In this story a guy who got hooked on eating chalk had a girlfriend whose dog abused him. That’s right. The dog abused the guy. What a mixed up world. The dog peed on his shoes. It chewed on his shoes like a dog from many popular media (television, movies) will sometimes do. The dog doled out abuse to the guy the same way a dog doles out kisses to a sweaty human. In short, this guy was really getting it from this dog. But he loved the girl, so he was willing to endure these tiny travesties. But, in a further twist, he did occasionally fantasize about what revenge on the dog would look like. He thought about kicking the dog out the window and the sound that the dog might make, assuming it did not strike a passerby on foot or bike, when it made contact with the slightly grainy cement of the sidewalk. He wasn’t a bad guy, and he didn’t act on any fantasies that he might have had about setting out a trail of cartoon sausage links that ran into traffic, so that the dog would gulp them in quick succession, while they remained linked——gulp them, and gulp them until he came directly into the path of a cement mixer. Even though he’d developed a psychological dependence on eating chalk in this story, and sometimes thought about visiting the bayou and pitting the dog against an alligator, he really wasn’t a rotten guy, which you saw because he loved the girl in the story, whose name, improbably, was Lacey. He hid his love of chalk from her, which isn’t a good practice in a relationship. Relationships should be founded on trust, and hiding something as important to you as eating chalk was to this guy . . . well, that’s not healthy. Overall though, a pretty alright guy, this guy.
I showed my wife this story and she objected to the guy having all these fantasies about doing harm to this dog.
“But the guy,” I said, “the guy is really getting it from the dog. I mean, if you saw the sheer volume of urine the dog unleashed on this guy’s nice leather shoes, crepe soled leather shoes, you’d feel the same way about the dog that the guy did.”
“That’s another problem I have with the story,” my wife said. “You spent a lot of time on the dog’s urine. I don’t want to know about dog urine at all. And I don’t want to know about the volume, scent, coloration, or viscosity of any creature’s urine.”
“Not even if one of our children had perpetually thick, green urine? Not even if all our children had perpetually thick, green urine?” I said the previous with raised eyebrows to indicate what a strong point I’d made.
“I don’t want to spend more time in this conversation, for the same reason I don’t want to spend any more time in the world of that story, with its focus on a protagonist that considers doing harm to dogs, and with its preoccupation with the taxonomical characteristics of dog urine. The reason is that it’s gross and unpleasant. I feel like the story doesn’t want me to read it. Like I’m walking in through the door of the story, but there the story is on the other side of the door pushing back against me, trying to keep me out.”
I saw her point, but now I was thinking, “It’s on.” I responded:
“So the story is a thing that you can walk into, like it’s a house. But it’s also a person inside the house that will bar the door and keep you out. You’re muddling your metaphors, which as a writer is something that matters a lot to me. Clear communication and un-muddled metaphors. It’s like the basic level for me as a writer.”
“But this is real life,” my wife said. “And I talk in occasionally mixed metaphors with imperfect grammar, and have an honest reaction to things like people wanting to hurt dogs.”
I said, “But it’s a fictional world. You walk through the turnstiles and you’re somewhere else, and the rules are a little bit different. In this world, this guy isn’t so bad. He doesn’t actually hurt the dog, anyway. He just thinks about it, but is prevented by love. He’s willing to deny himself for love.”
“So why can’t you,” my wife said, ”deny yourself for love, and write a story where a guy doesn’t want to hurt small domestic pets and get them run over by cement mixers and stuff? Maybe you could do that.”
I took a deep breath and adjusted my beanie, pulling it down towards the reappearing pimple in the middle of my forehead, hoping that if I covered it up, my wife would have to take me seriously. But pulling the beanie down far enough to cover up the pimple made me look just as, if not more, ridiculous.
“Characters who fantasize about getting revenge against vindictive dogs are my aesthetic jam,” I said
“Your aesthetic jam is like a cheese grater applied to the face of my aesthetic sensibilities,” my wife said.
I said, “The story uses that guy to represent something that the story doesn’t affirm. The story doesn’t think it’s good that the guy wants to hurt the dog. By making a comic figure of the guy, the story argues in favor of not fantasizing about hurting dogs.”
“But I still had to read about a guy using a quote ‘juicy steak’ to lead the dog into a quote ‘really scary funhouse’ where the dog would suffer a massive coronary. Why do you want me to put that into my brain? What’s up with that? What’s wrong with you?”
So I tried to write something my wife would like. I changed the stuff about the guy wishing the dog would follow the artfully thrown chew toy into the dryer, and that the rest would be history. I changed all that stuff because I love my wife. I made the story about a guy who’s grown psychologically dependent on eating chalk, and who’s also in love with his girlfriend’s dog, and tolerates her presence in order to be close to the dog.
I showed it to my wife, and she didn’t like that story either.