I wrote a memoir of my friend Davina. It took two years and four months, plus the years we spent before that developing a friendship within which such a project was even possible.
I edited it, put it on my website, and thought I was done with it.
Then Davina’s friend Frank wanted physical copies. I designed them, he paid for them, and Davina, Frank, and I each got one in the mail.
I got mine today.
And it opened up the Davina book for me again.
It’s so big. There are real pages there. A lot of them.
And, supposedly, in there, in that thing, is a version of—a story of—part of Davina’s life. Someone I know. Someone I love.
There’s this relationship between the book and her actual self, if such a thing exists. The book is not her. It’s not me. But it hopefully tells a whole lot of truth about her life, contains a whole lot of crux about her.
It’s a little bit scary.
There’s a great responsibility in telling someone else’s story and whether or not I lived up to that responsibility is already done and decided. At least the pages are written and done. The mistakes have been made, the successes cemented. But, no matter how you paint it, it’s been painted..and it’s been painted in broad, bold, permanent strokes. It’s never going back in the box.
I’ve written books before, so I’m used to that point in the process. But I’ve never written someone else’s memoir and I will tell you: that puts a whole new angle on things. Fuck. I may have done my friend permanent injury! I may have fictionalized too much! I may have told too much of the truth! She trusted me to interview her about the most intimate details of her life and put them on the fucking internet. That is a great trust. Did I live up to it?
I get on the train. I’m in Wilmington, Delaware. My dad is in the parking lot in his Prius.
I have a duffel bag with me, a Korean one I bought in Los Angeles at a surplus store. Inside my bag is everything I own. I am headed for New York.
Through the door at the top of the stairs, I come into the train car. All the seats are empty. I sit near the entrance, in what would be the window seat, but there’s no window since this is the first seat in the car. A couple other people get on behind me.
In New York is Maxwell Interactive, my new job. I’ve been staying with my dad in Delaware. My sister lives in New York. Previously, I’ve made this same trip from Wilmington to New York to interview with Maxwell Interactive. I wore two different-colored shoes to the interview — one red, one blue. I got the job.
~That’s the way life is. Usually, that’s the way it goes, but every once in awhile, it goes the other way too~
Things had been going a certain way for me since I was born — I had a neglectful, abusive father and I massively did not fit in with the kids from my school.
Then, around the tenth grade, things went worse — I had figured out how to survive the social experience of school, and how to thrive in terms of grades, but I hadn’t figured out my own emotions..I broke down crying in computer class and when my teacher asked me why, I didn’t know. Because everything is so meaningless? I sobbed. He told me I needed therapy.
And around the time I was twenty-seven, things got worse still — I stayed awake for one week, terminally high on my own mind, programming, watching The Truman Show on repeat, undulled by massive amounts of potato vodka, until, sleepless, my mind crashed, I called a suicide hotline, and cops came to my house and handcuffed me and drove me in their police cruiser to the psychiatric ward of a hospital on the outskirts of LA.
Doctors monitored me for a week, interviewed me for eight, ten hours, and finally told me they didn’t think alcohol was the root of my problem. No. I had to stop drinking of course, but according to this panel of psychiatrists, the root of my problems was I had a major mental illness that reduces your lifespan by a full decade, that kills one in five people by suicide (that’s twenty times the rate at which people kill themselves generally)..also, an illness that’s incurable, and that this disease is why my entire adult life was fucked (my word) socially, financially, and at work. This disease, they told me, doubles my risk of dying early from “natural causes” (their words) — things like heart attacks and strokes and aneurysms and just about any other thing that can go wrong with your body and kill you — if you’re bipolar all those things are twice as likely to happen to you. Not only this, but I’d have to take medicine the rest of my life to help manage this disorder.
They let me out of the hospital. I still thought I got taken there because I drank too much — if I hadn’t been drinking I wouldn’t have called the suicide hotline. It didn’t occur to me that other people I knew drank at the same level and it never caused them to feel suicidal. But I stopped drinking, took my pills, went back to work, and forgot about everything those doctors said.
And forgetting that I had that illness, and running out of my mood stabilizer due to the insurance companies, my life sank. It sank like the Titanic, baby! — and for my sinking I had lots of guests and fancy tablecloths and cupcakes and candles and dancing and drinking and drugs, and it all sank way down to the bottom of the ocean.
Almost everyone at my sinking party died. I tried to kill myself — literally tried to take my own life.
I haven’t worked a single day since that suicide attempt — I’m no longer a brilliant software developer, at least not practicing. I lost all but a couple of my friends. I destroyed relationships with just about everyone in my extended family. I haven’t had a girlfriend in years, so I’m no longer a brilliant lover of women, either — at least not practicing. Everything normal and good and happy went away. And all that’s left now are the relics that I’m putting in this book.
But even though usually that’s the way it goes, in 2011 — as Tarantino had promised me when I watched True Romance — sometimes things go the other way, too. And in the kernel of my suicidal catastrophic collapse of a life, from the tiniest spark of myself that was left among the ashes, slowly, slowly, over a period of years, things started going the other way for me, too.
I had never heard of Brattleboro, Vermont, until I was living with my mom in Buttfuck, Pennsylvania. It was ok at first, then we started getting in meaningless fights. I wrote three books at her house. I lost twenty pounds. I got over the stress of the latest in a decade-long series of jobs that to me were a cross between a monster truck race and every medieval torture device ever invented..rolled into one. The people working in these places may as well have been eating lysergic acid and watching Looney Tunes while they typed their computer programs. I was in LA; Ohio; New York; Tucson; Buttfuck, PA. Then, instead of moving for a job, I decided on a change of location to help cure my ills.
In 2011, I move to Brattleboro, Vermont, population 11,765 (plus one). I live there a year. This is what happens.
Hard day. Hard writing day. Ya think they’re related? Yeah.
I like to think I can write scene after scene from a memoir chronicling an extremely difficult time in my life and then have my “non-writing” self be a purple unicorn with sparkles all over its motherfucking horn, but I am sadly mistaken.
There is no “non-writing” self. The self that writes scene after scene from that difficult memoir is the same self that’s shopping for groceries, trying to converse with my family, trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
It doesn’t work.
The shit affects me.
A guy named Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Yeah, well Robert Frost is right, in my meagre experience. Writing isn’t a job of dipping one’s big toe into the lake. It is a job of diving from a tall platform into the lake. Naked. With sharks.
One of my favorite fortune cookies says, “The only way to catch tiger cubs is to go into the tiger’s den.”
Writing is a profession of going into the tiger’s den.
Over. And over. And over.
Because the good shit ain’t on the surface. If it was then everyone could write a scene that made you cry. That is why I say, over and over and over, that this life—not just this job, but this life—is about breaking yourself every day and growing something from the pieces.
So yes, I admit, my memoir is hard for me to write.
Magically, somehow, I want it not to be.
But you know what, if I’m going to spend the time doing it, it better be hard. And it’s not hard in the ways that I expect. It may not be hard to write the sentence—it may be hard to recover from having written it. I can lie at the keyboard and make all the appropriate textual changes—that part seems easy. But it has a hidden cost: the four-hour nap, the me that is emotionally shredded at the end of the day, incapable of normal activity, running around like a rat in a maze.
That’s where the hard day presents itself.
The time at the keyboard is hard, no doubt. It took me eight hours to write my quota today, and for me that’s about as long as a (non-manic) writing day gets. It took me that long because the scenes stirred up so much shit inside me that my fingers didn’t want to type another word. I resisted psychologically.
Some books, some days, I feel organized and healthy at the end of my writing. I hope I feel that way at the end of this book, at the hopefully meaningful conclusion. But some days, when the content is personal and hard, I have to curl up in bed like a tiny mouse and stroke my heart with comfort content from the internet. Which is what I’m about to do.
He came with his wife Marilyn. Her daughter Janine. They came to visit me in Pasadena and take me away for the day. They told my mom they were taking me clothes shopping at the mall and to dinner. But once we left my mom’s house, we didn’t go back — ever.
We rode a carousel at the mall and did get new clothes. But after dinner the car didn’t go back home. It kept driving and driving, out of the cities and into the desert, and I was falling asleep in the back seat next to Janine.
In the morning I asked my dad when he was taking me home.
“You’re going to stay with me for a little while.”
It was scary because I didn’t know where we were going. But I was with my dad so I knew everything was going to be ok. It wasn’t till a few days later, after we had reached our destination, that I started wondering if I was ever going back to live with Mom.