Dear God, That’s a Long Time

In October of 2016, I published my first newsletter. Since then, I have finished 1 blog post, 0 short stories and 0 novels. This newsletter is the only substantial writing I’ve done that wasn’t work-related (where I do a lot of writing).

I can’t blame COVID-19, because that’s only been an impediment for 2 of those years. I can’t blame my brain tumor, because that didn’t happen until 2018.

I have not been writing the newsletter instead of those other things that ostensibly amount to my raison d’être, but the evidence is clear: I have not been writing fiction. I have only been writing this.

Sidebar: I have also been writing work-related material, as my primary job is as a content writer. The muscle gets exercise.

I started out writing these newsletters as an exercise to keep my juices flowing. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the intervening years since I wrote the first issue, which I called a pamphlet. Here it is:

The Collected Foremania
Pamphlet 1: “Debate”
⚡️Mr. Foreman’s Amazing Electric Ephemera⚡️ “Guaranteed to take no longer to be read than takes a single cup of coffee to be drunk…
Read more

If this newsletter seems disconnected, that’s because I’ve been writing a lot of different things and said to myself “this is newsletter content!” and then set it aside. I collect it here tonight for you to enjoy and to clear my drafts, as it were.

Pretending to Play

In 8th grade or so, we were given the choice between band and gym. Terrorized by communal showers and sports I didn’t understand, I chose band. I didn’t play an instrument during middle school band, but I was there for every practice, and I took a baritone home every night and enjoyed the travel of the keys for a few minutes before putting it away. During recitals, I pretended to play. If anybody noticed that my tuba never made a noise, they didn’t say anything.

For reasons I don’t remember, I played football in 8th grade. We never scored a touchdown. I played for an entire season and never learned what a down was. I didn’t understand any of the rules. I ran fast when they told me to, and threw my body against people I was told to throw it against. I was told to listen for audibles. I didn’t know what those were. I faked it. Nobody noticed.

I played on offensive, defense, special teams. I was good at it. I hated every minute.

The list of things I hated about the experience is also a list of waypoints through my 12 year old mental geography.

A List of Things I Hated About Playing Football

– competition

– proving myself

– “hitting the showers”

– running laps

– doing pushups

– committing violence

– having violence committed against me

Sidebar: I have a pet theory that one of the reasons football persists as a national game is because of the armor you have to wear. Sorry, I meant to call them pads. Whatever you call it, it still looks like armor. Every major civilization develops warfare to the point where people wearing interlocking plates heave themselves against other people wearing similar gear.

Like some instinctual regression toward armor, we’re drawn to both wearing it and watching people who are wearing it fight each other. Eh, it’s not much of a theory.

It won’t be long until we grind the gears

But carry on, we’re on to something here

The Surprise Knock by The New Pornographers

The Anti-Participator

Difficult People, the late tv show about my kind of people (I don’t think you’re supposed to like the leads, played by Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, but I do anyway) made a whole episode around the idea of the participator. Billy starts dating a guy who eagerly volunteered to be a magician’s assistant while on a date at a magic show. Billy and Julie, the annoying, obnoxious, judgmental, insensitive main characters, are shocked and dismayed to find that out about somebody who they otherwise like.

I am not a participator.

I have always said that there are two kinds of non-participator who doesn’t like to participate in “can I get a volunteer from the audience” stuff: the “aw-shucks-please-don’t-pick-me-ha-ha-I-actually-love-it” and ruin your day non-participators. I am better than I used to be in that I will smile and go along with it but I won’t volunteer and I won’t actually do anything. I am not a Yes And kind of guy. I’m more of a “please don’t talk to me.”

The Outdoor Center

I went to a private school in West Virginia for high school and junior high. In seventh or eighth grade, we were forced to spend a week at a camp with limited amenities run by hippies. It was not the best environment for 13 year olds.

I don’t know who might have thrived there but it’s hard to imagine that five days of “roughing it” to private school kids under the watchful eye of crunchy, early-90s granola crusties had much positive impact on anybody, including the crusties.

I had to do this at least five times that I can recall, each time for a week. This always took place during autumn, because that’s when school was, and it was always extremely muddy. There were communal showers.

These are three of my main memories:

1. five days of not bathing, as a teenager. The alternative, showering with other boys my age who were way farther along in adolescence than me, was unthinkable

2. a fellow student in my grade, shirtless, muscular, walking around the “dorm” (barracks) popping his pimples at the rest of us

3. another student, widely considered the strongest and toughest of all seventh graders (not the same one as number 2), picking his fellow classmates out of the crowd, at the cheers and encouragement of his peers, and bestowing upon them wedgies so atomic that they qualified as neutron bombs—I have memories of watching from behind a pile of firewood as he held up a poor victim’s underwear waistband, to the cheers of the rest of them

How Not to Participate

If there is a canonical story for non-parcipators, specifically those of us who were at the mercy of crusty granolas in the early 90s/late 80s, it’s this:

I was likely identified early, by the crusties (also called camp counselors or whatever) as a Shy Kid who kept to himself.

Whenever we were presented with an option to do something “fun” I always receded to the back. When participation was required, I was nowhere to be found. They were crusties but they were smart, and they clocked me early. They identified me as a Shy Kid Who Needed To Come Out of His Shell.

They initiated a Fun Game. They had a deck of cards and anybody who drew the one single Joker card in the deck was designated the “assassin” who was supposed to privately signal the other students (I think with an “ok” sign) whereupon the victim was to theatrically “die” as if struck by God’s disfavor or whatever. This is a great idea for bringing a kid out of his shell, I think. I don’t know if it would be tried today, but back then it made sense.

Having identified me as a Shy Kid, they arranged for me to draw the Joker and thus become the kid who would be the center of attention. They thought this would bring me out of my shell. It probably worked very well on the shy kids before me.

They had never encountered a Foreman before.

This Story is About a Different Foreman

This story illustrates how we Foremans, in our larval stage especially, approach events or situations that others might find invigorating, interesting, or exciting (situations and events you might also call “new”).

This brother started at Linsly at around the same age that the rest of us did (I have four brothers, so you will never know which one I’m referring to unless I name him, and I won’t do that here).

Every day, this Foreman left the house and walked to school, for the first few days of his first year (this private school, with uniforms, is within walking distance of our house). He came back every day at the appropriate time, and seemed fine. Nobody suspected anything was amiss.

A few days into this incredible first week of school at a new place with new people where he had to wear a uniform, my mother was approached by the man she had hired to do some plumbing work in a part of the basement Where Spiders Are (and where my mother resolutely refused to go). It was not the spiders that kept my mother away from the work that needed to be done but the plumbing. It was the rare home improvement task that was beyond her.

Sidebar: my mother’s ability to do seemingly everything and anything related to running and maintaining a household is probably a big part of why the gender roles modeled for me are anything but traditional.

The plumber came up from the basement and said “ma’am there is a young boy wearing a suit in your basement.”

My brother, the Foreman, instead of walking to school, hid in the one place in the house he was pretty sure my mother would never look for him. He spent all day there and reemerged at the end.

No muss, no fuss, no tantrums, no drama. He completely, imperceptibly, declined to participate. Faced with a new school in a new place, he said “No, thank you” and quietly extricated himself.

The thing about tantrums and drama is that they bring attention right back to the person who’s throwing it. By making a big stink about how you don’t want to participate in something, you are, by default, participating in it.

Okay, Back to Me

I did not know that these crusties were trying to get me to participate, but it wouldn’t have mattered. No attempt to make me participate, no matter how clever, was ever going to work.

Instead of reluctantly shrugging my shoulders and joining in the fun and realizing that I could fit in anyway, as it should have gone, I took one of my few friends aside and asked him if he wanted to be the “assassin” instead. I didn’t want it.

If it was all secret, and I believed what they had told us — that it was completely random that I had been designated the secret center of attention, then nobody would know.

A perfect avoidance! My friend agreed and proceeded to “assassinate” our fellow classmates instead of me. I retreated to anonymity.

After his first few assassinations, the game was canceled. One of the counselors specifically singled my friend out, having identified him as the assassin, and said “you’re not supposed to be the assassin.”

The game they these granola crunchies had concocted, perfectly tuned to bring a shy kid out of his shell, shattered against the power of one kid who absolutely, unequivocally refused to join. They had never before encountered an anti-participator.

I don’t relate this to celebrate my family’s inveterate rejection of group activities. It’s not universal to every Foreman in every scenario. I’m using a shaky throughline among members of my family to make a point about myself. I don’t like being an anti-participator. I don’t think it’s a good thing. I think it’s okay, maybe even good, maybe even great, to participate in some things.

I very strongly dislike essentialism of any kind. People are unique. Who they are, where they were born, where they grew up, etc. can inform their lives but they don’t define them. I would never assume anything about anybody for what they are, because I don’t think those things are very instructive. It makes for lazy assumptions about people.

Having said that, when my 4 year old nephew acts like a Foreman, I feel a palpable delight. We’re inevitable.

Anyway, next issue will have a lot less navel gazing.

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