Wordslinger

I'm not much of a poet. But I took a creative writing class in college and had to write a poem about a famous person. I chose Stephen King. And now that I'm re-reading The Dark Tower series (my favorite) I was reminded of this poem and dug through my digital archives to find it. And lo and behold, I still like it! I wrote the original version of this before I started writing novels, but I already agreed with his idea that stories are unearthed (followed), not created. So now the last stanza has additional meaning to me, and hopefully to any other writer who might read this.

Fun fact: this was originally titled "Stephen King is my Geeky Hero".

 

WORDSLINGER

The wordslinger followed

Through endless moonlit dreamscapes

His fingers

Tip-tap-tapping

The tune

Over countless keyboards

Through endless piles of paper

His digits orchestrating the strings

Of nightmare marionettes—

They lurk inside every closet

(still afraid of The Boogeyman)

Peek from every pipe

(I’ve seen the Deadlights)

Wait outside every window

(don’t invite them in)

 

The wordslinger struggled

 

Through coke addiction

Alcoholism

A writer’s bruised and broken ego

He found the words did not dry up

To the sober one’s touch

Instead they created a river

A damn ocean of sanity

In which to swim

To float

(we all float down here)

 

The wordslinger awakened

 

Saved by his own creation

Sacrificed again to tell his tale

(there are other worlds than these)

His body broken

Breath stolen

Hip hijacked

He continued on

To finish

To rest

To start all over again

 

 

The wordslinger spoke

 

And Constant Reader listened

He climbed the tower and turned the key

The door of all doors

Open

(found)

To a world of gritty genius

Words were sand

Flying in cycles of dips and swirls

He knew the rhythm

He beat it out

Watched as they banded together

And dug them out

Dusting them off

Oh so carefully

Until they took life

Walked on their own

 

The stories formed

Fled across the desert

And the wordslinger followed

So much for the high road

Today I was driving in the left lane of a busy 2-lane road (not a highway), because I needed to make a left turn in less than a mile. Then a woman drove up behind me, uncomfortably close to the back of my car. I did not speed up or slow down, because fuck that shit. I just continued to drive the speed limit. She backed off a little, which made me happy. Then I put on my signal and turned into the left hand turn lane, and as she sped by on my right, this woman blared her horn at me. So I gave her the finger. And (in the privacy of my own car) called her a stupid bitch.

Oops. So much for the high road.

Florida Faith

Back in 2001 I did a month-long internship in Florida. I was 20 and vegan and full of convictions. I had just finished up my first year of community college. I had done a 3 month internship at Farm Sanctuary’s NY shelter the previous year, and that’s how I heard about the campaign to ban gestation crates on pig farms in Florida. I signed up to volunteer and my best friend John and his band, Fall River (previously Manhunt), dropped me off at my internship in Ft Lauderdale while they were on tour in the area. As an adult, it boggles my mind we were able to make the timing sync up like that. But I’m glad we did. After a couple days of van repairs and missed or cancelled shows, we arrived in Florida, ate at Burger King, and then immediately blinded the beaches with our pasty white Pennsylvanian skin. It was glorious.

My job at the internship was to collect signatures of FL residents to pass a ballot initiative. 15 year old spoiler alert: we got enough signatures. And the initiative even passed. I had very little to do with that, however. See, I was terrible at collecting signatures. I’ve always been pretty quiet and shy around strangers. And as a youngin I was even more self-conscious and hesitant. So spending my days approaching person after person and asking them to sign those petitions was not the easiest thing for me. And I’m definitely not a pushy person. I think the signatures I did manage to collect, were achieved with earnestness alone. And maybe a little pity.

But I did have one useful feature for our cause: a driver’s license.

The group of interns I was working with didn’t drive, so I became the chauffeur. Someone had donated a car to our cause. It was a tan Toyota 4 runner that had been used in some other sort of rescue effort and had the permanent smell of cat pee embedded in it. It had no CD player and a broken antennae. So we didn’t get very many radio stations. There was one classic rock station that came in sometimes. And a light pop rock station that basically just played Train’s Drops of Jupiter on a loop, every once in awhile throwing Vanessa Carlton’s Thousand Miles in the mix for variety.

Our saving grace? Somewhere in the intern headquarters we found exactly one cassette to play in the SUV’s tape player: George Michael’s Faith.

We listened to that tape daily. Multiple times a day. For at least the 4 weeks I was in Florida. I had the CD at home in PA and had listened to it quite a bit over the years. But during my drives on those beautiful, smooth, not at all cracked and shitty like PA, Florida highways, I became intimately familiar with the album. We all did. Think about it for a minute – with smart phones and iPods and satellite radio, when was the last time you listened to an album? Like really really listened to it? On a loop. For at least 30 days in a row. I know that in my life, that simply does not happen anymore.

It didn’t take us long to learn all the words to all the songs. One of my fellow interns-turned-friends, misheard the lyrics to “Father Figure” as “Bottle Feeder” and we never let her forget it. And you’ve never really lived until you’ve sung (okay, screeched) GM’s “Monkey” in 3-part harmony. Already by 2001, his 80s lyrics were simultaneously amazing and also totally foreign, and sometimes even rapey (see exhibit: I Want Your Sex Part 3. And don’t ever accept a gin and tonic from GM).

It was a long, crazy, weird, difficult month for me. I was so out of my element trying to collect those signatures. I think it was harder for me than 3 months shoveling literal shit during the dead of winter had been the year prior. But George Michael got me through it. So did my fellow interns, Chris and Kath and a bunch of others. And now, even 15 years later, it’s a sense-memory thing for me. I hear “Father Figure,” and I’m back to those sunny highways, windows down, hair blowing in the somewhat urine-scented wind. I’m back to a time when it felt like big world-wide changes were possible, if only enough people were willing to sleep on saggy air mattresses in tiny offices and go just a little bit insane listening to one cassette tape ad nauseam.

Last Christmas, when I heard that George Michael had died, I immediately thought of Florida. And I was sad that there wouldn’t be new GM albums for future generations of young people to listen to on a loop while they spent insane amounts of time and energy doing the things they’re passionate about. But there will always be Faith. And Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. And, of course, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael, among others. The dude has left quite a legacy and I’m sure he’s already moved on to greater things. Still, I’m feeling nostalgic.

Recently, during my attempts to minimize my belongings, I found my old journals from college. And tucked away in one of them was the photocopy of a poem/essay/rambling I wrote for my fellow intern a couple days before I left Florida. I don’t know if it makes much sense to anyone else, but this awkward prose perfectly sums up that brief period in my life. And I can’t hear GM without thinking about it.