This will be a story about two things, poorly organized.
It’s been about two weeks since I gave my manuscript the final read through and sent it off to my editors. My eyes stung, my body reeked, my brain frayed on sugar and caffeine overdose. Almost bankrupt from the work shifts I’d given away to write it. Two weeks on my finances are still kind of dicey. It could be another six to eight months before I see a dime from the thing, if not more. It’s almost enough to make a man wonder why he bothers.
People have constantly asked me throughout this process, But aren’t you excited?! I am but I’m not. The 18 months I proposed, researched and wrote this book were a time of intense personal loss, on a few different levels, not the least of which was the breakdown of my six-year relationship, compounded by the loss of the woman who saw me through that breakup and made sure I stayed above water. There are lessons of self-sufficiency to be found there, I’m sure, but I don’t care to excavate them today. Suffice to say, I learned the hard way what most writers already know: any project may turn into a collaborative process, but in the thick of it, it’s just you, the screen and the words. And in my case, a dead man.
That’s been the strangest part of all this, now that I’m “over the mountain,” as it were. I spent large portions of every day with this guy in my head, listening to his music, researching his life, reading what people who knew him had to say. I don’t need to do that anymore. I need to let him go. And I’ve started to, but I kind of already miss him.
After I mailed the draft in, I got nine hours of sleep, went to work for a quick shift and tended to the business of cleaning my sty of an apartment after weeks of neglect. I had Songza on for accompaniment, I think it was an 80’s party playlist. Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” came on. I was hungry, so I took a moment to eat some yogurt and take stock of what I’d done and what still needed cleaning. And I don’t know, something about the breeze coming in my window, realizing I’d gotten enough of my life back to actually clean the house, Joe Jackson reminding me we’re all young but getting old before our time… I felt something resembling pride in my accomplishment. It didn’t matter who was supposed to be there when I finished,the point was finishing.
Details have trickled in over the last couple of weeks. A cover design, a release date, a listing on the publisher site [you can find all these details on the recently redesigned page for the book, just click ’33 1/3 Donuts’ above]. Currently my editor’s looking at the manuscript, she’ll send it back to me hacked to shit with ideas on how to make it better, I will spend a month rewriting based on her suggestions and then my tiny little hype machine will kick into high gear, and I’ll really be in trouble, because eventually someone’s going to ask the [reasonable] question, “Who the fuck is this guy, and why does he get to write about Dilla?!” And I don’t have an answer. I’m told most creative types, especially writers, live with the anxiety that we’re all just frauds and one day someone will realize it and tell the world.
Neil Gaiman has lived with this anxiety. Despite winning multiple awards for his writing, building a career that’s endured over 30 years and proving he can write everything from films to children’s books to comics and radio plays, he still worries that one day someone will knock on his door, confiscate his notepads and force him to get a real job. He discussed this fear in a speech he made to the 2012 graduating class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. He put everything he knew about trying to build a career in the arts into those 20 minutes, and of course it went viral online, eventually being collected in a slim volume designed by Chip Kidd called Fantastic Mistakes. Knowing Gaiman was stopping in Toronto as part of his “Last Signing Tour” a mere five days after my draft day, the speech, with its dedication to everyone wondering “Now what?” [which I most certainly was] it seemed like a suitable item for him to sign [since I’d forgotten to bring my copy of Sandman #1 back from my parents’ house].
The first time I met Gaiman, I told him about being 10 or 11 years old and stumbling across an interview of his on the old TVOntatio show Prisoners of Gravity, and how I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever seen, and started reading Sandman shortly afterward. His stories changed my life; where books like Dark Knight Returns or Arkham Asylum left a marked impression on me, Sandman didn’t have any of the nihilism those books did, there was always a humanity and optimism in them, something that spoke to me then like it spoke to me in his latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (no lie, my favourite thing of his in years. No shots, just personal taste). Four years ago, he’d seemed genuinely touched by the story, looked up and smiled, then shook my hand, something I hadn’t seen him do much with the other people in line.
When I saw him a couple weeks ago, he was personable, if a little weary, and I launched into an off the cuff monologue about why I was having him sign the speech, and my book coming out, and how I took the advice to ‘make good art” very seriously, considering the circumstances surrounding my book’s inception (great fun watching his publicist try to piece that one together, as the woman I used to date was standing next to me in line). And for the second consecutive time, he paused, looked up at me and offered his hand, pen still threaded in his fingers. I think this means we’re best friends now.
Last Holiday I was speaking with a friend who’d recently separated from her husband and told her that for the first time in my life, I really didn’t know what the next 12 months were going to hold, for any of us. Most of the time, we go through our lives with at least a small degree of certainty: X and Y will remain married, you will live in this certain city, work at this certain job, etc. At the end of 2012, I couldn’t speak to any of that. Relationships were ending, careers were changing, people were moving. I had no idea what the gameboard was going to look like a year from then. Almost 3/4 through this year, I have even less of an idea. The book’s in, it could be the start of the career I’ve always wanted, or it could be some footnote on my life, a cool thing I did once.I probably don’t need to know that right now, which is rare for me, and extremely liberating. All I need to know right now is that trying to make good art and trusting my instincts is what got me here, and continuing to do the same is what will see me through.
You can read or watch the “Make Good Art’ speech here.