Arthur wrote stories, to earn his living and to satisfy his creative urges. To earn his living, he wrote for the movies and theater. It’s not that this did not satisfy his creative urges, it’s just that his main motive and consideration in it was to entertain the audience and generate revenue. To satisfy his deepest creative urges, he just wrote without much concern whether somebody would read them or not; or if this material showed any tangible effect or not. He did try to publish, but as usually is the case, he succeeded only sporadically; even when some magazine did publish some of his stories, the revenue generated was quite meagre. This did not bother him, for he had considered this work to be his ‘labor of love,’ from the outset.
For the movies and theater, he spent only as much time as was necessary and the outlines of the plots were developed interactively with the producers and directors. The rest of the time he just wandered around, mostly in the woods, but not to the exclusion of the city streets, parks, and the marketplaces, hoping to get his inspirations that satisfied him. Some of those ideas were used to develop the stories for the movies and theater, but the main emphasis was on satisfying his creative urges. Some of those who noticed his peculiar behavior thought that he was a madman; some thought that he was a genius, and the rest couldn’t care less.
Arthur lived in two worlds, having counterparts of each one in the other. One of Arthur’s two worlds was the same as ours; the other one was his personal world, completely alien to us. Arthur’s two worlds were disjointed from each other. When he was in one of his worlds, the other one was completely alien to him; he did remember his other world, and did see it, but on the other side of a glass wall; and that is as close as he could get.
He felt similar pains and pleasures in each one of them; he had his friends and adversaries, and all that, in each. He enjoyed chatting with the bees and butterflies, with the bushes and trees as he did with the producers and directors of the movies and plays, and the other writers and others involved in the project. He felt the same kind of love and anger in both. He cursed the tree he collided with because he wasn’t watching, as he cursed a subway train that just left without him because he was just a little late in reaching the station. He watched the flowing water in the streams and the pulsating waves in the lakes as he did the crowds flowing in the streets and pulsating in the shopping malls. He was quite comfortable with the world he was in at the time and the other one at that time was essentially non-existent, though the roles were reversed when he was in his other world. He reminded one of Zhuangzi who described his famed, rather eccentric, experience as follows:
“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes. a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awoke, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”
Arthur’s imagination was quite fertile and creative, which served him well in his professional work, as we can understand; but it worked wonders for him at his subconscious level in his ‘world of woods.’ He would notice an ordinary looking modestly dressed woman in a city street and while he would be sitting by a stream, or while sleeping, his imagination would reconstruct her into a scantily dressed gorgeous looking young beauty deluged with sensuality. This kind of construction was his favorite. For example, once he was romantically involved with a young lady. He was not satisfied with some of what he considered her physical imperfections, although she was still a very pretty woman. In one of his dreams his imagination working at his subconscious level, shaved her breasts slightly, filed the corners of her lips a bit, touched them up to give them the color of the pomegranate seeds, molded her tummy somewhat, thickened and elongated her golden hair … and the final product although was easily recognized as his model, was immensely beautiful.
Even more than the body, his imagination worked wonders with the feelings and the expressions, where his subconscious was fully in command. Arthur was unhappy by his girl’s modest attire and mundane expressions. His imagination went at work immediately; the result was that his creation in the dream was revealingly dressed and from her expressions, she looked sensuality personified. Oh yes, he could convert a dimwit into a genius also, and at times did.
Some of the creations of his imagination were realizable and in fact the makeup artists working with him did show the audience someone quite different from the person playing the role was otherwise.
From his obsession with immensely beautiful bodies adorned with equally beautiful faces and body with sensuous contours, it appeared that he was pursuing a da Vinci-like quest to realize on earth the goddess Aphrodite to have her as his lover. WhileLeonardo da Vinci’s quest lasted only for four years, Arthur’s continued for his lifetime, so far, and still continuing; and while Leonardo da Vinci had only the paints and brushes, Arthur had all types of artists: Sculptors, painters, scientists, engineers, and all the rest, together with their talent and the tools of their trades at his command. He could summon whoever he wished from Michelangelo to Picasso to all in between and around, to collaborate with him. He had to know what he wanted, of course.
One day Arthur was sitting by a stream in the woods. The time flowed as the water in the stream. He appeared to be daydreaming. That’s when he spotted a female figure swiftly passing by his side like a zephyr. He only got a glimpse but did manage to glean that she could be a basic figure to shape into his Aphrodite.
“Stop;” he called out. but nobody could hear him; his voice was arrested within his throat, as it used to in his childhood dreams when he was chased by a buffalo bull. There was a difference though: While in his childhood dreams, fear would engulf him, he would even sweat; now he felt quite serene.
Having failed in making a verbal contact, he could only watch the figure fade away gradually but swiftly.
“Who was she?” he asked himself, “Was she real or just an imagined figure in this one of my daydreams?”
He found this question he posed himself, unanswerable: “I can easily answer the first part – She was Aphrodite to be, but the rest of the question is a toughie.”
“What is reality except one’s perception? I perceived a figure of a woman. Therefore, it was real, she was real. But this was my reality, not a universal reality. … Hmmm, universal reality, absolute reality. What is the absolute universal reality! Does it exist or it’s just a meaningless concept? Is this world an absolute universal reality? Is the world I wander around in is the same for everyone? Is it the same for even one individual at different times? If not, it can’t be absolute. … Universe is in a perpetual state of transition; it can’t be an absolute reality. … ”
He felt that he was generating more questions than answering. “I might be confused; let me take my mind off it for a while; go back to my girl, she must be waiting; she already feels rather neglected and bothered by the fact that I spend more time in my ‘imaginary’ world than with her.”
Her reasoning is that I’m in demand by the producers; thanks to the success of several of my movies and plays. I can generate enough ideas living in this world as other do. We could be living comfortably in our world and enjoy the fruits of our success. When the time to enjoy comes, I rush to my ‘world of woods.’ Why do I keep turning away so much: Working for four months and wandering in the woods or loafing around the city streets and parks for eight months? Some of it is necessary to develop my plots but it is priority for me.
How can I tell her that I cannot ‘not do it;’ it may not generate any tangible revenue, but it generates a ‘revenue’ that can’t be measured in the weight of gold. …
“Can I ever find her?”
“Ha ha ha. You can find anything you want Arthur, the way you find all sorts of things; aren’t you finding, creating all sorts of stories? Remember that poem:
Battles rarely exist
Warriors discover many
Are the events and characters in those stories real? … Oh yes, they are real, very real. So, it’s up to you; if you want to find her, you shall. … You mean imagine her. No, no, create her. …”
Arthur got up to leave to go to his ‘mundane’ world; “Let me divert my attention; there is so much work waiting. That screen play must be developed as soon as possible. So much money of the producer is riding on this movie, and the payoff to you is quite handsome in terms of the money we deal in.” …
He looked back before taking his familiar trail towards the city. no sign of Aphrodite.
“Don’t worry old boy; she’s as hooked onto you as you are onto her. In fact, you have control over her, not she over you. …”
“Arthur, your mind doesn’t seem to be here these days;” Eric, the director said as he sipped his coffee and puffed on his cigar; “You know well Arthur, this company will fold down if it loses you.”
“See what I mean. … I said that you are the backbone of this company. You aren’t just a story writer, you are involved in developing the screen plays, cast selection and direction. In emergencies you are the only one who comes to the rescue. If an actor creates difficulties, you can replace him. You have directed plays and scenes of the movies upon request. What I said was that your mind doesn’t seem to be here these days.”
“My mind is here alright; and your praise is good for my ego, but nobody is indispensable. … My uniqueness is not even appreciated by our audience.”
“Oh, but it is, it is appreciated very well. You’ll not know how much until you are gone.”
“I should part my ways then.”
Eric burst out laughing; Arthur joined in with a subdued laugh. Just then the producer Bob entered the room flaunting a beaming smile:
“I won’t have to pound the pavements for this movie anymore. This calls for a celebration; we can begin with a martini lunch, and then we can all take the afternoon off to organize our thoughts. In fact, my job is done; now it’s you Eric and Arthur; develop the screen play, story was already complete, which is what enticed the financiers; and select your cast; …”
“That will begin tomorrow; today is for the celebration;” Eric commented.
“Whichever way you prefer.”
All three went for lunch together. After lunch, Arthur headed home.
And yes, to his girl Andrea
Andrea was eagerly waiting for Arthur; she knew that he had gone into his world of woods, and when he goes there, there is no telling when he would be back. His arrival home before she expected was a pleasant surprise.
Arthur gave her the good news as soon as he entered, “The producer has raised the money needed to produce our new movie Andrea; there is no hurdle in our way now; you know what it means?”
“What?” Andrea looked towards him in anticipation.
“The work begins in the earnest. There is big revenue and recognition at the end of the tunnel, but very hard work is required to cross the tunnel. As you know, the work of a normal story writer is completed by this stage, but I’m involved all the way, from the start to the finish, in all projects I write for. …”
“This calls for a celebration.”
“Bob said the same thing, and we had one at lunch.”
“Our personal celebration; especially for me. You may still not stay home all that much but your escaping to your world of woods will end; I’ll feel you around.”
Arthur laughed a feeble laugh.
“What about our personal celebration?”
“Alright, we can go for a candle-light dinner tonight; and after that we’ll be together at home.”
Arthur was now in his ‘mundane’ world. Given the nature of his profession, it was a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week job, and the uncertainty that goes with it, generates quite a bit of stress. However, he had to remain in touch with his ‘world of woods.’ That he did by a little compromise: He did not use any means for transportation, except his feet. He did feel a strong pull towards that world, and Aphrodite did flash in front of his eyes at times, but his situations would not permit him to indulge in the luxury of staying away from the studios; given that kind of life, he even had to sleep there at times. He was convinced somehow that Aphrodite would be waiting for him.
He was known to be an odd fellow to begin with. His colleagues reasoned it away by: “He has to be a creative fellow to choose this kind of profession, and creative people are always idiosyncratic; so, let him be, he generates work for us all and the revenue that goes with it.” However, these days he was also absent minded. Eric discussed the matter with him, that he noticed that he had something on his mind those days; what was it? It took several conversations of the question, but Arthur did divulge his experience in the woods to Eric.
Eric looked at Arthur intensely, then asked, “Have you started seeing things Arthur? I mean, things that are not there.”
“If we see them, they are there; they may be there even if we don’t see them; we can perceive without seeing and see without perceiving; I read so somewhere.”
“You live in the world of dreams, the fantasies, Arthur; they have taken over your mind; the experience was just a figment of your imagination, not real. You might be able to use it in one of your stories, but if you think there is something more to it, that would be crazy.”
“What is reality except one’s perception? And perception is in our minds. How is it any different from a so-called figment of imagination?”
“Arthur, we are not philosophers, we are not supposed to be. We are artists; let’s remain what we are.”
“What is art? It’s been said to be a lie; we create a world of fantasies. And yes Eric, we are artists, so does that not make us liars?”
After several of such inconclusive conversations, Eric mustered enough courage to mention to Arthur that he may be slipping into schizophrenia and therefore, he should see a psychiatrist. Arthur for his part ignored it, “He knows only about this mundane life, this mundane world; ignore his comments and never discuss such matters with him again.”
Screen play had been developed. It was no challenge after a nicely prepared story, just a routine: Describing the scenes, writing the dialogues, and the like. Then it came to the cast selection. For this part both Eric and Arthur were always very meticulous; Arthur was even finicky: “They are the ones who give the story the intended life.”
The main female role went to a skilled actress Ingrid; selected for her sharp features, seductive contours, and hypnotic, mysteriously smiling eyes. This is what the role called for.
We shall have occasions to deal only with Ingrid out of the entire cast; let Eric and Arthur deal with the rest.
Arthur had seen a little of Aphrodite in Ingrid, which was one of his reasons in supporting her for the role.
Shooting was progressing satisfactorily, except that Arthur at times stared in space lost in his thoughts. Eric suspected that it may have to do something with his ;world of woods’ and Aphrodite, but it had become clear between the two that they would no longer talk about that as long as it did not impede the progress of the project. However, Ingrid, having noticed this somewhat peculiar behavior of Arthur, mentioned to Eric, who in turn let her know that Arthur had a rather fantastic experience in the woods, which he thinks was real; he’s rather obsessed with it, it is consuming him. It would be advisable for Ingrid to let him be as does everybody else; but the curiosity had gotten the better of Ingrid; so, one day off the set she asked:
“Have you always been absent minded Arthur?”
“Meaning I’m absent minded now?”
“Yes; you are always lost in your thoughts; you collide at times with objects in the studios.”
“Oh, do I collide with the objects in the studios? I thought I collide with the trees in the woods, the bastards just keep coming in my way, can’t avoid them. …”
“You imagine Arthur, that you are in your world of woods, not in the studios, and see things as trees and the like; satisfies your urge to collide with trees in the woods.”
This called for a big laugh, both together.
“Would you like to go for a coffee in the park; they have a delicious coffee;” Arthur asked Ingrid. Ingrid in turn agreed.
“I was asking Arthur, that you seem to be hooked on your world of woods.”
“I get my inspirations there and similar places in the city. you see, an author must be a keen observer; he can’t think in vacuum; he gets his ideas by observing the world around him transiting in time. …”
“And drifts away to lead the audience astray. …”
“You are very observant Ingrid, very clever. … but you should understand that this is one way to protect my private domains.”
“I noticed that Arthur; but why do you have to be so protective of your inner self?”
“We have to be Ingrid. There are always some very private domains of our lives; we are naturally protective of them, as a woman is protective of her lover, no other woman can venture there, as a mother is protective of her children. Have you ever tried to approach the cubs of a mother bear in spring; no, not if you love your life. …”
“That experience you had in the woods; was that an encounter with some spirit?” Ingrid tried to bring the conversation back on track, as she took a sip of her coffee.
“Do you believe in spirits?” Arthur asked
“I have seen them.”
“Oh, but my encounter was not with some ghost-like spirit, it was definitely with a real person.”
“Ghost-like spirits look and feel like real persons Arthur; …”
“Does that mean Ingrid, that we both or one of us might be a spirit? A ghost?”
“Yes;” answered Ingrid as she puffed on her cigarette. Her conviction startled Arthur:
“So sure Ingrid!”
“We do not know all the secrets of all the things around us and the events taking place; and the stories unfolding.”
“Like the one we are creating right now together.”
Ingrid just smirked as she asked:
“Like a puff?”
“Alright;” Arthur said as he took the cigarette from Ingrid.
“You did not ask for another cigarette Arthur.” Ingrid commented.
“Taking it from you gave me the feeling of intimacy Ingrid; there would not have been that feeling in another cigarette. …”
“And you know Arthur, I enjoyed sharing the cigarette with you that could not have happened if I had offered you one.”
“Yes. Shall I share a feeling with you?”
“The cigarette gave me the feeling as if I was kissing you.”
Ingrid smiled, “You can convert that feeling into reality, instead of an imagination.”
Arthur did plant a passionate kiss on Ingrid’s lips. Then said:
“We should head back to the studio. Lunch time was over a while ago.”
“But they can’t start without us.”
“All the more reason for us not to let them wait for us.”
They headed back to the studio.
Escaping the studios for coffee together became a frequent event for Ingrid and Arthur. One of those days Ingrid asked:
“When you kiss me, are you really kissing me or your Aphrodite?”
“I see my Aphrodite in you; so, what difference does it make?”
“It makes to me. Aphrodite is another woman, and you know how jealous women are of the other women who might share her man.”
“You have said that Aphrodite may be all in my imagination; or just a spirit, a ghost.”
“She is in your mind, and it’s your perception that matters; that’s enough to divide your attention.”
“Very clever;” Arthur smirked, “Are you jealous of Andrea?”
“A little bit at times; but I reason away the feeling by arguing that she had you first, and therefore she has the first right. It’s I who is the intruder here.”
“Does it make you feel guilty?”
“To tell you the truth Arthur, I derive a sinister pleasure out of it; experience a thrill. … I’m sure; you know the girls in High School, stealing the boyfriends of other girls even if they don’t like what they steal. Gives them a thrill of conquest.”
Arthur still did not spend all the time with Andrea, but it didn’t bother her: She felt that he was around. When he wandered in the world of woods, she would feel that she had lost him to some supernatural power.
For his part, Arthur devoted himself to this project, as he did for all his earlier projects. During the early days, he had to build his reputation; now he had to protect jt. To stay overnight at the studios was a frequent event for him always during a project; these days, he was spending the nights there more frequently. Ingrid spent all those nights at the studios also, of course.
“Has the impression of Aphrodite faded somewhat from your mind Arthur, now that you are spending so much time in intimacy with me?”
“Oh no, on the contrary, the impression of Aphrodite keeps getting deeper. I am creating you in the image of Aphrodite. …”
“You are creating me!” exclaimed Ingrid, “I thought I was already here; you noticed me and fell in love with me, and I fell in love with you; as all around us do.”
Arthur laughed a feeble laugh as if feeling pity for her. After a pause he tried to clarify: “Ingrid, I thought you were more intelligent than to confuse our intimacy with love. … We have our own motives: I am attempting to create Aphrodite; you are an instrument I see that can help me realize my goal.”
“You are using me.”
“We all use each other Ingrid.”
“I don’t think I can be intimate with a man who does not love me intensely.”
“You cannot ‘not be’ intimate with me Ingrid; we are hooked. And we shall remain hooked.”
Ingrid laughed loudly. Then, after a silent pause she suggested, “I’m in mood for a drink; …”
“Me too; let me make a couple of drinks; actually, I’d prefer … .”
“No Arthur, I’m feeling like going to a bar; let’s go.”
Arthur did not object; in fact, he was rather glad: “Now we shall not argue, and it will be relaxing.”
“Can we share cigarettes there too?” he asked rather mischievously. Ingrid just laughed a jolly laugh in response.
“I was just gauging you Arthur; I know the nature of our relationship, and I’m as comfortable with it as are you. … I know you cannot love anybody but Aphrodite; you have been searching for her forever, you have been adjusting her contours, adding the shades of color, here and there; adjusting her attire; and the list is long Arthur, Each time the change is hardly noticeable but it is profound nevertheless. Intensity has increased these days, but this is just the next stage in your love for Aphrodite; … and it will keep increasing.”
“I heard a love story, of a legendary lover couple; it is believed to be of Persian origin, may be Arabic; … doesn’t matter;” Ingrid broke the silence, “The woman was Layla and the man was known as Majnun; Majnun is actually not a name, it means ‘crazy, insane, madman, possessed by a jinn;’ people started calling him ‘Majnun,’ because he wandered abound in the woods like a madman searching for his Layla, who was later married to someone else. He wrote poetry on the city walls, the sand, and the like expressing his love and longing for Layla. …A virgin love is what it remained for life.”
Ingrid took a sip of wine, puffed on her cigarette, and passed it to Arthur; Arthur in turn, puffed on the cigarette and took her wine glass also as he passed his glass to her. Ingrid laughed feebly, “And we say we are not in love.” Arthur smiled gently.
“Are you not repeating the same story Arthur?” Ingrid asked.
“No Ingrid, each story is different.”
“But the similarity can overwhelm the differences.”
Likes of swords and flowers
pierce in diverse places
Blood spurts as flames in spring
out of heart of earth
that is between thorn and rose
dissolves into blaze
profound they remain
ever” Arthur murmured.
“What was that?” asked Ingrid.
“A poem, I read somewhere.”
The movie was completed on time. Bob congratulated and thanked Eric and Arthur. It was their hard work, particularly Arthur’s, that brought the project to its successful, in fact, gratifying, conclusion. They had a customary party, with plenty of wine. Still Ingrid and Arthur shared their wine glasses, sipping from each-other’s; and of course, shared their cigarettes.
“Does this mean our story together is ending Arthur?” asked Ingrid.
“Stories have only the beginnings Ingrid, never the endings.”
“You complete your stories that the movies and the plays are based on.”
“No, no, absolutely not Ingrid, I only abandon them, the audience thinks that the story has ended.”
“You perplex me with your philosophical twists on simple statements; you torment them.”
Arthur asked after a few moments’ pause, “You think the story I began with Aphrodite will ever end?” …
“I got my answer;” Ingrid said with a mischievous smirk.
At home, Andrea’s happiness was short-lived. It didn’t take much for Arthur to get back to his old routine: As soon as he got time, he headed back to his familiar world of woods.
Butterflies waved welcome to him by fluttering their wings; trees danced and swayed with joy; the streams sang their newly composed sonnets; and the breeze led him to his rock placed by a waterfall flowing into a stream.
Arthur was pleased to see his old friends, but his eyes were searching for Aphrodite. A little dove whispered in his ear that she was around, as eager to see him as he was to meet her.
Arthur sat on the rock watching the waterfall turning into a stream and flowing through rocks and vegetation; his eyes journeyed upstream to the hill-top; and then he saw Aphrodite sitting on a rock. Arthur said nothing; just wished her to come to him. Aphrodite jumped into the waterfall. “That’s dangerous;” he thought. But she gently slid down the fall to float in the stream to Arthur. Then she climbed out and sat beside him.
“I missed you Aphrodite.”
“Why would you miss me?”
“I always want you to be with me, and you weren’t.”
“I was always with you Arthur, as I’m with you now.”
“Why did I not see you then?”
“You saw me, held me in your arms, drank with me, and what not, Arthur.”
Arthur looked perplexed. Aphrodite clarified:
“Arthur, you transposed me on to Ingrid; you think, she was with you, but truly Arthur, it was me all the time. Ingrid had disappeared as soon as you imagined me in her; you were creating me through her, every moment. Each little stroke, each little shade, each word of each dialogue you were using to create your movie character played by Ingrid was to create me into your Aphrodite . …”
“Yes Arthur. I have no existence of my own; I’m your creation. … And your work shall never be done, you’ll be touching the figure in your mind forever.”
“Then I’ll never see my finished product.”
“That is correct.”
“This is gratifying and depressing at the same time.”
“Yes. … Let’s not spend all the time here; there are so many friends you have here; you have to catch up.”
“I see you haven’t changed a bit Aphrodite.”
“We live in a timeless world here Arthur. … .”
“I see changes even the next day I come here, new vegetation, different weather, and what not …”
“That is true, for the universe, whole universe, each speck of it is always in a perpetual state of transition; but in essence we are the same. Did you notice any change in me? Did the behavior of the butterflies change? And the falls and the streams? The swaying of the limbs of the trees? … Arthur, nature, whatever it is may change, fundamentally but there is an underlying harmony between the nature and what is in it that remains the same; they must remain in a harmonious balance; else there shall be nothing. … ”
Arthur’s eight months period had begun. All the efforts of Andrea, and Ingrid; Bob and Eric; could not dissuade him:
“I can manage without everything but not without my alternative world. Without it, I shall cease to be a writer, I’ll lose my creative abilities. My alternative world makes me what I’m in this world.”
Arthur was meeting Ingrid still. They would go for drinks together and yes, would share their wine and cigarettes.
Ingrid requested him to show her his world of woods; he refused, “It is there Ingrid, you can go but that will be your world of woods, not mine.”
“What is in that world that is not in this one?” asked Ingrid.
Arthur gave it a long thought. Then he spoke:
“This world is possessive Ingrid; the lack of freedom here is suffocating. … In that world, no one had missed me but everyone and everything met me with an enthusiasm as if nothing had changed; if you want it, it’s is here; if you don’t want it, it’s nowhere; my will and my will alone is all that matters there; no pull, no push; no force; that is the ultimate freedom Ingrid: that’s what liberates one from all the binding forces.”