My Tenth Elvis, or: Suspicious Minds
An Attempt to Write Through It
The following was drafted between the hours of approximately 1:00 and 4:00 PM on Friday, December 9, 2022, three days before it was posted here. It was originally intended to be posted to Letterboxd, but was held in order to receive oversight from trusted readers. It is the second-longest work the author has ever written for publication. The longest is a book.
tw: mood disorders
To quote the title character of my favorite movie (Elvis (2022)), I, uh…I want to try something new.
I’m pressing play on my tenth viewing of Elvis. Let’s see what happens in the next 2 hours, 39 minutes, and 17 seconds. My heart is racing, but I think this is good. I really hope so.
What I am going to do is free-write through this viewing of Elvis. I’ll hone and shape as I go. Ideally, when I’m done, it’ll be ready to post. But if it’s not, I won’t. What you’re reading is meant to seem offhand and disinhibited, and it absolutely is (we’ll get to that). But I do take pride in my work (you don’t get compliments like I’ve gotten recently by being careless—not to be a jerk about it, but that’s kind of part of it too. We’ll get to all of it). Maybe I’ll take a breather after writing it all out. Probably for the best. But it’s important to me that I post it soon. The goal is that it saves me, at least psychologically. But that’s grandiose talk. And I’m supposed to try and suppress that.
There’s no need to hang with me through all this. It’s not you. It’s me.
I have really ramped up my efforts to make this movie part of my personal brand recently. During a moment of particular disinhibition (a risky place to be during an important Google Meet call but I rolled the dice and…well, I don’t think I lost), I asked my publisher whether Elvisposting was a liability marketing-wise for my upcoming book on Paul Thomas Anderson. He argued Elvisposting is explicitly good (or so was my interpretation), as literally anything I do right now raises the book’s visibility.
Well, let’s see what he thinks about this. Hey, publisher, who is on this newsletter’s email list and thus to whom I am actively and cogently addressing this: I hope this is all OK, too. I think it is. I hope.
First off: this is a very strange thing to do! So why am I doing it? Because I’m tired of waiting a year or more to admit why I’m acting a little (or a lot) unusual. Enough. Let’s talk about it from in it. Try that for once. Maybe it could help someone else. I hope. That’s about all I can do right now: hope. I can’t control much else.
Part of ramping up Elvisposting came down to one key fact, and let’s just get it out of the way. I almost held it close to the vest, but that’s the opposite of the point: I have bipolar disorder, and for maybe a month (three weeks? Time is a flat circle in periods like this) I have been hypomanic.
You can haggle over the distinction between mania and hypomania, but at the end of the day, what it apparently means is: I am currently A LOT, but I am not currently psychotic. I was psychotic once 11 years ago.
Sorry, the He’s white part just happened. You stop for the He’s white part.
Then, Colonel Parker told me it doesn’t matter if you do ten stupid things as long as you do one smart one. I’ve done about 100 stupid things since Thanksgiving, Mr. Snowman. Let’s hope this is the smart one.
Anyway, I probably haven’t been manic in 11 years by the psychosis definition (and it’s my doctor’s definition, not mine, so argue with him). But I’ve been hypomanic every few years. This one isn’t the worst, but it sure ain’t the best, so I am staying with my parents for the second time in two weeks. I have three kids (6, 4, and 2), and I just can’t be around them right now. It’s best for them, and it’s best for me. It feels horrible. Maybe you can imagine agony like this. Maybe you’ve felt it, or worse. If so, my heart goes out to you.
My wife just called (after asking via text whether I could handle it) to talk about giving the basement couches to her sister, who’s moving into a new place. I could say, Sure! But when she started rattling off her thoughts about the sectional we should replace them with, I had to stop her, and say (in the kindest, most loving, and generous way I could muster) that I have to keep it to the essentials. Because if I stop working right now—if I stop to think about anything except movies and writing about them, I fall apart. I think about my 100 stupid things, and I cry. And today is about doing everything possible to get well. All I need is to be well enough to attend my six-year-old’s dance recital tomorrow. I may need to sleep at my parents’ place again afterwards—I may need them to drive me the hour there, and the hour back—but I will be damned if I miss that dance recital.
Sorry. I’ll calm down. Bear with me.
I am lounging on a couch that I have lounged on countless times throughout my life. Off to my left, on my parents’ TV, we are currently in the lead-up to the Louisiana Hayride sequence—that ecstatic orgy of cross-cutting and pounding music (“Tupelo Shuffle,” as the basically equivalent cut on the soundtrack is called). That part gets me extremely amped, and I’m extremely susceptible to getting extremely amped right now. So what I’m doing is risky—I’m trying to find a workaround here. Ideally by the end of whatever I’m writing, I’ve reached some kind of catharsis. Because I can’t think about my life; I can only write about movies. But what if writing about this movie means I can write about my life? Could be a win for everyone. Could be a win for Chloe!
So sure, maybe let’s start with Chloe. (Hey, Chloe.)
I’ll try and keep this part quick, though that’s the absolute opposite of what my urges are. This morning, my mom idly asked, “So, how does Elvis intersect with the Beatles?” I had to take a deep breath, and say, “I can either give you a monologue, or I can say nothing.” She chose monologue, so I took her through Elvis and his context from the Louisiana Hayride through the comeback special. I stopped myself there; it had been maybe five straight minutes of talking. “I could keep going,” I said. “I could tell you how the Vegas years intersect with the Beatles, but I don’t know if either of us really need that.”
(I’m already itching to try and go there—comparing where Elvis was in the early ‘70s against where the lads from Liverpool were? In terms of career trajectory, cultural impact—all of it? What an intellectual feast! But I’ll control myself.)
We were supposed to be talking about Chloe.
Chloe runs the Every Elvis Second Twitter account. What Chloe does is go through Elvis frame by frame and screencap the single best frame from every second. I always figured the specific frames were chosen randomly or carelessly, but fuck no, Chloe is a pro. An artist.
Sorry, getting forceful again. That’s one of the symptoms. And today, I try to control the symptoms. That’s the goal. Dance recital.
I only know Chloe’s process because a couple of weeks ago, I did something very unusual: after loving the Every Elvis Second account (because of course) since August, I finally broke down and messaged. Her DMs are open, so I took the swing.
What the hell was that about?
It was about hypomania (again, distinct from mania! I forgot to really talk about the difference, but the gist is: I’m a LOT, but I’m still me, rather than being a LOT and…kind of not me? But who is me? Is there a distinction between me and my diagnosis? Look at the spiraling I’m capable of right now! Seems like it’s probably a pretty tough brain to live inside sometimes, huh? No fucking shit!)
(Sorry. My doctor always says: the therapy only starts when the cursing does. And I think this is therapeutic. I hope.)
So back to Chloe. I messaged her and invited her to do an email interview. I didn’t want to freak her out. But she was extremely open to this interview idea, so I did end up suggesting we Zoom instead. We talked for half an hour this past Tuesday (it was three days ago—I know because I just counted on my fingers; I’m not good at math in the best of times—but I keep reflexively wanting to say last week. Every day is a year right now).
Part of the goal with this “review” is to help Chloe climb the charts on my newsletter, so let’s get to the point: the interview was amazing. Read it here! Forget this shit, read that! I’m just writing this for me, obviously. Point is: Chloe is now incredibly special to me, and she knows it, because I’m very disinhibited right now.
(Hey, it’s Ethan from about an hour later. Been honing and revising, and I’m popping my head in just to admit: I did have to pause the movie for the first time. (During the comeback special! The indignity!) My doctor called to schedule tomorrow’s appointment, and I was very tense while we talked. I am very tense while I write this. But I am putting my faith in my brain, trusting that even in its rawest form, I can still do this. Because, honestly, with the way we’re about to medicate me…this could be the last you read of me for a little bit. That’s the worst-case scenario. So let’s make it count. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I told my doctor, “and I’ll tell you what I’m doing right now.” Then I hung up, and I hit play. He was between the words Good and what sounded like it was going to be luck. Thanks, Doc.)
That’s it for Chloe right now, I guess. Ideally this will all end up tied into a bow. Right now, it’s definitely random threads and loose ends. I’m trying to give you a controlled glimpse at something pretty uncontrollable. People keep saying things like I get it, and I’ve been there because they’ve been stressed, and they’ve been overtired, and they’ve had what they would describe as “racing thoughts.” And, with a great deal of respect: you can not get it, and have not been here. Unless you have! If so…I don’t know, let’s talk about it sometime!
But first, we may as well talk about the McCloskey Suite. Let’s do that; it’s fun. I’ve been holding it back for some reason, thinking it would be fun to announce it when it’s ready to share, but I’ll blow the news here (I’m keeping enough secrets; no more secrets).
First, though, let me quote the great children’s book author Robert McCloskey, because this quote (from a 1960s TV special he appeared in) were shockingly recognizable to me as someone who’s experienced hypomania as often as I have, and who recognizes the hypomanic self living within my own mind—the hypomanic self trying his damndest to help the healthy version out without taking over. Anyway, McCloskey said:
Drawing a tree, you must think of the relationship and proportions of twigs to branches to trunk, even of the roots that you cannot see. And you must feel the balance and the thrust of this growing thing and its relationship to other trees, a rock, the ocean. Your hand is trained, of course…but your mind is ticking away like mad, racing and comparing and thinking a thousand things that no one will ever see in the picture, but the picture will be different for your having thought of it.
That’s how my mind works. That’s how I write about movies—I’m writing you the trunk but I can’t help ticking away like mad thinking context and subtext and supertext and roots and rocks and ocean and everything and (to coin a phrase) all that everything is currently everywhere all at once. This is the messy, explosive version of my McCloskey-esque urge. Honestly, I’m kind of excited to go back and shape this; how often do you get a draft this rough? (OK, I’m mid-way through my first re-shape now, and, uh…honestly, I’m not sure how this is going, but…onwards!)
Robert McCloskey is my favorite author. I’d say more, but I already did at BW/DR (from which I recently resigned after six years as a writer and four as an editor, if you didn’t know—we’ll probably get there, but who knows, I’m riding this dragon right next to you), so read that essay if you want to know about McCloskey and his work. That essay is about last year’s hypomania, and I wrote it this year. I waited a year. This is the opposite. That’s the point.
Anyway, when I am hypomanic, my mind is incredibly fertile. And, thus, I have lined up [checks notes] all of the projects (ask me about the Elvis novel I brainstormed while driving my son to preschool the other day; actually, don’t, for both our sakes). And one is the McCloskey Suite. My dear pal and creative soulmate Ryan (here’s the Pitchfork review of his 2019 self-titled LP, for which I wrote an original folk tale; you can only read it on the inside sleeve of the LP. It doesn’t exist in any other form. I typed it on a typewriter and the original is long gone. So buy a copy, it’s a cool story and an AMAZING album. It’s about Ryan’s experience battling cancer and winning.
Maybe this is my version of that album. Because man, Ryan fought his illness and he fucking won.
Sorry, getting emotional. Not the point.)
So Ryan and I have decided to create an instrumental folk album that “soundtracks” three of McCloskey’s books, as well as his segment of that TV special from the ‘60s. (Getting a little anxious revealing this, so let’s see what my good friend said when I told her about it the other day (hey, good friend)…she said, “Oh I really love that idea” with no exclamation point, which always looks a little meh over text, but I do think she meant it. So OK, it’s a good idea…I’ll take your word for it, good friend).
I’m not a musician in any way, but I do have ideas right now, so for six hours every Tuesday, we get on FaceTime, Ryan works, and I listen and give perspective. Best part of my week, hands down. Here, want an amuse-bouche? This is the first 15 seconds of the current version of the McCloskey Suite. Sorry it’s only that much, but it really isn’t ready for the air; even that much exposure feels like it risks killing the whole thing. But I wanted you to have the slightest flavor before I go on to what’s next.
It’s the kind of idea I would never have come up with if I weren’t hypomanic, and guess what? It’s coming out amazing. We’re working with this guy Odin, we have the blessing and support of McCloskey’s daughters (who feature in the books as kids, and are now old ladies I’ve never met; Sal—of Blueberries for Sal—wrote me the loveliest email this morning about the new work I sent her).
OK, we got tangled in parentheticals again. As I say, welcome to my brain. It’s not hell, but it’s probably purgatory this week. That sounds about right.
So here’s the point: if I would never have come up with the McCloskey Suite without hypomania—if this music could never have come into the world without the urges that are so tangled up in my current pain—then thank God I have bipolar disorder.
I said that in therapy today (we’re doing every day for the time being; we did two yesterday, but we’ll talk about yesterday at the end (I think) (probably) (though I’d rather not)). Thank God I have bipolar disorder, because otherwise I wouldn’t be me. And I love me. I was crying as I said it. But I only cried once in therapy today, right at the end. That’s not bad.
God, why am I doing this?
OK, let’s get to it: I was about to say “I wouldn’t have left BW/DR without this hypomania,” because everything I do right now is filtered through that, but I don’t think that’s true. It was time. I’m sure some of my old colleagues/pals are reading this right now, too. Hi, colleaguepals. To quote the great Bob Dylan in his not-great movie Eat the Document: “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done. An’ I hope to remedy it soon.”
Dylan is all hopped up on amphetamines when he says it. Honestly, that weird, shitty movie is basically amphetamines in motion. And, fun fact: hypomania is basically analogous to amphetamine use! At least that’s the conclusion I drew when they drug-tested me in the E.R. in 2011 just to be sure I wasn’t hopped up! So I’m basically Elvis himself right now! But the goofballs I’m on are built into my brain! Wild stuff!
Sorry, that was a lot of exclamation points, but guess which part we’re on? “I’m Coming Home.” So let’s just break down for a minute, OK? My doctor always says: “You can lose it without losing it.” So let’s give that a shot:
Trying hard not to think about this scene, because it’s great and it rocks and the song is so fun, but these are the words to the jaunty rock tune currently playing in my parents’ otherwise empty house:
Well, it's so very hard to have to leave the one you love
And you get more lonely with each passin’ day
It's so lonely just sittin’ there dreamin’ of
That girl a thousand miles away
Etc. But it’s more like an hour away (a little more with traffic), and it’s not the one I love, it’s the four I love.
So yeah, trying to find catharsis here while not thinking about it. Isn’t that kind of a weird thing to try? I keep telling myself, I’m Colonel Parker, this is a snowjob, this is coming out great. But honestly? I have been writing for about 40 minutes straight without stopping. It feels amazing. But let’s stop for a bit and go back. Let’s try and hone. See if we have anything here. We’re at the Milton Berle part. Let’s see where we are when I get back from revision…
OK, I lied, I revised for a bit then skipped back down here. It does feel like this is basically working. And I did feel like coming back during the "Trouble" scene. Because, man, you lookin’ for trouble? You came to the right place!
Hands are still shaking. More than before. Could be a side effect. We’re really cranking the dial on the meds; we’ve never gone this hard this fast, but as I told my doc today, after yesterday, I am done. I will take four pills, five pills, take a handful if he says it’ll make me better. I am so done with this.
Like I say, I’m sure we’ll get to yesterday. But God, I really don’t want to.
Anyway, it really is bizarre, because the past [however many weeks; time = flat circle] have been amazing! I’ve had wonderful ideas, wonderful conversations. There are things I regret (to once again quote pilled-up Bob Dylan: I’mSorryForEverythingI’veDoneAn’IHopeToRemedyItSoon), but not too many. All things considered, not too many regrets.
I had the idea for Pod Thomas Anderson while hypomanic. I did the interviews I’ve done so far while hypomanic. I made the trailer while hypomanic. I love the trailer. Other people do too. But I was hypomanic when I made it.
I’m just road-testing those words right now. Because that was the week before Thanksgiving, and I’m holding Thanksgiving in my head as the dividing line. But was that when the vibe shifted? I don’t know!
Was I hypomanic when I talked to Joe Pera, one of my favorite artists on Earth? Was I hypomanic when I signed off by saying “Everyone’s so excited to see what’s next [after your show, maybe the greatest in history, was unceremoniously canceled; do check the author name on that piece when you click-and-glance, hopefully-friendly reader]” which seemed like the natural thing to say? I’m not sure! Hypomania is tricky; it’s a fade-in and a fade-out. You really can’t find the edges without tumbling all the way back into the womb.
You know what, though? I just remembered this! I was probably hypomanic when I sent this to Joe soon after:
Hey Joe, hope you’ve seen how many people are really, really, really excited to hear you talk Paul Thomas Anderson. In the meantime, in case we never really cross paths again: when we spoke, I signed off with “everyone’s so excited to see what’s next.” What an annoying amount of pressure to put on an artist. I’m sure you do hear it a lot, but the more I thought on it that day, the more I thought that what I’d really want to hear is: “What you’ve already done has had such an impact on so many people, and that’s a rare gift.” So that’s that, happy Thanksgiving Joe, I’m thankful for you and your wonderful work.
And I was probably hypomanic when Joe replied:
Thanks Ethan, I appreciate that. And I wish I had more to say on [Paul Thomas Anderson] but I haven’t watched most of his stuff for a while.
Now I’m just quoting Joe’s private communication without his permission, though, which I shouldn’t. Sorry, Joe, if you read this (which, God, I guess you might…we’re mutuals…you hit like on my book tweets every so often…hey, Joe, did [Joe’s assistant’s name redacted] forward you that email I sent? Would love to hear your answer!)
God, people really are going to read this aren’t they? We’re already up to the Hollywood sequence (lol at this movie entirely eliding the ‘60s, but…well, pills elided the ‘60s for Elvis, so there ya go (they don’t really touch on it in the movie, but he got addicted in the army, and he was on goofballs from that point on, it didn’t start with Vegas—and it definitely didn’t start with the first tour, as this movie implies, presumably for the sake of dramatic harmony)). If we’re halfway to the end, we’re halfway to them reading it. You—the individual reader to whom I am effectively monologuing right now—will be reading this soon. But we’re at (checking, hold on) holy shit almost 3,500 words and we’re only halfway through the movie, so if you’re still here, either you love me or you’re rubbernecking. I hope it’s the former; if it’s the latter…well, I signed up for that. Hi rubberneckers. I know I’m writing this publicly. I’m doing it on purpose.
I’m talking a big game about having no regrets. I really can’t be sure. I’m trying to keep a brave face right now. I’m trying to assertively declare how OK I am. But, as they say, denial isn’t just the thing there’s enough champagne to fill! And pretending I’m OK is denial.
So fine, let’s talk about yesterday! Elvis is in that story, and we’ve wandered a bit afield.
Actually, let’s go back two nights. That was really when it started.
I’m not OK! And that’s OK!
Right. Moving on. Why don’t we stop for another proof-read session. I get the feeling this next push might be the last one. And I really want to get to the ending, because I’m increasingly realizing that is the point. So bear with me if you want to—Jesus Christ, I certainly don’t insist. There’s a reason I’m pouring today’s three hours of monologuing into Google Docs and not iMessage, Twitter DMs, and my loved ones’ ears. You all deserve better than that.
OK, deep breath. Gonna double back. I’ll probably be revising all the way up to the Vegas years, so let’s call that the deal: I’ll check back in around the time of “Suspicious Minds.”
Wait, holy shit, that’s actually going to be perfect. But I’ll tell you about it in…a while for me, like a paragraph for you.
(When things feel too dangerous to say, the preacher says around this point, sing! And what I’m doing now feels more like singing, or at least some kind of instinctive jazz. And these things do feel too dangerous to say. So, as Elvis Aaron Presley says in the last moments of the film Elvis (2022), I’ll keep singin’ a song.)
We’re actually taking a very brief pause now. Let’s all catch our breath.
Because my good friend from before, the one who told me the McCloskey Suite wasn’t a wack idea, has just agreed to look at this in a few days and tell me whether or not it’s wack. So if you’re reading these words, that means I have her seal of approval. So I feel safe.
Because, really, what I am writing here is an essay. It started as a free-write, so I’m going to let it stay that way. But I should try and get this right. There’s too much riding on today. So just know that by the time you’re reading this, it really has been considered. And know that I know that now. That takes some of the pressure off. My hands aren’t shaking anymore. Guess it wasn’t a side effect of the meds. Just a side effect of my life.
Holy shit, wait, wait…this is actually syncing up perfectly, oh my God, thank goodness my good friend could only text as long as she could…
Oh baby, get ready for a perfectly timed section break because…as Elvis is about to slur…here we go…
“I don’t see any evidence!” my doctor snapped at me yesterday during our second session. It was a phone call, and I was in the woods. I took the call out there because I didn’t want my kids to hear what I was doing, which was ranting and raving. My doctor wasn’t really snapping at me, I guess, but we’ve talked at least once a week for eleven and a half years. Moods get stirred up (as they do). “And that’s because you’re paranoid!”
“I’ve got a suspicious mind!” I roared back (and I was really roaring), fighting a profound urge to throw my seltzer at a tree. “My favorite fucking Elvis song!”
It’s unusual for us to get that worked up—we never do it, really. Or, rarely enough to be the rough equivalent of never. Then he basically told me I needed to get a grip or we were really in trouble. So I tried to get a grip. And here I am, still trying to get—and maintain—a grip.
(Seriously, unnamed good friend, since I’m addressing everyone from my publisher to Joe Pera here, I may as well address you: thank you. You may have saved my neck.)
So we have a couple of days to actually shape this. We. Me and my brain. God. What does any of this mean? My mind is going from a raging boil to, like…a high simmer now that this isn’t being published today. Fuck. OK.
So, tracking back: two nights ago, my wife went upstairs to comfort the four year old, and she was gone for about five minutes. So I did what you do in moments like that: I threw on Elvis!
And when she came down again, she made us each a cup of tea (I haven’t had a drink in just about six months, intend on keeping it that way, and thank fucking goodness right now) and she came back into the TV room and sat down. I was folding laundry and we were right smack in the middle of the ecstatic lead-up to the Louisiana Hayride.
“You do not interrupt Elvis between minutes 12 and 17!” I told her. (Remember Chloe from like 3,000 words ago? Yeah, I’d been studying her account; I knew 17 was a good one).
So I invited my wife to watch the scene with me. She said, “I’d watch the whole thing some time,” but I said, “Do you really want to watch a three-hour movie that’s essentially a horror movie?”
And she agreed that she did not, so I showed her the Hayride scene. And I started to kind of orally annotate it—“See the thing is, there just was not a phenomenon like this before!” That whole stupid line of hagiographic bullshit everyone peddles, but hey, I was jacked up by my favorite movie. And I guess I must have talked a little more, because suddenly my wife said, “You’re yelling at me.”
Now, my wife has a very loose definition of yell, but that’s another story. I was speaking with a lot of pressure, sure. But what matters is this: suddenly, something really intense settled onto me for the first time, and that was called “self-consciousness.” I. Felt. Horrible. It was like my skin was crawling with ants.
Man, I guess since I can breathe again, I’ll let myself enjoy the last act of Elvis. It’s pretty horrible stuff, but it’s also the best part. The “Polk Salad Annie” scene with the Colonel screaming about security the whole time? Honestly, how is this a real song? It rocks way too hard, it fits way too perfectly with this sequence. But then you watch the analogous scene in That’s The Way It Is, and…yeah, that is the way it was!
But I’m stalling.
The next day—yesterday—I missed the school bus. I swear—I swear to God—we always get down there at 8:35 on my bus days. But then it was 8:45, and then it was 8:50, and my son had to be at preschool at 9:00, and that day’s therapy was at 9:15 and I needed to do therapy with the baby around anyway and I don’t even know how to do kindergarten drop-off, just the bus, and fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK!
OK, actually, imagine the climax of “Polk Salad Annie” during that last paragraph. Turns out it matches perfectly. Here, I’ll give you a YouTube link that jumps right there; read that last bit again while listening to that part of the song if you want the full effect.
Because my mind was suddenly fucked. And then I’m on the phone with my wife, who’s at work for the first time since this started because I seemed to be doing so well, and she’s saying, “The bus comes at 8:32,” and my mind automatically fills in, And if you didn’t have such a broken fucking brain you’d know that.
It’s horrible to read. I know. But it’s almost Christmas (here comes Santy Claus) and when it’s almost Christmas you tell the truth, and the truth is: that is what it felt like.
So I’m panicking. I’m spinning out. And then I’m telling the kindergartener to (basically, more or less) tuck and roll and get herself into school, and I’m calling the preschool to tell them my son is going to be five minutes late—five minutes! Who gives a shit! But this is currently a world-ending problem (click the “Polk Salad Annie” ending again; we’re still there; it’s looping) and it’s so bad I can’t even remember his teacher’s name or what classroom he’s in. And then I’m home and the baby is watching 90 minutes of Paw Patrol alone and she is two but I cannot cope and I’m yelling at my therapist and I’m hanging up to call my mom and say she needs to stop what she is doing and drive the hour to my house right now because I am currently yelling at my god damn therapist and I am feeling like everyone on Earth is thinking about my broken fucking brain, everyone I have ever spoken to is thinking about it, and then some time later I’m talking to some of you, and I’m iMessaging with some of you, and I’m tweeting with some of you, and I am trying my god damn best to keep as many people as possible from knowing that I am just absolutely fucking breaking, because that’s the thing about this—I’m still ultimately me! Just a whole god damn lot of me!
‘Dem pills, as the Colonel says around this point. ‘Dem pills. Paranoid Elvis is currently pointing a gun out the door of his hotel room, and that’s me. That’s me yesterday because my mind was manufacturing ‘dem pills, and it had been for weeks by then, but now ‘dem other pills were finally starting to kick in, and that is the problem, I now have a modicum of self-awareness and that is clashing with my fucked-up impulse control.
So I am having impulses, but I’m me, my ideas don’t suck, generally speaking, so these ideas mostly seem good! And I’m acting on them, and they’re mostly working out great, and the ones that aren’t so hot I am recognizing increasingly quickly. But do you know what else I am doing?
I am sobbing in my wife’s arms, much like Elvis Aaron Presley (Austin Butler) is currently doing on my parents’ TV screen with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Priscilla ([Australian actress who’s doing a pretty decent American accent all things considered]). But unlike the Elvis/Priscilla dynamic (I’m leaving you!) it’s the Ethan/Caitlin dynamic (Why haven’t you left me!?). And she’s explaining that it’s because I’m her husband, and (apparently) her best friend (God knows why, but that’s the point; that’s my reflex right now). And she is saying she wouldn’t change a thing about me, but I am sobbing that that can’t be true because this is awful. And then -
Then she had to take the kids to the Winter Walk. We were supposed to go as a family. But now I was sitting in the guest room all day (except sneaking out to do therapy in the woods, yadda yadda, I have a suspicious mind, that whole bit) so the kids wouldn’t have to see me again for an indeterminate amount of time. I didn’t say goodbye to them, just waited to hear them leave. And then I was rushing to my closet, frantically throwing some clothes in a suitcase (with my mom’s help because my ears were ringing and my head was spinning and I could hardly think) and we were rushing out of the house like god damn thieves stealing my dumb fucking clothes so my own children wouldn’t have to see me.
As I said earlier, this is truly awful. Today is better than yesterday. But yesterday was worse than the day before that. I was cocky thinking I could post this right away (my unnamed, vibe-checking good friend will likely suggest I cut another thank you, but I reject that suggestion, good friend, because I value you too much right now). Every day is a week, like I said. Tomorrow could be the worst day yet. Remember: dance recital. I really gotta nail that.
Though by the time you’re reading this, it’s in the past. That’s a relief. Hello, person to whom I may as well be monologuing. I’m glad you’re still here. Because if you are, that means what I’m writing was worth something, even in the shape I’m in (Whoa, you don’t know the shape I’m in, to quote another musical act I’m spending a lot of time thinking about lately). And that is so…god…damn…important to me.
Because let’s finally get to it. I waited (holy shit) 5,500 words written in just about two hours to say this (we’re at the part where the Colonel is about to reel Elvis in once and for all, not much time on the clock, gotta wrap up; the exercise is still the exercise, I’m just going to finesse it for longer, and make sure it’s a good idea). I waited through all that, letting everyone who might get bored or tired of me shake off, because when I say this, I will sound like a fucking dick, and I’m glad it’s now just me and those of you who actually care.
I have written a book on Paul Thomas Anderson. I mentioned that right off the top. And as of now, it is my life’s work. Were the worst to happen all of a sudden (be that an act of god, or, in the scenario I’m frankly even more afraid of—and probably the unconscious reason for writing this at all—an extended medication haze that’s as bad as the one I was in 11 years ago after I was psychotic), this book would be my life’s work. This could be it! Who’s to say this isn’t it? I’m contracted for another book, my publisher is already explicitly open to my third idea, but I haven’t yet written another bookish word. For all I know, this…essay(?) and that PTA book could be the last two things I leave behind. Life is a daily fucking gamble for all of us, and at some point we do all lose. (Elvis thing, Vegas thing, I don’t know, I’m just trying to come to an ending before Elvis dies).
So if I do lose in some way shape or form (and I will now knock on wood with both hands, hang on…OK, I did that) and that book does end up being my life’s work…here is one of the blurbs it received. It is currently on the Columbia University Press website, and will be printed (presumably) on my book and (presumably) in a press kit, which (I am being told) will be provided to literally every great outlet that reviews books—The New Yorker! I could be (like, entirely probably am) less than a year out from a New Yorker review! Hot damn! But that is not the point.
This blurb came from a man named George Toles, who wrote the best book on PTA—he makes mine look like dogshit and that’s just the truth, Ruth—so I really, really wanted to impress him. I was so worried.
And here is what he wrote:
The Cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson is a feast of a book. With consummate clarity and inventiveness, Warren brings the films into rich, often fractious dialogue with one another. The results are extraordinarily illuminating. The entire book is infused with the kind of energy and delectable unpredictability that I associate with Anderson’s art at its best. Warren’s study shakes up conventional approaches to director-centered analysis in a fashion that will have lasting influence.
I copy-pasted that text, re-formatted it into my preferred Arial 11-point font, and now I will read it again. I’ve tried not to read it too much; I want it to stay fresh. I don’t want to know it by heart. But it’s also the only thing anchoring me.
Elvis is about to die, so this has to be it:
How am I supposed to take something like that blurb? Genuinely, I have no idea. On some level, it is a deeply fucked-up thing to read when you’re currently hypomanic and one symptom of mania is grandiosity (defined by…well, I don’t have the time or energy to look it up anywhere else, so…defined by Wikipedia as “an unrealistic sense of superiority, characterized by a sustained view of one's self as better than others, which is expressed by…overinflating one's own capability…and refers to a sense of personal uniqueness, the belief that few other people have anything in common with oneself”), so you’re forced (forced, at least by your own hyperactive self-consciousness) to insist you don’t believe it. Because you don’t! How on Earth can it be that three years ago I sent some dude (hi again, publisher; if anyone’s still here I bet it’s you) an email saying, “Book?” and then three years later someone tells me I did that? How can you read that and believe it?
So I showed an old friend—who asks not to be named when I write about him; fair enough—Toles’s blurb, and I said, “How am I supposed to live up to that?”
And he said, “But the thing is: you already did.”
Man, I don’t know. Maybe Toles is just a nice guy. Maybe you’ll read this book and think it sucks absolute ass. Some proportion of people will—probably a lot of PTA fans! I have criticisms of my favorite director! That’s legit, relax you theoretical angry nerds!—but at least some proportion could, conceivably, agree with George Toles.
It feels horrible to try and write that out. I feel like such an asshole. But I didn’t say it! Prof. Toles did! And he’s friends with Guy Maddin!...Holy shit, do you think he mentioned me to Guy Maddin?
God, OK, Elvis really is about to die, time to wrap it up.
The reason I keep reading that blurb, and the reason I am holding this until next week after all, is because I do think I’m pretty decent at my job. Better than average. That’s about as far as I will take it: I am better than the average skill level of every writer on Earth of any style and level of fame. That’s all I got, because anything else is a mania risk, and I gotta be at that dance recital. I hope I made it. By the time you read this, we’ll know. But I won’t tell you. That wasn’t the point.
The point is: I love my brain, because it got me that blurb. I can’t possibly wish I wasn’t bipolar, because then I would wish I wasn’t me. And I think I’m worth something.
I am saying this assertively to myself because right now, my mind doesn’t want to believe it. But I am worth something. My brain is worth something and maybe even a lot. And I fucking hate myself as I type these words. That’s the double truth, Ruth. I hate myself deeply for my 100 stupid things. But I feel increasingly like, with a little thought and care, this could be the smart one. I hope so. I hope reading this helped someone. Because that will mean my urge to monologue isn’t all bad.
“If the connection between Elvis’s Vegas years and the Beatles is that interesting,” I told my mom today, “I’ll just write it.”
Maybe I will sometime. Instead, I wrote this. And I do feel like some kind of fever might have broken. We’ll see. I might be ready to stop Elvisposting for a while and think about something else. I hope my brain is still working by the time you read this, at least the way I want it to. I want to keep finding my way into the flow forever. But right now, what I need is to get better. So I guess I’m done. I won’t even check the word count at this point. I will later, but right now…it would probably freak me out. But a hallmark of hypomania is hypergraphia (the urge to write and write and write) and…well, to paraphrase Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) I am a writer! Dat iss vat I doo!
I do hope someone read all of this (beyond just my good friend; hey again, good friend). Not to be dramatic, but being allowed to believe I’m still worth anything intellectually while I feel like this would be a dream come true. And here’s the thing:
Deep in my heart, there's a trembling question. Still I am sure that the answer - answer’s gonna come somehow. Out there in the dark, there's a beckoning candle (yeah!) and while I can think, while I can talk, while I can stand, while I can walk, while I can dream, please let my dream come true…
Elvis has left the building. I did it.