CHAPTER & VERSE.

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OUR MAN IN CHICAGO TAKES THE KAFKA CHALLENGE
[posted 04.12.2002]

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AH, TO BE KAFKA. The champion of Prague. The writer’s writer. The little man with so much inside. When Kafka was my age, he had already written the delightfully Gogolian Description of a Struggle, and the first line of his journal of his twenty-seventh year was “The onlookers go rigid when the train goes past.” Now, I take the train every day, see similar onlookers on my way to my copywriting job in Deerfield, and I’ve never written anything like this. All I can think to write is, “Now, I take the train every day, see similar onlookers on my way to my copywriting job in Deerfield.” Why?! I’m supposed to be a writer — why can’t I be a writer’s writer? You know, “the champion of Chicago?” The medium-sized man with so much inside? I’ve got the tortured existentialist thing down…why can’t I be Kafka?

No, seriously. This is something that I mean to find out. And I mean tonight. In 1912 Kafka wrote The Judgment. This brilliant little story about a power struggle between a young merchant named Georg and his psychologically enormous but physically bedridden father. In it he explores his own relationship with his hulking, decrepit father, yet in a way that is still autobiographically obscure — not to mention masterful and mesmerizing. But here’s the amazing thing: He wrote it in one night. Yes, one night! I know this from a diary entry he recorded:

23 September. This story, The Judgment, I wrote at one sitting during the night of the 22nd-23rd, from ten o’clock at night to six o’clock in the morning.

See? Well, as luck would have it, it’s the night of the 22nd-23rd, around ten o’clock at night. And, although it’s January and not 1912, I hardly think that matters, because I’m not writing The Judgment, and I’m not — definitely not — Kafka.

I am, however, taking the Kafka challenge. As a writer, I should be able to write something. And if something, why not tonight? OK, yes, I have to work tomorrow, and I’ll be dragging the entire day. And I’m working on a leftover beer (my third, actually) from band rehearsal just-ended. And I’m not Kafka; and I’m crazy and…a bunch of stuff I’m too tired to remember, but hey! Such is the price of art.

(Or whatever it is I end up creating.)

THE PLAN.

From now until six in the morning I will write. At the beginning of each hour I will report on my progress. Ergo, from 11 p.m. to 11:15 p.m., from 12 a.m. to 12:15 a.m., from 1 a.m. to 1:15 a.m., etc., I will write about the process of writing. This will go on until 6 a.m., at which point I will have…a short story. It may not be — it will not be — The Judgment, but it will be something. And you, dear ShinyGun readers, you will have something, too.

Now, it’s 10:36…37, and I’m done talking.

Get out of my way, ‘cause here I go….

ELEVEN P.M. THE FIRST HOUR.

Fuck! It’s 11:03, actually. Believe it or not, I was so caught up in writing that I forgot about writing this — about the schedule. OK, so it’s going well. I’m almost sorry I have to stop. So far it’s about a train. Figured I’d go the writing class-exercise route and start with Kafka’s first line — see where it takes me. Considering building it up into a story about this crazy guy on the train that I always see; this guy who can’t stand silence and entertains himself with fake radio shows starring ELO (portrayed by him, of course), and presentations to the board (him again; and him, respectively) about some new city he’s planning. Hopefully he’s the only resident. Thinking he’ll enter into it soon, but so far it’s only one character waiting for the train as he thinks of excuses for his tardiness.

It’s not Kafka, but it’s progressing in a similar way: I can’t stop writing. I’m handling the voice and the tone okay. I’m thinking of characters and some kind of plot. At this point I only have two concerns:

1)Why didn’t I buy more cigarettes earlier?

2)Did Kafka take bathroom breaks?

MIDNIGHT, PHASE TWO.

Maybe Kafka held it in, but I couldn’t. Had to deviate from my plan for a second so I could whiz. Writers whiz, right? Sure….

That accomplished, I returned to the task at hand. And, oddly enough, it’s not so much of a task. It’s actually fun. I’ve introduced Patrick — the nut job — at this point, and he’s about to segue into ELO’s first song. Feeling a bit like that Ralphie kid in that movie on TNT that everyone watches to escape their families at Christmas. You know, that part where Messy Marvin waxes poetic about his beloved gun in the aptly titled “What I Want For Christmas” essay he writes for Miss Shields? It’s like that. I’m writing a lot more than I thought I would — usually get caught up on some word and have to look things up to impress people. None of that tonight. There’s no time. But there was a little time to review what I had written, and I have to say it’s not bad. Not bad at all. Keep in mind that I’m — like everyone — my own worst critic — and that I’m also not lying like everyone else.

This little exercise just might work.

Of course, the place where my pen rests on my middle finger looks like raw meat. And I just changed the word “little” in the preceding sentence to its current “middle.” And I’m out of cigarettes and eyeing butts swaddled in ashes — surprisingly tempted, nicotine-addicted bitch that I am. Not to mention that I’m tired, having second thoughts about this little experiment, and somehow working on the last beer. I wonder if Kafka had these issues?

No time for research. It’s 12:15 and the clock is ticking. See you at one.

ONE A.M. BEEYOTCH!

Alright, so it’s one and I’m done. I’ll leave the literary genius thing to Kafka. Sorry to disappoint by bowing out so quick, but I, unlike Kafka, am human.

Not to mention, a human who just smoked a cigarette butt. And is. Not. Proud.

I am, however, sort of proud of what I accomplished tonight. True, I didn’t write The Judgment, but I didn’t really set out to. Besides, it’s already been done. What I did write was two pages — two pretty good pages (and I know because I’ve had this last hour to study them) of fly-by-your-pants fiction. That’s a hell of a lot more than I expected. I expected the same old story: Man grabs pen; Man stares at pen; Man grabs hair; etcetera. What I got is a fairly successful, albeit abbreviated, evening. One in which I did something I didn’t think I could do, and did it better than I thought I could. I don’t do that often, so when I do I call it success.

Besides, Kafka didn’t write The Judgment until he was 29 — two years older than I am — and didn’t finish The Trial until three years after that. Thinking there’s room for future success. Perhaps for all of us? You know, there is a 22nd of every month. Just hoping next month it’s on a weekend.

Good night.

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Read an excerpt from The Commuter, that first night’s work.

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bryson meunier lives and works in chicago as a search marketing manager/seo guru for resolution media. which means he knows what you’re searching for even before you ask.