we need to talk about a pressing issue

Gas.

Gut punching, your butthole is Alcatraz and it wants to escape on a handmade raft, hurdy gurdy gas that puts you in a panic because you live in a small house with another human being. A person with whom you still hope to share a little mystery in life. Someone you don’t have an interest in subjecting to your private emanations.

An example. It’s bedtime. You’re tired. But there’s a bit of a rumble, and you’d like to settle things down before getting horizontal. Your significant other is in the bathroom brushing his teeth when you have a brilliant idea: a quick pop into the bedroom closet. It has a little window that’s always open, thanks to the high humidity of living near water, and neither of you ever goes in there right before bed. It’s foolproof.

Only it isn’t. Your peppermint-breath partner comes into the bedroom, pulls back the covers, then remembers something he needs to get out of the closet. If he senses a disturbance while in there, he doesn’t say anything, but you’re glad the light is off so he can’t see your flushed face.

You wonder how people who live in those tiny houses do it. Each story you read follows a similar format. A (usually white) couple gets tired of the citified rat race, cashes in their big fat 401(k)s and buys/builds a 150 sq ft home on wheels. They talk about simplifying, getting back to the land, rising and falling with the sun. But they never mention the gas.

You do a little medi-googling to see if perhaps there’s something you can do to address this issue, which wasn’t such a big deal when you lived in a bigger house. You find that gas is the natural byproduct of a healthy digestive system. In fact, the average person farts between 10 and 20 times a day. Then you read about a poor soul, a 32 year old with excessive gas.

The patient maintained a meticulous recording of each passage of rectal gas over a period of months, which showed a frequency that usually exceeded 50 times/day and occasionally reached values of 129 times/day (see Fig. 1).

Suddenly you don’t feel so bad about things. It could be worse. You could be recording every fart in a spreadsheet.

like flies on the same turd

In my ongoing search to find some people for us to drink wine with ’round these parts, I was thinking that maybe I would go to the weekly poetry slam in Monterey (they encourage all sorts of performance, not just poetry). You know, meet some other writers. Maybe we’d have something in common.

I disliked them all immediately, sitting around acting clever and superior. They nullified each other. The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd. – Charles Bukowski

To be fair, I’m friends with a number of other writers, but we generally met in non-writer circumstances. And, regardless, friends happen organically after repeat, positive interactions. It’s not something you do. “I’m going to sell this house today!” It’s something you experience. (And I’d guess the people at the slam are too young anyway. If your liver is still pink and springy, we probably don’t have enough in common. Plus, slams aren’t really my thing.)

James and I are a self-sufficient couple. Even after 11 years of listening to each other’s bullshit, we’re still interested and still laughing. But we’re not quite ready for the unabomber cabin in the woods where it’s just us chickens and we never hang out with other people. It’s nice to hear someone else’s bullshit occasionally, especially if their bullshit can lead us to great places to eat, cool trails we’ve never heard of and things we don’t even know we’re interested in.

I had this conversation–in person–with my friend Nelson (a writer) a few days ago. He and his wife Phoebe split their time between Houston and the Bay Area, where they are currently. They drove down to PG to take me to lunch on Friday. It was great to see familiar, friendly faces, and find out that maybe James and I aren’t the only ones on this odd errand of finding new friends in middle age.

When you’re in your thirties it’s very hard to make a new friend. Whatever the group is that you’ve got now that’s who you’re going with. You’re not interviewing, you’re not looking at any new people, you’re not interested in seeing any applications. They don’t know the places. They don’t know the food. They don’t know the activities, If I meet a guy in a club on the gym or someplace, I’m sure you’re a very nice person, you seem to have a lot of potential, but we’re just not hiring right now. – Jerry Seinfeld

I didn’t think I be interviewing at age 44 because I didn’t know I’d be moving. So I’m either going to have to start getting out of the house more often to meet people, or some of you fuckers are going to have to move here.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. – Kurt Vonnegut

Shared experiences are important. Even if you’re on a turd–at least you have good company.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. – Oscar Wilde (and also The Pretenders)

rituals

Rituals are important. They help mark the meaningful moments in life, and they’re a good barometer of the passage of time. New Year’s = new beginnings. The 4th of July = summertime. Halloween = the start of the holiday season. Rituals help break the year into phases. They give us the chance to look forward and back in a way that doesn’t happen as much on a random Tuesday.

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of my brother Mason’s death. Each year, the first thing I do on December 7 is start thinking about the post I’ll write that day for Remembering Mason. The site never turned into the repository of stories about Mason that I’d hoped it would. But, rituals are important. So I keep posting there two or three times a year, even though I mostly feel like I’m talking to myself.

For that annual post, I think of all the things Mason missed out on over the previous 12 months. I reflect on the many times I thought to call him, to share something he would find funny or infuriating. The impulse to pick up the phone only lasts for a microsecond. Then the wave comes crashing over my head. The wave that reminds me. He’s gone.

It’s amazing that you can know a thing, deep in your soul, but you can still be surprised by it.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, a book about losing her husband, Joan Didion wrote:

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.

Those first couple of years, every time I found myself telling someone Mason was gone, I felt like I was crazy. That surely I’d lost my mind because my vibrant younger brother most certainly was alive and well. Ends up, it’s pretty common to think that someone who died might come back any minute. Walk right through that door. Not as a ghost. As a real, whole person. As the person they were the last time you saw them with life in their eyes. Maybe it’s the brain’s way of easing you into the new reality.

All this to say, I’m going to write that post tomorrow. Just as I’ll keep posting here, even after the lights have been turned off and everyone’s gone home. Because rituals are important, and sometimes you have to leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs.

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not sure what he was planning on doing with that ice, but, whatever it was, he thought it was pretty funny

Update: Here’s the post.