The Obvious

Roses are red*, yes, and though I do love the deep, dark color red, truth is, I do not at all like red roses. If a certain someone came to me on certain holidays with a certain number of long-stemmed, thorny red roses wrapped in plastic, I would feel…

Probably a little let down.

Red roses are just so obvious.

I also don’t like the obvious in the books I read. I like the surprise ending, the twist of events, the character changed. I like the end of a story that must be mulled over for days, weeks, the end that is the perfect stop and yet at the same time not really a stop at all. I like to imagine beyond what’s there on the page.

I’m the same way with movies.

I’m a little hung up on this idea of what’s too obvious as I write in fits and starts** my current project. Sometimes I think my original plot is too obvious—though it was never, ever meant to be anything close to a whodunit, or even a mystery at all, unless you think humans themselves are the ultimate mysteries, so then, yes, I suppose it would be. Other times I think my original plot is too opaque. I think I’ve had comments saying both things. Now, as my story becomes another thing entirely, as I sit here, letting it slip and slide in different directions throughout my already slippy-slidey head, I am trying to let the story progress naturally without being so obvious. I don’t want someone reading it (even if that reader turns out to only be E) to feel like they already know will happen before even reaching page 100. A delicate balance, this.

For some reason this time I am not afraid to let go—not of plot points, not of favorite lines, not even of an entire character’s narration. So, I wonder: was this obvious from the beginning? That I would write the book the way I did the first time, be told it wasn’t ready, then revise it as I did at the writers colony, be told it still wasn’t ready, fall deep into that depression, realize the book was artificial, realize it wasn’t close to my heart, realize I could shove it out the window and be done with it for good and then… inexplicably… just before doing so… suddenly know exactly what to do to make it mine? Was this obvious to everyone else but me?

What’s not obvious to me right now is what will happen—to me, to this, to anything. I feel blindfolded. But I’m going to take another step forward. Let’s hope I don’t trip over the couch. Not again.

* That was for you, Heather. Check out her meme if anyone wants to play along. I’m supposed to pick three and I broke the rules. Volunteers?

** Fits and starts because I spent the weekend, yes the whole entire weekend, ugh, working on that copyediting freelance project, and it needs a ton more work—including finishing the style sheet, doing the timeline, fact-checking things from historical names circa the founding of New York City (once called New Amsterdam) to the Bowery Boys to wondering if it is possible to take one bus from Inwood all the way down to the Lower East Side plus is Times Square really the busiest intersection in the whole world, like what about Bangkok? You get the idea… Oh, and I have to read it again to make sure I didn’t miss any typos. Next weekend will be busy, too.

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Purple Belt

E got his purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu today! I’m especially partial to the color purple, but that’s not the only reason I’m happy for him. It’s a step forward, and he, just like me, was seeking a step forward. It’s a reward truly deserved. It’s awesome. It’s symbolic; I feel it.

Congratulations, my other half! I should really take you up on that offer to learn choke-holds now, huh?

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Interconnected Fears

That no one will notice me.

That someone will notice me.

That the loft bed will collapse while I am sleeping in it.

That the ceiling will cave in and rats will fall out on my head. (Not entirely impossible: An old friend who spent a summer dancing at a club in New Orleans said rats used to fall from the rafters onto the girls on the stage. Now if that doesn’t make you want to avoid stripping before strangers I don’t know what does.)

Stripping before strangers.

Rats.

Racists.

Being unable to finish this novel.

Finishing this novel—because then I will have to decide if I want to get it published. Which means I will have to write query letters again and contact agents again or else publishers and I will have to be fearless and keep trying.

Trying.

Not trying.

Losing my eyes to a horrible accident so I won’t be able to see to walk but, more terribly, won’t be able to read books.

A certain amount of things involving the person I am in love with that I won’t put into words.

A certain amount of things involving apocalyptic anarchy and/or individual acts of senseless violence that I won’t put into words.

Car wrecks.

Mysterious leaks in cars that smell like gasoline but that the driver can’t figure out what they are so they say, Oh well, let’s just keep driving.

Learning how to drive.

Giant 24-hour supermarket parking lots, specifically a certain one in Ohio where I tried to learn how to drive. And failed.

Being stuck in a giant 24-hour supermarket in Ohio.

Meat hidden in my food.

People who would be cruel enough to actually hide meat in my food. (I have known such people.)

Complete and total darkness.

Complete and total darkness made worse by the tiny circle of a shaky flashlight beam while you are walking alone at night near the woods.

Bats.

Bats in your living room when your parents aren’t home.

Being 15 again and living at home with my parents.

Being forced to play kickball or any other organized sport.

Balls in general.

Giving up.

Not being able to give up even when all signs point to the fact that maybe it’s time to.

The continual ticking away of time.

Never writing again.

Fire.

Being buried alive.

Sleeping through something amazing.

My own incontrollable inner rebel who will not even listen when I say she has a lot of work to do this weekend and should not be goofing off like this so stop it right now I am serious.

Being entirely too serious.

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Must Be Good

green

I must be very, very good this weekend. I have an enormous amount of freelance work to do, so it’s not a weekend at all—more like a whole other work week entirely. Outside is the world, but I am not allowed outside. I must fight the urge to take a nap underneath my desk (sometimes that little pocket looks so inviting). I must not read magazines—that’s a given. I must not write a really long post about all the things I must not do.

Do you ever have a very busy batch of days ahead of you and you get convinced, completely and totally convinced, that if you had those days free you’d most assuredly reach a breakthrough in your artistic development and accomplish an inspired work of such brilliance your life would never be the same again?

Yeah… well… If that’s about to happen, I hope the brilliance can hold off till next weekend.

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Dream Storm

In the dream, the rain crashed down, hitting the windows head on, rattling the glass. The force of the rain threatened to fling the air conditioner four floors down to the ground. I felt soaked, but my skin was dry. There were trees in the dream, trees I don’t see in real life, and they were wet, whipping in the wind. One was attacking the windows. I was sure the rain was leaking in.

I woke up. It was sometime very late at night or very early morning, still dark, and the rainstorm was actually happening. E, who battles incredible insomnia, was just coming to bed. He said something about how heavy the rain was, but the pounding rain was so loud, I could barely hear him. There were no leaks, or trees attacking us, so I let the sounds of the storm lull me back to sleep.

Coincidentally, before going to bed, before the storm, I’d felt something similar inside me—wanting to leap four floors to the ground, to break glass, to leak in a puddle all over the floor. I had been thinking about how much I wanted to escape. How so much of my life has become artificial, and how I am tired of faking it. Here, I guess, I’m myself. When I write, I’m myself. When I’m with E, or when I (rarely) see my friends from college, I’m myself. But this corporate other self, the one in daylight, I really do not want to force myself to be her anymore.

For an artist a job should be simply a job, but for some reason mine has been hard for me to balance. I am stung by it too often, my feelings hurt when I don’t “play the game” and still no one notices. I don’t want to play games. I’m not cut out for the corporate world; it feels so wrong I can’t even articulate it clearly.

This isn’t just about my job. I don’t want to play the game when it comes to publishing, either.

My fondest memories involve rainstorms. The one I am thinking of now was when we drove the highways in the U-Haul on the way to move to a new town. I was at an awful age, still trapped at home with my mother and stepfather. But we were moving somewhere new. We were leaving whatever I had been behind. It was not my decision—no one would have cared what I wanted. The move was completely out of my control and yet it was the exact thing I needed at that exact moment. We drove through the night in the U-Haul and the rain drenched the roads, running down the glass so everything looked distorted outside the truck. Everything we owned was in the cavern in the back. I sat in the passenger seat, I had my cheek up against the window. The truck skidded through the rain. I wasn’t scared. I was happy. You see, it was like a dream come true—I was escaping at last.

And that’s what pounding rain reminds me of: the beautiful escape. That’s why I love it so.

Last night, the storm continued loudly for I don’t know how long. I slept peacefully. Maybe I’m not as stuck as I think I am.

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After the MFA (and Counting)

Someone I know is about to graduate her MFA program. I told her congratulations, expecting her to be excited. But she’s not looking forward to graduating. She told me she’s afraid that—without the deadlines that come with being in a program—she won’t be motivated to write anymore.

This conversation occurred at work, at the end of the day, when I just wanted to finish up what I was doing and get. the. hell. out. of. there.

Still, I said words of encouragement and gave what I could of practical advice.

Then she said, with a look of horror on her face, that she was afraid two years will go by and she won’t have a book published, and what then?

Um…

Dude, I graduated my MFA program in 2002. And do you see me flouncing around with my published book (yes, I imagine that when you get a book published—a book written under your own name, mind you—you become so excited you start flouncing around with it or maybe run around waving it through a meadow)? Or do you see me sitting here behind this desk with an extremely pained look on my face because you’re making me feel like crap?

When no one is around to make me feel bad about myself—it is very easy to make me feel bad about myself, you can do it without even trying—I think fondly back on getting an MFA. I think that, yes, I may have been too young when I started and not yet “ready,” but, also, it was a privileged existence and I am lucky to have had it, book published at this moment in time or no. I think about how, after, I tried to get published; I gave it a good solid shot. And at least I can go to bed saying I made an effort.

I also think I shouldn’t be so sensitive.

Right now, I am writing this post instead of writing my book. It is Thursday morning. A girl in a hooded sweatshirt (hood up) and black sunglasses and a sneer on her face sits in the corner near me counting out crumpled dollar bills from her crammed pockets. Now she’s got them all smoothed out and wraps them in a hair elastic. A man asks me if the newspaper on the chair nearby is mine; I say it was there when I got here, it’s all his. I look at the clock. I sigh. This is life after the MFA program. An hour and counting left before I have to go to work. No meadow to flounce through. And no one to keep me on point except me.

It’s a lonely existence, but—dude—if you really and truly want to be a writer you will keep writing even when no one’s watching. That is all I have to say about that.

Slow Motion

As you may know, I have slowly been writing. Slowly, as if I have all the time in the world. What I would change about myself—one thing of many—is my obsession with time passing and how much older I am getting. I truly wish I did not care. Truth is, I do care. It pains me to see how slowly I am moving forward, to watch each day pass without much achieved and know it is one day less out of my life. And yet what do I think will happen to me, if I were to start living this supposed other life I think I’m waiting for? I have no idea.

What I am slowly writing is a novel. It is official. E asked what I worked on yesterday morning when I got up early before work. And I said, naturally, as if it is truly happening, “My novel.”

I said it out loud. There is no denying it now.

Because it is truly happening. I was so stung by not-so-recent disappointments that I pretty much gave up without admitting it out loud. I threw myself into ghostwriting and feeling sorry for myself and I might take it back if I could, but I cannot.

I’m just writing this because I want to. E said he can’t wait to read it. I said I am writing it for me, and no one may like it but me, and he met my eyes and said he will like it, he knows he will. And the support, without seeing a word, makes me want to write it all the more.

But this is no quick fix. We all know that writing a novel can take years.

Yes, the going is slow. There’s a pleasure in that, though. The process of getting these words down, just as I loved the darkroom aspect of the photography process and once darkrooms became obsolete I didn’t want to take so many pictures.

Slowly I am writing this.

So slowly, I will put down a word and think hard on it for some moments. Then I will go backward through to the other words that came before it, until I am focused on what I did yesterday instead of what I should be doing today.

There should be no “should” involved here.

People who give advice about writing novels—those people who write books about how to write a book, the ones who have books published that you’ve heard of and the ones who do not—often say that it is most important—imperative!—to write forward to the end and just not look back. You can always edit later. So I am trying to move forward. But part of writing this novel (call it “new”; call it “different”; call it by the same title it had before) is taking previous passages and writing around them and/or reimagining them and/or selecting a big chunk and hitting delete. So I do need to read over some pieces of writing as I write.

I’m not sure how to go about this except slowly. That’s the pace that feels right.

I may butt up against my over-anxious self, but maybe this process will make me grow not just as a writer but as a person. Patience is a what? Oh, right: a virtue.

I’m trying—anxiously, impatiently—to remember that.

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