Regarding Depression

Nothing about writing about depression comes easily for me. But I’ve decided to write this in the sincere hope that I can help somebody. I am battling a painful period of depression currently. This was largely induced by the death of a friend but I’d be lying to say there weren’t myriad other factors in my life. Truthfully the only things I wouldn’t cite would be my friends, family, and especially my beautiful wife who is the greatest thing I have. Nor my job. Just everything else pretty much. It might seem like I’ve removed everything that matters from the equation but trust me, I haven’t.

Suffering from depression is almost inevitable when you’re a high functioning autistic. How can it not be? You’re often lonely. You’re utterly at war with a universe that’s damned indifferent to you. Nothing makes sense in the world. So yes, depression rates are unusually high in our community.

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A Tribute to Lauren Dunn

It has been 29 days now since I last saw my friend Lauren. 29 days ago, we went out to the arcade in Sherwood along with my wife where we had a night of video games. That led to hanging out at my house where we had drinks and a wonderful night of just hanging out. Six days later, Lauren’s life was cut far too short. And here I am today.

I’ve waited to write this because I knew I wasn’t ready. My feelings were clouded by the immense grief that consumed me. I wanted to pay her tribute when I was ready and able to celebrate the life of my dear friend. I feel the time has come.

I’ve known Lauren since at least high school but I’m sure I met her earlier. In small towns you often do. Besides she was a friend of my brother’s which was likely where I first met her. Probably my first truly distinct memory of my friend was through the school play in 11th grade, where she acted alongside pretty much every major figure in high school I knew and I was stage manager.

I knew Lauren most closely through the school newspaper, a class that doubled as career education for me and social hour for many. Like me Lauren was a film buff, even working at the theater. She occasionally slid me into a movie or two actually. She knew her stuff too. We hung out several times after class, most notably hitting up a screening of Red Dragon.

We were close friends in this era. So it’s hard for me to admit that we lost contact during my college days. That frustrates me now but such is life. You want to hold onto your friends but you grow apart and lose contact.

At least you did before facebook. We chatted every now and then on Facebook. It was during one of these chats that Lauren pointed out that critics seemed to be daring audiences to enjoy Inception since it was too smart for them. She balked and suggested we go see it. Dare taken. So it was that we reunited for the first time in several years at the Breckenridge Village theater to see it. The experience of seeing my old friend was a joyous one. Lauren hadn’t changed a bit.

We never lost contact from there.

I have several happy stories from this time. When I stumbled onto a pass to see Scott Pilgrim vs The World 16 days early and for free that very night, Lauren was the one who got the call to get into Little Rock which she did. Lauren and I also hit up The Other Guys as well that summer. Rather inevitably, she joined me at the first film I took in at the gorgeous new Conway theater.

Then we decided to do a podcast. The Brutal Kind ran for 1 episodes or so. It was recorded when we could find the time. Regrettably I never managed much in the way of distribution but that wasn’t the point. It was two friends shooting the breeze on film. Nothing more or less.

At least it started as two. The day that we recorded the first cast, I made an ill-advised decision to call a girl I’d met online without her permission. Regardless, she agreed to go on a date. That led to several more. In time we inevitably met each other’s friends. When Lauren and Amanda met, the friendship was instant. They became immediate friends and would stay such until the end.

Over time, my life changed. I moved from my apartment into a house with Amanda and eventually we were wed. Lauren played a key role that day as bartender at the wedding alongside my friend Matt Garner. After the wedding, a select number of us went back to the cabin Amanda and I stayed in. Lauren was there.

Lauren was a frequent, constant presence in my life for the last four years. When she wasn’t present in person, she was there in text or social media. She never hesitated to encourage my creative ventures. In fact, to this day she is one of the very few people to have ever read a screenplay I wrote. She was this amazing force of optimism that I can’t do justice in words no matter how hard I try. A burst of life.

And now, she is no longer here.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite short stories, “The Nearness of You” by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson. In it, a man dreams of a woman he’s never known every night. The dreams wreak havoc on his soul and torment him. He finally learns that she was his wife but due to interference from time travel she never existed. The offer is made to erase the dreams since she can never be brought back into existence. In the end, the dreamer chooses, like all the others in his situation, to keep them. He chooses to remember a love he can never have again.

I think about that perfect story today because it summarizes grief so well. I’ve been in deep pain this month but if I had to choose, I’d rather stay in the pain than never have been so lucky to know my friend. I don’t have very many close friends but Lauren truly was in that number. I miss her and I always will. It hurts to think I’ll never see my friend again. But I had 13 years to know her well. I’ll take that over never having had the joy.

And so it is I post this tribute to you, my dear friend.


On My Father

There comes a point in everybody’s life that they see just how much they resemble their parents. We all know on some level how true that is, mind you. It’s impossible not to see that. But there’s always a specific detail, something so unique shared between parent and child, that clicks in.

I’ve never operated under any delusion I’m not in so many ways my father’s son. True I don’t share his love of sports but there are so many traits that we share. He’s undiagnosed but almost beyond any doubt an HFA case. From him I get my temperament, which can be calm until I’m pushed and turn stormy. So much of how I act, so much of how I talk comes up the line from him.

I am extremely close to him. We talk every day, often more. I admit I vent to him quite a bit still. He’s my dad after all. I have a number of memories from met childhood I will cherish forever of us just traveling. I’ve been tempted to fill this blog with a lot of those stories but I can’t explain the magic of them.

In fact I can’t really say all I need to say here because it doesn’t translate. The glory of our bond with people is that it doesn’t translate well. I could describe a trip to Hot Springs I doubt even he remembers but you wouldn’t get it. Just as I could say I took a girl flea marketing on our first date and most would assume the date was a dud. (Short version: she’s my wife now. ūüôā ) The memories we carry of our bonds are ethereal.

I’m close to the man. Always have been and see no change ahead. I am absolutely my father’s son.

I’ve never doubted these things but it truly hit me today. My father spent his day looking at rock outcrops, much as he always does for fun. He’s a professional geologist but he studies this material with a passion. I’m much like him in that way. I’m in a magical zone sitting in front of a microfilm machine looking at old newspapers. But I’m also a newspaper page designer by trade. In fact my own work lies within the very reels I grew up reading now. We both found a way to leverage our interest into careers.

If I’m like him in that way, then I hope it speaks well of me as a person overall. I hope I’m like him in other ways. I hope I’m proving to be the man he is. In time I hope I’m the father he is. I don’t always see the best in myself but seeing that spark gives me hope.

The Day of the Junket: A Short Story

February 1993

Ed Newton hated the annual Ozarkland junket with a passion that rivaled anything else under the sun. Fire ants? Those he figured had a purpose. His car breaking down? It’d get fixed. Lizzie? Well she was kind enough to leave Mountain Falls. The annual Ozarkland junket? Oh, that was hell.

Why did he hate it so much? It was after all the start of the spring tourism season. Mountain Falls was a tourist town. Tourists meant money and for The Mountain Ridge Courier, increased sales.

It was simple: Ed hated tourists. He hated the way the flooded his town without paying any attention to the fact there was a real community there. They acted as if Mountain Ridge¬†was nothing more than part of the park and everybody in it was an attraction to gawk at. Most of them were northerners who “just looooved” his accent.

And they didn’t even want to be in that area. Mountain Ridge¬†was a stop before Branson for most of them. So not only were these patronizing assholes in his town, they couldn’t hide their disdainful view of it. What an insult it was too. Ed hated Branson like he thought any right thinking individual should. ¬†Mountain Ridge¬†was better than a poorer version of that hellhole.

Regardless of Ed’s thoughts, and he knew not a goddamn person cared, he still had to go out and do the annual fluff piece. Thus Ed dragged himself out of bed and down Highway 7 on a cold February morning to the site. The day was so gray and ugly it seemed to justify his dour mood. Might even snow that day.

Ed’s side throbbed, likely the continued result of the kidney stone he’d had last month around the time of his 38th. The moment had to have added a gray hair or two to his brown mop. Ed wasn’t a tall man, wasn’t very heavy. A slight thing, they called him. He was fine with that. It was his eyes that conveyed his strength. They pierced through the bullshit around him.

Ed pulled up to the site. There it was: Ozarkland. From the outside it looked like a state park more than an amusement park. There weren’t any roller coasters peaking above the gates. The “rustic” buildings were visible from the gates, buildings filled with candies and “authentic” crafts. He could hear the rush of the water rides, a sign the park’s signature rides were up. The only thing Ed noticed looked new was a fresh coat of paint on everything.

A familiar face greeted Ed at the gates. Rick Parker, a reporter from the Little Rock paper , smoked on a Marlboro. Ed had encountered Rick quite a bit through the years and liked the guy, a rare feat for him. Rick was good at his job and never looked down on Ed. He was likable enough not to be hated for being so goddamned good looking.

“Newton!” Rick called out. Ed extended a hand. “Good to see you again.”

“Nice to see you, Rick. You get this assignment this year?” Ed said. Rick looked off.

“I’m curious to see the junket. Given the numbers–” Ed knew what he meant. It was no secret the place hadn’t been at its peak in years. The rumblings grew louder every year.

“Look, there’s been a slumping economy. Why the hell else do you think Clinton got elected?”

“It’s not just that. This place won’t last much longer. Time’s up.” There was no glee in Rick’s voice as he made the quip.

“If so then that’s that. It’s how these places work,” Ed said.

Their discussion was silenced by a school bus pulling up. Given the weather, the decision to hold the junket seemed weird enough. The school district always bussed kids in for the junket. It was supposed to be a kickoff to spring or something like that. Given the challenge of coordinating that, the late winter blast probably couldn’t derail the event.

The students got off the bus, small explosions of energy. They talked loudly about things Ed couldn’t give less of a shit about. Another reason Ed hated the junket. It was hard to be in your mid 30s and already cynical about the youth but there Ed was. The bullshit country these kids liked annoyed him. Nothing about Confederate Railroad rang true to a Willie Nelson fan.

Then she got off. Amy Raye Ostler was one of Ed’s oldest friends. Her warm smile was betrayed by the lines under her eyes. Ed knew she was going through a rough patch with her husband who he’d always liked.¬†This might’ve been a chore to Ed but to the 5th grade teacher it was an oasis.

Amy walked up to the reporters. “I’m craving some fudge. Y’all?” she said with her twang.

“I’m amazed you can be happy to be here,” Ed said. Amy had once worked in the park as Lilabelle, the park’s equivalent of a princess. She was a popular character in the novels the par was inspired by, the town beauty. Amy wasn’t bad casting then but by now time had drained her a bit. Still, even Ed knew that no matter how much she might’ve been a sister to him, seeing her¬†in a two-piece was a sight to behold.

“Look, I get to take a day away from worksheets and endless lessons on grammar. Besides, I liked my summers here! The drunken assholes who hit on me were worth it for the fun of getting to play a character every day,” she said.

Rick coughed. Ed shot him a glare out of impulse. “Amy, this is Rick Parker with the ADG. He’s up here to cover the junket,” Ed said. Rick extended his hand. Ed knew he had nothing to worry about. Rick was single but he also wasn’t a lech.¬†Regardless, he couldn’t stifle his protectiveness.

“So you’re a teacher?” Rick asked.

“Fifth grade english and math,” Amy said.

“And you know Ed how?”

“We grew up together. He’s probably my oldest friend honestly. Only one still here at least. Not since the Baldwins left.” Amy said. The Baldwin family ran a chain of grocery stores that had started to infest the region. Ed missed Lizzie and Eddie¬†Baldwin. They were good folk.

The park’s CEO walked over to the trio. Bill¬†Teller was a born salesman. His haircut, his attire, his tone of voice all managed to convey high class rooted in southern values. He was a caricature who happened to be completely sincere. Ed didn’t know if he liked the man or despised his existence.

“Edward! Rick! What a joy to have you here to kick off the season! And Lilabelle! You haven’t aged a day!” Ed definitely despised Teller.

“Good morning, Bill,” Ed said.

“I’m eager to give the park a look! I want to hear all about the new season,” Rick said.

“Come on in then. The park is open!” Teller opened the gates and the chaos that was the elementary school kids swept over the facility. Ed hung back for a moment, letting the kids pass, then pulled out his notepad. ¬†He preferred the notes to a recorder. Enough interviews were lost early in his career to make him a notepad user for life. Rick had his recorder out by contrast.

The first site in the park they stopped at was the midway, which Teller seemed extremely proud of. Ed couldn’t fathom why. The games were, like all fair games, a rip off. They felt especially bad next to the video games Ed had seen in Springfield in December. ¬†Still, the kids clamored to waste their parents’ money. Christ, kids were stupid.

The next stop was the food stand. It was right at the front to grab attention. This year, the park would be serving onion blossoms. Ed jotted a note about the authenticity of the item. It was fascinating how Teller talked about his pride in the stands. They were food stands.

Fortunately, samples were on hand as befitted. Ed took a bite of the fried onion dish. God damn it. The thing was delicious, he had to concede. On a cold morning a bit of salt and grease hit the spot. Ed took a swig of a Coke as he huffed the fumes of the area. He felt the stirrings of joy in him.

The joy faded as they made their way to the craft booths. Ed liked the candies but he hated the rest of it. It reeled of the tacky, inauthentic tourist trap south. Sure mason jars were used for a lot of things but out of necessity, not because it was “how we do things.” Ed also hated the misspellings. There was a good sized used bookstore on the town square! It was insulting to see “yew” and “hickry”.

From there it was off to the rides.¬†The site no longer loomed as it had to him as a kid. He’d enjoyed his first time on Uncle Merle’s Timber Ride so much he’d tried to set a record among his friends for most rides that summer.¬†After he turned 14, he hadn’t gone back for 13 years. Only the last four junkets had gotten him to the park and he never went again during the season.

Ed studied the vague attempt at a roller coaster, the Wild Tornader. It wasn’t impressive. Teller gave his spiel about the classic nature of the wooden coaster and led the men onto the ride. It was a typical rickety coaster. Rick was genuinely getting into it but it deeply bored Ed.

The junket concluded with a visit to the bandstand where Teller rattled off the events. As always the Ozarkland Hoot ‘N’ Holler Jamboree would be performed daily. To Ed the entire revue was an insult to his hometown. There were also performers¬†announced. The highlight seemed to be a Ferlin Husky/Jeannie C. Riley double bill. At their prime, this damn place could afford both. It didn’t seem like a good sign this was the best they could do now. They were washed up when he was a kid! He couldn’t hold his tongue.

“So you’re not looking at any up and comers? I’m sure there have to be some younger acts you could get in,” Ed said.

There was an awkward silence. Teller had a very revealing defeated look on his face.

“We talked with a few but there’s not the name value recognition. It’s pointless to spend the money on some kid nobody’s heard of! We’re bringing in the acts people know,” Teller said.

“Makes sense to me. Fits the demographic of the park,” Rick said.

Everybody in Mountain Ridge knew better than to get Ed Newton arguing. He was infamous for not losing a fight. Regrettably, on this day, he chose to fight.

“You’re not getting any youth in that way. I know you like your older demographic but come on. You don’t get any kids in, you die.”

“Ed, we do just fine with families, I’ll have you know,” Teller said.

“Of course you do. And eventually the kids stop demanding to come. Then they grow up, become people my age, and they decide their tourism dollars are better spent in Branson. You even have any new rides this year?”

“We don’t need any! What’s your point, Newton?” Teller seethed. For all his showmanship, the man inside clearly felt wounded.

“I’m just not seeing that much new here. I’m concerned about your future,” Ed said.

“Sometimes it’s ok to rest on what works. Look, maybe things could be better but I’m still hoping for a good year,” Teller said.

“I wish you luck,” Ed said. The standard pleasantries were exchanged and Ed walked to the gates, passing Amy.

“You leaving?” She asked.

“I just don’t see a story. I might get a few hundred words out but the place is dying,” Ed said.

“Don’t celebrate too much. Some of us are going to miss it,” Amy said.

Ed was almost to his car when he heard the voice. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Rick stormed up to the reporter.

“Look, I have to try and spin the news that nothing has changed. That our town’s pride and joy, the hub of our business, it’s dying!”

“It’s his business. His livelihood,” Rick said.

“And it disgusts me. Walking through that goddamned place feels like walking through a minstrel show.”

Those who knew Rick Parker in Little Rock considered him among the nicest men they’d ever met. His reputation for pacifism was especially notable given he liked the roughest bars in town. It took a lot to make Rick hit a man. Ed Newton crossed that line.

As Ed cradled his jaw, Rick scowled at him. “Christ you’re an unhappy, defensive shit,” he said as he stormed off.

Ed stood for a long moment. Rick was too nice. Even the punch didn’t hurt that bad. Guys like Rick were the entire problem. They loved the old south and the things they cherished as kids. What the hell was there to love?

He stared at the park. He had to wonder if it would really be that bad if it closed. Maybe then the town could move on and grow up. It would stink for the people who loved it but maybe it was for the best. The place was a relic of a time passed. It was time to let go.

Ed sped off from the site, hoping it would be for the final time.

Why I write

OK, time to regroup and rebuild. I’m going to put high school on hold. I have to. Right now I’m still very raw. Going back to an era where my friend was a key part just feels rough. I don’t want to dig into my past for the moment.

That said, this blog is about me and my mind. Of late that’s been in a very surreal place. I’ve been deep in research on a script on the topic of dead malls. It’ll be a horror comedy. I’m writing by and large to escape. To run from the bad feelings I’ve had by pouring my energy into something creative. That’s pretty common for me.

I wrote much more frequently growing up. That’s not true. I finished more frequently. My Scripped account is littered with page after page of incomplete work. I have countless short stories I’ve started and never finished. I even have a few bad first drafts.

As a kid it was easier of course. A few pages constituted a major work and I had less distractions. The Internet is a writer’s foe. ¬†But I wrote and wrote away. At 13 I started screenwriting with the dream of being a screenwriter. That dream is filed away.

I once thought I could do so much with my skill then adulthood and reality set in. I’m not very talented. I don’t have the passion. My ideas aren’t commercial. I made the wrong choices on the way to being a professional. I’m not fated for that life. It breaks my heart I’m not but with growing up you accept your station in life and concede how much sense Death of a Salesman makes.

But, I still write.

I write because there is a small part of me that hasn’t given up. I haven’t quit believing I might yet write something good. I have ideas within me I want to get out and expressed. There are movies I want to see if only I could birth them. I have novels I want to read.

I have this blog where I express myself. On this site I pound the keys and I put into words the thoughts and feelings I’m denied verbally. ¬†I want to be heard god damn it! So I write in the hopes that someone knows that I exist. That what I hear in my head makes some sense.

I write because at the very best, I’m lost in a world I create in my head. I want others to go there. I write because I might be cynical about finishing a story but I have hope that this one time, things will work. I’m not a delusional man, but I do still dream.

I’m working hard on this idea. Will you ever see it? Likely¬†not. But I’ll take the shot anyway. I’ll draft my outline and do my research. On an evening soon, I’ll sign on to Scripped and casually type the words FADE IN:. I hope I type fade out.