I had a teacher who said that part of success is just showing up. So tomorrow, I will show up again.
The last couple days I’ve been taking stock of this freelance writing journey. It’s been almost four months since I quit my job at the treatment center, said goodbye to the awful commute from Long Beach to Woodland Hills, and committed myself to writing. And I think I’m coming to peace, to a sense of serenity, at this moment. I’m not making a lot of money. In fact, it’s still a struggle, and I just started picking up tutoring. But so far, it’s been worth it.
When I first started trying to get bylines, I was so pumped to have calendar pitches accepted at the LA and OC Weekly — listings for events in the area. I remember I must have spent five hours on 200 words, thinking that someone might see my work and want me to write more. Well, that was my start, and I’m forever grateful for those pieces (which I still write sometimes), but now I’m publishing more, and as Heron pointed out to me last night, I’ve come a long way. I am happy with the progress of my writing.
But I miss many aspects of the full-time job. I miss being able to go dinner. I miss be able to pay parking tickets without it ruining my week. I miss being able to walk down to E.J. Malloys on Broadway and buy a few beers, a cheeseburger and fries, and talk shit about a sport I didn’t care about with a stranger I would never talk to again. I miss being able to bring home flowers to Heron whenever I felt like it. I miss being able to take flights home to see my friends in Massachusetts. I miss seeing my family and buying a steak every once in a while. Though I have come to terms with all that.
I have a dream. I have a goal. I want to make writing my life. And I’m not entirely sure where that’s going to take me yet. I’m not exactly sure when I’ll go back to working full time, because if there is an opportunity out there that I can’t refuse, I’ll probably take it. But one thing is for sure — I will find a way to write.
So this was all running through my mind tonight. And earlier, I was talking to my Uncle in Pennsylvania. He was always a man I admired. Very successful. A guy who could probably do anything in the world and be successful at it. Then he was asking me how I was doing. I was telling him how I was getting hitched in February and that I was a freelance writer. I was telling him there were ups and downs. I was telling him that I was actually being paid to write. I was telling him about living in Long Beach, California all the way from Clinton, Mass.
He was impressed. Then I said to him, but you know, sometimes I wish I chose another path. Sometimes I wish I chose a job that paid better right away. Sometimes I wish that I picked a career with a more definite career track. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to pay my dues without knowing what the dues were going to get me. But then I realized, in the middle of talking to him, that I didn’t have a choice. This way of life, well, it had chosen me. There’s nothing I can do about it.
The last week was great, because I was able to take some time away from pitching and writing and step back a bit. I’ve been freelancing, now, for four months, and it’s time to take stock of where I am at. It’s a difficult journey, but I have great support. Over the last two weeks, I have had work appear at the LA Weekly, OC Weekly, and Salon.com, but when I look back on the last four months, my creative work has suffered a bit. I’ve been so focused on trying to write for projects that will help me survive that I’ve forgotten, to some extent, about poetry, about short stories, about my memoir.
Maybe that was a part of the plan. Maybe I needed some distance. And when Thanksgiving “break” came, I found myself writing a new story, and it was my first true science fiction story. It’s set in a Los Angeles in the future, and while I feel somewhat nerdy writing the story, it’s been a pleasure to allow my imagination to wander — to envision a new world. And this has helped rev up the creative process.
This would have never happened four years ago. I would never have even given science fiction a chance.
When I was in graduate school, I started out only interested in literary pieces. I was (and still am) a huge fan of Tobias Wolff, Denis Johnson, Stuart Dybek, Hemingway, Raymond Carver, and Junot Diaz, and I only cared about one story — the lyrical, literary story. I actually had a teacher in undergrad, after much pleading to tell me where I needed to grow as a writer, tell me that I only valued the realistic story.
But when I got to FIU, I met a teacher who started to introduce me to genre — especially Noir and horror. I was resistant at first. I thought genre was for hacks who wanted to make money. Then I started to read Raymond Chandler, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. One of the best anthologies this teacher suggested was the American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny From Poe to the Pulps. I suddenly became aware of the tremendous possibilities of genre and the infinite combinations — even surrealism, abstraction, the philosophically stirring existed within the forms. Yes, I was ignorant and stubborn, but I was learning. So I read everything from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Island of Dr. Moreau to Borges, and I saw similarities and possibilities.
Now, this isn’t any new revelation. Just look at Michael Chabon and many other writers experimenting with genre. But I was suddenly freed from the reality that all writing had to be real and true. Truth is a word, anyway, that has nothing to do with facts or even reality.
So I wrote my first horror story at FIU, and at first, it was torn apart, somewhat, in the workshops. I had a tendency, then, and a tendency, now, to go over the top. So I revised and worked on it. And about two weeks ago, it was accepted into a future anthology by Sirens Call Publications. The story is called: “The Castle on the Hill.” The anthology is a haunted mental-ward theme.
My point is this: sometimes in order to feel free again, to be reminded of the infinite possibilities of this world, of art, of writing, it’s important to live within a form, a genre, a guiding principle. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s better to be free and without direction. Right now, I feel somewhat stuck in between both ideas.
I’ll wake up tomorrow, and I won’t truly know what the day will bring. I’ll sit down to write a pitch, and I might find a better idea. I’ll sit down to finish a story, and I might end up writing a poem. And maybe it’s only in this searching, in this lost wandering do we come to direction, to guidance, to form. Well, the most important commodity, when it comes to writing, has to be hope. Hope that you will find a thread. Hope that your character will come alive. Hope that you will finish. Hope that you will be appreciated. Hope that you will find the words to say what is pulling at your heart-strings. Hope is what gets us through the feeling of being lost.
And so now, I must come to a stopping point. I didn’t really know where this blog was going to take me. I didn’t know really what was even on my mind.
One of my favorite movies is The Bronx Tales. I don’t know why, because sometimes I think the main actor’s (the guy who played C) performance was a bit stale, even though I can’t imagine anyone else in that role. I swear I can almost retell you that whole movie. One of my favorite parts in the movie is the clip above, when Sonny tells C about the door test. Basically, it’s a test to find out if your date is one of the three true loves. According to Sonny, you only get three.
As for the door test, Sonny says that you take a girl out, and when you pick her up, you make sure the doors are locked — the windows up tight. So you take the girl to the car, you put the key in the door, and you open the door for her. You let her in the car, shut the door, and walk around the back. While you’re walking around the back of the car, you look inside, and your date doesn’t reach over and unlock your door, then you dump her. You dump her right there and move on.
Of course, this test requires that you have manual locks in your car, and how many people still have automatic locks? Well, when I was younger and I had a car with manual locks — a beautiful Subaru Legacy wagon — I used to test every woman who came into my car — even if I wasn’t romantically into them. If they passed the test, then I did sort of think about it.
But I guess this reveals something about how corny I am. So what? I am a guy who believes in true love. I believe that there are certain people out there in the world who are meant to find each other. I know that sounds lame, especially since the woman I’m about to marry, ah hum, failed the door test, but she has spent the last several years making up for it.
And I think these types of test are somewhat important — while more fun than accurate — and it’s a shame that everyone has automatic locks so they can’t perform the love assessment. So I’ve come up with a new test.
Say it’s you and your significant other, and you’re watching a television show together. Make it the brand new episode of Breaking Bad. Well, at this point, you should have a buddy call you — or fake an excuse to go outside. Walk around outside, and wherever you are, make sure you can see your date, and if she doesn’t hit pause on that DVR so you don’t miss a part of the show — dump her. Dump her good. And never look back.
So earlier tonight, I had a piece appear at Salon.com, and it was on Jack Kerouac. If you’ve been reading my blog or you know me, then you probably understand my relation to Kerouac’s work. And the ideas in the piece have been rumbling around in my head since I took Dan Wakefield’s class, New York in the Fifties, while I was at the MFA program at Florida International University. Here’s the piece: Was Jack Kerouac Really a Hack? Give it a read if you have time.
Also, I had a review of Dennis Miller and Adam Carolla’s comedy show at the Grove in Anaheim come out at the OC Weekly earlier this morning.
Today was truly a wild day. With freelancing, there are ups and downs. I wish it could be more even, but right now, I’m going to just enjoy this. Thanks for checking out my blog.