Why didn’t I tag along (you ask, impudently)?
Because my mind isn’t ready for a vacation right now. Matter of fact, for some reason summer is the time of year when my Muse really puts the pedal to the metal. A good number of my novels and best short stories were drafted during the months of June-August. Maybe a hormonal thing, who knows? So, while everyone else is outside, barbequing or going to the lake, renting a cottage, enjoying yourselves, you’ll find me in my sweltering 10′ X 12′ home office, my door open, the fan on high to make the environment livable as I toil away on some literary project.
This year is no exception. My western novel, The Last Hunt, devours much of my time. I’m supposed to be taking a break from it at the moment but I can’t help poking my nose in, doing more research, scribbling notes, conceiving questions for some of the historians who have generously offered to lend a hand with the scenes set in Yellowstone Park. They’ll provide me with historical background, period detail and invaluable advice and input (and God bless ’em). I’ll be visiting that region of Montana later this summer, doing some on the spot scouting and location hunting. It will be my first trip of any significance in a long time (I blush to say how long). This borderline agoraphobic workaholic is trembling at the notion of being away from my desk for any length of time but I am utterly convinced of the necessity of this trip. It will better establish the mood and setting of The Last Hunt and add some of the authenticity I think the present draft is lacking.
But I must confess I have another reason for remaining home. It isn’t often I get the house to myself for days at a stretch and on those rare occasions that I do…well, I like to take full advantage of it. I play loud music, from the time I get up to the wee hours of the morning. I keep the windows shut, the drapes drawn and for one or two days I let myself go. Stalk about in my bathrobe, unshaven, neglecting the laundry, neglecting to eat properly, neglecting to answer the phone or interact with the outside world.
It’s glorious and terrifying and, ultimately, beneficial.
I sit in my office, staring at my slippers while The Vandelles, A Place to Bury Strangers, The Replacements, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, etc. thunder from overhead speakers, loud enough to force me further back in my chair. Lately, I like my music hard and dirty, a la the Vandelles’ “Lovely Weather” (crank it up!).
Meanwhile, I’m doing a good deal of scribbling—journaling and spontaneous or “automatic” writing like the Surrealists used to champion. These writings represent Rorschach Tests and they give a pretty good idea of what’s on my mind, the preoccupations and fears dogging me. Plenty of speculations on the spiritual front—I keep that up, I’m liable to end up with a gazillion page Exegesis, similar to Philip K. Dick. And will likely be considered just as loony, should anyone happen to stumble across these errant, inexpert ramblings on God, the nature of reality and my own pitiful existence.
These writing exercises often trigger intervals of hellish introspection, long hours spent reviewing past sins and ruminating over the sorry state of my literary career, even after a quarter century of putting words on paper. The mental boo birds come out and I subject myself to a great deal of vitriol before the nattering voices either subside, wear themselves out or are chastened by a very Bugs Bunny-like snarl originating from the depths of my id:
I have trouble sleeping when my family’s away, find the nights hard to endure. I kill time by staying up and watching a double or triple header of movies. Guy flicks and guilty pleasures; science fiction and thrillers given precedence. This time around I’ve set aside flicks like “Michael Clayton”, “All the President’s Men”, “The Searchers”, “Shadow of the Vampire”, “The Bad Lieutenant”. Nothing too crazy, re: anything by Ken Russell or (shudder) “Eraserhead”.
And for reading material, Terence McKenna’s The Archaic Revival and Graham Hancock’s Supernatural. Far-fetched stuff? Pseudo-science? To me, what these lads propose is nowhere near as crazy as some of the notions held by billions of people of all faiths around the world. I am intrigued by what triggered that “monolith moment”, when our kind first opened their eyes to the possibility and mystery of the world and took a crucial evolutionary step, moving further away from their humble origins and toward a spectacular destiny. This transformation coincided with the earliest cave art and the enactment of burial rituals, a species awakening to the existence of other realms and principalities.
Mebbe Bill Hicks is right and a certain humble fungus, naturally occurring, is responsible. I guess we’d need a time machine to find out for sure. Intriguing thought, though…
I suppose when all is said and done, my time alone is therapeutic, cathartic. I miss out on a chance to hang out with good folks, do some boating and fishing in some of the most gorgeous scenery this country has to offer. But the soul-searching, self-Inquisition and psychic ass-kicking blows off steam, relieves the accumulated pressures that accompany the creative life. In my solitude, I can confront my demons and it’s a no-holds-barred, no quarter given bloodbath. It’s not pleasant but it is necessary. All part of the ongoing struggle to define myself as an artist, to better delineate the precepts and ideals I live by, requiring me to identify aspects within me that are working against those higher purposes and undermining my essential faith in the worthiness of my endeavors. Demons, indeed, with hideous countenances, avid, savage expressions and appetites. They are the worst parts of me and during the next few days I shall brawl, joust and treat with them, in the end probably settling for another draw, a few more months of relative peace on the emotional/spiritual front.
You say that’s not much of a bargain but, then, clearly your demons aren’t nearly as unreasonable, their intentions not as deliberately malign.
For that, count yourself lucky.
You are very fortunate indeed.
Photos by Sherron Burns
The first one is a kook. Total whack job.
Rings the doorbell and right away starts babbling about ley lines and planetary convergences, everything explained by this crude chart he holds up for perusal. And all the while keeping his eyes cast down because he’s afraid of being “blinded by immanence” or something like that. It’s hard to make out what he’s saying because he’s weeping, practically vibrating from a combination of fear and excitement. The guy won’t be talked down or dissuaded. Eventually, he just wanders off, pausing every once in awhile to shout and point at the house. Weird.
But the word must be out because another one shows up the next day, an old man who won’t approach the door. Content to stand at the end of the walk, bracing himself on a cane when the arthritis in his hip gets too bad. He’s there until dark. And then he’s gone.
More arrive daily, most content to be bystanders, others bolder. There are all kinds of places on the internet. Conspiracy theorists and cultists and people who believe the apocalypse is due a week from Thursday.
A particularly awkward moment when a woman thrusts out an infant, screaming: “Heal him! Don’t let him die!” Closing the door but she won’t stop screaming. Rushing out to calm her, reason with her. And the whole time it’s “my baby, my baby”, the neighbors looking on with frank disapproval.
It gets worse. A steady stream of people arriving, knocking at all hours. The congestion creating a parking and traffic nightmare. It’s a quiet neighborhood and residents start to complain.
The police and authorities are, predictably, completely unhelpful. Initially dubious, suspecting some kind of publicity stunt. They check around, find the sites in question. Someone alerts the media, which means more unwanted attention, phone calls, requests for interviews. The situation only exacerbated when the Pope becomes involved, issuing a statement denouncing superstition and idolatry.
Uniformed officers are stationed around the clock, an attempt to keep the growing throng under control. Weapons have been seized, along with extremist literature and bizarre religious tracts. The situation quickly deteriorating.
Late one night, someone breaks through the cordon. Presses his face to the door, whimpering: “Libera me, Domine” and, as he is being dragged away, howling: “Miserere mei, Deus!”
Living like a prisoner now, never able to venture outside or peer from a window. And day and night, 24/7, serenaded by a continual soundtrack of prayers and hymns. Someone even sets up a loudspeaker and plays amplified recordings of rabbits being slaughtered and children crying—o, pity the suffering children.
Unplug the telephone, turn off the lights, sit in the dark. They’ll weary of this eventually, go back to their homes. Give them nothing to encourage their simple credulity.
Alone and besieged. Resigned and dangerously bored. Reorganizing the cupboards and bookshelves, performing a thousand small chores. Playing endless games of solitaire and, naturally, winning every single time.
© Copyright, 2010 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)