Burly Writer

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I'm a Writer, if by Writer you mean a misanthrope.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Daily Hernia

Thinking about writing a novel. No, it is funny. I've been "working on a novel" since I was about 15 years old. Back then, I sat in my bedroom with the door shut so my insane mother wouldn't see me and shriek at me for, literally, existing. In so shutting myself off, I also shut out the heat from the kerosene heaters in the house. So the room was about 40 degrees, and colder some nights.

In this room, I had an electric typewriter circa 1986, with a funky "word processor" in the tiny unreadable digital screen. At least this was an upgrade to the 1970s typewriter with the cloth ribbon. I had this typewriter set on an open drawer of my dresser, and I'd scoot a chair up to it, wearing my coat and a blanket across my legs. And I wrote unbelievably shitty short stories in that condition.

I've been a writer, and I've stood naked against the world. But nobody looks.

As an aside, the drawer was filled with discarded manuscripts, pieces of stories I'd cannibalize. In the drawer, among the papers, tiny little mice had made their home. In the dead of winter, I didn't have the heart to toss them outside. I didn't have a car, or a driver's license, so I couldn't take them to a shelter even if I knew of the existence of one. And I certainly couldn't kill the cute little bastards.

While I'd write, I'd see a mouse running along the floor molding, stopping to observe me for long periods. Since my head did not fly from my shoulders and swoop down on it like a preying bird, as I'm sure the mouse expected, it would move on. Eventually I'd hear it scuttling up the back of the open drawer and plop into the shredded manuscripts. I once probed into the drawer and found four very young mice, huddled together under the paper for warmth. Four grey balls of fur, precisely the same.

The memory of what I'd endure, for the sake of writing, is like a hernia to me now. I'm hesitant to think hard on it, as if in moving I will cause the hernia to shift, and blaze searingly through a hole in my abdomen until I can force it back inside. Where it belongs. My grandfather, an old car mechanic, had a hernia the size of his fist. When it would pop out, he'd have to lie down on his back and push the thing back into his body.

I imagined, in that artic room, among my scribbles and virginity, I was going to become a "successful novelist." Hemingway, Stephen King, someone like that. Adventure and women. The Florida Keys or Maine. Chad Carter and his expanding universe of hardboiled novels, sex-dappled lovers, and acclaim. My uncomfortable youth would strip Vegas style, revealing ever more amazing reams of happiness and satisfaction. Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury would say I was a great writer, carrying on a great legacy.


The hernia aches, a piledriver waiting to fall. I talked about being a writer more in my adult life than anything else, more than girls, more than jobs, more than anyone who ever meant anything to me. I believed, in the final report, I'd be forgiven if I didn't quite know how to love, or how to communicate, or how to be happy. All of those things come with success. And what is success for a writer really? Money? Movie adaptions? Smug satisfaction?

I don't know. I remember when I was a boy, I'd climb a shed behind my grandfather's garage and sit on the roof, looking out over a corn field. It was where I went when I was hiding, when I was sure I was alone. Beyond the field was a high school and mysteriously fluffed and laughing girls much older than me drove in and out. Sometimes they stopped for gas at the garage, and I'd pop wheelies on my bike to show off for them. I once hit the brake pedal by mistake and flew over the handlebars. I didn't let go, so I ended up sitting on the ground in front of my bike. I scrambled up, too shaken to even get back on. One of the pretty teenagers I was showing off for came jogging over, her friends giving those "aww" noises and half-laughs, and the girl laughed too. I didn't look at her, just shoved my bike fast into the bushes and took off running. It was like I would never ride a bike again. I swore vengenance on bikes and teenaged girls in jeans.

In a way, my writing has become very much a failed popped wheelie. I shove writing around, kind of humilated, cheeks burning, dreams skinned. Showing off had gotten me nowhere but embarrassed. The only difference is, everyone expected the little boy to get back on the bike and show off for the girls again some day, and probably sooner than later. But now?

Now they just say things like, "Well, what are you going to do? You need a hobby. You should think about taking classes. It's over. It's finished. The bike's broke, and lucky for you to still have your balls after that crack-up!"

Yes, lucky.

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