Finding honesty

My writing has changed a great deal in the last two years, in several ways, due to several factors. I’ve mentioned that I have a tube in my throat, that I can’t talk, but I haven’t really gotten into specifics. I haven’t explained how I’ve been affected. I figure I’ll chat about things over a few posts.

One evening I’m watching a really bad episode of Dexter with my girlfriend. Back then I wear a mask over my nose, the mask is connected via a stylish gray hose to a machine that blows pressurized air into my lungs. Without the mask I can’t breathe, but I can talk. So, being that I can still talk, I ask for a sip of pineapple juice. This sip takes a really bad turn. I don’t drink the juice, I inhale it, I drown myself. After about three or four minutes I pass out, an ambulance whisks me to an e.r. trauma room. I die in this room, my heart stops, but it doesn’t take.

I wake up two weeks later in intensive care, feeling like I got hit by a bus. Oh, and much to my surprise, I can’t talk. My lungs are nicely infected, so I had to be intubated. There’s hard plastic tube in my mouth, snaking down my throat, blowing air into my wet lungs. For someone in the throws of acute respiratory failure, intubation is just a temporary fix. If the person manages to live, but still has severe respiratory issues, they’re given a tracheotomy. So, one morning I’m wheeled into an operating room, a hole is cut in my neck and a plastic tube is pushed down my throat. This tube is connected to a hose, the hose is connected to a ventilator. The bad news is that I’ll never really talk again, but on the upside, nobody will ever be able to smother me to death with a pillow. Since a tube has taken up permanent residence in my throat and swallowing is definitely a thing of the past, I also get a tube placed in my stomach. A fellow has to eat.

I spend about two months in the hospital, it’s a pretty terrifying experience. Everything I had ever been afraid of, getting a trache, a feeding tube, not being able to talk, not being able to breathe, it all happened in an instant. I cope with it by way of some totally spectacular pain killers, better to be whacked out of my mind than lucid and constantly afraid of everything. 

When I finally get home I feel a lot like a kitten tossed in a swimming pool. I’m also still quite in love with pain meds. I mean, I’m alive, but I figure my life is over. No more going to the movies, no more nights out with my girlfriend, no more anything. Everything feels so entirely wrong. A few weeks later, for various reasons, my girlfriend says goodbye. I understand, I’m not surprised, but aside from dying, it’s what I feared most.

So, while growing deeply depressed, nobody wants to quit their opiates, their best friend and their lover in the same week, physically I get ridiculously healthy. It’s actually much easier to breathe with the trache and eating with the feeding tube is surprisingly satisfying. Before the final sip of pineapple juice, I could hardly chew and swallow anyway. With the tube eating is so easy. By the summer I feel well enough to hop a plane to New York for a visit with friends in the Andirondacks. On this this trip I meet a fellow named, Kevin, he owns the production company behind Showtime TV’s version of NPR’s This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. Kevin tells Ira about me, and a few weeks later Ira and I are e-mailing each other, he wants to do an episode on me. He asks me question after question, I tell him things I never told anybody. A year later, Ira and I are having our picture taken at our Emmy after-party, we won two awards. Johnny Depp played my voice for the episode. I got him to say the term, “absolutely fucking spectacular,” on my behalf. I had to swear, it was cable TV.

Now, here’s the crazy part. I’ve always been a competent writer, but generic, kind of flat. Something about my writing changed when I met Ira, it became very natural, and brutally honest. I could never write about myself with any real honesty. Even my fiction was total garbage, I never bled any of myself into it. At some point, I realized that I didn’t want to die and feel like no one really knew me, simply because I hid everything. So, I started with Ira, I wanted him to know me even if no else ever did. 

Here I am, two years since that trauma room. I’ve been depressed and lonely almost constantly since I was seventeen. Horrible things don’t surprise me, yet I’m consistently optimistic. I know there’s beauty in the world, I’ve experienced it. I adore life, but I’ve genuinely wanted to slit my wrists and quietly bleed out. I love a woman completely, waking up next to her is everything I’ve ever wanted. She’s so smart, and so beautiful, being with her feels like home. I’ve lost her twice, I wonder if I’ll find her again. There’s a woman who very much reminds me of home, I wonder what that could mean. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, maybe it doesn’t matter. None of this is difficult to say. 

After losing everything, honesty gets very easy. Losing everything is also a chance to gain new things.

Has anything ever drastically changed your writing?

Comments

  1. CJ says

    Hi Michael — love your writing…

    what drastically changed my writing?

    well, I wrote self satisfied smug little pieces, pretentiously perfect and so clever.

    8 years ago my sister died. just like that. went to bed, burst a blood vessel and died at 46.

    there were so many things she had planned to do – LATER

    my other sister and I realised that later might not happen

    so I packe din my job, moved closer to friends and family and started writing again

    for real this time.

    changed my writing completely

    still not published, but hey , that’s not the important thing, is it?

    CJ

  2. says

    my own writing…

    I used to write a lot on LiveJournal, only I was always kinda crypric. Not deliberately, mind, I just happened to keep my comments brief to the extent that only those who knew what I was talking about had any idea what the comment meant. I could write pretty much anything over the space of a page and each sentence would mean one thing to someone, nothing to everyone else.

    Then I moved in with my best friend, and [after a gloriously convoluted three months] things happened between us – very briefly. We were fiercely passionate for about 10 days then she crapped herself and started going weird on me. It took her a further 6 months to finally tell me it was over. Not only was it over, but we had never been. Didn’t happen. No-one was to know.

    that whole period fucked me up horribly. I got into a sick depression, ended up on meds and in counselling, really struggled hard to communicate because I felt I was ‘cheating’ on her by just talking. It was a hard time, but eventually I got through it and basically stopped speaking to her… but we were still living together. I remained pretty much closed off until we parted, and have since tried my hardest to be very open and expressive when I write. Because it’s my life, my words. If someone fucks me up I will write about it because I see no reason to protect them by keeping secrets.

    I’ve had anough of secrets, enough of hurt, enough of manipulation. Time to live.

    I’m attempting to write a partial-fantasy historical epic on 17th century Edinburgh. It’s hard work because a lot of that histpry is lost, but it’s worth the effort. Maybe someone will read it. Maybe not. I’ll sure as hell enjoy the writing.

    Stay happy.
    S x

  3. says

    Jesus Christ.

    That was fucking beautiful. Thank you.

    For me, what changed my writing was becoming a mom. No, that’s a lie. For me, what changed my writing forever was the near loss of my first child. I was in bed for five weeks, bleeding out, listing to On the Road and Thomas Merton essays on tape over and over and over again while being fed and sustained by someone else’s blood. Kind of like a vampire. But pregnant.

    And it didn’t change my writing right away – it took a good little bit. But after an experience like that, things matter a lot more. Know what I mean?

  4. randy says

    Okay, I do have a name. Your writing has evolved into a deeper, more introspective layer probably opened up to you after some bone shaking incidents you describe. Some people can only see life after they’ve seen death. It takes courage to do that kind of writing but after what you have been through courage is not one of your missing traits, maybe being able to slam dunk or go wall-to-wall in the UFC arena -but not for a lack of courage.

    Keep the pen in hand (figuratively) and see what transpires in “your own write”

    R

  5. says

    Almost ten years ago, my mother fell while gardening (a passion of hers) and broke her leg. It was August in Mississippi. air like dishwater, and she could not get up. No one knew. She was alone, lying on a slope in the yard adjacent to a ditch and the backyard of a neighbor who had a pig for a pet. I had always had contempt for that neighbor, who did not read or write well. (I am ashamed to admit that.)

    Mother screamed for help for hours till she passed out. Fortunately, the pig heard and finally got the attention of his owner. It’s crazy. But the man and the pig saved my mother’s life.

    She was ill for a long time, in rehab for months, and the event altered her life. And my life, too.

    I found it so surreal, in so many ways. I’ve never written or told anyone, but I could NOT write at all after it happened. I had been a ghost writer, reader, and romance writer. Had a nice career. Made money. It was like I had been slapped silly. I went from being serious, to finding life totally absurb. I went back to college, and the last several years, I have been the ambivalent writer. I don’t know if I have any talent, if I was always a good enough hack to get by. I also lost my sense of place. My label as romance writer, and all those circles. Friends. And I could not make anyone understand.

    Probably because I was not honest. I had never been honest in my writing.

    Your story is terribly moving for me. I would never have posted anything like this on my blog. But why not? My mother’s life was changed forever. She never worked in her garden again. She never walked much after that, and only with help. She had a heart attack. She lingers.

    Writing seems strange besides all that.

    You have all sorts of problems, but you are brave. You’re here. Thanks for that. And for the story. I am going to work on the courage to do and let be.

  6. Eileen says

    I have been reading some of your writings for a week or so, both here and on your blog. I have to tell you Michael that I think your BEST writing is when you write about yourself, because it is honest, open and unpretentious. I admire you greatly. Although you have moments of loneliness and depression you never seem to feel sorry for yourself. I have been toying around with the thought of writing for the past six years. You see I lost my 18 year old son Nick in an accident December 2002. It has been rough but I try not to feel sorry for myself. He was a funny, goofy kid, 6′, 5” tall, skinny as a rail. He used to wear red converse high tops-and although he was a pain in the ass many times, I feel I was blessed to have him in my life. Anyway, I just need to start my writing because I think I have an interesting story to tell- Just have to figure out how to begin. I just want you to know I think all your insights, life stories, your fantastic sense of humor and irony would make a great autobiography.

  7. says

    Eileen: I’m really glad you like my writing, thank you. If you want to write about your son, just start writing, write everything you remember. Don’t start out trying to be organized.

  8. says

    I’ll echo Bill’s sentiments here: although I’ve been through a lot of things during my life that have affected my writing later on, there’s nothing that doesn’t seem frankly minute compared to some of the things people have talked about here – although they didn’t seem so to me at the time. They never do.

    Dropping out of school, regretting it, dealing with it, loving more than I thought I ever would and losing more than I thought I could bear, letting people down, being let down, travelling, getting jobs, hating jobs, leaving jobs, the usual catalogue of adventures and misadventures. The most prominent incidents have burned themselves into my memory and manifest in my writing as themes, characters, and so on. My tone’s become more cynical but I think more mature as time goes by, mirroring my own passage through life, and I’ll probably mellow out at some point. Writing allows me catharsis and is also a kind of therapy, and although I find myself retreading the same ground perhaps far too often it still means I force myself to look back constantly upon the old with newer, ever updated perspective. Sometimes I wonder what’d happen if I sat down and wrote a story but edited it drastically once a month for the next ten years, and how differently the final draft would be (and my ‘final perspective’ would be) at the end of all that time.

    By the way, I find your honesty refreshing – I’ve gotten used to reading people’s fake plastic walls of words designed to impress, to promote, or to prove something – it feels good to read something real and unashamed to be as such.

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