Keeping the Demon Caged

Having a book out in the world has been a real treat–mostly. I don’t have actual numbers put together, but I think it’s safe to say that for every three people who have taken the time to read it, one point five have liked it. I never expected everyone to like it, even so, it can be difficult to absorb critical reviews of something so very personal to me. Taking in things like, “the best writing in this book was the word end,” is especially trying when the review has been written by a reader who either scored the book for free because of my own promotions or due to a review service traditional publishers use known as NetGalley that I ponied up some dough for in order to expose the book to a broader base of readers. I suppose that’s what I paid for, honest reviews from complete strangers.

I put a great deal of time into researching the pros and cons of that move, and there was one warning that in hindsight seems particularly spot-on, something along the lines of this: when you offer up your book for free, a lot of people who never would have wanted to read it in the first place, will buy it, without making sure that it is something up their proverbial alley, and as such, will proceed to pan it relentlessly even if they didn’t bother to make it past page six. That has happened a number of times, and to some extent, my title My Dead Friend Sarah has also put the content of the book into the wrong hands–people looking for paranormal YA fiction about ghosts and dead folk to be exact.

Such is the case with my most recent panning–the reviewer even begins her umpteen-hundred words long review by making the admission that she downloaded it for free because she thought, “it was going to be a ghost story or at least have some paranormal/scary elements to it.” She isn’t the first to decide to read it for that reason, and I suspect she won’t be the last. I’m not going to belabor all of the things she found wrong with the book after being “compelled to finish it despite its shortcomings.” She was nice enough to give it two stars instead of one, just because of that compulsion by the way. It was her right to review it–her right to express every little dissatisfaction with it and post her beliefs on multiple sights, doing her civic duty of making sure the rest of the actual paying public isn’t duped into reading my book that isn’t about ghosts, or according to her all-bold Amazon review headline, “…isn’t about a dead girl named Sarah.

My shiny happy sober brain has me knowing that reviewing her blog, So-and-So’s Dark Fiction, here, and discussing its merits as determined by me, a highly decorated marketing/design/communications professional, would be a colossal defeat to higher-road types everywhere–and not becoming of an aspiring author either. But, The Demon, as I’ve come to calling that part of myself that still lurks within me even in sobriety, wants out of his cage. He has a wicked tongue, and he’d love nothing more than the opportunity to put into words a verbal assault to strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy the naive brother he shares a body with. (I guess he, The Demon, also likes butchering quotes from Pulp Fiction, thus really revealing his age to the kiddies out there).

Nope, gotta keep that slick son-of-a-bitch caged for at least another day. Thus, I’m off to try and run him into submission with a four of five miler–but only after his morning smoke. After all, her own demon is an unknown, and if I were to let mine pick a fight with hers publicly, there’s always the very real chance hers would come find me and snuff us both out. The Demon would love that.

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Sunny Central Park Stroll With My Demon

As I’ve mentioned before, a good deal of my brain activity in any given day is put against speculation of what dark deeds other people around me are scheming or engaged in at that moment. Typically, I don’t have to work very hard to fabricate exactly how their actions are going to impact me, directly or indirectly. These individuals aren’t always out to get me specifically, on occasion I’m sure I am only fated to be the collateral damage of whatever plans they have for someone else that day. It isn’t always about me, but as of late, I find myself wondering more and more if maybe I shouldn’t turn additional attention towards myself. What things am I doing daily that serve to destroy me?

I’m a big believer in the Shadow Self. Carl Jung defined the Shadow Self as “that which we think we are not.” To shed a touch more light on the concept let me just plagiarize a bit with this little nugget from the interwebs: You may believe that you are not like your neighbor who does this or that bad thing, but if those negative qualities you judge, were not also a part of you, then they would not trigger your emotions. You might be nodding in agreement, you might also be nodding the other direction in disgust or boredom–wondering how come your gracious author isn’t just talking, per usual, about something like, how he thinks the recent uptick in the number of hangover cures, morning-after recovery kits and beverages, is actually all part of a big brother style black-ops operation to slowly rid the world the chronically underachieving. Perhaps I’ll post proper about that little gem over the coming weekend, and so if you aren’t into a more meta post right now, I encourage you to come back in a few days for something only seemingly more disturbing that what follows here.

Part of any proper recovering addict’s or alcoholic’s Shadow Self, would be the disease of addiction itself. AA oldtimers are big fans of the saying, “While I’m in a meeting, my disease is out in the parking lot doing push-ups.” My knee-jerk reaction to the utterance of that phrase is usually something along the lines of the silent version of this sound, “Pffffft.” Most likely because the disease itself wants me to believe I’ve been cured. One need not look any farther than Zelda Rubinstein’s declaration, “This house is clean” to understand that if you’ve had demons, those suckers aren’t really ever leaving for good. And if you don’t keep making smart decisions (for example, in the case of the family from Poltergeist, moving out of the house immediately after that supposed victory) the spiteful little bastards will speak to you from time to time, coaxing you back into the very hell you left, with promises of renewed, consequence-less good times. They, or in my case, the other me, is shrewd. And I’ll be damned, because yet again, those cutesy bull-shit-phrases that litter the walls of the rooms of recovery are wickedly on point.

My life is a sensational dream; I couldn’t ask for more than I have, and my gratitude for all of it is through the roof. And yet, as recently as yesterday, just mere moments after finding near peace with everything going on in and around me thanks to an hour on an Upper Eastside couch, the voice of my demon was as loud as it had ever been. Wondering–almost aloud–as we strolled through Central Park on such a lovely day, “What would it be like if we made an effort to throw it all away? Wouldn’t that be quite the experience? To go deeper down the rabbit hole of madness and filth than ever before, if only to see if we could resurrect ourselves yet again.” My Shadow Self knows the way to my heart; my disease knows I’m always up for a challenge, and as twisted as its coaxing might sound to the average Joe, I found myself drawn to the idea. To destroy everything I’ve worked so hard to create, just to rebuild it again–from scratch, heck, without even scratch to get started. That’d be something.

On the other side of Central Park, we could get started. We still knew a few bars there from our first six years in New York City. We’d be well on our way into this new journey before lunch, and any of the various paths it might lead us down would only serve to strengthen our own understanding of what is at first hedonistic and sinfully enjoyable, until it also further educates us on what it truly means to be without hope, scratching from dark corners, without so much as a dime and not a friend left. With rapt attention, I listend to my disease, the demon within, as he held me close, shielding me from the beauty of the park and twisting the reality of what I have, while feeding me truths about many of the world’s injustices, the worst in people, reading me the troubling and sensationalistic headlines from the discarded rags that pass as news that we occasionally found underfoot. He had my curiosity, he had my attention, he had everything but my smart phone–which buzzed in my palm, only to tell me that someone had hearted the picture of my cat that I had posted on Instagram earlier that morning.

The Demon, smart SOB that he is, didn’t curse me out, didn’t continue trying to talk me into something other than heading to the subway to make a beeline to work, and didn’t let out some twisted tortured yelp as though I’d vanquished him once and for all–nope, he simply wished me a good rest of the day, and right before he left said, as casually as my very best friend might, “I’ll see you around, Rosch.”