Monday, September 30, 2013

Yes, You Can

I feel like every couple of years I get involved with a conversation like the one I'm about to tell you. This conversation is usually with someone I don't know very well, and this conversation is generally with someone I already like. This conversation happens after we've swapped outlandish stories.

I love the outlandish stories because, well, they're outlandish. For my part, I was telling my new friends Chris and Roxxi “my favorite lithium story,” It's funny because I introduce it like that but the truth be told, I have only this one lithium story. Now, two things before I go further: first, my grandfather, Frank Aiello was a storyteller and I have always wanted to have people listening and laughing at my stories like he did. And two, I have or I will use most of my life experiences as fodder for the fiction I have or will write. The lithium story, however, is fun to tell at the right times but it will probably never make it to the paper. Well, I guess I'm alluding to it now.

So, the punchline of the story, “I didn't know that they were still prescribing lithium,” I said. “Oh yeah,” Chris said. “They'll give it to you now.”

A little while later, enter Mark Dragotta. Everyone knows Mark Dragotta. If you do not, you should. So here comes Mark. Chris says, “Since I got both writers here, you have to hear this.”

And those are the words that spark the conversation that seems to pop up every couple of years.

I like Chris. I like Chris a lot. He and I have similar views on the world. We're close in age. We have similar sensibilities. That says a great deal, I think. And along with all of this, Chris, like Mark, or like me, has had interesting experiences along the way. In many ways, this is a criteria for prospective friends. I like interesting people who have lived lives. So here we were, Chris and Mark and I.

Chris begins to tell us about his late teenaged years. He tells us about this epic hitchhiking trip all over the United States with a friend of his. He tells us about the people he met, and the shading circumstances of the road trip's purpose. He explains that what we need to do (Mark and me) is write a series of short stories. He gives us the premise. He nearly explains how to do it. Mark and I stay silent. I know if I have had this conversation every so often, I know Mark has had it too. All we do is listen to Chris.

During all of this, I think I'm hearing more than Chris thinks he's telling me. At one point he mentions the friend, who has either just died, or has died in such recent times that it's still close under the surface. I know how old Chris is now, and he tells me how old he was during this crazy road trip. Half of his life has gone by since these misadventures with a dear, now dead friend. And he's trying to tell Mark and me how to write this story.

Neither Mark, nor I will write this story. There's now way. This is Chris's story.

It was not the right time, nor the right place, not last night anyway, to tell Chris you can write this story. I mean hell, there are all the right elements to it: youthful rebellion, travel, drugs, and now half a lifetime interceding adding a dead friend. The one person he had as a connection to that time is now gone. If there is a question of “why now?” as there should be, I think it's fairly obvious.

I realize that not everyone is a writer. I think everyone should be. I think that all it really takes is the inclination, the time, add a good reading list and practice, practice, practice. Can anyone become Michael Chabon? No, chances are you won't win the Pulitzer Prize, or even get published. But when I have these conversations with people, I don't think the Pulitzer Prize or a New York Times Bestseller is what they're after.

Rather, what I think they're after is to see their story on a page. I think what they're after is to have their story told. Why? Because I think people who have experiences like Chris believe (and I believe it too) that others can learn something from them. And if nothing more, it's important enough to share.

I think Chris can write this story.

This is the way I would directed him:

Read. A few suggestions I have off the cuff: Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Denis Johnson's Jesus's Son; John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and perhaps everything or anything by Jim Carroll and Augusten Burroughs. I think there is so much value in reading similar or similarly set stories. The case with these writers and these books is simple enough, road trips, drugs, returning home, etc. All expect the latter these are writers of fiction. Although the work of Johnson and Carroll are thinly disguised works of fiction. I'm constantly delighted by Augusten Burroughs, he writes memoir.

Write. There is no real recipe here. I imagine that a road trip as the one Chris has told me about can have plenty of ways to organize it. It can be organized chronologically, or by location. It can be organized by experiences going from the easy to the tough. It can be told in any way. But this is not going to help Chris write his story. When I say write, I mean just that, write. Do it daily. One small scene at a time. One small vignette at a time. But this needs to happen daily. Daily. One hour, twelve hours, twenty minutes. Whatever, daily. In this way, over time, there will be a mountain of material. And then, then, the actual organization of it will become obvious.

Don't be discouraged. Writing is not easy. But it gets easier. Readers are critical. But they are not nearly as critical as the writer is when it comes to our work. It's tedious. But fuck me, life is tedious. The first word is the toughest. The first page is the toughest. But it gets easier.

Fiction or Memoir?

Good question. I'm inclined to say fiction. I think there are more truths, universal or whatnot in fiction. Fiction writers have the privilege to add, juxtapose or make composite: characters, scenes, locations, etc. Read Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is not a work of fiction, but you cannot say what is real and what is journalism. I bring it up because in his story, Thompson has laid two different events (that happened several months apart) into one story. Perhaps I should add Fear and Loathing to Chris's reading list.

There are good aspects to memoir too. My work at Umbrella Factory Magazine has soured me on memoir somewhat. But I loved The Film Club, Stop-time and Running with Scissors. These are great books, these are great stories and they're wonderfully written. The case with David Gilmour's The Film Club we not only get the story at hand, the writer and his son working through tough times, but we get some great film history and information.

Where to from here?

One word at a time. One page at a time.

Monday, September 23, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: The conclusion-The Lovecraft

Sometime, in the recesses of my personal history, I found it pleasant, if not a little unnerving, to relish the macabre. This may have stemmed from attic readings of Greek tragedies. This may have stemmed from the very nature of the world I grew up in as a kid. Who knows? But I think the darkness and the macabre way of seeing the world really came shortly before, certainly during, and mostly after my stint in the middle east.

The shortly before would be the teenage nightclubs and the music I was listening to in the late 1980s. The certainly during, would be the few tapes I brought to Desert Storm and the nights listening to Love and Rockets, The Cure and Front 242 whilst watching the missiles flight and feeling the bombs drop. And the mostly after would be the teenage nightclubs throughout southern Germany and the music we were listening to in the very early 1990s.

But war and dark pop music does not make one macabre. I know this. I think war and dark pop music can accentuate a dark and macabre person. I do not claim to be so dark and macabre anymore, but I know this is where I came from. I am certainly not known for my sunny disposition now, but I keep the darkness at bay with romantic hopefulness and furious social thought. Be that as it may, this is not about me.

Monday, September 16, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: Ring of Fire

Amazingly enough, our Portland existence was brief. Just under three years. At the time it was going on, though, the time seemed to stretch on all the way back to the recesses of the beginning and seemed like they were never going to end.

We left Goose Hollow. Thankfully. I just couldn't bare to climb that huge hill one more time. I could not bare the leaf blowers, the buses, the semis and the excavation trucks. Believe it or not, at the time we left Goose Hollow, I was sober—this means no hangovers, and I still felt like I would crack at any moment due to the noise.

Janice found us a nice apartment right downtown Portland. We were two blocks from the Portland State campus and about four blocks for her office at The Oregonian. In fact, we moved to SW 4th Ave. SW 4th is a big street cutting through downtown. A three lane wide one way street with parking on both sides. The freeway is just three blocks way and all the normal stuff associated with downtown areas are ever present: fire trucks, police sirens, nearby hospitals, train whistles and all the helicopters that land at the helipads just a few blocks away. Being a new building and constructed of concrete and triple pane windows, the place was quiet.

Monday, September 9, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: Where there was once 2 there are now 3

In the days leading up to it, Janice kept telling me there was something wrong. She was even blaming it on menopause. Menopause? Really? You're too young, I kept thinking, kept saying. I thought it was a combination of stress, because the woman had a very stressful job. I also thought it was because her forthcoming birthday. Whatever the reason why she was late with her period, I never thought it was because of pregnancy.

I left Portland City Grill on that Sunday night in December. The walk home through the rain was nothing more than what it was, a walk home. Getting home meant getting back to my book. At the time it was A Coney Island of the Mind and On the Road and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Yes, the December books were pretty cool. I sat in the living room at the corner of the sofa under the lamp as the rain fell in sheets outside and Janice slept peacefully in the bedroom.

But on this night, things ended very differently than they began. I turned out all the lights, brushed my teeth and headed for bed. As an afterthought, I decided to floss my teeth. When I tossed the used dental floss in the trash, I saw the pregnancy test. “What the fuck is this?” I said. As I examined the test stick, confused on more levels than one, I noticed the second test in the can just under it. I looked through the medicine cabinet for the directions.

Sleep was not with me that night.

In the morning, I thought I'd just ask: “Janice, are you knocked up?” I was back on the sofa and she was just out of the shower. “Evidently,” she said. It was a bit of a snarky reply.

There is something very amazing about pregnancy. There was for me, at least. The two of us talked about the events to come, the doctor visits, the classes, the change of lifestyle, and the eventual addition to our very small group.

Monday, September 2, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: “Reading the Library of Congress”

There are days off and then there are days off. It was one of the latter for me on that mid-December day back in 2011. Janice had gone to Denver for the weekend. This meant that I was not only left alone in Portland, but I was completely unsupervised. And to make the whole ordeal all that much better, I did not have to don my white polyester dinner jacket and go to work.

I started in the early afternoon at The Commodore. Bobby and I had made plans to meet for drinks at The Rose and Thistle on NE Broadway. Afterward, we planned to see Brian's band play over at The Ash Street Saloon. Seems like a regular sort of day. Just a day off, and a plan to do a little drinking and honky-tonking.

Admittedly, there comes a point in the night when I say yes to everything. I don't say yes to everything because I'm a pushover. I do not even say yes because I'm drunk. No, I say yes because, there is adventure lurking behind ever y-e-s.

I made it to The Rose and Thistle. I met Bobby there. On our walk back we happened to find a little money in the gutter which translated very easily into a few Dewar's and rocks. We made it to Ash Street Saloon. In the men's room there, I pissed in the urinal while some crazy woman pissed in the toilet next to me. It was a strange shared experience that I have not said anything about. Soon after Bobby left on some “family” business, and I secretly suspect that they were off to hide a body—an experience I wish I could have shared. I went to Shanghai Tunnels with Brian and Rose and Andrew. After a shot, Andrew and I went into Chinatown (something I never do) and hunted up a dance club he knew. I danced with very tall girls there. Then, out the side door, we went to an art opening where we were separated. I got mixed up with crazy artists. Now, twelve hours into this adventure, this unsupervised journey, I went to the Silver Dollar II to see if anyone was there. There, I met Caroline, my MFBF, Jenny and Eric. With them, I left the comforts of downtown on a December night and went to some undisclosed neighborhood bar where I sundowned the night with Frito Pie. All in all is was a great day. I saw boroughs of Portland I would not otherwise have seen. I hung out with friends. I meet fun people. If anything, I'm still bitter that I did not hide the body with Bobby and his clan.