Literary Blueballer

Monday, January 17, 2005

My thoughts have been flying in many directions today. I haven’t had much time to concentrate and sit down for an extended period and write. Doolies arrived late last night, and today I’ve rushed around, working, and trying to get home to entertain her. For unknown reasons only slightly related to weather, it took me over an hour to get home from work. The traffic this morning was light and delightful thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I expected the same light traffic this evening, which made the commute that much more terrible. While the highway driving frustrated the hell out of me, it was only when I arrived on Rainer Avenue (named after Mr. Rainer, who looms at the end of the avenue when the light and haze cooperate) that I learned about true frustration. I had already been driving for close to forty-five minutes, when I looked ahead to a line of cars snaking their way through a broken traffic light. The light blinked red, which was all the excuse the already slow Seattlian drivers needed to drive even slower (which, I know, is pushing the possibilities of reality).

Thanks to Chuck’s—and it pains me to say this—insightful comments, I’ve been rethinking the themes and direction of my stories. The gist of his comments is that I tend to write stories about passive victims. Things happen to these characters, but they have no choice in those happenings, and they suffer with no resolution at the end. Chuck used the phrase “literary blueballer” to describe how the reader feels at the end of my stories.

When I thought about all the stories I’ve written, I noticed the trend immediately. Looking back to Loud Neighbors, one of my favorite stories, the narrator is a terribly annoying businessman at a restaurant in Hawaii. The protagonist, however, is the man at the next table who listens to the narrator’s senseless and loud talk about his prowess as a businessman. The protag’s dinner is ruined and at the end, he gets up and does—now get this—nothing. Talk about no resolution. Many people asked me to end the story better; for a fight or at least a comment before the protag walked out of the restaurant. What did I decide to do? Torture the reader and let the annoying narrator get away with his actions. I was trying to protect my art, man. That doesn’t mean I should go back and have the neighbor beat up the narrator. If anything, it would be better (at least in my twisted mind) to have the man start a fight with the narrator (verbal or physical), and then get his butt kicked, which would be a tragic ending, but at least a resolution. Even my poetry reads like that. My last poem told the story of a man whose wife dies when she falls asleep at the wheel. Talk about powerlessness.

This isn’t much of an entry. I had hopes of rewriting yesterday’s story from a combination of Esther and Fred’s point of view. She actually makes a choice (an evil choice, but a choice nonetheless), but while I started to write it, distractions found me as they have a wont to do. I also wanted to give a better description to Chuck’s analysis and my response. Reading his e-mail this morning helped me get a better hold on where I have to go with my writing to tell a “story.” I’m not sure if I’m going to get there anytime soon, but I’ll continue on NEQID, and hope some of the good advice sinks in.

Here are a few fragments I started to write. Still unfinished like this entry, I might as well post something and call a night.

Esther Lamb

Esther is thirty-six years old. She’s has straight black hair to her shoulders. Her face is thin and looks like she’s had all the air sucked out. For the past five years, she has worked as an account manager for Mr. Jenkins at Jenkins Inc, an insurance reseller. Esther has been successful by using a combination of her sex appeal and never-take-no attitude. She emanates energy and jumps from idea to idea, never settling to develop or implement the idea.

Sacrificial Lamb

Esther waits in her office and practices crossing her legs. When she crosses them just right, her skirt raises enough to give a glimpse of her underwear. She positions her chair to the side of her desk to ensure Mr. Jenkins a clear view. She studies her desk, pushing one of the piles of papers closer to the edge. She’s after the busy but organized look. She considers sprinkling paperclips around the desk, but decides against it.

Mr. Jenkins is running late. He asked Esther to be ready over an hour ago, and he’s usually prompt. Just as Esther begins to reconsider the paperclips, the handle turns and the door opens. Mr. Jenkins stands there. He is a tall man and makes the offices seem undersized. He walks as he talks, with measured steps, mechanically placing his heel then foot then toe on the ground, one foot at a time in a perfect cadence. His three-piece suit is creaseless as if the day never dared ruffle him. He wears glasses and hunches forward, like he’s about to tell you a secret.

“Did I catch you at a bad time, Esther?” Mr. Jenkins says.

“No, not at all, Mr. Jenkins. I’ve been expecting you, Please, do come in.”

Mr. Jenkins walks into the office, and closes the door. He sits in Esther’s chair, rolls it behind her desk, and gestures at the visitor’s chair. Esther pushes the visitor’s chair a few inches away from the desk and sits, crossing her legs.

“I hope I didn’t keep you long, Esther,” Mr. Jenkins says. “I’ve been conducting these reviews all afternoon.”

“I understand, Mr. Jenkins. I imagine they can be quite draining.”

“They are, Esther. But these reviews are important to you as an employee of Jenkins Inc. I’m not here to judge you, Esther. I want to communicate where you stand with Jenkins Inc. While these reviews take up a lot of my time, I feel they are worth it for the morale and productivity here at Jenkins Inc.”

Esther nods and tries desperately not to laugh. Mr. Jenkins is a blowhard but he pays her salary.