This little story came easy. Perhaps it was all there even before I wrote it. It knew what it was and how it wanted to go about telling itself. It had pace and tone down pat. It knew what it cared about and what it didn’t care about. I felt like a midwife at an easy and natural birth. There was nothing harrowing about it. I didn’t know anything about the story before I started to write it. All I had was an itch that produced the need to scratch it, that is, to write, an itch I have had many times before, but never with a result like this one.
It took no more than part of an afternoon to write it. Then it was done. I changed a very few words, even spending just a little time feeling guilty that I didn’t feel the necessity of changing any more than these very few words. This little story was smooth and pure and powerful.
I have been writing a long time and I have struggled with recalcitrant pieces for days, weeks, months, years, even decades, always feeling that something in the writing, something in myself was tenaciously resisting the process. I have been frightened and infuriated and depressed. I don’t know what has held me to it but something as implacable in me as the resistance I addressed.
I don’t know if I ever wanted to be a writer. I was not one of those. Rather becoming a writer was something that happened to me, like a highway accident I was lucky to survive, but that changed my citizenship. I was placed on the rolls of a country I never had known even existed. Nor was I patriotic. I did not see my new nation as the incarnation of a dream that would bring light to the world. It was just where I happened to live, nor did I ever think much about emigrating. After all, where would I go, given that I didn’t even know where I had come from.
When I had finished the first draft of this little story I put it aside, as was my habit. I felt very good about it. But I didn’t say anything about it. I wanted to see how it would read the next day. I did not want to make a fool out of myself. More than once in the long set of detours that was my career as a writer, I had had the experience of being enthralled with something I had composed, only to find that when I took that second look the next day, the spell was broken, leaving me high and dry, wondering who I had been the day before to see it so with those eyes and how those eyes had been replaced by these eyes.
I waited until almost noon the next day to look. The little story was as appealing as ever, almost insolently so. Since I was one of those who had lived by the dictum that most good writing was rewriting and most writing that was even better was the rewriting of rewriting, I sat down to begin my editing, confident that there would be much to change, ready for the quest for the unknown that came with posing questions to a piece.
To my simultaneous horror and glee, I found only three words to change and even these three words were more about my fussiness than about any material change in the little story. I was horrified because I wondered if I had completely lost my eye, if I had become sloppy and self-indulgent, if I were starting to decay as a writer, a thinker, someone who felt and knew and could interrogate both modes to see what they could yield. This degree of satisfaction with a mere draft – worse, an initial draft – was quite unlike me and represented a challenge.
I spent two hours going back over the little story to find the faults and fissures that I knew must be there. I suppose that the word “know” was not the right one. I didn’t “know”. I assumed. I imagined, I exercised the habits of assuming, of imagining as they had become ingrained in me, become the familiar ruts of my days and nights, a
good many of which found me struggling to sleep, detesting myself for not being able to sleep, almost as if I were in the throes of a process of self-editing of which I could not let go.
I felt glee because the story, small though it was, possessed a coherence that resisted being torn apart, in fact, that resisted all but the tiniest incisions and modifications. It had a cohesion and an insistence on remaining just as it was that expressed an inner assurance, a sense that it knew what it was about and didn’t want to be about anything else. I suppose it could be said that one of the ingredients in my feeling of glee was that I had written. Yet this would not be wholly accurate.
It had come out so easily that my own efforts did not seem to have terribly much to do with its surging into being. I think I felt glee more the way one does when one meets beauty, especially hen the meeting with beauty is a surprise. The little story was finished, fully formed, complete in itself in a way that thrilled me. It was so much that I was not and yet it had a link to me, so it was a puzzle and a pleasure both at the same time. It was not worried about itself, seemed remarkably free of internal tensions, let alone dissensions.
I held on to the little story I had written for a week. I didn’t show it to anyone else,
not even to my wife. I didn’t mention it in conversation with anyone, which struck me as odd since ordinarily I am fairly garrulous about my work. This little story was my secret, delicious as a candy in my mouth that no one suspected, about whose sweetness they knew nothing. I held on to the little story for a second week, then for a third week. My attention was caught by the fact that we write in order to communicate with others and here I was deliberately sequestering this little story that I had written. Did I believe that the story would be spoiled for me if anyone else read it? Was I afraid they would contaminate it?
Not without struggle, I decided on Tuesday of the fourth week to print out a copy and to show it to my wife, who was habitually my first reader and a very helpful one at that.
It was near eleven o’clock of a sunny June morning. I put the slender story in front of her. The sun brought out the grain in the wood of her desk. It didn’t take her long to read this little story, which was probably part of its appeal.
She broke into a smile and then her eyebrows danced and then she was laughing.
“Why this is wonderful, “ she said. “It’s irresistible. It’s so of a piece and so surprising. It’s not like you at all. Or maybe there’s a new you. Maybe there are parts of you I’ve never glimpsed even though we’ve been together since we were more or less children. But this is really such a pleasure like a drink from a high cold mountain stream. Have you put it on the web site?”
This was the question that I had been fearing. Of course, I had not. Of course, I should have. But something in me resisted. Now I knew that I had passed the point of no return, that, once my wife had asked about it, I had no choice but to put it up, to let it go.
So I did. I let it go. I put it up on my simple quite understated website that made no extravagant claims. What was utterly unanticipated was what happened next. This little story, this bauble, this next to nothing that I had made, went viral so that within three days time there had been millions of hits on the website, more than in the entire previous history of the website. Something in this little story which had cost me so little to write was both attractive and contagious.
On the fourth day, I got an email from a well known London publisher asking if I had any unpublished material that this publisher might bring out. The letter assured me that I would find the terms pleasing.
In this day and age receiving such a communication from a first line publisher was about as likely as looking out into your vegetable garden and seeing three unicorns peacefully grazing there. I could not respond. Of course, I had a great deal of unpublished material, but I was in a state of shock over what was happening to this little story. Or perhaps I should say that I was in shock over what this little story was doing.
An email that I got the afternoon of the fourth day was much more troubling. It came from the north of England and asserted that I had stolen his story, that this little story was his original work, that he had written it word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark exactly as I had released it on to the internet. He even gave the time interval for his writing of the story which coincided exactly with mine.
He was a few years younger I was, but he said that in all his years of writing nothing had come as easily as this story. Then he threatened to go to the newspapers if I did not recant authorship. He said that he would take legal action if that were to be come necessary, although he hated the idea of doing it because it was so ugly and so expensive.
I sat at my computer in complete befuddlement. I had no doubt that I had written this little story. There was such sensory confirmation of this fact.
I called my wife and asked her to read the email. “It’s from a madman, “ I said, “but still there are disturbing coincidences.”
Lena read it, then looked up with a puzzled, slightly worried expression on her face.
“Madmen” she said, “may have extraordinary powers of discernment. They may be operating with different data sets than we who think we are sane. Still it seems remarkable that two people so far removed in space neither one of whom knows anything about the other should write the same story. This wouldn’t be a collaboration, not a joint authorship. But maybe it could explain why each of you experienced the writing of the story as being so easy. Could you be linked in some way you don’t understand or appreciate?”
“I feel exactly like myself. I felt exactly like myself while I was writing the story. I am in my own skin and, as far as I can tell, no one else is in this skin with me, not even you. But this little story which I thought was such a blessing now has millions of people eavesdropping and some lunatic from far off claiming that I didn’t write it at all, that he did. It is disconcerting, more than vaguely. You know, Lena, I liked being a semi-successful writer, scraping by in communion with words I know to be inadequate. I liked being my most important reader. Now this. I feel like I’m close to coming apart at the seams, but I have no idea what thread I can use to stitch those seams back together.”
“Entanglement,” Lena pronounced quietly, as much to herself or to me.”
“What,” I responded, “does that mean? It’s certainly a tangle and I feel all tangled up in it. But what the hell is “entanglement?”
It’s quantum mechanics. As I understand it two particles on opposite sides of a river, or for that matter on opposite shores of an ocean, can know what the other is doing without their being told. It’s a kind of ghostly twinning, a communication regardless of distance. So far they have been able to show this for particles as big as bucky-balls, but, of course, you and this fellow in the in the north of England are much larger. So if this does reflect entanglement, then you are well outside the boundaries of current scientific understanding.”
I looked at Lena’s face to see if she were mocking me. She most certainly was not.
“But what should I do?” I asked her, knowing full well that she was not going to tell me what to do.
I had a cousin whose refrain was, “When in doubt, sleep.” I was certainly in doubt and I felt suddenly very tired, as if I had been involved in some enormously difficult
labor. I told Lena I was going to go upstairs to take a nap, something I rarely, if ever did.
It was such a pleasure to lie down and let go. I drifted easily off to sleep. In my dream, I found myself in the presence of King Solomon. I was discussing the quandary of this little story with him.
“Two authors, it’s a bit like two parents. Only they don’t know each other. That’s a bit peculiar. I suppose a story is like a baby, although I never wrote stories. But songs are not so different. I remember once two women each claiming to be the mother of a bay came to me. I threatened to cut the baby in two. The one who abhorred that was clearly the actual mother. Maybe that case bears on this one.
I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.”
Wearing his robes of royal Tyrean purple, he disappeared.
When I woke up, I knew what I was going to do. I was very grateful to the apparition of King Solomon.
Out of respect for this little story, which was so complete in itself, I was going to renounce my claim to authorship. I put a little notice on my web site to the effect that the little story had been removed. Any inquiries should go to the author, Nolan Ibbing in the United Kingdom.
The renunciation of my claim to authorship made me feel much better as if not only my privacy but my skin had been restored to me. It was peculiar that after I renounced my claim interest in the little story fell abruptly. Whatever the infection was, the virus had been vanquished.
This little piece of writing is mostly for the file. I don’t believe anyone else will make a claim to authorship. Yet, I felt compelled to tell this, maybe in order to help me believe what I have experienced and how ordinary and how strange all tangled up together it has been.