Since before I could spell I knew I wanted to write. To tell stories. To entertain, but more importantly, to let people know they weren’t as alone as they might have thought.
I had taken a job as a technology coordinator at a boarding school just minutes away from my apartment. I’d taken the job to better support my wife and myself, but my soul was crying out. Constantly I felt like I was in trouble, like I was going to get fired, and somehow the money I made never seemed enough, though it was considerably more than what I had been making. The worst part, however, was that I wasn’t writing.
Sure, I might tinker here and there with works I long thought finished. The occasional blog post here and there would at once bring me pleasure at having written, and disgust at having written a blog. The next big idea, the next screenplay, was a long ways away yet. I hadn’t nourished the brain or the soul as one should after exhausting the muse. The only way to refill the muse, of course, is to consume new pieces of art.
I tried, in vain, with movies for months on end. But I felt bored and so uninspired that it made me question why I even wanted to write screenplays in the first place. Video games weren’t much better, but at least they were interactive. I was over superhero comics to a large degree – I’d read every Batman story out there worth reading – but the indie gems had remained largely untapped.
The week after Christmas I read The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips – a seedy noir about a screenwriter in 1948 Hollywood who wakes up to find a starlet murdered – the perfect catalyst to get my mind back in gear and thinking about stories again. I was grateful, and I needed more.
For a long time I considered Charles Bukowski the greatest writer – unmatched in his simplicity and severity. I’d read all of his novels except one – whether the title – Ham on Rye – didn’t appeal to me or if I was saving it because I knew after that, there’d be no more I couldn’t be sure. Either way, I did not feel the enthusiasm to jump back into his work at this time, though he had inspired me greatly the last several years.
I believe it was a Tuesday when I took my wife down into the Carmel Valley Crossroads for her appointment. The Crossroads had many good restaurants, possibly the best being Robata, but Lugano had seen some fine days as well. That day we ate at a little French cafe called Lafayette, and while I did not technically order anything, our clerk charged me for the vanilla-raisin pastry I simply asked about. The food was fine, the coffee was better, and I regretted that there weren’t better shops.
After I dropped my wife off at her appointment I headed to Old Yellow Brick Road Bookstore, at least that’s what I think it’s called, an old consignment book shop. I was looking for something, not knowing what, and had I known I wouldn’t have found it. I scoured the fiction paperbacks as I did at the comic and record shops – hoping anything somewhat interesting might catch my eye.
And then there it was: Earnest Hemingway’s A Movable Feast. I’d always avoided Hemingway as he had been my ex-roommate’s favorite. Funny how one annoying person’s love for something can spoil it for others, but thankfully not completely.
I thumbed through the first couple pages and I liked the prose – simple, severe, Bukowski before Bukowski. I looked at the back of the trade and discovered that this particular volume wasn’t a work of fiction, but a memoir about Hem’s time in Paris in the twenties, interacting with all the expatriate laureates, most notable of which being Gertrude Stein and the Fitzgeralds. The book was two dollars and I hoped to actually read it, as I did with every book I bought, whether I eventually did read them or just sat them on a shelf.
Luckily for me, Hemingway’s prose was a hook and I the fish. I hadn’t read with such fury and interest since my first Bukowski novel, Factotum. The big idea I’d been hoping for still hadn’t materialized, but that was okay because I knew it would as it always did, so long as I kept refilling the muse with new words.