For the adventure which has brought the author to the spiritual ends of the earth is the history of every artist who, in order to express himself, must traverse the intangible gridirons of his imaginary world.
–Anais Nin, Preface to Tropic of Cancer, p.xxxiii
My grandmother was a big drunk. Huge drunk. Bleary-eyed, bloated, and butchered by 10 a.m. every day. We hated each other. Not sure why. I like drunks. And she would give me maraschino cherries and martini olives she had in gargantuan plastic tubs, Costco-sized containers decades before there was a Costco.
But when she wasn’t giving me cocktail treats, and when she wasn’t beating me, we had nothing to say to one another. She’d ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I would say, and I quote, “Either a brain surgeon or a truck driver.” That’d shut her up good. I never told the truth. Not that I loved country western music about trucker drives, songs like “Phantom 309,” which was true, but that the one thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a writer. For a long time I thought I was the reincarnation of Robert E. Howard. We both had issues with our mothers. We both were destined to die young. So romantic.
At some point I lost that romance and started mainlining despair. Writing? Me? Pipe dream. Grow up. Have a cherry and an olive and shut the hell up.
At the age of nineteen, I was shopping for shotguns to blow my head off. Big Five had a nice selection, but did I really want to support a chain with my last purchase? I was iffy on that, though my plan rocked. Fireballs and shotgun shells and flyers blaming the world for being so cruel. As a last act of desperation, I stumbled into a 12-step meeting of the anonymous nature, and I found an answer. And I’ve been there ever since, decades later, now that we have been blessed with Costcos.
Funny, you work the 12 steps, and something happens. You begin to dust off those dreams you buried under the dirt of your childhood and the beer bottles of adolescence. But me, a writer? There’s a meeting for what you’ve been smokin’, son.
But like any saint of the arts, I was hounded by the Divine. And after three years of recovery, in a fit of heavy metal music and a night of maniacally shaking my fist at the silent heavens, I started my first novel. It was the most awesome thing anyone has ever written that no one could read. However much I failed with that book, I’d been poisoned by hope. The journey had begun.
Twenty years later, my friend was having trouble with her writing. And so I showed her how I worked the 12 steps of recovery to ease my own artistic angst. She blinked at me, and said, “You should give a workshop on this at the next Pikes Peak Writers Conference.” Yeah, me, a motivational speaker, uh huh, I’m sure there’s psychotropic medication for what ails ya’, girlfriend.
But I gave my talk, I was a hit, and then my friend says, “You should write a book.” A couple of months later, I got a contract on a novel I’d written that year, the 12th one—maybe as proof that whatever I had done to get to the point where I could fearlessly (and fearfully) write books and get published had worked.
And if it could work for me, it could work for others.
How to find meetings, from the AA site. I wish my grandmother would have gone to AA. I would have eaten less cherries, but I think she might have enjoyed her last years on earth a little more. But who can say?