I suspect I’m better at telling stories than giving advice, which is why I started writing fiction to begin with. I can’t imagine having anything definitive to say, like, Here’s the key, take it. Or, Ring-of-many keys. Lift with your back. Hope they aren’t too burdensome.
I prefer my uncommitted-ness. Writing by guesswork. Suggestions like, write under the influence of kombucha; villains on Tuesdays; fonts to get you out of the slush pile; veggies that cure writer’s block. There are more, I’m sure.
It can be wearisome. The continuous infomercial at 4 a.m., the one you keep watching instead of falling asleep. Boring, but addicting. Because they have the answer. Maybe you really do need a rag that can absorb ten times its weight in water. Maybe you can’t reach the top shelf and need a pole-claw, or a wearable towel, or a shakable weight.
But to be upfront: I don’t have the answer. I just make things up.
Anyway, a story:
I went to a girl’s house, met her cat, fell in love. It happens like that. Coffee, pie, cat, love. But we (I) fall in love with the wrong people. (The wrongs vary.) Once, in college, our “goals” differed. Later, I slept in the back of a U-Haul and knew it would be distance that overcame us. Another time, I was a husband too late. I know she’s the wrong person this time, too, so I get online and buy things to comfort myself. These are the 21st century tools I was given—be sympathetic, please.
Despite the obvious warnings, I fall in love. It’s there the next day and still there many months after the jacket I bought arrives, has been worn for a few years, and gets donated to Goodwill. I only date her for a few months, but that love, it hangs around much longer, a lost popcorn shell in your gums that the dentist finds eight years later during a routine cleaning. The half-moon shell is black and wedged between molars 15 and 16 and in your mind you know he’s pulling out something more important than a tooth. It’s the last piece you have of her and it hurts.
Somewhere in the middle, between the beginning and the end, she shows me around the house that she’s remodeling with her father. We move through the rooms. Here’s a wall that’s gone. This floor was once dirt. Now it’s not. She points: that will be where the eucalyptus goes, and her hands, rough from the sanding and plaster work, are beautiful. The upstairs is still gutted and unfinished.
I’m good at this part. I let my imagination work. I see what I would do to the room, and how we might fit into it—our bodies, our relationship, our future. She’s a painter, so the room will be full of light. I see us sprawled across green sheets, our heads together, hair mixing while we debate the merits of various candies—like, the all-time best type of M&Ms, or, to freeze or not to freeze Thin Mints. We understand these are important conversations, so we have them nightly.
A few weeks later, she asks me about enneagrams and it all goes to shit. That’s all it takes, sometimes.
We head downstairs, away from my conceived future, and take a bath together, oblivious to the seeds that will later unravel us.
If there’s a connection between writing and this story, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe: good writing seems to have a grasp on its own ignorance. It embraces the accidental nature of creation, of writing. I sit down and my fingers move and God knows where I’ll end up. A lot probably won’t work out.
But as far as hard advice goes, mostly I think, Geez, a lot of people have helped me get here. I try to thank them as much as possible, and it’s not nearly enough. It’s all we can do to pull and push each other along, somehow making the way a little easier for ourselves in the process. Or maybe not, and we simply get pulled and pushed along too, a people-ball tumbling through the muck together. But, hey, at least we’re together.
Read Alex's essay, "Your Dad Is Calling Back."
Alex Jaros received his MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago, where he was a recipient of the Follett Fellowship. He earned his BA in English from the University of Missouri in 2011. His work can be found in Glimmer Train, Bird’s Thumb, Ghost Proposal, .LDOC, Goreyesque, Epic, and among varied zines littered across the Midwest. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri and will enter the PhD program for Creative Writing at Florida State University this fall.