What could be more vulgar than to arbitrarily give -- from a childish desire for verisimilitude or, at best, mere convenience -- an invented name to an invented character?
- Kundera, qtd. by Laurent Binet in HHhH



ONE: EMMA, AND CHARLIE AND THE BALK-LIT FACTORY

Every weekday morning at around 11:30 AM, Emma, my roommate and friend of 5 years, came bursting in to the den of our shared home. We had converted the den into a very spacious and comfortable office. Above her desk she proudly displayed her hard-earned PhD in Semiotics, bestowed by the Faculty of the Humanities at Charles University in Prague. She had worked hard to get that degree, and that included her needing to become fluent in Czech and Estonian languages first. 'Emma Malumière Piege' was written in fancy lettering on her diploma. I admit to always envying and admiring that artifact. I have no such education as hers, but I endeavor to write like she does one day.

Emma's half of the room was immaculate, as always; my half was less so (as always). I did also display my name (but not proudly, just matter-of-factly) on a stack of personal contact cards - business cards, basically. I made my product or service concept very vague as possible because I don't want to lose an opportunity to contribute usefully to a creative process. So, like most people in my situation, I offer on my contact cards only these details, beginning with my full name.

Jean-Jacque Charles Baudrillard
"Charlie"
2 Rue de l'École de Médecine
75006 Paris, France
Je Travaille

That was cute what I did at the end there, I thought.

Emma's "bursting in" wasn't really what other people would call 'bursting in'. She isn't noisy when she does it, and in fact she's not really doing anything more distracting than entering the room. She ignores me entirely, which is perfectly polite in this setting. It's just that when she arrives I get distracted immediately every time. It's partly the look that I see on her face as she comes into this particular room. Her facial expression suggests serious concern, deep focus, and commitment to immediate action. It's hard to see that face and not wonder what one can do to help with whatever is wrong. But there's nothing wrong; nothing more wrong than an author with an eccentric process that works, apparently, for her.

I've known Emma a long time, and there are certain eccentricities of hers that I have made it my rewarding mission to decipher. I mean, to figure out why she chooses an unusual way to do things over the more usual way. I'm left to speculate, of course. But I think I have pretty good, viable explanations for some of what she does.

For example, she leaves all of her four computers and monitors on 'always on' status. I personally like this for practical reasons; the room is always basked in just the right amount of light for my purposes. But her reason for doing this, I eventually had concluded, were that accommodating those inspirational fits was a top priority for Emma. In her world, having all electronic tools at the ready was absolutely essential to what she had to do, and urgently. The cerebral labor that would sometimes overcome Emma warranted -- in fact, absolutely required -- more than a note-to-self on an iPhone interface. Whatever was going on in Emma's head when she did this, well those things in her head were the sorts of things that needed as much attention as if she urgently needed to acquire a steroidal inhaler for an asthmatic baby on the edge of suffocation. With that much urgency and concern, Emma must have felt called or compelled (or even 'commanded'?) to drop everything she was doing, no matter what it was, and by the most expedient means, return to the sanctity of her home office. There she would attend to this barely breathing but deeply moving, insightful idea.
The metaphorical baby being so very vulnerable and fragile, Emma would need to use both force and tenderness, stimulation and calming. She would need to -- and she absolutely would, every time, succeed -- provide enough care and for some time, breathe on this metaphorical baby's behalf, until it was healthy enough to be moved to its new home, a home with abundant fresh air, limitless milk, and no knowledge of the fact that such comforts would not last. Emma sometimes felt guilty about doing this to her ideas (her characters, their worlds, their essences) . . . putting them in situations where they would feel perfectly at peace, but that the peace they are feeling is an illusion that Emma can only avail them for so long.

Anyway, today she arrives in the office den in her usual state, but this time, she does something that actually did startle me.

She comes in, starts her normal furious typing before even sitting down, and then she abruptly stops typing after only five minutes or so. This is weird, and noticeable because of her loud clickity-clack retro keyboard (which I find comforting to hear even though I can't afford the same stuff she can). Next thing I know, she actually stands up, turns to me and offers a smile that does nothing to hide what I now see plainly expressed on her face. She doesn't have just the normal look of urgency and concern; she has those, but she also seems to be on the verge of tears.

"Can I ask you to read something for me, Charlie? I'm too emotional to explain and I'd rather you just read it. I want your opinion about what to do next. Just please, please read it. I need to go be alone for awhile so I'm going to stay at my brother's house in Queens for a few days while he's out of town."

Concerned and genuinely wanting to help, I said, "Sure, Emma, anything you need! Are you going to be okay?"

"You tell me," she said as she sent me the link to the document she had just been working on. "Thanks for being there for me Charlie, sorry I can't explain more right now. I'm too upset."

"I understand, Em," I said, "just please drive safely and call me when ---" but she had already left the room; her FJ Cruiser engine started at that moment. So I sat down at my own computer, clicked the link Emma had sent me, took a deep and concerned breath, very curious at the same time to find out what this was all about.


I click the link. It requires a password to proceed. She had not provided any password information. I was frustrated now, because I had been looking forward to reading whatever it was she wrote. I was left to speculate as to what she had written.

Seeing no options (Emma absolutely refused to carry a cell phone and was not reachable by phone when she wasn't home), I simply had to give up and hope she would let me read it whenever she got back. I would need to now turn to my own project, which I did, for about five awfully distracted minutes. I couldn't really think about anything other than Emma's linked document, so I couldn't really make any progress on my own writing. And just when I was about to go for a run to get the frustration out, I hear the FJ Cruiser pulling into the driveway again.

Emma walks in, hands me a thumb drive; we both nod knowingly, and without a word, we both returned to what we had meant to be doing. Emma fired up the FJ Cruiser again and took off a little faster than she had last time, probably frustrated at having been so inefficient in forgetting to give me the thumb drive key.

I entered the credentials from the thumb drive and clicked.