Flagging Plotlines


CLEVELAND (AP) — Local writer Jim Hennings, 36, blames a case of writer’s block on his inability to masturbate for the last six days, claiming that he is unable to formulate a suitably plausible fantasy scenario.

“I’ve been blocked before,” admits Hennings, whose credits include several short stories in Granta and Pushcart as well as a popular local culture column in a free Cleveland weekly, “but usually I’m able to come up with something on the fly that will see me through to completion. This week, though, boy. It’s been rough. No matter what I’ve come up with, I notice some major flaw in the plot or some infelicitous detail, and the whole thing falls apart before I even get hard.”

Recent changes in Hennings’ life may be to blame for his difficulty in formulating a likely masturbation fantasy. His longtime unrequited crush, college friend Nicola Norris, moved to Pittsburgh to take a new job several months ago, and he has begun to forget what she looks like in a bikini top; his new next-door neighbor is an unattractive older man; and, perhaps most importantly, he has begun to make enough money as a writer to quit his former advertising job, depriving him of daily contact with several attractive women at his office.

“It’s cliched to say it, but you write what you know,” says Hennings. “When I was working at Bailard & Cantrell, I was exposed to Jenny in the art department, my boss Annette, and that hot receptionist — every single day.  So there was never a shortage of material. Now that I’ve started freelancing full time, these days the only woman I see every day is the mail carrier, and she’s not really my type.”

Despite a number of attempts over the last three days to construct a masturbation fantasy believable enough to sustain, Hennings has been frustrated at every turn. A seemingly successful attempt in the shower Wednesday night, using the image of his former neighbor Monica Calder, was aborted when he remembered that the reason that she and her husband had moved to a bigger house was because she was pregnant. “It seemed pretty unlikely that she’d be interested in me while carrying (husband) Rick’s kid. Plus, she’s probably showing by now, which is kind of a turnoff to me, and I ended up feeling like a heel about the whole thing. I tried the next morning to get something going about Sandra,” he continued, referring to a fellow journalist at the weekly who is a lesbian, “but first of all, she’s one of those dykes who’s, you know, really not into men, and second, I couldn’t think of who to pair her up with, and that seemed necessary for the scenario to be at all realistic. It’s extremely frustrating.”

Friends and peers have had mixed reactions to Hennings’ plight. Miller Maines, who collaborated with Hennings on a play several years ago, expressed the opinion that Hennings himself should bear most of the blame. “Jim is a victim of his own notions of authenticity,” said Maines. “This isn’t the first time it’s happened to him, and I told him the same thing yesterday as I have a million times before: porn is easy to get hold of, and failing that, he can always use the image of a famous celebrity. But no, that’s not good enough for Lord Jim. He considers it ‘selling out’. So he sits there, entirely unable to get himself off, because he’s ‘creeped out’ about thinking of his hot cousin, and meanwhile I’m having a great old time with Drew Barrymore. Which one of us has the problem? Not me.”

Local journalist and drinking buddy Michael Stichner, however, is more sympathetic. “I can completely relate to what Jim is going through,” said Stichner. “I just started working from home myself, and I’ll admit that I’m worried. Just yesterday, I was on the couch, thinking of that blonde girl who works at the gas station, and it occurred to me that, I mean, I see her like 5 minutes a day once every two weeks. How is anything ever going to come of that? And I just couldn’t get anywhere. If it happened to Jim, it could happen to anybody.”

Hennings is planning on going to more live music shows, hanging out at his local bar, and perhaps teaching a class at the nearby community college. “I’ve even thought about getting a part-time job,” he admits. “It’s not that I need the money, but if I don’t do something fast, the mail carrier is going to show up in my head eventually. I can’t let that happen.”


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