Today’s piece was supposed to be a harrowing tale of liquor, lust, and primer-gray Camaros haunting the new, improved James. In this particular instance a black Trans-Am played the role of the primer-gray Camaro, but the spirit remained. I’ll leave it at that for now. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to that draft next week and finish it up, but right now I’m just too goddamned tired.
I’m not referring to physical exhaustion, though I’m enjoying a dose of that. No, I’m emotionally tired; spiritually tired; tired of losing; tired of failing. In recent weeks I’m 0 for 3 landing spoken word gigs, and I’m 0 for I Don’t Want To Count on written submissions. I’m a 46 year-old man spinning his wheels in a business that has no interest him, and still I write because I’m too damned stupid to stop.
Times like these my mind is manic, scattered. It’s like a hummingbird darting from flower to flower while I give chase, camera in hand, never able to pull focus. This is no time to write about midnight waffles and Trans-Am driving rednecks wearing parachute pants. I imagine my gut hollowed out and filled with black bile, and the hummingbird darts to Robert Burton and drinks a little melancholy.
At one point I owned five copies of The Anatomy of Melancholy. At the time I thought that I would be teaching English someday, but that didn’t work out. I just don’t see it, a friend of mine said. I don’t think you’d be a very good teacher. But maybe that’s not why I owned five copies anyway. Maybe it was just my broken brain teetering on hoarding, clinging to flotsam. I’m down to one copy, by the way: a 1907 edition that has never been read, it’s quarto pages never cut at the top.
This morning the little hummingbird flew up to the attic. You have to clean it! Right now! Combustible material! Combustible material! Off I went, somewhat manic, purging my attic of boxes and paper and things that go poof. Most of what I chucked was pure garbage, but there were a couple of wins in the battle against attachment. I tossed my childhood airplane postcard collection, for example.
I think about death a lot, or more specifically dying well. This is not a wish for death, but a wish for acceptance. It’s going to come eventually, and I want to do it right. Studies indicate that how well one dies is a factor in both the length and depth of his or her survivors’ depression. Those patients who have not planned well leave their families with difficult choices regarding their last days, and that leaves scars.
Interestingly, some studies suggest that many terminal patients live the same length of time or longer if they eschew treatment, accept reality, and enjoy their last days. We are some very strange bags of talking water, us humans.
And off the little hummingbird goes again, this time landing on Soundgarden’s “Fell On Black Days,” and there goes the earworm. How could I know / That this would be my fate?
Maybe it’s time to scrap this whole enterprise. Over the last 2.5 years I’ve written 500 pieces. I don’t know how many words that is, but they keep stacking up like split logs and I don’t even have a fireplace. Five-hundred bottles, washed up on the shore. Maybe it’s time to stop.
But I won’t, because I can’t. Prior to that prolific 2.5 years I spent 25 miserable ones doing my best to avoid writing for fear of hurting someone or not living up to my adult obligations. Fear of failure, fear of black days. You’re just not that good. You need a real job. You’re not funny. Almost nobody makes a living as a writer. All of these practical soundbites from well-meaning people and the ill-meaning nasty little bastard who lurks inside of me, all of them true, none of them relevant.
My hummingbird brain is dipping its beak in the notion that “writer” is too broad of a term. Superficially the word means nothing more than “one who writes,” but we imbue it with subtext: “One who makes a living via his or her written output”; “One who writes well, whatever the hell that means”; “an artist whose chosen medium is words.”
There should exist a second definition of “writer,” though, that is concerned less with choice, quality, or outcome, and more with pathology. Whether I write well or poorly, whether I am artist or hack, whether I ever make another dime from my stack of split wood is meaningless. In some instances “writer” connotes a compulsive individual who has no control over whether to write. Unfortunately, I fall into this category.
Now and then I’ll read an article about growing one’s writing business. They usually focus on what sorts of things to write in order to place pieces, i.e., “business and management how-to’s are hot right now,” or whatever, and I always leave thinking well, I guess I’m not a writer, because I could give fuck all about wasting my time writing that even if it means a paycheck. Hey, maybe I can work up a story about that time I farted in the bathtub….
I don’t know that I envy “real” writers, nor do I look down my over-sized novelty nose at them. I just don’t understand them. Do they share my compulsion, or are they simply mercenaries with keyboards? Does that 50 Shades guy feel like his gut is filled with black bile when he doesn’t drain the ink out, or does he just laugh his way to the bank? If I could choose not to be a writer I would in a heartbeat, because although there are moments of great satisfaction it gets miserable carrying around a big goddamned writing monkey on my back.
When I fall on black days the best I can do is chase my hummingbird mind around and snap quick photos as I can, and that’s the best that I can offer you today. You are good people, forgive me. I won’t abuse your good nature next week; in fact, I think I have a good angle on that bathtub fart story. Stay tuned.
“Haven’t you noticed the rays?
The spirit Sun is stronger.
And a new day is dawning for us all.
Hummingbird don’t fly away, fly away.”
Did you just bust out the Seals & Crofts? Geez, Robbo, your stacks go deep.
James, Apparently this urge to write/ create is a life sentence. I feel you. I also hear and I see you. You are unique, and I applaud your brutal honesty. I get so sick of this “be positive” crap. Thank you for describing your darting mind and your bile gut, we who have the life sentence as well, we all feel invisible at times, even when there are many onlookers who listen and watch for a scrap of something to ignite their imagination, or just make them giggle or sigh with recognition. I know they sit silently in the dark waiting, hiding… But they are there!! I RELATE!!! You may not even get this response because I too feel invisible today. And tomorrow I will sing yet another new song that someone may, or may not appreciate. Keep em coming James, you are not alone in this!! Xx
Thank you, Tawny.
Isn’t that funny? When you liked Pardon My Sausage!, one of the other contributors asked, “Who’s James Stafford?” I responded, “A writer friend of mine, lives out in Californ-i-ay.” I can’t even remember what your “real” job is. Network admin? For a bank, maybe? Whatevs. You’re a writer friend of mine who also draws and plays guitar.
My real job? Doctor. Night Doctor.
I’ve had several people ask recently about the painting hanging in my living room. My response is always the same. My artist friend James sent it to me. That statement actually sells you a little short. You are an extraordinary artist and will always be more than my friend.
Well how about that? I’d love to see a photo of said painting hanging in your living room.
As an ardent fan of your writing, I am pleased that you intend to keep on writing.
Thank you, Bud. I’ll keep it coming as long as I can 🙂
I don’t mean this to sound fatuous…although I think it does…but I really envy you your burden. When I was very young, I thought I’d surely write, but I found that I am lacking that inner drive. You are so talented and we are so lucky that you are driven to write. You are one of the most well rounded artists I’ve ever “known”, even managing to produce a couple of children who seem to be smart, secure, and compassionate. Keep on doing whatever it is that you’re doing. Please.
Thanks, Laura B. When you’re ready to write you’re going to be great, without a doubt.
If you ended this, I’d feel far more alone in the universe. I hope you don’t ever choose to.
I’m not going anywhere yet, V. I’m too stupid to stop 🙂
Because i am completely selfish and I have needs that need to be met, I am glad you have that monkey on your back. If you ever knocked your writers monkey off, this reader junkie would be out in the cold with no fix. And really, isn’t it a little bit better to have misery with some words to show for it, words that other people enjoy, rather than the twenty-five years of misery that had no words and nobody enjoyed? These shit days are like food poisoning – ya gotta eat, and sometimes it’s going to make you puke.
It’s much better to have misery with some words to show for it, yes. You’re dead on with that one.