Archive for January, 2014

Benzoate (as preservative)



One of my new year’s resolutions was to start making a living off my writing. To attain this goal I’ve advertised myself as a free-lance writer. Last week I got my first paying gig writing speeches for a prominent politician. His name is Sodium Benzoate and he is a staunch member of the Preservative Party. As you know, Preservatives are in a host of foods, their goal being to keep food from going bad. Well, I wrote this speech for Sodium Benzoate, as an introduction to his upcoming debate with Entropy, the incumbent candidate from the Organic Party. Unfortunately, the Benzoate campaign has decided against using my speech. They did, however, pay me. Thus, I have fulfilled my new year’s resolution. However, I’m still dis-satisfied at not having my writing recognized. So here it is: the speech that never was.


As a preservative, I believe strongly in keeping things the way they are. That means ensuring the future with a meal that isn’t rotten, decayed or spoiled. In fact, the opposite is true: the present will taste just as good as it does now for many years to come. If we select a Preservative way of life.

That’s because, as a preservative, I believe in keeping things the way they are. Organic politicians, on the other hand, believe that the way forward is to abandon our roots. They want things to change, believing it will be for the better. I admire them for their hope and idealism, but the fact is that left unpreserved, most food will go bad in just a few days. I did not make the rules- but I do play by them.

My fellow preservatives, we stand at a crossroads. Are we going to try our luck with some tuna that smells bad? Or are we going to stick with the can, the one that will be good for generations to come? The answer, to me at least, is obvious. Thank you.

God bless. And God bless the United Contents of Refrigerator.


I also wrote this attack ad for the Organic Party’s smear campaign against Mr. Benzoate.


Children. [image of child playing]

Happiness. [image of elderly couple with arms around each other]

Freedom. [image of bald eagle flying over water]

All these things need one thing. And that thing is not Sodium Benzoate.

[image of child coughing up blood]

[image of a single elderly person looking into the camera]

[image of dead bird]

Vote Entropy this November.


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“My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away
To everlasting bliss.”

About four years ago, I woke up at 4am unable to sleep. High in the sky were the first signs of light disrupting the darkness. I went outside by the lake. I sat on a chair on the pier. The chair reclined a bit, allowing me to look up. The sky was becoming lighter and lighter.

Some birds flew directly overhead. After a while I noticed they were following a path- they would approach an invisible point above and then change angles slightly, heading over the lake toward the woods behind me. Every thirty seconds a few more birds reached that spot and turned just like the ones before them. I wondered how they did it, whether by scent, language or something else.

Day started to break and fish started to poke their snouts out of the water. From each point where they punctured the surface, concentric circles radiated outwards. The ripples collided and comingled before vanishing and being replaced by others. The birds kept flying, and my perspective from below allowed me to see their undersides: the head and tail, front wings and hind legs. They looked so much like fish, like animals, like humans lying prostrate.

My frame of mind was one of extreme enthrallment and calm. All of a sudden a hornet landed on my crotch. It scared me, because my pants were thin and its stinger looked mean and was pulsating. The pulsating reminded me of larvae or a baby human being born, in surges and contractions. Rather than slap the hornet away I focused on slowing my breath, calming down even more. Slowly, the hornet’s stinger stopped moving. It quit shuffling its feet and began to rest. I closed my eyes to meditate…

The sound of fish breaking the water, birds calling after each other, the sun making the sky pink and the Earth warm. Then, like a bolt of lightning I made what felt like conscious contact with the hornet. I opened my eyes and when I did it flew away. After sometime I got up from the chair and walked inside. I moved very strangely. Rather than take step after step in usual fashion, each movement was slow, dramatic, strange. I was stunned with the possibility of each step and amused with how often I haven’t noticed it.

When I got inside I opened a notebook to write about what was happening. But instead of writing quickly what was in my mind, I moved the pen slowly… it’s hard to explain why I was moving so slow, but to say that the usual perception of time- as a series of separate moments- was shattered into a single continuum, and so my actions were not separate, but part of a flow.

My mom came into the kitchen where I was writing. I tried to express what was happening and she immediately thought I was on drugs. Ha, no drug has ever made me feel that supreme, and I’ve tried a lot. The experience continued, diminished, then went away, leaving a lasting sense of serenity, but even that passed.

I haven’t experienced the exact same thing since, but have gotten close a few times. Each time I was filled with a sense of liberation, while at the same time afraid of breaking the spell. Once after a long bath, the other while sitting outside by some trees watching the wind blow their branches around.

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But Fear Itself

One of the most important things in artistic recovery is learning to call things- and ourselves- by the right names. Most of us have spent years using the wrong names for our behaviors. We have wanted to create and we have been unable to create and we have called that inability ‘laziness’. This is not merely inaccurate. It is cruel. Accuracy and compassion serve us far better… Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear… Do not call procrastination laziness. Call it fear… our artist child can best be enticed to work by treating work as play.
-Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

I know I’m not the only one who’s ever got a job they can’t do.

Less than three months ago I got a job putting on events at a tea shop. I thought it would be a lot of fun at first. However, it’s been a constant anxiety for me coming up with ideas for events, promoting and implementing them. My natural tendency is to avoid making a fool of myself in public, which is what happens when nobody comes to an event. The reverse is true: I don’t want the events to go well, because that means I have to keep going.

At first, I just pushed through the anxiety and did the events anyway. There were some duds, like game night, where nobody came. But there were some successes, like when I had a Macy’s Santa visit the tea shop and kids and families came to visit and drink hot chocolate. My attitude toward the events was founded on the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I would do some preparation to make the event a success, but wouldn’t worry if it didn’t.

For example, for Santa Night, I went the extra yard to get a coloring book and some crayons. Didn’t seem necessary, but toward the end of the night a little girl came. She was somewhat anti-social, neither interacting with Santa or the other children. I brought her the coloring book. Boom. ‘Coloring books are her jam’, said her mother. In other situations, however, there’s not much I can do. My resources for promotion are practically nonexistent. The tea shop itself isn’t that sexy. There have been events where nobody comes or, if they do, they’re only friends of mine who came to help me out. To create an actual following in the community would take a lot more work.

Now, there’s one voice in my head that says keep going. Work harder. You can do it. There’s another part of me that says No thanks. I’m really not deriving any lasting happiness from this. I know lasting happiness is pretty elusive in every situation, but I really don’t think it’s here. Putting on events is not my jam.

For the past two weeks I’ve been considering quitting my job. The dialogue I’ve had with others and myself has driven me half-crazy. The conversations have revolved around the externals: my boss, my career, the tea shop’s own inadequacies… and between the sense of Duty on the one hand and Freedom on the other. But all that is beside the point.

My goal today isn’t to explain why I should or should not quit, but to be honest with myself about the reason I want to quit. The reason I want to quit is fear.

And anxiety and stress. I know a lot of people who would suck it up and do the job anyway. I know a lot of people who are sucking it up and doing jobs they’re unqualified for, terrified of, or simply struggling to do.

But am I one of those people? The facts on the ground are I’m 25, don’t have any one to take care of, and can find a different job. I’m also willing to admit I’m emotionally sensitive. I’d rather have a calm and peaceful environment where I can tinker rather than perform. My supply of courage is limited and if I’m going to use it, it has to be something I believe in.


What Kind of Service, Exactly? Or: how a glassy-eyed, farting dog awoke the dormant father within me

I have a paternal instinct. It kicked in the other day when I was holding the fifteen year old blind and deaf dog of a woman with gas. The dog not the woman had gas. Or at least that’s what the woman said, it’s hard to verify.

Anyway, I was holding the farting dog in my arms close to my chest as the woman waddled over to the manager of the restaurant we were in asking if she could bring in her dog. Telling him, rather, for she had legal documents stating it (the dog) was a Service Dog and she was entitled to have it with her inside. He looked at the papers glumly, looked at her, looked at me holding the dog (not knowing I was internally experiencing the awakening of the paternal instinct), looked at the papers and said it was fine. Later a waiter took us a small bowl of water for the dog.

I wasn’t sure how the dog qualified as a service dog. I thought Service Dogs were supposed to be German Shepherds with a preternatural understanding of human behavior and a rudimentary understanding of basic algebra. This dog on the other hand was blind and deaf, so she couldn’t even respond if you called her name (Sooz) much less lead you through traffic. Actually, she couldn’t even walk, at least not for distances greater than twenty feet. That’s why I was carrying her.

As the glum manager was looking over the papers, I felt within myself the normal response arise. ‘Normal’ meaning my old way of dealing with authority. The impulse was to say Hey Man don’t be a dick just let us bring in the dog. Simultaneously, my other unconscious reaction was to say I know Man we can’t have the dog we’ll leave, sorry. Instead of acting on either these impulses (fight and flight) I realized it wasn’t about me but this dog. The old thoughts went away and I just stood there without saying a word holding the dog like a baby. A sense of calm and confidence took over me, as it suddenly became not about me, but about protecting the dog. I held her tighter. I awaited the manager’s verdict with indifference. My arm was beneath the dog’s ass, which may or may not have been leaking fart into the air. I didn’t care.

The service Sooz provides, it turns out, is emotional in nature. In case the older woman, my acquaintance, suffers a breakdown. I didn’t ask for details and if I did I probably wouldn’t share them here. The point is the dog does provide a service. And what better dog than a blind and deaf dog that can’t run away when you need something to hold on to.

But the service isn’t just for the woman. Sooz is brought into nursing homes to visit patients, too. They love her, says the woman. I believe her. Sooz was soothing for me, too. Actually, being protective of Sooz and holding her with unshaking hands had a lot more significance to me than I realized that night. It came back to me later how when I was a teenager and had a serious problem with hand tremors I had a terrible fear of not being able to hold my kids because of my shaking hands- that doing so would endanger them. By holding her and having it feel so natural, that fear is over.

The bowl the waiter brought us was set on the vinyl booth before Sooz. She sniffed it, started to lap it up, then tipped it over, spilling all of the water. Then she started licking the booth. Then she sniffed out some quesadillas and started eating them off the plate. I felt like I understood why dogs shouldn’t be allowed in restaurants.

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