A Personal Essay by Danger Slater
Being a writer is hard.
Being a relatively obscure small-press writer is doubly hard.
Being a relatively obscure small-press writer who writes the sort of weird niche bullshit that I write is triply hard.
Struggling to find readers is Sisyphean endeavor. You splash links up on Facebook, bait the world with Twitter hashtags, maybe you stick pictures of your cat up on Instagram or share snippets of your half-finished poetry on Tumblr. You scream as loud as you can into the void, only to hear your own stupid voice echoing back at you. Days and weeks and months and years you do this, and in the end you’re still left with the same old questions. Questions about your self-worth. Questions about your skill. Questions about your devotion. You think: thousands of hours I’ve poured into this task, honing this talent, perfecting this craft. You think: if I were a carpenter, I could’ve constructed an entire apartment building by now. People would’ve paid me to live there, and they would’ve thanked me for the opportunity to do so. They would’ve called my building home…
God, I hate metaphors. Books are nothing like apartment buildings. That’s why I’ve decided to quit writing and become a Kid Rock fan instead.
I know what you’re thinking: why Kid Rock? Why not Limp Bizkit or Uncle Kracker or some other horrible nü-metal band scraped out of the armpit of the late 90s? Hey, I get where you’re coming from. I really do. But it has to be Kid Rock. It HAS to.
I didn’t come to this decision lightly. I loved writing from as far back as I could remember. I used to DEVOUR books as a child – and no, I don’t mean that metaphorically. I already told you, I HATE METAPHORS. I would literally eat my books as a kid. I’d read a page, tear it out, chew it up, and swallow it. I don’t know why I did that.
I decided, in earnest, that I wanted to be a novelist when I was in high school. I had read so many books at that point, writing them seemed to be the next natural step. It was the only thing that made any sense to me; the only thing I felt even qualified to do. So I spent all my time doing what I thought writers did: I jotted ideas down feverishly in a little notebook. I’d eschew hanging out with friends because I was suddenly “inspired.” I told pretty girls at parties about all the clever ideas in the “book” I was “writing.” You get the picture. All the while, I was an absolutely TERRIBLE student. My grades were awful, but I didn’t let that bother me because I didn’t need math. I didn’t need science. I didn’t need history or geography or physics or gym. Shit, I didn’t even need ENGLISH. I just needed books. Hundreds and hundreds of books. And the time and space to consume them all.
Coincidentally, when I was in high school, Kid Rock released his first hit single ‘Bawitaba.’ If you don’t remember how it goes, then count yourself lucky. It’s a dumpster fire of a song. Everything about it, I found grating: the lazy songwriting, the nonsense lyrics, the sound of his voice, his intonation and meter. And did this motherfucker own a shirt? What the hell? Was he not ever cold?
This was the EXTREME Mountain Dew era of music. You couldn’t escape it.
Kid Rock was the opposite of everything I considered myself. He was a posturing clown. A corporate-rock shill. A mainstream hack. I, on the other hand, was an ARTIST. When I sat down to write, I was creating ART. I thought of myself a teenage Hemingway. I wrote shitty poetry and song lyrics and hackneyed stories that I thought were “challenging the status quo” but in reality were weak O. Henry knockoffs with a few tired sci-fi motifs thrown in. I was not very good. But I persisted. I don’t know why, but I persisted. And the more time I spent doing it, the more and more it began to feel like MY THING. I wasn’t faking it. This was ME. This was WHAT I DO. It didn’t matter how BAD I was doing it at the time, I still had to do it. And with the kind of blustering grandiosity that can only exist when you’re young and stupid, I vowed I’d keep writing NO MATTER WHAT. Even if I was stricken blind. Even if I lost my arms in a boating accident. I would write until my very last breath.
I spent my early 20s drinking a lot. Didn’t get much done.
When I woke up, I was 27. I had a full-time job. A full-time girlfriend. A full-time apartment. A full-time car payment. But I wasn’t mad. No, I was happy. I mean, I GUESS I was happy. Maybe happy is the wrong word. I was CONTENT. I had read Candide. Twice, in fact. I knew sometimes the best of all possible worlds is to just stay home and tend to your garden. I was living life. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
But then…something happened. Actually, a few things happened. And they happened all at once:
1. The girlfriend I had for the past 7 years broke up with me.
2. The job I had for the past 10 years fired me.
3. The grandmother I had for the past 27 years went ahead and died.
My garden was gone. I was LOST. Everything I had been holding onto, the things outside of writing that I had accidently ended up defining myself by, were suddenly no longer there. I mean, by that point I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I was comfortable. I was Willy Loman. [NOTE: I realize Fitzgerald is a real person and Willy Loman is a fiction character. Just shut up and let me finish this paragraph, okay?] I spiraled. Had a full-on existential meltdown. I even got a doctor to prescribe me Xanax. It helped, a little. But these were problems no pills were going to be able to solve.
During this refractory period, as I cobbled together whatever was left, there was one old persistent refrain kept pinballing around in my head, like the chorus of a song repeating over and over, one singular thought that seemed to overtake all the rest: HOW DID I GET TO THIS POINT?! Through the haze, I could still see my teenage self. He would HATE the person I had become. He wouldn’t have been living in this stupid apartment he couldn’t afford. He wouldn’t have been the retail manager of some dumb clothing store in the mall. He certainly wouldn’t have been clinging to some broken relationship like it was the only thing that mattered. He’d be the dude living by his wits and wiles out of the backseat of his rusted old car like a neo-Jack Kerouac bucking against the dying light. Or maybe he’d be a reincarnated version of Charles Bukowski, vomiting up his romantically misanthropic words like he couldn’t HELP but be a fucking genius, no matter how drunk he was. He’d be standing there, pen held tightly in his sweaty hand, as he raised his clenched fist up to the ever-blackening sky as he yelled: take my eyes, take my arms, to my last breath, I’ll be true.
I had to make a choice: who was I REALLY?
Well, if you’re reading this, I suppose you already know the answer to that. I threw myself into writing even more so than before. I wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I sat down and wrote a short story, and started another one without even standing up. I sent my stuff out to any literary journal or magazine (however arcane) I could find. I got hundreds of rejections…and then…I got some acceptances. Then I got a few more acceptances. I wrote a book. And then I wrote another. And then I wrote three more. I refused to get another full-time job, for fear that I’d distract myself from my TRUE purpose, this reason I was here, the reason I was born at all: I am Danger fucking Slater and I write fucking Bizarro fucking fiction!
I did this for years. Years and years. In that time, I’ve lived in more apartments than I can count. I threw away nearly all of my possessions. I refused to settle down. I had a slew of girlfriends. I had a slew of bad jobs. My parents thought I’d gone crazy. Maybe I was crazy. Hell, maybe I was having a quarter-life (mid-life?) crisis, running from the fear of finally growing up. I can’t say for certain. But this is what I did. I ran.
Until two days ago.
What happened two days ago, you ask? Well it was two days ago that I got sales figures for my latest book. I was finally going to know, once and for all, where the cumulative effects of all this hard work had gotten me. Oh man I was so ready to reap my reward………
I’m so tired. I’m so very tired. And I don’t think I want to be a writer anymore.
So now I ask myself: who am I, if I’m not a writer? If I’m not a family man? A father? A faithful employee? If I’m not a happy, normal individual who has strived to live a happy, normal life, then who the fuck am I supposed to be? So I worked backwards. I backpedaled though all the stories I had created, rewound all the universes that lived in my head, snuffing them out, one by one, like a cold and indifferent god. I ransacked the sarcophaguses of my old apartments, my old relationships, my old jobs, my old lives. I floated, in reverse, past my foggy 20s, until I was back in high school. Back before all this shit began. Back to that moment when it became clear in my mind that the life of a writer was the kind of life I wanted to live.
Here is that moment:
I am in my friend’s car. We are on a road trip. I am in the backseat, reading a copy of Cat’s Cradle that I had found on the floor. I didn’t know this book; had never heard of it before. But I liked reading, and it was there, so picked it up to pass the time. And something happened. This book then…spoke to me in a profound way. I don’t know if I can even explain it. The words on the page cut right into me, right down to my core, the parts of me that felt the most human. Everything started to click. I could feel it as sure as I could feel the sun on my face. I thought to myself: this is what I need to do. I need to write a book like this.
And on the radio Kid Rock was playing.
This is the rift, the schism, the defining and pivotal moment upon which everything else had hinged, the moment I read Cat’s Cradle and dedicated my life thereafter to words – and what is it that is filling my ears but the douchiest of doucherock music mankind has ever known. Kid Rock was there with me when I had my epiphany.
And now, as I write this essay, I’m am having a second epiphany: What if I had chosen the wrong road? What if I had made a mistake?
But I’m not dead yet. I still have time to start over. It’s not too late. As long as I still have tomorrow, it’s never too late. So how do I fix my life? Well I can start by picking up right where it originally veered off. In that car. In that moment. I can listen to Kid Rock INSTEAD of reading that book. I can tap my toes to that terrible music. I can sing along at the top of my lungs for the whole world to hear: Bawitaba da bang da bang diggy diggy diggy, shake up the boogie I SAID up jump the boogie.
So here is to the person I never was. To the person I am going to wake up as in the morning. And who knows, maybe I’ll finally get that boulder to the top of the hill.
Fuck, I just used that stupid metaphor again, didn’t I?
Danger Slater is the winner of the 2015 Ultimate Bizarro Showdown and author of Puppet Skin and I Will Rot Without You and other books. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his blue-haired girlfriend. By night he works as a security guard and by day he pours his soul onto the page while hiding under a blanket. He loves drinking broccoli juice and making googly eyes at strangers.