Friday, December 2, 2016

Short Answer: You Ain't Writin'

I live in Los Angeles, which The Economist's Intelligence Unit ranked right behind New York as the most expensive city—cost of living wise—in the US. Three hundred twenty days of sunshine per year. The Hollywood walk of fame. Rodeo Drive. Movie studio tours. Disneyland just 40 minutes away. This makes me everyone's favorite cousin, because instead of paying four hundred bucks a night for a hotel, you can just lay up with Danny. Doesn't matter that you haven't spoken to him in 25 years.

"Hey, baby boy! I see you out there in Ellay doin' great thangs 'n whatnot! Dig it—me and my lady gonna be out that way in a minute. Imma look you up. Maybe we can crash at your crib. Hello? Danny? Cuzzo?"

Dialtone. In full effect.

Thing is, I was a frisky lad back in high school. So much that, when stand-up comedy on tha B-side turned really blue (sexual, profane), the only bits I had that even remotely related to sex were jokes about how, if you're not careful, you'll wind up marrying the gal you shared a locker with senior year. No wonder no one wanted me on the Def Comedy Jam tour bus. "Maybe when you turn eighteen, Junior." Dammit! I wanted my sitcom pilot!

I digress. What I mean to say is that kids are most likely to grow up and make kids, which means you potentially have double the representations of your best and highest self to look at each and every holiday. Can't change your phone number and relocate without giving your own children your address (Wait, can you?). Seriously, this Thanksgiving was the first year I had not just my own kids, but my grandkids and their cousin—my only nephew—all the way home from Germany. That meant Thanksgiving had to be cosmically resplendent. We had to make some lasting memories. I had to. For me.

Thing was, my publisher, Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books, laid a caveat on the production of the galley prints for A Negro and an Ofay:  he wasn't gonna. Not without another edit. Seems that two thousand six hundred sixty-one instances of and was just a bit too repetitive for him. Go figure. I was all set to take my time with it, but then my main man and PR wizard David Ivester was looking for those ARCs. Something about helping me get famous or something. Ugh. Fiiiiiine. Whatever you say. Haaaaa!

I got back the manuscript on a Saturday. I had a big-ass bag of French Roast all ready. I drew the curtains, dimmed the lights, turned off my phone and sat in my writing spot each session until I couldn't see anymore. In the day, I rewrote entire chapters, using Eric's notes to improve upon my work. He really is a true artist, both as a publisher and an editor, and I'm lucky he leaned into my novel and found ways to make it better.

At night, I was so hopped up on caffeine, I went to the wine cellar in the Gardner Manse so I could relax enough to read my own damage, and to get drunk enough to resist the urge to make cornbread for dressing a whole ten days before Thanksgiving. "Maybe I could just freeze the mac and cheese and thaw it out. Wait, what the @*%$ am I sayin'?"

See, I thrive under pressure, y'all. The Chicago streets. Teenage homelessness. Teen fatherhood. Teen stand-up comedy career. Divorce. High-tech career. The dotcom bubble burst. Independent filmmaking. Driving cross country in a U-Haul. Auditioning. Novel writing. Losing a publisher. Gaining another. I'll be honest: I'm nice with mine. Life taught me to never say die.

Life also taught me to never say no to my offspring. I'm such a sucker for them, it's embarrassing, thus noooooo writing was happening the week of Thanksgiving. I had to push myself to ensure nothing would get in the way of my fabulousness in the kitchen, as there were too many folks who look just like me sitting at the table this year. I just couldn't disappoint them, and I didn't want to disappoint myself. For the first time, I had them all in the house with me at once, something I'd always wanted.

Yet what I've also always wanted is to be in my element as a creative professional, and be taken seriously as a writer. I want that book I wrote to finally come off, man. I want it to be the cornerstone—no, lodestone—for everything else I want to achieve. There could be no compromises, on either side. The only thing I could hope for was I wouldn't fall asleep with my face in the frickin' oven like I fell asleep face in laptop each night the week before the holiday, as I essentially rewrote an entire novel I thought I was done with twice before.

I can't tell you how A Negro and an Ofay turned out. It's up to other folks to decide what it means for them. I can say that, by focusing on writing when I could write, and not dwelling on writing when I couldn't, I think I did myself, my clan, and my career a damned fine turn. The reunion was wonderful. I put my foot all the way up in the most soulful Thanksgiving dinner I could produce. I got a great mention and cover reveal in that week's edition of Publishers Weekly. Everyone passed a print copy around the table, and no one got booze or candied yam fingerprints on it.

All that, plus I got familiar with new levels of maturity I developed over the years. I didn't bifurcate my consciousness. I resisted doing two things with my spirit at once. I applied whole heart and soul into what was in front of me and enjoyed the focus on the good. I think my novel turned out better for it.

I know that turkey was the frickin' bomb-diggity!

Good reading and writing, y'all.

- dg


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Maybe when all this family shows up at the door, hand them each a copy of your book and put them to work in another room, like first readers, that kind of thing. Then you can close your door and get back to writing. They'll be busy reading for hours, right?

Scott Waldyn said...

Rock it, DG. I'm excited to see what's changed and what new things you've added to the mix.

And yeah, I hear you. We make time when we can make time. Whenever I get time alone, the notebooks open, the laptop turns on, a new pot of coffee is filling up, and I'm back at writing about whatever the hell it is that I'm writing about. These past few months it's been robots. Haha!

Wishing you all the best! I hope your 2017 is phenomenal beyond your wildest dreams.