Yeah, I’m going to try blogging regularly again. It used to be–dare I say it–fun. Fun is good. Besides, I don’t think I added more than a page to the current WIP this week. This way I can feel productive. Not much to say, though, so come wander through the park with me. I am not a good photographer, but wanting the just the right photos to go with blog posts taught me I enjoy playing with the camera. Between my terrible vision and shaky hands, I pretty much just keep clicking until the battery dies. When I want to run away, I grab the camera and go to Central Park. Sometimes in search of birds, sometimes peace, sometimes to wander through the trails of the North Woods–the rats are bolder and more numerous up there but fewer tourists and closer to home–so I can sob my way through. Today I took the train downtown, entered the park by Strawberry Fields. Not long ago I wrote a flash fiction piece about a woman who runs away to the park and stays there. I think one lit mag is reading it. I don’t write a lot of flash, so I tend not to keep close track of whether or not a piece is on sub, and rarely try more than a couple of places.
Anyway. You hear New Yorkers say you can forget you’re in the city when you’re in Central Park. Now, I do love it, but that’s a damned lie. People, traces of people, clearly manmade structures, bridges, gates and/or the shadow of buildings are everywhere in those 843 acres. I’m pretty sure I’ve even read the slow change of leaves in the fall is due to the way the sun/shadows are disrupted by the buildings surrounding the park.
I know it’s stunning when you’re surrounded by vibrant autumn colors, but I kind of like these days, with surprise pops of red or yellow against the green and brown. Much the way I walk past the serious birders of the park (and there are many serious birders in Central Park–for good reason, tons of species) with their lenses that are longer than I am, taking shots and debating the movement of amazing birds I usually can’t even see outside of their Twitter posts. I mostly stick to the sparrows/robins/bluejays/mourning doves. Yes, I will die on the hill saying those regular brown city sparrows are underrated. They’re beautiful, move and sing in little communities. Look at these little faces.
I’m not a fan of city squirrels, but they are great subjects if you’re slow with the camera. They aren’t remotely afraid of people, so they aren’t moving just because you stopped to take a picture of them. Unless you have food, in which case give it up or run, because they’ll shiv you, your grandma, and your baby to steal a few goldfish crackers.
It was a good afternoon for wandering, wind kicking enough to remind everyone that it is the end of October, slow color change or not. Until the wind increased and reminded me it was time to get home before I got clipped in the head by an errant piece of scaffolding.
I never made a conscious decision to stop blogging, or take a break, or whatever this has been. Like many others, I got caught in the tidal wave of the pandemic, and just getting through was about all I could do. I’m not sure I’m restarting, either, this may be a one-off. But I have thoughts, one in particular, that’s been banging around my brain these past couple of weeks. And good grief, it’s been so long since I blogged, WordPress is using a new (not intuitive!) editor program, and it just took me twenty minutes to figure out how to insert a photo.
This was never specifically a writing blog–and it isn’t about to become one–but I have rambled a fair amount about writing because it’s a big part of me and my life. Over the course of the pandemic, I did more submitting of short stories than I ever had before, had some success (acceptances/publications), and lots of thanks but no thanks, often but not always with specific invitations to try again. That’s the way of the publishing world, until and unless you’re SUPER BIG NAME WITH MANY ACCOLADES. Which is not most, not even those who are successful. Over the past week I received a couple of rejections I’d been waiting for, and this morning I sat down to the laptop intending to choose a few new places to send those stories to, and just couldn’t. Not today. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. Seriously, I feel like this chicken.
Smashed into an invisible wall and decided here was as good a place as any to drop.
So what are these deep thoughts I’ve been having that I absolutely needed to share with the world? Rejection, of course. Not in a poor me kind of way, not calculations of acceptances/rejections, not looking for pep talks or cheerleading. Just thinking about the repeated choice to continue pursuing some measure of success in an area where monthly, weekly, daily rejections are par for the course. Thinking this must have, have had, an effect on the choices I make, the way I view the world, the way I view myself. Don’t you think?
Seriously, I’m wondering. What would the difference be, if there was a difference, if I was one of the many who enjoyed reading and writing as a child, got some nice compliments from a second or fifth grade teacher, and just left it there? Limited writing to cute or heartfelt messages at the bottom of Christmas and birthday cards. Impassioned social media posts. Maybe became one of those obnoxious, “Oh, you write? I always wanted to write a book but don’t have time, I’m going to write a bestseller when I retire, I’ve got the formula down from all the thrillers I read.” I don’t think I’d be radically different, the rest of me is still me, the rest of life would still be what it is. I’d still have a dark outlook but like to laugh, still be an old-timey Noo Yawk broad, still hate when it’s cold enough I have to wear socks, still have some who think I’m funny and more who think I’m too damned much. But I think there is something, and I wonder if it’s something significant enough that after all these years it’d be noticeable? fundamental?
Sure, it’s well known you have to have or develop thick skin to pursue any creative work. Which is weird as fuck, because at the same time you have to remain so sensitive you’re raw, the proverbial bleeding onto the page. Have such an inflated sense of yourself, your words, your ability to create fictional people and worlds you put your work out there absolutely certain others will care enough about your characters they’ll laugh with them, be shocked by them, maybe even cry when you kill them off. Hope these imaginary readers will pay real money to read your work, while understanding and accepting many more won’t be interested, maybe even think your blatherings are good for nothing more than lining the chicken coop.
At least once a day there’s a thought that crosses my mind or a headline that catches my eye where I think: I should write a blog post about that. Usually followed by all the reasons I shouldn’t bother–no one cares, you have nothing new to add to the subject, good grief, Fringe, another lousy poem? what makes you think you should, you’ve already posted about that ad infinitum, blah blah blah–and I don’t. Well, it’s my blog and I’ll weep ruminate if I want to. We don’t all have One Thing we dedicate our lives to, but I do think most of us have a handful of subjects that draw us back. Themes. I’ve written many stories in somewhat varying genres, but most can be boiled down to the theme of not enough. Not good enough, not rich enough, not talented enough, not young enough, not worthy enough. Any of my long time readers know there are themes here on the blog I return to again and again, all loosely related to living live on the fringe. Today I’m back to womenofacertainage.
That’s me, above. My hair, anyway (post-ironing). It isn’t news to me that it’s a political statement (insert eyeroll here) I don’t dye my hair. I mean, sure, there’s an element of budget (getting your hair dyed is $$$$), laziness (it’s a good year if I get to the stylist twice for a haircut), and I like how it looks (I think the silver is pretty), but to others? Whoa. I am brave. Excuse me while I gag a bit. Maybe weep some more. If you dye your hair because you want to and like to, great! But I don’t think it’s so clearcut. When it comes to the signs of age and aging in our society, it’s complicated. I’ve had many women offer a compliment and follow it with, I would love to stop dying my hair, but my husband/partner/child/parent doesn’t want me to. Is that true? Maybe. Sometimes. But many of those same women wouldn’t hesitate to dye their hair a color their person objected to, or cut their hair, or not cut their hair, or dread it or straighten it or perm it or whatever.
I’ve been reading a lot these past weeks, but have put aside many more novels than I’ve finished. Last night I started another and realized part of why I keep putting so many to the side. Not because they’re terrible, and not because they’re too deep. I love great books that make me think, highlight the human condition, and make me cry because I’ll never write such a beautiful sentence, but that isn’t what I’m in the mood for these days. I want stories deep enough to engage that primarily offer escape. All the news is awful, thoughts of what’s to come, who and what has been lost in these past months of Covid-19 are worse, damned right I want to get lost in someone else’s fiction. But it can only be escape if it offers characters I can connect with. I guess my version of escape is different from…who? The majority of readers? Gatekeepers of the publishing industry? Where are the contemporary novels with mid-life (and older) protagonists? Ones where the storyline isn’t about second chances at love, or ticking biological clocks, or 55 year old men finding love with a 22 year old, or twenty-nine year olds who are panicking and botoxing because they’ve realized their skin actually moves when they smile. Where are the novels–whether they’re lit fic or genre–with protagonists who have saggy boobs and enlarged prostates and that isn’t the whole storyline? And nope, I’m not looking for the sweet septuagenarian who solves bloodless murders in between knitting tea cozies and baking cookies, or the cranky old octogenarian who used to be so nice until his somebody died and left him alone and afraid until the toothless 6 year old facing a lung transplant melted his heart with a sticky hug. I’m not saying I never read or never want to read stories with young protagonists, but for me the thought of being 25 again is not a pleasant escape but ugh, no thanks. And 16? 18? is the stuff of nightmares.
Everyone in the US so busy pretending to be shocked by the GOP and republicans literally willing to sacrifice seniors, disabled people, POC, middle aged folks with pre-existing conditions. Are you really? Really shocked? Hell, middle-aged people are so undesirable, so distasteful in our society they’ve been willed into invisibility. Young or old, those are the only two options. 60 is young! Why, just look at that multimillionaire 60 year old actress over there with her personal trainers and surgically enhanced everything, must be something wrong with you, your priorities, if you don’t look like her–or want to. You don’t want to look 50, or 40, or hell, even 30 (remember, that’s about when you discovered your skin might move when you smile). We’re such an all or nothing society. Young is good, old is bad (except as a vehicle for the occasional heart warming moment). Rich is good, poverty is bad. Men are bold and distinguished, women are hysterical and bitchy. White is rights and freedoms, black/brown is unlawful and suspicious. Anyone in between, who contemplates or lives in the gray of life isn’t worth discussing, insuring, or even saving, why would we want to read about them, eh?
This morning I asked on Twitter for recommendations of novels with middle aged or older protagonists. To my non-surprise, few suggestions have come through, fewer that I haven’t already read.
As I’ve already blogged, my family’s shelter-in-place isn’t complete, because while we have been going to fewer appointments than usual, there are still some that can’t be avoided/postponed. Every appointment is a risk that is carefully, thoughtfully, analyzed and weighed by us and by the doctors involved. It isn’t like we generally go to any doctor or lab for the hell of it, but yes, when weighed against a high likelihood of death, there’s a whole lot that can be postponed. Because it isn’t just about our family and the risk to us, it’s the risk to every doctor, nurse, and hospital employee we come into contact with, and by extension, their family members, every other patient, ad infinitum.
Yesterday was the eye specialist with Art Child, and I have to say, these appointments get creepier and creepier. I didn’t think hospital (outpatient sections) hallways could be any emptier than they were a month ago. I was wrong.
It isn’t as if the office is normally filled with patients getting regular eye exams. Anyone who is a patient there has a significant disorder. Granted, this is a specialty hospital, and then up to a sub-sub-specialist’s office, but still. Right now they are only seeing those who are at imminent risk of total vision loss. The creep factor isn’t limited to the normal raised eyebrows of a young person being very noticeable in a hospital frequented by septuagenarians, octogenarians, nonagenarians. Not even limited to the 50 stops set up to ask if either of us have a cough, a fever, known exposure to someone with Covid-19, temperature check, please put on a new mask. No, it was the way I felt so noticed. Radioactive. I swear kiddo was the only patient, we were the only non-employees in the place.
And then home, back online to news reports filled with open-the-country protestors. Keep in mind, those photos are artfully cropped to look as if the number of participants are greater than they are, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. And widespread. Oh, you poor, deluded fucking morons. Some of my friends (you know, those extremists who believe in things like science) are wondering why? how? I’m not wondering, and at this point no one else should be either. They are cultists. There is no logic to be applied to society or the world at large. Their only thoughts are in service to their leader. Don’t be fooled by taglines about Jesus or the greater good. This is about two things, and two things only, because there are actually two subgroups here. The first are the wealthy and greedy, who don’t give a shit how many die or are permanently disabled from this virus. Get those peasants back to work so we can keep growing our portfolios! The second group doesn’t know any better, because they’re busy listening to right wing propaganda that continues to tell them this is overblown, a hoax, the fault of the leftists and the other, and really, Great Uncle JimBob is a pain in the ass anyway what with his whining about empty insulin pens and the way you have to blend and thicken Grandma’s Sunday dinner so she doesn’t choke on it. Both groups though, part of the same cult. Cult 45, the orange monstrosity.
Besides the obvious warnings signs: a leader who’s considered infallible, placed above God, no accountability for said leader, mistrust of other, preying on the weak, demonization of anyone who leaves the group, calls for violence, harm and threats against their own members, no allowance for questioning leader or dictates–all of these have been true from the beginning of his reign, err, I mean, campaign–there’s another obvious and growing sign. Isolation. That’s an important aspect of cults, same as any abusive partner, isolating members from access to information and people outside of their approved community. I’m concerned that much the way the internet allowed the extreme right wing, white-power-and-mysogyny-prompted nutters to find each other and grow their numbers, our legally sanctioned and medically necessary nationwide isolation will only strengthen the cultists, both in conviction and numbers.
I understand, you understand, this is for the greater good. For physical health and well being of all, in addition to wanting a shot at seeing economic health again. Reopening the economy isn’t going to do squat to help the average JoeJane when JohnQPublic drops dead. Those going out and protesting, those crackpot governors reopening beaches and hairdressers and massage parlors aren’t putting themselves and their families at risk. They’re putting all of us at risk, because of the spectacular combination of communicability of Covid-19, asymptomatic transmission, lack of widespread testing, and the most corrupt, authoritarian administration backing the most narcissistic President this country has ever known.
These cult members? Some don’t understand the repercussions, but many do. And they don’t care.
New York is that cab. I am that cab. Hell, we are all that cab. Balanced precariously, not on the tip of a friendly well-trained nose, but on the edge of the undomesticated and aggressive Covid-19, while the sun continues to rise in the background each day, unconcerned by the dramas and traumas of human beings.
I’ve ranted over the past couple of weeks, vented the anger and frustration of not enough people in the US taking this seriously enough, the hideous politics of a literal pandemic while we have a president and administration that cares nothing for its citizens. These last days, though, no matter how I try to hold tight to the protective coating of anger, anxiety has continued to ratchet up and fear has coated the surface of every thought. Writing, whether fiction or blogging, is my way of taking control and muddling through, always has been. So I’m writing now hoping it will help me get a handle on this. I’m not sure it’s possible, with no end in sight and no certainty as to the scope we’re facing. I may or may not actually post this one.
If you are a reader who follows Mrs Fringe, whether long term or more recent, you know I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in emergency rooms, ICUs, hospitals. More than most, not as much as too many. My fears today, the anxiety that’s taken a blowtorch to my gut over the past month, comes from those experiences, from knowing how these things are “supposed” to go, from being able to envision but not able to face what lies ahead for too many of us. The other day I went to the grocery store. A long line to get inside, but once I was all was neat and organized, people (for the most part) working to keep their distance from each other. Not necessarily six feet, but this is Manhattan, it just isn’t physically possible in most shared indoor spaces. As I walked up the frozen food aisle I had to stop because the cases on either side of me took on the gray fuzziness of oh shit, am I going to pass out? I wasn’t, and am not, ill. This wasn’t the first time I got dizzy while out and running a necessary errand in recent weeks, had a moment of oh my god, this is not right, not a personal trauma, the world is wrong and will never be the same. Not even the first time it’s happened outside of Covid-19. I have a strong stomach and high tolerance for medical stuff, but oh man did my knees go out weeks? after Husband’s second open heart surgery, when the physician’s assistant was removing the drainage tubes from his chest and abdomen and I heard the peculiar, specific, sucking, squishing thwok of that first seal being broken. Other times also, with no particular, obvious trigger, always after a crisis has passed, when the fear, emotion, excess caffeine, lack of sleep and often lack of decent nutrition hit me in a mundane moment of checking for a ripe avocado. This time my brain isn’t waiting until after. I’m panicked now.
I, Mrs Fringe, am fucking terrified. Our closest hospital is one we’ve been to many times, both their adult ER and the Peds ER sections. Many fine doctors there, some inpatient units are excellent, never had any problems in the ped ER. The adult ER? Another story entirely, and over the years it’s gotten worse and worse, to the point where I’ve said I will not go there for anything anymore. Why? Because they’re chronically understaffed, and an understaffed and overcrowded ER is dangerous, no matter how good and well trained the nurses are. Less than a year ago we were there, Husband, it was a guy from housekeeping who turned on the oxygen and gave him a nasal canula when I couldn’t get a doctor or nurse to come over when his o2 was dropping. One story of many, and that’s with me there, staying out of the way when I can/need to and making noise when I need to do that too. Again, not the fault of uncaring or lackadaisical nurses, but the limits of how many high needs patients any one person can reasonably care for, with new patients streaming in and needing assessments every few minutes. Stretchers stacked like a damned game of Tetris, many times I watched workers from transport needing to move 4-10 patients just to reach the patient they were there for and be able to get them to their next stop in the hospital.
I stay when Husband is in. I stay when Art Child is in. For all our hospital time, we don’t go unless it’s absolutely necessary. And part of when an ER visit or hospital stay is absolutely necessary, by definition, means the person being seen/assessed/admitted isn’t feeling strong, maybe can’t speak, certainly can’t make a fuss if they need something and staff are busy elsewhere. Other hospitals. It was me who yelled for the nurses in the step-down CICU after Husband’s first open heart surgery, when he turned blue and all tubes and bags filled with blood, his aorta ruptured along the suture line of his new valve. Would they have come running thirty seconds later? Would thirty seconds have mattered? It might have, considering they needed to reopen his chest there in the room and manually pump his heart on the way back to the OR. Or when Husband was on a vent and the ICU dr decided this was the perfect time to preen for the nurses and show off how the temporary pacemaker leads were/weren’t working, giving unnecessary shocks until I spoke up because he didn’t know about damage to a nerve he was expecting to see a response from because of a prior surgery (Husband, obviously, unable to tell him). Or, less crucial but important, when we had the (thankfully rare) experience of an unkind EEG tech who was too rough placing leads on my girl’s head, and she was too terrified to do anything other than cry quietly. Or the times food service sent non-diabetic meals to Husband. Or the many other times when calories in take precedent over what type of calories, so I go out for foods to tempt while the hospital trays sit uneaten. Or with MIL, when some slick talker from billing came into the room to offer threats about insurance claims and what would be owed. Yes, I kindly invited him to get the fuck out and take it up with Medicare, not a vulnerable elderly woman who’d had her chest cracked open two days before who’d only been off the vent a matter of hours.
These are just a few bad moments of lapsed or potential lapsed treatment in otherwise great care, with many, mostly reassuring moments. Every ICU nurse I’ve ever interacted with (Peds, cardiac, or general) has been great to oh my god this person should be nominated for sainthood). ICU nurses are extraordinary, with training that goes well beyond the nurse drawing blood at your local GP’s office. But when hospitals have literally overflowed into tents, it isn’t just equipment that will be in short supply, it will be staff, doctors, nurses, nurses aides, physician’s assistants, because both there are too many patients and because they themselves who are getting sick.
Yes, there are the very real extra fears that go with knowing people in my immediate world are particularly vulnerable to more severe manifestations of this virus because of pre-existing conditions. And it’s more than that. If one of those I love needs to be admitted because of Covid-19, or what about the non-Covid-19 related reasons I have the experiences I do that haven’t magically disappeared, how will I be able to just leave them there? Maybe in a hospital, maybe in a fucking tent? Nerd Child isn’t even here. He’s safe and healthy, for now, but if things go sideways and he was to get sick? I couldn’t go to him. If Husband or Art Child or Man Child was to need hospitalization he couldn’t come to be with them either. The thought of walking away, not being there if Husband is on a vent? Literally makes me sick. One of my children? I can’t imagine it, because the pain of that very real possibility overwhelms my ability to paint that mental picture. But I can’t stop thinking about it, at least the edges of the possibility, because I have been there in “normal” times. Our normal abnormal. In fully staffed hospitals with all the needed equipment. It’s knowing that if medical equipment needs to be rationed, there’s the very real possibility those preexisting conditions will render them ineligible for a needed ventilator. It’s the incredibly stupid comments I continue to see and hear online, in the news, in the community, from stupid people still blaming the ACA, or Obama, or saying those same rationing conditions existed under “Obamacare.” Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
If you’ve never experienced a loved one on a ventilator I’m glad for you. I hope you never do. It’s awful, and illness, injuries and novel viruses don’t give a shit who you vote for. But for those of us who have, repeatedly, who deal with chronic illness and disorders that make things like staffing patterns, hospital admissions, ICUs (hell, the fact that we “joke” about July being the worst time to have a crisis requiring admission because that’s when the new residents come on board), know the best cart to get coffee from part of our basic facts of life, there’s an entirely different level to this hell we call the Covid-19 pandemic.
This isn’t a potential crisis, it is a crisis. It’s real and it’s here. That was a few days ago. As of last night, there were 26,697 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in this city, 5,250 hospitalized, 1,175 in ICUs, and 450 deaths. Those numbers are just in NYC, just the confirmed cases. It may or may not be futile, but I’m doing all I can to keep me and mine safe, keep others safe from us should one of us get it. Please, please, all of you do the same.
Well. Pretty much skipped 2019, didn’t I? Wish I could say that was true outside of the blogosphere, but life is what it is. Yesterday I saw this Tweet and this response and I thought, yes. Immediately followed by, maybe. I began this blog not expecting anyone to find it, and that was ok. I did it for me, and along the way gathered some followers, made some friends, connected with more than I had any right to expect. Mrs Fringe was a space for me to be not just mom/wife/dogwalker/reefer/writer/bitch/feminist/New Yorker, but the sum of those parts; a person (albeit a somewhat anonymous and edited one). It turned out great and perfect in all the ways for a long time, until it wasn’t, so I hit pause. I think I’m hitting the play button again, but life happens, so who knows.
How was your 2019? Mine was overall shit, with some wonderful bright spots. Art Child graduated from high school. Whee, I’m done, done, done with the public school system! That New Thing I was working on? I kept working, wrote to The End, and I’m pretty fucking proud of it. All the old qualifiers apply, no clue if anyone in the industry will like it/want it, but there you have it. I even went to a writers’ conference last summer and pitched it to a few agents, have done some limited querying, getting some interest. We’ll see. Hope for the best, expect the worst, blah blah blah.
The past couple of weeks on Twitter, reading my timeline I’ve just felt old. All these youthful, positive posts cataloguing the past decade in accomplishments, earnestly seeing the beginning of a new decade as something. There have been many New Years where my overriding thought has been wow, this past year kicked my ass. This year is not only not an exception, but I don’t even feel human anymore. When I tried to think about the decade gone, my mind started ticking off medical emergencies. The last 14? 15? years have been a twisted game of lurching from emergency to emergency, and 2019 will take its place up there in the top three. In the hospital with Husband, and then Mother-in-Law, and then Husband, and then Husband, and then Husband, and oh fuck the kids, MIL and I pretty much spent six months alternately holding our breaths and checking his, and then I spent most of the past two months inpatient with him.
All this time immersed in the world of medical interventions and I’ve learned four things really, really well. One: human beings aren’t designed for this level of sustained stress. Two: for every major medical intervention, there is a price to be paid–both physical and psychological–the more complex the intervention the higher the price, and you better believe this isn’t one of those no money down deals, they want that arm, leg, or kidney upfucking front. Three: I know who does or does not have real experience in the world of complex, chronic medical needs within ten seconds; by their understanding–or lack thereof–of what the actual, literal, monetary cost of our fucked American healthcare system is (if you’re reading this and you’re one of those mythical Americans who love your health insurance, all I can say is how nice for you, you’ve lived a charmed life with the luck of good genes), and what actually is/is not realistic to expect in terms of healing and recovery. In this skewed little corner of the world, out of the hospital doesn’t mean all better, it means the immediate risk/benefit of being inpatient tipped to the risk side, because nowhere harbors more antibiotic resistant bacteria than hospitals, so hey, congrats! Now you get to go home and do all this without a kitchen sending the patient three hot, fresh, reasonably nutritious meals a day, no nurses, no wonderful cart down the hall stocked with warm blankets and clean linens, and oh yeah, no teams of doctors coming to round, so multiple doctor appointments across the city weekly. What’s the fourth thing? I have the best kids in the universe, no shit.
I don’t know if any of my old faithful readers still check Mrs Fringe. If so, thank you (and hey, I’m not dead!). If not, that’s ok too. Maybe some new readers will find me. Mostly I’m hoping to blog my way back to the status of human, if that’s still possible.
PS: My camera has permanently decided it no longer wants to partner with my laptop, so for the foreseeable future all photos will be blurry cell pics.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.