Last week we returned from our yearly trip to Cabo, Mexico. I know that sounds like I live a fancy life, but the truth is SF to Cabo is ridiculously cheap. Like five days at a 5-star resort, all-inclusive (all you can eat and all you can drink), on the beach, airfare, accommodations, infinity pools, all of it–little over $500 a person. I went to fucking Minnesota for AWP. Three days in the mutherfucking snow cost me twice that much. And that was just for the flight and hotel, never mind the overpriced coffees and watered-down hotel drinks in a room full of mealy-mouthed, mumbling writers.
So we go every year to Cabo. It’s become, like, a family tradition.Very kid-friendly (they usually have a Kids’ Club), we just hang poolside and chill. The whole Clifford clan goes. Although with the addition of Jackson, I’d say we’re more a brood these days, but that phrase lacks the alliteration I love. Anyway, Justine got her Mother’s Day spa treatment, and Holden got to swim like a fishy. Jackson, well, he doesn’t know what planet he’s on; he just lay there talking to (cooing at) a plastic chicken. I was able to relax in the sun and read The Girl on the Train, which as I said last week is fantastic!
If I was a younger man, I’d probably take more advantage of the nightlife (discotheque) and (for all intents and purposes) free margaritas. But the truth is I am an old man. And after the kids’ show every night, which started at 8, usually a variation of “head, shoulders, knees and toes,” and ended at 8:15 p.m., I headed back to the room with the baby, while Justine and Holden hung out to enjoy whatever campy musical the resort featured that evening. That’s right. My 4-and-a-half-year-old son stays out later than I.
Stephen King says in On Writing, a fantastic writing guide that I have yet to read because Tom Pitts quotes it to me every day, that you should take off 6 weeks between drafts. Since I’d just wrapped up December Boys, the sequel to Lamentation (recently nominated for an Anthony Award. Can’t remember if I mentioned that) rewrites were scheduled to start mid-June. Except the book is due in July. With the new baby and wife’s work schedule I lose that luxury. Stephen King famously wrote in a closet after a graveyard shift, with screaming kids and an alcohol problem. I am not Stephen King.
You may recall (in Pt. I of DNS/CUP) my eye had recently started twitching, and how I believed that nervous facial tic to be a by-product/transference of the anxiety suffered by my protagonist, Jay, in my novel. When I finished the draft and left for Mexico, the twitching stopped. I wondered if it wasn’t all in my head.
After thoroughly kicking my own ass for committing the unpardonable sin of “my characters talk to me,” I returned home, and with deadline fast approaching, had to jump back into the novel a few weeks early (forgive me, Tom/Stephen), and, damn, wouldn’t you know, soon as I am working on that fucking book again, putting my boy Jay through the wringer, there goes the fucking eye. Twitch, twitch, spasm, twitch. I feel like Nathan Thurm.
Now I’m a pretty grounded cat. Outside of writing and make-believe worlds. High strung, sure, but grounded. Yes, I talk to myself. Yes, sometimes I answer myself. I had a brief bout where the state declared me mentally unstable in the mid-90s, but I bounced back from all that. Growing up is hard to do. For some of us, it damn near kills us. My flirtation with madness was a quasi-dimensional affair, with equal parts chemicals, biology, mental illness, environment, and just about everything from snails, puppy dog tails, and, well, meth. My point is, like I once overheard my mother say: You couldn’t pay me to go through my 20s again.
I find this manifestation, my adopting of “my characters'” mannerisms fucking bizarre. I should know better. I do know better. If another writer told me this, I’d think (s)he was full of shit. But that’s true for most stuff. When I hear yet another Bay Area resident claim gluten intolerance, my (inner) eyes roll. “It’s all in your head!” I want to scream. (Apologies to those of you who actually have Celiac.) Then I go to the shrink to talk about the various types of cancer I don’t have. Everybody’s crazy. What can you do?