Thursday, May 24, 2012

It’s not a hobo beard. It’s a writer beard.

This was actually the typewriter of demon frog "fame."

"It’s not a hobo beard. It’s a writer beard."

(This is a rough draft that mashes up some of my contributions here and other thoughts into what I hope to be the only piece I ever write 'On Writing,' for the next issue of Scree Magazine.)

I’ve got a problem and it’s about time I honed up to it.

It's hard to remember when my addiction started. I remember hammering awkwardly on an old-style typewriter about a demonic underworld that existed in the basement of a house we lived in. We had to go down into the basement in the cold and the dark and shovel coal to keep the house warm, and the story had something to do with the frog demons that lived down there and the boy that had to brave them every night to keep his family warm. Really deep stuff, clearly. I actually don't know if that is relevant to anything, but you've got to admit it's kind of cool I remember a story I wrote when I was eight or so.

I think it was my first time, but I could be wrong. Freud call these "screen memories," which basically means they are picture-stories that we use as memories. They are like the seeds of the story that we construct about childhood, because, you see, memories are a form of story. Everything about us is based on stories. Our sense of identity, all our beliefs even, are narratives, and this is why politics demands narratives that draw us in, whether they act on our intellect or our emotions.

I guess I’m saying we’re all story junkies. Don’t judge lest ye judge yourself.

Once I got past stories about frog demons, I started writing for a dual purpose. I wanted to gain a better sense of myself, and at the same time I wanted to communicate with others in a way that was deeper, than, well, the stuttery and awkward attempts at communication I try when speaking on the fly. In other words, there is an internal “me” that does not easily come out socially, in the moment. And I think that “me” has a lot more to say than the off-the-cuff, needs a tequila to be able to talk easily with a stranger... on a good day, "me." But maybe “he” doesn’t. Maybe he’s a psychopath. Guess you’ll have to read “his” stories.

Anyway, my point is, I'm smart enough, I suppose, but my brain always moves in twenty directions at once and it's almost impossible to cogently communicate with someone as clearly as I believe I can with text on a page. Yet after years of publishing books and blog posts, I've come to wonder if I have in the process proven myself to be the very source of the kind of alienation that set me on the path of writing in the first place. In other words, the better “he” gets at communicating, the worst stuttery-in-the-moment me gets. And there’s an interesting story idea right there: your writer self cannibalizes your brain until “he” is writing like Nabokov, but you’re otherwise a sweaty, neurotic, just socially worthless shrew. (Oh wait, that’s the plot of all of Charlie Kaufmann’s stuff. Oh well.)

There’s one little problem in my master plan of making a living off of my addiction. It has come to my attention that there are relatively few people who have even the slightest ability to find common ground with my way of looking at the world. Sure, it is a magical thing that I've changed some lives, or so I've been told, by selling words to strangers. In the process of being an indie author, I've met some of the Others, I've changed the minds of some of the youngins, and I've probably gotten my share of head pats and eye rolls from the elderly leaders of the counterculture. But when it comes down to it, the people I speak to are a very small market, and many of them have neither the time nor means to dole out hard-earned cash to spend their precious time working through hundreds of hours of the material I have myself slaved over.
Writer beard: being tested.
It has reached phase 2.
This isn’t meant to be a whine fest, but as a part of this personal intervention I feel like I need to be completely honest. Toward the greater market, just because something means a great deal to me does not mean it will mean a great deal to them - part of the magic of the arts in general is that the artform, whatever it is, is re-created in the mind of the audience. When you are an author sending your literally thousandth synopsis of your thousandth unanswered query to agent or publisher, you may discover the illusions you had about writing were just that.

But by this point, you can be fairly sure you are not just a hobbyist. You don't just have a habit. You are a full-blown junky. God knows you’ve tried to stop. It just doesn’t make any sense. So you need to stop. Please, for your friends, for lovers. For your health. It’s destroying you. Stop, just fucking. Stop. Get a World of Warcraft addiction or something.

Clack, clack, clack. In my case, this realization hit during the query process for my fifth book.
At this point you quite simply don't know how to stop. Or so you say. But it's like all the clich├ęs about alcoholics. As neuroscientists are just starting to discover: addiction is addiction is addiction. Society may look down on it or lift it up. It may even do both in psychologically confusing and conflicted ways. But the neurology seems to be the same. I must underscore this: not hyperbole. Not even metaphor. Neurological fact.

(Unless all facts are metaphors. But that’s a pretty confusing option.)

I’ve made the point about the ubiquity of addiction before, so I’m not claiming this is an entirely unique point. But I was asked to write about writing, and this is the most honest scoop I’ve got for you right now.

Usually around this point in the addiction you promise yourself that after this next novel, you will go out and try to get a “real job.” Again. (That means you want to hold it down at least a week before it outs that you are a “freak,” this time.)

Not as easy as it sounds! Tell a Starbucks manager that you are an author, and their slack jaws reveal their feelings. You just told them you shoot junk and love genital wrestling.
This has nothing to do with
this article but DAMN that is a nice ass.
They may have no sensible reason to fire you. You showed up, you did your work. Granted, often that “work” involved moving around papers, and playing weird social games and moving around numbers representing other people's debts. None of it produced any real value in the world. But, God help you, you gave it your all, time and again. Yet every time you get “the talk.” They put a strangely clammy, almost corpse-like hand over your shoulder and told you that you it didn't work out.

Once, when I was sixteen, I was told that the work crew at my job was planning on beating me as a "faggot" (I'm not gay, not that it should matter) so he wanted me to get out before there was a possibly legal incident but the "corpse-hand" story sounds more archetypally likely. Far worse has happened to me, time and time again, each time further engaging an archetypal narrative that, some might say, drove Hemingway to drink.

Still, can you blame them for their shifty looks? No one likes a junky.

By this point with your habit, you don’t know why you write anymore but still, when you re-watch reruns of your favorite shows your eyes spark to life at the weirdest moments and you are - God help you! - back at it again. You speak in excited half-sentences to your lovers about this great idea you have, and everyone wonders if you're having a manic episode until they actually see the final product and realize that, though they actually don't understand half of what you're on about, it is clearly something, and that something might even be kind of insightful. Hell! It might even be brilliant. They can't really tell, entirely, but it seems possible. If only they were in your market, you see. If it sells any less than 5,000 copies I’ll stop, I swear!

Damn. After you've promised yourself and your family members you could quit the habit and you've been proven a liar, you've also probably now reached a stage of resigned unemployment where, if you're physically male, the scruff of your "writer's beard" is more or less indistinguishable from the "hobo" beard of the guy living on the street corner.

But the power of stories, do you see? We can tell ourselves and others that we are writers, and they will interpret your beard differently. A writer’s beard means something different than a hobo’s beard.

A little ray of sunshine. There is, in fact, one benefit to being a writer. You may never make a regular paycheck, but people who will probably never read anything you write will think you are the coolest kind of hobo that there is. You will continue to influence strangers you will never meet, and you are being true to what you are. Addict.
Winston Churchill quotes, whether real or invented.
are always good in a pinch.
You are railing lines of bug powder and sucking off mugwumps at the same time. If William Burroughs was a reptile capable of pride, he might even feel it for you.

This is the point of acceptance. You will keep doing this until your attempts somehow succeed by your own standards -- an unlikely prospect if ever there was one, especially if your standards involve making a decent living through writing -- or... or nothing! There is no turning back, you fucking junky. If you really know who and what you are, then you are bound to a certain... responsibility to the narrative. And if you were someone else, the changeover would have happened back in Chapter 1 or 2. We are halfway through the book. Only a bad author changes their mind about things like the protagonists motives halfway through.

Yes, I know, a comical value article may have had us lost on the fact that not only is it deadly true, but it describes far more of us than we would like to accept - and that is our one, our only respite. We are all writers who can write for writers became no one else understands. That's what's funny, that's what's sad, and it's because that's what's true.

There's nothing more to say "On Writing," when you get down to it, than "stop if you can, keep it to yourself if you can't stop, and publish it if you can't even do that."

So... hello fellow addicts, my name is Jamie, though I recently changed it to Sascha in the hopes of confusing a bunch of meth-heads that want me dead for reasons passing understanding. And though there are no twelve steps, I'm told that the first step has something to do with whiskey.


Jamie aka Sascha performs in industrial rock concerts, bitches incessantly on his blog, skulks about in dark recording studios, and writes dystopian novels for a generation of drug addicts. You can see his work at

No comments:

Post a Comment