Writing is hard; make no mistake about that. Any images you may hold in your mind of effete, indolent idlers casually pecking out romantic sagas as they sip cocktails and nip bonbons, pray banish them forthwith. Instead, fix permanently a truer picture of a gaunt, hunched, ink-stained wretch in thrall to a fat-cat editor issuing cruel, arbitrary deadlines from atop a golden throne purchased with the very lifeblood of his contributors, red pencil in one hand, flail in the other, riding herd over a company of woebegone starvelings trying desperately to balance raw sensationalism and journalistic integrity.
But how hard can it be? You wonder. Look at Mr. Stephen King, for instance, who produces a novel the size of the Mumbai Yellow Pages every six days or so. Or Mr. James Patterson whose annual output is so prodigious that libraries insist he pay for his own shelving to accommodate it. You may as well say that it's easy to make 90 consecutive free throws and cite Steph Curry as an example and besides, what they do is not writing, precisely. Mr. King mostly just spools out the same tired litany of scary noises, brand names, and childish revenge fantasies over and over. And Mr. Patterson actually keeps a warehouse full of former supermarket tabloid hacks chained to typewriters who flesh out his "ideas" and turn them into "novels" in exchange for table scraps and not being beaten.
As I again, from my omniscient position atop my soapbox read your, the reader’s, collective mind, you're thinking, Hmmm. That's rather presumptuous of you, sir, to criticize one of our best loved and richest authors. Stephen King is responsible for 80% of Maine's GDP and may be the most widely read and cinematically adapted scribbler in history. Who are you to sniff at that kind of success?
To which I reply, bingo. You've hit upon it exactly, the reason we suffer such deprivation and ignominy in pursuit of our chosen vocation. We can say any damn fool thing we want and have it, by virtue of professional printing, byline, and cover price, achieve a weight and verisimilitude unavailable to those who rant for free on street corners and at cocktail parties. Plus, chicks dig it, and that is really the only reason to ever do anything. Evolutionary science will back me up on this.
Another argument I'd like to go ahead and anticipate is: what makes the professional writer’s output so special? Writing is easy. They taught me how to do it in the first grade and I still do it every day.
Well, to start, there's my amazingly graphical powers of description, powers beyond the ken of lay scrawlers. Say, for instance, that you want to convey the idea of "red lips" to your audience. You would probably say something like, "Her lips were red," which is fine as far as it goes. You expressed a general condition of redness about the lip area and excluded all the other possible hues a lip might attain, but there is no more poetry to the phrase than a hair dryer’s safety warning sheet. Were I to tackle those very same lips, I might say something like, "Her lips were red like a tomato on its period." By the use of this vivid simile I have seared the concept of labial redness into your brain with the sizzling permanence of a hot branding iron. Never mind that it doesn't make any kind of real world sense. We all know that tomatoes don't menstruate, but in this very absurdity, paired with the doubling down on color, dwells its potency. Never again will you behold a pair of red lips without visualizing a plump beefsteak or roma inserting a tampon. You're welcome, and therein lies the difference between the professional wordsmith and you composers of shopping lists and picture postcards.
It probably goes without saying, but I would advise against attempting my style of descriptive legerdemain at home. You run the very real risk of appearing silly.
Hard, and getting harder — writing, that is — because if there is one thing a writer requires it's a mind of sufficient elasticity and curiosity to create something from nothing, and when there is literally only one thing on your mind you're effectively hamstrung. The single-idea model may work for some people — I could literally and happily spend all day reading about Jerry Philbrick's love for Donald Trump and the USA — but I doubt the readership is all that concerned about or interested in the fact that I'm getting out in a couple of months. Certainly not consumed with it, as I am. Oh, I'm sure that most of you support me in a general way and if asked would offer congratulations and hope for success in the big wide — I say most, there may be somebody out Comptche way assembling a posse as we speak, and I can think of at least one victim of mine who is vehemently opposed to my ever breathing free air again. (I cannot blame them, and my actions are a source of external shame, but life goes on.) But you don't need to keep hearing about it. My fixation, understandable as it is, does not translate to interesting reading. So let's just say this will be the last you'll hear about it. I am not going to swear to anything and possibly make myself out a liar, but I will try and ride herd over my anticipation as it were.
Meantime, though, I'll lay out the facts: ten weeks hence I'll be testing the theory that prison doors swing both ways and be conducted thence to the Ukiah Recovery Center where I intend to gradually reintegrate, bolster and solidify my commitment to sobriety and enter into a completely different relationship with Mendocino County.
When I was a boy I lived between the ocean and the redwoods and I thought that was a fairly ideal arrangement. I think we can all agree there’s something special about that species of tree. If the redwoods were Ents, they'd be the slowest, bravest, wisest, most thuddingly bad ass basso profundo Ents in all Middle Earth. They're solid, unclimbable grandeur, their amazingly permanent and eternal presence, comforted and reassured me in ways my incredibly flaky and inattentive parents could not.
We had a chart in our bathroom chronicling the growth of a monster sequoia in Ben Lomond, comparing it to a series of historical milestones, and down at the bottom was the reign of Julius Caesar. Difficult to wrap an eight-year-old mind around, and profoundly illuminating when it did as I considered all the millions who lived and died as that three tree grew — and grew, and grew. I never learned an historical fact in school that I didn't compare with the 200-footer in our own front yard, marveling that as Cortez bum-rushed the Aztecs or Father Serra bamboozled the coastal tribes, our tree was there, slowly inching its way upward, waiting patiently for me to get born and throw knives and shoot arrows into it. (My feeble armaments and slight stature barely enabled me to penetrate the bark.)
A short drive away was the ocean whose redolent, richly fecund tide pools I plundered for specimens, tide permitting. I body-surfed the waves, coasting into the break at the river mouth, reveling in the brief weightlessness and sudden onrush of speed. I fished and crabbed from the pier, hauling in my weight in seafood and dispatching it mercilessly. (I've since lost that ability.)
Now umpty-ump years later, here I am (was, will be) in even closer proximity to that very same ocean, surrounded by the cousins of those very same trees and I take no more notice of them than power lines or pavement. The ocean simply represents the point at which it is impossible to continue traveling west, the trees are a good solid reason to keep your car on the blacktop. I aim to remedy this oversight. Living on the north coast and ignoring its natural splendor is criminal, but that's the nature of Mr. Jones, narrowing your focus down so finely that whatever might be surrounding you is classified in one of three ways: as an impediment to procuring drugs, as an aid to same, or neither, in which case it is, respectively, eradicated, stolen, or ignored. No matter where you might be, from the Grand Canyon to gay Paree, from the Pyramids to the Pyrenees, drugs are all that matter. Thing is, though, they don't. What matters is one's relationship with, attitude toward, and feeling for the world and the people in it. To that end I intend spending a lot more time on the beach and in the woods.
And it's not just the natural beauty I've neglected, either. I look forward to visiting commercial concerns with trade on my mind instead of larceny in my heart, perhaps even striking up conversations with shopkeeps in the spirit of friendliness and not creating distraction. "Good morning!" I will say to the proprietor. “Beautiful day, right?"
"It'll do," I imagine the clerk saying, a little bemused at the raw effervescence of my greeting. He is under a little strain due to domestic issues and therefore not inclined to sharing in what appears to be unwarranted and therefore artificially induced happiness.
"No sir," I’d retort. "It's a day of rare and singular beauty, unmatched in splendor, potential, and multifarious wonders. We are breathing the free, clean air of Mendocino and the USA, and life is good. No, scratch that. Life is literally awesome, and you'd do well to appreciate that fact."
"Huh," he would say, as freshly minted gratitude and admiration slowly suffused his mien and then through a broad smile continued, "I never thought of it that way, but you're right. Here, have a piece of horehound candy. On the house."
Of course, the odds of my saying anything like that are exactly zero, and I have no idea what horehound is except it sounds more like a curse than a confection. But I'll say it and if that candy exists anywhere outside of contrived entertainments set in the 19th century I will track it down and sample it just because.