Nobody wants to pay you what you’re worth. For anything. Ever.
You don’t get into the business of writing because you wanted a quick way to make some cash. If so, day trading and prostitution would have been much more viable options. But you wanted to write, because it seemed like happiness was the most viable option and money wasn’t necessarily the way to achieve that. But like every other human being currently living in a Capitalist society, you need money to pay your rent and maybe enough to go to the hospital if you need your appendix removed. Anyone can start up a magazine, and even without offering any pay they usually have writers clamoring to submit and have their name in a byline.
It’s difficult to be human, but we all have very important jobs perpetuating the human race, and making ourselves better to contribute to the betterment of all humankind and ultimately the universe, probably shouldn’t be an easy job. Whether you’re a corporate executive, a coal-miner, or a kid who dropped out of college so he can fish all day and roleplay a werewolf on an IRC channel at night, it doesn’t matter. Your task is still critical – be human.
I haven’t written anything in nearly two weeks. I needed to take a break, but sometimes even when I feel like I don’t have the energy to write the engines keep burning. It makes it difficult to accomplish the goal of relaxation when you’re ready to spring at any time. I could sit down with a beer and a pizza and watch “Rich Kids of Instagram” on youtube to try to relax, but my shoulders would feel the tension of work unfinished and when I pressed my thighs together I’d feel the roughness of a match ready to ignite. Then I’d dream of upheaval, the hours would go by as I “relaxed” and then I’d haul my body as it smoked to my computer, to feel I was even more tired than I was before.
For one of my essays I wrote for my UT admissions (I did get accepted, by the way, but California called to me instead) I wrote about how important it was to have playtime, not just in a philosophical sense, or that it’s “nice to take care of yourself”, but because of mental processes that are taking place when the brain is disengaged from its task. Something called the default mode network, which is only active when you’re not focused, solidifies memory and enhances creativity. It’s not noble to work yourself to death, it’s inherently foolish. Think of the brain as bicameral, bifurcated. It needs dreams and waking, night and day, elation and sadness, stress and relaxation.
It’s easy to forget, that every process is purposeful.
Even the ones we don’t want.
Sometimes I wake and cling to a cup of coffee because I feel like if I don’t have something to hold onto, I’ll be thrown off the Earth.
Some days there is no center to me.
I drink gin and brush my hair and I try to force the Californian sunlight to make me into something better than myself.
Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of state, coined the phrase “Unknown unknowns.” There are known unknowns, things we don’t know, and unknown unknowns, things we don’t even know that we don’t know.
I know that I could improve upon my Spanish, I know that I write too much about crazy mothers and small-town prophets, I know that I panic and freeze in moments of crisis, I can snap at people I love when I feel irritable, I don’t take enough time to appreciate consciousness.
I can work on these things, because I know that they’re there.
But I also know there’s a dark side I can’t yet comprehend just behind me, something mysterious, a void glinting in the shape of my shadow.
And that -thing- whatever it is, might be crucial to the years coming forward.
Except, I don’t know what it is.
That’s where the default mode network becomes crucial. It fills in blank gaps, makes connections that you cannot while you’re stuck staring intensely at a problem.
I know that once I started actually searching for the answers then I found them – epiphany upon epiphany unearthed themselves, like a shower of rainbows that came bursting from my dirty clawing fingernails. Even when I’m not working, the subconsciousness is set upon the answers. There are things I know now that a year ago would have been incomprehensible to me, that if someone had explained them to me I wouldn’t have understood, not until I felt their shape.
I think one of the most difficult things to write about is a character experiencing epiphany. Knowing something you didn’t know before, because all the pieces that you’ve acquired throughout the time before have suddenly converged into a full understanding. Written poorly, it can seem like magic, like the writer trying to force a plot point forward, shoving the character through a hole in the pages. That’s because epiphany isn’t really a conscious process. It’s something underwater and deep, but still, crucial to our understanding.
But oftentimes, it’s really the only way to learn – great effort yielding nothing but dirt and more dirt, and then suddenly-
Jewels and blood, showering you with resplendence, gnosis.
I want to learn how to write about that moment. I think it’s one of the most beautiful human experiences.
And I want more of it for myself.
To turn the unknown unknowns at least into known unknowns. That’s all I’m asking for now.
Tomorrow I go back to write, back to the page with all its mysterious terrors, turning over stones. The perpetual questing machine. Maybe it will yield nothing – but searching always has a way of turning up more answers than inertia – doesn’t it?i
The act of writing day to day is such an isolating experience. I rarely leave my little den except to take my puppies to the park, or maybe go to the grocery store to pick up more chicken jerky and k-cups. Mostly I enjoy my quiet. It gives me the focus to take the everyday deep-dives into the snarled web of my consciousness, and occasionally bring back something useful. But it can also be derealizing – you can lose touch with reality, with the idea that what you’re doing has any use or value. Live too long in a dream, and the dream begins to warp you.
The moments when you can actually see the effect that your writing has on the outside world are rare. Going into a reading and meeting with other writers often seems to give me shellshock. Everything is actualized and real. You get to see the writers themselves, projecting forth the creations they made inside their isolated neurological soup. This past Friday I was asked to participate in Laura Lee Bahr’s “Bahr Crawl,” in which she travels across the country taking part in readings with other bizarro authors.
I read an except from my short story, Skin Suits, which will be out this year in A Breath from The Sky from Martian Migraine Press. You can see my transformation – from the protagonist in black, to the suit of “Sara” in the blue fur. I hadn’t really practiced my transition – so I think there were a few seconds where everyone thought I was stripping in the middle of my reading. Gabino Iglesias said he thought I’d finally snapped.
Laura read from her short story collection Angel Meat, out from Fungasm Press this year. Everytime I step into a room with Laura, she seems to make the air brighter. She’s radiant and vulnerable and open. I think the cover of her new collection manages to accurately capture her likeness
I crawled out of my cavern the other day to talk to J David Osborne on his podcast, The JDO Show. We talk about working on videogames, different game narratives, horror movies, my time with a group of vindictive witches, near-death experiences, gnosticism, Philip K. Dick, augmented reality, and why life isn’t as bad as we seem to think it is.
Someone told me a few days ago that they thought happiness was a form of self-delusion, or at least was heavily leaning toward that idea. (He’ll know who he is when he reads this, but I don’t think he’ll mind.) I used to think that was a valid idea, and I’ve seen it repeated often enough. If I have to be honest it made me feel smug and self-satisfied in my unhappiness. If, after all, my unhappiness was a result of my intelligence and inability to deceive myself to the cruelty of the world, then I couldn’t be blamed for my inaction or the ways in which I perpetuated my own misery.
The execution of happiness can be extraordinarily complicated, but the premise is simple: Find things that make you happy, and do things that make you happy, and happiness will result.
Not what other people say will make you happy. Not what you -feel- should make you happy. Not what’s easy, and not what’s right. But what will legitimately, assuredly, speak to the little creature that rests in your heart, and stirs at the sight of something wonderful.
There are children starving in this city and if you stab me I will die, but sometimes my boyfriend will get me Redbull and smile at me and I know what it feels like to be warm between two sleeping puppies.
If nothing makes you happy, then it’s not because you’re just so intelligent that you see too much. It is a processing problem. Plain and simple. If you go out to eat your favorite meal and someone is rude to you in the parking lot or someone is talking too loud and that ruins your whole experience – That’s not being smart enough to see the world for what it really is. That’s being stupid enough to focus on an aspect of something that makes you unhappy instead of the fact that you just ate something you enjoyed.
If I look at my dog and instead of seeing how much he makes me happy in that moment and instead, I see the moment when he dies or worry about him getting sick or focus on how he smells weird – I’m not being smart – that’s a fundamental processing problem. That’s an INABILITY to focus.
Maybe that’s why I’ve had so much trouble reading and writing horror lately. Some people write about ugliness like it’s revealing is a profound thing, but I want to write about more than ugliness, or the supposed evil inherent in all men, or how everything beautiful carries a little dark seed of dissent. We know people murder. We know people beat their wives. That tells me nothing profound about the world we live in or why any of it matters.
I get that terrible and sad things happen – and they should make us feel sad. That is good and proper.
But wonderful and good things happen as well – and they should make us happy. That is good and proper as well.
If a sunset or a cup of coffee doesn’t inspire a flutter of appreciation at being alive, that isn’t because the world is inadequate. It’s because you’re just not looking at it.
Today the table of contents for a Lovecraftian-inspired possession anthology was announced from Martian Migraine Press. My previously unpublished story, “Skin Suits,” will appear alongside stories by other writers such as Garrett Cook, Cody Goodfellow, and the eponymous Lovecraft himself. It should be available this summer.
Sometimes getting an announcement like this feels like coming out of the bomb shelter of my isolation to check the skies, breathe, see that I’m still a part of the human race. It’s always a shock, to pierce the veil of my mind with the realization that my writing continues to reach out further into the world.
Learning about wine feels like entering a deeper universe.
I keep thinking about infinity, how it’s not only forward and backwards, but inward and outward. Infinity is the capacity of every object and idea, and its interconnectedness with everything else. The sommelier spends years dedicating themselves to learning about the vastness that’s inside of grapes. GRAPES. And how these grapes intersect with taste, personality, terroir, culture, geography.
Everywhere you look, there’s something deep to explore, subterranean waters of consciousness.
I’m in my late twenties, so I feel like I want to begin to bring all my motion inward, to learn things like time management and cooking and wine now that I have a more stable sense of self. And also – to incorporate those sort of things into a deeper understanding of the world, and subsequently, my writing. I’ve been reading this book called “The Wine Bible”, scouring blogs, watching Youtube guides, prowling the local Specs, trying to compel my tastebuds to pick out subtleties of flavor.
I’m a part-time alcoholic, but I restrain it most days. And I’m not typically picky about my food, or my drink. I don’t have any compunction about downing an entire bottle of phosphorescent blue MD 20/20 if the times or tough, or if I have a little extra money, grabbing a bottle of absinthe off the shelves and sending myself down the blissful, black-licorice of blackout lane. The first time I got drunk I was 21, and my roommate offered me some Evans Williams, which everyone in the room was drinking straight from the bottle, with shooters of Pepsi or beer. I remembered eating a piece of pizza, vomiting all over my clothes, and then lurching around the backyard. From that day forward I was hooked on the low-high-low of the alcohol swing. I still can’t smell whiskey without imagining grease, dirt, the possibility of excitement like a little shining pulse where my heartbeat should be.
But when learning about wine, I have to be picky. I have to pull myself out of the disassociation fog I’ve spent most of my life in and really explore the complexity of subtlety. It forces me to slow down, to make informed choices, to really -think- about each action and motion that I make.
Trying to get wine pairings right is like Robert Johnson level sorcery. I tried to pair wine the other day with some spicy mac and cheese. I picked a sweet Riesling – which didn’t quite hit the mark, but I like the idea of pairing wines with foods that are out of the ordinary realm of what would be traditional pairings, like macaroni or ice-cream sandwiches or gummy octopus. (Although I should probably learn traditional first.)
The other day I made steak and paired it with a cabernet sauvignon. Robert showed me how eating the steak and wine at the same time brought out the flavor of cherry in the wine. He told me that after a hundred bottles or so, of categorizing and marking different tastes, I’d eventually get a sense of different tastes, and differences in the varietals.
People spend a lifetime dedicating themselves to learning these things.
That’s a lot of dedication, for something that doesn’t really make you a lot of money, if any, and honestly, makes you a little insufferable if you start spouting off about it at parties. It’s knowledge for knowledge’s sake. But hey, I drink a lot of wine.
Like I said, infinity. There’s something really delicious about how knowledge can never be complete, or our desire for more of it, never satisfied.
In order to be a writer, one must build a life that is conducive to writing.
For most of my life I found scraps of time to write, moments of soft isolation inbetween work, relationships, the everyday minutiae. I wrote pieces of The Crooked God Machine on the bathroom floor of an apartment, parts of We are Wormwood when I was a video game tester at Zynga. But as time went on, writing kept getting pushed further and further back in priority, and I stopped submitting, stopped promoting myself. Everything I wrote felt muted, flat, like I was forcing each word through a little keyhole.
I arrived back in Austin in 2014 feeling broken. I never thought I could reach a point where I felt drained of all creative energy – it seemed impossible to me to feel burn out, so I never treated the possibility with the respect that I deserved. Here I was, coming off of my antidepressants, feeling zapped, bewildered. I was angry, and I wanted to murder people for existing in my space on planet Earth. And all of that directed energy was not going into writing. So when I came to the page, nothing felt genuine. It was like I was a sleepwalker, going through familiar motions.
I wondered for a long time if I just didn’t want to write anymore.
But it’s easy to ignore all the work I put in, throughout my life, to prime my brain to be productive. And how such a machine may run for quite a long time, but without maintenance or proper care, would eventually break down.
Writing is a full time job. The work doesn’t happen once you arrive at the page – it starts from the moment you wake up, and has to carry itself with you throughout the day. The brain has to be working on these problems constantly. You have to synthesize your experiences, test creative problems. Writing is a record of sensory data, distilled into stories. If you don’t do the prerequisite work, to understand and analyze your experiences and what you want to convey – you may have nothing
I think a lot these days about how to create for myself a life that would best enable me to accomplish my goals. For the last several years, I’ve struggled to find a cadence with my writing, and I’ve tried to understand how I want it to define me, and how I want to approach it.
Now I have the time and the freedom to build something wonderful, but building something takes time.
I want to taste books like big meals, and make big meals to taste the universe. And I want to refine, test, and experience more of the world so I can bring that knowledge back to my quiet room. Not to get back to where I was post burnout, but to make something even more wonderful. A beautiful infrastructure, in which I can live, and write. I’m already seeing flowers growing along the back of my spine
The more I read about Edgar Allan Poe, the more that I can feel his loneliness permeating every word, how the trauma of being denied love in early life can chase you until you’re exhausted with the pain. For all my suffering – I can’t fathom what it’d be like to be Poe, with a father who abandoned him and a mother who died when he was barely three. With an engagement that was broken off, several mother figures who died, a wife that died, and a storm of poverty and broken poet-loves and rivalries and lost jobs.
Trying to live haunted by loss in such a way that the loss begins to define you. So that when he writes, he can only see beautiful things through how they’re framed by melancholy.
To have the people that he loved reject him, turn away from him. A cruelty that was heartwrenching, but often, self-imposed.
In his letters, Poe often lashes out like a child.
He writes to his aunt, Maria Clemm, after learning that Neilson Poe offered to take her and his wife Virgina in:
“I am blinded with tears while writing this letter — I have no wish to live another hour. Amid sorrow, and the deepest anxiety your letter reached — and you well know how little I am able to bear up under the pressure of grief. My bitterest enemy would pity me could he now read my heart. My last my last my only hold on life is cruelly torn away — I have no desire to live and will not ”
I see myself in those words and it hurts, to feel the childish gray warmth of sadness. Its familiarity. To think that if other people knew my pain, they would take pity on me, love me.
But it was never pain that drew people to me – it was all the things that’d survived in spite of it.
When I read about Poe, I see a sort of learned helplessness. He longs for other people to take care of him. Over and over I see him put himself into danger and poverty as if he’s trying to shine a beacon for help. He writes several letters to his adoptive father, John Allan, alternating between lashing out and asking for money and pity, until he’s forced to cut him off. He gets drunk so that his Maria Clemm must put him to bed. He broadcasts his pain, blaringly loud.
There were so many moments in his life where he could have found a way to pull himself together – to have his own magazine, or get steady employment, or after Virginia’s death – to have someone to love. But he deliberately destroys all of it with a startling, steadfast deliberation. Over and over again he puts himself into misery because he wants love to pull him out of it.
Poe never learned how to take care of himself. One of the greatest American writers of all time, a brilliant mind who actually wrote about the Big Bang years before it was an actual scientific theory, and his childlike desire to be picked up and helped and given affection often seemed to supercede all of his intelligence and insight.
It hurts to see the slow, spindling destruction of a life. An unnecessary destruction. It hurts because I see in many ways how he could be me, and I could be him, and all the paths my life could go.
I would not wish Poe’s life upon anyone. The writing hardly seems worth it for the constant, drilling, abject suffering that he puts himself through.
Not for the writing. He doesn’t suffer for the writing. He suffers for the child inside of him that comes out to wear his skin and sob across letters, desperate for the love of a mother that he can never have
I spent so long waiting for something beautiful to happen to me, that I thought maybe I could make waiting and sadness and inertial longing beautiful.
I often dreamed of Edgar Allan Poe coming through my window, holding out his hand to take me away from the hole that was my life. Virgina, Edgar, and I often played hide-and-go-seek in the dark woods. In my dreams, we weren’t exactly happy, but we were at home, together. Two melancholy writers holding out for the sun, one wife between us.
But nobody is going to come through my window and give me all of my dreams just because I want them. The beacon of my sadness doesn’t even penetrate my skin.
For all the ways I’ve struggled to stay independent and support myself, the child inside of me wants to be rocked and held and loved without conditions. It wants people to see our pain and take pity on us. As if by the virtue of our pain – we deserve affection.
But the reward for suffering is only more suffering.
He wept on her grave. He pressed his cheek to the cool dirt.
He wrote about the inception of the universe in “Eureka”, its expansion and eventual contraction, to try to come to terms with the way things died.
Women in his stories died, but they rarely stayed dead. They moved through death like a transformation. They lingered in the narrator’s mind, in the walls of his home.
I feel like he was trying to come to terms with the way things you loved died and left holes so enormous that it was as if you were forced to now live life looking up from their bottom.
We’re so afraid of loss that after a while, it felt like all we knew how to do was scream, to cling -please don’t go-. We built our lives around the fear of it. We tried so desperately to see it before it happened that we ended up perpetuating it. Loss becomes the raven, perpetually sitting on a bust of Athena. It is the constant, cawing companion.
But a life cannot be built around the fear of loss. Stability is a dream and nothing is permanent. If you could see the atoms of a boulder it’d look like the swirling of a catastrophic ocean.
Even the dream of forever doesn’t last forever.
One day you will lose the greatest thing that you possess – yourself. Your molecules will collapse in on itself, rearranged in infinite combinations, and continue on, but it will never recreate you again.
I can’t cry for the things that I lost anymore. Maybe one day I will become a brilliant writer, but I’ll never be able to enjoy it, entertain it – as long as I nurse the brink of loss and struggle to keep the ocean from slipping out of my hands.
You are always going to lose.
So I think – if I want any kind of peace, I have to ride the waves of loss, and write about the things that hurt, but also the little wondrous things, and look eastward, past all the sepulchres, to see what gifts that loss will bring me next.
Because loss did not just take things away from me. It is the same mechanism that brings me new joy, and people to love, and inspiration, and surprises, and warmth.
I wonder if Poe understood that, when he wrote Eureka, so close to his death. When he saw the universe perpetually unraveling and curling up, over and over and over again.