When you know you're at a turning point in your life, you know you have to do everything "one last time." It really is a wonderful excuse.
For example, I need to grab a drink with my closest friends "one last time." As I pass the HyVee around lunch hour, I decide that I must have the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet "one last time." And never mind the fact that I only ever had Chipotle at Merle Hay once during my junior year — if I'm going to make these last few days count, I must become pregnant with a burrito baby "one last time."
As silly as most of these are, there really are some things that I will do for the last time. For example, I am in Mars Cafe right now, a small Drake coffeeshop that has been a staple of the community since 2006. I will never have a cup of something in here again, because it closes the day I leave.
I'm not really broken up about it, but it does make me think.
My defacto order freshman year was a selection of Chips and Hummus with a pot of Earl Grey tea. One time, I ate and drank it while studying for a physics test. I got a B (**best day ever!!!**).
While I initially praised myself on my dedication and persistence, I quickly resorted to superstition. In the two weeks before the test, I'd order my chips and hummus maybe three times a week, until I was so hopped up on caffeine that baseballs started jumping across the page in the projectile motion problems. If a physics book ever starts resembling the Daily Prophet, it's time to order a beer or three (and Mars always had a daily happy hour).
I wrote dozens of articles for the Times-Delphic in this coffeeshop and most of my college papers. I don't know how many pages that might have been — hundreds?This was where I came when I won awards for Periphery two years ago and last year
. This is the place where people first asked me about the inspiration behind my writing, and I, flushed with excitement and nervousness tried to respond without being arrogant. No one ever really told me my writing was any good before Mars (with the exception of my parents and grade school teachers). It's because of those events that I've got a savings account slowly filling with money I can use to take a year off and write a novel or six. It's because of things that happened here that kept me dreaming.
I think it's funny Mars is closing at the same time the Curiosity Rover is doing so many amazing things in the place the shop got its name from. That robot is having fantastic adventure in a strange atmosphere. The landscapes are desolate, but there is something captivating in the images we see. There is something that keeps us coming back. Maybe it's a little bit of the grand unknown. Maybe it's the anticipation of what is to come. Maybe it is just that we need something to think about.
For me, Mars Cafe was a place where dreams came to hang out. Some came to pass, and some never left. There are a lot of places like that around college campuses. They hold personal meaning long after you have gone, even if they don't mean anything to anyone else. Remembering places like this helps me remember the excitement of why I came to them in the first place. When I leave Des Moines, I hope that stays with me.
The 15-year-old politickers — they were great!
Today I was covering a political event, and I interviewed two 15-year-old enthusiastic politickers. They asked me if I'd met any famous people during my reporting. I told them yes, and listed off a few names.
Tonight, I find myself wishing I had answered the question differently, because I remember little of my interviews with celebrities or politicians. The interviews I remember are the ones I did with ordinary people who experienced or accomplished extraordinary things.
I can still quote from some of those interviews. "Man's inhumanity to man is almost impossible to define."
-That was Conrad, the third American to step into Dachau.
I interviewed him when I was 17. I cried with him. He's the only interview subject I ever did that with, because I later I learned to control my emotions as a journalist."When I first met her, she was wearing these wild, multicolored sneakers."
-That was a professor, talking about one of her students who had recently passed away. The professor spoke of colors, over and over, a trend that was repeated when I spoke to the mourning parents."I guess you feel like you didn't get the job done. If I could do it, I'd go back there again."
-That was Don, talking about the murky end of the Korean War
. He remembered vividly the opening days of the war, since he was on duty when the sirens began to blare."I'm not sad about it — I'm sorry about it. That's the way the world is now. You have to find your own solutions."
-That was Edna Schneiderman, talking about the first Schneiderman's Furniture
she and her husband founded in Meadowlands Minnesota. The store was a staple to several rural communities, and when it closed in 2009 after 40 years of business, it left a hole in the region that can't be filled."I can tell you what war is. It's a glorious tribute to the stupidity of man."
-That was John, another veteran from the Korean War
from the same story as Don. John's daughter convinced him to speak with me, and he wasn't receptive. But when he said this, he looked me dead in the eyes, and spoke with steel in his voice."To me, it's a rush. You don't need to do drugs — just go into a really dark basement. That's the rush. Most people are scared of the dark. I'm not."
-That was Don Larsen, a ghosthunter in Hibbing
, who took me on an adventure with his fellow team through the Greyhound Bus Museum one hot summer night in 2009."You know what, it's so good to see that. It's so good to hear that, because Cameron can say that to him, and I can't."
-That was Nancy Hukka, a physical therapist
, gesturing toward an interaction between amputee-athlete Cameron Clapp and one of her patients, who was struggling with the recent loss of a leg."I think all the athletes had a job cutting the grass."
-That was Mary Bryson, the first female editor-in-chief
of the Times-Delphic, the Drake newspaper where I cut my chops on writing. She was speaking about life at Drake during the Great Depression.
These are just a fraction of the interviews that were important to me. These are the ones that moved me, that made me laugh out loud, cry, or get so angry at the circumstances.
There are so many quotes I left unwritten. There are more that I didn't quite catch. There will be so many more quotes, so many more turns of phrase that will change me.
I would much rather introduce those kids to any of these people. That way they could hear what it really means to have something to say.
The last final has been taken, the last paper has been written and I am done, done done (at least until tomorrow when I start two summer classes)!I still, however, had to move out, a task I was dreading because of the ordeal it was last year. I decided to make things easier by planning ahead — so last Thursday I headed over to my friendly neighborhood Hyvee to pick up a few cardboard boxes.I was directed to the produce section and ushered into a back room by a man named Nick. He brought me to a tall stack of banana boxes, and I asked, "So do I have to worry about any — uh, stowaways?"I expected him to laugh jovially, but no. He got serious. "Oh yeah — you'll probably want to shake them out before you go. Sometimes tarantulas or scorpions show up in there."!!! Those who have read my blog before know that I hate HATE scorpions. It's my only phobia. It started when I watched "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" when I was a little kid — you know what I'm talking about, the scene where the scorpion murders the ant? F***** terrifying.
What scares me the most is that those suckers are almost impossible to kill. If a scorpion can survie a nuclear apocalypse, then it could definitely hijack a ride in MY banana box.
I broke into a sweat while walking the boxes to my car. The holes on the side of the boxes were menacing; inside was thin white paper wrapped with plastic. I was certain I would feel a sting before collapsing to the ground while shrieking like a girl.
I put the boxes into my car. Two of them were on the front seat next to me. I thought I heard a rustle as I got in, and my bowels threatened to release. I reminded myself that I was, in fact, a male.
I made it a minute of driving before my involuntary and sweaty palms nearly caused me to run over an 80-year old juggling four sacks of groceries on top of a motor scooter.
I pulled over into the corner of the parking lot and shot out of the car, quickly looking around to make sure that I wouldn't unintentionally be the subject of a hit viral video. Then I threw those banana boxes to the ground, where I watched like a hawk for the menacing claw of a sadistic arachnid. I spent the next ten minutes alternating between being terrified and then furiously emptying out the banana-scented boxes onto the pavement and stomping their contents just to make sure.
Thankfully, I didn't uncover any of the little bastards (although a shriveled brown banana nearly caused me to crap my pants). The sturdy boxes worked great for hauling things — but honestly, I think next time I'll just go to Walmart. They don't have scorpions in China, right? RIGHT?!
What the hell Matt? It's April, and you haven't blogged since January, and when you did it was this weird sort of popular-culture crap? What happened to the insightful posts we loved to read, with the witty nature that impacted our lives in strange and mysterious ways?
...Okay, I'm probably dreaming big there, but I do have a reason I've been absent. Since roughly the middle of February, I've been devoting several hours a week toward the creation of a 56-page edition of The Times-Delphic, the Drake University student newspaper, for the Drake Relays.
Last year, I served as the Assistant Relays Editor of the publication, and this year I moved up in the world as Relays Editor. Helping with the Relays Edition last year was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Imagine two-and-a-half weeks of caffeine-pill/redbull binges fueling consecutive all nighters, arguments that often became confrontational, passing out in semi-public places and occasional vomiting. It was like the greatest 21st birthday of all time without any alcohol.
Still, it was worth it. Last year's edition won awards, including a nomination for a Pacemaker, effectively the highest award a college newspaper can receive. It's my job to follow up that success with... something.
Going into this year, I knew we had to change our approach. We couldn't assign stories at the start of the year and then hope they all came in by the deadline, which happened to be two weeks before we went to print. We couldn't expect that writers could understand exactly what we needed without giving them guidance for their articles. That's why the guns got rolling in February, and why I've been absent from this blog (and any form of a social life, for that matter).
And — remarkably — it's going extremely well. Almost too well.
We currently have 97 stories ready for the page or going through edits. All of the photos have either been taken or are assigned to be taken, and from what I've been able to tell the photo editor is doing an outstanding job of coordinating with the respective section editors, who are doing a fantastic job keeping in touch with their writers, who are in turn doing some of the best writing/reporting I've seen on this campus.
I have never been more excited to read the newspaper. We have the right people doing the right jobs, and despite a few hiccups here and there, it's slowly coming together in a wonderfully cohesive way.
We've still got a long way to go. As yet, there is not a single page completely designed in any of the sections. We have a strong need for photographers to help us cover the multitude of events (email our photo editor Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested!).
Still, despite my nervousness, I haven't yet popped a single caffeine pill, and there appears to be more of a feeling of excitement regarding the issue than of dread.
If you're interested in jumping in on real-time updates, including snippets of stories, we've got an active Twitter feed (#tdrelays) going on throughout this whole process, and a staff blog that's about to get a whole lot busier. I also want to start bringing you "Writer Debriefings," where writers have the chance to talk about their involvement in the story they covered, and some of the interesting things that moved them.
I'm going to start out this post with a graceful quote from my favorite blogger, Dingo:
"The hardest part about blogging is what to say after a lengthy absence. I’m going to forgo the Compulsory Retroactive Asskissing Pity Party and the tale of woe about antidepressants, side effects, life, death, and all that other bullshit that had my muses screaming like whiney little bitches: 'Ohhh, I’m too sad to write! Oooohhhh! I’m too tired to write! Ooohhh, zombies!'"
While my last few months were probably not as emotionally taxing as Dingo's, her message still applies. Sometimes things happen that we can't control, and they successfully briefly suck the talent from our lives (briefly being four to five months).
'You called me beautiful once...' 'Babe, you got real ugly.' -Evil Dead, the Musical
Two weeks ago, my Macbook had reached its limit. My baby had a cracked screen, a 20-minute battery life and a six-month expired warranty. Sorry hon. It was a good three years, but this relationship is over.
I'm wiped. Exhausted. Why? It's called "moving out," and it sucks worse than the residence hall vacuum clear I spent 20 minutes trying to unclog with a mechanical pencil, terrified that the stringy chunk of grit was, in fact, the elongated tail of a dead cat.I think my last joule of energy was used up when my roommate and I hauled Massive Stained Comfy Sofa down the steps. This had been immediately preceded by Miniature Stained Comfy Love Seat, so we were already a little tired. These things are awkward and smell funny, but they are wonderful for napping after a test or taking sexiling in stride (I should probably add here that all of the stains on them were present when we purchased them... don't give me all that 'Caveat Empor' crap right now). We managed to get both down the (descent to hell) three flights of stairs — at only one point did we become squished between two railings, which caused us to burst into laughter before briefly choking on our own blood. We finally got them into the lobby.That's when I got the call. An on-campus charity group had posted signs describing some sort of on-campus garage sale through the Salvation Army. I'd been assured for the past week that they would OF COURSE take my furniture, including my beloved Massive Stained Comfy Sofa and Love Seat. The truck was to arrive exactly at 11:30, at which point I could lift these two pieces of furniture for the last time and never see them again.At 11, the time when the napping apparatuses were being lowered into the lobby, my phone rang, and I learned that there had been some sort of miscommunication, and the truck was not coming. This left me high and dry in the lobby of Goodwin-Kirk Residence Hall with two lonely couches, stains and all.I started panicking. I began to call agencies, Goodwill, the Disabled American Veterans — anyone. These couches HAD to go today, and they were too comfortable to throw away in the trashcan without kindling a significant amount of Catholic guilt, which I was unwilling to start out my summer.I updated my Facebook. AND my Twitter. I considered updating this blog as well, but ultimately decided not to because I've had a low number of unique visitors lately, but a large number of page views (whoever is creeping, start leaving some comments!). No response.I called my mom, the Attorney, who I suspect was in the middle of some sort of important legal procedure with several other people in the same room, because she kept responding with ambiguous Northern Minnesotan answers, such as, "Ya betcha," and "Well, I-da-no aboat that."To make a long story short — I found buyers, thanks to my former Resident Assistant, who I call White-Trash Obsessed because of her fascination with tales of whiteness and trashiness. Less than an hour after I received the phone call from the campus charity, I had those couches sold, and my Catholic guilt was soothed.Now my room is empty. The beds are stripped, the desk is wiped clean, the dresser is empty. I'm actually in here illegally; I checked out this morning, but decided to stay one last night after the Couches Ordeal put me behind schedule. I'm half-expecting White-Trash Obsessed to break into my room and order me to leave in that thick Mizzou accent she gets when she's angry.It's a gone, a whole year of accumulated crap, piled in my car or in garbage cans down the hall. So many memories — the emptier a room gets, the more they stir in the mind.
When you're from Minnesota, you can't go apeshit like normal people can. It's called the "Minnesota Nice." If some short order cook creates a burger made of turds at a restaurant, you smile and eat it anyways and still leave a tip. If someone steps on the back of your flip flop three times in a row (and the cheap shoe breaks), you're always the one who says "Excuse me." And if someone brings an incredibly irritating distraction to a review session that you NEED to concentrate on in order to pass and not screw over your future, you sit in silence, fantasizing about ways in which you could exact your revenge, but still give him an extra pencil if he needs one. If he REALLY gets on your nerves, you furiously scribble a poem when he isn't watching.
Minnesota Not-So Nice
by Matt Nelson
Do you know how badly I want to smash your face in,
Annoying Chip-eating boy?
Or ram that cellophane package in a garbage can
shards of Martha's homestyle bakery chips
up your nose?
I'm waiting for you to choke, Annoying Chip-Eating Boy.
I would like nothing more than to call an ambulance
So you can gasp and wheeze while I
go Office Space on your noisy, Godless potato chip crap bag.
Annoying Chip-eating Boy, I want so badly
to interrupt this lecture and scream
SHUT THE FUCK UP
You put the chip bag down.
Are you done?Idon'tcare.
Go eat a burrito, and let me study modern physics in peace.
Enduring Readers of mine will know that I recently did pretty well in an on campus publication, Periphery, with a piece of fiction and a poem. I just got back from their launch party and man, do I feel great. After all, it's not very often that you get a chance to speak to an audience of people enthusiastic not only about the arts, but about things you've written. The event was held at Mars Cafe — a local legend of a coffeehouse (I recommend getting Earl Grey tea and Chips and Hummus — it's incredibly cheap and caffeinated) which was pretty packed.I went in extremely nervous, and alone. YES I DO HAVE FRIENDS. It's just that I was embarrassed. When you read fiction, you put yourself out there. If I had it my way, I would have everyone read the nice little blurbs and ignore the actual story and poem. So I didn't tell anybody about the party, really, and didn't invite my friends.I really regret that now. The Periphery staff started talking to me almost at once, making me feel welcome and comfortable. I was asked to read first — I accepted, because I wanted to get it out of the way. I was introduced, and given a prize for my award (NO, IT WASN'T A CHECK!) in the form of this beautiful moleskine notebook. I love notebooks, but I never buy anything other than 50 cent college ruled ones at Wal-mart. Having this is sort of like having a four course gourmet meal handed to you when you're used to burgers and fries — it's awesome!The reading went from strange to intense in only a few seconds; my story, "The Wolfhound" is supposed to be suspenseful. I never realized how suspenseful it actually was, though, until I looked up at one of the most intense parts and realized the entire coffeehouse, including the Mars Cafe workers, had gone completely silent, and were giving me (ME! THE FAT PHYSICS MAJOR WITH A COWLICK!) their riveted attention. Man oh man, that was strange.Afterwards, I was interviewed by my former employer and beloved student newspaper, the Times-Delphic. It made the event so — special, somehow. I'm always the interviewer, never the interviewee. I tried to give her good quotes, but I think I talked in circles a lot.The Periphery staff did such a great job with this publication. The design, the layout — everything is just great. The other authors were great to listen to — their work is so outstanding, you've got to read it on peripheryjournal.com. (You can also view my stuff there.)I thoroughly regret not inviting people that I knew to the event. There's a difference between being humble and keeping your talents hidden. Maybe I'm being a little egocentric with this post, but I know the attention won't last. A week from now, celebration of my work will be over, and I'll just be another body in the crowd. Got to live it up while you can, right?
So I haven't really blogged about this yet, but I recently kicked a whole lot of butt in my fiction writing endeavors. Two of my submissions for Drake University's "Periphery" journal were not only published, but THEY WON AWARDS TOO.Huh? No... no I'm not getting a check... be quiet, okay?! This is the type of reward that comes with a warm, fuzzy feel and the knowledge that I can actually write worth crap. What I REALLY won were two very wonderful blurbs from people who actually know what they're talking about — I'm going to reproduce them here, and it's going to seem like my ego is similar to Tiger Woods' pre-Thanksgiving 2009, but I don't care. This is MY Web site. I can write all the nice stuff about me that I want, and if you don't like it, feel free to click out (although please, please don't leave me!)The first blurb was from Johnathon Williams, a founding editor of Linebreak.org, a weekly magazine of original poetry, and an MFA candidate in the Creative Writing program at the University of Arkansas. He was writing about my poem, "Alive.""Here I admire the poet's effort to tie the timeless to the temporary, the grand to the small. 'Now is the time of memories' is a bold, provocative opening line, the reach of which is made accessible by the many specifics that follow, such as the dandelions growing in the cracked sidewalk. Such juxtapositions are one of the many things that poetry does well, and here the technique is used with aplomb."APLOMB! If I saw that word out of context, I would probably think it was a pokemon, but here it practically makes me jump off my feet and start fist pumping the air.The other blurb was written about my short story, "The Wolfhound," by Andrew Porter, the author of the short story collection "The Theory of Light and Matter" as well as other awards I don't feel like typing out."From the opening paragraph of Matt Nelson's "The Wolfhound" I could tell I was in the hands of a natural storyteller. There's a certain confidence and honest in the narrative voice that immediately drew me in and made me care about his characters. Even more impressive, however, was the way Nelson subtly developed the conflict beneath the surface of the story, raising questions about the past, while at the same time keeping the reader firmly grounded in the present. A psychologically complex and emotionally powerful piece. If this story is any indication, I think Mr. Nelson has a very bright future ahead of him."Not just any future, you notice. A very bright one. Not bad for a physics major, huh?I shot off an e-mail to Mr. Porter and Mr. Williams, thanking them for their awards. Mr. Porter responded, and it turns out he's coming to Drake. TONIGHT. For a visit. And I get to meet him. In person. Better than Facebook.I've been opening and closing doors all day, the most annoying nervous habit ever. I'm pretty sure the refrigerator has lost it's chill, and I'm probably driving my roommates crazy. The thing is, I've NEVER had someone other than a parent, school teacher or friend tell me my writing was any better than anyone else's. Any person who has ever read my work met me before they read it, never the other way around. That's why I was so pumped that he had such good things to say — there were no first impressions, no communication, nothing. It was just the writing he saw, and that's really what's most important.