To be fair, everyone did warn me not to attend Miskatonic University's program of Creative and Arcane Writing. As a young artist, you shouldn't expose yourself to an environment where the aesthetic could influence and overshadow your own voice.
But Miskatonic Univerisity? I applied on a whim -- it was a dream school -- and I was so surprised when they made me an offer that I felt like I couldn't say no. Maybe I should've taken it as an omen that the acceptance letter was handwritten on velum in church Latin. I had to ask a priest to translate it for me. As soon as he did, he told me to leave the church and never return. It was good, I suppose, that I didn't tell him I was baptized Lutheran.
Despite it's reputation, Arkham is actually a quite beautiful college town. Sort of like Iowa City, except more ominous. But, like Iowa City, enough people have written about it, so I'll skip over that part. There's nothing more banal than going on about the setting of a small college town.
My neighbor was the first clue that I had made a mistake. She was sitting on the wide, porch of a dilapidated Victorian house with pealing white paint. She was writing. On a Goddamn typewriter.
That wasn't the worst part. She wore Buddy Holly glasses a plaid skirt and was smoking Parliaments. She had a glass of wine next to her and ravens cawed from rickety fence.
I introduced myself and she took a moment to finish a line before looking up. Without smiling or saying her name, she asked if I was in the workshop. Yes, I said. She sneered a little. "You look like a writer," she said. I chose to ignore that one.
"What are you writing?" I asked her.
"An account of strange and terrible events following the disappearance of my roommate, a medical student at the University," she took a drag from her cigarette. "I'm haunted," she said, matter-of-factly.
"Oh," I said. Then I noticed a copy of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum sitting next to her, in Italian, I noted, and decided to leave.
The workshop was unique. The first person on deck was a young man from Washington State named Venable, and god help you if you called him "Ven." I tried. I really did. I read and reread it half a dozen times, taking careful notes, and spent several hours putting together a letter that I hoped would be helpful to the author. The best I could tell, it was a surrealist allegorical story written like a dense biology paper about the physiology of some ancestor of the modern crocodile and somehow from the point of view of a virus that was slowly killing it.
The other workshoppers fared no better. Interpretations were across the board, ranging from bipartisan politics to dramas of the midwestern, suburban, nuclear family. I didn't see any of that, but I've been accused of being too literal in my analysis.
All throughout the discussion in our cramped, smoke-filled, stuffy room, Venable just smirked and chain smoked sweet-smelling hand-rolled cigarettes. He didn't take a single note. When it was finished, he shook his head and said, "None of you got it," then walked out of the room without another word. Our revered, ancient, and incomprehensible professor, who slept through the discussion, watched Venable leave, then nodded and told us to "meditate on this."
In a desperate gambit to connect, I invited the workshop out for drinks. Half of them decided to join me. The others muttered something about "teetotaler" and "degeneracy" before walking out after Venable and the professor. We went down the street to a dive bar that looked promising and found the place empty save the bartender who looked a little like Peter Lorre.
Apparently, the others didn't quite grasp that "going out for drinks" was code for "socializing" because as soon as everyone had ordered they scattered to the corners to glare into their glasses. Only one guy, Reginald, decided to sit with me.
"So," I said, going for the only sure common ground we would have, "what do you write?"
Reginald was dressed in a grey suit. He smoked a pipe and wore enormous black glasses. Actually, everyone seemed to be wearing the same Woody Allen glasses. "I'm writing out the entirety of the New York Times from March 21st to the 28th, 2012. It should take me the full two years of the program."
"So, getting to work on the thesis early then, eh?" I said. He didn't laugh. "Why that week?"
"Because it's when I started."
"Um... why are you writing out the entirety of that one issue of the New York Times?"
"Because, there are no new stories. The only true innovation is regurgitation. Creativity is pretense. My goal is to completely purge myself of creativity by the time I'm done here." He held up his brandy, drank, and then left without saying goodbye.
I thought I was going to transfer until I realized that I now have a goldmine of material. But the storms, which grow every day in frequency and intensity, and the robed and chanting mobs are starting to unnerve me. They talk about the end times and the Deep Ones waking from their dead slumbers. I fear that there is not much time. But, then, I've always worked best with a deadline.