When I was much, much younger I lived in a second-floor apartment across from a gay bookstore in Philadelphia for a while. (Thanks to them for introducing me to Hothead Paisan at such an impressionable age, by the way.) It was a decent apartment, with a nice fireplace. We had several cats, my girlfriend and I. I owned an ancient underwood typewriter, which I place on a board in the window, I drank a lot of coffee and smoked way too much. And on rainy spring nights I’d sit in the window watching the people go in and out of the bookstore, and I’d try to write…poetry. This was before tattooing, before the west coast, before the zine, before I squatted, before I dropped out of civilization for the wild years. This was the start of that. It was the BEFORE TIMES.
It was horrible, in retrospect. But at the time I felt like it was a way to recognize that inside me hides an angry intellectual snob, someone who could rise above living in shitsville, who’d worked in factories. Some kind of Henry Miller/Bukowski/Hemingway persona. Some kind of talent that made me better than what I’d come from. I hadn’t started working at art in earnest yet, collage and a few drawings or paintings were all I’d done, so writing seemed a natural outlet for me instead.
I’d listen to really scratchy jazz records, 78s, or I’d listen to crappy local punk rock. No difference really, to me. I’d smoke too much and stare out the window, looking at the streetlights on the pavement, and try to put words together and make poems. I sucked at it. I hadn’t read a lot of poetry- just cummings, Bukowski, and a few others. I never enjoyed reading poetry and still don’t. In my english classes I’d always dreaded the poetry section, having to distill something pointless and plotless into a meaning…trying to read between lines. It never suited me but, I was styling myself as a writer, and instead of trying to write stories, or something that had a real narrative, or something challenging…
I was going to write poetry, because it didn’t have to make any real sense.
It was an awful and embarrassing period of my life and to this day I look back on myself, sitting in that window, with distress and shame.
Shortly after starting this madness, I signed up for a group which would read their writing to each other, like a mutual critique society kind of thing. I never read my own work, since I only went once. The middle-aged woman reading her memoir, the fat balding new age guy who had a novel he’d written (firmly falling into the man-romance genre) … these were not my people.
I went home and started writing about how stupid the laundromat near my house was, and doing more cut and paste things until eventually I had twenty pages of crap. Then I photocopied it with a stolen kinko’s cartridge and handed it out to some friends. I kept that zine going for about two years, maybe three. I was proud of it and actually, even now, I think I did a decent job. It was much better than silky fingers of glistening rain, or whatever that other shit was all about.
So if you’ve done something embarrassing creatively, the best thing to do is burn the evidence and make a zine for a few years. Just talk about stuff you hate, stuff you like. It doesn’t have to be great as long as it’s not pretentious and completely fake.
I think in some ways this website is just the reincarnation of that zine. I wonder sometimes if anyone has any copies of it, anywhere out there. If anyone does, let me know, I’d be ever so grateful for a scanned copy of any of it. Particularly the “Jonestown Cobain picnic” centerfold spread.
(Or, generally, any embarrassing photos of me from that time, art or writing I did during that phase. I destroyed as much of the evidence as I could get my hands on.)