Our theme for the month of November is “firsts.”
I don’t like you thinking you know me. First things first, I’m my own man. I don’t mean it as old-timey as it sounds like that. My own person. Who happens to be a man, and the man part is important. That doesn’t mean anything about women, or about other mans who aren’t the same man as me, but it says something about my man. I mean the man I am. But that’s not first thing.
First things first, I’m from Port Orchard, western Washington, Pacific Northwest, United States, Earth. Which one’s more first? Go figure that out. If I move back to Michigan, does the Pacific Northwest matter more or less? Probably more because most people here are from the Pacific Northwest or at least they say they are because it’s great out here, first of all. Just look at the goddamn mountains. But if first-ness changes when I go there or there or there, guess that thing wasn’t exactly first after all, was it? And—you can’t get around this one—since when does where I come from make me who I am? That sounds like the Wild West or Nazis. Howdy, fella, where ya from? or gassing anyone who’s not German enough. I’ll be damned if my own first thing is something I don’t get a say in.
Who wants a first thing you can’t control? Yeah, that goes for Jesus, too. I know he’s the right answer. First things first Jesus, or spirituality, or a child of God. That last one makes me sick, but now it’s on the table so looks like we gotta go there. Who calls themself a child of God. I’m a child of Tim and Karen and that means something because Tim and Karen aren’t the parents of every Tom, Dick, and Harry. But anyway. You don’t mean God. Not as a first thing. You might think you mean that, but Jesus loves me means jack shit unless there’s a distinct you for Jesus to love, and when it comes to first things, that’s saying the first thing about you is someone else doing things to you, and how’s that for self-reliance or God-given independence or personal worth or woman empowerment or man empowerment or whatever.
It’s gotta be more personal than that. First things should be like a fingerprint. Earprints exist, too, you know. No two the same. But that doesn’t matter. First things first, I am who I am. Well, of course. Not to mention that sounds like you’re pretending to be God and I’m pretty sure that’s heresy, if heresy is a thing. I don’t usually think about it either way. First things first, I’m a man, but that’s just sad if that’s the first thing. I’m a white man, but that’s still not even close to an earprint and that sounds Wild West-y or Nazi-ish, too. I’ll tell you what I’m not—I’m not rich. First things first, I’m not a goddamn rich bastard billionaire who buys people and politics and palaces. I’m not famous. I’m not brilliant. I’m not Elizabeth Taylor/James Dean/Clark Gable-beautiful. I’m not like those tabloid people who are always getting divorced and cheating and adopting foreign babies in the grocery store when all I want to do is buy some goddamn buttermilk without being advertised at. Those people have one first-thing whether they like it or not and everybody knows it. Unlike those people—they can go to hell, by the way, let’s make that clear—I am average. Or average-ish. I’m not special and neither are you. So first things first, I am not.
Lovely. Well, that’s just lovely. Hey, I’m Josh and, gee, first things first I’m a just hunky-dory joe. That’ll get a blanket party going real quick. Maybe that’s it. First things first means sex. Everything’s about sex. Figure A: the Evangelicals’ thou doth protest too much obsession with fighting sex-ed and the gay agenda. Someone make me some goddamn slides. Figure B: angsty teenyboppers’ love is love obsession with insisting their one-of-a-kind sexuality is them at their core because—forget Descartes—evidently the seat of the soul is nards and knockers. Figure C and D and E and Z: Hollywood rape and dick pics in the news and your grandmother’s affair and randy teenagers and every single advertisement that’s not about joint pain or kids’ toys. But listen. It’s better than that sounds, first of all. Sex is sex is sex. Good or bad or gray like people. So, mostly gray. Always gray. But if everything’s about sex that’s almost as bad as the Nazi thing or Jesus freaks. Just another animal humping its way through life.
Sex doesn’t even mean love and love sure as hell doesn’t mean sex, and if we’ve tossed out mattress polo, then my first thing is who I love. No one loves all the same people I love, and no one loves anyone the same way I love them. But that just skips over first-thing-ness and jumps straight into what your first thing does. Not to mention it sounds like some hippie malarky your aunt would frame and hang in her kitchen and someone else’s aunt would compliment it and they’d talk about how loved they are and how their lives are just blessed and other feelings that people are supposed to have but don’t actually have unless they’re drunk on flattery or a financial windfall or painkillers.
I’ll tell you straight: I keep losing who I thought I was. I dry up without even noticing it. I’m forgotten like car keys in the couch, and then someone steals the car and you find the keys a year later and toss them in the trash. I used to be a real non-fake Christian, or a valedictorian, or a hitchhiking writer until none of those things mattered enough or I got too big for those things. Or more probably, I wasn’t good enough at those things for their first-ness to stick to me more than to other people, so they fell between the cushions or withered up like the husk of that dead spider in the corner of your bathroom.
I don’t know who I am, and fuck you, neither do you. The last time I knew who I was I had acne, four AP classes, and a Bible in my senior photos. I only knew myself then because I’ve forgotten, believe it or not, that I didn’t actually know myself back then either. I move from me to me to me to me to dead. First things first: movement. To me. From me. I keep finding myself over and over—Me, meet me—and I’m still a stranger.
Oh, not true! No, you know me. I don’t change that much. And even if I do, you don’t change that much because what would that mean for Best friends for life or I’ll always love you? Well, I’ve got ten fingers and two eyes and some online tests tell me I’m an INTJ with a 3-or-maybe-8 Enneagram type and none of those are supposed to change. But all it takes is one lawnmower and then I’m a guy with nine fingers and one eye and you can bet your ass that’ll change at least some of my personality. And what else doesn’t change? Sure, I have patterns like sleeping through the night and not wearing my seatbelt on trips to the grocery store, but for how long? First things first, I drink buttermilk? First things first, I don’t have much patience for annoying children, by which I mean most? Sad. These are not first things.
Maybe I protest too much. Maybe first things are my problems, or where I live, or the boring shit I do every day. Maybe it is sex. That takes us back to bullshit, unless it’s all bullshit. And if we’re bullshitting, how about this one. First things first, God threw a flat stone sidearm, and each time it touches water it makes the ripples of me. After each skip the water collides and spreads out and meets up with itself—Me meet me—and the ripples dick around for a while until sooner or later the stone stops skipping and starts sinking. I like that. I heard it from myself and I like that.
NPR called Josh “a modern-day Jack Kerouac” after he wrote about his 7,000-mile, no-money hitchhiking journey through the United States. Since hitchhiking, he’s found homes in the Pacific Northwest, the Episcopal Church, and the post calvin. He builds websites as the director of Branded Look LLC. Josh’s writing has appeared in places such as The Emerson Review, Front Porch Review, and Perspectives.