True Thousand Sixteen: My Year of Memoir

For ten years I’d been struggling to write, depending on when you asked me, what was either a novel or a collection of loosely-related short stories that hinged on a coming of age theme or dealt with poverty or depression or aggression. but it was always about boys and being a boy. Or change, or something. But it was a fiction, whatever it was. And whatever it was, it didn’t get done for ten years.

What got done in that decade was a lot of guilt and shame and worry and hype and starting and stopping–a whole goddamn lot of starting and stopping. There was, too, therapy and talks with the wife and talks with the self and the spirit and the steering wheel on the highway and the cemetery trees above my father’s grave and then too, I guess, talks with whatever is left down there of him nearly six years later. None of it got me to stay at the desk.

And then, the baby came. No metaphor, legit: my wife had a baby. Little girl came along and my world shifted within and without. And then, actually, I got really sad. Had an awful winter, morose, angry and anxious, and I’m glad little Bear was too tiny to know it. Of course, though, none of my darkness was cast at or towards her or my wife. The worst part of that winter was how badly I was able to abuse myself (and not in the fun, vaselined manner you’re used to). The gym, my previous endorphin-inducing salvation from The Sadness, was no longer cutting it. One snowy afternoon, after an intense workout, I called my wife and broke my heart open: amidst the drifting powder and the honking, clanging big rigs on the NJ Turnpike, I cried my eyes out, admitted defeat and depression. The deadlifts were no longer enough. I was scared.

And scared got me moving, scrambling to get better.

So it was more work to get right. When I resurfaced, I asked some old writing friends from grad school, folks who were also looking for something beyond themselves to anchor them to their projects, to join my efforts to finally get this thing written.

By the end of the summer, I had what felt like a few solid stories and some new characters growing. I knew the fall would be rough–big overseas trip for the wife, a wedding down south–and I was wary of the winter triggering big-time blues amongst the holiday rush. I decided to hold off on writing until January, and to just sit with the story and let it be.

Letting it be was like being in dark room with a tiny light source in the corner. When I looked directly at the glow it disappeared, but if I looked slightly away from the light it shone again. This is what happened in the past few months and maybe had been happening in the past decade.

The stories I’d set out to tell were all jammed up because I was in the way of them. The truth, I slowly understood, was I was trying to re-invent a moment in my life and in the reinventing I was obliterating the heart of the story. I was trying to add glitter to a light bulb and it was utterly pointless and very fucking messy for me.

So, in 2016, I’m putting aside the glitter (at least this glitter, I’ll keep my other glittering habits as they were) and just letting that bare bulb shine. My most formative, serious creative writing class as an undergrad was a Creative Nonfiction class. It was some of the most fulfilling writing that I had ever done and yet, because of my tendency towards self-abuse (as noted above) and my inherent grandiosity (as noted in some of the purpler prose here), I overlooked the simple truth: I’m not a liar. I’m honest, typically to a fault, and it’s time to let that shit be true all around, especially in my biggest writing project.

In the coming months I’ll be posting here and on, just as a way of keeping me at the desk (yes, imagined reader, you matter) but I’ll be working on the story as it first began, as memoir. And, in the coming year or maybe more, I’ll have something that does what I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: tell a story that you’ll never forget.

See you around.



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