Website of the Year, 1997

They tell you to write every day, to create some short piece of fiction scribbled down on a notepad during your lunch break, but you just won’t do it. Your writing must carry weight and value. It should be passed around circles of peers and professionals in hushed whispers; doors shut behind the friend who walked briskly into the office down the hall. You cannot compose a compendium of half-thought ideas to be released as the rarities, the B-sides, in paperback by the Penguin Group a hundred years after your death. You must write the thing. It cannot be shallow and it cannot be stress-free. It should inspire college courses that tell young women and men to sit in a circle and discuss literature and religion and sexuality and find every reference to obscure song lyrics that play into the piece in ways only known to the author. The problem is, you are twenty-four years old and have all of the time and none of the patience.

You do not want to be published in the Southern Literary Review or the Poets’ Journal of the Carolinas or the 30 Greatest Stories Written By Authors Under 30 because those imply barriers and limitations that do not speak well of you and your writing, because if you moved a few states north or sat and grew a few years older your writing would be reviewed under more legitimate scrutiny. You could start by going to the top and submitting to the New Yorker, but considering even you don’t read the New Yorker you wonder if their acceptance would mean or lead to anything. You want the work to simply exist, to have existed within the past ten years, to echo in the public consciousness like a German fairy tale but with all the proper copyrights that get you paid. The creation is enjoyable but it is not the point. The point is the body of work. The separate bibliography page on a well-maintained Wikipedia entry. The “Hey, I’m glad you liked it,” and the sense of accomplishment gained from hard work. You won’t start seriously, though, because if you want to make anything valuable it will require hundreds of hours in the library and at least hundreds of days without new material.

You’re starting to miss the sense of fulfillment you received for bad little Xanga ditties, though. When you remove ninety-five percent of your friends from Facebook and when you sit for hours in your apartment with no roommate, speaking to no one but yourself and the occasional drive-through attendant, and when you put all your eggs in one basket which snaps its bottom straws at the lightest touch you are in an isolation chamber. The desire to remove one’s self is nonexistent and the slightest reminder of the outside world (a package in the mail, a question from a stranger, a comment on a message board) feels intruding. You can play big for appearances, you can turn introversion into extroversion when leadership is needed, but what was your normal life is no longer your normal life. You are not the example any more.

Rather, you are the name in the year book, the one without a picture because you had the audacity to think you looked decent enough without digital touch-ups, the one students in the old city sit around repeating the name for over and over again, coming up with nothing and shrugging. Did you even go to the school with them? You are the formless idea of self, and when form is maintained you represent the unknown, the stranger, the other, the potential drug dealer and the potential murderer and the potential rapist because you are what they expect all others to be. You are the incongruity of peaceful meeting, and yet you were once the congruity of meetings themselves. You have eliminated want because of these supernatural theories and here you are, and you are in nature, and you should be alright with that.

The Max G. Creech Insurance Agency and are successful enough to provide for families but they are not relevant to culture and they are not taught in college courses. They are means to ends. They are big enough to be bought out for six figures and little enough to be shuttered at the whim of seven figures. They exist as memorabilia hanging in the barn from a previous time when you did go out, you did see others, you did shake hands firmly and meant what you said. Both of them provided for those outside of the family, the patrons, but they did and will not survive the sands of time. They are the retail shoe salesmen of the higher class. All that is left is the memory of some thing that satisfied once, you’re sure of it, but there is no fame and fortune and well-maintained Wikipedia entry, and everyone who loved it is local and published in the Southern Literary Review. You are Southern, and then you go North and you are an East Coast-er, and then you go West and you are an American, and you hate the whole notion of it because you are the best in the world and only that sounds large enough to make you content.

You can’t for the life of you construct some overarching narrative of time and direct 2013 and 2014 into non-descriptive “good” and “bad” boxes because you know you are not the center of the universe and the protagonist of a story, but you also cannot excise free will and spend another weekend crumpled to the floor of the living room, whispering ugly nothings to yourself and stopping every once in a while, worried that the downstairs neighbors’ shuffling meant that they might have overheard. You will be writing something, not a story or a short story or a play or a poem but a noncommittal something, about the broadcast on WGN-TV in 1987 (a constructed narrative for an unconstructed time) and you can’t guarantee it will appear on your blog, but it will have to if the New Yorker and even the Southern Literary Review reject the piece. You are under the ridiculous impression that all will work out with sudden, rare explosions of unmitigated passion.


These Are the Riches of the Poor

I tell people that if they want to avoid drugs and alcohol, they make their abstinence a part of their selves.  You adopt the lack of substance as a part of your identity.  You weigh the pros and cons and go with what is an inherently better decision, not what makes you a better person.  You get D-R-U-G-F-R-E-E tattoos on your knuckles and force your inner-most character to adhere to the rules on your body.  You play tricks on yourself.  You’re honest, of course, but you still have to play mind games.  One of the greatest things my parents did for me was never keep alcohol around the house.  My parents aren’t teetotalers.  They never sat me down and said, “Son, we expect you to never drink alcohol or take drugs.”  They just didn’t have it there, so when the parties came into my life I did my own research and labeled them poisons.  My parents don’t care if I drink or not.  I won’t be disappointing them if I do.  They showed me that the absence of drink was just as viable a lifestyle as the one where kids take drinks from their fathers and claim moderation in high school but immediately transform into alcoholics in college and come back around to the realizations I was having at fifteen.  I’m proud of that.  I’m proud of me.

My parents used the same tactic for sexuality.  Our house was, again, pure in that regard.  I still haven’t seen The Matrix Reloaded because my dad heard there was clothed sex in it and didn’t let me go to the theater.  When I was eleven or twelve I sat in the backseat of the car and asked my mom why Bill Clinton was impeached.  She positioned her head as to not let the direction of her words hit my sister as she whispered “it had to do with sex.”  I blushed and looked away.  She thought sex embarrassed me, but she was wrong.  I was embarrassed that she thought she had to whisper.

A little baby isn’t destined to become a drug addict.  That baby, though, what parents see as that sweet infant, will probably be masturbating in its room by age fourteen.

School told me that condoms break more than companies like to admit.  That my penis would mold into a crusty husk and I’d die within a year.  True Life Choices.  They used the same acronym as Tender, Loving Care on purpose.  David Coffelt asked why it wasn’t possible to put two condoms on top of each other.  He shot me a mean glance when I bust out laughing.  Hannah Corral told me the point of dating others was to get to know them when I remarked that the whole endeavor was pointless if it wasn’t going to end in marriage and sex.  My seventh grade yearbook doesn’t have any girls’ signatures in it.  I was nervous.  Girls were around for marriage and then for sex and I was too young to want the first and too indoctrinated to want the other.  Girls weren’t my friends and I didn’t know how to talk to them.  True Life Choices told me women were vehicles to drive to the destination of doin’ it.  Smithfield, North Carolina has graveyards where the husband gets to be “Town Mayor” and the wife gets to be “His Wife.”  I expected too much.  I wanted the ending to the story when I hadn’t picked up the book yet.

Greg, an adult from youth group, told us guys that he still remembers the first picture of a naked woman he saw.  He said it wrapped itself up in his mind and he can still recall it perfectly.  That he feels guilty for looking, that it’s a disease.  That it makes his dick as crusty as a STD does.  We joked about it being a mummy.  I’ve seen a lot of mummies in the past month alone.

You don’t want to have sex this early because it’s not true happiness.  It’s not joy.  Joy only comes from a relationship with Christ.  Joy is something deeper, something more substantial and lasting, what sticks with you in the dark times and ultimately proves more beneficial than sex or drugs or getting a material object.  You have to believe in God and do your best to follow the most up-to-date ruleset.  The world is fleeting, the next world isn’t.  I wanted joy.  Hell, I still want joy.  I still won’t do something to make me happy now if it hurts me later.  I can not go to church for three years but I can not get away from Jesus.  And I like it like that.  Church told me to look for deeper meaning, to look at what makes a good life, not just a life.  I was their baby.  I still am their baby.  Christ’s Community Church brought me friendship and love and gave me experiences I’d never exchange for anything.  They taught me how to take up responsibilities and how to talk to girls and how to be interested in them and friendly with them while showing enough grace to not want too much all up front.  They served me and they served others and they also hated the shit out of homosexuals for no good reason.  Sex was fine.  It was for marriage.  I was above sex.  I spent my time thinking about deeper things.  I sure don’t do well in school but I spend free time learning about psychology and history and kindness and that all makes up for sex, which will come at some point but I shouldn’t worry myself too much with it.  And then I look at mummies and I feel awful.  Naked women are a teenage male’s weakness and I am not a teenage male I am above all of that I am a child of God and I have better things to do and maybe I’ll just abstain for good and decide to be celibate and maybe that’s best because I should be following in Jesus’ footsteps exactly and he was celibate wasn’t he well people say he was but it wasn’t explicitly stated and why am I back at this hardcore pornography site

Nick and my sister and her friend sit on my basement couch and my friend remarks “She’s hot” when an attractive lady shows up on a shampoo commercial.  I say “HELL YEAH BRO WHAT A FUCKIN HOTTIE CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF GOTTA RAPE THAT” and go back into my bedroom to play video games.  I couldn’t say someone was attractive.  I just had to lust in my room, in secret.  My room was actually a big closet.  I’m not being metaphorical, it actually was a closet, and I’m laughing now that I think about it.

My mom wanted me to meet girls.  She was excited to see me grow up.  She would pray for me that I meet someone special.  She was praying for me that I’d get a girlfriend in high school, someone who could make me joyful.  She never prayed for me to be happy.  It was about joy.  Even now she wants me to find someone to be my partner for good.  Forever.  Wife material.  Not a nice girl, not a cute girl, not a funny girl or a smart girl.  Patrick Kay, beloved author and ______, his wife.  Only lately have I noticed the pressure.  My words must be authoritative and strong because true life is set in stone.  My darling is the kindest extrovert in youth group and then my darling is the cute and quiet girl I could talk to in study hall but not in math class and then my darling is the friend with similar taste in media.  The third was the only one I ever kissed.  Here we are.  It’s certainty, it’s got to be, it’s all been leading to here.  Her clothes came off easily and I never thought she was easy, I just thought and rejoiced in the not-going-back.

She made me chase her for five years.  When we weren’t together she was vindictive and when we were together she was confrontational.  When we first kissed I dropped the notion that I needed to wait for marriage to have sex.  I knew enough stories and enough people who were able to maintain something healthy, something not diseased physically or spiritually, and still enjoy corporeal pleasures.  They had joy and they had happiness.  And some of them still do have both of those.  And I never wanted to drink.  I wanted to have sex and I suppressed it.  For school and for church and for my parents and for me.  Because I am a good boy.  Because I want joy.  Because I don’t want to screw things up for myself.  Because I am something special and I am above it all.  I am more than the rush of blood.

I kissed her in 2008 and it’s 2014 now.  We never went all the way.  She wanted to wait, not because of any True Life Choices that affected my life but because she was nervous and because she was inexperienced and because she wanted to make sure things were right with me and because in a lot of ways she simply didn’t care about sex.  And I didn’t blame her, because for someone just as inexperienced there is plenty of trepidation.  I waited and when she didn’t want to go further I’d try to cover my selfish feeling of disappointment with a look of understanding and grace.  Because there are always other things to do.  Because we can just talk or go play something or just lay here and cuddle and that’s okay because I care about you as more than just sexuality.  And it was and is true!  I wouldn’t shower someone in such affection if I wasn’t looking for something more substantial.  I wouldn’t give advice and I wouldn’t open up and I wouldn’t take her around both states and daydream about taking her around more and I wouldn’t sit in her uncomfortable apartment feeding her soup when she’s sick and I wouldn’t wrap her dead dog in a blanket if I wasn’t looking for something more than sex.  I wouldn’t get as mad, either.  I wouldn’t have high hopes.

Now that’s over.  And that’s okay.  I’m okay, I think things are okay.  But in the dead of night and the early morning and the middle of the afternoon I remember all that I did and all the time that has passed and that we never went all the way and that it shouldn’t bother me but it kind of does.  I don’t regret being a good boyfriend.  I don’t regret being patient and understanding.  Because even if it doesn’t end in sex, was it ever supposed to?  Was I ever deserving of it, was it ever required?  No!  Of course not.  I wrapped her dead dog in a blanket because I found some joy in it, some greater reward in being a decent person.  It wasn’t for the hope of future physical pleasure.  But I am here and it is 2014 and more people are dying and I have not been laid.  I made much of time with the spiritual and it is fulfilling.  It is not the same thing as what teenage boys think about.  It’s better, it’s best, but it doesn’t take away from my biology.

Virginity is still a ridiculous concept.  We place so much emphasis on having sex for the first time that it usurps more important moments in our lives.  Virginity may as well be “until the first death of a grandparent” or “until the first trip overseas” or something that signifies a clear break from the old us into the new us.  When I first kissed, I remarked that it felt nice but didn’t feel like my world had completely changed.  Even if I loved this girl, even if it led to greater things, it didn’t break my entire worldview.  But that’s what I thought it would do.  That’s what movies and music told me it would do and that’s what a true love is supposed to do and that’s what I set myself up for thanks to school and church and my mom and all that praying.  And if you are asking if I’ve been inside of a vagina I haven’t, and if you are asking if I feel whole I do.  And if you are asking if I still want the girl of my dreams, whomever that may be, I do, and if you are asking me if I want to have fun with someone and get my rocks off regardless that person be significant to me or not, fuck, goddammit, I do.  And that is a massive change and that might be the first time I’ve said something so sexually vulgar with such sincerity in such a public place.  And I’m not saying I will and I’m not saying I know whom with and I’m not sure how to approach such a situation aside from friendly banter and I know I’m not betraying my mom or God when I say that.  I’m just a boy.  I’m just a stupid boy.  My hair is thinning and my beard is growing and the bottoms of my trousers have been rolled, but I am a boy and I am afraid.

I’m not supposed to be a boy, I’m not supposed to have a gender.  I could be an ethereal being floating in peoples’ lives to do good deeds and ask for nothing in return.  And maybe I am that and it’s in me but there’s still this damned exterior that I shouldn’t be so damned ashamed of.

I’m looking to stay away from hedonism.  I don’t need to worship physical pleasure and I don’t need to make it my primary motivator in life.  There’s already plenty.  But it took me 2300 words to write “I have sexual desires” and I knew it would.  It shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t be worrying now that any woman who reads this would be disgusted with my vulgarity and keep their distance, for I am a slippery slope.  But when kids were making out on my basement couch and when college partiers looked for hookups and when perfectly happy couples progressed to having sex without fear or shame I thought there was something natural within me that put me above it all.  And I’m not above it.  I’m in the gutter, too, and there are a lot healthier reasons to accept that and possibly embrace it than deluding myself into such a sense of superiority that I can’t function.  My seventh grade yearbook doesn’t have any girls’ signatures in it.