I just has a birthday this past Friday, which always gets me in a “looking back” kind of mood. Since I was born in 1970, this particular birthday also has me hoping that I’m about to discover the secret to:
That’s not what I’m here to discuss today, though. But I have, in fact, been thinking a lot about life. Being on the leeward side of 40 has made me wonder about the twists and turns my life has taken, what might have been, what might now be too late, etc. I don’t necessarily recommend this crazy-making line of thought, but it does lend itself to looking for the narrative.
And as it happens, one of the biggest turning points in my life recently had its own birthday, and has everything to do with narrative. In April 2002, the uranium pile of my first marriage had finally hit critical after a two and a half-year meltdown. This was a crisis I bore no small measure of responsibility for, and I was already going through a process of wrenching change and self-examination in trying to address the issues that had brought it on. Between that and the general void the collapse of a twelve-year relationship leaves in its wake, I was struggling to rediscover who I was and what I wanted from life.
One of the things I had put on the shelf about ten years before that was a lifelong interest in writing. Even as a kid, I had written short stories and movie scripts. I started keeping a journal and writing poetry in my teens, and kept it up all through my early 20s. Then, as I was gearing up for graduate school and working life after that, I stopped. I can’t even tell you why, exactly, but it went away, and was replaced by more “grown up” concerns. Not at all coincidentally, I think, addiction and darkness started ramping up at the same time.
Back to post-separation: alone, shaky, and rebuilding, in the summer of 2002 I decided to take an “Intro to Fiction” course led by Junse Kim at the Bay Area’s excellent Writing Salon. I’d already started keeping a journal again in the last year of the marriage and the workshop further re-awakened literary stirrings. By late August I had realized, “You know what? I think I’m supposed to be a writer!” I began work on a novel.
So here we are, ten years later. I’m still writing! It doesn’t pay the bills, but it remains the core of how I think of myself: I’m a writer. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I have “enough” to show for it. The part of me that does this because it is my truest and deepest calling in the world gets mixed up with the part of me that wants it to have some kind of concrete outcome in terms of recognition and success. Well, for both those parts, I’d like to bear witness to what I have produced so far:
- First (and perhaps foremost?) I ended up doing 7 drafts of that novel that I began in 2002, Out in the Neon Night, before finishing it in 2006. I ended up sending out queries for it to 27 agents in 2007, 3 of whom requested a look. While none ended up coming through, I do from time to time consider doing another round of queries, or even e-publishing and promoting it myself. In the mean time, you can read a sample chapter.
- My essays “Kissing Girls in the Dark” and “Watch the Skies!” appeared in the 2005 and 2006 issues of the late, great compendium of true tales of the unseemly Morbid Curiosity. I will always be grateful to Morbid‘s editor (and darkly wonderful writer) Loren Rhoads for publishing me for the first time.
- My confession of my mid-30s discovery of a love for heavy metal, “I Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll” appeared in the 11th issue of the sadly departed “Magazine For People Who Think Too Much” Kitchen Sink in 2005.
- While I was engaged in endless rewrites of Neon Night in 2005-2006, I started a much more lighthearted “new novel” to have something fun to work on in the midst of revisionitis. It eventually petered out at 20 chapters, and I set it aside in favor of other things. But I’ve been feeling some enthusiasm for resurrecting it recently…
- I wrote several articles on arty (and boozy) aspects of San Francisco life for Metrowize.com in 2007.
- In 2008 and 2009 I wrote for the online version of LEGENDmag. My first piece there was about not loving Radiohead, and one of my most popular was “Hipsters Are Everywhere, But Nobody Is a Hipster“.
- The Rumpus.net was briefly graced by my presence in early 2009 as well.
- SoMa Literary Review published my poems “untitled” and “Twelve Steps to the New Israel of the Beats” in 2009. Sadly, their online back-archive is currently in search of a host, but I can send you copies if you want to read them!
- My ponderously titled but oh-so-interesting prose poem Post-separation alone at night listening to Patti Smith sing “Dancing Barefoot” while thinking of mistakes I made while living in Hong Kong blues was published on Lit Up Magazine’s site in May 2009.
- Slouch Magazine published a short prose piece of mine, “relapse in 26 lines” in August 2009.
- Two science-themed poems of mine, “Changing Viewpoints” and “A Truth Beyond All Truths” made it into the Fall 2009 issue of Umbrella Journal.
- My prose poem “Young Karl Marx” was featured on Opium Magazine’s website in late 2009.
- In 2010, my essay “Bachelors of Armageddon” appear in When I Was There, an anthology of tales of student life at UC Berkeley.
- From 2007-2011 I finally pursued a lifelong interest in film-making as a member of the Bay Area independent film co-op Scary Cow. During a four year-period I worked on 13 short films in a variety of capacities, including 6 that I wrote or co-wrote. You can get more of a description, and links to several of the films I helped write, produce or direct, here.
- Even my bad adolescent poetry has had its day in the sun, being read on stage as part of the Mortified reading series in San Francisco and Boston multiple times from 2006 through 2012.
- My Short Story “Ave Maria” was published in 2012 in the anthology Warpaint, available from Amazon on Kindle, and in several other electronic and print formats from the publisher, Zenfri. Meanwhile I have three more short stories making the rounds of submissions. They vacillate between despair at ever seeing the light of day and feeling terribly encouraged by Ave Maria’s success.
- Earlier this year I completed the first draft of my first full-length screenplay. I’ll be revising and finishing it over the next year, and then confronting the intriguing sell/make decision…
- I also just finished revising a collection of 40 poems (written between 2000 and 2010) which I am now starting to submit to publishers and prizes.
So there you have it. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like such a bad output for my first ten years (re)devoted to being a writer. That belief wavers a little whenever I hear about a 20something author’s big debut. Then I remember that Raymond Chandler didn’t publish his first story until he was 45, or his first novel until he was past 50. And the truth is, should success come sooner, later, in a form I can barely recognize, or even never, it doesn’t really matter. I have to keep doing this. I’m a writer!