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]

Characters
Ben
Justin

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.

Beat.

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.

This Blog Will Self Destruct in Three…Two…

A nowhere-near-comprehensive list of ways to screw yourself over…

  • Comparing your successes to someone else while lacking a proper competitive spirit
  • Living life under the assumption that you are owed anything
  • Thinking that returning to the way things were is ever the solution (it was the way things were that lead you to the way things are, after all)
  • Focusing on the source of your discontent instead of how to move past it
  • Running FROM something without having something to run TO
  • Prohibiting yourself from trusting others
  • Using certainty as an excuse not to question
  • Ignoring your limits
  • Allowing anything aside from yourself to define your life
  • Avoiding risk
  • Failing to build a bridge between what you know and what you do
  • Resenting others for having what you don’t
  • Pretending something never happened
  • Allowing fear to breed regret
  • Letting pride get in the way of achievement
  • Forgetting that, despite their cliche status, not putting your eggs in one basket, not counting your chickens before they hatch, and relishing the journey over the destination are among the most important lessons out there

How Religion Works [Part 1: The Magic]

How Religion Works. [Part 1: The Magic]

 

Pick A Card. Any Card.

I was speaking with an acquaintance the other day. “I mean,” they stated at the end of a short, lax dialogue about Christianity, “why would anyone pray or devote themselves to some storybook character from a completely different culture that ended thousands of years ago?!” Twenty minutes later that person whipped out a set of tarot cards (a former game from a completely different culture that ended hundreds of years ago) and, with all belief and seriousness, did a reading for me.

In another corner of the world someone is meditating on a dilemma that they wish to solve by clearing their mind and letting the solution come to them. Somewhere else a person holds their hands over a patient in pain and focuses their fourth Chakra in order to heal them. Or the one who keeps a lucky bottlecap in their suit pocket just before they defend their latest client, for good luck. Or the one who throws a handful on bones onto the dusty ground to determine the well-being of their family; their tribe.

All of these examples and/or ones like them happen countless times every day across the globe. And one or more of these examples, to just about anyone reading this, sounds either absolutely plausible or absolutely ridiculous. Yet, they have ALL stood the test of time. But why? I mean, we’re talking the products of completely different belief systems, some in ways in direct opposition to the other. Some claiming to be the only true way while shrugging the others off as misguided jokes. Yet, they ALL persevere. They ALL have a group of people swearing up and down that they have experienced, firsthand, their desires being met through each of these means. How can that be? If there is one way, how can they all offer powerful, potent results as far as their denizens are concerned?

 

The Easy Answer.

People will believe what they want to believe; hear what they want to hear; see what they want to see. If you were raised on Christianity, you are more inclined to bend your perception of life to fit that. Someone’s wife dies. They might think, “This sucks but it was part of God’s plan. She was needed in heaven.” That’s crazy talk. No one is needed in Christian heaven. There’s not some heavenly crisis that needs solving. It’s perfect by definition. People just die. It’s part of the show. Someone raised on Tarot really wants to move to California and open a New Age bookstore. They pull “The Empress” card, which is all about achieving a great bounty and new ideas. Immediately, the reader reads “new ideas” as the ones she’ll bring forth by introducing a new bookstore and “great bounty” as all the money she’ll make with this awesome idea. No matter what card she pulled the result would have supported her idea. She had made up her mind. (Let’s say she pulled the “Ten of Swords” which is easily one of the scariest cards ever- utter destruction, nowhere to go but up. She’d think “that’s obviously referring to my life here in this town. I really DO need to get out of here!”)

The easy answer: We use our belief systems to justify how we already feel or to blind ourselves to the reality of something we don’t want to think too much about because of how complicated, sad, or scary it is. It’s power is in it’s enabling and deceptiveness and nothing more.

Or is it?

 

There Can Be Miracles…

Fourteen years ago I dreamed that I was standing at the beach, the ocean stretching out before me. Between myself and the water were two of my cousins, brothers, building a sand castle. The younger of the two of them threw a plastic shovel that was quickly swallowed by the sea. He started after it and the other brother, taking the other’s hand, went with him, disappearing beneath the waves. The next day I woke up, went to school, and then ended up at my grandmother’s where my mom and I found out that my two cousins, the ones from the dream, had drowned in their swimming pool that afternoon. (I wish I had a story that was that powerful but less depressing, but I don’t)

How many times have we heard of people praying to God for their sickness to go away and then -poof- they’re healed and the doctors are baffled? Or those amazing Reiki healing stories. What about when a parent will just “know” that something terrible has happened to their child? In the past year I’ve been read by a Tarot card reader, a psychic, and a past life reader, none of whom knew me prior and all left me with freakishly identical answers to the question of my purpose.

Those who subscribe solely to the easy answer from the previous section are denying the existence of these, the second and more powerful perpetuators of our spiritual or religious belief systems. The easy answer bypasses the fact that, lo and behold, beyond the ease and delusion and fear this stuff can actually work! The metaphysical world is real and, from the looks of things, omni-denominational.

 

Let’s Get to the Meat of It.

I have a very close, intelligent, and religious friend who once said to me, “Trystin, I believe that just about all of the religions are true. Because there are so many different types of people, God gave us options so we can choose which one fits us the best.” What. God supplied us with the very source of most of the bloodiest, manipulative, insane events in history so we could experience him in our favorite way? No. That’s crazy-talk. That’s rationalization. That’s justifying opposing ideals while maintaining the perfection of one’s own belief system. Compromise by not compromising. Anyway, we’ll worry about the nitty gritty of all that in Part 2: The Mystery. All we care about is “The Magic” right now.

Now, let’s take a chicken (Haha, “Say whaaat?!” – bear with me here). Chicken is a fairly affordable and very versatile food. You can fry it, bake it, grill it, saute it, toss it in soup, salad, or sandwich, take it barbecued, smoked, breaded, light, dark, by the breast, wing, thigh, leg, foot, gizzard, enjoy it hot or cold, lathered in gravy, cooked with lemon, garnished with all manner of veggies, all of these things greatly altering its taste and physical properties but never changing the fact that it is, indeed, chicken. Regardless of the part in which you choose to engage or how you choose to engage it, the chicken-ness of it all remains.

Christian. Jewish. Muslim. Hindu. Wiccan. Roasted. Poached. Fried. Baked. Sauted. Nutritional values aside in this awkward metaphor, all are definitively different preparations but wholly sustaining. Regardless of one’s chosen system of belief the power, the force, the energy that allows it to answer prayers and fulfill prophesies is identical, simply prepared differently, cooked up with psychology, sociology, morality, and philosophy prevalent in its culture (or sub-culture) of origin.

Meaning: The power’s source is not a particular belief system, but the act of believing itself. These systems merely dictate the ways, strengths, and limitations that we allow ourselves when seeking answers or achievements.

 

I Am Confident That You Will Read This Section.

Most of us remember The Secret; that book popularized by Oprah that emphasized the power of positive thinking as a means of getting what you want and being who you want to be. It sold millions of copies and helped tons of people by adding a magical quality to the our confidence in ourselves. Confidence. The belief system that involves faith in our own capacity to fulfill our wishes. Some of it’s symptoms include increased health, morale, and a greatly increased chance of an ideal future. It is a human power we all are capable of and it’s no wonder we re-brand it to the more mystical things like “the secret” or “law of attraction”. It’s symptoms are nearly identical to those drives that lead us to seek assistance from a higher power. Coincidence? I think not.

Confidence is a religion in which the one trusted and being called upon to fulfill one’s greatest desire is one’s self. The energy that fuels it is the exact same one that causes prayers to be answered or cards to reveal a truth about the future or a mother to sense her child just suffered from a car accident. Confidence, in comparison to the rest, is stronger in that it focuses more on a person taking action action being taken upon them. Also in that it doesn’t involve a middle-man (such as a deity or magic runes). On the other end, it can be weaker in that, as adults, we have been conditioned to accept our human limits and religions and the rest allow us an excuse to dream greater than we have been raised to believe we are capable of on our own.

Newsflash: We are all of us capable of remarkable things. Bound to physics, we probably won’t be sprouting wings and flying to the moon any time soon, but there is power inside of us to accomplish nothing short of magic and it comes from us. Change your future. See the future. Become your ideal self. Dream your destiny. Achieve ultimate happiness. Discover great truths. Find love. Know love. Get your ideal job, house, car, body. See the true intentions of your peers. Jump higher. Run faster. Live more fully. And, to Hell with what I said earlier…go ahead and fly.

Believe in yourself enough to act on those beliefs and you’ve got yourself the foundation of true greatness. There is no power greater than that. And it is in, and connects, us all.

This has been Part 1 of How Religion Works: The Magic. Stay tuned for Part 2: The Mystery, where I dive more deeply into some of the subjects lightly touched upon such as “How can you differentiate true magic from people just seeing what they want to?” (is there REALLY a difference?) and Part 3: The Morality, where I’ll discuss…well, let’s keep that my little secret for now.

A Murder of Crow (or “How I Chose the Side of Good”)

It was the Summer of 1993 when my father had convinced my mother that I would be better off with him. Weeks later I was in his car with a handful of my belongings, teary-eyed as we drove across the bridge, the Harrisburg skyline disappearing into the distance (my tears are still something my father enjoys joking about to this day). My new life began in an apartment complex in Cockeysville, Maryland on St. Elmo Court. I was nine years old at the time.

After all had been sufficiently unpacked and mostly put away, my father began his quest to transform me into a real boy. In Harrisburg I lived a sheltered life, locked away in rooms, drawing pictures and things. No one forced me to be this way. It’s just what I liked. My imagination and I, having the time of our life. To my father, always the charismatic social figure and product of a childhood spent playing basketball with boys from the block, my way of life was simply not exceptable. So one day he walked me to the front door, nudged me to the walkway, and told me to explore the complex and not return until I’ve made a friend.

A strange boy in a strange land, I wasn’t quite sure what to do as I wandered away, my father smiling, proud of himself, as I did. Constantly alert in this world so different from the urban ghettos I had spent much of my short life in, I roamed the place until I found a playground at the complex’s heart. There were slides and swings, jungle jims, and all that. The paint was chipping off of everything and, as far as I could, tell there was no one in sight. But if there ever was a place for a nine-year old boy to make friends, I figured the playground would be it. Satisfied with my decision I stood there, under the assumption that if I waited long enough something amazing would happen.

“Hey! You!”

The voice seemed to echo from everywhere. I looked around and saw nothing.

“Up here!”

Upon second scan, I noticed a set of squirming shapes huddled in what appeared to be a playground structure in the shape of a water tower. It was just as worn and rusted as the rest of the place.

“Come over here!” The voice was raspy, but feminine. My father’s desires engraved in my mind, I did as I was told.

“Come on up!”

I ascended the metal pipe ladder and entered the faux water tower. Inside were three people, two guys and one girl. The girl was older, maybe thirteen or fourteen. The boys were more or less my age.

“I’ve never seen you before,” she said. She had a coffee complexion and wild short brown hair. She wore denim overalls and sat on her knees. The two boys were pale. One wore thick-rimmed glasses and had short brown hair and a long face. The other had messy short hair, dark circles around his eyes, and a round face.

“I’m Maria,” the girl said proudly. “This is Kenny.” She pointed to the boy with the glasses. “And Mark” She gestured to the boy with the circles around his eyes. “Who are you?”

“Trystin.”

She laughed. “That’s a funny name.”

“Yeah…” I didn’t know what else to say to that.

“Whelp,” she clapped her hands together, “you’re one of us now.”

Just then some other kids meandered onto the playground. They were black and dressed in that over-sized baggy manner I had been used to seeing on the mean streets of Harrisburg.

“Oh shit,” said Mark.

“What the fuck do they think they’re doing here?” grumbled Maria.

Amazingly enough, this did not lead to some sort of turf war. The intruders continued on their way. Crisis averted or so I thought until I noticed the sly grin on Maria’s face and her dark eyes focused on me. See, I really couldn’t care less about those boys. But my eyes opened wide and my mouth hung open the moment I heard mark say the s-word and Maria drop the f-bomb seconds later. I hoped that no one noticed.

Maria laughed. “Trystin afwaid to say bad words?” she asked in her best baby voice. “Fuck!” she shouted, and I cringed. She and the boys laughed. “Shit!” I cringed again. More laughter. I was beginning to see my giant leaps in social progress all flutter away before my eyes.

Then Mark smiled warmly and said, “You try.”

My mom never cursed and since much of my life was split between my Catholic schooling and watching cartoons and the discovery channel, the four-letter words rarely made their way into my radar. I knew they were “bad words”, which was always enough to keep me from exploring them any further. But here, at the crux of a brave new world with all its possibility, I had to decide who I wanted to be. The sheltered little artist from days gone by or…something new. With a deep inhalation and a rapidly beating heart I whispered, “Shit”, and the crowd went wild.

The rest of our time in the tower was spent cursing at each other and talking about the coming school year. Fourth grade for Mark and I. Third for Kenny. Sixth for Maria. Maria asked where I lived and offered to walk me home. We all promised to meet each other the next day. Not only was I able to make friends in record time but, with Maria standing beside me when my dad opened the door, I actually had proof. I can still remember the proud look on my dad’s face.

I also remember Maria coming inside and borrowing some of my dad’s CDs.

T’was a strange time indeed. My new life in Maryland had begun and I, wide-eyed, hopefully, and a bit terrified, was ready for whatever this new world had in store for me…..or so I th0ught.

I had been transformed. My days locked in a room toiling over sheet after sheet of drawing paper had been replaced, or greatly reduced, by the my new friends, a gang of six or so boys from the apartment complex. Maria, it turns out, was not a usual member of this group. She would appear from time to time with words of wisdom and disappear into a mystical world of slightly older kids we could only dream of. The fact that it had been she that first encountered me and not one of the other boys was a stroke of luck, as I’m sure I would have stood very little chance were their true leader around.His name was Curt. A pale, tall, thin, rough-looking kid with a mop of unkempt strawberry blonde hair. I remember he always seemed to have a scar on his face from some fight that he’d fought in another place none of us had been there to witness.
Upon first meeting Curt I laid the four-letter words on thick. “Hey, Curt. Fuck yeah, I’m ready for school to start and shit. Yeah, PA was a bitch. It was shit. Fuck. This place is fucking the shit, though.” Fortunately he found my awkward stammering amusing and, coupled with the blessing from absent Maria and the support of Mark (his best friend), that was enough.
It was soon after that I learned what was at the core of being a part of Curt’s crew: causing trouble. Whether it involved steeling flowers from a low balcony, kicking decorative stones from their set positions on well-kept paths, or a solid run of ding-dong-ditch, we were an established menace to the people of the complex. It was terrifying and energizing and the most excitement I had ever felt.
On the not-that-rare occasion when some one would see us in the midst of our dirty deeds and shout “Hey! What are you boys doing?!” we’d disappear into the woods surrounding the complex, to our secret spot, laughing and cursing all the while. The secret spot was little more than an opening in the woods, all dirt and mud and leaves, where there existed a large rock under which were salamanders and a stash of old soggy Playboys. According to legend, this was the very spot Curt’s older brother would retreat to with his friends before they grew up and moved on to malls and gas station parking lots. We would sit around, lighting twigs on fire and using them like cigarettes and giggling at the pages and pages of “boobs”.
Meanwhile, life at home with dad was great. Our little bachelor pad with its black furniture and minimal decor. Dinner by delivery or out of cans (creamed corn was my new favorite thing). Omelettes on the weekends. A bedtime story (usually another chapter of a Terry Brooks fantasy novel) almost every night. Days with the gang. Nights with my dad. All was well and my first year at a brand new school was beginning.
While all the boys from the complex attended Padonia Elementary, not a single one of them was in my class. The idea of their being multiple classrooms for the same grade boggled my mind, having come from such a tiny Catholic elementary school. The lack of uniforms and any modicum of religious decor, sensibility, or judgement was even more jarring. This was the wild jungle to my ghetto Catholic garden and I felt turbo-charged with freedom.
I sat between a tiny blue-eyed girl named Rachel, whom I had a short-lived crush on despite the fact that she was obsessed with horses (I had had an unfortunate run-in with a horse in Georgia a few years prior that I would not get over for nearly another two decades), and this frumpy kid who always had snot coming out of his nose. There was also a redhead named Chuckie who will be important later. All in all, it was social slim pickins and I spent every day longing for the afternoon when I could regroup with my real friends.

In the Autumn months I had climbed the ranks in my gang. While Curt would always be at the top, and Mark at his right, I had established myself as number three. Successfully shedding the skin of an awkward newbie, I had adapted myself to meet their deviant confidence and retooled my creativity to be just as effective at troublemaking as it was illustration. Calculated distractions, fake-outs, elaborate heists all became part of the package with me as the appointed Head of Strategic Tomfoolery. Everyone had their part to play as Curt and I made sure all acts of thievery, mischief, and destruction went off without a hitch.

The overall lame-ness of school life took a positive turn when one Brandon Cassel joined our class in October. He was mixed like me, with a strong chin, well-kept curly black hair, leather jacket, and a more solid muscular build than one would expect a ten-year old to be capable of. We became fast friends, plucking a couple others as lackeys and playing the “too cool for school” card, fearless kings of our domain.

My father had started dating one of his coworkers around this time. She would come over with her fancy clothes and giant smile, flaunting her refined grasp of etiquette and forcing me to play along.

“And this is a salad fork, Trystin. It goes here…”

In her I saw the downfall of all my father and I had built and so I dived even further into the abyss.

One day Brandon and I discovered the true meaning of the word “bastard”. And, finding much humor and brotherhood in the fact that we were both born out of wedlock, the two of us thought it would be interesting if we’d find out who else shared that same trait. All day, during classes and lunch and recess, we asked, “Are you a bastard?”, sure to make whomever we asked feel sufficiently stupid if they didn’t know what it meant. Brandon would then put the fear of God into them if they made the least bit of fun at our being bastards.

Near the end of the day our teacher sat us in the corner and questioned us about our little game. It turned out some snitch couldn’t keep his mouth shut, a British boy named Billy who, at absolutely any other time in my life, would have been one of my best friends. Instead we spent the next few months ostracizing him and making fun of his “stupid” accent.

While Billy was one of our favorite targets, none was more enticing than that odd redhead Chuckie. Chuckie (who looked eerily like the doll AND the Rugrat) was a stuttering goof who never had the right answer and spent a decent portion of the day mumbling to himself and scratching harsh doodles into his notebooks with violently chewed pens. Brandon’s jibes were relentless. He went out of his way to make Chuckie feel miserable, and I, though never as vile, was right by his side. And then Chuckie snapped.

It was recess in the earliest days of Spring. Chuckie was sitting at a picnic table, coloring in a coloring book when Brandon approached him, laughing at his being alone and without friends. Chuckie let out an otherworldly scream and jumped to his feet. And then, I kid you not, with monstrous strength he tore a piece of wood from the table bench, all splintered, and swung it at Brandon’s head, making hard contact. Chuckie was taken home that day and never returned to Padonia Elementary again. I looked at Brandon’s bloodied face and saw the fear in his eyes and could not help but feel for myself.

It was April when I found the bird, chirping in the tall grass just beyond the sliding back door of my apartment. All gray and fluffy, I figured it had fallen from the tree above. Looking up for a nest or its mother and finding neither, an old piece of me woke up and I decided I would take care of it.

I brought the bird into my house and sat it on a few open sheets of newspaper. Certain it was secure I then rushed into the woods and found a couple worms squirming under a fallen branch. Back in my house I squashed the worms in a bowl with the handle-end of a spatula and then sucked the resulting mush into a small turkey baster. Completing my performance as impromptu mother bird, a gently placed the baster in the baby bird’s beak and squeezed the contents down its throat.

Realizing that my father would be home soon (possibly with that woman in tow) I decided to create an outdoor living space for my feathered friend. Grabbing a number of the larger of my encyclopedias (“A” and “S” and “T” and the like) I went to the flat concrete slab that acted as a back porch and built from them a walled and roofed fortress, two books thick on all sides. Taking a towel from the bathroom closet, I lined the fortress floor and placed my bird within. There it would be safely through the night.

The following morning I woke up, showered, dressed, had cereal with my father, all the while excited for him to go off to work so I could check on my secret friend. Off he went and, to my relief, the bird was still alive and kicking. I fed it and thought about what I should do with it next.

It was a beautiful Spring day. The sky was the clear and the sun especially beaming for it to be so early. Beside the building that housed my apartment grew a small tree, no more than six or seven feet high. Comprehending the affinity for trees that most birds have, I removed my own from its dark fortress and placed it in a low branch of the tree, making certain it was strong enough to hold on and achieved maximum amount of sunlight. Satisfied, I left the bird and made my way for the bus stop.

I recall school that day being one of the longest in my life. Math, science, bullying, or even Brandon himself could not compare to the joyful anticipation I had to be reunited with my animal pal.

Eons later the clock struck three and the bell rang. Within minutes I was on the school bus home. A half-hour later I climbed off and ran at full speed to check on the bird.

Purest confusion was my initial emotion upon rounding my building to find six or so boys surrounding the small tree. I recognized most of them. Curt, Kenny, and those strange ghetto boys who had somehow formed an alliance with us in the past year. My quick trot reduced to a curious crawl, I quietly slipped through their circle to see what all the commotion was.

There was a bird, on the branch right where I left it. But instead of being alive and alert, it was hanging upside down, burnt to a crisp. At the base of the tree was a small can of gasoline. Curt stepped forward, beside me now, and lit a lighter under a Wal-Mart bag, causing beads of smoldering blue to drop onto the black charred bird, trickling like tears much to the enjoyment of all there to see it.

“Wh-what’s this…?” I muttered, voice smaller than it had ever been in thier presence.

“Hey, Trystin,” Curt said with all the power, confidence, and pride I had admired in him. “We found this bird in this tree and we set it on fire! Isn’t it cool? Come on!” He tried to hand me the lighter and the Wal-Mart bag. “Try it!” Snickers popped and fizzled all around, peppered with KFC jokes.

I was frozen. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t comprehend. I looked at these boys, these people I had allied myself with, who I had transformed myself for, and all I could see was something evil. All I could see were my enemies. So, eyes wide, I said “I have to go home” and faded away into my room where I cried long and hard, making certain that any trace of the bird and my emotion had been purged completely by the time my father got home.

During that last month of fourth grade I felt like an entirely different person in an entirely different world. The Tuesday following the incident with the bird caused me to meet Brandon’s bullying with utter distaste. In his belittling of others I could only see the same darkness that permeated those responsible for the previous afternoon’s atrocity. I remember clearly him picking on Billy and his accent and me just watching blankly, waiting for it to end. And when it did and Brandon marched off after his new prey, I knelt down beside Billy and said, “Hey Billy. I’m sorry. Do you want to have lunch and play at recess with me today?” At first he thought it was a trick, but we did have lunch together and we did play at recess and in those last weeks unleashed the potential for friendship that the both of us had felt all along. As for Brandon, rendered mostly powerless without my constant back-up, he turned down the “tough guy” and became a pretty nice kid himself.

The apartment complex was a different story. Curt had a stronghold and if there were any pure souls around they were keeping away from him gang, smartly enough. I lived the following weeks as I had back in Pennsylvania, locked in my room, drawing up a happier world of my own imagination. When Mark or Kenny or Maria would inevitably come by, asking for me, my dad would call my name and I would tell them that I was busy…or, if only just to ensure I didn’t end up on their bad side, I would hang out with them up until the point where they would get into trouble.

The school year came to a close and change was afoot. My father had gotten engaged to the woman who would visit us on occasion and they married and remain so today (by the way, she is the super coolest). I received word from my father that I would be returning to Harrisburg and living with my mother by the start of the fifth grade. My grades had dropped substantially from the straight A’s I had enjoyed and would enjoy again.

It was an interesting year, fourth grade. One that to this day stands out amongst the nine that preceded it and the nineteen that follow. Though I did not fully grasp it at the time, its importance in my growth as a human being, one that still rings true today, was overwhelming. I realized my power. Though it emerged in the tangible forms of violence and vandalization, I was a respected leader of a group. I could sway others with my words, bring forth emotions in them with my actions. I realized the importance of stepping away from your norm in order to learn more about yourself. While my moving in with my father for that year was not my choice, I to this day make great effort to experience life outside of my comfort zone in order to grow. Lastly, going down that dark path and emerging, thanks to the baby bird, in opposition to it, made me aware of my own morality; my own goodness that was less gleaned from the words of my parents or commandments from God, but what I felt to be right in my own heart. I often feel that something greater than myself sacrificed that little bird so that I could, no matter how bad things got later on, hold on to the knowledge of and confidence in what I feel to be good.

Oh, and Curt ended up in a juvenile detention center for beating up some kid really bad that Summer, 94′. Fourteen years later I would get my first full-time job in New York City as a Youth Support Counselor for troubled kids at a similar place.

Life.

 

I Hate Myself (And So Can You!)

Alright, I’m going to keep this nice and short, but it’s important nonetheless:

Complainers. We all know them. These are the people that, instead of taking many any actionable responses to the less-than-perfect pieces of their existence, turn to people around them and whine about it. These people are lazy, attention-hogging, and/or self-loathing sorts who, by merely existing, bring down the world around them.

Obviously, this way of living isn’t healthy. They’ve set themselves on a downward spiral with only an explosive impact with rock bottom to look forward to. But I’m here to talk to you about you; the one who has to listen to all this crap. Just like surrounding yourself with happy people boosts your morale, allowing this sort of person to cling to you is toxic. They will drain you of your joy, your ambition, slowly but surely, no matter how strong you are. By prolonged exposure to them you are becoming more and more like them. We’re like sponges to the emotional energy of others. It is what it is.

So if you’ve got a complainer in your life you’ve got a couple choices. If you really care about this person then tell them to make a change. For every complaint, tell them to take action and work to resolve it. If you really care about them you should be doing this already. Don’t enable. Don’t coddle. You’re messing things up even more. The second choice is breaking off the relationship. If you tried your hardest, or they’re not even all that close to you, break it off. Move on. Surround yourself with people who will grow you, not screw you up.

Is this pretty obvious? Sure. Do I see and hear it occurring around me so much that I felt the need to string together a quickie-blog about it anyway?

Ohhhhh, totally.

A Black, a Gay, and an Artist Walk Into a Bar…

…and his name is Trystin.

Labels. Names we give to generalizations that we attach to people so that we can easily digest them like swallow-able pills. Using my experience with the three that light up the title of this very blog (black, gay, artist) let’s take a look at the uses and abuses of “the label”, shall we?

Black.
Of the three, this is easily the first label that was bequeathed upon me. I mean, it’s a no-brainer, right? As clear as the skin on my face. Black. Also known as “not white”. White people get the jobs and black people get the shaft. This is more or less the vibe I got from my Southern-bred grandparents and, to a lesser extent, from much of their offspring (my parents, aunts and uncles). Perhaps the most interesting part of this is that I am an ethnic puree of African, German, Native American, and another unclear caucasian source that is possibly Irish. That, of course, is of very little consequence, because genetic make-up is secondary to physical appearance when race labels are involved.

Fortunately, my life experiences were in direct opposition to the “anti-white” way of thinking and thus it never stuck. Those life experiences include, of course, the racial cornucopia that is my family, as well. I got that one’s skin color should not be a factor in who is an acceptable acquaintance, friend, lover.

The second part of my Black Saga kicked off not too long after the first, this time the focus being less on what I was and more on what I wasn’t…or should be. It was brought to my attention by various children on the streets, classmates, and a handful of lackluster relatives that being black wasn’t simply a color, but also a complete “YOU”-in-a-box, encompassing fashion, religion, demeanor, interests, manner of speech and all sorts of things so you don’t have to come up on them on your own!

Much to the dismay of many, by the time this wave of pressure washed ashore I had already formed the foundation of an albeit young, but strong and individualistic personality. A personality that was not tough, sports-oriented, or sexual enough to be “black” and so I was pelted with questions like “Why do you act so white?” or “What’s wrong with you, white boy?” for years and years. It was in high school, when an enormous football player singled me out with this sort of talk, threatening me and whatnot, that I became decidedly anti-label. In my angry rejection I rebelled against anything that was seen as “black” or “white” or “male” or “female” or “old” or “young” and decided to form my own opinions on the individual. Taking it a step too far, I also rejected anyone who seemed to have given into their label. The stereotypes. The whole thing infuriated me and I swore that I would be my own thing and make sure others knew that it was okay to be, too.

Gay.
Then this came along. And by “came along” and I mean “came out” because it was most certainly bouncing around in me since I could feel romantic feelings.

Always socially awkward when it came to prospect of love, I was a slow bloomer. Raised and schooled Catholic I was taught that homosexuality was a sin…a mortal sin…but due to my War on Labels I didn’t really care about what they had to say. I remember thinking during one class, “If it turns out I was gay, that’d be fine. Because I’d be so much more as well. It’s just another piece.” Keep in mind I had been crushing on a dude from my Art class and two from my theater crew at this point so there was no “if” about it.

In 2006 I met a guy who made me feel like no one else did. Awkwardly I expressed these feelings and -POOF- I had a boyfriend. I was g- No. That was a label and I was against those to the point of having a complex. Seriously, people. A bristly chill of anger would creep over me if someone called me “black”, “white”, “mixed”, “Pennsylvanian”, “male”, “American” so when the “g” word (and everything that goes with it) became something that could be associated with me, I freaked out. But on the other hand I was so happy that I found love that I had to tell all my closest friends and family and coworkers and teachers that I was…an individual person who “had a boyfriend.”

And when I was forced to label myself; when someone cornered me with a “Trystin, what are you? What do you consider yourself?” Once I’d responded things like “I am Trystin” or “A guy who is in love with another guy” more times  than they would accept, I would satiate those label-hungry beasts with “bisexual” for while it was a label it didn’t come with much assumed cultural and behavioral aspect other than a shroud of confusion and the general idea of “not being able to trust them”. I could handle that.

Let’s not forget those times I was accused of “not understanding what it’s like to be gay” because I didn’t go through “enough pain” or I didn’t “lose enough.” You know the stories where kids come out and they get disowned or lose all their friends or get mixed up with the wrong gay crowd or bullied then rebel in a sexual fabulous frenzy. I sorta bypassed all of that and thus, according to some, I missed a key chunk of what being gay means.

Now today if the question of my sexuality ever comes up, I answer with a matter-of-fact “I’m gay” and that’s that. What changed? What broke through the bonds of my operant conditioning and anti-label zealotry?!

Find out after the next section.

Artist.
Truth be told, I was going to leave this out. Why? Because it kind of went against everything I said about labels up until this point. Then I decided I had to keep it in…because it kind of goes against everything I said about labels up until this point.

I was raised in a sporty family. Basketball this and football that. Meanwhile, I spent my free time escaping into a magical world of imagination through my drawings. From a very young age I was “the creative one”, “the artist”. This followed me through grade school, high school, and continues into today. It was a label…and I never had a single problem with it. Here’s why:

First, the artist label in itself is an anti-label. To me it was always a symbol of one’s creative individuality and ability to sidestep society’s mainstream views and ideals to the beat of their own drum. It was a label that allowed for such a spectrum of interpretations that I never once considered it for what it was. A generalization.

Another difference between the “artist” label and the labels of “black” and “gay” is that actively being an artist is a choice; something I had power over sharpening, honing, and ultimately delivering to the world. My race and sexuality, not so much. My skin color is there for all to see 24/7 and unless I want to live in a romanceless Hell, lurking in the shadows from those I’m close to, there’s no way I was going to keep my homosexuality hidden.

So that’s how I justified my OK-ness with being called an “artist” and my aversion to being called “black” or “gay”. But in my OK-ness with one and not the other two, appeared the fatal flaw in my perception of the situation…

In the Dark Ages artists certainly existed. They would make paintings and things that were in line with the powerful hand of The Church. Were they to produce something that diverged from the hyper-religious mainstream they would be punished. Potentially severely. Excommunicated. Killed. For producing something different.

The general idea of an artist in 433 AD Holy Roman Empire did not include such lovely thoughts as individual thought, going against the grain, and forming one’s own beliefs about things. Such traits fell under the label “heretic” and “Off with his head!” followed shortly after. From there I thought, “What if I was labeled ‘heretic’ instead of ‘artist’?” Suddenly, the very traits I enjoyed, positive and open, have become a negative means for which to generalize and persecute me. Suddenly, the “artist” label seems an awful lot like the other two and my avoidance of acknowledging them starts to seem an awful lot like fear; a lack of acceptance of those parts of me.

Do not remove this label under penalty of law.
I realized that my war on labels was more or less as effective as completely ignoring their existence in myself. And, taking the “gay” label today especially, ignoring the label pretty much makes it look like I’m ashamed of the label…that being gay is wrong. And in this absolutely crucial time for same-sex rights it’s all hands on deck or nothing at all.

Labels can suck. They tend to come as these neatly wrapped sets with all sorts of parts that society has deemed inseparable from the trait itself. Like black and “droopy pants”, “ebonics” and “unprovoked violence”. Like gay and “limp wrists and lisps”, “sex-pervs”, and “crimes against nature”. The fact of the matter is that in rejecting these labels so completely because of the parts attached I was also rejecting my total embracing of those parts of myself. That’s not to say I was ever ashamed or afraid, but that I spent all that time avoiding them completely when I could have been out there saying “I’m gay!” and then proving to the world that myself and people like me were more than many people’s image of us.

It was a gross miscalculation , founded on the frustrations of a child and left to build, now something that I have made a point to override and rectify in these past years.

I suppose that if this post had a moral, that moral would be to embrace yourself completely; to share yourself completely.

Or even better…

Define your label, don’t let it define you, and then give it to the world.

Carry on.

Not My Son

Characters (in order of appearance)

Luke. Male, pre-teen
Myra. Female, 30s
Alex. Female, 20s
Michael. Male, pale-skinned, 30s
Marlon/??. Male, black, 30s
Joe. Male, black, 60s
Craig. Male, 40s

NOTES

This is a play about Michael Jackson or, more accurately, my interpretation of the man. As a way to truly explore him I have opted to create a sort of alternate reality biography to give readers/viewers the opportunity to experience Jackson (or my interpretation of Jackson) and certain members of his family without his bubble of super celebrity that seems to create a sort of wall of distortion, skewing our opinions of those existing on the other side. Overall, the piece will reflect the anti-celebrity sentiment in that it (lighting, set, and other effects) will remain wholly contained, intimate, and minimalistic.

~PLAY BEGIN~

Setting: New York City, 1991

ACT I

Scene i – Myra’s apartment. Living room.
The place is filthy and obviously owned by people with very little, despite its size and architectural hints of former extravagance. LUKE, 11, a fair-haired bright eyed boy, sits on the floor, playing with toy soldiers, lined up and ready for battle. He is wearing pajamas.

Luke: (grasping the general of one of the armies in hand) “Alright, gentlemen, this is what we’ve been waiting for. The enemy is right over there and they will not stop until every one of us is dead. Do you understand?” “Sir, yes, sir.” “I said, do you understand?!” “Sir, yes, sir!” “That’s more like it. On the count of three: One, two, three!” (Luke engages in wild battle between the two sides) Bam! Bam! Pow! Kssh! “Oh, no!” “My legs!” Ka-pssh! “Why can’t I feel my legs?!” “Henderson! Henderson, where are you?!” Bambambambam! “They’re coming from above!” Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. “My arm!” “Why…why is everything so black? Why do I feel so…cold?” “I’ve got you!” “Aghhh!!!” “Tell my wife…I love her.” (silence falls upon the battlefield and no pieces are standing. Gently, Luke picks up the general, who takes in the gruesome results of war) “Miles? Rodriguez? Henderson? Report.” (there is no response) “Dammit. Dead. All of them. But at least we took out the enemy. At least we won.” (he grabs onto another fallen soldier, speaking for it with a female voice, he coughs and moans. He switches back to the general – the conversation flips back and forth between these two for the duration of the quotes) “What the…?” “Samuels? Jackson? Clemmens?” “They’re dead.” “You…monster. They were good men.” “Mine, too. The best I ever worked with. But this is war. People die. We know this when we sign up.” “Agh! My darn leg is broken. You gonna finish me off?” “This is war.” “Right. People die. I get it…But why does it have to be this way?” “It’s how it’s always been.” “That’s not an answer. This isn’t some game. Winning shouldn’t have to mean that other people suffer. (more silence) Shoot me then.” “I’m out of bullets.” “There’s a lot of guns around. Find one. (Luke moves the general around. The general reaches and lifts up a gun) There you go. That wasn’t so hard.” “Shut up.” (the general moves to the woman) “I hope this is worth all the lives we’ve ruined.”

MYRA enters, 30, but aged a great deal by a rough life etched with substance and other abuse. She’s wearing a simple elegant dress. She stumbles while inserting an earring and approaches Luke.

Myra: The hell is this?

Luke: I’m playing.

Myra: Go to bed. You have school in the morning.

Luke: It’s only seven-thirty!

Myra: Don’t yell at me! Get in the bath. Go to bed. Mommy has a business meeting tonight. And, Jesus Christ, Luke, clean up this mess.

She kicks the army men at the word “mess”. Lights go down as Luke cleans up his toys.

Scene ii – Michael’s living room.
The room is simple and impeccably clean. You can tell immediately that, while in no way lavish, the apartment and its contents are costly. Certain choices in color and decoration bring to mind the innocence and imagination of childhood. MICHAEL (Michael Jackson,33, a thin pale man simply dressed, always in long pants with long sleeves) hunches over a drafting table painting an illustration of a group of young boys and their dog. Moments pass and then his phone rings.

Michael: Hello?…Oh, hi Greg…Uh huh…Okay…Greg, we talked about this…Greg, listen to me. Listen to me, Greg…Uh huh…Greg, I don’t care about the money. The books are doing fine…Oh, I know…But I don’t want them to enjoy them because of a name attached to them. I want it to be for the art, for the characters, for the magic in those pages…Greg. This is what we agreed on. Either accept my terms or find a new series…(calms) Let’s talk about book five. I think that-

There is a knock at the door. Michael is genuinely surprised by this; even disturbed.

Michael: (to Greg) One second, Greg. Someone’s at the door…No, not at all…Hold on.

Michael places the phone on the table and moves to the door. He looks through the peephole.

Michael: Can I help you?

Alex: (offstage) Hi. My name is Alexis Wales. Alex. I’m looking for Mr. Michael Jackson. Do you know where I can find him? Does he live here? Is this him?

Michael: What do you want?

Alex: I just want to interview him…you…him. I sent a letter a few weeks ago…

Michael roots through a pile of unopened mail. He finds an envelop with her name on it.

Alex: I-I work for Cornerstone Publishing. We’re putting together a biography on Marlon, you know, Jackson, and we were trying to find any friends or family to interview.

Michael: How’d you know I was here?

Alex: Michael? I…well, the publishing houses have sort of a network sometimes and, contrary to popular belief-

Michael: Greg.

Alex: What’s that?

Michael: Nothing. Nothing. Hold on.

Michael goes to his table and picks up the phone.

Michael: You still there?…Yeah…I’m fine.

Alex: Michael?

Michael: (to Greg) I have to go…(coolly) You can bet we’ll talk later.

Alex: Michael?

Michael: Yeah?

Alex: Oh. There you are. We honestly didn’t expect to find you. That’s why they’ve been sending me around. I’m just an intern. Well, trainee. Wild goose chases are kind of my thing. But I found you! (beat.) So if you’d be kind enough to let me ask you just a couple questions-

Michael: Now’s not a good time. Sorry.

Alex: But-

Michael: Sorry.

Phone rings. Michael answers.

Michael: Hello?…Yes, I’m upset, Greg. We had an agreement…That’s not the point!…We’ll talk later. Bye.

Michael hangs up the phone. Beat.

Alex: It will only take fifteen minutes! Tops.

Michael: Please-

Alex: It’s nothing too intrusive, I promise. It’s a fluff piece, really. Just a PR stunt, to be honest, what with the new album.

Michael: (softly) New album? (to Alex) Please leave. I’m busy. I have work to do.

The phone rings once again. Michael raises the receiver and drops it on the table, off the hook.

Alex: (silence) Okay. Fine. To be honest, I don’t even care about this stupid biography. It’s flat. It’s dumb. It’s just a bunch of old photos strung together by empty text. There’s no art. There’s no challenge. I’m better than this, Mich- Mr. Jackson. I know it. The only reason I even took this job was that maybe- just maybe I could meet you. I remember listening to my sisters’ records growing up. You were the real thing. I just want to meet you, Mr. Jackson. I’ll leave my notebook, my recorder at the door.

Michael thinks and then opens the door. ALEX, (25, mousey and bright dressed in the casual style of her youth) steps in and begins to remove her notepad from her backpack.

Michael: No. Keep it. This was bound to happen sooner or later. Would you like some tea?

Alex: Uh sure. That’d be great.

Michael: Follow me into the kitchen…

Michael and Alex exit. Lights down as the phone busy signal erupts then fades as the scene ends.

Scene iii – Backstage
Marlon, 34, dressed in leather extravagance, enters, collapsing on a chair, exhausted and covered in sweat.

Marlon: Ah, shit man! Woo! Jesus.

JOE (63, a fierce confidence in a three-piece suit) enters slowly. There is a dark power in his every move as he nears Marlon, unbeknownst to the other.

Joe: You were off tonight.

Marlon jumps up, startled.

Marlon: Shit, man! Come back later. I ain’t in the mood right now…

Joe: (correcting) I’m not in the mood right now…

Marlon: Whatever, man…

Joe: Don’t “whatever, man” me, boy.

Marlon: You can’t tell me what to do, old man. You got no dominion over me!

Joe: Then why am I here?

Marlon: (deflates) What do you want?

Joe: I want you to be the best.

Marlon: Not this again…

Joe: Yes, Marlon! This again and again and again until you get your act together.

Marlon: I’m fine! Did you hear that applause out there? Did you see that crowd? I’m on my way!

Joe: At thirty-five you should be there already…

Marlon: They’re writing a book about me!

Joe: That don’t mean nothin’!

Marlon: (correcting, spiteful) That doesn’t mean anything…

Joe raises his hand to smack Marlon.

Joe: You ungrateful…

Marlon: I’m not afraid of you.

Joe lowers his hand.

Joe: You should be. You’re all washed up. You had you chance and you blew it.

Marlon: Get out of here.

Joe: You’re this family’s only hope.

Marlon: I said get out!

Joe: You won’t let me!

Marlon: Why me?! Huh?! What about the others? What about Janet?!

Joe: She abandoned us.

Marlon: (dripping with venom) And why do you think that is?

Joe: (hurt, but covering it up) You should be something better than this. Instead you’re on the fast track to being a nobody. Book or no book.

Marlon: (beat) I’ll never be him.

Joe: (beat) Work on the chorus. Your voice gets weak on the third measure. And your moves are getting sloppy in “Baby, I Need You.”

Joe exits.

Marlon: (beat) (determined) Thank you, daddy.

Scene iv.
Michael’s kitchen.
Like the living room, Michael’s kitchen is simple, modern, colorful, and pristine. He and Alex sit at the table, sipping tea. Alex is enwrapped by the other’s words.

Michael: Marlon and I used to get into so much trouble when we were on the road. There was this one time in Chicago when we were at the Drake Hotel. Jermaine and I always shared a room, but he was playing cards with Tito so it was just me and Marlon, bored, looking for something to do. We took the ice bag- you know that little empty plastic bag you fill up with ice? We took four or five of them into the bathroom and filled them up with water then tied them up. We thought we were so smart with our little makeshift water balloons. The two of us went out onto the balcony, a couple water bags each, and waited for someone to come by. We waited and waited. Marlon was getting impatient, but I told him it would pay off soon enough. After a while, the most perfect targets came around the corner. There was this tall skinny man in a three piece suit and a top hat with a feather in it. And beside him was this big round woman wearing a huge fur coat. They looked like they walked right out of a cartoon or something.

Alex: (laughing) How old were you guys then?

Michael: Hm. I was ten, I think. And he was eleven.

Alex: Wow.

Michael: Well we didn’t really get out much so mischief-making was kind of the closest thing we got to being kids on those rare nights without rehearsal. So we drop the first couple bags and- Nothing.

Alex: Nothing?

Michael: We didn’t really take into consideration how thick the plastic of the bags was. The bags fell and all but they just sort of hit the ground around them. No explosion of water. We didn’t even hit them! And Marlon and I were hiding inside by the time the man and woman looked up to see who was targeting them.

Alex: Hilarious.

Michael: That’s not even the end of it. Marlon still had one of those bags in his hand, full of water. Annoyed, he tossed the bag to me. As soon as that thing touched my hands it just – BOOM – water all over the place. We were drenched! And then Jermaine and Tito come running in and Jermaine sees that we got his favorite bell bottoms all wet – not to mention most of his bed. There’s a big commotion and then my dad walks in. Everybody goes quiet. It’s like there’s not a sound in the world. He walks up to me and Marlon with that intense look in his eye. I remember being so scared. He’s towering over us and he just raises his arm and…and…

Michael drifts off into his head.

Alex: Mr. Jackson? Michael?

Michael: (snaps out of it) Huh?

Alex: Are you okay?

Michael: Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Would you like some more tea? I have some cookies, too, if you’d like that.

Alex: No thanks. I’m okay.

Michael: Okay.

Alex: When’s the last time you saw them?

Michael: Who?

Alex: Your family?

Michael: (after a pause) I think about them a lot. I never doubted that our dad loved us but- Sometimes I don’t know if I had the best life or the worst life a child could possibly have. It wasn’t a childhood. That’s something I’ll never have.

Silence.

Alex: I should probably go. I have to report back to my boss and then some of my friends and I are- Well, that’s not important. I wasn’t planning on this actually working out. Me finding you, I mean. Like I said. It was great. Thank you for letting me in.

Michael begins to rise from his seat.

Alex: Don’t worry. I know my way out.

Alex starts off.

Michael: Alex…

Alex stops.

Alex: Yes?

Michael: Drop by again, will you?

Alex: (smiling lightly, sadly) Sure.

Alex exits. Lights fade with Michael, dejected.

Scene v. – Myra’s apartment. The living room.
CRAIG (43, a long-haired burnout in a Hawaiian shirt) and Myra stand on opposite ends of the room like a pair of hungry beasts, ready at any moment to engage. They are both high on something serious, Myra, decidedly less than Craig, who is also wielding a half-downed bottle of liquor. Myra is half-dressed for work, as a cashier at a fast food restaurant. The rest of her outfit is scattered around her.

Craig: (growling) Rrrrrruff! Grrrruff! Woof!

Myra: (clearly loving it) Craig, you leave me alone you animal!

Craig: Woof! Woof!

Myra fumbles to get dressed.

Myra: Stop it! I have work!

Craig: Just one more time, baby. Please, baby baby baby, pleeeeeease?!

Myra: You’re a fucking animal! You’re a horn-dog!

Craig: (whimpers like a puppy)

Myra: Help me find my shoes.

Craig approaches Myra and begins kissing her lips and neck. Myra tries to push him away.

Myra: Get off of me!

Craig takes her hand and forces it on to his crotch.

Craig: Mmmm, dirty whore. (growls)

Myra: Craig!

Craig: Goliath hungers…

Myra: You’re disgusting.

Craigs: Hungers for your pussy…Mmm. Woof! Woof!

Craig pulls her in and they begin to kiss and grope wildly, collapsing on the couch in a fit of passion.

Craig: Oh yeah, baby. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah….

Myra tries to break free.

Myra: Craig. No. No!

Craig: (mocking Myra’s voice) “No, Craig, don’t stop!” “No, Craig, do me harder!”

Myra spots her shoe, a pump, on the floor beside the couch and begins beating Craig with it.

Myra: I! Have! To! Get! Ready! For! Work!

Craig rolls off of her.

Craig: Oh, you slut!

Myra: I can’t be late again this week.

Craig: Call off sick!

Myra: I’m out of sick days, moron.

Craig: Rrruff!

Myra: Enough of that! Some of us have a job and a kid to feed.

Myra gets dressed.

Craig: Aw, baby, don’t do that… You know I’m trying to get my business off it’s feet.

Myra: Hmph. His asshole daddy had to go and get himself killed. Crackhead moron.

Craig: I just need a little money and all our problems’ll be solved, baby.

Myra: All I got in that deal was this shitty apartment and a needy whiney mouth I have to feed for another six years…

Craig: I’m gonna be better than he was, baby. I just need a little money. (innocently) Do you believe me?

Myra: Craig…

Craig: Do you believe me, Myra? You believe me, baby? Myra? Myyyyyraaaa?

Myra: (endeared) Stop that! Of course I believe you.

Craig: That’s my l’il fuck bear. Grrruff.

Scene vi – a practice space.
Marlon dances while Joe keeps time. Marlon is a skilled dancer, and knows this, but the fact means little because he wants to be the greatest; redefine the art, leaving him frustrated. There is a stool on which Marlon’s backpack sits.

Joe: Again! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight… One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three, four. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three, four. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two, three. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two, three. Again! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight… One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three, four. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three, four. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two, three. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two, three. Again! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight… One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three, four. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three, four. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two, three. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two, three. Again!

A pager beeps and Marlon breaks out of the dance.

Joe: What do you think you’re doing?

Marlon: It might be important.

Marlon pulls the pager from his backpack and examines it. A sudden wave of surprise and disbelief washes over him.

Joe: What? What’s goin’ on? Is it Epic? What did they say?

Marlon hides the pager so Joe can’t see it.

Marlon: It’s nothing.

Joe: That look on your face don’t make it look like nothin’.

Marlon: Well it is!

Marlon hastily puts on his backpack.

Joe: Where’re you going, boy? We ain’t done here-

Marlon: I need to find somewhere to think…away from you.

Marlon exits.

Joe: Marlon. Marlon!

Scene vii – Michael’s living room. Evening.
Alex is joyously looking through a set of illustrations. Michael watches, warmed by her presence.

Alex: You drew all of these.

Michael: (laughs) Yep. Every single one.

Alex: And you wrote them?

Michael: I did.

Alex: This is so incredible, you have no idea. There was a little boy and girl who I used to babysit back in Buffalo. Hunter and Hadley, but anyway, they LOVED these books. I would have to read one to them every night before they even thought about going to bed. And I loved it, too. The Johnson brothers going on adventures, getting into trouble, saving the day. It was so honest and innocent like a child, but there was always this deep, beautiful message weaved in.

Michael: That’s very nice of you to say.

Alex: I can’t believe you did these. I had no idea you were a gifted artist, too!

Michael: It’s funny, actually. We were a music family so that was mostly what we were exposed to around the house. On the road it was mostly variety acts. But when we were really starting to make it big, my brothers and I moved out to Los Angeles. While our mom and dad got everything together to move from Gary, I stayed with Diana Ross a lot.

Alex: The Diana Ross.

Michael: The Diana Ross. Yes. That’s the one. She was like a second mother to me and also shared her love of art with me. Van Gogh. Picasso. All the greats. She taught me to paint and ever since then drawing has been very important to me.

Alex: Interesting. And I guess the writing part came easy for you. You had been writing a lot of the Jackson 5 songs…

Michael: Well, there’s song writing and then there’s story writing. Songs are stories, but you can get away with being more symbolic and less detailed. Fortunately, while we were on the road we got a tutor named Rose Fine who really instilled a love of literature in me. I’ve been addicted to books ever since.

Alex: I remember one- it was my favorite -where Michel had fallen through the floor at this abandoned house and got stuck in the hole he’d made. He was so sure that no one would find him and that he’d live out the rest of his life cold and stuck and alone. Then Andy comes in with his flashlight and Jerry with his little emergency fanny pack and they get him out and Andy says…

Michael: “You shouldn’t be afraid, Michel. No matter how far you fall, even straight through the floor, your brothers are here to lift you right up out of that hole every time. As long as we stick together, we’ll never be stuck for good.”

Michael deflates at his quote’s end.

Alex: That’s it! (pause, taking in Michael’s sudden melancholy) Michael?

Michael: Yeah?

Alex: Are you okay?

Michael: I’m fine. Fine.

Alex: You miss them, huh?

Michael nods.

Alex: What happened? Why did you leave?

Michael: (pauses to gather his thoughts) It’s complicated. I- It was the late seventies and a lot of things were changing. I was changing. I had been for a while. I remember my whole childhood looking out at all the kids playing in the streets and having fun and I’d cry, alone so no one would see me. I cried because I knew that that kind of freedom was something I might never have. My father was a stern man. A rough man. Everything was for the music with him. Sure sports were good and good grades were good, but we were performers. I loved music. I love music, but we weren’t free. So I got older. The Jackson 5 became the Jacksons and we were all changing. I had acne. I’m talking bad acne and I felt so self-conscious. Even more separated from people. My brothers were falling in love and getting married. I wanted something else. And I was an adult then. I was eighteen. Berry Gordy and Motown records came to me about a movie called “The Wiz.” They were considering me for The Scarecrow. So I get a call from Berry…that call that every performer wants to get. He said, “Michael, you got it, man. You’re gonna be the Scarecrow. Now all you gotta do is accept the role. Just say “yes” man and you’re a movie star!” I remember being real quiet then. My whole little life flashing in front of me. The late nights of rehearsal, the applause, the tears, my brothers and sisters, Motown, Epic, the crack of my daddy’s hand against my face when I missed a step. I remembered those kids playing outside of the window and, while I loved my life, I truly, truly did, I felt like I was missing a whole other one. And if I said “yes” to that movie I knew, I KNEW that things would just get bigger and bigger and I wouldn’t be able to be something different ever again. So I said “no.” My dad, oh he was furious. My brothers didn’t understand. We fought a lot, then. “No.” I had always been stronger than people gave me credit for and when I finally uttered that word, uttered it against my very self, I rebelled from it completely. I abandoned the music and performance that had enslaved me so wonderfully. I abandoned my family because I knew they’d pull me back in and- (teary-eyed, pulls himself together). Not a day goes by that I don’t miss them…

Alex flips through the illustrations.

Alex: Johnson Boys Mysteries. Ha, it all makes sense. Five brothers going on adventures and saving the day. Even your pen name: Benjamin Screws…

Michael: “Ben” for the rat that I identified with so much. My first movie. And “Screws”…

Alex: Your mom’s maiden name…

Michael: Despite everything, I was raised in a house of love. We’ll all tell you the same. (pause) How are they?

Alex: Honestly, I don’t know. They’ve been interviewed by someone else. Like I said, no one expected you to be found. When I told my boss that I’d found you, they made a big deal of it and were going to send in our main writer…but I kind of told them that you made me promise that only I would interview you.

Michael: (smiling slyly) Did you now?

Alex: Yeah. I mean…I couldn’t…that was bad huh?

Michael: I can’t complain.

They share a smile. Alex checks her watch.

Alex: Agh, once again I am totally late and have loads of editing to do so…

Michael: I’ll see you soon.

Alex: Yes. Totally. Bye, Michael.

Michael: Bye, Alex.

Alex exits. Beat. There is a knock at the door. Michael answers, assuming Alex has returned.

Michael: That was-

Luke enters, looking especially frail.

Michael: Oh, hi there. I recognize you. You live across the hall, right?

Luke: Mmhm.

Michael: What’s wrong?

Luke: My mom isn’t home.

Michael: Oh, okay. Do you know where she is?

Luke: (shakes his head) No. Probably with Craig.

Michael: Oh. (thinks) Would you like to wait in here until she gets home? It’s okay, really. I was just about to make dinner. Are you hungry?

Luke nods, treads deeper into the living room.

Michael: Okay. You make yourself comfortable. The remote for the TV is right there. There’s some colored pencils and paper by the desk. I’ll whip us something up.

Michael exits. Lights down.

scene viii. – Split scene
The scene is split in three. The first is a smaller version of Michael’s kitchen. Luke is at the table, scarfing down pancakes as Michael mills about the kitchen. The second, a slice of Myra’s living room, empty. The third is simply an open space meant to be the hallway between Myra and Michael’s apartments. Empty as well. Lights are only on the kitchen until each of the other scenes become populated.

Michael: How are your pancakes?

Luke: (swallows) Good. I never had chocolate chip pancakes before.

Michael: (laughs)

Michael hands him a glass of milk.

Michael: Milk?

Luke: (mouth full) Mmhm (swallows).

Luke takes a gulp of the milk.

Michael: Did you sleep well?

Luke: Yeah. Your pillows were soft. A lot softer than mine.

Michael: (laughs) Glad to hear it. I slept well, too.

Luke: Plus you’re the only grown up I’ve ever met that has so many cartoons on tape.

Michael: I like them. Besides they go great with pizza party sleepovers.

Luke: This is true.

Michael: Eat up. We need to get you ready for school.

Michael sits and joins Luke in eating breakfast. As this happens, Myra and Craig enter Myra’s living room, worse for the wear, drunk, stumbling around the room and fumbling over each other’s bodies.

Craig: It’s fucking dark in here.

Myra: Light’s busted. I’ll fix it. Gotta call the landlord.

Craig: Fat Jew fuck.

Myra: Watch your mouth. There’s children.

Myra checks her watch.

Myra: Fuckin’ shit it’s late.

Craig: Early, you mean, baby. We partied all night long.

Myra: That’s NOT what I mean. You’re goddamned retarded sometimes, Craig. Goddamned retarded.

Craig: That’s not what you said last night…

Myra: Oh, God, Craig! Help me find my shoes. They’re somewhere.

Craig: This is no place for shoes. I’m taking a shit…

Craig exits as Myra searches.

Luke: Ahh…

Michael: Full?

Luke: Yeah, but those are SO good. I could probably eat twenty more.

Michael: Let’s see if your mom’s home so we can get you to school on time.

Luke: (upset) Okay…

Michael: Come on. Let’s go…

Luke picks up his plate.

Michael: Don’t worry about that. I’ll clean it up later.

Michael and Luke exit. Myra finds her shoe and waves it above her head. Lights rise over the final third of the stage as Marlon enters the lobby, hiding his face under a hood, bristling with nervous uncertainty, looking around.

Myra: There you are! Ha. Luke! Luke! Get your little ass out here so you can get to school! Luke!

Marlon exhales deeply. Luke and Michael enter Myra’s living room.

Myra: What in the-? Luke, get over here!

Myra grabs Luke and pulls him away from Michael.

Myra: Who the hell are you?

Michael: I live across the hall.

Luke: When I got home last night I was locked out. Michael let me stay over.

Myra: You stupid idiot, you know better than to talk to strangers.

Michael: He was locked out.

Myra: Get out of my house.

Craig: (offstage) What’s going on out there?

Myra: Nothing. (to Michael) Out!

Michael looks sadly at Luke then starts off.

Luke: Thanks for the pizza and the pancakes and everything, Michael.

Michael: Anytime.

Myra: Get out! Get. Out. Now!

Michael exits.

Craig: Myra?

Myra: Get a job! (to Luke) Get your shit together and get the hell to school. And stay away from that man, do you understand me? Do you?!

Luke: (head lowered) Yes.

Myra: Good. Now get your backpack. Get dressed.

Michael appears in his kitchen, melancholy. He begins cleaning up as Myra sits on her couch and takes much longer than she should to put on her shoes. Michael grows tired of cleaning and simply sits at his table, head lowered. Joe enters beside Marlon.

Joe: What the hell you runnin’ away from me for?

Marlon: (startled) Dad! Not now.

Joe: Don’t “not now” me! We were finally getting somewhere… Where are we?

Marlon: I told you. There’s something I gotta do.

Myra: Luke!

Joe: Far as I can tell, you’re just standing around like a bozo.

Marlon: I just need to…prepare.

Craig enters Myra’s living room.

Craig: Luke, get your scrawny little ass out here! (to Myra) I’ll be back, baby. I gotta get a fuckin’ plunger. Shit.

Craig exits.

Marlon: And I can’t do that with you all up in my face!

The phone rings in Michael’s kitchen.

Joe: Ungrateful.

Myra: Dammit, Luke!

Elevator beep sounds. Michael answers the phone.

Michael: Hello?

Marlon: Fuck! Someone’s coming. Get away!

Joe hurries off. Marlon pulls his hood over his face as Craig enters the lobby.

Michael: I’ll have them for you by today at four.

Craig walks by Marlon, then stops himself to examine the other as if he recognizes him from somewhere.

Michael: I had an unexpected guest.

Luke enters Myra’s living room.

Myra: For the love of- Took you long enough. Let’s go.

Myra grabs Luke’s hand and they both exit.

Michael: Fine. Today at two. I promise. I’ll work on them right now.

Michael exits. Craig, giving up exits as well, followed by Marlon.

Scene ix- Michael’s living room.
Michael is working hastily on his illustrations. There is a knock at the door. He gets up and answers. Upon opening the door he is shocked. Michael , teary-eyed, takes a few steps back, as Marlon enters to meet him.

Michael: M-Marlon?

Marlon: Hey, Michael…

Beat. The brothers embrace fiercely then awkwardly come apart. Marlon examines his brother’s face, then the rest of him.

Marlon: What happened to you?

Michael: (side-stepping the comment) You’ve hardly changed at all.

Pause.

Marlon: Ten years…

Michael: More. (pause) You seem to be doing well for yourself.

Pause.

Marlon: I’m doing alright, sure. (beat) You abandoned us.

Michael: I- I had to find my own way…

Marlon: We needed you, Michael.

Michael: I needed you, too, but… Time slips away. I never intended…to…

Marlon: You were the soul of this family.

Michael: I- No. I was the black sheep. I think I’ve proved that enough. You were always the heart.

Marlon: What’s the heart without a soul, Michael? What’s a song without a soul? We fell apart without you. I-I’m doing better than most, but…(beat) I missed you.

Michael: Would you like some water?

Marlon: No.

Michael: I’d like some. I’ll be right back. I promise.

Michael exits. Joe marches in.

Joe: Marlon…?

Marlon: (startled) Dad! Shit, man! What did I tell you about doing that?

Joe: Watch your mouth. (notices Marlon’s expression) Where are we?

Marlon: Nowhere.

Joe: What’s going on with you?

Marlon: Nothing. Go.

Joe: You look like you’ve seen a ghost.

Marlon: I said “go”.

Joe: (compassionate) Marlon, tell me-

Marlon takes Joe by the arm and leads him toward the door.

Marlon: Go. Go. Go. Go. Go…

Michael enters with a tray of water and a bowl of grapes, perplexed by what he’s seeing. He is wholly unaware of Joe.

Michael: Marlon?

Marlon freezes in his tracks. Joe lays eyes on Michael and can barely stand, he’s so surprised.

Michael: Are you alright?

Marlon: I’m fine! Fine.

Joe drifts toward Michael.

Joe: (warding off disbelief) Michael…?

Michael: I brought some water for you anyway. And grapes. I know how much you loved them growing up.

Joe is practically touching Michael.

Marlon: (to Joe) Stay away from him!

Joe stops, but continues to gaze.

Michael: Marlon?

Marlon: Grapes, ha, yeah. I couldn’t put those things down. Sure, I’ll have a couple.

Marlon joins Michael and they sit.

Michael: How is everyone?

Marlon: Good and married, most of them. Some more than once. Ha. But good.

Michael: Mom?

Marlon: It’s strange seeing her age, you know? But good. Real good. We all take care of her pretty well.

Michael: And dad?

Marlon glances at Joe.

Marlon: Dad is…driven as ever.

Michael: And you? Following his dream, I see?

Marlon: (sharply) My dream. Our dream. Someone had to. I don’t know what he’d do if no one did. After you ran Janet was right after you. And the music just kind of fell out of the rest…except Jermaine, but…it didn’t work out for him.

Michael: How’s Carol?

Marlon: (it takes a moment for him to remember) Oh. She and I didn’t work out. She just didn’t understand the dream, you know? Couldn’t handle it.

Michael: That’s a shame. I thought the two of you were in it for the long run.

Marlon: The same could be said about a lot of people. (pause. With a laugh) You know, there are times that I think about Brandon, silly as that seems. My poor little twin. I’ll be alone and I’ll think, “Maybe, just maybe, if he would have survived, maybe if there were two of us, if I were double, then I’d be able to be the performer you were. And other times I think, “Hey, maybe Brandon was the lucky one. He didn’t have to deal with any of this shit.”

Michael: That’s not fair.

Marlon: I know. I know. I have a new album coming out next year.

Michael: I know. With a biography release.

Marlon: I think it’s a big deal. Dad, on the other hand…

Michael: It brought us together…

Marlon: (pause) Look. I have a bunch of songs I’m trying to get just right. If I… Could I..? I’d love to drop by and run them by you.

Michael: I… Okay.

Marlon: Good.

Marlon stands up and backs away to the door.

Marlon: (to Joe) Come on.

Michael: Huh?

Joe looks longingly at Michael and eventually comes to Marlon’s side.

Marlon: (irritated) See you soon.

Lights down.

Scene x: Michael’s living room.
Michael and Alex are sitting next to each other on the couch. There are a number of toys scattered around and paintings on illustration board that were definitely not done by an adult.

Alex: Redecorating, are we?

Michael: (laughs) They’re Luke’s.

Alex: Luke?

Michael: He’s a little boy who lives across the hall. He stays here from time to time until his mother gets home.

Alex: Oh.

Michael: Yeah…

Alex: The things you miss when you go away for two weeks. Sorry about that, by the way. They had me editing this top secret crap autobiography on a politician, let’s call him Shmonald Schmeagan, that no one will care about. Trust me. And speaking of things that I missed…

Michael: Yes?

Alex: Marlon?

Michael: You publishing people have no concept of confidentiality.

Alex: Hey, man, all is fair in media and literature. Knowledge is in high demand and always on sale. Plus, it’s not our fault you didn’t read the contract closely enough. So…how was it? An emotional embrace? A climactic battle. What happened?

Michael: Ha, nothing like that. It was good. Really good.

Alex: You missed him, huh?

Michael: (pause) I did.

Alex: Will you see him again?

Michael: Actually, yes. And I have. He’s been stopping by for the past two weeks. I’ve been helping him with his dance moves and some song writing.

Alex: No way.

Michael: (laughs) Yeah.

Alex: Well, I’m glad it all worked out.

Michael: It did.

Pause.

Alex: It did.

The two of them stare awkwardly at each other and other points in the room.

Alex: So now that we’ve gone through all that I guess it’s time to address the elephant in the room.

Michael: You’re leaving.

Alex: Yeah. I mean, we’re just about finished the biography on your brother. So…

Michael: A new project.

Alex: In a new place, yeah. It’s a social piece on youth and gentrification. It’s called “Youthinized” which is pretty terrible but I’ll be doing research in Boston. You know, the Harvard effect on the townies and whatnot. Definitely more up my alley.

Michael: It’ll be a great experience.

Alex: (pause) Michael, I-

Michael: I’m going to miss you, Alex. I’ve been locked in this apartment alone for so long with my books and then you knock on my door and…and then Marlon and Luke… My life…It’s like opening that door and letting you in opened the door to possibility and God delivered. So, thank you for that. I, um…to show my thanks…I made you this.

Michael reaches and pulls out an illustration of the Johnson brothers and Alex with them.

Alex: Oh my God. Is this…?

Michael: You and the Johnson brothers.

Alex: This is amazing. Thank you.

Alex sits the illustration down and faces Michael. A deep seriousness takes her as she gently takes his hand in her own. Alex thinks to herself, then grabs the bottom of Michael’s sleeve as if preparing to pull it up. Sensing her intention, Michael jerks away.

Michael: No…

Alex: These past weeks visiting you have been amazing. The fact that my job has consisted of getting to know the man who inspired me through his music and moved me with his art and writing has been more than I could ask for. You are a loving, gentle, passionate person and the world would benefit from knowing more of you. Like I do. People like you shouldn’t be hidden from the rest of the world. They shouldn’t hide.

Michael: I’m not-

Alex: You are. But from what I honestly can’t comprehend. Remember when you told me about how you got so self-conscious about your acne that you’d hide away from other people? And then when you told me about…your condition?

Michael nods.

Alex: Well, we all have things about ourselves that’s the worst, but we can’t use those as excuses to not be more; do more. I mean, you’re in an apartment alone and you still-! (pause) Show me. Let me see.

Michael hesitates. Alex gazes into his eyes, unblinking. Michael nods. Alex takes his sleeve and rolls it up, revealing spots of brown going with the length of his forearm and beyond. Michael can’t get himself to look at it.

Michael: I-t’s called vitiligo. It targets melanin and…takes away your… I hate it.

Alex: Thank you.

Alex hugs Michael tightly, slowly letting go. She grabs her illustration and rises.

Alex: You are a beautiful person, Michael. And you can’t hide forever. Keep in touch. Goodbye.

Alex exits and lights go down.

scene xi -Michael’s bedroom.
Michael and Luke are leaping around, flapping their arms as if they were giant wings.

Luke: Michael!

Michael: Yeah?!

Luke: Where are you?!

Michael: I’m flying high in the sky over Africa and I’m using God’s power to cure the sick and feed the poor. Luke!

Luke: Yeah, Michael?!

Michael: Where are you?!

Luke: I’m in South America. There’s rebel fighters terrorizing a village and I’m burning them to ashes with Hellfire. Woosh! Woosh! Woosh!

Michael: I don’t know if an angel would do that.

Luke: Have you met an angel?

Michael: Well, not personally, but I’ve read about a lot. They are peaceful loving things…

Luke: What about the angel of death?

Michael: (pause) I guess all things have their purpose…

Luke: Exactly. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!

Michael: (laughs) Come here, you!

Michael scoops Luke into his arms and spins around and around and around.

Luke: Whoa! Hey! Not fair! Let go! You don’t see me trying to stop you from feeding the poor!

Michael spins until sufficiently dizzy and they both fall onto the bed together, lying down short of breath.

Luke: Are you still sad that you’re friend’s gone?

Michael: I feel a lot better now. Thanks.

Luke: You’re my best friend.

Michael:(breathing in Luke’s words) Mmm.

Michael puts his arm around Luke as they lay in silence. Shortly after Myra enters the room, inebriated. She sees her son in bed with Michael and flips.

Myra: Ohhh, fuck no!

Myra crawls over Michael, smacking him as she does, and retrieves her boy.

Myra: You sick fuckin’ son of a fuck! My God! Luke, get over here!

Michael: Myra, please-!

Luke: Mom!

By the time Myra climbs off Craig has entered the room, having heard her exclamation. He can hardly keep himself upright he’s so high. Michael climbs off the bed and to his feet.

Craig: What’s going on in here?

Myra: I’ll tell you what’s going on here! This sick, sick monster fuckin’ sick fuck was sleeping with my baby!

Luke: Mom! Let go!

Michael: It’s not like that. Let me explain-

Myra: Ohh you aren’t gonna get away with this you…you pervert! (coddling Luke) Oh you poor, poor thing…

Michael: I just-

Myra: Shut up! Shut up!

Michael steps toward them. Craig, in a sudden burst of masculinity, places himself firmly between Michael and the others.

Craig: Stay back, man. (suddenly lucid, sly) The man in the hallway the other day. I knew I recognized him from somewhere. The pictures on your living room wall. I know who you are. And we’re gonna rob you for every penny that you have for the horrible, horrible things you did to this boy. Shame.

Craig takes Myra by the shoulder and leads the three out.

Luke: Michael! Michael…

Michael: Please, wait! Please…

Myra: I said shut up!

Myra, Luke, and Craig exit.

Michael: Let me explain…

Michael collapses onto his bed, distraught.

scene xii ” Luke’s room.
The set is mostly darkness with the option of a few hints to make the place actually look like a room. Luke, furious, is playing on the floor with his army men. As before the toys are split into two rival armies, facing one another.

Luke: This is war. Only one can win. And to the other, you can only hope that the winners are merciful. If they’re not you better pray to God that you die. (pause) Three. Two. One.

Luke pushes all the soldiers together into a crashing battle.

Luke: Blam! Blam! Blam! Pow! Krshh! “Aiieee!” “We have to win!” “No. We do!” Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. “Somebody! I need back up!” “I’ll be right th-AHH!!”

There is a knock at the door in another room.

Luke: “We need more tanks!” Pow! Pow! “Head for cover!”

Craig: (offstage) I got it!

Luke: “The bastards are coming from the air now!” RrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrBOOM!

Craig: (offstage) Oh, hey officers.

Luke: “We can’t beat this.”

Craig: (offstage)Yeah. I called.

Luke: “We lost.”

Craig: (offstage) That’s right. The fucker is right over there. My girlfriend caught him in the act herself.

Myra: (offstage) It’s true. I did.

Luke: “It’s over.”

Craig: (offstage) Her boy’s right in there.

Myra: (offstage) Hold on.

Myra enters Luke’s room.

Myra: (sweetly) Luke, baby, the officers are going to want to ask you a few questions,okay? Now I know you’re in shock, but I need you to tell them everything you can. Michael is a bad man, remember? Just like we said. Just talk to the officers like we said and you’ll have whatever you want. A puppy. That new video game machine…the Super Nintendo, right?

Luke nods.

Myra: And all the games you want. A new house. Everything we’ve always wanted (pause). I know I haven’t been the best for you and I have a lot of demons…big, angry, powerful demons that you get the full force of…and I hate it. It kills me the way I treat you sometimes. Because I love you, baby. And I’m sorry. And I plan on getting help and making sure that you and I have everything we’ve ever dreamed of. All you have to do is talk to those officers like we talked about.

Luke: But-

Myra puts her finger to his mouth, silencing him.

Myra: Do it, baby. For us. I’m so tired of being angry all the time.

Scene xiii ” Emptiness.
Michael sits on a chair, head lowered, in handcuffs. A single light shines dimly on him as the rest of the stage is darkness. Silence is broken Michael’s light whimpers can be heard from time to time then fade away. When the silence becomes too much, Joe emerges from the darkness. This Joe is different than the one before in appearance and demeanor. He is dressed in a white tank top, blue jeans, and work boots, grease- and sweat- stained from head to toe. Joe circles Michael, who begins to whimper once again. Standing directly in front of Michael, Joe stands perfectly straight and smacks Michael hard against the face, snapping the other out of his gloomy trance.

Michael: D-dad?

Joe: That’s right, Michael. You couldn’t run away from me forever. You know that. It was only a matter of time before this little fantasy came crashing down around you and you’d come crawling back.

Michael: I’m not crawling back-

Joe: Of course you ain’t. You’re too proud for that. A little more like me than you’d like to admit, you always were. It’s why I pushed you so hard. Because I knew you had the stuff of greatness. The real thing.

Michael: I know-

Joe: I know you know, Michael. But knowing ain’t nothing unless doing follows. You really messed up not accepting that Scarecrow part. This. This right here. This is just the fruits of your mistake, twenty years later.

Michael: I didn’t do anything.

Joe: Don’t matter. Either way, you’re bringing shame to our family name. Marlon’s trying so hard…

Michael: What do I do?

Joe smiles a little.

Joe: You stick with me, boy. We got ourselves a brand new decade and a whole Hell of a lot of people hungry for something a whole lot better than that 80’s jive shit.

Michael: I’m not that-

Joe smacks him again then composes himself immediately.

Joe: You don’t know what you are, Michael. I made you. I…love you. I know. And I will not stop until you fully comprehend that. Understand?

Michael holds his father’s gaze then let’s his head drop, exasperated. Lights down.

ACT II

 

[notes]

The second act is a departure from the world of the first. Most notably, the use of defined scenes and locales will be replaced with a more fluid emptiness; the sort that the first act left us with. Characters and items will float in and out of the emptiness as needed. At times escaping from reality, at others, escaping to, in Act II we have entered a deeper circle of the mind of our protagonist.

Michael is dressed in black pants and a long sleeved white button-down shirt. Marlon is dancing and Michael is considering his moves. They have been at this for a while. The chair that Michael was seated in at the end of Act I remains on stage. Marlon comes down from his dance-high and takes a swig from his water bottle.

Marlon: How was that?

Michael: Good. That was much better.

Marlon: But…

Michael: But don’t forget to keep your arms sharp.

Marlon: Damn arms…

Michael: (laughs) Yeah, but from the waist down you’re killing it.

Marlon: Thanks, Michael. This is a huge help.

Michael: It’s no big deal. It’s the least I owe you. And it feels good to be involved in this world again…

Marlon: I bet it does. I’ve got a thing I gotta be at in an hour. Come on, let me take you out on the town… It’ll be like old times.

Michael: No. No, I’ve got work to do.

Marlon: That kiddie stuff can wait, Michael.

There is a moment of awkward silence between them. One of sadness and understanding. Michael smiles and produces a piece of paper from his pocket.

Michael: This is a little something I was working on in the old days. I tweaked it a little recently. I think you should consider it for your album. It’s pretty heady.

Marlon takes the paper, examines it. He bops his head to the written lyrics and notes.

Marlon: “Not My Son”.

Michael: Working title.

Marlon: Nice, man. Thanks. Same time next week?

Michael: I’ll be here.

Marlon: Cool. Bye, Michael.

Marlon exits. Michael takes a seat and his demeanor shifts to one of deep sadness. Marlon reenters, also transformed. He is doused in a cloud of shame and regret.

Marlon: Michael…

Michael: Marlon.

Marlon: Hey.

Michael: Hi.

Marlon: This is some shit, man. (pause) This is bad. Real bad. (pause) You’re my brother and I’m gonna help you get outta this. If you need money for a lawyer or whatever, you know, just let me know. (pause) The thing is, I’m trying to build a career here. My new album is, it’s right around the corner. This is it. I can feel it. And, you know, yeah, we’ve been apart for a while but I couldn’t have done it without you these…couple… Until this blows over, I’m going to have to keep my distance. I can’t drop by like I used to. They’ll…

Michael: I’m getting evicted.

Marlon: (shouts) Damn it, Michael, how the hell did you get all mixed up in – ?! (calms) Let me know if you need anything.

Marlon starts for the exit, then turns back to his brother.

Marlon: Did you….?

Marlon thinks better of it and exits. Michael produces a bottle of pills and gazes at it like a strange quirk of nature. A phone rings. Michael puts the pills away, reaches behind himself, and pulls a receiver out of nowhere.

Michael: Hello? Oh, hi Greg…I’m…okay. Yeah, I called you earlier about the deadline for my next book. I didn’t hear back from you so…Uh uh. Right. Well, I think that might be a little drastic seeing as I don’t even use my real name…Then figure out another arrangement. Another name. I-I can put together a new series…with a whole new style…What do you mean they’ll know?…(irritated) Then figure something out!…Greg, I have given you quality work for years. You can’t just let one bad tabloid ruin our relationship. I am so close to finishing this last album…Book. That’s what I said…Don’t abandon me, Greg. Don’t you dare abandon me. (pause) Greg? Greg?

Michael puts the receiver away. Once again he produces a bottle of pills, this time opening it and taking a few, swallowing it with a swig from Marlon’s water bottle. Alex enters, dressed for the Summer, am expression of concern on her face.

Alex: Michael?

Michael notices her, rising from his seat.

Michael: Alex?

Alex runs to the other, taking his hands in hers.

Alex: Oh, Michael, how are you?

Michael: Fine. How did you find me?

Alex: I looked. Nice place you have here. Cozy.

Michael: I had to move-

Alex: I figured. (pause) I came down as soon as I heard. Sorry it wasn’t sooner. How are you holding up?

Michael: How’s Boston?

Alex: Not the speed I’m used to, but it’s been great. I’m learning so much. (instantly excited and bubbly) Oh my God, can I have your autograph?!

Michael: What?

Alex: (back to normal) I asked if you’ve been writing much lately?

Heartbeat.

Michael: Oh. No. A little. I’ve been painting mostly. It’s been therapeutic.

Alex: (excited and bubbly) I love you, Michael!

Michael: Alex?

Alex: (normal) I’d love to see some. If that’s alright.

Heartbeat.

Michael: Y-yeah. Sure.

Alex: (bubbly) Have my babies!

Michael: Alex!

Alex: (normal) What?!

Heartbeat.

Alex: Are you alright?

Michael: I think I-

Alex lets out an excited shriek, which Michael reacts to. Heartbeat.

Alex: Should I call someone…?

Michael: No. No I’m fine.

Starting as a small whisper, the sound of a cheering crowd gradually grows louder and louder as it shifts into hundreds shouting “Micheal! Michael! Michael!” etc… in unison. Only Michael can hear this. The sound becomes nearly unbearably deafening and then stops completely. Michael is barely holding himself together and Alex isn’t sure whether to help him or run.

Alex: Michael?

Michael: (exasperated) Thank you for coming, girls, but I have to go.

Alex: It’s Alex. I’m Alex, Michael.

Michael: Alex. I’m sorry you have to go. Keep in touch.

Alex kisses Michael on the forehead, gives Michael one final saddened look, then exits. Michael, alone, returns to his chair. It is obvious that the effects of the pills are becoming greater. Craig and Myra enter, excessively and outlandishly dressed as wealthy socialites. They enter with a table and chairs, seating themselves at either end. Michael is invisible to them.

Craig: (in a bad British accent) Pass the Grey Poupon, love?

Myra: (with a similar accent) Oh certainly, my dearest.

Craig: Do you recall mustard, dear?

Myra: I don’t think I do.

Craig: Dreadful stuff, really. Now, Grey Poupon…that’s the rich man’s condiment.

Myra: And you are a rich man.

Craig: Quite right. And you, milady, a rich woman.

Myra: Oh, stop!

Craig: It’s true. Accept it.

Craig lifts his glass.

Craig: And now a toast to our benevolent benefactor.

Myra lifts her glass.

Myra: A toast!

Craig and Myra: To Michael!

They toast and drink. After swallowing both burst into laughter. Craig then pulls out a newspaper.

Myra: Craig, it’s rude to read your newspaper at the table during dinner!

Craig: Not when you’re rich!

They both laugh. Craig pages through the newspaper.

Craig: “Younger Jackson Brother Charged with Sexual Abuse”, “Jackson Settles Outside of Court”, “Jackson Exhibits Strange Behavior”, “Michael: The Man Who Won’t Grow Up”, “Wacko Jacko on the Loose!”

Michael: That’s not me!

Myra and Craig go silent for a second as if uncertain as to whether they heard something or not.

Myra: Dessert?

Craig: I thought you’d never ask.

Myra: (singing) Oh, butler! Butler-boy!

Luke enters, dressed in black.

Luke: (to Myra and Craig) Yes, ma’am? Sir?

Myra: We’d like some dessert.

Luke: What kind?

Myra: (annoyed) What kind…

Luke: Ma’am! What kind, ma’am?

Myra: That’s better. I’m in the mood for some ice cream, I think.

Craig: Gelato.

Myra: What’s that?

Craig: Rich people don’t eat ice cream, love. It’s called gelato.

Myra: Oh. Right. We’ll be having the gelato then.

Luke: What flavor…ma’am?

Myra: Strawberry.

Craig: Chocolate for me, boy.

Luke: Sure. Okay.

Luke starts off but stops just short of exiting. When he stops, Myra and Craig freeze. Luke turns to Michael, the two fully aware of each other. Regret permeates Luke.

Michael: Luke.

Luke: Hey, Michael.

Luke approaches the Michael.

Luke: I’m so sorry…

Michael: It’s not your fault.

Luke: They told me what to say…

Michael: I know…

Luke: I knew it was wrong, but she…

Michael: You don’t have to explain. She’s your mother.

Luke: They needed the money. She told me what to say! I knew it was wrong!

Michael takes Luke in his arms.

Michael: It’s fine, Luke. It wasn’t your fault.

Luke: I miss you, daddy.

Michael pulls away, startled. Shaking.

Michael: What did you call me?

Luke: You seem cold, daddy? Can I get you something? A blanket?

Michael: What?

Luke: A blanket! Blanket!

Michael: Who…are you?

Luke: We miss you, daddy…

Michael: Who are you?!

Luke: (composed) I have to get gelato for the master and missus.

Luke exits, Myra, Craig, table and chairs with him. Michael is suddenly hot. He unbuttons his shirt. He’s wearing a white tank top underneath. Michael pops a couple more pills.

Michael: What is this?! What’s happening to me?! Why, no matter what I do, does nothing feel right?! What more can I do?! What more can I do…

Joe enters, dressed as a larger-than-life businessman in a purple suit, wearing also a black fedora.

Joe: You know what. (pause) Have you talked to your mother? (pause) Writer forget how to speak?

Michael rises.

Michael: You did this…

Joe: I did nothing but love you…

Michael charges at his father and the two engage, one struggling against the other until they are both on the ground, grunting, sweating, straining, giving it their all. Joe loses his hat in all the action. Eventually, Joe slips from the struggle, watching, pained, as Michael remains on the floor, continuing to fight alone. Joe looks up to heaven then back to his son with determination. Joe exits. Michael calms, breathing heavily. He looks around realizing that he is alone. He pulls himself into his chair. He produces the pills, stares at them intently, then throws them offstage. Then enters [Marlon], looking and seeming at peace to the point of utter enlightenment. He is dressed from head to toe in a white suit, including a white flat cap and gloves. He is holding the pill bottle in his hand.

[Marlon]: Yo, bro. What’s happenin’?

Michael: M-Marlon?

[Marlon] shakes his head.

Marlon: Nope. It’s me.

Michael shrugs.

[Marlon]: It’s Brandon.

Michael: Brandon…

Brandon: It’s good to finally meet you, bro.

Brandon gives Michael a quick hug then pulls away.

Brandon: Truly.

Michael: That’s impossible…

Brandon: You of all people should know that nothing is impossible.

Michael: Brandon. You’re…d-

Brandon: Dead. Yes. I tend to think of it as existing happily on a higher plane.

Michael: Does…does that mean I’m…

Brandon: Almost. Not quite. But almost.

Michael: H-how?

Brandon raises the empty bottle of pills, gesturing to them as well.

Brandon: Life, bro. Sometimes I’m glad I only got to live it for a day. Ha.

Michael: If I’m dead than what happens. Marlon…

Brandon: Oh, my twin is fine. He and Carol are happily married with three kids. Four grandkids…But you know this…

Michael: No. But…he’s pursuing a music career. He never married…

Brandon: Think hard, Michael. That wasn’t Marlon. You pursued the music career. You became the star. Maybe the greatest there ever was.

Michael: No.

Brandon: (laughs) Bro, come on now. You know how they say that right before folks die they see their lives flash before their eyes? Well, there are other times where people see the lives they could have had…or wish they had. There was a lot of pressure on you, Mike. From your family, from the world, and most of all from yourself. It’s no wonder your final thoughts are of the alternative. Living the quiet life as a writer, nobody knocking on the door, judging you. But the truth always comes crashing in. You can’t hide forever. The price of the spotlight is hefty, Mike, and you paid it in full, in advance, and…ultimately. They loved you. You loved them. They hated you…and you hated you too, sometimes. This was a pretty little fantasy you created for yourself, but this simply isn’t you. It’s not who you were meant to be. Who you are. Because for every person accusing you of being crazy or some sort of sexual monster there were literally millions who saw your beauty, your innocence, your drive to heal. Heal everything. There was your family. Your friends. Diana. Berry. Quincy. Liz. There were your children, Michael.

Michael: (remembering) My children… I remember. I remember everything…

Brandon: A world that had never known you, Michael…well, thank God we’ll never have to know how that sentence ends. Now, what say we let go of this fantasy and you show me what you got. Come on. I’ll join you.

Marlon steps up. Michael joins him. A light washes over the both of them and Michael is completely taken by it. Michael reaches down and puts on Joe’s fedora. Marlon then removes his right glove and hands it to Michael with a smirk. Michael nods and puts it on.

Brandon: Ready?

Michael nods.

Michael: One, two, three, four…

The two dance in perfect sync, better than anything Marlon had achieved earlier in the play. After some time Brandon backs away, watching his Michael with awe, further and further until he exits. Michael’s moves become faster, more complicated as the cheering once again surges into “Michael! Michael!” etc… He does the moonwalk and the beep of a heart monitor rises as the cheers subside. The dance grows more intense, sprawling fluid gestures with sharp edges, faster, faster, faster as the beeping becomes more and more frequent. At once, Michael stops dead center, the monitor/beeping flat-lines, and lights go out.

~PLAY END~

Method to My Madness

Maybe this is the most self-congradulatory thing I’ve ever written. If it is, I don’t care. What I DO care about, on the other hand, is that I got it done. And while I tend to spend a lot of my time surfing a chaos wave of random thoughts and actions, get things done I do. Lots of things. So many things that not a day goes by where someone doesn’t come up to me and ask, “Trystin, how do find the time to get so much done?” or something to that extent. After all, by the halfway point of this year, I’ve already written two plays, four essays, held two readings, wrote the first 10 chapters of a novel, moved into a new apartment, reworked the rules for a board game, got a new job, added 4 stone-solid friends to my collection, launched this very website, got cast in two short plays, and graduated from level one of Upright Citizen’s Brigade’s Improv Class. This isn’t me showing off…it’s just fact. I usually reply to the question with a smirk and a shrug or some snarky fantastical response like, “I bend time”  or “I’m an alien.” Well, stand back, friends, for I shall now trade in my answers of fantasy for one of reality…

PART ONE: PREP YOURSELF

Figure out your purpose.
Simmer down. This isn’t as ALL EMCOMPASSING as it seems. Well, actually, it is. But it’s not as difficult as it seems. Deep down we all know our purpose. It’s just that sometimes we’re either afraid of acknowledging it or covering it up with an over-glorified goal.

Check it: Purposes are more about who we are than what we want. They are not something we can attain (that’s a goal), they are the force that drives us. So when someone says that their purpose is “to become a famous actor” they are actually stating a goal and limiting themselves to other things they can be doing or being that could be just as satisfying. Also, by putting a tangible ceiling on something as big as a purpose there is this overwhelming feeling of disappointment if it is not reached…or a sense of “Damn…why am I still not fulfilled…?” if it is.

I’ve decided that my purpose is “to be an inspirer.” It’s something I can always explore and do and grow in different ways, through an insanely diverse amount of goals. Imagine if my purpose was “to become a great writer”. It pains me to think of all the other methods to inspire that I would miss out on!

Have a ton of goals, great and small.
This one’s pretty obvious right? If you want to get something done, have something that you want to get done. The most important part of this step the pluralization of the word “goals” as in, more than one (we’ll talk more about this later). Then there’s the “great and small” part. Every goal doesn’t have to be “Save the world” or “Lose a million pounds”. Try something like, “Buy some paintbrushes” or “Call best friend tonight.” These are simple tasks that will not only allow you to then move on to greater things (like painting a picture or venting, sharing, and laughing with one of your besties), but also give you a little boost of positive energy that you can use to tackle the bigger goals…or even unfortunate necessities like paying bills or going to work, with just a little extra pep in your step.

Make lists.
I can’t even begin to say how important this step is. Make lists like crazy. Put everything on them. To me, lists come in two different flavors.  There’s the brainstorming list and the focused list.  The brainstorming list has EVERYTHING. This is the best list ever. Go crazy. The crazier the better.  Here’s an excerpt from one I did a couple weeks ago:

  • Become a bartender
  • Adopt a baby of a different race than me/husband
  • Write a play about terraforming
  • Learn Spanish
  • Be a motivational speaker
  • Eat at that ninja restaurant
  • Read a book from the Sociology section of a book store
  • Eat healthier
  • Use fear as a launchpad to adventure

I probably have way too much fun doing this…and you should, too. The more ground you cover and the more you override your doubts and allow yourself  to jot down, the more open your mind will be in actually achieving things. Plus, I guarantee the brainstorming list will reveal some desires you didn’t even know you had once you get on a roll. Really stretch yourself here. Some of the best things I’ve ever done have come from some random thing on this list. Last year’s trip to Buenos Aires, for example, is the result of a point on a list from early that year that read “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!!” (it was a rough couple of months).

The focused list is more like the lists we’re used to making. Not really much imagination involved, we’re just writing down the stuff we already know we need to do. Maybe this looks familiar:

  • Pay rent…or bills…or…loan…or tuition
  • Finish project for work…or school
  • Clean [something in or around the house]
  • Fix [something in or around the house]
  • Pick [household item] up from the store
  • Get food for pet…or kids…or self…or spouse
  • See the doctor about that [fill in the sickness)

There is really no arguing the importance of that list. Ignoring that list will result in utter chaos…and we can’t have that.  We’re working towards growth and accomplishment here, people!

The focused list comes in three flavors. The one up above is the “Basic Needs” list. It’s that list that, if you don’t do it, you’re screwed. It can be lame. It can be boring. It’s always gonna be there.

Next up is the “Purpose” list. This list is pretty cool, because it’s all of the goals that are in line with your purpose. If you can’t think of anything, it’s a good time to refer to your brainstorming list and see if anything fits the bill, then grow it out from there. I could easily pull “Be a motivational speaker” and “Use fear as a launchpad to adventure” to mine. Then maybe add something like “Buy a book on motivational speaking” or “Start an inspiring blog” or “Talk to people on the street about who they want to be”.

Finally, we’ve got the “Rewards List”. This is basically a list of goals that don’t fit into the other list, but bring you some sense of joy or accomplishment. These are the things that keep you fresh, happy, surprised, exhilarated, and on your toes. These are the things you allow yourself once you’ve reached one of the other goals. Reward systems are super effective.

Let’s say you pay all of your bills on time this month. Do you know what that means? Ninja restaurant! And what if you officially launch and kick-off that inspiring blog? Why not start looking into bartending school? Using these things as rewards is a great way to keep your morale and sense of joy up while continuing on toward maintaining your basic needs and making headway with your purpose (two things that can be a tad heavy at times).

Oh, and if you have goals that aren’t basic needs (home, work, family, close friends etc..), don’t feed into your purpose, and don’t offer that sense of fun or adventure…get rid of them!

Right now. I’ll wait.

Also, you don’t have to actually write 3 separate lists all the time (I’d say I do it about 50% of the time). As long as you can identify what goal belongs where and you have ample examples of each, you are A-OK.

From here on out I’ll be focusing on the goals of purpose, as the basic needs pretty much get TOO much attention and the goals of rewarding are easy enough to motivate you to do on account of how utterly awesome they usually are.

PART TWO: PREP YOUR WORLD

Now that we’ve got ourselves in shape, let’s take it to the streets!

Operation: Trim the Fat from the Steak.
This is one of my favorite things and integral to reaching your goals and thus your full potential. Fat can taste really good in the moment, but at the end of the day it’s just slimy gloop that goes straight to your hips. For this reason we must look for the “fat” in our lives and do away with it, much like the goals that don’t fit I mentioned above.

The “fat” of our world are those things that stand in the way of our growth as individuals. The things we “hang on” to simply because we’re used to it or things that hang on to us like parasites (they take and take, but never give).  Things like a job that makes you feel like a waste, the ex you just can’t let go of, the friend that comes to you only when they need something and never any other times. Acknowledging and then either changing or removing these things should be among your  FIRST goals.  Put them on a list. Write them in bold, red, underlined. They are the weeds to your garden of possibility.

Enviro-trap.
This is something I’ve always been a big supporter of but haven’t really focused on much until recently. Despite the deceptively negative connotation I’ve given it, enviro-traps are fantastic at keeping your eyeses on the prizes. They are anything that physically exists in your world and support the achievement of your goals. They trap you so that you cannot escape thinking about what it is you should be doing.

The most obvious and powerful enviro-trap is the schedule. Giving a date and time (and alarm/notification) to a goal puts the heat on just right. Do it.

These beautifully laid self-traps can come in an unlimited amount of forms.  Keeping a journal in my messenger bag reminds me (and allows me) to write anywhere.  I bought a drafting table and put it in my room…it says “Trystiiin, draw on meee…” until I can’t take it anymore and put pencil to paper. Sometimes I’ll excitedly explain projects and goals to other people so they can later come to me and say, “So, Trystin, how’s [goal] coming along?”. There are few things I hate more than having to reply to that question with, “I haven’t started yet.” And I’ll be damned if I don’t start right after if I haven’t.

PART THREE: DOING IT!

Alright, now that we know our purpose and have a slew of goals on a slew of lists in a world that better suits our journey, how do we turn all this prep into some tangible action? Why, we just do it of course!

Time management.
You made a schedule, now follow it. If you can’t make one of your appointments, move it to the top of the list, highlight it, and keep it there until you do it. To me, time management isn’t so much a means of allotting a certain amount of time to a certain task as it is giving NO time to wastes of time (i.e. the “fat”).  Unless, of course, the time you’re putting in is time to alter or remove the fat (a noble quest indeed).  You will be amazed at how much time you magically have once you’ve gotten rid of the nonsense that wastes it for no personal gain. Things like excessive rutter-less Internet use and taking pictures of yourself in the bathroom mirror (you know who you are!).

Balance.
Balance as a means to success is everything; in love, in friendship, at home, while partying, and certainly when it comes to reaching your goals. Focus should be given as much to purpose as it is to basic needs. Think of it this way: Focusing too much on the basic stuff can be kind of a downer. It’s easy to get lost in the importance of it, thus inflating its impact on you and drowning out the other list. Focusing too much on your purpose can place you in this idealized world where you’ll lose sight of the reality and importance of your basic foundations (workload, house etc…) and overall stability. And instability effs up everything.

One of the most beautiful things along the journey towards higher purpose-driven life is that the basic needs start to look a lot more like the purpose-driven ones. Paying your electric bill isn’t so bad when you’re living in your dream house. Getting your work done on time is a breeze when you love what you do. Purpose and need-based goals should never be looked at as opposing forces. The ultimate goal is for both to feed each other.

Prioritization.
“Do what you feel.” This has been my slogan for a while and so when it came to prioritization I said “Screw it” and did what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. Whatever “felt” important at the time. And, despite my use of the past tense, this is more or less the way I do things now, but with one shiny new thing to consider: Sometimes there are parts of a goal that you just don’t want to do.

For instance, I LOVE researching, brainstorming, and writing plays. I don’t need to prioritize. It just happens. And that’s all fine and dandy if my goal is “to write a play”. But what if my goal is to “have one of my plays produced”. I hate submitting things, I hate reformatting things, I hate looking for submissions. My lack of desire will make it so that I will rarely ever “want” to do it. This is where prioritizing comes in most handy to me. I take the crappy goals on my purpose list and I make them priority. I put them at the top of my list. I schedule them with an “URGENT” flag. Anything to put them on an even playing field with the fun stuff. It also helps to think big picture. Then everything, in the long run, is the fun thing.

Avoid burnout.
There are a number of ways to avoid burnout from working too hard, too much. One of them is to simply lie around and never try too hard.  That is extremely burnout resistant, but the productivity is almost nonexistent. Another way involves going at a single endeavor while taking ample breaks in the middle. This is productive and burnout is very slow to come, but it does come in the frustrating form of a “block”. Writer’s block being the most famous block-type, but anything can be blocked really.  It’s the brain going “I’ve had enough of this! I am more than this!” Standard burnouts are an overexertion of energy. Block burnouts are an overexertion of focus.

I never experience burnout when in the act of achieving my goals. A bold statement, sure, but a true one as well. Here’s how: First, I always have a number of goals I’m working on at any given time in at least three different areas. Right now, for instance, I’ve got a novel, a blog, an essay series, a board game, and aspirations to be a motivational speaker going on. This way, if I start to feel the burn out or blockage coming I simply hop on to another project, giving my brain something else to focus on for a change. This is how to beat the block. This is also why it’s important to have a purpose that isn’t “I want to be a writer” because coming down with writer’s block completely renders your progress at a standstill.  What other avenues have you given yourself?

Important: What I am explaining isn’t multitasking. Multitasking is juggling multiple things at once and one of the best possible ways to accumulate stress and burn yourself out. What I am explaining is simply complete and utter shift in focus from time to time.

Another version of this is the right-brain/left-brain leap. This one is pretty legit. If you’re tired of working on one aspect of a project but really want to keep working on it, then pick another aspect. If I start feeling stressed over the design aspect of my board game I turn on Excel and start working on the mathematical aspect.

Lastly, never take breaks. Or, more to the point, never do nothing. Even more to the point: never do something without a purpose-supporting reason for doing so. This step is one-part rationalization, one-part momentum-maintenance, and uber-effective.

Let’s say I’ve done all the writing, drawing, and motivating I can do. It’s time to step away from the obvious purpose-driven activity and engage in something that will aid my journey with less exertion of mind or body. Maybe I want to hang out with my friends and grab a bite. This isn’t “taking a break”, it’s “allowing fun and nourishment to recharge me so I can hit my projects even harder when I go back to them.” Maybe I want to watch an episode of Skins (British version, of course). This isn’t “taking a break”, it’s “allowing inspiration from another creative source”.

All of these things are necessary to prolonged work on an activity. This is mostly for those work-a-holics out there who are afraid to step away (recipe for burnout much?). It’s not a “break” if it’s, as a whole, for the better of the project.

One more thing: the “stepping away” option is the exception, not the rule. This is what happens once all other options have been used up…or you’re getting tired or hungry or your house is on fire..

Basic needs trump all here, I’m afraid.

Feel completely, act completely.
Here’s a fun one (especially for those who knew me as the anti-emotions automaton I used to parade around as once upon a time). We are people. We have feelings (Cry! Laugh! Scream! Let ’em out!). Feelings are chemical reactions of the body that are pushing us to take action. If the feelings are negative, we must take action against them. If they’re positive, we must take action to keep that party going. And what is the best possible way to take action in response to feelings? That’s right! Your goals!

If you’re sad, what good does sitting around in the dark with a pint of ice cream doing? If you’re happy, why waste that energy staring longingly out of a window and thanking the heavens for how happy you are? Lame and lame. Put that sadness into action. Use the energy and convert it to getting stuff done. I guarantee that whatever awfulness you’re feeling will simmer down while you’re achieving your goals.

I once put together, from concept to completion, a 24-page fully-illustrated and written book about a journey to Neverland for my boyfriend at the time. Each page was drawn in a different style (abstract, impressionist, “Dr. Seuss”, street graffiti…). I did this in six days. To this day I say this is the greatest project I have ever completed and you can bet your bottom dollar I would have never been able to do it without the love that was fueling me at the time.

A warning about negative feelings and goals: Don’t use your goals to hide from what you’re feeling. Use the feelings to give energy to your goals. It’s the difference between having a bear bite off your arm but continuing to grill burgers at the picnic and having a bear bite off your arm and using that pain to get your butt to the hospital as fast as humanly possible. Or what if you had an awful day at work and come home furious. You check your basic needs list and see that you have to take apart an old table for the garbage the next morning. Therapeutic destruction, here we come!

Other people.
There are people who are going to love what you do and those who are going to hate it. Whatever. That’s great. If they love it, use their energy to do more. If they hate it and that angers you, use the anger to fuel more of it (see above). Sort of a goal-based “In yo face!”. If they hate it and you feel discouraged, either you care too much about what people think about you (stop that!) or this goal is weak (because your knee-jerk reaction isn’t to defend it…which it should be) and needs to be tweaked or removed.

Another thing about other people. Never ever EVER achieve your goals for them. Do it for you. Go ahead and dedicate it to them if you must, but do it for you. The very second that you begin creating things for the sake of pleasing others you begin to muck up your style, your individuality, and your completed project is watered-down crap in comparison to what you would have accomplished for you.

Reward yourself.
Remember that rewards list? Use it. It’s motivational. It keeps things interesting. It reduces boredom, burnout, blockage. It raises morale. What more do I have to say?! When you achieve something reward yourself. And please make the rewards as complex and engaging as your other goals. A reward goal isn’t very effective at motivating or maintaining momentum if it’s something like “Eat a piece of chocolate from the bowl in the living room.” Yay, you’ve done nothing. But if you make it something like, “Make a tray of chocolates from scratch” now you’re cookin’ with cocoa!

Final thoughts and missing pieces.
I’m going to bring this to a close now. I’ve shared enough of my personal nuggets of wisdom to get you going, either toward them or away. The important thing here is to always do. Always. Every waking moment should be dedicated to becoming something more…or at least something else. I was going to write a gigantic section on overcoming fear and embracing change, but those are each posts in themselves. But, regardless, you need to overcome fear. It will always be there until you look it in the eye and walk on through. If you don’t do this you won’t gain much of anything out of life. Embrace change. A lot of fear comes from the change that needs to happen to reach your goals. Change in the form of sacrifice and acceptance of the unknown are absolutely necessary in reaching your goals. Accept that. If you don’t, go ahead and forget everything you read here. You’re wasting your time and everyone else’s.

Don’t be afraid to shuffle through purposes. If your life doesn’t feel right and you honestly can’t understand why, look at your purpose. Ask yourself if it was your choice or something that was handed down to you by your family or boss (or a past version of yourself) that you simply cannot relate to anymore. Upgrade it. You’ll thank yourself later.

Missing pieces. While I’m pretty good at getting things done there are a few areas in which I have to step up my game. One of them is overcoming fear (I can be pretty fierce and courageous, but I know in my heart that I haven’t even scratched the surface…when I do, expect that post). And there’s networking. Getting myself “out there”. I’ve had a lot of dumb luck with it but no set system yet. I’m working on it. When I strike networking gold there will be blog.

One more thing: this is a journey that will only end when you’re in the ground. There will always be mountains to climb and room to grow. Even as I sit here I know and feel that I am nowhere close to accomplishing the things I want to…and that’s exciting; a challenge that makes my mouth water and that I accept with everything I am. “This is just the beginning!” is my battle cry and I live for the adventure of what’s happening now and whatever happens next.

Thanks so much for reading. I hope you’ve been inspired to some capacity. If not, my bad. Epic purpose-fail. Ha.

Questions/comments, lay’em on me.

Now back away from this screen, make a sick set of lists, and get your life on!

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