Saturday morning. Quiet. Still pretty dark, but daylight was starting to creep onto the scene outside the window beside my desk.
Despite the fact that I’d been sitting in front of my computer since 5:30 I hadn’t done any writing at all. So far my writing time had been a combination of looking over some text from the day before and staring into space.
I knew if I didn’t write this morning I would get no writing done today. I didn’t feel like I could afford to lose that kind of time, though I have no idea what that even means considering how much time I’d already lost in the last 49 years.
“Okay, now, Stimpy. Cancel the pity party and tell them the rest of the story. And for once in your miserable life, try to be honest!” said Citizen Jim.
His voice was coming from the headphones I was wearing to listen to a three-hour session of binaural beats for focus and creativity. I don’t even want to go into what binaural beats are, or how I discovered them, or whether they work or don’t work. That’s not my main objective here.
“Lazy! My God, you’re the laziest person I’ve ever met!” said Citizen Jim. “You can’t even share a link? Or copy and paste something from the web about binaural beats? Pathetic!”
His voice seemed to be coming from inside my head: a true nightmare.
“I’m sorry, Precious Lamb,” I said. “I’m the worst.”
“Yes, yes, I know that! Now keep going. You were about to start telling the truth about your awful, worthless writing project.”
That was a little harsh. Sure, the writing wasn’t going the way I wanted or needed it to go, but. I mean.
“Oh, brrrrooother! That’s the understatement of the year! It’s going so badly you’re an ex-smoker holding a three-inch stub of pencil between your fingers like a cigarette,” he said, “only you’re pretending you’re holding it in case you need to write something down!”
I glanced at the pencil and winced, then looked over at the spiral notebook beside my right elbow. I used the pencil to write: That was true, though I didn’t know it until he pointed it out to me.
Without thinking, I raised the pencil to my lips, took a long, pretend drag off the eraser, and blew an imaginary cloud of smoke above my head.
Truth: I’d been working in earnest on a new project since around the middle of the previous month. It had started out great. Then it slowed down. Then it petered out. So I decided to use a new approach with a similar storyline but a different vibe, with different characters, and a different setting.
“I was wondering when you’d finally admit you started over after you got 25,000 words into it,” said Citizen Jim.
“Oh, Jim,” I moaned. “I’m wasting my life!”
“Look here! I am on vacation with my wife! But I can’t let you go on like this.”
There was a knock at the door, then pounding.
Wow, I thought. That was fast!
“Look, your new story’s not that bad! I just tell you that you suck to keep you working for my approval,” said Citizen Jim as soon as I opened the door. “And besides, I know exactly what you need!”
I wish I had a dollar for every time he had said or intimated or shouted or screamed this at me, then another dollar for every time he was absolutely wrong.
“Oh, do you?” I asked. “You think you know what I need?”
“Yes! I always know what you need even if you refuse to admit it! You’ve got a degree in English—you know Dante had Beatrice Portinari, Joyce had Nora Barnacle, Yeats had Maude Gonne,” he said, holding up a finger for each writer he named.
Now it was my turn to say, “Oh, brother!”
Nora called her husband’s work “obscure and lacking in sense.” Maude Gonne rejected three marriage proposals from Yeats. And Dante didn’t really know Beatrice at all, but she still inspired him enough to use her as one of his guides through The Divine Comedy.
“I don’t know where you’re going with this, Professor,” I said, “but I think you might have left off Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe.”
“Hush! Obviously I’m trying to tell you that for a very reasonable fee I’m ready, willing, and able to be your muse! That’s what you need, right?”
“Wrong again,” I said as I passed him in the doorway. “That’s not my writing problem.”
Not writing was my writing problem.
“Look, you need a muse and I’m free to serve that purpose. But only long enough to get you back on track with your failing writing career! After that we are through! End of story!”
“If I agree to this will you go away so I can get some writing done?”
“Yes!” he shouted. He walked out the door and started walking down the sidewalk in front of my house. After I stopped following him he turned around and said, “And stop using so many exclamation points when I’m talking! It makes me seem cartoonish! I’m not a cartoon!”
A second later Citizen Jim stumbled over a French bulldog dressed in a bee costume being chased across the street by a white housecat with a parakeet riding on its back. Citizen Jim couldn’t recover his balance, and fell face-first into a pile of freshly mown grass on the curb at the corner.
I waved as he tried to stand up.
God love him.