“The idea that your job is to write something good is why you’re not writing.”
I don’t know if you can even consider this draft 39 anymore. I started writing at least 4 months ago with the intent, as is always the intent, to have something, something perhaps, substantial is the word (?) but even more the that, perhaps something complete. A complete written piece. Yes, that’s what I’m going for.
Except I haven’t been able to do that in years, not since my mom died. That’s not to say I haven’t written other things (not including the 38th previous drafts in various forms of completion sitting in buried on this blog), I’ve written other types of things (more on that later) but what I mean is I haven’t written anything, to use that word again, substantial. That isn’t to say that I don’t see the merit in the other kinds of writing, but I mean the kind of writing that gets the best response from people.
It’s not like I’m not into sharing details of my life, my co-workers can certainly attest to my openness, and my Twitter is the thinnest of veiled attempts at hiding my displeasure with several things including the at the almost yearlong rift with my best friend. The real question is why did this go away? Or why not publish the finished entries?
Well. They come from the same place.
And that place, is hard to be in.
I know that doesn’t make sense, or maybe it does. I’m not talking about a place, like an Arby’s parking lot (*I don’t think I’ve been to an Arby’s, let alone an Arby’s parking lot in over ten years*), I mean an emotional state, a place in my head. But I can’t go there anymore. I can’t really write that way anymore. I know that doesn’t really make sense. Before a few years ago I would create situations to write in, almost like artificially manufacturing a manic sate through caffeine or alcohol or sleep deprivation or minor drug use and up to a complete misunderstanding of an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (the 4AM Miracle, which states that staying awake until 4 AM creates a false reality in which you’re no longer hampered by yourself, allowing you to write freer, and also walk down a long hall giving a speech explaining your reasoning to this. This episode was also about Matthew Perry’s drug addiction (and Sorkin’s) and loss of reality. SO there’s also that). The bigger issue is, I know this doesn’t work. I know this is a false situation. Back when I did write, I wrote a paper about how there’s no added help from this, from creating the deadline crunch. It doesn’t’ actually work. I Know this. You’re just putting extra unnecessary stress on “future Kev.”
But I also know it’s hard for me to go to that place. The kind of writing that requires me to go to that place that.. it’s hard to be in now. Before I thrived in that place. There’s also the critic part of me that can say, “who are you to say that you were ever some kind of great writer?” There’s only so much so far I can take the “aww shucks, you think I’m a good writer line, before that naivety becomes unbelievable. There’s only so many published sex poems or live play readings or SOLD plays that I can talk about before it’s like, yeah, I was once good at this. But then the other part of me can say, well, what have you written lately?
It starts to move, my stomach drops, as it does every single time I’m in an elevator. The whole experience in a hospital is already the worst, but now I’ve got elevator anxiety to deal with.. The change of area, the loading area, whatever you want to call it. The portal between worlds. Some other type of metaphor. Sure. Whatever it is, the whole part of it is the fear because of not knowing what to expect between floor one and what to expect once you step back into the real world.
And, of course there’s the whole, well you could very well just die in the elevator, which is a terrifying but remarkably not unfamiliar fear. (That’s a very boring average fear, I suppose) I guess that’s what I’m saying. Is this even anything relevant? I suppose, I didn’t die.
I took a deep breath and braced for the elevator doors to close. I’ve been through this before. So many times. This time I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure of anything.
48 hours prior to this I had almost blacked out driving my car. My best friend, who I still consider my best friend, even though I still wasn’t on the best speaking terms with (at the time, things change when you take 4 months to write something) was on the phone, she was shouting at me to describe my settings, where I was, what I could see. She probably saved my life. Again. That’s her thing. I feel shitty for always making it be her thing. I didn’t know what else to do, so I turned to the one who saved me before. There were certainly others who would’ve helped, and absolutely could’ve. I could certainly list the number of things that saved my life, Denver Writes, my Starbucks family, my family, Dan Harmon, my twitter/tumblr/Instagram family, so on and on, and they’d be true, but some of those things fed from other things. But the person who talked me off the ledge, the literal ledge, at the moment where it counted, and she probably didn’t even know it at the time, or maybe she did, but whatber that’s the person I needed at that point. She made sure I didn’t black out while driving my car. She made sure I came to Chicago.
An hour before this I was standing outside of my job on the phone, “your father, he had a stroke,”
Weeks after my mom’s death, the first thing I needed to write was a play. I was writing something about a robot apocalypse, or something I really don’t know. By the time I finished it, the play had become a story about a mother and her son and it took me like a year before I even realized it. I followed that up with the intention to write a very epic full length play. Sorcha and my biology lab partner, the Russian ballerina who once offered to write a letter of recommendation to Disney because she liked my art (IS MY LIFE EVEN REAL) helped me outline this massive thing involving life and death in a hospital. I had every story beat and character developed down to their Dan Harmon Story Circle. And I came up with the whole thing on what just happened to be the last real day I spend with my mom.
“She’s had a stroke,” he said. We’d been in his office for less than 3 minutes. Doctor Kluger had been my mom’s neurologist for a number of years. I liked him a lot. I trusted him. This may have in part been because of his resemblance to Disney Producer Don Hahn, who himself was in the growing category of larger bearded men who I admired, the shared semblance to my father was not lost on me. “if they would’ve caught it, there are preventative procedures to stop the stroke from worsening.”
“Kevin. We need your approval, there’s a medication, and if we administer it now, we are still in the time frame that will prevent the stroke from worsening.” The words rang in and out of me. I felt like throwing up, but didn’t think I could.
Unsurprisingly, after everything that happened, I was never able to finish that particular play about life and death in hospitals. I obviously couldn’t write this. There was no way. If we were to list the number of places I would never want to go again, it would be hospitals, corn mazes, court houses, that might be it. Corn mazes, I don’t have to worry about, courthouses, not really, hospitals. That’s an ongoing. After the funeral and a returned to school, I tried again. This semester is one of the greatest and important moments of my life. Despite a few major blows along the way, this lead me on the road to repair My brilliant idea to become involved with a girl I met on Instagram a month after my mother’s death, which lead to the fateful California trip where I met my hero and creator of community, Dan Harmon (one of those bearded dudes), who directly led me to my job at Denver Writes, and the thing that brought me from suicidal nothing, to someone who finally felt like he had an importance in the world. Beyond spring break, this was the first semester that taught me my prior tricks would no longer work, and led to my first F.
I stopped being able to force out thing I didn’t care about and only began to worry about thing that dealt with the preciousness of my own life. I didn’t care about finishing a religion paper for my racist teacher, I did care about finishing my very bizarro, but personal paly. But I feel like most of that came from my amazing playwriting teacher, Leonard, and my playwriting classmates Leodis and Logan (what is this, a Julie Schwartz Superman story with all this L alliteration?)
Shai Curious was a play I had been kicking around for a few years, based on an interaction with my ex-girlfriend, the day I told her I liked her (a moment I tried to recreate years later – more on that later), after no more than 3 other guys did the same thing. I flipped it and had one of the paramours be a woman (it was Leonard who DEMANDED I call it Shai Curious once hearing that I had a character named Shai who was dealing with blooming bi-sexuality, I love it because it’s a pun, but it’s also the play). This is the only thing I’ve written that I’ve gotten unnecessary, let’s say, comments, from people who believe I don’t have a right to tell this kind of story. Meanwhile I think it’s one of the MOST personal stories I’ve ever told, take that as you will (wait. Doesn’t this undermine the entire point of this?!).
I don’t like hospitals, but I am comfortable in them. I know my way around them. 98% of all of the women I’ve dated or had interest in dating are related to the medical field in some way. It’s weird. Incessant beeping and alarms and things like that stress me out to this day. Not something I know how to work around.
My last (up to this point) semester had me dealing with this very thing, and also the first comic I’d ever written. I don’t necessarily know if this is something I’m completely proud of, but it was on it’s way. Stina, who has grown from teacher to, close friend, was able to bring me in to her comic class in the most clichéd of godfather ways (I was out and done, but if a class seems made for me, I’ll come back), As she usually is able to do, it was the closest to pulling full emotion out of me.
The other work I produced that semester was unfortunately tied into the sadness that occurred around the same time. The back to back to back to back deaths of my paternal grandparents and my two beloved cats. I had started taking a Fiction Writing class, taught by the English Head of my school, and someone who started the first day by saying, “Kevin Peterson? I’ve heard pretty good things about you”
No pleasure there. Except, I couldn’t write the way I used to. SO instead I wrote the most insane out of sequence bizarre but also funny thing I could think of. The feedback I received from a girl I referred to as, someone who could’ve been my new best friend if everyone didn’t get mad at me for making friends with 18 years olds all the time, was your story was very funny, but do you know how to proofread (the ultimate irony is that I ALMOST LEFT that sentence out, because I didn’t proofread). I tried to write something using my best Christopher Priest impression. What that means to people who don’t know who Christopher Priest is, is (is is) Priest wrote very funny, but also very serious. He also wrote out of sequence. Which is something this particular piece has NOTHING in common with. The back-to-back-to-back-to-back deaths of my cats (within 6 days of each other) and my grandparents, Kay & Pete, less than a year after my mother, left me in a very well, let’s be honest about it, suicidal and low point. (as if there’s a lower point?)
My dad and I lost our mothers a few months apart. I said, mom is in the basement right now. He told me he didn’t know what to do with Kay, “she’s in the garage, but I don’t know what else to do with her.” I told him that mom was in the basement. He sent my sister and I a package a couple weeks later, he was vague about what was in it. It turned out to be a gorgeous photograph he had taken, and I love it, but I’m not lying when I was terrified he was sending us Kay.
I followed this up with a more sequentially focused story based on my Columbian pal. More importantly I finished my first comic. An autobiographical piece about how every woman I end up dating is somehow tied into some kind of medical field. And how that probably has NOTHING to do with the fact that I’ve spend the majority of the last 20 years in and out of hospitals and other medical offices.
“I don’t want her to go back,” I said, over and over again. I was referring to the place that missed her stroke. I repeated it, to anyone who would listen. This was the beginning of the battles I would begin to lose. Of course she did go back. And that’s where she stayed, until the phone call at the corn maze. That was the day I had to make the hardest decision of my life.
Since leaving school, my requirements for writing have cut down significantly. The only real writing I do, aside from Twitter or whenever I want to spend 3 minutes talking about a Veronicas song, is for Denver Writes, and even with that, I don’t manage to finish the prompts half the time (even less If I’m leading the workshop.) The only REAL thing I’ve spent significant time on, (aside from this and a couple scripts I wrote for my cousin), is a play or a script or something, based on an idea of mine, well not so much an idea of mine, but a selfish decision I didn’t make. I had decided to tell a co-worker of my crush on her, and upon reflection, I decided that was a terrible idea, I would blow up my whole work dynamic, because it was BEYOND apparent that there was not equal reciprocation, and… right there, that was the spark of the story. What is that conversation like. And what follows is something that’s maybe the most uncomfortable conversation I’ve ever written. Because there’s no winner in the story. There’s a guy pouring his heart out, selfishly so, but still genuinely, and the girl, who’s heart is breaking because well, now her entire friendship is basically a lie. And it’s dark, and uncomfortable. SO to contrast, I decided to step back, and show well, how did we get here, what was their relationship, how can two people interpret their dynamic two different ways. As it stands now, there’s a scene with them, that’s very very funny. Followed immediately by heart break.
I left it for about a year. Because I was sad again. Because my dog died, because I gave up my other dog and my best friend all at once. But also because I didn’t know where to go with it. Because How can you get any lower than where I left them? Well, apparently, I figured out a way to go further, because I did something that would be the next logical bad step in this particular type of situation. And.. again. It works. I feel like I’ll stop getting dates or friends once people catch on that 90% of my interactions are basically just being mined for writing or story purposes.
The recent situation with my dad’s health upended emotions and memories that I felt I had either dealt with or didn’t’ want to deal with again. I’m proud that I was able to share my first published work with my mother, it was about her after all.
Well, my first long form written work. My first published work was a poem. A joy of sex poem. I’ve only been able to confirm the validity of it with, uh, one person.
She took in a long sigh. She had a look of concern mixed with some kind of happiness as she slowly folded the pages and handed them back to me. “yeah, pretty much like that” she said. “It’s better when I read it,” I said. “No.. we don’t’ need to do that again.” She said.
When it came up that I had never slept with my best friend and why not, I said, “well, she has read the poem.”
It makes me angry when people come up and complain about their mothers to me. “My mom sooo annoying.” “Yeah, mine too, she kept insisting on trying to die on me, and then one day, did.” It wasn’t my finest moment.
“how are you able to make jokes about this?” I was asked once. “Because it’s easier than killing myself because life is unfair,” I said. That’s not a joke taken lightly in my family. To that I remember a line between Kevin Smith (yet another big beareded role model of mine) and the late Garry Shandling:
“In order to have a sense of humor about something it means you’re objective about it. You have to have a certain objectivity to see the elements that make it funny.”
I shortchanged my writing requirements earlier. Thanks to my job with Denver Writes, I do have writing requirements. It IS, the most writing, not just emails, or website, or blog or whatever, it’s creative writing. It’s short stories, and poems, and six word stories. And it’s probably not bad writing. Denver Writes is of course the job where I get to actually do something important and meaningful, and I accidentally fell into it, thanks to Community and Dan Harmon, who attributed that quote that preceded this. I might start sharing the writing I do with Denver writes, it only seems fair, I make the kids share their writing, and I’m doing the same writing exercises they are. More importantly I’m having fun doing it.
Going back to that quote from the beginning. That’s exactly it. Here’s the full quote, by my bearded mentor, Dan Harmon (again):
“That’s the enemy. The enemy is stopping. The idea that your job is to write something good is why you’re not writing. Who the fuck is going to write something good? Your own definition of good writing is going to be better than anything you’ve ever written. That’s not what you’re going to write. You’re going to write shit that you think is bad and you’re going to get to that level.”
Before we get into the quote, the unspoken and unwritten and unconnected dot, is my dad IS a bearded dude, it’s not lost on me that most of my mentor figures are weirdly similar. I spent far too much time not writing because I was afraid that I wasn’t writing up to some inconsequential level that doesn’t actually exist. And that quote means so much to me. And it was so important to me while writing this, TO FINISHING this. About how I’m afraid that whatever writing I do isn’t as good or whatever my bullshit excuses were. The level of my writing whatever I think it was or is.. it doesn’t matter if I’m not doing it. And that’s the whole point.
The unspoken and unwritten and unconnected dot, if you haven’t caught on, is my dad IS a bearded dude, it’s not lost on me that most of my mentor figures resemble him, something that is even more prescient, considering current situations. Maybe I’m clinging even harder to them and to them because of the scare that I could’ve lost him earlier this year.
Four years ago, I had to make the decision to let my mother die, earlier this year I had to make the decision that caused my father to live.
“You needed a positive hospital experience,” she said. She was right. She is right. She always is. We don’t talk as much as we used to, but we do talk now.
And this is it. Twelve pages (in Word, anyway) and 3600 words, I’ve been working on since March. Is this a complete narrative or is this just a series of interconnected anecdotes? Is that enough? Do I have interconnecting tissue? Or am I trying to fit multiple ideas into one thing? Does it matter? At this point I’m just glad I finished something.