Tag Archives: writers

7 steps to happiness

For the first time in your adult life, you’re happy. Instead of enjoying your happiness like a sane person, you analyze the hell out of it, because that’s what people who are not used to being happy do. Also, you were a philosophy major in college. Snicker all you want at that, but a philosophy degree is better preparation for life than that business degree some chumps were suckered into. Philosophy is about questioning everything. You were never a yes-man.

1. Jettison the friends who aren’t friends anymore.

Friendships (and romances) are like Wonder bread. You think that they are going to last forever, but they don’t. This is especially true of friendship/romance created under duress. Fear is not the goo that binds the bread pudding of friendship. Fear is a ticking time bomb of sticky toxic waste.

That college roommate? You were away from home for the first time and were deathly afraid of being alone. The woman you married because your mother was dying? Afraid of being alone. That friend who was so there for you when you left your wife? See the first two.

You hang on far too long, afraid of being ungrateful, as the fear that started the friendship/romance evolves into resentment, leaving behind a decaying relationship corpse that you are afraid to bury because then you’d truly be alone. The corpse seems better than the alternative. At some point, you realize that if you are actually grateful for the relationship, you should bury the corpse and let that person get back to living his or her life, and that you should go on with your life, too.

You also realize that these people all knew you at your worst–your worst case scenario you. That is all that they see when they look at you–a basket case. Even though they don’t mean to do it, they can convince you that you’re still a basket case by the way they treat you. You don’t need that. They don’t need it either. Pity generates as much resentment as fear.

And then one day you let go… you embrace being alone… the state you’ve been afraid of your entire adult life. You relearn a word you discovered when you were two: No. And it is fantastic! Those pitying eyes are gone. All those Wonder bread people who you thought you couldn’t live without? Turns out life is so much better without them. In your empty apartment, you let the dishes pile up in the sink. You sing along with Glen Campbell and are not afraid that someone is watching you, judging you. Eat hummus with a spoon right out of the container. Watch the Indians on TV in your boxer shorts and do pushups between innings. Experimentally eat the raisin that you dropped on the kitchen floor maybe a week ago. Who cares? No one. Not a single solitary soul. It’s glorious! All that worrying about people who didn’t give a shit about you was like a slow drip of acid into your soul.

There’s a difference between being solitary and being alone. It’s a secret that had been kept from you for a long time, but you finally whispered it to yourself.

When you come home to your empty apartment, with no one there to greet you (not even a cat), you are relieved and happy. A long, loud sigh escapes from your lips every day after you close the front door and deadbolt it.

Even healthy relationships expire and require burying. Not that Facebook cares about that. Facebook insists that you remain friends with people you’ve long since moved past. Facebook friends are not actual friends, by the way. Facebook is a vile scam preying on fear of loneliness. At best, it is methadone. You know that. You minimize your time there.

2. Don’t travel. 

You never thought you’d live in a country with a “Department of Homeland Security” did you? Oh, but you do. Now every trip to the airport is a dystopian nightmare of inscrutable (human-free) check-in machines, cold stares as you shuffle in line up to the body scanner, shoeless, and then the long shamble through corridors filled with people bumping into each other as they interact with their phones. You get to your gate and discover that you’re sitting in a middle seat because every flight you’re on is overbooked.

Driving isn’t much better. Hours stuck in heavy traffic add to your creeping guilt over burning hydrocarbons that are quickly killing off our planet. That road trip music list on your iPhone isn’t aging well either as you slowly inch forward. Should have made that list longer. Better songs. Urgh.

Once you get there, there’s the disappointment of being there. “There” is not that great. Certainly not worth the bullshit of travel.

So when it comes time to take a week off, you stay in your blissfully empty apartment indulging in your main hobby: writing books that no one reads. Ahhhh. That’s better.

3. Watch more TV. Skip going to movies. 

You were brought up to believe that TV was as awful as candy corn, and that movies were high art. Gilligan’s Island, The Captain and Tennille Variety Hour, CHiPs, and The A-Team pretty much cemented that.

The movies had Nashville, Jaws, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blue Velvet…

And then one day you saw Twin Peaks. You shook excitedly in your barracks room, vibrating in your chair. And Twin Peaks begat The X Files. And then came The Sopranos. And then Mad Men. Now you spend your time waiting for the next season of The Americans and Orphan Black to hit the small screen.

Meanwhile, movies have become a massive billowing shitstorm of comic book junk, fucked dialog and plots, and cartoonish special effects. And admission is too much. You find yourself sitting in front of an old lady who carries on a monologue that matches exactly what you’re thinking about the billowing shitstorm you are currently, for no good reason, subjecting yourself to. The cantankerous old broad lets loose a loud popcorn-and-Coke gasser. Why am I here when I could be at home, blissfully alone, watching something good?

4. Pay off all of your bills and don’t create new ones. 

Much of the stress of your daily life used to be bills. You grew up poor, so you compensated for that by running up insane credit card debt with the woman you fear-married. You owed so much fucking money it was maddening, and you were dizzy with nausea thinking about it every waking minute of every day. You went to sleep thinking about being broke and every morning you woke up… still broke.

But then, once you were alone, you lived like a monk… mainly out of self-hatred for having abandoned the rotting corpse of your marriage like a teenage mother ditching a prom-night-conceived baby at a fire station.

One day, you woke up and realized that all that monkishness had taken away one of the things you’d most hated about your existence: the feeling that you’d never emerge from debt. You’d paid everything off. Holy mother of fuck! You felt 20, 40 pounds lighter.

Now you wake up and wonder, “Exactly how much money do I have in the bank?” with an incredible sense of relief. Money has lost its grip on your life.

5. Don’t eat in restaurants. 

You also wake up physically lighter. Why? Because one of your major indulgences used to be eating in restaurants. You used to work in a restaurant, so you happen to know the secret of “good food,” and it’s spelled F-A-T.

If you eat in a class restaurant, you can be certain that you’re eating a stick of butter mixed in with your order. If you eat in a not-so-class joint, you’re eating eight ounces of blended oil (best case), beef tallow, or Kaola Gold.

Now that you’ve stopped eating in restaurants, you aren’t eating artery-clogging, megadoses of fat. Suddenly you’re not feeling like total shit anymore. Funny how that happens.

6. Cut out alcohol. Exercise instead.

When you were first alone, you dulled the miasma of anxiety whirling in your chest cavity with plastic bottles of cheap, clear fluid purporting to be vodka. It only helped somewhat. You drank until you passed out, and then woke up the next morning with a massive hangover. Work dulled some of the anxiety, but only during work. Once you left work, you were right back in downtown Shit City, standing on the corner of Fucked and Main. So more drinking.

One day you came home from work and saw that you ran out of alcohol, and so did without it because the thought of facing the liquor store clerk after a day of dealing with people was too much. Then you forgot to pick up alcohol again. And then you didn’t pick up alcohol on purpose.

You mastered your anxiety through long walks, and then bicycling, and then a rowing machine. The exercise not only knocks out the anxiety, it makes you feel so much better than booze ever did. You actually feel strong, like you could handle anything.

7. Don’t give a shit that no one is reading your books.

The one constant in your life has always been books and writing. You read from an early age. You don’t even remember how it came about. No one taught you. When you went to kindergarten, you were already reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. You could already write, too.

As you grew older, books were your salve. You could take your parents’ constant fighting if you could crack open a book. You loved detective novels and science fiction.

You wrote short stories and hid them under your mattress like they were pornography. Your mother found them and encouraged you to keep on writing. You even got a (completely worthless) graduate degree in writing.

Like every writer, you have a sneaking suspicion half the time that you’re a genius. The other half of the time, you’re certain you’re a charlatan and everything you’ve written is pure junk. But the one constant is that you love books and love writing. Now that you’re alone, debtless, and sober, you can actually concentrate on doing what you love. No one is reading your work, but that’s okay. You’re fine with that. You reach inside yourself and find all the things that you love (and hate) about the world and put them on the page. Nothing matters but the writing itself. This doesn’t mean you don’t want people to read what you’ve written, but if they don’t, it won’t stop you from writing.

Nothing will.

New book here, not that you care: http://amzn.to/2bG110j

5 Hints about Explosive Decompression

Explosive Decompression, a new novel by John L. Sheppard, will be published on Sept. 4, 2016 by Paragraph Line Books.

1. Why we’re on the brink of mass extinction (The Daily Beast).

2. A molecule of water can exist in six places at once (Vice). 

3. Bio coding language makes it easier to hack living cells (New Scientist).

4. Frankie Yankovic, “Pennsylvania Polka.”

5. Dalai Lama: Religion without quantum physics is an incomplete picture of reality (Vice).

Coming soon from Paragraph Line Books

dove and crow cover

Coming Soon, from Paragraph Line Books, The Dove and the Crow… a new novel by Joseph Hirsch…

Meet the Crow: He’s been around for hundreds of years. He took scalps in the time of Cortez and Columbus. He skins men and makes rugs of their hides, lassos of their intestines. Right now he’s angry, and out for blood.

Meet the Dove: Matina’s a whore at the Maison de Joie, with more mojo than you can shake a stick at. It’s been said that, with just one bat of her eyelashes, she can turn pennyroyal tea into tincture of opium. 

Meet the Tracker: Dognose Jones, the adopted son of a Cherokee medicine man, has a special gift. He can smell his prey like a bloodhound scenting its chase. 

Welcome to the Wild, Weird West.

24 Points: The Ghost of Barry Brown by Joseph Hirsch

Barry_Brown

Editor’s note: Joseph Hirsch is the author of several books, including Kentucky Bestiary and the upcoming Paragraph Line Books release The Dove and the Crow. You can find him at www.joeyhirsch.com.

  1. I started writing for real, during my last year in the Army, when I was stationed at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas.
  2. Every Friday night, after my company was released from duty, I would run up to my barracks room, grab my laptop, and then head back downstairs to the quad. Then I would call a cab and have the cabbie drive me to the local Extended Stay.
  3. I wrote a short story in my hotel room every Friday night. Saturdays I edited the stories, and Sunday mornings I submitted them, after which I would take a cab back to the base and get ready for Monday morning, and a return to duty.
  4. I was part of an Air Defense Artillery battalion, and I spent my days walking beneath the hot Texas sun, between rows of missiles and radars, thinking about my year in Iraq, and also about ideas for more short stories.
  5. I checked my email slavishly for messages from publishers. I got a ton of rejection slips, some of them mean-spirited and discouraging; others were indifferent, and obviously form letters not meant to be taken personally.
  6. One day I checked my email and there was an acceptance letter from Underground Voices. “This is good,” was the subject line of the email, and the body of the email read, “If it is still available, we would like to purchase it for $30 and run it in our November online edition.” It felt like my heart had stopped beating in my chest, and though it’s obviously impossible, it felt like my heart didn’t start beating again until November 1st.
  7. November did come, and with it, a check in the mail from Underground Voices. I remember walking to the PX on-post, my desert suede boots crunching over sand and dirt, until I reached the bank and cashed the check. I don’t remember anything about the bank teller, except that she was an attractive woman, and that I desperately wanted her to look at me and not see another war-shattered boy, but rather, a writer.
  8. I bought myself a steak dinner that night, and, as I was eating, I kept thinking to myself, I paid for this meal with my imagination.
  9. Of course I read my story on Underground Voices (here it is, if you’re curious: http://www.undergroundvoices.com/UVHirschJoseph.htm),  and I was proud to bursting, walking under the sun on those long, hot, Texas days, speaking to the missiles around me, silently shouting, I’m a writer!
  10. The problem, though, was that my story was not the best to appear in Underground Voices that month. I am, as the writer John Fante once said about himself, “a master at being spellbound by my own prose,” but not even I could convince myself that my story was better than one called The Screenwriter, by some guy named James Brown (here it is, if you’re curious: http://www.undergroundvoices.com/UVBrownJames.htm)
  11. I read the story with mounting jealousy, and thought back to what Stephen King had once said about being a young unpublished writer, and the first time he discovered he was doing better than a hack whose work had seen print. He described the moment as being akin to the loss of one’s virginity, the sober, objective instant wherein one realizes that, despite the doubt and insecurity, they are in fact good enough to be a professional writer.
  12. I had realized before that I wasn’t the worst writer in the world, but encountering The Screenwriter, still high on the wings of my first sale, I had to privately admit that there were some writers I would never equal. James Brown took my literary virginity, which might be an odd statement for a heterosexual man to make, but there it is.
  13. Some years later, I was no longer in the Army, and, though I had sold a short story here and there (and even a novella), I had pretty much given up on life, and writing.
  14. I read somewhere that men think about sex once every eleven seconds, but it seemed that, the further and further I got from Iraq and the Army, the more I thought about the war, and that my sex and suicide wires had somehow gotten crossed. It would not be hyperbole to say that I thought about suicide every eleven seconds or so.
  15. One night, having given up on life and writing, I found myself watching TV, as people who have given up tend to do.
  16. There was a movie on the tube, a quiet Western about two boys out west who were on the run from the Union Army. The movie looked to have been made in the seventies, and I didn’t think it took a genius to realize that it was an obvious analogy for dodging the draft during the Vietnam War. It was what the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once called an “acid Western.”
  17. One of the two boys running from the Army was a young and beautiful Jeff Bridges. The other was a young and beautiful man with big brown eyes whose name I didn’t know, but whose face I couldn’t stop staring at. I wondered what it was about this quiet Western-with boys scrounging on the prairie for food, screwing whores, shooting rabbits, and dodging Indians- that held me in thrall.
  18. I also wondered why I had never heard of the brown-haired boy, who was acting circles around a very talented and very young Jeff Bridges. I watched the movie until it ended, on a freeze-frame of the boys brandishing six shooters in a Wells Fargo bank. Beautiful ragtime piano music played, and the credits rolled.
  19. I found out from the credits that the brown-haired boy’s name was Barry Brown. Curious, I stood and went over to the computer which I had been treating in my depression and isolation as little more than a glorified porn machine, since I no longer used it for writing. I went to Wikipedia and discovered a few things about Barry Brown.
  20. The director Peter Bogdanovich had said that he “was the only American actor you can believe ever read a book,” and that Barry Brown had committed suicide in Silverlake, California, in June of 1978.
  21. I knew why I wanted to commit suicide. I was a failed writer, an ex-soldier whose short stories had netted him about $500 over the course of his short career. But why would a beautiful and talented young man like Barry kill himself?
  22. I kept reading the Wikipedia page, and discovered that the actor Barry Brown was the older brother of James Brown, the same James Brown who had written circles around me a few years ago, when my first short story got published and I still believed in myself, and in life and writing.
  23. I read James Browns’ books, The Los Angeles Diaries and This River. I discovered how Barry had committed suicide (with a shotgun, if I remember correctly), and I also learned that James had to clean up the mess after his brother took his own life, soaking up brain matter with a sponge and putting bloody clothes in a trash bag, or something to that effect. I also discovered, in the course of reading James’ books, that his sister Marilyn had also tragically taken her own life some years after Barry’s death.
  24. There are a lot of reasons that might explain why I didn’t commit suicide, and why I started writing again, but much of it comes down to thinking about myself and my younger brother (who just had a son, making me an uncle), and a lot of it comes down to the books James Brown has written, and the ghost of Barry Brown.

Attention writers!

Writer
Writer

Sure, your last book sold ten copies and you’re pretty sure your next one will sell about the same… but at least you’ll get to live much longer with all that failure thanks to having a sense of purpose in your life.

In fact, people with a sense of purpose had a 15 percent lower risk of death,compared with those who said they were more or less aimless. And it didn’t seem to matter when people found their direction. It could be in their 20s, 50s or 70s… “Often this is individuals who want to produce something that is appreciated by others in written or artistic form, whether it’s music, dance or visual arts,” Hill says.

So, yes, your smug self-regard actually has a pay-off, Writer Person! Congratulations!

More at NPR.

Teaching Flannery O’Connor

Flannery
At the Millions, there is a terrific appreciation of the great Flannery O’Connor as a writer, southerner, Catholic…

In “The Teaching of Literature,” an address to English teachers later collected into an essay, O’Connor assails the “utilitarian” approach of doctoral studies in English, where it is assumed that novels “must do something, rather than be something.”

While you’re at it, you might as well read “Good Country People” and see what great writing looks like.

Writers’ notebooks: ‘A junkyard of the mind’

I’m a big paper user for my notes, experiments, and doodles. An army of dust mites are happily enjoying decades of my work I need to scan in.

The British Library has been doing this with a bunch of famous writers’ notebooks, putting them online. I generally do not give a shit about Charles Dickens, but I do love to see stuff like Blake’s notebooks.

Here’s an overview via the BBC, or check out the library’s site for more.

(from the BBC

Picnic, Lightning

Sue Lyons as Lolita

Over at Vice, actual pages from Vladimir Nabokov’s screenplay for Lolita are on display, including a wonderful scene that didn’t make it into the movie.

Humbert’s Voice

…she was killed by a bolt of lightning during a picnic on my fourth birthday, high in the Maritime Alps.

CUT TO:

A Mountain Meadow–A thunderhead advancing above sharp cliffs
Several people scramble for shelter, and the first big drops of rain strike the zinc of a lunchbox. As the poor lady in white runs toward the pavilion of a lookout, a blast of livid light fells her. Her graceful specter floats up above the black cliffs holding a parasol and blowing kisses to her husband and child who stand below, looking up, hand in hand.

Plus, you know, stuff about Kubrick. More.

Joyland

What if you’d written a novel and then, years later, Stephen King wrote a book with the same title, and you suddenly found yourself awash in King-like royalties? Emily Schultz, the author of Joyland, found herself in that situation when Stephen King released his own novel named Joyland as a print-only title.

King has now responded to the mix-up, telling Entertainment Weekly “I’m delighted for her, and I’m going to order her book”. King, writes Schultz on Twitter, is “wonderful”.

Stephen King isn’t just one of our best, most prolific, and most influential writers. He’s also a really cool dude. More at The Guardian.