Like many of us who live alone, a great deal of my own pain during this epidemic and the more or less mandated dehumanization of our worlds, the loss of even the simplest and most casual human intimacy and closeness, has come from what I call “skin hunger.”
I am also living internet free at my writing desk right now, and i can’t even look up whether someone else coined that term or i made it up myself.
I don’t think it matters, really. but there’s that curiosity nonetheless.
I wrote a genre novel once: sold out, in my view, then, and now, while I was writing Lizzie’s War. LW took four years to write, and between the family therapy (self-administrated, supplemented by the self-medication with alcohol in near lethal doses: i had a therapist and a prescribing psychiatrist at that time, both marvelous, beautiful women who eventually stopped charging me, and ultimately fired me for my neurotic excess and psychotic unreliability, but that’s another fucking story, or two, or three, all long, as all stories truly told are, once you start actually telling what they mean) and how the shit actually went down, and why from more than one angle—
but i digress. this is my fucking blog. my sentences here are my own business. so—
— between the psychological realities of my birth family grinding me into what fine flour of insight i could manage with my primitive equipment (the mental/emotional equivalent of the native american tribes pounding acorns or grain with rocks, on rocks, into something cookable, of varying textures, my texture here fairly chunky but ultimately edible, with good editing) (Lizzie’s War being blessed with not one but two gifted, involved, courageous editors: my beloved agent Laurie Fox and my Best Fucking Editor Ever Renee Sedliar, then of HarperSF, which would eventually be called HarperOne, i think, but that corporate shuffling, the buying and selling, of companies and logos and brands, is so nauseating and has such a toxic impact on all things actually writerly that i risk a rant even trying to get the name right at a given moment)—
they fucking fired Renee before we even got properly rolling, to my vast grief and real loss in many ways including simple prose crispness, for instance. Who fires an editor that great? People with great regrets about how The Business Compels Them to do Things That Don’t Like to People They Truly Admire and often even know are The Best at the shit, But—
so fuck Them too, and their owners—
still fucking digressing, fractaling, this uncracked egg is my brain at no point in time, but at least the madness was contained in a shell at birth and requiring nurturing, this cracked sizzling sprawl in the pan at high heat is my brain on in bitterness of experience—
between the psychological work, is what i’m getting at, and the need for Actual Historical Research in classic read-a-ton-of-real-books and wait-for-them-to-be-digested in a longer period than was ever imaginable bearing, by the invisible weirdnesses and uncoerceable timings of the deep brain into some dreamlike detail, never mine, just a half-chewed partially digested bit of scavenged meaning passing through my system like roughage or beer or a stolen hot dog or a lover’s tears caused by me, the system, me the flawed self taking in the world and giving back waste products like the ungrateful wretch i am—
this sustained self-loathing may be a recurrent theme: note to self: so what?—
no offense, dear reader, you’ve walked into a Yeats dialogue between the soul and self, contemporary version, updated to include domestic abuse—
but i digress, exponentially—
a crowd gathers, watching fascinated as the sentence appears to dissolve irretrievably into its elements of primal rage and grief and the sheer scatter of mania—
i told myself this sit-at-the-keyboard shit was over, but without internet it’s this or wander the streets until i am arrested—
between the psychology and the history, I say again, twinned helix processes requiring real time of a substantial nature to integrate, i naturally enough found myself, during that protracted “writing” of Lizzie’s War, without, uh, income. I had quit housecleaning, and my knees and back and irish washerwoman’s hands recoiled at the thought of going back to that. It was maybe 2002, 2003. So i decided, “what the hell, I’ll whip out a fucking detective novel. I love detective novels. The working title of the genre novel to be whipped out like a whore (can i say whore? should i say sex worker, and add some paragraphs about it one way or another, inviting dialogue on another fucking Issue of Our Time in the Great Battle to Subject living Language to Some Muderous Ideological Correctness or Another?—
like a desperate person prostituting himself for cash, i say, like a man selling his integrity for money, i mean, whipping out a blanket in a park to expose his capacity for decent prose to a system hungry for somewhat less decent prose and often satisfied and with a good plot twist amid sex and violence, i determined to write a fucking serial killer book with a twist, that it was a woman who was the killer, and she committed her crimes through a search for love, seeing the possibility in men, the tiny ember of love buried beneath the smothering heap of inflammable personal and societal crap, and allowing herself to hope, until, definitively disappointed at last by each lame ass man in turn, she would arrange their demises in the name of Love Furious at the Failure of Love in a Lame Ass Man, Which All Men Turn Out to be in the End—
and the working title of that thing— which proved to require as much or more craft as any damn writing, but had the virtues of pace, plot, and a certain fuck-it-this-is truly-meaningless-if-not-actually-degrading attitude on my part— was “Skin Hunger.” The woman had skin hunger, like me now, and always, Leonard Cohen’s “crazy for love, and not coming on” in the tower of song, except that i was coming on way too often and still am: the longing for a loving touch. My heroine (no anti, she was me, killing myself) killed when that touch proved to be inedible plastic imitation of food for the real true consuming hunger her skin and soul felt.
Jesus fooking kreest, this is why my lone heroic romantic writer at his garret keyboard pounding at the keyboard and piling up crumpled pages on the floor in every fucking movie with a writer in it, in the extended montage scene to inspiring music in which the Great Work is laboriously composed, until the screenplay says (23 years later . . .. or whatever number of years fits the plot) went on strike. this solo writing shit is humanly ridiculous. It is grueling, sisyphean labor. and fuck camus, sisyphus is not happy, he’s just trying to stay off the streets. that rock is his best effort at doing something harmless, given the need to do. And Camus, as he knew well, solved nothing: The only real philosophical questions is still suicide. I was astounded, honestly, to learn that he was not driving the car he died in. That’s some amazing faith on his part, to leave it all to the poor driving of a friend.
anyway, enough, too much, actually. more to come, unless i’m manage to die before that shit. through a friend’s poor driving or failing to cross the local train tracks “quickly enough.”
p.s. The novel was eventually published as Love in All the Wrong Places, after multiple credible readers said that Skin Hunger sounded like either a cannibal novel or a very bad cookboook (for cannibals). And yet i find the concept useful to this day, crazy for love as i am, craving shamelessly and in utter humiliation for a simple warm touch from any fond being—dogs licking my face these days is bliss, birds shitting on me is welcomed— and trying so desperately and inadequately to not come on, to allow reality to actually starve me to death properly and fitly, as it seems determined to do.
(tim got this far.)