I've got ten months left to choke on my own vomit. Then I'll be 28 and rock & roll won't care if I'm alive or dead.
In the meantime, I don't know what to do with all my old stories. There's a window of opportunity in revising older material, a temporal self (or whatever) to remain faithful to. This, of course, makes no sense. I don't owe the me of five years ago anything except maybe the satisfaction of knowing that I became his possibilities.
It's an issue of style more than ideas, really. My characters have always been Midwestern people. Desperate, self-contained, and home. Boredom and obsession and the river and the Jayhawks and the Replacements and long car rides to elsewhere. That much hasn't really changed. But in 2006 I wanted to be Nick Hornby. In 2007 I wanted to be Raymond Carver. In 2008 I wanted to be Rick Bass. In 2009 I wanted to be John Updike. In 2010 I wanted to be Rick Bass again, only this time with a bit of Barry Hannah thrown in. Then I got really into Amy Hempel and Lorrie Moore. Tom Franklin's been floating around in there for years. Richard Brautigan and Charles Bukowski really fucked me up. Reading Kerouac and Kundera at the same time I was taking philosophy classes in college was, in hindsight, a poor decision that had to be made. Dan Chaon made me rethink the 20-page story. Debra Monroe showed me the Midwestern people I know and love, on the page, at last. Kevin Wilson's short stories blew my mind at a time when I had thought I had seen it all in short stories--and this was only last year.
Just tonight I was forwarding an e-mail to someone and, in a tiny comment of mine above the e-mail, I used the phrase "cobble together." I never use that phrase, and upon closer inspection, I realized that it was used in the body of the e-mail I was forwarding. Shit like that scares me. I'm not a natural writer, I'm a natural colander.
What this means is that my style is a collage. I'm aware that this is hardly an original concept. I've read articles on the idea that, due to the embarrassment of riches we call current day information, that everyone's style is a collage. Your style is a combination of your Facebook page, the headlines of articles you don't read, the videos you watch on YouTube, the Etsy store you stumbled on accidentally, the New Yorker/People magazine you flipped through on your lunch break, and, lastly, the stuff you read for real.
My point is that I'm afraid I'm never going to write like myself. If I'm concerned about revising the old stories due to some inane and unjustified responsibility I feel toward the way I was whenever it was I wrote them, then doesn't it make sense to not revise them? There are good lines and good sections and good everything that's good about stories in my old stories, just not all at once. It's like that old saying about finding a girlfriend. HOT, SANE, INTELLIGENT: YOU MAY CHOOSE TWO.
So I'm considering cutting my loses. Publication is my end goal. It may not be yours (you fucking liar), but it's definitely mine. If I'm not doing this to get published, I'm just writing a really fucked up journal for people inside my head who don't even exist for anyone else. That's not even exciting for me, and I'm the guy with the ideas. If I stop taking the time to publish these old stories--we all know the process of write, revise, submit, get rejected, revise again because we've changed our minds about what the story is capable off despite it being "totally finished and fuck anyone who doesn't see the vision that I'm proud of" upon its last round of submissions, get rejected again, revise "for the final time" again, and then get rejected again--I will theoretically have time to work on new stories.
This idea of new things all the time is something really popular in the world of comedy right now. Ever since Louis CK decided he was going to do a new hour of comedy each year (he said he got it from Carlin, but Carlin was every two years) and then subsequently blew up when his popularity fell in line with his ability to realize his vision, every comedian worth their salt seems to be finding it necessary to do a new hour every year. When talking about his moment of realization, Louie essentially wondered what would happen if he threw away all the shitty material he had been trying to make work for the past fifteen years and started digging deeper. It's like writing with no ideas: this is what you have when you make yourself have something despite having nothing.
Of course, Louie's a fucking genius and I'm not. Still, there's an allure to trimming the inventory, good or bad. It's a certain sort of bittersweet reverie to live completely in the now and immediate future, but in art, it's almost necessary to lean in that direction.
Then again, if this really is just a style thing, why don't I use the characters and ideas and just rewrite the fuckers? Everything old is new again. If I write differently now, fine. Just use the plots of the old stories as prompts. It's not like there's nothing there to work with . . .
* Guy with a deaf/mute Italian ex-girlfriend goes on cross country plane trip on Daylight Savings Account day and considers his relationship as his rich uncle breaks up with his three different girlfriends in three different time zones in an attempt to cause universal time/space confusion and "tie the rope of time" into a knot to redeem himself.
* An old man kills himself and leaves a note requesting that his landlord decapitate him and bury the head 19 hours away in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to which the landlord agrees in an attempt to find something in his life worth caring about since he no longer has feelings for his young girlfriend, job, or life in general.
* On a random road trip to St. Louis, three men and one woman in their early twenties stop at a gas station and pick up the woman working there after she claims she's going to kill herself at the end of her shift, which is never found out to be true or false due to the fact that she drives the group into Tennessee and subsequently disappears later on in the night after all but one person, the guy who invited her in the first place, has gone to sleep at a bar that has agreed to let them stay the night.
It goes on like this. I'm not a genius like Louie or Carlin, but there's some direction in these little summaries. Am I just lazy? Do I feel that this is indeed not writing a new story, but writing the same story again? Doing the work twice? Double handling? A waste of my time? I think so, which is why I'm leaning toward tossing them all in the first place. But I know better than to be lazy. Reading back over those capsule synopses of the above stories, I think, "Yeah, I'd totally fucking love to read that story." That means I should write that story. Rewriting is writing. Revising is writing. Separating the two from each other or writing itself is how people trap themselves like I have. If it has to be again, it has to be again, even if it means taking away my satisfaction in retrograde.
I was writing this blog to try to figure out what I was going to do with the old stories, and I was hoping to have come to a conclusion by now. Unfortunately, I've pretty much just managed to justify ripping people off, hated myself in reverse, and done no actual fiction writing. I've got to learn that revising after several years with a different mindset isn't a betrayal of my vision.
If there's a moral to this thing, it's this: just fucking write something. Even if you have to write it again.
(And eat some ice cream. You earned it if you made it through that rambling.)