From The White Album
For the past year, and even for the past 18 months I guess, everything I've done has been an unbridled success. That's a funny phrase when you think about it—"unbridled success"—but at some point it occurred to me, and ever since then I can't help it, it bounces around in my head like music.
I mean, what does it mean for something to be "unbridled"? Doesn't that mean it's out of control?
I had been writing on a book for a long time. I don't like to think about how many years it took up—let's just say a long time. I reached a point of exhaustion, a tipping point, and the work petered out, and then stopped. But I'd been doing these little drawings alongside my notes for the book. I noticed how many there were when I started gathering up all the loose pages to put them in a file, which I intended to put in a box, which would go in the attic or someplace—another unfinished project, another half-assed effort.
The drawings, of little cartoon-like figures based on characters in the book I'd been writing, made me laugh. I placed the notes in the file and the file in the box and the box in the attic. But I kept all the pages that had drawings on them. Almost out of despair, sighing, even, I sat down one day to organize them.
There was no idea at first. It wasn't a book per se, it was just a loose bunch of drawings, more or less in sequence, but with lots of ellipses and stuff left out. I made some more drawings to fill in the blanks, but not too many drawings. I liked the gaps, I liked seeing how many gaps I could leave and still have the structure make sense, sort of, still have it make me laugh.
Gradually, very gradually, I began to realize what I was doing. By then I already had more than half of what would become the first sequence, which would be gathered into the first book. Before any of that happened, I showed some of them to a friend of mine, an artist, and she responded enthusiastically, and casually offered to include them in a show she was organizing at a local gallery.
That gave me the impetus to finish them. Polish them up—but not too much—mount them, frame them. The idea, finally, without going into it too much, was a minimalist thing: how much of a narrative, or a storyline, could you get to come through in this bare-bones, fragmented way; but also, how much humor, how much character, how much pathos, and so on.
The show was a hit, and out of that came more shows, and then the book, and another book, and since then I've gotten grants and artist residencies, and the latest thing is a book launch and show out in New York. Unbridled success.
But here's the thing. Every time something like this happens, it feels more hollow than the last time. I mean the first time somebody bought one of the drawings, I was jumping up and down screaming. The first review that came out, I read it straight through five times, cried, and called my mother. But after a while, I don't know… It began to feel like it was happening to somebody else. I open a letter informing me I've won the Slerlus M. Peabody Award, or suchlike, and I put it down on the table next to the junk mail. An e-mail comes asking me to send work for a new show, and I don't even answer it… or, worse, I send a terse reply that's probably regarded as rude.
And lately I've begun to feel frightened. I can't sleep. I have horrible dreams. I keep doing the work, but as with the rewards, it feels more and more like somebody else is doing it. I've taken to reading artists' biographies to try and get some kind of grip on this feeling. Rilke, Camille Claudel. So far, it hasn't helped.
And here I am driving, and it's a beautiful spring day, and I'm thinking about the upcoming trip to New York and trying to relax and enjoy it, for the fiftieth time. And this idiot in front of me won't go when the light turns green, so I beep the horn. And here's the thing: the horn won't stop beeping.
Even after he waves his hand at me and guns it, even as the cars in the lane all start lurching forward, the horn keeps beeping. It beeps in one long, loud, high-pitched beeeeep that accompanies us for a block, all the way to the next light, and the people around me are yelling at me and waving and flipping me off. I keep my face calm, at first, punching the spot on the steering wheel that controls the horn, but it won't stop.
That's when I lose it. The light turns green and I cut a hard left, making people swerve to avoid hitting me, because I just have to get away from these other cars that were there from the start, from when it first began beeping. Somehow it seems better that way. But actually it's not, because now I'm just driving blind with tears streaming down my face and the horn going, peeling in and out of my lane, and no one knows why, everyone must think I'm crazy.
I don't know where to go. I'm a long way from home, and pretty soon I'm driving by a park, trees flashing by to my right, thick eucalyptus and Cyprus trees, the flash of golf clubs in the distance beyond them. I think of turning off the road to slam into a tree, and the only thing that stops me from wrenching the wheel that way is the thought that the horn might go on, amidst the broken glass and blood and hissing engine.
Then I reach a big cemetery, connected to the park, and it feels natural to turn slightly to the left and sail in through the giant wrought-iron gates and down the hill through the trees to the tombstones. At some point I let go of the wheel and take my foot off the gas and just coast. And miraculously I don't hit anything, the car follows the path and coasts to a stop by the edge of a pond with a fountain at the center of it. There are geese drifting along on the water.
And I get out of the car, crying, the horn still going, and I walk to the pond, and into the pond towards the fountain.
is a poet and performer currently living with his wife in Buffalo, NY. In 2011, he edited Jack Spicer's Beowulf
for the CUNY Lost and Found Document series
(with Sean Reynolds), and published Field Work
). Other publications include the books Translations From Creeley
, 2008), Ovid in Exile
, 2007), and SF Spleen
, 2006). He is the editor and publisher of Habenicht Press
and the journal kadar koli
. He began studying towards his PhD in poetics at SUNY Buffalo in fall 2008, where he directs the Buffalo Poets Theater. Current projects include a chapbook called "Sports" and a book of experimental prose titled The White Album
. He blogs at Primitive Information