On a whim, I decide to go swimming. At 9 pm. Actually, it wasn’t really decision on a whim. I wanted something to keep my mind off a cigarette. The burn I have in my lungs right now is familiar, though an altogether different torture than sitting outside late into the night, reading or writing hundreds of thousands of words, all the while smoking like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, asking myself ‘who are you?’
So now, I’m out here on my back in this pool, facing my fear of large bodies of water at night, vulnerable to whatever imaginary leviathin waits beneath me. There is almost no separation between me, floating, weightless as I’ve ever been, and the sky with its modest smattering of stars, only the border of the palm trees winked at by the light colliding against the restless waves in the pool. I row myself like a boat, like a canoe if we’re being honest, because I’m programmed to wish myself long and lean. And all I can hear are the sounds of my arms breaking the water with a muffled splash and my breathing in stereo, like the opening of an indie film. I could reinvent myself out here tonight, I think, while simultaneously trying to merge with the vast nothing above me.
Stop. I decided to go swimming on a whim. No. That was it–to keep my mind off a cigarette. Now about that…
I am excited to announce that four poems of mine, collectively titled “The Stages of Grief in Four Parts”, have recently been published in Taft College’s literary journal, A Sharp Piece of Awesome. I was invited to read at the release party Saturday—my first ever reading—and it was awesome!
A little history on these poems. Each one was written probably a year after the preceding one, the first one written the year my father died, 2011. It was only a couple years ago that I realized they somewhat aligned with the actual stages of grief: numbness, anger, depression, and acceptance. After realizing this, I decided they worked better as a unit and also served the memory of my father better together. That A Sharp Piece of Awesome has taken them as a whole means more than I could ever express. And, that my first reading could be of these poems is an honor I will always carry.
I have, below, a video of me reading the first two poems, “Cycles” and “From Regret”.
There are a number of well-written poems, stories, and vignettes in this collection that I had the joy of hearing at the release party, and I can’t wait to dig in! Currently, I do not think there is anywhere to purchase the journal online, but if it pops up anywhere, I will be sure to post a link.
For now, here are the two poems I read.
The stairs leading up to my home
shrink and swell with the seasons that pass,
creaking hesitance at wielding another load.
Father, flickering like a fluorescent about to die,
insisting I undertake the rite of my commencement.
Then gone—toxins corroding his ‘goodbye’.
Promises to take me and my sisters hunting
(he’d always wanted boys)
hanging like banners without wind in the open air.
Studying by lantern light,
sleeping in a cold bath
in his desert town,
he said it was for us:
his dogged pursuit of success
in a powerless house.
I hold his death close now,
like a handful of marbles,
afraid they’ll scatter
like his once cinched
There is nothing left to immortalize
but what’s in me that was once his;
this is it
It started with Hep C,
but right before
cancer on the already failing liver;
so from regret we are delivered.
No need to announce it
I’ll keep on living
the same old life.
No, I don’t feel bad for
smoking this cigarette
or having this drink.
becomes a skill after so long.
I eat. I drink. I copulate. I sleep.
Do I stop one life to mourn the loss of another?
Do I get a tattoo that says ‘Dad,
R.I.P. one-one-eleven, Happy fucking New Year’?
No. I’d rather celebrate
his triumphs or explore his vices
as I enjoy this beer.
But not remembering the sound of his voice
in irritation or jest,
how he looked,
how he smelled after a shave or a cigarette,
therein lies the fear.
I apologize for having to tell you like this, but it is truly the best way. I cannot go on pretending like nothing is the matter, and I fear you will think I have been trying to keep it secret if I do not disclose it. You deserve the truth. You need it if you are going to continue loving me for who I am. Otherwise, you will be loving a charlatan, a goddamn phony, a lie.
I have an addiction–one that trumps all others–a madness, really. I lose sleep over it. I sleep in over it. I may be seen in a depressive, moody, or distracted state. I know I’ve been missing a lot of family functions; I put off dinner dates; I haven’t called in weeks. I have probably come off as a procrastinator, a shut-in, a misanthropic, paranoid, socially awkward sociopath, constantly referring to the phantasms of my delusions. This is why. I will not ask you not to worry in spite of all this. You should. Because it isn’t an addiction I can ever quench.
I know what it is doing to me, but I can’t stop. I’ve tried. I listlessly lounge about, seeking release from its constant heavy presence–its grating breath behind every thought, but it remains.
It is both a love and a chaotic destruction of myself. I cannot–will not ever stop. I had to write this, because you deserve the truth:
Do you ever just get the urge to start cursing and/or ranting and raving, while waving around a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other? I do. The trouble is, I act on it. Potential hazards of writer’s lot may include but are not limited to substance abuse and misanthropic exchanges.
All writers fear the dreaded writer’s block–whether we handle it proactively or shake in a corner, feeling as though we’ve lost purpose in life because inspiration has seemingly abandoned us (I fall into the latter camp). Regardless of how we handle it, we still fear it. While this is a serious condition for writers, this post will be about another condition I have decided to call ‘writer’s lot’. Perhaps it is a kind of defense mechanism against writer’s block. Or perhaps I am making too many generalizations here. Hey, it’s an occupational hazard of being human.
For now, I’m distilling writer’s lot down to the use and/or abuse of alcohol, but I do not seek to demean the severity of alcoholism. I talk a lot about addiction on this blog–and will continue to do so–as I have my own issues with it (in fact, on my 6th 1st day of ‘quitting’ smoking, the itchy craving is almost paralyzing right now). I don’t want to blame my issues with addiction on being a writer, or my late father, who was a functioning alcoholic. I don’t do it because I’m unhappy either.
I do it to let go, to free my creativity and inhibitions, to get lost in a place that’s sometimes difficult for me to access without that kind of stimulant. Not that I encourage alcohol abuse, but used in moderation, it has its uses. As good ol’ Hemingway said:
In an excellent article by Blake Morrison, “Why Do Writers Drink?” , John Cheever is quoted as saying “The excitement of alcohol and the excitement of fantasy are very similar.” According to the article, poems were recited in ancient Greece during symposiums and soirees that involved heavy imbibing and perhaps an occasional visit from Bacchus himself—depending on how smashed you were. And I wouldn’t doubt it. But why?
Morrison outlines some well-known writers who seem to have fallen into the torrid clutches of writer’s lot: Edgar Allen Poe, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Sexton, Patricia Highsmith, Jack Kerouac, John Berryman, and Charles Bukowski…just to name a few.
I think this condition draws people in because we naturally seek things which alter our normal state of being–caffeine, euphoria from exercise, sex, and sometimes mind-altering substances. Drinking affects our mind-state. Many who leisurely drink (or addictively drink) do it for this very reason. I do it for this reason. But how does it affect the mind-state in a way that Hemingway and other prolific writers saw as beneficial?
My assumption is that when you drink, just like when you fantasize, your logic and reasoning can easily be placed on the back burner, freeing your creative mind or just your illogical/emotional self to run rampant on the pages. This is perhaps the little piece inside ourselves that Bukowski would sleep with night after night but never cried about—only acknowledged that little blue bird of feeling while thrusting it out of sight in the light of day.
Morrison mentions that Olivia Laing, who wrote The Trip to Echo Springs: Why Writers Drink, endeavored on her journey to explore the disease to which the people she knew and loved fell victim. Laing does not approach the topic of authorship and drinking romantically at all. And that’s okay. It all comes down to perspective. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist though–writer’s lot. To this, Stephen King would say (and did) “creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what? We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.” [92, On Writing]
I don’t hold a grudge against my father, nor do I think less of the people that partake in this; I choose to see it as the loosening and lubricating of the mind-state, though not to be depended upon. Indulging in a bit of writer’s lot sometimes helps me attain this goal:
Didn’t someone once say in vino veritas?
I am curious to know what others think about this. Is my perspective on this riddled with undue romanticism? Or do you agree? How would you characterize your own strain of writer’s lot?
Had a dream about a little boy. I was looking out a window. It was snowing, so when I saw the blood shooting out of this boy’s chest, the color contrast itself was the most startling. Once outside, I pulled the child’s shirt back to find a flower-shaped wound, burned around the edges of the gaping hole, like a javelin was dipped in acid and stuck through from the back. I called for help and tried to staunch the bleeding. You hear of people being all noble and patient in moments like that—level-headed and calm. Well, I wasn’t. I was pretty goddamn distraught that this kid was bleeding all over the place. Sometimes I amuse myself by looking up dream meanings. Sometimes I actually do it to find meaning. Whether for amusement or answers: saving a child in one’s dreams signifies an attempt to save a part of oneself that’s being destroyed.
I wake up and drink cup after cup of black coffee. I love the high I get from coffee. I may have a problem with addiction. My work has been weighing on my mind. I wonder what the hell I am doing. The question that will remain unanswered is how the hell can I not?
When the sun has just passed its meridian in the sky, I finally get a cart that doesn’t squeak and feel the day might just be a glorious one. It starts squeaking after about 20 feet. Standing at the check stand, waiting for the cashier to finish sliding my purchases over the window with the electric eye, I think the reason we feel so good when we consume is that it fulfills a biological instinct—maybe it’s just all the advertising though. Later, my psychic aunt seeks me out for insightful inspirations. A progeny to her oracle? Or perhaps just fucked up psychologist… Need I point out the irony?
I see the smoke in the sky and instead of wondering what building has burned, I think it must be from the fire that used to be my life. Never mind. This is not some depressing diary entry that will, after I drink/smoke/caffeinate myself to death, live in infamy along with my work that was previously unrecognized while living. No. I got all that angst out as teenager. It’s just a perspective shift. There’s a lick of flame still burning inside.