autobiography Blog fiction

the unfinished masterpiece

I’ve read that every author has three favorite books: the first book, the book they’re currently writing, and the “strange” book. By strange I guess I mean atypical, or something that, after it’s done and published, the author looks back at it and wonders “I wrote that?”

I’d like to add one category to the list: the unfinished masterpiece. This is the book that the author has been working on for years, even decades, but has never completed. It is the summation of everything that author is, a grand statement worthy of parades, literary criticism, a Nobel. That is, if it ever gets done, which it never does. Sometimes an author may take a few notes and keep the bulk of it in her head. Sometimes a rough draft exists on a computer hard drive. Sometimes, like Ralph Ellison, the whole thing burns up in a fire before he gets the chance to complete it (and, why in the world was there only one copy of that manuscript? Can anyone tell me?).

The unfinished masterpiece certainly exists in other arts, as well. Beethoven’s last symphony, Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon movie, Monet’s freaking Water Lilies, the Teen Wolf trilogy…all these exist in fragmentary form, but we will never know the greatness they could have achieved. The world might be a better place today if there were a few more water lily paintings; we’ll never know.

I am not afraid of standing up beside my artistic peers. I will show the world I can start something great but not finish it. I am about to embark on my unfinished masterpiece.

I’ve already started to write it in my head. It will be a graphic novel the likes of which the world has never known. It will be funny, sad, epic, adventurous. It will break all the rules and create a blank slate for future comic artists. My themes will be nothing less than Love, Hate, Life, Death, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. I’m thinking of calling it JOSH SHALEK’S AMERICA. It will be 4,000 pages long once it is done, which it will never be. It will be a bestseller, if I ever finish it (which I never will), and it will be regarded as “Citizen Kane meets Ulysses meets Calvin and Hobbes meets Abbey Road.” I can’t wait to get started but not finish.

As you can imagine, the rewards for not finishing a masterpiece are much higher than for finishing one. There’s not as much work involved. Everyone has their own image of it in their mind, which will be better than anything I could actually write and draw. And it will only be perceived to be better as time goes on. After my death, the legend of my unfinished masterpiece will spread. I’ll be hailed a genius, even if all my published works are less than stellar.

Dear readers, the time to get excited about my unfinished masterpiece is now. I will keep you updated on its gestation right here at this blog, but don’t expect any news for a while, if ever. Just keep checking back, and hopefully my meager words and pictures will tide you over for the inevitable (but really not) masterpiece.

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