Dear Dionysus XI

Dear Dionysus XI

Dear Dionysus,

This is going to sound hella pretentious, but I’ve been pondering art and my relationship to the artistic process.

I was always deathly afraid that if I left you, I wouldn’t be capable of creating anymore, that every artistic bone in my body would wither away into nothingness and that I’d be just another burnt out square. You were everything to me: muse, model, collaborator, co-conspirator. Hell, you were the process itself, mate.

I’ve always wanted to be an artist, Dionysus. I’ve never wanted to be anything else. I didn’t want to be a firefighter or an astronaut or a police officer (imagine that). I always wanted to be a writer or a painter or a composer or a poet or, preferably, all of the above. The way I figured it, I was already usually off in my own little world, so I may as well make a living of it.

But the problem was I was far too scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t be good enough. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to create anything that measured up to the artistic vision I had in my head. I was scared that if I honestly represented myself artistically, that people would think I was rotten or, even worse, a lunatic. Therefore, I was a scared little moppet with a vivid and overactive imagination who kept everything to himself.

My head was a wild place for a child to be, Dionysus. But it’s a wild place for a grown man, too (I use that term very loosely).
I was bursting at the seams with ideas and visions and creativity and I was positively petrified of picking up a pen or a paintbrush and getting it out. Because once it was out, people would be able to see it, and there were far too many possibilities for embarrassment if that happened.

I composed entire novels in my head, Dionysus. I painted mental triptychs on every wall I ever laid eyes on. I composed three-act operas and concept albums and scored musicals with entire casts of characters that I would rehearse over and over again in my sleep.
And I never breathed a word or a note of it to anybody.

That all changed once I met you, of course. You invigorated me with the desire to make music, because everything was suddenly music. I wrote poetry, because meter and rhyme were your stock and trade, and I was your confidant. I was no longer afraid of what people would think; at least, I was able to act like I didn’t. I still cared a great deal, but I could pretend very convincingly that I did not. In fact, I almost relished it more if people didn’t like it, because in my very young and very naïve and very punk rock mind, if people didn’t like my “work,” then it was because they were dull and boring and I was simply too much of an artistic genius for them to ever understand the level I was working on. It was them, not me: they were philistines and I was King David with his holy harp, strumming supernal songs that only those with the most exquisite ears could hear.

As it turns out, I seemed to be the only one with the right set of ears.

And the poetry! There was a lot of it. Dionysus. I used to love rushing home at night to my fifth of liquor and my pens and notebooks so that I could compose my malevolent masterpieces. It was all piss and vinegar and pain and vitriol. It was all very juvenile and poorly written for the most part. But I was Chuck Bukowski and Art Rimbaud and Ernie Hemingway, wielding my sloppy words against the world. Unsurprisingly, the world didn’t seem to take very much notice, but that validated me even further.

I was the proverbial drunk with a writing problem, except my main problem seemed to be that I was very limited in my defined range of subject matter.

The following is a definitive list of the topics I wrote about during that early period:

Girls (usually of the insane variety)
Booze (all kinds)
Self-pity (there’s only one kind)
Heartbreak (self-imposed)
Hatred (directed towards society as a whole for not being what I wanted it to be and at people in particular for accentuating that harsh reality)
Lots of allusions to prove to myself and to you that I was an educated fellow

That’s about it, Dionysus. I realize now that I was a hack job. To be fair, I still think a lot of those early poems are well written, at least in regards to things like flow and meter and rhyme and choice of language. I could turn a phrase, but I couldn’t turn a page, so to speak: I was stuck singing the same tragic song sad infinitum. Which, of course, kind of put me on par with some of my heroes at that time. (We’ve come for your poetry, Chuck.)

I was a modern day Grub Street shyster, Dionysus, and I fucking loved it.

Perhaps some examples are in order here. The following illustrates the way in which I foolishly believed “poet” and “drunk” to be synonyms:

A sober poet is like an honest politician–
A pipe dream, an idealization.
Why fight it?

(“Honesty Is, In Fact, Bad Policy”)

Oh Dionysus! I never fought it! Not only was I resigned to it, I relished it. Every pickled poetic pang I felt was your doing and, good or bad, barely legible or completely illegible, I praised you for it. I longed for you at all times, and I sang your invocations nightly. I had to: I couldn’t write sober, Dionysus. I was far too frightened. And honesty was only bad policy when the truth wasn’t convenient, which, coincidentally, was most of the time in those days.

Another early poetic exercise illustrates this fact:

Dance with me, Dionysus
Will you buy me beer?
My patron saint of drinking
Has left me high and dry

(“A Lesson In Greek Mythology”)

You were always a willing dance partner, Dionysus. I thank you for that. Our soirées were always BYOB though.

This next gem says it all, love. It’s s perfect summation of my erstwhile poetic mantra. I nearly shudder reading it now, but what kind of an artist would I be if I shied away from honesty and hid from painful realizations? The kind I used to be, in all likelihood.

I can’t write without drinking
And I can’t drink without writing
I’m a fool either way
Cupid hit me square in the liver
But my hands don’t shake, holding a pen

Lacking it, I yearn
Drowning in it, I earned my spot
Amongst my heroes
I doubt I’ll outlive them
I’m not that good

(“Drunken Debates”)

I’d like to dissect this for a moment. Line one was absolutely true for me at the time. Writing sober was terrifying. Hell, doing anything sober was terrifying, so I simply made a habit of not doing that. Line two is a lie of convenience, nothing more than drunken romantic justification. I could absolutely drink without writing, and I did that the majority of the time, a fact that my loads of half-finished and barely started poems, stories, songs, etc. from that period bear witness to. Line three is simple redundancy: I was a fool period, and which way I was going went without saying.

The accuracy of line four is debatable. I suspect it was you who hit me square in the liver, Dionysus, although the effect was, for all intents and purposes, blind and unyielding love. (Did you borrow your pal Cupid’s bow for that one?) Line five is the height of absurdity. I could write it off as artistic license or symbolic sentiment, but I won’t let myself off that easily. My hands shook frequently. Whether I was holding a pen or not was irrelevant; my hands didn’t shake when I had a few drinks in me.

The “it” in lines six and seven could refer to poetry or liquor, but lets be honest here: they were one and the same for me, weren’t they? Although I certainly seemed to yearn more for liquor than poetry back then, Dionysus: I’d walk five hundred miles for a fifth, but often I wouldn’t reach across a desk for a pen. This is a painful admission, but one I must make if I am to remain true to my aims in this endeavor.

And the only spot I earned was one that no sane man would ever be proud of. I was confined to a boozy brand of Bedlam, my friend. But I thought I was in good company*, except I wasn’t; I was all alone. And those heroes I so adored likely were too in their day, in their own hellish way.

But they ain’t my heroes no more.

And I’m twenty-seven now, Dionysus, so I suppose I have outlived a great deal of them.

As for not being that good, as the last line so clearly states, I was absolutely spot on: I wasn’t.

But guess what, Dionysus? It turns out I’m all right now, and I certainly can write without you around.

These letters are proof of that.

</3 Sir Rateval Hurtlinge

P.S. One final realization that I have made in going through these old “poems” is that I used to have really shitty notebooks. There is no excuse for a proper artist to use a green 80-leaf wide-ruled notebook for composition.

*I even went so far as to compose a Dante pastiche job in which Bukowski was my Virgil. It remains, thankfully, unfinished.

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