Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Wrote you were a hearer"

I was happy for myself, about who I was. Someone invited me to a friend's "low country boil," and all I really heard was the opportunity to see an old friend that I hadn't greeted in person in many months. One of those things where we made plans that quietly and repeatedly fell through. The invite triggered a commitment, a resolution. And hours later, a curiosity. I had no idea what a low country boil even was.

Parts of the South Carolina coast region are close to, or below sea level. The low country. And boil, well, shell fish, corn, potatoes, and sausage, all together with bonding seasonings. Also, there's a lot of it. I had heard about community events, and attended times and places where I was told what they were, but that night seemed like the truest definition I had been presented with. Except for a few of us, everyone there was from the neighborhood. I arrived with that friend, first, and things were pleasant enough until the couples began arriving. "And this is my wife." "And this is my husband." I stood, I sat, I moved, I mingled, I went inside and watched television.

I was watching college football when I felt the presence of a shadow, not like passing glances or brief looks. The kind of stare that inquires after social courtesy. I looked, and then it happened. "Someone told me you're a writer." My response was, "I like to tell myself that from time to time, too." I wasn't sure why I affirmed, much less why I responded in that way. The conversation that happened, probably, was inevitable. It didn't drag, and it wasn't unpleasant, but it was unquestionably there, like a surprising odor in the backseat of a taxi. But I survived. "I like what you said about..." and they explained, and then left, and I somehow felt better that I had held up my end.

Later, I had seconds, and then later still I had thirds, but after that I realized I still had things to live for, the tastiness of the food notwithstanding. I found a circle of individuals around my sex, around my age, and I stood shoulder to shoulder with another man and waited for my turn to tell a joke, to recite an anecdote. I chuckled, and marveled at the lighting in the house's back yard and the glow of the embers in the fire pit.

Then it happened again. A man across the circle from me stepped forward, breaking the chain. "I heard there was a writer here." I was already checking my phone, but I did not stop to volunteer. I might have even raised the device a little closer, to check my text messages more fiercely. "There he is right there," and some pointed, in such a way that he was very close to poking me in the face. The first man stepped forward, and the circle vanished. An hour and a half later, I would notice that my feet hurt. I spent almost all the time between his statements and my replies trying to figure out why this was happening.

I came up with nothing, and I came away resolved to be thankful that someone had thought enough of my efforts to speak confidently to people they knew, so the point that I would be ambushed with questions. I imagine that the things people say about us when we're not around is closest to how they really feel.

I went to bed late, and woke up early, and recalled some of the blurry events intermingling with my imaginations. A man named Wolfgang, through a dense German accent in tenacious conversation pointed at me with one finger, the remainder of his fist clinging to a tumbler of moonshine, and said "you must save American writing." He blinked sincerely, and my response was, "the next writer I see, I'll be sure to pass along your message." 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Such a prickly thing, choice

I sent the story off. Not to the contest, but to the readers I remembered who agreed to look at it for me. I wasn't in any particular hurry, but I did find myself in a frenzy over tiny, logistical details. Thrice I looked the story over to smooth its roughest edges, and thrice I ended up adding or changing or adding and changing. The story was already over 5000 words, which isn't a lot for a stand-alone short, but with all my manic meddling, it ballooned to 6000. I knew I had a problem.

So, with the first step of acceptance, I pushed it through the electronic womb at friendly bystanders, hoping they wouldn't be mowed down. After the first draft, I knew it was bad. After the second, I thought it was alright. After the third, I was convinced somewhat of both. I will have to submit it by the end of the month, and I refuse to do it without looking it over twice more after I get some degree of feedback. I cannot help but think that I will be sending off a woefully imperfect product in a week and change.

The sci-fi novel isn't on the back burner, but I do have to take some time to decide if I am going to earnestly pursue a traditional MFA program for next fall. This blog post deflated my confidence greatly. One of the places I submitted to had an author on staff with a Hugo, which is a science fiction literature award. Admittedly, there aren't many of those floating around academia, but they do exist. It never occurred to me that it would be that grade of uphill climb. So, in regards to considering grad school again, I have to make some decisions about what I will write, and what kind of writer I will present myself as when I apply.

Which seems a bit tragic to me. After all, I hide myself as it is. Among other writers was the dream haven I am considering spending thousands of dollars to access. Why should I have to be someone else there? It isn't that I want to only write speculatively, but I do speculate. So, if a submission is to be sent, then it must be a contemporary one. It isn't that the novel isn't in me to write. I believe this is what people say that this is "the principle of the thing."

So we'll see. As the temperature drops, and on comes falls, on fall the dominoes in a line. Crooked and bent and jagged and terrible.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Medicine from morpheus

Chapter 8 is drafted. I have my eye on 10 being a stopping point, to go back and see how this rewrite is taking shape. By the time I get there, I imagine the draft so far will be well over 30,000 words. Somewhat predictably, because the setting isn't contemporary, but speculative, much of it has to be described within the prose. Where chapters of my modern novels hovered around 2500, this time around they're in the ballpark of 3500. Not sure why I find that interesting. The more people I meet and conversations I have, the less I find these sorts of ideas to be commonplace.

I had a dream that spurned me to act on the email sent to all previous applicants of a writing contest I continue to fail to place in, or get an honorable mention, on an annual basis. Such behavior compels me to clarify the definitions of sadism and masochism, just for my own edification. One of the ideas I've had going in was to pump the brake more on the quiet wondering and tap on the accelerator in regards to the flashier, overt conflicts. We'll see if it makes a difference. In the mean time, it would be really nice to find a publication somewhere that was receptive to how I naturally go about telling stories.

Work has been interesting. The premise of education in my state has been less neutral, more decidedly negative. Grad school applications loom, and the shadows are not the least bit helpful even given the summer climes. Yesterday I attended a retirement celebration for my old boss. The first day of the rest of his life. He survived with a few dozen gray hairs and one of his original hips. Should be a pleasant enough twilight. It made me wonder how long, and hard, I would have to work before I could rest on my laurels. Guess that's pretty presumptuous, that I'll have some to rest on.

Which brings me to relocation. Unlike anyone else that I know, I don't have a spouse or own property. I am unequivocally unattached to anything save for my crippling home-body-ness. I lament that the next few months may very well be a turning point in my life when all I seem to have to go on is "well, this seems like it might work out." A friend of mine experiences this phenomenon when he plays video games that have choice-driven narratives. If given a choice, he likes to go down one path, reload a previous save, then make a different choice. Ironically, I find it completely acceptable to go on feeling, and let things work out how they'll work out. I assume it's because I know it isn't real, that it won't affect me deeply either way. But in real life, there are years we can never get back, tens of thousands of dollars we may never see again.

The longer I live, the list of things I'm sure of becomes shorter and shorter. But, I still feel better when I write, and it still seems right to feel better.