Dismembered Stories and Their Amputated Sentences

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As a writer, I have this recurring problem.  Film school education and the etiquette of screenwriting has a way of tarnishing my short stories, blog posts, and all of my writing in general.

In a screenplay, it is rude to overly describe sets, locations, characters, and really just about everything.  Every excessive adjective punched onto the page steps on someone’s toes.  Leave the wallpaper to the set designer.  Don’t back the casting department into a corner by fussing over the characters’ appearances.  Only list props necessary to the plot and let the professionals fill in the rest.

When you apply this way of thinking and the formatting of screenplays to narrative writing, you end up with front heavy information dumps followed by dialogue between vague, faceless characters in an unfurnished room somewhere sometime.  This was my initial problem with narrative writing:  a hesitance to describe anything other than the action (but only just a little bit because you don’t want to step on the director’s toes or stifle the actors’ performances).

To remedy this issue, I’ve wildly overcompensated.  My rough drafts tend to describe every little thing with as many pretty words and phrases as I can conjure, killing all plot momentum along the way.

Needless to say, revision for me is a matter of carving it all up.  For every word I add, I delete about ten.

Below are some words that I really liked, but deleted nonetheless.  I won’t provide you with any context for these, because it’s probably more fun that way!

From Hellfire Chicken Wings:

“The bulging gut that hangs over top of the husband/father’s jeans and his stained work shirt are unseemly sights easily found topside, but the two stunted, crooked horns that protrude from his forehead, the cellulite-ridden tail coming to an arrow point at the end – those are unique to this particular location of Fat Mike’s Bar and Grill.

This customer’s misfortunate daughters have equally spaced red bumps in the corners of their own foreheads that look like mountainous pimples – the awkwardness of adolescence is not unique to the mortal world.  Their crooked teeth are reined into line by grizzly-looking metal wires and brackets from a horror movie.  They look roughly the same age, Irish twins maybe, but one appears just enough older for it to be noticeable.  The younger has tangled brown hair that looks so grungy that Kristen thinks the girl might actually be a blonde with inordinately poor hygiene.  The older has dark black hair, too dark, a bad dye job, with reddish blonde roots showing for about an inch and a half.

The matriarch of the family is enormous.  Rolls of fat cascade down her wide frame, peaking at her hips – which must measure nearly three feet across.  Her double chin has its own double chin.  Her facial muscles can’t hold taut the weight of her cheeks and they sag in jowls.  She is wearing light makeup on her face, which is an inhuman fire engine red, peppered with enough whiskers to make Kristen wonder whether a pointy black beard lurks within the folds of flesh hanging from the woman’s chin.  Her eyes, “the window to the soul,” are vacant like a cow’s, hinting at the vacuum of intelligent thought within her skull.  Her horns might be the most pronounced of the entire brood, though it is impossible to tell given the ways that facial fat has folded around them.

Regardless of whether or not the customers sitting in Kristen’s section are poorly-bred and unattractive or brilliantly handsome and brimming with seductive facial expressions, she sees their horns and pointy beards and arrow-ended tails all the same.

She can’t remember exactly when she began seeing people this way, whether it was a week, a month, or a year ago.  These details just so integrated themselves into her perspective so well that she assumed that they were there the whole time and that she had never overlooked them.”

From Trail:

“Though I did not belong, the forest adopted me.  It became a part of me, and I, a part of it.”

From This is Where…:

“My head bobbing just above the water for days, weeks, months.”

From Last Will and Testament:

“But that wasn’t true.  The house was Wilbur – run down and neglected on the outside, untarnished and full of potential on the inside.  Or at least that must have been the way that George had seen it.”

From Decomposing on Your Doorstep:

“It could be the setting of a fairy tale.  Unnaturally lush green grass carpets an unused plot of farm land roughly fenced in and forgotten, complete with rusting tractors and farming equipment.”

“Born of inspiration greater than anything that ever fueled my painting, my ploy for notoriety will finally show the world my life’s work.”

From Antisocial Networking:

“The boredom went up in flames, kindling for Jake’s newfound fascination with strangers.  Soon he was reading their 140-character opinions and insights on Twitter, inspecting the photographic evidence of their alien lives on Instagram, even tracking their professional developments on LinkedIn.”

“All of those insignificant, boring things that bore people can take on a whole new light simply by viewing them from a different perspective.”

Don’t worry, I will share with you the stories from which these words were amputated sometime, just not today!

The Worst Student Film Ever Made

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*Names have been changed at my discretion

Synopsis:  A college girl is diagnosed with cancer, parties hard in an attempt to hide from her potential mortality, spirals from alcoholism to drug abuse to addiction, overdoses and dies only to find out in the afterlife that her diagnosis was a false-positive.

All of this was to be accomplished in 3 minutes of screen time.

Title:  “Positive.”

Unofficial Subtitle:  “The Worst Student Film Ever Made.”

Let me lay the groundwork for how we brought this abomination into the world.  Foundations of Production was an entry level course culminating in a semester-spanning project of producing a short film.  The class was split into small groups, mine consisting of myself, a girl that I kinda knew (Laurie*); a stoner that used to live in the same dorm building as me (Tyson*); and a best friend destined to betray me in the months to follow (Elle*).

We all prepared short scripts and presented them to the class for feedback. Everyone in our group took their film ambitions fairly seriously, but this whole project was technically “homework,” so inevitably our efforts became very convenience-driven.  This led us to produce Elle’s script, which featured few characters and locations.  We put together an airtight production schedule that would knock out the brunt of production (scenes taking place at parties) in one night.

Everyone resigned themselves to an irritating group dynamic that emerged long before cameras started rolling – Elle insisted on being in charge of everything.  She shot, directed, starred in, and edited the partially autobiographical monstrosity, ignoring everyone else’s input, and calling all of the shots along the way.

Oh yeah.  I forgot to mention that her script was loosely based on something that she was going through.

Now it may seem inappropriate for me to be so harsh about this girl who made a movie about her cancer, but she didn’t actually have cancer.  She had some sort of lady part cyst.  I always figured it would be rude to ask for more details, so I only ever knew what she confided in me (her then-best friend).  It’s not cool to have lumps of any sort growing on your insides, but Elle’s cyst was deemed benign in an expeditious manner.  There wasn’t a prolonged period where she pondered its cancerous possibilities.  Also, this not-cancer could not be blamed for her drinking problem.

The production churned on painfully.  Our character entered a party, did shots, smoked pot, popped pills, snorted coke, shot up heroine.  She changed clothes between each substance abuse escalation to signal that these were different parties – a subtlety that didn’t override the four, practically identical bedrooms in the same apartment where we shot our smorgasbord of parties.

Each scene was terribly lit.  Overhead lighting was abandoned in lieu of a single lamp that we carried from room to room.  Every frame of the footage was grainy or full of awkward shadows, or both.

When it was time to set up the heroine scene, Tyson shepherded extraneous extras out of the shot.  “You only want 3-4 people max in the room when you’re shooting heroine,” he explained.  No one dared ask him how he knew this.

Elle asked what she should do after she pretended to shoot the drugs into her arm.  Tyson’s answer was something along the lines of:  “After you shoot up, you’ll probably just want to lay down on the floor and feel the carpet.”

By the time Elle was ready to edit the footage, I was the only person willing to stay involved with this dumpster baby of a film.  She trimmed every take and pieced it all together while I just sat around and watched.  Rarely, she would ask for my advice, but only on small matters.  This take or that one?  Establishing shot before close up?  Close up, insert, close up?

For the sequence of the main character getting ready to go out and party after receiving her cancer diagnosis, Elle insisted on using Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold.”  For those unfamiliar, this upbeat pop song is an absolutely perfect soundtrack for getting dressed up to go out drinking with friends on literally any day of your life except for the day that you get diagnosed with cancer.  My polite input on the thousands of reasons why this song didn’t fit the tone was extravagantly ignored.  I mean that. Extravagantly.  Ignored.

Elle considered sneaking the volume down and running the song through the entire substance abuse escalation montage.  Katy Perry – the soundtrack for a downward spiral and heroine overdose.  At least I talked her out of that.

The end of the film played out as follows:  Elle’s character wakes up in heaven, an area of pure white (the white walled hallway of Laurie’s apartment).  “A screen appears.”  That’s what the script reads.  We had no special effects capabilities or budget.  A picture-in-picture effect was edited sloppily onto one of the white walls.  On the “screen” Elle’s doctor (yours truly in a lab coat and black rimmed glasses) is shown explaining to Elle’s mother (Laurie) that the cancer diagnosis was a false positive.  Oh no.  Elle did all of those drugs and died and she didn’t even have a good reason to be depressed!

Each group had to show their films to the entire class. We delivered the final cut to the professor on DVDs.  Thank God this thing wasn’t uploaded onto the internet.

After a brief introduction, the lights were killed and the movie started rolling.  I’ve never blushed so hard in my life.  The class roared with laughter at the substance abuse escalation montage.  Elle’s editing made it seem like the entire downward spiral unfolded in one comically wild night.  To the audience, her character got dressed to go to a party, drank too much, smoked some weed, popped some pills, snorted coke in the bathroom, shot up heroine and dropped dead all within the course of like an hour.  The professor applauded us before admitting that he wasn’t sure whether or not the tone was supposed to be so freaking hilarious.

This was Elle’s mutant progeny.  We let her answer his inquiries into what the hell everyone had just witnessed.

An almost equally horrible film took some of the heat off of us.  It was called, “Mrs. Jickle’s Pickles.”  It was about an old lady who can’t open a pickle jar.  She really, really wants a pickle.  She calls her son.  He doesn’t have time to drop what he is doing and drive across town to help her open a pickle jar, because “Really Mom?”  She tries everything before calling 911 as a last resort.  The cops show up and aren’t nearly pissed off enough when they realize that this old lady is wasting their time with such trifling bullshit.  They scold her but can’t stay mad and end up opening the pickle jar for her.  The End.

For a student film that is as awesome as is just as “Positive” was horrible, check out:  Evil Beer.

The Time I Helped a Blind Lady Cross the Street

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This all took place several years ago, back when I was living in an apartment complex near an extremely straightforward traffic roundabout that still managed to baffle the legendarily awful drivers of Florida.

I had just finished a 5 mile evening run.  A few dry spots could be found in the bottom corners of my shirt, the rest completely drenched in sweat.  Just a short walk separated me from a much needed shower as I approached the traffic roundabout.

There she was, sunglasses that would be unnecessary for most people given the sunset in progress; a stick with the end marked red that would keep her from tripping over curbs and steps but could not save her from the calamity of Orlando’s perpetually puzzled drivers faced with a slightly unfamiliar obstacle.

I sprung into action.

“Excuse me ma’am,” I said, mostly to let her know that I was now standing next to her.  “Can I help you cross this road?”  She obliged and I apologized for my stench and the layer of sweat on my arm as she took it.

As I escorted her to the other side of the road, I asked where she was trying to go.  The Blind Woman explained that she was trying to reach the Wendy’s about a quarter mile from where we stood.  I agreed to join her for the entirety of the odyssey.

Ahead of us, a truck from the cable company was parked on the curb and its driver was tinkering in a large electrical box nearby.  Jutting out like oversized ears, the truck had those wide sideview mirrors that help alleviate some of the blind spots that plague larger vehicles.

With a little prompting, the Blind Woman explained that she lived in a nearby apartment complex.  She told me that she wasn’t always blind, that her vision had degenerated over several years.  Before she moved in with her daughter, she could get around just fine by memory.

The truck was just a few feet in front of us as we shuffled along, arm in arm.

I felt bad for her.  Not only was the Blind Woman new to this area, but she couldn’t even see any of the surroundings to gain her bearings.  I cringed to think of what might have happened to her had she taken on that traffic roundabout all by herself.

She wasn’t even trying to get something to eat at the Wendy’s.  She just wanted to have a general idea of how far apart everything was.  I launched into an explanation of other landmarks and hazardous intersections, told her about the gas station and the Chik Fil A, the office buildings and hotels on the other side of the wide street.

Then, I led the Blind Woman face first into the outstretched sideview mirror of the cable truck.

I was looking at her as we conversed, insisting upon undoubtedly the most unnecessary eye contact in the long history of human discourse.  She staggered backward upon impact, more startled than hurt.  I babbled a thousand apologies frantically, but she wasn’t injured or upset.

The presence of the cable company employee only amplified the throbbing wound to my pride.

I believe that when people have the ability to help each other, they have a responsibility to act.  In my mind, imagining what harm might have befallen this Blind Woman had she stepped foot into that intersection made me responsible for her fate (the same way I felt responsible for the fate of the drunk jogger who insisted upon running 10 miles to his house rather than letting me call a cab for him).

This line of thinking could save the world, but I’m self-conscious about telling stories like this.  I don’t want to come across as patting myself on the back for my good deed, even though I am proud of it.  Or at least I was until I botched it so badly!

The rest of the journey to and from Wendy’s was uneventful, thank goodness.  Upon dropping her off back at her apartment complex, I implored her to be careful around the traffic roundabout.

Hopefully she found no shortage of people willing to help her cross the street.

The Problem with The Brantley Blog

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To anyone who is still here after my year long-hiatus from this blog, I feel like I owe you a big apology and an explanation.

The Brantley Blog was discontinued for two primary reasons.

Bad Feelings

What began as select drinking stories and misadventures from college slowly turned into a broader story arc of my coming of age after leaving home for the first time.  This was a natural evolution, but it came with a price.

I struggled with a lot of loneliness in my first semester of college.  During my second semester, I finally made friends and I got really close with a lot of people who didn’t have much in common with me other than our shared affinity for inebriation.  This didn’t end well.

Petty conflicts, jealousies, and certain individuals’ affliction of talking about people behind their backs led my group of friends to a boiling point.  We all met on top of a parking garage to air out our grievances with each other in a structured act of full disclosure.  We called it, I kid you not, a “Pickle Pow Wow.”   Instead of the kindergarten classroom tool of a “talking stick” with which speakers take turns so that they don’t end up shouting over top each other, we passed around a pickle in a pouch.

Tears were shed, hugs exchanged, bandaids applied to minor emotional scratches and wounds, but deep down we all knew that the group of friends was doomed to collapse in on itself.

I know that this is all incredibly stupid and “high school” dramatic, but it really genuinely mattered to me back then.  A lot of people that I cared about stabbed me in the back and friends that I tried to help resented my efforts.  It left a sour taste in my mouth.

Needless to say, the fun of mocking my youthful naivety and the joy of embellishing drinking tales were far preferable to describing how I lost numerous close friends over the course of just a few short months.  When the story that I was telling one blog post at a time reached this point, I suddenly found myself unmotivated to continue.  These events weren’t much fun to write about and I assumed that it wouldn’t be much fun to read.

I had it in my head that someone out there was piecing these individual posts together and reading them like a book; that this heavily foreshadowed climax was hotly anticipated.  I put a great deal of imaginary pressure on myself to get the story right.

Now I know that this was a silly thing to think.  I understand that blogs are typically consumed piece by piece rather than as a unit and that I could have neglected the hard parts of the story and nobody would have noticed.  But it was still enough to suck the fun out of The Brantley Blog for me.

Brantley:  The Great Disappointment

A recurring problem that I had with weaving my underage drinking stories was the looming presence of my parents in the back of my mind.  Both mother and father had recently joined Facebook and had dropped comments (Mom especially) here and there that made social networking lose its luster.  Thoughts of the shit storm that would arise should they find my blog and read about my youthful mistakes (most of which were intentional) prevailed over every revision and every edit of every post.

Over the last month or so, I’ve come to realize that it goes much deeper than fear of my parents finding out that I enjoyed being a little troublemaker in college.  A big part of my tendency to hold back in my writing has been knowledge of their inevitable disapproval of what I have to say.

You see, my parents are very religious.  As a kid, I remember my Dad making this objection throat clearing noise every time a character in a movie swore.  I remember him changing radio stations and calling certain pop songs “garbage.”  I remember my Mom forbidding me from seeing certain movies and how upset she was when she found out that I had used Napster to burn CDs with cuss words in them.

I, on the other hand, have more or less oscillated between atheism and agnosticism ever since the day that my parents decided that I was too old to get away with napping during church services.  I used to lay my head down in the pew every Sunday morning and rely on my family to wake me when it was all over.  Once that was no longer an option, I found myself increasingly uninterested in the entire body of rituals.

Every part of my worldview is so radically different from my parents that it makes for awkward silences during the holidays.  It would be stupid to let my political opinions alienate me from them, but at the same time, there are certain things that I feel very strongly about and it becomes really difficult to see any basic human decency in differing opinions on some issues.

Really, the worst part is that I get the feeling that they don’t even notice these awkward silences, these times that I shut my mouth in polite dissent.  It makes me feel like they probably don’t know very much about me and who I am, who I became once I left their house.

All of this is in the back of my mind during every keystroke, every sentence.  These things that I write, they are an extension of me.  To hate my writing is to hate me.  When it comes to my parents, that’s a lot of stress to handle every time I push that “publish” button.

It isn’t easy suspecting that a falling out with my parents will inevitably be a big part of my artistic journey.  Some days, it’s enough to keep my fingers from hitting any key other than “Backspace,” but I just can’t live that way forever.

I’m 26 years old.  I’m smart, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, and patient (though I struggle with this one sometimes).  I’m stubbornly optimistic and I don’t want to accept defeat, not for myself, not for society, not for the human race.

I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud of my writing.  My parents should be too.  And if they aren’t, then that’s an issue upon which I can’t courteously keep my mouth shut.

From Here   

I plan on continuing to tell my stories, to laugh at myself and the things that have happened to me.  I plan on sharing my insights on petty injustices that I encounter in my day to day drudgery.  I plan on trying to make readers laugh or smile, to entertain a person or two if only for a few minutes out of their day.

I plan on doing these things on a wider level.  I’m going to share this blog with actual people that I know and if my parents find it, I hope they enjoy it.  No.  I hope that they can’t help but enjoy it, even though they disapprove.  I hope that they are just as proud of me as I am of myself.

The Boner Policy

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Before delving into the collapse of my freshman group of friends from college, I think it’s important to describe some of the adventures that we had together so that you can mourn the calamity of our feuds as much as I did back then.

As I’ve said before, our common interest was partying.  In many cases, there was no further connection binding us together.

The group’s demographic skewed female to Jurassic Park levels.  There were basically three dudes, counting me, hanging out with like a dozen girls.  I loved the proportions at the time, but future events would make me question whether or not females are truly capable of empathy towards each other, or if any semblance of girl friendship is just a long con style intricate murder plot.

Bobby is one of those friendships that came out of our group (we called ourselves “K.I.T.T.” – short for Keep In Touch Tuesday) that actually made the enormous headaches that most of these people caused me feel worthwhile in retrospect.

The other guy, well, he had an emotional issue or two (or seven thousand).  We’ll call him “Tommy” because of his ongoing need for anonymity when it comes to the stories I have to tell about him.  Tommy was a quirky stoner with a lot of money and friends that liked to throw parties in their shitty apartments.

One such celebration of alcohol was The Lingerie Party.  Now 19 year-old Brantley had heard legends of lingerie parties, but was skeptical of their existence.  The concept was too awesome and it always seemed to happen to someone else.  I guess skepticism is the wrong word.  19 year-old Brantley thought of Lingerie parties as “winning the lottery” or “seeing a super majestic bald eagle doing its thing” – he knew that those things did indeed happen, but that they didn’t happen to many people despite everyone’s longing for them.

Well this time around, I was invited and I looked forward to the event with both excitement and trepidation.  You see, I was still self-medicating a lot of social anxiety at the time and if I didn’t get the dosage strong enough, I had a tendency to sweat like someone with a serious medical condition.  Being in nothing but my underwear, there was a strong chance that I would be making it rain on the whole party unless I somehow managed to attach the keg directly to my face.

I coolly suggested to Bobby that we grab some robes or like Hugh Heffner smoking jackets.  I also jokingly, but actually totally seriously, asked him, “So what’s the boner policy at lingerie parties?”  “Don’t get one,” he replied tersely.  Then the robes were more important than ever.

Helping Girls Shop for Lingerie

For some reason, Bobby and I accompanied a ton of the girls to the fancy mall so that they could go shopping for lingerie.  I thought the idea of being on hand to provide a male perspective to girls looking for skimpy underwear was a dream come true.  In reality, however, there are few responses that a slack-jawed 19 year-old boy can give to a lingerie-consumer requesting feedback (and none of them are particularly respectful).

Now at that point in my life, I wasn’t articulate enough to say things like:  “Women shouldn’t be viewed or treated like sex objects that exist solely for men’s amusement and gratification,” but something along those lines was clicking deep down inside of me.  I realized that these were more than just half-naked girls that I would soon be getting drunk with.  They were friends that I respected.  It was almost as if they were human beings equal to myself, you know?

After a few awkward moments of babbled feedback, Bobby and I absconded to the food court and ate meatball subs from Firehouse.

Bobby’s Weird Lime Chicken

The night of the party, the plan was for the boys to prepare dinner for the girls and then we would all part ways to get dolled up and go to this sexy underwear kegger.  Bobby took head chef duty, and we made this weird lime chicken that most people pushed around their plates politely before tossing into the trash.  Out of stubborn loyalty, I opted for seconds.  In a lifetime full of mistakes, this decision still stands prominently within the regret regions of my brain.

Unsurprisingly, Bobby and I were stripped down and ready to go to the party within minutes and the girls took much longer.  To be honest, I don’t remember all that much of the actual event once we got there.  I remember puking in the bathroom after just a few beers and being a good enough friend not to immediately blame Bobby’s Weird Lime Chicken.  I remember different scantily-clad girls sitting in my lap on the balcony next to the keg.  There really wasn’t any intra-KITT drama at that point, so it was a pretty tame affair as far as shit shows go.

The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery

Most importantly, however, I remember The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery ever to draw breath within our douche bag infested world.  He strutted around the small apartment with his chest puffed out and his arms held away from his sides like some kind of monkey with vertigo.  “I go to the gym a lot!” his body language shouted.  His hair was thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly gelled into spikes.  He wore sunglasses.  Inside.  At night.  Indoors.  At this nocturnal event.  Where there was no sun.  His heart boxers were cute but cliche.  But here’s the best part:  He wore about a half dozen Magnum condoms around his constantly-flexed bicep as a kind of arm band.  I wish I was a talented enough writer to make this up.

Naturally, I played him in beer pong.  Occasionally in a long-tenured beer pong career, you will encounter complaints that the cups don’t have enough beer in them.  The result is that they move around when the ball hits the side and the movement prevents the shot from going in.  It’s a real complaint, albeit an insulting one to make to someone far more interested in beer than pong.  The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery claimed that under filled cups were the cause of his beer pong mediocrity.  Every time.  After every shot that bounced off the cups and didn’t go in:  “Is there even any beer in that cup?”  I’m certain that if he acted this way at every party he attended, it was only a matter of time before someone’s fist decided that he had too many teeth in his mouth.

I don’t remember who won that game.  It doesn’t matter.  Pong is just a game.  Beer is a form of enlightenment.

I do remember my partner from the beer pong game sitting in my lap on the balcony later that evening.  The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery, who had been hitting on her and being brutally rebuffed throughout our entire game, strutted stupidly out to where we sat and asked her to grab him a beer.  She laughed in his face.  He grabbed his own beer and dumped it on her (and on me by proxy).  Everyone was on their feet and I don’t remember how I talked this girl out of altering some of his facial features.  I think I was standing in between the two of them and lightly shepherding the douche bag into the apartment, but I’m a pretty non-confrontational guy who totally panics in situations like that, so defusing this bomb was most likely entirely accidental.

The douche left eventually and we all kept partying and having a great time, despite Bobby’s weird lime chicken.

When Fate Graces You with an Apology

A few months later, The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery landed the task of going door to door in college apartment complexes for some reason or other.  I was hanging out with the girl that he dumped beer on when the douche knocked on the door.  He said his piece on whatever it was that he was doing and then awkwardly apologized for that night.  I laughed at it at the time, but now I know how rare it is to hear apologies from random shitheads that you cross paths with in life.  The potential divinity of the moment completely eluded me in that moment, but really, what are the odds of him knocking on that door in that apartment complex precisely at that moment when I was hanging out over there?

I wouldn’t be enlightened enough to see it this way for hundreds more beers.

The Powder Keg Foundation of Keep In Touch Tuesday

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In what could be considered the final triumph over my social awkwardness, I finally found my place in college in the final months of my Freshman year.  A group of friends had formed around my weekly Thursday night beer pong tradition and I had built for myself a social outlet to cure my weekend loneliness.

In the month leading up to finals and our group’s inevitable disbursement for Summer, what I thought was a brilliant idea came to me while I was pumping gas one already-miserably-hot- in- Florida May afternoon.  It was a concept that would eventually assign a name to our doomed conglomerate of people who had no business hanging out with each other.  The idea was this:  If any of us had gone a full week without speaking, we should call, text, IM, or Facebook each other for a Keep In Touch Tuesday tradition.  The idea was born from my colossal failures at keeping in touch with my friends back in Pensacola (failures that are ongoing to this day), but it soon resulted in a Facebook thread that would become the skeleton of our group’s destruction.

You see, we weren’t all friends based on a common interest or similar personality types.  We were friends because beer.  Some individuals bonded more and others, but for the most part, beer.

My Thursday night watch LOST and then get hammered thing began as me grabbing whomever I could interest to come into my room and be buddies for a little while.  The population in that tiny dorm was initially made up of people living on my floor.  Some of them actually became my pals.  Others drank beer, had a good time and were never heard from again.

The moment Elle stepped foot in my smells-real-strong-like-dude dorm room, that all began to change.  The first night she came over, she brought an empty-headed sorority girl that she was friends with from back home.  That girl never came back, but Elle did.  Every single week from that point forward.  She began bringing different people each time (including my longtime friends Katie and Ashlyn – who like my girlfriend probably feel like they deserved to be mentioned more often in this blog!).

The combination of my hodgepodge of dorm community-mates and Elle’s endless parade of newcomers fused into the earliest manifestations of our group, which in a tremendously stupid move would eventually come to call themselves “KITT.”  Keep In Touch Tuesday.  We were literally calling ourselves Keep In Touch Tuesday.  Those of us with enough sense to know that this was dumb just kept our mouths shut because everyone else seemed pretty happy with the group name.

As I have alluded to in previous posts, my friendship with Elle was always a ticking time bomb.  We were studying the same thing.  We both liked alcohol.  Other than that, we had a similar sense of humor and a frequent tendency to be inebriated.  There were a lot of key differences and personality clashes that we ignored because yay booze.

The origins of our grand friendship came on a fateful night when I drank myself into a state of hyperbolic appreciation.  In a fatefully slurred series of sentences, I declared Elle my “BFF.”  It might have been a joke, it might have been drunkenly sincere.  Who can ever remember such things?

BFFs we remained for several months.  We started planning short films and productions together, discussing possibilities for after graduation.  That’s right.  I told this girl she was my best friend while we were intoxicated and we soon found ourselves planning a future together.

That BFF status endured longer than it should have.  After being turned down by the girl I liked (Mallory) and venting to Elle that I needed some space from her while I got over it, Elle delivered Mallory straight to my door within the next 12 hours in a move as stupid and self-centered as it was prophetic to our friendship’s collapse.  They wanted to get drunk and have fun, Brantley’s broken heart be damned.

Elle was as “there for me” as she could be during the jumblefuck of The Last Girl I Ever Led On and The Greatest First Date Ever, though I had another outlet that was a far better shoulder to cry on.  She presumably read my rants, ravings, and confessions as I communicated them to her through instant message, but she wasn’t all that great at consoling me or making me feel better.  I didn’t hold it against her, because I’m not the greatest at giving advice either and also she was fun to hang out with when beer.

After a Summer full of hysterical and entertaining communication via the Keep In Touch Tuesday Facebook thread, our entire group of friends was thrilled to physically reunite in the Fall Semester of Sophomore year.  What we didn’t know was that we hadn’t actually been around each other enough to discover that we didn’t actually get along, but that’s an epic that will unfold over a future series of strange anecdotes.

As for my BFF-dom with Elle, she joined a sorority that fall and our differences became more apparent.  I’m sorry to generalize, but sororities tend to worry entirely too much about things that mean entirely too little.  I appreciate that these events and social dynamics are important to the “sisters,” but to an outsider they are trivial, tedious, and nauseating.  I did my best not to hold her Greek affiliation against her, but Elle and I were beginning to drift and become separate people in those first months of Sophomore year.

The space gave me enough breathing room to realize that Elle wasn’t a good person, and some of her faults would soon affect me personally in ways that became increasingly more difficult to forgive.

But that’s for another time.

Be on the look out for KITT posts with more details about how our group that was founded on a faulty friendships dramatically (read “ridiculously”) collapsed.

The Bar Epiphany

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I have a recurring epiphany that pounces on me at bars sometimes:  I’m so unbelievably thankful to have found my girlfriend when and where I did.  When I’m at a bar and she isn’t around, I can’t help but notice people looking to make some boozy love connections and realize how hopelessly inept I would be at finding romance in such a way. 

The first time these thoughts and the ensuing gratitude assaulted me, I was extremely drunk before even stepping foot in the bar.  As the friends I came with went and danced, I thought to myself, “Sweet Jesus I hate dancing and if dancing were my only chance at meeting the girl of my dreams, I would certainly die alone.”  I immediately drunk texted my girlfriend to let her know how lucky I was to have her.  

The epiphany struck again last night when I went out for drinks with a few co-workers.  A fairly nice girl was telling me about her hobby of collecting shoes (Air Jordans in particular) and showing me pictures of the pair that she has coming in the mail.  

I wasn’t bored out of my mind, but there was no connection there.  Sometimes I talk to people and feel like I have absolutely zero in common with them.  I don’t hold it against that person and I’m certainly not rude to them.  

I like hearing about other people’s lives as they would tell it.  Mostly because I think that there always exists an abundance of sub-plots, half-truths, and ulterior motives between the lines; but  I also enjoy comparing and contrasting my perception of the person with the perception that they try to project with their stories.  There are three identities at play:  Who I think they are, Who they tell me they are, and Who they really think they are.  I tumbled down the rabbit hole pondering these things as I listened to her life story prior to moving to Florida.  Drinking a Fat Tire, struggling to listen over the din of a mediocre house band, and contemplating some of the complexities of human nature combine for multi-tasking far beyond my capabilities.  I could never have met the love of my life at a bar, and I would have become a miserable, cynical human being had I ever tried. 

Notes From My Girlfriend’s Birthday

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This is over a month late, but oh well.

I’m beginning to realize that I have a tremendously introverted time at bars.  That being said, here are a few of the things that I remember thinking when we went out for my girlfriend’s birthday.

We took Uber, which is basically a freelance cab service.  It was awesome and cheap, though my mom scolded me publicly on Facebook which (aside from providing her with right wing propaganda) seems to be the only way that she uses social networking.  “They don’t do background checks on those people!  They could be bad drivers and/or axe murderers!”  Something along those lines.  You know, typical mom stuff.

Our first bar was Little Indie’s.  It was a hipster dive with provocative pictures of nude pin-up girls providing the entirety of the decor in this building that literally had plywood walls in places.  There were a few booths and high tops for people to congregate around and a VJ stood by the door, playing music in front of a flat screen TV with VH1 Classic on mute.  The music didn’t match the music videos, which was equal parts off-putting and exhilarating.  The unisex bathroom had two beaten up movie theater chairs facing the toilet.  We all know that girls tend to accompany each other to the restroom, but I had never thought of it being a spectator thing.  The bar area was pretty cool and they had a couple dozen craft beers along with some very convoluted cocktails with fascinating names.  

We left and went downtown to Bar-B-Que Bar/Eye Spy/Sky60, which are all connected and semi-indecipherable to me.  I just read on Facebook that the whole trio is shutting down, which is a shame because they’re weird and I like that.  We pushed our way past crowds up to Sky60, which is a rooftop dance party with a decent view of the city skyline.  

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t enjoy dancing, so I occupied myself with getting us drinks and found myself in a purely utopian situation.  The bartender was pretty awful at her job.  Dozens of people were shoving their way to the bar top to assail her for beverages and she was clearly overwhelmed.  I stood politely waiting my turn, taking note of who arrived before me and after me so as to assert my place in the sequence should the need arise.  Some guys shoved in next to me and demanded some drinks.  The bewildered bartender told them that they would have to wait their turns and that because they were being ass holes it wouldn’t be any time soon.  

It was a nice-person-ocracy.  I received preferential treatment based solely on my understanding smile and manners.  I wrote encouraging remarks on the receipt when I signed it:  “You’re doing a great job!”  I added a smiley face just to emphasize that I wasn’t being sarcastic because in reality she was doing a dreadful job.  Even though this bartender seemed flabbergasted by the receipt printer for a solid 5 minutes at one point, I kept going back to her to have my faith in the worthwhileness of courtesy reaffirmed.  

Next to me, a very skinny guy tried to buy drinks for a girl behind him with no fewer than three declined credit cards.  

For some strange reason, a pack of a half-dozen fat girls kept migrating from this side of the dance floor to that side of the dance floor.  Unable to repeatedly part like the Red Sea for them, they shoved their way past us like linebackers and I wasn’t drunk enough that it didn’t annoy me thoroughly.  I contemplated rallying the troops for a game of Red Rover in which we held our ground against the migratory girls.  More comically, I toyed with the idea of twerking on them each time they walked past until they decided to take an alternate route.  

One of my girlfriend’s co-workers apologized to me for buying her so many drinks as we left the bar.  She was staggering forward in front of us as we neared the stairwell.  “So long as she doesn’t fall down the stairs, I won’t hold it against you!” I joked approximately twenty seconds before she twisted her ankle on the third step from the bottom.  

There’s a small cafe that sells pizza by the slice at the base of the stairwell.  It gets mobbed with drunk people around 2 AM.  We joined the line to grab a slice, hoping to stave off the nausea portion of tomorrow’s hangover with tonight’s junk food.  I bought her a slice of cheese, for myself, a slice of pepperoni and sausage.  It came out to like $7 somehow.  The pizza was terrible.  It was like a New York style Totino’s pizza that was over-microwaved and then left out to get cold.  This place stayed in business not because of the quality product that it provided, but sheerly based on its proximity to inebriated people.  Why?  Why would you want to own such a shitty business?  How could you aspire to mediocrity?  They would have been better off ordering Domino’s and selling it by the slice.  I couldn’t stave off the annoyance.  I’ve made homemade pizza without any clear idea of what I was doing and it came out 100x better than these crappy slices.  

I handed my girlfriend her slice, pulled out my phone to call for an Uber, and then turned back around seconds later to find that she had already somehow misplaced her pizza.  

Books I’ll Never Read:

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I’ve started listening to audiobooks I sit in traffic on the way to and from work.  It has given me a chance to enjoy some great works of literature that I would never have found the time to sit down and read otherwise.

So far, I’ve listened to:

  • The Call of Cthulu and At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft:  Both are awesomely verbose and dark.   Their brevity made for quick listens and kept me from getting bogged down in the thick language.  Lovecraft does such a great job of exploring the dangers of man’s curiosity.  
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway:  I was really into the romance of Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley at first, but then I felt like it never really developed into a realistic relationship between two loving adults.  I know that gender roles and expectations were different back then (and that masculinity is a virtue in any Hemingway story), but I’ve had deeper conversations with complete strangers than these two star-crossed lovers ever engaged in.  It is a great story, and beautifully written.  For about a week after finishing it, I obsessed over the idea of moving to Europe for the sole purpose of drinking too much and writing a few books.  Then, my beautiful girlfriend explained to me the process of our Magic dog being quarantined for like weeks and weeks before being cleared to move about the continent and we both glumly agreed that it was a deal breaker.  
  • The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway:  I cared much less for this audiobook.  It featured a bizarre, overacted performance and lots of seagull sound effects.  The story is pretty depressing as well.  I guess we’re all struggling against nature and even our greatest conquests will be reclaimed over time as we dry up and become old men.  Not exactly a premise I care to dwell on as I try to avoid the black hole of self-doubt that is being 25 years old and struggling to make ends meet while working two crappy jobs.  
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac:  I can see why this story inspired so many people to pull up their roots and become wanderers.  The details of the plot made me sad, though.  I feel like the era in which people could just jump in their cars and drive coast to coast, shirking all responsibility in search of adventure is over.  Gas is too expensive.  You’d have to have a pretty kick ass job to afford half of the things that these characters did.  Most jobs that pay that well won’t let you go roaming for months at a time at the drop of a hat.  Abandon your nagging practicality if you plan on reading this book.
  • The Tell Tale Heart, A Cask of Amontillado, and The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe:  These three tales were a BBC production, read by Christopher Lee and I’m convinced that if you aren’t reading Edgar Allen Poe in Saruman’s voice, you’re just doing it wrong.  With a sprinkling of spooky sound effects and some creepy music before and after each story, these three performances were good old-fashioned fun.  I really enjoyed the plots as well, even though I’m sure that there must have been something very, very, very wrong with Edgar Allen Poe for being able to embody madness and murder so acutely.  
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley:  I’m convinced that no one has ever read this book.  Every popular film adaptation that I’ve ever seen has been no more than 5% faithful.  I kept patting myself on the back for knowing all of the big words used by the narrators of this tale, but then it got a bit old.  It was as if the author always used the largest applicable word in her lexicon.  It was pompous and the diction was supercilious (see I can do it too), and yes I know that people spoke differently back then, but it still made for drudgery in muddling through the story.  I also found my inner action-movie fanatic enchanted by the concept of two mortal enemies bent on each other’s destruction in an eternal chase for vengeance.  That is, of course, until they failed to punch each other in the face.  A cool story, if exhaustingly told.  
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis:  The film adaptation with Christian Bale has always been in my top five favorite movies of all time.  I had heard rumor that the novel’s Patrick Bateman was a far more sinister individual, so I had to check it out.  At first, I hated the stream of conscious narration.  I’m not a fashion/style guy, so hearing Patrick describing everyone he ever comes into contact with head to to by their clothes bored me silly.  It feels extra tedious having it read to you.  Eventually, I got used to it and came to the conclusion that stream of conscious writing takes on a deeper meaning when you listen to it in an audiobook.  I literally had Patrick Bateman’s thoughts in my head.  This made his bloodlust and perversion far more grotesque and disturbing than if I had the psychological distance of reading it on a page.  The first person narration is enough to keep you up at night.  On a side note, the titular character’s acts of violence against dogs disturbed me even more than his butchery of women.  I guess that makes me a crazy person who likes animals more than people?  Or maybe I’ve just been more desensitized to that kind of thing given my propensity for grisly horror movies.
  • The Prince by Machiavelli:  Aside from bringing to light my enormous ignorance of European history, this book made me realize that probably every power-hungry fictional character since its publication was based on the ideas of Machiavelli.  It reads like Tywin Lannister’s love letters to Frank Underwood.  I highly recommend it to all unconscionable, ambitious, aspiring rulers of the world.  
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton:  I still can’t believe that the author was only 16 when he wrote this story.  It’s so freaking simple, but so freaking good.  I listened to the ending while I was out running and almost choked up like a doofus as I sweated to death on the sidewalk.  It’s a short little book.  Go read it now. 
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:  I freaking loved this book.  The diction and syntax were the perfect balance of poise and restraint.  It’s exactly what I aspire to (obviously to little avail).  It’s fluffier than Hemingway, but not so verbose and pompous as Victorian lit.  I’m undecided on whether or not I wish I had read this book prior to seeing the movie.  Part of me wishes that I didn’t see the climax coming, but another part of me realizes the blood rage I would have been in had I fallen in love with this book prior to seeing Baz Luhrmann’s cartoonish adaptation.  Nick Carraway’s narration has inspired within me a deep, broiling hatred for Tobey Maguire.

Next Up:  The Stranger by Albert Camus, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Scott Thompson, The Catcher in the Rye by:  J.D. Sallinger, and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

Have any recommendations for great books that I’ll never have time to read that I should seek out in audiobooks? 

Freelance Writing Update:

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On July 1, I kicked off a more serious pursuit of freelance writing.  It’s been quite an emotional roller coaster so far and I haven’t made enormous gains, but I’m still optimistic.  I began my gig hunting with a wide open mind.  This led me to read a lot of job postings for opportunities that I’m not in the least bit qualified for.  That led to me becoming really bummed out.  Eventually I put that approach on hold to pursue another one.  More on that in a little bit.

My biggest accomplishment in the past month was easily the writing Fellowship that I’ve scored with TheDodo.com.  It’s like BuzzFeed for wildlife and conservation.  I’ve published two articles with them and both have made the front page!  They advertise that they are working with the same venture capital groups that were behind BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, so hopefully I’m getting in on the ground floor of something that could go really big!  

My one complaint about this website is that they pay 45 days after the end of the month that you publish the article (according to a Writer’s Agreement that they made me sign).  I was, however, paid within 10 days for my first post so I have no idea when to expect checks in the mail from this website.  At least I know that they weren’t lying about paying me though!  

The goal of 100% self-sufficiency through freelance writing has both sustained me and pushed me to the brink of a nervous breakdown.  You see, I haven’t shown off my writing very much, and so the idea of putting myself in position to be published in a wider way has been pretty terrifying.  So naturally, I used my go-to technique for handling scary things:  avoiding them at all costs.  I worked on everything but the things that frightened me.  I half-wrote like three articles while researching several more, all the while guaranteeing myself that I would never finish anything that I could publish.  All of my writing has to be squeezed in between my two jobs, so eventually the time drain of never finishing anything weighed on me heavily.  

I was throwing the ball for my dog in the yard as I researched the fates of failed presidential candidates.  I wasn’t paying attention to fetch.  I just picked up the ball when Magic dog brought it back and then chucked it into the pool for him to swim after again.  It wasn’t long before the ball smashed into the little frosted lights that hang from the overhang of our back porch.  Tiny white glass shards spread all over the pool deck and (I feared) into the pool itself.  

That’s when I lost my damned mind.  

I had put so much pressure on myself and I had so little time for writing that picking up these tiny pieces of glass would leave me with less than half an hour to pursue my ambitions.  I led the dog away from the scene of the accident, brought him inside, dried him off, and then went back out to search for glass shards.  

Frosted white glass on a white concrete pool deck on a sunny Florida (read “unbearably hot”) day don’t make for a fun scavenger hunt.  I looked high and low and didn’t find nearly enough glass.  I swept everywhere within a 10 foot radius of the incident.  That’s when I feared that the glass was in the pool and conjured horrifying mental images of my pup accidentally swallowing glass-laden water while joyfully swimming towards his orange rubber ball.  I started cleaning the pool thoroughly, vacuuming and skimming to no avail.  I was defeated.  We couldn’t let the dog near the area until I found more of the glass (which I did find in a small gutter next to the back patio a few days later).

This was the first time that I realized how much pressure I was putting on myself.  

That’s when I came up with what seemed to be a great way of coping with my self-inflicted frustration:  I would write a quirky, charming biography of myself from the point of view of my writer’s block!  I was a half-dozen pages into the project when I realized that I wasn’t all that interested in it and that it only served as a way for me to feel productive about avoiding writing that could be more realistically published.  

As I mentioned before, I abandoned depressing job hunting because it was eroding my soul and undermining my elusive, occasional, and probably hypothetical self-confidence.  I altered my strategy to involve finding out what the market would bear in terms of selling my writing to leads that I had already located.  I would bank articles and then try to sell them in bulk.  (Ex:  This site pays $100/post and they bought 5 posts from me in one week.  Thus they are good for $500/week).  Just to keep myself from regaining too much sanity, I created an arbitrary deadline to strive towards and stressed myself out by forgetting its meaninglessness.  

I had 4 out of 5 articles ready to sell to a website that I had never worked with before.  I would write the fifth article over the course of the week.  That was the plan.  Upon delivering the first post, I realized that hidden on the website as a lengthy list of Writer’s Guidelines that I had never seen before.  Committed to my imaginary deadline, I observed the ones that I could and ignored the rest.  

The article was rejected with a form letter.  I crumpled into despair, certain that I couldn’t possibly reach my goal now.  The next day, I moped more heavily than usual as I read carefully through the Writer’s Guidelines and realized that of the 5 posts I intended to sell that week, only one might be of any interest to the website.  I had jumped the gun in a fit of courage and now I had reaffirmed my mercurial low self-esteem.  I thanked them for reviewing the article and adjusted my goal to getting one thing that I had written accepted by the site.  

Once we had a more solid relationship, I reasoned, I would better understand what they would and would not buy from me.  I realized that this would need to be my approach with other leads as well.  

In the meantime, I was a neglectful jerk to my girlfriend who I treated like an obstacle to my ambition.  She confronted me on it and I saw how much of a turd I had been and reevaluated my obsession with fictional pressures that I put on myself and how I let them affect the person I love the most.  

I revised my one last hope, an article about hate groups that was surprisingly thoroughly miserable to write.  Did you know that we live in such a politically divided country that we can’t even seem to agree on who is and is not a hate group?  

I adhered to their guidelines, submitted it, and received a more cordial rejection.  This time it was a human responding.  They said it just wasn’t a good fit, but that they would love to give me feedback on some pitches before I spent the time to write another full article to submit to them.  

You better believe I took them up on that offer!  I pitched about 5 potential articles and thanked them for taking the time to review my much hated hate groups post, also asking if it was rejected for form/style or content.  

Now I’m re-tooling the hate groups post to pitch it elsewhere.  I’ve got about 12 hours of excessive research, rough drafting, and revision into this stupid post so I’ve gotta sell it somewhere!  

In the meantime, I’ve realized that writing web content is enjoyable and fun.  Even though the research takes hours sometimes, it’s a really awesome way to learn new things about this big weird world that we’re living in.  With that in mind, I’m going to take up my job search once more with a narrower focus on the type of writing that I find interesting.  Hopefully it will stave off the boringness of corporate form postings and the depression of confronting my limited professional-experience.  

In the meantime, here are my published posts from the first month of my freelance pursuits:

How You Can Help 6 Critically Endangered Species with Populations of 500 or Less:

https://www.thedodo.com/fellows-pitch-6-critically-end-628725703.html 

A Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Universal Studios:

http://www.americansky.co.uk/blog/muggles-guide-wizarding-world-harry-potter-universal-studios

8 Endangered Species Making Epic Comebacks:

https://www.thedodo.com/8-endangered-species-making-ep-652564299.html

A Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Islands of Adventure:

http://www.americansky.co.uk/blog/muggles-guide-wizarding-world-harry-potter-islands-adventure