A creative non-fiction, or creatively fictionalized something, about writing in the Tech Age – by J.A. Carter-Winward
What do you do when you feel as though you have something important to say, and no one’s around to hear it? What if what you want to share feels like a kind of message, and it concerns everyone, about everything?
After writing, pacing, writing, thinking, I put on my boat shoes and went downtown.
I bought a soapbox for $12.95 and placed it on the corner, but it collapsed under the weight of what I had to say. It even had soap in it, but the soap couldn’t clean it away.
I bought a megaphone but apparently I needed a permit to operate one of those in public.
I hauled a microphone and amp all the way into the street, and all I got was feedback—but not from people—just a flurry of electronic noise that made everyone near me cover their ears.
My message was lost in the din.
I looked through the Yellow Pages and realized they were “decorative bookends,” from 1952, so I got online and hired a guy who specialized in promoting artists and writers. He promised me he could help me get my work out, my ‘message,’ he called it.
But when I tried to tell him what it was about, he wasn’t interested. He told me the message didn’t matter, what mattered was my schtick.
“My what?” I asked.
“Your schtick, your gimmick. We gotta come up with a gimmick,” he said, looking around the room. “Hey what about this?” he asked, holding my cat by his scruff.
“My cat?” I asked.
“Yeah! Get this: ‘local writer channels cat’s voice to write the first feline-human collaboration in history!'”
“So… ‘eccentric writer with cat’,” I stated.
“You’re right, you’re right, totally cliché…”
“I technically have 4 cats, if that matters at all…”
He ignored me as he continued circling the room. Then he asked about my two feathered pens, my penchant for weird lamps, my beverage-drinking habits. He asked if I had a history of cult memberships, drug abuse, special sexual kinks.
“Define ‘kinks,'” I said. He did, and I told him, (quite emphatically), NO.
He asked me if I would be comfortable about being uncomfortable about being female. I glared at him. He asked me if I was attracted to men, women, both, neither, or any combination thereof. I pressed my lips together and tapped my foot.
He redirected his line of inquiry, asking me if I had any indignant outrage about my gender or if I’d done anything on ancestry.com. If so, had I found any ‘relevant or interesting heritage’? I shook my head. He asked me if I had some horrible childhood traumas I could use.
“Use for what?” I asked. His head dropped, exasperated.
I asked him about using social media and he brightened up.
“Is it in a 280-characters-or-less soundbite, your ‘message’?”
“No,” I said.
“Hmm. Ooh, do you have a logo, a brand? Does it have graphics, your message?”
“Not really,” I said.
“Is your message politically correct so we can use it to whoop up an angry social-media mob?”
The kid looked so darn eager, I wanted to give him something…
“Um… I don’t know. I mean, maybe. It’s sort of, well it’s not along any currently popular politically correct lines, really.”
“Ooh! Which side?” he asked, practically salivating.
“No side, it’s not that kind a deal.”
“Okay, okay, so is it politically incorrect, ‘cause that would work, too.”
“No, it’s not correct or incorrect, it’s more—”
“Is it sexy?” he asked.
“Well, at least we have your grad school CV to fall back on. Where did you attend—”
My head shook and his mouth gaped.
“Wait. You don’t have a— “
“Well, why didn’t you—”
“It’s a long story.”
“Tell me you at least have your bach— “
“Nope! And so what? I’ve logged so many writing hours, it’d bake Malcolm Gladwell’s noodle, so could we just we move on, please?”
I apologized for getting a tiny bit cross with him and I offered him a cold ginger beer. He asked me if it was non-GMO and organic. I told him, truthfully, that it was.
After pacing around some more, asking me more dead-end questions, he let out a discouraged whoosh. Hey, I was feeling a bit discouraged, too.
So, I told him the message wasn’t a single message. It was different for everyone, or should be, because that’s the importance and purpose of art, really. So that’s why I share my message through storytelling, poetry, allegory, metaphor, because my work is all about being human—
He interrupted me again, saying it wasn’t enough to write or say interesting things about human beings, you had to be an over-the-top interesting human being to even get an audience.
“Your message can be mediocre, regurgitative, even. Just tweak it and make it yours. Then BE the sideshow you want to see in the world! Be the reality TV star you—”
“Are you effing kidding me? Look, I’m a writer, not a sideshow.”
“No one cares. Ooh, are you in any way a Kardashian?”
“No? Okay, but if you could be one, which would you be? That might be an angle we could explore.”
“But that makes no sense,” I said.
“Yeah, well, welcome to the real world.”
I admit, I was feeling pretty down. He reached into his backpack and handed me a pamphlet on “How to brand yourself” or “How to get noticed in the world of…” or something like that. In other words, how to develop a schtick.
I walked him out and took his little pamphlet, thanking him for his trouble.
Some of the ideas in it were okay.
Marilyn Manson did the ‘spooky’-thing. Rush Limbaugh does the…well, ‘inflammatory’-thing. Donald Trump does the ‘over-the-top lunatic’-thing. Seth Rogen does the ‘intellectually-challenging’-thing. There were some young women who were doing things my grandmother would have called ‘I BEG your pardon?’ and, well, no thanks. But all of those people already had an audience for their messages because their messages were the same as a lot of other messages. They just had, well…
Dang. Was my promotions-guy right? I mean, sure, stories, poetry, those aren’t new, but the way I tell them is sort of new. And I really think the stuff I have to write about is relevant and truthful and good. It feels important, and most of all, it’s mine.
So I called my promotions guy and told him that—I explained how what I created was ‘relevant’ and ‘truthful’ and ‘good’ and ‘important’ and also, ‘mine.’
“No one really sees things the way I do, right? So, maybe—”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh, okay, okay, how about this—” he said, cutting me off, “you’re a writer with a cause… and iguanas!”
I hung up the phone.
I returned to my keyboard, and I wrote. I wrote and wrote and I’m still writing.
I wrote things that were relevant and truthful and good. I wrote about important things in ways that were only mine. I wrote with the heartbeat in my chest, pumping blood into my words. And it was mine, all mine.
Can you hear me?
Because there are a lot of voices out there, as you must know. But there is only one voice that’s mine, and I believe in it. If you hear it or read it, maybe you will, too. I don’t need you to believe in me. Just believe my words are from me to you, that’s it.
So my gimmick… is no gimmick! My schtick is no schtick. Is that a thing? Could it be?
I called my promotions guy to tell him my idea, but he didn’t answer. I texted him my idea. He texted back: “I’m in a meeting.”
So, I went back to my keyboard. Soon, I noticed my phone’s light blinking. I was eager to hear what he thought about my ‘no gimmick-thing,’ but all he’d sent me was a graphic one of his junior associates created:
His name is Butt-Munch, and he is where I get all my great writing ideas.
Butt-Munch the Iguana.
(You better be right about this Payton, Preston, Perry... whatever your name is.)