A Monkey on My Back

He was a sweet thing when he came to me. He was rolly-polly, golden-haired, sweet and languid as molasses. A kindly taskmaster, on occasion he would look up from his nap to tap my shoulder and refocus my attention. But he was easily satisfied—a thousand words were enough to quiet him for twenty-four hours—and if I did not quite hit that mark, he was understanding. There was always tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow,

Well. Five years now we have been together, and you would scarce recognize him. His fur is mottled, his fingers twist and tighten. His gums are black and his teeth are rotted through or sharp as sin. He is always moving, shaking, gibbering. He loathes me with the single-minded hatred of the broken and the bitter, of the ex-slave, of one who has known nothing but misery. And justly so! I have beaten and abused him. I have starved, kicked, insulted, humiliated, demeaned and wounded him. With great care, with slow and subtle cunning, I have connived this creature into madness. What tireless sadism! What constant savagery! If he was a real monkey rather than an allegorical representation of writerly travails, PETA would picket my house.

And my cruelty—as cruelty always does—has come full-circle. I have bred my own tormentor--dawn and dusk he hunches atop my shoulder, pointing out grammatical errors, plot inconsistencies, aesthetic failures, urging me onward and ever onward. Dates, parties, weddings, funerals, there is no occasion too jubilant or solemn that he will not intrude upon it, demanding the full thrust of my attention.

'Another thousand words,' he says at a bar on an early summer evening, though I have given him three already and a pretty girl has just sat down beside us, brushing back her hair the way women do. I know better than to deny him—the scene he will make! The shattered glassware, the thrown feces, a miserable evening of self-doubt—what if I am done as a writer? What if I have wrung myself empty of words?—and my lab top swings back open, the pretty girl left friendless. Though not for very long, as is the way of pretty girls

Late in the evening, a long day of work behind me, exhausted by honest labor (to the degree that such a thing is possible of a professional fabulist), in that blissful moment just before the numbing arrival of sleep, he bursts into my bedroom. “I have a new idea for the ending!” he shrieks, tearing at my sheets, exposing my nakedness to a cruel world. “You might forget it by tomorrow! Up, up, up!”

There is no escaping him—he does not recognize the vacation days my labor has accrued, he is not interested that I have traveled to some or other sun baked paradise to avoid stress and toil. What is location to him, what is longitude or latitude? I am the center of his orbit, my distress his sole aim. Walking along a beach in the early afternoon I hear the sharp crack of bone, turn to see him holding the corpse of a seagull in his grasping hands, an object lesson if ever there was one. “The opening needs work,” he tells me, well-tanned children screaming, parents dropping boogie-boards and picking up toddlers and fleeing into the distance. “You could get half a day's work in, if you head back now.”

He is never satisfied, scarfs down my offerings as soon as they are provided, eyes casting about warily. What success attaches itself to me is of no interest to him. The package of books sent by my Brazilian publisher he looks over without interest. It was years ago that he first saw those words, years and years; he will have fresh flesh or none at all, and what did I give him this morning? This afternoon? What am I giving him now, in this very instant, tongue smacking against pink lips, slavering, rapacious, insatiable.

He has taught me things, my jailer, and most of all what he has taught me is that there is no such thing as writer per se. One is either writing, or one is not. And when I am not how swiftly despair falls over me! How clouded my eyesight, how frayed my nerves! A snort of cocaine leads naturally to another, one joint rolls the second, an empty stein begs to be filled—writing alone is an addiction which one forces upon oneself, slowly, patiently, over months and years and decades, making oneself a slavering junkie to the filling of an empty page.

Sometimes, with drink or frantic commotion, I am able to confuse him for some brief period, to gain a day, two, aye God, sometimes three even, for myself, to read a bit—remember when I could read for pleasure, as much as I wanted! But not for long. Never for long. If you see a man alone in some strange corner of the world, a mountain cabin or a seaside bar, blind to life around him, focused with single-minded determination on a flickering netbook—please, do not disturb me. He is still hungry, you see. He will not yet let me sleep.