writing


Random quote of the day:

“Writing is an act of optimism. You assume there is somebody out there to pay attention. To those people who accuse me of being a pessimist I always say, ‘Nonsense, I write.’”

—Edward Albee, Edward Albee: Planned Wilderness, Living Authors Series No. 3, ed. Patricia De La Fuente, 1980

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Currently reading:

(Subtitle: The life and mysterious death of Scottish churchman and scholar Robert Kirk and his influential treatise on fairy folklore.)

*

I have two novels that are fighting it out for my attention, one about goddesses and one about Faery with a substantial appearance by the Rev. Robert Kirk of The Secret Commonwealth fame who has been after me for years to tell a version of his story. They have been team tagging me for months, first one then the other.

But both novels are wrapped in a cloud of ennui and exhaustion that is summer seasonal affective disorder, with a side of pandemic miasma. My health hasn’t been great the last few months, most especially the last two weeks, so that is adding to the funk. Nothing serious, I don’t think, but chronic. Which means that any progress I make on these two novels is sporadic at best.

I am so not alone in this. I know many creators who are facing similar struggles, but I do feel that I’ve slipped my mooring and am drifting in circles, becalmed in a Sargasso Sea.

I get occasional signs from the universe that it isn’t done with me yet, and the Sargasso, beneath its floating mat of seaweed, is a fertile region of biodiversity for many species. But I fear mine will  wonder if I have another novel in me? And if I do, is it only one? Will I be able to finish both of these projects? I don’t know the answer to that.

All I can do is to keep chipping away at the marble, hoping that the form within will eventually reveal itself and come to life: a real flesh and blood woman. Or man. I have no preferences. Only a forlorn hope. And two metaphors, neither of which I can choose between.

Random quote of the day:

“Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one.”

—Salman Rushdie, Independent on Sunday, 4 February 1990

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“There’s a notion out in the land that there are human beings one writes about, and then there are black people or Indians or some other marginal group. If you write about the world from that point of view, somehow it is considered lesser. It’s racist, of course. The fact that I chose to write about black people means I’ve only been stimulated to write about black people. We are people, not aliens. We live, we love, we die.”

—Toni Morrison, Black Women Writers at Work, ed. Claudia Tate

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

What with being sick on and off for about three weeks, then trying to make up for a year and a half of household neglect in two weeks (impossible), I haven’t done any creative work in over a month and it was really weighing on my psyche today. So I forced myself to open my Rev. Kirk file and DO something.

I only got about 500 words, but at least I’m crawling forward again. I think I can feel the road beneath my feet once more and know that it really, truly is still there.

Tomorrow my oldest friend is coming over and we will be doing crafts all day. I haven’t seen her since February 2020. I cannot tell you how happy it will make me to see her.

Random quote of the day:

“Secretly writers do love the censor within. We say we hate that sanctimonious inner voice, but there is no better excuse for procrastination, lethargy and despair. There is no better excuse for getting nothing done than to lock yourself in battle with the famous inner demons of self-criticism and doubt.”

—Allegra Goodman, “O.K., You’re Not Shakespeare. Not Get Back to Work,” The New York Times, March 12, 2001

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

I was having a conversation earlier with a close friend about schoolyard trauma—the name-calling and taunting so common in the proto-teen and teenage years—and I explained to her that I learned early on that humor could be my great shield against the worst of it. I was a freak, you see. I had an early growth spurt, so I was 5’3” by the time I was 9, 5’6” by the time I was 11 or so. I topped out at 5’7” in high school but by that time most of my contemporaries had either caught up with me or surpassed me. However, those early growth years—and my red hair—made me stand out. Anyone who stands out in elementary school, who is in any way not average, is going to come in for abuse. Fortunately, my size helped me avoid the physical side of that, but that was not the case with verbal abuse. So I developed a wicked sharp tongue.

I grew up in the Oakwood section of Venice, California. Back in the olden days, it was a poor section of Los Angeles, and quite diverse ethnically. There were some white kids at my school, but mostly not, and I only ever had one close white friend before junior high. Everybody supported each other, though, helped each other out. Oh, I won’t paint a pie in the sky portrait here. It may have been a Rainbow Coalition, but kids being kids, there were fights, and playground posturing. and tough talk. I learned early on the advantages of having a sharp tongue and have spent most of my life trying to overcome those early habits (mostly successfully, but it’s surprising how that schoolyard bad mouth can surface out of nowhere). Even back then I laced the tough talk with humor. If I could make the other kids laugh at my adversary they were more likely to leave me alone. I was raised by a mother with her own wicked sense of humor, so I had a good example set before me.

As I transitioned from the tough neighborhood to the more mixed environment of junior high (ages 12 to 14)—middle class and even some upper middle class mixed with the tough kids—I discovered even more the benefits of humor. I’m an introvert, but I learned to be something of a class clown. If I could fake extroversion and hold up that shield of laughter—laughter not directed at the cost of someone else—they were less likely to pick on me. And if any of the mean girls got catty, others would sometimes counter it with, “She’s funny. Leave her alone.”

I’ve carried that shield with me most of my life. It’s such a fundamental part of my nature I couldn’t let it go even if I wanted to—and I don’t want to. I don’t want to be mean, I don’t want to be sharp-tongued, but I find it infinitely healthier to keep a well-trained eye out for the absurdities of life and of people. Naturally, this creeps into my fiction. I’ve written both comic and serious stories and novels, but even my most serious novels are well-laced with humor. Sometimes it’s character-driven, sometimes it’s, well, frankly bordering on slapstick. I just can’t leave aside those absurdities. They are everywhere I look.

I don’t think they undercut the more serious passages of my writing, but I’m inside my own head and may not have an objective eye there. I cut out some of the humor in rewrites, but not all. The few times I’ve tried to cut it all I’ve wound up eviscerating the life from my stories. It’s my style, you see. It takes a long time for a writer—I guess any artist—to find the style that is uniquely their own.

So it’s best not to look a gift Muse in the mouth. Sharp tongue or not.

 

I’ve been slowly going through old paper journals to purge the more embarrassing entries. This is quite a masochistic practice so I can only do it a little bit at a time. Although I don’t want to completely throw these journals—they are a record of my life—I don’t want some of that crap to live on. The whiny bits. The rune/Tarot readings with whiny questions. The really, really bad poetry.

So I came across an idea and outlines from a 1991 journal re: a novel I had wanted to write about The Crone and had myself a good laugh. As if I had a clue. I still don’t have a clue but because I realize I don’t have a clue I may be further along on making something of that idea. The requisite clue isn’t about wisdom, it’s about knowing that you don’t have wisdom, just the accumulation of experience, and that anyone who claims to be wise probably isn’t.

But this was also an illustration of how some ideas can be worked with almost immediately but others have very long gestations. I once heard Louise Erdrich talking about this in an interview, how sometimes she won’t be able to work on an idea until twenty years down the line because when she got the original idea she wasn’t yet ready for it. I thought I understood at the time, but I really understand it now. (Or, maybe, I just have the illusion of understanding.)

I may be able to write this idea now. I’ve been poking at a new form of it recently and it actually seems to be moving. We’ll see. It’s nice to be writing but I do wish one of these competing ideas would gel so that I’m not constantly circling and not making real progress. Survival of the fittest when it comes to competing ideas. Being ready to write them. This crone seems to be the one with the most juice. Crone willing, she’ll win the race.

Like I said, we’ll see.

I am caught between ideas right now—not too few, but too many. Good ideas, but almost none of them fleshed out enough to start writing, or to continue writing. Or too stubborn to let me move forward right now. I’m also doing a lot of research reading—but I’m pulled in different directions there, as well. Dueling ideas. And even some old, failed novels sending me new solutions to their old problems. So the creative wheels are spinning. Round and round they go, where they stop nobody knows.

I worked on one novel for most of the winter, but it slammed into a wall in March just short of 41k and would go no further no matter what I tried. I think somewhere along the line I took a wrong turn. Usually when novels get mulishly stubborn it’s a sign I’ve headed off into the weeds instead of following the correct path—that through line that takes me to the ending I composed at the beginning of the project. Usually, if I reread I can find where things start to feel hinky, backtrack and move forward in a different direction from that point. But I tried that, thought I’d identified the problem, except that the thing I thought was wrong, the character, insists on remaining. And maybe he wasn’t what was wrong. Maybe the wrong turn happened elsewhere. I haven’t the heart to do yet another reread/figure out session at the moment so I’m letting it lie fallow and attempting to work on something else.

Yes, I hear all the outliner writers telling me I’m in charge, not my characters. Make an outline and make them do what I want. I’ve tried that as well. They threatened to burn my house down. I learned long ago they are in charge and I’m just letting them use my fingers and brain. And I really need my house.

I’m not really complaining (The Unbearable Whininess of Being). I know many artists have been flailing for the last year or so and I’ve been lucky that I’ve kept writing, through the summer and fall and winter. Sometimes sporadically, but inching forward. And I am still writing, just flitting from thing to thing and not getting anything to jell. There are so many terrible things in the world right now and I am so lucky. Perhaps all the terrible things in the world are part of why my focus is strained. So odd that it would dissipate just as there are signs of hope, of seeing people again. As of Thursday my “probation” period will be over. It will have been two weeks since I had my second COVID shot (Moderna).

I do like seeing people, making plans. It’s just that isolation becomes such a habit for people like me. And given the problems with my legs and chronic illness, it sometimes gets reinforced physically. Limited mobility means limiting my plans to what is easily achievable.

People ask me how I’ve been able to stand being inside my house alone for 14 months, but the answer is that I’m never really alone. I’ve got all those characters and the extraordinary worlds they inhabit to keep me company. But when the magic circus packs up and leaves town without allowing me to follow? The walls do start creeping in.

I am extremely lucky. I see that, I feel that. My dear friend and neighbor has invited me to her house on May 15 for high tea, along with two other of my lovely neighbors, taken outside in her zen garden. We’ve all been fully vaccinated. I was the last and they’ve been waiting for my probation to pass.

But frankly, it will be a long while (if ever) before I leave my house unmasked or squeeze into crowded venues. There are the physical limitations, but there are also too many arrogant idiots in the world who think the rules don’t apply to them and why should they get vaccinated? Let somebody else take the risk.

I can only hope my circus animals come back to play, to settle down to their usual tricks and caprices so I can notate their stories. I really don’t want to wallow alone in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

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