See What The Boys In the Basement Will Have

The “boys in the basement” are what Stephen King calls his muse, the source of his imagination. Mostly they just hang out, idly, making occasional noise, drinking beer, and every now and then sending messages upstairs. When they are napping, or when the folks upstairs are paying insufficient attention to them, the writer is stuck. “Blocked,” as some of the semi-pros like to say.

The pros often say there is no such thing as writer’s block, there is only laziness. I think that may depend on how one experiences, or defines, the state of consciousness required for writing. For me, it varies, often depending on the context. Back when I wrote regularly for publication, what I mainly required was a topic, a word count, and a deadline, and I believed I could produce just about anything on time. That belief may or may not have been justified, but it worked pretty well most of the time, for the kind of stuff I was expected or contracted to write.

Under deadline, I don’t recall ever being blocked. Often, I would wait until some siege of particularly inclement weather (snow or heat) to wall myself up and produce produce produce. Chicago can be trusted to come up with such onslaughts often enough to keep the writer at work. Sometimes, I would use a long weekend for the same purpose. But working against the clock really helped a lot.

These days, when nobody is waiting on my production to fill space or meet some third-party obligation, it’s harder for me to get going. The boys in the basement are too busy playing video games to communicate with me. When they bother, often, it’s to complain about the brand of beer I’m stocking.

Sometimes, the problem is that I feel as if I’ve already said it all, at least about some particular subjects. Newt Gingrich, for instance. Back when he was just a twinkle in the eye of his Georgia congressional district (which my brother was living in at the time), I thought he was a flake, but a smart flake. I still do. Since then, he has made his bones as a serial wife-dumper and contributed significantly to my opinion of the GOP as a large closet rather than a big tent. He has joined the collection of people I would cross the street to avoid shaking hands with (along with Clarence Thomas, but that’s another story.) (People with whom I would cross the street to avoid shaking hands? See Churchill’s “the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”) But mostly, I think I said it all in the 1990s.

Same goes for The Bell Curve, which is now enjoying revived discussion in the Atlantic by two of my favorite writers, Coates and Sullivan. I taught a course using it, and Plato’s Republic, and Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man, back in the 1990s, and essentially summarized the course for a review in a small newspaper around the same time. What more could I possibly say? See for yourself ( If they’d just give me some frakkin’ new material, maybe I could think of something new to say about it.

Okay, what about the GOP primary? Is Romney “inevitable”? Maybe. Maybe even in the general election, since it looks as if both sides might actually allow him to govern if he gets elected. Not sure any other candidate, on either side, meets that qualification. That may be all the voters want, these days. Chances are, they would even accept a third-party candidate if he seemed likely to meet that bar. Cain is comic relief; although it bothers me that some commenters see the stories about his affair as being all the more damaging because it allegedly lasted 13 years. I think 13 years is a plus. It indicates that Cain is capable of focused affection, unlike the afore-mentioned Newt, or Rudy Giuliani, who actually managed to cheat on his wife, his official mistress, and his girlfriend within the same short span of months. Maybe that’s just the cynical perspective of a divorce lawyer. But dammit, it’s all old news.

Okay, how about: which is worse, or better, the Tea Party, or Occupy Wherever? (A recent client of mine actually got busted with Occupy Salt Lake City, a mind-boggling concept.) That’s relatively new news, right? I think they draw their passions from the same cultural spring. They’re not quite as easy to tell apart as anarchists (dionysian) versus libertarians (apollonian.) They both have a very healthy dose of localism. And they both have a large dose of dionysian energy and not a helluva lot of apollonian intellect behind them. But they are both, in fact, slightly differing ways of saying “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” Which dates back to Network, in 1976. And which in turn, I think, is a loose translation of “je m’en fichisme,” a French phrase which the New Yorker dates back to 1917 or thereabouts, but which I first encountered in the late 1950s, and which apparently has stuck in my memory because I was studying high school French at the time, and got a kick out of learning a French phrase that the good sisters undoubtedly were never going to teach me.

How about sexual child abuse among college football coaches? Nothing new there, except that none of them are vowed to celibacy, and some of them may even be Protestant. The scandal seems to have erupted on a slow news day and then taken on a life of its own.

Okay, breaking news—our Chicago public radio station has just announced that tonight it is “pre-empting the world” ! How’s that for nerve? Actually, it just means we don’t get to listen to the BBC world news program tonight, because the head of the Chicago public school system is coming on live to answer questions in the same time slot. Not a bad idea, but not exactly world-shaking (or even world-pre-empting) either. Maybe I’m the one with a case of je m’en fichisme.

Or maybe my real problem is that the boys in the basement, kind of like a newborn baby, sleep when I’m awake and available to write, and start jumping around when I’m getting ready for bed. Stephen King, never having been pregnant, seems not to notice the similarity.

Today, our former governor got sentenced to 14 years for corruption. His predecessor, I think, got six and a half years on similar charges. Two of their predecessors also did time, and another one was indicted but acquitted. More not-very-new-news. From now on, maybe I should plan to start writing sheer fantasy of various fictional and nonfictional varieties, just to keep the boys in the basement awake when I have time to write.

Oh, and one more bit of not-very-new-news: Kathleen Sebelius has overruled the FDA and chosen not to make the “morning after” pill more readily available. No doubt the Obama administration is choosing its battles carefully these days. But it bothers me that the religiously-affiliated lobbies that have worked so assiduously to make access to contraception more difficult have not uttered Word One about the evils of prescribing Viagra for unmarried males. So much for a consistent sexual ethic which is not to be viewed as anti-woman.

In the meantime:

Raisin Consciousness

Physicists say that time

Is what keeps everything from happening at once.

But holidays

Are what keeps everything from feeling as if it’s happening at once.

Holidays are like the raisins in rice pudding.

Without them, it turns into a glutinous untextured mass.

The raisins add texture,

And sometimes, sweetness.

A good holiday to you all. Peace and light,

The Wired Family

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