"It's different this time," Will told his wife while sitting in front of his computer, the screen as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. "I have nothing. Nada. Not a single idea for a story. Not even a character, a beginning sentence. No message on want to impart to the world. Nothing."
Will contemplated a naked Mother Hubbard looking into an empty cupboard at a nudist resort. My God. It's come to this!
Bonnie massaged his neck, digging her thumbs into the flesh under his shirt collar. "I've heard this before," she said. "When was it, about two months ago? You said you were going to quit writing because it was too much like work. You had nothing more to say, you told me." She smiled, managing to avoid any hint of condescension. "I left the house and when I came back you were typing so furiously you didn't even hear me walk in. After dinner you wrote until three in the morning."
"Yeah, but what do I have to show for it? Another story that needs revision."
"So, you'll revise." She stopped her massage and kissed Will's cheek. “What is it you once told me? Each story you write, whether it's published or not, makes yhou a little bit better at your craft.”
“That's why I'd make a lousy poet.” Will turned and met her lips with his.
“You actually listen to me.”
"Thanks for being here. And for believing in…"
"Oh, stop the crap before you nominate me for sainthood. You know I'm just sticking around for the royalty checks."
"Royalty checks? I thought you wanted the T-shirt rights and the Will Squires action figures? We need to negotiate the royalty checks."
Bonnie pushed away her husband, putting her hands on her hips. "I want the T-shirts, Buster. The action figures and the bobble heads. Sixty-forty on the royalty checks. I have to put up with your moods."
"Hey," Will suddenly remembered. "Did I tell you? An Internet publication, "The Morose Pumpkin," just bought one of my stories for ten bucks."
"See," Bonnie smiled. "These years with you are paying off already. Remember. You owe me six dollars.”
“Five and it's a deal.”
With that, Bonnie kissed her husband good-bye, telling him she'd be back dinnertime. "That should give you plenty of time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do some writing."
"I love you," Will shouted just before Bonnie closed the front door.
“I love you, too.”
Will sighed deeply, staring at his computer screen. "It's just you and me, kid," he said in his best Bogart impression. He needed to get back to work.
But after cracking the knuckles on all ten fingers and stretching his arms so his elbow joints popped, Will still had nothing. And the frustration mounted.
Why do I do this to myself? After twenty-five years of teaching, you'd think I'd want to relax, garden, play tennis, take afternoon naps. Why do I sit here in silence forcing words onto a computer screen?
If I had something to say, it would be another matter. But I have no interest in offering advice or creating elaborate political or social theories. I don't trust people who think they have the answers. I have nothing to offer but my own confusion, and Jack Kerouac said that before me. And he probably got it from someone else. In the original French.
Will leafed through his journal looking for an old story idea, but his mind wandered.
I want to communicate. I want to feel connected. It feels good writing something, sending it out into the ether and having strangers all over the world respond. I've created virtual friendships with these strangers based on my stories. And I want to write well in order to impress these people.
Is that it? Will wondered. Is it that I need to impress people, especially people I don't really know, people who only know the me I create? Approaching seventy, am I that insecure? Will stood up and began to pace.
Do I need the mask of a story in order to impress people? In my real life my picture is in the dictionary next to the word, "unassuming." Yet as a writer I'm an entertainer who would do anything, including baring myself in front of strangers, to keep them entertained.
Will thought of a story he had recently written of a teacher, so desperate to attract the attention of her students, she finally ripped off her clothes in front of the class.
In that story, it took a few minutes before anyone noticed, and then only when she stood in front of the clock.
Is writing simply a form of exhibitionism? He returned to his computer. Uncomfortable with this observation, he wasn't sure if it was insight or nonsense or a little of both.
“Enough,” Will shouted, scaring himself when he heard his own voice.
Will typed a few words and deleted them, typed some more, read what he composed, highlighted it all and pressed the delete button. This process continued for much of an hour. Finally, he stretched his fingers and typed some more: "Help me. I'm trapped inside my head and I can't get out." He looked at what he had typed, released a sigh of frustration, and pressed the delete key once again. Watching the letters vanish, he imagined a reverse process spraying the unwanted words onto the computer screen of some poor soul on the other side of the earth.
"What in the bloody blazes does, 'Help me. I'm trapped inside my head and I can't get out' mean," wondered Cyrus Alpert, staring at his computer screen in his home in Sydney.
"Yes!" Will shouted aloud, breaking his monastic silence once again. What a great opening idea. He began typing furiously.
"Oh," Will looked up at Bonnie. "I didn't know you were home."
"I've been home for a while now. You were so lost in thought I didn't want to disturb you." Bonnie smiled at her husband. "You obviously found an idea for a story. You want to talk about it?"
"I need to write, but it's a fantasy about a man whose inner thoughts are somehow communicated via computer to a person on the other side of the world and they become friends."
Bonnie shook her head. "It's just amazing how you come up with these ideas."
Will smiled. “It's good having a wife who impresses easily.”