Bewildering Stories

Help Me Waste My Full Potential

by Steven Utley

How should the following be classified? As an essay? A letter? We’ve opted for the latter — the letter — because Steven invites your response and tells us quite a bit about himself, in an undissipated sort of way...

“A great many people,” wrote Robert Benchley, “have come up to me and asked how I manage to get so much work done and still keep looking so dissipated.” Unfortunately, if Benchley recorded his answer, I cannot find it. I have been getting much work done lately, but failing miserably at dissipation. As a vegetarian, recovered nicotine addict, and virtual teetotaler who goes early to his solitary bed and is early to rise from it, I feel, well, as virtuous as a jailhouse convert. And I don’t like it! I don’t want to be the most boring individual everyone else knows. I’d almost rather annoy folks by trying to sell them stuff over the telephone. Moreover, I am a writer, and writers are supposed to have vices. Recall Fitzgerald and his booze, Hemingway and his testosterone, Henry James and his dependent clauses. My literary career is at a point where I must cultivate at least one vice if I am to be take seriously by critics.

Not that it’s going to be easy. Logistically speaking, I am cut off from any reliable source either of loose and crazy women or of nice sailors. I am unsuited by temperament and world-view for membership in the Republican Party or any other terrorist organization.

Gambling is out: I don’t like losing my money, possibly because I hardly have any to lose. I already know that I lack what it takes to be a successful alcoholic, and recreational drug abuse paled for me at least 25 years ago. Moreover, as W.C. Fields once said of himself, I have never struck a lady, not even my own mother. I don’t even read much trashy fiction any more, having discovered that I can lose myself for days on end, even weeks, in great thick square unillustrated novels about unhappy Russian families. Taking these exceptions into consideration narrows the field to two evidently sordid activities I’ve only heard about, simony (something to do with a pieman?) and barratry, about which I know only that it does not involve cabin boys. Somehow, they fail to grip the imagination.

Suggestions are welcome. Please help me waste my full potential, before it’s too late.

Copyright © 2004 by Steven Utley

Very well, Steven, since our Letters department is interactive, let Bewildering Stories be the first to suggest ways to ruin your life. You could take as a model the Symbolist poets, jet-propelled dissipates, all. Baudelaire was into hash; Verlaine, absinthe. However, you’ve ruled out intoxicating fumes and drink. Rimbaud exhausted poetry at the age of 18 and became a world traveler. He spoke more than a dozen languages rather well and held down any number of jobs, the hairiest as a gun-runner in Ethiopia. But that seems to fall under your terrorism exclusion clause.

No, it looks like strong-arm methods aren’t going to work. Okay, readers, can you suggest more subtle “vices” that might rescue Steven from his almost monkishly virtuous existence?

Copyright © 2004 by Bewildering Stories

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