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More eavesdropping fun…

In the 7-11 in the city I grab a water and a sandwich and a man spouts his theories on how the recent rash of strange weather, winter tornados and angry ice, was brought on by the government to kill certain people and cited other examples of weather controlled assassination as support.  I wish—WISH—I could have stayed and recorded this…but I was in a hurry.

But I digress…

I’d apologize…but I’ll only digress again…

The law of double negatives says it will all cancel out in the end…

And I’ll be sinless—halo clean and steel wool scared…

But I digress…

It’s been a weird set of weeks.  Almost a month ago, I got back from Sundance, falling in and out of sleep, on the plane, coming in and out of the slipstream of WORD JAZZ playing through my iPod headphones.

Soon thereafter, I packed up again for Springfield…

On January 28th, I went to down to UIS for their annual Outstanding Masters Thesis awards ceremony—as A FORMER RECIPIENT, I was invited.  It was nice to get out of the house and mingle again (not to mention dust off my decaying social skills…weeks of outline writing and a growing addiction to instant messenger and social websites have desicated any social graces I may have had…the first few people that I tried to socialize with, in person, I just hit in the side of the head with a stone and said, “Chunga!  Chunga-chunga-chunga!”)

I got to see a few old faces, meet a few new ones, and had that kick-ass, ego-amphetamine-boost feeling of having your reputation proceed you.  I got some nice comments about my thesis—praise for my unique descriptions, research in mythology and voodoo—and kudos for my “in depth knowledge of drugs and the drug subculture” (think back…put yourself back in your high school shoes…and try to even conceive of a world where a school official would praise you for this).  I’ll let you lovelings in on a little secret, about the drug thing:  partially, I research it…but mostly, I make it up.

Shhhhh…don’t tell anyone.

They even had my READ poster up in the room.

I got to talk with my teacher/mentor/friend Nancy Perkins—I was excited as I was scheduled to meet her and several of my old UIS writing buddies for dinner the next night.  She had some bad news though—a member of said writing group, Chad Baldwin, had passed away a week ago.  I was floored.  Throw in all the cliches—he’s too young, thoughts of my own mortality, etc.—I felt them all.

Chad Baldwin (December 27, 1971 – January 22, 2008)

In the graduate level Creative Writing program at UIS, students came and went, but there was a core group, handpicked by Nancy Perkins (from past students).  We were a very tight-knit group—everyone got along—everyone was different with a very different, particular writing style and voice—we all complimented each other, had something to show each other—all of us impressing each other.

Looking back, I see how lucky I was to be part of this unit.  In other classes or writing groups, you’re lucky to find one or two others that you trust as much, like as much, and who genuinely challenge you as much…and I had a whole class of super peers.  Those were fun classes.  The fun bled out of class too…we would share drinks at Bootleggers after every class, talk shop or just BS—we’d see each other at parties—were part of discussion panels at writing conferences—went to Nancy’s wedding and visited her in New England a few summers back.  I was blessed by the storytelling gods to be with these people and they are one family group that I thoroughly regret not being a part of on a day to day basis anymore.

Chad was part of this group.

Chad was cool (the term “cool” is overused and has become a generic positive term…but he alway struck me as cool).  I liked Chad’s stories, particularly his characters.  He’d play strange, underground word games with friends.  I hadn’t seen Chad for well over a year, but I heard that he was working as a cab driver, and handed out prayer cards kind words to strangers who looked like they were having a bad day.  Once, Chad gave me a gift:  a word.  What a cool gift to give someone, a word.  He handed it to me, before a class, said he thought I’d find it useful.  I did.  In fact, I probably overuse it.  But I don’t care.  It’s my word.  It was given to me as a gift and I like to show off the things my friends give me.  I still have the word, can still reach out and touch the word; it’s sticky tacked to my writing desk, a tearaway sheet from a word-of-the-day calendar with the word chthonic and a definition.  I’m very glad I still have it.

So here’s to Chad.  I miss him.  I missed him before he was gone.  He was one of the people I was hoping to see on my Springfield trip.  But I’ll keep his word and a pocket of memories.  I’d like to think he’s driving a cab somewhere between worlds, helping lost souls who had a bad day and earning two coin tips.


I did get to see Nancy though, as well as David and Joanna (two other members of the afore mentioned cadre of writing students).  That was very nice.

Also, while in Springfield, I got to see Torrie…though, as always, not for long enough…but still, we got to hang for a bit, have Josh n’ Torrie conversations, discover a new rum (Kilo Kai) and after a few of those, mime our very similar cell phones mating with each other on the bar table (hey…back off man, we’re scientists!…well…she’s a scientist…I just like Bill Murray references…).

I also got to make a quick stop, on the way home, and see Val, drink, and watch old Universal monster movies.

This freaking outline!  How could it stretch out this long?  I could not seem to get it done, could not figure out why it made me feel frozen, useless, talentless.  Why?

I think it’s because I’m an intuitive person.  I can weave prose, images, words, in the moment, and I feel comfortable.  I’m good at improvisational thinking, reactive, with a problem or stimuli or prompt I can go on the spot (I was the student who didn’t mind an on the spot 5 minute random writing prompt in class).

But my weakness seems to be certain areas of technical discipline.  I’ve gotten lazy and picked up a few bad habits.  This outline is about discipline, planning ahead, methodically analyzing, plotting, structure.  I’m over-analyzing, second guessing, stopping…and when I stop, creatively, I stagnate, and I drown.  I get scared…I want to abandon discipline and rely on my natural talents…my subconscious is much smarter than me.  But I’ll get better…

How did I reach this level of introspective insight?  I’m almost embarrassed to admit it…but I was reading a Spider-Man comic (I take that back…I’m not embarrassed, not even almost, I have little use for socially obligated embarrassment—I have my flaws, but one thing I’m good at is letting pretension fall out of whatever orifice is handy).  I was in a bookstore, working on the outline, got frustrated, and picked up a Spider-Man comic.  Spider-Man was talking to Captain America…who was lecturing my childhood favorite superhero, telling him that he needs more disciplined focus…which Spidey resists because he’s more used to going with the flow, reacting in the moment, using his amazing natural abilities (super speed and strength) and quick wit.  Capt. America, who doesn’t have that level of natural ability, relies more on forethought, slowing down, and disciplined focus (and so imparts these things to the web head).

Yeah.  That’s what I lack right now…discipline and focus.  My mind scatters in a thousand directions and possibilities, crawling up every wall.  I stick to that…to possibilities and I hate to let go.  But I got to pick and choose.  I have a big project and natural ability isn’t enough.  Normally I just fling myself into my imagination, in the moment, I can fly slinging strands and webs of words…but analyzing my technique is making me freeze up and I fall, fall, fall…

Ah well.  You and me Spidey.  Forever.

Yeah…I was a Spider-Man fan from way back….

The Read Lion
I finally needed a change of scene.  I borrowed a lap top, drove into the city, heard some dude give his theories on weather control assassinations, and ducked into my favorite haunted, British style pub, drank rum in the 120+ year old building, and finished the outline, just across the street from the alley where John Dillinger was shot dead.

I turned it in.  We’ll see what the editor has to say.

And that’s about it for now.

To sum up:  Here’s to Chad.