In 1952 Ian Fleming bought a gold-plated typewriter. According to a letter he wrote to his wife – with the typewriter, right after he bought it – the machine typed “in two colors” and also had “magic margins,” a feature new to typewriters at the time, and one he was having a hard time making useful to himself.
Back then this “golden typewriter” cost $174, so today it would probably set Fleming back anywhere from $1,570 to $8,810. (Re the disparity between these figures, don’t look at me: the website Measuring Worth gave me these and whole bunch of other numbers in between.)
The impetus behind buying this expensive, gold-plated typewriter was to reward himself for completing the manuscript of Casino Royale, the first of his twelve James Bond novels.
That’s right: for merely finishing the book he rewarded himself. With a golden typewriter.
As I pondered Ian Fleming’s golden typewriter and the reason he bought it I thought to myself, This is not a man who would ever need a life coach.
Before I could start pondering my own future endeavors it occurred to me that Citizen Jim had not pounded on my door, rung my phone, or tapped on any of the windows in my house on this morning. It made me sit up straight and swivel my head around in all directions, somewhat concerned. I muted Philip Glass on my iPod, trying to train my ear for strange sounds in the crawlspace above the kitchen or upon the roof itself.
It could be that he was, at the very moment I wondered where he might be, wearing a SCUBA mask on his face to cover his eyes as he moved aside more and more earth with his hands, tunneling under my neighborhood to make a dramatic entrance through the bathroom floor, maybe right under the desk where I sat.
What if he tunneled in the wrong direction and, instead of finding his way underneath my house, he tried to make a dramatic entrance in someone else’s house, someone a couple blocks away who might shoot Citizen Jim first and ask questions later?
“That’s ridiculous,” I laughed to myself.
Instead of being shot with a terrified housewife’s pearl-handled pistol or threatened by an angry retiree wielding a sawed-off shotgun, I would only allow myself to imagine Citizen Jim’s getting drenched with a Super Soaker ®, the weapon of choice for kids in the summer time. I laughed again thinking about Citizen Jim walking through the neighborhood after being attacked by a Super Soaker ®, shivering and dripping with water. His temporary – but sole – reason to exist would be to find me and blame me for anything awful that had happened to him since the day he was born, but especially this day, the day a gang of neighborhood toughs felt compelled to drown him with a popular children’s toy.
Hanging out in the front and back of my mind, of course, was this thought: either Citizen Jim had not shown up because the writing was going badly, or the writing was going badly because Citizen Jim had not shown up.
In one hour’s time I had only typed 500 words, half my output for an hour the morning before and ten times less than the goal I was supposed to have met by now (according to an eBook I’d read the previous week called 5,000 Words Per Hour).
What good were my attempts at self-improvement if I didn’t see myself improving? Was this something only my life coach could help me with? If so, there was no way I could wait until the next week to find out.
In my desperation I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I stared at my own reflection and said, “Life Coach! Life Coach! Life Coach!”
Hazy at first, Citizen Jim’s face appeared in the mirror with a sharpness that increased with each second that passed.
“So this is what it’s come to?” he said to me from the mirror. “Catoptromancy?”
“Huh?” I said, squinting at the word: did it sound sinister? Or funny? I couldn’t decide. But it did contain the word “cat,” so I kind of loved it no matter what it meant.
“Whatever happened to just starting out a story with the moment I arrive and going from there?”
My squint became a scowl. “Hey! I called for my life coach!” I said. “You’re not my life coach!”
“That’s not what the divination method is telling us, obviously,” said Citizen Jim.
I closed my eyes and reopened them.
It was just my face the mirror.
That was more terrifying than seeing Citizen Jim when I was expecting to see my life coach.
I think it meant that I needed to stop using the Citizen Jim stories as a crutch and start writing the real thing. What I mean to be writing. What I need to be writing.
Which is a scary thought, one that gives me a lot of feelings I don’t like and/or hope not to have.
I don’t want to fail again. On the other hand, I don’t want to succeed and still feel like a failure.
I don’t want to feel like I’ve accomplished something only to find out that nobody wants to read it.
Why do writers even do this to themselves? What do we gain when there is no monetary reward?
Ian Fleming gave himself a gold-plated typewriter. I’m pretty sure I will never buy myself a gold-plated typewriter, or even a gold-plated laptop, for any reason whatsoever.
Does a person ever write with the thought that, “One day after I’ve been dead a hundred years someone might come along and read this and like it a little bit?”
What makes a book or a story so appealing that not only did the author like writing it, but millions of people want to read it? How does anyone manage to write something with such appeal to so many people?
The most amazing thing, maybe, is that anybody wants to read anything that anyone has written.
With this in mind it would seem as though people who find an audience aren’t so much godlike as extremely lucky to have cultivated – whether intentionally or accidentally – the prescience to write the thing they’ve written during the time they’ve written it. A few years earlier or later might be the difference between a bestseller and something never published in the first place. The zeitgeist is the unchallenged, indefatigable arbiter of popular fiction.
I have everything at my disposal that should make it easy:
The one thing I need but do not have is sureness of my own abilities. I lack confidence – both the “confidence” that means self-assurance and the confidence that joins up with the word “game” to describe an entire subculture of deceit and trickery.
And if writing isn’t a confidence game, then neither is Three-Card Monte or Spanish Prisoner.
The words “Once upon a time” carry with them an implicit request: “Trust me.”
It doesn’t matter. Citizen Jim isn’t coming back today.