Monthly Archives: May 2009

Our Stories.

With poise, F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked, “There are no second acts in American lives.” But this cannot be true representation of our lives. We SlimFast. We gain weight again. We Jazzercise. And put on a quick 15 at the holidays.

So maybe the comment extends past body image. But there are instances recreation all around us. As a college student, I am continually terrified that the real world is waiting; I am not sure what I want to be, or where, or how I’ll get there. The only comfort that I find in my situation is the assurance of other adults that the world is not a steadfast place. You can change jobs, remarry, and redefine yourself when you feel that it is necessary.

The wording in Fitzgerald’s quote is quite interesting. Although he denies the possibility of it, he refers to life as existing in ‘acts’. Coincidentally, it is human nature (although contested as such, but I feel it is a rather innate trait in all of us) to tell stories. This process of telling our stories allows us to develop our own personal narrative that we tell. This narrative is rather mealeable and only certain people know all the details — and only you can know how these details impact your life. Regardless, the stories exist and they are an insight into our thoughts and feelings about situations.

Beyond providing a means to re-evaluate our current lives, telling stories permits a type of forward thinking. In our interactions, we harbor love, or contempt, or strong desires that are driven by our stories. In that manner, telling our past stories generates our perception of our future self. This understanding or idea of a future self allows for us to violate the Fitzgerald quote. If I know what I am and what I want to be, I can behave in such a way as to reconcile any differences between the two ‘me’s’. And after I have changed once, I can continue to look forward and adapt more.

As I reconsider it, perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald was correct. There are no second acts in American life because the word ‘act’ implies some distinction. Despite our traumatic events and the beautiful events that occur, we can only continue what we have. Marriage is not a ‘second act’ as much as it is a development- an evolution- into a new narrative. Our stories only become more intricate – but we’re not Shakespeare nor tragedies. Our stories are already marked with a certain death. Yet as we work toward the inevitable, we develop our own narrative and path- and this is the true marker of our identity. Not our personality. We define ourselves with stories- the continual flow of one day to the next. Within this construction, we grow and redefine until we reach the end of our days.

Dark Days

I’d like to see the Antichrist, be in
the room as he is born, and watch to see
where he goes wrong, but die before he ends
it all, dignified, a natural cause.
I’d ask if he could hold it off until
I turn seventy-five so I can view,
while I’m still here, the comet, too, if it’s
on time to signal that the end is near.
And after he has let me die, I’ll float
along in slow descent as corpses with
their sounding lines mark twain at points of safe
return back to the world I’d left to burn.

Missionary Position

She spits at my feet but looks to the sky
as she is blessing me, so full of grace.
Like Seraphim wings, the whites of her eyes
glisten, wide open like Saint Peter’s Gate

at the Endtimes, with no one left to save.
She drove three-fourths of a revolution
to arrive, humming hymns along the way,
but never thought that she would be the one

abandoned by righteousness, left alone
as Mary ails, asphyxiating faith.
Her whispered conscience knows not what it’s done,
now, or at the hour of her death:

Her only sin has ever been her pride,
a trespass greater than the sum of mine.

Let’s talk about chess.

Let’s talk about chess, baby, let’s talk about you and me, let’s talk about all the good things, and the bad things, like pawns en prise, let’s talk about chess… let’s talk about chess!

Salt n’ Pepa, “Let’s talk about Chess”

When I was in high school, I played a lot of chess. A lot. I never got too interested in learning the game all the way through – to me, it wasn’t a problem I had to solve, just a fun thing to do. I liked winning, sure – but I didn’t have to win, so I didn’t study middlegames, tactics, et al.

What I did do, however, was learn a number of openings. I always thought it was interesting to respond to other players’ machinations with moves that were unexpected and unanticipated – surprise, of course, being the most interesting thing that can occur in chess or in any “open” game, in which all the information is available to all the players at all times.

I surprised myself today when I realized that I can still recall the names – as well as the moves and the designed purposes – of a whole host of chess openings that I used to use when I played in high school.

There is, for instance, the classic Philidor Defense, in which the common opening 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 is met not by the standard, reflective 2. … Nc6, but instead by a pawn buttress of 2. … d6. This is far preferable to the poor Damiano Defense of 2. … f6, which exposes the kingside and leaves the king vulnerable to a sacrifice attack. Once the night captures with 3. Nxe5, the response 3. … fxe5 (that threat of capture being the implied defense of said center pawn, after all) is met by 4. Qh5+ and the king, with no guards at the castle gate, must leave the safety of the back line.

While I enjoyed messing around with unusual defenses as black, I also liked using odd opening lines as white. Two of my particular favorites to play were 1. b4 (try to figure out what to make of that!) and the old, long-forgotten King’s Gambit.

The Queen’s Gambit (1. d4 d5 2. c4) is still standard, but the parallel gambit on the kingside (1. e4 e5 2. f4) is exceptionally rare nowadays. Though it was the most common opening back in the 1800’s, it is now not often seen, and it is certainly not the kind of opening most young players have had the chance to play against.

I won quite a few games with the King’s Gambit opening, if I recall correctly (and I may not – I’m sure most of my losses have been gracefully papered over by the vagaries of my mind, and only the impressive victories remain), and I definitely enjoyed the sharp, aggressive gameplay that it brought to the table. I suggest that any chess playing readers out there give it a shot and see if they like it.

Go ahead. I liken it to taking the Schwinn out of the garage and firing it up for old times’ sake. Except this bicycle, you’ve never learned to ride.

PS: A side note to non-chess playing readers: learn.

Like the song never ended.

I remember us as wildfires.

Summer lights dancing through the trees.

Our parents were dry leaves and cigarettes.

Our children were ash and smoke, the kind that won’t leave your clothes for days.

The radio played cheap beer by the case while we sipped old punk songs and plucked the notes to “El Scorcho” on our gin buckets.

Our music singed the corners of our coat pockets while we smoldered dead branches like souvenirs of last year.

We scribbled notes to the future on each other’s tongues and taped forties to our hands like boxing gloves for our souls.

We were tired as hell but we danced all night anyway.

Just because.

We flicked and floated as cinders on the breeze and our glass bottle hearts broke shiny like they never glittered to begin with.

Our taste buds learned the difference between cute girl and light beer but didn’t care for one more than the other.

If both could be had, then all the better.

Our truth poured out as poorly mixed drinks and we flowed from cup to cup with ease.

We woke with good ideas turned ugly mistakes turned righteous crusades.

Our darkness was outside.

We felt warm beneath it like blankets wrapped with care.

Tucked and neat.

We glowed on the inside.

Our whiskey-warmed heartbeats found the drum track and thumped in unison.

The bass line pumped infatuation through our capillaries and with small cuts we bled romance as blood brothers.

The fire popped champagne and crackled sing-song.

Embers were snowflakes on our tongues, lightning bugs in a jar.

We decided that’s all we were.

Just lightning bugs in jar.

Dancing in the moonlight.

Singing out a song.

Still, our fire smiled wide like we never broke to begin with.

Like it didn’t even matter.

Like the song never ended.

For Love…

The beauty of being a college student is that the real world still seems to be quite far away. When the work seems to be overwhelming, I can pretend that I am seven; I want to be a baseball player or a rock star. I rarely have to look inward and question what’s really there. Yesterday, I listened to Anne St. Martin speak. She works for Human Services Incorporated in Oakdale, Minnesota. HSI is an interesting program because a therapist and a co-therapist go into the homes of the families to work with the people in their environment. Anne was one of these therapists for over 25 years. Interacting with families. Learning from each familial system, she exhibits the tired symptoms that I would expect from a life spent listening to pain and hatred that can only erupt in the home setting.

She sighed, with all earnestness, the known adage, “We always hurt the ones that we love”. And she knew. As Anne drew family trees on the board and told us the stories that underscored the simple circles and squares, the pain of her profession became clear. Her slightly sunken eyes still revealed the optimism needed to engross oneself in the toils of a tiresome labor, but she carried herself in a heavy manner. Each family weighing her down. Without saying it to us, it was clear that every family she worked with placed their world on her shoulders and she carried it until the family was ready to take it back. Not every family took their mountains back. So Anne was left carrying the rocks, the water, the power of each families interactions; she had no way of passing them on or setting them down. And it hurt her.

Painfully, Anne was drawn to borderline personality disorders. People under 18 cannot be diagnosed with personality disorders, so youth are said to have borderline traits. This includes all-or-nothing thinking, uncontrollable anger, suicide thinking, and self mutilation among others. People experiencing these disorders experience strong mood swings. She told us of situations where people expressed their love for her for 4 months of therapy and then, with no distinct reason for change, hated and resented her. She was fired. Families tried other methods. She had to turn her back on, was asked to leave, situations where Anne could have improved the situation. And it hurt her.

Situations varied and some people truly stick out to her. Her eyes lit up a bit as she talked about one young boy, a five-year-old. He was experiencing borderline traits even in his youth and would become incredibly enraged. This would manifest in tantrums and aggression. Apart from this, he was a good child who could articulate it. He was not happy with who he was and asked for new doctors because there was an
“anger monster” in him and he wanted it to be gone. Despite her best efforts, Anne was not having success with the child. He was not improving. And it hurt her.

Anne revealed amazing strength and desire to be where she was. She expressed her unsure future, as the economy problems lead to less money being available for private non-profits such as HSI. Perhaps her job would not exist next year. These thoughts were just another weight for her to put on her back. She took it in stride and continued helping the people who needed her. She said that the interesting part of family therapy is that in a successful instance, the family will feel like they improved their situation themselves, by working together and overcoming their problems. In an unsuccessful instance, the family has a scapegoat — the therapists. It was a thankless job in many ways. She didn’t get cookies at the holidays like clinical therapists, the private-practice types. Anne took away stories and weight. And that was ok with her.

Baby Planes

A single-seated aircraft crib
Single-engine coverall
Single ladder to the bridge
Footprints up against the wall
Safety pins and scribbled notes
German hands and ocean views
Touching down across the moat
Everything in the news
No more dancing, no parades
No more runways lit ahead
No more shining accolades
Two months wrecked, the pilot dead
Baby planes take off, descend
Not so lucky in the end