I've been writing a book. For twenty-five years.
I discovered the works of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Brendan Behan. I was in journalism school, at the time. I was dirt poor, with no financial assistance from my parents. I hobbling years of my future with student loans. The trauma of my childhood had come to define me, without my ever knowing that I had been traumatized. Everyone's afraid to swallow a pill when they're nine or ten. Everyone's father beat them to the ground yelling for them to swallow the fucking pill as they cried, afraid that swallowing without chewing would kill them and confused by the sudden flurry of strikes.
I'm saying I had a lot of wrong going on.
Red Harvest, Confessions of an Irish Rebel and Farewell, My Lovely calmed the anger and sadness that kept me from caring about my course of study. I didn't have money to party. But, I trade music for booze. So, I did, All nights but Sunday. I came to class smelling of the night before. You could still smoke in pubs then. My breath tasted of ashtray and Jameson.
In the spaces between class, sleep and the bars, I started writing a novel, in longhand. I had no voice to speak of. I stole what I could from the writers I admired: authors who had written books at the start of the century I was at the asshole end of.
It was garbage.
You can wind up in a lot of the worst places during a six-year span. I hurt folks because I was hurting. I lost myself in alcohol. My father took his time dying. He'd driven my mother to madness. Smothering him with a pillow as he lay in bed would have been a kindness to the family.
I somehow managed to make it through university, better equipped to make a living as a writer. Newspapers were dying. Online journalism had not yet found its way. I returned to my home town, finding work in law enforcement. I found it easy to be unkind. I did my job. I went home. I drank. The bars in town had no ear for my music. I tried to find a chunk of normal to cling to.
Normal was four years my junior, from a good family that ate together as they laughed and talked of their days. Short into the relationship, her mother and I shared a quiet moment together. Her mother asked me why, if I had a gone to school for journalism, was I working at a mall. I could not tell her that what I had seen and been through had left me without a word to share. I found the nerve to tell her daughter, however. She listened to where I had been. She heard about the things I'd done.
She left me over email, before it was cool.
Afraid of the anger inside of me, I had a colleague admit me to the local sanitarium. He led me out of my home in handcuffs. I was so grateful.
While in the puzzle factory, I was taught that better living was possible, through chemicals. The sense of loss and being lost remained. I returned to work. I requested midnights, and was granted them. Between calls and patrols, I pulled out the novel I'd started in university for the first time, in years. It was difficult to separate feeling like shit from understanding why what I had written was shit.
I got there.
I started reworking my pages as a way of distracting myself from the open sore of my days.
A year later, I found that I could not stay in a city so full of ghost. I had saved my money. I would move to British Columbia. A co-worker who I had counted as a friend laughed at my plans, saying that the province chewed people up and spit them out. I would be back.
He was wrong. The book travelled with me.
I had been working in corporate security intelligence for a number of years. The Olympics were in town. I was a member of the Joint Intelligence Group. There were challenge coins to be had and daily briefings with pastries. I could not talk to my partner at the time about what I was privy to. I did not want to. Her addiction had foiled and fracture us. I spilled myself into my work. Somehow, I always found stress. I craved it and the pain it brought me.
One day, I sat down to use the bathroom. When I stood up, the bowl was full of blood. I didn't know what to do. So, I went back to work. I had an inkling that perhaps I wanted to die. I hoped for illness. I was diagnosed with anal fissures. At the end of the Olympics, my employers, not entirely sure of what I was doing for them, decided that I needed a raise. During the meeting where it was offered, I blurted out that I had a book deal and was giving my two-week notice.
I would love to say that it was my novel, but I'd be lying.
I was offered $9,000 to write a book on how to use an open-source CMS. I had never used the CMS before. I faked it until I made it, desperate to be something other than what I had become. The publisher's editorial process was a clusterfuck. I went broke waiting for the money I was promised. A friend offered me my first gig in tech journalism, posting news stories for $15 a pop.
As I slowly became a better writer and found more work. I pulled out my book, once again.
I would finish writing it. I would be fine.
I was ready to die. I've written about it here, before. I won't write about it again.
I'm still here.
I left the poisonous relationship I had been in. Somewhere, amongst the kilometres of travel and the few cardboard boxes that contained my life, I lost the book I was working on. It was almost a relief.
But not quite.
The plot, refined over decades, chewed at me. I was writing for everyone else, but myself. To do so is both a blessing and a curse. My reputation as a journalist was such that, even as a freelancer, I was able to make a comfortable living. But, shunning treatment for depression and, with so much work coming in, I had no energy left to start the book anew. I took plot notes. I threw out plot notes. I bought books of paper to write my draft in. They sat unused on a shelf in my office, mocking me.
The world is a fucking mess. I'm still a fucking mess. But we're both getting better.
My wife sees my mess and accepts it, content in knowing that I'm doing what I can to clean it up. I lose my shit at therapy. I cry, often. But I am no longer lost. My anxiety gave birth to heart problems in 2019. I take so many pills, daily. I found full-time employment as an editor, that same year. I am good at my job. I'm liked by my team. I feels uncomfortable, but not unwelcome. I started writing my book again, last summer.
This time, it is my book. It does not belong to Behan, Hammett or Chandler. It is not a thing of desperation. It's a work of fiction. It is a work of the sum of my experience. It's a work that, despite writing, every day of the week, I still find the time and energy for. I write each chapter, in longhand. Once written, it goes to my computer. Once entered, I read it, once, and set it aside. When all of the chapters have found their way home, I'll read it again. A red pen will be involved. I'll find an editor. They will cut the fat, leaving the words that are left, close to the bone.
Perhaps it will find a publisher. Perhaps you might even read it, one day. I'm not sure that either of these things matter.
I've been trying to write a book, for twenty-five years. It is a thing of wonder that I may finally understand how.