A few years back, not that long ago, I poured out about 10 chapters of a story that remains unfinished, which I have dubbed “The Girl, The Alien, and Me” on my list of unfinished projects that I still hope to finish someday.
The story stalled after the death of a character named Buzz, a jack of all trades and UFO conspiracy theorist who worked with the guy who is Me in the title. I let the project peter out instead of, as I now understand storytelling, going back to the point where Buzz dies, erasing his death, and moving forward from there.
Buzz keeps coming back in my journal, urging me to do just that. Here is what flowed from my fingers back in February. (Yes, February, it takes a very long time for me to process my thoughts.)
The place was a dive. Old photographs of famous people who once ate there hung on the walls, but none of the pictures was newer than somewhere in the mid 1970s. Faded wallpaper was starting to peel at the seams. The place smelled somewhere between a campground latrine and the morning after a frat house party.
A man in a trench coat and wearing a fedora — God, could he be any more of a cliche? — slid into the booth opposite him.
“You Slate?” the stranger said, his hands visibly trembling before he folded them to keep them still.
He cracked his knuckles and started writing, and his curiosity was piqued by the character who appeared on the page before him.
“Ya think I’m some circus animal who can just pop out of nowhere and do my tricks, don’t ya?” said the curious being.
It was an amazing sight. The voice sounded like a cross between Jack Benny and Jerry Seinfeld, that wry whine with a youthful energy, but he didn’t look like either. He was wearing a puffy down jacket of some kind over brand-new blue jeans, loose-fitting over slightly bowed legs. His eyes bulged from behind round glasses that looked more like goggles, and he smelled like a circus peanut. He leaned against the wall for just a moment, then sprang up and walked swiftly toward the writer.
“So you think you’re smart conjuring me from nowhere on command, do ya?”
“Well,” said the writer, typing contentedly away, “yes, I’m kind of pleased with myself.”
“Really? I have news for ya. You’ve only just begun,” said the odd being. “Here’s the trick, son: Ya need to do it again, and again, for the rest of your life. Once you conjure us up, ya need to give us adventures and reasons to live. Don’t just make us up and tuck us into a corner. We want to live, loser. Ya think you’re up to it? Do ya, punk? Do ya?”
“That’s why I’m here,” the writer said after an awkward pause.
“OK, then,” the being raised his chin defiantly. “Go ahead — make my day, then make my week, and a few of my years. Do that for me, and then conjure me a family and friends and enemies, and do the same for them. Then, maybe, we’ll call you what you claim to be.”
He zipped up his puffy down jacket, turned, and waddled into obscurity.
I was born on a Sunday evening, and so I have seen 67-times-52-plus-change Sundays in my life. Do the math later if you’d like.
I have piles and piles of debris to show for it. Well, “debris” is the wrong word for what’s piled in my little home office. These are shelves of books and boxes of records and magazines and various detritus of human endeavor.
Here’s a 1941 Philco radio that was crafted and assembled by good hard-working folks who, I hope, were proud of their work. And each book, each record, represents a lifetime — several lifetimes, in fact, because while one name or one face may appear on the cover, it is also the work of an editor, the printer, the layout and cover artists, the sound engineer, the accompanying musicians — all those hundreds and thousands of people created what is contained in this debris.
Think of the thousands of names scrolling along at the end of a film — all of those lives invested in creating a single bit of popular art.
And so I’m loathe to consign any of it to a garbage bin. As Paul Simon wrote in a tune many years ago now, “Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.”
Once upon a time, I was a rabid Republican. That was when Republicans said things like “government should defend our shores and deliver the mail and otherwise stay out of our lives” and “In this present crisis, government isn’t the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Then I had a conversation with Andre Marrou, a libertarian running his quixotic campaign for president. Politicians all want to be your parent, he said: Democrats want to be your mother, and Republicans want to be your father, but make no mistake, they’re convinced they know what’s good for you better than you do. Essentially the major parties are two sides of the same Big Government/totalitarian coin.
“Small steps are great. But you gotta keep walking.”
A guest on Joanna Penn’s “The Creative Penn” podcast said that some years ago, and I wrote it down and posted it above my writing station. I forgot to write down who said it, though. My bad.
At the time I didn’t have a lot of free time to write for myself. The guest reminded me that it’s OK to write only a little at a time, but if I want to make progress, skipping a session or quitting altogether cannot be an option.
A cup of coffee. A half-dozen Biscoff cookies to dunk, absorbing the liquid to create a sweet treat. A cat bounding onto the chair’s arm with an interested meow. This is how it starts.
The first day of school for kids is a symbolic new beginning for grownups, too. For those grownups who may have forgotten the importance of preserving your kid-ness, the first day of school is a reminder to get back in touch with that young person who has been hibernating in your bones.