Start Again


For much of my nearly eight years in Florida, I told people that my soul was anchored in New Hampshire. I spoke of it as a place where I found spiritual calm, where everything seemed to flow in the right direction and things just fell into my lap, unexpected and undeserved. It was the place where I came to be known by the name "Magick." Things seem to work out so easily for me it was rumored I could have walked on water if someone asked me to.

There are places in the world where we can find parts of ourselves we cannot find elsewhere. Things just come together in a certain way and magick happens.

Trying to make magick a permanent fixture of your life just doesn't work. These things are fleeting and temporary. Claiming sacred ground by driving a stake into the turf and flying a flag on it can only make the earth bleed.

Going away to college to start my freshman year in 1983 was my first attempt at starting a new life. I wanted to be removed from what I saw as the disappointments and failures of my youth, something that in retrospect had more to do with my self-defeating perspective than any tangible failure. I was very lucky in that I fell in with a very good group of guys who fit together like a puzzle as they inhabited the place known as suite 324. The twelve of us made up a collection of some of the strangest dudes ever thrown together, and were it not for having to live together, few of us would have even noticed each other.

The leader of our suite was John, in his sixth year, sporting a full beard, and old enough to keep us stocked with liquor, no questions asked. Although he barely went to classes, drank from the moment he got up until he passed out, he managed to have our admiration. The easy booze supply was one thing, but his ability to attract women and convince them to spend the night awed most of us youngsters. At the other end of the spectrum was Mark, a computer nerd before being a computer nerd was any kind of cool. He was paranoid, locked himself in his room and spent hours upon hours typing at his keyboard. On those rare occasions when he emerged, usually to cook cans of corned beef hash or Dinty Moore's beef stew in the suite's kitchen, he would do so while mumbling insults under his breath, most of them directed at the rest of us suitemates.

One night while the rest of us were trying to drink as much beer as we could fit in our bodies and Mark was locked in his room beating up his keyboard, the tales started to be told. Mark was using his terminal to access the university mainframe to reprogram reality so it would be more to his liking. The story caught fire and I began writing it as an ongoing serial, "The Adventures of Suite 324," and posting episodes on the door to my room daily. Within weeks there was a line at my door. Along with my suitemates were several dozen students I didn't even know who were coming by on a regular basis to read the latest episode. For a brief time I became a cult figure and I couldn't help but smile when I was in the cafeteria and heard students I'd never met whispering, "Hey, it's the author, the guy who writes about the matrix."

Before 1994, my experience with New Hampshire was limited to memorable summer excursions to the White Mountains and Hampton Beach. It had never been anything special to me, or at least no more than Cape Cod or Long Island, where most of my cousins lived.

In June of 1994, following my personal metamorphosis, I found a curious item in my mailbox. It was one of those now laughable AOL free trial discs. At the time, I had a personal computer but had used it almost exclusively as a word processor. The concept of this thing blew my mind. According to the literature accompanying this floppy disc, I could log into some kind of web of people who were able to communicate through their computers. Seems comical now, but at the time I had never heard of such a thing. I'd been rather isolated in my misery for several years and a lot of things just sailed past me during that time.

There were a lot of reasons why this blew my mind.

In the late 1970s, my father was working towards a degree in computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to augment his career as a mechanical engineer. He often took me with him to the computer lab and taught me to program in Fortran. I spent a great deal of time writing programs that were essentially text based "adventure games" based on stories I had written where the player could be the character in the story. I got bored writing and playing them myself, so I started sending what were essentially email messages to random students who I saw on the listings of those logged into the DEC mainframe. Some of them found my games a humorous diversion and began sending me regular messages about how to improve the games or ideas for new ones.

"Why would anyone write game programs in Fortran?"

"It is the only computer language I know."

"You aren't a programmer, are you?"

"No, I'm a writer. I'm experimenting with interactive stories."

I remember an exchange that went something like that. Hiding behind the anonymity of type gave me balls, but eventually it was learned that I was thirteen years old. It wasn't hard to sniff me out. Aside from when I snuck a modem home, one of those weird ancient things you have to shove the handset of a telephone into, there were only three places on campus where you could get computer access.

I became known as "The Kid" and was accused of being a genius and a hacker.

The last thing I remember of that brief time was telling my "fan club" that there needed to be a better way to communicate through use of the computer. The way things were at that time, communication was something of a pain in the ass.

Five years later I was writing a serialized story that revolved around an insane computer genius reprogramming reality.

I left Southeastern Massachusetts University after my freshman year, one of many foolish moves I've made in my life, foolish because the reasonings were on the south side of silly. I was convinced that I needed to get out and to a new college because I'd had a chance to lose my virginity after one night of rather extreme drinking and the advanced state of intoxication had caused me to lack any sort of sexual function. Being eighteen and believing that getting laid was the way you proved your manliness, I became convinced that everyone knew what had happened and they were all whispering about my "impotence" behind my back. In reality, no one cared about that, and I doubt anyone actually knew. I was still "The Author" in everyone's mind except my own. In my mind I was "the idiot loser who can't get it up." My life before 1994 was pretty much defined by a ongoing and obsessive self-defeating and paranoid view of myself.

After eight months in Tucson, Arizona, attempting to "start again" at the University of Arizona, I came home broken. My transfer had been late and I had to move into an off-campus apartment by myself, where my shyness and social awkwardness led to near isolation, with the exception of a weird effort to pass myself off as a rock singer that led to an incredible level of embarassment, after which I locked myself in my apartment for weeks at a time without leaving except when getting food and other supplies became of paramount importance. One of the first things I did after my return from Arizona was to make a weekend visit to my former college, where I was received as some kind of returning celebrity.

"Are you writing any more of that story?"

"Not really. I've been writing other stuff."

"You ought to write more of that matrix story, it was really great. I used to read it every day and laugh my ass off."

"Actually, I've been fooling around with the idea of turning it into a novel."

"That would be cool. You could make suite 324 famous."

It started as a personal quest to reclaim "lost glory." If I rewrote "The Adventures of Suite 324" as a novel and got it published then my feeling of personal failure and my desertion of the suitemates, who had stood by me and been my friends, would be avenged. I changed the title to "The Matrix" and spent nearly two years converting a serialized story that was little more than a collection of in-jokes and references into something more. In 1987 I felt it was complete and began working on getting it published. After multiple rejections I hooked up with an agent who was a friend of a friend and asked her what I could do that would make the novel more "publishable."

"I see two big problems," she told me. "The title is a problem. It isn't very marketable. No one knows what a 'matrix' is and it sounds like technical jargon. The other thing is this thing with people talking to each other over their computers. I guess I can see computer programming types doing that, but kind of hard to believe ordinary people would type to each other over computers. Why would they type when they can just use the phone?"

I don't have to tell you the punchline.

So, in June of 1994 I got this AOL disc in the mail and found out my computer had a modem I had not previously been aware of. Hell, I'd had my own computer since it was possible to own one, my father insisting on turning me into a programmer, something I rejected outright on principle, since frustrating my father was a way of life for me as a teenager. When they told me this business had been around for a while I didn't believe them. Strange thing is, after my efforts to kill myself in 1994, everything seemed to change... as if I had somehow reprogrammed reality. Everything that I talked about in my novel had come to be. It was a twisted way to see things, but it sure as hell seemd that way. Suddenly, I was hooked into the web and talking with ordinary people who were typing to each other over computer lines. My inane superstitions regarding these events is why I still insist on using AOL despite thousands of very solid reasons why I shouldn't.

As I fooled around with this new "toy," I bounced around the place, ending up in a New Hampshire chat room. I didn't take it seriously and played the clown and the fool. In those days I was preoccupied with "extreme dating," where I used every method at my disposal to meet women and date them, another effort to avenge my perceived shortcomings when it came to romance in the preceeding years.

Eventually I realized that these chat rooms could be more beneficial to my dating crusade than any of the other methods at my disposal.

The New Hampshire chat room would have "parties" every weekend where they would all but take over a bar or club. At first I preferred to stay back and prowl, privately chatting with various women and convincing them to meet me, including once driving all the way to Yonkers, New York to play pool with a woman who lived there. I would drive anywhere, go anywhere and do anything, and eventually I became known as "Magick" because I did all this while looking for nothing in return.

"You aren't out to get laid. You aren't looking for a relationship. You have all these women throwing themselves at you and you never take advantage of them. What the hell is your deal, Magick?"

"I'm looking for something."


"A reason to stay."

"Stay where?"

"In New England. I'm haunted by these dreams that keep telling me to go where there is no snow. I don't intend to let dreams tell me what to do, so I'm finding reasons to ignore them."

"Bullshit. If you were looking for reasons to stay here you wouldn't avoid making commitments and actually put down some roots instead of what it is you're doing."

"What am I doing?"

"Avoiding finding a reason to stay."

There is something inherently romantic about the "triumphant return." So many of the greatest epic stories involve the theme of the triumphant return in some way. There is the rise to glory, the time of goodness and celebration, followed by the decline which must inevitably must lead to the triumph at the end of the story.

Life is more complicated than any epic, regardless of how many pages it consumes.

Going back and expecting the triumphant return is a recipe for disappointment, and trying to script the triumphant return in real life, as opposed to writing it into your stories is a difficult matter. What was cannot easily be restored, nor is it likely to be possible. Time passes and things change.

Going back to suite 324 a year after my departure to Arizona brought about a memorable weekend, but in the end, that reunion reminded me that I no longer was part of what was happening. I was just visiting and had given up being a regular part of things. As time went on, the 324 suitemates dispersed, some graduated, some transferred, and some dropped out.

I came back to New Hampshire for reasons outside of my old existence. I expected to still have the magick, but found too much had changed, including myself. Almost two years after moving here I've made plans to get together with old friends from the days when I was Magick, but those plans always seem to fall through. Ten years gone and people have moved, gotten married, gotten divorced, gotten married and divorced and remarried, had kids, sent their kids to college... the tide keeps moving.

Leaving is easy. Coming back is harder.

Memories are like miracles. Very little is capable of living up to the legends in our minds. The further removed you are from something, the more wonderful it becomes in retrospect. We tend to remember the good things, the great things, from times past while packing the bad things away in boxes and shelving them until we find reason to pull them down again. The present tense has a hard time competing with the glorious images preserved in our memories.

Miracles are like memories. When you think you know what form a miracle will take in order to change a life that has gone off the tracks, it will surely take another form. You cannot script miracles. You cannot script life.

The present tense is the stuff of future memory, and as such will undoubtedly become more glorious in retrospect than it truly is. What we were, what we are and what we will become... we are all these things and all these things are.

We pick up the pieces and go on.


Incidently, the novel I have been working on for the past three years, Beauty Atrophies, with original draft versions of bits of it appearing here on E2, starting with Guided at night by factory lights as well as (to a lesser extent) Every beauty is a tragedy waiting to happen, involves Suite 324 and is something of a "prequel" to events told in The Adventures of Suite 324/The Matrix. Everything is everything eventually. I've sort of promised myself I would finish it this year.