Art or Truth

“You’ve been staring at a blank screen and tapping the keys for like fifteen minutes.”

I ignore him. Partly because I make a habit of it and partly because I never succeed. So really, the habit is that I try to ignore him and fail utterly. It’s a failure about which, I am of two minds.

“Are you going to write or just sit there?”

I growl. He turns a page. The reading glasses click as he sets them aside. “You can’t possibly have run out of things to say.”

“My life is ridiculously syncopated.”

“You definitely move to a different beat.”

“Shut up.”

“Write.”

Another growl escapes me. “I cannot.”

“Why? Shit, write this down. Write a whole conversation down about how you aren’t writing anything and your incredibly sexy boy-toy is picking on you to write.”

I spare him a long look with slowly rolled eyes. “No one wants to hear about you, you egomaniacal imbecile.”

His brows tick upward smugly. “That’s bullshit. Chicks dig the Chef.”

“I’m writing that down, you asshole.”

He looks away. “At least you’ll be writing.”

Minutes click by in the sound of my claws dragging over the ridges of the keyboard. The glowing screen annoys me, so pure and white and hateful. I turn down the brightness and continue to tap.

“God damn it, Simon! Just fucking write about yesterday.”

“That’s boring. No one wants to hear about my day.”

“Yes, they do.”

“Why? That’s absurd. No one wants to know what shirt I wore, or that i went to the pharmacy. No one cares about that.”

He finally tires of pretending to read and throws the book at me. it bounces off my shoulder and flaps at me in an air rather like a child sticking out its tongue. How dare it be so full of words, so fat and verbose? I’m of a mind to rip out pages.

“You’re an idiot. Of course they want to know what you’re doing. They want to know what you ate, what you wore, who you talked to, and I bet there are some motherfuckers on there who want to know how often you go to the bathroom. I bet you a million dollars that there are people on there who want to know what your ass looks like naked.”

“You don’t have a million dollars.”

“I do now, bitch.”

“I will not honor that wager, sir. I did not consent.”

He gets up and wraps his arms around my neck, staring at the blank screen. “You really are stuck. Normally I have to throw things at you to get you to stop writing. What’s wrong? Your sense of humor is also anemic. You need some refreshment?”

“No. And I’m not going to write about that either, because no one cares about that.”

“Yes, they do.”

“Will you shut up?”

He does. I lean my face against his arm and continue to sink into my feelings. A profound sense of discomfort has taken me in the last several weeks. I can neither enjoy writing, nor fall into it as I once did. Conversations had on social media and with people of the publishing world have made me feel a distinct malaise. It is sharp and wedges itself right below my heart, where a bullet left a charming reminder of its visit. That something can be so precise and so consistent, and yet so utterly nameless is beyond me. If it did have a name, it would sound like my claws ticking, ticking, ticking over the keys aimlessly.

“What’s wrong with you?” he mumbles finally.

“I don’t know.”

“Explain it.”

This sets me upon a long pilgrimage, as my thoughts tumble over the whole of Europe, the Americas, and pile up into the future. I am silent so long, the screen shuts off. I close my eyes and absorb some of his ambient warmth.

“I like what I’m learning. I enjoy knowing what men think of me in a controlled way even though I know all of it is skewed.”

“But you don’t like it?”

“I don’t understand it.”

“Why you’re doing it?”

“That, I know.”

The sound of his deep breath is like a wind howling through a cavern. “What don’t you understand?”

“Why people want to know these things. I comprehend that learning about another lifestyle, or history, or culture is fascinating, but if that becomes entertainment, is it then not actually learning? Am I teaching people about me or am I distracting them from themselves?”

“Ah, the dangers of fiction,” he chuckles.

“It isn’t fiction.”

“So, then…it seems like you’re saying that you’ve learned reality is as dangerous as fiction.”

“That statement makes no sense. It’s like saying ‘this beverage contains no artificial flavorings’. All flavors are natural. They exist, don’t they? Anything that exists is real and natural. It doesn’t mean it’s healthy, but it’s certainly natural. Fiction comes from reality, a reality that really has never been all that hospitable, so how can we expect that the two will be any different from one another?”

“You know what I mean.” For a moment, his embrace is cruelly firm. “Are you more creeped out that they want to know every detail of your reality, or that they treat your reality as entertainment? Or is it something else?”

If I am honest, it is a little bit of both. With that mingled dissatisfaction that I feel incredibly self-conscious about this work. I cannot discuss it. In a sick way, the revelation of my actual life, which should have provided me with a perfect mask against detection, now makes me more fearful, because so many of you want to soak in it as much as you want to soak in my tub.

I don’t want a cult of the ego. I don’t want to fatten myself on that.

I am the author. I am the one meant to have words for this feeling, so that I can explain it to you. I feel I fail at it constantly, and yet people continue to fraudulently laud me and ply me with compliments that also serve to make me frightfully uncomfortable.

If there is art in how truth is told, does that diminish the quality of the truth? If art is presentation, then it is also deception. If deception, then the telling of fact, no matter how poetically done, is embellished beyond value. Truth is beauty, a poet once said. Beauty. Not Art. Truth and Art are not the same.

If I manage to confine the ephemeral on the page, then have I not killed it and pinned it to the world like a butterfly in a museum? Was it true because I captured it, or was it proven false because it ceased to live?

These are things that haunt my mind, as I move through my conversations with you, gentle readers. As I fret over technology, or bemoan my appetite, or discuss politics, or slang, or what have you…I am always thinking, “No matter what I do, it is a lie.”

Being told that I am good with words, that I have talent for writing…it fills me with a kind of shame. I’d rather be called dry, bland, thoroughly lacking in charisma, just so that the point is made, that monsters are people too. If one is exceptional at arguing against exceptionalism…well, that is intensely hypocritical.

I maintain I have no talent for it, but even as I argue that, I know that I have just made a word selection that is designed to specifically evoke something in the reader, and to me this feels utterly dishonest. I try to assuage that by squeezing the life out of the notion that there is much context that cannot be given without evocative language. I allow the work to be edited, so that readers will not find it dull, and will therefore read it, which makes me feel like a slimy corporate sales person, slapping a new label on packages of cancer so that humans will be pleased enough to kill themselves with it.

I shouldn’t edit. I should leave it as boring and plain as I can, but when I attempt to do so, I am overwhelmed with a sense of things undone, the clockwork malfunctioning, the mechanism untimed. If I remove the art, the piece feels like a blank porcelain face. It is something like the reality, but without the color, it is not as lifelike as it could be, and yet that “life” I am giving it is false, because it is a reflection…

Apologies. Philosophical circuitousness is what happens when you are so old you’ve literally contemplated all the probabilities, amusements, and facts of a hundred lifetimes.

All this fills me with discomfort, was the point I was attempting to make.

“I am obnoxious. My life is boring. I am unable to keep pace with them. I feel constantly as if I am blinded by flashing lights. I feel stupid.”

He nuzzles my head. “So?”

“So…they’re still reading it. They shouldn’t be. I never intended for readers to stay with this in the long term. I considered there might be the odd chap here or there who might follow for a pace, but I never reckoned there’d be thousands, or that they’d want more. More. The very word implies some secret subtext to my life that is nonsense.”

“Uh huh. So? You’re a person and people like you. They like to read about your boring ass life, because it gives them words for shit in their boring ass lives. So what? Why does that bother you?”

“Because it’s an experiment.”

“To determine whether or not humanity can accept monsters, not whether or not you’re likable. What? If they like you you can’t be real? If they like your work but don’t believe it’s real…then you’re less you? Why can’t you be a monster who also happens to be a good writer? You’re already a monster with a shit ton of other amazing talents.” He massages my shoulders. “Those talents make things. What’s wrong with using this talent to make something so perfect, that people get a meaningful image of your life, instead of just a perfect one?”

And there it is.

I came here to find out something for my own edification. I determined that there had to be a way to do this with minimal impact. The survey evolved into a kind of therapy session and support group. Now I dispense wisdom as proof of life, rather than historical reference materials, and this fills me with nervousness. I worry that for once, my wisdom will prove inaccurate and unhelpful. I worry that I cannot help all these people that I seem to have promised to protect. I worry that the community has outgrown the experiment, and I have lost control of the data. I lack confidence in my outcomes. I lack confidence in everything. I am, for all my age, anxious at the thought of writing one single word, paralyzed because my readership might enjoy themselves, but also because they might not. If they like me, to me their judgment of the truth is questionable, and yet I still try to please them…please you, because I don’t want any harm to come of my search for knowledge.

I am petrified.

I don’t, however, have any clue as to how to undo it. I can continue to publish the cookbooks that have been written. I can tell stories of the past. I can transcribe my little essays to keep you all healthy and strong. I can do all of that, but can I really keep writing all this prettily made garbage that reads like Sam Pepys rose from his grave and began picking off humans left and right to gain material?

A calendar’s unholy union with an attic haunting — that’s how it reads.

My life will continue on as it has done for some time. the longer I carry on doing this, the longer I prolong this phase. I wonder if this phase overlaps others. I wonder if I can carry on writing a journal for the world through several lifetimes. If I do, it will not be because i want to know what you think. At some point, the experiment will become irrelevant.

What then?

“Shut it down,” he whispers in my ear. “If you have what you were looking for, then shut it down and just enjoy what you’re doing.”

“I haven’t learned everything yet.”

“But it’s going to explode before you can. You know that. I know that. Half your readers know that. Why not just write and entertain the ones who bother, make a killing…” he chuckles in a self-congratulatory way, “and then get on with eternity when you get bored?”

“Half my readers think I’m a forties-something history professor with an inexplicable amount of time on his hands.”

“If you care about that, then you’ve stopped gathering data, Sigh-bear. If you care about that, then you’re actually trying to convince the world to accept you.”

He slips away from me and leaves the room. I tap at the keys.

I am reaching some kind of end. I am coming to some conclusion. He is right. It will explode before that ore of truth can be extracted from all the junk-art. It will turn into me exploring my talent with my life as inspiration, rather than an attempt to quantify the mental state of my audience. It will all turn to a zoological display where readers come to poke at or worship the monster…the author…whatever.

Assuming it wasn’t that already.