Course Reflections

Reflections…

      I had no idea what to expect going into this course. When we first began, I initially continued that theme by not having a clue as to what was going on. I was unfamiliar with the idea of essayists, however, soon enough I realized I had been reading the works of essayists all my life without ever realizing it. Whether it be articles online or in a magazine, or short literary pieces, these were essays that I had no idea were, well, essays. By doing the readings, and listening attentively in class – granted while also not participating all that much – I became familiar with the tools which made for a solid essay.

    Firstly, honesty matters. If you are unfamiliar with the topic you are writing about then do research. Personal essays should dig deep and reveal something about the author so that they are present within their own essay. That is the essence of having a voice within your work, you need to be felt within the piece to the reader. If you do not stand out and project yourself honestly then you run the risk of projecting a shallow, or fake presence in your essay, if any at all. That is one thing that helped me adjust to this course work and style of writing is being able to project a voice. Whether others like that voice, who knows? Does being myself within my writing help me? Absolutely.

     Having come from a background of non-fiction, and most recently over the past two years, focusing on screenwriting, it was a bit difficult to adjust back to writing in the form of an essay. So, when it came to working on my essay sequence I began it by adding a kind of over dramatized fictional twist to a non fictional series of pieces. At the end of writing this sequence I honestly felt way more consistently proficient than I had when this course began. My Freshman, and Sophomore year I could write at a consistent pace and produce a fair amount of work because of that. However, coming into this semester I had grown rusty and spent too much time in between writing, so it was hard to grab back onto that flow. Something that I’ve definitely taken away is that I need more discipline and learn to juggle conflicting tasks in a better manner. However, I have also learned that I missed writing. By the end of this course I was really enjoying putting together these pieces, and I want to continue to do so as I go forward. Being around such talented writers in one room this year was eye opening in that I need to work harder and more consistently.

Slots, Cigs, and Scars

Slots, Cigs, and Scars

   Two things were realized on the last leg of our journey from the Grand Canyon back to Las Vegas:  

1- I was about to go back into the real world, we all were, so the next twenty-four hours in Vegas were to be savored.

2- You can pay not much money to shoot a fifty caliber sniper rifle at some dude’s house in the middle of the Nevada desert.

  That second realization wasn’t all that important, but still, heck of a billboard…

      The last time the seven of us were here, our business was amid the outskirts and among the clouds. Now, we were directly in the heart of the most ridiculous resort city in North America. We pulled into the Bellagio Hotel and Casino parking lot in broad daylight while the sun still rested high in the sky. The RV rumbled in, towering over every other vehicle on the road as sediment from the long road behind us remained stuck to our cabin walls. We parked at the baggage check in amongst exotic cars such as Bugattis, Porsches, and Teslas – a moment that could have been pulled straight out of National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). Not realizing how absurd we must have looked in comparison to our avarice surroundings until we exited the RV, my Parents I immediately felt like we had stepped out to go hiking but instead found ourselves in the middle of an all-encompassing game show. Our sun-kissed selves made our way into the hotel as David and Lindsey left to return the recreational vehicle, and along with it, Maverick…

  The RV had served us well, and Maverick was a loyal dog to say the very least. Mostly because he was painted on and couldn’t run away. Regardless, we were down to our core five – our family –  and it was our city to explore, just as we had with the vast canyons and landscapes that lay in our wake.

  Entering into the lobby of the Bellagio caused a kind of shift. The real world was behind us the moment we passed through those doors. Once inside, you are in this world of unreal possibilities, which also happen to carry very real consequences. It’s a dangerous potion chemically concocted in a beaker resembling a blend of Willy Wonka’s candy garden and a shopping mall. The gold plated elevator doors opened up to a labyrinth of hotel hallways with identical eccentric wallpaper and prototypical hotel art adorning the walls. After about fifty years of going down a hallway, we finally reached my Mom and Dad’s room, and It did not disappoint. The giant glass windows reached from floor to ceiling revealing a view of Vegas unobstructed by the ground-level chaos of lights, sounds, and people. I stared out, high atop the city, being able to see every strangely mesmerizing feature this place had to offer. The fountain in front of the Bellagio soared, leading my eyes up the sides of all the buildings in my eye line. Eventually, I could see over them into the desert that sat behind every building, here before any of this or any of us. Forgotten.

   This view provided me a sort of outside perspective while being as much on the inside of it all as one could be. It was all a facade, an illusion that promised permanent satisfaction from temporary pleasures. That being said, I dove right in. I don’t even really smoke cigarettes, but you know what? You can smoke inside anywhere in  Las Vegas, so I over-exercised that right. Beers to go? Absolutely. There was a moment where I purchased an adult beverage just so I could go drink it on the sidewalk. Rules were weird here because there weren’t many, and that was fine by me. While I could see the city’s grimy hands dragging me into it’s seductive lap, I did not resist. When in Rome, right? 

I’ve always had a bit of a testy relationship with alcohol. And by testy I mean I’ve used it to ruin my life before, and while there are more good times than bad with it, I can often find a problem at the bottom of the bottle. I used to be able to run fast and lift heavy weights, so I chose to pursue playing football my Freshman year of college. That year went well for the most part, and I was somehow able to balance what was then moderate alcoholism with my priorities such as athletics and academics. Then, the final week of school rolled around, the same week I had secured a starting spot in our Spring practices. I ended up blacking out, getting in a fist fight, and resisting arrest to the point where it took four police officers to put me in handcuffs. They ended up kicking the ever loving shit out of me, let me tell you. What the real kicker is though (get it?) is that the state dropped all charges, but the school still suspended me for a year…

What followed was six months of deep reflection and hard work. I can without a doubt say I became a more responsible, self aware, and considerate person during this time. Over that span I worked and saved so that I could go backpacking in Europe with Brad, my other Brother who is three years older than me. While I looked up to Dave, Brad and I did everything together, and he is my best friend for life. Well, eventually the money was earned and we were on our way. Our trip consisted of stopping in England, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. It was the greatest two months of my life to date. We experienced so much, saw so many beautiful and historic sights, met a ton of fascinating and great people, and learned abut ourselves along the way. However, when traveling there is a lot of down time. A lot. I would rad books on the train, in the hostels, and in cafes. But, I would also drink while doing so. Even if it wasn’t a heavy intake, I was still boozing. At the end of it all, I realized, “Wow. I just had the time of my life. Also, wow, I definitely just drank every day for two months straight. Not good.”

No joke, I literally applied to colleges while in a coffee shop in Amsterdam. I arrived back home, eager to hear if I had been accepted. Turns out I had been, at Keene State. This was great news. My journey abroad was over, so I began to rebuild myself as I had returned home thin and worn down, after having left the States in the best shape of my life. That seems to be the cycle I go through, a viscous cycle at that. I find stability, consistency, and comfort, and then out of no where I let it go, and have to end up rebuilding myself and finding my footing again. Even now, as I type this essay, I’m about to graduate college and cannot help but look at how I’ve fallen into the cycle once again. While I drank in Europe I still grew as a person, expanded my mind and changed how I see the world in a lot of ways. That being said, I still carried the weight of my actions in Fitchburg on my back when I arrived in Keene.

I moved into Bushnell my first year here, those apartments were located directly next to the gym and the library on campus. In my first year back in school after having been out for a year trying to figure my shit out, I was going to the gym twice a day, reading consistently, and ended up making Dean’s List.  Now, a Senior on the cusp of graduating and taking on the world, I live next to a bar and a gas station. That right there is the cycle I’m speaking of in motion.

David found me wandering around the casino smoking a cigarette, wearing sunglasses with my shoulder length hair down. I must have looked like a sight to behold. Together we went up to our Parents’ room to regroup with them and Lindsey for dinner. The restaurant we had reservations at was a place called Stacked, a five star joint on the Vegas Strip. Every one of us were in get spirits, and not just because of the alcohol. We had been on an amazing trip together, one we can share and never forget, a bonding experience for the rest of our lives. Now, here we ere seated together for one last supper. This moment came crashing down for me though when I opened the menu. The prices were astronomical. David and my Parents kept insisting to get whatever I wanted, but I began to feel uncomfortable, anxious, and honestly angry in a way that I can’t really describe. The prices for appetizers kept laughing in my face, everywhere I looked it reminded me of our humble place in the world, and that I should be working harder to help my family in any way I could. We could afford a meal like this once a year, while others who work half as hard as my Parents could whenever they please. I know, that’s they way of the world, but still, it stirred something deep within me. That stir was soothed and captivated by the sounds of the Beatles.

Following dinner we went to see Love by Cirque du Soleil. An extravagantly coordinated tribute to the Beatles.

I don’t know if it was because of the heavy amount of alcohol and cigarettes I had been consuming throughout the day and into the show itself, but this was the most entertaining thing I’ve ever been to. All five of us sat next to each other in the dark, silent, and then the hypnotic melody of “Because” by the Beatles began to fill the atmosphere.  The stage sat in the center of a fully surrounded amphitheater, and the performers would come pouring out from all around as well as from above. The show was entirely engrossing. We all sat there in appreciation of where we were and where we had come from to get there. I think a large part of how much we felt a part of that experience was because this was collectively our last activity together before we would part ways. Our parents had endowed a deep appreciation for the Beatles’ music, and so it felt as though my childhood had come full circle as I sat next to my Mom and Dad as they were both enthralled by the theatrics happening before them. This show absolutely shifted my mood from the jarring experience at the restaurant. That moment with the menu had dragged me out of the illusion of Las Vegas I had so willingly bought into. Thankfully this Beatles show catapulted me right back into it, farther than I had been before even.

After the show everyone was worn out and tired. We stayed out a little longer and got drinks and chatted, but one by one everyone made their way to bed. Eventually, it was just me, alone with my thoughts on the alien planet known as Las Vegas. I was down to the bottom of my pack of cigarettes, savoring every drag as I sipped my overpriced beer along the sidewalk at three in the morning. Eventually the grandeur I had bought into faded as the streets became emptier and emptier. Soon the vibrant neon lights became ugly with every flash, and the once beautiful inhabitants had ascended into their lofts while I remained on the streets with the homeless, the addicts, and the pimps. After everything we had been through, I was back where I was. By myself. The booze faded and the cigarettes crumbled with ash. I could no longer hide from the person I had to deal with once this night ended. Tomorrow, I was no longer cruisin’, no longer reminiscing or making new memories with those I loved, and I was no longer able to rip cigs inside (damn). Tomorrow I was me again, living with the choices I’ve made, and working to make myself better.

Let the cycle begin again.

 

 

 

Under the Big Sky

There we were, living in an RV down by the river…

      The walls of Zion National Park watched over us as we floated in the mellow waters of the Virgin River, which played an important role in the canyon’s creation. Eons of natural erosion and sedimentary development had created one of the most amazing places one could experience. Fortunately, we were able to experience it together, as a family.

      Ever since our first pit-stop at a revelatory Walmart Supercenter in Nevada, it had been full steem ahead for our crew of seven. The road from Las Vegas, Nevada to Southwest Utah was everything Easy Rider (1969) montages had promised. Having never been out West, the only references I had were from television, film, and textbooks. However, none of those mediums did the natural landscape of the American West justice. Peering out of the windows in wonderment, we all exchanged “Ooh’s” and “Awe’s” like a kind of soulful currency. Open fields stretching into the horizon were abbreviated by mighty rock faces and overhangs. The reds, oranges, and tans flowed in and out of eachother, climbing, dropping and stretching, all while pulling us further and further down an endless highway.

      My position as copilot was not taken for granted as David – wearing his signature short sleeved button up shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals – captained the ship while the road ahead stared back at itself through the reflection off of David’s opaque wooden framed sunglasses. Seated comfortably within the cabin was Lindsey with her joyful brown eyes scanning the passing scenery while her hands were focused on knitting. My Father, sitting directly behind us, only told David how to drive a couple times (That’s progress!). All the while rocking his Amazing Spider-Man tank top that he had gotten at Universal Studios on vacation yeeeeaaaaarrrrrrsssss ago – the one dad shirt to rule them all. Meanwhile, my Mother sat back, purely content. There was nothing to wake up early for tomorrow, nothing to stress over, only an experience to, well, experience.

      My Mother had never been that far out West either, and she carried with her a stoic appreciation for her surroundings as a result. One of the main reasons this epic road trip was organized and put into motion was so that we could spend significant time with our parents during a time of massive transition in all of our lives. David and Lindsey were beginning their life together, and I was entering my senior year of college –  a position that just a couple years prior I thought I would never be in. Meanwhile, our Mother and Father were doing what they had always done: working their assess off on a daily basis. The only difference being that they were getting older and their kids were getting farther away. This trip was long overdue.

      While Mom and Dad were the reason we were determined to make this trip as great as possible, they were also the reason we carried with us a certain level of concern, or caution. There was a lot of hiking and heat ahead of us, and my parents aren’t exactly fitness enthusiasts in what minuscule free time they have. However, upon our arrival, any concerns we may have had were entirely refuted.

      Zion National Park carries with it a type of Garden of Eden esthetic. It’s biblical in its scale and relentless beauty. The Virgin River winds through it like a tour guide revealing a breathtaking scene to behold around every bend. The greenery, while lush and ever present, acts as a complimentary element to the plateau topped walls of the majestic canyon. Simply put, the park is nothing short of eye openingly pristine. This was our first stop in a chain of National Parks to be visited, followed by Bryce, and then the Grand Canyon. We spent the entire day hiking as many trails as we could, and our parents absolutely crushed it. It was as if Zion had mystically rejuvenated them. The day exceeded everyone’s expectations, once again proving that you can usually expect your expectations to be inaccurate.

    The only way I can describe the day in Zion is pure. Moving step by step, side by side, in this magnificent place, together, after having been apart the way we had been was nothing short of cathartic. Being able to not only see the joy my Parents were experiencing, but to share in it with them was more than I could ever ask for. 

Upon returning to our campground, we immediately began to share thoughts and anecdotes from the day around the campfire. However, the RV was parked so close to the river that we couldn’t help but hear it beckoning us. Being polite, we obliged the river. The same energy from inside of the park flowed through the Virgin River as we sat in it up to our chests, adult beverages in hand, intercepting the soothing current.

This was the mobile domicile lifestyle in motion.

As the sun began to set, we prepared dinner. David and Lindsey having lived out of backpacks for an extraordinary amount of time are basically five star chefs when given a full kitchen, and our RV’s kitchen was not messing around. The two of them cooked up stuff I swear we didn’t even have. Seriously, where did they get steak? We didn’t have steak! The magic of Zion didn’t end there, though. When dinner was done and everyone was winding down along with the campfire, I snuck away to the river with a left handed cigarette I had acquired along our journey (…Nevada legalized recreational marijuana…bare with me, I’m getting to a point). As I looked up at the full moon over the ridge of the canyon wall adjacent to our campsite, my Mom came to find me to say “Goodnight”…

Absorbed in the vivid features of the night sky, I hadn’t heard my Mother approaching, otherwise I would have hit the pause button on the activity. Instead of scolding me for sneaking it onto the trip, She instead asked for a hit…I felt like I had stepped outside of my body and was now watching this happen rather than actually living it. After stepping back into my body, under one of the fullest moons I had ever witnessed, I passed the left handed cigarette to the Woman who gave me life, and honestly, it was a genuinely beautiful moment. My Mother and I have always been alike, sharing the same sense of humor and personality. It was my mother who taught me to, “Just say, ‘Hi’.” A lesson that I practice to this day and will continue to as long as I have a pulse. It’s simple, just say “Hi”. You never know the change it can make in someone’s day, or the doors it can open. Life is meant to be engaged with and  my Mother is who taught me to engage it, and not to simply stand back and watch it go by.

My best friend in high school and I got into trouble during the Senior year book photo shoot for positioning ourselves in a way that it made it look like we were making out. Comedy gold, I know. Keep in mind we went to a Catholic school so they weren’t exactly enthused. Our classmates were, but the diocese not so much…As a result, they didn’t put in the traditional “goofy” photo that goes in the back of the yearbook. Instead it was just blank. When I explained what happened to my parents I expected for my Mother to scold me at the least, but instead she went and got her yearbook. Opening it all the way to the back, there was no back page in her yearbook either…My mother thirty years before my existence had pulled a stunt with her friends as well and gotten the “goofy” page removed from their Senior yearbook. That anecdote may be meaningless or shallow to other people, but it means a lot to me.

She took one hit, her first and only since having my Brothers and I, and we just talked. I don’t remember what we talked about, I just know it was great. We said goodnight to each other, we hugged, and I gave Her a kiss on the cheek. It was then that it dawned on me; while this trip was about being together and making memories as a family, looking up at the night sky made me realize that time and place are relative when it comes to the love you have for others. No matter where any of us are, we are under the same night sky, with the same love in our hearts.

Goodnight, Zion.

Good morning, Bryce.

The musical stylings of Father John Misty acted as the soundtrack for our transition out of Zion towards Bryce Canyon. Everyone including Maverick, the dog painted on the door of the RV, was in good spirits. The RV’s engine roared, once again in it’s element shepherding us along the endless highway.  The levees broke along the way and the once dominant reds, oranges, and tans gave way to  crisp green fields looking up at the big sky along U.S. Route 89.

The RV cradled Lindsey, Mom, and Dad as they slept, regaining energy in preparation for the amount of times we would have to pick our jaws up off of the floor of Bryce Canyon. The park looks more like a Salvador Dali painting than anything close to reality. Hoodoos, pillars of rock formed through natural processes of erosion, inhabit the series of amphitheaters that is Bryce. As you move through the canyon itself, the walls and hoodoos shift shape and color. What once looked like an abstract attempt at an acupuncture arrangement from above now towered over you. The geographical characteristics are made only more surreal by the wildlife in the area. The first thing we saw as we approached the view at Bryce Point was a bird that looked like more of a sabertooth tiger with wings. What kind of bird was it? I have no idea. What I do know, however, is that a flock of those things could take over a small country if they wanted to. I swear to God.

Monstrous birds aside, my parents once again thrived. This hike was by far more taxing than our time in Zion, yet the challenge seemed to make them stronger. This is a microcosm of who my parents are. Despite difficulties, they will always persevere. My mother and father are not the braggadocios type, they are the kind to put their nose against the grindstone and work until the job is done. It just so happens that this job was more enjoyable than the ones they are used to. Once the hike was completed, high fives dispersed, and all oohs and awes expressed, it was time to get back on the road.

Despite cruisin’ forward at ferocious rate, the road towards the Grand Canyon felt as though we were simultaneously going backwards in time. A little known fact is that the largest CD collection on the planet exists on the shelves of David’s bedroom. Spanning from the musical influences of our parents up to contemporary artists, David’s collection has everything. Any genre, any mood, and any feeling can be found on those shelves. The ability to browse his collection for something I hadn’t yet listened to while growing up was a blessing. From the days of listening to my Walkman on the bus ride to school, up through driving to high school and eventually college, I would go in and pick out a CD for the trip. This was a focal point of how my oldest Brother and I bonded. This leg of the journey felt more like we were back home geeking out over a Smashing Pumpkins album than being in an unfamiliar place along the vast interstates of the U.S. The natural beauty of the world around us momentarily took a backseat to the screams and shouts of Slayer as we cruised through Nowhere, Arizona.

We arrived at sunset.

While Maverick held down the fort on the RV, we stood in silent appreciation of the landscape sprawled out before us. As the sun slowly fell behind the horizon of the canyon, shadows bloomed and slowly dissolved into darkness as if the Grand Canyon itself was going to sleep. This was an ideal tease for the surprise that David had in store for all of us.

We spent the first half of the next day on foot exploring the Southern Rim of one of the most breathtaking places on the planet. The second half was spent in the air. David had arranged for us to go on bush plane tour of the Grand Canyon, a next level experience that we had no idea even existed.

Standing a mile deep and eighteen miles wide, the canyon is grand to say the least. It is genuinely impossible to take it all in on foot, however, being airborne is a different story. The bush plane itself was rickety, and I’m pretty sure our pilot wasn’t even old enough to have his drivers license, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity so up we went. As we took off and gained altitude the ground below was filled with lush greenery. The trees and rivers existed in a world of their own, we were a distant audience to the world’s often unappreciated details. The earth disappeared as we moved over the precipice of the canyon.

The absence of space below us generated a combination of tranquility and appreciation. Never did I think I would be able to look down on paradise while surrounded with the ones I love. Thoughts of the lightning storm from the flight into Las Vegas crossed my mind. We were arranged almost identically. I was seated next to my Mother, with David and Lindsey behind us, and my Father a few seats away. I couldn’t wait to get off that plane on the way into Vegas. I never wanted this flight to end.

Was I okay?

We were great.

 

 

 

 

   

 

  

 

  

 

   

Heaven Is a Walmart Parking Lot on a 100 Degree Day

 

“We’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”, they said, fifteen minutes…

Supplies were to be gathered for our Westward odyssey. So, my parents accompanied by my oldest brother, David, and his wife, Lindsey, journeyed fearlessly into the mouth of the nearest Las Vegas Walmart. It was my chosen duty to stay with our newly acquired mobile domicile, and insure that it would still be there upon my family’s return. Our RV (Recreational vehicle for those unfamiliar with the way of the road) sat in the baron Supercenter parking lot surrounded by stucco houses and strip malls made up entirely of neighboring pawn shops. These features complemented the desperately picturesque skyline of Las Vegas. The grandiose casinos and hotels which mingle amidst the clouds above the city were humbled by the tan, sandy hills that hold the city hostage.

Fifteen minutes turned into thirty, and thirty minutes turned into forty-five, and forty-five minutes turned into an hour and a half…

Nevada is not cold in August, it’s hot. It’s too hot.

The RV, while standing as a monument to human innovation, is also a symbol of the endless potential for vacation and recreation that exists within all of us – a singular uniting force, if you will. It’s magnificent frame and sleek aerodynamic design, combined with space-age technological features such as having both AM and FM radio capabilities, all boil down into one thing: a giant toaster oven on wheels. Heat enters with no intention of leaving, or even cooling for that matter. They (You know, they…) say out in states like Nevada and Arizona that there is a kind of “dry heat”, and while this is true, the RV is the great equalizer. Whether it be humid New England weather, or this fancy Western “dry heat”, the RV will 100% of the time transmute any form of sunlight into the same kind of hell fire.

   As I sat, bathing in the fuming efforts of the desert sun, the driver’s seat began to swallow me. It’s grey cloth fabric slowly pulled me in like quicksand so as to more conveniently absorb my soul. It was as if the RV was growing stronger with every bead of sweat that it swallowed. I removed myself from the cockpit in self defense. I thought perhaps opening a window would help the quell the unforgiving temperature which was on a continuous rise. I was wrong. Opening the window simply allowed for more heat to enter. There was no water to be found because that’s what my family had ventured into the Las Vegas Walmart Supercenter for, amongst other necessary rations. I couldn’t call them to come out and give me the keys because of the impenetrable force field that was the walls of Walmart to my cell phone reception. Having seen all of the Jason Bourne movies, I knew I had to act quickly.

    I opened the door, half stumbling out of the RV into a world of blinding white light. Once my eyes adjusted I realized that this particular Walmart parking lot seemed to be expanding, growing larger by the second  – could I have stepped out of the RV into a rapidly expanding alternate universe, is this what was causing my family to take so long? No, I was just nearing a fever dream state due to dehydration, heat exposure, and pure isolation. On top of all of that, I discovered it was in fact hotter outside of the RV than on the inside. Who knew?!

An hour and a half turned into two hours, and two hours turned into the complete dismantling of the space time continuum…

The five of us – Mom, Dad, David, Lindsey, and Myself – had landed at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas the night before. Now, I for one tend to overthink when on an airplane.The fact that you are flying hundreds of miles an hour above the Earth in a metallic tube and there is literally nothing you can do if anything goes wrong kind of gets to me for some strange reason. This fear – rational or not – was in full form during the flight out of Boston to Las Vegas. What started as a calm ascension, turned into absolute nightmare fuel when we flew directly into a lightning storm of epic proportions. Above us, below us, and beside us there were bursts of lightning tearing through the once tranquil night sky. The plane was now in a  state of constant turbulence.

Noticing my outright paranoia, David leaned forward and asked, “Are you okay?”  

“Planes don’t usually crash from turbulence.”, added Lindsey in an attempt to comfort me. Except, this was in no way comforting because the idea of the plane crashing had not yet entered my mind until She said that…

David and Lindsey were calmly seated in the row behind my Mother and I. The two of them have collectively spent more time traveling than most people can fathom. Whether it be hiking Everest, blazing their own trail to Machu Picchu, living out of a van as migrant workers in New Zealand, contracting Malaria in India, teaching English for two years in South Korea, getting children named after them in Samoa, or visiting Cuba under the fictional notion that they were there for “religious purposes”, David and Lindsey are two of the most interesting people you could ever have the good fortune of meeting on this planet Earth. Also, they were solely responsible for placing our family in the middle of an end-of-days-type storm on an airplane.

    Ever since I was in the eighth grade, David was either off traveling or off working in order to be able to travel. On top of that, my parents have always been on differing work schedules. My family has enormous love for one another, however, it got to a point where we never really saw each other. The only time my entire family was all together in the same place since I left for college was at David and Lindsey’s wedding, now two years ago. It was the best day ever. It was also on that day that we began discussing the notion of going on a huge family road trip. The last time we were on a vacation together was my Freshman year of high school, so to most, this was just a nice idea, unlikely to actually amount to anything. However, David being David did his David thing.

I can specifically recall shooting hoops with him in the driveway after he had returned from some time out in Yellowstone. After I took him to school in the paint, David asked me what my plans were for college, travel, and life in general…At the end of my response he looked deep into my eyes and said, “Things only happen if you make them happen.” David, with Lindsey’s support, made this trip happen.

Reeling from Lindsey’s assurance that we most likely won’t all crash and die, I looked around at both my Mother and Father on the plane and noticed that there was something a little off about them: They were relaxed. Finally, they were on a vacation, an actual adventure with their loved ones. We weren’t all connecting over the phone or skype, we were here, together, in the flesh, heading into the unknown. This moment centered me. I was not in control, no one was, and that was somehow the most calming sensation. Finally, I stopped overthinking and just took everything for what it was. As a result of this instance of clarity, the lightning storm became a sort of primordial precursor to the vibrant glow of Las Vegas at night. The blood red explosions in the sky transitioned into multi-colored magnificence in the middle of the desert. We coasted down towards what seemed like more of an alien planet from above than a man made oasis where the thirst for any vice could be quenched.

The next morning we picked up our recreational vehicle from Cruise America RVs. It stood fourteen feet in length and about nine feet in height, however, its potential could not be measured.

(Raw power!)

     (Maximum storage opportunities!)

        (Pilot and copilot seating, with armrests, and adjustable                                          cup holders for your cups!)

(Food friendly!)

(Stretch out your legs and take a load off!)

(Do you sleep? Well then you’re in luck!)

                                                    (Not to scale.)

There was even a golden retriever detailed onto the door, which my Mother obviously named “Maverick”, and he became our surrogate family dog for the adventure that was ahead of us.

Finally, we were cruisin’. Our first stop? The nearest Walmart Supercenter…

The heat had drained the life force from my phone, I was surely next…

Realizing that I had lost all trace of time, primal instincts took over. Beginning with my shirt, I attempted to cool my body by removing my clothing. But my shirt wasn’t enough. My shoes and socks went next, followed by pants, and then letting my hair down. So there I stood, in only my underwear, rocking back and forth in the middle of the RV looking up into a tiny little clip-on fan as if it were my lord and savior. Just as I made contact with rock bottom and began to wonder if there ever even was a Walmart Supercenter, or if this was all just an elaborate ruse for my family to eliminate me from the tree, I began to receive answers to questions I hadn’t asked. Was this God reaching out to me? No, it was the RV. Every version of Native American vision quests inaccurately portrayed on daytime reruns of Walker Texas Ranger had prepared me for this grossly exaggerated experience. My sweaty boxers became a kind of ceremonial garb as I was baptized in my own perspiration within the womb of the recreational vehicle. I now felt just as I had felt on the plane during the lighting storm. A sense of clarity blew over me. I’m assuming this was from the tiny clip on fan, but nevertheless, it blew over me. The RV and I now had an understanding of each other. This was more than a recreational vehicle, this was more than our mobile domicile, this RV was the seventh member of our journey (Maverick included).

     Then, amidst the pique of my self perpetuated delusion, the RV door swung open. From out of the white light of the outside world, the outlines of figures appeared. There stood my Parents, along with David and Lindsey, frozen, with supplies in hand. Meanwhile, there I stood, essentially naked and covered in sweat staring up into a fan smaller than my fist.

“…Are you okay?”, asked David.

Slowly, I turned my head toward them wearing what I can only assume was a deranged smile ear to ear and said,“Yeah I’m great. What happened to fifteen minutes?”

 

 

FATHER OF MINE

FATHER OF MINE…

      He was taller than I thought he’d be. Not my Father, but Neil Young. He was taller than advertised on the covers of the CD’s I grew up listening to in the passenger seat of my Dad’s car. Unfounded assumptions as to the height and scale of arguably – but probably not actually arguable at all – the greatest American songwriter of the 20th Century aside, there he stood.  Draped in a grey peacoat, which complemented the overcast sky of Boston on that particular evening, Neil carried with him a stern expression strategically positioned underneath the brim of his matching fedora. He seemingly levitated from his tour bus into the rear entrance of the Orpheum Theatre. His newfound superpowers fueled by adulation as the throng of fans who had intercepted his arrival howled for acknowledgement. Meanwhile, there was Mark.

Mark is a man of simple pleasures, such as randomly catching the 1995 film Heat on daytime television. Mark is a believer in hard work and strongly opposed to the sin of sloth. Mark is a husband, a father of three, and a loyal son and brother. Carrying a strong affinity for dogs, doggos, pupper-faces, and puppies alike, Mark can also whip up an extraordinary batch of pancakes. Mark has a mustache that screams fatherhood at the top of its lungs, and he can also whistle loud enough to make every kid on the block think it was time to go home for dinner. A thorough man, even upon asking you to get the paper, Mark will tell you step by step what he sees as being the best way to retrieve that paper from the end of the driveway. Mark is my Father.

     My Dad stood back, away from the initial swarm of his fellow Flower Generation youth outside of the Orpheum. He simply looked on in wordless appreciation. Instead of shouting out to Neil, one of the outstanding figures of his youth, or sending one of his moderately athletic sons to force their way forward for an autograph, Mark simply took in the moment.

     Concerts always felt like more than just concerts when my Father brought my Brothers and I to them. Music was a way for my Dad to communicate and bond with us. It was something we could experience together, and in a way acted as a bridge from his life into our own, a common ground. Eric Clapton, Neil, CSNY, The Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Derek and the Dominoes, Peter Frampton, The Faces…these are just a few of the artists we were lucky enough to have our dad share with us, and in some cases even take us to see in person. For instance, I can recall singing along to “Cocaine” with Eric Clapton, live, during his encore performance without having as much as a clue as to what the lyrics even meant. I just knew that was Eric Clapton, and he was one of the greatest musicians to ever live because, well, Mark said so.

(Quick Clapton appreciation post…)

    Since long before I was brought into the universe, Mark, has worked nights driving tractor trailers, at first cross country, and eventually just regionally once my parents started having children. It should be mentioned that both my Father and my Mother are the two hardest working and loving people I have ever known. Due to his work schedule, I would often go a week or more without seeing my Dad. By the time I got home from practice he’d have already left for work, only to return home while I arrived at school. Sometimes we’d be lucky enough to catch each other in passing as he either arrived home from work, or got ready to leave for work. It is because of this that my clearest memories of growing up with my Dad often come from the simplest of moments together. Whether it be holding tools for him while he worked on a project – like when he rebuilt our entire deck by hand -, or arguing over political talk radio, it’s the small moments that often stand out the most. 

     I can remember being very young and sitting in the passenger seat of his blue Ford Explorer watching my brother’s soccer practice, listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sing about the infamous Kent State shooting in their song, “Ohio”. The cracked blue leather seats stuck to my skin in the Summer heat as my dad shared stories of his youth and the lessons he’d learned from them. His distinct voice acted as a kind of invaluable narration to the slowly setting sun that hung above the lush green treelines of our small New Hampshire town. It was in the passenger seat of the Explorer…and then the Durango…and then the Honda, the one with the embarrassing license plate, that a great deal of my upbringing and time spent with my Dad took place.  

   The stories of my Father’s youth aren’t so much stories as they are folkloric legend. There is a contagiously radioactive glimmer that drips off the words which make up my Dad’s glimpses into the past. It’s as if Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) was made solely about my Father’s time in high school in that there’s a kind of cinematic, all-American, coming of age quality to his anecdotes. 

    My Father’s high school career alone was distinguished to say the least. Mark’s band of blue-collared, shoeless, and long-haired motorheads roamed free in the Merrimack Valley before the dawn of time it seems like. His merry band of likeminded childhood friends was made up of a cast of larger than life characters, each one more preposterous than the last. 

One of my all time favorite tales begins in a convenience store with a bottle of ginger ale. It was Mark’s job to pick up the ginger ale so he and his friends could mix it with the whiskey they were already in possession of. Later, In a friend’s Volkswagen van in a field, underneath a sheet of luminous stars, Mark and two of his buddies were hanging out, smoking a little reefer and sipping on some whiskey gingers (Canadian Club to be specific). All was well until blue and red police lights stole the show away from the starry sky above them. This was not an ideal turn of events for my Father and his friends.  Next thing they knew, they were driving in circles around the field at an awkwardly slow speed as the police car trailed them from behind -I mean, picture that, really picture that for a moment. They were evading the officer so that they could ditch the evidence, a bottle of whiskey in a brown bag. Mark, naturally being the hero he was born to be, tossed the brown-bagged whiskey out of the van into the dark field, never to be found again. Simultaneously, one of his friends hid their joint in his back pocket so as not to abandon all hope of having some semblance of fun that evening. The officer insisted on searching the vehicle to which Mark and his friends gladly obliged, they were untouchable, just some teenagers hanging out in a field, that’s all. The only complication came when the officer came back from the van with a bottle of whiskey rather than ginger ale. You see, at the store, the clerk placed the ginger ale into a brown paper bag as well. Mark had thrown out the wrong brown paper bag…

The three of them sat together in the back of the police car. As they approached the station, my Dad’s friend took the hidden joint out of his back pocket and tucked it into the crease of the backseat so they wouldn’t get caught with it upon arrival. They didn’t even make it past the front desk before the arresting officer was told to release them due to overcrowding in the holding cells that night. In true serendipitous  fashion, they were transported back in the same police car they were brought there in. As a result, my Father’s friend fingered the joint out of the crease of the backseat…This story has been corroborated.

The music he has passed down to us acts as a soundtrack to stories such as these, helping us to visualize and relate to them on some level, acting as a portal from our youth to his. And while my dad has plenty of stories, he doesn’t necessarily share them often, hardly ever really, which is why we hold onto them so dearly when he does. Ever since moving away for school I don’t get to see or speak with my Father as much as I’d like to. And often, when we are together, we’ll argue, but truthfully, that is a bi-product of us being so much alike – that can be both a good and a bad thing sometimes. All that aside, I couldn’t ask for a better Dad. He makes endless sacrifices in order to give us the best lives possible. While he can often get on us, and be irritable due to his draining work schedule, he takes opportunities to not just be our Dad, but to be Mark as well. In those moments of sitting in the passenger seat, going back in time through his music or stories, I’m not just with my Father, I’m with Mark.

 

 

Essay: The Conscious Interpreter

  

     Life is made up the seen and the unseen, the interior and the exterior. What we experience and define as reality is a type of union, an entanglement of the two ideas. This notion I’ve just presented, while conservatively understated,  is an earnest attempt towards simplistically encapsulating the phenomena of human consciousness without rambling on like a lunatic (that comes later). While the exterior world is an ever-expanding realm of boundless possibility that we interact with through sensory understanding, so too is the interior. The only limits on our interior selves – the mind and the soul – are the ones we either place, or choose to believe are already there. The truth of the matter is that what is there is nothingness, and from this nothingness everything that we understand to be reality arises through conscious interconnectivity. Our thoughts are a reaction to the physical world, while simultaneously our physical world is a product of our thoughts, this ceaseless balance constitutes how we interpret our existence. It is impossible to fully express, or put on display, the entirety of someone’s reality, only to present shades of the whole truth through how we live our lives; something I refer to as the human experience. No other living organism can express itself like a human being. Not just in terms of our ability to govern ourselves, or to create new frontiers and possibilities, but rather, how we live as a whole. Everything we do at any given moment is an expression of ourselves and the interconnectedness that makes up our conscious reality. For instance, this essay, as I type it is acting as a tool for that expression.

     To me, and I (unapologetically) assume countless others, the essay at one time stood solely as a monolithic tool for academic regurgitation. A weapon of mass-homework-destruction meant to encourage passionless percussions of the keyboard until that daunting, taunting, and ridiculing word count’s insatiable appetite was temporarily satisfied. It took a combination of teachers that I’m thankful to have been able to learn from in order to see that that kind of dreadful perspective on the essay was simply a construct put in place by no one other than myself. As stated earlier, the essay has the potential ability to act as an expression of yourself if you so choose to reveal yourself within it. By revealing yourself, whether it be through an essay or by how you choose to dress, or the music you listen to, you are unveiling a glimpse into everything that makes up who you are in that moment. The trick is to be honest with yourself.

The idea of I, or the self, is the form through which the interior and exterior entangle and transmute into our stream of consciousness, that which makes up our conscious experience. It is within this conscious experience that we are able to place value. It is the value which we place on things that makes up the self, or I, both being interchangeable in the sense of them being simply  that which is. When I say “things” I don’t just mean that bitchin’ new Juul you got (although, it could be!). In a general sense, what I’m referring to is both physical and metaphysical. Whether it be a memory of when you vomited in front of your crush – like not a little, but a lot – and how you felt in that moment, or the attachment you feel toward that bitchin’ new Juul you got. It is whatever we base our priorities, morals, principles, thoughts, and actions around that makes up who we are. For instance, my obsession with Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics being only nineteen years old (19!!!) probably means next to nothing to somebody else. However, my place, relationships, and personal experiences in this world have lead to me placing immense value on the Boston Celtics and the teenagers whom they pay millions of dollars to in exchange for endless buckets.

 

   Consciously or subconsciously, it is the value we place on an idea, object, person, or place that leads to it being part of our interior world’s interconnective relationship with our exterior. This interconnective balance results in our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.  Understanding this balance is being present. By being present we are being honest with where we are and who we are, and the idea that those two concepts are constantly changing.

We are constantly moving with life, like water flowing through a river. Bruce Lee, famous as the only man to ever kill Chuck Norris – See The Way of The Dragon (1972), was also revered for his ability express himself through how he lived. This was a cornerstone of his philosophical and martial arts teachings, both of which were unionized as one and co-dependent of each other.  

In a famous interview, Lee said,

“Martial arts means honestly expressing yourself…expressing one’s -self honestly, not lying to one’s self, and to express myself honestly, that, my friend, is very hard to do…Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless. Like water. Now, you put water into a cup it becomes the cup, you put water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put water into a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.”

By interacting with reality and embracing the balance that lies between the interior and exterior,  we must be “water” in shaping to our current conditions and surroundings. Flow, don’t resist. This kind of sueto-philosophical analogy is akin to the style of play Jayson Tatum puts on display on a nightly basis. Aside from not worrying about a bedtime (keep in mind he’s 19, barely old enough to drive a car…), he isn’t worried about NBA caliber defenders either as he is able to smoothly maneuver around and brush them off. This is due to his natural ability to simply flow with the game, and by doing so rather than resisting the on-court situations, he ends up in control of the flow. He isn’t forcing his next move, he ignores the mental distractions, keys in on the relevant ones, and executes. There are endless variables to any situation on a basketball court, each one constantly changing with the next move being made. Taytum is able to control the flow and create opportunities by not overthinking, and being present, both mentally and physically. By finding his own conscious balance he is able to express himself through his game.


While Tatum and Lee’s forms of conscious human expression are undeniably cooler than mine, I still equate even writing this essay as a form of my conscious human expression. In this moment, typing this sentence, I am a culmination of all of my experiences, thoughts, and values. Without the push of certain teachers during my adolescence, I probably wouldn’t have the courage or excitement to place Bruce Lee and Jayson Tatum in a collegiate level essay together. However, if I have learned one thing it is to be honest with myself, and to express that honesty through how I live – how I act, think, and what I create. This essay is a shade of that honest expression.