Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Jet City

I keep – or try to keep – a daily journal of automatic writing.  I sit down at 6AM and try to write whatever is in my head for a thousand words or an hour, whichever comes first.  I never publish this stuff, because most of it is random, a lot of it is personal, and most of it is junk.  But for whatever reason, I’m mining through some of it now and thought I’d share a bit of it.  So here goes.

From 9/24/09:

It’s easy for me to romanticize Seattle, especially the beginning of Seattle, because it was that magic period after college, the time where you’re cashing in on those years of alleged hard work, and instead of paying out money to bursars and book stores and dormitories, you’re finally pulling in money.  You’re in the black, at least in a theoretical sense; you’re still selling CDs you got from a splurge period through the Columbia House mail-order club to keep the occasional groceries in the cabinets.  But in theory, you’ve got money coming in, instead of working on the economy that you need to borrow and budget and save to keep yourself in the game.

Part of that era, the early era, back in 95 and early 96 reminded me of the Korean War.  Korea was a completely new animal, this UN-sanctioned police action and not a true dynasty grab of a war, an empire-building thing.  But so much of Korea was defined by the leftovers of World War II.  All of the hardware was stuff pulled out of mothballs, all the old surplus planes and jeeps and other throwbacks to the earlier conflict.  Even the food used in Korea was shit on a shingle canned back in the early forties, a direct tie back to the previous dynasty.

And Seattle felt like that to me.  A new city surrounded me, an Emerald City, the Jet City.  But I hacked away every night on the 486 computer I built back in my Mitchell Street roominghouse, staring at a greyscale paperwhite VGA monitor I got on my birthday, on the day I met RMS in Bloomington.  My writing table was the kitchen table I got for my Colonial Crest townhouse back in 93.  I loaded up my Kenwood CD changer every night, the same 6+1 CD machine I bought from an HH Gregg back in Indiana with a tax refund check that was burning a hole in my pocket, the same one that clunked from Nine Inch Nails to Chick Corea to Tori Amos, the same 6+1 CDs I had in constant rotation during the start of my writing days.  Everything in the apartment was surplus; the bed from my bedroom as a kid; the coffeetable from my parents’ old house, now functioning as a stereo stand; even the spices and mismatched pots and pans that were a grab from my mom’s destined-for-garage-sale extras.

I guess I was depressed back then.  I was single, alone, with no game and no hopes to proceed anywhere romantically.  Ever since high school I nursed this dream of meeting the Right Woman, of falling in love with her in college, of sharing the experience with her, of finding my soulmate, graduating, getting a job, and living the Happily Ever After.  This probably burned me, in a period when I should have approached dating like a starved man approached an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Instead, I approached every possible dating situation with the attitude that this could be The One, which ultimately made me a marked man and doomed everything.  I thought meeting women was hard back in college, and that once I got a real job, an apartment, a car, and a life, it would all lock in, and I’d be rolling in women.  I wasn’t, of course.  I spent my nights alone, wandering from Denny’s to bookstore to mall, doing anything but talking to women.

I was a writer.  That was my dream to work on, when I had no money to do anything else.  Becoming a writer was something born out of a shattered romantic relationship.  When Tanya left in 1993, I was reborn a writer.  I don’t know how that switch got flipped in my head, but I filled the desperation and emptiness left by her absence with the scribbling in notebooks, the consumption and analysis of Henry Miller, the dream of cobbling together books like Jack Kerouac or Charles Bukowski, of wandering life, being outside looking in, having these keen observations of the obvious, the things I could dissect and recapitulate in an artistic form, the analysis of the things we all saw and ignored every day.

Writing has always tickled this one loose nerve in my head that ties together so many things in my life: being alone, being brought up to think you were special and had some great destiny larger than just loading up boxes on an assembly line.  I needed to create, and I needed to make something that was larger than one of the senses. You can paint or draw what you see, or play what you hear, but you can write what you feel, observe, live, think, dream.  You construct an entire world from your words, a world greater than the one you experience, because you can turn it inside-out, you can over-analyze it and slow it down and break it apart and re-form it in new ways that do more than just rehash the facts that happened.

I wasn’t doing that though, at least not yet.  I was chipping away at Summer Rain, a thinly veneered autobiography of a summer in Bloomington, a glorified three months that I spent wallowing in depression, trying to find my place in life, and attempting to screw every piece of trim that crossed my path.  I succeeded on the wallowing/depression part; the other two escaped me.  At that point, SR wasn’t much more than a chronological retell of the summer, with names changed to protect the innocent.  I finished my first draft that Semtember: 80,000-odd words.  No humor, no shaping, no plot, no surprises – my only goal was to get words on a page until I had something that almost resembled a book.  It’s a pretty cringe-worthy bit of work.

The writing wasn’t as important as the act of writing, though.  I needed to be a writer.  I needed to be alone on a late Friday night, hacking away in an emacs buffer while the Chick Corea spun in the player, the black sky out my huge windows facing the south side of jet city, the kingdome in the distance, the cars humming past on the I-5 expresway.  I needed to write every Friday night, well past midnight, chipping at the book, taking breaks to read everything I could find, then going back to the buffers, back to the book, until 4 AM, when the automatic sprinklers on the landscaping five floors below would switch on, bathing the air with a white noise bath of artificial rain on the narrow strips of grass below.