A Masthead for Vagabonds, Drunkards and Saints

Stories and Storytellers

The first novel I wrote was so bad, I couldn’t even convince my then girlfriend to use it for scratch paper.

“Some of the adverbs might rub off on me,” she said.

“Right,” I said. “So there should be fewer adverbs.”

“Fewer words,” she said. “Try cutting out 60,000 or so, and start from there.”

“The novel’s only 40,000.”

“Really? It felt longer.”

There was a long awkward pause, as it dawned on me I would never have an erection in front of this woman again.

“Well, in any case there’s no reason to start with a deficit. I mean I don’t think you have a vocabulary problem,” she said, hesitating, perhaps realizing she’d just ruined a perfectly serviceable male. “Look, you know plenty of words.”

At this point my jaw was slack, and my legs were jello’d. Incapable of flight, I threw up my hands.

“Maybe you didn’t get it?”

Thud! Thud! Wallop! Pow! Crash!

I doubled over like some low-level villain in a campy Batman drama. I imagined the cartoon balloons above my head as she struggled to overcome her laughter and take a breath.

“I’m sure that’s it,” she said, after several seconds of wicked-witch-of-the-west-style laughter.

If I had not been so thoroughly unmanned, I might have considered some verbal retaliation, perhaps a comment on the labial disaster that had left one side of her vulva so distended it looked like the flap for a messenger bag, but I was gelded. Beaten. Drop kicked into the road like an African baby at a Klan rally….


It didn’t really happen like that, of course. My ill-conceived first novel. Though it was certainly bad enough to warrant that kind of disdain. I really had no idea what I was doing. Still don’t actually, but now that I’ve begun, once again, to attempt to round up voices that aren’t mine, I’ve found you to be a great comfort.

I don’t have to say everything anymore. I don’t have to struggle for erudition, or elaborate upon the schizophrenia of the West; shake my fist at the moon-faced babble of the wealthy and the white and the spiritless mutes we paint with glitter and call stars. I also don’t have to take it all back, and tight-rope between extremes. I don’t have to say, “wait we all decompose in the end. We all fall down.”

The gilded and the grey, all down, one by one. The luminous, the dull, all down, one by one by one. The fain, the feckless, all down, one by one by one by… You get the idea. This is the place I can go for that. I don’t need another outlet. More friends, of course. Yes, yes, please, invite your friends over. I’d love to have them. A party for 10,000 plus ones.

When I was a kid I never really threw parties because I was afraid no one would show up; only later in life did I understand you were just waiting for an invitation. I don’t mean, lest you’re suspicious, that the universe answers prayers or dinner invites. The universe doesn’t care much for prayers or formalities. I just mean that people are happy to pull up a chair and share a story or two. And why not, after all? What else is there to do but tell stories?

Did you hear the one about the ape who lost all its hair, except for a useless mop on its crown and a course thicket at the loins for collecting ball sweat and blood? Or how ’bout the one about the rib that became a woman? What about the one where blind matter slammed into itself over and over again until it could see itself in a grain of sand? Great stories, indeed.

Personally, I like the stories with math the best, because they’re the only ones with coherent sequels. I see, although dimly, how variables and operations were eventually succeeded by infinitesimal series and the volume of bounded curves. It’s more difficult to see how many gods became one, or how one god became many. Don’t get me wrong, those stories are fun too. There’s always an unexpected ending, some kind of twist no one foresaw. Everyone in Judaea must have been pretty surprised when the messiah actually turned up, and who would have thought some middling desert warlord would be chosen by Allah to reveal His word? I know his brothers were pretty dubious.

And as much as I celebrate those stories, and I do celebrate them, it’s time to move forward. Time to find the eigenvalue of agape. Discover how many angstroms across is the dharma. I can think of no holier task than to plumb the mind, discover some numbers and logarithms secreting about, meditate upon their relationship, and observe that relationship in the world. It is one of the great wonders. It’s like a magic show without sleight of hand. It’s like a magic show with actual magic.

I get to do all of that with you. Here in this space. And it sets me free, and you too I hope. It sets me free to visit with the petty racist in my chest who loves pork rinds, hates fags and cares for the diseased chickens he rescues from his neighbor’s knife. It opens the door to a Facebook glitch that keeps a billion people from tpng vwls.

Of course, fiction is so much harder than rambling, so you may find me here, from time to time, defeated by a twelve-year-old, or bested by some varixed spinster who goes through puppies like carnival goldfish; but when I’m with you, I promise not to whine, or carry on about the difficulties of art. It will be just you and me swapping stories after a long hard day building sand castles too close to the shore.

One Response to Stories and Storytellers

  1. To the Rambler: I enjoyed this post. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect; or if not that then wonderful. Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead.” I did a post on this quote and the theme seems related to what you wrote here, so I thought you might it enjoy it, even though I whine some about the difficulties of art. It’s at:

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