September 27, 2011 at Fremont Coffee Company
So what the fuck? Isn’t that just like me to end at the beginning of the story? Whatever. I could try to resurrect the thread and reconstitute the story, but… I guess I just can’t be bothered. I’m in the funk that always seems to accompany the change of seasons. It’s decidedly autumn now, barely a week into the thing, and my desperate clinging to summer appears increasingly pathetic. The minor lift I got from completing a short story recently has largely worn off, but the good news is that I think if I write another, I’ll get it back. The key is to write it before I forget how nice it felt to finish something. For those of you following along at home, the story in question is the one previously excerpted at length. The question is where to go now? In discussing the matter with WK yesterday, I decided that the next exercise was to finish a story in a single day, a complete draft between sunrise and sunset. Today clearly is not that day, and perhaps it’s not even the right place to go next at all. Maybe I still need to work up to that. In any event, taking a month to write a 7 page story (single spaced, in fairness) is NOT the way to go about this writing thing.
And now I’m completely stalled out. What do writers do when the writing has to get done, but the words aren’t there? I can’t bring myself to call it writer’s block, because the last time I had writer’s block it lasted 19 years. My hope now is that these bicycle diaries will serve as the lever I need to get words out when they don’t want to come out. It’s not a narrative, it’s not a story, it’s not even about anything, but the words come out at least, sometimes easily sometimes in a rush, sometimes a trickle. Fits and starts. When I look at collections of essays by writers like William Styron, Michael Chabon, or Jonathan Raban, I wonder if they didn’t begin by being stuck in some other way, so they just picked something and wrote about it. And I guess if you’re Styron you’ve got dinner parties with the Kennedy’s to fall back on. Would his essay about the cigar humidor Milton Berle gave JFK have the same gravitas if Styron himself hadn’t smoked Cubans with JFK at the height of the Cuban embargo? I doubt it. I’m pretty sure you could always start an essay with “This one time, with JFK…” and it would go somewhere that people would want to go. The rest of us have to come up with something else. This isn’t it, to be sure, but it’s something to keep the words going until something else emerges. That’s how the last story came out. I just wrote the words “Here’s a story” and followed it with a paroxysm of typing that eventually became a story. I’m tempted to try it again, but I fear something just as autobiographical will come out. Would that be a bad thing? I don’t know. Seems a little early to be wearing a groove that could quickly become a rut. Of course the other problem is temporal. I don’t have the time right now to get caught up in anything because there’s somewhere I have to be: riding a bicycle.
Here’s a story:
“Don’t shoot your eye out”. My father was a wealth of helpful advice. I suppose I should credit him for the fact that I’ve retained binocular vision into adulthood, but it seems misplaced given that no practical means for avoiding shooting my eyes out was on offer. I tried like hell to shoot my eyes out. Twice, years apart, I felt the existential sting on my face that reminded me what idiots children can be when armed.
My brother and I got BB guns for Christmas when I turned 5, whether an act of love or an act of cynical evil is left as an exercise to the reader. We spent a few years shooting bottles, cans, small birds with no success, annoying ground squirrels, and once a passing helicopter, though it was too high to have had a chance. We’d even taken turns shooting each other while my father stood fishing a few feet away at Stibnite, ID where once an entire mining town had stood before being submerged by the failing of the local dam. I remember peering into the water, crystal clear to a frightening depth, straining to see the local saloon, the general store, or maybe the blacksmith, when my older brother shot me in the thigh from about 20 feet away. I shot back, nailing him just above the belt loops of his jeans in the small of his back. Amid the crying and hollering, Dad grabbed both our BB guns and made to swing them both far out into the depths of the drowned mining town. He’d have been right to do so, too, but then that might have jeopardized his plan to turn his sons into great hunters and outdoorsmen. We howled, my brother and I, that we would never again point BB guns at each other or anyone else, in anger or for any other reason, and something in him stayed his hand. Newly rearmed, my brother and I took careful stock of one another, wondering who would be first to break these newly taken vows.
When my brother turned 10, he got a new weapon for his birthday. A pellet gun, a Crossman air rifle. With a scope. With a manually actuated hand pump, the air rifle was as powerful as you could make it. Ten pumps would double the range and power of my tired Daisy BB gun, 20 would kill squirrels outright. My brother gave me his supply of copper BBs. I won’t be needing these anymore, he sneered. I’ve got pellets, so you can have these for your toy gun. He’d spend hours “sighting in” his scope, shooting pellets into empty dog food bags in the basement, carefully circling their entry points, adjusting the scope and firing again. He’d occasionally let me take a shot now and then, but only if I could pump it up myself. At first it was a struggle to get that tenth pump in, but with the older brother smirking at me all the while I improved quickly. Stakes were higher with the pellet gun, in everything about it. Pumping it up wasn’t trivial, and so you didn’t waste shots, you took careful aim, made it count.
The first time I nearly blinded myself, I couldn’t have been older than 8. We were camping on Cascade Reservoir, in the mountains of central Idaho. The US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation dammed the North Fork of the Payette River in the 1940s, backing up the floodwaters to cover 120 square kilometers of Valley County, creating the fourth largest reservoir in a state lousy with them. My brother had gone fishing with my father and grandfather, in the boat. He’d left the pellet gun behind, and I had his grudging permission to use it in his absence, a first. I was well acquainted with the safety features of the Crossman, but waited patiently while my father explain the location and operation of the safety. Exiting the boundary of the campground, just past the boat ramp, I crossed the gravel road and started gaining elevation. Prudence and standing orders from the parent prohibited discharging the Crossman in the direction of the campground, but the real problem as I trudged up the hill didn’t have anything to do with the safe operation of the air rifle. As I stood there sweating from the effort of pumping up the thing, it occurred to me that I didn’t have the slightest notion of what I should be shooting at. With the single action Daisy, this was never a problem; it didn’t matter all that much what you shot at since you weren’t likely to hit it, or do much damage at all if you did. Things were different with the Crossman and its assiduously dialed-in scope. Hitting the target was a distinct possibility with consequences dire by comparison to the Daisy. I stood there listening to the hissing of the forest around me, flanked by tamarack and evergreen, a nose full of the incense of yellow pine resin, completely at a loss of what to do with the air rifle I spent so long waiting for. Unlike my brother, I was less keen about shooting anything that moved, having once killed a songbird in childish ignorance. Rodents were fair game, but unlike the sage steppe outside our home the landscape here wasn’t bustling with targets. I resumed walking in the hope that given enough time some suitable target would present itself. In time I came to the road leading back to the campground and eventually the town of Donnelly. I was frustrated. I didn’t want to go hiking, I wanted to go shooting but so far I had only managed the former. It was about that time that I encountered in the road a partially crumpled Budweiser beer can. It seemed a reasonable target, so I shot it. Before I’d registered the sound of the pellet hitting the can as a ricochet, I felt a fiery burning sting on my cheek, just below the rim of my glasses. I was too terrified to cry or scream and stood there rubbing the raw welt mutely, quavering with fear. I almost shot my eye out! I wouldn’t be able to hide it, the welt on my cheek (my CHEEK!). I’d have to tell that story a dozen times or more before sunset, and I’d have no hope of keeping my story straight.
I wandered back to the campground in a daze. I felt like I’d been gone all day. I was exhausted, thirsty, and my face hurt. I hadn’t started crying until I was halfway back to the camper, when I’d scared myself about nearly shooting my eye out for the thousandth time. In fact, I’d been gone scarcely an hour. The men, and my brother, were still out on the lake fishing, so the camp was empty except for my grandmother and my aunt. Their expression of alarm was immediately evident as I walked up sobbing. Few things arouse a grandmother’s compassion like a crying eight year-old and I was immediately enfolded in an embrace of safety and love, where I could think clearly for the first time. The truth was a non-starter. Admitting I’d nearly shot my eye out would be a capital crime in the eyes of my brother, as it would very likely portend the end of our unsupervised gunplay. I remember thinking that my face really stung when it came to me.
“What on earth happened,” my grandmother asked, gingerly parting me from the Crossman.
“I…I…I got stung,” I sobbed. “By a bee!”
At eight, a ‘bee’ is any flying insect that can sting or bite, so the absence of forensic evidence of misadventure with any member of genus Apis is apt to be overlooked. It was the only time I can ever recall telling a cold, calculated lie to my grandmother, and occasionally over the years I would feel momentary pangs of guilt whenever I pressed the butt of a rifle into my shoulder. But, I got over it. When the boat returned with a bunch of overexposed and empty-handed anglers, my encounter was mostly forgotten as I sat in a lawn chair and nursed a Shasta Cream Soda. My brother, however, eyed me suspiciously. He was allergic to bees, famously so. Had he been stung a hasty trip to the emergency room would ensue, and as a result he amassed a significant knowledge base on insect stings and bites and began to give me the third degree. Later he would admit that he didn’t believe the insect bite story but agreed that it was a good one considering the inevitable fallout from something as drastic as the truth.
And so life in the desert with pellet guns and ground squirrels continued on in a long unbroken succession of summer days, and my flirtation with partial blindness was soon lost in the recesses of wherever it is that successful lies go.
Some summers later, but not very many really, when our tolerance for pain had out stripped our respect for anything like prudent caution, we began to pass the summer afternoons engaged in pitched battles across three yards with our BB guns. My older brother and I, along with the kids next door, would break out our old Daisy single-actions, fill them to the brim with copper BBs and proceed to run around the houses and shoot each other. It would sting momentarily, like the bite of a horsefly, but they wouldn’t break the skin even at point blank range. They would leave spectacular but tiny spiderweb-like bruises, a convenient means to tally hits for bragging rights. That there might be some risk involved never occurred to any of us. And so late one afternoon, near quitting time when parents would start to arrive home from work, I was rounding the corner of the house into the side yard when I was suddenly surprised by the neighbor kid’s sister, Kim, who in as much surprise as in the spirit of mutual combat, pulled the trigger. I felt the sting directly between my eyes, just above the bridge of my glasses. I didn’t cry out, I didn’t lose my composure. I simply said, with firm resolve and utter seriousness, “I’m never doing this again.” And I didn’t.
September 8, 2011 at Fremont Coffee Company
So, there it is. Most of it, anyway. I’ve started a story that I can see the ending to, but haven’t written it yet. And so what do I do? I send it off, raw, unformed to SC for feedback. That’s a lie. Not feedback. I sent it to SC because I’m afraid that if I don’t hear someone say it’s worth finishing, then I’ll never finish it. And in the meanwhile I’m completely stymied in my attempt to finish it, or anything else. But at least I can do this; I can run my fingers over the keyboard, words will fall across the screen, words I don’t have to choose or think about or imbue with meaning beyond their own. Words that I don’t think anyone will actually read. At least, the very least, really, I can say the I did some writing today. In fairness to myself, I must admit that sending THAT story to SC was an act of courage. It’s a mostly true story, from my childhood, and revealing in ways and about things that I haven’t considered for a very long time. Revealing to the point of compromising my relationships with my brothers, both of them because after all one’s mother is the titular witch, and my older brother… well, he’d probably forgive me since he was such a dick to me all my life, until the age of about 22 or so. Who knows what dad would think. I’m a private person; I keep everything inside, even when I shouldn’t. It’s probably not healthy, but I am who I am. So this story that I can’t decide on a title (should it be ‘Don’t Wake the Witch’ or ‘Idaho Knowledge’… ‘Cricket, Cricket’… none of the above?), is really desperately personal and SC is really the only person I can trust it with, for now anyway. WK will read it, but definitely NOT before it’s finished, and by finished I mean rewritten, revised and complete in its final form. I’ve noticed something about my writing now, having reread the story a few times; I have a tendency to use too many filler words, like I need the syllables to get the meter right, instead of getting the meaning right. When I made a quick pass through, I found myself taking these filler words out and feeling like the sentences were better for it. Think of the time I could save if I just didn’t put them there in the first place!
I’m going to miss summer. A week into September and summer struggles on, with temperatures projected into the nineties this weekend. Another weekend of high hemlines and short attention spans; summer dresses, short shorts, the fine lines of feminine beauty unhidden by the nebulous masses of fall sweaters, the banality of fleece and other ‘technical’ clothing plied by the outdoor recreation industry. I’ll miss this porch fronting the coffee shop, this window on the world of local pulchritude (there isn’t a better word for it than pulchritude, I looked). Today, while there’s no shortage of beauty, there’s a decided shortage of words to describe it. I wonder if it isn’t fallout from last weekend’s visitation. Last Saturday, CB and I came here and wandered about Fremont, and there was again no shortage of forms to admire and comment upon. At some point, however, we wandered into Corporate Coffee Hell and were immediately struck dumb. The skies opened, light streamed from the heavens as svelte cherubim hovered lamely, stultified into utter silence by the blond beauty behind the register. Angels sang faint elegies to her glasses than can only be described as adorable, her wholesome smile casting out demons like some kind of superheroine. I deliberately vacillated on my order so that I might drag out her unselfconscious laughter a moment longer. CB and I were enchanted. We left, our heads light, dizzy almost, drunk on her radiance as we pawed over meat for the grill at the grocery store, our appetites for beef stoked by primal urges barely understood.
We grilled. We gorged. We swilled tequila, regaling the freshly arrived and still sober JM with tales of our encounter with Aphrodite or Wonder Woman. Our ardor unrelenting, we sallied forth armed with the confidence of the distillation of agave, a masculine invasion of distant Ballard with no quarter offered or taken. We went somewhere… unimportant… Hazelwood, perhaps. It doesn’t really matter, nothing does after our surreal tenure at The Market Arms where all prior notions of physical beauty were rendered inert by nothing less than… her.
September 1, 2011 at Fremont Coffee Company
It’s one of THOSE days. The kind of day, too familiar, that is thankfully only a day and not ‘one of those years’. It wasn’t that long ago I measured things thus, so while it is indeed one of those days, there is a meek confidence that it is only ONE of those days. A small consolation, but I’ll take it. Dragging my lethargic ass out of the house was a needless trial on a day as clear and besotted with sunshine like this one. The bright spot being the high speed descent down Fremont Avenue on my way to the coffeehouse, an unapologetic indulgence in speed that has more in common with motorcycling than bicycling. I loved motorcycling; it’s like bicycling downhill, forever. Fully lacking any resolve to write, I arrived, engaged in the requisite small talk with the playfully surly and heavily inked barista, and set to malingering with a purposelessness for which the internet was invented. And for a moment everything was fine. I lost myself in status updates ranging from the trivial to the breathtakingly banal (private to Wilson: no one needs to know anything about your tooth brushing habits). Then, suddenly it was all over. An avalanche of self-loathing and guilt precipitated by the appearance on the page of a single sentence: ”Talent is nothing without focus and endurance.” A quote attributed to Haruki Murakami, a writer of no small regard. Instantly I was reminded of another quote, one attributed to myself from just last night, on a walk between bars with a writer friend (well, a drinking friend, but it amounts to the same thing): “I can’t be a failed writer if I’m not a writer first.” And as I have previously established, writers write, rewrite, and complete works of writing, successful or not, and if I’m serious about including myself among their ranks (a point about which I continually orbit without resolve), then I can hardly justify squandering an opportunity as ripe as this one. So here it is; this is what my writing looks like when it’s dragged from the skill not reluctantly but viciously and without regard to the consequences, a carelessly haphazard dip into the Well of Vitriol for no purpose other than to accomplish writing at any cost. Does it even count? Is this writing? Or is this just writing it down? Again the harsh reality that writers write about stuff, tell stories, comment on the human condition, but is it fair to say that they might also blindly inscribe the unbroken stream of every sentence that wanders across their awareness? I, for one, don’t buy it. Be that as it may, I do have 5,467 words that suggest some writing’s been done.
Here’s a story:
[I wrote ‘Don’t Wake The Witch’ here.]
August 24, 2011 at Fremont Coffee Company
The nice thing about being an old out of work slacker in 2011 is that the bar is set so depressingly low. The unemployment checks are enough to live on, provided of course that you had the presence of mind to marry a hardworking and competent woman before time and tide claimed whatever good looks and charm you might have had. So, the good news today is that I got paid actual dollars for accomplishing exactly nothing last week. I while I was more handsomely paid for doing about the same thing when I worked in [REDACTED], unemployment is appreciably less stressful.
An aside: 20 feet from me is a young man in chinos and a remarkable tie; remarkable in its hideousness. Not the kind of hideousness that has collapsed in upon itself to become so ugly it’s actually interesting, this tie might well stand as ‘figure 1’ in the encyclopedia of sartorial abomination. His hair is Regular Joe Standard, his button-down off enough from white that the color itself is unrecognizable despite the pinstriped gingham pattern that has to bear all the weight. His watch is mindlessly ordinary, black but analog, though not enough to offset his fetish for his Blackberry. The hem of his jeans rides half and inch too high above his penniless penny loafers to take seriously at promotion time, but probably not enough to keep him from getting laid. He can’t keep his eyes off his mobile, but it’s a prop, a bubble to ensure that he won’t have to actually engage with the world around him, as his attention is too casual by half to betray any actual anxiety that he might miss an important email from his boss/therapist/mistress/coach. He’s thirty, and worried about it. I remember being that way and part of me would like to tell him to let it go, that it’ll be okay because 30 isn’t the end of the world, in fact 30 is the new 20 and he should go hit happy hour and see if he can score. Then I remember that it’s Wednesday, and for most people the day of the week actually means something.
Something terrible has happened. In the hour that I’ve been here fucking off and writing, but mostly fucking off, a number of women have come and gone from the café and others have passed by on the sidewalk. Given the locale and the weather, which is tremendously summery in all the right ways with clear skies, warm temperature but not at all hot, a gentle breeze that provides more ambience than air pressure, the odds are good that some of these women, perhaps even many of them, would be enough to cause a stir, would be enough to derail an otherwise straightforward paragraph into something juvenile. Not so. Aliens have invaded Fremont and have stolen all the beautiful women. It’s uncanny. I fully expected that once I went down the road of this sentence, circumstance would suddenly conspire to inundate me with pulchritude before I could even finish the damn thing. But no, I ramble on without so much as a gently overstuffed hound’s-tooth miniskirt to break the monotony. Somewhere a dog is crying, plaintive and restless. Yearning.
I’ve stalled. I plod along word after word praying that creativity will find me, that something worth writing will emerge from the patter and gloom. I’m so desperate for distraction that even the absence of distraction will stand in for distraction itself. No beautiful women to wax prosaic over? Fine. I’ll wax prosaic over the absence of beautiful women to wax prosaic over, because as pathetic as that might be, it’s less disturbing than confronting the possibility that I don’t really have anything to say. No great story or essay is developing, hell no bad story is developing. What do you write about when you don’t have anything to write about? This. This is what it looks like, and it’s not pretty. In desperation, I turn toward that morass, that tractless waste of distraction, for an answer or a clue: the loathsome internet.
It didn’t help. It only distracted me.
August 22, 2011 at Fremont Coffee Company
I can’t reread my last post, though this will hardly come as a surprise to anyone. Real writers rewrite, and I’m not a “real” writer. That’s all beside the point, though; in this case I can’t reread my last because I know that it ends on a prurient note, and if there’s any hope of keeping this out of the gutter it surely, at least in the early going, hinges on not rereading the last line of the foregoing. In fact, such is my keen desire to keep the inner locker room at bay, I’m not even watching the screen as I squash the keys. Fairly, though, what little I gain by not seeing the last line of the above will be dashed against the rocks of my shabby typing (do we even call it that anymore?) skills. What if my hands are poorly registered on the home keys and all that’s coming out not is a bunch of gibberish… well, I suppose it’s gibberish all the same so what difference if it’s readable or not? Maybe it’s better if my hands have found their way to an erroneous home… Hazarding a glance at the screen now informs me that I’ve cleared a page and the dubiously sexualized prose that I ended on last time has slid out of view, but more dispiriting is the fact that my shabby typing skills have failed me and my gibberish is not the clean gibberish of Pentecostalism, but rather the clumsy and all too readable gibberish of atheism. There’s hardly a minute’s worth of repair, should I care to undertake it and I don’t. This kind of stream of unconsciousness writing is hardly even a challenge anymore, though as a typing exercise it seems to wear well. I’ve been thinking a lot about writing seriously, though if this is the product of that soul searching it would be difficult to make the case that my thinking about writing has been anything like serious at all. But, I’m only warming up, after all; getting my typing skills to a point where the words can come as freely as they do longhand without the manual latency and carpal tunnel syndrome, though of this last we can only surmise that we are simply buying time. I suppose when the repetitive stress disorder ultimately finds me, I can console myself with a higher word count standing in for some kind of subjective productivity. Interestingly, if I watch the screen while I type, my work count stalls… long pauses become more frequent and the whole writing process breaks down… and errors climb precipitously when I go back to typing blind. An aside: typing blind has the benefit of freeing my vision for other , more rewarding stimuli, though it tends to hasten the trip to the cellar since my vision is usually only captured by two things the other being bicycles and it happens to be raining, which means the women I encounter, while bike-less are damp from the summer rain, the sun dress fitting more closely for the added weight, bare skin a wet sheen…
How disappointing that the content of my writing should so quickly descend to the cellar. Not surprising, just disappointing. I suppose if I had something to write about, like real writers do, I could focus on my subject, rather than digressing on the summer rain sheen on bare legs or sundresses. Which brings me back to my point, strangely. I’ve been thinking more and more seriously about writing seriously, which means working toward becoming a “real writer” with subjects, stories, characters, beginnings/middles/ends, themes, and perhaps most importantly of all: rewrites. In fact when I began thinking about these “Bicycle Diaries” the idea was to use them to tell a story serially; all the elements of fiction would gradually come together as the diary grew, to finally become a complete story written in the first person. I’m not kidding myself here; my goals are modest. This isn’t going to be the great American novel; or even the great American short story. All I want from it is for it to be a story, hopefully one that doesn’t suck, and more importantly that it’s a finished story. Maybe it’s a platform for other short stories, but it doesn’t have to be and I haven’t saddled myself with a lot of expectation that it will be something big or grandiose. I just want to write a fucking story. If I write a bunch of stories, one will be better than all the others, and maybe it’ll be good or maybe it’ll be just less bad, but until I write a bunch of stories, I’ll never know. The only thing I really know is that writing has always been a truth for me, and I was happier as a frustrated writer than I was as a frustrated everything-else, because since childhood aged 10, I self-identified as a writer. It was my self-identity in high-school, and I took it to college with me where I had it ripped still-beating right from my heart in almost every writing class I attempted. I washed out of writing. Post collegiate attempts at writing similarly failed and the final nail in the coffin was my inability to get into a creative writing master’s program at [REDACTED]. What I didn’t realize then, however, is just how much I had to learn about story. When [REDACTED] at UW told me that my short story on Virgil’s return to the underworld was unsatisfactory, or when I hacked together an essay on Egyptian mythology for an advanced writing class at [REDACTED] and was told “it seems like an essay you wrote because you had to write an essay”, what I failed to understand at the time and what has taken me many years of flailing in the wilderness of non-writing to arrive at is a simple truth: I wasn’t writing from my heart. And while I wasn’t telling any kind of story at the time, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any kind of story to tell. People I respect and admire continually tell me that I’m a fine writer, a good writer even, and my whole life I’ve tried to figure out what’s the matter with them, because it’s so hard to trust them with this. I can trust them with my life, but I can’t trust them when they tell me I can write. There’s a disconnect there.
Anyway, I’m cautiously returning to that self-definition, and the more I write the more easily in comes and the more natural it feels to define myself that way. I can only hope that at some point I can actually get around to writing something besides self-absorbed journal entries full of teeth-gnashing soul-searching self-referential pabulum. For now, I know that it has to be this way, that I need to process this shit and I need to do it by writing. It also keeps me going; keeps me putting down the words. It keeps me honest with myself that this is what I need to do, ought to do, MUST do. The dissatisfaction in my life stems from the continual casting about for what it is that I am, who I am, what it is that I must do. I keep imagining a Venn diagram with the major rings of ‘Invective’ ‘Vitriol’ ‘Humor’ and ‘Effort’ with the common intersection of ‘Truth’. Invective and vitriol are well represented right now, but both humor and effort need some work. It’s still raining.
So, the question now becomes this: at what point do I commit? How long do I keep pussyfooting around the question and embrace the reality that I’m a writer and so must write. Even writing that question down is a fearful thing; the fear of failure. But so what? Last summer I visited The Shaman and while the conversation started out safe enough, there was a point when he clearly tired of the small talk and leaned close to me and said “why are you filled with such unhappiness?” I felt exposed and safe all at the same time and so we followed that line of questioning. It was clear to the Shaman that I wasn’t doing what I wanted/needed/was supposed to be doing. And while I confessed to the frustrated musician in me, I couldn’t cop to being a writer… it was buried too deep, so deep I’d all but forgotten it. I remember saying that I wished I’d been a composer, that I could live with being a lousy one. It would be enough just to be a composer, even a bad one. I gave myself permission to be that failure. So, I can give myself permission to be another kind of failure, too. It’s enough to be a writer, even a lousy one. Being a lousy writer doesn’t mean not writing, it means being everything it means to be a writer and not succeeding at it. It means writing all the time, and rewriting, and committing to not just putting words down on paper but to learning and honing the CRAFT of writing, and putting trust in the process that the work will satisfy me, success or failure, in some way. The Shaman offered to work on directing change into my life, with the clearly expressed caveat that ‘outcomes’ were off the table. Change would come. How that change would be manifest was left to the universe to determine. It sounded like a pretty good idea, at the time, so I said “yes, send some change my way.” Within a month, I was unemployed. Eleven months later, I still am. I guess I didn’t really think that through…
Time to ride.
Wednesday August 17, 2011 at Fremont Coffee Company
This is new territory. I don’t mean the place, its coffee, these people awash in the detritus of their relentlessly shallow urbane lifestyles. That territory is wizened and partitioned into manifest chunks as regular as an engineer can make them, devoid of imagination a land of exhausted possibilities and parched promise. The new territory is conceptual, and I own it… or at least borrow it for a time. There’s no telling whether or not it will take, this new approach; and my optimism, as usual, is scant. I write longhand, as I have mentioned, and I always have. I do it because of its immediacy, the direct connection to the recondite wellspring of invective and vitriol that simmers somewhere inside me and gives voice to this, whatever it is, that I do. I also write longhand because it’s hard, and because no one will mistake me for one of these laptop-toting anti-social douchbags. And so here’s the thing: I’m not writing longhand, I’m writing on a laptop and have therefore become another in the line of laptop-toting anti-social douchebags that pollute coffeehouses everywhere. I reconcile myself to this strictly on the basis of experiment. The problem with writing longhand is that it is more likely to stay that way and rot in the back of a closet somewhere, because I’m too fucking lazy to punch all that shit into a computer and DO SOMETHING with it. Something, anything.
I don’t like it. There’s no flow to the words, or the flow is unrecognizable because my hands have to do something different now, something complicated that requires both hands to accomplish and there’s a break in the flow, the buffer’s overrun and the words stall and fail until my lame hands can do their job and type this shit in, until the buffer clears and I can refill it like Sisyphus. Be that as it may, the cold hard reality that I am forced to admit is that this is actually faster, that I can get more done this way, but if I lose my voice in the process then what is the point? I haven’t lost my voice, I’m just being a pussy about having to type for a change. So what, then, precipitated this watery embrace of a new methodology? I blame… someone, someone particular who knows who he is and is also smart enough to never mention the laptop, ever, nor to express surprise when I invariably return to longhand, which I know I must at least on occasion, when circumstances require a direct pipe to the vitriol.
Two paragraphs. Two, agonizing, hackneyed, circular and completely enervating paragraphs, virtually devoid of any invective, reproach, revilement.
An aside: there is a new arrival on the patio, an organic fair-trade macrobiotic yoga saint of such purity and mindfulness that the swirling morass of modern life is suspended in her passing. The roar of traffic yields to the strained syrinxes of non-native songbirds, time stalls between footfalls, her bare feet trailing a wake of clean renewal; her organic natural fiber ensemble gently purifying the very air swirling around her. But, no. The moment is broken. She is instantly worldly, but worse: objectified. It isn’t her purity at all that has laid claim to the moment rather it’s that spankin’ ass that has overthrown my senses. The birdsong dissolves into slutty saxophone as the bandleader of the locker room of my mind voices themes of blunt honesty as I picture those immaculate natural fibers, fairly traded to be sure, heaped in a hasty pile at the foot of the bed, an entire trajectory of prurient possibility defined by the perfect curve of well clad buttock.
Now, my thoughts are an unstable orbit and spiraling into fiery re-entry, I find myself obsessed and distracted by a poison unique to writing directly into a word processing application: I hate this typeface. I’m sorry, did I say ‘typeface’? How anachronistic. I mean font of course, but it still doesn’t sound right to me. The word font was so much… more, when it only stood for ‘source’ or maybe ‘fountain’. I’ll stick with typeface because that’s what it fucking is; I won’t be party to the need to invent new meanings for old words because people are too benighted to know the proper word in the first place. An engineer was likely behind calling a typeface a ‘font’ on the computer, and probably because it only takes half the memory space. Never mind, what’s really galling right now is this typeface, ‘Calibri’. Isn’t that a lighter? Or what about you, Century? Can we call you, with your semi-bold line weight and prominent serifs, a winner? I’ll settle for less of a loser; gotta have serifs; they’re all that separate us from the robots… but, wait, what’s this? Seriously? You’re gonna park the semi-colon way the fuck up there, when you have everything going for you, like you’re some freebie downloadable font? Some of us still use the semi-colon, Vonnegut notwithstanding, and you’re just phoning it in.
Great, and now this. A revelation: writing is supposed to be ABOUT something. My writing is seldom ‘about’ anything, and maybe that’s my problem… it’s so unhinged and free that even I can’t get behind it and see it through to completion. What was the point of this, for example? It was simply my digressions while I tried writing on the keyboard for a change, and I have to admit that it’s mostly gone okay. I’ve kept writing when I would probably, had I been writing long-hand, would have packed it in. Even when time stood still for the ass of the day, I was able to compose myself and carry on, though I suspect if she had remained in view any longer I would still be rhapsodizing on those curves and the birdsong, natural fibers in a hasty pile…
August 3, 2011
Fremont Coffee Company
Listen: The first thing you need to understand about me is that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. It’s not an act. I’m not “self-effacing” or “demure”. Second, it doesn’t bother me when the truth becomes known, as it will, has, and does. That’s a distant second, though. Not knowing what I’m doing is the chart-topper; my fucking superpower.
Knowing this about me answers most all of the questions that follow, and while it would be convenient for all involved if I just came out and said so, my pride says that’s a pretty bad idea. If you’re trying to fake it till you make it, you’re not going to get very far advertising the fact that you’re just going through the motions and hoping. As I get older, the illusion is increasingly difficult to maintain. It’s all rosy when you’re twenty-something and freshly spewed from an otherwise reputable institution of higher learning, your whole life ahead of you, raw potential. You can get away with not knowing what you’re doing because the stone cold fact is that it’s true. But that’s okay, because to the rest of the world you’re still damp in the corners; a morally rigid, inexperienced punk who’s got a lot to learn (approximately everything) about how the world really works, you just haven’t realized it yet. By the time you’re 30, though, no one’s going to cut you that kind of slack again, and the illusion of competence that you cultivated for the last decade better yield to cool-handed self-mastery or the rest of your life is going to be a shit sandwich, grilled. So, you do what everybody else does. You shroud yourself in the trappings of success and grown-up accomplishment and hope that the pain and incompetence bottled up inside doesn’t bleed through the hasty veneer of satisfaction you’ve painted on your face like middle-class greasepaint. You learn to talk the talk, walk the walk, but no one can ever know that behind your eyes you’re quietly screaming to yourself “what… the… fuck…” never really convinced that whole world can’t hear it, that they don’t secretly hear the tick tock of the bomb inside you counting down to the big finish, and after a decade of desperate and feeble attempts to disarm, rewire or hide, the prevailing strategy is now to simply contain the damage of the inevitable. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Listen: There are three fundamental truths about me as inescapable as my skin, three things that stall the ticking, delaying zero-hour, and that maintain the illusion of competence that an outwardly sane existence requires. These truths, so interrelated as to be a single truth, a trinity, can be teased apart but then you’d be in grave danger of missing the point. The first truth is that I can only find true peace in motion. Any motion is good, the more pure the motion the greater the peace, none more so than atop a bicycle. I know what you’re thinking: here it comes, the obvious, existential, waxing hyperbolic, paean to the bicycle. A corpus of zeal embalmed in self-righteousness, with trite references to Sarte or Whitman or Newton… but don’t be a dumbass. My very life is an ode to the bicycle, a living sonnet, an elegy to purposeful motion on lugged steel. If you ride a bicycle, you’ll understand.
The second truth is that just as sharks swim to keep from dying I write for the same reason. Look: it’s happening right now. I can’t call myself a writer, however. Writers are professionals, with discipline and editors and references, who are hired so that their imagination can stand-in for people who don’t have any. They’re paid precisely jack-shit for this distillation of their soul and I can only imagine that it’s because they are in service to a higher calling that will reward them in the next life for their suffering in this one… armies of wanton virgins hanging on every word of the novel or poem they put off writing to trade copy for peanuts at the price of their very souls. Don’t misunderstand me; I honor writers above all other creatures save dogs and children, but most writers aren’t writers at all. I thank whatever creative force is extant in the universe that I dodged the bullet that decides you’re going to be a copywriter. Copywriters are writers like house painters are painters. I’m none of these things, and certainly not a writer. Writing is something I do with my hands at the coffee shop, which brings me to the final truth in my personal trinity.
Coffee. Coffee is elemental, a truth like the stars in the sky, the right words on your tongue as you whisper in a lover’s ear, and as real as the scars on my skin and the knitted bones in my body. I will never abandon you, Coffee, my faithful companion. Coffee is a necessity, an absolute requirement that brooks no rival, no pretender. I learned early in life a hard lesson that there is no substitute for coffee.
A digression is in order here: I was 22 and my girlfriend had just graduated from college and moved to Seattle to cohabitate with me on Queen Anne. I was pretty stoked. She was a real catch. Self-assured, confident, capable, educated in a field that promised reasonable financial gain but that didn’t really allow for seeing or experiencing life in any kind of considered way. And while Art was something she found in museums or hung on the wall, she had great tits and a big heart. It was a glorious summer weekend. We had a wonderful border collie puppy that we were going to spend the day with, outside, basking in our randy love of each other, marveling at our incredible luck to be living as we were, where we were, smug in the truth that at the close of that glorious summer day, we were going to fuck like rabbits. She was in the shower, foamy rivulets of hot soapy water sluicing down those great tits, lost in a cloud of luxurious steam, when I discovered that we were out of coffee. Not low, not I’ll skip it you go ahead. Out. I was 22 and therefore incapable of correctly addressing the problem on the first iteration, a debilitating handicap that I would suffer well into my thirties. Rather than be parted from the object of my affection and naked lust for the 10 minutes it would take to correct the problem, it was Seattle after all, I decided to make do with tea. A disaster on the face of it in hindsight, but at the time I was feeling pretty good about my misplaced resourcefulness. My lover emerged from the shower in a bathrobe that only she could make sexy, and met me in the kitchen. Our eyes met. Didn’t you make the coffee, yet? She asked, puzzled, and fairly so, at the oppressive absence of the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the kitchen. I remember pausing a moment to take in the scene. My lover within easy kissing distance before me, completely naked underneath a terry bathrobe that still managed to reveal enough cleavage to qualify as tantalizing, her hair wetly slicked back and her eyes shining up at me, waiting. What I cannot clearly recall, however, is telling her we were out of coffee, but it’s certain that I did. I made tea, though, to tide us over until we can get to some nameless faceless now-corporate coffee purveyor. It’ll be fine. And it was, for a little while. But in coffee’s absence, a malice grew between us, and what should have been a long Saturday morning of flirtation, teasing innuendo, and an inevitable romp on the bed before venturing out with the dog, instead devolved into our worst Saturday together from start to finish. It was irretrievable. No amount of coffee, lately applied, would save it. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that we had somehow angered the coffee god with our tea apostasy, and we were to pay dearly. As we retired that night, secure in the knowledge that nothing more than sleep was on the agenda, I tried to console myself with the fact that tomorrow was another day, a glorious summer Sunday, and there was coffee in the house.
I’m writing from the coffee shop, like I always do because it doesn’t seem to get done anywhere else, and drinking coffee. Which café and what coffee is irrelevant. I’m not in the coffee review business, and I’m not about to start. Let’s just say I don’t subject myself to shitty coffee and leave it at that, reserving as I do the right to wax poetic about any gustatory indulgence should the moment take me. Now, I understand that there is, among some people, a compulsion to drum. I myself occasionally drum my fingers on the counter to express my impatience, my love of music, my tolerance for living, and sometimes my desire to drive my wife crazy, but I’m not wrong in this: nobody wants to hear it. I write in coffee shops because I need a level of activity, the pulse of life to occupy enough of my attention so that I can get out of my own way and let the words come out, but there’s a fine balance that must be struck between order and chaos. Too much order, a whispered conversation in study-hall silence is just as distracting as too much chaos, like this drunk pounding away on his djembe. It doesn’t merely set my teeth on edge, it inspires in me the darker impulses of our nature, in this case the keen desire to see this djembe and it’s spastic throttler rendered into fine mist from an orbital defense platform or jealous god, a cloud of scarlet and atomized animal hide wafting heavily in the freshly silent breeze, a meager cup of small change rolling forlornly into the street. Was the cup of change at fault here? Was he encouraged by passers-by to pound away thus? Some change, noble beast, that you might drum your way into the chaste and temperate ranks of the middle class, by way of Julliard, if you’ll only continue to bless us with the unmetered flogging of your folk instrument… Or perhaps remuneration was offered in recompense for some brief period of silence?
He’s passed out now, the djembe forgotten and silent. A mercy.
I write longhand because it takes longer and because no one will mistake me for a laptop-toting antisocial douchebag when I’m writing at the coffee shop. It signifies nothing, really. I’m still an antisocial douchebag, but no one yet knows. I’m covert. Deep cover. A petit eccentricity to provide the casual observer an opportunity to imbue my existence with pretense. A bus passes by as the baristas’ conversation turns, again, to tattoos. Traffic sounds.
In another life, I made coffee for a living, my misanthropy squirrelled away in music and art and bike rides, occasionally boiling to the surface during the morning rush but wisely muttered sotto voce. And so my rambling introduction arrives less by twists and turns than grotesque contortion at today’s lesson: if you’re the only couple having a conversation, while all around you are dicking around with laptops or writing longhand, remember that we can hear you and that your issues with your prostate are an intrusion, that your pop psychoanalysis of your companion’s faults, situations, and girlfriends is still ill-received despite y r liberal sprinkling of foul language. You’re not on stage here. We’re not looking over at you by way of complimenting you on your deft turn of phrase, your “look how tolerant I am” posturing that betrays your sexism, your ignorance, and your misogyny; we just want you to shut up or die, depending on which you can do most immediately. There are things strangers don’t want to know about you, and life will treat you more kindly if you don’t air them out at the fucking coffee shop.
I’m going for a ride…