Today we have a guest blog from author Tes Mekonnen. Here, Tes shares with us his experiences of self-publishing his book, Happyland: A Modern Fairytale in two parts and how his own experiences influenced the story. You can check out my review of the original book here, download a FREE copy of the new Children’s Edition here, and see our recent Q&A post for your chance to win a signed copy (and other fabulous bookish goodies) of your own. Enjoy!
I dropped out of Western Washington University and the face of the earth for a couple years—trying to locate a dream or a vocation that involved the passions. In 2010, I found a passion in writing and decided I want to be a writer. I gave school (WWU) another attempt. Happyland was birthed out of writing prompt for a summer creative writing class. I allowed my creativity to reign freely. I realized I could take chances with my writing. I was from the Bob Dylan school of thought, but I quickly realized what you could get away with in song—you cannot get away in storytelling. Bob Dylan is a bona fide leg jerker, but he was and is still my biggest influence.
Happyland was terribly rough, but I had a decent framework for what Happyland would eventually become. I wish that confidence existed then. I was naïve, aloof and awkward. I was ashamed of my life so much that I would prefer to write make-believe. I was at a peculiar stage. I had this deep insecurity where I would be found out…like I am not a real writer. It took awhile to learn that all my peers are not better than me and I’m no better than them—this is, of course, all in retrospect. Since I’ve come to America, I’ve been regurgitating the same sad story of my upbringing and I was always ashamed. Family flees a war-torn country. Family settles in a refugee camp. Family moves to America. American dream never realized. I doggedly avoided writing about my life because of my insecurity. Minorities are relegated to either writing for minorities or writing about their minority experience—that is what I truly believed. I don’t know why I was ashamed of my past. Non-fiction was too real for me. Ridiculous to sublime is a mere step. I was sublimely ridiculous.
Happyland was my way of trying to define the world we live in and talking about profound themes—without exposing myself. The protagonist of my book is just trying to get to a place, Happyland. I wrote something that is relevant to all, happiness, and how one tries to get to that particular place—or feeling. For the most part, I got great feedback. I regret not participating in my own life. I let my awkward nature, my introversion and indecisiveness ruin the whole of my college experience. I didn’t think much of it. Summer ended. Life continued.
“I joined the War on Drugs, but I was on both sides—I was like a triple-agent—deceiving myself whilst deceiving others from a drug that deceived me. Is that a triple agent?
-Tes Mekonnen – The Book of Teezus: Thus Spoke Me”
Fall came and that is when I started falling into this rabid rabbit hole. I had this addiction to absorb as much knowledge as I could because I felt I was too behind. I wasn’t taught anything. I was the first one to graduate from high school (in my family) and I just dropped the ball every time life passed it to me. I found my mission: to be a Penguin Deluxe Edition writer.
I ate the books with relish. Reading and reading and reading. Tolstoy, Kafka, Carroll, Camus, Dostoevsky, Joyce, and a little bit of Hemmingway. Then I found these magic pills, Adderall, and it allowed me to just read and read and read. I got silly and became addicted to these pills and it rattled my mind. The logic is batshit: a man gets addicted to a drug because he was addicted to acquiring knowledge to become a literary giant—or a literary tall person. I’m from where you throw a book at somebody and they throw it back at you and say: “What the fuck is a book?” Folks say reading is fundamental, but they call you weird when you read too much.
I don’t how this love of reading came to be. I hated reading when I was younger. I wasn’t precocious. I abhorred reading. My summation of a book would be re-wording the blurbs. I literally would re-write online summaries. I would do everything to avoid reading the book. Here is the deepness of my reading abhorrence—an excerpt from an unfinished manuscript about my life:
“The middle school teacher was Mr. Mighty Quinn and he always wore tight, colorful collared shirts tucked into his tighty-whities. He always folded his hands across his chest. He dug his hands into the pits of his arms—the pits of that damp hell and he would, on the sly, take a sniff (slyness is questionable because I noticed). He required current events to be completed weekly. We would read physical newspapers and pluck a story and detail the who, what, when, where, why and the how. (W.W.W.W.W.H.). I was so serious and a morbid, husky fella with white Tommy Hilfiger shoes and my little boy blues. I always turned to the obituaries and every week I picked a death and wrote the 5 w’s and 1 h. The teacher never noticed because he didn’t grade the current events; he delegated that duty to his T.A. And the T.A. asked: “Tes, why do you always use the obituary for the current events?” And I laughed because death was funny, or how death was being used, “Death is easy, pal.” I never call my peers pal, but I ‘member I utilized the use of the word pal and Death was easy to write about because I didn’t have to read a rather longish article—obituaries are written quick and easy with a stiff formality…The summation of one’s life is wrapped up in less than a ton of words (push the button and wrap it up, eh?).”
I wasn’t a serious boy. I did not want to read. Suddenly, all I had were these authors. I remembering reading The Metamorphosis and crying, realizing I was closer to Kafka because I had a brother-in-arms who just vied for his father’s attention. I felt like I had nobody. Books came to town and they stayed long enough give me a dream worth pursuing. This escapism is not healthy. Then I went back to Happyland. I began bending my mind and started writing feverishly. I took a little, cute story that was initially 3,000 words and blew it up to 55-60,000 words of chaotic madness. It was a man writing—scribbling and scribbling fanatically with no end in sight. I was becoming Joe Gould without the recognition. I took Happyland and absolutely morally bankrupted it. I didn’t sleep. I popped pills. I read and tried to write. A man needs to sleep. All that took a backseat. The addiction was the driving force and it wrecked me. My mind was constantly whirring. Here is the thing: you cannot sleep because of the drug, so you pop another pill to stave off sleep, but your exhausted in a jittery way. Hell. Bipedal zombie with a book glued to his hands. I could no longer balance school and my addiction.
I dropped out of school again. Twice dropped out, I was utterly lost and drugged up. Nobody knew. Maybe they did. My mind was turning to mashed potatoes. A madman scribbling his life away and staying artificially awake by amphetamines. Adderall is just a “clean” a sort of drug. How was I still able to afford my addiction? I was a professional pill-popper like I am a professional human being. I procured an interview with a legitimate therapist and convinced him that I daydream of a different life when reading books and canst afford to pay attention. I fooled an old man into believing I couldn’t focus. Then you get a prescription and now you have access to your addiction every 30 days. You take your prescription, fold it, and tuck it in your pocket. You try to moderate your usage, but moderation doesn’t exist when you’re hungry all the time. 90 pills (20 mg a pill) were to last 30 days and that seems like a bounty. But then you binge and have to wait for a couple of weeks, but you cant wait, so you change the date on the prescription and that little victory leaves you behind and then you call your dealer to grab some to tide you over. This was the hell I created for myself. The sheer amount I was using…I am amazed my heart didn’t explode.
Chapter 6 of Happyland explains the lonely madness that I imprisoned myself in. Here is an excerpt:
“He lives alone with his books and his thoughts—and thoughts shape the world. Every thought is less—even if it is thoughtful.
Ascending, he walks candidly to his writing desk in order to retrieve his golden pen—the sword that makes men immortal—or posthumous. Adolfo Dumfries is a lonesome, lonelysum writer. He only sits at his writing desk and writes—and writes. He writes about life as opposed to living life. His name has become his nom de plume or his nom de plume has become his name.
Adolfo Dumfries stares at himself in the life- size looking glass. He reflects on his reflection,
“I am a writer and writers are martyrs.”
Writers sacrifice their life for words—for words can encompass the world. He moves himself nigh the window. His big, disenchanted and jaundiced eyes translate the blackishpurplish- bluishghoulish bruised night. He is lulled by the lyricism of the lyrical evening wind. Adolfo Dumfries has forgotten the outside world and never leaves his darkdankdimlylit Ivory Tower. Life has no meaning when you are all alone. Heaven is other people. *
Adolfo Dumfries reads and reads and writes and writes. He reads to write and writes to read.
He always wanted to become a writer. He told his family and friends that he is a writer—before he even wrote anything. He told everyone that he will only write one book and that book was only an idea at the time. “I deal only in the ideal. My book shall be a master’s peace. All I have to offer to the world is one book.” He said to a vanity mirror. Every mirror is a vanity mirror to a vain person. He has been writing that book since he began writing—all his life is in that first and last book. He left everyone to finish that said book bethecause he wanted to show everybody that he is a writer.
He felt ashamed that he told everyone he is a writer and his idea of a book was a masterpiece. He was ashamed bethecause they kept asking him if he was done with his book and he was never done. He regretted telling anyone that he was even writing a book. Adolfo Dumfries abandoned his family and friends—he even abandoned the love of his life. He promised he would come back to her once his masterpiece was complete. He has forgotten how long he has been gone. He has no sense of time—he is timeless. He must write a book that is a masterpiece to validate abandoning everything he loved. He even abandoned the idea that was his original book. Adolfo Dumfries never finished that book bethecause he never started The Book of Life.
He no longer enjoys writing. He sits and thinks—his head impregnated with thoughts—his head has become pregnant (a gravid grave).
He blames the world for not completing a masterpiece (his magnum hopus). Adolfo Dumfries scratches his throat like a misanthrope. He has become immoral and disillusioned bethecause he no longer owns his owned thoughts. He passionately hates life and hates everything with a passion.
Adolfo Dumfries no longer wants to write and wants to leave the Ivory Tower.”
It is never enough when you’re always hungry. Addiction is always being hungry. You can’t sleep, so you swallow another pill and you don’t even need to gild the pill—you don’t need water because you’re salivating and you just keep popping them. You’re taking 300 mg in one day and you haven’t slept for 4, 5 days and your jaundiced eyes protrude. It is all very, verily disgusting. Your mind is flaming and your brain is absolute pandemonium. I finally tried committing suicide to end this little hell I created for myself. Luckily, that was a failure. Subsequently, I had a terrible and colossal breakdown.
I quit the drugging. And things came back slowly. I shook the drug because it wasn’t the drug—it was this crazy ideal of a writer I had. When I let go of the idea of becoming this extraordinary writer, I went cold turkey. Crisis line. Family. Therapist. My therapist…my savior. I wanted everything to happen swift-like before. I had this crazy idea I was going to be the best writer and I quit that. I couldn’t even handle life. Writing was the least of my concern. Life was becoming a drag and the emptiness was daunting. I thought I broke my mind, but I was finally able to get back. I am so lucky that I got the proper help.
With some semblance of clarity and drug-free mind, I picked up the manuscript of Happyland and I was absolutely disgusted. I couldn’t even understand what was written. It was incomprehensible and can only be described as gobbledygook. I tossed the whole manuscript and just shook my head. I deleted everything that I wrote. I couldn’t even extract anything from this heap of nonsensical junk. I almost lost the entirety of my mind. Ugh! What a sad, lame joke. Flushed of that temporary hell, I still went back to writing. Gluttony for agony. That is why I have an ambivalent attachment to Happyland. My terrible addiction made a straight-up mess of the story. I really took a decent story and destroyed it. I had finally gained some objectivity. With clarity, emptiness was I. I had nothing, but my writing. The irony is what destroyed me is what saved me. I had to justify my life somehow and I started slowly writing in a cheap journal. I finally completed Happyland.
If you enjoyed Tes’ piece, be sure to check out his website and our Q&A post for further reading. And how could you resist entering our bookish giveaway? Find out more and enter here!
Collaborative post with Tesfahiwet Mekonnen- if you liked this, be sure to check out my other bookish posts too. Thanks for reading!