Who Do I Do This For, Anyway?

While reading INSURRECTION by Peter Rollins, I was taken by a particular passage in the first chapter. He describes an imaginary audience full of real people who we want to see the things we do well and share in our pride. Because it’s a book on Christian thought, he ties this idea in to why belief in a supreme being is rather natural to us, but like the bad student I am, I took this small passage from the chapter and spent most of today meditating on it, ignoring the chapter’s thesis. I did this because the image resonated with me.

He posits that the only reason we do things well is that we not only want someone to see it, we want specific someones to see it. Is that true? It’s certainly a compelling idea.

I more or less gave up on my musical aspirations after my writing partner took his own life. So much of what I was doing back then was out of the mutual excitement me and that guy got playing music together. A lot of the lyrics are cringe-y now and the guitar playing is rather amateurish, but there was a spirit to the stuff, something he and I really got caught up in. We were feeling it. We were feeling it so much that when he died, it no longer made sense for me to pursue that vocation.

Now and again, I’ve attempted to resurrect those aspirations, but they really died with him.

There’s one exception: in the year after he died, I composed twenty pieces on my Casio keyboard. I was at the keys every day, playing, writing and rehearsing for people who weren’t there. Sometimes I played for my girlfriend, but most of the time, it was just me and those keys trying to understand each other.

Attempts to take those little compositions further never really went anywhere. Sad as it may be for some, I don’t remember how to play many of them anymore.

But, man, those hours a day spent at the keyboard or the rusty old piano in my mom’s dining room were often the only times I felt any sense of peace in the year after my buddy’s death. Sometimes people made tacky, but well-intended remarks, that he was watching and listening and proud of me. I didn’t believe that, and I’m not sure I do now. That’s not to say I don’t believe in an afterlife; I do, but it’s nothing like anything taught in any religion, or maybe it is because I’d have no way of knowing anyway.

I was in tune with something during that year. While I was still occasionally writing lyrics, they were never written or applied to the music because the music already said what I wanted to say. Were they fully fleshed-out compositions? Probably not. I’m not a pianist. I did everything by ear, could never get my left hand working as quickly as my right, and could never really get the hang of some of those full chords. But it didn’t fucking matter. What mattered was what those compositions meant to me.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

“Okay, Lucas. We get it. You’re a serious Artist, totally up your own ass and don’t want your perfect little compositions tainted by outside influence.”

I get why you would think that, but remember, I just told you these were anything but perfect. They simply resonated with me.

Back at Killer Con 2018, Joe Lansdale told a captivated audience to “write like everyone you know is dead.” I’d spent the preceding years trying with varying degrees of success to break into markets. All that earned me was a long weekend in a psych ward and some serious paranoia issues. His advice really resonated with me though, and I got to thinking, “what if I didn’t care about finding a market? what if my next book was my last book ever? what if no one read it?”

SAINT SADIST was the result. I was way up my own ass writing that book. I didn’t have time to care about finding a market, if I’d never write again, or if no one read me. I didn’t care about any of this shit because that summer my brain legitimately tried to kill me. So, I wrote something vile, nasty, poetic, strange, and heavily influenced by my love/hate relationship with religion.

And then it got published. And people started writing me to tell me they liked it. And then it got nominated for a Splatterpunk Award.

Maybe there was something to just writing for me and not even thinking about trying to sell something until the book is done. Sounds great, right? Of course it does! Do the thing only you can do and people will take notice?

Uh-oh. So, now that I know that people will take notice and enjoy my work if I don’t give a shit whether or not they do, how can I possibly hope to reach a place where I don’t give shit about what people think when I set down to write my next IDGAF masterpiece? I think I’m in trouble.

Perhaps the answer is to force the issue. With my current book in progress, I write what I want to write and throw it up, mostly unedited for the world to see a chapter at a time. It’s unfiltered Lucas Mangum. The type of shit that goes on in my head with little thought given to how I’m supposed to do things. Loose structure. Moments of cringe. Shorthand passages. It’s all there, for better or worse.

You can read Chapter 1, 2, & 3 of ONE AND ONLY. Chapter 4 goes up this Monday.

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