Tag Archives: 30Hz Writing

A Fiction(al) Disillusionment

I’m going to type this out in a flurry before all this alcohol wears off and I lose the  drive, the inspiration, whatever it is that drives me to spew disappointment. Pardon the typos and half-baked thoughts. They are what they are. The ramblings of a mad, semi-inebriated lunatic.

It was nice seeing you again tonight, old friend.

I sat at dinner tonight — I took my nine-month old out for pizza and beer (she did not care for the Irish fare on tap and elected to instead partake of whole milk). I sat there, watching my daughter mash puffs and pizza crust in her face and occasionally taking a glance up at the muted ESPN on the television. Per usual, ESPN was detailing the many reasons I should not care about either the Lakers or Celtics, yet continually devoting airtime to the very topic. But I digress. I spaced out for a minute, trying to think of the last word of fiction I’d written.

I couldn’t remember exactly.

I’d last left a story 15,000 words in. It had to do with teenagers running a haunted forest attraction. The fictional chainsaw wielder that the main character used as the mascot for the entertainment had apparently come to life, killing “innocents.” I’d tried to bridge literary fiction with genre horror. It has humor and gore and passages of great internal analysis. In short, unpublishable. 15,000 words describing a severed penis has more chance of getting published. And it has nothing to do with my quality of writing, which is, intermittently, of reasonable merit.

Dr. Chainsaw will rise again.
Dr. Chainsaw will rise again.

Since then I’d written a few short memoirs, thousands of words about James Bond, music reviews, blog entries, but no fiction. Why? Writing fiction has always fueled my desire to write. Fiction made me want to be a writer. Quite frankly, I write these short memoirs because they get published. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing them, but they aren’t my first choice in reading and they aren’t my first choice in writing. So why the fiction drought?

I’d been reading more One Story issues. I’d been reading more online Literary Magazines. I’d been reading magazines devoted to writing.

Some blonde on the TV with a Farrah Fawcett haircut is still talking about either the Lakers or the Celtics. Where’s Linda Cohn when you need her?

Oh hai, Linda.
Oh hai, Linda.

But why is all this reading a bad thing? Reading other published writing tends to convince me I’ve made rather poor decisions with my life. It is rare that I read something in a lit mag that inspires me. I consider 90% of the short fiction that gets published in these so-called proponents of creative thought to be more of the same old same old. I’m under no delusions about my own abilities. I also know that if I were to write fiction I want to read, I wouldn’t get published. I know this because I never read it.

I shouldn’t say never.

I should say hardly m’f’ing ever.

I get so excited when I read a piece of short fiction that really tries to be something different. People are writing them. I read quite a few in my MFA program. I read friends trying different things. I hold a grudge against the guy that beat my story in the monthly Bartleby Snopes competition but I sent him a tweet telling him so. I also told him I was jealous of his story and loved reading it. This kind of shit is rare. And it’s only getting worse.

This trend toward sincerity and earnestness, a refocus on the New Yorker ideal is only growing more pervasive despite the glut of new online literary magazines run by recent post-graduates. Pardon my following grand generalities but in my experience the generation following directly behind me, the children of the mid- to late-80s take themselves so seriously there’s no room for jest — even if through jest, you aim to reach a greater truth about the human condition. So these Literary Magazines are growing in numbers, offering more avenues for readership (a good thing) but they are also doing nothing more than perpetuating a status quo. They believe that their particular Lit Mag, little more than a Blog, is above reproach. That perfecting a kind of ultimate stasis is the only way to succeed. If that makes sense, huzzah. I’m still working the logistics out in my head. The problem is that many of the newly founded literary magazines don’t realize how frivolous they really are. They have little understanding of their place in this environment. Another magazine publishing earnest fiction. Be still my telltale heart. They claim to take the best of all varieties of writing. Sure, a few live up to this. But for most it’s lip service. They don’t want to explicitly limit themselves to Raymond Carver wannabees (but they do, because that’s what they see was “quality” fiction). Is this sour grapes? Hell yes it is. But it’s also a sadness that the ideal toward which I strive is little more than a Chance card in Lit Mag Monopoly. At least in real Monopoly I might get a $25 bank error in my favor.

 

The New Yorker, because sometimes cartoons don't need to make sense.

 

The New Yorker, because sometimes you don’t need to entertain to be published.

I asked a band this week in an interview: What does success mean to you? They didn’t really have an answer. Success changes as you grow older and as you accomplish new things. So what is success to me? I don’t have an answer either. All I know is that I don’t have it. And I’m not even sure I know how to get there anymore. It used to be so clear. If I write and continue to write, I will be successful. I don’t know anymore. Maybe it’s not even in me to begin with. Maybe I’m destined to limit myself in everything I do. The onus is on me. If I am to be a so-called “real” writer I need to write no matter the environment or external influences. I understand that. But the drive to create is fragile. And, perhaps to my benefit (emotion is good) and detriment (barriers = bad), I allow myself to get caught up in all that other noise.

When I look for inspiration, sometimes I just need to remind myself that Mel Brooks wrote this scene… and then I think, again, that anything might just be possible.

 

Our Amorphous Identities

I’ve been thinking about identities lately. The way we see ourselves. The way others see us.

It all used to be so much easier. Back in high school, we were assigned particular descriptors that we, in turn, also stuffed into our sack like snow globes from Jackson Hole and called them our own. But they were no more, or no less unique than any other snow globe from Jackson Hole. We liked these identities because they were as much prescribed as they were chosen by our own known strengths and fears.

For example:

On my very first day of middle school I was the “kid from Kalamazoo that lived in a motel.” That’s all anyone knew about me. I also happened to be the tallest kid in class. Which made me stand out, if just a bit.

On my very first day of high school I was “the baseball kid from Detroit.” That’s all anyone knew about me. I played baseball and I hailed from Detroit. How they knew this about me without ever having spoke to me I’ll never know.

These initial impressions may or may not endure. Until the day I left middle school and moved to Pittsburgh, most people remembered that I’d lived in a motel. My house was closing, whatever. But the thing stuck. In addition to being the dorky jock that got along with most everyone.

High school was more cruel. People became more cruel. And I became more cruel to myself as a result. I hung out with the “stoners,” but I wasn’t a stoner. I wasn’t a jock because although I was good at sports, my best sport wasn’t until the spring. Plus the jocks were punks and slackers and I didn’t want to hang out with them. The preps and cool kids didn’t accept new applications. Therefore I settled into a wonderful little circle of friends connecting the geeks and the stoners. Life is just one big Venn Diagram. Labels are wonderful, aren’t they? The way we can corral everyone in our lives into neat packages.

Point is, I went from being a dorky, amiable jock to being a guy that didn’t fit. As a result I was an angry, out of sorts, depressed teenager.

So I switched schools. I went back to a private school with fewer kids and genres of people became microgenres. I was the baseball and movie guy. I wrote movie reviews for the paper and a friend and I started an early movies reviews website on that spanking new internet. We even had a feature in a Sunday Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Movie guys. I watched a lot of movies. And I know a crapton too. Mandel and Patrick’s Movie Corner. We were featured on MTV’s Adam Curry’s entertainment page. True story. People used to consider my knowledge about movies extensive. Some might have called me an expert (though, it’s all relative to other 16-19 year olds).

The point of the rumble is this. Who are we now? Out in the real world? Do we even get to choose anymore? We could be twenty different things to twenty different people.

To one group I’m the dad that takes his daughter to school. And some of those people that know more about me might probably consider me the barely employed dad that takes his daughter to school because the wife has the big job. Oy. Others consider me a graphic designer because I do pro-bono stuff for a local non-profit. I’m sure some people consider me a writer. Others consider me a writer about music because of this site and my Twitter feed. If I’m lucky, my friends just see me as Jay.

But how do I see myself anymore? Father? Writer? Slacker? Coffee addict? Procrastinator? Compulsive smartphone checker? How far down the rabbit hole do we go before we just don’t like what we see anymore? I’d like to be “the prolific writer with two kids and a wife.” I think that might be nice. And I do write a lot. But I’m everywhere and nowhere at once. I’m churning out music reviews, Bond essays, fiction and creative non-fiction here and there. I’m copyediting and copywriting.

At heart, I know who I am, but do I have the courage to be that person in the real world? Or will it forever be a character that I’m more comfortable writing about, expressing on the page than I am living it. But then again, I suppose that’s a plight many writers must face. The notion that writing about regrets is easier than initiating real change. That writing more and more without ever really writing towards a goal is just another way to avoid the hard stuff. The stuff that, in your mind, really matters. If you’re even lucky to know what that is.

Then again, maybe I’ll just go back to being a movie guy. It was all just so much easier then. Let’s all do it for a week. Let’s go back to being that “guy” or “girl” we were in high school. As an experiment. I’m going to do nothing but watch movies and hit in the batting cage. This time we’ll do it without the teenage neurosis.

Will we find relief, knowing that we fit again?