I guess it's been about three months. Lots of things have happened.
1) I quit my job as a janitor at Wal-Mart. It was really bumming me out because, in addition to the inherent shittiness of a title like "Wal-Mart Janitor," my boss was a dick, I was forced to do things that were blatantly not my job, and I didn't have time or patience to write or read anymore.
1b) To be fair, I spent the majority of my four years there sneaking off to a non-monitored office or the family restroom (which locks) and reading books. I still did some work occasionally, at least as much as they deserved for the shit pay and shit treatment, but that majority is barely a majority. Most of the fuck-around time took place in the first two-and-a-half years. After that it was Buttfuck City.
2) I went on a cross-country tour of the US with Justin Lawrence Daugherty. We did readings in ten different states over the course of two weeks, putting almost 4000 miles on his Toyota Corolla, also known as the Toyota Rock 'n' Rolla. A full recap of this will be up on the Sundog Lit blog soon.
3) I moved out of my parents' place.
3c) It's not that I didn't like living at the farm, something I hadn't done in about eight or nine years, but the driving was killing me. And I hate my mom's cats and choice of television shows that she must blare on televisions in two separate rooms simultaneously. But yeah, I fell asleep at the wheel a couple times from the half hour drive back and forth on long, boring country roads and was spending so much money in gas each month that I could actually afford to rent an apartment in the city I was driving to and come out ahead on cash.
4) I went on a week-long tour of the Midwest filling in on guitar with the Oakland-based band Victory and Associates. I also did some sitting in with our tour-mates, Louisville-based riffers Trophy Wives. Playing a lot was rad, but even better than that, I met a bunch of cool, old school punk rock dudes who proved my theory that punk rock and having your shit together are not mutually exclusive.
4b) We played with a band in Minneapolis called Gay Witch Abortion.
4c) We also played the surprise 50th birthday party for Jeff Moody, one of the coolest dudes in music. He's the sort of guy who only wants to talk passionately and positively about the things he loves, and is worth listening to for those and several other reasons.
4d) Kentucky seems like an odd place.
5) I got a rollerdog grill. It's like the ones in the gas station but it has a bunch of gaudy plastic shit all over it to make it look old-timey.
6) My girlfriend moved in with me. We're currently arguing about who is more poorly dressed in an attempt to get out of answering the door, which has been being knocked on for a minute or two now.
7) Summerslam was great, I just wish Randy Orton wasn't the guy they're going with for this "Daniel Bryan is a B+" thing. He's fucking boring. I think the "R" in "RKO" stands for "resthold." And he looks like the wall of a tattoo shop threw up on his arms. He's six or seven years past his two or three year prime. The angle is good and it broke my heart in all the right ways, but Orton's a clowndick.
7b) If any of this results in the Evolution theme being used again, all is forgiven.
8) I got the number 4 score on the South Park pinball machine at the bar I work at. That means I'm fucking awesome.
9) Barring a background check and fingerprints and all the paperwork that needs to happen when you're going to work with kids, I might have an additional job as a cook at a Montessori school, because life is weird.
9b) I was going to just work at the bar and tighten up spending-wise and then just tour as much as I can, but this kind of seems like an opportunity I can't pass up. It's only thirty hours a week and I'll be done at 1:00 every day. That means I can still work at the bar and have time for band practice. Plus, with seasonal breaks and all the other times kids get off for essentially no reason, I'll be able to tour about as much as I would anyways. My only real sacrifice is having to hang out with kids all the time and make up lies out stuff that they will no doubt believe, because they are dumb.
10) Gwen Beatty got published. This is cool because she's a great writer and that aforementioned girlfriend and there's no better return on the good karma she's created by having to see me naked on a regular basis than by having her talents be recognized. You should read her story "I Thought About How the Sea" and then send her stories to read for her new gig at the journal Cease, Cows.
In this time, I've done very little writing. Or reading. I've read manuscripts for PSB and done edits on other people's stuff, but I haven't done much of anything for my own work. This is called an "excuse" because I'm "lazy" and "currently mostly playing computer games."
The whole "write every day" thing is an idea I try to live by it. It seems to be the one piece of advice that almost everyone agrees upon. There a part in the Comedians of Comedy documentary where Patton Oswalt talks about being obsessed with doing stand-up, to the point where it was all he did for two or three years. Open mics, crafting jokes, listening to other people do it. He says that every serious artist probably goes through this at some point, just drowning themselves in their craft.
I did that already. I did that when I was 20 and 21 and 22 and 23. I stayed home on weekends and revise stuff. I spent my entire Spring Break when I was twenty writing for six or seven hours day. I wrote before work and after work and couldn't think of anything but narrative and character whenever I watched television or a movie.
This was to no immediate benefit to the outside world. I was working on a novel that I knew wouldn't get published, something uneven and very blatantly the first thing I'd ever written. The last page is infinitely better than the first page, because I learned everything I know about writing just by working on that one giant thing.
Then I fell into an easy sort of routine--Mark Doty said he only write 400 words a day, so that's what I did. I've even shortened it in the past year or so: 100 words a day and one perfect sentence. I usually end up doing more than that, but sometimes I don't, which is fine. The one rule of writing is "feel good." I figured out how to write--or at least how I write--and I do that and it's very satisfying, the ways I still manage to surprise myself, running with the same themes and motifs and building up a series of personal archetypes the way Bob Dylan or Jason Molina or Raymond Carver did.
That I do the same thing they did, on a smaller, less successful level, is still incredible to me.
But recently, I haven't done shit. I've been preoccupied with other endeavors, some creative and some not: bands and a micropress and Twin Peaks and making dinner and pinball and all that stuff. Even now that I've been working a mere twenty hours a week I've only been writing four or five days of it.
Back when I was neck deep in my writing, I couldn't go two days with getting panicky about not writing. I just went a few months without doing much of anything, and I feel all right.
I'm not sure what this has to do with anything other than I don't know if I'm becoming less self-obsessed or if I actually might not write forever. I don't like to think that I can be perfectly happy not doing something I spent so much time grinding my life around.
Still, I managed to write a few things during a brief explosion of productivity. One of the stories will be for a special issue of Jersey Devil Press. I get my old Our Band Could Be Your Lit project up and running again for ONE NIGHT ONLY, thanks to a suggestion of "write about a Lita Ford song if you can't think of anything" by Mike Sweeney. From that has come the story "There Is No Joy Between the Last Thing and the Next Thing." It's based on "Shot of Poison" from Lita's pretty-awesome album Dangerous Curves. It's about friendship and emptiness and the big, scary future. Look for it soon.
(Unfortunately, I missed Lita Ford when she came to the casino in town. I made a promise to my pubescent self that I would have sex with her, but bailed at the last minute because I didn't want to take off work and Lita kind of looks like old dinner rolls now.)
Another thing I wrote and managed to get published right away in a kind of silly "the internet is a wild place" sort of way is an essay called "How to make -$1377 the Hard Way" about starting a micropress, booking my own cross-country book tour, DIY attitudes in indie lit, jealousy, success, satisfaction, and other things I secretly and not-so-secretly obsess about when it comes to writing. The ever-badass Jennifer A. Howard picked it up immediately and pushed it through to publication right away for the Passages North WRITERS ON WRITING column. I'm very happy to be a part of it.
Punk rock means that not only do all the eggs go in the basket, but you decide what the eggs and the basket are. Anyone who understands this probably doesn't need the reminder and anyone who doesn't understand it probably isn't going to have a revelation concerning it, so I’ll stop being indignant before I get wet under the arms about it.
Some other things I wrote awhile back that were published during my period of soul searching/watching Agent Dale Cooper eat pie include this story about brothers and pro wrestling and what the truth really is and what it's good for. It's called "A Comprehensive List of the Least Worst Way to do Everything" and it's up a Necessary Fiction.
I watch my dead brother’s wrestling matches and try to count the number of times he gets hurt for real. In one, a wispy tattooed man hits him with a monitor from the commentary desk. In the rematch, he hits him with the commentary desk.
I’ve got one of his boots on either side of the television. Maybe there’s a heart attack resting in my chest, too.
And this review of Ken Nash's The Brain Harvest, also up at Necessary Fiction.
What this really taught me was the same thing that The Brain Harvest by Ken Nash taught me: precision and compression and crazy hope, how if we zoom in far enough in anyone’s life, the absurdities reveal a depth of honesty and wonder. There’s something amazing in everyone’s life, something historic in everyone’s town.
And, lastly, this review of Adam Marek's wonderful short story collection The Stone Thrower, up now at Heavy Feather Review.
Before even reading Adam Marek’s short story collection The Stone Thrower—a book that openly states its themes of parental protection and vulnerability right on the back cover—I began to worry that I would be slogging through a dozen or so stories written by someone who has been made soft and sentimental by the idea of what they do to nurture their offspring or, perhaps even worse, stories written by someone who has been made hard, writing for the aforementioned softies.
Thankfully, The Stone Thrower is none of that.
A very nice review of my chapbook, Murmuration, went up at Heavy Feather Review. Austin Hayden was too kind.
Ryan works life’s incongruities. The Midwest he puts on the page is at once vast and closed-off. Even (at times, especially) alongside his friends, or girlfriends, or family members, his speaker is alone out there. His POV character is calloused but endearing. Both sarcastic and earnest. The yin and yang of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld meshed into one voice.
And, actually, now that I think about it, a killer review of Justin Lawrence Daugherty's Whatever Don't Drown Will Always Rise went up at HFR a bit before mine, thanks to the wonderful Kate Kimball.
There is a bridge that dogs jump to their deaths from that symbolizes the broken heart of a man. A man swearing there is a bomb on the lawn, which later, the character who believes him tries to pry the metal from the earth. A teenager works on competitive eating to impress a father who is a Marlboro Man in Japan. Whatever Don’t Drown Will Always Rise introduces unexpected situations, but is able to create a strong affect in those situations. Daugherty’s characters are believable, endearing, and refreshing. His use of ironic humor, believable dialects, and uncanny conflicts work to symbolize the innate human quest for rediscovering nature.
And while I'm on the subject of all thing Passenger Side Books, Matthew Burnside's Infinity's Jukebox has a birthday and artwork! September 9th, people. Here's one of the covers we'll be using in addition to seven other killer color schemes.
After that Passages North essay went up, I got a lot of traffic to this site, and most of the information on it was from months ago. I'm going to try to not make it that long between updates. If you're new here now, take a look around. I'm doing things, occasionally. I hope you are, too.