I wish editing were like hiring someone to pluck unruly overgrowth from your plot.
WARNING: Mangling of Metaphors, Shameful Similes, and Tree Torture Ahead—Proceed with Caution!
I have, on occasion, taken a side-long look at my collected literary efforts and sighed–gusts monsoons would envy. In those glances, I have seen the colossal effort it would take to shape them into something even vaguely resembling sense. Instead, each year I write a new, rambling incoherent piece like a prolific procrastinator of pandemic proportions. *
Do you remember my promise that I would provide the critique of my work following winning a review at last year’s writer’s conference?
Well, you are all still waiting. Because the biggest take-away from that evaluation is that my story is starting in the wrongplace. Book one of a three-books-at-least series, is mis-planted. It isn’t a weed, exactly, but it is a sprawling volunteer in my literary garden. It is like the tree in my backyard–it is a moss-encrusted mess!
It isn’t a bad tree. Yeah, sure, it has oozing cracks running down two sides, but it is lush and otherwise verdant. It’s just planted in the wrong place and threatens to split in several directions. And like my over-grown novel, it has got to go.
Faced with massive edits and rewrites, I say: “Bring on the shredder and let’s make some confetti!”
It would be so much easier to chuck my writing aspirations and plot a life without creative expectation. To slash and burn every word I’ve placed in a holding pattern, using up the data of an entire computer until I have to buy a new one to store version 15.2 of the samedamn novel. At least, that’s how it feels. It’s either that, or actually sit down and try and straighten out the mess I’ve created.**
Trees are unlike writing, as it turns out. They are actually pretty easy to dismantle. At least the guys from 1, 2, Tree made it look easy.
I watched them turn probably fifty-year’s worth of growth into so much mulch in less than three hours. I admired their editing talents greatly. ***
I did learn something from watching them. They didn’t start at the base of the trunk, trying to tackle it all in one go, but a piece at a time.
First a little here. Then a little there. And, before long, Cal, the stump man, was there grounding down what little remained.
There’s part of me that wants to do this. Instead of taking pruning shears to the 150,000-plus word opus, I’d chainsaw that forest of typographical nightmares and run-on story tangents and turn them into wordy wood chips!
But that isn’t what I want for my novel. I don’t really want to render its multi-syllabic magnificence into so much mulch. But, trim its excess maybe? To make sure it won’t crush my house in the next strong breeze to come through our neighborhood? Sure.
Now all I need is a studly team of guys on standby who will cart away the bits that fall away as I work.
A big shout-out to Jacob, Jeremy, and Mick at 1, 2, Tree for very considerately not dropping anything on my head while I took pictures! I’m sure the temptation was overwhelming.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*I will also assault you with assonance.
**Looking at un-edited work without protection is like staring into the sun…while masturbating—you’ll go blind and you won’t have any fun while doing it.
***I so was NOT ogling them. I’m old enough to be their…well…aunt, at the very least. And an aunt does not ogle young men no matter how bulgy-their muscles are.
———————————–You Read This Far Poet-Tree Bonus—————————————-
Aging ain’t pretty and, sometimes, it gets downright ugly. You are forced to evaluate yourself for flaws and failures. Blogs are no different from people in that respect.
Facebook’s insistence that everyone in the world wish you a Happy Birthday resulted in people I haven’t spoken with in years contacting me last week when I became a quinquagenarian.*
In one exchange, an old friend asks me how I’ve been doing and I oh-so-subtly direct him to the wonders of my blog. His response?
“…Blogs are so passé…”**
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I put my heart and soul into what I write. This off-hand dismissal of my craft resulted in the following poetic interlude—performed in the key of é.
Critique Not-so Enchanté
My writing is passé,
Or so you say!
Perhaps you are no devoteé?
Or maybe you are just a protégé without caché?
I may sometimes, How do you say?, write a hit out of the park!
Sometimes it’s a swing-and-a-miss—or manqué.***
My writing may even skirt the edge of cliché!
But always, I churn the brain frappé
To scoop out a little grey cell pâté.
A luscious, literary canapé!
No hard-boiled reporter am I, producing the latest exposé!
But I do not deserve to be roasted a lá flambé!
Mayhap you will reconsider your communiqué?
But as for me, I am très désolé.
So there you have it. A damning condemnation that not only am I unoriginal, practically staring down the barrel of obsolescence, but so is my writing medium. (Not well done!)
Turning half-a-decade makes a person stop and think! Where exactly am I headed? Have I missed my chance to reinvent myself when I haven’t even invented myself yet in the first place?
Have I’ve officially reached a plateau that says: “Nothing new, innovative, or fresh expected. Move along!!?”
Perhaps it is fatalism of creativity? Maybe I suffer ennui? But I will steal from a kindred spirit—a voice who calls from the realm of the dead. I will lick the pen of a poet and echo Stéphane Mallarme :
Je me mire et me vois ange! et je meurs, et j’aime —Que la vitre soit l’art, soit la mysticité— A renaître, portant mon rêve en diadème, Au ciel antérieur où fleurit la Beauté.
I can see my reflection like that of an angel! And I feel that I am dying, and, through the medium Of art or of mystical experience, I want to be reborn, Wearing my dream like a diadem, in some better land Where beauty flourishes.)
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*L is the new XL (I’m talking Roman numerals, people, not size!)
**My immediate response? “Oh yeah? Well…your face is passé!”
***I noticed the odd appearance of accented ‘é’ words and cleverly sensed a theme. When I saw Manqué on a list of words ending in é, I had to use it. And then, there is the neato twist: where the definition for manqué conveniently defines how it feels to turn 50!
Man·qué (mäNGˈkā/) adjective:
having failed to become what one might have been; unfulfilled.
The oily sheen is what gets me. Just within reach, prodigious produce entices vices. I’m checking out at check-out; I ogle the goods less taken. Griping the cart handle with sweaty hands, I think, “Oh man, I wish I’d picked up a green pepper to call my own.” If only I were brave enough to snatch it when nobody is looking. My fingers itch. In my heart of hearts, I’m already legging it to my car with the shouts of “Stop that woman—she’s got my pepper!” ringing in my ears.*
I’m standing in line one day, loading my groceries onto the black sander belt that drags them to their plastic-bagged doom, when I find myself looking at what the schlub behind me has selected.
“Hmm, they have just as much produce as me. But, look, they have a collection of processed snacks made with asbestos and nuclear orange, cheese powder. I win!”
I’m awash with self-satisfaction, when, suddenly, it strikes me, I am a grocery conveyer voyeur. I feel superior to the guy with the Lipitor prescription and deep-fried pork rinds. Are those Twinkies? Outrage! There is no Twinkie defense! If you buy canned soup, be prepared to be judged! What does it say about my nature that I have to compare my worth in such a way? Am I alone in this? Am I a solitary, smug-worthy opportunist or is everybody guilty of shopper’s gloat?**
I decide I need to find out. I make a Facebook announcement to my friends and family requesting images and receipts. The idea I have is to see if, given a task to shop and knowing it will be posted online, would people change what they buy? What I discover is random journalism is really hard to organize and people are even harder to define. And sometimes, you find out something shocking.
[To maintain everyone’s dignity privacy, I am using cutesy nicknames to identify each respondent.]
After getting the receipts and photos, I asked each participant this multiple-choice question:
If you take a banal activity like shopping and turn it into an assignment, would this effect the activity and make it: A. More exciting? B. More of a chore? C. Influence what you bought in any way? D. I forgot about it until I was at checkout!
I wasn’t sure what I would find. But I definitely got more than I expected.
I wait a week to get enough responses. I receive some photos texted to me along with a few receipts from various states. In answer to my multiple-choice question, I get varied answers. My Philly Friend is the first to respond; she also is the only participant to answer “D”—meaning she forgot about it until she reached the cashier. She sends me a text of the items and her receipt. I’m looking at a motherlode of snacks; I have to ask the question:
Me: “If you had remembered this was going public, would you have shopped differently?” Philly Friend: “If I’d seen it earlier I might have made different choices – although I really was planning on getting the crackers, nuts and raisins – might have skipped the Cheetos. LOL” Me: “Hah! Is that a Cheeto-in-Chief concern or just the utter lack of nutritive value embarrassment?” Philly Friend: “Heehee! total junk food, no the DVD was a total last minute addition, too – on sale for less than $4! Wooooo!!
We chat a bit longer, but mostly about the merits of the DVD she purchased. We agree that Cloud Atlas was fantastic—if Tom Hanks was a bit hard to understand at times.
Me: “I think the only disconnect was when Tom Hanks spoke with the odd, futurist dialect and it was so hard to understand him.” Philly Friend: “Yeah really! Took a bit to understand all that, but that’s why I often use subtitles nowadays. I’m OLD.”
We are the same age, but I suspect the fact that I have both bi-focals and a hip replacement clinched my geriatric status years ago. I am in no position to argue that fifty is the new thirty. (Hah!) I will feel slightly superior about not letting Cheetos touch my lips in nearly twenty years, though.
The California returns are a little slower in coming. One respondent in sunny San Diego provides a mostly-honest consumer profile. She remarks that her haul is a ‘light’ shopping expedition. Sunny D spent approximately $87.00 on thirty-four things. I smile when I realize the most expensive item is $12.99 for whey protein beating out the price for actual steak. Also, it turns out a fresh Del Monte pineapple in California is more expensive than it is here, in Michigan. My father would have been pleased to point this out—and then he would have bought ten of them to increase his savings.
I ask her whether the assignment affected her attitude:
Me: So, how would you answer the multiple-choice question? Sunny D: “C definitely C but just a tiny bit, I told [husband] he could not fill the cart with beer! And I had a coupon for the Kleenex and then the store had a buy 6 and save sale so I had to stock up 🙂 ”***
I speak with another California participant. I’ve dubbed her LaLaLand—although she lives outside of Hollywood proper—she’s just a bullet’s ricochet away from the famed city. Her multiple-choice answer is ‘A’; she feels that shopping with a mission is more exciting. She sends the prettiest picture and, since we’ve been roommates in the past, I am not surprised by her haul.
Me: “Did you shop for anything differently?” LaLaLand: “Well, I kind of thought, ‘Would Kiri like this?’ I was shopping for you.” Me:*blush* “Aww, gee. Thanks.”
I don’t let her attempts at flattery stop me from asking the hard-hitting questions:
Me: “Was this because you didn’t want people to know what you typically shop for?” LaLaLand:*laughs* “No. My life is an open cart.” Me: “That would make a great book title.”
LaLaLand makes a few non-committal remarks before blurting a small confession:
LaLaLand: “Sometimes I look at people’s stuff in line and think, ‘Somebody is going to have a party!’ based on what they’ve got there.”
I suspect she isn’t referring to an excess of cake and balloons. We exchange laughs at our shared voyeurism and then she says something more serious:
LaLaLand: “No, mostly when I’m shopping, I am thinking how much is this gonna cost me and can I afford it?”
Our conversation swerves to the topic of finding low-priced food in a state as expensive as California. LaLaLand is originally from Michigan, so I am surprised to find she is daunted by having to drive to get her groceries to save money. She does have her standards, however. While there is a nearer Walmart, she pooh-poohs that idea outright.
LaLaLand: “I don’t like to shop for groceries there.”
Her opinion is final and immovable in the face of economic need versus personal preference. Apparently, it is worth going a little further afield to avoid Wally-World. My next interview brings the issue of economic necessity to a head with a whiplash-inducing, 180-degree veer off the conversational cliff.
It’s Monday, I’m compiling the scraps of my data seeking a theme for the post. Comparing the lists and wishing I had a few more participants, I check Facebook for inspiration and send a private message to one of the people who’d said they were interested in taking part. Periwinkle is a fellow parent in the autism community and, though I do not know her well, all autism families share a pool of similar experiences that makes for an immediate bond.
I try for the breezy-but-I’m-not-needy approach:
Me: “Periwinkle – Hey, just checking to see if you had the chance to get to the store and take a picture of your groceries. No worries if you didn’t. K”
After a few minutes, I get a reply. It’s short and it knocks me on my metaphorical butt.
Periwinkle: “I didn’t forget – I thought I was going to get some money to be able to buy food but am unable to buy food for my family currently.”
If instant messages came with crickets—fields would be chirping to fill the void of my initial lack of response. The crickets continue to chirp while my mind races to process what I just read.
“…can’t buy groceries…?”
I’m ashamed to admit, my first thought was, “How am I going to write a humorous article knowing that?” The answer is, I can’t. There is absolutely nothing funny about people struggling to get by. The only way we can function in real life is we don’t actively know someone is in need unless we ask. Well, I’d asked.
Over the next hour, we exchange instant messages that are frank and, on her side, a mixture of embarrassment and fear. Her typing is awkward and a little hard to read. She injured her wrist recently and it is difficult to do everything with one hand. I can just imagine trying to cook this way! Periwinkle’s husband needs surgery and is seeing a doctor on the seventeenth of this month. You wouldn’t think you could read emotional distress in a typed message, but it comes through in staccato phrases. Periwinkle admits it near the end of our discussion–she’s reached a point of despair.
Me: “I know my questions are intrusive, so if this is hard to talk about, I can respect that.” Periwinkle: “Sorry I just unloaded on you – I’m very frustrated.” Me: “I would be beyond frustrated. I would be scared and worried.” Periwinkle: “….I don’t mind. I feel like I’m drowning so it’s nice to share a little…. I am scared and worried and honestly quite done with existing.”
I may not know much, but I recognize a cry for help. I’ve had that kind of moment myself, not for the same reasons, but that empty sense that the world is going on merrily around you–unaware that you are drowning.
We exchange a rapid-fire series of messages identifying ways to get food in the local community. I suggest she set up a Go-fund Me page for the current financial stress and need for groceries. I check my cupboards and admit to myself my impulse shopping in bulk might have finally paid off. I have groceries to spare.
I promise to bring a few bags by after I’ve taken my boy to his oh-so-reluctant music lesson. As we leave the center where he has therapy, the snow, which had been gracefully wafting as we went in, is now swirling madly as if dancing to a demented waltz.
Driving is dizzying and the roads are slick. At one point, I see a car make a sharp left at a corner and drive straight into a building. Fortunately, the driver had been crawling through the intersection, but it forced me to reroute from our destination. I’ve never been so grateful to make it to someone’s house.
Periwinkle waves her uninjured arm from the door, but sends her older son to grab some of the stuff. I admit when I hand mine off to her, “If I hadn’t already promised to come, I would have saved this for tomorrow.” I indicated the near-blizzard swirling around us. She thanks me, but we are both a little awkward and make quick goodbyes to get in out of the freezing cold.
I have no great end to this bizarre, journalistic turn of events. I began this article with lighthearted intentions—before I spoke with Periwinkle. I have no illusions about my acumen as a reporter; I just know that there are some things I can’t ignore. I prefer to write about laughter and whimsy—it is my cure for the dark that tends to lurk. But, I can’t stand by when someone else is drowning. Can you?
If you want to help Periwinkle, here is a link to herGoFundMe
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
* I’m the covetous bad girl at the Lane 6 register.
**Feeling superior because of other people’s poor food choices, would the German for this be ‘Schaden-Foodie?’
***Sunny D lives in California where, apparently, emoticons are used instead of punctuation marks.
You’ve read this far bonus:
The Lure of Vegetation
By A. Voyeur
Glistening skin Polish shining like wet frogs Deep green, tightly stretched and crunchy. Bulbous stem jutting up, Curling a beckoning finger. Call me Peter Piper sans the pickle GREEN PEPPER!
One – I wrote 5,000 words yesterday; I am still riding the high. There is a effervescence of spirit that comes from writing. Words arrive in a pell-mell rush which my brain regurgitates onto a screen. (Hopefully in a shape that vaguely resembles what I see and hear behind my eyes.) This is the honeymoon period after the storm of words and before the tempest that is self-doubt and editing—the halcyon days of loving your creation.*
Two – Yesterday I sent my heroine on an adventure. There was a horse, of course. And plastic fruit and a tragedy for the hydrangeas—though now I am thinking petunias might be a funnier flower.
Three – I brought frenemies together and then forced them to climb deadwood to safety—only to fall like tumbling blocks—spelling out embarrassment and trouble in their awkward landing.
Four – I have yet to release the monkey—but I am cackling in anticipation.
Five – Today I rest while Officer Dettweiler removes the thorns—one prick at a time.
Six – And I haven’t decided who is getting the spring-loaded trap the heroine left for her anonymous hero. Perhaps the busybody Mrs. Bridewell is going to get her just desserts at the Fudge Festival after all?
Seven – I have no regrets, except that this pace can only be maintained for so long. Sooner or later, something is going to explode—most likely the laundry room.**
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*At least, I think this is caused by the writing. It could be the lack of sleep and caffeine talking, now that I think of it.
*Warning, graphic and disgusting content follows.*
You are ruining everything! I was supposed to be having fun, staying up late, writing a novel for NaNoWriMo. Instead, I’m seeing how fast I can go through a mega pack of toilet paper and finding out exactly how dehydrated one has to get before you have nothing left to give.
I hope you are happy.*
Sure! You let me have a Halloween party, but then you show up and knock me on my ass!
For days I was too tired to even whine. Did you read that? TOO TIRED TO WHINE!*
I threw away CUPCAKES because of you. I, who may or may not have eaten cake which had been left out for days in my past, threw away perfectly good—well, let’s be honest, my kid ate all the candy pumpkins off the top and it looked like tiny orange homicides occurred in the remaining frosting—cupcakes. They were tossed–much like cookies.*
I have only managed to eat the Jello brains leftover from the party and chicken soup. Four days of chicken soup. Bkwawk. I suspect I have started to cluck.*
My son has run amok in my absence. I actually had to chase him once when he escaped the house. You of course followed me and made my life hell.
You can imagine that phone call to the police department:
Dispatcher: “9.1.1, what is your emergency?”
Me: “My son has eaten a truckload of candy and is running amok. He’s dressed as Robin Hood and breaking into people’s homes. I’m in danger of shit running down my leg any second. I’m dressed as Dolores Umbrage—you’ll find me squatting in the nearest bushes.”
No thanks to you, I found him before they had to be involved…and I was arrested for indecency and polluting a public place.
The house is a mess. My son is officially out of clean clothes. And the basement…I don’t even want to describe what he has done to the basement. Suffice it to say, there will be Lysol in the old house tonight.
I’m sorry. But we have to break up. And let me be frank. It isn’t me—it’s you! I just can’t put up with your shit anymore.*
Asterisks Not So Bedazzled:
*A graphic representation of how frequently I have been interrupted while writing this post. You can only imagine why.
And because I suspect you think I’m making this up…here’s photographic proof.
Laughing as leaves fall, making spirals in their descent,
Through elegies of air.
So still he moves,
Leaning into a soundless void.
Planets in their orbits spin
And yet no shift in his equilibrium shows
That he is out of synch with a world
Built for words.
Images from a recent walk with my son, I was inspired by the drape of his blue blanket to wax poetic. Happy Halloween everybody. Nanowrimo begins tomorrow. Do not expect great things from me until December.
It is my one day off this week—a Monday filled with unfettered freedoms. At least, it will be just as soon as the window guy finishes up giving an estimate of the possibility of installing one more escape route for my child to threaten my sanity with.*
I should write.
But first I will rake some leaves. And then there is the pile of socks to sort and fold along with approximately 1 billion pair of underwear that, for some reason, are all inside out when they come out of the dryer.
I want to be a writer…but I need to return the clothes that didn’t fit and pick up the prescription at the store. Plus—as always—groceries.
I should WRITE!
Instead, I have managed to fill seven tiny plastic bags with assorted non-edible goodies for Halloween treats for my son to take to class—a class of children who really couldn’t care less if they get stickers and pencils instead of sugary products to rot their teeth. I will try to feel virtuous and not imagine the rubber duckies winding up in a landfill instead.
If I write, will it be of the grandiose imaginings that drift through my mind? Will I finally dig up the series this blog’s title is based upon? Will I manage to untangle the Gordian knot of plot threads that are choking the life out of the beastly thing? History suggests: NO! I won’t.**
Maybe I will write today, but the clock is winding down. Time is a super-stellar suck of obligations, an enemy to creativity. It whisks away the should-have’s and could-have’s and leaves me with unfolded laundry and indecision.
I ShOuLDWrITe, dAMmIT!
But will I?***
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*So, how does everyone feel about egress windows? Thoughts? Opinions? Dire predictions of home invasion or child escapism?
**My friend suggested a numbered list of reasons why I don’t write. I hate the click-bait ploy of lists, so I opted for this rambling mess instead.
1st Place goes to Kiri at The Dust Season for the “A Happily-Ever-After Story Involving Break-Ins and Police Action”. It takes a village to raise a child, but those villages often wait to show themselves. At just the right moment…
She was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug, a postcard from Minneapolis and $100 donation was made to the American Red Cross on her behalf.
“A Happily-Ever-After Story Involving Break-Ins and Police Action”
My son is an escape artist. He revels in finding ways around the protective prison cocoon of his home life. This would be fine, if my son were normal. But he isn’t and this story isn’t. So, before everyone gets up in arms about my use of the word ‘normal’ in relation to my son, let me get one thing straight: something beyond ordinary happened—and that’s okay.