My fourth book, Creative Type, is now available on Amazon. Please see links below. So happy the book is out in the world.
My fourth book, Creative Type, will be out soon. I’m waiting for my third–and hopefully final–proof copy, which should arrive next week. I’m tired of making minor changes to the document, not liking the changes, changing them back, then changing them again. I have to release the book. I have to let it go. Stay tuned.
This is a chapter from my story The Education of Chris Truman, which I’ve only just begun and may never finish.
In November 2019, after four months away from treatment, Chris Truman was glad to be back in therapy. He couldn’t manage his daily struggles with the Sadness and the Nerves on his own. Out of ideas, he hadn’t updated his blog, Creative Type, in a while. He feared the stories he told himself about himself belonged to someone else. He saw his face for what it was: a mask he couldn’t remove. As Jean-Paul Sartre might have said, Truman was what he wasn’t and wasn’t what he was.
A blog, like a psychological history, sees many revisions. Inspiration takes time. Truman sometimes went weeks without writing anything, but then, out of the blue, he wanted to share his entire life story with the world. His output depended on his moods, and his moods changed rapidly. A single thought could lift or crush his spirits. The ups and downs were exhausting. How would he ever make a living as a writer if he couldn’t write every day? Revising is important, but eventually a writer needs new material to revise.
Returning to therapy reminded Truman of his first hospitalization for mental illness, on February 21, 2003. After suffering a breakdown at work, overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of his position as a receiving clerk at a grocery store, Truman felt like his brain was on fire. His body, too weak to carry his soul, fell to pieces. Barely a year out of college, he couldn’t cope with the real world, which didn’t give a shit about how well he did in school.
After spending three hours in the emergency room, Truman found himself on Five Center, the psych ward at Woodview Hospital. Robert, a disheveled young man dressed in a pink robe, greeted him in the hallway.
“My moods have a mind of their own,” Robert said. “If I lived in a zoo, I’d be a bipolar bear.”
Truman didn’t care much for puns in his condition. He was too busy obsessing about his failures. He wasn’t a high school English teacher, his plan before college. He wasn’t a graduate student training to become an English professor, his plan after college. He was a writer, but his poems and stories were too self-conscious, too cerebral. Rather than expressing himself naturally, he tried too hard to sound profound.
After examining his thoughts and judging his choices, doctors determined Truman was an Existentialist with a serious case of the Sadness and the Nerves. They gave him medications that stifled his creativity. He was expected to return to society, which eventually he did, but not without questioning the merits of his discharge instructions. He was told to be a man, to work hard, perhaps in an office, and, above all, to be happy. Truman knew he couldn’t meet society’s demands to take charge of his destiny and reach his full potential. He knew that, in an act of defiance, he was going to write a book about his inability to lead a normal life—a book in which he’d try too hard to sound profound.
Recalling his experiences at Woodview Hospital got Truman thinking about Chuck Snoad, a fictional character who was really Chris Truman in disguise. Inspired in college by Henry Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, in which Adams refers to himself in the third person, Truman created Snoad in 2001 as his literary double.
Whereas Truman graduated from Pinehurst College in 2002, worked at Gem Foods, and loved a woman named Penny, Snoad graduated from Elmhurst College in 2002, worked at Jewel Foods, and loved a woman named Jenny. Told from a third person limited point of view, Truman’s self-conscious (auto)biography, The Education of Chuck Snoad, gave him countless opportunities to mock himself for knowing so little about the real world.
Snoad was also a writer. His struggles were Truman’s struggles, and vice versa. They were the same person(a). Both tried to describe, in their own words, the ups and (mostly) downs of living with the Sadness and the Nerves—knowing full well that it’s impossible to speak of madness without going mad.
When I was teaching, I tried to induce among my students a functional understanding of the distinction between “lay” and “lie,” or between “who” and “whom.” I tried to show them the advantage of learning grammar and using a dictionary. But many of even the most intelligent writers in my graduate workshops, and for that matter many of my colleagues on the teaching staff, could not take it in. Why? they would say. What’s the difference?
When I told them that love and devotion are the root of it, they merely looked askance.
You choose correctly between “street car,” “street-car,” and “streetcar” not because the choice makes a substantive difference—it doesn’t—but because you care for language, you are in love with it. A good carpenter cleans and puts away his tools properly, so does a good gardener or a good cook, and no one will ever convince me that a worker who ignores his tools will do satisfactory work.
–Hayden Carruth, Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays
Like Carruth, I choose my words carefully. As a writer, I’m imperfect but never sloppy. Every human(e) word I use, in the end, is the Word of God. In my writing, however, I’m not seeking the Truth but speaking my truths.
Below is the introduction to my 2018 book, Double Meaning.
This is a brief introduction to a short book. I would’ve written more, but I strained my eyes searching for inspiration.
Three chapters follow this introduction. They contain revised posts (originally written between September 2016 and August 2018) from my blog, Sharp Left Turns.
To maintain flow, I made every word count. No throwaway lines or bloated paragraphs. Still, being human, I’ve made mistakes. Please forgive me for retaining here or there unnecessary words. Or adding dashes—sometimes mid-sentence—to impress you.
We can read “double meaning” two ways. First, “double” as an adjective. Second, “double” as a verb. A statement of purpose: I doubled meanings in Double Meaning to undermine Meaning itself—to fight the (t)error of systematic reason and question (my own) authority. This wasn’t a license to peddle nonsense. I wrote a book full of non-answers in which I tried very hard to make certain words mean something profound.
This book puts me in a vulnerable position.
I wrote in my first book, The Intimacy of Communication, about enduring years of physical and psychological abuse, but I didn’t reveal the whole truth.
I’m ready now to share that I was sexually abused as a child. I’ve hesitated for years to share my story outside of therapy, but the #MeToo movement inspired me to come forward.
Without minimizing the experience of female survivors, I can say that male survivors of sexual trauma who tell their stories risk looking weak in the eyes of other men—and women.
We’re taught that a real man protects himself, defends his manhood, and hides his insecurities. There’s no hiding, though, from this fact: according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of every ten rape victims is male.
Sexual abuse is a violation of touch. Adults abused as children often fear intimacy, which adds to their suffering. Survivors—compared to people without a history of trauma—need more touch in their lives.
I was blessed in high school to fall in love with a smart, caring, beautiful girl named Jenny. She provided the loving touch I needed in a moment of crisis.
I remember our walks together in the summer of 1995—the scent of her perfume on my shirt after a long hug goodnight.
In the midst of a winter I feared would never end, I found within Jenny an invincible summer I’ll never forget.
The Otherness of Me
My favorite thinker, Jean Baudrillard, writes in Cool Memories V: “There is reason to be jealous at being seen by others from the outside and having only that distorting mirror of oneself that is self-knowledge.”
I recognize myself in Baudrillard’s description of “that distorting mirror.” Despite the love and support of family and friends, I struggle to show myself compassion. I beat myself up for minor mistakes, discount my accomplishments, and blame myself for being abused.
Healing hurts. I can’t move on without acknowledging the shadow within me—the Otherness of me that, long before the birth of Consciousness, sprang from Nothingness to be me.
Dark fantasies, violent dreams, death wishes: I’m incomplete without my shadow, imperfect without my flaws, unoriginal without my sins.
The Spirit of Mystery
The search for meaning ends when we think we know ourselves, when everything is crystal clear, when every word speaks (only) for itself.
To keep the spirit of mystery alive, I need my shadow to mislead me, my double to deceive me. If I ever found myself, how could I go on living?
“When you gaze for a long time into an abyss,” Nietzsche proclaims in Beyond Good and Evil, “the abyss also gazes into you.”
When I stare too long at a blank page, the blank page stares back at me.
I had an outline for this book, a series of visions and re-visions, but the book wrote itself with little help from me.
I’m nothing more than a blank sage.
Post-trauma, my body lost its sense of direction. I’m working in therapy to reconnect with my body, to feel what I feel without judgement.
Post-trauma, my soul lost Direction. I’m learning to identify and verbalize my values—lofty goals I’ve pursued in Double Meaning.
After years of saying no to life, I see this book as the start of my post-traumatic yes.
Going forward, I must accept that I will remain conflicted—that I will suffer but endure the burden of being a deep (over)thinker.
Going forward, I must accept that I will remain afflicted—that I will suffer but endure the burden of being human.
Insight: a glimpse into the mirror of one’s shadow inducing double vision.
I said goodbye recently to my therapist before she left for her new job. I know she’ll continue transforming lives, including her own. I’m taking a break from therapy now to clear my mind. I can resume treatment with someone else whenever I like.
Childhood trauma, I’ve learned in therapy, has altered my relationship to time. It’s been hard as an adult to maintain a coherent personal narrative, an uninterrupted story of my life. As a creative writer, however, I’m free to fill in the blanks and disconnect the “not’s”—those self-defeating thoughts telling me I’m broken, useless, and lost.
My imagination is a powerful tool of persistence. Showing myself compassion in reverse, I write a story, in present tense, about consoling my past self as he struggles to survive. In the same story, I write about consoling my future self as he continues his recovery, thanking him in advance for being gentle with me now and encouraging me to stay alive.
Whether I’m prewriting, writing, or rewriting, my life story remains a work in progress.
Today in Eden
Dark and handsy
Today in Eden
Eve’s a sucker
Today in Eden
Today in Eden
Today in Eden
Today in Eden
Today in Eden
Today in Eden
In Words Fail: Theology, Poetry, and the Challenge of Representation, Colby Dickinson argues that language allows us to speak about a thing, but language never leads us to “the ‘thing itself’—the as such-ness of a thing beyond its linguistically codified and intelligible form” (43). We are left with imperfect representations of things that fail us.
Earlier in his book Dickinson asks this profound question: “How indeed, we might add, would one begin to live as if they knew an intimacy forever beyond our ability to represent it (as in cases involving death) and yet find themselves living in a flesh, with its age and its sorrow, that is, at times, simply all too present?” (25).
Would I live my life differently if I knew for certain that a Great Beyond exists beyond words, beyond my life? Could I ever visit, ahead of time, an afterlife awaiting me before I die?
The ultimate illusion, a depth-defying feat: to take a leave of presence, disappear to a traceless place beyond representation, then re-present myself as myself right before my varied eyes.
In Power of Gentleness: Meditations on the Risk of Living, Anne Dufourmantelle reminds depressed patients looking for a quick fix that “medication only patches up the desire to live, or the heartache, or the professional failure, or the feeling of inadequacy; for nothing can sew up such a wound. Nothing except creation, what reopens the wound elsewhere and differently, but on less shifting ground” (86).
Two months ago, I published my third book, once again creating and re-creating myself through words. Writing it gave me pleasure, but it was a lonely endeavor. I write best when nobody’s around, but I don’t write for myself alone. Depressed or not, we all crave connection.
“When we are seized,” Dufourmantelle writes, “by the feeling that nobody will ever come to us, that this solitude will not loosen its grip on us, ever, we must still find the strength to extend our arms, to kiss, to love. To say it, to start again, to hear the whisper of that wild voice that calls you from well before your beginnings” (98).
My books are an extension of me, a reaching out, a kiss. A wound reopened elsewhere, my writing is an expression of loneliness that challenges but never defeats loneliness.
“If you must write, risk your life to write.” So writes Charles B. Snoad in Double Meaning, a collection of deeply personal poems and essays. Inspired by thinkers like Jean Baudrillard and Albert Camus, Snoad shares his struggles with depression and his love of writing. As the title suggests, double meanings abound and some serious wordplay ensues as Snoad takes us on a journey through darkness into hope.
Also, I created a Kindle version of my second book, Nervous Lethargy, here.