Crossroads Pt. II

Dropping Jack Jack off at preschool this morning, I turn out of our cloistered little village, this quaint cul-de-sac of safely tucked away houses, and onto the main thoroughfare off the hill, the bustling Arlington, which is pretty clogged at 8:30 in the morning. Soon as I turn out, squeezing between traffic, I see a man walking, drifting into the road. He’s holding a leash but no animal is attached. At least that’s what it looks like but when I get closer I see it’s not a leash but a pole. The man is blind. And he’s weaving into the traffic. Cars are going slow, steering wide and clear, but still. As I pass I see he’s about my age, but he’s not using his stick; he’s just holding it, weaving in and out of traffic. So I start muttering “Fuck, that guy’s gonna get hit.” And Jack Jack of course is asking what? what? because now he repeats everything I say, so I’m sure to mutter “fuck” a little softer. And I want to pull over, help this guy get to the sidewalk, because I swear, in the rearview mirror, he looks like he’s gonna get hit by a car. But I can’t stop because of traffic. I think about pulling over at the intersection, helping this man navigate this busy, dangerous road. Then it hits me: dude is probably fifty years old, my age, probably been blind his whole life, surviving on his own. Who the hell am I to think he needs my help to manage a journey he’s probably made thousands of times? Like this is the first time dude’s ever had to walk on his own? Just because he’s blind, he’s not helpless. In fact, if I stop and try to tell him how to walk, makes me a bigger dick for assuming he can’t do it himself, right? I’m a jerk. I don’t know. But then I feel bad about that too. When I get to the intersection, I turn down the hill. I look back one last time. Dude seems like he’s handling his shit fine.

Sometimes even God is heavy-handed with the metaphors.

*

I wrote a blog post the other day. And I was a little surprised by the response. Mostly because so people not only read it. But also because so many were kind enough to reach out to make sure I was all right.

I’m all right.

My wife and I have a routine. When you’re married, you develop routines. They become part of life. And sometimes when Justine is telling me a story, I, being the stupid husband I am, will say, “Okay, I got it.” And Justine will say, “Just listen. I’m telling the story as much for my benefit. I’m a verbal processor.” I’m paraphrasing. Except the “verbal processor” part. So that’s become part of our (loving) routine. “I get it,” I’ll say, “You’re a verbal processor.”

This morning, my wife, who just returned from vacation in Greece, commented about the blog, the … dreary … tone of that last post. And I said, jokingly, I’m a writing processor. Except when I said it, I realized, actually, yeah, that is exactly what I am. Writing is how I make sense of my world. That I choose to do it on here, on this blog, this very public forum, well that’s my deal.

I never expect people to really read this stuff. But I also am VERY grateful they do. My life, I decided a while ago, would be an open book. Literally (not literally). After you write something like Junkie Love, ain’t no point in hiding shit.

When my brother was alive, he tried to take a dig at me by pointing out one of the myriad embarrassing things I did in my drug days. That’s okay. I took as many digs at him. It’s what you do when you love each other. At least when you’re a dude, from the East Coast: you show your love by ribbing and riding, viciously at times. Anyway, I was, like, “Man, I put that shit in a book. You really think I care?”

Of course I care. I care about everything. Deeply. It’s how I write. And that is what I do. I write.

While Justine was away, I bribed Holden to keep the house clean by letting him stay up late so we could have movie nights. (Yes, I know my wife will read this. No, I am not worried. Like our last therapist, the Earth Mother told her, “Hey, you married a writer.”) And I must tell you: despite missing my lovely wife, having an immaculately clean house for ten whole days was glorious, especially to an OCD’d mutherfucker like me. I’d do it all again.

One of the movies we watched was (surprise) a Rocky film. Rocky Balboa. Despite being the laughably 6th installment, the film is surprisingly good. I mean, really fucking good. Rocky is now old, widowed, basically estranged from his son, and he can’t move on. He’s still got something … in the basement.

I’m not going to rehash the plot. But watch it. Seriously. Even if you aren’t a boxing fan. Because, outside of the shitty 3rd through 5th installments, these movies have never been about boxing.

There’s a scene with Little Marie (from the original), and now Rocky, in his 50s, wants to fight again. Of course, being as old as he is, people keep trying to talk him out of it. It’s her response that is important here. Little Marie says to Rocky, “If this is something you got to do, then you do it. Fighters fight.”

Writers write. That’s the point. All this … crap … going on inside of me right now, from my brother dying, to my career (feeling like it’s) spiraling, is the direct result of not writing, not having a direction, not feeling a hope for the future. Up until now I’ve always had the hope of the e-mailman. Because submissions were out. Good news could come in any day. But I’m not submitting anymore. I have nothing new to give. And I say this, while still reassuring, I cherish my boys every day. Every minute with them is a fucking gift. And I laugh. And I love. And I will never hang that fucking sign in my house. I’m okay. I’ll be fine. I’ll eventually get an agent, a new book, hit big as I want. Or at least I’ll keep chasing, keep … navigating … that busy road. Maybe I never make it. But so what? I’ve got everything I need here, my family, my heart; I’m holding up fine. This is my baseline, neurotic, anxious, relentless, yearning. In the meantime, to keep my sanity, I’ll write. Even if it’s for a book about being a dad I never submit. Even if it’s only sporadically here. I’ll write because … writers write.

Crossroads

If you are a fan what I do, feel free to stick around. If you’re not, well, I guess you wouldn’t be here in the first place. A blog, at least mine, can border on confessional, a diary entry, and after 16 no one wants to read that shit. At the same time, I don’t have a point to this, other than I need to keep writing, because the mind is a muscle; and the one thing worse than exercising is coming back to exercise after a long layoff. That’s not true. I exercise every day, and I rather enjoy it. At least compared to the rest of my life, which is fraught with annoyances, from minor to gripping.

Of course at some point (which is probably now), one has to look at the problem, and I am pretty sure I am the problem, the one consistent variable.

Like many writers, I’m sure, I’ve been in the grips of malaise. My writer friend Jennifer Hillier calls it a crossroads.

She’s not wrong.

I write a thriller series, the Jay Porter books. Except they aren’t really thrillers. I never set out to write “thrillers” or “mysteries” or “noir”; I wanted to write books. I settled on genre because the form–and we can use the all encompassing “mysteries,” I suppose–supplied a template I could understand. Writing, for me, had always been about exploring, not just character, but the depths and lengths, the edges and loses–what it’s like, not just for me, which would be boring, but for people like me. And there’s a difference. Because the latter implies a community. And writing isn’t done in a vacuum. I write to be read.

I just wrapped up Porter 5 (RAG AND BONE) and feel quite satisfied about the way I concluded the 5-book arc. I hope others do too. Those who enjoy the Porter series, I imagine will. Those who don’t like Jay or his choices, don’t like the grim and bleak tone (but who, for some fucking reason, keep reading) probably won’t. In short, I don’t backtrack. I move the storyline ahead, go forward to its logical, inevitable, and I hope surprising conclusion.

And I mention all this because now I don’t know what to do next. Being a writer who isn’t writing just might really be the worst feeling. At least for me. I need a purpose. Ever Porter book has a theme (which should make my high school English teachers very happy). The “theme” in book 5 is “purpose.” We need it. I need it. I need to be moving my feet, heading toward something. Otherwise I live in my head. My head is a like a rich chocolate cake: a little goes a long way; too much and you get sick.

I am sick man. I host a weekly app-cast called “Notes from the Underground,” a title I picked because of the opening line to Dostoyevski’s book. I’ve been sick for a while. I might be on the uptick now. Last year was savage. But my brother’s death hangs heavy, and the conversations we have now so mirror the ones Jay and Chris Porter have in my books, I’m not sure which came first.

So what do I write next? I have three books slated to come out with Down & Out Books, and while I am hoping they hit big, I can’t seem to climb over the insecurity that I am doing it all … wrong. On the heels of a cult novel like Junkie Love, I was riding high with Lamentation, got that Anthony nom, and it really felt like I was about to break through. I started getting bigger advances, more press. And then …

I’m not sure what happened. Or if anything did happen. That’s the thing with being sick, mentally, you don’t get a good read on reality. You can only go with reactions. From your publisher. From the critics. From agents. I don’t think the reaction is good. But I don’t know.

Crossroads. Crisis of faith. You can call it whatever you’d like. I woke up  to an interview Hector Duarte Jr. gave for Jesse Rawlins, where people are saying all kinds of nice things about me, like I help others and am not a self-absorbed asshole, and it was touching, but also surprising because, again like many writers/artists, I spent so much of my day wondering if I am good at anything.

I’m a good dad. I am usually confident about that. But this weekend had me doubting even that. My wife Justine is in Greece, so it’s just me and the boys. Holden, Jackson, and I went bowling. But there were no lanes. So after they played video games and spent $9 trying to snag a Spongebob with the claw, because they are kids and don’t understand that those games are rigged, but hey it made them happy, and that makes me happy, we went to get ice cream. And it was a nice day, a nice moment, sunny, California cool/warm, and I love nothing more than being with my boys. We’re sitting in the ice cream shop, which is more a cafe, and bicyclists are out in droves, weaving in and out of traffic, and Jack Jack, who is three years old, goes, “Look at those people. Ugh. What a bunch of assholes,” and I know he got it from me, that I must’ve been driving at some point, and some bicyclist blew a stop sign, and I must’ve said that. Where else would he get it from? And Holden starts laughing, egging him on to say it again, and the people are looking at us. And I’m now trying to quiet two boys who are amped up and a 3-year-old calling bicyclists assholes, and I feel like shit, y’know? We get out of there, back in the car, and I’m trying to explain why Jack Jack can’t say that, why I was wrong, even though I don’t recall one specific incident, more like this is how I fucking am, all the time these days, just angry, raging at nothing at all. Except to my boys, who find everything I say hysterical, who think the world of me, who want to be like me. And I don’t want them to be like me. I want them to be like their mother. I don’t want them to be 47, running out of money, no agent, career in a tailspin, and feeling the things I do. Because as awesome as my boys and wife are, as great as my life is (THREE pars yesterday!), most of the time, I am … gripped … by a pervasive sadness, like a rain seeping deep into the mulch of my bones. I want my boys to have something more, better.

I tried to explain this to Holden, who again reiterated his desire to be just like me. I told him, I want him to be better than me. That is all any father wants, for their kids to be better than they are. I told him if he becomes a writer (which is what he says) that I want him to be a better writer. A better writer. A better father. A better person. That is all any father wants for his child. Of course being 7, he was half paying attention, half off in little kid world.

Later on, we were watching a movie, Ferdinand, about a bull. And of course (*Spoiler) the father dies because parents always die in little kid movies for some reason. But before the dad dies, he tells his boy that he hopes his son grows into a better bull than he is, that that is all any father wants for his child, to have a better life. And Holden looks over and says, “Hey, just like you always say, Dad.” So maybe he was listening. And maybe I just need to watch my language more. Maybe it’s not all falling apart. Maybe I did something good this weekend. Maybe I make a contribution to the betterment of the world at large. Maybe I’ll pull past this crossroads, and look back, and to quote the Boss, someday this’ll all seem funny. Because right now I got two little men that look up to me like I am everything; I can’t let them down. But still it’s a lot of pressure. I mean, I asked Holden who the best musician of all time was. I said, the one artist who is better than Frank Turner, Brian Fallon, and Craig Finn, who, as great as these three are, was more influential. I asked who is the best of all time? Of course my son replied, “You.” Rips your heart right out.

Dennis Lehane’s Note

It’s been a while.

Sorry. In my defense, I’ve been writing. Plus, honestly, I’m still getting over the death of my brother. Not unlike Jay Porter when he lost his brother, Chris, I’ve been talking to Josh more now since he died than when he was alive. Which is … weird.

I have three books coming out this year. I’ve been busy. Add to that the whole mortal coil/existential angst, the what’s-it-all-mean? and, well, I hope that explains my absence. But thanks for tuning in.

When I quit smoking back in 2008, I couldn’t write a word for 6 months. Not. One. Goddamn. Word. The brain is kinda essential to that whole “writing” thing. Mental state affects output. Being a writer configures an odd bird in that department. Can’t write if you are too happy. Because who the fuck wants happy stories about two people loving each other very much and nothing ever going wrong? Which leaves conflict. But that is one tenuous baby. No one want to read too much misery (see: biggest criticisms of Jay Porter). The challenge for the professional writer, or any writer who wants to get read I suppose, lies in harnessing conflict, mining unease but keeping said dissonance pleasant enough that you don’t end up writing Affliction or Leaving Las Vegas. Unless of course you can write another Affliction or Leaving Las Vegas. Because then you get that lucrative movie deal and everyone will love you for the rest of your life (*which may not be long).

I am not quitting writing. And if I ever did, there would be no point in making the announcement. No one gives a shit. One of my favorite bits of advice re: writing comes from Dennis Lehane, who carries a little reminder in his wallet: No one cares. Yeah, that can be depressing to some. To me (and Dennis) it’s freedom: No one cares. You can do whatever the fuck you want.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say this writing shit has left me feeling … tapped.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my life. I mean, as much as a curmudgeonly grumpy fuck like I can. Beats working in a factory, and I can honestly say each book I’ve written has been better than the last.

Only the world doesn’t always share your enthusiasm.

I recently posted about a bad review I got, and, seriously, this isn’t a cry for help, nor is it to disparage the reviewer (although putting spoilers for a book not yet out was kind of a dick move). I use this blog, and really my life, to be open book. I don’t know how else to live. Sure, some of that is born from a … neediness. I won’t pretend to have different stripes. But there is also a very earnest, human emotion behind it all: I want to create work people like.

Before we get into a debate about the purpose of art or any of that. I mean it much, much more simply. I try very hard to write the best books I can, and when they are criticized, however fairly, it hurts. That’s it. Not a “woe is poor me” statement or anything like that. Just a basic, primitive, “Golly, that sure hurt my feelings, Becky.” My youngest, Jack Jack, has taken to this approach. When he doesn’t get his way, he cries and screams, “You bad [insert relation here]! You hurt my feelings.” Of course Jack Jack is 3.

I am 47.

Rejection never gets easier. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.


I’m also wrapping up the fifth (and final) Jay Porter, and as beta reader return their notes, I am super sensitive to the biggest complaint that has plagued the series from the start: Jay. Or more specifically Jay’s being … unlikeable.

Now, to me, Jay is not unlikeable, and it’s always weird to hear he is. Because Jay is … me (you don’t like me?!). His ideas, thoughts, behaviors, beliefs? All Joe. I am a little more mature, evolved than Jay. But, like Holden Caulfield, I don’t disagree with these things he thinks. Impetuous, childish, immature, angsty? Sure. Don’t mean he’s wrong.

It’s my worldview, I suppose. And this is not a worldview that hasn’t been unproblematic. Most of you know about the “salad years.” I am not the most pleasant man to be around in social situations (although to be fair I think most people like me. Well, at least more than they like Jay). But it’s draining. As an artist you have a vision, and I feel I’ve been true that vision. I get a lot of (e)letters from people who say they can relate to Jay and who love the books. It’s the nature of writing, though, some just aren’t going to like what you do. Like Rocky says, “Life will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it.” The trick is getting back up.

Because if you don’t? Like Dennis Lehane says: no one cares.

 

Book Deals and Agents

You might have seen I just signed a three-book deal with Down & Out Books to publish my three standalone novels. While writing Jay Porter, I would write an additional novel each year. These books, The One That Got Away, Skunk Train, and Occam’s Razor, are among the best things I’ve done. I love the Porter books but it’s been especially frustrating to not have these three books out in the world. Now, thanks to Eric Campbell and Down & Out, these works have a home. For this, I am forever grateful. I’ve long been a fan of what Eric and D&O are doing, and I’ll be back at the same house as my buddy Tom Pitts. What’s not to love?

Getting here, though, has been a bumpy road. I talked about what a shit show 2017 was personally. Professionally it wasn’t much better. I am carefully not to criticize the gatekeeper system of publishing because, despite its shortcomings, I don’t see a better way. Like knocking capitalism: it’s the worst system besides all the others.

I got the Down & Out deal without an agent. I left my agency over the summer, not for anything they weren’t doing–my agent got me five book deals in five years–who can ask for more? I reached a point where I needed to make a change. It’s like a baseball team that is underperforming. It’s not the manager’s fault, but you can’t fire the entire team. Which is why the manager gets the ax. It’s not fair. But it’s the system we have.

Being without an agent is strange. The two happiest days of my publishing life were not when I got book deals or when books came out; it was when I got both my agents. Getting an agent validates you in a different way; it’s an invitation to the party. Landing an agent says you are good enough to be here; you are worthy.

When I left my agency over the summer, I didn’t exactly inundate the market with submissions. I had hoped my name might carry some weight. It didn’t. I was back to square: send a sample chapter and we’ll get back to you. After a handful of rejections, I stopped trying.

Several other factors factored into my giving up. Like my brother dying. We knew my brother was sick for a while, even if consciously I tried to believe he wasn’t. Alcoholism is an awful disease, and looking back at the pictures of Josh, so yellow and grey, I don’t know how I managed to convince myself he’d be okay. The alternative hurt too much I guess.

Suddenly pushing on with my career didn’t seem so important. I didn’t feel like I could sell myself. And that is a huge part of what this industry is. This isn’t, in any way, to disparage agents out there. Agents have a largely thankless job. Very few authors hit big, and fifteen percent of nothing is a whole lot of time spent reading, revising, editing, and submitting your work. If an agent takes you on, they are making a serious personal investment. They don’t want to sign authors who might hit; they want as much as a sure thing as sure things get in this business. They want to believe in you.

I didn’t find any who felt that way about me last year. And it was my fault because I didn’t put myself out there more, send enough submissions, let the process unfold the way it does. I got a few no thank yous and said fuck it; I’ll do it myself.

And I did. And Down & Out is a great fit for these books. But my inability to land an agent, and furthermore my unwillingness to re-enter the marketplace made me realize something. Beyond my stubborness. Agents are looking to (rightfully) be wowed and dazzled by a manuscript, and there is nothing so otherworldly and unique about my work that an agent is going to drop everything and say, “This! I need to have this!” I’m not knocking my work, and I’m not knocking agents. I mean it more as an understanding of what I am and what I do, how work resonates. I have my own style, and it’s not for everyone. But I can write.

I have a nice fanbase and following, readers who like what I do. I am happy with my career. But like anyone I want more. Or maybe not “like anyone.” Like Josh Brolin in that Wallstreet sequel and/or addicts, active or past. A little is never enough, and neither is a little more. More always means … more.

My next book is almost certainly going to be non-fiction, a follow-up to Junkie Love. It will cover my drug years, but focus more on the relationship of brothers, a central theme to just about everything I’ve done. I want to write about my brother Josh and his life and what we did together, the violence we grew up with and that helped shaped us, how one of us escaped the affliction and the other did not; and I want to have that experience transcend, like Junkie Love did. At least to a few people.

As for agents, I’m not submitting my work. This isn’t ego or angst. I get how the gatekeeper system works. I am not suggesting replacing it. But I’m also not sending in a chapter of my work, with my name, to a stranger I find in a database or on a referral, which is tantamount to a blind date. I’d rather control my own fate. Write the most kick-ass book I can, get it out in the world, take my message to the streets. If any agent wants to see what I do, my books are out there, all dozen or so. I write the way I write. That is not changing.

I’m still aiming for the Great American Novel. Until then, I’ll recommit to doing what I do best, which I started in earnest back in 2010 with Junkie Love. My only skill, in fact. I can bang my head against a wall longer than you. Plus, I don’t have a lot of time. My family rarely lives past their fifties.

New Year

2017 sucked. I know it was rough for a lot of people. I’m not sure if it’s because I am getting older and have entered the hell and a hand basket stage, waving angry fist at cloud, but I can honestly say last year ranks among the very worst of my life. And, yes, that includes the homeless junkie years.

As you may know I lost my brother, Josh, in November. Most sibling relationships are complicated, but Josh and I had a shared history of addiction, which only further complicates. It’s not as simple as one of us was the fuck up, the other the overachiever. We each played both roles, at various times. The end was particularly hard. By then I’d given up the ghost, was married with kids, living on the West Coast. The writing had taken off, books doing well; and my brother was 3,000 miles away in his own tormented hell. There was a time where Josh and I were as close as two brothers get. The last several years saw more distance, as I moved further and further from certain behaviors, movement that my brother, for whatever reasons, couldn’t emulate. And it sucks because when you lose someone, especially under those conditions, where the person, essentially, let their own demons consume them, you’re going to ask what you could’ve done. I’ve been asking that question for the better part of fifteen years. I’ve just changed tenses.

If you’ve read the Jay Porter books, you know where the story of two brothers, one an addict, the other besieged by guilt and regret, finds its inspiration. I am not Jay Porter, even if Jay Porter is me. If that makes sense.

Junkie Love is coming out next year in a 2nd edition, with new Foreword by one of my literary heroes, Jerry Stahl, and a new Afterword by me. The Afterword, which I wrote shortly after Josh’s passing, might be the best thing I’ve written in fifteen years. Even as it came from one of the worst times of my life. That’s art, right? Nothing ever going wrong does not for great writing make. But I’d give back every book, and just about everything else in my life too, save my two boys and family, to have my brother and mother back (they can keep my father).

I don’t want to talk too much about that Afterword–you’ll get to read it soon enough–but one of the lines in there talks about how the Porter books have long been the conversations I wanted to have with my brother but couldn’t. I don’t think Josh ever read any of my books after Junkie Love. I know it must’ve been hard, that thin line between truth and fiction.

Since November, I’ve sorta checked out. Going on social media got to be too painful. And since I spend a lot of my life in the virtual realm, I feel like I’ve been isolating and anti-social. I’m that way in the physical world too (never been much of a people person), but I’m usually online, on Facebook or whatever, to interact. A lot of people reached out after Josh died, and the outpouring was touching and deeply appreciated. But I could also not go on social media and not be reminded. And some days I didn’t want to be reminded. Some days I just wanted to play with my boys or watch football or go golfing. Even if as I did those things I was never fully able to escape the reality that my little brother was gone, and no matter how much longer I lived, another 50 years, I wouldn’t get to see him again.

With 2018 almost here, I’ve … resolved … to get back out there. Like a single mom dating again or something. I have some good news with my books, and I’ll share that soon, and I’ll need to do my part to promote. I know the year turning over isn’t some magic reset button; it’s an arbitrary marker. Still I am anxious to see what this New Year brings. I don’t want to say it can’t get much worse because I know it always can, which makes me more appreciative and grateful for the people in my life, my family, friends, fans, folks who took the time out to check in on me these past couple months. Thank you. I expect you’ll be seeing more of me (that’s not a threat). (If only in an electronic version. I still don’t like to wear pants.)

Where I Am Right Now / Jay Porter

It’s been a weird year. And by “weird,” I mean … just fucking awful. I don’t want to rehash all the personal losses and professional setbacks, and this isn’t to bitch and moan about lousy hands–life deals from the bottom of the deck, same way to everyone–but those who know me know what I am talking about, and those of you who don’t, let’s just leave it at: I’ll be glad to see 2017 end. Hyperbole aside, this year has ranked among the worst of my life, every bit as the worst of the junkie years, and keep in mind that particular period saw me eating food off the ground and shooting up mouse shit.

So what does 2018 hold? I won’t say it can’t get worse because if there is one thing we all know about this place: it can always get worse. And herein lies the rub of writing Jay Porter.

I’m sure most of you know who Jay Porter is. Those who don’t: Jay Porter is the protagonist of the … Jay Porter Thriller Series that I write for Oceanview Publishing. The books have done well for me, selling enough to land a 5-book deal. I owe that to my former agent Liz Kracht, who did a tremendous job getting my work out there. But last summer I decided it was time for a change, and I parted ways with the Cameron Agency. This wasn’t for any other reason than I felt I needed to shake things up, and I couldn’t fire myself, even if that would’ve been my first choice. I’d come to the end of Jay’s story. I mean, I came to the end of the arc, in my head, which was still two and a half years out. I am currently writing Book 5, RAG AND BONE, a draft of which is almost complete. (It will be released in June 2019). I feel the need to do something … bigger … next. Though I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know what the fuck that means. I have something inside of me to say, like all writers, and I’ll have to pick the best vessel. And this is why Tobias Wolf’s “Bullet in the Brain” hurts so much, that never-ending hall of self-reflecting mirrors when you vivisect the living word for a living.

Right now, though, I am in full Jay Porter mode. And if you haven’t read the Porter books, I’ll leave it as Jay’s skin is not the most comfortable to wear. The rub, of course, is that I am Jay. Even if Jay is not me. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I hope you’ll forgive any roundabout syntax. I’ve written almost 40K words in 7 days. Which may not seem that crazy. But I promise you, when you are writing a mystery, plotting this and that, the process sorta turns your brain to mush. Spending time in my head right now feels like traipsing through a sea of Velvetta.

Jay is also a miserable bastard. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe that is just because so many people have told me how miserable he is that I’ve come to accept it. Except that I am Jay, and I don’t think of myself as miserable. More … unsatisfied. If I had to pick one word to describe how I feel, how Jay feels that would be it. Unsatisfied. Probably why I love Paul Westerberg so fucking much.

It’s a tough line to walk, this feeling of being unsatisfied, because conversely, at the same time, I can feel tremendously lucky and a shit-ton on joy and, on occasion, even hope. I have my boys, my wife, my house, my 8-lbs. poodle Lucky. And yet …

I’m not quite sure where Jay ends and I begin, or if it’s the other way around. I’ve spent the last 7 days writing the story of man who serves as a harbinger, a portent, a worse-case scenario, the potential for how bad my life could get. Jay Porter predicts my future. Jay hurts his leg, I hurt my leg. Jay’s brother dies, my brother dies. Jay loses everything he loves, and I … realize it’s just a book. Right?

I resurrected this blog. Though I am not sure what function it is supposed to serve. The first time I had a blog, there was a purpose: to eliminate the disconnect between my person and my (writing) voice. To that end, it was wildly successful. But now? Not sure if I want to use it to get another agent, sell books, get a book deal, communicate with strangers, or just … write. Just write for the pure, unadulterated love of language, as corny as that sounds. I fucking love writing and I fucking love words.

That last one is disconcerting because you can end up with this, what is tantamount to a journal/diary entry. Then again On the Road was essentially one long rambling diary entry. Of course I am not Jack Kerouac, even if I named my second son after him. Maybe I just write and someone will read something they need to read. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

The Last Jedi

I understand there are a bunch of you out there, all six of you, who don’t like Star Wars. And I know this because every time a new movie comes out, you feel the need to tell everyone on social media how you “Don’t like Star Wars!” And then some of you still go to see the new movie anyway and feel the need to harsh everyone else’s mellow by telling us how you “Didn’t like the new Star Wars!” And while I appreciate counterpoints and discourse, am always open to a good conversation, I’ve sorta grown weary of engaging. So before I start, I just wanted to say, You don’t like Star Wars? Didn’t like The Last Jedi? Good for you. Now fuck off. This post isn’t for you.

For the rest of you still here, the ones with taste and faith: HOW FUCKING COOL WAS THAT? Holy. Shit!

I just came back from seeing The Last Jedi for the third time (this time with my littlest, Jack Jack). I went Opening Night with my oldest (Holden), and then twelve hours later returned to see it again. But it wasn’t until this third viewing that I was finally able to appreciate how brilliant a film this is.

Oh, and before I go on? **SPOILERS!!** I would assume that you’d know that, but I don’t want to ruin the the twists and turns, the reveals and strokes of genius. So I’ll wait till you show yourselves out.

Everyone gone? Okay. Cool.

Star Wars is a religion. It really fucking is. When people ask my faith (happens on the East Coast more than you’d think), I usually describe myself as a Springsteen Catholic (I believe in the love that you gave me, I believe in that faith that can save me). But really I believe in The Force. That’s pretty much all there is anyway, and why these films have meant so much to so many for so long. The Light Side. The Dark Side. In the words of Maz Kanata: “[It is] [t]he only fight. Against the Dark Side. Through the ages I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order [Trump]. Their shadow is spreading across the galaxy. We must face them. Fight them. All of us.”

Damn. Life distilled to its essence. Anyway, that was from Force Awakens. Which was also awesome, and, honestly, probably a more “enjoyable” film. By that I mean, I can watch FA pretty much non-stop. It’s popcorn fodder, the Goodfellas of the canon. When it’s on, I can’t turn it off. But The Last Jedi is probably the “better” film.

This is my first blog post in a while, so rather than dissect (spoilers) the first two acts (spoilers), I want to instead focus on the 3rd, specifically … (spoilers) Luke Skywalker.

I waited 30 years for this moment. I’m not kidding. When the Internet was invented and its use became part of my routine, I would routinely put two phrases into the search engine: Pink Floyd reunion with Roger Waters, and … New Star Wars trilogy. It was almost a nervous tic. For years and years, nothing. Then one day? New Star Wars trilogy. But more than just seeing a new film, I was desperate to see Luke in the Obi Wan role. I waited a long fucking time for this.

When I saw The Last Jedi on opening night, I was really bummed that Luke dies (or becomes one with the Force). The projection is cool as fuck, and the shoulder dust-off gold. The “See ya around, kid” equally priceless. But when Luke disappears, leaving on Jedi cloth, it bummed me out. I got a little too much of the feels, because Luke was my childhood. There isn’t a boy (minus the 6) who grew up in the 1970s who didn’t feel an affinity for Luke. Especially those of us in small farm towns who dreamt of the stars.

I’ve read online where some disgruntled nerds didn’t like how Luke went out. To that I’ll only say there is a reason Rian Johnson gets paid millions and you don’t. Dude nailed it. That ending is goddamn epic. All of it. The walking out to “to take on the whole First Order with a laser sword,” the Christ-like sacrifice he makes. Luke can’t return. He’s not the same Luke of the original trilogy. He’s an old man, and, furthermore he’s too powerfulLike his presence in Return of the Jedi jeopardizing the entire mission, Luke’s mere being disrupts the balance. He needs to leave, bow out, pass along what he knows. THAT is our legacy. Passing on what we know, leaving behind the good we’ve acquired, the love we’ve learned. In the words of Yoda: We are what they grow beyond.

It’s hard to rank the films. Nothing will probably ever beat Empire or A New Hope because it launched this religion; it’s hard to put anything ahead of either one. But these last two movies (along with Rogue One) are right up there with Jedi, and probably better than that one and closer to Empire than not. I can’t say I “liked” Last Jedi more than Force Awakens. But l do believe it is the heavier, more important film. And when this franchise is reexamined on down the road, after I, too, am long gone, I’m guessing this will be at the top of many lists.