The seeds of my discontent and contrariness, sown by Watergate, religious dogma, and late-20th century consumer culture, watered daily by dystopian prog rock, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and Saturday Night Live, from all these and more came the first green shoots of who I am now.
And still fighting the good fight against depression, hopelessness, and bitterness. A mid-December 1981 journal entry spells it out: “Must check a tendency for cynicism I’ve had lately.”
Two weeks earlier I’d noted in the journal: “I’m bored at the moment but have a lot of things shoved back in my mind that I want to bring forward. I’m anticipating Abi’s next letter and the tape she told me about over the phone.”
Our pen pal correspondence was catching fire. And now Abi and I were calling each other.
But the contrast between where I was then, and where I was a year before, weighed heavily on my mind. A Dec. 13, 1981, journal entry explains:
“I awoke this morning with horrible, lonely thoughts about Lakewood, my life there this time last year. I think how it is now, perhaps sterile, quiet … no groups of people talking in the back of the Student Center; I thought of the lonely walk to school … the cold stone face of the building circa 1970 … It was that sort of ‘Death in the Morning’ feeling; of being a half baked human being; of living a small and local life, and of having come nowhere after such a long time.”
Hrm. A long time. As in 22 years old, 265 months, 1,150 weeks, 8,052 days and 193,248 hours. Hey, even 11,594,880 minutes if you really want to get down to it.
Not to belittle a sensitive young man from such a vast distance of time and experience, but to his credit he was starting to use his journal for more than just reporting the mundane facts of the day. Even to the point where there’s no record of how he—I—spent New Year’s Eve 1981.
The first journal entry of 1982 appears on page 11 of the National notebook, on Jan. 2:
“I’ve wafted in and out of depression lately. Abi says I’m honest about it, so I guess I’m okay. I’ve firmly decided that I will meet her in London this summer—late this summer, hopefully for the whole month of August. I don’t think… I think my parents would rather I don’t go; if I don’t go life will be the biggest joke, the most infirm lie … I’ve got the words but not the stories.”
After writing letters, exchanging mix-tapes and calling each other long distance, Abi and I made plans to meet. My 1980s “trip to England and France” quickly became a “Summer of 1982 Meet Your Pen Pal in Person” trip.
On Jan. 11, 1982, a Monday, probably after work at SOS Printing, I wrote her a letter, a portion of which read:
“My thoughts have been crazy lately … thinking of titles for pieces I’d like to write. How do you like this one—The War Before The Bores. Notice that it has two meanings: ‘The war that happened before the bores’ existence’ and ‘The war that is now before the bores; the war that the bores now must face.’ That last meaning has to be my favorite. Think about it. I wonder … what makes up a boring person? An egomaniac, a smug family man, an intellectual, a sportscaster? I’ve often thought of myself as boring; God knows I can sure turn my parents off in a second by adding a philosophical twist to everything. I think that as I become older I’m learning to become more interesting, perhaps more tactful in what I say … I thought today: my energy is—has become a secret. I used to jump around and talk loudly, red-faced, sharp-tongued, tireless. Now it is strange. I’m putting physical energy inside. Sometimes I could burst.”
That, I think, was when war broke out.
Because I was beginning to trust Abigail, I sent her some of the sharpest arrows in my quiver. From a Jan. 13, 1982, letter:
“What makes you think that a creative personality cannot also be a destructive personality? Didn’t van Gogh cut off his ear in a fit of quixotic passion over a whore? Didn’t the styled European Gauguin fuck Polynesian women only to suffer fever and madness? Didn’t Hemingway put a shotgun to his forehead? What makes you think that being creative just means being nice? How many alcoholic artists? Faulkner, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry … Perhaps not many but is living not upon the dying? Where does man get the idea that decay is bad? Who is coming and who is going?”
The journal entries of early 1982 mention nothing about working at the print shop, the routines of life on the farm, and little of anything that smacked of my fictional town of Dumond. It was winter and it began to snow—a lot. Student loan statements drifted into the mailbox along with Abi’s letters. I vented my frustration to her:
“I wish the hell they’d leave me alone and go off to fantasize their own capitalistic heaven and have their little middle-class wet dreams. I don’t think highly of those who think highly of money. My belief is that money is a means, not an end. You’d be surprised to learn how many people haven’t figured that out yet. And they wonder why they never win anything.”
More than just being lonely, I craved Abi’s attention, her thoughts, feelings—her voice. On Thursday, Jan. 21, I wrote:
“…I will be a lucky young man if I make it to London this summer. By God I want to be there; I’m willing to jeopardize my present career and family’s opinions of me for the chance to come see you and live the way I’d like to live; see what I’ve never seen; do what I’ve never done…”
I’d just outlined the terms of battle and was sure there’d be a skirmish—whether with the Family Project or my new job at SOS Printing.
“You see,” I wrote to Abi, “where I live and who I associate with in this place—all find it strange that I should just take off overseas to stay with someone I barely know and have never met … and think that I must be just fantasizing about something that I’ll never do; I MUST PROVE THEM WRONG. I MUST PROVE THAT, for my own life, I make my own arrangements, and spend my money as I please. If I do not do this, then I will forever be a victim of small-mindedness, inexperience and lifeless musings about what ‘could have been.’”
After she’d replied excitedly on Jan. 22, with a belated Christmas card to the Family Project, nearly a foot of snow fell on the Minnetrista farm.
But my mind was months ahead, dreaming of summer in London.
“Let’s be wildcats!” I wrote to her. “Let’s experience as much as we can!”