August 14th, 2017
Once upon a time, a creative-writing instructor praised me in class a few times and I overreacted—I quit my personnel management job, bought a portable typewriter and, with little to say and matching talent, set off into the unknown. I was a man with a jet pack on his way to the moon and had about two years to get there. “What will you write?” some asked. I had no idea. “Short things,” I replied. “Short stories, essays, things like that.” Business colleagues commended me for my courage, but it didn’t feel like courage to me, it felt like school letting out for the summer. I hadn’t thought far enough ahead for it to be courage.
Writing, I’d quickly learn, was akin to performing to an empty house and, a few months into it, hungry for applause, I took to imposing my work on others at every opportunity. A couple of times, I cornered and read to former colleagues in their offices. Mostly, though, I imposed on groups of partiers, and there were parties galore, that summer, so lots of opportunities. “Would you mind if I brought along and read some of my stuff to the group?” I’d ask. What could they say?
I’ve no doubt they laugh about it now, but they sure weren’t laughing at the time. I wasn’t, either. I’d look up from a reading and there’d be two or three people sound asleep. And these were neither large groups nor long readings. At one party, mid-way through my funniest piece, a guy slumped right off his chair onto the floor, startling the sleeper next to him, who also tumbled onto the floor, sending her chair crashing against an antique buffet. I blamed the hour and the booze and arranged, after that, to read earlier in the evening when my audience would be sufficiently alert, still, to appreciate my talents. But that wasn’t it. A couple of weeks later, after an early reading to a classy group of partiers on Toronto Island, I overheard my performance described as “fifteen minutes of turgid prose”, which it was, and as my reputation spread, the flow of invitations slowed to a trickle and dried up.
I resorted, then, to going for a drink or two each evening at Phil's, a popular local bar from which I'd lure girls back to my apartment with expectations of sex, then read them stuff I'd written. “Well, wasn’t that something!” said one. “Oh my God,” said another,” look at the time!”
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