Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Jay-Z 99 “Problems (Instrumental)”
 Nena “99 Luftballons”
Jesus, that Jay-Z fella goes on a bit, don’t cha think? I mean, the dude’s sitting on a net worth of around $810 million, yet still he manages to accrue almost a hundred problems. How does that work? If I was privy to those kind of obscene riches, I’d have only one problem to bitch about and that would be the dreaded annual tax returns. Other than that, I reckon it’d be plain sailing all the way. I’m actually surprised he finds anything left to rap about as his swag-laden lifestyle hardly lends itself to telling bleak tales of urban decay, does it? Listen brother, I’ve got no particular beef with you this day. The last thing I wish to do is pass judgement on a fellow entrepreneur who has constructed an empire with his own blood, sweat and tears. But if the old adage about a problem shared being a problem halved is accurate, then you just dumped a good fiddy on your faithful fans. That’s hardly fair now, is it? Haven’t you noticed how thoroughly depressed they look by the time you’ve arrived at your encore? Carry on like this old bean and you might just have 99 suicides on your hands.
It only takes one well-aimed problem to piss down my tulips and I’m just grateful that I suck mule nuts at multi-tasking as 99 all at once would wreak havoc in my garden. You see, unlike Jay-Z with his $810 million nest egg, I’m currently sitting on a fortune of around £81 and it’s not like I can hit Beyoncé up for a tenner now, is it? Not that I’m suggesting money makes the world go round when it clearly has something to do with planetary momentum; but having a few bob does come in handy once your luck runs dry. Indeed, I would go as far as saying that my single issue right now is cashflow as every other hardship I face in life could be pretty much nullified by one swift cash injection. It’s not that I’m going cap in hand here, unless Jay-Z happens to be reading this, in which case, get that cheque book out you braggart. I’m simply appealing to the gods for a solitary break. Fuck, I’d take a compound fracture at this point or even a mild sprain.
So here’s the conundrum I face. I haven’t the vaguest inkle dinkle how to pimp my ride. For all my creative flourish, I possess the business acumen of an aubergine dipped in goose fat. To be fair, it’s not that I lack the numeracy skills to crunch a few digits. Indeed, I was the very first in class to memorize my times tables. But then Pythagoras come along and fucked it all up with his rules and highly illogical equations. Mathematics and I never saw eye to eye after that. Naturally we shared a mutual respect for one another; but I learned my numerical trade back at Sesame Street and it just isn’t the same fun without the Count… ah!.. ah!.. ah! He was actually a far better role model than Jay-Z as it took The Count until just before dawn to hit double figures. Besides, the thing about “The Street” is that, for every number crunched, there was a letter getting titsed up over by the trash can. Indeed, Oscar the Grouch was only too glum to offer up four in a row when you tossed his junk wrong. Please don’t make me spell it out like a cunt.
The thing about letters is that you can put them together to spell shit out. Numbers on the other hand, well other than spelling BOOBS on an upside-down calculator and cracking the odd safe, they have precious little to impart that can benefit me in the greater scheme of things. It’s not even that I didn’t present them a chance to count me in as I signed up for a two-year business and finance course back at college and made it to the halfway house before running to the hills, bleeding from the tear ducts. Alas, numbers continued to plague me for years afterwards, to the point where it appeared as though they may wind up defining me. I did what I had to do in jobs I’d convinced myself I had to do, but none of that had to do with passion. Merely punching numbers for those four-weekly donations and sucking a corporate cock or two just to avoid getting shafted. Unbeknownst to me, mathematics had made me its bitch and all I had to show for it was this admittedly rather fetching abacus.
Eventually there comes a time when the inner creative speaks up and it has a tendency to sound like gibberish when running parallel to a full-blown emotional meltdown. With my core reactor compromised and critical mass imminent; numbers stuck two fingers up in my general direction and suggested I do the math. Having subscribed to their warped visions of grandeur for over twenty years now by way of 9 to 5, amassing considerable arrears at the word bank the whole time I might add, I wasn’t overly enamored with their sudden refusal to stack up. Even my old buddy eight was looking at me hateful. Don’t even get me started on the fives as I’d never seen that bunch so furious. Evidently I was the bad guy here so what did I do? I rammed a Biro pen into my jugular just to slow the implosion. Dick move? Perhaps not my brightest but this unlicensed tracheostomy actually released the valve something splendid.
What numerical could there possibly be that equates to more than words? Don’t even think of pulling the old infinity trick either as it was hardly going to stand up in the cuckoo’s nest and that was precisely where I appeared to be headed. Stabbing oneself in the larynx with stationery is just begging for the men in white coats to pay a house visit and the only hope left was to ditch these under-performing digits once-and-for-all and milk my inner William Wordsworth for all of the words he was worth. After kicking things off with a spot of the customary incoherent rambling, I found myself settling into some kind of strange verbal rhythm and the dense rain clouds hovering above with intent then began to part. Actually it pissed down locusts but it was the spoken word that shielded me from the worst of it. Could it be that writing was about to throw me a bone to see me through this bleak midwinter? Or was I simply a mass of hot air?
Not this time I wasn’t. You see, once you reach the foot of your own personal chasm and stare those innermost demons in their pissy little mug shots, you start to suss out exactly what kind of speaker you actually are. Some deny their true selves and continue to talk a whole lot of rot to a gradually dwindling audience. Others, myself inclusive, learn from each fumble and find the honest dialogue we’ve been depriving ourselves all along. I knew from the very first moment my Crimson Quill touched parchment that honesty was the only policy moving forwards. Having already lived a thousand lies, it seemed only right to hit up the truth serum for a change of pace and fortunes. From this point on, I’d be true to myself if it was the last thing I ever did. Thanks to the English language and a guest spot from the Urban Dictionary, I now had more than enough words to express myself freely. Making up the numbers was simply no longer an option.
To this very day there isn’t a solitary syllable I’ve committed to print I wouldn’t stand behind fiercely. Am I the finished article? Never. I’ll keep learning for as long as the world keeps on turning. But should it all go tits north, then it certainly won’t be through any lack of integrity on my part. Even when I’ve been met with resistance, my word has remained bond without exception. Those who know me have never seen fit to question me. Those who’ve questioned me, clearly didn’t know me that well in the first place. If they did then they’d have known that, while unquestionably obscene to the spleen, I’m also benign to the spine. Thanks to the power of prose, I could leave everything right there on the page. What’s more, I’d barely even skimmed the custard. Given that I was now in my early forties, self-education seemed like the most beneficial way to bring myself up to speed. Thus I found myself swatting up like a bookworm.
Within no time whatsoever, my already reasonably broad vocabulary had swollen like a gout-ridden ankle. Ordinarily I find this kind of text-book learning painfully laborious but it’s a different kettle of fish heads when you introduce a little thing called passion to the fray. While I’d armed myself with hundreds upon hundreds of new words and phrases in a short time, I found the way they were presented to me on the page some way from motivational. It wasn’t that I refused to speak in the Queen’s tongue; more that it all felt so rigid and unyielding. At this point, I wasn’t aware of the art of wordsmithing but soon found myself figuring it out all on my own. I’d never before considered myself a poet and ironically feel hamstrung through my insistence that rhyming should play a key role. However, it wasn’t long before it began seeping into my natural writing style, in addition to whatever playful turns of phrases cropped up in my thought bank first.
Where were numbers at while all this was transpiring? I’ll tell you where – over in the corner counting to a hundred before coming to find me, ready or not. I knew it was only a matter of time before they sent out the heavies – algebra and trigonometry – so I started working around the clock to spew as many words as possible onto the blank screen before me. Drawing inspiration from as far and wide as I could cast my rod out, I tossed it all in the melting pot and got straight down to stirring the slag. With a dash of seasoning and secret ingredient or two, it didn’t taste at all bad you know. Moreover, for every dish I lovingly prepared, I started to assume a more luxurious and distinctive writing style. A mixture of highbrow and lowest common denominator humor seemed to yield the most satisfactory results and also appealed to my own sensibilities rather marvellously.
I’ve been a scribe for little over four years now and problems have been ever-present in some capacity throughout my tenure. That said, every time I spot a banana skin on the horizon and elucidate that to my readership, I’m giving myself a fair old fighting chance of sidestepping said pitfall entirely. If I were to tally up my woes, then I’d hedge a bet that 99 wouldn’t be too far off the figure I’d come up with. But 99 solutions ain’t to be sniffed at and that’s precisely what I have tucked away in my locker. A wise man once taught me the importance of remaining solution-focused at all times. Stare too hard at a problem and it begins to jumble up, not altogether dissimilar to how numbers would. Before you know it, you’re facing a full-blown conundrum and are fucked through the mouth hole by the time it arrives in riddle territory as they traditionally endorse arithmetic. Words, on the other hand, well I’d rather recite a peppy password than tap in an eight-digit code under duress, any day of the calendar week.
Anyroad, there is in fact sound reasoning behind this rant, other than number bashing and verbal fellatio. You see, one of my 99 problems right now is cashflow related, as touched upon at the offset. You may recall me mentioning something about my all-encompassing dearth of business sense and I’m the first to pronounce myself a technical gibbon of the most primal order. My creative mind may have never been in better health than it is currently; but I haven’t the slightest Scooby Doo how to deliver this burly Trojan to the next level. I may have done the math wrong here, but wouldn’t a personal manager assist in guiding me towards the straight and narrow? I’m not talking of some sanctimonious slave-driver, cracking the whip every time my email inbox goes ping. Been there done that, got two decades of pay slips to show for it, not to mention the accompanying emotional scarring.
No I’m speaking of a partner in crime here – someone who believes in me, is willing to take a punt on the product I peddle, and work on the placement side of things. I’ve tried organizing myself and, while that’s a work in constant progress, I’m still treading water like the world owes me a break. It doesn’t. Actually, I’d argue that it kinda does. But I know only too well that said planet ain’t gonna give it to me; not anytime soon at least. So it would appear I’ll be required to make my own break. Courtesy of words, I possess more than sufficient arrows in my quiver. It’s just a shame I’m firing them into a fucking haystack, day after day. With a trusty spotter on hand, perhaps we could make a dent in the target together. Food for thought, wouldn’t you say? It’s either that or head down the adoption avenue and I’m sure we could all do without the paperwork.
The bottom line is this – I’ve performed a head count and have indeed accrued 99 problems. But every last one of them now leads to a corresponding solution. I’m aware what needs to be done, feel like I possess the correct tool set to do so, but miracles withstanding, can’t do this on my own. I’m involved in numerous projects that are gathering pace right now and any one of those could come through in the foreseeable. This would then provide the purse strings to shatter some creative boundaries and depart an everlasting legacy. But I feel that the true USP here is yours truly, not out of cocky swagger, just raw belief and the drive to thrive as opposed to survive. As for Jay-Z, well I’m not about to bust his chops for pimping his ride to the hilt as mine is not to judge. But I still reckon Beyoncé could spare that tenner. I mean, what have I got to do. Put a ring on it?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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