This review was written for Wildcat 91.9 and originally published on wildcat919.com.
A spattering of students and others gathered in the Union Courtyard this past Friday night to take in some well-deserved music, commemorating their survival of the semester’s first week. A light trickling of attendees gradually filed in to the (somewhat bewildering choice of) Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” It is worth noting that though we would be in for a night of hip-hop, Skrillex’s throwbacks to my pre-pubescence would be a mainstay of the evening. Small cliques of audience members began to form across the floor as those that came with each other gravitated closer together; the surrounding levels above were dotted with audience members prepared to enjoy the show from their eagle-eyed distance.
As the somewhat incongruous transitionary playlist began to fade, our first artist, a local rapper originally from Junction City by the name of d.Reasco, took to the stage. d.Reasco’s energy erupted immediately and impressively, especially when considering the series of stoic islands that were the attendees making up the sea of the audience. For all the initial reticence and isolationism the small number of audience members were each attempting to maintain in the seemingly cavernous space of the Courtyard, d.Reasco was able to convey his thrill to his onlookers. Playing a mixture of original and covered songs, d.Reasco introduced us to his own artistic self while also inviting us into his art world through the familiar lines of songs such as Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang,” a veritable masterpiece. d.Reasco gave an enthusiastic performance to the point of breathlessness—more specifically, his own, as he finished one song early with a jokingly panting “Damn y’all, I fucked up. I’m really out of breath.
However, for all the successes of the performance, it was not without its complications. The cross-cultural awareness was somewhat lacking in the song “The Garden v.s The Honey Bees” which included a line detailing how he was “smoking so much weed that [his] eyes are Japanese.” To further his point, during that line, d.Reasco reinforced his stereotypical representation by pulling both eyes into a squint with his forefingers, complementing the lyricism with this equally disconcerting visual to drive the imagery home.
Following d.Reasco (and the subsequent Skrillex resurgence during the break) was Manhattan staple Hype Man Kel. Kel appeared on stage to a gradually increasing crowd, and swept us up into his world immediately. Energy overflowed as Kel bounded back and forth across the stage, presenting both his own and his covers of songs at the audience. I’ve said this before in a concert review I did for the Collegian, but smaller artists’ use of covers in their set provides a great invitation for the crowd to bridge the gap of generally not knowing this artist; this is an enormously effective move which I very much appreciate and which Kel used to high levels of success.
Another “However,” the transitions between his songs didn’t necessarily sit all too well with me. In what seemed like nearly every break between songs, Kel would appeal to the “fellas” in the audience to make sure they were “holdin’ onto their honies” or “doing them right.” My memory somewhat fails me, but I don’t believe he used the word “doing.” Hip-hop is a genre which has had a significant history of misogyny and homophobia, so I understand the cultural basis on which he stands. Additionally, this is not an accusation of active or aggressive misogyny or homophobia. However, his inclination toward only addressing the men, his assumption that every man in the audience would be straight, and that his only mention of the women was by extension of their relationships to the men in their lives all manifests as a form of passive misogyny and heteronormativity that I hope we can move away from. Hype Man Kel is a great musician and performer, and going forward, I hope he can become very conscious ones too.
Finally, after our last Skrillex break, two UPC workers appeared onstage to introduce the final act and the draw which had now brought the audience to its peak capacity, Smino. In their introductions, the UPC representatives relayed “just a few housekeeping things” for the concert: the audience may only take pictures during the first three songs of the concert and may not take videos at any point. In the midst of the audience’s reactionary confusion, the main act was introduced and appeared onstage. In a pair of light grew sweatpants and white t-shirt peeking out the bottom of an appropriately chosen (or given) “Kansas State University” sweatshirt, Smino was now gracing us with an announcement of “just a few housekeeping things: I don’t know what the fuck that was, take as many videos as y’all want let’s go.” And we were off.
His voice, a hallmark of his music, as previously mentioned, is pretty goofy. But, a beautiful, practical goofiness. He slides in and out of the multitude of his voices as he needs them; a tool belt of vocals, and he the handyman. His music is characterized by his vocal variety and range, and a live Smino does not disappoint in that regard. His full range of voice is wonderfully accessible to him, as well as a captivating— and somewhat unexpected for me personally-- singing voice which he used to its fullest in many acapella renditions of song intros and outros. As his fame grows and his unique voice becomes heard, I would love to hear a Humanz-esque Gorillaz collaboration. With Gorillaz knack for using unique voices— think Danny Brown in “Submission,” Vince Staples in “Ascension,” Kilo Kish in “Out of Body” – to their fullest, I have a feeling that partnership could be an orchard’s worth of fruitful.
Smino was an attention-grabbing, witty, and technically impressive performer. His music thus far—of which I have listened to his album, “blkswn,” and highly recommend—has established a strong base on which this St. Louis rapper may build his musical career. As the concert ended and he wished us goodnight (and crowdsourced afterparty locations), Smino and his DJ left us with some “new, unreleased stuff” that’s beginnings felt reminiscent of the weighty, outer-spatial-synth sounds of Vince Staples’ Detroit techno infused “Big Fish Theory.” As I left the concert with the lingerings of Smino’s musical future fading in the back of my mind, I looked forward to this artist filling much more than a Union Courtyard during Syllabus Week.
This is a research-assisted essay written for Dr. Elizabeth Dodd's ENGL 665 - Advanced Creative Nonfiction class in the Fall of 2019. A "research-assisted essay" is something of a blend between a traditional research essay and a personal essay. It's less formal than a traditional research essay, but the research drives the story.
Ella Dawson’s relationship with the internet has changed over the years. A 12ish year old online-Ella found her way into her first social media: a freshly minted Myspace page with the sweet serenades of Seattle’s most famous grunge as her background song. When Ella was a freshman in high school, Facebook opened its digital doors to non-college students, and she was in. After that, the internet would always be—in one way or another—a part of her day to day.
Most importantly, they both occupied the same space online, and that was enough to develop the back-and-forth, writer/editor relationship that could be rivaled only by the Ellison/Erskine’s and Heller/Gottlieb’s of the world. The inevitable disconnect of this type of relationship, though, first shined through in a message Ella received from her online friend.
“You know, we’re hiring actually!” Christina shared after some time working with Ella. “We’re looking for a freelancer to do this gig for us and you’re a really wonderful writer. Are you looking for any kind of copy-writing work?”
“I am a minor…?” Ella typed back, imagining the difficulty of balancing a freelance workload with her upcoming paper on The Great Gatsby.
“First of all,” Christina hastily wrote back, “I am so sorry!”
Their editorial relationship continued— though a little more reserved on Christina’s part— for a time following this.
Since Christina, since Draco, Hermione, and LiveJournal, Ella (now @brosandprose on Twitter) has experienced a wide breadth of internet relationships. There are those which end positively— a fellow young journalist who DMs her to meet up when he moves into her area; they commiserate over how broken the internet has left their brains. Constant stimulation and exposure to what seems like a never ending cycle of posts and opinions and just generally garbage will do that to a human brain, they share over burgers. But then, as one may expect from internet relationships, there are… others.
In the blog post “A Friendly Reminder That You Don’t Know Me,” we see, through Ella’s words, harassment from a “fan” online. Incessant tweets piled into her notifications from an account following only two people— Ella and Ellen DeGeneres. Unless Ellen was getting the same attention, it’s safe to assume this account was made with a focus on Ella in mind. His bathroom mirror selfie of a profile picture appeared over and over again in her notifications, comments on how “beautiful” and “attractive” Ella is, assuring her he didn’t care the she had herpes. She made it clear to him in replies that his incessant words were making her uncomfortable, which he quickly, and opportunistically, misread as invitation for more “conversation.”
“@brosandprose no never I’m sorry I was just telling you that you’re a beautiful woman I’ve been wanting to make a Twitter,” his words thrown at Ella in lackluster defense of himself.
“@brosandprose and like I said I’m sorry I’m a nice guy I have a heart only reason I followed you because I thought you had a good heart 2 :(“ Sad face indeed.
But, as Ella says in the blog, perhaps most telling:
“@brosandprose you’re not the person I saw on YouTube your judgemental you treated me like crap for no reason and I never once judged you”
How do we know someone we don’t know? How do we balance that inherently precarious relationship? Creators, public figures, and even just particularly online people put pieces of themselves out into the world through the internet. What kind of invitation does that open up for those who are able to see it? And what obligation do those recipients have to respond?
Ella writes often about sexuality and sexual health. She digs into the misconceived world of hookup culture, writes erotica, and is an advocate for those feeling the stigmatization that comes with an STI, as she herself has. Through that writing, though, she becomes an unwilling participant in a number of conversations. Are there those messages from significantly older, intrusive men leering through their keyboards? Obviously, this is the internet. But the messages that linger more and take up guilt-heavy space in her internet-broken brain are those from, for example, a young teen in the Midwest who was just diagnosed with herpes, who is feeling lost and alone.
Ella stops, staring at the message. This isn’t the first time a call for help like this has appeared in her inbox.
“Then I feel like a failure, then I spiral out,” she recites with the quick cadence of someone who has endured this routine before. “Then I need to close the app and remember I can’t do everything, I can’t help everyone.”
But for all of the messages she must conflictedly ignore and all of the “You’re Not the Person I Saw on YouTube” guys she will un-conflictedly ignore, the internet can still be a place for community. Ella shares a “poppin’” group chat with other herpes activists who write and work in the same anti-stigmatizing ways she does.
“I’ve never met either of them in real life, but I’ve known them online for what feels like years,” she says, a smile shining through her voice.
“There are weirdos online,” Ella explains, “and then there are people who are really nice and respectful— you just have to sort through them.”
This puts Nathan in a unique position. Nowadays, he sets more boundaries about who all can access the Man Behind the Beef, and how intimately. But that was not always the brand of Steak-umm’s account.
In the first two years of Nathan’s running the account, Steak-umm received— in his words— “a loooooot” of DMs and tweets from its young followers who felt a personal connection to those behind the account. This was an institution of sorts, an established brand that posted things such as “do you beelieevee in life after beef” and “happy friday everybody remember that in life sometimes you're the steak and sometimes you're the umm time is a flat circle.” It’s easy to gravitate toward a voice which “speaks” like yours, a personality which has the same apathetic tendencies that consume what seems like most heavy Twitter users like Steak-umm’s satisfied customers consume frozen beef sheets. It also helps when the account posts things like,
“alright we're hitting the steaksack for the night but seriously we love you all and just remember if you ever need anything, even just a beef to talk to, hit us up
And so they did. From abusive relationships to eating disorders, mental health issues like depression and anxiety to not knowing what they want to do with their lives as the prospect of college and careers looms overhead, young Steak-umm fans flooded into these beef sheets’ DMs. Hyper-conscious of the fact that the extent of his counseling qualifications was running an influential meat-based meme account, Nathan stuck mainly to asking questions and being a digital ear to listen, and when he did feel the need to offer advice, remained as generic as possible.
He opened the message to find a book’s length detailing the toxic relationship the follower was in. He detailed the issues he and his boyfriend were having, and was reaching out for help and advice.
“it sounds like you already know the situation you’re in is bad, and you know what you need to do,” Nathan— through the voice of Steak-umm— cautiously advised.
One year later, a notification popped up in Steak-umm’s DMs. “hey, I’m just letting you know that i appreciated you even getting back to that message i sent forever ago,” the same boy said. “i ended up breaking up with that person, i feel way better, and they’re happier.”
Nathan fielded these messages as well as he could. When he thought they were out of the purview of Steak-umm, he redirected followers to his personal account to continue the conversations. Through these DMs, he built relationships. He met and helped people online, people who he has gone on to— in possibly the most telling sentence of our time— do “lunch, and coffee, and podcasts with.” All of these people who are just looking for a connection, some guidance, or at least mutual confusion. And though there are the times that things can “get kind of squirrely,” when it goes right, Nathan loves this.
“Cool, this is awesome,” he says while reflecting on these relationships. “It’s working in the kind of way the internet is intended to work at its best.”
Or, in the words of Steak-umm:
“…young people today have it the best and the worst. there's so much to process and very few trusted, accessible outlets to process it all through. so they go to memes. they go to obscure or absurdist humor. they go to frozen meat companies on twitter. end rant
Zach St. Clair (@zarcasticness) does not know either of these people. Zach is a college student who is deathly afraid of the self-reflection that would come if he ever actually checked his Screen Time .
Club Penguin, Poptropica, and most of all, Pirates of the Caribbean Online filled Zach’s after school free time. As a child, Zach knew a lot less about what addiction is, though it may have been helpful context
A gruff, virtual pirate Zach stands on the pixelated beach of Tortuga. Another player, a virtual woman in a weathered three point hat and worn leather overcoat, approaches.
“Level 16?” she inquires in reference to the experience level floating above virtual Zach’s own hat. A level that high comes only one of two ways, money or time. “How much are you paying for your subscription?”
Today, Zach likes making bad jokes on Twitter and admiring the bad jokes and great thoughts of people like Ella and Nathan. Through the strangeness of the internet, he’s made some… nontraditional friendships? That questions mark is there because it feels somewhat difficult to describe a blossoming friendship with someone who is halfway across the country from you and you first met when you matched on Tinder while you were on a weekend trip to Philadelphia with your family.
But regardless of the descriptive difficulty, Melissa and Zach have stayed in touch after never actually going on any dates and meeting up twice in person purely by happenstance. Once, Zach was visiting New York City for a broadcast awards conference (nerd) while Melissa happened to be at home which happened to be just north of NYC. Melissa took a train into the city and she and Zach got thin, yet superb, pizza from a hole in the wall and explored Melissa’s favorite Brooklyn warehouse-turned-record shop. Once more, Zach and his partner, Lexi, took a day trip to Philadelphia to see a concert on a Thursday night because Zach accidentally won tickets through another school’s college radio station he follows on Twitter. They stayed on a thin, black futon in Melissa’s dorm for the small amount of time they slept on that trip.
Lexi, Zach’s aforementioned partner, is an interesting case as well. Technically speaking, Zach and Lexi met in person in the medium-fancy foyer of Manhattan, Kansas's Bluemont Hotel at a local music festival called Midfest. Zach stood behind a nearly merchless merch table for his college radio station (budget cuts, what can ya do), when he saw a “familiar” face. Lexi, the photographer for the event, followed Zach on Twitter for nearly a year by this point, and Zach followed her for about the same. As she marched by the table on her way to the next set, Zach flagged her down with abounding confidence.
“Are you… Lexi…?” he apprehensively muttered, moderately nervous about interacting with a cute, real life person.
Even Zach’s closest relationships that found their geneses predominantly offline all, in some kind of way, link back to or are bettered by social media.
Zach’s best friends— David, Jackson, Ryan, Gerit— communicate more regularly through group DMs and texts than in person. As almost bleak as that sounds, it isn’t a failure in reality as much as it is supplementing through the virtual. David and Jackson have graduated and moved, and neither Kansas City nor Austin, Texas, are in Zach’s daily routine. Ryan and Gerit live across town together, so time spent in person is more regular, but several overlappingly busy schedules makes that difficult to do consistently.
In the offline world, I live six hundred miles away from Ella and double that from Nathan. I’ve never met them in real life, and probably never will. But I followed both of them on Twitter because they posted angrily about the fact that interns don’t run brand accounts, and I— the social media student at the time for the much lower stakes K-State Libraries— thought to myself:
The second theme: the internet is a place for communities to form that could never have done so in the offline world. This can be both good and bad. On the positive side of things, Ella talks about meeting other people with internet followings and commiserating over their shared stresses and anxieties, “the kind of things you can’t really explain to other people who haven’t experienced it firsthand.” Even more so, for people like a young, queer person living in a small, stiflingly-conservative town, or a young person of color whose family immigrated to a predominately white community, the internet can be that bridge to similar experiences.
This essay can only touch so much on that, though; everyone represented here is both white and in a heterosexual relationship. A byproduct of the communities I have placed myself in, I imagine. I realized a little too far into this process that the groups I’ve made for myself are predominantly white and straight, something not done with intention but with complacence. And while I may attempt to broaden my multicultural understandings in other ways— through the classes I take, the news I follow— that exclusivity can be a dangerous thing.
For communities that find new space only online, in Nathan’s experience, this concept “is true of all of the coolest— and worst— parts of the internet.” For as much as this makes camaraderie accessible to those most marginalized, it can also create echo chambers for those who do the marginalizing, e.g. Nazis are back. The opportunity to assemble and feel a part of something has become simultaneously vital and vitriolic, a strong contender if the internet ever needed a tagline.
Finally, in tandem with the two previous revelations and to quote a culturally defining part of our generation, we’re all in this together. While it feels like everything is collapsing around us— the impending demise of the environment which for some reason we’re still doing functionally nothing about; the ever-growing student debt crisis which is crippling us immediately after everyone in the world told us we have to go to college; the fact that healthcare in the U.S. is a for profit business that has every regular person on the constant brink of financial destruction; this list could go on but this aside has already been thoroughly abused— at least, when it feels like we have control over nothing else, we can make shitty jokes about it all and feel just a little bit better. And when we see each other making our shitty jokes, and we favorite it, and we DM it to our friends, we know we aren’t doing this alone.
Does this all mean the internet is good? hahahahahah god no. But it’s something we can share. In our ability to find these spaces, to find these people, it almost feels like a power. That maybe— just maybe— in our constant dumpster fire of a world, our togetherness can do something about the impending list of environmental, economic, social, and close-minded afflictions. Maybe a social media literate generation, coming together through comments and posts and jokes and shit, will be able to give some motivation and— if we’re really lucky— some hope to feel just a tiny bit better and make some kind of impact on a positive future, while there still is one.
So, at the end of the day, Zach’s going to keep racking up minutes on his Screen Time. He, Ella, and Nathan, along with all the others who have found themselves sucked into the wonderful chaos of being Online, will keep writing tweets, breaking their brains, and pretending like TikTok is super cringey when in reality they’re definitely addicted to it (the last one may just be Zach). And hopefully, as each day comes to an end, maybe, at some point, they made a new friend.
This is a personal essay written for Dr. Elizabeth Dodd's ENGL 465 - Creative Nonfiction class in the Spring of 2019.
I don’t remember exactly which day it was, but certainly within the first week of January.
It was either the 3rd or the 4th, but truly speaking, it doesn’t really matter. The weather was warm, uncharacteristic of what a January should be, but standard— I suppose— for what January has become. The only true tell of date was that I had free-time, so it can be said with assurance that it happened over break. David, whom I would call a long-time friend despite having met him only two and a half years ago, and I went down to Westport to get brunch.
Now, I lose my mind for brunch— I’m all about it. I was in Kansas City, ostensibly, to visit my parents. I haven’t lived at home since I began college, and the lengths of my intermittent stays have become even less and less as the last time I truly lived there becomes farther and farther behind. This was a trip to make up for that, but after several self-occupying days of my parents at work and several nights yawned away with them in bed at 9 p.m., this trip became for friends.
Which leads us to brunch.
David and I arrived in Westport at about 10:30. The sun peaked through a sky emerging out of its wintry hidings as we approached The Corner Restaurant, an eatery whose name sounds almost generic enough to just actually be a diner serving as background scenery in a movie happily entrenched in clichés, but I assure you is quite real and worth a try. We had attempted it some wayward Sunday ago, but now on this Thursday Friday Whatever, the restaurant was at nothing more than a light bustle, far less mid-morning meal competition.
We went to sit down, weaving in and out of wait staff whose long, black tee shirts and obviously unexercised Nike shoes made them look collectively ready to step in as the lead singer of X Ambassadors at a moment’s notice, and David and I began chatting. It hadn’t been immensely long since we had last seen each other, but what’s that to stop us from having things to share? New Year’s celebrations were delightful; my radio show had gone well; his home-brew was fermenting nicely; pleasantly compulsory conversation. We ordered food; he ordered a coffee, and I ordered a tea. At least, we were under the impression that he had ordered a coffee and I had ordered a tea.
We sat for a while, watching the middle-aged mothers in vague cheetah prints flirting with the would-be musicians—ahem, excuse me— wait staff. Our drinks arrived mid roommate rant, when it became suddenly clear to us the dire mistake we had drank our way into.
The waiter sat down a full French press for David and a full teapot for me, exuding such nonchalance that I’m unsure if he was toying with our emotions and bladders or if this was just truly the extraordinarily hydrated life of those living in The Corner Restaurant’s world. Both receptacles were filled to their respective brims, the dark liquids taunting our unexpecting naiveté. We pondered in silence the thirst quenching logistics of the best bargain in which we’ve ever accidentally invested.
We began the process of pressing our coffee and steeping our tea, filling the first of many mugs for each of us. I’m not sure if it was laziness or generosity on behalf of our hosts, but what began as our cup of coffee and our cup of tea became a liquid feast, with activity attached.
But that’s the story.
I’ve told that story, I imagine, two or three times by now to various people, it was truly a ludicrous experience in the moment. But now on here, intonationless, it amounts to a few casual scrolls down a screen.
As I thought of this story to include in my personal essay, it seemed so much more significant. Or, if not significant, longer? I loved it more then than I do now that it’s quantified, etherized upon a table of my prose.
You see, I’m a storyteller. Or at least, that’s the story I tell myself (ha). I “work” in radio now, and would absolutely love to work in radio when I’m a real-life adult.
There are a myriad of things you can do in the world of radio. Sticking to just the On-Air work— because who would I be as a straight white, middle-class male if my voice wasn’t being heard— I could talk about music. Sports. News (tried it for a summer—we know that’s off the table). But regardless of what I do, I’m telling a story. How did this music find its way here? What does it mean for you that your team made it within the grasps of greatness? How did an aged veteran with no relatives have 100 people at a ceremony in his honor (this one’s a heartwarmer, let me tell ya)? These are all stories, all they all need a voice to tell them.
But what am I when my story becomes voiceless?
Yes, okay, an author imbues “voice” into their story through diction and imagery and specificity and the quippy little asides I won’t stop using, I get it. But that’s not the voice I mean. I mean the inflections, the space between words that leave you hanging, falling forward for the next word as you desperately approach the punch. Print is interpretive— you can read nearly innumerable meanings onto nearly anything.
As I write these words, I hold meaning behind them. As a storyteller and—though from this essay one may assume, semi-reluctantly—as a writer, I know what words I want to say, what I want them to say, and I certainly hope that those intentionally selected words do just that. But, given all of the literature classes in which I’ve managed to semi-frantically invent authorial intent for texts I may or may not have actually read, it feels, at best, presumptuous and, at worst, foolish to assume that’s what those words will do. And if, at a point, there’s no such thing as authorial intent, the author means whatever I can argue they mean. That is exciting, and opens up a world of opportunity. But it also opens up a world of possibility, especially when the author means whatever you can argue they mean.
What happens when my words mean what is not my own? What happens when “Now, I lose my mind for brunch” suddenly means that I just lose control of my physical capabilities and inhibitions, exerting my body into a brunch induced tirade? What happens when, in a discussion of authorial intent, the reader doesn’t catch that “intentionally selected words” were my intentionally selected words? What happens when I don’t have an italics button at which to grasp at in hopes that I can preserve what I believe to be me in my work?
Sorry, the button gets me carried away.
I guess what my formatting-laden rants are attempting to approach is, if I’m not present, how can something remain mine? Even if you read my words, you don’t know how I said that, how I say this. You know how, based on a combination of your own personal experiences and a synthesis of who I could be based on potentially limited interaction and assumptions, you imagine I would say it.
But that’s just the thing, that isn’t me. That’s yours, and now it is no longer mine.
And I don’t know what to do with that.
One of my favorite stories to tell— or at least, one of my stories which elicits the kind of exotic intrigue I may hope it would achieve— is about when I was a kid and my family went to go cut ourselves a Christmas Tree.
I grew up in Alaska, and when the holidays began to creep up upon us, we would drive until the road ran out, stop, and then walk until we found a tree worthy of the lavish opulence of our living room. This particular hunt was when I was either in the 3rd or the 4th grade, but truly speaking, it doesn’t really matter. I was young, I was short, and we were trudging through snow tall enough to be my contemporary.
We approached a river with a glimmering sheet of ice adorning its top, what appeared to be a resilient barrier between us and the nearly arctic waters streaming underneath like tea out of a, frankly, excessive teapot.
There was an embankment on either side of the icy bridge which nature or God or Santa had made for us, and after descending it, I followed my sister who followed my sister who followed my dad across the ice. My dad helped my sister and my sister up the embankment we had approached now on the other side, and I— obviously independent and competent enough as an actual child to will myself out of a formation at least a foot taller than me— thrusted up from my winter boots, reaching for the top of the snow.
My hands felt nothing as they grasped at air; my foot, however, unfortunately felt a whole lot. The ice shattered under the combined weight of my body and my pre-pubescent arrogance, punishing my hubris with a boot-full of frozen stream on a wintry, December day.
Now, I like my feet. I’m a decently big fan of either— one could even venture so far as to say both— of them. I was very disinclined toward losing any appendages from this situation.
My Dad walked me back to our trusty Suburban, which was insulated with what felt equivalent to all of the constructive concerns I had given credence to when thinking about jumping off of a frozen river. That is to say, not much.
I huddled there in the front seat I was otherwise not allowed to sit in (at least, until I used mild childhood obesity against the Alaska State Department of Law— but that’s another story), hoping for the best but preparing to be picked last in any future game of kick ball.
Eventually, my family found our tree. They brought it back to the Suburban, strapped it onto the roof and we found our way back to the road. It complemented our living room well through its stay, even leaving us memories of its tenure in the form of pine needles for our bare feet months after it was brought to the yard to rot. Luckily, my foot did not meet a similar fate, as I sit on one foot and tap the other while writing this.
I love this story because it holds so much distance. Do you know how many people I’ve met from Alaska at K-State? Three. I’m sure there are more, but of the people that are going to hear this story, mathematically, almost no one that will hear it will have anything beyond exoticized awe at my childhood wonders. They won’t know that the river was a stream, that I was already picked last in kickball for reasons unrelated to feetlessness. There is nearly no one that bridges that distance. And when I say it, that distance widens.
When you see my stories in print, you can pick up on my second usage of a derivative of “exotic,” a marker of when I can’t be bother to Thesaurus.com synonyms. You can notice how often I qualify myself, tossing an “at least” in at least every couple of paragraphs to add syntactical flavor, but when dwelled upon, may be interpreted as doubt. If I tell you a story verbally, at my pace, in my control, you can’t linger on what you want. You linger on what I want, and the rest melds simply into the weave of the story.
Print is no longer mine. Print is the reader’s, to attempt as fast or slow as they may please. I can pepper in, sprinkle throughout, include various words— ambassadors of diction, fillers of space— to elongate a sentence such as this and to slow the reader (and trust me, when a page count is on the line, I do). But eventually, the reader will reach the story’s completion. And that happened entirely at the will of the reader.
My brunch story, which may range from 5 to 10 to whatever minutes when it’s my brunch story, may become simply those few scrolls now that it belongs to someone else. It feels like it’s been taken away from me, part of myself torn adrift for the consumption by others. What I originally may have typed as “my story” in the paragraph sitting above this is revised to “the story,” because that ownership just doesn’t feel there.
I guess, what it comes down to, is I’m afraid of losing control. Not of myself, not in a wrongfully interpreted “losing my mind for brunch” way.
But control of my story.
I like it being mine, being conveyed within my own agency. It feels so weird to put these stories out there, to offer up my narrative child— myself as a child—to the mercy of, well, whoever. And though I can’t entirely even tell if the control is comforting or if I just like the attention of having a listener, it feels--
To be there, present, in those moments. Safer for my story, for my intent. If it comes to what’s mine, maybe I’m just worried about what the next underprepared kid in lit class will invent. Maybe I’m selfish. Preventing a story from expanding beyond myself. But writing takes time, takes effort, where speaking does not. Maybe I’m just lazy? There seem to be a lot of maybes at stake, and ultimately, sorting, answering, and resolving those will take me in a direction that I’m not sure that I want to go.
I think, either way, the worst thing about this whole essay is that I really enjoyed writing it.