Zen and the Art of Absurdity
All right, fine--you forced it out of me.
I believe it was Billy Graham's wife, that when asked the question,
"Have you ever thought of divorce?", came back immediately
with the quip, "No, but I have thought of murder."
It was two years ago. Just before Doubleday bought my first
novel, and before I found myself contemplating the same solution
as Billy's wife.
We were living in a one-room efficiency apartment. You
know the kind, with the drop-the-damned-thing-on-your-foot-no-matter-what-you-do
Murphy Bed, and the combination kitchen/bathroom/entertaining area.
I could actually soak my feet in the kitchen sink while enjoying
my Sunday morning "quality time," and still have enough
room to prepare a vegetable plate. We had to keep our
laundry in our cars, and the cat was allowed to visit, but only
on the weekends. Our mother-in-law detested the place and
always refused to stay over. So we played the heroes and invited
her as much as possible.
I love my wife dearly, don't get me wrong. It's just that.
. . .I hate her. We are the kind of married that would take
the hair off a sweater. The kind of married that if one of
us farted, the other would say, "It was the dog."
She has never been very supportive of my career as a writer,
and that's fair, since I've never been supportive of her career
as a couch potato. But at least she does it well.
So when the time came for me to have my own writing space, I
put my foot down, with her permission of course, and demanded one.
She didn't take to the idea like I thought she would. And
that's when the fencing began.
"You cannot be serious!" she said, one afternoon. "How
pretentious is THAT? Look at you. You're 41, never held
a serious job your entire life, and now you think you're some writing
buff all of a sudden. Honey, it aint-a-gonna happen. Wake
up and smell the printer cartridge."
"Did you ever think of quitting your imaginary day job to
become a comedian?"
"You're just jealous because I have a very full life,"
"You'd actually need to get up before noon and do something
to have a full life," I said, very proud of myself.
"You know what your problem is?" she said.
"Oh puh-leeze, englighten me."
"You never talk when I'm listening to you."
"All right. That's IT. I've had enough of your
self-aggrandizing, solipsistic BS for one day. Now I
am going to retire to a quiet corner of the house and do what I
"Honey, the only people they pay for that kind of work,
are sperm doners."
I picked up my laptop from the dining room table slash sink,
pulled the toilet tissue slash kitchen towel from the bottom of
my shoe, and started to leave the room. "Oh, and another
thing. You're wearing an ugly shirt."
"Best of luck writing the great, American leaflet!"
I turned back to her. "You think this is funny? I
need my own work space. It's pretty hard to compete with One
Life to Live at one, Days of Our Lives at two, and Oprah at three."
"Fine. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between
the hours of 1:00 and 1:23 p.m., you can have the house for writing.
Any room you wish."
"That's funny. You know we only have the one."
She ignored me. "And the rest of the week is mine."
"Are you drinking the bong water again? How the hell
am I supposed to get any work done in twenty-three minutes a day?"
"Well, you've pleasured me our entire marriage in just twenty-three
seconds, so I'd say you have a real knack for operating within time
"You just never give up, do you? Always gotta have
that last word."
"Do not," she said.
"Do too," I said.
"Do too, stupid head."
"Do not, Rainman, now let's drop it."
"Hah. Fat chance. And let you have the last
word? Never." I was not about to let this
swamp insect in an ugly shirt get the upper hand. She did
that automatically on the day she vowed, "I do." Did
I already mention how ugly that shirt was?
"Oh would you just shut the hell up, hell?"
Well, I don't need to tell you that this inane exchange continued
well into the evening, and the only reason it stopped then, was
because I went to the store. I had to get out of that apartment
slash walk-in closet, and look at something other than her face
slash rear end, and that god-awful ugly shirt. Why was it
ugly? Maybe because it was orange, with horizontal stripes
of brown and pink, with tiny alligators all over it. I used
to have one just like it, but I gave it away to the Salvation Army.
. . .
When I returned some hours later, I carried in my hands the answer
to all of my problems. I didn't dare tell her what I was doing,
and worked well into the wee hours of the morning, opening boxes,
making arrangements, rearranging, reading instructions, giggling
like a school girl, opening more boxes, placing candles, until at
last I was finished. Yes, I was excited, for I knew that very
soon, my tiny corner of the world would summon my Muse, Sid, and
together we would write some of the most brilliant prose that ever
lived between two covers.
At three thirty a.m. exactly, I stood back and took one last
look, surveying the fruits of my labour.
In the bathroom, behind the shower curtain...well, okay, it was
in the tub. It was the bathtub! Are ya happy now? Sheesh,
there is just no pleasing you people.
And of course she took the news with the same oil of vitriol
that you just did.
"So let me get this straight. When the shower curtain
is pulled, I'm to assume that either means you're working, or giving
your rubby ducky a workout. Got it," she said.
"Are you a stroke victim? Why do you have to make
my life a living hell? Just tell me why."
She looked at me with a gleam in her eye. "It's relaxing."
"That's the last time I share something with you."
"Hmmmn. Kind of like our marriage bed, dontcha think?"
"Knock it off! You're fucking up my Chi!"
I stormed out of the living room slash pantry, and took a brisk
two and a half steps into the bathroom, where I yelled back over
my shoulder, "I am officially writing now! Don't
bother me anymore, woman. I have serious work to do."
All I heard from the other room was a snort.
I made a grand gesture of swishing the shower curtain shut in
anger, but it just didn't have the same effect of slamming a door.
Kind of the same let down you get when hanging up on someone
with a push button phone. It's just wimpy.
I had my candles lit, all situated meticulously around the edge
of the tub just like the Feng Sui book directed, my Japanese Tranquility
water garden trickling so as to create kinetic energy, and my Zen
garden, full of sand and pebbles ready to receive any cares or doubts
that I felt like dumping. And speaking of dumping. Apparently,
to one of the feline persuasion, it looked more like a litter box.
. . .
It was THE most perfect atmosphere to write that anyone would
ever find. Well, as far as bathrooms slash tranquility rooms
go. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and surrendered
to whatever creativity Sid would graciously bestow on me. After
thirty minutes of trying to reach Sid telepathically, I opened my
eyes and stared at my blank screen for another thirty minutes, my
fingers never touching the keys.
"Now what's the matter?" she screeched from the other