Speech Impediment

I can’t say what I mean. I don’t always mean what I say. I try to express a thing, and it comes out to be another thing entirely. I start talking mid-thought, as if you can read my mind. This must be why I always wanted to be a writer. If only there were time in life to write things down first before having to say them, maybe I’d do better. I might be in conversation at a work lunch, say, or at a work party, and say someone says something possibly false and misconstrued about my personal life, and say I want to address that, I could hold up a finger to indicate give me one moment please. Then I could pull out a notepad and write down some possible responses:

That did not happen.

Please don’t talk about me when I’m sitting right here.

Are you demented?

Then I could cross out all of the above and come up with a coherent deflection, return to the conversation, recite what I’ve written on the notepad, and be done with it.

In reality, I stumble, end up agreeing, or at least not telling the person s/he is demented, and soon enough I am off on a tangent about what life was like when the tourists went home and how I do not like trees.

What?! I mean, that isn’t even true! (At least the part about the trees. Really. They are quite pretty.)

When I am more careful, I keep my mouth closed. This is the best solution. Just let the other people talk. Let them ramble, extrapolate, run themselves into walls. I will nod and smile and say yeah and uh-huh and really? so they keep talking. The pressure is off that way. I know I can always write down what I’m really thinking later.

Stuck

I don’t need to do any soul-searching to realize that I’m bored with the turn my life has taken. When the world slows, when the deadlines are met, when there is time to breathe… that’s when I come to face it. There I am, numb in the brain. I cannot stand to do this with my days any longer. I’m standing here before the dressing-room mirror with a dress I really don’t even like stuck over my head. No matter how I twist or turn I can’t get it off. Which has happened to me—more than once.

But that situation doesn’t fully express my boredom. What’s boring is standing in line at the post office. I have been standing in line at the post office for almost four years.

I want a change.

I want a shot at something new.

I want a challenge.

I got a call on my cell phone yesterday from a number I didn’t recognize. Someone was with me at the time, so I couldn’t pick up. All I heard was the song I’ve set to play when a call comes in from an unknown ID: the carnival music from City of Lost Children. I hit silent on the phone to not interrupt my conversation, and I waited. Only when I was alone could I check my voicemail to see who called. But in the minutes that passed, I felt an itch of excitement, a jolt of nerves, the good kind. That phone call could be a chance at something new. Yes, yes, it had to be. No one ever called my phone. I waited until I was alone and then I went to check the voicemail.

Nothing.

No message.

No news.

The phone call was a hang-up, from a 718 number. Any call I’d be expecting (hoping for) would not come from a 718 number. Still, I did reverse lookup to see who had called. It was a woman named Maria C— from the Bronx. Clearly, a wrong number.

That’s my problem: I feel like I’m waiting for something, I’m just not sure what. I’ve got to yank this dress off my head, then I’ll be able to see clearly and know what to do next. I could use a little help this time, I think.

For now, lunchtime is over. I have to shut down my computer and go back upstairs to work.

Distractions Abound

I’m scattered.

In the past week or so I:

  • Started new writing project.
  • Got stuck on new writing project.
  • Kept my other new project in the back of my mind… felt guilty… felt excited… felt overwhelmed… felt like it was the right thing to do.
  • Carried around drafts of my two unfinished short stories: “W” and “F.” Sometimes I want to work on “W”—it needs a new opening, a fix to the climax, a cut of one scene—then I want to work on “F”—it needs a scene cut and others expanded, and, of course, smoothing.
  • Accepted three freelance writing projects that will last through September. They are adaptations. Two are anime; one is a classic. Will use pseudonyms for all three.
  • Wished I was ghostwriting another YA novel. But no one has asked me to.
  • Reconsidered this wish.
  • Considered sending writing samples to a certain comic-book company that has started a new YA line. Didn’t yet, because I don’t know who/how to approach it.
  • Wished I still worked in comic books.
  • Reconsidered this wish.
  • Wished we won the lottery.
  • Did not reconsider that.
  • Wished the apartment wasn’t such a catastrophic mess. Made small progress to amend this. Then left it all for later.
  • Found out holes in hallway will not be fixed anytime soon because the whole building may be remodeled. No comment.
  • Found out the true reality of our financial troubles.
  • Decided on solution to financial troubles, which could lead to more trouble, and so:
  • Panicked about trouble in general.
  • Worked late. For no real reason except I am very responsible and I don’t know why.
  • Got caught up in work drama.
  • Got sick.
  • Was rejected; didn’t cry.
  • Saw Mom.
  • Made my proofreading deadline.
  • Discovered that watching TV on DVD is so much better than watching TV on actual TV and therefore we may turn off the cable.
  • Discovered that—when not panicked and busy—that I am in actuality very, very bored.
  • Made a few attempts to fix that.
  • Then slept in yesterday, in defeat.

But this week I want to:

  • Write something good.

That’s it. It could be a sentence, it could be a story, it could be a list of 40 to 60 things about what I want to write when I am able to write it. Not too much to ask, I hope.

With Time to Kill

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My mom was in the city yesterday taking an oral exam at a local high school. I couldn’t go in with her, so during her test I wandered the neighborhood, waiting until she was done.

under_brooklyn2.jpgI had almost two hours to kill.

I found myself beneath an on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. I couldn’t say how I got there, or how I’d find my way back to the high school, but I became fascinated by the spray-painted symbols on the underside of the on-ramp.

H, as in what? Hello or Help or Here? Someone more knowledgeable about bridgework would know.

I kept walking.

I passed the police station.

I passed an impromptu skate park.

A friend from high school randomly happened to see me and called out my name. He was visiting just for the day from upstate. I was surprised to be recognized. Then it felt okay, that I could still be that same person—much more bitter inside—but still the same.

I meandered. An old man in a suit and hat stared through a hole into a construction site. He watched the quiet hole in the ground for many minutes. I wondered if he’d once lived there—in that spot, before whatever had been there had been demolished.

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I let him be.

alley3.jpgThen I found the alleyway pictured here, a narrow tunnel between streets, overhung with construction scaffolding. I ventured inside to take pictures. It was lit at the opening and lit up faraway at the end—and between all darkness. The walls were painted with what felt like advertisements from a century ago. Who would have walked this narrow alley to see them? I stood inside a while, traffic and noise outside, in the light. I’m drawn to the spaces between buildings, the gaps in the streets that aren’t really streets, the secrets. Dangerous, I know, but still magnetic.

I didn’t have much time to spare, so I soon tore myself from the edge of the alley and found a café to read a magazine until her test was over. I sent my mom good thoughts. Soon enough, I had to find my way back.

Afterward, she came out smiling—we hope she did well on her test—and we took photos of ourselves in front of a statue of a yellow-and-blue dog to commemorate the day. I don’t know what the yellow-and-blue dog had to do with her test, or the day, or anything really, we just like taking pictures of ourselves, just to prove we were here.

It was at Grand Central that I gave my mom a story I’d written, recently published in a literary journal. I told her not to read it in front of me. An hour later, she called me from the train to tell me she liked it. She is always surprised how I describe places, she says, the details of what I remember. In that story, it was the paper walls of a friend’s house. Maybe someday it will be the dark, grimy walls of an alley downtown, or the passageway under a bridge, or the patch of sidewalk while seeing a person I knew in another life, or a peephole into a construction site, or a yellow-and-blue dog. It’s impossible to say.

Q&A

After reading the VOGUE “Shape” issue in which women reveal the parts of their bodies that they truly despise: tummies, chins, thighs, butts, etc., it occurs to me that I don’t know what part of my body I hate more than any other. It also occurs to me that this probably wasn’t the point of the article, but still…

So I turn to E for his opinion.

Me: What part of my body do you think is the worst part?

E: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Your doubt. Definitely.

Good answer. And so true!

Cleansing

An overwhelming moment, standing beneath the loft bed, surrounded on all sides by old writing drafts—boxes here, scattered pages there, a tower on the bookshelf, a cabinet full.

It feels symbolic somehow. That I can’t move ahead with my life when I have this disappointment all around me. I spend my days living under its weight, my nights sleeping on top of it. It’s choking me.

It is time to recycle the old drafts. I need a massive shredder and a dump truck. But, without, I will have to start small—one draft at a time.

The saddest part is finding the binders. There was a time, early on, when I insisted on printing out hard copies of my drafts and making edits on the page. I’d hole-punch the pages and keep them in binders that I’d carry around with me everywhere. I am thinking of the process now—I don’t do it anymore to avoid wasting paper—but how pleasurable was that, the line-edits, the scribbles in the margins that became too big for the margins and turned to the backs of the pages, spreading out to other pages, numbered to keep track of them… I can barely decipher the handwriting now. The weight of the binder in my bag. The pleasure in lugging around that weight. The binders contain such hope. There was one with color coding. Sectioned off by idea. Chapters with titles. Characters with lives. Oh, how I wanted this book to happen.

This is the first novel I ever wrote. Starting others doesn’t count; this is the first one I finished, i.e., wrote to the end. Here is a box with comments from my graduate thesis workshop, back when I had at most 50, 75, 100 pages. Should I open the box to see what they said?

No.

But I won’t throw the box away. One day I will open it, see what the other writers in my workshop said about the novel when it was just starting out, its very beginnings. From what I remember, I felt alive in those workshops, encouraged—as if it were all possible. That semester may have been the happiest time of my life. One writer whose short stories made me choke up they were so powerful was a strong advocate of mine, or so I remember. He published his book not two years later. I’d rather remember it this way, the good things, the point at which that novel was my world and my world was promising, I don’t want to ruin my memory.

Years later, in my thesis conference, just before finally graduating, a professor I had never spoken to before said he was afraid my novel would fail. It was bloated, maybe he said that. It wasn’t centered, I think he said that. I don’t remember what he said I should do to fix it, I don’t remember. He said other things, too, and another professor was there who said nicer things, but what I remember is that word: fail.

Now, I empty the binders and drop the pages into the trash. There, look: I got frightened away and never made a real go of it. I gave up. You could say I failed.

Then I tried again. Here, this a draft of my latest novel—it has the blue ink scrawls all over it. The sticky notes. Oh, the sticky notes. The intensity of the handwriting sends me reeling: I remember when I wrote that. At the writers colony, at the height of inspiration during a revision. How happy I was, how… hopeful.

The hopefulness is staggering.

I can’t even look at it.

I am imagining a life without these pages. Thousands upon thousands of pages, just shredded and swept away. What might I write if no longer held back by these old drafts? What might my mind be like when uncluttered? And when I sleep, the space under the loft cleaned out beneath me, what might I dream?

The possibilities are endless. Maybe I was just meant to write it all. Write it and throw it away. Maybe that was the point.

Or maybe this is a test and I am now meant to rise to the challenge, do something with these unwanted pages, prove the guy who said the novel would fail (and thus I would fail) wrong.

Maybe so.

Maybe not.

Maybe I am just supposed to clean up the apartment.

The “Dear Writer” Letter

I stayed home sick from work yesterday, but there was a matter of utmost urgency, for which I had to leave the apartment: dropping the Netflix in the mailbox. Otherwise, how would I get the next DVD in time to continue the Freaks and Geeks marathon this weekend?

It was while I was downstairs checking our own mail that I discovered the rejection. I knew this one was coming, but I was just not in the mood for the impersonal “Dear Writer” letdown. In fact, my day was near ruined simply from having touched the letter, and I did not want the thing in our apartment. What would I do with it? Lament my nasty luck, my lack of recognizable talent, my equal lack of usable connections, my naive stupidity for having applied (again) in the first place? Feel sorry for myself? Get more depressed? No good could come of having that letter in the apartment. I’d rather live in my dream world. So I did the smart thing, the protective thing. I decided to get rid of it.

I could have pitched it in the backyard of the building, where the trash cans line our view of the parking garage, where the rats come out at night, but even that was too close. I could see the backyard from our bedroom. No, I had to get rid of the letter in the street.

I went to the corner and tore the envelope into many bits. I scattered the bits in the trash can there. Then I brought the letter itself—generic, but from a glance well written (even their rejections seem well written!)—to another trash can. I was about to tear it up then decided not to. My name wasn’t on it—the letter could have belonged to anyone. In fact, looking at it then, it didn’t even seem to be mine.

I dropped it. I watched it fall, carried slowly on the breeze, to the bottom of the trash can. It landed face-up.

Looking down on it, it was like finding someone else’s unwanted disappointment. I felt sorry for that person. I hoped s/he wouldn’t take this too hard, wouldn’t give up.

That’s how I left it, in the bottom of the trash can, readable by anyone who passed by.

“Dear Writer”—yes, for some minutes, that writer was me.

Fishbowl

I can’t believe I’m sitting here in public trying to write. It’s such an absurd activity some days. I started the morning at one table, not a prime table away from the door because the best ones were being used, so a backup table, a compromise. I was uncomfortable. I was aware of who could see my screen, and who seemed maybe to be looking, and that if someone sat in the chair just beside me they could kick out my power adapter, which is how the one on my previous (beloved) laptop broke that time. I was aware of everything and anything around me—not a good head-space in which to write.

Then, just before eight o’clock, the person at my favorite table in the corner (she appears to also be a writer; I have seen her here with her laptop on many early mornings) started packing up. I was on alert. As soon as she left, I snagged the table for myself and moved over. Another woman, the one with her ritual of plastic bags and yogurt tins was also packing up at this point, eyeing me, and then finally she was gone and I could begin.

Then there were loud people talking, so I turned up my iTunes. I tried to block it all out. There I was in my corner, my hood up, my earbuds in, my fingers poised on the keys. But I became very much aware of the man reading the newspaper beside me, how he kept glancing in my direction, ostensibly at the wall, but was it at the screen? In response, I turned my magnification down to 75%.

Finally, he left. Then there was the couple taking the longest time to pull on their coats, watching me type as they straightened their sleeves and found their gloves.

Do I look funny? Is there something on my face?

There are many days when I can effectively ignore all of this, as if I’m inside a glass bowl and the activity on the other side of the glass—the talking, slurping, staring, finger-picking strangers—doesn’t exist. There are days when I feel invisible.

Today it must be my own discomfort that’s making me more aware of the outside world. Like that poor man chewing with his mouth open, why do I keep finding my eyes wandering over to him, watching the food bits about to drop from his lips? It is none of my business that he does not close his mouth when he chews, just as what I write here—my secret project in the other window—is none of his.

I promise not to look if he does the same.

Needing to Write

This post from goodthomas cheered me up.

He says:

Someone recently asked me why, after being an actor for so many years, why I would want to write, why I would want to subject myself to more rejection. I smiled and said that as an actor, I had to audition, I had to have someone give me a role, an opportunity, a part in a play or a film. Then I could act. I could not act without a venue to do so. Even auditioning — I had to be given an audition time in which to “ask” for an opportunity to act. Now, I am not asking anyone for anything. I need to write, in and of itself. I need to finish this novel, I need to write more. I am not asking anything of anyone. Just myself.

I love that so much.

I’m heading to work now, but that’s where I’ll leave it at the moment. I can change. I will change. Because the one person I have control over is myself.

Watch Me Give Up

I am about to give up. Watch it happen, in slow motion:

This week I haven’t written much. I’ve gotten up every day to make an attempt, and my failures are astounding. Such as this morning. I got up, got wet by the snow, got my favorite writing table, opened my outline—didn’t feel like working on it—opened a short story that needs revision—didn’t feel like working on it—opened a new story—didn’t feel like even thinking about it—looked at the files on my hard-drive, sighed, grabbed a wireless signal, commented on a friend’s blog, wrote a post about work (see below), which only got me thinking about work, which ruined any and all motivation to be creative, plus I have to get my tax papers together for my appointment on Sunday, plus I can’t find anything in the apartment and grabbed what I thought was my winter glove and which turned out to be A SOCK, plus I have a huge freelance proofreading project due Monday, so this weekend will be a wash, plus I have been depressed for no reason for almost two whole weeks now. It’s lovely. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

I am not sure if I can make it through this day.

Conclusion? I’m going to give up on trying to write and just go to work early. I am such a loser. If my hand gets cold on the walk there I will cover it with the sock.