"Parchman had a thing, you know."
"Parchman. He was a writer, wasn't he?"
"Yes. A writer. He had this thing; he wanted to attain perfection in boredom."
"Strange sort of thing for a writer to want. Why?"
"It started when he was ghost writing political speeches. He used to say how impossibly boring they were."
"I can see that. It must have been deadly for a writer who really wants to write."
"I suppose so. One day he got his idea. 'The thing is,' he said, 'this stuff isn't very good at being boring. It takes so much of it. If it were really good one sentence would be enough. A phrase would be enough for a genius.'"
"You mean an average writer has to bumble around to be boring but a good writer would be concise?"
"Precisely. Parchman used to talk about how hard writers to try to create something of sheer brilliance or sheer beauty, but nobody saw how hard it was to create a bit of sheer boredom, how most boring writing was done in a clumsy and incompetent manner."
"Very strange. So what did he do?"
"Well, it all went very well at first. He served an apprenticeship writing soap opera scripts. Then he moved on to writing horror movie scripts. Finally he reached the peak and wrote fiction for women's journals. By this time he had the basic skills and had made so much money that he didn't have to worry about publishing. He sat down and worked on his masterpiece.'
"Wait a minute. Parchman? Didn't he - "
"That's right, he failed. He worked so hard to be concise and precise to be boring."
But it didn't work. He started with such a strange idea and put so much care and thought into each word that it had to be interesting. When his book came out it was immediately acclaimed. I remember one critic who said 'The first time I read this book it was the most intensely boring book I ever read. The second time I read it, it was the most intensely profound.' That was the difficulty, you see - nothing is boring if you look at it right. The book was written so skillfully that you were forced to look at everything differently."
"Curious. I imagine Parchman was disappointed."
"Oh, yes. He was shattered. He never wrote again. He didn't dare. The consciousness of being interesting would destroy the honesty of his efforts at boredom. And suppose he tried to write seriously and failed as badly at that. What then?"
"So what did he do?"
"He decided to start over. He became a short order cook. His theory was that to be a great writer you had to serve an apprenticeship of colorful odd jobs. It didn't matter much what they were as long as one did a stint as a short order cook."
"That's what they say. So what happened?"
He was working at a greasy spoon in Jersey. He got to liking his own cooking too much. His arteries hardened up from all the grease and he ended up having a heart attack."
"I don't know. Towards the end he used to say that he was happier being a short order cook than he ever had been as a writer."
"Did you believe him?"
"Oh, yes. After all, writers are just failed short order cooks."
This page was last updated December 1, 2005.