I am the Mozart of the literary world. Not a writer, more of a conduit for letters that pour through my brain, down my arm, through my fingers, flowing into my fountain pen and on to the page. My day starts at four a.m. in an all-night coffee shop three blocks from my apartment. I open the diner’s glass door and the smell of fresh bakery, sizzling bacon, and vanilla bean coffee warms me. Jessie, the owner, greets me with a cup of coffee, black, a grape jelly donut and a sleepy smile. I take my breakfast to the corner booth, the one with the rip in the red vinyl seat and the chip in the linoleum tabletop, spread out my manila folders and yellow writing pads and get to work.
Thirty years, three hundred sixty-five days each year of breakfasts, lunches and sometimes even dinners at Jessie’s Jelly Joint produced my Pulitzer Prize-winning plays: “Juice It Up,” “Love Muffins,” and “Sunnyside or Over Easy;” my twenty-six award-winning novels including my favorite, “Hothouse Hotcakes and the Happy Housewife;” and countless poems and short stories. Like Mozart, I am a virtuoso.
The success has been wonderful–dinners with Hollywood producers interested in making “Geez This Coffee is Hot” into an action flick and flights to a London publisher to discuss the details of my latest series, “Zombies Prefer Waffles.” I have a brand new penthouse apartment and a driver named Carter.
Thirty years and now my agent, a kid too young to remember when “joint” meant a place and not something you roll, talks to me about social media. When he first mentioned this term, I laughed. First of all, writers aren’t social. We’re observers, isolationists. Our words aren’t written by committee. And second, on those rare occasions when I have time to be social, I don’t need the media’s help. There’s plenty of what my agent would call “action” within the block surrounding my apartment.
“No, that’s not what I mean by social media,” Agent Smith says. His name is Ryan Smithson, but I prefer my nickname. He was only eleven when “The Matrix” movie came out and isn’t a Sci-Fi fan so doesn’t understand the reference which is probably a good thing. Anyway, Agent Smith explains that social media, absurd sounding things like “Facebook” (now there’s a strange image), “Twitter,” “LinkedIn” and “Google Plus,” are marketing tools. The most important of these will be my website. Websites I’m familiar with. Jessie often loans me her computer so I can research the proper temperature of coffee without having to take the subway to the library or try to get a hold of the head chef at Café Au Lait.
I’m overwhelmed by all this social media talk: blogging, YouTube videos, book trailers, tweeting, Goodreads reviews, book club video chats, and am wondering when I’d have time to write when Agent Smith tells me that I have more than enough money to hire a publicist who will do all of this for me. In fact, a friend of his is a very successful publicist. I have images of an oily, ad-man, but Agent Smith says that his friend is exactly the opposite. She used to be a writer. I almost choke on my jelly donut when he says her name, “Brittany Cypher.” I really should buy that boy a copy of “The Matrix.”
So Cypher, Agent Smith and I meet at Jessie’s Jelly Joint, not in my booth, but at a table, Jessie’s set aside for us. My booth is used only for writing; I never share my creative space. Cypher goes into detail about online marketing and after a while, I wonder if not only my brain but my taste buds have gone numb because the donut tastes different and I’m hoping Jessie didn’t decide to go creative with her jelly. I’m thinking about talking to Jessie, letting her know she’s made a big mistake when I realize Cypher’s asking me a question.
“Do you know which computer you’ll be buying? I’d recommend the new Asus fifteen inch laptop. Lots of speed, nice big screen, dependable.”
“Why on earth would I need a computer?” I ask.
“To write on.”
My mouth drops open, no literally. The bit of donut I had intended on swallowing falls out of my mouth and onto the table, bouncing a few times then rolling onto Cypher’s spreadsheet.
Agent Smith had seen this reaction before when he once, just once, suggested I buy a computer. With lightning speed Neo would envy, he wipes off Cypher’s documents.
“It’s easier to submit to contests, publishers and journals,” Cypher continues ignoring the purplish-red smear on her letterhead, “and you won’t need to hire any more transcribers.”
Okay, so that would be a plus. I’d been through my share of typists. They seem to have a hard time reading my scribblings, which is strange because Jessie always admires my handwriting when she pours my coffee. The last transcriber titled my short story, “The Biscuit and Butter Bandit.” That’s ridiculous; everyone knows that biscuits are better with gravy.
“Look, I know how you feel about computers,” Agent Smith says. “But I think once you get one, try it out, you’ll be amazed at how much faster you can write, how much more you can accomplish.”
Did he forget that I am the Mozart of writing? Speed was never my problem. “You don’t understand,” I reply. “The physical act of putting ink to paper is part of the creative process.”
Cypher rolls her eyes and now I understand why I’d never read any of her books, if in fact she has been published. “I think you’re putting too much into this,” she says. “You’ll be just as creative on the computer, more so because you don’t have to worry about running out of paper or ink and you’ll have all the research you need right at your fingertips.”
I never run out of paper or ink. When I get home from Jessie’s Jelly Joint, the first thing I do is resupply my boxy briefcase, my “office,” which is more like a suitcase than a briefcase, it even has wheels. But I do like the idea of not having to bother Jessie for her computer or to do legwork. Last winter, I ventured uptown to The Wurst Factory to watch them make sausage. They couldn’t believe it when I showed up in the middle of a blizzard, but I just had to know how they cram all that meat into those little casings. And then there was that drive down the coast to the honey farm, Jessie came with to restock her storeroom, and wouldn’t you know it, I got stung on my right hand or should I say my “writing” hand. Jessie put a baking soda paste on it as soon as we got back to her joint, but my hand still swelled up. I couldn’t write for days. I’ve never felt so lost.
Jessie comes over to the table, she has a sixth sense about empty coffee cups, but instead of filling me up, she hands Agent Smith a large box. “I thought you might have forgotten about this, sweetie,” she says to him. “Don’t you worry, Janie,” she says to me, “I’m making a fresh pot.” Cypher raises an eyebrow because my name is Elizabeth. What Cypher doesn’t know is that Jessie is a huge “Pride and Prejudice” fan and fancies me the next Jane Austen. Jessie winks at me and ambles over to the kitchen.
Agent Smith opens the box and hands me a computer. “For you,” he says, “I knew I’d never get you into one of those big box electronic stores.” Smart boy. “And I didn’t want to spring it on you until we’d had a chance to talk.”
“Turn it on,” Cypher says. “See what you think.”
Months later I realize I haven’t left my apartment. Carter, my driver, quit out of boredom. I’ll admit I’m addicted to my ASUS Intel Core i7-3610M 2.7 GHz, 8GB, 750GB, A55VD-AH71 15.6 inch computer because I’m a whiz at social media–who knew? Not Cypher. Poor kid, she’s also out of a job. I’m also a whiz at buying everything I need online at rock bottom prices, including my groceries. Herald, my doorman, delivers all my purchases right to my door. And with a click of a few computer keys, I can see the leaves change color and hear the waves on the shore. So much of the world has opened up to me on my computer that I barely have time to look out my window, let alone taken a trip to the coast.
So this morning, I’m sipping my stale coffee out of my “Jumpin’ Jessie’s Jelly Joint” mug, updating my Facebook status and writing a review for a friend’s E-book when I realize that I’ve stopped being a writer. Oh, there are lots of cute anecdotes about my grandkids on my personal blog, some how-to-write tips on my website, and a breakfast casserole recipe I emailed to all my relatives, but my latest manuscript is packed away in my portable office and I haven’t had an original short story idea since my last cup of coffee at Jessie’s.
Agent Smith is annoyed with me. His emails are becoming increasingly, what I would call, “abrupt.” He’s even taken to using exclamation points.
I’m not sure why I haven’t written, other than to say I don’t have a romance with my computer. That may sound odd, but if you’ve ever held a really beautiful fountain pen in your hand and felt the soft, smooth flow of ink turn a blank page into another world, then you know exactly what I mean.
So, I close my laptop and shove it in the bottom desk drawer with the cartons of unused ink cartridges and unopened flash drives. I dig through my musty closet for my portable office and see that it’s still stocked with my manuscript, several legal pads, and my favorite fountain pen. I leave my apartment for the first time in forever, pulling my office behind me.
Herald, the doorman, tells me he’s glad to see me out and about and asks if I’m heading to Jessie’s.
“Yes,” I tell him. “Mozart’s got a craving for a jelly donut.”