The First Rule of Writing: Don’t Talk About Writing

25 Jun

Maybe it’s because I was doted on as an only-child — or maybe I’m just an idiot. But somehow I came to believe that when it came to a person’s goals & dreams & projects, the accepted discourse was to praise them. Genuinely, if they were good, and phonily if they were not. At least if it was someone you didn’t know that well.

As you can see from my updated “About” page, I was WAY off. I am up to my danglers in what they call “constructive” criticism, and I’m finding, shockingly, it’s not all that fun. It’s like I have a tattoo on my chest that says “Please, Opinion All Over Me.” Or like there’s a virus going around affecting people’s opinion epicenter, causing people to projectile-vomit opinion juice all over you. I’m becoming conditioned to wear hoods and carry umbrellas, to duck & jive like goddamn Fred Astaire to avoid the downpour of thoughts & advice.

True, my blog is different than my actual writing. And, true, the blog doesn’t matter to me really. So why should I care what people say about it?

I shouldn’t. But I do. And here’s why:

I am irrational.

More nuanced explanation: In my irrational mind, I’ve knotted my blog and my fiction into one general experience. The blog was designed to represent the fiction as a “platform,” (something I’m beginning to think is nothing more than a semi-religious ritual we’ve invented, the literary equivalent of a talisman designed to draw in good fortune and ward off pitfalls), so a dis to the blog, to me, is a dis to my very effort to be a writer.

My solution, I’ve decided, is to start doing a better job of shutting the hell up about what I’m up to these days. Ironically, this was what one of my more fervent critics suggested I do to begin with. But it’s not at his insistence I heed the advice. Rather, it’s from the sage-like guidance of my awesome-ass girlfriend, Julie. (I wanted to romanticize her by calling her J., or perhaps J-Love or J-Sauce or something, but she wouldn’t let me. Said she’s ‘not a private person.’ Oh well.)

So Julie said to me this: If you’ve got something good going, it does no good to talk about it.

And she’s right. Because people are not predisposed toward being supportive of other people. I know this, of course, and can relate to it. When someone does something really great, something I could never do, I think, “This sick, perverted bastard, this self-aggrandizing pig-fornicating son of a bitch, how dare he?” But I don’t say that. What I say is, “Hey, swell! Good on you, partner!” And I mean it, because I know that the voice in my head is nothing but an irrational defense mechanism taking the form of anger toward another person for triggering my own fear of failure.

I thought everyone did this, but I’ve come to find out many people have no bones about spelling out pretty clearly that they doubt you, or at least that they plan to make you believe they do. Some are passive-aggressive, others are regular-aggressive, and others are just coy, knowing what you want to hear & content to take a ninja star to the ass before uttering it.

A few actually have your best interest at heart. Here’s a gem from my dear mother, a clinical psychologist who recently attended a conference on, wait for it, trauma (yes, a whole conference on trauma):

I’m in my bathroom. It’s like 8:30 a.m. I’m brushing my teeth. My phone rings and I see it’s my mom. My first thought is that someone is dead–hopefully one of the older folks (less tragic, saw it coming, full life, etc). But instead, when I say ‘hello,’ I get this:

Nick! I’m at the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy training course and they’re talking about how, when trauma interrupts developmental movements, people get stuck in ‘not-me’ self states, experiencing incomplete ‘movements’ in achieving their goals, and it hit me that the title of your blog is a manifestation of your ‘not-me’ self-state, your belief that you’ll never be published. But you’re a journalist who’s published every day, so I realized being published is not really the issue as much as your desire for the experience of having an audience read your fiction, and since one way that we correct these stunted developmental movements is to find words that accompany the actions we desire, I think I’ve thought of the perfect name for your blog. Are you ready for this? ‘The Missing Experience’! What do you think? I had to call you immediately.

Aw. Thanks mom. If only all criticism were so well-intentioned.

Jury’s still out on the suggestion.

I should note I’ve gotten plenty of positive feedback on the blog as well. But what kind of writer would I be if I took it to heart, the way I take to heart all the negative stuff?

But getting back to today’s moral: the first rule of writing is not to talk about your writing. The first rule of anything you want to do, really, is to shut the hell up and just do it on the sly, so that by the time people know you’re doing it, it’s done.

At least for me. I don’t know if it’s universal. I was tempted to end this blog with a wrap-up graph in first-person plural, as in, “We all do X, and we all learn Y.” But that’s presumptive. Suffice it to say: I started out young, with a narrow scope, surrounded only by people that cared for & supported me, so I came to believe that the natural human condition was mutual support. But as I’ve branched out into a world of people who don’t know me and have no obligation to dig me, I’ve realized it isn’t like that. People come to view happiness as a zero-sum resource that must be fought over, albeit in an often subtle, unstated way.

So it’s like that talking computer said in that movie WarGames: The only way to win is not to play.

I’ll keep blogging though, on occasion. I’ve kind of committed to it. Plus, I guess, at least 3 of you enjoy it.

I Half-Heartedly Carry Out oBLOGation To Mourn Death of Writer I Had Literally No Connection With

6 Jun

Well, Ray Bradbury died. And I’m a literary blogger. It’s like being a firefighter or a doctor or something. You’re on call. When people like Ray Bradbury die, I’ve got to whip up something to say.

Now, granted, I’ve never read Ray Bradbury, or thought about him in any way. But I, like all Self-Respecting Writers, will never forget the first time I heard of Ray Bradbury. I remember it crisply; I was sitting at my computer, and someone said Ray Bradbury had died. O, Ray! The world will miss your dystopian vision. And who shall remind us that the key to life is to “Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down?” (Apparently he said this). Ah, a universal truth if ever there was such a thing! And captured so concisely! Ah, Ray. A human mind, unmatched.

O, Ray. Ray, Ray, Ray. O, how I’ll miss you. O, the world has lost a great voice today.

Seriously, you know, this is my nightmare — that important writers will die and I won’t be able to be reflective. I have always been a writer, but only in the last few years have I become a READER. So I’m really not that well-read. And there’ve got to be a lot of writers getting pretty old now. Dickens must be up there, right? And Hemingway, for sure. Luckily guys like David Foster Wallace weren’t born that long ago, so plenty of time to read their stuff before they kick the bucket.

I once set the goal for myself that I would read every major work by every major author, ever, EVER.

But that was when I thought there were like three major authors. I now have a deep appreciation for–soon to be overtaken by biting jealousy of–remarkably well-read people who not only read but retain what they read, something I can’t do. It’s daunting.

My new goal is to read SOME stuff, by SOME of the authors, MAYBE.

It’s going to be hard, but I think I can do it. Perhaps start with Fahrenheit 451?

Oh, Ray. I hardly knew thee.

Craig’s II: The Return

5 Jun

Sometimes I wonder who came up with the idea of reunions – or as I call them, Suck-In-Your-Gut Sundays. They seem like inherently bad ideas. People revert to old roles, so you’re stuck in the past – a feeling only underscored by the fact that my Catholic college really is stuck in 1962. For our five-year reunion, the school gave us the delicious option to stay in our old dorms, but boys and girls couldn’t cohabitate unless they were betrothed. Don’t patronize us. We’re mature, 27-year-old adults. We’ve had 10 years of experience making bad decisions with sex, and frankly your dumb “rules” aren’t going to stop us. If we’re upset enough about something, we will find someone to have sex with.

But I can bitch all I want—there was no way I was missing my five-year. In true college spirit, we took the bus this past weekend from New York down to Baltimore, gazing out the windows and thinking to ourselves, “Was Baltimore always this bad?” We drove through like 14 consecutive miles of shuttered tenements, where not a business survived except the bail bondsmen. Seven-foot weeds grew out of every crack in the pavement. In college, away from all of that, we used to say we were living in a “bubble,” as if acknowledging it would make us less ignorant to it. Speaking only for myself: it didn’t work. ‘Cuz I wasn’t really aware of it until now. And that’s even after having seen The Wire. But you know what? In a post-Wire world like this one, there’s no excuse for ignorance! Someone really ought to put on their dungarees, lace up those work boots and

FIX BALTIMORE.

It really has a lot of potential. It could be a great place if only some politicians would take the caviar out of their mouths and

FIX BALTIMORE.

Anyway, enough with the socio-political stuff. Let’s see what I can scrounge up in terms of wit:

Oh – I spent the weekend rocking back and forth between the same two extremes I did in college: unfiltered festiveness, and total misery. By night, I rocked a skinny tie, fedora, skinny jeans and Brooklyn glasses – not necessarily all at once – and let my Social Tiger out of its cage, to maul people with jokes and embraces.

But by day, I drifted through a mega-huge dorm room nine times the size of my actual apartment. Between the emptiness, the poor lighting and the vomit-colored carpeting, I grew pretty well-versed in feelings of insignificance and aimlessness, and my god did that feel familiar. I just kept waiting for the night to start.

On Friday night, we partied at Mother’s like it was Craig’s. On Saturday, we went to actual Craig’s, a real diver’s dive. Holler if the champagne bottle made its way to you. (And, grossly, like everyone hollers).

Craig’s was packed, like it always is, and I took mad notes for the scene in my novel where some shit goes down at Craig’s. So get excited for that. Should hit the bookshelves circa 2015. Or never. I will never understand why, of all the lifestyles to lead, we chose to go to Craig’s. It’s like, as we were up in Heaven, waiting to be born, God said, “You’re about to be born—what kind of life do you want to lead?” and we said:

“Glad you asked, Pop – I’d like to be submerged in my own filth and forced to crawl among the clamoring, incoherent masses. I’d like to be kidney punched and fondled on the sly; I’d like to wait endlessly for sustenance, and, should I choose to try and escape, I’d like my only road back to society to be strewn with stray bullets and fishy-intentioned gentlemen.”

Here’s what it looked like. The second one is sideways–sorry:

Speaking of York Road, holler if you know female cab driver extraordinaire Phyllis (and, miraculously, like everyone hollers). A few of us were lucky enough to draw her cab this time around. Boring she was not. Here’s a direct quote from Phyllis during our ride to campus:

I tell all the kids walking on York Road to get in my fucking cab. These are like my children. I yell out the window and I say, ‘Unless you want a man to grab you by the throat and stick his penis up your nose, and in your mouth and up your ass, then get in my fucking cab right now.’

So, that was heartening, to know she cared. Y’all are so cordial down in Bawlmer.

Oh, and another heartwarming tale that was recounted (and of which I have no recollection): apparently, this was the kind of guy I was freshman year: It was snowing. I was studying for a final with a female friend. It was a tender moment. We stood side by side and looked out the window, our breath fogging the glass. I proceeded to draw a heart in the fog with my finger, a sure sign of love, a no-doubt indication that I would go in for the kiss, that our studying was indeed more than studying—that it was love, glorious young love. I turned slowly to the person, glistening with sweat from the sheer weight of the moment, and said:

“Dude, maybe our final will be canceled. That’d be sweet.”

Yeah. No recollection. But I’ll tell you, I got a ration of shit for it this past weekend. It was like a game of “Crush Nick’s Spirit,” and I was the Nick.

But let me stop wasting your time and get to the part about how there’s a lesson:

It happened just before we left on Sunday, as we were walking back from a brunch where we were sorely outnumbered by members of earlier reunion classes, people with names like Gigi and Jo-Anne and Mary Lou. I was a little bitter, and slightly dehydrated (I don’t want to say “hungover” because I know my mom reads all my blog posts (and calls them ‘slightly arrogant’ on twitter, but I wish she would realize this is just an online persona that many people find charming, and deep down I’m still the good, well-intentioned boy you raised, with my priorities straight)). So anyway, we’re walking along and I’m bitter and dehydrated. And I know there will come a moment on the bus ride back when I will need to use the bathroom but won’t want to use the bathroom because we’re on a bus, and it’s going to be this internal struggle to make that decision, not to mention a race against time with the ol’ body as I squirm in my seat, and I’m dreading it, just dreading it. And I’m still embarrassed by the whole “heart in the fog” thing, and bottom line, I’m feeling generally crappy.

And then we pass the humanities building.

And I realize that I didn’t get a chance to go inside it.

Now, the humanities building was my happy place, a writer’s dream. It was my confused, traumatized mind metaphorized: A maze of snaking hallways, shelves upon shelves of books, a spiral staircase, a billion little doors. Complex to the point of never truly revealing all of itself, yet cozy and comforting in some way. I knew where all the creaks were in the hallways. Also, it was home to my favorite bathroom. That’s important for men.

Freshman year I got a job working in the English Department for the unrivaled Gen Rafferty, and kept it for all four years. I almost cried when she retired and wrote a school newspaper column about her. I loved everything about that place. And I always knew I would. That building is half the reason I came to the school.

And seeing the building reminded me of all the other things I didn’t get to see. Senior housing; the (not-so)-new freshman dorms; the (not-so)-new library wing.

And I realized, the place itself is what I find myself holding onto. That’s not a dig against the people—I love (most of) you. But for complicated reasons, I wasn’t in a position at the time to really connect with people the way others did. So I always just assumed that I wasn’t connecting with anything—that I wasn’t getting the experience.

Turns out I was connecting to something else, in a different way.

That says a lot about college, or at least the way the mind latches onto it. One way or the other, no matter how hard you fight, you do latch on, because it’s the most unique thing there is, this weird hybrid where you have the freedom of adulthood with very few of the consequences or responsibilities. You maybe don’t realize it, it maybe feels at times more like a prison than an escape, and maybe you’re even happy to leave when it’s over and start your life.

But at some point, you realize you left a little part of you there.

Or, you took some of it with you.

(That’s not a figure of speech. I have the following nametags in my apartment (don’t ask me how), and if one of them belongs to you, feel free to send me your address and I’ll mail it back. Although, if you actually do that, you’re a loser. Maybe just be honored I have your name in my house and leave it at that?)

I Get Star Treatment At Yankee Stadium and Befriend an Ex-Cop

30 May

It all started when I won a chance to sit in Rudy Giuliani’s personal seats at the New Yankee Stadium. Turns out there’s a lot of spoils in this town for a fella that knows how to Haiku.

“Be psyched,” friends said. “It’s only once you get this opportunity.”

But I expanded the sentence: “It’s only once you get this opportunity that you realize it might be kinda awkward.”

Said realization materialized for me as I was walking toward Gate 4, looking for three guys – three old guys – that I had never met, who were supposed to be waiting with my ticket. It was with these well-worn strangers I was scheduled to share perhaps the most intimate baseball spectating experience of my life.

So I meet these guys. A slick business lawyer with a fancy blue shirt; a retired NYPD lieutenant; and a guy who, as one friend astutely put it, looked like Robin Williams from Good Will Hunting. The lawyer is our host; the other two are my fellow haiku winners.

We shake hands, and line up at the gate, and the attendants glance in our bags but skimp on checking for bombs. They don’t want to offend us Gate 4 Folk. We could have them fired, after all. I approach a long table where I am to receive a wristband for access to the Legends Suite. Like I’m back in Baltimore, and we’re on line at Hammerjack’s. And it dawns on me – just like it did at Hammerjack’s – that I am far from my element.

In the Legends Suite, a fancy buffet-style restaurant in the depths of the Stadium, we get to know each other over a dinner of mashed potatoes and lobster tails. Or blackened flank steak, or Cajun pork loin. Or all of the above. Whatever. Money ain’t a thang.

My cohorts talk about how they grew up here, just inches away. I want to use my Boston roots as an ice-breaker, yet I also want to keep my face. I stay cool.

At one point, the conversation moves to how Vietnam has become a vacation spot.

“Yeah,” says the ex-lieutenant between swigs of Bud, “My cousin had a couple vacations there in the 70s. He didn’t like ‘em too much.”

His winning Yogi Berra-themed haiku, by the way:

He fought at D-Day/And won thirteen World Series/That’s a real hero

So right off the bat, I’m not sure this guy’s gonna like me, he with his buzz cut and me with my wide-eyed liberalism. Of course, I come from that blue collar, cop-heavy kind of family, at least on my dad’s side, but that didn’t work out too well for our clan. And my mom being a clinical psychologist, I’m fighting off the urge to ask this guy about 9/11, and PTSD, and how he’s doing.

But I don’t, obviously, and we proceed to our seats. To get there, we descend a staircase and traverse a heavily-secured corridor. You see, in New Yankee Stadium, there is a wall blocking normies from one-percenters. You can’t even hope to snag a box seat late in the game, because you can’t access them without traversing an underground, free-food-and-fancy-alcohol-stocked tunnel. The Yankees, in true Yankee fashion, have crushed even that innocent, childish fantasy.

So I yoink a couple bags of peanuts off the Free Food Shelf, and on we march. I’m stressing, of course, because I’ve promised several friends I’d live-tweet from two separate accounts, and I’m beginning to think I’ve overcommitted. I’m also someone who struggles with poor posture and an inexplicable yet perpetual look of slack-jawed apathy, and I know I’m about to be on TV for three solid hours.

What I don’t count on is just how on-TV I am. I mean, we are out there. Second row, behind the plate. I catch glimpses on replays, and sure enough, every pitch, there we are. Front and frickin’ center. And that’s when the flood of social media outreach begins.

Nice Yellow Shirt.

You look kind of [effeminate].

I saw you pick your teeth.

And of course I’m not one of those guys that can be all aloof. I have to respond to every single text.

(I tried being aloof in high school — I’d heard it was a good way to fetch dames — but I only got hurt in the end.)

So I’m spending pretty much the entire game looking down at my phone, responding to people, and when I’m not responding to people, I’m live-tweeting, or posting pictures like these:

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And when I’m not doing that, I’m looking for celebs. (We’re supposed to be right behind Lorne Michaels, and beside Rudy’s successor, Mikey B. Neither one shows, of course, but we do see an unfathomably still-alive Pat Sajak, looking decidedly better than Dead.)

Hello, I’m Pat Sajak, and you’ll die before me.

And when I’m not doing that, I’m eating. The good folks at New Yankee Stadium have devised a system where, within 80 seconds of deciding you’re hungry, you can be eating food. A robot-girl punches your order into her keypad, and someone magically appears with the goods before your brain has a chance to step in and overrule your stomach and call the whole thing off, like it’s supposed to. Yes, the Yankees have conquered the human psyche. My consumption for the evening, aside from the steak & potatoes, includes a couple hot dogs, some garlic fries, peanuts and a cheesesteak. I ballpark it at 3,000 calories or so. Three-and-a-half dinners.

And when I’m not doing any of the above, I’m obsessing over trying not to look like a dumbass on TV. If you watched the game, you saw me flashin’ those teeth. Smiling, laughing. You think that’s natural? Hell no. I’m usually brooding, upset about something. But I put on a show because I’m incapable of being on TV without being achingly aware of it at every second.

And to be honest, I’m not so sure I enjoy that. It was only as the game waned to its quiet conclusion in the soft retreat of the timid May night that I appreciated the grandness of where I was. And once I did, it wasn’t the seats I was appreciating. They were just a vehicle that put me particularly close to the action. It was the action itself that I appreciated. The game. My baseball fandom.

I think that’s an important distinction. There are people who value their proximity to things in life, and there are people who just try to enjoy the thing itself. I spent the entire night trying to be the former. But it was only in the ninth inning that I realized the latter is more fun.

With the Yankees comfortably ahead, 8-2, the lawyer shook our hands and made for the exit, and Robin Williams left soon after (Sajak too). And yes, there were some initial anticipatory butterflies, like the ones you got when your parents gave you the keys to the car, or left you home alone for the weekend. Unfiltered access to freedom — what are you gonna do with it?

But I didn’t want to do anything with it, except watch the game. The pretense was gone. I was done tweeting, and knew most of my friends had stopped watching. No longer was there a feeling that this game was a “gift,” a glimpse  into a life to which we were not entitled. It was just the lieutenant and me left, and we were just baseball fans. Sure, we were in seats we had no business occupying, but the experience was the same, if slightly heightened. Like watching a TV show in high definition — you either like the show or you don’t. And if you do, then HD helps — but if you don’t, then HD isn’t going to suddenly make you love it.

Just like the seats meant nothing without the love for the game.

The ex-cop and I became better friends in those 12 silent minutes than we had in the previous three hours of mechanical chit-chat. He even insisted that I wait and walk out with him so he could show me how to get back to the D train, despite my assurances that I could find it myself (aw).

And I did. I fought the crowds back to the D train, perhaps the only guy ever to sit in Rudy’s seat and then take the subway home. And I rode that subway all the way back to Brooklyn, and back to my life as a guy who can afford the nosebleeds.

Like being lied to? Then ask me what my book’s about.

22 May

“You wrote a book? That is SO cool. What’s it about???”

And with that simple question begins an avalanche of burning fury and rancid deceit the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since The Great Burning Fury & Rancid Deceit Festival of 1984.

Since most of my 30 readers today are my friends, let’s just come right out and say it: Chances are, you’ve asked me what my book is about.

And chances are you’ve been lied to.

Yeah, yeah. We’ve been through a lot together. We had that great experience that one time, where we did that thing, and it was like Ohh man! and we got really close and everything, and we’re so close, and we’re such good pals, and we’ve always trusted each other, and Oh man, we’re such good—

Just shut up, and accept it. I lied to you about the contents of my book.

Why, you ask? After all, I’m an honest guy. Pathetically so. I wouldn’t even lie to save the whales.

Sadly, some whales have not yet found Jesus.

And yet I’d lie to keep you from knowing what my book is about.

Is it because the question is overly simplistic? Oh, that’s part of it, I suppose. What is any book really about?

Is it because I haven’t written my synopsis yet, and don’t know how to make my book sound like anything other than a whiny teenage coming-of-age “he’s not afraid to talk about sexuality” pile of buffalo dicks? Yeah, there could be some of that.

Is it because I frankly don’t know what my book is about? That your question reminds me, cringingly, of my own self-doubt, and my fears that I haven’t fleshed the book out enough to even have a plot, let alone a Pulitzer-worthy one? Sure. All true.

But here’s the real reason: I lie to you because the book is about me. The goddamn book is about me.

As first novels often are. And, at times, I wonder if I’ll always be this averse to revealing plots. One day maybe I’ll write about a down-on-his-luck starfish whose kid needs a blood donor, forcing him to travel to the Arctic Ocean to find an estranged uncle banished there for a crime he didn’t commit, who has become bitter (the coldness of the ocean a metaphor for his cold soul) and needs to learn to love again.

But that’s not what this book is about.

Nope. This book is about my old man. With his Boston accent and his boners for self-destruction and his unrealistically good looks, which I didn’t even inherit, yet I inherited his self-destructive tendencies and his temper and his love of delicious drugs (even though I’ve never actually done drugs, which is good cuz God knows the booze gets me, and if I ever did do drugs, God knows I’d like them a little too much).

In other words, my father was like a Kennedy, minus the education, riches and power. Reckless.

And it’s not like you would necessarily know that. It’s not like, if I tell you the book is about a college student who doesn’t know how to grieve the gruesome loss of his father and so begins systematically destroying all of his relationships, it’s not like you’d say, “ohhhhhhhhhhhh, that explains a lot, you freak.”

But I feel like you know. I feel like, behind your eyes, you’re thinking, “First novels are always autobiographical, first novels are always autobiographical.” And me having a lousy poker face, I can’t handle the tension. So I just make things awkward for everyone by telling ridiculous lies. Some real-life examples:

You: What’s your book about? Me: It’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.

You: What’s your book about? Me: Oh, it’s Nancy Drew fan fiction. Nancy finally gets some dick.

You: What’s your book about? Me: It’s about the time I killed you. Unless you shut up. Then it’s about the time I spared you.

You: What’s your book about? Me: It’s the sequel to “Everybody Poops.”

And then, every now and then, something close to – close to – the truth:

You: What’s your book about? Me: [laughing nonchalantly] Oh, you know. Drugs, college, suicide, sex. What all books are about.

The weird thing is, it’s easier for me to talk about my real-life baggage than it is for me to talk about the slightly warped translation of it in my fictional novel. I don’t know what that says about me. I suppose, in real life, I’ve grown into myself, learned where I stop and the Things That Aren’t My Fault begin. But the book is about a time when that wasn’t the case, where everything from my father’s failures to my facial structure was a reflection on me (and only me). Maybe that’s it.

In any case. I write this so that I finally have an answer to that godforsaken question. Next time you ask me what my book’s about, I’m going to refer you to this post. And nobody likes referrals.

(Unless you’re an agent. In which case I’ll write you a dissertation on literally every line, if that’s what gets you going).

Am I the only writer for whom this hits home? I feel like many writers love nothing more than to talk a blue streak about their work. Then again, I feel like there are plenty out there like me. Who effing hate it.

Comments welcome.

Turns out haikus are/good for something after all/Look for me on YES

21 May

Well, it’s official: My butt is going to grace the same Yankee Stadium fabric that Rudy Giuliani’s butt graces on a semi-regular basis. And all thanks to a little haiku.

The most striking difference, I think, between the novel and the haiku would have to be the number of syllables. The novel has more.

The novel being my preferred medium, you can imagine my identity crisis when a haiku I wrote was deemed “excellent” by a man who works regularly with one Rudolph Giuliani. Did this mean I had to abandon my novel and become a haiku writer?

A question for another day, perhaps.

More to the point, this humble Unpublishable was one of three haiku submitters selected by Rudy’s law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, as winners of this month’s “Win Rudy’s Tickets” contest, facilitated by the firm’s very funny[1] Basis Points blog. The reward? To take in a Yankee game from Rudy’s very own seats. They are second row behind home plate, worth about the same as round-trip airfare to Cali, or 10 days’ rent for This Guy. If you’re one of the 321,000 households[2] planning to tune in to the YES Network for Wednesday’s barn burner against the powerhouse Kansas City Royals, you’ll see me every the time pitcher throws a pitch (constructive, tasteful criticism of my posture OK).

No, Rudy will not be there. No, I cannot take you — the other seats are reserved for the other winners. Yes, I will share the winning haiku, but be patient. First, this note about irony:

I am a die-hard Red Sox fan. I hate the Yankees. If the Yankees were a social acquaintance, I’d find them tiresome. They’d be the kind of person who is really attractive, not because of a shrewd sense of style, but because of a great natural shape that will never go away, not even with age, and you just hate it. My freshman year of college, “in my younger and more vulnerable years,” I broke the knuckle of my index finger on the head of my Yankee fan pal, Dan, during an altercation that coincided with the great Don Zimmer-Pedro Martinez bout of 2003. The best part? Dan wasn’t even that big a Yankee fan. For all the very, very worthy reasons to punch Dan in the head, his baseball prowess was never one. In any case, I needed surgery. I’ve got a pin where my knuckle is supposed to be.

So it puts me in a tough position at the game. Do I brashly flash my loyalty to the opposition? It didn’t work out so well for Elaine.

“I think you’d better take off that Orioles cap.”

More likely, I’ll just wear some neutral color, maybe Burnt Siena, shake hands with the other winners and quip that I’m a “baseball fan,” adding sheepishly that I’m from Massachusetts, so, you know, “My Favorite Team Is Whoever’s Playing the Yankees,” and then I’ll laugh heartily and over-enthusiastically, like “AH-ha-ha,” summing it up with a lie I can never make true: “Seriously, fellas, I’m just here to have fun.” And then I just won’t talk to them.

Another very interesting window into my high-octane life as a bankruptcy journalist: there was some serious doubt that I’d be able to attend this game without breaching ethics rules. It’s a violation for a journalist to accept gifts from potential sources. It was a grey area, because this wasn’t a gift. I won them tickets straight up, through blind selection, in a contest anyone can enter. Still, there were concerns among the higher ups, who ended up deciding I could accept the tickets only if our company ponied up the cash for them. And so it was. But hey, no complaints from me. I’m attending a free baseball game either way. If I had a mood ring, it would say “thankful.”

Okay, so, the haiku. For those of you unaware, the Japanese art of haiku, which traces its roots to the 17th century, consists traditionally of three lines, the first and third having five syllables, the middle consisting of seven. More modern haiku writers have scrapped the syllable rules, which is soooo typical of young people. Everything’s all “Free form.” Go to a Grateful Dead show, you bunch of Nerd-o’s.

Anyway, this month’s theme was “Yogi Berra,” the Yankee great known for clever turns of phrase like “Ninety percent of the game is half mental,” and “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Real men read comics

I also figured that tying the poem to bankruptcy would earn me brownie points, since Basis Points is, after all, a bankruptcy-oriented blog. And so, reaching into that Dylan-esq “Wellspring of creativity,” I produced the following, entitled The Forgotten Yogiism:

Little-known secret:
Yogi Berra coined the phrase 
“Chapter twenty-two.”[3]
Chapter 22, of course, being play on words that bankruptcy people use to describe a company that has filed Chapter 11 twice (11+11=22).

So that’s where we stand. Game’s on Wednesday. I’ll be there. Chillin. Ballin. Doin what I do. I’m sure I’ll post about it, so….get excited for that.

In the spirit of my last post, maybe I’ll make it a priority to take Yogi’s advice, and observe as much as I can. Not get in too deep; just take in the waiter service, see how the Other Half lives. Did someone say novel fodder? Most certainly I’ll make friends with a celebrity; that’s a given. Hopefully someone older — jaded to the whole high-rolling lifestyle. A Michael Caine type. And then Michael and I will talk about the pressures of being in the public eye, and he’ll get a little boozed up and tell me about a magical night he had with Julie Christie, or a confusing affair with Anne Bancroft. It’ll be fun; we’ll laugh a lot. But he won’t leave without giving me this advice:

“The maddening truth, Nick, is that life is a haiku. There’s only so much you can do in the lines you’ve got. Took me seventy years to learn that. Let go of all the grandiosity. Universal truth is never found there. Just have a go at capturing one feeling—just one. Capture it perfectly, and never let it go. You do that, and you’ve done all you can.”

Thanks, Michael.

Go Royals.


[1] That is, if you’re familiar with the throes of the corporate bankruptcy world. Which you aren’t and never hope to be.

[3] Not at all true

Dressing as a Cowboy in Atlantic City (and Failing to Gain Perspective)

14 May

There’s no feeling more arresting than seeing those page-view stats plummet from hundreds down to handfuls just cuz you miss a day of blogging. So, I guess I’ll write about my weekend as an Unpublishable in beautiful Atlantic City!

And by beautiful, of course, I mean slightly musty, but generally not so bad. I was there for a bachelor party and, having never gone, I had some preconceived notions. Bad ones. As in, “You breathe in herpes and if you trip you fall on AIDS,” which was my response to one friend’s text asking me what it was like. But, in the end, it was better than Vegas, where I spent only one night circa early 2012, losing both a smartphone and a cousin.

I later found the cousin.

If A.C. taught me one thing, it’s that gambling, it turns out, is both safe AND financially advisable. I’d never done it, but I decided to throw some money on lucky number 13 in Roulette after starting to feel alienated as the only one of 12 guys not gambling (I don’t gamble — I’m a responsible, dignified man who sticks to the booze and hookers). I put $3 on 13 and won $105. First gambling experience ever. So, that’s a good lesson for a first-timer, right?

I went on to lose a bunch of times, but still left the Trop up $80 and, as they say, Up is Up. The other guys, meanwhile, took over a Craps table (who knew THAT was the most complicated game ever) and won multiple hundreds of dollars after one of the fellas got some hot dice (am I saying that right?). I don’t know how these casinos make money.

I was dressed as a cowboy, by the way. You’ve got to picture me in a white cowboy hat, red bandanna around the neck, jacket with tassels. That look is so foreign to me that I just now had to look up the spelling of both “bandanna” and “tassel.” We all had different costumes — it was part of our shtick. I can’t tell you how many young lasses — and a couple dudes — whistled at me, asking when the rodeo had come to town, pleading that I produce my gun. Where’s your horse, they would ask. I AM the horse, I would answer (in reality, I only thought of this reply hours later, George Costanza-style. It went, sadly, un-uttered).

Several other things happened, to be sure, but none involving me, and none that wouldn’t, in some way, risk the reputation of someone else on God’s green earth. So we’ll leave those for another time.

Bottom line, it was all about ego and image. Which is good, if you’re able to step back and observe it and store it away and put it in a novel later. And as a kid, I was MAD good at that. Find me another kid who could out-observe me on the playground and I’ll show you a kid who doesn’t exist. No one tangled with me when it came to discussing the human condition.

But then I started drinking. And liking girls (that part came first). And worrying about image. And, much later, worrying about *social media* image. And now my average social event is spent in such an anxious mess of self-questioning that I’m too wrapped up in my own head to find that perfect balance of inclusion and detachment that makes, I think, a good writer. I’ve literally gone backwards.

There are confident moments too, of course. I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in a subway door window and, realizing my tie is a bit crooked, will elect NOT to fix it, on grounds that, “Come on, big sexy, don’t be TOO perfect — maintain some relatability with the normals, there, Tiger.” But even in those fleeting, happy seconds, the detachment is not where it should be.

This Atlantic City thing was no different. I return with little in the way of stuff to say. Yet I’ve still managed to give it a few hundred words here. If nothing else, maybe an exercise in self-awareness?

I think I’ll stop now — I’m trying a new thing called “Limit your blogging to your lunch hour and then get back to work.”