*Author’s note: This is a brief “experimental memoir.” For now, I’m calling it Possible Title. It is an act of literary collage, a personal ethnography, a story strung together bit by bit, piece by piece, built from more than 3,000 pages of letters, notes, postcards, and journal entries, all of which were written (and saved) by me, in my twenties. The story begins when I’m 21 and ends when I’m 29. -BL
Living at home with parents. Dating my computer. Going to the movies by myself a lot.
Somehow I’ll be a writer.
Protagonist a disaffected college graduate.
Possible title: To Tell You the Truth.
Just finished internship. Working for a placed called Film Colony, up in Hollywood. (Film Colony: owned by Miramax.) Overall, pretty lame. Every day ate lunch at the same café on Beverly. That was the highlight. Sitting at the bar with a USA Today, right across from the little window where the cooks pass the food to the waitresses.
Always had the same waitress. Looked sort of like Meg Ryan, except for the tattoo on her back. Would glance at it from behind my newspaper. Gothic spider web between shoulder blades. Girl had a sexy back. Always wore tank tops. Always put her hand on my shoulder when she asked if everything was okay. Everything was always okay.
Ate there this past Friday, my last day on the “job.” Almost told her that she was the “nicest person I’d met when I was in LA”—but then figured I’d be getting too sentimental.
Really, the only thing I ever said to her was shit like: “I’ll have the penne pasta with a side salad.”
Bought Mike Meyers (Austin Powers) a carton of Parliament Lights. He was on a movie set up in Toronto, and they didn’t have Parliament Lights. So I was assigned to get him one and Fed-Ex it overnight.
Which I did.
Protagonist a conceptual artist? Homeless? Wears safety goggles at all times?
Going running a lot. Pretty much every day. With Merlin. Don’t know who needs it more. We go to this dog beach over in Huntington. It’s like a giant runway, wide and white, moving northward up the coast and then, many miles ahead, bending off to the left, where I can see all kinds of factories and smokestacks through a haze the color of old ladies’ pantyhose.
To my right, across the highway: giant oil pumps everywhere, fornicating with Mother Earth.
Merlin usually drinks a bunch of seawater, then projectile vomits.
The kid on my baseball team who got struck by lightning. The one who cut his finger off. Getting puked on in gym class. The kid who drowned. President Reagan getting shot. The girl who died of spinal meningitis. Holding that bird. Falling through the ice. Eating that worm on a dare.
Possible title: Formative Experiences.
Trying to figure out a new place to live. Looking at roadmaps. In limbo.
Parents voicing concerns.
Contemplating Ashland, Oregon. Famous for its Shakespeare festival. Five miles north of the California border. Population: 17,000. One quasi-job-interview in the works. (Some sort of advertising company; might be willing to meet with me.) Gonna go up there and roll the dice after the first of the year. See what happens.
Possible title: At a Total Loss for Words.
A million different ideas. Fear plus desperation equals survival.
Am going to write a novel. Am going to write a novel.
Am also going to write short stories, a screenplay, possibly a stand-up act.
Also thinking about starting a T-shirt company called LisTees. “Interactive” T-shirts. Text messages across the front that engender interpersonal contact.
Fuck with people’s heads. Bring said people together.
The digital brain. What computers are doing to my consciousness.
Emerson didn’t write Nature until his early thirties. His first book.
In his twenties: his wife died.
Beautiful women tend to sleep with rich men. I realize that. Am fully aware of that. But those aren’t my kind of women, anyhow. I’m looking for a woman with character.
The old me. The early high school me. All-American until age 15. Straight A’s. Extracurriculars. Teachers liked me. I had manners.
The persistent dream of one day owning land. A thousand acres. Making it an animal sanctuary? Cows and pigs and chickens and llamas. Some wild horses, too.
Maybe a tortoise.
The possibility of a documentary. Fascinated with trucker world, the world of truck-driving in general. Roadside cafes. Americana. Grits.
The script idea that I’ve been working on, the one about the guy who can’t get his shit together—it involves the truck stop circuit. The main character’s dilemma is resolved when he becomes a truck stop poet.
Protagonist isn’t me. Separate story from self. Employ a different voice.
Ashland, Oregon = extremely depressing. Medford, even more so.
(Were the towns themselves depressing, or am I just “depressed?”)
Job interview with ad agency: semi-positive, ultimately uninspiring.
Skies: gray. Temperatures: freezing.
Staying at some shitty motel.
Also went to Flagstaff, AZ. Economic wasteland. Walked into local newspaper office, told them I was looking for a job. Man at desk laughed grimly, referred to town as “poverty with a view.”
Driving home empty-handed. Disillusioned. Parents at wits’ end. Moment of crisis. Rash decision made.
Now, suddenly, back in Boulder. Back to Square One.
Fled Orange County. Fled Hollywood.
Couch-surfing. U-Haul. Directionless. FUCK.
Supposed to find Real Job. Supposed to find Real Life.
Feeling: uncomfortably numb.
Tired of: trying to act like I know what I’m doing.
To shower with beautiful women. To be wise. To watch football on Sundays. To be on vacation forever.
Early childhood in Milwaukee. Germans. Norwegians. Lutherans. BB guns. Harley Davidsons. Idyllic.
The move to Indiana = traumatic. First day of sixth grade: wearing suspenders. (Pariah.)
Protagonist’s voice should be frenetic and hyperkinetic and scattered, but at the same time very hypnotic. Reader must be kept rapt—subject matter must remain universal as much as possible (sex, death, love, confusion). Rhythmic and poetic and naturally uncertain. This is a semi-blind tour guide, not some wounded teenage shit-head with a god’s eye view.
Melville’s lifetime book earnings: just over $10,000.
(We share a birthday.)
Possible title: I’m Not Me.
Reality = brutal. Rent in Boulder too high. Can’t afford a one-bedroom that allows dog. Now living in exile in Lafayette. Aluminum siding. Suburbia. A few miles east. Apartment is basement-level, barren. Every room paved in powder blue linoleum. Corridor leading from kitchen to bedroom: slightly more than two feet wide.
Most writers are miserable. Even Twain. (Even Twain!) Extremely bummed out at the end. Dying all alone, in that pitiful white suit.
Protagonist’s voice should be musical, lyrical, tangential, contradictory.
Abstract yet vaguely familiar.
Cumulative effect: oddly powerful.
Still unemployed; potentially unemployable. Skill set a nebulous world of odds and ends. Don’t understand the “bond market.” Can’t even tie a tie.
The Yellow Pages. The classifieds. A useless college degree.
Zero important connections.
Driving slowly past pizza delivery establishments with alarming frequency.
Trying to ice down my swelling lameness.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am responding to the ad I saw in the Sunday Post concerning your need for a “freelance copywriter with a sense of humor.” I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in film studies, as my résumé will attest, but don’t let the film degree fool you. I’m a writer, not a cameraman. I like words, not machines.
I am also very funny. Most of my friends wear adult undergarments because they wet themselves while in my presence from laughing so hard.
I am also very versatile.
Where the Sidewalk Ends. The Boxcar Children. Superfudge. Where the Red Fern Grows.
Please don’t tell me I’m at the mercy of my DNA.
I have enclosed for your review three poems from my arsenal. I am young—aged twenty-three years. I cannot boast to you about published collections, trophies, or medals. I can, however, tell you this: I am a serious poet, and the work I have sent you is the product of my most concentrated efforts.
Working on a children’s book about a boy with a magical head cold. Progressing at a snail’s pace.
Have a burning desire to go to India and eat rice for six weeks straight and meditate.
Choose Your Own Adventure.
Salary requirements go as follows: $12 per hour, minimum. This number was arrived at by adding my costs of living—rent, food, gasoline, bills. Anything less would create a situation where I am unable to provide myself with the bare essentials.
Cat’s Cradle. Childhood’s End. “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”
To live to the age of 109. To tell the world the truth through false teeth.
Maybe I should buy a TV.
I am interested in the Programming/Quality Control Administrative Coordinator position I discovered while searching the CareerPath.com website. I have been seeking an opportunity such as this for a long time. I have excellent organization and communication skills, and a wide-ranging knowledge of film, television, and popular culture.
Protagonist isn’t Amory Blaine, nor is he Nick Adams. He’s a motor mouth. Lacks composure. He’s Bardamu on peyote buttons. The book should look distorted when you’re right up close to it, but then cohesive and compelling and beautiful the further you move away, like an abstract expressionist painting.
It’s an abstract expressionist painting of Andy Warhol’s world.
Critics will probably hate it. You have to be prepared for that.
The readership might not be huge—at first.
I am writing with regard to the Entertainment Editor position. I feel very strongly that I am perfectly suited for this job.
Please let me assure you that what I lack in experience I make up for with contagious enthusiasm, explosive writing talent, a congenial personality, impeccably fresh breath, and a sincere compassion for the sick and needy.
And then there’s that false feeling, too, that to sell a book, to somehow “make it big,” would wash away all the self-doubt and dissatisfaction in an instant. But of course that’s wrong, that’s wrong, that’s dead wrong. That’s not going to validate me. It’ll feel good, sure, but it’s not the quick fix that it’s often cracked up to be. It’s just a band-aid for a gaping wound, an extra-strength Bayer for an aneurysm.
Trying to fill your God hole.
Protagonist has ironic barcode tattoo on his left pectoral.
All of my worries are average.
Life is dreadfully serious and hysterically funny—and often at the same time.
Possible title: Etcetera Blah.
Final chapter has protagonist on airplane, flying into La Guardia. Captain tells passengers to look out their windows to see Statue of Liberty. Protagonist looks, makes note of the fact that she appears hermaphroditic. Wishes that she were naked and made of gold, with a giant price tag stapled to her face.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
‘The best authors write their lives—directly. (Even if they’re writing about other people’s lives.)
Persistent themes: death, meaninglessness, faith, sex, identity.
Possible title: Fiction.
Possible title: Book.
A company job. A sense of security. Something to do everyday, the same old check to be deposited, the incremental promotions, the bottled water.
Assimilation = protagonist’s strong suit. Charm. Desperation. Little magic tricks. Lengthy jokes recalled from memory. A willingness to endure strange physical pain for purposes of entertainment (i.e. intentional electrocution).
Really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me and enjoyed our conversation about potential employment opportunities at Warren Miller Entertainment. Having given it some thought, I have come to the conclusion that the Production Assistant’s job is both creative and film-oriented, and therefore most congruent with my talents and career objectives as they pertain to your organization.
Get ready to have the air let out of your heart.
Fiction that considers the psychological implications of cell phones.
Telling the truth with nouns and verbs.
What does “security” mean, anyhow?
Why does my social fun always have to end in the flu?
Excited about your plans for the future and really feel like I could make great things happen if given the opportunity.
The book is about an orphan who, in the final chapter, meets his biological mother. (Only to discover that she’s now a man?)
Protagonist addicted to Pac-Man. Pac-Man: being chased by ghosts. Protagonist: being chased by ghosts.
Eating ghosts. Defeating ghosts.
(Consumed by ghosts?)
Firm handshakes. The sweaty palm problem. Getting to know your fellow coworkers. Maintaining good eye contact. The establishment of solid rapport.
Tremendous pain in low back area. Pitched forward. Wincing. Walking like Elvis during his bloated years. Just ate Vicodin.
Protagonist keeps a regular video diary. Interviews self on camera every morning.
Possible title: Record.
To finally find what you’ve been looking for; to instantly realize you don’t want it.
Email conversations as dialogue, all lowercase letters.
Also: chat transcripts.
Possible title: Fiction Book.
Possible title: The Story.
No more temp work, no more pizza delivery.
I need to speak in the form of questions, exclusively? I need to meditate on my own death every morning at sunrise? I need to move to New York City, buy a trench coat and a scarf, and listen to obscure jazz records?
MUST become an actual writer AS SOON AS POSSIBLE so that I can escape this VICIOUS DEATH CYCLE.
A doomed organism, destined to be consumed by the system.
A bildungsroman about a hypersensitive young man who finds himself at odds with the hyper-commercialized world.
Achingly self-aware of his aching self-awareness.
Sometimes the office smells weird, like a junior high school lunchroom, and it is often too warm in the office, which makes me sleepy, especially in the afternoons.
Not enough time. Time is the critical issue. Ten-hour days. Drive home. Run the dog. Eat. Sit down. Write, write, write. Then try to sleep. Then back to the office. Again and again. And so on. Forever.
Terrible money anxieties, most of which are valid.
Protagonist’s name = Bill Dungsroman?
Need to start writing in the mornings. Up before dawn. Like a soldier.
Possible title: Halcyon Daze.
And I’m just chickenshit about the whole dating thing.
Stick to the truth. The truth. THE TRUTH. Where the story gets lost I am blind and lying. Blind because I am lying.
Don’t tell any lies unless they’re true.
Thinking about living overseas. A persistent daydream. London or Paris. Or Cambodia. Maybe Moscow. Mentioned it to my older sister yesterday, who told me I “have a wild hair up my ass,” reminding me, with vigor, that I’ve only held the new job for three and a half weeks and need to “get a fucking grip already.”
Last line of the book: “I don’t want to be anyone else anymore.”
Possible title: Anyone Else Anymore.
I work in a closet, mostly. My “office” is the “Dub Room,” a closet-turned-room where a patch board and many television screens and editing devices are located. Where video copies are made. The room is tomblike, solitary, oppressive. I am often left alone to sit silently with my machines.
Enclosed please find “Secrets”, a contemporary short story about the illusory nature of success and the tragedy of neglected truth. I believe this story to be stylistically original, provocative, and entertaining. It is one in a collection that I am currently working on, all of which are set in the same suburban town and rooted in the grim observations of my Middle American youth.
Maybe Copenhagen. Or Prague. The coast of Vietnam. Possibly Barcelona. The Costa Brava. Ghana.
London probably wouldn’t work, because I’d have to quarantine my dog.
(A story about being quarantined?)
Change of location doesn’t ultimately lead to change between one’s ears.
Do I know that? Of course I know that.
The source of my greatest anxiety is that I feel like I don’t know enough.
A weekend in California. Forty-eight hours with the family.
Zero vacation days used.
Return trip. Airport. Tall girl. Brunette. Standing outside of a gift shop. Sparkly black shirt, extremely tight black pants. Now, on the plane, she glides down the aisle, coming towards me. Statuesque.
I look to the empty seat beside me and think: Oh, Jesus Christ, please.
When she gets to my row I pretend like I’m reading. The girl stops. Pivots. The pivot puts her ass right at my left ear. I sort of glance up and see her ass right there in my face. But the girl has only pivoted to make her walk down the aisle a little easier. She slides right by me, and soon her ass is gone. No one ever takes the middle seat.
To write fiction based on my life, what I’ve seen and heard, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been.
Hemingway and his tendency to marry wealthy women.
Now attending yoga class every Saturday at suggestion of doctor, to help with aching back. Instructor, well known in yoga circles, leads us through elaborate pose sequence that is supposed to end with one’s feet pressed together neatly behind one’s head. Live demonstration.
“Once you get it,” he says, “it’s actually quite comfortable.” Ridiculous serenity. Ghastly to look at. “Does anyone have any questions?”
Am tempted to ask if he can blow himself.
I want no one to be my boss, nor do I want to be the boss of anyone. Am uncomfortable in both roles.
Possible title: A Series of Misguided Attempts.
Today at work had a long conversation with company intern about the possibility of moving to Mexico. Discussion centered on the Ixtapa area and the small fishing village of Zihuatanejo.
Very easy in this system to become whipped by routine and lose the energy necessary to live uniquely.
Mother says I need to improve my attitude. Father shakes his head in disbelief.
What I’m talking about when I talk about “bullshit” is the kind of everyday exaggeration and manipulation of facts that human beings rarely talk about but constantly participate in: the little nervous lies we tell by accident without even knowing we’re doing it, like when we tell our friends in passing how hard we’ve been working, even though we haven’t been working very hard at all.
Awareness of my own ignorance and mediocre intelligence.
Little sister, on the telephone: “When are you gonna get your shit together?”
Possible title: Nothing is Sacred.
Moving to Longmont unexpectedly. About 15 miles north of Boulder. A shot of good luck. Good friend, A.B., who makes his living in real estate, just bought a house up there with plans to renovate it and flip it. Has offered to let me live, rent-free, for the entire summer. Glory. A tremendously kind gesture that’ll save me over a thousand bucks. Is tempting me to quit my job, just say fuck it, and write like hell all summer.
But do I have the balls?
Meditating every morning. New development. Attempting discipline. Thirty minutes at dawn, bearing witness to wild insanity of mind. (Thoughts tend to involve money, failure, writing, sex, death, war, childhood, guilt, and humiliation—though not necessarily in that order.)
Protagonist a high school teacher. Also a day-trader. Also makes industrial films on weekends, for extra cash. (Also has Tourette syndrome?)
Possible title: I Digress.
Made the move a couple of weeks ago. Everything I own in a 5×8 U-Haul. Now living alone in a rickety eight-room house on Collyer Street. Boxes everywhere. Chaos.
First morning: no hot water. Late out of bed and rushed for work. Stumble to the shower and turn the “hot” knob: nothing. But the cold water cranks out just fine, three degrees shy of being slush.
To be relentlessly, unflinchingly, unbendingly optimistic. Always.
NO MATTER WHAT, THINK GOOD THOUGHTS!
A book about faith in the aftermath of tragedy. About how to make sense of cosmic luck and the total lack thereof.
A story about a small town exterminator whose wife dies unexpectedly in a tragic chemical spill. Exterminator finds he can no longer exterminate anything.
Possible title: The Ex-Terminator.
Bukowski, publishing his first novel at age 51.
Kerouac, passing through Longmont in On the Road.
Novel must answer the question “Why live?” affirmatively—but not in any kind of cheesy, maudlin way.
Possible title: Happiness is Chemical.
Strange to be living in a space this large. Five of the eight rooms completely empty. Inside of the house smells like the elderly. Carpet is puke yellow when you walk in, then changes over to brown for no particular reason on the way to the kitchen.
The gray future, the pockets full of nothing but lint, the dissatisfying day job that pays me nicely in confusion.
The thirty-minute drive to work and these curious sparrows I always see when stopped at red lights. The things are everywhere. Thousands of them. Dive-bombing all the cars in what appear to be choreographed flight patterns. Been living on the Front Range for six-odd years now. Never seen anything like it.
Bitter about the fact that bitterness is nothing more than amplified self-pity.
Feeling guilty about feeling guilty.
The big, uncut lawn out back that runs half the length of a football field. Somewhere in the thick of it: a rotting garden. You walk through the overgrown grass and find yourself stepping on vegetables.
And the moths. (THE MOTHS!) The insane amount of moths. The other night I leave the back door open to let Merlin out. An invasion. Fifty of them. Maybe a hundred. Maybe more. Buzzing overhead and bashing into light fixtures. Everywhere. The house is now filled with them. I’m serious.
Headphones on. Listening to the new David Hasselhoff album. (Comedy research.)
Boss pulls me into his office late this afternoon. Informs me that I am being PROMOTED. (Not a joke.)
Complete shock. (Flattered?)
Internal nervous laughter. (Suppressed.)
Substantial surge of weird fear.
The blueprint of a man is drawn in his twenties.
Everything dimmed and then brightened and then dimmed again, and then everything went black. Computer screen made the odd popping sound and the hard drive wheezed to a halt. Fumbled for the flashlight but couldn’t find it. Eventually felt my way to the front door and stood outside on my porch, letting my eyes adjust.
You will get to be the boss of people, he tells me. You will be in charge of the man who takes your place in the Dub Room. You will receive a marginal salary increase and will be asked to devote even more of your time to the company cause.
Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t just live in my fucking car and sell beaded necklaces.
Screenplay idea: romantic comedy about an elderly man and woman. Awkward. Isolated. Never married. Rapidly losing will to live. Lifetime loners who finally find good fortune. Meet in a pet store, hate each other at first—and then fall madly in love.
Possible title: 69.
On a practical level, my overall approach to life has always been pretty asinine.
No one believes you’re going to do something until you’ve already done it.
Possible title: The Great American Navel.
Graduate school: latest grand scheme to liberate self. Has become clear that “formal education” might be the only way to find time needed to devote self fully to writing.
Standing by the copy machine this afternoon; overhear two of my fellow employees talking about sparrows. The kind that dive-bomb cars.
“So you’ve seen them?” I say.
“Yeah,” they say. “They’re eating moths. There are millions of moths in Colorado right now. We’re infested. It happens, like, once every seven years.”
A writer who can’t articulate what he’s writing about.
That people actually survived office jobs before the Internet.
Will apply to a wide variety of topflight schools, including the University of Iowa, the finest creative writing program in the nation.
Am imagining with great happiness a small ranch house situated in the middle of a bleak, desolate cornfield.
Vonnegut once taught there.
Seven-hundred to 1,000 apply. Twenty-five are accepted.
The gas station fire. Running home on New Year’s Eve (cops in pursuit). Wrecking the scooter. Stepping on the spider. Lip-syncing “C is for Cookie.” Losing my virginity. Getting arrested at the party.
Making tentative plans to eventually stop procrastinating.
Possible title: The Distractions.
Friday night. Concert. Out with friends. Red Rocks. Psychic release. Ate a very small amount of psychedelic mushrooms. Good dosage. Didn’t really feel like I was on anything. Just felt extremely awake.
At set break, walked down to concession stand, bought a large bag of shelled peanuts, a soft pretzel, some licorice, and a Coke. Sat there eating enormous quantity of carnival food, alone. (Probably more wasted than I thought I was?)
Later, heading back up into the stands, I see a college girl in a purple t-shirt and cut-off jean shorts racing down the stone steps straight towards me, looking directly at me. Attractive. Busty. Blonde. Mysterious. Brings an index finger up to her lips and appears to be giving me the sssshhh signal. Stops me dead in my tracks. Fear. Confusion. Elation. What? The girl continues in my direction, finger pressed to her lips, eyes wide, looking at me. And just as she reaches me, she stops short—and heaves. Vomits three separate times at my feet before continuing on her way to the bathroom.
Can you tell how much I hate my job? Is it evident?
Most people aren’t very good at anything.
I bet Sigmund Freud liked cream in his coffee.
And what if the answers to pretty much everything are already here, ready for the taking? What if they’re in your local bookstore, the big answers, all of them? Right there. Life, birth, sex, love, death, God, you name it. And The Truth is somewhere in the middle of the stacks, and it’s up to you to find it.
When am I just going to shut the fuck up? When am I going to meet a girl I can actually talk to? Why the fuck can’t I just be happy? Maybe I am happy and this is just a bad moment. This too shall pass. Shut the fuck up. This town is full of beautiful women and you can’t meet any of them. How come I don’t have any common sense? It’s my own goddamn choice. If I wanted money, I could have money. I could go get a goddamn job at a goddamn advertising firm. I could work my way up in television and find a way to make decent money within five years. Children. White picket fence. An eventual move to upstate Vermont. Breeding. But I don’t want to do that. Why don’t I want to do that? I don’t want to do that because I would be miserable doing that. It’s a choice that I’m making. It’s a conscious goddamn sacrifice. Okay then, you pussy, so shut the fuck up and quit whining.
Last night: a blind date. Coors Field. Baseball. Hippie girl. Spiritual. Very serious. On greeting each other, did not shake hands or hug. Girl sat in lotus position throughout game. Whenever someone hit the ball well or made a graceful defensive play, she would say, “That was beautiful.”
Do not think there will be a date #2.
Iowa. Brown. Texas. Cal-Irvine. Wherever. For me it would amount to time, a shelter under which I could hide out and roll the dice, live in a community of like-minded individuals and attempt to learn my trade.
Called in sick. Went skiing.
This is who I am. This is what I do.
Am now what is called a “Development Coordinator.” Job entails reading terrible scripts about renegade snowboarders and writing treatments for documentary television programs involving wild animal attacks.
Imagining ten years down the road, when everyone is driving Volvo station wagons.
Mom: “I can’t believe they haven’t fired you yet.”
Threw out lower back last night—at Blockbuster Video. Bending down to pick up a copy of Hideous Kinky, having been tempted to rent it by a coworker, who promised frontal nudity.
Making twenty-five grand a year and living in some shitty apartment.
Making myself sit down at 5 a.m., before work, taking out all of these goddamn story “sketches” I’ve put to paper the last three years. Actually doing something with them.
Usually there is a character or two at the heart of the story, and these are the people about whom the reader is concerned.
School bus. Seventh grade. Sitting all alone, up near the front. Appetite for Destruction on my Walkman.
And if I don’t get into grad school: THEN WHAT?
The relentless fantasy of writing a book that some kid somewhere will read one day when he’s drowning in defeat, and how the book will make him feel better and prevent him from just saying FUCK EXISTENCE.
Novel = life raft.
Possible title: Fuck Existence.
Please read this letter very carefully. Along with my writing samples, it’s the most important part of my application.
That I was the kicker on my high school football team. That I missed my only field goal attempt.
How it bounced off the crossbar.
Haven’t had the hobo-on-the-freight-car experience. Don’t understand Wittgenstein, or any of that shit.
A 1,500-page magnum opus called Long Story Short.
Lately have taken to wearing earplugs, little cheap foam ones from the drugstore. Put them in my ears and can hear myself breathe. Similar to being underwater. Helps me to lock in and concentrate.
Waking up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. Worry and nervous energy and excitement. Thoughts of being able to quit my job and go back to school and just focus.
Earliest memory: a nightmare. The Incredible Hulk chasing me. Witches around a cauldron, wanting to cook me in a pot.
Later that night: awake. Mom and I in the little yellow kitchen in the little yellow house in Concord. I’m crying. She’s making me a peanut butter sandwich.
Possible title: Life Raft.
The fact that I’ve never borne a pall before.
It’s not like I was twitching in the attic above the garage, cranking out novels at age fifteen. It’s not like I wore all black or anything.
I chain-smoked and tried to play sports.
And good judgment is the result of experience. And experience is often the result of bad judgment.
Possible title: The Beginning of the Middle of the End.
For me it’s about more than just grad school. It’s about LIBERATION.
The fact that I started an underground school newspaper in the fourth grade. Thorson Elementary. The Thorson Times. Ryan, Ryan, Nathan, and I. Twenty-five cents on the playground. One edition. Tabloid journalism. Grading our teachers. Reprimanded. Sent to the principal’s office. Scolded. Ordered to return all collected funds.
Fear of the future. Fear of a gold watch. Fear of a plaque for the wall.
Of a riding lawnmower. Of liver spots. Of porch swings. Of hip replacements. Of varicose veins.
And of a stupid, empty death.
Don’t have the confidence to be naked in public.
I’m a writer and I can’t stand reading myself.
The late Belgian mystery writer Georges Simenon, and how he wrote, on average, one novel every eleven days, over the course of several decades. More than 500 books in all.
A recent study by the American Sociological Review; how 25 percent of Americans don’t feel like they have anyone to confide in.
A short story about a man who keeps photos of his ex-girlfriends’ vaginas on his camera phone?
You don’t understand, Dad. You don’t choose to be a writer. Writing chooses you.
The constipation of the soul. The search for a “soul laxative.” Need to have a giant episode of soul diarrhea. Need a giant flood of brown, creative liquid to come gushing out of my soul and splatter all over endless blank white pages, staining them permanently with some kind of REAL HUMAN TRUTH.
Possible title: Soul Diarrhea.
Possible title: Real Human Truth.
What if it turns out that I’m lying to myself, floating down a river towards a giant existential waterfall, and everyone can see it but me, but nobody has the guts to tell me that I have no talent and I’m headed for disaster, and one day soon, any day now, I’m going to go plunging over the falls and plummet, plummet, plummet, down, down, down, into a fiery pit of personal hell and failure forever?
Just had major epiphany. Have realized that I’m an extraordinary pussy.
Possible title: Extraordinary Pussy.
Possible title: The Vanity of Humanity is Profanity.
No longer living in Longmont. Moved back down to Boulder on Labor Day. U-Haul. Boxes. Sunburn. Exhausted.
Now living in ratty, 700-square-foot ranch house on 17th Street with Schuyler (college friend) and Patrick (childhood friend). Three large dogs. Fenced yard.
The fact that I’m a stall man. That I tend to use a stall when taking a leak in a public restroom, rather than standing elbow-to-elbow.
Worst nightmare? The freestanding trough.
Possible title: The Stall Guy.
Candor ends paranoia.
Possible title: Times of Flux and Crisis.
Went on date with random waitress girl. We meet at Mamacita’s. Girl is all dressed up. I’m wearing a T-shirt. We talk. Girl seems flirty (possibly drunk?). Tells me she wants to go back to her place to “get me stoned.” Lives around the corner. Okay, I say. We walk to her house; she packs me a bowl. Turns on the stereo. I take two hits, get instantly obliterated (low-functioning stoner). She puts on Hole, the Courtney Love band, and starts dancing around the room, laughing at me, telling me how “fucking baked” I look.
Communications skills: crippled.
Mental chatter: increasing.
Then, out of nowhere, she runs up and sits on me, straddles me, we start making out. Caught off-guard. In shock. Girl, it now occurs to me, is almost certainly drunk. I end up spending the night at her house. No sex. Strange. Too stoned to move. Paralyzed. In captivity.
The next morning: wake up early. Girl is lying next to me, weeping.
“What?” I say.
She tells me she has a potentially life-threatening neurological disease.
Finished first draft of a story I’ve been working on lately, the one about the pathetic housewife where I’m narrating in the first person.
Plumber just arrived. Contents of garbage disposal now bubbling in bathtub.
Have been informed that house’s main line and septic line are “one and the same.”
A savage, satirical book about identity formation in a hyper-mediated world. American reinvention and redemption. What it means to be alone, what it means to not be alone.
Possible (ironic) name for a generation: The Next Generation®.
(Registered trademark symbol included for effect?)
Just be yourself. Write simply. Use a blunt, conversational tone. All about how hard you’ve worked, living in linoleum shit-holes, floating around, reading ceaselessly, teaching yourself how to write. And how you’re ready to take the next step. Get your Master’s degree.
But never grovel. Nobody likes a groveler.
Am I turning into a person who can only relate to house pets?
And now my goddamn Jeep is about to die.
Took a sick day Wednesday (sunny weather) and another on Friday (sunnier weather). Told the office voicemail that I was “battling a sinus infection.” Convincing performance. Semi-scratchy voice. Faintest hint of melodrama.
Sat on front porch all afternoon. Listening to Cuban music.
The possibility of confidence. Dramatic loss of fear.
A scared, ridiculous, self-loathing pussy with a bad attitude.
Possible title: Vagina Boy.
My pet rabbit, Peter, when I was a kid. The little albino. Cage on the side of the house. Feeding him every morning before school. Wisconsin winter. Finding him frozen to death. Thinking that he was asleep. Shaking the cage. Saying: “Peter?” Shaking the cage again. Saying: “Peter?”
Just sneezed and told myself, “God bless you.” Then thanked myself.
This afternoon. Boss calls me into his office. “Have a seat.” I sit. Hands in lap. Nervous on the black leather couch.
Out of nowhere, boss tells me that I have a “bright future in the company.” (!) The owner really likes me (!), he says. (Note: have spoken with owner for approximately 15 total minutes during my tenure.) Also: They are giving me a $4,500 Christmas bonus and “definitely see an expanding role for me in the future.” (!)
Chewie, take it to hyper-speed.
THAT’S NO MOON.
Vonnegut’s mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day.
His daughter, Edie, was once married to Geraldo Rivera.
Even if I don’t get into graduate school, am now making SOLEMN VOW to quit this job in spring or early summer.
Possible title: Inward Mobility.
The idea that one’s opinion of the world is also a confession of one’s character.
Am I a magnet for the insane?
Do opposites really attract?
How my parents only dated for three months before getting engaged.
And are still married.
My obsession with authenticity/honesty in writing (and all other art forms).
The world is shit. (I’m shit.)
The world is beautiful! (I’m beautiful!)
Asking yourself: What is keeping you from getting your book done? How do you structure this novel to give it a real sense of pace and integrity? What can you do to make money while you (potentially) attend school and write? How can you increase your productivity and decrease your level of stress?
Must lean into tidal wave.
This afternoon returned home from grocery store. In the mailbox: a letter from the University of Iowa. Small envelope. Minimal contents.
“I’m sorry,” the letter said.
Not really all that upset. Really and truly, I’m not.
A viciously funny, bitterly satirical short story called “Hot Women and the Cars They Drive.”
How a fearless person’s mind might work.
Bricklaying. Tedium. Precision. Repetition.
Road rage. Compulsive gambling. Seasonal affective disorder.
Possible title: The Poverty of the West.
Thomas Edison and all the many hundreds of light bulb prototypes that didn’t work.
A commanding presence. A soothing baritone. An excellent head of hair for a man his age. I can see why women might find that kind of thing attractive.
How to get lucky. How to get crushed.
How can you expect to hit your target if you don’t know what your target is?
If I get into one of my remaining schools, will likely take bonus money and move to Europe for the summer. Live like a monk in bohemian splendor.
The fact that I’ve become increasingly adept at ingesting large quantities of terrible information.
I’m sorry, said Virginia. I’m sorry, said Texas.
A dog. An attack dog. A cop dog. A drug dog. A biography of a bomb-sniffing dog. HAS ANYONE EVER WRITTEN A BIOGRAPHY OF A DOG?
I’m sorry, said Cal-Irvine. I’m sorry, said NYU.
Better luck next time, said Brown.
Staring at a flashing cursor. Trying to put the words in the right order.
What I’m doing is trying to mimic my own consciousness, essentially.
Set the story in 2520 and give him three penises and make him a cancer survivor who wears all the latest fashions and have him cook some crystal meth in the basement next to the sump pump so that Teenage America can finally learn its lesson, once and for all.
Reacting with total surprise upon discovering that every action has its consequence.
The notion that some people might find this annoying.
I’m sorry, said Montana. I’m sorry, said Wisconsin.
Protagonist a migrant farm worker with a photographic memory.
Emily Dickinson’s first definitive collection, published more than fifty years after her death.
Just ate some watermelon—and washed it down with water.
Who the hell am I, and what am I trying to say?
In what areas can I be more flexible? What can I do to shore up my greatest weaknesses? If I only had thirty seconds to live, what would I want to write about?
(Would I want to write about something?)
Protagonist thinks he’s better than everybody else, and therefore can’t believe what is happening to him. His superiority complex and insecurity are the central source of his comedic rage.
Possible title: Egomaniac with an Inferiority Complex.
Saturday. Wasted. Brought a girl home, a barmaid. (Consistently drawn to service industry professionals, as they are forced by occupation to talk to me.) We’re drunk, on my bed, making out. She pulls away.
“You know what?” she says.
“I wanna blow my head off.”
“I wanna blow my head off,” she says.
I don’t know how to respond.
She then tells me about her family history and how it involves several people blowing their heads off. And how her uncle was murdered by her cousin in New Mexico not too long ago.
I ask her how her cousin killed her uncle.
“He blew his head off,” she says.
We talk for a little while longer and then, unsure of how to proceed, I roll over and pretend like I’m going to bed, and I can feel this girl bring her face right up close to mine, to check if I’m actually asleep or not. (TERRIFYING.)
And then she says, really softly, right into my ear: “That’s okay. I didn’t feel like hooking up anyway. I masturbated twice today.”
Rimbaud quitting poetry at 19, running guns in the Ethiopian jungle. Having a harem. Getting gangrene.
Just choked down ungodly concoction of Chinese herbal medicines. Have now broken out into a light sweat.
Entertainment used to mean “entertain an idea.” Now it means “evade your life.”
Possible title: William Hurt.
The idea that “God” is some sort of binding force that connects all phenomena throughout the universe, a force that is ultimately indifferent to human fate, yet at the same time slightly benevolent?
Quitting job. Moving to Europe for the summer. Fuck it. Decision abruptly (and recklessly?) made. Graduate school: total failure. 0-for-11. A dagger.
Confidence: badly shaken.
Will to live: reactively strong.
So, Paris it is. Will not be taking Merlin. Leaving him here with roommates for three months. (Bedroom = sublet.) Upon return, will move to Los Angeles. Plan is now in place. Vision of future solidified. Old Man has mercifully offered to lend me some cash to help keep me from “crashing and burning upon return.” (He anticipates this.)
Interested in knowing about the lives of writers who lived to a ripe old age without going completely bat-shit.
Fitzgerald went bat-shit.
Celine went bat-shit.
Samuel Beckett was stabbed by a pimp on the Avenue General Leclerc (formerly the Avenue d’Orleans.) Later married the woman who helped him convalesce.
Willfully disorienting oneself in an effort to gain some perspective.
Areas of fascination include: anxiety, ethics, fear, ignorance, nihilism, spirituality, and will power.
Possible title: I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay.
This letter serves to formally announce my resignation from Warren Miller Entertainment. The reason for my resignation is my strong desire to focus on the pursuit of a fiction-writing career. This has been a difficult decision to make; however, after thinking it over thoroughly, I am confident that this is the best move for me at this time.
Wandering suburban shopping malls with my high school friends. Running from the cops even when the cops weren’t chasing us.
Possible epitaph: Huh?
Merlin now in middle age. Can just begin to see the earliest signs of gray around his eyes.
Paris hasn’t even started yet. Already panicked about what to do when it’s over.
Protagonist a hyper-successful, miserable American who has spiritual awakening.
Picasso’s blue period triggered by suicide of a friend.
Last day on the job. Ice cream cake from DQ.
Possible title: American Cubicle.
A condensed period of time for the actual narrative. One week. Two days. One day. A half-an-hour.
Envy in the eyes of my coworkers. Like the orphan who just got adopted.
Protagonist a middle-aged, Midwestern male with severe anger management problems. Potbellied, with pattern baldness. Constantly quoting the Dalai Lama.
Denver Airport. Terminal B. Waiting.
Bag packed. Headphones. Sunflower seeds. Water.
Asking myself: Is this real?
The Mile High Club. (The Mile Low Club?)
Christ, I want a cigarette.
Kerouac in Paris for a week in 1956. Unable to find a room or any friends.
“Paris,” he later said, “rejected me.”
St. Louis. Stuck. Overnight flight delay. Airport Hilton. Agitation: extreme.
Raiding the mini-bar.
With a diary there’s too much pap, too many opportunities to stray into the realm of drivel. Some of the shit I’ve put on paper under the auspices of “journaling” is inexcusable.
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, living on the rue des Fleurs.
Say hello to my imaginary friend.
Bonjour! Je suis Americain. Comment allez-vouz?
Springtime. Blue sky. Sunshine. Glory.
The smells of pastries and cigarette butts.
Pavement lyric: “Paris is stale.”
Shitty hotel at the top of Rue Montagne Sainte-Genevieve. Shower essentially a sink. Have to climb up into it. Weird. Dangerous. Filthy. Amazing.
Just fell off the wagon. First cigarette in 97 days.
Où sont des toilettes?
Celine, practicing medicine in Montmartre. Specializing in obstetrics.
Am guessing she makes fifty grand a year in gratuities alone.
Have decided to keep a detailed record of my dreams while I’m here. Enough rehashing of the daily minutiae, this endless hyper-analysis.
Limited perspective. Stick to the facts. No whining.
Otherwise, will only record what happens when I sleep.
It has now become clear that everything is unclear.
Meeting tomorrow with real estate agent who promises affordable rentals. English was good on the phone. A tremendous smoker’s cough.
A short story about a highly dysfunctional hippie living in Austin. Has pit bull. Drops acid with pit bull. Chaos ensues.
A dream about falling. Am on top of a large building. Below, many thousands of feet below: the lush green lawn of a park. And I jump. I just jump. No idea why. I fall faster—much faster—than I had anticipated. The ground is coming at me fast. I close my eyes and hope I’ll pass out before I hit. Can’t pass out. Turning my body, mid-flight. Wanting to come in at an angle…land on my side…slide.
I hit. I hit hard. Tumble.
Pain and disorientation, but I’m conscious.
People surrounding me. Lifting me. Carrying me.
Victory! An apartment in the 5th. Student district. Cheap. A studio. Warped wooden floors. 19, Quai St. Michel. Futon. Desk. Burner. Shower. Rent = less than back home.
Listening to French tapes. Mumbling on Metro.
Possible title: The Lameness.
Mild panic attack in the Bastille. Sudden vision of future.
Concept of returning to the United States: not appealing.
42: Henry Miller’s age when he published his first book.
But why? Why do we give a shit? What is at stake? Where is the drama?
Three different storylines running throughout the novel, all of them thematically related. Intersection not essential, so long as they all reach satisfactory conclusions.
The beauty of the hard moments. The sick glory of tragedy. Fearlessness and misery, slapped together fast and rolled tightly into one.
I’m sincere, I think. I mean, I feel sincere. But I’m funny, apparently. I mean, this is funny, apparently. But I’m serious, apparently. Or maybe what I’m saying is serious. Or maybe it’s not. Or maybe they just can’t see the salience of my point. Or maybe it isn’t salient. Or maybe there’s no point at all. And see, this is the problem with me and weed.
Possible title: Mellow Drama.
Zelda Fitzgerald referring to Hemingway as “that fairy with hair on his chest.”
Hemingway went bat-shit.
Last night’s dream: a house, a Victorian. Not set properly on its foundation. It leans forward, dramatically, as if frozen in mid-collapse. Standing out front, I worry it will fall. I go inside. Tell everyone about the problem. No one seems to care.
There is a room. A recliner and a sofa. A Bulls game on the television. Michael Jordan. I look at him. He gives me the finger.
There is a doctor’s office and living quarters and a restaurant—fine dining. And somehow all of it is located inside of the house.
Both times I stumble into the doctor’s office it is by accident and I want out.
Protagonist a major television star. Plays a heart surgeon on a procedural drama. Fame, sex, wealth, drugs. Derives pleasure from cravings. Eventually bottoms out. Recognition of emptiness, despair.
Ça va? Je parle un petit peu.
A fictionalized oral history of a night in Los Angeles when everybody is told that a nuclear explosion is imminent.
The oddity of a man who somehow decides that, from now on, he’s just going to wear a white suit all the time.
In Montmartre: a futuristic public toilet. You go into the thing, and then when you leave and close the door some sort of automated system hoses down its interior.
The famous Stein line: “Paris is where the twentieth century was.”
The fact that I’m here in the twenty-first.
Most underrated American writer: Gore Vidal. (Essays especially.)
A fictionalized oral history of a normal day—a day that requires no oral history! A series of interviews with nameless, insignificant people, talking about the banalities of their lives.
Through this lens, deeper and more profound realities are revealed?
Possible title: Other People.
Je suis un écrivain. Je vous écris un roman etrange.
Protagonist an American drifter. Born into an ultra-intellectual cult in the mid-1970s. Raised on an “urban commune.” Now: a roving folk singer. On tour in rural Arkansas. Suffers head trauma. Amnesia.
Twenty-four hours in the life of.
Possible title: Then Was That.
Henri Matisse, arriving in Paris, 1887. Law school. Doesn’t take up painting until contracting appendicitis and, while in recovery, is given art supplies by his mother.
Alone, riding Ferris wheel in Tuilleries.
Protagonist having trouble defining self in modern age.
HAVE I SUFFERED ENOUGH TO BE INTERESTING?
Tonight, out for a drink. Sidewalk café. Sunset. Talking to an American guy named Vincent, drunk at a nearby table. Vincent holding court. A character. On summer holiday. Extreme good looks. Goes to New School. Aspiring actor. Telling me stories about one of his female classmates—an “extremely sexy, totally damaged Brazilian girl”—who, on a daily basis, comes to his apartment, performs fellatio, gives him a hug, and then leaves—all without saying a word.
This is what he tells me.
Headache. Having trouble sleeping. Got up and boiled some pasta. Ate it right out of the pot, with butter and salt, just to have something to do. Now reading Dharma Bums.
Mix all your paints together, get a muddy brown murk. The color of a jumble, an inspired try, an honest response. The color of excrement—the stuff that absolutely has to come out.
Not “black” comedy. Brown comedy.
(Invention of new genre?)
Last night: a nightmare. It wakes me. Or I wake myself to escape it. (That’s all I can recall.)
Cartier-Bresson never used a flash.
In writing: NEVER USE A FLASH.
I think I just figured out what my problem is.
Last night invited to dinner party by local couple, friends of a friend back home. Apartment in the 14th. Nerve-wracking because I speak so little French. Arriving alone, holding cheap bottle of wine. Everyone looking at me. I open my mouth and start speaking like a two-year-old.
This wine is for you.
I like Paris.
And the cheese is good, thank you.
A comedy dialogue between a nun and a priest regarding the word laypeople.
A little hole in the wall dive bar on the Rue des Grand Augustins. Bartenders: both American. Wound up marrying French girls. Telling me how much they love it over here, how “fuckin’ sweet” life is.
Possible themes: Buddhism. Wifelessness. Loneliness. Fame.
Must develop Zen fearlessness of beekeeper.
WHO THE FUCK AM I AND WHAT AM I TRYING TO SAY?
Protagonist a bad poet but a great letter writer. Writes elaborate letters to friends in which he voices and then subsequently apologizes for his opinions.
Running out of money. Impossible not to spend.
Let the story find you. Don’t attempt to find the story.
The longer you go without getting anything published or sold, the more and more people think you’re completely full of shit.
Possible title: The Bullshit Artist’s Way.
Possible title: The Same Old Song and Dance.
Paul Auster in Paris in the 1970s, making his living translating books.
Was once married to Lydia Davis.
Twenty-fourth birthday. Breakfast alone at a café near the Sorbonne. Got shit on by a pigeon. Telling myself that it means good luck, that it must mean something magical, that I must have some kind of amazing year ahead of me.
Or: a pigeon defecated on my shoulder, and two French girls laughed at me.
Dream: a family with three small boys. White-blonde hair like the kind I had when I was young. One of the boys gets hit by a car. Frightening. The car is going very slowly, and the boy flips up lightly onto its hood. Surreal. A block down the road, the car stops. I run over, retrieve the boy. Tell him he needs to be careful. He asks me if we can keep the accident a secret. I say okay.
Persistent thoughts of Budapest. A boat trip down to Africa.
Restaurant idea: Small crepe shop back home called “I’ve Gotta Take a Crepe.”
Possible title: And But So Then.
Francois Truffaut, banned from the Cannes Film Festival in 1958.
Winning the award for Best Director the following year.
This afternoon. A little cafe around the corner from my apartment. Two American girls at the table next to mine. Turns out they’re from Colorado Springs. A six-week train trip through Italy, France, and Spain. Nice girls. Corn-fed. Blue eyes. Freckles.
Girl #1 tells me she worked a series of waitressing jobs to pay for the trip. Girl #2 tells me she worked as an erotic masseuse, giving hand jobs to stressed-out executives for $150 a pop. Over the past year, this girl—who couldn’t be more innocent-looking—made more than $80,000, tax free, working twenty-five hours a week, giving hand jobs. Paid off her student loan debt and is now on a massive vacation.
The fact that “Balzac” sounds like “ball sack.”
The utterly depressing enormity of David Foster Wallace’s mind.
The desire to have an unusual life, one of those lives where nothing much happens and then a bunch of stuff happens that I never could’ve predicted—and the reason it happens is because I had the will and the ignorance to show up where I shouldn’t have shown up in the first place.
Dream: I’m a paraplegic, in a wheelchair, unable to move my legs. In support of my spine there’s a metal rod. Rod goes in the top of my head and runs all the way down to my tailbone. I’m sitting in my wheelchair surrounded by other people (faceless) afflicted with the same condition. I discover that I can feel my legs. I pull the metal rod from my body and rise to cheers. I take awkward steps; am overjoyed!
Five days left. Numb. Wandering. Aimless. American.
The inevitability of disintegration. The death of all noble dreams.
Said Nietzsche: “Art is the highest task and the proper metaphysical activity of this life.” (Hilarious!)
At Shakespeare & Company. Old man at register eating roasted chicken, sucking meat from bones, loudly. Revolting.
Sitting in remote corner of library, third floor, amid endless rows of shelves.
Last night sat in karaoke bar, watching people try to sing. A group of girls from Argentina. Fluent in four languages. Taking me to a bar called Polly Magoo at sunrise. Jim Morrison, they were telling me, used to drink there before he died.
Salinger meeting Hemingway at the Ritz bar in Paris, 1944. Later, writing him a letter in which he admits that he’s been in an “almost constant state of despondency and thought it would be good to talk to somebody sane.”
Dream: In a cold ocean. Emerge from ocean to rocks and am pummeled by breaking waves. Could get crushed against rocks should another set roll in. Begin to climb. Frantic. Rock is wet. Arms are weak. Still climbing. Look to right: Hulk Hogan also climbing. The professional wrestler. He is red-faced and struggling; I am red-faced and struggling. Scared. We climb. A wave smacks into the rock just below my feet. The force is enormous. It sprays my legs. I climb. I struggle. I somehow reach the top.
This morning. Christophe (real estate agent) meets me at nearby café. Standing at zinc bar, chain-smoking Marlboros. Suitcase at my feet. Somber. I return my keys. Order a double espresso. We talk. Christophe tells me about his daughter. Wife has custody; he rarely gets to see her. Is resigned. Permanently depressed. Prematurely gray. Looks like he hasn’t slept in days. Asks me about my writing. I tell him it’s going well (not true). He gives me two of his smokes. Shakes my hand. Wishes me luck.
Paris to Detroit. Detroit to St. Louis. St. Louis to Denver.
Denver to Boulder.
Everything exactly the same. Feels like I never left.
Reunited with Merlin. Barked like crazy when he saw me. Otherwise, temperament is even. Psychological damage: minimal. Appearing to harbor no grudge.
Have I changed? I don’t think I’ve changed.
Determined to keep busy. Avoid the massive comedown.
Current strategy: earn sustainable living as freelancer. Soon make the move to L.A.
Protagonist a novelist who takes steroids for creative purposes. Writes under the influence of human growth hormone. Epitestosterone. State of the art energy pills. Sleeping three hours a night. The vitality of a thoroughbred in heat.
Possible title: Creative ‘Roider.
Working the phones. Sending out queries.
No cigarettes. Cold turkey. Constant chewing gum.
It’s about procrastination, essentially. About confusion. About fear. About the inability to act decisively. About persistent mistrust of the status quo. About fear of life and fear of death. It’s about me, I suppose.
Brief, pointless phone call with editor at Skiing Magazine. No assignments available. If I want to come up with three-to-six sample pitches for “potential articles down the road,” that would be fine. The bastard.
The Buddha was a trust fund baby.
William Burroughs had a trust fund.
Montaigne, in his miniature castle.
Writing. Thinking about writing. Preparing to write. Fretting about the fact that I’m not writing enough.
Miracle: Have secured a paid writing job from Warren Miller Entertainment ($4,000!). Old boss has hired me to write spec script. He came up with the idea; it’s his story entirely. My job: to flesh it out. And fast.
Film is called Fly Girl.
Fly Girl details the rise and fall and eventual triumph of a 13-year-old Nordic ski jumping prodigy.
The world doesn’t turn on the minds of rational men who always take the safe out and spend the majority of their tragic existences bowing at the altar of an endless Plan B. It turns on the minds of irrational men who refuse to accept the limitations of a deeply stagnant and ultimately unsatisfying status quo.
It’s kind of like Karate Kid, except it involves ski jumping.
Freelancing lifestyle generally agreeable. Will never go back to an office situation—EVER—unless financial realities absolutely mandate it.
Sitting in a Barnes and Noble, corner table, against the far wall. Supposed to be writing the script. Just drank very potent coffee beverage. Kind of have to pee. Faint burning sensation.
Now imagining kidney stones. Envisioning grim scenario: breaking a stick in half, placing one half between clenched teeth, biting down hard, screaming, and stepping to the urinal.
Might apply to grad school again.
The flogging will continue until morale improves.
Does anyone find my desperate search for profitable irresponsibility entertaining?
The root of my quest: truly good conversation with a truly beautiful woman.
I think I’m growing up. I think that’s what this is.
Working at the wobbly kitchen table, or at a desk jammed against a wall in the corner at the foot of my bed.
First draft of Fly Girl now complete. One-hundred-and-ten pages in twenty-three days. Insanely quick turnaround. Check has been cashed. Script, I fear, is terrible.
Boss seems pleased?
Protagonist a marathon runner with an opiate addiction.
Protagonist a professional birthday clown.
Protagonist an antagonist.
Used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.
John Fante grew up in Boulder. Moved to Los Angeles to be a writer.
In the beginning: penniless and starving.
In the end: on his porch in Malibu.
Last night’s dream: at a party. Talking to the musician Paul Simon. “My career didn’t really take off,” he tells me, “until I started doing Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials.”
Can’t figure it out. Don’t know how to tell the story. Can’t figure out who the characters are, or what the plot is.
Otherwise everything’s fine.
Driving a U-Haul through the desert, heading for Hollywood, the place into which everything slides, the cesspool, the megalopolis, the town with the brown sky, End of America, City of Angels, etcetera. Merlin, riding shotgun, head hanging out the window. Me, wondering what the fuck we’re about to get ourselves into, laughing, eating sunflower seeds, red rock landscape, contemplating Vegas, contemplating a stop, wondering if I should just say fuck it and put everything on black, all the money I don’t have, just in case, just to see if I win, just to symbolically thumb my nose at safety and convention.…
Possible title: The Grandeur of Delusions.
Stopped at The Mirage. Lost $250.
Parents now insisting I shave.
Paul Thomas Anderson directed Boogie Nights when he was 27.
People who have never even been here before will tell you that they can’t stand it here.
Lana Turner, discovered while sitting on a fountain stool at Schwab’s drugstore?
Charlize Theron, discovered while in line at the bank?
Stephen Spielberg, sneaking onto the Universal lot as a teenager?
The apartment hunt. Venice Beach. Driving past a local cafe. Outside of the café: a silver-haired man and two police officers. Everyone smiling, drinking coffee. The man with silver hair holding onto a leash. At the end of the leash: a giant albino rabbit.
Median home price: $500,000.
Laurel Canyon. A “FOR RENT” sign. Woman in driveway, waving. It’s noon. She’s drinking a 40. Wild eyes. Stringy white hair.
Woman tells me she is “extremely agoraphobic.”
House tour. Unsettling. Unsanitary.
Entire backyard filled with stone and porcelain trolls.
Introduction to very strange “music producer” (haunted eyes) who lives on property in adjacent guesthouse.
Woman walks me back to rental car, insisting upon a hug goodbye. I give her one, stupefied—and get a mouthful of stringy white hair.
Gorgeous, extraterrestrial human beings with record deals sitting in immaculate bonsai gardens, smoking designer marijuana and drinking fine champagne, booking private jets bound for paradise, with suites overlooking the water.
My goal is to pour every ounce of my frustration, bitterness, and anger into this screenplay.
Limited subway system. Not enough cabs.
Fairfax and Sunset. On foot. A little old lady and her dog. I approach. Ask about pet-friendly apartments. Lady tells me about life’s work breeding champion Schnauzers. Shows me pictures of her all-time favorites: Huggy-Bear, Kissy-Bear, and Little Love, all of whom have now “gone up to heaven.”
On saying this, woman begins sobbing uncontrollably.
A “reality novel.” Sort of like reality television, only much more annoying and unforgettable.
Protagonist a mad scientist. Invents pill that makes people believe in God.
Possible title: I’m on the Pill!
Apartment search: appears to be fruitless.
Worldview: increasingly apocalyptic.
Parents now suggesting it might be wise to move in with them in temporarily. Rent too high. Having an animal complicates things. Foolish to assume burden with no reliable income.
Possible title: The Humbling.
Nothing serious published. Hardly anything submitted. Weird trip to Paris produces no viable manuscript of any kind. The reality of it. The grimness.
A stage play about a group of actors. One of the actors: a twisted con artist. A drama about how we are all, on some level, actors.
Possible title: Broken Character.
Taking punches is a good sign. It’s a good sign. It means that you’re in the ring.
Mom and Dad. Eating breakfast together. Reading the paper.
Dating my computer. Going to the movies by myself a lot.
Somehow I’ll be a writer.
Orange County. Land of the mega-church. Land of Disneyland. Freakish Technicolor dysfunction.
There’s no such thing as weather here. And hardly any wind.
A series of black and white photographs of actual potatoes on miniature couches.
Now hard at work on original screenplay, the children’s movie that’s been brewing in my brain for years, the one about the boy with the magical head cold. Already on page 30, writing in a fever, desperate, entering the second act.
Working title: Roy G. Bivv & The Magic Sniffles.
Maybe it’s not supposed to be fun.
Maybe I should get wasted and go to Disneyland.
My dog enjoys a more comfortable existence than a majority of human beings on planet Earth.
Am I defective?
The possibility of spending at least a year living in a Buddhist monastery. Shaving my head. Studying. Learning how to meditate. Trying to learn how to actually not be selfish. Trying to learn how to actually not be afraid of death. Trying to learn how to actually deal with the inevitable deaths of family and friends.
Possible title: Stunning Mediocrity.
Secret cigarettes on the front porch. Blowing clouds of smoke at the moon.
(Cigarette smoking = a form of meditation involving 4,000 toxic chemicals?)
Luck: Good friend, Seth, in New York, now employed by Stuff magazine, has helped me find work as a contributing writer. Men’s magazine. National audience. Good money. Buck a word. Freelance.
First assignment: humorous/informative article about how to endure physical torture.
Writing each morning for four hours or five pages, whichever comes first, and then in the afternoons reading and napping and scribbling letters and working on articles and sending out résumés and doing follow-ups with lame ad agencies or making calls to agents and potential employers, and then in the evenings running on the beach with Merlin.
Said sinus infection—The Magic Sniffles—causes Roy, our hero, to sneeze outrageous creatures from his nose.
One such creature: The Magnificent Goo. A giant, talking booger. Similar in physicality to Jiminy-Cricket. Top hat, two feet tall, tap-dances. Has a British accent. Can sing a show tune.
Filling out grad school applications. Ten total. Here we go.
If someone actually buys this thing, I’m gonna shit myself.
Possible title: My Kampf.
Just get on Oprah, motherfucker. It’s really that fucking simple. Just get on her fucking show, and start crying. That’s all you’ve gotta do. Just sit on that fucking couch and spill your fucking guts on national fucking television and weep like a fucking baby in front of the American fucking public. And you will never work another day in your life.
Maybe find a restaurant job that runs from about 4 p.m. to 10 or 11 at night, something that pays fifteen bucks an hour or twenty if I’m lucky and will keep me in the money so that at the end of this summer I can get out of here and move into my own place up in LA.
I get like this when I’m frustrated. Dark poetry, I call it. Rage language. Inadvisable thought trains. Imaginative use of expletives. I shouldn’t do too much of it, but at the same time it gives creative expression to my frustrations and temporarily causes me to laugh and release. Which I suppose can be useful in times of acute agony.
New assignment for Stuff magazine: “How to Train Your Dog for Evil.” A humorous/informative article about how train your dog to do evil.
Blind date. Set up by a friend. A girl who works at a gym. Pilates instructor. Aspiring actress. Nice girl (pretty blonde), but we’re not at all compatible.
After dinner, driving her home. Willie Nelson on the stereo. Old Willie. Early Willie. Nashville Willie. She asks me who it is, and I tell her. Then the song “Crazy” comes on (made famous by Patsy Cline), and the girl gets all excited. Says she knows the words. Starts singing along at the top of her lungs. A musical theater major. Pretty good voice. Zero inhibitions. Basically the girl is performing for me.
And for some reason I do the unthinkable and begin singing along with her, quietly, in accompaniment. Hands on the wheel. A duet.
Enclosed please find a copy of Roy G. Bivv & The Magic Sniffles, a short treatment of which I sent along earlier this week. As I mentioned over the phone, I believe this to be a very good, very salable script with a sensibility similar to The Wizard of Oz.
This thing reads like a goddamn horror novel.