Create Expectations

When I started writing again after a long hiatus, I was working at The Container Store, which is the most on-the-nose name for a place of commerce since I hung out at The Coffee House in Lincoln the summer of 1996. My shifts were typically six hours, and they could be at any time the store was open or closed, which meant overnights or every Thursday at 5:00 a.m. I was itching to write, but I could only pull it off if my shifts were in the afternoon and evening, as after work, I had no energy or focus.

I didn’t want to be one of those writers who talks about writing but never writes. Writing isn’t work to me or a duty or something I have to do; it’s a process that brings me joy. Every day I couldn’t do it left me frustrated and depressed, leading me into deep planning mode. I noted that, because I’m crashing from my day, the only thing I do in the evening is watch TV or scroll slack-jawed through the internet. My solution was this: hack off that part of the day and gift it to myself on the other end when I have the energy.

Now, at four in the morning, I wake up and get ready, and by 4:30 (I’m a boy), I sit down at my desk or on my stoop, weather permitting, and this was my time to write, every day. I could write a lot or a little, as long as I was writing. I could scribble, “I got nothing” in a notebook for two hours, and it would count as writing. Several months ago, I started drawing, which crowded the writing from my schedule. Now, at 6:30, when I usually need a break, I hop the train to work and draw at my desk until I clock in at eight. The hour at my desk is important because I use my time in the ungodly early hours of the morning to illustrate my comic, which I can’t and shouldn’t bring with me to work. That leaves me with an hour plus lunch with my sketchbook and no restraints. As much fun as the comic is, it’s nice to branch out and play around a little.

I put a lot of time into being creative, so you’ll understand why a man with a lot to worry about is still pretty content.

Unfortunately, I’m entering a bit of a depressive period. I don’t mean depressed like sad, or even the kind of depression that turns my world into black and white and freezes my joints. Aside from concern over Newcastle, I’m actually doing quite well. The problem is, food doesn’t taste good to me anymore. Music doesn’t sound good to me anymore. The new Guardians of the Galaxy is out, and is apparently pretty good, and I couldn’t give less of a fuck. And yet, even this numb is better than the alternative.

Another sign that I’m on a downswing is that my artistic output goes down. I still work during the aforementioned mornings, but I’m more likely to wrap up early or get pulled into the movie I have on in the background. I’m still cranking out pages—I just filed page 6—but I’m less satisfied with the work I’m producing than I’d be if I were level. I’m still drawing in the morning, but I’ve been setting up my drawing gear for lunch when I’ve changed my mind and skipped it altogether to eat while I work.

It’ll come back, it always does. It’s hardly worth mentioning. Except that Newcastle has been extraordinarily clingy lately, and I don’t want to miss any time with him, so I’m probably not finishing page 7 by Sunday evening. Up until just now, I was cranking out two, maybe three pages a week, but between my inspiration drying up and my muse being such a narcissistic asshole, I’m not finding a lot of time to work on my project.

But my reason for creating art is so I can take pleasure in the craftsmanship, from watching a plot unfold before me to scribbling a circle to stand in for a head while the body takes shape. I got to letter in the word “diarrhea” today, with an accompanying facial expression and pose that really sold the dialogue. If I’m not having fun, there’s no point in doing it, so I’m going to have to take it slow for a while.

And if it means I have to be even slower for the sake of my cat, then I will gladly take my sweet time. Doing it amateur means no deadlines.


Block Party

I hesitate to call this feeling writer’s block, but the effect is the same. I’m not sure what to do anymore. This always happens to me. I know where the story’s supposed to go, but I’m not doing a very good job of getting there. I start out strong, and then, within ten pages of an ending, I choke. Whenever a friend or lover has had a similar problem, my solution is, “Write—it doesn’t matter how bad it looks, just write. The hard part is putting the words on the page, and the editing is easy.”  

But really, who can take their own advice? The words I put down are pretty weak (i.e. “He walked over to the door and then he waked through it and then he saw someone and he said, ‘Hey.’), and so I try to compensate by strengthening them a little (i.e. “He staggered over to the entrance, and once he propelled himself through it, his eyes were filled with the silhouette of a figure, to whom he spoke when his voice, husky from a half-decade of smoking, rang out with the following ‘Hey.’”) and kind of give myself a headache from trying too hard. 

So I thought it would review the source material. This made it worse. It’s widely known that artists are their own worst critics. Even someone who thinks himself the finest genius the world has ever known (i.e. Quentin Tarantino or Pablo Picasso) will look at their own work and turn a rancid shade of green. The passage of time between the creation of said art and its reevaluation only makes the green greener. All we want to do is use the skills we’ve picked up since then to create what we had originally intended. Most artists can avoid this revisionism by unleashing their piece upon the world; an act that kind of freezes it in amber. Some artists (I’m looking at you, Mr. Lucas) have amassed enough power that they can continue to poke and prod their work until the world has come to an end. Either way, we’re a notoriously difficult bunch. 

This in mind, I discovered in that the 1999 “Week in the Head” was a tiny, elegant piece of poetry. It was kind of a bittersweet haiku; five syllables of regret followed by seven syllables of delirious longing followed by five syllables of hope. The 2009 “Week in the Head” is turning into a sonnet of regret and longing, but without the hope. 

Let’s be honest, this rewrite is some pretty depressing shit; almost Dickensian in nature (not the Christmas Carol Dickens, either. I’m talking about the Dickens whose original ending of Oliver Twist left the titular character frozen to death in a gutter). I should have called it “Bleak in the Head.” I had no idea how dark it was until I got about 75 percent through the rewrite. There’s a reason I didn’t notice, and that’s because everything the main character has experienced is some variation of something I’ve experienced. Having lived through these traumas, they don’t seem so bad. Hell, I’m using this story as a way of walking off some of the pain. My problem is that I’m not giving him anything to walk toward. 

Originally he had been much more like me, a boy from a medium-sized town for whom New York was the Emerald City. To extend the metaphor a little, my last week in Hastings, Nebraska was my poppy field. As for the flying monkeys … well, there were a lot of drugs. I made it to my Emerald City because I knew that’s where I’d find my future; I’d have to be a grownup to make it there. Having tied the main character’s history to that place, I took away New York’s mystique and replaced it with dread. 

And now, thanks to the magic of writing and rereading (specifically, writing and rereading this journal entry), I’ve finally realized why I’m having such a hard time with this ending: I’ve been missing the single most important ingredient. Now I need to figure out how to fold it into the mixture without disturbing everything I’ve posted online so far. This is going to be tough, but now that I’ve got an Emerald City of my own to find, I think I’m ready to move forward. 

Thank you, blog!