The Writer’s Last Gasp

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Photo: Davy Carren

My agent thinks that dying would be great for my career. “Posthumous fame is still fame,” he tells me. I’m not sure what good success would be if I weren’t around to enjoy it. But, all told, with book sales as bad as they are, I am finding myself open to the suggestion.

I sit at the typewriter, obscure as ever, asking those urgent, burning questions of purpose and meaning: “What good am I to the world if no one’s listening?” “If I write and there is nobody around to read it, does the writing even matter?” “Who invented the suitcase?”

There are more pertinent and important affairs I could be attending to. I am fairly certain of it.

“Perhaps it is time for you to move on, get over all this, become something different…something better?”

This perspicacious advice comes from a congenial fellow with whom I conduct my grocery purchasing. I am tangential to it, really. Maybe it’s just that I don’t want this time in my life to be over just yet. I’m not ready. Maybe I never will be. Maybe this is all some game that I’m playing with myself, just coasting, not really living. Maybe. Perhaps “maybe” is my only might.

To be liked or not to be liked. That’s not a question; it’s a fact. It is all up to others, my fate. But isn’t most of an individual’s life in reality determined by other people? One is born with no skills as to language or ambulation, just this small, wailing shriek of a thing — helpless and lost without aide to navigate through the structures and circumstances of the man-made world. We are all in desperate need of other people: their attention, their companionship…their advice. We all need to be liked. It is our most innate and salient quality. Even in death we all want a good-sized show at our funeral, and maybe a slight uptick in book sales.

A play of authenticity in hollow times of superficial angst? There are more losses than gains to this logic, so, as many compatriots tell me, I must rebel against this urge to follow my moral bent. Instead, use the tide’s current to assist me in my endeavors, be like the rest, fit in, and try not to be too original. What’s the use in being inventive, in creating one-of-a-kind jewels to be tossed in the gutter? Attention needs to be paid, and, ipso facto, so do bills.

Will it be in death that I find my readership after all? My agent relates to me many tales of surges in popularity after passing away: “Interest accrues and pays huge post-mortem dividends, Jack. Just something to keep in mind. Suicide might be best. But that’s also tricky. It can scare folks away. Homicide would be a surer bet. I’d go with that, if you can. Capture people’s imagination. ‘Shot dead in his bedroom, dressed all in white, face contorted into a vicious scowl. Was it a scorned lover? He must really have been something to inspire such violence against him.’ Let me tell you, kiddo. There’s no fame like infamy sometimes.”

I have trouble heeding such thoughtful counseling. The intentions are well meant, I know. It is just that pleasing others can be a dicey rigmarole to partake in. It must be done, sure; but I’d prefer that it didn’t involve me kowtowing to the taste of the masses, or, as it were, overturning my instincts for self-preservation.

In the afternoon, sun-bright and clear and roomy, the muses dotingly smile on me for a short-lived inquisition as to my current plight or flight. Exuberance warms me for a moment. I am free of all fetters and walls. Nobody is admonishing me for being “inaccessible” to the consuming public or tormenting me with line edits and stricken-out sentences and editorial notes such as, “Too wordy.” Or, “Having a hard time following this.” Or, “Enough rambling. No idea what you’re going on about here. Please delete.” For once I am light and free and purpose-filled. I exchange an undershirt for a tank top in the sweltering heat of day’s onslaught. Fear has been dismissed from the premises. All hair follicles are standing at attention as the sweat pools and drips. The typewriter’s keys clack and punch. I put down words that no one will ever read, just for myself — and this, somehow, is enough. Punctuation be damned. I am dreaming through the pure blue belly of it all, rabid and calm, safe and in constant peril. The letters come and go, pounding sheet after sheet with ink: smudged, paragraph-less, distinct. My fingers dart and stab as I drink ice water and sweat out all the demons gone rampant inside of me. Everything is happening as it should. My life, here, now, belongs to me alone.

Nobody can stop me. I will go on and on like this until the end, bitter as that end might be. And maybe, just maybe, after I die someone will care.

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