The quiet of this cyber space should not be confused for an absence of activity. I’ve been working, working, working on a stand-alone novel that includes some of the characters you might already know. It’s an exorcism (or maybe an announcement?) of the ghosts that have been trailing me, as more and more important faces in my daily life vanish from earthly existence and leave the rest of us flailing and floundering about the earthcraft. I’m not sure I can write anything else until I finish writing this, but I’ll set it to print the moment it’s finished, or finishes me (whatever comes first). Until that moment I’ll remain a quiet sort, save for the obligatory social media raving about political discourse, and the occasional coffee shop observation. Which brings me to an important point: the gentleman to my left raises his cup, and then loudly slurps, once, twice, three times, before he sets the cup back down. It’s kinda like he’s racing the coffee. What. Is. The. Finish. Line? It also smells like burning bagels in here, which would be my personal perfume if it was available at the neighborhood drugstore. This is not Electric Youth. This is Blackened You.
A friend of mine once got a tattoo. She’s a Taurus, and the tattoo was of a bull. She picked it off the wall of the studio, and adjusted the coloring. Within ten minutes of getting it, someone asked: “Why did you get a tattoo of a purple cow?” She pointed out that it’s obviously a bull. Look at the horns! Look at the septum! It was pointless; it became the question she’d field again and again, until she gave up and started saying, “It’s a purple cow.”
I think of this when people ask where I’ve published. I used to say, “I’m independently published!” By this, I hoped to summon the literary equivalent of Ani DiFranco: I didn’t go with a label, I made my own! I’m not Suzanne Vega! All I need is a wicked debut and the next thing you know, stadium shows!
It didn’t take long to note that no one thought about stadium shows. They thought I was talking about a tiny press at a college. A trendy start-up with a typewriter logo. The side project of a major literary magazine. Most publishers of this kind don’t launch the endeavor with their own novel.
Now I say, “I self published.” Then I sit back and wait for what I was trying to avoid: the smug expression of someone with a limited edition chapbook at a tiny publisher, four minutes from being out of print, who is finally fulfilling her self-righteous dreams. Better? Good.
Or maybe I wait for the bookstore to confess the “special section” already has a lot of titles. Or for a professor to say, “you’re not really published then?” Or for a fellow author to say, “did you try to get published first?” even if the entire first part of the conversation was about a publisher’s lack of marketing support and their unwillingness to publish the book’s sequel.
Then: “So…why did you decide to go that route?”
Well, because I’m a woman. When James Joyce writes a long, complicated but well-crafted sentence, he’s fashioned a genius. If I write a long one, I’m accused of making my readers work too hard. If Cormac McCarthy writes a short, gruff exclamation, it’s poetry. If I do, what kind of emotion are you trying to communicate here? If I write a personal essay, I’m asked to make it a memoir. If I like a black cover, I’m asked if there can be a fish on it, or a girl with her foot in the water, or maybe a sunset, a pair of sunglasses, a bonnet. Almost every female book cover looks like a douche commercial. If I write on dark subject matter, there’s questions of who my audience might be, and whether the book would even sell. And that’s the keyword: sell. Those doing something dangerous and innovative who get book deals (and happen to be women) really hit the lottery. Anne Carson clearly has naked pictures of everyone. I would like to send her mine. Or they’re writing about sex, which is the only acceptable form of feminism. Equal pay? You’re so second wave. Lean in, or something.
Two options: write differently to sell, or write the book you want to write, and accept the fact that maybe no one will read it, maybe no one will buy it, maybe no one can even find it — maybe it’s just the book you write.
Terror. If the story is just for you, then why would you even write it down? Writing is about communication, to present ideas and pictures and dialog that another will receive. Writing without response is the literary equivalent of the tree falling in the woods riddle.
And this is followed by: should I trust myself to know what is best about my writing? Sure, I’ve experienced dozens of writing workshops and excellent mentors, I’ve got a BA and an MFA, I’ve learned tricks and techniques and tools, I’ve buffed and polished myself into confusion and insanity and back around to hilarious. Really? Should I trust myself? Now?
In moments like this, the only question that can get me to stand at my desk and start working is: What would Virginia Woolf do?
This is an easy answer. She’d write her book. She’d agonize over it. And stick her foot in her mouth ten times in between.
This is still what I do. And just like her, I find myself repeatedly adjusting and pacing as my life changes and I learn new things, so it’s so very hard to call a book done without calling the same curse from yourself.
The downside: when you write the book you want, and no one reads it, it might be more devastating than writing the book you kinda didn’t want to write and don’t care if anyone reads.
I wrote the book I wanted, with the cover I wanted, and the quotes I wanted on the back. It took twice as long as I’d anticipated, because blood was squeezed from every word. There was no editor to herd me away from the book and urge an obsessive hobby that resulted in winter wear. There was no fact checker to consult with scholars about a village of immigrants in 1960s Cleveland. To this day I have the privilege of saying that the end result is exactly what I envisioned, and I compromised nothing. This is an achievement. This is joy.
No one would review it; most newspapers even have policies against self-published books. The accolades I earned came exclusively from online sources kind enough to note their reactions on Amazon or Goodreads or Powell’s. Bookstores that sold out of copies didn’t restock it, and offered no reason as to why. Others were left saddled with a stack of something no one wanted, and had to ask me to retrieve them and quietly slink away. The neglect I fretted about receiving from publishers was now arriving from other outlets, and it had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with an inability to network and a deficiency of cash to pay someone to do it for me. After a year of being on some shelves but not enough, I was backing myself into my own bitter corner of self-published self-loathing, and lowering the gate with a dose of depressed laziness.
I got back on the purple cow after talking to my niece, Rayne, about writing. She’s doing a lot of the same things I did when I was 9, like filling one journal after the other, and writing a book series with character traits from different books put together like Mr. Potato Head. She’s got a leg up on me thanks to her illustration prowess, and every time I return to Cleveland she’s got another something finished to show off. When I talked to her about writing, she said, “I want to be a writer like you.” And my response was, “You ARE a writer.” I didn’t want her to think she had to wait for some secret initiation. It’s not something that’s granted through degrees or contracts or book sales. It’s something that’s announced by writing.
This reminder doesn’t fully resolve the stall. Self-publishing requires business savvy and social skills, two areas in which I’m woefully deficient. On a good day I can make it all the way to the end of a conversation without bringing up the special deformities of a little known disease, or starting a telephone slideshow of cat pictures. An ill-timed question about my book returns a stunned expression that suggests I’ve never considered what it’s actually about. It’s a miracle if I can twist this gobbledee goo down to something resulting in monetary exchange. I’m more manic than pixie and only dream girl if someone wakes up screaming, but I’m not sure you can buy a book in the middle of all that racket. Still, I should have cards to hand people or something.
The same holds true if I ever want to tangle with the publishing world that is the PUBLISHING WORLD, and hope for a contract that isn’t adjusted for self-esteem deficiency and impatience when working with lawyers. These are skills. They are learned, and I wish I could just buy them.
See above, about the shortage of cash.
Greetings from a coffee shop state of pseudo-slumber. Bright flaming ball of essential daily nutrients in the sky, winged ants springing from sidewalk cracks in clouds before they settle into kitchens, spiders prepping complex webs and bracing for Hobo accusations, and pale peaking flesh gliding down the street attached to mouths munching stories about bicycle parts and allergies.
This thumbs up is brought to you by the end of January, the end of February, the end of every awful month that seriously needs elimination from the calendar. There’s never been a better case for hibernation than a slow walk down a rain drenched street on a shivering day where every shop owner says fuck it and just closes at five to retreat to the nearest bathroom for a little private mutilation. The rest of us adopt yellow pallets and stone sunk eyes, characteristics previously thought confined to addicts and dystopian novel characters, trying to summon inspiration through a cocktail of Vitamin B and Vitamin D and herbal hoodoo woowoo alongside wanna-be sunlamps and cancerous tanning beds. These attempts to self-resuscitate are chronicled on blogs and tweets and facebook, because internet communication is the only acceptable sport for sanitary sorts who arrive at Portland’s borders and instantly fall antisocial and ill. It’s retreating to caves, coughing and brooding, waiting for the rain to make moats and moss and green scenes so we remember what we’re doing this for. I hate you I love you I hate you I love you.
This is my oldest Sid and Nancy romance.
I’d like to reveal all the excellent events that have unfurled in the past few months, but as I already mentioned January and February don’t actually exist except to file your taxes and force you to attend expensive parties. What I really did was rewatch all six seasons of the Sopranos, and then spend hours considering minor scenes that involved submersion in water and horses, and whether or not Tony traded places with death, and what it all means in terms of self-absorption and the level of denial required to ignore or participate in heinous things. Yeah, that’s it, like the Milgram experiment that explained how the Holocaust could have happened, with the dude being shocked and people still pushing the button and maybe crying and still pushing the button, and…
Still: television exists to remind us that we’re all going to die, and none of us are going to wish we had watched more things before it happened.
So: Last night I organized my selves into a skin and stood while other people sat and made talking noises while dressed as a blue Keebler elf. This is apparently known as a reading, and it took place at Rain or Shine Cafe on Division at 6:30, and I sold four books. Two were sold through the Square, which is a stamped size piece of science you plug into the larger rectangle used to microwave heads, and then money happens. This is a much better use of a smart phone than talking. If you haven’t yet received this fantastic device in the mail, I highly recommend signing up. For all the complicated technology I can’t grok, my brain meats totally tossed this salad without error, and for the first time since its purchase I dared to love my Android phone for the three more days I’ll have it.
The crowd was also neat-o, and contained many of the kind Kickstarter contributors that allowed Psychopomp Volume One to make it to print. A small part of each of the three sections was read to introduce each of the four characters to the herd. At the end of each section everyone pawed the ground and cried “Four legs good, two legs bad!” so I knew I was really on to something.
It went well, and I hope to do more things just like this in the future.
The kind words that followed the reading made me think an audio production of the book should be in the works. When working on this beast I read it aloud to myself anytime my apartment was empty, a tip dispensed by more than one of my writing professors at Ohio University. This is a great means of detecting punctuation errors, and measuring whether or not dialog sounds authentic or like something Bob Saget would say when he’s under contract at a major network. It also zeroes in on garbage words and phrases that are utterly out of place in a paragraph and therefore need to be deleted. I used to consider this heartbreaking, but if you’re a writer you’re always going to write more. Clinging to a phrase you hope will one day arrive as someone’s tattoo to the detriment of the chapter results in a lot of people with ink they don’t understand.
Otherwise, I’ve been in a state of afterbirth, trying to get my body back, knowing all the while that the minute I can pull off a 50 mile bike ride I’ll be pregnant with book again. I mean it, pregnant: The time spent working on it is weird aches and pains and hormonal surges while fielding questions about how far along I am and whether or not I’m ready for this. When the golem makes its painful escape there’s no expectation of having to feed it and water it and clothe it and take it all around town in one of those strollers that swallows the sidewalk, smiling and squeaking, “Excuse me! Don’t you want to hold my baby?”
Then comes the doubt: what if I created a dumbass? Why did I bring this THING into the world to defecate in its pants? It’s totally gonna throw a tantrum in the coffee shop, and I’m going to have to sit there and rub it on my boob while everyone averts their eyes while circling me like the sun. This is bullshit. Who can I get to watch this for me? Can I leave it at Center Camp at Burning Man while I cover myself in blinky lights and run at the fire? I’m the Joan Crawford of authors, wearing lacy nightgowns and painted-on eyebrows and the sneer of someone who hasn’t had a pleasant thought in a decade. One minor disappointment of little consequence and I’m a tabloid, beating it with wire hangers, complaining about ingratitude for all I’ve sacrificed and how no one appreciates nice things, before I leave my book with the nanny and escape for another bender.
Still: I’m on the verge of my Steve Martin moment, where the sour is replaced with the glassy-eyed smile that makes parents often love their children despite their tendency to break things.
In the coming months I’ll be weaning, sending out more review copies, getting the ebook online, booking more readings, and trying to get Psychopomp to take care of itself. Then, Channel Insomnia and Psychopomp Volume 2, and with any luck I’ll have a crowded house and will feel overwhelmed all over again, which is a much more wonderful thing to experience than a hollow, empty bookshelf.
The bitter old woman in me
This afternoon I broke from a sweat-soaked dream of fighting bears and garden snakes circling my ankles, to thoughts of self-destruction strangling voices from my slow-moving generation of internet thinkers and human-interaction dodgers. Friends and colleagues endlessly struggling with project completion and personal progression, understanding of self as independent entity and self connected to greater whole. Friends and colleagues struggling with an understanding of self, as they hamster wheel into obscurity.
As the most thriving parasite on satellite earth with no nameable opposing force greater than outraged oceans and man itself, it’s reasonable that a certain segment would suckle suicide by time.
Some succeed in dumbing and numbing through intentional wheel-spinning masked as accident.
Others lock into directionless courtesy of SOMA-stoked bored contentment, memory tricked into knowing the times before as instances where they were not themselves, victim to erratic emotions, unboxed and venom-fanged.
Others still reprogram impressionable mind-meat into regarding unpredictable terrain and internal missiles as those engineered to thwart the influence of logic, until the boys-don’t-cry rhetoric of the 50s has been cloaked in the garb of SCIENCE to keep them quiet, confused, disposable, and apologetic.
The bitter old woman in me claims that those dodging the charms of self-destruction most completely are those willingly disconnected from a comprehension of self with greater relation to the larger world. Those whose world view is informed by their day-to-day needs and the acquisition of stuff, who complain about the cost of gas without dot-connecting to the origins, who neglect to note that many of us are born equipped with transportation courtesy of functional legs.
The bitter old woman in me claims that those immune to this elixir are those who will drunkenly announce themselves to be evolved, no longer seeking the answer since they fuckin’ found it. This holy-fuck-I’ve-done-it world view is succinctly summarized on web sites and readily available pamphlets and paperback best sellers endorsed by your favorite talking head and televised wank fest. This sort of trumpeting seems to catch the ears of invisible listeners, who can’t wait to help the self-annointed guru stuff too many people into a sweatlodge.
The people who actually do something
However: there are plenty who, by whatever fluke of science and nature and love and work, somehow manage to engage with day-to-day reality without so much pacing, who find ways to pacify dark thoughts of shame and insecurity to commit to achievement of vision. Many drinkers have mastered the grumbling understanding that a majority of the human populace is destructive or useless. Only a few seem willing to truly consider their own capacity for greatness, which can’t be measured by externally constructed models, but created ones with personal means of measurement.
(Side note: others still don’t think about this shit that much. These are the people who look at me exhausted and wonder if addiction-commitment might derail my internal circle-jerk enough to stoke forward some semblance of laugh-riot. Sorry folks. I’m the hole in your garden hose.)
In a few determined hours I could produce a toilet paper roll of 10 point font names of courageous individuals thwarting pressure to mirror-mumble until expiration date. Each instance offers evidence of a combination of luck-prayer-hard work-clarity of will-sacrifice, though only some would agree on this list of ingredients.
Some would dismiss the luck component, neglecting the winning lottery ticket of being born in America where we don’t have to fear being recruited into a machete-wielding child army after observing the massacre of people we once adored.
Others might laugh off the prayer with a ho-ho-ho they won’t credit to Santa, insisting their repetition of heart’s desire was just for the sake of clarity — nothing was overheard.
And some of this group of achievers won’t even clock their achievements, will even shun the word success based on a definition constructed by some other, and will therefore express ingratitude, an inability to comprehend such good fortune. These are generally those who have achieved in a realm undefined by material rewards, who interact with culture in its birth canal, their material sacrifice for vision-preservation a mark of bravery without the badge.
Few among us planned on the luxury of so many decisions, only some of us even observing how many options truly exist, and many observing the endless rings with panic and paralysis, not willing to risk drowning to join a more interesting raft of refugees.
It’s important to take a moment to be astonished by human capacity to accomplish nothing. Even with no prison sentence offering boxes and walls to circumnavigate, no international crime lord rifling through plastic surgery records to uncover an assumed identity. No demands from a family of thirteen that each mobile adult take an extra shift at the shirt factory to provide a bag of beans that will last a week. No full body paralysis to explain the catatonic state.
So how does we crack alive? How do we muster together art and words in the midst of base survival, which calls for day jobs over daydreams, doldrums over danger, donuts over….just donuts.
How do we create anything to completion in the stranglehold of sloth, how do we break away from this pocked understanding that with science on our side we’ll live forever?
How do we smother the perception that opportunities are to be considered, not seized, as there will always be another chance for life and love and greatness?
And is it fear of death that keeps us locked behind invisible bars, or fear of life and our ability to navigate new complications that will inevitably present themselves as our decision-making grows riskier and our life choices become harder to defend?
Greetings blog-trolling human forms and spam robots!
Right now I’m systematically wading through hundreds (and hundreds) of pages of writing, in an effort to minimize accumulation of Hard Drive Rot (TM) and free myself from the literary phantoms spooking up my mirrors. This means discipline, which is confusing, since I’ve come to understand that word as one synonymous with punishment. Like a lot of you, most evenings I’d rather intoxicate myself on moon juice and monkey-slap my keyboard until nonsensical images formulate themselves for 135 character internet posting, which means something for exactly four minutes until I forget what I was talking about in the first place. Like now…
Anyway, the idea is to finish (and publish) two books that have lived and died and been plagiarized within the confines of my brain meat ten times over into exhaustion. Both books are some diet flavor of done, but require editing and word rearrangement to better meet my perfectionist face-slap standards. I assure you these standards don’t essentially amount to self-inflicted staple wounds and thinly-veiled self-loathing. Really. It’s useful. USEFUL.
While I’m doing that the snooze button on this blog has been pressed, which is probably for the best. When I started it the idea was to post goo-goo-ga-joo vomited onto the screen in 30 minutes or less, with no further editing, to activate the ability to write, release, and call it done. The experiment worked: sure, yeah, I can let something go now. Unfortunately, most of what got posted is clit-lit, verbal masturbation informed by whatever attractive human specimen captured my wandering coffee shop eye. A couple of things didn’t suck, but I shudder to think some unsuspecting sap will stumble upon this website and use what’s witnessed in e-form to measure my writing prowess. That’s bullocks, people. It’s better to buy the books. So I’d better get busy…
Anyway, if you have interest in supporting my completion endeavors (in the monetary sense) please buy the shit out of my stories on Scribd. You can find them here: http://www.scribd.com/fallsapart
Future postings will offer details on my haphazard progress towards completion, and whether my hand wringing has escalated to hospitalization or decelerated into happy space and aum. There’s all kinds of other somethings in between but I’m a chick of extremes and it’s unlikely that I’ll occupy such airspace. Gargle my thoughts, unsuspecting someones. GARGLE.
Love to you,