Bentzman

Suburban Soliloquy 104.

A Million Words Later.

In the refrigerator, I found some leftover pork lo mein. The microwave brought it back to life. With the bowl in my palm and a pair of "Japanese" chopsticks, I commenced reading while I ate.

I have been keeping notebook-journals since February of 1971. That's what I've been telling everyone. It's a lie. Tonight, searching for an idea to use in my next essay, this essay, I turned to the row of notebook-journals on a shelf in my study and removed the first one, titled Prior Bullshit. They are all Boorum & Pease Records with cheap imitation black leather binding with red half binding. When used as a coaster for hot coffee, the plastic covers would melt. They even became gooey in direct sunlight. Still, having started with them, I've stuck with them for the sake of consistency. The idea was to reread parts of the first one for inspiration. It's only 150 pages. The next eight completed volumes are each 300 pages. I opened this first volume and the first entry is dated 6th February 1973. My memory has lengthened the amount of time I've been writing notebook-journals, an example of how my memory serves to continue to improve my stature.

Someone once gave me the excellent advice that to become a writer I must first write a million words. I assume they can't all be the same word, or even the same few words, although somewhere in hell those who have disparaged grammarians might be serving time fettered to their grade school blackboard and copying a single sentence with screeching chalk. It won't improve their writing. Nor can it be a list of one million different words as might be compiled by an obsessive-compulsive studying many different languages. They will accomplish a fantastic vocabulary, but that alone will not improve their writing. Rather it is the conscious practice to weave words into ever-refined tapestries to please the reader.

Reading passages from my first notebook-journal, now over thirty years old, I quickly realized my prose was unreadable, my subjects sophomoric, my understanding of the world naive. It was more than a million words ago. Now I shall wait for a suitably cold day and burn the horrid book. I know when I'm dead the book will not have the power to embarrass me, but there remains all those years I plan to live dwelling on what my legacy will be. This book must not be a part of it. Ah, look at that, just as memory enhances my past stature, so does conceit enhance my future stature.

Then I came to page twenty-two of Prior Bullshit and there I found the item that might spare the book from being converted to energy and ash. It is a four-paneled photograph, the images arranged in a column, the way it was dispensed from an automated photo booth. On the left is my friend Joel wearing a fedora. I have known him since the fifth grade when we became best friends at age ten. On the right is George, who I met the last year of high school, before he left for Vietnam. There's me crushed in the middle, wearing a Greek fisherman's cap and smoking a cigar. The cap conceals the fact that I still had hair on my head. This column of photos is mounted into the notebook-journal at the top by a hinge of transparent tape that has turned yellow. It allows the photo to be lifted and underneath it reads, "Tuesday 5th June 1973 10:00 Central Time (A.M.) Taken during a gas stop in Illinois, on our silly ways to Colorado."

I remembered! Stephanie, a friend since junior high, had gotten the three of us jobs laboring for Moon Landscaping and Nursery in Yardley, Pennsylvania. Having earned enough money to go back to Boulder, Colorado, I gave the outfit my two-week notice. George, who was supposed to give me a ride to the bus station, decided to instead drive me all the way to Colorado. We stopped to see if Joel wanted to join us. He said yes. We had to find someone to take Raison D'Ítre, his undersized Doberman pinscher, Raisin for short. With that accomplished, the three of us headed west in George's old Volvo. At one of our stops en route, Joel and George sent postcards to Moon Landscaping giving them notice that they had decided to quit. We drove non-stop, taking turns behind the wheel and sleeping, trying to keep the two tasks from converging. George occasionally strummed his banjo, the same tune over and over again, but he was good at it. I found in the car a copy of Kenneth Patchen's The Memoir of a Shy Pornographer, a white New Directions book, which I read cover to cover. I don't remember its plot at all, except someone was in a wheelchair. These are the beginnings of a cascade of memories. Lets shut this floodgate and move on.

I don't deny I was happy to see the photographs again. I had forgotten so much. That's what happens when one resigns themselves to living in the present, the memories tarnish and grow harder to see. On the other hand, there are those who live in the past, constantly taking out old memories and polishing them, themselves growing ever more the hero of their stories as they polish and patch the past. Although I'm glad I took notes, because it keeps me honest, I regret most of my notes are self-indulgent, lovelorn contemplations. I can remove the photographs before burning the notebook-journal.

I asked Ms Keogh, my more significant other, am I a writer? "Absolutely," she says. Ms Keogh, my muse, often brings me tea while I'm writing, will place it quietly beside me, then kiss my forehead and read over my shoulder, telling me what I've misspelled. If writing a million words makes me a writer, will writing another million words make me a better writer? How long might it take to write another million words? I am so young in the four photographs on page twenty-two of my first notebook-journal, so old in the mirror over the bathroom sink. The lo mein is finished, yet the photographs provide food for further thought.

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"