Three simple words, completely harmless when detached from one another, but when strung together more than capable of sending tendrils of terror racing up and down the length of your spine; equally adept at knotting your stomach in fearful apprehension.
Let’s do this, we tell ourselves. The picture on the outside looks marvelous. So what if it says some assembly required. How hard can it be?
Anyone who has ever attempted to construct a jungle gym swing set for their children the night before the arrival of jolly old Saint Nick knows what I’m talking about.
In the chilled, pitch black dead of night, armed with feeble light from a flashlight intent on draining a near-dead set of batteries, a host of orphaned tools stuffed into the pockets of your jeans, you summon up courage bolstered by three glasses of wine and attempt to perform the impossible. When it is all over you sit in exhaustion, shake your head and attest to the horrid prophesy of those seemingly harmless little words.
“Where’s the instructions?”
“I thought you had them.”
“You’re kidding right? How in the world can I hold these two pieces of the dohickey together and the instructions at the same time?”
“It’s called a support crossbar dear.”
“I don’t care if it’s called the Taj Mahal! I’m trying to put them together and I can’t see a damned thing if you don’t hold the flashlight beam on my hands.”
“Do you want me to hold the flashlight or find the instructions? I can’t do both.”
“Well that’s not going to $$@##@@!!! work is it?”
“I found the instructions and it says the support crossbar you were trying to install at the top is supposed to go at the bottom.”
“The dohicky dear, you were supposed to install it at the bottom of the set not the top.”
“Why in the hell didn’t you tell me that in the beginning?”
“Cause you wouldn’t let me take the light off your hands and find the instructions.”
“Oh for the love of God!”
We’ve all had an experience similar, or at least have listened to a friend neighbor or relative recall in a somewhat exaggerated tale of misery and woe something close right?
Recently, I attended a seminar with some associates in Washington D.C. and over dinner one night I had the unfortunate luck of being seated next to a colleague of mine who fancies himself quite a writer of fiction. Now, I’m no Koontz, King or Saul, but I have been known to spin a decent tale or two, and when this gentlemen and his PhD asked me if I’d read any of his work I answered without thinking.
“Yes I have.”
Everyone stopped talking and stared at me as if I had morphed into an ancient Oracle and was about to impart answers on the universal question of the meaning of life. I was trapped, squeezed between the proverbial rock and hard place of lying to the man and telling him it was the best thing I’d ever read since The Old Man and the Sea or pouring out the truth and letting him know that I thought he’d managed to produce seventy five thousand words of drivel in such a pretentious, arrogant style that it read like a condescending technical manual.
I chose the coward way out.
Now hold on folks, I know what your thinking. You think I took the path of The Old Man and the Sea right? Not so much.
“I think your work should come with a disclaimer,” I said.
“Yes, on the front of your books it should read, some assembly required.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you probably didn’t look at any instruction manual before you started because you assumed by virtue of your vast knowledge and intellect you knew how to put a story together. It means you probably didn’t bother to bring a flashlight of inspiration or even a set of good writing tools and skills with you when you decided to put together your plot triangles, flesh out your characters, or develop conflicts between your protagonists and antagonists. If you try to build a story in the dark it will crash into a jumbled heap of words. Who knows, there may be a good, hell maybe even a great story on the pages of your book, but until you assemble them in a fashion the reading public is willing to embrace you are effectively writing to appease your own ego. As I said, some assembly required.”
The colleague nodded, smiled and thanked me for my opinion and then he excused himself from the table. Everyone sitting at the table craned their necks in unison watching as he walked away. Then, they turned to look at me. I began to gaze about the dining room nervously searching for the nearest emergency exit as I planned my escape route when to a man and woman they smiled at me and one by one, returned their attention to their dinner plates.
We build, we create, and assemble. It’s what we do. Yes, it exhausts us and in my case gives me cause to pull out the remaining three strands of hair I possess as I take another swill of wine, but it will always be the case. Even in writing — especially when we write — some assembly is always required.