Aine Ni Mhaoileoin, An Artist is his own Fault

During my MA at NUI Galway, I was lucky enough to meet with many established authors and artists as part of a weekly writer’s seminar. Hearing their wisdom about the world of writing and publishing proved to be an inspiring and fruitful exercise. As part of the course, I also attended the wonderful Cúirt festival in Galway. The following pieces are part of a series I wrote in response to these experiences and the advice I received.

             ‘An artist is his own fault.’ — John O’Hara

I

O’ Hara was a writer who couldn’t write. Every day he got down on his knees and prayed to God that this would be the day he created his masterpiece. He prayed so fervently that the Lord took pity and sent an angel to guide him. O’Hara was astonished when the winged being materialised as he sat at his desk.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am the answer to your prayers,” the angel answered.

Annoyed that the trespasser would mock him so, O’Hara immediately took a shotgun from his drawer. He fired one shot and the form disappeared, leaving behind a smattering of sparkling particles. Relieved, he resumed his work. After several unproductive hours, O’Hara gave up and retired for the evening.

The next morning, O’Hara got down on his knees as usual and prayed to God that this would be the day he created his masterpiece. Then he went to his desk where he struggled to finish even a paragraph. For a second time, a mysterious form appeared by his side. Again he was shocked so he did what any sane person would do in the circumstances. He aimed, fired and scattered the trespasser. Relieved, he resumed working. After several unproductive hours, O’Hara gave up and retired for the evening.

On the third day, O’Hara implored the Lord to help him write his masterpiece. He went to his desk and hoped he would not be rudely interrupted today and that he would be able to write in peace. He placed his gun on the desk, just in case. Yet again, he was disturbed to see a strange figure materialise in the room.

“That does it, can’t you see I’m trying to create here?” he yelled, and without waiting for an answer, he took aim and shot the interloper.

Once again, the figure disappeared. Relieved, he resumed working. After several unproductive hours, O’Hara gave up and retired for the evening.

God was surprised when the angel returned to him at the end of the three days.

“Why aren’t you helping O’Hara?” he asked.

The angel shrugged.

“Father, I tried three times in three days. Every time he saw me, he took out a weapon and shot me.”

“Did you tell him it was I who sent you?”

“I did, Father; he didn’t want to listen.”

God sighed and dismissed the angel, who was relieved to be free of this particular mission.

The next morning, when O’Hara got down on his knees to pray for a miracle, God leaned over and switched the channel on his pray-o-meter.

“It’s your own fault,” he said.

When you get exactly what you asked for,
don’t throw it away – impressions of Some Girls,
Cúirt

II

Maxwell invented a new immersive style of method acting that earned him great renown. When the powers that be decided to remake the film Jesus Christ, Superstar, Maxwell was the obvious choice for the role of Jesus. The contract was signed and Maxwell began preparing for what he considered to be the most important character he would ever play.

He ceased all hair maintenance. Within weeks he had sprouted a substantial, somewhat raggedy beard. His hair grew long and lustrous and he took to wearing white robes and leather sandals.  His friends laughed at first but after listening to his Word, they too began to don flowing cloaks. When they entered a room people would stare. He would sit for hours among strangers telling them stories of salvation.

He began to visit the sick in hospital and the patients were cheered by his presence. A man in the A&E waiting room got up and walked out after meeting Maxwell. But not before telling a nurse that his flu symptoms had disappeared and he realised that there were people worse off than him. Maxwell’s friends cheered and spread the good news of the man’s miraculous recovery. Maxwell smiled serenely, feeling good about his newfound healing powers.

One day he bought a loaf of bread and distributed breadcrumbs to homeless people in the city. His followers were awed by his ability to feed so many from something so small.

Right before the film premiere, he attended a party for the cast and crew. They ate and drank until three o’clock in the morning from the bountiful spread provided by the production company.

When the wine ran out, Maxwell stood up. He knew what to do. They asked his co-star Mary to bring him some water. He meditated upon the bottle of water for a couple of moments before announcing that he had secured enough wine for everyone. There was loud applause and merriment as the wine was passed around. They all rejoiced in Maxwell’s abilities, except Thomas, who thought he must have gotten the dregs of the bottle for his portion was very watery altogether.

The film was a hit. Maxwell was lauded for his commitment to the role and was tipped for a prestigious golden award. Everyone agreed that Maxwell was the best Jesus that ever was. During an interview, he said that he would not be able to accept a golden statue if he won as it was a sin to worship false icons. His director fumed inwardly. An insult like that could offend Hollywood royalty and scupper their chances.

“Aha, he jokes of course,” he told anyone who would listen.

In the end, the film was nominated for three awards. The director threw a party at his lake-house to celebrate. The entire cast and crew ate, drank, bopped and popped in jubilation until the early hours of the morning. Maxwell preached about the fallacious nature of prize-giving. The director grew tired of his star and ejected him from the house.

Having nowhere to go, Maxwell walked toward the lake. As he stepped into the water, he was astounded to find that it felt solid beneath his feet. He grew more confident and went further out. The party stragglers watched in amazement as he appeared to walk on water. They ran inside to call everyone to witness the miracle. The director guffawed as he told them of the concealed stepping stones underneath the surface. Disappointed, they went back out to warn Maxwell that the stepping stones ended after the first three feet of water, but he was nowhere to be seen. Shrugging they presumed he had returned to shore and caught a taxi.

Three days later, there was still no sign of Maxwell, the greatest method actor of all time.

“Don’t believe the hype. Always separate the art
from the artist.” ConTempo workshop

III

Nolan was in the middle of writing her first novel. She had been at it for twelve years. People would ask her about it when she was at the shops, or at mass, or at the cinema, or at the races, or at sports events, or at the beach, or at parties, or at the pub, or at the swimming pool.

“How’s the novel coming?”

“Great, great,” she would answer, “if only I had more time.”

Nolan was stressed out. She couldn’t sleep the night before so she had lay in bed watching movies. The sun had come up just as her eyelids closed. She found it hard to get up the next day. When she did get up she needed several cups of coffee before she awoke fully.

When she had been thoroughly caffeinated she thought about her novel and the next step. She went to her desk and turned on the computer which was old so took a few minutes to start up. Nolan decided to do the dishes while she was waiting. As she was putting the dishes away, she realised that the cupboard needed to be organised. So she took everything out, and washed it out. In doing this she realised that it would make more sense to move the saucepans to a bigger cupboard. So she emptied the contents of another cupboard and swapped things around until she could fit everything in neatly.

Her stomach growled as she worked so she decided to take a break for lunch although it was long past lunch time. She looked in the fridge. It was full of fresh vegetables and salad ingredients. But Nolan didn’t fancy a salad today and the vegetables would take too long to cook. She decided to go the shops to get bacon and eggs and bread. That way she could make a quick bacon and egg sandwich and get back to work faster.

After getting dressed and applying some make-up, Nolan set off for the shops on her bicycle. A short hour later, she had gotten everything she needed and was ready to return home. She had had a lovely chat with Mrs Dwyer who lived in the next village and had accepted an invitation to dinner the following week. She set off on her bicycle and was home by four o’clock. The bacon and egg sandwich was delicious and gave her just the energy she needed to begin writing.

As she was eating she noticed that the plants outside her kitchen window needed some attention. She nipped outside to water them. While she was out there, she spotted some nasty weeds in the flower beds. She bent to pick them out. It seemed the more she picked the more she saw. Two hours later she returned inside. She washed her hands and then finished sorting out the cupboards. By the time this was done she was exhausted and poured a large glass of wine as a reward.

“Just the one,” she told herself.

At eight o’clock, Nolan went in to her office and began to write. The words flowed easily and after an hour she had completed two full pages. She was hungry again so decided to make a quick snack.

She still didn’t fancy salad so she looked in the freezer where she found a nice piece of salmon. It would take a while to defrost so while she was waiting, she phoned her sister. They hadn’t spoken in a while and Nolan enjoyed the catch-up. After hanging up, she prepared the salmon by adding lemon, dill and breadcrumbs. While it was cooking she watched television. There was a film on about a serial killer who preyed on spinsters living alone. Nolan was hooked right away and when her dinner was ready she ate it in front of the television.

When the film ended, Nolan returned to her writing desk. The computer had switched to sleep mode so while she was waiting for it to come back on, she took the opportunity to organise the bookshelf and give it a dusting. With that done she returned to her novel. It was only then that she realised she had not saved the work from earlier. It was gone. She searched frantically through all her files. She entered keywords. She called the help centre who told her to switch it off and back on again. Unfortunately, this didn’t work either. Her work was gone.

Devastated, she could not bring herself to reproduce what she had done earlier. She dragged herself to the bedroom and crawled under the duvet. But she couldn’t sleep. She was too agitated by the loss of her work. So she switched on the small television in the corner and allowed the comforting drone of an American crime drama accompany her into the night.

The next day, Nolan had a funeral to attend in town. Afterwards, everyone was invited for refreshments in the parish hall. Although she didn’t have the time, Nolan knew it would be considered rude not to attend. Over tea and sandwiches, people asked about her novel.

“How’s the book coming along?”

“Great, great,” she answered, “if only I had more time.”

“Prioritise your writing. Don’t let unimportant things
like the dishes get in the way.” Geraldine Mills

Aine Ni Mhaoileoin is a writer based in Co. Galway, Ireland. She completed her MA in Writing at NUIG in 2016. Her work has appeared in Ad Hoc Fiction, The Galway Review, Dodging The Rain, and Sin. She is a co-founder and editor of Dodging The Rain, and in her spare time, she writes drama, fiction, and the odd poem.

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