Monday, January 7, 2013

the bitch of it

Work on the novel. Write about a man that’s found his wife cheating. About eating bacon and eggs with his little daughter on the first day of their last long weekend. Write about being a writer—something that everyone has always told you not to do—and do it well enough so that you can show them that anything can be done and is worth doing if you have balls enough to try and do it better than anyone. And drink wine. And sit in the basement. And watch the dog guard her bone from the cats. Her crazy anxiety over protecting a two-foot long Christmas present rawhide. And keep tapping those keys. And listening to the boiler. And staring at the old stone walls while you sit at the old wooden desk and try to figure out how the hell you are going to keep it going and make money at it and take care of your wife and your kids long after you are gone. ∞ “You’ll be known when you’re dead,” Chad said to me one night, not too long ago, at the Black Sheep. “Jesus,” I said. “Thanks.” We sipped our scotch. “I’m serious,” he said. “What you’re doing won’t be understood until you’re dead.” I looked around the place. Tried to take myself away from what he was saying because it was not the kind of thing a man who had written six unsuccessful books wanted to hear. There were three old women in a booth. Laughing. Drinking Manhattans. There was my old Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Bray and his pretty wife at the end of the bar, drinking beer. And then there was us. Me and Chad. Bellied up to the bar. Just before noon on a Friday. I did not want to consider that my writing life could end like this. So-so. A Wikipedia blip in Alpena history. A footnote in some grad student’s paper on minimalism. A tiny notch in the literary bedpost. But the truth of it was—and is—that Chad’s ending was probably just about right. Not because I would be dead. And not because I would be famous. But because if I continued to live by his understanding and my belief—that nothing mattered, that all I really had to do was love my wife and love my kids and put words to paper whenever I could—then my life and theirs would probably be pretty goddamned good. “You are a little right,” I said to him. “And that’s the bitch of it.” We finished the scotch. Ordered more. But we did not talk much more about writing—especially mine—because talking about my writing was, to me, just as bad as reading it aloud to a bunch of strangers. Very much like jerking off in public. All the romance gone. Just trying to make a scene. The meaning missed. Nothing but emptiness. “At least you’re doing it,” he said and he raised his drink. I tapped my glass to his. Thought about Chad. What a good friend he’d always been. And I thought maybe I would write about him one day. That I would share with people how good he was. What a straight-shooter he’d always been. And that it was one of the few times in my life that I wanted to write well about someone I knew. “I am doing it,” I said. “And nobody knows. But the best part of it is that now, I know that for the past twenty years—even though I’ve only been married and a Dad for six—that always, I’ve been writing for S.B. and the kids.” “Goddammit, Stevens,” he said. “Don’t say things like that. You’re not supposed to talk like that. You’re supposed to write it down.” And so we stopped talking about it. Drank a little more. Talked to Paul and Mary Bray. Listened to the old ladies get tipsy. And I thought about working on the novel. Writing about being a writer—something that everyone always told me not to do—so that I could show them it could be done. All it took was practice and believing you had balls bigger than you really did and doing it better than anyone. And drinking wine. And sitting in the basement. And watching the dog guard her bone from the cats. Her crazy anxiety over protecting a two-foot long rawhide Christmas present. And tapping the keys. Over and over and over again. Listening to the boiler. Staring at the old stone walls. Trying to figure out how the hell I’m going to keep it going. Make money. And take care of S.B. and the kids long after I’m gone. ~ K.J.

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