and here’s the final entry in the i never finished this essay trilogy. it took place in april of 1999. hope you enjoy it.
so this is the second interview in this series. this one was also done in may of 1999. hope you enjoy it.
i recently came across some old files from my undergrad days when i was still a fiction writing major at columbia college.
way back in 1999 i conducted brief email interviews with a few different comic book artists/writers about their creative processes. it was for an essay in one of my fiction writing classes. in the essay i was going to compare/contrast the writing processes of writers of fiction/prose and that of comics creators.
the writing process info of the fiction/prose types came from anthologies of interviews conducted back in the day with stuffy old writers like hemingway, gertrude stein, etc. i did the interviews and selected relevant bits from the dead author interviews. but i never got around to synthesizing the whole thing. cuz i was a slacker and i lost interest in the project. i find that i’m more interested in what the people have to say themselves than in synthesizing and coming up with something else to say about it. oh well.
the comics people that i interviewed were james kochalka, megan kelso and ed brubaker. they were all super nice and generous with their time and i thank them for that. i also apologize to them for never finishing the project. but i thought that even after all these years, the interviews might still be of interest to people. so without further ado here’s the first of the interviews. this one, with james kochalka, is from may of 1999.
this is the first draft of the beginning to the 2216 section in flotation device 12. i wanted to take the reader on a tour of the apartment. when i finished writing and read it, i thought the pacing was too slow. so here you have it in all of its fascinating first draft glory. see for yrself, the miracle of rewriting! please have patience with this one, it is epic.
I lived here for four years. Longer than I’d lived in any one place in my entire life. Growing up my parents moved us from house to house every three years with great regularity. We only lived in three towns, but we lived in four houses in Woodstock and they’ve moved two times since I moved out. So 2216 was where I lived the longest.
I lived here for four years.
XXXXX was the one that found it. We had moved out from Woodstock together a year previous. He had been living in the dorms at UIC and I had been living back at home commuting to Columbia College a few times a week. Sometimes less when I could stay with my friend Nate and his girlfriend Ally.
XXXXX and I first moved into a two bedroom in Uptown at the corner of Leland and Dover. It was a nice place, probably too nice for us. We were 19 or so. We were loudish playing guitars through amps and moog keyboards as well. Making noise together and recording it onto four track tape. XXXXX had a few parties with some theater type kids from UIC. We got some complaints from neighbors who didn’t complain to us directly, but instead went to our management company. The management company then called us with the complaints. After the second we decided to move before we got kicked out. We lasted six months in that building. So we found a small two bedroom in Lincoln Square on Claremont just north of Welles Park. We lived there for six months before XXXXX got antsy and wanted out. I said, fine but I’m not looking cuz we just moved in. so XXXXX found this three bedroom on Wilson, two blocks away.
Brownstone two flat half a block east of Lincoln and half a block west of Leavitt. Up a flight of stairs that run to the right, at the top, the landing. Two bikes there on the landing. Jeff’s and mine. Open the door. The dining room. Chandelier. A table across the way with a lamp, a phone, a two foot statue of an 18th century Irish potato picker – head wrapped in rubber bands taken from the stacks of junk mail. Mail piled and strewn at his feet. A hammock to the right precariously hung form the ceiling . Did anyone sit in it? Someone did and it fell with a crash. A love seat on the north wall, covered in bags and backpacks.
I sat on that love seat feeling depressed crushed and beaten the night I was removed from PAL. I had told them I was going to Mexico in the fall and that I would be quitting Chicago Comics as well. Instead of practice that night we just ate noodles with red rocket sauce from Hi Ricky’s next door to Quimby’s where we practiced two nights a week after they closed. It was decided that if I wasn’t going to be in the band in fall, I should just be out so they could restructure. We played our remaining scheduled shows. My last in Chicago happened the day after we started the second war in Iraq. I announced all of my songs as “Shock and Awe.” The last show I played with PAL was in Beloit at C-Haus and they arranged for me to get flowers on stage. I was touched and felt pretty emotional. So after our last song, Tim’s rave up rocker, Liberate Me, they picked me up and dropped me into Billy’s drums. I still have the flowers dried and in a box on my radiator in my living room. I was out of PAL.
I sat on the striped love seat in the dining room under the dimmed chandelier light not knowing how to feel that night after HI Ricky when I was removed and felt dazed. Not moving sitting in silence until Jeff came home.
I’m out of PAL. I said. I felt like I had been dumped.
To the right of the front door the dining room opened into the living room where we spent most of our time. A long couch that had been in my parents family room on the east wall – amazingly comfortable and highly conducive to napping or falling asleep at night watching movies. A love seat that was my friend’s parents’ and had been in their basement family room when he and I were young. A chair that Jeff had brought with him. On the west wall was the hifi cabinet that had been my grandpa’s then my uncles and then mine. On it was the tv. In it were speakers and a stereo a turntable a cd player a dvd player and an N64, a game cube and eventually an Xbox. Another chandelier lit the room and one night when Jeff and I had been playing video games we heard Jody and Mike coming home thumping upstairs. We stopped looked at each other and said, hide! I quickly dove behind the love seat in front of the windows and left my legs sticking straight up in the air effectively hiding only my waist to my head. My legs waving in the air. Jeff attempted to hide somewhere else equally ridiculous. As I was upside down and behind the love seat I had no idea where he went. Jody and Mike walked in and Jody laughed. You guys.
For a while Jeff’s and my favorite thing to do was to put a random object on the sidewalk in front of the house and then watch from the windows while carefully hidden to see what people would do. Our favorite object was an old lampshade and we’d shake with suppressed laughter when someone would stop and set it on the bushes or move it off the sidewalk or stop and look up to our windows or walk around it. We thought we were hilarious.
Off of the living room was a small half bedroom that originally was a storage room for unused things, then it was Jody’s room for a few months before she went back to Pennsylvania, but before she was officially living with us. She stayed with us after her lease ended but before Columbia’s semester was over. Then after XXXXX announced he was moving to NYC, Jeff and I invited her back and she would take XXXXX’s room. She ended up living in that small room again when XXXXX didn’t end up moving to NYC but took a couple months to move out to Ukrainian Village. There was enough room for her mattress and some bags. I would sit in there and talk to her about the troubles of my early twenties love life and the woes of my then relationship. I was thankful to have a girl to be talking to.
When XXXXX moved out and Jody moved into his room. Jeff and I turned it into our little music room. A four track. Our guitars and amps. A stereo. A snare drum. Keyboards. A desk. A chair. Lots of blank type II cassette tapes. A closet filled with Jody’s clothes. Jeff hung ridiculous pinups from Playboy and in celebration of our triumph we hung a Jim Morrison banner on the side of the door that faced the living room. So everyone would know that that room was for musical genius.
There was a window in that room. We could open it and climb out onto the roof of the little front porch. Jeff and I wanted to use his massive slingshot to launch garbage at the Starbucks that had opened up down the street at the corner of Lincoln and Wilson – replacing a laundromat that had free laundry one day a week where homeless people washed their clothes. We never did. M and I stood out there one New Year’s Eve when it was turning into 2000 and watched people stumble down the street and fireworks off over the lake.
My room was off the dining room next to the front door. Somehow I manged to get my entire life into that room. A futon. Boxes of magazines to cut up underneath the futon. All of my cds and records. My desk where I wrote. A stereo on a milk crate. Speakers on top of it. A turntable. A light from the ceiling with a pull string switch that I extended with string and action figures and chotchkes that I ended up with so that I could pull the string while under the covers in bed. The window sill was my nightstand. A dresser in the closet with a bookshelf on it and shelves higher up with more magazines to cut up boxes of zines and pictures. My computer on a table also in the closet. I went in there leaned my back on a pillow against the side of the dresser. Clothes hung above the monitor. Typing up my homework, my stories for fiction writing, my papers, my finals, my zines.
At one point I had two bookshelves in my bedroom against the walls somehow. But I can’t remember how I had it arranged. Somehow everything was in there. I eventually moved a bookshelf out into the dining room and put all my comics on it. This was when XXXXX left, taking his two cats that liked to destroy.
The hallway ran north. It was dark. The bathroom was on the left side. Large with an old bathtub. Monochromatic tile pattern on the floor. The tiny tiles that formed floral shapes. Larger tiles ran halfway up the wall continuing the monochromatic scheme. A glass and wicker coffee table in the corner with a stereo on it and magazines on the shelf below. Tape Op. Playboy. Rolling Stone. Perfect 10. Punk Planet. A box of make up and other feminine products next to the stereo. The bathtub that I plunged every few months to keep it draining properly. The sink that twice was mysteriously clogged and twice needed a plumber to come and fix it. Once a toothpaste cap was the culprit. He glared at me as he held it between his fingers.
Did you know about this?
Are you sure?
He was convinced I had done it. I had no idea who had done it. I just walked away.
Jeff’s room was across from the bathroom. It was the smallest room but he never seemed to mind. Going in there was always like invading someone’s church. It felt wrong. I only went in there occasionally to borrow a cd or something. Almost always he was there. Once or twice, when I was desperate, I took change from his change jar for the train.
The hallway opened into the kitchen. Large. Table in the center with chairs around it – almost always covered with junk mail or school papers or back packs. An extension of the bedroom. No counters no cabinets a fridge and stove. A dishwasher and a large pantry. Before Jody moved in, the kitchen was generally ground zero for the passive aggressive warfare that raged for the last few months of XXXXX’s stay with us. Cat litter on the floor. Garbage piling up. Puke in the sink. Food hidden away with signs. Dust and dirt piles swept into his room. Dishes placed on his bed.
Our revenge was ill-tempered. Annoying. Ineffective. And it felt amazing. XXXXX’s room was off of the kitchen. It was painted orange like sherbet. It had no closets but was immense. After XXXXX left, it became Jody’s room and the warfare subsided.
There was an enclosed porch off of the kitchen. Two chairs and an end table in between them. Some candles. A cribbage board. A deck of cards. Jeff and I loved to throw stuff out the back window. Things we were getting rid of. An old broken stereo. An old broken turntable. Magazines. Things that were headed out to the trash in the alley. Of course we picked the scattered bits and remains up from the yard.
The apartment was wrapped in dark wood paneling that ran from matching hardwood floors to a foot from the ceiling. The wood paneling ran from the living room and dining room through the hallway into the kitchen and out into the back porch. We all felt like we lived in a warm cabin up in the north woods of Wisconsin. It felt like that. It felt warm and safe and like permanent vacation surrounded by tall old dark trees.
i wrote this right before i got off my ass and finished writing flotation device 12. i guess it helped motivate.
I need to demystify my writing process. I used to treat it like this divine sort of act. Invoking the writing spirits the mystic rulers of word rhythm the secret gods of sentence structure. I would reverentially play amazing music – depending on the phase of my life I was in. Different types of music were more spiritual at different times. For a while it was punk rock and for a while it was electronic and for a while it was experimental and for a while now it has been jazz. Punk generally meant dead kennedys. Electronic generally meant aphex twin. Experimental meant sonic youth and jazz meant fucking jazz. Of course I still listen to all of these things – especially jazz and in particular free jazz.
But I need to take my process off of the pedestal I put it on when I was 20. When I was writing my stories for fiction writing at Columbia. When I was writing late into the night into the early morning listening to amazing music in the glow of my little lamp. Warm and magic. That was when it was easy and words flowed and text fell out onto the paper of notebooks I didn’t have to much think about it.
That’s when I turned my writing into this lofty exercise this magical event that I could only perform under certain and ideal conditions. It worked for a while but then life happens and living situations change and you grow up a bit. But my thoughts about my writing stayed the same. I waited for mood to hit me for certain times of day for certain lighting for certain social arrangements for certain everything. And I stopped writing. It was too much. The circumstances were never right. I rarely wrote for three years – a long time when you consider yrself a writer. Painful and depressing and always in the back of yr head. In the back of my head.
I had grown and life had changed but my conception of writing and my process hadn’t. It was still back there where I left it. It was still in my room in my apartment at 2216 w Wilson. It was still there with me at 20 listening to xx play video games and cats meowing and xx slurring and xx fucking and amazing music in a warm glow at my desk at 2 in the morning feeling alive and magical. Magic. Magic. Spirit. Spirit. Invoke. Invoke. And the pedestal kept growing year after year. It got taller and taller rose higher and higher in the sky and it disappeared in the clouds and I thought that only on certain occasions at certain times of day in the right light with the right music could I touch it again, that magic glow on the pedestal in the clouds. And then I felt like I couldn’t do it at all.
How powerful the mind is. How amazing it is. How wonderful it is at convincing us that things are impossible and that an easier way should be sought after and found. What a son of a bitch the mind is. Telling us it’s easier to not do anything rather than work at something we enjoy so much. What a motherfucker.
I lived with my process existing on that fucking pedestal for 8 years the first half of which worked great, the last 4 didn’t work at all. And it’s only been in the past few months that I even saw the fucking pedestal at all. I kept blaming circumstances and far from ideal or sometimes just slightly unideal conditions.
But writing is writing and it’s not a spiritual act or magical. It just is what it is. Sometimes it comes easily sometimes it’s hard as shit but I have to just do it. I’m not a great writer. I’ll never be remembered as being amazing. Fuck, I’ll never be remembered. Everyone I read humbles me. Their words and grammar and sentence construction and narrative structure. They are amazing and I’m okay. I’m alright. And that’s fine. I’ll keep writing what I write, documenting what I can how I can. But my shit doesn’t have to be magical and it doesn’t come from some fucking magical place that I invented when I was young. It just comes from me and my voice and my brain. It is what it is. And I can fucking do that whenever or wherever I want. If it’s something I need to work on fine. If it’s difficult I just need to do it. I need to work through the difficult times. It’s a discipline. It’s work and I should treat it as such. It’s a mundane action and I just need to keep practicing.
Cloudy out now. It was sunny. A few fluffy spring Chicago clouds warm sun filling the porch sitting on the stoop wearing sandals feeling good in the early evening sun setting sun. Rain clouds now wind in trees people heading home hurrying before the water breaks. Cars headlights squealing brakes as they hit the speed bump in front of my apartment their sensitive metal underparts scraping along the top of the hump as they inevitably bottom out. A skater with a backpack slowly cruising by with his skateboard overstuffed huge backpack strapped to his back. Street lights on.
Mexico. That’s a big one. But it lacks emotional depth. It’s not like Costa Rica at all. Selected high lights only please review tape. Highlight reel. Playing shows with the rories. Shit job extravaganza paper source. Unemployment. Depression. Therapy. Not getting a job at borders. Library school? Current events. All the new people I know. How underwhelming and alone it was to come back to Chicago. How much I love Chicago. Interview people? Put jrnlsm to use? About what? Research? Exciting possibilities. Jazz zines? How sexy is yrs? Does it get anybetter than don cherry? No. it doesn’t.
All these possibilities. Of course none of them call me. Maybe I’ll just go with the unstated and most seductive one. Just write for a while. Seemingly unrelated bits and pieces and construct them later into something greater. Just write and through structure create the new – create meaning bring a sleight order to the chaos. Not chaos but random. Find the thematic link later. Be jazz.
But not like Kerouac mythology. Be free now. Be free for now and reign it in – form formless later.
Jazz editing to follow jazz writing.
Free jazz is energy. Falling in love every time a new record comes on. Falling in love with every song. Energy. Energy. Action. Change politics freedom protest liberation. It’s all there w/in the energy w/in the skronk the smooth the beat the rhythm the bass the piano.
Collections of invocations.
Am I allowed to do that
Something so raw and dumb
Just me talking w/out reason
w/out a point
I suppose it’s the attempt. This discipline thing. To just write and write everyday regardless of whether or not it’s good or usable. Just write. Keep in the habit. Flex that muscle. Keep that shit toned.
So here I am writing just to write to make myself write. Sun ra on the stereo before that, art ensemble. I love this shit so much. Jazz my new rock. Something new to obsess about. Nerd.
I’m spending so much time playing guitar. Hours and hours just standing in front of my amp electric guitar hanging from my shoulder. Red and white. Sometimes I watch my hands move in the reflection of the tv screen. Sometimes in the mirror. I watch my hands move from fret to fret. Fingers picking out a melody. My brain gets confused watching myself play in the mirror – it’s all backwards I inevitably fuck it up while watching myself play. Like a taboo. Something not to do – watch yrself play an instrument.
It’s too much tho. I play all the time. I think cuz I’ve gotten to the point where it’s easier than it was before. To the point that it’s like a new vocabulary. And what’s a new vocabulary other than anew obsession. New words new means of expression. That detracts from my first obsession – writing. I should be spending hours and hours scribbling in notebooks reacquainting myself with words. With structure. W/sentences. w/my shorthand.
My shorthand. These scribbles that look kind of strange now. Unfamiliar. A novelty. I actually notice my handwriting. It’s been so long – it’s so foreign that I notice it.
It’s because music is easier right now. I don’t have to think with music. I just fuck around until something works. There’s less fucking with writing. At least for me. If I’m fucking around with writing – I feel like I’m wasting time, ink, paper, energy…
Wasting. Because writing random sentence fragments is not practice. I don’t have the same luxury as people who draw. Who can doodle and attempt to draw something. Just do it and have it be practical. Have it be practice. I suppose technically I could look at an object and waste a page describing it but it would just be waste. Because my joy in writing comes from structure and sequencing – the construction of the narrative. This requires output – meaningful output. Pieces that come together and make a whole. Output. Empty descriptions do not work for me.
I write all this totally overlooking the issue. Why is it easier to play guitar than it is to write. Why do I spend all my time playing guitar thinking about writing. My mind always on writing. My heart wants to be there…
It’s because of what I mentioned before about structure and construction. I feel safest when I have a plan for the overall story – the heart – the guts – the idea. A purpose a reason a goal. I don’t have this right now. Haven’t had it for a while. I’ve been too busy reordering my life telling myself I have nothing to say. Listening to sad music. I’m at the point where I just feel like if I don’t have a purpose a tangible goal a series of pieces a story to tell – then why bother.
When I made zines before – when I first started making zines – I would publish whatever random notes – scraps, bits, torn words, it didn’t matter – there wasn’t a story there. They were purely independent from each other. I was happy with that.
But that was ten years ago.
Now I need that crucial thematic link.
Those links used to come easy. I just wrote about my adolescence. Growing up. High school mostly. Easy. Who doesn’t have shit to say about their high school experience. Yay. I felt ostracized and alienated. Who didn’t. it served its purpose though. But I’ve kissed it goodbye – got it all out of my system. I have nothing left to say about high school. It was over ten years ago.
So I just have to wait for some experiences to accrue. No problem no sweat.