A Dramatic Monologue


I type:

They say writer's block exists only in the mind, but it can certainly paralyze the fingers.

And then I slouch, twisting my lips pensively. And where to go from here?

Groundbreaking is the hardest part of writing. Cracking open a fresh idea is like breaking open a coconut or a watermelon and trying not to make a mess everywhere. And if what you've broken on the side of the mixing bowl is a half–baked idea, all you're going to get is partially developed bird embryo in your omelet.

I make a face. What a disgusting mixed metaphor. And for that matter, what a terrible pun!

The cursor blinks and winks in the absence of my typing, taunting me from behind the laptop screen.

And then it says: [If you can't think what to write next, then it's my turn to do the talking.]

For a moment, I fail to react. Frowning, I glance at the coffee mug a handbreadth away from the computer and my gigantic stack of homework, wondering if I made it too strong or not strong enough. The Christmas goose on the white ceramic stares back blankly, offering no explanations.

I look back at the screen, watching the cursor suspiciously. "But I don't want you to do the talking," I say slowly, suddenly thankful that my family isn't anywhere in the nearby vicinity to hear me exhibiting signs of certain schizophrenia. "I want to do the talking."

Several silent blinks. [But you're not saying anything at the moment.]

"I have a great opening line," I insist under my breath, reaching for the goose mug. I am stalling, trying to think and simultaneously wishing I didn't suffer from the habit of talking to myself. Non–fiction writing assignments are not my forte. I like to invent stories about other people, not recount ones of my own.

[But where are you going with it?] the cursor asks inquisitively, blinking its black–pixel spine against the last period.

I don't really know, I think in response, but am unwilling to admit that aloud. Somehow, the demon antagonist within my computer must already know this. Or maybe I'm just being paranoid.

[Why don't you take a break?]

I pause with the mug at my lips, narrowing my eyes at the screen. The cursor winks back, innocently. The kitchen is silent, broken only by the out–of–tune hum of the refrigerator, and lit with afternoon sun. With the house to myself, I am keeping myself focused by willpower alone.

From my bedroom, my guitar is calling in a sultry, spoiled–only–child wail. In the living room, the old PlayStation and its gang of mismatched controllers and antiquated games are loitering coolly, saying nothing, but I can sense their great displeasure at being ignored. Outside, the Camaro basks in the sun, snoozing shallowly, dreaming of a good bath and my hands under her hood, working out all the knots of tension in her coolant system. The bookshelf above my bed is home to volumes of Lovecraft and Poe, Dickens and Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Fitzgerald, Anderson, Murakami and many more. The soft rustle of stimulating, intellectual conversation is audible all the way out in the kitchen as the breeze from my open window teases countless pages.

I set the mug back on the tabletop without taking a sip, shaking my head to clear it. "You fight dirty," I say, but I am impressed and concurrently worried that I am losing my mind.

[You do what you have to,] the cursor replies dismissively, and I imagine that if it had possessed shoulders, it would have shrugged. [I'm just trying to help.]

"Help?" I repeat incredulously. "Helping me would be giving me ideas of what to write about."

[But that would be too easy,] the cursor responds matter–of–factly, almost smugly. [You're the one who always says he doesn't want the easy answers.]

I laugh, possibly out of disbelief, sinking back on the bench to put my back against the wall. "You've got me all figured out, huh? Me and my independent Byronic mindset."

The cursor blinks pensively. [Looks like you've got a conundrum on your hands.]

"No," I retort, putting my head against the sheetrock and looking up at the ceiling. "This is just what I get for not writing this by hand. 100% recycled Meade margins wouldn't talk to me…"

[You say that like it's a good thing,] the cursor replies, sounding offended. I imagine it pouting. [You're the one who procrastinated on this assignment until now. I'm the one just trying to help.]

"By distracting me?" I retort.

This time, there is no response. I have not touched the keys in too long and the Mac's default screensaver has drawn the intermission curtain over my piece – early, of course. The second act is destined to be even dryer and longer than the first.

Understudy! I cry desperately, then push back the bench and stand with a sigh. My coffee has grown cold anyway. I can't write without steaming black Folgers, my thought catalyst.

I dump the coffee back into the pot, add fresh grounds to make more, and then hoist myself up to sit on the counter and think. All I need is a good topic. Something in my past or a current experience to use in a creative, non–fiction essay. Something amusing, sad, enlightening – whatever. Anything. I have three days left to come up with something worthwhile. Of course I've been procrastinating – guilty as charged. But I'm a pressure writer: I work well in the last minute.

My gaze drops onto the stack of books patiently awaiting my attention, and the sight elicits a moan of helplessness from my lips. The essay on English Grammar (which, logically, could be about anything so long as it utilizes proper grammar – right?) is due next Friday. The next paper for The Modern Short Story waits to even be started. Finals are just a few short weeks away.

I think about saying something comically melodramatic – something like, "I'm doomed" or "The horror!" or "But man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward!" – but heave myself to my feet instead, crossing the vacant kitchen and seating myself before the computer once more. No one is here to groan at my terrible humor anyway.

"First things first," I say aloud, and stroke the touchpad. The Arabesque curtain immediately retreats, and there is my last sentence waiting for me. It is awkward and stunted, but it is a complete thought. And there, batting itself flirtatiously, is the cursor.

[Back so soon?] it asks, perhaps genuinely surprised. [It's beautiful outside, you know?]

"Just get the first draft finished," I tell myself, ignoring the comment. "That's what Professor Brown would say."

Revision is just a stall. I need to stop stalling and just finish my thoughts. Then – and only then – can I once more don the guise of the Mad Proofreader, the persona of myself who enjoys marking up his classmates' and his own short stories with comments, edits, and suggestions so much that it has become a cathartic high. But revision is a completely divorced mindset from the writing process, a separate idea entirely. It is the child of the story, the one who cares for its parent in its old age, making the final decisions on healthcare and managing finances because the parent no longer can do those things for itself.

This is what I've learned in class today.

I begin to type.

[Good,] the cursor says, like it is the technological incarnation of Obi Wan Kenobi, come to remind me to use the Force in my writing. [You're telling our story.]

"My story," I growl.

In all, finishing my thought takes me less than an hour. Writing involves merely the sequential pounding of keys, the squinting of the eyes, and a tunnel–vision concentration of the mind. Of course it always sounds better in the writers' mind – that's why he must revise and revise and revise. But before that can happen, an idea must be completed. Otherwise, it becomes something that it was not meant to be, a separate thought entirely.

I stop typing and pop my knuckles to ease the cramping sensation that has come over them. For a moment, I stare at the final line I have transcribed. And then, I scroll slowly back to the beginning of the document, reading what I've written with a critical eye.

The cursor is finally silent, blinking approvingly, flanking my last sentence like an emotionless guard at Buckingham.

I laugh aloud, shake my head, and lean back on the bench, putting my back against the wall once more. Either this is a really creative, thoughtful idea I've developed, or it is something else entirely – maybe a vain cry for attention, maybe just written evidence of my insanity. My autobiography in 1500 words or less.

Still smiling, I lean forward once more and type these words:

They say writer's block exists only in the mind, but it can certainly paralyze the fingers.

Forcing them to move anyway produces something like this.

END