Monday, July 5, 2010

Utopia Ltd

Chapter 1: Fifteen Minutes at Gunpoint

Andy Warhol would be turning in his grave, if only he knew what this culture was calling 'art' now. Turning and turning and turning and turning. Art is just another form of advertisement. It's a way of artists expressing their thoughts and ideas on canvas. It's immortalised as a still image of one person's thoughts at a particular marker in time. Replace artists with corporate advertisers and the whole world becomes a canvas. Through artists, companies could buy space, they could manipulate people, they could project their ideas through artists onto walls, onto billboards, anywhere and everywhere physically possible, and it would seem as if these ideas were projected straight into our minds.

“Do you know why you're here?” The question lingered in my mind. Does he mean here-in-this-room or here-in-this-world? I would think a shrink would know better, but I've been disappointed by greater things before.
“Yes,” I said.
“Good.” He ruffled his hands through his hair and sat down at his desk. “Because I don't want to give you the impression that you've 'got issues' or that you're a delusional psychopath needing urgent medication.”
“Yes, of course,” I said. “But that's not to say that I don't have issues, right? I mean, I'm familiar with your type. Preying on the insecure. Convincing people that they have serious psychological problems. Charging a hundred and thirty five bucks an hour to make the problems go away.”
He raised his eyebrow and stared at me for a moment, before saying “I can assure you that I'm not that type of psychologist. After all, I work for the Utopia Corporation, I don't work for individual clients.”
“So you're going to tell me what Utopia wants you to tell me and then send me on my way?”
“No, no, no. Not at all! While I am under their employment, my relationship with them is strictly professional. They hire me to do my job, and to do it properly. They hired me to check your mental well-being, and that's what we're here for. My results are not influenced by who I work for.”
“Ok,” I said. I sat down in the armchair opposite his desk.
“Right off the bat I'd say you're an anxious and sceptical individual, but I'm certainly not going to try to convince you of any problems that aren't there.”
I nodded.

“For this first session,” he said, “I just want you to settle in. I'm not going to try to probe your mind for now. Just relax, talk if you want, we might run through a simple test or two, but for today, we're going to keep things easy.” He leaned on his desk conversationally, to indicate that I had his full attention.
“No notepads?” I asked.
He held up his hands, “No notepads.”
“No recorders?”
He nodded, “No recorders. My time is yours.” His shirt had a slogan on it which read 'CHARLIE BROWN CAN GO SUCK A LEMON'. It made no sense to me, which, I believe was the entire point. I imagine a lot of people have forgotten who this Charlie Brown character is, but I certainly couldn't figure out what lemons had to do with anything.
“Ok,” I said, “so the robbery-”
“Later, later, later. We can talk about that later. I get the impression that you just want to work through this and be done with it. Everything we do here is necessary, I can grant you that. I need to take my time to do my job. Please, ease up. You're so anxious.”
I gulped. “Ok,” I repeated. “I like your office.” I rubbed the arms of the chair. Leather. “It's nice.”
“Thank you,” he said. “It's a bit messier than I'd like it, but it works for me.”
“Sure,” I said. I took note of the large textbooks on psychology that were spilling from the bookshelf. Entire textbooks dedicated to the Rorschach test and to dream analysis and other psychological methods.
“Do you like reading?” he asked when he saw me staring at 'Advanced Psychoanalysis', sitting on the corner of his desk.
“Sure,” I said, “fiction, mostly.”
“Great, great.” He smiled, and I couldn't be sure what he was thinking.

It was like a dance. A great ugly ballet for people tip-toeing around the meat of the show. We were there to talk about the robbery, and, to be honest, it was painful trying to keep it at the back of my mind.

“What's with the shirt?” I asked.
He smiled again, this time with a genuine personality behind his face. “I saw it at a market. Loved it, bought it, wearing it.”
“Cool,” I said. “What does it mean, though, 'Go suck a lemon', what is that?”
“Oh, you know, it's just something that'll get the Peanuts collectors all riled up.”
“I didn't think people still read Peanuts, let alone collected them.”
“No. Not many at all. But Charles Schultz is decomposing and I'm still wearing this shirt.”
I stared at him. At the shirt with the slogan. At the cartoon Snoopy below, posing with the one-fingered-salute. Real nice.
“I know,” he said, “I know. I've got issues.”
I gaped.
“Hey,” he said, “I'm a shrink, I can deal with it.”
Was this guy being serious?
“When you've been in my line of work for a few years you start to believe that everyone's got issues of some form or another.”
“Do I have issues?”
I waited for him.
“You're anxious. You're not sure what to think of me because we haven't talked about anything significant yet. You think I'm acting quite unprofessional, and that makes you nervous. You feel like you need confirmation from me. You need my approval, not because of who I am, but because of the qualifications I have. You need my professional opinion in order to convince yourself that you're 'normal'. I think this is something you've had problems with for years, you seek out approval and acceptance. You're paranoid.”

This guy. With the brass name plate on his desk, 'Bernard Shepard', and the diploma on the wall. This guy. With the fuck-Schultz shirt, and the 'everybody's paranoid' theory. This guy. Reaches into his drawer for his packet of cigarettes, and I thought he was reaching for a gun.


  1. He leaned on his desk conversationally, to indicate that I had his full attention.


    While I do confess an aversion towards adverbs, in this case, the sentence would be better without it. I can't picture how one would lean 'conversationally'

    I think this is a pretty good start. I think the prose is very informal though, and would need tightening up. The first and final paragraphs were both very solid, but the body needed more shaping, particularly in some areas of the narrator's voice.

    The other issue is a non-issue; I wish it were longer.

  2. Yeah. The prose gets worse the further in I go, and yes, once it's all done, I'll go through and tighten and tone it all up. And, most likely, I'll flesh it out a lot more, as at the moment, my chapters are really quite short. I'm in chapter 8 at the moment and only about 11,000 words in.

    Thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts. I'll certainly come back to this when I start the laborious editing process.