Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Way Some People Die

. . . is the title of a book by Ross MacDonald. I'm reading a collection of short autobiographical pieces by MacDonald (real name Kenneth Millar). Millar describes emotional and practical difficulties at various stages of his life, "seismic upheavals" such that I think anyone could appreciate or identify with. The real difference is that Millar never seems to have suffered from a creative block.

He could always write it out within his fiction. That's what I had learned to do as well. But it's not there anymore.

These days off, or at least the unoccupied hours, are deadly to me. Not being able to write is like not having a mouth. Beating myself up over it doesn't help at all.

If I were to hire MacDonald's detective, Lew Archer, to help me solve the case, he would find several causes (as I have done), but perhaps he could find solutions that are evading me.

First, and possibly foremost, I used to drink while I wrote. Not "get drunk," mind you -- if that happened, the work came to a screeching halt. But a drink or two or three, taken over a few hours, would lubricate the gears, get them turning again, unlock my imagination and free my hands from restraints.

I don't have that tool anymore. My gears are frozen and rusted badly in place, and my imagination seems to be bolted shut, barring only the random images of horror that sometimes burst out when I'm trying to lie at rest.

The other thing I've come up with is the feeling that, with all my grandparents gone and now my mother gone, too, there's nobody left that I need to prove myself to. My friend BC would likely say to this, "Prove it to yourself!"

Myself. That's the person I least care for. The only person I hate more is my sister, who helped make me this way.

I honestly believed that a few days off, some down time to gather myself, would be all that I needed to get going again. Instead, it's having the opposite effect. It's almost as if the outrageous craziness of the last nine months kept me from experiencing a level of the grief and despair (which hardly seems possible), and now that things have calmed down a lot, the silence and the vacancy has allowed a fresh tsunami of emotion to hit me. Not being able to work at any creative pursuit (not even my scrapbook of the old house, which is filled with associations that I can't bear to reflect upon anymore) -- and beating myself up about it -- is having real emotional consequences for me. It means that I have no outlet.

Blogging about it all seems to be the only thing I can manage. But it makes me feel that I should change the title of this blog to "The Broken Record."


I came to the Millar book yesterday when Annie Proulx's Bird Cloud fell through for me. Proulx is an alum of the college that employs me, making Bird Cloud the no-brainer choice for Book of the Month when it comes out in paperback this October. So, I thought for once it would be nice to have actually read the book of the month.

The book is a memoir of Proulx's experiences building her Dream House in what used to be a protected reserve, which is now privately owned by her. Right away it got off to a rocky start for me with a long stretch of present-tense writing. As a young man, the present tense never bothered me much, and I even used it myself on occasion when immediacy seemed an important element of my story. But now that I'm a crotchety Olde Farte, present tense just really deeply annoys me, especially when the writer seems to be using it for no good reason. That was the case here.

Then Proulx launches into a far-ranging history of her family, and although there were small points of interest I largely didn't give a damn. Something is wrong in the "Reading and Dozing" process when the dozing starts to take up much more time than the reading. Proulx was still in the middle of this preliminary ancestral ramble when the chapter abruptly ended. I realized that I'd plowed through the whole first chapter, and Proulx had yet to begin the story that I showed up to read.

Fortunately, it was an advance reader's copy (the home shelves of most booksellers are full of these, I imagine), so I had no money in it and could take it back to the store. It went straight into my bag. Life is too short for books that can't come to the point.


On Friday afternoon I drove all the way out to South China in my Highly Illegal car. My lawyer had said that she wanted to see me. I was then as I am today keeping the fact of being emotionally overwrought just under the surface. It turned out that she wanted to make a distribution from my mother's estate.

As a result of this meeting, my father and his wife are now completely paid off in what they loaned me to buy this house, and this house is now 1/3rd mine, free and clear. I was given an additional amount. I won't type the number, but it's enough for me to pay off all my credit card debt and buy a car outright, without having to go into additional debt. This amount still leaves a considerably larger amount left in the estate, that will come to me later.

So -- things should be looking up, right? I should be feeling better about life.

I am not. It's actually deeply upsetting to me. Tears are running down my face as I type this. I cannot escape the fact that in order for all of this good to come about, Mom had to die. I'd give it all back, and more, to have never had that happen.

-- Freder.

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