Friday, December 5, 2008

Hey You! (Fiction) by John Calvin Hughes

by John Calvin Hughes

You tell yourself again for the umpteenth thousandth time that it’s all so redundant, so pointless, that there’s no reason for it, that there’s a meaningless quality to everything, that you’re beaten down, whipped, battered by a self-consciousness that, despite the condition of being intensely, desperately human, has threatened and now carried out an intensification of that mirror-like self-reflection that has, your own efforts to the contrary notwithstanding, separated you in a completely artificial way from reality, the present, the purely material, the free-standing, the here-it-is-in-all-its-glory world. No number of twentieth century, narcissistic, world-weary, alienated, expatriated, or inebriated protagonists can or are willing to (and why would they be) alleviate by purgative example your own personal angst of the Capitalized Variety because--and of course this is the end-all-be-all of it all, the problem that has stretched from the amniotic if slightly miasmic mists of the beginning of time through to the extended present at the apex of the cone of possibility--because the problem is the same now as it has always been: you know who you are.

That’s the hell of it.

You’re a writer. Well, you’re a reader, and though you’ve read a lot and that includes--in addition to the stuff you’ve actually read or seen summaries of--also tons of stuff you never actually read but have talked about so much that it is as if you’ve read it, and now and then it’s apparent that it’s more and more true and to the point that more and more often, regularly, and frequently it is or seems to be the influence of television that’s driving you, manipulating you, pushing and pulling you back and forth like a big wind or maybe like a bunch of guys in a parking lot where given the history of things you will probably end up scraping your elbows and hands because though you read Plato on government and Aristotle on suffering and Nietzsche on Plato one page at a dog-earred, dog-tired, excruciating time--and this is the rarified air of the heights, the Alps of the intellect--sometimes you just need that full-blown, 56-inch, full-color pixilated version of an outhouse where you can drop you pants and bask in the familiar fetid fetor of your own waste and recognize that because it ultimately comes from you, it must be good, it must be authentic, it must be genuine, substantial, concrete, true. Really true. Real. Really really real.

You recognize the voice, of course. It’s coming from right in front of you, that box right there, no, not the small container with handles that looms beyond like an exclamation point on a periodic sentence which will contain you soon enough, but that one, the one that used to have knobs, and rabbit ears, and a bright diamond lingering in the center of the void when you turned it off, but now is as featureless as an obsidian obelisk in some ape’s prehistory, manageable now only through its field agent, the remote, and it’s not a coincidence that you never actually use the term “remote control” anymore, for control is an illusion, maybe the ultimate illusion, and especially where this whole issue is involved, and what it says, what the television says, is most disturbing, for it, yes even it, proclaims the message of the bards of old, the philosophers of then, and what it says is “carpe diem.”

Life is short, the thing says, and you know it’s true. But what you really know is that it means something else, well, of course it would, wouldn’t it, and what it means is get a job, a “good” job, and if you have to go to college or to trade school or to kiss someone’s ass to get it, then by all means do so, and once you have the job, work hard, though it sucks the very life marrow out of you, yes, keep the economy going, so others can afford to buy televisions too, and, yes, by all means, spend your hard-won money like a drunken sailor on payday, but do so at outlets of those particular business establishments that show their facades on TV, but, if not there, then at least somewhere, go, hurry, spend it, it’s burning a hole in your hand, not the remote, you understand, but the money, and if you don’t have any then there are all these credit cards and home mortgage companies that will lend you up to 125 per cent of your home’s value even if it has no value and even if you believe that 100 per cent is the top per cent on the scale because what finally does it matter, seize the day, for tomorrow you may die and dead consumers are--if not oxymorons--then certainly not as demographically viable as living ones, which if you are one, go get in your car--or buy a car--and go to the store quickly and spend if not money then its plastic-slash-electronic equivalent. You recognize, in a purely abstract way, that all this stuff about stuff is just crap about crap, but the message is ultimately undiluted by the content, and the message is clear: it’s staring you right in the face. Haven’t you gotten it yet. It says very clearly, “you are wasting your life.”

You could be writing. You could be reading, which is a problem in and of itself for it takes time away from writing and may be subtly undermining in insidious ways your own creativity or your concentration or your confidence. Who could, after all, sit down at the word processor after reading a brilliant passage from Joyce or a luminous sketch by Hemingway or a dazzlingly original image from Garcia Marquez, or a radiant this or splendid that or an effulgent whatever?

Well, you could. Fool. It’s a commonplace understanding that everything’s been said, nothing’s new under the sun, moon, stars, colliding asteroids, they’ve done it and done it all and done it better and more completely and aesthetically and culturally appropriately and so forth than you’ll ever be able to, but why should that stop you? More intimidating should be the inexorable fact that there are more writers and pseudowriters and half writers and quasi-writers today than at any other time in the history of the world, at least as far as that history’s been written, and all of them are writing night and day and day and night and afternoons when normal people have to be at work, and they are cramming their works into the mailboxes and inslots and inboxes and outboxes and e-mails and fax machines of all the editors in all the world so that when your work arrives--if it ever does--then it flows too heavy and too late and in the eyes of the editor you are already fixed in a formulated phrase, one among many of the same repeated from town to town from village to global village, just another print-oriented bastard who does not see the rearguard action you’re fighting and who still doesn’t get it about unsolicited contributions, about slush piles and assistant editor salaries and time constraints, just another fly-over country hick with your mortgage and your lawnmower and your 125% of your 2.3 children and what would be the point of reading another Raymond Carver imitation or Stephen King plot summary when there is other work to be down, one’s own for instance, and the time it takes to put your Opie-fied opus into the stamped self-addressed, self-fulfilling, self-flagellating envelope is already too much time spent on it when the garbage can is right there by the door, or for that matter it’s at your house where you could have put the damn thing in the first place.

So what are you to do? In the high shadowless noon of your own creativity, your own self-worth and self-loathing, in the dim knowledge that there is always somebody better than you at what you do and what you want to do with your life, even if there is no money in it, even if they only pay in copies, you don’t do it for the money anyway, you do it for the readers. Okay, not for the readers, for the attention, you’re big enough to say that, you know the unexamined life is not worth living. Yeah, you tell it to Oedipus, buddy. Admit it, you do it for the envy. You can’t resist sending copies of everything you write on every subject to everyone you know, in every town and city and state and country and village and parish and county and shire and even to other planets if the mails would just go there, the postal mails, not just the men, though god knows it wouldn’t be bad to launch them all into space. But that might include you, there is at least a 50-50 chance that it would, if things remain the same.

You digress. But isn’t that always the way? Is writing anything but a huge digression, from the subject, from life. Your life is a work-in-progress, no? What then is your art? How can you finish a piece of writing when you can’t even finish your life? Would you want to? Is anything ever finished? Or is it just abandoned? You stare at the books on your shelves and compare them to the puny scratchings on your own pad, the scribblings that smear into unrecognizable meanings and wonder if there is a place for you somewhere in printed matter. Or does it matter? You could just post everything you write on some Internet site. Someone would read it. You’d get instant feedback, or delayed feedback, or something like feedback, though nothing like money. Isn’t that what you finally want? Hasn’t the television finally won? What do you want? Your children are growing faster than your book. They have biology on their side. It’s inexorable, a falling away. Where biology in your case is not helping things. The cells in your fingers don’t mind writing, but the cells in your brain are screaming for more bourbon, more light, more sex, more rock and roll, or at least a Beethoven quartet to ease everything gently toward slumber, toward sleep, toward rest, toward ministers and angels of oblivion, beyond the written word, beyond the physical world which may be one in the same, if only that they exist outside your mind and yet inside at the same time. How can this be? Solipsism, sleep, solitude. One Hundred Years of Solipsism. You reach for the glass, for the light, to bring down darkness, to bring down the gods that have retreated, to touch if only for a moment the peace that eludes you like a dream, like a deja vu that seems so close and so real and yet is nothing you can put your finger on.

Editor's note: This piece was originally published in a magazine called Apostrophe.

Author bio:

John Calvin Hughes has published poems, stories, reviews, and criticism in lots of little magazines, journals and zines. He is the author of The Novels and Short Stories of Frederick Barthelme from the Edwin Mellen Press.


Anonymous said...

reminds me of merwin's poetry and joyce's rambling prose, but maybe we all ramble, rove, rationalize, seek, whatever. if one can like an ambling circuitous ride to nowhere.

Anonymous said...

So depressing and inspirational.

Anonymous said...

Listen to Ryan Adams-Strawberry Wine. ( This has absolutely no connection to what you wrote)

A beautiful song I know you will like.