When I wrote my best stories or essays, when I wasn’t afraid to write things down on paper or on my computer and have them be embarrassingly bad, disjointed, awkward, too revealing, self-deprecating, maudlin, cliched, I wrote them as part of something I called journal entries on my computer. Every New Years Day I’d create a new Word file, date the top of the page, and be annoyingly ambitious all over the document. The first seven pages of 1999 consists of fragments, dialogue, and ideas for four stories. The difference between then and now is that I finished all of those stories. The journal was where I talked about ideas and executed them on the page. Today everything I do on the page is about an idea and never about an execution. Even here, I hesitate to make any resolutions or promises for fear of nauseating myself.
In March of 1999 I was happy. In that month I read both Lolita and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie, for the first time. My short story attempts were more like imitations of Hemingway pieces, because someone, somewhere told me to read his short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” a hundred times. I took this advice almost literally and then wrote a bad short story about a man and a computer and another woman in the middle of a cold night. I wish I could write something just as bad today — something besides a whining blog post about how stuck I am mentally. In March 1999 I was twenty-eight. Today I’m forty-two. I really miss March 1999.
I read for open-mics in 1999, and one time I walked up there with two pieces and read both of them: one about my great-grandfather and a trip to Italy I took when I was 15, and the other one about my nephew when he first learned to talk. When you read for an open mic, you don’t walk up there in front of twenty or thirty people and read two short pieces of prose like you don’t care what anyone else has brought, where anyone else has to go, or who has to read after you. You go up there, and you read something for five minutes, and you sit your ass down. You leave the audience either wanting more from you, or you leave them grateful that it was so short.
I wish I were still that clueless, inconsiderate open-mic’er today. I wish I read my work like I was so infatuated with it that I didn’t care whom I made uncomfortable or what kind of etiquette I was fracturing.
My 2013 journal is the first electronic journal I’ve begun since June 2005 — June 28, 2005 at 3:19PM. On January 1, 2013 I reflected on this, mostly to just start somewhere and accumulate a mass of something on the page:
The best I seem to ever have done is when I wrote often, and I wrote often when I wrote here, in a journal where I’d flesh out my ideas or just formulate them out of thin air. I have been way out of practice, have atrophied in a literary sense, and I’m out of practice, filled with clichés and fear. See? In that last sentence I made a ridiculous error in repetition. This last time I kept a journal like this was in 2005, and it seems that everything may have gone dead for me at that time. I turned 35, got a minivan, and sank into this thing resembling a mid-life crisis (another cliché).
Something happened to me in 2005 that left me sort of dead. I don’t really know what it was.
I’ve said this before, but it’s like learning to walk again, this getting back into things, making sense of what’s in my mind and how to lay it down on a page so that it impresses other people. The entry I wrote last Sunday at the coffeeshop was closer to something I used to do. I wrote a plot for a story I’ve wanted to write about a time I gave a woman a set of keys that worked perfectly fine for me, but when she had them in her hands, she couldn’t open anything with them. The event marked the end of a strange friendship. The end of the friendship doesn’t bother me at all. I’m more fascinated with how the keys didn’t work. Three times the keys didn’t work for her.
I’m not making empty promises to myself anymore. I’m just going to move my body forward and try to be a good man.