I’ve been flaky the past couple of weeks, not around as often as I’d led on. Which feels dishonest. So I want to address my whereabouts and clear the air, get a fresh start.
I’m at the end of my 20s. It’s a cusp, because my 20s have largely been dissolute and aimless and I’m assuming 30 is when I “grow up”. I married a few years ago, worked in lawn care to support us, then we moved so I could go finish my degree in journalism. Which I did, finally, after 3 schools and 10 years, finally finish my degree. That degree landed me in a corporate communications gig (shoot me now, and shoot me once every morning) because journalists command the same wages as fast-food assistant managers. My corporate stint is coming to a close, however, it’s a contract position with an inevitable contractual conclusion. The bouldering question is what do I do next?
I can’t stand working for people, most of the time. When I was in lawn care I was working for a small company with a genuine friend as the owner, and I didn’t mind busting my ass 50 hours a week. That was almost enjoyable. Looking back, that was far more preferable. Corporate life is achromatic and demands a daily prostration before the people who command everything that you do. They’ve extended my contract because still I haul ass, but it’s gnawing my skull away. Brain matter has been left to puddle on my cubicle desk several times. It’s the hierarchy, rigid and unassailable; people shouldn’t waste their lives in subordination, nor should they find it meaningful to collect subordinates beneath them.
The last 5 years I’ve spent writing regularly, almost daily; writing frequently for long hours a few years before that. It’s the only thing I feel comfortable doing, the only aspect of the world I feel comfortable commanding; the only method of exerting my will that I find meaningful and honest and satisfying. When I don’t write, I turn into a bastard. There is no affection, no hope, no self confidence if I am not writing. If I can’t get myself out, onto paper or screen, nothing comes in and the pact I have with the world becomes a rigid, impermeable wall.
So I’ve been on a cusp, or a cliff is probably the best metaphor, for the last few weeks on a cliff with a strong wind at my back. I need to write, and I can’t waste any more months in subordination to some leaky asshole I depend on for paychecks. I need to take control of my own life, if you’ll allow me this moment of self-help verbiage, to reach for my dreams and shoot for the stars and the rest of the clichés about building a fulfilling life.
So I’m jumping the cliff into freelancing. Working 45 hours a week in my cubicle, plus the commuting, perennially lacking sleep, up late building-out LinkedIn and UpWork profiles, applying for contract work and freelancing gigs writing copy and trying to devise just how I’ll make this all work. I’m depending on it, my family’s depending on it, it’s finally time to dump myself into what I should’ve done – easy to say now, in hindsight – years ago. I’m going to figure out how to make a living writing.
The hope here is that, if I can control my own working hours, I can create more time to write prose-poetry and, eventually, hopefully soon, to write fiction and the novel that’s been on the back shelf of my brain for about a year.
To help make this all work, we’re leaving NJ, land of crushing living expenses. We’re going to rent a cheap little 3-bedroom somewhere in rural PA, and I’m going to spend my time building a writing career.
Thanks for reading,
It was you who took my hand, but we led each other in. Two kids at the end of a roadtrip, tangled and happy, ready for more. More heartbeats, more walks, more explorations of foreign shores, lined with milestones. We had a city full of smiling streets, a friend behind every door. We had a blank page to paint our life on, and we let our dreams bleed out. Angels’ wings and fluttered eyelids under bedsheets, vermilion mornings of sweet September. Bury me in your skin. Do you remember the night we walked into the woods? Bacchus laughed, and kept the moon bright: bum wine in our bellies, children of the vast plateau making haste for the wasting woods. They could taste our sins. Desultory years, caprices, diaries of lust and joy strung-up in the trees; thieves, caught trespassing into the night. Swiftly now. Grind your fist against the wall. Bake us bread with broken glass, we’ll cook the dust into something more. Can you hear them? Children cry unborn in bellies; still-birth stalking streets for coins. Join the huddled masses — sunlight, left far behind. The forest; leave no condolences: foreheads, cracked like egg-shells. The pulp of a heart and the crust of a lava-flow, breaking, revealing, burning through the wasted woodlands and the cities that hid our nightmares. Take my cock in your hand: copulation a public foray beneath the jealous trees of wicked greed, the homogeneity of a nation masquerading as sane. Show me a smile of broken teeth. A laugh that echos in abandoned concrete. Find the nails that keep our ribs together and pull: butcher of dead desires. Past picket fences and red wagons and warm mothers, what child asks for more? What can be seen through the pouring rain? — gray noon in Times Square, empty streets and the ripple of sidewalk puddles: millionaires without a penny. The famous without a name. Fast feet up the fire-escapes. Together in the alleys, together in the Bowery, together in the Strait of Hormuz. Together in the Dardanelles. Two children hand-in-hand, free, in the pages of an angel’s novel never read.
Two weeks ago I posted a modest declaration, something to the effect of, “I promise to post every day.” Then within the following ten days posted four times. So I feel I owe a bit of an apology to the growing crowd that frequents here, because I do appreciate everyone more than you’d think.
In short, I ran into a rut. Nothing horrendous, nothing broken, but I fell off keel for a few days and writing — what there was of it — wasn’t worth anyone’s time. And then this past Tuesday my internet was disconnected for neglecting to pay the cable bill. That had to wait till Friday, payday. Long story.
The good news is that I was able to catch up on submissions to a few publications, Sudden Denouement included, which is putting together an anthology that promises to make your nose bleed (don’t read it too hard).
A paramount goal for me has been to stay focused and keep the ship level, so to speak, and it seems everything is back on track — aside from promising employment, dwindling debt, etc.
In other news, I’ve decided to add a new page to this blog, a dictionary, which will feature the sort of words you either only hear once or, hear a few times but never enough to stick. The sort of vocab words which, I think, can help make writing pop, add a little flavor, hit the right sort of note. I keep them in a journal and jot them down when reading, so I might as well share them here. If you’re not already following me on Twitter, I’m @ MickHugh_ (mick hugh underscore); you’ll be able to find the same vocab words there, where we can see who comes up with the best examples of the words in sentences (what else can we do on lunch break?).
Also, lastly, if anyone has any tips on building a solid Patreon page, fill me in. I’m exploring a few different ways of monetizing Neon Fog, without ads, so if there are some avenues or tricks you know of, let’s chat.
Thanks for reading.
The grass was short on the ball fields. Lazy Sunday afternoon, and the park was mostly empty: alongside the poolhouse on a picnic table, behind a row of tall firs, the girl was telling him about her campus. She made it seem wonderful, the library and the classes and the student activities. She was two years older, and very pretty, named Alyson, plainly. The afternoon was hot and slow, and so too was the summer; sun streaks dappled through the tops of the firs and the boy wasn’t sure why, but his mouth seemed stuck in his throat. He hadn’t spoken — the girl talked so much — but for little observances he knew she’d find agreeable. Squirrels chased around in the fir trees’ pine needles. Cool water babbling in the brook behind them. The silent expanse of the deep blue sky and the quiet stretches of the park. A perfect moment lonely with an older girl. Yet the boy couldn’t shake the feeling of rotors and gear-boxes muffled and humming, a hidden mechanical cover, behind the scenes of their paradise sky. Which might have been his head: he was embarrassed of his desire: Little pervert prick, she’d tell her friends. She was asking him if he’d like to come visit, to her college. So he told her he’d like that very much — transparent enough to blush — and the girl kissed his cheek goodbye. The boy then walked through the park alone, taking his time to the road. The pavement felt careful beneath his feet: the trees seemed to be breathing, something quiet and full of meaning. His body felt full and hard and light. Picturing the kiss on his cheek. The grass seemed phosphorescent, and the cotton-puffs drifted dreamily in the sky. The air glittered, like specks of tin floating in water. The boy was sure he was somehow high. Was this elation? Was this his joy? turned inside-out to the warmth of the earth. The street ahead disappeared round a bend of the hillside and he saw where it went, past groves and the homes of his neighbors — and the road continued on, hot and long forever abiding the lilt of the land, straight onwards towards the mountains and going on even after that, across the vast plains of the northern plateaus, tilting around gentle hills and the curvature of the earth — finally to bury itself in blue snow somewhere north of Canada. The boy knew his dreams just as clearly: the road wrapped the world before him, and in his chest a bright burning for the gentle moments unfolding, excitement to find something similar in a beautiful stranger, to gaze at the peaks of mysterious mosques and the spires of red rock along the straight roads to California. To hold cities in his hand! But he was only going home. And he knew if he called his friends they were damned to play those old familiar motions and conversations; the next morning to ride buses to school. The affections of their mothers. Satisfying isolation in their bedrooms. In a year he’d be off to college. And in five years who would he meet? What beautiful strangers who weren’t caught in the gears of the silent machinery? The muffled lights in their chests. Long lines of blank squares counting through the days of their ending years. Sweaty suits barking orders from behind desks, and the cowering creatures that scurry to fill their orders. The boy was rubbing his cheek. He was very disappointed. Alyson’s major was in corporate management.
Much has been learned in night’s corners, of drowsy bars, streets with echos, women’s love: The loneliness of street-lamp walks home, pre-dawn, dew a million glints of regrets and what-ifs. Hangovers that last till Tuesday. Body aches that cramp in class and the sweet red-head, warm bust, who turns round in her seat no more. Dry laughter, a coughing he hears in his sleep, and the feeling he gets when his cock’s been dismembered, and friends squint to see him more clearly. Failing grades, a long way from home, superficial hellos and the cold concrete that holds up his hands as he pukes. Bank tellers distrust his withdrawals. In short, a mess. A coming of dues: searchlights chasing the footsteps of mistakes, finding mirrors, reflect, and amplify. Lessons learned in a state of fugue, the quiet observer, carefully tracing one-way paths in eager slumber. What a fool he’s been! But the hallways show no exits; a Sim, picked-up and plopped into desk after desk, and the artificial sun that rises, someone else who keeps flipping the light-switch. Long walks through the university library, day-dreaming of a tryst that can keep him awake. There are essays due in the morning, but he hasn’t been able to get himself asleep in a week. His rhythm is agitated. There are dogwoods blooming across campus, pheromones of pollen in the air: the room contracts and expands. Horizons breathe.
White sun dazzles the sidewalks, the clarity of a lucid dream; spunk in his feet and a heat in his heart, he moves, towards the beckoning at the edge of town.
Suburbia plots boring Friday nights — verdant roads winding along little houses with front porch lights. A poor place to put a college campus. Which goes to the reason the twenty-something finds himself standing, quite stoned, in front of the “cat house”. For lack of better things to do. Small-town campus monotony, he would like to know if Nothing is real. The house is pushed back through a garden from the ‘80s: a trellis thick with ivy, flowerbeds wooly with towering dandies gone to seed. A rust-eaten wheelbarrow, and a rust-eaten screendoor, a watering-can overtaken by soil: the slow Earth it moves over remains. The house is damp, cool, and smells of piss. Pungent. In the darkness with his cellphone flashlight, a frighted cat scurries across the floor. The house might be an episode of Hoarders; a TV-special on the house hygiene of Alzheimer’s. The smell of piss! The meowing rises momentarily to a cacophony in the clutter of boxes overflowing with crafts, needlework, VHS tapes from 1980. 30 years alone in a slow collection of insulation from the outer world: disheveled bookshelves, damp-rotten boxes, hoary floorboards soft with decay. He makes his passage in a narrow line through the clutter. Perhaps her family had used the house for storage, forgotten. Or perhaps she is just insane. Festering creatures creep along in the corners of his eyes. Blossomed cobwebs in the cabinets higher-up. Needle-point, half-finished baby socks untouched by capable hands. The refrigerator is open, the light on in the kitchen. The people who do this! the people who fade behind sun-drowsy shades, achromatic faces, color leached by the rain that rattles the slimy rooftops. The soft hum that hides the fear of the withering years — to waste her years! To waste like this in a nothingness of self-developed lacking, disgusting. What a waste! The woman moves upstairs: gentle-creaking footsteps. But no one is there: but the stale taste of must, piss-stained wallpaper and the framed pictures of children smiling in yellowed memories on the stairway wall — thumb-scrubs where the dust covered their faces. The creaking creeps slowly, from down the hall, footsteps more like shuffles. The smell of piss grows. The withering develops into deposits in his follicles. He can fear the coming end. The poor woman in her bed-dress stained with piss and spilt food, creeping slowly across the room. He says nothing but a sound escapes his throat, and the woman doesn’t move, stopped at the end of her step, in the middle of her empty bedroom, facing the wall. The room turns. The window sash flings open. The curtains billow and the bedsheets fly overhead to the corners of the room — the stain peels up from the floorboards, picture-frames shoot from the walls and the featureless face standing hunched at the center of it all: a tight packet of hurt, and the light that still burns through her breast.