Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Long-Term Resolutions (New Years 2014)

Long-Term Resolutions 

I have to confess that I’ve never made a New Years Resolution. Frankly, I could never think of anything when asked. I also feel that the idea of a New Years Resolution is really a self-fulfilling prophecy; one that is rarely fulfilled. So, I’ve never attempted any of the usual clichés such as lose weight or quit smoking. I don’t smoke, and I figure that losing weight is a long-term commitment, and not a off the cuff gesture. I did attempt, and succeeded, at losing some excess weight I’d gained about three year ago. While I’d like to lose another five pounds, it’s not something that I’ll do overnight. Anytime someone wants to improve their life it’s always a series of steps, not giant leaps. 

So, with that said, I don’t see myself making resolutions for this year. However, I do see myself setting long-term goals for the near future. While these goals will not be accomplished anytime soon, they’ll at least give me something to strive for in the future. 

One of those goals is to finally complete a series of novels. Whether these novels are really part of a series, or just a sequential release of novels, I’ll be happy either way. Actually getting things published, and really being a writer instead of just saying I am is very important to me. I feel like I won’t be legitimized until something is published. 
Another goal is to go to England by the time I’m 42. Those of you who know me will understand the significance of that number, 42. While I’d rather go there sooner, it seems more likely that I won’t be able to afford going until my forties. I just hope I can get the time off work, whatever I may be doing by then. 
Still another important goal is to leave retail before my forties. While I like my job, I have to admit that I was never cut out for retail. It was the only industry where I was able to find work. However, it has never permitted me to live comfortably. I haven’t felt financially secure for a very long time. I know I can’t achieve that security by working in retail, no one can. Retail is a place where people either end up, or use as a springboard. The only exceptions to that are people who own their own business, or are genuinely into the day-to-day workings of retail. I never really fit into either camp. Though I’ve gotten good at retail over the years, it’s still an odd fit for me. I’m a bit like the scrawny kid that’s told he’s now commanding a Sherman tank. Though commanding an armored vehicle would be nice, it doesn’t likely for me. 
There are other, more personal long-term goals. One of those goals is: finding the right woman, maybe having a kid. I have no time table for this one, I’m taking my time.  I’d like to afford to buy a house. I’d also like to have more than one house; one on the east coast, and one on the west coast. But there’s also the minor goals; getting my drivers license, exercising more (I would like to workout three times a week, as opposed to once a week), rolling back my bedtime, and finally having the gumption to not give a fuck what anyone thinks about me, or what I say. This last one is held in check by fear of people’s reactions, and all fall prey to it at some point. But it would be nice to simply not give a fuck, ever. 

Speaking of fuck, a major long-term goal for me is to balance being sexual with being a good person. I was taught that the two were opposites when I was younger. I realized later on that one can have both. I don’t see sex as something naughty or vile, but it took a long time to dry out after the brainwashing I’d had. I guess that would mean that therapy is like using a dryer sheet, in a way. It’s meant to condition the fabric of one’s psyche. 
A final long-term goal is to truly become an adult…without sacrificing my identity in the process. I was raised with the false assumption that one must get rid of everything that defined them as a child, in order to progress to adulthood. That isn’t really true. Instead, it just makes one miserable. It’s like pretending you were never a child, and that your past never happened. That was something my parents would often try to do, but I never could. Every moment in your life has led up to where you are now. So, you can’t pretend that nothing happened before it. Also, the things of your past helped to define who you are now. Sure, we outgrow some things from time to time. But there’s always going to be something or other that you’ll hold onto. The reason you’ll hold onto it is that it is a part of you, and always will be. You can never go back to your childhood, but you don’t have to. You just have to take what you’ve learned from the years past, and then apply them to the future. While it’s not good to remain a child your entire life, it isn’t healthy to become austere either. Again, this is all about balance.    

So, while I have to resolutions this year, I instead I have long-term goals to be accomplished over a period of time; even if it takes me the rest of my life. 

As for my New Years plans…I’ll do what I usually do. I’m a sucker for all those “Year in Review” programs. I’ll watch a few of those, along with New Years Rockin’ Eve with Jenny McCarthy and that…um, what’s his face? That, um, Ryan something? Anyway, I’ll watch that, along with any live music on TV. I’ve then get in a re-watch of The Time Machine, the original George Pal film. I also like to revisit the Errol Morris documentary about Stephen Hawking, titled A Brief History of Time, after Hawking’s book. I’m sure I’ll drink something boozy as well. Vodka is my usual stand-by. In fact, I have some Absolute Citron I bought just for the occasion. And yes, I will mix it with all and sundry that is liquid. However, I will not be hung over, as I will be working the next day. 

While my New Years plans are not dynamic, they are at least my own. 

Happy New Year to you all. I’ll see you in 2014. 

Copyright Riley Joyce 2013 

Yes, time really does go by fast, like in this scene from The Time Machine. 
  A clip of the ball drop in Times Square from 1979, the year I was born. 

Monday, September 23, 2013



“The strangest things happen to you on your way over here.” Julie had said. 

She sat across from me, and was completely focused on what I had to say. Julie is good at that; her dark-brown eyes remain focused on me, and seldom break eye contact. She weighs what I say with a level of sincerity. It’s a skill that I wish more people had, even in everyday conversation. What I told her that afternoon was another example of the bizarre coincidences of my daily life. It’s another one of those, “Guided” moments. 

I cross a bridge to get to therapy, literally. The Smithfield Street Bridge spans the Mon River, and connects Station Square with the rest of the city. This isn’t one those now famous bridges that was featured in the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises. So I can’t claim to have seen Joseph Gordon-Levitt driving a school bus across it (in the film‘s climax). It does however boast some neat graffiti, which I often photograph. That is when I’m foolish enough to walk to therapy on an eighty-five degree day, as opposed to taking a bus to cross the bridge. At least I get some exercise, while conquering my fear of heights. 
It’s not uncommon to see other people walking along this bridge. It’s a major vein to Station Square; a location full of shops, restaurants, and home to KDKA TV News. It’s also a major path for shirtless joggers (all of whom are male), and the occasional bike rider. I’ll have to step aside once in a while to avoid a spandex-covered cyclist, or eco-friendly commuter on an old beater. I’ll then do a paranoid check to make sure another bike rider isn’t heading from the opposite direction. It’s my bogus way of adding excitement to a routine trip I make each week. It’s like I’m on some kind of quest for peace and serenity, and must face obstacles along the way. I’m sure that sounds all new-agey and stuff. Yeah, we’ll go with that. Cue white doves in flight! Next thing you know they’ll start putting that crud on greeting cards.

I try to avoid clichéd sentiments. They carry no weight with them, and are soon forgotten. Instead, I look for real experiences. Or, rather, real experiences find me. That day in September was no exception. I’ve talked before about conversations with homeless youth, helping injured people along the way, and the like. 

  That day contained another one of those experiences. 

I was at the end of the Smithfield Street Bridge, when I noticed a man walking on the outside of the footpath. He could have very easily been hit by oncoming traffic, but miraculously avoided it. 
He was a heavyset man. He had a bulging stomach and large arms; both of which were covered by a gold-colored Pirate’s shirt. He also wore a matching striped Pirates cap, like the kind you would see Roberto Clemente wear in old photos. I noticed that his legs looked a bit thin for a large man. They were like spindly roots that can’t support the upper trunk of a large fir tree. As he approached the curb, I noticed he crouched down, and then slid over it onto his stomach. He was either doing a snake impression, and trying to wiggling his way in, or he couldn’t physically step over the curb. 

I watched with a bit of curiosity, as I sized up the situation. That was until I realized this guy would need help. And soon, he did need help. He had slid over the curb, and then landed onto his back. And much like a tortoise, he was unable to flip himself over. He let out an agonized growl as back rolled onto the pavement. 

This is one of those moments in life when one is uncertain of what to do. The usual checklist of procedures flashed through my mind. 

Do I move him? Couldn’t I injure him more if I do that? 
Do I call an ambulance? 
Do I ask him if he’s ok? 
Don’t just stand there, help the guy! 

I chose a combination of the last two options. I walked over, and then asked, “Are you ok, sir?” 

I knew that he wasn’t ok, but one must always ask in these situations. It seemed like the polite thing to do. 

He looked directly into my eyes, and then said, “I need your help getting up.”

His knees were bent, and his arms reached into the sky. It was like he was trying to grasp the clouds, as if they could lift him up. 

I stepped around him, so I’d face him. I then took hold of both his hands, and tried to pull him up. 

I thought, “He just needs a little boost. His legs will do the rest of the work.” 

But this was to no avail. Instead, I could feel the weight of his body resist, as if it were glued to the concrete underneath. I then realized that he’d fallen over because his legs weren’t strong to step over the curb. That was why he was trying to roll over it. I then tried to lift him up from behind. I put an arm under each of his armpits, and then tried to do a military press by bending at the knees. I’d been hitting the gym around that time, but there’s no way I could lift more than fifty or so pounds at a time. Which meant there’s no way in hell I could lift a man who looked like he’d just won the Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest in Key West.
I felt his weight, and could almost lift him up. However, I nearly lost my balance, and ran the risk of falling over as well. I did that awkward back step to regain my balance, and thankfully stayed on my feet. 

It look liked Papa was staying on the pavement.     

I didn’t panic in this situation. Instead, I reached into my pocket to pull out my cell phone. I thought I’d call 911, and see if this guy needed more than just a pick me up. But a moment later another Good Samaritan arrived. He was about average height, with an olive complexion. He had black hair that was slicked back, in a style reminiscent of the early 90‘s. And he wore both a black t-shirt and jeans on an eighty degree day in September. He was brave in more ways than one. 

He said to me, “Let’s each grab an arm, and then we’ll pull him up.” 

I complied, and took the fallen man’s right hand into my own. I then supported his shoulder with my left hand. On the count of “three” we had the ersatz Hemingway off the pavement. 

But then, something interesting had happened. The old man had continued to hold onto my right thumb. His massive palm was wrapped around it, much the same way an infant will grasp an adult finger. I had already slid my palm out from under his hand, but he continued to hold my thumb. He squeezed it gently, as if he needed reassurance. I didn’t mind this, and felt that it was best if I just let him hold my thumb for a moment. I was in good shape, as long as he didn’t try to take it with him.  

He then said to us both, “I was walking from downtown to the South Side. I tripped over the sidewalk. God bless you both.” 

He then let go of my thumb. 

I said to him, “You’re welcome, sir. Are you sure you’re ok?” 

I would have offered to walk with him to his destination, in case he needed more help. 

“I’ll be alright,” he said. “Thanks.” 

I then noticed that he was limping as he walked. His feet waddled below him, as he treaded cautiously on the sidewalk.

I arrive at my therapist’s office on time. And the first thing I said to her was, “The most unusual thing happened to me on the way over here.” 

Julie was genuinely touched by what had happened. She absorbed it the way a child does while hearing a bedtime story. Her deep brown eyes widened during the exciting parts. And she smiled at the conclusion. 

And when I came to the part about the man holding my thumb, she asked, “Why do you think he held onto your thumb?” 

I replied, “I Think maybe he needed reassurance and comfort. Maybe he just needed to know someone was there for him. One of the things about people is that they need contact; but at the same time people will push each other away.”

“Yes,” Julie said. “People will do that. To open up to someone makes you vulnerable. It’s like a double standard that people have. They’ll desire connection, but they’ll stay closed off.”

We talked about that need for connection. A baby will die if not held. And a person will grow colder and most distant if never hugged.  

“Well,” Julie smiled, “I’m glad you could be there for that man today.” 

She then added, with a really big smile, “The strangest things happen to you on your way over here.”

  Copyright Riley Joyce 2013 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Study of the Virgin in Marker

 A Study of the Virgin in Marker

I bought my first piece of art in 2008. I was living in San Francisco at the time.  

It was a drawing by Bay Area artist Annie Del Pozzo. The woman herself was warm, friendly, and happy to talk about her art. The piece that I’d bought from her is one that hangs in bedroom. I often ponder what it represents. 

The image itself is very simple. It’s a line drawing made with markers. It depicts a woman, with long, curly black hair. Her skin is fair, but her lips and eyes are dark. There is a halo over her hair that is accented with vibrant yellow marker. The woman is wearing some sort of tunic or robe. And on her chest is a sacred heart, the kind that is common in Catholic iconography. She holds a black cross in one hand. Strands of rosary beads are wrapped loosely around the other. 

I was instantly curious the first time I saw this drawing. I then asked Ms. Del Pozzo about what had inspired this image 

“I drew it based on a photograph of a woman.” she replied. 

“Did someone model for this?” I asked. 

“No, it was just from a photograph.” 

“This could be a female Christ. Or, it could be a modern image of the Virgin Mary.” I remarked.  

“Oh, yeah,” Ms. Del Pozzo said. “I guess you could say that.” 

I paid her fifteen bucks for it, cash. In order to do this, I had to withdraw twenty bucks from an ATM. And like a complete moron, I left my card in the machine.  Fortunately, for me, the machine ate my card. I was able to retrieve it the next day from the bank. I don’t read into that at all. I bought a spiritual image, and the machine eats my card. I can’t blame God for this one. The incident at the ATM was purely my fault. 

I took the drawing home that night. As it was placed in a clear poly-bag (magazine-sized*) this made preserving it, and hanging it, easier. I simply tacked it up with adhesive poster hangers. Viola, I had some locally produced art on my wall…and little else. I had an overly expensive bedroom in a mid-grade apartment building at the time. While I had little money for furnishings, this certainly brightened the room up a bit. Come to think of it, all my furniture at the time, save for the bed, was salvaged from the sidewalk. Nothing in the room matched, including this Virgin/Womanly Christ image. 

I was going through a transitional period at the time. I was still very new to California, and didn’t know what to make of it. I accepted the different environment I found myself in, for better or worse. I barely knew anybody at the time, save for the friends I’d eventually meet. I didn’t consider myself to be religious, though I’d started to attend church. Soon after, I’d start sessions with my first therapist, Jessica. 

So this was a very odd time in my life. I had come to California to be somebody else. And as my current/new therapist Julie once remarked, “I think you found that you can’t run away from yourself.” 

She was right; I couldn’t run away from myself. As for becoming a different person, that’s another story. 

There I was, teetering on the edge of belief and non-belief, and I bought this odd drawing. I would have been disgusted with anything religious a year prior. Even prayer cards would put me off. But this image of The Sacred Feminine (it beats typing out Virgin/Christ) captivated me. I think it was because I was seeing God in a different way. I don’t know if Del Pozzo intended for this sort of reaction. But the drawing had that reaction in me. I wasn’t seeing God as threatening. Instead, I saw an image of God, or Godliness as something human. I saw an image of a beautiful woman who wasn’t scary in her holiness. She wasn’t floating on a cloud, spitting lightning, or bleeding tears. Instead, she was simply attired. She was simple, and yet complex, in her divinity. The simplicity was the lack of clichéd trappings. The complexity lies in the secret of her identity. 

 I then understood why, even though we know who The Mona Lisa was. People still go bonkers over her identity. I had an even bigger mystery on my hands. I was one that I couldn’t look up in an encyclopedia to get the answers. Instead, I just had to sit and think. 

I was reminded of two things. One was something that Jessica had once told me. The other was something that Alan Jones, the former rector of Grace Cathedral had said. 

First, Alan Jones had said, “A human being is where God chooses to dwell.” 

Second, Jessica had told me, “People often ignore their inner divinity.” 

While writing this, I’m reminded of something that Julie often tells me, “You have inner wisdom.” 

The first statement is an old saying. I asked Reverend Jones about it, after my first visit to Grace Cathedral. It’d been years since I’d been to church, and didn’t know what to expect. Instead of hellfire and brimstone, his sermon was gentle. The main point of it was just that, “A human being is where God chooses to dwell.”

I should point out at this point that Alan Jones sounded like Sir Ian McKellen when he spoke. Both men are British, and yet look very different from one another. Rev. Jones is tall, white-bearded and wore long, black robes. Sir Ian is famous for playing a tall, bearded character that wore gray robes. See, a massive difference there.       

I said to him, “I’d never heard that phrase before.” 

He replied, “Oh, it’s an old desert saying. It goes back centuries.”

I was reminded of that Bible verse that had become a cliché, “Your body is a temple of the Lord’s presence.” 

However, that phrase always sounded a bit scary, like one was possessed. But to hear, “A human being is where God chooses to dwell.” That was something very different. 

A week later, Jessica said to me, “I see a lot of inner beauty in you.” 

I had no clue what she meant. Frankly, I didn’t know at that time that men could be thought of as beautiful. Wasn’t that a feminine trait? Or, so I was lead to be think. Pop Culture is the reverse of milk; it does a mind bad. 

I asked her to define it for me. It was a week later, but Jessica hadn’t forgotten. 

First, she sent me through a labyrinthine series of questions about what I thought she’d meant. After nearly thirty minutes of frustrating the hell out of me, in loving way, I asked, “Why don’t you just tell me what you meant?” 

“Because if I do,” Jessica said, “Something might be lost in the process.” 

Half our session was gone.

Finally, with a smile, Jessica said, “You just want to say, ‘Tell me the answer, damn it!’” 

“Yes,” I said. “I’d be more polite about it. But I’m getting irritated here.” 

Jessica took a deep breath. 

She then said, “Here is what I meant when I said, ’I see a lot of inner beauty in you.’ I see someone who wants to cast off the influence of their culture, their family, and their upbringing. I see someone who wants to bring forward their inner light.”

I thought about it for a moment. And I was reminded of her comment about inner divinity. The phrase inner light reminded me of it. 

“I certainly do want to cast off the influence of my family and culture.” I said. “I agree with that. I don’t know if I’d call that beauty. It might just be stubbornness. It’s a refusal to accept what was given to me. I don’t believe in fate, and so I don’t follow it. I hate that cliché, ’play the cards you’re dealt.’ It just suggests that you’re a victim of fate. I don’t believe that. I don’t want to be a victim.” 

“Maybe that‘s your inner beauty?” Jessica said.   

And then, there’s the inner wisdom that Julie talks about. She claims that it’s a sort of guiding influence that protects one from harm. I think that it’s more a component of experience, than anything else. One isn’t born with this wisdom. One develops it from being hurt. It’s exposure to the wrong thing that shows you the right thing. But what if it were something greater? Was it something outside the self? 

If God dwells within us, then we inherited something some heaven. The Greeks called it Psyche, or animating force. Putting aside the myth of Psyche and Cupid, let’s look at that word. 

 Animating Force… An animating force sustains you. It makes you a person, on some level. In psychology, the psyche is your mind. Your mind itself is an animating force. But what drives that force? Is it some inner divinity? If that’s the case, then maybe the woman is both Virgin and Christ, because the divine dwells within her.

I hope you laid down some plastic. I may have just blown your mind, and made an awful mess inside your head. I do hope the stains come out. 

Perhaps this woman in the drawing is human, but acknowledges her spirit? Maybe the soul seeks because it was disconnected from the divine when it was forged? The soul then seeks reconnection. And everyone one of us is trying to reconnect in our own way; whether in groups, or in solitude. 

Perhaps the great shame of our culture is that we don’t acknowledge this side of ourselves? I don’t mean that in a hellfire and brimstone way. I mean it in the sense that we often undervalue ourselves. Others can undervalue us as well. The result is that we become opponents in an “us vs. them” mentality. 

Though I don’t belong to a particular faith, I know I have a soul. I know that it seeks, and continues to seek. And I’m alright with that. I feel that the answers cannot be found in any building, book, or one person. I feel that the answers have to be found by experience. And everybody has a difference experience of the world, and come to different answers. 

So, I ask you to look at Annie Del Pozzo’s drawing. Think about what answers you come up with. You can’t be right or wrong. It’s all about how your experience interprets the image. 

Copyright Riley Joyce 2013

*Magazine bags are polymer plastic bags used to preserve magazines. Similar to the bags used to preserve comic books. They come in a rang of sizes, for use on differently cut periodicals; examples, digest-sized magazines, current-sized magazines, etc.  


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Moebius Hears Confessions on the Street

       The strangest things happen on my way to therapy, as if they were preordained. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe divinity. One of the great oddities of my life is the feeling that some unseen hand protects and guides me. This is something that has happened at various times in my life; usually during times of adversity. A needed rescue, either physical or financial would arrive just before the zero hour. It seemed miraculous, even if the agent of change was just as down-to-earth as I am. Still, it makes me wonder if guardian angels, even without wings, do exist. 

October 3rd 2012. 
I had some spare time before my session with Julie (my therapist). I decided to wander a bit, and kill some time. Her office is located in a part of town that’s happening. It’s full of shops, restaurants, bars, and even several tattoo parlors. It reminds me so much of the Mission in San Francisco, that I just can’t resist its pull. I often take brief rambles either before, or after a session. I use it as a chance to explore, and see what new venues I’d like to try out. 
During one of these rambles, I heard a soft, feminine voice over my shoulder. I turned around, and saw a young woman. She was begging for change. She had a slight punk rock vibe about her. She wore vintage flair trousers and tank top, both colored aqua teal. She wore a short-brimmed hat, a painter’s cap. She completed the ensemble with laced-up combat boots. Her eyes were a bright shade of blue, and sparkled like rhinestones. Her hair was black, parted to the side, and cut in a tomboy style; short, but feminine. She was what my LGBT friends would call, a soft butch. She was actually quite pretty. Her body was slender and graceful, but she had all the qualities of a girl who preferred baseball over Barbie dolls. Needless to say, she warmed up to me quickly.      

All she asked for was a quarter, but I gave a few dollars. I started to walk away, but then stopped. I felt that something else needed to be said, or heard. I had a feeling that I couldn’t just walk away--I was right. The girl, who introduced herself as Mindy, began to walk with me. This put me in a unique position. I’ve had conversations with complete strangers before, but this was different. It wasn’t the usual small talk about weather, or traffic, the usual gap fillers. Instead, she began to open up about her life. 

  I’ve often said that I’m the one hears the confessions of everyone. I often joke that, “I could have been a priest, except for the celibacy thing. I don’t think I could handle that.” 

I’ve been privy to the sins, past history, and concerns of everyone I encounter. It used to bother me, because I didn’t feel I was equipped to hear it all. But this conversation changed that for me. I don’t mind as much, when it’s someone who really needs to open up. And this girl needed to open up. 

Right away, she told me that she was homeless. 

“I’d been workin’ this job, like, cleaning offices and stuff. And, like, they cut back when, like, the company folded. So, like, I was out of a job. I lost my apartment.” she said. 

She then added, “You know the people downtown are rude. They don’t give change or nothing. I’ve had better luck here.” 

I told her that I’d been homeless once as well. 

“It’s hard to make it on minimum wage.” I said. “When I lived in San Francisco, ten dollars an hour didn’t cut it.” 

“You were making ten dollars an hour!” Mindy exclaimed. 

“Yeah, but that’s about average in California.” 

“Dude, that must have been so expensive! Pardon my language.” 

She smiled a bit, and then chuckled. 

“It’s ok,” I said. “It is expensive, but it was a learning experience for me. I learned a lot about myself.” 

Mind then continued to tell me more about her story. 

“My mom died about three months ago. I was living with her after I lost my apartment. But my brother didn’t want me living there after she died.” 

“Why is that?” I asked. 

“He didn’t like me and my girlfriend living there. I’ve been with her for eight years. We lived together that whole time. And, like, my mom was cool with me being gay. But, like, my brother got all p*ssed about it.”

Stories of homeless LGBT youth are more common these days than not. Sometimes, they are turned out of their homes. Other times, they are runaways, looking to escape abuse. There are organizations that help, but not many; especially outside of areas with large LGBT populations. 

“Do you have somewhere to stay?” I asked. 

“Yeah, I been stayin’ in a shelter. It’s hard, dude. I been lookin’ for a job, but without a cell phone, an address, or anything it’s hard. I can stay in the shelter at night, but they kick me out in the day time.” 

At this point, we’d come to small playground. It was so different from the ones I knew as a kid. There were no woodchips and dirt under our feet. Instead, the ground was covered in this orange, rubbery substance. It was like astro-turf for kids. Perhaps the whole playground was sponsored by Nerf? It was empty, the sun was out, and the air was fresh. This was just as good a place as any to hear confession. I sat on a swing, and Mindy joined me. Together, we swung in tandem, side by side. All the while, her narrative continued. 

“I been with her for eight years. She stabbed me in the back! She left me for some skank.” Mindy said. “I loved her for a long time, man. I don’t know someone can just walk away from that.”

All the while, I listened more than I spoke. I heard the story of someone who no one would have listened to before. I offered the occasional word of comfort. At no point was there judgment in my voice. Frankly, I feel that judgment is more so the self-appointed judge feels superior. It doesn’t help the judged. I knew then that Mindy needed someone to listen to her. She had enough of people telling her what to think. 

At last, her narrative came to a close. She asked me what I was up to next. I was honest, and told her, “I’m going to therapy in a little bit.” 

She then offered me some booze from her backpack, which I politely declined. I always go into therapy sober, honestly (just in case my therapist sees this).  

I did asked, “Will be you be around here tomorrow?” 

“I might be,” Mindy said. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.” 

I shook her hand, and then said, “Good luck.” 

I had offered to buy her lunch, but she said, “That’s cool, man, but I gotta hit downtown.” 

That was the last I’d seen of her. I sometimes wonder if I’ll bump into her again. I just hope that she didn’t become one of the nameless, faceless statistics. Those are the people who are never seen, never heard, but referred to as casualties. The world doesn’t do much for them. It could, but most people assume that it’s somebody else’s problem. Much like the invisible S.E.P. field in Douglas Adams’ fiction, it blocks out the obvious.* 

I don’t want to get political here, so I’ll move on. 

I went to my session that day, and recounted the whole conversation to my therapist. 

Her response was, “You were there for this person in that moment. She needed you to listen, and you did.” 

“It was by random chance.” I remarked. 

“Maybe it was,” Julie said. “Maybe it needed to happen.” 

There are no absolute answers, but it did seem planned in a way. I would never have met Mindy, or heard her story, if I’d not arrived so early.  

A week after that, I helped a man at a bus stop. He’d fallen over, and spilled a thick wad of green cash all over the street. It was a bundle that consisted of twenties, tens, fives, and singles. It was an overcast autumn day, with a strong wind that scattered his money like confetti. I helped him pick up each bill, and then handed it all to him. 

All the while, the man said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I should know better than to do this.” 

I said to him, “It’s ok, man. It happens.” 

He was a ragged man; unshaven, odorous, and clad in old, unwashed denim. There was dirt on his arms and face. But I wasn’t revolted by him. Instead, I helped him gather up his money. I made sure he had it all too. A moment later, the bus pulled up, and he disappeared. I haven’t seen him since. 

Another odd coincidence happened today (July 26th 2013). 

I shared some of my writing with Julie. It was a piece that mentioned the Moebius Strip; a lopsided symbol of infinity. She then made reference to it when making a point about something we‘d discussed. After I left my session, I went to the movies. 

Afterwards, as I walked downtown, I saw a young couple in front of me. They were a young man and woman, respectively. The young woman was blonde, built gracefully, and wore a black spaghetti-strap dress. Her hair was up, as it was a hot day. And I could see on her back an infinity symbol tattoo! I couldn’t believe it. I nearly took out my cell phone to take a picture of her, just to prove it was real. I then realized how rude this might be. But there it was, in the naturally tanned skin of a miniature blonde. 
I also saw the famous “feather” symbol from the Led Zeppelin IV album cover spine (this symbol denotes Robert Plant…I am a feather in the wind.) Alright, maybe I was supposed to listen to Led Zeppelin that evening? But what are the odds of the infinity tattoo prominently displayed above it? 

I came home that evening, and checked my mail box. I had received only two bits of mail. One was a financial aid award letter, which informed me I was eligible for student loans. Another was a request for a paycheck from my previous employer. My old job still owed me money. The former was something that my therapist and I had discussed; whether I should take out more loans to pay for college.  

I wonder if I should rub my therapist’s head for good luck. She might be ok with that. As for keeping a therapist’s foot as a good luck charm, that might get dicey. The point I want to make here is this: anytime I feel that I’ve lost direction, something comes up. It proves to me, anecdotally, that something is out there. Atheists will think I’m fooling myself, but so be it. Coincidences stop being coincidences when they keep happing to you. 

And so, I sit here, and wait for the next time God says, “See, I told you not to worry.”     

*See Life, The Universe, and Everything. The third novel in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. The S.E.P., or Somebody Else’s Problem field, is a major plot device. It’s a spoof on the concept of a “cloaking device.” 

Copyright Riley Joyce 2013 


Sunday, July 21, 2013


      My niece Miranda is blue-eyed, brown-haired, and about seven pounds (as of writing). She sleeps a lot, cries when needed, and then passes out again. She likes powdered formula, being held, and her binky. She’s adorable, and still has that new baby scent. I never would have guessed that I’d love someone at first sight. Or, that I’d love someone who belches like a trucker. We all have our quirks. 

It’s been twenty odd years since I last held a baby. I thought I’d forget how to do it. But the second that her mother handed her to me, it all came back. Holding her was practically instinctual. Just as baby’s know how to smile and kiss without being taught. There are some things that are built into us, and cannot be excised; no matter how confusing the world becomes.  

Miranda opened her azure eyes, and then yawned. I kissed her on the forehead, and then the hand. She cried soon after, but I didn’t mind. I knew that this was her way of reaching out. She can’t form words yet, and so cries and coos take their place. She calmed down after being changed. That was all she needed; new nappies. And then I held her again later on. 

While I held Miranda for a second time, I noticed that she had this habit of stretching out, similar to a cat. She’d stir and yawn a bit, but soon subside. 

I told my therapist about this experience, and she said, “You know, you were that small once.” 

I hadn’t thought about that. Of course we were all that small once, but it just didn’t register at first. Yet there I was, in that moment, holding Miranda. I had no distractions, no thoughts or worries. I could feel the warmth of Miranda in my arms. My eyes were focused on her as she slept. That was all that I needed in that moment. 

I thought later on about how important human contact is to us. We are a species that needs to be social, and tangible. Talking to someone is one thing. Holding them, and feeling a pulse is another. It’s in those moments that the ineffable is given texture. We can’t see the soul, be we can feel it. In scientific terms we could explain why living bodies are warm. But that warmth is connected to an essence in that body. We can’t explain it, we just feel it. We feel it best when close to a loved one. Outside of that, it seems that essence is allusive. 

There she was, little Miranda. She can’t form words yet. She doesn’t know yet the power of words to heal or hurt. She hasn’t learned the power of colors or images. Her eyes are still adjusting to the fresh environment around her. She sees light, but shapes are a bit off to her. She doesn’t know the motion of dance yet. Nor, does she know the scents of lavender, mown grass, or city streets after rain. She’ll learn all of these in time. 

I realized awhile back that life is truly longer than he assume, but it is shorter than we expect. Though I think it’ll be a long road before Miranda reaches these simple milestones, I know it won’t seem long. She’ll know how to hold a crayon in the blink of an eye. You’ll wake up one day, and she’ll know how to read. Soon after that, she’ll know how to drive. Soon after that, she may be a mother herself, if she so chooses. 
As her family, we’re in a unique position to witness this. We can see a life grow before our eyes, like a time-lapse of a flower in bloom. She may not be aware of this blooming, much as the flower is unaware of it. Perhaps she’s find it mushy and silly that we smile and cry at her first bike ride. Or, that her first Christmas or birthday is captured in digital amber. She’ll grow to learn that it’s about the passage of time, and marking that passage. She’ll know that both puberty and gray hairs are not opposites, but just part of growing up. She’ll come to learn the lessons that we all know…and are still learning. 

I asked, “What will she be like when she grows up?” 

Her mother wondered the same thing. 

We can’t predict the outcome of a human life; or what legacy they leave behind. Nor can we predict their opinions, their thoughts, or the things they’ll say. We experience it as they experience it; twenty-six frames a second, twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year…except during a leap year.

I said to her mother, “The world she’ll grow up in will be very different than the world we grew up in.” 

“I know,” she said. “She won’t know what a cassette tape is. Or, how a pencil works with it.” 

“She won’t know a floppy disc, a VHS tape, or a CD.” I remarked. 

I then added, “Well, they still make CD’s. But she’ll never know the simple pleasures of the Twinkie.”

I stand corrected, as the Twinkie has now returned to store shelves. Hopefully, it’ll be for good this time.

So, to return to more philosophical matters…we are born in the middle of everyone else’s story. I was born in the middle of my parents’ story. However, what I didn’t know at the time was that I was born near the end of my grandparent’s story. I couldn’t picture a world without any of the people who were here when I came in. That used to bother me for the ages. Now, I see that I can’t imagine a world without the people who are here now. And I can’t imagine what it would be like without Miranda. She may experience the world without me at some point. But I’ll never experience the world without her. 

And so the children born now will hear the stories of their family members, and carry on those stories. And so the story that began in the middle will have no end. It might even have no beginning, save for when our memories start. That means it’s like one long Mobius strip. 

And if that just didn’t blow your mind. Perhaps you’re on the wrong formula. Try an Infamile blend instead. 

Copyright Riley Joyce 2013 

This photo was taken by Kethry, Miranda's mom. :)

The photo at the top of this post was taken by me.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Papercuts and Sugar Highs

Papercuts and Sugar Highs

I was single this Valentine’s Day, just like every Valentine’s Day. This used to really bother me, until recent years. It was about two years ago that I realized, “Holidays like this exist as a part of a conspiracy to sell greeting cards and candy.”

That either means one of two things: One that the greeting card and confectionary industries are in cahoots. Two, that the pharmaceutical industries are in cahoots with said candy and greeting card manufacturers. They’re trying to sell us bandages from the paper cuts we get from Valentines. And they want us on insulin from the sugar shock acquired from chocolate heart boxes. I don’t think this latter theory holds water, not even a Dixie cup full. But if it makes you feel any better, then be my guest. Just don’t blame me if you build a bunker in your backyard, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre doesn’t come again.

There is a conspiracy, most assuredly. But this conspiracy is not one perpetrated by Illuminati-Build-A-Hamburger-Masons. It is a conspiracy perpetrated by ourselves against ourselves. We are taught from an early age that we MUST have fun during a holiday, any holiday; even a minor league one like St. Valentine’s Day. The pressure doesn’t come from the usual suspects as much (The Media, your parents, your friends, your pets, that collection of sentient dust bunnies under your bed) as it does with other holidays. Christmas is a time when there is tremendous pressure to “feel the spirit.” New Years Eve is seen as a last hurrah; a day to get all saved up debauchery in, before it’s too late. Well, I can tell you that I can get in a night’s debauchery anytime; assuming that I have enough gummy worms, horror films, and lube within reach. No, I’ll leave you to imagine what I do with those things. I’m not giving it up for free, you know.

The one annoying thing about Valentine’s Day is that it is dedicated to romance with a partner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very romantic guy. But why do we need a holiday to remind us to love a significant other? Why not do it any day of the week? And why does one need a reason, or a season? Why not just commit random acts of romance anytime you feel like it? For that matter, we don’t have a holiday dedicated to self-love, or self-esteem. We always have holidays dedicated to some external force.

Not to sound existential, but we rarely consider in our culture the stress these holidays place on the single person. For that matter, we rarely work through the stress it causes a married, or coupled, person. You may feel like a loser if you’re single on Valentine’s Day. You might feel even worse if you have a significant other, but can’t afford an expensive outing. If the latter is the case, then you’re not so doomed after all. There’s nothing wrong with a single rose, a cuddle session on the couch, and a tub full of Mr. Bubble.

However, if you fit into the former category, you are just as fortunate. If you are single, the road is open for you to explore. You are free to find the partner or your choice. If your previous partners weren’t who you expected, or desired, you now have the freedom to find who you want. You can do as you please, and not worry about leaving the toilet seat up, or down.

We celebrate holidays for a reason. We experience them to brighten to dullness of everyday life. They are also a way to mark the passage of time. You’ll remember your favorite Christmas, New Years, Fourth of July, Cinco de Mayo, Fifth of November, and Mortal Monday (for all of you Mortal Kombat fans out there). You may revile Valentine’s Day; that’s ok if you do. Nobody is holding a cupid’s arrow to your head, and saying, “You WILL love Valentine’s Day, or else!” Nobody should feel that kind of pressure.

As a currently single man, I can say that I have found the source of the conspiracy. As I wrote earlier, it is not a cabal that is behind the curtain. It is the individual that is behind the curtain, leering and sneering. It isn’t the holiday itself, but how we perceive it. Each person is a sole conspirator in the plot to make oneself feel bad during any holiday. And while no one wants to feel unloved, or left-out, remember that Valentine’s Day is just that--a day. You will wake up on February 15th, and feel no more, or less loved; single, or partnered. You will feel how you feel, whether it be sexy, bored, loved, annoyed, or just indifferent. Acknowledging how you feel is more important than candied hearts. Exploring those feelings, during any holiday, gives more meaning to the holiday, and how we feel about ourselves.

Copyright R.X. Joyce 2013.

    I confess! I'm the Man Who Murdered Love! That's what XTC proclaimed in this song.