is this on?

04 Mar 01 2:11am
Boise, Idaho

Is there anyone still listening? I didn’t think so; after all, I wasn’t writing, so there was nothing to read. I stopped telling the story last June and let myself just sort of disappear. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Life got good, then bad, then good again, always uncertain, frequently boring. And besides, there shouldn’t be anyone listening anymore.

Or so I thought.

I run a writer’s list and one January morning this appeared:

It’s been a while since we’ve read one of your wonderful ramblings on your search for place in the universe. Now that you’ve been in Idaho for awhile, how ’bout sitting at the keyboard and telling us what’s up and what you’ve learned?
Your loyal fan,

Loyal Fan?? This was followed by:

Actually, I had the exact same thought just yesterday.

And many similar pleasing things, ending with:

Otto: Tell us a story!

I said writer’s list but I meant a great group of people, a bunch I’m lucky to call friends. The rush of interest — perhaps even just that ! commanding me to tell a story — pushed me out of eight months of silence, and here, with some minor editing, was my reply:


‘Wonderful ramblings’? Oh, shit: I must have done something right somewhere and now it’s expected of me again. How on earth did I let that happen? No matter; I must find some gumption. Find some backbone. Find my own personal Forrester, be A Writing Army Of One, and kick some storytelling ass. It has been too long a long time; I abandoned my loyal fans (that I didn’t know I had) last summer, even though several truckloads of story and perishable living needed immediate shipment. You all damn near made me cry, knowing someone was paying attention.

Why did I let good dramatic product rot on the docks? Am I a Writer’s Strike Of One? Most of you know that coming up fast on three years ago (YEARS? how the hell–) I found me an abyss to gaze into – down a hospital IC hallway, past an exhausted soldier of a heart doctor, a darkened door on the left, the room where I last saw my father as other than a cracker tin full of light grey gravel – and the abyss kicked my ass. Hard. Can I, will I, do I want to recover? No matter how far or fast you run, no matter the stories you find, depression’s event horizon probably isn’t escapable without help. Pigheaded pie in the sky bastard that I am, I say that with full understanding, then look for a way out without a therapist or drugs to rebalance my brain. So I run, and on the manifest of that racing truckload:

I left a place I thought I’d live forever, eight years to the day after arriving. I feel evicted from somewhere, but the endless sun would admit me back; it’s a somewhen I’m not allowed to return to. I want the Los Angeles that existed for me when I was 25, and it is not coming back. North beckoned, with more cold meaning more clothes, more of a cocoon, for once my own house with my own upstairs and downstairs, a 1930’s brick fortress of solitude.

I drove across the country, deliberate picking roads I’d not done, getting the list down to three of the lower 48 with dotted yellow lines I’ve not connected. I saw a sign that said “TOURIST ELK HERD INFO”. Five thousand miles later I saw a lone elk in the middle of nowhere west of Hell’s Half Acre. I think he missed getting the Tourist Elk Herd Info. Or perhaps like me he’s not into package travel.

Nebraska route 2: A whole lot of wonderful nowhere. I feel done with the interstates and any restaurant that has shareholders. Only took me 28 years to learn.

New York City: I got lost in Central Park and someone actually volunteered which way was back towards Fifth Avenue. I sat again on a bench I last sat on in 1982 for a photograph, ten years old and holding onto my father and my dreams of going into space on that shuttle that hadn’t yet blown up. I found a restaurant we frequented and it was just as good. The woman at the register was younger than I am and beautiful in a way I don’t think I’d ever seen. The city of my birth was no longer just the circus and the playground and rides on the ferry; it was a place full of life and energy that I had seen and never, ever understood before.

I blithely walked into the offices of Rolling Stone, completely unprepared for them to look at my portfolio that day. They looked. Oops. There is power in boldness, and embarrassment in stupidity.

The magic people can make: a warm summer evening with a crowd of 3,000 watching “Singin’ in the Rain” on a giant outdoor screen between the Washington Monument and the White House, grass between my toes and stars making a brief return visit to my eyes.

The magic one person can make: I met a woman someday I might proudly call my wife, who wants to call me her husband, and together we want to be called parents. I don’t know if the world will take us there, but I never thought I’d want to. In the hurricane that is frequently my life, she brings to visit the quiet eye away from the winds. But I fear the winds will return and the electricity that was so intoxicating when we met will now only leave burns and pain. Because this is current, I hesitate to be more specific. Magic can sometimes be dark, and like a drug, the feelings of coming down are as strong as the feelings going up. Time will tell.

The natural ying of nine rainbows during nine sunsets in nine straight days, playing hopscotch with an eastbound storm some years back, got a yang of the speechless awe that goes with seeing up reasonably close a wildfire that could eat land the size of New Jersey. It’s too easy living in a city full of things made by people to forget how big the world is and how tiny we all are in comparison.

Going into a random movie one day I looked up at the screaming roar of a super scooper full of water struggling up to the mountains; it seemed close enough to touch as the pilot made a hard left over the theater, in a hurry to save a life or a house or a tree or his sense that what he’s doing matters. A blur of props and orange left me looking at the sun. Through the glass of the theatre door the neon and the popcorn and all that commerce seemed for a moment somehow besides the point. At long last I released the chrome handle and turned away, wondering what I’d devoted my life to. I didn’t return to the theater for seeming months, and I went looking to fight the good fight. But I’m not fit enough to be a firefighter and I couldn’t afford the CDL test so I could drive firefighters out to the burning world. I won’t be saving any lives anytime soon, or a house, or a tree, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had the sense that what I’m doing matters.

I tell myself now that simply, all the movies sucked.

Raging against the machine is expensive; I ran out of dough and it turns out printing your own is a felony. I shelve books at the Boise Public Library and every week I come back to find the shelves trashed and my sorting section full to the top. A brief stint of despair, of self-loathing, of feeling that nothing I ever do there will matter, and I want to run, I want to fly, I want to get the books I shelve about living well as a retiree on almost no money (by doing it in Costa Rica) and just take off with a few t-shirts and my passport, my Powerbook, my camera and what’s left of my pride and sanity. Instead, I visit the water fountain to help swallow that pride and tell myself I need the $6.33 an hour and besides, what am I going to do with my time? Put out fires? Find my dad again? Write? The first two are impossible and the third is improbable; I’m always tired from the hamster wheel.

How do people live like this? What’s the point? Is there supposed to be joy in drudgery, in a life tapping the lever that randomly hands out food pellets? I wanted to shrink the tumors of darkness with the light of passion for living, not realizing how expensive passion is.

Where the hell is my good fight?

I’ve not been writing because I feel like these are the same circles I’ve run in before, and I’ve said it all and if I didn’t bore you the first time, I certainly will the second. I’m having trouble finding any comfort in the hard light of a commonplace frustrated life.

I killed myself a ton of times just by packing up my life and running away, looking for something new. Did I find it and just overshoot? Should I head back to where I once belonged: New York, or out on tour following U2, or back to LA? Or is all that gone, the time and the place having past, and ever forward is the only way? Should I reconsider that Costa Rica book? Is New Zealand calling me?

And if I get to any of these places, will I find what I’m looking for? What exactly am I looking for? I think it’s some balance, some calm, some excitement, some beauty, some truth. People I saw travelling the country four years ago on the last tour are starting to email me, wondering if I’m going out on this tour. People I’ve never met write, hoping I’ll get my camera out again. Are words not my thing anymore? Am I finding some truth with the camera?

This is why I haven’t written, why I can’t tell you a story now. I’m exhausted, I’m depressed, I’m doing stupid things with my time, and I feel like I’m going in circles. I wonder sometimes if I need to get off the writing thing for a while. If not to stop, just to stop pressuring it. I have too much crap in my head to stop and see things clearly right now. I can’t even afford to follow my passions, let alone reflect on them. But I’m going to go anyway, sleep in my car if I need to, take some pictures, drive ten thousand miles, see if I can clear my head, find some stories to share.

Quotes from two different songs on the new U2 album:

Love, won’t you lift me up out of these blues
Won’t you tell me something true
I believe in you

And love is not the easy thing…
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can’t leave behind

That sums up the mess my head is in.

Four pages later: no story coherent to enough to tell now. World is a jumble. Magic eight ball says TRY AGAIN LATER. But here are some ramblings for you; written on no sleep, barely edited, just like last time. Best I can do right now. Until I can figure out how to get the light in my head turned on again.


This was published on 04 Mar 2001.
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