My Prose Machine Feels Broken

I pick up my screwdriver. Phillip’s head. I carefully unscrew the plated metal guarding my broken machine. I lay this aside.

I pick up my hammer and my stomach flips and then drops. I tighten my grip on the wooden handle. It’s a weighty hammer. A weapon. The machine looks so delicate and carefully built. Like the inner workings of an old clock or the motor of a carousel. But when I built it, I used a hot glue gun and clogged up all the cogs and gears and pulleys. A rushed, sticky mess.

I crunch. I bang. I smash apart.

Now the machine rests in pieces. I drop the hammer and it clangs against the warehouse floor. I am wearing a blue jumpsuit and the warehouse has a single overhead lamp illuminating my mechanical mess. I crouch and sift through the fragments. The smithereens. Oh God, what have I done?

Here’s a part that isn’t too beaten up. And another. I don’t know what this bit here was meant to do originally, but it’s clear it no longer belonged. As I separate the good from the bad, I begin to see a different kind of machine emerging.

I will have to dumpster dive and crawl through junkyards to find the missing pieces. I will have to wander flea markets and yard sales and pick up whatever feels necessary. I’ll know these things when I see them.

This is a craft. When it is finished it is art, but in the middle, in the warehouse with its single lamp and shadowy echoes, it is a craft. It takes sweat and blood and tears. A smashed finger, a misplaced nail gun, and a lot of cursing. There are no instruction manuals.

But I am learning what I should be listening for when I rap on the side of the machine:

An answering knock.

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As I write this I am listening to Unity Band, an instrumental jazz album which secured Pat Metheny his twentieth Grammy win. My boyfriend, Chris, took me to a Pat Metheny concert once. Chris was excited about the performance so I was too. I liked the albums Chris played in the car; I used to run a café that hosted a Sunday jazz brunch; I’ve been using jazz to help me write for almost a decade. I thought I liked jazz.

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I always tell children who want to be writers that there are only two things they must do to be writers: read a lot and write a lot. “That’s all it takes,” I tell them. But I’m lying by omission. There’s something else involved in great writing, even beyond innate talent, that every book I’ve read about writing seems to acknowledge in one way or another.

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