So, 2005 sucked. Yes, the whole year. There was a seismic shift in my friendships. A combination of a stupid argument and my stubbornness resulted in nearly all of my friends dropping out of my life, one by one. I hermited. I retreated. I listened to American Idiot and Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut and hated everyone and everything, including myself.
Shawn was there for me as much as he could be, but when I tell you things got sad, I mean, man, they got sad. I mentioned the obsession with American Idiot. Therapy ended up helping. Writing helped, too – I did my first NaNoWriMo novel in 2005; it was called Welcome to Bloomsbury and it wasn’t bad. But, as usual, my beloved pop culture was what really saved me. In 2005, John Irving published a book called Until I Find You, and Bruce Springsteen put out an album called Devils & Dust.
I fell into both with fervor. Devils & Dust turned out to not be Springsteen’s best album, but it was absolutely the one I needed at the time. The title song went a long way toward waking me up: I got God on my side / and I’m just trying to survive / what if what you do to survive kills the things you love / fear’s a powerful thing. Yep. Yep.
Irving’s newest book was, among the usual tropes of wrestling and Vienna and sexually interesting older women, about tattooing. I’d gotten three tattoos by that point: my bear claw, my The Stand silhouette, my Daredevil DD icon. But it had been awhile and I hadn’t really considered getting more. But falling into the exotic tattoo shops in the book, living with the inkers and the inkees, sleeping in the needles … all of it thrilled me. What thrilled me more was that, during the research of the book, John Irving had gotten a tattoo of his own, on the inside of his arm. His was a circular symbol representing a wrestling room, and while the symbol meant nothing, I loved the shape and the placement. I knew then I wanted a new tattoo and I wanted it to mean something. It didn’t take me long to realize I wanted something Springsteen-related, and after some research, I found what I wanted: a circle with an image of the Chuck Taylor sneakers hanging from the Boss’ guitar on the Born to Run press materials. Boom, perfect.
After a series of misfortunes involving a short-lived shop called Mongo’s Tattoo Madness, I ended up at Chameleon, where I met Kelly Barr, the eventual beefy and resplendent Wonder Tattooist. He slapped that thing on me good and proper, kickstarting my recent obsession with body art and helping to lift my depression, just a bit.
See, it all fit, these things that were working to cheer me. Inspired by Irving, shaped by Springsteen, injected by Barr. I had my tattoo when I went to my next Springsteen concert, the acoustic one for the Devils & Dust tour. He played all the instruments himself, went through his entire catalogue, radically changed some stuff, brought to life some stuff that suffered under overproduction, and let his solo stuff out to shine. Interestingly, his closing number each night was not his own song; it was a proto-punk chant-song by the band Suicide called “Dream Baby Dream.” At the end of each show, Springsteen would sit down at the pedal-powered organ to the left of the stage and launch into the extraordinarily simple song, which consisted of a few simple lines repeated over and over:
“Dream baby dream / dream baby dream / come on now and dream baby dream / open up your eyes / come on and open up your eyes / keep the fire burning / come on and dream baby dream / open up your arms / come on and open up your arms / I wanna see you smile / I just wanna see you smile / come on and dream baby dream / dry your eyes / come on and dry your eyes / you gotta keep on dreaming / come on and dream baby dream / I wanna see you smile / I just wanna see you smile / I wanna see you smile / I just wanna see you smile.”
I spent a lot of 2005 unhappy, and something about this – maybe it was the simplicity of it, the intimacy of the concert with one of my heroes, the mantra-like nature – sunk in. “I wanna see you smile, I just wanna see you smile,” and oh God, did I need to hear that. I stole the line and put it in my next book, but I could never approximate what it meant to me. I could never underscore how vital those words were.
So I kept myself alive, got back to happy, and kept on dreaming. Flash forward to now. Over the past few of weeks, I directed two sold out comedy shows, directed my team in ensemble show that also sold, booked us for a gig in another city, launched the production for my big September show, submitted to the New York Sketch Festival, and took a class in directing. My editor told me he loved I’m On Fire. One of my nonfiction books is coming out next month, as is a book featuring one of my short stories – my first print fiction ever published. I got paid for another nonfiction book. I finished my first novel since 2009, placed a labor-of-love article at FEARnet, and got mentioned by name on Ain’t It Cool News. August has been good to me. I wanted to honor that.
The cover illustration of Until I Find You is a broken heart with the title of the novel written in script across a floating ribbon. I asked Shawn if I could get a variation of it, “but with an unbroken heart.”
“On my chest,” I said. “Near my heart.” He’s been consistently against chest tattoos.
He contemplated. “The heart will be unbroken?”
“Absolutely. This is a celebration, not a lament.”
“All right then, you can get it.”
I got to Chameleon early. A lot has changed since the first time I went there. Kelly moved back to Texas and now John Meredith is my at-home inkslinger. John always plays me at least some Springsteen when I get inked, as opposed to the psychobilly Kelly favored. I became a comedy producer and director and writer and sometime actor. I went from four tattoos to twenty-two. I’m not sad anymore. That’s the big thing: I was so sad for so long, and I’m not sad anymore. I’ve worked hard. I’ve thrown myself into my accomplishments. And I’ve kept on dreaming. It took years of ambition, drive, and caffeine, but my dreams are finally coming true.