written December 1, 1999
So we meet again, blank white page. I thought I just got rid of you.
Well, you’re out of luck, my creative self isn’t home. No, I don’t know when he’ll be back. Could be awhile.
A week to write a story, I think as I walk home from campus after another Wednesday night Creative Writing class. Why did that sound so much easier ten minutes ago, when life was all about making the bell ring? All I need is an idea–‘but that’s the real trick,’ my internal know-it-all whispers, ‘isn’t it?’ Alright, just get something down, anything, to shut up that buzzing glare of paper.
“Hey,” I say to one of my roommates, Tom, seeing him as I walk in the backdoor. He’s stirring some noodles in a pan and sipping from a cup I don’t have the heart to tell him hasn’t been washed in weeks.
“Hey,” he replies in a monotone, taking the sauce pan from the burner, grabbing a spoon, and with both follows me into the living room. The TV blares a thirtieth retelling of Swingers, surely our house movie mascot, as I pull a pillow over the my head. “What’s up with not being here for Swingers tonight, it’s almost over. You know it’s Wednesday,” Tom scorns me from an off-kilter orange recliner. I mumble a response about flipping a coin and it landing on class for once, but I’m more concentrating on how good my eyes feel closed. Tom notices.
What’s wrong today, Eric?” Tom asks with straight-man sincerity, shoveling in a spoonful of macaroni. With the credits playing on screen he flips to MTV and is soon concentrating on the latest N’Sync video. From under the pillow I imagine him studying each twirling foot and plaintive look, to try out this weekend.
“Help me come up with some ideas for a story I have to write,” comes my muffled plea.
“Aren’t you supposed to be able to write, like, anything, being an English major and shit?” He has a point, but that title hasn’t spurred anything worthy of a Norton Anthology. Tom writes when there is a hotel-restaurant management paper due, and that’s about it. But he can be a good brainstormer.
“That doesn’t mean I’m a good English major,” I say. Oh well, it’s no use talking to Tom when he’s in the middle of TRL. I’ll talk to him when I’m not competing with Carson Daily.
Clearing away some clutter from my desk, I turn on the lamp and pull out a fresh new taunting sheet. Well, if I’m going to write it should be about something I know. Something I can tell easily.
Okay, it’s settled. It’s going to be placed in small college campus; I just can’t make it too much like mine. So I’ll change some things around, like the names and stuff. Then it will be my story. A main character will then be needed. They help the story along. A simple kid with big dreams hailing with a small town completely surrounded by corncobs. He comes to said college and doesn’t fit in at first. No, wait–what am I thinking? No one wants to hear the adventures of some hick. This story needs substance–grit–a guy from the streets with an edge that cuts into everyone he meets.
How did he get into college in the first place? Cheated on the tests, of course. Sold drugs as a, um, part-time clown to raise tuition, and banged the gay principal of this high school to get a letter of recommendation. Perfect, something for everyone. Seems like something I’d hear from around the table when we workshop someone’s past story. Yet what would he do once getting to college? Hell, if he’s making enough money to go to college with a drug racket what does he need with a diploma? Maybe it could be a story about how he doesn’t conform, no matter what wacky high jinks he–
But it isn’t what I really want to write. I like the first guy, the schmo, a lot more. He’d more real: a normal freshman experiencing life for the first time and finding it swell. Well, that part will need some work. Hopefully something that would make someone read this God-awful mess.
What I’m seeing is a tortured soul, whose only comfort–in fact any form of real communication–is a guitar he got when he was thirteen. People in his hometown asked him all the time why he didn’t play in a band, but he’d just turn around and mutter, “No one can keep up.” Actually, scratch that. He did play in a band, and had a swell–what’s with that word today?–a good time, doing it. He is an innocent, green to the–
I make a last scribble in my notebook as there’s a knock on my door. Looking up and seeing a blackness out the window I realize just how long I have been piecing this jigsaw together.
“Yeah?” I yell, going over the bits of notes before me again. Not great, but better than I thought I would have.
“You want to get some food?” comes the voice of Collinsville from the other side of the door. I don’t need to a second reason to put this assignment off, and grab my coat.
Perhaps there could have been a better distraction than cold mashed potatoes and cod nuggets, I thought, sitting in the near-by, nearly deserted dining hall, only five other students scattered amongst the tables. At least there had been one last piece of cherry pie. I take a stab into the potatoes but don’t make the effort it takes to lift it to my mouth. Collinsville joins me, lowering his own tray to the table.
“$5.67 for this feast of feasts,” he says with a half laugh, motioning to a turkey sandwich and another equally dreary pile of potatoes.
“Money from your parents well spent,” I murmur, getting a smirking grin in reply. Chewing over a nugget, I search out my bag on the floor and fish out a battered notebook with the story ideas. “Tell me what you think,” I cajole, offering the tablet. Collinsville takes it, and after a bite of sandwich begins to read over the scrawled pages.
“You’re going to write about a gay drug dealer?” he asks looking up, mildly surprised.
“No, he’s just doing it for–just no, the thing below that. Read that one. That one with the guitar.” He resumes reading, but I can’t let him go on for over a minute without asking what he thinks.
“Sounds good so far,” is what my friend tells me. Good help so far. Collinsville seems to think this statement sums it all up, making a small movement to lift his backwards cap, smoothing his hair in one motion, and returning the hat.
“Right, but I don’t know where to go with it next,” I nudge, trying to explain my dearth of creativity, “or if it’s what I want to do at all.” Collinsville swirls his potatoes at this, clearly already finished with the meal.
“Maybe this guy could be a loner, and more of a stud rocker, getting all the ladies and making the money at the same time, you know,” Collinsville unspools the cliche male daydream. “I mean, with the guitar he’s got points with girls right there, and he was popular in high school, even while being in band.”
“Sure, it could go in that direction,” I nod. I’m ready to ask the lunch ladies for their opinions. “Look, here’s where I’m coming at this guy, for some context: He was this happy-go-lucky in the old days, but then something happened to make him grow up. Now he plays in the coffee shops on Thursday nights for beer money, singing these songs no one’s every heard, about this tragedy that he can only deal with music.” I look at Collinsville for any hint of recognition about my cheesy, horrible idea.
“A chick could have dogged him,” he finally decides.
“Yeah, I was thinking along those lines.” This wrap session was, all things considered, pretty productive I tell myself, as Collinsville and I walk out of the cafeteria into the chilled November air. Maybe there is something to this story after all.
“The Crow, dude,” Tom tells me when I have a seat on the couch, just getting done telling him my new ideas. Hadn’t thought of that.
“The Crow?” I ask, suddenly considering a buying a whole new drawing board.
“You said he had this girl, right? How’s he going to get her back, singing all these songs while sipping lattes? This guy should be like the Crow, all in black, searching for the lost love of his life.”
“I think that idea’s already been taken, and safeguarded by a platoon of lawyers,” I conclude. It doesn’t matter though, because as I head to my room Tom’s voice yells after me.
“And his name was Eric too! See, it’s perfect, dude!”
That would make a better story, I have to admit. But taken all the same, like all story lines have been. That’s probably the problem–everything’s been told.
Guitar-lover in the trash, I turn to a crisp new sheet. It wouldn’t be so bad if this darn paper wasn’t laughing at me. Did it used to be this hard to write? I quickly decide it had all been much easier, once. Yes, ideas just spouting from my ears. When I was little.
A story about parents, that couldn’t be so hard. Of course the child has to hate his mom or dad. Or both. Never write a story where a kid actually gets along with family. That’s gotta be the kiss of death. But I’m not writing about me, I have to write about someone else… Someone else. How do I know what problems other people have? Hm, that’s not good. Should really revisit that when this thing’s in the bag.
What we need to do is dig up some resentment about good old Mom and Dad: didn’t give a dog for Christmas one year; they put schoolwork ahead of everything under the sun; they gave him a sister when he explicitly asked for a brother– Hey, that might be it! With the feminine ballast overriding family equilibrium, his parents screwed him up by giving him too much female exposure which resulted in being too–polite and caring? Shit.
How about the opposite, manly man story of manliness?
One thing I’ve always wanted to do was write a sci-fi thriller about civilizations not so different than our own. To create an entire world. With a valiant fighter who’s called to action. So there has be a deep flaw in the society. The hero, he sees it, but only him. Why? I don’t know, that can be figured out at the end. But I like said, he has to have something worth fighting for, that makes him give up, risk the life he knows. Love is good–what’s nobler than that? So he loves this girl, but–problem. Right, gotta have conflict. Does she love him? No, not in the beginning, because if she did then I’d have to crawl back to Guitar Moper.
Or, she is able to, wants to, but their culture looks poorly on it. It’s a future world that has nearly been suffocated by materialism and capitalism. I mean the kind of place where soldiers go to war with Pepsi logos on their sleeves, and Arby’s sponsors a show where capital punishment is carried out, with drownings in Horsey sauce. Tom would stay home from class to watch. Anyway, one single guy says, “Hey, enough of this,” and somehow the world wakes up, and suddenly everything commercial is banned for being evil. An unfortunate side-effect of this zealousness is that sex and love is banned as well, as people realize the close link between love and consumerism. The result is a society where every is performed with sterile pragmatism, devoid of anythi–
Screams come from the room directly below where I’m sitting, and although I try to ignore the common yells of two more people who live the house, Matt and his girlfriend Camille, I finally can’t take any more and decide to investigate what tonight’s ruckus can be about.
The yelling gets louder as I descend the stairs to the basement. After a bang on the door Matt opens, and I have to instantly duck a red shoe thrown from across their room. The footwear doesn’t hit me, but I really gadn’t expected to get assaulted with five-inch heels.
“Do you think you guys can keep it down tonight. I’m sure you’ll find something to fight about tomorrow, so if you could just–” Camille, sitting on the bed, begins ranting about it not being her fault, and how Matt’s family are all inbreds or something, because he got the wrong kind of dressing for the salad he bought her from the caff. I give up and head back the stairs.
It’s no use. My flow of thought is broken, I can’t get back into the sexless society story. Probably would have infringed on some copyrights anyway.
Maybe an historical piece. Something set in the Old West, about a Chinese immigrant that has to prove himself to the people of an Idaho mining town… but I don’t know anything about Idaho silver mining. All right, one more try. I have been thinking a lot about Saving Private Ryan since seeing it with Collinsville for the first time last week. Maybe I could do this piece about about a solider landing with his infantry platoon in southern Italy, and the entire story could be told through the letters he send home to his wife in the States. That way the reader knows exactly what the wife character knows. Hm, the only problem would be the heavy censorship, probably redacting all but the vowels. Well, that’s enough of that. I wonder what’s on TV.
Collinsville has taken up in the orange chair that usually has my name on it, so I take the couch again.
“Story coming along?” he asked, not taking his eyes off of VH1’s Pop-Up Video. I laugh, handing him the notebook again, saying it’d be doing great if I could get started.
“Why not just write about Western, being a student here?”
“I don’t want to do that, besides I have to pass copies out and have everyone read and critique it. I’d sit through ten minutes of silence because everyone would be bored be it, and I’d probably deserve it. But you’re right, that these daring exploits aren’t really me either, like I’m trying to write for a 1940’s serial or something.” Collinsville takes notice of a particularly interesting tidbit concerning Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.”
“You could write about Priscilla. You know, the love of your life.”
“I’m not going to write about her… and she’s not the love of my life. How can someone be if you get a message like once a year from a different school? My hands , I notice, are now nearly over my head, and I think better of it, taking a more reclined posture.
“Come on,” Collinsville laughs, throwing the notebook to me. “Every story here is about her.”
“You’re crazy” I grouse, but thumb through the pages myself.
“Think about it. The guitar-playing guy that is searching for love, this future story about I don’t even want to know–
“That one’s very philosophical.”
“–Whatever. And this army story about lovers being separated. It’s all there. Of course, there’s also the gay principal, which could also–
“Thanks, but I think I can take it from here,” I assure him, rising from the couch.
“So, are we going out tonight?” Collinsville asks, stealing a glance of insider information about Snap!’s “Rhythm is a Dancer” as I walk through the dining room to my room. “Come on Eric, come out with us to the Ritz tonight. You have to go, a bunch of the Chi Omegas will be there.”
“No, I don’t think I will tonight,” I say simply.
“Going to work on some more of your story then? Always the student, huh,” he calls after me. I return from my room with my coat.
“So you are coming with us?”
“No, I think I’m going to email someone.”