Sunday, March 19, 2006

Getting Back on the Horse Again

Well, I guess it’s time to start writing again. It’s been awhile – two or three years – since I’ve written on any regular basis. I’ve made money at it. Surely not enough to live on, but I’ve learned that very few people, including successful authors, do. While I always thought the mark of a true writer was to simply make money at the craft, I’ve since realized that there are plenty of talentless ass clowns making a fortune at it, and a whole bunch of vaguely disappointed people like me who are good at it, but get disgusted after awhile and let it go. (And there are good writers who get paid well, but let’s ignore them.)

There’s no point in letting it go, because if you write well, it’s something that stays with you the rest of your days, like religion or weird shit that happened in grade school. Why did I stop? I think for two reasons. One, the paper I was working for, the NYPress, was sold, and the editor in chief, maybe the best I’ve ever had, was let go (on Christmas Eve while he was on vacation). I hung in there for the next regime, but wasn’t feeling it, and there’s since been another regime change, and all those guys quit over the Danish Islam cartoon flap a few weeks ago.

Two, my father passed away during the Christmas season of 2004. It’s hard to explain what happens when a parent dies – if you’ve experienced it, you know this is one of those dividing lines in life. You’re not the same afterwards. It’s not some dramatic emotional experience. It’s more like driving a car through the woods on a snowy night. A lot of silence. A lot of darkness. And you find your way slowly by following the lines on the road.

The harsh reality sinks in that you’re going to bury your parents (or, less likely, they’re going to bury you). And the first time you do it is just some of the most awful shit you’ll ever go through. Once you get through the worst of it, it’s like having a shadow. Some days barely there, others there all day. But always there, and not necessarily a bad thing. You carry around the thought of them the same way they once carried you.

Since then, it’s been more a case of seeing the world in a very stark, black-and-white way. And I wouldn’t define it as clarity. Dad was raised during the Depression, fought on the tail end of World War II, came back home to small-town Pennsylvania, tried his hand at a few jobs, got married, started having kids, then found a job at the factory that would take him through the next few decades to his retirement. He was a no-bullshit person, very reserved, got things done. I always respected that about him and didn’t fully grasp the concept until hitting my early 30s. Millions of people quietly do this with their lives, and no one understands but their immediate families. I wouldn’t call it “heroic” so much as people becoming adults, recognizing what must be done and just doing it. Those who view that as heroic are trying to sell you something or must have been raised by wolves.

People who don’t know me well tend to see me this stoic way, and that’s fine. But the truth is that whole way of seeing the world, while not the exact antithesis of a writer’s life, doesn’t bear much in common with it. (The act of writing is solitary and workmanlike, but once the story is done, it must be sold.) When I was younger, I had a real axe to grind as a writer, wanted to be famous, and rich, and all the other perks that go along with the dream. And you get this way by putting yourself out there for public consumption, by hustling, by making shit happen. It’s an abnormal way of life to sane, well-adjusted people; it’s exhibitionism of a sort.

If there’s one thing I’ve grown thoroughly disgusted with in terms of writing, it’s the level of blatant self promotion that goes with it. You need to hype yourself to make it on any level. In New York, you’re surrounded by people like this, which is good in some senses and annoying as hell in others. I’ve come to realize it just isn’t me. I’m a writer – not a hustler. It’s no coincidence that this realization grew stronger with Dad’s passing, and maybe my unconscious desire to be more like him in that quiet sense.

Somewhere along the line, I lost the urge to have strangers love or respect me for my writing skills. (Actually, I was just as comfortable with strangers hating me – attention was the ultimate motive.) Yet I also recognized I simply enjoy writing and want to keep on doing it. For money? Whenever possible. But I look at the handful of people I know making money through nothing but writing, and it looks like a 24-7 hustle, a mixed bag of late-arriving checks, tight living budgets and frightening lulls in work. In other words, not that pretty picture we all had of getting up late, writing a few hours, hitting the gym, having brunch with limitless and wonderful friends, staying out late on school nights and always having enough money and free time to live well in a nice part of a major city.

The truth is it’s just writing, nothing romantic about it, whether or not you make a living at it. Say what the hell, and just do it. I’ve met stand-up people who happen to be writers and plenty of snake-oil salesmen. Sooner or later, you just have to ignore the mind fucks and do what you want to do, however it pans out in the real world. And that’s a thought that takes me straight back to my bedroom, age 14, sitting on my bed with a spiral notebook, ELO album on the Soundesign portable stereo, learning how to turn it loose on a blank page. It’s time to go back to that place in terms of intention, if not style, unless you want some very bad William Burroughs and Hunter Thompson imitations.

What to expect here? Nothing spectacular – just observations, less navel gazing, more of a venue to keep in touch. I’ll try to get material up here regularly and hope you’ll read along.

5 comments:

fred said...

Great to see you back in black (or blue) and white. Your talents need both the exercise and visibility of a place like this - so keep those words flowin' and I will be reading with much enthusiasm and appreciation.

Mike A. said...

Random thought...

Have you ever noticed that in TV commercials there is always a mismatch between the actors playing the husband and wife? You usually have a potbellied, sloppily dressed schlub married to a toned babe dressed in tight jeans.

Why can't real life be like that?

fred said...

re: mike's random thought . . .

well, my real life is like that. I'm a pot-bellied, sloppily dressed guy and my wife is a toned babe in tight jeans. It's just that some guys are lucky and some guys aren't . . .

Mike A. said...

You should do commercials...

Mike A. said...

I'm not one for forwarding humor, but these are good:

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take
>any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing
>one letter, and supply a new definition.
>
>Here are this year's 2005 winners:
>
>1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject
>financially impotent for an indefinite period.
>
>2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
>
>3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you
>realize it was your money to start with.
>
>4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
>
>5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright
>ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign
>of breaking down in the near future.
>
>6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of
>getting laid.
>
>7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
>
>8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person
>who doesn't get it.
>
>9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
>
>10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
>
>11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
>
>12. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really
>bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a
>serious bummer.
>
>13. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming
>only things that are good for you.
>
>14. Glibido: All talk and no action.
>
>15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they
>come at you rapidly.
>
>16. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've
>accidentally walked through a spider web.
>
>17. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your
>bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
>
>18. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the
>fruit you're eating