writing

Magical Thinking

Reality or Magical–What do you see?

Yes, it’s been a while.  Again.  First I was working on a post that’s still sitting in my drafts folder because I couldn’t beat the words into sense, and then life.  Blah blah, medical mayhem, lots of waiting rooms and doctor’s offices, suffice it to say I’m pretty sure any vision test I take from this point forward is null and void– I’ve seen so many while sitting with my girl, I’ve got every chart memorized. Thank you, my fellow Dems/Liberals for being diligent and insisting on being heard about how disastrous the proposed health care bill was, and thank you, GOP, for being in such a mess that you’ve had to put your we-want-you-to-suffer-painfully plans on hold so I can keep doing this.

And oh yes, I’m writing again.  A secret unless you a) read this blog post or b) follow my twitter feed (which you should, because on the thrice annual occasion that I remember to log on, I retweet with the best of them).  It might be more accurate to say I’m rewriting, because this isn’t a glittery new project, this is the rusty old wreck I tabled a few years back that I’ve already talked about reworking.  I figure I *might* be able to use half of what was there, and overall I don’t yet know if I’m taking something that was meh and making it better, or taking something that was meh and puking weird and unidentifiable bits of acid all over it.

Takes a bit of magical thinking to write a novel, regardless of genre.  More than a bit if you’re writing with an eye towards publication.  If you’re looking at trade publishing (as in–not self-publishing) I’m pretty sure the odds are 843,000,000,000 to one.  A couple of years back I blogged about the need for big brass ones in order to believe this could be done.  Despite regular polishing of my metaphorical testicles, here I am, still one of the unwashed and unpublished wannabe novelists.  Clearly, in addition to working diligently on the MIP (Mess in Progress, since I’m still unsure if I can call it a Work in Progress) the answer is to sprinkle some eye of newt into my word cauldron, maybe wave a bit of sage, and wear my very pointiest hat.

Whatever we’re wishing for, I think most of us engage in a bit of magical thinking.  Like, say, this woman.  This is a hell of a story, an excellent snapshot of why supporting 45 and his merry band of fascists was a bad idea.  She’s an American citizen married to a not-quite-undocumented Mexican immigrant.  She voted for our current regime, because she thought they only meant they would deport the “bad ones.”  Her husband wasn’t in hiding, checked in with ICE when he was supposed to, gainfully employed, paid taxes, legit, provisional Social Security number.  Needless to say he is currently in jail awaiting deportation because ‘Murica.  I’ve seen a lot of people comment on this story, some gleeful at her comeuppance, some who feel sorry for her.  Me? Shrug. I take no pleasure in what has to be a painful and terrifying experience for her husband and their children, but I don’t feel sorry for her.  He was very clear about his beliefs and vision, started his whole damned campaign with racial slurs about Mexican immigrants. This is an example of dangerous magical thinking; belief that no one can see you behind a clear shower curtain, that it’s ok and safe to wish harm on others; ok to strip rights, dignity, even humanity because other.

There were never any real plans offered by this President and his administration regarding how they would make things great. The closest they came to concrete plans involved who they were going to vilify, and how he could do whatever he wanted while keeping his supporters and increasing his net worth.  His net worth, not yours.  I’ve said this many times already, once you say it’s okay to dehumanize this group and that group, it’s a guarantee that more groups will be added to that list, and yours will surely be added sooner or later.  I hope no one reading this is surprised and hurt to discover this, but 45 and his cronies don’t see you as a human being.  You were a vote. If you voted for him, he’s done with you, if you didn’t, you never existed in the first place. Let’s go back to that disastrous bill, HurryUpandDieCare.  This is from a meeting on Thursday night, with a no holds barred attempts to squeeze votes out of those who thought it was still too generous a plan.  “Forget about the little shit.”  The little shit is you, me, and the woman from Indiana whose husband is sitting jail.

A little magical thinking might carry me through months of work on this MIP, enough to (hopefully) craft a cohesive and interesting story, maybe adding the tears of a baby dragon will get me through the querying process. It won’t get me published. Magical thinking got 45 and company into office, it won’t make them responsible, compassionate, or skilled–and it surely won’t protect us from the damage.

All the Best People Are

Me, as drawn by Art Child about 4 years ago, age 11

Why yes, that is my avatar

It’s funny, isn’t it?  The small things that catch hold in your mind when something big and bad is going on.  Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, to avoid the brain shutting down completely.  Kind of like the grotesque show that begins today, Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.  For the past few weeks I’ve been alternating between reading every newspaper article I can and shutting down the laptop and zoning out with Netflix. I’m sure I don’t have to detail how I was losing my shit, reading and watching clips from the Betsy DeVos hearing.  I think the democratic senators did a great job, demonstrating through their questions, how wholly unfit and inappropriate she is for Education Secretary.  I also think it doesn’t matter.  She, and the rest of the Billionaire Club, will be approved, because all prior rules of engagement, like knowledge, qualifications, and at least a pretense of ethics have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

A couple of days ago a friend posted a picture on Facebook, a piece of art from a popular artist promoting women’s rights and being offered for download.  What caught me wasn’t the art, it was the comment (not from my friend) that artists should keep their political views to themselves.  Oh my.  So terribly, woefully ignorant, a perfect case-in-point to what has gone wrong in America.  Art is political.  It makes you feel, it makes you see, it makes you connect, it makes you understand.  Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about visual art, poetry, prose, music, or performance.  All art is political.  And art is what endures.

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My home is not what some would think of when they imagine a family of artists.  The apartment is perfectly ordinary.  Look at the sketch above, Art Child drew it about four years ago, one of her very first pieces after she began, magically, miraculously, to draw.  That’s me in the sketch, perfectly ordinary.  We struggle with bills, we struggle with chronic and debilitating health issues, we struggle with the bits and bobs of life.  And we each love music and art and poetry and food and theater and literature, each with our own draws and, if I may be so bold, talents. Husband hears distinctions and nuances in music that are an entirely different dimension than I hear.  He can turn anything into a drum and create an irresistible beat.  Man Child creates art through food, and when he’s on a stage, it’s truly captivating.  The math he loves, “pure math,” incomprehensible to me, is another language, music in its own right, a language that has no borders of origin.  Nerd Child is a musician, a director, an orator.  Listening to him on his guitar makes me want to dance and weep at the same time.  He creates new worlds we all want to live in as he directs, and when he speaks, people listen. Art Child has developed her skills and talent, creating charcoal sketches and paintings that leave not just me, but others, strangers, talking about her work long after they’ve seen it.

Me? I write. I did write.  I tried to write.  Characters that are so everyday they’re more than a bit off, think you’re going to yawn and end with an oh! Settings that begin next door and then twist into the what the fuck.  My favorite “genre” is magical realism.  Not for escape, but for exploring the difficult and often ugly realities through the fantastical. Perfectly ordinary.

I am afraid of what’s to come tomorrow, next month, next year.  I’m a woman, on the downside of middle age, a self-proclaimed sort-of feminist, unsuccessful, a big and nasty mouth with a latino family.  By definition, not who our new administration wants to see or hear from.  We are ordinary people, caught in what looks to be an extraordinary time.  I don’t expect to become the next Salman Rushdie. I’m neither brilliant nor brave enough.  Let’s be honest, at 40,000 years old, dreams of acclaim and awards are long gone, but in those moments where I let myself dream, I still dream of being able to earn a dollar from my fiction.  Not because of the dollar, but because of the validation, because it would tell me I did, in fact, have an impact and speak someone’s truth other than my own. It is my belief that it is our obligation to continue to use our chosen mediums to explore and document what is happening, how it happened, why we are here.  Now is the time to be political. Create.

The Line Keeps Moving

 

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my top ten novels, always comes to mind when someone asks for a recommendation.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my top ten novels, always comes to mind when someone asks for a recommendation.

This morning, as every morning, after my yoga I sat in front of the laptop and started cruising the news.  I don’t read any one paper/site cover to cover; I hop around, the HuffPo, The Guardian, New York Times, Politico, and any links popped up overnight on my Facebook feed that catch my eye.  And so I saw the headline for this essay in The Guardian, and got excited.  (As excited as I get at pre sunrise, only on my second cup of coffee.)  I am a huge fan of Lionel Shriver, as evidenced by the photo above.  Over the past few years I’ve gotten rid of the majority of my paper books–surprisingly liberating–but I keep a couple of shelves worth, a selection or two or three showcasing authors I worship or individual volumes that have had a huge impact on me, as a person and/or as someone who writes.

When I read the essay, my first thought was, “oh, fuck.”  It’s about the author’s response to part of a speech given by Lionel Shriver, about identity, cultural appropriation, what is or isn’t ok for an author to explore through their fiction.  When I love an author’s work, I want to be one hundred percent devoted to them in every way.  I want them to be the giants I’ve built them up to become in my mind, I want to have faith as I learn more about them that this is someone I’d enjoy having conversations with over tea, coffee, or a glass of wine.  Silly, isn’t it?  Especially silly when I’m someone who still harbors occasional fantasies of being published (well published!), and yet here I am running this blog:  Mrs Fringe of the colorful language, big mouth, strong opinions, and anything but neutral political leanings.  I have no doubt there are many who would not enjoy having coffee with me, maybe even some of the same who enjoy my words when they’re fiction.  I’m the first to admit not everyone finds my sense of humor charming. General publishing wisdom–common sense, really–dictates that anyone hoping to earn a dollar from strangers shouldn’t do anything to actively offend anyone.

The thing is, I’m a person, first and foremost. That’s what Mrs Fringe is about, being a person who wears many hats, plays many roles; complete with disappointments, laughter, mourning, screw-ups, nonsense, inappropriate thoughts, offensive-to-some language, a desire to be heard and understood, a desire to learn and understand more, a desire to connect with others.  Kinda like, oh, say…fiction.  And the authors of said fiction.  Yes, it’s imaginary characters and made up scenarios, but good fiction, enduring fiction, the kind of fiction Lionel Shriver writes, is uncompromising, unapologetic.  She creates characters who are SO real, doesn’t hesitate to use her characters and scenarios to explore who we are as human beings, as a society, to use the mirror of fiction to examine the beauty, pain, and the ugly bits of what it means to be a whole person.  Sure it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also riveting.  This is the fiction that endures, because people are people–now, fifty years from now, two hundred years ago.

So I’m a person.  So, apparently, is Ms. Shriver.  And I read the essay, thinking about the author of the essay, her offense at Lionel Shriver’s remarks referencing how easily, too easily, people are offended now, the idea of political correctness.  Her offense at the idea that a novelist can accurately and appropriately portray someone whose experience of life is vastly different than their own, i.e.: a white novelist writing a person of color, straight novelist writing LGBTQ characters, etc.  Her interpretation of the novelist’s speech as arrogance–maybe it was, because I only have the author’s paraphrasing before she walked out twenty minutes into it, I don’t have enough information to give an informed opinion.

I want to be offended by her offense.  But I’m not.  The truth is, she has a point.  Could a white male have written Their Eyes were Watching God, given the character of Janie Crawford the same depth, the same enduring honesty created by Zora Neale Hurston?  Nope. Could In the Time of Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, have been written by someone who isn’t Dominican, written in a way that allows the reader to come as close to feeling what it would be like living in the shadow of Trujillo as you feel reading her story of the Mirabel sisters?  Nope.  If a white author writes a black protagonist, I’m going to be skeptical, I’m going to be wondering about the character being written in a way that is not only not realistic, but wondering about the icky squicky line of that protagonist being written in such a way that it’s lecturing (subtle or not) the reader on how a person of color should be feeling in this imaginary scenario.  Will that novelist be able to allow the reader to feel the enduring humanity while preserving the reality of life experiences through they eyes and thoughts of a protagonist who isn’t straight and white?

Lionel Shriver, as far as I could tell from the essay, had a point, too. If we are afraid to examine any but our own narrow viewpoint, so afraid of using the wrong words we stay silent, we will never understand a damned thing, and our worlds will shrink with the novels in front of us, rather than expanding.  Female authors have written beautiful, powerful strong male characters and vice versa.  What would seventh graders read if Harper Lee hadn’t written To Kill a Mockingbird?  What are we teaching these future generations (*cue thinkofthechildren wail*) if they stop reading it because it might be triggering, or offensive to examine our society’s racism–past and present?  You know what was amazing to me, about Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin?  Reading about her afterwards, and learning she isn’t a parent.  My mind was blown.  But maybe it shouldn’t have been.  Maybe it’s because she isn’t a parent that she was able to take such a hard look at parenthood without turning the mother into a saint or a caricature of a villain (though not necessarily likable).

Would it be the same thing, a white author writing a protagonist who is Black, or Latino, Asian or Indigenous?  No, but it also shouldn’t mean limiting characters to only those who experience life the same way the writer does.  If it did I’d have to give up even fantasizing about having anything published.  I can see it now, the NY Times Best Seller– Mrs Fringe Buys a Slow Cooker.

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Cultural appropriation is a real thing, and it’s something we need to be aware of, and sensitive to.  Maybe it’s harder for whites to understand because so much of the tradition of white, Christian culture involves the attempt to force it down the throats of everyone else.  What the line is, exactly, I’m not sure.  At the beginning of this post I referenced yoga.  Is it cultural appropriation for me to practice yoga?  I’m pretty sure I don’t have that Jane Fonda exercise tape anymore.  Or a beta machine to play it on.  Nerd Child tells me the Weeping Buddha statuette I have on my desk is cultural appropriation.  I don’t know, it makes me feel better to touch it in the early morning, pretend that I really am letting go of any sadness and starting the day with a clean slate.

Mother of God with Child--Kuz'ma Petrov-Vodkin

Mother of God with Child–Kuz’ma Petrov-Vodkin

I saw the above painting recently, wished I could have it hanging in my apartment.  I’m far from a religious anything, let alone Russian Orthodox.  It’s art, and what makes great art (visual, written, or other) is the creator’s ability to preserve the specific subject while transcending it, offering the reader/observer/listener a world outside of her own while tapping into the common themes we all share.

People don’t change, the human condition has had us exploring the same questions for hundreds of years.  Society, though.  Society changes.  The words and language we use changes.  What is acceptable changes.  The line of what is or isn’t ok to do and say moves.  Sometimes it moves quickly.  It behooves all of us to remember this, and if we write, or read, or engage with the world in any way, it behooves us to remember this, like everything else that’s important, involves many shades of gray.

*Follow up: This morning I saw the transcript of Shriver’s full speech in The Guardian.  I thought some of my readers might be interested, and as always, invite all to come back and comment here if you read it.

Afterword

This full moon wasn't last night, but it felt like it should have been.

This full moon wasn’t last night, but it felt like it should have been.

What is stage fright, anyway?

So last night was that thing.  The reading.  I spent the day with my brain in the overdrive of heightened anxiety, changed my clothes three times, my shoes four, and slopped half a gallon of product in my hair, in a futile battle with the humidity.  I was pretty sure I didn’t have to worry about how my words would be received, or how I’d sound, because surely I was going to have a stroke before it was my turn.

Husband offered to meet me down there.  Down, because the bar couldn’t be further from my apartment and still be in Manhattan.  No, thanks.  I’m one of those people.  When I’m nervous about something, I’m better off alone, because your moral support will likely be met by me biting your head off.  Cranky.  Bitchy, even.  That and the fact that I figured the reason I was doing this was to maybe, hopefully, connect with other writers.  I know myself.  If Husband was with me, it would be the perfect excuse to not speak to anyone, revert to my teenaged self, sit in back and make jokes about myself.  Man Child offered to go down with me.  No thanks.  Then he offered to just travel down with me.  Umm, maybe.  No, no, I’m a grown up, I don’t need an escort, I’m fine.  Are you sure?  Yes, thank you.  Are you really sure, because I’m going to start laundry otherwise?  Yes yes I’m sure.

Ten minutes before I left, I’m going to call Husband and have him meet me.  Oops, look at the time, he’s already on his way home, that wouldn’t be nice.  I’m good, I can do this.

Five minutes before I left, ummm, Man Child?  I changed my mind.  But you can’t stay.  He traveled downtown with me, and then encouraged me when I spent ten minutes standing outside, bemoaning the fact that I had remembered my camera but not the battery that would allow it to work.

I really have great kids.


I’ll be honest, this sign in the window is probably what got me through the door.  That and Man Child’s gentle shove.

At the entrance to the back room, where the event was being held, the producer was checking tickets.  I was nervous about the whole e-ticket thing. My name was already on his list, great. I’m scoping the room behind him, happy to see empty seats in back when he says, “Oh.  You’re reading.”  Was I supposed to mention that?  “Umm, yeah, I guess so.”  Damn, I’m smooth.

It’s a funny thing.  Once I was in, I felt acutely aware that I have never done this before, but not nervous.  Basically I was certain I was going to fuck up, drop my pages, lose my voice, have that stroke, yanno.  It wasn’t crowded, there were two featured writers and several open mic-ers.  The open mic folks were mostly poets.  Excellent, this way I was certain to not fit in.  I liked the way it was organized, open mic readings scattered throughout the evening with the featured writers in between.  (Featured meaning authors with books recently published/about to be published) I’m not sure what I expected, but it was a lively mix of “straight” poetry, spoken word, an excerpt from a graphic novel, excerpts from a flash essay collection, part of a short.  The crowd was mixed in age, sex, and ethnicity, also nice.

There was a microphone! Eek.  And others were introduced by the MC with a bit about them.  Crap, was I supposed to tell them something other than my name and here’s-my-eight-dollars?  Ah well.  I considered plugging Mrs Fringe before or after I read, but therewasamicrophone.  I just did it.  I read the opening few pages to Astonishing (probably about half the first chapter, it’s the one up on the blog here).  Everyone was quiet while I read, so either I held their attention, or they were taking the opportunity for a cat nap. Maybe they just couldn’t hear me, I didn’t get too close to that mic.  I’m from south Brooklyn ferChristssake, I can be plenty loud.

I met a few people who seemed quite nice. Many of those in the audience and those who went up are apparently regulars, but everyone was welcoming.  Not one pointed and snickered, or muttered, “poseur” as I went past.  If they did I didn’t hear them.  Success.

In any case, I felt like it went well.  I was surprised I couldn’t see the audience once I was up there, all I saw was lights, and that made it much easier.  More surprising, I didn’t feel intimidated while I was reading, I just…read.  Scenarios like this always surprise me, no one talking about the angst and futility of trying to get published, trade or otherwise.  It’s as if there’s an assumption that you and everyone else is doing it, you belong there.

I might even say I had fun.

 

What the Hell Did I Just Do?!

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I’m two days away from my four year blog-o-versary.  I love blogging, more than I ever expected to, and for more reasons than I had imagined possible.  One of those reasons involves the connections with others, and the occasional, amazing notes I receive from readers–some who I know from other forums, others I don’t know at all.

As discussed ad nauseam, I’m fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive group of online friends.  One of those friends sent me a lovely message after reading my last post.  Not a Fringeling, she read the post after another mutual friend shared it. In her note, she asked if I had ever considered writing a novel, and I debated an appropriate response.  Laugh? Cry? Slit my wrists and bleed into the keyboard?  I thanked her for her support, gave a way too long response of my history of writing woes, and obsessed over her thoughts for the rest of the day.  Mentioned it to one of my writing friends, who promptly told me this was a gentle nudge from the universe.  It’s nice to have friends with a glass-half-full outlook, my take was this was the universe reopening wounds I’ve been trying to keep closed.

What does this have to do with anything?  The following morning, I received an “invite” (one of those Facebook invite thingies) to a reading, sent by another friend.  I clicked on the invite, and in addition to the published authors reading, the evening includes open mic time slots.  Not to be all metaphysical and shit, but the two incidents happening so close together did seem like some type of universal body check.  I considered.  I could do this.  Could I do this? What would I read?  Is there an actual mic involved? I’m fine with speaking in front of people, but not when I have to speak into a microphone.  Surely there’s a long list of items I’d be better served spending $8 on.  How long is six minutes, anyway?  I asked Nerd Child the last question, he’s the one with public speaking experience.  Hmmm, six minutes would eliminate any of the shorts I’ve got here on the blog, which was my original thought.  I think.  Unless I just read an excerpt.  Why would I do this?  I could just go, see a friend I haven’t connected with in a long time, support my friend’s friend, have a nice grownup evening, a couple of drinks, and bemoan my lack of legitimacy.

Husband woke early today, and was sitting at the table so I mentioned it to him.  He, of course, said, do it.  Holy fuck, I did it.  Bought a ticket including a time slot to read.  I think.  Maybe I clicked the wrong box.  Maybe they’ll sell too many of those tickets and I’ll be bounced, since I’m not a real writer, no pub credits.  But what if I clicked the right box, and I’m not bounced?  What the hell am I going to read?

I’ve got three weeks to decide what to read.  Three weeks to chicken out.

What did I just do, and why?

Nesting

This pair has been hanging out on the water tower across from my apartment all morning.

This pair hung out on the water tower across from my apartment all morning.

The crows seem to enjoy today’s fine flurries.  They stuck around, cawing and calling and circling until the flurries stopped.

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It’s that time.  That time of year, when I start thinking about how nice it would be to get away by myself.  Still haven’t done it (not since I had children, anyway), but I think about it.  A little while ago I even looked up writer’s retreats for 2016.  They lose their appeal after about 3 minutes of web surfing.  Wooded settings, steep price tags, set meal times, and evening conversations with strangers.  Feel me shuddering through the keyboard?  Creating my own retreat, though, that would be lovely.  Just a few days.  Coffee, tea, salad, and Cheetos should cover all the necessary meals/food groups.  Maybe some salt and vinegar chips.  On a beach, because if I were to be overcome by the glory of uninterrupted alone-time and therefore not get any writing done, I’d still be happy.

It’s also that time when I’m thinking about writing.  A lot.  I know myself, what it means when I can’t stop thinking about a poem, a photograph, a song…and I know what’s next; obsession with the next manuscript.  You know when you hear women talk about nesting in the later stages of pregnancy? I never did that.  I do it before getting serious about a manuscript.  Why? I dunno.  It isn’t like baking or being caught up on laundry and grocery shopping beforehand makes a damned bit of difference by the time I’m a month in, but I do it anyway.  Feels like dropping down to a low gear in order to drive up a steep hill without stalling or getting caught at the red light at the top.  Not that it works, life provides red lights with regularity, and god knows I stall out all. the. time. while I’m writing, but that’s what it feels like for the moment.

So I’ve been thinking about Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody.”  I always loved this one, no matter how many times I’ve heard and read it.

I’m Nobody! Who are you? 
Are you—Nobody—Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know!How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one’s name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
 
I’ve never been Somebody, from my vantage it seems like there’s power in it.  But there’s freedom in being Nobody, do you think?  Maybe not, maybe it’s just one of the not-so-little lies we tell ourselves, along the lines of poor-but-happy.
A few weeks ago I took this photo on one of the (thankfully) few bitter cold days we’ve had this winter.
Lost? Forgotten? Abandoned?

Lost? Forgotten? Abandoned?

The flowers, this photo, a complete story by itself.  But which one?  My first thought for a caption was something like, “Screw you and your cheap-ass bodega flowers!” Such a frigid morning though, maybe they dropped from fingers so numb the person carrying them didn’t realize they lost them until they were fumbling for their Metrocard two blocks later.  The neighborhood where I took this shot is a busy one, home to a large social security office, a few social service agencies, and several thrift stores. Maybe they fell from the cart of someone’s wheelchair, or the little basket that sits across the top of a walker.  Maybe they were dropped as someone late for a date grabbed the first available cab they’d seen in twenty minutes, or maybe, maybe, maybe.  So many possibilities, and those are just a few of the more mundane ones.
I stopped halfway through putting this post together to go pick up the girl.  In Grand Central, when you walk through the tunnel connecting the tracks for the shuttle and the 4/5/6, there are several abandoned “windows.”  I can’t remember if there used to be stores behind them, or what they were originally for, but now they’re lit empty boxes, good for backlighting the various street performers and religious groups that stop in front of them. Today I was walking past and saw this.
MTA worker with dreams of being a display artist?

MTA worker with dreams of being a display artist?

Clandestine spy code?  Pre-arranged tableau signaling the all clear for a passionate liaison between an engineer and a station inspector?  I think, if I were writing this into a manuscript, I’d have to add a crow.

Honey, I’ve Got Underwear Older than You

And I’m wearing them.

Maybe the bones aren't as strong as they once were, but it's still standing.

Maybe the bones aren’t as strong as they once were, but it’s still standing.

Over the summer I posted about an idea I had for a novel.  Not exactly a new idea, it would involve a complete revamp/rewrite of a manuscript I wrote a few years ago.  I lamented in advance about all the work that would entail, the time, the energy, the damned hope.  I didn’t know if I wanted to.  I decided to put the idea to the side and see if both the idea and the urge faded away or took root.  It’s taken root, but I still haven’t decided if I’m going to do the work. A couple of weeks ago I wrote an opening, a few hundred words.  Not enough for me to call it a WIP (work in progress).  The night before Thanksgiving, I decided I absolutely needed to go right then to the neighborhood where it’s set to take some photos, so I can decide exactly where my imaginary house will be in my imaginary manuscript.  Just in case, you understand.

While I haven’t been working on anything, I still go on the writer’s forum.  I’ve got several friends on there, I’ve been a member for a long time, and there’s a healthy amount of silliness that takes place in the off topic sections.  I still read all the threads directly related to writing, though I rarely post on them.  So the other morning I was having my second cup of pre-dawn espresso and surfing the writing threads in an attempt to take a break from political overload, and I saw a doozy of a post.  Actually, it was a few posts, and I don’t even remember what the thread was supposed to be about in the first place.  Someone referenced a sad blog post they had read, about a woman who had been trying to get published for twenty years and was giving up.  No other details given, I have no idea who the blogger referenced is, or any of the details of her story.

Imagine my surprise to see a response that said something to the effect of, perhaps readers are lucky she’s giving up, if she couldn’t get anywhere with all that time.  Hmmm.  Someone else wanting to know what she was doing for all that time.   Someone else assuming her work must be poor.  And someone else referencing that she’d been failing longer than they’d been alive, and she should try something else.  Well, let me just say Mrs Fringe had quite a difficult time restraining herself from sending them to their rooms.  (no, I’m not a mod there and have 0 authority)  Maybe the time out corner, for 7 or 12  or 17 years.  Or as I like to call the time-out corner, life.  Again, I have no idea what else was going on in that woman’s life over the course of those twenty years, how much time was spent actually writing, or submitting.  It doesn’t matter, because one thing I’m sure of is that writing wasn’t the only thing she was doing.  Because life does happen, to all of us, whether we’re creative geniuses, no talent hacks, prim and proper accountants or women of a certain age.

Even though I wasn’t actually a part of the conversation, and no one was actually speaking to me, I was annoyed.  Feeling sensitive, because they’re asking the same questions and making the same deprecating comments I’ve been making about myself.  Some of it has to do with the writing, yes, questioning the value of my words and stories.  How do you measure the value of these things, anyway?  Because that, I think, is the crux of it for me.  What is the value?  If there is no measurable value without success, what is my value?  Being a woman of a certain age without clear markers of success, feeling the negative pressure, maybe I’m supposed to just fade out quietly; stop making a fuss, stop dreaming, move out of the way of the younger generations, and for God’s sake stop cursing so much.  Well, that last part is never going to fucking happen.

I don’t know if I’m going to write that manuscript.  But if I don’t, it won’t be because of how many years have or have not passed since I first said hey, I’d like to see my words in a book, on a shelf, and be paid a dollar for them.  I’ve been busy.

The Best Laid Plans, or, The Tao of Want

The no current project desk, much messier than the working desk.

The no current project desk, much messier than the working desk.

It’s a thinking out loud post today, Fringelings, because yesterday, this thing, this moment, this feeling happened.

This is the feeling I get with certain story ideas.  It’s an all-in-one jumble of a dangerous high; excitement, nerves, stomach flipping, blood pressure rising, false clarity–the lie of meeting someone in a bar and being certain this is the one.

Not everyone who writes gets this feeling, I’m told.  That said, I’m not special, because I know a few others who do.

Why is this a problem?  Because this isn’t a short story idea.  If you’re a regular follower/reader, you know I don’t want to write any more full length manuscripts.  I’ve spent the last how-many-months trying to make peace with acceptance, with the need to accept that it is never going to happen.  Too many dreams, too much want, these things make it so damned hard to accept now, to accept what it is.  Even the ideal is nonsensical, “I don’t want to want.”

One way or the other, writing is hard work, and it’s all about want.  For me.  Yes, I know, there are those who are completely content writing for themselves, don’t care if they ever get published, but as I’ve said many times before, that isn’t me.  I write to be read.  Which is why I don’t want to write any more full length manuscripts.  It’s a huge investment.  I don’t have the means to make huge investments.  I haven’t been putting any effort into thinking of novel ideas, I don’t want them.

But I have this idea, and it’s giving me the feeling.  So here’s where I have to decide, do I take yet another chance, sink months, maybe years, fucking hope! into yet another manuscript that will ultimately be another fun house mirror reflecting my delusions of people-will-want-to-read-my-words? More significantly, the delusion that a publishing professional will believe my words can earn them money?  I’m sorry, but yes, I care about that end of writing.  I’m not pure, haven’t discovered and embraced the Tao of the words themselves.  I would like to be that evolved, but I’m not.  And I’m exhausted thinking about this, putting these thoughts into a blog post.

Just in case having this idea giving me this feeling isn’t shit enough, the idea isn’t even original.  It would be taking the manuscript I wrote before Astonishing and ripping it apart, removing the romance, keeping the bits I like and then completely rewriting and restructuring it.  I’m not sure I have the skill to do such a thing.

Remember those tomato seeds I planted in my little terrace garden?  Two types, Roma and Cherries.  They didn’t turn out as expected.  The ones that grow to full size have blossom end rot.  I get all excited, seeing those full green fruits as they turn red, and then, when I pick them, the undersides are clearly too damaged to eat.  But most aren’t reaching their full size, they stop growing when they’re about the size of blueberries.  I’ve been picking and eating a few every morning, right off the plants, with my coffee on the terrace.  They’re sweet, tiny but lush.

Art Child and I have taken to calling them tomato berries.

Art Child and I have taken to calling them tomato berries.

If I allow this seed of an idea to germinate, give it time, water, sun, and sweat into my keyboard until it bears fruit, what will I get?  One of the tomatoes that looks perfect until you get close, see the results of calcium deficient soil, bones that aren’t strong enough to support a full manuscript?  Or will I get that little pop of warm perfection, not what’s expected but right in and of itself.  Is it worth trying?

At the moment, I just don’t know.  Every brain cell is telling me not to do this, swallow the idea and push it further down my digestive tract.

For the moment, I’ll do nothing.  I’ll leave it alone, see if not feeding it makes this idea disappear, lets my guts return to a normal pace.  A week, two weeks, a few months, a year.  If it stays, though, well, maybe I’ll open that old file, see what does or doesn’t come to mind when I reread, if I find myself reaching for the composition book with the original notes for the story (oddly enough, it isn’t packed away, but still in a top cubby of my desk), writing a few new ones.

Shit.

 

“You Ain’t No Nice Guy”

W 4th Street Courts, aka "The Cage" Tiny, but one of the toughest, most competitive courts in the city.

W 4th Street Courts, aka “The Cage.” Tiny, but one of the most competitive courts in the city with some of the greatest streetball players.  Unusual because it has nets!

The post title above is one of those quotes that tattooed itself on my brain as soon as I read it–many, many years ago.  It’s from The Stand, by Stephen King, earlier on in the book, before Captain Trips has completely taken over, said to the character Larry Underwood.  Simple, clean, all-encompassing, and it stayed in the character’s head the way it’s stayed in mine. I love those types of characters; not nice but interesting.  I will always vote for interesting, and I think that quote shaped the characters I create as much as anything else I’ve read and learned.

Last year, someone mentioned to me that “satire” is currently the kiss of death in a query. Naturally, I immediately started thinking, “what a great idea, I’d love to try satire!”  Thoughts of not nice guys married the idea of satire, they honeymooned in the too-many maudlin days of nostalgic thinking I had while recuperating from my fractures, and Jack was born, he’s the protagonist in the short I’m posting today.  (I think I posted back in the early days of Mrs Fringe about growing up in Brooklyn and falling asleep to the sounds of dribbling basketballs and hard popping handballs in the park across the street.)

I don’t know how other writers do it, but this is me. Bits and pieces of brain mishmash that probably don’t belong together, but in my peculiar mind they do. In some ways this is a continuation of my last post, about it being ok to reach and try new things, even suck.  While part of me mourns for my quickly fading dreams of publication, another part of me sees this as an opportunity (excuse?) to stretch and try all the out of the box ideas that I’ve got without worrying whether or not it’s publishable. Marketable.

If you haven’t noticed from my other stories, I like things that are just a little raw, with jagged bits that stay with me.  With any luck, two of my readers/followers do, too. Please click here for “Blacktop.”

Special Occasion: Yanno, Thursday

Canned biscuits

Canned biscuits

The other morning I stuck these in the oven for Art Child’s breakfast. When she woke up and came in the kitchen she asked, “Is today a special day?”

Ooof.  I was never the picture of the Happy Housewife, never cooked breakfast daily, but I used to actually make breakfast regularly enough that no one thought anything of it to wake up to eggs or muffins on a weekday.  The above wasn’t making breakfast, this was popping open a tube and sticking overly sweet pre-made discs of dough in the oven.  I’ve been pleased with how I’ve forced myself to relax over the past several years; not everything has to be from scratch, the world doesn’t end and I’m less stressed if I’m busy or my back is hurting so I buy leaves already trimmed and washed in a bag for salad.  (Still make my own dressings, that bottled stuff should be banned.)

For Art Child to look at those biscuits and think we were either celebrating or there was a state test she forgot about…let’s just say it made me take a closer look at myself, in a broader sense than in the kitchen. Have I relaxed and adapted or have my standards dropped?

Both. Yes, it’s good to relax, not put so much pressure on myself. Some of this “relaxing” is due to enforced lessons of hurry-up-and-wait, both in the world of writing and in the world of medical needs parenting.  Wait for responses, call-backs, appointments with specialologists scheduled six months out, test results, watch and see how things develop.  As a parent in the specialized medical world, generally bad news comes fast and good news comes slow. As a wanna-be writer, it’s the opposite. Again, these are generalizations, there are exceptions both ways. In either world that bad news feels like a sucker punch, even if you’re sure it’s coming. And in both worlds, sometimes the ball gets dropped, and you don’t hear news until months after you could/should have. Either way, you learn that most things are not the emergency they feel like in your own mind.

And yes, my standards have dropped. I think it’s been necessary for my sanity. When I first began writing and sending queries, it was done through snail mail with SASEs. It often took a long time to get a response, but 99% of the time, you got one. I took long breaks, lots of gaps in my efforts to write and submit queries. The next time I was querying, most were done through email, and more agents were straightforward that if they weren’t interested, they wouldn’t respond. Ugh! For a little while.  Then I got used to it. I had to. It’s like sending in a job application, right? If they’re interested, they’ll contact you, if not they won’t.  Put into that perspective, it makes sense–though it’s still absolutely appreciated to get a response, positive or negative.  Lowered standards or preserving sanity, call it what you will. If they requested a full, you were pretty much guaranteed a personalized response.

Now?  Even on a request, people are now seeing bare bones form rejections, the same as on a query. This latest go-round I saw agents who don’t respond at all even to requested material. I have a hard time with this one. Requested means you sent a query and opening pages, they (or their intern) liked it enough to send you a note and ask for the full manuscript. I checked with other wanna-bees to try and read the coffee grounds between the non-existent lines, and it isn’t just me. A request for a full doesn’t mean anymore than what it is, so don’t start practicing your acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature, you crazy-overactive-imagination-writer, you.  And yes, I know I shouldn’t be saying this out loud, let alone posting it on my blog, the internet is forever, some magical publisher or agent in the future could come across this and say hey! I was going to make Mrs Fringe an offer, but now I won’t. Obviously she’s whiny and difficult, a gnat of a wanna-be. How dare she try to hold on to any standards, think she deserves a little courtesy of a response?

I don’t mean to be difficult, though I’m fully aware that I’m whining. In many ways I’ve been lucky, received a fair share of requests, and gotten many lovely responses, personalized and complimentary. No one has ever told me my writing sucks and I should go submerge my head in my tank, stick to writing grocery lists. Thank God, because I am the worst shopping list writer on the Upper West side–three chicken scratches on the back of an old appointment card, and walk out of the store with $200 transformed into three environmentally friendly reusable bags.

I decided it’s time to slow my slipping standards, so I went to the Farmer’s Market the other day.

IMG_3960

Saw mushrooms that looked like they belonged in the art fair.

Passed on these.

Passed on these.

Made a wish on a particularly resilient dandelion

These things really do spring up everywhere.

These things really do spring up everywhere.

Said a little prayer

IMG_3977And set about making a fresh baked breakfast of rhubarb muffins.

I can still chop, if uneven.

I can still chop, if uneven.

Oops, no sour cream.  Ok, not dropping standards, adapting with greek yogurt.

Works out the same

Works out the same

Ready?

Fold the rhubarb in gently, Mrs Fringe!

Fold the rhubarb in gently, Mrs Fringe!

And then I couldn’t find one normal muffin pan. I found my teeny mini muffin pan, too small for those rhubarb pieces, and too annoying with such a thick batter. I found my muffin top pan, too shallow for the rhubarb. I found tart pans, springform pans, pie plates, and cookie sheets. No muffin pans.

Give up those expectations, and adapt.

Can I interest you in a slice of rhubarb bread?

Can I interest you in a slice of standard dropping rhubarb bread?