Betsy Shebang - Column for 6/19

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Genius on the Toilet

When writing in your journal, young anteater, you must abandon all judgment about what you are writing; let the stain soak through the pages and soil the rug; let it sound its hideous noise where only you can hear it, and let it not be a surprise that you would create such criminal lard-fingered awfulness. The job of the genius is to create bad smells most of the time. Remember that, young worrier.

Yet still you do not believe me. You pick up your empty book and wonder. "What might be good enough to write? Which of my ignorant pornographic concerns might be worthy of even one page of this fine acid-free 220 page hard-bound classic sketchbook?" Your wonderings are normal, young day-job typist, and yet they are stupid. No ship ever crossed the sea by diligently improving the first mile of its journey. Your razor-clawed genius is waiting for you in the place that it is needed. For your own safety, therefore, best to get your frail ass out to where the monsters are.

Keep your eyes off the odometer and put them back on the strange, strange road. What do you see? The beasts of damnation are the subject of your masterpiece, young dipshit; they offer themselves to your tale in endless repeating sacrifice. Do them the kindness of sketching out their terrifying shapes before you wet your pants and run.

Alas, holy one, I see that you're going to need special help. And here is the secret: get up in the morning, and carry your book to the toilet. It is here you will sit and produce. Let it not be a dignified visit. It is the curse of the writer - and of humankind - to learn unflattering things about its unbeautiful self. Study begins again every morning.

You may, if you wish, call your pages "toilet paper". Anything to prevent yourself from becoming impressed. Let the tragedy occur daily: brilliant writer sits on toilet, a repeating insult, a Zen mistake, not mindful but mindempty. Empty yourself, young ingrate. And when the weird gods pile their exploding mistakes upon your pages, quicken your stroke and be grateful. It is their mistakes that lead the way, not your own eerily familiar triumphs.

My next command: procrastinate like every moment of it spilled another orgasm into your warm wet shoes. Embrace this delayed of labor and risk and effort as if every love in the world called you into its silken cave to watch television and reread the classified ads and walk in circles in your very own kitchen, half-cleaning, not cleaning. Do this and you will discover in thirty seconds or less the courage to admit to the very deepest core of your infinite soul that procrastinating is what you are doing, offering your life away to a passing gerbil train headed slowly in the wrong direction. This you must repeat every day - warm wet shoes, half cleaning not cleaning, with your eyes wide open and a firm grasp of the one step you must take into the world when you are finally rewarded with this moment's chance.

Return to life as you have left it: incomplete. Tomorrow wait more meals, more mistakes, more footsteps you won't know you've taken until you trip over your own glorious horizon, now only a few footsteps from where you started and an endless distance from the one that took its place. In the end, you'll be disappointed.

The best you can hope for is to be embarassed by your efforts. Get over it. There's a lot of people just like you, and none.

Copyright 2001 Betsy Shebang