Oh…You’re Still Doing That?

There is no more persecuted genre of people than the ones who “choose” not to “grow.” They are maligned, made fun of and judged for a so-called lack of evolution, for a refusal to cede their persona and interests for the sake of being seen as, who knows, mature?

The judgment of others, lest we forget, is what imprisons so many subject to the various torments of this earth. What drives them to do what they do, say what they say–and, invariably, force themselves to metamorphose. Those rare few that refuse to change or alter their “life path” in any way are looked on with pity rather than the respect they actually deserve. No, they are not seen as stalwart devotees to their cause (be it the desire to do nothing or the determination to become world-famous), but as lamentable creatures who missed the boat on the opportunity for “self-evolution.” A Gwyneth Paltrow term, really.

Émile Moreau, at 43 years old, was just such a rare person–a defier of change. A “still doing that” folk. Because of his reclusive nature (he lived alone on the outskirts of Toulouse), the incredulity with which people would confirm oh you’re still doing that? was especially pronounced as a result of going an expanded stretch of time not seeing him. And what he was still doing was working on a book–a horror novel about a gruesome murderer in Paris who would only kill people in front of historical landmarks.

Émile had been working on this “project”–as some people liked to belittle it–ever since his teen years, when he read The Shining for the first time. It was also around this period that his parents died in an avalanche in the Swiss Alps, thereby making Émile, their sole heir, very rich at a young age. Traumatized and in denial, Émile threw himself into writing the book, later attempting to sue Dan Brown for plagiarism. Autonomous because of his money, no one questioned Émile’s behavior or writerly pursuits until, again, it was brought to their attention that he was, in fact, still doing that.

Rather than being either impressed or alarmed by his extreme diligence, people were saddened and disappointed by the news. They wanted so badly to hear that he was doing something else, or that something else had happened to him. After all, whenever there was a lull for them, they could always just birth another kid to shake things up and have something new to tell people. But Émile, it seemed to them, was committed to pure and unbridled stagnation. And it was beyond their ability to comprehend. Why would anyone want to remain the same? Wasn’t life all about striving toward transformation?

It made all of the townspeople increasingly uneasy, and one day it was decided that something ought to be done to get Émile out of his outsider-declared rut. At the local tavern, several men and women gathered to discuss the best approach to getting Émile to try his hand at something else–anything else.

“Perhaps we could put on a play and ask him to write the script for it?” suggested Jean-Pierre, a crooked-nosed 34-year-old who had long viewed Émile as a bizarre curiosity of the town’s lore. And since no one seemed to have any other ideas that could potentially lure Émile out of his house long enough to stop writing again, the townspeople consented, enlisting the help of local minx, Sophie, a 35-year-old with a somewhat zaftig physique to go up to Émile’s house on the hill and explain the theater’s need for his services.

When she finally hobbled to the end of her journey, she was full-fledged panting–convinced this mission would be her last if she didn’t catch her breath soon. No wonder Émile never left his house, she thought to herself. It was a matter of physical preservation. And, in her heart, she determined this must be the true reason he never did anything different–that if she could just get him out of the house, he would never want to return.

She knocked on the door purposefully, surprised to have it answered so promptly by Émile. There were stacks upon stacks of typewritten pages arranged on the floor throughout the entryway; Sophie didn’t need to go any further to see that he was some sort of madman, a graphomaniac. But she went against her stronger instincts and decided to accept his invitation to come in.

“I haven’t had a visitor in awhile,” Émile said with neither sadness nor resentment. Just a simple statement of the fact that loneliness was his norm.

Sophie continued to feel increasingly horrified at the meticulousness with which Émile had seemed to cultivate the chaos of his home. There was a strategicness to his messiness–the well-placed overturned coffee mugs, the books strewn just so on his coffee table. And then she had a terrifying thought: what if Émile had written nothing of value this entire time? What if he had no talent as a writer and that’s why he put off releasing this technically fake book? In this case, asking him to write a play as a distraction would be the last solution to the problem of getting him to do something else with his time.

“Are you going to sit down?” Émile demanded.

Sophie shook herself from her swirl of cogitation. “No, actually. I really can’t. I was wondering if I could read some of your work.”

Émile was shocked. It had never occurred to him that someone would read his book. It was just something he did to pass the time, to keep his mind occupied. To forget about avalanches and inheritances.

“Oh. You want to see it? Well, I don’t really know where the first page is anymore.”

“That’s all right. A sample from any segment would be fine.”

Émile was hesitant, but, in the end, lumbered over to a corner, pulled a few random pages from the stack and handed them to Sophie. She took them reverently and said, “Okay. I have to go now.”

“So soon?”

“Yes. I have to be at the shop. Work, you know.”

But Émile didn’t know. And never would.

Sophie practically sprinted back down the hill to show the pages to the editor of their newspaper, Gustave, the only learned man she could think of to get an opinion on the matter.

After bursting through the door of his office and slapping the papers down on his desk, she stated, “Tell me if this writing is any good.”

Gustave shrugged and started to read the first few sentences. “From what I can tell, it’s a syntactical nightmare written by, at best, a teenager.”

And that’s when Sophie knew she couldn’t bother Émile any further with intentions to keep him from doing what he had always done. He wasn’t skilled, but if he actually found out–was hammered over the head with the truth–what would he do then? Sometimes, in life, people must keep doing what they do without the interruption of “development” as a means of self-preservation. It’s a bit like old ladies knitting all day in the corner. They’ve got no other means to feel relevant, useful. And the same went for Émile and his shut-in writing. So leave well enough alone, Sophie thought. People oughtn’t be looked down upon for quiescence.


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