Suppose you get out of bed one morning and your will to live doesn't follow you. It hurts to move, but the world expects you to carry on anyway. You look at the Clark Fork River and find it cold and unforgiving. You think of people who have drowned in the river, of dead fish floating to the surface and the politics that led to their poisoning, one bad thought leading interminably to another. The way you felt floating it on an inner tube just months before seems far away. Yet on another day, your feet are light and it's all changed. The snow sparkles in the sun and you can see yourself on the river ice making tracks. Look how hearty the crows are! You're in love with everything. The world can be rearranged in your hands. But it's the same river, isn't it?
And now it's 2012 and you're wondering how you made it this far. When the ball dropped and the calendar rolled over, was your body electric with possibility or did you feel dead inside? Did you love the person you kissed at midnight or was it complicated?
Maybe you were alone. Maybe you were asleep.
It's time to rise and shine.
Here's how I did it.
Remembering Mary Jane
Last September, I wrote a story for the Indy, "Forgetting Mary Jane," about my experiences with marijuana. I wrote it in part because I have a high threshold for humiliation and my art is more important than my dignity. Plus, I didn't want to do any research other than smoking a lot of weed.
I was trying to write about the empty spaces inside of us in a true and heartbreaking way. It was never meant to be a political or moral statement, and I didn't mean to hurt anybody's feelings—but that's what happened. People got really mad. I was prepared to be seen as weak-willed, lazy and gross, but I didn't get to choose how I was perceived. People weren't mad at me for abusing marijuana; they were mad at me for feeling bad about it.
Other people just felt sorry for me. I got several invitations to join 12-step programs, but I'd already blown the whole anonymous thing, hadn't I. People wrote me to say that they saw themselves in the article. Many of them very sensibly asked that I keep their identities secret. I also got a lot of good feedback, but it hardly mattered because the haters were so much louder.
I felt the Jedi force of every pot enthusiast's anger amidst muffled and baseless assurances that it was all a very good thing for me. I imagined men with pitchforks outside my window at night, screaming "Why do you hate people with cancer?!" or offering contrary evidence of pot's unequivocal goodness, such as "I smoke pot all day long and I have a 4.0 and lots of money and a hot girlfriend!" Some of them wore white lab coats and shouted out helpful accusations like "You're bipolar!"
Seeing a stoned and yellow-haired cartoon of myself on every street corner for a week was a trip, to put it mildly. I'm a big-time narcissist, so this was just the kind of reality I would create for myself. It's not at all normal. I think everyone should try it.
Meanwhile, I prowled around outside the Golden Rose, ravenous and desperate, as usual. My mother says her spirit animal is a hawk; every time she sees one, it's good luck. I think my spirit animal is a partied-out fraternity brother, because in those first few weeks of September, they were lumbering through the night to haunt me. There was the man in a torn Billabong T-shirt, his hand stretched out in front of him and crossing Broadway with a limp. He seemed to be calling out for me but who knows what he was saying. For a second I thought I'd stumbled into a teenage boy's fantasy and this was the zombie apocalypse. On the way home, I had to step over another one sprawled across the sidewalk. I thought about calling for help, but the corpse was breathing normally and smiling, with a full, open can of Old Milwaukee sitting calmly on the pavement next to him. Imagine the mind that thought grabbing that last can was a good idea and the vibrant, beating heart of the boy whose entire life had led up to that moment. I thought about taking the beer, but you know. Germs.
A nearly full moon hung overhead as I made my way up the three flights of stairs to my Northside attic apartment. On a night like that, it was easy to imagine that the house was a monster and I lived in its brain. Outside, the train ground its metal teeth something awful. I looked around and couldn't find anything I liked.
I still had to go to work every day as Molly Llama, calendar editor. Remember in Jerry Maguire when Tom Cruise writes a mission statement and slips it in all his co-workers' mailboxes before he has time to think it over? Up the circulation to around 30,000 and replace inspirational with "Hi, I'm a drug addict" and that was me every day at the office. The Indy is a hip place to work and all, but still.
It was time to put down the bong and pitch Robert, the head editor, some more story ideas. I don't even think real journalists enjoy pitching stories, and I'm a fake journalist, so you can only imagine. Robert talks fast and tends to take ideas in directions you would have never thought were relevant or sane. He doesn't want you to write about the forest; he wants you to find one tree in the forest and then knit a sweater around its trunk.
I pitched a few forest ideas that met with lukewarm enthusiasm. We were both getting bored.
"Come on," he said. "What else have you got?"
I looked out the window and thought about the frat-boy zombies and marijuana boogie men crawling through the window of my haunted house, and about my increasingly delusional notions that I'd somehow made the whole world up in my head.
"I don't know," I said, "how about magic?"
"Crackerjack idea!" Robert said, or something like that. (I'm paraphrasing.)
Magic could go a long way toward healing my wounded heart. I couldn't bear to write anything painful and I was already an avid moon worshipper who owned multiple spell-casting books. It wasn't a stretch.