There's such a thing as being too adaptable
By Erika Price
Scheherazade ran out on the bastard, retired someplace temperate, and started writing flash fiction on her shins and forearms with Bic rollerball pens. Every day, she squinted into the rising sun and narrated on herself while taking fortifying sips from a big plastic cup, until every limb was covered in jagged handwritten henna, which she’d then survey with brief pride, and forget.
She’d take a swill from a slurry of Kristoff and Crystal Light and ice. And another, and another, until the ice went from thick rocks to small, crispy meteoroids, and the liquid became more water than not, and she’d drain it and chomp on the ice and the sun would burst into swells of purples and oranges and fizzle into navy and she’d find she couldn’t re-read the story on herself even if she wanted to. Then, by morning, a crest of water’d crash over her passed-out drunk-ass and wash it all away.
“Battered wife syndrome my ass. I’ll haul out whenever I want, and that’s now, or later today, I’m serious.”
“I’m telling you, I got my bag right here and I’m putting my shit in it, and that’s it, I don’t need you to pick me up, huh uh, I’m out.”
“‘Financial domination’, they called it on the hotline. Like I’m a child. Like I’m a concubine. Like money justifies the thousands of, of like, women who stick around watching their kids get slugged for decades. Why? Because they need the fucker for a check? Like I need a job first?”
“Yeah, they’re the ones telling my ass to hold my horses. Get some financial security, get a safe space set up with a friend, you need a parachute. Legit, they said that. But, no, that’s not true.”
“I don’t need to work on a thing. I’ll eat bananas and sleep on the beach. My hair and skin and sand all the same color, all taupe everything, all warm and dusty-dry. I can live there, fuck it. I won’t get skin cancer from it, I don’t burn, not hardly ever, except at water parks. That’s it. Just me and the sloshing sound of the water and a pen. I’ll live, like, forever in the now.”
“It’s that practicality crap that kept me hanging around here in the first place.”
“What, no, I’m not drinking.”
Once you’ve written a story, it doesn’t belong to you, even if you get credit for it. It reads in your head like something said by a sibling: it has your patter to it, but not your essence. So why try to own it? Why own your babies like an animal hoarder or a parent of helicoptered children?
There’s about three ways that can go. One, you can cling to what you’ve done in the past, while slowly losing your grasp of it nonetheless, failing to identify with your prior self more and more. Two, you can jump hoops and ride unicycles in parody of yourself, trying to get your own tone right. To keep sounding like the person you once were. That didn’t work out so hot for James Patterson or Cormac McCarthy. Three, you can keep shitting work out, stories as disparate, ephemeral, and unfocused as selfhood truly is, while paradoxically claiming all those mis-matched productions came from the same source.
Or you can do it up real, that storytelling thing, and throw out your loose ends with each coming night. You can murder your children and feed rocks to your forebears until their bellies burst and you’re the only one standing. You can come up with really hasty climaxes and put all your energy into composing catchy pitches and premises that beguile the listener until he passes out in a drunken stupor on the dog’s bed in the living room at four AM before he gets the chance to go all surly and whale on you. You can get really heretical with it, if you want, and tell stories not for their craft, but to save your crafty hide.
If someone writes your ass-saving stories down, and retells them, you might become mythological. But it’s little comfort. Trust me: people think Scheherazade’s story is a love story, for chrissake, because she marries her would-be murderer in the end. People know all about Aladdin and Sindbad the Sailor’s adventures, but they don’t think about how it’d be to pace around the palace every day with the scythe hanging over your head, being forced both to bang your be-header and tuck him in with swash-buckling, cliffhanging narratives every night.
Sounds like a hell of a writer’s retreat, though. It obviously did Scheherazade’s career wonders. See her there, hunched over herself on the beach, ostensibly free— but still married, somehow, to her old adaptations. She clutches to the drink and the tireless unwinding of narrative, those vestigial structures that kept her above the crest so long. You can’t swim very fast with your water-wings on.
Watch her sip, and write, and perhaps learn: Abuse is the art of turning gifts into weapons.
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Erika D. Price is a social psychologist, writer, and eternal student living in Chicago, Illinois. She writes all her first drafts on the Notepad app of her iPhone, which sounds insane but is actually quite a convenient way to bang out ideas on the go while simultaneously looking like a vapid, perpetually-texting woman-child.
There's such a thing as being too adaptable
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