Your Favorite Thing You Ever Wrote

So, the anniversary of a particular occasion in my life is coming up yet again.  And, as it does every year, it reminds me of my favorite thing I ever wrote, which appears below the fold.


A traditional Jewish coffin isn’t sealed shut.  Instead, the lid is held in place by two small pegs; one at the head, and one at the feet.  Tradition dictates that this is because we wish our loved ones to return to us.  Should they return to this waking life, or should the day come that God grants to those who have passed life anew on this earth, we wish to make certain they can do so with as much ease as possible.

At a traditional Jewish funeral, another custom exists.  After the service has concluded, attendees and mourners do not simply walk away.  A line is formed, and each person in his or her turn scoops up a handful of dirt, and pours it onto the coffin.  Each loved one and well-wisher becomes personally responsible for the burial.  This theme continues; when visiting a Jewish grave, it is customary to place rocks on top of the headstone or marker.  We who have endeavored to make it easier for our dead to return to us take the grave responsibility of trapping them underground very personally.  It makes sense; we wish for the physical return of those we miss, but their memories are best left trapped in the earth.

When I was twelve years old, I lost my house key.  To teach me my lesson, my parents wouldn’t give me another one for a month and a half.  Every day when I got home from school, I would have to go to the neighbors’ house, and patiently wait at their front door for Mrs. Travers to get me their spare key, and then I would have to run across the street, unlock my door, and run the key back.  I remember having a mortal fear that in the minute or so that our door was unlocked and I was returning the key, that someone would go into our house and rob us blind, and that it would be all my fault for being too stupid to manage not to lose my keys.  My parents’ lesson did its job though; I’ve never lost a key again.  In fact, I’ve managed to do a very good job of not losing pretty much anything since then.  Except for people.  I haven’t done a great job of not losing them.

It is a difficult thing.  One wishes to live, that is certain.  Any person, myself included, doesn’t live for the moment, or seize the day, no matter how many bumper stickers and t-shirts we buy that tell us to.  We spend years at jobs we loathe to make the money to pay the bills, we spend months taking classes we don’t enjoy to expand our knowledge, we spend weeks dating people we don’t love, and we spend hours doing laundry for future days we may never see.  No matter how we slice it, one thing is certain: most of the minutes of our lives will be squandered.  But we all wish to endure, truly many of us hope in our hearts to live well beyond our span of years.  We wish to do so because we have hopes and dreams, and we wish to allow ourselves the opportunity to fulfill them.  But that is a hard choice, even if we barely realize we have made it, because it is difficult to mourn.  It is hard to lose things one once had.  Think about all the people you truly care about.  Make a list.  Your parents, your siblings, your husbands and wives, your bosom friends.  Are you prepared to have to bury them all, to lose them, to miss them for the rest of your days?

I met a man once, in a shitty townie bar about twenty minutes away from my college.  He was a touch loaded; well, more than a touch.  He started in about “You snotty college kids.”  I was in an egalitarian mood, I suppose, but I offered to buy him a bourbon as if I had to make up for it.  After two doubles, he asked me if I thought I had become a man yet.  With a nice lining of sour mash wrapped around my conscience, I figured he deserved some honest soul-searching, so I rummaged about down there and answered him, with all the truthfulness I could muster, “I don’t know.”  He looked right at me, stole one of my cigarettes from the pack I left on the bar, ripped off the filter, struck a match and looked right at me.  He said, “I became a man the day my dad first took me out to the tool shed.  Everything there is to know about being a man happened to me that day.  The look on his face when he took me to the shed, what happened there, and the way he looked at me when he led me back into his house.”

As I stood over Seth’s coffin, I thought back on what that man in the bar had told me.  I thought back, upon all the trials and errors, the fine moments and the sad ones, the blessings I had received and the good things snatched away from me far too soon.  And I thought about that little boy and his father.  I thought about the mixed look of anger and regret on the father’s face as his led his misbehaving son out through the yard to punish him; I thought about the regretful rage that possessed him as he whipped his boy; and I thought about the awkward way in which he tried to welcome his beloved son back into a loving home, the regret and guilt as he tried to atone for his own actions of just a moment before.  I bent over and picked up the shovel; it was my turn in the line, and as I bent down, I made certain to notice the way the sun sparkled off of miniscule particles of quartz or something that were mixed into the dirt.  I added my sad little scoop of dirt to the pile that was slowly covering the polished mahogany of the coffin, and wondered if the tool shed was the reason God had to fashion himself a heaven, and if that look would be on his face when he came forth to greet me, as he tries to find a way to welcome me back into his loving home.

Thanks for reading this.  If anyone feels like sharing their own favorite piece of writing, I’d be eager to see it.


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  1. I thought it was a nice idea, to bring up our own most cherished acts of writing.  Anyone else want to give it a go?

  2. Good stuff…..human, not personal.

    here is my fav of mine

  3. it does stir memories. And it makes me wonder why my favorite stuff is often about death and wonder.

    So if I post mine, do I do it in a comment or in a separate post?

    I’ve been doing too much tech writing on SQL database stuff lately. All I can think of is decision trees. Meh.

  4. … for sharing that, Jay.  It’s a wonderful piece.

    I don’t think I have a favorite of my own writing.  I tend to forget the last thing I wrote in looking at the next thing.

  5. In fact I’m glad you asked that question.  Your piece here reminds me of something I might find in my favorite running collection of essays, the Best American series.  Maybe you’re familiar with it; I have every year’s edition since 1994 (or at least had each one at some point, they are a bit scattered.)

    Docudharma is meant to be a space where such personal essays are appropriate, yes?

    Anyway, to reiterate a point: really well done.

      • melvin on September 2, 2007 at 01:50

      Personal pieces evoke personal responses. Yours here, like some of possum’s, had a way of instantly calling up long forgotten events in my own past. Echoes. That is the only measure of such a piece from the outside.

      I rarely do personal for the same reason I rarely write letters: there is no obvious place to stop.

      As far as my own writing, I’m never satisfied with any of it, but maybe some time I’ll look through and see what looks least defective in hindsight.

      • pfiore8 on September 2, 2007 at 16:28

      just as is should be…  sunday morning here and and read and reread that last paragraph…

      the tears running down my face are personal…

      i never stopped being amazed… thanks jay

  6. thank you for sharing it. 

    i wrote something this weekend that is was going to include in a diary of my own, but im not sure when it’ll be up.  if i dont post it there, ill scoot back in an post it here.  either way, thanks for the opportunity.

  7. proposal)…

    A snippet or two first from the much longer diary, and link to the full post below:

    The technical term for the Coquille River is “drowned river estuary”.  There is irony in the term, but only for me, perhaps. My father drowned on this river in 1969, after spending almost two decades moving up and down the water, from salt water to fresh and back again.  Many days we crossed the river bar to the ocean, he and I, as we towed log rafts out to sea. The inevitableness of it hangs around my mind sometimes, and though I never questioned it out loud as a kid, I often wondered why we towed those logs to sea, when I thought they would likely return on the next incoming tide.  I guess my dad knew the flow of the eddies and currents, and that the direction of the wind would likely drive the abandoned debris to more southern reaches of the shore away from the river mouth. I assume this to be the case, though I will never know.

    Back to the Coquille. That syrup, I guess, is the mix of things fresh and salty, muddy and dense, liquid and solid sediment.  Fresh water is less dense than salt water and when the two meet, wherever they meet because you never really know from one tide to the next where the margin will be between river outflow and tidal incursion, fresh water slides over salt water.  On rainy days, that fresh water is filled with debris and mud from erosion upstream and the river flow comes down with force against the incoming salt tide. The resultant sedimentary debris that floats to the bottom of the river changes the under tide pattern of the salt water layer and the bottom of the river is a mercurial and ever changing map, the topology of which is never stable in depth or breadth.

    I think of that boat a lot nowadays, when I haven’t for decades.  There is something about the story that to me has no ending.  It may be because the boat was never found; there was no real closure in the determination of how my father drowned. He was an excellent swimmer, had survived crabbing in the Aleutians in winter, fishing out of Dutch Harbor in the summer season, and working in the Todd Shipyards for many years from the mid 1930’s until the 1950’s.  To drown on a stormy river, and not the result of a bar crossing accident, or the swamping of forty foot waves in the Gulf of Alaska – this stalls my mind. In my dreams I am the Wizard of Oz and I give the right gift to everyone, I make everything complete, I offer closure for the most pedestrian of foolish desires. Even mine.  I dream I go back and drag the river and find the boat. I see the boat in that sediment, that muddy stew of time and tide. I don’t dream that it gives me answers, I dream that it puts the period at the end of the sentence that now ends with a question mark.

    I’ve always lived near water. In twenty-some moves in my life, in three different coastal states, I’ve always either seen water from where I live or I could walk to it.  It haunts me and I have fallen in love with it and I cannot leave it behind. There are elements of both ephemera and immutability in the sediment of the Coquille and that is my dad’s true grave. The tide comes in and out and the river bottom ever changes.

    From The tide, death, and time

    Because I often feel the need to randomly incorporate a shading of the political when I post on dKos to legitimize my writing there, I included additional thoughts on Iraq and Bush in the bottom of the original posting. But, someday, though, I’ll re-edit and smooth out the rough spots.


    1. …my read is that this site is for this kind of material in a way dKos isn’t.  Anyways, I hope that I didn’t ruin your evening with calling up those events.

    • melvin on September 2, 2007 at 02:51

    If I were to write it up, it would bear the title Blue Moon Death Trip.

    My mother frequented a little dress shop called The Blue Moon. It occupied part of an old building which also housed a mortuary and some empty spaces, all interconnected through their back rooms.

    One day when I was seven or eight she drug me along on her shopping trip to the Blue Moon. The place bored me to death, nothing but dresses, so I began exploring and eventually found a really cool place to hide. By prying a panel out a bit and squeezing in, I could effectively hide inside the walls!

    But I waited too long. I could hear how frightened they were. This was serious. If I came out now, I’d really be in trouble. What to do? I decided to stay put or rather, frozen.

    They closed the shop, convinced I wasn’t there, and the search proceeded all up and down Main Street.

    I came out of my hiding place and found myself locked in an empty shop. Searching for some way out, I eventually came out in the mortuary, where along with all the other things I wasn’t supposed to see, there was a dead old man lying on a table. Luckily he was fresh, but I understood that he was dead, and suddenly wanted out, no matter how much trouble it meant.

    I returned to the Blue Moon and began banging on the large shop window. This was noticed pretty quickly by passersby on the sidewalk, and I was soon free.

    Free, but in the clutches of my mother. I don’t remember much of what followed, except the discussion was no longer whether I should be committed, but where.

    That night may very well have been the occasion of an incident I have repressed, but which is remembered very well by siblings. My mother was so at her wits’ end that she lost it, beating me until my father literally pulled her off me. As I say, I have no memory of it, nor of her ever hitting me, but I suspect that was the night.

    They were all wrong about one thing though. The mortuary experience they were concerned about didn’t phase me in the slightest. Simply too young.

    • plf515 on September 2, 2007 at 03:14

    is a poem I wrote when I was 15 or so

    Gateway to myself

    I dwelt alone, in misery
    A shroud of hate lay over all
    Too alone and far too fearful
    To let a friend within my wall.

    A castle strong and tall I built
    And locked myself within its walls
    With my ego bruised and hurting
    From a slew too many falls

    I was alone, king of my castle.
    Lord of all that I surveyed.
    And if others didn’t want me
    I with hate their hate repaid.

    I called myself a better person
    Than anyone that I could see
    But, deep within, I knew me lying
    For deep within myself lay me.

    My first reaction, dim and fearful
    Was to build walls higher still
    But I knew myself unhappy
    And, somehow I knew my own will

    With the help of years and teachers
    Many of each, I am afraid,
    I began to see that I
    Could see my castle be unmade

    Those walls remain, they’ll never vanish.
    Too much pain remains in me.
    Soon, though, they will be made smaller
    And let in a friend, or thee.

    1. That’s really beautiful.  I like the way you seem to be wrestling the desire to change the meaning of the past and the problematic nature of the attempt.

      I also like your comment at the end about feeling like you have to add a political spin to stuff on DKos.  lol.  I’ve done that, too.

  8. lost somewhere in one of the novels I threw away.  Here is something I wrote a few years ago, when I was living out west.  It’s not something I would write, now.  But it’s . . . well it’s something, anyway.

    Meditation on a Slot Machine in Las Vegas, Nevada

    Sit yourself down on the black vinyl stool.  Have a sip of gin.  If you smoke, shake a cigarette out of its pack.  Get comfortable.  When you feel ready, hit the “spin” button; have a go at the reels.

    Now look into that three-paned window.  See all of those ghosts of yourself inside.  Some of them married different men, different women.  Some of them never married at all.  Some are rich, some are happy.  Some of them are even wise.  There’s the you who stayed in Europe forever, the summer you were twenty-four and went bumming around with a Eurorail pass.  There’s the one who ate that tangerine on the beach when it was offered to you.

    I think the reason people come to this desert is to commune with these ghosts, with these might-have beens.  I think a slot machine is a crystal ball in reverse, in disguise.  I think that the allure of gambling has nothing to do with money at all.  And I think that people, when they want to commune, have always gone to the desert.

    Those of us who live here have been given a wonderful and a perilous gift.  When we walk among the tourists, and sometimes when we walk among each other, we walk too with all of their alternate, untested selves.  We walk with them as they take chance, and  their chances, which is to say their lives, in their hands.  They, we, play with their, our, might-have-beens; with the contingency of — with what Milan Kundera called the unbearable lightness of — being.  In Las Vegas we are especially vulnerable because  it is here that we give our luck a chance to play.

    As for me, I would have stayed in California when I had the chance.  I would have studied psychoanalysis at Berkeley.  I would have woken each morning to a seventy-degree, partly cloudly day and walked to school through a park full of homeless vets and given one of them a dollar.  You and I would have stayed together.  Eventually we would have had children.  I would have set up — and I can see it there in the window on the slot machine — a practice in SOMA or Nob hill.  I would have charged one hundred-dollars an hour from people who had never slept on a park bench in their lives. 

    As for me.  That is how happy, how stupid, I could have been.

    1. Jay – exme could post her shopping list, and it’d be better than anything I could ever hope to write.

    • Robyn on September 2, 2007 at 03:48

    …I don’t any longer possess a copy of my “Meditation on Hitchhiking.”

    My favorite essay may be Nothingness and Being.  Or it may be something I’m thinking about posting here soon entitled In the Beginning…

    And choosing a favorite poem is like choosing a favorite child.  How about:


    Bleeding the Colors

    I have bled blood red
    Three decades later than
    I would have liked,
    aided by a surgeon’s knife,
    but I have bled blood red.

    I’ve bled before,
    just not that color.
    It’s the shade
    I was missing
    in my world.

    I’ve bled the sickly yellow of fear
    and the desolate blue of sadness,
    the empty grey of loneliness
    and the worn out brown of long years
    of waiting.

    I’ve bled the bluish purple of pain
    and the emerald green of envy,
    the dark scarlet of anger
    and the all-consuming black
    of depression.

    I’ve bled the purplegreengold
    sparkles in my vision
    as I fell asleep
    to dream of a life that
    I couldn’t live.

    I’ve bled the tarnished silverpink
    of a love that I thought
    was real but was
    an illusion/delusion
    and abusive and wrong.

    I’ve bled the dusky rainbows
    of confusion and turmoil
    and the toxic hues
    of insanity and dis-ease
    and death.

    I’ve bled the colors
    until they ceased existing
    and I would have joined them,
    but I finally bled
    the blood red of life.

    I’ve bled red twice now
    and the colors are back,
    sharp and crisp
    and bright and airy
    and joyful.

    I’ve bled red twice now
    and the colors are real,
    and they don’t need me
    to bleed them,
    for I have bled blood red.

    –Robyn Elaine Serven
    –March, 1995

    • Turkana on September 2, 2007 at 05:05

    a poem

    a song

    a section of an in-progress novel.

    a love letter.

    a goodbye.

    • pico on September 2, 2007 at 05:39

    I think my favorite piece was this short diary about my grandmother.  It’s not the best piece of writing, and it was probably way too personal to be posting online (they’d kill me if they ever read it).  But a lot of memories wrapped up in that one.

    Awesome piece, Jay: I’m glad you’ve dug this up.

    • Armando on September 2, 2007 at 06:25

    “The Origins of Blogofascism.”

    “Fuck Me? No, Fuck You!”

  9. … I changed my mind.  Here’s one of my stories I am partial to.  Believe it or not, I did a whole lot of research on the mythical origins of Coyote — then ended up tossing it all away and writing this:


    Oh yeah, btw, it’s a true story!

    • melvin on September 2, 2007 at 08:41

    my diary Duck Genitalia Psychosis resulted in a bunch of people sending me emails, a very rare occurrence. More than any other.

    But sometimes life sciences people have odd senses of humor, or so I am told.

    • begone on September 2, 2007 at 12:50

    My favorite thing I ever wrote was a paper on Gettier’s
    counterexample in an epistemology class in the early
    70’s. Took me 1 month of thinking, thinking while
    riding the El, walking, going to sleep. It was handwritten
    on notebook paper. I don’t understand what I wrote
    then, but am still proud of it.

    • pfiore8 on September 2, 2007 at 18:14

    but that’s not what’s best about me

    i realized this later in life… but it’s being moved, awed, thunderstruck by myself, others, life, pain, laughing til i could pee my pants

    reading jay’s last paragraph and crying

    reading exmearden and wishing she’s just get it over with and write a damn novel so i could just be uninterupted and read the story

    melvin has truth

    buhdy inspiration

    73rd is grace and surprise (and this will surprise her)

    ek… he’s the center of the wheel (scooping up shit and complaining about leadership… )

    armando thunder

    On The Bus… yes, she is a gentle gravity… i get a sense she will be one to hold us together

    Turkana is fire

    LC after reading the “The Desert Oracle” (my own name for your piece), i would say memory… the last line is still in my head

    cronesense is earth

    NPK… youth and knowing (but it’s those little pebbles kicked up on this long road you have to watch out for)

    theevolutionarysieve… air

    OPOL is electric

    and srkp23… exuberance!

    so that’s the palette of docudharma … the way your auras look to me

    oh, and can i recommend revisiting InnerVisions … been listening now for two days… but if you want to dance and type like you’re playing piano

    cause it won’t be too long… powers keep on lying… while your people keep on dying

    world keep on turning cause it won’t be too long

    1. …thanks.

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