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…..


Open head; empty onto page.

It would be easier than the current mode of getting everything out there.

Or a usb feed, plugged straight into the noggin, downloading everything. It might not be coherent, but you could edit.

I have promised myself a long day of writing, probably taking a day off of running/biking to do so. I have finished the second draft of another short story, the one I previously mentioned, based on one of my great-grandmothers’ childhood experience of being put into an orphanage. I don’t know if it’s any good yet – I am letting it rest (like a ball of dough) – and will go back to it next week.

Today, I’m hoping that the writing process will be cathartic. I’d love to stop feeling so…buffeted by life today. One of the least favorite aphorisms about writing is that it’s a “lonely job” or whatever you want to call it. Yes, fine, I know it’s easier to physically write when you don’t have someone swirling around you asking for another piece of toast, or what you’re doing on the computer. But I don’t think I would prefer to exist in a hermit state. That said, I find myself considering that, perhaps, life as it is might be better somewhere else. We’ve stayed where we are for a number of reasons, not least of which are the people who teach our autistic child. I’m personally reluctant to uproot, mostly because I dislike moving and changing, but it seems like a constantly repeating scene of reaching out, only to be rebuffed. I try to tell myself that it’s not the case, but that’s not easy when you’re prone to self-doubt. I’m just a little tired of feeling like I’m taking the risks I told myself I needed to (when I realized I was becoming a hermit), only to keep perceiving a message that everything that comes back in return is out of pity, or something.  Stir that up with a nice measure of betrayal of trust and unresolved anger, and you’ve got yourself a drama in three acts. 

I have struggled with unhappiness, the self-created kind, previously in life. At this point, I’ve come to a place where I really work not to allow it to take control of me anymore – something my husband misreads as foolish optimism from time to time. There are still moments like this morning, of being completely overwhelmed by yet another rebuff, as well as home stuff, when I find myself going to pieces over my omelet not behaving itself. I’m sure I’ll be fine in a few hours, but I keep thinking that the only solutions are: cut myself off again, or we go somewhere else, where things make more sense. We’ve been saying now for a few years that our next step, what we really want to do, where we really want to be, is to find a small farm. I can envision the whole thing – especially since we both hate cities (at least to live in) – but I’ve also dug in my heels about making premature moves. I’m a believer in the idea that the right thing will come at the right moment – or at least the moment when you realize you’ve got to get up and get on it.

Somewhere, lurking off in the distant dusk, is this sense that I have, though…that we’ll get there, and that will be it. Just us. Nobody will care that we’ve faded out of the hustle and bustle. That’s my little monster that I still kick back under the bed. I see the danger of letting this post go on for much longer, it’s like staring at the sun; dangerous and alluring. And it could go on forever, cycling around and around, while I get nowhere. Phooey.

human touch

Writing, by its nature, is often a solitary activity; it is best done when the writer is alone with his or her thoughts, preferably in an amiable environment.

I’ve mentioned that I often wait for the kids to both be off at school, and try to cram in as much time as I can. I used to stay up late, after they’d gone to bed, but that doesn’t seem to work very well these days. And since we moved the computer upstairs, it’s harder for me to find that amiable spot to work in. (We moved it after deciding that our kids needed less access to it….) But if I think back, I’ve always been like that, cramming in what I could, where I could, like the time I grabbed some snooze time on top of a pile of luggage in the Mexico City airport.

During high school and college, I worked on perfecting the art of appearing to take notes, while really doing personal writing. Naturally, this worked better in lectures than in, say, math class. It also worked better than my previous activity of trying to hide my personal reading behind textbooks. I would also say it ranks as better ideas than trying to eat a burrito in the bathtub, or sleeping while your assault squad leaves you behind. Not that I’ve ever tried those things…ok, maybe I was falling asleep in the field, but those Kevlar helmets perch perfectly on top of an M-16…but I never got left behind! And during my 9-5 job years, when I wasn’t finding jobs that let me eat all day, I worked at a place where my main task was shipping archery equipment to the MWR departments at military bases all over the world. You can guess how much brain power that sucked up. It wasn’t hard to look like I was writing up documents and making phone calls, when I was actually working on my first book, and making phone calls. Now I’m making myself look like a Gen X slacker, but no so, I swear! I really just prefer accomplishing as many things as I possibly can in a day, especially if I can push out a little of my own agenda at the same time. I do have to remind myself not to do this at PTO meetings, though, because let’s face it, they’re not that long, and I’m sort of one of the officers.

But I was talking about the solitude. The lonely writer, sitting in a drafty garret, covered in ink stains….

Who wouldn't want that hat to wear while writing?

Are we writers because we  prefer to be alone?
Or are we alone because we prefer to write?
One could look to Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald as examples of writers who, in many ways, drove everyone away. Hemingway wrote, albeit semi-fictitiously, about the dissolution of his first  marriage, in his novel, The Garden of Eden. His case makes for the most compelling chicken vs. egg argument of the above questions, particularly in light of his depressions and eventual suicide.
Outside of that most famous case, there are droves of writers who maintain Other Lives while having writing feature as their career. I might point to J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman as examples of people who write pretty brilliantly, who vocally struggle with their writing, but also, who share the writing with their families. Both of those authors say they’re pretty heavily influenced by their kids, as we also know to be the case in some of the more classic children’s lit, like Winnie The Pooh or Thomas the Tank Engine (both of which, like Harry Potter, have taken on massive and imperial lives of their own). Rowling, as anyone familiar with Harry Potter’s origins may know, invented this world and her hero in the hopes of providing for her children. It’s the dream of every writer who is also a parent, I believe….
But that archetype lingers, as we think of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and even Beatrix Potter. The alienated writer, which is a character that John Cusack seems to be liking a lot these days, the failed star, the genius who could not reproduce his or her initial success, the J.D. Salinger-type, who makes a splash, and hates it enough to go hide in the woods for the rest of eternity.
I’m not sure if there is an answer between the two of those ideas…it’s a bit like wondering why there are so many people in Hollywood with personality disorders, perhaps. Maybe you’re bound to behave a certain way under a set of circumstances, or programmed to only cope with so many stressors (as in current psychology theory).
Or maybe you have to sit down with yourself, and make the decision, well ahead of the bumpy road, to choose humanity, no matter what.
((In that vein, I’m going to take a look at one of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle, in one of the next few installations))