It’s been an interesting few weeks. Turbulent waters, teen angst, long shifts and a sudden, puzzling commitment to P90X has made for a busy schedule. Somehow in the midst of that I’ve been able to improve the routine of actual writing versus planning, talking and trying. Shock Totem‘s release of Issue 6 earlier in the month certainly helped justify the sickness, as I’d very much like to do that again. And again. Hopefully my broken family of car accident looters and my bored perverts in the coroner’s office will be the next ones out the door but we’ll see. So as a followup to the last whining post, it turns out I just needed a vacation. It certainly worked.
I just finished a spontaneous road trip through East Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. The first goal was to catch up with some family I don’t see enough of at all and that went well, if a bit quick. The other objective was to be immersed in the ArkLaTex Triangle and get cracking on some new writing, finish up lingering projects, and return home triumphant – and prolific.
After the visit I said my farewells and struck out into the late-winter, brownish expanse of dreary forests and marshes. Most of the roads I chose were two-lane death trails (more on this later) through small towns (or villages in Louisiana), many containing only 300 people or so.
The weather was nice, a little cheery and breezy for my taste, but I meandered through town after town searching for some inspiration. I eventually found myself in Hot Springs for the night. With its rich history, haunted reputation and unique architecture, I figured this would be the spark I needed. Upon checking into the somewhat-famous Arlington Hotel, I got settled in, set up, and had a drink or two, thinking This is finally it, here we go!
Nothing.Not only was the hotel empty – of guests and ghosts alike – but so was my screen. I stared at the keyboard and the camera and the journals in distress for a while. Six hundred miles from home, nursing a sudden cold, and now I couldn’t get a word out. Fingers skittered over the keys, itching to press one. Even my shiny new voice recorder was feeling the neglect, red record light winking with derision at me on the table, daring me to press the circle and shout a profound and profane introduction to The Scariest Story Ever.
You’re trying too hard, I thought.
I agreed and poured another before sleeping for damn near ten hours.
This is how the rest of the trip went. I walked the streets and, between explosive sneezes, snapped a few photographs of wax figures and bath houses before checking out and starting the drive back. I found a different route, and made my way through Northern Louisiana (on fumes for one very unnerving stretch). Each near-miss with a logging truck creeping out of the oncoming lane made me more impatient to admit defeat and power my way home. I dutifully took pictures of passing trees and towns and even visited the site of another short story, garnering puzzled stares as I photographed their coroner’s building. I’d been sneezing so long, I probably looked like I was crying while I did it, too.
Ten hours after checking out that morning, and in complete disappointment over the lack of accomplishments on the writing side, the last few days came back in a flood.
If I had spent any time actually writing on this quick trip, I’d be in that room still and I might have missed the old lady in Louisiana who overcharged me for gas and replied to every question with a slow, acrimonious ‘Uh-huh,’ or the narrow lanes near there with tree branches hanging over the road like they were about to pluck a motorist from his car when nobody else might see it happen. This, of course, might be one explanation for the memorial crosses and large burn marks every few hundred yards (or less) for an unbelievably long stretch through the woods.I definitely would have avoided having to turn and walk the other way as a surly looking dude was let out of a police car in an empty parking garage behind the buildings and made his way over, with no complaint from the cop releasing him. I’m sure he may have just wanted to chat about architecture, but I wasn’t going to hang around and find out. Don’t ask what I was doing walking around behind the buildings, it was… writer stuff.
I didn’t even plan to discuss the Nacho Witch, or the abandoned and weed-choked police cars beside the road in a town (corp?) that looked as dead as the roadkill smashed over fifteen feet of its blacktop.
So as I neared the Alamo City, anxious to see the kids and get some sleep, I realized I had a metric shit-ton of material that would be ready when I was.
It’s all going pretty smoothly now.
The Monkey Shoulder has done its job. I’m sitting in the mildewed, sweaty diner again, waiting on breakfast and wondering if I should stop fighting the urge to stumble into the men’s room and make a number three. The food here is awful but scotch hangovers make a person stupid and desperate once the sun is out. Years ago I’d sit in these places and amuse myself by looking around at all the other people and silently teasing them from a lofty perch of supposed transcendence. But today, I’m thankful for my cup of black piss and I shift in the seat to move the pommel of my hunting knife out of my kidney. I’m one of them now, I guess, and I love them all this morning so long as I don’t have to meet them. Judging by the look on the toddler’s face in the next booth, I’m betting it’s mutual. I wiggle my nostrils at him and he starts to scream. I dive into the eggs with a filmy grin. If I don’t throw up this morning it looks to be another marvelous day.
I’ve had the honor of working with a lot of veterans lately, from just about every branch (still haven’t met any Coasties yet, get in touch, will you?). These are, without a doubt, the best men and women I’ve been able to spend time with in decades. It took no time at all to remember what it was like when I was enlisted and that was quite a few years ago. I salute all of you who have served. The stories they’ve shared got me thinking and I’m starting a project, if a bit of a long term goal, to honor these people and hopefully help tell some stories from perspectives you won’t necessarily hear in the evening news. If any service men/women and veterans are interested in this, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If any writers want to get involved, please contact me also. The hopes are that any proceeds from a successful project can go to a couple of specific Military Charity Organizations.