Monday, May 18, 2015

Prologue

This is a rough first draft of the prologue for the memoir I have started writing. No, I'm not looking for feedback or anything. I just wanted to share it. Hope you enjoy it (all things considered).



Prologue


2010.

It’s the Fourth of July and my left hand wears a glove of blood. I’ve been sitting on the living room floor for hours, getting up only once to find something to end it all with, settling on a serrated steak knife from a kitchen drawer.

This moment has been steadfast in my mind for over a month. On April 23rd, Angelyn had put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. We’d had plans to get married, but to quote Ross Geller from Friends, “We were on a break.”

Blood drips onto the carpet and I feel fleeting guilt that someone’s gonna have to clean it up, but fuck it.

My laptop is on the floor with me, but I’m not looking at it, nor am I looking at the TV, which is also on.

It’s still light outside, but in the distance I’m vaguely aware that folks are already setting off fireworks. It’s very hot and very humid—Southern Florida, Pine Island, in July. I’m also fairly drunk, though not as drunk as I would like to be.

I’ve had a few false starts. Tiny nicks and scratches with the blade, though little to no blood. My mind and heart are telling me I’m worthless, no good to anybody. The world would definitely be a better place without me in it, all I do is hurt people, I am the sole reason for Angelyn killing herself. That responsibility is completely on me. I’m the reason she blew her brains out.

I’ve waited this long to snuff myself only because, right after her death, my mind fucked every which way, I was invited to Seattle to accept my father’s induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I had to stay alive long enough for that. It was one meaningful thing I could do before vacating this damn world. It also allowed me to see my son Corwin, and my mom and sister, one last time.

I know I wasn’t any fun to be around in Seattle. I was too fixated on joining Angelyn and getting the hell out of here. I could’ve been nicer to my family, even if I felt as though they didn’t give a rat’s ass about Angelyn’s death (it had only been a few weeks). I mentioned that suicidal ideation was plaguing my thoughts, though it didn’t generate much of a response. Really, though, what do you say to someone who tells you that?

I didn’t drink at all for the few days I was in Seattle, though it was never far from my mind. I’d already made the decision to take my life just as soon as I got back to Florida. Everything that had happened in Florida was more than enough to convince me that I was merely taking up space, existing in a place where a real life should be, breathing air that should be someone else’s.

Florida is hell for me, but for the most part it is I who has turned Florida into hell. From the moment I moved here, each day I’ve taken another step down a dark, deadly path. I’ve slept in alleys, passed out in swamps (finding new shoes was a trial), slummed it in flophouses and in beyond shitty motel rooms. I had a chance to make a new life for myself and blew it the very second I arrived. Many people won’t talk to me anymore; bridges have been burned.

More blood drips onto the carpet (I’m sorry, landlord); there is blood everywhere. My T-shirt and jeans are ruined. After the few false starts I’d finally mustered the strength, raised the blade and swung it down hard, cutting myself all the way to the bone.

Red gushes from my wrist and forearm, but there is no pain. There is no relief, no fear, just blood spilling over everything, and an inky mental blackness pushing its way in from all sides. Black and crimson dominate my vision. My family, my son, my friends are all bouncing around in my head, but they are muted, distant, and seem artificial.

It isn’t just the last month or so. I’ve had suicidal ideation since grammar school. It’s as though my whole life has been waiting, anticipating this very moment. Angelyn’s suicide is just the final straw.

And now I’ve done it.

There is no feeling in my arm. There is no feeling in any part of my body. It’s getting darker even though the sun is still out, and there are red filters over my corneas. I’m dripping. The shirt is red but the blood is redder, the leg of my pants has darkened but has a shiny blood-red hue to it.

Slowly, painlessly, I am dying. Every minute I feel weaker, sleepier. Before too long it should all be over.

A voice pops into my head, asks me if this is really what I want.

Yes.

I don’t just want it. I feel obligated—to the world; I owe the world my absence. And I owe it to myself to stop the pain and agony of simply existing. Really, it’s a win-win.

As my mind considers shutting down, the thoughts running through it are millions at once, hiccupping, jittering, flickering in and out like single movie frames. There are so many that a pile builds up into a mountain somewhere in the lower back of my brain. For whatever reason I’m able to feel what part of my brain is being used… it’s weird.

I’ve gotten blood all over myself. That heavy thwack has brought about an awful lot of the red stuff. I feel bad about the carpet, but really, soon I’ll be dead, and the landlord can only shout at a ghost, so no sense worrying too much about it. I have the last thirty-three years or so to contend with, and it’s all scrolling so quickly by and piling up so fast that my life up to this point is now just unhappy gobbledygook.

While everything inside me is muffled, I can still feel traces of sadness, as well as anger—at a lot of things. I’m mad at Angelyn. She checked out, left me, and I’m angry at her for killing herself, even angrier at myself for causing her to do it. This is what I believe, in my heart of hearts, I drove someone to suicide, and the anger of it reflects right back onto me, because I am the cause of her death, and the cause of so many other people’s misery.

Alcohol is a big part of it. I know that. Drinking has been a problem for a while now—I’d been arrested in February for a DUI—but when Angelyn left, this problem exploded, going way beyond what I could’ve imagined. With the exception of Seattle, I’m averaging between a fifth and a handle of Captain Morgan spiced rum, as well as a six- or twelve-pack of beer, pretty much every day, along with some Sutter Home wine. Drink until I pass out and when I wake up, drink until I pass out again. Too much pain, it’s the only way I know how to cope with things now, and it’s what I spend the little money I have on. If you hurt, and you find something that helps take the pain away, there’s a good chance you’ll do it, consequences be damned.

Basketball season is over. It had been the one thing kind of keeping me going. For a couple of hours each night I hardly drank, and was even able to enjoy a few little experiences. But now it’s all over, and again I have nothing. More importantly, I am nothing.

It’s just a matter of waiting now. The life is draining from my body. As long as I can be patient, it’ll happen.

More blood. The black has become much deeper, thicker. Still light outside, but my world is a black world tinted with red.

Soon. Soon it will all be over. Finally, I’m on my way out. Thank God!

Then my cell phone rings.




That's it for now. Some other pieces may or may not find their way onto Bloggety Blog. Only time will tell, I guess.

Until next time...



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Untitled Roger Zelazny Essay

This is another essay I wrote, a bit before the one I just posted. I do like this one better, I think. I don't think I ever settled on a title. In fact, I'm not sure if this was ever published or not. Any which way, here it is. Happy birthday, Dad.



                                    “From far, from eve and morning
and twelve-winded sky,
the stuff of life to knit me blew hither:
here am I.”


            I never thought I would ever be sitting here at my computer writing something like this.  The story I would like to tell is far too complicated.  So I shall tell another story, and shall attempt to be brief.
            Most children, at an early age, look up to their mother or father, see them as heroes, as mythical demigods, invincible beings, what have you.  They are our providers; they take care of us.  In a sense, they are gods.  I was not an especially weird child for seeing my father in this light.  When I was a little boy, Dad was the greatest man in the world.  He was my hero.  I wanted to be just like him when I grew up (more on that in a minute).  Unfortunately, when young innocent children reach those dreadful teenage years, for whatever nebulous reason, these same all-powerful adult figures are suddenly, in the eyes of adolescence, regarded as uncool.  They become the last people in the world some teenage jizz-fitter wants to be seen with.  I don’t know why this is, but most of us know that it is.
            I would be lying if I said I was not guilty of this same outlook.  I was nothing special, just another na├»ve kid who foolishly thought I could rule the world (with what, I don’t know).  Sometimes, though, I’ve wondered if there was more to it than that.
            My older brother Devin and I were both very much into horror films and comic books when we were kids.  I still love horror now.  My father noticed this interest we had and encouraged it in both of us.  He rented us scary movies any sane parent wouldn’t let their kids watch even after they had kids of their own.  He bought us comics, told us spooky stories.  I can remember being so young that I was barely able to write and I wanted to write stories like Dad.  But I wanted to write scary stories.  I wanted to remake Friday the 13th Part 3 or something, only in words.  Hell of a goal, huh?  But hey, that’s how these things develop, right?
My father gave me this old clunker of a word processor typewriter, the kind with the little LED display about the length of a stingy stick of Juicy Fruit and the body shaped like a reject from George Lucas’ model spaceship department.  Where he got this machine, I do not know.  I do know that I typed on it a lot, never much of anything special (I was just learning to write, let alone type) until the day at my grandmother’s house when I completed my very first short story.  It was called, I believe, “Ax Killer,” and it was a six-year-old’s conglomeration of bits from different horror films, sewn painfully together with no plot, no characterization, nor anything else of literary value.  Basically lots of “AAAHHHH!” with misspellings and little to no grammatical usage.  Still, I was proud of all two and half double-spaced pages I had cranked out. 
I took it to my grandmother, who was in the kitchen with my brother, and handed the masterpiece over with full confidence. 
What happened next?  What was my first experience in submitting a piece of fiction?  My six-year-old self was brought to tears as my grandmother dissected the piece, ripped it to shreds, laughed at me, told me I didn’t put a period here, I had too many Os in “bloody,” it was nothing but “AAAHHHH!” and “Let’s get out of here!”  It was terrible, it was foolish, and, basically, I was stupid.
I can’t understand why my grandmother would do such a thing.  To this day, I do not know.  That’s a whole other story.
I snatched the pages away from my grandmother, ripped them up in front of her, threw the bits and pieces at her, and then ran back to the living room, where I curled up on the couch and cried.
I didn’t write again until I was almost in high school.
For me, other than being just another goofy teenage hoodlum, high school was rough.  I wasn’t what you would call “stupid” but you might say that I was “unwilling to learn.”  My grade point average was somewhere in the negative hundreds, I hated the school I went to, hated most of the other students, most of the teachers, and basically hated my life all around.  I didn’t read the books assigned to me.  I did not do my homework.  I never wrote in Creative Writing class.  I got to a point with my Algebra teacher where I could waltz in, make eye contact with her, shrug, and walk right out again, at which point I would go to the parking lot and smoke cigarettes.  I did, however, read my comic books and other various things, and took up playing music, specifically the drums.
It wasn’t until close to the end of my eighth grade year that something changed, however small that change was.  It was quite a while yet before it would have any true significance.  My English teacher, Lynn Woodard, decided to take a break from the usual this and that, and told everybody to take out their notebooks.  For the first half of class we were to write a short story about anything we wanted.  For the second half we were going to read them.
I don’t know why it was that, for one of the only times in the past ten years, I decided to put pen to paper that day.  Maybe I was just inspired.  Maybe I’d filled my cigarette quota and my jack-off-and-think-about-girls quota and figured it might be a nice change.  Whatever it was, I wrote a story, connecting a random string of events with random nonsensical dialogue.  I understood stories.  I didn’t understand writing them.  I’d given up on that when I was six.
Like my father, I can be painfully shy.  When it came my turn to read, I refused out of embarrassment.  Miss Woodard did not relate to whatever my problems were, but she did understand that I had my problems.  She told me my story had to be read, and if it made me feel better she would read it to the class for me.
I agreed, hiding my face in my hands.
I can’t remember what the story was called.  What I do remember was everybody laughing—not because it was terrible, but because it was funny, because it was, as one classmate said, “entertaining as hell.”  I think it was the first time I got an A.
My father picked up my little sister Shannon and me from school that day.  The usual bullshit ensued on the drive home.  “How was your day?”  “Can I turn up the stereo?”  Blah-blah-blah.  “Oh, I got an A in English today.”
“For what?”
“A story I wrote.”
With an enthusiastic uptilt in his voice, Dad said, “No kidding?”
“No kidding,” I said.
My father drove along, smiling.  He sought an alternate route home, through a residential neighborhood.  After a moment he asked if I had the story with me.  When I said yes he asked if he could read it.  When I said yes he pulled over in front of some innocent, unknowing house.
“What’s going on?” Shannon asked.
My father looked at me with genuine excitement.  I took this to mean we weren’t waiting until we got home.  I withdrew the story from my bag and handed it over as he switched off the stereo.  I remember being terrified.  After all, my dad was a writer.  A professional writer.  A famous writer.
He read the story, laughed at what I believe were the appropriate moments.  When finished he handed it back over to me.  “I love it.”
Like I said, it was quite a while yet before it would have any true significance.  But that moment, that one drive home, changed something in me.  And though I still didn’t do well in school, I took a bit more to both educating myself and to writing.  I began running short stories by my dad.  He would always read them, no matter how busy he was.  Thing was, he would not help me.  Not in the literal sense.  He would not tell me about my structure or about my characterization.  He would tell me things that seemed obtuse.  With that great warm smile he would ease back in his seat, place his hands behind his head and tell me things that, unbeknownst to me, I was supposed to think about.  To meditate on.
I can remember, maybe two years before he was gone from my life, when he asked me to join him in his office.  I sat down across from him, at first nervous that I had done something truly awful.
“I just wanted to talk with you a little about your writing,” he said, “or your music, or anything else you decide to pursue.”  He eased back and brought his feet up onto his chair (he couldn’t rest them on the ottoman because his manual typewriter was sitting on it).  “Keep at it,” he said.  “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong.  If you know what you want to do and you keep at it, you’ll make it.”  He gave me some additional writing advice, some of which I’ve taken, some not.  One has to remember that even at this point I was still a stupid, self-centered teenager.  But I never let those words evaporate.  They’ve remained with me always.  And as time has passed I’ve realized, just like when I was a little boy, Dad is the greatest man in the world I’ve ever known.  He is still my hero.
I went into denial when my parents split up.  I went into denial when I knew my father was dying.  I immersed myself even more so into being a stupid goofball teenager.  I wasn’t there nearly as much as I should have been.
There are certain regrets I have to live with.  One I don’t have to live with, thank God, is allowing my dream to be taken away from me forever.  I only lost it for about ten years.  With my father’s help, I was able to reclaim it.  And I’ll never let another tell me that I’m wrong.  Life is too short, and this dream I nearly lost is the reason why I live.

“…Now—for a breath I tarry
nor yet disperse apart—
take my hand quick and tell me,

what have you in your heart.”





Also, be on the lookout for Shadows and Reflections, A Roger Zelazny Tribute Anthology, coming soon, edited by Trent Zelazny and Warren Lapine.
Featuring such masterful writers as Steven Brust, Kelly McCullough, Edward J. McFadden III, Lawrence Watt-Evans, S.D. Perry, with an introduction by George R.R. Martin, and an afterword by Neil Gaiman.

ISLE OF REGRET

So, I wrote this years ago. My approach would be incredibly different now, but several years ago is not now. Still, I like it, and want to share it. Today is my father's birthday. He would be 78 today. Happy birthday, Dad. Love you, miss you.



ISLE OF REGRET


Sometimes I wake up from dreams in which my father has played a role.  For a few seconds I truly believe he is alive, or has returned.  More times than I can count I’ve woken up just after hugging him, and no matter how many times this happens, once my conscious mind takes over and reveals the painful truth, the emptiness I feel inside is immeasurable.

I have accepted my father’s death, though I have never gotten over it.  Maybe one reason I’ve had so much trouble is that his books are everywhere.  Right now I can just turn to the shelf behind me and find no less than fifty paperbacks with his name on them.  I am a huge fan of his work, my friends are fans of his work—people read my last name, and sometimes they ask me if I’m related to the writer.  These kinds of things might possibly stagger the process, I don’t know.  It could also be a number of regrets I have.  Regrets about how I dealt with things when he was sick—how the whole family did, maybe.  I do have to chock at least some of it up to that I was a somewhat dysfunctional, self-absorbed teenager.  I wasn’t there for him—or Jane—like I should have been.  With all of my other problems at the time (now pointless by comparison) I was in heavy denial.  I did not believe that my father was going to die.  Or I really did not want to believe it.

 With the exception of a couple of pieces, I did not read my father’s work while he was alive.  Within a month after his death, I picked up Nine Princes in Amber, hoping that, in some way, it might help me hold on to him.  To an extent I was successful, but moreso, the book just blew me away.  I immediately read Guns of Avalon, then Sign of the Unicorn, and so on, and began to fantasize about living in Amber, training with Benedict or riding with Julian through the forests of Arden.  I became obsessed with the series (hell, my son’s name is Corwin Random), and then eventually moved on to his other books.  I have a special fondness for The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, Dream Master, and My Name is LegionLonesome October is up there too.  I found a love for his writing, as well as a newfound love for the man.  I regret not reading his work while he was around.  I regret never being able to toss one of his books down in front of him and say, “This rocks.”  I regret that I never got to tell him how proud I am of him.  

 But to hell with regret.  He lived through it.  I lived through it.  And years later, even though I wasn’t actually reading his work, we were able to talk about creativity, specifically music and writing.  It was great.  The man seemed to know everything, or at least something about anything.  As we had these almost nightly conversations, me sitting on a stool, him lying on the couch, I grew to understand how great and important he was; and once I had read his books and stories—him being my father aside—he became one of the biggest influences on my own work.  I have many influences, but when people ask me who the biggest are, I typically list three: Donald Westlake, Joe Lansdale, and Roger Zelazny.

 I touched upon this in another piece I just wrote, as yet unpublished, but I think it is important to share again.  When we are kids, our parents are the most important people in the whole world.  They are our providers.  They take care of us.  In a sense, they are gods.  However, at some point, when we enter into our all-important teenage years, some inane part of us comes to this bizarre understanding that our parents are not cool.  They become, in a sense, dorks.  I don’t know why this is, do you?  If you did not have this view as a teenager, you are a very special, rare breed.  Most every kid I know did this.

Fortunately for me, even if I had this outlook, my father and I still had a connection.  A connection of creativity (that and, somewhere inside, I did actually know that he was totally cool).  We talked more and more about life and what it meant.  We talked about anything, really.  When I got into the Beatles and the Monkees and Led Zeppelin, he already knew all about them.  We philosophized, joked around, and drank too much Pepsi.  He read me bits from the musical he wrote, read me excerpts from A Night in the Lonesome October while it was still scribbled on legal pads.

When he passed away and I began truly experiencing his work, I got in touch with him like I never had before.  It was clearly Roger, but it was a Roger like I’d never seen.  It was a Roger that not only knew about all the wonders, but had created a lot of them himself.  It was so totally cool.
            
As time goes by, I’ve learned that, at least in my life, things often come full circle, because my father is still the most important person to me in the world.  He is my hero, and I miss him dearly.

I still have the dreams.  I often ask myself if it is just a dream, or is he dropping in to say hello.  I guess, really, it doesn’t matter.  I get to see him every now and then, and from time to time we’re back on the stool and the couch, chatting it up.

I’m pleased that the work he created has influenced so many other writers and has entertained so many people.  I sometimes wonder if I had been truly aware of how cool and important he was when I was a self-centered doofus teenager, would things have been different? 

I regret to say I’ll never know…

But to hell with regret.

Roger, here’s to you, man.


Cheers.


(Originally published in Amberzine, edited by Erick Wujcik, 2005)