SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
January 26, 2020

A Long Drought

 

On a Tuesday afternoon in early December, I sat down at the computer and began typing. What began spilling out in a mad torrent was, to my bewilderment, a short story. I canít remember the last time I wrote one of those. It had been at least a decade, when that fairy tale collection came out, and even that was a bit contrived. It may have been since I was in college that Iíve tapped out a piece of short fiction just for the hell of it. It felt strangely good, though even while typing there was a nagging thought in the back of my head that I really should be working on something that pays instead of a stupid story that will likely never go any further than my desktop screen. It also occurred to me that my time could likely be better spent doing somethingóanythingóto prepare for the move. We had some boxes sitting in the hallway, so maybe I should be filling them with household objects or something. I shrugged both thoughts off and kept typing.

††††††††††† Since everything started going to hell at the end of September, I hadnít written a thing. Almost nothing, anyway, or nothing that I was able to fully complete. Almost nothing that paid. Iíd sketched out a few ideas for different publications, jotted down a few notes, but then let them sit there. Between cat traumas and trips to the vet, my own trips to the doctor, having my office designated a quarantine zone for two months, the hunt for a new apartment, all the necessary daily bullshit of groceries and laundry and cleaning, the open houses and the visitations from would-be buyers, as well as thinking about all the shit that needed doing for the move, I didnít have stretches of more than half an hour or so when I could get any work done. Knowing that, I didnít even bother trying. Half an hour was nothing, barely enough time to fall into a coherent and focused rhythm let alone follow it, so it wasnít worth the abortive effort.

††††††††††† Worse still, I got a few notes from editors offering assignments, and I had to turn them down for all the above-mentioned reasons. I fucking hated turning down work, especially when I was in such desperate need of work, but knew I couldnít guarantee making any deadlines.

††††††††††† As a result, I hadnít received a check from anyone except Electron Press in three months. My checking account was nearing extinction, and between all the vet bills and the expected and unexpected moving expenses, the credit card balance was fast approaching the unmanageable. Yet there I sat writing a stupid story about nothing.

††††††††††† It was something I unconsciously needed to do. As Iíve mentioned, when I donít write I slide quickly into a deep depression, likely because writing has always been a way to free the demons in my head. It is perhaps the only true and viable form of exorcism there is. I put these bad thoughts down on the page, shove them away from me, and theyíre gone. When I canít do that they stay up there and grow and fester and bad things happen. You donít want bad things festering in your head when there are real things you need to focus on and get done.

††††††††††† I worked on that story for about an hour and a half, the first time Iíd allowed myself such a luxury in months. The storyówhich had started with a single opening line that came to me on my way to the storeówas roughly a third finished. I knew where it was going, and knew how dark it was going to get. Maintaining the level of minute detail that made up the first third, though, was going to take some time and energy. Mostly time.

††††††††††† Thereís a line Nick Tosches cited throughout his work. Itís from The Gospel of Thomas: ďIf you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.Ē By that token, the darkness I was looking at in the story was, I thought, and this is not being overdramatic, a darkness that might either save me or destroy me. I didnít know which, but wanted to find out. It had less to do with the contents of the story than the actual physical process of writing it.

††††††††††† Then, however, other things needed to be done around the apartment, and the guilt of not working on one of the half dozen barely-begun paying stories started getting to me as well. So I stopped and tucked the scrap of a story in a folder with other extraneous projects. Maybe Iíd get back to it one of these days. I planned to, but to be honest I had no idea when that might be.

††††††††††† The growing demons in my head had been half loosed through the simple act of typing, but not completely. During those moments Iíd been typing I felt better than I had in a while, but with the decision to stop unfinished, things were suddenly bad again. It was in fact worse than it had been, knowing I had just dumped another incomplete bit in a folder and would likely never get back to it. A Half-loosed demon is no good to anyone, especially me. I wasnít even certain Iíd finish this thing youíre reading here, which was cobbled together across a handful of fifteen minute bouts of typing over the course of a week.

††††††††††† I donít even know that Iíd say this column is finished, but I have to stop here. There are boxes that need filling and demons that need feeding, but I keep thinking of the end of that semi-begun story. Likely better to keep it to myself anyway. At least for now.

 

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