Wednesday, May 18, 2022

SPIDERHEAD and What Happens When the Party is Over

 This post was originally going to be about THE LOW WHITE PLAIN, but then I remembered

1. I'm not particularly great at self-promotion, and 

2. It's probably more important to push the book when people can, you know, buy it

so if you're curious about what my writing process was like or the music I listened to that inspired the novella, you'll have to wait for next week. 

Instead, I want to talk about something I've been thinking of for a while now. 

The trailer for the new Netflix film, SPIDERHEAD dropped yesterday. The movie is based on the classic (and, yeah, I don't care that it's less than 15 years old, it's a goddamn classic) George Saunders short story, and it actually looks pretty good. Not as good as the story, mind you, but good. 

I first read "Escape from Spiderhead" a couple of years ago.  I had gone through a Saunders phase years before, but somehow "Escape" had never made it in to my rotation. Probably because it was new and hadn't been collected yet. The friend who insisted I read it was part of my writers group at the time, and we'd just read one of his stories. It was a surreal, almost nightmarish story, about an elevator repair man trying to keep a building from falling down and rolling - like a Katamari Dynasty ball - over the house he shared with his hateful wife, and was directly inspired by Saunders' "Escape from Spiderhead". 

But this, the thing I want to talk about, isn't about the Saunders story. No matter how good it is. Instead, I want to talk about my friend.

My friend (I'm not going to give his name here because I'm not sure how he'd feel being written about - he's a quiet guy!) is an amazing writer. There's a lot of Saunders in his voice (the way characters think things like, "what the heck was that fracas?" and the deadpan, offbeat way they look at the world) but he's still unmistakably him. While Saunders uses his voice to lower expectations and strip the story bare, leaving the reader open to the constantly engaging narrative, my friend uses that voice, or something pretty similar anyway, to make things more and more bizarre until he uppercuts you with a single image or line that makes everything taste like ash in your mouth. 

I remember almost all the stories of his my friend has written. There's the elevator guy story I mentioned above. There was the story about the two guys robbing a haunted house, but the ghosts are a bickering married couple who keep trying to vomit Ghost Juice on the robbers, ineffectually. Another was about a weird man going to church in the middle of a panic attack, trying to walk the line between being neighborly and purposeful, who, in the middle of his panic attack remembers throwing frogs in to the fire as a child and eating a note left by a kidnapping victim. Another involved a fruit stall and, if I'm remembering correctly, a motorcycle that was powered by a certain kind of vegetable (or maybe it was allergic?). 

As outlandish as these stories sound, they were all human. Heartbreakingly human, actually. And though all the stories could have been tightened up or improved in small ways, the core was there, perfect in a way that only the most unique stories can be. They should have been published. They should have been read by lots of people. They should be known. 

When the pandemic happened, our writers group broke off for obvious reasons, and now that it's in the middle is it over it's never going to be over it's going to get worse is this as good as its going to get? phase, it hasn't resumed yet. 

But if my group ever does get back together, I'm not sure my friend will be there. 

We've stayed in touch through the pandemic, of course, but any time writing comes up, he stays quiet.

I hope I'm wrong, I hope he's 300 pages in to a bizarre and truthful and heartfelt novel about robots from mars invading a dildo factory or something, but I worry he's moved on. That writing, for him, is something he'll want to get back to, but may never do. And that breaks my heart. It makes me wonder why, for some of us, writing becomes this sustained thing, this ritual in our lives, and for others it becomes a candle that eventually burns out. It makes me wonder what will happen if my own candle burns out. If that ever comes to pass, will I simply shrug and move on, an invisible weight lifted off my shoulders? Will I mourn it? Or does it happen gradually, so that you don't even notice it? And how does it feel when you do notice? Can you get it back?

What happens when the party is over? 

This is all maudlin and overly-introspective and slightly anxiety filled (and probably my own exhaustion after having written so much the last few months and my anxiety at taking a few nights off to play video games and the inevitable jitters of having a book coming out in two weeks), and it's as much about missing my friend and his strange but touching stories as it is about writing in general, but I wonder. 

Sometime, in the hopefully near future, our group will get together again. 

And hopefully, I will have something to bring. Something to share, something to be critiqued and pulled apart so that I can make it better. 

And hopefully, hopefully, my friend will be there too, and I'll get to read his stories and the weird way he sees the world and its people (so weird, but so able to be touched) and I'll know that either it never leaves you at all, or that the party actually doesn't have an invitation and you can come back any time. 


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