Best Worst Year: Episode 11 (Or, D is for Cookie and That’s Good Enough for Me)

Doubt. When you grip the pen so tightly it stings with an electric pulse all the way through the wrist into the forearm. That jolt, a raw nerve sending you reeling from the page. You get up, drink another coffee–this one straight black–and pace your way back into the crook of the page. Doubt withers away the exposed roots, your open source to the river of unslept code you call work ethic. Tiny footsteps like the neighbors who live above you that spend all night chain smoking and arguing about bills. You’ve got those bills too. At best, you have learned to stack such concerns into three piles–now/later/someday. If you’re lucky, you dump someday and later into the same pile and set it on fire. But when we spend our days obsessing on lists, the energy drain…

Distraction. Lately, I have been thinking more and writing less. I wish I could say I’ve been thinking about writing or art or even about something you could mistake as scholarly. I’ve been thinking about wheels spinning in the mud. I’ve been staring drowsily at the turntable’s spindle–watching the interlocking grooves of LP’s–the needle chases sound but only really travels in circles. My car criss-crosses similar stretches of highway and interstate. I feel like I’m always going somewhere but it’s never home. I have a bag forever packed in the trunk of my car and even if I’m staying somewhere for a couple of days, lately, the bag never seems to make it inside. No, I’m not changing inside my car, but what usually feels like freedom feels like an anchor. This week, I’ve had a hard time focusing on where exactly I was going. I almost missed an exit, twice (once up/once back). I have a cough which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m thinking about how much I miss having benefits. Benefits? That kind of thought scares me–what if I never get a job with benefits again? At some point, this trip will end, lately I have been thinking about where it will end. Will I be one of those guys showing up at the neighborhood open mic reading “that one poem” and creeping out the kids?

Danville. I’ve spent a lot of time here lately. I think I’ve got “only child” guilt. I feel like I’m paying out hometime with the parents because I know whatever this is, it won’t last. I have done my best to lay low here–I don’t want to be here. It feels like I’ve spent nineteen years to only discover I was chasing my own tail–that the stylus glides into the record’s label but still only goes in circles. Danville is not a direction, it’s an open grave. Okay, that’s kind of grim and probably doesn’t speak highly of the town–but when you look out your back window and you realize you live in the shadow of Geisinger’s red glowing monolithic hospital on the hill–maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about my lack of benefits.

Damnit. Fuck. Goddamnit. Motherfucker. Shit. Shit. Shit.

DNA. Is this just how I’m wired? I think about my need for distance, my want of words, and my ability to consistently go full-on Sideshow Bob in a yard of rakes. Is it a genetic predisposition like being short or having sideburns since the second grade? It’s not like I’m a walking Belle and Sebastian catalog, but I was thinking about something my dear friend Jan Quackenbush said to me last fall, “You have to be ready to get rid of everything which weighs you down.” I don’t know if I am or if I’ll ever be. I’ve been thinking about all of the stuff I have–the books, the films, the goddamn music. It’s a pop culture anchor and lately I’ve been thinking that it might be holding me back as much as anything. But here’s the rub–what is it holding me back from? What other life am I supposed to be living? I know, this is starting to get all shoegazer and probably is better asked to a coffee mug or a bartender or shrink but seriously, what is this other life?

Decision. There is no other life. I think it’s easier to apply the logic of “other life” than to consider that there is nothing else but what you’ve got. I know, “It’s called religion and philosophy, Jim.” Fucking existential crisis. Did Gus Van Zandt already cover this in his earlier directorial cannon?
Or maybe I’m thinking Wim Wenders–whatever. Here’s the thing of it. What has kept me moving forward is what keeps me grounded. The genetic predisposition is that I am really goddamn tough on myself–probably too tough. When I was in Westminster last week doing a reading, this young writer asked me about my inner critic. He wanted to know that someone else had a voice inside which was hyper-critical and casting doubt on whatever hit the page. I think if you spend too much time inside your head, which I do (shocker), that voice can go unchecked and get loud enough until it takes on enough physical traits to kick your ass. Maybe it’s winter. Maybe it’s spending too much time in Danville. Whatever. At the risk of sounding like an Zoloft ad, I know that moving forward with life is a choice (side effects may include dizziness, blurred vision, joint pain, shortness of breath, acne, spastic colon, and in some instances death) but to do so without letting all this other bullshit creep in is impossible.

Diners. There is a truckstop right outside of Harrisburg where I’ll stop once in awhile–usually only when it’s late. The last time I was there, the entire staff spoke Russian and the waitresses were chainsmoking as they were breaking down the salad bar. I know what you’re thinking–this place has a salad bar? Anyway, on my way back through PA, I stopped here and my waitress was very pregnant–the kind of pregnant which made me wonder if I would be the guy in charge of getting the hot water (there’s always one, right?). Anyway, she’s the only one on (post lunch rush), pouring coffee and balancing plates and she’s humming along to the radio–like she was in her own kitchen and not at some divey truckstop. I’m watching her move in time with the song in her head. I look at the highway beyond the parking lot–trucks, cars, and life. I write her name down in my journal; I write all of this down because somebody has to, right?

Definition. Jim Warner is the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. Follow him on Twitter: @whoismisterjim.

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