Oliver Mol Writes to cult legend Eric Yoshiaki Dando for a little help figuring it all out.
Several days ago I boarded a train from Redfern to Circular Quay and wrote to Eric Yoshiaki Dando. I was pissed off and angry and scared and needed someone to talk to. I knew Eric had had success – more success than I’d had – at a young age and I thought maybe he could help. I told him I didn’t know how to write anymore, that I hadn’t been able to write anything in over a year. ‘I’m able to write articles,’ I said, ‘but nothing else. Especially nothing about myself. It’s like I’m scared.’ I told him about the migraine I’d had, the one that lasted 10 months, how it had come from writing, from how I held myself, from posture.
Photo Credit: Asha Madge
I explained my neck, the nerves the doctors hadn’t known about, that pinched, that sent everything to hell when my neck jutted forward to read a book or use a computer. I told him things were better now but I was trying too hard to make the work serious or good or dark or funny. I told him I remembered why I started writing in the first place: because it felt good. Because it helped make sense of the things I didn’t understand. ‘But now,’ I said, ‘it’s like there’s a block. I’m afraid to put myself out there. I’m afraid of being judged. It’s a catch-22. I can’t produce good work because I’m pre-occupied with the work being good. I know I have to switch my brain off and let it come naturally but I don’t know how to do that either.’ I told him I was so desperate to produce I was having dreams, bad dreams. I told him to send me the cheats so I could enjoy writing again. My train entered a tunnel and for a while the light cut out. So I just stood inside the carriage in the darkness beneath Central.
And so I thought my thoughts. I thought how in 2015, before the migraines, Shabby Doll House published a story of mine called Sometimes Ghosts Are Something And Sometimes They Are Something Else. It was the first time I’d felt the magic, that moment, when you put everything out there, when the mechanics of a story combine – and it was so effortless, after four years, nights spent inside at my desk hunched over, alone, looking for something, my voice, or a new voice, which I found inside that story. And I remember sitting there, in a pub between Brisbane and Newcastle, the story almost finished, and I wondered: how does it end? And then Jarrod, a character in the story, asked me a question and the story ended like this: Jarrod said, Oliver, what are you afraid of? And I said: What terrifies me most is failing or becoming incapable of doing the things I love. At the time, I thought I knew what it meant. But I didn’t. Not really. Not yet.
So the lights came on and we arrived at Central. People left and people entered. The train shot through the tunnel and we breathed the hot, dead air. I thought about the previous year, the migraine – and I’m sick of these memories: the pain meds when I rose and the showers that became afternoons then evenings into night. Trains on the way to work where I sat with my eyes closed breathing, or trying to breathe, unable to process the dying light and the trees that bled into buildings beyond the windows outside. I’m sick of the voices: You’ll fail. You’ll never amount to anything. You’re alone. I’m sick, even now, writing this again, this tired narrative, as if it’s the only thing I can.
We reached Town Hall. Eric messaged and said, ‘My advice to myself if I could send it back in time to 1996 would be to knock off a couple of books exactly the same before working on something more important that takes 12 years to complete. But another part of me says fuck that and fuck them. Just be good to yourself and excellent to everyone around you. Also, relax and breathe.’ I realised I’d been holding my breath. So I did what Eric told me. I breathed. Eric said, ‘Just don’t let that second novel thing fuck with your head.’ ‘I’m trying,’ I said. ‘But it’s tough.’
And then doors opened at Martin Place. People left and people entered. We stared our silent stares then looked at our screens and pretended we weren’t alone. But in the sweat and creases of our skin, phrases birthed like stillborns to remind each other how we truly were. Like this, we spoke: We spoke about the jobs we hated and the people we missed who had died long ago. We introduced ourselves by the things we’d become, though never imagined we’d be. Hi, I’m depressed. G’day, I’m depressed too. I realised I was no different than anybody else and as our train went through a tunnel I stared at the window and saw what I was too.
I was scared.
But aren’t we all?
We arrived at Wynyard. Eric said, ‘I think my advice is to just wait for the next novel to hit you. But stay busy being awesome while you are waiting. Keep a journal and be involved with life. Experience new things and do things that scare you.’ So I told myself if I could voice it, write it, this whole thing, one last time then maybe everything would be different. Maybe the pain would recede and it would all unglue. I told myself there were systems inside our body designed to remove waste. Do you believe in the processes that allow us to shit? I asked, and then I said: Yes, I do. I told myself there was no difference between shit and literature they just came out of different holes. And so I imagined I wasn’t scared anymore and I saw myself shitting the shits of a thousand kings. I was writing the long novels and short novels and short stories too. And I wasn’t thinking. I was just doing. Imagine if we all believed in the systems that allow us to breathe?
Then our train left the tunnel and I saw it all before me. I saw the sun and the water and boats on the harbour. Everything shone like the earth was an earth from a thousand years ago. And I wanted it inside me. I wanted the voices to be gone so I could fit it all in. So I went down to the water because I knew what I had to do. And I said this to the voices. I said: LOUDER. And the voices screamed their screams and I wrote them all down. I wrote them down before you and welcomed them to this essay. I said: welcome to your new home. And the voices said something but now I couldn’t hear them because they lived in a place for all to see where their sounds had become pixels and when I got home I printed the page and the pixels became ink that I lit with a match and the page became a flame and the ink turned to smoke and it call became a memory in the dark, gone night.
Also By Oliver Mol
Oliver Mol is a Sydney-based writer. He grew up between America and Australia. He has lived in Houston, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. He was the recipient of a 2014 ArtStart Grant, the co-winner of the 2013 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers and the recipient of a 2012 Hot Desk Fellowship. He has appeared at National Young Writers Festival, Emerging Writers Festival, Melbourne Writers Festival, Sydney Writers Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival. He has read creative nonfiction at the Museum of Contemporary Art. He has interned at The Lifted Brow, was a fiction editor at Voiceworks and is part of the Stilts Collective. His debut book Lion Attack! is out through Scribe Publications. He is working on his second book.