I have always called myself a writer. Yes, I have a profession and no, it is not one that is worthy of mentioning, but, regardless of the title that I hold in the profession that provides my means, I have always spoken outwardly about being a writer. I have written for most of my life and I have had mild to great success in terms of my own evaluation of my work. However, I have rarely felt the impulse to share this work with the outside world, as it will leave me open to a form of judgement that I have no interest in defending myself against. The same way that the vulture doesn’t want to be questioned about his choice of cuisine, I don’t want to be judged for my literary conventions.
Recently, my creative impulse has been dulled. The mere picking up of a pencil drives me to shake and the screens of my brain turn black. Occasionally I can will myself to write two connected, complex sentences or one theoretical, brief poem. Unfortunately, the results of even these works of excessive brevity hold no artistic prowess, as they simply serve as regurgitations of old ideas that used to flower in the tunnels of my mind, as if I just started sweeping up old daydreams, threw them in a blender and made lemonade. Even more tragic is the inability to create original lines of thought in my internal monologue; it feels as if I had died at a certain point in the near past and now I am crawling through an afterlife of collaged memories and looped observations.
What is a writer who can’t write? A writer is a thinker first, thought goes round and round and the writer is the scribe who can channel the thoughts and display them through the linear medium of written language. How can I call myself a writer if I can’t even think? How can I call myself anything at all if my brain is simply reading aloud the ripped pages that are blowing through my mind from far-reaching chapters of my own past experiences? I can’t be a writer if I can’t think, and I can’t be alive if I’m not a writer.
There has always been a saying about the best writers being the most avid readers. I have never prescribed to this idea, but, given my recent predicament, I felt that diving into literature could itch my scratch. I went to my bookcase, grabbed a collection of short stories and began to read. After reading the first one, I immediately felt inspired to write. Amazed at my drive, I wrote through the night, completing a draft of a seven-page short story in the process.
The next day, after proper rest, I returned to the story I had written and, much to my dismay, it felt as though I had read the story before. Something clicked in my mind and I grabbed the collection of short stories from the night before. I opened to the story I had read, “Rain and Fog on the Mountainside”. I turned back to my manuscript, then back to the story. Back and forth I went, unable to believe what I was seeing; the story I had written was identical to the story I had read prior to writing. How could I not have been aware of that? How could I have written it verbatim?
My heart began to pound out of my chest. I thought to myself, “this is it… this is when they’re gonna lock me up and throw away the key… The institution is where I’m headed and those tranquilizers will keep me drooling on my pillow for years and years.” I thought I’d lost it. I had lost it. My actions were certifiably insane.
I stepped outside of my apartment for some fresh air. I saw a group of people heading down the street, speaking rather loudly to one another, apparently in drunken states of glee and heading to another place to drag their joy. I decided to follow them.
I walked 20 or 30 feet behind them as they headed down the road. Five or six blocks down was a bar and something innately told me that’s where they were heading. About three blocks before the bar, after going undetected by the group of three men and one woman, I decided that I didn’t want them to go to the bar. I picked up a dense rock and threw it as hard as I could at the group, striking one man in the head. He fell quickly and his three friends turned at the sound of the rock cracking the bones of his skull, all of them reacting so instantaneously to the sound that they were able to watch their friend’s head dive straight into the pavement.
They all turned back at me and I just took off running. A couple of them chased me, but they were pretty out of shape and I have always been a strong sprinter. However, my speed was not the only skill that helped me so quickly get away from my pursuers. If I desired to I could have sprinted in a straight line and still escaped with ease, but, instead, I ran in a collection of diagonal angles across the street, resting in shadows as they approached, allowing them to get close before I took off once again. Finally, as their pursuit was becoming dispirited and they began to point fingers at one another for the inability to capture me, I slipped off into a shadow and kept going, cutting through a suburban backyard to gain access to an adjacent street.
I walked down the street and I smiled so brightly. I felt alive. I felt the creative juices flowing again, like my mind was awoken to the artistic vibrations it used to eat, sleep and dream with. If I were writing a story about writer’s block, I would have never thought to make a character throw a rock at a group of strangers. Never! It would have never occurred to me to connect violence with inward frustration.
I returned home, taking the long way through side streets, walking slowly as my mind felt an ease that it had not known in longer than I could remember. I walked up the steps to my apartment door and, just as I was about to enter, I heard music playing from inside. Something unfamiliar. I walked in with great curiosity, like a child walks into his birthday party or rich men walk into the bank. Sitting on my couch was a woman who I did not know, smoking a cigarette.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Oh honey, you know me,” she responded. She rose to her feet, kissed me on the cheek and said she was making me tea. She wasn’t classically good looking, but she was attractive in her movements. She didn’t seem to move as much as she seemed to flow, like the tide or Shakespearian meter.
“Oh yes, I remember you,” I said, keeping my eye on her as she navigated through the kitchen as if she had been living there for centuries.
“Take a seat, sweetheart,” she said. I did as I was told.
“What’s the nature of your visit?” I asked after studying her longing glare at me.
“I’m gonna take you somewhere you’ve never been,” she responded. She walked towards me with a cup of hot water. There was no teabag inside, but the water held a brownish green color.
“What do we have here, my love?”
“Something delicious. Drink up, my love.” She sat down close to me and played wit my hair as I silently drank from the cup. She had a control of me that I can’t fully explain. My attraction to her grew with each sip I took, although I had no impulse to make a move towards the seductress. I was paralyzed by her…
“Now, we’re going,” she said to me, gripping me by my hair. I reached my hand out to grab her, but felt only air. I reached closer to her core, but there was nothing there. She was just a collection of vapor. I pulled my hand back, noting that the fingers that I had attempted to touch her with were now a shade of pale blue, nearly frozen to the knuckle.
She pushed me down on my back and levitated to a position directly above me. I stared up at her and she turned her finger in a circle. Her finger began to grow longer and longer, her nail extending as the pointer finger itself stretched farther and farther. I followed the spinning finger until it approached my face.
“Close your eyes,” she said. I could not defy her command and my eyes closed. I bubbled with excitement— I could never have written a tale with such a shocking turn as this! She was an angel in countless ways that she would never realize.
Suddenly, a screech came from above me and I felt the support on my back disappear. I opened my eyes and observed that I was now floating downwards, my eyes fixed on the floating woman who floated in the same direction as me. I let my body dangle, felt a freedom from my physical form that I can only describe as heavenly. I drifted and drifted, thinking thoughts that I hadn’t thought in a long, long time. Thoughts of being a child and being excited. Thoughts of hope that a person only feels a handful of times in their entire life, as if I had accomplished something great and now my fate had changed for the better. Thoughts of private islands and widespread recognition; Thoughts of praise from the masses; Thoughts of being stopped in the street and thanked by beautiful women and wild-eyed men; Thoughts that ceased as I felt my hair yanked upwards as my feet planted on steady ground.
I opened my eyes and found myself alone in a pitch-black forest. The trees hung low and made whistling sounds in the wind. The sound of a beating drum, like a heart beat, ticked and tocked as I turned in circles looking to see something in the dead of night. I moved forward, but nothing moved at all. I turned to the left and right, took a few steps in each direction, but nothing moved but me. I heard a laugh out in the distance.
“What do I have to do to get out of here?” I asked bravely. I saw it as a challenge. The drum beat cut out. I listened intently to the silence of the forest, hearing something skitter across a patch of grass behind me.
“I hear you,” I said.
“You need to answer the question,” a voice let out in a disinterested tone.
“What’s the question?”
“The question is simple: Why do the vultures eat the dead?” I thought about it for a second.
“Because the dead don’t fight back.”
“Wrong,” the voice responded quickly, sounding as if it had ran past my ear.
“Because they want to be close to death.” Mentally, I patted myself on the back for my somewhat philosophical retort.
“Incorrect.” I heard wings flapping overhead. “One more try.”
“Okay. Um,” I began, stalling as I processed all the information that existed in my brain pertaining to vultures, the entire bird family and all scavengers. “Because they eat your soul,” I said with confidence.
“Correct! We got a winner,” the voice spoke with excitement and the forest filled with light, exposing to the true nature of the position I was in. I was surrounded by four walls, each of them painted with scenes from the forest. The walls began to shake and fell back. For an instant I was surrounded by black, empty space, but the scene was soon filled up with the contents of bedroom, sliding in one by one. The walls followed, then the floor and ceiling and my door slammed closed.
On top of my bed, a notebook laid open with a pen resting upon it. I took a deep breath, sat on the bed and began to write:
If a day and a dream can become tangled, I may be breathing out my dreams like rotten smoke invades my lungs. If I spend my days dreaming, I can disappear completely and be whoever I want to be. Vultures dream of eating meat that shines in the glow of a benevolent soul. I bet they’re drinking the blood off the sidewalk from some drunk man who was struck by some flying rock that was thrown by some man who called himself a writer but could only write what he had read; a man with a mind so weak it could be dragged underneath by a hand whose touch he desired. I bet the vultures dream of meeting someone like me.
I closed the notebook, tossed it across the room and crawled inside my bed. A writer needs his sleep if he wants to create the kind of scenes that dream on dreams that never repeat. A writer needs to dream the same way the vultures need to eat.