Book Review: First Self-Published Novella "Letters to No One"; The Literary Schizoid Life
After three days of near-total madness, I'm sitting across from a doctor with a mask covering her mouth. She's staring at me intently, though she's not looking through me. Rather I am staring at her face, her green eyes, there's a mark adjacent her left eyebrow and I'm studying her to ensure that I trust her responses, I want to believe her -- I want to believe in her. It's probably been about 10 years since I last saw a doctor. Or maybe I'm exaggerating. I tend to do that.
Come to think of it -- the only time I ever saw a doctor in the interim between leaving high school, just about, and my twenties was to get drug tested. My dad thought my fucking up in school meant that I was on drugs. He tried lying to me about it.
It's just for the first half of the physical...
My dad was always a bad liar.
I'd pissed in that cup, thinking: Well. This is it. I'm caught with a Green Thumb....
"Okay," the doctor is nodding at me now, I've been pouring my heart out to her. Slightly. Only slightly. What I'm really doing is reeling off the things that have been going on in my head for three days running ... too sick to get out of bed on a Sunday ... Monday rolls into Tuesday with enough pressure in between my ears to feel like my head could explode or that my brain was on fire.
"Save me!" I'd cried out in a Wawa out on Broad Street. Nobody heard me. They probably would have heard me, only I hadn't said anything with my mouth. I was screaming on the inside!
"You have meningitis..." my brother texted me, my only confidante in life.
"No," I responded, "I don't."
"You could die." He said.
"I don't care."
Crying in a public place, holding a ticket, waiting for chicken noodle soup.
"Do you have a history of anxiety?" the doctor was then saying aloud, directly to my face, looking into my eyes, her eyebrows raised, looking benignly concerned.
"Do you have a family history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia?"
I'd told her that I hadn't been sleeping, that my brain wouldn't permit it. And when I closed my eyes: sheer violence had ensued.
I looked at my brother. He stared at me.
Because I was a "writer", I had bad credit. I had nothing, really. But words. And a desire to do my work. For days, I'd been unable to do my work. I'd gotten so beside myself with a frustrated sense of not being able to be myself that I'd climbed on the roof to fix a leak and shoved around a dirty mop, splashing the water down to the second-story...
"Uh," I said to the doctor.
I didn't know where to begin.
This novella is something I began writing during the first time I left New Jersey for Colorado. After a long period of aimless nothingness, I began to write. It was something I was always doing, I couldn't help it. I trapped myself in libraries and I read and read and read. There were entire days I spent in the library, away from everybody and everything. I read books in parking lots, even when I was working. In the morning, in between two/three jobs, I read the paper, magazines, my palms, the weather, highway traffic, street signs, body language, etc.
I couldn't help it. I was dumb and I didn't know any better.
The writing was an instinct, it came naturally. It may have even come-d-ed preternaturally -- when there wasn't even any grammar, just a long, infinite silence.
I came to the earth like anybody else. Wailing and moaning. Blue from head to toe. From the beginning, I was a philosopher.
That's what this novella is about -- at least from the very beginning.
After reading it for nearly the third time in about a week, making nearly two-dozen tiny fine-tunings with the proof I'd had sent out to me from Columbia, South Carolina -- I realized that all the reading was going to my head. The absence from human society. I was becoming hyper-sensitive. I'd needed to escape, mostly from myself.
Okay. Let's see. I'd taken some notes a few hours prior, at the bar, after eating a SUCCULENT chicken cutlet sandwich.
Earlier in the day, when I was ready to start taking notes for this review, I'd opened immediately in the novella to page 47.
"The only thing I can really tolerate is writing and reading. Maybe I should have considered journalism in my earlier years. I don't think I would mind too much if I'd been able to be employed by a newspaper or a magazine. Is it too late to venture down these paths? I'll be twenty-six next month. I doubt that it's too late for anything. But sometimes, on nights like these, it's hard to feel that way -- to be optimistic when your only companions are a stolen bottle of whiskey, two sleeping dogs (one, a total stranger), a dryer, a candle, and a radio playing soft classical piano."
I realize quoting my own words is an atrocious malady. There's a dedication page in the beginning of the book...
"nothing left to do but to be a writer..."
Some acknowledgment to the 30-hour trip out west, first time seeing the Rocky Mountains, a week spent in Austin, Texas, meeting girls who tossed me aside like moldy bread, circling around without a plan...
There was nothing left to do but to be a writer.
First 50 pages, give or take, are from when I stayed on in Colorado Springs for two weeks, in late May and early June, in 2012. Right after being in Denver for about a month or so -- and then taking off for Austin, Texas like a reckless Banshee whose brain was slipping out of place...
Here are some notes I took (on the novella) at the bar:
Colorado Springs. May 27, 2012.
Recounting life back in New Jersey. What am I doing here? Reading the paper, typing out my thoughts. Is life worth it? Shostakovich -- "I only need words."
Is my friend -- "host" -- as happy as he could be?
Left behind a love. Dangerous to myself!
Classical music and the sky on Memorial Day. Lingering feelings about unhappiness among friends and family.
Younger brother's tattoo: are these our lives?
Pg. 14/15 quote. "At the moment, I have four dollars to my name. I'd arrived here on Thursday night, with an empty tank of gas, and my bank account now remains in the negatives.
"But I am happy."
Anxiety -- no plan.
May, 31 -- fell down a mountain headfirst.
Credit cards/jobs, no bed/gf (19 yr old girl).
"I feel like I still have so far to go."
Can't talk -- depression controls everything.
"But someone has kept me here."
"I confuse the shit out of myself."
Writing poems, reading books, getting into debt, going to libraries.
Pg. 23/24 quote. June 5. "So I've made a supposition, that these letters I've been writing, here in Colorado Springs, will make up the necessary notes for the introduction to the Seven Years of Bad Luck Trilogy that I'm going to attempt to complete.
"I've also been writing poems.
"I go to the library as well. To log on to the internet, checking my email and updating this blog I've been writing. (Which I secretly hope no one reads.)"
Tried selling my car. Go back home?
"The writing is going to have to carry me through."
Self-loathing! Desperate letter to previous "love". Think too much!
Learning about myself!
Back and forth -- reckless decisions. Grocery store to write.
Pg. 45 -- June 15. "I want to be a writer. And I want to keep away from the things that we are told are the fruits of freedom and democracy. These things are illusory, they don't exist. We are given shit, wrapped in ribbons of silk. As long as this remains, I will consider myself an artist and writer.
"When the money gets low, I think I'll be changing my tune. Count on it."
June 20th - June 25th, Denver.
COMPLETED CIRCLE. NJ --> Denver --> Austin --> CO SPRINGS --> DENVER --> Back east.
DUALITY of Thought.
Pg. 50. June 25. Denver. "Why chase after something that doesn't exist? You found what you've been looking for, because you had it the whole time."
(INTERLUDE OF RETURN TRIP TO NEW JERSEY, SUMMER 2012; BACK TO DENVER AND COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO, SPRING 2013; RETURN TRIP TO PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, SUMMER 2013; THREE-DAY GREYHOUND BUS TRIP ACROSS AMERICA TO SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, BACK TO COLORADO, SPRING/SUMMER 2014)
People around a table hitting a bong.
Pg. 64/65. "...the newest plunge has landed me here. Eight miles south of Fountain, Colorado, on an old horse farm that duplicates as a ranch for six different livable houses. ... Out here in Colorado, and especially in the smaller American towns, one is left to fend for his or herself. One is able to do and be what he or she pleases. (We like to think so.) Not that this sentiment isn't present in the larger populated circumferences ... but this is just the ideal of the consciousness which is reawakening to itself. The New World is the Old World. And as the Old World is tethered, forever, to the Rat Race, more and more people are being shifted around -- morally, spiritually, economically. This is the physical state of being, Lost and Found. Or, in other words, it's a slumbering realization that moving on and being free is perhaps still possible in this Home of the Brave. All one has to do is reach for it. Then, there is nothing left to do but to act, to change, to find your own meaning for your own life. In your own way...."
Pg. 68. "G was speeding down Caterpillar Ranch Road. To the right, Interstate Highway 25. To the left, 600 acres of cacti and tumbleweeds. We passed Racca Groton Heights -- a road that went left and into the arid landscape, with a slight incline that humped over the dry desert and disappeared down into Heaven. We flew. G swerved over the double yellow lines, cruising by the curve, coming to an intersection.
"'I'll show you the back-roads,' he hollered.
"The wind was strong and the sun was bright and hot. Instead of getting on the highway, Giovanni steered us across a set of railroad tracks. We were heading for Fountain. I'd like to say we were taking the scenic route, but anywhere in Colorado seems to be scenic enough. So long as you have the right pair of eyes."
Pg. 72. "For entertainment, the TV was on a small wooden table, right in front of the middle window, of which three overlooked the ranch. There was no cable. No internet. No air-conditioning. Only, there was electricity, water, gas. And there was pot to smoke. I was anxious to see how it all would play out. With no job, and my shattered brains and heart, I thought that maybe this would be a good place to write."
Pg. 74. "Colorado was the place I went to find solid footing. Actually, it was atypically 'accidental.' Once again, I had died. Then, from the East Coast, I took off from San Francisco to continue with my literary life. A delusional, schizoid life, where I roamed and marinated in my own personal escapism. To see the great cities of this country, I had a strong desire for that. But I'd left that impounded in me, in Philadelphia, another stopping point in my journey. From Philadelphia, where I'd worked at jobs in order to pay down my debts, withholding the miseries of a life addled with coffee and cocaine. I lacked love and support. The only thing I had was a place to sleep -- again on James' couch."
Pain pills = rotting mouth --> idiots.
Pg. 90. "'I don't have a plan, man. I don't know what's going to happen to me in the future. We're all going to die. I don't even know if tomorrow I'm going to get eaten by a dinosaur. Or if there's some kind of cancer growing right now in my body that I have no control over, and it's just growing inside me, waiting to kill me.' With this he began mimicking a doctor: ''Well, I'm sorry. You have cancer. And you're probably going to die.'' He paused, for effect. Then he continued. 'So I don't really have a plan. I'm just trying to live. Today. That's all that matters to me. I'll worry about tomorrow when I can. I'm still figuring my shit out. I don't know what I'm doing or what I'm gonna do. All I can do is be myself. And when I'm myself, I just try to be happy with that. I know I have a great girlfriend. And I worked hard to stay out in Colorado. I love it out here, man. I can be myself. People leave you alone. They don't care if you don't have a shitload of money. See, people here come up with nothing. Most people here have stories where they were raped, or their uncles drank too much and abused them. There are so many meth-heads. Drug addicts. This place isn't like Marlton, where we grew up. Where everybody had their own car and spent their parents' money to go to college. People here learned to live with less, and just be happy about that.'
"Giovanni's diatribes were always amusing to me. When he went on and on, that was even better. I was slowly realizing that he and I were more alike than I ever would've known."
Pg. 93/94. "With my damn heavy heart, all full of buried tears, the library was about to close, I was checking out at the last minute. Then I walked outside while carrying the stack of books. An older lady spotted me. She had gray hair, wore glasses, looked very at peace with herself.
"'You must be a reader,' she'd said.
"I smiled at her. 'Yeah, I'm doing some research on the fundamentals of Colorado living.'
"'Good luck,' she replied. And with a smile, she walked off."
Up to Denver -- to work.
Pg. 103. "I got on the bus, which was late, and we headed north. Denver was about 70 miles away. It would take us over an hour to get there. In between the two cities, on Route 25, I watched the sun disappearing all purple and majestic behind the edge of the Rocky Mountains. For me, the bus rides I took always restored my wandering spirit. It's true, the buses were usually cramped. And the passengers, young and old, were tired and cranky and ambivalent. But I didn't care -- so long as we were rolling. That was all I needed out of life: to be getting somewhere."
Back to the ranch after two weeks in Denver.
People come to take furniture. I'm writing articles.
Meeting up with another kid for pills.
Pg. 116. "G came back to the table.
"'You'll never believe what just happened...'
"He proceeded to tell us about some guy, who came into the bathroom and peered over the stall to nearly see G's flopping member. He sniffed and snorted, G did, as he told the story, quickly lighting a cigarette, gesticulating with his hands. I knew he was high. Just a little. He looked at me.
"'What's wrong with you, man? You seem out of it or something.'
"'You sure?' He was staring straight at me, expecting me to tell him what was bothering me. But how could I tell him when I didn't even fucking know?
"'Nothing, man. I'm fine.'
"I guess that I was just annoyed at being somewhere and not doing my work. I was tired of being broke, and having to count on him. I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be free. Sometimes I didn't know what the hell I wanted. Or I just wanted to be left alone. Yeah. That was it.
"Danny walked away, saying he was going to take his turn in the bathroom.
"'I need to go take my medicine,' he said, grinning like a goose. 'Where's the bathroom?'
G told him. Danny nodded and walked off.
"'Here,' G said to me, taking out a pill from his pocket and sliding it across the table.
"'It's a five. Take it.'
"'Okay,' I said. And I threw it into my mouth."
Walking around Manitou Springs. Guitar players and shops/vendors.
Not on the same page.
Pg. 131. "He was standing in the front yard, about twenty or thirty feet away from the porch. I got over to him. He had the pot plant on the ground, digging furiously into the soil with a shovel. He had the hole ready, and he was then carving out a trench around the sides of where he would be putting the plant. Throwing down the shovel, he picked up the plant, removing it from the black container in which it was held. The sun was working good. It was late in the afternoon.
"'Hey, man. Can you hold this for a second?'
"I put the cigarette in my mouth and placed the beer on the ground. I held the pot plant in all its premature glory. G worked at the digging. I looked around me, at the hills and distant horizons encircling us. The sky was wide and open. The clouds were white and puffy, displacing the previous dark and stormy clouds. I wondered about the neighbors. But G suddenly removed that thought from my mind. He took the plant, one of his babies, and put it into the hole he'd dug. Then he grabbed bits of soil, covering and burying the roots. He patted the soil around the plant."
This is at the end of the book.
It's an amoral story.