Author: mrs fringe

Practical Dreaming?

Perfection

The only thing better than a beach day is a beer on the beach day. Sadly, this photo is from last month, and I’ve only made it the beach a couple of times this year. Life.

A couple of weeks ago was the Mrs Fringe blog-o-versary. I celebrated in Fringie style by intending to post about running this blog for the past six years, but was distracted by life and there went that.

Here’s the thing about living with chronic bouts of medical mayhem. It doesn’t take much, doesn’t take long to have all the doctor, specialist, emergency room visits meld into one long this-is-the-entirety of life. And it isn’t knowing too much about what’s being said in medical-ese, it’s the sneaky tidbit that comes from behind you and smashes you upside the head with an anvil. Like knowing exactly which bathroom is likely to be the emptiest/cleanest at any given time of day at your most visited ER.

I was joking with one of my writing friends last week, and told her to send me a rejection email so I could feel like a person. She didn’t, but the writing gods were with me and I did get one from an agent a few days later. Sounds a bit crazy to say that, eh? Not just because rejection, but because querying, in and of itself, can often feel dehumanizing. But rejections can be ok, they’re a reminder of person-hood and productivity. And this was a lovely one, personalized, complimentary, and brief. Well, maybe it is a bit crazy to talk about good rejections, but it’s a crazy business.

In addition to commentary on all the political muck, there’s been a lot of industry muck going around recently on social media, stories of agents who aren’t ethical, etc. I follow, pay attention, but don’t say much because I have no personal experience; I’m unagented and have never been strung along by a shmagent. I’d like to say the latter is the result of my sophisticated New Yorker radar, but that would be nonsense. It’s luck. I’m no different than any other wannabe who plays with words, knowing exactly how slim the odds are, and yet investing hours and days and weeks and months, sometimes years, into creating fictional people and living in their worlds, because it could happen. I could get signed, one of my manuscripts could get picked up. I want to think I wouldn’t get suckered, but I can see exactly how and why that damned hope could override any warning signs.

Yesterday there was an interesting thread on the writer’s forum, it’s been discussed many times before, and I don’t think what it became was the original question/intent, but it was a plot vs writing thread. Which is more important to readers, likelihood of being picked up, that kind of thing. Yah, yah, the best novels have both, but most novels aren’t *the best,* and have one or two strengths, not perfection. I enjoy a broad variety of books, literary and genre (nonfiction, too), but if I had to pick one, I lean towards the literary. I can forgive/ignore a lot of plot holes for an interesting character. As a reader, that’s fine, there are always many fine novels to choose from.

As someone who plays with words with an eye towards publication, it couldn’t be a poorer choice. If I was smart–practical–someone who wanted to improve the odds of their dream becoming real, I would work on a tightly plotted thriller with an intern who saves cyberspace, or an epic dark fantasy with a fairy who saves the world, or beautiful, eternally young vampires giving fangtastic blowjobs to shapeshifters–while saving the world.

I’m not that smart. The New Thing I talked about in my last post? I’m still working on it. Took a week off because of the medical mayhem, got back to it the other day. I’m not a fast writer, but if I’m in it, I’m in it, and will average 1000 words every writing session. I’m all in with this angry, unlikeable and unapologetic older woman. This morning I woke intending to open the file and begin the next scene, but instead sat and thought about how thoroughly impractical this story is if I care about finding an agent. And/or being published. There went the day’s words, eaten by angst and shoulda woulda couldas.

There is such a thing as a practical dreamer. I wish it was me, but it isn’t. I I love this story–even though most of it is barely more than a shadow at this point, and I am having too much fun with this character. When my words aren’t lost to practicality and medical mayhem.

What the hell, might as well go all in on the angst:

it was a Dark and Stormy Night

Hmmm

Ok, maybe it was more of a sunny but stormy morning. I like contradictions, the unexpected, the bits that make you say, wait, what? And I love the feeling when a new character’s voice gets strong and clear enough for me to begin putting fingers to keyboard.

And so, here I am. 22 pages into a New Thing. This many pages and it isn’t a short (for me, I know many write long shorts, I’m not one of them) but while the main character’s voice is clear in my head, and I’ve got a shadowy silhouette for the narrative structure, I don’t yet have enough of a story to know this can be a full length manuscript. I’m excited.

I know some who play with words are always excited by their new characters and stories, but I’m not one of those people. I always like them well enough–or, more accurately, not always like but am intrigued by them. But I’m not always excited. As a general rule, the more marketable (hah! as if I understand what’s marketable) the characters/story seem to be, well, the less tied to my words! my sweat! my opened a vein through the keyboard! I am. This is not a given, everyone’s process and experience is different. I’m sure I’ve blogged about this in the past, when I talked more about writing. I’m just not someone who feels each manuscript is a baby I’ve given birth to. I don’t feel any manuscript is a baby I’ve given birth to. Everyone has their own parenting style, but if I don’t feel a limb of any given kiddo is as perfect as I could have made it, I don’t chop it off.

That said, there are a few pieces I’ve been quite attached to, with 210% faith that weird or not, they were damned fine work, with a to-be-found audience that would pay money to read and not feel ripped off at the end, despite my fondness for killing characters. A couple of years back I swore I wasn’t going to write any more of those. Too consuming, too crushing when there was interest but no offers.

So what the hell am I doing with New Thing? It isn’t speculative fiction or magical realism–it’s been years since I’ve written anything over 3000 words that didn’t fall into those categories. Don’t misunderstand, it isn’t like I’m excited by a character or story that’s practical (read, marketable). No romance, no coming of age, no heartwarming friendship story, no thriller or cozy mystery. I’ve got a caustic, no-holds-barred 73 year old woman with early-onset age-related word finding issues, thoughts that skip around like a heart that needs a pacemaker, a love of bourbon, a greater love of cursing, memories of a family she abandoned close to 35 years ago, with no apologies for who she is and certainty that she’s going to die within the next two weeks. She’s offensive.

I’m using 1st person (I instead of she/he) for the bulk of it, which I’ve rarely done and am not particularly fond of, but it feels right for her. I’m using a framing device for the narrative (story within a story) which I’ve never done, and the frame is written in 2nd person, which no one is particularly fond of. It’s, I’m pretty sure, going to be, satire, which no one wants unless you’re Chuck Palahniuk, or Kurt Vonnegut, or John Kennedy Toole. All three are male, two are dead, and I’m neither. Sometimes you see Jane Austen on those satire lists, and I’m pretty sure the only thing my words/stories share with hers is that we both draw/drew from the English alphabet. But I’m kinda sorta falling in love with this bitch of a character. Bitchy, not snarky. I read the opening chapter to Husband (I always read my opening chapters to him–he’s a good sport, supportive of my words, but it’s more an exercise in me needing to read it aloud *to* someone than belief that he’s going to want to hear/read more), and he likes it. Genuinely laughed in all the spots I would hope someone would laugh. This is fucking terrifying.

Instead of a song/youtube vid, I’m closing this with the last few pages of the first chapter. Good, bad, or indifferent, Fringelings, feel free to share your thoughts:

Ha! You make me choke, think I learned to cook in the restaurant. Rest-o-rant-ay. I learned the restaurant to cook. No, I didn’t. I brought my secret in with me and took it when they closed. I’ll learn you to cook, if you want. Otherwise it’s just gonna go with me to the grave. No. Not learn. What’s that word? But I can’t start with cooking. Or the restaurant. If you want to hear my story, you gotta know there’s more than one. It’s a whole lotta stories, like everybody. Even you. You got one story in you? No, you gotta buncha em that brought you here, and a dozen more will chase you into your grave. But you don’t want those. You want what they tell you to want, one long happy ending. Because we’re women. 

Men are supposed to have lots of stories. But women? Women are supposed to learn one thing, and learn that one thing to their children, and then sit quietly in their rockers and knit booties until it’s time to go. I say fuck. that. I seen too many knitting needles used for other things. Them spindles on those rockers hurt my back, I’ve lived too many stories to take that. 

Take this. 

Oh, now, don’t get all offended. It’s just a finger. You sit the rocker if you want, I’ll keep the recliner. See, it fits my body just right, cloth rubbed smooth from my fingers, crooks and all. 

Where did I learn to cook? In the mountains, from my grams, same as most. Told ya, nothing dramatic. Bet ya didn’t know the Appalachian mountains go all into Pennsylvania. I know, most people think of Kentucky when they think Appalachia, but it’s a whole lot more than that. And don’t leave here cracking wise about banjos and moonshine. Sure, a little splash of bourbon is ok now and then. In fact, go ahead and top me up from that bottle in the cabinet next to the stove. No, no danger in mixing it, I told ya, I ain’t takin that damned medicine. A smoke, a tea and a splash, that’s all the medicine I need. Anything else is snake oil. 

What the hell did they learn you up there in the Bronx? No cooking, no stories, too much medicine. Thank the lord I didn’t move up there. My husband wanted to, in the eye-talian section. Where they got those salamis hanging in the windows like shlongs looking for their shriveled owners and pastries laid out like communion wafers. No, Frankie ain’t Italian. He just wanted to be, thought those sharkskin suits and slick-haireds were the way to be men. He’s German-Irish, but not like me. He got all watered in with New York-ese. He mooned over Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin more than I did. I was more of a Bob Dylan gal, myself.

Teach! That’s the word. I’ll teach you to make my dumplings. But now I’m tired. Is something wrong? Nothing’s wrong, I’m old. Heh, who told you 73 wasn’t old? Musta been one of them rich women you visit, someone with a fancy dog and a book club. Women like me with stories and crooked fingers, we’re old. And we’re tired. 

If you come back be useful. Bring potatoes and buttermilk, I’ll learn—I’ll teach you the secret. My gram’s dumplings and the restaurant’s guknockys. Both kinds but the same secret. Also bourbon. 

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Babies

Sunrise, it’s beautiful until you face the news.

The truth is I started this post yesterday–and by started I mean I typed in the title, uploaded the most recent photos, and then was crushed by the weight of it all. When creating a new file and starting a new…novel, maybe? is easier than writing a blog post, yeah, it’s heavy.

Often the anticipation of a thing, something bad you know is coming, or even the unknown of waiting for medical test results, is worse than when that thing happens. I knew, and if you weren’t in denial you knew, this swift, systematic dismantling of America and American rights was going to happen as soon as 45 was elected. The worst is now happening, and it isn’t any better than waiting/not knowing. Is it worse? Yes, because as quickly as all this is happening, it feels like well more than half the country is still in denial–and not just the racist, homophobic, misogynist supporters on the Right, but too many on the Left with their “Mueller will fix everything, it won’t get that bad,” and my current favorite, “Senators Collins and Murkowski will do the right thing.” If they were going to do the right thing they would have disavowed the rest of the GOP two years ago. Unless something immediate, drastic, and miraculous occurs, Kavanaugh (45’s latest pick for the Supreme Court) will be confirmed, and Roe v Wade is going to be overturned.

Whether or not we can change this (and yes, we should continue doing everything in our power to try), every woman and every man who so much as nods to the idea of women’s rights and equality needs to acknowledge what this means, just how far back this clock is spinning. Because guess what? It isn’t about abortion. There have always been abortions, but not safe, legal, and affordable ones. It sure as shit isn’t about the sanctity of life. It’s about punishing the poor and people of color–because those who are wealthy and white will always be able to hop on a plane to somewhere it’s safe and legal when they need to. It’s about putting women in their place, taking away our freedom, our agency, our power, our right to life. It’s about punishing females for having a uterus, girls for developing breasts, women for believing we too should have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s about being told by men and wealthy corporations what we can or cannot do with our bodies, specifically our secondary sexual characteristics, to be used and abused only as these men and corporations deem appropriate and advantageous to them.

I know the popular stories from those on the right like to focus on the millions of imaginary evil wimminz who tempt men with their short skirts and girly bits, have unprotected sex while “taking” promotions in the workplace, and then skipping to their nearest Planned Parenthood for D&Cs. If you listen to these stories, these women choose to have abortions more regularly than most have menstrual cycles–yanno, when they’re bleeding from their wherever. There won’t be medical necessity exceptions, that’s been made very clear by those bullshit, alarmist campaigns against late term abortions–which are just about always performed because of medical necessity.

If and when this happens, I’m certain we can also look forward to the good old days where birth control was banned and illegal (since health care will be unaffordable, by that time birth control will also be a privilege for the wealthy). We’ll go back to the days of rape is impossible within a marriage–because there are plenty who still believe this–rape in general will be decriminalized and always the woman’s (girls, men, boys) fault. Hey, maybe they can start criminalizing and prosecuting women who have miscarriages. Don’t worry, there will be a natural limit to the cost of this, since a number of these women will die without the ability to have doctors perform D&Cs.

I thought I would go on and on with this post, detailing the history of abortion, birth control, and women’s rights, with a ton of links and photos, but no. I’m too tired, and I just can’t. Because those who are screaming that this is about criminalizing women’s sexuality are wrong. It’s about criminalizing women.

 

Between the Lines

Left side of Venus Kissed by Cupid, Michele Di Jacopo Tosini, 1555 Florence, after design by Michelangelo

To get through the hellscape that is life in America now, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and I know I’m not alone in this. Nonfiction can let us feel like everything isn’t completely out of control, there are extraordinary people out there to learn about, there’s historic/political precedent (even if not in this country), and fiction has always been and will always be the great escape. Let’s focus on fiction.

What constitutes escape is different for different people, and I’ve been fascinated reading comments on the web on what people are or are not able to swallow in these strange days. Some want the total escape of romance, and/or don’t want anything remotely dark, heavy, or political in front of them. That isn’t me, but it never was, so *shrug*.

I like dark, I like heavy, I like characters who feel realer than real and a message that makes me think–whether that message is about the human condition, climate change, or socioeconomics. It doesn’t have to be straight literary fiction; magical realism is my favorite to read as well as write. Yes, I honestly love Salman Rushdie’s work. It doesn’t always have to be heavy, I’ve long talked about my addiction to Stephen King, think Neil Gaiman is fabulous, last year I enjoyed The Magicians series (a bit too young adult for my taste, though it was marketed as adult fantasy) and yes, way back when I thought the Da Vinci Code was a fun read. I didn’t notice a difference in what I’ve been choosing and enjoying over the past year and a half, still a fairly broad mix in my Nook–other than not being able to plow through the nonfiction political books cover to cover. Small doses.

The other day I saw a tweet from someone saying they couldn’t handle dystopian fiction right now, too close to home. I don’t get it. For me, good dystopians (or near-future, or post-apocalyptic) are exactly what I want to read. Not the Hunger Games type where that special chosen sixteen-year-old saves everyone, but more along the lines of Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart, or American War, by Omar El Akkad. People living through the muck.

I just finished The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. It was my book club’s pick for the month, not my first choice but I wasn’t opposed, should be a reasonably fun read and I’m usually willing to read anything. I’m not a James Patterson fan, but I read a few of his (back when he wrote his own novels) and the novelty of him teaming up with Bill Clinton was a curiosity worth satisfying. Or not. If it weren’t for the book club obligation, I would have stopped reading. Not because it was poorly written or too slow–though come on, why oh why didn’t an editor knock off the first 50 pages–after that it picked up and kept moving. Not because the President had more than a bit of Gary Stu to him–handsome, brilliant, combat-tested veteran/POW; chose a female VP, Chief of Staff, and FBI director, devoted father, grieving widow, opposed to treason and true humanitarian. But because it was so fucking upsetting to read a contemporary political thriller where the main character is a POTUS who cared about this country and the people in it.  A POTUS who knew Russia isn’t this country’s friend or ally.

Last month the book club choice was Salvage the Bones, by Jessmyn Ward. I loved it, highly recommend, and know I would have loved it five years ago, too. I’m both insanely jealous of her magic with words and grateful for the beauty she’s able to produce from the ugliest of scenarios. But I’m realizing the novels that catch my eye and hold my interest are a little different than what they might have included a few years ago. Those light, fast-paced political thrillers? Right now, for me, more stomach churning than page turning. Anyone else finding their fiction choices are different these days?

 

 

New (ab)Normal

I probably shouldn’t blog when I’m pissed. I definitely shouldn’t blog with a large alcoholic drink at my side. I’m about to do both. Sorry, but I couldn’t edit my thoughts enough to limit to tweets. I am appalled and disgusted by how many people don’t want to understand just how deep a pile of shit this country is in right now, how deep it’s been since November 8, 2016. No, I’m not talking about 45 supporters, I’m talking democrats, those who consider themselves part of the resistance. Yes, they’re upset. Yes, they’re marching, they’re calling their representatives, they’re gasping at the thought of a hardline rightwing (and likely unqualified, given the other picks from this administration) Republican taking Justice Kennedy’s spot on the Supreme Court…and then they’re saying, well, midterm elections are only four months away. Well, at least we’re in a blue state.

Well, wake up, buttercup, all bets are off. Everyone knows by now this administration chose to separate and cage babies taken from their parents, who came to our borders because they were desperate, seeking refugee status in a nation that was, until recently, a reasonable shot at a reasonably safe life. Now we’re hearing about children as young as 3 years old in immigration court without their parents. 3. In court. Because if they deserve to live here, they’ll pull themselves up by their diaper tabs and orate like Atticus Finch? Stop for a second and think about how completely insane and evil that is. Now tell me how certain you are that living in a blue state, in a country that isn’t red, but black and blue, will keep you safe. If this government can decide to deny due process to refugees, they can decide to deny it to you.

Years ago I entered the world of being a medical needs parent. Not when kiddo was born, but a few years later. That’s when I learned, really learned, the idea of a new normal. Because at first, it’s natural, understandable, and probably healthy, to wait for and expect things to go back to normal. Surprise! That day doesn’t come. And you learn about the concept of new normal. And you think you will adjust. And then another medication fails, and another diagnosis is added, and then another diagnosis is questioned, expectations are adjusted, lather, rinse, repeat, ad infinitum. And then you reach a point where you understand new normal means constantly shifting. Along the way, you understand a lot of the old normal still applies. You still have to do laundry, make dinner, grocery shop, clean the toilet. Now you add more time in the pharmacy than you dreamed possible. Making sure all electronics are charged and ready to go at a moment’s notice becomes second nature. When things are bad, you make sure there are frozen dinners in the fridge in case of emergency, make sure there are always enough clean clothes in case that potential trip to the hospital has to happen right. now. You learn to be patient. You learn to wait-and-see without turning away. You learn how to argue, plead your case, and spend eleventy billion hours on the phone fighting with the health insurance company. Politely. And you learn polite doesn’t mean saying thank you and accepting when needed coverage is denied. You still get to laugh, enjoy good moments as they come along, treasure the people and friendships you make in this new abnormal world, and appreciate those friends from your old world who understand they cannot understand your new normal-abnormal, and hang in there anyway despite canceled plans because of illness, side effects, hospitalizations.

You know what you don’t get to do? Pretend that all this new abnormal is all going to disappear. Not only disappear, but leave no permanent scars on all involved. You don’t get to pretend that a momentary meltdown equals problem solved, or now you can ignore all the unpleasantness for the next month, or week. You don’t get to pretend, regardless of what gets worse or what gets better, that all involved aren’t irrevocably changed, shaped by these experiences, permanently on guard. You don’t get to pretend because this time it isn’t your kid hooked up to a gazillion tubes that the other kid who is there is purely theoretical. That is someone’s child. Maybe someone you know and care about, maybe not, but you know how easily that could be your child. As easily as the little one in a cage, in a strange country, climbing on a table in front of a judge when they’re too young to understand what a judge is, that child could be your child, whether you want to admit it or not.

America is sick. This is a chronic illness, that may or may not be fatal. We don’t get to pretend this illness isn’t insidious and progressive. Not even if neither you or none of those you care about have pre-existing conditions, or brown skin, or faith that isn’t Christian, or a uterus. None of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re appalled or offended. This is where we are, and we can’t possibly slow this descent into rotten banana republic if we’re still pretending the banana is just a little soft.

Words being Served

The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara, Lucas Cranach the Elder, ca. 1510 (yes, this photo is crooked)

Let’s talk about words. I was going to limit myself to “C” words, but I think I’m going to throw caution to the wind and use all 26 letters of the alphabet. Special focus though, on c words. Like cage. And f words. Like fuck, I was right, my country is turning into Nazi Germany. Or turn the clock back further, to pre-civil war legal slavery, or the atrocities visited upon Native Americans and their children, all in the name of white makes right. *excuse me while I puke* And yet, even with 26 letters to make an infinite number of words, they are inadequate.

Over the years, this little blog has provoked some reactions. Some, as I talked about the other day, positive. Other reactions have been scolding, “be positive!” “don’t talk politics, you could turn people off, offend someone!” Ah yes, the sword of offense. A few years back that caused me to shrug. If you didn’t like my politics or my honesty, you weren’t my reader–that goes for both blogging and fiction. By now, if you are offended by my discussing politics, I find you to be both offensive and an affront to humanity. I see too many supporting this ugliness, these atrocities promised and being perpetrated by our government.  And I see many more hiding behind the “virtue” of being apolitical. Some offering the Bible as proof there’s no need to worry about politics, God is in charge. That isn’t virtue, and in these times, it isn’t apolitical. It’s condoning. It’s support for conspiracy and crimes against humanity; in the names of greed, misogyny, and racism. It’s gaslighting of throwing around the word collusion–sounds so official and yet is meaningless in a court of law. It’s caging babies, turning a blind eye to the internment of thousands of children. It’s a lack of compassion signifying sociopathy spreading like genital warts.

There are those of us who are horrified, appalled by the images and audio coming out of these baby jails, those of us whose hearts are being shredded as we imagine being that mother, that father whose child has been stolen–for the sin of hoping to find a better, safer life than the one they left behind. As we imagine being that little girl sexually assaulted by a deputy, her mother blackmailed with threats of deportation. It helps no one to deny there are also those who are gleeful when seeing those same images, laugh at the audio, can’t imagine the terrified, traumatized child with Down’s syndrome as their own because they see her as damaged. Brown. Other. Not a “real” child. They prefer to snicker about liberal tears, pretend shock and offense at the language of Robert DeNiro and Samantha Bee.

I follow several lit agents on Twitter, and a smattering have always included some politics in their feeds, recently more, and in the past couple of days, a few have made reference to being told they shouldn’t–their response being a wholly satisfying fuck you. Some literally, some more politely. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who will not make a distinction between their business and their humanity. I don’t care what you write or represent, lit fic, sci-fi/fantasy or erotica, this is the literary world. Telling the stories that need to be told, offering illumination to darkness, offering opportunities for everyone–no matter their life circumstance–to find characters that reflect who they are and who they want to be, say the words they wish they could say, offer comfort to those who need it and provoke those who are too comfortable. Publishing is a business, and the business is humanity.

A nation of laws is only as good as the people writing and enforcing those laws. Laws are not just by virtue of being written. Currently, we aren’t living by the rules of a democratic society. We have a spineless GOP in control that has given away the power inherent in their branch of government, enabling this hateful windbag-in-chief and his misogynist, white supremacist cabinet. An entire administration that defines avarice and corruption.

Sometimes silence is strength. This isn’t one of those times. If we do not speak out, we are sacrificing human beings for the sake of…what? Words are what we have. Right now, they’re about all we have. They are the power of possibility, the power of reason, the power of change. Don’t give away any of them. Especially not the ones that make you uncomfortable.

 

 

 

Oh Sanity, I Barely Know You and I Miss You Already

So. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with this city of mine. There’s a 91,000 word manuscript sitting and waiting for me to decide if I’m going to query it or not, and in many ways it’s my love letter to New York; the dreams it feeds and feeds on, the dreamers (not to be confused with yet including Dreamers) who so often go unnoticed but are the framework. While I hated the unique stressors that have gone hand in hand with raising kids here; the ludicrous public school process, not having the ability to say, “go play in the yard!,” having to lug toys and snacks to the park every day when they were small, it also meant Husband and I found amazing school opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise explored, spent enough time in museums that each had favorite paintings from the Met, a favorite dinosaur (given names) in the Museum of Natural History, knew the best way to have fun in the Guggenheim spiral without annoying everyone else, and that we spent thousands of those days playing in Central Park, Riverside Park, Morningside Park, Washington Square, etc–not a terrible backyard.

I’m here, I live here, at this point I don’t expect to live anywhere else. In all honesty, the increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes have tarnished my lifelong beach house fantasy. Still, the constant energy of the city can be…a lot. I still dream about a little house in the middle of nowhere. And a garden. What I have–and yes, I know what a luxury it is–is a little terrace, shared with my neighbor, split by a flimsy partial wall thing. It isn’t big or fancy, but it’s my peace. I’m out there every morning, drink my coffee in my rescued-from-a-local-nail-salon-just-before-it-went-into-the-maw-of-a-garbage-truck chair, and watch the sun rise. I pop out throughout the day and evening with my tea to think about what I’m writing or just breathe. In the spring, I plant–and all summer, I close my eyes, smell the lilies and tomatoes, and imagine I’m in that middle of nowhere.

The other day we got a notice to clear off the terraces on this side of the building, they’ll be doing repair work. All. Summer. Long. No terrace access. I get it. It’s necessary, safety, blah blah blah, we’re lucky this is being done, imagine if it weren’t…. Today Man Child is going to help get it cleared off, most of my plants will go up the block to my mother-in-law’s terrace. Not terrible, right? I’m being ridiculous. Dramatic. But the thought of not having that access for the next three months takes my breath away. I wonder if anyone will notice if I drag my mug, my chair, and my tomatoes to a hidden corner in Central Park.

Squint and Look Sideways

Conch, eyes up and hoovering crap at the bottom of the tank.

Despite approaching each day’s news with a squinty side eye, I feel more like my conch, eyeballs overextended and exposed. Wishing I was more like him, and could go ahead and bury myself under the sand for weeks at a time. Did you think I was abandoning political discussion? Nope. I’m not sorry, either, and don’t understand how anyone can choose to ignore the news these days. I know some are doing so out of necessity, self-preservation bc of mental health needs. Part of me hopes they will be ready to take up the bullhorns when those who have been screaming for two years bottom out. The WH and Congress have been taken over by monsters, but for me, the biggest horror of this never-ending shitshow is the people who support them, and worse, those who just pretend it has nothing to do with them. Yes, I’ve said all this before, but it only gets worse as our elected monsters become more emboldened, and enact more and more inhumane policies. You know where I’m going with this.

Children. Children stolen from their parents and put in the equivalent of dog kennels in kill-shelters. Does that sound inflammatory? Good. We’re told those temporary shelters only hold the children for 72 hours, then they are transported to luxurious surroundings like this closed Walmart.  We’re told this is a necessary as a deterrent. These days we’re told a lot of things, most of which amounts to the static of doublespeak. This is what the United States has become. This is an embarrassment, this is certainly immoral, this should be criminal.  Parents undertake dangerous crossings and show up at the American borders with their children because they’re desperate. Teenagers leave their homes to try and gain entry because they’re hungry. These are refugees seeking asylum, and our country isn’t just denying them entry, our government is making the calculated decision to ruin thousands of lives by taking the most inhumane action and inflicting the most calculated, permanent damage possible. Yes, permanent damage. These children will not walk away unscathed. The psychological damage being inflicted is permanent, and I’m certain there is physical damage as well; I’m skeptical those patrolling these centers are coaxing the traumatized to eat, making sure any necessary medications are being administered on time, if at all, noticing a child who is ill before they are seriously ill, or one who is injured who is too afraid of what will be done to them if they complain.

America has a long, complicated, and contradictory history. “All men are created equal” is a battle cry sung while we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, yet disparage those all-too-few black citizens who have the wealth and platform (yet still not the security) to take a knee. We say women are equal, girls can do anything, yet cannot pass the ERA. We teach our children Rosa Parks was important because she was tired and wanted to sit. We watch Pocohontas while we build a pipeline on American Indian land. We tsk tsk about how wrong we were to build and implement Japanese internment camps during WWII, yet still allow openly racist, anti-Asian American candidates to run for office. We confuse the cross and the flag, while we reject the basic principles of Judeo-Christian ethics. We brag about freedom of religion while we make faces at a woman in a hijab. A woman in a hijab complains about the black woman next to her. A Haitian-American immigrant disparages the teenaged girl walking down the street carrying a Pride flag. We take to the streets to protest this turn towards isolationism and fascism, yet insist on Democratic candidates passing impossible purity tests. We pride ourselves on being a nation of immigrants as we make it as difficult as possible for the “wrong” immigrants, over and over again.

If you are reading this, or my Twitter feed, or used to be a friend and are now thinking, “wow, that Mrs Fringe is a feminazi libtard, a snowflake,” all I can say is this–yes, yes I am. And I’m fine with it, because the alternative is being someone who reduces desperate, hungry, vulnerable children to chattel. I am a parent, and the pain of trying to imagine being in the position of a desperate mother at our border having her child taken as that child screams in terror and confusion is unimaginable. I’m an adult with adult/almost adult children, who remembers and understands the long term effects of having been a child in a tenuous and terrifying non-home. So yes, I have to squint sideways as I watch these news segments, read the news articles and scroll through the Twitter feed. I can spend more than half my days reminding myself to breathe and keep my howling silent. What I cannot do, what I will not do, is look away. I will remember I am a human being, as are these “illegal” children.

What We Bring, What We Take

I’m back! Didn’t realize I was gone? I boiled the water, poured it over the tea bag and…no milk. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t even read a post without a fresh cup of tea, let alone write one. One trip to the grocery store, one half-hearted clean-out of the fridge, one load and start the dishwasher and two hours later, sitting in front of the laptop again. With tea. I caught the most recent headlines detailing How-American-Democracy-Dies out of the corner of my squint, considered changing what I would blog about, and nope. Not today.

While I was on hiatus from the blog, I kinda sorta started a book club. I didn’t necessarily realize it was going to become *my* book club when I floated the idea to one of the more active tenants in the building. She got it started by posting a notice to see who might be interested, chose a date for an exploratory meeting, and then somehow, I’m the one spearheading it. Me and my big mouth, eh? In all honesty, so far it’s been great. There’s a good mix of interests/ages/backgrounds/and perspectives being brought to the discussions, enough people showing up to keep things lively, not so many that it’s difficult for anyone who wants to to be heard. This weekend I was chatting with a building friend, and she said she was enjoying the book club in unexpected ways because of those different perspectives. I’ve never done one of these clubs before (I know, you’re all shocked to discover I’m not a joiner of clubs), but I have to say I likely wouldn’t be interested in one that didn’t involve a mix like this one does.

Spent the weekend drafting pitches for a twitter contest coming up that I will almost certainly not participate in. As mentioned the other day, I’ve been generally obsessing over whether or not I’m going to try querying (through usual means, no tweeting required) this manuscript I’ve got. Even if the stars align and someone offers me a contract, it will involve lots of rejections first, and then during, and then after. I have to decide if I’m ready for it. What does this have to do with the book club? Perspective. Anyone who’s ever queried anything creative is familiar with some variation of the phrase, “this business is subjective, not right for me, etc.” It truly is subjective, and that subjectivity doesn’t stop with an agent and/or editor. Ultimately, once you produce words and put them out there, subjectivity lies with the readers. Not just the obvious of whether or not they enjoy the story/are glad they spent time with it, but the how and what of that enjoyment, or satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, what stuck with them and what their eyes skimmed over. Their interpretation of the story.

One of my beta readers referenced hope as something she took away from my story. My instinct was to deny it, nope–not about hope. I don’t do hope. Really. Except it is, if that’s what she saw. Because maybe her definition of hope is different than mine. Maybe what gives her hope is different than what might give me hope. What many others think of as dark I think of as honest. Interesting. The bits that ground us, what we hold in common through the human experience. (Yuck, that sounds grandiose, doesn’t it?) What connects us isn’t always love. Sometimes it’s hunger. Fear. The rage of feeling, being powerless in a given situation. The desire to laugh. Or maybe just to be transported for a little while; for a chapter or an hour or 90,000 words, out of our own world and into someone else’s. But when we do, we’re bringing our story to theirs, as sure as the reverse.

The Prodigal Blogger Returns

Hello all, it’s been a minute. How do I work this? How did I get here? Wait. Wrong song, wrong questions. Sort of.

I’ve been writing. And writing and revising and writing and revising. When I first began Mrs Fringe back in 2012, it was for all the lovely esoteric? ridiculous? reasons: a spot to be me, blah blah blah. It was also to see if I could get back to the discipline of writing. Which I did. In addition to the blog, I wrote a novel. I was pleased to have written it, queried it briefly, but I kind of hated it. I liked the very kernel in the center, but it wasn’t me. Not as a person, and not as a person who plays with words. Then I wrote another novel, which I loved. I queried that one, got an unexpected and deliciously exciting number of requests based on the query and opening chapters, but no offers, no hey-your words suck, please stop, no fix this-not that. I was fucking crushed, never going to write another novel, etc. Then I thought about going back to that other one, ideas for how I could rewrite it in a way that was me, but maybe include the potential to be commercially viable.

I started writing down notes on those ideas. Then in November 2016 the unspeakable but unignorable happened in the US, and I was crushed in a different way. At that point I took a break from the blog, feeling like America had voted for me to shut the fuck up, no-one was ever going to want to hear my words; not through Mrs Fringe and not through my fiction. Came back, blogged sporadically when I couldn’t stop the awful from spilling onto the keyboard, started seriously rewriting that manuscript. Too much awful, stopped the fiction, still blogged sporadically, then decided I needed to finish that novel. Talk about ludicrous. I had adult child telling me Mrs Fringe wasn’t fun anymore so obviously my answer was to write 90,000 words of political satire. Proof that no whips or chains are required to fulfill masochistic tendencies. This was also a different process for me. By nature, I’m a linear writer. First chapter, edit, second chapter, edit, and so on, until I reach the end, go back and edit the whole thing. I thought hey, this will be easier, I’ve got the bones from that original manuscript to use as a blueprint. Can’t speak for anyone else’s process, but for me, it was much harder, and I didn’t have enough words left at the end of each session to also blog. I will never do this again. Would I go back and revise an old manuscript, if there was a specific reason (ie: interest from someone in the industry)? Sure. But this? Nope. Seriously, I’d rather face the blank page.

Still tweaking, but it’s been written and revised and edited and edited and sent to beta readers and edited and edited. I even have a query letter. Because I’m Mrs Fringe, and the last manuscript (magical realism) was maybe a little too weird, naturally this one is eight times stranger. What can I say, I’ve got my own way of looking at the world, and my fiction explores that perspective. As always, the response from beta readers was split between positives “yes, send this out! I love your words! but maybe fix this first, and oh god what is it with you and commas?” and “wtf, Mrs F?” I’m having a hard time deciding the genre, I definitely veered left from magical realism, thought new weird might be right, but I’m not sure that’s a thing anymore (unless you’re China Miéville), so I’m getting used to using the term speculative fiction. It’s absurdist, kind of a fantastical satire set in near-future New York. Just the thing everyone is clamoring for, eh? Now I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. There are a couple of bits I want to add/clarify, and I’m not quite happy with the query, but I’m finding myself dragging my feet on fixing these, because I don’t know if I actually will query. If it’s as finished as I can/know I need to make it, I’ll have to decide. While it isn’t autobiographical, and maybe not the bookofmyheart that the last one was, it’s…Fringey. Much the way Mrs Fringe–eclectic as it is–has focused on what it is to live on the fringe of this city, this story explores the cracks of NY: who lives there, what they’re dreaming of, and how they survive.

I’m back here today because I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot. I broke the rules with Mrs Fringe. I don’t have one specific focus, I’m an expert on nothing yet have been forthcoming with my .02 on everything. I’m anonymous. I’m not consistent with content nor post production. I *gasp* don’t keep it positive. In almost six years of doing this, I haven’t built a huge following, but I do have a following. I think. Are you still there, readers? It’s me, Fringey. (I really did let it lie quiet for months this time.) If I was going to hit it “big” with thousands of followers, I figure it would have happened by now. But on a semi-regular basis–even during periods where I’m on a break and not posted anything–I get notes/messages from readers, maybe asking where I am, or telling me my weird words made sense to them, some have been generous enough to thank me. Every one of those notes has been amazing to receive, felt like both validation (yes! someone likes my words!) and bonus (it’s a blog, I have no expectation for anything to come of it). Can I find the same with my fiction? For all the years I’ve been playing with words, the question hasn’t changed: are my words good enough? Am I enough?

(Currently the working title of the manuscript, I’ve had this song on repeat for months. At this point I think it’s the soundtrack to my nightmares.)