Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pain and Writing

The next morning, I woke up in such pain that I thought someone—of course, the first person my brain conjured up was The Stalker—had come in during the night and beaten my legs with a baseball bat. I sat up with more cursing than usual when my alarm went off at eight, tumbled out of bed—thus putting myself in more pain—and flailed around with my arms until hitting the right combination of buttons on my computer to turn off the alarm.
I then sat there, sprawled out on the floor, wondering a variety of things ranging from why I’d chosen to put myself in so much pain to whether I’d ever solve my crippling emotional problems to where those crippling emotional problems came from, and eventually hit on the realization that I didn’t have crippling emotional problems, and was just looking for a reason to avoid getting up and showering.
Once you hit upon the source of your, ah, ills?—does that make sense, readers? I’m going to assume it does—then the day starts getting a lot easier to bear. In this case, realizing that I just wanted to sleep instead of getting up, running through lines, and then facing the hellish task I’d chosen for myself made it a lot easier to accept all of the above. Still, it took me another twenty minutes of laying there listening to the Chinese run around and shout in the foyer to actually get up and shower.

After finishing cleaning myself in the closet that doubled as my shower,  I ran through the lines of the first few scenes, working on a few ways to say each word in the script and then eventually deciding just to go at it like I was Zero Mostel and Chaim Topol combined into one big uber-Jew.
Then my alarm went off on my computer. It was 11:15, and I had to leave. My destination was in town, Coffee and Corks. I hopped on the bus outside Woolf a couple of minutes later and was hit with a text from The Writer. The exchange is as follows:

The Writer (11:21): Where are you?
Me (11:21): On the way. Why?
The Writer (11:22): We need to get started...
Me (11:22): I’ve got twenty minutes. Relax.
The Writer (11:22): Don’t tell me to relax, you bastard. Do you want to keep The Muse waiting? The Muse waits for no one.
Me (11:24): What?
The Writer (11:30): Where are you?
Me (11: 32): About to kick your goddam ass if you don’t stop texting me.
The Writer (11:40): Where are you?

At that point, I walked into the dimly lit ambiance of Coffee and Corks. I looked around and saw The Writer sitting in the lotus position on the floor to the right of the entrance. He wore a odd-colored button-up, jacket, and—new for today—khakis. He looked furious, face scrunched up like a demon in a Japanese Buddhist sculpture. He bent over, clutching his phone and furiously having at the keyboard. I could either head right over to him, or go up to the counter and grab a coffee first.
I chose the latter.
The nearly impossibly attractive woman—the pale one with curly red hair—was working. She sat behind the counter, distractedly tapping at a laptop. The music over the speakers cycled rapidly through Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love album. I walked up. “Guh,”  I said. I cleared my throat, tried to get it across that, in any—literally any—other time or place, I would have been impossibly suave and possibly pulled off a, “Hey, there,” but, for whatever reason, I couldn’t this time and oh God she wasn’t even looking at me when I said “guh.” Thank Christ.
“Heya,” she said.
“Hey. Er, americano?”
“Sure.” She walked over to the machine pressed a few buttons and put a large mug under the sprocket thingies, came back, and I paid. “Well,” I said, “have a good one.”
“You too,” she said, smiling and going back to her laptop.
I sighed, picked up the americano and walked over to The Writer.
He was still furiously typing at the keypad. My phone buzzed, he looked up and said, “Oh, so glad you found the time to get a fucking coffee.”
“By all rights,” I said, “I should throw this in your face. However, as it was one pound fifty and I’m naught but a poor, starving grad student, I’ll have to accept saying: knock knock.”
The Writer sighed. “No.”
“Go fuck yourself,” I responded, laying my coffee down—ever so gently—on the floor next to the carpet in front of The Writer. I pulled up a bean bag from the wall, put my messenger bag on the floor and sat down.
“You might consider sitting in the lotus position,” said The Writer. “It would help you with concentration.”
“I’ve got my own position I like to use,” I said.
“Yeah. You know Indian Style?”
He rolled his eyes and pulled a Moleskine notebook out of his left jacket pocket and a lacquered black ink pen from his right inside pocket.
“You ever worry that thing’s going to burst in your jacket?” I asked.
He cocked an eyebrow. “Now, if we may begin. Please take out your notebook.”
I took out my laptop.
“Wait,” said The Writer.
I paused in the middle of taking it out and opening the monitor. “Yes?”
“You don’t have a notebook?” he asked.
“No, I have a laptop. I can type much faster than I can scrawl.”
“But you’re not writing. You’re typing. You came to me for suggestions on how to write. If you had wanted help with your typing, or keying, skills, then I could have given you my typing instructor’s e-mail from high school.”
I sighed. “Don’t turn this into a production. The ideas are the same. You’re just putting them down in a different way than I am. Do you think Kerouac could have written On The Road if he’d been writing it?”
The Writer snorted. “Don’t mention that post-modern charlatan to me. The man had as little skill as he had brain cells. Beat generation my fatigued ass.”
“Whatever, man. Look, I just came to you to get your—”
“Shh,” The Writer said, holding up a single finger in the air.
He shook his head, keeping the finger in the air.
Time passed. Patrons of Coffee and Corks eventually stopped talking and decided to look at the pair of imbeciles—one sitting really weirdly, and the other sitting like he was in kindergarten—and stared at us. A hush only permeated by the soft strands of Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” wafting out of the wall-mounted speakers filled the air. Outside, the sounds of Italian language school students parading down the King’s Mile seeped in. I stared at The Writer, trying to figure out just what the hell he was doing.
He took deep, measured breaths. Not a damn muscle moved aside from his torso, barely expanding with the movement of his lungs.
Off to the back of the room, coming out of the toilets, came Graham. He wore his usual bizarre quasi-artist motif outfit of a black fedora, ratty black jacket, old jeans, and black-painted nails. He held a bottle of Black Sheep Ale. “Why’s everyone gone fucking quiet?” he asked. “Did someone fucking die or something?”
The Writer, then, broke out of his trance with a small smile on his face. “Now,” he said, “we can write.” He opened the Moleskine to a page that was half-full, and started writing.
Conversation slowly resumed. I shook my head. “What? No, I just want to see whether or not I should come up with an outline for a story or go at it with, er, well, no-mind.”
The Writer cleared his throat, tapped the pages, and continued writing.
“Fuckhead,” I muttered.
I opened Word on my laptop as conversation hit the levels it was at before the silence. Across from me, The Writer hurriedly scrawled into the Moleskine. I, much more disinterested than he was in the exercise, disinterestedly tapped the keys and then started typing “All work and no play makes The Narrator a dull boy” in various typefaces and formats. Before I got bored with that—half an hour later—I’d constructed a document consisting of 7,000 words. It could have been passed off as a brilliant post-modern surrealist work, I’m sure. I made a mental note to submit it to the Paris Review and then opened up the Mac version of Risk and started playing.
The Writer was struggling with something, I could tell. He was grunting, groaning and making clicking noises with his tongue. I glanced at his notebook and saw that he hadn’t finished the page he’d started on. It was now an hour since we—well, he—started working on his story. I thought about the possible reasons it took him so long to actually get going writing, and then decided that thinking about it wasn’t worth my time, but playing Risk was. So I went back to playing Risk.
Soon after I decided that, The Writer’s phone alarm made a horrible screeching sound—called “The Wilhelm Scream”—and he gently placed the pen back in his jacket, turned off the phone, and said, “Well. I must say that was one of my most prolific writing sessions this year.”
I cocked an eyebrow.
“How about you?” he asked. “Let’s trade notes.”
I shrugged and passed my computer over to him. He passed the Moleskine over to me.
This is what he’d written:

For every summer after that, I thought about the smell of lavender shampoo I smelled on her hair. Summer became lavender season, and lavender was summer. More than that, lavender was Helen. Helen was summer. Every May, I’d be entering Helen, much like I had that July afternoon.

And that was it. The son of a bitch had taken a damn hour to write a paragraph consisting of wannabe-Hemingway sentences about a girl the character had fucked. I grunted. I could write a goddamn sci-fi story filled with explosions and aliens in a damn hour. The schmuck.
I sighed.
“Well?” he asked.
“Needs more spaceships.”
He grunted and snatched my laptop from me. I winced. This thing was my link to, well, everything in life. I didn’t like for it to be rough-housed in such a way—considering once I lightly tapped the case near the keyboard, and the casing splintered, requiring a patchwork repair job consisting of duct tape, there was precedent for my wariness—and saw it shattering into dozens of pieces while I stood bye, helpess.
The Writer scrolled through the document. His face slowly evolved from a critically interested look to one of despair as he progressed through the pages. “Narrator?”
“Hmm?” I asked. My attention had wandered and I looked outside at a group of French kids fighting over a pasty.
“What is all of this?”
“That’s my story.”
“This isn’t a story.”
“I don’t think you appreciate contemporary writing. The traditional bounds of the narrative form—i.e., paragraphs, sentences, dialogue, etc.—are too constraining for individuals such as we. Do you agree?”
The Writer clenched his jaw. “You know very well I cannot disagree with you without seeming to make myself look like an ass.”
“You could just say, ‘Touche.’”
“I try to avoid the parlance of the Internet whenever possible, thank you. I would love to say that you are a pompous charlatan, but no doubt, you have an answer prepared for that contingency.”
I didn’t, but now I did. “If you were to say that, I’m sure I would be offended by your lack of confidence in my ability to articulate the stifling, crushing hell of the modern world. Surely, sir, you wouldn’t dream of saying that by repeating the same thing over and over again, ad infinitum, that I was trying to waste time while you took a goddamn half hour to write one paragraph.”
The Writer nodded. “Very well.” He stood up, putting his Moleskine in his satchel, and made to leave.
“Woah,” I said. “Hold on. You haven’t answered my question. How do I start this thing? How do I start writing?”
“What? The skilled writer who created a 7,000 word masterpiece in the space of thirty minutes, on the subject of the inherent madness of our post-modern, materialist society—this writer? This writer needs help from me, a person who clings to past narrative mores like a classicist to marble sculptures? Why, sir, if I did not know any better, I would assume that you were mocking me.” And with that, he drank the remainder of his tea, and walked out of the building.
I groaned. I looked back at my notebook scrawled with notes and decided I’d go the route that made the most sense: Get drunk and see what popped out.

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