Raleigh, North Carolina
Amid this almost eery stillness, I began to look back at the past year, certainly one of the oddest chapters of my life.I had spent five months in Las Vegas––way too long, any way I looked at it. Enough time in the SF Bay Area to realize I would never be able to afford it. A stranger everywhere I went, divorced from the predominant currents of American life.
I was acutely aware that in any era but my own, 2014 would have been enough. This experiment in coming halfway-out-of-the-writerly-shell to meet the imperatives of self promotion 2.0 had been shredded by the great leveler, Buzzfeed Nation. Leave your brain at the door. Content must fit one, fit all. Bouyah. A belief in my talent had left me with a distinct lack of money, a feeling of pinch.
The issue, as I saw it, was that very few seem to be actively seeking out well-constructed writing. Had the quick-fire cry and response of the Internet age upset the brain chemistry of entire swathes of our population? Campus torchbearers of envelope-pushing discourse metamorphosed into hipster pablum? Those who once explored the intellectual outer limits, now wrapped in a vortex of device. Reaction to others' devices is not community, it is void.
In some ways my irascible father is right. We have succumbed. There is a definite lack of quality in music, writing, art. All the best original impulses fractured, the old rewards for honest effort vastly diminished. What is encouraged by those inclined to "break shit" seems close to drivel. Coding is binary, engineered systems coherent in a way that a life set down accurately on paper can never be.
A beautiful mess on the page is no easy feat. And those who decide what is administered to readers through feeds, platforms, search engine bumps have decided not to pay real writers.* What we have now reads like Dilbert––square and oppressively correct. Hyper-inflated headlines, underperforming logic. Clicks, likes. All in the service of the idiotic zeitgeist.
There was a time when those who defined the conversation did not bow to the whiplash velocities of twitter-framed opinion. When trolls lived strictly under bridges. Such meta-level influencers (once known as lions) are not easy to come by these days. The ability to dodge bullets and slow time, while doing the old aerial 360º, is exceedingly rare. Yet it is absolutely necessary in an environment where reputation has become a form of high-frequency trading. There are bullets to dodge from all directions. Gaining readers and viewers is a huge double-edged sword. You will get your head chopped off unless you are quick on your feet and have a thick shell to retreat into. Viva la Energizer tortuga.
Despite all this agony (and yes, I do take joy in kvetching), I was not completely dissatisfied with the trajectory 2014 took. Sometimes clusters of events occur that convince you there is a reason for it all. The highly improbable one-two punch of a Guinness Record poker tournament and securing a literary agent put me on the map. New acquaintances now fought their initial urge to take the piss when I spoke passionately of being a novelist. My aging father railed less often about a career at the post office being the proper setting for my minuscule intellectual capacities. External validation provided the lubricant that acres of self-belief never had.
And what of my muse? It had not departed. I had been home in my words like never before and was longing to get back. Deep in a nest of feathered prose. Bending words to meet neural meanderings. Fine-tuning sentences, paragraphs, pages. A perfect run of sounds. Tension shift. Release. Creation, shimmering oases and chasms.
Every evening I heard the train whistle through the heart of a small, no longer time-removed Southern city. It was time to take that train south to Miami Beach. And from there––wherever the cheapest airplane ticket would vault me out of the United States.
"Brand New Second Hand" is a work in progress, forged in the very public workshop of the EnduranceWriter blog. I have promised myself an existence in 2015 more close to my character––creative license to roam free from Internet deadlines, with full access to coastal sunsets. Not a stitch of clothing for weeks on end, a beautiful smile to match my own. Tribal flute playing at rooftop house events, creating the #fluteguy legend. Conversation with amigos, con leche. Let's see how it goes.