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Posted 29 May 2007, 1.58 am by Duncan-O

It's a Friday night, and I'm out howling at the moon. My phone rings, and the name on the screen brings my revelry to a jarring halt. What could she want?

Shantel wants a favor. She needs her cat's litterbox changed. And as my inebriated mind struggles with this irritating and ludicrous request, she pushes on ahead: "It's the toxoplasmosis...the doctor says it's very dangerous for my baby."

All I can manage to say is "I didn't know you were pregnant."

We had gotten to Fort Bragg at the same time, three years ago, two new faces adjusting to the sea of regulation and camouflage. We were split up into different units, but she was a girl I went out of my way to keep close to me.

I think back to one morning when my knock on her door wakes her, and she steps back inside her tiny barracks room, wordlessly inviting me in. She sits on her bed and leans back against the wall, her round breasts revealed through the thin cotton of her tank top. She curls her legs under her, flexing, then stretches, pointing them at me across the room. She relaxes, draping her body across the sheets, her muscles unbunching under so much light brown skin. Only across the room, but I'm so far away. She's smiling a little, now, and her dark eyes flash.

It wasn't long until we had drifted apart. Shantel had joined the Army to get away from an abusive husband, and my heart went to her...but most people just keep making the same mistakes.

She looks at me now in her empty, unfurnished apartment, the swell of her baby starting to show underneath her loose blouse. Her eyes are significant once again. "My husband left me." Her cat nuzzles up to my leg. The words "you had your chance with me" come to mind--it's the kind of thing I've said to my married friends in lighter moments, said in front of their husbands so they would know I was joking.

But there's no joke here. The words hang in the air between us, tangible in the silence. They hurt both of us, so I leave them unsaid.

Who am I?

Posted 26 May 2007, 12.59 am by shaggy

Well, this will come as no surprise, but I recently settled on the undeniable fact that I have some sort of wicked mood disorder. I'm not terribly sure the extent, and my prescription coverage at work only kicks in about a month from now, so I'm hesitant to get diagnosed until that happens (what's the point of knowing what's wrong with me when I can't do much about it?) but I often wonder... when I get into my moods (I call them having an "emotional poop"... makes it easier to get out of them using a word like "poop" to describe being utterly depressed) what is happening to me? I am, in a nutshell, not myself. I don't mean that I am who I am subconsciously-- at least I would hope not. I argue with everyone around me, think everyone is basically, in some way, out to harm me or ridicule me or otherwise betray me, and I hide away in my apartment kicking myself for the agoraphobia that is most likely a direct result of the disorder (whatever it may be).

You've probably notice me snap on the shed from time to time. Arguments become whine-fests, I find myself just simply uncomfortable, angry, and not exactly sure why. Which got me thinking: I look back on this and don't understand myself. I could love someone dearly and just simply find everything that comes out of their mouth acid, and not because of any valid argument-- not because they are saying they are cheating on me and having a blast, or enjoyed making fun of me behind my back, they might just say something that strikes me as odd and I can't picture where it came from and BAM! I have an emotional poop-- and I can feel things getting worse. Can feel those around me starting to distance themselves, like they would from the drunk puking/crying person at a party.

I've caught myself doing it, and its morbidly fascinating. Its like I'm sitting, watching myself from a lawn-chair a thousand miles away, unable to stop myself or control myself. I know to a certain degree this is normal, but it is a chain reaction... I hurt those I care about, and in turn I start feeling depressed. I lose sleep (on bad spells I get an average of about 3 hours a night for weeks to months on end), I start hiding away and not really knowing what to do or what to make of myself.

And then I come out of it, looking at the shitty mess I've made and cursing myself the same way one would curse a puppy who shat on the floor, not with any real hate but with a severe annoyance and wish that things were different, and that there was more control in place.

I know some of you don't think my relationships have been gold. Yeah, I must admit I've taken my kicks to the groin. But I also know damn well that I've thrown my fair share of (proverbial) punches.

I've tried a few self-therapies until I get my prescription coverage. They've worked. I remember having negative thoughts, but they were only THOUGHTS, they didn't affect my mood, and it felt like I was protected by a wall that was blocking me from pain. It was wonderful. But it didn't last (St John's Wort is highly recommended, but is not a very powerful drug and is definitely under the category of "alternative medicine" meaning probably a very high level of placebo going on).

I've done a lot of research on the therapy that would make the most sense for me until I get to be myself. I most likely have what's called "Seasonal Affective Disorder" or SAD. Its a self-diagnosis, probably inaccurate as old hell (if I had the health coverage cards, I'd be taking my prozac or whatever by now and probably feeling a lot better for it) but it seems to be working to some degree. Apparently, light therapy (not sure what that is yet...) helps, along with exercise and a general good environment (read: I need to spruce up the humble abode). Problem is that it also comes, when in its spells, with a severe lack of motivation... meaning I need something STRONGER to knock me out of my "emotional poops" because otherwise, unless I catch myself, I'll dwell quite badly.

Which also explains why cognitive therapy works so well. When I notice I'm in an "emotional poop" I hurt no one but myself. Because I don't go running around calling everyone a whore or a bastard or a jerkface, I just feel paranoid and keep to myself and wait for it to subside.

Still, I can't help but look at myself confused. Who am I? I mean really... if these drugs change the way I behave, the way I feel... am I a result of the drugs or my own self? When I was blocked from emotional pain, was I experiencing the "really real", life as it SHOULD be experienced? And if so, how did I go for so long in my sheltered reality, hating and becoming angry for no good reason, a fire burning where there should have been ice?

I'm not trying to be "angsty" or "my life is more difficult than yours" or "oh woe is me". I'm really not. I think my life is a really good one in terms of outside environment, though I could certainly be taking more advantage of it. I'm merely curious, because I pride myself in being knowledgeable about myself, in knowing how I feel, in knowing what is inside of me, in what I believe and what I feel to be the truth... I'm obsessed about it really, and so it baffles me...

If I can be angry at nothing, am I capable of worse things? If I can feel like killing myself merely because the sound of the wind strikes me as malevolent, am I truly pathetic (read: FEEL like killing myself, I think suicide is an insult to everything alive and good in this world and I don't think I've ever really come close to it, as self-destructive as I can be)?

Bearing in mind these are all rhetorical questions, designed more for my self-analysis than anything. I know I'm dwelling on my flaws, but I look at a picture of me and Kim enjoying happy times together and I look at myself in the picture, cursing, saying to the image of myself, "don't chase away people anymore. I'll hate you if you do."

I don't know what I have to say, except that I want to look up from the abyss and smile, and dance, and have wicked sex with the woman I love, on a beach somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and fax pictures of my butt to unsuspecting people... in short, just enjoy myself, and in order to do so, I have to find out what this... THING.. this "emotional poop" is and how I can conquer it.

I think I'll start with taking a wicked dump. I don't care who you are... that brings joy and a general feeling of a burden removed.

"My father's fingers"

Posted 29 April 2007, 11.51 pm by Andy

My father’s fingers

thumb the pages of a paperback
thriller. Their scarred, coarse tips
are wet with spots of spit.
His rough knuckles crack

as he sinks
further into the plush, brown sofa. A sigh escapes
through his chapped, parted lips.
Right now, he does not think

about feeding sturdy sheets of plywood, two-by-fours,
sixes, and eights, into the hungry maw
of a table saw—
the daily duties of a carpenter—

but rather, about the round
tub of macadamia nut ice cream
in the freezer, and the Mariners game
unfolding on the television in the background.


Posted 27 April 2007, 4.46 pm by shaggy

The difference between a smile and a frown is the difference of choice. However, that being said, the goal of the storyteller is to convince someone to smile or frown, to laugh or cry. But the goal is in itself doomed to failure because of the fact that people choose: they can walk into a movie in which the filmmakers have faught hard to make a film to make everyone in the audience smile, but never so much as chuckle. I could walk into a movie intending to make me weep for a lost innocence and find myself laughing unintentionally at something within the frame (say, a hamster on a wheel as a man gives a monologue about how his life is destroyed).

So what is the point? Basically put, emotion is a strange beast. At once it is our choice whether to be happy or sad, but at the same time we are happy and sad because of other things. Even myself, I fear sometimes that I may be clinically depressed, meaning I ultimately feel sad a lot for no good reason, but it isn't that I just wake up and say "oh I'm sad for no good reason." I wake up in my apartment sometimes with a feeling of loneliness or what have you, and I attribute something to it. "I am sad because..." and what I attribute to it sometimes doesn't make any sense and sometimes is incredibly forced, but the point is my consciousness is incapable of thinking of emotion isolated away from incident.

But still, the minute I realize that I have no reason to be sad, more often than not I cease to be sad. This is one of the reasons why, although I fit the profile for clinical depression quite well, I have never seen medical help on the issue, probably to the great detriment of those around me. Still, as much as I have been a basketcase in the past, I think each day I get better by, rather than becoming opiated with a psychiatrist's grocery list, adjusting the manner in which I see things. No longer is a rainy day sad, but delightfully refreshing against dry skin. No longer is my apartment lonely and empty, but free from complications and a haven for my intimate thoughts.

You get my point.

So, if I were to sit and think upon whether I want to tell a story to convince people to laugh or cry, I have to think about what they will intend the minute they begin to listen to my tale being created. In other words, if the audience wants to laugh, they will laugh. If they think the story dictates a tear, they will cry. "Art-house" movies try to upset this balance, giving you a scene in which you feel like you should be crying but is forcing you to laugh, or vice versa. But I think they are missing one of the wonders of storytelling.

If I begin "once upon a time," it brings to the audience a background that is automatic for the phrase. They know they will hear a tall tale of sorts, most likely fantastical, and most likely with a slight tone of melancholy. Just like the colors on a plate of food will give you inclination of how the food will taste (which is why chefs focus on presentation as well as the quality of the meal), so too are there archetypes of emotion within any story.

So with that being said, I have but to wonder... looking at the state of the world, the cynicism and the jadedness, the xenophobia and the general discomfort, I do believe I've chosen my field of storytelling: to bring a smile into the room.

There is no experience like being lonely and then popping in an episode of Mr Bean or a bit of Futurama. Whether or not you like those shows, it does not change the fact that the choice both want you to make is to just generally feel good, generally smile.

Like I said about Scrubs, people being goofy and loving and silly, and just downright happy, is probably the norm more than the exception. People want to be happy, its undeniable; even "miserable" people bitch and moan because they want somebody to convince them NOT to bitch and moan, deep down inside. And well, if they choose to be so bitchy and whiney as to truly want to be miserable, then it begs the question of why they don't kill themselves if they think life is so unbearable.

Me? I think life is beautiful. I think even the darkest moments on earth have a tiny beacon of light, and that the darkness only makes the light brighter by contrast. I also believe that, if you look at darker stories like Pan's Labyrinth or Hotel Rwanda or such films, people aren't attracted to these films because they evoke tears... these films evoke tears because they have a light shining in darkness, and the light is made only brighter by the darkness that surrounds.

So, if emotion is a choice, than I choose comedy. It is the most difficult genre to write, since it walks the thin line between being funny and being a jerk, but its something I think the world needs more of.

I want to spread smiles. Really, if you sit down and think about it, wouldn't you rather be surrounded by laughing, smiling people than a bunch of goth melancholies that can't justify their own existence?

Tick, Tock

Posted 12 April 2007, 2.40 pm by Villager

I'm developing something of an aversion to clocks. They're deeply unsettling, with their incessant ticking and ceaseless tocking. Grim harbingers of mortality, milestones on the road to death flashing by, each one gone forever before the next has begun. I have achieved nothing. I have not sparkled, I have not shone, I have not excelled. I have barely begun contemplating where to begin. The clock is not sympathetic; it marches on, not stopping or slowing for pause or reflection.

It's not so much that I fear death. More that I fear living in perpetual mediocrity, pointlessness and apathy. What do I want? If I knew I might apply myself, then have at least a fighting chance. Perhaps I ought to develop my spirit, whatever that means. Certainly I find it hard to see what "material" achievements I would value anyway. Perhaps I should once more resign myself to the futile and dull nature of existence and just try to enjoy the ride. But that way lies suicide, of the mind if not necessarily the body too.

I have perceived as wisdom in different forms the idea that it is not one's destination that matters, but the way one travels. That suggests abandonment of goals and a focus on a way of being. But without wishing to be facetious, how can you travel if you do not know your destination, or at least have a bearing? I have ambled along the path of chance and fortune for long enough without reward.

I turned to God, and He wasn't unkind. He took away my sadness, and I was glad to be free of it. But while I find the wrath of omnipotence a compelling deterrence to sin, I am left just as cold by the inducements of spiritual freedom as I am by material indulgence. Peace is smashing when you're in pain, but awfully boring afterwards.

It's amazing how quickly you can become trapped in your perception of the world. You spend your youth considering the possibilities, beholding the incomprehensible vastness of it all. 'I'm going to be special', you think. And then it hits you. Your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs, even your tastes – they're all contrived through choice. They are just habits, as good as any other, and chosen for the relief they promise from insufferable normality, little more. That may be what it means to exercise free will, but why do I feel no ownership of or even attachment to the person that I have become?

So what is the 'real me'? I spend a lot of time doing nothing. Not even thinking. I sit and I hear, I see and I feel. But I'm not listening, not looking, not truly feeling. That is when I 'feel' most natural. That's not to say I enjoy it, but nothing becomes the default option in the absence of something.

Reflections of a Trainee Teacher

Posted 25 March 2007, 8.45 pm by Villager

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet
How sweet his music! On my life
There's more wisdom in it.

Working in a school feels a lot like working in a prison. I've never so much as set foot inside a prison, mind, so you'll have to excuse the liberties I take with the analogy. Every thing that takes place there is ostensibly in the name of the venerable aim of learning, but in the process of that so much humanity must be curtailed, chastened and pruned. I am called a teacher of English, but I spend rather more time trying to persuade, bribe, bully and otherwise force children into a mode of thought and behaviour that adult society deems appropriate. It's not just the children who suffer, either: I am daily at pains to contrive the façade that constitutes Professional Conduct.

I've been training for six months now. For most of that time I've been quite convinced that I'm never going to be good at it; I've persisted largely through the conviction that I'll not find anything better, and largely in fear of renewed failure. I dare say that most people would struggle to do the job well, but me more than most. The reasons are legion; laziness, introversion, relentless insecurity, emotional detachment, and more that I haven't the heart to summon. So why am I doing it?

One answer would be idealism. It impressed the course tutors, aligns with pedagogical good practice, and makes some sense, at least in the abstract. But it would be a dishonest answer. No, I chose to become a teacher because I couldn't think of anything else. As I read that back to myself I am forced to examine my conscience, as I have done many times. I considered the pay, the holidays, the social status, the pension, the lack of physical labour. People would call me 'Sir'. What else can you do with an English degree, except become a failed writer? I could always achieve that in my spare time. I had no confidence that I could do it, but arrogance and a tendency to ignore anything beyond the immediate future led me to disregard that.

I'm not as bitter as I sound. There are some children who are genuinely pleasant to interact with, and who comply most eagerly with my demands. There is an extrinsic pleasure to be had from conceiving and managing a successful lesson. I proclaim that I enjoy my subject and in part this is true, but there are only so many times that you can joke about Subordinate Claus and his bossy wife before you start to resent the entire exercise.

There are moments that cut through the madness and make me feel simply redundant. Like when an eleven-year old, asked to write an autobiography, narrates a detailed account of a child 'raised' by drug addicted parents, left to contract hepatitis from a needle left around without care, sleep in her own shit and repeatedly be bitten by a starved dog. She has the scars to prove it. And I'm asking her to write about it.

Where and how?

Posted 21 March 2007, 5.08 am by shaggy

I look and wonder; everyone has their own set of ideals, expectations, the way we think the world works. And yet the world is consistently unpredictable in human terms. The world was not built in our image, and we were not built in the image of the world. We are a pebble in the sand, and we rock to and fro in the whims of the tide.

And yet, there is magic-- or at least the will towards it. Freud defined magic as the childish will for control over environment. When a child cries and says "but I want it," magic is the tool with which 'it' can happen and fall unto their lap. And yet, sometimes we fluke magic even without requiring delusion.

So, then, is our will accidental? Some people have lives that are exactly as they wish; others fight the waves as they crash, and are buried underneath the rocks, their cries buried under the thrashing tumult. We remember the ones that stand out, the ones whose will fights against the current, and yet what of the pebbles that remained buried, the ones whose will did not magically coincide with that of the world?

Can we bend reality, or will it break? And what happens if we snap it, what would be the fallout?

We are chemical sloshing, meat that is rotting at each step. Our consciousness is an accident of energy and matter. And yet we piece together our surroundings; can we ourselves willingly create such an accident, replicate ourselves in the sand, make a pebble into our image?

They say that they studied prayer on a quantum level, and prayer actually changes the environment of those who pray. The will has a quantum effect on the environment. Is this my magic? Could I dissemble existence, then, if I willed it strong enough? Or could I create a utopia where our telomeres are ever shortened, our words are never drowned in the sea of human voices?

At which point does the will become delusional? Does the man who wish for a peaceful life suffer from delusions of grandeur?

Does the abyss ever stop staring back?

The end of the first world

Posted 7 March 2007, 9.07 pm by shaggy

Driving down the highway, same route she had taken a million times before, Mackenna tried to keep her eyes open, tried to stay awake. Her eyes were dry and sore, irritated and it felt like someone had been desperately rubbing sandpaper along her sockets.

She closed her eyes for a moment, to moisten them. She had been crying again, wanting desperately for things to work out. She had begun wondering if they would ever reconcile their differences, or if they would be forced to part ways. She did not want it to come to that, but the two were just getting increasingly bitter. As a part of her gave up, another part of her knew that they only fought about trivial things, and they could simply choose to not fight or bite their wicked tongues back for a moment and just truly appreciate each other.

As she smiled, content that they could do that, that they could both be happy, she looked up and realized she had swayed a little bit into the other lane. She opened her eyes as wide as they could go, terribly frightened by the mistake. Still, she was so tired, so exhausted, and her eyes were so very dry. As road signs blinked past her, as the light of her headlights fought the shadows, she thought to herself that she could just close her eyes for another instant. And in an instant, there was change, light, and pain. In a moment, she found herself approaching the other world she had promised her daughter. Metal scraped against metal, and the smell of burnt rubber, an inhuman screeching, and a warm, sticky feeling leaking all over her body as blood flowed freely, all came crashing together. Her first thought was, “no, not like this.” She thought of the last few words to her husband, trying desperately to hang onto life as her blood dripped out of her like a fountain. “You can’t die,” she repeated to herself again and again. She thought she saw a firefly, buzzing in front of her vision, and silently wondered if she was beginning to hallucinate.

She tried to move, but she felt a jagged bit of metal in her stomach, felt the pain of splintered ribs. She tried to breathe, but each gasp was far too painful, but she fought the pain, tried desperately to stay awake. She kept telling herself, again and again, that she would never get a chance to apologize to her husband, never get another chance to tell her family that she loved them.

Everything was fading. She cursed and tried to pull out whatever was jabbing through her torso, but she found that it was a part of the dashboard, and any attempt to remove it proved too painful to bear, each attempt sending her into a state of dizziness from which she feared, if she went too far, she would never wake. She screamed and shouted, cursed and yelled. Each angry curse became weaker and weaker as her consciousness began to fade. Again, she thought she saw a firefly buzzing across her vision, but then again, everything began to change, the world fading into darkness and becoming lit by phantasms, random lights that some people would attribute to a brain that was lacking in oxygen, and others still would have said to be passing onto another world.

She held her hand up and tried to catch the firefly. It escaped her. She closed her eyes and in her dream, she left her body and floated away, chasing a phantom insect and unsure exactly where she was headed, or why she felt compelled to go there.

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Doggybag/baggy_dog is an artist living and working in Barga, Italy. Click here to read about this piece in his own words.

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Props to Green Mamba for bringing the weirdness


80s candy bars were pretty good

only because i traded it for a candy bar in the 80's.

lol we all know you don't have a soul ghoti

my soul for some carbs...

But of course!


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