“There is no great skill in writing about sex and violence, churning out schlock with monsters and megalomaniacal villains. However there is something to the ability to write about the general nature of human dysfunction. Specifically your dysfunction, that being your inability to get your head around this world and all the moving parts therein. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of the possibility that you could be actually talented at something these fears are going to be the things that halt your development and stunt your voice.
“Existence is meaningless without pushing boundaries, stretching beyond what you know to find that hidden voice that lingers somewhere deep in your soul. Rip out your fear, rip out your inadequacies and write. Everything will come together so long as you keep writing.” He took a breath, sipped his drink, I was about to retort, but he raised his hand which had the effect of silencing me. “I’m not finished with you. Monsters are not going to save you; they’ll be your downfall. Stop trying to be clever; it’s the easiest path to being cliché. Think about this, and I mean really think about what you know, what you have seen and heard and put it down on paper. You can be crass you can be violent, but throw away the bullshit. Alright, I think I’m done.”
“What’s wrong with monsters?” That was stupid, after everything he said I focus in on the nasties.
“I’ve got no problem with monsters, but it’s not you, it’s not what you’re made to do.” He drank the remainder of his drink bleary eyed and he left the bar without another word. I thought to follow him, but it would have been a useless gesture. I was dumbfounded, I couldn’t think where to go from there, it made everything I had written before seem stupid and childish and it was.
I found my way outside, pulled out a cigarette and flopped clumsily against a brick wall. My lighter wasn’t working so I pitched it into the street and watched it as it skipped along the wet asphalt. The wheel of a compact car crushed it. I just stared at it and thought about what Kurt had said. He was drunk, I was drunk, but he was right and I had to explore the possibility that I was capable of something more. I told myself I would start writing as soon as I got home. Home, the sudden realization hit: Kurt was my ride and he was gone. I drifted over as steadily as I could to the lot where we parked but there was a gap where his car had been. “Fuck!” I screamed and grabbed at a passing girl. “Give me a ride?” She didn’t even answer she just picked up her pace and kept walking.
With three crumpled bills in my pocket the taxi option was moot so I tried him on his cell, but he didn’t answer. I passed loosely into a hysterical aimless wandering around the lot and going through the various stages of grief before my alcohol-addled brain fell on the decision to walk. I convinced myself it would be easy, that it would give me time to think.
In the beginning there was a poor student, bright and full of ideology, full of rage and possessed of a yearning to break free from the societal prison known as high school. That’s not quite accurate it wasn’t just high school; it was everything. Psychotic self-absorbed friends, ineffectual parents who were content in blissful ignorance of their son’s general all encompassing rage. Everything was designed to make him feel like an outsider a separate state from everyone else.
All this alienation created a kind of private mythology, actually I don’t know if you could call it a mythology so much as a collection of images. The images were building blocks to create his own fictional world where he was some kind of hero, warrior poet kind of a thing. Filled with kind of certainty that only teenagers possess, that he was a unique individual fighting the good fight against an oppressive society, that he was the only thing standing in the way of a fascist government.
Then one day he got laid. When that happened the world brightened and the sun rose like some ancient slumbering god. The edge was lost, the battle was abandoned and things went on in a kind of malaise of attempting in vain to get laid, to have sex became the new quest. He went places, hitchhiked, moved from city to city sleeping on couches ultimately with the goal of finding some hot piece of lost soul. There were lofty intentions, find meaning, pursue a career, but ultimately it was sex that occupied his thoughts. He played the role of a free spirit while simultaneously feeling like a fraud every time he spoke. Naturally women picked up on it and the quest for sex was lost for several years.
Marriage seemed logical, what better way to secure sex and meaning but to have someone rely on you for support. Marriage to him was not a permanent state; it was a transition to a bigger world of sexual thrill, the elusive world of adultery. This of course backfired. Adultery was never an option once a baby entered the scene, just no time coupled with the slow erosion of his self-esteem. He felt trapped by the world, trapped by the wife, the son, and the lack of marketable skills. Hitchhiking, as it seems is not met with any enthusiasm by potential employers.
He tried a lot of different things; he got into acting. This was more of an attempt to avoid being himself than actual passion. Then came art and finally he settled on writing, but his mind was locked into superhero archetypes and melodramatic situations involving albinos, freaks, and whatever struck his fancy at the time, but mostly drugs and sex. These chameleon-like abilities all seemed to puke themselves into the medium of film. Still he couldn’t find a voice, he felt like a poser, like an impoverished buffoon who was playing at being a genius.
Walking, listening to the crunch of gravel under my feet was strangely soothing. Nostalgia strikes at these kind of situations, you can almost feel your life spinning out of control and like a trauma victim going into shock the mind brings you to another place. I remembered hitchhiking on cold nights feeling the blast of air as the trucks passed. When I was hitchhiking the road felt like a home, it was familiar and comforting. The fact that it is a straight black line going off into oblivion never struck me as poetic, but the images it was conjuring now were breathtaking. Rich veins of asphalt, the soft shoulder of tan dirt, the smell of exhaust and rubber clashing with wet grass, the heat of the asphalt meeting with the cold air, it seemed to me in this head space a place of meetings, of possibilities; eddying waves of disparate parts conjoining at the nexus of my nerve endings. I felt myself grin at the thought.
The brain jarring boom of a car horn pulled me back to where I was, on a corner of some street, houses on either side with the fluorescent glow of a gas station stoking the illumination of the street lights.
The gas station was open so I took the opportunity to caffeinate myself. The attendant was in a bulletproof enclosure, he was reading a book and jotting down notes on the margins. I poured a cup of coffee and clumsily ministered to it with a witch’s brew of creams and sugar. My throat was hoarse from yelling conversations at the bar so when he asked me if I needed anything else I found my voice stopped in my raw larynx and instead pointed at a lighter next to him. He robotically handed me a lighter and rang me up. I nodded my approval, which on after thought probably looked more like the weight of my head had finally one the battle over my neck and flopped down pre-pass out, and left the cashier to his study.
The temperature dropped outside, or I gained new sensitivity to it and my whole body began to shiver. I looked up to see a car recklessly pull within an inch of one of the pumps. A man and a woman were in the car, they were animated and I could hear the muffled din of an argument. She rolled down the window and opened the door smashing it into the pump. The guy grabbed her arm and pulled her back in. No she would scream and he would fall into an indecipherable litany of sins she committed wherever they had come from. She struck him on the shoulder with a loud snap as it connected and he whaled on her face, her head reeled from the strike.
He stepped out dragging her along with him, his face was blotchy and beat red with violence. She feebly slapped at his arm as he yelled about her hitting him. I was frozen to the spot, I felt like if I moved they would see me like a T-rex abusers sensed things by movement. He hit her again and I reflexively yelled. I couldn’t watch anymore now I was part of the show. “Fuck off!” he spat at me as the girl whimpered under his grip.
“Stop hitting her man.” If you try to pull a pit bull out of a fight they sometimes divert their rage to you. It’s biological, there under the fluorescent spotlight of gas station lighting with the note scribbling genius locked behind presumably sound proof glass this neanderthal poured all his biological rage into a new target. He was bigger than I thought as he pushed me against the glass door of the station.
Everything slowed, his right hand gripped around my throat while his left collided with my abdomen. He lifted his hand to strike me again in the face, but I lifted my arm to block him and grabbed him by the scruff trying to pull him off of me. The coffee fell from my hand and spilled over both of us. It was enough movement for him to miss my face, then he just pressed against me gripping tighter. “You mind your own fucking business.” He dropped me and left, I fell to the ground as the pain in my stomach surfaced.
I lit a cigarette and hobbled off.
His friends would tell him he lost something, but he could never see it, he saw himself progressing. His wife separated from him took his kid and left him to the wolves. He floated from job to job trying to find something that fit his temperament. A few of the jobs fit him, he was a radio DJ once and he worked in a club, but they didn’t pay well or they ended quickly and he found himself believing he wasn’t meant for permanence. It was no longer a character flaw, but a law of nature and who was he to fight nature.
He moved to another city in an effort to pull himself together. It got better and things moved, but his mind was still clouded over by the past. He looked for familiar things and when he found them he latched on to his detriment.
Frustration is the better part of art. The hours spent pouring over every detail, the feeling of ineptitude and doubt that wash over you as you look over your completed work. Is it good? The inability to recognize the absurdities of your own work. You look over it and after a while you can’t see anything, it’s lost all meaning. Like repeating a word until it loses itself on your tongue and becomes mindless garble. All artists: writers, painters, all of them go through this battle with their palette. My battle is with words, and frustration is what holds them together or tears them apart.
If you can do anything else do it, art is messy and burdensome. I wish sometimes that I was anything but an artist. I wish I were really good with math or cars or finances or any one of a million things that don’t involve the slavish desperation of the artist to create. I want the house with the white picket fence and the 2.5 kids and the dog and the two car garage, but I don’t know that any of that is ever going to happen, because at the end of the day I am involved in one of the least likely ways to make money.
Sitting on a bench outside a closed grocery store I lit a cigarette and leaned into the waning effects of the alcohol in my blood. It was a beautiful night, a good night for a walk. The moon was unobstructed and I stared at it mentally picking out the craters on its surface. A story drifted through my head. I tried to hold onto it, but it felt stupid, everything I thought of was stupid.
Fuck Kurt! I stood up from the seat. Anger was billowing up; the frustration I felt was narrowing to a laser point and focusing in on Kurt and his stupid deconstruction. He wasn’t a writer, he was a fucking delivery driver; what the fuck did he know?
I kicked a plastic garbage can, but it was ultimately unsatisfying. I wanted breaking sounds and blood. I am a fucking writer I can write the shit out of demons and monsters and whatever else I like. The glass of the storefront was reflecting my anger. I saw myself. I was a collection of failures, a bad employee, a bad husband, a poor martial artist and a poser writer. I saw all of that in the window. Rage possessed me and I picked up the plastic garbage can and threw it at the window. The impact bisected my reflection, but my self-loathing wasn’t sated so I picked it up again and this time the glass shattered. The alarm rang from the store and my anger left, replaced with realization. A Hispanic man peered through the whole and pointed at me. I bolted instantly; the man was on my tail screaming at me to stop.
My attention was focused on running. I blasted across streets and didn’t even realize the Hispanic man had stopped following me when I was hit on my right side by a car. My only saving grace was that I was in mid-stride so I was thrown over the vehicle and landed hard on my shoulder behind it.
Things were going just as poorly for him in the new city, bad jobs, no friends, but he had an epiphany and he went to school. It helped he felt useful for once and got to dazzle people with his intelligence and charisma. He felt like he belonged, but the feeling was fleeting and soon he fell back into the same patterns. He drank, he spent all the money he acquired from financial aid to fund his drinking.
Women finally came into his life. It had been a long time since his wife separated from him and his loneliness pushed him into a string of superficial relationships. His tenuous grasp on sexuality and identity was tested and thrown into chaos. He found himself lost. This period was in some respects darker than any other period in his life, because he felt invincible and was blind to the parts of him he loved being subverted and altered to the whims of whomever he was with. He felt intimate, but his soul was screaming at him.
Finally after a year in the woods he found a girl who made him feel complete. They fit like tumblers in a lock and he was allowed to be his flawed and bewildered self. He married her and graduated college and was working, the flaws he saw were being worked through and he felt better.
His new marriage worked where his first one didn’t, but the old feelings would creep in. Things were going too well and that was unusual, that was suspect. With a lifelong propensity for self-sabotage he was finally on his feet. So why did he still feel so disassociated.
I was staring up at a cherubic face as I rubbed at my shoulder. I was confused by my surroundings. I didn’t feel like I passed out, but I must’ve. I was on a couch in a studio apartment. She asked me something, I could see her lips moving, but there was a ringing in my ears so I just shook my head and tried to sit up. “Who are you?” I asked. She crouched next to the couch and told me her name was Sylvie and that she had hit me with her car. The ringing had subsided; things were looking up. My next question was “Where am I?” She explained she had brought me to her house. I swung my legs off the couch to the floor and sat up. I rubbed my forehead; I was bleeding.
“You landed pretty hard.” She said. “I don’t really know first aid, but I thought it was a good idea to bring you in here. I mean you could have been run over and that would’ve just sucked.” I nodded my head in agreement. She spoke fast and her speech was syncopated by a clicking sound she made with her tongue in between words.
“I’ve got to go.” I tried to stand, but she pressed down on me. The seething pain in my shoulder brought me back to the couch.
“No!” She stood and paced, clicking even while she wasn’t speaking. “Look I don’t have any insurance and this would look really bad for me, I’ve got some shit going on and I just can’t let you go till I know you’re okay. I mean if you died I’d, I’d be fucked.”
“You’re not fucked, I’m fine just let me go okay.” I rose again and began heading to the door, but she intercepted me.
“I’ve got a solution.” I was too tired and hurt to argue I asked what her solution was and she replied, “We need to have sex.” I reflexively did a double take.
“What? No!” I wanted to move her out of the way, but the flame slowly burning in my shoulder screamed that any such action would be met with stringent objection.
She continued, “If we have sex you can’t go to the police ‘cause I’ll just say you raped me.” Her dumb cherubic face was still smiling as she told me this insane plan.
“I’m married, no, I, no fuck that. I won’t tell anyone, I just want to get home.” I was pleading at that point.
“No it’s the only way.” She grabbed hold of me and kissed me, her tongue was trying to pry my lips open. I pushed her away and via a sudden burst of adrenalin got to the door, threw it open and bolted for the hallway. She followed after screaming between clicks that I needed to fuck her. I nearly tripped over my own feet when I came to a stairwell, but managed to hold onto the railing with the bad arm. Shards of hurt pulsed through my arm to the center of my chest, but I managed to get out into the night air.
I was at an apartment complex, no idea of where I was I walked out to the nearest road scanning area for street signs. With nothing forthcoming I just headed down the street in a direction that felt appropriate and cradled my arm as I walked.
He determine that his life had taken a wrong turn somewhere and that he was in the process of correcting all his past mistakes. He worked as a bike messenger for a time and got back into the martial arts. He was improving himself, losing weight and building muscle and just doing the things that needed to be done.
His mind needed escape, escape that his body couldn’t provide, because of obligations to his wife and obligations to himself to complete the things he had started. So he found his escape with role-playing games and fantasy stories. Whatever creativity he had he poured into the games and not to his real work. It was a distemper of the spirit, he felt like he was growing, but he was still just looking for those familiar things that he had looked for when he first arrived. So in the end it wasn’t escape he was looking for it was the same cage he had put himself in for thirty years.
The job ended and he was forced to reevaluate his priorities and his goals for the future. He wanted things, things for himself and things for his wife and son. However his own prison kept him locked into the same chains into the same patterns and like a trained monkey he would follow the tune of the organ grinder.
I felt homeless, my phone was dead, I had three dollars in my pocket and on top of that I may very well have had internal bleeding. Every inch of my right side was on fire and I registered every strange pang inside as indication that I was at death’s door. I should have fucked the girl at least then she would have given me a fucking ride. Maybe I could go back? No it was no good I’d just wait until my wife woke up and call her. She’d be angry and we would fight, but I’d be home and in bed. My muscles were shivering and spasming and I felt like I was going to cry.
A bus interrupted my bout of self-pity. As it came into view the thing was fucking angelic, the sound of its motor was like hearing Bob Dylan for the first time. I climbed aboard and fed my dollars into the slot and soaked in the warmth of the vehicle as I sat.
“You want a taste?” A dull groaning voice piped in from behind me. I turned to the voice and winced at the breath that met me. He held out a flask bottle of some brand of whisky I’d never heard of.
“Sure.” I’m not sure why I accepted the drink, as it was a hangover was slowly worming its way into my brain, but I took a swig. I could feel my face pucker as the burning liquid slid down.
He moved in next to me, his body odor radiated from him and my eyes started to water. “Cold night out there.” He nodded at his own question as I slouched away from him and his funk. “Where ya goin’ to?”
He nodded again and offered up the bottle a second time, I shook my head and waved the bottle away. He was silent for a long time, just sitting there in his own filth smiling and nodding his head to some unheard conversation. Finally he turned to me and said. “Sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we don’t think we’re the good folks we are, but go easy on her ‘cause she’s a tragic hero.” Something in what he said struck a cord.
He turned to me with a kind of shock, like he wasn’t expecting me to speak. “What you doin’ out here boy?”
“I got stuck, I just got stuck without a ride.”
“Yeah that happens, but you know the lord don’t give us nothin’ we can’t handle.”
“You sure of that?”
He nodded emphatically. “I been out here goin’ on four years and the lord he ain’t never give me nothin’ I can’t handle. This all is just an illusion, until we die and enter the kingdom of heaven.”
“Don’t you ever question it? I mean sometimes stuff is so bad, I mean like you out here for four years, isn’t that bad?”
“I suppose it is, but I think a lot of this I chose. In this life there a lot of things we don’t get to choose, but this, out here I did that. The world it just got too fast and I couldn’t keep up so I got off.”
Now I was nodding, I chose this weird little trial; I made all of this happen after a fashion. “Yeah, sometimes I wish I could just get off. Everything goes so fast and sometimes I look for escape routes, not quite like you, but similar. I’m a writer, sort of, I mean I’ve written things and I want to make a living at it, but I write all these monsters and demons and it all just seems like bullshit. My buddy, he left me at the bar, ditched me there, but before he did that he told me something. He told me everything I didn’t want to hear and he said it with such fervor that I just took it as jealousy.
“The thing is I use those monsters as an escape, like you out here. I need a break so I write about sex and violence and all this shit so I can be something else for a while. Kurt was trying to tell me that I could write whatever I wanted, but I was ultimately trapping myself because I wouldn’t venture outside of that comfort zone.” I looked over to the homeless man; he was slouched in his seat his snoring was ripping from his throat with ferocity. I pulled the wire, the bus stopped and I got off.
In the beginning there was a writer who struggled with his craft, as artists often do. First he struggled with his medium, then he struggled with his fear and finally he struggled with his voice. It took him years to realize he was not alone and that people would be there for him along the way to help him through the hard times. He felt all this rage and restlessness for so many years that he found it difficult to be happy and to see all the good people around him lifting him up to his salvation.
Eventually he married and was able to step back for a moment and see all those blessings he had received throughout the years. The realization was slow at first, but he fought through the doubt and the sins of his past to become the thing he always knew he should be: an artist, a father, a husband and a citizen of this world.