husband's favorite picture for reasons I can't understand
“He’s talking about marriage,” I said to L.
“Is he?” she said.
“He’ll snap out of it,” I said.
L. laughed. She was so pretty. Men looked at her everywhere we went. “Why do you say that?” she said.
“They always do,” I said because I wanted to be funny.
It is hard to believe nice things said about my work. Where does this doubt come from? The other day my five-year-old son said, “My art is stupid. Nobody likes my art.” How many words does it take to undo that thinking?
Where does your doubt about your work come from? If you don’t have any doubt, how did it miss you?
My boyfriend and I were often followed by dogs. In one Bulgarian village on The Black Sea, a scraggly dog followed us all day. It waited two hours outside a restaurant for us, and he sat on the sidewalk and watched our bus leave at the end of the night.
In Athens, we finally had to leave that big, gold dog, but on our way to dinner we picked up another. I suspect one reason I married that boyfriend was because of those dogs. He never waved them off or got annoyed.
I’ve read that you need to know your audience. When you start writing should you have this audience figured out or should you wait until you’ve got the story done? Shelly said that sometimes his audience is just himself. Now Shelly as your audience is a good thing, but I don’t know that I’m my own best audience. I scare myself too much.
Have you ever put your work out in the world and been surprised by who likes it?
(This is not to suggest anyone in my audience is a stray dog–though I quite like stray dogs.)
My mother wasn’t. At 45 she graduated from college with honors. She told me about a job interview she had at Time Magazine. With a real income she was going to get rid of the junky, rattling car and move out of the apartment complex where drug deals happened under her balcony. The boyfriend and the depression were gone. She was making her art. Then she died.
If I get into this MFA program, I will graduate at 45. Forty-five is the magic number–even if I’m not superstitious. That number brings me to my desk and keeps there while everyone else goes to sleep.
I walk like my mother and laugh like her. I get angry like her and argue like her. I’m turning into my mother every day and logic has little to do with it.
Last time I asked about your plans for the coming months. Well, what are your long term plans? I’m writing and making art for the next five years. What about you?
I thought we’d get married, but my mother broke up with his father and I never saw him again. You can’t control everything no matter how many plans you make.
But here is my plan today. I’ll make art for the art festival in April, and if you buy a picture cut from my novel, you’ll get the name of a website and a password. You go to that website, type in your password, and–ta-da!–you’ll get to read the chapter used in your art. That’s got to work, right?
What are your creative plans for the coming months?
He ran over to me, wrapped his arms around my waist, lifted me up, and spun me around. Because I was taller than most of the boys, this was a new experience. And it was fun.
It was our high school graduation, and he was just a friend–a guy I sat next to in a few classes. Other girls got spun in the air and carried over thresholds, but guys always let me keep my feet on the ground. I didn’t want to be one of those girls who got scooped like a toy or handled like a doll, but it had not escaped my attention that a girl’s ability to be carried off corresponded to her ability to get a date.
But sometimes such excitement travels through the air that guys and girls forget who is supposed to get carried away and who isn’t. Sometimes they feel so much joy in the spinning around that they don’t worry about what comes after. Sometimes you get a day like today and years later you’ll still remember the strength in his arms and the blue sky overhead.
Getting dizzy makes me silly.
So, putting fiction aside for a day, what is one perfect, brief memory for you?
“Are you all right?” he asked. We were on a blind date. “You’ll be perfect together,” me friend had said. “He’s tall.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m all right.”
“Are you cold?”
“Are you sure?”
“And you’re all right?”
“I’m fine. Really.”
“Do you need another blanket?”
“No. I don’t need another blanket. I’m fine. Really. Fine.”
“Because I’ll give you my blanket if you need it.”
“No. Keep your blanket.”
“I don’t mind.”
“You want my jacket?”
“She’s fine!” shouted everyone else on the hayride. “Leave the girl alone.” I heard curses muttered all around us.
But my date wasn’t fine. He was allergic to hay. And two weeks before our freezing hayride his fiance of 4 years had returned the ring. I felt mean-spirited refusing to go out with him again.
Just like I felt mean for the guy who brought me a rose. “Why won’t you go out with me again?” the rose guy, had asked. “That,” I’d said, and pointed to the rose in hand.
Many reasons for rejection are slight. (Though slight may be in the eye of the beholder.)
This one took me to a dance club and then refused to dance.
That one drove a mint-condition Mustang and stroked the dashboard one too many times.
The next one called my graduate school thesis ‘some paper thing’ and changed the subject.
And the other one had a dildo tangled up in the net of a basketball hoop in his living room.
You just never know what will make the girl leave, do you?
When you send your fiction out into the world, you never know what might make the reader leave you before you even get started. Or what it is that gets the reader to stay. Hey, some girls like Mustangs and basketball.
I read these book reviews that use words like precision, observant, and relevant. Or words like sharp, clear, and brilliant. Looking at my own novel, I think messy, lopsided, and random. Well, I started out that way, and there probably isn’t much chance that is going to change now.
How much do you think the way we were as children informs the way we write as adults?
The first step off the roof was terrifying. “Go on,” the soldier said. “Step off.” We were four floors up. My senses were not swayed by a helmet and safety ropes. The body knew the ground was too far away, but my ego didn’t want to look afraid.
After rappelling down the building, I couldn’t lift my arms for a week. It was worth the rush. Before the pain kicked in, I jumped around squealing. I could do anything!
Some creative days are like that. First the fear and then the rush. A shout. YES! And desire to grab someone by the shoulders. “Did you see? Did you see what did? It was amazing!”
Then the next morning the pain kicks in. And I’ll never have the energy to make anything ever again.
I saw the spider’s shadow first. I was sitting in my car at the bank and the shadow was on the passenger seat. I stopped filling out the deposit slip and looked at the windshield. The spider was on the outside.
I had to move forward. The movement of the car made the spider skitter to the roof, out of sight. My heartbeat quickened. What were the odds that the spider would be at my window when I opened it? I reminded myself to breath and that the odds were in my favor. The spider would have to come toward my window just as I opened it. Everything was going to be fine. I considered not depositing my check.
I am being silly. I rolled down my window, grabbed the tube, and rolled the window up again. I breathed again and checked the other windows. Where was that spider?
I finished most of the transaction and had to reach out the window one last time. The golfball-sized spider came in. I stabbed at the spider with my pen and it fell. On me. There was a great deal of screaming.
I pulled the car to the side (having the presence of mind to get out of the way of the car behind me, but not the presence of mind to stop screaming. I tumbled out the car and ran several feet, leaving the car door open. I hit my hair, my sides, my arms, screaming and jumping up and down.
A woman came running across the parking lot. “Are you okay?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”
I wiped away tears. “There was a spider…”
“Oh.” She looked around. “Okay.” A stiff smile on her face she backed away.
After considering calling my dad to come get me, I found the spider on the floor mat dead.
Why does putting our work out into the world cause so much panic? What is the reason for the sick twisting the stomach? Our lives will not stop because someone reads our work. They are just words on the page. Right?
Why do you think some of us are terrified to show our work? What could the most dreadful thing that could happen? What do we think will be revealed that will crash our universe? What is wrong with us?