Everything I don’t know about writing I’ll learn from disco. Not the cool stuff. Not the Daft Punk samples anthology. Not the Italo stuff. Not Bob Sinclair’s take on Cerrone. Straight up KC & The Sunshine Band, A Taste of Honey, Alicia Bridges disco.
Why will I learn how and what to write through disco? Because I’ve been to Santa Barbara and met with my aunt, as-yet-to-be-published writer Mercy Fie, who will, posthumously, redefine American writing pedagogy.
Mercy is part owner of The James Joyce. A bar whose floor is shrouded in a crunchy crust of peanut casings.
I was in town for the Cheap Trick/Pat Benatar show, but before I headed to the Bowl I paid Aunt Mercy a visit to talk writing. I set up my reel-to-reel recorder, tried giving her a familial hug (she refused), and began playing “catch up” with what I felt was a very polite question.
PATRICK BENJAMIN: Do you mind if I record this?
MERCY FIE: Not the point, no. Here’s the point:
“The way we write is the way we live. The way we live is the way we write.”
Palindromic jargon like that is swallowed whole by multitudes of writers. A deep, long fingernailed scratch on a mosquito bite. Yes yes, it feels better for a moment, but the itch returns tenfold, even elevenfold. Yes.
PB: I should get the levels.
MF: Levels? No, no. Writing.
Actually, fuck that. Let’s skip writing. Let’s assume you’re beyond that phase. The phase so oft spoke of with such seriousness, i.e., the scariest thing is a blank page. I say that if you’re still here (on the blank page, I mean), then you’re treading muddy water and you should quit. The only thing scary about a blank page, with its blinking cursor staring back at you, is that you’re still considering the cursor. So stop thinking and trust your instincts, win, lose, or draw. The experts will be arguing it out long after you’re dead anyway.
They say a glass of wine a day gives you cancer. Then no, a glass of wine a day cures it. Yes, yes, go on, doctors, do tell us, will you please? Silverfish there. See it? [She points under my chair.]
Anyway, we humans used to think the most poetic organ was the liver. For some of us it is. [Laughs.] Revision! The liver revises itself. Constantly. Revision is the act of eliminating the self you must forget. You were the man or woman who made these things. You are now the man or woman who must unmake them. For the greater good? Ha! Ha! Ha! [Coughing/cackling/laughing spell ensues.]
No one who writes can be their best selves. Not ever. Pardon the platitudinal finalizing terms, but really: no. No no no. No one in revision will ever find perfection. Obvious enough. But remember, you young, dumb writer, that perfection is just a goal. Don’t ever write at a goal. Don’t write at a loved one. Don’t write at a romance. Don’t write until you have to. And you always have to. It’s the brain working in tune with and against itself. It’s a dumb thing to do, really. However, you name me a thing that isn’t dumb and I’ll tell you it’s dumb. Writing is a dumb thing to do. It’s whatever you think when you’re not doing it.
Meaning, don’t think about it. Do it.
Have you ever done a pushup, Patrick? You look like you’ve done a few. Hands to the ground. Shoulders and ass in line with heels. Up. Down. Up. Down.
Don’t forget to breathe.
One, two, one, two, one, two. There—you’re writing.
Also, kill all the birds as quickly as possible using as many stones you can find. Birds are terrible creatures, yes. They’d eat you if they could. Some do if you’re dead and left out for scavengers. You never met Solomon. No no no.
Be a scavenger. Steal excessively. Steal and collage and see if it sounds worthy. If it feels right.
It’s like being in love. You know it when you know it. Also, like being in love, sometimes you hate someone and really you want to fuck them. So be a scavenger. Also, be a hoarder. Yes, yes, yes.
PB: I should check the levels so I’m getting all this.
MF: Levels Shmevels. Nope, naw, no. You’re not listening. Listen, loser.
Write the word cunt a lot. If you’ve some aversion to the word cunt or feel that the word cunt is demeaning, or that, maybe, maybe, the word cunt just isn’t your cup of tea, then write the word fuck a lot. It’s okay. You’re allowed. You’re allowed to write any words in any order you deem appropriate. Or inappropriate.
Be confident. Nobody likes a Proust. No they don’t.
Engage your insecurity. Everyone loves Proust. Yes. Even me.
Find a peaceful place then disrupt it. Fill it with personal dangers. Few, in my memory, have accomplished anything interesting by napping. Light a hundred ambiance-creating candles, then swallow the lit match and put out the candles with your hair. If you have any.
Hey. Here’s an idea. Just came to me. You don’t know what to write? Make up someone, make them a family member, long lost, then give them a lot of dialogue and then you can shut up for awhile. Shut up more often.
Say no to others much more than you do now. Be two years old again. As though you’ve just learned the word: NO. Defy the inquisitor if you’re not certain of their intentions.
If I asked you to draw a backwards numeral three on that godforsaken blank page and Hancock it would you contain the prescience to know that I’d then turn it into a massive penis ejaculating swastikas? And for all of time it would look like you’d drawn it.
There’s your name. Right there. Say no to me.
MF: Don’t actually say it. I mean say it to the people in your head while you’re writing. You came here to talk about writing didn’t you?
PB: Indeed I did. My first questions is—[M.F. interrupts]
MF: We’re done here. [Calling to the thin teenager behind the bar] Simper? Put on Donna Summer.
PB: So, first sentences. What’s the secret?
MF: Simper. Get this kid out of here before I finish opening my fan mail and have to use this [brandishing letter-opener] on his jugular.
PB: I get it.
MF: Do you.
PB: Yeah, start with a cool sentence that, like, gets peoples,’ y’know, attention.
Patrick Benjamin is a writer living near Los Angeles. He lives with his sister and grandmother.