Birth and Illness as a Child

A short piece written in 2009.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Images of incubators, IV drips, tubes and a wrist band. Memories conjured up by repetitive whispering echoes. Stories on repeat for the benefit of the teller. Any deviation from the script might yield a moment of truth. The voices chant visions of a baby with chicken pox, red bumps, itching and bloody. Collective sighs of relief ease out of the peanut gallery. The boy is catching the right diseases at the right time. Praise god, thank you father and continue to bless us. A telling symptom for the diseases of the soul, an unquestioning heart and a reluctance to embrace the shit. While the doctors poke and prod, the peanut gallery; the gloria-inexchelsis-deo-gawkers destroy their knee caps and hold sweaty palms together. Oh what a friend we have in jesus. Indeed, while the doctor stabilizes gods little pin cushion, grabs a cup of coffee and announces to the gawkers as they rise from their diligence, “the babe will be fine.” The doctor takes a bow. The peanut gallery once again takes a knee and as they look up to god, the angels hook the doctor by the neck and pull him off stage. The illusion practically flawless; as solid as a slice of Swiss cheese.

Ages 12 & Up

A short piece written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

This is the age of dissonance and divide, of fuck-you’s at school and prayers at home. The age of staring at girls. The age of exploring with fingers and untimely boners. The age of fantasizing about teachers and noticing mothers. This is the age of anger, of threatening teachers aids with a baseball bat. Of starting a reputation of unsportsmanlike conduct and hot-blooded tantrums.

Was it emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual trauma? A combination of all or any of the aforementioned? I don’t know. I hardly have any child hood memories. I feel stunted, less mature to deal with different stages of life and only until I’ve moved on to a new era or age do I feel all at once adept and inadequate all over again. Walking around pretending. An actor who highlighted the wrong parts of the script. Always wondering what it is that I am lacking and what it is so obvious to everyone but me. A theory, a specific method, a grammatical rule, a particular pronunciation, an author, a book, a piece of music or art, a historic event, an historic figure, the latest news, a cooking method, a social cue. So anxious and apprehensive about impeding my progress by misquoting, declaring a stupidity. I speak to strangers in a series or pattern of jests and facts; the language of the unconfident, the vernacular of the low-self esteemed. Sticking to things that are only true or saying things that are so over the top no one could dispute their falsehood, which is another type of truth. Steering clear of conviction or opinion or belief or individual truth. That isn’t easy. That is an un-lubricated trajectory.

What is my identity? What is my heritage? My background? My culture? I was born in the hospital of a city that was built around it. A mecca for Seventh-day Adventists wealthy enough to afford private schools but connected enough to get a discount. Long lines of last names trail the university’s history. New faces same names. A thriving enterprise in the middle of a decaying county/city. The navel-gazing institution growing to the tune of its own demand.

It’s a part of the story but not yet.

My mother was born in Spain. Emigrated to California at eighteen because she met my father. My father the son of an American soldier/missionary and a converted ex-catholic. He lived in Spain, Kenya, the pacific peninsula, and Oakland, California. From what he tells me, Oakland was tougher on him than the African wild ever was. Being the only white boy in a predominantly black school is the wrong reason to stand out. I was born the son of a teacher and a part-time hustler. My father taught Spanish, physical education and history at a small Adventist school in Redlands, California. My sister, four years younger was born the daughter of an attorney and a part-time hustler. In the time between my arrival on earth and my sisters, my father had quit teaching, moved us all to Canoga Park, Los Angeles and finished a law degree in two years.

I’m not sure how confident people are in their memories but I am not. I don’t know whether my active imagination recreated images to go along with the stories I was told so many times or if they are actual memories. In either case, none are very vivid. Foggy glimpses more than anything else. I’m also not sure if it’s my focus on the present or moving forward that makes me apprehensive about remembering things. What I do remember are emotions and lessons as they relate to this idea I have of the big picture. How things fit into the grand scheme. Exactly what or whose scheme it is, I don’t know. But I feel that I am constantly trying to zoom out, to view things from a more global perspective. When in fact I envy those who wear their hearts on their sleeves and keep the truth on the tips of their tongues.

A healthy amount of anxiety should also accompany the sudden thought of a memory. I become anxious because I have doubts that things actually happened as I remember them. And of course their are those vivid moments of drunken times that are ironically remembered. The moments of clarity that are the most clear in all the fog of the mind. Which I believe have to do with the reason why I drank. To come to terms with the way things are, to deal with life, to know that I live with a certain amount of privilege unearned brings a sharp dissonance. I do not call it guilt bit it’s a feeling of being the teacher’s pet, of being chosen first, of winning the lottery. It makes me think that god has less than pure motives for me if I am the teachers pet. But god and all the infinitesimal constructs that keep his wobbly frame standing have one fault. A fault that I will never be able to get over, even on my most optimistic days. Knowing that belief is a leap between two cliffs of knowledge or more often a leap off a cliff. The very fact that the idea of god was planted early and everything that comes with it, both good and bad are man made. Everything is man made. Our narratives put humanity at the center of the plot. Adam and Eve were to take care of the animals and the earth. But who would take care of Adam and Eve? Save for our meddling, the animals seem to be getting along fine. I will never be able to move past the thought that men continue to be confident about god. I myself can be confident about love, anger, sadness, hatred, integrity, etcetera. But what does that have to do with god? If I create my own god who is serving whom? Because I wish not to drink alcohol anymore, there are some who say that a belief in a power greater than myself is the only thing that will save me. Again if I create my god, what is saving me? And another rickety construct is born and it climbs in a jagged fashion along with the rest of the thin, beams to support an idea. An idea we call god (or whatever name) with infinitesimal foundations.

I continue to struggle with these existential thoughts but then ironically Jesus comes to mind. He was mostly about people. There are people around me all the time and when this thought crosses my mind I get disgusted with myself for staring up at the sky and ignoring what’s around me. People in my family, the people I was born to and those who are in close proximity, the people who have similarities and empathize. The people who help me and the people who need help. So I help and then I notice all the people that need help. We are everywhere. The more I help the more I realize I need help. And because I was raised to love myself as I love my neighbor I stop helping others and turn the help inwards. Some people call this selfish. They can go fuck themselves. (Which we all do anyway but because no one likes to talk about it or even recognize that it’s a normal part of life, we are offended when someone says go fuck yourself).

My interpretation of the golden rule is a good example of the constructs. Someone might hear my belief and hold a similar belief, the pastor of a mega-church may share their belief and an entire congregation will send up thousands of supports to hold up their version of the vagaries we all seem to insist upon. While I might knock down some people’s constructs, some other constructs will rise in its place, directly as a result of my cutting others down. There is no action that adds without subtracting or subtracts without adding. The idea that one is good and the other is bad is simply another part of the same vagaries we all maintain. Every person in a giant sphere. Close, but no one exactly on the same plane. Each one of us with a slightly different perspective than the person next to them. Each perspective growing more and more different until you look up and see the person directly opposite you in the sphere. You will think he is above and you below. The problem, is he may think exactly the same thing about you. So we draw lines. Lines from person to person, creating understanding. Yet this mostly fails because each line has a motive, so in reality there are two parallel lines running from person to person rather than a two way exchange, back and forth. There is instead a line for one and a line for the other: while one person shows their perspective, the other person does the same, simultaneously. Neither one paying attention to the other.

Memories

A short piece written in 2005.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I don’t have clear memories. Ask what I did yesterday and I sound like a slacking student during a pop oral exam. The ‘um’s’ and uhs start to stumble out. Luckily there is a script for moments like this, one word of dialogue, “nothing.” Which translates into nothing worth telling you about or nothing I would like to share with you. That is my answer to the question of what I did yesterday, so my childhood is a black hallway with shapes, noises and the odd flash of light on a moment. I’m not sure how other peoples memories function. Mine seems to flash on and off like hitting a flashlight with corroding batteries against my palm. But why? I’ve watched too many TV shows, films and read too many stories about children and the experiences they suppress. I’m afraid to explore for fear I may find I’ve been poked and prodded by aliens or worse, someone I know. The feeling is almost relieving. The feeling is eerily giddy, like snuggling under the covers during a storm. The feeling surrounds the thought that I may have an excuse. If what I, think is true then I’ve found my despair, the muse of all writers with lasting work and something to say. I have a reason to be miserable and pretend to enjoy other peoples company. If what I think is true then ill have a cigarette, hell ill have a black and mild and suck it back until it melts the plastic or burns the wood. Depending on who did what ever it is I think might have been done, I may have a drink. Hell, I may even go on a week-long binge because everything I know is a lie, the mirror I’ve been staring at has shattered before my eyes. If what I think happened actually happened. where do I start? Ask my mom if her only son may have been treated like a flesh-light? Will I honestly be traumatized? No doubt if such a thing is true I will be shocked if I discover who it was. However I’m not convinced that the trauma of the discovery will out-weigh my excitement about the possibilities of a reaction. Do I somehow wish that I was a kiddie who was diddled simply to justify a drink? Yes and who would blame me? Any reaction other than a drunk binge would seem strange. If I don’t remember what difference does it make to me if someone tells me its true? Reliving a memory is not the same as repeating a fact. The difference is between standing in the shallow end and thrashing in the deep end.

Is who I am the result of this possible event? My skepticism blurring with cynicism, my tight lipped nature, my apprehension at physical touch, the duality of my personality split between my family and myself. The truth is an open festering wound but with enough morphine…what’s on TV?

Orion’s Belt

A short piece written about my grandfather in 2017.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

My grandfather was a mechanic. I remember the bar of soap he used to clean off his hands. A dry bar with deep black and grey grooves. I wasn’t sure which was doing the cleaning; his hands or the bar. At the dinner table I distinctly remember how clean his hands appeared. The smell of his shirt a mixture of sweat and grease. It was a comforting smell. A smell I wanted to emit when I became a man. Before every meal I would hold hands with my grandparents while my grandpa blessed the food. After dinner he would read his bible, old and worn with nearly every page highlighted, underlined or dog-eared. His favorite book was Revelation. He always talked about Jesus coming back and taking us home. How he couldn’t wait for the day Jesus came back. How it wouldn’t be long now before Jesus came home. He pointed out all of the signs in Revelation and said how we were living in end times.

I remember the things he said. At the time they didn’t mean very much but now thinking about him they make me sad. My grandfather isn’t alive anymore but before he died in his nineties he tried to end his life in his seventies.

Entering my grandfathers garage from inside the house I was met with the heavy smell of grease mixing with my grandfathers body odor. After walking My grandfathers garage was a monument to tools and craftsmanship.

Looking back now the things I wish he would have taught me like how to change the oil in a car, change the brakes, check the fluids, take apart and re-build an engine, all of those things he always stopped when I got to his house. Instead he taught me about the bible and about Jesus. I think I’ve gotten past deconstructing everything he told me. Now I’m at the point where I am reconstructing Jesus, the bible and my cultural/religious upbringing for myself.

From what I’ve gathered, everyone, upon reaching adulthood does some relearning and reconstructing of things they were taught as children. Well this has been the most painful, slow remodel of all the constructs so far. The way life goes, the reconstructing will probably never end.

When I was four years old my grandfathers white Chevrolet station wagon broke down on the 5 interstate on our way from Oakland to Redlands, CA. I was in the back seat by myself, my grandma in the front passenger seat and my grandpa driving. I only know this because my grandma doesn’t drive. The rest of the story I’m not sure if I remember or if I’ve heard so many times that I’ve mixed it in with my memories. I’ve filled in a few details. It doesn’t matter.

The Chevy breaks down, grandpa grumbles and grunts out of the drivers seat and lifts the hood of the car. Grandma’s jet black beehive hair turns around and she smiles showing the wide gap in her front teeth. She gets out of her seat, grabs some blankets from the trunk and sits with me in the back. Grandpa walks back from using the call box and gets in the back seat on the other side. It’s a cold night and I’m snuggled between grandpa and grandma while we wait for the highway patrol to show up. We’d been waiting for a couple of hours. While we sit their Grandpa points out the stars through the sun roof.

I have a vivid memory of his finger dotting the sky, leaving tiny bright lights in ancient shapes. My grandfather did this on more than one occasion. I remember my grandpa telling me where Jesus would come from when he came back to earth.

“You see that star right in the middle of Orion’s belt? That’s where Jesus is right now. That’s where He (capital H) is going to come from to take us home. That’s where heaven is.”

Presumably where Jesus cleansed the temple, leaving many disappointed millerites and thus a new cell of religions virus split off and they called it Seventh-Day Adventism.

After my grandpa said this, they tell me that I sat their staring at the middle star in Orion’s belt . They tell me that I looked like I was thinking. Then, they tell me I said this, “Is Jesus going to come before the police do?”

They did. The police came and drove us to a motel 6. And that’s it.

At the hotel, they tell me I was so restless I jumped from bed to bed before crashing. A couple of hours later my aunt came and drove us the rest of the way home.

But when they tell me, they stop after what I said. And while they are laughing and smacking the table I think about that little kid and everything he saw after that night. Everything I remember.

11 years later, when I was 15. My grandparents now living in Redlands, a few minutes away from my house. My grandfather started his car, closed the garage, and breathed in the exhaust from a hose he pinched in the driver’s side window that ran into the exhaust pipe. He sat and waited for Jesus to come.

But again, the cops came before Jesus could. My grandma found him in the garage and dialed 911 just in time.

Then I ran. I ran from everything, including my roots in the Adventist church, a part of my culture. I denied any affiliation with Adventists and hated the fact that I knew what Nuteena and stripples were. That I knew what the blood of the lamb was supposed to mean even though I didn’t really understand it. I hated the fact that I felt guilty about listening to music that made my head bob and felt guilty about smoking and drinking. So I drank more and thought about a god that let my grandpa down. If jesus couldn’t save my devout grandfather, what chance did I have?

But I never blamed my grandpa. In fact for many years I defended him saying that suicide is taking matters into your own hands. I would tell myself that he was like Hunter S. Thompson and went out on his own terms, knowing that he always would. I was kidding myself.

I don’t know about a moral to these stories.

The questions of god, purpose and existence zip around in an infinite loop in my head. I do know this, the pedestal I built for my grandfather no longer exists but the love I feel for him is still alive. I remember giving him a hug at the behavioral medical clinic where they took him on a 5150 after his suicide attempt. He was wearing a gown, his eyes glassed over from the cup-o-pills, and his few remaining hairs tousled. he gave me a dopey smile and a big hug.

I experienced my own great disappointment and it was my grandpa that disappointed me. He clung to the church like a lush grips their liquor. And now he’s a husk of what I remember. If spirituality is the ocean and religion is the vessel my grandfather never learned how to swim. And when the storms came, the foundation he clung to didn’t hold up. The great disappointment wasn’t a singular event, my grandpa relives it every single day.

Golf

A short piece written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

When I was around eleven years old, my dad got me a set of golf clubs. There were five clubs. A driver, a putter, a 5-iron, a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. All the clubs needed to start and finish a hole. My dad’s not a golfer. Neither am I, but we both have clubs.


Dad and I used to play once every year at my high schools tournament. We played with another father and son who were as equally skilled and practiced as we were. The tournament rules were that each team played the best ball hit; meaning all four of us would hit our dimpled balls, then select which shot was best for the next shot. We never won. Our highest achievement was second to last, which was a change of pace from our usual dead last position. Our foursome had the most fun guaranteed.


When the tournaments ended all the teams headed to the closing ceremony. While all the other teams were asking around, checking their scores against everyone else, we waltzed in thinking only of food and the memories of the day. When my dad sent a drive skidding along the grass just short of the ladies tees. When my buddy and his dad drove too fast in the cart and spun out on the slope of a hill. When all four of us spent 10 minutes searching for ALL of our balls in grass up to our knees. We remembered the collective nervousness of being forced to drive in front of other teams as we slowed the pace of the tournament, (spending 10 minutes a hole looking for little white balls adds up).


So by the time we arrived at the club house, we had no idea how many strokes we shared. The math would have been far too complicated and unnecessary. There was no talk of mulligans or handicaps. The other teams, upon arriving at the table at which we were already stuffing our faces, would begin to smile before even asking, “what was your score?” I can’t speak for all four of us but I know what I saw in each of their eyes. My father, ever the diplomat, would smile and say something to the affect of, “Oh, we didn’t keep score. We just play for fun.” It was true. In those moments however, when those men came with the full knowledge that we had not come close to anyone in the tournament, I wanted to play to win. Fuck fun, I wanted murder.


At age 30, I began playing golf again. By this time my father had bought me a few more clubs. I also borrowed quiet a few of his clubs. Between the days of playing golf with my dad and our friends much had transpired. I developed a tooth, much like those teeth given the “sweet” nomenclature. My tooth, teeth, tongue had developed a liking for alcohol. I went to rehab, struggled with the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous and with sponsors but those are experiences for another chapter. One virtue I learned from those experiences was discipline. Golf takes an incredible amount of discipline and patience. Not typically the virtues of young men and definitely not my forte.

A lunch from a long time ago

A short piece written in 2011 or 2012

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

My aunt pregnant for the first time loses her baby. I am sad but I am too young to understand the impact a tragedy of that magnitude has on the person closest to it.
My aunt is a strong woman, full of love, confidence and wit. Perhaps a judgmental, albeit human, eye with a warm hug regardless of how she see’s you.
I make a habit of pushing myself into the spotlight of my mind but cuing the music to cut myself off early on the stage of life. My thoughts consume my relation to everything and everyone. I have learned that I need not waste time on people now if I will see them in heaven. What am I saying, there is no heaven. Childhood teachings are really sticky.
My narcissism is making me sick but I can’t stop thinking about me. The earth revolves around the sun, not the son of Christofer and Ester Chapman.

A lunch with my Aunt in which I cannot clearly remember if I was intoxicated or not. I remember itching for a cigarette as soon as I wolfed down the turkey salad on rye. I remember shaking my head and repeating “I’m fine, no, I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m okay.” The first lie we tell ourselves to convince the mirror that it will never shatter. My aunt relayed an observation about my 5-year-old self that has lingered and wriggled around in the back of my mind like a severed lizards tail.

Something changed when I was 5 years old. I can’t remember my childhood. It is as fuzzy as a booze fueled night on the town (or in my apartment). What happened to me? My heart races. Perhaps, this will be the tragic excuse of molestation. A victim of pedophilia turned poet. A writer who has been in the gutter and can paint it in a perfect-bound, hard cover copy of his first novel. How can I use this for immortality? I want to live forever. That narcissism can’t pull its gaze from the reflection.

My aunt lost a baby, maybe even two and I’m left wondering if I’ve ever been touched inappropriately or left in a toxic environment. Where do I get off feeling sorry for myself? Nothing has ever happened to me that I cannot handle. And there it is again that me word. Its all about me. Not you or him or her or them or it. Its all about me and yet I put myself in the lowest category of the last file in the dustiest, rustiest cabinet of life and all humanity but I insist to myself that everything is about me. Every hug, kiss, smile, squeeze, laugh, smirk, giggle, round of applause, slap on the back, is all about me. I am narcissistic and I don’t even think very highly of myself. Am I truly this selfish or do I indulge for the namesake of these pages? Both are scary prospects for an obsession that runs circles around my attention to anything else.

I have an excuse but you are simply stupid. I made a mistake but you have ruined my life. I forgot but you are careless. I am sick but you are lazy. I was wronged but you don’t stand up for yourself. I had a bad day but you have a bad attitude. I may gossip but you should get a life. I am frustrated but you simply don’t know what to do. I am not perfect but you think you’re better than me. I have an excuse but you are just stupid.

What is really going on here? The words follow the emotion, which rushes in after an experience. I feel less like a swan and more like a parrot. Obsessed with my own image and copying the noises closest to me. To be clawing through the same self absorbed drivel, session after writing session is enough to make me want to rip out my own heart and feed it to my brain just to get a taste of pure emotion. I am supposed to write for myself not about myself. This constant cycle of narcissistic thought is welling up in my chest I want to scratch out every letter “I”, “m”, “e” and hyper drive into some god like perspective. An uninvolved point of view. Place myself on the objective alter and slit my throat letting the Deus ex Machina of my psyche take over. To sever and shatter the ego from the self. Who am I supposed to be? Don’t follow me. We’re getting back into those dark slimy corners of the mind again. So deep down that I must slowly return like a deep sea diver coming up for air. Too fast and the chaos never leaves. Attempting never to dwell in the past I move ever forward so fast that the hair is being ripped off the front of my head and sticking to my back. Time whips past me and the closest I’ve ever come to the truth is a question. Does anyone get this right?

Where are my teeth?

A short piece of prose, or something.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

You get so up in your head that you want to flash back to your BMX with the two pegs to ride down the street and back as fast as you can.

Weeks go by. Years go by.

You get so far into your projections. You want to change.

Years go by. Decades go by.

You see your family the same but they’ve all changed but they haven’t stayed the same. You make the same mistakes but with bigger consequences. All around you the t-shirts change, the science changes, sensitivity changes but it’s all still the same.

The body ages but the mind grows chaotic: A frantic camper in the rain racing to drive down stakes into mud. Stuck to stories growing mold, fuzzy but always staying the same.

The sandman doesn’t sprinkle you with dust. St. Nick can’t give you what you want. Christ could be relatable if only he’d made mistakes. You bought the world’s spirits, elixirs and potions but snake oils only erase time for nothing in return. The tooth fairy took all your teeth but I think she also has your innocence, and you never saw a dime.

Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup. Too many voices in your head spoil the creativity. You can spend time but you can never buy it.

The only option is to drive down stakes into moments you never want to let slip.

Tonight

August 23, 2020

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I bounce my legs to keep the flies, gnats and mosquitoes from biting my feet. My elbows jump out to shoo them away. It’s still 90 degrees out, whatever that means. There is a breeze and the sun is blocked by a neighbors trees three houses west of mine. The wall unit is buzzing. A pool has formed from the steady drip of water, soaking the mat on the back porch. The dogs are splayed on the linoleum inside.

Saul’s visiting his kid. His bed is still in the living room. With only the wall unit to cool the house, we sleep in the living room, me on the couch, Saul drags out his mattress. Tonight he’s sleeping at his kid’s grandparents house.

I got a tattoo on Friday, wearing a mask the whole time. It’s a small piece, a couple of words, “live deliciously.” The implications are of pursuing a Bacchanalian existence. An almost ironic statement given the amount of societal distancing lately and, possibly for the foreseeable future.

I can hear the parrots that roost nearby in the Summer. Not native to Southern California but escaped from a local pet shop and thriving in their own gurgling, trilling, whistling and squawking bacchanal. I envy them tonight, and many nights lately.

I let baby girl out. She’s sitting at my feet, panting. I look down at her when the neighbor’s dogs bark but she doesn’t seem interested.

In a few minutes I’ll head inside to paint but I don’t feel like I can abandon my writing before landing on some deeper meaning, some understanding for the day. Today, perhaps, I must be satisfied with simply writing about the present.

What it’s like to meet a wonderful woman in the midst of divorce.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It’s like washing up on shore after shipwreck and a two-day storm. You need time to figure out what happened, where you are but you still get down on your knees and kiss the sand.

It’s like wandering through the desert for 28 days. You’re thirsty, hungry, lips cracked, skin red and aching but you’re grateful for the water at the oasis. However, you’re still wondering what happened, where you are.

It’s like crawling for hundreds of miles on your elbows and knees and someone, suddenly, helps you to stand. You are grateful and relieved but also feeling tired and looking down at your bloody joints.

It’s like buying a plot of land, planting one thousand seeds, watering, weeding and watching the plants grow, for years, until at the point of harvest, they bear fruit and someone comes at gun point to take it from you. You wander off the property and are suddenly given land that is double the size with fruit ready to be picked. You wonder how, why, where you are and what happened but you’re all at once grateful, excited and ready to move on. At the same time, you’re wondering what happened, always wondering what happened.

It is getting divorced and finding, on the same day, a girl, a woman, who touches your arm and says, “hi.” Six months later, you’re in love but, you’re wondering where you are and what happened. You’re grateful, excited and ready to move on but at the same time you’re wondering what happened, always wondering what happened, so that you’re not doomed to repeat your mistakes with the unicorn who touched your arm and said hello.

April 28, 2020

Evening on the patio.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Living alone is survival. Life is being in a relationship. Life is a relationship. it’s strapping into a roller coaster with someone else and taking the ride. It’s seeing that person as the moment.

I wish I had taken more photos and videos of our time together. There is no poetry in that last sentence, only a cold realization. I have only memories and those fade and morph into abstract shapes. Blurry lines that only just begin to provoke a feeling. A photograph shakes the rest of the memory awake, giving that moment a life in the mind.

I was mistaken. The moment to be lived was not the place where we were or the thing we were doing. The moment was her. It was her reaction to the view, her laughter during the show, her smile after dessert. That was the moment and I missed it. I missed them and now they’re fading, leaving me with only lines and abstract shapes.

I came outside, after sobbing in bed, to write. Pincher pugs crawl everywhere and, though I don’t see them, crickets chirp.

I happened to pause and look up at the night sky, exactly at the moment that a shooting star entered the atmosphere and disappeared milliseconds later. That has happened to me more times than I can remember.

It was told to me, or maybe I read it somewhere, that to see a shooting star is an extremely rare occurrence. Not for me.

My instinct is to ask what it means. What everything means. What does it mean that I seem to see an unusual amount of shooting stars? If it is, in fact, unusual.

I’ve learned to stop myself, however, from asking those unanswerable questions of meaning. Rather than appreciate a thing for what it is, my mind moves to construct some larger, overarching truth that must apply to me. A virus that attaches to my brain and distracts me from what is, by pushing my mind to think about what must be. It manifests itself in religion, ideologies, and philosophies by feeding me thoughts that reaffirm or justify my actions. A virus that blinds me to the simple truths directly in front of me by forcing my mind to interpret instead what I wish to see.

The first step is admitting to myself that I am infected by the virus of meaning. I must admit to myself that everything I see, hear, smell, taste or touch does not necessarily bare itself into some greater truth. the virus, like a giant rolling ball of tar, picks up those things and tells me they are all related to the never-ending monologue in my mind.

That everything has meaning to me or that there lies somewhere in the depths of the ocean a cosmic truth that is false.

The next step I take will be in the wrong direction. I’m flickering. I’m not receiving any signals. The channels are fuzzy and the batteries in the remote are dead. I have nothing but the buzz of static to keep me company. No regularly scheduled programs, no advertisements, just a fork in the road and no information in my head. The glow of my screen the only source of light. A television with nothing to show. A television with no shows.

Then I met the girl that showed me the stars, that showed me her scars and the channel switched and the show changed. I changed. I can see something new, something new. Something better.

April 27, 2020

Evening on the patio.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I’m beginning to understand how kings of old grew fat and angry. Staying in their castles with only pleasure to occupy the mind. The mind, my mind, needs a challenge, something to which it can lend itself.

I’m growing fat and lazy, less ambitious. Hungry only for scraps. There is a sort of deterioration that occurs in the mind during a depression. A deconstruction, that for a writer leads to excessive personal pronouns; I, me. A narrowing of walls that somehow the rest of the words squeeze through leaving me with all the “I’s” alone.

My own

April 26, 2020 – Evening on the patio, thinking about all things.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Jesus loves you, marriage is between a man and woman, dinosaurs aren’t real, win big with McDonald’s Monopoly, doubts lead to temptation, houses are a tax relief; a few things I was told, among others, that turned out to be lies.

This is the part where it ends and where there is peace, you know I will not be.

I don’t want to be alone. The glorious comfort of a star within Orion’s Belt being the home of Jesus does not comfort me. Lying to grandpa on his deathbed was a kindness, a little white lie. I do not know if there is or is not a heaven.

He lied to me so I repeated grandpa’s lies back to him.

These are the truths I hold as self-evident; I have the urge to fuck, to dance, to write those words that combine themselves into a sort of truth. The rest I was told by others, like a trash can spilling its contents, I’m full of shit.

April 26, 2020

Evening on the patio.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

A smoke and a tall boy on the back patio. The smell of orange blossoms wafting, every so often in the breeze. Deakan and Baby Girl sniffing at the weeds, chasing crickets and staring off into the yard where Edison does not reach.

I need a new mask, the strap broke on my old one. Too much stretching on and off for every trip to buy necessities, convenience and what-the-hells. Money is on the mind but so is pleasure.

The tall boy’s are sweating. The Black & Mild is sweet. Tears don’t come but I can feel them howling, getting closer like coyotes trekking through the desert, chasing a mirage, feeling the ache of relief but never reaching it.

It wasn’t yesterday or the day before, I don’t remember the date but it was a Friday when we agreed to get divorced.

The études of Philip Glass keep me company as I try to figure out what happened yesterday. Not yesterday, but some time long before it.

I do drink but no bars are open, no restaurants and no parties. The alcohol mixes with sadness. I don’t have a good reason but are things, all choices, justified?

Maybe, like a virus killing off percentages of human potential there is some thing out there pursuing balance. The wild dances of the flame are paid for with the price of a match stick.

In a maze of metaphors I lose my train of thought. I am too easily distracted by the loftiness of deeper meanings of life and its choices.

The magic of a marriage is not in the illusion of happiness but in the preparation and repetition of the illusion itself. The little things that go unnoticed so the grandeur of the illusion is preserved for its audience of one. My time would have been better spent on those little things. Those little things that would have made the whole experience so much more magical.

Smelling candles, trying on clothes, perusing all the aisles of a Target “just to see what they have,” pretending on the occasions when it was important to preserve her excitement, making her lunch, stopping whatever thing I was doing just to say hello, hugging her when I couldn’t fix “it,” hugging her when I didn’t understand her, never interrupting, kissing her goodnight, kissing her good morning, being as excited about my birthday as she was, pushing aside my gripes about buying Christmas gifts and getting lost in her excitement of finding something each person would like, waiting on line and making her smile instead of dismissing it as “too long,” not putting up a fight about the little house things she buys, losing myself in the thought of her excitement when I chose to focus instead on my beliefs about religious holidays, never rolling my eyes in annoyance, never making her wants my observable burdens, expressing my authentic sexual nature to her, getting those tattoos, not telling her to be independent but standing next to her and watching her be it, telling her she’s strong, telling her she’s one-of-a-kind, sharing my doubts, sitting with her while she does something, treating her as equal but also showing that I care, showing her she’s important and not just anyone else.

I know, I have a feeling at least, that there will be more things I think of for years to come.

The difficulty for me is not in all the sudden changes to my external life. The difficulty is in finding the truth in the swirl of thoughts, emotions and new choices without her.

Maybe its not finding truth or not simply finding truth. Maybe it’s something else, one of those words we use to underline our circumstances; a reason, a catalyst, a problem, an answer, etc. I don’t know. There is a piece in all this that is missing. Maybe it’s her. Maybe this is that time between flames when only smoke and charred wood remain, when the next match is scraped against the bottom of a shoe, just before a new fire bursts into existence.

Reasons to drink

Thoughts on growing up middle-class in America.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

At 3-4 years old I was asked which animals I wanted to pet in heaven. I was told from which star our savior would come. I was taught how to pray.

At 10-11 years old I got in trouble in my school for reading a book about my favorite dinosaurs, Velociraptors.

At 15 my grandfather attempted suicide. It was never talked about from that day forward, even though I saw him in a sterile facility, hair wispy, with a wrist band and hospital gown. I was asked if I wanted to go to church. I stayed home and watched stand-up instead.

At 33 I separated from my wife.

At 35 I get divorced.

At 34 I meet a real woman, I pee in my backyard, rent out a room to my best friend whom I met in rehab and do my best to limit my smoking and drinking.

And at some point I’ll stop listening.

I grew up in the land of mid-sized sedans, mini-vans and low-end luxury vehicles. The land where rap was tolerated as a phase instead of the gospel of fellow Americans. The land where men wore suits but ordered water when eating out on occasion. Where they preached loving they neighbor but threw their money at stained-glass windows and steeples.

I grew up in the land where causes had the opulence of being accessorized, awarded, badg-ed and medal-ed in. First place goes to the woman with her heart on her sleeve. What’s her prize? A podcast, followers and the right to perceive. Second place is forgotten.

I grew up where cultures were worn on the runway; tagged, liked and put to bed with the 24-hour news cycle. Where smiling with brace-corrected teeth was more important than listening. Where dents on garages were ignored for blue-tooth mirages. Where the placation of expressed problems were as cute as a stay-cation meme.

Meme, meme, me, me, me ,me: a virus of non-essential, feel-good, self-righteous, resting above comfortable but just below content ideas spread through imitation. Where love is shared with those who succeed and for those who don’t, martyrs are made. Where thought, like above, are unclear, influenced by what’s trending, not by what’s right.

I grew up where grandfather’s worked hard, father’s built empires and grandson’s teetered on their shoulders reaching for wisps of clouds. My hands are too soft, my mind too dull and my heart too brittle.

Where quarantine is spent at home with no reduction in grocery bills and no one wonders if today is the day. where there’s the luxury of debate, unpopular opinions and fundraising for traveling missionaries.

I grew up in the land where 14-year-olds built houses in foreign countries. Where 15-year-olds drove Mercedes-Benz and 16-year-olds started thinking about their parent’s colleges.

I grew up where authority is referred to on bend-ed knee but you don’t know what authority is. Authority is a running tally of wrist scars. Authority is counting days sober. Authority is orgasm at will. Authority is false teeth, cauliflower ears, and a crooked nose. Authority drags around an oxygen tank with wheezing breaths. Authority isn’t found on any screen, it rolls in a wheel-chair and dictates its will to on one.

I grew up where drugs, alcohol, pornography and other vice are worshiped for six days and absolved on the seventh. Where respect goes to the shiniest cars and the tannest chins. Where those who care the least are crowned the Kings and Queens of cool. A land of illusion where death is a shock at any age and life comes with medical, dental, optical and, a life insurance policy. Where people wait for bread with crossed arms and a tapping foot. Where necessity means a lack of excess and ignorance is an offer color joke chuckled at in church parking lots.

I grew up in the land of recycled boxes. Where one hundred rolls of toilet paper will never sell when on the self next to one-thousand roll packs for just a dollar ninety-nine more. Where emotions are changed by the click of a remote or swipe of a playlist.

No one taught me how to drink but Bukowski. No one taught me love but Shakespeare. No one taught me life’s lack of meaning but Seinfeld. No one taught me how to become a garbage pail for any drug passed my way but my lack of satisfaction. but I have a foot print on my ass the size of the middle class. Its kicked into my dockers in the direction of complacency, American democracy and mediocrity.

Thoughts on writing & poetry after reading 20 pages of Fernando Pessoa

The gist of this post:

  • Thoughts on my writing process after reading 20 pages of FP’s work
  • A brief introduction to Portuguese writer, Fernando Pessoa
  • Contemplating poetry (Bukowski, most recently Pessoa)
  • The final line of this post: I could be wrong, but who isn’t?

When I ask it, the question of what to write and how to go about writing is accompanied by a certain amount of anxiety. The self-imposed pressure and constant torture that accompanies a will to arrange and rearrange words.

The full experience of my writing process, the A to Z, is the sensation of apprehension at the beginning and deep connection to my subconscious at the end. If a pool of water is my desire to write, then on one end is a shivering little boy, dripping salty tears and pissing himself with his toes hanging over the edge. On the other end is a shark gyrating its fins through the deep end, thrashing in a rouge tinted murk. Both equal parts of my experience with writing.

I purchased a book yesterday by the Portuguese writer, Fernando Pessoa. I had never heard of him before. Nina handed me the book, hardcover and wrapped in clear plastic. An image of a man, perhaps the author or perhaps a figment of the authors’ imagination, on the cover. A few distorted shapes cover the person’s mouth and left eye. The cover is the picture for this post and the title is The Book of Disquiet.

Nina handed this to me and told me to read the back. It read,

I created various personalities within myself. I create them constantly. Every dream, as soon as it is dreamed, is immediately embodied by another person who dreams it instead of me. In order to create, I destroyed myself; I have externalized so much of my inner life that even inside I now exist only externally.

To act is to exile oneself.

My wife knows me well and without even a google search of Fernando’s name, I had to purchase the book. Any information about the author (he was Portuguese and died in 1935 and dabbled in occultism and wrote under many different heteronyms, etc.) was attained on the internet, but only after reading 20 pages of his book. His words made me think of the process of writing and I imagined a pool with a kid on one end and a shark in the other.

The first few pages splashed at the shark in the deep end of the pool. Pessoa’s hand reaches through the murk with a fresh paper cut between his thumb and pointer. The smell vibrates my gills, propelling my fin into a circle; winding my attack into a tight coil, ready to spring out of the water, rows of teeth shredding into Pessoa’s hand, the current hand that feeds.

It’s a deep hunger I feel after only just sniffing at his capable hand. I will make a meal of his severed arm, then I will swim blissfully in his iron scented plasma before devouring the work of his beautiful body.

I find the slightest action impossible, as if it were some heroic deed. The mere thought of making the smallest gesture weighs on me as if it were something I was actually considering doing.

I aspire to nothing. Life wounds me. I feel uncomfortable where I am and uncomfortable where I think I could be.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Reading, I sense that Fernando Pessoa is a poet channeling a deeper desire for nothingness. I need to tear through all of his being to understand a part of myself. The aching for finding and identifying the emptiness in that part of my conscious that aches for nothingness as well.

Pessoa’s words struck me. I am working on a story about a man, Otto, who becomes obsessed with deconstructing his life to the point of nothingness. The nothingness he believes to be at the root of all life, that soil of absolute quiet somehow nurturing the noise. But why and how?

That same thread of meaning (or direct challenge to meaning) seems to be woven through Pessoa’s book of disquiet. Those same questions of why and how reflecting my obsession to write with my horror at writing, driving me into a paralytic state, stuck between two actions; to write or not to write.

At my worst, I’m a frightened little boy, standing at the edge of a pool, pissing myself. While an equally pungent yet opposite feeling carves confidently through white space, splattering ink and pixels, like a shark through a school of tuna.

Perhaps the only obstacle between pee pee and predator is my self. That underlying theme propelled forward by…whatever the hell all of this is.

What is fascinating to me about Fernando Pessoa is his hyper self-awareness.

I don’t often enjoy poetry. I’m not a fan of William S. Burroughs (though I am an admirer). His meaning is lost in the loose bag of words he calls Naked Lunch. It may be my laziness or sheer exhaustion of trying to focus on meaning but I struggle to find a cohesive narrative or thought. Drugs don’t always beget illumination.

The poetry I prefer is more explicit, direct. Call it the truth, draw a box around it and leave it black and white.

I think of a Charles Bukowski poem I once dog-eared in “Love is a Dog From Hell.” the poem is titled Chopin Bukowski and begins with “this is my piano” and ends with these seven lines:

it’s better than sitting in a room
with 3 or 4 people and
their pianos.

this is my piano
and it is better than theirs.

and they like it and they don’t
like it.

Charles Bukowski, Chopin Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

I assume he refers to his typewriter or even the art or act of writing. I like his directness. He could simply say typewriter instead of piano and it would be just as poetic because it is a clearly stated truth. Not a universal truth but his truth, the truth of his experience.

He writes and he is stating that he writes. That is rare. Isn’t it rare to have a person boldly declare who they are and what they do? Aren’t those the people to whom we look up?

And so is my initial experience with Fernando Pessoa. He writes as if he’s annoyed with the limitations of language and expression. He is not satisfied and therefore continues to write the truth of his experience, which is not the truth of society (taxes, gummy bears, traffic signals, war, please, thank you’s, ad nauseam, ad infinitum) Pessoa makes this clear to me by calling out his own act of writing.

And I’m offering you this book because I know it to be both beautiful and useless. It teaches nothing, preaches nothing, arouses no emotion. It is a stream that runs into an abyss of ashes that the wind scatters and which neither fertilize nor harm– I put my whole soul into its making, but I wasn’t thinking of that at the time, only of my own sad self, and of you, who are no one.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Pessoa draws a box around his work and looks us right in the eyes without blinking. He hits the nail on the head, hits us right on the nose. I relish this poetry because it ties a string around the balloon of abstract (by abstract I mean that which does not have clear language to describe). It calls out directly the actions of the writer, himself and reminds us that we are not in another world but reading a book. This recognition of reality is a rarity. To expose the mundane actions of our lives in black and white, in plain statements is poetic precisely because of its rarity and naked truth.

If Fernando Pessoa continues in the same vein, then I will have found another writer who is unafraid to point out the obvious; that he is writing. Reminding me that I have purchased a book and begun to read. Holding open my eyelids and underlining the words that tell me I’m sitting down, reading a book. No suspension of disbelief, no escapism, simply a mesmerizing flurry of Pessoa’s experience that matches my own understanding of life and writing. The poetic nature of truth? No. The nature of truth is poetic.

That is poetry.

I could be wrong, but who isn’t?

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Thoughts after watching the movie American Animals

I just finished watching the movie, American Animals.

The movie is about a robbery of some rare books in a special collections room in Lexington, Kentucky. The heist was executed by four young men. One of the young men, an artist, Spencer, thinks about how all he is missing is suffering to be great.

The film blends interviews with all four of the young men (now older) telling the story on which the film is based. I thought it was a fascinating way to tell a story and made the film feel more authentic, complete with addressing the fact that some of the men remembered details differently. I believe it was sheer brilliance in movie-making.

The theme that stood out to me was that of pushing the boundaries of life beyond what we think of as normal and extraordinary. When the film finished, I felt anxious and in a contemplative mood. The thoughts bubbling up were part of a larger question to myself; what the hell am I?

In the wake of the movie, I felt somehow unaccomplished. I also felt somehow like I wasn’t living my most authentic life. I’ll still be riding this train of thought for a while but I know where it began and where it will inevitably end.

I write, sure, but I constantly bounce around from learning new things, doing all sorts of jobs, trades, hobbies and giving them up when I realize that I will not be a master of that thing. I may not even ever be a master of writing (the last sentence might be proof of that). Perhaps that is a writer’s curse, that they must experience or put their minds completely into something in order to understand it, and the proof of understanding, to me, is the ability to write it.

How is this related to American Animals? The characters in the movie seemed to continually wonder what it was like to pull off a heist. Even during the planning stage, one of the characters kept thinking that the impassable obstacle would arise that would prevent them from moving forward with the robbery. Spoiler alert, that never came. So that thought made me wonder about the things I think about doing but never act upon, including crime.

I’ve never robbed a store much less a rare artifact. I’ve thought many times about what the life of a criminal would be like. How much violence would be required of me to be a successful criminal? If I weren’t a successful criminal, how much time would I have to write in prison? Would I even be considered a criminal if I were not caught? Would the fact that I’m an imprisoned author make my manuscripts easier to sell to agents and publishers? Would the suffering in prison provide me the deep perspective my inner critic tells me I lack?

The questions keep coming. Is there a correlation between intelligence and violence in crime? The more brains a criminal has the less violence required? Does that somehow even out when a criminal reaches the level of an Escobar, or El Chapo? Where brains and violence abound.

Again, how would my writing be impacted?

I sold weed in college and that rush felt good. However, was it only a thrill because my experience with crime up until that point was safely screened in movies, books, and video games? If I sold drugs out of a feeling of necessity, I imagine that would probably pucker my spoiled ass and ruin any flavor still stuck to the silver spoon rusting in my mouth.

My thinking on crime is bipolar. I’m conflicted about a theft whose only victim is some faceless organization or a person with means to recover or not even notice the damage. A part of me says, fuck ’em.

Another part of me thinks it a lazy travesty to steal. Why not create something of your own, so you know the ache of building something up? In this instance, I see the thieves as hyenas and vultures picking at someone else’s kill. Usually, I only think this when imagining theft or destruction of my own property.

Then I think about why I perceive crime the way I do. Why is it not black and white? I feel that crime in America has been elevated to the status of art. When executed poorly, it is a comedy, farce, cartoon. When bystanders are hurt, crime is a tragedy, horror, abstract painting. Then there is the epic piece, everyone’s favorite, where the criminal is the hero and wins one way or another. The Oliver Twist’s, Count of Monte Cristo’s, Jean Val Jeans.

We all watch, well I watch, and usually root for the “bad guy”. I think it’s because deep down I feel like hopping up onto the stage and finding out whether my story is to be comedic, tragic or heroic. What interesting combination of experiences would push me to become a criminal? Would extravagant success make me feel entitled to steal now and then? Or would it be poverty and pain that pushes me in that direction?

I believe myself to be a principled man but I’m also a man who thinks. What if?

In American Animals, parents and professors begin by saying the same tired scripts, “They were good boys with no records or history of this. I had no reason to believe they could or would do something like this.” Followed by choked back sobs, red eyes, sniffles, and forlorn looks.

Every time I hear some version of that line I take it two ways. One, who do you think criminals are? Two, I take those comments as a challenge.

How many “good boys” or “nice guys” or “friendly neighbors” does it take to realize we’re all criminals. Only the evidence of our intent varies. You have no idea what I am thinking at any given time. That shouldn’t scare you, it should intrigue you because I’m only thinking things you’ve either already thought, or will. It’s just a matter of being in the “right” mood.

So the experiment in American Animals, well the experiment of at least two of the boys, was to find out what it was like on the other side of stealing. What was life like on the other side of something so big? To not only ponder but to know what it is like to have stolen. The story of the four boys has a clear ending. You can and should watch it to find out if you don’t already know. Now they have an experience accompanied by memories that directly answer their original question. Their curiosity has been quenched, maybe.

I, and quite possibly you too will have to continue weighing whether we really want to find out or if we’re satisfied simply thinking about it.

Who knows, perhaps under the correct, or incorrect circumstances (depending on who’s perspective you consider) I’ll be writing to you from a tropical island or behind bars. Either way, I would have a fresh set of experiences and a shiny new perspective.

Or I’ll just keep it all in my head, isn’t that what you do?


 

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