A Portrait Of The Artist As A Depressed Old Person — Part One

What will survive of us is love. — Phillip Larkin, ‘An Arundel Tomb’

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I drew this picture a month ago. It is a picture of me, sitting in a bar. I’m not supposed to go to bars anymore, but I still do sometimes. Sometimes I’m good and I only order tonic water with lime. Sometimes I’m bad and I order whiskey, which is a bad call, because I’m an alcoholic.

I was sitting in a bar. My friend had just died of a heroin overdose. It’s lucky that I’m an alcoholic and not a heroin addict, is sort of what I was thinking about. You can’t really overdose from alcohol and die like that. I mean, you can, but it takes like forty years of drinking. My friend was twenty-three. I didn’t really know her that well, to be honest. I met her at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She was hot, which is a major qualification for me wanting to talk to a stranger. Very hot. Twenty-three. She looked like the kind of girl who could model for J. Crew, which was the kind of thing that she did. Now she was dead, on this night, the night that I did this drawing of myself. I felt that I should be strong and not drink, because — Christ — my friend had just died from addiction. But I drank anyway. I felt sad.

I didn’t know her that well, and she was kind of a spoiled rich brat. We rolled around in bed once for thirty seconds once, but she wouldn’t let me kiss her. She was looking for someone who had it more together, someone who was less of a broke alcoholic writer living in a hotel room. It’s hard to really blame someone for that, though I blamed her anyway, and I think I called her a “rich bitch,” because I’m a jerk when I drink, but she was on a lot of coke, so probably she didn’t mind that much.

And now she was dead. Dead at twenty-three. The cars passing outside, driving along the street outside the bar, no one in them cared that she was dead. No one in the bar cared that she — the beautiful girl — was dead. How many people in the world cared that she was dead? Fifteen people? Forty? Not enough.

I was staring down at the bar and drinking. I’m old; old, is what I was thinking. I’m thirty-eight. I had gone to the bar with the specific purpose of sitting in the bar and being depressed. I brought along my laptop (in case I wanted to write), a sketch pad, and a book. I like to have things to do when I’m in a bar by myself, or I feel awkward. I started out by sketching myself sitting at the bar.

A guy sitting alone at a bar, I was thinking. Thirty-eight. I am thirty-eight. That’s old. I never thought I’d be this old. I thought I’d be a famous writer at twenty-one, and dead from a drunken car accident at twenty-five. But I didn’t die and my friend did. Why? No good reason. A girl was eyeing me from the corner of the bar, I thought. I wasn’t sure. I don’t really make eye-contact, so it’s always hard for me to tell.

I read from the book that I had, which was a book by Samuel Beckett. I read the ending of the book, the final words. I had read it many times before. It’s the story of a man, a man who goes on a long adventure, a journey, and then is told when he returns that he must write about that journey, against his will. That is what the book is about.

And so…

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Amazon / Molloy

“…Then I went back into the house and wrote, ‘It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows.’ It was not midnight. It was not raining.” …That’s it. That’s all of writing right there. That’s all that writing is, always and forever, world without end. The girl at the end of the bar moved closer to me at this point. She moved five seats down, so that she was only one seat away from me. Even I could not ignore this.

It was the drawing. She saw that I was drawing. None of this was important. It must have looked appealing; a sad-looking guy in a corduroy blazer, sketching by himself with a charcoal pencil at a bar. Appealing. Not appealing enough for the dead girl, who we will call Lauren, which is similar enough to her real name. But appealing enough for this girl, who was wearing a leather jacket and too much eye-shadow.

It was not midnight. It was not raining. I was reading and sketching and drinking and trying to write, and meanwhile keeping my eye on the girl. She had a nose-ring. She looked like… trouble-ish. She looked ready to roll.

All writers are liars. I try not to lie, but I do anyway. Here I was, trying to write about my friend, already, when she was barely in the grave. Was that tasteless? Yes; tasteless, probably. But that’s how I interpret the world, I want the world to be a story, when it isn’t. And to make the world into a story, you have to stretch and exaggerate, for the world itself is formless, if we’re really honest — formless and suspended over the void — or was this just drunk-talk, was this just me thinking drunk-talk to myself?

I looked at the girl. She looked at me.

This all really happened.

This all really happened, but writers are born liars. That’s what Beckett was trying to say. We’re forced to lie, because reality so often disappoints; fails to make a good story. And so we weave and invent. It’s not our fault. My friend, who I didn’t like much, was dead. She was hot and dead and was I even that sad about it? This was not a good story.

But I could make it into a good story.

Unlike normal people, writers tell their best lies when they are alone. That’s the difference between us and the normals. That’s why I went to the bar, to write; to make a white paper lie to cover up the truth but really, wasn’t this girl kind of really checking me out? “Hi,” she said. I turned toward her. I plunged. I turned away from writing, which is bullshit, which is lies, into real life, which is an entirely different kind of bullshit. I was good at one, but maybe not so good at the other. TC Mark

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