LIFE. MUSIC. ART. // Pt. 1 Life
In the darkness there was light.
I gotta write this shit down, or I’ll never forgive myself. You’ll read it. Will you read it?
I gotta write this shit down, or we’ll never forgive me.
I once read there are people on this Earth who can remember every single second of their existence. Every day of their life is behind them, catalogued like a book in a library. I’m not like that. Most people aren’t . But I’m not most people either.
I had a lot of trouble in school (I WAS lot of trouble as well, but that’s something else). I remember all of us sitting on the ground of Miss Levine’s Kindergarten room, somewhere outside of Torrance California. And I remember that I could not remember things. Anywhere I had been, or anything I had done was an inkblot test of blank voids--I couldn’t remember what I was taught either. And I didn’t know what things meant. “What are your initials?” the teacher’s assistant asked. Everyone had made clay Jack-O-lanterns for Halloween and had their initials in the bottom. But I didn’t remember making one. And I damn sure didn’t understand what my initials might be. “I don’t know.” I told her. ”you don’t KNOW?” she screamed, horrified at the blank boy with the missing spots in his memories. “No.” I told her. Sad and ashamed. The constant shadow-banner of my own personal kingdom.
Memories were kept with emotions, as I discovered later. I still can’t remember carving a clay pumpkin. But I can remember being yelled at about it. And I can remember dressing up as Santa for the classroom play. Standing nervously in a closet as I waited for my turn—for my mother in the small classroom audience to be proud. I can remember a kid named Scotty who was rich and brought in his rich toys, to show us that we--the rest of the class, were not as rich as him. I can remember a young girl named Tiffany--and my pride and confusion when adults said she was my girlfriend. I can remember Tiffany coming over to play, and giving me a small poor person’s toy, and then taking it back. I remember crying to my Dad about my feelings, and his confusion that I would share them. The constant shadow of our conversations for years to come.
My memories come in fits and pops--ear-shattering explosions or faraway lights blinking off in the distance. I have not written to you in too long--I will try my best to decipher what I can remember. Any memory remembered deserves some sort of justice. Don’t you think?
Let’s take a long view--you might not know me--you might not know SHIT about me. Maybe you played Spell Saga--or heard a song of mine--or maybe you just watch me sleep and wondered about my dreams.
I published a game, and spent half a decade and all my money trying to get it manufactured--trying to get it to those who had already paid for it--trying to get everything right, in some overwhelming attempt to prove to everyone I had ever met their (my) deepest suspicion: that I and the things I make were not meant for this world. At the end of last year I started sending everything out around the world. The game, Spell Saga, and all the cool bonus shit I made or people who wanted it. I also stuffed an album inside every package: I Bought You a Coffin, the first LP from my band EFFORTS.
It took so much time. So much money. My art tends to take awhile--and it tends to wreck my life and fix it too. It took 1616 days for Spell Saga to make its way to the homes of those who paid for it. That’s a long time to hold a debt--that’s almost half a decade of me living solely on the back of a back-breaking promise. I sent the last of the packages out in March. There’s still more to go—plenty have been returned, or are waiting for a missing address. But the bulk of it was finished on March 27th, 2019.
If I try to look back on what it took to get from there to here, the memories are still hot and vibrating. I’m not watching the celebratory fireworks, I’m still in the air being hurled around by them--deafened and blind from the horror of impossible circumstances.
That cacophonous storm is my home now. I will not stop. Spell Saga is not finished. There are more games and more story to go. Let the horror continue, I’m good at it now.
In December Meagen and I drove to Missouri. AndI know Missouri, and I know it well. Like a lover I never should have met. It was in a small house in St. Charles that I developed and played the first games of Spell Saga, many long Decembers ago. My ex-wife grew up there. And so I spent a weekend, every three months, driving around in the heat or the snow, thinking about Spell Saga and ignoring the fact that I never should have met her.
Meagen and I drove through the city, even passing the exit and all the buildings that reminded me of a life best kept in the past. I thought about Andy, and Jeep, and how they were gone now. People who had once been family, but had now left the Earth. Either by the hands of time or their own sad fingers. I thought about who I was--and where I was now. And I was so grateful to have Meagen with me. A person who cared enough to listen to me when I had feelings, or forgive me when I couldn’t remember things. A person who might lovingly watch me sleep and wonder what I was dreaming about.
We spent the holiday out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by Meagen’s family. I spent my time playing with nieces and nephews.
It used to be hard for me to do that. For years, the knowledge that I would never be a Father was an unexpected weight upon me. It was as if everything that I did or tried to accomplish was worthless. My works would erode in the sea of time, monuments of nothing when compared to a lack of progeny. But I got over it. I tucked it away and enjoyed the moments that I could--that’s really probably the shortest version of my life right there.
A few days after Christmas I drove the two hours to Kansas City. And boy was I nervous. I sat in a Starbucks and twisted a paper wrapper between my fingers. I was meeting someone. And it is my strategy in life to assume that everyone hates me. A learned behavior? Sure. But it keeps me from being surprised when someone doesn’t want to know me anymore. God, that’s sad. I gotta work on that. (I’ll try to work on that for you).
Derek Davis was a guy I knew as Kierkegaard555. We had never met. But he was a stranger who had endeavored to change my life. Derek was the first person to ever believe in me. Not as a friend or a lover, but as someone who saw the art that I made, and said: “Yes, this is good. And you are worthwhile”. He donated enough money (a lot of money) to make sure Spell Saga happened. It was now half a decade later, and I needed to meet him in person.
I needn’t have worried. We talked about our lives--what had gone wrong with Spell Saga, and then right. The things I did to make sure that no one who believed in the project hated me.
“And you’re here…” I said to him, “so you don’t hate me.”
He answered with a shake of his head. “Nope.”.
It was a simple reply, but it meant more to me than most would imagine.
Later that evening, as the sun was setting, I drove to a Dollar General (that’s all there is out there: an army of Dollar General stores, as far as the eye can see.) and grabbed a set of blank index cards. I stood out in the cold of the setting sun and thought about myself, and Spell Saga, and how The Last Minstrel would feel--all things I did nine years before. It was time to design the rest of the game. Just as soon as I got home.
But oh boy, was that not gonna happen.
We got back to Nashville by the end of December. I went straight from the road to working two overnights shifts and it nearly killed me. I had been sick before we left--had in fact spent a good week or so laying on the couch, trying to cocoon myself back to health. But the stress of Spell Saga, of actually sending out cards after so long, had crippled my immune system. And Dear Reader...it was bad.
I should have been hospitalized. But I wasn’t. I didn’t have the money. And I didn’t have the insurance. And so I waited. I called my Aunt, who was a nurse in the seventies. And then I counted down the days until the end of the year--my insurance would kick in January first. I think I had sixty dollars to my name. It was a miracle the nurse let me get billed later--and even more of a miracle when the drugs were covered by my insurance. I nearly cried in the CVS when they told me. Meagen bought us a dinner at a burrito place across the street and I went back to my cocoon on the couch.
A week later I was bleeding out of parts unknown. It was the last of the infection leaving my body. I cannot imagine what would have happened without meds, or if I had waited longer, or what life would be like without having to call my Aunt and ask her why there’s blood whenever I jerk off.
As I began to recuperate on the couch I began to think a lot about how stuck I had felt making the game--or the time spent making an album like “I Bought You A Coffin”. I was staring at the blank space of my living room wall. And that’s really how I got better--by making myself sit up and work out a twelve month plan of everything I wanted to make--all the things I wanted to release. I printed it out late one night in big 8.5x11 computer paper pieces, shipping-taping it up to the blank space of my wall.
The plan began with everything left to finish (Beset. Songs, The Novel, and Spell Saga decks in limbo for too long). The plan ran from January & ended in October, with an idea so stupid and perfect I would have to ring up my cousin Lauren before proceeding.
Lauren is the co-creator of Spell Saga. We see each other every three to five years. And she means more to me than I would ever tell her. She’s like a sibling, if I had siblings that were way too much like me. I told her about my plans and why I thought we should do it. They essentially sounded like this:
“I think we should finish the game, and all the realmwalker decks that go with it. Finish the whole thing and then put our own money into it. Then we’ll release it in October.”
“Oh God.” she told me.
That conversation was four months ago. And Lauren and I have continued our promise to one another that night: we talk most Mondays, and when I’m not busy redesigning the Spell Saga website and its online shop (OPEN NOW!), I’m working on Deck 3 The Caves and other things. Lauren sends me ENEMY art, and we talk about the plans for what we are doing--which, I can assure you, are extravagant. We even started a new company together. The After The World Ended Committee, or ATWE//COMM is just Lauren and I, and we make Spell Saga, which is now distributed through SUBHEATHEN, my website/shanty page empire.
In fact, most of the last four months has been me getting everything ready for the future. You can take a look on SpellSaga.com.
I work at a mobster themed overnight pizzeria. Can I say that without killing myself? Let’s try: “I funded an entire dream, and all I had to do was tell people I see from high school that I don’t work here full time”. No? That didn’t come out right? Okay. Let me try again: “humility and humiliation are not the same thing.” Dear Lord.
I have mixed feelings about how I earn my income--but most of them are this: I am so fucking lucky to have this job. I am surrounded by people who don’t hate me, and I spend my shifts (mostly) laughing hysterically with pockets f-i-l-l-e-d with cold hard cash. I’m also not the oldest person here getting punched by drunks or wiping shit from toilet seats. It’s a musicians job. And I am (somehow) now a musician.
It was the day after Valentine’s day, and Meagen texted me right before the dinner rush: “Can I call you?” she asked. Which I should say...that does not happen. So I knew something was wrong. I walked outside through a curtain of freezing rain, and stooped beneath the aluminum keg shed. It was dark out, and the rain sounded rhythmic on the roof. It smelled like cigarettes when I called her on the phone.
“I’m pregnant.” she told me.
“Oh.” I said, staring out into the darkness. “That’s great. That’s wonderful. We’re gonna be so good at this. Are you okay?”
“Cool. That’s so great.” then I walked back into work, my eyes wide from the firework of a memory snapping open behind my head. I don’t remember the rest of the night.
I told myself that I could never be happier. But I actually couldn’t feel anything for a solid week. It was just nervous energy coiling around me like a viper trying to find the right nesting ground. It wasn’t until I stood in the baby aisle of a local grocer, and started tearing up--that was when the viper settled. That was when the joy and sorrow all hit at once.
It had been years since we lost the person we thought we might name Vera. And good health and happiness just did not seem feasible. But I cried in the store, and I bought Meagen flowers and a card. And I nearly collapsed during the first appointment, when I held my fingers together in some sort of religious gesture, slumped against the wall in a dimly lit room. “There we go.” said the technician, and we saw the heartbeat moving in a jagged line upon the screen. The most smallest and beautiful of electronic mountains. And I tried my best, twelve weeks later, to stand firm and keep calm as they searched on a screen for a sign of life. When the baby appeared, the white silhouette of a human, kicking inside my wife, I stared in disbelief at the life we had created. It was only afterwards that I realized the baby was the same shape I had stared at for the last six years: The Last minstrel, nestled tight on all the Spell Saga packaging.
Each week is a new reality, another week where I have to break past the emotional soundproof walls of adulthood and remember how to feel again, remember that this is happening, that anything can go wrong, that everything can go right. That my life is now their life too.