You begin by finding solace in the written word. How the letters fall one after another, then the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, the stories, the complete attempt by someone you have met only on this sheet, a paper wall between time, sometimes epic, centuries-long chunks of time, a substantial wall yet so membranous you can smell the streets of London in 1840 when you’re twelve with a bellyful of creamed tuna made by a housekeeper named Maxine in Scottsdale in 1980.
You continue your affair with the written word every day of your life, the thrill never waning, even when the sharp teeth of suicide threaten you every few years, you stave it off with the rote, delicious phrases that are your religion, your own private way to order the world, those words that draw you up from the abyss like some thread from the past and settle you, if only temporarily. In those moments, repeating just five or ten words that someone wrote down once in the perfect order in a room six thousand miles away are enough to make you feel your blood bump along in your fingers and feet, your proof of life the salt from the tears you lick from the lonely corners of your mouth. You are able to fall asleep, panic averted by words.
You muddle through bad times, trying times, and enjoy the moments when the black cloud abandons you for a few days or weeks or months, your affair with the written word enough to lift yourself out of bed and move forward.
You start laying down your own words, the ineptitude of your perfect, complete, pristine thought apparent when you reread the sentence or story and it is exactly the same feeling you get after you masturbate – why did I do this? Silly, silly.
You implement daily the pen, pencil, typewriter and lay down hundreds of thousands of words over decades, not a single string of them what your mind’s eye saw in a flash.
You send a friend a story once, for no reason other than to know that one person out there will sit back with your words for a few minutes, up there, deep in your head.
You don’t hear anything from your friend, not even a potentially withering crtitique. Silence. You stop sending your words to friends, content that you’ve even found a few through life, no need to annoy them into avoidance.
You submit your words to people you don’t know who run entities that purport to publish stories sent in by people just like you. You do this a thousand times. Then a thousand more. Occasionally, very rarely, you feel like you’re giving them a winning lottery ticket, if only the recipient would scratch off the coating and see what is underneath. But they don’t. They toss it aside, another losing ticket. You hear: nothing.
You perceive faint echoes in the dark. Always sounding like a wheezy, impatient, “No.”
You cement your self-image to this small word, these two letters carrying more weight than the text of a doorstopper of a novel.
You firmly believe this thing you use to order pizza or communicate with a neighbor about his overflowing garbage can is not a thing you really have any business trying to make your own. Your pizza is often not what you ordered and your neighbor’s garbage still stinks, year after year. Language doesn’t seem to work for you.
But you continue, through it all – you must, no choice.
You become certain that this activity of yours is as useful as a ‘61 Silverstream is to a death row inmate. Maybe less. Then you write about this death row inmate and how his life would be if the guilty party was finally discovered, confessed and assuaged his guilt when he could no longer sleep.
You have another story, another prism, the only success that matters that you somehow got this man out of prison and onto an open highway, the next stop unmapped, unknown.