What Today Brings
A nice fellow casually tells you in passing that his father is a murderer, that he killed, “lots of people.” A sixties icon, a rock star of sorts, who has grown ever more selfish, alcoholic and lacking in all grace, demonstrates her iciness, lack of “good breeding” and complete absence of class and empathy during a weekend spent together at mutual friends. A caretaker presenting herself as a healthcare professional with her own company steals pills and plots a scam to get her falsely certified workers into your house so she can make a profit. The robust woman tells you she did not steal the Ambien, in fact she spoke to a judge who informed her, she informs you, that you can’t sell Ambien so why would she steal it? She swears she does not take drugs, spreads false rumors among the staff, creates an atmosphere of chaos and offers up her urine even though you didn’t ask for a drug test. She is found dead of an overdose with a needle between her toes and is discovered to be a regular at the methadone clinic. Whose story is this to tell? Is it yours? Is it hers even though she would never and now can’t ever tell it? Some might think it amoral to disclose such cacophony, I am of the mind that it is just their dumb luck to have lived out their personal madness in the presence of a writer.
“Writers are always pissing somebody off,” my cousin said. I suppose it is an occupational hazard. Zelda Fitzgerald was absolutely furious with her husband Scott when he portrayed her in his books as a flighty, spoiled flapper. It broke Marilyn Monroe’s heart to see in black and white what her husband Arthur Miller really thought about her when she read the screenplay, “The Misfits,” and had to perform a version of herself that was both degrading and humiliating. My hero, Joan Didion, exposed hundreds of famous, infamous and just plain nutty characters across California in her critically acclaimed, “The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem” from her work as a journalist. Another literary hero, Kentucky’s own shameful and shameless Hunter S. Thompson, did not bother himself with a moral stance as he chronicled his life alongside those he found interesting in one way or another in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” and “The Rum Diary” among others.
As I begin in earnest to write my second book, which in its current incarnation is non-fiction, I decided to call it fiction. I struggle to weave these hysterical and tragic stories together and wonder how many enemies I might make in the process. Ann Lamott once said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I tend to agree with her, because how else can we explore the human condition and the way our fellow human beings conduct themselves as they make their way from cradle to grave. If you fancy yourself a truth teller, a person who has a knack for holding a mirror up to a specific culture in order to share and understand, to inform and entertain, you must take risks. You have to risk backlash and measure that backlash to the reward, whether that reward is the satisfaction of recording disparate ways people conduct themselves or just the satisfaction of gathering witnesses to your own experience so as not to carry the weight of memory alone.
As an artist you can only give what you have to give. “Press your soul against the page,” Kentucky screenwriter and author, Charles Edward Pogue, told a group of writers at the Carnegie Center last weekend. My soul is heavy with stories to share and I am going to share them. I hope some of you will enjoy. I hope they give you a chuckle and perhaps some deeper insight into this whole exercise called life as we all continue to make our way through the best we can.