I Am Not A Sad Story

There is a running myth abut me that I am somehow confident and happy and even remotely well-adjusted. I’m not sure where people get that. It seems to take a lot for people to see deeper and see me as the fumbling, neurotic fuck-up I so aggressively believe that I am. This is one of the many disconnects I have with the world around me.

I don’t often open up about myself or the things going on in my  head. There are a handful of friends who have seen me at my miserable, self-loathingly lows. I’ve had often fragmented, frustrated conversations with my parents that end in a “chin up, kiddo” sort of mentality. But the truth is that I am plagued by vicious anxieties that pick at my bones and a growing depression that recently began flexing its ability to stop me in my tracks. Usually its something that I’ve been able to bury, put somewhere off to the corner, but as I try to make a place in the world for myself, its becoming frighteningly apparent how big a problem these things can be.

I can’t remember a day where all these issues started becoming issues. I think I was largely a happy kid. But I remember moments where that image is fractured a bit. I remember being picked on and bullied, but I also remember that I had done my fair share of bullying in return. I remember being angry that on my seventh birthday they made me swing at the piñata last because I was bigger than the other kids and someone broke it before I got a chance. I remember leaving my own party that day and just running away off into the fields behind my house. There are so many disjointed memories of being lost or scared, even in my own home. Whether it was someone I didn’t like came to watch me or my sister’s boyfriend being mean to me or being dropped off when I was six and finding no one at home. There are so many memories of being young and alone. To the point where it began to feel like alone was the way I was meant to be.

There are many dirty parts of my life that I choose to remain secret. Some I don’t disclose to therapists. Some only a few friends know of. I tend to think I grew up a bit faster than I should have. The fact that my parents were never home became a legitimate excuse to be used in class for why I didn’t do something. A point that many of my friends eagerly vouched for on my behalf.

But I never felt depression until high school, when waves of paralyzing apathy or anger or frustration would wash over me, leaving me feeling completely powerless and once again alone. It was in high school that I started seeing myself as something other. Alienated and off to the side. Something that didn’t quite belong. Someone not good enough. While the bouts of serious depression or panic were few and far between (except for dealing with homework) there was a growing sense of self-loathing that was always present.

This past year the bouts of depression and anxiety have become more and more frequent. Growing steadily until in the past few months where depression often feels like a daily battle and my anxiety and bouts of panic derail me at every turn. A few weeks ago I sat at my desk at my internship, knowing that there were pressing things and deadlines ahead of me, but still I sat there, motionless and paralyzed for hours. This little ball of pain sat on my chest and scratched at my insides. In the ensuing weeks deadlines have come and gone with a good deal of panic but no action. I now boast four or so job that offer little to know compensation and so I sit, defeated in a ball of panic and dread and watch as all those precious responsibilities slip past.

I frighten myself a lot of the time. I’ve cried more in the past four months than I think I have since I was a baby. Most days I feel so disconnected from the people in my life. So far from their love or their affection. I feel isolated and abandoned most days. This utter unsympathetic self-hatred burns at me, saying that I deserve to be alone. That this is how I am fated to be. There is this crippling belief that I am not in control of my own life. That its just spinning out of my grasp, kicked around for others amusement or placed on a high shelf and forgotten. It is felt so genuinely and with so much earnest that I often forget to do things for myself or that that is a possibility for me. This unconscious belief that my happiness leads to other people’s suffering on some level leaves me completely numb.

It’s hard to articulate exactly what I feel. It’s harder to believe that anything I am writing holds any weight or any purpose. That it is anything beyond my self-righteous pity party that no one cares about. Something that will sit as an ugly, self-indulgent scar on the internet.

I wish I felt as connected as I should be. There are a lot of people in this world that I love purely and wholly. But I don’t often feel it in return. I look out into the world and it yells back at me with this crippling apathy. This constant belief that everyone hates me as much as I hate myself. That my co-workers see me as cumbersome and in the way. That my intern advisers don’t like my very existence and see me as a bother or worse, a waste of space.  It’s this thing I’ve always seen of myself. I’m too much. Too much of everything. Too big, too loud, too phony, too quiet, too bombastic, too timid, too assertive, too passive, too fat, too selfless, too self-absorbed. Complete, vicious contradictions. Unsettled at all times no matter how I adapt.

And lately all these fears and paranoias and worries and hatreds have ground me to a complete halt. I have thoughts about what it would be like if I were to die in a car crash and I get these flashes of all the people who would miss me and all the things they would say and I feel their hurt so completely that I start bawling while sitting in traffic. And in those moments I know that I am not the garbage that I feel I am so explicitly. I am reminded of all the legions of family and friends that love me so completely. But then I’m left with a more haunting after image. A persistent question: Why do I have to go to such a dark place to finally feel everyone’s love?

I don’t know how I’ve become so disconnected from everything and everyone. More so, I don’t know how I’ve become so disconnected while appearing so engaged from the outside looking in. But I’ve reached out for help. I’ve begun to seek therapy once again. This time with these feelings a little more clearly articulated. A little more willing to eradicate that gnawing pain inside me. And that’s why I don’t want to keep it secret. I don’t know who all will read this. Probably no one. It is quite far off from the humor that usually populates this blog. But it felt important to share.

My mission through writing is to reach out to kids and young adults who feel all of these feelings. That feel so lost and alone and need something to hold onto. But I think I still need something to hold onto myself. A reminder that the story is still being written. And a happy ending will be on its way. We all have stories inside us and I don’t think mine is a sad one.

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.

My Rivalry with Poseidon

I am habitually non-adventurous. I go camping and spend most of my time running from bugs. I go to the beach and sit on the sand, scowling at the hidden dangers of the sea. When I was little my dad was getting tickets to see the Cubs play the Cardinals in Chicago, Sosa vs. McGuire, the biggest showdown in baseball but I didn’t go because I was scared to leave my mommy. But for one blessed week when I was eight, I stared adventure in the face and dove right in. And then I was promptly dragged out to sea.

My parents and I took a trip to Costa Rica with a couple of their friends back in 2001. While I had spent most of my life up to that point bouncing from state to state, it was the first time that I had actually left the country. The plan was to rent some rugged SUV and just drive across the country. Why they thought this would be a fool-proof adventure is a mystery to me. We got lost in the parking lot of a supermarket within an hour of landing.

Move over, Magellan. Got some new explorers in town.

Move over, Magellan. Got some new explorers in town.

I don’t have a linear memory of that vacation. I can’t prod along and tell you what happened when and in which order. There are a great deal of highlights. I know that our hotel flooded on our first night. I know that we traversed a river in our rental car, Helga, and that river was way deeper than we thought. I got into a yelling match with a tree full of howler monkeys and developed a pineapple soda addiction that continues to this day. We passed through towns where iguanas ran the streets like stray cats and visited friends in a house on a mountain top. We pulled off a forest road to watch a sloth cross the street. I stared at a bolt on a stair for an hour because in the dark of night I thought it was a poison dart frog. I also geeked out like a maniac when I finally saw a real poison dart frog on a rainforest hike.

There was a lot of stuff going on in that trip. But there’s one night that sticks out in my mind clearer than the others. We were staying at some little hotel on the beach called like Iguana Cove or something. We had returned to the room for the night and the adults got their drink on pretty hardcore. I don’t really remember what I was doing. Probably looking at some book about native animals and seeing what I could cross off my list next. (Capuchin Monkey? Check. Macaw? Check. Coati? Check.) Next thing I know, my dad and his friend Matt are taking me out to fetch some body boards they saw by the beach and we’re gonna go surf around in the ocean.

Note it was pitch black outside accept for the light coming from the moon and the flashes of lightning striking a little ways off shore. If I had seen Jaws at this point or even been allowed to watch Shark Week, there was no way this was going down. That’s prime conditions to be shark murdered. But I was dumb and they seemed super confident that this was gonna go swell and so I blindly followed them into the ocean.

I couldn't even take a bath without thinking a shark was gonna eat me once I saw this flick.

I couldn’t even take a bath without thinking a shark was gonna eat me once I saw this flick.

We’re the only ones out there because I guess you would have had to be drunk or something to think it was a good idea to go out into the water that night. Luckily 2/3 of us were.

The wind blew heavily and waves crashed around us as we ran out into the black water. I’d never seen a body-board lot less ridden one, but I jumped into the surf with reckless abandon. There was nothing graceful about that evening. Their legs were wobbly enough without walls of water smashing into their drunk asses every other second. But still we soldiered on, occasionally riding a wave with some level of balance but mostly falling around and kind of sort of drowning in a fun way. We stared at the storm in the distance and laughed in its face as we rode the water back towards the shore each time.

I don’t know how long we were out there, but I know I didn’t want it to end. We pulled ourselves out of the water, somehow with all of our limbs intact, and I made my dad promise that we could do it again the next day.

And that was the rest of my trip, me searching for a body-board anytime I saw the coastline. It’s a weird thing I do on vacations. I find one thing that I really like and that’s the only thing I focus on for the rest of the trip. I discovered churros in San Diego and then proceeded to eat close to 3,000 over the next two days. I drank more Fanta Pina in that one week in Costa Rica than anyone should ever drink. And I learned how to flail around in the water and call it surfing.

If you haven't had one of these, fix your life.

If you haven’t had one of these, fix your life.

This new obsession was going smoothly for the next few days until we went to Lookout Point. It was this gorgeous hilltop hotel sticking out of the rainforest. There were monkeys and natural springs and that bolt that looked like a frog. Most importantly it looked out over the ocean and I had a hankering for some inept bodyboarding.

The five of us talked one of the hotel guides whom we bonded with into walking us down to the beach, our boards in tow. Once again we stared out over a largely empty beach, the perks of our secluded little hideaway. I grabbed more board and took off for the water when we realized that our guide was walking back toward the hotel. They called out to him and asked him to stay but he politely shook his head with a look in his eyes that clearly said, “You white people are fucking crazy.”

We turned back to the water and saw that it looked particularly rough that day. The waves crashed in hard and pulled back out strong. But we’d surfed in a storm. We were seasoned veterans by now. Blue Crush-style.

I am clearly the Kate Bosworth of the group.

I am clearly the Kate Bosworth of the group.

I readied myself to get to boarding when my mom stopped me and told me to let my dad and Matt test the waters first. So I stood impatiently as they walked down the shore and were immediately met with an angry sea. The undercurrent was apparently ridiculously strong. They’d wade out and then they’d struggle mightily as they pulled themselves back to shore. The process was repeated a handful of times before it became pretty certain that our guide had left us for good reason and that the waters were not fit for humans today.

But I kept inching toward the water all the same. Fascinated by its push and pull, anxious to ride my board, Poseidon be damned. We were laughing at Matt and then the surf spat him back onto shore and he collided dangerously with a huge piece of driftwood. Everyone rushed over to make sure he was okay. Everyone but me who had no made it to the water.

I was maybe shin deep when a wave came in and knocked me on my face in the sand. I laughed for a moment, “Haha, okay, you win Poseidon. I will not tempt you today.” But the laughter quickly turned to panicked screams as the undercurrent latched onto me and began to tug my body back toward the ocean like jungle cat pulling its kill away to eat later.

"Ocean Tiger!" Back off me, Spielberg!

“Ocean Tiger!” Back off me, Spielberg!

Salt water smashed into me again and again as I felt myself get dragged away. Everyone stampeded toward me, yelling for me to get to my feet, to get out of there. I tried to get up but I couldn’t find the strength to battle the water. I’d get to my feet and immediately be pulled back down to my back or my stomach. My mom and her friend Terri pulled at my arms and I felt like I was going to be ripped in two like some sort of medieval torture device.

No matter how much the two women tried, my tubby little ass was too much for them. I could hear the God of the Ocean laughing at me in the distance as I cried, desperately not wanting to die over a stupid activity I wasn’t even good at. I clawed at the sand. I cried. I promised my mom that I would do the dishes for like a month if she saved my life.

It could have been two minutes but it felt like five hours. Eventually, I think through the combined might of four grown adults, I was pulled from the clutches of the ocean and onto the relative safety of the beach. We limped our way back to the hotel and cursed our guide for not talking us out of our own hubris.

And thus ended my adventurous streak. It was a glorious week long capping itself off in the brutal murder of a young man’s sense of whimsy. Now when I visit the beach, I sit in sand and offer my pasty skin to be painfully burned by the sun. An offering for the time that vengeful sea god let me live.

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.

Nightlights Are Now Required

I’m a big ol’ scardey-cat. I flee from bugs, I jump at sudden noises, I scream when someone sneaks up on me. It’s an involuntary reaction, but a spectacular one. An eruption of high pitched squeals and a dorky flailing of limbs. But my fears are not limited to sudden surprises and creepy crawlies.

Now if I was attacked by an army of gummi worms, that'd be a way to go out.

Now if I was attacked by an army of gummi worms, that’d be a way to go out.

My imagination has a horrible habit of running away with itself. In the darkness of night I have this phobia about looking at windows. Spooky stuff is always lurking in my mind, some madman or demon is always just in the next room. Most nights I can shut it down after some time but there was one night when I was younger that my imagination got so out of hand that I can’t help but laugh about it now.

I moved to Houston, Texas when I was about 14. We moved into this house that was way too big for our family that has always been fairly compact. It had five bedrooms, four baths, two stories, two living rooms and tons of empty space that I would practice my sweet karate moves in when I was home alone.

I was home alone quite a bit growing up, my parents worked a lot and I got used to spending most of my evenings alone. But for the most part since moving to Houston, my parents always came home at night. But one Saturday, my parents decided they were going to spend the night downtown, leaving me home alone for the first time in this way too big house.

I didn’t think anything of it. I’d stayed home alone for the night before. I ordered a pizza early that afternoon and set up shop on the computer. The office was upstairs and off to the side, overlooking the empty foyer area. We moved around a lot and simply didn’t have enough stuff to fill every inch of the house.

I sat at the computer and went to town on some Buffy the Vampire Slayer trivia quizzes. For hours. Just question after question. “What is the name of Adam Busch’s (actor who played Warren Meers) band?” “Common Rotation.” “Which cast member originally started acting when they were young in order to overcome their stuttering problem?” “Nicholas Brendon.” I was a machine.

With the years of watching Buffy, you'd think I'd have a few strategies for dealing with bumps in the night.

With the years of watching Buffy, you’d think I’d have a few strategies for dealing with bumps in the night.

Next thing I know, I look up and the sun had gone down. Not just a little down, not oh look at the sunset. Like pitch black. The only light in the entire house that is on is my computer screen because I had not realized that it was now one in the morning.

I looked out over the silent blackness of the house and succinctly powered down the computer and proceeded to turn every light in the house on. I was hungry so I ran downstairs, cranked the TV on to cut through that stomach churning quiet and set the oven to reheat my pizza.

Once I got to the kitchen was the first time my imagination really got flared up. I casually looked at the back door as I watched the heat rise and I noticed the lock. When it is locked, it is completely horizontal. I habitually lock doors, a trait that used to annoy my parents, so it was odd that when I looked at the lock it was sitting diagonally. About half way between being completely locked and unlocked.

My stomach dropped. I was sure for some reason that I had completely locked the door, would have made sure it was tight. And the longer I stared at it, the more I could swear that I saw it move. Tiny movements. I rushed into the living room and turned the TV up even louder, to apparently let the murderer know that there was definitely someone to murder inside. I mean if it was a burglar, I guess that could scare him off but if it was some murderer he was probably all, “Jackpot! Some loser watching The Real World! The Real World Slasher strikes again!”

It's the Axe Body Spray.

It’s the Axe Body Spray.

I tried to distract myself with the show but I could still see the lock and I kept imagining all sorts of sounds. The clicking of the lock. Clattering. Someone softly singing “Oh Imma Do Some Murdering.”

Eventually I turned the oven off, my appetite suddenly gone. I cranked up the TV even louder. That is my go to defense. Lots of lights and a loud TV, so I can see him coming but I can’t hear him, which sounds like an awful plan.

I streak upstairs to my room and slam the door behind me. I dig through my closet searching for these swords that my uncle used to give me and my dad every Christmas. I had like six swords in that closet and I took every one of them to my bed. I guess I thought my killer was a pirate of some sort and that I would apparently grow four extra arms in the heat of the moment.

My bed was just a mattress on the floor at the time. I thought I was super cool at the time but that night it proved to be very stupid. Because I had the lights on outside my door, light was showing through the crack at the bottom of the door. Due to my angle however, every time I shifted the shadow of the door itself would kind of shift along that light, making it appear that someone was pacing outside my door.

At that point I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew this was all in my head. There was no one trying to break into our house, there was definitely no one pacing outside my door like a velociraptor in a Jurasic Park movie, just taunting me and being a dick. I turned on a rerun of Friends and cranked it up. Maybe the killer would give away his position by laughing at one of Chandler’s hilarious quips and I could stab him with five swords.

Who has time to be scared when you're hanging out with these lovable dorks?

Who has time to be scared when you’re hanging out with these lovable dorks?

No laughter. Not even my own, because quite frankly a bunch of white people’s pseudo-problems are not as amusing when certain death hangs over your head. At about two o’clock I was still all wound up so I called my friend Sal. I’m convinced that Sal was some sort of vampire because he picked up the phone like it was nothing. He was just sitting around bored and unable to sleep. Because he sleeps during the day. Like a vampire.

I told him my story of the night and we laughed about how ridiculous it all was, but I kept an iron grip on my sword because I ain’t no chump. We talked for hours. First about how freaked out I was but then about random things. He was my best friend for the last few years in Louisiana before the move and we had stuff to catch up on. We talked until five a.m. Long after Friends had faded from the airwaves and just as the birds were starting to stir again.

I thanked him for keeping me company and calming me down. It was safe now to go to bed because it was five o’clock and people were waking up somewhere and bad things don’t happen when other people are awake. I don’t know where the logic in this came from but it’s something I hold fast to. No matter how freaked out I get, if I can last to five a.m. I suddenly feel better.

Nothing bad has ever happened during the day. Ever.

Nothing bad has ever happened during the day. Ever.

The next morning I walk around the house and turn out all the lights and hope my parents won’t receive in spikes in the electric bill. I put my pizza away that I just left on the counter. I turn off the TV downstairs and note that nothing in the house seems to be disturbed. The lock is still in that weird diagonal position. I had survived a night alone with Chase’s brain. It’s a big feat.

As I look more and more at getting a place of my own, I keep thinking about incidents like this. They’re not uncommon for me even though this is the most extreme. Bumps in the night keep me on high alert for hours, often until the five a.m. bell calls it off. I mean what is the appropriate amount of time to wait for something to kill you in the night before falling back asleep?

I wish I had more chill. That my thoughts didn’t mess with my head to such an extent or better yet, never went to such unnerving places in the first place. But the overactive imagination, good or bad, is a side effect with my chosen line of work. To constantly have the brain firing, creating stories out of thin air, eventually its gonna grab a hold of some unpleasant things. So we laugh. Say, “Chase, you so crazy” and move on.

Eventually that imagination is gonna help me live more dreams than all the nightmares I created in the dead of night. Until then, I’ve got my nightlight armed and ready to go.