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Writing Portfolio

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BLOG ENTRY: CAMPING

Few things distinguish a man like his ability to weather the natural world. And how ironic that what sets us apart from the animals is that we rarely need to. Modern society stresses amenities like never before. In a world where even “books” need to charge up for us to turn them on, and wifi is the difference between a coffee shop and a coffee stand, it’s easy to forget where we come from.

We need to be connected to the Earth, even if we sometimes forget. One of the best ways to rekindle this connection is to spend time in nature’s raw state. I’m talking about camping. But as men, we do not camp like children. We do not require our electronics or a generator to power them. Men camp. And when camping, one rule dictates everything after it: no stress allowed. Anything that can detract from our connecting to nature must be left behind to dissolve in our wake. To highlight the difference let us look on the things we all need for a good relaxing camping trip.

Fire is the most basic requirement. You must have fire. I don’t care if it’s 100 degrees. When the sun goes down, a fire must burn. For this reason, it is satisfactory to use whatever means you are comfortable with. I personally build fires using kindling and newspaper. So a trusty hatchet is imperative, as well as several newspapers, and of course the larger pieces of wood for when the fire gets going. But dousing wood in lighter fluid is adequate if that equates to less stress. Lighter fluid is fun anyway.

Shelter is a given. We all need protection from the elements at times. Muscles can’t block the rain. And while we can guess what the weather will be like, there’s compelling reason to prepare. But, if you are convinced it won’t be an issue, few experiences in life compare to sleeping beneath the stars. This of course depends on where you choose to camp. But if the stars are visible, consider giving it a shot. Set up a nice flat spot by the fire, perhaps with a foam mattress or a cushion, whatever bedding you prefer, and see how you like it. A tent or a trailer is convenient. They may keep the bears out (kind of) and they may offer some security. But as men, we relish the chance to fight a bear anyway. Are you really going to pass that up?

Food is also an obvious factor. It can be rewarding to cook your own dinner, but remember rule number one? No stress. If the idea of cooking over a bare fire is stressful, you are under oath to simplify at once. But if you’re okay with it, prepare ahead of time and go for it. Cooking a steak over the fire can be as simple as setting up a space for a pan on top of the flames and turning it occasionally. For breakfast, preparing pancake mix beforehand and storing it in a (cleaned) ketchup bottle makes it absurdly easy to make in the morning. But beyond the three-square-meals mantra, camping means relaxing, hiking, climbing rocks, relaxing, exploring, and relaxing. All of those things require plenty of snacks, so stock up on your favorite chips or whatever.

Finally, beer. Camping is not camping without beer. If you don’t like beer then why are we even talking? It is liquid bread. The sustenance of a man’s soul. When camping be certain to have an ice chest full of enough beer to sustain you throughout your sabbatical, and then some. You never know if that bear you beat up earlier will cry uncle, high five you for being such a beast, and ask if he can chill for a while, and if you have no beer to offer that poor guy, you will feel like a real douche. He just got beat up. He’s probably embarrassed, and you don’t even have enough beer for him? Of course you do. You’re a man.

Now get packing.

 

Blog Entry: Pallet Wall

What’s manlier than a Lumberjack? I’ll tell you what. Nothing. Nothing is manlier than a Lumberjack. They defeat massive trees and turn the tree-flesh into houses. How do they do that… For a lot of us, time and money gets in the way of even the imagination to take on a building project. We have other responsibilities, or simply aren’t interested in learning the skill it takes.

But should this stop us from the esthetic we want in our home? What are some alternatives to investing more time and money than we can afford? Can we get a rustic cabin image to our Mancave without making the high investment? Let’s examine a fantastic, cheap project you can take on in a day or two to make a room feel like a cabin.

I’m talking about a pallet wall. If you don’t know what a pallet wall is, google it right now. They’re incredible, and remarkably simple to put together.

Things you will need:

Lots of pallets.
Muscles.
Screw-gun and screws, or hammer and nails.
An electric saw that can cut through nails. Like a sawzall.
A sander / sandpaper.
Whatever stain you want.
A wall.

Pallets are everywhere. Large facilities get deliveries regularly, and this means stacks of pallets that are either thrown away or claimed by employees etc. Hospitals, grocery stores, outlets. Disclaimer: don’t be a dick. Ask first. But if you can manage to get a decent stack, then you’re on your way.

Sanding and staining the wood looks great, but both are optional. There are examples of pallet walls done without it, and they’re awesome too, so it’s up to you. It obviously takes much more time, so prepare yourself for what it means if you want to.

Step 1: Cut the planks from the pallets. You could also pry them off with a crowbar or something. But I guarantee it will take way more time. Using a sawzall is much more time-friendly.

Step 1.5: Sand / stain. If you want to, now’s the time. Consider staining the pieces in different shades for a bit of variety if you like the idea. An easy way is to add an extra coat to some of them. Or do what you want and stain them all the same. I’m not your dad. I can’t tell you what to do.

Step 2: Mark off the studs in the wall. Keep in mind this will be pretty messy to remove. So if you’re attached to the idea of being able to take it down, the drywall will be in rough shape. A way to make this cleaner is to attach a plywood sheet to the wall first that the planks can then be attached to. But this adds money and an extra step you might not feel like messing with. Either way.

Step 3: Start placing! Begin at the top. When we get to the end of the project, we’ll need to do some finish work and we don’t want to do that on the ceiling. Nail or screw the planks into the studs and go row by row. Cut pieces as you need to when you get to the edges.
Don’t worry about perfection at all. Pallets are not designed for this, and that’s what makes it great. We’re going for rustic imperfection. Try to randomize lengths and colors as you go if you stained in different shades.
When you get to the floor you might need to cut a plank long-ways to equalize the width. Or you can use a baseboard to cover up where the width falls short. It’s up to you.

Step 4: Finish off the edges. Use the leftover pieces from the pallets if you want. Run them along any corners after you stained or painted them.

Step 5: Drink a beer and admire while someone else hangs up pictures and stuff. You practically built a whole cabin. You deserve a break.

Something I probably should have said before, power outlets and light switches normally sit flush against the wall. If you add depth to the wall like we’re doing with this project, you’ll need to add depth to these too. A way around this is to use a wall without these, but if that it’s possible, there are liners you can install to add depth to outlets. Be careful with that though. Getting shocked isn’t manly at all. You’ll scream. I know I did…

Pallets are great. They can be used for so many things. From making furniture like desks and chairs, to building an entire deck for your back porch. If you want to get really crazy, google those too.

After the long day of DIY Lumberjacking, hang up your ax and sleep knowing your Mancard earned a hole-punch.

 

Elwi - short story draft

Elwi was an owl. But don’t let that fool you. Being an owl doesn’t always mean what you think. However, to say Elwi was more than an owl sounded stupid to Shen. He didn’t like the wordplay he heard from writers or in tavern jokes. He liked things to be straight and true. It made things much easier.

Shen found Elwi years ago. She was a baby, but even then she was big enough to ride. Not that she let him. That would take time. He never found where the owl came from, or any others like her. She was the only one. It’s probably why the two got along so well. For Shen knew as little about himself.

In the beginning, Shen found himself much like a parent. In constant frantic desperation to feed not only himself but this giant nagging bird too. He learned quickly that just because she was already huge didn’t mean Elwi had finished growing. And growing. And growing.

Shen was already a fantastic hunter. He knew how to set traps, what kind of bait to use for different prey. He knew how to string a longbow, and how to sneak up on the unsuspecting deer or rabbit. But for a creature as big as Elwi, he needed to think bigger. He needed to master taking down large game like the lumbering grazers that slid across the plains like giant slugs. They were slow beasts, but incredibly dangerous up close. Shen spent the bulk of his time making the daily quota. And even when he did, Elwi never stopped begging for more.

Finally, Shen had enough. Elwi needed to start pulling her weight. It took some convincing.

“I’ll not feed you anymore!” shouted Shen one day after a particularly tough hunt. “If you want food, you’ll have to do it yourself!” Shen might’ve been overreacting. He would still do his best, but he needed her best too.

It took even more time getting used to each other on the hunt. At first, she simply followed him around squawking at him for a snack. She still couldn’t fly, as her primary feathers hadn’t come in. And her coordination wasn’t that great…

But something else concerned Shen. Some of Elwi’s senses didn’t seem to be as accurate as a normal owl. Especially her eyesight. Shen learned from an early age that owls saw in darkness. They were famous for their ability to spot a mouse from high in the sky. But Elwi’s eyes seemed cloudier than they were black. At times, Shen wondered if she saw at all. It would be hard to tell, for owls also have good hearing that it seems almost like seeing. And that wasn’t lost in Elwi. No matter how hard he tried, Shen could never sneak up on her. And not for lack of trying.

Shen put it to a test one day, throwing chunks of meat around her to see how well she could find them. Every time, Elwi found the chunk of meat before it came to rest. When she started catching the chunks in the air, it convinced Shen she wasn’t blind. But later that night, they sat around the campfire. Shen realized that in all his years, he never saw any animal so comfortable around fire. Fire was automatic fear for all animals. Though the heat would still cause Elwi’s feathers to fluff up, she would stare right at the flames as if they were a painting on a wall. It was a mystery.

As they learned together, and grew together, Shen and Elwi became true partners. Elwi’s massive size made it hard for her to be stealthy on a hunt, but she learned to be surprisingly graceful on foot. And with practice, she began stretched her wings.

Assuming Elwi would need motivation, Shen climbed trees and pulled Elwi’s meals as high as possible. Elwi didn’t like that one bit, but it got her moving. She would scramble up the trees, stubbornly refusing to use her wings at all. Somehow it seemed she knew what he wanted from her, and wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. One meal took her an entire day to final get.

“You have to learn someday,” Shen would tell her. “You might be huge but you’re still an owl. Owl’s fly.” She would only blink slowly and look away.

As time moved on, her feathers filled in. She used them more and more. Soaring forth and striking prey as they hunted together. Her short range flutters became more frequent. She helped by dragging large prey back to their camps, one burst of feathers at a time.

But the day she finally learned to fly was the scariest day Shen could remember.

A hunt had taken them to an unexplored region, and they’d gotten turned around. The sun was low, and they were nowhere near where they meant to be. This wasn’t usually a problem for Shen. He thrived on never being tied down. But this time was dangerous. Shen knew who this place belonged to. A ravenous pack of dire wolves. Though not nearly as big as Elwi individually, a pack of dire wolves would make a quick feast out of the two of them.

Shen made a fire, knowing it wouldn’t attract more attention than they’d already get. Dire wolves have a sense smell that makes you wonder. He began to sharpen sticks, fasten strips of bark to his knees and shoulders. His longbow had several arrows. But this type of wolf was used to fighting humans, for the people around here were not kind. Once the first arrow fired, the wolves would descend, knowing he couldn’t reload faster than they could run.

The camp set up, Elwi stationed close to the fire twittering softly, the two sat in wait. And wait they did, for hours. It wasn’t until midnight that Elwi twittered louder and turned her head. She heard something…

Shen sprung to his feet, his longbow drawn, and his hunting knife at the ready. The first wolf came swiftly, and to the side. Shen held his arrow, calling the bluff. Another wolf shot by, trying to draw his attention. He turned from side to side, watching the sparkles of the pack’s eyes like a starry sky between the trees. They would spread around evenly, clump together, and thin out, trying to draw them away from the fire.

Suddenly two wolves pounced for Elwi. Shen wasn’t fast enough. She cried and her wings spread like a splash of fiery snow. Her sudden size set the wolves back, not expecting the huge ball of downy feathers to put up resistance. But Elwi didn’t see it that way. Her panic had set in, and she wouldn’t calm down. Shen called for her, trying to get her to stop, but her wings pulled her into the sky, harder and faster than she had ever tried in the past. Shen watched as her dark shape arced high over the line of wolves and dropped again into the darkness.

The wolves watched it too. While several held their challenging gaze on Shen, still more slipped back into the shadows in search of the giant owl.

Shen didn’t hate the wolves. He hating no animal for doing what it does. Wolves must eat too. But in that moment, Shen would’ve stricken them all dead. The fear that welled up in him frothed out like a hornet’s nest. He snatched a stick from the fire, wreathed in flames and thrashed it about. Anger poured from him. The wolves cowered at the fire, but came back with barred teeth. He swiped the stick back and forth, back and forth. The wolves snarled and yipped at each other, feigning disorder the way wolves do.

Suddenly from in the distance came a shriek. It was a sound he’d never heard from Elwi before, but it was her. She made lesser versions of it during the tantrums she threw when Shen would pull her dinner too high into a tree. The flame in his hand became a flame in his heart. He wouldn’t let her die alone. Shen put everything he had into courage and sprung straight for a wolf. It wasn’t expecting his sudden bravery and didn’t move in time. Shen’s stick smacked the wolf in the nose, and its yip of pain was like ripping fabric. Coals spread on the wolf's fur, and it cried out in fear.

Into the brush, Shen sprinted. His fiery brand still in his hands, his thoughts bouncing between Elwi being eaten and the wolves that were at his own heels. He would get to her, and he would hold the wolves off for as long as possible. That’s as far as his thoughts went.

Another shriek, and Shen followed it, hoping, praying, begging that she wasn’t hurt.

Shen entered a clearing and spotted motion at the opposite edge. A chunk of white fluff drifted toward him like snow. Like when he plucked the feathers from a pheasant before he cooked it… Shen’s heart sank, and he sprinted faster.

Shen screamed as he drew closer and the picture drew clearer. But he wasn’t sure if his scream was of fear or relief. Elwi was alive, but she was in a tree surrounded by wolves. She twittered with fear, and when a wolf leapt up at her, snapping its jaws, Elwi shrieked again.

Shen thought hard about his next move. An idea came to him, and he sprang into action. He ripped two skinny branches out of a nearby bush. The dead twigs would catch fire easily. He ripped out dead grasses and leaves and wrapped them around the branches sloppily. As he worked, his mind finally realized the wolves from the camp still hadn’t caught up with him. It wasn’t because of his own speed. It was possible that when he hit one, the rest decided it wasn’t worth one night’s dinner. Predators need all their faculties to hunt later. If they get hurt, they won’t survive.

So the wolves thought he was dangerous. He could work with that.

As soon as he had enough grass and leaves wrapped around the two branches, Shen lit them both on fire, held one in each hand and charged. As he ran, he flapped his giant flaming wings and singled out one wolf. The dire wolf turned around just in time to see the display, yip and turn tail. When it did, more of them backed away. Shen “flew” around the tree over and over, spraying sparks and flaming leaves around him. The wolves whimpered to each other until their clumsy stammering became a full-fledged retreat into the darkness.

Shen flapped his fiery wings for a few more minutes just to make sure he’d made his point. He then bundled a ring of wood in a two meter circle around the tree and built up the flames in them. See the wolves get through that.

He climbed the tree and hugged the shivering, terrified owl. Her feathers were completely fluffed up, and her head wouldn’t stop rotating. Her twitters carried sad notes to them as she listened to the night.

“I’ll never let anything happen to you, Elwi. You’re my family. And family protects each other,” whispered Shen.

Elwi settled into the branch, signifying she would be spending the rest of the night right there. Her feathers fluffed up even more. Shen crawled into them. “Let me know if they come back you crazy owl,” he said.

The night air became still and peaceful. The fire burned down to comforting embers. Cicadas buzzed, and the world went back to normal.

“Hey,” said Shen, half asleep. “You flew.”

Elwi twittered again, but it had the note of a question. As if she just realized it too.

“Well, almost. We’ll work on that.”

Elwi blinked slowly and looked away.

 

Only Human - a novel, chapter 1: 5683

I express my head and wait for reason. It does not happen.

The trees listen to my silence, and that is ironic, because I'm not like this. The late afternoon is somewhere. Probably here. I'm on the ground where eucalyptus leaves discuss the weather, and grass and dead leaves press the dirt. With my tentative finger, I trace the clouds in the sky.

Love is weird.

I sit up and muse on how dark the whole “heart” thing is, with its beady little eyes and fighting variables. A letter from Rose just pushed my heart to the back of my throat. It now supports my weight in the dirt because I threw it on the ground then laid down. I mean lie. Lay? I lay down. That makes no sense. Love never does.

I am upset because before this piece of paper, Rose promised me forever. Not only did she fall short, she did it with a letter.

This must be a misunderstanding. Like Hiroshima. Or AIDS.

“I swear, we thought that bomb was strapped down. Tibbets said his fishing knot was legendary.”

I shake my head and remind myself that I am not the entire Human race, and this is not the worst thing that's ever happened in all the universe. The galaxy, perhaps. But not the Universe.

Because love is still weird. And I am only Human.

“Promise me we'll always be friends” plays at the front of my head and I’m trying not to picture President Truman handing one of those big swirly rainbow lollipops to someone with glowing green skin. “Ehhhh, we cool right?” (snap-point-wink)

I look around. The shrill world rushes by, just to keep the mood nice and numbing. I wonder if that is on purpose.

Something buzzes. A thousand emotions jolt through me at once. Must be what menopause is like.

That is hilarious because that I am a twenty year old boy. But I digress [sips tea pinky up].

The buzz that shocked me is my phone. I shake it off and convince my head she isn’t calling to say the letter was a mistake, and that she thought about it a lot, and she changed her mind.

I reach into my pocket, pull out my phone and am very slow about bringing the thing to my ear.

“Hello,” with no inflection.

“Where are you?”

Not the voice I'm hoping for, so I hang up.

Wet eucalyptus leaves stick to my sleeve. A hummingbird exists into my peripheral vision, and moving in instances far beyond me. My head launches into methods I could use to apply that to the universe. A few aspects come to mind, but they bleed away, because the stupid buzz happens again, and again I am flooded with conflict.

“Hello.”

“If you hang up on me again I'm going to−” The same voice as before, so I hang up again. I sigh and wonder if I’ll regret the level of Whiny Little Brat I’m being.

I lay, or lie, or whatever back again and spill my limbs in all directions, making leaf angels on the forest floor.

Girls are funny when they want to be friends every time they make enemies. “lol Imma throw up on your heart, but promise we'll be chill like right after k? lol”

Then when that doesn’t work out, suddenly it's his fault because he’s being an immature man-boy.

Buzz. Shorter this time because it’s a text.

I look at my phone: “r plane leaves in 10 min im not getn stuck here w u just cuz u got ur feelings hurt”

I wonder if it's possible to teach leaf angels to fly.

Probably no harder than teaching people to spell.

My head reminds me that eucalyptus trees are parasites. They don't belong in the States. Some smarty brought them over from Australia or something, and they choke out the environment because they have no natural enemies. Because koalas are racist and don’t like America. That’s a fact.

I continue making angels in the tree’s dead shavings and try to reason a way to make these facts ironic.

Another text. “srsly dude. u can cry like a little chuci all u want back in ca.”

By “chuci” he means “bitch.” Flip phones don’t have keyboards yet because the future is not yet now, and autocorrect doesn't have some expletives. It’s obviously what he meant through. I anagram it up in my head, and yeah.

I really want him to stop talking to me.

I really want a lot of things.

It’s like I can't taste anything. Like she was a cup of hot chocolate that burned the roof of my mouth on the first sip so bad it doesn't even hurt. A soft, numb, smooth patch I can't ignore. She is that.

I replay the past few months in my head and I hear the high-pitched squealing sound of a tape fast-forwarding. This is funny because nobody uses VHS anymore. I feel old for the first time in my entire life. More menopause.

Significant moments freeze as I ponder the chronology stored away on the side of my mind. When I’ve gone through the whole thing, the images line up like flashcards.

I open my eyes.

Maybe not hot chocolate. More like boiling salt water. I've never had that, but I’m sure it's gross.

Therefore, love is weird. And I am only Human.

I compare Rose and I to a model of the “good guy” I have in my mind. The images do not add up.

Here is what I mean. A girl (we will call her Windmill) will date a guy who is obvious trash. And by the grace of his popped collar and his “come at me, bro” mentality, he convinces Windmill he’s the best thing since− well, wind.

One day, he trips over his own bag of douche he forgot was on the floor and ends up “accidentally” cheating on Windmill with the bimbo he falls on. When it comes to light, and Windmill dumps him in a torrent of betrayal, she will turn away and define the perfect guy and why “Come at me Bro” wasn’t him. The “guy” that Windmill inevitably defines is me.

I'm not saying that because I deserve something or because it's a good thing. It just is. I’m artsy without being stoned. Fit, but I’m not an ape. I love animals, but I’ll kill a black-widow. Not cruel, but if you mess with my girl, come at me bro. I love kids, but I want to wait. I can play piano, but I’d rather listen. I’m the nacho cheese you didn’t realize is awesome when you dip your churro into. It sounds gross, but trust me.

I get up too fast and have to crouch because I almost black out under of the weight of my huge, egotistical head. Between my feet is the crumpled up letter. I consider leaving it to biodegrade with the parasitic trees. Then I remember the world will keep spinning. And so will I. Which means I’ll want to read it when I'm back to myself.

That's how good I've gotten at being dumped.

What other words will autocorrect make out of “love?” I type in and scroll the options. “Loud” and “Jove.” Figures.

I don't want to be left behind. I don't like it here. The plane won't leave for another twenty minutes though. He's exaggerating.

I pick up the crumpled piece of paper and march for the airport.       My phone buzzes and I realize I’ve almost reached a state of clarity because that clarity vanishes. The venom sets in when I open my phone, and the text really is from her.

“let me know when your plane takes off and lands so i know you got home safe. i'm sorry this trip wasn't what you thought it would be. i do love you. as a friend.”

By Jove, I loud you too, my little Windmill.

At the airport I hold my arms out so they can take away all my shotguns and chainsaws. I close my phone and put it in the x-ray machine. My wallet, keys, three pennies and one dime. My heart tugs a little when I realize that’s the change from a cup of hot chocolate I bought her yesterday. I remember because it burned the roof of my mouth, and now I can't stop tonguing the rough patch left behind. I remember thinking I should try to compare it to life somehow later. Good thing I was prepared for that one.

I pass the waiting area, restaurants selling eight-dollar bagels with four-dollar cream cheese. People waiting for their plane. As I approach, I hear “last call for Los Angeles California.”

I hand my ticket to the lady. She glares at me. “Well come on, let's get moving, then okay? Enjoy your flight please! Thank you!” and ushers me through.

I walk across the movable walkway. I pass the pilot and take a deep breath, trying to curb the cynicism by searching for poetry in the moment. The floor wobbled with people moving on the parked plane. It’s a small one, the kind with two rows of seats on one side and one on the other. I wonder if the plane will tip with the extra weight. I stay my compulsion to warn the pilot. As if he’ll say “oh, thaaat’s why we keep tipping over.”

Baby-stepping down the center of the plane, I eye my seat near the back. I plop next to Captain. Not the captain of the plane. Captain, my friend. One of his stupid stoner friends called him that once, and it stuck. He shakes his head at me

My phone buzzes again. Captain looks uneasy. He must have sent me a text right before I got here, supposing I still pouted in the forest, and now it’s awkward because I got here on time.

“Is our plane leaving?” I say to him.

“Move,” he says and pushes past me.

I scoot over to the window seat. He won't mind. He'll be playing games on his phone the whole time anyway.

I pull out my phone and read the text. “human, u r such a puppy. stop making evrything about u.”

It isn't hard to figure out what he means by “puppy” but I choose to believe he means it. I’m more of a dog-person anyway.

They announce to turn off cell phones and electronic devices.

It isn't the eucalyptus’ fault it's a parasite. I’d be too if I was stolen from my home and planted somewhere with no natural enemies.

On the flight home, the sun moves extra slow because we’re flying the opposite direction that the Earth is spinning. I stare at my reflection in the window and think about poetry in the image.

I’m upset about everything. But the main thing is that now I have to go through my computer and delete all the songs that were “ours.” Good thing I hated most of them.

I pull out my headphones and put on Those to Come by the Shins. It’s like saying hi to an old friend. The depth of the song makes it look like the world below me is moving in slow-motion. Truth is in simplicity. I wonder if my phone being on will make the plane crash. If any song could, it would be this one. I listen to it heavily. Importantly.

Staring deeper at my reflection, something happens, and I’m convinced it’s significant, but part of me knows it’s because I’ve made it that way.

Apathy strikes my heart, but only because all of my feelings moves to one place.

I pull out a pen and a little black notepad. At the top of the page, I write “I’m talented at bad hand-writing and betrayal. But not so much betrayal.” I stare at the words, and I’m writing more.

I’m feeling better already.

Dot all your Eyes, an illustrated novel
Chapter 1: Highway

         I’m talented at bad handwriting and betrayal. But not so much betrayal. You know how it goes when you meet “the girl,” and then you have a song that’s yours even though someone else wrote it. Well, I met a girl. And she’s “the girl.” So it’s our song. And I know that is not justice. But love doesn’t care.

         Seashells crunch under my feet. This is the cool stuff in the journey. Waves ought to lick the shore dry if not for the pompous physics someone spilled everywhere. I pick up a shell so pieces of forever fall between my fingers in a smooth stream I don’t want to end. That is why it does; because the point is to miss it. The shell gleams like the northern lights are in my hands. As if the former dweller always had to die because it’s the only way I’d see this shimmery coolness.

         I want to take the shell home. Put it on my dresser, or in my little blue box. Or wear it around my neck and steal voices from poor unfortunate souls for favors. But that just makes it special enough to leave here. To come back. So instead, I take a picture with my mind. A snapshot for my memory. [click]

         I toss it back to the sand. The waves sing in the key of a half diminished E minor. The marine layer is so thick I can’t see past a hundred feet. On the bright gray horizon, a seagull hangs in the sky. I breathe slow and deliberate.

         Heavy fog vaccinates my lungs and becomes part of me. I can tell today will be one to remember. A day I compare other days to. Filled with memory pictures. Good days become stories, and this moment is the cover.

         I wrap my arms to myself. Down the shore Emily lets the edge of the ocean lick her toes. I walk forward, the fog parts and her shape becomes clear. She shivers, so I wrap my jacket around her from behind and rest my hands on her slight shoulders. She nuzzles into the jacket.

         Wind slides off the sea and vacuums Emily’s hair to her face. A trillion years of gravity and other laws of the Universe hold us still as she raises her head toward me. The tips of my fingers touch her chin and lift enough to kiss her brow.

         It becomes another moment. [click]

         We come apart, walk through the sand with playful footprints, and find a place to sit in the dunes. We're against a big beachy eucalyptus tree. I use a pocket knife to carve our love into its skin: “S + E” with an asymmetrical heart. I wonder how gruesome this must be to a forest fairy, or if it would incite any Ent marching.

         Emily’s eyes are your favorite color. She leans on me and runs her hand through my hair like a curious creature searching for a home. Her eyes are like eyes, and her lip does the thing it does when she's deciding what to say.

         She whispers in my ear a bunch of things about “forever” and it reminds me of our Astronomy class.

         With a winsome delicate canter her fingers slip between mine to make the wings of a butterfly with our fingers.

         Where will this carry us? say my thoughts. The Writer in my head is being dramatic.

         The sand is between our toes, and the fog is a giant frozen window to the Universe we share. [click]

         We stumble through sand, up the boardwalk, and to the coffee shop. We both order the same thing on accident and we laugh because it’s so crazy, and a sign we’ll be together forever.

         She writes her name in swirly letters on a napkin.

         On our way out, I record a few more snapshots.

         Footsteps in unison on the sidewalk. [click]

         The way she runs her finger along a fence. [click]

         An annoying yappy dog has no chill. [click]

         We’re on the highway. The world moves by, and in my lap is a bottle of soda I bought at a gas station. It’s already warm against my thigh in the sun. I’m positive I’ve been to that gas station before, but that’s how every gas station is.

         She takes off the jacket I gave her earlier, and the open window breathes autumn into her face. She licks her finger and holds it out the car window.

         “Why are we always driving into the wind?” she says with impossible symmetry. She lays the jacket in the back seat. My eyebrow wrinkles up because she must be joking. She smirks at me because of course she is.

         I glance at the magazine in her lap. There is an ad for my thigh-warmed soda with a big LOW FAT! star on it. I find the ingredients and shake my head with a sneer. “Of all things to promote soda,” I scoff.

         “Yeah, soda isn’t healthy,” she agrees.

         “The first three ingredients are sugar,” I iterate.

         “Yeah,” she sheds a nod.

         “That’s like saying ‘yeah we gave you cholera, but your body’s reaction killed you.’” It is not like that, and I know it.

         She is at sixes and sevens (it’s a British term, try to keep up) and her little smile melts my face off. [click]

         “I mean they could at least come out with it. ‘It’s bad for you, but it’s sexy.’” She laughs because I’m too riled up about this. And I know that too.

         She does the lip thing again. “Um. Who bought it?”

         I take a huge chug. “I had to. It’s healthy.”

         “Dork.”

         “You’re beautiful, Emily.”

         Her smile could end a war. I’m serious. Some people might think I’m kidding. I don’t understand because I’m a stupid teenager with stupid hormones. Which I am, I’ll admit. I’m pretty stupid. And I am a teenager with some of the hormones. But if Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships, Emily sank them.

         She reaches over and draws a line on the back of my hand with her marker. I smile, but scrunch up my face. “That makes you mine,” she enlightens.

         My window’s reflection is a face in the sky, eating storm clouds and airplanes. Emily’s face peeks behind my reflection and my mind plays at physics and vanishing points.

         Telephone wires draw W’s in the air, and I imagine blue whales. I loved animals when I was a child, and my ocean phase was essential. I drew pictures of sharks and whales. I read everything I could find. My favorite was, duh, the blue whale. Because, “one-hundwed feet long?! Awe you sewious?!”

         But when I was that little my idea of distance was even more askew than now. So what I thought was “a hundwed feet” I now understand is at least a thousand.

         Well, a friend at school told me a standard distance between telephone poles is one-hundred feet. I’m not sure how true that is, but it bled betrayal. Because, “It can’t be! The biggest animal in the wholllle world can’t only be only that big!”

         So instead of “telephone wires,” blue whales measure the gaps between the poles. It’s a stretch, but I want to be a Writer, and anyone can write words or stories. What you write about comes from observation through worthy eyes.

         It is my relentless theory. I invented another person in my mind just to make it happen. A Writer person who searches for unique ways to say ordinary things.

         As we pass over a hill we are hit by a cloudburst. It roars against the roof and windows. As the water courses the glass I imagine drips are worms, racing to the bottom. This becomes a story and I silently cheer for the loser because that makes it a tragedy, and I revel in tragedies.

         I ponder inspiration. My Creative Writing teacher tells me to pull from childhood into what I want to create.

         My memory of the childhood road trip reminds me of car games. Holding my breath under tunnels and over bridges. Twenty Questions. The Alphabet Game. Pretending to jump over the shadows as we drive through them.

         I laugh because a car game I haven’t thought of in years pops into my head. Long-Neck Spiders. My hand walks on its fingers with the index lifted to look around. I laugh again because they have a hilarious backstory.

         I would pretend aliens that were identical to human hands explored the galaxy. When their ship broke down on Earth, they cut my hands off and attached themselves to me. To keep appearances. There’s a measure of morbid disconnect (budum-pshh), I admit. I pretended “I” wasn’t aware of them. They were only active while “I” was “asleep.” I’d blame the game’s audacity on childhood if I could stand to. In truth, I’m no less pretentious now.

         It goes like this: children have imaginary friends. They are what they are, then they leave. They die. They disappear. Sometimes you don’t even realize they left.

         I’m a foster child who never quite got out of the system. Friends came and went too often when I was little. I decided if my best friend was in my mind he could never leave. So I invented a cartoon boy named Panny, for some reason. Long black stringy hair, huge eyes and sketchy animation made him look edgy. He wore a long-sleeved shirt with horizontal stripes. His brother was a large jolly guy named Candy. He rarely appeared. They didn’t get along.

         I follow the thought because suddenly I’ve had a story in my head for years, but haven’t written it down.

         Panny and I went on adventures every day. We meandered through the woods, climbed trees, explored abandoned buildings and got in trouble as often as possible.

         One day while probing for shenanigans, Panny climbed a tree that was too hard for me to follow. It was too skinny, there weren’t enough hand-holds, the sun was in my eyes, I was tired, and all the other reasons. Panny was also flipping imaginary. But I couldn’t stand it. I hated how quick he was to the ascent, and how I wouldn’t even try. So I tried. Like an idiot.

         I got halfway up and my foothold snapped. I rolled through thin vicious branches, drawing blood like I was wrapped in red thread.

         I remember falling, sitting up dazed, but mostly I was fine. I was bleeding, but not bad. I don’t remember the impact. When I looked around, Panny had vanished. I searched for hours. He was gone. Later I found out from Candy that Panny dove to catch me and I crushed him.

         Now, I am aware this didn’t really happen. I must have just landed right. But the conversation is a vivid memory. Candy and I said goodbye, and I never heard from him again.

         I wonder how he is...

         The reminiscence grows and becomes significant. [click]

         I backtrack. When I return to reality, I’m still jumping shadows, but the sun is so low it’s almost too hard.

         Emily jolts me back. “Can you imagine never…”

         I wait for her to continue but she’s lost in reverie, the weirdo. “I would never,” I tease.

         She smirks and glances at me, but finds her thought again in the waves of the horizon. “Imagine never seeing the ocean, then you come around the hill to that.”

         Her profile is a black hole in the flames of sunset. Emily and I both grew up on the coast of California. The ocean doesn’t impress me anymore. I’ve seen it too many times. This gets me thinking. I mean yeah the ocean is beautiful or whatever. But I can’t help it. If shadow jumping was a videogame, right now was the end boss.

         And here sits my princess, adorned in a sunset.

         I confirm to myself a historic truth. Sunsets are not beautiful. It is just light distorted by more atmosphere as it strikes the angle. The only colors “long” enough to get through are reds and oranges. The crazy colors. It’s like skipping a rock on the surface of a pond instead of dropping it straight down. That is all. A thing in a science book sets the ocean on fire while Emily silhouettes it.

         Suddenly, sunsets aren’t real. The light is a skipping stone on the pond of the sky. The ocean is too salty. Butterflies are bugs with shiny colors. A full moon is too perfect to be beautiful. Stars are plasma, roses are weeds, autumn is dead leaves, and winter is slippery roads and repetitive music.

         Because Emily exists. And Emily is love.

         Her hand flicks her hair from her face, her eyes are your favorite color, and the expression she makes twists my heart.

         Not the way curly fries are twisted. Curly fries can leave you sick to your stomach. More like cinnamon twists.

         Just like this.

         Just like her. [click]

         I stretch my shoulders. The seatbelt locks because I go too far. So [click, click, click] I’m choked by my lifeline.

         It doesn’t matter though. It can wait. I lean over and kiss her on the cheek. She smiles my stomach into the cinnamon twist I save for last. I lean my head against my seat and say “I love you, Emily.”

         Emily jumps. I’ve hadn’t said the L word yet. She always says it, and I always say “I know.” I couldn’t hold it back anymore though. She is too beautiful.

         “I— I love you too Sailo.”

         “I know,” I say.

         She does the lip thing and says, “Stop staring a—”

         She’s cut off when she splashes through the windshield.

 

         When I wake up the door is gone, and I hang halfway out of the car, the seat belt clutches me with clicked up persistence.

         I hurt everywhere.

                          The sunset is gone, and my narration

                       switched to a dark past tense point of view.

                    To put it down, I was drowning in the end boss

                because there was no way to jump over this shadow.

            And outside, a stranger was sorry

        so cold is she as she scratches the stars;

      bleeds her dry of the life-throat

careful gyroscopic and infrared (with corduroy eyelashes)

                                  Then it points to a red rose and says

                 “I love you enough to use these claws

                                                      so I can

                                                            smell you

                                                                        for a                                       

                                                                               .change”