When I say that I haven’t written anything since my grandfather died, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I am not emotionally crippled. His death and my dog’s subsequent euthanasia didn’t dry up some supernatural creative well. I’m exhausted, maybe, but being “too tired” seems a poor excuse for laziness.
Part of my problem is rereading “The Peabody.” Each paragraph convinces me that some stranger wrote it, and I’m pissed and ashamed that it’s apparently the best eulogy I can offer a real person. Who is this pretentious jerk? Why is this person writing about my grandfather? My frustration tightens all the muscles in my jaw. Yes, those are my memories, my abstractions of emotions. Yes, I assembled a collage of moments because I couldn’t manifest a linear narrative. I posted because at the time, it seemed necessary.
I can hear you, you know. Maybe you’re thinking it’s not really about my writing, that I’m unearthing a deeper line of insecurity and inadequacy I’m finally willing to examine. You’re thinking I just don’t know who I am these days. Maybe you’re right.
I’ve turned into a weird, jangled ball of raw nerves. A few nights ago I started in on ghosts. “Listen,” I’d said, rolling over on my side, “let’s just pretend that ghosts are a Thing That Can Happen For Real, and I die tomorrow, and I come back and haunt your ass.” My partner probably rolled his eyes in the dark, but listened, because these ridiculous what-if thought experiments are sort of what I do.
“I’d prefer not to think about you dying.”
“Just, pretend for a minute. That ghosts could be real. I would haunt the bottom of the stairs and endlessly wail, ‘Where’s my kitties?’ so that the cats would keep running into the basement looking for food. It’d drive them nuts.”
“I picture your ghost voice as the sound of a dial-up modem slowed down 700 percent.” He suddenly fiddled with his phone and played back a recording. For a moment, we lay in the dark, listening to the spectral dial-up. A thousand dying modems languishing into tonal static. At once, the hair on my arm prickled.
“What if I’m one of those ghosts stuck repeating a specific task? You have company over and my ghost appears and tries to jerk you off for fifteen minutes and then vanishes.” We laughed and I shut up for a few minutes. Dave put on the soundtrack for Kentucky Route Zero, and I eventually drifted off.
The next day, as I was shrugging into my coat for knitting circle, I read an article my cousin wrote. She’s an excellent writer. While she clearly benefits from a strong command of the written word, her prose is made more powerful by the way her voice manipulates you into the narrative. She is fully present in her work.
I am not.
My recent writing reflects only ghosts. Specters of something interesting. Though I write and edit every day, at work I am not myself; I am a corporation, a parent, a magazine, an elf, a yogi, a salesperson. I’m a goddamn hired gun. While I’ve been busy holding someone else’s megaphone, I’ve developed a case of laryngitis. I open my mouth and vomit static.
The crux of my “Peabody” problem is that I’ve lost my voice. I worry I never had one to begin with.