Are You Happy?

The first thing I always ask a woman when I meet her on a dating site or wherever is are you happy? A simple question. Yes or no. But they never answer with a yes or no. It usually starts off with well… and then, basically, I’m content. Or it’s complicated. Is it?

This morning I finally asked myself that very question. Am I you happy? Well… it’s complicated. I can’t say yes or no. Do I feel better than 12 years ago? Yes. Am I happy, though? I don’t even know what that really means to be honest, which makes it an unfair question to ask women. But it’s more than fair to ask of myself. Let me go back in time.

I certainly wasn’t happy in 2010. I was homeless, addicted, and severely depressed. Unmedicated. Adrift. Happiness was a pipe dream. I was always angry. Always sad. Always struggling. I was the opposite of happy.

In 2012 I got help from an organization called Transitional Living. They help people who are struggling with mental illness and addiction. I got a case manager. A therapist. Medication. Still not happy though. I would go on to fall in love with my married therapist. More than love really. I was gone, man. She was the ONE. I fell hard and fast. I thought only of her every second of the day. I played scenarios in my head about us hooking up and spending the rest of our lives together. Did I mention she was married? Anyway, this wasn’t unrequited love. She was as into me as I was into her. This isn’t delusion. It’s a fact. She told me as much. Long story short, we flirted for 2 years until she finally said it wouldn’t work because she was married. She ghosted me. She ruined me. But, during that amorous time, was I happy? I don’t think so. It was an illusion of happiness, I was only on the periphery of happiness. It wasn’t real. She wasn’t even that real the more I think about it. I wasn’t committed to meds at that time. I wasn’t even committed to therapy either, I just wanted to see her and talk to her, be in her world for an hour a week. I also asked her if she was happy. She hesitated and finally said she was content. Of course. Bullshit alert.

Back to present day. I’m fully invested in meds now. I take my pills every night without fail. I see a different therapist every week. My finances have improved. My relationship with my teen daughter has improved. Life is pretty good right now. But am I happy? Well, I don’t know. I feel better certainly. But I still get lonely occasionally. I still get depressed, but the lows aren’t as low as they used to be. I still struggle with anger issues. But I’m also a little kinder and more empathetic than I used to be. I don’t have an exact answer to the happiness question. Honestly, I’ve never been fucking happy in my whole life, so I don’t even know what it feels like. But I’ll keep searching for it, I have to. It feels like my main mission in life now. Because being just content seems a bit sad to me. Settling of sorts. I don’t want to settle for feeling average. I want that unicorn of happiness.

So, let me ask you something. Are you happy? Be honest with yourself.

Clive Owen, Yams and all things Blu

Mark A. King, the man behind the curtain at #Flashdogs HQ, nominated me for the Liebster award. It’s an opportunity for other folks to get to know a writer/blogger better. And with most of us writers being a touch narcissistic, I’m sure this concept will sweep through Twitter like florid prose across the vellum.

The Guts:

* 11 random facts about me.

* I’ll answer 11 questions provided by the regal Mr. King.

* I’ll compose 11 new questions for the 3 people whom I shall nominate.

Random facts about a man named Chris who feels blue frequently. *cough* (Blukris)

1– I have never eaten an apricot. Ever. I’m troubled by this, as if maybe I’ve missed my shot at salvation or true love that may have been found in its succulent flesh. Or maybe it just tastes really good.

2– At 6’4″, I’m the tallest member of my family. I’m also single, fractured and my heart is on the prowl. (Accepting applications)

3– I played tennis for my high school many moons ago.

4– I once obtained the autograph of golfer Jack Nicklaus. I followed his group during the practice round of the PGA Championship at the Valhalla golf course in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I had to elbow some senior citizens and toddlers in strollers, but I got the Golden Bears’s scrawl. A win for me. A loss for humanity.

5– I’m introverted, crave solitude and feel awkward at times in social situations until I get to know someone. I abhor small-talk and my shyness has been misconstrued as being rude or aloof. Good times.

6– I’m awful with grammar and punctuation. If you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you have noticed. And put your red pen away. Gracias.

7– The first time I felt like a writer was when a story of mine was accepted by the Molotov Cocktail online journal. This was almost exactly a year ago and I’ll never forget the pure elation I felt when I read the acceptance email. Tears of validation.

8– I’m an obsessed Washington Nationals baseball fan. I’ve been following them since I was kid when they were then known as the Montreal Expos. Seriously, I’m obsessed. I will cut you if you mock them in any way. A stiletto to the abdomen with a smirk on my face. Tread lightly.

9– I’ve dealt with clinical depression for years. The only reason I’m mentioning this is to shine a spotlight on a debilitating disease that tends to hide in the shadows. If you know someone who is being too quiet and withdrawn, sleeping more than normal, acting more emotional than they usually do, reach out to them. Ask them how they are doing. Offer support. Be understanding. Let them know you care about them. Be the person that doesn’t look away. It makes a difference. Trust me.

10– I never slip on ice. I’m not sure if it’s a genetic mutation that gives me this rare ability to trek across slick surfaces with the balance of a high-wire walker or not. But I do feel as though the X-Men could use a lad like me.

11– I loathe yams/sweet potatoes. Makes me nauseous just thinking about it. I could really use an apricot right about now.

Questions from Mark. I’m slipping into my Blukris persona to answer these.

1) You are allowed to invite ten people to dinner. You can choose anyone from any point in time. Who do you choose and why?

Johannes Vermeer, Anne Frank, Oscar Wilde, Martin Luther King, Axl Rose, Charlotte Brontë, Dashiell Hammett, Charles Darwin, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Bukowski. If I gave reasons for each, this post would on for pages.

2) Who is your favourite villain from a fictional book? Explain why.

My memory is not the greatest, so I’ll go with a villain I read about more recently, Anton Chigurh, from No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. A relentless and remorseless psychopathic killer who occasionally flips a coin to determine someones fate. And he uses a captive bolt pistol. Badass to the core. And chilling.

3) Please pick a story from someone you know that you wish you had written. Provide a link (so we can enjoy it). Explain why you’ve chosen it.

It will cost you a mere $0.99 to read but I have to go with Jack’s True Story by Jacki Donnellan. Creepy, haunting and steeped in the macabre, it’s a story that stayed with me long after reading it. Perfectly executed and penned by a writer I truly admire, this story was the winner of the Poised Pen Frightening Flash Fiction competition. A must read.

4) Please pick a character from any story you have written and think about the actor/actress that you’d like to play them. Explain your choice.

Henry, my dapper sociopath from a few of my stories. Christian Bale would be my first choice but he’s already played a monster in the appropriately titled American Psycho. I’ll go with Clive Owen. Brooding, charming, smoldering eyes and a British accent. Translation: Yummy.

5) Do you prefer print books or EBooks?

Print. I have fond memories of my dad’s bookshelf lined with John D. MacDonald novels. The titles always had a color in them which indicated that they were a Travis McGee story. And being a writer of flash fiction, when a story of mine appears in print, it always tingles the skin.

6) Name a writer that you admire that lacks the recognition they deserve

Grace Black. Her prose is sophisticated, luminous, multi-layered and bathed in searing emotion. When I read one of her tales, I can see the passion behind the pen, the fire in her bones. Grace understands that you have to make the reader feel something and she never fails to do just that. And she inspires me to work more diligently at the craft of writing. I expect big things from her in the future. You heard it here first. Get on the bandwagon before it gets overcrowded. She has the spark, folks.

7) Please state your favourite first line, last line and mind-blowing line from a book

First line from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

Last line from 1984 by George Orwell: “He loved Big Brother.”

Mind-blowing line from the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett: “The boy spoke two words, the first a short guttural verb, the second “you”.

8) Please re-write the ending to a film where the ending annoyed you

I’m going to cheat a bit here. I didn’t mind the ending of my favorite movie of all-time, the English Patient. But Katharine dying alone in a cave shattered my heart. I would edit the ending and have Almásy make it back to her and nurse her back to health and they go on to live happily ever after. I’m a softie underneath my gritty exterior. And don’t even get me started on the “thimble” scene in the movie. I’ll come undone.

9) Remove a character and make a film or book better (you’re not allowed to pick Jar Jar Binks, far too obvious)

How about just removing Vin Diesel from all films. And those horrific movies of his, the Fast and the Furious franchise, can go away too. Not a fan.

10) How much time do you spend a week on writing, reading and tweeting?

I’m always reading, whether it be articles, essays or fiction. I can’t go a day without consuming some prose. I’m creeping on Twitter way more than I should. But there’s a plethora of talented people on there, so it can be somewhat difficult to unplug. I’m a slow and methodical writer and I’m not all that prolific. It usually happens in bursts. I might write everyday for a couple of weeks and then turn around and not write a word for a week or more. Just depends. I’m always typing stories in my mind though.

11) We catch up with you this time next year, this time in five years and ten years – tell us what you’ve been up to.

Hopefully I’ve written a bevy of stories that people truly enjoyed. Maybe I’ll have penned a novel by that time. If my grandchildren are born in the next few years, that would make Blukris quite happy. The Washington Nationals have won a World Series and I cried hysterically. I finally tasted that temptress known as the apricot. I found love again and she tolerates my neurotic mind. And maybe she wears my thimble around her elegant neck.

Questions for the condemned

1– What is your greatest strength and weakness as a writer? Explain.

2– Describe yourself in 15 words or less. Your answer must be in the form of a three-line poem.

3– You can be anywhere in the world and you have one hour to yourself. Where are you and what are you doing?

4– If your life was made into a movie, who would play you and what would the title of the film be?

5– From a reader’s perspective, what do you look for in a piece of flash fiction. What makes the story sing?

6– What is your favorite quote? Explain why.

7– What is your greatest accomplishment and your biggest regret?

8– Should writers of flash fiction/poetry be compensated or is the exposure of being published in a magazine its own form of payment? Explain

9– The apocalypse has arrived and you are forced into a bunker for an indefinite amount of time. You can bring only one of each: A book, movie, beverage and food. What do you choose?

10– Why do you write? Explain thoroughly.

11– What is your epitaph going to say when you punch the clock one final time?

The envelope please… You have been summoned. My nominees:

Grace Black

Jacki Donnellan

Tamara Rogers

A Prescription Of Tunes

Sweetened coffee, a hard pack of Pall Mall’s and music. This is my morning ritual, no deviation, no variance. Caffeine that I’ve grown immune to, I don’t get jittery or get overcome by a burst of energy. Acrid cigarette smoke that is turning my lungs into a deathly shade of coal. But, I suck them down, savoring the nicotine as it tickles and scars my throat. Ear buds planted firmly and deep. Songs with dark and potent lyrics or a slick vibe, penetrating those crevices that I keep hidden. A mental lockbox.

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted some songs on here and the opening paragraph above was a chance for me to hear myself talk because the beige walls that I constantly stare at are adept at reciprocating that thousand yard stare but they don’t listen very well. There’s no repartee, just silence. And judging. “Get off the couch” the walls seem to infer. I’m not a good listener, either.

So yeah, below are some songs I’ve been listening to recently. Light a smoke, take a sip of some free trade coffee and lose yourself in the music. Pretty sure I stole that last line from Eminem but I’m OK with that, sadly.

We Ride at Dawn: Instant Religion: http://youtu.be/RFV3DjVP6co

Portugal The Man – Created: http://youtu.be/eiWnvUdMmNg

Two Gallants – Trembling of the Rose: http://youtu.be/jvEGuxGipU8

Damien Jurado – The Killer: http://youtu.be/NkIh2NBwhUM

Nightfall: http://youtu.be/_Gx_0Vhv74I

Scribbled Thoughts On Writing

This will be a rambling and incoherent mixed bag of musings on writing. From me. A hack. Read, don’t read, it’s all good.

You will often see on social media and elsewhere that people will die if they don’t write. Seriously. Their heart will stop pumping blood. Lungs will refuse to inhale/exhale. Their mind will slip into a cocoon woven from imprisoned and unspent words. Hyperbole much? Writing is important. Writing heals. Writing is a medium that lends itself to escapism. I love writing, I genuinely enjoy crafting a unique story. Feels good. Dig it. Big part of my life. I won’t fucking die if I don’t write, I don’t take myself that seriously. Cigarettes, stress or a brunette with a taste for weakness will snuff me out long before an unwritten piece of flash fiction shall. I understand the sentiment of writing being this glorious thing that keeps a person afloat, makes them feel like they belong, that they have something to offer to the world. A purpose. I get it. Just ease up on writing being a life or death hobby. That flash piece you decided to toss when the words wouldn’t form? Keep breathing. Hang on. You’ll be OK in the morning. I promise.

Contests are fun. I enter one most Friday’s and I enjoy the experience. The competition is formidable which in turn forces me to work more diligently on my craft. It should be a positive endeavor for all involved. Every week I read at least 5 or 6 stories that blow me away. The kind of writing you can learn from, gain insight into structure, imagery, pace, wordplay and whatnot. The type of stories that you wish you had written. Stories that teach. Prose that eats bone.

Another aspect of contests is how subjective they are. One judge, a writer like us, tasked with picking the best of the bunch. A thankless job and a difficult one. Something I couldn’t do, to be honest. Every writer has a built-in bias of what they want in a story. We all have different tastes. Some like dark and gritty, others love surreal and weird, some like Sci Fi and fantasy. Romance. Thrillers. The judge has the same bias as the entrants so your story may be slick as hell, channeling Pollock or Palahniuk, a scintillating story worthy of a pretty blue ribbon but the judge is into sorcery and magic realism, so good luck nabbing the top honors. My main point is don’t criticize yourself too harshly if you don’t make the “winners” page. Also, don’t pound your chest too proudly if you do. It’s all subjective, man. Just write a story that captures your style and vision, the rest is out of your control.

I’m running out of steam, so let me finish this up thusly. If you want to write about a dude that eats women for brunch, write it. If your story is about masturbating while watching Law and Order SVU, write it. Got an idea for a piece of flash about dragons forming an alliance with unicorns? Write that shit. Write whatever the fuck you want to. Own your style, your voice. People offended by a story of yours? That’s a good thing. Don’t let others censure your creative pursuits. There are no rules to a story that belongs to you and you only. Just write. And don’t die.

The Opening Paragraph That Slayed Me

On Monday, I decided to catch up on some reading that I had neglected while writing a story that I eventually scrapped because I wasn’t satisfied nor pleased by my writing. I was forcing the dialogue to chase some silly word count in a contest that was not geared toward great writing or story development. If you need to be prompted to write or if you’re a fan of gimmicks then this endeavor might prove to be valuable. I’m a firm believer in writing that grows organically, without set parameters, prose that is worthy of your story and your own set of standards. We all have our own ideas about writing, what motivates us, what goals we have, what direction best fits our style, and that’s the way it should be. I fault no one for giving National Novel Writing Month a shot, to each their own. Ultimately though, for me personally, it wasn’t a good fit. Attempting to write a novel in 30 days is more about ego and word counts, the story seems secondary to most authors. While there are benefits to this contest, learning to write everyday, developing a routine and extending dialogue and scenes, in the end, the arbitrary finish line tends to produce awful and unimaginative writing. Let’s be honest here, if you have dreams of writing a novel, you don’t need the month of November to start, just begin when you’re ready because any decent writer isn’t going to write a cohesive novel in a month, not by a long shot. But what it really boiled down to me was a quote that kept popping up in my mind throughout the last week “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” I was just pushing words, my vein remained intact, Red Smith was right.

Back to my original intent of this post. On Monday, I clicked on a link to an article in National Geographic, something about a man spending seven years walking through Africa and other countries, it intrigued be because I grow weary from a simple walk to kitchen so his story seemed almost bizarre to me. I pulled the article up on my tablet and read the opening short paragraph and read it again, then I read it another 5 times. I started reading the story and stopped after a couple of minutes and read that opening paragraph once again. I couldn’t stop reading it, maybe that’s weird or something but I love words and beautiful sentences and whatnot and well, this guy wrote possibly the best opening paragraph I’ve ever read in a nonfiction piece. The kind of opening that made me question my own writing in the story I mentioned above. I wrote 33,000 words in that story but this authors small paragraph was so much more potent and well-crafted than anything I had written that I knew I had made the right decision to put it on ice. I’ll let you judge for yourself whether you feel the way I do about his opening paragraph but make no mistake, I think it’s brilliant and flawless. Enough with the suspense, I’ll just say you’re welcome in anticipation of your gratitude.

“Walking is falling forward.

Each step we take is an arrested plunge, a collapse averted, a disaster braked. In this way, to walk becomes an act of faith. We perform it daily: a two-beat miracle—an iambic teetering, a holding on and letting go. For the next seven years I will plummet across the world.”

Here’s the link to the entire story (fascinating) if you’re interested.

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/12/out-of-eden/salopek-text