Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Look At Me



Why do you write?

It’s a simple question right?  I mean, why write?  Why spend the amount of time and energy and resources it takes to do this?  Why subject yourself to judgement and rejection and criticism? Why?

I don’t know why I do it.  I don’t know why I spend so much of my time inside my own head, inside my own world, why I lie in bed plotting, hearing conversations, making my characters live in my imagination, why I sometimes can’t concentrate at my pay job because I am lost in my story, why I am distracted when people are talking to me, why I sometimes can’t remember appointments or errands because I’m lost in the flood of words.  I don’t understand why at all.  I just know that I always have.  It is a part of me that I have never been able to excise, have never been able to burn out with various poisons.  Even at my worst, even when I pushed everyone away, the writing has stayed. I have always written, when I was young and fast and dumb, when I was an emotionally wasted wreck.  Even now, when time slips away so fast and my children grow up before my eyes and my hair turns grey and the days bleed into one another, even now I write, sitting at this keyboard at midnight after a long day, even now, when I need to sleep, even now I write, because that is what I do.  Because I am a writer.

The writing is partly about control.  I can make the world behave the way I want it to, in a way that makes sense, in a way that seems to follow some kind of prescribed path.  I get to offer resolution, a nice bow to wrap events in, in a way that the real world can’t.  If I allow it, my characters get to say all the right lines at the right times, they have the comeback, the witty retort.  I can define who is the bad guy, who is the good guy, assign them their respective hats, and make them dance accordingly.  The abuser is bad, the child innocent, everything falls into polite little boxes.  In our writing we get to play make-believe and display our creations, we get to pretend that there is really justice, that there is really order, that there is any real resolution.  

It’s also about fear.  I get to write about things that I am afraid of.  I get to explore things that would destroy me in my life.  What if I lost everything?  What then?  What if it was me that did it, what if I was the monster that I have feared all along?  What if I was helpless, what if I was dying? What would it be like if I was hurt or sick or irrevocably damaged?  What if my wife is lying when she tells me she loves me?  What if I lost control?  And it’s so safe here in the black and white, it’s so safe here in my cozy chair with the crickets chirping outside my window and my children and wife sleeping in the next room, it’s safe here to open the closets and lift the bed and let all the monsters out, to make them show me their teeth and claws, it’s safe here in the black and white, because I’m pulling the strings, and I can put all the monsters back under the bed when I am done playing with them.

It’s about showing off, too.  I know the lie; we all write for ourselves, right?  But if that were completely true, we wouldn’t need an audience would we?  Someone not liking our stuff wouldn’t hurt our feelings, wouldn’t damage our oh-so-fragile self worth, would it?  Really, if I am being honest, and I try my damnedest to be honest in my writing, even if it seems threatening, if I am being honest, there is a Hey Mom No Hands element there too, a touch of Look at Me and See What I Can Do.  Because I have talent and I know it; I make the words dance and flash in a way that most people can’t, and I want to show the world, I want to shout out my value, show that I’m different.  Maybe you can draw better than I can, maybe you can salsa dance, or run, maybe you can speak in front of strangers, maybe you know what to do in an emergency, but I can do this, I can make people see pictures in their heads, I can make the words dance and flash... Hey Ma, no hands, hey everyone, look at me, look at what I can do.  It is pathetic, it’s stupid and shameful, but yeah, I’m a show off.  It comes back to fear, and a deep and unrelenting belief that I am not good enough, that I never will be.  It is all a show.  Look at me, love me, tell me how valuable I am, so maybe one day I will really believe it.

Some days it is all of these things, and some days it is none of them.  The real truth is, I write because I like to.  I write because it makes me feel good.  It isn’t always great, it is hardly ever easy, and often it can be frustrating and a little awful, but at the end of the day I write because it is better for me than not writing.   

Look at me.

Still Writing,
RP
7-9-15 

If you want to contact me, comment here, or I am on Twitter @RDPullins, and I am on Facebook.  My first novel, Antiartists, will be published in the spring of 2016 on Pen Name Publishing, and has it's own little Facebook page, too.  Go and give it a like, if you wanna.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Just Kick it Apart

"Your cage is made of sticks, brother; just kick it apart"
Forest Wizard, in"Storytelling," Adventure Time

I think it is interesting from what unexpected places our inspiration can be drawn. My new novel, Flagg, was heavily inspired by a game of Call of Cthulhu that I played with a few friends a long time ago.  An image stayed with me all these years, of a man holding two guns: one on an undead creature, and one on a man who was, up to that moment, his friend.

For the game, I named the man Jack Flagg, after the Pumpkin King from The Nightmare Before Christmas and the villain from Stephen King's The Stand.  In my novel, I dropped the Jack part, and kept the Flagg part, and made it part of his history that he adopted the name from a novel he had read.  I don't know why this image stayed with me all of these years while most didn't.  It doesn't matter really. It wasn't until years later, after listening to a particularly terrible piece of pop trash music that I got the main premise of the novel.  It doesn't make sense that it should happen like this, but then again, it doesn't really have to.  I try to not ask too many questions, lest I dispel whatever magic I have been operating under.

The quote that opens this piece is from a cartoon called Adventure Time.  The show is great wackytown fun, and I love the hell out of it; it fits my strange brand of humor and weirdness perfectly.  I'm not sure why the quote stuck with me.  In the show it is thrown out as a one-off piece of silliness.  The hero, Finn, was trapped in a cage of sticks, and didn't think of the solution to his escape until after the situation was resolved.

I think it is secretly profound.

Whenever I come up against fear, of the unknown, of failure, whenever I am uncertain that I am making the right decisions, and it threatens to freeze me into inaction, and this is true, I think of that stupid ass cartoon quote, and go for it.

Your cage is made of sticks.

It is a silly line from a very goofy, albeit fun, children's cartoon.  But think of it.  Apply it.  It represents a realization that you are not trapped in anything; you just might not be able to see the solution because of your fear, because you are panicking, because you just need a moment to breathe, to think.

Just kick it apart.

I am not making this up, I swear.  I was looking at a contract for the publication of my first novel, and I was afraid.  I was signing a legal document that represented literally hundreds of hours of my care and work going out of my hands and into someone else's.  I, a grown man with a college degree, and children under my care, thought to myself, "Your cage is made of sticks, brother; just kick it apart." And I signed the contract.  

It doesn't matter that it came from a cartoon, it doesn't matter that the idea for Flagg came from a game of semi-grown up make-believe.

Listen:  It does not matter.

If you are inspired to do your thing, all you have to realize is that it is only yourself that can stop you.  We all have justifications and bullshit excuses, I know; believe me, I have a bunch.  As a matter of fact, if you need some of mine, I'll give 'em to you, I have plenty to spare.  But if we are being honest we know that they are all lies.  Maybe sometimes you might need the Forest Wizard to point it out to you, but you just need to remember:

"Your cage is made of sticks, brother; just kick it apart."

And then do your thing.

Still Writing,

RP

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Getting Hit

"Leave, because time only salts your wounds, and grieve the death of your vibrant youth... Stomp out your truth"

-The Flatliners, "Brilliant Resistance"


The other day, my seven-year-old son said something about getting punched in the face, or wanting to punch someone else in the face, maybe?  I'm not sure; I wasn't really part of the conversation at that point, but the subject came up.  Have you ever been punched in the face?  My niece's boyfriend said he had, only once, on his birthday, when he was in kindergarten.  "Total bullshit" was his verdict about the experience.  I agreed.  Getting hit in the face is, indeed, total bullshit; there's no denying it.

Me?  I've been hit in the face plenty of times, by a number of different people.  People I loved, strangers, men and women.  In retrospect, most times I probably deserved it; there are plenty of times I would like to travel back in time and punch myself in the face.

What this got me thinking of is the differences in all of our individual experiences.  I remember one time when I was a kid, baffled that my friend's parents were still together.  I didn't even know that was possible.  And I have been thinking about this, and I can't even really fathom what life would have been like if things had been more conventional in my life.  If we had been more stable, would I even be me?

I know these young people, awesome, caring, loving people, that have grown up in the same house, went to the same schools, have had the same people in the house.  Their whole lives, they've never moved, have never experienced their parent's divorce, have never had to understand what it meant to meet Mom's new boyfriend, what it meant to move six, seven, eight times.  They would never find themselves nearly arrested by corrupt Mexican cops for pissing in a Tijuana alley on Christmas Eve, would never find themselves fucked up and lost in a strange city, panicking, crying and confused at the smears of blurred color, would never find themselves standing waist deep in the ocean at three in the morning wondering what would happen if they just started swimming, straight out into the black water until their strength gave out...  I realized that I could never understand what it meant to be stable, to feel like I knew, really, truly believed, that I was going to be OK.  I swear, I am terrified even today that my beautiful life will be ripped away, that I somehow don't deserve this small gentle peace.

I left my home town in '99 or thereabout when it became apparent to me that my life had completely fallen apart and it would never get better where I was, would never change unless I did something to change it.  In truth, my life had fallen apart several years earlier, thinking about it now, but I have never been one to take a hint, to catch the warning signs and interpret them correctly, so I made do, limped along until I just couldn't anymore, and then I just left.  I left all my friends and my band and my Mom, I left all the horrible triggers and unwanted ghosts, I left everything familiar, everything painful, all the jagged sharp edges, all the small comforts, everything safe, everything threatening.  I got on a bus and just fucking left.  I didn't want to limp along anymore, I didn't want to be so aware of the people and places around me, so afraid that I will see something that would break my heart all over again, send me spiraling out of control again.

There was a time, when I had just thrown up a thin sickly mix of blood and cheap liquor, I'm standing there, this guy that I only kinda know comes up, says, "Jesus man, you can't keep this up or you're going to die.  You're killing yourself, man."  I looked up a him, said, "Yeah, maybe, but I don't fucking care."     

Getting hit in the face usually isn't so bad.  Mostly, you get your head rocked back, your lip split, your nose bleeds, your ears ring.  Mostly it's better than trying to figure out who you are, realizing that your identity has become so fragmented that you don't even recognize your own face some days, and you are just doing things one after another without thought, without planning or fear of the consequences, desperate for intimate contact, pushing everyone away.

It has taken a long time, a lot of love and patience, but I finally feel like maybe I know who I am, who I want to be, a father and husband, a provider, a writer.  A good man, not a monster.  And now years, hell, decades later, I sometimes still find myself drawn to self destruction, but there's too much to lose, its not just me anymore, I've built a family now, and I'll be damned if I will allow this shit to bleed over, poison my peace.  Even still though, somewhere hidden deep I'm scared that maybe I've been lying to myself, that I'm missing the signs, that I can't take a hint, and that it will all be taken from me.  But the life I want for my sons is the one where they have never been hit in the face, the one where they know nothing about shattered lives and cold black water.

I don't know if this means anything to anyone else, I don't know if this means anything at all, but I know that I'm glad I didn't take that swim, I'm glad that guy I only kinda knew was wrong.  I'm mostly whole again, pieced together over the years, taped up, patched.  Things will never be perfect, but there are moments of magic and music, moments of beauty and grace.  Maybe in the end if I ever face my maker, I'll have some questions I'll want answered.  Maybe in the end I'll find that I don't need answers at all.

Maybe if someone finds themselves in the cold black water wondering how far they can swim until their strength gives out, maybe they will think of this and decide to turn around, to go dig their toes in the sand, still warm from the light of the day.  Maybe they will try to hang on until someone can tell them they are going to be OK.

And I'm OK now, too.  Safe and warm here in the black and white, and I can turn all this shit into words so it might make sense to me.

Still Writing,

RP
15 July, 2015



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