Sunday, April 14, 2013

True confessions: is fiction really fiction?

So how much of "me" is in these stories? My three readers want to know (or not). Sometimes, *I* want to know, myself.

It's hard to unwind, unplait the strands of what actually happened (which is sometimes hard enough to decipher) and what was woven and knitted up to fill the gaps and holes. But it's never made up out of whole cloth. How can anyone write except through their own perceptions? These strenuous denials by authors who insist NONE of their real life ever spills over into their work are pure bullshit.

I think it's the rushing groundwater of emotion that always floods through, the rampaging cascades that dominate all our lives, whether we want to admit it or not. My work is emotionally driven, and sometimes I think the fiction I've presented here is nothing but "reaction", a character squirming and writhing and squirting squid ink in distress. (And that's another thing. What is a story? A story is something going wrong. If everything went right in a story it would be a crashing bore, and not even a story because nothing would happen. Is the same true in what we so chucklingly call "real life"?)

I've always had the impulse, even the need to "make story", but it's rare that I can keep my careening emotions and hairtrigger reactions out of it. The first novel I tried to write - it makes me wince now - I guess I thought it was publishable because I sent it to 65 publishers, and nobody would give me the time of day. Most didn't even read the manuscript but hated the outline so much that they immediately fired off a form rejection, with all the force of that cow being fired over the castle wall in Monty Python's Holy Grail. I finally understand why (I read about half a page of it recently and mentally barfed), but what scares me is that at the time I was SURE it was great and was going to get published and make me famous.

It was too much about me, probably, my wretched reactions, though the characters were either totally manufactured or heavily disguised. Each character narrated their part in first person, a technique which is as deadly as a ferret latching on to your jugular. So: failure, but other things came of it. A very wise writer once said to me, "When you're sending out your first novel, make sure you're writing your second one." This was advice that saved my life.

When I wrote Better than Life, I wasn't in it, not really, but so many of my ancestors were: they were given a twist of course, but the essence was there, all these half-cracked Irish people feuding and drinking and generally carrying on. And it worked. Took a while to sell it, but someone wanted it. What happened? Did it improve the novel's chances that I wasn't "in it"? 

I have had the experience of becoming so desperately in thrall to writing a novel that I felt like I was being dragged behind a wild horse. This was exhilarating and frightening, and though there were (I suppose) some good ideas in it, I reread it now and shudder a bit. What was happening to me then? I wasn't eating or sleeping much, and my thoughts sometimes became very peculiar. Strangely enough, I do not believe I am in that one at all, not even remotely. It's all about people living in the Downtown Eastside, and I've never been near those circumstances. Nor did I show up in the next one, The Glass Character, though I think I identify with the main character (who is not, after all, Harold Lloyd, but a woman named Muriel Ashford who is so obsessed with him that nowadays we might say she was stalking him). 

The emotions, the blissful agonies of obsession are things I know too, too well. I have lived over half my life in my imagination. I don't know why this is and it isn't enjoyable and it isn't even "creative", unless we're talking about Dylan Thomas' frightening view of creativity:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
drives my green age
That blasts the roots of trees
is my destroyer

Yes, and other things: reading about the wretched genius Oscar Levant (speaking of obsessions - we WERE speaking of obsessions, weren't we?), I came across a couple of quotes that I've filed away with the good ones: "What makes you, unmakes you," playwright George S. Kaufman stated, and Clifford Odets, victim of an Orson-Wellesian too-early success, added this thought: "Success is the jinni (genie) that kills."

Yes. Gives you three wishes, grants them, then utterly destroys you. Or is it this way? It's granting the wishes that kills you, like someone poor and illiterate winning 6-49. Or is it the wishing itself, the scrambling around for something "better" and never being satisfied with what you have? Is it the human agony of always wanting? Of consuming, of eating and buying and taking in and taking in, hungry, hungry, always hungry? Why can't we rest, why can't we just be? All this meditation crap is just playing at stillness. We'd have to stop breathing to really be still. 

So we are left with the maelstrom, the bucking and heaving, the scrambling and never having, as years pour through our hands and the ground dies under our feet.

Sacrificial lamb (short fiction)

May 24, 2013

This is The Day, but I don’t feel like celebrating it. I just feel like kicking my life into the gutter. There seems to be nothing to celebrate but rancor, unresolved issues and chronic pain.

I am completely fed up by the last “episode” which happened yesterday. I’ve been thinking of giving Carol a gag gift for her birthday (on Monday – we’re babysitting the grandkids then). I thought of designing and knitting a doll that looked like her, but had no luck and turned it into something else.

Then I thought: Desiree has been nagging and nagging her to get a dog (and she hates dogs), so what if I did her a little dog? I’ll tell you, it was one of the hardest and fiddliest things I ever tried. I went through 3 different patterns and once I settled on one, threw 2 nearly-finished ones out. Had to go to Michaels to find some wool I could use, even though I am drowning in wool and have bins and bins of it. It was all extremely expensive and not suitable.

Plus would an executive like her want a little knitted dog? She isn’t the type to put it on her desk. Hardly. And she doesn’t want to be reminded of her mother, does she, how she sits there and knits all day when she could have made something of herself?

Well, maybe Desiree would adopt it. She likes dogs. So finally yesterday I made something I thought was OK, but put it aside, thinking, I probably won’t give it to Carol. Then (typical of me, never giving up when I know I should), this morning I got up and thought, hmm, it’s really not so bad (a sane person would have thrown it out, probably) and began to personalize it, giving it features, perked ears and a long tail, collar and tag, etc. I truly believe that my persistence is the worst trait I have because it never leads to anything good.

When I was finished, or at least I thought it was finished, I told Roy I was going to give it to Carol as a gag birthday gift (I'd been talking about making her a dog for weeks) and asked him, “what do you think?” He looked at it for a while, then said, “It could be one of two things. A small bear or a lamb."

A lamb, a fucking lamb! With a collar and tag and a long black tail. I was just so bloody upset after all that hard work, told him I was going to throw it out, headed over to the garbage pail, grabbed the scissors to eviscerate it, then he started saying things like “You’re crazy!” 

I couldn’t believe Mr. Wonderful and Perfect would say such a thing. For me, it’s the worst there is. It’s like saying, “it doesn’t matter how much hard work and effort you’ve put in over years and years to try to get your life back on track after a horrendous mental breakdown that nearly destroyed you. YOU’RE CRAZY.” This is exactly what my sister (the most vindictive human being I have ever had the misfortune of encountering) used to say to me when she really wanted to twist the knife. My sister, the one who used to invite me to those drunken adult parties and could not understand why I wasn’t “grateful”.

No one, but no one can begin to fathom the loneliness of a mental breakdown, the long, long wilderness walk, so often stumbling and falling on my face, the utter disgrace of the hospital, the guilt and filth in my soul that can never be washed clean. As long as I “act normal” I am more or less OK, but routinely, at intervals, I must have “you’re crazy!” hurled at me by the person who loves me best in the whole wide world. To keep me in line, I suppose.

It almost works.

Even though he is basically an asshole, it always ends up with Roy acting like he is the Saint, the one who “puts up with” this banshee of a woman, this crazy woman who actually has EMOTIONS and doesn’t keep it all inside like she is supposed to, who sometimes just boils over, and “why would that be?” Then he comes out with “you ALWAYS say that,” “it doesn’t matter what I say, you always yell at me, I’m always wrong,” etc. He does not know how many times in the course of the day I bite my tongue just to keep the peace and to keep him from putting on his martyr routine. Honestly, I wonder if I walked out or just died, how long would it take before he even noticed? He would have to find some other instrument for feeling constantly wronged and hurt without any provocation whatsoever, so maybe he’d miss THAT. He’d miss being crowned the Saint every day.

These are the things that never get solved, and they come up again and again. No use “trying to explain it to him” as I’ve been told to do 100 times, how much it hurts me for him to say these things. He pulls them out and uses them again and again because he knows damn well it is the worst thing he can possibly say to me. I always felt if we went into marriage counselling we’d just walk away from each other, as too many things would be dragged up from his side, i. e. putting up with my “craziness” for 40 years. (I’d know enough to keep my mouth shut. Mental patients have no rights.) I try to get past it and finally have to let it go because there’s nothing I can do about it.

How is marriage supposed to be? Nobody tells you, any more than they tell you how to be a mother. You just flail around and hope for the best and try not to kill each other. I think people think: hey, he doesn’t drink or smoke or screw around, so why can’t you be happy? This is as good as you will ever do. What's the matter, aren't you grateful?

Now I really don’t know whether I should give my daughter what I made for her, that lamb or bear or whatever-the-fuck-it-is, knowing her propensity for zingers. I certainly don’t need any more of THOSE in my life. I just want to show her I care about her. We aren’t a very demonstrative family and the very rare time I hug Carol, she stiffens like a tree trunk.

A LAMB. Oh yes, I’d be giving her a baby lamb for her birthday, that makes a lot of sense! I might as well play the tape right now, of she and her husband denigrating it when they’re alone. Yet, strangely, after all that work and effort I don’t want to throw it away or give it to someone else. I know she believes that I have basically wasted my life and spend all my time knitting and making stuffed animals. It’s as if she sucked all the ambition and achievement out of me and used it for her own purposes.

Anyway, today at this moment I am reminded of Sylvia Fraser calling families “killing fields”. They are all I have and I feel so poorly equipped to handle any of it, so I just go along with everything and when I do explode, I am “crazy”. They should live inside my skin for ONE day and see how easy it is.

So today, we are 40 years old and I regret every goddamn minute of it. If I had a loaded gun, I wouldn’t trust myself in the same room with him. My life partner, the one who has endured me for all this time and put up with my incessant craziness and the fact I don’t contribute anything to the marriage at all.

Happy anniversary.