daniel dart

What is your favorite place? Mine is on the third floor.

IMG_0496.JPG

San Diego State University, located in beautiful southern California, like most other big universities, has a giant library. It sits at the center of their campus, only accessible to the normal person by foot, right near the central food court. As you enter, you pass through glass doors before seeing a set of elevators that can take you up to any of its many floors. If you’re ever in the area, I suggest you stop by and give it a look for yourself. If you do, let me know what your favorite part is. Mine is on the third floor.

When I was 19 and 20, I would sleep there during the day. You see; I couldn’t sleep at night, not with how cold it was outside. I had to keep moving, keep walking, just continually smoking cigarettes. I would ask for change from strangers to get a 99¢ tall-can of Steel Reserve to help take off the edge and give me a bit of warmth. The cigarettes, most of them would be half smoked ‘re-fried’ ones that I would pull out of ashtrays I’d found in businesses smoking areas. I had my entire routine, in both the night and the day.

I would make my way to the back corner on the third floor, grabbing a few big books as I walked through the aisles headed toward the desks they had tucked in the back. I’d pull the books from the same section, that way it would be easy for any passerby to instantly recognize what I was ‘cramming’ for. As I got to the desk, I would open the books to similar chapters as if that was the exact part I was studying; it had to be self-explanatory. It had to be. I couldn’t risk losing the safest place I had to sleep. It was the only spot I had where I could disappear for a few hours in total safety. 

After opening the books, and laying them out just right, I would then take a few of the chairs and push them next to each other, this way I could tip over on my side and get comfortable so I could partially lie down. Then, when I had the scene set up perfectly, I would softly close my eyes and drift off to sleep. If anyone asked, I would say I was cramming for a big test all-night and just dozed off. I couldn’t help it I’d say; I was just another college kid working hard to pass the big test.

I did this off and on for over a year, and it must’ve worked, because no one ever bothered me, questioned me, or woke me up. I like to think it was because I had them fooled, but for all I know, there was a librarian there who knew exactly what I was – a homeless kid who wanted nothing more than a little space to sleep, and the safety to do it. I didn’t go to the university, but I kept my few pieces of clothing – and the canned food I got from the church down the street – tucked away behind a dumpster a few blocks from the campus. On some nights, I would lie behind that same dumpster, with a shirt wrapped around a rock I used as a pillow, and just sleep there. But, I would never get the good safety type of sleep behind the dumpster, it wasn’t anywhere near the feeling of those desks in that back corner.

I think about that library often. One day I will go back there and see if the same desks, and the same chairs are in the same spot – next to the same books. I wonder; is there another abandoned kid who finds shelter in there today? Is there another broken soul that a librarian looks after without anyone ever knowing?  I hope not. I hope the kid can find a real home to sleep in, a real place to be safe to be. That would be so much better.  

It hasn't even been 3 years yet.

Photo: Chris Swainston

It hasn’t even been 3 years yet. As a matter of fact, it’s been exactly 30 months since I came home. Wow. It feels like it was yesterday – at the same time it’s like nothing more than a dream, one you can’t seem to put your finger on. Waking up in the middle of night, sweating and short of breath, you swear it was real, only to find yourself lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling.

I still don’t feel like I’m safe. I still find myself having mild panic attacks, all alone in the middle of a crowded room. I find myself reminiscing about the ‘yard’ and the fellas on it. I find myself both lost and renewed at the same time.

When I was first in LA County Jail almost 6 years ago, an older inmate described to me the hardest thing for him accept about himself, was that after spending years in prison earlier in life, he came to the realization that some of the best times in his life were behind bars. He told me that when he looked back on his life, he looked at some of those times so fondly that he’d sometimes wish he could go back there to live them again for the first time. To appreciate them for the great times they were. I never thought I’d ever be able to relate to this on a level where I might agree. In this, as well as many other things in life, I was wrong. He was right – sometimes I too miss the times on the yard.

I don’t look back on my life as I thought I would when I was a child. Reflecting on my accomplishments and my achievements, it is not the awards I am most proud of. It is my ability to get beaten up – emotionally, physically, and mentally – and still hold my chin up high that I’m most proud of. I sure can take a hit. I can withstand a beating. I’m not made of glass.

This is what I get the most courage and power from. When I get anxious and nervous, when I second guess myself and think I simply cannot go on. When I stop and think of how badly I have been beaten and ravaged, and how I’m still here. How I am still breathing and trying, fighting and scraping. I am proud of myself. I have not lost hope. I sure can take a hit.

I still search for tomorrow. I still search for love. I still search for happiness – for so many things that I find fleeting. I search for something better, running from something worse. I search high and low for something wonderful. Some days I do it with a smile on my face and some days with a frown, but I do it everyday. That’s why I’m proud of who I am today. I have not given up.

I sit here in my apartment – typing and thinking – utterly at peace. I have exactly what I have been searching for tonight. I hope you too can say the same. I want you to be happy. I want you to find peace, and I want you to find love.

Life is the journey; love the destination.

I hope we both find our way there.  You’re not made of glass either.

 

For me the glass is never half full… OR empty.

I can’t do the philosophical things that some people can. It’s just not how my brain works. I search for more than “questions.” I search for answers. I search for formulas.

I know when people ask if the glass is half full or half empty, they’re usually asking in rhetorical fashion, I understand this. But to me, this has always been a literal question. I have never liked asking questions just for the purpose of asking questions; to me the goal has always been the answers. The destination. I never get lost in the journey, although I do enjoy it, I enjoy the journey because I'm headed to the destination, because I have purpose and meaning.

So when I'm asked about a glass of water, I break it down like arithmetic. If the glass started full, then you drank from it or poured out half… then it is half empty, because it is now less than the original amount. But if the opposite is the case, and you filled it, and it only made it to halfway and have yet to take any from it, then to me, it is half full. This is how I break it down, how I find logic in the question. I can take it many steps further and explain to you why I believe my reasoning is sound, but to most folks, it just gets a little too serious. They explain to me this is not the point of the question. The question isn’t a serious question, but a question for "questions sake." They explain that it’s the process of questioning things that is the answer in itself, but for me, that just doesn’t work.

This is not the easiest way to be. It's why I find myself so often disconnected from others. They want to just play it by ear. I can’t, or shall I say, I don’t know how. I need some sort of guidelines. I need some sort of structure, even if it’s no structure at all. If you tell me there are no rules, then stick to that. I don’t do well with inconsistency… because I have found that few people really have matching understandings of what “go with the flow” means. What usually happens is I try to go along with the “flow” only to cross an imaginary boundary that I didn’t know existed. I end up offending people and then am told I should feel guilty for breaking these nonexistent rules.

 I over share; I’m told that’s a bad thing.

I want to be a man of action. I value actions so much more than words. Maybe I should tell people, “Don’t listen to what I say; watch what I do.” I might be better off. Because sometimes I feel like I’m not supposed to tell you what I think, because what I think might not be “approved,’’ it is too “sensitive.” But I don’t think seeking answers should be something that makes people feel uncomfortable. I think we should all aspire to better understanding, better clarity. My life is valuable, and so is my time. I have so many things I want to achieve. I have so many worries, and offending people over petty misunderstandings is not something I want to spend my time with. I want to worry about the big things.

I want to have a bigger purpose - this is why I’m always seeking answers. I want to find a way to improve the lives of all those around me. I’m living for me and for you - for all of us. For the children we haven’t had yet - for their children too. I need to make a plan for this, and I need answers. I do not have the time to just sit around and question things, I must find out which questions need answers; then find out how we’re going to answer those questions.

I do not need to know what “one hand clapping” sounds like. That is something someone else can think about. It does need feed the poor, nor clothe the needy. And it reminds me of the first question which sparked this piece: the glass full of water. And for me it comes down to this… I do not care if your glass of water is half full or half empty; all I care about is that the water is clean, and accessible to all. So next time someone asks you, I hope you say the same thing. Instead of questioning whether it’s full or empty, we question why everyone doesn’t have a glass? (I promise I’ll go with the flow if it helps us answer that question.)

Written by: Daniel Dart

The sound of my heartbeat.

I think my heart might beat right through my chest…

BOOM – BOOM – BOOM

My legs can’t carry me any faster. I’m pushing myself harder than I ever have before. But why? It’s like my mind has no control over my body, my legs. I’m running.

I’m in the desert somewhere but am not sure where. It is like an old roadrunner cartoon. I’m racing. Something is chasing me. As it gets closer and closer, I’m getting closer and closer to the edge.

I can see the cliff on the horizon, 30 feet away…20 feet…10 feet…

I jump. I actually fucking jumped. What the fuck am I thinking! I just fucking jumped.

BOOM – BOOM – BOOM

I think my heart is going to rip right through my skin.

I am falling through the air, falling fast towards the valley below. My eyes are watering as I scream through the air, yanked down by gravity – a force I can’t control. I am going to die. There is no way I am going to live through this. I can’t believe I actually jumped. What the fuck was I thinking?

The ground is coming fast, I close my eyes and brace for impact…

Awake. Bolting up in my bed, I am soaked in sweat… again. I am out of breath. I look around to make sure it was only a dream. That is wasn’t real. That is was only a nightmare. I look at my phone; 3:13am. I’m still here, still alive.

But the tightness in my chest doesn’t go away. The nausea remains. She is still there. I just almost died from jumping off a cliff and the first thing I think of is her. Waking up from a nightmare, into a nightmare. I try not to think of her, but I can’t change the beat of the song. Drumming in my brain is her tempo. Bang, bang, bang. She beats in my head every single day.

She was like a song, beautiful with a magic rhythm. I want to dance to her tune every single day. I want to waltz with her in the ballroom. I want to save her from the dragon and climb the tallest of towers. I want to learn how to ride a horse, just so I can be her knight in shining armor. I’d do whatever it takes…then I would do even more.

I close my eyes. I breathe in through my nose, slow, deep, telling my subconscious everything is going to be okay. Trying to believe it’s all for the best. The future has something mighty in store for me. I breathe. The moment passes. I breathe. I slowly remember I’m an eternal optimist. I slowly remember that I do believe that things will get better. And I slowly start to relax. I feel my shoulders release the tension, my heart begins to slow and I begin to feel calm again. Because I remember, tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is another day, and I am not on a cliff.

 

These hands. Each scar, each tattoo... tells a story.

photo: Kyle Topping

photo: Kyle Topping

These hands. Each scar, each tattoo... tells a story. From the initial of my former wife to the lyrics "Consoler of the Lonely" representing the hardships of tour life. All the way to the burn from the night my best friend was murdered (RIP Giao). These hands are resilient. They are determined. They do not give up. Ever.

I’ve dug ditches for money and worked on assembly lines. I have manned the window at a drive thru and spent, what seemed like endless months, telemarketing. I have slept in gutters, and on beaches. Ate out of garbage cans, and at soup kitchens. My hands are a reminder. They remind me to take things in stride. They remind me to keep things in perspective.  They remind me not to resent the bad times, because they are what make the good times great. And while circumstances have changed drastically for me in the years in between, I never forget. I look down and find peace in the chaos of my past, armed to approach my future.

The quarter-sized scar on my left hand; burned into eternity on the same night my best friend was killed. A constant reminder. I love him and miss him every single day. Even now, his death pushes me to work hard and make something of my life. It’s the best way I know how to honor his memory; it’s how I carry him with me.

Then there are the other, not so obvious correlations. There’s no physical mark but they remain indelible in my mind. Thoughts of sleeping under a stairwell in San Diego when I was 19, and the feeling of relief  having found a place I could relax away from threat, or the stares, to just lie down and take a breath. The feeling that left me long ago, but still resides in me everyday. The epitome of irony, found in the middle of all opposites.

It’s funny, usually when I write, a certain feeling inspires me to put pen to paper. After I finish, I search out a photo that I feel represents my words or captures the feelings the words inspire. But with this one, it was the exact opposite. A friend of mine, Kyle Topping, took this photo of my hands among a thousand others, and when I saw it - these hands - it kind of took my breath away. With this single image it was as though a series of snapshots fluttered through my mind. Some of them obvious, such as the initial of my ex-wife. The memory of the night I got the tattoo and then ‘poof’ as I moved on.

I see these hands, and think about my life today and how good it is…and how different it is. They encapsulate my story. It’s almost as if they are speaking to me, telling me they knew all along that we’d end up here together. That the past is just a memory and it’s time to look down the road ahead. And what a wonderful road it is…

I have opportunity like I’ve never had before, new doors that lead to possibilities I could never have imagined. I think about next week and next month and I can hardly wait. I wonder where I’ll be next year, knowing already, that it will be great. After building an entire life by “winging it,” I feel like I’ve finally begun to find my rhythm, and that is amazing.

The scars, tattoos, and stories these hands carry are so symbolic, so important to me. If we ever cross paths, feel free to take a moment and ask me about them. I would love to share their stories with you. They are the stories of my life. They’re the testament to who I was - who I am - and who I’m working to be.

I am your humble servant, always. – Daniel Dart

Thank you for the dance.

What happened to you? Where did you go after the night of 30 cigarettes and 12 shots of whiskey? Did the stain of possibilities chase you out the back door into the cold New York night?

Years have come and gone, yet thoughts of you swirl around my mind like smoke. Settling on me, visible in front of me like rays of light from your grandmother’s old lamp – the one with the linen shade. You told me it reminded you of your “pa-pa.” Whatever that meant, I’m still not sure. I can see you, but there is nothing for me to grab hold of. The moment I reach out, you swirl and disappear. Poof.

It’s been a year, or two, or maybe five now – who knows anymore? Is anyone even counting? Society has changed so much…and not in a good way. Or is that just how it seems to me? People have become callus; unpleasant. Everyone walks around like the world is watching them, and them alone, like they are the main attraction. No one is real anymore. Neither are you. Were you ever real? We drew each other in, only to let each other down and then use that disappointment as an excuse to believe we were better than our counterpart. Maybe I’m just getting older and have become cynical and bitter, but I don’t think so.  Only because as I sit in front of this keyboard, I still hope…no, believe, tomorrow will be better. Sending good vibes to you and your future child - I heard you were having a baby - congratulations to you. Seriously, you will make a wonderful mother.

Will your unborn child know about your endless nights? Dancing till dawn, laughing, while drinking beer, shooting it out your nose and screaming, “it burns, it burns!” all the while laughing even harder, and smiling even bigger. Will they grow up seeing you only as their mother, never knowing the girl that was wild and crazy like a summer storm, blowing over those who stood in her way, sexy in a short skirt and fancy heels. A laugh that could shatter steel and smile that could melt lead. You truly were a girl on fire.

What about the father? Does he know the same girl I used to know? Do you love him like the sun? Does he illuminate your every day? I sure hope so. I hope he is a strong personality, able to avoid getting sucked into your 5 foot 3 black hole of giant expectations. I hope you found your match.

I wonder if we met today, would we get along? Or would we circle each other like fighters in a duel, looking for an opening to strike.  Maybe neither, and barely glance at each other as we walked by.

I am glad I can smile at the thought of you as I look back, and only hope you can do the same. You were a giant among men (although you’re a woman) and I wish you always have the sun upon your face and the wind upon your back. I hope whoever you choose to walk with always hold’s your hand, and picks you up if you stumble.

We had our moment and it was a special one. Only on reflection should I call you a former teacher instead of a former lover? That is what you were. What we were. We taught each other what to do, and what not to do. We taught each other that heartbreak is only temporary, and that the future can be better than the past ever was. We taught each other to be patient and wait for tomorrow, because tomorrow holds promise. All we gotta do is wait for it, work for it, and hold on to the special someone that it brings. We also taught each other that the perfect person won’t be perfect…but imperfection is okay.

With that my old friend, I wish you the best.  Until I see you in the echoes of my dreams, farewell.

-Dart

Dear Donald, hate is NOT an American value.

We’ve all heard Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again.” We’ve also heard, over and over again, that in order to fulfill this promise and “restore” American virtue, some people must pay the price. Whether Muslims or Mexicans, the politicians or corporations, everyone is to blame and hate is allowed. Scratch that, hate is encouraged. Hate is an American value.  

He wants you to get mad, he wants you to blame “the establishment” and he wants you to blame the people that “don’t belong.” He even goes as far to blatantly ridicule his own voter base and supporters...and they continue to turn out in droves. Why? Why do people rally around Trump in spite of their own economic, social, racial, and historical interests?  Simply put, they think he is “tough.”           

Make no mistake; Trump is not tough. He does not represent American virtue (nor is he in any position to restore it). How do I know? I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having been to prison. I was there for 3 years, so I’d like to think I know when someone is tough. I’ve seen real life “tough guys” in action. Trump wants you to believe he is one of those bold outlaw types, unafraid of a fight. But Trump is a coward. Because he punches below his weight; no real tough guy ever picks on those that can’t defend themselves. He likes to tell people they’re a “pussy” but he looks only for the easy targets. He picks on the weak and disenfranchised; he represents nothing but false bravado and blames everyone else for the countries problems.

For a bit more background, I sing in a punk band, Time Again. Over the last two decades, I have performed in more 20 countries. Despite my success, I also know something about living on the fringes. Formerly incarcerated and covered in tattoos, I don’t fit into the perfect white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America that Trump believes our country should be (or ever was), and I am proud of that. I am proud that I can pursue my dreams and goals, despite what I look like, where I come from, or what religion I practice. No matter what degree of personal success I have or will achieve, I stand for the underdog in everything I do. I don’t want success at the expense of someone else or because someone had to get “out of my way” so I could get ahead.

Now we see cities getting shut down, people being arrested, and fights breaking out at his rallies. This is disgusting. Trump supporters are trying to restore something, but it’s an abstract perversion of an America that never was.  We are NOT a white nation, and I say this as a white man.  We are NOT a Christian nation, and I say this as someone raised a Catholic. These are not the things that define America or what the Constitution protects. We are a nation of all colors, of all religions…and all nationalities. We should be fighting tooth and nail not only for Muslims to come AND stay here, but for people of all religions to come here. We should be fighting for all races and genders and people of any sexual orientation. America is a lot of things, but it is not hate. The America I know, and want restored, proclaims “hey everyone, you are all welcome here.” You are welcome here to be who you want to be, without judgment, without hate, and we will to fight with you to achieve that.  This is America.  

 

 

My Declaration

So I lay here.  I write this letter to you, knowing in my deepest depths that although it is written especially for you, you may never even know it exists.  You may never read these words that I have written for you.  Written with a bared soul and a pealed back existence.  My raw skin like a fire in the wind, ravaging and destroying and painful, leaving nothing but ash in its wake. 

So I write for you.

To tell you I think about you.  When I lay in bed I think about you.  When I ride in the subway on the way to a friend’s birthday party I think about you.  When I cry I think about you, and when I smile, I most definitely think about you.

Your name is Love, and it is for you that I write.  I can actually say with all my heart, that every breath I’ve ever taken, I’ve taken for you too.

I don’t know for sure what you look like, although from time to time I’m sure I have seen you, held you, kissed you and made love to you.  (I can’t be sure.)  In the past, time has always revealed that is was not you, Love.  It was your best friend, Lust

She had come again and made me believe that she was special.  That she was different.  That she was worth the sleepless nights.  That she was worth the fear and insecurity.  That she was worth the racing heart.  And once again she lied.

So I lay here and I write this declaration.  I tell you that I am here, and I'm waiting for you and everyday, every breath, I long for you.  I long for the moments we will share that we wish could last forever.  For the moments we will share that know one else will ever value, moments worth more than all the gold in the world.  For those moments I will wake up tomorrow and get dressed.  For those moments I will wipe my eyes after I cry.  And for those moments I will continue to live everyday to best of my ability.   So when you do come to me, I will know that I am a man you can be proud of.  A man you are happy to trust yourself with.  And I know you won’t be easy, and I know that when you look at my past you may cringe, you may hesitate.  Don’t.  For the past is exactly that my Love, it is the past.   It is through that sordid history that I have become the man I am today.  It was through all the fighting and the pain that this heart and resolve was forged.  It was through the mistakes and errors that my character was solidified, not in the crime, but in the redemption.  For do we all not make mistakes?  Do we not all fall and stumble and trip?  Do we all not hurt those that do not deserve it, whether intentional or not?  Do we not all seek to be redeemed? An absolution given by one we love, is that not the only absolution we really need?

So I write this letter to you.  I write to tell you that you are beautiful and wonderful.  That in all of your idiotic; nonsensical glory, you are perfect.  For you are Love.

And I love you.

From your humble servant, I await your return. – Daniel Dart