by Sheldon Lee Compton
The writer and editor Kirby Gann once told me I was schizophrenic. He was a teacher at the grad school I attended at the time and, for what it’s worth, he was pretty much right.
He was referring to the different voices I used from a first draft to a second draft of a story in workshop. Meant as a compliment, I think, it’s the first thing I thought of when Gay Degani mentioned me doing a piece for her Journey to Planet Write series. I’ve been a basket case in this way for nearly as long as I can remember and, although numerous other events led to me nurturing a talent for writing, it was this idea of splitting into other personalities that seemed most influential in my development.
Before the real splits began, I lived inside a three-foot by three-foot space under my covers every night until morning when I first started making things up. That was 1982 and I was six years old. Under the covers, I held my hands up and made them talk, sort of like sock puppets without the socks. The three of us talked for hours about the kinds of things a six-year-old talks about, I guess. It made me less afraid of my stepfather, that much I remember well.
My stepfather was a lifelong alcoholic and would stumble in late nearly every night of during that year and sit on the side of my bed and slobber onto the sheets and apologize for drinking and for arguing and for things I also can’t remember and am glad I can’t remember. It was sometime during the summer after lying still in the bed for several hours sweating, listening to him mumble and cry, that I decided to more or less move my existence to that small space under the covers.
|Sheldon, lower left.
I’m not sure what my stepfather thought when he flopped into my bedroom the next night and saw only a lump in the middle of the bed, no head on the pillow, no stepson de facto priest waiting to absolve his dark sins. Only a lump. I heard him come in and then things went quiet for nearly a full minute. He let out a long, hard sigh and walked back out. I had found my safe place, and it had nothing at all to do with reality. Not the most mentally healthy approach to trauma, but it was the one I had.
About everything I’ve tried to do with fiction since has been an attempt to rediscover that otherworldliness, to revisit those two old friends who came to life through an array of different characters and tiny narratives. I’ve been on a search for what I created hour after hour doing nothing more than talking to myself to calm down or become tired enough to sleep. In short, I’ve been nourishing my inner schizophrenic and calling it literature ever since.
I’ve talked before in lectures and interviews about the years following that summer, how I read dozens and dozens of childhood biographies until finally graduating to Stephen King, how the year I discovered King I asked for a Brother GX-6750 typewriter for Christmas and used my grandmother’s Singer sewing machine as a desk. All of this was an extension of that summer. It still is.
To this day, I can tell within two or three paragraphs of anything I’m writing whether or not that otherworldliness I discovered in 1982 is present. Sometimes I plow ahead even if it’s not present and finish only because I started, and all the stories and novels written in that way are now resting peacefully on various flash drives and boxes somewhere in dark corners of my house. On the other hand, when a story sort of appearson the page, one word after another, sentence after sentence, and is completed with a kind of natural energy, it’s always because, above everything else, I’m writing in a kind of trance inside a world that exists only to me, three feet by three feet of headspace draped with a wedding ring quilt without a sock in sight.
Yes, Kirby only scratched the surface. I’ve got boxes full of crazy. I’m all full up. And I’m fine with that. I’ll take it and make something from it. I’ll tell a story or put a handful of words together in just the right way or transform the world as I have known it into a newly imagined reality. I’ll do this because my journey to becoming a writer has been less a journey and more an escape, a way out and a means of survival for all my unique voices.
by Sheldon Lee Compton
We tore them to make rings. We found if you shook them more than three times to get them drunk they would die.
Once when I was old enough to buy from a bootlegger without much problem, I smeared the ass end of one across my teeth and smiled in the darkness.
They were kept in jars. They could not be seen during the day. Even then they only had about fifteen years left to live.
Artificial light was the problem, the thing that kept the male from finding the female, a lighthouse of bug love overwhelmed by a lamp post.
I told her this, watching for a smile. I looked for light between her lips and counted days.
(Originally published at Dogzplot)
Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of three
books, most recently the novel Brown Bottle
(Bottom Dog Press, 2016). His stories can be found in WhiskeyPaper, New World Writing, PANK, decomP, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016.