Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

A series of Octobers

For years I kept a blog that I called Deeply Shallow, or sometimes Deeplyshallow, and occasionally just DS. Some of you may even have read it; a few of you have sent me emails in the last year or so to say so, and that you're quite happy to hear that I'm still writing. I love those emails.

Deeply Shallow was anything I wanted it to be. It was a home for writing projects (dozens of early Eleanor excerpts lived there, along with many posts written purely as dialogue experiments) and rants and rhapsodies. I wrote about movies that I loved, conversations I'd overheard, trips I'd taken. The usual blog stuff. I look at it now as a decade-long example of me honing a voice that I'm still finessing. 

But DS is also a time capsule. It's offline now, but I keep its archives at a protected URL so that now and then I can crack it open and see what my past was like. That sounds funny, but I forget the details. Don't you? Sometimes I remember that I was married and divorced before Felicia and I met, and it doesn't even seem like a part of my own history. It's a piece of trivia, but not one I'm connected to anymore. I don't know where it came from. 

Sometimes I'll dip into the old blog and drag my fingers through the old posts, looking for interesting things I'd forgotten about. Today I looked at every October that the archive contained, to see what I was doing five years ago at this time, or ten, or more. The earliest October recorded was 2002, though I'd been blogging at DS for about five years already. (Many archives were lost over the years.)

This is going to be a long post. I'm sorry. 

That first surviving October, twelve years ago, I visited Portland and stayed in a bed-and-breakfast. The hostess entered my room while I was away and folded my clothes, which seemed... weird. She folded my underwear. That's weird, right? I thought so.

That same month my marriage — the one I barely remember — had begun to come apart, though I didn't know it at the time. My ex-wife had begun working a night shift, which meant that I didn't see her often. Out of sight = out of mind, as they say, and Things Happened, which I won't go into here. Those things weren't the reason for the marriage's failure; the real reason was that I'd stopped going to church that summer. I'd realized I didn't believe the same things I had before. That's sometimes a problem when your spouse still very much believes the things that you don't anymore.

On a more positive note, however, I'd gotten a raise at my job as a web designer, lifting my annual pay to, I think, about $31,000. I was very happy about this at the time, though just three months later I'd be laid off. I guess that extra thousand mattered more than my bosses had originally thought it might. 

The following October, 2003, was light. The marriage hadn't quite ended, but we were separated and living in different states. I'd moved to Washington and shacked up with my folks, who had just moved to a little town in the deep woods. It was a great place for recuperation, but that was derailed in the fall when my grandfather passed away. I just didn't have a lot of words to write that October. My heart just felt hollowed out. 

By the next October, 2004, things were better. My divorce was finalized and I was in a new relationship, but most importantly I'd moved to California, where I would one day meet my wife. (You have to strike out a lot before you hit the walk-off homer, you know.) That year was a good one for me, though, because it was the first year I'd really been alone. I settled a few months before in a small town right on the coast. It was called Morro Bay, and it was as if the Pacific Northwest had been transplanted there in central California. It was often gloomy, socked-in with fog, and drowned in rain. It was a beautiful little town, one I sometimes dream of going back to. I loved it there. I rented a very small place with an interesting sink-refrigerator-stove combination unit, and Oscar and I lived there quite contentedly for years. (Oscar is a cat who has kept me company since 1999, and still lives with Felicia and Squish and me here in Oregon.) A few years later, after Felicia and I met and dated for awhile, we would first live together in that very small place. I still don't know how we managed to get all of our things in there, but we did, and it was a very happy, very lovely beginning. 

That was also the month that I wrote a blog post about rewatching The Lost Boys and realizing that Corey Haim's character was either originally supposed to be played by a girl, or was on the verge of discovering some interesting things about his sexuality. Watch the movie again if you haven't in awhile; the clues are everywhere. 

I also mistakenly thought I was being carjacked in Santa Barbara at two in the morning. Yes, it's possible to think you're being carjacked when you aren't. Drunk people with flip phones don't look all that different from menacing strangers with handguns. It was two a.m., okay. I was tired from all the insomnia. (There was a lot of insomnia in those days. It seems to have ended when I met Felicia. She's a sorceress of the highest order.)

October, 2005, was the first year of serious struggles writing Eleanor. I'd been at it four years by then, writing and rewriting the same fifty or sixty thousand words, often starting over entirely, then resurrecting the deleted draft when the new one didn't quite click. Nine years and one day ago, I wrote this on Deeply Shallow:

Sometimes I just want to drag the folder into the recycle bin and empty it so that I can stop being disappointed in myself. 

Sometimes I want to write, and I turn off the lights the way I like to when I write, and I settle in and open the laptop and then the file marked ‘00012chaptereight.doc’ and page down to where I left off, and…

And just stare. Because it’s not time, my mind reassures me again. It will be. And another voice in my head sneers at me. Pussy, it says. Just write the damn thing. Nobody’s ever going to see it anyway.

Oh, if I could only time travel, I would tell you, nine-years-and-one-day-ago self, to just hang in there. One day, self, people will read this book, and some of them are going to like it quite a bit. 

What I wouldn't tell that previous version of myself, though, was that he still had nine years ahead of him before any of that would happen, and in the last of those nine years, he would trash the entire novel and start completely over with the same characters, but a very different story. That probably would have killed him, the poor, naive, young sap. 

The blog also has a few updates in October of 2006. That was an interesting year. I'd gotten engaged again, in January of that year, and ended the engagement just a month prior, in September. I traded in my aging Ford Expedition for a Jeep Wrangler, the newest-ish car I'd ever owned. It was a lovely bright orange, and you could judge my mood by the Jeep's condition: if the top was down, it was a great day. If it wasn't, then it wasn't. I'd been a freelance designer for a few years — moving from Washington to California and picking up a number of solo jobs showed me that I could earn a lot more money on my own. But this was the year I left the freelance life behind, and went to work for a digital design agency in San Luis Obispo. Nobody told me that the freelance life meant eviscerating tax obligations, and so I ended up eviscerated. So I returned to the workplace, and, frankly, kind of loved it. I had been working on beautiful web design projects for local wineries and bakeries; at this new job, I worked on the same kinds of projects for HP and BlackBerry and Oakley and Apple. 

That was also the year when I started dancing. As a kid, I'd gone with my grandparents to their little ranch in Leakey, Texas, a small town somewhere west of San Antonio. It wasn't far from Garner State Park, where under the stars I watched people dance to country songs on a stone floor. I'd been particularly taken by my great-uncle and great-aunt, who genuinely captivated everyone, claiming that dance floor for themselves, spinning about in their swirling denim and bolo strings. I bought the first pair of cowboy boots I'd owned since high school, and I learned how to two-step. I loved it so much I started hounding coworkers, the only people in my life who passed for friends, to join me. Sometimes they would, and usually they would swear then never to return. 

I wish that I was still in touch with those friends. Most of them I've drifted away from, as often happens when you leave your common workplace or town. The youngest of them, who were pale, freshly-graduated interns, are now almost thirty and are starting to have babies. Their lives have continued on, as has mine. I stay in touch with a couple of them. Some of them I actually miss. 

The archive of Octobers continues through 2009, and those next few years were the most important of the bunch. 2007 was a year of contrasts. The first half of the year I was scattered, still trying to figure out what kind of a person I was when I wasn't with someone else; since the end of the previous engagement, I'd lurched from one extreme to another. I'd be a social monster for a few weeks, then recoil from such obligations, and disappear into myself for a month or two. For the first half of the year, one of the high points was visiting a Starbucks near my workplace, which I did a few times a day once I began to develop a crush on one of the baristas working there. 

In the second half of the year, in late June, I finally did something about that. I've never been quick on my feet about these types of things. Felicia had already developed a persona for me, since I'd been coming to her store often. I was the "grumpy hot chocolate guy." I never ordered coffee; I don't like the stuff. Instead, hot chocolates, any time of the year. When I asked Felicia out, I did it via email, after we'd been chatting about all kinds of things for awhile. I asked if she liked baseball. She said yes. I picked her up at her store one evening to take her to a local collegiate game. She referred to our spending time together as a "hangout," while I assured her it was probably a date. The date lasted until the wee hours of the morning, and by July, Felicia decided we were dating, too. She's been my best friend ever since. 

October of 2008 was a quiet month. Felicia and I had finally begun to feel hemmed-in by the small quarters of my Morro Bay apartment, so we packed up our things and our cats, and we moved to Arroyo Grande, a little south of San Luis Obispo, where we both worked. We set one of the bedrooms in our new place, a townhouse, aside for me to write in, and I spent the last months of that year avoiding that room, and not working on Eleanor. It wouldn't be long after that the book-writing would stall, and I would start a two-year process of attempting to turn Eleanor into a graphic novel. It's funny now to look back on those days and realize that the graphic novel, as fun as it was to work on, was doomed from the start. It didn't matter what medium I used for Eleanor; her story wasn't right, and wouldn't be for another five years. But don't tell 2008 me that. 

2009's October is light as well, though by then I was blogging less anyway. Instead, I was spending most of my free time working on freelance design projects, stashing away money for a wedding. Felicia's and my wedding, actually, since the month before I'd asked her to marry me. I did that on a pier that stretched out over the ocean, and I looked so serious that Felicia could tell something was going on. We walked along the pier and stopped, and I prepared to drop to one knee, but then I noticed a stinky trash can, probably stuffed with fish guts and rotting bait, and I moved us along a little farther. Felicia mentioned my seriousness, and asked if I'd done something wrong. "Did you kill a cop or something?" she asked me. That was my moment, so I struck, and managed not to fumble the ring into the ocean before slipping it on her finger. 

The archives bleed dry after that, not only of any more Octobers, but of any new content at all. I posted a few more times, but by 2011, Deeply Shallow was fairly dead. I'd devoted my attention to the graphic novel, which had its own web site, and I blogged haphazardly there each time I published a new page. Soon after, I shuttered DS, and moved the archives to the private repository I mentioned before. 

It's October right now, though, for another day or two, and it goes without saying that this October is one my younger self would have been greatly relieved to know was on the horizon. Shortly after the month began, Eleanor was plucked from the fray by a publisher, Crown, who will bring it out in the U.S. sometime in 2016. As if that wasn't enough, HarperCollins did the same for the UK, and Editora Rocco followed suit for Brazil. Somewhere in there, a film agent entered the picture, and now the book is making rounds among people whose names I've traditionally seen projected on giant screens in dark theatres. Even if nothing else happens for Eleanor, ever, it's been an unbelievable few weeks. And I'm grateful every single day that my younger self didn't experience this. He would have made tragically bad decisions, shot himself in the foot enough times that his foot would be dangling by gristle, and the me of today would be hobbling around, footless, regretting my past fortune. 

This month, as well, we invited my mother-in-law to move in with us, so our little home of three is now one of four. I'm the doesn't-belong-in-this-picture one; the other three represent three generations of women, all of whom are remarkably similar: independent, talented, beautiful, small. I'm happy to know them all; they make my life what it is. Maybe Joss Whedon will decide to direct an adaptation of Eleanor. If that happens, these three women will be happy for me, and then they'll tell me to take my shoes off before I walk on the carpet. Probably all three of them at the same time. 

I like where my life is at right now. Twelve years after the earliest October in the Deeply Shallow archive, I'm where I was then: gray, wet Portland. I'm still figuring out what I really think about the city; after two years it's still a bit of a mystery to me, and largely still seems to regard me as a splinter it could push out. But my house is filled with the sounds of a beautiful little girl grunting, "I'm a greeeen zom-bieeeee. I eat your braaaains." That tops just about everything else. 

It will probably take you until next October to finish reading this post. I'm sorry! Perhaps by the following October you'll forgive me. 

OryCon 36

Away and back again