I, Published, Or: The Glories of Shameless Self-Promotion

The day has finally arrived: I have inflicted myself upon the literary landscape with an officially published story. MY FIRST COMIC IS OUT!

“Where can I get what is surely to be a mind-altering journey into brilliance,” you ask? We can get People Skills, the 5-page bundle of inspiration about a robot and a cat told through amazing art by Micheal Evans, RIGHT HERE in the digital comics anthology, Make Out (Volume 2).  

And for just $3 (more if you’re feeling generous), there’s no reason not to support your local organic, free range comic creators. But that’s not all! There are 60-pages of comic brilliance to enjoy, stories forged from the finest mind-steel for as far afield as France! That’s right: you get to make me feel wanted and appreciated by purchasing my story AND you can make a whole lot of other people’s day. What an amazing deal! It’s a no-brainer.

And the fact that my first published story is a comic, a form that has done so much for me in the last couple years, is especially meaningful to me. Because I’m not exaggerating when I say that comics saved my life.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: that’s some schmalzy, baroquely emotional bullshit. And you’d be right. But it’s also true.

Three years ago, when I was at the tail end of my PhD and wading through the venomous morass of the revision process and tenured professors’ fragile egos, I was suffering from what I can only describe as profound spiritual decay. I had been a good soldier-monk for five years, writing, researching, and attending what was expected of me, but my heart wasn’t in it, and looking back at it, I suppose it never had been, or at least not enough. That’s not to say that my academic work never excited me, or that I never enjoyed it, but I couldn’t shake a feeling of alienation, a chronic disconnect between the expectations of academia – that it’s a world populated by insightful people jacking themselves into a blazing world of ideas like a cyberpunk data jockey after his last big score – and what I felt: that it was a temple of exactitudes and inflexible dictates that prized conformity over insight. It was a cold place with a cold religion. And I was good at it, too – I knew all the right incantations, the words of power, and the kind of incense that pleased the gods – but I also knew I didn’t care about it, that I didn’t believe in it. To me, an airtight academic argument smelled like what Werner Herzog calls “the truth of accountants,” where all the facts are right, where the plot is perfect, but where there’s no story, no imagination. 

And I missed my imagination. Weaving complex intellectual arguments has its appeal, but if I’m going to be honest, if I had to choose between a nuanced encounter with [insert author/philosopher here] through an application of [insert critical lens here] and any story about a dragon, I’ll take the wyrm. I tried to convince myself otherwise, that I could funnel my love of stories into research, but like most things born of thin ambition, it was a lie. The truth was that I had, somehow, talked myself into joining the Big Bang Theory fan club while deep down I thought that Sheldon was an abusive asshole. It might be someone’s idea of a good time, but I just didn’t get it, and after five years of pretending, I was a bitter, angry, little man. I drank too much, had no hobbies to speak of, and I harbored a deep resentment toward a system that, as I experienced it, was allergic to fun and contemptuous of play. I had to find a way out, or, I knew, it would eventually kill me.

I came to this realization in the most clichéd way possible: one morning, fresh out of the shower, I stared at my reflection – blurred by steam and my bad eyesight – in the bathroom mirror, and said, “what am I doing?” If I had had a red pen, I would have struck through the experience for its triteness alone, but I knew I was right. I was completely lost, and the only thing I really knew was that if I stayed where I was and assumed a role that would allow no time for dragons, pirates, and space ships, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

So I did what everyone who likes to write does when they’re looking for ideas: I procrastinated. And I read. Or at least I tried to, because every time I sat down to read, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t physically do it. In a cruel twist of fate, the medieval dental visit that is a PhD program had robbed me of the very thing that had gotten me to the tip of the educational pyramid: my love of books. After reading unknown thousands of pages for my dissertation, and thousands more in course work, I couldn’t stand to look at a page of words: my eyes would swim, my heart would begin to race, and a wave of nausea would roll over me and submerge any enthusiasm I had managed to dredge up. Like Henry Bemis, I stood in the furnace of apocalypse, undone by irony as my glasses shattered on the ground. But then I remembered: hadn’t I gotten a copy of The Infinity Gauntlet, Marvel Comics’ insane space opera masterpiece, on a whim about a year before? That has pictures. Lots of them. Why not try that? So I pulled it off the shelf, poured myself a beer, and KRAKA-DOOM! it cracked me in the jaw and knocked me through the curtain of space-time into another universe.

The wild art and uninhibited, bonkers imagination were the opposite of the lawyerly bet-hedging and preemptive shadow-boxing with an adversarial reader that I grown accustomed to in graduate school. The book was what it was and it made no apologies for itself. It was like someone had plugged my brain into a neon sign – it made me feel better. I devoured it, and when that was gone, I moved on and sucked the marrow out of another book. And then another. And another, until I had read nearly 5,000 pages. When I wasn’t at work or spending time with friends, who endured my festering angst with divine patience, reading comics is what I thought about, it’s what I did. 

And then one day, while we were poring over the intricacies of Marvel’s Secret Wars event – which included, but were not limited to, bolt-throwing barbarians, journeys of vengeance through Hulk-infested wastelands, and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Enlightenment Cannon (yes, that’s a real thing) – my friend Ben, in a moment of simple clarity, said, “you should write comics.” Half a second later, in an even simpler moment of resolution, I thought: “yeah, I should. I will. I am.” And so I did, with no idea of what I was doing, but as soon as I started, I knew I couldn’t stop. Comics were the wild west: I didn’t know any of the rules, but it didn’t matter. I felt a rush – a real physical high – every time I sat down to write or to scribble ideas onto a pad, or to consult and conspire with Ben about ideas for high octane adventures. Because for the first time in a long time, I had something I wanted to learn and to throw myself into. I cared, and as unabashedly cheesy as it sounds – because I know how it sounds – I knew that comics wouldn’t turn me away if I did.

If a person’s life is a book, comics have given me something I never thought I’d have again: a story I want to read. I hope I can do the same for you.

 

 

 

 

Why, chromosome?

To Edgar, with gratitude.

 

Men of power and their members are a duo to remember

As they wrangle this November with the monster at the door.

It came creeping, slowly seeping as the President sat tweeting

Out the puss that was leaking from his mental canker sore,

This horror briskly rapping, gently tapping at our chamber door,

Dressed in a suit and nothing more.

 

“Is it truth or is it lie,” asks a man as he decries

What every woman knows by sight, for she has seen it all before––

That these “malicious rumors” truly are malignant tumors

From a system’s fetid sewers rotting at our core.

So let’s sit in courage now and endeavor to explore

The monster knocking, knocking at our chamber door.

 

It is normal to admire what one has come to desire

As one sits by the fire dreaming dreams of true amour.

One imagines gently basking in a soft light everlasting

Whose warmth is so contrasting to the loneliness of yore.

And in chambers dark and dreary it is normal to want more

Tis a fact today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

 

But we are slowing noting that we, in all our doting,

Have raised a child fond of gloating behind our cellar door,

Who takes and seizes what he wants and what he pleases

Free from all dear entreaties, thanks to his masculine allure.

And he is sure in his position, for he both hums and writes the score—

This man for whom less always, always equals Moore.

 

He lives a life of Wein and Roses, unaware of the threat he poses,

For the world to him is made of trophies to acquire and to store.

Before him goes an air of foreboding, for he dreams of having, knowing

And in secret taking, groping the angel named Lenore.

And now he stands in the darkness brooding, waiting, at our door

For us to tell the craven: “nevermore.”

 

Bus Connection: A Confession

We’ve not known each other for a while now, and I…I need to not say what I think you’re thinking too: what we have on the bus is special.

Everyday, you sit next to me because we get off at the same stop. Some would say this is just convenience, but it’s more than that, and I’m certain you might feel the same way. Or I least I think so. I’m not sure because we’ve never spoken. Or made eye contact. Or directly acknowledged the other’s existence. But who needs words when we finish each other’s…COMMUTE, yes, see,  I was just about to say that!

You get me. I know where I stand with you: I don’t have to worry about letting the other person out, or getting stuck in the press of pre-caffeinated commuters as I try to squeeze past a soul-dead office worker lost in an individual playlist before the doors close and we cross the bridge. If I’m in a different seat because a stranger who’s obviously just riding the bus this one time–because if they were a regular, they’d know that’s my seat, since I sit there everyday–you sit next to me anyway. Because we don’t have to think when we’re together: I can be as mindless as a cow running on muscle memory, just barely aware of my surroundings as I shuffle from one pasture to the next, coming to only when I reach my destination.

Without you, I might have to engage with the outside world, but because you are there, covering my right flank and ensuring I don’t have to interact with a foreign element, I can dwell on what day I should buy a burrito for dinner, and life questions like: “if Commander Data’s hair does grow, as is suggested in “Birthright, Part 1” (TNG Season 6, episode 16), does he ever need a haircut? How much is a haircut on the Enterprise, anyway? I know they don’t use money, but some cultures do, so, what, do they just give free haircuts to visiting races who do you use money? How does that economic system even work?” That’s a good question, and I have you to thank for it. And I’m sure if we talked you’d tell me the same thing, if you’re even the kind of person who notices things like that. Who can say? You don’t look up from your book until the bus stops.

But I know how we work. And yes, Shiny-Haired Girl’s mithril locks are mesmerizing as I stare at the wipers lurching across the windshield four rows up, but that’s just a distraction, a dalliance, a passing daydream.

The two of us, we’re different: we share absolutely nothing. And that’s really something.

 

The Who, What, When, Where, and Hawaiian

Since this is my first post, and first impressions pushed to the bottom of a page by new posts are the most important, I’d like to take a minute to discuss something dear to absolutely no one’s heart: Hawaiian pizza.

It’s an ignominious pie, the target of the kind of pop culture derision reserved for a select group of outsider obsessions like the word “moist,” dad jokes, and political centrism. In The Good Place, it’s the official pizza in Hell, and even the President of Iceland took a break from his busy schedule of declining nouns in early 2017 to declare that he was “fundamentally opposed to putting pineapple on top of a pizza,” and that he would forbid it with the power of his office if he had the authority to do so. And of course there’s nothing wrong with disliking, or even hating, Hawaiian pizza on a personal level. To each their own, and if you’re going to make questionable dietary choices, you might as well be certain about them. But why the cultural pile-on in an age when pizza has long since shed the dictates of salami and shredded cheese, when one can encounter autumn squash pizzas, or Indian-themed pies with potatoes, chickpeas, and collard greens (it was delicious)? What’s so wrong about pineapple and ham? If the experience of wearing a Halloween costume when no one else is dressed up were a food, it’d be Hawaiian pizza, and because I apparently having nothing better to write about, and you obviously have nothing better to read about, let’s pick this apart, shall we?

So, why is the Hawaiian pie so maligned? Because no matter what you do to it, at the end of the day it’s a pile of canned pineapple and ham. The Hawaiian pizza is hated because, more than anything else, it’s honest about what it is and indifferent to what it is not, and because we’re embarrassed by the fact that it isn’t embarrassed about itself.

And I get it: even the most ardent pro-Hawaiian pizza partisan would have to admit that it’s inherently unsexy, this pile of water-packed ham and nigh candied fruit perched on a lava cap of cheese of questionable provenance. It possesses a guileless, proletarian directness that’s almost tragically out of step with an American food culture obsessed with sustainability and fork-to-table, ideas that have become so ubiquitous in the way we talk about food that massive corporations throw around words like “artisan” and “small batch” the way a first-semester graduate student shoehorns “epistemology” into sentences at a mixer: they want to get laid so badly, and the right lingo is the first step toward an unlonely day. And let’s face it, there’s nothing beguiling about ham, and even less about canned pineapple. You can slap fancy cured meats on a pizza to give your pepperoni pizza a price tag and conspicuous decadence that would make a gangster rapper nod in approval. Cheese pizza? No problem: add buffalo mozzarella that melts into a shimmering silk dress and maybe a hard cheese from a cave on the Iberian peninsula and you have a calorie bomb worth writing home about. But ham? No. Ham is ham.

Sure, Italy, Spain, and Germany make some cured hams that would make a vegan pitch a tent in a moment of weakness, but that’s not the kind of ham that finds its way onto Hawaiian pizza. No, that honor is reserved for the kind of processed log of featureless meat that spiced up the entrées at Lyndon Johnson fundraising events and suburban progressive dinners in 1964. It’s boring. It’s the George Will of meats, remarkably unremarkable, objectionable if you take the time to think about it, but you won’t because, God, it’s George Will. So it just sticks around. And even if you did try to sneak good ham onto the pizza, it would still essentially be what we all secretly know it is: a relic from a culinary past defined by hyper-processed food and an almost allergic reaction to fresh ingredients.

In an interview in 2015, two years before he died, then-81-year-old Sam Panopoulos, who invented the Hawaiian pizza in Ontario in 1962, described the culinary situation in Canada in the early 1960s this way: “the pizza in those days was three things: dough, sauce, cheese, and mushroom, bacon, or pepperoni. That was it,” and of course the mushrooms were canned. Like the all the other inexplicable ham and fruit dishes that clawed their way out of the mid century supermarket, Hawaiian pizza was an attempt to bring something approaching joy to a drab food culture. “In those days,” Panopoulos says, “the only sweet and sour thing you would get is Chinese pork, you know, with the sweet and sour sauce[.] Otherwise there was no mix.”

We’ve since moved on from this kind of conceptual food wasteland, and looking back at Panopoulos’ creation from a time when people can have opinions about bubble tea; discussions of avocado toast, of all things, become battlegrounds of generational conflict and economic inequality; and where kale chips somehow make sense, the simultaneously garish and plain Hawaiian pizza looks especially foreign. Accustomed as we are to appearing sophisticated, the Hawaiian pizza is an unambiguous reminder of what we used to be. Hating it publicly en masse is the culinary equivalent of laughing at the anachronisms in Mad Men, a collective declaration of how modern we are, that we are better now. Because as Dan Nosowitz observes in his interview with Panopoulos, “in North America, you would never buy it for an office party or to feed hungry friends at a bar, at least not without a thorough interrogation to find out each eater’s stance on the pie.” Hawaiian pizza is, more than anything, a private indulgence, like fan fiction and editing sci-fi wikis. We might like it, but we only tell the people we trust. Because we’re better than that, at least when people are watching. I mean, what would the neighbors think? And really, what’s more traditional than that?