Writing Process: Finding My Self

Reviewing my notes for the Young Chronicles section of this blog reminds me of how little I had a sense of who I was as a young man. More to the point, it makes me realize how much I remain the same person. My sense of self lost in mist.

I am a writer. I know that. I’ve been writing for 37 years – novel after screenplay after novel – but remain unpublished. I’ve also taught for 22 years and enjoyed that. But I feel more the actor on that stage. I do not belong there, as administrations remind me again and again.

It is not that I need praise for my work. That isn’t it at all. Writing is definitively the most comfortable place in this world, a refuge from the blur and nonsense, where I truly know who I am. But it is fleeting. I come back to here, this blog, and think that maybe I’m not.

Young Chronicles: Hitchhiking Summer 1983

I hitchhiked across Canada in the summer of 1983 in search of something. I told everyone that I was looking for Canada’s soul – sad but true – but it was clearly more about me.

10,000 miles and 110 different rides later, I can’t say I found anything much but laziness and fear. Not to say that I didn’t try. I stayed at Cavendish Beach in Prince Edward Island, buying enough peanut butter, jam, bread and juice for three days and thinking, “Okay, I’m going to really dig into self-reflection now.”

Sad, lonely view from my tent at Cavendish Beach, PEI

But I didn’t. I just read, wrote nonsense and walked around, counting down until I could eat another sandwich and have another juice. I was marking time, nothing more.

Trying to look confident and cool at Mile Zero in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I did two things with regularity on the trip: take self-portraits and write nonsense. This was my path to becoming a writer and developing a sense of self. That’s what I told myself.

Self-portrait on the side of the road in Prince Edward island

But it all rang hollow. I was closed. To myself and everyone around me. The writing was horrendous drivel, and I just kept looking down the road to see what might be next.

Pandemic Accomplishments: Month Nine

Despite the recent excitement of vaccine and Trump’s repeated failures at the polls and courts, the pandemic drags on. I learned to appreciate the term “Toxic Positivity” over these past days. As Uncle Joe says, a dark winter awaits, meaning that I have learned to reflect more regularly on the utter of pointlessness of this existence and, ipso facto, survived multiple waves of depression and despair.

Mouse blends back into his environment at the Bronx Zoo.

On a more concrete note, I had my bank account cleaned out by a fraudulent check and await the fire marshal’s clearance to helped my wife salvage what we can be from her office which was destroyed by fire.

The remains of Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, New York.

On a more positive note, I have applied for jobs in all five New York City boroughs as well as Paris, Helsinki, Lisbon, Lucerne, Lugano, Rome, Newport, Atlanta, Havana, Cayman Islands and Kathmandu. I have also rewritten the first 110 pages of Anori, with some satisfaction.

Eternal me

On a more moronic note, I have achieved Level 2234 of Fishdom and came, oh so close, to getting the Ghost Robot Fish.

Writing Process: Unconscious Self

I want to write like music. I want to write in a sustained sound. I want to write in a loop that goes around, on and on. I want to write with never-ending tension. I want to write like the opening of a door, the scuffle of feet, the distant sound of something coming soon.

My Bloody Valentine, Hammerstein Ballroom, 2010

I want to write like I dream and see my mother, looking young and sharp, in the car with me to the airport, our bags overflowing out the back, a starship flier picking us up before we even get there, continents vanishing in steam.

View from Crown Mountain, BC

I want to write like it was left unsaid, like eyes see. I want to write in a burrow, like roots to rocks. I want to write words that mean something else in their unconscious self.

Documenta 2017, Kassel, Germany

I want to write like I thought I would.

Young Chronicles XXII: Fortune to Port-Aux-Basque, Newfoundland

The Young Chronicles detail my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the initial Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland leg of the journey, this section covers the return trip back across Newfoundland.

June 16, 1983 Mileage 35 miles

Ride One: Fortune to Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Old turquoise pickup truck. 23-year-old man with toothy grin. Wants to get out of Fortune.

Ride Two: Grand Bank to four miles down road. Old pickup truck. Toolbox. Nice man.

Ride Three: To Marystown. Pickup truck. Young guy, moose hunter, works on the oil platforms, six months on, six months off. Off to fish in Gander, Labrador soon.

Stayed in Mariner’s Lodge run by an old guy. “Been everywhere and know everything.”

June 17, 1983 Mileage 418 miles

Ride One: Marystown to Clarenville. Old car. Squeaky 200-pound moose hunter.

Ride Two: Clarenville to Trans Canada Turnoff. Blue pickup truck. Middle-aged guy with no right hand index finger. Electrician moose hunter. Loves screech and special mild cigarettes.

Ride Three: TCH Turnoff too Gander. Old Blue car. Old lady who told story of mongoloid children from a little red bible. “God bless you.”

Ride Four: Gander to Corner Brook. Old Buick. Young guy who took pictures and hunted moose. Quiet except about moose.

Stayed in Bridgeway Motel with two beds. Upcoming Red Rider concert advertised heavily on radio. Ate a hamburger at an old diner. Still cold. High of 24.

June 18, 1983 Mileage 137 miles PLUS ferry trip back to mainland

Ride One: To “a better exit”. Small car with a guy and girl. “I’ll show you a better exit.”

Ride Two: Corner Brook to Stephenville. Canadian army truck. Guy looked a cartoon character with lips jutting out. Moose hunter

Ride Three: Stephenville to roadside bar 25 north of Port-Aux-Basques. Three guys on a multi-day bender. Doug (groom-to-be, bearded, driver, calm, scar on cheek), Pat (married two years, former speed user), Brian (married three years drinker, mustache) and Tefel (fellow hitchhiker, insecure, loves high speed driving).

Doug, Pat, Brian and Tefel holding the spare tires that acted as back seats.

These guys are all moose poachers and have been jailed four times each. No back seat in the car. Spare tires instead. Shared bottles of beer. I had four. They took us to dump to look for bears and threw empties into the garbage pile. Left them at the bar.

Ride Four: Roadside bar to Port-Aux-Basques Ferry Terminal. Light brown sedan. Mustache and overweight. “Keep all your lanes open in music.”

Overnight ferry to Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Writing Process: Am I Any Good?

Every once in a while, it occurs to me that I’ve been writing for a long while, over 36 years now, writing my novels and screenplays, short stories and articles, and I have yet to get it anywhere of import, nothing but meaningless articles published in community papers.

It has dawned on me that I might not be that good, that, as much as I pretend to deny my desire for vainglory, I crave it as much as the next. It may also be that my writing is bilgewater (my father’s expression), that I drivel on because I am on immature autopilot.

However, my extreme subjectivity understood, I don’t think so. I believe that I understand what’s in a character’s head, what moments mean something and what others do not, what this experiment of ours, humans that is, might or might not be, and that I can express that in words and phrases. My thoughts burn ahead. (Which might explain why I always get fired.)

Midsommer’s Dani looking for truth or something like it.

Anyway, that’s the trickery inside that pushed me on here, ready to take on the big bloggers like Gala Darling and Heather Armstrong and say, well, you know, I might not know marketing and key words but I do know something about…uh, not so sure what that is, but, fucking hell, I have Zake’s Orchestral Studies Collectanae looping in my head, and that has to be worth something.

The Orgiastic Pleasure of Writing

Writing might be hell, but it’s also nakedly divine. Being in there, not knowing what might be coming next, not thinking about it, but looking forward to the words as they sort and bloom, or maybe none of that, but writing wildly with electronic music and gummy bears in my head. That is serenity for me.

Hastings, UK (1989)

It’s a hard thing to wiggle inside of, get my arms out and understand, but I do know this place. It is quiet and everything, tiny and never there. It is impossibly so, a sideways, half-mirror thing, dipping into dreams and memories, imagination of what could be, all of it as concrete as anything, more so than anything else. I know in this place.

McPhedran, Kingston (1986)

I do know about this shitty world, this place we share and begrudge, but I do think that I could help it be something else, not really exactly that, but imagine something like a child. And there is something orgiastically real about that.

Kudos to Princess Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds as well as Paul Simon’s one-time wife, landed the role that defined her life at 20 years of age: Princess Leia of The Star Wars Saga. Ms. Fisher’s is not however a remarkable actor, but rather has The Force in her brave and honest ability to self reflect and share her thoughts with others. She wrote seven autobiographical books, beginning with Postcards from the Edge, much of it delving into the stark issues of addiction and mental illness.

Ms. Fisher was born rich and famous. She had absolutely everything – wealth, intelligence, physical beauty and opportunity – and became conceited and vain because of it, which is what makes her willingness to expose her weaknesses so impressive. Much of this is documented in Shelia Weller’s biography A Life on the Edge.

Am I vulnerable? Unfortunately, yes. I can do wrong better than anyone. (6) Ms. Fisher reflected on her life with blunt humor, a self-examination that was honest and self-deprecating. I wish that I could leave myself alone. I wish that I could finally feel that I punished myself enough, let myself off the hook, drag myself off the rack, where I am both the torturer and tortured. (322) She was unrelenting, to her final days. I’m not happy about being older, except what are the options? I’ve been through a lot, and I could go through more, but I hope I don’t have to. I’m not going to enjoy dying, but there’s not much prep for that. (335)

I have been very tired as of late. More than tired. Maybe it is the smell of the mask. Maybe that is what sets me off. Or the couple walking toward me, happily chatting away, their masks at their chins. Or maybe it’s just everyone bitching on social media and then posting a picture of a baby or dog. It’s all of that unrelenting bullshit. And then I read Carrie Fisher’s biography and thought, well, so what? This is the superficial world I live in, and if I want to do something about that, then get to it. (Yes, let’s.)

The Fear: Trite Angsty Reflections

Previous posts on The Fear I-IV were culled from an autobiographical work called Wreck of Being. It mawkishly details my budding understanding of existentialism through four moments: watching The Wizard of Oz, attending a Leafs game and two Grateful Dead concerts. The book concludes with trite, rambling reflections on what The Fear means.

Now for my truisms: “Bad layering makes for bad burning”. Like every layer – everything from our friends and family to work and dreams – we learn what we need so that survival can be as straightforward as possible. We cannot operate our intelligence without confining it to contexts; to attempt to grasp all facets of existence outside a framed perspective is impossible, would result in a direct confrontation with The Fear and thus insanity.

Truism #2: “Tightly bundled minds cannot breathe.” A perspective must be maintained, but it must not be too confining. The Fear has to be understood and dealt with from time to time, for The Fear is the lurking reality of our universality, of our very irrelevance. It exists and cannot be ignored. Perspectives are vital to living a sane life, but they cannot be fixed. To live within a box of work, wife, whiskey and whist only makes the inevitable meltdown all the more forceful.

And thus my third and final truism: “Layers and The Fear kept in the right balance makes for productive years.” The time in warm and cool layers – the vast majority of years – will always be remembered as the coziest, though the time with The Fear will be the most vivid and affecting. An equilibrium lies somewhere; each to their own.     

The Ubermensch of Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is impossible. No one can self-reflect. No one. Not you. Not me. You might think that you can self-reflect. I am sure that you do. You’re told to do it every day by someone – your brother, your sparing partner, a billboard or newscaster – and you think that you really do. I used to think that it was possible for some people to self-reflect. But it isn’t Not for anyone!

Honestly, consider yourself right now, reading this, thinking, “Well, I self-reflect. I’m doing it right now. I am self-reflecting on my self-reflecting! Obviously I am. It’s stupid to say that I don’t because I do. I’m doing it right now! It’s as clear as anything ever was!”

Yeah, but, no, you’re not. You only think you are because you’re trapped in that head of yours. It isn’t self-reflection at all. It is just you tricking yourself that you’re self-reflecting. As much as you might think you are self-reflecting, especially if you use words like mindful and empathetic, you’re not. You’re the opposite. You’re only doing that because you think it’s good and right. It’s like smoking. You stopped doing that because you were told it is bad and wrong, when it isn’t. That’s because you’re all ego and super ego. You’re all you. That’s all there is to you. Nothing else. Certainly not someone who can self-reflect.

I am the same as you. All I can do is reflect on how I don’t self-reflect. I mean, I can also reflect on you reading this. But that’s not me. That’s you. And I can even reflect on how insightful I am for realizing that no one can self-reflect. It is all so very clear. Or it’s not. But it is. I came to realize that the more I self-reflect. Which goes back to the main point. You can’t self-reflect.

To paraphrase Nietzsche, one can only self-reflect if you,1) become yourself, 2) avoid self-hatred and 3) overcome yourself. Seriously, you have to be on a lot of Oxy if you think you can really do any of that. And if you do – think that you can do that, that is – then you can’t – self-reflect that is – because you can’t.

In others words, like Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, the more you think you can self-reflect, the more you can’t. It’s as simple as that.