The Pen of Plenty

(or A Portrait of an Artist as the Entire Universe)

Part I

“Take this, Boris! May it serve you well,” the booming voice commands. A hand, holding a shining writing implement, extends towards me.

I was all of thirteen years old when the Hand from Above bestowed the Pen of Plenty upon me.

“You shall be my voice! I shall speak through you with this pen. You shall be a conduit to that Other Reality—the one inhabited by Eternal Truths, Ineffable Questions, Infinite Beauty—and through you mankind will be allowed to catch a glimpse of this Alternate Realm. From this pen, an inexhaustible flow of Magic shall spring forth effortlessly. Every letter, every word, every sentence that will come out of this pen will be a fathomless well of meaning, a miracle of exquisiteness shimmering with such blinding celestial light that it will rival, if not surpass, the radiance of the Sun itself. You will not be able to help begetting incomparable, immortal works of unbounded perfection, each one greater and more immaculate than the one before. You will only be able to produce sublime, inexpressible, unique creations—nothing else will emerge from the pen.

When you write, magic will crackle around your every word for all of the Cosmos’ energy will be concentrated into them. Words will offer themselves to do all of your bidding, begging to satisfy your desires, arranging themselves into heavenly patterns never beheld before, contorting themselves into impossible, forbidden shapes, so that people will look in astonishment at your writings and wonder: “How did he ever come up with that?” Gleaming words will parade around you, competing to catch your attention with displays of their allure; some will even shed their shabby clothing that has been worn out by millennia of countless overuse, and stand before you in all of their natural radiant glory, revealing their most intimate secrets, their innermost meanings, just so that they could be immortalised in your creations. When you write, The Universe and Life will prostrate themselves before you, bending over backwards just to accommodate you. It will be as if you had found a way to shape the immutable laws of physics and fate, so that rather than you being controlled and constricted by them it will be they who will be wielded by you.

There is a price to pay. You will renounce normal life in return. You will be unable to smile, laugh, love, pursue ordinary human activities. You will only be able to write—writing alone shall be your existence. The pen will torment you, inundating you with a ceaseless deluge of words and ideas that will demand every instant of your life and threaten your very sanity. Yet, avoiding using the pen will be a torture just as agonising, for you will be burdened by misery, guilt and unease every moment that you spend apart from it. And so, you will not be able to live without the pen, no matter how much it drains you emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically.

This pen shall be the flame that will illuminate the deepest strata of the Inner and Outer Universes, revealing mysteries as yet unfathomable by mankind, exposing truths and vistas never before perceived by the human mind. Your writings will capture and portray every permutation, manifestation and aspect of life; bring clarity and enlightenment to humanity; reveal the internal framework of existence; help people get in touch with their inner selves and find their identity—yet you shall remain forever lost, confused, at odds with the world; cut off from mankind, incapable of connecting with others except in a fleeting, meaningless way; only able to experience reality at some remove; a hopeless outsider, misfit, pariah, freak, oddball, weirdo drifting aimlessly, helplessly through existence, a jellyfish in the ocean of life.

Not only will you be unable to fit into the outer world, you will never be at peace with yourself and your inner world either. You will exist in a state of permanent self-alienation, incapable of relating to or understanding your own thoughts, emotions, desires, needs, frustrations, actions; forever out of step and out of rhyme with yourself; unable to identify with and make contact with your innermost self, with your very essence. You will be cut off from your own existence, forever watching it unfold from a distance. You will be incapable of directly feeling your own feelings and will only experience them as an outside observer. There will always be an impenetrable wall between you and your emotions; you will be detached from and numb to your own happiness, sadness, pain, anger, needs, desires…

Out of this pen will spurt life-giving fluids that will bring into being an infinity of uniquely wondrous realities, yet you yourself will be a mere metaphor, an empty shell of a shadow, never being able to feel real, concrete, authentic. The worlds you engender will be suffused with sensation and meaning, while your outer reality will be drab, pedestrian, senseless by comparison.

This pen shall speak with a thousand voices, educing hysterical laughter, uncontrollable tears, twisting minds into Möbius strips, creating transcendental, overpowering beauty that will stop people dead in their tracks, dumbfounded with awe, even if they have had but a fleeting contact with it; beauty such that it will annul and make redundant all other beauty that had ever come before it or will ever come after it; beauty so pure and absolute it could never have been created by a finite being; such unnatural, unbounded beauty that it should not be possible for it to exist in this imperfect physical realm, thus leading mankind to believe that it fell by accident from the Celestial Sphere. Yet you will be blind and deaf to the unique power of your creations, never seeing their magic or comprehending the way they move others. You will feel neither pride nor pleasure in your work, for you will know you are only a conduit, a mere tool, an appendage to the pen, existing solely to move it across paper and to enable it to express itself.

This pen shall be the bathyscaphe within which you will descend to the lowest abysses not yet reached by man, and it shall be the alpenstock with which you will ascend to the highest heights not yet scaled by mankind. The world will laugh at you, ostracise, scorn, misunderstand, persecute you for destroying its most cherished delusions and for making it confront hard, bitter, raw truths hitherto unknown, denied or suppressed. The world will embrace, adore, worship, laud you for being a genius of the highest order and for bringing such joy, beauty and wisdom to it through your creations of wonder. But you will remain numb, frozen inside, unmoved by love or by loathing.

You shall move solely within the realm of the Infinite, Eternal, Universal. You will not know how to be young, yet you will not grow old and will stay a man-child, for, by not partaking in the external world, you shall be free of its deleterious, defiling effects.

Even though this is a Pen of Creative Cornucopia, one day it shall run out and will write no more. Consequently, writing will be the hardest and most terrifying task of your existence, for you will be forever insecure, not knowing how the pen operates or when it will stop working.

If you accept this pen, it can never be disowned—you will never be able to rid yourself of it.”

The voice stopped.

I waited a while for it to resume, but it remained silent. Then, with childish, reckless eagerness, I extended my hand upwards to meet the hand reaching down from above, caring not at all about the consequences of letting the floodgates burst open and getting engulfed by boundless, inexhaustible creativity; heedless of what I was getting myself into or what I might be sacrificing.

Part II

The Writer sits in his room, creating at his desk. He has access to the most profound truths, secrets and mysteries of the Universe, but the question that the whole world, from the tiniest and simplest organisms upwards, seems to know the answer to, he can not solve: “Why live?”

The Writer is torn by two conflicting thoughts that occupy his mind simultaneously and seem equally valid. He is certain that he is blind to a fundamental truth the rest of the world is in possession of, for how else can one explain the whole world choosing life over death and having a purpose to their existence—something he is incapable of. Yet he is also convinced that it is he who is in possession of a fundamental truth the rest of the world is blind to, for if they were privy to this truth they would not be able to live purposeful lives in certainty.

The Writer is faced with a double task that he has set upon himself and that he hopes the pen will help him accomplish: to unravel the enigma of his existence and to capture all of reality in a single word.

The Writer is triply imprisoned by his pen, his room and his mind, chained to the desk by his duties. Occasionally, while composing the most fantastical stories and creating the most outlandish realities, he is overcome by curiosity and longing and steals a brief, wistful glimpse through the window at the world outside; a world that is teeming and pulsating with life in all of its myriad manifestations. It is an ordinary, yet real life that he can never be a part of and whose simple pleasures he could never enjoy or grasp the meaning of. Other times he catches sight of a sliver of the sky that is visible to him from his seated position. But he immediately feels guilty for neglecting his sacred task and becomes afraid that the pen will stop working if he does not give it his total attention and all of his time. And so he hurriedly resumes scribbling, letter after letter, word after word, sentence after sentence, in his notebooks of madness.

No external sounds ever penetrate the Writer’s abode. Absolute silence reigns, save for the refrain “Boris—you’re going to carry that pen, carry that pain a long time” that echoes around, either in his room or in his mind (he is not exactly sure where).

No matter how much greatness the Writer begets through his creations, he is left empty and unsatisfied, for his only desire is to surpass his previous achievements and reach a higher peak of perfection. Yet, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot become greater than himself, for how does one outrun oneself, how does one clear a hurdle in one’s path towards the pinnacle if that hurdle happens to be oneself?

Now and then the Writer gets overawed and intimidated by the implement he holds in his hand and becomes frightened of himself. After all, who is he to wield such powers? What right does he have to produce works of such beauty, flawlessness and wonder?

Sometimes, the Writer’s resolve wavers momentarily and he is overcome by fundamental doubts as to what he is doing. Was it the biggest blessing or the biggest curse of his life to have been given the pen? Was he always destined to be bestowed with the Pen of Plenty or was it merely by chance of fate that it was he who received it? Were there others who were also handed the pen by the Hand from Above, or was he the only one? Had it been offered to others, but no one else accepted it? If he was the only one to be given the pen, then why did the Voice from Above choose him, above everyone else, to give the pen to? Was he the most suitable candidate? Did he really deserve to be chosen for this momentous task and is he equal to it? What if his hand is not transcribing the words adequately, correctly? What if the magic, the perfection, the power of the revelations from Above is lost the moment he transmutes them into the lame, unwieldy, coarse lumps of words on paper? What if, so as not to confront the senselessness and emptiness of his own existence, he is just preoccupying himself with mediocre scribblings that will never eventuate in anything, despite of what the Voice from Above promised him?

At times he even doubts whether he was given the Pen of Plenty at all. What if he has been deluding himself, all along, about possessing a direct link to the Other Reality?

In a cruelly ironic twist, the Writer suffers from the writer’s flood, that makes him just as impotent and disempowered as being afflicted with a writer’s block. He is unable to mentally keep up with the pen’s outpouring, for words and ideas spout incessantly, and there is no time for him to tell whether what he creates are invaluable, unique diamonds or just worthless chaff. Despite the deluge, he cannot stop himself from wondering, once in a while, what his life will become when the pen runs out. However, finding such a scenario too discomforting to contemplate, he quickly pushes the thought away.

The Writer is conflicted by the immense disparity between his finite physical self and his limitless inner self. His bounded outer form can never come close to corresponding to the infinity inside him. He feels his smallness and insignificance all that more acutely, for he is keenly aware of the contrast between his limited human existence and the Universe he has a conduit to. Consequently, he finds it impossible to reconcile these two aspects of his being and exists in a perpetual state of inner conflict, never being able to come to terms with himself and his life.

Occasionally, the Writer vaguely considers ending his solitude and making an attempt to re-join the human race, but he quickly gets discouraged, for given that he can not even have a normal, stable relationship with himself, what hope is there for him of having normal, stable relationships with others.

At times the pen of plenty transforms into the pain of plenty and the Writer falls into a bottomless abyss of despair, thinking to himself: ‘After the Hand from Above had gifted me with the pen, I never saw The Hand again. Given that It chose me to be Its voice and given that It conferred a miraculous implement upon me, shouldn’t It have been there for me always? Surely It should take extra-special care of me to ensure nothing bad happens to the creator of such sublime and immortal beauty. Why has the Hand from Above forsaken me, together with the pen? I am all alone with this terrible burden upon my shoulders. How am I supposed to cope with the unbearable responsibility of being entrusted with these revelations of deep truths that everyone else is blind to?’

Yet, he accepts all that anguish as a divine gift, for he knows that only through pure, undiluted suffering, untainted by even a drop of hope, can the underlying, internal structure of reality be revealed and the sinews of existence become evident.

The Writer is so engrossed in his work that he does not notice life passing him by…and then death passes him by too.

He has no time for life and he has no time for death. Neither life nor death could arouse his interest or get their hands on him, and just as he has forgotten all about life and death, so life and death have forgotten all about him. In any case, the Writer can not die nor live, for the pen is still working, still gushing out eternal truths, ineffable questions, infinite beauty and so he must keep writing, for his commitment to the pen is greater than his commitments to life and death.

Years, decades, centuries, millennia, billions of years elapse. The Sun expands into a red giant then collapses into a white dwarf. The stars are torn apart by the forces of the Universe’s expansion and the protons themselves rot into pieces. Cosmos begins to wind down, all of its energy having dissipated and turned into useless forms. Then the fabric of space-time dissolves.

Still, the Writer continues writing at his desk, which is now floating in vacuum, separate from time and space. The Universe might have changed and obliterated itself, but the Word still exists unchanged. And so the Writer keeps searching for that one Word that will both encapsulate and encompass all of reality within its form, meaning and letters, as well as within its sound for he is certain it must be an onomatopoeic word. Now and then he sneaks a momentary look at the outside world, even though nothing remains there but pure nothingness.

Eventually the Writer forgets what it is that he is searching the meaning of. His quest instead becomes focused on looking for meaning in and of itself, meaning that is no longer a meaning of something, but is instead pure meaning independent of any referent or context.

An indefinable span of time or perhaps a moment passes…

Having solved the most profound questions of Life and the Universe, the Writer attains the serenity, the satisfaction, the fulfilment that have always eluded him. Yet, a nagging question, posed by his own existence, is still unresolved, still holds a pincers-like grip on his mind. He remains an enigma to himself—the conundrum of “Who is he? Why is he?” lays completely pristine, an untouched, unconquerable summit that could not be scaled even one bit.

And then something leads the Writer to take, for the very first time, a close look at the pen he was given. He examines it carefully and notices the faded blue letters forming the words MADE IN CHINA on its side. Distant memories come flooding back to him—memories of his mother buying pens at the local supermarket for the start of the new school year; memories of the bare walls of his bathroom that distorted its acoustics, and how he liked to speak to himself there and hear the thin voice of a boy transform into the stentorian, commanding voice of a man. He remembers standing in the bathroom and hearing a billion voices calling out his name, then turning around and seeing all of humanity in the mirror looking back at him, as his left hand passed the pen to his right hand.

The Writer now realises that He is the Creator. Having already encompassed the Universe with His mind, the Writer expands to encompass the Universe with His body, so that the Universe and the Writer become one and the same—identical entities coinciding precisely with one another.

With quiet satisfaction the Writer slowly puts the pen down and that is how the Universe (and this story) ends…not with a bang or a whimper, but with a. full-stop [1]


[1] In Australian English, the punctuation mark “.” is known as “full stop” rather than as “period”.

BY BORIS GLIKMAN

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