Art seemed miserable and exhilarated all at the same time. He wrote a lengthy screed denouncing the Justice Avengers and saying they’d never treated him fairly. He left me out of the loop of anger until the day he showed me his new manuscript.
It was beautiful. Every sentence could have been rung like a bell, resonant and lovely.
Glossy. Very glossy. All surface, in fact.
“What do you think?” We were meeting at the monkey house at the zoo. I don’t know why. There was a donut stand Art really liked nearby.
“I have a theory about writing,” I said. “I think every writer needs to acknowledge his or her inner shittiness.”
He frowned. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“We need to be able to look at ourselves and recognize our inner shittiness. To look at the malicious impulses, the meanness, the times when we give into temptation. To own the moment where we’ve failed to be good human beings.”
I looked at him directly. His eyes, meeting mine, were full of anger.
“This is about Maggie,” he said.
I shook my head. “No, it’s about acknowledging what you’ve done. Good art teaches us what it means to be human, what it means to try and fail. To write it requires being able to accept your own flaws, not deny them. Not every good writer is a good person, but they’re honest, at least. You’ve spent this whole book making Maggie the villain of the piece, rather than face up to the fact that you are the one who should be in that role. This is pretty, but it’s as meaningless as something made by machine. If you want to write with heart, you have to discover yours and use it until it hurts. That’s what distinguishes great writing from competency.”
He wasn’t listening. “You’re like the other small minds,” he said.
“Tell me again how you thought I was the only one who would understand,” I said. “Because I like to fuck around, right? But I never screwed any of them the way you did Maggie. Soul mate? Daisy was an excuse. Any peg would have fit that escape-shaped hole.”
He took out a wall in his departure. I took my own advice and counted my blessings. I didn’t say anything to Maggie, but the next day she sent over a fruit basket, the kind you send in sympathy when your home or office or country gets damaged by a supervillain.