Okay. The title is from Guns N Roses lyrics. I know. I know that is PLAYED OUT but oh well.
Tonight, I was driving back to my hotel after dinner. I’m away for work, and all the Real Places to get food here are closed on Sundays, so I drove 40ish minutes into the closest neighboring Pennsylvania town with restaurants for dinner. Daylight was fading fast on the drive out, and the sun had set as I got on the road to go back to Bradford.
The roads up here are mostly 2-lane highways, in the middle of the woods, questionable cell service, and definitely unlit by streetlamps. The particular 2-lane highway between Warren and Bradford goes through the Allegheny National Forest, and, most scenic-ly, past the Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir. In the daylight, it’s gorgeous:
At night… it’s a totally different story.
No streetlamps, and not even the soothing sounds of my favourite Richard Blade to get me through the drive. My satellite radio cut out completely for almost ten miles. In fact, the only sound I could hear tonight, driving past the reservoir, was this creepy sound that reminded me of the sounds at the start of the song “Fascination Street” by The Cure. In fact, at first, I thought it was my radio cutting back in, because “Fascination Street” is not an unusual thing to hear on First Wave.
But nope. When a song did finally blip in and out, it was a Psychedelic Furs song that sounds nothing like that effect on the Cure song. I heard the sound 4 or 5 times in the 10 miles of dead zone. There was total darkness on the road ahead of me, but the mountains above the reservoir were, in my rearview mirror, lit up with this strange pale-blue glow. It was the kind of thing that sends a creepy shiver up your spine. I was really convinced, for a few minutes there, that if I didn’t get safely out of the forest quickly, I was going to end up exiting it on a spacecraft with some new alien guardians.
When I did get back to the land of the living and get into my hotel room, the first thing that pulled up on Facebook was an article about a person who was visiting the hotel from The Shining and took a photo that appears to have a ghost in it.
Since I was already creeped out as fuck from the drive home, I decided to go for broke and click on the link. I was reading about Close Encounters of the Third Kind last night, why not The Shining tonight?
But it wasn’t the creepy ghost photo that sunk in with me. It was this quote, from Stephen King’s website, embedded in the text of the article: “In late September of 1974, Tabby and I spent a night at a grand old hotel in Estes Park, the Stanley. We were the only guests as it turned out; the following day they were going to close the place down for the winter. Wandering through its corridors, I thought that it seemed the perfect—maybe the archetypical—setting for a ghost story. That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”
This is missing. I mean, obviously not the part about the son and the cigarettes, but that feeling, that fleeting thought that wakes you up that turns into an idea that suddenly just spills out of you onto paper and becomes a story.
That kind of thing used to happen to me. Inspiration used to pop up everywhere. I used to have vivid dreams, and I would wake up with an idea in my mind, rush over to my computer, and write it down in my old LiveJournal. I told the story about the creepy drive through the ANF because that’s exactly the sort of shit that used to spark something in me. Years ago, a single creepy nighttime drive would be fodder for at least a few hours of writing that night.
And now what happens? ‘Adulting.’ Work. My brain is stuck on work, and it’s so hard to tear it away.
My confidence is not what it was, either. I’m self-conscious about everything. I have zero confidence in my writing. When I read things back over that I have written, my brain reads it in the voices of people who have criticized me.
That’s ridiculous, I know. I know it is. But it’s what my mind does right now.
Here’s an example: about a month ago, I fell asleep while reading in the afternoon. I had this awesome dream, and in the dream, I was meeting a set of fictional supernatural characters who were telling me about their lives. And in the dream, I was like, YES I want to write about them! Their story is one I should be writing!!
Flash forward to waking up: I immediately felt like a fucking fool. Why would I waste my time writing about that stupid idea? COME ON FOX THAT’S JUST DUMB.
I don’t even remember what the characters were trying to tell me anymore. I was so embarrassed that I was thinking about writing that I drove the thoughts from my mind and they won’t come back.
So even in that very rare moment when inspiration hits, my brain shuts it down. It’s like my brain is conditioning itself to be a machine, a machine that doesn’t have bright colors or interesting shapes or fun noises. Just a machine that plods along, day in and day out.
And that’s why this post began with lyrics from “Sweet Child O Mine.” Because honestly, where do we go from here? How do I get that inspiration thing back? How do I read shit that I’ve written and not immediately feel like I should toss it on a fire and forget I ever thought those words?
The truth is this: I fell in love with 2 characters last November. In February, I brought them out to The Cage with me. And I reviewed our history together.
And I liked them. Like I wanted to know what they were going to do tomorrow or the next day or the next.
And I didn’t really feel any shame or lack of confidence reading their story. Their story that I had written.
I didn’t have any great inspirations about what will come next for them, but I did have a feeling in my soul that I wanted to know. I want to know what happens. I want to know how they win.
I need to do the things that inspire me: dance. Listen to good music. Sit at The Cage in my favourite flannel shirt and play an eclectic mix of Love and Rockets and sad Bruce Springsteen songs on the jukebox. I need to travel. Sit outside and drink wine in the evenings when it’s not too hot.
I need to try to actually get a fucking good night’s sleep (lost cause tonight, ah well). Sit with the story, even when new words aren’t coming.
It’s in there. It’s going to come back. It has to come back. I’ve gotta make it work.