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

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