesting writing. Me, I come from suburban Connecticut. Coming from suburban Connecticut does not make for interesting writing, unless you want to write about traffic, snobs, or business parks off of exit ramps. Business parks are not the fun kind of parks, despite the grass and trees. Anyway, here’s the next part. I’m leaving, on a jet plane…

On the plane out I sat next to some well funded pseudo-hippy named Kyle. Kyle was a Trustafarian. A Trustafarian is a rich kid, funded by parents, who gets to live without working. Predictably, he then stops bathing, gets dreadlocks, skis or snowboards or climbs or hang glides or just sits around talking about all those things while smoking copious amounts of pot. In other words: Person, in early twenties, with lots of money, who doesn’t have to work. Trustafarians would be my most lucrative customers when I started working for Matias and the Rocky Mountain Mafia.

“Right on, dude,” Kyle said when I told him I was leaving my troubles behind to live in Colorado. “Me, too.”

“Did you run from the cops, too?”

He looked at me. “Uh, no, not really, dude. My parents were after me. To

finish college. What a racket, man. Corporatized education. I won’t become their robot.”

“Do you work out there?”

“Work? Like a job?” Kyle smiled and rubbed his hands together as we cruised 40,000 feet above Iowa. “Working is not the way for me.”

“So, help me out here. How do you live? I mean, are you in a commune or something?”

“I live in a house. In Boulder.”

“Are there others like you?”

“Dude, that’s a weird question but, yeah man, we’re everywhere out there.”

Kyle was getting a bit tense with all the questions so I let him nap. But his insouciance, his pothead with money and not a care in the world demeanor, it was stirring something in me. The flicker of an idea. Who sells weed to these lazy, well-funded, and nonviolent freaks? Also, where does Kyle get his weed? Because I wanted to smoke some as soon as we landed.

“So,” I said as we started our descent into Denver. “When we land, where can I get that good bud that you so obviously partake of and are so obviously a connoisseur of?”

Kyle looked a bit alarmed but then a sly smile, a little coy, crept into his face. He was proud of his connections and his connoisseur status. That’s the way into these Trustafarians’ hearts. Like some high powered businessman with a bimbo on his arm. He wants you to stare, but not too much, just enough to acknowledge his superiority. For Trustafarians, you compliment their taste in marijuana, Frisbees, and old Volvos. Then they can’t help but let you into their secret.

“Where are you going when we get there?”

“Wherever you are,” I said. “For a little while.”

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Spring’s Coming

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Driving home from work, the face of my son popped into my head and I cried for the years gone by. There was a song on, Sloop John B, and I cried for him and me and the passing of time.

Later, waiting for soccer practice to end, I sat in a Starbucks and watched a few teens, one with green hair, drink their drinks and caper in an artsy way. They languished on couches, taking up too much space, limbs all stacked and crossing, like fallen trees in a forest. They didn’t laugh (uncool), but they talked earnestly and glanced around. They glanced at me but didn’t see me. A boy said something about the snow and moving to a tropical island.   The girl with the green hair said, “Brett, you would die on a tropical island. You love this shit.” And they all laughed without smiling, nodding and glancing around, peering really, to make sure no one was listening. I looked away just in time.

I moved the kids’ bed last weekend and found all these toys we hadn’t seen for years. A monkey named Boots, a glow-in-the-dark ball, a foam sword covered in dust. The kids unearthed these lost items like archeologists, dusting them off, and discussing their uses like they were the implements of a vanished civilization, which they kind of are.

This is the thing. Sadness is upon me a lot these days. Even when I laugh, there is a hole, just above my gut, that doesn’t get filled.  Spring is coming.

 

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JJ’s Memoir- Gasping in the Dark

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So, these are going to be excerpts, okay? I can’t just write the whole memoir and post it out here for free. The truth is, I can’t write anything longer than a page at a time anyway. In fact, I’ve begun to think that way, a page at a time, which is good for some things, like blogging and making grocery lists. It’s not so good for maintaining relationships, holding down a job, or contemplating the future. A page at a time. Could be the motto for my new twelve step group, Frustrated Writers Anonymous. Will you join? The coffee is horrible. But, it’s free!

Actually the cops had my dead neighbor’s car. And, I didn’t have my license on me when I got pulled over. So, they actually had squat. I told them my name was Fred and they were more concerned with the smell of liquor to pursue my last name. My dead neighbor’s name was Fred and I had borrowed the car. Fred was dead and I was running across campus. However, my oxygen intake was limited by pack-a-day lungs and I was starting to gasp and see stars. So I ducked into a little grove of trees to catch my breath. Beyond my gasping, it was very quiet. No dorms or bars or people around. The Charles Hicks Chemistry Building (CHC) loomed close by and a pond was between me and a campus road. A police car prowled slowly on the other side of the pond but I was in the trees and very still. I knew every inch of this campus from pizza delivery and six years of tepid undergrad commitment. So, I waited in that grove and thought about my life.

One thing was clear. Beyond the exhilaration of the shenanigans and lack of responsibilities, I was heading nowhere and I was fucked. College was just the scaffold that held my life together. Officially, I was a student. In reality, I was a grubby drug-addled drunk looking for the next blast. Fun and games on the surface, dying slowly on the inside, stagnant and sad. No one was going to recognize my unique brand of devil-may-care genius and give me a job or a book deal or even a sandwich. Professors reached out to me, encouraging, wanting to mentor. I perceived them as threats. These realities, long stewing in the swampy shame at the bottom of my (now ample) gut, bubbled up and I shed tears in those trees, which may have been from exertion but, for the purposes of this story, were tears of release. As I hid from the cops and my heart rate came down and I realized I left my cigarettes in the car, (Fuck!), I knew that it was time for a change.

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JJ’s Memoir- The DUI

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Memoir?  Fiction?  Fictional memoir?   Real events, tweaked and compressed? Easier said than done, especially since it’s all fogged by time, booze, and selective remembering.  Also, I have only the loosest grasp of English grammar. There was the escape to the West, meeting the duplicitous hippy chick Lucille and six-fingered Matias. The Rocky Mountain Mafia, of course. Which led to The Incident. Then, the hideout in the mountains and a final showdown at 11,000 feet.   And, the aftermath (epilogue?). But, I suppose this IS the aftermath and that’s enough to explain why I need to write it all down. Damn that Shaboo! Damn him and bless him. I’ve been treading water for too long. Can this project bring me back to life?

Here goes nothing.

I guess it really started with delivering pizza in the mid-1990s New England on the campus of my state university. If you have a car at college, then delivering pizza is a great way to make money quick. Cash money! Great for a certain lifestyle. You can’t buy pot with a credit card (actually, you can now, but that’s a different story).   So I had a one-hitter in the ashtray and a vodka bottle in the door holder and it worked pretty good, the drinking and delivering. Until it didn’t work and I got pulled over in front of a crowd of people waiting to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the campus stadium. The cops’ favorite: tail light out. With a crowd chanting “DUI! DUI! DUI!”, I was asked to step out of the car. When the pint vodka bottle, blue label 100 proof Smirnoff, fell from the door compartment and went skittering into the street, the crowd cheered and the roadside sobriety test was kind of moot. The chants of “DUI! DUI!” were renewed with a fervor of spectacle and satisfaction and I raised my arms in triumph, basking in my defeat. I had never received so much attention before. The cop said, “Put your arms down, asshole.”

I’d like to say what I did next was ballsy or righteous or filled with the spirit of freedom. But, there was no thought whatsoever. I just made a run for it. I ran away from the crowd, across the street, and into the maze of buildings in the center of campus. The crowd roared and, once away from the cop car and street lights and stadium lights and people, it was very dark and quiet and it felt good and I was running very fast. The cops had my car and my weed but I was running and it felt really fucking good and right.

I ran all the way to the Rockies.

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Tweaked and Compressed

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JJ finished talking.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Let me get this straight.” Shaboo leaned back and looked hard at JJ. “You came in here to get drunk and escape two friends that make you uncomfortable and may or not be fucking with your implied consent?”

“Yeah, but…”

“And you cut you’re yearlong road trip short after two months because you couldn’t stand being around this woman you supposedly love.”

“Yeah, but we go back…”

“And you won a million bucks and bought a farm and you don’t farm but you live there and do…what? Putter around?”

“Well, at first…”

“And you moved back from Wyoming or wherever to find yourself after your real true love jerked you around for a few years?”

“We were close…”

“And that real true love, what was her name again?”

“Lucille.”

“After Lucille convinced you to live in a tent in the mountains to escape the Rocky Mountain Mafia.”

“She was trying to help. As it turns out…”

“And you were fleeing the Rocky Mountain Mafia because you stole a bunch of money from nine-fingered Miguel?”

“Matias.”

“And this Matias was some kind of Dear Leader to Lucille and she introduced you so you could sell pot for Matias?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I was looking for pot for me. At first.”

“And you moved out there because you ran from some cops at a traffic stop in Connecticut and just kept running?”

“Yeah, well, I had been drinking. I think there’s still a warrant.”

Shaboo paused. “That explains why you disappeared from college so quick.”

“Yeah.”

“So there’s only one question here.”

“What’s that.”

“Why the hell aren’t you writing this down?”

“Well…”

“Dude, you got like three novels right there. What the fuck!?”

“That’s just my life. Those things really happened.”

Shaboo stared at JJ. “What do you think fiction is? It’s just shit that really happened, tweaked and compressed.”

“It’s as simple as that?”

“Yeah. No. The work…” Shaboo trailed off and looked away. His face became vacant and pained, like a veteran recalling the meaningless loss of comrades in headlong assaults. “The work takes a toll. If you do it right.”

They were quiet and the tavern crowd was thinning.

“But, is it worth it?”

Shaboo’s face came back. The twinkle, the head cock, the direct look. “Yeah, it’s worth it. What else you gonna do?”

The next day, JJ got to work.

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