::: the novel written in seven hours :::
This is a story about nothing. Because at the heart of every equation is the sublime, undeniable reckoning of the number zero. Add zero to anything and it is still itself, untouched, unaffected. Or is it? Because you can take zero back out of it forever, until your calculator buttons sizzle with under the repetitive force of your finger pressing down, until the circuits scream "No more! It's the same, don't you see, always the same?" and there's still an infinity of nothing at its core, waiting to be extracted.
Eric is sitting in the Media Union viewing room, several of his paintings on the walls. In one corner, under a special directed light that enhances the cruel, delicious brushstrokes, that accentuates the conflicting colors and the boiling mass of media that fight against each other, pushing to the outer extremities of the canvas, is his painting of Chloe. Several art students stand around it, buzzing.
"Can you believe this? He actually painted her," one says, glancing back over his shoulder to shoot Eric an envious glance.
"I don't know, I think the mixed media is jangling," the other says, critically, rubbing his chin.
"Exactly, the perfect essence of the perversion. Beautiful and ugly."
"It looks like pop art to me," the critic says and turns away.
Indeed, it is pop art, Eric thinks. Commercial at its core, in that self-depricating way that all art seeks to annihilate humanity via the sheer ability to imitate life. When she took off her clothes, Eric felt absolutely nothing, a completely blank canvas. Then he started to undress himself, to peel back the layers of thought, to go deep inside, and find the colors he needed to betray her to the audience. He found the reds and the greens and the brutal yellows buried inside his secret, anxious heart. He hated the colors that came vomiting up out of his pancreas, and so he splashed them on the canvas, orgiasticly raping himself. He saw his face there, and he tore at it, parting the flesh to reveal a tender, shriveled clitoris that he bite into and ripped away. He would jam his brush hard into the colors, shoving it into his stomach, pull it out dripping yellow, choleric bile. He would splash a few lines of face with that. Then he shoved it into the crook of his elbow like a practiced junkie, and pulled it back out covered with chlorine green, and that would be the eyes. Again and again, tearing his flesh, spilling blood, coming back for more.
At the core of this anger, this intense need to create and destroy at once, he panting and exhausted and even shivering, she still standing there, defiled on the page but undaunted, pressing her breasts even farther forward, raped but head still high, defiant, was the simple, incontrovertible fact that this was inevitable. He could bury the feelings deep, but they were still there. He could hate and hate and still at the end of it all he was flesh and blood and the desire to create. It would always, eventually, come back to the canvas, his mind, the great blank slate that needed continual refilling.
Allen slams the paper down on the desk, and smiles like a maniac. "What if I told you I don't care about your opinion? What if I told you I'll write no matter what, and that this program means all of doodley-squat to me?"
Prof. Bogdavani sniffles a little and shrugs. "That is certainly your prerogative." And after a brief pause, he adds, "But if that is so, why does my opinion anger you so? I simply said that perhaps this program is not where you belong. Perhaps you'd be happier somewhere else?"
"Like on an oil rig in Alaska? Or in a rice paddy in Vietnam maybe?" Allen chuckles at the thought of himself wearing one of those little triangle-hats, toiling knee deep in water and working rice. What did they do to the rice out there anyway?
"Allen, I just think that isn't the kind of work the program wants from its students. I'm sorry. You're always welcome to reapply later..."
"Of course, and get denied again." Allen pulls his paper off the desk and rolls it into a little megaphone. "I've been in here eight times in the last three years trying to figure out what you want a person to do to 'get in the program,' and the best you've ever offered is... what? Do you know? You've said, 'You'll know when you're ready.' What kind of bullshit is that? Who do you think you are telling me what art is? Who do you ... who do you think you are to say what talent is?" He holds the megaphone up to his mouth to amplify his voice as he says, "No one. That's who. No one."
"I understand your frustration..." Sonny is getting angry, but he holds his temper with the tip of his index finger pressed against his whitening lips.
"I understand that you think this all is voodoo, but I'll tell you that the system does work...."
Sonny Bogdavani cracks, and suddenly he is on his feet, snatching the paper megaphone out of Allen's hands, unrolling it, screaming. "Look, you insolent little bastard, I am a professor at this University. I am director of the MFA program, and I am the chair of the Creative Writing subconcentration. I am a published, renowned author and you are no one! Do you understand, you are no one!" His temper retreats as he vents the worst of it, but still the words keep flowing, carried forward by the momentum of his wrath. He is flushed with anger, his large, furry eyebrows two venomous spiders spinning webs of hatred that spill from his thin, contemptuous lips. "I have done lectures with Ginsberg. I knew Borges! I have read more, assimilated more, and written more in my lifetime than you ever will. You forget yourself in my presence. If you don't want my opinion, that is your right. But I will not have you mocking me in my own office."
Outside, several professors, roused by the commotion, have gathered and are peering in the little window in his door.
Allen retrieves his paper quietly, and turns to leave. Then, he turns around one last time. "You know, you are wrong about one thing."
Sonny catches his breath, chest heaving, poised for conflict, not ready for denouement. "And what, please tell me, is it that I miss?"
"I don't have a choice. I don't have a choice, and no one who wants to be in this precious circle of nobodies has a choice. We come here bright-eyed and hopeful, and we want to find our company of writers, but most of us end up disillusioned and cowed back into silence because of people like you, small-minded, suspicious, self-serving people who want to retain all the glory for themselves and the belief that they were once the best. You're right, you were somebody. You did the things, and you knew the people, and you paid your dues. But so have I. And your time is gone, and mine is here. You had better embrace the future, professor, because if you don't it'll roll over you just like your generation rolled over the one before it. If this is your sick, twisted test of a writer's resilience, bravo! But you can't crush us, and you can't deny us, and I defy you to ever turn me into you. Because I need to write. I need to write, and I won't stop."
Allen opens the door, and the professors in the hall scurry like rats back into their respective holes. "Thanks for your time, professor." The professor snaps his gaping mouth shut with a click, and fingers the drawer full of buried portfolios. Suddenly he yanks it open and pulls out folder after folder of decent, nay, excellent writing. He spills them over his desk, and stares at them.
As Allen marches down the hall, Sonny Bogdavani shouts after him, "Allen! Good luck! Good luck! Don't stop writing. Never stop!" But Allen doesn't need to look back again.
In the corner of Cava Java on South Main, Drew is turning a literary journal over and over in his hands. Across from him, Kenny is reading The Sound and the Fury. Drew takes another sip of his mocha, and asks, "So who is this guy we're going to meet?"
Kenny holds up a finger, and scans two more lines before setting the book down. "His name is Eric. You'll like him; he's a genius. Should be someone interesting to examine."
"And how do you know a genius?"
"I ran into him at a showing of his art. Up at the Media Union. We just started shooting the shit, like someone else I know," Kenny smiles to himself and takes a sip of his black coffee, "and I found out that he likes to write, too. I figured you couldn't get into that little exclusive club they call the Creative Writing program, so maybe you'd like to form your own."
"Writers don't have clubs, Ken," Drew corrects him. "They have circles."
"Whatever. Are you ever going to stop staring at that journal and actually submit something?"
"Are you ever going to explain how you got past the rage?" Drew counters.
"I didn't. Like you said, it's all about appearances. I deal in my own way, and talking helps. Here he is." Kenny jumps up and strides over to a rumpled looking kid in a black leather jacket with a Bill the Cat tee-shirt underneath. Behind him stalks a pretty red-head with green, cat-like eyes standing behind him. They are introduced as Eric and Chloe. Chloe looks hauntingly familiar, like a faceless woman in a French impressionist painting. They sit down and make small talk.
"I pose nude," Chloe tells Drew out of the blue. She reaches into her oversized backpack and produces a black and white nude photo of herself, which she lets him examine at his leisure.
"I write," he says, as he passes it back to her.
"What do you write?" she asks, yawning.
"Obviously. You might write a painting, I guess, although that's highly unlikely. I suppose you want to tell me more about your writing?"
"No, not really," Drew says.
Eric pulls a Marlboro light out of his breast pocket and breaks the filter off, tossing it over his shoulder. Chloe throws her head way back and sneezes towards the ceiling. Kenny is watching this all with a toothy grin. Finally, Drew says, "You know, those things will kill you."
Eric lights it and looks across at him. "Do you want one?"
They start smoking and talking about writing, just stupid things like where they like to write and how they deal with other writers. "I don't like writers. They're a suspicious lot, by and large. There's one I think is pretty cool, though. His name is Allen." Eric snuffs the cigarette butt. "He tore the head of the Creative Writing program up. Bogdavich, or something like that. Anyhow, I hear the guy's going on sabbatical and they're going to get someone else to run the program."
This is old news. Kenny starts reading again. Drew strikes up a conversation with Chloe about posing nude, but she is extraordinarily uncommunicative.
And you see, that's how the story ends. There might have been martian landings, and cow mutilations, and spontaneous displays of affection, but overall it was all just one big story that everyone contributed to and no one knew anything else about. Which brings this back to Drew, who actually managed to say something intelligent before they all left to go home. It went something like this.
"Actually, I was thinking about something I heard about the other day. About people getting together and writing a story together, but no one knowing what the other ones were writing. All of them suspicious of the others, all of them reading little pieces of the story as they went along. None of them able to provide any closure. Just this long, oblique, winding story about nothing. Signifying nothing, right Kenny? They call this kind of stuff meta-fiction, fiction that denies its own fictionality. But that's not the point.
"Anyhow, I was thinking what a great way that was to write a story. Because that's exactly what our lives are like. Winding, intermittent stories, intersecting at random points, providing no closure. No villains, because any one of us could easily be the hero in someone else's mind, and vice versa. It sounds cheesy, but think about it this way: what if we were the characters in someone else's mind? What if we could accept that that creator, that author, couldn't find anyway to reconcile us, to close us, to put us together and make us whole? What if we could just enjoy that time we have, and figure that the story's going to get written anyway? I mean, I write, and I know that my characters have a mind of their own, and that I can't really control them. That's the illusion of writing: that the audience is real and the characters are the lie. But really, its just as likely the other way around, because what's on the page is constantly asserting its real-ness.
"But my point, if I had one originally, was this:
"What the hell do we do when we get to the end? How do we even know when that is? What if we pass that moment and still keep going? We don't even know the questions! We can't get answers if we don't know the questions. So what do we do when the creator stops writing?"
They were all quiet for a moment, Eric looking at Chloe with a my-God, what the hell is he talking about? look, Kenny fidgeting with his book. Finally, Drew said, "Yeah, you're right. Fuck it anyway, it was a fun story to write."
...on to Chapter Twenty...
Any questions? e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org