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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Day 40: When You Have No Arms, Can You Still Do the Hokey Pokey?

Day 40:  When You Have No Arms, Can You Still Do the Hokey Pokey?

TODAY’S STATS

# of pages written: 1 (don’t judge me)

# of days left to write 1st draft: 123

 

I’ve been agonizing for days, trying to write a story about a girl who feels awkward at a wedding because she has a prosthetic arm and the DJ is playing the Hokey Pokey.

Well, first I thought she should have a prosthetic arm. Then I decided, no, maybe she’s just enormously fat and her friend has a prosthetic arm. Then I thought, no, maybe she used to be enormously fat but she’s still self-conscious. Finally I decided that she’s really ugly, and her friend, Tippy, has no arms at all. In fact, it’s Tippy’s wedding, and Tippy is dancing the Hokey Pokey even though she has no left arm to put in or out of the circle.

Whew. It was decided.

I gave my main character a name – Lena – and described her and wrote a little bit about her childhood. I decided that she was adopted and was a discipline case in middle school. She had to see a therapist and was labeled EBD (Emotionally/Behaviorally Disturbed). She met Tippy at a summer camp for kids with problems, but she didn’t like her at first because Tippy seemed too content with her situation. I described Tippy and then I wrote a scene to show how she and Lena became friends. Finally, I went back to the wedding. Lena is standing with a glass of champagne, watching Tippy do the Hokey Pokey. OK, I thought. I’ve set it all up. But what happens now?

When I was in elementary school, my friend Sarah and I would sometimes decide to play Barbies. We’d pull all of her Barbie stuff out of the closet and start preparing. First, we picked which Barbies we wanted to be, gave them names, and picked out their outfits.  Dressing the Barbies took awhile since our chubby fingers were clumsy with the tiny pieces of clothing, and there were always missing shoes to be hunted for.

Next, we would put together the Barbie dream house, which took even longer. We set the kitchen table with dime-sized plastic plates and placed itsy-bitsy bottles of pink perfume on the bedroom vanity. The set-up process would take a good two hours, and usually just as we were ready to begin playing, it was time for me to go home.

I often seem to have the Barbie phenomenon in my writing. I create a character, name her, dress her,place her in some sort of situation. I build her house and set her table and write about her background. The set-up is great, but often I can’t figure out what actually happens to her and I stop before the story even really gets started.  My character is left alone, all dressed up with nowhere to go. In fact, Lena is still standing at that wedding in a purple dress, watching the bubbles burst in her flute of champagne and cursing the DJ for being so insensitive. She might stand there forever.

 

 

Sometimes, when we were feeling lazy, Sarah and I decided to forgo the whole Barbie dream-house set-up. We took a couple of our favorite dolls down to the bathroom and filled up the sink with water. Voila – a Barbie swimming pool! We’d take turns making our Barbies dive off the faucet or the soap dish into the sink.  We would make up some sort of story about how they were Olympic swimmers or famous movie stars. Sometimes the sink turned into a shark-infested ocean, or a murky lake filled with mermaids.
We didn’t waste time with the set-up. We jumped right in to the story.

The more I think about Lena and Tippy, the more I think that maybe there is a story in the set-up. Here I was thinking the story takes place at the wedding, but maybe the real story is how they got to be friends in the first place. The idea of the no-armed girl doing the Hokey Pokey is clever and all, but the story of two misfits and how they became friends…well, maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Day 39: Erotic Fiction, or, How to Please People

Day 39:  Erotic Fiction, or, How to Please People

TODAY’S STATS

# of pages written: Worked on a story. Don’t even talk to me about a novel right now.

# of days left to write 1st draft: 124 (eek)

According to the “site stats” for my blog, my most popular post by far is the one entitled, “Drugs, Dreams, and Erotic Fiction.” Coming in at a distant second is the post entitled, “Why I Love Teenage Boys,” which, I’m assuming, some people thought might contain erotic material, but sadly for them, it did not.

This confirms what I pretty much already knew about people: they like reading about sex. This is helpful knowledge because I am, I think, trying to write for an audience. Oh, I know all these serious writerly type folks say that they write because they just have to, because to them writing is like breathing. They claim they don’t do it for anyone but themselves. I’m not like that. I often write with an audience in mind. I enjoy sharing my writing with other people, and I want those other people to like what I’m writing. And, it seems, they will like my writing if it is erotic.

It’s funny, because a few weeks ago at dinner Nate and Nikki suggested to me that I write erotic fiction. “We were discussing it last night in bed,” Nikki said, smiling. “We think you’d be good at it.”

I wondered why they were discussing my future career in erotic fiction while in bed, and then I wondered why they assumed I would be good at it. Do I exude a natural sexiness that is apparent to everyone except myself? Possibly. I was intrigued by the suggestion. So, that night, I made an attempt at writing some erotic fiction. I will not share that attempt here. What I will share, however, is a fun writing challenge I gave myself the next day, which was to pick the most non-sexy objects I could think of and write about them in a erotic way.

First I looked at the painting of a giraffe on the wall and wrote: the giraffe had a strong, sloping neck and a long, agile tongue that curled out towards the quivering leaf. Ew. Kind of gross, like animal porn. Next I tried the couch. Couches are not usually thought of as sexy unless they’re made of black leather, but here’s what I wrote: I sank into the soft but firm cushion, thinking about how his ass had been here before, imprinting the place where I now sat.

And so on. I amused myself for the morning in this way. But I knew I could never really write erotica. What would my grandma think?

Here’s a picture of me eating a chocolate-covered banana. Sexy, huh?

Years and years ago I won a writing contest and received a free pass to the James River Writers Conference in Richmond, Virginia. I was twenty-four, and I was insanely jealous of a twenty-two year old at the conference named Nick McDonell who had published his first book at seventeen and his second only a few years later. His first novel, Twelve, was about rich high school kids in Manhattan partying and doing drugs. I had the feeling it was largely based on his own personal experience.

I went to talk to him after his panel concluded. He was alarmingly attractive in a thick- eyebrowed and strong-jawed type of way.
I asked him about his first novel. Was he worried about what his family would think of it? “Were you afraid they would think it was autobiographical?” I asked.

“Well, my family members are in the writing business,” he said in his deep and annoyingly confident voice. As if he needed to remind me. His father used to be managing editor of Rolling Stone. “So they understand that it was a work of fiction.” He gave me a pitying smile.

“Yeah,” I said. “But still, there was some pretty scandalous stuff going on. What about your grandma? Weren’t you worried about what your grandma would think?”

“Not really.” He shrugged. “If you want to be a writer, you just can’t worry about stuff like that. You can’t make everyone happy.”

And I suppose he was right. I can’t sensor myself because I’m afraid of offending or worrying people. I also probably can’t write stuff just because I think it’s what other people want to read.

I guess my problem has always been that I care way too much about what people think of me. I’m such a people-pleaser, and that goes for my writing, too. I want to write things that everyone likes, but you can’t please everyone all the time. I know it sounds trite, but the most important person to please is myself. I’m the one who has to sit with my writing day in and day out. So what do I want to write about?

Hmm. Good question.

Day 38: Entertain Yourself, or, Lazing the Day Away

Day 38:  Entertain Yourself, or, Lazing the Day Away

TODAY’S STATS

# of pages written: 3 (of a story, not a novel. Let’s not talk about novels right now.)

# of days left to write 1st draft: 125

Yesterday I asked one of my tutoring students if he was excited to go back to school.

“No,” he said.

“I used to get so bored in the summer,” I told him, “that I couldn’t wait to go back to school.”

He looked at me like I was insane.

When I got home, Nikki and I had a conversation about how over-scheduled kids are these days.  “Kids need to get bored – that’s when they get creative,” I said.

“Exactly.” Nikki nodded, scooping nut butter out of a jar with her finger. “Just look at us.”

Recently, Nikki and I read parts of my high school diary, including the following excerpt from a summer day when we were fifteen, (please excuse the un-PC way in which I used to use the word retarded):

“Nikki and I lazed the day away being retarded and laughing a lot and being retarded and drooling and being bored. We went to Towers for four hours to visit Degra at Harris Teeter and get groceries.”

“Four hours?” I exclaimed when Nikki and I finished reading this. “We hung out at the grocery store for four hours? What were we doing?”

“I don’t know,” Nikki said, laughing. “It’s so crazy. We would literally do nothing.”

 

My friends and I were not the over-scheduled type of kids. For the most part, our parents let us fend for ourselves. When I used to complain to my mom that I was bored, she would say, “that’s not my problem. Entertain yourself.” And that’s just what my friends and I did. We would get so bored, we’d finally figure out some method of entertainment.  Granted, sometimes this was playing on the roof or setting things on fire, but often we were quite creative. From the ages of eleven through sixteen, here are some of the creative things my friends and I did to entertain ourselves:

-created an international cooking club

-tried to make a quilt (we never did finish)

-held a photoshoot and made a calendar with the results (this was before digital photos, so you should be impressed)

-threw theme parties with homemade invitations

-wrote poems and guessed who wrote which poem

-created our own scavenger hunts

-made up songs and choreographed dances then performed these for the bums in the park

-made up baggies of trail mix to distribute to the bums, with mixed results

-cut Degra’s hair and used some of it for an art project

-and probably more things I’m forgetting

Nikki and I were reminiscing about all of this, and I told her about a game I used to play with a friend in middle school. “We would decide whether we were going to be a murderer, victim, or innocent,” I said, “and we’d come up with our character’s name and profession. Then we’d just act out different scenes. I mean, it was basically make-believe.  We were telling stories.”

“Yeah,” Nikki said. “Degra and I were so obsessed with Lord of the Rings, we would act out different scenes from the movie.”

“How old were you when you did that?”

“Oh, we were like nineteen.” Nikki licked nut butter from her finger and shrugged.

I never knew that Nikki was obsessed with the Lord of the Rings, but she brought it up again today as I was crying (yes, literally crying) about not getting any writing accomplished and feeling like a failure. “You’re on this epic journey right now, Eva,” she told me. “Like in Lord of the Rings.”

“Yeah,” I said, sniffing into a tissue, “but in an epic journey you at least walk a little ways and make a little progress. I don’t even know which direction to walk in. I don’t even know where the path is. I don’t even know where I’m trying to go or what I’m trying to do.”

Nikki grinned. “I think that’s the best place for you to be. You haven’t started down a path – that’s great. It means you could go down any path. You’re so open right now to the possibilities. It’s awesome.”

“I guess,” I said. “But I still feel like I did absolutely nothing today, and that’s not a good feeling.”

In fact, it feels an awful lot like how I used to feel in the summertime as a kid. Those long, endless days of nothingness used to make me so antsy. But sometimes, out of boredom comes creativity. Maybe I just haven’t gotten bored enough. And when I do, I’ll entertain myself by telling a story.  After all, the summer’s almost over, and a journey has to start somewhere.

Nickerson State Park – one of the many ponds along the bike path. Hey, at least that’s one path I’ve made some progress on.

Day 37: My Most Personal Post Yet

Day 37:  My Most Personal Post Yet

TODAY’S STATS

# of pages written: 3

# of days left to write 1st draft: 126

After tutoring this evening, I took a walk on Nauset Beach. The sun was going down behind the dunes, casting a gentle glow on the flat, blue water. The moon was a thin, white wafer in the sky, and every so often a string of puffy clouds would appear and move swiftly out to sea.

I walked in the sand, still cool and damp from this morning’s rain, as little sea birds waddled in front of me, leaving triangle tracks from their webbed, orange feet. Two dark seals glided through the waves, and I stopped to watch them. One of seals bobbed his head out of the water, and a silver fish tail flashed at his mouth then disappeared. Below me, an older coupled walked hand-in-hand along the surf. They looked up at me. “Did you see him eating?” the man asked, making a hand-to-mouth gesture.

“Yeah!” I nodded and laughed.

I continued on down the beach, passing a large, extended family of parents and children. The adults stretched out in low canvas chairs, drinking beers and watching as their bathing-suited children ran in the sand, throwing a Nerf football and shrieking with delight. I looked at the woman closest to me. Her hair was pulled back in a sun-bleached, stubby ponytail, and she smiled at the man next to her with this happy-tired-wonderful smile that just about broke my heart.

I kept on walking, my feet sinking into the wet sand. I tried to enjoy the paper-thin moon and the glassy-blue water and the cool breeze coming off the water. I tried to feel excited about going home and writing about this beautiful moment. But I felt somber. Maybe because it was the end of the day. Or the end of the summer. But mostly, I think, it was because I was alone.

Of course I want to write a good novel, and of course I’d like to get it published. And sure it’d be nice to go on book tours or get a job as a creative writing professor at a college. But sometimes writing can get very lonely, and it’s ironic, because I write as a way to share myself with others.

What I really want more than anything else – more than a novel or a book deal or a Pulitzer prize – is to be out on the beach on an evening like this one, sitting in a low canvas chair next to a man I love, drinking beer and watching our children play in the sand. I don’t want to always be thinking about getting home and writing about my experiences so I can share them with others. I want someone to be at my side, experiencing things with me, in the very moment that they happen.

Nauset Beach. This photo was taken today with my cell phone.

Day 36: Brick-a-brack and a Staff of One

Day 36:  Brick-a-brack and a Staff of One

 

TODAY’S STATS

# of pages written: 3, so far

# of days left to write 1st draft: 127 

Today I went thrift store shopping, thanks to my friend Layla’s suggestion. There are a plethora of small, church-run thrift stores on the Cape, most of them chock full of treasures such as Garfield coffee mugs, ceramic snow men, painted seashells, cassette tapes of Christmas music, and jigsaw puzzles. Because most of the people who live on the Cape are old, most of the thrift stores are filled with old people clothes. Had I been in the market for an extra-large denim jumper (and sometimes I am), or a pair of plaid, high-waisted capri pants, then I would have been in luck. But alas, I was looking for a dress to wear to an outdoor wedding I’m going to next week, not an outfit for a Bingo date at the church social hall.

I did have some success at the consignment shop in Orleans, however. I immediately spied at green sundress and a pair of jeans that appeared to be my size. I tried them both on in the dressing room. The dress was a little too big, but it still looked cute, and the jeans were a little too tight, but I thought they might be the kind that stretch after a day’s wear. I stood in the dressing room debating with myself for quite some time:

Well, the dress is cute – I could always alter it.

But I don’t really know how to sew.

I could take it to a tailor.

I don’t like to spend money on that kind of thing.

It’s not that expensive.

But I’m currently living off my savings.

What about the jeans – you need jeans.

But I never wear jeans.

That’s because you don’t have a good pair.

What I really wished was that I had a girlfriend there. Or two. Girlfriends would either tell me Oh my gosh, you look cute in that – get it!” or “You already have two green sundresses. Maybe you don’t need another one.”

Not that I’d automatically agree with them. I might say, yeah, I know I already have two green sundresses, but they’re both old and stained, and this one is nice. And then, in arguing my point, I’d realize that I do feel strongly about the green sundress after all. And then I would be able to make the decision confidently. Sometimes I need other people’s input in order to figure out my own opinion.

The other day, my grandpa emailed me and mentioned his days working on the writing staff at a magazine. For the kickoff of each edition, he said, they’d have a big meeting and everyone would toss out ideas for consideration. Some ideas sounded really perfect at first but ended up being no good, while the kookie ones sometimes worked. Your problem, he said, is that you’re a staff of one. You might not recognize a good idea when you have one.

I’ve thought about this recently as I attempt to write. I’m always getting these ideas and starting them, and then thinking, no – this is no good. It’s like I’m standing in the dressing room, debating with myself. Second-guessing myself. I wonder if I should talk to people about my novel ideas, even though that terrifies me. I wonder if I would be better suited to writing in a group – like a magazine, or writing for television.

When I’m debating about whether or not to buy something, my natural inclination is not to buy it. And when I’m debating about whether or not to continue with an iffy idea, my natural inclination is not to write it.

Of course, there is an in-between option. Today I brought the dress and jeans up to the counter. “What’s your return policy?” I asked the clerk as I pulled out my wallet.

So now I have a few days to decide.

I’m a staff of one, and I have to remember that sometimes a kookie, ill-fitting idea might work out in the end. Best to go ahead and buy into it. I can decide later whether or not to take it back.   

Day 35: The Cone of Uncertainty is in Mary’s Hands

Day 35:  The Cone of Uncertainty is in Mary’s Hands

TODAY’S STATS

# of pages written: not really anything good

# of days left to write 1st draft: 128 – blah

I did not have a very good day today for a variety of reasons. I don’t really want to write about it. I’ve tried to think of other things to write about instead. Topics I’ve considered are:

-Hurricane Isaac and “the cone of uncertainty.” (I could probably figure out a metaphor somehow.)

-How a friend asked me if I was still “living the dream.” (I could tie that in with a weird dream I had the other night.)

-The physical body and how this notion that you are more than your body keeps cropping up in every conversation that I’ve had lately.

-How fit the old people are at my gym. (Could possibly be tied in with the topic above.)

-How I read The Bell Jar today and that could be contributing to my mood.

 

But I can’t seem to get very far on any of those topics. So all I will say is this:

Today I knocked over the Virgin Mary statue that Nikki’s grandmother gave her. When I did, Mary’s two white hands broke off. I put them in a small, green dish because I was afraid of losing them, and they looked so strange in there. Two disembodies hands. And there was Mary, holding out her arms, with stumps where the hands should be. She seemed mournful and confused.

Later, I super-glued the hands back on, and the statue looked completely back to normal. Nikki came home, and I told her what had happened. “Oh wow, I never would have noticed,” she said.

I knew she wouldn’t notice. The glue had set, and Mary was in fine shape once more. But I think people need to know when something has been broken so they’ll be more gentle with it. I have the feeling that if Mary were to fall again, her hands would be the first thing to go.

 

These are my teeth.

 

Day 34: There is Nothing to Fear but Ghosts (and Getting Stabbed)

Day 34:  There is Nothing to Fear but Ghosts (and Getting Stabbed)

TODAY’S STATS

# of pages written: 14 (yay!)

# of days left to write 1st draft: 129

 

The other day my friend, Stefan, and I were walking along the Wellfleet beach, talking about our greatest fears. He said his was getting shot or stabbed. (He’s a bouncer, so I suppose it’s a legitimate concern.) I said I’d always been wary of large bodies of water, like the ocean, and I don’t like swimming out very far in lakes or ponds, either. “So maybe one of my biggest fears is drowning,” I told him. Although, I’m not sure it’s the biggest. And, to be honest, it must not be that strong of a fear or else I wouldn’t have been on Nate’s boat a few weeks ago, not wearing a life jacket, while whales surfaced ten feet away.

I did not tell Stefan what I used to say when people ask about my greatest fear. For years I told people that I was most afraid of ghosts. In fact, in New Orleans, when I moved into an apartment by myself, the women at my work asked me wasn’t I afraid to live alone, and didn’t I worry about rapists and burglars. “Oh no,” I told them. “I’m much more afraid of ghosts.”

Here’s the thing. In the light of day, I’m not afraid of ghosts. I’ve never seen one. Most people have never seen one. Statistically speaking, the odds of me ever seeing one are low. And there’s  no legitimate scientific evidence that ghosts exist. Really, I don’t believe that they exist. So for years I’ve been afraid of something that I don’t actually believe exists.  How is that possible?

Here’s what happens. I go about my daily life, not being afraid of ghosts. But then, sometimes, in the dark, when I’ve just seen a scary movie, and I’m all alone, and there’s a weird noise…. I get really afraid of ghosts. That’s when all logic goes out the window, and I think, well, yeah, probably ghosts don’t exist. But we don’t know everything. Maybe they do after all, and now I’m afraid of seeing one.

The more I dissect this fear, however, the crazier it seems. Because what is it that I’m afraid of exactly? What do I think the ghost is going to do to me? Scare me? Yep, that’s pretty much it. I don’t think a ghost can actually hurt me, but I’m afraid of being scared by it.  So I’m afraid of being scared?  Isn’t that sort of like fearing fear itself?

Maybe I’m afraid because if I know if I saw a ghost, it would change everything I thought I knew about the world, and that would be terrifying.

There are other things I’m afraid of, too. I’ve voiced a lot of my fears about writing on this blog, but so many of them, when I really break them down, start to see irrational, too. OK, what if I don’t write a novel and people think I wasted a year of my life? That’s not the end of the world, is it? What am I really afraid of? Maybe I’m afraid of my decision to focus on writing because if it doesn’t work out, it will change what I thought I knew about myself, and that would be terrifying.

But, you know, I think I’m starting to come to terms with some of the fears I had about writing when I first got to Cape Cod. And, I think I’m finally getting over my fear of ghosts. Oh gosh, now I that I’m typing these words, I’m suddenly starting to get a little bit afraid – like maybe there’s one standing right over my shoulder, reading this blog entry and laughing about how he’s going to spook me later on tonight. Oh, the feeling just went away. OK. I’m fine now. Let me just go turn on another light…

Here is a very scary picture of me.