@

THE RIVER GODS

Brian Kiteley first came to my attention via¬†The 4 A.M. Breakthrough, his wonderful book of writing exercises. A professor in the University of Denver’s creative-writing program, Kiteley advocates improvisation and play, urging storytellers to free themselves from the constraints of literary labels: “There is and should be no real difference between fiction and nonfiction. The distinction between the fictional and the fact-based world is overrated and the distance between the two is shorter than most critics imagine.”

For the last couple of years I’ve struggled with my identity as A Writer. My once daily passion has become, at times, a chore, an onus. My dear old friend now wears an ugly hat and is rarely invited in to visit.

In an effort to change the Pavlovian responses I feel towards something that used to bring me a greater high then any drug or alcohol, and brought me more joy than the company of most people, I’ve begun to give myself exercises in writing and, much to my timid excitement, they appear to be working. Words are appearing on the screen and my face, as I type those words, seems to be smiling.

EXERCISE 1: Have a friend give you a sentence or paragraph. The weirder and more lateral the better. Read that sentence and start writing. Don’t think too much about it.

I was surprised to find a mural of the Apollo theater in his bathroom. I’d snuck away from the party when I figured no one would notice, hoping to find a quiet place to snort some coke. The knowledge of the foil wrapped gram inside my pocket was burning a hole in my brain and the intensity of the company I was keeping was decimating my confidence. I needed a pick me up, some powdered personality, a snort of self-assurance. There’s nothing worse than a room full of Nobel Laureates to intimidate the crap out of me.

Our host was a small man, forty-something, bald. His nose bulbed and flowered at the end like a strange red fruit. He’d caught me staring earlier and I’d been mortified by the look in his eyes as he accessed my brain and read my thoughts. I felt obvious. What was I doing here anyway? Why me? And where the fuck was Sylvia?

Sylvia was my girlfriend. Kind of. We’d been dating for about six months. We went to parties, screwed a lot, ate expensive food and took expensive drugs. She gave great head and liked to give it. Anywhere.

And so we went everywhere.

I took her to ball games, the park, movies, to visit my parents, Saks Fifth Avenue…. my old school. She blew me in different locations as if she was checking off a to-do list of urgent things she had to do, and places she had to do them, before she died… if she wanted to get in to heaven.

I wanted a blow-job now. A blow job, and a line of blow. I looked around, a cursory kind of look, expecting to find her nearby, but the room was too full, the people too colorful. Huge palms and brocade draperies obscured parts of the room.

I frowned. No sign of her. I took the nearest exit, a dark paneled hallway, and made for the bathroom. It was unlocked. I entered. It was a sight to behold. The walls had been painted to look like an over-sized replica of the Apollo. I was dwarfed by the scale of the neon sign, overwhelmed by the immensity of the scope, and baffled by the notion that anyone would want this kind of kitsch weirdness on the wall of their john. But that wasn’t all. It was the sight of our host going down on Cynthia while she leaned back against the towel rail that really threw me.

Our eyes met.

“Ah fuck” I said, taking the aluminum wrapped powder out of my pants pocket, opened it and tipped a hearty pile onto the marble topped counter. You just can’t win ’em all, I thought, as I bent over and inhaled.

EXERCISE 2: Pick a word you love and imagine that you have to convince other people to love it. Put that word in a story or essay.

It’s my favorite time of day.

Well. That’s a lie. I don’t really have favorite anythings, but, right this second, as I type, it’s a time of day that has a special name, and definitely a special magic about it.

It’s the time of the day just after dusk and right before twilight.

It’s called…. The Gloaming.

The Gloaming is when magic happens. Fireflies awaken and fairies stir in the gnarled boughs of ancient oaks. Younger children are tucked into warm beds while their brothers and sisters are allowed to read on for ten more minutes, and couples throw matches into bunches of dry kindling, then snuggle on rugs while the flames flicker and groove.

The Gloaming is a time when life changes. The stars appear to be closer, the earth further away. The Gloaming is the world you see when you look into a mirror and everything seems better, different, more alive.

The Gloaming calls for bottles of fine wine to be uncorked and friends to gather around kitchens, clamoring for more food, more drink, more conversation. It is the few allotted minutes of the last hour before darkness.

As I type the darkness grows, the shadows become deeper and the last threads of the torn fabric that made up this afternoon are ushered into the realms of memory.

The Gloaming is now over.

Good night.

EXERCISE 3: Pick a moment in your life that made you FEEL a great deal of STUFF. Write a brief story of predetermined length that includes as many visual references to Place and Feeling.

“You’re the most romantic sumbitch I’ve ever met in my life.” She said.

He smiled at her fondly. “This is the seventeenth goodbye we’ve said in the last two months. Aren’t you ever going to bloody leave?”

Laughing, she conceded.

“Melted, I drip away.”

The last embrace, the last pang, the last desperate effort to burn the imprint of his skin to hers, and then nothing. They parted ways the final time.

The taxi pulled away, a yellow beast in a black night, and the rain came down like a gift from above. Wet streets and tear-stained cheeks mirrored the lights from tall buildings.

Flickering images in her brain played back the story of her last adventure… the touches, the music, the song sweetly sung in a sacred moment in a stolen bedroom in a loft in Nolita. Fingers on her back, playing in her hair. Tenderness and love and loss and the giving away of need.

Tears rolled. Involuntarily.

Bathroom passions, silent laughter. Shhhh! Giggle.

The taxi drove on.

In the darkness something shifted, deep inside a sadness lifted, a hurt stopped aching.

A smile spread over wet cheeks and a frantic, beating heart filled with peace.

He was right, and she knew it. They had done New York.

Before the dawn she would be gone, knowing that the sun would rise on a different world for her, and that everything was possible.


Lastly, remember that, in the words of the very prolific Stephen King, writers write. So don’t stop. As hard and repellent and demoralizing and disgusting as it might be today, tomorrow it might suddenly seem sweeter than a mainlined bag of saccharine in the vein of a diabetic.

Just keep on truckin’.