Tuesday, August 30

i don't know stephen elliott

I finished Stephen Eliot’s The Adderall Diaries tonight. I’ll probably say this again, but it’s amazing. And fucked up. I was reading the last couple chapters intermittently, sneaking a few pages in while my coffee partner was in the bathroom or manning the counter for the shop’s owner.

The book is like a drug, like Adderall itself, maybe. First I wanted to read it in 5 milligram doses, and later I wanted to crush it on a TP dispenser in a bathroom and snort it. That’s how I felt driving home with around ten pages left to read. Crush and snort.

My friend and I had this incredible, rambling conversation for almost four hours. We talked about my manuscript first, my “process”. She writes, or did and will again. We took a creative writing class once, long ago in (for me anyway) another lifetime. I think about my “process” in quotations marks because the term suggests an established methodology. I feel the same way thinking of it as my “process” as I do about calling the manuscript my “work in progress”. Both seem dishonest because, well, it’s my first time. I’m making this shit up as I go along. 

If I do stuff the same way next time then maybe I can say it’s part of a process. When I start the second book it’ll be a WIP. Maybe. This time though, it’s just “the work”. I’m involved in “a process” in the sense that I’m working through something, but there’s nothing established yet that I can say is “my process”. It technically is a work in progress, I admit, but talking about it as my WIP seems presumptuous. I’m the only one that actually knows there is or will be any other WIP. You can only take my word for it.

And we talked about artists, meeting them, how there’s a difference between meeting an artist to take their autograph away as a souvenir and actually meeting them, asking them about what they like in life, what matters to them. Having coffee with them (or just wanting to) instead of just wanting to get proof that you met them. She talked about the difference between meeting the band so that you can take a bit more from them after the show, and meeting the band so that you can give something back. Neither is wrong or right, but there's a difference.

There was other stuff too: self-discipline and how it isn’t discipline when we love to do it. How it can look like discipline to other people, maybe, but to the person loving it, it’s just good fun. And music. And the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. And definitions of success. And how hard it is, when we assume a definition contrary to cultural norms, to express how we’re successful. And on and on and on. It was delicious.

I don’t know quite what to think of The Adderall Diaries beyond my belief that it’s amazing. I don’t want to try to figure Mr. Elliott out from it, or even have it inform my opinion of him as a person. I don’t think I want to have an opinion of him as a person, at least not from his writing. It’s a memoir, and a wonderful read. It’s ugly and beautiful and painful and tense. But it’s not him, you know? Even he says that he writes to figure shit out. Memoir is fun because it’s opinion, not autobiography. Factual accuracy isn’t the point, even if it is accurate. The point is not to take it as fact. The point is to enjoy the experience.

We all want to be known, maybe artists more than anyone. We metaphorically (or literally) bleed into whatever medium is relevant. There’s a cost we decide is worth paying at some point, and then we pay it. We say it’s just for us or for the art, but we want to be known, to share something. To express. But we only share a very little bit.

I love Pearl Jam, love Vedder’s lyrics, the passion and angst. I’d love to have coffee with him and pick his brain, to know him and be known by him. Truth is though, that even in the bizarro world that allowed me to have coffee with Eddie Vedder, we simply might not hit it off. At all. The hypothetical conversation might suck. I might not like him. He might not like me. Doesn’t matter though. I’d still like the music and the words and the voice. He is not his music. His music is not him.

When I got home there was a broken mouse dragging a trap across the kitchen floor. The roommates are away, camping. I showed it as much compassion as I could, imagining its fear, and the pain. It was trapped at the hip, broken on the same side I was. I had to euthanize the mouse, right? Right? I know of no non-violent way to do that with a mouse broken in a trap. So the climax of my evening sucked. Finishing Adderall ended up being massively anti-climactic.

Writing about it all works better as a denouement. It’s like using mouth wash.

Memoirs should not be read as biography. We are ridiculously incredible, fragile, strong, broken, ascendant bags of meat. I don’t know Stephen Elliott, not even now. Not at all.

p.s. Revisions on the WIP are going really well. I'm loving my process. ... ... ... uh, yeah.

Tuesday, August 23

yesterday today tomorrow

Jack Layton, leader of the NDP party, the Official Opposition in Canada’s Parliament, died yesterday, succumbing to cancer.

Even among much, much better company than the politicians that populate any House of Parliament (perhaps ours especially) I think he would have stood out as a person of integrity. That’s a rare thing.

He will be missed. Rest in Peace, Mr. Layton.

In Libya, the rebels have Gaddafi on the ropes. Matter of time, they say now, like Saddam while he hid in holes in the ground. The most telling headline I read was “Qaddafi loses, but who will emerge the winner?” The article talked about who would assume power, but the subtext was clear:

Here comes the new boss, probably same as the old boss.

Canada loses one of its very few politicians of integrity and the world watches Qaddafi fall only to question how much things will change. Sounds dark and pessimistic.

And yet I’m not pessimistic. Not in general. I am about Canadian politics, and about world politics, and the things that will rush in to fill the voids left by tyrants deposed by means of violence, but I also see more and more people choosing compassion, love, empathy.

Fighting from a position of integrity and compassion (say, like Mr. Layton mostly did) takes longer – there aren’t any of those frustrating short cuts that the power-hungry are so ready to exploit – but the gains, the change, will last when that time comes because we’ll have had to change as a civilization, a species, to achieve it.

I wish Mr. Layton could have seen that happen.

Saturday, August 20

not a list

I had the unusual urge tonight to write a list of things that I did this week, which is unusual because I don’t generally feel “list” urges. In fact, I have a thing about not writing lists. Like not writing them is a small rebellious victory every time I avoid making one.

I equate lists with “people who get shit done” a lot of the time, even though I know several wonderful people that swear by them, and even though I used to have to make them all the time so that I could “get shit done” back before the life inversion started. But when it did start – the inversion – list-making was one of the things near the top of the “things I’m not going to do anymore because they carry with it an association of losing my soul” list. Which didn’t actually exist because, well, I stopped making lists.

If I had created such a list, however, of those things that I wasn’t going to do to avoid having my soul sucked, list-making would have been up there with tie-wearing and all forms of non-organic, manufactured marketing (of self or anything external).

So, there cannot be, for the reasons mentioned above, a list of things that I did this week. However, if there were such a list, created for posterity because it felt a bit like a minor internal tectonic shift kind of week, it would have included some or all of the following:

I hiked a local (small, not really even a) mountain in the city where I live, and did it in the dark, which allowed me to see the twinkling fake lights of the remarkably boring-looking city below me and the far more brilliant lights of the clear, endless, indigo-dark sky above; I assembled a home gym and a treadmill (for money – a new thing that I hope will allow me to escape the infuriatingly stubborn gravitational pull of working in fucking casinos for a living); there were continued fifth revisions of THE NOVEL (too important not to highlight, but not ironic enough for quotation marks), which go well and are heading in new and exciting directions as I pour through the beta-feedback I’ve received while simultaneously remembering how I wanted to write something with a strong plot and action that still aspired to be faintly literary in scope and theme; I finished Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was delectable, invigorating, and heartbreaking all at the same time (and which was also the perfect novel to read as I embarked on THE NOVEL revisions, a reminder that great writing can and should sneak up on you at least as often as it hits you over the head; I also blew through The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield (the guy who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance, [which I loved way before the movie] – who knew?), a book that will require subsequent readings to fully appreciate because it’s so simple and profound – profound in its simplicity and, not surprising, simple in its profundity; I spent an entire day doing maintenance on my POS Jeep (oil and filter changes, chassis lubing, and chasing down miscellaneous squeaks and rattles) during which I found a sizable rock partially lodged between my transfer case skid plate and the case itself, the removal of which resulted in a rattle-free Jeep – a minor miracle; I went climbing and did some trail jogging and some yoga as part of my effort to get back into decent enough shape so as not to die of a heart attack come the advent of hockey (playing) season in September; I dealt around 300-400 hands of poker, a fact that I find both continually amazing and slightly depressing.

If I’d have written that list (which I would, heaven forefend, nevereverever do on account of the aforementioned aversion to list making), it would have been an incomplete list – obviously – but still a list of marginally-yet-personally interesting things that coalesced into a pretty damned good week.

All I can say is, it’s a good thing that I didn’t (would never) write it, or it might have resulted in a self-indulgent, frivolous post that was more about having fun with complex-compound sentences and semi-colons than saying anything remotely worth saying.*

p.s. I’m going to start Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries next week. So. Stoked.

* Unless you really read between the lines AND read stuff into it that probably isn’t really there.

Sunday, August 14

almost a manifesto

Let me see if I can crystallize this…[1]

The path is not a competition, with others or self. It’s just a fucking path. Walk it or don’t, but don’t think there’s any kind of winning involved.

Accomplishment should be intensely personal. Those who will know about it by proximity are really the only ones that need to know.

If one listens to sycophants, one must give equal time to critics. Best, if possible, to ignore both (except for required civility).

If it’s hard and level and predictable, it’s not the path; it's a sidewalk. Turn left (metaphorically speaking) now.

Figure out what you’d bleed for and you’re on the way to figuring out your path. Besides, if you bleed, it’s a sport, and everything sporty is more fun.

Scars are tattoos that you earn.[2]

We do not fall so that we can learn how to get up. We fall because we trip, or drink too much, or get hit on the head. If you can learn to get up from falling, good on ya, but that’s not why you fell. Shit just happens sometimes.

Everything’s eventual, so don’t panic. A mountain in the way just means you have to switch to climbing shoes. Think of it as a great thing, like an unbirthday present.

The shortest distance between two points is fucking boring anyway.[3]

Climbing teaches us that falling doesn’t hurt. It’s the landing that does that. You’ll either survive the landing and get to quote Nietzsche for the rest of your life in an intensely personal way, or you won’t survive and, subsequently, won’t give a damn.

The journey means that mile markers are quaint novelties, not something to dance about. Mile markers just say “I’ve come this far”, but the truth is that they also mean there’s farther to go. The only one worth dancing about is the one that says “The End”.

There isn’t a mile marker that says “The End”. Not one we get to see anyway.

If you need a reason to dance, dance about the love you’ve given and received. It’s the best motivation anyway.

One of the best things about the no winning and no ending concepts is that you never lose and you always have more time to learn and grow. And that’s all that matters.[4]

[1] Just for me, of course. I’m not referencing anything specifically except the bumper sticker, but chances are I’m plagiarizing something because, frankly, it’s all been said. So I claim nothing as original here, at all. Read at your own risk.

[2] My favorite bumper sticker. Ever. Even more than the one on my laptop: Kill your television

[3] Very sure I read this somewhere. Just can’t remember for the life of me where.

[4] Just, of course, my opinion. What the fuck do I know… J

Saturday, August 13

random check-in

Wow, it’s been a while.

I’ve been a bit confounded by Mom lately, just making sure everything is up to date, chasing clarity and clarification. Truth is she’s doing okay right now. She’s settled since the last couple symptomatic episodes and we’re basking in the eye of the storm for the moment.

Also I was, I think, desperately missing the manuscript. I spent some down time, while I was waiting for beta advice to come in, working on a synopsis (I may actually hate them, synopses, for all the magic they take out of a story), starting the second volume of the saga, but they felt like cheating, like I was being unfaithful. Or maybe it just felt like hubris, as if I was presuming too much. Finishing the first one, making it as shiny (or gritty, as the case may be) as I can has become (appropriately?) a holy grail of sorts.

Anyway, I got the beta critiques back last weekend and started on revisions, possibly the final round before I actually consider it ready for agents to look at, and the clouds broke as I began. You’d think I’d learn.

About Mom, one of the things that got me down was the thought that diagnosis of degenerative dementia, probably like any degenerative disease diagnosis, is essentially a call to start grieving now. It’s a time bomb with no counter – it’s just going to go off, a bit at a time, until the final big boom. And there’s not much you can do about it. We can only work hard to try to stay in the moment. And sometimes, often even, that works, mostly when we’re together and laughing and talking. But there are the quiet times and, in the silence, sometimes, the idea of a clock ticking down feels a bit overwhelming.

It’s all the journey though, right? Good goes with bad, darkness with light, the bitter makes the sweet taste better.

I was thinking about how it’s our cultural nature to make things as difficult as possible. We create our society based on the square, fighting nature. We make things straight and hard, all roads and stairs and sidewalks, doors and walls and ceilings. Even when we absolutely have to bend to accommodate nature, the goal is still to minimize the incline, reduce the curves as much as possible, tame the topography.

And then I thought about hiking, being out past the manicured paths. Out there you follow the line that makes the most sense, often following in the footsteps of animals. The lines aren’t straight, nothing is manufactured – it’s organic, and logical in a way that only the wild can be. Intuitive.

And hey, when you find a pause on the path, whatever the reason, the view tends to be fucking awesome. Double rainbow awesome.

P.S. Don’t you love how rioters in the UK are either all stupid, selfish looters and hooligans, OR all politically marginalized and disenfranchised citizens expressing legitimate rage? Why don’t they use AND in that equation? How can they not use it? How stupid does one have to be to not see that there’s legitimate rage AND selfish violence in the dynamic? And why is the UK so goddamed different than Egypt or Tunisia where the frustration was lauded?

P.P.S. I’m reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad this week. And loving it. It’s as brilliant as a Pullitzer winner should be. I read Neil Gaman’s American Gods last week (AG was on recommendation from Judy Clement Wall – how did I miss that one?) and loved it too. It’s been a helluva good book month so far.