Trying to Dispose of the Deerly Departed

I had never seen a real life deer until a few years ago. I’d seen their heads mounted on the walls my grandfather’s office, but I’d never seen them when they were like breathing and junk. That was until a few years ago when I moved out to Bastrop. A life spent in suburbs hadn’t yielded more than a raccoon sighting and suddenly I was living in the woods and had whole herds of deer passing through my yard every evening.

My dad would always wake me up early when I was home from school to stare in awe as a handful of does wandered around in the morning dew before he left for work. My whole family would routinely stare for hours in quiet reverence anytime we saw even the hint of a deer. Most people who routinely deal with deer grow to see them as sort of a nuisance over time, but we have yet to outgrow the magic.

Which is why it was so heartbreaking to drive up to my house one evening and find a fully grown deer literally dead on my doorstep.

Admittedly I did not really know what to do. I made a list of any mob bosses I may have pissed off who would be sending me some sort of message, but I haven’t really gambled since LSU baseball camp when I was 12 and I know I owed Derrick some Snickers but this was a bit excessive and several years too late. No this proofed to be just some random occurrence. No blood, no signs of struggle. Just a dead deer, half in the grass, half on the concrete porch.

Once the initial shock passed, I may have cried for a bit and read a Robert Frost poem on the deer’s behalf. But then I just stood their, looking at this majestic creature and it dawned on me that I had to figure out what to do with her. I’ve never disposed of a body that was larger than a cockroach and even then my practices aren’t efficient in any way.

To make matters worse, I was home alone of course. My parents were both at work. I called my mom first. She grew up on farms and it was her dad who was the prolific deer hunter. But she wasn’t very helpful. She just sounded like she wanted nothing to do with it. So she told me to call my dad.

Now I’ve never known my dad to so much as pet a dog lot less know how to get rid of unwanted large game. But I called him anyway because that’s what I do in a crisis. And the longer this deer sat outside and I started to thing of the unwanted coyote action that was sure to come, this event was turning into a crisis.

His suggestion was to call the game warden. So I looked it up and of course they were away from the office because it was six o’clock and I did not alert them that I would be having a dead deer problem during office hours. So I called my dad back after much useless searching and struggling for loopholes and lucky breaks.

His next suggestion would be to call 911. I think he meant the non-emergency line, if there is a thing, but whatever, he said call 911 and tell them what was up.

I’d never called 911 in my life. I was afraid of any phone number that had a 1 follow a 9 for fear of accidentally calling the cops and being arrested for pranking the emergency line. You could tell I was desperate to get rid of this rotting animal, because as a rule I sort of don’t do about 98% of what my dad tells me to do. “Law school? Nah, I’m gonna make a living writing stories that make fun of you.” But when he said, “Call 911” I hesitated for a record three seconds before sighing and dialing those dreaded numbers.

The phone barely made it through one ring before a woman hastily answered it. “What is your emergency,” she asked, in a crisp, authoritative voice.

Did “dead deer in my yard” qualify as an emergency? Unless you shot the deer as some sort of revenge for it killing a close family member that evening, I highly doubted it. So I just sort of laughed. Which is not the way to make a good impression with an emergency professional.

“Well, no, it’s not really an emergency,” I stammered, but tried to make it sound like some quirky mix-up. Like if she could see the delightfully puzzled expression on my face, she would have totally understood. “It’s just that we have a deer that died on my porch and I called my dad and he said to call 911 and I thought it was sort of silly but I was hoping you could help me.”

I could hear in her voice that she hated everything about me in that moment. “You have to leave this line open to actual emergencies,” she said in a brutally short fashion. “Call the non-emergency line.” She quickly rattled off a phone number that I did not catch at all and hung up the phone without a further word. I’m sure if she could have told me to fuck off before hanging up, she totally would have.

So I was out of ideas and my mom was now coming up the driveway. I met her at the door as she tiptoed around the corpse. After much deliberating we knew that we had to at least drag the deer away from the house because I was in no way prepared to fight a bobcat, although I spend a lot of time thinking that of all the predators out their, I could probably punch a bobcat the easiest. The only problem was that neither of us were willing to touch the deer.

My mom finally decided to call work to see if she could get one of those hearty Texas men or women to come and help us city folk out of our dilemma. They just laughed at us. Apparently they all found it quite silly that we could not simply drag a deer corpse away. Like that was just a normal thing.

Finally one of her coworkers took pity on us and came and collected the deer. I don’t want to theorize to what he did before he worked for a car dealership, but the way he effortlessly gathered the deer in a sheet, threw it in his trunk, and dropped it somewhere in the woods, made me think that he’d done that before.

I’ve never been a hunter and I have no desire to be. That was the closest I ever wish to be to a dead deer that was not being served to me on a plate.

A Completely Unnecessary Vow

Let’s face it, writing is difficult. It takes a lot of self discipline and motivation to consistently sit at a blank page and say, “Hey, I’m gonna turn a bunch of crazy brain thoughts into literature.” Especially when it comes to long-form fiction where fatigue can often derail a project long before its truly done. But those truly dedicated to their craft always find ways to keep their head in the game in order to complete their projects. For example, during my sophomore year of high school I took a vow of silence until I finished writing the play I was working on.

Now I don’t know how a 15 year-old stumbles onto the idea of taking a vow of silence and I especially don’t know why I would think this would be a good idea. But needless to say on one random Thursday, in the middle of school mind you, I decided, “Hey, this stupid play I’m writing is way more important than the ability to verbally communicate with my peers.”

Two things to know: 1.) I don’t remember what play I was writing. I’m not sure I even have it anymore. So this story won’t go down in my official biography as the breakthrough moment on my way to a Nobel Prize. 2.) I was very quiet during high school, particularly during sophomore year when I had very very few friends, but it is 95% impossible to survive a day in a public high school once you’ve voluntarily and inexplicably gone mute.

I was able to get through half a day of silence with no problems. My vow was taken some time during my final period of the day on Thursday. I couldn’t stand the den of chaos that was my Spanish II class, so there was no reason for me to talk during that class and the evening bus ride home was always spent with my headphones deeply implanted in my ears and staring at Kelsey Snavely with wide, unblinking eyes.

My parents worked late that night so the vow of silence at least kept me from talking to myself which was an unexpected godsend.

Day two was a little harder.

I don’t know how I managed to get through the morning drive to school with my dad without saying a word, but I know it was done somehow. Maybe I wrote a note that was like, “In the pursuit of fulfilling my dreams as a playwright, I am currently engaging in a vow of silence until my masterpiece has been completed. I regret to inform you that our usually scheduled awkward banter must be postponed until further notice.” Or he could have just thought I was being a dick because I was 15 and that’s kind of what I did. I mean, I didn’t have a rebellious phase. I was just sort of a moody prick sometimes.

My first period was Biology. That was easy enough to get through. I usually just kept my head down and stared, unblinkingly, at Trina Baker. Honestly, I was able to get through most of the day because I was the quiet kid that just wrote in his notebook all the time. Everyone just hoped I was writing elaborate murder plots.

But there were hairier moments that were harder to get around. In classes like Journalism and Geometry I actually had a handful of acquaintances and small talk was somewhat expected. I had a tiny little flip notebook that I would scribble vague apologies and half-assed attempts to explain what it was that I was actually doing. It was met with a lot eye rolling and some judgey-laughter but mostly they were pretty cool with it. Which was good because I needed allies for when teachers would call on me in class.

Out of seven classes, I was forced to answer questions during lectures. I would quietly scream inside and then scribble down the answer (most of the time, the wrong answer) into my notebook and my friend would have to stand in front of the class and explain why they were the one reading my wrong answer. It mostly went, “Chase is doing some dumb writer thing so he’s not talking, but he thinks X is 72, but its not. Sorry Mrs. O.” And people the whole class would laugh at me and say dumb things and I would have to have to grit my teeth and know that this was in the pursuit of art.

I could limp my through most of the day, but then I had an unexpected quiz during seventh period. The kids at my table had asked why I wasn’t talking and I went through the, now tired exercise of explaining what was happening. They were oddly supportive, which would be helpful for when I had a question mid-quiz.

We all had our heads down deliberating over the subtler points of conjugation when I reached a  point that I simply could not get passed. I looked around frantically. Hoping to cheat, maybe. Anything but having to raise my hand and figure out how to talk to Ms. Rivera, who still terrifies me to this day.

But I couldn’t figure it out and so I had to raise my hand. She was on the other side of the room and when she saw my hand in the air, she simply said, “Yes? What is it?” I tried to wave her over but she was reluctant to move. “What is it?”

Then one of my table mate spoke up, “Chase isn’t talking today.”

She walked over with a huff and stood next to me. “What do you mean you’re not talking today?” I shrugged. “What does that mean?” I wrote on the side of my quiz. “I’m trying to finish my play.” But for some reason that wasn’t enough of an answer for her.

I tried to ignore her questions and write the question that I had on the side of the paper, but she was not interested in reading it or playing along with my insane theater of dorkiness. After a few minutes of squirming, I finally whispered the first words I’d spoken aloud in 24 hours. She quickly and dismissively answered my question and I went on to stumble my way to a C on the quiz. But the magic and the vow were broken.

So my challenge only lasted for about a day. It was as valiant an endeavor as it was stupid. But hey, I think I finished the play, I seriously don’t remember. Even if I did finish the play, I certainly did not finish it in that microscopic timeframe.

Any writer has moments where they struggle to get themselves through a piece. Discipline is one of the most valuable tools in their toolbox. As I sit down to my work everyday and stare and the ever expanding list of stories and novels that I desperately want to write, I pray that I quickly find that miracle mixture of determination and patience that will allow me to start, lot less finish, these projects.

A vow of silence may not have been the answer, but I will find it soon enough.

Too Old for Young Adult

I felt a little out of place as I sat down in the theater to watch “Paper Towns.” I was by myself, as per usual, and looking around the theater I realized that I was the only one there that was not a 15 year old girl or a parent who was dragged there against their will. No, I was a man on the verge of 23 years old sitting alone in a movie designed for teenagers.

Maybe its my crippling self-criticism, but I feel like this is a bad move. Not that anyone really cared at all. I just always have this nagging feeling that someone is lurking in the shadows judging me. Saying things like “Eww, what’s that creepy dude doing here? Why is he crying? Did his dog die or something? There is no way he’s this worked up over the lives of fictional teens.” But I am that worked up because as much as I judge myself for it, I really do like coming of age stories and YA lit.

Teenagers are always less scary when they are fictional.

Teenagers are always less scary when they are fictional.

I wasn’t always so open to the idea of young adult novels. I didn’t really read any of the Harry Potter books ’til my junior year of high school. I looked down on anything written from the perspective of a high school student with miserable disdain. After all, I was a serious writer. I tackled the hard subjects like death and loss and the inability to find a girlfriend. Anytime I asked a friend what book I should read, they’d say The “Perks of Being a Wallflower” and I would scoff like a pretentious little jerk.

Then I read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” It felt like life punched me in the stomach really hard but I was sort of happy about it. Never had I read a book that dealt with the issues that were currently floating around in my head. I’d never read anything that tackled anxiety and depression in such a visceral, real way. No monsters and magic. No ghosts. Just pain and emotion and hope and it flipped the script on my life.

I watched this movie in theaters three times in one week.  Ph: John Bramley © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC.  All rights reserved.

I watched this movie in theaters three times in one week.
Ph: John Bramley
© 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Here was a book that tackled all the subjects I liked to thing I understood and it spoke directly to those who live it daily. At the end of the day all of my work was about the same things: that growing up sucks. Whether you’re 12 or 25, growing up is painful and awkward and it sucks. But here I held a book that spoke to me about those things, let me live in a world where these problems were addressed and sort of made things ok.

To this day I hold onto that book tightly. It’s the only book I’ve ever read three times and if I leave home for more than two days, you can guarantee that that book is on my person. Whenever I’m stressed out or depressed, I pick it up or watch the movie. It doesn’t quite make it better, but it makes it manageable. And that’s a powerful thing.

After that I started doing my best to find more and more books like it. That tackled the same issues, that had that same protective impact for its fans. I discovered Ned Vizzini’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and Simon Rich’s “Elliot Allagash.” Rainbow Rowell and most importantly John Green. These books and writers became my guides and my teachers. Before long it dawned on me that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to write novels about the struggles of growing up that could help teens and young adults the same ways these books helped me. To tackle life’s problems and pains with a glimmer of humor and hope.

Hope and fun are important. Otherwise you become

Hope and fun are important. Otherwise you become “Man of Steel” and nobody wants that.

So I try my best to read as much of these novels as possible. Which is weird because I’m pretty sure if you saw me just hanging around the Young Adult section at Barnes and Noble for extended periods of time, you would call the cops on me.

But I don’t know enough about the genre to just shop on Amazon and have them shipped discreetly to my house. I have to get in their, pick up the books, flip around and see what grabs me. Because lets be honest, for as much good stuff one can find in that section, there is just as much, if not more, god awful garbage. So I have to take my time and sift. Which I can never comfortably do.

My trips through the Young Adult section are all designed to loo like accidents. I casually stroll up and down the fiction aisles, looking at the names I should have read in college. Giving a long linger over a handful of Nabokov’s so that any passers-by think that I am sophisticated and am a true student of my craft. “Oh, of course I’ve read “Pnin.” Like in third grade.”

I'm sorry Mr. Nabokov, one day I'll read your work. I promise.

I’m sorry Mr. Nabokov, one day I’ll read your work. I promise.

Before long the fiction section turns into the young adult fiction section. I pick up a book with a colorful cover and make a show of being interested by its novelty. I pick it up, flip it over, and then set it down. Then I’m in.

I give myself about five minutes max. It’s like moving through the porn section at old video stores. You rush through, grab something that looks vaguely like it suites your interests, and you bolt without making eye contact. If there are already people in the section, I walk away.

Occasionally I’ll be shopping and a parent will be looking for the “Hunger Games” books or “Divergent” or whatever new dystopia allegory is in theaters this weekend and I’ll debate pointing them in the right direction. The conversation in my head goes “Oh thanks, do you work here?” And I’m all like “Nah, I just reading about 16 year old’s love-lifes.” And then they scurry their pre-teen away and give them a lecture in talking to strangers with beards.

So I don’t talk to anyone. I never ask someone for suggestions or where to find something. If I can’t do it on my own, I guess I’ll just suffer.

I don’t know why I’m so weird about things like this. Between fear of judgement from parents and aggressively rude teenagers, I also have this fear that my peers and educators are looking down on me. I went to school to be a writer. I was supposed to read Mark Twain and Graham Greene and Dostoyevsky and be inspired to create great works of literature. To handle my craft to tell stories of importance.

I also write my novels here, to make sure that I am the optimum level of cliche.

I also write my novels here, to make sure that I am the optimum level of cliche.

But I have no desire to write moody dude poetry. I want to write stuff that’s goofy and fun. I want to write about stuff that freaked me out when I was younger and only continues to freak me out more as I grow up. I don’t want to take down the government with a think piece. I want to let some chubby kid know that it’s ok to be sad sometimes.

That’s the battle I have everyday. Do I write something I want to write and have fun or do I want to write something important? As if those two things don’t occupy the same space. Sometimes this battle between what I want to do and what I feel I need to do to live up to my potential is crippling. More like all the time. I oscillate between this projects and that story and what I want to do, “but no the people on tumblr will not like me” and “I’ll be letting Professor Rabb down…” so much that it paralyzes me.

Part of me wants to write the Great American novel. Part of me wants to write about vampires.

Part of me wants to write the Great American novel. Part of me wants to write about vampires.

This blog is the most that I’ve really done to write for myself lately and I can’t even keep that rolling out consistently. I’m just kind of stuck soemtimes and I want to break that. I want to tell stories that I’m passionate about. I want to write with the type of passion I did in high school when I should have been listening to an Algebra II lecture. But I’ve become so hyper-aware of expectation and what it’s like to have to live up to something, that I forget that there really is no pressure on me to do any one thing. No one really gives a shit and as horrible as that sounds, that’s really freeing sometimes.

After seeing “Paper Towns,” I kind of got reenergized to tell a story that I want to tell. To write something that may have helped me or someone like me navigate his way through college or something like that. I try to stop focusing on doing something important and focus on doing something that feels right to me. Something that makes me love writing.

I mean, I still only allow myself five minutes in the Young Adult section, but maybe one day I’ll allow myself a little longer when I’m admiring my work on the shelf.

Trouble with the Gender Roles

I walked past an older lady while I was wearing my Wonder Woman t-shirt. She laughed and called after me saying, “Oh Wonder Woman, you look so different.” Pick another evening and I’m walking into a restaurant wearing the same shirt and an old woman looks at me in dismay and says, “That’s weird.” I’m not sure what that means. I do know what I look like and a large bearded man is typically not the prime candidate to be sporting any Wonder Woman memorabilia.

But seriously, Azzarello/Chiang's run of Wonder Woman is really good.

But seriously, Azzarello/Chiang’s run of Wonder Woman is really good.

A large part of my sense of humor for years has been my embrace of what would typically seen as feminine interests. It’s funny to say that I cry or that I’m rocking out to Beyonce or watching A Walk to Remember because I love Mandy Moore. It’s a bit of a schtick that I have become more and more aware of, purposefully creating these juxtapositions. Sure I like watching boxing, but I also have been dabbling with watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

The jokes are never meant to be rude or even that self-deprecating. I don’t look down on any of these things that are so commonly associate with women and I am very secure in the fact that I genuinely appreciate these things of their own merits. But it is beginning to dawn on me that the humor in these situations stems from a larger systematic problem. I shouldn’t have to be “secure in my masculinity” to like a story or show with a female lead. I shouldn’t have to be “secure in my masculinity” to enjoy pop music. Just because a woman creates an art, does not make it somehow lesser and novel for a man to enjoy these things.

But that’s where the humor is most of the time. Men who embrace female roles or feminine interests are sitcom fodder. I know this card and play it all the time. I joke about how I openly wept during “The Fault in Our Stars” along with the theater full of 15 year old girls. I laugh about knowing all the words to “Hips Don’t Lie.” But if I were to try to explain why that should be funny to anyone, the only answer is “because that sort of thing is for girls and I’m a man.” And quite frankly there’s nothing funny about that line of thinking.

There love was so pure. #uglycryface

There love was so pure. #uglycryface

When I was listening to N’SYNC and Backstreet Boys when I was younger, I was not thinking “this is for girls.” When I became obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was eight, I never thought “this is for girls.” But when I retell these sorts of things, there is always a hint of that. A little bit of “haha Chase likes a girl thing.” Even though I continue to embrace female artists and athletes and characters, I feel like there’s this weird undertone to it.

Whenever I talk about the WNBA it almost sounds like a brag. Like I’m trying to buy some sort of feminist bonus points. Like “Look at me, I respect female athletes, aren’t I progressive?” But that’s a large problem that I see with male feminists. We have no sense of subtlety. Its like we’re waving this big banner that says “I respect women, aren’t I cool?!” One of the biggest things that bothers me is the guy that’s like “I’m a feminist and I’ll beat you up, ’cause I’m still a man.” But I tend to do a very similar thing, but with humor: “I love Taylor Swift, but it’s funny because I’m a guy.”

There’s little contradictions all the time in my line of thinking. I talk about wanting to be a stay-at-home dad, marrying a powerful lawyer or athlete and doing the dishes at home while I work on my novel, and yet I still refuse to let a woman pick up the tab. That somehow that makes me a freeloader. It’s a weird way of thinking. To actively try to subvert the gender role in thought, but still my actions are engrained in the traditional.

Maybe Elena Delle Donne's type is fat 22 year old's with a receding hairline.

Maybe Elena Delle Donne’s type is fat 22 year old’s with a receding hairline.

It’s hard to undo this systematic wedge driven into our society. Even the best of intentions ultimately fail in the execution. I’m not saying that it’s bad to laugh, but when I examined why I thought some of the things I say or do are funny, it felt a little problematic. I’m going to continue to read Wonder Woman and watch the Minnesota Lynx. Buffy Summers will always be my hero and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” will continue to get me through rough days. But there is a necessity to remain vigilant. To make sure that what I’m doing is really going towards helping the women I admire and giving girls a platform to stand on in the future.

I scolded a friend of mine because he was joking with his son that women are bad drivers. I said, “You can’t teach him that kind of shit.” There was no harm meant on any side, but jokes are a powerful tool even when we aren’t conscious of what we’re saying. It’s a process and I intend on revisiting mine as often as I can.

Unfortunate Crowd Work Scenarios

You may have guessed by now that I’m a pretty big fan of stand-up comedy. Stand-up informs a lot of what I do here on this blog and in my writing as a whole. So you can imagine how much of an honor it was to be able to see Louis C.K. a couple years ago while I was at school in Savannah.

There was a surprising amount of comedians that passed through town during my time there.  I actually got to see comedians such as Daniel Tosh, Kyle Kinane and the late Robin Williams on separate occasions. But when a friend of mine told me that Louis C.K. was passing through, I dropped everything and hopped online to buy tickets. Apparently we were the only people in Georgia who knew this was going on because I was lucky enough to nab a ticket that was front row center.

Oh to bask in the sweaty glow of greatness.

Oh to bask in the sweaty glow of greatness.

Needless to say I spent the next three months in a giddy little tizzy. I’d been to stand-up shows before and since, but I’d never had the privilege to be that close to the performer. This was some serious closeness. “Put your feet up on the stage” closeness, “security might restrain me if I take another step” closeness, “prime ‘crowd work’ area” closeness.

Crowd work is a timed honored tradition of the performer interacting with the crowd directly, usually in the form of questions or funny quips about your clothes. I spent weeks daydreaming about what it would be like to have Louis C.K., the biggest/most important comedian of that specific time, look down from his mic and say something to me. Anything. From “Hey, how you doing?” to  “Please stop staring at me like that.” I prepped for witty banter in the mirror before school. Working on my reflexes, answering questions without a moments hesitation. Everything from “Where do you go to school?” to “Are you married, kid?” Anything I could do to lend a hand to his art.

Maybe he might say something about my beard. I am very fond of my beard, he has similarly distinct facial hair. We could be buddies. On an album I once heard a comedian comment on someone’s distinctive laugh and so I desperately wanted him to notice my laugh. If you haven’t heard my laugh in person, you are missing out. It is a sound that should not come out of a grown man of my size. It’s a laugh with the power to shut down entire class schedules by starting a chain reaction of laughter. During the show, I actually forced myself to project my laugh just to try to be noticed, but to no avail.

The day of the show finally came and I made my way to the Johnny Mercer Theater with my friends. They were lame and lacked my lightning fast reflexes and had to sit several rows behind me, so I walked to the front of the auditorium alone.

Right there. That middle bit, that's where I was!

Right there. That middle bit, that’s where I was!

I sat restlessly as I waited for the show to start. I looked back and made eye contact with my roommate to gloat but also to plea for someone to talk to. No one else had arrived on my row yet so I snapped awkward photos of the stage to show my dad how close I was. I stretched my legs out to confirm that I could indeed put my feet up on the stage (and then quickly took them down so I would not be thrown out before things started).

Suddenly, my seat neighbors came rolling in, tripping over themselves and me, struggling to hold the massive cans of Bud Light they were carrying. They plopped down in the two seats to my left, gave me a friendly “‘what’s up’ nod,” and then proceeded to bro out until the lights began to dim.

Louis’ opening act was comedian Todd Barry. A very talented and accomplished comedian, if slightly lesser known than the headliner. I didn’t know who I was expecting to open, usually someone relatively unknown, but I was surprised and excited to see Barry take the stage. I’d spent the summer before going through his entire discography, listening to every bit he put to tape. It was a little more star-power than I was expecting, even if I was the only one on the row who seemed to know who he was.

I think there's a correlation between baldiness and humor.

I think there’s a correlation between baldiness and humor.

Barry began his set and the crowd instantly climbed on board with his dry sense of humor. I watched in but awe and anxiousness as he singled out people from the front section of the audience. I looked over to my right and saw a young woman answering questions, mere feet away from me. He’d toss questions to the left. He’s the opening act, he’s supposed to get the crowd lose, engaged. I don’t know why this surprised me.

I had spent so much time preparing for Louis to ask me how long I’d been growing my beard, that I was caught off guard when Barry asked the crowd, “Where do you go to school?” I looked up to see his finger pointing lazily down at the front row. It pointed somewhere in the middle of me and the Bud Light bro to my left. My eyes met with my seatmate’s and we both shared a brief moment of “Is he pointing at me?” A silent infinity. Then I graciously extended my hand, bowed my head and let my neighbor answer the question.

Why the fuck did I do that?! To this day, I have no idea what went through my head. Here it was, my moment! The one I’d been practicing for for months, but instead I was all “I don’t speak to the opening act. You field this one.” Like some kind of idiot!

I instantly knew I had made a mistake, but it was too late. The damage was done. Bud Light Bro answered confidently, “SCAD” and they were off. A beautiful back and forth. Barry asking, “What’s that?” and then cracking jokes about the fact that it was an art school. He’d throw a clever insult and follow it with a trade mark “destroyed him.” I sat there, sinking into my seat, wanting to laugh, but I knew that it was me that should be getting “destroyed.” That he should be making fun of me and not this stupid jerk beside me.

My one chance to have a professional make fun of my school choice instead of just my high school counselor.

My one chance to have a professional make fun of my school choice instead of just my everyone I knew in high school.

But hey, me and this guy both went to SCAD. Barry never asked for a name. I could tell everyone that it was me he was talking to all along. Sure I’d be living a lie, but there was a part of me that needed this. Then Barry asked what the guy was studying. “Film.” I do not study film. Everyone that matters knows that and there were plenty of people I knew in the audience who could now refute my claim that I was the one bantering with the stars.

The interaction lasted for about a minute, but the rest of that set lay slightly tainted. Barry continued to bounce around, but I knew his interactions were like lightning strikes, never to return to the same row a second time. As he bowed and exited the stage, I hoped for redemption from the man of the hour. But Louis rarely looked at the front section, instead spending most of his time engaging the farther rows, making sure everyone was having a good time.

The whole show was great. Most of Louis’ material would go on to make it to his HBO special, “Oh My God” and it was great to see it live. But there’s a lesson in there about seizing the moment. Who knows man. I stare at this WordPress page, I wonder what if Todd Barry had asked me, “What do you study?” and I got to say, “Writing.” Would he have asked, “What do you write about?” Maybe I could have plugged the blog. Maybe I could have made a fan and be working on projects with Louis C.K. I could have missed out on a life of riches and fame all so Bud Light Bro could have a moment in the spotlight.

Anti-Social Butterfly

Every time I am at a party, I like to play a game called, “How Long Will You Politely Stand Next to Me Until You Figure Out I’m Not Going To Keep Talking To You?” It’s never a game I intend to play. I don’t get all hyped up on the car ride over saying to myself, “Aw yeah! I can’t wait to be a dick to some nice person I’ve never met!” I never want to be some morose buzz-kill. I’m just terrible at concealing how uncomfortable parties and gatherings of any kind make me.

I’m not good at socializing. I like to say that I have a three person max when it comes to social interactions. And that’s with my friends. With strangers it’s like a negative one person max. The simple thought of talking to someone I don’t know in a casual setting fills me with terror.

I stutter and stammer and sweat. My mind is constantly racing and bumbling over each new thought whenever I’m stuck in situations where I have to interact with others. At parties, I tend to latch onto the one person I know and follow them around with my head bowed like some kind of scared puppy. I avoid eye contact and speak in disjointed whispers. Too uncomfortable to relax even with my friend. Always making sure I’m not drawing attention to myself and our conversation.

But if something happens and the people I know are somehow occupied, well that becomes so much worse. I tend to stiffen up. I prefer to stand somewhere, my belly is less likely to do embarrassing bunching things when I’m standing. I keep my arms crossed in front of me or buried in my pockets. Something that shows how inconvenient it would be for me to shake hands or wave. I survey the room constantly with erratic unblinking eyes. A terrifying sentry keeping watch from some quiet corner.

My dad’s always telling me to smile. Growing up it was always, “Pretend like you’re having fun. Smile.” But I’ve never been able to take that advice. When I’m in these situations, I get very tight lipped, like I spent sometime in my car before exiting gluing my mouth shut. A long-time fan of heavy mouth breathing, when I’m at a party I tend to forget that you can receive oxygen from your mouth. Instead my nostrils flare desperately, trying to catch as much air as it can to fill my lungs with each quick, shallow breath.

I always look like I’m either itching to pick a fight or on the verge of tears. It really depends on the scenario. If I don’t want to be there out of some spite or dislike of the situation, I default to murder face. A stern, unblinking mask of displeasure. My jaw is probably clenched and I’m probably flexing as I hold my arms tight across my chest. I sit there and curse the insensitivity of whoever it was who dragged me to such an occasion. I mean, don’t they know that I don’t like social events. Don’t that know how uncomfortable it makes me. I sit there with this self-righteous mantra in my head. How people don’t understand what its like to feel like this. And I brood and scowl at anyone who dares glance at me until I can leave and breathe once again in my car as I drive home and cry a little.

But that’s the easy one to deal with. I mean, no one ever wants to be mad and uncomfortable, but that’s sort of me throwing in the towel early. Shutting down as a form of self preservation. What’s harder is when I get all cry-face. I get all jittery and restless, my jaw trembles and it always looks like I’m on the verge of tears. That usually happens when I’m actually trying. My breath quickens and I nervously hover somewhere, desperately trying to find the courage to say hi to someone. Some nice girl or a group of people that look like they’re having fun. My brain just gets stuck on this vicious loop of critical self-analysis and inability to form words. This constant back and forth of ambitious courage followed by crushing defeat when I eventually convince myself that whatever thought I had was stupid.

I wander around the outside of the party. Hoping to catch someone alone. To peak someone’s interest to engage with me. “Ooo who is this brooding hunk of handsome? That’s totally cool still, right? He’s probably some tortured artist and will totally be interesting to talk to.” That rarely happens. No one’s like “Hell yeah, party time! I’m gonna get totally wasted and talk to the sad man!”

But every once in a while someone does try and we enter the game. I’m not a small talk guy. I’m terrible at small talk with my own friends. I need to create some overblown narrative to every little thing or I feel like I can’t function properly. “Oh what band is that on your shirt?” “Oh its Iron and Wine. Let me tell you about my entire history with listening to this band starting with the first time I watched Garden State in eighth grade.” It’s a bit daunting to say the least. But I’m not that open with the casual party-goer and so I find myself in the awkward stand off of wanting their company but not knowing how to actually make us of it.

I’m very good at answering questions from strangers. You come over and say “So what do you do?” I can tell you about my job. I can tell you some peripheral stuff about my writing. Ask me where I’m from and I can tell you the abridged story of how I moved around a lot growing up. But I’m not good at asking questions. I may be interested in getting to know you, but if I can’t follow up my answer with a simple, “What about you?” forget about it. For some reason, I get stuck in that vicious loop of “This is a good question. No its a stupid question. You should ask this. No you shouldn’t. Wait for them to say something else. Oh they’re not saying anything. Look off into the distance until they walk away.”

It’s not pleasant at all. To sit there and struggle to just reach out in any basic human way. I mean, with creepy people, its fine. “Yes go, I did not want to talk to you.” But more times than not, I genuinely want to interact with you but I can’t break free from this cycle of constant self-critique to function. Always too scared of saying the wrong thing. Always too scared of coming on too strong or too soft. I tend to just remain neutral and noncommittal. More like a hat rack than a party guest.

I always say, “Give me three meetings and I’ll finally get comfortable enough to talk to you.” I may interact with you before that but I rarely show my true face (whatever the hell that is) before that. For most people, I don’t get three chances. I get maybe half of one.

But I like to think that for those who are patient, it’s a good payoff. That at some point I become engaging and funny and nice. I say that hopefully because I’m still skeptical that I do have those good qualities. Even with friends I’ve had for months now or even years, I constantly play that game in my head. That vicious self-critique that won’t shut up. “Oh you’re too loud, Chase. Reel it in.” “Oh that was rude. Apologize.” “That was weird. Apologize.” “They’re not laughing. Apologize.” I’m stuck in trying to always say the right thing. Never really relaxed enough to have a good time.

I’m trying. I’m going out more and trying to break free of my comfort zone. A lot of times though, I wonder if I had a comfort zone to begin with. There’s no happy ending to wrap into a bow here because the story continues to rage on. I feel like I’ll always fight this fight with myself. Maybe one day I’ll relax, but probably not. Just know that I do care. That I’m not unhappy, that I’m genuinely trying. It’s hard sometimes but I am grateful for those who stuck it out. Those who I call my friends. They make me fight that much harder.

Dancing Like A Graceful Little Bowling Ball

Ever since I saw Shakira’s music video for “Did It Again,” I’ve always wanted to learn to dance. Over the years I’d watch my friends who danced with a mix of envy and deep admiration. I’d watch endless clips of So You Think You Can Dance on YouTube, I’d write poems and plays devoted to dancers whom inspired me. I’d turn off all the lights at night, lock the doors and dance to Justin Timberlake like a madman, sweat dripping, limbs flailing awkwardly around. But I never pursued it in any way until the final quarter of my senior year of college when I signed up for Intro to Ballet.

Pictured: Chase's inner most dreams. Photoshop magic courtesy of Raine Blunk.

Pictured: Chase’s inner most dreams. Photoshop magic courtesy of Raine Blunk.

The problem was that I look like I am more suited to be giving guys concussions on a football field than to performing a skilled arabesque. Anyone I told that I was about to take a ballet class laughed in my face and immediately demanded to watch me attempt this. My mom questioned hard and long if this was the best use of my tuition. I even doubted they made tights large enough for my neanderthal-like body. But I remained undeterred. I was going to be a ballerina damnit and I was going to be graceful.

I’m not sure I was very successful on either front, but I definitely tried. Every Monday and Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. I made my trek across town from my dorm room to my class; my tights worn under my sweatpants. I definitely looked out of place in class. One of just two males, I was this large, hairy obelisk in a sea of dainty little dancers.

It took me some time to find my footing in both senses of the word. For years, I had struggled to merely touch my toes and now my legs were twisting and contorting and stretching into positions that I was certain would send me to the hospital. With every attempted plie in fifth position, I feared popping femurs, dislocating my hips and all around looking quite silly in front of all the pretty girls.

No. My legs don't work like that.

No. My legs don’t work like that.

They really don’t prepare you for just how physically demanding dancing is. Every time I watched someone dance on TV it looks so effortless and carefree. Their happy stupid smiles deceiving me into thinking that, “Sure, I can do that! I got winded walking up the steps this morning but I can totally do all those leapy-turny things.” But I guess that’s why it’s an art-form. Because it’s a lie.

I was always three steps behind everyone else. My feet dragged too long, my legs fatigued after mere moments in the air. Each swing of my leg nearly resulted in an innocent woman being punted across the room. I was a sweaty, uncoordinated, near-asthmatic mess and that was just the warm ups.

Rhythm always seemed to escape me. My friend Colin tried to teach me guitar a few times and he would have to keep reminding me that I was trying to play a song. I would simply just strum to notes like a stiff, mechanical baby. More focused on putting my fingers in the right places than having any sort of fun. I was the same way when it came to learning steps to a dance, except my professor didn’t go slow enough for me to even know the steps, lotless try to get them right.

"Look mom! I'm a real boy!"

“Look mom! I’m a real boy!”

I’d sway clumsily around the room, trying my best to follow those around me but looking more like I was on satellite delay. Always a step behind, always looking awkward and scared. There was a window that looked out at the hotel next door. Sometimes people would look up, expecting to see some beautiful ballerinas in their element, but instead they saw my Butterballing ass flopping around like a drunk toddler who is both mad and deeply sorry.

But in all this mess, I still managed to stay relatively optimistic. I’d oscillate between excited eager beaver, ready to jump into each new exercise and the deeply regretful realist who knew it was probably better to hide in the corner.

I struggled to find my identity in that class. Sometimes I was the overly self-aware guy, making self-deprecating comments about how ridiculous I looked when I tried to do those fancy ballet jumps. Sometimes I was the astute professional, focused, smiling and diligently trying to perfect my craft. Most times I was just the person crying at the barre when the professor would start yelling at people.

One time I tried to be the super enthusiastic guy. When it was time to work, I slapped the ground and jumped around, hooting and hollering like Ray Lewis on game day. Trying to amp everyone up, but realizing that ballet requires a very different style of hype than a Super Bowl. I never tried to get anyone amped in class again.

"Let's work on them sashays, mofos!"

“Let’s work on them sashays, mofos!”

But the most important thing was that I tried. Consistently and without fail. I didn’t complain, at loud anyway, when I felt like I was dying or when I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t let the crushing weight of my own awkwardness drive me out of class. When I stumbled in my exams, I quickly gathered myself and moved right along, my trademark apologies withheld. I know my professor respected me for it.

It wasn’t always a pretty sight and no I am not considering a career change, but it was a good way to spend my last ten weeks. With the steady ticking of that Doomsday Clock called adulthood driving me insane towards my impending graduation, it was nice to step aside from stacking mound of rejected job applications and do something fun. To do something I’d always wanted to do. It was a good reminder that even in the real world of bills and responsibilities, there is still some room to pursue dreams and take risks.

Sometimes you’ve got to be cool with looking a little silly to do the things you want. An awkward story is always better than no story at all.