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The Writing Disease
The Writing Disease
Copyright © 2006 Dorian Scott Cole
Sadly, it has to be recognized that writing can kill you. Just as Amadeus Mozart feverishly worked to finish his Requiem, likely hastening his own death, writing is just such an obsession: always composing, always working feverishly against the odds and the deadlines, finding mistakes you know you couldn't have made, and never quite finishing. Strange creatures who teeter between life and another world, writers sit and compose, still, silently communicating with a piece of paper, never breaking a sweat, not even knowing they are dead until the sun goes down and their body temperature drops. Often no one notices that they aren't here anymore.
I looked around the writer's group table and noted our thinnning ranks with alarm. The Writing Disease was thinning our ranks.
"Has anyone seen Mary?" I asked.
Jason looked glum. He was Mary's friend, and most of us thought that he wanted to be more, but an amiable friendship was as much as they could muster. There was too much competition between them to get close. In spite of that, their symbiotic friendship, based on critiquing each other's books, had lasted for years.
"Mary is having her appendix out," Jason replied. "No one uses them. She ate too many plastic fruit tags on apples, chomping away at them while mindlessly dumping useless junk into her appendices."
"Hey!" Ron objected. "I write those labels. They're not harmful."
Jason started to object, but saw the fire in Ron's eye. He continued about Mary. "I can't remember the last time I used an appendix, can you?"
"We're all wondering if one day no one will be able to read the tags on apples," I replied. "Anyway, did you hear about Simone?" They all shook their head.
"Doesn't she write magazine articles?" Ron asked.
"Writes them, yes," Lars agreed, and sank gracelessly into his usual caustic palaver. "She has no clue what she is writing." Lars never had an ounce of sympathy for anyone. It seemed to go with his highly competitive business: screenwriting.
"You're just jealous because she gets published," Jacob retorted. Jacob, a science fiction writer, was one of the newer members, young, and never taking any nonsense from anyone.
Lars rolled his eyes. "She rehashes the same old drivel over and over again, selling it to a different magazine every month. It isn't original, and it's as real as fairy dust. Give me a break."
I put the brakes on Lars before he could get off on a tangent. "Have a little sympathy, Lars. Simone is lying in the hospital, her back painfully curved.
"Isn't she a bit young for scoliosis?" Linda asked. Linda's age showed in the slouch in her own tiny frame.
"Impacted. She went in for colon problems - full of claptrap. So they were going to reduce her colon to a semicolon. The doctor found her condition was life threatening and wrote orders to put her in a coma. But he wrote "comma" on the orders. So they called in an orthopedist and he put her in a curve. Painful."
"Could happen to any of us," Marty reasoned. "Doctors need lessons in writing." Marketer's can see the sales potential in anything. "I could do that."
"Hear, hear," several quipped in a parody of support.
"Writing lessons for doctors, Marty? Do you know what you remind me of?"
Marty continued in rapid fire, "A washing machine, a character in a movie, an electron, a snail, a corporate executive, compost, a sun shield - "
"A sun shield?"
"No. How do you associate from a corporate executive to compost?" I dared ask.
"Well, when I was a kid - "
"Oh, never mind. More of us are missing. Paula, where is Rick today?"
Paula and Rick were the two technical writers in the group. "He was executed yesterday," she said matter-of-factly.
No one knew quite how to take that remark. Paula and Rick had never been friends... actually couldn't stand each other. As the puzzled looks grew to an uncomfortable silence, she doodled on her yellow legal pad long enough to confirm to herself that she had everyone's attention and then continued, "He didn't indent far enough. It's the law." There was a smug look on Paula's face, obviously some personal validation in her announcement.
"Indenting is a matter of style," Marty said adamantly.
"He was always living life at the margins, and he finally crossed the line," Paula stated, as if the results were as inevitable as punctutation at the end of a sentence.
"They are changing the style manual," Marty countered.
"I don't use that despicable manual. Crossing the margins is a cardinal sin," she said with all of the passion of a religious zealot. She continued, barely able to suppress her glee, "He's on the way now to writer's hell where he will have to map information for all of eternity!" An electrified gasp pulsed from around the table.
Marty protested, "But smaller margins are the new style."
"You marketing people don't even know what margins are. You overstate everything." she denied vehemently.
"The style changed," he declared with finality.
"Not," she denied flatly.
"More times than you can ever say it."
"One more time than that."
"PLEASE!" I intervened, "Has anyone seen Betty lately."
"You know her husband died - he was her writing partner," Randy said reverently.
Linda, the lone octogenarian among us, bowed her head. We all observed a moment of silence. Betty's husband had experienced all of the writing symptoms that we will all eventually come down with.
"He was getting so senile that he could hardly communicate," Randy continued. He kept reaching for words - you know, they were right on the tip of his tongue and he couldn't find them." Everyone around the table nodded knowingly.
"And then he kept getting his words confused." His expression grew pained. "I suppose that is what led to this - " He paused and took a deep breath. "He said he wanted an epithet on his tomb stone. Betty kept asking him if he meant epitaph, and he always said, 'No.'"
Lars and Paula hid a smile. Randy pretended not to notice.
"So against her better wishes, she put his favorite epithet on his tomb stone. So now his last comments to the world are a vulgarity."
The two sporting irrepressible smiles, covered their faces and choked back laughter.
"You know," I counseled, "the first definition of epithet is a term that is used to characterize someone. Perhaps that is what he meant - he wanted her to characterize him. Something like, 'The Great Phil...'"
"Oh, God," Randy moaned. "I'm the one who confirmed the meaning for her, and now our stupidity is carved in stone." He continued apologetically, "It never occured to me that epithet meant anything but an expletive."
Linda delicately shoved her dictionary in front of him. Randy hung his head in shame. After a moment he left the room, another casualty of words.
"Malissa? Anyone seen her? She has been as scarce as a clean table in a fast food restaurant, and I miss her philosophical non-answers."
Cheryl, the bashful one, looked around to see if anyone was going to say anything, and then finally spoke up in a voice as weak as her personality: "She's on a hunger strike until someone reads the introduction to her new book."
Marty shrugged. "Only historians read introductions, and that won't happen until after she has been dead for at least twenty years - it's like the process for being made a saint. Get over it, all ready."
"Why doesn't she just mix in the important stuff in Chapter 1?" Cheryl asked meekly.
Lars interjected, "I'll volunteer to read her introduction."
Cheryl looked at Lars with new eyes. "When?"
"I'll make it her eulogy at her funeral," he shrieked, and broke into laughter.
"Oh, drop dead," Cheryl cursed him, and went mute again.
I looked around the table again, taking stock of our meager showing. "And what about Jack?" I asked increduously. He was here just last week looking healthy as can be in spite of his age."
"Maybe he is feeling criticized," Cheryl complained. "After all, last week Lars raked him over hot coals about his dialogue."
"Oh, yeah, blame me," Lars replied cynically. "We keep telling him 'show don't tell.' So he had his character climb up on a ladder to give his five minute 'speech.'"
"Well, this is his third career," Linda defended, rather emotionally. Those around the table suspected she might also be thinking of herself. "So what if he is a little slow."
"He just doesn't get it," Lars rejoined.
"So you told him to go stand on a ladder and read his dialogue and see if doing that made sense to him. He did. He fell off the ladder and broke his hip." A tear crept unbidden from Linda's eye.
Lars shrugged away the accusation. "Doctors can replace hips, but they can't fix writing."
"The doctors are talking about a hip replacement. So far they are all talk, no action."
"What an object lesson." Lars responded.
"Speaking of slow, I hate to bring her up, but our 20 year phenomenon isn't here tonight. Did Hillary finally give up her search for an ending for her book?"
"Who in the world would write a book without an outline?" Paula asked. "It's like writing outside the margins."
"Get a life," Marty retorted. "Lots of people write books without knowing the ending before they start. That's half the fun."
"Twenty years of fun? It looks like the ending is going to be hers." Paula's attempt at indifference barely hid her animosity.
"And our illustrious editor, Geraldine? Where is she?"
Again Linda knew. "She is always saying to be more concise. She finally reached the ultimate in leaving words out - she is in a nursing home, speaking incoherently."
"Early symptoms of Writers Disease: every other word ends in 'ing,'" Jacob explained while shaking his head in disgust."Larry?"
"He has L-Y," Marty stated.
"Oh, l-y, adverbs disease. He is getting weaker with every passing word. Yesterday he came out with a string you wouldn't believe. "'The soldier simply, but nearly irretrievably, yet hesitatingly, refused to go.' He qualified himself out of existence."
"People, watch for the danger signs, and stop before it is too late. Ending all of your words in "ing" is one of the first symptoms -
"Ing, ing, ing," Linda rang like a bell. "When you are ringing, you're not thinking about your wording."
"'Wording' - a verbized noun. Thank-you, Linda. This is usually followed by the next bad "ing," dangling participles. You know, like, 'Waiting outside the margins, Paula was writing her text' - you've got a dangling participle. Not many people can 'wait and write' at the same time. "
"The grammar checker on your word processor won't catch it, either," Paula sneered contemptously.
"If it gets to adverbs - too many words ending in ly - you know the weakness is setting in, and it may be too late. After that, you will be starting sentences with, 'You know, I mean..... That's a sure sign the end is near. And if you see, 'you've got' in your sentence - 'you have got' is repetitively redundant even as a contraction - turn down the thermostat and take your temperature and see if you are already dead. You will soon be fodder for Jane's next news story." I looked around for Jane. "OK, where is Jane?"
Marty looked up with a smile. "She has writers block. But not to worry, her vowels were consonated. She should be here next week."
(Unlike them uther writters, I no the hole alphabit.)
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