Everything is distraction, except

Okay it’s  a new day. New day, new week, new chance. New chance to what?

I quit drinking for a while, starting five days ago. Not like, I Quit Drinking. Just, I’m setting aside that particular joy for a minute while I sort out what is going on inside me. Not because I want to. No. No one goes into their basement because they want to. They go because their water heater broke.

And who knew abstention was such an active pastime? I have done all kinds of useless things in these two days. I ate three handfuls of white chocolate chips. I laid in bed and watched four episodes of a show I didn’t care about. I practiced clawhammer banjo for two straight hours. I wrote a dozen thank you cards. I listened to a podcast on writing screenplays. I made a stew out of leftover barbecue sauce and baby carrots.

All these things I would have done anyway, except the chocolate chips. I have a rule about desserts. It might be the only rule for living I ever consistently follow, and it is this: you can drink or you can eat dessert, but you can’t do both.

But the spirit which animated my Weekend of Sobriety was one of reluctance, inertia, and still, if I’m being honest with myself, escape. Alcohol or no, escapism is the one true sin. Because it dulls the knife of your heart. Your heart knows best. Your mind makes excuses. Follow your mind and you might end up safe, and your house paid off, and your sink clean, but you won’t end up where you’re supposed to be.

People are the same everywhere. We would all rather thrust ourselves into an activity – any activity – that might occupy our attention enough to distract us from what is really going on inside. Isn’t life mostly a distraction? And the distractions abound. For me, they are music (practicing guitar or piano or lately, banjo), reading, weed and alcohol, sending emails, posting stuff on instagram of myself and my life cast in a flattering light, running for 5 or six miles, watching baseball.

There are two things I do that don’t huddle together under the banner of Escape. Both are essentially painful: writing stories and writing songs. Consequently, I’m ever on the lookout to get out of doing them.

I don’t care what people say, writing is not fun. Not fun like, you know, fucking or playing guitar. Writing is an agony. For one, the actual generation of words, one after another, in pursuit of an end you know not what, is unpleasant. What’s worse is that, nine times out of ten, you read back over what you wrote, what you bled onto paper, and it’s usually pretty bad. Then your choices are three: either edit the shit out of the words so you don’t completely humiliate yourself when you show it to someone or everyone, or, let it out as it is and be the first to laugh at yourself. Or finally, keep it to yourself.

I have extensive practice in two of those three paths. For one, somewhere in my closet in a damp cardboard box are fifteen or twenty journals filled with small-print stream-of-consciousness drivel about crises imagined and conjured, which, once-written, were never read, not by me or anyone else, not once.

Then there are the manicured toenails of writing I’ve done which, inexplicably, have been bound into a book and sold for profit. When I was making the book, I read the stories many times – cutting out the fat, moving sentences around, deleting whole stories – until at last I had to admit that, like it or not, this was as good as it was going to get.

The third category, the middle one, is new. This is a blog. A blog is not a novel or a short story or even a magazine article. It is a citizen of a new world. A lesser important world, maybe, but a freer one. I’m sitting here with a now-cold cup of coffee writing down whatever is rattling around in the water heater as fast as it comes out, with nary an eye toward revision. I have conceded in an earlier post that it most likely isn’t pretty. But hopefully there’s something worthwhile in it, if not for you, for me.

This blogging – ugh what a dumb word – is necessary because I’m sick of staring at a screen for whole hours at a time while I wait for the characters in the story I’m working on decide to do something. I feel a lot of pressure in these other outlets – stories, songs – to craft my idea into something singular, whole and true. That is fucking hard. In the meantime, there are all these feelings running wild in the basement, and if I don’t herd at least some of them into the mason jar of a paragraph (God what a terrible mixed metaphor), I’m afraid I might lose them forever.

So that’s what this is, this blogging. Herding feelings. I’m capturing a few of the little devils so I can look at them more closely in better light. They might be helpful. They might not. I don’t really know. Everything is an experiment. I do know that, regardless of what happens starting 8 minutes from now when I go back into the story I’m trying to make, I’ll have this clunky exploratory exercise in freedom to draw from. It might not fix the water heater, but I might as well point the flashlight into a few corners. You know, since I’m down here.