“You do realize,” said the skeleton, “that you’ve written all the pages you need, sketched out all the material you require to begin assembling the Book of Irv in earnest. At this point it’s absurd to have any more of these ongoing imaginary chats with a fucking skeleton. This is just your typical neurotic pattern.
“Look, your entire life you have done any number of things with assurance and style. The one thing you have never done is the truly hard work of bringing your products into the marketplace and getting paid. Wouldn’t your life be much easier, much more sustainable and understandable, if you were recognized, and paid, as the writer you are?
“You have sometimes done 98% of the work to make something as good as you can make it, I’ll give you that. You seem to have an absolute aversion for doing that final 2%, the daunting part that’s no fun, that seems somehow uncreative to you– creating the monetary value of what you do.”
That’s fair enough. I have a sheaf of rationales right here, starting with this antiquated machine I am tapping on right now, which makes it difficult to cut, paste, organize, but the basic point is fair enough. I am here at this balky machine because I had to stay another night in a sweltering house to pick up a neutered kitten from a vet in College Point today. You make a good point though. I can only say, I am still searching for an elusive piece of the essence of the story here. There are some elements still missing.
“There will always be essential elements missing, that’s life, Elie, even in a Hollywood script. And, anyway, wouldn’t these missing pieces be easier to find as gaps in the narrative once you start organizing and constructing the story itself?”
Quite likely they would, yes.
“Yet you persist in nattering with a pile of bones. Does this make sense to you?”
In the moment it does, in an odd way.
“‘Odd’ is a good word for it,” said the skeleton.
Look, you worked, and worked. You worked all day and then, after a nap on the couch and a fight with your children over dinner, you drove off to another job you did at night. What you thought as you drove to that second job is anyone’s guess. You eventually saw your youthful ideals as a threat to what you’d acquired during a life spent largely running away from your fearful inner life.
When you retired, and finally had the time, you did not reflect, though you finally had the leisure to reflect. Instead you read every newspaper you could find, once you had a computer you added the Jerusalem Post and others. Your real self-examination began only after you got the death sentence, six days before the end of your life.
“What’s your point?” asked the skeleton testily.
It’s a life strategy, the most common one there is. Keep yourself busy. Don’t stop running the treadmill long enough to wonder what you’re doing. If you stop to wonder that, the whole thing collapses. Work is synonymous with being productive, after all, and we’re taught that work is the most moral use for one’s time. It has the added benefit of leaving no time for brooding on things that might gnaw at your soul. Wear yourself out chasing material security, live in a nice house. Let the emotional chips fall where they may.
“Well, your current life as a gentleman farmer is made possible only by the fact that my life strategy was mindlessly chasing material security. No little irony in you lecturing me about my misguided values when you are the pontificating beneficiary of those values.”
I have an old friend whose nightmare is being forced to sit down and write his innermost thoughts on a page. He would rather do anything else. The idea of not working, unless he’s on vacation somewhere beautiful, is terrifying to him. Me, my fondest hours are spent doing something that would cause this fellow to jump out of his skin. We have different needs in life. Perhaps I’m cursed to think I’m engaged in a long search for truth, to the exclusion of things most people find much more important.
“You poor fuck, I did that to you,” said the skeleton, sadly.
I understand about success, and I’m trying to pursue it now, trying to figure out how to get paid for what I do. It is easier to pursue success if you leave creativity out of it, but that seems impossible to me. Makes me a despicable, spoiled prick on one level, an idealist on another.
“We can both live with despicable, spoiled prick,” said the skeleton.
I can’t escape my need to be creative, I’ve tried, I can’t overcome it. I know it sounds weak, self-indulgent, petty, but I have a compulsion to draw, play guitar, improvise. I literally can’t live without doing these things. For years it caused me great anguish, watching hacks succeed in each field while incredibly talented people I know were reduced to misery, perceiving themselves as failures, in spite of their impressive achievements, because they did not have what it takes to become ‘professionals’. When I was a lawyer, sitting in court, I was constantly drawing on my copies of the legal papers I drafted. I carried a dozen pens and mechanical pencils in my lawyer bag. I once brought a ukulele into the Civil Court and played it in the stairwell waiting for my case to be called.
“You always were a talented little fuck, nobody can really argue that point, even though, in fairness, Elie, who gives a rat’s perfectly turned thigh? I understand it created some dilemmas for you. As long as you realize your problems are the problems of a despicable, spoiled prick,” said the skeleton.
I could agree with that assessment wholeheartedly if I lived the life of a spoiled bastard. I take some comfort in my lack of covetousness. Houses, cars, clothes, beautiful musical instruments, fabulous travel locations… none of these things mean much to me as rewards. If I never eat in a fancy restaurant again, I will feel no poorer.
“Well, bully for you, then, you’ve got the world on a string,” said the skeleton.
My dilemma remains. Until I sell your fucking story, I have not succeeded. I am a perplexing mystery to everyone who truly cares about me, until I get paid.
“Well, that makes me happy, you know, to have become the hallmark of your success or failure as a human at the age of sixty. Pretty neat, really,” the skeleton said with a wry wink.
Pretty neat, yes. Look at my past options for a second and you will see that my dilemma was not as uncomplicated as it might seem at a quick glance.
I’ve always been squeamish (‘exhibiting a prudish readiness to be nauseated’) about advertising and commerce, the most sensible uses for drawing talent, or a way with words, for that matter. Advertising copywriters and idea men make big bucks. The dream of becoming Picasso, selling even scrawls produced using a brush stuck in my ass, was a ridiculous one, encouraged by grandma, in all her vainglorious madness. I have come to see the job of the museum artist for what it is: convincing rich people that your work is profound, getting them to love you and your work, bid large sums for it.
I understand that the music business is only a livelihood for the most talented, ambitious 0.01% of people who have musical ability. Virtually all of those who make it big have to have, in addition to musical talent, top 1% looks (or at least a unique and not ugly look), insane marketing smarts and a stroke or two of brilliant luck. Outside of making it big, or being a studio player, there are very limited gigs for otherwise talented players.
“Boo fucking hoo, this is what you’re doing today? Really?” said the skeleton.
Righty-Oh! Off to pick up that blue eyed kitten from the vet on College Point Boulevard. Ha hey!