I love you, baseball. I’m glad you’re back. — J.W.
You did it. You did it, dude. You, after all the nerves and the vomiting and the potent, possibly psychotic self-hatred, finally – FINALLY – worked up the courage to ask her out on a date, and now here you are: in your car and on your way towards picking her up; you’re driving the speed limit & music down low, even though feel your heart pumping? You’re going to fail, dude, you’re going to fail, you’re going to fail, you’re going to going to going to fail, dude you can feel your heart beating in your chest, pumping hard enough to keep a steady beat on your ribcage like a demon playing a xylophone, and music might be a good way to cover up that horrible melody. You’re going to be just fine, dude. You did it. You did it, dude. You walked right the hell up to the girl at the bookstore – fiction section, third shelf, near Pynchon – and you asked her out on what will probably be an anticlimactic, awkward romp through the movie theater. But you did it, dude. You showed confidence and you showed courage and chutzpah and dude, you’re going to be just fine. There is no doubt about this at all. Don’t worry about it. Oh-ho-ho, you are so fucked. You’re going to trip and fall and break your teeth, my awkward friend. It’s only a matter of time. You’re going to burn like the Hindenburg and ohhhhh the humanity, this is going to horrible and you’re going to look like a goddamn idiot, dude. That voice you hear is just your self-esteem screaming out in terror before being drowned in a bathtub. But it doesn’t matter. Look at you: you’re on your way to pick up the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen. Of all the girls in all the bookstores in this little blue world of ours, it had to be her, you know? She’s perfect: long brown hair, soft eyes, kind smile, a button with “Trystero” emblazoned beneath a muted horn. She’s perfect. Perfect. Stunning and smart and kind. And you worked up the nerve, my god. That’s a rarity & you know it. That long brown hair, that red lipstick, that wit, that grace, those breasts which, I might add, is precisely why you’re going to fuck this up. You ever look at yourself in the mirror? The glasses, the tired eyes. Your awful, coffee-and-cigarette-stained teeth. You’re a mess. Oh, and P.S.: nice shirt, douche. Don’t listen to that voice. Stop listening. Pay attention to the road – that was a pedestrian, dude. Don’t kill a pedestrian listening to that awful little voice in your head. That would probably be a bad move in the long run – like, if the date went well, would she really come and visit you in prison? “Baby, baby, I accidentally ran someone over on the way to your place. Romantic, right?” And she would laugh and twirl her beautiful hair around her long fingers and then oh god, this is going to be such a goddamn nightmare. How far away am I from her place? It has to be soon, right? Oh god, oh god, oh god, I’m going to vomit, I think feel your heart pumping? You’re going to fail, dude, you’re going to fail, you’re going to fail, you’re going to going to going to fail, dude and oh, how beautiful she is.
There’s the door.
As my depression grows and dips and sways and blossoms until it reaches its truest, angriest form — a black hole — I find myself with my head through the first-floor window of my bedroom, breathing in the night air, trying to stop myself from spinning and spiraling into the angry black hole, as if the night air is the only thing stopping me from falling into the molecule-blasting black vortex. (It’s darker in there than it is outside my window, the night more inviting than anything; out there is my beautiful Oregon green and big and charmingly sleepy, the air tinged with the smell of wet Earth and the rain that is always five minutes away — or five minutes past, whichever way you wish to look at it.) I admit it wholeheartedly, mostly if you didn’t know it before by reading this simple blog: I have clinical depression. The angry, sad, paralyzing kind; the kind that appears from nothing and will only go back after pulling me into nothing. That kind that strikes a relative of yours, but never you. The kind you fear. The kind I fear. That kind. And tonight I’m dealing with it in the simplest way possible: two joints, a notebook, and an open bedroom window. I can breathe by this window. I often feel like I can’t breathe anywhere else. Outside the little first-floor bedroom window of my apartment is a small pine tree, discarded packs of cigarettes surrounding the trunk like the remnants of a religious ceremony put on by some lonely band of roaming heathens; when the weather is nice during the spring and summer I get to sit beneath its branches and read in the morning and early afternoon. I live for those happier times. The angry, sad, paralyzing kind; the kind that appears from nothing and will only go back after pulling me into nothing. That kind that strikes a relative of yours, but never you. The kind you fear. The kind I fear. That kind. Tonight my beautiful little tree has a strange blue glow about it, an ornament two weeks past Christmas. It glows as if inviting me to come outside and join the rest of the big, dumb world. (But I can’t: my ego is still too large, my depression too unique and special for anyone else to truly understand. I can’t, I can’t, I will tell myself in the wee small hours of the morning, the prospect of a new day ahead, the air chilled before the rising of a new (and still same old) Sun. But the evening is still young and I am just one more writer cast in a shadow, trying to escape the misery of “what’s next? What is next, what is next, what is NEXT?”
— Jackson Williams.
Reposting this on account of the impending four year anniversary of my friends’ deaths. I’m sitting here staring at the screen, stunned that it has been that long. I still miss you gentlemen, and I always will.
Although it was difficult for me to pull off, tonight I am writing to you without snark or pretense, my two greatest weapons as a writer; and, for the short time that I am able to pull off this lucid sincerity, I wish to speak a bit about what it is like to lose a friend too young, especially when those friends, by all accounts, are superior to you in every way — in life, in spirit, in ambition, in grace, and in love. This is not a matter of my low (and mostly self-deprecating) opinion of myself. It is instead how I feel about Collin and Ellis, two friends I lost in a car crash exactly one year ago today, and the effect they had on me not only in life but in death, far after the casket has dropped on the world they made better when they were alive, and far after the casket has dropped on the world that in death they have made feel strange and empty, like a song missing its strongest, captivating notes.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news: it was late in the evening and my then-girlfriend was over, nagging at me to get ready to go to the movies. We were going to be late to Black Swan, which to me didn’t seem like much of a tragedy anyways, and somehow she never got the message that the Bijou was never crowded, even on weekends — especially cold, depressing weekends in January where no one in their right minds wants to go outside, let alone go see Black Swan at an art-house cinema. It smells like a funeral home in there, which makes total sense since it happened to be a funeral home at one time point, way, way back in the foggy, marijuana-glazed past of Eugene. She was as amped up and naggy as ever because of me, her flaky boyfriend, and I was as low as could be from painkillers to kill the dull and yet somehow roaring pain of a few jagged stones running through and cutting up my kidneys, and in those few moments, unaware that in a minute or so tragedy would strike, it felt as if the world was slowly becoming trapped in a dark amber. By all accounts, this evening was going to be hell.
And then, like prophecy, my ringtone began to go off — “A Beautiful Mine,” the theme song from Mad Men, the same ringtone I still have one year later — and when I looked down at my phone it was my buddy Ethan, who rarely calls (this being before he moved to Vancouver). I call this is a red flag if there ever was one. I answered, and before I even spoke a word I knew something was wrong. Have you ever answered the phone and before any words have been spoken you can tell the person on the other end of the line has been crying profusely, you can just feel the tears over the phone like a strong mist that doesn’t show itself until you’ve stepped right in to the middle of it.
“Ethan? Dude? What’s the matter?”
I asked him this, scared out of my wits. You can always tell when tragedy has struck, as if people don’t realize how easy it is for someone to notice that you are in pain. We’re all just wounded animals making our way across the Savannah.
“They’re dead, dude. They’re dead.”
“What the fuck are you trying to say?”
“DEAD. Collin and Ellis. There’s been an accident.”
“If you’re lying to me, Ethan…if this is some kind of sick joke, I’m going to fucking kill you,” I yell at him over the phone, the shock of what I’ve just heard now rapidly turning in to tears calmly streaming down my face. As you could imagine, my then-girlfriend was looking at me like I had antlers suddenly sprouting out of the top of my head.
What I learned, as much as it pains me to write, the replay of the event in my head that drives me to a solemn silence whenever I picture it: early that morning, on their way south to go snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor, Collin, Ellis, and my other buddy Nick, who admittedly I did not know as well as Collin and Ellis, the late-80’s BMW that they were in had hit a patch of ice and after spinning they rolled down an embankment in to a small patch of woods, the car slamming in to and wrapping itself around a tree on the passenger side, which was the side that Collin and Ellis happened to be on. Nick was driving the car that awful morning and escaped with a broken leg and some lacerations to the face, the poor man somehow managing to crawl away from the wreckage just before the car caught fire.
If I can believe soothing words, which I always choose to do as a rule, my friends died immediately upon impact with that tree, instantaneously peaceful in death, forever-youthful in their steel cocoon, already in the presence of a place called Heaven before the fire began on the side of that snow-covered highway. Sometimes at night, when I dream in my warm bed, I can see that highway, that horrible place where the casket dropped forever and ever amen, and though sometimes in those dreams I see the fire that swallowed the car whole, my friends are never in pain. Not one of those dreams has ever been filled with pain. They stand by peacefully, smiling and watchful, like I always knew them to be, and I do not feel sad. Not even the loss of those wonderful spirits can shake my feeling that they are sleeping peacefully. I feel the turning wheels of the universe bringing us all in and spitting us all back out, treating us all one and the same and without prejudice. What’s the point of making people hurt when we all die equally anyways?
…although it was difficult for me to pull off, tonight I am writing to you without snark or pretense, my two greatest weapons as a writer; and, for the short time that I am able to pull off this lucid sincerity, I wish to speak a bit about what it is like to lose a friend too young, especially when those friends, by all accounts, are superior to you in every way — in life, in spirit, in ambition, in grace, and in love…
At twenty-four years old I have already been to seven funerals in my life. This is the first time I’ve ever really noticed just how many that is at such a relatively young age. Seven times I have stood under some solitary tree remembering the dead, seven times I have walked a walked through a cemetery lane alongside the dead, and seven times I have listened to words spoken by a preacher under unmistakable silence, the dead inhabiting that silence just as much as our own hushed voices do. These seven trips to the land of the dead have taught me nothing about what it means to be alive, as much as I ask for wisdom out of their ethereal silence. From the first to the last, all I’ve understood is that what separates me from them is not much more than fleeting air in the lungs and little electrical explosions in the brain, somehow giving me consciousness. Or, those seven occasions were trying to teach me something this whole time and maybe I just wasn’t listening.
I believe that part of the problem is that I see no point in learning from something only because it has disappeared — why wait for knowledge that way when you can just as easily learn a lot from those who are living, and not just come to cherish their words when they have passed on from this world to the next? Does Death, that cold bastard, suddenly make normal words become words of infinite love with one sweep of his black robe? Does death make a saint out of all of us in the end? Does everything become mysteriously, I don’t know…illuminated, in the end? Is that how love and wisdom are brought to the world?
I think not.
I believe deep down that the goodness in people can be seen well before they are taken from us, unfairly and far, far too young. Angels, like their mortal counterparts, can never keep themselves and their angelic nature a secret because, like we mortals, their goodness shines through all attempts to be secretly wonderful. It is like some holy white light that you try to cover up, but good luck — you’re just too wonderful for us not to notice. And, when that light is suddenly extinguished without warning, we feel that part of ourselves has been doused with water too. The winds calm down, the smoke becomes nacreous, and that wonderful white light that filled us with joy is nowhere to be found. Rest in peace, little light.
But, my dear friends and readers, do not worry yourselves, for that light will never go out. For a moment it appears extinguished and then, in a flash that can’t help but gift you with tears of joy, it reignites, sometimes brighter than ever. Anyone who tells you differently is absolutely full of shit. When those we find wonderful and special are taken from us, that light is left there in their place. It was there when you knew them, and it stays after they are gone. Collin had wanted to be a neurosurgeon and do good for people, to make them neurally whole again. Ellis was studying eastern medicine in hopes of trying to better the lives of others. I look back on my two dear friends and I know that the world has lost two good men too early. I know that if they had lived just a few more years they would have found a way to better the world, both on a micro and macro level. They, out of all of us lowly and scared spirits, were the ones who were truly going to make a difference. The world was going to have a future with them being alive, this I am sure of, and though they are gone the world still beats on like an engine; it will keep on turning, regardless of much I want to the world to stop and let me just mourn for two of my best friends, now lost.
Summer of 2009: me and a few friends, Collin and Ellis among them, watch the fireworks after a baseball game at Civic Stadium (which would be closed down by the end of summer). The feelings I have about this memory almost seem cliche now when I look back. You know the old song-and-memory dance: the future is bright ahead of us, our youthful faces lit up by flashes of red, green, blue, phosphorous white; beers are in our hands, we cheer the explosions over the old baseball stadium; we will live for today and not for tomorrow, since it won’t be here, so you might as well drink that Coors and finish off that freshly-rolled joint in the parking lot. We were just kids in college, we had no idea that tragedy could find us just like everybody else. I wasn’t as close to them then as I would eventually become, but love and friendship always have to have a beginning, if they even begin and end at all!
I miss them dearly, forever and ever. I love you, Collin and Ellis, and I will always miss you.
Passion is me, the writer at the desk,
my blood scrawled on loose, horrible pages,
heart aflame, hair a tangled mess,
clouds of weed smoke locking my eyes
in a stare designed for the ages;
Passion is fighting through the fall,
no matter how hard I choose to veer,
or what harm could come too near,
what hypocrisy will catch my ancient sneer,
drowned in pot, echoed with cold beer.
Passion is being prepared to die.
Passion is the way I feel at night:
electric, wild eyes lit large by weird moonlight,
as me and you are tangled oh so close,
and you listen, and you try to understand
this mess known as myself.
Passion is the rain at night, that sound like
typing on thin glass, and you drive,
and you drive, and you drive,
all for some misbegotten hope
that you really know what it’s like to be alive
you have no idea what (anymore)
Passion is the blood, mixed with the ink,
how explosive, like how poetry will end:
fierce fire, then a blink…
— Jackson Williams.
I was sat on a large wicker chair in the rooftop café at my hotel in Shiraz where, in keeping with the Shirazi tradition, a group of guys next to me were reciting poetry. The scented smoke of a bubbling qaylan pipe twisted and turned on the blue tarpaulin above. Downstairs, in the courtyard restaurant, the voices of men and women competed with a cross-legged Kurdish chap in the corner, playing a sitar. Tourists and local men alike pulled chairs up to the tables of young women to chat, safely hidden from the gaze of the authorities outside. Spaces such as that hotel provide an environment of freedom in Iran. In here a woman’s headscarf can teeter tantalisingly close to sliding down the nape of her neck. In here each drag of her cigarette flies in the face of that deeply held taboo. In here large, brown eyes wandered…
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In 1977, my grandparents took me and my sisters to the top of the Empire State Building. I can remember being annoyed by all the waiting in line just to ride the elevator to the observation floor. We probably spent more time waiting to board that elevator than we spent viewing the view. Still, when our turn came around and after the elevator finally reached the 102nd floor, I burst out of the doors to see what all the fuss was about.
At first, I was too distracted with taking in the view to notice that my grandpa was not with me. When I turned back to search for him, I saw that he had parked himself close to the elevators away from the windows and the view. I called to him, “Grandpa, you gotta come see this.” “No thanks,” he replied “I’m good here.” “Pretty please,” I pleaded. This time he…
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And so at last we come to the end of it, this electric summer that dripped slowly past…
I’m sitting right here in my front yard now, as I have for many summers and in many different locations, and I’m watching the sun drift towards noon, the sky electric and vibrant and a blue that could only be summoned by a happy childhood, expansive, unique, the clouds are cotton candy and you could sleep for centuries under their happy, watchful, floating gaze…you’ve known them your whole life, you know, and they clip through the electricity of noon as they always have: silent, buzzing with joy but quiet from everything they know, you’ve known them your whole life, and they match this summer as they have matched every summer into oblivion, now just great cotton titans heralding our Tomorrowland, a summer in our hearts and minds that is as expansive as the clouds overhead, electric, joyful, the here & now just a brief pause before the coming of the days of endless blue skies…and, on those days of blue and green and gold, I will be as I am now, sitting in the yard, reading, typing, thinking (not necessarily in that order, take note), taking stock of where I started three months ago and where I end up now: peaceful, moderately happy, enjoying that freshly-cut grass smell that’s so beloved by writers, poets, and fans of baseball (of which I count myself amongst all three of these clubs, as I’m sure a lot of my readers do as well…), stopping my progress on whatever I’m doing to watch the airplanes that occasionally fly past, or listen to the sounds of skateboards on concrete, or music from the endless windows of the suburbia I live in, or the sound of the small wind making the small trees and the small grass make small movements, curling and solemn and stretching on and on like this suburbia, or the endless electric summer I spoke so poetically of a few hundred words ago…
And so at last we come to the end of it, this electric summer that dripped slowly past…