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.
Just after posting my celebratory hurrah about our South Haven Adventures last week, I get home and decide to compound my success by being a ‘good parent.’*
“C’mon son. Let’s go for a walk.” I say.
I’m thinking of a brisk stroll, fresh air, and then getting back to the house to tackle some work. It is a good game plan.**
As I have mentioned before, my son is a runner. He would explore a lion’s den given half a chance. Like Austin Powers, his middle name is “Danger”. Unfortunately, this evening is no exception. As we walk, he keeps pointing out buildings he would like to ‘visit’ and even writes house numbers down on his papers when I don’t seem to pick up on his subtle signals when he tries to drag me to the front door.
The night is turning colder when I spot the Grand Villa in the distance. This is a local restaurant which goes by the nickname “The Dungeon” because of its subterranean locale. If I had seen their website beforehand, I might have taken heed of the warning they post in their tagline:
Teeth chattering, I haul my child away from the housing complex he is lunging toward—a nondescript giant block of apartments in what once was a large family home. Seeing as my son is now 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs as much as an overindulged Great Dane, this takes some effort.
I lure him in with the promise of chocolate milk.
Twenty minutes later, warm again and well quaffed, we gather our things to go. Then I consider the nearly mile-long walk back to the house…in the cold…and decide the bathroom should be our first stop. I send my son into the men’s room and wait for a few seconds…before deciding I’d better make sure myself and pop into the ladies.
I swear I peed in less than a minute and was back out to wait for my son. A MINUTE. That’s all it took. My clever, devious, Machiavellian boy was gone.
You can pretty much predict the rest. After a frantic and futile search of the area, I’m on the phone with 911. While talking with them, I see a police car pull up alongside the road. I hail them while I’m on the phone with the operator.***
Now I’m babbling at two different sets of people—neither of whom can understand me—when someone calls out:
“We’ve found him!”
Another police officer escorts my happy, oblivious-to-the-chaos-he-causes boy to my weeping embrace.
My son is returned safe and sound and, though he had broken into a home, no one is hurt. A few papers are stolen and have to be retrieved. He’d even had time to scribble calendars on the back as a memento to the family he invaded. I hope they frame them.
In those interminable minutes he is out of my grasp, I imagine enough scenarios to make my heart stop a thousand times. I am honestly surprised it doesn’t kill me.
Once home, my child goes to bed with no complaints. I think on some level he recognizes mommy has had it. I turn off my phone and tune out the world and spend the evening overwrought and shaking.
The next day, I find the energy to call my mom.
“Hey, mom…Little Man is okay, but I have to tell you something that happened last night. Understand, I can’t take any comments about what might have happened. I still feel so emotionally raw I can barely breathe.”
My mom knows about loss. I had a sister—Robin. She died of crib death before I was even born. As a result, mom has had a super-charged paranoia about any dangers we faced as kids and I think this has multiplied exponentially for her grandchildren.
I re-live the night before as factually as I can without breaking down. She lets me vent. It is what I need—a shoulder to cry on without judgment. It is phone call catharsis at its best. Mom says she’ll check in on me later, but she has something to do first. I ring off feeling a shade lighter than before.
My mom stops by that afternoon, carrying a cooler. I unpack it while she tells me a story of her own. When I get to the table with a warm bundle wrapped in a towel, she is drawing me a map as she talks:
“When I was a little girl, my father took me to the ice cream shop at the Occidental Hotel in Muskegon. It’s torn down now, but it was located between Clay and Webster Street downtown—it’s in the same area the Frauenthal Theater and the culinary school are now.”
I pull up my computer to help in the search for yesteryear landmarks. We have a doozy of a time since mom—who has a much better sense of direction than me—apparently can’t reorient her mind to the north-on-top directionality Google maps insists on presenting.
“Anyway, they had a famous hot fudge sauce that I absolutely loved. We didn’t go out very often so it was a big treat to go there. So I made this for you!”
As mom is saying this, she’s unwrapping the towel to reveal a small Corningware casserole dish wrapped in plastic wrap with a band of duct tape for extra insurance. (She’s not messing around with spills!)
“After you told me about your adventure, I thought you could use a treat.” Mom says.
She makes me sit down with a big bowl of ice cream and a dollop of the chocolaty, silken sauce melting over the white caps of vanilla-y goodness.
She then tells me more about our connections to the famed hotel with the equally famous sauce.
“Do you remember the lamp your father brought back when they sold off the property and its belongings?” She asks.
I would have been eight in 1975, and home furnishings weren’t a high priority in my experience, so I shake my head and take a bite. I swallow her memories with each taste.
“It was a heavy iron lamp and we put it in your room with the flowered Crosscill bedspread and curtains—you remember those?”
I had loved that frilly bedroom set up until I left for the Army. It was gone when I got back home four years later and I truly mourned its loss. I nod and lick the spoon. No words are necessary when you have hot fudge. Mom continues to wax nostalgic about the past:
“I was nineteen in 1959. I remember going to a Valentine’s dance there once–sponsored by the Elks, I think. A boyfriend, Jack Boles, took me to a ball at the hotel when we were dating. Do you remember the beautiful dress you borrowed for school that was stolen?”
This I distinctly remember. It was my first experience with theft. I borrowed it for a theater skit for a character in the show. It was gorgeous red dress of some kind of stiff but silky material. I have never quite forgiven myself for losing that dress.
“It was a play, Mom. We were performing at the elementary school. The dress disappeared from the prop and costume boxes before we finished the shows.” I interject. I’m apologetic—it’s a script we’ve enacted whenever we rehash the event.
“It had a square bodice and the style was so grown up. The sheer overlay matched the underskirt perfectly. Do you remember the fabric?” Mom holds her hands out as if measuring the width of a belled skirt.
“It had a swirly pattern—nothing distinct, like paisley, but more like the swirls you see when oil floats on water.” I say.
[A hunt online produced similar styles but nothing exactly like what she had:]
Close but no cigar!
Similar tulle overlay
Now it’s her turn to nod.
“Yes! I wore it when I was in the beauty contest at the ball—you’ve seen that picture, right?”
It is a small, black-n-white snapshot of three women in ball gowns. Mom was the first runner-up. In the photo, she stands to the left of two other women—all dressed up and carrying bouquets of now, long-dead flowers. It was a night of beautiful memories.
The fudge sauce is slowly disappearing as we reminisce. We look online trying to find a photo of the ice cream parlor that existed before The Occidental Hotel was imploded in 1975 to make way for a parking lot. But all we can find are details of the implosion. The article is an epitaph for a leveled landmark torn down in pursuit of a mall that would later close of its own fiscal demise.
The ice cream is gone and I scoop up the remains of the cooling, lava-like gooeyness to store in the fridge.
“Be sure to hide it from the boy or he’ll eat it all!” Mom warns before giving me a hug goodbye.
It’s after she’s gone and I’m cleaning up that I realize what she’s done. It is what all mothers do—try to make it better. When you skin your knee, she offers a kiss. It is a little sugar to take away the bitterness that life sometimes hands you. I may be an adult, but I am not immune to the sway of childhood remedies or memories—be they mine or my mother’s. The sweetness cannot stop the pain, but it can make it better. And when those remembrances come with chocolate sauce—it surely does.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Being a Good Parent—a laudable goal that, when I try to do it on purpose, results in immediate failure.
**Life is out to get me most of the time and rarely needs a good reason. Still, I thought, in light of my good intentions, the universe was being a real shit not to reward me.
***No matter how many times I have called 911, I do not improve with experience. I am just as hysterical and useless each and every time. I owe sincere apologies to the people who man those phones…and probably a fruit basket.
———–You read this far bonus—————–
I just had to include this photo. It is the entire line up of contestants from that long ago Valentine’s beauty pageant.
Sushi may be a finger food–it’s small, compact and easily consumed coming as it does in bite-sized portions–this does not, however, make it an appropriate fast food for road trips. Let me explain.
Driving to Chicago Friday, we get a late enough start to greet not only the oncoming rush-hour traffic but this also forces us to face the blizzardous conditions which everyone and their mother knows is heading this-a-ways.* Not to mention, I manage to miss lunch in favor of haphazard packing and random dithering. This is why, when I make a final stop at the Meijer store to pick up the kid’s medication, I grab an impulse carton of veggie sushi to nosh on while motoring. This will prove to be the most ill-advised snack choice ever.***
I am smart enough to set up my sushi before putting the car in gear. (What kind of idiot would want to open a soy sauce packet with one hand, after all? Ha ha ha.) So, the giant rectangular clamshell lays spread-open next to me–half filled with happy little California sushi rolls, the other half swimming with a brown pool of Kikkoman joy. Child in tow, snack in hand, we set off.
The car slithers out of the parking lot. I snack and squint trying to see where I’m going between the swirling snowflakes that take up 90% of the visual spectrum.
As I tentatively nose out into traffic, I’m dipping a roll into the soy juice as a car going at least 60 mph in the parking lot tries to barrel past us. I slam on the brakes. And even though I am going turtle speeds, the flotsam and jetsam clogging the front seat undulates forward in a sluggish lurch. Most of it is stopped by all of the other stuff packed there. Yay. Not, however, the sushi.
Fun Fact: Do you want to know the Number TwoReasonwhy sushi isn’t a travel-approved snack food? It is round. Round = bad!
My sushi flies, joyful little bobbles, skittering all over the seat. Fortunately the soy sauce only threatens to overturn onto my purse where it has fallen to the floor. I’m madly scooping the runaway snack food while I simultaneously managed to avoid the collision and get into a lane. I do not whip the other driver the bird, but only because I don’t have a free hand. I do curse them soundly. My son is learning many important life lessons, no doubt; I’m just not sure what they are.
After this I keep a fixed eye on the windscreen, inching our way to the interstate. The sushi will have to wait. My stomach growls its disapproval.
My hockey puck of a car joins the highway and I sigh with relief. Settling in, I crank up the book on CD. We have four hours of cautious, but ultimately safe, driving ahead. From here on out, it should be smooth sailing. (Cue ominous music.)
I reach for a congratulatory, slightly smooshed, ball of rice and vegetables. Here I discover the Number One Reasonsushi is not recommended as a mobile food source. I blindly grab a roll, dunk it with my growing expertise into the soy sauce, and pop it in my mouth.
It is right at this moment, I am reminded what else they put in the standard sushi setup. If you don’t know, grocery stores pack this Japanese delicacy with tiny accompaniments of everything you could want: twelve decorative food objects come with soy sauce and a tiny plastic fence blockading a swirl of pickled ginger and a daub of mushy green stuff. I had forgotten about the mushy green stuff. You should never, EVERforget about the mushy green stuff. The fence is the guard rail of the food tray; it is put there for your safety. The sushi had crossed the fence!
I manage not to steer the car into a ditch while scrambling to suck down the entire 24 ounces of mixed regular and diet cherry Coke I had lugged from the same store as the sushi. Fire appeased, victory is mine. Sort of.
I survive Driving With Sushi with a greater appreciation for ginormous beverages and an improbable will to live despite eating an entire glop of the dangerous green paste. Learn from me, children: Do not eat wasabi while driving. Wasabi is the killer food equivalent of texting. Perhaps sushi in cars should be avoided altogether. It appears I am not alone in this opinion!
On the upside, my mouth stayed warm all the way to Chicago.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*My mother in particular. She made a point of warning me to beat the storm. I suspect latent childish resistance to following her advice correlates to our delayed departure.**
**This is where I find out if my mother actually reads my blog. Don’t feel the need to tell her.
***Most people would say I was mistaken to purchase supermarket sushi just because it was SUPERMARKET SUSHI. Congratulations. You were proved right. Happy?
I should have been a bear. Really! Every time January rolls around, I eat a houseful of food and then want to curl up in a ball and bury my head under the covers until June. I look at everyone else around me who seems to be inordinately energized—bothering to wash laundry and cook meals, for example. Whereas I considered bribing my son with an ice cream sandwich this morning if only he’d get himself up and dressed for school on time.*
Winter break wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. However, lazy days have their side effects. I slowly devolved from a marginally-together person into an Amazon-Prime-channeling slug. The thought of reading anything besides junk-food thrillers or sexy, slithery beast men who woo their sexual partners with a combination of near-abuse and copious amounts of testosterone-soaked pheromones is un-bearable. (Pun intended. You’re welcome.) This is anything but Prime reading! If you think I am kidding, check out a few of the titles available for “Free” on Amazon Kindle Unlimited.**
By the way, I am NOT recommending these. I just searched a random term in Kindle unlimited and grabbed the worst-sounding titles I could find in under ten seconds.
Mid-winter lethargy shows itself everywhere. This post is the first thing that I have written in nearly a month. I’m so lazy, I’m even giving up on double-spacing after the period at the end of each sentence based on the fear it will mark me a geriatric writer of old-school sensibilities. Hmm, that gives me an idea of novel spin-off possibilities:
Sentence and Sensibilities
Definitely NOT written by a Lady
When Elinor and Edward meet–the after-school special begins! First, he drops his participles when she walks past; then he omits his Oxford comma. How ever will she tame his wild ways? Prim school marm, Elinor, disciplines her most recalcitrant student, Edward, for his pitiful punctuation performance. He then turns the tables on his teacher when he changes into a ferocious werebeast and lectures his proud school mistress in love. Who will punctuate improperly after this naughty remedial class?***
(If this sounds more like Pride and Prejudice—blame my limited knowledge of Jane Austen novels.)
I can’t say whether the plot is Prime-worthy, but musing about it at least whiles away the time between naps. Until the next chapter…I’ll be reading between the sheets.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Child got waffles instead. You’d think the act of depressing the toaster was tantamount to preparing a full-course banquet the exhaustion the prospect gave me.
**“Free” means it only costs your dignity if anyone catches you reading it.
***Their conjugation brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “Teacher’s Pet.”
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.