The Toki Ponist on the Mountain
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“I want to write a bible,” I say, while go-karts rush by in silence on the track below. I rest my head on the thick soundproof plexiglass.
“A bible? Really, Joakim. Who do you think you are? Buddha Jesus?” Elsbeth says.
She treats me to a magnificent display of frowns.
“Let me just say I am surprised. Amused maybe, or bemused. Who would read it? Or follow your cult? You lack all the egotistic megalomaniacal false grandeur you need to start one. You haven’t even driven one of those go-karts in your life.”
“Nor did Jesus.”
I look down at the winding raceway. The fake glass is only a thin veil between me and a smelly, noisy, and underlit hall full of testosterone.
“A bible is nothing more than an origin story of the universe and of a people. You add in some life hacks and rules to live by. Spice it up with a few songs and poems and end it all with a few outlandish dreams. Who says anyone has to follow me or read it? It will just be a legacy to my offspring.”
“You have no kids!”
“I might someday.”
Elsbeth takes a tremendous tug from her beer, coating her upper lip with a sparkling, vanishing, foamy mustache.
“This is just another one of your awful ideas.”
“Let me break it down for you. Wikipedia now tells us most of that stuff. Laws tell us what we can do and blogs tell us how to be happy. So all that remains of your bible is a scrap book brimming with unimaginative drivel.”
Drops of water on the varnished wooden table separating me and Elsbeth steal my attention. With my finger, I connect the droplets and give it one last try.
“Look, it will be fictional, okay? I will not write about the big bang, or my goddamn family history. Frankly, I have no idea yet what it will be. Maybe something about languages? It’s going to be a myth, okay?”
“A myth is a female moth. Read it somewhere.”
She finished her drink.
“And languages, you say? Why are you even telling me this? You know I thrash all your ideas?”
“Just making conversation. Hoping to get some quality advice from my biggest critic.”
“Don’t make it true to life.” Elsbeth sat up. “Most books, and shows are crap. But I enjoy them. Here’s the deal. Every character needs some big secret from their past. It will guide their every move, but the audience doesn’t know yet. It comes back to haunt them, and it will make them do something stupid when they are most needed. You know, when they are forced to show allegiance to either side in a conflict. One of the good guys turns sour or one of the bad guys turns out to have a soft spot for kittens. Oh, and your characters need to lie. All the time. They have their reasons. They want to protect a loved one or want to solve a problem themselves without being a burden to anyone. At some point the truth comes out or people open up to each other. This helps nothing, though. The characters feel betrayed, and out of anger they make a huge decision to never see each other again or to date the other guy that’s even worse. Once things cool down, the other person has moved on and remains offended by the overreaction, and so everyone is out-of-sync in a perpetual loop of lies, secrets and indignation. Then the biggest secret comes out just at the end of season one. After that season two and onward either become too contrived or more of the same.”
Elsbeth slaps her hands together with her index fingers, squeezing the tip of her nose.
“That, my friend, is not your life. Your most exciting experience is that one time they forgot to put cheese on your double cheeseburger.”
I nod and draw a semicircle, followed by a few straight and squiggly lines that form a pleasant, closed shape.
“They also forgot the bacon.”
Sometimes, shapes and objects just ring true.
“Perhaps I’ll start my book by describing how stupid most stories are and then tell a tale about honest well-meaning people.”
“They all have good intentions, even the bad guys. From their perspective, at least. Their reasons are valid for lying. And they think they’re honest and are serving some greater good.”
Elsbeth glances at her nurse’s watch. “It’s about time to race…”
“And no! You never put meta-stuff at the start of a book. Are you going to tell the audience they get to read a hero’s journey again? Your project will be dead in the water.”
“Probably,” I get up.
“It would be something though.” Elsbeth spreads her hands as if setting the stage. “This conversation would be such a classic start of a story. Boy who is introduced as having an uneventful meaningless life sets out on a great adventure.”
An announcer calls for our group to assemble in the preparation hall downstairs.
“All your story needs is a tragic event to set your protagonist onto a path of self-discovery.”
While we are waiting in a dimly lit and gasoline rich hall for instructions, Elsbeth, with a cheeky smile, ad-libs a possible opening to my story.
“Unrelated, in the central region of The Netherlands, a powerful storm envelopes a modest Dutch town. The night is visiting a typical, uninteresting neighborhood. Time drips on, still refusing the onset of dawn. A dim glow pours out of a small room into a dusty hallway. On a wooden desk a laptop is ajar. Light from its display floods several scribbled notes. While the computer is hushed, it is not asleep. It is doing background tasks, and a webpage fills its screen. The web document tells its own tale in passive silence by displaying a particular word list.”
These are the very last words I hear her say. Twelve laps later a rogue cable rips off her helmet, freeing her wild, long, blonde hair. Another kart overtakes her in the sharp bend. Its engine belt eats up Elsbeth’s hair, scalping her left side. Muffled screams and yelps disappear in the roaring ambience. A crash into the guard rail puts her to a sudden stop. It happens right in front of my eyes as I brake to a halt. Vehicles close in on me from all sides.
And while staff rushes in, I can’t help but ponder the familiar shape formed by those water droplets.
open,” I mumble.