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Impostor!

Impostor syndrome is exactly what it sounds like. It is the belief that you are a fraud and you will be discovered and exposed and it will all come tumbling down when it happens. Okay, the last part, about it all tumbling down, perhaps that’s more projection. The syndrome as I know it is self diagnosed and I’ve been self-diagnosed with it many times throughout my life.

I have to be the last one awake. I need to know that everyone is asleep before I can start to tune out from the outside world and tune in to me. Before than I’m obsessed with capturing everything. Every joke and laugh. Every sidelong glance and thoughtful expression. Every conversation and concern, cataloging all of it. Every show. Every game. Everything. It’s been this way my whole life. When I was young I remember actually thinking that I didn’t want to go to sleep because I didn’t want to miss anything. For a brief time, from my early teens through early  middle adulthood I think a good part of that feeling was that I didn’t want to miss out or perhaps give the space for people to start bad mouthing me. Impostor Syndrome can make you a tad paranoid. It wasn’t a great look and it speaks to a certain neediness I have to cop to. I want people to like me and only like me. Which can be as wearying, I’ve come to understand, for those people who love me as it is for me.

When I was a kid I didn’t realize I did it. Being from a family of night owls, like SERIOUS all night owls, I didn’t put it all together. But when I got out in the world I recognized it. I wanted to know every detail of every story. I wanted to be in on everyones’ feelings and watch them evolve, shift, change and be fully processed out. I was obsessed with the stories going on inside everyone else. I think watching others process everything, from the tiniest disappointment to the rending and breaking of alliances and relationships was an obsession. I am from a giant, diverse family and I was in the middle and it’s possible that as much as this was my temperament I was also sculpted by my situation. There were endless connections sprouting, flourishing, growing and suffering, thriving and recovering around me at all times. Watching the most intimate moments of transformation, tiny and grand from up close and pulling them apart to try to understand them was my way, I think, of trying to usnderstand myself. I’ve felt an odd distance from myself my whole life. Watching others and trying hard to see as many angles as I could has been my work in many ways. My life has been lived in this labaratory.

I’m again feeling a bit of the impostor. It’s not traumatizing in the way it’s been before, but its there. I’m my own worst enemy at times. I recently made a book. A collection of some of my better parenting stories. I slapped it together. The writing had been done over years and I didn’t give it enough before I let it out in the world. I’ve since announced apologies, but it doesn’t change the embarrassment of it. I think I did it replicating the process of clearing the initial hurdle of becoming a ‘writer’, which was on my blog and eventually on others websites. I put down something meaningful and personal as fast as I could, gave it the most glancing of once overs and put it out in the world before I could lose the courage and edit out the real stuff. This is a GREAT way to get over the fear of vulnerability. This is a terrible way to make a book.

I’d always wanted to be a writer. In some ways it felt unreal and unattainable to me than the idea of being a professional basketball player had been when I was younger. It was the type of thing I’d only tell someone if I got very close to them and telling them was the closest I’d come for a very long time to pursuing it. In some ways it seemed like enough. Just expressing it. It was really more a wish, really. I guess I wanted to write, but only because I wanted to ‘be a writer’. I wrote some embarrassingly terrible things, real attempts on real things called word processors that never ever will be retrieved. I genuinely can’t recall the stories and if they start to come back to me I will immediately do whatever it takes to stop it.

Of course there was also reading. Books. Stories. Closely observed familial dramas. Fantastical tales of lifelong interest packaged to fool adults into thinking them children’s fare. Humorous absurdities disguised as adventures poking fun at everyone, even the readers. Tales of the weird aloneness of being a teenager. Great works of earnest vulnerability that can only be grasped after leaving ones youth. Grand epic tales spanning centuries that happened half a world away and a millennia ago. Sweeping historical fictions relishing the details of times the author can’t have breathed in, telling the story from surprising points of view that lend well known subject matter infinitely more depth and granularity. I’ve loved being spun by the great masters and the hidden gems, my authors who speak directly to me. I have not read nearly as much as my friends who are great readers, but I can’t imagine anyone’s ever been as enraptured and enamored as I’ve been. Or more awed by the force of an individuals determination and constant creativity when I finish a great book. A big part of saying I wanted to be a writer was a certain idolatry you could say. I was and remain inspired and diminished by how I imagine these books came to be. I wanted to be a writer. Sure.

Than I got married. I was working, paying the bills, we were paying the bills, then we had kids. I didn’t think they’d make me a ‘writer’, but they sure enough did. It opened up the art to me, this new found love and frustration and bemusement and exhaustion and love. Writing helped me understand what was happening. And not just the ‘honest, heartfelt’ stuff. The funny things were important too. Important to seeing it was achievable, damn near unavoidable, that there were any number of ways to fail and to succeed and most of them contained at the very least some small amount of humor and at times a huge helping if I could see it. And you have to see it. Even if I had to go looking it was nearly always worth it.

The heartfelt came more naturally. Truth is that I lost my filter. I was always tired, constantly running on empty and wondering what the hell I was doing. But every day, in the minefield of misgivings and doubt, there was always a million graces that they brought to me. In their sleeping faces and their silly laughs. In the funny progress a kid makes to roll over. In the moments when we were shattered and together wondering if we could raise these kids right. I’d transition through most of these things most days and as a man that is extremely different. I’ve gone years in a single mood. Based solely on emotional transitions I lived a lifetime every day before breakfast with kids. The raw vulnerability that permeated the air found an outlet in the writing. I mostly embraced it and sought it to relieve the pressure.

That impostor thing sticks though. We’re over seven years in to this whole parenting thing and most days I still feel like I’m doing a poor impersonation of my parents. Also, the thickets are cleared and I’m in a meadow at the moment. There’s not so much to pick apart. Not so much to make a laugh out of, though I’m sure I could find some if I tried. Which I don’t so much. I like to play with words now. Try to fiddle and fit them into something approximating poetry so I can stay sharp and express more associatively. But my writerliness was tied to parenthood and I’m feeling a tad unwriterly in this fallow phase.

Which brings me back to stories. I’m back to that original curiosity. That original sense that I want to do what writers I loved did. I want to write a great story. I want to write a lot of them. Which is daunting as I’ve never done that. Never come close, in fact, without it being based in my life. But here’s where I’m scared. Scared to fail. Scared to let go of the tiny toehold I have on being a ‘dad blogger’ and ‘parenting writer’ as it’s the only teenie bit of writing success I’ve ever had. Scared my stories won’t resonate and no one will read them. Scared I won’t be able to pull it off.

I’m also excited to give it an honest go. Excited to know that I have a toolbox now. One that is filled with the tools I’ve stumbled upon by following wonder and curiosity and simple wish fulfillment. Excited to try to write a tale that I know that I can imbue with so much more than I could have before.

Like every great and terrible impostor that has come before me, I guess it’s time to start faking it.

Used

We were lying prone and sleeping 

In a bed that wasn’t ours

The fog that had encircled us 

Hid us from the stars

 I’m not one to think out loud

Neither do I drink it proud

But never should you confuse this

With any of your unearned bliss

Chances are my thoughts aren’t deep

Lying crying while you sleep

So shallow laid you in my palm 

Enticing stupor renouncing calm

Had I gathered all your kisses

Collected tears, called you Mrs. 

You would still be gone you see

While I’m right here alone with me

I still know that you were real

And hope that you have learned to feel

The pain you poured so thoughtlessly

Inside a man you’d set to sea

Death and dying will encroach

Us left upon this orbits brooch

 When I assign my life it’s meaning

 Ours won’t have been worth repeating

When I look back on our mistake

I’ll be relieved that all it takes

Is soft and sunny love repaired

By one that never used my cares

Rondon and Roosevelt, River of Doubt

‘And the smell. I merely walk in his wake, with a fair few between us I should hasten to add, and still it is as if a rotting water buffalo were in my nostrils.’, said Gustavo.

‘I’m afraid that is not him. He is clearly a Walrus on land. No water buffalo would whinge as much. At least none that I’ve met.’, replied Lucas.

Both chuckled quickly and regained their composure as fast. They both looked sheepishly up from the fire  to gauge the Colonels reaction. His smirk was not supportive but neither was it an indictment. It was knowing.

‘He is at heart a good man. Surely. He didn’t know what he was in for and is on occassion losing himself. Surely he will be better in the morning.’, said General Rondon. 

  But he was not. He was not more patient for having rested. Nor more judicious in his expression of disagreement. He was as he’d been for some weeks as disagreeable a companion as a man in the unmapped Amazon could be deemed to be. He did not, however, allow that to effect his confidence, which was forever foisting it’s assuredness on the Col. 

‘It’s okay. I don’t mind the teasing. We are all away from home, struggling against the river and I understand the inclination. But once you have relieved the pressure please return the cap and secure it tightly. He is a proud man who thinks he is failing. We can’t confirm his fears.’, said the Col. upon rising from the small circle of the fire.

At night the men were equal. Not in rank or in accomodations, but for the time around the fire they were of one comportment and able to let their shoulders down. Truth was that the great man had made no bones about his primacy and did so in such a manner as to leave anyone unaware thinking that there was no gradation between the dual ranks of the team assembled to escort him in his exploration.He was long past his days of service, though he couldn’t know that heading into the forest, but his respect for the uniform, any military uniform it turns out, was enough for him to differentiate Col. Candido Rondon from the remaining crew whom he saw as servants and porters and minimally skilled sherpas of the Amazon at the journeys inception. 

‘Col. Surely even you must be considering a different way.’, suggested Felix. 

‘My friend. I assure you, I consider all the ways I can see. Have you a solution I’ve yet to consider.’, asked Rondon. 

‘No, Sir. But he is not relenting.’ 

‘Indeed. I suspect you are right. It is possible I haven’t given that enough consideration.’

Gustavo and Lucas were prideful men, but the forest was unyielding. They were surprised to see Rondon considering what they’d all been regretfully feeling. In fact, had the President had any tact instead of a constant questioning and pleading and pouting he might have found allies in the Col.’s camp. Instead he had forged an even stronger allegiance in Rondon’s men. But Felix was not a hired man. He was a considered and considerate gentleman of letters and a man who’d strategically or not, managed to develop a comraderie with some of the President’s men. Him making the case was something they could get behind.

‘Sir, there is not one amongst us who doesn’t see the wisdom of your dedication to the mission. To a man, we agree. What good have we done, what at all have we done if we do not survey this tributary. It is our stated purpose, our only purpose. But he is a foreign dignitary and I feel comfortable saying, he isn’t fairing well. For all his American bluster and bravado, his type of strength is less than advantageous on such a treacherous track.’, suggested Felix. ‘His is not the constitution you possess, sir. Nor is his sense of duty your equal.’

They were establishing camp with the fading sun. The day had been yet another in a long line of treachery. The weather was unrelenting. Still, Rondon was fond of reminding his men that the rain was a blessing all the way up until it was a curse, and for now it alleviated the rancid odor of man by granting every one the ability to clean up. 

Rondon took Felix’s words to heart and was quiet while he worked. 

‘Felix, I’ve seen you walking with his son. How is he faring. How does Kermit say he is doing.’, asked Rondon. 

‘He is deferential, but he will suggest whenever we speak that we might consider traveling rather for time  now that we have discovered the river. He will not betray his father’s bullish confidence, but he is worried I can tell. Not to mention exhausted.’ replied Felix.

‘Yes. But he is in good enough spirits, no? Seems a good man if not an altogether able explorer.’ 

‘Perhaps.’, said Felix, ‘But You must keep in mind, their exploration has been of the American west. Open spaces and horseback, from what Kermit tells me. Accompanied most recently by great naturalists bending nature to meet him with their own agendas. I don’t think this was what they ever could have imagined.’ 

The days were brutal. This had not been lost on Col. Rondon. The President’s much ballyhooed vim and righteous vigor were not exactly the match of his worldwide legend. Once, on a detail with a 200 man crew hired in port Col. Rondon ventured hundreds of miles across the great forest clearing land that seemed to bend and bow to avoid and even challenge his men’s dominion. If this was testing his meddle there was little to no chance that Mr. Roosevelt could have survived those nights, let alone the days. 

Still and all, Col. Rondon very much respected the President. He was a proven leader and his presence may have been lifting the veil from some of the greater exaggerations that surrounded the man, but his presence and persistence in the face of what he clearly hadn’t expected, and not as a particularly young man, spoke to how he came to possess such a peculiar and masculine reputation. 

Once the camps were set Col. Rondon cleaned as best he could and took his seat at the fire. It was the end of another long day. There were eight men in all, and each had shown signs of breaking throughout the journey downriver. While the communal nature of the endeavour was real and the comraderie, though slow to ignite and challenged in times of stress, had survived. They were growing into a family of sorts. One with dubious prospects for long term success, but not devoid of warmth and understanding. 

‘About the unfortunate incident upstream, Col.’, said the President.

He trailed off and didn’t quite look at the Col. 

‘Yes, sir.’ Said Rondon.

‘Well, do you think it was necesarry. Did we have to leave him like that.’, said Roosevelt. 

‘Why do you ask?’ 

It was a fair question. Roosevelt considered it staring into the fire. He could feel the Col looking sidelong at him as he gazed at the cracking flame. 

‘I don’t suppose I know for sure. I can’t speak to his character, but it occurs to me that we are not wanting for work and a set of hands, however compromised is still a set of hands.’, said Roosevelt. 

Rondon was not to be fooled. 

‘Sir, what good are those hands once they have killed. He might as well be a useless beast of our burden.’ Rondon straightened up in his seat a fraction and crossed his thin legs and returned his gaze to the fire. ‘It is like I said at the outset, Mr. President. Die if you must, but never kill.’ Every person who’d ever worked for or with Col. Rondon was familiar with this tenet. There are few things that can’t be changed, adjusted, reconsidered and blithely ignored when you are encroaching on nature and her inhabitants, but this was one area where he would not budge. 

‘He has surely, long since perished one way or another.’ 

It was a harsher statement than he’d intended and he knew it by Roosevelts instant reaction. 

  If the circle around the fire had been the family table, the tents had become the parlors. Each culture went to it’s own tent to unwind at the end of the day. It was where they could rest, certainly. It was also where they could, and did, talk about this journey and it’s meaning. Not to mention gripe about it’s seeming relentlessness and the decisions that were quibbled over every day. 

‘I have to hand it to him. He’s staying the course and there’s a lot to be said for that.’, said the wearied Mr. Roosevelt. 

‘There’s no doubting that.’, Mr. Cherrie agreed. ‘I don’t actually know how he does it, though I should suspect it must have at least something to do with his incredible smallness. Were he a figure brought to the curators at the museum they’d send him back and curse the fabricators for trying to safe a few pennies in material.’ 

Roosevelt granted a small chortle and smiled.

‘I suspect you are right, Mr. Cherrie. He indeed may need less than the rest of us to sustain such a small frame, but my god, his fortitude is downright Herculean. He handles malaria in much the way many a man in the city would handle an annoying but innocuous cough.’, said Roosevelt.

‘I for one think him rather foolhardy. What difference does it make if he maps and charts a remote river when balanced against the lives of his men.’, said Kermit.

Roosevelt loved his boy, but he couldn’t stand his bearing at times. It wasn’t just Kermit. He often lamented the ease and comfort they were so often afforded, but these were concerns long settled and he knew there was a point. Moreso he knew that some of this, if not all came from a concern for himself. 

‘We elected to come on this mission and like you I can become, from time to time, somewhat frustrated by the Colonel’s singleminded focus. But we must hold. If we fracture fully we will all fail. Besides, I’m not as old and infirm as you might think.’, said Roosevelt. 

Through the night discussion grew of the concerns and tensions of the traveling party. Separate conversations weighing similar concerns against opposing consideration. The Roosevelt party wishing to prioritize survival and the Rondon men knowing that there was only one way out and wondering how to placate the needs of the great man. 

‘What does he become so agitated about, sir. If you don’t mind me asking.’, said Gustavo. 

‘I don’t mind. I suspect his concerns are concerns we’ve all had in due course.’

Gustavo lay in the dark always aware that there were native people hiding in the forest prepared to descend on the unprepared party. Talking into the night gave him comfort in the small ball of light amidst the crushing dark.

‘He is pleading the priority of the mission. He is of the mind that we should abandon our stated goals and merely seek the most expeditious route to civilization. Today he went so far as to suggest that we abandon the river and stop wasting days crafting new canoes. He says he is worried for his party.’

Gustavo considered the sentiment and found a good deal to agree with. But he was a Rondon man and knew to tread lightly in areas suggesting retreat. 

‘What was your reply, sir.’

‘I understood his concerns. He is with men who would not be here at all of their own volition. I respect his generosity of spirit and sense of responsibility. At this point however I sincerely believe we are making the best time that is safe and responsible and that we should continue to explore and document new flora and creatures and we might as well map judiciously as we are taking the journey.’ 

Gustavo had seen this before, men who were frightened by the mission who wished to influence Col. Rondon. But this case was indeed special. America was a new player on the world scene and no one more typified the American spirit than this man. Whether it came from within or was an accident of birth, he was the face of a new world and it was hard to properly calibrate his true weight in the scope of history. 

What was indisputable was that Col. Rondon must return this man safely from the journey which was in fact amongst the most hastily planned and frankly most harrowing of his already long track record of nearly impossible missions completed. They were at a breaking point. There was only so long that he could wield control before the great man recognized and splintered off with his men. It was simple discipline and training that had gotten them this far.

Rondon laid in the dark considering the wisdom he would never consider in the presence of his men. The great man was simply not as young as he once was and there were bound to be treacherous days ahead. On the one hand he could not turn back as death surely lied that way. On the other hand, he needed to gain the confidence of the fellow who’d so brazenly and boldly led the march into the woods with twice as many men just a month earlier. He weighed and pondered over the relatively few options that lie before him and remained befuddled. 

Before long his rotation as watchman had arrived and he had barely slept a wink. 

‘Sir. Sir. Good evening sir. I’ll be heading off to rest now sir. Please be careful out there.’, this exact phrase had become a much honored secular prayer between the men. Rondon knew his men were stressed but handling the conditions far better than the American party. 

‘Thank you, Felix. Please rest well.’, said Rondon. 

Rondon gathered his things and made his way out into the night. Aware that they were still a day at least away from breaking camp, Colonel Rondon considerably reduced the fire and returned what wood was salvageable to the pile of dry and flammable wood that was maintained throughout. He considered the cast off detritus of the lumber used for the canoe and after a moment made his decision. 

The morning fire was stoked and the modest breakfast of foraged berries and plants was meekly awaiting to further drive down an already low morale. The men ate quietly while Rondon sat serene sipping boiled water from his tin. Beyond standard pleasantries the men ate in silence. Once they were done, Rondon stood.
‘Gentlemen, if you will follow me to the river.’, he said.

He turned and began to walk. 

‘Colonel I’d just as soon get started on the work of the day.’, said Roosevelt. 

‘I appreciate that Mr. President. I assure you, this will not take more than a couple of minutes.’, said Rondon. ‘Mr. Cherrie, do you have your camera equipment handy?’

‘George, please, if you don’t make it snappy, will you. Much to do today.’, said Roosevelt. 

In a moment they were approaching a post, clearly fashioned from wood that Roosevelt knew could be used for greater purposes than whatever this was. ‘Col. Rondon. I hope you know that I don’t stand on ceremony. Please, whatever this is make it quick.’

As the party rounded the post and followed Rondon in turning their backs to the river, the sign that hung from the post came into view. 

‘Rio Roosevelt’ 

Carved painstakingly perfectly. 

‘In thanks to you and your men, in honor of the relationship strengthened by this mission, on behalf of the Brazilian people and with the authority vested in me I declare this river, Rio Roosevelt. Congratulations sir.’

Had he been asked there’d be no way the great man would have known that he’d respond so emotionally. Without thinking he’d taken off his hat and held it to his chest. 

‘Thank you, Colonel. Thank you.’, he said. 

The entire party took turns commenting on the design of the signage. Commending the Colonel on his decision and admiring the skill so obvious in the work. 

Having regained a modicum of composure, the President called out, ‘Okay, George. Set up. We need a picture of this. . Colonel, please do me the honor and stand on the other side for the camera.’

  After the picture was made the party returned to camp and got vigorously to work. The air seemed less full with humidity that morning. 

The Colonel got back to work on the fashioning of the canoes while Roosevelt, full of energy and purpose was commanding his men in all manner of works. Collecting and recording local flora, mapping and drawing the detailed course of the river. Preparing and collecting the bounty of the forest for the days to come. Standing there amidst the hum of activity Roosevelt recognized a renewed committment in his men. In himself. 

For just a moment he got lost in thought. He looked over to the men working the canoes and sought out Rondon’s eyes. Looking up, Rondon simply nodded at his counterpart and returned his attention to the task at hand. Roosevelt smiled broadly for a brief moment and returned to his work. 

*******************

This story was inspired by ‘Into the Amazon’, American Experience on PBS. I encourage you to find out more about this fascinating piece of history. The piece I’ve written is historical fiction.  

Sprung from a gilded crib

The lies she told were pretty things

Built upon Gossamer wings 

A mother shielding you with fibs

That fell into your gilded cribs

For all that may or may not be

Those lies were signs so tenderly

Placed upon your waking conscience

Protecting both you and she

You sadly never learned the truth

Heard nothing that could change in youth

Neither did it come in time

Nothing could befoul the rime

That left you lonely in make believe

Given to faith in fairies

Never did you challenge these

Not you or all the maids in waiting 

Hired, acquired assisting the dream 

That lied to you and can’t come clean

For truth is not a binary thing

And yours is yours a solitary sing

What love was lost behind the lie

I’m certain were insistent whines

The love that gave you meaning when

The lie was given you instead

Is all the more regretted now

By all the people passing by

Through windows you have seen a world

Black painted, tainted with the swirl

Of never knowing or wanting or being

A thing that truly ever had meaning

But charming we are told you are

By you and 2 in 5 who parse

Your virtues and arrive askance

But certainty replaces chance

Never will you or them rely on

Virtue without spinning transaction

Neither will you cede your fitness

For you were once a golden child

Before time left and took you with it

There’s not a lot to go on here

I’m frankly feeding gaps with tears

A thing to which you seem to aspire

The feckless and phony false bravado

Unable or willing to let it slide by

For yours is important and all should know it

The west wing won’t ever forget  you owned it

transactional evil may render residual

But nothing you offer will ever fill 

The hole that fills with garden silt

That lies amid the heart you are sentenced

Not wielding to fitful efforts to patch it

The heart indeed is a lonely hunter

Somewhere a quiet man balances the bluster

That seeps from you now without soul or fire

Just the daily reminders that nothing gets higher

One day it will end and you will be dying

Not dead but not living

Surviving to search for 

The cameras and lights that left with our savior

Whose visage I can’t summon just yet

Who will emerge into spaces bereft

Of love, empathy, decency, respect

I don’t much know it matters much

I’ll do my part, work and give and such

To reap the plants our parents sowed

When yours were hiding from your throes

We all will have what you want most

A legacy built by all you boast

But never ever did you fathom 

The love you’ll leave in wreckage’s wake

We’ll pick it up and you’ll insist

That this was what you meant in jest 

But we will know that all you cling to

What’s left of the morsels you once would cling to

Is not exactly balanced genius

Yours is more a broken looper

Coming round a collective stupor

Its now just like it’s always been

Never what you thought you were when

You never left your gilded confines

Stayed to long inside the fault lines

Now truth is mixed with pleasant feelings 

Reality a simple thing to deal with

For just as long as it may take you

To fool yourself that this you meant to

Not ever bothered by your madness

Who knows how much you even fathom

For yours is not a dismissible life

Like Nero your name will linger

On tongues that wag long after you squander 

A life you coolly leveraged for waste

Convinced you hit a Birthday triple 

Still standing precisely on third base

In the end..

For me it won’t be a question 

I won’t consider our connection

The love I’ll feel will not be new

I’m the lucky one for knowing you

Close my eyes I’m standing on toes

Reaching for the hugs you gave me 

Striving for the love I’ve taken

Eventually I’ll know it in my bones 

That the love you gave was mine alone

So special did you make me feel

That never did I want or reel

From blows I fought that never came

And loves I lost for not a thing

In the end it won’t be like that

You have seen to giving me

A taut and tough security

No in the end I’ll never wonder

Of all the love I’ve thrown asunder 

No in the end what I’ll succumb to 

Is did you know how much I loved you.

The Sport of Writing

‘I mean, c’mon. It’s his focus. I mean look at him. He’s really flowing you can tell. it’s in his posture. Some people say body language doesn’t mean anything, it’s all hokum. But fuck that. He’s on fire. I can’t wait to see what comes out of this.’ Flip Barton pronounced.

Burt Hartley, arms folded let it fly past. Who’s to say, really. Without anything else to go on he could be right. And there was no denying the motion. That was fact. It might all be gobbledygook, but it was certainly coming out pretty quick and fairly steady. Still, he wouldn’t concede. For all that the talking heads credited to ‘process’ there was not real direct line you could spot in the moment, especially watching on TV. In a crowded bar no less. 

‘I don’t know man. Maybe.’, said Burt with the air of an arbiter entitled to an opinion on the matter. ‘I mean there’s no denying the pace. That said, pace is not correlated with quality. Some guys have both, but it’s a fools game to presume causation. More often it’s correlation. That said, I’m more struck by the focus. He seems oblivious to his own context. A passenger on a journey of his own making. If nothing else, he’s certainly lost in it.’

  They’d been arguing the point for years. Simple analysis versus informed interpretation. More often than not the odds favored Burt. He was the one with some context after all. His novels weren’t trendy, though they had an audience. Not a consistent one, but a big enough one to be sure. Besides, his two short story collections had won awards and were nearly perfectly scored on the aggregating sites. 

‘A passenger on a journey of his own making? Really.’ Flip wasn’t one to let that kind of puffed up nonsense just float. 

But before Burt could even turn his head to try to save face the air left the room. The noise had stopped and the afternoon crowd here for the Scriptships were stunned. 

‘Well, that’s a first.’ Flip said, eyes locked on the screen over the bar.

Liston Maize was frozen at his keyboard. 

‘Listen to Parnell. If anything I think his pace is picking up.’, said Burt. ‘I mean, shit. That’s focus. Show him.’ 

‘Are you kidding me. Maize has never edited in a first draft before. Is he reading or deleting? Jesus. What a disaster.’, said Flip.

After a few minutes the ambient noise of the day drinking revelers who had hoped to see a truly competetive match succumbed to the simple pleasures of day drinking with like minded friends as the network scrambled to make the analysis of a match already decided compelling. 

Back in the booth Flip and Burt continued the dance they had been dancing for years.

‘Truth is there’s been signs.’, argued Burt.

Flip laughed. ‘You’re going to try the ‘called it’ maneuver on Liston Maize melting down in the Pen Ultimate. Honestly man, come on.’ 

Burt chuckled. ‘No, but that’s fair. I’m just saying, he hasn’t been ‘Liston Maize’ in years. I’m not saying I saw this coming, but come on, we can’t be that surprised. I mean, he’s out of shape, he’s drinking again and did you see how early he went to the glasses. He’s like late 80’s Kareem or mid 80’s Stevie Wonder. His best days have been behind him for a while is all I’m saying.’

Flip had long since given up their fantasies of writing competitively. Or rather they had put them away in their drawers and on their desktops. Still, it was a national pastime to imagine yourself on that stage. 

‘I just wish they’d move it from Oxford. The south is rich with writers but putting it there permanently dismisses the New England School. And even the suggestion that it is insulting to the Yanks is laughable when you consider the western traditions. Sure they ain’t as long, but Hollywood was recruiting early and that sweep spread the word out west. What about the cowboy poets.’

They both smiled. The long days journey had them now squarely in the midst of the night. Boozy and bored they knew that when the ‘Cowboy poets’ were argued for they’d reached the end of their evening. 

It was like that every year. Not the extraordinary and disappointing fall of a great like Maize. No, this competition, this historic day for watching creative intellects perform was a part of the fabric. No amount of stories about PED’s and drug fueled creative binges was ever going to stop the masses from indulging in the sport of it all, the pageantry. And surely, for Flip and Burt a night like this would fuel weeks of midnight toiling, play acting like the masters. It would fuel months of hope as they worked to create anything that might give them a moment in the sun. A moment that would never happen for the tens of millions who dreamed. But the dream was the prize. The work was enough. And until next year, well, they’d have a lot to talk about. 

The Opportunity Lost: Boys and Sexuality

To be frank, there is no place for my voice in the reckoning society is going through. I can fancy myself as inclusive as I care too. It won’t change the fact that I am afforded a single key hole through which to see and interpret the world. I can be educated, empathic, open to new ways of thinking and sensitive to the different world others see and it doesn’t matter. I am 44, male, white and middle class. I am as full of blind spots as anyone else and as imbued with the confidence inherrent in a man who has perhaps done good things but who has also been the great beneficiary of a world that has tilted toward him. What I can speak to is the perspective I have. As silly as it may sound now, I think I should. Because I was raised in a world that has produced and provided the elaborate permission structures that have allowed all manner of vulgar and vile atrocities to be laughed off, smirked at, dismissed and tacitly supported when not explicitly permitted. So I say my piece aware it is a tiny and possibly unhelpful observation, sure it will reveal unknown blind spots. I’m hopeful there is a grain of fresh perspective in it and accepting of the likelihood there isn’t. 

Male sexuality is to be feared. That is fair. History is replete with wreckage left in its wake. It is a blunt tool wielded too often, far too often, by brutal craftsmen and it is capable in its cruelest, bluntest form of destruction. It has been used to destroy  women, children and men. Wielded as power to subjugate and deprive. Yet it is given to each and every one of us. As such it’s important to be aware of its potential for harm and we should be incredibly cautious. 

This sucks. This is true and it sucks. Why does it suck? For a fairly obvious reason, actually. A reason that is far too often ignored. 

Sex is the porthole to intimacy for so many men. Connecting with other human beings in human ways, in face to face open ways, is not what so many of us are good at. Even those of us that appear well mannered and socially fluent often struggle maintaining relationships in those rare instances when we can initiate them. For many of us the actual physical act is the truest cure for the deep seeded, existential loneliness we live with daily. It truly is access to the divine beauty of the human experience. Not every time, but sometimes. And when it’s not it is always an expression of love in some form. Sometimes its the functional day to day love we give just by being there. Other times its the silly joyousness of sneaking around your kids to care for each other, to give to one another. Sometimes its to comfort and sooth or stoke and enliven. Unfortunately we rarely talk about it this way. I think we should. I think it would go a long way, over time, in reducing the great numbers (far greater than I ever knew) of men who wield their sexuality so overtly and aggressively. A nice side benefit might even be increased personal fulfillment. 

Our world is in the midst of a reckoning around the brutal sexuality we have tolerated, hidden, obfuscated and even celebrated since long before my first, nascent stirrings while sneaking under the coffee table to look at the parts of the JCPenney Catalog I didn’t know I shouldn’t have been scanning. I felt no shame lying my body heavy on the carpet. It felt good. I was five. I quickly learned I shouldn’t be doing that. I learned I should not want to feel that. I learned to sneak it. Innocently exploring sexuality unaware of the word ‘sexuality’, guided solely by native, natural instinct. I don’t actually recall how I learned it, I just did. I sadly would and probably have thoughtlessly facilitated the same type of realization for my own boys. 

The persistence of male sexuality in all it’s unpolished, garrulous, often aggressive insistence is something we can’t turn our heads from. That’s a sentence that has proven false yet still it feels important to state. Like ‘All men are created equal’ or ‘you will be insulated from repurcussion and you are encouraged to inform HR when you feel you have been harassed by a superior.’ These statements are presented as observations but perform as aspirations. We in fact have turned our heads from the day to day, inch by inch indecencies and do so by rote. We have proven to be pretty good at turning our heads from far more than that. From those offenses that cross several lines at once, up to and surpassing criminality. Ignoring transgression has been the norm. In fact very often, prior to this specific moment, and still in many cases in this moment, we seek to poke holes in the victims story immediately so as not to have to deal with it. 

Its going to be hard for any of us who are of a certain age to deny some level of complicity. Probably far more complicity than we think. Even us good ones. All because of a vile and crude understanding of the powerful, near universal sexual immaturity that our culture, western culture, has institutionalized in men. 

Testosterone comes with many things and aggression and competition are certainly prominent among those things. They are not the only thing, mind, but they are prominent and naturally occurring. We exercise all manner of power in seeking to satisfy the dumb, basic urge to have sex. What we have become in so many other areas as a species since the cave dwelling days is startling in comparison to how little it would appear we have evolved in this area. We have adapted, appropriating new methodologies to achieve the clubbed-head outcome, but we have not evolved far from it. That’s sad.

It is not as sad, not nearly as sad as it is for the countless women and girls and boys (and some men for that matter)  who’ve had to navigate a world of near constant predation. I can only imagine, am only just now starting to realize how the world  is for so many, a world where there is very little benefit in trusting anyone. I am not sad for these men finally being held to account. But I am sad for the ones who are navigating childhood and are seeing ever more evidence that this natural occurring thing, this pleasure that forms out of thin air and in their bones, is not to be discussed, explored, thought about or talked about. As if holding it at bay is the best way to process emerging sexuality. Make no mistake, it is dangerous and hurtful and capable of causing calculable and incalculable damage and it should be repressed. Which of course to some degree it must be. But unless you’ve been the 7th grader arroused by nearly every damn interaction with anyone of any type, meaning even just having seen someone from across the schoolyard or accidentally seen the poster of the girl in the spandex gym clothes who is only there to sell your mom yogurt, and known you couldn’t stop your thoughts and your bodies reactions, you’can’t know what it’s like and how terrible you can feel about your bodies insistence.

No one wants to hear the nascent yearnings of the adolescent boy. That’s the problem. We run from the subject, we tell them to ignore this one thing they can barely control. Worse, we tell them to funnel their energy into sports. Great. Go channel this into war games with winners and losers largely determined by physical dominance. In fact be loyal to your teamates at all turns and work together to ensure you deceive, dominate and defeat your opponent. Good. WTF. I love sports, but it is a bit too broadly applied, this universal supplication to boys being involved at all times in it. 

The reality, one I’m frankly more aware of intellectually than I am emotionally, having been raised in a manner greatly fearing and rejecting my teen, male sexuality is the photo negative of the sexless sexiness that is constantly being put on teen girls. Except in the case of girls they seem to be far more engaged in at least the healthy exploration of feelings and relationships. Well, at least they are until all of it is taken from them by one of us viewing the world as a territory for acquisition, dominance and accrual. 

We need to start talking to boys about the beauty, the human nature of their own sexuality. We need to try to get them when they are being overrun by hormones and lack of judgement and act to civilize them. Don’t underestimate the male libido’s wily conceit. It arrives when full physical power does and before consistently sound judgement does. It is an evolutionary positive despite the chaos it can cause society. Who’s more likely to contribute to the growing of the species more efficiently than a horny teen after all. We need to not hide from this Mack truck of hormonal insistence that is sprung on these guys and we need to help them through it. 

Boys need to know that sex is communication on a deep, even transcendent level. They need to hear that it isn’t a game to be won. There is no value in the numbers and tallies. The value is inside the conversations and flirtations, it is in the moments  when you learn why she laughs and what moves her to tears. It is in the physical comforts of intimacy when we are feeling pain or comforting those we care for. It is in the note you write to cheer that special  person up and yes, it is in the kisses and caresses and fumbling eagerness of overpowering desire. And it is in the maddening misunderstandings and uncomfortable conversations. It is in the showing up and staying through the discomfort. It is in the thrill of the urge as much if not more than in the satisfying of it. 

Young men would laugh out of discomfort in being told these things. They’d say something typically stupid in many instances and dismiss the teller as irrelevant. So what. They do that with everything. They are teen boys. But we can’t keep going on forever ignoring, fearing, rejecting and judging the unavoidable sexuality of adolescent boys. Its a necesarry ingredient in making monsters of men. I don’t have answers and don’t know how we can make a world that embraces and fosters a fuller understanding. But I dream of one and hope it arrives in time for my own kids.