When I accepted my appointment in the colony as "literateur en semi-residence" I was unaware of several duties the position requires. In addition to attending the weekly group readings (the Diabologue Multicoulaire) and proctoring a series of workshops of my own devising (Lethal Borders: A Cool, Thin, Leather You), I must accept one of the new researchers as a sort of Anthological sidekick—-I have to name an assistant.1 Had this been stated in the pamphlets singing the praises of this “creatist's getaway” or at least mentioned in the pre-hiring interviews (of which there had been several—the funding entities for this colony were inordinately concerned about their visitor's overall “sense” and the “what” of what they intended to "bring" to the "table") I would have been displeased, but not surprised. But there I sat, sipping an methyl ethyl ketone sour with a single emotion hunkering angrily in my chest...surprise.
I intended to come here, occupy a cabin for a few weeks, attempt to dodge my titled duties, and play the perfect "troubled artist struggling to overcome an obstacle of his own creation," or the archtypal "tortured creative soul whose every work mocks the filamentary barrier separating genius and madness while threatening, with every word, to tumble from former to latter."
If I stayed long enough, and if the other folks here left me alone, I might be able to achieve the epithet that had so far eluded me,
" [A] preternatural horror-- a being so consumed by the scope of his evils, both latent and manifest, that his every heartbeat represents universes created, depleted, and cast aside as he slakes his megalomaniacal thirsts. To fall beneath the gaze of his ravening eye is to be thrown from the places of one's safest and most maternal imaginings into the grinding maw of the prototypical anti-faust. To hear his voice is to desire oblivion."
Sadly, escaping the Diabologue Multicoulaire proved an exhastive task. When the food delivery system ( a conveyor belt array which connected the cabins with the Primary OutBuildings, designed to afford the artists and writers a minimum of human contact. When the conveyor was in operation, a colonist could go weeks without seeing another person, except at the readings.) failed halfway through the first week, actual employees of the kitchens began to deliver the food to the doors of the cabins. To the naked eye, this seems an improvement, since all that isolation might breed boredom, questionable odors, and eventually, an inexplicable desire to “listen more closely to those squirrels...I think they are onto something” what it actually did was allow the colony's directors to send personal messages to individual colonists. I began receiving these messages almost immediately.
I began to eat a platter of cinnamon prawn augratin when my newly acquired cermet® shrimp fork pierced an origami scallion tip. Written on the tip:
|Hi, missed you at the reading last night. Guessing you must be working on something fantastic. Looking forward to your workshop on “individuation and the poetry of R. Jaeth Pilter.” See you soon.|
The sender's identity was left to my imagination. Since my imagination tends toward more curvaceous targets, I thought no more about it.
The next morning, however, my latte' cooled and began to spell out a steamed milk footnote "SEE BELW." Having written in froth myself on several occasions, I forgave the sender's spelling problems. Belw the cup lay the following message, written in something dark on stock vellum:
|Jennings was disappointed in your absence last night. His poems really touched a nerve in the audience. He said that his target was the sciatic, but most felt he more accurately approached the psiophilial. He blamed us, of course. Maybe you should stop by the Facade and chat with him.|
That I would chat with Jennings was doubtful, since he still hated me for being so close to his father (famed ethnoteratologist Carson Jennings, who had helped me secure funding for a Wunderkammen project I had running a couple of years before). I could call the old man and initiate a weekend in Vegas on two hours notice, while he, the man's biological son, had to make appointements just to meet with his father's secretary in order to schedule an opportunity to snare a moment of his father's priceless time. By Father I mean his father's aide de camp. The young man, Jennings, had never seen his father in person, but had received touching inter-familial memoranda from the man on several occasions. As I write this, I recall a specific event which may also have contribute to Jennings's dislike of me. At a cocktail party honoring his father's tenure assignment, which Jennings had been allowed to attend via conference call, I referred to him affectionately as "The working man's Tom Beringer," something for which he had never forgiven me.
I would get these messages in various parts of my meals almost every day. What began as a daily affirmation of my supposed work and a gentle prodding to read became an assortment of notes which spanned the full spectrum of personal opinion, from adoration to hatred, from desire to disgust.
|So, another reading, another...not you...being here.|
(Found in a saucer of Gaspacho)
|Whatever you are working on is no doubt amazing. Perhaps you should share it with us at the next Diabalogue.|
(Woven into a cruller)
|Your workshops are well attended and considered by some to be the cream of our respective crops, but a reading would smooth some growing furrows in the brows of your contemporaries.|
(Tossed into my window while I ate)
|Why don't you read. You sit in your cabin, insulated against the bloody onslaught of my critical eye and warmed by the breath of your puppets.|
(Delivered in a box marked Not a Note.)
After reading the angry red scrawl on the most recent note, I knew exactly who sent it--Marco Peristalsis. I had met him during our orientation seminar and he had attended two of my seminars. He lacked the grit to attack me directly, so the tone of the note couldn't be the identifying factor. The comment about the puppets, however, revealed his identity more clearly than if he had handed me the note personally.
The astute reader might suppose that by puppets, this fellow meant minions of some sort, or former students of mine. Sadly, this is not the case. His comments about the inherent evil of marionetic behaviour had garnered him the reputation as a sort of visionary/loner/cavalier/warrior-poet. The colonists, skilled in the unconscious art of imposing subtext onto everything one misunderstands, imbued the man's anti-puppet rhetoric with a sociopolitical relevance he never intended. I, for one, saw the issue clearly. This poor cat meant actual puppets. He was forever badmouthing them. He had accused everyone at this colonly, at one time or another, of harboring puppets, smuggling puppets across state lines, resurrecting slain puppets, failing to allow a naturally expired puppet to spend eternity in the well earned slumber of the righteous marionette, etc.2 His reputation had preceded him—-Marco Peristalsis: Puppet Hater.
In my effort to hide from these crazies, I had inadvertently sparked their interest in whatever they perceived to be my Quelque Chose . I was, of course, working on a few things (the NEA/NSF stuff—-I was trying to maximize the impact of the projects they had unwittingly funded while minimizing the actual writing necessary to maintain the grants), but they had nothing to do with the colony and would not fly for even a second at the readings.
1 I fear this person's position may eventually become “contract writer in absence whose work must itself be ghostwritten."
2 By the time I left the colony, there were several discussion groups meeting weekly to decipher the more subtle intonations of Mr. Peristalsis. I attended the first of the series, which dealt with one of his more obscure outbursts. He shouted at one of the chef's, accusing her of “dismantling an antique mahogony toreador and filling him with cork.” He further inquired, “ How is he supposed to tango now?” The chef, whose work was flawless, was understandably shaken. I saw this as simple evidence that Peristalsis was a Bush League Nut Hammer (person of questionable sanity), but the colonists in general decided this comment was pregnant with social commentary, bursting with the swollen fruit of symbol and crying for interpretation, and therefore, release. I had dinner with the chef and explained my theory, which she gladly accepted.