My Long Nostalgic Nightmare is Finally Over

For someone who can blather on and on about the unsung virtues of transformative change, I don’t seem to take it too well when the tables are turned. I mean, I’ve long since accepted plenty of undercooked truisms like “contradiction is balance” and “hypocrisy is relative,” and I’m often able to place seemingly bizarre paradigm shifts into meaningful context instead of going completely berserk with fear and loathing, but that tendency recently deserted me at a crucial moment. In fact, my usual keen analytical instincts failed so utterly that all I could do was merely assess the psychic damage and stand still like poor Brendan Frye, maimed and bleeding from every orifice and waiting to be mowed down by yet another New Reality.

My mind has always seemed to work against me. In my mind I kept remembering things that never happened, but they always seemed so real and so true-way more than the most messed-up deja vu. In my mind I always pictured some ideal, distorted image of both what my past was and what my future would be. In my mind I lived a lifetime in four minutes, cramming a kaleidoscope of hopes and fears into a nondescript neural mush, punctuated only occasionally by brief synaptic jolts of electric panic. In my mind, the universe always had a hidden agenda, and I could never ever forgive or ignore what I wasn’t allowed to know. —“They Always Run”

That’s right—when the end came, it was quick but painful. An otherwise normal sojourn behind the Orange Curtain of my youth—no different than countless others I’d embarked upon in the last thirteen years, and certainly similar to those of the past five—rapidly deteriorated into a relentless shit-rain of mental trauma. My gracious hosts were luckily shielded from the worst, as I’d long since departed for home by the time things really got nasty, but the demon seed was planted smack-dab in the middle of my trip, and it was all downhill from there. Specifically, it began with a hideous vision of misplaced civic effort (a brand-new footbridge over PCH in Dana Point), followed by a long-feared manifestation of developmental nose-thumbing (the cliffs above Strands Beach and the Dana Point headlands finally going under the knife of luxury home construction), and capped off by a self-inflicted Detour Into Planned Community Hell (a drive through the new fake-town of “Ladera” lurking in the hills behind San Juan Capistrano).

It was a true Boo-Frickety-Hoo Tour of Shame—like “You Can’t Go Home Again” multiplied by a million—but since it was all initiated by my own inability to Deal With New Stuff, I have nothing to whine about. Which is fine, and it normally wouldn’t have been a problem, but I had a novel to finish, folks—and the nostalgic life-blood that fed my erstwhile creativity was immediately depleted, never to return. It was a much-delayed reaction (I’d moved away over a decade ago), but for the first time, the town I grew up in felt empty and foreign and wrong. Or rather I felt wrong being there, because home had been Somewhere Else for a long time now. I didn’t belong to one of those mobile modern families that moved every few years. No, I stayed in the same place ’til I was eighteen—the OC suburbs—and didn’t get too far once I finally did leave.

My mother used to say that I had an advanced case of “Prince Henry the Navigator Syndrome,” and she was more prescient than I think even she knew. When I was a kid I absorbed ridiculous amounts of historical and geographical trivia, even before the onset of nightmarish insomnia made those useful distractions a necessity. Crumpled National Geographics and outdated Britannicas taught me about anything I wanted to know, anywhere in the world, but that didn’t make me want to actually visit any of the places I studied. —“Artificial Archaeology”

Once I’d happily wrapped the American Dream around my chubby white body—with a home, marriage, and mortgage—and adjusted to the facts that my second band was on hiatus and most of my friends lived relatively far away, it was way too easy to become even more insular and self-obsessed than ever before. The tendency of thirty-somethings to assess their short lives took hold with a vengeance, and so the past three years have been basically dedicated to amusing myself—when I actually have time to do that—while the world burns. It’s probably just a phase, like anything else, but it’s exerted a powerful pull on my coddled consciousness for some time now, so the damage will probably be permanent no matter how much ego-exorcism may or may not be undertaken.

Some lucky souls get to remember their dreams, but I’ve never been one of those people. Never recalled any profound truths from random subconscious netherworlds. Never thought that much mattered, though, cause I’ve definitely dealt with some weird hallucinatory shit-usually caused by either controlled substances or some deliriously painful physical injury. —“This Won’t Hurt a Bit”

And yet all of this was entirely predictable, because I should have seen it coming months ago; as I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, I’m a sucker for blatant appeals to my nostalgic impulses. The initial rush of hubris that demanded I forego all other creative endeavors to Write That First Novel had kept me mired in its pit for almost three years, through forty-eight blog-sized chapters of undercooked characters, clichéd plot devices, and unwelcome digressions. But man, fiction is a soothing balm. No wonder everyone lies about everything.

For many years I’d tried to convince myself that nostalgia meant death, that indulging in happy memories was much worse than just a pleasant waste of time, but recently I’d suspected that was a war I’d lost before it had even begun. The impulse to dwell to distraction had long since permanently fused with my frontal lobe, because not only had I been unable to kick the vile temptation, I’d come to enjoy it and-in a pinch-even capitalize on it. What I didn’t realize, though, was how completely uncontrollable it could be. —“Frayed Strands”

And yet (again) I could feel its grip slackening even as I blasted down the 5 through Irvine and El Toro and Mission Viejo—a big problem, considering the first draft hadn’t been finished at that point. But you know what? It was a relief to feel that oppressive mental fog seem to lift for even a few hours. See, doing a blatant teen-noir nostalgia-trip like “The Weapon of Young Gods” required re-insertion into a head-space of too many years ago. In order to write the damn thing I had to remember the story as not how it was, but how I thought it was: the truth with deliberate mistakes. It gave me some really bad brain bubbles on too many occasions, let me tell you.

People never pay attention to how their body works, until suddenly it doesn’t. Then they really feel conscious of how bizarre and miraculous and utterly strange that thing is. That thing that imprisons their soul, that throbs and pulses and sweats, that breathes and itches and gurgles and snots and shits. Then they know-when something’s wrong. Then maybe they pay attention and, if they’re not too consumed with fear, they try to do something about it. Of course, sick people are in touch with this reality every minute of every day. Illness connects them to their malfunctioning bodies’ skewed rhythms in ways that health nuts and appearance fetishists will never ever know. The reality of fragile impermanence. The irrefutable truth that this blip of existence is absolutely transient. —“Leave the Rest in Ruins”

But no longer—for the bastard is finally finished…sort of. First drafts of first novels are wonderful things, because if they totally suck, it doesn’t matter! They’re packed with built-in excuses that shield hypersensitive authors from the ignorant masses and sneering critics—and even better, this one was blogged, baby! Fanfic writers have nothing on me. I wrote fanfic about my life, bitches. Was that good enough for UCI’s Fiction MFA, long long ago? Of course not, but even though they were right to reject it, they can still go pound sand—because the best part of this is the book behind the book: all the other half-assed verbal barf I’ve written to warm up and cool down from doing fiction. In other words, blogging.

And why? Well, like many other people, over the past decade I’ve discovered that the internet is a great place to indulge one’s vanity. And I am chock-full of that, man. This novel and its bloggy shadow are, naturally, uber-expressions of such egomaniacal tendencies, but even a blook needs to read well and check in under 75,000 words—which it almost did. So yes, my long nostalgic nightmare is finally over, except when it’s not. The next one begins immediately, and it is a terror of editing, a horror-filled, whimpering death by syntax, grammar, and dubious craftsmanship. Ta ta for now, kiddies—I’ll be in my study all summer long.