Monday, October 1, 2012

Ever Been Hungover? Dysphoric Notions Part 2

In January of 2009, gin was my drink, and everybody knew it. I daresay that gin was my drink for many years before that. And if it weren't for this wonderful period of sobriety I've been enjoying over these last several months, gin would probably still be my drink. But in January 2009, and the night before I turned in my graduate thesis, gin was definitely being poured and I was drinking it.

Jimmy said: “Hey Anthony, I brought us a bottle of gin.” I said, “Great.” He said, “A handle of it.” After dinner, Julie and Jimmy and I went back to their dorm and sure enough Jimmy had brought a handle of gin. What's that? Well, it's 1.75 liters of Bombay Extra Dry. And if you don't know how much 1.75 liters might be, think of a large bottle of pop, subtract about one glass and go. I mixed three glasses of gin and juice, I distributed them, one each—Julie, Jimmy and me. We slugged down the first round. It was early and the mix was nice. “Bartender,” Jimmy said. He shook the ice in the plastic tumbler. “Make us another.” I said, “Now Jimmy, if I make another, there is no going back. We're going to kill this bottle.”

I counted eight drinks that I made for other people between 6 p.m., when we started and when we finished at 1 a.m. I reckon that's less than about the .750 ml of the gin and that Jimmy and I split the liter. The night was a rough one. That was Plainfield, Vermont on a January night in 2009 before we were to graduate and move back to the places from where we all came.

If that night was rough, the next day was disaster. In fact, the next several months were disaster too. I was hungover for a very long time. Apparently, Jimmy was too.
Yet, I think the hangover was more than the booze. After all, we had just finished two straight years of writing, reading, thinking and creating. So, where were we then? Jimmy and I drank too much gin. I do believe that the major portion of my hangover was that I was no longer engaged with a manuscript, with the Goddard program as a whole, and there were too many unknowns back home.

Then a few nights later, the night before graduation, I hide away in my room while my friends enjoyed a party in the Haybarn Theater. The Haybarn social, as it were, is a Goddard tradition. On that cold winter's night, I just was not in the mood. In my room, I thought about the year to come. I thought about all the stuff I would write, if only I had the motivation to do it. I thought if I could just write five or six short stories, maybe even one novel, it would be good enough. I could hold my head high, right? In a precious few hours from that moment I would be home and I would be force back into life's obligations: the mortgage, the job, bills. I figured a few short stories, yes, and maybe a novel.

Janice and my parents came to my graduation. We left campus shortly after graduation. We ate dinner in a swanky restaurant in Montpelier. My parents wanted to know what I planned to do. Honest question. I had no great answer. “I just want to write,” was all I said. I just want to write. I had the how-to of writing, that was grad school. I had the where and the when: my sunny dinning room table during the daytime before work. I had the why: because I wanted to be a writer, and I could not think around it. But what I lacked was the what. What was I going to write? All I knew was that the buzz of grad school was still under the shaky surface of the hangover. If I had just written 40 pages every three weeks for two straight years; I knew I could continue that pace.

When I sat down a day and a half later, back at home in Denver, CO, I forgot the “what” of “what am I going to write?”

I wrote about the sumac trees of Congress Park. I wrote about the way they smell. I wrote about the way they look. I wrote:
The hot weather persisted. The sumacs, alias ghetto palms or come trees, were visibly growing in the heated day. In some circles they're called ghetto palms partly because of the shape of their leaves and partly because of their location. For some reason, these trees choose the most difficult of places to live: the cracks of cement in the alleyways or from those little spaces under fences and beside basements. They tend to grow in the older more neglected neighborhoods around town and they need absolutely no human support. In other circles they are called come trees because of a certain odor they emit all summer, which bears a striking familiarity with bedroom activities.

This was the beginning. I don't know why I chose the sumac trees. I suppose because I always associate them with summer and it was a cold January day when I started. I know why I chose to write Denver. My graduate school thesis was a novel set in Germany. After being in Germany for all those months, I wanted to write something Denver. As “The White Party” developed, I wanted to write about a Denver I once knew, a place where people wandered around all summer looking to begin their lives. I wanted to write heat and anguish and booze and cigarettes and youth.

I also thought that “The White Party” was all I had in me. I thought it would be a short story. And I thought if I could just finish this short story, then I'll only have four or five more to write before I think about writing a novel.

Next time: characters and space, being hungover and the Fictean Curve.

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