How did it change the course of my life?
Turns out, after examining my journals going into 1988, things didn’t improve, although my intentions were more solid. A couple posts can be gleaned from ’88 that, hopefully, make things clearer.
So, where to begin?
The old 1986-’87 journal announces an end-of-year “ongoing essay,” explaining the dilemma at the time:
“…this journal [has] been a bit of a pariah with me and I figured that if I want to keep a journal for 1988, I’d like to start out fresh (I already have the book in my possession). After all, this book was begun in January 1986—two years later and I still wouldn’t finish it until, at the earliest, the middle of 1988, judging by the ‘speed’ with which I’d ‘attacked’ it before. This ‘ongoing essay’ is really intended to be rather open—the point is to write stuff, fill these pages, and maybe through the process of writing think about the things I’ve refused to think about in 1987, [though] the nature of which I’ve resented, but rather than talk them out, as most people do, I shut them up, just as I’ve wished to do to others. If this essay has any sort of Topic, that’s it.”
The “taskmaster-like punishment” in the process is interesting: no joy, no felicitous self-discovery—just crack the whip and “find out who’s to blame”:
“I’d just read over some of the last entries from 1986 on and was surprised to see how short the year 1987 was in this diary! Just what the hell did I do with my time? Summer, drinking, parties (unsuccessful Kafkian adventures at best), working late til summer’s sunset (I don’t remember hearing crickets last summer) and sleep a lot of the time. Obviously, no writing…”
In the essay I recount animosities toward friends, who, I report “have little time for me. They’re all married and are in a great respect quite boring to be around. So whaddaya have?”
There’s a lot of detail into the rituals with “the boys from the office” who hit “singles bars and dance places … our minds have been pretty closed and we usually go to [the same places] rather than break new ground and go somewhere else. Reason being we’re looking for quantity of single women wherein one may find quality. It stands to reason if you go to some hick bar in Mayer, Minnesota, chances are there may be one attractive woman in the place, but among five horny and bored single guys, that just doesn’t cut it.”
“Anyway, the point is,” a “second sitting” quickly assesses, “the past year or so, we’d been beating our heads against a social wall upon which is graffitied AIDS, earning power, clever talk and power dressing. A handful of anxious yet handsome, clever yet shy, creative yet invisible guys do not an ’80s statement make. You’ve got to have ‘your label’ sticking out now-a-days, and we all, from 25 to 31, seem a little out of step. I think we’ve refused to concede. Everytime we go out, we try to make the best of the way we look by saying to ourselves: ‘Hey, so I look sorta shitty. But what a guy inside! Take me or leave me!’ Maybe that’s not a bad attitude. But in the ’80s, it’s a poor formula for ‘success.’”
Finally a “3rd Sitting” really focuses on the moment. I loved rereading it:
“All I’ll tell you is that it’s the middle of January 1988 and it’s snowing outside. Snowing hard. There’s a good possibility that, if the snow comes down all night, work may be cancelled tomorrow. I hope that isn’t the case in one great respect: I need the money. In another way, I could use the day to finish filming the stuff I have lying around from 1987. That’d be nice.”
Meanwhile, the essay gets bogged down in its own muck:
“Anyway, this bit about ‘1st Sitting, 2nd Sitting and so on; I don’t know. I thought—I just noticed something peculiar about the way I’m writing now—I’m rushing—scratching away with this pen like a man with a gun to his head. I know I didn’t write this way before. I recall down at school, in Iowa, I wrote in the journal like a painter stroking canvas, caressing each word on paper, relaxed. If you don’t believe me, then compare the past year’s handwriting with the handwriting around October/November 1984. I think [I’ll] break briefly to do that, and when I come back I’ll try to write slower—through sheer effort of will…”
“Well, I think I know the answer—much was happening then, and I remember I’d felt pretty happy, even in the most anxious moments. I’ve come a long way from then. I want to try to rehabilitate myself to the ‘old ways.’ I feel I will discover Dumond in there. I noticed the 1984 handwriting was tighter, more controlled. The 1987 handwriting is rushing to fly off the page, much I suspect, as my mind had been. The hand is, after all, only the talk the mind truly understands. It says more…”
Not sure what I meant by “rehabilitate myself to the ‘old ways,’” but “discover Dumond in there” was the hope that a planned story collection, “The Dumond Stories,” a follow-up to my first novella The Crowded Room, would finally see the light of day. Funny how I was more into thinking about writing than actually doing the writing.
You know, I wouldn’t be that young person again for all the tea in China (as the saying goes).
Where was that kid headed?