The second step on how to become a writer, and it’s a big one, truly gargantuan, is to enroll on your birthday as a member of The Registry of Sexual Offense, the truly unique House That Kafka-built bureaucratic institution in American life that isn’t about sex at all and boasts a membership of almost one million (although no one really knows the official tally because its computed with an abacus) and keeps on growing, growing and growing. The Registry is a towering stone fortress of paranoia, digital databases, rotary phones and oppressive marginalization resting atop a granite mountain covered in dirty snow. No one can see the complex or the mountain. There is no road leading to it. Not a single investigative print or television reporter has crept inside for an expose. No mellifluous NPR voices seeking social justice. No Angela Davis fomenting for reform. No Neil Young singing a protest song. Documentary filmmakers would rather document serial murderers. Not a single aspiring writer ever belonging to the Registry has ever escaped, let alone written a published word chronicling his or her membership.
That could change with you. You might really become a writer and publish a book, although Lorrie Moore only mentions writing, not book publishing. Can you become a writer and not publish a book? Ms. Moore needs to write a sequel, but then again, she is famous and has a guaranteed publisher of her books.
Perhaps the word “Kafka” in a previous paragraph threw you off a bit. You don’t know what it means? Is it a person? An architect? A famous ball player who ate a lot of hot dogs and ran around with showgirls?
Kafka was, in fact, a writer of conspiring bureaucratic nightmares, including the expensive, endless, expanding and increasingly privatized American institution called probation, although that would be impossible because Kafka was never on probation for a sex offense in the American criminal justice system and therefore couldn’t possibly have written so accurately about it.
But he did, because he was a magnificent writer, a universal one.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Probation as a sex offender is your golden ticket into the pantheon of literary immortals where fine whiskey, awards and fellowships are served up by admiring supplicants. Your tour de force is dangling right in front you like a man swaying in a gallows with a neon-colored noose around his broken neck. Listen to it creak!
Why, you ask, this golden ticket? Because no writes for publication about probation, particularly as a sex offender. No one. There are no television shows or films about probation (except that sexy one starring George Clooney and J Lo); there are no true crime books about it; there are no thrilling novels of probation with an unforgettable protagonist who demonstrates intelligence, compassion, debonair, eccentricity or a lethal fighting skill. There are, however, shows of dumb bounty hunters and profane repo men.
Probation. Probation. Probation. How could you not write about what you observe in the weekly group meetings? The man who doesn’t exist; the man living under a bridge; the AARP man who rides a skateboard; the man with the boats and cars who lost it all to meth; the man who mends fishing nets; the man carrying around his prescription opiod and pyschotropic medications in pill bottles as his only viable for of identity; the locksmith!
And that was just one meeting! The first bestseller in this nation’s literary history with probation in the narrative mix is practically writing itself! You may even miss when probation is over. But of course, in The Registry, it is never over. Kafka got that right.
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