Saturday, October 15, 2011

How I Will Survive The Next Week

So things have not been optimum around the house lately. A vast confluence of events ranging from my work on the novel to the missus's relatives and so on and so forth have all been good. But. I'd say the boat's rocking too much, but I love a boat in motion. Maybe there are too many turns on this mountain highway. There comes a point where equilibrium is desired.

Ain't gonna happen soon. The missus, who is a bit of a rock-star type, is being flown off to a bodywork convention. Whole shebang's paid for. Picked up by a limousine. That kind of thing. That's my gal.

Frankly, I love the idea that she's gonna get this kind of boost. But I hate the idea that she's going to go away for a week. Especially now when I'm feeling a wee tad vulnerable after the various to-dos.

So, we've worked things out. I've got protein bars, hot dogs, V-8, sprouted whole-grain bread, veggie burgers, peanut butter, three bean salad with extra long beans, and tangerines. This is not something that I'm proud of, but when I'm alone I rarely give a shit about eating, so it turns out I'm best off giving up on doing anything but grimly stuffing down whatever calories I can get myself to ingest. So I've stocked up on the lowest common denominators, and allowed myself medical defense for my gastronomically abject status. Sainted Ghost of M.F.K. Fisher, think of sludge and forgive me.

That said, I've got a leftover pack of chicken thighs and a guest-purchased jar of Bulgarian buttermilk, and I think I may have to make something along a green curry/tandoori axis. Although fried chicken would be very nice...

And I'm going to eat out a good bit. Taking advantage of my parasite status, I reached out to friends and said, hey. I'm gonna go nuts if I don't get some company. So I'm going to have company nearly every day.

In addition, I have a straightforward task ahead of me, and one which I will relish. Line edits and plot polishes. Lots of time in bed with the dogs and a red pen and masses of marked-up manuscript from readers. Lots of time examining every use of the word 'I.'

And both advice and experience have lead me to the final act. I'm gonna read the fucker out-loud from beginning to end when I'm all done just to make sure it truly flows properly. I do hear the words in my head as I work, but it's not a hundred per-cent. I need to know that it's possible to read this out loud. Because I'm going to have to read this out loud. So why step on my own self?

So. Daily phone chat with the missus, regular company -- even to the point of hanging out with people more than once a day sometimes! -- a steady diet that will neither kill me nor require me to work anything more complicated than the toaster oven, the presence of the dogs, and a genuinely fascinating and rewarding task.

Yes, I want my sweetie home. I hate sleeping alone, all respect to the dogs. Yes, I long for a sense of return to routine and semi-stability.

But I'll be fine. I'll have a few laughs, and I'll get the job done. Won't sleep as much as I like, spend too much time pacing and fidgeting and so on.

But I'll be fine. As they say, planning and preparation prevent piss-poor performance. And I'm learning that many of the key tricks to being gifted rather than crazy come down to planning and preparation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ghost Rock Draft 11 Is Done

Somewhere between seven and eight years. Eleven drafts. (And three drafts of volume two, and an outline for volume three...) I ain't going over the names of the people who helped me right now, but I'm thinking of them.

I still have the delightful process of line edits and minor fixes and fussing with my writer's groups. Then? Off to the races.

There will be submissions to both agents and editors, with a particular eye cast on foreign markets.

And there will be a pre-professional edition. This is still in discussion and consideration, but tentatively? Two magazine-format volumes, illustrated, a signed, numbered limited release for friends and publicity. Most of y'all reading this will have a shot at one of those if you're interested. Just going to fish for some buzz...

Yeah, the book is an encrypted transformative ritual, a dissection of PTSD anatomized as landscape, an integration of personal, national, pre-Classical, and archetypal mythology with pop culture and genre fiction, about as thinly-veiled a memoir as you could ask, and so on and so forth to an intolerable extent. This is not a novel; it is a meme bomb in which the arts, sciences, and personal pathology intertwine to a hideous degree.

But how the fuck can I get an agent to look at the goddamned thing? Here's my first shot at a synopsis. Please, this would be an excellent time to comment -- does this make you interested in the manuscript?

Ghost Rock

If they put out a benefit calender for terminal virginity, Matt Cassad would be Mister February. Janitor Matt spends his time in his room, futzing around with his sketchbooks and his bass while pursuing his life-goal of withering into a bitter husk.

His cozy, miserable life goes all to hell with the entry of Lulu and Willy, a pair of homeless musicians. Something awakens in him, a sensitivity to an unseen world. Then a shoving match over an attempted mugging leads to a vengeful death by fire. Matt's involvement propels him into an escalating series of vividly biological hallucinations. When reality shatters, he finds himself the rescuer of a decaying afterlife – and a participant in a post-mortem vendetta as he’s pursued between worlds by the ghosts of the men involved in the mugging. (He's killed them once or twice, depending on how you count these things.)

Someone else wants Matt. Corrie. Is she the green-haired goddess of a bizarre evolutionary hothouse, an ageless siren with wisdom beyond human years, or is she "a four-hundred-year old little fat girl who talks like a cross between Benjamin Franklin and Madame Blavatsky?" Opinions vary.

The gods, guns, ghosts, madness, monsters, superpowers, and explosions are Matt’s meat and drink. Matt is ready to fight, and Matt is ready to die. Matt’s struggle is inside, where hatred of self wars with the need for others. This has always been Matt’s fight to lose. Now, when Lulu and Willie's lives are at stake, what chance does he have?

That depends on the power of love. And rock and roll.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An Immigrant In The Country Of Love

This essay started when I tried to express my gratitude to my dad for a burger, and my friend Deborah for her generosity -- two cocktails, a beer, and another burger was the specific damage. When putting the post together in my head, I realized that I'd done a print expressing the theme for the last issue of Swill. I almost never incorporate humans in my art -- but when I did this piece, I used a photo of Deborah. Odd loops, odd loops.

Can you picture your house? Not the house you live in, not the house you grew up in. Your internal house. The place your soul lives.

The image of my house comes instantly to mind when I call on it. The sky is cool gray, the ground is warm gray, the house is neutral gray. No rain will ever fall from the roiling clouds that stream across the sky; they're heavy with the debris of distant explosions. The ground is blasted ash, worn into coral-like shapes by the wind; boots sink inches into it. You cannot walk without destroying the only beauty in the landscape.

My house is a concrete cube. Curved and pointed, black horns and thorns sprout in rough profusion along its edges. On each side, high and in the middle, there is a small window. There are no doors.

If you see this house, your death has been contemplated. Probably not considered with intent, but if you see this house? Your body is an object. Objects are broken sooner or later. This is war, and no-one survives.

The top of the cube is open to the weather and undefended. I never thought anything that flew would want to hurt me.

I have decided to move; you have taken me to a different place, and while I understand why I made my house the way I did, it no longer acts in service to my life. I still spend much of my time there, but I prefer to live with you. One day I will walk away and I will not feel as if I'm leaving home. On that day, I will become a citizen of the country of love.

I've been mistaken for a military man by people who have served. I believe this stems from my basic approach to life -- it can erupt in savagery at any moment, so be ready to fight all the time. I have consciously struggled my whole life to be open and available emotionally to the people around me, so it's been a surprise to find that there are parts of me I've guarded so fiercely that they've never been touched before.

Illness and poverty have stripped away certain illusions I have entertained about myself, and my place in the world. I have always valued myself based on utility. What am I good for? How can I contribute? What can I do to help?

And despite the kindness that has been shown to me over the years, I've seen the world as a fundamentally hostile place to a much greater degree than most people do. To the point where it has undermined my ability to function in the world. I know what it is like to be hated, and I know what it is like to be despised and I know what it is like to be held in contempt and I know what it is like to be feared.

Much of love is new to me.

I'm not talking about romantic love. I'm talking about the binding regard and affection that people have for one another. Now that I'm in a place in my life where I am of virtually no practical use whatsoever, I have been brought face-to-face with what I currently regard as the root good in life.

Connection. Kindness. Mutual regard. Affection.

It is easy enough to give lip service to these things. When you see them clearly, they are frighteningly powerful. These days I find myself periodically overwhelmed by the sensation of being cared for. The idea that I'm a passing concern in the minds of people I will never meet. The idea that I'm a source of pleasure and solace in the lives of those close to me. I don't sob, but tears flow painlessly from my eyes, and all I can do is endure the feeling that I am cared for, thought of, held in regard, valued. It is joy experienced with the same overwhelming intensity as rage.

The idea that we live in a hierarchy angers and frightens me -- but that anger and fear are being ameliorated by the notion that kindness is also an organizational principle, and it's one that has been brought to bear on me.

Here's what brought this home to me. What dropped right on the roof, where there are no defenses.

I mostly gave up solitary drinking a while ago. I stopped buying comic books more than a year ago, ending a lifelong habit in order to finance my writing education. The very last bit of my money ran out a while back, and I am currently living on kindness and the seeming likelihood that I may receive a disability pension.

This means that there are no little indulgences readily available to me. The tiny treats that I used to coax myself an inch at a time through life are, at least for the moment, over, and have been for some time. If something goes wrong, I don't have the option of promising myself a reward. If things go right, I don't have the option of celebration. There is nothing special at my command.

I missed this dreadfully at first. Dearth sucks.

But here's where things got squirrely on me.

I do get a drink and a smoke. I do get a book and some music. From time to time I get to eat at nice places. I've even traveled a little.

I get the small pleasures in my life from the people around me, and they are given to me because I am valued. Because time spent with me is a small pleasure in itself, a nurturing indulgence, and people like it. What initially seemed like incredible generosity on the parts of my friends has revealed itself as compassionate self-interest.

If I read a new book or look at new art or listen to new music, it is because the missus got it for me at a yard sale. So when I take in these aesthetic experiences, they are flavored by the knowledge that this is something the missus desired for me. She like it when I get things I like. It makes her happy when I enjoy them.

When I have a drink, it is because someone I respect and admire wants to have the experience of drinking with me.

If I take a trip, it is because my company is desired.

When I fell ill, I was cared for, and the manifest kindness of the people around me was overwhelming. And now, as my life continues, that kindness has failed to abate. I've always understood that I'm not supposed to kill myself because it would make other people miserable. I'm just starting to understand that to my true friends, my delight in life is a tangible and valued resource.

This is radically changing my experience of life. I'm gaining a much more feminine perspective -- I value myself based on who loves me as well as what I can do. As a result, I feel more valued both internally and externally. And the process of connecting with the world is increasing in intensity as it builds -- I'm a long way from equilibrium here.

What I thought was true was wrong. I am not actively hated. The world does not seek my destruction with intent. Most intent that is held toward me is positive. I thought I had a house but it wasn't a house. It was a bunker. You know who lives in bunkers during peacetime? Prisoners. Now I don't have a house, but I'm at home in the world. Uncertain but at ease. I don't know where I am, but I don't feel lost.

When I decided to take my art into the world, I approached it as though entering battle. My metaphor was entirely incorrect, and much of the emotional destabilization of the last years has been due to this.

Now I see my art differently. I see myself differently. And I see my place in the world differently.

I am no longer at war. I have been taken into the country of love, and war has no place there. I have to face the challenge of allowing people to be kind to me. Altruism is a basic desire, and to allow others to fulfill it is a kindness in itself, and I have to struggle for that kindness.

To ask for what I need -- let alone what I want -- is one of the greatest difficulties in my life. To do so when I am useless for nearly all practical purposes runs contrary to my rules for myself -- while I certainly wouldn't apply this to others, useless people should die. I feel as if I have been presented with a coward's life.

But if I'm honest with myself, I know that the feeling of having done something good for someone is terrific. And to a certain degree my resistance to having my needs and desires met is a form of hostility. A preemptive rejection.

I am learning to be open about what I want without expectation of either fulfillment or disappointment, how to be grateful without resentment, and most of all to appreciate that there is a mutualism in generosity, and that sincere gratitude and appreciation are worth the trouble just so I can feel as if I'm taking my part properly.

First I felt like a shovel. Then I felt like a broken shovel.

Now? I feel like a treat. I'm a stinky cheese, a single-malt scotch, a neat nugget of the kind bud, a hit of DMT. You wouldn't want to live on a diet of me, but for some folks? If they don't get a little now and then, they feel deprived. Being a luxury item is disturbingly pleasant.

I do not believe I will always be poor. I know how people who know react to my work. I think I will go someplace.

But I am no longer conducting a war. I am no longer staking outposts with my work, and I am growing less interested in chastisement and more interested in the cultivation and encouragement of life's joys and beauties. I can do Swift and Kafka fine; I can do the Thompsons Jim and Hunter. I can Giger your ass nine ways from Sunday, Bacon you til the cows come home. That end of the spectrum seems juvenile in isolation. I want to be able to do Bach and Renoir as well. I am trying to pry my arms open so I can embrace the world.

Hell is easy for me. And I never take the easy way.

I am not pursuing a career in the arts. I am using my talent and abilities to enter into new places so that I can find more friends. Thusly do I accommodate the trauma of discovering that the art world is a social world. At some point, some of my friends will make money with some of my projects. (This sounds dippy. It's solidly practical. Just you watch.)

This is the hidden gift of the outsider -- I belong nowhere, but my friends are everywhere. I have drank with winos and with millionaires, and I am realizing that my whole attitude toward the human species is racist, and that I need to get over it. There is an element in my regard for mankind that is genuinely hateful. I need to cut that shit out. People are people, and I like people.

I do not have a house in the country of love. But I have been made so welcome that I do not feel the need yet. I'm still a warrior, but I like having parts of me that aren't edge or armor. I allow myself that luxury both because of you and for your sake.

As I've said before, I don't love myself, but I don't need to love myself. I have a team that takes care of that little problem, and they do a much better job than I ever could.

If I had a great big blog, I couldn't say this. But this is a small room, we pretty much all know each other, and any strangers that wander in are either welcome or entertainment.


Thanks, y'all. I appreciate it.