Sometimes, life, even good life, gets in the way.
Lately, I’ve been feeling like the world of writing and music is a giant web, with invisible threads I cannot see. But I keep submitting my work blindly, and once in a while, I find a thread. Sometimes, I find other webs, holding creatures similar to me.
Particularly at how I felt reading the work of two writers I’ve recently met, or kind of met virtually: Tom Pitts and Joe Clifford. It’s the feeling of, god damn. I need to be that good. Or maybe I am good, too, but shit, it’s like reading myself, but different, and wilder. And though they write a lot about junk, and I have different proclivities in my past, I have been there, I can fucking relate. (And admittedly, my favorite books include Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Junior, Candy by Luke Davies and Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley.) And I also know how seemingly simple stories take a giant pile of slaving away to get just right; I appreciate good craft when I see it.
I had a long couple of weeks filled with recording music, marketing for freelance writing gigs, swapping my old guitars for newer models, writing group, reading in public, socializing, working at my part-time job, training for a kettlebell competition, and today, I am toast. I am completely thrashed. I am feeling how my dad looked growing up (he similarly burned his candle at both ends) laying face down on the couch. When I asked him how he was, he would say one word: Exhausted.
I am exhausted.
Had I not a part-time job to handle the basic bills, I would lock myself in my apartment for a week and not leave.
I am thrilled that things are becoming a tiny bit clearer with the writing and the music: I’m meeting very cool musicians to collaborate with on my songs, I’m having fun recording, I’m enjoying my own style and voice and sharing it with other people. I’m also thrilled all my old poems are finding homes, especially those street kid poems that were published in PoV magazine.
A poem is a time capsule. It reflects a mood of a moment, or a moment of a moment, or a situation of a moment. Many of my poems reflect one binary side of myself, may contain multiple leads in, but in the end, are just a miniscule part of the whole story, blown up larger than life.
I’ve always written poems, as far back as I can remember. When I was in Jamaica, in the infamous Tranquility Bay featured later on 48 Hours with yours truly being interviewed, my 15 minutes of fame you could say, I had to write confessions for these growth seminars we were to go through. My confessions were like personal essays: poetic, flowery, rich, deep. The seminar facilitators would sometimes get angry with me for being too poetic. They said I was hiding the real me. But a girl, Tiffany, who was my seminar “buddy” through one of these, sat down with me and went over my writing as instructed. Instead of criticizing me, she said, “This is just the way you write, isn’t it?”
I felt a sigh escape me, my whole body went from tense to relaxed. “Yes,” I said. “Yes, it is.”
Through poetry and music, I can be myself. I can be deep and profound and annoyingly clever. In real life, people graze the surface, they put on faces, you can’t get that deep into them.
And people don’t understand when they aren’t as tied to writing and music as I am, how hard it is for me to let go of it. It is my life. I can easily spend 12 hours working on songs and it will feel like two hours. I constantly feel as if time is slipping away.
A non-fiction piece started writing itself last night. There’s a period of time in my early twenties that affected me more than any other time in my life (except for the highly controversial behavior modification school in Jamaica where I lived when I was 15 to 17, of which books have been written, for which I allowed myself to be interviewed after years of cajoling, and also the years I spent on and off the streets, hitchhiking across the country as a gutter punk).
I write about that time a lot. Everyone has their ghost. Mine was a person once, but is now an idea, a dark muse. Of course, this person still exists, but to me has become more of an idea, as I cut off communication years and years ago. This piece is about that person, and the role that person played in my life. Writing it made me feel like I felt when I read PoV Magazine last night. Eviscerated, yet clear.
And today, I’m afraid to look at it because A) it is too honest and B) it is too raw. But the story, which is pieces of many other stories I’ve written and now compiled in a way that is much, much better, needs to be told for some reason.
Lauren Becker was kind enough to share an essay she wrote for the Nervous Breakdown with me, and I feel it captures the why of writing these pieces. It’s called The Things We Would Not Be.
Becker read at Lip Service West, about a vasectomy she attended with a friend (yes, a vasectomy she attended while it was happening ON her friend). I appreciated her candor, and her humor. That night, I read a humorous and seemingly light-hearted piece about cough syrup addiction in front of many people who are not addicts. It’s something I wrote a couple of years ago and have honed over the years. It’s deceptively simple, but took a lot of work to get to where it is now. It was hard to find (and still is) the right venues for it.
I shared that piece because there are a lot of kids and adults out there right now who never did illegal drugs like meth or heroin, but do abuse OTC and prescription drugs.
Quick story: I was visiting a town up north, and stopped in a tattoo shop I’ve been eying for a couple of years. The owner and I started chatting, and I told him I was a sober person. He confessed he had a few months sober. He called himself a Doctor Doper.
“I never did hard drugs,” he said. “Except coke, once.” He looked at me. “All my pills came straight from Kaiser.”
(Of course, I immediately asked him for a tattoo right there, and now have a crazy Van Gogh looking rose on my chest.)
Many of my pills came from Kaiser, and other doctors in other buildings, too. Which is what made it so hard to let them go, and why they took me so far down. They were socially sanctioned. My doctors said they were OK. I started to look forward to getting injured or being anxious so that I could have pills. And it all hinged on codeine, codeine cough syrup, and benzodiazepenes, which are another story in and of themselves. Of all the things to withdraw from, benzos will take your head, whip it around and around and shove it deep into your viscera, mucking up your nervous system seemingly beyond recall for years and years.
I don’t hear people talking about pill addiction as much as they should be. It’s a big problem in America and elsewhere. I don’t have statistics and I’m too lazy to look them up right now, but if you read The Fix or any other drug news site out there, you will notice that pill addiction is a top addiction, and is costing many of us our lives.
Another story I was able to read at Lip Service West was a memorium for a kid I befriended in rehab who overdosed on dope after we got out. He was twenty years old and had a daughter. There is no one who will tell his story. So I decided to. And he is one of a handful of people who I’ve seen lost in this same way, and I am working on a story for each one of these ghosts.
I’ve always been a candid person. I’ve always been blunt and had to put my foot in my mouth because I say the true thing, which is sometimes the wrong thing, out loud. I live my life in a land of raw. It’s who I am. My friends will attest to the fact that I’ve always been this way: I’d rather cut to the heart of the bone than skim the surface. I’ve watched too many people live short encumbered lives. What we have here doesn’t last long.
I’m loathe to share the non-fiction piece I’m writing now with anyone. Which means it’s probably meant to be shared, because like pill addiction or premature death due to overdose, abusive, addictive relationships happen to the best of us. And writing, to me, is a way of telling other people they are not alone, no matter how messed up they think things got. I’ve been there. And I’m going back there again and again in my writing, so that I can connect with these people. And to exorcise my own demons, I suppose.
It’s the same with my music. I’m not a bar performer. My songs are not light-hearted. They are wistful and deep and talk about things most people don’t want to talk about: being awkward, not fitting in, loving the wrong people, letting dangerous things haunt your mind, trying to rise above the status quo, the automaton life we are all encouraged to live.
I’m hoping that I can finish this piece, and that I can find a publication where it will fit (lately, I’m not having luck with my non-fiction pieces. I only know of a very few markets, and those, so far, have not been the right fit, so I continue to publish poetry). Of course, the person in the piece I am writing about, I don’t want them to read it. I don’t want to ever speak to this person again, but this person is somehow in a lot of my songs and writing. I don’t know why, could be I’m crazy, but I will bet that many of you out there have your own special phantom muse you use to pour salt in the wounds you wish to share with the world over and over and over again. Or not. Could be I’m crazy.