Ever feel like the Internet has become void of significant social dialog?

That would be because you are correct. And by “the Internet” I mean “Facebook.”

It’s not so much a social networking site as it is a tool built for pushing (and absorbing) corporate media.

I’m very late to the TNB fifth birthday party, but I didn’t want to let it recede too far into the distance without writing a few words of appreciation.

It was late 2006 when I first heard of the TheNervousBreakdown.com. This was the first iteration, back when there were maybe twenty-five or thirty contributors writing mostly to amuse each other. Zoe Brock suggested I contact Brad, and she kept after me about it when my first reaction was lukewarm. After all, I was authoring a popular blog on MySpace, generating a large amount of conversation with every post, so the unimaginative guy in me saw no reason to branch out. Like I was really going to take the time to write a post that maybe only twenty people would read?

This was about five years ago, back when my book was just coming out and people still used Myspace.  I kept a daily blog called ‘The A.D.D. Blog,’ and it wound up having a pretty good readership.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to conduct a letter writing experiment.  I told my readers that if they wrote me a letter — an old-fashioned letter, with a stamp, in the mail — I would respond in kind. I got myself a post office box, posted the address online, and waited.  And then the letters started coming in, dozens of them, all from strangers.  I answered each one over a period of about three months.   And then, when that was done, I canceled the PO Box and boxed up all the letters and put them away in storage.



It rained in LA this past weekend, a huge spring downpour that fell so heavy, and for so long, that there were flash-flood warnings and car accidents and a giant jacaranda on my block got uprooted and toppled across the asphalt, crushing two parked cars.  (Nobody, thankfully, was injured.)

I was stuck inside and fidgety and wound up going into my closet, unearthing an old box on a whim, and within that box were the “experiment letters,” sitting there on top in a giant stack.  For the better part of the afternoon, I sat there re-reading them — staggered, in a way, by how good they were — or, at the least, how interesting.  And often moving.  And sometimes pretty disturbing.

I figured I’d share a little bit, in the form of anonymous excerpts from some of the better offerings.  Individually, each snippet here struck me somehow.  And collectively, they paint a pretty striking composite picture of humanity in the digital age (or any age?).



WASHINGTON, D.C.:

When I’m really stressed, I sometimes have sex dreams about Ted Koppel.  I’m scared this is a sign of mental illness and that stresses me out even more.



CABOT, AR:

Last Wednesday Jenny went out for girls’ night.  I called the few friends I have that are still in town and it was to no avail.  I decided to drown my sorrows/boredom in a bottle of rum while listening to my iTunes five-star playlist over and over.  After hearing the live version of ‘Copperhead Road’ for what was close to the fifth time, the uncontrollable urge to get my rock on overtook me and, debit card in hand, I headed down to the local Wal-Mart and snagged a copy of Guitar Hero II.



BALTIMORE, MD:

I hate it when a good pen goes dry.  It beats dry pussy, though.



CASSELBERRY, FL:

Is it weird that my boyfriend is the one rushing into marriage?  Is it weirder that I’m not in any rush?  I guess I don’t want to be married when I’m in a dead end job and live in an apartment.  I’d rather have a career, one I can stand, maybe even one I look forward to…at least one that pays better, and with that be able to purchase a home.



SAN DIEGO, CA:

The culture of Navy people is incredibly odd.  They live their careers in a hierarchy.  The higher in rank they get, the less work they have to do and the more they show off to the lesser ranks.  They leave the military and find they have absolutely no people skills.



CLAYTON, CA:

You see, I’ve never had an exciting mailman.  No matter where I move, the mailman always seems like a typical white, middle-aged man with a growing balding spot.  I’ve always felt left out of those “your dad is really the mailman LOL” jokes, because it’s hard to imagine housewives, no matter how suburban and sexually desperate, copulating with a man who bears a striking resemblance to their actual husband.



WALDPORT, OR:

I dated my husband at 15, married at 19, and had a child at 21.  And now at 33 I have a 12-year-old daughter and a very unhappy marriage.  Where do I go from here?  Do I grow some balls and do something about my marriage and verbally abusive husband?  Most everything I’ve ever done has been for someone, but never myself.



NEW CASTLE, PA:

I’m a senior now, majoring in music education with a concentration in voice.  So pretty much I’m singing all the time and I’m also in the bands.  I play the tuba.  You should be laughing because that’s the general consensus of people.  I’m 5’6″ and have a thinner build, so it’s funny to see me dragging a sousaphone around.



DENVER, CO:

Today, I interviewed for Teach for America.  It went well, I think.  I was scared.  When it was over, I was hot and shaking.  I picked up the phone again and started dialing.  And my home phone started ringing.  The number used to be my mother’s.  I adopted it when she died.  I forgot she wasn’t there to pick up.  Just for a minute.



BOSTON, MA:

Sometimes I like to masturbate at work.  I’ll be sitting at my desk and my clit will just start throbbing and I will be unbearably horny.  Overwhelmed with my sexuality, I will retreat into the bathroom.  Lying on the floor, I will fantasize, usually picking a favorite sexual memory.  I focus on the look on his/her face and rub myself until I cum, not making a sound.  I am especially horny when I am bleeding, and days before I bleed.  Sometimes I get blood on my fingers when I masturbate.  And I lick it off.  Do you like that?



KIRKSVILLE, MO:

I worked at a funeral home.  When you work at a funeral home, you become part of the background; people forget that you’re watching and that they’re not alone.  It made me uncomfortable to witness their grief, their family quarrels…I guess it made me uncomfortable to see them without their masks on (like that Twilight Zone episode).  But put me in front of a computer screen and I will read a person’s deepest secrets for hours on end.



SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA:

My husband and I met online.  I placed an ad on Yahoo personals, and he was one of the people who answered.  We sent emails, then longer emails, then more frequent emails.  We spent hours talking over the phone, and then finally met in person in a nice, safe, public place (a mall close to where I was living).  We have been married a little over two years now.



LONG BEACH, CA:

Did I mention I have OCD?  No?  Well, now you have that little tidbit.  I wash my hands countless times per day, only write with certain types of pens, my car’s interior is spotless, I arrange the bills in my wallet in descending order facing the same way, and probably a plethora of other idiosyncracies that have yet to be pinpointed and identified, usually by my girlfriend.



LAKE HAVASU, AZ:

Do you have any children that you know of?



DUNDAS, ONTARIO – CANADA:

You do realize that many people (just like me) will use these letters as a form of therapy.



SPRINGFIELD, OR:

I just had a dumb argument with my wife about cold medicine and why I don’t take it.  I got defensive — I take it, by the way.  I just resist.



RICHMOND, KY:

They poisoned the stray cats on the street.  Evil people.  I hated my living situation.  And just when I couldn’t take any more of Jim and Edna’s shit, my upstairs neighbor got a new girlfriend.  I could overhear their boring, giggling, getting-to-know-you conversations (which they held on the “porch” right outside my bedroom window), as well as the getting-to-know-you sex they had above my head.  Her orgasms sounded like what can only be described as a dying cow.  Whatever he did to her to inspire those noises inspired me to take a broom and bang on the ceiling to to the same rhythm as their humping.



BALTIMORE, MD:

I’ve been on Weight Watchers since May.  I’ve gone from being overweight to average to almost underweight.  And this week marks my last week of maintenance and today is my last weigh-in before I become a lifetime member and don’t have to pay anymore.  That is, unless I’ve gained a huge amount of weight this week.  It’s been worrying me.  I got nervous.  And ate candy.  And that got me more nervous, so I drank magnesium citrate.  And now I’m just stressing out more until I weigh in tonight at five.

I grew up overseas.  Asia and Europe.  More specifically, Turkey and the UAE.  My parents were teachers at American schools.  Living there got me to be pretty open-minded about stuff.  Including my sexuality.  I used to think I was straight.  Then bi.  Then a lesbian.  Now I’m leaning towards bi again.  I don’t think I can really test that theory, though.  The thought of a relationship scares me.  I got my heart broken once, when I was 17.  By a girl.  So I don’t want a relationship with another girl yet.  Tried that — I wasn’t ready.  But boys scare me.  So I’ll never know who I am. At least until I’m out of adolescence.



MENOMINEE, MI:

I’m at a point in my life where I’m coming to terms with my own mediocrity.  I hesitate to say I’ve given up — because that’s even more pathetic than mediocrity.  I would rather live a black comedy than a foreign drama.  I still feel like an impostor and totally unqualified to be an adult.  I think about my parents and wonder if they dealt with this sort of identity crisis.



MT. SHASTA, CA:

I watched such a disturbing video on Myspace recently.  A hundred “money shots” from men with other men.  The men who were on the receiving end were gagging, literally.  And the looks on their faces…I just hope they got paid well.  And that it didn’t all go up their noses.



CANYON, TX:

It seems that the only emotion I can express is anger.  Which makes sense, because anger is the most real emotion you have.  But so is joy, and I can’t seem to get a grip on that one.  If I go by astrology, I should start to have good luck and happiness by the time I’m thirty.

Wow, less than nine years of torture and darkness.

Well, at least I have a goal in life.



JONESBOROUGH, TN:

To pay the bills, I work at a local grocery store in the bakery/deli department.  (Yes, I do have a degree, but it didn’t take long to learn that it’s fairly useless.)  It’s not bad — I make OK money, can do the job in my sleep (I’m a virtuoso on the meat slicer), and I like the people (particularly the assistant store manager — but that’s a whole other story, heh).  I hate the uniform — they make us dress up as chefs (oh yeah — hats, too!).  They seem to be under the delusion that we work in a 5-star restaurant serving haute cuisine instead of boil-in-a-bag/fried crap on a hot bar in a grocery store.



LEXINGTON, SC:

I never cry and it kind of scares me a bit.  I used to cry for no reason at all.  Now when I try — nothing, absolutely zilch.  Until just recently (actually this morning).  I was in the shower and became intimate with my shower head.  I had the most intense orgasm, but afterwards I just sobbed and sobbed.  Strange, huh?



ISSAQUAH, WA:

My daughter’s conditions make her more vulnerable than the average teen for pregnancy, running away, drug use, and health should she ever become pregnant or try to have a family.  Hell, just having a LIFE will be a challenge.  At times, I’m simply overwhelmed by the enormity of my daughter’s problems.  I try, very fervently, to focus on the positives — the high intelligence, the vivid imagination, the amazing creativity, the advanced artistic ability.  Sometimes, though, all I can see is the struggle of the hour.  And a lot of the time, I find myself wishing the day away, so that night will come — so that she’ll be in bed, asleep, and I can breathe again, relax, remove my drawn-up shoulders from around my ears.



LONG BEACH, CA:

For some reason, I really like lobsters — whimsical pictures of lobsters, live ones scuttling in tanks, lobster/crab imagery, claw harmonicas, etc., though I don’t know why.  The only thing I don’t want to do is eat them.  I’d never kill one, much less crack it open in some barbaric fashion and scoop out the meat from its very bug-like body.  In San Francisco, I used to pinch my ex with my hand claws — it was a strange form of PG-rated foreplay.  Worked every time, but maybe that’s because I was often nude.



WORCESTER, MA:

One of my students is a boy in 5th grade.  One day, in the middle of a quiet writing assignment, he decided to share his desire to be dunked in a pool of chocolate so that he could lick it off his body, because then he would taste really good.  He’s autistic and has a very loud voice naturally, but he tends to be louder when he is more excited.  He was very excited by the idea of being dipped in chocolate.  I got some comments from the teacher across the hall.  It’s often very amusing what children will say in general, but when a child has no verbal filter, well, I tend to hear some strange things.  I love my job.



NAYLOR, MO:

My favorite subject is sex.  I find that people are not open enough about it; most people find that I’m too open about it.  I’m single and have been most of my adult life.  I don’t mind most of the time.  I’d rather be single than be with someone that I am not passionate about.  I know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?  Says who?  I mean, it’s important, nobody likes an asshole all the time, but people are lying if they say it doesn’t matter what someone looks like.  Likewise, sexual attraction is very important.  I keep hearing, “but he’s so sweet,” “he’s very responsible,” he’s good looking.”  All that is great and fine but if the sparks aren’t flying then a relationship is relegated to friends.



UNION, ME:

I work in a group home for children in state custody due to abuse and/or neglect.  Basically, kids are removed from abusive homes and come to us.  We work with them and try to help break the cycle of abuse, and to prepare them for foster care.  Emotionally, it can get tough — it’s not uncommon for me to cry the whole ride home after work.  Despite that, I love the job.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  I love what I do, I’m proud of it, and I’m good at it.  I’m also broke, because it doesn’t pay for shit.  Can’t have everything, I guess.



EVANSTON, IL:

I’m 33.  I have a six-and-a-half-year-old son.  Going through a divorce.  The usual:  husband cheats and has two kids with another woman.  I make light of it now but unfortunately it’s true.  Enough about that.  I’m sure you’d rather hear about my son who wants to be a girl.  That’s true, too.  He’s a great kid.  I just think of him as being very creative, right?  Just say yes.



PORTAGE, IN:

My son, Billy, just got married last year.  I am truly happy for him and Tammy.  I would like to find a companion for myself.  At age 48, my love life has led me onto a path of cynicism and cautiousness.  I remember when I used to fall so easily for someone.  Now, my immediate reaction is to find, as quickly as possible, all the reasons why a potential relationship might fail.  In my attempt to save time and prevent pain, I have painted myself into a lonely corner.  Somehow, being aware of my self-sabotage has not altered my pattern.



BAJA, MEXICO:

At age 26, I can tell you I haven’t been endowed with favor for interpersonal relationships.  I haven’t been lucky with the guys I like.  They just don’t like me.  It is maybe because I’m very shy when it comes to a guy I like.  I think this has to do with the thing that I was sexually abused when I was a child.  I’ve changed many things in the last six years:  I’ve read; I went to a psychologist….Anyhow, I’m still alone.  It’s weird and sad (sometimes) being 26 and not knowing what it is to have a person beside you that you could call your boyfriend.  (I have have never had one.)  Sometimes I think that maybe I’m destined to be alone — who knows?



HOBOKEN, NJ:

Most multi-millionaires are happiest when they’re interacting with strangers.  In real life they are the most miserable bastards you’ll ever meet.  I’m not a millionaire, I just dress like one.  I’m an eBay-aholic.  If you’re ever bored, go to this site, www.evalueville.com.  Just don’t get hooked like I did.



BROOKLINE, MA:

There’s an aspiring actress who lives somewhere in Hollywood.  We’ve been friends since age six.  I see her every six months or so — whenever I’m in town.  She mentioned she would like to have a temporary life parnter.  I told her I might move into my family’s vacant house in LA while I’m in law school.  She says she’ll live with me.  I told her it will cost her a lot.  She said she’d cook.  You get the picture.



LA MESA, CA:

I haven’t much of a sex life.  Although I think about it in the mornings when I wake up only.  I’m dreaming of a nice man, as I’m a woman.  I want to experience life as well as love.  I work as an artist.  I draw temporary tattoos on people yet I so want to do the REAL TATTOOS!

So I’m drinking Bass ale tonight after a very long abstinence.  I guess I’m buzzed, but it’s good because at least I’m writing….

It’s all good.



ANAHEIM, CA:

I’m a happily married woman with 2 kids, 1 dog, and 3 hermit crabs.  Until 3 weeks ago I thought I had it all until I met a gentleman I’ll call Sam.  Sam came on to me pretty hard at a party and I was very flattered, but not interested.  The next day, two of my best friends called to tell me how Sam wanted to meet me again and how beautiful I was and how I was the woman for him.  I was suddenly interested, because I felt like a goddess and I was finally getting the attention I feel I need.  My husband is very quiet and non-complimentary and basically refuses to fawn over me.  My friend asked if Sam could have my number and I said yes.  We began speaking to each other every other day or so for 2 weeks and we finally met in person.  The electricity between us was phenomenal and we haven’t even kissed.  We just talked that night for about 20 minutes and left.  We haven’t spoken since.  My friend says I said something that night that scared him, but I don’t remember anything I might have said to scare him off.  He still talks about me all the time, but won’t call me.  I know I’m just responding to his attention since I don’t get that need fulfilled within my marriage, but why, oh why won’t he call!  I’m pissed.  I’ve never in my adult life had a guy blow me off.  Asshole.  I’ve tried to get over it, but my girlfriend and her husband are roommates with him and I would feel like a bitch if I ask her to not talk about him.  That would be selfish, but I can’t seem to get past this.  I totally feel like I’m back in high school and I don’t know what to do.



HOUSTON, TX:

It seems that being a 21-year-old female artist who is straight-forward is threatening to a lot of men.  I refuse to be submissive to anyone.  Except of course Jon (the cocaine addict).  I’ve only been with him twice.  Now that I think about it he probably thinks I’m some girl he made up in his mind while he was blowed.  I haven’t heard from him in a week.  I don’t understand — the sex was mind-blowing — I know it was more so for him, too.  I don’t even get the pleasure of being a fucking booty call.  I never told him how I felt because I didn’t want to scare him off.  I’d rather be a “friend with benefits” than be nothing at all to him.  Now I see that I achieved that anyway.  I’m hoping he’s so fucked up that he hasn’t remembered me.



NORTHUMBERLAND, PA:

I am scared.  I write….A LOT!  Especially poetry.  I collect stamps and baseball cards.  I think Johnny Depp is gorgeous!  Every year, I have three different calendars on the wall in my room.  It is tradition.  This year I have a Beatles one, Scenes from Paris, and a Disney Princess one.  I hate bugs.  I wear contacts.  One of my best friends is a whore.  I have two dogs.  I got a stuffed hippopotamus for Christmas.  My brother and sister actually have A.D.D. and Tourette’s.  I don’t.  I’m the youngest.  Last year, I broke my wrist falling off the computer chair.  I’m addicted to Facebook and Myspace.



EL PASO, TX:

I once fell in love with a very apathetic boy named David, and I cried and eventually he cried and we loved each other, but he’s in Missouri and I’m in Texas, and though he repeatedly promised me that “true love waits” and “one day we’ll be together,” he lied and found himself a shallow girl there who fell in love with him and so that was that.  He settled for something “okay” instead of waiting and working for something “great.”  I think, since this falling out with my dearest David, I have become a more apathetic person.  I’ve found someone else now, though.  And honestly, I love him wholeheartedly.  His name is Miguel.  I’m beginning to fear, though, that maybe we are too different.  He’s into video games and heavy metal, and I’m a writer and into a lot of different music — not including heavy metal.  But, I’m making an effort to involve myself in the things he enjoys — such as Warhammer 40k.



EGLIN AFB, FL:

I am seeing a therapist for the deeper issues.  Being teased growing up, bickering mother, environmental changes, surviving chronic mastoiditis, losing my life during delivery (almost), gall bladder surgery, and hubby’s deployment….The house got fleas.  They are gone now.  The car’s starter went out.  Billy and I got the flu.  Why does things go wrong when you least expect it?



SEWICKLEY, PA:

You said to write to you about anything, so I’m going to include in this letter a confession.  I have a cousin on death row in San Quentin for the murder of of a police officer.



GREENCASTLE, IN:

One blustery fall day as the cats played outside, I told my parents I was going to the city to grab a sandwich, to sit and meditate at the park.  My dad told me I could not go.  Dad said, “Do I have to hold you down?  Do I have to call the cops?”  I was not acting strange or remotely violent.  If you knew me, you would understand how subtle and shy I am.

Dad took apart my car engine and hid my car keys.  He called the cops from his hospital (he’s a doctor) and the ambulance drove up with the cop cars.  The cops said they could make my dad give the keys back, or since the ambulance was there I could go in it.  Who knows why — worst mistake I have made — I went in the ambulance, and after a day of failing to explain to physicians why I was in a hospital, I signed myself into a mental institution and had to stay there for a week.



DUNDEE, SCOTLAND:

When I was little, about 8 years old, my life was great, or I thought it was.  And then it went all wrong when I found out my parents had been keeping secrets, which meant none of my childhood was as great as I thought it was.  I’ve slowly learnt to deal with the fact that everyone lies and keeps secrets.  Not really sure who I am anymore, but I’ve finally gotten to a point in my life where I don’t care if people don’t like me.



CORNING, NY:

I’m married to a wonderful man and we have been together for 15 years.  We have a beautiful daughter.  We have great jobs and a “good life.”  The conflict comes from me feeling like I’ve come to a boring place inside.  My life has always been filled with hard times, abandonment and different kinds of abuse.  I understand that it became my security blanket over time and without it life seems plain.  Recently, I have been chatting with other writers online and one in particular has set a fire in me, not only with my writing but personally.  I feel kind of obsessed with him.  He is very interesting and we have so much in common.  I flipped out the other night and professed all of these things and luckily our friendship didn’t disintegrate.  I felt like an ass the next morning for saying it out loud and for feeling like I slighted my husband in some way.  My friend is also married and neither of us is willing to ruin our relationships — not to mention we geographically are separated.  But I wonder if my enjoyment of his company is wrong.  We both feel like we fill a void in each other that our spouses could never fill because they don’t enjoy the things that truly fill our hearts.



HARRISBURG, PA:

Picking lint
from my belly
Texas rain
Stinky wet dog
Something’s growing on my neck
like a zit, maybe cancer or
an eyeball or a second penis
the cat’s all twitchy
laying on a chair
dreaming cat things.



BERLIN, GERMANY:

I’m in Berlin today.  I’m working on a book with a friend.  I’m also wondering whether to dump my new boyfriend.  He’s excellent, but the sex is crap.  His penis has a large head and a small shaft, like a slender-stemmed mushroom.  Do you get a lot of those — random, intimate confessions brought about by the anonymity of the letter exchange project?



NEW YORK, NY:

It doesn’t make sense why I should die.  I just look at things simply and I don’t try and complicate them by learning through other people’s delusions.  I don’t like their logic so I make my own.  I don’t make shit up like professors and shit do.  I just look at something as basically as I can and I take it for that.  I don’t go to school and pollute my mind with someone else’s fantasy about how the world fucking works.  I don’t want to be a psychologist or sociologist or priest.  I don’t try to explain things in that sort of way.  The simpler one lives, the easier it is to become the master of one’s self and surroundings.  Doesn’t that sound fucking nice and fluffy?  That way you stop living in the fantasy world and live in reality.

When something occurs in the universe, it should stay that way.  Maybe because I don’t believe I can die, that makes me unable to die.  I believe other things can die because they’re idiots and believe in the same logic that everyone else believes in.  But I won’t.



MINNEAPOLIS, MN:

We moved into a small apartment in Anaheim, California and lived simply.  A couple of memories that stick from that time are watching the fireworks and getting some kind of vaccination shot.  It’s funny because we never went to Disneyland, yet right from our apartment we could clearly see the fireworks from Space Mountain.  We would watch them whenever they went off.



EASTPOINTE, MI:

Mostly I think people as a whole suck.  One of my daughter’s first phrases she uttered was ‘I hate people.’  Now she wears a shirt that says, ‘Drop knowledge, not bombs.’  At any rate, I think the word entitlement says it all with a lot of people today, especially the upcoming generations.  On the other hand, just so you don’t think I’m a complete anarchist, I’m totally fascinated by people, and their lives.



OAK ISLAND, NC:

I had an awesome conversation last week with someone in line at the grocery store.  It was pretty one-sided, but I enjoyed it.  I asked her if she knew if an avocado was a fruit or vegetable.  She shook her head no and I told her it was a fruit.  She turned away but I continued by stating that they have a large, stony seed.  She scoffed when I told her that they can be eaten raw in salads or as dips.  The cashier laughed at that line.  I got her phone number, and we had sex two days later.  Needless to say, I won’t be returning to that grocery store anytime soon.





”Jump in” my Dad said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world— as though I was an idiot for not just clambering up myself.

We were standing around the back of an industrial park, in front of a skip.

No doubt they’ll be some people who don’t know what a skip is, other than pleasant enough sounding word. Perhaps you’ve been known to walk with a skip in your step… maybe you’ve tried a Skip, a delicious prawn cocktail flavoured corn snack… quite possibly you’ve seen Skippy the Bush Kangaroo on TV and know sometimes she’s referred to as ‘Skip.’

None of those definitions match the skip I was standing in front of. If you were standing there you’d most likely refer to the skip as a dumpster.

Yes, my Dad wanted me to climb into a dumpster.

Not just any old dumperster, but a dumpster full of corrugated gold: cardboard boxes. We’re moving house, we need boxes. Where else would we go but a dumpster at the back of an electrical supply store?

It was a low point, but from each and every event there are infinite possibilities. One of those possibilities was that it would end up being a mildly amusing anecdote to lead into a TNB post about the infinite possibilities of existence.

Whilst in the skip rooting around for decent sized boxes I slipped and fell. I hit my head on the side of the skip. But it could have been better or worse. I could have stepped on a different piece of cardboard and avoided a pratfall altogether and merely have just found some boxes in a skip. At the other extreme I could have stood on a different piece of cardboard, fallen much harder and shuffled off the mortal coil in a fashion only marginally less embarrassing than David Carradine hanging himself in a cupboard and wanking into oblivion.

This is a world of infinite possibility. My actions in the skip could have led to events that eventually culminated in a world war. I mean, it’s highly unlikely, but at the same time World War One began because a guy in Sarajevo got a bit peckish before lunch.

On the morning of June 28th 1914 somebody decided they were going to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand as he paraded through the streets. That somebody wasn’t Gavrilo Princip, who is perhaps best known for that time he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand causing the outbreak of the first Great War which saw a failed Austrian painter called Adolf join the army, and later the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party who had taken a particularly strong objection to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which brought a formal conclusion to WWI. This in turn led to an eventual rise to power, the breaking of many of the terms of the Treaty and a deeply flawed attempt take over the world and exterminate the Jewish race, which ended with failure and numerous film adaptations. 

World War Two was driven by hunger for revenge and supremacy. World War One was driven by a hunger for a delicious mid-morning snack.

This wasn’t a total coincidence. Princip was already pretty bent on somebody using something to kill Franz Ferdinand, and was in on the whole ‘let’s try and kill him on his parade’ scheme which failed miserably when somebody fired something a touch too eagerly. The grenade intended for the Archduke exploded behind the car and only managed to kill a few pathetic pedestrians that weren’t worth starting a war over. The car sped off in case there were any more hecklers in the crowd.

After this incident Princip went off to a cafe to get himself a post-failed-assassination-commiseration snack, whilst he presumably cursed ACME for their unreliable weapons and vowed to concoct an even more elaborate scheme to murder Ferdinand at a later date.  

By pure chance the driver of the Archduke’s car took a wrong turn on a diverted route. He realised this and broke suddenly.

Right outside the cafe where Gavrilo Princip was spitting out a fresh mouthful of coffee in disbelief and quickly concocting a new assassination plan which essentially boiled down to pistol whipping someone out of the way, going up the car and shooting Franz Ferdinand/changing the course of history forever.

It’s a funny old world.

I’ve been thinking about life changing moments a lot recently, particularly since Brad Listi’s recent post on Why We Exist.

Okay, I’ve been thinking about my life changing moments a lot recently and about luck and fate and all the other things you need to succeed in life beside either talent, good looks, luck, or a willingness to give blowjobs to well connected guys who really want to help you become a star…

Writing is something I’ve done since I was quite young, and I’ve always been told I’m quite good at it. Alongside breathing, repelling girls and cooking potato wedges it’s one of the few things that I’m really, really good at.

However, I never saw how I’d make a living off it. I knew that somehow I’d have to get a degree, and then a job and all sorts of other boring responsibilities that make you wish you could be eight years old forever and just spend all day in your underpants eating cereal and watching cartoons.

When I was a teenager I was shopping with my Mum. That’s the cool kind of guy I am— shopping with Mum, scavenging in dumpsters with Dad. We can’t all go to Disneyland. Anyway, I was happily picking up the usual stuff I read. At that time it was mostly crime fiction, and not very good crime fiction at that. My Mum presented me with a book, a bright orange book where the title was scrawled and the cover was a cartoon. She had only one recollection of the book: that she’d read it. That was it. I looked at it and decided it might be pretty cool.

And through that book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was introduced to Hunter S. Thompson and the notion that writing wasn’t just a sad pathetic thing that boring people did in Victorian times. Writing could be fun and exhilarating and really quite cool.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Los Angeles there was a guy who had recently written hundreds of sentences, which when read in chronological order told a story as good as any novel.

In fact it was so good that it soon became one of the ‘any novels’ that excellent unpublished novels rated themselves against. The only problem the author had was in selling as many copies of his book as possible. Then there was also the fact that he’d recently heard about the ancient mythical Japanese ‘Page of Many Voices’* and wanted to create a real version of it— on the internet if at all possible. It was a dream that would have been almost impossible, were he not living in a world of infinite possibility.

After some period of time I was in my bedroom writing about things. Through a MySpace group dedicated to Hunter S. Thompson I’d come across a guy from Scotland living in Korea who was willing to publish something I’d written. I’d also responded to almost every classified ad asking for writers willing to write for free. Of all of these Kerb Magazine became the one I got the most out of/put the most into. I was writing, and I was writing a lot. As well as writing savage indictments of political figures I was also writing screenplays and started novels about Vegas based cops with dark pasts.

All of these were abandoned.

I got a message from a guy in America who’d just published his first novel and he was inviting me to join his literary community. And that guy was…

Jonathan Evison.

Why, who did you think I was talking about?

Well, to cut a short story shorter, I didn’t take up the invitation. I was a busy man writing doomed to fail novels. I didn’t have time for literary community nonsense.

And later when I got an invitation from another debut author inviting me to read his blog I took a quick glance at that day’s entry, replied and exchanged around three messages. I liked the guy. His profile picture was of his face, which was a pleasant and friendly looking face.

This led to first the Brad Listi MySpace blog, which was really quite popular. This in turn led to Brad’s blog which wasn’t on MySpace, and it was really quite popular. And it was here I was tricked. It seemed as though Brad had blogged again, but the link took me to a different site. It certainly looked similar, but it was clearly different. It looked a lot like the old version of this site, which is largely due to the fact that it was.

This could only have happened in the 21st century. And along the way there were infinite possibilities at every turn. As well as the many things that worked towards me getting here, there were an unlimited number of circumstances which could have taken me somewhere else, got me here a different way or ended with me being murdered by a talking bear in a clown costume. I embarked on a short and dismal career in stand up comedy at one point between getting here and becoming one of Brad’s many MySpace readers. Again, that could have ended in any number of ways.

I only got really into TNB commenting because I was alone and a bit depressed at university. Had things worked out better I wouldn’t have left so many comments and wonderful people like Gloria, Becky, Tawni, Ashley and Tammy wouldn’t have urged Brad to make me a contributor. And I only qualified because I’d been published— in Beatdom. I didn’t know at that time that David Wills was a TNB reader and he joined the site the day after I did.

And now, to get slightly sentimental, I think about how dull and empty my life might have been. Because more than the opportunity to not only write, but have wonderful intelligent people read it and then say nice things about it, it’s a wonderful place to be and to interact with people.

I think about infinite possibilities a lot. Also I think about the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, except behind each door is a complete alternate timeline instead of a boring romantic comedy. A world where Hitler got into art school and didn’t mind the Jews so much… a world where she said yes and not no… a world where scheduling conflicts with Magnum P.I didn’t prevent Tom Selleck from playing Indiana Jones… a world where I just ignored another first time author trying to make a name for himself…


Infinite possibilities… One guy might eat a sandwich and get indigestion… another might eat a sandwich and end up causing a global conflict…

And somewhere in a world of infinite possibility there is a version of this post with a much better ending…




*This isn’t real. Or is it?**

**No, it isn’t.



American football used to be popular in the UK back in the late 1980s when Channel 4 showed games every Sunday. People loved watching players like Joe Montana and John Elway because, well, who doesn’t love a handsome, successful athlete?

I was born in 1989, two years before Joe Montana’s career as a 49er would be effectively ended by a tackle from Leonard Marshall in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. As Montana faded so did the British love affair with American football. Coverage would continue right up until 1998, but the popularity would decline rapidly.

1998 was the year I got into soccer. It was the World Cup, and I became obsessed with the game. Although I would take passing interest in other sports soccer was the only one I’d follow intently. And stayed like that until a dull afternoon in a San Francisco hotel almost a decade later.

Preseason: A Gridiron Galaxy

San Francisco, August 2007

The Grant Plaza hotel was a small hotel in the middle of Chinatown. It was no Hepatitis Hotel, but it was no palace either. The rooms were small and dark and the view out of the window was half courtyard, half scrapheap. But it had a TV.

My brother and I watched that TV a lot, because he and my mother had fallen ill and we couldn’t go out much. This is how we came to witness the stars of the gridiron galaxy come out to shine in a preseason game between the San Diego Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks. I don’t remember that game at all, but I think the Seahawks won.

It was hardly love at first sight, but we’d both gained an understanding of the game. We were keen to learn more, and knew that it was a sport we could come to love in time.

Week Six: Brady Does Dallas

October 2007

My bother and I didn’t pay any attention to the NFL until Week Six. We decided the best way to get into it properly was to start supporting a team. He picked Chicago seemingly at random whilst I unwittingly jumped on a bandwagon.

I didn’t feel too bad when I found out that the Patriots were one of the best teams in the NFL. For the past twelve years I’ve supported Tottenham Hotspur, a soccer team. In that time they’ve managed to win two minor cups and threatened both success and relegation in a rollercoaster of frustrating mediocrity. I felt it was about time I knew what it was like to follow a winning team.

I almost picked the Cowboys— because I’d heard of them. And I’d only heard of them because of the porn film Debbie Does Dallas. Ultimately I picked the Patriots because of their MySpace group. I’d joined a Cowboys group and got told to fuck off. The Pats group members welcomed me like it was an episode of Cheers and I was Norm.

In a twist worthy of a cheap thriller, Week Six of the 2007 season saw the Patriots going to Dallas to play the Cowboys. The Pats would end up annihilating the Cowboys, scoring two points shy of fifty.

I didn’t get to watch the game live. I followed it via updates on NFL.com, and caught the online highlights the next morning after I’d showered. The first time I saw Tom Brady throw a football I was drinking tea and feversishly trying to get my balls dry…

Week Eight: Giant Dolphin

October 2007

I was excited about Week Eight; the Giants would be playing the Dolphins at Wembley Stadium and it would be shown live on the BBC. I was going to watch an entire, proper NFL game.

I was in London on the Saturday before the game. There were stalls and stands all over the place selling football paraphernalia ranging from replica jerseys to commemorative t-shirts to over-sized novelty head gear.

In Trafalgar Square I saw a robotic Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins. If you’re going to have the Dolphins over to play a game of football then why not build a towering twenty-six foot likeness of their only decent player?

* * * *

By Week Eight the bad feeling towards the Patriots had increased. First there was ‘Spygate’, then they kept beating everyone and now rival fans were taking great offence at the manner in which the Patriots were winning. Week Eight was the week that the fifty point mark was reached as New England put fifty-two up against the Redskins.

‘Running up the score’ was frowned upon. I didn’t understand it; I was coming from soccer where teams are encouraged to score as many goals as possible. That’s how you win games: by scoring more than the other guys.

On the MySpace group the Pats hatred was fostering an isolated, communal, us-against-them atmosphere. It made for good fun, and it was almost worth the slight discomfort in supporting the sort of sports team that I would probably be outraged by if I didn’t support them. To us the Patriots were the good guys, and they were very, very good.

* * * *

I sat down on Sunday afternoon and took it all in. There was over an hour of build up where all the celebrities that were lurking about got interviewed and talked about watching the NFL in the Eighties.

Eventually the game itself got underway. The Wembley turf was being churned to shit. It was pouring with rain and the Giants’ white jerseys were dirtied and browned by the wet mud.

And there on the BBC Eli Manning threw the first touchdown I’d seen live in the 2007 season.

Week Thirteen: It Was In the Bleak December

December 2007

It had been close— almost too close. But it was 12-0 now, the Pats had beaten the Ravens and the Patriots were just four games away from an undefeated regular season: a perfect season.

At 27-24 it’d been the closest game of the season since the 24-20 victory over the Colts in Indianapolis a month earlier. Talk of the Perfect Season had become almost feverish; in the previous four weeks the Pats had destroyed the Bills and beaten the Colts, the Eagles, and The Ravens on the road. 

Meanwhile on the MySpace group I’d become popular with the regular members. They made me an honorary New Englander. A lot of it had to do with my talent for responding to the rival fans that would join the group to start arguments or spew abuse. It didn’t matter that I lived across the Atlantic and hardly ever got to watch live games, I was one of ‘them.’ The closer the Patriots came to the perfect season the more vitriolic the hate become. The us-against-the-rest mentality grew stronger, and I was ‘us’ because I was against the rest as well.

Week Sixteen: T’was Two Nights Before Christmas

December 2007

On December 23rd 2007 the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins 28-7, and we were just one game away. The Dolphins were easily pushed aside, despite defeating the Ravens the previous week— the only game they won all season.

Over at the MySpace group seasonal greetings we discussed the game, the near-certainty of the 16-0 season and we exchanged season’s greetings. And then it was Christmas.

When Christmas Day arrived my brother and I received our present: cable subscription for the NFL postseason.

Week Seventeen: Standing On the Padded Shoulders of Giants

December 2007

My internet had gone down at home and I was out of contact with the guys on the MySpace group up to, and including game day. I don’t know what the general feeling was, but personally there was no doubt in my mind that the Patriots were going to do it. Defeat was inconceivable, and the Patriots were unbeatable. Sure, Eli Manning was a good QB, but he was no Peyton and over the season the Patriots had just been the best, they’d been the best by a long, long way.

The Giants led 21-16 at the half.

In the second half Brady and Moss would break NFL season records for touchdown passes and receptions to give the Pats a narrow lead. Later Maroney would run for a touchdown and a more comfortable ten point lead.

But right at the end of the last game of the regular season Eli Manning throws to Plaxico Buress for a touchdown. They go for an onside kick.

Vrabel recovers for New England and Brady kneels three times. It’s over: 38-35 Patriots. And it’s undefeated regular season. 16-0. A perfect season.

Super Bowl XLII: Failing to Graduate to Greatness in Glendale

Sunday, February 3rd 2008

Straightforward playoff wins over Jacksonville and San Diego put the now 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl. 19-0 seemed almost a formality. On the Myspace group moods were high. Someone in Hartford promised to post me a shirt when we won. A lot of jokes were made about Eli Manning. They were less jokes and more baseless accusations of mental retardation. We didn’t feel any need for caution, and why would we? We’d watched our team beat eighteen teams in a row in the NFL— twenty-one if you back to the end of the 2006 season. It stood to reason that we’d win the next one against a team we’d only beaten a few weeks earlier.

The concept of defeat was even mentioned on the MySpace group. Losing was something that happened to other teams, not the Patriots. Spirits were high on Saturday night, and the next day, whether for real or via TV, we descended on the Arizona desert for Super Bowl XLII.

* * * *

I still don’t understand how Manning spun past Green, or how Tyree caught the ball between hand and helmet. Then a twelve yard gain. All my pessimism, it comes flooding back. This is it. This is where it’s 18-1 and somehow, because it’s the Super Bowl and because it’s the Giants it’s even more humiliating than the Dolphins season.

I could hardly call myself a proper football fan at that stage. It was my first season, and I’d come in to it a few weeks late. I don’t think the Patriots winning every game of the regular season helped much either. It’s easy to support a winning team. I’d kind of just coasted a long on a tide of glory, and I felt pretty bad about it. Despite all the camaraderie on the MySpace group I didn’t feel like a proper fan. I felt like I was playing at it… I was riding a bandwagon from the comfort of a leather sofa three thousand miles from Foxboro— I was a plastic Patriot.

It would change, of course. The next season Brady would suffer a season ending injury and victories would be harder to come by. But at that time my future as a Pats fan was being shaped. The last thirty seconds of the Super Bowl would let me know defeat and lead me to receive gloating and abusive MySpace messages from strangers. It would draw the MySpace group even closer together. We’d become survivors of a harrowing sporting trauma.

Because there on the BBC Eli Manning threw the last touchdown I’d see live of the 2007 season. 

A little over three years ago a friend of mine in South Florida sent me a Craigslist post from a gentleman in the Los Angeles area seeking writers for a new website. The writers had to fit two criteria. They should be situated on any part of the planet, the weirder and more varied the location the better, and they must be able to write good creative non-fiction. When I received the email I was holed up in a mansion bordering a golf course on the outskirts of Cascais, Portugal with an injured leg and a bored and shitty attitude. I fit the first part of the bill, for I was definitely living in a weird and remote location, but I was no writer, oh no, never would be. Not me.

Alie

I met Alison at a Die Princess Die show almost three years ago. Our mutual friend Christopher introduced us. “You’ll really hit it off,” he said. “You both write about music.” He and Alie and their friend Rhadeka had driven up from Santa Barbara, where they all lived, to see another band, but they stayed at my insistence for DPD. Alie liked them, as any lover of rock & roll would. After the show, she posted a comment on their MySpace page: a swarm of razor blade butterflies to the face. fuck yeah. Her metaphor was right on the money—DPD did sound like a swarm of razor-blade butterflies to the face—but Alie’s face was lightly scarred here and there, so in that way it was a bit disconcerting. I never asked her about the scars. I never asked her anything about her past, knowing through Christopher that she was in recovery, and not wanting to put her on the spot.

Hello.

My name is Zoe Brock and I am a MySpace addict.

Wow. That’s embarrassing.

If you’d like to run me over with a train right now I’d be more than happy to lay down and oblige.

Sarday_193

Like most addictions my MySpace dependency took time for me to notice, acknowledge or declare.

It was not an addiction I anticipated.

Most addictions are so anticipated that they’re downright boring by the time they kick in.

Weed?
Yawn.

Various psychedelics, uppers, downers and sidewinders?
*whistles innocently and looks towards the heavens*

Cigarettes?
Fuckity fuck fuck.

Booze?
Hello? I’m Australian.

Sex, drugs and rock n roll?
Hello? I’m human.

Strip clubs with performing dwarfs?
Hello? I’m twisted.

Expensive shoes, raunchy lingerie and designer jeans?
Hello? I’m a big titted female with a shoe fetish and an ass made for Marc Jacobs.

Social networking on the Internet????
Ummmmmm……

NO.

It all began last year when a complete stranger, some author by the name of Listi, preyed upon me when I was bored, incapacitated, and unable to walk for three months, and encouraged me to
join MySpace in order to read his blog. Listi lured me with promises that I might potentially write for him on his new writers website “thenervousbreakdowndotcom”. At this stage I was ignorant, I didn’t know what a blog was and nor did I care. But, like an absolute twat, I reluctantly followed instructions… and now look at me. This Listi character must pay for his evil ways! He is nothing short of an enabler! HE MUST BE STOPPED!!!!!!!

The symptoms of my dependency kicked in shortly after my first attempt at a blog. The immediate responses and instant gratification fueled me to write more, to spend more time on the site, soaking up the praise and, while the knee injury I suffered from kept me inert, my fingers tapping on the keys were my only form of physical activity. Hours spent blogging and commenting quickly grew and began to usurp aspects of my life. At first I was able to brush off this inordinate amount of time as “research for my impending documentary on Internet social-networking”, an idea I conceived of shortly after joining, or “a sociological experiment”. I tried to file my addiction under “work”. But the sad truth is that I was hooked on attention and positive feedback after a life lived with little confidence and a desperate need for creative validation.

Img_4269

The more I wrote the more people loved it, and the more they told me they loved it, and the more I wrote.

Easy.

Not so much.

The more people read me the more they wrote to me, and the more involved we became in each others lives. There was no symbiotic distance between reader and writer, but an uneasy truce between pseudo-friends and not-quite-strangers. I became enmeshed in relationships that weren’t tangible, were elusive and undefinable, and no matter how hard I tried to justify them as friendships they weren’t REAL to me a lot of the time.

A dangerous path.

It’s hard for me to understand how I could grow to care about so many people I’d never met, because I did care. I still do.

It’s hard for me to understand how my life became public knowledge, at my own behest. Does honesty have it’s limits? At what point will I learn to draw the line?

It’s hard for me to pick up this computer and not check my MySpace account to see how everyone is doing.

It’s hard for me to cancel my account.

It’s especially hard for me to cancel my account because I don’t know the password anymore. In a fit of enlightened pique, I forced my dear friend Sara to change it for me so that I couldn’t log on when I felt compelled to. And I am COMPELLED, kids, I’m jonesing like a common crack whore.

I’m sitting here in the midday sun with a snarl on my face and a twitch in my eye. Furious. Annoyed. Wanting on. Refusing to succumb. Conscious of the seductive power of feeling connected. Missing the people I’ve grown used to communicating with every day. Wondering how they are, if they miss me, what they’re doing, writing, saying, feeling.

But the truth is… life goes on.

Without wanting to diminish my time on there, or negate the several remarkable relationships I have forged, the ones I HOPE will be lasting, the question remains… if I left MySpace tomorrow would I even be missed? I’m unconvinced. Perhaps I’d be noticeably absent for a few weeks, but then I’d slither into the back of people’s consciousness, a gradual subside, before fading to black. Poof. See ya.

Very few people would care. Very few people would be even remotely affected. Why should they be?

Knowing how intermediate most of these connections are could make saying goodbye very easy.

I would never be so bold as to presume that I’ve made an impact on anyone’s life. There will always be fresh slants on humor and culture and news and random idiocy to rise up and entertain, better writers, prettier faces, funnier girls. There is definitely a market for it, a need. People are hungry, bored, unsatisfied, lonely. They are crying out for stimulus and love. They should be, it’s a cruel and crazy world out there, I’ve seen it. Human beings, further disconnected from each other by long roads and longer hours or work and stress, are crying out for companionship.

But so are my friends here in close proximity. And they also need physical contact, hand-holding, attention and love.

They need the thing I was in danger of losing touch with – touch itself.

In the last six weeks I’ve traveled America, eight-thousand grueling, exhausting, uplifting miles of it, meeting a lot of the people from MySpace that I needed to meet in order to begin solidifying those relationships and understand them.

I’ve experienced a journey far above my expectations, and also far below. America is sprawling, spreading, filled with sameness. In the midst of that sameness are a few hundred million individual, all different, all trying to find each other and connect in new, exciting ways. Ways that aren’t physical, ways that are safe and sheltered, ways that are semi-anonymous and easily controlled. I know, I’ve been out there… I’ve talked to hundreds of people on beaches, streets and sidewalks, in cafes, hotels, motels, bars and homes.

I’ve made my intangible friendships real ones. I’ve pulled and dragged and danced my unreal people into my world. They’re real. And they’re wonderful.

And now I can take the friendships that mean something and nurture them without a computer – a truly glorious feeling.

The journey is over and it was a trip.

I’ve come back to my life to find it in substantial disarray. Friends seem distant, I feel disconnected, relationships have taken strange turns. And yet, outside the sun is bright. Hummingbirds do their hummy thing. The beach beckons, friends call, and the world awaits.

And so I’ve taken a small break from all things MySpace. I ponder the likelihood of canceling my account, but am reluctant to commit. I tell myself it’s a great marketing tool for my movie and my writing. I tell myself it’s a great place to practice being a writer, to build an audience, to grow as an artist.

I also tell myself that to stay on MySpace now would be a distraction to life, an excuse to not further my dreams, a time waster.

I’m very confused.

MySpace has given me a great gift, and for that I should thank that Listi sumbitch. I can write happily these days. My readers and their criticisms and praise have given me that ability. I have no excuses, no lack of confidence, no insecurities to hold me back, no dedication to procrastination. I know I can do it. Look. You’re reading this now.

And so I sit here at my laptop. I smile at the screen. I click the application FINAL DRAFT and begin a fresh file. And I type.

SCENE ONE – EXT. NEW YORK APARTMENT BUILDING. A TOO-BRIGHT SPRING AFTERNOON.

And I’m writing a movie, not a blog, and I can see it’s characters move and swell and trip and fall and get back up again. And I laugh as I write my ‘comedy canon’, hoping it will blow people out of their seats.

I’m home. I’m homeless. I’m broker than a smashed plate. I’m jobless and carless but certainly not aimless. I have twenty weeks of post-production ahead of me and a deadline called Sundance. I have no idea what is going to happen, no idea what the future holds.

Life is bittersweet but it’s all I’ve got.

My name is Zoe Brock, and I am a recovering MySpace addict.

Are you?