- Remember that apathy is a coping mechanism.
- Eat all the chocolate.
- In the house. All the chocolate that exists in the house.
- Don’t go out to buy more chocolate if it is raining.
- If it is not raining, cuddle your cat, your dog, your fish (the fishbowl, don’t take the fish out), or your stuffed animal. Then go out and get more chocolate.
- Once you’ve eaten enough chocolate to make you throw up, let loose. Try to aim at the toilet bowl but if that doesn’t work, any surface is fine. Maybe even better. More memorable.
- Vomited chocolate looks remarkably like old blood. Brown and sticky and vaguely metallic in your mouth.
- Remember that chocolate is a coping mechanism.
- Look at the chocolate you threw up. Think of it as blood.
- Feel the pain in your stomach. In your throat. The pounding in your head. Imagine that after hours of dancing. Keel over. Pretend you’ve been shot.
- Realize that unless you go out and try it, you will never approximate what getting shot is like.
- Stop blaming other people.
- It’s all your fault.
- The apathy.
- The tiredness.
- The knowledge that you should be sad.
- The intellectual response that is being appalled yet functional.
- Remember that it is all.
- Not the shooting.
- Only the aftermath.
- Try to imagine a loved one.
- Your mom.
- Your dog.
- The fish.
- Picture them getting brutally murdered.
- If you feel something, let yourself cry. You’ve accessed it. The place you’ve been hiding all this time.
- If you feel nothing, find a box of pins. Or paperclips that you can bend and make pointy.
- Insert the pins, the pointy paperclips, anything sharp, into your eyeballs.
- See the truth.
- See why you’re unable to feel.
- Think of your history with violence.
- Think of how you’ve learned to be blase.
- Because you’ve had to.
- Or you’d always be scared.
- Remember you used to live this way.
- Remember you’re not useful this way.
- Remember you are giving into the oppressor when you are not useful.
- Never forget.
- That is the only way for you, apathetic slug that you are, to feel something.
- Until you die a little inside. It’ll happen eventually.
- When it does, forgive yourself.
- Not too much.
- Just enough to keep going.
The sound of spilling in a quiet space is never a positive one. Either someone has peed their pants, or their drink has poured all over their computer, or else they’ve vomited up the vodka from last night onto the front of their expensive thrift store sweater.
The quiet space makes every nanosecond, every inch, every gram of noise carry across the ceiling and in between the cubicles like the measles virus. It is a bad place to be clumsy. It is a bad place to have a cold. It is a bad place to let rip a heroic fart or a miscalculated burp.
Our coats spill onto one another, hung over the sides of cubicles and backs of chairs. Boots tumble sideways from their tucked in nooks when the door opens and the entire place shakes. It is a bad place to be heavy. It is inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. It is discriminating.
Compassion and jealousy and hatred permeate one another. Who has an agent, who has a book deal, who has a publicist. It’s the loud voices that have the most, or maybe the least. How can we tell when we are all so full of hubris as to think we belong?
It’s a paradox, an anachronism, something like that. It’s impossible. A quiet space full of so much noise.
It’s a hard sell. Mind minus body. The lumbering meaty thing is still there, with all its joints and hemoglobin and heart conditions. It doesn’t leave you just because you decide to value that tangled web of firing neurons and chemical imbalances called a brain.
You do value it. Of course you do. It’s what makes your body tick, it’s what allows you to run on the treadmill and eat falafel from a food truck at 3am with your date,
No, that’s not right. That’s your brain.
Is your brain the same thing as your mind?
It’s that kind of night. The kind where you’re asking stupid philosophical questions and waving a white flag of defeat in front of your responsibilities. You’re done. You’re through. No more tonight. You need a rest.
So how do you convince people to see your mind over your body? It’s hovering there, your mind, above and around and in between all of your bodily functions and orifices and fortunate features. But it doesn’t overlay them. It just sort of shimmers. Sometimes it gets noticed. But not usually.
No, when you walk down the street to the post office to send the birthday present you’ve owed your mother for three months now and the rent check you’ve owed for slightly longer, you are not a mind above a body. You are a theoretical person, with a theoretical mind, but mostly you are simply a collection of limbs and features that are recognized as human.
It really is that kind of night. Shut your mind off. Let your brain wander. Watch some TV. Stop thinking about that girl you saw on the train and wanted to talk to. She’s long gone. She doesn’t exist in your world anymore.
Does she exist at all then?
Does it matter?
Falling in love with his best friend’s son.
Graduating high school.
Getting a big girl job.
His son’s graduation.
Going to college.
Getting my heart broken,
though not for the first time.
Going to college
(for real this time).
College, college, acting, writing,
Coming out as bi.
My second girlfriend.
First publication. Second.
Literary award (shared).
His son’s ambitions,
to PhD and beyond.
His love, his happiness,
Moving to New York.
Looking for work.
Falling in love.
His wife’s decision to move.
Alright, ladies and gents and gender-neutral folk, here we go, my first writing prompt.
Take the nearest book and turn to the 34th page. Look at the last full sentence on that page. That is the first sentence of your story. Write between 200-500 words. GO.
Alright. MY TURN. Let it not be said that I don’t respond to my own writing prompts (because that would be sad…)
The nearest book to me is More Pricks Than Kicks, by Samuel Beckett. The last full sentence on page 34 is: “We’ll pass him before we get to the main road.”
“We’ll pass him before we get to the main road,” you said. We were walking fast, basically jogging since you kept skipping ever third or fourth step and I had to run a bit to catch up. My pulse was so fast that I could feel it in my throat. When I answered you, I was panting.
“And? What’ll we do? Ignore him? Say hi? What?”
“Nothing, that’s the point. He’s an ass.”
“Yeah, but maybe he’s going through something.”
“That doesn’t make it okay.”
“Okay. If you’re sure.”
I wondered what you were hurrying towards, but I didn’t ask. You were all prickly, your porcupine spines were standing up, and I couldn’t get near enough to hug you, to tell you it would be okay, that you were allowed to be hurt.
When we finally saw his shape in front of us, you sped up even more. I caught your wrist and held onto my throat, trying to signal how out of breath I was. You slowed, but your cheeks swelled. You were pissed off. You wanted your prediction to come true, and the main road wasn’t that far ahead.
We didn’t catch up to him. He turned left and we were supposed to turn right. I didn’t even ask if you wanted to follow him. I knew that wasn’t the point. You weren’t going to go out of your way. That would be too much.
I pictured you leaving his bed and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for his phone call. Even though I knew that you’d been calling him nonstop and that it wasn’t in his bed, it was on the grass behind the party house, when you were both wasted. I wanted to tell you that you weren’t being fair, that he was probably embarrassed, maybe as confused as conflicted as you were. Freaked out, now, by how much you were calling. I wanted to tell you so many things, but you were too far away. You’d kept going as quickly as ever, and I was left behind, gasping for air.
Correct me if I’m wrong, though I’m not wrong, but I believe you are having a psychotic break, my friend. Yes, you, that’s right, don’t look at me like that, all doe-eyed and infantile. Your nose is big enough to tell you something is rotten in the state of Denmark but you can’t tell when your own blood and guts are rebelling against you? Well, my dear, it might be time for you to end it, then, to end it all, to surrender to the great extinction that is, after all, the obvious end to our species. Don’t cry, weeping is only another way of avoiding the situation.
Looking at the moon, are you? It’ll do you no good, you know, to keep on howling at it, you only have two legs and your fur is hypoallergenic. Nobody needs to take Benedryl around you, they only take handfuls of Advil and hope their heads stop hammering. Yes, she’s as crazy as a bedbug, that’s what they say, you got it just right there, darling. It’s not a reflection on you, you know, it’s only what they all see in the mirror and scratch at their skin when they’re in bed.
Get off of there, don’t even try going overboard, it won’t work. Nobody believes you, that’s the problem. You need a break? I should say so. Let’s check you in, come on, I’ll hold your hand the whole way there and I’ll visit you every Sunday until I forget about you. By then you won’t like me anyway, so it’s fine. You don’t like me already? That’s wonderful news, it’ll make the whole thing easier, now tie your shoes and let’s get going.
It’s only a one way trip, nothing to be scared of. Think of it as your own personal visit to Mars, doesn’t that make it more colorful?
She’d never experienced a more beautiful morning than the one on which her car broke down, her cellphone ran out of battery, and her period started while she was on the highway, waiting for the AAA people to come and get her out of the jam. She scratched her legs where they itched from the mosquito bites and thought, since she had nothing better to do, about how odd it was to stand there, on the side of the highway, with amenities that didn’t work. Even her own plumbing was betraying her, dripping uncomfortably into the expensive Victoria’s Secret underwear she’d gone to all that trouble to buy. Even with the fumes of the rush hour traffic creeping by, there was a natural beauty to everything. Even the man picking his nose in the car in front seemed particularly poignant on this of all mornings, as he dug into his nostril with a ferocity best kept to private spaces.
She leaned against her car, patted its hood, and told it that everything would be okay. “We can’t get any lower than this, baby,” she soothed the car. “It’s all uphill from here.”