Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Smith's Crossing

Sometimes I wonder if this is how Elliott felt
when he plunged the knife into his heart
And lacerated every word he'd ever spoken,
every B7 chord he'd ever strummed
ringing out in broken unison.

Then I realize I'm being melodramatic
and I have no Chiba to weep over
my own self absorption and destruction;
There will be no lost-voice addendum
to my own life's works (Because we love you)
Or the disharmony of my own mind as I drown
in crushed autumn leaves
With the trash or the breeze,
please let me be carried away.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Some Girl I Went Out With

Some girl I went out with told me about a free concert tomorrow night,
We got drunk and then got stuck in the rain,
It wasn’t romantic.

She told me her parents were hip
And recommended restaurants to her,
All I could think of was my mom telling me to eat at Apple Bee’s

We had some bougie pizza and fancy salads
And just drank lukewarm water initially,
Midway through I remembered I was already having pizza for dinner.

I wanted to get drunk early in the day
So I asked her to go to the bar down the street,
Obligation and my desire to drink carried me over the brick sidewalks.

When we parted I wondered if we’d talk again,
There was no touching
But this may have been because there was a rash over half her body.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ode to Dave Ramsey (and My Past)

Luminous memories of a fire inside,
keep me awake/up at night
and stagnant for days.

Conversations with old drunks
remind me I'm alive,
and that I owe no debt to southern aristocracy.

The Portentous Menacing Road of a New Decade: Turning Thirty in the 21st Century

The following was originally published in 2012 (in a slightly different form) as an editorial foreword to the online lit publication Hipster Fight! At the time, I served as the fiction editor and was on the eve of my 30th birthday:

           The Portentous Menacing Road of a New Decade: Turning Thirty in the 21st Century
      As much as we try to avoid it, time pushes us on and our lives inevitably go through tumultuous periods of change and refashioning in the same way that art movements tend to do. No, I’m not writing a bathetic “Sympathy” card for Hallmark or openly trying to ape F. Scott Fitzgerald in one of his more reflective moments; I’ve simply come to the conclusion that once I feel well adjusted, the fates irrevocably throw a wrench into my stagnant and predictable routines. Long term relationships wear out their welcome, jobs end unceremoniously, you poke your eyes out after realizing you’ve murdered your father and married your mother, rebound relationships end as quickly and as drunkenly as they began, you throw away all the crap you’ve been holding on to for several years including all those Eagles LP’s that your uncle gave you and you never really liked anyway but you kept out of some sort of familial guilt or a perceived and confusing rite of passage…but on to the next adventure, amirite?
     I should note that I’ll be turning thirty within a week or two of you reading this. The youthful indiscretion that has propelled me into writing Carver-meets-Salinger flavored fiction and maneuvered me into working for an online literary journal is tapping out its misguided end to the beat of a Replacements b-side. Little will change I’m sure, but it is a time for the façade of serious reflection tempered only slightly by some self-effacing humor.      In these waning time-trials of my twenties, people enter and exit my life as if I were a booth attendant at Grand Central Station. They greet me, stand around for awhile and then pay their fare (or vault the turnstile) and move along. Some of them make return trips, others purchase one way tickets and send me friend requests on Facebook as a consolation prize. Later, I notice they’re married and have a young daughter named Sydney, Madison or Isabella and a son named Jackson (all their sons are named Jackson for some reason…). I click on the picture just to confirm that it is in fact this person’s baby. I’m satisfied by the similarities in facial structures that I compare against my knowledge gleaned from watching hours of DNA testing on Maury, so I move along to stalk some girl that I had a crush on in middle school. She currently works at a salon and still lives down the street from where we grew up, hmmm…      
       Turning thirty, in an era that has obsessively embraced the cult of youth, means less than it used to; at least it doesn’t have the same connotations as it did for Nick Carraway. “Thirty—the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm. Thinning hair.” It would be easy to get sucked into the cadence of Carraway’s thoughts at this point in my life; I’m newly single and feeling slightly melancholy and bitter about it; many of my friends are either in lengthy domestic partnerships or even married, so I see them less and less (hi Justin, Joel, Cassie, Brandon et al); and my hair has certainly been thinning for several years now, as evidenced by my regular viewing of the Bosley infomercial. Ultimately though, I’m more likely to be swayed by the fact that I’ve read The Great Gatsby upwards of ten or twelve times at this post-grad school juncture of my life.  
     Eventually it occurs to me that maybe we’re not so different, me and this Carraway fellow; both getting carried away with our own mortality while losing friends to the adult world at large…and yet as much as I can commiserate with Fitzgerald’s narrator, I keep my doubts that much will have changed once I wake up on October 16th (hungover, no doubt). I will have technically aged a year over night, but the Nirvana posters will still hang in my room, keeping watch over stacks of used novels and upright piles of vinyl.  
     The portentous quality of aging that we’ve all stayed up nights dreading is balanced only by the promise of a still distant and opaque horizon.  So we march on, ships against the waves borne back…never mind, I am aping Fitzgerald.   

Monday, April 27, 2015

Alt-Haiku (in the tradition of Kerouac's American Haiku)

Scoach I 

Listening to Wilco,
Cool cross breeze through open bar; 
drunk, aimless, peaceful

Scoach II 

"Return of the Mack"
Plays on the internet juke box, 
Dumb girls scream; I'm back 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Interview Story (from 2011)

The following piece was originally published by Aol Jobs in January of 2011, and underwent moderate edits from site staff. 

I Interviewed at Best Buy

A fun-looking job

A comment about Elvis

A long but worthwhile wait

Saturday, March 28, 2015


      I hadn’t seen her in months and all she wanted to talk about was Ted.
     “I miss him. How is he?” She was wearing a yellow shirt and jeans. She’d quit wearing jeans until she met me.
     “He’s actually staying with my sister and my mom right now.” The bright yellow stuff was something I couldn’t get over. She’d worn a solid yellow dress the first time we met.
     “Ah, that’s nice of you to loan him out to them.” It wasn’t a loan so much though. My sister had wanted Ted at her graduation party, so I brought him along. A couple hours into it, I was bored of getting drunk by myself so I left to see a movie. I figured letting him stay there was better than leaving him to bake in the hot car. But in the dark of the theatre, I regretted ever leaving Ted with my sister again.
     “Anyway, thanks for asking me to lunch.” It had been pretty much out of the blue. Then again, any contact she’d had with me over the intervening months was completely random. Just when I thought she was gone, she’d pop back in.
     “Thanks for accepting.” She smiled and looked straight at me so I could see the deep cerulean of her irises…or the green. I wasn’t sure. I was partially color blind.  

Bozwanian Prince (Musings)

Each time I log into my hotmail 
As if something of importance will show up
(a letter from you apologizing for when you destroyed me, 
or just a reference to my teddy bear’s obsession with lotion)
instead I’m greeted by a Bozwanian Prince who needs my help 
in the worst way. 
Somehow it comforts me and I respond in kind. 


Whenever I get random spam from a bra website,
I always think of you


The painting you did of me for my birthday
Is still hanging in my room,
I can’t bear to take it down 
And there’s a bear in it  


When you left me, I was lost in the desert 
For 4-5 months, 
I changed my voicemail to reflect the fact that I 
Would be out of office for an indefinite period, 
But I still haven’t changed it back

St. Louis, City of Rolling Smoke

Riding back from St Louis
I felt like I was leaving our new life behind
In a mist of alcohol and old brick buildings.

And it’s easy to love somewhere you’re not from.
The worn land has no story or
No memories of your own

As the traffic rose east,
I wanted to turn around and return
To where we’d never been together before
To remind you that all of City Museum
Was not a fever dream in smoke. 

Team Unemployed: Rough Justice in the Real World of the Recession

(Originally published on HubPages Sept. 2011 under the pseudonym Jean Valone) 

Team Unemployed: ‘Rough Justice’ in the Real World of the Recession

It’s afternoon on a Wednesday in late January. I’m waking up at my usual time. Most days my goal is to get up before one o’clock so I can watch “People’s Court.” If I stay up past 4 a.m. surfing the internet or go out to a bar the night before, I might even wake up too late for the show. I’m unemployed and just out of grad school, this is the sort of small thing that dominates my life without any sort of outside structure.
Sometimes I look myself in the mirror and mouth the words, “Jean, you’ll have a job soon.”

I’ve been unemployed for most of the last year. I think I’ve been without a job longer than I’ve had one over the past three years. It’s not uncommon I guess with the economy the way it is, I see stuff on TV all the time about people who are doing worse. Don't tell anyone who's unemployed that the recession is over. We know better. The news says this many people haven’t been unemployed since the Great Depression. That doesn’t make it any easier; it’s just nice to pretend I’m keeping perspective on the situation.
I haven’t had a job since the end of September when my car was parked on the street and totaled by a stolen vehicle; the six-pack of Busch left in the abandoned vehicle was little consolation. With no plan and no source of income, I was forced to quit my job delivering pizzas. The upside is that I have to ride a bike everywhere which is good exercise even if I have to towel myself off in the men's bathroom before class. I've lost a few pounds and I’ve been eating less fast food because it’s almost impossible to drive-thru without a car. The down side is, well…obvious.
Now there’s seven inches of snow on the ground and I’m stuck at home with a Master’s degree in creative writing to keep me warm. I’m not sure which part of my story is comical or depressing. I’m a twenty-eight year old who’s over or under-qualified for almost every job I apply for. Most days I file it all under unfortunate but depressingly funny. It gets me through episodes of the People’s Court when Judge Milian is in a bad mood. Her Cuban axioms and witty references to “rough justice” keep me waking up on time no matter what the drink special was the night before.
The term resonates with me as something more relevant than poetic justice. The world has offered a bit of rough justice to me in its own way. Destroying the vehicle of a delivery driver seems ironic in that Alanis Morrisette kind-of-way but I’m guessing it isn’t. Someone with two English degrees not being able to figure out what is or isn’t ironic sounds like more rough justice…or maybe poetic justice.
People look at me strange when I tell them what I studied in school. Usually I get one of two responses.
“Creative what? Writing? What’s that?” or the more likely response, “What are you gonna do with that? Teach?” I tell them yes I’d like to teach and move on. No I don’t have any teaching experience. Yes, I understand the beginning of a new year during a recession is a bad time to look for a job. I fake a smile and move on.
In keeping with this state of mind, I avoid conversations with relatives about what I’m doing now that I’m out of school. The holidays are rampant with these kinds of conversations, but I eat a lot of food and act preoccupied when they finally ask.
“Well, where are you looking for a job at?” As if somehow their expert advice will propel me into a lucrative career path. Maybe someday I’ll thank them when I’m rich and happy.
Every time I see him, my grandpa tries to convince me that working at Quik Trip or Kinko’s (or "Ginko’s" in his words) is the way to go. I tell him I have a Master’s degree in English and that really isn’t what I’m looking for. He never respected my delivery jobs even though I got through most of my undergrad and grad school on them. My year long stint at the eyeglass store grinding lenses was something he understood a little bit better.
As January rolls on the snow continues to pile up and I continue applying online for adjunct teaching positions, getting mostly no response. Earlier in the month I heard back from my alma mater and they told me they were interested in interviewing me later in the year for some possible fall classes. It was exciting but not totally reassuring news. I wonder sometimes if I could get by that long without a job.
Most days I try to survive the best I can. I sell things I don’t need anymore on Craigslist or eBay: guitar pedals I don’t use anymore (what the heck does a Flanger do anyways?), Xbox games I can’t play any longer because my Xbox 360 quit working not long before I did. Other days my girlfriend gives me a ride to the closest Wal-Mart and I return things that are still in the package from birthdays and Christmases past. One week three pairs of long underwear nets me a nineteen dollar gift-card which I spend mostly on boxes of Totino’s Pizza. She laughs at me while I eat a dollar cherry pie from Wal-Mart in the car. I read the package and inform her it contains both regular corn syrup and the much preferred high-fructose variety. Ideal nutrition for the man out of work.
It’s been a rough year but I keep my head up. There are always more jobs to apply for and be turned down.
Earlier in the year, before I was delivering pizzas, I went on unemployment for a few months. The three-hundred and fifty I got a month wasn’t much but looks pretty substantial in retrospect.
My savings from grad school are slowly dwindling each time I eat out or pay the bills. The money I got from family on my birthday and at graduation keeps me afloat into the new year even though I feel pressure to take a job within walking distance as a waiter (sorry, “server”).
Earlier in the month I’d gottten excited about the one interview I’ve had post-grad school. My hope dissipated when the owner told me he “couldn’t afford to pay me a regular salary for my work on his journal,” but he did teach me how to make money online doing freelance writing. Looking back it seems pretty cool of him even though I declined his non-paying offer. The first thing he told me was that I was overqualified for the position.
Eventually I found a way to make a few bucks online using the recommendations he’d given me. It’s reassuring to make any money these days, even if I have to write stupid How-To articles for the next six months. I’m currently at work on one I’m probably not qualified to write: How To Get the Job of Your Dreams.
I’ve gotten skilled at locating career and job information on the web, as in where to find it and what to look for. Maybe I should be a career counselor; definitely falling in the under-qualified category on that one. I’ve found that most career websites are hidden platforms for advertising. They email me jobs that have nothing to do with what I studied. I put in writing as a search term and it brings up janitorial positions that require high school level writing for reasons I’m unaware of. I would put in the creative aspect, but I’m afraid the website will laugh at me or ask me what I’m talking about.
It’s not the work I miss, rather just having something to do. That’s the worst part about being unemployed, the lack of activity can really hurt morale. It’s not hard to imagine I could get another job, it’s just hard to believe it.
It’s more rough justice for a year filled with what I described earlier as “depressing comedy.” I’m the star of my own reality show/sitcom and I don’t even get paid or have a laugh track. Cue the audience.
UPDATE: I got a part-time teaching gig in August. I still do freelance work in my off-time. I have a car now and I don’t eat dollar cherry pies anymore
(This piece previously existed as two separate articles for an unnamed and recently defunct content website. Both were rejected.)

Workshop Response, or Portrait of the Fartist as a Young Grad Student (First in a Retrospective Series)

    I’m not really sure what to say about this one.  I’ve surely never been this shocked by a workshop story.  It’s not a positive shock though, it’s certainly a disgusted and surprised kind.  This story left me wondering why anyone would go about forming this plot.  A lot of the writing wasn’t bad but everything was overwhelmed by the events of the story. 
    Specifically, I have no issue with reading about men having relations with each other; so the idea that I don’t like the story because I’m a homophobe can quickly be dispelled.  The handling of the material is entirely offensive and this is from a person who’s not easily offended.  The narrator’s choice of words and ways of describing things lead the reader to believe that none of the subject matter was taken seriously.  A few examples include: “grabbing his manhood and taking in a mouthful of gratification for them both,” “his boxers instantaneously soaked in greasy fluids from a throbbing member.”  I could go on but I won’t.  This sounds like something out of Penthouse Letters (yes I’ve read Penthouse Letters before).
    The writer seems to have a real problem with tone also.  Several bits of dialogue are punctuated oddly with exclamations or question marks where they clearly don’t belong.  For example, “Is this what you want!”  People don’t yell at each other when they are having foreplay, nor do they yell when asking a question. 

    The ending of this piece just flabbergasted me.  Not only did he have sex with his fiancé’s father but he got HIV from him?  In what world do symptoms of HIV occur immediately?  And I won’t even mention the toilet scene.  There’s so many things wrong with this story that I’m going to have to stop here.  My suggestions would be either to tone down the language or just change the subject matter all together.