Homecoming

Mayfly started as short stories, ten years ago, in Wilmington, North Carolina.

I wrote the first one – strung out, hung over, and nursing a nasty grease-burn – while hiding in the manager’s office of the restaurant I was working in at the time. I showed it to this girl I knew: too cool for me, tattoos and funky hair, friends with all the bands in town. She liked it – it was less juvenile than the parodic crap I’d been writing in college. I wasn’t trying to be smart when I wrote it, or really ‘going’ for anything.  It was just how I felt at the time. It felt right. She told me to keep it up.

Fast forward: we move in together, get a dog, get married, split town, move to NYC, make more money than we’d ever dreamed of (keep in mind, we are poor by NYC standards, but wealthy beyond reason by gutter-punk standards). I struggle to juggle catering and cooking jobs alongside school; my wife gets a real job. It keeps the roof over our head, it provides healthcare, it is a soul-sucking corporate abyss. It takes a little bit of her everyday, like trench warfare. I try and help her stay sane, stay human. I write her stories while I’m in class, pretending to take notes. I email them to her. Her job is still a bureaucratic pig-fuck, but the stories help, a little. She tells me to keep it up.

After a while, the same characters start to show up, something of a narrative starts to congeal. The stories now add up to some five-hundred pages that I think of – in a heady, grad-school state of mind – as a late-modernist collage, a punk-rock Ulysses. It’s a barely-readable monster. But I trick myself into thinking it is a novel  and I show it to my sister, my wife, and a few friends. They fall into two categories: (1) people who actually kind of like it, or like me too much to hurt my sensitive-artist feelings, and who tell me I should try and get it published, and (2) people who know nothing about the publishing industry.

I’m just kidding. There’s only one category.

Still, I manage to get it to a literary agent who will actually read it. The reading takes over a year. I hear back. It is a rejection, of course, but what I will learn later is an incredibly kind and thoughtful rejection. The agent tells me the prose is good, sometimes truly great, and that my work is completely and thoroughly unpublishable. I think ‘that’s it,’ but of course that’s just Day One. My wife smiles, and you can guess what she tells me.

Fast forward: five years pass, we leave NYC (relieved and heartbroken, the only way people ever do), and return to the southern coastal town where we met, meet up with our old friends, the old dives, the old bands. I make new friends, but – in this town – they feel like the old ones. The cooks and tattoo artists, the punks and the musicians, my ersatz family: they welcome us back. It feels right. They know something in this town. Hard to put it in words, unless you write a whole novel. Or rather, unless you write fifty short stories about it and then rewrite them into something that’s almost a novel, and then rewrite that another five or six times. (By the way, if you’re a writer, and you don’t already know this, learn from me: this is the shittiest possible strategy for novel writing).

So, here I am, a decade later, not even close to the end of the long game, back in the town where I started writing. Still, now I have a little momentum, a few friends out there in the literary world, a wonderful agent, and – of course – my wife, who is still too cool for me, but who sticks it out with me anyway, and tells me, as always, to keep it up. She says moving back to this town is a re-do, a chance to do the things we used to do, but to do them better, to do them right. A revision, probably not the last, but the best yet.

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