This Dave in the Shack blog has always been a first person narrative. The person is me. It’s my voice that comes through, and I’ve worked to make it as genuine and consistent as possible. It’s creative non-fiction. Some of my posts are diary like, some essays, but all of them are an account of something that I’ve done, something that has happened to me, or something I’ve been thinking. I unabashedly use the pronoun “I” all the time, like I’m doing now. I change things for story purposes sometimes, but for the most part what I write is life as I see it shared with you. You all know that right? I don’t have a tape recorder and a movie camera out there. I make things up when it suits the story better, but it’s by and large true.
Today I’m giving you something different. It’s the kind of writing I do on the side, the kind that would most likely result in a book. The main character in this story start is based on me but it’s not me, the setting is like my home but different, the other characters are made up but composites of people I’ve known in real life. The wife is not my wife, although she has some of her characteristics. And Bob? I think you all know Bob. Sure it’s based on what I’ve experienced, everyone’s writing is, but this is third person. I don’t plan to switch to this style, but I’d like to see what you think. In case you need reassurance, this didn’t come to me magically, and I don’t think I’m going off the deep end. But my new found character does.
Death of the Muse
The writer, for no apparent reason, and with no memory of it being otherwise, believed the ideas for his stories came to him via e mail, texts, or Face Book messages. He would read the digital communiqué in the middle of the night, or at first light, on his smart phone or computer, and within seconds, less maybe, possessed the kernel, the spark, for stories which would later come easily. He believed the stories flowed from his brain to his fingers on the keyboard and became words on the screen due to those short insightful messages. He did not know the source. He didn’t care. And so it followed that when he could not write, when he would sit for hours in front of a blank Word file, he knew without a doubt it was because the messages had stopped.
He didn’t know, had never known who sent them. The sources, sometimes names of individuals, sometimes organizations, were unfamiliar and changed constantly, like spam. None of them could be found in his address book or his list of friends. He Googled them at first and the searches produced nothing. They came from multiple sources, for all he knew sources never repeated, each new, unknown, a mystery. He believed it likely they were being smuggled out, stolen, passed along secretly to him and him only. After a time his curiosity waned. What did it matter? He had only to keep up with the writing. That was his part of the process. He was producing work at a furious pace.
The messages spoke to him, reached a place deep inside. When he read the message it was if the idea of the story was imprinted in his head and all that was required of him was to write for the record what was already there, transcribe it, edit it perhaps, but mostly to simply write it down. The stories, unseen but perfectly formed, were alive and whole when they came to him. It happened in seconds of him reading the message. When he began writing it was like clicking a link and receiving a download. The idea of the story, the truth within it, the joy, the sadness, the irony was shadowy and unformed in the message, but his writing it down made it coherent, understandable, fully explained. He had learned to convey it perfectly. That is why, he thought, they continued to come to him. The stories were already real and complete, and only he was chosen to make them tangible.
He deleted the messages immediately after reading them so no one else would see them, find them, steal them. If the messages were discovered his readers, and the world, would know that the stories were not his own. He did not save them, did not move them to a folder, did not print them and save them in a drawer. He deleted them. He had no use for them anyway, their content was burned into him such that it fairly glowed within him within seconds of seeing the message. After he had seen the message, perhaps only a few words, sometimes merely a picture, he had only to expand it into essays, chapters, stories, blog posts. One day he trusted a whole novel would be born that way. He laughed because it was so easy, flowed so smoothly, took shape so effortlessly. When one piece of writing was done he received another message that sent him off in a new direction. It was like clockwork, it never failed. Until it stopped altogether.
His wife, who ventured to his office in the attic only rarely, to bring him food, or simply to see him, sometimes heard him behind the door laughing when she approached. Not wanting to interrupt him she would turn away, the sound of his laughter fading as she traced her steps quietly down the stairs.
His readers responded enthusiastically with digital feedback. They would read the story, understand it perfectly, and tell him how much they enjoyed it, how the story, the words and the emotion conveyed by the words, touched them. The inspiration that started with the e mail, text or message, a tiny germ of thought, became real, part of his life and his readers’ lives. The writing became a living breathing thing. The stories changed both him and his readers. He was convinced of it.
But now the messages, which he believed enabled him to write, had stopped. He had to do something, not only for himself but for his readers. He had to receive the messages again, find a way to make them start up once more. The stories were too important. They had to be read, and he had to write them. Something was terribly wrong. And something terrible would happen if the stories did not continue. He knew it. It was urgent. He had to act, but how?
His wife knew something was wrong.
“You’re not going to your office this morning?” She had gotten up mid morning, the sun high in the sky outside the kitchen window, and found him sitting silently at the counter with a cup of coffee. A yellow pencil and that morning’s crossword puzzle, finished, were beside him. He appeared to be doing nothing but staring at the appliances and glancing at his phone.
“I was up there earlier.”
He didn’t want to tell her that he had wildly rushed to his computer as soon as he awoke. He quickly went online and checked his computer’s e mail, then his smart phone for texts or Face Book messages. Nothing from his source(s). The messages didn’t come. He had never told anyone, not a soul, about the messages. Not only was he at a loss to explain it, he felt that trying to explain would be telling, would break some kind of trust, expose something sacred. It was complicated. He didn’t understand it all. With whom or what he would be breaking trust didn’t know. But he felt compelled to keep it to himself, a secret.
“If you’re not going to work can go to the store for me?”
“No. I have to stay close.”
“Close to what?”
He shouldn’t have said that. He didn’t know how to answer. If he didn’t stay close to his computer, keep his smart phone charged and with him, always ready to receive the message, the sender(s?) would know. If he didn’t open it immediately they (he, she?) might pass him by. What if it was a text and he was driving? Maybe that is why they stopped. Had he ignored a message? Were they angry with him, Impatient because a message went unopened? It felt completely logical to him, but he knew his wife wouldn’t understand. And if he started explaining, she would only ask more questions.
“I don’t get you sometimes,” she said.
For a week he made his way to his office each morning before sunrise to check his e mail. Failing to see the magic message there he checked his smart phone for texts and Face Book for a message. He took to scouring his friends’ Face Book posts, even the ads, thinking perhaps the messages were buried there somehow. Nothing. He checked every folder, every nook and cranny he could imagine on his hard drive and his phone for a misdirected communication. Through the window in his office he watched the sky brighten. By the time the sun crested the horizon he had checked all those same sources ten times for the message. Finding nothing he retreated to the kitchen, read the paper, did the crossword puzzle, and tried to think his way out of this hell in which he found himself.
“I’m going to the phone store,” he told his wife the next morning.
“I have a grocery list. Stop please?”
“You having trouble with your phone?”
“Yeah, I’m not getting my e mails right, texts either.”
“Well I’m sure those kids can help you.”
The writer and his wife loved the kids at the phone store. Since their own kids moved away they looked on them as whizzes with new technology. They sometimes solved their problems within a minute. It was almost miraculous.
Last fall the writer brought his phone in because it had strangely stopped ringing. He had a ring tone assigned, the volume was set appropriately, yet it would not ring. Neither would it alert him to texts or e mails. It was suddenly mute.
“Let me see that phone for a minute sir.” The young man took it into one hand, turned it sideways, and clicked a button the writer didn’t know was there.
“I think you’ll find its OK now. You had somehow, probably by accident, manually turned all the sounds off. Settings don’t matter when you do that. Think of it as an override. When you see red, actually sort of an orange, by that switch the sounds are turned off. To turn it on again simply push it the opposite way. It’s handy in movies, concerts, stuff like that.”
The writer looked at the young man as if he was a prophet, a savant.
“Thank you,” the writer said. “I feel a little foolish.”
“Think nothing of it,” the young man said. “Happens all the time. I’m glad I could help.”
The writer hoped to get the same young man that morning. When he entered the store he scanned the room, walls and fixtures bright white, a very large space, filled with the tiniest of products. He did not see the young man. A young woman with blue eyes came up to him smiling.
“What can I do for you today sir?” Her voice was bright and cheery. So smart, the writer thought, all these kids.
“I seem to be having a problem with my I Phone and messages. I’m no longer receiving a number of important messages.”
“What kind of messages? Voice mail? Text?”
“Text. And e mail. And Face Book messages.”
“I can’t do much about Face Book, but perhaps I can help with the texts and e mails. Are you using the e mail that comes with your phone or are your e mail messages being forwarded to your phone by another service?”
“I get the same messages on my computer as on my phone. It’s a G mail account. “
“Then you messages are simply being forwarded to your phone from Google through Google mail.”
“So just to be clear, there is no difference between what you receive on your phone and what you receive on your computer when it comes to e mail. Right?”
“Yes. I mean no. Never has been.”
“So what is the e mail problem again?”
“I’ve stopped getting important messages.”
“E mail messages on both your phone and your computer? From a particular source? Perhaps you’ve blocked a sender. Have you checked your junk folder? “
“No I don’t believe it’s that. I check my junk folder all the time. They are not there. I do not block anyone. Especially this sender. These senders that is.”
“Who is the sender?”
“I never really know. The sender varies. There are lots of them. I know by the content of the message.”
“I see. How long has this been going on?”
“Almost a week.”
“And what is it about the content that makes them similar? If the sender varies what do these messages have in common?”
“Of course. I understand. Sorry. None of my business anyway.”
“That’s OK.” The writer was becoming uncomfortable. He was on the very edge of territory he didn’t want to explore, things he didn’t want to divulge, couldn’t reveal.
“OK let’s move on to the texts. That’s a different type of communication, and more in line with phones. Are you getting texts?”
“But not the ones you want.”
“That’s right. I know this sounds obscure, and I don’t mean to be, but these are important messages and they’ve suddenly stopped.”
“And nothing has changed? Your phone number? The way you view them?”
“No. Everything is the same. They just stopped.”
“May I have your phone for a second please?”
“OK, first put in your password please, and take me to the text screen.”
He did, and handed it to her.
“OK. You are clearly receiving text messages. Here’s one from just a few minutes ago.” She handed the phone back. The writer studied it eagerly. He raised his eyes from the screen to look at the young woman. She looked at him quizzically, her blue eyes full of hope.
“That text is from my wife. We need paper towels. She knows I’m going to the store when I leave here” The young woman’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not what I’m looking for.”
“But the text function is clearly working. Your wife, who knows your number, was able to pull you up in her phone and send a message to you which you received promptly. Very quickly in fact. I have to think that the text message function is working as it should.”
“But what about this sudden stop of messages from my important sources?”
“I really don’t know what to say. Could they have been reported as spam somehow? Blocked?”
“I would never do that. Would anyone else? Could I have been hacked?”
I really don’t think, on this level of personal messages, that would be the case. I don’t want to ask too much, but are these communications dealing with financial matters?”
“No, not at all. On the contrary, they are very descriptive. Deeply emotional.” The writer could feel his cheeks redden. He was beginning to say too much. He wanted to leave, even if his problem was unresolved.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you more sir. I can only suggest you contact these parties in another way, perhaps through a web page or by a voice call, and inquire directly to them why their communications with you have ended. Perhaps you can resubscribe.”
“But I haven’t unsubscribed. I would never do that. I didn’t subscribe either. I need to receive those messages, and I don’t know how to contact them. They have always contacted me. They have been regular as clockwork for a long time and they’re terribly important. And they’ve stopped.”
The girl’s eyes had grown large. He sensed he was scaring her.
“I’m sorry sir but I afraid I can’t help you. If you could give me a few more specifics I might be able to try something else but without violating your privacy I think we’ve exhausted our options here.”
“Of course. Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.” He knew he appeared foolish. He sounded crazy even to himself. How could he not know who the messages were from? He only wanted out.
He rushed to his car, shut the door and started the engine. He felt safer inside alone. He checked his phone again: Face Book, texts, e mail. Nothing. He felt a tightness in his stomach. He drove to the grocery store.
It was as if he was on automatic pilot: he got out of his car, walked through the doors sliding apart in front of him, got a cart, and headed toward the produce. He tried to think only of the list: paper towels, spinach, garlic, eggs, fabric softener sheets, cough drops. He put the list in front of him in the cart and looked at it. He had deliberately left his phone in the car. He had to get a grip on this thing.
“Hey, there’s the writer, how you doin’ friend?” It was Bob from his old workplace. Oh God not Bob.
“How’s retirement? You lucky bastard. I won’t bore you with what’s going on at the agency, but I sure wish I were in your shoes right now. Really, how is retirement?” He was a little too close, his cart right next to the writer’s, by the organic bell peppers, blocking his way.
“It’s great Bob. You’re going to love it.”
“Well I’ve been diggin’ the blog posts. Really liked the one about the dog. Don’t know where you get this stuff.”
“Funny you should say that…”
“But hey, did I miss one? I don’t think I saw a post this past week.”
“I’m having some trouble with my computer. A glitch of some kind. I’m hoping it will be out soon.”
“Well a lot of people enjoy them, I know that, and would hate to see them end. We’re still reading them at work I know. Good seeing you. Don’t work too hard.”
Bob laughed too loud, moved his cart slightly, enough for the writer to quickly roll past him down the aisle, smiling only until he made it past the vegetables. He would circle back and get the spinach later.
‘Those god damn messages have got to start coming,’ the writer thought to himself, ‘or I’ll go nuts.’