Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Is this fiction? I was supposed to write fiction.

I'm supposed to be writing a short story right now. At least, that's what I agreed to. I was sitting here, idly munching on a slide of provolone cheese and drinking a strawberry Fanta when some miserable harpy of guilt and responsibility alighted upon my window sill.

TAP TAP went the sound of her gnarled beak on my window.

"Nooooo, no no, I'm not going to let you in," I said aloud to an empty room. This is, believe it or not, not uncommon behavior for me. So you're just going to have to roll with it.

TAP TAP was the (predictable) response.

I knew the game here. If I was to acknowledge the tapping, I would get all sorts of disapproval. You see, I like to make intimations that I'm some sort of writer. Hell, for a while there, I was even acting like one. With drafts and novels and career plans and all that happy crappy.

But lately, man. Let's just say that the guilt thing would be both well-placed and sorely unappreciated.

"Go away! I'm on vacation. I don't want any. No solicitation. It's on the sign!" In truth I have no such sign, but surely solicitation so early in the morning by something so horrible is never a welcome thing. And even if I DID have said sign, I'm pretty sure the harpy would have happily ignored the proclamation of my disinterest. Besides, bird-things don't read, to the best of my knowledge.


I waited patiently several minutes for the tapping to stop. Maybe if I ignored it, it would go away and torment some other poor soul who was much more deserving of its nightmarish dedication to upholding idealistic dreams than I. Someone who had woken up sometime normal. I have been awake since 3 PM the previous day. Not a huge amount of time, I'm not ready to hallucinate yet, but it's been a long day and the last thing I need is a mental trip down self-loathing avenue. I do enough of that on my own.

I'm a conveniently long-sleeved shirt and a bad dye job away from being the emo poster boy of reluctant artists everywhere.

With better taste in music, though.

I was just getting ready to settle back into my drink, maybe check webcomics or the daily woot deal, when suddenly there was a single, resonant TAP. Clear. Declarative. Firm. This was no request for idle entry. This was a command. A seige in a sound. An order in an onomatopoeia. An anguished attempt at alliteration.

All these things, and more. I was compelled!

Idly, I opened the window. There was the accursed Harpy! I will spare you the labored description of such things, but I will tell you if you had been there to see the shrieking, gesticulating, emphatic menacee, you too would be reaching deep down into your bag of adjectives and finding that there was nothing that properly reflected the horror that you felt.

"Good morning," I ventured idly. A strong sense of apathy is just the thing to defeat those who would try to influence you emotionally. Especially when they're prodding your sensitive bits. No, no, not those sensitive bits. The sensitive bits of the psyche. No, the ones left of those. Yep, you got it.

"WHAT THE FUCK?!" This was an unhappy Harpy.

"That's a terrible way to greet someone," I replied. Because, protip: beginning a conversation with anything including the word fuck? Bad form. Bad form indeed.

"You really should be writing," the Harpy began without a moment's hesitation. It's a single-minded beast, sent only to prey upon my deepest neuroses. I can respect that kind of dedication.

"Look," I began, holding up a hand to cut it off before it really began a tirade. "I'm on vacation. Work was really busy, and I typed my hands into uselessness and pain, and I took some days off in order to recover and shit. I don't need you showing up in the eleventh hour and trying to get me to pick up the yoke of your literary oppression all over again. Remember what happened with the script? I remember. I'll always remember."

Cue the thousand yard stare. If I had a soundtrack, there would be an overlay of furious typing drifting away into swearing. The sound of glass shattering. Paper burning. Maybe an explosion for good measure. Why half-ass it, right?

"That was like ... months ago. When are you going to grow a pair and act like you know what the hell you're doing?"

"That's just it. I don't. I can't get started and it's all crap and I hate myself and I hate life. Leave me alone! I was on vacation. Vacay. Last day. Does that mean nothing to you? Do you have to violate this last sacred bastion of my blissfully empty existance?"

The Harpy arched one skeptical, sculpted eyebrow. "Blissful, huh? You don't seem very blissful to me."


"Real mature, dude. Listen, you should write."

"Last day. No bueno. DO. NOT. WANT. Were you not listening, or do I have to break it down a little further? Kiss my ass, and don't let the balls hit you in the face on the way down."

"Colorful. Maybe you should be putting your snark to good use and ... y'know, maybe put out some fiction. You are supposed to be a writer."

"I don't know who you've been talking to, but those are lies. Foul, foul lies. I never claimed anything of the sort."

"I really don't want to point to your blog, or your twitter bio, or your facebook, or anything like that. But I will if you insist on being stubborn like this."

It was at this point that the harpy had a point. And also when I realized that I'd probably never get to properly finish my dinner of cheese and fruit soda. So I bit the bullet.

"Vacation. I'm supposed to be R&Ring."

"That's not a verb," the Harpy offered.

"Who's the writer here?"

"Technically, I am. You claim to be, but I don't see it." Ooooh. Burn. This Harpy was a real Witch-with-a-B.

"What the fuck? That's ice cold."

"Hey, I call it like I see it. You're supposed to be all rockin' the world with your books and shit, but you haven't filled out a postit note in months."

"But ... last day ... vacation."

"C'mon, you can do better than that. What better time to write than when you have nothing better to do? What else were you gonna do? Watch TV? Surf the internet? Tweet a bunch?"

"Those all sound like pretty good options to me."

The Harpy rolled its beady little eyes. "Do yourself a favor, write something. Anything. It'll help get you started. A short story, even. Nothing serious. Just something. Be a writer. Pretend for a little while. Maybe you'll surprise yourself."

"If I do this, will you leave me the hell alone?"

"No, but I might stop bothering you for a little while."

"You're a real dick, you know that?"

The Harpy climbed back up to the window. "Aren't all Harpies female or something?"

"Hey, I don't know. You're the Harpy, you tell me."

"I think this metaphor's been stretched far enough. Good luck, kid, you'll need it." And then, cackling at the trauma it had just inflicted upon me, the wretched beast flew off. I was alone. With a sudden, reawakened sense of my own responsibility as a one-time writer and oft-time proponent of doing something with my life.

So I pulled up google docs. There were the two novels to be edited. That was right out. In my prime I couldn't wrap my head around editing. If I was a race horse right now, I'd be part glue. No way I'm ready for that.

Then there's the crazy short story project Miss Ditty roped me into. Nope, that's not going to work. That's all like ... concept stuff. I can barely type a sentence without descending into madness. How would I ever work on something like that?

I tried in vain to write something new. Something relevant and witty and gripping in the way that good fiction gets. I got as far as some interesting first sentences such as "When the barista disturbed Teresa he got a faceful of 'fuck you'" and "When the electricity in my part of the state finally went out, I could have sworn I still heard a TV putting out the distinct electrical hum associated with being on but not displaying a picture."

These were not great opening salvos in the war against the rusted gears of this creaky word-weaver.

Instead, I contemplated doing nothing. The Harpy was gone. She would not return today, and I could ignore her for a little while longer. Why do today what you can put off until whenever, or whatever. I could carry on as before without anyone to answer to but myself.

But for a moment, a voice spoke up. "Dude, could you really live with yourself if you took this moment, when you literally have no excuse, and gave up without even really giving it a try?"

And I stared really hard at my computer screen, and I answered that little voice. "Dude, no. You're right. Let's DO THIS!"

And so I thought for a minute, and decided to let the muses decide. I pulled up blogger, I clicked on New Post, and I typed the opening line:

I'm supposed to be writing a short story right now.

My Strawberry Fanta is probably flat. That's okay. I have some more in the fridge.


Dan said...

As long as you don't frequently get visits from she-monsters from Greek myth, this counts as fiction.

More than that, it's good fiction, which we all know is the hardest kind to create.

ditty said...

I hope, sir, that you are not implying that I am said harpy. Because you would be in for a world of pain. A WORLD!

Dan Holloway said...

Matt, I found you on twitter after searching on Murakami. This story is absolutely fantastic - the voice is incredible.

I'm part of a writers collective Do go and check our site and get in touch with Oli Johns, who writes in a really similar style, and does fantastic satirical film reviews for a magazine he hands out on the streets of Hong Kong - I'm sure he'd love to have you write something for it.