As a boy I used to wheeze and hoot, until I couldn't take it anymore. I sat on the edge of my bed and cried for my mama, until my daddy got sick himself and came in and walloped me a good one on the back of my neck.
Then in middle school these fainting spells started flaring up outta nowhere. I didn't tell my dad about them. I didn't wanna tell anybody. Passing out is the kinda thing girls do.
I promise there ain't too many out there like me. I had the thought that writing about all the big health problems I've ever had in life would be a great way to use up time so I did it! Hell, I even called up my buddy Don to share what I'd scribbled down, and he loved hearing it!
Then he says, "Henry, you might be a great artist and just don't know it."
And I thought about that, as I tend to, and there's no sense denying how much I like writing about things. Not big things, and not a lot, but here and there I can write a nifty page or two about something in life. Real simple and plain.
I took writing classes a while ago. Quit 'em pretty quick. The teacher was this middle-aged guy who'd had some stuff published in magazines I never even heard of much less read, and also some book on alien abductions he put out himself. One good thing he did, he handed out worksheets to us students with exercises we could do to inspire our writing.
IDEA #1--A MAN ALONE
IDEA #2--A WOMAN APART
IDEA #3--A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
IDEA #4--WRITE NEGATIVELY ABOUT SOMETHING YOU LOVE
ABOVE ALL--BE HONEST
The first two I did before I quit the class. I guess that left a bad taste in my mouth, since I ain't even tried to do the last two.
I wrote some little story about a world where marriage between people and food is legal. I concentrated on pizza, since I imagine if a thing such as that were actually possible, most of us would choose to take the plunge with pizza. I wrote that in terms of wedding destinations, Chicago was like the equivalent of Las Vegas, and New York was like the equivalent of Hawaii.
I'm still pretty proud of that one.
Does Dr. Watkins think I have the proper temperament for an artist? I wonder. He talks "organization" and "focus," and those are a couple of slippery fish, if you catch me.
Cymbalta and I are about to celebrate our one-year anniversary. Used to take Topamax, until it made me start seeing things what weren't really there. (Tried to write about that-- couldn't even finish a second sentence!) Maybe if I could get it down, if I could really express what I've been through, I could make a fair amount of money and get some sympathy from total strangers. Because from family? Ain't none comin'. My own mother and sister call me a "malingerer"! It would drive me insane if it didn't break my heart. I once overheard my mother telling someone over the phone, "Oh, Henry is unwell," the sarcasm spread over her words like soft butter on a hard biscuit.
She don't know I heard that, though. Maybe I'll put it in a story. Let her find out that way.
I been writing since two years ago. Kinda late, but kinda not. Finding out that tomatoes were a fruit not a vegetable, well, that set me off. I started wondering, what else "conventional wisdom" out there is just horse frisbees? Humans use only ten percent of their brains--crap. Men think about sex every seven seconds--crap. Bulls don't get mad at the color red, and those "black boxes" on planes? They're orange!
So, I like writing about people who take something for granted, or who bank on assumptions, only to have the rug pulled out from under 'em. And always, always I have a lot of humor in my stories. People like to laugh, much more than they like to cry, or think. I heard somewhere once that a pie in the face is funny, but two pies in the face ain't funny. A hundred pies in the face, now that's comedy.
I couldn't shake what my buddy Don said. I called him back, just shooting the stuff, and then after a few minutes I go, 'Hey buddy, you really meant what you said earlier? 'Bout what I wrote?' And he goes, 'Hell yes, Henry, you got a real knack for words.'"
Okay, I had to concede that. But if I was gonna try and get some money off of words, I had to treat writing like a job, and ain't nobody gonna last long on a job they ain't qualified for.
Ain't no famous writers come from where I'm at, see. No famous anybodies, really, less you count that high school Spanish teacher who finished third on Jeopardy back in the late 90s. I still can't believe we threw her a party. Anyway, I went to the local library yesterday and found the perfect book to check out: The Personal Lives of Great Authors. (The library, boy howdy; I could get a few tales outta what that place has become!)
Now, I knew a lotta famous writers were big drinkers and druggies, but I wouldn't have guessed it was so many. Seriously! Guy who wrote Dr. Jekyll did it in just six days, 'cause he was on a cocaine binge. Imagine how quick God woulda made the Heavens and Earth if he'd just sniffed some white stuff!
Hunter S. Thompson took every drug he could find and traveled the country. Wow. It makes my day when I get up early, grab a cup of coffee and drive out to the pond.
Why did these guys drink so much? This book don't offer up theories, but anybody who's lived their fair share of life can take their own shots. Maybe they just gotta drown something in their brain that won't let 'em be. Maybe they gotta give the words something to swim in. Maybe they're scared and the alcohol kills that fear, boosts the self-esteem. Are writers supposed to be naturally scared? 'Cause I ain't afraid of nothing but God and the FBI.
Balzac drank over fifty cups of coffee in a day, every day. Just reading that little tidbit gave me a baby headache. Lucky I got some baby aspirin!
"He suffered high blood pressure, cramps and an enlarged heart until his death at age 51."
I don't wonder!
"Balzac believed that ejaculation would hamper his creativity."
Well, there that is. Don't feel so bad about never having read his stuff.
One of my favorites, Poe, drank all the time. Faulkner only stopped drinking to write. Drunkest I ever got was at a bachelor party. I burped a bunch the whole night and pissed myself in a hotel bed.
Hemingway. His stuff is okay, but what a goddamn wreck of a man. I've known more than a few guys just like him in my life--love the booze, love the ladies, can't handle neither one worth a damn. None of those guys wrote though, so no one could figure if they were geniuses or not.
Sweet Lord, I think I counted two happy marriages the whole book. Cheating right left and center, abuse of all types, Murder. Why go through the whoopy-woo of holy matrimony if you're just gonna be the same deviant you were before? That's what most of 'em seem to have been. Deviants. It's kinda unsettling.
Lotta hateful bastards. Racists, anti-Semites, woman bashers. Times was different then, though. Society deemed different things acceptable, people were allowed to have opinions and make mistakes. Dr. Seuss (before he was Dr. Seuss) drew some real ignorant political cartoons, really came down hard on the Japs. When he got famous and people did some digging and found those cartoons, he apologized. That was enough then. Now? Hell, there'd be book burnings and they'd pull How the Grinch Stole Christmas off TV. That's what people do now, some of 'em.
Man but am I glad my young silly days ain't result in anything worse than a grip of misdemeanor arrests.
Lotsa writers are undercover homos. I don't wonder.
One thing that suggests I should be a pro writer: I got a hundred great first lines. Every story needs one, right?
"Come on, you boo-brained bastard, get it goin'!"
Who wouldn't read the rest of that story? I mean, soon as I finish it, that is.
The women writers were pretty rugged broads too. (Well, that old Jane Austen lived a life as dull as her books-- ha!) As little great literature as women have produced, imagine there wouldn't be any if those broads had gotten their tanks gassed up regular!
Sylvia Plath, she's the male Hemingway--I've met a few like her. Drama queens. Look at me! Get with a man just to suck him dry, every which way. Some of 'em even baked their heads, too, just like her. Can't respect a woman who abandons her kids.
A woman wrote Frankenstein. Did not know that. She was a real piece of work too. Her mother was one of the earliest feminists. Boy howdy.
No writers with MS I can find evidence of. Lupus, but no MS. I had a real drama with that a year or so ago. Took that long for me to finally sit in front of a man with a heart and a brain and some goddamn guts. Doctors don't understand as much as we think they do, or want 'em to, and what's more a lot of 'em don't humble themselves enough to admit they don't know everything. If I ain't luck out and find the one I found, I'd still be getting drained of blood and exposed to deadly radiation.
Some of these scoundrels gorged themselves into early graves. I go a couple days a week without eating a bite. Not intentional, not always anyway. Just forget, and by the time I remember, it's almost time for bed. And if I eat even so much as a cracker then, forget it buddy, I'm up half the night.
Shakespeare had kids? What became of them, I wonder. Did they try and write or what? They didn't? Smart kids!
This creative life ain't the life for me. No sir, I think I'm just too healthy, too together, to expect much of these words, these stories. Who says a writer's gotta write to entertain other people, anyway? Hell, if you ain't amusing yourself, you're just wasting your time.
Jennifer Benningfield is a lifelong Marylander who has been in the (mostly) benevolent thrall of words since receiving "Green Eggs and Ham" as a birthday present. She's currently working on her first novel.