I was thinking today, as I sat down to write, that I’ve undertaken a creative project in the past that was quite good practice for writing a blog. I called it: Love Letters to the Invisible Man.
When I got sober in 2003 I was pretty lonely. My marriage had fallen apart (I married on a big — six year — alcoholic relapse), I was up to my eyeballs in debt and had flunked my PhD due to my outlandish behaviour when drinking (and being bipolar). The outlandish behaviour is another story, so I won’t delve into that today, if ever. I was more thinking about the writing practice I developed in the lonely days of my early sobriety.
This was a serious sobriety that lasted 14 years until I attempted to take my own life and drank a good part of a bottle of vodka — one of the worst experiences of my life — if not the worst. But in a way it was no worse that the four months leading up to that event.
So it was 2003 and I decided that I wanted to be a creative writer. As I said, I’d flunked my doctorate. Just in passing, it’s funny to think I tried to be an academic these days. I’m really not academic material at all. It wasn’t only my alcoholism that lead me to flunk my studies. I was no good whatsoever at being academic. No wonder I was so miserable as a student. Maybe that was why I started drinking again.
So there I was, living in south London with my job as a Healthcare Assistant at the Maudsley with writerly aspirations on the side. I’d been inspired by the work of Paul Auster, especially his collection of short true stories The Red Notebook.
I didn’t take any courses then. Over the years I learnt that not taking courses was a bit of a mistake. Just because I’d been writing forever didn’t mean I could write for publication. But I was so sick of studying. So fed up with being told what to read. So my life as a serious creative writer began with this project I titled Love Letters to the Invisible Man.
So what I did was write letters to a man I couldn’t see. I didn’t know who he was, but I was convinced he was out there somewhere. It was a practice that had begun a little before my sobriety started in 2003 inasmuch as I had felt the existence of someone out there I was imagining. This came about because I had received a number of communications anonymously that made me feel like I was being spied on. Quite an intense experience.
One day I got an idea. I thought, if he’s reading my emails — which I suspected he was, I decided: let’s write to him! A hilarious idea, I thought. Plus, it gave me someone to talk to, in the lonely hours and, as it turned out, years of sobriety.
In one form or another I kept up this activity for fourteen years! Who could believe it? I was completely and utterly addicted.
First of all I decided — I’ll keep this up for a year. Like a mandala. It was something to believe in. I imagined that it would generate material for an epistolary book that I could call Love Letters to the Invisible Man. I wrote about all my daily business, jokes, thoughts, ideas. I told him my life story and I really didn’t hold back. Here was a place that I could finally be myself and tell the truth about my life; a heady experience. There was nothing that I couldn’t tell Invisible.
I had various theories about who Invisible was and what he symbolised. I reasoned he was a real person inasmuch as someone was literally spying on me. One day one of my letters was edited! And of course, I had been sent all this stuff that had really fired my imagination into believing I had this secret admirer who wanted me to find him. And whilst I could accept that I had perhaps made up the entire scenario for something to do, something I found interesting, I also thought that, well, it could be true. So it was kind of confusing as well as thrilling.
Maybe my soul mate existed? Maybe he was this character I fashioned out of the various notes and gifts I had been sent anonymously. Maybe I’d merely invented him, but in that case he could stand in for a reader, or some kind of higher power. Like a god. Someone hiding out up there in the cyber heavens.
I had real suspects for this role, even though the anonymous gifts stopped when I got sober in 2003. For a long time I placed this character D, who was a real man I met in AA in central London, in the boots of Invisible. I so wanted my story to be true. I so wanted D to be Invisible.
In this rooms of AA this whole shenanigan would have been written off as a fatal error. I had made Invisible, AKA D, into my higher power. But I reasoned that I knew Invisible could be a fantasy of my own invention. So why not have Invisible, my invisible friend, as a higher power? Seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
Not that I shared very much about this ‘relationship’ with other AA’s. I only divulged that I had this higher power of my own invention, I didn’t mention who or what it was. In a way this secret world I had invented for myself that resulted in my letter writing activity isolated me from my fellow AA’s. I mean it was really important to me. A relationship of far greater importance to me than any real friend I happened to make in the fellowship.
I didn’t only write to Invisible. I drew him pictures, made collages, took photo’s. So my book was something of a multi-media affair. An ‘Artists Book’.
So that was that. But whenever I sat down to write to Invisible, I rarely had in mind what I was going to say. I just had this commitment to write every single day.
How good it would have been had it occurred to me to write a blog! I would have had the reader, or readers, I craved. I mean, one reader isn’t much to ask, is it? And having one reader was enough for me for years. He didn’t even have to be real — I was perfectly happy with his being a fantasy reader. Not very ambitious, is it? It makes me a bit sad to reflect upon the little I was happy with. Crumbs.
My project was obviously a bit Bipolar, pretty nuts, and yet, it did give me a lot of practice writing. Mainly I think it was just that I made myself do it every single day and didn’t much worry about the results. The thing was to stick to my guns. To write. And that’s why it was good practice for writing a blog.
Sitting down to write my thoughts in this form reminds me a little bit of that practice that I engaged in: informal, spontaneous, about mental health issues. True stories. Life experience. Bits and bobs about reading. Definelty not academic.
And now I’m happier because I do have some readers. So thank you for being there and reading my ‘letters’, my posts. Whatever gender you happen to be.