A Simple Summer Shower

A simple summer shower. It passed so quickly, you might have imagined it came from a Hermann Hess novel. Now for a short time, it’s a world of water stains. You watch the dark cloudscapes pass and wonder if the world should end will it be a collection of dark clouds parked high above like a mass of belching trucks. Better to think life will just take a very simple and amazing new direction and fly off like a cardinal into the greenery. At least the echinacea, phlox, columbine, and tickseed in the garden got themselves something else to think about besides the bugs and the heat. August heat, trapped in the air, sluggish, percolating in the humidity that bangs about like a drunk. There’s not a breeze. Not even a dog barks. The children are quiet. August. Time to think about something else.

Here’s some Oscar Wilde: “One’s real life is so often the life one does not lead.”

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Back to the Unknowable

The old man of sci-fi has died! A candle has gone out in the house of literature. And, yes, there are more candles getting lit daily, but there are candles, and then there are candles.

Yes, death is a lonely business, Mr. Bradbury, but I know you shall RIP.

With Bradbury’s passing, I feel a disturbance in the force; I feel like the young man I was who read his work has also departed, his particles scattered to dark matter that I can make no sense of. All I am left with is impressions. Not of my life, but my life as a story within Bradbury’s books or his fiction as a narrative within my known reality. I really can’t tell which is which.

He’s out there now, the way I like to see it, adding his indelible atoms to the cosmos, relaxing in the constellation Libra and sipping his dandelion wine in peace. It’s odd, but there’s a part of me that believes that when writers die, the material world is momentarily unbalanced and it will take a while for the creative equilibrium in life to come back. A single death, but especially one of such creative force, needs numerous lives to fill the gap. I wonder if the birth of creativity also needs an equal number of deaths to allow it the life it needs?

It’s a silly notion I have, but sometimes I think about the idea of meeting writers I love, maybe a few of them even reading a novel I will eventually publish. And although there are a slew of fantastic contemporary writers I’d love to chinwag with, I find that when I think about it, all the writers I would really love to confab with are the dead ones: Dylan Thomas, Angela Carter, Mervyn Peake, Rabelais, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Hermann Hesse, Henry Miller, Tove Jansson, Ted Hughes, Fritz Leiber, Bruno Schultz, Keith Roberts, Arthur Rimbaud, Rilke, Arthur Machen, Caradog Prichard, John Kennedy Toole, and more.

I’m not even sure why I entertain such thoughts. It’s not like it’s going to happen. But I can’t let go of the possibility that it might even though I know it to be a fucked-up desire. There is something in the total absurdity of this thought that keeps me sane and keeps me writing.

“If you just present the events to the reader, then the complexity of human motive will spin off that. If you try too hard to determine the way the reader sees character and motivation, you will actually restrict the reader’s interpretive opportunities. By limiting the amount of guidance you give, you automatically get the depth and complexity of interpretation you want. Because that’s what we readers do in real life — we interpret people’s actions and thus assign them ‘motive’ and ‘character.’” M John Harrison

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.

Last of the Gang to Realize

In my twenties, I got this crazy notion. I suppose all of us get those at some time. Mine was that I wanted to be a writer. But I had no idea where to begin — besides reading.

So I read. Anything, anywhere, everywhere, and then some more. I think a lot of people I knew thought I was either crazy or delusional or else depressed.

I was ecstatic — an electric light with no off switch and alone with myself.

At some point I tried writing my own stuff, imitations of the masters and, as is expected, it was lousy crap that now I wince at but at the time I thought was something — the way you think death is something that always happens to others.

Then something odd happened. I stopped writing. But I didn’t stop reading. This wasn’t the odd thing. It was that I started to believe that emulating the crazy lives of the writers I loved (like Henry Miller, Dylan Thomas, DH Lawrence, Oscar Wilde, Ted Hughes, Jack Kerouac, Knut Hamsun, James Joyce, Tolstoy, Dickens, Steinbeck, Joseph Conrad, Blake, Shelley, Byron, Rimbaud, Thomas Hardy, Herman Hesse, Baudelaire, etc, etc) would make me a writer. That adventure was more important than writing. All I needed to do was jot things down in a fancy notebook and recite poetry or shock people with irreverent and diabolical ideas and thoughts all stolen from the writers I loved. It was my homage to them, proof that I was their blood brother in waiting and in writing.

The problem was, I was too timid to be like my heroes. Their lives were such a huge undertaking and too big of a call to life for me. I just didn’t have that kind of spirit in me, at least not physically, although I now realize it was beginning to emerge creatively, even spiritually.

But the biggest problem of all was that I didn’t write!

I just created a fictional me who had aimlessly stepped out from a novel. And still nobody recognized me. Did nobody read Miller or Thomas or Wilde or Hamsun, I kept shouting to the stars? How could they not recognize the writer in me? Blind fools!

It was a sort of mystical time period when I look back at it. I wasn’t writing a damn thing, just jotting ideas and quotes down and living an itinerant sort of life, not keeping a job for long, and reading lots, and trying to create this real, tangible persona of a writer without doing a bit of writing.

I blame the writers I admired. They always seemed to be off having adventures in Paris or London or Laugharne, leading wild lives, and then having a brief moment of frenzied writing that was immediately published to great acclaim and fanfare. They all made it look so damn easy! And I wanted that.

Which is a shame really, since twenty years later, I’m still struggling to free myself from that myth. Although now I look at it with a good dose of humour. Now I know the writing life isn’t anything like that. I only wish someone had told me instead of ridiculing or ignoring or worse telling me to give it up and that only a certain breed of gifted individuals become writers. Or I wish I could have woken up and smelled the book spines. Or do I?

My apprentice years have been longer, I think, because I had to work myself out of two writers: the real and the imagined. Although now I look back fondly on that imagined one. I think without that callow youth who thought he knew what it took to be a writer was simply having joie de vivre and elan and moxie and passion and irreverence and balls and attitude and despair and misery and poverty and magnetism and personality and a reckless heart and a joyful soul, I don’t think I would have found the real writer in me.

And in truth, I was already training my mind to be more imaginative. By seeing myself like a character out of a book,  I was helping the writer along by always reaching for something witty to say or practising some idea out on a stranger to see how they reacted. It was all training, the way I look at it.

In a way, I’m thankful for that young man. Grateful that he made a fool of himself then so I don’t have to make a bigger fool of myself now.

And as the writer Jeanette Winterson has said, what is the “I” but a fiction, or Rimbaud with his “I is someone else.” We tell stories every day to others and ourselves.

The only difference now is that I’m much more serious about jotting those stories down. I’m becoming that writer I always wanted to be. Which is what I set out to do in my twenties, it’s just taken me a bit longer to arrive.

But arrive I will, one way or another.

Remembering That First Love

In the beginning was a book. This is a tale every writer knows. It seems almost foolish to utter it.

But I’m a fool.

After my wife and I got married, we decided it was time for a tectonic shift. We had both embraced a scary and invigorating and wonderful new life together. But it somehow didn’t seem real enough to us until we had decided on a madcap adventure; our own little spot of time where we could be more in the world but not eaten by it.

So we sold our belongings and moved from Maine to Ireland.

This is the brief backstory. Now to the heart of the matter.

We lived in a small leaky thatched cottage in Corrandulla, just outside of Galway. At dusk we listened to a blackbird sing in the tourlough. Sometimes we would sit and watch the sheep graze. Or the wild horses race. There was little to do in the country. And we were unemployed, living very thriftily off money we’d saved from a summer of racking blueberries. Sometimes we listened to the radio, especially a show by Donal Dineen, “Into the Night.”

We left buckets out when it rained. And it rained — this is Ireland after all.

One night, my wife finished the book she was reading and set it aside. I didn’t know the author. She was a contemporary English writer. Up until this point, I had been reading Henry Miller, DH Lawrence, Tolstoy, Hesse, Dylan Thomas, Tolkien, Hardy, Knut Hamsun.

I loved the cover. It drew me to peer closer.

But I had a nightly chore to take care of first. I was in charge of starting the fire. So I piled on the peat and ignited the paper and sticks we had gathered earlier from the tourlough like medieval peasants. And then I made a cup of tea. Made sure the buckets were not overflowing with rainwater.

I ensconced in my favourite seat. Stoked the fire. Picked up the book: The Passion by Jeanette Winterson.

I didn’t put it down until I was done. Along the way I spat orange seeds into the fire.

When I was done, I sat and watched the fire’s dying embers. I listened to rain, wind, a car speeding down the dark country lane.

I made a decision that night, as I spat the orange seeds into the fire, that I wanted to be a writer just like Winterson.