What Makes Writers Go Nuts?
Many, many, things can make a writer go nuts. Including, of course, mountains of rejection slips. But there is one thing worse by far right at the top of the list. Can't guess it? Easy: Interruptions! I usually leave my phone off when I write because otherwise it sounds off with a few stupid musical notes telling me I have an SMS message or else somebody (usually female) calls with a problem which could be solved with some money (usually mine). And each day there will be three or four or more SMS messages. But on some days I am expecting a call I want, maybe long distance, so I have to leave the phone on and, sure enough, lots of idiotic SMS messages come in, almost all advertising something, and some in Thai only which I can't read anyway. And if I do take a call, when I ring off, I get two more messages immediately. AIS babbling something about my getting 20 per cent off because of something, and AIS babbling that my account is getting low and I should really do something about it. Of course it's getting low you assholes - because you keep sending me idiotic messages which I have to take time to delete!
And then a friend of mine calls to say that he needs to use my DVD machine because he has some disk and he needs to check it because he wants to sue a guy for lots of money and this disk will prove everything, etc., etc., but his computer heats up when he puts the disk in so can he come over and play the disk on my machine. Yeah, sure, what the hell, a friend's a friend and I was only trying to write a novel, and who gives a fuck about that?
Another SMS. Someone sends me a message: "I have a story idea." Right. Just what I wanted to hear when I am struggling with characterization, plot, pacing, theme, and all the rest in my own novel. Well, not wanting to be cruel, because as longtime readers of this column are well aware, I am a sweetheart of a guy, Mr. Nice Guy himself, but here is some advice to anyone who has a "story idea": WRITE THE FUCKING THING - DO NOT TELL OTHERS. The only way to find out if a story idea is any good or not is to attempt to write the fucking thing. And if it is a short story you may as well forget it because it would be too difficult to get published in this day and age and if it is a novel idea well then WRITE IT!
When I was a younger man and lived in Manhattan and occasionally went to parties, the moment would come when someone would introduce me to someone else as a writer. The person I was introduced to would inevitably say: "Oh, I have a wonderful idea for a novel." And I would cringe inwardly and think please god get me out of here NOW. Or "Oh, I have a wonderful idea for a novel and we could collaborate and split the profits." But, wait: It gets worse. Worst of all: "Oh, I have a great idea for a novel; if only I had the time to write it." Get it? In other words, writing doesn't involve craft, talent, skill, experience, empathy, critical observation, work, work, work, etc., apparently anybody could write a novel - it's just a question of "having the time to do it." Well, fuck you very much. But now maybe you can understand why I say the more people I meet the more bullets I need.
Today, all of the above types of events occurred but even worse. In addition to writing a novel, I have been battling bronchitis and have not wanted to leave the apartment but two days ago I had to go to the Bank of Ayudhya because American Express called and said the bank had said my last payment check to them was not my signature. Well who the fuck else would pay one of my bills except me? We're not talking about a cash check. And I had crossed out "or bearer" etc., etc. Therefore, as it was late, American Express said there was a late fee. But if I could pay right away, they would remove the late fee. So I struggled out to the Bank of Ayudhya (the one that doesn't give farangs interest on their savings account precisely because we are farangs although strangely enough both English-language newspapers in Bangkok have never published my letters pointing that racist fact out.)
The sweetheart at the Bank of Ayudhya was cute (and would look great in leather, especially with boots and a studded black flogger whip with a brass handle - but I digress) so I smiled and explained what was happening and as politely as I could I asked about the problem. She had to check with the head office so after quite a while it was learned that someone at the head office had done it, not at the branch and that I had signed slightly different from the norm.
So, OK, I signed again on various papers to get it all straightened out and crossed my heart and swore to God that in the future I would always sign exactly that way. Although, truth to tell, between the bronchitis grogginess and imagining her in leather gear I already forgot which way I said I would sign. But the head office tells her she needs my passport to copy down the number on the new sign forms which of course I don't have with me. So I have to promise her I will be back the next day and of course don't keep the promise as I am sick and, not that it is important, but I am trying to write a novel.
But today someone else from American Express called about the payment and said by the time I send the new check it would be too late to remove the late fee so why didn't I go online and set up my account with Bank of Ayudhya there and that would be convenient because then I could pay on line? Well, I didn't really want to do that because trying to set up an on line account with a bank is a tedious, frustrating, irritating, maddening, time-consuming and usually fruitless failure of an endeavor and I felt feverish and, small point I know, but actually I WAS TRYING TO WRITE A FUCKING NOVEL!
But, OK, sure, I try to please, so she gives me the Bank of Ayudhya's site and I go there and find the page in which we have to fill everything out. I know from the beginning that something will go wrong and there will be a problem as there always is in this kind of thing even in the States, and it is more likely in the Land of Smiles. So I have some problems with it but eventually fill out the whole page and am proud of myself and click "submit." And wait. And it says my passport number is invalid. But I typed it in correctly. I did what they said - I did not use spaces or hyphens between numbers. I try again. And again. Invalid number.
I finally find a phone number for the Bank of Ayudhya Center and eventually speak to someone. She takes down information and asks me to hold. Eventually, she returns to tell me that my passport number should end in "4." She thinks I might have opened my bank account with a different passport than the one I have now. She is right because the one I have now was issued after I opened the bank account. So I have to find the one just before that one.
I quickly go through a drawer while she holds on and find no fewer than six expired passports but not one ends in "4". She says I should go to the branch and give in the new information - the new passport number. Oh, yes, great idea, I love to muck about with banks and credit card companies because I have nothing to do except write a fucking novel. In any case, the bank branch might tell me the change would have to be made in the head office and I might have to go there. I tell her I will have to look for that passport, thank her, and hang up. AIS immediately sends me a message telling me my account is very low and I really should do something about it.
I decide to look for my appointment book for the year I opened the account in 2003 because sometimes I am smart enough to write my passport number in my appointment books. I know I have the book somewhere because I like to save appointment books from past years because every now and then I can look through them and see exactly when I made the colossal, incredibly stupid, mistakes in life I have made. (That is one of many activities best accompanied by Wild Turkey on the rocks.)
It takes quite a while but eventually I find the book and after searching page by page, I conclude there is no passport number written down. Then I decide to look over the passports I did find in the drawer and I realize that I do in fact have the one previous to the present one but it definitely does not end in number "4." So I call the Bank of Ayudhya Center again and speak with a different girl and explain everything. She asks me to hold and then returns to tell me she will call the head office about this matter and call me back. I ring off and this time ignore the AIS SMS but the phone rings. The landline phone! It is a very loud, penetrating ring. I never use the landline phone and never give out the number and don't even know the number. But then I remember that the downstairs desk calls on that phone to let me know my laundry is ready. I breathe deeply in an attempt to avoid paranoia and collapse. I go downstairs, get the laundry, return to my apartment, put the laundry away and sit down to work.
The cell phone rings. It is a friend passing through Bangkok who would like to have a drink with me. One of the people I like to have a drink with under ordinary circumstances but I explain I have bronchitis. He says no problem let's meet. I wonder why nobody seems to worry about catching bronchitis from me but tell him if I am well enough I will call him back. I ring off, ignore the SMS from AIS. I have typed half a sentence of my novel when the doorbell rings. It is the lady from downstairs delivering the mail. The mail consists of a bill from TRUE and a catalogue of bullshit buying and traveling opportunities from American Express.
I give up. I close the computer, break out the Wild Turkey and begin reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. So bright and early the next day I go to the Bank of Ayudhya and give the girl my passport, etc., both passports. She does some checking and I also contact American Express and they will get back to me. While I am at the Emporium, I get a phone call from American Express which tells me it is OK now, I can use my passport to go on line. Five minutes later, another girl from Amex calls to tell me the same thing. The connection is very bad so when I ask why I was told my passport ended in number "4" I cannot hear what they are saying clearly; so I shall never know why. Probably better that way because it might involve Thai logic and I am already dazed enough without getting sucked into Thai logic.
So I grab a cab and go home and I try once again and eventually set up a web account with the bank and pay the Amex bill. I have yet to hear anything from anyone. But this morning as I was preparing to write, the doorbell rang. It was the laundry lady with a bill for the laundry. And it's still early...