The Writing Life: A New Millennium
- The Writing Life
- The Writing Life: The Beginning
- The Writing Life: Getting Down to Business
- The Writing Life: Lessons Learned
- The Writing Life: A New Millennium
- The Writing Life: A Blessing in Disguise
- The Writing Life: Finally!
- The Writing Life:”Darker” Days
- The Writing Life: Struggling For a New Idea
- The Writing Life: The Last Straw
- The Writing Life: Floundering
- The Writing Life: Opportunities and New Lessons Learned
- The Writing Life: Turning Point
- The Writing Life: Opening Doors
[media-credit name="tumblr" align="alignleft" width="247"][/media-credit]The new year was dawning and all the hoopla surrounding Y2K was in full effect. Everyone was waiting for the world to come to an end, or at least waiting for the computer networks around the world to crash and throw the world into chaos. “Millennium Fever” was all around you. I didn’t give a shit about it one way or the other, to be honest, being that the new Millennium didn’t really begin until 2001, but who was I to squash everyone’s fun? I had other things on my mind. Finishing the book, sending out more poetry to the magazines, trying to keep the magazine going and dealing with an increasing amount of egomaniacal artists who were simply getting on my nerves. It was also at this point when the divisions and the in-fighting started to move into its most destructive phase. The internet was now closer to what we recognize it to be and most of these small presses began to move their operations on-line, setting up websites, bulletin boards, writer’s groups, etc. The amount of chaos and childishness would reach their zenith once this change began to take place. However, there were still some doing it “old school”, actually printing magazines and books the old fashioned way. But things were changing and I don’t know whether “Millennium Fever” was beginning to make people truly nuts or whether or not the new technology opened the door to a more immediate way to begin shitting all over everyone else. I tried to steer clear of that as much as possible and simply concentrate on my own thing.
It was also around this time that my friend Linda and I both came to a decision: Let’s get the fuck out of here for a while and go to Paris. We immediately went on-line, booked the trip to Paris for that coming April. I couldn’t wait to get out of New York. Up until that point, I had never left the United States (except for literally one hour, while my old band was out in Ann Arbor and Detroit doing some shows, where we wound up going into to Windsor, Ontario for lunch).
The next few months proved to be even more difficult. Between trying to write, stress at the job, dealing with egomaniacal poets who blasted me on a consistent basis for not treating them like they were Allen Ginsberg’s successors, then having to have all four wisdom teeth removed all at the same time, I wasn’t in the mood to do anything, really. I wrote when I could and simply counted the days until we left for Paris.
That day came on April 19th 2000. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I’d been wanting to go to Paris after reading Miller, Hemingway, etc, as I suppose many fans of their books did. I brought along a notebook with every intention of writing as much as possible. The thought of sitting at Le Dome on the Boulevard Montparnasse, scribbling in my notebook did seem ridiculous and clichéd to me—and to add, quite funny—but what the fuck, I thought? Why not get a laugh out of it while at the same time “following in the footsteps” of my favorite writers. The funny thing was I only wrote a few things the whole time I was there…and only a page and a half of the novel, scrawled on scraps of paper and stuffed into the back of my notebook.
I love Paris. It is such a beautiful city. We did the usual tourist things, of course, but we also went on a little literary quest, seeking out the places that my favorite writers and artists lived and hung out, visiting their graves at Montparnasse cemetery and generally just hanging around, soaking in the city. I fell in love with it and it was easy to see why so many people have over time. I found it quite refreshing, a complete change of pace from the sort of lifestyle lived in New York City. It dawned on me almost immediately that there was life outside of the city of my birth and was kicking myself for waiting until I was in my 30s to finally see it. Things were going to be very different after going there. I could already feel it in my bones. But on the third night there, I went to sleep, thinking about the book and thinking about what I would write.
That night, while we were asleep in our room (the very same room that would eventually be utilized in the novel—room 4 at the Hotel l’Ouest), I had a dream. Yep. As silly as it sounds, I had a dream about talking to this woman on the Metro. She was a beautiful woman—no one I had ever seen before (even though, in hindsight, she did sort of resemble the woman I saw coming out of the communal shower at the hotel stark naked one morning and receiving a very warm and pleasant “bonjour” before watching her walk up the stairs to her room). The dream switched to another scene where I was watching this little old man, no taller than a midget, wearing a little grey suit that was too large for him, walking through a courtyard of a Parisian apartment house, grumbling and getting angry with me because I kept calling him “Lautrec”. I awoke from this dream and immediately grabbed my notebook to jot it down. It occurred to me right then and there what I could do with the novel. It would mean reworking, yet again, everything I had already written but it would be worth all the effort, I thought. The whole thing came to me right then and there. I knew the first thing I was going to do, once I got back to New York, was to immediately rewrite the entire book, which was about 200 pages at that point; and the best thing about it was I didn’t have to scrap any of it, just use it in a different way. The idea of writing a sort of ironic look at the “expatriate” novel occurred to me. Now it was just a matter of keeping it in my head for the time being. There was a city to explore and good times to be had. From that moment on, I drank in everything, literally every little thing I observed could and would be used for this new twist on the book I had been trying to write for the past three years.
When we got back to New York and after settling back in to the craziness that is New York life, I immediately went to work on retooling the novel, basically writing notes for it rather than actually writing pages for it. I tried to think about how I would rearrange things, how I could still use the pages I had written, if possible, but I was willing to scrap the whole 200 pages and start from the beginning if I had to. I came home inspired and ready to try something different.
Originally, the story was going to be a very “New York” based story. That would change. The idea came to me to set the story in Paris and use the “New York” sections I had already written as “flashbacks”. Ok, some sense of structure was starting to coming together. I also thought about giving the thing some sense of “story” as well, no matter how minimal. Once I began writing the first pages of the “Paris” sections, the idea occurred to me that I should somehow make this an “ironic” look at the whole “expatriate” thing. That idea appealed to me a great deal: the cliché of the “writer running of to Paris to write” but hopefully with some kind of twist. I thought I would still run with the idea of making it seem “autobiographical” and then the idea occurred to me to try to make it as realistic as possible by drawing on real experiences and actual events to sort of blur the lines between reality and fiction. In other words to make the reader, if there were to be any, wonder whether or not it was truly autobiographical or whether it was complete fantasy. The idea of having just one reader wonder about that appealed to me a great deal. I also knew that the whole “irony” of the thing would be lost on some but I just didn’t care. I had a direction and I began to move forward in a way that I hadn’t up until that point. By the end of the year, I had a good chunk of the book written, nearly 300 plus pages. However, I hit a roadblock again. It got to the point where I had no idea where to go with the “story” threaded within the long rambling passages about art, books, writing, the nature of relationships and the fragile and fickle nature of artists in their quest to create. Once again, the book went back into the drawer and I went back to the poetry.
As luck would have it, during one of my frequent rounds of submissions, a small press out in California called Budget Press seemed to like a couple of poems of mine for their literary magazine enough to want to issue a small chapbook of poems. I was thrilled, naturally. He gave me the specifics: the poems couldn’t be too long and the chapbook was going to be a small edition, no more than twenty pages or so. He advised that the shorter the poems, the more he could include. Sounded reasonable enough. I went through my poems looking through all the shorter ones I could find but at the same time trying to come up with something that would work well as a collection. After a couple of days of doing that, I put the package together and sent it out to him. This book, “Street Gospel Mystical Intellectual Survival Codes” came out in the late winter of 2000. A great way to start off the new year, I thought. It removed whatever “depression” I was feeling over not being able to get my novel into some kind of shape. I don’t know well this book did. I did get a couple of decent reviews for it and I basically never heard from the guy again after that (I suspect he stopped publishing not long after). It was a small little yellow book, small enough to stick in your back pocket, filled with poems about New York. That was basically the “theme” of this little collection. Feeling inspired, I continued to make the poetry rounds, securing a couple of publications here and there but mostly fielding the hundreds of rejections and sending them out to the next group of magazines and journals.
In hindsight, being kicked out of that old hovel six months earlier turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed me the opportunity to move on, to live like a human being and make some desperately needed changes in my life, especially financially. I started to have a few more dollars in my pocket, I was eating a little better (as my increasing stomach and waistline would soon prove), and I was feeling happy and inspired again. Without getting kicked out of that first apartment, I wouldn’t have gone to Paris when I did and perhaps never come up with the idea of how to move my novel forward. Besides, the experience of just being there opened my eyes to a great many things, especially the kind of life I was living in New York. Suddenly, I saw that certain things didn’t have to be the way they were. Things were beginning to change for me on a personal level and those changes definitely gave me the fuel I needed to move on with what I really wanted to do—and that was, write that damn novel, for better or for worse. Write it and complete it. That was the short term goal: To actually finish the novel.
(To be continued….)
Tags: all the hoopla, ann arbor, bulletin boards, childishness, computer networks, destructive phase, friend linda, full effect, millennium fever, nerves, new millennium, new technology, old school, printing magazines, small presses, squash, things on my mind, trip to paris, windsor ontario, zenith