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.

Would You Rather…

My wife and I play a game – sort of a sick game, I realize – when we don’t want to talk about what a mess the world is; essentially it’s ‘would you rather.’ Would you rather lose your arms or your legs? I say legs: I could get space-age titanium springs  and shave some time off my 10k. Would you rather lose your sight or your hearing? I say sight, because of music and books on tape. I’ve become fairly adept at rationalizing the best of the worst-case scenarios. But there’s one – my wife’s trump card – that always leaves me holding my head, groaning. Would you rather play music or write. She doesn’t enunciate it as a question because it’s not – it’s a fun way for her to watch me go crazy.

Of course, part of the question is ludicrous: it implies that I’ve ‘made it’ in one field or the other, and the demands of success preclude all other endeavors (plus, everyone’s suspicious of the cross-over hit: Jim Carroll is for me the exception that proves the rule). It’s hard, then, to feel bad for me – successful writer or rockstar – since I’m (hypothetically) living the dream, having succeeded in one of the two most overcrowded and economically Darwinian markets ever conceived. But – and my wife knows how quickly and violently this ‘but’ presents itself in my head – I can see myself, leaning against the tour bus, staring through the window at the new-release display of a Barnes and Noble. And I can see myself, sneaking away from the literati to an underground punk show, standing at the back in nice shoes and clean clothes. The look on my face, we’ve all seen before: the person you should’ve married, the job you should have taken, the life that should’ve been yours.

My wife knows this double bind will torture me; she smiles, gets up, pours me two – maybe three – fingers of bourbon and says, with a smile: well, for now you can do both.

And it’s true, provided I’m not terrifically successful at either, I can do both: play rock’n’roll and write fiction. I’m tremendously lucky that I have people in my life that will support the stubborn attempt to do these things (for very little if any money, and when I really ought to be doing more sensible things). So, that’s what this site is essentially about, what it’s for: a clearing house for my underground life: publications in literary magazines you haven’t heard about and rock shows at bars you’ve maybe driven by once or twice. And if I’m successful, if I finally have to chop off my left hand or my right, well then this will be the place to watch me go crazy.