09 October 2013

An Affable Muse: The Juggler

It's both wonderful and heartbreaking to write about sad, lonely times 
and have readers say, "me too." -Pete D.

Okay, so Pete Derk's not a juggler, really. But I couldn't come up with a classification to squeeze him into (the best I did was The Heartfelt yet Ironically Snarky Intellectual, which didn't feel right, either). I'm talking poems, fiction, non-fiction, comics, a radio show, screenplays, and probably more that he hasn't yet unveiled, like inventing time travel or solving the Jacobian conjecture. You see my quandary; juggler is the best I could do.

We went to college at the same time, orbiting each other's names in passing, even sharing the spot-right-outside-the-spotlight for a very brief moment as honorable mentions in a literary contest, at which we brushed shoulders (very literally, circa 2006 - bright red tie, hand-in-pocket [him], uncomfortable-straight-arm-pose [me]), but never, ever talking. This is a common predicament amongst awkward English majors, I'm finding. People who should have become friends didn't, because most of us were either angsty or anxious, neither of which are compatible with normal socialization. We hid behind our poems, our prose, let it do the talking for us. I do remember, though, being completely dumbfounded by his piece that (almost) won.

We connected over facebook kind of recently, and my admiration for this guy's writing has only grown. His fiction series, Pete's Unsent Love Letters, contains over five hundred letters penned to people, real or otherwise. It started as something small, an act of kindness to anyone reading, in response to a long line of dark days. But what it morphed into is a compendium that is profoundly touching and, at times, an aching prompt for readers to look inward. But laced into the meaningful stuff is a brilliantly humorous gold thread that I have carried with me since I started in on the letters. As Pete puts it,
This project started when, well, I was in a terrible place. My love life was in shambles. I don’t know what shambles are, exactly, but I get the distinct impression that they suck big time. If there was a snack cake called “Shambles” it would be raw dough filled with a cactus log. What’s weird, though, is that the shambles aren’t what started the project. Not really... It’s nice to know that someone thinks good things about you. Even if it’s quick. Even if it’s only because another person heard you say “balls” when you dropped a pen and that other person found it endearing... I thought to myself, "What a shame that nobody knows how lovely they are."
I have now read them all - late at night when I should have been sleeping, on trains, in cafes,  everywhere in between, and while going through some pretty heavy things myself. They have been a friend to me in the way only a good piece of literature can be, and when the letters are organized into that gorgeous, perfect-bound hardcover, I will be the first in line. In fact, put me there now, Pete. And thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. For every single word.

I've included one of my favorites below, Dear Playing the Ponies. You can also thumb through the rest of Pete's letters here and follow his current projects or get in touch here, all of which I, with great vigor, recommend you do.

Stay connected with the world, people. It keeps the shambles at bay.


Dear Playing the Ponies,

One of the tricks to talk to a girl is to make a really dumb bet with her.
    If I like a girl and we talk some, I might make a dumb bet with her.  Maybe I’ll talk to her long enough that I find out she likes basketball, and then I bet her that she can’t beat me at horse.  And she’ll beat the holy shit out of me at horse, but that’s okay because then we spent time playing HORSE together, and maybe we’ll spend more time together.
    When I bet you ten bucks that it would snow enough and we wouldn’t have to go to work the next day, I kind of thought I would lose.  We never get to stay home from work, ever, for snow.
    So when we were both there the next morning, and when I had to give you the ten bucks, I wasn’t surprised that you didn’t want to take it.  But I was a little surprised that you grabbed my arm and tried to give it back to me.
    I wasn’t surprised that you stuck the ten in my mailbox.  But I was surprised after I put it in an envelope and taped it to the door handle on your car that you stuck it in a pamphlet about gambling addiction and left it on my desk.
    Where did you get that thing anyway?
    I don’t know if you’ll be surprised or not, but tonight I’m putting it in a huge box and sending it to your house.
    Whatever you do next, it was already worth it.