Friday, August 26, 2016

The path falls away behind you

This is the Gospel according to Popeye: an image I've been almost obsessed with lately. And it took some work to find it. It wasn't apparent which of the several hundred Popeye cartoons it was in, so I started googling things like "Popeye on rope bridge" and "Popeye on rope bridge falling down". 

So what is it about this teensy little cartoonlet that won't leave my head?

It always comes back to my work. I'm not saying my personal life is perfect. It never has been, and I am here to tell you, right here, right now, that my mental health hasn't always been great either. It has been variable. But that's not what gives me the existential blues over, and over, and over again.

For years I had this yearning - it was insanely intense, and it went on for years and years - to write and publish a novel. I kind of felt like that would solve everything that was wrong in my life.

I even remember sitting in a doctor's office while I was being treated for depression. I told her that if I ever published a novel, I knew would never be depressed again.

"What? . . . Why?"

"I'm depressed because I'm a loser, and if I publish a novel I won't be a loser any more."

Well, all that didn't work out so well! I DID finally get a novel in print, after one whole abortive attempt. I got better reviews for that one than I could have hoped for, and for the second one too. But I wasn't selling any copies. My sales records were worse than abysmal.

Convinced I could beat the odds, I flung myself at the barriers once again and wrote/sent out/published a third novel. Last year, I sold exactly three copies of my dream novel, The Glass Character. What is all this leading to?

I don't think I was cut out for success.

I was cut out for the work, I know it, or I wouldn't still be doing it. In fact, I still want my work out there so badly that I decided to dredge up a novel that REALLY never went anywhere, that stayed in a Word file for twelve years, and try to serialize it here, run it in chunks. 

I guess you'd have to be half out of your mind to keep going back to a poisoned well like this. But I have this novel, untouched. It's called Bus People, and it started off simply as a novel about people who ride the bus (which I took every day of my life) and evolved into a sort of fable of life on the notorious Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.  I wrote it in 2004, in a wild upgust of creativity that could have killed me. When I showed it to my then-agent and asked for her feedback, this was the sum total of it:

"I don't know if it's publishable or not." Full stop. 

I needed to get out of "the business" probably right after my first novel tanked, but I didn't. I remember the call from my first publisher after Better Than Life came out, which went something like this:

"Margaret! It's a miracle! We have never had reviews like this, not in the whole history of our press."

"Oh! That's great! I guess I - "

"Now the bad news. You had the worst sales of any author we've ever published."


Probably what bothers me more than anything is the fact that my outstanding reviews were seen as a "miracle", a supernatural act, not the result of an insane number of years of hard work and effort.

All this is a long explanation for the strange posts I'm going to be running for the next couple of weeks. Or at least, I hope only a couple of weeks. The posts will be chunks of Bus People in chronological order, so that, unless I get no readers and decide to can the whole thing, by the end of it the whole novel will be up here.

I know you're not supposed to do it this way, but since when did I know the "proper" way to do anything? If it's not going to succeed in worldly terms anyway, which with my track record I know it won't, I might as well go ahead and do it any way I want. Setting up something separate for it is like opening the trap door before I even start.

Which is why I'm making Popeye gifs tonight. They're all from the same cartoon, called Popeye the Sailor. It's a Betty Boop cartoon, actually, in which BB "introduces" Popeye. The cartoon then becomes incredibly violent. What I notice most especially is the continual bobbing up and down of the characters, as if things had to be in motion at all times.

And when you reflect on it, which is not always the best idea, the path DOES fall away behind you, because with each day you live, another day is crossed off the total days allotted to you, whatever that might be. 

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