Standing in the Shower…Thinking

Sometimes I float.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what brings upon these moods in my life anymore than I could tell you when I’m anchored down. Surely there are ideas, tiny thoughts that bounce around in my brain. Dissecting. Always dissecting. The eternal search for that One Thing that will make it all clear.

That will bring the Dark Magic into focus.

Like the matter of the universe, though, the ideas and tiny thoughts slip away. But always after they toy with me, hovering for those precious few milliseconds when they seem so clear. As if I could reach out and grab them, hold them, make sense of them. When I try to touch them, they vanish. Dissipating. Always dissipating.

I write this as I stare out my window at the snow-covered ground, the lights off in my townhome, the candles flickering. It is calm outside in a way that my social network is not. It is quiet in real life, noisy in cyberspace. They both sound the same. To normal ears.

But they all interrupt and inspire the Magic, a tornado swirl within my head releasing its energy whenever it pleases.

The Dark Magic.


In 1991, I went to work for WMSW, Miami University’s college radio station. I couldn’t tell you why I did that as I had no interest in working in radio. Ever.

Yet I found myself at the club meeting, I found myself requesting two different slots (the early morning show, the overnight show…don’t ask, don’t tell), and I found myself on the air. Well, “air” would be overstating what we were on. We were piped into the dorms and the dining halls. We were on the air in the same way a 16-year-old’s journal is published. Mom reading what you’ve written doesn’t really count.

There I was, four hour a week. Chatting incessantly between records (yes, records).

What’s important to this story isn’t my failed turn as a DJ. That is epic only within the confines of my life. What I found was Brian Murray, the promotions direction, a poet and writer with a sense of the absurd. He wanted to start a music ‘zine, one of those quaint notions before The Web and Blogs, that had nothing to do with music.

The Revolution is difficult to explain, really, but I was sold immediately. I would write for our little 4-page…thing. Every other week, I’d put words down on paper. About anything. Which is about the worst idea for a young writer.

But never you mind.

What emerged from the Dark Magic was a column (I’d be reading Mike Royko and Slats Grobnik at the time) called “Standing in the Shower…Thinking,” an awful piece of drivel where I made fun of pop culture through a series of misadventures with my sidekick. (I want to say his name was Beef Stroganoff, but really, who can remember such things?)


In 1996, I dragged my friend Monte from Austin to Gadsden, Alabama, the end of World’s Longest Outdoor Sale. I was writing a story for a magazine that’s now defunct. Actually defunct before they ever ran the story.

In the five years since I’d penned my first published pieces in the ‘zine, my writing scarcely got better. I burned through my first job, I freelanced for tiny papers that paid so little I was more embarrassed cashing the checks than I would have been writing for free. In retrospect. At the time, I had arrived.

I was going to announce my presence with authority. This piece was my piece. A 450-mile outdoor sale along the state routes of Appalachia, stretching from Alabama to Kentucky.

I packed the car with things that should neither be packed in a car, nor transported across state lines. I found the most straight-laced photographer who I could convince to travel with me for a week and sped off into the night.

We arrived in Gadsden some 10 hours later. I ignored our itinerary, accidentally found a biker bar, and proceeded to drag Monte with me. Highlights of my 48 straight hours in the bar included:

  • playing pool for money with a bike club . You can buy these popular pool tables here with affordable price.
  • drinking obscene amounts of whiskey until we began using the pool table for other things
  • a particular scene which included a Jehovah’s Witness, puke and our car
  • a near fight with Monte as he tried to drag me out of the bar (“We’ve already missed the first two days)
  • me passed out in the car as Monte drove us up the state routes, waking only to stagger out of the car, interview people before passing out
  • skinny dipping in the hotel pool while people went to church
  • throwing all of our stuff off the second story balcony, proclaiming it time to escape from the cops
  • losing every note that I took on the trip

Year’s later, bits and pieces of the story were resurrected for a local, weekly paper in Cincinnati. This is not the story I just told you. I still hate what was published and prefer that entirety of the story. It’s far more interesting.


There are other, better stories about my writing. They are mostly interesting only to me, tolerated by my loved ones and occasionally asked about by my students.

Mostly they are only interesting to me, though. Which is okay. Writers understand that particular feeling, the self-loathing that comes with being there without actually being there. Uninteresting subjects to interesting events. Our roles are irrelevant.

Except these experiences help us understand something more important than the event, or the people, or the action that transpired. Those are fleeting, repeating. The hamster wheel.

But if you find yourself in enough places that make you uncomfortable, where you are so out of place that the hairs on your neck prick up, where fear grips your heart and terror latches to your brain, where you are alone. If you do that enough, you begin to understand what it means to be human. Entirely.


That last section is a lie. Mostly. Or pieces of a lie strung together with half-truths. Half-truths that each stand true in and of themselves, but maybe not necessarily as a whole.

They can’t be true, because that humanness, like the Dark Magic, hovers just out of our reach. We can see elements of it, shimmering around us, where we think we might…if we just reach a…little…further…

We can’t though. Mirages always move. Or disappear. Or melt away.

I write this as I stare out the window, surrounded by administrative papers from my job, tomorrow’s lectures, writing from students who dislike me or fear me or don’t know how to talk to me but want me to give them permission to be writers.

On the table behind me sit a half-pile of books, Dawkins and Lessig and Fitzgerald and Wallace. Notes from The Cult of Me stare angrily at me from the floor. Dungeons + Dreamers await. So Far Appalachia rests in a manila envelop.

My house is quiet because there is nobody else here. There is never anyone here. There isn’t room. Not between the noisy network, the papers, the books and the writing. There are already too many worlds here. Too many needs. Too many things to finish before it’s too late.

And I’m never quite sure when the Dark Magic will turn me loose.

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This newsletter is the outgrowth of The Downtown Writers Jam podcast. What that means is I will collect information about the authors I interview, book happenings around the Web, and other literary events that I find interesting. Without you, I'm just a crazy guy sitting in his office furiously screaming on the page for no reason.
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