I create context. I also write blog posts:

Maybe The Pen Isn't Mightier?

Posted: October 12th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , | No Comments »


I broke a pen tonight.




So I don’t normally break pens.


Do you use some sort of unbreakable pen?




Because maybe they have those... ya know, for people who break pens.


I don’t think they have those.


That would be a cool thing to invent.


No it wouldn’t. It’d be really stupid.


No, I’m saying, invent a pen that’s really tough where you hold it. It wouldn’t break.


Who would buy that?


Considering that you started the conversation about unbreakable pens, you’re being rude.


Well I didn’t mean to start a conversation about breaking pens.


Really rude.


I started a conversation about me breaking a pen.


I don’t understand how those are different.


One is very general: the act of a pen breaking. The other is very specific: the act of me breaking a pen. It’s the latter that I would like this conversation to be about.


Well, you should have said something... What would you like to talk about.


I broke a pen tonight!


You shouldn’t squeeze it so hard.


I wasn’t squeezing it.


Oh. You know, next time you want to tell me a story, perhaps you’ll try to provide a little more detail. I feel like I have to pull everything out of you.


Sorry, I broke a pen tonight. I threw it against the wall and the top cracked.


That’s it, the top cracked. Thats how the pen broke?


Yes. I had to find a dead pen with the same top to replace it.






I was just wondering: are we done with this conversation yet? ‘Cause it’s uh... boring.


No. Don’t you want to know why I broke the cap?


Again, I figured that was a detail the storyteller would include if it were important. But since you asked, I’ll ask: why did you break the pen cap?


Because I was angry. I threw it against the wall.


Sometimes the wall deserves it. The pen cap too.


It didn’t. I was angry.


So you said. Have you gotten everything off your chest, or would you like to share more.


No, I think that’s it. Just wanted to say I broke a pen tonight. I’m not to be messed with.


Posted: October 10th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

 leep doesn’t come easily these days. Regrets, like wispy ghosts, float through the room as soon as the lights are turned out, and they pin me down in bed, as though I’ve been shackled to the low, iron frame. And as if they have their own agenda, they come at me, the earliest mistakes of my life first, followed by later ones and finally thoughts of my most recent sins when I have the least energy to fight them off.

Blurry around the edges like an old slide show, one of my earliest memories from grammar school involved a spelling test and a classmate wetting himself. Though I can’t remember anything else from that classroom, any pictures on the wall, whether there was a globe on the teacher’s desk or not, or even the number of rows of pupils, I remember Miss Shelton was reading us our spelling words when I noticed Ralph Shepard holding himself under his desk. With his other hand, he was trying, like me, to spell the word “harbor.” He didn’t look like he could bear it to ask to be excused. I raised my hand. “Miss Shelton?” “Not in the middle of a quiz, Arthur!” she scolded. “But Miss Shelton, Ralph is going to piddle himse—” As all eyes in the room turned toward him, it was over. Or, for Ralph, just beginning. As he was mocked at recess—wearing an old pair of gym shorts that they apparently kept at school just for boys who couldn’t control themselves—I decided that I would never, ever get myself into anyone’s personal business again. Truth be told, if Ralph still hasn’t forgiven me for that, I wouldn’t blame him.

The next salvo fired across my hippocampus—and by this point it’s not unusual to feel the cool air coming off the cement floor a foot and a half below me despite my sheets and wool blanket and a comforter I had made out of flannel scraps from old pajamas—is the fake call of a baseball announcer made up by me to narrate the final play of my short-lived career.

“It’s a one-and-one count in the bottom of the seventh”—it was little league, we didn’t play the full nine then—some cigar smoking, fedora wearing, potbellied announcer would proclaim. “Tying run on first, a feared batter at the plate. Two outs, down by one…”—of course it was! Why else would the gods have managed to get me on base?—“…the pitch! It’s in the dirt for ball two.” After that pitch, the first base coach told me to go the next time the ball got past the catcher. I was crossing my fingers for a walk, as I always did. “Two and one, the outfield creeps in, the runner takes his lead…”—which is where the announcer in my head fucks me, because at that age we couldn’t lead-off yet, and it makes you seem even slower if you have a lead and you get… well, I won’t ruin the good announcer’s story—“…the pitch. It’s in the dirt, past the catcher! The runner goes… the throw!” The short stop had the ball before I even started my slide. The pitch had hit the backstop and bounced right back to the catcher, who threw me out at second. “He’s out! He’s out! The game is over, the season is over!” My baseball career was over.

The regrets get bigger from there, like the guilt I still felt from breaking up with Ruby Franks in the eleventh grade because I didn’t like the way her father’s car smelled when we took it to the drive-in. I felt guilty because she let me slip my hand inside her bra in that car. She was a terrifically cute girl with a little gap in her two front teeth, and sweeter than warm, fresh milk straight from the cow’s teat. She read books, she sang in church, and we talked about opening a diner together. But I couldn’t get past the smell of chewing tobacco and shoe polish that the car reeked of, and I stopped talking to her. And I think she thought it was her fault.

When the darkest hours of the night eclipse the remaining memories, I move on to new haunts. I used to worry about losing my job, but I don’t need to worry about my financial wellbeing anymore. I’m well taken care of these days. All that’s left up to me is my health.

I now brush my teeth six, eight times a day: after meals, after snacks, after drinking from the fountain down the hall which probably has nasty old pipes and god-knows-what kind of contaminants in it. So everytime I chew something—pen tops, cigarettes (I don’t even smoke them anymore), toothpicks (which are s’posed to keep your teeth clean)—I find myself in front of the mirror and washbasin. Twenty strokes along the molars on the bottom right, twenty strokes across the top of my bottom front teeth, twenty strokes along the bottom left molars, repeat for the top. Then the sides of each of the teeth: twenty brushes on the molars, twenty along the front of the bottom front teeth, and twenty along the top.

I’ve got it down to a simple process. My head goes on counting, but I don’t need to watch anymore. Instead, I stare at the figure in the mirror: was my hair this curly yesterday? Have my eyes always been brown? My beard is coming in whiter and whiter every day. At what point did I become old? And then, as I count the last brush strokes, I spit into the tinny sink (it makes a familiar “tinny” noise), rinse twice, wipe my mouth on the towel, and return to the bed.

I used to sit and reflect on the image in the mirror, the way it’s changed over time, and the way I’ve changed to keep up with it. Because when you don’t feel like the person in the mirror, you need to change the way you look or the way you act. I’ve never been able to control the way I look. Haircuts grow back, and my nose still points slightly to the left, no matter what I try.

If it’s past, it’s past, and, much like a crooked nose, you can’t change it. Which means my regrets are probably a waste of time, a buildup of needless anxiety, a one-way path headed straight for a coronary. Which is maybe what I need. Maybe that’s the consequence that I’ve been waiting for. We feel guilty when we’ve come out ahead, when we know that the pendulum that keeps the world in balance needs to swing back against us in order to right itself.

Every few days, so that everyone gets his proper exercise, we’re given yard duty. We dig holes and we load the boulders we find into dump trucks to be hauled away. To me, it seems like punishment from the gods that you would read about in Dante, but they tell us that it’s productive work, and ain’t none of us John the Baptist. I’m one of the boulder-lifters, because my biggest mistake was when I worked fixing the roads.

My crew was patching potholes on one of those ungodly hot days in the middle of summer, the days when the humidity literally strangles you, actually keeps air from reaching your lungs. We had finished one site and I was gathering the men to head to the next one when one of them happily announced “Looky what I’ve got!” On the ground, a field mouse struggled to loosen its tail from under his boot. “LUNCH!” Without opening his mouth, he slid a cigarette into one of the gaps of missing teeth.

“Quit kidding around, Bill, work day’s almost over and I want to get home on time tonight.”

“Watch this,” one of the other workers said. And as he did, Bill stomped with his other foot, breaking the mouse completely, just fucking smashing it. Bill smiled and looked up at the rest of us. To this day, I can’t decide whether I wish I had already been in the truck at this point or not, because we would have just driven away without him. But I wasn’t in the truck. As it was, I was just a few paces away from him, and as I raised my shovel to my shoulder, I didn’t know what I was doing. Except that I swung that shovel harder than I ever swung a baseball bat, or anything since. He didn’t even look shocked. He just kept on smiling as he crumpled to the ground. They told me his brain stopped before his heart, and he spent most of the ride to the hospital not knowing he was in trouble. Then he just died with that stupid, shit-eating grin on his face. And because of that, the warden says I’m not allowed to use a shovel when we dig for boulders.

The New Gap Logo Is Fake

Posted: October 8th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: | 5 Comments »

Might I look stupid a month from now for posting this? Sure. But it’s not like my track record is so impeccable that being wrong about this will kill me… I’ll just change the title to “Why The New Gap Logo Should Be Fake”. (But I don’t think I’m wrong.)

Earlier this week, Gap quietly replaced their former logo (seen above on the left) with a new logo (seen above on the right) on their website. Reaction on design blogs and across the Internet was, well… less quiet. The new logo was lampooned almost everywhere it was mentioned, by artists who couldn’t understand the process behind its creation and consumers who missed the iconic logo they associated with the hip clothing brand (An article on The Huffington Post — which I don’t read but seems to represent a mainstream view of all this — starts like this: “Gap has debuted a new logo on its website, doing away with the blue square we’ve come to know and love.”) A poll on that same article shows an overwhelming distaste for the new logo… Votes for “Terrible.” were at 87% when I checked it a minute ago, with votes for “Awesome!” only holding the other 13%. (I know, I know… that’s not the most reliable polling method to use, but I’m not waiting for Gallup to present their findings…)

I don’t think this is a real rebranding from Gap. I think they’re craving attention and doing something like this is going to get it for them. Change such a well-renowned logo to something so horribly maligned? That’s good for a whole bunch of online coverage. Here’s why I don’t think it’s real:
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Just Across This Stage

Posted: October 3rd, 2010 | Author: | No Comments »

On May 27, 2007, I graduated from Keuka College with a Bachelor’s of Arts. Following is the speech that I gave at Commencement entitled “Just Across This Stage:”

At long last, today we stand at the edge of this stage, prepared to cross it into the unknown prospects of our future. We are at the end of our years here at Keuka College, we have completed our time at this institution… an institution that has prepared us to reach our potential. It has encouraged us to explore, lifted us when we stumbled, and fostered in us belief in our dreams to do good things. Today, we walk across this stage to futures anticipated and to futures unimagined. Wherever that may take us, we will stride with confidence. Together, we have completed a difficult leg of a journey that continues. Already we have worked through adversity, we are now experienced travelers, ready to test the waters of what lie ahead. We survived freshman year, the homesick emptiness of late nights and the empty feelings in our bellies after meals that were not quite like the ones our mothers cooked. We matured throughout our sophomore year and gained confidence in our junior year. We won canoe races and celebrated sports victories, and earned academic honors. By senior year, we became overconfident, but we have developed a wisdom that comes from years of living and studying together. Today is a chance to reflect on those years, on the times that we laughed, the times that we cried, and the times that we just held on. We persevered, and we are triumphant, for every one of us is still standing, stronger for the experience. We now charge ahead to the rest of our lives on the merits of these experiences, eager to meet the new challenges that face us. Those challenges await us just across this stage.

Today we can look at each other and know that we have made this successful journey together. Community is a highly valued aspect of Keuka College, one that attracted many of us to this place. When we needed a friendly face or the Easy-Mac ran out, we had each other. When the internet was down or our cars were dead, we had each other. When there were papers to be written or sleepless nights to be endured, we had each other. Those challenges await us just across this stage, indeed. But today, though we cross the stage one by one, we cross it together..

Our years here have come to an end, friends; we have taken our finals and completed our term papers. Our work is finished and our celebrating is beginning. And yet we are all still Keukonians. We will always be Keukonians. We will carry a touch of Keuka in our hearts, a glimmer of the Lake in our eyes, and a breath of this sweet country air in our nostrils. We lived in Saunders and Space, Blyley and Harrington and Davis, and of course, in Ball. We dined in the Geiser and we studied in Hegeman. We take from these buildings not just our experiences but a sense and feeling of those who passed through here before us. And so too our legacy will be felt by those who follow us. With every step we take, we bring Keuka with us. And with those steps, we feel Keuka behind us. The College is a part of us as much as we are a part of it.

Graduation is for many our greatest accomplishment yet. We have worked hard to achieve our goals and stand upon this stage. As of today, we can say that we are “College educated.” We will now continue on to become ‘life educated.’ In doing so, we will search and discover, we will struggle and overcome, we will strive and succeed.

Today we move on to new adventures, to begin a new life elsewhere, one that lies just across this stage.

I’m Not (Necessarily) A Manipulative Prick.

Posted: September 29th, 2010 | Author: | No Comments »

I want to write the way a lot of other people do.

There are tons of authors out there whose careers I’d like to replace my own with, and there are screenwriters and playwrights and even a poet or two (I’d be lookin’ at you, W.H. Auden, if you were still alive…). And then there are songwriters. There are a ton of musicians who make me sit up and say, “I wish I could write like that.” Not the rhyming with a chorus and a bridge, but that I wish I could do what So and So does. I wish I could tell the stories they do (12 different ones on an album that takes 6 months to record, against the 1(ish) story I’m writing in my script that, at this point, takes 18 months of wrestling). There are CDs that I put in the car player that can change my entire mood. They pick me up from a bad mood, or they get me thinking and morose and I’m screwed up for the rest of the day (yeah, that’s pretty fuckin’ emo, I get it). I want to write in a way that does that; I want to grab readers by the balls and tell them how to feel (or, rather, have my characters do so…). I listen to these CDs and I think, “Man, I want to make people feel like that.”

(This post is from my new tumblr account about writing. Click here to read the rest.)

Recent Spins

Posted: September 12th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

I’ve been keeping my ipod busy the last few weeks, and I’m really impressed with a few of the albums I’ve picked up recently, as well as a few perennial favorites that always seem to be within reach.

Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs

Ray Lamontagne’s back, and he’s brought with him a band and a twangy-er sound. His “God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise” is a further step toward a real folky/country sound for an already wispy, folky voice that’s been so good in the past. This one took hold after a few listens, because frankly, the band takes a little bit of time to get used to, as does the late-nineteenth century persona he’s adapted in the writing. He’s all over the map on this one, referencing a plains-wide cattle drive in the title track and the vaudeville shows of old in “Like Rock And Roll Radio.” My favorite, though, is “New York City’s Killing Me,” a plea to get back to, well, the country after a stay in the noise of New York.


A Radiohead/Jay-Z mashup. Nuff said. Except to say this: I have a few Jay-Z mashups, including the Grey album, and this is by far my favorite.
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Co-Workers of the World Unite!

Posted: September 10th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: | 1 Comment »

If you’re like me, you don’t know much about co-working1.

But that’s all changing. Why? Because I had the foresight to Google it a few months ago, and that’s how I found out about Jelly Long Island, which I attended yesterday. While I still don’t really understand the name, it’s a pretty simple concept: it’s an opportunity for a group of like-minded entrepreneurs and freelancers and anybody else who works from home or Starbucks (short of the baristas!2) to get together and work for the day in an office environment. It’s a little like study hall, except talking is allowed and everyone wants to be there. I liked it because it keeps me focused on work, it puts me in a room with a bunch of really great resources — the participants came from a diverse field of occupations: a CPA, a marketing consultant, a communications specialist, a tech guy, etc. — and it was a nice bit of social interaction that, quite frankly, doesn’t come when I’m locked in my apartment all day.

Now, the ability to do work somewhere that’s not my living room is huge. I need someplace to focus where I’m not distracted, and I can only push myself out to a coffee shop or the library so often. So having a structured “office” to go to is a big help. But what I really enjoyed (and totally didn’t expect) was the social aspect of it. Everyone was very friendly and though we were all in different industries, there were a few different conversations that I was able to participate in that were great. I was given a quick Business 101 tutorial by a few of the members, and then I was able to give some writing advice to someone else. It was an extremely open environment for collaboration, with everyone chipping in when they could. It was an experience I wouldn’t have gotten at home, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten even if I were with colleagues from work. It’s amazing how enlightening a new perspective can be.

So that’s my pitch: if you’re on Long Island, and you’re looking for a place to work, check out Jelly Long Island. They’re in the startup phase right now, so they’re testing the waters and seeing how to make things work. But I think it’s an idea that’s got legs, and I’m gonna keep going back.

  1. What a cliche lead sentence! I’m definitely a professional blogger… (no seriously, I am…)
  2. Yak yak yak… I know, just indulge me, I’ll be back to fiction in a little bit, but for now I wanted to talk about this.

Thought Of The Day!

Posted: September 8th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: | 2 Comments »

“Extreme” trucks and SUVs that seem to be all over the place now:

I get the air intake tubes you’ve got growing out of the grill.

But can’t you fit the cooler inside the truck somewhere?

On The Horizon

Posted: September 3rd, 2010 | Author: | No Comments »

I started writing this blog because my writing habits were getting lethargic, to be kind. Shockingly, I think this has actually helped. I fell off the wagon a bit in June and July, where I only posted a few times, but I think that was because I was busy at work. In August, I hit my stride again and I think I put up some good stuff. I want to thank everyone who’s been following along, and I hope you’ve all enjoyed it thus far.

As far as the writing goes, I’m ramping up my game a little more, and I’m beginning to work on a longer project that I’ve been thinking about for a few months now. In the same way I used this blog to propel my writing, I’ve started peteshelly.tumblr.com to help with this next project. I hesitate to call it a blog, because I’m hoping it won’t turn into that. I think it’ll best serve as a sort of journal of my progress, as something that’ll keep me honest when I get distracted.

So follow along, if you’d like. I’ll still be posting here, but that’s where I’m going to be every day.

Thanks again,


Unfortunately, with the U.S. Open going on and live online streaming from usopen.org, I don’t think I could have picked a worse time to start this.

Every Once In A While You Meet One Of The Good Guys

Posted: August 31st, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

The emails kept coming. “I’m really sorry to do this to you, but I have to push our phone call back again. Check with me in about an hour.” Two, three, four of them showed up. Each time, my day was put on hold that much longer.

It couldn’t last all day, though. I had to go to work later in the afternoon. And like a kid waiting for Christmas to come, I didn’t want to put this off another day.

In May 2008, I finished grad school, packed everything I owned into my Chevy Cobalt and drove almost 5,000 miles to the other coast with my girlfriend, Kelsey. (Why 5,000 miles, you ask? Because we took our time and drove all over the place.) And though I had walked across a stage and worn a cap and gown and drank champagne, I hadn’t actually finished school; we all had to complete a 3 credit internship during the summer, and mine was going to be a writing “mentorship” with a Syracuse alumnus whose name I’m not going to mention… because he blew me off for a month and a half and then, upon finally meeting me for lunch at a vegan hole-in-the-wall (the first sign of the meeting going badly was when I asked for ranch dressing), promptly told me that he was too good to be working with me (or that I wasn’t good enough to work with him, I don’t remember…). But fortunately, I had a backup plan, and it worked out faaaaaaar better than it could have with the other guy. (At this point, at the risk of this becoming way longwinded, I should point out that I don’t really hold a grudge against the first guy; in fact, I totally see his point and don’t disagree with what he did. I just wish I hadn’t moved to California before it happened. But as I’m about to tell you, it all worked out anyways, so I’m ok with the fact that I moved out to California. All right, back to the story…)
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