The Beardly Writer

Some write from the heart. I write from the beard.

Month: September, 2013

Pressed for time

I love writing. It’s what I want to do with my life. But unfortunately for now, my life consists of a full-time job, looking for another full-time job, smaller jobs on the side, moving out of my apartment, and trying to find a new place to live. It’s hard to squeeze in a few moments to work on my book, or this blog even. Hence the absence of last Monday’s update (again, my apologies). As I sit down to write this my mind is anywhere but here and I struggle to find anything about which to write. But write I will, as that is what I promised last week.

How self-aware must a good writer be? I like to think I have a healthy self-awareness. Embarrassingly, I have to admit that I believe I am more self-aware than most. The fact that I am embarrassed about it means that I am aware that it is both inappropriate to declare such a thing, and probably not true. As a notorious introvert, I am borderline obsessed with self-analysis, although I am nowhere near Demetri Martin’s level, as he discussed in his wonderful special “If I,” which you can watch here. I do, however, spend quite a bit of time analyzing myself, and recently that analysis has been focused on my writing. How apropos.

The year was 2007. I was twenty-four years old and living in my parent’s basement. What a banal way to start a story, but that’s the way the story starts. I had been out of college for nearly a year and had spent several months of that time working on my second screenplay. It was to be my life’s great work. I put everything I knew about art and life and love into it. I had adopted as my life’s artistic outlook,  “Everything is Broken, and Broken is Beautiful.” The screenplay was titled Everything is Broken, after the Bob Dylan song. I sweated over that that screenplay, wept and cursed and gnashed my teeth. I didn’t have a car or even a license at the time, so my only outlet was my writing. I traveled inward, a cartographer mapping the unexplored regions of my mind and soul. It was frightening work. And rewarding, too. I never did finish that screenplay, but it was far from time wasted.

I became acquainted with the man in my skin. I knew his fears, his wants, his secrets, his joys, his sorrows. I analyzed every move he made, judged every decision and motivation. I knew why he wrote, and how. And then… I got a job and gave up writing.

Three years later I picked it up. Tentatively at first, but with growing excitement. I still remembered the man I had gotten to know. But people change over time. And this man, was different. I find that the man I knew in 2007 is not the man writing this sentence six years later. And I am realizing I absolutely must know him in order to move my writing forward.

How self-aware must a writer be? As aware of self as self can be. As I said recently, I am moving. I still have no idea where to. I thought I knew my motivations, but this past week they came under question. I’m having to re-examine just why I am moving. Maybe I’m not as self-aware as I thought. But now that I’m aware of it, I can do something about it. I can’t do much writing with all this going on, but I have hope that on the other side of this whirlwind, I’ll be better acquainted with the man in my skin again, and my writing will reflect the growth. The process continues.

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Failure is Always an Option

Well, it finally happened. I missed a Monday post deadline. More than that, it’s Tuesday night and I still don’t have anything to post. I have perfectly good and reasonable excuses, but this isn’t a place for excuses. This is a place for results. And as busy as my life is right now (and believe me, it’s BUSY), I will post new results this upcoming Monday.

Stay with me. We’re just getting started.

In Process…

As I’ve said, I’m a writer in process. Though, aren’t we all? If not writers then at least human beings, in process. I plugged in and opened my old laptop last week. The one with the half-broken screen. I dug through the files and opened one titled simply, “smoke” and found myself reading a story I started writing in 2007. There isn’t much to the story as it stands. I don’t remember if I had a story in mind when I typed it out. Much like the cop narrative I began last week, it is an out-of-context slice from a much larger story I have yet to imagine. What was interesting, though, was to see how my writing has changed in the last six years.

I have to admit though that I wasn’t being honest when I wrote it. I mentioned in an earlier post that when I was younger I tried to emulate the voices of my favorite authors. “Smoke” was my exercise in channeling Jack Kerouac. As it is, it is uneven and crude: my amateur-yet-true voice clashing against the Kerouac-wanna-be impostor. It is also more adult oriented then I ever remember writing. For these reasons and others I’ve been debating whether or not to post it here. But in the end I knew I would, so here it is. Albeit, with an advisory.

WARNING: what follows is of a more adult-themed nature than my previous (later?) work. I have progressed as a writer since its creation, but in the interests of exploring that progression, I post the work below.

Smoke

I threw the hot butt to the ground, sparks splashing out like dying souls, sputtering once, twice, then fading. The tobacco felt heavy in my lungs. It was my first cigarette in weeks. I held that final drag in as long as I could, savoring the nicotine and the way it settled into my veins and traveled to my brain. It made no excuses for itself. I liked that. I stepped on the butt with the ball of my foot and twisted, making damn sure those lost souls were good and dead. Hell, it could have been my own soul I was putting out under that worn shoe. It might as well have been.  Maybe not all souls are worth saving.

But more thoughts on that later, I told myself. There’d be plenty of time to debate the quality and market appeal of my soul when saving souls was the business of the day. This was the night, and the order of business was losing souls. That is, losing oneself to the night, that great buxom woman with too sweet French perfume kissing the curve of her neck and spilling down the gradual slope of her rising breasts with a thousand promises of romance and sweat and dance and drink shaken together with fever and ice and served with a twist of lemon and a plastic coffee stirrer that you at once remove from the glass. But you don’t throw it away, no. You hold onto that sliver of plastic because when morning comes and the great buxom lady closes her purse into which she has lain the souls of men and women lost to her that very night, you will chew on that sliver of plastic and thank God that your wretched soul survived one more weary night.  Oh, wretched and weary life, soul, night, seemingly forever lost to each other like a fly trapped in a window, fruitlessly searching for that one small crack through which it had entered,  There, between two panes of glass the fly buzzes and dies and no one cares and the world isn’t changed by the fly’s life or death.  And so begins the night like the fly, carelessly we wander in an endless search for food, for fulfillment, until by some holy happenstance we find our way through a tiny whole into another world.  And for a time we are like the pioneers, wading through the tall grasses and swamps and forests of a new land, discovery around every corner and at the bottom of every bottle and in every smile from a pretty mouth.  Calling up the spirit of those early settlers, invoking the ghosts of Boon, Bowie, Crocket, and Kenton, we charge ahead, claiming everything in our path as well earned spoils, manifest destiny the parrot on our shoulder, the cricket balladeer in our ear.  Ignoring the pitiful cries of squaws and little naked Injun children we whoopee and yeehaa our way westward, a wake of damnation chasing at our heels and if we stop we’ll get swept up in it ourselves so there’s no looking back, no slowing down.  The night, like the west, leaves no time for regrets.  Regrets are for sad, sober mornings when the sun spills in through the shades and exposes the previous night’s sins and it seems the whole world is peering through that window looking at you in all your splendid humiliation and no amount of blankets or sheets can hide you away.  No, there is no time for that now.  Neon lights beckon.  Freedom waits in the form of a tall, frosty brew, and a brunette with heavy, caked makeup at your side.  We revel in the night, shadows hiding our faces, alcohol clouding our minds.  But as the darkness wanes and the taps dry up and the utter uselessness of it all becomes blindingly apparent, we writhe and die a death we die every night at 4 am.  And in our death throws we are born again, not to God but to the earth, given over once more to the creation that once belonged to us but now us to it.  Slaves to its vices, to instant gratification and lusts and greeds and we sing it’s whiskey praises by night and curse it by day.  It is these two pendulum swings that become the transparent prison we die within each night, and oh how we long for that release.

I grabbed Ethan by the shirt collar and pulled him in close.  He thought I meant to kiss him so he socked me in the gut.  I was in such a frenzy I hardly even felt it and held tight to his shirt.  I leaned in, so close I could smell his sweat and my nose almost touched his cheek.  I looked right into his eye but said to no one in particular, “It’s only hours till we die.  One more round for the downtown boys!”  I let go Ian’s shirt and he took a few steps back, but I wasn’t offended because I was already ducking into the nearest bar.  Joe smiled that big dumb smile of his and followed close behind, swaggering like The Duke on his way into clean up the town.  Ian and Charley had heard the madness in my voice and hesitated, but only for a moment before surrendering.  It was the night, and she’s a hard lady to turn down.  Even more, we were hard for the lady.

Inside the bar we cavorted with every girl that let us get close enough to get hit with our sweat and spit and madness.  The place was jumping before we arrived, but now all was getting out of control, and that’s right where it needed to go.  We were a ship going down, and I the captain, leading the passengers and crew straight to hell with a smile on my face and drink in hand.  Everyone knew it, and nobody cared.  We were probably all hell-bound anyway, so what difference did it make when we got there, and we were having a damn fine time of it.  This one girl, all breasts and eyes and curly hair paid me special attention.  I bought her drink after drink, trying to get her drunk, not that she needed it.  It wasn’t me she was attracted to, but the madness, the frenzy.  She was a fine type, all class and culture, slumming it down here in “the real world” she called it.  Born into a life of ease, a silver spoon in her mouth.  What need did she have to drink and dance and grind in all the bars at all hours of the night?  What nerve she had to assume we chose this life over hers, that we had somehow stumbled upon life as it was meant to be lived and were keeping it to ourselves in the basements and back alleys.  Poor isn’t a fashion, an outfit to wear around town when you want to fit in, it’s an empty wallet when you want a meal or a drink.  There’s no more reality in being broke than there is in having money to spare.  And this contessa thinks by sleeping around with madmen like me that she’ll have some revelation about life and be changed forever.  I grew suddenly outraged and tossed my drink at her, soaking her face and breasts in alcohol.  She drew back in shock, but quickly recovered her sense of pride (as only the extremely well-off and hopelessly destitute can) and slapped me across the face, hard.  Like before, my spirits were too high, and now alcohol in my blood matched and I didn’t feel a thing.  I just looked at her and grinned an evil grin.  I don’t even know what I meant by it – I wasn’t angry anymore, because I knew what she was, so the victory was mine, and what was more she knew it, too.  She tried to hold my gaze but backed down and stormed out fast, huffing and puffing all the way.  I turned to the bartender and ordered another drink.  He poured it and asked about the girl. His concern was legitimate, honest. All the bartenders I had conversed with, all the bars I had leaned on, all the nights I spent slouched at the end of a long, wooden, alcohol-soaked alter, pouring my guts out to a man or woman on the other side, busying themselves cleaning glasses and attending to better customers, and I had never encountered one with more than half an ounce of sincere human care.

The glass stopped at my lips and I thought back on her.  Was she really all that bad?  I began to regret dowsing her with gin.  I tossed back my drink and ran outside after the crazy chick.  Amazing how a mood will sway once the booze hits it.  One minute I’m furious at her for being such a phony, the next I think she might have a point.  How real can life be holed up in some million dollar prison?  Raised with a wet-nurse tit in your mouth and only hugging daddy on birthdays.  I made it outside, but she was gone.  Probably had a car and a chauffeur waiting around the corner, the whore.  To hell with her, I said, and strode back into the bar, but the place had changed in the fifteen seconds I’d been outside.  Everyone was still grinding and drinking.  The lights were still hot, and the drinks were still cold, but something had changed.  It was me.  For just a moment I’d let myself feel regret, or was it I’d done something that I regretted?  Didn’t matter, for me, the night was over before it had begun.  I slumped off without telling the boys.  Why ruin their night?  They deserved to have a good time.  I withdrew into my thoughts and let my feet make a way for themselves.  They knew this town as well as anyone, and they’d never lead me astray.

But my feet were no fortune tellers, they could not see the danger I was heading into.  Physical danger is one thing.  I can handle myself in a fight.  The years I spent growing up on the south side of Chicago were a great coach for that.  No, it was a more sinister danger I was doomed for.  Drunk, alone, and deep in thought are the worst combination I can ever find myself in.  Long ago I learned to never drink alone so that my mind would have no shortage of distractions and entertainments.  But alone, the alcohol saturates my mind and causes my thoughts to turn as black as the ends of the alleys my feet carried me past.  And what was at the ends of those alleys?  Garbage, sometimes piled taller than a man stands.  Rats with their sharp teeth and small eyes and plagues.  Bums sleeping among yesterday’s newspapers, a bottle of rotgut next to a bottle of their own urine.  All the refuse of a modern city, and my mind no different, now sorting through all the refuse of a modern man.  The rich girl, desperate to trade her money and name in for a single night of real passion, to taste the grit and salt of life nearer the bottom.  My anger and subsequent regret.  I reached into my back pocket for another cigarette, forgetting that I had bummed the last one.  I cursed and looked around for a convenient store to buy myself a pack, but they were all closed, gates drawn down over barred windows, locked and secure.  I cursed again and lowered my head and kept walking.  I preferred all my vices at once, or none at all.  I knew I would soon lose myself to my own mind, and craved liquor, tobacco, and sex to ease and quicken the passage.  I never did hard drugs, a mind as fragile as mine, I didn’t need narcotics or hallucinogens to bring me up to the edge because that’s where I lived, camped out on the edge of an abyss, the temptation to peer over or even fall was always there, and nights like this I’d move my camp just a little closer.  It was inevitable, I knew, that one day I would take that fall, and willfully probably.  And maybe it wasn’t what was over the edge that attracted me, but the edge itself, what it represented.  It is one thing to be sane, another to be insane, and still another, something far more interesting, to skirt that line between the two.  It is a constant feeling of anxiousness, anxious for what is about to happen, never knowing what that’s going to be.  Ever at the ready to join the fight or hide in the shadows, not knowing yourself which you might do.  I think that all the great thinkers and artists must have known this and spent ample time camped on the edge, barely staving off lunacy in the hopes of achieving some form of enlightenment.  In that way I guess we are no different than the rich girl, searching for enlightenment where we have no business being.  But there we were, regardless of the danger, because of the danger.

Before I knew it I found myself at Lou’s tavern, a tired old place from my past life.  I looked down at my feet and half smiled, half cursed at them.  Damn things had an agenda all their own.

One Story at a Time, Please…

Is that too much to ask, brain? I’m trying to write a book. That’s no small task. I thought we’d be used to this by now. We wrote a screenplay, after all. Eighteen months and you managed to keep focused on one story alone. We did it! So what’s the problem now? Two months and you’re ready to move on? I’d like to finish the first draft of this book in a reasonable amount of time. But as soon as I get into a nice groove, you start talking about other stories you want me to write. And yeah, they’re not bad ideas, but come on! One story at a time, please. Otherwise we won’t get any of them done.

Fine. I’ll give you an hour, then we’re back to the book. Agreed? Good.

What follows is what my brain couldn’t wait to spill out. I tried to just write a basic concept, or a log line, something short and simple. But no, my brain wouldn’t hear it. Maybe I’ll pick this up later, when the book is done. Hear that brain? When the book IS DONE.

– – – – – –

Untitled Cop Story

What’s the word? Massey curses himself, curses his damned useless brain. Five years ago, just five years ago, his mind had been a steel trap. Every fact, every number, every face: locked away in a gray filing cabinet behind his eyes and on his tongue before he needed it. Now it’s all he can do to tie together a coherent, forget cogent, sentence. He was a man who prided himself on his ability to out-think his colleagues. It was the one thing he had over them. Tough guys, every last one of them. A miracle any of them made detective. Best they could hope for was luck to break a case, sheer dumb luck. Or brute force. And they always preferred the latter. What’s a few broken fingers or missing teeth on a perp, so long as they got their confession? That’s the way the Chief liked them – open and shut, no loose ends or questions. DA preferred it that way, too. But Massey never played ball. He didn’t have the muscle, and he didn’t have the stomach. Crime scenes weren’t a problem. He’d seen it all in his thirty-four years since academy. His first month of patrol, he found himself on scene of a homicide. Some palooka fed the business end of a twelve-gauge to his dame. Brains like spaghetti still dripping from the ceiling. She was a real dish, too. Or had been. Massey took it all in with one long look, then stuffed it away in his filing cabinet under “W” for “what-a-waste” and got down to work. Violence and blood didn’t bother him, they came with the job. It’s what else came with the job, what the other pugs in his precinct brought to it that he couldn’t stand. Trouble was, Massey had been cursed with a conscience, a sense of right and wrong. And around here, that didn’t win him many friends.

He looks up, finds himself staring between two bloodshot eyes at what passes for a nose belonging to what passes for a cop named Jake. Jake told anyone who bothered to ask, and even those who didn’t, that he’d broke his nose boxing in sweaty gyms in south Bronx. Truth is he’d never seen the inside of a ring. His wife, ex-wife now I guess, clobbered him good after following him to a hotel one night. Found him in bed with a little twist half his age. The broad even put a brick in her purse, just to make sure he got the message loud and clear. This was years ago. To this day he flinches at the sight of ladies’ handbags.

Massey still can’t find the word he’s looking for. Then he realizes it’s been a long time and he’s just staring at Jake like some animal in a zoo. God he’s ugly. He needed to find the word, and fast. Any word will do. Problem is he also forgot the sentence the word was supposed to finish. You’re losing it, he tells himself. And they know. Jake’s eyes may be red, but they’re also telling. They’re all losing patience with him. Not that they had much to begin with. They resented him for his smarts. So what if maybe he rubbed their noses in it a little? He was the butt of every joke in the precinct. He took victories when and where he could find them, and they were usually in solving a case without signed confessions splattered with blood. Or in private, personal victories like his being the only paperwork to be written above a third-grade reading level. To him, they were Neanderthals in shirts and ties. To them, he just didn’t belong. And when they’re the majority, that’s the only reason they needed.

But here he was, losing the only foothold that kept him out of their reach. If they discovered his secret, found out he was not only weaker than they were, but also just as dumb, he’d be out of the force faster than a .38 special from the Smith holstered at his ribs. Had it really come to this? Was he finally as stupid as the knuckle-draggers surrounding him? He didn’t want to believe it. He couldn’t. He was two years from early retirement. He could scrape by for two more years. Take the easy cases, not cause any ripples. But first, he had to get through the next two minutes. Jake coughed. He was still waiting.

Alright Massey, look around yourself. What was it you were going to say? You’re at a crime scene. A stiff lies face down on the asphalt in front of you. Or it would be face down if the poor bastard still had a face. Forensics was still on their way. The body was discovered in this position less than an hour. Male. judging by the graying hair and liver spots on the hands guy was probably fifties or older. Suit and tie, but not new. Its style was older, and fraying at the edges. Probably the only suit he owned.

“For Chri’sakes Massey, cat got yer tongue? Call it what it was, a mugging and lets go.”

“What makes you figure?”

“The time of night and name of the street.”

“The guy’s got no face, Jake.”

Jake huffs and looks away. He doesn’t care what happened here. His mind is on the coffee and cruller he’d left at his desk when they got the call. But he did have a point. What was this guy doing in this part of town at this time of night? Did he live near bye? Something told Massey no. They hadn’t found a wallet, but couldn’t search the body proper until forensics had their turn. They’d wait for the medical examiner’s opinion before officially declaring cause of death, but Massey already has an idea as to what killed him. The red and ragged skin around his throat was a dead giveaway. This man was dragged by a rope down the street, and the asphalt chewed his face off. But that was only to hide what really killed him. Massey kneels down to reconfirm his suspicion. Sure enough, a definite thin red line goes around the guy’s neck. The rope and the dragging was an attempt to hide the fact that this man had been strangled, probably by piano wire, or a garrote.

“Garrote!”

Jake turns and looks at Massey like he’s lost it. Massey just smiles to himself. Garrote. That was the word he was looking for.

– – – – – –

Happy now, brain? Can we get back to the book please? … What? You have another idea? … Seriously, brain. What the… Fine. Whatever. Let’s hear it.

The book “Isolation” continues. Slowly. More to come later. Thanks for reading!