Category: Writing (page 1 of 4)

Welcome to Reverie #1: The Boy Who Roars


“Welcome to Reverie” is a series of short stories that happen in the worlds of Trystin Bailey’s YA Fantasy, book series, Reverie.  You don’t need to read Reverie Book 1 to enjoy the story, but it definitely adds to the fun.


The Boy Who Roars

He watched as the other children giggled, shrieked, and played on the jungle gym, wondering why he wasn’t as happy as they were.

Andy Liu was seven years old. He had thick, black hair cropped short and eyes that shone a warm chocolate brown when the sunlight hit them just right. His mother Amy had always said his eyes were his most beautiful feature. “Baby,” she’d say in Chinese, “I can see it in your eyes that you’re an old soul. There’s peace and goodness in those eyes. The others will see what I do soon enough. They just have some growing up to do.” She’d say things like this when Andy was feeling particularly outcast. That is to say, she’d say this sort of thing daily.

Andy’s father, Thomas Liu, was something else entirely. The youngest of five and son of two stern, serious owners of a Chinese restaurant outside of San Francisco, in his youth he defined himself wholly by his ability to rebel against everything his parents stood for. Thomas refused to learn Chinese, rejected the expectation that he’d join in the family business, and ran away from home at the age of seventeen, paying his way through sculpting school. A darling of the San Francisco art scene, Thomas decided to keep his creative fire alive by uprooting his little family and moving to a small town in middle America where he would have the space and freedom to work on his large scale masterpiece: a series of life-sized dinosaurs constructed with the remains of demolished mom and pop shops. The series was called Shop Cretaceous.

That’s how Andy ended up at Addley Elementary.

Andy hopped off of the bus, glad to come home. His mother greeted him with a hug and a kiss and asked him about his day. “It was fine” tended to be the usual answer. Andy tore through his homework with ease as his mom prepared dinner. With her work done and the food in the oven, Andy entered his favorite time of the day. He plopped on the couch beside his mother and the two watched episodes of old British comedies. He loved the old shows which, in his mind, exemplified his ideal world: sensible and smart, dry with even the most chaotic bits neatly tied up with a clarity. Oftentimes the wit was of a level his seven-year old mind could not quite grasp, but his mom did her best to offer contextual commentary.

“Guys!” Thomas’ muffled voice echoed from the back door. “You gotta see this!”

Andy sighed as his mother reached for the remote and pressed the blue-gray pause button. She countered his frown with a great big warm smile. “Come on,” she said, “Your father must have finished it!”

Amy and Andy Liu opened the screen door into their spacious back yard. The flat grassy terrain was littered with a stegosaurus, triceratops, pterodactyl, and more made of old wood and brick and wires and discarded antiques. The neighbors, all with more conventional careers, had conflicting feelings as to how this display effected their property values. Those feelings would only become more polarized as the newest addition to the menagerie, the very reason Thomas had called his beloved wife and son outside, appeared to be complete.

Standing over twenty-feet tall, this monstrous sculpture seemed the most alive of the lot. Rusted pipes made up the most of its skeletal structure. Its mighty torso was coated with sheet metal, floor tiles, and ceiling fan blades. The tail was thick and long; a thing of roof shingles and heavy cables and ropes bound tight. Its head appeared to be a curious amalgamation of an aquarium, an air conditioner, and a mix of the parts that comprised the rest of its body, including the broken cinder blocks at its feet. Its mouth was open wide, as if frozen in roar, foot-long chair leg teeth bared. Its wiry arms, though small, ended in silverware claws prepared for battle. There was no mistaking the majesty, the craftsmanship, the power of the final piece of the Shop Cretaceous series: the tyrannosaurus rex.

“So…what do you think?”

Andy took in his father’s expression of pure and boundless joy; one that mirrored the one so easily achieved by his classmates.

“It’s incredible,” Amy exclaimed. She turned to her son, filling him with dread. “Isn’t it incredible, Andy?”

Andy hated this part the most. Even at this young age he could sense his father’s longing for his acceptance; his pride in his father’s work. The two loved each other for sure, but the chasm between them insofar as how they experienced the world was one neither had the tools to overcome. And to be perfectly honest, Andy hated his father’s work. He hated how it made the neighborhood kids want to come and play. And most of all he hated dinosaurs. Nothing about those wild, unruly monsters making a racket and tearing each other limb from limb appealed to him. “I like it,” said Andy to his father unconvincingly. “It’s really nice.” Then came the moment where Thomas tried to hide his disappointment and Andy pretended not to notice the charade.

Dinner was a magnified version of the usual. Thomas would engage in lively conversations with Amy about his sculpting and her teaching (she taught Mandarin online). Amy would engage in sensible conversations with Andy about British shows and their lackluster American counterparts. Amy would attempt to spark more than small talk between father and son. Usually it was successful enough, but this time Thomas’ energy was high and something just…snapped…

Thomas landed his fist hard on the table. “What is wrong with you?” He didn’t yell, but his voice was sharp, hard nonetheless. “I have given you every opportunity to live and- and thrive, to enjoy life and you just mope around and… Sometimes I feel like this is some cosmic joke my parents are playing on me for disappointing them.”

The empty chair crashed to the floor as Andy ran down the hall and into his bedroom. With one hand he slapped his door, the other wiped his eyes. He could hear the muffled arguing as he turned off the lights and slipped under the covers.

He could hear his door whisper open. A soft click and the lights were on.

“Andy.” It was Thomas.

Andy didn’t respond. He was too busy rubbing the sheet against his bloodshot eyes. His body jerked to the side as his father sat down on his bed.

“Come out, Andy,” his father said. “Please.”

Andy sniffled and pulled the muted green comforter from over his head. There was his father, wearing an expression uncharacteristic of him. A deep frown pulled the youth, the joy, from his face. His gaze was intense as ever though. But the tears. Those were new.

“I’m sorry,” said his father. “At the table…the things I said. In that moment I became everything I swore I never would.” He placed his hand gently on Andy’s shoulder. “Parents have these ideas of what their kids are gonna be. Right or wrong, they do. And in my mind you and I were gonna be in the shop picking out junk and turning it into art. But that’s not you, you know? And that’s okay. It’s perfect. And then as I sit here I realize that I have no idea what you’re passionate about. And that’s on me. It’s all on me. You’re this amazing, unique human being that I made and I don’t know a thing.”

Thomas had more to say- lots more. And it was honest and raw and apologetic and hopeful. He kissed Andy on the cheek and promised to be better. Andy didn’t say much, but as he drifted to sleep that night, he felt quite content.


Andy found himself in a dense jungle. Leaves as big as he was were dripping wet from a rain that had freshly passed. A mist permeated all things as did a cacophony of shrieks and growls and other unsavory sounds. This was not ideal.

Andy was so utterly dissatisfied by the scenario that he hadn’t the slightest idea of what his first move should be. Then came a rustling in a large leafy shrub nearby. His first move was, as it turned out, to run as fast as he could away from the sound.

From the shrub leaped three cavemen, hairy and dressed sparsely in tiger fur. They held mighty clubs which they held above their heads as they took off after Andy, howling through crooked yellow teeth.

Andy’s heart was pounding. His head was spinning. He swatted his way through swarms of giant flies, hoisted himself over an algae-covered root, and splashed across a swiftly flowing stream. He could hear the cavemen drawing closer and closer, their grunts seeming to say, “You will make for a worthwhile meal tonight, little boy.”

Andy tripped on a turtle and crashed against the muddy earth. In an instant he was surrounded by the filthy, awful cavemen. Hunger in their crazed eyes, all three raised their clubs in unison. This was it. Andy closed his eyes and hoped it would be over quick.

Then, from the jungle depths rung a mighty ROARRRRRRRRRRR!

Andy’s eyes snapped open just in time to see an enormous green tail whack one of the cavemen into the air and out of sight. A pair of scaly fingers grasped another caveman by the shoulder and pulled him into a dense bush. The earth trembled heralding the arrival of a horned creature the size of an SUV barreling into the final caveman, sending him deep into the mist.

Andy could not believe what he was seeing. Where once stood three primitive cavepeople were now three very curious dinosaurs. The first was not much bigger than he was. A brown scaly velociraptor with large, friendly eyes wearing a bowtie smartly around its neck. The second was an enormous triceratops, thick skin a light violet. Its three great horns were adorned with rings of gold and diamond. Red lipstick was expertly applied to its beak. Finally, towering above the rest was a great, green tyrannosaurus rex wearing a monocle and a top hat.

“A fine and pleasant afternoon to you,” said the tyrannosaurus in a booming voice with an accent that sounded entirely…British. “Quite the scrape you’d found yourself in, eh?” Andy was at a complete loss for words. “Oh! Where are my manners? Introductions are paramount in moments like these, aren’t they? I,” he puffed out his chest proudly, growing his already gargantuan form, “am Reginald Von Roar, lord of this jungle. This,” he gestured to the triceratops with his tiny hand, “is the substantial Lady Wilhelmina Thrice, of the Talonbrook Thrices. A stalwart friend and fierce protector of the less fortunate, yes.”

Lady Wilhelmina batted her eyelashes. “Charmed.”

“And over here,” Reginald continued, gesturing to the velociraptor, “is young Miles Hooktoe, servant boy to our Wilhelmina and as good and loyal a soul as you can find.”

Miles bowed his head. “A pleasure to meet ya, it is!”

Reginald lowered his huge head, cocking it to the side so his monocled eye was level with Andy. “Dear boy, I am utterly brimming with curiosity as to how you found yourself in such a predicament as this. But might I suggest you regale us with your tale in a more appropriate setting? One that involves tea and biscuits, perhaps?” Reginald grinned. “What do you say to that?”


“And then we went to this fancy mansion and had tea and biscuits! Lady Wilhelmina prefers three lumps of sugar, but Reginald likes it black. Miles pretends to love Wilhelmina’s biscuits, but he’s just doing it because she’s sensitive about that sort of thing!” Andy had hardly touched his cereal he was so excited.

His mother giggled, “Sounds like quite the dream you had!”

“Mmhm,” Andy tried his best to recall every detail, every word of it.

“You know,” Thomas began. “I may have enough extra junk in the back to make a top hat. Maybe you and I can watch some of those shows you like so much to make sure I get the dimensions right.”

Andy smiled.

At school that day Andy watched from a distance as his classmates giggled and shrieked and played on the jungle gym.

A jungle gym. Ha. Andy had been to an actual jungle. And survived a caveman attack and…

Andy whispered something into the ear of the nearest teacher, a short, pudgy red-faced man. The teacher smirked and walked him back into the school, to the classroom, to a chest full of toys reserved for those rainy recess days.

Three kids were positioned at the top of the dome-shaped jungle gym arguing about who would win in a fight: Batman or Spider-Man. Below them were a dozen other kids climbing and falling and trying to impress one another by hanging in new and interesting ways.

“My brother Max says that Spider-Man could lift a whole truck if-” A boy with freckles and a mop of red hair stopped talking. He noticed a boy with black hair cropped short holding a plastic tyrannosaurus rex high above his head and a triceratops and velociraptor tucked under his other arm. His eyes glistened a warm chocolate brown.

“My name is Reginald Von Roar,” said Andy in his best British accent. “I fancy my tea black, my biscuits plentiful and the occasional scrape with cavemen when they try to hurt my friends.”

In a single perfect moment, everyone on the jungle gym went quiet. A few giggles and whispers came and went. The boy with the freckles swiped the hair from in front of his eyes and grinned, showing off a few missing teeth. “You’re weird,” he said. He then pointed to the triceratops and velociraptor. “If that’s Reginald, then who are they? And do ya think they could beat Spider-Man?”

Andy smiled and offered his reply. And it was sensible and smart, dry with even the most chaotic bits neatly tied up with a clarity.

The kid with the red hair patted a piece of rubber-coated pipe beside him. “Come on up, weird kid. I bet Reginald couldn’t beat my brother Max…”


Like what you read? Want more? Pick up Reverie on Amazon or follow these stories and more on Instagram/Facebook @welcome2reverie.

Bad Gay

Bad Gay.

I’m a bad gay. At least that’s what one of my oldest friends told me, mere days after my coming out to her. Of course I was a “bad gay”! I’d only started coming out to my friends and family two days prior. Heck, I’d only come out to myself a week or two before, in which time I confessed my at once confused and passionate feelings to a boy who had come out years before, learned that the feelings were mutual, and endured a slew of his cautionary tales before being allowed to accept him as my first boyfriend. The barren wasteland of my sexuality had experienced its first drop of water; its first ray of sunlight; its first jolt of life. I had accepted my homosexuality or, more appropriately, my romantic feelings toward a person of the same sex. This was all so new. I was gay, yet it was so fresh a thing that I could not possibly be good at it. Bad was the only option for my twenty-two year old self.

While my dear friend intended the accusation as a joke, more or less (She followed up her statement by expressing her desire for the one gay friend that she finally had to be a “Jack,” not the “Will” that she associated me with), my insecurity around the “badness” of my own homosexuality vexed me deeply.

While I was (and am) no great playwright, essayist, actor, or illustrator, I had established the written, theatric, and graphic foundations for these skills years before.  They were all a part of me that had been well-documented, well-explored; integral to my current self. I was intimate with them and them me. I understood them. In making my gayness public I was admitting a part of me rooted even deeper than the arts, biologically speaking, but one that I knew so little about…and it scared the shit out of me.

My boyfriend, this proto-partner of mine, had been in numerous romantic relationships before me. He’d kissed multiple men. He’d had sex multiple times. Had his heart broken. I was a gay virgin in a most whole and profound way. Educated in the Catholic manner, homosexuality was not a possible path for me. The only run-in I’d had with an openly gay person before college was a neighbor who died of AIDS when I was in grade school. Accepting myself was wrought with early onset fear and insecurity.

And then there’s The Struggle. You know about The Struggle, right? How many coming out stories involve such intense emotional, physical, and spiritual strain? Fathers beating sons whom they catch groping another male. Friends and family rejecting completely their offspring. My own boyfriend at the time was kicked out of his house and forced to sleep on a bench at the local train station for a couple days. Aside from my mother and I not speaking for four and a half months, I came out rather painlessly, every single friend and family intact. Sure there were dozens of awkward conversations (My grandfather blamed my “condition” on my male high school teachers who he’d convinced himself I’d been molested by). The boyfriend once told me, “You don’t truly know what it means to be gay because you haven’t really felt the hurt of it.” Those words haunt me to this day. I was doing it all wrong.


Thanks to him I lost my virginity, achieved my fair share of kisses, and experienced my very first heartbreak. All of these were great forward strides in my mucky march toward true successful gayhood. Though in the years that followed, two or three that included my transition from college to the so-called real world, I took a number of steps embarrassingly backwards. The pain from the heartache caused me to shy away from my romantic desires which is fine enough were they not so completely attached to my concept of my own homosexuality up into that point, that I buried much of that, too. I surrounded myself with friends that were exclusively straight. I even called myself bisexual which manifested itself in the physical world as a single awkward date with a single girl that ended the only way it could have…terribly. Whereas my original idea of myself as a “bad gay” was based mostly on ignorance, this latest definition was reactionary; a decided rejection of self. Twenty-five years old, living in New York, and utterly clueless.

The gays of New York City succeeded in making me feel even more behind the times; at least the ones that I focused on. I’d watch them walking speedily down the streets of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, sculpted bodies, fitted clothing, hair styled to perfection, exuding a confidence that radiated off of them like a forcefield. I studied them intently, a creeper on a bench or standing at a corner. I was at once in admiration and awe at the amount of work they had to put into themselves to look the way they did. At the gym. At the store. In front of the mirror every morning.  I would picture them at the club, glistening with sweat, grinding, pulsating with one another. They were made for it. Gods of the dancefloor. I even imagined their Struggle to trump my own by a thousand. Then my eye would inevitably turn inward. I’d see the loose fitting clothes, the little tummy, the gradually receding hairline, the hairiness, awkwardness, and at the time, loneliness. How could I ever dream to be this highest caliber of gay (honestly, that’s how I saw them)? It wasn’t so much that I didn’t love who I was. It was more that I despised who I wasn’t. I’m not used to envisioning anything as unachievable, but I felt like I could never be a part of the gay community having never once even given it a chance.

Today I’m not the idiot I had been. My OKCupid account lists me firmly as “Gay.” I came to the obvious conclusion that gay people came in all forms and flavors and currently make up much of my close group of friends. I’ve had a couple more boyfriends, a few more flings. I’ve marched in some pride parades. Volunteered with gay youth and hope to do a lot more. Granted, old concepts of being that “bad gay” persist: I’m weird about public signs of affection. I still hold those Chelsea boys up as a standard. I loathe myself for these things and still feel a twinge of not belonging, though not nearly to the degree that I had. I’ll often announce that I’ve never been bought a drink at a gay bar, packaging the statement as a joke but myself and all those around me would have to be deaf and blind to not see my unrest that fueled those words and others like it. This is my Struggle. Like so many other things in this tale, mine just came a little later.

Do I consider myself a bad gay these days? Honestly, there’s nothing to gain from negative thoughts such as those, the thoughts that crippled the development of my sexuality for years. I have grown and continue to grow. Thirty now, I think only of meeting the man of my dreams, getting married, and adopting children who will benefit from my Struggle as I struggle to ensure they are raised on the conclusions of self-acceptance I learned much later. I will hold my husband’s hand as we stroll down the streets, confident and content. I will continue to use my art to further assist the fight for equality through truth and understanding. I will embrace my all as I welcome others to embrace their own. Am I a bad gay? No, but I will spend the rest of my life becoming a better one.

Rebound and Down: The Ballad of Rider and Trystin

It was the Summer of 2007 and I was 23 years old. My first relationship had ended only a month before, leaving both he and I emotionally wrecked, reeling from the intensity of a love lost and the all-too-fresh anger we had inflicted upon the other. I didn’t know what it meant to be defeated until that Summer. The world felt heavy and dark, a hopeless place that I was destined to float through, eternally sad, eternally alone. And whether on purpose or not, people tend to attract a world that reflects the way they feel about themselves. I was no different. It was this law of negative attraction that introduced me to Rider.

What follows is our story or, more appropriately, the story of our paths briefly crossing. 


Part One: Sweet Meet. 

I was draped over my futon, an open box of Peanut Butter Crunch on my chest, my eyes bloodshot, staring dazed at the next episode of Will & Grace on Lifetime. Lord knows when the last time was that I’d shaved, showered, or left the house. I couldn’t have told you the day of the week or the number of times my friends had tried to call or text, to see how I was doing. They angered me, my friends. Partially because of the thought of them perceiving me as weak; partially because I knew that I was weak. Their calls were left unanswered.

As in many situations in my life, it was my mother that moved me to action. She stormed into my bedroom and threw a newspaper at me. She’d circled the address for a temp agency and told me to go. I cleaned myself up (enough) and dragged myself out of the house, into the car, and signed up to be a part of the temporary workforce.

Within a day or two I’d been hired to do small tasks around the area, but it was my last job that matters to this tale: One of the packaging machines had broken down at the old Hershey Chocolate Factory and they needed a bunch of people to count and package Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey’s Kisses into tins. We were separated into two lines and were given our orders. My coworkers for the next week were mostly older black women or black men in their twenties and thirties, covered in tattoos, dressed in oversized clothes, jeans hanging well below their waists. I stood out as I always had amongst my fellow Harrisburg inner-city locals in my bright colors, nerdy graphic tees and fitted tech vest. I was ready to be the black sheep. I was used to it. And then Rider came along.

Twenty minutes late, he strutted in, head held high, a frown on his long mouth. His brown hair was styled like a wave frozen just before it crashed against the shore, and awash with highlights. His shirt and jeans were impossibly tight. From top to toes, he commanded attention with his attention to detail and style. Our boss gestured for him to join the line opposite my own. A good thirty feet between us, for the entire eight hour day, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

While the attention I’d offered this boy was nothing short of fascination and sexual attraction. Such was not the case with the other workers. Suspicious and annoyed by something so different, they muttered “faggot” under their breaths, would laugh at the sight of him or sound of his voice. I was seething at their unwarranted hate. My temper was so short then, my emotions so raw, but I said nothing. That was day one of ten.

On the second day when Rider entered the warehouse I waved to gain his attention. “Stand with me,” I said. He did. “I’m Trystin,” I said. “Rider,” he replied with a smile. A big beautiful smile. I felt a wave of accomplishment then. Something within the shadowy wilds of my mind shone like a dull light. In Rider I found a kindred spirit in a way I could not put to words. We shared something  I couldn’t put my finger on. That small moment was the first since the breakup that I’d felt…life…inside of me. All I knew is that I didn’t want it to go away. And what I failed to know was that the something we shared was the very parts of myself that I feared the most.


Part Two: Chaos Kiss.

Rider and I hopped in my car almost every day to grab lunch at one of the many fast food restaurants in the area. We’d park and sit, chomping on burgers and listening to music. We’d talk comic books and how much we hated our job or how much our coworkers sucked. He’d complain about his boyfriend. Part of me loved that he had a boyfriend because I was terrified of getting too close to anyone and that made things easier.

Our time at the warehouse came to a close, but my friendship with Rider was stronger than ever. I’d pick him up and we’d go on rides or grab a bite, see a movie – stuff like that. Not long after he and his boyfriend broke up. He moved in with friends farther away. I’d still pick him up, of course. I’d travel anywhere to be near him; to feel like I felt like someone else.

It didn’t take much before our night drives, the emptiness and the quiet, caused us to open up to each other. Historically, at first. Rider would light a cigarette and the truths of his past would flow out as smooth and hypnotically as the smoke from his mouth: He couldn’t drive because he was on probation because of a DUI. His mother had kicked him out of the house because he was “too crazy.” They’d once gotten in a fist fight on their front lawn and the neighbors called the police. On an ecstasy trip, Rider had sex with one of his friends and she became pregnant and had a son. Rider was in the process of signing away all rights to the kid. During one ride he received a call that his father had passed away – a motorcycle accident. I asked if he was okay and Rider only replied, “I hate him. I’m glad he’s dead. He left me 20 grand in his will. That’s all I care about.” He was 19 years old.

It became abundantly clear that this person was not what one would refer to as a “good influence.” He was wild, trouble-prone, unapologetically himself, and fiercely flawed. At any other point in my life someone like this would seem alien to me. But when I could only see myself as weak, as lost, as broken; a creature mangled by the pain of week after week of screaming, of crying when I was sure no one could see or hear me. At that moment in time, to look upon Rider was to look upon the person I was becoming. This was my new and inevitable dark trajectory…and he would be the one to lead me there.

Our night rides were the thing I looked forward to the most in all the world back then. Chaos and freedom combined. Soon being near him wasn’t near enough. My hands would explore his body and his mine. When his lips touched my skin, the lingering pieces of the person of sadness I was peeled away, leaving only him and I. Empty. Content.



Part Three: Down the Rabbit Hole.

I pulled up to the baby blue single-wide late one night, to the sight of Rider racing out with a woman shouting behind him. He slipped into the passenger seat and slammed the door. “I probably won’t be staying here much longer,” he said and took a drag of his cigarette. I pulled off and he asked, “Can we visit a friend of mine?” Of course I agreed to it. There wasn’t much I wouldn’t have said yes to at that point.

Rider guided me into Carlisle, a town close enough to Harrisburg that I’d known of it, but too out of the way for me to have ever visited before. I drove down empty, snake-like streets lined in rundown townhouses, doused in the eerie yellow from the flickering streetlights. Save for a stumbling drunk or a pair of kids standing on a corner, the place appeared a ghost town. “Park here,” Rider said.

We walked down the cracked sidewalk and to the front door of a house that resembled the rest; paint chipping, porch littered with old toys. There were no lights on inside. Rider knocked. Silence. “I don’t think anyone’s here,” I whispered. He told me to wait. I took a deep breath and took in the scenery. Seconds late a pair of eyes peered through the venetian blinds and the door swung open. Standing before us was a girl, no more than fifteen, and very much pregnant. She and Rider shared a friendly, excited hug, then Rider introduced her to me. We stepped inside.

The living room was dark; the only light coming from the cellphones of a pair of girls texting as they sat on an old mattress on the floor. “Hi, Rider!” they chimed in unison. A couple, maybe seventeen years old, were squeezed together on a recliner, whispering to one another as the girl, skinny, blonde, and pale, typed poetry into her laptop. It took a little more focusing on my part, before I caught sight of the man passed out on the couch. He was wiry, shirtless, and a cigarette butt remained between his fingers. His arms and torso were covered in only the most questionable tattoos: demons, flaming skulls, Confederate flags, and swastikas.

This guy, Alvin was his actual name, woke up, cursing under his breath as he climbed to his feet. He noticed me immediately and said, “Who’s the nigger?” At that point just about everyone in the room except for me gasped or shouted “Alvin, don’t!” …which is, of course, what people like that want. He repeated the word at me, fueled by their protest, then burst into a rant about how all the girls should keep their mouths shut; how he’s more of a father to them than their actual dads and they should be grateful. Shortly after that he passed out onto the couch again. All the while this was going on the boy on the recliner gently caresses the cheek of the girl who is on the verge of tears, promising, “Kristen, we graduate next year, baby. One more year and I’m taking you away from this forever. I promise.”

A normal-enough woman enters through the back door, into the kitchen. She’s wearing a business suit and toting a twelve-pack of Bud Light. Rider introduces me to her as the mother of the pregnant girl. Rider then hoists himself onto the kitchen counter and grabs me close. We make out like no one’s there.

Another character in this seemingly endless span of introductions, a pudgy man with a trucker cap and a thick mustache stumbles in through the front door, drunk. He approaches the mom, slaps her on the butt, downs one of the Bud Lights and starts to make out with her not three feet away from Rider and I.

The mood changes when the pregnant girl’s phone rings. She answers, “Hello?” Something about the way she said it sends her mom’s boyfriend into a rage. “That better not be who I think it is!” he says over and over. The girl darts up the stairs. Rider takes me by the hand and we follow her into her room. The heavy thuds of someone coming up behind us is clear, but the three of us are safe behind a locked door before it’s an issue. The girl talks to the father of her child as her mom, her mom’s boyfriend…and Alvin bang on the door.

Through all the shouting, I deciphered the details of the situation: The father of the girl’s child was in jail for a number of crimes, one of them being beating up the very girl he impregnated. Her mom’s boyfriend wasn’t only an over-protective father figure, but also the father of the girl’s jailed boyfriend. The girl was still in love with her ex-boyfriend/abuser and no one was too pleased about this.

Somehow everyone calmed down. Rider and I left that place and I snuck him into my grandparent’s house and spent the night there. Laying naked in bed, my body entwined his, already lost in peaceful slumber, I could not help but think how utterly unphased I was by the evening; how unphased and uncharacteristically calm I had been ever since I’d started this journey as the lonely worker at a Hershey factory. Remember how I said that we attract a physical world that reflects our mental state? I had accomplished that that night. I smiled, kissed Rider on the forehead, and drifted to sleep. Fulfilled. Content.



Finale: The Point of [No] Return.

The following days were great. Long gone was the sad, lump of a human I had been. A new era had dawned: One where I wasn’t a slave to loss or depression. Nor was I a slave to the arts, to the perceptions of how others perceived me; to constantly caring and concerning myself with the well-being of others. I was of the moment, in the moment, and I loved it! Rider and I would eat at fancy restaurants, guzzle a bottle of rum curbside, watch movies with friends, express our feelings for one another pretty much anywhere in whichever way we saw fit, addicted to the present and never taking anything too seriously.

And then we made a return to the pregnant girl’s house.

It was a pleasant enough Summer day. We approached the house and, before reaching the door, one of the girl’s opened it, ordered us to, “Come inside. Hurry! Hurry!” and slammed the door shut once we had done so.

The tension in the dark home was palpable with the two girls and Alvin peering out of the window as if in wait. In the dining room, the young teenage couple sat in the dark, the boyfriend listening to his girl read aloud dark poems of sadness and fear. Upstairs something crashed to the floor. The door slammed. And then an argument erupted.

One of the voices was that of the pregnant girl. Rider grabbed me by the wrist and we charged up the stairs to see her. She was in a shouting match with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. It turned out that her ex had been released from jail and was planning on coming to take her and his unborn child away. The girl seemed to be open to the idea of running away with the guy who beat her – a fact that infuriated her mother’s boyfriend (aka the father of the abuser). He stomped into a bedroom down the hall with the mother and the daughter (and Rider and I), then back out and down the stairs, seemingly to separate himself and calm down a bit.

There were a couple lines of what I could only assume was cocaine on the nightstand. Empty beer cans littered the floor. The pregnant girl was red in the face, tears flowing. The mother and Rider were attempting to console her. I stood in the corner and watched this display of compassion; of terror and grief, feeling like a mere spectator watching a scene from a film. This was a moment I wasn’t living in with people I didn’t know and, like that, the loneliness found me once again.

Rider kissed the girl on the forehead and hugged her mother then, to me, said, “We should go.” I nodded and walked out of the bedroom and down the hall. As I approached the steps the father/boyfriend was ascending them. He stood close to me. It seemed as though he was towering over me while we were almost exactly the same height. I looked into his bloodshot eyes and saw a deep-seated anger and drive inside of them that sent a chill through me. The man, drunk or high, looked at me and growled through clenched teeth, “If that boy comes here I’m gonna do what I should’ve done years ago. I don’t care if he is my son. If he sets foot in here I’m gonna drag him into the basement, tie him up, and shoot him dead.” To dispel any doubt around his words, the man then reached and lifted the edge of his shirt, revealing a small shotgun pressed between his old jeans and his gut.

I only saw Rider a couple more times after that enlightening afternoon. More my doing than his. I remember going home after dropping Rider off. My home without racist, alcoholic uncles or coked-out mothers or murder-minded fathers. My bedroom with the X-Men action figures and the Looney Tunes posters and the shelf loaded with Gamecube games and philosophy books. My silly and short-tempered, but ferociously loving mother. My sister and cousins and friends who I had been absolutely pulled away from, who were all right there and ready for me upon my return. And of course, the loneliness, the heartache, the longing for things never to be returned- they were waiting for me as well.

The current state of my life could have been a lot better, to be sure. But in the stark juxtaposition between my own world and that of Rider’s, in having escaped into the darkest corners of his own escapism, I returned to my life. A life that had, I was reminded, beaten me down before…and would again. And each time, as I had done before, I learned, I grew, I made art.

I returned to college a week later. My last semester. Another in an endless field of opportunities to question and embrace my world. My life. One month later I made a new best friend; every bit the counter to Rider. Two months later I wrote and co-directed that year’s children’s play. A couple weeks after that, I graduated.  Back in Harrisburg, I hopped back into fascinating world of temporary employment where I met a pair of married hippie managers who took me under their wing, stressing meditation, inner calm, and trusting in my inner strength (and the Universe) to provide my life’s next step. A few months later I visited my father, only to have a teenager girl ram her car into mine, totalling it. It was the resulting insurance check (and those hippies’ words) that financed my move to New York where I, six and a half years later, continue to live no one’s story but my own.

Duck. Flip. Freedom.

I’ve been a teller of stories through images and words since as far back as I can remember. But the true birth of my creative-state occurred one Autumn night when I was in the fifth grade. I was sitting on the living room floor, drawing a giant picture of Daffy Duck on a piece of white pasteboard when – WHACK – a received a light, but surprising, smack to the back of the head. I turned around to find my mother, eyes burning holes into me, and myself unsure of what I’d done.”What. Is. That?” she asked through clenched teeth.”Daffy Duck?” I sputtered, wholly confused.”I see. Well, did you create Daffy Duck?””No,” I said.”Then why would you waste your time drawing some other character that makes other people money when you could be making your own?”Before I could answer, my mom flipped the poster board over, revealing its blank side. Satisfied with her noble deed she returned to watching Oprah.

I remember the feeling I got when I looked at that fresh empty side. The possibility. The opportunity for me to put my pencil to nothingness and turn it into something all my own. Over the next half hour or so, my pencil and I created The Thunder Mammals, a team of mammalian super heroes who protected the Animal Kingdom from menaces within. Sure, I had made up my own characters by that point- tons, in fact -but that smack to the back of my head was the catalyst for a fundamental shift in how I looked everything.

I had a relationship to characters like Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote whom I would draw often and one as well with Super Kitty and Clay-Guy and others of my own cartoon pantheon, but the true difference between my attention on one group or the other was negligent. What my mother had taught me in that direct, swift way that defines her methods, was the power of ownership. Daffy was their idea. The Thunder Mammals was mine. Mine. And with that ownership comes a strengthened idea of individuality and, with that, strengthened creativity.

As my artistic relationship with Warner Bros. decreased dramatically and my own characters’ worlds grew into rich, enormous things, the lesson learned quickly spread into other facets of my life. What else was I pouring myself into that was not mine?

Suddenly, the world in which I had lived for over a decade appeared to be, for the most part, not my own. What did I feel about things that did not directly come from the opinions of my parents? What did I know about things that did not directly come from the books that other people had given me? I was nothing more than the receptacle for other people’s creations; a realization that allowed me to set forth on a quest to free myself from it.

In the coming years the word “why?” became my best friend. When I was told how to act, or what to think, or (a major theme in my Roman Catholic schooling and upbringing) what was right or wrong, I immediately rejected the answer and, if the question were one I had never heard before, asked myself how I felt about it; if my opinion was in line with the “me” I am always in the process of building.

I’m sure that a lot of people are reading this and going “Duh!”, but the more I do and the more people I see the more I am sure not enough people have actually received that smack in the head (metaphorically or otherwise) to get them to step outside of the socio-environmental boxes they were placed in. The reasoning behind this, I think, is a healthy blend of social conditioning, rationalization, and laziness (known also as an “addiction to easy”) – By the by, these three things are secret recipe for the perpetuation of a great many terrible, terrible events that have occurred throughout human history.

We often tend to congratulate ourselves too much, treating a mild victory as an overwhelming success. Certainly we should be proud of our accomplishments and congratulate ourselves for every good thing we do, but much like the teenage girl who treats the discovery of a pimple with a explosive emotional outpouring of someone who’d just lost a loved one , we tend to give our personal progress more weight than it deserves. I’m not saying that getting a tattoo or or boat aren’t steps toward becoming closer to the person you want to be, but so often do we glorify these surface things to the point of glazing over the deeper opportunities for embracing our individuality, sometimes to our detriment. This leads to people thinking things like, “Well, my hair is blue and this yacht is great, but why am I not totally happy and content?” The answer: go deeper.

The way it is.
When the strongest themes of one’s society mix with laziness and a heaping helping of rationalization what you get this is phrase “That’s just the way it is.” Basically, these six words, whether spoken aloud or kept within, are one of the most powerful forces blinding a person to their own creative potential, freedom, and individuality (these three things being the exact same thing, really). If you hate your job, why do you stay there? If you’re in an abusive relationship, why do you stay in it? “That’s just the way it is” is such a convenient answer. Not to mention its close friend, “You can’t have everything,” which, while technically true, allowing it too much pull is the equivalent of blowing off your own leg with a bazooka constructed of your mind’s self-defeat.

The truth is that these debilitating mantras are self-imposed prisons where the guard and prisoner are one. To act against them is to loosen their grip immediately. Search for a new job. Move out of the house of your significant other. Sure, these escapes offer varying levels of difficulty depending on the situation, but merely believing that such a shift is possible is a form of creative freedom.

Is it the way?
Okay. Great. We’ve got blue hair, a yacht, a new job, and are no longer being abused. That’s it, right? We have assumed our individuality and drawn our own life’s picture. All is well, right? RIGHT?

Ha, you wish. Believe it or not, this is still the surface. Physical, tangible things. Toys. Cars. Other people. Houses. Dogs. Jobs. Money. Important things, yes, but to reach the truth of your individual, creative self you must be willing to go deeper, to ask “why” to the very core of who you are.

Compared to this next part, the bad jobs and bad relationships are easy. No matter how we rationalize them, it’s obvious in our hearts that they are bad. When it comes to things like one’s religion or morality or philosophy, things that are sometimes so deeply ingrained in a person’s psyche that they seem as much a part of them as their genetic make-up, “That’s just the way it is” is a force so all-encompassing that it is simply “Correct.”

The African American side of my family comes from the deep south where certain things were a certain way for people of different races. Some of them today are distrustful of white people. I’d say something as simple as “I got an A on my Biology test today” and that would garner the response, “Aw, that’s great Trystin. Now don’t let those teachers try to put any of them white boys ahead of you even though they ain’t as smart as you.” Is this response coming from a place of utmost love and concern? Yes. Is it a dangerous bit of hate based on a generalized and (arguably) outdated assumption that is just as harmful to peaceful race relation as any teachers who might “put any of them white boys ahead of” me? Certainly. If my handful of relatives and others like them would consider the times and their own recent experiences instead of clinging to cultural-spun philosophy then maybe their tune would be different.

The product of a Catholic upbringing, my learned concept of right and wrong was a compilation of carefully selected and translated excerpts from the Bible, everyone’s favorite religious tome. Early on we learned things like “Stealing is bad” and “Killing is bad” and “Not going to church on Sundays bad”. Then as we matured, so did these excerpts increase to combat our newfound urges: “Sex before marriage is bad”, “Adultery is bad”, “Homosexuality is bad”. To many, too many, the words of this book are the be all end all of the core of who they are. These people are so deeply Catholic or Baptist or Jewish that their unique self (them as “Sarah” or “Rachel” or “Greg”) comes second.

To truly reach one’s full potential one must fully look into their own morality. They must first look at the whole and then tear it down piece by piece. The latter is where laziness can come in, too. People love their quick fixes and when they can get the answers to all their tough questions in a simplified single place, be it a bible or a political party, they hold on tight and then concentrate on that new car they’ve had their eye on. This stuff takes work!

Looking at the bible holistically we see the usual excerpts, but also some really odd and disturbing things like men sleeping with their daughters without the least bit of negative connotation and Jesus himself condoning slavery (in quotes that were used in the American South to support their pro-slavery views). And then, once the whole picture has been put together, go ahead and see it as a number of pieces, not one single lesson that you can be for or against.  Just because you think killing is wrong does not mean you need to think missing church on Sunday is, too. Pre-made view sets are not YOUR view sets. The same goes for your parents’ morals and our little two-partied system. Pick and choose what you feel is honestly right for you and, if in the end your moral code seems an awful lot like the one you left behind… Fine! Great! When I drew a picture on that poster board one of the Thunder Mammals was a platypus and looked an awful lot like Daffy Duck…but he wasn’t. He was a conclusion I reached on my own based on a desire to create from within myself. And as I thought holistically and my worldview expanded from the resulting questions, that platypus (and just about everything else) changed as well.

I’ll have you know he looks nothing like Daffy today…except for, you know, having a beak.

Creativity is more than coming up with great ideas for your writing, speaking, business, or art. It is accepting and embracing the fact that you are a unique individual part of a whole and in order to do the most good, to be the happiest, you must forge your own path, your own philosophy, separate from those who have been made by others. They are theirs. Not yours.

7 Missing Tarot [Chapter 1 preview].

I’ve got a novel in the works. Here’s a preview for chapter one of “The 7 Missing Tarot”…

Chapter 1 – In the cards.

“Son of a FUCK!”

I didn’t always curse like this. My parents would have never allowed it. They’d send me to my room without dessert or some TV shit like that…even though we weren’t allowed to watch  much TV growing up. “A box of sin and temptation” and all of that. I mean you’d swear, too if you cut your leg while shaving in the tub. I probably shouldn’t have been so focused on hitting the high notes of Whitney’s Bodyguard theme. Or maybe I shouldn’t use an old razor I found under the sink. Regardless, blood is blood and my thigh is gushing like a motherfucker. My name is Okimbe- Kim for short -and I’m going to pass out now.

It’s roughly ten minutes later and I’m lying…laying?…lying in bed, my roommate Tina holding my hand. Her deadbeat-but-harmless boyfriend Dave is looming over her, scratching his head, his face dopier than usual. Something about me: I pass out at the sight of blood. So whenever I shave in the tub I make sure that I leave the door open and let Tina know so I don’t, you know, drown in the lamest fucking way ever.

Okay. So I guess you’re probably wanting to know more about me than some shit about passing out in tubs. Fine. To tell you the truth, my adult life pales in comparison to my backstory. Like, seriously. My life has been a series of uneventful stumbles and falls since the bad old days. I’m talking newsworthy stuff. Google my name- Okimbe Cuthbert…or Malawe -and you’ll see. Actually, don’t. I’ll just tell you:

You know those weird, creepy cults that pop up from time to time on the news? They’re always in the middle of nowhere on some compound and no one ever knows about it until EVERYONE knows about it. That’s where my story begins. I was born in a shack to a kidnapped twelve-year old girl who died in childbirth. My shit-eating fuck-brained monster of a father- the father of everyone who wasn’t kept in a cage, actually -was the undisputed and omnipotent ruler of the Malawe Compound.

Ogun, he called himself. He was dark skinned with tufts of wild graying black hair framing the entirety of his long face. He stood frighteningly tall, especially in my memory, long legs placing him up close to the heavens he claimed to have descended from. What I remember the most about my father, though, were his eyes: large yellow orbs, glazed over by drugs and delusions; piercing things that shone with the wrath of God.

I was five years old when the S.W.A.T. team stormed us, an army of white-skinned men brandishing weapons and armor like the demon hoards in Ogun’s sermons. I was washing clothes with sisters in the courtyard. My brothers were around, skinning food or hunting or berating the captives. We were all caught unaware. Ogun emerged from the main house at the sound of our screams. He didn’t lift his rifle a fucking inch before a dozen bullets dropped him on his porch. Two of my brothers and one sister, attempting to avenge our prophet-father’s death, were killed as well. All I could do was wail, wide-eyed, as curses and gunshots thundered in the air all around me. I wailed and I wailed, tears rolling down my dry dark cheeks. Wailed as I lost my father; my siblings. Wailed as a strong armored arm picked me up, kicking and screaming, and then hurled me into the back of a black van, promising over and over again that I would be safe now.

“OW. Motherfu-”

“Oh, settle down!” Tina scolds me in her sweetest voice as she applies some weird organic cream to my cut. She’s a skinny white girl with green eyes and blonde hair and dresses in expensive flowy earth tones. She’s been out of college as long as I have, but unlike me, her parents continue to pay her rent and give her an allowance so that she can skip around the city without the slightest care in the world. Lucky bitch. I love her though.

I pull my leg away. “That’s enough, Tina!” Shortly after, I realize that I’m only wearing a towel and her boyfriend Dave now has got front row seats to my goods. “Dammit!”

Dave smirks and shakes his head. Tina giggles as she pulls my leg toward her, once again covering up my ladyparts. “It’s cayenne and cinnamon infused, Kim! For once in your life shut up and let someone do something nice for you.”

My streak of independence (read: stubbornness) might originate from my dead biological father, but it’s more likely that my adopted parents were the ones who instilled those traits in me. Suck on that, nature. Nurture for the win!

After I’d been abducted (read: rescued) from the evil clutches of my fucking backwards backwater Georgian childhood, I was all over the national news. As the youngest and least corrupted of my siblings cameras were on me all the way through my adoption process, where upstanding citizen and (white) Protestant Minister Charles Cuthbert and (white) wife nabbed my high-profile ass and dragged me to a small (white) town in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. I was probably the only black kid for a hundred miles and grossly undereducated. Some would say I was born to be an outcast with a shit ton of anxiety and identity issues. And they’d be right.

More on this later, but for now just know that I was a semi-famous preacher’s daughter who spent my entire childhood in the fucking Whitebread, USA. Oh, and Mr. and Mrs. Cuthbert already had a two-year old son named Ricky, my brother, who I will certainly be talking about more later because he’s a goddamn brilliant mess and I love him more than life itself.

“We’re grabbing bagels at the bodega,” bubbles Tina from a room away. “Want something? My treat!” I can feel the bile rising in my throat when she say “my treat” because I know she knows I’m having money trouble and I know I shouldn’t be angry at her generosity because there isn’t a judgemental bone in her skinny freckled body.

“I’m good!” I reply, ignoring the comically timed rumbling of my stomach.

“You sure?!” It’s Dave this time. I can practically hear the beard and torn skinny jeans and filthy Chucks and flannel shirt and ironic trucker cap in his voice. Fucking hipsters…says the vegan girl with a degree in literature from Sarah Lawrence, an apartment in South Williamsburg, and a wardrobe almost exclusively comprised of locally purchased used (read: vintage) clothing. Ugh, me.

The star-crossed lovers go on their bagel run and I get dressed and do a quick review of myself in the mirror. Tired brown eyes: check. Full lips: check. Thick black hair with streaks of fading gold that doesn’t really know what its doing or where it’s going just like me: Uh huh. And a curvy body that could probably use a couple weeks of cardio, but oh well all my gross online suitors don’t seem to mind so whatever: Yep. Fuck Cosmo. Twig-ass models and shit. I look…okay. Okay enough. These thighs, though. Ugh, me.

Sometime between high school and college I really got into New Age shit. I started doing it to piss off my parents and that bible studies bitch, but it stuck. Astrology, crystal healing, numerology, I eat that stuff up. Because today feels especially directionless and bleak I decide to give myself a full-on tarot reading. The Celtic Cross. Classic. I reach into the wooden red box in the top drawer of my nightstand and pull out my deck. The deck and I walk into our little kitchen/living room/dining area dripping with art and half-dead plants and I take a seat at the faux-wood Ikea table. Let’s all take a quick second to praise Ikea, okay?


I promise you I’m not some weird hippy freak who’s always checking her horoscope and yammering on about Reiki and magic spells. I’m not. I love those things. But I’m not. I mean, it’s my religion, you know. I believe in it. We all draw answers from the collective universe in our own ways. Sometimes its putting on a pretty hat and singing to Jesus on Sunday. Sometimes it’s raping and killing girls in the middle of the woods. And, for me- right now, at least -it’s doing a fucking Celtic Cross.

I shuffle the cards with my eyes closed and concentrate on a question. Figure I’ll go with the old standard: What the fuck is my life?

I place the ten cards in the cross-formation, face down like so…

The first card represents the present. I got The Moon. It represents fear. Anxiety. Confusion. That sounds pretty legit.

The second card is the challenge – the main thing standing in your…my….way at the moment. Ah, and it’s good old Seven of Cups: fantasy and illusion. Like maybe it’s all in my head? Ugh.

Next card: the past. And it’s…the Eight of Swords. Not surprising. It’s all about loneliness or feelings of abandonment or imprisonment. I sigh.

Okay. Time for the immediate future. Oh. The Fool. This is one that rarely comes up for me. Despite the negative connotation of “fool” (one that completely fits me), it’s a pretty badass card. It’s a card of new beginnings, spontaneity, embarking on new adventures. If only. The only new adventure yours truly can go on is the quest for a new place of employ-

The apartment door swings open. “Heyy!!” Tina chirps.

“Gah!” The abruptness of her entrance scares the shit of out me and I end up knocking  half my spread and most of my fucking deck on the floor. In fact, the only card that remains completely unmoved is that damned Fool.

Tina’s cheeks flush red. It doesn’t take much. “Oh, Kimbi! I didn’t mean to scare you!”

“Shit…” Dave slurs the word in that lazy baritone. He’s holding a full paper bag with both hands.

“Dave.” Tina commands, already reaching for the bag. “Give me that. You help Kim with her cards.” I try to protest, but that’s never worked before and it won’t work now. Dave lumbers toward me, the docile servant, and gets down on his knees, collecting my fate.

A warm wrapped bagel slams against my boob, stopping me from joining Dave and my fallen cards. “Here. Eat. It’s an everything bagel with vegan sausage, egg, and cheese. Your uzh.” Tina holds the item against my chest and makes her best angry face, which is fucking adorable- like an angry baby or puppy. Oh, and her squeaky-ass voice gets kinda deep and she basically sounds like a Muppet or some cartoon-ass shit. “Take it. Sit down. Dave’ll take care of your little cards.” Like I said: adorable.

I sigh. I moan. I sit my ass down on the couch and eat that bagel because I am fucking starving. That bagel had no chance. Tofu warped into more familiar non-vegan forms is annihilated between my powerful feminine jaws.

Midway through my breakfast I spot Dave at the table, separating my tarot cards into five piles. “What are you doing?” I ask him, spitting chunks of much-desired nutrients as I do.

He shrugs and says, “Organizing them.”

“Why the fuck-” I stop myself. Well, actually, Tina’s wide-eyed death glare stops me. Bitch doesn’t have an intimidating inch over ninety-nine percent of her body, but those fucking eyes, man. Prettiest fucking things in the world when she wants them to be, but upset her and you feel like you’ve been spotted by a pride of lions in the fucking Serengeti when she looks at you.

Once my bagel is sufficiently no more, I down a glass of orange juice Tina places in front of me. “Yo…” Dave begins. My insides are already preparing themselves for the stupid that’s about to happen. “Is this all of them…?” He sifts through the piles of cards with a face overwhelmed with confusion.

Certain of this guy’s incompetence, I march over and sort through the five piles, one each for Cups, Wands, Swords, Pentacles, and the Major Arcana. Fuck. The complete set was not accounted for. I get down on my knees and look for stragglers. Nothing. Fuuuuck. Using my incomparable powers of deduction (read: process of elimination) I count seven tarot missing from the deck:

  • Empress
  • Knight of Cups
  • Five of Cups
  • Three of Cups
  • Heirophant
  • Six of Wands
  • Three of Swords

I search the floor under the table again: nothing. My little red box: nothing. The floor around my little red box…This isn’t fucking happening. What is my life?

I get frantic, shuffling around my room, the living room, opening drawers and closets, digging in pockets, groping every nook and cranny of our little apartment with reckless abandon. I can feel the eyes of Tina and her pet boy boring into me, not quite sure what to do as I scuttle around like a fucking crack crab with my heart thumping hard and fast and my hands and knees coated with dust and the garbled curses I mutter to myself with every fucking fruitless attempt. I hate it when I get like this. Like, I can feel myself losing it, make no mistake. I can feel all the logic and the calm getting the shit kicked out of it by fucking crazy inside of me. The missing cards are just the trigger, really. A minor incident acting as a fucking catalyst, opening the dam of losses. It’s been almost a month since I’ve had a job. My financial security is nonexistent. Chills go up my spine over my daily realization of possessing zero marketable skills. I’ve been single for months. And the last time I’ve had sex- FUCK. And great. Here come goddamn  tears…

“Kimby?” Tina’s voice trembled. She wanted so badly to comfort me but was terrified of approaching me sliding around on the floor, knocking things over and talking to myself. Who’s the scariest thing on the Serengeti now, bitch? Except instead of a ferocious lion I’m a fucking hyena with rabies, begging to be put down before I put down you.

I’ve never been diagnosed with panic attacks officially, but these fucking episodes, whatever they are, have been happening more and more lately.

“I’m fine,” I assure them in a heavy exhale, eyes bulging out of my head and sweat beads dripping down my face like a fucking crackhead in withdrawal. “Fine…fine…” I pick myself up from the floor and wipe the crud from my hands and knees. We’ve sucked at cleaning lately. I stagger to the table and sit down, my gaze roaming from my fraction of a deck to Tina and Dave then back to the deck again. “Missing…”

“I’m sure they’re around here somewhere!” Tina bubbles, no longer worried. “I’ll help look as soon as I put all the groceries away.” She smiles her pretty, pretty smile. I know in my gut that she’s wrong. Any new age person worth half a shit knows that missing tarot cards have meaning. Hell, more meaning than present ones. If I think about those seven cards for a fucking second it’s obvious. I mean, the Empress?! Come on! Come the fuck on!

Maybe the crazies haven’t fully worn off, but the knowledge of what I have to do next hits me like a fucking hydrogen bomb. Or the end of The Sixth Sense. My life is an empty, directionless, depressing hot mess right now and there’s no one to blame but fucking me. Okimbe fucking Cuthbert: certified idiot. The cards said as much. And I’ll be damned if the stuff I need to do to get out of this shit-nest I’ve built for myself rests in the cards that aren’t there. Or, more specifically, the unresolved shit from my life that I’ve been running from, hiding from, ignoring or straight up suppressing.

I guess I’ll be the Fool after all. Time to take impulsiveness by the balls and embark on that new fucking adventure into some old baggage.

Oh, and I’ll try not to curse so fucking much.

Introducting VS…

VS onlyHiya, folks! It brings me great pleasure to introduce “Vs.,” a sort of sub-blog to my main blog posts that offer quick (or quick-ish) glimpses into my opinions on various subjects; everything from Death and Abortion to Avocados and the Lion King. Pretty much anything I’ve ever had a concrete opinion on, many of which I’ve never written about or even had the opportunity to squeeze into a dialogue before. And if the subject is big enough I’ll be following the initial post up with subsequent rounds (I’ve already started Round 4 of Vs. Racism so that’s fun). The goal here is to keep these short and sweet, but effective and release one every single week for the rest of my life. Ha. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, thanks and enjoy!

The first “Vs.” is RACISM! (round one).

The Origin of Hate: The Wordy Intro.

The fear prelude.

A wise and powerful old alien once said that “Fear is the path to the dark side.” You know, because fear leads to anger then hate then suffering and all of a sudden you’re wearing a creepy black breathing apparatus or shooting blue lightning from your fingertips and trying to blow planets to bits.

I’ve been mulling over this idea of Yoda’s for some time, attempting to write this grand essay crushing the evil force that is fear…but I couldn’t, try as I might. First I thought, “Well, you obviously can’t write something about conquering the Fear Menace because you’re a sissy and have no place writing about something you can’t fully grasp.” (That was an interesting stage for in my life). Then I realized the truth: I couldn’t write an essay that hinged on destroying fear when fear isn’t usually a bad thing. Fear is simply a chemical reaction in the brain, one of our most primal functions biologically devised to keep us alive and fully functional. It’d be like writing about the terrors of feeling hunger. Sure, some people overdo it with their food intake but all in all knowing when you should nourish yourself ain’t half bad.

Fear is inherently a necessary or even good thing, but loses much of it’s usefulness in the part it plays in two specific areas. The first is as an inhibitor in one’s quest to become their ideal self. This is the sort of fear that keeps you from approaching that sexy vixen on the other side of the room; the fear that figures you might as well settle for one school because the chances are so absurdly small that you’ll even get into your dream school that you don’t even try. It’s really easy to blame poor ol’ fear, but the true troublemaker is a lack of self-esteem or an unclear idea of one’s goals. The second area in which fear becomes a problem is as a springboard toward hate. But as with the example above, fear is not completely the issue here (I’m the last guy who will question the wisdom of Yoda, but dude’s oversimplifying). The origins of hate are more a matter of psychological processing than a simple emotional reaction. I’ll spend the remainder of this prelude looking at these origins and the part that fear has to play.

The Anger Suite.

Before we go diving headfirst into hatred, I think it’d be beneficial to define it. And to do so I’d like to compare it to its close buds anger and rage, the three main components of what I like to call “The Anger Suite.”

On one end of the suite is anger itself. Anger is a strong, but basic reaction to a perceived wrongdoing; a person, place, thing, or event that has provoked the other into a feeling of discomfort and great displeasure. It can be overwhelming to the point of negatively effecting one’s rational thought processes, often causing one to act out against the catalyst (or anything within reach, really) in varying levels of vengeance.

Like fear mentioned before, as well as sadness and any other feelings falling under “emotional pain,” it’s a natural human response meant to alert you that something is wrong and a resolution is needed in order to return you to a state of contentment. This works identically to physical pain where the sharp sting of holding your hand in a fire is your body telling you to get it out of there. And, like physical pain, allowing anger to linger results in escalating and sometimes irreparable discomfort.

This is where hate comes in. Hate is what happens when one hangs on to the anger. The anger plants roots and becomes less of a passing warning and more a constant presence in one’s life. Hatred runs deep. It’s got all the downsides of anger but even more so. Maintaining it results in a constant flow of stress and frustration which causes more anger which inflates the hatred. Where anger provides negative motivation in the moment (to throw something or punch someone in the face), hatred births constant motivation that borders on (and might eventually achieve) obsession. The catalyst and its removal or transformation to something more acceptable are never far from the forefront of the hater’s mind. The greater the hate, the greater the lengths one will go to achieve this goal.

Finally, rage. Summoned by a catalyst that causes an especially high level of anger, rage comes on powerful and reactive. Blinding in that it cancels rational thought and a clear sense of time and space, rage causes the sorts of situations that leads people to plead “temporary insanity” in courts of law. Due to the amount of energy this emotion needs to erupt, it tends to have the greatest short-term destructive potential of The Anger Suite but lasts the shortest amount of time. Rage isn’t the most common thing out there, but it’s worth mentioning in that it’s a very real concern and feelings of hatred brings the threat of it closer to boil.

Hate me. Fear me.

Hate based purely in anger is a pretty easy concept to grasp. You hate the guy who murdered your fiance. You hate yourself for having never really applied yourself, resulting in a life you are wholly dissatisfied with. The solution here is forgiveness of self, of others. I talk about this at length in my last post, Forget-Me-Nots: The Art of Letting Go.

Our friend Yoda tells us that fear leads to hate, but how? I mean, the very biology behind fight or flight offers a very simple choice: fight OR flight. Anger OR fear. One doesn’t lead to the other. They are polarized options…right? Initially, sure, but anger is a reaction to a perceived wrongdoing…and the thing that pushes one into a state of fear is, more often than not, perceived immediately as “wrong.” Sure we’re afraid of the guy in the ski mask coming at us with a chainsaw , but we hate him for it, too. We hate him for disrupting the relative good that our existence allowed us. We hate him for exposing our perceived weakness (read: fear). Dealing with is it like dealing with any hurt you feel (I direct you once again to my last post). Of course, making sure you’re out of continued harm’s way comes first. It IS a man with a chainsaw after all.

Perceive it. Believe it. The end?

Perception is everything. Molded by nature, molded by nurture, it can be guessed at based on one’s biology or society (sometimes quite accurately so), but is inherently a very intimate, personal thing. How we perceive something dictates how we interact with it; react to it. Skydiving unlocks exhilaration in an adrenaline-junkie and utter terror in an acrophobe (someone afraid of heights). Going a blind date excites lovers of surprise and produces apprehension in those who fear the unknown. A guy with a chainsaw would cause most to wet themselves, but it’s really no big deal if you’ve got Yoda’s skill set.

How you perceive something shapes your feelings toward it. And in the vein of this essay, perceiving something as alarming will cause us to fear it and whether that fear grows into terror or hate (both are no way to live) is up to us dealing with it in a way that does not exacerbate the fear or anger, but instead removes it from the entire equation. Understanding and compassion are the key.

Onto the main event…

This is just the intro. I focused heavily on some basic ideas and lightly touched upon the ones we’ll hit in the main event coming up. A major part of a society, of a culture, is the existence of a moral code; a general consensus of what’s right and what’s wrong. This significantly shapes the perception of its people and therefore shapes their fear- and anger- triggers as well. This becomes quite interesting when one member of society is viewed as “wrong” or “different” by certain others for various reasons. Maybe they’re an axe murderer or from a different race or alcoholic or gay. Some people can’t see the moral differences between two or four or any of these descriptors and so the seeds of hate are sewn.

Of course, the axe murderer is willfully destroying other people. He is wrong. The alcoholic is willfully destroying his or herself. He is wrong. But animosity toward those of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, certain cultural traditions…this sort of hate is another thing altogether. And so we call it prejudice, a human trait wrongly perceived as wrong…and so a grave wrong itself. It is a great destroyer of things. Of lives. Of peace. Of love.

It is the sole focus of the remainder of “The Origin of Hate.”

Stay tuned!

Question everything.

Who. What. When. Where. Why. How. These are the building blocks of knowledge. If I were to have cultivated a catch phrase, a motto, a battle cry, it would surely be “question everything.”

The majority of the time, questions are asked as the result of doubt; of an existing unknown, or the decent-enough probability of one. What time are we meeting for dinner? Does he love me as much as I love him? Is bigfoot real? Other times questions are a means for one to assess the knowledge of another or prove their own. What is two plus two? Who was the thirty-eighth president? Why did the chicken cross the road? In any case, knowledge is being shared or verified under the admittance of the possibility that the one or more of the involved does not know. The power of questions, for many, seems to stop there.

While the eradication of the unknown (of doubt) is primary function of the question, the relationship between doubt of question often warps the latter into a negative space; a space linked to confusion, uncertainty, and distrust. This stigma unfortunately tends to keep us from utilizing the question’s power when it comes to those things that are known; the things that we are certain of.

Science is the human invention that makes the greatest use of questioning knowns…mostly because science accepts that fact that most things can never be 100% known. Does the Sun really revolve around the Earth? Do heavier objects really fall faster than lighter ones? Is the Earth really 6,000 years old? The constant challenging of and building upon perceived fact is at the foundation of science. Without it we’d still think that angry gods made lightning and that masturbation leads to insanity. While the benefits of this manner of thinking are countless we tend to shrink away from it when the matters become more feeling- and emotion-based.

Let’s take two of the most powerful feelings we’ve got: love and faith.

Love is the peak of positive human emotion, forger of the strongest relationships between one’s self and the person, thing, or idea in which they are in love with. Faith is level of emotional certainty so complete that it perseveres without the requirement of tangible logical proof. Both are draped in commitment and, as such, “questions as doubt” are in direct opposition to both. It’s difficult to separate questioning love from doubting the strength of the relationship just as questioning faith is synonymous with doubting one’s core beliefs, even seen as a sin in certain religious contexts. In fact, the opposite is true. As in science, it is understanding and verification that often should spark questioning, not lack of belief.

Take Jack and Molly. They’re recently married, have an unassuming house in the suburbs, a dog. They share their innermost thoughts over coffee in the morning and marathon Netflix series, cuddled together on the couch every night. They are in love. One morning, Jack looks over at Molly and asks, “Why are we together?”. She answers, matter of factly, because we make each other happy, we get one another, and we want what’s best for the other from the bottom of our being.” That dialogue strengthens a bond. It validates a feeling. Granted, another answer could have gone like, “I…I honestly don’t know anymore.” That dialogue reveals a weakness in the bond and from there it can be dealt with. Regardless of the response, the challenge of the question fosters growth and both parties will be better off because of it.

Here’s a list of reasons people steer clear of questioning things they’re certain of:

  • It’s morally wrong. Especially where faith is involved many religions teach that questioning its doctrine is itself a sin.

  • It looks like an awful lot like doubt. As mentioned above with love, questioning something can seem an awful lot like you don’t believe in it even if that’s not the case. Questioning a relationship, a decision, an idea can be hurtful to those who are intimately involved in either.

  • It makes you look dumb. Putting any question out there (unless testing someone) is admitting that you do not have an answer. Some of us would opt for continued ignorance to avoid being viewed as ignorant in the moment.

  • The truth is scary. So often questions aren’t asked because the answer (the truth) is scarier. Living a lie becomes the more comfortable (or less mysterious) choice and therefore we cling to it because the alternative might be worse in the short or long run.

The truth is the truth. The truth is what’s real. It is the the only way to reach genuineness, completeness of self, goals, and relationships. And the only way to do this is to “Who, what, when, where, and why” everything, not with the intention to debunk it (that’s how you become paranoid) but instead to simply understand.

Growth begins with a question.

Forget-Me-Nots: The Art of Letting Go

Whoever came up with the saying “Forgive and forget” was probably referring to a time one of the neighborhood kids accidentally hit a baseball and broke a window. It’s got a 1950’s ring to it (just like that scenario). A little too clean, a little too easy. Granted, in the sort of situation like that it’s totally justified. Kids being kids. Glass being glass. No real emotional attachments. No harm done that can’t easily be undone. Accidents happen.

What if we raise the stakes a little? Let’s say the ball crashed through the window and broke the urn which happened to hold the ashes of your recently-deceased and beloved grandfather. In this instance a bit of emotional pain comes to play. Judgment’s clouded by anger or sadness. It’s harder to brush off. Still, most good-tempered understanding people would forgive and let this go easily enough.

How about this? A mom, with her 2-year old son, is getting some weekend shopping done. The mom sees a sale on baby clothes, looks away for a second, the baby wanders into traffic and a car (completely within the speed limit) rounds the corner killing him on impact? Another accident. This time there is extreme emotional anguish experienced by the mother…and probably the driver as well. Guilt comes into play and with it the ever difficult task of forgiving oneself.

Let’s say you’re a guy in high school and your best friend is in science class when a classmate decides to pull out a gun and kill him and nine others. Or your sibling sleeps with your significant other. Or you spent two months assured that you’d get a raise only to find out that they don’t have the funds. Or your husband or wife commits suicide?

“Forgive and forget” is a stupid saying. Adding the clause “only when applied to the simplest of offenses” helps a little, but it’s not the forgiveness half of the cliché that is its major failing, but part about forgetting. Forgetting something that has caused you pain (physical or emotional) is as ridiculous as trying to forget things that have made you feel happy, content, complete. Both are growth opportunities that should never be ignored. What’s more, once an event has illicited a certain level of emotional intensity, forgetting becomes all but impossible. The farthest those who try will get to doing so is suppression…and we all know how well supressing feelings goes. Forgetting and suppression (bad) are sought after because they present themselves as express routes to the clarity and cool of forgiveness and letting go (SPOILER ALERT: They’re not).

Letting go is not the same as forgetting. I repeat: letting go is not the same as forgetting. Forgetting is the attempt to erase a memory completely. Letting go is the act of understanding the experience, logically cataloging lessons learned, adjusting accordingly, and releasing the negative hold it has had on you.

Let’s take the example of the mother who lost her son (I like using the most extreme examples because it’s easier to take something like this and scale it down to relate to your painful experience than something small like a broken window and scale the lessons learned up):

This is a living nightmare; a mom losing a child. The cause here is the death of the 2-year old (“Oh my god, I killed a child!), the mother’s anger toward the driver (He killed my son! He should have been paying more attention to the road), and the driver’s anger toward the mother (She should have been watching her child!”). Throw in the cops and the family of the mother and you’ve got yourself a certified tragedy. So, what’s the path to letting go look like here (and everywhere)?

First thing’s first: life experiences can’t be undone. Wishing things had been different; that you could go back to the way things were before… it’s not possible. Dwelling on that sort of thought is an utter waste of time and can only do harm. Time spent trying to relive the past is time lost in creating a better present. The pain is prolonged.

Allow yourself to feel. Hurt hurts. You may want to suppress the pain with every bone in your body. Losing yourself in tasks like drinking or partying or cleaning or drawing for the sake of creating distraction, pretending everything’s fine, locking yourself away from the things that could make you feel – choose your drug. These things can prolong the healing process. If you want to scream, scream. If you want to cry, by all means go ahead. Let it out. This is who you are. This is what you feel. Embrace it, as horrible as it is right now.

Keep on living. While it may feel like a certain part of your life has taken a beating…or the whole thing…know that the world will continue to turn with or without you. I suggest you choose “with.” Sure it was the world that kicked you in the first place, but it’s going to be the world that helps to lift you up again…just as it has before. And the cool thing is, every time it lifts you up the chances of the next slack to the face hurting you as much will be much lesser…even the chances of you being hurt at all go down. So keep living. Pick yourself up and have a night out with your loved ones. Take a walk and take in all that is awesome in the world. Use the emptiness you may be feeling and fill it up with something off your bucket list: take a trip, pick up a new language; a new hobby. This will slowly raise your sense of self and belonging and will counter of the negative aspects of allowing yourself to feel, namely getting lost in a prison of those feelings.

Sidenote: What’s the difference between cleaning your house as a distraction to feeling and cleaning your house as a means to keep on living? Answer: Intention. We constantly walk the thin line between helpful and hurtful and mindset can go a long way in placing your safely on one side of the other.

Forgive. While I hesitate to say that any of these steps are the most difficult in the process (that depends on each individual situation – accident or not, emotional intensity, cultural conditions, etc…) I will say that forgiveness of self or others tends to be the hardest part. Unfortunately, it is an integral part of completely letting go. Forgiveness is looking into the belly of the beast and saying, with utter genuineness, “I am not resentful.” To fully let go one must forgive.

Forgiveness tends to be the last step of the process to kick off, a culmination of the others running their course and contentment returning. Life is about growth. If there is an easy meaning to life, growth would be it. Lessons learned and applied. Learning to forgive, to release the hatred toward the offender, is one of the most trying and inspiring methods to growth moving forward. The mother doesn’t need to hate herself to ensure that her next child doesn’t suffer the same fate. The best friend doesn’t need to despise the boy shot his best friend to be kind to a student that is ridiculed and beat on. The girl does not need to resent her man-stealing sister and ex to engage in a healthier relationship with her latest boyfriend. In most cases the opposite is true.

The goal is and always will be not to forgive and forget, but to forgive and let go. The first will lead to the second and we will continue life, empowered, never forgetting, never losing hope.

[A Play About Love]


A park bench. Winter. Ben sits, looking at his phone. Justin enters. Ben notices him.

Ben: Hey there.

Justin: Hey. It’s cold.

Ben: Yeah. Sit.

Justin: Okay.

Justin sits.

Justin: So…

Ben: Thanks for coming.

Justin: Yeah. Of course. Lunch break so…thirty minutes. Make it good.

Ben: Ha. Okay, so…

Justin: Are you breaking up with me?

Ben: No.

Justin: Oh God. Good. Okay. Go ahead.

Ben: Why would you think I’m breaking up with you?

Justin: I dunno. I’m crazy. I dunno. Things have been kind of…weird lately.

Ben: Yeah.

Justin: I mean, it’s not that crazy to think you’d just want to end it.

Ben: It’s a little crazy.

Justin: See? Like that. You think I’m crazy.

Ben: You just said you’re crazy.

Justin: That’s different. Everyone thinks they’re crazy.

Ben: I don’t.

Justin: Well, we can’t all be Ben.

Ben: What does that mean?

Justin: Nothing. Nothing. It’s just…you do this ‘perfect’ thing. You just have a way of making people feel inferior because you’re so damn put together.

Ben: It’s not my fault people don’t have the self confidence to deal with mine.

Justin: I feel inferior when I’m around you. Sometimes.

Ben: That’s-

Justin: Crazy? It’s how I feel, Ben. And I don’t know if I can spend the rest of my life feeling that way.

Ben: The rest of your life? You’re talking like we’re married or something.

Justin looks away.

Ben: Justin…

Justin: We’ve been dating for eight months.

Ben: Exactly. Only eight months.

Justin: Well it’s significant to me. We’re not these young queer little sex fiends anymore.

Ben: I never was. And I hate that word, queer.

Justin: It’s serious now. I want to be with the person that I’m with for the rest of my life.

Ben: So, you think about marrying me? After eight months?

Justin: Yes! Yes, I do. And I think about it a lot. What’s the point of staying with someone if there’s not at least the potential of being with them forever? It just gets in the way of finding the real thing out there. Somewhere.

Ben: Wow.

Justin: So you honestly never think about us getting married?

Ben: I do not.

Justin: Then why are you with me?

Ben: Because I like how it feels. Right here. Right now. Who knows what’s coming? No one. So, this is here and this is nice and that’s all that matters.

Justin: I love you.

Ben: I love you, too.

Justin: Do you?

Ben: Jesus Christ!

Justin: Stop! Stop it! Stop making my feelings seem invalid and ridiculous.

Ben: I didn’t say anything!

Justin: You don’t have to. It’s so deep inside of you. It’s down the atomic level. Patronizing and condescending to the core.

Ben: Okay. Well how about you stop making me out to be some loveless monster? I’m tired of having to constantly prove to you that I care about you when anyone can see that I do nothing but. I’m not keeping you here. If you want to leave me and go out and find that real thing then, by all means, if it’s not me then I want you to go find it.

Justin: Are you not listening?! I don’t want to leave. You…us…this…this is what I want the real thing to be.

Ben: Okay.

Justin: What did you want to talk to me about?

Ben: Nothing.

Justin: Right.

Ben: Something.

Justin: Alright.

Ben reaches into his pocket and pulls out a key.

Ben: Here. It’s the key to my apartment. I know how much you hate your place and I’m going on that business trip tonight for a few days and, you know, for after that. Any time.

Justin takes the key, exhales.

Justin: I’m crazy.

Ben: You’re not. I know I’m not really the most emotionally available guy and I can be a lot to take. That’s why we work, you know. Balance. Everything about you, even the stuff that makes me want to break something, I love. I don’t mean to be condescending.

Justin: Really.

Ben: Sometimes. A little. But I never want you to feel inferior. There’s no reason to. First off, I’m far from perfect.

Justin: Now that you mention it…

Ben: And, secondly, you and your ambition and passion and talents…

Justin: Like that painting of your childhood dog I gave you for Christmas…

Ben: Best thing I’ve ever gotten. When I look at you, think about you, there is nothing but awe. And gratitude.

Justin looks at the key.

Justin: I’m totally going to rearrange your furniture when you’re away.

Ben: I figured.


Justin: Dammit.

Ben: What?

Justin: It’s the real thing.

Ben: Scary, right?

Justin: Terrifying!

Ben: As long as we keep calling each other out when we’re being idiots I think we’ll be fine.

Justin: Agreed.

Ben checks his phone.

Ben: Well, I’ve gotta head to JFK. Flight’s in an hour.

Justin: Yeah, I should probably actually eat something during my lunch break. I’m working a double and Miranda’s been a grade-A ho.

Ben: Total ho. Well, see ya in a few. Movie night when I get back?

Justin: Totally. You’ll love where I put your TV. Knock’em dead out there, my corporate tool!

Ben: Keep serving your way to stardom, my starving artist. I love you.

Justin: I love you, too.

They kiss and exit.

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