“My First Time”, via The Quivering Pen

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It was my great pleasure to guest-post at The Quivering Pen, a fantastic site for writers (and readers) curated by David Abrams (himself an excellent reader and writer: check him out, here).

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My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Sean Murphy, author of the just-published novel Not to Mention a Nice Life. Murphy has been publishing fiction, reviews (of music, movie, book, food), and essays on the technology industry for almost twenty years. He is an associate editor at The Weeklings, where he contributes a monthly column. He writes regularly for PopMatters, and his work has also appeared in Punchnel’s, The Village Voice, AlterNet, Web Del Sol, All About Jazz, The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal and Northern Virginia Magazine. He is the recipient of a Noepe Center for Literary Arts Writer Residency. Murphy’s best-selling memoir Please Talk about Me When I’m Gone: A Memoir for My Mother was released in 2013.

All My Firsts

Let’s talk about the first.

There’s the first story I wrote. (Original story: fifth grade; vaguely plagiarized ones where, looking back and with apologies to Edgar Allan Poe, imitation was the sincerest form of flattery: third and fourth grades.)

There’s the first “adult” book I read. (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, fourth grade. Huge mistake. Having seen the movies and read some comic book treatments, I thought I was ready for the real thing. It took me more than halfway through to understand Frankenstein was not, in fact, the monster.)

There’s the first success. (Being asked to compose and recite an original poem for an eighth-grade student assembly.)

There’s the first readership. (A series of features I wrote for my high school newspaper. For a teenager, a printed byline is as close to the big-time as it got, at least in the old-school era before social media and blogs.)

There’s the first publication. (A poem in my college literary magazine.)

There’s the first “important” publication. (A short story in another, better-known literary magazine.)

There’s the first in a series of unfortunate events. (Also known as writing workshops, wherein the cocky writer’s work gets, well, workshopped. Hilarity does not often ensue.)

There’s the first in a longer series of ceaseless rejection. (No comment necessary.)

There’s the first short story I knew would make me famous. (It’s still unpublished.)

There’s the first attempt at a novel. (Also unpublished. Fortunately, for all involved.)

There’s the subsequent, earnest attempt at a first novel. (Still a work-in-progress. Sort of.)

Nothing especially unique or noteworthy, right? All of these events or experiences were stepping stones most, if not all, writers will recognize and relate to. There is an evolution comprised of myriad firsts (and lasts), but what separates all but the most successful and/or lucky authors is what happens after the familiar epiphanies of the apprentice have occurred and it gets to the eventual, inevitable matter of perseverance.

The “first” that was, if not unique, for me the most formative and indelible, involved rejection and resolve.

Let me tell you a story: a famous writer saw a first chapter of this aforementioned novel. Famous writer picks up phone (people still used phones in those days) and tells unknown writer that he loves the material and wants his agent to look at it. Agent receives chapter, loves it too, and asks to see entire manuscript on an exclusive basis. Unknown writer thinks: this is it, the big break, the moment of truth, and other clichés. An entire summer passes, which is unfortunate. It happens to be the same summer unknown writer’s mother—who has been battling cancer for five years—begins to lose her final battle. By the time unknown writer’s mother passes away, the novel, the agent and the famous writer are about the farthest things from his mind. On the day of mother’s funeral, unknown writer makes the ill-advised decision to check his email before leaving the house. He sees the overdue email from agent. Something tells him not to open it, but of course he has to; according to logic and everything right in the world, not to mention the imperative of Cliché, this is the perfect time to see he’s about to be represented and eventually published, and this is the miracle he’ll employ to overcome his grief, and he’ll dedicate this book to his mother, without whom he could never have written it, or written anything.

Naturally, the email is, in fact, a rather terse (but apologetic) rejection.

And this unknown writer, in spite of himself, looks past the computer, looks beyond his disbelief, and looks out to whomever or whatever may be listening (or orchestrating this test of faith) and can’t quite believe hearing the words, in a voice that sounds a lot like his: “Is that all you got?”

No, this is not going to be the final, unkindest cut, the sign that failure is inevitable, the signal that it’s better to move on to other things, the message that it’s not meant to be. I’m not doing this, he thinks, because I want to, or that I hope to prove anything, or become famous (he has put away childish things). I’m doing this, he knows, because he doesn’t know what else he could possibly do with himself. He does it, he finally understands, because there’s nothing else he could imagine himself doing. And that the only failure is to stop. To be afraid, to give up.

It wasn’t the first rejection, obviously, and while it may be the biggest, it wasn’t the last.  In addition to death and taxes, writers recognize at some point, however resignedly, that rejection will always be on offer, for free, forever.

And ultimately it mattered only in the sense that it didn’t matter. Or, it mattered a great deal in the sense that it was not enough to dissuade or discourage him from stumbling down a path he made up as he went along; that revealed itself only when he looked back on another piece of writing and thought: Good thing I didn’t stop.

This was the most important first, the first day of the rest of my life.

My novel Not To Mention a Nice Life is now available.

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Where Writers Write: From The Next Best Book Blog (TNBBC)*

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(Link to piece here.)

So, this is the official place I write, in that there’s a desk, a computer and a chair, and eventually all final drafts of manuscripts (be they essays, music reviews, poems, memoirs or novels) go from there to here.

But a more accurate and less respectable answer would involve me taking pictures of my car, my work office or especially my candle wax and wine-stained coffee table, where I often sit, with legal pad, hammering out initial drafts in my recalcitrantly old school fashion. All of these places are frequent spots where I stop to jot down an idea. Or, even more accurately, where the ideas stop me and oblige me to capture them before they fly off to a more receptive and attentive writer’s muse. And the most honest answer of all would be to take a picture of my mind (not that this would be possible or something anyone—including myself—would want to see): I suspect most writers will concur that a great deal of writing occurs when we are thinking, or remembering, or trying to do anything other than write. In his autobiography Beneath the Underdog, the great jazz musician Charles Mingus recalls reaching a stage in his development where he was always composing. Through a combination of discipline and dedication—and to accommodate the urgent voices crowding his mind, demanding to be expressed—he found that while he worked, sat in a cab, or walked down the street, he was always practicing. He never turned it off, and that is the secret.

Ideally, a writer wants a space that is clean, quiet and peaceful, perhaps with a view to stimulate the imagination, etc. In reality, many writers opt for a place that minimizes distraction. If a writer’s space is too perfect and looks like something out of a movie, it’s likely they have spent more time worrying about what it should look like to be a writer. Writing is seldom sexy, and no sane author would ever want a camera on them while they went about their business: it’s intense, personal and often boring work.

So for me, being surrounded by books and pictures of family and a couple of my heroes (Miles and Coltrane), helps me feel equal parts comforted and inspired. Music is always on, although jazz and classical work best, as you don’t want the voices from the record competing with the voices in your head. No matter the setting, everything is as it should be when the writer forgets where he is, or even who he is, following those voices from here to there, in search of the story. These are the moments writers live for. The rest of the times, a proverbial room of one’s own is a necessity, but should always also be considered a luxury.

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*I am grateful to the good folks at TNBBC for giving me an opportunity to talk about my writing space.

Speaking of Miles, and Trane:

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Amazon Hot New Releases: Not To Mention a Nice Life

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The Birth of a Novel

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Today is the day.

It’s live.

Check it out HERE.

Grab a copy or two.

Help spread the word.

THANK YOU!

See below for advance praise of Not To Mention a Nice Life.

Sean Murphy’s NOT TO MENTION A NICE LIFE offers a voice rarely seen — that whisper of human suffering that comes from an insular heart. It’s as if the photo negative suddenly spoke, and claimed to be the real image, the real person behind the living color and magnetism of what we find in our everyday moment-to-moment existence. As Byron moves into and through his “Terrible Thirties,” and the dot-com. boom of wild heights and terrifying drops, we move with him… but we also get to watch, and be that cautious eye which only has to watch, and doesn’t have to be. Which is both blessing and curse in this romp of Americana, half FIGHT CLUB, half CATCHER IN THE RYE for the middle-aged. Regardless, I’m hooked — and want to stay that way.

–Jesse Waters, author of Human Resources

The world of work, life, and love changed seismically in the early 2000’s and Sean Murphy’s narrator Byron, like everyone else, has been scrambling to keep up ever since…or wondering whether keeping up is even possible. In Not to Mention a Nice Life, Murphy’s masterful storytelling takes us on an honest, searing, sardonic ride through the decade that wasn’t.

-Jeremy Neuner, co-author of The Rise of the Naked Economy

It’s early in that lamentable decade of the 2000s, and while the good times continue to roll in corporate America, they won’t be rolling for much longer—and no one knows it better than Byron, the Everyman narrator of Sean Murphy’s witty and wise firecracker of a debut. If you liked Joshua Ferris’s AND THEN WE CAME TO THE END, you’ll love NOT TO MENTION A NICE LIFE. Byron might not have a future, but Sean Murphy certainly does.

–Greg Olear, author of Totally Killer and Fathermucker

Murphy has provided a wry sendup of the manners and mores of 21st century American culture, which inspects all the Prufrockian frailties and foibles we carry through life.

–Martha’s Vineyard Times

Murphy has cleverly transformed Byron from Lord to dot-com shlub. Instead of chasing minotaurs through labyrinths, he hunts for meaning among the cubicles. Not to Mention a Nice Life is a wry, acerbic, and terrifying critique of the notion that there is really nothing left to critique. Modern Corporate America is less an enemy than a state of reality. They have won. We have lost. Byron, like the rest of the 99%, is left with layoffs, failed stock options and the slight possibility of love. Read this very funny book. Like, right now. And then pour yourself an ice-cold laudanum.

-Sean Beaudoin, author of Wise Young Fool and Welcome Thieves

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Not To Mention a Nice Life: An Excerpt*

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“You’ll learn to love it,” Whitey says, and while I’m not a gambling man, I feel certain this is a bet he would lose.

I drink too much and exercise too little, and—based on what I see all around me—I can’t figure out if I should feel grateful or dejected.

Grateful because half of the people I see are disgraceful: tomato-jowled fatsos huffing and puffing their way to a first heart attack. They are dressed identically: khaki slacks and double extra-large polo shirts that are still three sizes too small, tucked in so that their guts—marvels of sheer mass, spherical monsters poised to attack, or at least make a break for it, restrained only by those tireless belts, heroically strapped in their holding patterns—can do everything in their power to hold gravity hostage.

The other half are the opposite extreme, and cause me to question why I can’t summon the desire to stop treating my body like a temple of doom: these carb-counting, cardio-conversant, protein shake pounding members of the bionic boys club. These are the men who have nursed crushes all their lives, but are only now ready to commit and confess to the world how much they truly love themselves. The kind of men who had sex with their wives and felt like it was an act of betrayal. Men supremely confident to grow mustaches without irony, men who washed their cars more often than most people wash their sheets, men who never heard a compliment they could not improve upon.

Only in one place could one find so seamless a pairing of extremes: the golf course. Obviously.

“Wow,” I say. “This is even worse than I imagined.”

“You better get used to it,” Whitey says.

“How do you figure?”

“You better learn to love it if you want to get anywhere in this business.”

“In this business? What business do you mean, the asshole business?”

“Hey man, I’m just telling you like it is.”

“So what’s next, you’re going to tell me that I’ll need to fuck my boss to get promoted?”

“You should be so lucky,” he says, jokingly. I think. “If only it were that easy,” he adds, jokingly. I hope.

“Whitey, please do me a favor.”

“What?”

“Say something that doesn’t make me want to beat the crap out of you.”

“I’m serious dude, this is how business gets done!”

“Business?”

“Doctors, lawyers, businessmen. Deals get closed on golf courses more often than offices.”

As is too often the case with Whitey, I can’t help but wonder if there is a book people have to read in order to spout this sort of shit, or if it’s simply a result of assiduously avoiding reading in the first place.

“Whitey, have you ever heard of H.L. Mencken?”

“Who?”

“Never mind.”

“Did he win the Masters or something?”

“Not exactly.”

“Look, if you want to get your colleagues to trust you, do it out here, on the links. This is how you bond with the big boys.”

“Why the fuck would I want to bond with any of those imbeciles?” I don’t ask. “I only need them to trust me as far as they can throw me,” I think. “If you say so,” I say.

“I know so,” says Whitey.

He is right about one thing: everyone plays golf. I was almost surprised when I discovered that The Don and the rest of the honchos couldn’t be bothered to blow off six or twelve hours every week. Then again, they are probably too busy playing with money to goof around with golf; they are too busy buying golf courses to play golf. Myself, I usually sleep on Sunday mornings. Everyone else, it seems, is either on the golf course or in church. As far as I can tell, I haven’t been missing much. As far as I can tell, golf affords grown men the opportunity to accomplish two things: get out of work (or, if they are married, out of the house on weekends) and drink beer. Not that I’m necessarily opposed to either activity, but I usually don’t have to dress up like a frat boy from the early ‘80s to make it happen. And I certainly don’t have to shell out sixty bucks to ride around in a cart and occasionally jump out to whack my ball into the woods or in the water.

“Couldn’t we at least have brought some good beer?” I ask.

“You have to bring cans,” he explains. “That way you can cram them into your golf bag.”

“We could always not drink,” I don’t say.

“You learned to love it,” I offer.

“Eh…”

“You don’t love it?”

“I used to love it, then I got better…”

“So?”

“Now I’m just good enough that I hate it.”

“Oh, so it only gets better from here,” I sigh.

“You’ll see,” he smiles.

Here is the real kicker: a lot of these dudes will get up while it’s still dark outside so they can squeeze in a semi-quick eighteen holes before heading into the office. I can’t fathom it. And yet, I have no option but to admire that level of lunacy, disguised as dedication. Myself, I feel pretty confident that if someone offered to shovel free money into my car, but I had to show up before six A.M., I’d happily hit my snooze button a few more times instead. It’s already getting chilly in the mornings and early evenings, so I wonder what these sportsmen do with themselves during the winter months. Sleep? Watch TV? Get to know their children again? Anything, I reckon, rather than spending more time at work. And on that score, finally we find some common ground.

“Lookit,” Whitey says, iron in one hand, can of (awful) beer in the other, unlit cigarette dangling. “This is America!”

Reluctantly, I have no real choice but to agree with him.

*Excerpted from my novel Not To Mention a Nice Life, available June 17.

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Not To Mention a Nice Life: An Excerpt*

NTMANL B&B

In the elevator we all become imbeciles.

If two people fall on each other in an elevator, does it make any sound? No.

Condo living, if you’re lucky, allows you to avoid annoying things, like stairways. On the other hand, if you’re unlucky enough to get stuck in the elevator with someone else, you can’t escape. To speak or not to speak, this is the question.

I work with people and find I’m seldom at a loss for words; how hard is it to bullshit about anything unimportant, including business, sports, sex, politics, the economy, the environment, or the Internet apocalypse, anything? But for some reason, no matter how many times I stand there with people who share the same space (we call ourselves neighbors), the only possible topic of conversation is the one thing we all care the least about: the weather.

Even when I consciously resist it, some gravitational force, some irresistible element, something inherent in my nature takes over and before I realize I hear myself saying those unbelievable words:

Hot out there, huh?

Or, in winter:

Sure is getting cold!

And then we panic, pause and smile nervously at each other for the remainder of the ten-second eternity until one of us escapes the steel cage. And these aren’t strangers, they’re neighbors! Why is it that I can roll with the smiles and frowns and talk smack with just about anyone I encounter: on the streets, in the men’s room (only when appropriate and mutually consented, of course), at concerts or sporting events, even in my godamned dreams, but here, only in the elevator, I become a sweaty, stammering deaf-mute. I find myself wishing for scandalous things, like, say, situational Tourette’s Syndrome. Anything to inspire something approximating small talk.

Thank God for my dog. He is usually with me at these moments, and in his inimitable, honest (and wordless) way, he can defuse several seconds of silent agony. He lets his tail do the talking, and with the absence of agenda or guile, he conveys what humans have spent many millennia unable to imitate.

*Excerpted from my novel Not To Mention a Nice Life, available June 17.

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Not To Mention a Nice Life: An Excerpt*

NTMANL B&B

A few words about my commute: it’s killing me. If you don’t believe it, ask any of the anonymous near corpses suffering alongside me, their anger and impotence creating a morbid energy inside all these windshields. Let me put it another way: if my job entailed having sex with Swedish super models three-to-five days a week, at triple my current salary, I’d still wrestle with whether to willingly mire myself in this mess.

Maybe the commute causes cancer. It certainly feels like it, it’s certainly causing something. Carrying stress in the jaw, not to mention my neck, my knees, my nuts.

Everyone knows, now, that road rage can kill you—or at least cause you to kill someone else (usually the asswipe who swerved into your lane and then slammed on the brakes, just to let you know he’s there), so people are trying to control themselves, curtail those carcinogens, and the result is several thousand ass-cracks shut tighter than a cherrystone clam.

This commute is Pavlov, I’m a dog (that woman who just cut me off is a bitch), and a shot of bourbon is my bone. Or a beer. Or some vanilla extract, if that’s all that’s available. Look: as soon as this moonwalk of machinery grinds the gears of congestion, the first thing I can think of is how badly I want a drink. What the hell else am I supposed to do? It’s better than some of the options other people choose, like cuddling up with a couple of quarter pounders, or (the other extreme) running to jump on the treadmill, or biting a hole in the tongue or ulcerizing holes in their heart, or kidnapping and killing the kids from the milk cartons, or (the horror) going to church.

This is my life: welcome to the occupation. College already an unattainable memory, the farthest car back in my rear view mirror, all of us going nowhere fast, a million tons of muted machinery. We have to stick together, socialize to survive, roll with the punches or become road kill.

The sweet smell of manure holds sway. The hills are alive; at least the deep green and nervous grass seems to be, eager to stretch out and show the world what it’s been up to all summer, sensing the cold nights coming, afraid of hunkering down, dying and waiting in line to be reborn in the spring.

The fuck are you staring at? I hiss at the stranger staring at me in my rearview. Oh, wait, that’s me.

I’m not sure what I’m staring at, exactly, but it’s definitely not healthy.

Quick catalog: eyes too honest—or too surprised—to lie about what they behold; dark patches of hair in all the wrong places; sagging shoulders that seem to point in different directions; a lethargic slouch from hours spent slumped in office chairs and twisted around myself in nervous nights trying to sleep.

I wish there was some sort of spa I could enter—somewhere where all the CEOs go so that they can emerge, actually appearing human, although we all know they’re not fooling anyone.

I, on the other hand, could come out my old self again. Or, at least go all the way over to the other side and run with the pack where the wild things are. Where the law of the jungle is clear: kill anything you can, subsist on everything smaller than you are, all parties understanding it’s nothing personal, it’s strictly business.

The business section looks up at me, as if it’s actually innocent of the crimes everyone commits each day in its name.

Each day I read a little bit less of the newspaper. I’ve been through the cycle, it seems: starting with the comics, then moving up to the sports pages, then slowly grappling with the local news, then the arts and entertainment and finally, after college, world news. Nothing changes except this one constant: everything gets worse, always. It’s nothing personal, the world seems to say. It’s strictly business.

I recall, in high school, being vaguely afraid of the random sociopaths who may or may not have concealed switchblades in their skin-tight jeans (no one, to my knowledge, ever did) and mostly I was just afraid of getting my ass kicked. Until a few years ago the height of high school anxiety, for males, was getting beaten up in the locker room, in front of all the girls you beat off to. How endearing, how outdated. Now, you have to pass through a metal detector and armed S.W.A.T. teams patrol the hallways. And that’s just the nursery schools.

This is why movies are so miserable and no one bothers to buy books, if they ever actually did: because no work of imagination is ever going to equal the show playing outside, everywhere, inside, all the time. The world is a blockbuster and the final cut can never occur because there’s no budget and we’ve lost count of the cast.

You hear about embittered old burnouts who hang their Sunday papers in effigy, sacrifices to the gods that failed them, worn down by the information overload we’ve created (in our own image). If you’re lucky enough to actually live a long life, you’ve inherited the accumulated burden of memories: all that suffering, all those mysteries, all the injustice, all this pain. It only gets worse so you ask yourself eventually, inevitably: why did I bother?

So I’m reading a little less, each day, of the newspaper. I’m beginning to suspect that I’ll just cut out the middle man of middle age and stop reading altogether. A preemptive strike; apathy before annihilation, don’t let them take me alive, cash in some of this awareness for sweet, beautiful bliss.

*Excerpted from my novel Not To Mention a Nice Life, available June 17.

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Not To Mention a Nice Life: An Excerpt*

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These day trips ask a lot of you, almost so much that you find yourself fondly reminiscing about the good old days you never knew, the days when horse-drawn carriages were cutting edge business travel, days when people might have fantasized about a few hundred miles in less than an hour, not anticipating planes that make your mind feel microwaved.

Cooked on the surface but still raw inside, it’s all in a daze work as the cab carries me home through disorienting yet familiar streets. Survival suburban-style; a metropolis in transition, trying its best to live up to the image it was designed to imitate—sprung from the minds of forward-thinking people who are trying to recreate the past. On the corner high school punks stand beside a phone booth, making no calls; a quick right turn and I’m feeling the money dread as we cruise past several blocks of four car families. Being outside the city is safer, particularly if you prefer the sound of crickets to cop sirens. Eventually, I’m deposited in the middle ground of this middlebrow town, and for lack of any other options, I am relieved.

And yet. This is supposed to happen later, with wife and kids and a basement to be banished to after hours. I’ll deal with that later. I think.

My front door is the one mystery to which I have the key, but for some reason I still feel as though I’m sneaking up on a stranger every time I return from a trip; I’m not sure who I expect to see, who might be hiding from me, who possibly could have found the way into my modest refuge from friends and memories.

With Pavlovian precision, I make my way to the medicine cabinet and pour myself a bracing plug of bourbon. It’s more than I need or deserve, I think, but I don’t want the bottle to suspect I was unfaithful in another town, waiting for my return flight for instance, in a cramped and crappy airport bar at La Guardia. If this were a movie (I think, mostly in the past, but even today), I would grab my crystal decanter, filled with obviously expensive spirits, and administer that potion the old-fashioned way, needing no ice cubes, especially since I would never get around to drinking it, as it’s only a prop, a cliché. No one reaches for that tumbler these days (except in movies); the question is: did they ever? Even in the 50s? Or has it always been part of the script?

*Excerpted from my novel Not To Mention a Nice Life. Available for purchase on Amazon now!

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Not To Mention a Nice Life: An Excerpt*

She had a silver car.

Here’s how you know someone has gotten to you: when, a week, or a month, or a year (or more) after they’ve left your life, you do a double-take every time you drive past a car that could be hers.

Take a car, any car—any silver car—and it could be her. Even, as it approaches, you know it isn’t, couldn’t be her, you still look. Just to make sure. Just in case. Because (you think) the one time you don’t look up, you’ll miss her.

And?

And the spell will be broken; it’s like no longer wanting—or needing—to say your prayers before bed, once you lose the desire to believe, the magic disappears, faith dies. And? And faith in all things will die (eventually, inevitably) so you want to hold on as long as you can, hang on to all the things you can’t ever control, because those are the secrets you never want to solve. Once you understand what you’re seeing in the mirror, suddenly it’s all so much polished sand, it’s uncomplicated, explicable by science.

And so: even if you are in a different city, a different state, you should never not look, never not allow yourself to hope, because there’s always the chance that it could be her. Could be love.

*Excerpted from my novel Not To Mention a Nice Life, available June 17.

 

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Not To Mention a Nice Life: An Excerpt*

NTMANL B&B

What are you seeing, exactly?

Yourself, in a tux?

Maybe marriage was the secret. You’ve felt nothing at all like envy for your friends who had wedded—happily or not—and especially the ones who’d had children—willingly or not—in between, say, first job and the big 3-Oh. And you could see the simpletons on the horizon from your rear-view, left behind, not knowing what hit them, not wanting to know: the living dead. Okay, and what were you doing? You were holding out (you thought) so as to avoid those foolish fates: settling, cashing in the chips, neither ahead nor behind, contemporary but cautious, invulnerable but apathetic, respectable but repressed, safe but stifled, alive but not living. Average. Equal. Indifferent. Existing. Okay.

Maybe the secret is that there is no secret. People with families—real people—look the way they do for a reason: they’re real; they have families. Once kids become part of the equation, you’re obliged (or allowed?) to stop worrying so much about yourself. Plenty of parents still want to go out and stumble back from a long night at a bar (and some still do); they’d all like to cut loose on occasion, they just can’t afford to.

So, was it the societally induced, cliché-laden, baggage-buried trigger of turning thirty that awakened the yearning—bordering on panic—which you’d long since grown accustomed to feeling? The clock ticking, or the spirit (understandably?) waning, human patience expiring, realistic, even healthy, skepticism about the passage of time and the consequences of inertia? Was your heart betraying you or your brain warning you, or some unkind combination of the two, shaken up in the martini tumbler of circumstance, this chemical chaos of living in the very early twenty-first century?

Were you losing faith? Or were you realizing (too soon, morbidly) what you’d be missing later in life?

Who are you seeing, exactly?

Look around; look at all these people, equally motivated or miserable or misguided, as well as the handful of hard cases, who’d somehow never figured out how not to be happy. All those people; the same person.

And, you know: Once you reach the age where you want to begin lying about how old you are (signified by the day you begin losing the hair on your head and find it turning up in places it has no business being, like your back, your shoulders, your ears and especially your nose) you want to slow down, avoid the wreckage that is ruining everyone around you. You spend your formative years cultivating your own unique set of issues and get to a certain age (some people actually become adults) where you realize you have issues, and they’re the only things you own that no one else wants. Then you work toward eradicating your issues, and the strongest amongst us survive and eventually some of them make money sitting there, listening to people (who are paying them) talk about their issues. Then, inevitably, sitting around and listening to people talk about their issues helps them develop an accelerated, more complicated set of issues. No one gets out of here unscathed, and you may think you’ve got life beat, but it waits, then sucker punches you in sudden death overtime.

And, you think: you’ll never be that guy. The guy who sits on toilet seats without a second thought; who might use the restroom half a dozen times a day and look at himself in the mirror once, or twice, tops; who actually doesn’t mind—or, perhaps, secretly prefers—lukewarm coffee (or, worse, decaf, or, worst, the kind served over ice for five bucks and change); who can eat bologna sandwiches and avoid meat (even bologna) on Fridays during Lent; who believes that God blesses America and that Jesus Christ is a capitalist; who can relate to anyone playing or providing commentary on a game of golf; who buys clothes—or food, or appliances, or fiancées for that matter—from a catalog; who is actually entertained by movies, or books, or albums, or people that put entertainment before aesthetic, or amusement before honesty; or sales before soul. You’ll never, in short, be a normal person.

*Excerpted from my novel Not To Mention a Nice Life, available June 17.

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