Mental Contagion

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Tin Can Mental Contagion
Opening the Can: Publishing in 125,000 Easy Steps
by Gene Dillon

How About This Line?

JB has installed a chin-up bar in the wide doorway between Michelle’s office and studio. She’s not gonna like that. I knock on the open door, and he grunts, “Entré vous!”

I enter cautiously. It smells like a moist jock strap in here. “Hey, man—” I try to speak without having to breathe in through my nose. “I started a new piece.” I think I detect an airborne fungus… It feels like I’m in a Tinactin commercial.

He's too tall for the height of the bar. His legs remain bent as he does short chin-ups at a rapid pace. He pauses briefly at the top and without looking at me, he declares, “It’s about fuckin’ time!” and continues with his exercises.

That was uncalled for. “Need I remind you,” I answer, “that you were NOT invited? If you don’t like the pace, then just go ahead and get the fuck out!”

He pulls himself up, swings his legs forward and drops to the floor. Every encounter I have had with JB over the past month has consisted of his repeated attempts to check on my progress down in the basement, only to find me immersed in a seemingly endless cleanup project. He’s got to believe me when I tell him that I cannot get started on anything of genuine value until I finish throwing most of this shit away and mop the goddamn floor. Dust bunnies don’t even visit the place anymore—it’s too filthy. But most of all, I need to obliterate my past before moving forward—sort of like reformatting a hard drive, but much more time-consuming and painful.

JB grabs a towel and wipes his dank armpits, which are now glistening from beneath the tank top that he wears to bed every night—the tattered gray one with a faded picture of the Keebler Elf. “Let’s hear it then,” he shrugs, with a bored, almost ambivalent tone.

I don’t need this. “Forget it,” I tell him, and I turn around to leave him alone in the oppressive cloud of his morning workout.

“You got some fan mail, dude,” he calls out.

“What?”

“Some nice lady from Littleton digs your column,” he says. “She sent you an email last night.”

Oh, no you didn’t!

I temporarily lack the ability to look him in the eye. I don’t want the answer, but I ask anyway, “How the hell do you know?”

“I checked your email,” he replies, calmly.

I’m furious! “You are FORBIDDEN to use my laptop again!”

But…

I have to know. “What did she say?”

“I don’t know man,” he responds. “What difference does it make? I deleted it.”

Oh, great. Here comes another speech about how I’m not supposed to care about what other people think of what I do and say, and how that’s what ruins everything. I hold up my hand, stiff-arming his lecture in advance. “Forget it,” I say. “I don’t have time for this shit. Check it out, my friend—I got down to business. I’ve been writing something new every day.”

“You!” he blurts out. “You, Gene Dillon, have been writing every day?”

“Yeah,” I answer. “Well, for two straight days, anyway. It feels good! Listen to this, bitch—“

But I guess it’s my turn now to talk to the hand. “I don’t need to hear it,” he interrupts with an air of smug bitterness. “It doesn’t matter. I know you can write—otherwise I wouldn’t be here. You’re seeking reassurance where none is needed. If I critique you now, you’ll get all pissed off—partially at me, but mostly at yourself. And then you’ll be off to the basement again to find more notebooks to recycle, or to scrub coffee stains off of the concrete floor. You’ll kill the piece. You’ll stop in your tracks because someone had an opinion about your work. Conversely, if I heap praise upon you, then you’ll think you’re hot shit on wheels and get all soft and lazy. Or what if I’m indifferent? I can’t even imagine what that would do to you.”

I’m sort of dumbfounded. I have no idea what this man is doing in my house anymore. I would punch him if I weren’t so sure that he would block it and dope-slap me back within an eighth of a second.

“Fine,” I tell him. “I will never show you anything I write, ever again.”

“Good,” he replies.

“Not even the line about the Teletubbies never dying,” I continue. “Or the horrors that live inside the barber’s little hand-held mirror. Or the picnic dinner—I’m not even going to tell you where we ate!”

“Fine,” he says. “Are we done?”

“Good Lord,” I reply. “I wish we were…”

***

I drive away—far away from everything that I know, and away from anyplace where I might see somebody familiar. I am not followed. It’s Saturday. I go to the Super Wal-Mart across the road from where I work.

This place sucks. But in here, I’m anonymous, invisible... Nothing is right, nothing is cool, and nobody will recognize me or place an ounce of judgment on me. I am glad for this.

There is a Subway sandwich shop inside. All I can possibly order is a cup of coffee. Their bread smells like dirty mop-water, and I don’t like the idea of people wearing see-through plastic gloves when they prepare my food. It makes me think of what might happen if they don’t. The coffee is just eighty cents, and the boy hands me a styrofoam cup and points to the coffee tank on the other side of the room. I load up, and add more cream and sugar than I need. My laptop is warm at my side.

So what am I supposed to put down on the page now? If I don’t care what anybody thinks, then why am I even doing this?

Maybe the reason why I write is to find out why I’m writing. Perhaps this has nothing to do with me.

Nothing to do with me?

Then who the hell is writing this? If the message and the story are completely uncontrived, then won’t the words simply write themselves? Where would that leave me, then?

Lost… Disconnected…

I am the onliest guy I know...

But who is that talking? Is that just the part of me that ruins everything?

God…

This coffee is terrible.

 
       
 
Mental Contagion
 
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