Thursday, May 26, 2016

William Myrl; Letters to No One (56)

Dear No One,
When I was first arrested, and I awoke, on the first day of of the first leg of my incarceration, I drank orange juice. Then I searched the bunk I was assigned and found a pen. It felt like a big thing. I didn't have any paper, but I had napkins and bathroom tissue to spare. These originals are probably at the house somewhere, my mother could find them if pressed. In the three months I spent in North Carolina before extradition I wrote around four hundred pages of fiction. Sometimes I would count the words when a thing was done, obsessing over exactly how much I would have to write for it to qualify as a novel. My hand would cramp, I would get angry and pace. When the words wouldn't come I would get headaches staring at the page. The trick I learned then has proved reliable over the years. Lay down and cover your eyes, let your mind wander and relax. It is rare that I do this for half an hour without being rewarded. Its trying to force the story out that causes whatever fantasy generating mechanism I have in me to clog. It was a single cell, there were few distractions. The library cart was not tremendous, and the television in the pod was silent. My eyes weren't good enough to read the subtitles. I've told you about some of the people already, we played chess or talked about pseudo-legal sounding nonsense. Writing was what mattered, and every work felt like the one, the one that would change things, or somehow redeem me. I burned out a story as quickly as I could, and sent them home and bothered my family about doing something with them, already working on the next. This continued in the next jail, sometimes more or less. They got longer (finished story page counts in order as I remember them-149, 200, 186, 250(epic poem10k lines), 225, 275, 320(the Mystic Seasons books all averaged about 300) , 350 (M1: The Riven Shield) ,400+ (M2: The Theft of a Star, and current M series books)) and more coherent. Always, I continued thinking, this is going to be the one. You have to think that way, if you want to keep going, and if you feel you don't have another reason to keep being a person except for what you can make, if that is what gives you value and nothing else.
Being unusually goal oriented is one of the symptoms of a manic episode, and whether my own eccentric need to complete arbitrary tasks I assign myself is related to that or not, it is what kept me trying.
One project bled into the next. When I talk to other would be writers I tell them that the first thousand pages is for practice. They probably think I'm exaggerating, really I'm only picking a number that sounds striking. I stopped feeling the compulsion to keep a writing calendar in 2015. I had been counting handwritten pages (a shade over 6000 of them), but there was no way for me to reliably measure emails by pages. Also, I no longer feel the same need to justify my continued existence via vegetable pulp product volume.
I don't write as much as I used to, but my work is more focused now. What the words are used for is more important than how many of them there are. 
This week, something strange happened. Reed magazine does its annual print run, my essay included. It isn't a book deal, but its closer to one than I have been. Two nights ago I received a letter from PEN. Remember when I told you I didn't win anything? I was incorrect. They gave me the Dawson prize for my drama submission. I don't know what that means (who is Dawson? why does he have a prize?), and it doesn't matter. It was a small but resurrected dream.
In my box there was an envelope labeled "when you win." In the envelope was a bag of gummy worms someone had given me out of their Christmas holiday package. Late that night, I lay in my bunk listening to Hikaru Utada, eating stale, stale worms out of a plastic tumbler, smiling.

William Myrl

William Myrl; Letters to No One (55)

Dear No One,
I enjoy romantic comedies. USA showed one called That Awkward Moment recently, it had Zac Efron and others. The lead love interest wasn't an actress I'm familiar with. She was oddly lovely, or lovely odd. There are certain faces that are better for being quirked, slightly mismatched, and I'm a fool for overlarge eyes. Perfect faces are deserving of admiration, and imperfect faces of love. It was an unusual movie in that the protagonist, Mr. Efron, had no past. His deficiencies as a human being were never explained, though they were naturally overcome by the end of the film. Have you ever seen it? Do you know who that girl is? 
Bears (the girl I was with when I was a real person) used to have us watch romcoms together. You've Got Mail was a favorite. Ever notice how overplayed the publishing industry is in movies and books? It diverges strongly from occupational base rates, but who would writers write about if not people like themselves? 
In jail, there is a solid block of the population that believes itself to be in relationships. These fellows are watching a movie all their own, and are all too dependent on what flickers across the screen. Some of them are married, it doesn't really matter. When a man and a woman vow to remain together forever, through better and through worse, they don't use their imaginations. Incarceration is an acid that dissolves all manner of bonds, even as it creates new ones. There are some relationships that endure, and they generally begin after incarceration, by mail, with a partner who knows what they're getting and what they're not. Proximity is the foundation of social interaction, its a simple if somewhat emasculating thought. Geography plays a greater role in networking than our own choices do, and prison is the heart of nowhere.
Bears and I, we're still friends, if distant ones. I've been under arrest for more than twice as long as we were together, and I don't have another reference point for relationships. The fact that I hear from her at all after so many years is amazing to me. It's not something I could have reasonably asked for, all that time ago.
There are certain parts of oneself that have to learn to quiet themselves, if we are to avoid unrest. You learn to live without what may once have been considered necessary. It is not a temporary condition, as so many of us will never be anywhere but here. I will go home one day, and people of my good fortune have difficult imagining choosing to go on if we knew there was nothing but this. Humans don't really make a choice to live though, they just keep living, with or without hope.
Everyone is beautiful in movies involving Zac Efron, and I wish it were that way in life. The world is often uglier than the stories we tell about it, and its endings are slower too.

William Myrl (Smitherman)

William Myrl; Letters to No One (54)

Dear No One,
The last visit I had with the head doctor, he had three students with him. We went through all the formal proceedings, introductions and telling me I can ask them to leave if I don't want to speak in front of them etc... The talker in this group is a Mr. Court. He asks about mania, I tell him its much harder for me to define than depression is, much harder to pin down, and that I wished I could make him listen to music, because that would be a better way of understanding. So though I will never see that particular fellow again, I have made a list of manic tunes for your perusal. They will come at the end of this letter.
The first person I tried to be friends with was Yi. If you have been reading these, you may have noticed a pattern. I meet someone I find interesting, become overly enthusiastic about their existence, and eventually find disappointment when they don't expand to fill the image of them I have created. Mao, Jark, and Ender are the most recent examples. When I was at Sussex, it was Sawyer. In jail, the first was Yi. He was small, kind of nezumi featured, college educated. One of the first things I heard about him was "he kind of talks like you." You know, in complete sentences. He didn't warm up to me immediately, and it was reasonable of him to be reserved. People who are overtly friendly to strangers are usually running a con. There were rumors that he had unsavory charges (not a lot of things prisoners find unsavory, so you can guess) and I'm sure people tried to take advantage of him at different times both because of that and his slender frame. His differentness. I talked to him about StarCraft to break the ice. He worked on computers in the real world, had a little business. Being in jail couldn't have helped that but who knows. I haven't thought about the guy in years, and I'm sure he's home by now.
He wrote stories, so he was also the first other inmate whose stories I read. I make it a habit now, to always read what people write. In some cases, I will probably be the only person to ever read it. The work is nearly always awful, but that isn't the point. 
He wrote a science fiction novel, a draft, about humanity's fight against telekinetic space whales. Not terrible, accounting for its incompleteness. He was developing a romance before we parted ways. It was based on his relationship with his wife, I think, and it was the better read. I wish I remembered enough about him to send him a letter, to tell him I was making progress. He used to do some light editing for me. And he gave me a honey bun for Christmas. 
We argued about a lot. He was a smart guy who believed in a young earth, and he thought gold dragons weren't the strongest of the metallic breeds in third edition dungeons and dragons. Two equally ridiculous stances. He asked me why I did what I did (my crimes were well known, when I entered green and white someone dangled a local newspaper down from the mezzanine and pointed me out), and I said, "Why does anyone do anything?" That's probably as good an explanation as I've been able to give anyone so far.
We played chess, and we were well matched at first. He kept practicing, and soon outpaced me. I'm still not very good, haven't played in a few years. Magic the gathering and DnD replaced it far and long ago. I wonder where he has gone, and what has become of him. Yi wasn't the sort to come back to a place like this when presented with the choice. These faces, they keep appearing and disappearing. Prison is a house of phantoms. If you're wondering how I'm going to tie all of this in to the mania topic, I'm not.
So here's the list, some of them stronger than others; they come in flavors, and in no particular order.

LGFUAD-Motion City Soundtrack
Lux Aeterna/Summer Overture--Clint Mansell
Radioactive--Imagine Dragons
How Far We've Come-- Matchbox 20
Teenage Dream-- Katy Perry
Firework-- Katy Perry
This is Me--Draft Kings
My House--PVRIS
Dr. Code--Yucat
Zankoku no Tenshi no Thesis--Original Evangelion opening theme
Zenchi Zennou no Ki--Yucat
Flowers in Paradise--Ouzokuband
The Protomen (Their first concept album, haven't heard it in seven years or more, and still I hear it sometimes)
The Protomen (Act II: The Father of Death)

That's all I can think of at the moment. 
Write you again soon.

William Myrl (Smitherman)

William Myrl; Letters to No One (53)

Dear No One,
The door shakes at one or two, it took longer than you would think to get my psych evaluation, and not as long as most things do for us. Three or four hours were spent in a holding cell with others going elsewhere. We had breakfast, for some reason I believe it was gravy, though it would be ludicrous to imagine I retained that detail through the years. The drive was about three hours, alone in the back of a van. There were two officers in the cab and they occasional said words to me or each other. They weren't in any way hostile, I've noticed security personnel tends to be friendliest where mental health is concerned, assuming you aren't making their jobs more difficult than they are meant to be.
We went to UVA where I was interviewed by a psychologist and a student. There were many questions, and a short written test.They were both very nice, and I failed to convey anything of value to them. I have never been comfortable with public feelings. After a couple of years practicing with the psychiatrist here my communication skills have improved, at the time, I answered them in much the same manner as I would have any stranger asking me personal questions The was diversion and distortion, a bit of bravado, and a bad habit I have never shaken of manufacturing answers to questions I have no real answer to.
For lunch, there was pepperoni pizza and coke. I ate mine alone in the interview room, and picked my nose for the camera one assumes they were observing me through. I tried to pee, failed, my shy bladder triumphing again as two officers waited awkwardly behind me in the bathroom. They must have taken my handcuffs off, I think, though the shackles remained. Wait, I know what it was. One hand was handcuffed to my belt and the other was free for eating and filling in multiple choice questions.
They asked me if I cared what other people thought of me. I said I didn't. They asked me how I would describe me opinion of myself, I said deific. They asked me what careers I might be interested in, I listed; author, actor, rock star, and politician. They noted that I didn't actually have to give an answer if I wasn't sure. Was I still nineteen then? Maybe twenty. I wonder if I had behaved differently that day would I have gotten the diagnosis I have now, would it have helped me later on. I was being defensive, the friendliest obstruction that I know. When the psychologist mentioned some of the things I talked about doing during the months leading up to my arrest sounded like depression, my reply was that maybe it sounded that way, but I wouldn't characterize it as such. It wasn't an intentional stance I was taking, just my natural resistance to sharing private things. I must have peed at some point after that, its difficult to envision making it through the three hour drive home if I hadn't.
My evaluation didn't turn up anything useful for my lawyers purposes. My mom seemed to blame the psychologist for this, really the fault was entirely mine. He did his best to label me with the presentation that I gave him. One of the officers asked me what we talked about in there for so many hours. A lot of stuff.
Today I checked out bipolar for dummies from the library. Its a waterlogged copy. The mania checklist was sought and found, because I had forgotten why I believed it of myself. So I mentally marked the boxes. Yep, still got it; maybe not a terrible case, more hypo than anything, and now neatly medicated. Still, its helpful to be reminded.
William Myrl (Smitherman)

William Myrl; Letters to No One (52)

Dear No One,
Fifth Element is one of the few movies I can watch whenever it's on. I can't explain what seperates it from more lackluster SyFy fair, it certainly doesn't break any new ground from a storytelling perspective, and it ends on a pet peeve of mine, when love is suddenly the answer to every ill. In this case, love stops a demon meteor from crashing into the earth and destroying all life in the universe. That is what happens.

I like to think that fantasy and science fiction is a metaphorical endeavor. It isn't really about Sauron and Gandalf, but what they represent. This excuse explains why the genre is so repetitive. We're not telling new or original stories, its the same tired play with the same tired dialogue each time. Some cosmologies, like Narnia and the Golden Compass, are open about their derivation. Others are less so, a little less. Villains tend to be personifications of negative emotions, hatred and anger and pain. That's why they are always so insane. Wanting to bring about the end all things isn't the crazy part, its how they go about about doing it. Voldermort's actions only make sense if you recognize him as an avatar for hatred, because hatred is stupid and can be beaten by children. Stories are rarely written as if the characters were real people. Instead, they are archetypal fill in the blanks. I'm not saying this is wrong, but it would be nice if we could fight off the tropes occasionally.

So the good emotions beat the bad ones, and love triumphs over all. That's the world as we would like it to be, where good intentions and friendship could overcome as many dark lords as you like. In reality, emotions don't make us stronger in the sense of being able to pull the sword from the stone, but they can anneal us, after a fashion. Looking at the right photograph can be torture if you let it, if you focus on all that you don't have and never will. But sifting through that pain we find some material of use. Love is what keeps our families with us, as inconvenient as we are. It is also a reason to move, to change, to build ourselves anew into something worthy of that love. Not every writer is in a literal prison, but all people struggle, and it is those struggles that are born out in the stories we tell ourselves and each other. The sincerity of a story doesn't make it readable, but other things being equal, it helps. Seeing what we want can inform us of what we are supposed to be. And if we cannot write this world into the confines of a pleasant story, we can put more of that story into ourselves, and become a thing worth writing about, and triumphing for.
Love doesn't win everything for us, it makes us want to win.

William Myrl

William Myrl; Letters to No One (51)

Dear One,
When I got back to green and white my spot had been taken, so I was in a new cell with two other people. Being the new man on the block, I got to sleep on the floor. I mentioned the jail was overcrowded. To combat this overcrowding, the uppity ups decided they would transmogrify the two man cells into three man cells by putting three men in all of them. It worked out pretty well for them, being that they could solve a problem without actually doing anything about it. Yay, America.
I'm a bit snarky today, and I'm going to break off from my narrative here a moment to talk about a personal point of vexation.
How many guys do you know who think miscegenation should be a crime? How many do you know who think the greatest threat to america is the Mexicans rising up from the south and muddying our bloodlines? Its like some straight up Harry Potter shit in here sometimes.
It isn't just the racism, that is but one flavor of the mental quidditch cup we've got going on. Have you ever been having a conversation with someone who seemed perfectly reasonable before they told you that cellphones were alien technology the government had been hiding from us since the fifties? Does anyone you share a kitchen with think dinosaurs are a trick of the devil to temp us away form the heavenly light of our creator? My cellmate supports Donald Trump unironically, because the Trump is going to make america great again. 
To clarify, I like being disagreed with, because it gives me an opportunity to disagree in return. Arguing is fun for me, and I have found a few people over the years I can have an enjoyable debate with, even if it isn't productive. For most, however, debate is impossible. I don't argue or contradict, because the moment I do I'm being condescending or trying to make them feel stupid. Instead of contradicting, I make jokes, and divert the conversation. It works, but I can still be labelled condescending because I'm not giving serious answers to their serious questions. Aiyah.
Oh, and all prisons across America are equipped with poison gas in the ventilation systems in case of martial law when we would all be executed as enemies of the state, because that couldn't go wrong for anybody. That's a pervasive one among certain populations. And don't get me started on the homophobia. 
Conspiracies abound.
So we are on lock again, my first in C building. I made it through with a minor loss, my mechanical pencil. Those are hard to come by, and I feel foolish now for begin so frugal with the lead over the last year and a half. I used it for hair, mainly. The rookie who took it came out of my cell holding that and one of my kneadable erasers. He didn't know what the eraser was. I explained that it was for highlights, and lifting graphite. He seemed less than credulous, but he took my word that it had been bought legitimately. My other one was in an unopened package on the desk. He'd searched the desk, and had to have seen it. Nice enough young man. Did he think it was plastic explosives? We'll never know. I'll miss my pencil. 
It had a good life.

William Myrl