Everything I Know About Shelter

I put out a call for writing prompts on the twitters, and one friend gave me the above title and a six-minute limit. The results:

 

I know that Shelter protects me. My room is the smallest in a house of small rooms in a world of small houses. My mother calls it economical, that there are a lot of families who live in our community and that since everyone values privacy so much then we had to give up the space to build walls and doors.

I have no window, so I step outside. A relative term. Overhead, pipes and girders run like grand rivers, branching off to feed and support other tributary tunnels. I know they are essential, that without them we would freeze and choke and be crushed by the earth above us.

I want to walk out the front door. The real front door—the big one, the one with multiple gates inside each other, where airtight trucks full of workers or soldiers will vanish for days, or forever.

I know that I cannot leave Shelter, because there are women and men with guns who would rather murder a thirteen-year-old girl than risk a containment breach.

I know that I cannot leave Shelter, because even if I managed to get past those people with guns, on the other side of that airlock is an environment filled with ways to end my life before I could take four steps.

I know that I cannot leave Shelter because even if I managed to live past those first nervous steps, the grass won’t be green. The dirt won’t be brown. The sky won’t be blue.

I know that I will never see those things in my life, because the first thing everyone learns growing up: Shelter is not on Earth. We, in these tunnels and pipes and tiny houses, are the only people on a planet of poison and death.

And I know we weren’t ever supposed to be here.

 

Heart-Barfing: A Dialogue

I’ve been thinking about rejection. The loss of my job (which felt so much like being dumped just because the girl wasn’t “feeling it” it’s almost hilarious), applying for work, and of course the ever-looming dread of romantic… disentanglement? I know it sounds like it runs counter to my renewed effort this year to take value in myself and the things I can offer and accomplish, but it doesn’t. Rejection and acceptance are intimately familiar to each other, and by looking inward at why I’ve internalized rejection for most of my life, I’m hoping to find the answer to how I can internalize its much happier, healthier partner.

My dad never really had the chance to coach me through romantic rejection. He coached me through plenty of other emotional turmoils, but not that particular one. I only went through one major heartbreak in high school, and I never brought that up with him. I’m not sure he would’ve had much insight on the subject: he broke up with every girl he dated before my mom, and even their whirlwind romance could best be described by someone who doesn’t love them as “blandly consensual.” But he would have been their for me, because that was what he did.

So last night, instead of doing any of the things I told myself I was going to do (the dogs got fed and walked, that is a thing that happened, don’t worry), I sat down and wrote this dialogue. Someday I will give this advice to someone, and if I’m actually smart I’ll take it as well.

(Sorry in advance for the schmaltz.)

—–

Son: “Hey Dad.”

Dad: “Uh-oh. The talk with Andy didn’t go quite as you hoped, I take it?”

Son: “Nope.”

Dad: “Scootch over.”

Son: “Dad… why does my chest hurt so much?”

Dad: “That’d be the rejection, buddy.”

S: “Obviously. But why does my chest actually hurt?”

D: “Well, what’d you do today?”

S: “Tried to figure out what I was going to say to Andy tonight.”

D: “We’re you supposed to write that thank you letter to Grandma?”

S: “Sorry.”

D: “It’s okay. When you were going over what you wanted to say to Andy, how did you feel? In your chest and stomach?”

S: “I dunno. Tight in my chest, and sort of ropey in the rest of me.”

D: “And I bet it got worse when you biked over to his house, right?”

S: “Yeah. ”

D: “That, my darling, is how it feels to be in love. Your chest feels tight because your heart knows you’re in love, and it’s trying to get out of there, to go out into the world to find that person and to be with them and to be accepted by them—”

S: “He said he doesn’t like boys. He said I’m one of his best friends, but he doesn’t like boys and he’s dating Trisha Plevish.”

D: “—and sometimes, if you’re not lucky, the person you want to give it to doesn’t want your heart, or they can’t take it for whatever reason, or they’re only able to accept part of it, which is what it sounds like Andy was trying to tell you. And when that happens, your heart often won’t get the message right away. So it’s still trying to go somewhere, but now it has nowhere to go.”

S: “I feel like I did the night after we went to that restaurant.”

D: “You’re emotionally constipated. Your heart needs to make the biggest barf of its life, but it can’t so now it’s just moody and miserable and gassy.”

S: “That’s fucking gross, Dad.”

D: “Don’t swear. And it’s how you feel, isn’t it?”

S: “I think so. How do you know all this?”

D: “I had a life before you came along, Lucas. I had a life before I met your mom, which is probably more germane.”

S: “So what am I supposed to do? I don’t know if can talk to Andy anymore.”

D: “Well, maybe take a week. Eventually your heart will catch up with your brain, it’ll settle back down, and you won’t feel like this anymore. And now you know more about him, and he knows more about you, and you can be better friends to each other.”

S: “Will this happen to me again, Dad?”

D: “Many times. You have inherited my easy affection for other people.”

S: “So you’ve doomed me to heart-barfing forever.”

D: “You’re welcome. It’s not as bad as you think.”

S: “Liar.”

D: “Only kinda. Look, I know it sucks crazy super volcanoes right now. And I cannot promise you won’t go through this a hundred more times. But sometimes, and I can promise you this, the person you want to give your heart will take it gladly.”

S: “I hope so.”

D: “I hope so for you to, Lucas. But what you really should hope for, and work towards, is to be with someone who feels just as pressing a need to hork up their feelings and give them to you too, mess and all. Because as shitty—don’t tell Mom—as shitty as you feel in your chest right now, it doesn’t even compare to how it feels to give your heart to someone who’s going to be selfish with it.”

S: “How will I know if he’s the good kind?”

D: “Maybe he’ll tell you, maybe he won’t. What’s important is that you keep taking that chance—and not just to people you… do you know what I mean when I say like like? Is that still a phrase?”

S: “I can figure it out.”

D: “Well, not just to them. Train your heart to feel barfy for everyone: your friends, your enemies, your teachers, your sister.”

S: “Eh.”

D: “Your sister. Give all of them just little shavings of your heart, and accept those pieces in return, and like that tree whose name I can’t remember those stripling hearts will grow and prosper create a vast network of love and vomit and then, if this sort of emotional blockage happens again, you won’t feel so stopped up in here.”

S: “Oh my God, Dad, stop.”

D: “You’re going to be fine.”

S: “I know.”

D: “I heart-barf you, Lucas. Now and forever, until the sun dies out and the world goes cold.”

S: “I heart-barf you, too, Dad. Why do you always add that last part?”

D: “Because. Now, don’t take any of the advice I just gave you literally, or you’ll probably die.”

On Working Out, Running In, Gymming Up, & Gettin’ Down

WHAT AM I DOING?

This week is my second week as a paying member of a local gym. I go every weekday, following this training regimen, as written by one Christopher McAlevy (Portland lifting afficionado & Organic Human Male), and wholly approved by Christye Estes (Seattle personal trainer & nice lady):

Workout A:

  • Full Squats @ 165 lbs. (3 sets x 5 reps)
  • Dumbbell Bench Press @ 45 lbs/hand (3×5)
  • Lat Pulldowns @ 115 lbs. (3×5)
  • Run a 10-minute mile.

Workout B:

  • Deadlift @ 140 lbs. (3×5)
  • Overhead press (called the barbell military press on Fitocracy) @ 50 lbs (3×5)
  • Standing bent over Barbell rows @ 80 lbs (3×5)
  • Run a 10-minute mile.

I do this Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The workouts alternate, so last week was ABA, this week is BAB, and so forth. Each subsequent workout adds five pounds to every lift, so the values I stated for A will be what I’m lifting on Wednesday, and the values for B are what I lifted today. Now that I’ve written them here, I’m gonna update my note on my phone with Friday’s lifts.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I run on the treadmill according to a 5k training app, Sundays I run outside with Chris or Ezra before playing Pathfinder for the evening (remind me to write an essay on what I love about pen & paper RPGs, and why I need to start running my own game). I’m entering week six of the 8-week program, and have yet to successfully complete an uninterrupted twenty-minute run. The best I’ve accomplished so far is fifteen minutes straight before I stumbled, walked for two minutes, then ran another five. More on this, however, later.

WHY AM I DOING IT?

The simple, easiest answer to this is peer pressure. I have known my entire life that I am fat and out of shape and absolutely miserable during a PE class. And despite my misery and low self-esteem and feelings of unattractiveness and constant protestations that THIS YEAR was the year I was going to do it, I never did. I was lazy (let’s be honest, I’m still pretty frickin’ lazy. Laying down is GREAT). Content to rest. It was an attitude that infected my social, professional, creative, and even, in the end, my academic philosophies as well. I was, and still am to a degree, stagnant (BTW, hoping to hear about a job interview writing for Nike. Wish me luck on that, please).

Sometime in early March of this year, however, Christopher McAlevy, Genuine Flesh Person, called me up with a proposition: “There’s a 5k coming up in July. It’s called the Electric Run. You and I are going to sign up as a team and train together, because you need exercise and I need cardio. And to make it more even, I’m going to buy a weight vest so our running weights are the same, and I’ll wear the vest during the actual 5k.” So I signed up, and I have to say that dropping $50 on this race was probably the most motivating aspect of the whole thing, at least to get me out the door and pound some pavement. If I didn’t run, that’d be fifty bucks just gone. If I do run, and I finish in 30 minutes, Chris said he’d reimburse me for half, but I’ll probably just make him buy me Far Cry.

Within a few runs, though, Chris’ disdain became a much more motivating factor—giving up would mean his disappointment. He’d become the hate-filled father I never had.

But recently, right around the start of April, I started running by myself. I started pushing myself to limits that previously I’d only been pushing myself to because other people (re: Christopher McAlevy, Who Was Born In Exactly The Same Way As The Rest Of Us) were watching. But I also noticed that while I was getting to be able to endure longer runs, running itself was not getting much easier, even with my new running shoes. Put simply: I wasn’t really losing weight, and I wasn’t really getting stronger.

Luckily, the Albertson’s near where I live went out of business some time ago, and in its gutted carcass grew a Crunch gym, which offers a basic membership for $10/month. This was basically a Godsend, because right now there’s no way I could afford other gyms’ $30/month pricetags. So I joined, and I asked Chris to write me up the strength training regimen I laid out above, with the added 1 mile a session (though I need to up that to 1.5 soon).

So why am I doing this? I was doing this for other people, but now it’s for me. I’m doing it because I look and feel better than I did last week, and I know that if I keep doing it, next week I’ll look and feel better than I did this week. I’m doing it because even through all the fat I still carry, I’m starting to be able to see muscles moving and working. I’m doing it because I’m going to Mexico at the end of May, and I’d like to feel reasonably confident while wearing just swimtrunks. I’m doing it because last week I ran a full mile for the first time in my life. In my life. I cannot express how powerful that is for me.

WHAT I STILL NEED TO WORK ON

 

  • Endurance. First and foremost, endurance. I’m still champion-grade lazy, and when I go for a run, every fiber of my body, every bone in my back, and every neuron in my brain is screaming that I should stop and walk for a bit.
  • Portion Control. I haven’t spoken of it yet, but of course changes in my diet have been a major aspect of this whole ordeal. Cutting down on sugars and starches, focusing on more nutrient rich ingredients, goodbye soda and coffee, hello oats. The quietest, most impact-full change, though, has been how quickly I get full now. My stomach has noticeably shrunk. At the same time, my brain and my face think I should keep eating (I call this being “mouth-hungry”) in order to eat the same serving sizes I always have.

OTHER THINGS THAT DON’T REALLY FIT ANYWHERE ELSE

I’ve always been a “smile at a stranger” sort of guy, but I’ve been noticing that more and more often, I’m not the one initiating the pleasantries. People smile and nod at me more, and, most pleasantly, pretty girls are doing it too. The confidence boost this gives me is absolutely confounding, because on the one hand, that stranger over there, ever so briefly, considered my potential as a mate. As someone worth her time, attention, and love. On the other, surely everyone is worthy and deserving of love and companionship, regardless of their level of fitness. The idea that being physically fit(ter) somehow made me worth more, or more worthy, was slightly upsetting. The reconciliation I’ve settled on, inspired by this absolutely outstanding article which I need to remember to read every day of my life, is that I’m simply becoming better at displaying my worth. Sure, physical fitness doesn’t openly display that I’m funny, or a good writer, or a damn fine cook, or the fact that I know goddamned near everything there is to know about bulbasaurs, but it does show that I am willing/learning to commit to doing well at new and difficult tasks. I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if this has positive effects in my ongoing job hunt as well.

(None of this counts at the gym. No one smiles at strangers at the gym except the people who work there, and old high school classmates you run into.)

I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I do a great full squat. Did my first pull-up in years the other day as well. No real observations on that, though.

BYE, I GUESS

I must leave you now, as I am due in Vancouver to help a little girl learn to read, and to overcome her tendency to want to give up and walk away when things get even slightly difficult.

The thematic resonances are not lost on me.

A Seed

I’ve been having a lot of weird little ideas that I’ve been allowing to germinate in the privacy of my own fat head (and I guess fat Google drive?). Here’s what is probably my favorite so far:

 

I love him, she knew, but I will never be in love with him. He can never be the floutist I know I need.

 

 

I’m pretty sure if I follow this up people are gonna be calling me the next Ian McEwan.

Star… etc.

I feel like I should probably talk a little about this.

Part of the reason I’m such a hesitant writer is self-confidence. I worry that anything I have to say has already been said, more articulately, by smarter people. This isn’t necessarily true, but it’s often true, and the only solution is to keep writing and saying things until I’m better at it and able to sound smart enough that OTHER people worry about chiming in because, shit, Keegan Blackler already said it. So I’ll say it.

Disney bought Lucasfilm, and will be coming out with new movies starting in 2015. That’s huge news, which, considering my muted response, probably hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

I go through canon-obsessive phases; whenever I play a new video game or read a new book or see a new movie, for some reason it becomes really important to me to know as much about the world I’ve immersed myself in as possible. I am a lore whore. When I was younger this meant getting my hands on as much tie-in material as I possibly could, these days it’s mostly just spending time reading whatever wiki is dedicated to the subject (and trust me, there is always a wiki). But because these are phases, I grow out of them. I lose interest, stop giving a shit.

I never grew out of the Star Wars phase. It just… changed. I like to think of it like this: I like Star Wars like other people like flowers or birds or a particular color. You don’t dwell on it constantly, but you might go two steps out of your way to get a shirt with a related pattern on it—it’s just that in my case, that pattern is lightsabers.

(This is not to say that I have never jumped into the deep end, or won’t do so again. I know more about that galaxy far far away than I will ever know about my own family. I know what company built TIE fighters, and what TIE stands for. I could sketch you an accurate depiction of the Solo/Skywalker family tree over at least five generations. I know the majority of the chosen names of all the Darths tracing back to Bane and Zannnah, as well as describe three-and-a-half different philosophies of the Sith—and, like, twelve of the Force. I know what Luke’s wife calls him in bed (information garnered from an actual book, actually published by Lucasbooks). I CAN NAME THREE EWOKS.)

Lately, though, I have not been immersed. Haven’t been playing a game, reading a book, watching the show, nothin’. The obsessive-compulsive pilot light is out. So the whole ‘new movies’ ‘Lucas is out of the picture’ news is still in the realm of pleasantly intellectual. I haven’t felt it in my heart yet.

BUT.

TONIGHT.

I and some gentleman associates of mine (including the ever-lovin’ Ezra Butt, who really needs to set up a professional art gallery/webcomic site I can link to) will be sitting down around a table, pulling out sheets of paper and pencils and dice, and pretending to be Jedi. We are playing the Star Wars d20 Roleplaying game.

For the mundane, think Dungeons & Dragons, but…. Imperial Dungeons & Krayt Dragons.

I’m excited. Let’s turn on that fire.

Who Falls Asleep at 9pm?

Me, apparently, last night. Hence no update, and no workout. But I’m not gonna stick around for very long tonight, either. I want to dedicate an hour simply to reading a book.

I’m starting to worry that I’m losing the ability to fall into a book for hours on end, simply as a matter of a diminished attention span. I spend so much time on the Internet, hopping from news article to news article to comic to whatever you want, and as a result, my bookshelf is starting to look like a backlog. I hate that. I want to be excited and anxious to open a new book and stay up way too late reading that, not some bullshit wiki!

Of course, I can’t really afford the new books I’d like to be able to buy myself (*cough*Christmas*cough*), but I can still make a solid dent in the ones on my shelf.
Holy shit, it’s the 25th of October.

Speaking of not being able to afford things and the inevitable onward march of time, I’m still unemployed. Keep trying tomorrow, I guess.

Friggin’ Weekends, man

Stirring up my vibe, distracting me from writing a guldarn magnum opus every day of the week. Oh well. No regrets, just keep going. Here’s a silly thing about the end of all things:

 

The human psyche’s capacity for existential dread is, more so than any fossil record or genetic mapping, perfect evidence for the grim idea that once upon a time, our species was little more than a bunch of half-baked lemurs running around, being hunted on the reg. Poor little plesiadapis tricuspidens, all he wanted out of life was to eat bugs, get his proto-rocks off, and not be named after his teeth 65 million years later. Oh, and not have to live in fear of the giant tyrannical demon lizards that haunted it’s every single moment.

I would say fuck him, little plesiadapis, but he is me. His wants are my wants. His fears are my fears.

Yet for good or ill, mammals long outpaced those reptilian bastards, and plesiadapis’ children—despite never quite making it as an apex predator—somehow managed to lay claim to the planet. But the dread remained. Dread of something bigger and nastier than us, lurking just on the other side of the wall. Dread of great beasts, of other men, of goblins and dragons and faeries, of alien visitors from another world.

Dread of either an ineffable, vengeful God, or an incomprehensibly vast and uncaring universe.

 

It probably never occurred to little plesiadapis tricuspidens to dread a group of amoral reality-shaping ungulates from three Earths over. But it should have.