This is a Bag

By Tom Hansen


This is a bag.

This is a bag on drugs.

It’s that time of the month again. No, I haven’t had a sex change. It’s time for me to write something. Every month, they said. I don’t know what to write. Ever since I gave up poetry, and chose to pursue longer writing projects, my mind has gone blank when it comes to shorter writing projects. I suppose I could list my smartass facebook updates. In between the other stuff.

Tom Hansen is in line at Wal-Mart. With my little tent, drooling over tomorrow morning’s bargains. The parking lot is filled with Scummers. I have a couple PB&J sammies to tide me over. I hope I don’t get trampled.

I live in a cramped attic. It has a very low ceiling, just a few inches over my head. Very little headspace causes a kind of claustrophobia, I think. A kind of pressure. There’s about six feet of horizontal ceiling and then it begins to angle downward on both sides. I think it affects me. It confuses me. Is it a collapsing wall, or a pushed down ceiling? I can’t decide. I do know this; I don’t want to bang my head because it reminds me of a kind of music I hate. I live in fear.

Tom Hansen likes the ones that are a little dirty.

I know one more thing. I have a messy desk. On it right now are five hats, two empty coffee cups, a large bottle of hydrogen peroxide, three pairs of sunglasses, a screwdriver, a large regular candle, a big black skull-shaped candle, eight books (Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Chourmo and Solea by Jean-Claude Izzo, Paper Shadows by Wayson Choy, Whatever by Michel Houellebecq, Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Soderberg, and Lila Says by Chimo), a lamp, a flashlight (the power goes out here a lot), two ashtrays, four empty cigarette packs, one half empty cigarette pack, two light bulbs, three rags, a flash drive, a Zippo lighter, a Bic lighter, a bottle of Ronson Lighter Fuel, a bunch of blank cd’s, adidas deodorant, a pack of Bic Metal shavers, dozens of scraps of paper and countless letters I am terrified to open.

I write in an uncomfortable chair. I heard some writers spend thousands of dollars on their chairs. Henry Miller said he couldn’t write if he was comfortable. So maybe that’s good. I use an IBM X31 laptop to write on. My trusty little weapon. Most of the letters are worn off. There are bread crumbs and dust and dirt and shit in between the keys. Sometimes a key gets stuck and I have to push down hard and you can hear a crunching sound. I’ve been waiting for the laptop to die for two years now but it doesn’t want to apparently.

The next guy who has to use ten thousand words to order his coffee is gonna get it. Why do people have to regale their baristas with epic tales of their cute dog and his flourescent orange poop when there are a hundred desperate coffee junkies in line on the verge of collapse?

Here’s another thing I know. Nonfiction is tricky especially when you’re writing about yourself. You need to put your perceptions under the electron microscope. You are that frog you had to dissect in high school. Cut yourself open. Hold your nose.

Hey Joggers! Thanks for fucking my afternoon.

I know one more thing. But I forgot what it was.

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TOM HANSEN writes books, fiction and non-fiction. Not newspaper articles, poems, movie reviews, computer code, long rambling emails, text messages, philosophical essays, fortunes for fortune cookies or anything else. Just books. It's why no one hears from him for years at a time. His first book, American Junkie, a nonfiction account of his life as a heroin addict and drug dealer, will be published by Emergency Press in March 2010. Tom has three principles that guide his writing. “A writers’ duty is to give voice to the voiceless,” (Nelson Algren) “It should always be about the art not the artist,” (Tom Hansen) and “I think we need to read books that wound or stab us.” (Franz Kafka) He likes writers who write because they're too crazy to do anything else. He likes writers who don't flinch. He likes writers who carve their words on their readers' souls. You can tell who they are. You don't forget their books after two days. He does not like much contemporary literature. Tom Hansen is an editor at KNOCK Magazine out of Seattle.

18 responses to “This is a Bag”

  1. I have to say, Tom – this kind of post is my kind of bag.

  2. Tom Hansen says:

    Haha thanks Simon. I have to say many aspects of what they call ‘a career in writing’ simply do not compute to me. Blogging, building a fanbase, constructing a ‘platform.’ I’m trying to get the hang of it, if only so that my books will reach more people. But my true desire is write books, when they’re done do a little of this stuff, and then vanish into the negative zone until the next book is finished.

  3. Ducky says:

    Love the negative zone. I spend a lot of time there myself.

    This reminded me of my first apartment in NY. East Village. 300 sq ft, 1400/mo. And I lived under a dungeon, (yes, as in S&M) and there’s at least a couple of TNB stories from that. Thanks for sending me back.

  4. Amanda says:

    Those barn-shaped ceilings *are* troubling. So much floor space reduced to “unusable”. Watch your head; watch the “ones that are a little dirty”; watch the joggers.

  5. JB says:

    Well, damn. I just wrote this exact essay yesterday. I like yours only a little better.

    How’s the Adidas deoderant working out for you?

  6. kristen says:

    Oh–“countless letters I am terrified to open.”

    Nice “in passing” detail there.

  7. Tom Hansen says:

    The adidas deodorant is pretty good actually. It’s called ‘Moves’

  8. Tom Hansen says:

    Barn shaped ceilings. Yeah, who thought that up? One of my ‘walls’ is a foot and a half high. The place was designed for people who crawl, not walk

  9. jonathan evison says:

    . . .yo, tom, my wife is upstairs right now reading “american junkie” and liking it as much as me . . . see you friday at the knock thing . . .

  10. I’ve just finished reading ‘Diary’ by Chuck Palahniuk… Wherein he discusses the role of the artist. According to him, or his characters, one needs to suffer to create. That extends to physical and mental pain, but perhaps to cramped apartments with uncomfortable chairs.

    • Tom Hansen says:

      Diary, is that the nonfiction? I think there’s something to what Palahniuk is saying, although too much suffering leads to nothing being created, IMO

      • It’s actually a novel, but it’s written in diary form. And Palahniuk was parroting a bunch of old philosophers. I think he was musing things more than directly stating them.

        But I do actually believe that suffering is necessary for the creation of art. I think we all use it in some way as inspiration or motivation. There have been times in my life I’ve been in too much pain to write, but eventually I come back to the computer and use that pain…

        Oh wait, I sound too teen-angsty. I was going for more of a Buddhist thing but I came across kind of emo…

  11. D.R. Haney says:

    I bet my messy desk is messier than yours. And suffering, David, is, I think, implicit in the attempt to create art. No need to wish for any additional suffering. Not that, on re-reading your comment, you were.

  12. Love the list of things on your desk! I need total clarity and lack of things to write. At least that’s what I tell myself when I spend ten minutes clearing shit away instead of just sitting down and writing. I think your method might be more productive.

  13. Marni Grossman says:

    I always find that writing about myself is tricky because I so rarely do anything noteworthy. And you can’t always start your posts with musings on “Law & Order” reruns.

    Which, of course, is why I’ve moved on to other procedurals.

  14. Aaron Dietz says:

    Love the interspersing of status updates, there, Tom. Awesome idea.

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