It’s officially back-to-school time, and we all know what that means: sitting in class, writing papers, getting sweet knowledge delivery before running off to the latest kegger. But what about a more practical method of study? Yes, in this case I am using the word “practical” to describe reading literature.
My love of profanity comes from my father. His ghost, rattling around in my head, too. See? More death. The motif ever-present! Death and birds and bad words and all that good stuff. We authors are who we authors are, built from our obsessions. (374)
Fifty years after the publication of The Orchard Keeper, his first novel, Cormac McCarthy appears to be nearing the release of his 11th, the long-rumored The Passenger. Earlier this month, McCarthy debuted sections of the unpublished novel at a live reading in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I don’t know how long we walk over there; I can only compare it to the days I have out here. I’ve been walking now for nine nights, this side, nonstop, while I’m supposed to be sleeping. That’s the thing I don’t know though. I asked my wife the other day, “you ever wake up and I am just not here?” She said no and that I was freaking her out, so I didn’t press the issue.
I know when I leave, and go over there, because I always wake up on my knees, and for the first chunk of time I can’t seem to get my bearings on the place. It feels like I am trying get up and go running on an ice sheet.
Finally the sun comes, then the grass, and soon I’ll hear her frustrated little cough and I will look up and there she’ll be. “Let’s go,” is what she usually says to me.
Then we walk. I got to say something about the lay of the place. I remember reading in history books that when the first European settlers showed up on the new American continent (which wasn’t really new at all, but I don’t want to digress), they were amazed at the abundance of wildlife and vegetation. I remember one guy writing how fish literally jumped into the boat, that’s how abundant things were.
For the next couple hundred years or so the only thought on everyone’s mind seemed to be to tear through this impenetrable Edenic jungle and get to the “other” side, come hell or high water (there were plenty of both). Now these days we see a sort of artificial organization of cities, roads, businesses, suburbs, and then farm lands, and then ever dwindling areas of open free space. Well, over there it’s like how it was back in the day I think, jungle, deep, deep, jungle.
Now I love the outdoors in small doses, with a return to home promised at the end. So, I am in no way an outdoorsman, and this has become something of an issue. The Muse doesn’t seem to have the same problem. Slimmer, and apparently familiar with the terrain, she weaves herself easily through the jungle.
She won’t wait either when I start to get caught up, and a panic sets in that I am going to be left alone, forever, over there. That’s the thing, she hasn’t told me where we are going exactly. She just tells me to walk and then starts walking.
The only thing that can stop her is a really ridiculous comment or complaint. That’s the other thing, she hates us, like people I mean, human beings. She thinks we are a race of stupid, lazy children, less noble than the cow of the field, and more dangerous than the vipers in the tree, or something like that.
There something with the colors over there too. I never really noticed it in our world before, but now I do, that color is so abundant and meaningful in the world. Flowers, trees, in the water. It was like I was looking at the world for the first time.
It’s not all rainbow and butterflies either though, not at all. A purple field grass grows everywhere, which is beautiful, but if bumped up against, it can easily slice you up. Imagine encountering a field of that, after huffing it through the densest jungle ever; it’s pretty demoralizing.
Thing is though, there’s always a way through. I have to search all over the ground for a trace of her, but then I’ll find it, one little heel print of hers that will lead me right back to it. Sometimes I get so lost in it, so turned around, that I end up surrounded on all sides by that purple, razor-bladed, prairie grass.
Always the key over there is to remain calm. It is the frenetic anxious movement which gets you in trouble. Anxiety just seems to make the world bubble up even faster all around you. Usually now if trapped, I’ll just stop, sit down and wait it out.
The beauty is shifty over there. The sky seems to roll in color and consistency, and from night to day. I heard the singing the first time, in one of the purple prairie fields. It was like a choir singing, and the more you tuned into it, the more it started vibrating down into your heart and out to the rest of your body. I don’t know…weird shit for sure.
She caught me listening to it one time. My eyes most have been staring off too long into space, concentrating on it. She smacked me in the back of the head. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Oh shit, stop! What is that singing?” I asked.
“The singing is your death sentence, stupid. I’ve told you a hundred times you better stop asking questions.” She had ordered that, a hundred times at least, but I couldn’t keep walking any more. I needed a break, so it was time for a round of stupid questions.
“Sounds like a choir,” I said.
“To you,” she answered.
“What does it sound like to you?”
“Like the death wails of a thousand of my brothers and sisters.”
“That’s awful,” I said. “What is it?”
“It’s not an ‘it’. But you’re probably too dumb to get what I mean by that.”
She was right, so I didn’t say any thin and just started walking. This was the first time I had ever been ahead of her, and I could hear her mumbling to herself behind me. “Fucking donkey. Idiot errands. Goddamn babysitting bullshit; I’m tired of this shit.”
In full disclosure what she was saying really hurt my feelings. It’s the strangest thing to describe, but in this whole experience, the cyclical torture and then the walking, and all the yelling, I had sort of grown attached to her. Stockholm-syndrome, I guess. I can see that clearly, in the light of day, but over there, things are different. It made me cry, and I struggled to hold it together.
“Oh goddammit,” she yelled. “Are you crying again?”
I didn’t say anything, but swallowed it back hard and walked even faster. “Oh now you walk,” she yelled after me. “Slow as a tortoise for a week now, but now suddenly you got steam. That’s great cowboy! Have at it bud!”
That was it, that use of the word “bud.” My Dad always called me bud as a kid. Older now, I can’t stand for another adult to call me “bud”. It just seems so patronizing and condescending. I snapped.
“What gives you the goddamn right to talk to me like that? You’re powerful, but like you said, you’re a fucking errand boy, right? A hamster on a goddamn wheel! And you think you’re all high and mighty, with your privileged information, and think your’e so much better than me, but I’ll tell you something, if I knew everything you know, and if I could do what you can do, I wouldn’t waste my time harassing innocent people!”
Somehow in all that I ended up with my hands tight around her shoulders.
“You would be dog meat before you even had a chance,” she said. It was so dry and lifeless, like wind through fall leaves. I realized I had made a big mistake touching her.
“Why?” I pushed on, right in her beautiful face. “Tell me what is going on! Where are we walking to? What is this all about?”
She responded by turning away and walking faster. I followed, because really, what else could I do? We walked until I woke up. Then it was back to normalcy. Diapers, breakfast, running around chasing children. In full disclosure I have to admit that all of this is really starting to get to me. My patience has bottomed out, and I am always so tired, so horribly tired. Tired with tiredness. I also feel like I’m about to burst from tension.
My wife can sense something is wrong, but she just has no frame of reference for this type of thing. When she gets home from work all she can say is that I should lay down, take a rest. But what she doesn’t understand is that even when it looks like I’m resting, when I have collapsed on the couch, I am really walking over there, and there is no way to stop.
Next night, we came upon the three people, the first other “real” people I have seen there. They stare at me, wordless, zoned out and sort of blank looking. We had been walking for hours. She still wasn’t saying a word to me. She doesn’t even acknowledge the three people standing there beside the trail, in pajamas. She just keeps walking.
We start walking up this high mountain, which is so huge and runs into the distance for ever and ever. I try to get her to stop, but I’ve run out of dumb questions.
I lose track of her halfway up the thing. Not that it made any difference really. After that for a couple nights, all I would catch is glimpses of her flowing robes, as I rounded a curve, and then she would be gone. Sometimes I hear things hunting me on the mountain. I can sense myself being stared at. On the mountain there are too many places to hide, so I never see what it is.
I catch a glimpse of her on a peak, one night, with an orangey moon floating behind her. She was gorgeous and terrifying, and in my strange broken mind, the only thing I felt was worthlessness, that I was even watching her like that. My mind taunted me. What could she want with me? What was this place? Would I ever get out of this loop?
I got stuck on the mountain later that nigh. I tried to find the trail which I had been following, but with no success. The only thing was the ledge and the sky, and there was no where to go. I finally sat down on a bulge in the massive wall of rock and just sort of waited, hoping beyond hope that my wife or one of my children would come to wake me up soon. It was freezing. My socks were frozen lumps of ice.
I tried to close my eyes and sleep over there. I know that sounds stupid, a little too meta probably, but it’s the truth. The weird thing is when you try to sleep over there that music starts up, and the more you drift into the darkness the louder it gets. And when you hear it, it’s like someone shoved a battery down your throat, because you are overwhelmed with an anxious, surging energy.
Last night, I found the trail again and started making my way down the other side of the mountain. I caught the briefest glimpse of her garment at one point but then it was gone again. I walked along and for the first time it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad. I mean the air was fresh and warm and the trail had leveled off. I thought why not just slow down and enjoy it for what it was. I rarely get this type of quiet alone time in real life, why not enjoy it?
As I descended more bushes and trees began to pop up out of the rocks. At first there were sort of rough looking, curled and very little leaves, but as I got further down the mountain, they started rising above me and into the sky. I came around another curve and saw a a glowing green forest in the distance. I had lost all trace of the Muse too.
I followed the trail down the mountain and came to the edge of the Pine forest. It probably goes without saying, but this was the weirdest forest I’ve ever seen. First thing, there is a neon green type of Pine tree over there. Its nettles gives off a very strange, sulfuric smell. Everything in the forest, all the plants and wild life, are coated in this green power. They seem to have adapted to it. Their dark yellow eyes are the only thing that undermines their perfect camouflaged selves, as they peek over limbs and from behind trees. Everywhere you look is coated in shades of this green.
Right as I was about to pick up a handful, she popped up. “It’s a severe hallucinogenic. It can penetrate the skin. It’s responsible for much of the madness in the artistic world. Get too much on you, or god forbid, eat it, and you might end up catatonic in the real world, and stuck in this place, for ever.”
“How am I supposed to get through then?” I asked.
“Carefully,” she answered, before swiftly walking away.
The way forward was blocked with thick trees, coated with this neon green dust. There was absolutely no way forward without getting it all over me. I looked all over for another way around. But it was either back up the mountain, or through the forest.
I was about to say fuck it and just head back the other way. She wasn’t waiting for me, so why should I continue to follow her? I started on the trail back up the mountain, but then the strangest laugh broke out from somewhere high up in the cliffs. My whole body broke out in sickening goosebumps. It was so human, yet so crazy, and something else, something tortured The laughter chased me back down into the forest and then stopped.
I had no choice. I tucked my hands in my shirt, and pulled it up over my nose, and headed in. As I tiptoed into the forest, my feet inevitably were coated in this neon-green pine dust. Oh that’s an important point. Whenever your wake up over there, you are wearing whatever you had on over here, presumably your pajamas.
And because I can’t sleep with shoes on (not yet anyway), I am usually and unfortunately barefoot over there. For those first few weeks I had nothing but my boxers, but at I got smart and I started wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt to bed.
So I am walking through this forest, and my feet started glowing with this neon tint. As it keeps layering up, I started forgetting everything she told me about it. It was like every slight brush of the pine nettles erased a little memory, starting with the most recent and working its way back months, then years. Until I couldn’t remember anything.
A sliver of moonlight caught my eye and broke the spell. I realized I was now deep in this forest. Both hands were piled high with this dust. Somehow I had filled my hand like this.
It was like I was wearing green bubble. Everything shimmered with this viridescent haze. Merged with it, in this horrible twisted state, the only thing I knew was I’d made a big mistake.
Next thing I knew I had to cough, bad. I started choking, and stupidly, I brought my hands to my face, rubbing this green crap all over. The unfortunate result was the most beautiful, intoxicating forgetfulness I have ever felt. Just smushed right back into my face. I merged with the dust and was nothing.
And how did that make me feel, dear reader, being nothing? I can’t even put it into words really. You know the dopamine rush you get when you hear the favorite part, of your favorite song? It was like that, times a million, on ecstasy, and you never have to work, get sick, or suffer any sort of loss or hardship ever again. Isn’t that great?
I tried not to turn it. I was going to stand up. It seemed absurd now to think that I had never tried to stand up before, in this weird in-between world of the brick. When I tried, it was impossible. It was like an invisible black wall was right above me. I could literally feel it pushing into my back as I tried to stand up.
But still I could look around at the empty blackness, on the peripherally, all around me. And sometimes right as my eyes would blink or my head would sag, I would see little flashes of light out there; I have no clue what that is either.
I was determined this time that I would not turn the brick, but after lunging against whatever force was holding me, after so many times, I was so worn out that I just sort of rested. And as I grow more weary my eyes just sort of drifted back towards the brick. What was it doing there? What did it mean? Why did turning it let her take over? But wait, my sleepy mind asked, she had come before the brick this time…
I wouldn’t turn the brick. That was it. So instead I would just sort of stayed there on all fours, resting with my new resolve. From now on, when ever I woke up over there, hand on the brick, I would somehow stop myself from turning it. That was the plan.
That night and three more times I was successful. And every time a screech went off in the gray morning when I finally woke up, downstairs. It was the most terrifying sound I have ever heard in my life. Birdlike, black, and metallic, the screech brought the thick fear of death. Afterwards, climbing the stairs, I felt like I was drowning, dying. It was like the suffocatingly early part of the morning too. No matter this new agony though, I was determined I would not turn that brick ever again.
Next night, I pulled my hand from it and tried to force myself up again.
An icy screech, halted me and I waited to wake up downstairs, but I didn’t. I started to panic. What if I got caught in this weird purgatory state? I began to sort of jerk and shake against the force. With a little scream of my own, I was able to get both hands off the ground.
It really was the strangest sensation, like feeling magnetism through your body, I guess?. Even as I wobbled there I could feel it trying to pin me back to the ground, to lock me in whatever cage it had ready. I feel over, hands back on the ground. Still it was a victory, like a little tear had occurred in its control.
I wrestled with it and was finally able to do a push-up against that force. After frantically doing a dozen of those, I started to try to fling my body off the ground. I was able to get both hands up and then could rest and sit back on my still stuck knees and legs.
The view was nothing to be excited about frankly. I have never seen such blackness. It was reflected, multiplied, fun-house blackness. Crevices on crevices, on oceans, of blackness. I couldn’t imagine what sort of creature could even exist out there, but now its screeches were coming with more regularity and purpose. I could only see the ground around me in like a five, six foot radius, and it was a dark, orangey red color, which reminded of the Southwest, New Mexico or Arizona, or whatever. But that was it, and the brick still sat a couple feet in front of me.
I tried to wiggle my legs in this position but they were definitely stuck and when I did I almost wobbled over. The ground seemed to suck me back down. I resisted and the screams and calls that kept coming on, because I had that tear now. I felt it and pressed against it. I pushed and waited.
The screeches got closer and closer, and then it was the worst thunder rumbling ever, punctuated by high pitched crescendoes of lightening. It all seemed to bang and clatter right on top of my chest. The wind picked up and I lost it and was forced back on the ground, but I didn’t even think of touching that brick. I was done with that.
A fierce wind started blowing. It was icy and black, like the rest of the place, and brought the nightmares. Again, I don’t really feeling like going into all that. Not my cup of tea, as they say, but it was awful. I began crying, wailing really, and the storm came even harder. But with all the smattering and dropping of water, no actual rain pooled on the ground. It was just black raindrops everywhere, that disappeared in a black splash once they hit the ground.
The thing was right on top of me. This is cowardly to admit, but I couldn’t even look at it. I tried once, but all I saw was the diamond tip of its black tail as it swayed in the sky above. It seemed to be made of the place itself. Its presence filled me with so much fear and dread, for the first time in my life I knew what a truly suicidal person must feel like. It was a greenish yellow barbed stick, had been shoved down my throat. It made me dry heave and hack in panic. It sounded like a train was roaring right above me. As it hissed and grumbled, a wretched stench hit my nose.
“Turn the brick,” the thing ordered. Somehow a bunch of Ss snuck in there, so it was more like “Turnss thasss brisss,” but the meaning and intent were clear.
Things got weirder. Weirder than runaway Muses and demonic beasts of the other side, I mean. I tried to open my eyes, which was a bit like trying to breathe under water, but somehow I did it but when I did the brick had disappeared. I closed my eyes real fast and tried to figure out what to do.
“Turns thas briss,” the thing ordered again.
“I can’t,” I yelled. “The brick is gone!”
“Thass briss no goess–” The thing screamed back, but its words were snatched right from its throat, like a barking dog being yanked on the leash, and the black storm stopped.
I kept my eyes closed through all that. I was sure if I had looked at that monster one more time I would have seized up and died, a cardiac arrest on the other side . Maybe a brain aneurysm.
I stayed on my hands and knees for a while but then the sun began to warm my back. I still wouldn’t open my eyes. No way. This was my last stand, kneeling, whatever. The ground rumbled beneath me and what felt like lush grass sprouted up around me, tickling my arms. Then insects started humming. Then birds started chirping. Then I heard something that sounded like a lion’s roar, so I opened my eyes.
There was the Muse. She was standing before me, in a brown monk’s rope, cleaning her nails, looking bored. “Hooty hoo,” she said, acknowledging me. “Looks like you get to go on a hero’s quest, yippee.”
My recent personal Tarot reading. Three main questions, left to right, where am I am coming from, where am I at, and where am I going. The cross card above the second, is for what currently crosses me, or what obstacles am I facing. I have done half a dozen reading and all of them have been strangely relevant, including this one. For instance the first card could represent my creative activity that I recently did on the 14th, as the moon signifies the subconscious and creativity. It also I think symbolizes the recent Blue Moon that we just came out of, also the Dog days of summer.
The second question perfectly corresponded to a dark mood I found myself in on the 15th, and for which I didn’t really have any explanation for, until I saw the card that crosses me. Meditating on those two cards I engaged in a lot of self-examination, especially about things in my past that I feel are still holding me back.
The last card is a positive card and shows a party going on in the background. It is in the future card space and of course I recognized my son’s birthday party, which was occurring today on the 16th. Today was a great day with family and friends, a perfect correlate of the card, I think! Strange stuff, indeed.
You all have nightmares, right? Maybe even reoccurring nightmares, that pop up like the flu, stick around, make things shitty for a while, but then they go away, right? Mine haven’t gone away for three weeks now and it always starts the same. I wake up in my basement, in the North-East corner, on all fours, with a Flint Company brick next to me on the ground. All around me is black nothingness. No matter how long I resist sooner or later, I will turn the brick, wake up in my basement, and then I notice the light is on in the office….
She’s there. She changes outfits each night. She has an appreciation for fashion obviously. Last night was a summer dress, with deep red and purple flowers, running up it. That same strange flowery smell.
I think this is the whole sleep part, but every time feels like the first time. Like I am always confused that she’s in my house. And as the nights go by, she seems to sort of shift and shimmer herself, until it’s a different woman each night, then a different one each minute, each moment.
The tortures have gone way passed “House of the Rising Sun” and the guitar. Oddly enough I can no longer touch my guitar during the day. Like literally cannot touch it. Today, my wife had to pick it up off the floor and put it back on the chair when the dog knocked it over. The Muse has decided that I’m a roach and can’t be expected to play an instrument anymore.
Last Monday, she put me on a weird sort of stand-by, which is just drowning blankness and then clips of random memories tossed in there, sometimes to shocking effect. Blankness. Blankness. Blankness. The time I face planted in the dirt, going no-hands on a swing. Blankness. Blankness. Blankness. The night I lost my virginity. Blankness. Blankness. Blankness. Random time my dog got away. Blankness. Blankness. Blankness. Car accident when I was sixteen.
Wednesday, she introduced a long distance running program, where the sick twist is as long as I keep running, then I am free from the nightmares, but if I stop for even a second they come creeping up out of the woods, out of nowhere, then all hell breaks lose. I always end up running, lost in the forest, with these nightmares dropped about like land mines.
Thursday, I decided I would try and fight it . I figured that I would stay up really late and hopefully just crash so hard that maybe I could skip the whole process. Complicating matters is the fact that my house is up very early, so I knew I was looking at a “power” 1-2 hour nap. Thing was though, a solid, Muse-free two, sounded way better then the terrified roller coaster of four that I was currently facing.
The first attempt was somewhat successful, I still ended up downstairs, kneeling by the brick. But I turned it, started my run and was just about to break a sweat, when out of the sky came the chubby hand of my two year old. This worked perfectly and snapped me right out of my sleep.
Startled awake, I was terrified though. I hugged my son protectively, sickened by a compulsive thought, which assaulted my waking, rational mind, that if he could pull me from over there, what stopped over there from pulling on him?
All that day I was nervous and sort of on edge. Even though I’ve started writing about this experience on my blog, I’m still in denial about the whole thing. I’m still trying to chalk it up to an active imagination, maybe even a little boredom, but that uncanny sight of a chunky little toddler hand, coming at you as you run up some dirt road of imagination land, was just a bit much for my mind to ignore.
You may be surprised by this, but my wife has not even seen any of the previous installments of Interludes, so I had to fill her in last night.
I’m reluctant to dive too deep into our personal affairs here, but for the sake of comprehension in the story, I will just say that she is definitely the Yang to my Yin. We are sort the cliched opposites that attract. My wife is a normal, pleasant, and generally sociable woman. She can go along to get along, and get along with just about everybody.
She’s a nurse. A great nurse actually, which basically says it all. I, on the other hand, am a bit more introverted, strange, emotional, and sensitive. When I began to disclose the recent events, with some tact concerning the other woman in the picture, and leaving out some of the darker bits to sort of down play the whole thing, she seemed frustratingly unalarmed.
“I noticed you were extra tired these last few days, but I just figured you were in a funk,” she said.
Like I was explaining, this calm, no non-sense demeanor is exactly what I love about my wife. If I was married to a crazy, flakey-artist type, like myself, everything would spontaneously combust. And before you get all Freudian and judgmental, let me also note for the record my wife is, in fact, a wonderful artist, especially in her crocheting (and in her divine feminine magic as well, but no need to stir that pot anymore). But yes, I love the balm that is my wife’s coolness. Most of the time, but in this situation, I needed a solid defensive reaction.
Instead, she told me I needed to get a good night’s rest, and that I probably just needed to drink less coffee. And before I could even get a really good monologue going on her, she headed off for her shower. The issue was settled, I guess.
I was worked up, but all the kids were sleeping, so I was trapped in this shell of silence. I could have turned on the TV, but the reminding sound of my wife’s shower was making me restless. I decided to head downstairs and sit in the office, wide awake and frustrated. Thank you very much.
My dogs were happy and surprised to see me back downstairs. Once down there, I was now very tired, too tired even to turn the computer on or anything. I ended up just staring at my two dogs for a while.
A familiar clunk of the shower going off upstairs snapped me out of a nap. I had fallen asleep in my office chair. I knew something was off though, when now my dogs were nowhere to be found.
I waited for a minute, very afraid. Then I heard the sound of someone coming down the stairs. My mind wrestled with the idea that it wasn’t my wife coming down, but someone or something else. The guitar was standing there, leaning against my desk, and I had the urge to pick it up and blast whoever came through the door.
instead I just sat there, sort of freaking out. I heard the sound of the laundry basket being dropped on the concrete. I calmed down a second. My wife entered the room. I turned around and she smiled at me.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
I felt so embarrassed. I didn’t really have an explanation.
“Thinking,” I said.
She smiled again, that too-nice smile, said okay and went back into the laundry room, which just happens also to be in the North-East corner of house, where I always wake up with the brick.
I sat there for some time, still sort of scared and uncomfortable. I needed to start the conversation again, about everything that was happening, with the Muse, but it all just sounded so ridiculous. Yes honey, I am being tortured by a tyrannical guitar teacher, a ancient entity, a creature of my own imagination…hopefully.
That’s the thing. I still don’t really understand what I am dealing with here, and besides feeling tired, a little confused and depressed, everything else is fine.
“Are you coming to bed soon?” She called from the laundry room. The wet thunk of the clothes being tossed in the dryer recalled one of the gruesomest nightmares. I fought the urge to throw up.
“Or, should I ask, are you all done “thinking”?”
I sat there, stunned. I felt a pressure like never before. A responsibility. There seemed to be so much to explain, and warn about. We needed to have a meeting, a family meeting and figure this all out. I wanted to tell her to call into work, and batten down the hatches and all that, but the words were not coming.
“Why don’t you pick up the box and play me a tune?” I couldn’t believe that I heard that, but it was my wife’s voice.
I stood up so I could see her more clearly. All I saw was the back of her head, everything about it was just like my wife. She was in an old red t-shirt, with her hometown’s name on it. She was wearing her blue shorts shorts that she only wears just after the shower. But the tone wasn’t hers, that was the Muse’s. There was no mistaking that.
“What did you say?” I asked her. I tried to soften my tone but it was so hard to get the words out, through all the fear and anger.
“I said how you coming on the guitar babe?” She asked, as she slammed the lid on the washer and popped the start button.
She turned to look at me, and everything went blank. And then, there was the brick and the blackness. And in supplication, I am on my hands and knees.
The world seemed like it was about to burst. She sat on her boulder. Her garments trailed in the wind. Honestly, I sat there for some time scared, just awkwardly holding the guitar and hoping my hand didn’t shake too hard against it. Like a painting, she never moved, just waited. Finally with some great act of will I went to hit a chord. The tendons or muscles in my hand actually hurt as I tried, such an awful nonmusical muffle came forth. Without a word everything shifted.
I was now walking through a forest. It was freezing. There was frost on the trees and the ground. I knew that I was running from something but I wasn’t sure what. I heard its deep breathes coming up from the side, like a race car raging, passing on the left, worse then that though. I blacked out with its chunky teeth lodged in my throat. Then it was back on the block. My shitty guitar in my hands and her sitting unwavering.
“Coward,” she said.
So it goes, I’ve heard them say. I think she may have even said something like that too, in between these nightmare rounds. After a supremely lucid one which involved my own sweet children, I suddenly remembered my chords and songs quite well. Not that it mattered though, because I still sucked at guitar.
Somewhere in there, we got locked in on the Animal’s song “House of the Rising Son.” This is the sort of beginner’s guitar song that I am working with. I know it’s not much but I had been pursuing guitar as a hobby, as a fun thing to do when I had an extra minute, nothing to worry about, right?
She was on something else. She seemed to take offense to my weakness, and her offense made me offended by my own ineptitude too. I started to cherish those moments as I sat there, waiting to try my first Am chord, when I could sort of analyze the whole situation a bit more. More than anything, I was mad at myself for not practicing more. I mean the song, the version I knew anyway, consisted of four chords, played in a finger style, with a very basic, repetitive picking pattern. If I could have just practiced more, maybe I could have snuck past all this.
It was fifty or so notes and over a week before I ever got past the first chord. The things I saw in that space I will not go into detail here. I wish I could say a word on self-censorship, but I assume we don’t have much time for that here either. Just let the dear reader be warned that the Muse is armed with the darkest most potent nightmares you could imagine. I believe there is a realm of science here which needs to be studied. I’m not sure about this. Though it does seem part of the purposes of this blog, to create public record of these events, so that perhaps in the future brighter minds than mine can put it all together.
Here’s my take though. I’m beginning to think that for every positive artistic stroke, a speckle of dark dust is created is created in its wake. To mix metaphors, this dust is the proverbial eggs shells of the omelet. This dust forms doubt, depression and disease. The more you create, the more it build ups around you, waiting to be dealt with, recycled hopefully, I guess. Some people seem to kick up so much dust it goes and hides in a closest and collects. And then a microdust organism forms and it grows. And then it learns to eat the doubt dust too. Then a whole multilayered ecosystem forms in this protoplasmic imaginative juice. After that, its anyone’s guess what happens. For me, it showed up as a woman in the basement who tortures me because of my whack guitar skills.
And oh how she could rant. Her voice was like the most awful PA system you could imagine, in which one minute could be pleasant, but then in another breath become ear piercing. It could come in so loud and clear that it just sliced right through the space between your ears. Other times it became so hollow, and full of the wind around it, that you could loose track of it. “Pathetic, a toddler could be trained to play better. No, a baby monkey.” I told her I had never been trained, just watched a couple youtube videos. “Of course, that sounds about right with the trash you’ve demonstrated. No, feel no need Mr. McMulin to explain your failures to me. I have seen an ocean of your level of talent. Disgusting, imbecilic, this whole thing is wasted on your type. Try again Mr. McMulin. Try to get those chubby, greasy hands to hit the right spot, above the fret there? You do know what a fret is Mr. McMulin? Also, it would be good if your ring finger could touch a string at some point. Or, if you could just hold the basic structure of the chord though a single measure. Oh, we have so much to do Mr. McMulin!”
I brought up writing, in between attempts, in between nightmares, asked if I could be challenged in that. That was a bad idea. The whole world went black, and an icy wind whipped up, and a storm rolled in. There was nothing I could do it seemed, but sit on the rock and take it. Rain ran down my guitar. It got so cold my hands froze up and I dropped it. It floated away, sliding down the frozen plane.
My god, I cannot tell you how cold it was, or how terrifying it was to watch that storm come in all around us, and the lightening as it tore strips out of the sky. It belittled me in the truest sense of that word. Her voice became that place and she moaned in rage. “Never Mr. McMulin. Never, never, never. You will never write a word in my presence, ever. You may have jacked some of the lower dregs of my bounty, but you will never be a great writer Mr. McMulin, never. Do you understand that? The fantasy you had of writing was your illness, understand? Was your grand act of cognitive dissonance, as the spooks put it today? Your A-minor chord is insufferable. A sentence and you would be dead before the first vowel.”
I really tried that night, but she just isn’t having it. The nightmares show how frustrated she’s becoming. Its just over the top things lately, drowning in leeches, being drawn and quartered, set on bonfire like a witch. It’s the bonfire that really got me. I sense her there lurking in the crowd that huddles around. She’s smirking when its all over and I’m back on the boulder. “Begin,” she demands.
I go to start, but the words popped out before I could stop them, “how long?”
“How long what Mr. McMulin?”
“How long will this continue?”
“I assumed that’s what you meant,” she said. “I just wanted to see if your communication skills go beyond simple grunts. How long is up to you to, Sir?”
“I’m ready to stop,” I say.
“Well, then go ahead” she says. Her statuesque arms bended and made a move of slicing her throat. She was telling me to kill myself. The fucking bitch…I’m sorry for the vulgarity dear reader. But after the last few weeks of torture I was at my wits end. I don’t know why exactly but I have to say despite a strong current of pessimism that runs through my heart I find the thought of suicide offensively stupid. I don’t mean my words to give offense to anyone who has been effected by suicide. My heart goes out to you, but all I am saying is for me that is not an option. I am so scared of death that the idea of volunteering for it just seems impossible. Especially now, relatively young, three kids, great wife and life.
More what I am trying to get at here, is she sort of really pissed me off with that, you know? Like I was nothing to her, a nuisance you could say, that she would be better off without having to regularly torture me. For the first time in weeks I found myself wondering if I could fight her somehow? Frankly, I couldn’t even see how to get down off the boulder, but still I wished I had some something to blast her with.
The world began to crackle and pop. This is the sign that I am about to wake up. She doesn’t seem to notice but keeps ranting. “Proceed Mr. McMulin. Make your futile attempt. Shall we stay with the Animals? Or would you like to try Bad Moon Rising again, you have had some success there?”
I hear what sounds like helicopters approaching from behind me. Like a jet engine maybe too. I love the thought that a bunch of heroes are going to roll up and save me from this woman. At least get me off this rock. I come to with my two year playing with his Ironman action-figure beside me. I hear my wife brushing her teeth in the other room.
I carry the shiver of that place. It’s instantly contrasted with the warmth of my cozy bed. An elaborate dream, my rational mind screams, but my body still trails that cold.