writing

Words being Served

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.)

Feed It All Your Woes

Through the fountain, Columbus Circle

I don’t know about anyone else, but my short stories always start with a sense. A glimpse, a scent, a phrase overheard, a taste. I used to imagine an eventual book of short stories, grouped by each of the senses. Usually while I’m walking, something will trigger the writing portion of my brain and burrow in. Often I try to ignore it, and over the coming days, weeks, months, I’ll know it’s growing, creating tunnels that connect into a story by the time I sit down to write.  This is not my “process” (could I sound any more pretentious?) for full length manuscripts. I am not a careful plotter who creates extensive notes, charts, and detailed outlines, but a full novel needs more than a whiff.

One of these bristle-worms-of-the-brain began creating a space for itself the other day as I walked down the wet subway stairs to wait for the dreaded 6 train. I’m letting it lie, don’t have an actual story for this story yet, but for whatever reason it’s brought up all kinds of old memories.

For me, old memories are pretty much synonymous with old music, the songs and albums I associate with different people and experiences, from jazz to blues to classic rock, from punk to show tunes to folk rock.   Anyway, I thought of an old friend I haven’t thought of in years. I can’t remember his full name, but I remember hours of poring over used albums in Academy Records and Bleecker Bobs.  He taught me about reggae beyond Bob Marley, and after work I would drag him to the (now mostly gone) hole in the wall folk rock bars of the west Village. We worked with autistic children and teens when autism was still considered a rare disorder, before the definition and diagnosis expanded to a spectrum, and drowning myself in music was the best way to not leave my heart smashed in a million pieces behind the head of a child trying to use his skull like a hammer.

Naturally this led me to youtube, listening to music I haven’t listened to in a long time, including the album below, which I’ve been listening to for the past three days.  I know I wore through at least two copies on vinyl and one on cassette, and while I can’t tell you how many years since I last listened, I still remember every word of every lyric. The entire album is beautiful, and some of it is quite dark, but when I was younger it left me hopeful and looking forward.  Now it’s got me looking back, time and opportunities lost. This was Joni Mitchell’s debut album (ancient as I am, it was already long released by the time I “discovered” it).  For all of her albums that I have owned and enjoyed, and despite the fact that when my birthday comes I associate it with her collaboration with Charles Mingus–their rap/scat of Happy Birthday, this is still my favorite.  Song to a Seagull.

Zero to Hero: Or Not

I know, I know, I haven’t been around.  First I was writing, which felt shockingly excellent.  Then I got sick, the flu maybe, which sucked. Naturally after I got sick, Art Child got very sick, and the battery for my camera has died, which means no new photos, and before I can blink, weeks have gone by without even considering a post, and a whopping dose of the blues, which means  you didn’t want to hear from me anyway. Trust me.

The other day I was web surfing, and came upon what looks to be a reputable writer’s conference that will be here in the city this summer.  Sure I haven’t opened the Mess-In-Progress in weeks, I’m not quite sure how I’ll work out the money or the logistics but ooh!  I’m considering it.  Maybe it will be motivating. Inspiring. Humbling.  Humiliating. Yeah, maybe I’ll put that thought to the side for now.

Why am I blogging today? I’m not sure. Maybe because I feel like howling at the universe, but apartment life means no howling allowed. This is not a mom blog, or a special needs parenting blog.  I do talk about my kids a fair amount because they’re a huge part of my life, but as I’ve said many times, Mrs Fringe is my spot to be me–all of me; the good, the bad, and the wacky.

I know Jimmy Kimmel did a beautiful job talking about all of this the other day. Heartfelt, honest, a perfect blend of hope and honesty, and I truly thank him for using his platform to talk about families who don’t have millions tuning in to their words, have millions cheering them on and praying for them. Even I teared up as I watched. He had a layer I don’t have anymore, that newness, that shock of how-did-I-get-here?

In parenting, there are moments that make your heart stop. I like to think I’m pretty good in moments of crisis, it’s afterwards, when you have time to think and breathe, when I’ll feel it most.  But yeah, there are those moments where no matter that part of your brain is telling you to move, to speak, to take action, to take a breath…the lobe that’s in control in that one moment is frozen.  I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, it hasn’t always been a huge crisis that prompts this, it’s the neat and perfect dovetailing of implications, suddenly unavoidable.

“Mom, the dark’s been darker than usual.” My heart, my brain, my fucking everything stopped when I heard that. Of course I needed to hear it, I need to know this, but I don’t want to. For the past several months, we’ve been seeing more specialists and adding meds to deal with the issue that’s come up with Art Child’s eyes. I can and will do everything possible to preserve her vision. We’ve been doing everything possible, knowing the odds are ugly, to say the least.  And then I heard that statement.  And the next day she came home with a different edition of a book she’s been reading because “the letters are bigger.”

And then I went online and read about the latest round of “How the GOP is trying to kill the citizens of America and torture the most vulnerable.” Excellent.  Even better, the individual statements of Reps and 45 supporters saying things like people who live “good lives” and “do things the right way” should pay less than those with pre-existing conditions. As another med-needs-mom friend of mine put it, yeah, if only our fetuses hadn’t been drinking and whoring while in the womb, they wouldn’t have those pre-existing conditions. If you don’t have experience with this stuff, let me say sometimes I think it’s a freaking miracle that the majority of babies are born healthy and neuro-typical, because yes, there are that many things that can and too often do go wrong. Another pro-tip for you, everything is genetic. Everything. And most of us will, at some point, develop something considered a pre-existing condition, because it’s coded into our genes. Or we’ll have an accident that will have lasting repercussions. Or old age.

So on one side we’ve got the people who are totally cool with anyone with treatable health issues dying because they can’t afford health care. On the other side (and sometimes, oddly enough, there’s crossover) there are the people who know they and their family were really lucky with the genetic jackpot, and they say things like, “I don’t know how you do it. You’re a hero. Your child is a hero.” Now, I get the whole hero thing when you’re trying to explain to a very small child who’s ill. “You’re a superhero! You’re going to kick cancer’s butt! Slaying cystic fibrosis! Show those seizures who’s boss!”  And I know there are some medical needs parents who find it helpful to think of their children (maybe even themselves, but I haven’t heard that regularly) as heroic in the fight against *insert cause(s) here*.  Or they believe they/their children were chosen. I’m too cynical for this, and frankly, it neither makes me feel better nor gives me strength to make the next phone call, agree to the next med that includes “may cause death” in the list of side effects.

I’m a regular old gal. Really. If you walked past me on the street, well, you’d walk past. Normal. Regular. Average.  You might notice Art Child because she’s fabulous and beautiful, but that might be my bias talking.  You’d probably walk past her too. And my boys. Man boys, who do indeed have ten extra levels of strength, calm, and compassion because they grew up in a house with medical needs.  But you’d walk past them. And that’s all okay. I love a good cape, and so does the girl, but I feel no need to slap on a mask and gadget belt. I just don’t want to be a villain, either, for wanting the best possible chance for the best possible outcome for my child.

 

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.

img_9110

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?