thoughts

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. 

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?

 

 

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.

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.)

Pilot Light and Irritation

Should have cleaned the stove this morning, oops.

If you’re young and/or never had a gas stove–or a professional gas range– let me explain. Before electronic ignition, in order to use the burners (or the oven) you had to start the flame yourself. (There were stoves in between that had pilot lights to avoid having to do this, but every so often the pilot light went out and you had to do it anyway. “Do I smell gas?!” was a common background chorus of my childhood, and one I sang myself in my first couple of apartments.)  You’d light a match, turn the dial corresponding with the burner you wanted to use and use the match to light the flame while cringing and bracing yourself to pull back in case of whoosh! and eyebrow singeing. More often than not, you’d burn your fingertips trying to get the damned thing to light long before flames were exploding in your face. This, the gut clenching expectation of scorched nose hairs and realization of singed fingers, was what I experienced reading Micheal Wolff’s Fire and Fury this weekend.

I haven’t read anyone else’s reviews, so it’s more than possible my thoughts aren’t in line with the majority. I’m also not a book reviewer, and I have a lot of thoughts, so even with limiting myself, this will run long.

I bought the book Friday afternoon. I tried to get the hardcopy in the morning at my local Barnes & Noble, but they didn’t have it in yet (snowstorm Thursday, everything still iced and approximately 1000° below zero) so I downloaded to my Nook. I really wanted to read this and I really, really wanted to support Wolff and Henry Holt & Co.  Much the way the first thing I did after the 2016 election results was to purchase subscriptions to the NY Times and The Washington Post, it felt important to use my wallet to support free speech and free press.  Trump using the office of the Presidency to bluster about forcing the publisher to stop publication/production? Fuck yes, I’m contributing to this legal defense fund. An in-depth look at the first 9 months of Trump’s tenure in the White House, written by someone who had spent considerable time interviewing people in the West Wing, someone who didn’t seem to be blindly aligned with this administration? Yeah, I’m in. Besides, with the excerpts coming across my twitter feed and just about every news article I read, a) how could I resist? and b) I wanted to be able to discuss the book with more understanding than choice quotes possibly pulled out of context. It took me all weekend to read it, a long time for me to plow through less than 330 pages. First it was slow going because I had to keep putting the book down. The first couple of chapters put me right back to the first days after the election; feeling nauseous, angry, betrayed, and helpless.

It continued to be slow going. Partially for the same reason as those first chapters. Much as nothing I read in Fire and Fury (I’d already seen the more shocking bits in excerpts online) felt truly new, having it all compiled into one book packs a hell of a psychological wallop. What a shitshow of an administration. If only half of what Wolff wrote is true, it confirms we are experiencing my worst case scenario (my vivid and dark imagination is long established). Some of it, though, was because I kept thinking the book would have benefited from holding off on the publication date while spending some more time with a content editor, a copyeditor, and then getting another once over from a proofreader. Separate from the subject matter, it didn’t read like smoothly crafted narrative nonfiction, yet it didn’t read like a compiled collection of essays/articles, either. I understand the need to strike while the iron is hot, and I kept reading until the end, but it was more put-downable than I had hoped. This is so important for all of us, collectively and individually that I wish the author and the publisher had taken the extra month or two to smooth it out, clean it up, and address what wasn’t in there.

Non-fiction or fiction, what an author leaves out is every bit as important as what gets put in. Some of what’s left in the author’s notes shouldn’t ever make it to the manuscript. Those decisions are shaped by the focus of the book, style of the author, and information available. The buffoonery and hubris of this administration is inherent in the very existence of this book, the author’s unbelievable access to the West Wing. But here I have to say I was expecting the author to address a few issues that he didn’t.

Given that much of Fire and Fury focused on the idea that this President takes everything personally and (it seems to me) many of his tweets and comments since winning the election have focused on Hillary Clinton, compounded by the above all threats pre-election of “lock her up,” I kept waiting for this to be addressed, and nope. This isn’t a matter of wanting a bit more juicy gossip. Threatening to jail opponents in what has until recently been a democracy is the mark of a dictator, not merely a bumbling, petulant fool. I understand that the revival of those threats didn’t hit the twitter feed and press until long after the book went to press, but hello?! That seems more than a bit important. Was/is this just a bit of political theater for his base, as unimportant as the other promises he made on the campaign trail that he can’t remember and doesn’t care about? Not understanding how our government works, admiring dictators because hey, they’ve got all the good bling AND good press, planting his equally unqualified family because of paranoia combined with a spectacular lack of comprehension  ≠ purposely, specifically wanting to create a dictatorship. That feels like a really important detail to leave out. Even if the author didn’t know if that is the President’s intention, how about the people around him and advising him? Was that purely Flynn, regurgitated now as a signal for him to stfu? A desperate attempt to distract from the Mueller investigation? A signal to the FBI that their silly laws and mores are passé? Intent matters. It matters for how wethepeople interpret his actions and statements and respond.

Healthcare. DACA. Freedom of religion. Gerrymandering. Separation of church and state. On reading the book, it seems that no one in the West Wing (or the barely mentioned but completely responsible and complicit GOP) addresses, acknowledges, or understands that these issues have tremendous impact on human beings. Does the author? These are issues that yes, are political hotbuttons, but literally have the power to destroy the lives of the vast majority of the American people. Wolff reminds us again and again that Jarvanka and several on “their” team are Democrats. Really? And none of them ever discusses the impact of repealing the ACA on little Johnny in Montana who needs his chemo?  If this is the case–it isn’t a stretch for me to believe it–how about a page, a paragraph, a nod from the author letting me know? The many meltdowns, tantrums, zillion instances of lack of attention to detail are important to the picture being painted, but I could have done with less description of who ate what and more meat.

Which leads me to Bannon, who was probably the one person portrayed in the book as coming closest to remembering these ideas and policies are more than theoretical–which of course, isn’t very close at all; he’s also the one with the closest to clear intent of dictatorship, and it’s Steve Bannon. Describing a conversation with him where he states he doesn’t believe Trump is anti-semitic but he isn’t sure about the “other” (insert dog whistle here) without restating this is Steve Fucking Bannon, master of the safe space for nazis, racists, homophobes and misogynists of all flavors feels like a glaring omission, no? Obviously, Bannon was the one who did the most talking to (at?) Wolff.  It isn’t a coincidence that the book ends with his dismissal. I wish I’d known going into it that this was more of a tell-all from Bannon’s perspective than a general “Inside the White House.” This, more than anything, is what kept my nausea going. I’m all in for an unlikeable and unreliable protagonist, but somehow, somewhere along the way, Wolff dropped the authorial hints and reminders that Bannon is Bannon, not a sympathetic character to hang your hat on. Yeah, I know, this isn’t fiction, and the characters at hand are all too real, but honestly, as it was written, it didn’t feel like clear and reliable journalism–neither investigative nor opinion. I’d still have purchased it, though maybe not rushed to read it, and my expectations would have been different.

As expected, Fire and Fury shows a disorganized, disinterested, and ruled by a brutal and unsupervised playground of a White House. I’m sick from spending the last year living under it, let alone the weekend immersed in it.

What about you, Fringelings? Have you read it, are you going to?

 

How Do You Measure a Year?

 

Seemed appropriate to keep the tree both small and bare this year.

Am I the only one who considers the soundtrack of Rent to be Christmas music? Seems more apt than ever this year, when marginalized people across America have been told they don’t count, and laws and policies are being put in place to ensure this. Like, yanno, women. And brown people. And poor people. And young people. And old people.  And the middle class. And the LGBTQ community. I’m not sure how all these people add up to a minority, but hey, math was never my strong point.

I hope everyone is finding some peace this season as we head into the new year. 2017 was one dumpster fire after another, wasn’t it? Plain old ugly. I’d like to believe 2018 will be different, but I’m not seeing anything to indicate that will be the case. Hell, as I was sitting and listening to Rent, I saw this bit in the news. Who needs to address HIV/AIDS? It isn’t like it impacts everyone, or matters for people to have access to healthcare. Yeah, I’m not expecting any miracles this year.

I’m not about beauty. Sure, I appreciate the look of a rose, but they make me sneeze, make my eyes water in ugly ways. I don’t like pretty poetry, don’t write beautiful characters, I can’t help it. It’s my nature to look at a scene–real or imagined–and be captured by what happened to create it; what went wrong, what’s about to go wrong, and find the scars and stretch marks we carry on the inside and out to be more interesting than a straight nose or flawless complexion.

I’ve always been about small moments, firmly believe these are what make a life; good, bad, or indifferent. A couple of weeks back, Art Child and I went to the Columbus Circle holiday market. We go every year, all kinds of local (and not so local) artists, artisans, and crafts. This year we weren’t shopping so much as just looking. This year more than ever the plan for gifts was about practicality and needs over anything else. It was freezing the day we went, and I wasn’t dressed for it because outdoor shopping hadn’t been the plan, so mostly I was breathing into the neck of my coat, trying to keep warm while hurrying the girl along. I paid attention to exactly one booth. I’m sure I must have seen them before, but this year it overrode the cold and made me stop. Peacebomb jewelry. Aluminum shrapnel from bombs dropped in Laos fifty years ago–by America during the Vietnam War, recast into bits of hope, bits of reclaiming what is ugly and destructive and turning them into beauty. I loved this.


Apparently I loved it so much Husband remembered. I can say without guilt or hesitation I didn’t ask or hint for him to go and get me something from them. Number 1, they’re out of budget. Number 2, we’re supposed to be focusing on the practical. I was so shocked, these were so the perfect gift to close this shitbomb of a year…it’s possible I scared our kids–I cried. I don’t think I’ve ever cried upon opening a gift before, and wouldn’t imagine ever doing so for any reason, but there you have it. Yes, I was surprised that Husband would remember me telling him about this organization and these artists. Yes, I was completely touched that he went down to the booths, searched out this one, and chose not only to purchase something from them, but a pair of earrings I would definitely choose for myself, but also something more. Dangling hope on hooks.

Not hope of magic rescue, or turning back the clock or turning over the election. That ship has sailed, and the damage is too real; ensconced in our government, new laws and overturning of regulations, sitting on judge’s benches for lifetime appointments. Frightening and most damaging of all, the realization and illustration of how vulnerable our democracy and democratic norms are. But hope that someday my children, your children, our collective grandchildren, will dig up these bombs and craft something beautiful out of them.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, I’m wishing all small moments of peace and hope in the New Year.

Sex, Lies, and Assault

The full quote engraved above is, “For the Improvement of Social and Living Conditions”

This morning Al Franken will be making an announcement regarding the allegations against him. Many believe he will be stepping down, many believe he should step down. Maybe this post will be up before he does so, but know it was written prior. I hear/see a lot of people saying this is a watershed moment in American history for women and women’s rights. Time Magazine’s person of the year 2017 isn’t one person, it’s the #metoo movement, the “silence breakers.”

I don’t have answers in regards to Franken, and I’ve been finding it impossible to read every detail coming to light about all of these men. It’s all so, so much. Not just so much in terms of the volume of accusations against the ever-growing number of men, but so much when looking at the many, many terrors happening on a daily basis. There isn’t one area of our society that isn’t under attack from within right now. All this said, I have thoughts. I’ve been speaking up and out about women, sexual harassment, and assault for a long time, and I’ve used Mrs Fringe as a vehicle to do so for the past five years. I’m not so sure this is a watershed moment.

Yes, there is much awareness and many important, necessary conversations happening. Yes, we are seeing repercussions for men who abuse/have abused women and positions of power in a way we haven’t seen before. I just don’t know that we can see this as a definitive turning point. Do I want it to be? Yes! But can it be, and why not? Because we’re only seeing this in very limited arenas. I understand that any/every movement has to begin somewhere, and the highly visible and well documented eyes of Congress and Hollywood are excellent places to start. But nothing happens or exists in a vacuum, and while the Left is celebrating, the Right is working. (I’d say the Right Extremists, but at this point it’s safe to say those who were considered extremists on the fringe right twenty years ago are now mainstream.)  Our current President is a man credibly accused of both sexual harassment and assault by multiple women over the course of many years. Accounts of him wandering into the dressing room backstage of the Miss America contest–with underaged contestants–are also documented. This was all well known and well documented long before the 2016 election, an audio tape of him bragging about groping women released, and millions voted for him anyway.  You could and should argue that the current movement is a well deserved backlash because of this.

But these formerly extremist Right Wing politicians have all the power right now, and they’re using it to harm women for generations to come, regardless of who’s on the cover of Time Magazine this month or how many Democrats are called to task for inappropriate, immoral, and sometimes illegal behavior. Mitch McConnell and the GOP stole a pivotal Supreme Court seat after Scalia died by refusing to hold hearings and vote on President Obama’s pick for nominee. Do we think this won’t have repercussions for women’s rights, for Roe vs Wade? The current monstrosity of an administration is also busy stacking the federal courts with more extremist, right wing, appointed for life individuals. In another time in our history…say, 10 years ago, this might sound hysterical. They’re judges, they have to be impartial and qualified no matter who they vote for, the GOP cares about women and sexual predators, right? No. No they do not. Not anymore. This is how qualified you now have to be to qualify for a federal judgeship appointment, and this is how much the GOP cares about women. I’m sorry, did I say women? I should say women and girls, because those credibly accusing Roy Moore were most definitely not adult women at the time of these incidents.  I cannot say this loudly or frequently enough, the damage being done right now is generational.

And that’s not all. Yesterday the House–and by the House, I mean the GOP members, since they are in control–voted to pass a bill allowing concealed carry holders to legally bring their guns into states where they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed these concealed carry permits. Like, say, from states where domestic abusers are allowed to purchase and concealed carry guns into states that care about protecting their citizens. Oh yeah, this is going to be awesome for victims of domestic violence. So much caring about women and children.

Should the Hollywood and media men who have been fired/suspended/called out and shamed lost their careers? Absolutely. But given our quickly disappearing legal recourse and support from the government, I don’t see this helping Suzy Q Torres working in middle management, or Mary-Sue Regular Gal after she’s cornered by her sweating, piggish boss in the after-hours kitchen of the local fast food restaurant. So I don’t see how we can say, at this moment, that this is a turning point for women’s rights and safety in America. Celebrity cases often bring light and awareness to issues, a starting point. Without follow through for all, they stop there.

There are other aspects to this. Due process–I’ll leave that exploration to those more versed in the legal system, though I question some of these cases.  Not because I don’t believe women, not because I don’t want everyone to believe women, but because the stakes are high. Higher than they’ve ever been, in light of all recently discovered about the manipulability (is that a word?) of public opinion through the use of social media.

And then there’s the distinctions I see too many glossing over. A lot of men are assholes. They make unwanted comments, gestures, use a beer and a crowded bar as an excuse to make unwanted advances. Some men are predators. Some men prey on children. Some men are pushy, refusing to accept no thanks when asking for a phone number. Some men are stalkers.  There are assholes, there are sexual harassers, there are predators, there are rapists. These categories are all morally wrong, an affront to women’s intelligence, autonomy, and safety. But they aren’t equal.

I’m fairly safely invisible now, but let’s pretend I’m twenty years younger for a few subway scenarios. If a man on the subway asks for my phone number and tells me I should smile, I can tell him to fuck off and he can call me a feminazi bitch, I get off at the next stop. It’s yet another unpleasant incident that I shouldn’t have to deal with, and I do dream of a day when women won’t have to. If a man on the subway uses rush hour as an excuse to rub against me, or uses the longer time between stops when going through a tunnel to take out his junk and masturbate, I can get loud, tell him to fuck off, try to move away, stomp on his foot/offer a sharply placed elbow, get off and report him at the next stop. (I can’t, apparently, expect other passengers to help me, since the current PSAs on the subway tell people not to get directly involved with these types of incidents unless they’re certain it’s safe to do so, they should report it to the appropriate authorities when they can). I’m disgusted, I’m shaky, I’m pissed off that this is the world I live in. If a man on the subway traps me on an otherwise empty car when the train is moving through a tunnel, or follows me off the train and drags me to an unpopulated stairwell and assaults me, well, now we’re in completely different territory, with lifelong physical and emotional repercussions shaping every single choice I make for the rest of my life.

The fact that men like those in the second scenario exist doesn’t negate the wrongness of men in the first scenario, and those in the third don’t make those in the second acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

These were “easy” scenes, clearcut. They didn’t involve people who were known to the victim, dates, boyfriends, spouses, relatives, child predators, gang rapes, positions of financial power and employment repercussions, drugs/alcohol, or any of the million and three ways women find themselves being negated and disrespected, abused, assaulted. They are all unacceptable, and should all be addressed by our society with repercussions. But they aren’t all the same.  If we on the Left are in fact taking the moral high ground, that has to include looking at each case individually, or we run the risk of becoming the twenty-first century version of the 1980s false moral majority. While many of these scenarios grow from the same root problem, if we on the Left insist they are all the same, we make it that much easier for those on the Right to ignore these very real, pervasive, and damaging issues women deal with every day, the systemic degradation of women; paving the way for legal and sanctioned support of predators.

Failure of Imagination: the Zombie Apocalypse

 

First of all, I’ve been trying to write this post for days.  My best writing and blogging time is early morning (hence the excess of sunrise photos as you search the archives), but before I write I skim the news, Twitter, and my Facebook feed–and every damned morning I’ve felt as if a broad and hairy fist popped through my keyboard to smash me in the face. In non-simile land, aka real life, I’ve been punched in the face. If you haven’t, let me assure you that it hurts. A lot. Immediately. And then the pain blooms and envelops your brain so that you’re stunned and can’t form a sensible thought; only fight or flight. So basically, every morning I sit down ready to use my words to fight through the madness that is America today, only to find my head rocking back as I close the laptop in metaphorical flight.

I’ve been accused of many things, failure of imagination isn’t one of them. Yet here I sit looking at the little section of apartment that used to hold my kitchen table, unable to imagine what comes next, much the way I was unable to imagine that a glass table can explode without any heat, weight, crack or trigger to cause it. Had I imagined it was possible, I would have researched and discovered this is something that sometimes happens, and wouldn’t have purchased a glass dining table.

I understand what’s happening. People full of anger and frustration, maybe even boredom, decided life wasn’t as good for them as it could be–for some not as good as it should be–and in that anger, frustration, and boredom decided to fuck up everyone’s life. To be fair, much as I knew this would be bad, we all (right and left) thought our system of checks and balances was stronger than it’s turned out to be; riddled with loopholes and gentleman’s agreements based on the premise that those voted into office would indeed be gentlemen/women. I’m not talking about the millionaires/billionaires who support 45; those people will be fine. They were fine regardless of who was at the helm, and they’ll be fine next week, too. But the rest. The poor, the working class, the middle class.

The GOP that has turned itself into a caricature that embraces candidates who openly campaign on platforms of xenophobia, homophobia, racism and misogyny. Take a good look at the current GOP.  45’s win wasn’t a one-off.  The millions of people who continue to support 45 and all the sullen resentment he represents.  The millions of people who believe un-boundaried second amendment rights are more important than the victims of mass murderers, those who cannot even utter the words domestic terrorists when connected to a white male face. The millions who believe pro-life only matters when fighting for the pre-born.  The millions who refuse to see how our country was built and thrived with the work of immigrants, and people of color, and women, and science. The millions who believe international diplomacy is for wimps. The millions who believe regulations from the EPA and the FDA are overreach, but governmental control of my uterus is for my own good.  The millions who believe freedom of religion only counts for the right religions.  The millions who are so anxious not to regret their votes they are willing to ignore the cyber invasion and manipulations of a foreign government.  Willing to blame the victims of a devastating hurricane–and happy to ignore that these same victims are US citizens in US territories. The millions who haven’t said a damned word about CHIP expiring, despite the fact that this directly harms many of their own literal children, let alone that we’re talking about 9 million of our collective children losing their health insurance. The millions who insist on turning a needed national conversation about race and police brutality into nonsense flag waving.

Trickle down economics didn’t work the last time, and was harmful to most. Facing it again, when coupled with weakened unions, erosion of labor laws/protections, loss of protections and regulations for individuals against banks and big business? What is that going to look like? I’m guessing it’s going to look a lot like hunger, disease, and homelessness.

I know many of my friends still have hope, they take heart in knowing there are millions who believe as they do, as I do, in justice, equality, and democracy. That’s true and great, but “we” aren’t the ones in control of this country, and when we were, we didn’t see or understand just how many raised their children on the bitter milk of hatred and ignorance.  Facts have been decried fake, journalists declared the enemy, science declared irrelevant, equality outdated, and loyalty to Party more valued than loyalty to country, citizens, humanity, or common sense.  America isn’t just divided, we are shattered.  For all the memes and giggles about how ineffective this congress has been, they’ve been doing real and significant damage every day that has and will have real and long lasting consequences.

If we haven’t come together for natural disasters (well, natural when viewed through the lens of global climate change), mass slaughter of children and adults, or actual attacks on our country from both foreign entities and enemies within, attacks on voting rights and journalism (both bedrocks of a democratic nation) when, exactly, will this come-together moment happen? What is this country?  And what will we be in another year’s time?

For all my blathering, I don’t have the words.  Not for what I’m feeling now, and not for what we may look like tomorrow.  Maybe my imagination is better than I think, and I’m in fact being overly dramatic. Just in case, someone let me know how to prepare for the zombie apocalypse–the other scenario I’ve never been able to imagine.

No, I’m not feeling too good.