birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

I didn’t expect when I started this project a month ago that I’d write about writing so much. The first of these forty days coincided with the start of the spring term at UAB and at times I felt overwhelmed and wondered if I’d taken on too much. Now that it’s winding down I wish it wasn’t. There’s still a week to go, but I already miss it, which is silly. I’ve been wracking my brain, wondering what the hell I was going to write about for this prompt, which is already two days late.

I hate not turning in assignments on time and I know this isn’t a graded assignment and there is no penalty if I never turn it in at all.


I’m writing this in Heritage Hall at the University of Alabama. There is a young, twenty something student sharing the table with me. He’s playing some online game with another twenty something guy sitting two tables over and I wish to hell he would shut up. He’s very loud. “OH SHIT! I SHOULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING. HAHAHAHAHAHHA I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO THAT! OH FUCK! HAHAHAHAHAHA OH MAN! DID NOT SEE THAT COMING. OH DAMN! DUDE! AHHAHAHAHAHAHA”

I used to think I could I only write if I had a lit cigarette in the ashtray. When I quite smoking I was certain I would never be able to write again. When I paused and thought what to say next I did it while taking a drag. How could I write without that? Smoking was essential to writing.

It’s been twelve years, nine months and fourteen days since my last cigarettes and I’ve managed to write most of those 4,673 days. To be sure, most of what I’ve written has been crap, but by god, I wrote. “OH! YOU MOTHERFUCKING FAGGOT! YOU KILLED ME! I DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD DO THAT! TEACH ME HOW TO DO THAT! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”

I used to think I could only write if Kitaro’s “Dream” was playing on an endless loop in the background. Not gonna lie, some of my best stuff was written to Kitaro’s accompaniment. “YOU’RE JUST HITTING ME. WHAT KIND OF TRICK SHOT IS THAT? HOW ARE YOU BEATING ME? YOU SHIT! STOP IT. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” Kitaro was essential to writing.

But yeah, I’ve written some good shit while listening to Kitaro but I’ve written some dreck while listening to Kitaro. I’ve started things I never finished while listening to Kitaro. And none of the pieces that have made me money were written with a mile of Kitaro. “HAHAHAHAHHAHA NICE TRY ASSHOLE BUT THAT WON’T WORK THIS TIME. AHHAHAHAHAHAHA”

For fifteen years, whenever I wrote at home my cat’s head rested in the crook of my arm. Good, bad, or indifferent, Kingsford’s presence was essential to writing. Sure, I’ve written at Starbucks, without her but never at the house. I tried doing it yesterday and it was . . . well it was different. It was wrong. It felt strange. That’s why I’m here listening to this asshole “OHMYGOD YOU’RE SUCH A DICK! YOU FUCKER! FUCK YOU!” instead of at the house. I’m often mistaken for professors when I’m on campus. Being older and balder, it’s an easy mistake for these children to make. I’ve never impersonated faculty on purpose, but I’m tempted to do it now, just to tell this fuckwit to shut the hell up.

In time I was able to write without smoking. Now I don’t even think about lighting up.

I’m as apt to listen to Kitaro as not.

Some days writing is an absolute chore. I sit here typing or not typing, with or without a cat, with or without an asshole next to me. And at the end of the day all I have to show for it is wasted time.

Then there are days when my fingers fly.

Even when my hands aren’t on the keys they’re still moving. Really.

I only stop because I’m about to piss myself, and even then, it’s almost worth it to sit in soiled clothes rather than risk losing the momentum.


It’s not that smoking or Kitaro or Kingsford is essential to writing.

It’s not having a good idea is essential to writing.

It’s even that being inspired is essential to writing.

At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie,

Writing is essential to being.


Of the Essence