Category: behind the vignette (Page 1 of 4)

Behind the Vignette: YOU DON’T DRINK?

I stopped drinking to get drunk when I was 27. I had started drinking when I was around 16, mostly things like Mike’s Hard Lemonade in a friend’s camper that sat in his backyard. Over time, particularly once my friends and I turned 21, the frequency and intensity of my drinking increased. I’ve never been an alcoholic (at least in the sense that I’ve never felt compelled to drink to excess, or like it was outside of my control), but for a long time we were having parties or going to bars every weekend where we would drink to get drunk, whatever that meant.

In theory, there wasn’t anything wrong with it. We did some stupid things, made lots of mistakes (I somehow remember one such incident when, after playing in a beer pong tournament downtown, I found myself driving on the thruway with no idea how I got there), but by the grace of God never hurt ourselves or anyone else.

What changed for me was a sense of losing myself. Getting further away from who I wanted to be. It was some holiday weekend (warm enough to be in a pool at a friend’s apartment complex, and so I’ve always thought it was Fourth of July, but that timeline doesn’t quite line up, so it must have been later in the summer or near Labor Day) and I got pretty sloshed. No big deal, I made it home okay (on a bike this time) and slept it off.

The next morning, though, I had to go to work. I felt so shitty that I ended up having to leave sick after maybe a quarter of the workday. I realized then that, in addition to disliking the person I am when I’m drunk, that I wasn’t being responsible and that, eventually, it would badly hurt me. At that point my body couldn’t rebound from being hungover like it had when I was younger, and so the circumstances aligned in such a way that I was able to give it up. I’ve been drunk a few times since then, but never memory-loss drunk and not with anyone aside from my wife or family.

I don’t miss it. But what I began to notice when going to parties, or hanging out at a bar, was some confusion on people’s faces when I tell them I don’t want a drink. Alcohol is such a common and accepted vice in our culture that it’s hard for people to understand those that don’t want it.

I imagine it’s even worse for recovering alcoholics, especially if they’re still friends with other alcoholics.

That was the genesis for this story. To explore that confusion and those feelings of someone that has changed coming up against those who haven’t. It’s a bit exaggerated, but I hope it’s honest, or reaches for something close to “Truth.” And I hope that if you’re someone who doesn’t understand when people turn down alcohol, that this story sheds a little light on why that might be, and why that’s okay.

Behind the Vignette: THE PACE OF CHANGE

Click the picture above to read the story.

I lived in Buffalo, NY for the first 24 years, 10 months of my life. I left just a tad over ten years ago. That first year of being away from home I visited often. I don’t remember how often, exactly, but probably more than five times and less than ten. Nowadays, I might go up once or twice. My visits now, as infrequent as they are, remind me of everything that’s changed since I left.

Obviously, in ten years there have been a lot of changes to the physical landscape. Businesses change names or close completely. The waterfront is completely different than when I left. New restaurants and public areas have cropped up. My high school is no longer in the same building (this actually happened before I left, but still).

But the people have changed, too. I’m different. My friends are different. My family is different. We can slide back into our old dynamics, fall into the old routines, but if you take a step back for more than a second it’s easy to see the changes in everyone.

So, in a sense, I think that our relationships are like the cities we live in. They change slowly, little by little, and it’s not always noticeable unless you take the time to notice it. This story is about that feeling of driving through someplace that should be familiar, and then you realize it’s not what you remember. Somewhere along the way, without your noticing, it changed into something you don’t recognize.

What you do with that realization only you can know. I don’t think the ending of this story is ambiguous, in fact I think the Universe is yelling at Geoff and Zelda something obvious to everyone but them, but it is unclear what they’ll do with the information. Most likely, they’ll ignore it and continue on like they always have. But maybe, the nudge is what will help them realize that in order to come to recognize the external changes pushing down on you, you also have to recognize the internal changes that can help you come to terms with it.

Behind the Vignette: Tough Guy

Click the picture to read the story before learning about its inspiration.

One day a while back I was standing in line at the post office and there was a ratty looking man standing off to the side, just kind of watching everything. You know the type–dark hoodie, thin from years of use; dirty jeans; scruff; carried himself like he was an offhand remark from fight or flight.

While I was watching him I thought, “What if this dude’s here to rob them? What would I do?”

My mind ran off on an elaborate fantasy about how I’d stop him when, quite suddenly, my rational mind kicked in and said, You wouldn’t do shit except for what he told you to do. You’d die if you tried to play hero. Anyway, this dude is just here to mail something. Dickhead.

And in that, this story was born.

I think most men have hero fantasies. Chalk it up to a lifetime of seeing westerns, superhero movies, and other lone wolf action movies. Or maybe it’s a symptom of toxic masculinity. Probably a bit of both, feeding into one another like an ouroboros of assholes.

There are good examples of this phenomenon in celebrity news! Remember when Mark Wahlburg said that if he were on Flight 93 he would have stopped 9/11? That’s the kind of thinking that gets people killed.

I wanted to write about that. Take the piss out of it a bit. It’s one of my first attempts at writing actual comedy, and I think it’s pretty good.

Maybe I’ll try it again sometime (the comedy, not the violent fantasies against strangers).

Behind the Vignette: IN THE DARK WHERE ALL IS LOST

Click on the picture above to read the story.

I struggled with whether or not to publish this story. I wrote it in response to my deepest fear after my son was born: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). For the first several months of his life I was downright paranoid about it. That calmed once he learned to roll over and became more dexterous because now I’m confident that if he couldn’t breathe for whatever reason he’d be able to maneuver enough to at least cry out for help. But there are still times when I’ll go into his nursery while he sleeps and gently place my palm against his back or chest to be sure he’s breathing okay.

Writing, and then publishing, our fears makes us vulnerable. There is a lot of vulnerability in this story, which is why I was hesitant to put it up. But there is also a triggering effect. As awful as it is, lots of people have lost children to all sorts of things and have had to move on, somehow. I’m not sure there’s any understanding or relief in this story. It’s built from fear and ends in devastation. I don’t know how I feel about that.

In the end I think it’s important for me to be vulnerable with my fears. By putting it into the world I’m acknowledging that vulnerability and hoping to commiserate with others. I don’t know, it’s strange to write from a place of darkness and be unable to find any light. But there is a place for it, I think. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to say how things are, recognize that bad things happen randomly, for no reason, and then move on from it. Hug someone a little tighter the next time you see them, just as I hug my son every day.

Behind the Vignette: CUSTOM OF THE SEA

Click the photo above to read the story first!

The idea for this story came from one of my favorite pastimes, listening the Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast. Specifically, episode 122: The Shortest Straw. In this episode, Mahnke details various acts of cannibalism throughout history, including the saga of the English yacht “The Mignonette.” I was fascinated by what it might feel like to be in the position that eating someone you know might keep you alive long enough to get back to your family.

That said, the story didn’t come easily. I wrote it once, didn’t like it, let it sit for a long time, revisited it and liked it more than I remembered, rewrote it, let it sit, did an edit, etc. The reason for that was twofold:

  1. Whose perspective should the story take? A crew members? The person being eaten? Someone doing the eating?
  2. What tone should the story take? Horrific? Regretful? Melancholic?

Ultimately, I settled on the Captain making a horrific and melancholic decision to sacrifice himself for his crew. Part of me feels like I should have played into the horror aspects of the act more, but I also suspect that’s because I’m on a horror kick in my reading life. I think the approach I take in this story is the more interesting, human one, and better for me as a writer.

What do you think? Would you have liked to see it written differently? Let me know in the comments.

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