Southeast of Disorder


The Insanity Defense
April 2, 2008, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags: , ,

Aspiring fiction authors can be classified in any number of ways, but among the most prominent categories seem to be “uncannily brilliant,” “deeply devoted to substance abuse,” and “just plain nuts.” The jury is divided about which camp I fall into, but at last poll the Twelve Angry Critics leaned heavily toward acquittal by virtue of insanity.Frankly, after much rumination, I’ve decided an insanity defense is the only plausible one for We Who Are Determined to Embarrass Ourselves Repeatedly by Committing Tripe to Paper. There’s plenty of evidence, after all at least in my case. What else but insanity could explain the devolution of an otherwise relatively normal, reasonably intelligent, fairly articulate person into a raving lunatic who engages in lengthy conversations with imaginary friends?

No one warned me about this unnerving possibility when I signed on to write fiction. Shouldn’t there be a clause in my contract somewhere? I’d like to see a label like the ones pharmaceutical companies are required to include with medications: “WARNING: Possible side effects of the writing life may include spreading hips, estrangement from family and friends, deteriorating eyesight, insomnia, abbreviated attention span, inability to abandon lost causes, crabbiness, extended periods of depression punctuated by brief euphoria, loss of interest in the real world, self-doubt, a tendency to woolgather at odd moments, and talking to people who don’t exist.”

It’s that last one that plays most decisively into the insanity defense. (Wouldn’t we all be ecstatic if spreading hips did?)

I finally succumbed to the realization I was lost in a fiction fog when I began talking to characters. By “talking,” I don’t mean the occasional rhetorical “Hmm…. What would you do if…?” I mean literally carrying on protracted give-and-take conversations. Actually, arguments might be a better term.

These fanciful forays into which I seem to depart more frequently as time passes both amuse and appall people of the grown-up variety. Even my dog becomes concerned or perhaps I’m mistaking his pawing and whining for something it is not. He simply may be jealous that none of the entities with whom I communicate so elaborately is him. Oddly, children don’t seem to mind at all.

After 15 years, my significant other has learned just to ignore me. The crazy babbling and fixed stares no longer cause him to reach for the phone number of the nice men with white coats and butterfly nets. (Of course, this is the same man who frequently finds his life in jeopardy when he bursts into my writing space to tell me some horrendous, funny-only-to-men joke just as I’m about to craft the quintessential bit of dialog that will save the day, so his judgment is questionable, at best.)

But I digress (which ought to be another of those fully disclosed possible side effects). About those character interactions: Lately I’ve begun to feel like a temperamental director dealing with a herd of malcontents and unrepentant hams.

“Augh! Cut! Cut!”

“What? What did we do?”

“That’s a good question. Exactly what is it you thought you were doing there?”

“Improvising.”

“Improvising? You do realize there’s a script, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s all wrong right here. Nobody behaves like that. It’s bogus.”

“Bogus?” I shake my head wearily. “See this is part of the problem: You’re from the 18th century; that word’s not in your vocabulary. Who gave you permission to take off on your own little tangent?”

Just about then, another character usually joins the fray. “You know, if I were the hero, I’d….”

“You’re not the hero!” I hiss, whirling on him. “If you’d spend as much time developing your own role as you do analyzing his, we’d all be the better for it.”

Depending on the character, at this point he’ll either sulk meaning I have to expend valuable mental energy soothing his wounded feelings or dive into a particularly vile tirade denouncing my writing ability. The latter does nothing to improve my relationship with a cast already seriously doubting my fitness to be their leader.

Every once in a while, I find someone from a completely different project costuming himself or herself in the current project’s wardrobe and stealthily sneaking onto the set.

“You there! The Merry Man in the back. Aren’t you supposed to be on Stage 4 plotting with the rest of the gang in Last Train to Comanche Wells?”

“Uh… well, yeah,” he’ll answer, nervously shuffling his dusty, worn cowboy boots, “but… well, to tell you the truth, ma’am, they’re about to bore me to death over there. And it’s confusing very confusing.”

“Incompetents and amateurs!” I explode. “Who’s in charge on Stage 4? I want him nuked!”

“Nuked?” (Misplaced Cowboy Guy only thought he was confused before.)

“Oh fer cryin’ out loud…. Ask one of the Rigelians to explain it to you.”

About the time I begin chastising the hero from Chaste Through the Snow because he won’t stop pressing the heroine’s heaving bosom to his manly chest while for the umpteenth time uttering “Your eyes are like limpid sapphire pools” as she faints at the prospect of consummating their forbidden lust, I find myself consumed by heaving sobs of despair. It’s precisely at that moment the gaggle of slightly flighty but endearing, hard-as-nails southern belles escapes the pages of The Bougainvillea Ladies’ Luncheon Club and rushes to console me.

“Get away from me! I don’t want chocolate! Well, I do, but not right now.”

“Let me freshen your iced tea, sugah.”

“Hon, what you need is a good roll in the sack with that hunk from Chaste.”

“You know, my mother always told me….”

“Augh! Just gimme the damn chocolate and go back to fanning yourselves on the verandah, will ya? WHY CAN’T ANY OF YOU BEHAVE?!”

Half of them mutter “Ingrate!” under their breaths, and the others cluck knowingly and whisper, “This time the hero lives, but the writer is about to perish by her own hand.”

“I can hear you, you know!” Bunch of know-it-all buttinskis. (I’m not above an occasional under-the-breath mutter myself.)

Perhaps insanity is a virtue after all. A rubber room is looking more appealing all the time.

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