Saturday, November 1, 2008

with words

November 1st, 2008

11:17 am

Little Man up before seven this morning. Rousing me from bed. We let S.B. sleep in, though I doubt she did much sleeping. Not with Little Man watching cartoons. Demanding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. And me doing morning chores. Now we are all up and at it. S.B. reorganizing the kitchen. Little Man in and out of tantrums all morning. Still reeling from his exciting night of trick-or-treating. Filled with goblins, ghosts, and ghouls. Eerie sounds. Shadows. Walking long stretches. From house to house to house.

He did a fine job. Had lots of fun. Did not fuss or get scared or overwhelmed. He was pretty keyed up last night when we got home. Was hardly settled down by the time he went to bed. Did not wake once during the night. But was sure to get at it early this morning. Bags under his eyes. Sugar still coursing through his veins. Rising to great fits of activity and then crashing into fits of screaming and tears. Right now, he is trying to settle down before lunch and before nap. Watching cartoons.

The family life goes on and on. A great ride of stable uncertainty. Every day the same, but very different from the next. My only constant these days is the load of cat poop I get to clean up off the floor every morning. Cabby, our 307 year old cat is showing signs of senility and old age, but there's a good chance she'll outlast me. I'll be 73 years old. On my deathbed. And there will be Cabby. Sitting on the floor next to me. All creaking bones and hollow meow. Leaving a load of crap on the floor. A little gift for me to take off into the great unknown.

But so it goes in the Stevens household. Another beautiful day in The Garden City. Leaves fluttering down. Sunshine blazing in the clear blue sky. All of us on the up and up with Little Man's nap time not far away.

I think it would be a good day for us to nap too. Me and S.B.. Get some shut eye. Recharge. Ease away the residual early morning tension. And rest side by side with white light easing through the windows. But it's hard to tell. Too early to see. Anything can happen between now and then. Maybe the best thing for me to do would be to write. Keep my keester on this chair. Fingers to these keys. And finish a damned story.

Last night. I was on the couch. Trying to decompress. Reading Rolling Stone Magazine. S.B. was next to me, at the book shelf. Looking at something.

"Hey honey?" I said.


"Take a look at that Big Fish book."

She picked it up.


"What's that writer's name?"

"Wallace," she said.


"Nope, this is Dan."

"Okay, thanks. Nevermind."

"What?" she asked.

"Well, this Wallace here..." I pointed to the article I was reading, " dead. Hanged himself."

"Oh great," she said.

S.B. I think, thinks I'm smarter, brighter, more darkly intelligent than I am. That maybe I contain some of these demons and struggles that these other writers have. And since so many of us have whacked ourselves out, I suspect she sometimes wonders if I'll go nuts, feel bad and sour enough to do it as well.

"No, not me, honey. Besides, this guy here was a genius, they say. The greatest literary talent of our generation."

"I've never heard of him," she said.

"Me neither. That's how good he must have been."

But then again, I've been out of the literary loop for years. If I ever was in it. I suppose the closest I ever really got was a bit of correspondence with Dave Shaw, meeting and corresponding with Stuart Dybek, and taking the necessary literature courses in college. And getting plowed night after night. After writing for hours on end, day after day. Believing I was the next Roethke, Wolff, or Hemingway. Lots of delusional nights with my trusty, sober sidekick, Mulhauser, carting my ass around.

But anyway, this Wallace character was dark, but lovable. An underrated genius battling depression that somehow made it 46 years in this rough and tumble life and then decided to hang himself.

"Why on earth plug away at it for forty-six years and then decide to cash out?" I asked.

S.B. put her hands on my shoulders.

"I don't know honey. Why do it at all?"

And I thought of Hem. Sixty-one years old. Sitting in that room. Shotgun aimed at his head.

"It must get really bad," I said.

"It must."

And I set aside the article. Decided not to finish it. Not last night. Not today. Maybe never at all. Because it does get bad. It has been bad. And there's no use going to a dark place when what we should be doing is all we can to help the ones we love keep their heads above water. Feet on the ground. Fingers away from the trigger.

Damned writers. What a bunch of nuts.

There is a mystique about writers that off themselves. An awe and curiosity about those that choose to take leave on their own terms. But it is undeserved. Too many literary greats have been born out of selfishness. Too many of these supposed geniuses have not been smart enough to keep themselves alive.

But I did not always think this way.

When I was consumed with consumption. Filled with finding fame. Out of love.

Oh, how things have changed.

Life is serious business. There's no getting around that. And I still believe, as Hem once said, that we are bitched from the start. But the greatest thing about this life is that we can turn things around. It is up to us to raise our heads. Pull our feet out of the muck. And move on. Because even though life does not wait and does not care, the people around us do. Our wives and kids. Moms and Dads. Brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. Dogs and cats. They all care. And there is always another day. Sure, everyone's clock is running out, and we can never know when the big ax will come swinging round, but why not buck up, get straight, and run strong? Like a bull. Right to the end.

I don't know that I'll ever read David Wallace. I do know that I'm not going to run out and by his book because he killed himself. Sure, I feel for him. For his family. Friends. All those lives he touched and that are better because of him. But what has he taught us? What was the great lesson to be learned by this parting on his own terms? What does it say to people with depression? To people who have hard lives? To people that struggle each and every day simply to rise up and get their legs over the edge of the bed?

I guess what I would have rather read last night and carried on into this day and those that follow was a story. A bright shining moment in literature and life instead of an article about this generation's greatest literary talent. A man that didn't have enough sense to pull up. Stop. Take a breath. And work a pen in his hand or his fingers at the keys, instead of a knotting a rope around his neck.

But so it goes. I'm getting old. Tuning out, but tuning it. Honing my survival skills. A little at a time. Every day. With this simple act. A man working away at the bad in this world.

With words.

I am not our generation's great literary talent. I'm not a genius. And not really that smart at all. But I know enough to keep at it. Not for me, but for those that I love. So that all of us can keep on keepin' on.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

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