By Janet Gilmore
If you go into Kilian’s Hardware and see a guy sweeping up and putting things in order, that’s my friend, John Serpentelli. He’s at Kilian’s because he loves making order out of chaos. Sometimes John and I get together to talk about our writing. The idea is to read what the other person wrote and comment on it, sometimes make corrective suggestions, but sometimes we just talk.
Last week John showed up at Starbucks, his eyes shooting flames with green and black smoke billowing from his head. “Anything wrong?” I asked.
He said, “Last night, I thought about my writing notebook, which I keep in a basket under my desk. I didn’t get up out of bed to check if it was there because I knew exactly where it was; all I had to do was go get it and meet you. BUT IT WASN’T THERE THIS MORNING! IT WASN’T ANYWHERE!” Which led John to a six-step program of his own device.
- Denial: “Where could it be? It couldn’t be under a chair cushion; right? I looked anyway. I couldn’t have lost it because it had a specific, logical home, of course. It would be where all the partly-finished, rough drafts are; right? Like spoons go in the spoon drawer, soap goes in a soap dish, things like that. I opened the bin, fully expecting it to be there. It wasn’t. Luckily, I have things backed up on digital files, but that’s not the point. THE NOTEBOOK EXISTS!
“I don’t want to have to reprint everything. I don’t want to, and I shouldn’t have to, because I knew where the book is. Was. Despite my ignorance of quantum physics, my notebook should not have transported itself to a parallel universe without saying goodbye. This just can’t be happening.”
John is an artist, an animator, in fact. Artists are sometimes known for being flighty, but John knows exactly where his toothbrush and soap are, not to mention where the front door is.
- Rage and panic: “!!@#$%^&, I’m supposed to meet Janet in 10 minutes! Where is that book? I could feel my IQ dropping quickly to the level of a gnat. A stupid gnat. I looked in the freezer. I looked in my luggage. I even looked under the short leg of a table. Wrong notebook. Part of the panic is that my writing notebook is — or would be — such a central part of my daily life IF I COULD ONLY FIND IT!”
- Self-loathing: “I am SO stupid! I can’t believe I’m so irresponsible. I’m an adult! I should know better to take care of things that are important to me. I SWEAR I WONT BUY ANY COFFEE ICE CREAM until I find that notebook! Well, I might buy some, but I swear I won’t eat any until I find that notebook!”
- Blame the book (conspiracy theory): “What really matters is that I AM ORGANIZED! How could the book not be where I always keep it? It couldn’t simply VANISH, could it? Maybe humanity is not quite ready for the information contents of this book. That must be it. Even though the book knew that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, the book believed that too much of my life was being revealed and humanity wasn’t ready for such knowledge, so it vanished all by itself.
- Karma/Ancient Mysticism: It probably DID vanish just to pay me back for something I did wrong in a previous life that I don’t even know about! Or in this life that I DO know about. I should have called Aunt Evelyn the day of her birthday and not two months later. I should have put that glass bottle in recycling, and I pushed the elevator “Close” button when I clearly heard that woman coming. The universe is right. I deserve to lose my notebook!
- The Hardest Part: “God, I want someone to blame and there isn’t anyone else around!”
John lives alone with his cat, Zen. He gave the cat one last accusing look, but the cat turned his back on John and began to clean himself in the most insulting way. His commentary was not lost, but John didn’t buy into Zen’s rudeness. Zen has been known to eat paper, but an entire notebook was a stretch, and he didn’t look particularly rectangular that day.
In Starbucks, John told me the above sad story and added, “I’m still furious, but at least I found the front door exactly where I left it last night, opened it and left to meet you, a defeated man, without script.”
Ed. Note: John Serpentelli is an animated filmmaker whose films have been featured on HBO, Nickelodeon, PBS and at festivals from New York to Tokyo. He has taught animation classes at Woodmere Art Museum and has given lectures at Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art, etc. His independent films have won awards at several festivals.