Chapter 1: Tragedy of the Commons
Café in San Francisco, 2015
“I can’t write fiction.”
We’re at this café where laptops aren’t allowed because there are actual people who bring their laptops and sit on a narrow slat of a bench at a community table for 8 hours a day. Their office space overhead is, like, $8 per day – and that’s if they get the bare-minimum 2 espresso drinks. Some of them just get coffee, straight up, and that totals to $6.
In a political science class in college I learned that this situation is known as “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Most people want to do a little work on their laptop while they’re sipping a cappuccino, and then they leave. Most people. But it only takes a committed minority to ruin it for everyone. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the mathematics of sociopaths. Like how many sociopaths does it take to tip a population of 10, 100, 10,000, a million. I’m not really numbery, so it’s all just conjecture, but I imagine it’s not many. How many of these laptop squatters does it take to tip the policy of an otherwise level-headed café into zero tolerance?
Some of these squatters even Skype. Skype is an internet based telephone service that includes voice and video options. Sometimes these people edit photographs because they are graphic designers. Sometimes they take meetings on Skype. I even knew a guy who was on a webcast telepanel at a café one time. He was answering questions about what it means to be the co-director of a film that had such significance to the history of Black cinema while he was on Skype in a dimly lit café with a bust of Sun Yat Sen behind him because he didn’t have an office and shared a communal living space with 7 other screenwriters, editors and one straight dude who just lived there because another dude wanted to fuck him. That dude went to gay clubs to gain confidence after he got weight loss surgery. He wasn’t ready to try out his “new body” on ladies, he said. He might be open. He might be “heteroflexible.” That’s a thing.
So, rather than take notes on a laptop, I take notes on my phone, typing with one finger on a tiny digital keyboard, probably giving myself cataracts or cancer with each tiny little, infantilizing click.
“It’s too vulnerable, you know?”
She doesn’t know.
She’s read the other shit I’ve written about sitting on men’s faces and that time I went 3 months without wearing pads as a statement of my feminist autonomy and she doesn’t know. She can’t imagine that writing about fake people is scarier than writing about orgasms and poop and menses.
“You write about orgasms and poop and menses, Virgie.”
I knew she was going to say that.
“Right, yeah. That’s true. But, like, when I’m telling a story – a real story – about that stuff, I can edit it to suit me. I can leave out the parts I want to. Memoir is about cutting the story down. It’s expository. It’s about editing. But fiction is building. It’s building not paring down. You know? And when you build stuff it’s all there, all the secrets, all the awful things you truly believe, all the things you can’t bring yourself to admit that you really want. So, yes, some people might rather die than write about that time they sold their poop to a coprophile from Craig’s List, but I would rather die than have someone read about a character I made up who has stifling anxiety and decides to parent the inner child she was never allowed to be. Like being that earnest.. I just don't want to pull an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind bait and switch, like everyone was a little weirded out by Jim Carey after that. I mean, not to say that I’m like Jim Carey because that’s obviously a stretch, but you know what I mean.”
“Right. You’re worried that everyone’s going to hate you if you don't give them something they want.”
“Way to just say it like that.”
“Well, you don’t owe anybody anything. You don’t owe anybody entertainment. You can just do what you want and people will either get it or they won’t.”
“My therapist tells me that I perform all the time because it feels safe because that’s what I learned to do as a child to make everyone happy. Fat girls are supposed to be funny to deflect all that hate. Fat girls and immigrants. But I even hated Jim Carey for fucking up my relationship to his career, like I didn’t care that he was probably a comedian because his father was a sadist.”
“Maybe you can compromise. Maybe your character can do all those things and sell poop on the internet. Maybe that will feel better.”
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ABOUT THE BOOK
I release a new chapter a week on Thursdays - unless I'm exceedingly overwhelmed or whatever I write is so epically terrible I'm too embarrassed to put it on the internet.