I pace the floor, my battered Oxfords managing some good pounding on the dark hardwood. When I rub my chin I realize I’ve forgotten to shave again, maybe for a week this time. My fingertips pick out a couple dense whiskers—mild trichotillomania?—before I swing my arms wide as if brushing all the papers off my desk.
I would never really sweep all the crap off my desk. It’s a highly organized chaotic matrix, and there’d be nowhere to walk afterward.
Instead, I stalk over to the low Gothic wet bar, spritz a rocks glass with orange tincture, and load up a few fingers of whiskey. Doesn’t matter which: I’m just thirsty. And bored. If I haven’t shaved in a week, my muse hasn’t visited in two, at least.
“Goddamn it, muse! Where are you!” My voice echoes sharply off the stucco walls, the exposed ceiling beams. The only response is the muted roar of Parisian traffic, the thrumming horizon note of engines and the erratic punctuation of horns, with a low level of winds blurring and washing it out. It goes on like this for hours, there are no other noises in my apartment unless I make them. So I do: I call up some international music online, but I only get two songs before garish American-narrated ads break through. Same with the Polish ambient station I look up next. I’m starting to get pissed, so it’s best to just stick with what’s tried-and-true.
I light up a Dji-Sam-Soe, wash its sugar off with some whiskey, and pull out a Horace Silver LP. Nothing challenging, nothing but positive associations with all of it. Set up a cozy environment for the muse when she decides to blow by.
I adjust my collar, tighten my rolled sleeves, and go out to lean on the balcony rail. Really white-knuckle it. Usually I have terrible vertigo but over some months I’ve come to rely on this little jut of architecture as a pretty solid piece of work. The wind pulls my hair to the wrong side and sucks off the clove smoke like it never existed, and I place all my weight on one hip to study traffic.
Little dark dots crawling along the winding streets almost like individual blood cells in a vein. Or ants, that’s the obvious one. I think my muse bought this apartment for me so I could see the world from her perspective, when I needed to.
So what’s the world look like to a muse?
Well. It’s pretty solitary up here. I mean, let’s forget about the door behind me for a moment. I’ve used it when I access the communal bathroom on this floor, and when I’ve gone out for a few bottles of Adelscott. Rarely do I drink at Le 10 Bar Odéon or Little Temple—not that they’re not nice, I’m just… usually working on something and can’t break away in the middle of it to go hang out and not talk to strangers. I still haven’t mastered conversational French, and I think that’s part of why my muse set me up here: isolation. Either learn another language or shut up and focus on your work. That’s how I think it went.
I close my eyes and listen to the music behind me. It doesn’t really capture the feeling of the city, or it won’t until tonight, when the sun goes down. There’s a discordant note in my skull and neck that’s threatening to bloom into a headache unless I do something soon. My heels rap the floor as I go for another bottled water, sitting on the foot of my foldout bed to knock it back.
There’s got to be something here. The traffic? It’s dull and plain right now, pastel if anything. I look at my escritoire: messy but uninspiring. I purse my lips and sigh through my nose. Is it the muse’s job to visit me, or do I invite her with the shred of an idea? No, I can set the stage with an environment conducive to writing, but she’s the one who brings my ideas to me. Not the other way around. Of course, there’s no music more inviting to a muse’s ears than my fingertips dancing over a keyboard…
Fuck. It’s no good, I’ve got nothing.
Well, what would that look like? Let’s say there’s a giant man here, naked and confused. How’d he get here? Traffic stops at his toes and heels; housekeepers and grandmothers peer out of windows at his calves, coarse hairs waggling in the wind. He doesn’t know who he is or how he got here, why he’s here… and inside he’s hollow. Yeah? Not a living flesh-and-being (I mean, flesh-and-blood being), but he’s got to figure out why he’s here anyway. Big hollow man… Dammit. That was a Danielle Dax song. I’m not writing about religion, I’m writing about existential crisis…
Fuck. It’s no good. Now I’m singing “Big Hollow Man.” Walking in the valley of decision…
Could cop out and write a little piece about a little guy who’s supposed to write something and he’s got no ideas. Write what you know, after all. Blanking out? Write about someone who’s blanking out. Fuck if the world isn’t on the edge of its seat, waiting for the hard-hitting experiences of another privileged white man struggling with self-expression.
I cap the water bottle and throw myself at the escritoire. I rest my fingers on the home keys, and I stare at the paper in the platen of my Smith-Corona Speedline. “Type,” I tell my hands, “type now. Type. Typety-typety-type.”
My forearm twitches as I go for my glass, but I reel it back in. “Ah, ah, ah. No more drinky until the typey.” Hit ’em where it hurts. I sit up in my chair, clench my abs a few times, take a deep breath and squeeze it out between tight lips.
I can do this. I can do this without her. My eyelids narrow: yes, I’ll do this. I’ll write something in defiance of her departure. “Go off and seduce your other lovers,” I growl, sotto voce. “Love them all. Abandon me. I can do this on my own.” I bite my lower lip, then harder, and I type.
“The big girl lurched past Franklin’s chair. She was tall and heavy, her head a little stooped, her jaw slack. He could hear her massive hips swinging through the air, just about. Though there were many seats in the library to choose from, she dragged out the one right next to him.
“She logged on to the library’s computer, and Franklin counted the seconds until she realized she needed a library card. She dug it out, logged in, and Franklin timed her to see how long it’d take before she figured out where to find the library’s login credentials. He grinned to himself as he counted higher and higher, and then…
“Her voice was husky and a little loud. ‘Hey, you.’ Franklin turned to her, surprised. ‘You know how to logon to wunna these things?’ Her eyes were half-closed, her head was a full head above his, and her smooth, large breasts were mostly exposed under her basketball tank. And all in all she was massive, especially compared with him.
“Franklin stammered that, yes, he did know how. She grunted, grabbed the corner of his chair and tugged it and him in front of her machine. He placed his slender hands on the keys and quickly ran through the clunky public library protocol for securing an hour of online access. She said nothing, and he didn’t know if she could recognize what he was doing, but her warm and swelling breast ustulated his upper arm.
” ‘There you go, all set,’ Franklin croaked.
“The large woman blinked at the screen and nodded heavily. She said, ‘Hey, thanks,’ and logged onto Facebook, immediately poring through pictures of gangsta rappers and her friends who looked like gangsta rappers. Franklin’s heart sank a little, and he scooted his chair back to his own computer, where he was in the middle of sorting through ecologically appropriate monsters to stock his level 12 dungeon with.
“They each minded their own business for another hour, until the large woman shut down her machine. Franklin showed her how to log out of it securely. She thanked him again, paused, and asked him if he wanted to get shitfaced with her.”
I haven’t been breathing so I do it now: the etymological root of inspiration. I pop my knuckles systematically, rhythmically, and I lean back into the vintage springs of my desk chair. This is good. I can see the library, I can see the long tables bearing several computers, and this woman is very, very clear in my head. This is good, this is working out. I don’t know if I like the name Franklin (I keep typing Frnaklin) but I can fix that later. This is really good, I can crank this out in another couple of hours.
See that, muse? I don’t need you after all. Go gather your rosebuds while you may: some of us have to work.
Outside, a gigantic woman has wrapped her incredibly long arms and legs around the entire tenement in which the writer lives. She rests her head gently upon the roof above his apartment. She ignores his abrasive words, spoken in ignorance, and smiles warmly to hear the continuous typing.