Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Hey Baby... You Wanna Play 'William Tell'?"

Did you ever hear the one about the boy who got what he wanted? He had to fight tooth and nail to claw his way back to doing what he wanted on his own.

Your humble narrator recently got a job working as a writer. Professionally. Which is one of the more thrilling things that's happened over the past two head-spinning years, and a lot of things have happened. The negative effect is that the last thing on my mind is creative writing... after a 1 A.M to 7 A.M. shift of writing concise sentences about death and destruction for the morning news. While I wouldn't trade it for any other job I've ever had, it doesn't make it easy to do what I love in the way I love to. Any thought of writing... I mean real self-giving writing... has been buried in the back of any part of my mind, underneath a tarp that covers "run a marathon tomorrow" and "look into an all-bran diet".

I've been wanting to. Trying to. But it's been brutal.

Until now.

To help things along, I've been revisiting those things that made me fall in love with the written word in the first place. A few months ago, my radiant fiancee bought me a copy of J.G. Ballard's complete short stories, and after chewing through selections from that and a used copy of High Rise, I remembered that Ballard was a master at creating a nightmare of the same ingredients that make up everyday life. Modern life as horror, twisting technology with humanity. Which is a fascinating way to look at things... the idea that what is exactly the same as always has always been completely different, and nobody has time to notice. It's brilliant. But it wasn't enough. So I went to the source.

William Burroughs wrecked my brain. Once my teen mind got past all the graphic depictions of pederasty and heroin abuse, I understood that his brilliance wasn't as a storyteller, it was as a conceptualist. His art was utilizing both the meaning and the actual physical combination of letter symbols to make up a word. By (literally) chopping up sentences and recombining them to create new meanings from the way "Part A" juxtaposed with "Part B", which completely dislocated the meanings of everything before and after, his words and meanings became completely intertwined... just as he severed their connection. Sure, people say he could be a mean-sprited junkie, but if you had all the damage going through your head that he did, you might give him the benefit of the doubt. Or you might not. All that matters is that his work was brilliant, and devouring Nova Express, The Ticket That Exploded, Naked Lunch et al... revealed to me that not only was there a LOT more to the world than my eyes had seen (and I'd been all over Europe), but there was a lot more inside that had yet to be investigated. It was like it helped to unlock something that was always there but couldn't be described, simply because I'd never seen it before.

It's funny... just a few days ago, I was reminded of having dinner with my parents when I was about 15. We were always a family that had a sit-down dinner almost every night, they insisted. My mom once asked me what I'd been reading lately. In my sullen teen cloud of discontent, I told her that it was some guy called Burroughs...

"He was a Beat, you probably haven't read his stuff."

Then she told me about the time she meditated with Allen Ginsberg. Very few moments in my life have I been so shocked.

The older I get, the less I realize I know. Moving from where I was to where I am drove that point home in a wonderful way. I feel humbled and awed by things almost constantly now. Nearly every day, something happens to renew that feeling of discovery.

I've missed it.


  1. You're the best writer I've ever known, and I thoroughly enjoy reading the things you post here. I'm glad you've got a job writing now. I really envy how talented you are at this. I was talking to Carrie the other day about how your writing about music is so good and how I wish that I could write the way you do. When I write about music, it's not nearly as academic and intelligent as what you're able to do. I pretty much say things like "this music makes me wanna fight" and pepper the whole thing with colorful language. You've got a gift.