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I think my first write-up still in the database is from a year ago.

My homenode says my tenure at E2 is now a year and six days (although six days is too short to show up in the count). I wrote a daylog, as I'm doing now, about it being my birthday, which it once again is.

I'm 27 now. 3^3. I'd planned to celebrate by getting a tattoo, but the shop kept moving my appointment, and I'm too much of a wimp to protest that sort of thing, so I ended up going on, of all days, 9/11. Yes, I went into Manhattan on National Day of Hating Arabs.

The ink came out good though. I suppose it's better this way, since it's all healed up by now.

Oh, and an update on what I wrote then: same job, new girlfriend, and Saint John's Wort making me happy once again.

Yesterday I was driving home from the gym listening to NPR in that mellow post-workout haze that's as dangerous as four martinis. A motherly sounding woman was interviewing a writer before an audience. I was able to deduce from ten seconds of listing to the author that he was Jonathan Safran Foer, and to reward myself for my brilliance I ran a red light just as I decided to switch to the alternative music station. Screeching tires and middle fingers distracted me from my channel changing, and while trying to evade the road ragers who were loading their weapons in the heat of west-coast blood fever, I continued to listen to the interview.

Because Amazon refuses to allow you to buy just one item without suggesting another, I actually own a copy of Everything is Illuminated though I've never read it. Jonathan Safran Foer is a young guy. Early 20s. Reminds me a lot of people I went to school with. He's well educated. Erudite. He moderates his tendency to try to speak from the seat of great wisdom by mentioning he used his little brother to edit the first drafts of his new book. A guy who knows himself. A very pleasant person to listen to even though he does emit that aura of "I'm a writer and thus, by the transitive properties of logic, I'm wise about everything," you'd expect from someone older and richer. No doubt he's simply assuming the sale.

What struck me about the interview more than Jonathan Safran Foer's answers were the questions put to him. They seemed somewhat simple -- in the sense of the sort of questions put to a simpleton, rather than the winner of numerous literary awards.

At one point the interviewer asked: "Where do you come up with this stuff?"

To which Jonathan Safran Foer gave a reply engineered to prevent any such future questioning. He drew from his childhood, stories he'd heard, things he'd read, etc. But I wonder how Ernest Hemingway would have reacted to the same question.

Jack Parr: Ernie, I mean -- Old Man and the Sea. Where'd you come up with that? You go fishin' or something?

Ernest Hemingway: (BLAM) Oops. Sorry there, Jack. You flinched. You'll think this is funny. I was aiming between your knees.


David Frost: "Kurt, tell us -- Breakfast of Champions. The concept. The rudimentary kernel of the idea. Where the did that come from? Eating a lot of cereal, are we? Having to resort to extra bran in the diet now that the pipes are rusting?"

Kurt Vonnegut: "Excuse me, I haven't understood a single word you've said in the past ten minutes. What language are you speaking? Is that German? You need more practice."


Rolling Stone: "Ludwig, the Eroica. Wonderful. How do you come up with this stuff?"

Beethoven(currently unliving): ...

Everyone knows where writers get this stuff. Every evening they're abducted by UFOs and the ideas are forcibly injected through anal probes, thus explaining the quality of most of what's published today. However, women may select the vaginal alternative and hence we witness a proliferation of dreamy, repetitive, endlessly derivative romance novels.

When I was in Alaska it rained almost every day. We went out anyway. Everyone did. The whole population had factored out water the way fish do. Construction workers hammered nails into wet lumber. Young mothers pushed babies in uncovered strollers. Ice cream cones melted in people's hands. Everything got wet. Everyone got cold. Everyone's breath condensed to clouds in front of them. It was the normal condition.

In my line of work there's a lot of stress. Hirings and firings. Yelling at meetings. Deadlines to be met. Money to be made or lost. The whole population factors it out the way rocks care less about fire. We hammer nails into new construction we're funding via second mortgages while we default on our firsts. Walk babies in strollers we'll pay for monthly until the kid graduates college. Eat highly spiced Indian food that makes our ulcers scream.

It's not raining.

The part of the movie Phenomenon I like best
Is the last supper. Where he tells the children in
Jesus analogy about the apple left to rot
Forever forgotten.
But eaten it becomes part of us
So we take it everywhere, forever.

this is how we communicate
because all things are in motion
because everything is going somewhere

There are things I'm not telling you.
Same as everybody,
If I told you they wouldn't be mine anymore.
Then I'd have nothing.

And with nothing to lose,
Liable to do anything.

Damn you, damn you, Damn you!

I would have been content to love you always, to stay by your side and live in your shadow, if only you would love me.
Think I am weak, if you will. But it is the truth. Fearing marriage and commitment as I did, I threw it all to the wind as I realized over the past few years just how much I had come to love you, to want always to be near you, to know only that you loved me and that I loved you - and that was all that truly mattered.

But you have thrust this new life upon me, seeking to avert your own fears, wanting to have me and yet not allowing me to have you. You claimed love for me once - now I know it was a lie. You liked me, yes. You cared for me, yes, in your own way. You certainly loved my body, and still do.
Had I known, I would never have lain so happily in your arms at night, never would have trusted your voice, your touch, as I did no other. If you had said nothing, I would have accepted it and eventually drawn away. But you lied - or did you? Did you love me once, do you love me still?
Damn you for making me doubt you, damn you for making me doubt all those hours of happiness spent in what I thought was shared love of the heart, of the soul. I gave you everything I had, bit by bit.

Then you turn and tell me, it has to end. You didn't love me, you wanted to leave, because you felt trapped.
I spent three of the most miserable nights of my remembered existence hearing those words, feeling my heart break and my soul shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. I screamed, and you were angry because I was angry. You didn't understand that I loved you, that your leaving me would shatter me so completely. You thought I "should have expected this."

Then you came back, spoke of how lonely you had been - how lonely you had been! How concerned for me! How torn you felt, that you had hurt me when you meant only to be setting us both free.
I should have been angry, I should have thrown it all in your face, but I couldn't. It was too fresh, I still loved you.

I still love you.

So you thrust this new life, this new ideal, upon us. I said then that I would do anything to be with you, so long as you loved me, and while the bond of one's word seems to mean nothing to you, I meant it. My heart ached, and while we never "got back together," so to speak, we reconciled. Perhaps one day.... but not now.

There are times when I am happy to be able to pursue my own fantasies and follow my hormones wherever they wish to lead me - but damn you for bringing it to this! I don't know my own motives anymore. Once all I wanted was you - now I am not so sure. I can never truly have you, and I do not think I have yet recovered from the shock of that blow.

I don't know what to do, and I am growing listless and lonely, thinking too much and snuffling to myself in the dark of night, alone...
Once I wouldn't have felt the need to seek out alternate attentions, but your lack of such drives me to it, as if I almost have no choice. I don't know if I am doing what I am doing because I want to, or because I feel I should.

I say it again,
Damn you, Damn you, Damn you!

Left for Miramar last Wednesday, was supposed to be back Sunday but the bus never arrived, so we didn't get back 'til Monday, then had to go out to Range 210A until today. The Miramar field op, despite taking up my weekend, turned out to be pretty cool. There's a film studio set up there with some pretty accurate sets portraying towns in the Middle East, including prop RPGs, IEDs, and VBIEDs. I guess on weekends Marines take over the sets for training purposes. They had some pretty good scenarios set up with professional actors playing OpFor, and the best part: a killhouse for sim rounds (like paintball rounds) with moveable walls so every run-through was different. It was actually probably the best training I've ever had.

After that, 210A was quite a letdown. And ten days of being in the field is no picnic. But the weather's cooling off, and I'm falling into my new company quite well.

And yesterday was the last day of my third year in the Marine Corps. And as if to celebrate, the world treated me to a real visual feast last night. None of us were sure what it was exactly, but some airborne, or perhaps even sub-orbital body streaked across the sky just after dusk, trailing a streamer of deep orange and pink that persisted for a good half hour. After the first few minutes the projectile's exhaust turned into a huge translucent plume of barely visible fire before it all disappeared. None of us had seen anything like it. Some speculated it was some kind of missile test.

It didn't occur to me until later that the color of the vapor trail was probably due to the sun, which was far enough past our horizon that it left our sky mostly untouched, but not so far that that wobbly streak of exhaust was out of its fiery reach. What delighted me was the improbability of that intersection of fading sunlight, vapor trail, and line of sight, the three things coinciding with my three year mark as if to say: "Here is something you would not have witnessed."

Three-quarters finished, three of the longest, most eventful years of my life behind me, and only a single revolution around the sun remains in my way, abandoned by his brothers, puny and unintimidating without them.

Three years since I threw myself into this fire, full of fear and uncertainty, of excitement and expectation. You'd think the wonder and disbelief, that what-the-hell-am-I-doing-how-did-I-get-here-who-am-I feeling would fade, but it doesn't, it just hides, stays mostly out of sight, only to hit you like a punch in the throat, just when you start to feel like you're getting the hang of things, starting to understand what's going on.

I remember boot camp, three months of simple hazing, really. Three months of hazing that turns soft masses of flesh into machines. I remember being a third-phase recruit, the senior company on the Depot, about to graduate. I remember seeing brand new recruits, no more than civilians with shaved heads running around so lost and disoriented and scared, so very soft-looking and being amazed that I had ever been as they were.

But then, I also remember once when I was still a first phase recruit, and still reeling from the jarring brutality of Black Friday, I ran into a few senior recruits in the head at the Dental Clinic, and they reassured and encouraged me, told me to keep my chin up, that it would get easier. It's amusing, seems a little silly now, but it meant a lot to me then.

It's strange, too, now, to regard the new guys hitting the fleet, just as ignorant, just as fresh. Some come out of School of Infantry or LAV school thinking they know it all, and for these, fleet life provides a rude awakening. Some come ready to learn, ready to do as they're told, and these adapt better, assimilate more easily.

My peers and I were largely of the latter category, because we were thrown from SOI almost directly into a combat zone; a bus ride to Margarita, then to March Air Force Base, a commercial flight to Kuwait, a C-130 ride into Iraq, to join our unit for the first time to the sound of none too distant nighttime gunfire, alien smells and foreign sights. We were all lost and dazed, and we had intimate knowledge of this.

And here we all are now, three years in. Somehow, excepting the second-termers and the staff NCOs, we are the old guard. We're the ones talking about The Old Corps, the good old days, how different it all is now, how easy these new guys have it.

There's an old joke:

Back in 1775, Robert Mullen (the first Marine recruiter) was in Tun Tavern (the birthplace of the Marine Corps) making his pitch to a prospective enlistee.

"How'd you like to be one of the world's finest, sir?"

"I don't know, what are you going to offer me that the Army and Navy won't?"

"Well, tell you what, you sign up here right now and I'll buy you a beer!"

"Hell, that sounds good to me," and the guy signs and goes to sit down with his beer.

The next guy sits down and Mullen makes his pitch, beer included.

"One beer? Idunno if that's worth it."

"Tell you what," Mullen replies, "I'll make it two."

"Two beers, huh? You got yourself a deal."

So the guy signs, takes his two beers and goes and sits down next to the first guy, who takes a minute to regard him and says, "Two beers? In the Old Corps, we only got one."

And it's like that. Each generation of Marines makes claims about how different things were in their time, and not baselessly. As anything else, for good or ill, the Corps changes to suit the times.

And we've all changed, too. We're experienced, we know the ins and outs, we have all this knowledge and all these skills to pass on, and we do. It's so strange to find myself in a teaching capacity, so surprising to find myself containing these things and somehow able to impart them to my juniors. And it's such a frighteningly huge responsibility with war staring us all in the face. It sometimes feels like too great a burden, I sometimes feel like it's presumptuous of me to carry it.

But every once in a while, a thoughtful young Marine notices my efforts to give of my experience, my attention and care, and thanks me for it. And I am filled with pride and a renewed clarity of purpose.

One year left, most of us are making plans, thinking about getting out, going to school, starting careers or whatever. But not all. Some guys re-enlist. And I guess I can understand, if only intellectually, their reasons for doing so.

Some guys can't resist the juicy re-enlistment bonus, which I've seen get up to fifty grand. Tax-free if you sign overseas. But money, I think, is no good reason to do anything.

Some guys have gotten married, started families, and can't pass up the financial security re-enlistment offers. The Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance is at $400,000 now.

Some guys, at the end of their first four years, find that they know this, and not much else. These have mostly enlisted right out of high school, never had any interest in higher education, and find the idea of starting again somewhere else unappealing, maybe even frightening.

Not me, though. Driving home from Palm Springs the other night, I got stuck at a red light, and noticed all the rest of the traffic lights as far down the street as I could see were green. This is how I feel right now. This last year is the final hurdle beyond which life is wide open and imagination provides my only limits.

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