“So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun…”
-John Lennon, Happy Xmas (War is Over)
People say I’m negative and it makes me feel bad because I never intend to be. It’s just what comes out. But after spending the holidays with my family, I’m starting to see they err on the negative side as well and that, perhaps, I’m not just a total asshole and much of the negativity I express is simply an inherited trait from a previous generation of buzzkills.
Does that let me off the hook?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
On Christmas Eve my mom’s mom came over and we had Christmas at my house. I sat there and watched as she tried to form a coherent sentence, a skill she’s been struggling with for the past several years, which has recently been accompanied by an accumulation of physical ailments that have put my mother in a tizzy as she’s had to take my grandmother to the doctor and get test after test to find out what’s wrong with her and then test after test to see what will treat what’s wrong with her. And naturally most of those doctor’s appointments fall on the one day my mother has off from work.
It’s not just me with the crappy luck. My whole family is cursed with it. Which might be one of the causes of the negativity.
And then there’s my dad sitting with my uncle, watching the nightly news because that’s a great source of entertainment to have going on while you’re carving the turkey. With the bombings and school shootings and rape and murder that gets scrolled across the screen, who doesn’t feel like cuddling up next to the tree with a big ass cup of cocoa?
So my dad tears into another conspiracy theory about the Obama administration and my grandmother talks with her mouth full and my sister is off in her own world with her husband and my mom’s running around tired trying to get everyone fed and I try to help but I just get in the way and have to listen to these people go on with their racial slurs with slurred words and I feel completely foreign here. These people are my flesh and blood but they are not my brain nor my beliefs and it makes it hard to feel good about any of it.
The next day I go to my dad’s mom’s house and she’s not doing much better than my other grandmother. She’s still mentally alert but also physically deteriorating. She coughed these intense, dry coughs the entire time, a hacking that made my shoulder blades twitch. Meanwhile, people are showing up late and liquored up, reeking of cigarettes and cheap wine.
Then my dad starts in about all the animals hanging around, the dog who’s blind in one eye and the other dog who probably has cancer and won’t last much longer. Then he talks about our dog, Sam, and tries to guess his age, insinuating he’s also old and also won’t last much longer. And I just don’t understand why he has to talk about such things during a time that’s supposed to be cheerful. Why put a black cloud over the proceedings when they’re already dark enough with a choking matriarch and a slew of unruly Angry Birds-addicted children?
And then I see these shiny happy families on Facebook and Instagram, polite children and adults who wear actual pants instead of pajama bottoms to Christmas dinner. Families who share Christmas songs instead of YouTube clips of a woman shitting in aisle five of a supermarket. Cousins who bring over mashed potatoes instead of moonshine. And it hurts even more. My family won’t ever be like that. Sure, no family is perfect, but ours isn’t even palatable.
I think about the young ones and I hope they turn out better than their parents. It’s unfortunate that the cousins I grew up with couldn’t learn from their parents’ mistakes. I see them following the same path. And I fear their children will do the same. I’ve seen one of my cousins grow up from a baby into a tall and pretty girl. She could end up okay if she’d just stay in school and not get pregnant. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask but we’re a fertile bunch and it doesn’t take much to get knocked up.
But really, it’s hard to say how anyone will turn up. I thought I did everything right. I made excellent grades in high school and did not curtail my cirriculum with drugs or alcohol or sex and followed my dreams of being an artist, which resulted in a pile of student loans I couldn’t comfortably pay back and days of unrelenting loneliness and rage.
I know I’m new around here and some of you who haven’t followed me over from OD don’t know me too well so you might fear I think I’m above these people. Don’t worry, I’m the biggest piece of crap out of all of them. It’s not about thinking I’m better. It’s about thinking I’m disconnected. I don’t agree with some of the choices they’ve made but they seem to be far more comfortable with themselves than I am with myself. And maybe being content with your choices, whether they be good or bad, is more important than trying to play it safe and make no choice at all, like in my case.
They have families, albeit accidental ones. But there seems to be love there. When you look past the camouflage, you can see a closeness. They’re not highbrow, but they’re a family and that’s really all that matters. It’s more than I can say. I’m the odd guy out, the only one not partnered up. They might have Honey Boo Boo caliber class but I’m the Christmas curmudgeon.
The next day they rushed my grandmother to the emergency room because her coughing got worse.
And then we took down the Christmas tree.
Thursday afternoon, I put on my frayed trainers and headed out the door. The weather was perfect for a good walk to I had to go out and enjoy it. I knew I only had a few days of good weather left before the air turned too cool to go outside.
Things were great. I wasn’t too hot. I wasn’t too sweaty. Ear buds were firmly in place, pumping music into my extremities.
And then the school bus passed me.
It’s always awkward when vehicles pass me. I can see people crane their necks to look through the rear view mirror at the bearded stranger walking down the dirt road.
It’s worse when it’s a bus filled with curious and obnoxious children. That particular bus has passed me a few times and I always caught glimpses of smashed noses and oily forehead prints on the smudged glass.
Being the beautiful day it was, the bus windows were down to allow the sweet little
bastards angels to enjoy the cool breeze. As the bus rolled past, I saw a white ball whirl by me and hit the blades of grass at my feet.
I looked up and saw glowing brake lights as the bus skidded to a stop. Through the blasting music, I heard the bus driver’s booming voice spill over the open windows. I surmised he was yelling at the littering little snot. I was only feet from the bus so I slowed my pace. I didn’t want to pass by and risk being pelted with more paper or insults.
“What the hell is this guy doing?” I asked myself about the driver. The bus just stood in the road, the brake lights illuminating my embarrassment.
Finally, I just turned around and walked in the opposite direction. I heard the squeak of the tires as the bus started up again. I didn’t look back until I was down the hill.
Oh, why do I always find myself in these awkward situations? I kept thinking what the kids must have been thinking. “Hey, John, let’s throw this piece of paper at the fat loser walking in the dirt road!” I don’t like being “that” guy, the one people think they can push around or make fun of. Especially when it’s a bunch of middle school shits playing the bully.
I looped back around to the spot where I was almost hit with the wad of paper and found it on the ground. I picked it up, smoothed it out and saw it was poorly colored paper Santa.
|By the way, you did a crap job putting that Santa together, Pablo Prickasso.|
I just wanted to burn some calories and clear my head, not catch a paper cut from Kris Kringle. Thanks for the holiday cheer, Timmy. I hope you get coal and canker sores for Christmas. And people ask me why I don’t like kids!
Wind separated leaves from limbs in the darkness. They pirouetted down onto the boy and girl as they lay in the grass beneath an old tree. Ligaments wrapped together, he supported her neck with his shoulder and she slid her hand underneath his shirt.
“You’re not as dead as you think,” the girl said.
“Oh yeah? How do you know?” the boy asked.
“Because of this,” she said. “Us here. Now. Sharing this moment. Connected to the earth. To each other. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It’s sufficient,” he said as he brushed a fallen leaf from the girl’s hair.
“You can’t fool me. You wouldn’t be here with me, like this, otherwise.”
The boy shrugged.
“It’s all of us,” the girl said. “You are alive because I am. Because the world doesn’t spin for the dead.”
“Oh, God,” The boy rolled his eyes, stifling a laugh.
“No, seriously,” she said with a giggle. “Your eyes sparkle like the shooting stars above us. Your stubble is gritty like the dirt beneath us. And your chest,” she said as she gently pressed on his sternum, “is warm from the blood rushing through us. I know you’re alive because I can feel it in you.”
“Actually, I just had a sip of this white chocolate mocha,” the boy said, raising his Starbucks container. “What you actually felt was it pass into my stomach. That’s all.”
The girl stared with blank eyes as the boy drained his cup.
I’m not even an outside person but the cool breeze has been so nice I honestly felt guilty for not going outside and soaking it up. It seems it’s hot the majority of the year, freezing for a portion of it, and then there’s about two good weeks of perfect weather. I didn’t want it to go to waste so I have been walking outside more.
There’s a dirt road next to my house that I walk along. Sometimes the foliage gets a little overgrown and it does a number on my legs. Lately, they’ve been breaking out into a rash (even when I wear athletic pants to cover them) and there’s also the occasional douche bag that doesn’t slow down when they pass me and it kicks up dirt into my eyes. But when the weather is cool and the sweat is flowing and no one is around but me and the cows, it’s great.
|Here’s an aerial view of the dirt road. My house is to the left close to the top of the 3D symbol. I walk to the road and then walk up and down it.
“On the East Coast, football is a cultural experience. In the Midwest, it’s a form of cannibalism. On the West Coast, it’s a tourist attraction. And in the South, football is a religion.”
Football is in full swing around my way. At work, we are allowed to wear football regalia on the weekends. I see co-workers and customers alike wearing their favorite team colors, washes of red and white or blue and orange. It’s how they show their loyalty. They also express their team pride vocally by switching the usual salutations with team mottos “War Eagle” and “Roll Tide” as they pass each other in the store. I just stand there and shrug. I don’t understand their passion for the pigskin at all.
I’m not a sports guy. I don’t like playing sports and I don’t like watching sports. Of course, I try to be neutral and understand that I won’t always share the same interests as these people and so I try not to hold it against anyone. However, my tolerance for the consistent in-your-face fanaticism is low. I don’t go around pushing my passion for zombies onto others and I wish they’d keep their football frenzy to themselves. I’m constantly asked what team I root for and I always respond by saying I don’t care about football. I get weird looks in return, expressions that ask how I could live here and not be in love with the sport.
One day, a lady bought a toddler-sized Alabama team jersey. As I bagged it up, I wondered what the jersey meant to the lady and what it meant to the toddler. He doesn’t realize the gravity of the garment he’s going to wear. He doesn’t understand what it represents or how much it means to those who put it on him. What if he grows up to root for the other team? What if he grows up to dislike football all together?
It’s kind of the same with religion.
We raise our children in the church and in the football stands and teach them to yell out “Amen”/”Hallelujah” and “Roll Tide”/”War Eagle” but do these children ever know what it all means outside of their parents’ and pastors’ influence? Can they separate what they’ve been told from what they want to learn? And how do you introduce God and football into a child’s life without making it seem like it’s only way to live?
Many Christians would argue that God and Jesus is the only way to live. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing. But there are people out there who do disagree and what if your child is one of those people? Don’t they have the right to believe or not believe what they want? And the more you push God onto someone, the harder they will push back, even to the point where they might give up on God entirely.
I’ve seen it happen with me and with others.
But how do you really learn about God? Someone has to teach you, right? But what if the one who teaches you has it wrong? And what if the one who taught them had it wrong? It further complicates matters when we are taught not to question God and his mysterious ways. But I think it’s vital to question. We don’t want to be handed salvation. We don’t want to be told we are wrong or evil and given vague instructions on how to fix it. We want to know for ourselves, to feel in our hearts that we are moving toward something divine and not delegated.
Through questioning, we see why things are the way they are. We can develop a deeper appreciation for them and can explain ourselves when faced with questions and opposing viewpoints. It’s good to not only be enlightened, but educated about it as well.
But that’s hard when all you have to rely on is a collection of books written by man (who put their own spin on the word of God, surely) and a slew of individuals who consider themselves fit to decipher damnation. No one knows for sure who or what God is, although we’ve tried. We’ve conceived this image with these rules and systems of rewards and punishments. But God is not what man conceives. Where is God buried in the B.S.? How do we dig our way through a Christianity perverted by man and get to the heart of Jesus? Who do we turn to to guide us in the right direction and when is it possible to come up with our own conclusions? And when we do, how do we know we got it right? Will we pass down our erroneous prayers the way they were passed down to us?
We sit on the bleachers and in the pews and see the wave approaching, the clusters of undulating bodies standing and throwing their hands up in praise and sitting down in unison and soon we find ourselves swept up in the sea of bodies, standing and sitting because we think we’re supposed to. It’s what we were taught. We go along with it because it’s all a part of the game. It’s how we show we believe. We reach up and touch the excitement, the thrill, the electricity and we feel united. But you begin to wonder if it helps the players at all. With the bright lights beaming down and the ever looming threat of being tackled, does the quarterback even notice us in the stands?
Do we do it for his benefit or our own?
I’ve been working on writing an entry for the past couple of days and I just haven’t been able to articulate it the way I want to so I thought I’d post several pictures that I’ve taken over the last year. I apologize for the profuse use of Instagram but I think they help the pictures look a bit better (an obvious n00b photographer fallacy, I’m sure but IDGAF). Just…just enjoy the pretty colors, okay?
While I was sitting in Starbucks, I looked over my shoulder at the group of people knitting in a corner. And I wanted to belong to that group. It was an all female group lead by a masculine looking woman with black glasses and a map of the world on her head in the form of dyed blue and green hair. Their multi-colored yarn and threads were scattered across multiple tables, the needles in their hands dancing and catching light from the florescent lights. And I wanted to belong to that group.
Well, not that group necessarily. Knitting is fun and all but not my favorite subject. The point is I wanted to have a group that I could go to on a Friday or Saturday night, and a place we could all converge to hang out and share ideas and laughter.
There is no such a place in my town. Or the town over. Or anywhere near. I had to drive nearly an hour away to another state just to go to Starbucks. Our area is just not set up for youth. All I see at work are old people, women buying clothes for their bedridden husbands. Women buying suits for their dead husbands to be buried in. Blue veins and rinses. Cheap perfume and arthritis. Liver spots and slipping dentures.
And those who are born here endure eighteen years of pain and monotony and then get the hell out when given the chance. That only leaves a few young ones left, those like me who tried to get out and failed and those who were never given the chance to escape.
And so I feel lost because the young are a rare breed here and those that are left are all scattered. There’s no coffee shop or building for kids to congregate. There’s nowhere for ideas to spark and flourish, for talent to transcend one individual’s temples, for friendships to form with frappes and fritters. There’s not even a place for one individual to rest or write or read a book in a chill setting.
I’ve been expressing my frustration to a couple of people and they keep saying we should all pool together our resources and open up our own coffee shop. We all joke and say it should include an internet cafe with state of the art computers and a snack bar with high quality breads and cheeses and truffles and cupcakes flecked with gold. It would be really upscale and we’d call it Haute Coffee. It’s a nice idea but not one I think anyone would take seriously.
As I said, there’s not a lot of youth here. Haute Coffee would probably be bare most of the time. Our typical eighty-two-year-old resident would come in and have no knowledge of Macs or macchiatos. They wouldn’t recognize the music unless it was Elvis or Hank Williams Jr. They wouldn’t know how to turn on the computer.
“Hold the mouse?” they’d ask. “Y’all got mice? Better call an exterminator or this place’ll be shut down!”
It’s just best for me to leave. The town will probably never change. It’s best suited for those winding down their lives instead of those just trying to start them. Then again, if I stay here much longer, I’ll probably begin the process of winding my life down, too.
The Internet has sufficed so far. I’ve met some talented and creative people through this outlet and it’s been nice but it’s still not the same. Blogs don’t equal bodies. I want a real time connection, a flow of ideas that feed off one another, tiny seeds we plant inside each other’s heads, watching as the eyes sparkle and the mouth moves in recognition.
I think I also crave the physical aspect of belonging to a group, something I’ve never truly felt. I’d like to know there’s a place I could go where I could sit among like-minded people and say that’s my book club or knitting circle or Buffy fan club. I’d like to feel wanted. Safe. Occupied with something constructive and motivating instead of taking up my time eating garbage and hating myself for it.
If there’s nothing like that here and I can’t make my own, the only choice is to leave. But where would I go? How would I cleave myself into a community? Do I just go up to the gal with the Coke bottle glasses and green hair and sit down with my knitting needles and ask her to put on some Tegan and Sara while she showed me how to whip up a cozy winter scarf?
Or what if I started my own group. The qualification would be pretty simple. If you don’t suck, you can show up. I guess I’ve been so starved for quality conversation that my standards might have slipped a little. I think trying to find people similar to me would be a bit of a quest so if they could just not be intolerant rednecks, I think I could work with that. If they’ll provide the conversation, I’ll provide the coffee.
I know in my previous entry, I complained about being stuck in the country but there are some good aspects. Low crime. Sweet tea. And lots of pretty cows. These guys were chilling in the pasture out past my backyard.
And I shot a small clip of these gorgeous creatures grazing, too. With special guest star, Miss Kitty, who also thinks she’s a cow.