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Day 152: The Recent Past, or, Feeling Tense

Day 152: The Recent Past, or, Feeling Tense

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 1

# of agents queried: 0

other: I found out that I am going to be published in Compose

 

Today I got an email back from an agent. She said she liked the concept of the novel.  She said, “the world you created is vivid and your characters are distinct, but I found some inconsistencies in the tense (sometimes the text is in past tense, then it switches to the present.)”

She says if I revise it, she’d be happy to review another sample.

I know this should be good news. She likes the concept and the characters. All I have to do is fix the tense. The problem is, I don’t see a problem with it.

The story is told in the past, but in a past that has just recently happened. Observe the difference:

The distant past: Once, when I was ten, I was sitting in the back seat of the car listening to my Amy Grant cassette tape on my Walkman and singing “Baby Baby” out loud at top volume. My mom made fun of me and said I should never sing in public. And for a long time I didn’t. I was embarrassed of my singing voice.

The recent past: On Wednesday night Paul and I went to H Street and met up with some friends at karaoke. I love karaoke and now have very little shame when it comes to singing. Luckily, Paul is pretty shameless, too. He sang Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” then joined me and my friend Layla on stage for a ridiculous rendition of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”

Notice how, in the recent past, there are past tense verbs like “went” mixed with present tense verbs like “is.” But it makes sense, right? Because some of the statements I made are still happening now. I wouldn’t say I “loved” karaoke because I still love it. I wouldn’t say Paul “was” shameless because that would imply that he is no longer shameless, or that I am no longer dating him, or that he is dead. And none of these things are true.

So this is the way my novel is written, and I think it makes sense.

I suppose though, it doesn’t matter whether or not it makes sense to me. If it doesn’t make sense to everyone else, I’m going to have to change it.

But the thought of looking at my novel makes me shudder. I’m afraid to revisit it . I’m afraid that I’ll realize it sucks and this will confirm my fears that focusing on writing was a terribly stupid thing for me to do. I want to start writing something new, but that, too, feels overwhelming.  I’m feeling stressed out.

Paul singing "Poker Face" at Kostume Karaoke.

Paul singing “Poker Face” at Kostume Karaoke.

This morning I went for another walk in the sketchy park near Paul’s house. Again, he begged me not to get raped, and again, I said I’d try not to, but this time I had very low expectations for my own enjoyment. I already knew from my walk the previous day that the park would be trash-strewn and full of weirdos doing drugs or waiting creepily for children at whom they could peep.

The walk started out as I expected: cold wind, heavy gray clouds, a stark, muddy landscape broken only by white Styrofoam cups and red fast food wrappers. The creek was brown and swollen from the recent rain, and scraps of trash clung to the branches hanging low over the churning water.

Two crows landed on the scabby wooden bridge that arced over the water. I took a cautious step forward, but they didn’t move. These were tough city crows. They weren’t afraid of me. I took another step. I was so close I could stare into their glossy black eyes. But they weren’t used to this much attention. They flapped their wings and took off.

I headed towards the playground where some teenage boys were smoking weed and halfheartedly tossing a football. They waved and hooted at me and then seemed surprised and giggly when I actually walked towards them. I had to – they were standing near the entrance to the duck pond.

Once I was close, I smiled and said hello.

“Oh, hey.” They nodded their heads politely, looking slightly embarrassed. “Good morning.”

I walked on the paved path around the pond, breathing deeply and trying not to feel overwhelmed. Everything is just so unsettled and uncertain. I’m going to stay at my mom’s house in Richmond for January, as a change of scenery, but then what? Will I go back to the Cape? Will I start looking for a real job? Will something actually happen with my novel?  What will happen with me and Paul?

This morning, Paul asked me if I ever get nervous about my biological clock and wanting to have kids.

“Of course it worries me!” I told him. “I’m a thirty-one-year-old woman! It’s something I want, and I’m not sure if I’ll get it or not. Of course I get nervous!”

It’s hard not knowing the future. It’s hard not totally understanding the past. It’s hard when the present seems to slip by so quickly, and I feel like I have so little to show for myself.

As my brain was crowding with these thoughts, I suddenly, I noticed something standing among the cattails by the edge of the water. It was a beautiful blue heron, with a long, sloping neck and thin, graceful legs.

I came to an abrupt halt – what was something so beautiful doing here in Hyattsville? I gasped in surprise. The loud intake of breath startled the heron, and he lifted off, tucking his long legs underneath his body and spreading his wings.

That’s when I noticed that there were seagulls circling overhead. And Canadian geese floating regally on the other side of the pond. The geese hadn’t been here the day before — I suppose they were having a rest before continuing on their journey south. Maybe the heron and the gulls were just having a snack before flying on towards the ocean. We were all a bunch of creatures who didn’t actually belong here at this sad little pond.  Or maybe we did belong here for the moment, no matter where our journey would take us next.

When I got back to Paul’s house, I chirped, “that was the best walk ever!”

“Are you just saying that?” he asked suspiciously. (He was a little annoyed the other day when I wrote about how horribly depressing his neighborhood is, but I would just like to publicly state right now that I like Paul a lot, and his depressing neighborhood in no way affects my feelings for him.)

“No, it really was a good walk,” I told him. “I saw crows and a heron and geese and teenagers smoking pot.”

Paul laughed. “All the wildlife you could ever hope for.”

I was glad that I had revisited the park and found some beauty in an unexpected place.

In the afternoon, I sat down in front of my computer and opened up the draft of my novel. Should I just make it all in the distant past tense? The present tense? Time is such a tricky thing to figure out.

But I think I an ready to revisit my novel after all. I know it’s far from perfect, and as I begin to reread it, it will probably depress me. But I bet sometimes it will surprise me with little bits of beauty. I bet, in the end, it will win me over. And hopefully, one day in the not-too-distant future, an agent will feel the same way.

 

Assignment:  

1.  Create a character and list his/her favorite karaoke songs.

2.  Write about something that happened in the recent past. The tense makes sense, doesn’t it??

 

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

One response »

  1. Kimberly Clouse

    I love your circuitous writing style. You start out going down one path, and then take an unexpected turn down another leading us through some beautiful adventure, only to lead us back in the end to where you started in the beginning. And viola! There is the epiphany.

    Reply

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