Tag Archives: Creative Nonfiction

Welcome to My Apartment – Monkey Bank

Don’t Panic is the phrase written on the back of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in the book series of the same name. At least, that’s what I understand from the movie because I’ve never read the books, and though people seem to agree the movie is good they also agree the books are better. Yesterday was my last class of any kind–at least for now–and Monday I will turn in the keys to my cushy university job. Then I’ll be shot out into space with nothing but a towel, a paucity of oxygen and a vague idea of a story that I hope I eventually get around to reading, because I think it might be a good one.

Here is a monkey carved out of a coconut. At least I think it’s a monkey. I have to admit I’ve never really seen a monkey that looked like that. It guards the living room (and the psychedelic tissue paper beside it) from the speaker it sits on, a totem to… something. It has a slot for coins, making it a Monkey Bank, though I’ve never put any money in it. Also, it’s from Hawaii.

My sister Sara gave this to me at Christmas some years ago, though the exact when eludes me. All I remember for sure is that it was wrapped in plastic and I broke the little hat off almost immediately. I’ve never been to Hawaii, but Sara has. More than once if I’m not mistaken. To be honest she’s been fortunate enough to go on many trips to many amazing places in the past several years. So many stories of so many adventures I hope one day to hear.

Every day the Coconut Monkey mocks me in my beat up recliner. “I have seen shores that you thought only existed in postcards,” he says. “And instead of getting off your ass to experience them yourself, you stare at me as if I’m supposed to let you in on some sort of grand secret about the whole thing.” Why is it when I anthropomorphize my household objects they’re always such smart asses?

Two days ago my sister had her last day of high school, and today I’m driving down to watch her graduate. In the fall the promise of new adventures at Evergreen awaits her, finally, and I couldn’t be happier for her. With Sara I don’t worry much. She’s been disarming me with beyond-her-age wisdom since before I left for college ten years ago. She’s like those penny-flattening machines at tourist traps. Sometimes she seems to take in the whole world at once, and two seconds later she’s personalized it, stamped it with her own impression, and handed it back to you. The coins you get back may not be legal tender anymore, but these exchanges always have the best payoff anyway.

Though I don’t worry about what the future holds for her, I know she does, so I find myself wishing I had some grand secret about the whole thing to give her, preferably something that didn’t sound like it came directly from a bad commencement speech. I wish I could return the Monkey Bank back to her, full of 10 years’ worth of my experiences, mistakes, and (most importantly) victories, so that perhaps she can go a little more confidently into the world than I did.

But I also remember being 18, and I know that advice was only worth so much back then, when I would listen to advice, but somewhere in the back of my head I knew I was destined to make many of the same mistakes anyway. And though I don’t think it should be any other way, is “don’t pay too much attention to the advice of your elders” my best advice to my sister? Is that the advice I would give as a commencement speaker to a class of eager students?

Sara, as you prepare to graduate today, I want to tell you the thing I like to call “The One Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me,” though most likely someone did and I just wasn’t listening. Know that every victory you ever have is as important as you think it should be, and that it’s always worth celebrating. Always. Know that the day after the celebration you’ll look around and the thing you’ve put so much energy into for so long is gone, and you’re going to realize you miss it (yes, even if that thing is high school). Know that we always miss the things we’ve gotten used to, even the annoying things.

Know that in transitional moments you’ll be beside yourself, thinking that you’re not doing enough even though you’ll have no idea what you should be doing, and that you’re going to feel very nervous about whatever’s coming next. Know that it’s okay to not really know what’s coming next, and that things are always different than how you expected them to be, and that that’s okay too.

Know that I’m telling you all of this because I need to tell myself too. Know that I’ve been sitting in my recliner for the past month, staring at the Monkey Bank and feeling totally useless. Know that in the past 10 years this is at least the fourth time I’ve felt this way, but only the first time I’ve ever expected it, and definitely the first time I’ve ever looked forward to it. Know that my writing this letter is the first piece of writing I’ve been excited about in a month.

Know that feeling uncertain is always temporary, that these are simply the down moments between the adventures. The past few years have been a great adventure for both of us, and it’s time to rest. And though you should be resting, know that you’re going to feel restless, but know also that all this restlessness will eventually propel you towards your next great adventure, and that each adventure will be more epic than the last, because life experiences have an amazing way of building off each other.

Know that your own personalized “One Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me” you can only learn for yourself, and that when you learn it you will likely interpret the experience as failure at first. I did with mine.

Most importantly then, know that it’s not. It’s simply wisdom for the Monkey Bank, legal tender for all the adventures still to come.

Congratulations Sara, and enjoy the downtime this summer. You’ve earned it.

Oh yeah, and don’t panic.

Welcome to My Apartment

I got my first sunburn of the year two days ago. Five days from now my band is playing our third show at the Cabin Tavern. Today I saw Iron Man 2. Nineteen years ago I moved to Washington. In 1968 Night of the Living Dead was released. I watched that movie a week ago. I defended my thesis the day before that.

The same night I watched the movie Amanda was out of town. I was staring at the various piles of documents on the living room table, the paper trail of my academic life separated into piles of various ages.

What is it about kitchen tables that resist having dinner eaten on them?

Here is a part of myself I’d forgotten. It’s from December of 2003, when I was but a lowly junior at WWU. That quarter I completed my first 300-level English class. Until that moment, a B+ had meant that I hadn’t cared enough to try. In English 311, however, that B+ was the best I had. That was the first class to ever truly kick my ass.

Jake, a grad-friend and occasional collaborator is TA-ing for that very same class this year. We were hanging out a few weeks ago, and he mentioned that my professor had been using my final from seven years ago as an example of what the projects could look like. Until this moment, I had completely forgotten its existence, and in fact it took a little bit of description on Jake’s part for the project to even ring a bell. I had no record of it on my computer either.

Suffice it to say, my professor had made a photocopy and was happy to return the original to me. I remember that the idea was inspired by Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, which prominently features a spiral staircase. The text is printed onto tracing paper in a boxy spiral. The effect, then, is that as the pages stack up you can see traces of other pages underneath. Trust me when I say the text itself is garbage, but I have to admit that seven years later I’m pretty impressed with my 21-year-old self’s idea.

That same professor served on my thesis committee this year. Thinking about it now, I’m not surprised that the same person who handed in “The Spiral Staircase” seven years ago thought it would be a good idea to write a sequence of poems based on a zombie dream I’d had a year ago.

Here’s what my first attempt at ordering the project looked like. This was late February, according to the photo. I remember it took several hours and a lot of anger before I was happy with an order. Two months after, I’d say a very substantial amount of the pages you see on the floor here got cut anyway, but it was the first time I actually saw a story starting to take shape.

During my defense I was asked why there was such a preponderance of media in my thesis. At the time I answered something along the lines of this being code between myself and my family, and that I’m fascinated with being from a generation that only knows living in a time of heavy mediation.

The day after my defense I was watching Night of the Living Dead by myself with the lights out, and kicking myself in the ass for somehow failing to watch this while working on a zombie text. Now I have a much better answer to the media question: because in zombie texts the media always represents the protagonist’s only contact with the outside world. What a fool I was not to see it earlier.

What is it about revelations existing just outside of time?

Welcome to My Apartment: Happy 20th Birthday Katherine!

So, as you can probably tell from the subject heading of this post, today is in fact my sister Katherine’s 20th birthday. I will not dwell on how old that makes me feel. Katherine has, on several occasions, given her drawings to the family as birthday/X-mas presents. And while the visual is her trade the verbal is mine. Katherine, this post is (one of) my present(s) to you.

Katherine drew me this Yoshi for my birthday either last year or the year before. I can’t remember because, like a true Hoppe, I didn’t get the present right away. Also, the drawing really served two purposes. Besides being a gift, it was also a school project. Funny, so is this post. Forgetful and procrastinatey as we are, at least the Hoppes are pragmatic.

Yoshi greets me every morning when I am getting dressed. As a result, he (she? What gender is Yoshi?) reminds me every morning that I still haven’t gotten a frame for the picture. There’s that procrastinatey gene again. Somewhere among all the t-shirts hanging in my closet is this shirt that she (my sister, not Yoshi) gave me for Christmas.

Clearly she gets me. And this is not to say that the rest of my family doesn’t–we’re all pretty much variations on the same chord progression–but with Katherine I see the echoes of my formative years.

In junior high my mom owned a gift shop and my dad worked at the Woodinville Weekly, so no one was home in the afternoons. As a result, I became default babysitter for Katherine. It was actually a pretty sweet deal. I’d get off the bus, walk over to her elementary school and pick her up, and then we’d spend the rest of the afternoon watching movies.

Movies of my choosing, that is. Being in the 12-14 age range, I had the conviction and zeal to go with it that my opinions and tastes were damn near unimpeachable. It was my solemn duty to make sure she was inculcated in pop cinema properly, and I relished the opportunity. Sure, as she got older our tastes split along the lines of Pokemon (I was just too old for that trend), but I can still see the impression that those years had, and I still buy her a ton of movies on holidays.

My favorite memory of these times, though, is how she would let herself in my room while I was practicing guitar and fall asleep on my bottom bunk. I had only been playing guitar for a year or so at that point, and was just starting to understand how songs work. One of the first songs I ever learned how to play, besides “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Smoke on the Water” (thanks, Dad!), was Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So”.

This was Katherine’s favorite song to hear me play, and it was usually the first thing she would demand upon entering my room. “Play ‘Stepfather!” she would say (the song’s lyrics say “like father, stepfather…” during the song’s emotional climax), and I would be happy to oblige.

In honor of this memory, I sat down yesterday to record myself playing “Say it Ain’t So” on guitar. But you know what? Katherine’s heard me do that before. So, riffing on the video game-themed nature of her Yoshi drawing, I decided to reciprocate by playing this Weezer classic on Rock Band instead.

The twist? I went for vocals and drums at the same time, both on hard. I got five stars. Yes, this is an incredibly dorky thing to do, but if you’re from my family it makes sense. Happy Birthday, Katherine. I love you with all my heart, and I can’t wait to see how you get me back for this!

Welcome to My Apartment

What I didn’t tell you about yesterday was the bigfoot sighting. I had been sitting in my apartment, minding my own business when I heard something stirring in the bushes. I set my laptop down and instinctively grabbed my camera. One never knows what one might find lurking in the bushes.

I nudged open my patio door and heard something to my right. I reeled around and snapped off a shot. There was a loud Grrrrraaauuggh! I fell back, and that’s the last thing I remember.

I came to, and fortunately my camera was still intact. I looked around. Footprints trailed off into the bushes. Eager to discover what exactly I had taken a photo of, I quickly imported the photo onto my camera. The results will shock you:

Yup, it was my old pal Chewbacca. Chewie and I go way back. I first met him when I was living in Seattle, must have been about 2006. I was walking from my shoebox apartment in Belltown up to Capitol Hill to see a chap who I’d been recording at the time play a show. On the sidewalk was a plastic grocery bag full of Star Wars and Star Trek toys (that’s right, they intermingle).

I resisted the urge to just grab the whole bag, which, if you know me, was not easy to do. But there was a certain Wookie whose work I was familiar with that I wanted to track down. Sure enough, he was there, and we became fast friends. He always has a position of prominence in my living room.

Speaking of intermingling, it wasn’t uncommon for my Star Trektoys to hook up with my big sister’s Barbies. One time I threw my Lt. Commander Worf toy down the hallway, breaking him to several pieces. We put the parts on the bed in Barbie’s Beach House and said he had “Worfitis”. If there were coroner’s reports for my toys, Worfitis was certainly the most common cause of death.

Welcome to My Apartment

Today was a mercifully unbusy day. After a couple hours in the office, I realized I could do the rest of my work from home. I’m not used to being home on the afternoons, especially on weekdays. It’s pleasant.

I’ve waited all year to find out what shapes the sunlight makes on the floor of our living room. My last apartment had two windows, both facing north/south. It was dark all the time, and I didn’t realize until I moved here how claustrophobic I’d been for the previous year at my old place. Oh well, at least it yielded this.

My old place smelled really bad, and the fire alarm went off every time I used the oven. Actually the fire alarm goes off all the time here too, but at least it smells good. I didn’t even know what it was like to have an air freshener budget before I lived there.

The light lines are gone now, and to suggest that they’ll be back tomorrow is to suggest that light is recycled. That’s just strange. On Sunday night I was watching the Discovery Channel, something about black holes and the universe. I didn’t know that at the center of our galaxy is a supermassive black hole. I also didn’t know that the “singularity” at the very center of a black hole is actually just a euphemism for “fuck if I know,” but there you go. Apparently our universe may just be the other side of a black hole.

Muse had a song called “Supermassive Black Hole” on their album Black Holes and Revelations. The album after that, The Resistance, I didn’t really like that much, so now it just sits on the strange shelving unit that houses our cds, dvds, records, and books. You can see it right there by the record player, which is currently playing Sunny Day Real Estate’s debut album Diary. This album had a huge influence on me growing up. Apparently it had a huge influence on a lot of people.

The album art alone is worth your time. It’s got several paintings of those old Fisher Price toys, but in real awful situations. I bought this at Avalon on Sunday before going home to watch the Discovery Channel. Outside of their doors they had a free records bin, where I picked up an old swing record, a “Movie Themes of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s” record, and a classical record. As much fun as I have buying music by my favorite bands on a medium that by all rights shouldn’t still exist (though I’m so glad it does), picking up these strange castaways is always one of the most exciting things.

Of course, my record collection began by rescuing castaways. About half of my current collection first showed up sometime in 2002. A friend of a roommate was going overseas, and he gave them to the roommate as sort of a permanent loan. The record player we had at the time was ancient and nothing sounded particularly good, but we felt pretty cool to have a record player.

You can kind of see it in this picture, taken after an epic cleaning session in 2003. The records are mostly obscured by the green plastic picnic table, which my roommates had fished out of one of the local lakes sometime in the year prior. We left it out on our front lawn for a while, but then decided it was a perfect bench for drinking games and moved it inside.

That was a great place to live. My roommates were messy, left dishes everywhere, and they took naps in the living room in the middle of the day, but at least that place didn’t smell bad.

Welcome to My Apartment

Alright, so National Poetry Month is done, and with it the poem-a-day project. That was exhausting, but also a nice way to take my mind off of my thesis. I like projects like this. Don’t know if any of the poems are keepers, but they definitely gave me some ideas for the future.

There is a new project his month. I am in my last class as a grad student at Western. It combines nonfiction/autiobiography with photography. I thought it would be fun, especially since I already have the machinery of a blog up and running, to do my final project here. I think blogs are similar to photographs in that they are both tied to a specific moment in time, but kind of drift along into the future, bouncing off whoever might stumble into them.

For autobiography? I’m going to take you on a tour of my apartment. We spend a lot of our time at home, but I think we forget that we’re surrounded by totems to our personal histories. How you decorate changes every time you move. Some things get donated, or given away. Some things just don’t fit the vibe of a new place. And some things, the most Darwinian of all your belongings, find a place in every subsequent place you live.

The first thing you need to know about my apartment is that there’s a cow on the couch. His name is Big Mac. He’s always there. I don’t pay any attention to him. He’s not mine. He’s Amanda’s. She’s had him for a long time.

A couple of weeks ago I got really bad food poisoning from eating at McDonald’s. Big Mac was by my side the entire time, always eager to put me in a better, ahem, moo’d. I am going to hell for that pun.

I really should know better when it comes to eating at McDonald’s. I worked there for three years, ate more Big Mac’s than I would like to think of. The last time I was in my current professor’s class, I also wrote about McDonald’s. My Grandma gives me $5 in gift cards to McDonald’s every year for my birthday.

I like gifts that you can count on. Last week I was checking my mail at school and I found two sheets of Pac-Man stickers, circa 1982, the year I was born. I can’t say I was expecting these specific items, but it was only a matter of time before Yellow struck again with something awesome. Not long ago, it was haikus written on Post-Its. Before that it was Nintendo trading cards, about as old as the Pac-stickers.

What’s great about the stickers, besides reminding me of the Atari that was my only gaming system until 1989, is that Pac-Man kind of bookends my grad school experience. In one of my first classes, I wrote a poem that compares a pie chart to a Pac-mouth. Not the most original thing, of course, but I remember Yellow commenting that my choice to use that particular metaphor was how she knew we would get along. The poem just got published a few weeks ago, my first publication outside of my own school. I got the stickers a few weeks later, and in a few weeks I graduate.

I thought at first that I might preserve the sheets. They were nearly thirty, and yet they were still in such good condition. I decided to add them to my own history, though, and stuck them to the front of my record player. It looks like Pac-Man is about to eat the start button.

As long as that record player works, Pac-Man will always be about to eat that start button, and then one day he will. And then he will turn around and make those ghosts pay.