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Kafka and I:

Angst for the Memories

 

Act IV: For Some

Harry lights up a joint and passes it among us.

Talk, talk, talk, is going along at breakneck speed.

I’m not sure what’s being said until, suddenly, Harry blurts out: “Hey, you want to know what life’s all about?”

Silence.

He gives it another shot: “Hey, you want to know what life’s all about?”

That is the last thing I want to know from this spaced out character.

Hanna is snuggling up to me. She’s placed her hand under my shirt and is rubbing my chest. All well and good, but I’m separated from her and the couple by my consciousness. I’m annoyed with myself. There must be a rational explanation why I’m taking part in these inane conversations. Maybe I had amnesia. Maybe it was at this very moment that I recalled my identity. Yes, that could explain it all. I didn’t believe it for a second either.

Among Hanna, Harry, and Belinda, I am a stranger—not to them but to my self. Harry keeps eyeing Hanna’s bountiful figure while talking incessantly and saying nothing. He uses the word banal in nearly every sentence. Harry has the right idea; he is banal and he’s getting on my nerves. I’m all set to let him know I think he’s a stupid prick, when I sense an odd presence in the pit of my stomach—it’s not indigestion or acid reflux.

Somehow I know this uneasy feeling is the essence of Franz Kafka. Why should I have this experience now? How do I make it work in the script? It’s so bizarre. What device should I use to portray this extraordinary event on the screen? Inner dialog? Kafka as a ghost only I can see? But I don’t want to get bogged down in the details so I relax and decide to believe my own eyes.

I let the scene happen and enjoy the Kafka klatch.

I think about The Metamorphoses, Kafka’s dreamlike story about a man who wakes up one morning to discover he has become an insect and the inevitable complications that ensue for both him and his family. This is a story about someone like my self.

Kafka used the shocking image of transforming a man into an insect as a benchmark of objectivity. The reality of changing into such a creature that we view as a thing is irrelevant. Kafka wants our attention. What is Kafka saying here? Imagine waking one morning and, for the first time in your harried life, seeing your self as you are—no lies, deceit, and no rationalizations to hide and scurry under. You are simply and truly naked for the first time—that’s his metamorphoses tale in an insect shell. I am speechless when I see that Kafka’s bug story is the metaphorical theme of my script. It is only after I have come to terms with my true self, can I know what it means to sell out.

I’m still in the living room and the embodiment of Kafka has joined us. He’s thin with smart eyes. The others, unaware of this literary time warp, go on smoking, laughing, and talking.

Yak, yak, yak.

Words. Yes, Franz, I see the contradiction. I’m better off writing and saying exactly what I don’t want to. Throw out everything I’m thinking, then begin from that empty point full of feelings. I must write honestly, or, as my master artist friend had explained in a previous scene, I’m locked out from the door to the unconscious—the wellspring of creation.

I must be honest in my writing. What the hell does that mean? My voice, my words, my thoughts, me as I would say it—given that I am saying something. Me speaking, not in an arrogant way, but in a unique way that disturbs others like a story about a human soul stuck inside an insect.

Kafka, that Jewish guy with deep ideas about the meaning of life and the mystery of God, casually squeezes himself between Hanna and my self. Maybe, if Kafka had Hanna to rub against he would lighten up.

I think: Go ahead, be my guest. Take your mind off your mind. God may have let you down, Franz, but Hanna won’t. She’s the carnal of delights. That’s her place in this script.

A word, a movement a cough, some happening has caused a rift. Time and space have shifted before Kafka got the chance to give Hanna a good feel—even if it would have been for metaphysical purposes only. The scene changes, losing focus, fading from one mirage into another. The living room has now become the set of a TV commercial.

I am aware for the first time in my life that I have a part in a TV ad. Although I have no idea who the other actors are, I remember my lines, and say them naturally, on cue, as if everything is okay. I’m selling something but I don’t know what.

I keep quiet.

But there is a lie here. It’s all somehow wrong, as there’s a conflict, a contradiction. After all, how did I know the timing, the words to this unwritten scene? My thoughts become rambunctious, unsettling. Have I become someone who has become preoccupied with weekend brunch? Have I become a middle class suburbanite? Or perhaps, I have become excessively concerned with hygiene and fashionable clothing. Can I see other stereotypes and not my own? I nearly say something, something to stop the action on the set. Fortunately, I am well trained and say nothing.

This is called acting.

An assistant director calls for a break. Now, I can relax for a moment. But time, each frame, in a movie must say something to advance the story in some way. It is my movie and I can do what I please as long as it holds together, as long as it works.

The TV sound stage evaporates with my thoughts and I’m back in the living room with Hanna, Harry, and Belinda. I’m no longer rubbing elbows with Kafka’s atoms on the literature sectional. I say something and everyone smiles. No one noticed that I had been away.

I excuse my self. The camera, the all-seeing eye, follows me as I leave the living room for the kitchen. I sit at a table scanning the job-classified section. So what are my choices? I see: marketing manager, publisher assistant, public relations whiz, telemarketer, salesman, assistant editor, associate editor, and development director to name but a few of the seemingly boundless, golden opportunities for advancement. No wonder people from other countries want to come here—there are career opportunities everywhere; you almost have to avoid them.

I toss the classified section into the garbage.
To write is what makes my day worthwhile. To paint images with words makes me feel good. To get it right is a pain in the ass and my salvation.

But I’m pulled back to more important matters.

Will Belinda make a man out of Harry? Often the best lines in a script are spoken where the story takes a turn, where a character makes a choice, where each alternative presents a different headache.

I return to the living room to learn Harry has called his mother and straightened the whole thing out. He states with bravado that he and Belinda are not going to his mother’s birthday party.

I’m impressed.

Harry, or should I call him Attila by now, has taken a stand. But what he means is that he’s going alone.

I’m no longer impressed.

Avoiding confrontation is fixing things according to Harry. Belinda stares at the ceiling, looking as if she deserves to take her place next to the discarded classified section.

Harry, who has said nothing to me all evening, suddenly leaps up, reaches behind a wall unit and pulls out a large black portfolio. He presents me with his drawings, detailed renderings of Victorian houses. I understand that I’m supposed to be impressed with his work. He leans over and whispers his secret— “I am a great artist.”
Harry’s a good draftsman with delusions of “someday I’ll do serious work”—you know the type.

Then, in a frantic hurry, he packs up the portfolio and dives into telling me a story about a male relative of his who had been living the high life dealing drugs. Harry said this relative admitted trafficking in stolen cars, but no drugs. One day this relative of Harry’s returns to their palatial home to discover his wife, eight months pregnant, has been murdered—the fetus had been cut out from inside her and placed on the floor beside her body.

“I guess they killed him afterwards,” says Harry.

I don’t try figuring out why Harry is telling me this vile, disturbing story. This scene is getting too weird for me. It’s time to move on. But Kafka, who I thought had left me, has reappeared. He waves me over and tells me that although Harry is most certainly insane, his tale of brutality has merit.

“Merit?” I ask.

“Yes, yes,” says Kafka, a bit irritated with me.

“What a telling scene. Look for the symbolism, not the graphic event. Isn’t it clear? The fetus is humanity. The unborn child has been ripped from the womb into a world without explanation, only to die prematurely before it has had a chance to live, to comprehend its purpose, its existence—not a happy ending at all. No one knows anything for sure. All of life takes place in one big hospice.”

Although Kafka seems sad, it appears he has found a way to make peace with himself.

I’m exhausted from his interpretation and take a deep breath, trying to comprehend it all. As I breathe and look around, this time it’s not Kafka’s ghost who fades from the living room.

I leave Horny Hanna, Harry, and Belinda behind, stuck in time, as I reappear at a meeting in an office suite high above Century City.

My heart is pounding. I hear the producer saying in a relieved voice to the director and the starlet, “See, I told you he was a smart kid. He sat there and listened to every revision suggestion I had without making one objection—not even to the new psychosexual scene with Hanna.”

Then, turning to me, the producer grins, saying, “A scene change here, a word change there—what’s the fucking difference. You’ve got a great future in this business. You’re a damn good writer. So, what’s it going to be?”

I don’t have to think about it.

With alchemist Kafka’s help, the acid in my stomach has been transformed into fortified nectar. I am centered, ready to stand on my mark. I have no intention of being an extra in my own movie. I will direct my self.

Lights! Camera! Action!»

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