My favorite teachers were those men and women who treated their students like humans. Not as little sponges ready to absorb information and be able to recite it at some future date, but those educators who put themselves on our level so that we might better be able to understand and perform to their exacting standards. Those teachers who worked us like dogs, but treated us as people. Those instructors who were so knowledgeable and passionate about the subject you couldn’t help but become infected by their enthusiasm. Those beacons of Hope in the endless sea that is public education; those foundations for achieving greatness; those brilliant souls who worked tirelessly, never complained, and pushed you ever onward on the path to self-enlightenment.
I attended New Mexico Military Institute for my high school years, skipping out on my hometown, not out of malice or for discipline reasons, but for a jumpstart to something different. Here, I thought, I can achieve greatness.
I certainly didn’t achieve greatness (though I did attain a certain level of infamy in the English department for my brazen shenanigans), but I was put on the straight and narrow by a number of my instructors.
Christ, how come sometimes it is so easy to write drivel that people might actually read, but when it comes time to pen something worth thinking about – pondering in a Socratic manner – I freeze up and nothing comes stumbling forth? I feel like one of my students, looking up at me with those forlorn, hopeless eyes that seem to say in a silent scream, “Why are you doing this to me? I can’t write.”
Fuck all; you think I can?
This is Where I Lose My Shit
I have some brilliant writers. Little fuckers who are going places with their written word. Youths who have captured that emotion so eloquently and powerfully that they’ve no choice but to succeed and excel. Sure, it is easy to dismiss much of what teenagers have to say as little more than angst, or hormones, or impotent rage, but a select few have transcended this stereotype for the better.
I mean, fuck, I read the things these kids share with me and I wonder how come I’m not capturing raw emotion like that. To be 15 or 16 and to write about the things going on in their lives – in their heads – so powerfully, with such gusto, how can I not be impressed? I cannot name names, obviously, but if any of you little bastards are reading this, you know who you are.
And you know I mean that with the utmost respect. From writer to writer.
And as I always tell them: don’t stop writing.
Oh, how easy is it to give in and call it a day. This is shit. Probably yes, but the important thing is you’ve written it. Not everything you pen will be golden – that’s part of the writing process – but the fact my young charges are out there trying to find their voice in the tempest that is high school, puberty, hormones, and problems at home, well, fuck, they are doing mighty fine enough.
Today I dressed up as Charles Bukowski. Basically I wore a bathrobe and had a small tumbler filled with Coke (I am told, under no circumstances, that I’m not actually allowed to drink on campus; so much for my margarita machine for the teacher’s lounge idea). We are working on poetry projects, and to model a good presentation (and wear a bathrobe to work), I showcased So You Want to be a Writer by that grumpy curmudgeon Bukowski. Frankly, I thought it went very well. One must have fun at work, right; otherwise, what’s the damned point?
My slideshow presentation ended with Bukowski’s mantra emblazoned upon the board for all to see. In huge, bold, obnoxious letters, it stated: Don’t try.
God. Damn. You’d think I shot someone in front of those kids with their stunned looks as they read those words.
Don’t try. Don’t try? A teacher is telling us to “don’t try?!” Indeed I am, my charges, for someone has to elucidate you with alternative opinions.
Let’s be real for a moment regarding public education. Foremost, I love my job. Little bastards keep me motivated and ready to kick ass every single day. Sure, some days are more taxing than others, but I reckon that is true for any job. But dealing with 150+ kids day in and day out, well, someone has to shake the foundation of lies they’ve been sacrificed upon.
Kids are taught from a very young age that a high score is the equivalent of excellence. An A+, a 100%, these are the things kids of all ages are taught – indoctrinated – to achieve because high scores equates to higher self-worth. If I achieve high scores on everything I do, so their understanding goes, then everything in Life will be easier and within my grasp.
Kids – especially teenagers – are not little automatons we can constantly shuffle toward the meat grinder that is standardized testing. Kids are not mindless beings who must be forced to learn by rote memorization and recalling such things weeks down the road. How many of you fuckers can remember who conquered the Incan Empire? And what was the last Incan emperor’s name?
Don’t Google it; just answer the goddamned question.
Why in the thousand seas of fucks of Hell are we having kindergartners writing paragraphs – fucking paragraphs – when they should be picking their noses and complaining about cooties whilst running about like wild Indians on the playground? Why can’t young men wear ball caps in class? Why can’t young ladies wear their summer hoochie shorts to class? Why did starting a chess club raise such a rumpus? Why are we singing the virtues of football and cheerleading over innovation and true excellence? Why, and this is the most important bit, why can’t we let our kids express themselves without fear of reprisals?
Yes, I admit, childhood is a product of the 19th century, but when did we decide to create little worker bees instead of human beings? What good does it serve when every child is taught to express themselves the same way, that an essay only has five paragraphs, that art is only what has been done before and must be copied, that school ultimately doesn’t matter because you’re going to college anyway and there you’ll really learn?
What, in the flying fuck of a shit tempest, are we doing to ourselves? We, as Americans, wonder why the Vikings continuously beat the shit out of us every year in international testing, but we fail to see the glaring answer looking us in our fat, capitalist faces: they innovate. They allow children to be children. They allow youths to find themselves within the confines of the classroom.
And we, comrades, are bound by an overarching administration – an oligarchy – that controls what we teach and how we teach it. Not just in my county, not just in my state, but at a federal level too. All 10th graders must be able to identify a seminal document and write a comprehensive, critical review of the piece. Bor. Ing. Sure, I will teach a seminal document – because history is important – but expecting kids, especially the slow ones, to suddenly be at a certain level because we have a high and mighty pacing guide is absurd and unrealistic.
When did we start treating kids as numbers in a system, as benchmarks, as thresholds, as fucking statistics, and stop treating them as people?
I love my job. I love working with those bright, shining stars – those kids who will one day have their names in history books – and I love working with those kids who will amount to little else. You have to take the good and the bad; tis part of the job.
But lately, Christ, lately it feels like a lot of bad is being cast upon my charges. They are expected to be groomed for standardized testing, to be able to do things they’ve little interest in, to be neat, cookie cutter clones of one another, where originality is frowned upon and self-expression is akin to murder.
Hogwash, I say, for I shall endeavor to ensure my charges – my budding authors, poets, journalists, doodlers, workmen, CEOs, and more – are allowed to be themselves. Sure, the path of knowledge is long and arduous, but many of them are showing promise beyond their means. Maybe they suck shit at essay writing, but they’ll bring your heart to a standstill as you read one of their creative pieces. Maybe they never turn anything in on time, but when you catch them one-on-one discussing poetry, you’ll find yourself surprised at their keen insight and deeper understanding. They could be serial killer quiet in class but their poetry – at 15-years-old – will impress you.
Those kids are our future, and we are doing them a disservice by expecting clones. Don’t try, kids. You’re better than that. You’re better than this system that doesn’t have your best interests at mind. You’re better than a system with its head so far up its proverbial ass, it can see through murky eyes.
Fuck the system. You do you, kids. Now finished your goddamned poetry projects and let’s raise hell.
Damnable thing, that; just when you think you’ve got yourself a brilliant idea to write about, you sit your pathetic ass down and try to hammer out something worthwhile in the vain hope that maybe, just maybe, if you throw enough proverbial shit at the wall some of it will stick in a coherent enough pattern to justify calling it writing.
Christ, no wonder writers end up starving or blowing their brains out.
Trying to monetize my mad ramblings – who would pay money for this shit anyway? – is perhaps my greatest Sisyphean task, and one I frequently and mistakenly indulge with all-nighters of booze and tobacco, thinking that this one is the one to catapult me to success.
And after sobering up the following morning afternoon, I give it a laugh. Oh, how I am a creature of predictable habit!
“You think too much,” I’ve oft been told; and how damningly true is the accusation leveled! What did Bukowski have to say about writing?
“Don’t try.” And these are words to live by.
My on-again off-again editor (and using that term loosely here) said it best when I asked him to review some of my latest poems I was peddling for submission. “Artistic integrity,” he laughingly said. “Die in obscurity; that’s the only way to preserve it.” He struck a chord of clarity with that remark: why bother chasing dollar signs when I should be writing for writing’s sake?
After much introspection, booze, tobacco, fatigue, and ink upon the page, it is decided he’s absolutely right. Maxwell, you wonderful kike, you’ve nailed it like Christ to the Cross.
Let’s be clear: I’m no professional and don’t plan on achieving such status. I’m not half bad with a pen (so I’m told) and the hacked state of most publications these days indicates I probably could achieve some sort of fame as a professional writer.
Provided I sell myself out, of course, to the Almighty Dollar. People tend to like vulgarity in their blog posts, paving the way for a book deal, which leads to a movie deal, which leads to death by selling out and cocaine. And if there’s one thing you can take away from Ozzy, let it be that money ain’t success: the truth is inconvenient.
Be a travel writer! they say. You go on so many adventures, surely someone would pay you to write about it!
Perhaps, but that profession is bought and sold like cattle at auction. You want to write whilst on the move and make a buck doing so? Well fuckin’ a right! You certainly can provided you advertise featured products. I do love traveling, as we all know, but I’d rather starve than shoehorn in an article about how fantastic these Hiking Shoes™ are when doing so.
And I’m pretty fucking good at starving.
It’s no secret that the majority of published material these days is written with an ulterior motive: for the piece of rubbish to end up on the big screen as a giant shit show of a poor adaptation for the sole purpose of raking in the dough of suckers who ever after debate which medium expressed the author’s intent best.
That’s why we have “literature” like Fifty Shades of Gray, Twilight, and the shit clinging to the arid ass cheeks of Nicholas Sparks defining our generation’s literary contributions. Again, I’m no professional, but come on folks: if this shit continues to be published and publicized what happens to the real authors who are actually trying to make the world a better place with their words?
Sellouts are rolling around in their Scrooge McDuck money piles whilst the genuine artists are faced with a horrid decision: keep up the good fight and die in obscurity, or join the herd and feed yourself exotic sushi off an even more exotic Asian babe.
And lemme tell you folks, after having almost married an exotic Asian babe, it ain’t worth it.
Comrades, keep up the fight. Die in obscurity whilst sticking to your morals and guns. Write for writing’s sake and let no one persuade you to give it all up because “this could be a blockbuster.” You’re better than that. We’re better than that.
There’s a notch in the fence where a board has given way; a three-inch indention in the warped wood; the perfect amount of space to put a beer. Allows one to take a drag from a cigarette whilst simultaneously running one’s fingers through their hair, taking in the beauty of suburbia – that singular moment to contemplate and concern.
Yes, even suburbia can be beautiful, if one merely takes the time to admire.
The euphoria of finishing a book from cover to cover as lazy, gray smoke lists playfully about in the calm air; a feeling with few compatriots.
You can hear the laughter of neighborhood children as they chase one another up and down the block, giving Life to their still undaunted imaginations. Innocence before the misery of Real Life comes crashing through like a maddened bull against a Spanish matador, horns raised, red flashing, cheering crowds, and the abject danger of Man versus Beast as a single misstep can spell either victory or crushing defeat.
An apt metaphor for Life.
The beer teeters precariously in a sudden breeze, the old wood shaking ever so gently at the nudging of Zephyr. But it doesn’t fall – of course not. The beer – the stimulus – that can never fall.
Tobacco and paper burn together as they are inhaled inward. In a few moments, the delightful toxins are expelled in a plume of smoke and sigh of satisfaction. A swig of swill washes the acrid taste down.
You can look through the glass door and see the piles. Stacks of them, haphazardly arranged as if Ajax and Hector were tossing their Trojan boulders about, hopelessly aiming to slay one another with but a well-placed stone, always missing their mark and adding to the battlefield Chaos.
Monuments of knowledge and history and philosophy and warfare and womanizing and politics and chivalry and poetry and madness and tales and myths and legends. Thrown about the room as if Katrina had worked her mischievous way to the bowels of Paper Town, New Mexico, her mighty gales picking up each stack and depositing them about the place without reason. What use had Nature – Knowledge – for Reason?
In a structured Life of Order and Balance, the piles were anything but. They represented the face one cannot show the world: this is me.
These, philosophically gesturing to the askew piles, are me.
Where the heretical mix with the orthodox and the deviant with the pristine. Where the drunkard laughs along with the teetotaler, while the Muses sing songs of poverty and richness to the tune of iambic pentameter and spontaneous prose. Where the traveler on the road is met by Logic and Reason but quickly accosted by Imagination and Stream of Consciousness. This unstructured Chaos, this ode to madness, these, these! These very piles – this is me.
Books, of course.
Piles of them.
Books still in boxes. Books in bookcases, in bookshelves, on the coffee table, on the kitchen table, on the writing desk, on the painting desk, on the record player, the laptop, the sofa, the nightstand, the bed, the kitchen counters. Books in piles thrown about the place in absolutely every room, growing here and there by the day, an escape, an outlet, to worlds far more intriguing than the one of laughing suburban children.
Tomes filled with dangerous thoughts and ideas, of sexual deviancy and extreme piety. Books on obscure characters – lost to Time – with even more obscure authors. Books from the modern era and books from before. Spines broken and unglued (the work of many a sleepless night) with pages scribbled upon in minute handwriting. Here and there a few pages – hundreds? A dozen? – missing completely, but others supplemented by indexes of numerous pages.
Now that you’ve read this, they whisper, read that.
It is like hosting a massive party with every person you have ever met. Not everyone at this party will be similar, indeed, even tolerable of one another, but here they are. Gathered under one roof for one mighty bacchanalia of insight and introspection. Every famous and obscure author sending their second to represent them in this dusty hole of a town where the host is just as damningly confusing as his guest list.
Dark now; when in blazes did it become dark?
He reaches for the beer tucked away in the safety of the rotten wood, but it crashes to the ground before he can place his grip.
The contents splash about the yard – overgrown – and the laughter of children has now given way to the still of the night. How long can one be lost in their imagination? Ballast; where is the ballast?
He turns, looking through the glass door. A ha! He chuckles to himself. That’s where you’ve been hiding, my love.
The euphoria of knowledge becomes the best high, the thrill of turning the page the most alluring conquest. The desire for understanding becoming the stimulus.
People. Work. Taxes. Phones. Electronics. All meaningless. All paper. All blinding him to the crests of the mountains he’s built for himself to climb.
Seeker, he hears – a chilling whisper upon the silent wind. When did you stop Seeking?
He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his dress shirt, grimly admiring the red stains mixed with spittle as it quickly soaked into the fabric, darkening the soft color with a crude, rusty tinge.
There, his lifeforce, coagulating with cotton fibres; himself oblivious to the hustle around him as he quietly took in his precarious situation, ignoring the masses as they jockeyed around the tight corridors, focusing intensely upon the wonderful colors he himself had expectorated from the numerous unidentified sores within his squalid mouth.
Crouched over the dribbling water fountain, he brought himself to drink. With a gentle nudge upon the aged and well-worn plastic button, fresh, cool water came springing forth from the soulless steel, and he dipped low to take a mouthful.
Slowly swishing it about, he quickly identified the coppery aftertaste of a fresh wound. The longer the water remained, the more he could feel his mouth fill with tendrils of blood, the life-giving liquid encouraging the other to flow freely without recourse.
It was a unique taste – one he secretly enjoyed – but one he recognized as something out of the ordinary. This wasn’t normal for him, to be spitting up blood without cause, and a part of his mind feared the absolute worst. Was this how it begins, he thought. The end?
But the more sensible side of his mind urged caution, to not jump to conclusions, and to merely accept that he was ill. That’s all. Sick.
He spat out blood.
He watched as the wine-colored water splashed across the sterilized fountain; a fetid mixture of saliva, water, and burnished blood happily pooling across the fountainhead, a macabre rainbow he himself gave to Creation.
With delicate care, as if knowing he was watching with utmost amazement, the mixture slowly ebbed toward the drain, dawdling as it went along its course – its ultimate demise – to disappear forever down the unhallowed drains of yet another sterile fixture. The only thing living within the dull, polished steel of Man was the very elixir he himself had spat out, an ironic situation not lost upon him.
Pushing once more upon the machine, a stream of water sprang forth; he did not move to meet it.
The unmolested water splashed against his sanguine pool – scattering droplets of scarlet and pink and red and rust across his trousers and sleeves – adding fresh stains to his already dirtied attire. What didn’t collide with his unflinching form spread across the once-pristine machine or fell to the dull tile beneath his feet, another life lost in the misery of a constant shuffle, a dedicated rat race, and he, a bloodied sentinel paying no heed to those around him, merely watching with a mixture of abject curiosity, a tinge of horror, and a zealous fascination to see this latest ordeal through.
The more he pressed upon the lackluster polystyrene, the more ferocious became the constant jet of water, attempting to eradicate him completely from its polished-steel surface, as if the machine itself was crying foul at being used as a crude spittoon. It hummed as it pumped still more water through its spigot, desperately wanting to rid itself of his stains.
Slowly, the charnel mixture began to clear as the machine continued its cleansing operation. Where once a massive, red spatter was splayed across the drainage system – a bloody Picasso – it gave way to the clearness of the swirling water. Before long, the last droplets of blood were washed away from the surface.
He released the button and the process instantly ceased.
Standing straight, his hands still perched upon the fountain, he drew a long sigh.
This isn’t normal, he thought to himself (for the corridors were still crowded with proles, lest they think him mad). What is happening to me?
For several moments he stood there, frozen in pose, reflecting upon what had just transpired.
And there, at the back of his mouth, he tasted the sweet copper once more, feeling the vessels give way to another bout of blooded introspection. He quickly squeezed his mouth tight and sucked the mixture from its barrows, before stooping over the machine – feeling the bulge of his cigarettes as he did so – and releasing a parting shot.
He spat out blood.
He was dying – but he found it dangerously beautiful.
It’s been quite the spell hasn’t it? I have half a dozen veritable excuses I could use to satiate my claims of inadequacy, but in truth, none of them really matter. The fact is I’ve been neglecting my poor blog in favor of the tenuous here and now – and, shame, that just isn’t my proper style. What sort of wandering vagabond am I if I can scarcely keep a blog updated, eh?
Things have been quite tumultuous on my end, what, with the moving back to Lovington, taking up residence as a local English teacher, and trying to juggle my new work schedule, academic career, and personal Life all in one go. And here I thought I had mastered time management. Joke’s on me, because time is a fictional concept and you cannot master fiction.
Despite my faults (which exist purely because of my own machinations), I am acclimating well to things I reason. Forsooth, I heartily enjoy teaching English – that should’ve been a given considering my penchant for arguing and being a pompous ass when it comes to literature and opinions. And Lord knows if you’ve ever argued with me I don’t back down in the face of Reason too readily.
Yet my writing Life has certainly taken a most severe blow within these past few months. To be fair (which it isn’t), moving back to Lovington was a burden. But that was accomplished in little over a week (thanks, Po – you’re the best). And acclimating myself to the new teaching gig has been rather touch and go at times. Just when I feel I get the hang of things, the local Umbridge brings the thunder and I’m back to drowning in a heap of acronyms, paperwork, and children with banal questions. Yes, you put your goddamned name on every assignment; stop asking.
Even as I write this post, I am unsure of its completion. And if you’re reading this, hot damn, that means I finally finished a fucking draft for the first time in months. True, my personal journal is stained heavily in fountain pen ink (with my distinctive script), but it is indeed a far cry from keeping up with my blog. I’m paying for this damned thing, right, so I might as well write something worthy of note.
And here we are, for something has compelled me to write tonight, or rather, some people.
A couple weeks ago, a Camino Comrade of mine happened to be in the area on account of business. And by in the area I mean within two hours of me, which, as any red-or-green blooded New Mexican will attest, is close by. Despite it being a school night (still getting used to that again) and having a slew of grading, lesson plans, and my own academics to fret over, I saddled up after classes let out and made my way to the grand city of Andrews, Tejas. Despite my reluctance to ever visit that dread land of faux-Cowboys e’er again, this woman was well worth the voyage.
And so the two of us – having last met back in April in Missouri – dined over steak fingers and Cokes (no booze; damned dry city) and caught one another up on the shenanigans we’ve been up to since attending hospitalero training way back when. And I must say, how delightfully refreshing it was to simply spend a couple hours with an old friend. Truth, we had only spent about a week together in person, but Camino, as we all know, is simply like that: making eternal friends can take as little as a chance buen camino.
We sat in her car, chain smoking and bullshitting, reminiscing about this and that, and speaking of our desires to once more rejoin the Way and how we planned on achieving that. We spoke of our mutual comrades with whom we had both visited this past year, of our singular encounters with others from our hospitalero group, and the significant moments in our respective Lives from encounter the last.
She remarked upon the blog, how she really enjoyed my “sermon” to the Presbyterian flock of yesteryear, and I recall beaming with pride in the darkened vehicle, the ember of my cigarette dangling from my lip the only tell-tale sign of warmth across my face. Though my biggest critic and always downplaying praise, it touched me to know I had made an impact.
“You should write an anthology,” she said. “I think you’d be great at it.”
I’d be damned if I said my heart wasn’t aflutter at that kind suggestion.
Forsooth, comrades, there is something to be said in the mere innocence of it all. To simply sit there in plumes of smoke, watching the night sky take shape as the sun sets, and speaking from one soul to another. As I drove the hour and a half back to my new lodgings, how I wished I could merely keep driving and continue the great journey ever onward, to forever seek out such companionship and understanding, to keep the high.
Stephanie, I am eternally in your debt for shaking me awake. For reminding me that my Life isn’t meant to be forever in one place tied down to any single notion of reality. For indeed, reality is what we determine it to be.
And my reality has always been on the road.
But that moment of friendly bliss was soon swallowed whole by the new Life I had crafted about myself. Schooling is no joke – my evenings are oft dedicated to keeping ahead of my classes. My days are entirely devoted to my newfound charges – they may curse my name and workload at the present but I’ve hope for the future. And my personal Life – that damnable thing I can never quite put right – goes through the motions of ups and downs.
As a dark cloud swallows the sun in the encroaching storm, so too was my brief moment with Stephanie in danger of being eclipsed by my own machinations of realistic defeatism.
Yet Fate, comrades, had yet to abandon me completely.
Today, as my red pen flew across scores of comma splices and words in need of capitalization, my phone chirped the familiar sound of a message received. And there, though she didn’t know it at the time, came a familiar face with some much-needed words of encouragement.
We chatted for a bit – apparently, I may be considered a Subject Matter Expert on all things Grado (adding that to the resume) – about her upcoming writing responsibilities and the Gathering of Pilgrims outside Atlanta next month. Although I didn’t tell her at the time (indeed, I wasn’t quite so sure of it myself initially), her innocent comment had knocked something loose. It reminded me of my brief dinner with Stephanie, of the potential I had to actually put pen to paper and write.
To write, dammit.
That inspiration. That nugget of wisdom. The kernel of truth. Whatever euphemism you need, whatever you call it, to begin writing. And to write in earnest. And here we are now, dear reader, a full 1000 words later, writing about things that may seem trivial to the casual observer, but which mean oh so much to me and my flying fingers and racing pen.
Perhaps it’s the copious amounts of booze I’ve ingested. Maybe the plentiful amount of cigarettes smoked. Or the thought that tomorrow I could very well be hungover in a highly stressful job but without a single care to my name. Maybe the reverberating sounds of angry Finnish death metal within my addled skull. Whatever it is – whatever name we wish to call it – some cobwebs have been batted away, the dust scoured clean, and the writer once more unleashed unto himself.
Indulge me, comrades, for your Nomad has returned.
In parting, may I recite my absolute favorite bit of Passion Proof Power, a casual reminder that I am my own Fate, and that no matter what: I am fucking crazy, but I am free.
No One’s Slave
No Man or God They Have Made
The following is a talk I gave today at the First Presbyterian Church in Lovington, New Mexico. It’s a long wall of text, so power through it, eh?
Ellen told me that I have to keep this short, that I could not ramble on for an hour like I did last time. So hopefully I’ll stick to this document and not stray too far from the message I’m trying to impart. I’ve had about two months to pen this – naturally, I waited until the last minute.
Earlier this year, after what seemed less than a month of planning and forethought, I embarked upon my second international solo journey. Yes, I had certainly kicked the idea around many a time afore, but it wasn’t until late January that I decided – impulsively – that I needed to once more take to the road and see the world as only a lonesome pilgrim can.