When I was a kid Stephen King was the end-all-be-all of writers. I was raised in a Christian household but was encouraged to read whatever I wanted to. I wasn’t allowed to watch most things on TV, or see most movies or cartoons or listen to anything other than Christian music, but for some reason my mom allowed me to read whatever kind of book I wanted, no questions asked. Actually I think I know the reason why. Reading was the only thing I was any good at. I taught myself to read when I was about 4, which made the family and my school’s collective head explode. They thought they had a genius on their hands. Sorry folks, I really didn’t mean to disappoint. All I had was a talent for reading. I sucked at math and science, although it fascinated me my attention span was limited to anything aside from books. Sports were as foreign as when I tried to learn Spanish… I was half Mexican after all, I should learn right? Nope, no way could I learn a language. A year of Spanish and all I walked away from was a few curse words and the embarrassment when the white girl next to me learned to speak it fluently. But I could read in English, so I did.
I moved to New York in a depression I never thought I would come out of. I thought I’d never make anything again. My muse had died and I was left alone. Being an artist is all that I have ever wanted to be, and despite my limited talent I feel it’s the only choice I have in life if I desire any kind of identity. I’m not above the embarrassment associated with admitting that. I don’t think it’s shameful, I think it’s human. I don’t relate to many people, I often feel awkward when socializing. I have no dreams of being rich or famous or any desire to make a career out of a day job, so if I didn’t do this I would be empty. And for a while that’s exactly how I felt, until I remembered.
In 1988 my family was vacationing in a small Danish town in California called Solvang. It was the last family vacation before my parents split, a divorce that I was very thankful for, and it was also the first time I bought a Stephen King book. It was called Thinner, and I found it in a used bookstore called The Bookmark. Things changed after that.
King introduced me to punk rock and comic books and much better writers than he was. He mentioned Vonnegut, so I went out and read him, he mentioned comic books, so I went out and bought them, he said that the Ramones were his favorite band and I thought he was joking because the Ramones were the fake band from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, right? I loved that movie, but of course they weren’t a REAL band… wait… what? They’re real? Then the Ramones introduced me to Talking Heads, and they introduced me to this and that introduced me to that and I was on an influence roll. Although I had a lot of influence from my sister, I didn’t see her anywhere as often as I should have so I had to look to strangers I admired for everything that was out there, stuff I had no idea was just waiting for me to discover. But Stephen King started it all for me.
1988 taught me a hell of a lot. I might have never left religion if not for the path I was shown. I decided I was going to be a writer, which led to wanting to be a photographer, and then back to a writer again, and then a graphic designer, then I was making movies and then zines, and wow… anything could be a zine! It opened a whole new world to me.
But then one day I dried up. I kept wondering how long I could go without making anything new and still call myself an artist. I made things still, mind you… a few things every year. But they were published in other peoples books, not my own. There’s a big difference. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to start again after being still for so long. I was continually influenced my new writers, artists, musicians, but I hadn’t been able to read Stephen King for years. I feel he takes none of his advice about writing, and he is so formulaic it’s maddening. His editors are nothing more than spell checkers because if they were anything more than that they would sit him down and tell him he has a lot of talent if he just stopped doing all the crap. His overuse of outdated slang, the stupid nicknames, his repeating of tired old lines over and over.
Yet he is still a better writer than I am. Whatever I lack in writing skill I feel I’ve made up for in criticism. I feel I have a good grasp on what works and what doesn’t, although I most often have an inability to translate that knowledge to my own writing, and for years now I feel King and myself have too much in common in that respect. I simply need him to take his own advice and be a better writer.
But every once in a while I’ll pick up one of his books and struggle through half of it before abandoning it in disgust. I keep giving him a shot because of what he did for me as a kid. Then one day, a few months ago, I bought the Stephen Kind book “Full Dark, No Stars” in an airport on a whim. It was a collection of stories. At first I thought he was going to go back to the bad habits. The first story quickly gave a silly nickname to a characters dark side of their personality, and then he used it twice on every page. I was about to abandon the book when suddenly he stopped doing it.
And suddenly he ended up creating a great collection of short stories. It felt like he was having fun with it. I felt more energized than I had in a long time. It reminded me why punk rock was so wonderful. Punk taught you that you didn’t need to be a great musician to make great music. You had something to say and you were going to say it any way you could. Learn 3 chords and rock. Don’t sit around psyching yourself out that you aren’t good enough, just make something out of what’s inside. And sometimes your amateurism will grow to become genuine talent, if you just try. I should have been born a cartoonist, but I wasn’t. So instead I tell stories using whatever ability I can. Because telling these stories is all that matters, producing a kind of perpetual art/diary to send out into the world to say that you were here and you did something.
Resurrecting your Muse shouldn’t be easy, if it was there would be no heart break and depression and fear and all the other base emotions that seem to draw art out of us. Embrace the hard times, struggle through and make something to show you haven’t given up. An old friend of mine once made up an acronym for INDY, he said it stood for I’m Not Dead Yet.
Well, I’m not dead yet and I don’t feel empty anymore.