How I earned my first 2 dollar bill….

I have to thank my husband’s auntie for this experience. She, of her own volition, got on the stick and asked whether she could use my short stories for a reading group in her retirement community. It slays me, really! I don’t know what I imagine, but it’s nice so far, and having a deadline looming overhead is keeping me moving a little bit.

Actually, if I’m being quite honest, reading critically for short story writing has turned out to be much more helpful than I’d guessed. First off, you don’t want to be a rambler if your narrative is supposed to be succinct by nature, so you start thinking about how to say everything in much smaller, more meaningful mouthfuls. When you write long, you get a little lax. I’ve used the running metaphor for writing before, and it still holds true. When I set out on an hour or more looooong run, I’m only worried about being able to make it for the return leg, so I take it easy, and coast, and delve off into fantasy or two. On the days I go fast and short, I have to remain in the moment, focus on form, and push myself. This is exactly how I am feeling as I move through short stories. A little bit of endorphin, a little panic, a glance at the clock every few moments, and eventually, I can see the end nearing. I’ll breathe when I’m done.

Through the auspices of this reading group, I’m expanding a story I mentioned before, based on someone I observed in our neighborhood. Instead of one tiny piece of his pie, I’m making the rest of it, into a village narrative. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m in the home stretch of the second in the series. I wish it had been easier and more quick, but holy hell, we got the mother of all snowstorms last week, and I’ve been on my own with our kids, with my husband overseas on business. To quote Metallica, “…frayed ends of sanity/hear them calling me….” Tonight was a particular challenge, with our younger child going apeshit several times. He’s always been high strung, a colicky personality to the bone, but tonight was a new level of freakout. It’s tough to get him ramped down from those moments – you tell him he’s got to chill and do some breathing, and he screams that he’s CALMED DOWN NOW!!!!!!! I have never met this kind of kid before…and it’s chemistry, too – his extra-extrovert to my sanguine (normally) introvert. We collide like matter and antimatter – and clusters of black holes are littered around us by day’s end. I love his passion, for the most part, but it might kill me.

And for my efforts, I have gotten a modest fee, and a genuine two dollar bill to frame and baffle my husband with when he arrives home. It’s not perzactly publication, but if I can get a little feedback, and a collection of stories to play around with, it’s well worth it.

To be continued…..

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When brains go bad….

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [to Igor] Now that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck’s?
Igor: [pause, then] No.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?
Igor: Then you won’t be angry?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.
Igor: Abby Someone.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [pause, then] Abby Someone. Abby who?
Igor: Abby Normal.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [pause, then] Abby Normal?
Igor: I’m almost sure that was the name.
(Young Frankenstein)

My mother likes to tell a story about a time, when I was a teenager, that she came in to wake me, and swears that I mumbled, “Brain and brain, what is brain?” Like Spock, my brain had apparently gone on the fritz. Or on the lam. I don’t remember saying any of it, and I don’t normally somnambu-vocalize, but I used to be one of those people who didn’t function in the morning. I’d be up, late at night, drinking coffee after coffee, feeling fine, and have no trouble going to sleep.

These days…at the age of 35 (and my darling hubby a little beyond that) we find ourselves obsessing over sleep, whether we had enough, whether we got the right kind, and what the hell was up with those LOONY dreams last night? Seriously. We’ve actually had conversations where we wondered whether our house was built on a temporal rift, an ancient burial ground, something that would explain some of the wacko dreams we seem to have in concert with each other. I do wonder whether science can provide an answer to why it is that we both dream heavily during the same night, even though, obviously, they’re different dreams. Other nights, we’re both out cold and can’t recall anything.

There are reasons to stay awake at night, certainly. Number one is that your kids are hopefully asleep (although I see an alarming number of my friends who have insomniac offspring – I feel for them…not fun!). And if  your kids are asleep, your house suddenly becomes the adult playground. All the off-color language starts flowing like Prohibition has just ended. We look at movies we’d never dare to with small people on the loose. And, of course, the other thing, which is supposed to only get better as we get older, right?

I mean, the thing is that, with your kids underfoot, you just try to have a conversation. You can’t. Kids have a set of directives, I have come to see, that when they see someone trying to talk on the phone or to someone, that’s when they suddenly need everything that they’ve been putting off for the whole day. I get the “I’m hungry, I’m bored, I want you to read a story, I need to suddenly paint a portrait because I’ve been studying Da Vinci’s techniques,” every single time I pick up the phone when my mother calls. Right now, I’m getting the, “I need you, I want you,” from the wrong party, if you know what I mean.

I know I can’t blame them for everything, including for why I might be overtired (they have their flaws, but they certainly sleep), but it has to be a contributing factor. I have moments when I know I had a conversation with someone about something but I will be damned if I can think who the heck I was talking to. I think also that having kid in your life, with the parental-ADD that comes in the package, means that you have to be a little more careful about trying to remember. I have moments when I am certain I had a conversation with someone, only to realize that I was playing out a potential conversation in my head, or that I dreamt it….

When I write, and am distracted, or affected by my memory gaps as I write ~ well, you can imagine how well that goes from time to time. There have been things I wrote, and went back to read, and found that none of it made sense, or that I was evidently under the influence of aliens or rampant hormones (that’s a whole book on its own!). Brain and brain…. Not all of it makes it out there for everyone to see, thank goodness, but some of it does. I’m coming to view this as part of the territory, that I will stray, “speak” out of turn, irritate, or upset the apple cart a bit. I don’t plan on sharing huge swathes of personal detail, but yes, it’s still possible to mess up and say something that doesn’t sit right with everyone.

As I can’t fully blame my kids (at least not for too many more years…they are learning how to read now), neither can I just blame it on a faulty noggin. Mine is faulty here and there. I know I don’t have total recall. How much use it not to see a photographic image of a page and everything on it, but only a fuzzy photo of the page, and roughly where the thing you’re trying to think of is on that page? Only a tiny bit of useful, I can tell you.

Our brains are the single biggest asset we have…. I have lost one grandparent to complications from Alzheimer’s for instance, and my father’s parents are both slipping into the ether of dementia, right in front of us. My other grandmother, whom I don’t get to see very often, is also affected. It terrifies me. Of the four of them, three are college graduates. They were all voracious readers. The only thing I can see that was a risk factor they all had in common: they never really participated in any kind of cardiovascular exercise. I hope that as I go along (and I do exercise for that reason), and Generation X ages, we all can escape this fate.

But in the here and now, I have to say that I probably am going to screw up and/or have brain farts with the best of them. At least I am not like a Sue Grafton, who writes her crime books, envisioning her ex-husband as the murder victim in each one. Or Hemingway and Fitzgerald, who seemed to have written self-destructive prophecies. Or the Eat, Pray, Love author, whose ex was unhappy enough abut her portrayal of him that he penned his own book, apparently in response. And one does wonder what Jane Austen’s contemporaries thought of her mocking them quite blatantly in her books. It seems to come with the territory, in a way that not much of the other aspects of the arts seems to. Nor, in fact, that much else in this world seems to. The written word has a power unmatched, probably because it does come from the mind, the seat of intellect, origin of emotion; it is the reason our hands, hearts, and mouths move. Perhaps it is necessary to recognize that power and submit to it a little, so that we can understand how much it can affect and alter our world.

In other words, keep learning.

 

Distractions

A veritable myriad of them. There’s the coverage of the trial here in CT that has everyone’s attention; the prosecution of the animals who destroyed a family three years ago in Cheshire. There’s all the cooking that I like (love) doing once the cooler weather sneaks in. There’s the Big E, calling to me with promises of maple cotton candy and lots of other food, food, food.

I have a secret weapon now, though, taped up in plain sight so that I can see it every time I sit down here. It’s a business card. It has an agent’s name on it. It was given to me by my dad, who happens to have known this person since he was a kid. The agency is in L.A. – I’ve heard of it before – it’s sitting and cheering me on to finish writing more, lots more, so that I can then pass it along to him.

Sometimes I put Pippi:

A really great piece of art by a fab artist named Sarah Mensinga

 As my profile picture when I’m feeling rebellious.

She bravely charges into any situation, scowling at naysayers, and ignoring the opinions of those who don’t matter. I try really hard to be like that, but I often end up with the other half of her personality: distracted by the urge to go on a pirate adventure.
I did manage to get out about 5 pages yesterday. I have a new means of keeping myself from being totally distracted by the internet (and facebook), at least. I am writing everything out longhand, and then transcribing it. It also achieves another purpose; I can edit and rewrite as I’m typing from my penciled pages.
I just have to keep looking up at that card. I need to remind myself why I’m doing this, but also that I now have a ray of hope.

Updating the goals…

After yesterday’s ennui-flushing, in which, I confess, I felt a bit like a teenager afterwards, I have through about it a little further. “Rebuff” was probably the wrong word, if not too strong a word. It’s more like me bouncing off the plexiglass of my own making.

Fellini's sense of humor....

As I mentioned, navel-gazing is not a wonderful pasttime, as opposed to Naval-gazing, which very often can be, particularly if dress uniforms are involved. One of the things that happens with writers, or with people who find blathering about feelings in the written, rather than spoken, word, is that we let it all go. Sometimes we forget that others may be wondering what the hell we’re carrying on about. I’m not saying that’s what was completely at play. Part of my meandering in that post was, indeed, wondering whether anything would answer besides my own echo. I guess that’s ego, in the Jungian world….

I think we all have our own particular worries and self-doubts. They show up at the most inconvenient of times. They take a perfectly decent day and make it addled and uncomfortable. And yes, they drag us right back to the upheaved hormone imbalances of our teenage years. I wish I was immune from it – I wish I could stop worrying, fretting, overanalyzing…but I’m not. Maybe accepting some of these things that are too expensive to fix at a therapist’s office is like accepting that, short of a tummy tuck, pregnancy has left some of us with a lasting gift on our bodies….

Anyhow – once I got past thinking like I was still shopping at the Express and wearing a can of hairspray every day – I was thinking about my goal that I’d set a while back. 10 finished writing projects before year’s end. I think I can still manage, since I was nice and vague about the parameters involved. But I began to think further ahead, to the point when our younger child starts full days of school.

For some moms out there, having a career and a life outside is really a high priority. For me, eh, I never liked the office environment…I’d like to work on my master’s and get certified in the state as an archaeologist. I’d like to just work privately, and contract out. Beyond that, I’d rather be available to my kids. So…I think my goal for next year at this time is to have sold some of the things I’ve written. I’m going to worry about something productive, if I can, and build my writing resume. And maybe look into a class here and there. Online.

perils of the past

In this month’s Smithsonian Magazine, a discussion of the man behind Alice in Wonderland. Apparently, scholars are pretty deeply divided as to what kind of man the Rev. Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, really was.

It boggles the mind how much some literary scholars can impose pet beliefs, emotion, and modern mores onto writers who lived long ago. Yes, I may be a little nitpicky about this: when I was an archaeology major, I was taught, along with all the others who reside in the social sciences, that the primary tenet of viewing the past or other cultures is not to put our beliefs in the way. It doesn’t matter what we think, or want to believe. It only matters whether there is a framework of culture, a context in which to place what we’re assessing. Facts are all that matter.

Now, I for one have no idea what kind of man Dodgson was. I may read a little about him now. Might he have been a bachelor who truly enjoyed spending time with his friends and their children? There are indeed people like that out there – I have known a few in my life. What I do see in the evidence presented is the aforementioned problem; that some scholars and biographers seem to have deliberately discarded contemporary context and social setting in order to cast Dodgson as something he might never have been. He is portrayed as a deviant because it is convenient, easier than dissecting the facts in a scientific manner, and because we hold our own beliefs about men who live as he did.

If Dodgson had been a woman, unmarried, enjoying a role as an adoptive aunt, photographing the children in posed portraits (as Dodgson did, with the permission and apparent supervision of the parents), it is hardly likely that motives would have been questioned. The monster pedophile clearly resides in the male specter.

It is obviously a real problem, those who sexually abuse children, that we as a society continually grapple with – the current troubles of the Catholic Church in Germany highlight this all too well. But it should not mean that modern scholars ought to demonize a man and his legacy when there may be little to convince anyone that Dogdson was anything other than a Bohemian.

We ought to be more cautious. It disappoints me deeply when so-called researchers are allowed to be opinionated and biased. It’s no better than tabloid drama siphoned into book format. It is especially poor when there is no one left to defend the subject from attack or whimsical conjecture.

This day of all days

Eight years ago today, my life ran headlong into the turning point signpost. CRASH.

I became a mother that day.

At that time, he, my tiny child, forced me to stop and reassess life in the strictest of senses. He was about six weeks early, and only five pounds, but his presence (as with most babies) was enough to accomplish that feat for both my husband and me. As I look back, I have to admit that I am not at all certain where either of us would be if he had not come into our lives when he did.

Fast forwarding to this past November, around the point of our younger son’s fourth birthday, I paused again, and decided to really get this blog thing going. This time, I knew, I needed to be less pedantic (a genetic trait, I’m sure), and focus in on the journey that lies ahead. Now, of course, I have about zero idea how to make it work well, how to get and expand an audience, but it needs to be there, as a goal. If I let it slip away, I know it will be about as bad as the fact that we never took pictures of baby bumps as they grew. I still deeply regret that, even if none of our ancestors ever did it, it seems like I missed out on something in that record-keeping failure.

So, starting this thing over again on my son’s birthday seems somewhat appropriate, since he was the one who not only allowed, but pushed me to finish writing my first book. Never mind that I have decided to shelve it, until some later date, after so many rejection letters and a big flop on my face that I’ll get to later. Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott did the same thing. They must have realized what I have realized (I hope); sometimes the first thing you write is just not going to be IT.

This was not an easy place for me to get to. Yes, indeedy. I had, what, maybe an emotional meltdown before I could even look at it again, and certainly a whole year of doubt before I felt like getting back into writing again. It’s not easy to decide to put the “baby” into deep storage, something like putting it into a medically induced coma. It ain’t waking up anytime soon, which is hard for me. I put about 8 years of my life into writing the blasted thing (again, I know this is not a new story for a writer to tell), from dreaming the concept up one night in a tent on Cape Cod (boy, did Stephanie Meyer steal the thunder on that origina story), to struggling with it through college and crappy working years (I was writing it on the job at one point, making it look like I was working on actual job-related stuff), until that little baby person allowed me to be an at-home mom. Then, it came so easily. I had my first laptop, bought off ebay, and I just pounded away on it, night after night, after he was safely tucked away in bed.

What brought it and me to our respective knees? WeBook and its lure of democratic publication (or so one is led to believe). No, I don’t fault the site or what it does, really, but it did upend me completely: I won a voting cycle, like really won it. But the editorial staff told me (after I numbly asked why I was rejected) that the book required too much editing. Talk about a sucker punch. It rolled me up into a little ball of grief, and I went on a scorched earth campaign to remove myself from the site completely (stuff still sits under my user name, but there is nothing there, and I have not gone back to the site since that point). It was like a horrible bleakness sitting soddenly inside me. How could I have been so stupid to think that anybody would grab hold of my book and take it on the first go? Don’t answer that.

I only knew that I had no idea how to edit it. Anymore or at all. Yuk. What can I equate it to? I have read and read and read it so many times. It begins to be the squawking albatross sitting on the headboard at night. Yes, I know it needs work. I just have no idea how to make it work. The thought of trying to take a machete to it at this point leaves me, left me, very depressed. If you haven’t picked up on that already.

Pushed to the edge, I seriously sat around wondering why I was writing, asking whether I was any good at it at all. Where did I get this idea that I could write? I wasn’t one of those prodigies. Writing didn’t enter my life until I was a senior in high school, when two teachers began to encourage me to do so. I’ve tried to remember the things they told me, which was what I did during college when the rigidity of professorial critique informed me that I was “too casual” in writing papers for them. (I had to cling to some sense of self in the face of the state university machine. So I rewrote the way they wanted, while flipping them off with their own style. Like the Roman History prof who wanted us to write papers on Colleen McCullough’s Julius Caesar. I did disembowel that book rather handily.)

So, I had two women who had believed in me and encouraged me in the beginning. What had I gotten since then for “props”? All the people, the common man, who had read what I offered up, and voted for me. And my husband, who is honest to a pain, who told one of his friends that his book was crap; he told me that what I had was good. I figure I can take him at his word, since he tells me when my meals are bland or crappy, and has no problem getting “real” when I forget to wash his favorite jeans. Okay, I know it’s not completely impartial. He loves me, and has some investment in my happiness.

Obviously, I needed to stop and think over everything, which I believe I have done. And now, I have a cunning plan. First! I shall write as many projects as I can over the next year (hopefully between five and ten, of any length, as long as they are fait accompli). Next! I may find a class on how to write a query letter that doesn’t sound awkward, needy, or condescending (I don’t know if any of those were at issue, but I’ll just assume I’m pretty shitty at it). Last! Relentless optimism! My husband will continue to make fun of me on this (calling it idealism or some other capitalist slur), but I will beat down the haters with it (that, and maybe an inflatable sword…?).