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The Second Writer: A Short Story

Updated on December 13, 2016
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The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


They were doing lunch, taking a meeting, having your people call my people. Babe! I love ya, I love ya, I love ya! Actually, they were merely eating lunch. Together. The three of them. Companionably. Languorously. Around a round table with delicacies from the sentient-inhabited planets of Earth and Cystus III. Mars, being a dead, uninhabited world, featured no cuisine.

The First Writer shrugged. "I don't know... ideas can come from anywhere. They do come from anywhere: incidents I read about in the media; things I hear about in gossip; things I read and then adapt..."

"So everyday life is your inspiration?" the Second Writer said.

"Sure, what else is there?" the First Writer said.

"What about sheer imagination?" the Second Writer said.

"What about it?" The First Writer took a drink of Earth coffee. Hot. Sweet. With a little bit of real Earth cream. He smacked his lips. Wonderful. A true revelation. "Where do you think this 'sheer imagination' of yours comes from? There's no such thing as purely personal thoughts. Your mind is formed within the context of the society in which you live; and furthermore, the way in which your society interacts and is interacted with the rest of the world."

"But... wait,..." the Second Writer started to protest.

The First Writer waved him off. "Try to think the most outrageous, wacky, just loony thing, as though it were coming from you alone, as though..."

"Now look here," the Second Writer cut in more decisively this time, having finally worked out an approximation of what he wanted to say. "There is a 'me,' a 'you,' and a 'he,' he said pointing to the Third Writer, who peaked up his eyebrows and smiled at the oblique reference to himself.

Not that the Third Writer minded being left out of things for the moment. He took it all in, without a word. He had been too busy to contribute anything, as he ate kabob after kabob after kabob of roasted bison, with a butter, orange, and lemon sauce. The most coveted delicacy of the upper classes of Cystus III.

Exquisitely prepared. Savory. Tummy-tapping good. In fact, the Third Writer leaned back and tapped his tummy with both hands. Fingers splayed. He played his stomach like a drum. A Cytusian custom meant to indicate the highest possible approval to the chef.

The Second Writer continued. Actually, he had never stopped. "There is a 'me' because there is an entity that takes ownership of all the constituent parts that I claim as my own, my 'me.' Oh yes, identity is a process of becoming, of constantly choosing, of taking possession of those elements that 'I' want to be part of 'me.' But there must always be a primordial 'me' driving the ship, saying yes to this and no to that."

The First Writer sliced open and buttered a croissant. "Don't peddle that Earth Cartesian line with me. You're applying capitalist principles of privatization to the consciousness. If there is any true 'I' or 'me,' it is the ocean of consciousness, the Great Pool from which we all emerged. The source to which we must return."

The First Writer went silent, overcome by the awesomeness of it all.

The Second Writer, who was not inspired by the awesomeness of it all, said, "You don't know that. I don't know that. Nobody knows that. You can't intimidate me with your effusive spiritualism. You're as much a materialist as I am. You're applying Earth's socialist principles to consciousness."

"You would deny our interconnectedness and interdependence," the First Writer said. "You would have us deny our obligations to one another."

"You would have us deny our individuality and personal freedom," the Second Writer said.

The Third Writer had had quite enough at this point. Waving his hands, he said, "Gentlemen, gentlemen. Please, no heavy philosophy." He smiled, tapping his tummy. "It spoils the digestion."

This stopped the Two Other Writers in their tracks. They cupped each other around the neck and touched foreheads. All forgotten. The two friends could not stay mad at one another.

"Apologies," the Second Writer said, turning toward the Third. "Didn't mean to leave you out of the discussion. Forgive our rudeness."

"No problem," the Third Writer said. "I had... what do they say on Earth? I had 'bigger fish to fry,' at the time." He looked to the First Writer for confirmation of the accuracy of his recollection.

The First Writer nodded confirmation.

The Third Writer poured himself a glass of pineapple and cherry-based, sparkling wine. He took a swig, savoring it all the way down. "Now then, I suppose you'd like to hear a little bit from me now?"

"Yes, of course," The Second Writer said, now fully chastened. "Please, I really would like to hear your views."

The Third Writer said, "Well, I actually don't have anything very profound to say."

"Anything you say would be valuable," the Second Writer said. "You are one of the very best at what you do. Everyone on the Upper Plateau says so."

"You're in contact with the Upper Plateau?" the Third Writer said.

The Second Writer said, "Well...," looking at the First Writer, who, having become embarrassed, suddenly found his fingernails the object of most pressing concern.

"Ah," the Third Writer said.

"Please go on," the Second Writer said.

"Its just that I'm not as situational as our friend," the Third Writer said, inclining his head in the direction of the First Writer. "With me, I just need a really cool first line to get started."

"A first line?" the Second Writer said.

"Right," the Third Writer said. "See, I'm a rhythm writer. The words and lines have to be smooth, flowing to a rhythm. If the prose doesn't feel like it has a certain kind of rhythmic flow, if its hard then it will be hard for the reader. The first line sets the tone, so its got to be a good one. A real banger!"

"Isn't that odd," the First Writer said.

"What?" the Third Writer said.

"You speak of 'rhythm,'" said the First Writer, "and yet your world, Cystus III, is known to have no music, if I recall correctly."

"You do," the Third Writer said.

"Earth is the exemplar of rhythm," the Second Writer said.

The Three Writers concluded this digression by coming to the agreement that Earth was one 'funky planet.' Indeed, they all thought the Earth was the funkiest planet in all the systems they knew of.

Addressing the Third Writer, the Second said, "Do you know where your story's going to end up before you start?"

The Third Writer reached for a caramelized vegetable on a stick. A cross between a tomato and a squash. The Second Writer helped himself to some Earth-based deep-fried strawberries and kiwis, coffee---black with a shot of whiskey, Cytusian chocolate-covered lettuce-leaves, and candied shark livers. This was necessary because Mars, being a dead, uninhabited world, featured no cuisine.

"These foods are quite good together," the Second Writer said.

To answer the Second Writer's question, the Third Writer said, "No, not at all. Like I said, its all about the first line with me, establishing and maintaining a certain rhythm. The rhythm carries me."

"Don't you even use an outline?" the First Writer said.

The Third Writer shook his head. "No, couldn't stand to. Too constraining."

"I wouldn't have the guts," the First Writer said.

"Me neither," the Second Writer said.

"The story always finds it own plot, its own substance, its own center," the Third Writer said. "I am but a vessel."

More mystical crap. The Third One sounded like the First Writer. The Second Writer thought this but did not say so. He didn't want to do that go-round again.

Instead, the Second Writer said, "You both have such exciting assignments." Looking at the First Writer he said, "You writing Earth," and looking at the Third Writer he said, "and you writing Cystus III. While I am stuck writing Mars, a dull red, barren, lifeless world. I spend cycle after cycle writing a whole lot of nothing. Sandstorms mostly."

"Hang in there," the First Writer said. "The Upper Plateau will give you something more exciting to plot."

"When?" the Second Writer said. "Have you, by chance, heard something from the Upper Plateau?"

"Sorry, my access to the Upper Plateau is extremely limited. Just scratching the surface of the periphery really," the First Writer said.

"Don't lose heart though," the Third Writer said. "I'd say you were about due for a change. You've got to be after all this time. I'm sure a more exciting assignment from the Upper Plateau is just around the corner for you. Perhaps they'll even let you write life onto Mars!"

The Third Writer said, "I hope so. I don't know how much longer I can take this monotony. If they don't find me worthy soon I don't know what I'll do. Maybe I'll..."

"Now, now, don't talk like that, my friend," the First Writer said, patting the Second Writer's shoulder.

They ended their luncheon. The First and Third Writers offered a few more encouraging platitudes to the Second. The three of them touched foreheads in departing salutations and returned to their duties: The First Writer back to his Earth saga; the Third back to his Cystus III chronicles; and the Second....

Both Writers were each glad they were not the Second Writer.


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