I wanna be a writer so I should keep a journal, they say. They say, keep a pen and paper by your bed for when inspiration strikes!
Who are these "they"? What the hell is wrong with "them"?
Last night while my mind danced merrily along on a cocktail of Benedryl, Robitussin CF, and Sudafed, followed down with a Nyquil chaser, a totally magnificent idea occurred to me. I decided I was the Raoul Duke of cold medication. The Hunter S. Thompson of the rhinovirus kingdom. If I'm going to be waylaid by alien RNA, if my cells were being pressed into service, creating a veritable army of genetic Orcs lining up to detonate my living being from the inside out, then I was going to create a legendary piece of writing while it happened.
After all, if Hunter Thompson could become famous for being beat up by Hell's Angels and eating more drugs than McDonald's has fries, there was a shot for me.
How many over-the-counter cold medications can one individual take before his liver explodes? What are the combined effects of all the cold remedies available in my house, taken at adult dosage? Will anything make me stop coughing? Will anything relieve the pain of my infection-blistered ear drum? Will I ever stop producing enough sputum to drown myself?
The brilliant idea that came to me was to explore story titles containing the concept of loathing while answering those questions. The quality of being loathsome. Worthy of being loathed. To loathe. To drink half a bottle of children's Robitussin and while hacking and admiring the cigarette-burn like quality of the pain in my tonsils, settle in for a little game of mental cat-and-mouse. Oh where oh where have I left my brain?
The problem with the word "loathe" is that it's too round. If you are not inured to the term, "loathe" may as well mean "to slather with saliva foam." Therefore "loathing" might be what happens to someone who is gravitationally downwind of a rabid dog, or pinned by Brent Marlowe's big sister.
Note to self.Brent Marlowe's big sister -- write about seeing her tits during a game of "truth or dare".
I was so confident my story idea would net me consideration by the Pulitzer committee that I wrote down this idea, for fear I would lose it. Again, at the time I was afraid I'd forget this. Actually afraid I would fail to recall this crystalline gem of a critical concept, destined to alter the life force of human society for all eternity.
What I learned in the broad light of sober daytime is that there is a perfectly good reason I don't usually sleep with a notebook next to my bed. Because when I have such a notebook, it is usually filled with nonsense like:
"Write about loathing. It will be great."
"The boy and the place with the big building and the hole in the ground with the empty slippers."
"Tuna Piano! As in you can't tuna fish, but you can."
Apparently, some inspiration should be left in the corner to dry up and blow away.
We each say goodbye to our father.
No matter how hard you try, there comes the time you depart and never see him again.
I will never forget the last time I saw him alive, and no matter how much I write it, it won't go away. He was sitting in a wheelchair in the bedroom that had been mine when I was in high school. The shuttle had come to take me to the airport. I was planning to return to New Jersey in several weeks to see him again and I told him so. He said something like, "well, only one of us will be here," and I told him to stop talking like that.
Kissed him goodbye.
He was dead before the wheels of my plane touched down in San Francisco. I turned around and got on the red eye back to Newark.
These days, I think about him a lot. Rarely a day goes by where I don't recall something he said to me, good or bad, days I hated his guts and days he was my best friend, times we absolutely didn't understand each other and refused to.
There are a couple things I believe, and one is that death is nothing more than a transition to something else, someplace else. Maybe it's like sinking through the rotating black hole on a Penrose diagram, and you pass through a space-like distance to an untouchable part of reality, an alternate universe where you can only communicate through the gaps Bell showed there were in the statistics of quanta.
It makes me feel that occasionally, my father tries to get in touch with me. It's that feeling you get when you're riding in a car and something makes you turn your head and look out the window to see someone in the car next to you, staring.
When I'm driving alone, and I feel that way, I mutter to myself, "Hi Dad," just in case. I can't stand talking to myself. But I squirt out a few words when I have to. Prayer doesn't work unless you say the words. Incantations don't work if they're conceived but not born.
Last week I was coming back from Henry's house, cruising at 70MPH down the long straight road from Berkeley to Los Gatos. Some guy was on the radio talking about dogs. About how dogs are not people and how lots of doggie problems are caused by treating them like children and denying them their essential doggyness--and my radio went slightly on the fritz. And I had that feeling my Dad was watching me, so I said, "Hi Dad."
And at that point, the volume on the radio decreased to zero, and then back up to where I had it.
It had never happened before, and has not happened since.
And I suspect, with all things like that, they mean exactly what you want. At that moment some radio interference hit me and ate NPR. One of life's numerous coincidences that are simply the physics of common everything. Occurrences that lacking a mind to perceive them would be otherwise unremarkable.
I prefer to think it was my dead father talking to me. I prefer it, because I want to believe it, and I simply refuse to accept an explanation that makes me feel less happy than that one.
Perhaps God will give me bonus points for my being conscious of my own belief processes.
There is a power in prayers, I think. Some would say it may depend on to whom you pray. I think all that matters is that you do it.
Bill Moyers did a whole documentary called "The Power of Prayer". Because he's Bill, he got lots of scientists and clerics involved, and the bottom line on the whole Prayer thing is that if you get enough people to focus their minds on something, they can influence the outcome of reality. Sick people, prayed for, get better more frequently and more rapidly than people for whom no one is paying attention.
Granted, this is all statistical. Some people who got lots of prayers died painful deaths, anyway. Some people nobody prayed for got up and walked away.
God is stochastic.
I also think prayer is bi-directional, full-duplex communication. When you talk, you get an answer. Why wouldn't you? You think nobody's there? Everybody's there.
Some days I wonder why I worry about anything. And some days it seems my world is ending. But so far, nothing has ever been as bad as I thought it was going to be. I say these things to the people I pray to and for.
What comes to my mind when I think about all of it, lying in a spinning bed, my head filled with different antihistimines and phedrines and whateverines--what my Dad says, and his father and his and all the fathers who have ever been left behind in the history of us--
my hallucinogenic dead father says to me: "Son, you will never have anything you want, but you will always get it, almost. You will work and fail. Over and over. And you have to believe me
that if you never accomplish anything at all, it will still have been worth it."
And then he laughs and says, "Merry Christmas, Ebernezer. There's still time."
Then my dad said to me, a prayer from dead fathers to their sons:
"It would turn all those tears to gold
It would slake all that thirst
You would never be hungry again
You could come up zero forever
Eternally second place
If you'd only remember
That I am on your side."
Crazy shit you find in notebooks.