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Working Class Heroes, Their Boomsticks and Their Dreams

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life, The Writing Process (How do I Come up These Beats?) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 05/12/2013 by Angel D. Vargas

What happens when you try to fly solo?

I start my blog entries like that these days.  The above question looks very straight forward. I want to know what happens to the person who decides that they’re going to make a go of life on their own. I want to understand how an individual functions when they try to pull themselves out of mediocrity and live their dreams.

We live in a curious time in American History. Western culture demands that the average individual seeks guidance as a youth. A person is supposed to depend upon their parents for warmth, shelter, wisdom and love. Moms and dads nurture their children by providing the basics as well as opportunities for their education.

But children grow up. Expectations change. Life becomes high school (or is it the other way around?) Children are taught to believe that they are supposed to broaden their minds with books and technology. Yet they are also supposed to round out their learning experiences with intense athletic pursuits or “extra curricular activities.”  Meanwhile, if adolescents succumb to the bombardment of commercials, internet ads, or peer-pressure situations in which they find themselves, they learn that silence is no longer golden. To survive, one has to be a social butterfly, not just in real life, but on the internet. Social Media websites commit younger and younger people to creating a secondary persona that either modulates or inhibits their popularity in school or in other social situations.

A self-reflecting adult might scratch their head at the contradictory messages they received  about life. I was raised as a child of the eighties. Adults of our generation were taught that education was the key to financial success. I used a have an enormous, light-up  picture on my wall with three fancy sports cars in a three car garage by the beach. The motto that was emblazoned at the top of the picture screamed “Justification for a Higher Education.”  Enough Said.

Except not everyone who gets a higher education automatically get those sorts of things. Even going to a top tier college in the country guarantees nothing if you don’t get to know the right people and you don’t focus on the things you love. Anybody who tells you that time is money hasn’t had to look for a job for the last five years in this country.

“The economy is in the crapper.” Those were the words of someone who interviewed me for a sales position years ago. They still pretty much hold true.

Somehow despite all the contradictory forces screaming for our attention, we’re supposed live our dreams. We’re told that we’re better off pulling ourselves out of mediocrity by our bootstraps. We’re also reminded by oversimplified hallmark moments on television shows and food advertisements that we somehow can’t do it alone.

We have to do it by ourselves, but we can’t do it alone.

That includes living our dreams, doesn’t it?

I’ve been sick for the last week and a half. This is the cold that never ends.

Major illness tends to sharpen one’s focus when they begin to recover from it. I, for one, will make it through a major cold like this one and begin to take stock of how well I’m doing living my dreams and meeting my personal goals. Since my largest one by far is writing, I have to remind myself that I can and will write every day.

But like the rest of this story, I’ve come to learn that I can’t really make my dream a reality all on my own. While I try to get my name out there by submitting more and more of my work to various publishers for consideration, I’m getting to the point where I spend a lot of my time with my nose to the grindstone. I push so hard to get more and more writing done, it feels like I’m only picking my head up to notice that everyone else walked off to some social gathering. I’m perfecting the swing of my samurai sword, and everyone else walked to the river to drink beer and sake.

From a professional standpoint, my current solo method seems like a piss poor way to garner real opportunity. From a personal standpoint, I feel more and more like a lone warrior. What happens to warriors who stay alone for too long?

They go nuts and start saying things like “This is my BOOMSTICK!”

Now that I more or less know where I am from a professional and a social standpoint, the question I have to ask myself is “What now?” It’s one thing to understand how much one misses social connection when they’ve been ill for more than a week. It’s quite another thing to realize that this uniquely Western notion of “independence” is not quite all that it’s cracked up to be.

Nobody ever really meets their goals without help, even on a minute level. I’d love to sit here and tell you that I got my first short story published because I woke up one day and inspiration struck me like a bolt of lightning. But that isn’t even close to the truth. I got that story accepted by a publication only after my first attempt with them flopped. I never even asked the editors why I was rejected. I got really annoyed and decided to up the ante. I thought I was a warrior recovering from wounded pride.

But this isn’t about revenge, proper action or silt. I would not have even bothered to finish the story had it not been for my friends, writers or otherwise, who were there to encourage me from day one. My friends are still around, though it’s been a while since I’ve been willing or able to talk with them.

It’s also been a while since I’ve felt like I was a part of a real writing community. I don’t know if I need that feeling again so that my writing can reach the next level, or if I want to be a part of a community so that my social skills don’t fade while I write my next manuscript.

At any rate, here I am world. I’m not quite recovered my from my eternal snot fest. And yes, I know that that description of my illness will make everyone want to stay around me. I’m going to start small and post this blog entry. I’m reentering my former social media sites. I’ll keep on writing, of course. Maybe I just won’t use all of my words to add to the chapters of unseen stories and manuscripts.

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Living in the Surreal ..

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 04/14/2013 by Angel D. Vargas

Life is surreal.

“Surreal” isn’t a term I really like. When I use it, I feel like I’m dumbing down a process through which some major epiphany has granted me the power to move on with my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life with a fresh, “up with people” perspective.

But if you had been in the neighborhood of 125th and Lenox in upper Manhattan at about a quarter to six this morning, life would have seemed pretty surreal to you too.

I was sleeping next to my girlfriend. She awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Everything seemed normal. She crawled back into bed next to me and we remembered that it was Sunday and that we really like snuggling together and talking under the covers during a lazy weekend. It helps us remember what matters, even if it’s just a moment in time.

Not five minutes after she came back to bed, a horrible sound of crunching metal and plastic erupted just outside the apartment. It seemed to rattle the bedroom window.  I didn’t know what the sound was. I wasn’t awake enough to make sense of it until a horrible screeching noise followed. Rubber scraped against asphalt, and the squeal seemed to echo into eternity.

“Jesus Christ!”

I think I might have said that twice. I said it once before we both sprang from the bed and ran to the bedroom window to see what had happened. Even now, the fucked up visual doesn’t make any sense without context. I said it again after I told my girlfriend that I had to go take a major piss.

Why I decided to go relieve myself at that moment is still a bit beyond me. All I remember is that I was nauseated, and I still didn’t understand what had happened.

I also recall my knees shaking like the leaves of a quaking aspen in the wind. I sat down on that toilet seat and put my head between my sweating hands. I might have stayed like that for minutes or hours. I didn’t really know or care.

Eventually, I stood up and washed my hands. Like some character out of the show Supernatural, I thought I smelled a Reaper in the air.

I was sure that death lingered close by, waiting to claim the lost soul of the victim of a freak accident.

“Jesus H. Christ!”

I got back to the bedroom and stood next to my girlfriend. She seemed more than willing to give me a blow by blow of what was going on out there.

“Nobody’s gotten out of either car yet.”

“Motherfucker.”

In all honesty, I don’t recall saying that last word. I don’t remember much of what was said after that. But as the haze and the shock of the accident seemed to lift from around us both, things started to fall into place. Out the window, on our side of the street, we only saw two cars. The first one was a silver Charger with its back turned to us like a wounded dog hiding its face.  The second car was sort of sitting to the right of the first. It was a green SUV that didn’t appear to have been even been scratched, at least not from our vantage point. The only thing that seemed to have happened, in fact, was that the SUV was nudged a few feet out of its parking spot.

It made no sense. Such a horrible crash followed by a rubber screech that lasted for at least three seconds just didn’t do … what we saw.

But time ticked by. Some of the neighbors from across the street turned on their bedroom lights and peeked outside like we were doing. Thanks to them, I felt a little better about being some sort of voyeur. The cops were on the scene immediately. The fire department came minutes later. EMT’s never showed. That struck us as odd until we came to the most important conclusion.

Nobody died.

I thought for sure someone was going to buy it. For about a nanosecond I was disappointed. I can’t lie. I’m a horror writer.

Then the stomach ache began.

About an hour later, all sorts of things had happened. The driver of the silver Charger, wearing a black shirt with green writing on it, angrily shouted into his cell phone that the car for which he was responsible was a “fucking wreck.”

“What de’ hell I’m ‘a do wid ‘dis shit?”

His friend, a shorter man with a grey tee shirt on, seemed to be the voice of reason.

“Look, dude, least you’re alive.”

And that was what mattered. When other details fell into place, we learned that nobody, in fact, was dead. A third car was apparently involved in the accident. That unknown driver may or may not have been at fault for the entire catastrophe. We never really got to figure that much out.  A tow truck driver couldn’t even tow the silver wreck out of the way in one try. His truck’s hook lost its grip on the wreckage twice.

I grinned. And call me sadistic, but I was thankful I wasn’t going to have to figure out how to pay for THAT repair bill. The driver and his friend drank two cups of coffee purchased at the deli just below our window.

My girlfriend and I  went back to bed. We didn’t fall asleep right away, of course. We talked about the accident. We talked about how our weekend was going before the crash, and how it might go afterwards. Things like money and job woes don’t matter as much when you’re thankful just to be in one piece. That lesson sinks in deeper when you’re with loved ones.  The problems might not go away, but their importance in the grand scheme of the universe dwindles.

I just got through sending out something like 6 job aps. I took a break to watch a show. I thought about my latest submission of a short story to a magazine for consideration. My girlfriend’s out teaching a dance class. We still have lives to live and things to do to survive in this city. She still has to talk to her dad about her insurance costs, and I still want to start writing the latest chapter for my online serial. At least I know she’ll come home in one piece, and we’ll have an easier time figuring out how to scrounge up enough money for dinner together tonight.

There’s a cat purring in my lap too.

Surreal or serene? Take your pick.

Warrior of the Word.

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life, The Writing Process (How do I Come up These Beats?) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 04/03/2013 by Angel D. Vargas

Sometimes a warrior just has to come home, throw their weapons in a corner, sink their tired, broken bodies into a chair and cry their eyes out.

 

Countless soldiers throughout history have probably done this. I know what we all see in the news when war heroes come home to their families. These survivors hug their spouses who’ve lived without their touch for years. They hug their children though they’ve missed precious milestones. Many people have moved on in their absence. Most have gone through their own trials and traumas. Still, everyone big and small feels that their story is the important one.

 

That’s just the human condition.

 

I’m guilty of this too. The good thing is I’m not alone. I’m about to tell you a story.

 

I’ve become a warrior of the word.

 

I know what you’re thinking. I sound like one of those nut jobs who quote the Bible and hurl Molotov cocktails into abortion clinics. If you’ve read some of my writing, you might think I’ve snapped and begun channeling one of my favorite characters.

 

“Pleasure to meet you. My name is Ezekiel.”

 

But that’s not the truth either. The reality may be just as difficult to fathom.

 

I moved back to New York two years ago. I had little money, a soaring credit card debt, and the wisp of a hope that I might get a job through a relative.

 

Time has a way of revealing one’s destiny. While I was putting interview clothes I couldn’t afford on a credit card, I was searching. I was waiting. I was hoping that I hadn’t wasted my time coming back home. I didn’t want a repeat of the six months I’d spent in Illinois trying to figure life out. That stretch of time saw me spinning my  wheels and not knowing how to make ends meet. Opportunities were few and far between. Though my best friend from college reached out to me and tried to help me out, I just wasn’t prepared for life in a Midwestern suburb. I didn’t even have a driver’s license. I failed.

 

Mental note. Don’t ever live in a suburb without a car or a license.

 

I came back home hoping that I wouldn’t go insane. I was a thirty something and living in a tiny apartment with my parents and my grown autistic brother.

 

If you’re doing a double take after that last statement, don’t worry. You won’t be the only one.

 

But times are tough for “thirty -somethings” these days. I’ve heard it all before. People in my generation with college degrees can’t even get into entry level retail work. I won’t even get into that hot mess. People have tough choices to make even though some of us just paid off twenty five thousand dollars in student loans. Sure, one could go back to school if one could somehow pay for it. Being out of college for more than a decade might mean your college credits mean nothing for all those associate’s programs.

 

There’s just one other hitch. Assuming that there are affordable school programs to attend, it pays to know which jobs aren’t being whittled down to nothing in this economy.

 

I was applying for a job in Portland, Oregon to work at a Sears as a clerk.  I applied online, landed the interview, and was asked to come in during a Thursday afternoon. The human resources recruiter seemed nice enough, but very sad and distracted throughout the conversation. After telling me that the original position was being whittled down from twenty hours a week to twelve due to “a major oversight,” he older woman turned to me and laid in on the line.

 

“There are thirty, forty, even fifty year old people applying for entry level clerk positions with this company. We’ve got people with Masters Degrees and PHD’s who need this work, and we can’t do much for them. Let’s face it. The economy is in the crapper.”

 

After 14 months in the city, I was able to land a part time job as a book seller at a local Barnes and Noble. Since then, I’ve not been able to attain anything else.

 

I think it might be safe to say that for some, the economy STILL looks like something a toilet bowl cleaner ought to erase.

 

Life is funny. Promises are broken, constant effort feels more like the definition of insanity, and broke people start to quote musicians and philosophers as though looking for a reason. Life can feel like a cruel joke. Of late, it leaves me feeling a bit like those broken warriors.

 

Is there a reason to it all? Is life what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans?

 

I’m still struggling with that question.

 

On one hand, I would officially call myself an underemployed janitor for the local Barnes and Noble. I just happen to know a thing or two about a book.

 

Perhaps that’s because I’m writing them.

 

Writing has been an anchor for me since I reclaimed it more than a year ago. I might never be a real estate tycoon or win the lottery, but writing is something that I will be able to do no matter what my financial or family status. I won’t put the computer down unless it breaks. Even if that happens, I used to use a little something called a pen, and I used to put that object to another handy object called “paper.”

 

The things one learns in school really can make a difference.

 

Nobody talks to me for more than a few minutes without realizing I’ve got more sarcasm in my pinky then most have in their entire bodies. But I shudder to think what my life would be like today if I hadn’t started to write. I’m not always going to write short stories or books. I can’t imagine I will always show my words to people. But I’ve made a few good friends along the way. People have read my words. More will read them one day, and I may even be able to make a decent living because of it.

 

Life seems to be split down the middle of chaos. On the one hand, I don’t make enough money at my current job to scratch my testicles. But on the flip side, I write because I have the time and the imagination to come up with the stuff. Real life might not be glamorous, but it offers me a chance to experience love, hate, anger, euphoria, and all the other emotions that I can pour with such realism into each and every one of my made up characters.

 

Fate doesn’t normally interest me. I like to think that I am always in control of my own life. These last few years have been like a huge dose of humble pie. I’m not powerless, but curious things do happen when I allow myself to engage in what matters to me. In the last year, people have come to me that I did not expect. People have read my words, and some have been able to relate. A special someone has danced their way into my life.

 

Philosophical discussions of fate either annoy or terrify people like me. Maybe that’s why fate sneaks up on so many of us. It probably happens despite everything I believe, and all I can do is the best that I can until God or the universe reveals my purpose.

 

Until that happens, I’ll write, I’ll love, and I ride on the roller coaster that is my life. I can’t be the fatalist, but I can sure as hell strap in. Let other people deal when someone releases the fucking Kraken. I’ll write a book about it when it’s over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lot To Tell

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 11/18/2012 by Angel D. Vargas

And here we go! Follow the bouncing shuriken.

If you’re going to ask me “what’s new,” I’m going to answer you with the following sentiment: There’s a lot to tell.

I’ve found myself wondering why some people have a tendency to tell me that there “isn’t much to tell” when it comes to their own lives. I know this isn’t the case. For my short time on this earth, I’d like to think that I’ve learned some things about the complexity of life. I tend to want to hear people’s stories. If I’m asking you what you did before you came to work, for instance, I genuinely want to know what makes you tick.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that I interview people on the spot because I’m a writer and I want to secretly write them into my books. That isn’t the case for me. People’s motivations for getting up and being alive matter to me in the same way that mine do. I like to think that there are reasons for some of the crazy shit I end up doing. I believe that there are deep roots behind the emotions I experience when I run into an unexpected situation.

But maybe the real reason I’m writing this entry is because I can feel myself changing.

I don’t want to get lost in the crowd. I don’t want to be invisible or anonymous anymore. And part of the reason I don’t want these things anymore is because they no longer serve me.

It used to be a romantic concept for me to be the silent, wandering observer. In many ways, I still do that when the mood strikes me. If I want to think about the next few chapters of a book I am trying to write or edit, nothing does me better than to wander the streets of Manhattan and watch people. But I’ve been looking into people’s faces more and more of late. Instead of making up stories about them without their knowledge, I stare straight on and almost dare them to speak to me. I smile, I laugh, and I even interject myself into the occasional conversation about ice skating and coffee at a Starbucks just before I buy that white chocolate mocha and wander into the park.

That’s not the me that I am used to. If you want to know the truth, I haven’t done things like this since I was a very young kid.

I began to ask myself questions at the beginning of this week about how closed off I’ve been since I’ve moved back to New York City. In a city that seems to teem with life, how is it that I haven’t made new friends? Oh yes, it still appeals to me to some extent to keep myself a mystery; to hold onto the secrets of my sordid existence. But how secret is my presence on this planet going to remain if I’m busy trying to make a career out of writing? True, writers need a lot of alone time, and I finally seem to be able to get some when I need it. But people are social creatures, no matter how alone they wish to be. The art of being alone seems to manifest best when loners have the choice to reintegrate and be among others on a moment’s notice. Nobody can be truly alone, or they would cease to exist. If I wanted total Isolation, I could try something like solitary confinement, but I can pretty much guarantee that I wouldn’t like it once I woke up from a twelve hour sleep.

Certain aspects about my history are still very difficult to reconcile. Integrating the lessons from my past with my progress toward my long term goals is still a challenge. But utter silence and self isolation both fly in the face of everything I truly know about myself. I can yammer with the best of ’em. I can hold my own in a political debate or a contest to see who can murder the most songs in a karaoke stand-off. Life is so damned funny to me these days that I stop every few minutes and laugh at nothing in particular.

How can I not explore social interaction when I have trained myself to read people so well? That’s easy. What I learned about people was how to read extreme, negative emotion. I can tell right away when someone is a bully, a sexual predator, a child abuser, or just not a nice person. But that’s a lot like a police officer who can spot a perp at 50 yards before he or she does anything to get themselves arrested. After decades of honing that skill, it’s become clear to me that it actually keeps me pretty separate from people. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s a fine thing to be able to tell these sick individuals apart from the rest of the populace if you mean to live another day on this planet or otherwise avoid trouble. I’ll neither understand nor accept child rapists, but I can spot them a mile off thanks to my past experience as a mental health professional. It helps to have a family member who was in law enforcement for more than two decades. But if you were to ask me if a woman was attracted to me, for instance, I’d say that more than half the time, I would give you the exact wrong answer.

So here’s to a new challenge for me coming in 2013. I haven’t waited that long to start the journey, but I’ll certainly continue it. The rule, if I want to call it that, is simple. I’ll hold my head up high, stop pretending that I’m invisible, and I’ll stop turning around and looking for trouble whenever I hear excited shouting in my own neighborhood. It seems simple, doesn’t it? Don’t think for a minute that this is not a major undertaking for me. But spending years in a shell after having been dealt a crappy hand by life has finally gotten old. I’ve already reclaimed writing as a part of my being. It’s time for the next step. It’s time to stop playing the social ninja.

Goodbye ..

Posted in Drum Roll with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 10/19/2012 by Angel D. Vargas

I don’t wake up crying in our old apartment anymore.

I don’t see our cats stalking across the living room toward me, tails up and eyes wide, wondering why my eyes are doing funny things like leaking water.

I can’t see the front door the apartment we used to share. I’ve forgotten what color it is.

I’ve been able to recall less and less of our neighborhood walks. My old haunts are still fresh in my mind, but they don’t include the memory of your presence. I don’t feel you near me anymore when I walk in my favorite park. You’re not whispering in my ear when I stare at the ducks at my favorite pond. I no longer think of the touch of your skin when I imagine the smooth caress of a duckling’s feathers.

The tightness in my chest when I think about your absence has faded.

I can’t bring myself to compare the women I meet to you anymore. Their curves no longer remind me of yours. Their eyes don’t sparkle with the same blues.  I am taken by individual personalities. I no longer detest the idea that my newest acquaintances carry similar personality quirks to yours. I evaluate on a case by case basis again.

I don’t remember what television shows we used to watch together.

How did we discover Tai Iced Tea together, or that the word “Pho” didn’t mean “enemy” in Vietnamese restaurants?

It’s time for me to move on.

I’ve stopped reading our letters to the phantoms of one another that neither of us could ever hope to be. I’ve stopped crucifying myself for not being the man I’ll never be.

I’ve stopped wondering what you wear to work. I don’t do your laundry anymore. I don’t wash your dishes. I no longer pick up your crap.

I don’t remember what your hair smells like anymore.

But make no mistake. I will always care.

Just as you were my deepest wound, you were my greatest love.

I’m still recovering my ability to trust. I am still learning the lessons of the heart that you tried to teach me, whether you know it or not.

We’ll always have the Space Needle and White Chocolate Mochas. We’ll always have the first time we made love.

I’ll always know your tender heart as you once knew mine. I’ll always see it in your photographs of roses. I’ll always feel it in the way you care for others. I’ll always remember it in your kiss.

I will always love you.

Goodbye.

Have At!

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/16/2012 by Angel D. Vargas

You want a video to indicate how I feel at the moment, have at this one ..

It’s Almost Here!

Posted in Drum Roll, The Flow and Rhythm of Life, The Writing Process (How do I Come up These Beats?) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/14/2012 by Angel D. Vargas

The ideas have been fine tuned. The words are in place. I have finished and edited the content of my book.

All it needs now are chapter names and a title worthy of its greatness.

It also needs a professional editor, of course. I just refuse to send mine utter crap.

Time to save massive amounts of money.

Time to celebrate. My succubus can’t wait to make your acquaintance .. really 😉

Have a video!!

 

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