Where I’ve Been

I’ve been gone a little while according to the timestamp gap, a digital exit followed by a digital reentry. Keeping busy of course, but just not visible here.

When I was 21, I enrolled in my first semester at Columbia College Chicago, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman film student. Concentration in screenwriting, never quite able to shake the written word even when it’d be translated to the screen.

I took a grand total of one (1) fiction class, which is funny considering the direction my life has taken, and how much of my focus has shifted toward literary shit. You can’t plan these things.

I graduated, focused on flash fiction and novels, and used this site as a refuge (quarantine?) for written anxieties, understandings, and fictional journal-keeping. Mostly I stuck to the post-once-a-week rule, but sometimes (lately) I didn’t.

So here’s where I was.

Last month, I took a trip down to Asheville. I saw Tame Impala there and roamed the streets and hills all night after, cataloging the experience I just had, people-watching, and taking notes for a feature screenplay that hit me all at once as I walked those quiet, foggy streets and waited for day to break.

I was an anthropologist as I met strange and interesting people that night, all of them informing this weird, existential, cyberpunk, scifi, dark comedy thing that I was constructing on the fly. I started writing the thing shortly after getting back home, and I haven’t taken a day off from it since. I’m 60 pages in, the commonly-accepted midpoint in screenwriting, letting this thing shape itself as I listen to Jack Stauber in the early mornings, watch B movies in virtual reality, and take midnight walks. It’s exhilarating.

I met a couple filmmakers here in Winston-Salem, a filmmaking couple, separately, not at first connecting the dots that they were together. I met the dude at a Confederate protest as we stood down the Confederates together, talking film and filmmaking in between bouts of shouting them down. (Their statue was later taken down, by the way. Where it once stood there’s now a nicely-landscaped crop of flowers.)

I met his wife at a creative event I went to for work, and only after talking film and filmmaking with her did I realize that she was mentioning working on the same projects that he had. They were a couple.

I went on a road trip back home to Chicago for an extended weekend. Didn’t visit Columbia College specifically (I didn’t want to feel old), but I did point it out a few times to my girlfriend Harmony, all too proud to be like, “Hey! Right there is where I went to school. … I used to take walks down there in between classes all the time. … The film building is right over there. …” Etc.

I’ve long had an all-or-nothing, this-or-that brain, so it didn’t compute that I could maybe do fiction and film. Like I had to give one up to do the other. And then I realized: Hey. That’s bullshit.

So long story short, we had an awesome visit to my hometown. I took Harmony to all my old haunts, relived decades-old memories in the places that spawned them, reminded of details I’d forgotten by my friends and little brothers as we wandered these places together, letting it all come back like no time had passed at all.

I got back to North Carolina, and the filmmaking couple got in touch with me. They were doing the 48 Hour Film Project, a challenge where a film crew writes, shoots, and edits a short film in 48 hours and then competes with other film crews in their city. This is an international thing with screenings, prizes, the works. They wanted to know if I’d crew with them. They didn’t know this, but I’d wanted to do a 48 for over a decade, but just never had. They were both awesome people, and it didn’t hurt that they’d worked with the likes of VICE and PBS before. That was one of the quickest and easiest “yes” emails I’ve ever sent.

We shot the film, and it was a crazy amount of fun, and we screened it, and got a great response, and I got compliments on how great it was to work with me on set, how vital I was to the production. I’ve already been invited to crew on future projects, and I sent some old scripts over to the guy after being asked.

All this because I was friendly and talked with people. So yeah. This is an unexpected yet very welcome chapter of my life. A chapter where I’m open to all the possibilities in front of me, where I’m doing all the things I always dreamed of doing. That’s where I’ve been, and that’s where I am.

Something High and Flying

Where we’ve pedaled to there’s salt leaving dried white trails on the canyons of the earth and of our skin. The night sky is a womb or a room, it’s hard to hear you over the ripping of the wind. It could be either. It could be both. One of my soles is split. It collects canyon dirt and my foot turns it into canyon mud. Our tinkering shadows look like mechanical bugs over the heap of our bicycles. There is dirt on my face and your face and we kiss over our open packs.

Life can be different things growing for different reasons. We snuff out one growth to support another. Your womb and your breast are my examples. So we pedal to places we’ve never seen before, do things we’ve never done.

I don’t want this to be a cancer story so much as a growth story.

You trace for me an 8 in the dust, but I want it to be something else, so I turn my head sideways. Questioning the artist’s intent. And all that. In the sky there is a shooting star or a satellite or a UFO. Something high and flying. You trace its trajectory in the dirt and I try to keep up with a line of my own but the wind blows it out and leaves yours.

I have magnesium for the fire but you say if our ancestors didn’t need magnesium then you don’t either. I can’t smile so I say you’re a pain in the ass and you get it. The blisters on your hands are pillows for tiny people. The fire makes the branches fall into each other like they’re drunk. I lift your shirt so the half-moon of your belly’s lit and you sketch the way your veins must look to our child, like lightning spun by a spider.

The marshmallows I’ve stuck become spacecraft burning up in reentry. I blow yours out before brown turns to black but mine I let burn for a while. Mine I let char. You tell me it’s ready, time to put it out, but I let it burn. You try to take my stick with your dirty hand but I grab it, kiss it till the canyon dirt sticks to my lips in spots you say look like negative stars. I let it burn till coagulated marshmallow goo spreads down the stick and hardens in the breeze.

When it’s time to sleep I ask if you want the fire out.

You’ll stay up, you say. You’ll put it out when it’s time.

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