Sunday, April 10, 2005

Strychnos Nux Vomica or Of Love and Strychnine

A raucous debate over gallons of beer in a darkened booth at the back of a pub: Pseudonymity versus Anonymity. You each possess intimate knowledge of one or the other, and you push, no, you thrust your opinions at one another. Your way is the only way. His is, too. And his. And so is hers. But it's so hard to practice either while sitting right across the table from each other.

Much easier to hide behind the written word than the spoken. Back home, a little drunk, you sit with one line typed on the screen: It's too easy to assume that if an answer can't be had right now, then there is no answer. Easy to hide behind the written word, and this line looms so large you can't possibly see past it.

Trying to sleep that night, your previous work pushes down on you, heavy on your chest; a novel published back in 1998, and another in 2001. Your two dark secrets: the first, riddled with typos, born of lust and naïvety, the second, filled with inconsistencies, born of fear and regret. Your reasons for pseudonymity: to pull away from the past, to avoid a third mistake - one born of loss and anger and teeming with hate.

The next morning at brunch, a little hungover, you chat with LH about words. You tell her, "I can't seem to get anything done. I've no schedule - nothing to do with my time but read and write." She responds with an obvious, "Isn't that what you're supposed to be doing?" Between mouthfuls of hashbrowns, you reply, "Yes, but when I'm not expected to do anything, it's so easy to do nothing at all."

Lunching in the park, feeding the squirrels, still thinking about words. You love what you do, but it is poisoning you. These days, words are like strychnine. Restlessness, uneasiness, anxiety; the first clinical signs of the poison's effect on your body. And you feel each of them acutely. Next will come the muscle twitching and stiffness of the neck, followed closely by convulsions and respiratory arrest. The autopsy will reveal that you died not of strychnine poisoning, but of writer's block.

Suddenly aware of the pad and pen in your breast pocket, you pull them out and write: No man knows his end. And it's a start. Walking home, weaving your way through the park, you're optimistic once more. You notice, for perhaps the first time, the delicate balance between the green grass and the blue sky above. Between the red bricks of the pizzeria and the grey asphalt of 12th Avenue. Between pseudonymity and anonymity. Between art and madness.

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