I’m staring down my novel like it’s a feral dog, black and ragged and spitting in the corner. Maybe one day writing a long manuscript won’t feel like fighting an adversary. Maybe one day I’ll understand that all of this pain, confusion, and little spilled out drops of astonishing revelation that come with writing a novel are part of some eternal recurrence. I will understand intrinsically Nietzsche’s idea of Amor Fati or “Love of One’s Fate.” I will understand what Bukowski means when he feels like he can’t go on and laughs in the face of recurring misery.
I dip into the ring to fight. It’s 7 in the morning and I’ve got red lipstick on my teeth and black eyeliner running down my face. The backs of my knuckles are scraped and my hands hurt from squeezing my fists. Maybe I’m hungover. I know I’m in real trouble when I’ve got wine bottles lined up on my desk. Maybe we’re not at our best, we’ve got a wobble in our stance, but we’re ready to write.
I’ve organized and plotted out all the chapters in Trello, and if everything goes according to plan I should have the third draft finished in September, and the final draft finished by the end of 2017. I’ve been working on The Edgar Allan Poe Simulator in some form or other since late 2015, but I can be excused for the long timeline because I’ve also been working on not going insane. Days spent drinking beer and eating sour gummy octopi, crying with my inner child, working out to Trapstep and eating puffy cheetos, downloading mods for Skyrim, clicking through Youtube videos, more crying, meditating, reading, staring at the blades of grass, shoving popcorn in my mouth, more crying this time in the parking lot of Recycled Reads because I finally understood that Chopin was beautiful music, going to school, seeing a therapist, pressing my thumb to my heartbeat, moving to California, trying to find a place to live, among other things.
It’s not always about the writing. I’m never the same person from a start of a novel to the end.
But that’s not really a statement, is it? You’re never the same from moment to moment. Pushing in breath to swirl a new composition. One more second gone, and you spit out blood of another color.
My books have colors in my mind. The Crooked God Machine was red and black, like bleeding machinery. I’d wake up in a panic, gasping, on my little air mattress in the back of a cold rented rom, because I thought I’d die before I ever finished it. I edited pieces of it while drunk on whiskey and sitting on a dirty floor, candles lit, listening to the goth channel on the radio.
We are Wormwood was a fleshy blue, like loss of circulation in a foot. I wrote it in coffee shops, inbetween testing builds in the QA room at Zynga, then on the way to Seattle, while sitting at sushi bars, getting thinner, trying to weave for myself a magic spell that’d get me out of my self-imposed misery. When I finished writing it I dedicated it to her, the demon. She finished reading it in a cab on the way home and came through the doors with tears shining in her eyes. Because I had seen her. Because I thought maybe we could be together.
Then I had to leave.
The color of The Edgar Allan Poe Simulator is black with a dim golden horizon. There are little flakes shining through, that could possibly be stars. We’re waiting for light to spill through but we haven’t quite made it there yet. It’s not finished yet, so I can’t tell you yet what that means.
I just looked up and I saw two of my dogs, The Kid and Sunshine, were sleeping on the bed. Their eyes are closed and their bodies appear warm as they sink into the sheets. I think of all the moments I didn’t stop to appreciate how cute they were, and how safe and loved they must feel, because I was striving toward some interminable ‘end’. People always talk about “Living in the moment” and I was like “Yeah, I’ll live in the moment when I’m a famous writer and this -thing- in my gut stops hurting me when I’m trying to sleep, reminding me of all my past failures.”
That’s pretty fucked up, because these dogs are really cute.
Right, I was supposed to write about writing. I was supposed to write about the novel, and what that meant to me, and how it intersected with my life. What you write about is generally speaking mirrored with what you’re thinking about, how your life has gone up to that point, what you focus on, what your fantasies are. People tell me that I’m good at writing sadness, I’ve got melancholy sharpened down to a fine edge. It’s sadness that’s almost manic in its energy.
Well, fuck me, I don’t want to write about sadness anymore. Not like that. There’s a lot of things that I don’t want to write about anymore.
Here’s a life of cliches that I’m tired of writing:
The sad sister who refuses to eat anymore
The little girl who ceases to be human because no one sees her as human
The protagonist who pulls themselves out of their own skin, transforming into a monster. Or maybe, less of a monster.
The family who moves around each other like unknowable ghosts
The brother who’s a taxidermist and talks in an esoteric language
She trusts him, and she is wrong to do so.
The mother who opens her mouth and rot spews out
The goddess who keeps sticking her fingers into the protagonist’s eyes until she SEES THE TRUTH
The empty city, and a dawn that brings no revelations
I don’t blame myself too much. I write about them because they’re familiar. The well-worn grooves in my mind transform easily into winsome prose. Yet another reason why this book is taking so long for me to write. It’s a struggle, trying to write yourself into a world that doesn’t belong yet. Like trying to describe the flowers on an alien planet, in all their colors and dimension, and understand how they interact with a soil and a rain that you barely understand. It’s easy for me to write about demons, and sad girls, and blood crystallizing, because I know how that ecosystem works.
There’s a character in the book, I won’t say who, not yet, but you will probably be able to figure it out later. He’s an experiment of sorts. A future-forward character. A combination of someone I admire, reconstituted with pieces of who I want to be. I’ve probably re-written his introduction chapter about seven times at this point, tweaking his actions, his motivations, his thoughts, and his impulses.
It’s important to get it right. Not just for the story, but for me. Because one day, I don’t want to just write him. I want to be him, and use that vehicle to write new things.
I’m always comparing myself to wolverines, rabbits, shy dogs, because it’s the language of timidity that comes from a muscle-memory pain. It’s not a shyness that comes from reality, but the spiked nerves inside my fingers and toes. Not only do I fight animals and monsters, but I am one.
It’s difficult to understand what I’m doing, when so much of my life has been built around trying to be less of a burden, to protect myself by pushing my head into my knees, by wondering which one of my actions is going to warrant assault, or violence, or disregard.
He understands this, we keep our living space a sacred space We’ve spent too long trying to be accommodating, to bend to the rules of people who don’t understand or nor wish to, and receive nothing but pain for it, that it’s important that our space belongs to us.
So many days I’ve wasted like an animal, fist in my mouth, spit and blood and gnawing on my leg like it’s in a trap.
It’s getting better, though.
Sometimes I catch myself smiling, or laughing, and then I have to stop, like a coldness ran through me. I can feel something peeling away from my heart, thick and gummy, a darkness congealing there, being broken up by a newfound happiness, making me aware of its presence.
I want to unravel the knots, love without the darkness in the machinery.
There’s so much work to do, to climb up through all this corrugated damage inside my soul.
What does this have to do with writing? What does this have to do with the novel?
Everything. Fuck. Haven’t we already gone over this?
I have already had what I consider many perfect days. At least they’re perfect, to the mangled poor-excuse for a human being that I’ve been living as for so many years.
So on a perfect day I wake up, and I get to love someone, and eat without worrying how big my thighs are getting, play videogames or read books. I get to write without hating myself too badly, and I go to sleep without a lump in my throat. Maybe I’ll even walk in the park with my dogs, for a second remember sunshine.
Every night for the last few days we’ve gone outside and looked at the moon. It moves 13 degrees in the sky every night. Last night, it was so bright I could barely look at it, its white surface like a halogen bulb. Tonight is a full moon. The buck moon. (I looked that up in the Farmer’s Almanac.)
It’s been so long since I’ve really looked at the moon. But it’s been there the whole time.
I’m not rich in my dreams. I’m not clean and opulent. Even in my dreams I’m sitting on a mattress on the floor with modelo cans scattered about, reading on my cracked Nexus tablet while the dogs lay beside me. I’ve had enough money and enough material possessions to know that real happiness is a much more complicated construct than external acquisition.
I forget what’s happening to me, and-
I catch myself.
I catch myself.
For a moment my breath is heavy, strained as if through a mesh filter, as I realize that I’m actually happy. And I want to pull back, to remind myself of all the awful things that happened, how she pushed my face down into the carpet, the “I don’t love you anymores”, all the pain rupturing up through bubbling whispers. The pain is safe. I know how to hold on.
When I walk through the park with my dogs, there are demons in the woods. My pantheon – I’ve talked about this before in those aforementioned therapy sessions- horned gods and ghost girls, whispering to me to come back into their comfortable and melancholy arms.
I have to push them back. I’m going somewhere new, and they know they can’t come with me. They’re terrified, and so am I, because I know the texture of black and tattered wings pushed against my spine better than the texture of a warm hug and beach sand.
Nobody ever writes about this moment, I think. How much learning how to be happy can be the most painful, difficult, messy, terrifying thing that a miserable human being can do. How buying a bouquet of flowers because you think they’re pretty is an act of defiance, not just against yourself but the world that put you into this position.
It’s training your body to move to a new rhythm. Every day, stepping out of the well-worn grooves. Telling the demons “I’m sorry, but soon I’m going to have to leave you behind.”
Back to working on the novel. I’m on a deadline, after all.
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