Am I dead, I asked her?
In a box, I did molder,
rotting, shapeless, my nightly sleep.
Dead, but dreaming, of what waited
beyond my comfortable dirt, beyond
my opulent world of worms and disquiet.
But when they asked, wake me none I said
until the day my box is broken.
And then the first of dreams
drained through the holes where nails once lay.
I listened. I woke. And pushed away the cold dirt.
My insides, new, pumped with raw life,
and I recalled the days I’d never lived.
The moon, she burned my face. My eyes, she scalded
with such light my box never allowed.
Still hushed, she bade me walk beside her,
and her smile drank away my grave-dust.
For hours, we tread lightly
On the shadowed fields, unseen.
Of the world below, of worms, of coffins, she asked,
and for the moon, we floated high,
in the wind, the light, and nothing.
But to the silver jewel, we never did come,
for at last, she saw the dusk within,
and feared, with me, the sun
would not rise.
Quickly, we climbed back down.
The dirt waited, starved of me.
Where now will you go? the dream asked me in lament.
To sleep, I said. My home, it is,
in my tomb, dead but dreaming always.
Down, she lay me, shining no more, but gloaming
as I slid into bed, shivering.
Again, I’ll see you? she asked.
Long from now.
101 Questions for Humanity – The supreme coffee table book for armchair philosophers. Designed to provoke, question, and challenge. Crack the cover open during big parties, small gatherings, or lonely nights on the couch. Once you taste one question, you’ll want to devour them all!
Here’s a sample.
101 Deeper, Darker Questions for Humanity – The latest volume in the Coffee Table Philosophy series flips the switch and turns down the lights. It’s the ultimate conversation-igniter. It’s got questions and scenarios to light up big parties and small, intimate gatherings. If you’re smart, and you ARE, this is the book you need to bring the fun. 101 pages. 101 deeper, darker questions. The conversation starts now.
Here’s a deep, dark sample. 🙂
101 Questions for Midnight – For those who favor their questions cold, hard, and serious. Meant for small parties, huge gatherings, or lonely evenings under the stars. Each page contains one Question about Life vs Death, Good vs Evil, Morality, Sex, etc. So turn down the lights, pour yourself a drink, and settle down into a darker brand of entertainment.
A sample from the popular blog 10 Things to ask yourself Tonight.
The Ultimate Get to Know Someone Quiz– It’s the most entertainment you can squeeze into 101 pages. Pass it around to friends and family. Bring a copy to your breakroom at work. Crash a party with a few copies in hand. Inside you’ll find a ton of fun, quick questions designed to shine a light on your friends’ and loved ones’ hearts and minds.
The Little Book of BIG Questions – Thinkers, questioners, and science buffs, behold! The Little Book of BIG questions contains more than two-hundred unique conversation starters and thought igniters, all in the form of fun questions. It’s the book for every coffee table. It’s meant to be read in the company of others…or all alone beneath a starlit sky. We all want to know the origin of the universe, the reasons why life exists, and the driving forces behind humanity. Use this book to light the fire in your mind.
Sample questions are right here.
444 Questions for the Universe – Having a few friends over? Throwing a party? In need of a little something to ignite a conversation? 444 Questions for the Universe is the ultimate ice-breaker. Put it on your coffee table, invite a few friends over, and watch the night’s discussions catch fire. Meant as a party book, quiz book, and philosophy book rolled all into one, 444 Questions will guide you through hours of energetic, intelligent, and FUN conversations.
101 Sex Questions – 101 Sex Questions is a deeper, sweatier take on philosophy. Meant for hot nights with your partner, candid conversations with a lover, and parties during which (almost) everything goes. Includes questions on relationships, love, and of course, TONS of smoldering sex. Like a quiz book…but for your libido.
Just read the samples to find out for yourself.
101 Questions for Single People – We live in a Swipe Left Society. Dating’s never been easier. …or harder. 101 Questions for Single People takes a lighthearted look at the issues of dating and relationships in the modern world. Flash it to your friends, at a party, or at a crowded bar full of strangers, and watch the room light up.
A tiny sample of what you’ll find in this book is right here.
101 Questions for Couples – 101 pages. 101 questions for lovers. Call it whatever you’d like: romance, passion, true love, love at first sight. It’s ALL love. And the old saying is true. It takes two to tango. 101 Questions for Couples is meant for road trips with new lovers, romantic dinners at home after the kids are asleep, or fun conversations after twenty years of marriage. Read a few questions to the special person in your life. And thank us later.
101 Questions for Single Parents – This book is for you if…
…you’re a sleep-deprived single mom who can name at least 50 Pokémon but can’t keep your kids’ names straight or remember where you parked your car at the grocery store.
Yeah. You all loved Avengers – Endgame.
We get it. It scored 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s the second highest grossing film of blah, blah, blah.
You cheered. You wept. You held your bladders for the movie’s entire 17-hour runtime.
As one woman told me, I should shut up and eat my popcorn. A valid point, and yet…
…for those few among you who are objective, and those few who went into the movie hoping to actually be surprised, shocked, or stunned, this is for you.
Warning: This list contains spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers.
All the arguments I have with Avengers – Endgame
When Thanos’s ship fires a massive volley of missiles into the Avengers’ base, not a single Avenger suffers any significant injury. Not. One. Why even bother with missiles? Would a nuclear bomb hurt them? I mean…even the non-superpower Avengers just shrug off cruise missiles. Wow. Impressive.
Also, why not use the ship’s giant guns and even more missiles on the army of good guys as they assemble in one big easy-to-shoot, ‘hey, look at us assembling‘ block? Why wait until the battle’s end…when doing so means shooting your own soldiers?
Speaking of which, did one single blast from Thanos’ ship…I mean, even ONE…take out a single good guy?
If time travel is now a thing, doesn’t it mean the Avengers can now resolve any possible threat simply by retrieving the infinity stones as needed? Doesn’t that negate the need for every future movie?
Time travel is lazy af. The ultimate deus ex machina.
Speaking of time, does everyone have plenty of it to pause and have lengthy conversations during a giant battle which will decide the fate of the Universe…or is it just the Avengers?
When using time travel, does everyone randomly meet a key person from their past…triggering long and needless exposition, or is it just the Avengers?
It took Thanos a lifetime’s worth of dedication to finally retrieve all six Infinity Stones, but it takes drunk Thor, a trash panda, and Scarlett Johansson just a few hours to traverse the galaxy and do the same? Hell, give me a few days and maybe I’LL collect all the stones. (When I snap my fingers, I’ll do something more interesting than murder everyone, I promise.)
“Oh Hulk…you said Doctor Strange did what? I completely believe you. Here’s the Time Stone.” Get the f**k out of here.
Captain America can use Mjolnir to create lightning? Breaking your own rules, Marvel.
Whenever I’m creating giant time-traveling machinery that has never before been made, I always have the materials needed to build it readily available.
Please never use time travel again. Unless you’re Back to the Future or the original Terminator. Just. Stop.
For the love of god, Thanos, when you have an Avenger weakened and on his back, f__king finish them. Don’t just punch them a few times and start monologuing. For the smartest villain in the world, you sure aren’t….oh never mind.
Is it really sacrificing someone (for the purpose of claiming the Soul Stone) if that person commits suicide against your wishes?
Hey Marvel (or any filmmaker for that matter) if we ALL know how the movie ends, that’s not good storytelling. That’s called, ‘We know this will make money, so why take any risks?‘
My kid fell asleep. Twice. Five-hundred previous movies, and this is the first one to make him zzzzzzzzzzz. Impressive.
…mostly because of the heavy-handed scene with Tony Stark and his daddy. And the other one with Cap’n America and Peggy. Unsubtlety, thy presence is strong in this film.
Pretty convenient footsteps, Mister Rat who frees Paul Rudd. If not for you, this whole movie wouldn’t have been possible.
At least Ken Jeong showed up. Best part of the movie.
Lastly, Nebula sucks as a good girl. Borrrrring…
Ok. I’m done.
My other movie reviews are here. They’re mostly positive. Please enjoy.
Having a few friends over?
Throwing a party?
In need of a little something to ignite a conversation?
444 Questions for the Universe is the ultimate ice-breaker. Put it on your coffee table, invite a few friends over, and watch the night’s discussions catch fire.
Once you ask one question, you’ll want to answer them ALL…
The Top 6 Dating Personalities for Men & Women
Man #1: The Alpha Guy. This dude is fearless. He approaches any woman, at any time, in any location. This guy is by far the most likely to use cheesy lines in order to land a date. Rejection doesn’t bother him because he knows he’ll eventually hit the jackpot. This guy is easy to spot. He might be a great dude: confident, handsome, self-assured…or he might be an aggressive blowhard. Look for him at your local club scene.
Girl #6. Quick to Fall Girl. Tends to declare her love (or something close to it) within the first three dates. Will sometimes appear desperate, but only at the time of her choosing. She really just wants to be loved. She has no defined approach. Typically guys will have to make the first move, but after that, she’ll usually take control (via her emotions) of the situation. Approach with caution. If a guy decides this is his type of girl, he should be honest with himself about whether he really likes her, or whether he likes her because of her extreme vulnerability/accessibility. Break up with this girl at your own risk. Your car’s tires are in jeopardy.
Talk about your Slipknots and Five-Fingered Death Punches.
Enjoy your Metallicas, Black Sabbaths, and Mercyful Fates.
Here are the top ten heavy, heavy metal albums of all time.
…in no particular order.
Five seconds in, one becomes aware Seasons in the Abyss is no ordinary collection of songs. Beginning with the insanely fast ‘War Ensemble’, Slayer’s (somehow most mainstream) album sets a tone both vicious and unholy…which is, after all, their signature achievement. From thumping ‘Skeletons of Society’ to Ed Gein horror tribute ‘Dead Skin Mask’, lyrically Seasons knows no boundaries. Why should it? This is Slayer we’re talking about, unrivaled in the metal realm. And of course, perhaps no metal album ends on so dark a note as the title track, song number ten, ‘Seasons in the Abyss.’ Go ahead, read the lyrics to your children when you tuck them into bed at night.
What happens when you pair guitar god Dimebag Darrell with the guttural roars of Phil Anselmo, mix everything in a big bowl of rage, and punch the planet in the face? Vulgar Display of Power, that’s what. Have you ever listened to ‘F**cking Hostile’ on repeat for an hour? Have you ever chanted, “Re-spect! Walk! What did you say?” Then you understand this album’s power. It takes no breaks until the very end, at which point Pantera shows their dynamic range with the heartbreaking song ‘Hollow.’ If you’re about to get into a fistfight, this is your album.
There are some who say Carcass’s best album is too melodic, too modern, and a betrayal of the band’s grindcore roots. F**k that. There’s melodic, and then’s there’s guitarist Bill Steer, who gallops and solos with the best in the business. Consider the thudding, heart-rattling song ‘Embodiment’ and lightning-fast title track ‘Heartwork.’ Oh sure, there’s lovely guitar work in ‘No Love Lost’ (and in every other song on the album) but the heavy never lets up. One of the last great metal albums to feature (not just include) truly transcendent solos, Heartwork easily ranks up there with the best of the heavy, heavy best.
Well…at least no one will confuse this album with melodic. What Swedish death medal gods Entombed lacked in subtlety, they more than made up for with raw power, chuggy guitars, and a crunchy, deadly sound like no other. No Entombed album demonstrates this better than Clandestine. From ridiculously thumpy ‘Sinners Bleed’ to double bass drum-fest ‘Crawl,’ the fury never lets up. Few metal albums in the history of music have zero ‘meh’ tracks, but this is one. ‘Living Dead’ all the way to ‘Through the Colonnades’ = death metal perfection.
Ok fine. You want to slow it down a little? I give you October Rust. Sometimes sarcastic, often self-deprecating, and always melancholic Type O Negative delivers their most classic tracklist ever. It never seems to matter that Type O’s songs are far longer in duration than other black/death metal bands. Peter Steele’s vocals and the band’s deep, dark guitars weave in and out of sadness and madness for every one of October Rust’s 14 (well…13 really) songs. Consider anthemic ‘Wolf Moon’ and misery-fest ‘I Love You to Death.’ It’s pretty much an entire album of ‘just got rejected by your lover’ songs.
And it’s f**king perfect.
There are many, many good Danzig albums. But none quite as thunderously good as How the Gods Kill. Dark Elvis magician Glenn Danzig puts on his most forceful vocal performance ever (Heart of the Devil, anyone?) while perfecting ten songs to frighten your neighbors, scare your children, and sing along to (Anything, Dirty Black Summer, Do you Wear the Mark, anyone??) This is Danzig with their best lineup (Christ, Von, Biscuits) and at their most cohesive. Every riff just clicks, resulting in one of the best dark metal albums ever made.
Tampa metal gods have changed lineups many times. But in the meantime they released some truly epic albums (Altars of Madness, Gateways to Annihilation.) Among these, one stands out as the cream of the dark crop. Covenant, with its blasphemous, occult-loving lyrics and shreddy guitar work, sits among the pantheon of great metal albums. Even if you can’t understand David Vincent’s vocal work (just google ‘Vengeance is Mine‘ for a sample) or duplicate Trey Azagthoth’s otherworldly ‘Eddie Van Halen of death metal‘ riff work, it matters none. And talk about ending with a bang. ‘God of Emptiness’ goes places and hits beats no other band has achieved.
Bow to me faithfully, indeed…
Old school death metal.
Easily Sepultura’s best and most brutal offering.
Here, just listen to THIS.
And go here for a tracklist.
Is it cheating to include a compilation album on this list? Maybe.
Is naming a live album really fair? Probably not.
Say what you will about Glen Benton, Deicide’s lead-singer and all-around weird guy, the band on stage has power, presence, speed, and a lust for long, brutal shows. Plenty of compilation albums (and arguably most live albums) miss the mark in one way or another. Not so, ‘When Satan Lives.’ It’s seventeen songs, all terrifyingly fast, sharp, and well-recorded. Standout tracks ‘Children of the Underworld’ and ‘Dead by Dawn’ stand tall, but really every single f**king song is better than good.
This is how you do death metal. And how you do live albums. Listen up, modern bands. Do it like this.
Speaking of unfair, it’s probably blasphemous to include not one, but two Slayer albums on this list. Especially when there are so many other crushingly good heavy metal albums out there.
I’m just going to link these three songs right here.
And let them prove my point for me.
Short, powerful, and relentless, Reign in Blood can’t not be on this list.
I want YOU to fill out this section for me:
Thanks for stopping by.
Author, artist, and metalhead
Let’s just go ahead and get this out there.
I hate social media.
There. I said it.
I hate it with a deep and abiding passion.
It‘s a lot more complicated.
I mean, a LOT.
As of right this moment, I would consider myself extremely active on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Facebook Business, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest…the list goes on. I’m active on each and every one, and I’m on them almost every single day. Yes, I know what you’re thinking — I literally just said I hate social media.
So why then, all the sites? Why do it if it’s so antithetical to happiness?
It turns out I’m an author. And an artist. Virtually all my wares appear online in one form or another. And to be honest, I’m not famous enough for these things to sell themselves. Without daily, active, highly-engaged social media marketing, I’d most likely have to give up the dream and go back to working a 9–5 office job. Which, to be fair, is just as terrifying as toiling away on social media. I figure at least when I’m clicking, posting, and responding online, I’m doing so in a tank top and shorts, in my bed, far from the horrors of corporate office life.
So what’s the trouble with social media, aside from the vast time-suck?
For starters, let’s list a few:
- You don’t know most of the people to whom you’re talking. They could be anyone, and they could be anywhere. What’s in a profile pic these days? Not much. Unless you’ve actually met the flesh and blood human on the other end of your latest tweet, you don’t know them. At all. More importantly, you don’t know what they want. And in many cases, you don’t even know whether or not they’re real. The person who just followed you might not be a person at all. Think about it…
- The endless cycle of reciprocation. While not as much of a problem on Facebook, when one uses Twitter and Instagram to pitch art and books, one must be prepared to give far more than one receives. These days, I spend as much time retweeting and liking fellow artists’ posts as I do creating my own, whether or not I like approve of what these people are saying. If I didn’t do this, the reciprocation cycle would end and my audience would shrink. This is how it works. It’s a shark tank out there, and if you don’t feed the sharks, they’ll turn right around and eat you
- Creepers, stalkers, and people who think every social media site is for dating. Yes, I’m a guy. And yes, I’m fully aware I don’t suffer nearly the amount of harassment as the ladies. Even so…every day, every week, every month, I deal with followers who aren’t at all interested in my paintings or my books. These ladies are after validation, compliments, idle flirting, and romance. An innocuous like on one of my posts becomes a “Hey, nice painting” in my inbox. And then the “Hey, nice painting” becomes something entirely unsettling. And then it becomes a dance between me not wanting to be rude to a fellow human and me having to say “Please go away and look for love from someone else.”
- The personal toll. This one is the hardest. In building a social media empire, one must be very, very careful to keep internet life and real life separate. So far, I’ve done well, but likely not well enough. Even though in my heart I know my goals on social media are highly specific and definitely have an endgame, it’s not always an easy sell to the people I care about in real life. “Why are you online so often?” “Who was that woman you were friendly with on Twitter?” “Are you suuuure you’re only there to market?” — these are some pretty typical questions I’ve been asked. And no matter my answers, I have many times seen the doubt in the eyes of those close to me. It’s at times like these I wonder, “Is this really worth it? Am I selling out? Am I really shrugging off compliments, flirty women, and questionable content…and staying humble?”
Well? Am I?
At the end of each day, is being on social media purely as an artist, author, and purveyor of the occasional off-color meme worthwhile? Yes. Mostly. For every weirdo, creeper, latch-on lady, or inappropriate person, there are hundreds of legitimately cool people out there. Fantastic artists lie around every corner of Instagram. On Twitter exists a thriving culture of authors, philosophers, poets, and curators of excellent content. And on Facebook, well…there’s always cat videos.
But the dark side is real.
It’s expensive, not in terms of money, but in terms of personal welfare and the welfare of those closest to me.
And every day I wage a small war in my heart against it.
In a six-year career on social media, I’ve experienced some truly great things. Great personalities. Hilarious jokes. Wonderful ideas to expand and open the mind.
And of course, epic-level books sales (the whole point of it all.)
But I’ve also dealt with…
- Writers who claim to be best-selling authors, but who become furious when it’s pointed out they’ve published one brief book with no sales (and which contains giant grammatical chasms.) In other words, liars
- Social justice warriors invading my benevolent feed to loudly state the half-boob in one of my paintings makes me nothing more than a ‘sexist, chauvinist pig.) Does it? Asking for a friend…
- Woman posing as art collectors who buy no art, but who gradually increase the flirt level until I’m forced to block or ignore them
- Exes posing as other people
- People who think everything is a platform for their politics
- And the one author who tried to get me to support his book (which spoke of the ‘many virtues of pedophilia.’) Gross, dude. Get help
And so the battle inside me rages on. It’s sometimes small, sometimes massive, and yet I take some heart knowing I’m not the only one. I’m betting there are silent legions of fellow humans out there who feel the same, who struggle with wanting to look their friends in the eyes (as opposed to through a monitor) and who feel the pressure and desire to escape social media and never, ever come back.
I know you’re out there.
We’re not meant to be these distant creatures who create mere avatars for our real lives, and who so often toil alone behind our screens.
The image we present online — it’s false. We must never forget this. Even if we’re utterly honest while posting, we are not collections of memes, profile pictures, and likes. We’re still human behind it all.
At least, I hope we are.
More importantly, I hope you’re human, too…and not another latch-on creeper.
As I close out this collection of thoughts, one last bit of irony hits me. As soon as this is published, I’ll share it across every single one of my social media accounts.
…or maybe not.
J Edward Neill
Come see me here.
In a far and ancient land, Emperor Chakran dreams of conquest. His desire to resurrect the evil, world-ending Ur casts a dark shadow across an unsuspecting world.
But as his army butchers its way across the realm, leaving only a vast, storm-riddled graveyard in its wake, a small band of warriors rises up to oppose him…
Tyrants of the Dead
The Complete Collection
There’s a place I want to be.
Let me try that again. There’s a place I intend to go.
As I gaze from my office window on this cold, grey winter morning, I am compelled by what I feel. My door is shut. A melancholic soundtrack thrums against my walls. The sky is the color of slate, the clouds are seamless, the skeletal trees swaying, and the branches shivering in the wind. I am almost alone. If such a thing as genetic memory exists, this is the kind of day my ancestors must have walked beneath. My blood lived on the smallest island off the northeastern coast of Ireland, and I have to imagine this is what the sky looked like so much more often than here in north Georgia.
If I close my eyes, I can almost go there. Not northern Ireland. Out there. Beyond my window. Beneath the clouds.
I long for the rain. However strange it might sound, the clouds, the trees, the wind, and the rain shape my most powerful memories. Not only the memories of childhood, but all the way to this very morning. I remember an early spring day during the second grade. I walked home through a cornfield having forgotten my little blue umbrella. The sky looked the same as it does today, only gloomier. The rain made a mess of me, and I loved it. I remember my first season in Georgia. In the dead of summer, for what felt like a fortnight, the clouds never departed. Storms roamed the sky at all hours, and the rain tore the earth ragged. Back then, I lived virtually alone in my house. After breakfast each morn, I wandered into the forest beyond the backyard and didn’t return until the rain had soaked me to my bones. The streams in the forest were swollen. The trees wept. The world had no colors beyond green and brown and grey. I was utterly alone, and I loved it.
A large part of me never returned from the woods, the cornfield, or the myriad grey skies I walked beneath. When I dream, and especially when I’m awake, most of me is still out there, still shadowed by the trees, still alone, and still happy.
This is the place I long for. I’d give up almost everything to return to it. I’d forsake football, tv, video games, movies, computers, and cell phones for it. I’d trade in my truck for a dinghy. I’d turn over my neatly-trimmed lawn to the wilderness. I’d set aside dinners at fancy restaurants, slugs of ancient scotch, and long stretches of hot, sunny, beautiful Georgia weather. It’s not a specific location I desire, nor a vague, fantastical, unrealistic dream. The rain is a state of mind I need. I need it. I need the clouds. I need the thunder. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) isn’t something I suffer from. Give me long stretches of sunless sky, and you’ll see a happier J Edward than ever you knew. Actually, you probably won’t see me at all, but you can rest assured what my state of mind will be.
I know I’m not alone in this. Perhaps my waking dream is somewhat more all-consuming than yours, but no matter. Close your eyes and dwell in silence for a short while, and maybe you’ll see the forest, the house, the sandy shore, the mountains, or the people you wish you could return to. Where your desire lives is not nearly as important as how you intend to get back to it. It’s a feeling more than a place, an emotion more than a fixed point in time.
There’s a place I intend to go. Perhaps not today or tomorrow. I’ve a child to raise and bills to pay. I’ve resources to gather, plans to perfect, books to finish, and research to do. But no matter how long it takes, I’ll get there. It’s a bucket list of one. It’s more sacred to me than writing or possessions. Honestly, if I get where I want to be, I won’t need half of what I have now, and my writing will likely improve tenfold. Who needs entertainment when one has imagination? All I want to do is look out my window across a vast, grey, rainswept woodland, and then walk out my door.
Maybe next week we’ll get back to skulls, medieval warfare, and world-burning warlocks. For now I think I’ll kick back and look out the window for a while. Out there lies inspiration. Out there is the rain. It’s near. I can smell it.
When I was a kid, life wasn’t like it is now.
Everything was different. So very, very different.
It all started on Saturday morning. Or was it Sunday? Hell if I know.
Back then, I lived at my grandparents’ house. Joliet, Illinois. Corn capital of the world. I didn’t have any bills. I didn’t care about mortgages, cars, money, or girls. I didn’t care about anything, really. Well, I mean…other than my grandparents.
I was seven-years old. Life was good.
No, not just good. Life was f**king idyllic.
Back then, unlike now, I was happy as a clam to wake up at 5AM. Before sunrise? Yeah, I was up. Before everyone else in the entire city? Yep. You bet. It’s not like I had to commute to work. Or commute to anywhere. I had absolutely no plans for my life.
None. Zero. Zip.
What about school? Well, what about it? I didn’t dread school back then. I mean, we had hour-and-a-half recesses back then! And long lunches. And small classrooms. And kickball, lots of kickball.
And you know what?
The world felt right. Life was easy. My deepest worries were which brand of cereal I would eat, what kind of candy my grandma kept hidden in the dresser, and whether or not we had lemonade in the fridge. In hindsight, I think I could’ve lived ten centuries in that life and never questioned it.
It wasn’t just that I was having fun. Or that I had the truest form of freedom. Or that my grandma made pancakes every morning for breakfast.
No. It was something else.
It was in the air. In the water. In the clouds, the trees, and the giant stalks of corn blowing in the field behind our house.
It was in the snow. It was hidden in our spooky garage. It lived in the cracks in the sidewalks which ran between our house and playground at the street’s end.
It was pure f**king joy.
Sometimes, when I’m lying in my bed just after waking in the morning…
Or when I’m out walking in the woods with no one else near…
Or when I’m driving at night, no music playing, nothing but me, the lines on the highway, and the stars wheeling…
I can still remember.
I can remember being in elementary school. Sometimes, just sometimes, my grandfather or my dad would show up in the middle of class. To the other kids and to the teachers, it must’ve seemed bizarre. But my grandpa or my dad would say something like, ‘Jeremy’s leaving school for the day.’ The teacher would protest, but moments later, much to everyone’s shock, I’d be sitting in the car, windows down, the world rushing past. Why’d I get to leave early? Sometimes it was to drive up to Chicago to see a Cubs’ game. Other times we’d ride out to the countryside, out in the spaces between cities (back when such things existed) and we’d just drive. Just ride toward freedom.
Just us and the wind.
And I swear, every once in a while, I can close my eyes and feel that same wind on my face. It doesn’t feel like adult wind. It’s kid-wind. It’s otherworldly. It’s f**king sorcery. Know what I mean?
But it wasn’t just the wind. See, back then I played baseball. Not the super-competitive, worried-about-my-fastball-velocity stuff I worried about when playing semi-pro ball as an adult. No, not at all. On Saturday mornings (usually cloudy, misty, and cool in the Midwestern springs) my grandma would drive me out to the ballpark. I’d meet a few coaches and plenty of kids, and we’d play ball under the racing clouds. Sometimes it would rain. Sometimes it’d even storm. But most of the time we’d run around out there on those green, green fields for what felt like days. How long did it really last? I don’t know…maybe a few hours every Saturday. But it felt like forever to us kids.
And if I close my eyes, I can still smell the grass. I can still see those clouds. I’m almost there. God, how free we were. How I miss being so free of worldly care.
In remembering it, in traveling backward through my modern adult mind, these things are just not the same. Not quite. The grass back then was kid-grass. The clouds were magic. I try to go back there in my heart, but I can’t. It’s too far away. Those days lie across an ocean of time. And if I think about it too long, it feels tragic. I could almost curl into a ball and weep with my full-grown eyes until they’re empty.
How many of these moments can I remember?
Almost all of them.
The whir of my grandparents air-conditioning (one of those in-window metal boxes which blasted frigid air into our kitchen.)
The roar of my grandfather’s lawnmower, a beastly thing which terrified me.
My grandmother’s voice lulling me to sleep.
The sound of wiffle balls flying off my plastic bat and landing in the cornfield.
The mournful, but achingly soulful winter wind buffeting our tiny house.
The time I was sick for seven days on the couch.
The way Halloween seemed to last hours and hours…and hours.
The thousand times I woke up early, treated myself to two bowls of Captain Crunch, and watched cartoons while nestled on the floor in front of the TV…all before the sun had even dared to think of rising.
It never ends, this spiral of memories. I’m betting it’s the same for most of you.
When I think back to these moments, they are far, far away. Not thirty years, but thirty centuries in my weary adult heart. And that’s the tough part. It doesn’t matter how hard I ache for them, they escape me. They existed in a world before bills, before jobs, before assignments, grades, and homework. They were king long before late fees, back taxes, damaged friendships, and shattered hearts.
These things were pure.
No, not just pure. Sacred.
And how many things are sacred? Really and truly? So, so few.
We live under great burden these days, don’t we? Isn’t that what life is? Heavy. Hard. Expensive. Go ahead. Count the cost of all your pain, all your loneliness, and all your struggles. You’ve survived, obviously, since you’re reading this, but you’re far, far removed from your freedom as a child. Aren’t you?
The price of our great technological advancement? The cost of convenience? It’s greater than we know. I can see it in my son. He’s seven now (God, how quickly they grow up!) but his childhood is nothing like mine. He carries weight…already. He knows things of which I was ignorant at his age. So many things.
He knows about bills. About politics. And divorce. About broken hearts.
And for as much as I’d like to shield him, my effort would be useless. I can no more stifle his knowledge than I can stop the sun from rising tomorrow.
The loss of innocence is a quick thing. Quick…and silent…and irreversible. And perhaps even tragic.
And so I hope, hope beyond hope, actually, that when you close your eyes and dream of your faraway days, the green grasses of your childhood, and of your grandma’s pancakes (hopefully she made them) your memories are sharp. I hope, if only for a moment, you can go there. That you can forget what it’s like being an adult.
And that for one moment in your mind, every so often, you can be a kid again, and your heart is whole…
J Edward Neill writes fiction and philosophy books, and he usually makes them tragic.