Writing a Novel in November
I am doing some variation on this, a project with whose acronym I will not soil your delicate sensibilities, but which will result in my writing some kind of massively flawed but satisfying variation on the theme of the “novel” (for which, see Watt, Lukacs, Moretti, Bakhtin, and novelists). I’ve written a bunch of words and have no idea where they’re going. But since the people providing much of the ethos behind this project are reminding us that no words are bad words, in that spirit, I offer you three of my first paragraphs, whose words are — by that standard, at least and and at most — not bad ones:
No one knew that he started each day with a drink, or that he never stopped until falling asleep in front of the TV; he monitored his blood alcohol like a diabetic watched their insulin. Which is to say, even he no longer thought much about it. It was no longer interesting to him. It was just what he did. After years, he understood the range of breath and the danger of close conversation so well that no one ever smelled a thing on him, so well that he even forgot that he was lonely. He never stumbled, never slurred. And that particular openness of expression had become the face his co-workers knew, the person they identified him as when they greeted him in the morning or said good night to. Had they met him sober — not an impossibility, but it never happened — they would have known him, but would also have been bothered by some creeping subconscious fear, a sense that there was something just a little off. And while they would have gone home without being able to articulate what exactly it had been, what precisely had bothered them, they would have dreamed about it that night. But they would have forgotten it in the morning.
He was such a high functioning alcoholic, in fact, that when he was killed in a car crash, driving drunk, the accident wasn’t even his fault; the other car had swerved across the median when the driver bent over to change cds. And since no one checks the breath of a dead man, the eulogist stressed what a senseless tragedy it had been, the hand of fate reaching down to pluck one of us, any of us, for reasons that would known to none of us. Which, of course, was more or less what had happened. But the easy answer, the wrong one, was denied.
The groceries he had left on the little stone wall outside of his complex stayed there all that night, and into the morning. By dawn they were wet with dew. The ice cream had melted swiftly and then slowly refrozen under the cold light of the morning stars; the package of cookies he had already opened had allowed in enough moisture to become soggy, and the avocadoes had not even begun to ripen when the garbage man, wreathed in cigar smoke, walked all the way across the sidewalk, picked them up, and tossed them into his cart. He didn’t have to do it; he wouldn’t usually have done it. He didn’t even know that no one was coming for these groceries. But he’s the one who threw them away.