Words of Wisdom for the New Year and Thanks

Hello, Faithful Reader. As always, it’s a pleasure to have you here, in my little corner of cyberspace. I’ve always felt a little awkward with groups…my best moments are with two or three people at a time. This is why I love being able to write my little messages to you in this way, instead of with a video or in a chat room. I can imagine you and I, sitting together comfortably in a warm, cozy room, drinks in hand and a smile upon our lips, ready to discuss whatever comes to mind with candor and honesty. I’ve never wanted to be on TV or lecture to a hall full of students (though I have had to, from time to time). I’ve always wanted to have a conversation, to be intimate with individuals, each and every one. This has led me, throughout my life, to the written word. Reading is always a private affair, between author and reader, no matter how many readers there may be. The conversation is always one-on-one, and the only frustration the written word has ever given me is the fact that it can be so one-sided.

A minor digression on this frustration. Once upon a time, when I was living in Santa Cruz, California in the mid-nineties, I would go to open mic night at Cafe Pergolesi to perform readings of my poetry and short stories. I was homeless at the time, and this was the only method to share my scribbled longhand available to me. It’s very difficult for a person without an address and no access to a typewriter to submit their written work and, to be quite frank, I was in my late teens and, though I had already been writing for years, this was my distinctly amateur period. I had a long way to go, and I knew it, but I also knew that I would never improve my art without sharing it and getting some feedback. And that feedback was generally good.

However, it was just words in the air. There was no way, except in memory, to go back and hear those words again, and years later I had essentially forgotten how it felt. I had been too busy running my bookshop to write too much for several years, then I went to college. During that time, my ex-wife was very clear that writing was not an acceptable career. She felt the inherent lack of security, the possibility of never making very much money, and the sheer airiness about it all excluded it from the acceptable “real jobs” out there. She wanted me to be a professor instead, which she considered the most secure of intellectual professions.

This, combined with being treated like scum in the series of writing classes I was taking at the time, put me in a pretty dark place. The professor meant well. She was a literary fiction author with an MFA, and considered genre fiction of any type to be crude, low-brow profiteering. Especially horror, which she couldn’t stand. She had never read any good horror, of course, and had no clue that authors like Clive Barker, Chuck Palahniuk, and even Stephen King had done much to bring literary themes to horror and speculative fiction. Her idea of horror was slasher movies like “Friday the 13th” and her idea of science fiction was “Star Wars”.

This attitude, which I have run into again and again throughout my life, doesn’t normally bother me. I don’t understand what people get out of stories about a mother and daughter baking cookies, either, but apparently it’s a very popular theme among a certain type of reader and writer. But at this time the pressures I was feeling on all sides made me feel like aspiring to be the next Clive Barker was like a musician aspiring to be the next Vanilla Ice…inherently wrong-headed, immature, and stupid. But my inspirations just don’t lead to stories of the so-called “literary” type. Many of my premises come from dreams and visions, and none of these are “exploration of the family dynamics of three generations of wine-makers”. Instead my dreams and inspirations are always beyond the prosaic bits of normal human life. They are of miracles and monsters, demons and demigods, the fantastic, awe-inspiring, and horrifying. I simply can’t care about plots like that of “The English Patient” or “The Joy Luck Club”. I can understand what’s appealing in them. They are, like all art, an attempt to express aspects of the human condition. But that is not what inspires me. For me, the heart of my inspiration is in the extremes, the places where we go beyond the human to the divine, the demonic, the mystical…these are my dreams and visions, and there is no room for the normal, the average, or the banal in my work.

So I found myself unable to write what my professor could respect, and unable to address my ex-wife’s attitude towards writing as a whole. I was on the verge of giving up writing entirely. I was resolved to drop the class.

But then, late that same night, I walked down to the 7-11 to buy a pack of cigarettes. There was a line, and I noticed the cashier, a young man with tattoos on his neck, kept glancing up at me as if he recognized me. Santa Cruz is a small town, at least when it comes to locals (UCSC students are another matter), so I thought little of it…there was every likelihood he had seen me around town over the years. But then I got the register, asked for my smokes, and the cashier smiled and spoke.

“Hey, you’re Puck, right?”

I nodded.

“Didn’t you use to read your poetry and stories over at Pergs on Friday nights? Like ten years ago?”

I nodded again and smiled sheepishly. Like I said, that work was pretty amateurish, and I was read to be made fun of for foisting my bad poetry on the world.

“You were really good. I liked your stuff a lot.”

I was stunned. All I could do was stutter out a thank you. Then came the moment of truth.

“Are you still writing?”

“Well…” In that moment I had to make a choice…and I hope to this day I made the right one. “Yeah, yeah I am. Going home to work on a new short story right now.”

And I did go home and write that story, and while my professor didn’t like it (I remember a comment about the “almost loving” way I described a murder within it), the rest of my workshop group did. And the comment given by one of those readers, after reading just my first scene, was “Wow…you’re like a real writer.”

The point of this long digression has been to explain why you, Faithful Reader, are so important to me. While my work hasn’t been loathed since I started writing professionally, I have hit plenty of setbacks and snags. I’ve been selling stories, but between my health problems, my wife’s health problems, and the collapse of the economy in general, I haven’t been selling enough. I have had some pretty dark times, and in a prior era I may have just given up. I love to write, and without it I go a little crazy, but that love can’t withstand everything the world throws at it without some help, some other person who has faith that the bad times will end and the work and pain will be worth it. Writing is a solitary business, and years ago I felt very alone, to make my way or break without any connection to anyone else.

The internet, with its ubiquitous option to comment, has changed that, and allowed me to engage in the back-and-forth dialogue that I require, and most of all…it stays right there. I can go back and read comments again and again when I am in a rough patch. I can go to my Facebook page (have you liked me yet?) and see the old comments. I can always remember, even when my feelings are hurting and I can’t believe it, because it’s there forever.

So I want to thank you so much, Faithful Reader…each and every one of you. Without you I couldn’t hang on, and if I ever manage to grab the brass ring of true literary success, I am always going to remember you. Every novel and every collection will have you in the acknowledgements, because none of this could exist without you.

Now, for the words of wisdom.

This isn’t the New Year I celebrate. I’m a Samhain baby, conceived then, born in Summer, and in love with the Autumn my whole life. But I do want to offer the purest piece of wisdom I have ever learned to all of you as you begin the new calendar year. It’s from my favorite novel of all time, “Imajica” by Clive Barker. This novel changed my life in many ways, and I am rereading it now in preparation for writing the second draft of my own dream-inspired magnum opus, “Beatrice: The Girl Who Would Be God”. I hope that you can gain as much from these lines as I have.

“…everything you learn is already part of you, even to the Godhead Itself. Study nothing except in the knowledge that you already knew it. Worship nothing except in adoration of your true self. And fear nothing except in the certainty that you are your enemy’s begetter and its only hope of healing. For everything that does evil is in pain.”

Look at these words. Study them. Apply them. They are truth, even if they were couched in the lie of fiction. And to all my fans and friends and Faithful Readers, past present and future: Happy New Year!

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