Rented Space

He used to work construction. Good money, decent contracts. A living. There was always another way to live, though. A golden, sloshing way to live. Sometimes a silvery shot, one then another way to live. A liquid friend till blackout came and got him through to another bleary morning. That way to live. His doctor, when he went to see him, called it alcohol use disorder. Or at least that’s what he put down on his chart in all caps, before he referred him to a couple organizations and groups that might be able to help. Charlie didn’t see that doctor anymore after that.

By degrees, it got to where after-work-before-bed drinks started getting earlier and earlier, blurry around the edges, and he’d put on a movie on Netflix, something he’d gotten into back in film school, when he was actively pursuing his dream. A wide-eyed kid, he’d say, shrug it off now, shrug off everything–working his way through college, moving and delivering pool tables, putting everything he had into this thing, making office hours and asking how he could improve as a filmmaker, all of it behind him now, flushed down the toilet with the booze from the last time he said he’d quit but just didn’t quite get there in the end.

The end. There’s something he hasn’t seen in a while. He used to draft scripts like it was his religion, taking communion in the form of late night Taco Bell and something with more caffeine than water to keep him going through marathon writing sessions, sometimes upwards of 40 to 50 pages at a go, slicing through entire third acts like it was nothing, and this wasn’t a late night cram, either. Not some procrastination thing. These scripts weren’t even assignments, just something he wanted to do on the side.

He’d write these drafts in a fever dream, no editing, just getting the words down on the page, sometimes writing for 12 or 13 hours at a stretch. When it was done, he’d get blackout drunk until all words, thoughts, and feelings escaped him. He drank till everything in and around him ceased entirely.

And that was it. At the start, that was the only time he’d drink. He told himself it made it okay to get it out in one big binge, that it was better than stringing along drunken moments until they became a drunken life, the way his dad did. Charlie wasn’t exactly living the unexamined life. He could see the parallels, the comparisons to be made. Could watch as those one-night-only binges became two- or three-night affairs, and this he justified by simply writing more, as if the output justified the input. He could sit, and he could breathe, and he could feel this for hours. This was his legacy. His family heirloom.

He remembered taking walks down by the river, catching the light-glint in his eyes, blinking past the migraine. He took the walks because he thought he needed to be outside, but taking them he realized that he needed to be outside of this.

So he’d walk down to the water, and he’d sit on the edge with his legs hanging over it, about a six foot drop and then nothing but retention wall and water. He thought of breathing, and what it felt like not to. What it would feel like to never breathe again.

Charlie could always just see what he had to do right before it became too late. Sometimes he acted accordingly. Sometimes he didn’t. He’d wake in the middle of the night and watch as the clouds rolled by his opened window, turn and vomit onto bed sheets where it’d then congeal, and he’d pass out and rediscover it in the morning. He stopped going to class, didn’t do his assignments. It’s not like he didn’t write. He wrote like mad. Just not what they wanted him to write. He shot films using scoured old stock he found in the film cage at his school, stuff that was no good but which he pocketed anyway. Didn’t realize at the time that he was staging reenactments of his childhood in front of the camera, but it turned out that way anyway.

The thing about radical honesty, or new sincerity, or whatever it is that he was going for, is that you’re going to inevitably over-extend yourself. You’re going to reach that hall closet of the mind that you haven’t opened in decades, and you’re going to have to lock yourself in it for hours at a time.

Charlie sobers up by the light of the morning, a sickly-sweet taste in his mouth, something that won’t wash out until he drinks again. He’s definitely in a motel. He checks the little mini fridge thing, but apparently he raided it the night before. There’s a breadcrumb trail of empty cans and polished-off bottles, maybe a handle left if he was really desperate, which he is.

Charlie watches the way the dust motes hang in the air like suspended planets in rented space. He feels the clothes on his body, the blankets under the clothes.

Editorial Work on Here’s Waldo has Begun, and a Cover Concept is Coming Soon!

Working with Atmosphere Press and Nick Courtright has been a true joy. They’ve been fast and responsive throughout, Nick is communicative and kind, and he really “gets” the book. Bonus points for having the same name as me. 😂 But seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better publisher. Editorial work is officially underway (coincidentally exactly six years to the day since I started writing this manuscript), and a cover concept is coming soon!

 

Cloudy Bubble World

Driving through my old neighborhood with the windows up and my mask on, and I’m thinking about the now-beatified times. The moments I thought I wouldn’t live through, couldn’t, now stuck in the cloudy bubble world of a snow globe on a quarter-life shelf. Counting the days down until something would happen, or not happen, always passing the time until a more desirable outcome presented itself, but never wanting to look at the possibility that This Is It. That maybe this moment is the thing. That it always has been and always will be.

I get a drink from the convenience store I used to haunt as a kid. Some sugary abomination in a tall can. The old shop owner’s still working there, and I tell myself that the reason he doesn’t recognize me is because of the mask, and not the fact that I haven’t been in my old neighborhood in way too long. The only thing that’s changed about the shop is that you can now do the contactless pay thing, which I do, and the old shop owner smiles and wishes me a nice day behind a plastic shield that’s been put up now at face-level.

I read reports that my town was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 in the Chicagoland area, but Des Plaines officials were quick to qualify that not all of those cases were “in town,” that a sizeable number were in the unincorporated area, where I’m from, as if that’s some consolation. Another rug or municipality to be swept under, I guess. But seeing it makes it real, on these ghost-town-streets that used to be filled with kids on skateboards, BMX bikes when it was fashionable, when my friends and I wandered the streets as a roving gang, back when that was a thing that kids did.

I don’t see anybody. I know that that’s a good thing, or that it could be, but it’s still disheartening. All that’s left of this place that I once knew are the memories of it, and the bits and scraps that I’ve written down, some of it even collected in a book. It’ll be a tidy series of recollections, permutations that change with each retelling, every shadow of remembrance filled in with heat and light from a time far removed, like a dusty old polaroid.

I took this trip alone, which was for the best. Even if flying were a safe thing to do right now, I would’ve still made that drive up anyway. I needed to take that time for myself, watch the rolling hills segue to farmland and flatness, the eventual outcroppings of buildings in the distance, then that familiar old skyline, because if Chicago and everywhere else has changed, at least the shapes of its buildings are still the same. I don’t know what I’m here for, besides the obvious of seeing my friends and family. I had a general idea of what the city might look like now, but reality is always different. Right now it’s crueler. Maybe later it’ll be kind.

Everything has the quality now of a rough draft, and over and over again in the margins, someone’s scrawled in “TBD.” Even down Potter, and past it in Bay Colony, folks have been hit hard and it’s unclear when they might be able to get back up. I wonder why sometimes I identify so much of myself with that old neighborhood. If that place doesn’t technically exist anymore, why does it still feel so much a part of me? And then one further: If I got through what I got through living in that neighborhood, why would I ever want to go back to it and be reminded? Why not just keep moving forward? But it’s not that simple.

I walk over to where the old hideout used to be, where as kids we’d propped up a tarp and put down a wooden plank floor and ran extension cables into the woods so that we could play PS2 in the fort that we’d made, and one of the kids had snatched a hookah from his older brother, and we coughed and sputtered in between songs played in Guitar Hero. I see these moments as clear as the barren, patchy ground that stands there now.

But it’s getting closer. Or at least that’s what Kevin Parker tells me through the speakers of my car as I start it back up, as I take one last lap around the old block and let these things burn themselves into my mind. I drive, and I listen, and I breathe. I leave.

Finally a Reality

I feel like I’ve got everything I always wanted. It’s a strange feeling, a foreign one, of not wondering when the other shoe will drop, not even thinking about shoes, rather kicking them off to finally relax a little. It first started to hit when I withdrew my manuscript from every other place I’d submitted it to, when I let these places know that I’d just signed with another press. It was sending those withdrawal emails, and it was realizing that I wouldn’t have to send this novel out anymore. I’d done it. It was finally getting published.

I go back mentally to the places I was at when writing it, diving back, taking half my lunch break to cloister myself in an unclaimed cubicle at work and pop open my laptop, squeeze out a little more writing time before going back to administrative tedium again. It was finding gaps in the story, holes in the memory, and filling those holes with something, dirt if I had to, because having something to remember is better than nothing at all. It was taking walks till exhaustion and listening to the same hundred or so songs over and over until their rhythms and patterns were baked into the story, into me, and I could taste freedom from the pain if only I kept writing about it.

I can track mental states in the pictures from that time, in the drafts saved in sequential order, cross reference with journal entries if I’m feeling particularly masochistic, but really just trying to get a snapshot of where I was then and how I was able to sustain a mental deep-dive of myself for that long. Because it was one of the most useful things I’ve ever done in my life, but it also nearly destroyed me. And so I’d touch on those images in the book, looking back on the past and risking salt-pillar-transformation, writing and rewriting traumatic memories until dissociation became the norm and it was all almost normal. We return to the thing that hurt us because that can become all we know. And that’s the tricky thing, because that’s also exactly how we beat it. We face it, we plumb the depths, we walk into that great dark, and we don’t stop walking until we come out on the other side.

I came out on the other side with this book, and now it’s going to be published. There are professional artists, designers, and editors working to bring this to life. When that’s done, there will be machines that will print it, and digital versions optimized for people to read however they want. I have to say these things because the unreality is still there, shock in the best possible way, and to say it is to realize that it really is happening. After so much time, so much work, the thing that I dreamed about is finally a reality.

Here’s Waldo is Getting Published!!!!!

This is what it looks like when a dream comes true. I can now officially announce that I’ve signed a contract with Atmosphere Press, and my coming-of-age novel Here’s Waldo is getting published!!!!! There’s still the process of development, editing, and publication ahead of us, but when that’s done, my book will be available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, both in print and digital. I am honestly in shock right now, in the best possible way. It’s been 6 years since I first started writing this. I’ve put so much time and effort into this story, so much of myself into it. I was that poor kid living in the torn-up part of town. I was that young man struggling to make it in the world, and now I’m about to be a published author. A novelist. This is surreal. Dreams really do come true. To everyone who has read drafts of this over the years, followed along with all of my posts and updates, and given their support: thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!

Comings and Goings

It’s seeing the spider-web fractals of light coming in, through his busted windshield, to wake him up for another day. Turning the key to check gas gauge but then shutting the car back off, hearing a brief interval of morning radio show before it all goes quiet again. He’s gone a distance of about 800 miles now, he realizes. Not all at once but piecemeal, day after day, parking somewhere farther than where he came from, putting it all together like a quilt he’d watch his grandma make way back when. He’s thinking of the nature of being homeless, and the myriad “Home is…” decorations that he’d find in the suburban homes of friends and girlfriends growing up, thinking then even when he had a house that he didn’t exactly find home there, but he didn’t see an alternative then, any sort of way out. He was just staying there till he was old enough to legally leave. He remembered looking up emancipated minor laws as he was studying for finals his freshman year, and the chaos that was his living situation: a house filled with mildew and garbage , with no utilities and barely any food, a mother monster who would berate him even as he shaped himself to be a model student and son. The old words and moments come back, but only just now. They’re hazy around the edges, indistinct. He’s remembering the lapses of good, back before the divorce, when his parents’ mental states were fragile but still intact. When they’d do things like shoot home movies on a clunky old camcorder and go down to a park or a pumpkin patch, depending on the season, an old Wolverine action figure in his hand, something from the dollar store, and they’d put off fighting for a bit, at least until the shot was over, and he learned to live in these moments of focused attention, these comings and goings of surface-level normalcy. He remembers more and more of these good times now, and he doesn’t know whether that’s a side effect of his current condition or just a side effect of getting older. He doesn’t really care either way.

Morning World, Mourning Whirl

Parabolic stories told in whispered corners of a broken-down house, where the moonlight creeps in like a suggestion and stays there, wandering, before dissipating just enough to let you sleep.

Ego fears and slipping between a version of yourself that you left behind and an uncertain future you find yourself barreling toward.

Approaching something like stillness, and training yourself to be okay with it, without trauma and learned internal violence.

Of entering conflicts only when needed, and even then with a distilled serenity, a weightlessness, and the calm that comes with being accustomed to terror.

Half-dreamt landscapes that won’t fill all the way in on waking but which leave impressions, visions of themselves, like an image burnt into a cathode ray tube, searching for the cells that make up this generational hurt, this wandering sorrow.

And it all seems so trivial now, the shouting matches, the screaming tears, doors slammed and feelings hurt, set against what we’re now fighting, all of us, collectively.

It’s in talking past the severed connections and getting at something like communication.

Not the way it was, but maybe the way it could’ve been.

Now it’s in sipping strong coffee in the morning, awake before anyone else in the house, and cherishing this newfound quiet as much as you don’t trust it.

As much as you fear it.

It’s being able to just sit, and breathe, and appreciate your cat as he sits in front of a window, unmoving, and the stillness of the morning world around you, the mourning whirl of grief coming in slow now, like the delayed pain of fingertip on stovetop, and wondering about the original order of things, if there ever really was such a thing.

And maybe it’s even making your own order, if you can, in the honey-drip stillness of a too-early morning, before the alarm hits, before the birds can really process things, awake in the undark, processing last night’s dream and the belief that it’ll fade followed by the reality of it fading.

Like a shadow yielding to light.