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.

 

Defying gravity

My husband made an observation about me the other day…I was a little surprised that he hadn’t either noticed or noted it before, I suppose. He observed that I thrive with my back to the wall – which is to say: I love proving people wrong, I procrastinate and produce (things that sometimes amaze me) under the gun, and when I only have myself as a critic, I start to unravel.

It’s probably good then, that he was doubting whether I’d be able to get this particular agent person to take me on – (note: he has clarified and said he was referring to this based on a short story that I had written, that he thought it would be a bad idea to send it to this agent, I guess he feels it was not one of my better moments in writing....) I shall refer to this particular agent person as just that, or maybe, “this P.A.P.,” at least until I have unleashed myself and my mountain of wordiness onto the poor soul. I had been secretly worrying about it all, but once the Husband voiced his concern, I could feel the tiny little fire – even if now I find that it was a focused concern, on one particular thing (this was the story I sent off to this Glimmertrain submission process – I don’t have extremely high hopes for it. My short stories sometimes don’t seem to do what I want them to – I guess that’s why I tend to focus more on longer fiction – more narrative to engulf myself in. I’ll post it after I find out whether it was rejected, I guess…!)

This is the wee flame that propelled me from community college into UNC, as a junior transfer. I’d originally applied as a sophomore, and they called to say, jeez, you have too many credits for that, and not enough for junior…I don’t know what came over me, but I pounced. Maybe it was the thought of being in Jordan-land. Or the look I’d had at the campus, with its old, old atmosphere. I just rounded the corner, contacted a few people (thanks again to my high school AP English teacher!), and fought my way in. I had to do that a bit at UNC, probably because it’s a 50k student population, instead of a tiny liberal arts school…but yes, I managed to get my degree, even after being told I was two courses shy of graduating, mere months before I was due to hit OCS for the USMC. Again, under the gun, right, yessirree.

Sometimes, it hasn’t panned out 100%, but by and large, I find that I can really gear myself up when a deadline is looming. I recently found a paper I wrote for an astronomy class, under the same pressure. Somehow I had absorbed all this data about theoretics, quantum mechanics, and wrote about wormholes in a way that was clear I knew what the hell I was saying when I wrote it. Rereading it, however, holy cow…I could barely make sense of it.

Not just academics, either. After our first child was born, and shipped to a NICU out of state, I fought with everyone over the bill we were sent by a private doctor who saw him during that time. In the end, the doctor decided to write it off, and the whole thing was resolved peacefully.

In the past few years, my skills have slipped, though. I guess life got a little stressful, and I bundled myself up in the shell of protecting myself and our kids from the big bad world. It sounds ridiculous, unless you’ve been down our road. When you have a child with a major disability, you tend to be either really reactionary, or else, like me, becoming like a tank, heavily armored, and ignoring everything.

This past year has dumped me on my head here and there…and I was really starting to be stressed out and unhappy over everything…but, of course, bottling it up until my guts hurt. And then, I started talking to whatever it is out there that might be watching over us…I don’t know what to call it right now, obviously that is a whole different story (I grew up a “PK” – a priest’s kid)…but I was asking for a signpost, basically something to tell me in which direction to head. If it’s to be writing, that’s where I would love to go, but I don’t want to be selfish and do it if it’s not the right thing for me to do. And, when and where I least expected it – that was when my dad jumped out of his seat the next time I saw him, and he dug out a business card from his date book, and handed it to me, with this particular agent person’s name on it. If that’s not a signpost, I don’t know what is. Anyone could have given me a name, but this came from my dad, and it’s someone he has known for a long time. And this person’s family are a truly amazing bunch. I could hardly ask for a clearer roadmap, I guess.

So that lit the first fire of “gotta do” under me, and thankfully, my husband and his tiny expression of doubt have pushed me quite a bit further down the line. Where to now…?

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.

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.

Whoosh!

Just like that, everything, the summer, my intentions, my memory, has blown right by.

I know what I said I am going to do this year – the blog part of is has simply fallen through the cracks for a few months.

So, to recap, I said I was going to have TEN PROJECTS completed by the end of the year.

Where am I with that?

Well, I finished drafting and editing one short story about a guy in 1876. His name is Augustus Purce, and he’s the town drunk, but he’s got a secret. I got a tiddling bit of input on that one, rewrote it a couple of times, and zing-zanged it off to Glimmertrain’s semi-annual thingie for new fiction. Who knows. Maybe I should send it off elsewhere as well, but I have to check on their rules for that. This little story came about from watching our own neighborhood drunk bumble up and down the street on a regular basis. He likes to blather at anything that doesn’t hide fast enough, and swills from a coffee cup. I sort of took that, and wondered what would happen if he wasn’t really what he seemed. And then had to wonder why someone would do that.

Now, just today, I finished the first rewrite of a story that is loosely based on what happened to one of my great-grandmothers as a child. I had to make her older than her brother, which was not the case in reality – she was younger than he was, and only a baby when the general facts of this story took place. Her father died of TB when she was 6 months old, and her mother, being a practical sort of woman, put her and her brother, Millard, into an orphanage until she could find either work or a new husband. This story imagines what would have happened if the children had encountered someone who was as wounded as they were, and who decides to take matters into her own hands. In reality, my great-grandmother was retrieved by her mother. It just wasn’t a terribly pleasant time for her, nor was her mother’s next husband, who sexually abused her. It’s a sad fact that the way she grew up probably turned her into a needy, terrified woman who married an alcoholic.  I plan on touching into her life again for a another story or two.

I have some more things that I have started, but if I count correctly, I’m about halfway there. I think I’m going to try Zoetrope again soon, but until then, I’ll be back.