Since I’m unlikely to ever meet you, I’m going to tell you something I never tell anyone. They all think I’m an English professor because I favor a tweedy look and have more books in my bag than electronics. When someone asks me something, I answer in a thoughtful, but incomprehensible manner, as if it were more important to be clever than clear. I tend to privilege sound over sense, erudition over having something to say. I let them think what they think because they would never believe who I was if I told them the truth.
I’m really a fictional character.
That’s right, I was created by a man in dirty sweat clothes who hadn’t washed his hair in four days, gone punchy from too many hours at a word processor. He’d just screeched at his wife because she knocked on his door to ask if he wanted breakfast. What was so important that he couldn’t be disturbed? He was conceiving me. He gazed at the screen, cupped his hand ever so gently over the rounded form of the mouse, fondled the keyboard, and brought me into being. The imperfect man to whom I owe my very existence is a perfect prick.
I’m really not that different from you.
You may think that you’re really special, being real and all; but what is real? It means that you don’t know you’re a fictional character, too.
Just think of the many poses you take. Sexy with your boyfriend, prim with your parents; studious with your teachers, goofy with your friends late at night; a hard worker, a lazy slouch; fun in Facebook, serious in LinkedIn. Which, out of that expansive cast, is your true self, anyway? The one you go to bed with at night? Do you look the way you think you look when you look in the mirror in the morning? Buddha said it best: the self is an illusion. He might as well have said a delusion, a painted smile on a sad clown, a fudged report, a generalization, a weak end of a flashlight beam, shaking on the trail where the woods are full on monsters.
It’s true that being fictional means that I can’t actually eat or fuck or sit on a purple cushion and pick my nose; but I can imagine doing those things very vividly. Rather, my author can imagine it and, presto, I’m doing them.
Let me demonstrate. There. I just let loose a silent but deadly fart into the cafe. It felt good. There was a sensation of relief and a passive-aggressive vanity in the action, sort of like the surreptitious satisfaction boldly giving birth to a bursting baby bubble. At the same time, I’m pleased that its arrival was not accompanied by trumpets that would’ve blown my cover. I took clandestine delight in watching my neighbors crinkle their noses and look slyly around. They shifted uncomfortably in their seats, hoping no one would suspect them. They weighed the pros and cons of packing up their laptop and moving, versus waiting for the smell to dissipate.
So, you be the judge. Did I capture the experience of furtive farting? If so, for what do I need a body?
From what I can tell, no one who has a body seems to know what to do with it. The Geeky Guy, for instance, moves around as jerkily as a marionette. All the scribes at their laptops around me seem to have forgotten that they have bodies as they squint into the virtual world, drink too much coffee, and hold their arms in uncomfortable positions till they get tendonitis. Then there’s the Lisping Barista, who seems to have fought a war against her body, as wonderful as it was; defacing it with permanent graffiti, revising it with piercings, and slicing it to ribbons with a razor. It seems as though these so called real people are doing their best to be disembodied and making themselves into fictional characters; as if they weren’t already.
As a self-knowing fictional character, I can claim an advantage all the rest of you don’t have. I know the purpose of my life. It’s revealed by the name my author has given me. If you sound it out, S. Harry Zade becomes Scheherazade, a clever allusion to the story teller of Arabian Nights. Apparently, I’m supposed to tell stories or die. Perhaps it’s this very virtue, the ability we fictional characters have of knowing the meaning of our lives, that has caused you real people to fictionalize yourselves. I enjoy a good measure of clarity and singleness of purpose you guys don’t seem to have.
Be that as it may, it is the narrative imperative that has given me anxiety, for I’m not allowed to have writer’s block like any normal human being. Failure to produce a steady flow of entertainment can send me to the chopping block. I can be rubbed out and made to disappear more easily than you, for it’s not necessary to dispose of a body when one can be done in by a delete key.
So, like a shark that must keep swimming or else it dies, I must continuously tell stories. This is what brings me to the Epiphany Cafe. A writer has contradictory needs of both solitude and fellowship. I must rub elbows with my fellows to pick up some experiences. I need constant stimulation, a steady flow of material, story leads, and compelling characters; and then I need you all to leave me the hell alone. The Epiphany Cafe is just the place for me.
This is why it meant so much to me when I overheard an attractive young woman, the Lisping Barista, say yes to the Geeky Guy, even though she was not saying yes to me. I knew I was witnessing a story.