How does one choose to be a writer? There are as many variables as there are people on the face of the earth, I suppose. I do not expect anyone wakes up one morning and claims, Hey, I’m going to be a writer. For myself, it was a long road both strange and beautiful.
Originally, in as far back as high school, I aspired to be a graphic artist. I created intricate illustrations with passion. Unlike my friends who filled their imaginations with comic book superheroes like Batman or The Green Lantern, I spent my money on collecting the magazine Heavy Metal. I was not only drawn to the remarkable stories, but the outlandish art. Especially the works of Jean Giraud a.k.a. Moebius. I would sit and scrutinize for hours the beautiful lines and simplistic clutter Giraud would impregnate into every frame. It was him and the luscious line drawings of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon I gleaned inspiration. I would purchase reams of lineless paper and meticulously copy their works until my own style eventually emerged.
During long summers while my friends remained outside playing, I would find refuge in my cramped room drafting surreal comics about livid dreams I’d had and idiosyncratic adventures of lone wonderers. I would show my uninterested friends my strange doodles and be labeled crazy or weird. I didn’t care, I adored it.
Come college, I took both photography classes and intermedial art. I would roam around deserted alleys and crumbling buildings taking black and white snapshots of scenes I found interesting. I realized I was the odd one out when in art class all I drew were disturbing charcoal paintings of various oil refineries around Los Angeles. Scores of them one after the other. I was attempting to portray the mood of decay crossed with industrial beauty. My teacher had enough of my dark and sulky shit and expelled me from class.
That evening, I went to a local cinema in Pasadena to watch a movie. Which film I do not recall, all I remember is it was sold out, the only other playing in the small two cinema theater was David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. I knew of David Lynch from his breakout student film Eraserhead, but was apprehensive to view his latest work because at the time, I deemed Eraserhead was simply his one hit wonder. (I knew of Dune, which flopped and was never interested to view Elephant Man) Never the less, I sat in the theater mesmerized by the intense visuals and off kilter story. I stumbled out of the theater past jocks yelling “Fuck!” badly imitating Frank Booth with the burning thought, That! That is what I want to do. I want to make movies like that!
The following semester, I attended film school. While other students produced sappy romances and teen dramas, I cranked out short, ethereal stories of pain and solitude amid filth and degradation. I had always been drawn to the underbelly of society. Once, during ninth grade and living with my parents in Lakewood, CA, I took a city bus on a day trip to Hollywood. The route went through skid row Los Angeles and I sat there wide eyed gaping out the window in captivated interest at all the sordid squalor passing as the bus chugged along 3rd and Spring. That initial image lingered with me for a long time.
Years later, I would venture to skid row in downtown Los Angeles and film the drunks and addicts who haunted the streets day and night never recognizing one day I would find myself living among them. And live among them I did, the fervidness became an addiction as was I more comfortable surrounded by transients and junkies than mall crawlers or office workers.
I had found my niche. My passion. Film. I moved out of my parents’ house (they never supported any of my hobbies so it was a relief when I left) and rented a cockroach infested studio on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Highland. I had transvestite hookers and aspiring porn stars for neighbors. I was well on my way, attaining employment at various film studios as gaffers or best boys, I would watch and study everything cinema related.
Then, life reared its ugly head. I fell in love. In love with someone who was absorbed more in the material things of life than the artistic. The four year campaign of this seemingly one-sided relationship was spent not producing films, but attempting to placate his varying affection. He was my world – the very reason I got up to go to work, to eat, to shave, to bathe. Indeed, I had it bad. I even spent a month incarcerated in Los Angeles City jail in lieu of stealing funds from my employment so I could afford to take this person to the various night clubs he so much revelled in. I would had done anything for him. Much to my dismay.
After four years, we eventually separated. My heart was shattered and never fully recovered. One afternoon as I stood in Mickey’s Bar on Santa Monica Blvd. with a gaggle of uncaring and phony friends, I was asked what I planned to do; now that I was single. My heart filled with pain and distrust, my only thought was to commit suicide as any over-dramatic queen would. I morosely stated I planned to go down to Tijuana for the weekend to think things through. I did and never returned to Los Angeles’ or its plastacine lifestyle.
Tijuana was an alien planet. A world both dangerous and liberating. Yet, I went there to die. Over dramatic, I assure you, but at the time it was the most dangerous locale I knew of and if I was going to go out, why not in style? I envisioned they would find my alcohol saturated corpse face down in an alleyway with pants around my ankles, sexually assaulted to death. A content smile across my insipid lips. I did not appreciate at the time on how this unrelentless city would become the major focal point for my future career as a writer.
I made it a habit to visit a movie theater at least twice a week and watch whatever seemed appealing. In downtown San Diego, at this monolith of a mall, I went to the movies and, again, the film I wished to see was sold out. The only other of interest was a film titled Naked Lunch. I thought it as simply a stupid teen comedy or at least a foreign sex drama in lieu of the title. Sure, why not, I’ll check it out.
The initial screening was both humorous and motivating. In the row ahead of me was five jocks from the local university. Before the film began, they teased about how the film was probably going to be a dumb comedy. My glee was to watch their appalled reaction change when instead of titties and cheerleaders they were subjected to drug addicted homosexuals and typewriters morphing into giant cockroaches dictating their thoughts out of their assholes. I immediately loved the film. When I learned it was based on a book, after the third screening that same week, I directly made my way to a local Barnes and Noble to purchase a copy of the novel.
At that time, I knew nothing about the beat generation or their influence on literature. In my first attempt at reading Naked Lunch, I found it dense and hard to follow. The fractured style was confusing, but I tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed it and it segwayed into reading other works. I studied all the greats in literature both classic and contemporary. Supping up the works of Oscar Wilde, Jean Genet, George Orwell, William Burroughs, De Sade, Henry Miller, Hemmingway, Bukowski, William Kennedy, and many others. Instead of haunting comic book stores, I would sit for hours in libraries and book stores reading. I wrote my first novella (in longhand!) in a leather bound journal. I had concocted this horrible short story concerning a small person resembling a cross between Danny DeVito’s Penguin and The Babadook who terrorized and murdered small children in white suburbia – with illustrations! It was ghastly and extremely cinematic in the set up of scenes. I wish I still possessed a copy.
Still passionate about making films, I used this fodder of reading novels to pen screenplays which I sent to every studio I knew of. I never received any call backs. It did not slow me down, I wrote screenplay after screenplay all the while antedating when I would purchase my own film equipment and produce my own visual works.
It was about this time, while I trolled the cantinas of Tijuana on a nightly basis and indulging in all manner of decrepit excess, I found myself addicted to methamphetamines. Years passed and I began adopting some manner of mental psychosis. In lieu of the dope and lack of sleep combined with a toxic, hedonistic lifestyle, my mind was literally bursting with ideas and terrifying nostalgias. A coworker introduced me to the therapy of “blogging”, writing down my thoughts and problems and in trade expunging them from my head.
I titled the blog Borrowed Flesh from the first line of Naked Lunch, “I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonable good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness…” (Years later, I would be accused by some goofy bitch of lifting the title off her badly written zombie novel of the same name. Look, sweetie, if I’m going to steal, I’m stealing from the best) With the blog, I didn’t compose my thoughts per se, but focused on transcribing the idiosyncratic factors which seemed to pursue me on a daily basis. I had to admit, writing was soothing. I did feel better afterwards. In the beginning, no one read my tripe and that suited me just fine. Until a year passed and all of a sudden I became this underground literary hero being bombarded via email on all aspects of sordid Tijuana or the finer points of drug addiction. Back then, I penned this blog anonymously using the nom de plume Desolation Angel. I supped up the attention, as anyone would. The most common comment I would receive was the I Envy The Way You Live I Wish I Could Live Like You or a variation of it.
I would incessantly shake my head slowly and state, “No…no you wouldn’t. It’s terrifying. Truly terrifying.”
I made the decision no matter what I did, no matter what fate would fling at me, I was going to keep a painfully accurate account about it; writing with unashamed passion. Two decades later….here we are. During those years, I published nine novels and one tome of sickly poetry. I never dared read the reviews. My ego wouldn’t be able to handle it. I assume they are doing well, I still receive royalty checks. I rarely return emails yet the acclaim outweighs the negative critiques. I don’t care much for the limelight. The attention anymore. I simply want to be read. But, for one thing I can claim without fear of retribution is, I am a writer and a damn good one.