The Writer’s Plague
The year is 1976. Maggie Lox is sitting in the living room of her London townhouse as she types eagerly without blinking on her old fashioned typewriter that looks as if it came straight out of Thomas Jefferson’s study. The townhouse, which Maggie shares with her best friend Charlotte, more often referred to as Char, is quite elaborate, quite so, that it reminds visitors of the Queen’s living quarters. The townhouse is complete with marble floors, a fireplace, drapery and pieces of artwork from Monet to Van Gogh to Georgia O’ Keefe. Both Maggie and Char state Monet’s water lilies to be among their favorite pieces of work. Of course, there are many other pieces of art throughout the townhouse because Maggie has always had an interest in art and painting, especially working with watercolors, something that she picked up in form school, and Char, has always been an avid art collector, often traveling all over the world to meet and discover new artists, and collect intricate pieces of work, from clay designs, to paintings with watercolor and charcoal, to murals, and abstract work. The townhouse even includes the sunroom, and on nice days, Maggie often spends hours in the sunroom jotting down notes to herself and trying to get her creative juices flowing; meanwhile, Char spends her time in the sunroom trying to get a tan and brainstorm the next place that she wants to travel to in order to find artwork with a story behind it.
Maggie and Char have been friends since form school at London’s Downe House. There mutual interest in the arts is what sparked there interest in becoming friends. While other kids were taking a break from their studies, Maggie and Char were often writing stories, sharing stories, admiring art, or acting in plays. In fact, the only difference between them was their age. Char was older than Maggie by five years. This age gap made a huge difference in the way they were viewed as friends as well as the way that they saw each other. Char appeared, at times to be more like an older sister to Maggie. She always kept Maggie’s best interest in mind and was always looking after Maggie to make sure that she was okay and making good decisions. To Maggie, Charlotte often offered the best advice and was full of wisdom. Char was somebody that Maggie could always look up to and depend on. And something about Char’s large glasses frames just made her seem a little bit smarter than the next person.
Maggie Lox is a young, beautiful author that has skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom and has this natural glow about her. Her hair as dark as the night, and her eyes, a golden brown, have the tendency to shimmer in the sun. At age 36, Maggie has managed to publish 22 short stories in various literary magazines, 5 books of poetry, and 17 novels, her 18th, currently in the process of being written. Her first poem was officially published in her schools newspaper back when she was in sixth form. It was just after her parents had been divorced and she needed an outlet. She had written about the trials and tribulations’ that resulted between she and her parents and how her whole life had changed after the divorce. The poem looked at the things that we should appreciate in life and the things that we should just let go of. It was a truly inspirational poem that ended up winning her the school’s Saturn Award for best piece of poetry, as well as Britain’s Favorite up and coming artist award.
Maggie had been writing for as long as she could remember. It was always her outlet. When she was bullied as a child, she often poured her heart out into short stories and poetry. And even more than that, she always enjoyed looking back on all of the papers, both for school and for personal amusement that she had written over the years; she was able to see her growth as an artist and learn what she could do to improve. She had always been a perfectionist, in school and in her personal life. She would write papers for class, but somehow they were never good enough. She would rewrite her papers, and then have friends and family edit them, yet somehow, they still did not meet her satisfaction. She would hit the drawing board again, but often times would see no progress, and would quite frequently get discouraged or lose sight of her goal. From a distance, many people would say that she would sometimes become obsessed with her writing and perfection. She always found herself trying to top herself.
However, now at age 36, writing her 18th novel and preparing to have it published, Maggie is as focused as ever. That’s the thing about having many of your novels successful. They are always being compared and contrasted. Maggie constantly finds herself needing to top herself. She needs to write a new novel that is better than the previous one. She needs to strike a chord with people and catch her publisher’s attention. She is under constant scrutiny and constant pressure to come up with something new and original, creative and inventive.
As Maggie sits in the living room of her townhouse, typing away at her type writer, there is a knock on the connecting doorway and Char enters, carrying a tower of tea time snacks in her left hand and struggling to carry the tea kettle in the other. As she enters, Maggie barely looks up from her work as Char says in a quaint British accent, “Good afternoon, mate. How’s it going?” Maggie’s only response was a shrug as Char maneuvered her way over to an adjacent table in which to set the tea time snacks and the tea kettle down on. As she does so, she then asks Maggie, “Maggs, have you been at this all this time? The writing I mean. When I left you last night, you were still in the same position. You should be careful. You wouldn’t want to end up with carpel tunnel now, would you?” Maggie sighs as if frustrated by the comment and then pauses from her typing and says, “you of all people should know, that true artwork, can never be completed.” Char glares at Maggie with a glossy look in her eyes as if she is pondering the words that have just floated out of her mouth. Char then says, “how about you take a break? Just for now. Come! Let’s eat these tea time snacks that I have so graciously prepared. And the tea, I had it flown all the way in from China.” Maggie laughs and then comments, “you did not.” Char then responds, “no, I didn’t. I’m just joking. I purchased the tea from Fortnum and Mason. And yes, I might have stolen some of their ideas when I created this whole plethora of treats and delicacies.”
Maggie carefully pulls herself away from her writing as she stands up and heads to a chair near the table in which all of the snacks are laid out on. She tries to avoid crumpled up pieces of paper that have bits and pieces of her current novel written all over it and notes jotted down on each side. “What do we have here?” Maggie asks anxiously as she wets her lips. Char responds, “a plain scone, a blueberry scone and an orange scone with clotted cream and raspberry preserves. We also have mini macrons: pistachio, vanilla, hazelnut, apple and dark chocolate. Not to mention a selection of fruits and cheeses and an assortment of mini cakes, including the classic sponge cake. Oh, and let’s not forget the sorbet to cleanse the palette.” “I like it. Let’s dig in. Oh, but what kind of teas are there?” Maggie inquires. “Only two my dear. Peach and blueberry” Char adds. “Okay Char. I can live with that.”
Maggie pours herself some peach tea and then selects a hazelnut macaron from the table as she and Char begin to have an in depth discussion about Maggie’s work.
“Look, Maggs. I know how fond you are of writing, believe me, I do, but lately, it seems like that is all you do. Day and night. It seems like you have this obsession with your work, as if, it’s the only thing that keeps you alive. I think you really need to take a break from it all. Gather your thoughts or even clear your head. Maybe if you do that, you’ll find that you are not suffering or struggling from writer’s block as often.”
“I’m sorry Char, did I ask for your advice or your opinion? And did I say, did I complain about having writer’s block? I think I’m good for now thanks. Let’s just enjoy this tea time.”
“Enjoy it? Maggie, this is the first time in over a month we have been able to do this together.”
“So then, why are you trying to ruin it?”
“Look, I am just concerned for you; about your well being. Nothing seems to be perfect for you anymore. You write and then rewrite what you wrote and then rewrite again what you’ve written. You are up all night, for hours on end and…”
Maggie cuts Char off and says, “welcome to the life of a tortured artist.”
“I don’t think I’d call you tortured. Slightly disturbed, but not tortured.”
“Look, I appreciate the concern and all, but this book needs to be better than my previous novels and attempts at writing. I need something great. Better than before. This is my 18th novel; I need to live up to my name. Can’t you get that? So, I work a little bit harder than I should, but it will all be worth it. I promise. You will see.”
“Okay. If that’s true, then at least do me this one favor. Slow down. Just for tonight. Get some sleep.”
“Alright. I will. I will get some sleep tonight.”
“I swear. Besides, the break could be good for me. It will let my mind rest. And who knows?
Maybe something will come to me in my sleep. In my dreams. This could be like the best thing ever.”
“Thank you” Char adds. Char then reaches for a scone and takes a bite before asking Maggie questions about her next book. “So, Maggs, what is this book going to be about?”
“Now Char, if I told you that, I’d have to kill you.”
“Yeah. Except I’m not joking. In the same way that a magician never reveals their secrets, neither does an expert writer. I love you baby girl, I do, but that information is top secret. It’s almost like being in the FBI. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I really don’t want to take any risks or chances of having information leaked to the press. Not just yet. I mean, you know how it is, they start judging you and ripping you apart before the final product, before they have been able to see what you really can do. This book is going to be my best one yet. I have put everything I have into it. This book is my baby and I am giving it all the love and affection and attention that it needs.”
“Well, I am going to go take a nap and then run a few errands. Now you, promise me you will get some fresh air or something.”
“Aren’t you the one who said don’t make a promise that can’t be kept?”
“Promise me.” “I promise Char.”
Charlotte then gets up from the chair and makes her way into the living quarters so that she can take a nap on the couch. Maggie finishes eating some of the treats and drinking some tea and then she cleans up the table. After the table has been cleaned, Maggie grabs her coat from the closet, as well as an umbrella and heads outside to go for a walk. Maggie always enjoyed the rare times that she was able to escape the pressures of writing and explore the world. In fact, she often got many of her ideas for stories while on walks through downtown London or on the Thames rivers. Maggie approaches a bench on the Thames and sits facing Big Ben. She whips a book out of her pocket and begins to read. As she is reading, a young man who appears to be in his mid-30’s and exerts a mysterious vibe approaches and sits next to Maggie. He spots the title on her book, The Raging Storm. “The Raging Storm, huh?”
“Yes. That’s what it appears that I’m reading.”
“By Maggie Lox. I can’t say that I’m a fan of her work.”
“I’m sorry. Who are you? You just walk over and start criticizing my taste in books. You don’t know a thing about me.”
“Not your taste in books. Just the author.”
“So, you’ve read her works.”
“Well, what don’t you like about Maggie Lox? Please enlighten me. I’m dying to know.”
“Her style of writing. It just seems so deep and tense and heavy. And the themes she uses; mildly depressing. I mean, I am by no means judging her talent. I’m just saying she is not my favorite person to read.”
“Oh. And I suppose her wide range of writing accounts for nothing.” “No need to be so defensive.”
“So, I’m Charles Walcott. And you are?” Charles says has he extends his hand to Maggie.
“I’m Margaret. But, most people know me as Maggie. Maggie Lox.”
Charles looks shocked as his mouth drops. “I-I--…”
“At a loss for words now? You seemed to have a lot to say before you knew who I really was. Did I disappoint you?”
“What? For speaking your mind?”
“Sometimes I speak too much.”
“Well, in this case, you have said just enough.”
“Uh-oh. Does that mean that I am now going to be an inspiration for one of your characters in your next novel?”
“You wish,” Maggie says as she slips her book back into her handbag and slicks her hair back preparing herself to leave.
“You’re off? So soon?”
“Well, not that I didn’t enjoy your rudeness, bluntness or sarcasm about how much you hate my writing, I do have other things to do, other places to be that are well—not here. More important than being here.” “Can I see you again?”
“I don’t think so. See, I’m not the type of person, that you would be interested in Mr. Charles Walcott. Now, it was ever so nice meeting you, but I must be off.”
“Ms. Lox, before you go, would you mind telling me why I would not be interested.”
“Look, not that I do not enjoy this game of 21 questions either, but, I am the type of person who is married to her work. I love my work and more importantly, I love being able to change people’s lives through my work. It’s having the impact that matters, that makes me feel like I have a purpose in life. Maybe you would have a purpose if you didn’t go around criticizing people all the time.”
When Maggie had finished talking to Charles, she walks back through the Lew Gardens and headed to her flat. Pleased to find that Charlotte was not yet home, Maggs whipped out her thinking cap and popped open a bottle of wine, pouring herself a glass and then sat at her laptop to continue writing her still untitled current novel.
Maggie sipped her wine ever so slowly. Maggie had always been fond of red wines. To her, there was something about the smell that was quite orgasmic, and something about the taste that was euphoric. When the wine brushed upon her lips, it sent her into a tail spin that generated feel good emotions. And that’s not to completely rule out white wines; after all, she was brought up on white wines and chardonnay. She enjoyed the sweet taste of white wines and the crispness of chardonnays.
Maggie often drank when she was writing. Drinking was something that for some strange reason helped jog her creativity. Her creative juices just started flowing. When she was drinking, she was able to come up with some of her best ideas and jot down notes that she would use again at a later point in time. In fact, there were times when she would write full length novels while intoxicated. Writing while under the influence was her own high. It seemed to relax her and put her mind at ease, often times, clearing her thoughts in order to let an ocean of innovative ideas take over. As Maggie typed, she started to notice that she was on a role as she wrote: ‘that’s the thing about lies, and deception. One thing can often times lead to another. One lie leads to another lie. And before you know it, you have created an entire web of lies. You find yourself in so deep that eventually there is no getting out. It’s almost like finding yourself at the bottom of a well, or stuck somewhere in a black hole.’
Maggie was on such a role that she had even considered taking out the crystal meth that was hidden in her top drawer. Maggie felt like she was deceiving Char by doing Crystal meth, but it was the drug that turned her world upside down, the drug that gave her what she felt that she needed to reach her depths and to be the true artist inside that she knew she could be. Many times, during Maggie’s early writing career, she often found herself experimenting with various hallucigens. Her ultimate goal was to start seeing things and hearing voices. Seeing things, her visions, that was another one of her ways in which she was able to get ideas for her stories or build her characters or even learn more about her characters. And by hearing things, she heard her characters voices, she gained control and insight into what her characters would say how her characters would sound, and how her characters behaved. To her, often times, these interactions were real. Her characters were more than just characters; they were a part of her. She created them. She knew who they were and what they wanted. She knew their desires and their deepest darkest secrets. She knew everything there was to know about her characters without breaking the basic rule of writing: no matter how much you know about your characters, never think that you know them more than they know themselves.
Maggie was craving the meth, more than anything she had ever craved before. It had been three months since Maggs promised Char that the Meth games were over and ever since then she had hidden meth in secret places and tried to get help and control when she turned to the drug for its sensational release. Maggie tried to fight the feeling and continued to drink her wine. Every time she would finish a glass of wine, she poured herself more. She kept pouring until the bottle was empty and until she finished the next chapter in her book before she passed out on her computer. A few moments later, Char entered the townhouse and headed to the study to find Maggs passed out on her laptop. Char looked absolutely disgusted at the site as she maneuvered her way through the messy quarters that Maggs had managed to create over the course of the night. She approaches Maggie and pokes her, hoping that the light poke would awaken her. Failing to do so, she pushes Maggie slightly harder, and Maggie just rolls back into place without even making a dent. She then says: “Maggie. Hello! Maggie!! Wake up.”
Maggie slowly starts to awaken from her dead position and looks absolutely plastered with her hair all of her face and she appeared completely disoriented. Maggie looks up at Char as she brushes her hair out of her face, “would you please stop yelling at me?”
Char looked at her angrily and replied, “what the hell happened to you? You look a mess.”
“I don’t know. I was just writing a new chapter in my story, and it was going great.”
“No. I don’t think you understand me. What the hell happened to you? Come here. We need to get you cleaned up. You need to take a shower and clean this room up.”
“Who are you? My mother?”
“No. But I am a very concerned friend who hates to see her best friend’s life going up in flames. Just look at yourself.”
“Look at myself? I am a bestselling author. My life is going great. I met a guy today to. That’s more that I can say for you. Whose letting who stay with who? That’s right. I’m letting you stay on my couch, in my townhouse while you try and make it as a struggling artist or a weather girl or whatever type of lamed planned life you have for yourself. How long have you been here again? I can’t keep extending the invitation. Sooner or later your presence will have worn out. So please, make sure that you don’t over stay your welcome.” “You’re drunk.”
“No. I’m in the zone. I’m at my best now.”
“First thing in the morning Maggie, I’m calling you a therapist. Only therapy can help you now. I have tried everything I can, but it’s out of my hands now. It’s much bigger than me—than us. I don’t want to think that you’re beyond repair, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
“But I don’t need therapy Char” Maggie says as she stumbles to get up and then hold onto Char’s shoulder.
“My best work comes from being drunk. In the same way that you have method actors, well, this is my take on the method. I am a method writer.”
“It’s not just that. You have become too obsessed with your work. Too obsessed with the perfect title, the perfect novel, and the perfect characters. I heard you talking in your sleep last night, and I’m concerned that you think that your characters might be real. Sweetie, that’s not normal. You need help. I know this great therapist that can help you. After all, he helped my family get through many things. You owe it to yourself-to me…”
“I don’t owe you anything Charlotte. Understand that. And also, understand that I will not let you wreck my book.” As soon as Maggie finished that sentence, she turned towards the trashcan that was purchased next to the table and threw up before struggling with some assistance of Char to make her way to the couch. Once on the couch, Maggie passed out once again as Char looked at her with solid anguish, disappointment and resentment.
The following morning, Maggie woke up to sunlight peering into the room. As she sat up on the couch, she saw Char and Char’s therapist Reverend Smithe staring back at her.
“What’s this?” Maggie inquired. “Freshly brewed coffee and a glass of water. This should help” Charlotte said to Maggie.
“Thanks” Maggie replied.
“This here is Reverend Smithe” Charlotte added.
“Pleased to meet you” the Reverend said, as he tried to read Maggie Lox.
“Pleasure” Maggie responded sarcastically as she took a sip of coffee before quickly spitting it out.
“Not all over the new carpet” Charlotte yelled.
“New carpet? We’ve had it for weeks.”
“Which I had to vacuum after last night’s fiasco.”
“Besides, Char, the coffee tastes like chalk.”
“You might hate it Maggs, but you could certainly use it. You will feel better. Now that that’s out of the way, the real purpose of this is-this is Reverend Smithe, he is here to talk to you. To help you. His main mission in life has always been to help people, that’s why he joined the church years ago. And that is also why he is a psychologist. There is not a problem that he can’t help you with. So, I will leave you both too it.” Charlotte then walks out of the study and then heads to her room.
“So, Maggie Lox. That’s a beautiful name. Is it short for anything?”
“It’s short for Margaret. My full name is Margaret Fletcher Lox” Maggie responded, trying to make herself at ease with this stranger in her house.
“Margaret” Reverend Smithe started, “Char tells me that you are a little bit obsessed with your eighteenth novel. She fears that you are starting to struggle with being able to tell the difference between what is real and fake, especially when it comes to different scenarios in your stories.” “But they are real” Maggie said, sounding a bit frustrated.
“That’s just it sweetie, they’re not. They are just characters, they don’t really exist.”
“Just because something doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean that it’s not real” Maggie replied, becoming a little bit more defensive.
“I’m sorry” the preacher asked.
“Think about it. I promise, it does make sense. It’s sort of the same thing as saying that art imitates life and vice versa. Things might be all in our heads, but without dreams, there would be no reality.”
After this is said, Char returns to the study to check on the progress. “Reverend, how goes it?”
“I’m not sure how to put this exactly. I’ve never seen anything quite this odd before, and I’m not sure that I have the slightest idea of how or even where to began explaining this or making logic of it.”
“Logic of what?” Char asked, intrigued.
“She’s gone. She has become so wrapped up in her books and in the writing process that she no longer lives in the real world. She has become so consumed with building her characters that writing is no longer a part of her life, rather, she is a part of her writing.”
“What does that mean? What can I do?”
Reverend Smithe stands up and faces Char. He then proceeds to lightly grip her hand. As he does this, Char begins to grow increasingly nervous and worried. “I’m afraid there is nothing you can do for her anymore. There is nothing anybody can do for her.”
Char looks disappointed and sad as she and the Reverend exit the room to leave Maggie to the rest of her days as a solitary writer in the land of the unknown.
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