It all started when Diablo realized he had a gift – or rather, a gift had him. All he had to do was sit down at a keyboard and type out what was said in his mind … short stories, poems, bits of novels all poured out of him.
What was going on?
The other writers he knew, especially the ones who met in the Every-Other-Tuesday Writers’ Club, struggled and moaned and kept yammering about how hard it was to write. To write. To form sentences and plot and structure of intricate novels which would make everyone notice, selected by the book clubs and cause thousands of people to rush downtown on the first available uber to buy a book.
Or his poetry. Or collected short stories.
Diablo didn’t care. As long as they bought; as long as all he had to do was sit and take dictation, he didn’t care. Eventually, they’d buy.
He was happy.
At least he thought he was. At night sometimes, he’d lie there in the darkness … and where was the ‘there’ that everyone inherently understood? Did everyone understand ‘there’ was his bed? Or did they picture him sleeping at his desk? Dozing in front of the tv? Who knew?
Guys didn’t stop him on the street and mutter, “Diablo – I love your stories, man. They really get me in my gut, y’know?”
Or – “Diablo, my poor, suffering writer. I want you to know your last piece of burnished prose left me gasping, like I’d run out of oxygen while staggering up one more flight of stairs just to get home.”
Instead, they stopped him on the street and said, “You owe me money, man. Where’s the twenty you borrowed from me last Friday?”
Or they asked about his mother, his sister, his dog.
And now he had this – thing – wrong with him. Or maybe it was right with him. Whatever. Most writers he knew would’ve killed to have this easy facility of expression.
Maybe that was it.
He wrote in clichés; people could understand him. His wasn’t the gift of eroticism hidden in clever half-sentences and suggestions. No, it was too open, too real, too easily understood.
And now he had to try and understand it himself. What if he couldn’t?
What if he was going to live the rest of his life with this curse, this pouring of words into forms that became structure and fought off the feelings which imprisoned his self-expression? Fought them like the buildings which turned into swords in his dreams at night?
And how could feelings keep him from self-expression?
Yes, he knew.
Feelings weren’t a commercial commodity. You could hawk imitation feelings, those which you pumped into a story to explain why one of the characters killed, or ate, or drooled as she sewed her wedding dress. But your own feelings, the ones you hardly dared even watch out of the narrowed eyes you assumed when you were thinking deeply, ah, yes, those feelings … were the ones you couldn’t let go.
They didn’t sell. They made people too uncomfortable. They didn’t want a writer’s naked soul.
Yet without angst, without misery, no writer could hope to sell his or her work. “I’m cursed!” he yelled, and jumped up from the keyboard, those little plastic squares which yielded letter after letter on a screen.
He would never win a Pulitzer. He would never win a Nobel Prize for Literature.
Hell, he’d never win even the $25 cash prize ‘Describe Your View of the City’ contest the newspaper ran every month. People could write about trash cans and dogs sniffing them, and win that money. But he couldn’t. He knew before he tried that he couldn’t.
Because when he wrote about trash cans and dogs, they rolled about on the paper together like they were those weird weeds out west – what were they called? Oh, yeah, tumbleweeds. “The dogs and trash cans rolled together along the street like western tumbleweeds.” This writing jazz was just too easy.
He’d read another article in a writing magazine to which he subscribed, telling about how the author had suffered from writer’s block for seventeen years and only got snapped out of it by intensive psychotherapy and a prolonged trip to the Virgin Islands.
Maybe he should see a shrink. Maybe a real psychiatrist could tell him why he could sit at a keyboard and lose himself in stories, spinning yarn after yarn like some demented fairy tale princess – and yet never sell anything.
It was too hard.
It was too cruel.
The few people he shared his writing with sat there after he’d read some pieces out loud. This was at another meeting of the Every-Other-Tuesday Writers’ Club, which had been held that week on a Thursday, because nobody could get off in time for the meeting on Tuesday. The two other men blinked, shook themselves a little – or maybe shrugged, and then looked at him.
Finally one said, “What do you want us to say, Diablo?”
The woman in the little group tried to giggle, but couldn’t manage more than a rasping sound. “We don’t have any criticism of such a fine piece of work,” she said, flashing her too-white teeth at him through thick lipsticked lips.
A fine piece of work. That’s what his grandmother had always called him. Somehow he suspected she hadn’t meant it as a compliment.
But to pull himself back to the present, he looked again at the two men. Now they were studying the woman with the thick lipstick.
“Hey, Gretch,” one said, leaning closer to her. “What about we go have a beer after the meeting?”
Diablo stood up and walked out of the meeting. He wasn’t getting any constructive criticism from them, that was certain. And he hadn’t attended any more meetings.
They’d tried to entice him, sending him cute little notes and a faked picture postcard with his name spotlighted on a billboard, ‘Diablo Wins the Prize for Best Biography!’
“I don’t write biographies,” he’d told the postcard, and thrown it in the trash. It got buried under a banana peel and two empty dog food cans later that day.
Diablo, you poor devil, he thought. You’re going to end up in an ad agency someday. Just wait and see.