Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness (Video Reading)

Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness

Today was the day I was going to write the great American novel, leave my generation’s impression on the annals of history, and secure my legacy in the hallowed halls of every library. I ran into the café like a toddler with a shy bladder. My brain was bursting and I had to drain it into the proper receptacle as soon as possible. I took a seat, cracked my laptop open, and gave the keyboard a good thrashing.

The spark of inspiration burned brightly that morning. Each scene was a fire spreading to another. Each plot point was a pendulum ball swinging, every development a domino and I just sat back watched them go. All I had to do was ride the momentum.

My characters did the real work, vying for their goals with confidence, getting into compelling conflicts, and just straight up being bunch of Chatty Cathys. I was but a stenographer transcribing their conversations in real time. It didn’t even feel like I was trying.

The rest of my imagination was free to consider the tide of inevitable accolades that would come my way.

“What’s that on my nightstand? Just the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was going to put it on my mantle but the Pulitzer was taking up so much space.”

This was real literature with all the symbolism that English professors salivated over. It was a bombastic barrage of brilliant subtext, with all the faint foreboding that New Yorker editors always feast on.

The story was far from published and already the success was getting to my head. James Patterson was about to drop several positions on the bestseller list. I was composing answers to questions I expected on my first Tonight Show appearance. Oprah Winfrey might as well have been reading over my shoulder, because I was about to make every book club in America my bitch.

But then you came along, sat at the bar beside me, and proceeded to shake your leg incessantly. That antsy appendage, that twitching twig, that locomotive limb danced upon my pupil. I couldn’t concentrate. I closed my eyes, but somehow the shuddering shape penetrated the lids.

That itch that you couldn’t scratch, it rubbed off on me. It transmitted across that bar like a power surge on a poorly grounded circuit. That tickling in your thigh muscles bounced around in my brain until both hemispheres were playing ping pong. The pins and needles from your vastus lateralis were in my hippocampus snuffing all the inspiration out.

Here I was in the middle of a monologue that would’ve surmised our turbulent times, a speech so evident in its truth that it would’ve provided the resistance with the language it needed to sell its message.

Candidates would’ve cited it from city hall steps. Activists would’ve peppered it into speeches at the Lincoln memorial. Radicals would’ve shouted it from bull horns as pepper spray wafted over them.

It would’ve lifted the veil from the eyes of the underclass. Undecided voters would’ve risen to its call to action. Historians would’ve used it to better understand our glorious revolution.

But… You had to go and do the electric slide out the corner of my eye, stomping out an unstable tempo that quaked throughout the table.

Had your knee not been pulsating in my periphery I’d have written something so resonant it would’ve inspired a generation of shoulder blade tattoos. Something so poetic Instagram accounts would’ve memed it out sentence by sentence. Something that would’ve been quoted in yearbooks, wedding vows, and Oscar acceptance speeches.

You’d have read it on motivational posters, park bench plaques, and headstones.

My dialogue would’ve worked its way into our shared language through cultural osmosis. It would’ve woven into your favorite figures of speech without you ever realizing where it had come from. You’d have use my truisms to win arguments in the bedroom.

But… You had to go kicking up dust in my blind spot, to puff out your pleated pantleg, and flick your fabric in my face. You had to shake-shake-shake your articulatio genus awake. You had to rev your motor symptoms right at my eardrum.

You had to be the reigning champion of my attention span. Your jiggling lap had to make my memory lapse. You couldn’t help but shoo my muses from the room.

You broke my flow. I haven’t gotten it back, because every time I close my eyes I see your phantom kneecaps moving as fast as hummingbird wing flaps.

If only you knew the poignant piece of powerful prose you’ve cost the world. If only you had some concept of the magnum opus you’ve obliterated. If only your scrambled skull could fathom the classic you Muay Thaied out of existence.

You perpetual motion mouth breather. You cardio conjuring eyesore. You bobble headed eggbeater.

I wanted to lean over and tell you to get your neuro transmitters in order, to drown your stomach in iron supplements, to fetch yourself a fucking fidget spinner. Instead I found myself pushing my stool out, standing, and tapping out a tension breaking rhythm on the linoleum.

And that’s when you had the audacity to ask me, “Hey man, could you cut that shit out?”

I’ll differ to the press to describe what happened next.

Continue reading Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness

The Dangers of Being a Storyteller

As a writer I like to celebrate the virtues of an active imagination, but my own gets me into trouble all the time. The same tools I use to craft fantasy worlds can become weapons in the real one.

While we celebrate New York Times bestsellers it’s the stories we tell ourselves that have real power. I can write a scary story with a subtle theme about managing depression and someone might take that to heart.

Meanwhile, I can tell myself a story about how I lack the stability, maturity, and status to attract a partner and I know I’ll take that shit to heart. The same goes for when I tell myself stories like: I’m still too wet behind the ears to reach out to that publisher or my social media presence isn’t wide enough to attract the right agent. That stuff always resonates on the first draft.

Western civilization has wired us to remember stories more than any other form of information. That’s why politicians use anecdotes about “real” Americans to make their points. That’s why charities showcase the plight of one disadvantaged child to represent an entire community. That’s why we file memories in three act structures, even when that’s not how the events occurred. Stories are easier to recall than abstract information because of how they’re linked.

That’s why when we tell ourselves stories about our failings they sink in. Fortune may have dealt us a bad hand, but good storytellers can convince ourselves that we’re cursed.

Storytelling Changes How We See Things

Everything is a nail to a hammer and everything is a story to a writer. That’s why we see story structure everywhere, like threads of fate, and a lifetime writing happy endings can give anyone unrealistic expectations.

Writers spend so much time building universes around their protagonists it’s only natural for us to think that the real world revolves around us too. All our friends and family members are just supporting cast members there to aid us in our journey.

We start believing conflicts in our lives are there to break us out of overbearing routines. We think that every problem will advance the narrative of our life, teach us a lesson, and fundamentally changes us a person. We think less of ourselves when a conflict leaves us feeling the same as we did when we began.

We’ve been conditioned by so many stories to believe that our lowest moments will lead into climatic triumphs, that those lessons we learn at the bottom will embolden us, but they so often don’t. They might just serve to reinforce our fears.

In a movie you might miss a character’s change if you have to go to the bathroom. Real shifts in our personalities are so gradual they’re imperceptible.

Storytellers reinforce the notion that so long as we quest for a goal that we will ultimately get what we need, not necessarily what we want, but what we need. We can be forgiven for thinking that if our hearts are pure the universe will provide for us.

We forget that so many of the fundamentals of a great story are  fallacies in the real world. That’s why they’re stories. They’re an escape from the cruelty of reality.

How to Write a Bad for Romance

It’s time for this week’s Oversharing Anecdotesponsored by Jack Daniels. Jack Daniels, it’ll get your tongue so lose it’ll practically fall out of your mouth.

My 20s were a montage of breakup texts and fetal position showers sessions. Upon seeing someone new I made the mistake of dubbing the kicking-at-the-tires stage of dating “a relationship.” When that process came to an abrupt end, I performed a postmortem so I might catch the signs earlier on.

I developed a protection measure inspired by all the pulp detectives who were too hard boiled to get their hearts broken. I turned first dates into investigations, looking for patterns in behavior. I convinced myself that I was an acquired taste and that anyone who showed too much interest early on did so for the wrong reasons. I was looking for evidence to confirm my bias, to fit the story I was telling myself.

Romantic encounters became a chance to role play at film noir. I honed in on every micro expression, read between the lines, and saw sagas in the subtext, and whenever I spotted a femme fatale in librarian’s clothing I’d show her my “evidence.” Oh how my psychic Sherlock loved to show off.

Long story short, my time role playing as a detective did not go well. Unlike the characters I most admired I was not quick whited, I was quick to assumptions, quick to anger, but I wasn’t that clever. I never solved my partner’s grand deceptions so much as I gave them a good reason to move on. My story became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Long point made short: people are terrible mind readers. When we assign motivations to one another’s actions we’re almost always wrong. Storytellers who spend their days empathizing with fictitious figures run the risk of doing this to their partners.

Want to know what someone is really thinking? Ask them.

Our imaginations have a tendency to buzz on when its inconvenient. We replay scenes in our heads adding drama upon each retelling. We elevate the conflict in the present and raise the stakes when we fear new situations.

People have always told me I think too much. I’m just now realizing that what they mean is I think too much about things outside of my control. I’m slowly learning that that’s a great way to turn observations into problems. Sometimes the healthiest thing to do is to take things at face value.

Storytelling Can Amplify Your Ailments

I think the line between fantasy and reality blurs in very subtle ways, ways that we writers have a hard time catching. For those of us who’ve been telling ourselves stories about all our failings we need to learn to make some revisions so that we can better live in the moment.

When we’re in the throes of depression we forget the long periods of time when we were doing fine. We need to remember that painful urgency in our gut hasn’t always been there, and that it will pass.

We need to recognize that emotional memories link to one another as a kind of neurotic mnemonic. That’s why when we feel humiliated we find ourselves hard pressed to think of a time when we didn’t feel like that. We tell ourselves a story that our lives were nothing but a series of embarrassments.

We need to acknowledge that this is a fiction, one that edits out all of our success, to play better upon our heartstrings.

We need to learn to leave that shit on the page where it belongs.

Continue reading The Dangers of Being a Storyteller