Is That A Novel on the Phone?

This is a phone conversation I wrote for a non-existent novel about people in odd telephone relationships. Nobody was hurt during the exchange, but somebody really should have been. It was also carried out under normal conditions, which may explain the banality of it. I’m making a record of it in case the person on the other end of the phone ever wants to cease and desist at some point.

“Hello, is this God?”

Pause for laugh.

“This is Arthur Lent.”

“I was kidding, sonny. So, Artemis, I was wondering if you could help me with something.”

“I’ll try.”

“Great. I’m from Maryland, the Old Line State where women beg and men give in.”

Pause for laugh.

“I don’t know much about Maryland.”

“Never mind me, I’m as full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Pause for laugh.

“Are you.”

“I’m also old and forgetful and don’t own a computer or know what to do with it except surf for porn. Hopefully when you get older you won’t loose your marbles.”

Pause for laugh.

“I hope not.”

“So, Artie, I’m trying to find out if Maine has a lobster trap tree? I seem to remember it does, but all my friends think I’m full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Pause for laugh.

“Yes, there are 2, one in Rockland and another in Kennebunk, I think. I’ll have to check.”

“Great! Can you send me a copy of the tree, kiddo.”

“I thought you said you don’t have a computer.”

“I don’t. I’m as full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Pause for laugh.

“I’m aware.”

“So, can you send me a copy?”

“Like a photocopy, then?”

“Hell no, I wouldn’t know how to use one.”

Pause for laugh.

“I’m not sure, then, how to send you a copy.”

“How about you send it to my wife’s email address. Do you have a wife, Albert?

“Yes.”

“I’m so forgetful, I forget mine. Worst thing I ever did was marry. I’m so full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Uncomfortable pause.

“Why don’t you give me your wife’s email address and I’ll send the photo of the tree along.”

“Sure, sure. The old bag will love getting an email. Say, while I have you on the phone. Do you know the address of the Bush compound at Walker Point? I’d like to congratulate the president on another 4 years in the White House.”

“I believe the current president of the U.S. is Obama.”

“In your dreams, Andrew! That SOB don’t live in my White House. Do you know what SOB means, Harold? It means He Of Little Faith.”

“That would be HOLF.”

“Yeah, it’s perfect, isn’t it? I told you I’m full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Pause for final laugh.

“I’ll send a photo of the lobster trap tree shortly.”

“Thanks, Alice. Maybe some day you and your husband will make it down to Maryland. There’s loads of stuff here that makes the grass grow green. Thanks again for all your help. I’ll show those sons of britches that I haven’t lost my memory.”

“It’s been a pleasure.”

Dead line.

Here’s some Atoms for Peace. That would be Mr. Yorke and Flea in a skirt.

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Let’s Rough It Up

Helium. I think writers need some of this. I know I do to help me float above the tedium. Because life gets tedious. And life can sometimes appear like it is designed to kill your dreams. I’m not trying to be mawkish or sentimental.

We all have our misery, our hopes, our fears, our anxieties, our failures, that little bit of the authentic in us that desperately wants to get out and which reality wants to keep down. We’re like fragile soap bubbles floating around, seeking to merge with another, but more often than not, colliding, and popping in a spray of iridescent sadness.

You’ve got to fight for your right to be a writer. Although I suppose anything a person loves takes a certain amount of crazy fighting to keep.

And you’ve got to kick-in the TV as a writer. I’m not talking about the actual TV (although you could if you wanted to). I mean the fabricated channels of thought and emotion we let become our prime time. That’s anathema for a writer; to just passively sit and flip through the channels, letting the TV drama of thought and feeling take over.

Here, this is what being a writer means to me. And I’ll let Aleksandar Hemon tell it to you: “All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is.”

Fuck, yes! That is what the world is, and it’s an authentic feeling, an authentic idea. It’s not sitting between the daze and the haze of reality, but going into life, slipping through the cracks in the pavement and finding the grit to produce a pearl of the dream others have passed up on, but artists keep alive.

“I happen to think that an ounce of empathy is worth a boatload of judgment.”

A Crumb of Cheese Produces Nightmares

I’ve been eating cheese recently, and I’ve been getting bad dreams. Last night I was chased by a wedge of Dubliner riding a bicycle and screaming out J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man.

The night before, it was a stinky piece of Stilton, dressed in rags and carrying a shopping bag that contained my severed head.

Before that, a soft brie, relaxed on summer grass, a big bottle of wine beside it, called me over for a shag.

Before that, a wine-laced Drunken Goat followed me into the men’s bathroom and devoured me with a large belch.

The worst one yet, though, is the Caerphilly. Speaking Welsh, with a fat content of around 48 percent, the almost-white, sour-tanged cheese dragged me down into a mine pit and had me work and work and work, lapping up the salt from my sweat until I died of exhaustion.

If this goes on, I might be forced to keep crackers on the bedside table.

Car Talk, Book Prattle

I don’t give much thought to cars. I own a Subaru. But I didn’t buy it because the holy spirit of an ad got into my nervous system. I bought it because friends I know said they had Subarus and they ran okay. That was good enough for me. I’m not one to waste time on considering a make or a model or whether a car can somehow reflect my personality — or worse, as a show of my material wealth, or lack of.

In fact, if I was to actually buy a car that reflects my personality, I’d opt for a black 973 Mercedes-Benz 250 Saloon. But I don’t think it would be reliable enough for Maine’s winters. And I need reliability when it comes to a car. And I don’t need to have to think about the damn thing. Just drive and be driven, that’s my motto.

I’m the complete opposite when it comes to books. I don’t want a reliable book, the kind of book that purrs in your lap like a friendly cat. I want some hiss and scratching action. In fact, the more I am beat-up emotionally by a book, the better.

And whereas I don’t give a horse’s piss to whether a car reflects my personality, it is extremely important when it comes to books. The books I read shape the person I am, and I would have it no other way. It’s as if instead of atoms and cells, my body is made up of a helix of books and words. This is my DNA. And my blood is the blood of other writers. And my heart is the heart of all who read and write for unrequited love.

And the books I read must poke and prod and dare me to think differently — or at least take a leisurely drive with an idea or a feeling or a image or metaphor or a sentence that I have never encountered before but always hoped to. I want something other than the self I know when I read a book but I also want the self I am to be made stronger and more exciting and more unpredictable and more imaginative and even more of an individual.

The advice of others, however, is always important, be it about cars or books. The books I read are always at the advice of others, living or dead. The gift of a book is really about the gift of giving.

That’s why you’ll never see me driving a convertible sports car: I’d rather own a massive library with comfy leather chairs and room to roam.

Listening to Goliath Sleep

I have decided I’m not one of those writers who has an impeccable resume, made all the right career moves, attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and whose Facebook page is the fountain of eternal youth.

And, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!

Here, in fact, is a list of all the things I have not done that is somehow required of a writer and, yet, I oddly still feel like a writer. Or so say I, who is in the majority of one, but it’s my one, and means so much to me.

I didn’t have an angry young man stage in my twenties. I still have it in my forties. But I did have an existential stage when I read Henry Miller, Knut Hamsun, Rainer Marie Rilke, Hermann Hesse, D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell, Oscar Wilde, and Tove Jansson. Oh, and I guess I still have this stage, too.

I didn’t read as a child. Well, I did, but it wasn’t the centre of my universe. I was more happy kicking a football down side streets; rolling down sand dunes; stealing from shops; offering gifts of Black Magic chocolate to girlfriends; and spending time alone in the woods whittling spears and ingesting fly agaric.

I didn’t read that much in my teens or my twenties. In fact, I only really started reading in my late twenties, shut up under thatch in Ireland before a smoking peat fire. I was actually much better at stabbing dead rats onto the thorns of a hawthorn as a meal for a hawk.

I didn’t start working in the publishing world at age 3.

I never owned a dictionary until I got one as a birthday gift at the age of 33.

I have never read what everybody else is reading and then compared notes over flapjacks and coffee and pretended to know what I am talking about.

I majored in History in college and then dropped out because I had to write too many papers and was miserable because I had done so badly in high school that all the universities I wanted to attend wouldn’t have me and the one that did take me I hated.

And, no, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer as soon as I was birthed, kicking and flailing and crying and slapped about by the doctor until I whimpered at my mother’s breast.

I have not read all the classics and probably never will. And I still don’t know what it really is about Hemingway that makes him the writer all other writers invoke with gunsmoke and booze and fall on their knees and praise. Or Joyce for that matter, although Joyce did make me laugh.

I don’t have stories I wrote as a kid stashed away. I have bags of plastic soldiers and my LP collection.

All my English teachers disliked me. If I ever got a “C” it was because there was a substitute teacher that day.

I didn’t squirrel myself away in libraries reading and studying. I used libraries as places to get out of the rain and read my newest copy of Judge Dredd.

I will never admit to any of this if I am ever lucky enough to be interviewed and asked about my writing life. I shall lie through my teeth and say I have always read, always wanted to be a writer, have a talent for words, my English teachers doted on me, and I love Hemingway.

Lost in Dark Matter

Call me morbid, call me pale, but I have no idea what inspiration really means. When I step back from my writing desk and imagine what I do, it has nothing to do with being inspired. I have mostly a vague idea of what I want to write (sometimes a more definite idea) and then I go at it and along the way I seek out other writers who are doing similar things. And this can be arduous and time consuming and require loads of reading. Or sometimes I can luck out and a writer (or since I am a MFA student at Stonecoast, one of my fab mentors) can point me in the right direction and save me lots of time.

But I’m never inspired by what I read to want to write like that. I want to write like me and I seek out other authors to figure out what they do, what they don’t do, to make my writing life easier but which always turns out to be actually harder.

So I don’t get it when writers or people say they are “inspired” by such and such. Inspired to do what, I think.

I’m not even inspired as a writer to get my ass into a the writing chair. It’s much more of an ordeal. It’s me eyeing the chair like it’s electric or else a trap door that will open to some hellish realm that is populated by failed writers. It takes spit and shine and balls to sit down and a drive; a crazy unrelenting drive that is a mixture of blood and sperm to sit and write. I’m driven by some unnamed demon, that is why I behave so good and sit and write because I want to create a book that might enable me to change bits of the life I’m leading that I don’t like. Whether all my effort in the chair will pay off, is yet to be seen. But still I grit my teeth and write as if the Grim Reaper is standing over me. There is no inspiration at my writing desk, just a demon or an dark avenging angel – oh, and sometimes the ghost of a long-dead favourite writer.

Recently I read in the Guardian a review about Imagine: How Creativity Works. And bluntly, I don’t want to know. You could tell me how my heart works (which science has) and it’s titillating to know, but knowing how the heart works is hardly going to enable me to suddenly keep the muscle ticking away until I revel in immortality. Knowing about how something works is not the elan vital of creating. It’s the not-knowing that brings things to life; be it a story or a painting … or even the expanding universe.

If the universe can be made up of mostly dark matter and energy (as scientist keep finding out), then I’m ok with the dark matter behind creativity. It fact, it’s precisely because of the numinous when it comes to creating that I create in the first place. As Henry Miller has so succinctly put it: “The waking mind, you see, is the least serviceable in the arts. In the process of writing one is struggling to bring out what is unknown to himself. To put down merely what one is conscious of means nothing, really, gets one nowhere. Anybody can do that with a little practice, anybody can become that kind of writer.”

Past Justification

Why is it a writer can go into a pub, and come out a drunk?

I opened my front door today and I found this sad and dejected thing sleeping on the porch: a fragile fiction.

You know what I’m talking about, right? These days (and they are adding up) there’s so much happening to reading, books, publishing. It’s all in turmoil and change and it’s so damn hard to keep track of who knows what and what knows who.

I feel like I’m in my foxhole, and so is every other writer out there. And it’s cold and wet in the hole. And each time I pop my head out, I’m afraid some crazy writer with a penchant for violence and guns is going to ask me what the hell is going on.

But I don’t have any answers. I just surface from my foxhole because I want to watch the sun rise, the sun set.

To change the metaphor; it’s a sea of shit out there in the publishing world, so be careful what you lunge for.

Which doesn’t mean I’m simply jaded and pessimistic. In fact, the opposite. Writing is how I engage with the world and I love all the bruises and the punches and the let-downs. Just makes me get up and go back for more. Because for me there is no other art that can contain as much human experience as writing. So I will write as the shit sea laps over my coracle.

You’ve got to fight back. You’ve got to start tossing your handbag (quaint English tradition of having a spat). And mostly with yourself. Because you have to keep reminding yourself: “I am going to keep doing this. I cannot be stopped.”

So, you know what I did with that fragile fiction that found its way to my door. I kicked it. I roughed it up. I sent it packing with its tail between its legs.

Rilke said that art can come only out of inner necessity.

To me that sounds like a rallying cry to write — because I must!

“Allowing space for change is allowing space for grace. That’s what I get from good writing.  I have nothing to say that will change anybody’s mind. Nothing. Being didactic is uninteresting. But allowing space for people to remake their minds about things, to change—or to get angry—is a viable literary purpose. That I fail at this over and over is my reason to continue. Failure is edifying. We break the lights.” Colum McCann