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Midnight Pub

I've been away a while...


...and I've missed the Midnight. It's a cozy little place, just right for passing some time writing while nursing a White Lady or taking out a column of Screaming Nazis (1 part Rumple Minz + 1 part Jägermeister) — not that I've done that sort of serious drinking since college since it turns out I'm not a happy, friendly drunk.

Nevertheless... ~bartender, I could use a White Lady over here. This might take a while.

Mourning No More

My father died in June of pancreatic cancer complicated by two improperly treated concussions. EMTs should have taken him to the hospital the first time he fell, but he insisted he was OK. Next day he falls again. The last time I saw him alive, I was sitting there reading The Lord of the Rings to him because he had sat outside the delivery room reading that when I was born. For some reason I thought it could close the circle or something.

He didn't recognize me. He barely recognized my mother. He was barely human at the end, not so much a man as a wounded animal dying slowly with nobody to grant him quietus.

I've been grieving him since December when he called to tell me about his diagnosis. I knew he was probably fucked. He knew he was probably fucked. But we didn't belabor the issue; he had more pressing concerns. He wanted to know I would take care of his wife (my mother) even though we were estranged because she had been disrespectful to my wife one time too many.

I promised him I would.

I kept my promise, to the letter and to the penny. My wife helped; she was there when my father passed, and I was at work because I had a job during the plague and she didn't. Even though neither of us were vaccinated we were there, wearing masks to minimize our risk.

Less than two weeks after my father's cremation my mother told me to "stay out of her affairs". If she thinks she can manage without me and my wife, she's welcome to try. I said my goodbyes without her. I set off fireworks in his honor on the Fourth of July, drinking cheap beer like he used to — and I poured out half of every can I opened before tasting it as a libation to his shade.

The thing is, even though I loved my father I knew he was not only abusive at times himself, but he was abusive toward me and my brother in order to enable my mother's abusive behavior. My mother is emotionally and verbally abusive. But if I stood up to her, I was being disrespectful to my father's wife, and that's when he'd hit me.

For that reason and my mother's final demand that I leave her alone, I don't consider myself obligated to continue trying to honor any promise I made to him while he was still alive. Nor do I feel obligated to mourn him any longer.

Moving On

One positive thing that came out of my father's death was the realization that because of my dependence on computers as a writer I wasn't necessarily going to leave anything tangible behind when my time to die finally comes. Sure, there are records with my name on them in the US Copyright Office, and there are copyright certs in my safe, but those aren't artifacts I made with my own hands.

For some reason it occurred to me to look into fountain pens for left-handed writers. A few sites recommended the Pilot Metropolitan so I bought one in basic black with a pack of spare cartridges and stole one of the cheap marble composition notebooks my wife buys for her own writing projects. Once I got used to writing with a fountain pen I found it much more pleasant than my memories of writing with ballpoints. I didn't have to press the nib into the paper. I didn't have to force the pen. I needed only guide it.

Just before Labor Day (9/3 this year in the US) I was at Barnes & Noble with my wife and saw a big Moleskine display on my way to the crapper. I had a look at it on my way back and found the prices extortionate. (Moleskine is basically the Apple of fancy paper notebooks. You don't get much for the money; it's all about the brand and the image.) However, somebody had left a hardcover dot-ruled A5 notebook manufactured by a German outfit called Leuchtturm1917, and the motto printed on the detachable wrap-around label — “Denken mit der Hand” (“Writing by hand is thinking on paper.”) — caught my attention.

I had been thinking about taking another shot at writing a novel; my last attempt (When You Don't See Me) got derailed by my father's illness and death but as I reviewed the material I had already written I kept thinking the novel needed more action and that the conflicts between the three leading characters had no connection to the wider events in my science fantasy saga.

So I was standing there with this fancy German notebook in my hand, and said to myself: "Fuck it. I'm going to start planning this novel out longhand, and I'm going to do it in a fancy fuckin' notebook for once. If I can't fit the first draft in one book I'll buy another. I'll label them and put them on a shelf or in a chest so that my wife can flip through them if she wants. When I finally clock out, she'll have something to remember me by even if there are physicians with better handwriting than mine.

In This Moment I Am Free

I don't know what my father would think if he were still around. Maybe he'd think I was crazy for going back to such relatively primitive tech when I put so much effort into learning Emacs, web development, Unix, etc. But I don't give a shit. When I've got my headphones on and a pen in my hand. Nobody's watching me write. All I'm writing right now is notes on my major characters' relationships, but it's writing I'll build upon and every word is real. I can see the ink on the page (and on my fingertips). I can touch the paper. I can lay in bed on my stomach late at night and knock out another page or two before bed — though that tends to leave me wired.

When I'm writing with a fountain pen in a nice notebook, I think, "In this moment I am free." I'm not writing for anybody but myself and the woman I've loved for over twenty years. She's the only one looking over my shoulder. She doesn't demand that I cross anything out or change anything. She lets me accept every word I write even if it turns out to be a mistake later.

It's not perfect. It doesn't have to be. It's just me.

What Next?

If I have to order fresh notebooks or ink online, I suppose I can spend the downtime transcribing my notebooks and putting the contents on my website with photos. I've already started doing that with my current project...

“Shattered Harmonies” on starbreaker.org

All of my old material from the last 25 years is there on my site, too. The feed is syndicated on Nightfall City (thanks, ~m150).

I don't know if I'll try to get my next novel published by a commercial publisher. I don't know how much effort I'll put into self-publishing. I might not bother to publish at all, but to just keep writing novels from my science fantasy saga until I think I've told the story I set out to tell twenty-five years ago.

That's right. It's been twenty-five years since I first started working on Starbreaker. I was only 18 then, imagining a better, saner, freer world rising from the ruins of a capitalist hellscape like our own because the alternative was suicidal ideation and I couldn't afford therapy.

(Yeah. Mark Fisher was right. I had an easier time imagining the end of the world than the end of capitalism.)

I might only have a shelf or a chest full of A5 hardcover notebooks to show for my efforts in the end, but every one of them will be my work done my way, by my own hand. I think a man can be proud of such a result.

Thanks for listening. I hope Smudge wasn't too much of a handful while I was away.

/me leaves a tip

/me tips his hat to the other patrons

/me turns up his collar and heads back out into the rain

Write a reply


~tatterdemalion wrote (thread):

Welcome back, ~starbreaker. That's a lot of hard work to have been doing.

I think you're right with the hand-writing, if you want to leave something behind. Myself, I wonder if when I'm gone, I just want to be gone.

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