by Jeremy Kuban
Many people ask me questions about being an author. "Where do you get your ideas?" "How do you write such long books so fast?" and so on. My answer, though, is not one that any would expect to hear, so I usually make up some plop about feeding my creative muse and listening to my inner voices. The truth, however, is a different story. I will tell you exactly how I can be an author of so many books when I cannot even be a successful janitor, and why I can publish books, but not even get hired by McDonalds.
The truth is this: My hands shake.
I know that's not really something that you would want to read a story about, but it is nonetheless true. My hands, they shake. And that is the simple reason how all of this came about.
There was a moment, a split second in time, about two weeks after our son, Fima, was born. I had to call our mortgage company because I had lost a great deal of work and money. The representative, Willie was his name, was a nice enough man. He assured me that they would work with us and try to help. I believed him. They were more than fair to us, but in the end we lost our home anyway. However, it was that phone call that did it to me. As soon as I hung up the phone my hands started to shake and they have not stopped for the past twelve years.
Now, I guess that is not entirely true. They do stop shaking when I type. When I type, these fingers are like ballerinas spinning and twirling in some unstoppable and damnable ballet. They race across the keyboard striking keys like they had a mind of their own (well, now, actually more on that in a moment).
But, you see, I cannot play the guitar anymore because my hands shake too badly. I cannot hold a glass of wine when we are guests at friends homes, in fact I cannot drink at all unless I leave the glass on a stable surface and suck out its liquid through a straw. I cannot eat soup anymore because my hands shake all the soup off the spoon, and, good god, I tried lifting the soup bowl to my mouth -- what a disaster! The great soup disaster that ruined a perfectly fashionable shirt and tie combination and left a burn on my hallow chest for a week.
I could go on (I cannot drive, I cannot shave with a razor, I cannot put together model airplanes, I cannot pick my nose...), but you get the point. My hands shake to such an extent that ordinary things have become, not only difficult, but fear inspiring. The simple act of eating is daunting enough, but to do it in front of others, as guests or in a restaurant, would be humiliating. And this is where it has left me, writing a story about my hands.
Why, now, they are able to type is absolutely beyond my grasp. Even more puzzling to me is how fast they type: I average somewhere around two hundred eighty words a minute. That is more than four words per second, and more than double the speed of a highly-skilled typist.
Now, if you knew me personally, you would know that my feeble little brain does not have the energy to converse at a rate of more than twenty words per minute. In fact, words do not come easily to me. I struggle for them, imagining that I'm grasping toward them with some gooey speech center of my brain and they laugh teasingly while dangling just beyond reach.
But, close up that fumbling mouth and sit behind a keyboard and -- look out! I'll tell you all about everything in just a few minutes.
For the longest time I found it amazing why I was able to type at such an extraordinary rate when I could not even think of the words. The answer was somewhat surprising to me though, for I did sure enough find the answer to my conundrum.
The truth came slowly with a series of revelations that all lead to one great epiphany.
The first such surprise came when I sent an email to my uncle announcing the first birthday of my son. He responded with congratulations but had one question about a line in the middle of my email. In the midst of a description about birthday cake was a line that said, "Thumb is a stupid asshole. All he is good for is the spacebar."
To my uncle this line came as no big surprise being as he understands that I seldom hold on to clarity of thought for more than two minutes at a time. This silly little saying was another indicator that his nephew was a dork. But, no, not really. Well, yes I am a dork, but no this sentence was an indicator of something more important.
A similar slip up happened again about a week later. In a letter to our apartment manager concerning the loud and unruly behavior of a certain neighbor that shall go unnamed (but his first name starts with Tyler), this little beauty crept in unawares: "Pinky needs a trim. Pinky needs a trim. Oh, yoo hoo! Pinky needs a trim." Fortunately, I caught that one in time to correct it before it went to the landlord.
Soon after, my typing had begun to cost me in dignity what it saved me in time. I had to reread everything I wrote to make sure some strange sentence did not end up in an inappropriate place. And, believe me, there were some inappropriate things. For example, a certain middle finger had adopted the persona for which it is most widely known. Very inappropriate in emails to family and friends (well, most friends anyway).
Still, at this point my reasoning was that I was the cause of all this. My fingers typed so fast that they said things that I hid deeply, unaware of how they drew up to the surface the oily flavors of the beast down under. While I labored over what to say next, my fingered grabbed whatever tidbit of thought was closest to the front of my brain and ran away to the keyboard with it. At least, that seemed to be the only logical explanation. The stress of losing our home had unhinged me and released a subconscious element that hijacked my fingers while I typed.
The epiphany came this way. I was typing an email to a friend when I entered the state that can only be so eloquently described as "stuck." A simple object, a stapler I think it was, so captivated my attention that I became wholly focused on thinking about it, imagining what it would be like to be a little staple being punched into a document. Becoming stuck was certainly not unusual. Many times I will interrupt a thought I'm speaking in mid-conversation to stare entranced at the tip of a pen, or some other object of equal or lesser significance.
Coming back out of the stapler, I was amazed to see the email now took five pages worth of space. Rereading the contents was a revelation. Suddenly, this great mystery of the fingers began to unravel.
Most of the five page email consisted of what appeared to be a conversation between fingers. Indy, the name of the index finger of my right hand, was the seeming ringleader of the lot. He dominated the conversation, directed the topics, and acted the way the chairman on a news program acts, only with a kind of rudeness that belied over-familiarity with the guest speakers. Ursala, the third, and often most neglected finger of my left hand, came in close second as a dominating voice. Ursala, however, was a more unsavory personality. The bitterness at being the least used of all fingers had led her to overcompensate for her unimportance by being the most outspoken and disrespectful. Most of what she said I would rather not repeat.
Further reading reveals that my fingers had adopted a kind of vulgar crudeness that very much disappointed me. Even though I am not by any means a graceful or intellectual man, I would have hoped that had any part of my body assumed a life of its own, it would at least express itself with a measure of articulation that would not make me blush.
And I also discovered that, as had been written in that email to my uncle so long ago, Thumb was indeed an asshole, but useful for more than the spacebar. It seems there was a little jealousy going on.
I also found that I could not communicate with these fingers in any way. Speaking to them was pointless. When I stopped typing and tried to send a message to a finger in the form of a thought then my hand commenced with the shaking again. I tried typing out questions for my fingers to answer: "Why do my hands shake?" "What are your names?" "Hey, fingers, why don't you answer me?" Alas, nothing.
After further experiments where I sat at the keyboard and let my mind wonder and my fingers take over, I began to discover more about the nature of my hands. The only way to describe it is as though my hands themselves functioned like the parents. Daddy is the right hand, Mommy the left. They seemed like entities that existed behind the scenes, exerting a kind of authority over the fingers. The fingers, in turn, are like these little foul-mouthed juvenile delinquents that took free reign when placed on the keyboard.
The idea occurred to me to have my hands x-rayed. I thought perhaps it might show tiny little brains lodged in each of my fingers. Proof. But, I suppose the fingers need not have their own brains. There is so much unused space in my brain that they could easily have utilized a little spot for their own perverted purposes.
And this is where my writing comes in.
I cannot hold any power over my fingers directly, but I find that if I concentrate hard enough I can force my mind to a state of semi-consciousness where I can read and understand what my fingers are typing, but I am not interfering. I write a few words, sentences, or phrases that usually cause a kind of reaction among the fingers and they begin to respond in kind. The result is a process that is difficult to explain, but has produced my many books.
Naturally, they require considerable editing and proofreading. But I can hire people for that now. All I have to do is let these fingers do their thing while I sit by and watch.
Now, is it possible that this is really just me, my own brain, doing this? Did I assign personalities to each of my fingers and let them run rampant? Is it a psychosomatic symptom of all the stress and anxiety I suffered manifesting itself through my fingers?
Really, how could I subconsciously write books about space travel and science fiction when I have no interest or knowledge in them? And how could I write novels that took place in settings unfamiliar to me personally, but which I wrote about with a historical accuracy that was undisputed even to the smallest detail? How can I write about things that I have no knowledge of? I cannot be drawing up knowledge from my subconscious because I never put the knowledge there to begin with.
No. It is not me. I have nothing to do with those books.
So, naturally, when called on to give advice to other authors, or asked about where my ideas come from, or how I write such long novels in so short a time, I have to dream up some extravagant and imaginative reply. No one wants to hear that a man can be a complete idiot and somehow have great success because his fingers have a life of their own. No one wants to hear that I am a successful writer due to reasons completely out of my control. They want to hear about "The Muse" that whispers in my ear at dawn. So that is exactly what I tell them.
© 2010 Jeremy Kuban
Bio: Jeremy Kuban says "I live in Longmont, Colorado. People pay me money to clean their toilets. I eat Cream of Wheat for breakfast." He may be kidding (about the Cream of Wheat, anyway).
E-mail: Jeremy Kuban
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.