Ideas and thoughts and some desperate desire for some kinda understanding – not to be understood but to understand. All this flutters and whirlwinds like dollars in one of those money blowing booths. I try grabbing a handful by scribbling notes chaotically throughout the day. At a stoplight. On lunch break. In the middle of working when I hope nobody’s looking. Pausing the treadmill if nobody’s around. That’s what this writing has become. It’s a pointless and senseless compulsion like a boozer reaching for the bottle. I try to understand. Obsessively try to understand these thoughts and ideas like the rolling boil of a chili-cheese burrito steaming through the bowels, wreaking havoc and bringing comfort with its warm and foul, explosive release.
I rarely submit stories. And I ask myself why. Well, there’s multiple ways of reasoning around it. First is I hate it. The cover letters and the keeping track of where and when it’s been submitted and, if I submit it somewhere else, do those journals accept simultaneous submissions? For fuck’s sake. What bullshit. All that bureaucratic nonsense mostly in place to give this game of playing with words and ideas more weight when all anybody oughta want to do is craft a story around some idea. Just like a regular job. I just wanna work and make the money. No paperwork or documentation. No meetings. No tax forms. No rigmarole. Just work and pay. It’s simple, with no kowtowing to some near-retirement gear cranker who wants to feel better about his life choice by making you look like a slacker or a fool. By withholding. By making you “earn” what he earned. But he didn’t earn anything. He knows he fucked up. He coulda been more if he’d tried and he’s gonna do his best to make sure you fall short too. To make sure you see the work as shit, the same way he’s seen it for 45 years. Whether it’s a union gear cranker or some editor at some stupid journal. It’s all the same – subordination to someone else’s ego.
Like some editor from some journal said, “I like the cover letter to be addressed to me specifically. It lets me know you’re familiar with us.” Really? Could we tickle your butthole too?
Why don’t I submit? I don’t think it’s laziness. I was imagining it like this. Let’s say I like lasagna. And I like it and the process of preparing it enough to put the extra effort and the extra cost into getting all the ingredients and boiling and stirring and baking when I could have just gone to Fazolli’s or just bought the Stouffer’s frozen lasagna or Chef Boyardee lasagna in a can or gotten a to-go order from Olive Garden. But I didn’t. I went the more labor intensive and costly route. But in doing that, I’m gonna make the lasagna the way I want it. Not the way somebody else wants it. And I’m gonna make lasagna, not manicotti or mostaccioli or fettuccine Alfredo. If you want that shit, make it or buy it yourself. I’ll be over here making my shit and if you wanna taste, bring over some beer and I might share. Otherwise, shut the fuck up and do your thing and I’ll do mine. But I put in the labor. A lot of labor. So I don’t think the not submitting is a matter of pure laziness but far more a matter of genuine distaste.
But the problem is I keep on cooking without doing the cleanup cause I hate doing dishes like I hate doing taxes like I hate submitting. And those dirty dishes keep on piling up in the sink, halfway up the wall while a fetid cesspool of cheese and decomposing pasta festers in a Pyrex dish at the bottom of the pile, drawing gnats and stinking up the house.
Now you could say I’m just afraid of the rejection which, I must confess, isn’t joyous – that tidal wave of “declined”. But I consider what an acceptance to one of the prestigious journals would do and I can’t imagine it would do much for me or the writing….do much for me in a way that would positively affect the writing.
And what do I care one way or another if some editor (or group of them) shares my sensibility in writing? I probably don’t share much of their sensibilities in films or music or much else either. Do they love Mid-South or Mid-Atlantic or Florida Championship Wrestling? Do they care who the best Dracula might have been – Bela or Christopher Lee or maybe even Klaus Kinski? Or what the best Kiss album might be? So why should I or the work care about them or their audience?
Why don’t I submit? Maybe it’s just ego and narcissism. That I think it’s too good for their criticism. But no, I’ve pretty much accepted it’s shit. But without their criticism, what’s there to guide me but the writers who’ve influenced me and my own instinct? I bristle at the romanticization of intuitive faith in my own work. It’s not that cause I got no faith in it being good to anybody. The only hope is that someday it might lead to a little more clarity about its subjects.
I think it’s just a stubborn non-reliance on anybody else to get to the heart of……what? I think that’s it. Honestly. Faith, like faith in God, faith that can’t be reasoned, that somewhere in this writing, all the shit that swirls around like those dollar bills is gonna start making a bit more sense one of these days. That by at least putting it on a page, giving it form, it at least has a chance to start making sense. Like you can have the idea of an airplane but until you start drawing it up, it’s nothing but an illusional idea. But to become real, the idea needs to start taking form, if only as a blueprint before actual construction. And there’s no better guide to getting there than through yourself. Well, maybe not when it comes to building an aircraft, but sure enough when it comes to understanding yourself and your own experience and their relationships to the world. After all, these are yours and my unique experiences. It’s you who’s experiencing your life. And it’s you who needs to interpret it in your unique way – not through the voice or formula of a preacher or editor at some lit journal that nobody reads. No political pundit selling doomsday dehydrated soup or silver coin investments or cock-hardening drops. No preacher or monk. No parent. Or yogi or card or palm reader or astrologer. I gotta find my own path and it seems like if I’m gonna get there at all, it’s through this writing. Not through politics or religion or acceptance on some tiny or grand scale.
“But you could use some guidance” that pesky voice of conscience says.
“Did Ace or Gene or Paul need the the Beatles’ pixie dust to write New York Groove or Shout It Out Loud?” I reply.
“Did Bukowski need Céline or Fante telling him how to write? Or did he figure it out for himself, with just their work and his own intuition as guides or influence?”
“Did Keith or Pete Townsend need graduate courses or writing retreats with Chuck Berry or Elvis or The Fab Four or Jerry Lee or Little Richard to write Jumpin’ Jack Flash or Baba O’Reilly or did they take it upon themselves to just fucking do it?”
“You imagine yourself the literary equivalent of Keith or Pete?”, the voice asks.
“Nah. Just using them as an example. I’d be happy with Bang a Gong….T. Rex that is. Not Robert Palmer.”
“But what if you never get the hit?”, it asks.
“Well, at least I created. I tried to create a good song or two, regardless of whether it became a hit. It was the attempt. If I could write one Bang a Gong, I’d be happy even if it wouldn’t sell in today’s market. That would be okay, I think. Or maybe I’m being romantic. You know, the notion of the unappreciated artist.”
“You see, it’s the essence of the work, not its popularity. It’s learning the chords and something about melody rather than fucking an anime blow up doll with ridiculous eyes and tits. Fucking it naked except for a t-shirt cause I’m embarrassed of my middle-aged belly roll. Shamed in the face of an inanimate doll. Some shit like that.”
“Yes. Keep comparing your failure as a writer to fucking a cartoon blow-up doll in your t-shirt. The failure will feel better, comparatively,” it says.
The voice continues, “so you’re going to create something as magnificent as Bang a Gong? You really think you can? Just once, even?”
“Probably not. But I’ll try. See if it comes naturally. If not, “oh well”, I guess. But for now it’s coming naturally. Compulsively, even. So I’m just gonna see where it leads. That’s faith or something like that, right?”
“You know, maybe Ace would have written 50 great songs instead of just a handful with some of that John Lennon pixie dust,” the voice says. “Maybe that’s what you need…some of that writer’s retreat magic dust. Some published author whose stuff interests you less than Cake Boss or Vanilla Ice’s house fixer-upper show to tell you how to write.”
“I confuse myself enough. I don’t need some asshole like that adding to it. Besides, how much is some published author telling you how to write that much different than a psychologist from XYZ school trying to figure you out and direct you, versus all the other psychiatrists from ABC and DEF and GHI and all the other schools? Whose advice is right? Who’s really gonna set you straight or just send you down the wrong road?”
“Besides, Lennon mighta influenced him like he did Yoko, for fuck’s sake. Ace mighta been coo-coo’ing and screeching at the stars instead of writing Shock Me. Shit, I’d take Shock Me any day.”
“But a published writer has the knowledge and experience,” the voice replies.
“Fuck it. If I’m nothing more than a chimp or a child banging away on a keyboard, let’s see what the monkey will produce. Uninhibited. Unrestricted. That’s okay with me.”
“It won’t be Dostoevsky. It won’t even be David Sedaris,” the voice says.
“No shit. Well, thank God for not being Sedaris, anyway.”
I continue, “But who’s to say that even if Bukowski could grace ya with some wisdom, would he direct ya more toward Post Office or Pulp? There’s a big difference after all.”
“I don’t think he’d direct you. He’d probably say, “Shut up and leave me alone and just do it. And if you’re not doing it and you need to beg for help, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.””, the voice says.
The voice and I finally agree.
My notes over the last two days are a reflection of a chaotic and utterly disorganized mind: Bukowski. Céline. One of those money tornado machines. What was Dahmer’s relationship with his mother? Gacey may have enjoyed making children smile as….Pogo? But he was still a monster. Bolin. Baby O’Reilly. Bang a Gong. Add Cuts like a Knife to the story about Sam Harris.
And there’s scribbling and scrawling about Italian Cuisine and Pedro the Lion. I’ve learned to write the vulgar words in code. One day I thought I lost my notes at work and I panicked. Whoever finds it will realize it’s of the mind of a lunatic. I was relieved to find it the next day in the pocket of my running shorts.
They say Carson McCuller’s writing mighta been more damaging than if she’d focused instead on just getting her life together. Something like – she created chaos in order to be able to write. And she wanted to write so she was stuck in this feedback loop of perpetual chaos. Well, my writing’s shit compared to hers but we might share that commonality of productive versus not. What else could I be doing instead of laboring over stories about macaroni and cheese that nobody’s gonna give two shits about anyway? Where’s the compulsion come from? Narcissism? Ego? A desire to achieve at something before it’s all done?
I enjoy it. That’s all I know. If I wasn’t wasting hours with words, I’d probably be wasting them with booze or chasing pussy (not so much chasing as lamenting that I didn’t have any) or bible banging at Bible Believer’s Baptist Church in some town of 2,046 out here in the Midwest. Or woodworking. Who knows. But of those choices, the words…no matter how fruitless the endeavor….might be the better. That’s what I mean by faith. Faith borne out in action. The action of writing rather than boozing or ghost hunting.
The shower is hot. I ran a few miles on a sore foot. I’m thinking, What would work better? Bukowski, Boyardee and Bang a Gong? Instead of Bang a Gong….what about Baba O’Reilly. Or Bolin? Mark Bolin.
I’m struck by the absurdity of it all.
I look up wishing I could see the sky cause I want to curse at it. I close my eyes and snarl with rage, silently, at the foamy ceiling panels while standing in that hot spray.
Why are you doing this to me???!!!???
“Why are you doing this to yourself?” the voice replies.
Let the dishes pile up. Let the gnats buzz and evade my claps. Let the odors fester from the baking dish. I’ll take an hour or two to clean it up sometime. Until then I’ll just keep on cooking. And if you got a six pack and wanna taste, give me a ring. I’ll even scrub the pots and pans and plates and dishes and even air out the house. But I don’t do light beer or malt liquor.