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Ballad of a Fat Man Who Did Not Stay Home: A Long Summer on the Road
Gabriel Ricard

I’m trying my best not to open this on a negative note. But when the main narrative  thread for this summer involves getting revenge on the worst reading of your career, negativity makes a little sense for your beginning.I want you guys to understand that even after passing the hateful two-year anniversary, that disastrous Kleft Jaw/Cheeseburger Nebula Press reading was still bugging me all across 2016. I’ve written about this reading before, but in a nutshell? It was a death sentence of slow anxiety over being able to read my work in front of people I admired to the point of being a little intimidated. Combine that with the fact that I was reading at the Mercury Cafe, a venue with a long history of artists I perceived to be more sincere and talented at their craft than I could ever be. It didn’t help that I read material I wasn’t prepared for, or that I actually thought I could open the show with a long-neglected stand up comedy set. I bombed badly at a show I built up as a possible professional milestone, and it’s been bugging me ever since.  It was bugging me when I made plans to drive down to Virginia this past summer, to see my mom, catch up with some friends, and finally take Marilyn Manson off that dumb concert bucket list. It bugged me when Cara and I made plans to see Bruce Springsteen’s River Tour. That would also give me the chance to finally spend more than ten minutes in Boston.

And it was bugging me as I prepared for Otakon in August, my first in 8 years.

The point is that even two years later, no matter what, whenever I traveled, or read, I thought about a time that combined two of the worst experiences I’ve had with either of those things. I have problems with depression and anxiety to begin with. I don’t need tangible failure, but it’s something I have to deal with all the same. Supposedly, it’s one of the main elements to being an adult.

Earlier this year, Frankie Metro contacted me about doing a reading in Denver in August. It would get me back to the Mercury Cafe.  I had always wanted to go back. I just didn’t know when I would get the chance.

Suddenly, given the chance to go back, I felt the weight of failing two years ago. It was an instant match for the anxiety I almost always, immediately feel, whenever someone asks me to read or perform.

And we’re gonna fly, as well? The first time I’ve done so in eighteen years? Lovely. We’ll get into the flying later.

The Chicago adventure from two years earlier  was pretty close to perfect. The reading at the Mercury Café, which I hit after spending traveling to Boulder for a couple of days? Pretty far from perfect. I’ve given bad performances in my life. I’ve bombed at standup in shitty rock and roll bars in Baltimore. I had to get through a performance of To Kill a Mockingbird with a temperature that was just a shade over the century mark. The point is that I know how to crash and fucking burn. I don’t think I ever embraced the notion of failure as tightly as I did that night at Mercury. You can blame that on a lot of things. Honestly, I just didn’t prepare. I was tired and poorly prepared. I failed miserably at the stand up set, when I realized that I didn’t have enough energy to think of hilarious things to say for five minutes. That shook a degree of confidence that was already close to non-existent. When I found out I had to read a short story I had not planned to read, since I couldn’t find the poems I had planned to read, I was doomed. I stammered through the short story, apologized repeatedly, barely muttered the last line, and left to feel sorry for myself. I had embarrassed myself beyond my imagination’s approach to the worst-case scenario.

I survived, simply because I told myself that anyone who has to stand in front of a number of people, talking about whatever, is bound to fail once in awhile. Still, if you know what it’s like to artistically/creatively die (however you want to put it) slowly and painfully in front of 10-100 people, then you know that surviving is just about the shittiest reward ever.

So I bombed. I watched a 20-year-old puke vodka outside out hotel room in Denver later that evening. My train ride from Denver to New York took a day and change longer than it was used supposed to, owing to a bunch of fun factors. Then I wound up stuck in Richmond for a couple of hellish days.

That whole Chicago/Denver trip proved to be the shift. For the first time in my life, after I finally got home, I wasn’t really eager to get back out there for any extended length of time.

And then, of course, a few months later, I took a Greyhound from Richmond VA to Ashland OR.

But beyond that, I was burned out on long-distance travel, at least as far as buses or trains were concerned. I also knew that if I ever had a chance to get back on a bus or train, and travel to Denver to redo (because sequels always work out) that Kleft Jaw gig, I’d go for it. Holding grudges against failures is a pretty ambitious, effective way to poison yourself over the long run. It’s the idea that you can always do better. It’s knowing it to the point of being able to build an entire vivid reality around it. I’m getting better at accepting situations in which I did my best, but everything went to shit anyway, and there’s nothing that could have changed that. The problem are those times when you just can’t accept that. Not one goddamn bit.

But you more or less have to accept it. If you’re the least bit obsessive, you have to move through obnoxious bright light reality in a way that also embraces your neurotic train of thought. It isn’t literally playing parkour while trying to count the number of clouds in the sky, hoping against hope that it’s an even number, but it can feel like that sometimes. You know that a lot of these things you obsess over aren’t that important. You know that. You really, really do.

And then what?

Exactly. Even the most dedicated approach to mental health care, if you even have access to that, doesn’t completely fix things. You still get hung up on things. You still have a hard time letting shit go.

So when Frankie Metro asked me if I wanted to be part of an upcoming Kleft Jaw/Cheeseburger Nebula Press reading in Denver, I said yes almost immediately. Then I started to imagine the inevitable Greyhound trip. I refuse to take long distance train rides ever again. Amtrak’s not getting me again with that bullshit.

While I was having all of these very deep, very interesting thoughts, my fiancé (now wife) Cara told me she wanted to come along to this sequel in Denver. She loves readings (and even participated once), and she had never been to Denver. I had a feeling she would like it, although I couldn’t really explain why. Denver is not dissimilar to Portlandia’s fairly accurate vision of Portland. It’s nowhere on my own list of favorite cities, yet I can’t really say anything too bad about it. The worst thing I can personally say about Denver is that it’s a fucking challenge to be a pedestrian sometimes. Denver just doesn’t stand out to me. That’s nothing against the city. Again, it’s a pretty good place for arts, bars, dispensaries, and airports, but I don’t have the strong emotional tie that I have with other places. I don’t know why. The combination of the city with that sky, and the rest of the natural surroundings, is one of the reasons why Denver is in fact one of the most unique cities in the United States.

When it comes to travel, Cara is enthusiastic and organized. She’s instantly likable. I thought about that, and I thought about how I will never find a better travel companion. If you can, marry someone who can put up with you in the car for hundreds of miles at a time. I’m glad I did. Of course, I was in favor of her tagging along. I just couldn’t imagine Cara enduring a two-and-a-half day Greyhound trip. It’s not that I don’t think she can. I just don’t think that’s a good experience for someone who has never even gone to the other side of their state on Greyhound before. 

And then I realized that Cara had no intention of sitting on a bus for two days or more. She wasn’t stupid. She knew that would be an absolute nightmare. There’s taking a Greyhound from Long Island to Boston (which we had discussed). Unless they have to (and a lot of people are unfortunately in that position), very few go right to the part where they willingly give up sanity and hygiene for 2+ days. She wanted to fly. Obviously, this applied to both of us. Flying required a photo I.D. The U.S. Employment Authorization card counts as such. We had options I haven’t had to think about in eighteen years. We got our tickets shortly after that. I spoke to Frankie, and made it clear that we were definitely going to be there. It was a great bill. You had Frankie, Lindsey Thomas, Steven Dunn, Nate Maxson, Dustin Holland, Makayla Shadae, William Seward Bonnie, and others. It sounded like we were going to get a pretty decent-sized crowd to come out for it, too.

Compared to the two years leading up to the Mercury Café show in 2014, I had done a lot more readings between that show and the present. My formula for picking poems, practicing, and creating the set is more refined than ever, thank god. When I go up in front of everyone, I have at least something close to self-confidence, in terms of knowing what I’m going to do when it’s my turn. I envy the very few writers who get to tour the country, and perform their works in a variety of places. Being able to work from home is nice. The downside is that I’m stuck with a schedule that makes it hard to find time to go to readings. Long Island has a few. New Jersey has some great ones with the likes of Damian Rucci, who combines viciously blunt poetry with a stage presence that demands attention. Obviously, New York City can keep you engaged for eternity and a day. It’s just a question of getting out to all of that stuff. I’m trying to find the time, but I could probably try harder.

Denver was a great opportunity. It was also a rare chance to catch up with people like Frankie, Lindsey, and Nate. It’s silly, but it is genuinely amazing to work with people who are great writers, and then great company. And they’re so good, you wouldn’t want to dishonor that by being partial due to friendship. That sounds weird, but it’s still true.

Cara booked us into a hostel in the Downtown Denver area. I started picking poems, and planning my set. One of the big reasons why the Mercury Café show from two years ago bombed was the material. I had prepared for one thing, and wound up having to read something else entirely. That lets me cut myself a little slack. Still, at the same time I have the balls to tell people that they push themselves too hard, I feel like I already cut myself too much slack as it is. That might not be healthy. I can’t afford someone competent enough to let me know for sure.

In the end, poems would let me tell a greater range of stories than anything else I write. So that’s what swayed me.

The first batch of possibilities settled on fifty poems. That’s just fucking nuts. I don’t want to tell you that I spent four and a half hours cutting it down to those. It was easier after that. Sometimes, my self-preservation actually functions as some sort of rational inner voice, and it heads off the pack, before shit gets weird. I picked poems that had been published in the past few months. I picked a couple I just happened to like. A couple of items from my book Clouds of Hungry Dogs went into the set. 

I practiced the set. Probably a wee bit too much, but Cara kept that from getting too ridiculous. She’s really good at that, as I’ve said before. I was already starting to worry a little about flying for the first time since the late 90s. The show was rolled into that ongoing, low-burn panic attack, as well, although I was as close as I was ever going to get to believing it would be fine. Better prepared, less tired than I had been the last time, and I had Cara to help me stay level. All of those things were true.

When I realized that I was genuinely nervous about flying, and about going through TSA (which would be a first for me), I tried to go back to the last time I flew. It was 1998, and I had just gotten through my parents’ divorce, the upheaval of going traveling from British Columbia to Missouri, to Virginia by car, and then back to Canada to live with my mom’s petulant, pitiable, upcoming ex-husband. That went on for seven months. Most of it was spent homeless, moving from houseboats, to friends, to cars, to hotels, to a brief, absolute disastrous time in foster care. I wrote a novel about it that will almost certainly never get published. That’s pretty much the shortest version of that entire period that I could ever possibly tell. A slightly longer version would emphasize that flying was a lot for a child who could effortlessly become anxious about almost anything. It didn’t work well with the emotional intensity of traveling to a different country, my parents getting divorced, and my decision to fly back to Canada, alone, to live with my father. In my 30s, I had worked up a very elaborate series of bad associations with flying.  

Living with my dad wound up being a bad call. By the time I graduated from the seventh grade, I was ready for some stability. I also realized that I was probably drinking too much vodka for someone who had technically just started puberty. I asked my mom if I could come back to Virginia to live with her, my siblings, and her fiancé, who had been one of the main reasons why my mom found the courage to leave her last husband. Obviously, she said I could. I flew out from Vancouver a few days later. It was the least stressful flight of my life, up to that point, but I still remember hating the general concept of flying, combined with being exhausted from six months of living in the shadow of my dad’s uncertain future. I haven’t been back to Canada since.

Part of me wants to blame shit like The Wonder Years for the way all of those memories came back, when Cara and I decided to fly to Denver for the show. It gave my generation this stylized, overly romantic way of narrating the unrelenting nonsense that makes up our lives. Can you sometimes hear Daniel Stern’s amused, constantly incredulous voice in the back of your head? I can. When all of these months and bizarre characters from that period came together, they all decided to speak up at once. I spent even more time in my ridiculous thoughts than usual. I tried to make something neat out of the great volume of time that covers 1998 to 2016. I wanted to organize all of that material in my head into something that could be easily understood, or even dismissed. That never works. We all know that. And when you can’t organize anything, all of that stuff, much of it toxic, starts to burn tiny holes in your wiring. It made me unhappy to have memories that didn’t seem to have a reason for being so prominent. It was impossible to decide which anecdotes qualified as random, spectacular good or bad luck, and which ones were the result of my own shittiness.

So I let that kind of garbage wear me down, compound my stress about flying, and about the show. All of this amounted to a really good reason to go back on anxiety medication. So I did that. I’m keeping up with it, although barely. I was creating a static mindset that was nonetheless a completely unpredictable clusterfuck of the highest order. That was more than I could stand. It was certainly more than Cara could stand.

In between booking the flight and hostel, and the actual date we left, I got in some of the travels I’ve already mentioned. I went to Otakon. I drove to Virginia to see my parents, and finally cross Marilyn Manson off my bucket concert list. I filled every other hour with work, trying to be a warm, emotionally functional human being with people like my impending wife, and naps. I was also working as a pool attendant at my apartment complex. Because that’s definitely what I envisioned doing in my 30s. I used all of this stuff to keep the day of departure at bay. I didn’t want to sabotage the whole thing by getting to a point of not wanting to go at all. To make that happen, I had to actively pursue distraction. It sometimes involves going against my body’s need to relax. For me, that gets old pretty fast. 

The date for the show had been set at August 20th. Even with all of those neat distractions, it got here a lot faster than I would have preferred. Anticipation can be a bastard, as well know. It was even worse because I went to work at our complex’s outdoor pool for seven hours. No one came. Heavy clouds leant themselves flawlessly to the eerie quiet. Instead of using the time to practice, I stressed out more about the show. I was also stressed about going through TSA for the first time. Finally, I was stressed about flying in general. Despite the impression I often give people, I really do think I’m in better shape than ever. I have less insecurities and anxieties than at any other time in my life that I can remember. Unfortunately, the insecurities and anxieties that are sticking around have grown anywhere from two to a million times their original size. Why in the hell is that even a thing?

To be honest, it’s more than a little stupid that someone like me should be nervous about going through TSA. I’m a white man in my 30s. In terms of my interactions with law enforcement agencies, I generally don’t have a lot to be afraid of. My anxiety knows that. It just doesn’t care. It’s gotten a lot of its weight and momentum out of the fantastic and unlikely. Weird things happen. White guys in their 30s get knocked around and abused sometimes. I was mostly just worried that there would be a rush of people at the airport. I would forget some step in the process, because that’s a fucking cornerstone of my life, and everything would fall apart. Someone would yell at me. I would lose my temper. Make things worse by becoming an even more committed Don Knotts impersonation. 

Since our flight left LaGuardia at nearly midnight, the cavernous, polished airport was disconcertingly quiet. That meant getting through TSA without incident. 

I honestly don’t know how much commercial airplanes have changed in the past eighteen years. The plane that took us from New York to Denver felt about the same as the planes I flew on when I was a kid. The rush of the takeoff was familiar, and it burned the anxiety down to something that was almost stable. Now, remembering those earlier flights, having Cara there, and being able to move my anxiety to the show, which was really where I suspect the fear had been all along, helped me get over flying a lot more quickly than I would ever guessed. Flying was still a strange experience, as ridiculous as that sounds. It made sleeping during the flight difficult, and it made sitting still for four or so hours unbearable. The Monty Python albums that were saved to my Android helped relax me further. Something that can play audio is one of those comforts with travel that has become pretty essential to me. It didn’t exist when I went to Santa Fe by bus in 2005. You had options, but certain things are so alarmingly easy now. We can’t save the planet, but we can watch our digital downloads on our tablets, as we fly gleefully and inefficiently over the ruins of Detroit and white supremacy’s great beyond.

The snacks on my flight to Denver were more affordable than I would have guessed. That was cool.

I was glad to have Cara with me. Beyond the reading, we had at least a few things in Denver that we wanted to do. For one thing, we never have as much time as we would like, but we were hoping to get in some time with at least one museum. We also wanted to spend time walking around. When we travel, we like to wander. Itineraries are fine. We just also find that we’re happier, when we don’t make too many plans. Life doesn’t work that way a lot of the time. I’m amazed that it happens to me at all.

We checked the 11th Avenue Hotel and Hostel, which you can find in the heart of the city. Cara had booked it. I had never stayed in a hostel before. That seems strange for someone who travels as often as I do. Take my limited experience for what it’s worth, but if you’re ever looking for an affordable, comfortable stay in Denver, 11th Avenue Hotel and Hostel deserves a look. This isn’t a review. If you’re the kind of person who thinks staying at a Days Inn is a good example of slumming it, you probably won’t like the digs at 11th Avenue. It’s an old building. The rooms are pretty simple. You may have to share a shower. Years of couch surfing while on the road forces you to be flexible about accommodations. Even if 11th Avenue had turned out to be a nightmare of relentless discomfort and Cthulhu cult vibes, I would have been okay with everything.

Since anxiety and depression have been part of my day-to-day life for literally as long as I can remember, I knew what was going on. Self-sabotage is one of my great, ongoing problems. As Cara and I stopped by a couple of pot dispensaries, I told myself that the show was going to be fine. My depression tends to respond to statements like these by agreeing with me, before returning to a vigorous fisting session with my imagination over an active volcano. Cara and I were having a great time. It just didn’t take a lot to bring me back to assuming the worst.  And I was frustrated. I still didn’t know why I was putting so much stock in this show in the first place. The only reason I could think of was the failure from two years earlier. Rational parts of my brain were still trying to fire off something meaningful and useful. Those pieces told me again and again that doing well at the current show didn’t erase the shitty performance at the previous show.

I was aware of that. My mind usually is. It just doesn’t seem to be the kind of insight that actually helps. 

You may have heard that weed is just slightly popular in Denver these days. We saw several dispensaries, but only went inside a couple. Between the two of us, I smoke, but I’ve never really been a fan of “weed” culture. I’m glad it’s being legalized throughout the United States. It would be even better if we could somehow retroactively restore the millions of lives by a drug war that the United States is almost entirely responsible for. But I have a feeling I’m asking too much of our times. The fact that so many of my friends who favor legalization begin and end the conversation with their desire to buy marijuana legally depresses me. That’s fair, but there’s more to the story and issue than the fact that I could legally buy gummi bears and soda infused with cannabis. I know a lot of activists who take a comprehensive view to drug culture, weed legalization, and all the connected possibilities and state power-sponsored consequences that have brought us to the present. Unfortunately, I also know a lot of people who don’t, so I shy away from this subject for the most part. I don’t feel terribly qualified discuss it on any level deeper than the one we’re using right now.

Being able to buy pot (relatively) hassle-free is cool for recreational types like me. I’m still more interested in what legalization can do for people who need it far more than I do. I was also a lot less impressed with the edibles and pre-rolled joints I could buy in Denver, than I was with the DAPL protest Cara and I witnessed.

On our way to Mercury, we walked on the opposite end of the street from the throng. We thought about joining, but realized it wouldn’t accomplish much. We already had somewhere to be. Simply walking with the brave and powerful for a few minutes is not enough. It doesn’t even make us tourists. It doesn’t do anything for anyone. Instead, we continued to walk along the other side of the street. I was glad the weather was clear and cool. I was moved by their passion and dedication, and I was humbled by their commitment. We ignored the skinny, half-lobster white kid who wanted someone to “wipe out those fucking terrorists,” We watched their peaceful fight to control the land that belongs to them in the first place for a couple of blocks. Bystanders stared. A few cheered. The DAPL story was still a couple of weeks away from becoming a story that everyone suddenly had an opinion about. No one harassed them. A couple of patrol cars followed along at a leisurely pace. Their steady, strong voices continuously broke the comfortable tranquility of the afternoon. Although they group wasn’t massive, numbering in a few dozen, they were relentless.

Their presence reminded Cara and I that we were falling short of what we could do to help the world around us. It wasn’t guilt. Call it a reminder to do better. One Native American woman in particular along the group, which was more of an organized cluster than anything resembling a straight line, kept everyone awake, encouraged, and focused. Her energy and strength were palpable, even from where I stood on the other side of the street. She wasn’t just there for her own future. She was there because it was a righteous, essential thing to be there. Nothing less than the world is at stake right now. Trump’s election is going to make us live with this intensely, absolutely, and on a moment-to-moment basis, every hour of the day. I stand up for things I believe in. I stand up for things that I do not stand to gain from. Hooray for me. One thing I constantly feel from meeting people while I travel is the sense that I am not doing enough for unselfish reasons. Ultimately, I manage to make most things in my life about me, including anything that someone else might call compassion. I watched the DAPL protesters march, fighting for not just personal reasons, but for something much more. I was ashamed, and then I realized that I was making it about me again.

So I simply resolved to do better. When I talked to Cara about all of this, we discovered that we felt the same way, and were having similar experiences. So we shared the resolve.

When we got to the Mercury Café, no one else from Kleft Jaw was there. Cheeseburger Nebula Press hadn’t shown up either. There was a wedding upstairs, so we crashed that for a few minutes. The rooms were too bright and loud to care. Packed beyond capacity, it was a jarring entrance into happy chaos, after walking sparse, warm Denver streets. With so little room to move around, we went downstairs to the café and restaurant. We waited. High as a kite on gummi bears and other edibles, I went outside to practice the poems one more time. At that point, it was really just a matter of reiterating my rhythm. I also wanted to get the introductions down. I don’t have a complex setup for my readings. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before. It’s not self-deprecation. Folks like Nate Maxson, Steven Dunn, and Lindsey Thomas all bring nuanced, layered experience to their readings. With them, you’re getting something that incorporates sincerity and honesty into reading works that naturally lend themselves to a certain kind of performance. When I’m up there, it’s a little more straightforward. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I certainly try to read the poems in the spirit of knowing they require more than the dreaded “poet voice.”

There are a lot of different opinions and interpretations of “poet voice.” The one that I’ve heard the most often essentially boils down to this: No one wants to hear your intentional or unintentional Dylan Thomas impression. That is probably the nicest version of that version of that opinion I can think of.

What it all comes down to is the fact that I don’t do readings. A lot of things get in the way. I’m also lazy sometimes, which I have to embrace at least occasionally as necessary self-care. What I wanted from the reading that night was an unshakeable sense that I had become just a little better at all of this. I wanted to feel good about what I’ve been doing for almost twenty years of my life. 

And yes, obviously, I wanted to feel good in the place that had been forced to house one of the worst performances of my life.

Things clicked, as I practiced my set, smoked cigarettes, and chatted with one of the Mercury Café waiters. Barring clicks, I was at least in control of using my anxiety for something productive. It’s a feeling I almost always get, before I step out to throw around a bunch of words before audiences of ten or a hundred and fifty. It’s something I count on. Without that stupid fear and doubt twisting itself into grinning adrenaline, I don’t have a hope in hell.

Slowly, and then all at once, Kleft Jam family and Cheeseburger Nebula Press friends showed up. I don’t get to see Nate, Lindsey, Frankie Metro, Dustin Holland, or anyone else from those circles nearly as much as I would. That sounds like the kind of thing you say about people you don’t see often, but it’s still true. Living on Long Island puts me a thousand miles and (considerable) change from friends in New Mexico, friends in Texas, friends in California. Colorado is just more of the sad same. Cara and I had been sharing increasing enthusiasm for moving to Denver in a couple of years. It would put me a lot closer to cities and people I love. Obviously, the downside is that I would be a long ways from New York City. Even further away from places like Richmond, which I remain weirdly fond of. I could imagine being able to live with that for the most part.

It was a great, beyond expectations reading at the Mercury that night. If nothing else, I get to sit in a comfortable room, in a comfortable chair, surrounded by people who are open to whatever we might have in store for them. I get to watch some of the best poets and writers in the world. I know. I haven’t been around the world yet. My feelings would remain the same, even after being exposed to the best of the rest of the planet. Everyone I already mentioned brought something vibrant and furious with singular energy to the show. Then you had people like Madi Chamberlain (who I had to watch later on my phone, because I obnoxiously missed her set), William S. Bonnie (another long-time favorite of mine), Rachel Palmateer, and Makayla Armijo. You can find the videos all over the place. My phone died, or I would have recorded my own performance. I realized recently that I have a pretty shitty demo reel of past performances, as far as poetry is concerned. You can find my theater stuff, and my movies, and there are a handful of videos of my readings. But there is a little gap where a lot of other stuff should be, and that’s entirely my fault. I get wrapped up in making sure I don’t embarrass myself. That’s the only imaginable reason for not keeping a detailed record of my readings so far.

So you’ll have to take my word on how good the show turned out to be for me. I’ll never be as intense as Frankie. I’ll never be as painfully relatable as Lindsey. I certainly will never be as funny or terrifying as Nate. I certainly won’t be able to tell a story like Steven Dunn that’s capable of shaking your bones into feverish dimensions and hapless dust. I don’t know if I’ll ever be any of those things. As far as my own personal satisfaction is concerned, anyway. Not even in my own fashion.

But I still exceeded my own expectations that night. I kept a flexible tone, as I introduced and then read one poem after another. It was good to try out some stuff from my next poetry collection Love and Quarters, which you should be reading this time next year. There were a couple I just felt like trying out in front of people. I didn’t stammer. I didn’t tell a joke that was met with withering, scorched earth silence. I got laughs and bantered with addictive ease. And I read poems that were well received by my peers, and by those who were willing to be part of the audience. The Kleft Jaw merch table did well that night. If I played even the smallest part in that, it’s a career highlight. It always is. Most importantly, it is always wholly different from the last one. That comes out to more highlights and privileges than I deserve.

I did right by the Kleft Jaw and Cheeseburger Nebula writers in attendance who were amazing.

I am happier than I was in 2014, when I bombed at Mercury. As unpredictable as the highs and lows can still be sometimes, the highs are more sustained and less destructive now than ever before. I need to acknowledge that more often. I need to remember these things, the next time I’m freaking out over airports, readings, the ongoing, potential end of the world, or whatever else is happening. My anxiety is going to be my special, famished imaginary friend forever. I should take note of how I’m in better shape to deal with that than ever before.

The lows are harder to take than they used to be, but only sometimes. I should make the most of what I can do right now, before the lows get worse.

If they get worse.

Cara and I finished out the trip by going to the Denver Art Museum, and visiting with Frankie, Lindsey, Nate, and the others. We got some BBQ. I watched someone pull out a gun at the bar fight across the street from our hostel. It was a strange end to a good, useful adventure.  As we got through the hellish, but scenic Denver airport, Cara finally remembered something she had wanted to tell me. Something from last night’s show. A guy who had seen me perform at the gig in 2014 was there for my second appearance. After I finished, he was outside, talking to Cara and someone else. Not realizing that Cara was my fiancé, he proceeded to praise what he had just seen from me. He was apparently surprised, remembering how badly I had done last time.

After I got out and away from my fucking anxiety, I wasn’t too surprised. I’m glad he was. That’s a good sign.