Blogging Experiment Finished–off to learn how to write

I’ve recently learned what I write is considered unreadable by too many people.  They get a few paragraphs in and there is a deer-in-the-headlights thing, accompanied by a mild state of confusion and the desire to stick a fork in one’s eye.

I’ll admit the comments bit at my fragile ego the way your average hungry man might go at corn on the cob, but at some point I decided to end the suffering.  I guess I’ve always known that I see the world differently that most people.  I have this awkward desire to know more about everything – does time exist, where consciousness comes from, why life is hours of boredom with moments of terror, the nature of morality – and to want to discuss it.  Most of my friends find that stuff rather innocuous.

Anyway, thanks to the two or three of you who took the time to peruse my ramblings.

For now, I’m hopelessly returning to the pursuit of writing something readable. Until then, beware of dogma.

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By ccxander

My Penultimate Blog Entry

The whole optimist/pessimist thing always seems to relate to the future, but I think there is more to it.  Hard-wired into our limbic system is this survivalist mode, where avoidance of pain is at the forefront of the rear cortex.  What this means is we have a pretty intense sense memory for pain, one which makes us recoil from hot stoves and stay away from eating Grandpa’s barbecue mistakes.  As for pleasure, that system is pretty strong too, playing out in the form of addiction to sex or drugs or something dark and decadent at the end of a good meal.

The point here is the optimist/pessimist thing can also relate to the past.  We can survey our own histories and find the horrors and mishaps and carry them like beasts of burden, or we can recall those hedonistic experiences where our adrenal glands wore out on the way to something climactic.

Tonight’s dinner discussion revolved around the strength of the past tense optimist/pessimist thing (which one was stronger). Some people believe that pessmism is stronger – avoidance of pain is critical to mastering things like relationships and workplace rejection and life’s small failures.  Relying on their past to inform them, these “past pessimists” feel the power of past pains helps them avoid future suffering.  They move away from negative futures.

Conversely, “past optimists” place their faith in pleasurable memories.  They too depend on the visceral past, allowing their futures to be determined by the magnetic pull of positive experience.  They believe understanding past pleasures provides a roadmap to future pleasure.

I guess a lot of this depends on the way you recall your life. Do you think back to those things that are painful and encumbering, or do you focus on the things that brought about joy and contentment?  And how do those things inform who you are and how you think?  I can imagine a time when memories will disappear like the scent of jasmine in a strong wind, but I’m hoping that I can retain some of them, the ones that matter, the ones that make me smile, the ones that make me a past optimist.  In fact, I’m pretty optimistic that I can.

By ccxander

Independence!

July 4th, 2011 Sun tilting West, hot enough to create mild swamp ass, many mosquitoes

Shadows lengthen.  Heated Hibachi’s smoke with suggestive scents of hot dogs and cobbed corn.  Adorned with multi-colored blankets and a triumphant throng, this grassy park plays host to America’s Independence Day celebration.  Across the nation, citizens rejoice in memory of America’s glorious victory over the British and I have journeyed here to observe human relationship rituals, flatulent smells notwithstanding.

Lawn chairs, lounge chairs and wheelchairs respond to the BYO-Seating invitation, and thousands pack the lawns for a music festival-cum-fireworks gala.  Presumably, holidays bring families together, the bonding sacrament taking place over spat watermelon seeds and fabricated song lyrics. Americans sing, hug and barbecue with a complete lack of restraint.  There are NO happy British people here.

Close to the stage, a Vietnamese family fiddles frantically with bamboo foldouts and at least one grandmother falls ass-backward before becoming properly situated. Holding a curiously empty dog leash, a child with a lobotomized stare scampers aimlessly.

This festival is hosted by the local Valley Cultural Center and presided over by a fifty-foot inflatable slide shaped like a Saber-toothed tiger – its entry appears to be its anus and its exit is the oral cavity slightly beneath eight-foot-long helium–filled fangs – the children then climbing into the elevated rear-end and sliding down the esophagus to be vomited from the prehistoric mammal’s mouth, a sight which scares the living shit out of several terrified toddlers, understandably.  Below the tree line, the sun continues its descent.

On stage, seven wig-wearing women perform cover tunes with unfortunate enthusiasm.  Behind an over-full trashcan, a Silly String war is in full force.  Wearing a Mick Jagger shirt, one pony-tailed man is knuckle deep into his nose.  In addition to the personal barbecues, several local vendors occupy the jamboree’s sidelines offering typical gustatory fare including: pizza, kettle corn, tri-tip and cotton candy.  In long lines, lip-licking patrons coalesce.  As I observe the gastronomically gregarious crowd, a toddler approaches and spears me with a potato chip, then cries, and finally stares at me with smug satisfaction as his parents bestow upon me an accusing gaze.  Several elderly women wander about with vacant expressions.

Merging politics with entertainment, the local Congressman is here, passing out literature and hair combs embossed with his Federal ID bank account number, a rather satirical marketing ploy considering he is both bald and a hair’s breadth away from losing the upcoming election.  Somewhere, a hot dog is burning.

The annual I-Day event draws out L.A.’s various identities. The multi-cultural crowd consumes varieties of food, beverage and song.  In the spirit of goodwill and in an effort to unify the city’s citizens, the local council hosts these celebrations at egregious taxpayer expense.

Proximally, in a sandpit, a colossal battle has erupted with a swarm of three-foot high hobbits slamming beach balls into oversized abdomens and, as yet, unbroken noses.  With tribal screams, fierce-faced foes fight with round weapons, the grunting mass of humanity driving a stampede of dust into teary eyes and elfish ears.   Over one super-sized sphere, a growling stack of masculinity engages in a filial death throe.   Nearby, two seven-year olds clothesline a five-year old.  Furious feet dart and scurry while miniature arms catapult missiles aimed to batter the enemy.  Above the distant din of bad band sounds, the Whap and Thud of inflated plastic pounding flesh resounds. The speed of the attack is astounding.  To the shrieking delight of the assailant, one parent attempts to intrude and is skulled. The perpetual squealing overwhelms cries of cranial concussions, and bleeding noses.  As though signaling something, a lone red balloon ascends into the evening sky.  All this takes place as weary mothers tighten Tupperware containers and oblivious fathers discuss the latest baseball scores.

Immersed in imperfect cuisine and inadequate imitations of actual dancing, many festival-goers tumble about with horse-jawed smiles and distended bellies.  Having spent a life on the fringe, I cannot fathom the level of alcohol consumption it would require to make me join the fray.  And yet, in its most communal moment, this is American life.

The consequence of a sharp shoe-tip, the tiger’s face begins to deflate.  His collapsing left eye appears to be winking at me.  In the crowd’s center, a woman sits face to face with her hundred-twenty pound bulldog and taunts it with a funnel cake.  A Rolling Stones song rings out and the nose picker, in an approving gesture, now raises a booger-laden index finger and undecorated pinky skyward.  Around them, traversing the labyrinth of picnic blankets and hot spatulas, folks scuttle about.  American flags fly freely from hats, heads, hands, and the helpless homeless – even freedom has its prisoners.  The air is tinged with that coolness one feels when there’s an unexpectedly exposed body part in the middle of the night, and in anticipation of the impending aerial display, the audience stirs.  Tree-side, in a curious affair with a dog dropping, an inquisitive infant contemplates the edibility quotient of the parched puppy poop and his overcooked hot dog, the lesser of two evils winning out, thankfully.

Behind the stage, a commotion has broken out and two angry hordes are now shouting profanities at each other.  As security moves backstage, the band executes an ill-timed rendition of Come Together.   Northward, an infant is losing a wrestling match with his blanket.  Beneath the trees, another disturbance has the paramedics running to aid.  Turns out the Tri-Tip tent, in an ill-fated entrepreneurial venture, rushed out the sandwiches a bit too tartar, causing several audience members to begin heaving and hurling.  Beside the ruckus, a young boy’s soiled knuckles appear above the inner edge of a trash bin.  The entire scene pulses like an anaerobic heartbeat.

Facially-painted children admire each other’s artwork and search for bugs – one child receiving malevolent stares, the consequence of his parents regrettable decision to withhold the five-dollar face painting fee and to allow the child’s dinner condiments – it’s possible only the ketchup was attacking his face, but when combined with the mustard and mayonnaise, the poor kid’s countenance looked like an explosion in Crayola factory – to serve as decoration.

Distantly, and with the voice of an old Italian man, a dog yelps.  Given over to Pavlovian instinct, the bulldog now stands atop the desert-less woman whose chair has folded in half, trapping her between two imprisoning flaps of vinyl as the dog goes to town on her funnel cake.  Backstage, tensions increase as three Pro-American demonstrators hit the port-a-potties to spell their distress.  After a rapidly improvised huddle, the opposing twelve-man gang bull-rushes the toilets, upending potties and patriots in one contemptuously metaphoric shit show.  Above the fracas, an un-shadowed football performs a parabola.  There are many flies here.

Back at the sandpit, from a well-crafted flank, two six year-olds are facially bludgeoned and upended.  In a pink t-shirt, a young girl lies catatonically sprawled upon the sand, drooling.  Someone shoots two confetti bombs into the air and children scream and clutch the paper shreddings.  Seeing the young female facedown in the dirt, several mothers abandon their foodstuffs and come running towards the melee.  Imminent parental attack looming, a teenager, wielding flaming sparklers and sounding an alarm resonating with impossibly ironic historical implication, runs through the sandbox shouting “The bitches are coming, the bitches are coming.”  Minutemen take up arms – in this case wiffle ball bats and Nerf guns – and prepare for battle.  On a far off blanket, an ant army marches into a bag of Doritos.  And so goes the evening.

….

Sky cobalt, the masses settle. Fiery fuses hiss amongst the crowd.  On distant rooftops, barefooted stargazers watch and wait.  It is one of those expoundable pre-climactic flashes when anxieties rise and one senses the deeper philosophical meaning of the circumstance etc. etc…. This is a true American moment – hope and excitement and grandness bottled up in an instant of anticipatory tension – and as I look around at the myriad ethnicities and ancestries represented in this West Coast melting pot, I can imagine similar expressions on those first Ellis Island settlers, the grateful Europeans whose dream of something greater shone forth from Lady Liberty’s bright beacon.

….

Slack-jawed children sit upon shoulders.  Above purple mountains and amber fields, freedom disseminates in explosive luminescence, booming with majestic resonance, the star-spangled skies announcing America’s independence. Youth coo. As the furious fusillade rumbles through patriotic hearts, wives and girlfriends clasp reassuring masculine hands.  The assembly roars its approval.

Then silence.  Smoky skies smell of gunpowder.  Fathers tote sleeping offspring.  Deflated beach balls lie breathless upon the lawn, like slain soldiers.  The celebration is over.  Only freedom remains…freedom and the resounding aspiration of a nation.

 

By ccxander

Tennis – The Blown Glass Psyche

 World-class athletes have a certain grace, an internal music, which allows them to flow elegantly across whatever the preferred surface of contest.  Their feet glide and surge in an effortless ballet, then explode with dynamic forcefulness into the ball, the opponent, or the finish line.  For them, winning is not an achievement, but rather, an expectation, the unfettered belief gained from every successful shot, jump, kick, and stride practice and perfected over years of early morning workouts.

By six-thirty a.m., Anastasia Karpovsky had already hit her three-thousandth tennis ball.  The byproduct of an over-disciplined Russian мать and an obscenely athletic German pater, Anastasia, Stacey in America, was blessed with the genetic equivalent of a tennis racket in her right hand. Consequently, as a child tennis prodigy, Stacey was merely fulfilling her destiny.

Born in Prague – the parents met, dated and fornicated there while on coinciding business trips and decided to settle down in a neutral country to raise their children – Anastasia Karpovsky spent her formative years at the bottom of a swimming pool, battering a bald ball against the drained-out white cement walls in the midst of an unsympathetic winter.  Empty pools imply potential. Over time, the child developed extraordinary reflexes learning to navigate the imperfect walls. Four hours a day from age four until age nine is enough to beat down any sense of false skill.  By age seven, Anastasia had conquered the girls under-twelve year-old division of Czechslovakia’s national tournament and she’d already earned a media following from the nation’s premiere newspapers, the press then referring to her as “Our Anna,” an irony which pissed off both mother and father whose nationalistic instincts tended towards their own homelands.  Once the poor child got onto a regular court and learned about the back and forth of the game, the irony of the sport played out in the hammering blows between mother and father as they fought for the sovereignty of their only daughter.  Eventually they split.

Over time, Czech competition proved too inadequate for the girl.  The family moved west to America in search of more motivated adversaries.  They landed at the Cinterallo Tennis Academy in South Florida and began preparations for world domination, albeit training with five-hundred other tennis prodigies, non-prodigies whose parents believed they were prodigies, the prodigious who would never be prodigies, and the tag-a-long recreational schmucks whose parents figured “what the hell, why not spend our life savings and our kids college tuition on a babysitting athletic facility and pray like hell that at the end of the rainbow there is a scholarship waiting.”  Fantasy and lunacy share ancestry.

Up at four-thirty, the girl met seven other pre-pubescents on the dark green back courts – all ignoring each other, aside from the threatening and accusatory glares from both parents and prodigies – and began her pre-dawn dynamic stretching routine.  The aerial display of flung arms and pointed toes merely served to challenge Anastasia, her leg kicks now going slightly higher and farther than any other girl, her flexibility reaching levels to make contortionists whisper in admiration.  The little shit was limber.  Several courts down, one could hear the over-strained grunting of youthful ambition as two other pony-tailed talents clung to their ankles while their parents shoved their chests into their knees.  With one knee vertically attached to the side of her head while the other was pointed groundward, Stacey looked out over her competition and tossed out a satisfied smile.  She held the last pose for an extra few seconds just to be sure everyone was aware of the new kid in town.

In some arenas, competitive instinct would be rewarded, even respected.  But here, among the obsessively greedy – a population, which viewed a father poisoning a child’s water bottle in order to secure a victory which might merit an endorsement deal for his eleven year-old son, as “nearly acceptable” behavior – people viewed this oneupsmanship like a looming thundercloud. Accordingly, Stacey’s mother stood guard over her equipment while the child performed her daily routine.

At five a.m., beneath a dark dawn, tennis sounds echoed.  Squeaking shoes traversed two-inch wide white lines, negotiating the giant rectangle to develop the agility and quickness required to compete at the elite level. Unzipped racket bags and plastic-wrapped racket casings revealed newly-strung rackets and an excessive amount of stencil – the symbol of a player who receives free rackets from companies hoping to imprint their logo upon the hearts and souls of the world’s future elite.  Across the green pavement, three-hundred-count ball baskets rolled towards their specified places across the net from the children.  On a distant court, a Japanese woman tried to find the plug for a ball machine cord.  Seven children performed a strange merging of linear and circularly angled swings and created an intermittent wind, which billowed the plastic windscreens in and out against the chain link fences and sounded like a passing car. The initial thup thups of ball against strings were like a muted xylophone, and players took care to warm up their shoulders and arms before launching full bore into Mach Seven groundstrokes, except for Stacey.

In a competitive jungle, psychological advantage is the lion.  Anastasia Karpovsky did not believe in warming up her strokes.  With an un-qualified roar, she rifled the first ball crosscourt with near nuclear force, the ball actually reaching the back fence a few milliseconds before the scream.  Twelve heads turned southward and stared, daring her to look at them.  Stacey never lost focus, destroying ball after ball with the same unrelenting force, and concentrating on seeing, actually seeing the pieces of felt touch her racket.  It wasn’t some egomaniacal challenge to the rest of the athletic geniuses surrounding her.  In truth, Stacey was barely aware anyone was watching.  In a world where boastfulness and mocking simply played no part, her intensity was borne of excellence.  Stacey’s objective was to get better, every single day, hitting harder and harder, closer and closer to the lines, with perfectly executed and repeatable form in such a way that Grand Slam trophies and millions of dollars in endorsement deals and prize money would simply arrive at her door in gratitude.

As the morning wore on, The Sunshine State’s blazing sun creeped above the horizon, it’s sharp rays cutting sweating beads from pigtails and ponytails.  At about 8:00 a.m. the courts looked like a dog park, with empty Gatorade containers, the remains of athletic tape dispensers, and lolling tongues and prone bodies strewn about the dewy benches, except for Stacey.  The girl’s attention never wavered.  Cannon after cannon exploded from the baseline as the lithe young Czech pummeled every shot.  In the distance, angry mothers swing-pushed their daughters back onto the courts and demanded more.  Anthropologically, the scene could not have been more Darwinian, the survival-of-the-fittest mentality evident with every mangled esteem and mutilated childhood and disfigured ounce of self-worth.  By 9:00 a.m., Anastasia Karpovsky was the only child remaining on the courts, and while a select few mothers and daughters scurried away in fear, others walked by with scowls, devising distasteful plans to eradicate this girl from the academy.  Anastasia noticed none of this, however, reeking havoc upon yellow fluff for another hour.  Finally, she went to breakfast.

The afternoon session was worse.  Three more hours of vicious drilling at the merciless hands of overly-abrasive instructors whole sole purpose was to separate the wheat from the chaff.  They would determine which students should garner extra attention for private work and career-development.  With four players on each court, coaches fed ball after ball to sweat-soaked students and bellowed continuous instruction on how to stroke, drive, volley and smash shots.  On court seventeen, Anastasia Karpovsky was bored.   To the competitors on her court, she was superior in every way, and thus, intent upon moving to the top court without delay.

While two girls perched at the net volleying back her shots, the instructor fed her side-to-side ground strokes.  “Our Anna” took aim.  With a maliciously-intentioned swing, she rocketed a Penn 3 on a fifteen-degree horizontal vector and targeted at the forehead of Miko Tanagawa, Japan’s number one thirteen year-old contender whose net game wasn’t exactly extraordinary.  Before Tanagawa could open her already slanted eyes wide enough to see the impending danger, the ball struck the bridge of her nose with an actual like fracturing noise, followed immediately thereafter by an amalgamation of blood, sweat and tears thick enough to require two academy-logoed terrycloth towels.  When the paramedics came, Anastasia was still smiling.

Although the instructors were distraught over the injury, the lead counselor placed his hand upon Stacey’s back and walked her towards the administration building, then turned quietly and placed on her Court One where the professional players raised eyebrows.  They all understood the intensity required to enter Court One.  Suddenly, everyone was very curious about this extremely young little girl.

With a violent screech, Anastasia Karpovsky announced her presence, and then spent the next two hours annihilating tennis balls with reckless abandon.  The next day, two agents appeared outside the fence and rocked side to side in near fetal position as they calculated the best means to “get at” the mother.  When practice ended that afternoon, Mrs. Karpovsky lifted her daughter’s tennis bag, placed a hand atop the child’s head and steered her towards their the-academy-will-now-provide-this-for-you condominium, dismissing any interactive attempts from the agents.

For two years it went this way – practice, eat, practice, fitness, eat, practice again, sleep.  By age twelve, Stacey was competing with the some of the best female athletes in the academy, and when professionals came into town to train, the lead counselor put her on court as a sparring partner. For a hundred weeks, she’d endured the belittling smirks and rolled eyes of women twice her age, right up until the point when they struck the first ball and watched it spiral past them with a trailing and defining “whirrr.”

 Then, the little French billionaire heiress arrived.  With handlers toting her designer racket bag, Perrier water bottle and a personal physio in tow, she and her adamant mother strolled into the academy with open wallets and garnered the administrative staff’s absolute attention.  Within two weeks of her arrival, Antoinette du Pomme had taken over Stacey’s position on Court One.  One might have expected a tantrum – she was only thirteen – but “Our Anna” resolved things with dignity.  She simply packed up her bag, gave a curiously competitive glance at Antoinette, a long ominous glare at the three coaches standing behind the little French twat, grabbed her mother’s hand, walked to the family’s car, and told them to head to California where another famous tennis coach would direct her career.

A week later, she stood on the court with a disciplinary master.  Defined by his grey scruffy hair and a voice like Satan, this roaring dictator re-tooled some of the finer points of her technique and sent her off into local competition.  Devouring her opponents, she gained a certain competitive confidence that comes from obtaining scalps.  In time, Stacey would surely become the number one player in the state and challenge for the top ranking in the girls 18-and-under national division.

But competition isn’t always life’s crux.  Beneath the intense exterior of an athlete lies something hidden deep inside, a pillowy softness which manifests in a feeling of solitude, a knowledge that one’s talent is more than just a means to an end, more than just God-given, but also a massive burden upon the karmic soul.  Excellence is a sharp blade. To be great at something, to chase that demon into the darkest depths of championship blah blah blah, one has to sacrifice some sense of self.  The immortality of the soul requires this, as though absolute ease and unhindered excellence is simply not allowed, a misnomer to all elitists.  No, despite her practiced calm, the fiery intensity raging within but exiting in the smooth flowing stroking techniques of a superior athlete, despite the competitive gleam in her eyes and the confident manner with which she strode across the strewn bodies of her vanquished, something else was available, if only in the dark hours, after midnight sounded and the rest of the household was fast asleep.  In these solitary moments, when other children dreamed of monsters and demons and cruel things in the night, Anastasia Karpovsky found herself in tears. 

As a child, life exists inside our heads, the outer world stimulation merely an information source for our own imagination.  We see, assess, react, and then internalize until we return to become master of our own domain, the creator of our own internal world.  Society is like a tiny pond that we run to when we are in need of something new, but life occurs in the very narrow sphere of our own personal influence.  By age thirteen, the realization comes that life exists outside the individual. It is now a flowing river into which we can now dip our toes or jump in freely, dousing ourselves in the joys and sorrows of a mass population.  For Anastasia Karpovsky, this realization occurred on the back of a single incident.

While her mother drifted off to the restroom, Anna had taken a respite from her drilling session and sat on the bench to drink.  A small child approached her and accidentally dropped a Barbie doll over the fence.  Anastasia bent to retrieve the doll and turned to find the child in tears.  “Is she dead?” asked the child, the sentimental liquid now falling from her chin.  In that moment, Stacey saw the fear of a child, the symbolism of death, and a metaphor for loss.  In that moment, “Our Anna” realized hitting a tennis ball might have profound implications for her life, that the world outside of her head, beyond the lines of the practice court, involved emotions and attachment and absence.  To a prodigy, this information proved stunning.  Not wanting to upset her mother or her own personal path to a championship life, Anastasia Karpovsky began her life of repression.  She felt the blade’s edge during brief moments during practice, when an errant shot now no longer “needed more work” but was a sign that something was missing from her life.   The soft pulse of impossibility slowly worked its way through her veins and entered her heart, only to be recharged into something fierce and determined.  But over time, a few of those blood cells began to coagulate into a tiny mass, a diminutive place inside a tiny chamber, which beat quietly into the dark of night when she took time to rest.  And that is where the tears came from, not so much streaming from her eyes, but rather, welling, like a pool after too much rain, brim-filled but not leaking, hinting at a desire to pour out and release themselves.  For long minutes, before sleep overtook her little body and she’d fade off into dreams of championship tennis, Stacey would cry.

A year went by and Karpovsky turned fourteen, the magic number for turning professional, the prodigy then reaching her goal and heading off to Europe for some of the introductory professional events. Mother in tow, generally to ward off the media and agents surrounding the young star, Stacey arrived at tournaments with one agenda. She intended to win.  Fame, money, and retirement by age twenty-five hung in the balance and the child entered her first match with pristine focus.  No different than other athletic audiences, tennis crowds always find something to cheer about: the underdog who finds a way to compete and challenge a higher seeded player, her competitive effort evident in dives and scrambles violent enough to win the audience’s admiration, the defender whose smooth grace and unparalleled athletic wherewithal rise above the crowd at the most pivotal moments, showcasing a champion’s ability to achieve in combat, to come through in the clutch, and to perform hundreds of other cliché phrases – cliché because average people can only express excellence in terms of a few superlatives – that accompany excellence under pressure, and finally, the young prodigy, whose enviable talent gives us all hope that perhaps we mortals can perform to that level, or perhaps our child can, and that this youngster, as we watch them travel through the professional ranks, takes a part of us with them, because she is almost our daughter, and we saw her when she was just starting out, as an innocent, and talented, and not yet dominating the world.  She is ours.  We feel as though we have played a role in her development, not because it is true, but because we supported her in her early rounds, and helped provide her the confidence to continue.  Tennis crowds cheer for children because they know how tough it is in the professional competitive world, because they understand children do not belong at that level – not without the requisite emotional maturity that no average fourteen year old can possibly possess.  The fans support her because they feel she needs their help to battle full grown women, and because she has not yet developed the arrogance and standoffishness and competitive malevolence inherent to professional life.

And so Stacey began winning.  Her first tournament victory came in her first event, the final rounds ending with such vociferous screams that the lead newspaper story actually began with a commentary on the new sound in the sport, as though the reporter was incapable of recognizing the actual talent and work ethic required to perform at this level. Courtside reporters generally are.

As for competition, the girl was relentless.  She’d posted motivational notes across every wall in her bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and garage telling herself she would win the world’s major tournaments.  She’d finish dinner before her mother. She’d pee faster than the other women in the stalls. During practice sessions with older boys, she’d refuse to leave the court until she won a game.  While many of these boys were older and stronger and fitter and better than Stacey, they respected her passion enough to continue on the practice court until she quit.  But Anastasia Karpovsky would not quit.  No matter what.  No matter the bloodied hands and knees from diving for shots.  No matter the dehydration and cramping. No matter the glycogen depletion, the sweat lines, the torn shoes.  No matter the broken strings, the dead balls, the darkness.  No matter the opponent’s desire to leave the court, his appointments and other practice sessions or fitness training schedules. No matter her dietary habits, sleep requirements, recovery needs. Her coach once made a joke that he would have the words “One More!” tattooed on his ass in respect for her tenacity. Stacey would NOT quit until she won.  At some point, the boys would give in, letting her hit winner after winner and pretending to chase the ball in futility.  Stacey did not care.  Winning mattered.  Winning and the emotional satisfaction she received from conquering whichever adversary stood opposite her court.

And it was HER court.  She’d spent endless hours studying videotape of the game, watching past champions during their elite performances, taking from them the best shots, movements, mechanics and mental wherewithal, categorizing them into drawer after drawer of recorded excellence.  She’d walked every foot of a tennis court, working to increase her strides so she could cover the inches more efficiently, with biomechanical flow and unparalleled swiftness.  She’d struck shot after shot from every position, developing obscene Euclidian angles and mastering both high and low percentage plays.  By fifteen years old, she’d trained all of the game’s technical aspects.

Along with technical prowess comes confidence.  For “Our Anna,” confidence was not enough.  She viewed competitive pressure as an exploration of her talents, as though critical moments offered an opportunity to test her strength, her acumen, and her will.  The World Cup penalty kick, the last second three-pointer, the game-winning field goal, and for Stacey, the shot that determined the match.  Pressure proves champions. Surely, she’d seen others crack under debilitating strain, the tears and tight arms and full body cramps sending some of the world’s best athletes into the sports psychology offices for some presumed quick fix.  For Stacey, pressure offered illumination.  It was less “I can” than “I will.”  A perfect blend of “I refuse to lose” and also, “I expect to win.”

Not confidence but belief, a sort of personal piety, an indestructible faith in one’s own will.  Watching other athletes collapse under the weight of expectation made Stacey smile.  For her, excellence was a habit borne of daily commitment and internal fortitude.

When she finally left the court, always victorious, always on a positive note – a training habit she’d begun when she was six years old – she headed home to her slumber, to return to those quiet moments under the sheets where the tears welled up once again.  Her dreams not far off, she’d take these few moments to find her own humanity.  And here, with the house silent, the tennis courts a quiet slab of tranquility awaiting dawn’s breath and the pressure and intensity of her life settled for a few brief moments, she thought of her father.

He’d left her mother in Czechoslovakia, offering millions of dollars for a lifetime of riches and no access to the children. Or she could have the kids and no money.  The mother, accustomed to a life of luxury – the glorious evenings of diamonds and pearls and pretentiously dressed women in flowing over-priced gowns had become part of her joie de vivre – chose the children and set about a path to develop a champion.  To date, the path was well-conceived.  Stacey though, although a competitive and driven corpus of ambition, was a compassionate and loving child.  In short time, she longed for her father, the masculine presence into whose arms she’d crawl at night and listen to bedtime stories.  The man she’d call Daddy and whose pipe smoke drifted beneath her bedroom door at night and brought her comfort.  The father who’d hug her when she felt sad, or happy, or nothing at all.  The man who understood unconditional love and felt like a soft teddy bear at all times of the day.  The person for whom she wanted to reign supreme over the competitive world, and show the trophies and exclaim his name and thank during a post-championship speech.  The gentleman who gave birth to her and then disappeared for no reason she could understand at such a young age.  One day “Daddy” held her in his arms. The next, “your father” is no longer here.  And for this reason, Anastasia put in the work, dedicated herself to the day when he might pick up the phone to say “I love you,” or show up with a bright smile in the stands of her competition and applaud one of her shots, and then smile as she caught his eye across the court, and supported her in the way he’d supported her as a child.  Then, her life would be complete, in a way that only a father’s daughter can understand, in a way that champions and lovers and single men and hookers and orphans and a million other people simply can’t fathom.  A daughter’s love for a father.

And then, with puffy red eyes, a runny nose and a very wet place upon her pillow, with rumpled hot sheets and a complete darkness in the house, with a mother’s soft breathing sounds distantly rising and falling, with the moon near vertical and a gentle breeze cuddling all the citizens of the night, Anastasia Karpovsky feel into a deep sleep.

By ccxander

Being lazy so…An Excerpt from my Latest Novel…feedback anyone?

His voice is granular, as though he’d scraped it on his heroic trudges through hell.  Beneath his black shirt, two pectoralis muscles wrestle for space. His seventeen-inch right bicep displays a tattoo that says “NO MORE” and across the top of his bald-head lurks a seven centimeter scar where a knife once slit him open until the white bone of his skull shone forth. John Carpenter is tough in ways that make even brave men flinch, cornered-dog tough, ruthless enough to stare death in the eye and wait for it to back down, hard like stone, a fella who takes a bullet and merely sneers at the wound, the kind of tough that the world’s criminals simply don’t understand, a don’t-fuck-with-me man who looks at a severed head as a thing to be stepped over on the way to complete a mission.  He is the guy you want to go into battle with. For John Carpenter, however, heroism was never a goal, merely a consequence of life. His purpose lay on another level, deep down in his DNA, in places where rage and vengeance and limbic systems hold dominion over the emotional superficiality from which most people fashion their lives. The moment he formed his first team of mercenaries, his friends knew someone was in trouble. When John Carpenter decided something, other options need not apply.

The girls had originally been in the States, eight to twelve year-old children whose days consisted of playgrounds and classrooms, their young lives filled with ambition and joy and imagination.  They’d bounce plastic dolls upon their knees and host tea parties in ways that made innocence seem secure.  And then victimization brought life’s cruel reality.  Over a seven-month period, they’d all been kidnapped, stolen from various cities throughout the lower forty-eight, transported beneath cobalt skies across the southern border and driven down into the jungles of South America, gone without a trace.  Their families built search parties, gave press conferences, checked in hourly with the police, and suffered the guilt and pain of being unable to protect their virginal daughters.  But desperation has a short wick. With each passing week, they stared at the empty seats beside the dinner table, growing more despondent and less hopeful, eventually falling into a numb acceptance that their offspring might not return into their now slumping arms.  In time, even absence loses its presence.  Though they never gave up, the hours dedicated to posting fliers and holding interviews gave way to days dedicated to making an income, to returning to their old lives – lives horridly unfulfilled and wracked with culpability – and a desperate desire to change the media’s interest in new news and return it to the cases of their missing girls.  Hope was a river that dried out in the long arid sands of wrinkled depressions.

An eight year-old’s fear of the dark is irrepressible, the screams and terrors generally subsiding only when they are wrapped beneath the blankets, between the warm bodies of loving parents, safe from the monsters and bad things hiding in dark closets and under thinly-covered beds.  Each girl suffered a similar fate, a scream-stifling weathered hand wrapped strongly across her mouth, her eyes blindfolded with thick, dark black cotton, her hands yanked harshly behind her back and lashed together with duct tape, her head pushed down and thrust into the back of a paneled van, her limp body lying crumpled upon a metal floor which bumped and caromed with every pothole. Evil owns no pillows. Until she yelled, they left her mouth unblemished, fearing a bleeding lip or a broken tooth might make her less valuable to her next owners.  At times, she recoiled from the callous hands upon her shoulders.  Hearing the first desperate shriek, they applied a small needle into her arm, turning her virtually catatonic for the remainder of the journey, although this drug left her with her wits and senses acutely aware of her circumstance, yet unable to make a sound.  It was the kind of paralysis one feels when confronted with a lion roaring just outside one’s tent, the frozen fear of horror that knows death is imminent unless one can quell the very silence.

When the girls awoke, it was in the claws of another individual – Spanish descent – surrounded by green jungle, and chained to the wooden slats of a free standing cabin in the middle of nowhere.  The constant chatter was foreign. The castellano ll’s and n’s merged with other consonants in a blend of incomprehensible slang.   Square white packets lay stacked atop tables. In vats and tubes and burners, shadows were always cooking up something.  The men were dark, bare-chested, often wearing rough beards, and soaked through to the bone with their own perspiration.  Inside the cabin, the stench of masculine body odor was nauseating.  The chains themselves were black iron, a single cuff attached to one ankle, and unless one had the self-cannibalizing desire of a trapped coyote, virtually inescapable.  Over time, the girls would rub their skin raw and begin to chafe until the ankle was a bloody mess.  To the men inside the cabin, blood and screaming merely made the girls that much more attractive.

The first time was always delicate but horrible – children are not made for violation – and the young girls spent the first night in tears, physically exhausted and hurt, emotionally destroyed, and wondering how they’d gotten from the urban cities of the United States into a jungle cabin of abusive drug runners.  Cruelty knows not national borders.  There were no beds to run to, no parents to crawl between, and here, the monsters did not hide in closets.  Repeated violations were regular, the sweaty masculine beasts shoving them roughly up against the wall, the brutal thrusting and tearing of their tiny bodies mixed with the aggressive grunting and the hot breath of unrestrained animals.  At night, when the men slept, the tears rolled quietly for fear of awaking the predators, their little hands pressed up against their eyelids trying to create a place of darkness, an escape from everything horrible, if only for a few moments.

As the months wore on, the first night didn’t seem so bad. Then, what was to occur was unknown, a terror of the possible but unsure what the possible entailed.  But now, they’d become objects and the men didn’t bother being delicate, a determination noted by the girls as they sat in stark terror, dreading each minute of their ruined lives, awaiting the inevitable pain and torture and desecration of their very selves, with no hope for escape and no opportunity to take their own lives.  Doom is a merciless keeper.  They’d pulled out their own hair and slammed their heads into the walls until the blood ran down their unconscious cheeks.  They tore at their own skin to rip the flesh and expose the arteries so they could sever their own lives.  They saw themselves as trapped, as though standing upon the windowsill of a ninety story burning building ledge, the street below aflame, the rescuers unable to get through the inferno, and there was no longer the possibility of salvation.  Life’s un-bearability stood on the doorstep of hell and scoffed with contempt.  Alas, tears don’t quash misery’s flames. In these moments, resignation comes quickly, and along with it, passivity towards life, a numbness of acceptance accompanied by a living death.  With each broken toothed, steely-eyed glare, the men taunted the girls, suggesting imminent favor, and then delayed it for something so rudimentary and primal as a piss.  In their eyes, the girls were not even as valuable as a good urination.

 

By ccxander

Why Time Moves so Fast

Lately, I’ve been spending time studying the passage of time. (weird huh?)  Apparently, adults experience the passage of time 2.5 times faster than a child. The reason is memory-based. Because children are constantly exposed to new and interesting things they’ve never seen before, their senses experience these things and form impressions upon their brain.  The more impressions they form, the more memories they create, the slower time seems to move.

As adults, we generally experience the mundane moments over and over, seeing and living the same experiences with such frequency, that we fail to create impressions or memories with the same rapidity of a child. Consequently, time seems to move faster because we have less to anchor it with.

It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with my friend Doc Halliday. 🙂

CC: “You ever wonder why we forget so much of our lives?”

Halliday: “Meaning?”

CC: “Meaning most people go through the experience of life for about sixteen hours per day and forget about ninety-nine percent of the things that happen to them.  We all have this selective memory for the very few meaningful experiences.”

Halliday: “And how does that affect you in your life.”

CC: “It sort of makes me question the whole pursuit of happiness concept. Seems pretty obvious that pursuing happiness in memory is probably a pretty different quest than pursuing it in the present?

Halliday: “I’m not certain “obvious” is the right word.  Why do you consider it different?”

CC: “It seems like memorializing happiness requires grand events, memorable circumstances which resonate eternally, or at the very least, for one’s entire life.  That’s a pretty task-heavy mission and fucking daunting as all hell.”

Halliday: “….”

CC: “On the other hand, pursuing the “experience” of happiness keeps one present, delighting in insignificance, and sacrificing the memory of happiness as life’s river flows forward.  It seems like one is either a happy person, generally, or one has had meaningful happy events during one’s life.  This either/or proposition frankly sucks.”

Halliday: “It doesn’t have to be that way. You could have a happy outlook in the present and remember some of the grander moments too.”

CC: “Imagine this Halliday.  You wake up and have simultaneous orgasms with your wife, chow down a great breakfast, ride every ride at Disneyland twice, have an amazing Lobster dinner while watching the sunset and then just as you leave the park, some idiot pulls out a knife and steals your wife’s purse.  What do you think you’ll remember from that day?  You think you’ll look back upon that date with happiness?   Because pursuing happiness by experience only works if you can control your circumstance, if you live in a fishbowl.  Otherwise, life just gets in the way.”

I guess the only cure is to constantly experience new things, or to view commonplace things differently, in a way that challenges our perception of something.  Either that, or just accept the ascending pace of life.

By ccxander