I got my first royalty payment from Eraserhead Press today, and it makes me think that occasionally the dream collides with reality.
In 2009 I ordered one of the ‘Bizarro Starter Kits’ in the mail and read it in my grandparent’s basement. I’d just heard of Carlton Mellick III and the whole bizarro genre, and was coincidentally reading “Naked Lunch” at the same time. I remembered thinking I wanted to be published by something like Eraserhead Press, even though my fiction never quite fit in with their aesthetic. Even at the age of 19 I was already “too weird to be mainstream,” and at the head of a cavalcade of rejection slips. But occasionally something beautiful and weird pushes its way into mainstream consciousness – Naked Lunch – and that’s what I wanted to do. Not because I had grand aspirations, but because I didn’t know how to write any other way.
At some point I pushed the idea out of my head – it seemed impossible. I was no one, and nothing I wrote would ever be good enough.
Those things that I carried for years, the hopes and dreams and fantasies that I thought would pull me out of the dense, black pit that was at the center of me. They formed a kind of exo-skeleton, an insectile armor plate, so thick that I could barely see out of my eyes. I froze inside of there. I simultaneously wanted something, and knew that I couldn’t have it. I mastered the art of dreaming without dreaming, of wanting something just enough that I could feel the pain of having it being denied. For years I lived this way.
But sometimes I realize, I CAN have what I want – and little cracks appear in the armor. I see out of the eyes a little more.
Even in the center of hopelessness, I never really stopped writing. There’d be periods I’d think about giving up. I slept on the floor in a house with no heating, shivering in all my clothes. When I woke in the morning my fingers would be so cold that I could barely type on my keyboard.
So I got gloves, and I wrote through the stiffness.
I can finally come to terms with the fact that I haven’t had an easy life. I’ve been told a thousand times over how ungrateful I am, for the things that I’ve been given. And I read stories about people who have mothers that force them to drink bleach, or sleep in their own piss. I’m white. I was raised middle-class. I’m educated. As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t always had the money to eat what I wanted, but I’ve never gone hungry, except by choice. I’ve been homeless for a brief period of time, I’ve lived in more places than I’m able to remember and almost never more than a few months, but I’m resourceful, so I was always able to find some kind of job. By the age of 22 I was making yuppy money and presenting design documentation to a bunch of directors, leading the design for multi-million dollar features. Now I don’t even have a job – but I have a computer, enough money to buy beer, my own office, no real responsibilities except the ones that I impose upon myself.
But the body doesn’t lie. It remembers what it’s like to be a frightened animal. Hissing, caught in the trap. Sometimes when someone stands too close to me panic will cascade through my body. A certain word, a certain phrase, will dissolve into me like an angry ghost. The child that can do nothing but scream is so close to the surface of the skin.
I keep writing – even though the whiskey is making something inside me twitch, and when I stare at the words on my laptop, cross-legged on the floor – something comes through. Something awful, and buried. It has no words. I only see the reflection of what I’ve written, and see how broken I am. It twists its way through my body. I’ve spent too much of my life crying because inside, I’m a desert.
I keep writing.
I read recently that when rats are scared they will always run back to their nest, even if that nest is crowded and dirty and inhospitable. There is a thing inside of us, some kind of mechanism, that has us always moving back toward the origin.
But what if they have no home to go to? What if the thing that is home has been obliterated, so that nothing is left but a gaping hole?
I carry around the skeleton of dreams.
I keep writing. Even though I entertain the idea of stopping often. I know it’s the only thing that’s holding me together. There have been very few people who have seen me go completely insane, but trust me, it’s a theatrical production. But writing always brings me back. It’s the reason why I can’t become a cocaine addict, or go to the mental hospital, or lose what’s left of myself. It’s the reason why I can’t become a thief, or a murderer, or throw myself off a balcony. Even though -I want to-. I want to know what it’s like to lose. To give up completely. I want the thrill of fucking over what I have often perceived to be a worthless life. But I can’t, because I have to-
I couldn’t help but often be disconnected from other writers, especially in college, or growing up, or in the Austin “scene”, where art is really just a disguised social activity. I hear people who say that they have to write to live, or if they’d write they’d die. Or that they’re CRAZY, they’re WRITERS. They BREATHE words.
And I have to wonder, do they know what it’s like to turn the headlights off in the middle of a rural road and drive plunging into the darkness? To touch your skin and be unable to feel it, because you’re so far gone into the ghost that is you? Did they ever wake up gasping almost every night, for months straight, terrified they were going to die before they finished their novel?
I stood in the center of a storm once, because I wanted to learn how to transmute the feeling of terror into words. I wanted to take all the awful feelings I’d ever felt and stretch them out, grow them, place them in the nursery and cradle them so that they’d go out into the world carrying the truth. I wondered if they went to therapy and the therapist recommended sunlight, yoga, exercise, pills, cognitive behavioral therapy, chocolate-
And they had to resist the urge to scream: “Don’t you understand, I don’t want to feel better. I want to walk through hell?”
But after a lifetime of hell, it begins to obliterate even the thing that was holding me together. And if I kept going, even writing wouldn’t be enough to keep me from falling over.
The armor has to collapse. I have to let good things in.
So you see, occasionally the dream collides with reality. Sometimes, we do get to have our quiet. We get to fall in love. We get to be published by the publisher who we thought in a thousand years, we’d never be good enough for.
We have to build our home. We have to grow something in the desert again. We have to learn how to retrain our body to stop walking into nightmares, night after night.
Not only because it’s right, but because we have to keep writing.
You can purchase Ecstatic Inferno here, now out from Fungasm, an imprint of Eraserhead.