For the Sake of Story  |  Pat Siebel

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             [--] writes stories,
                                                                                   . That void:
That’s where my story will go. It will probably, actually, go much further. Point is: I’ll fill all that space eventually, but in the meantime, allow it to serve as some sort of evidence that I, the creator of [--], whom I haven’t named yet—and sincerely apologize for such a confusing circumstance—have fallen victim to the most vicious of inflictions common to those with similar avocations. And I’ll have you understand at this point, if you do not understand already, that I’m not half the writer that he ([--]) is, or will soon be, as he endlessly dwells on about a writer inflicted with a severe lack of inspiration.
             But this wasn’t my intention: When I started writing this, it was a long and meaningful allegory for euthanasia, but that underlying, implicit meaning wasn’t very transparent. So, at some moment in that story, I finally decided that a closet full of clothes and a curb alert wasn’t much of a metaphor for an overpopulated kennel and, therefore, decided to write about a writer who was writing a story about a writer. I think the premise is interesting, but my character, whom I’ve already introduced to you, is currently stuck, sickened by the same bug as I, as he currently sits in some sort of purgatorial study in a perpetuated state of writing, as I haven’t thought of any more plot besides the fact that he is, indeed, engaged in the construction of the story of a troubled author of some sorts. I just can’t help but already feel a devastating sympathy toward my character—as well as his character—as he is caught in an endless pattern of mechanically prodding away at computer keys with no other options. Could you imagine that sort of circular repetition being both the sole and most defining moment(s) in your life? Additionally: I assume it would also be the worst moment in his life, it being his only. [--] feels no more pain and no more joy, no more love or no more heartbreak, than he does at that single paradoxical moment, where he sits constantly hammering away at his keyboard, head fixated at an unspecified set angle in front of the screen, and honestly: it makes the whole free-will thing a little difficult to side with. I would be willing to bet Kant had never fathomed this sort of shackled monotony, and as for misery: I would imagine this sort of choice-less, serial perseveration to be unrivaled: the scrivener must take pity upon [--], as he hasn’t the free will to allow himself death (But: if I choose to assign him this freedom without listing each individual choice that he is capable of making, would you assume that he could make them? I mean: if I solely note that he has free will and end the story, do you, as a reader, have the choice to do with him as you want, somehow making the story yours to write/right?). I’m not going to bother with unconventional storytelling, though; digression: over; back to my point: this ([--]’s plight) isn’t even the worst of it all: I have only written the first paragraph, but that isn’t even the worst of it all, either: it’s more of the fact that I tend to like to do this little thing where my first paragraph is very, very short: like one sentence short. I have currently written: “[--] writes stories,” and this is actually worse than I thought because I haven’t actually even given him a computer to write on, nor a setting to be writing in, meaning he is alone, standing/sitting/fetal (again, more indecision) in a giant colorless void with no walls, but only infinite amounts of white space, waiting to be decorated by my assigning of decorations, knowing that he has written some(thereshouldmaybebeaspacehere)thing(s) in the past and that he should probably be writing something now, but doesn’t have the opportunity to do these things without utensils or a desk or anything at all, really, except himself and an assumed desire to write. Could you imagine all the thoughts that must be running through his head at that moment? And he has absolutely nothing to do with them and nobody to discuss them with. Ah, [--]! Ah, humanity!
             So: I desperately need to do something with [--]. We have established this, and I would think you would agree that his plight is, at the least, a little disturbing. Is it inhumane for him to be unnamed? Perhaps, but I’m really no good at the whole naming thing. It’s really a messy debacle that I don’t want to get into until I have to, or if I have to. I tend to avoid naming characters. You don’t have to ask me why, because I know you want to ask me why, but just settle down because I plan on telling you whether you ask or not: names are these obnoxiously troublesome beacons that alert people into wild allusions that the author may have had no intention of. I knew this guy once—I won’t name him because you may think I’m doing that whole allusionary thing I just got into, and that isn’t the case with this; I don’t like to dabble in all those literary devices and whatnot—who wrote a story that some forgettable journal somewhere picked up about a man named David who was fired by his boss at a factory, and his union sued, and eventually he got his job back and the boss got fired. People were always emailing the author, showering him in praise: Oh, David! Oh, your story! Oh, the metaphors! Meaning: the boss as Goliath, and David as David. My acquaintance would always write them back to thank them for reading, while confiding in me, and only me, that the story was really a factual event in his youth and that he had no metaphor in his entire work besides his wonderful description of a morning sky as a glass of orange juice one time when he was really thirsty and his blood sugar was low. That sky must have been something else, though I’m not sure I know the feeling. So again: I don’t think I’m going to name him, and he will probably permanently be known as [--], which should only give me problems if I am to read this aloud, which I don’t ever plan on doing. If I do, I’ll probably just make a grunting noise or something.
             But alas—if alas is still even a word; it probably shouldn’t be—I should probably give this character something. Shorts. A desk. A computer. Just something: because I’m still seeing him in that giant white space just waiting for me to orchestrate some sort of anything with him, and he’s probably cursing me in his head, which is okay as long as he doesn’t curse at me out loud, but you and I both know he can’t do that without my permission, so that won’t be happening. I think it was Vonnegut who said something once about making your character need something immediately, even if it’s just a glass of water. I know that water is essential to live, but I just feel like, for the sake of story, there are probably a few things he needs before water. I may be mistaking Mr. Vonnegut’s advice a bit here, as I tend to mistake advice a lot, but I’m going to go ahead and have him desire an image before a refreshment, especially since, up until this point, you and I have both been under the impression that he was already sitting at a desk, writing a story (I really do apologize for that misstep; I’m not one to try and play tricks, so please don’t think I was ever trying to deceive you.). The image that he’s going to desire probably shouldn’t be a self-image because, if I’ve calculated things right, I think you have already pictured him sitting and typing at his desk, meaning you’ve already conjured up some sort of image of what you want [--] to look like. Probably a gender, too. Only kidding: I kind of played an innocent trick on you with this one (Forgive me for elaborating on what you have already figured out, you smart cookie, but I must.): you already know the gender because I’ve been using the word “him,” forcing you to subconsciously—because at the beginning, when I introduced [--], you could not deduce a gender from the name—picture a male character, because sometimes, though I’m sure you were somewhat conscious of my move, manipulation can be fun.
             Anyway: I think you will picture him how you want to picture him, if you even care to picture him, and it would be hindering to your experience as a reader—if you even choose at this point to continue reading (Please do, though; I’m employing your help in writing my story.)—not to be able to dress this unnamed character to your own tastes. The image I will present is his room: [--] writes stories, as he sits in your room hammering away at your computer, writing a story about a writer who cannot for the life of him write a story. Oh, now this is weird, isn’t it? He is in your room now, meaning that your image of this scene should be just about perfect, and I escaped all the labors of long-winded descriptions that most readers usually just sort of skim anyway, because nobody cares about the small scuffs in the walls, or the old paint that dripped off the dust boards to the carpet, or the size of the room, number of windows, et cetera. Even though these descriptions usually say something about the state of the character, or give some sort of hint of something, you, the reader, has learned not to care because on your television, buildings are blowing up and babies are born with grotesque mutations, but in your books people are just describing their rooms and the whole thing just sounds sort of boring. I’m not trying to be didactic here; I’m agreeing with you, which is why I placed [--] in your room, even if you don’t want [--] in your room. I’m trying to make this whole reading chore more enjoyable, so don’t try to tell me that he is trespassing in your room because he is only fictional. Plus, I instructed him to write in your room, but I’d love to see you try and explain all that to the cops, anyway.
             So [--]’s in your room: you’re dealing with it, because to me, you’re as fictitious as [--], and your assignment in this story isn’t as you as in yourself, but more so as a character named you (I know I said I didn’t dabble in literary techniques, and specifically allusion, but I think this is a very tight one, as you will probably use the correct allusion: yourself, but a fictitious version of yourself.), and I’m getting really excited about how this story is starting to shape up, thanks to you. I tend to think—definitely so with this, definitely—every story I write is better than the last one I wrote because you (This is a loose you; I’m not trying to be accusatory or presumptuous, only trying to create a common thread between you and me.) tend to grow and work outside the rigid confines you have set for yourself in the name of style, which is probably not so much your style, but more you trying to sound like [your favorite writer A] or [your favorite writer B]: so forth and so on. I think this has been my primary problem for a while, and especially with this story. I really, really like this guy who tends to write super-fast single-word first sentences, so for the past few months, I have been trying to do the same thing. I did it with my story about [--], but left a comma because I still thought it was a little short. This author—who will of course go unnamed—from what I’ve read, has a minimum of six words in the first paragraph; if he is recognized for this stylistic move, I could be too. I’m kidding again. I don’t really think all that—just testing your wits; trying to make sure you’re still on the page; pay attention: I told you I was going to employ your help, but I also told you that you are fictional while you read this, just pretend this story won’t get written with or without you for a moment, and let’s get through this together.
             Anyway, back to my point (on imitation): I’m sure you can see the flaws in this type of logic because the reader is usually smarter than the writer assumes, which has also been a problem of mine in the past. I’ve always wanted to lay every single detail out and do away with any sort of meaning that I don’t explicitly state in my text, so I load my stories with detail after detail after detail after hard, concrete, unmovable, unambiguous detail, all because someone told me the author was dead, which is really offensive if you’re an author, so my response was that the reader was dead, which is what I’ll say when someone someday interviews me. I want to sound like one of those esoteric types, only speaking in carefully plotted abstractions, making himself seem as if he isn’t from the same grain as we. But I didn’t mean to get on this whole tangent again, and I’m starting to understand why this story isn’t going anywhere: there are just so many distractions in the world, and even in the realm of writing, that writing tends to be a distraction from writing by way of all these different pedagogies and theories and the different routes and roads and ends that we (I mean writers. Have you ever tried this writing thing? If my narrative authority means anything at this point, I’d suggest you leave it all alone.) meet. Back to my point on imitation: I just want to do something and receive some sort of recognition; to have some arbitrary value as a human being—a sense of self-worth, I guess. I really guess I should probably break out and do something completely new, something worthy of congratulation, but I can see that’s not going to happen, so as Barth says: on with the story.
             Let’s tread some old ground with a new subject: We have another character who is in the same purgatory that [--] is in—seeing as my unfortunate ailment naturally affects [--], whose ailment naturally affects his character; onward—that we haven’t touched much on: the character that [--] is writing about. The whole thing is quite unfair, and if I weren’t feeling so diabolically sadistic, I may have had [--] write about someone who was not a writer, perhaps a shoe shiner or a subway beggar (This has always been an idea of mine: I once went to New York, and this old Russian man sang the most brilliant opera as he passed through my subway car before making his way to the next. Nobody gave him a dime, and though he looked like an ax had rationed his heart to dust, his eyes were filled with this look of resilience that I will never be able to forget. Why I haven’t turned this into a story yet is beyond me, but I would imagine it has something to do with me being not too good with emotion.), or just anyone that wasn’t a writer. I’m not even close to the point of considering it yet, but I think I should just write about [--]’s character writing about his character, writing about his character, so forth and so on, just to perpetuate this ongoing misery and transfer this huge pain onto somebody else; from me to [--], [--] to his character, and onward until I hit word-count. I mean: I know this has been the plan, but what I’m trying to suggest here is that I can span an entire story with this idea and nothing else: just an assembly line of birthing uninspired writers. But I’m just a little worried that it might get a little monotonous, which I think you might tend to agree with. There will probably have to be some sort of action going on somewhere, but don’t quote me yet because I’m not all that positive I’m even right, and it may be completely plausible to have a story about a character writing about a character writing about a character writing; onward.
             Truth is: this story is extremely possible, and I know this because I’ve been writing some stuff in my story that I haven’t told you about while simultaneously making you feel like I was approaching this story aimlessly, like a blind man poking his cane around in an endless white void with no walls, similar to a situation that both you and I are familiar with, because I have already taken you there. You shouldn’t pretend, however, that you know what a terrible place this is, for you aren’t [--], and though I have taken you there, you haven’t actually been there. But actually: for a moment, [--] was writing about something that wasn’t writing.  It was a brilliant plot—an allegory—about animal overpopulation by way of a very realist story of a man clearing out his prized possessions from his closet and setting them on the curb only to watch them wash and wither away through a summer storm. It was a neat idea that I gave him, naturally, but I had to stop this story from happening because, to me, it felt flat, and the idea of a world where perpetuation of “fictional” character’s misery seemed much more interesting. Mini-digression aside: one of the neat things about writing, I think, is that you (unless you are a writer being written about, and your freedom of choice is prevented by somebody such as myself) aren’t confined to any one project at one time, and I—as a narrator—only have to tell you what I want you to know. At this point I’ve written some additional stuff—in the [--] narrative—as I previously stated; stuff that I think is pretty interesting and explores those lines in writing that we think are defined, but really aren’t. I’ve made it quite obvious in the story—which I’m not going to really tell you verbatim, because you have been here with me in the writing process, seeing the puppet strings as I attach them, therefore, making the whole point of telling a story (to provoke some sort of thought or emotion within a reader) rather counterproductive—that I’m trying to illustrate this idea of unrealized perpetuity, taking a writer and using him as he takes his writer, so forth and so on through a Borgesian infinitude, using any of these characters as a metaphor for myself. There is also a bigger picture, but I feel as though I’d be cheating you out of your fun to tell. Anyway: we can both agree it would be a waste of my time and yours to tell you the story literally; you more or less know it. So: what I’ve done is made a beginning, kind of, and a middle, kind of—not by traditional standards, but maybe by traditional standards; it all depends on how much of a Philistine you are, or are feeling like, or if you like me as a person or think I have pretty hair or something, because I think we all tend to like things that pretty people do more than ugly ones, which you shouldn’t even deny. Just look at those magazines with the celebrities and the “Who Wore it Best?” columns; it’s always the fat ones with the low scores, and although we, as readers, would like to think of ourselves as better people than those people who read those magazines, that’s not really the case. We like pretty people, too. Do you fornicate with ugly people? Because I don’t, and that’s just that. Anyway, this is getting silly again—me and my tangents—I should really move on to try and tell you what I’m going to do with the end of my story. I’m kidding you: I don’t know what I’m going to do with the end of my story. Ends are tricky; you have to employ some sort of really, really meaningful gesture—something that stands as a metaphor for the entire story, which is hard because I’m not good with metaphors. And it always has to come at just the right time; I usually find that it works best when it proceeds some dense paragraph that has been diluted with all sorts of meaning that I usually don’t understand the way the author wants me to understand (but he’s dead, right?), with these prodigious words that build up this seemingly impossible-to-relieve tension between the piece and myself, only to let it down with some beautifully sweeping ending that, even if it doesn’t appear to piece the story together, somehow does.
             Sometimes it’s good for a writer to leave his desk for a moment.  Sometimes, and often, or even most times, it’s good for a writer to take the collected advice of other writers—especially those as well established as the one I’m about to take advice from: I desire refreshment; I’d like a glass of water, and that’s exactly what I’m about to get. My house, as I make my way to the kitchen, looks just like your house; every detail is identical and my movements are simulated replications of yours as you watch me take a glass down and fill it with water from the faucet of your sink, or whatever water dispensing technique you prefer, if you even prefer water. I’d prefer not to think about it; you are fictional, as I’ve explained for the purposes of this story. Now, I drink our water: picture me drinking our water like you would drink water if I told you that you were required to drink water and enjoy it. I finish the glass; I throw it into the sink and pray that it doesn’t shatter.

♥ End ♥

Pat Siebel lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he works at the Myrtle Beach International Airport and attends Coastal Carolina University as an undergraduate. He cites Donald Barthelme, John Barth, and David Foster Wallace amongst his influences. [Author photo by and © C. Smith Photography; used with permission, all rights reserved.]

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