How I Do It

I was talking shop w/ Greg Levin today. Well, I mean messaging on Twitter because no one actually talks to people anymore (gross). I was telling him I liked his blog, lamenting about when I used to do it more, and how I should again, and now that I am, doing it again that is, blogging, I remember why I stopped. I fucking hate it. It’s stupid.

Writing is stupid.

That’s a joke between my buddy Tom Pitts and me. I can’t recall who came up with the zinger. But we bandy it back and forth pretty regularly these days when one (or both) of us is suffering an existential crisis of writerly faith. Which is invariably.

It’s a gallows humor. I think. Because what almost always follows is either Tom or I texting, “You get the water, and I’ll get the spoon!” Since Tom and I, well, y’know.

Of course nothing is “wrong.” I just released a new book Monday, Skunk Train, while simultaneously proofing a copy of the next one (Occam’s Razor), which is due out in the spring, only to be followed by my first book with new publisher Polis, The Lakehouse, which is out in September. 3 books in 9 months. Pretty cool. There was a time, not too long ago, where I remember telling my friend Adam if I could just get one book published …

That was 2013. Now I have over a dozen, and it means … so little. And before I sound too much like an ungrateful prick, let me explain.

All I’ve ever asked of this life/God/the Universe was a chance to make my living as an artist. I got that. I have nothing to complain about, I am grateful, and I know this second opportunity at life is a blessing and a gift. Forget the art part, just getting out of these January rains, off the streets, packing back on some meat–not dying diseased and alone in a gutter–is a miracle. My wife and boys, the house, the rest of it isn’t icing on cake; it’s what goes on top of the icing. I guess those little confectionary dot thingies, nonpareils, funfetti. Whatever. This isn’t going where I thought it would. Which works both in context and theme.

At the time I made that comment to my friend Adam, we were in a gym. He was my personal trainer. I’d just come from Miami. This was early after what we call the accident. I wasn’t married yet. No kid(s). Justine and I had just started dating. So maybe 2008? ’09? I knew the prognosis for the motorcycle damage was going to get worse–all the doctors told me–but I didn’t really believe it. If I’ve had one thing that’s kept me going, it’s my iron will, resolve, indefatigable pigheadedness. I was still bench pressing three+ plates back then (that’s over 350 lbs.). I didn’t need a cane. Like death, I thought I’d be the exception to prove the rule. Because I’ve never really believed I am going to die. I remember my brother once saying the same thing to me. Before he, y’know, died.

Writing books is for entertainment. I write novels to entertain. I tackle themes, there’s a center and shit I want to say, but it’s not my therapy (I have many, many doctors for that). The blog is also to entertain, but moreover I use it, especially now, to offer a glimpse behind the curtain, a peek behind the scenes; to elucidate a little more of the process. 

With each new release, I hear more and more, “I don’t know how you do it. How you write so many books!” How it takes them years, etc. But here’s the thing. I’m incredibly lazy. I feel incredibly lazy. I mean, this is all I fucking do. No day job. Kids in school. It’s this and golf and lifting weights, and I can’t golf right now because it’s cold, raining, and pissing off my wife, and I can’t lift weights like I used to because my fucking body is fucking failing me. My hip, my back, my shoulder–which wasn’t even part of the original equation–it’s all breaking down. I’m falling apart. Lately I’ve noticed bags under my eyes, more gray, and yeah, yeah, getting older, accept it, cherish, wrinkles are time’s way of saying whatthefuckever. Hang it next to the Live, Laugh, Love sign at your house that I’m never visiting. Because I didn’t sign up to break even, I didn’t pick my ass up off the street for a tie. I’m playing this game to win.

I don’t much feel like I’m winning these days. I can’t bench more than a couple hundred pounds anymore. My mid-irons still suck. I’m tired all the time. With each new release and lackluster sale, I feel I’ve learned more and know less, which leaves me wondering … why bother?Now you may read this and go, “Wow, that’s a recipe for unhappiness!” and you’d fucking be right. It’s setting myself up to fail. With each new book, there is less celebration and more pressure that this must be the one to break me through. And when it doesn’t? (And it never does.) I just keep working on something new, plowing ahead, no quit. That’s what I tell all my writer friends when they come to me after their first book comes out and they’re watching the sales, or lack thereof: AB … um, W. Always Be Writing. (It works better as an Alec Baldwin speech).

A watched pot, etc. The Waiting Place in Dr. Suess’s Oh, the Places You’ll GoFor the people … just waiting. Waiting for a bus to come or a plane to go or the snow to snow or the fucking rain to stop so I can fucking golf and get outside of my head that’s conspiring to destroy me.

See, my advice isn’t working. I have been writing. I have two new books well underway, almost a hundred thousand words combined. One a mystery/thriller/whatever it is I do, and the other, the oft-requested “Holden” book, a memoir follow-up to Junkie Love. I don’t know what it’s gonna be. It’s still taking shape. But it’s not helping, this advice. I am moving. I am writing. And it’s driving me slowly insane. I am back up to a pack a day. And, sure, they are candy cigarettes (real cigarettes cause cancer; don’t smoke), but still … We don’t get rid of habits, only substitute them.

Anyway, the kids are screaming and I have to help put them to bed.

I have spoken.

This is my update. Not that anybody asked for it. But when the next book drops in a few months, and you find yourself wondering, “How’s he do it?” Well, here’s your answer. Intense self-loathing, ennui, morbid curiosity, depression, anger, hate, suicidal ideation and escapist fantasies. Most of all, it’s beating myself up, until these stubborn words come out, even if the only way they will is with the blood gushing from self-inflicted wounds.