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MY EMPIRE OF DIRT

June 28th, 2008 Comments off

Wayne Allen Sallee

That’s what I call my writing resume these days, the collections of newspaper interviews and my appearance in Chicago magazine, sadly when I still had hair and wore my Larry King glasses. More on that in a minute. Or maybe not, considering my lack of concentration lately, due to my brain popping rods of pain on a regular basis. Never could get the voice activation to work, I get too many spasms in my right cheek. At some point I might swipe a story title from Ray Russell, start calling myself Mr. Saldonicus. At times, I can see how writers decide to take that dirt nap, what I calling Doing It The HemingWay. Ha ha. But I’m sticking around. As my good friend H.E. Fassl wrote me once, we have to stick this out until our expiration dates.

Got laid off a day before working two years at the plant. Worked out in a good way, because there had been quite a few layoffs since January, and I recently talked with someone there who told me everyone got an eight hour per week cut and salaried workers had a 20% annual pay cut. But, since the temp agency I was hired through is still giving IDES the usual hoo-ha, I’ve yet to get benefits after four weeks. Hence, my grasping at job straws. You lose track of days of the week when you do different things on different days and a specific routine is lost. I feel fragmented. I don’t want to start selling my books to get money to eat again. The past two days I’ve worked at Taste of Chicago, the gigs over, but at least it was worth a few bucks and an enormous sunburn. Email me and I’ll send you a photo of me looking like The Hideous Sun Demon (a really bad Guilty Pleasure film of mine). I’m burnt enough that I can’t put on my pain ointment and you really should see me now, Heath Ledger has nothing on my paingrin, ladies and gents. Oh, I am insane, indeed I am. But I move on because of Janet and her recent accomplishment and the people on the streets that move like Ray Harryhausen stick figures, climbing onto the bus sideways, or the guy I saw in the Loop yesterday wearing a sign that read I’m Just Hungry. Land of the free. Again, to Janet, my admiration and prayers, for what they are worth.

So on to talking about writing. I’ve looked into a few web content jobs through Remilon, Guru, and Elance, passed on to me from Jeff Johnston and Jesus Gonzalez, respectively. Yea, I can see my doing this on deadline, that image of Hemingway with the shotgun in his mouth ever clear in my mind. Four days before he committed suicide, he wrote a thank you letter to an eleven year old. Will I have written about the benefits of enrolling at the University of Sante Fe or maybe emailing Brian or Sully, or sending a wacky postcard to Dave? My empire of dirt, baby. And when people talk about it–IT, I mean–that means they are really in it for the long haul. I’ll end up eyes and a brainstem in a jar in some carnival, which quite honestly is how I feel some days anyways.

Earlier this week I was part of a focus study group on lip balm, and was paid $100.00 for one hour of picking my brain. One of the last questions involved my being asked what I would do if I woke up one morning in a world without lip balm. Honest. I could think of dozens of things that were higher on my list than boo-hooing the demise of lip balm, like working, using two hands independently, living above poverty level, having health insurance, running into Kurt Russell (who I’ve admitted on my own blog to having a man crush on, no secrets in my life) and grabbing a few bottles of ABC root beer. And writing long term, not in fragments. I love putting these words down for SU, I rarely comment on other posts because my self-esteem went south so long ago that I feel my words–even in casual conversation, mean absolutely nothing (my empire of dirt). I’m an old man in a dry month, as T.S. Eliot wrote in THE WASTELAND. One of Beth’s cronies, the Rev. Snavely, sent a few people a link to the remake of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. It opens 09/09/09. The day I become Half-Century Man. I really never thought I’d make it this far. And at least I’m putting down words every day, with the determination of an ant balancing a piece of Honey Nut Cheerios on my stoop earlier as I read an old Green Lantern comic from the 60s. One finger going numb, an hour into typing my babbling missive, my shout-out to all the SU readers, from Chicago to Tasmania and New Zealand.

I have written no fiction in the last few months. I have handwritten pages that end up in my blue recycling can outside, some I take to the bus stop and let them blow in the wind, maybe inspire someone else who finds a random page. For years, I have kept in my wallet a folded piece of paper I found on the el, words printed in pencil on a small memo sheet with a R in a circle at the top. I think of it as my constant, something reminding me to always, always write. The words on the page, I am sad. Do you know anymore information about Eddie Curry WAS died last Monday 3:00 morning. Someone mourning, leaving a note to someone, anyone, just to express emotion and continue on living.

Writing this has uplifted me quite a bit. Its like religion for me, and I am always grateful for those who take the time to read my fragmented blurtings (is that a new word, never know with me?). So that’s my confession for this month, that I have written nothing I feel is worthy, yet I have not stopped writing. I’m insane now, and if I stopped writing, well, what lies beyond insanity? A normal life, like my neighbor sitting outside drinking a beer, content after a hard day’s work (and one hell of a great guy), not having to fret about words in his head that want so desperately to be put on paper? When I sit outside with that ant reading the Green Lantern comic, I’m twittering, facial-ticing, about going back inside, climbing the stairs to Welcome To The 12 Monkeys House. Always thinking, hardly typing. For now. Thanks, everyone. Until next month, I remain your chattel, Wayne Allen Sallee, dangerously close to Chicago, and fifty-three minutes at the keyboard. Loving every minute of it because it means my brain is still active.

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TAKE THIS JOB AND…

July 28th, 2007 Comments off

Wayne Allen Sallee

Brian Knight’s comment about his coworker in his entry of a few days back got me to thinking. No one at my job really brought up the process of how, say, WITH WOUNDS STILL WET, was published when I had paraded copies around. Certainly, I had back-up to my writing credentials, having been interviewed by CHICAGO magazine, the Daily Southtown, and the Chicago Sun-Times–the latter as I stood naked outside my basement shower on Memorial Day, it must’ve been a slow news day–as I learned from Yvonne Navarro how to send out press releases with my name as point of contact beneath my then-agent’s number in Manhattan. Need a quick column to fill, call the local number. Sadly, the reason I was even interviewed by the Southtown, our south suburban paper, was because when I got called at my job downtown, the guy was killing time because everyone else was in Grant Park watching the Bull’s Three-Peat trophy celebration. He was rummaging through open mail on the desk and thought my odd little announcement about my new collection being nominated for a Stoker award might make for a decent article.

Its my family that stretches my brain like, well, my atrophied muscles I sometimes mention, more than anyone I’ve ever worked with. (But I do think that we should all consider putting Brian’s coworker on every mailing list available, from Chick religious tracts to the Ron Jeremy and David Niall Wilson Mutual Fan Club…hell, give me the address and I’ll send the guy a photo of me in my blood-stained clown suit handing out copies of CAT FANCY in a city park that shall remain nameless.)

My daddy’s family all live within thirty miles of Louisville, Kentucky, and most of my cousins grew up expecting to work for General Electric or on the assembly line at Ford, which they do, while others work at Wal-Mart or Moby Dick’s. I have an auntie who was in several television commercials for Dentyne and Coca-Cola in the 70s, other than that, I’m what passes for someone who made it big, someone who is “the writer.” Something that is known but not readily mentioned by my mother’s family, all in the ever growing northern Illinois suburbs, because they are too busy discussing real estate or high-tech hoobajoobs. I’m not one to talk much about writing with either side, unless asked, but its my cousins with the million dollar homes that will just be completely befuddled even after twenty years of knowing what I do. I’m always a horror writer, to them I can’t possibly have written another blessed thing without stigmata appearing on my palms (which might be how my clown suit got stained, you think?). And they can’t seem to get a handle on how I can be in 173 anthologies and not be loaded with dough. When I’m in Kentucky, I’m a writer, pure and simple. That’s all that matters, its not about money. The only time its about money is when EVERYTHING is about money.

There are times that I think one reason that my creative output, at least towards paying markets, has ebbed more than flowed lies in the simple fact that, even though I am living paycheck to paycheck and haven’t had health insurance in almost three years, I’m pretty much content with my day job. I’m not like my relatives here in Illinois, but I can say that I am lucky enough as a writer that I can usually place a story I write to the first place I send it, and that many editors are kind enough to wait on my submission. I don’t know that my relatives who sell security equipment or retirement condos would have their money if they kept the erratic schedule I do.

I worked downtown for twenty years and change, and I wrote every single night as much because I despised the job I had as because it was an outlet for me to forget the job I despised. I needn’t go what I did for a living, but if any of you ever asked just where the eff I came up with jonalgiers as my screen name, I’d have to explain why I answered my phone at work as Jonny Algiers. Or Henry Desmond. Or Tony Mitchum. Depending on which light was blinking. (Brian Hodge won’t spill the beans; I still have the negatives from my Kodak Disk camera).

In my very first entry here at SU, I gave everyone the dilly-o on what I did to eat during my months of unemployment. I have now been with this printing plant just over a year, getting paid ten dollars an hour through a temp agency (with a pre-existing health condition, I’m not ending up on the company payroll; even if they didn’t offer me insurance, I assume their way of thinking is that I’d make a legal thing out of it if I injured myself. They’ve done the same with a guy with a heart condition and another who has pain in his arm similar to like what I have in my back. America, home of the free).

But I love the job. Everyone looks out for each other, things can get tense but nothing boils over, and best of all, I’ve learned to despise the boss and his son as much as everybody else. Several of my coworkers are closet anarchists like myself, others are potential characters in stories. I did actually write a story involving one guy who supervised me the first few months on the job, a true bastard to everyone, and not long after he ended up in jail facing twenty years, sadly, for killing a man in a three car pile-up a few blocks and a few bars from work.

If a new collection comes out, such as Midnight Library’s DOWNWARD SPIRAL, a four-author collection I am in, or my glossary in GETTING LOST, and makes the rounds, its more a novelty to see each person examining the stitching or running their fingertips over the glossy or matte cover. One guy in bindery knew about the article in which I was present at John Wayne Gacy’s execution, and told me how he had worked for the guy back in the day. His mother called him to tell him to turn on the television when the live feed of the body bags were being placed on the snow back in 1979.

And I come home and am not stressed out and write whatever the hell I feel like, be it blog entries, or helpful nudges to new writers, or just lines of a story that has no real direction yet. Several people have been nudging me to write a memoir, of sorts, and I am Martin Mulling that over, just because it can be about only a portion of my life. (Years ago, I thought of a set of self-help books centered around my butt, e.g., IDIOT’S GUIDE TO MY ASS, MY ASS FOR DUMMIES, Oprah MY ASS, with Mr. Hodge delivering the best of all, MARTHA STEWART’S LIVING UP MY ASS). So, no, it would not be self-help. Unless it taught the reader how to NOT ping pong around a Storytellers Unplugged entry like I do. One last paragraph, I promise. Well, two. OK, a few more.

A friend of mine, who I shall call Williams SidneyStone, has mentioned several times that he wished he could discuss several melodramas in the workplace on his own blog. I suggested we do a variation of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, and he gives me incidents to write about on my blog and I do the same for his, such as how every Friday–because I work the late shift– I print up five thousand flyers for a prominent black reverend who tells his flock to boycott white businesses, ours being oh so bright, and how the flyers get picked up by guys in do-rags and gang tats and payment is handed off with sweaty, crumpled bills.

So you see, I’m having more fun in my lab on a Friday night listening to Sandy Nelson’s LET THERE BE DRUMS cd and yapping your ear off than working on my story about gang revenge called “Proactive Contrition,” or trying to come up with an angle for a story title I’ve had floating around for awhile, “Jenna, A Drink Before”.

Yes, I am lucky in that I do not have to write under the stress of being a total unknown, but I also revel in the fact that I no longer wake up every day dreading seeing people who look like they envy the dead staring across the el car at me as it heads northward into the Loop.

Your chattel,
Wayne Allen Sallee
Burbank, Illinois: 28 July 2007