Sunday, February 05, 2006

Ari's Oasis. 5. The Literal Man


One day a Literal Man came to see Ari. Few Literal People ever visited, as they tended not to have much use for creativity coaches, especially one hidden away in the desert. But every so often a Literal Man or Woman had a vision or epiphany and quizzically sought Ari out.

This particular Literal Man came early, spent time in Maya's shop, and learned what he already suspected, that the prices of her books were not as good as the prices he could get on the Internet. This made him smile. He always liked it when he knew a better place to buy something, whether or not he had any intention of buying that thing. He knew the best place to buy vacuum cleaners, the best place to have business cards printed, the best place to buy Irish linen and Icelandic sweaters. There was nothing in Maya's shop that looked to be a good price.

At the appointed time he made his way down the narrow corridor and entered Ari's consulting room.

"You charge a very reasonable rate," he said by way of greeting. Ari waved him to a seat. "I think you could charge much more, if you wanted,” he continued. “Psychiatrists where I live charge three times what you charge. Business consultants charge five times as much. If they have books published and have been on t.v., ten times more. You've been on t.v.?"

Ari nodded.

"There!" the Literal Man exclaimed.

"You're charging too little."

"Well, but they have different goals," Ari replied. "They are trying to help people. My goal is to disappoint my clients. So I charge less."

The Literal Man stared at Ari for a moment. Then he grinned from ear to ear. "You're making fun of me!" he said. "I guess I seem much less interesting than your usual clients. I have no talents, no dreams, no aspirations. All I really want is a comfortable retirement. Did I mention that my mutual funds are doing very well?"

"No."

"They are! They went up eighteen percent last year. I could have done a lot better if I had taken a more aggressive route, but I figured, I'm not a lucky person, so I decided to stay with my mixed portfolio that's on the conservative side."

"That seems wise."

"I'm not greedy. That eighteen percent didn't disappoint me."

"Good. I hope you won’t be disappointed in the future, either."

"Thank you. I've been very happy so far. There were a few bad quarters, but then the market bounced back."

"That was very nice for you."

The Literal Man paused. "You haven't asked me why I came to see you.”

"I presume that you'll tell me when you’re ready."

"And if I hadn't? You would have let me go without getting to it?"

"I would have asked you once or twice, probably."

"Of course! Just a little nudge, because it's my responsibility."

"Exactly."

"But just the tiniest nudge? So tiny that I might hardly notice?"

"No. I would have wrestled you to the ground and beaten the truth out of you."

"You're making fun of me!" the Literal Man said, smiling. "I know I'm not interesting like your other clients. That goes without saying!"

Ari laughed. "You take such pride in not being interesting! I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone take such pride in anything! You are a prouder man than my most celebrated clients!"

This confused the Literal Man. He opened his mouth to speak but had to close it, as there were several large flies buzzing about the room.

"You're still making fun of me," he said after a while. Only now he wasn't smiling.

"Only because you like it so much!" Ari exclaimed. "I aim to please!"

"You're still joking. I don't think you're going to stop joking with me."

"Certainly not until you stop joking with me."

The Literal Man put his head in his hands. It was an odd gesture and reminded Ari of Death of a Salesman.

"I'm ready to ask," Ari said. "What brings you here?"

The Literal Man looked up. "I had a dream. In the dream, my older brother was persecuting me. He always did that, so there was nothing surprising there. What was surprising was that in the dream I was potter. I was a Navajo potter on a reservation. I've been there myself, in New Mexico, near Sante Fe, where you go into their houses and they have a little store in the back of their house, where they sell their pottery to tourists. It's not the way to get the best price, but it's very interesting, to see them like that and to talk to them. So, I was the potter, I made those black pots--you know?"

"Yes."

"I had a wife--or maybe a daughter. She tended to customers while I inscribed the pots. It was like, I was doing the inscribing for the sake of the pot, but I was also on display, I was like someone in the window of a department store who's doing something real but who's also there for show. You know what I mean?"

"Yes."

"I woke up very frightened. Actually, nothing much happened in the dream. There was something about the animals I was carving into the pots, the serpents and that sort of lizard--"

"A gecko?"

"Right! And antelope ... it was all very disturbing."

The Literal Man finished. Ari waited.

"Well, what do you think the dream meant?" the Literal Man asked.

"I apologize, but I don't interpret dreams."

"But you do! You wrote a whole book on dream interpretation. That's one of the reasons I came to see you!"

"You're mistaken. I wrote a book about creating while you sleep. In it I said that people had to interpret their own dreams."

The Literal Man looked disappointed, even crestfallen.

Ari smiled. "There!" he exclaimed. "I've managed to disappoint you. You came with very few expectations but I managed not even to meet those!"

The Literal Man made a small sound. "Should I go now? Can I get a partial refund? I mean, it's only been a third of the time."

"No. I'm going to make some tea and you're going to tell me about the great project you want to begin."

The Literal Man recoiled as if shot. "I have no such project in mind! What do you mean? I work for the government. I have a very responsible job. I don't innovate. To try something new I'd have to put in a 2840, that's a form we have for making suggestions and changing procedures--"

"Hush," Ari said. "Let me make some tea. We'll have it with lemon. The lemon is off the tree right there, the one you can see through the open door. You see the lemon tree?"

"Yes."

"Good! Be quiet for a moment and think about how your brother persecuted you. Then we'll talk about you becoming a great artist."

"I can't--"

"Hush!" Ari said affectionately. "Let me get the kettle up. Then we'll do some real dreaming!"

4 comments:

Janet said...

I love the kindness of Ari's encounter with the Literal Man: patient, knowing and ultimately attending to that frightened little creator inside him. Somehow the lemon tree added such freshness to the frightened man's unveiling. We can all begin to create at any time along the way...
Thanks, Eric!
Janet

denbe said...

I have read this episode several times, and, not wanting to be the Literal Woman, feel there's something profound to be gleaned from this sweet parable. I'm still pondering the meaning(s)...

Anonymous said...

I have really really enjoyed these last two entries. I am liking Ari very much, and being very amused by his encounters.

Kayll said...

This is such a wonderful story, Eric. I see a lot of myself in it. I think we spend so much time trying to convince ourselves that we aren't creative or unique - that we aren't writers or artists. Why? Because it's easier that way.

It's much easier to hide in the proverbial cave of fear than to rush out and tackle the creative tiger pacing at the cave's mouth. In the cave, we feed off our dreams, but they still leave us hungry. I want to hear what wonders the Literal Man will create. ;)