Want to hear an old man opinion? One of the most toxic things that happens in schools is that coaches teach anything other than how to chase balls. They embrace the minimum, anything that makes them work less. Their minds are on stardom, cheers, bowl games, Remember the Titans and Rudy. When I was younger I’d use the blank spaces on work sheets to doodle in health class, and my teacher--Coach Gillis—couldn’t stand it. Coach Gillis taught, coached and preached in middle school. He yelled and treated pre-teens like soldiers he wanted to spank. There was no normalcy, no compartmentalization. More importantly, he hated laughter, talking, and any expressiveness that wasn’t The Pledge of Allegiance, the rustle of mums or a pre-game prayer. The man provided nothing but noise, same as the world that appreciated his hard work. He didn’t understand a love affair with isolation. But there’s no reason to blame him for any unhappiness. (At his going away party at our town’s Baptist church, my best buddy and I beat off into brownie mix and gifted the gloriously iced and fluffy treats as a present.) But I will blame the man for my first short story.
By seventh grade I had developed an addiction to having a mouthful of soda and two pockets full of death-to-diabetics candy. So did everyone, but I was the only one whose skin pulled and stretched with purple marks. Coach Gillis punished little humans when they’d curse, but he called me fat ass as a morning ritual, then later in health class, after I had eaten two Blue Bell ice creams bars. I was a fat ass, but I certainly didn’t want to deal with being called one at the beginning of the day, the middle of the day, and after school, during the choice sport practice, which was always football and the only reason some students woke up nine hours before, as well as the only reason they’d stay in school.
One October day when the world was oozing gold, I skipped practice. I slipped out the school with the girls and boys who were banned from being groomed to be sacrificed to a buffalo god. For a fat ass, the mile long slump home to the front porch was painful but liberating. With each jiggling strut, I could feel a difference—a challenge. Revolution, but only for the taste of Pop Tarts and not a better, more artistic life. In the slow, slouched march, the team had already made it to the football field. Whistles and shoulder pad clashes echoed off the town’s few hundred roofs and off of eight gas station pumps shared between a thousand adults. Crushing sounds of gladiatorial youth and screaming coaches surrounded my home, just a few hundred yards away from the practice field. Obligations to violence ricocheted off metal storage sheds housing things that would have devastated us if we lost it to the tornadoes the roam the Texas sky.
The dots repeatedly hit one another. Grunts and cracks, over and over, but from my backyard I could hear that no one asked where I was. Practice didn’t stop to consider anyone’s absence. They just hit. Fingers in the grass, then they hit. Right then, backpack over my shoulder, I wanted to give the dots stories. I knew the kids playing, but not the dots. I sat in my backyard among dying pears and dog shit and played god. Aliens attacked the gladiators after they rained down like a Revelation plague. In selfish violence, I felt I could face the world. No, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. Instead, I created something.
There’s tragedy wanting to write creatively and expressively. Too many believe there’s no future in writing other than sports journalism or technical writing for instruction manual on a condom box. Too many people are liars. Writers, young to any age, need community, something away from noise and yelling liars that scream and creation isn’t worth a damn. They need voices that aren’t their own that they can rage against or discover wisdom in. It took me until I was an undergraduate to discover Mad Swirl, but when I did I found a world-wide community that challenges by communication, editorial interaction, as well as comments, in person or online. Among the rehearsed pointlessness and violence in a world where hitting hard is celebrated more than observing and creating narrative, the Mad ones become one another’s loved ones. Mad Swirl 2.0 will be a place to write about the dots that populate our mad world and freely comment and critique and criticize and celebrate. It will be a free education in creation, a hub of instant strangeness and a challenging environment where the hindrances of an artless and confused world don’t exist, just words, images, and ideas. Mysteries of where art comes from or why it’s there will never be questioned, instead celebrated and championed. This is where humanity is headed. The whole mad swirl of everything begins anew, now.