Permission


Have you ever heard sage warnings about how hard it is to make it in the arts, about how many dues you have to pay and how unlikely it is that you have the goods (read: talent) to pay them without let down, humiliation, and ultimate disillusionment? Sickeningly, this isn’t bad advice—it’s fairly realistic, and realism makes its own case. But wait: I want to offer you, blogger, poet, dancer, painter, actor, musician, cobbler, whatever it is you do to get your art on, the right to reject wisdom when it is offered as a thoughtful reproof of eagerness in relation to your work.

I just said you should reject wisdom, which probably sounds like I’m in a terrible, depressed place. Actually, I’ve had a good couple of weeks, despite a strange sounding rejection that involved some manner of personalized (nice) though glib (not so nice) regret (okay, but still…it’s a rejection, so not nice, ever). I found out another story was picked up for print, and that a journal in which I currently have a story just won a lovely, shiny award for the excellence of this edition. I’ve learned to cherish these successes and bits of good news because any time you take risks, it stands to reason there will be a trail of failures behind every forward motion. Thankfully, I can always count on the writers I know to put it all in perspective and offer support.

 

robynsusanandme

Find your creative family and love them back.

That’s not unusual, either. Writers—artists in general—can be competitive, cliquish, even snooty. But it’s also true that, on the whole, so far as I’ve seen it, there is room in writing and the creative community at large for happiness, warmth, and connection. I never expected a social dividend from a solitary pursuit, but this is one truth about the arts that no one really tells you—there is freedom in pursuing something you love, and freedom, as a wave of enthusiasm, as the momentum of engagement, as a conceptual permission slip, swamps failure. You can be a worried, insecure, neurotic writer, but you’ll never be the only worried, insecure, neurotic writer, and ultimately we tend to like each other. A lot. And we support the people we like, and their work, with incredible generosity of spirit.

Of course there will be puddles of bullshit on the way to feeling connected and productive. And here is where I begin to fill out your get-out-of-advice-free slip.

I have had, notable among other small clusters of such, two distinct, sharply unpleasant, and weirdly dystopian (personally and purposefully speaking) conversations with conscientious people-I-know trying their damnedest to convince me that writers should-not-must-not submit their writing for the scrutiny of others until some distant point at which said writer (but they always mean you, whoever they are talking to) achieves real writing, real, not false, not all upstarty and raw, not lame or unworthy, but real, in the same sense the velveteen rabbit woke up and realized he wasn’t stuffed anymore after little Timmy died of scarlet fever, or whatever happened in the version you self-edit so you can justify reading that awful story to your own children.

And recently, I’ve heard second hand about a few similar conversations, related with confessional angst by friends or acquaintances after well-meaning advice from people-they-know bloomed into emotional canker.

You may have heard this advice, too, often phrased as food for thought or provided as a quote of some critically lauded writer or artist who happens to hold dear the same concerns: “Are you sure you want to put yourself out there? What if an editor gets a fixed opinion of you before you’ve done all you can to develop your work? What if you are published and you regret what you’ve sent out to represent you? Are you really ready?”

So, though carefully worded and practically tinted, the questions under these questions are, Do you deserve to be a writer? Do you really think it’s prudent to do what you want to do? What if you stink? Wouldn’t that be humiliating for you? Isn’t that scary? Isn’t that silly? Isn’t that vain?

When someone tries to make me doubt the veracity of my own claim to exist and operate with autonomy, I always wonder from where they get their voice of trepidation, their upside down medicine bag of condescending truisms and rhetorical questions. I can only debunk this kind of sidling attack—because that’s what it is, it attacks you at the intersection between your public and private minds, a vulnerable spot because, as conduit, it is open on one end to the state of your ego and on the other to the state of your heart as you grapple at each depth with expression and desire—by asking a rhetorical question in return: Why can’t you sod off faster?

That sounds harsh? Yes, well, I’ve been there, loaded with doubt dropped on me by sage counsel. Here is what I have figured out in that laden state:  Camaraderie, not superiority, is the mark of an adult relationship. The need to parent or school or temper another’s desires or the actions someone takes from the temple of her or his desires is all about the ego of the one giving the advice.

You can grow old, drop dead, and rot with commendable amounts of caution buttoning your words—or whatever form your expression takes—respectfully inside your skin. But that’s a shabby legacy and no fun to live at all. While any work, even done in silence, unobserved, is worth your time by virtue of the benefit of process, if you stick it all under your bed, the effect of all that work is arrested. Art stops. Chilling.

I’m not suggesting you submit first drafts. No slippery slopes, please. You do what you need to do to get yourself and your art ready for daylight. I trust you. I trust myself, too, shockingly.

So there it was, and here it is, the bottom line: I trust you to do your work, to live in discernment of the merit of your work, to create from a place of ambition—not for recognition, but for doing good, solid, meaningful work. And if ambition for recognition happens to be your thing, then I trust you to wear your ardor for glory with style. You do not have to apologize for needing money, for wanting to make money with your writing or art or acting or directing. The only dues you need to pay is the work itself and—if you want to be really above and beyond about it all—the promise to listen to your fellows with empathy and support when it is their turn to talk about their work.

Someone who otherwise loves or likes or knows you but who continually cautions you to hold back, to hold off, may be offering you the best of their wisdom—or they may just be horrible at communicating—but you don’t have to assimilate cautionary tales (except for the one about not texting while driving—don’t do that). You just have to get on with it.

livy's drawing

My daughter, born to art, will be looking for the trail…I have to cut it wide and clear.

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Meto-News


Redivider 11.1Pick up a copy of the new Redivider, issue 11.1 in which you will find my Beacon Street Fiction Prize winning story, “House of Broken Dishes”. I was incredibly freaked out in all the right ways to get this award, only a day after graduation (but also on the same day I took a terrible flu, so there was an element of balance…) because the contest was judged by one of my favorite authors, Amy Hempel.

In this issue you will also find the Beacon Street Poetry Prize winner, “Ode to a Bat” by Kelly Michels, as chosen by the esteemed Heather McHugh.

Shelly and REED at AWPIn May, another of my short stories, “The Problems of Odessa”, will appear in REED Magazine’s issue 67, as the 2014 John Steinbeck Fiction Award winner. I’m planning to make the trip to San Jose to turn up at the Blackbird Inn for the REED 67 launch party, thanks to the generosity of friends who are aiding with travel plans and accommodations while I’m there. I’ve never been to California other than to change planes. I’m crazy excited.

It’s been a great year—graduation, the Beacon Street, Amy Hempel (holy wow), Redivider, The John Steinbeck Prize, REED, AWP, Seattle, Port Townsend, Portland, San Jose… and still four full months left in this first post-MFA year. Now, if I could only find a job…

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Confessional List of an AWP Virgin


1

Dear AWP,

You are a beautiful behemoth. I will ride dozens of your millions of corpuscles and arrive somewhere vital, fixated.

XO,
Overwhelmed Conference Virgin

AWP color ceiling

2

Notes Taken During a Panel

In a central circle, middle of the page: What is the purpose and effect of writing? Ego push vs. call to service

At the end of a branch to the left: What are the talismans of grief, of love, of trauma, of hope? Personal and universal—intimate and archetypal. Dogs/dead dogs/a dog.

In a box under this branch, arrowed further left: Isn’t archetype as personal as it gets? Isn’t the ego more isolating that deep levels of consciousness, interconnected? So…what are the implications for repetition of meaningful image in many works? Doesn’t symbol move across levels of meaning, or is a symbol most effective as it hops from one meaning to another, laterally, within a single, contained layer of consciousness? Onions vs. the knife, again. Yes, through layers. Contained consciousness? (underlined)

Floating in the left margin: Physical artifact calls consciousness—how can you determine what you are calling?

At the end of a branch above the central circle: Metaphor as conveyance—(e.g., cab) denotation to meaning.

In a box above this branch: Back to archetype vs. individual—if it’s truly mine, will it transport you?

On a slanted line branched out from the curve of the central circle on its right: I know this but it helps does it help you? (Yes! she has written.)

Under this, a remark, unattached: “Part of the writing of true experience, grief, love, loss, is tracing the path created to hide the truth from self and others.”

Below the central circle, another circle: Writers are wizards.

Under this: Can we

Upper right margin, in a semi-circle: Brain crush, in love.

On the next page: Why is stability such an issue? Like a credit report for buy-in.

On the page after that: Sex & Love everything is always really about time

3

My legs are sore.

I wish I lived in Seattle

I wish I lived in Seattle

4

Overheard

On the phone at the foot of the second floor escalator in the main hall: It wasn’t declined, it just stopped working. You can’t assume that. Call the bank. Don’t fuck with the website, just call them. I can’t, I have a panel.

At the food court in the Western New England Annex: One woman—Plastic, plastic! Another woman, reassuringly—I think it’s just the lettuce.

On the stairs of the sub-floors of the Western Annex: I was so surprised at how inarticulate he was in front of a crowd. I always thought people who were good at writing were naturally good at speaking.

Leaving Annie Proulx’s keynote: If she was a god, I’d so go to her church.

5

Consensus

“This is like Disneyland if Disneyland sold crack and had crack rides and crack was words.”

Then, from behind him, “That’s so offensive. There are people here who struggle with addiction.”

Low blood sugar view

Low blood sugar view

6

Schooled on the first day. On the second day, glad we had eaten breakfast. We were so glad we stopped to eat lunch. On the third day, nothing helped.

7

Surprise

I like to meet people who know me first by what I’ve written. I like being a story person first and a physical person second. It’s agreeable skin.

8

Dear AWP,

I want you every day. But I cannot leave here fast enough. My best friend and I are both leaving you now, before you’re finished with us, and then we are going to talk about you. It will not be all complimentary. We’ll probably cry. Or sing. Or get drunk, a good combination of potentialities.

Kissless at this point,
Done with your love but still in love

Skybridge full of books: fun!

Skybridge full of books: fun!

9

Upon Reflection: A Set of Proposed Regulations

Presenters might refrain from refuting the purpose of the panel with opening remarks.
Presenters might refrain from insulting other genres.
Presenters might want to use notes.
Presenters might choose to use a stopwatch or any watch, avoiding the need to ask what time it is every few minutes or seconds.

Audience members might refrain from attending a panel in a tightly packed room where close contact is inevitable if they are visibly, contagiously ill.
Tall audience members might remember that personal space is not an entitlement doled out according to gender or knee length. Sit on the aisle if you need extra space. I did. And then if someone comes in with a limp, a cast, a clear need, for goodness sake, get up and let them have your aisle seat without having to be asked in the middle of a presentation. I want to hear every word Kim Stafford says. Even the prepositions.
Audience members might refrain from whispering questions to the presenters that have to be repeated five or six times in an awkward, forward motion, room-sized game of telephone.
Audience members should not argue with presenters or angrily refute their suppositions after the fact. It’s just embarrassing for everybody.

Everyone needs to take turns and be nice. Everyone needs to use deodorant, just for three days. Everyone needs to enjoy everything, even the crappy stuff, because it’s more fun, more enlightening, more inspiring, and more joyful than our day jobs. It is. Come on. It is. It is.

10

AWP, 2015: How Cold is Minneapolis in February?

Snow likes writers

Snow likes writers

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Where O Where Has Metopen Been?


Well, who knew a blog could induce such a sense of obligation? I regret my absence of new posts for the last two weeks, but I was kind of busy.

For the last few weeks, my household has been on a medical goose chase that ended with teams of highly paid doctors shrugging profoundly. The medical perplexity factor is apparently another way of estimating your out of pocket expense.

At the start of this scan-happy conga line, my husband, who has cardiac issues, was concerned that he was having some manner of heart episode. We went to the emergency room, and after many hours and tests were told that he did not have a problem with his heart, but that they had discovered that he had liver cancer. Right away, it sounded wrong, but once that button is pushed, well, it jams just a little.

When tested, re-tested, and re-retested again, it turned out to be something that can’t be figured out but probably isn’t anything at all, but it will need to be watched, because…well…because definitive all-clears are a huge liability. But he’s fine.

In the meantime, our little girl contracted a terrible virus and ended up in and out of the emergency room over several days that were already doomed to be doctor-filled.

All of this stress has taken its toll in various ways, but, other than that first week when we thought my husband had heart-attack-cancer and our little girl had a virus that resulted in vomiting, fevers, hives, and that helpless feeling that drains the light from your very soul, I’ve tried to keep working, moving forward, at times at the end of a spear (jab, write a line, jab, write a line, jab…), but moving. For one thing, my grad school due dates were neither moveable nor optional and on the chance that we were all going to survive our little season of doom, I did not want to have inadvertently defaulted on my degree plan.

This was not the first time that my husband and I have been in a situation of high medical anxiety. In 1999, he called me from his classroom to say that he didn’t feel well. Several hours, phone calls, and ambulances later, I met him in the ICCU of a downtown hospital as a doctor I had never seen before was performing an echocardiogram and yelling, almost gleefully, “My god, man! Look at that, your heart is as big as a ladies handbag! Oh, surgery, surgery immediately!” The doctor looked up at me as I stood in the doorway, struck motionless, and he turned contrite, sheepish: “You must be the wife…well, ah, just having a bit of a chat with your fella.”

The chat led to an eleven hour open heart surgery to correct adult complications related to a congenital heart defect and the latent ill-effects of earlier attempts at surgical therapies. It was a long winter followed by a perfect spring.

We hadn’t really been married all that long, four years at that time. We’d had a bubbly, romantic beginning though somewhat bogged down in graduating college, finding jobs, getting started, and after four years we were just beginning to feel like we might be adults after all. But the stress of that surgery made our permanence as a family real to us. His recuperation was our second courtship.

Every afternoon, I would pick him up for his prescribed exercise after my workday was done to take him to a park down the street from our apartment. It was just a little sidewalky, koi pondy, feed the birdies kind of spot behind some office buildings. I’ve always loved koi, and circling that pond, probably a third of a mile around, was his way back to strength and my path back to a personal center.

The big fish would rise, turn languidly to see what of any color or interest the other side of their watery window could show them, then they would turn as though in a dreamy sleep and sink again into the mulm.

I started trying to paint them. I tried oil paint and copal resin, Liquin, artists’ varnish, acrylic paint, and ready-mixed glazing emulsion. Finally, I settled on acrylic paint and a glazing formula I worked through myself. I still love these paintings—for me, they hold the undulating feeling of the sleeper’s darkness, but folding and mottled with vivid moments of light and aliveness that was that whole healing experience both for my husband and for me.

Latching onto a symbol helps me. Finding a way to translate a rough energy into something visual or worded is the way I process and come through both the good and the not so good of life. Right now, my symbol for these last weeks is just a color. An ear to ear, eye to eye blue-green ocean color that rides in my mind just before sleep and just as I wake. I need to paint it out, or perhaps, to go find a beach where the water rolls that color toward me and my open eyes and there lie down in the sand for awhile. And then get up again and start painting.

_________________________________________________________

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Pirates are Good Teachers: A Critical Rhetorical Review of Donald Barthelme’s Forty Stories


“‘Art must claw at the neck of the bourgeois as the lion does at the horse,’ says the German artist Dieter Hacker, reprising an old, old tune. Absolutely. Absolutely absolutely absolutely.”

In 2009, Donald Barthelme was described as “[...] a dead, twisted branch on the evolutionary tree of American letters” (Lev Grossman for TIME, 2009).  That can’t be right. I will grant that his absurdism, his surreal and un-referenced realities can rewrite the level at which a reader is forced to connect to the word, but I almost always see that as a reader’s problem, rather than the writer’s. He wields an ability to poke fun at the weirdness of art while also skewering the blank minded system that supposes to educate students but which does not itself understand the purpose or content of art. In his world, everyday was a hilariously cruel April 1st. Though he found humor in the impossible burdens of artists and teachers, he never apologized for thinking about art, for teaching it, writing about it. He found art essential to a vital culture and believed that teaching students to think about art was the obligation of all teachers everywhere.

Himself a beloved and respected teacher as well as a prolific and celebrated author, Donald Barthelme, whose major works appeared between 1968 and 1990, has been credited with enlarging the contemporary conception of short fiction. Known for innovation in convention and cross-genre works, Barthelme draws disparate ideas together in mosaic to create dimensionally rich stories that comment on personal relationships, politics, economy, art, and existing and theoretical social and psychological constructs. Though Barthelme treats the complex and abstract as subject and form, the detailed imagery of his writing eases even the most complex arrangement of elements into a natural tone, a palpable realism.

In “Sinbad”, one of several stories in the Forty Stories collection that features a pirate motif, the reflections of a self-effacing teacher who is experiencing a professional assignment outside of his usual, comfortable schema are accompanied by the story of a great and grizzled pirate. While the pirate’s story is far-flung in terms of its immediate impact on plot, Sinbad is nonetheless rendered with solid physicality, as when he first appears, shipwrecked and washed ashore half-drowned: “His right hand, marvelous upon the pianoforte, opens and closes. His hide is roasted red, his beard white with crusted salt” (Barthelme 18). While Barthelme is not necessarily writing a story about a pirate—but rather using the pirate as a fulcrum around which the larger story is geared—Sinbad is not cheated of his reality; he is a bedraggled ruffian with an artist’s touch upon the piano, a man of more than fiction and some depth of history. The teacher, in turn sharing his observations concerning the various forces and façades of academic life, is voiced with the same level of descriptive roundness, as when he describes the feeling of addressing a particularly difficult student dynamic: “[…]they turned in their seats and began talking to each other, the air grew loud, it is rather like a cocktail party except that everybody was sitting down […] a waiter came in with drinks on a tray followed by another waiter with water chestnuts wrapped in bacon […]” (21). Though the business of the moment might be drolly ironic, the vividness of the imagery stages itself so that it wins a bit of literalness; such care goes into crafting the scene that it produces meaning that transcends both irony and absolute reality to deliver an emotional merger of the two principle characters experientially—based upon exacting proofs of their shared tenacity in the face of grittily unfavorable conditions, the teacher and the pirate voyage on.

            The narrator of “Bluebeard”, another story with a pirate motif, is related from the point of view of the old pirate’s seventh wife. Here, a series of surreal circumstances and details are related with the faithful fullness of a competent and observant narrator; the young wife depicts her piratical husband, his secretive demands, and her dalliances with equal exactitude—her meeting with Pancho Villa reads with the certainty of a deposition: “[…] Pancho Villa […] was indeed in Paris […] but I had little contact with him and certainly not yet his lover although he had pressed my breasts and tried to insinuate his hand underneath my skirt at the meeting of 23 July at my aunt Thérèse Perrault’s house in the Sixteenth […]” (85). Though the situation is incalculably strange, her recapitulation rings with rational detail and clear imagery, qualities accustomed to realistic portrayal and thus evocative of that familiar sense of the real. So specifically does Barthelme draw her that even in unlikely scenes in which she imagines driving over Bluebeard’s palace rose bushes in an early model Daimler in order to assuage her husband’s ego (83), the story projects her shrewdness and her husband’s myopic tyranny equally as soundly as the bizarre parade of its impossible hosts.

By the end of her story, the complexity of the wife’s efforts to avoid her husband’s wrath is a legible path through unusual terrain. Eventually, it is revealed that Bluebird’s most secret possessions  are seven decayed zebra carcasses dressed in designer evening gowns, hanging from meat hooks (87). The scene in which this image is revealed is steeply surreal, but the narrator’s anticipation and then her reaction seem perfectly emotionally sound: “My husband appeared at my side, ‘Jolly, don’t you think?’ he said, and I said, ‘Yes, jolly,’ fainting with rage and disappointment….” (87). Juggling a reasonable fear of his unpredictable wrath and the disappointment of discovering his ridiculous and idiotic perversion strikes her with a sense of futility that surmounts the oddity of the picture she has so clearly presented and makes her a woman, again of this world, who has lost her own interests in the shadow of circumstances.

Barthelme’s work is surreal, but his voice is comfortable, brimming with humor.  In the strangest turns and most outlandish environs, he is able to calmly look about and capture with precise pitch of these odd worlds as he unfolds them. This combination of the unreal and the exact, the fantastical and the precise works to create a transcendent sense in which Barthelme can play in relaxed fashion with almost any subject of any depth, and strangeness and normalcy alike are characterized in the company, shaped in the shadows, scrutinized in the details.

References

Barthelme, Donald.  Forty Stories. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, USA, 1987.

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Metonymical Pen: The Facebook Page


For those of you who also like Facebook, I have a Facebook page that I update every so often. If you are interested, you can find Metonymical Pen: Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MetonymicalPen.

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While I Write, My Dog Waits for Me


I had a lot of work to do this week. A deadline loomed beyond the sunny land of day like a wheel of sharks’ teeth waiting at the end of a seven day drift on a paper raft down a worried river of caffeine. I could heap even more metaphors on that bonfire of words and the structure of my stress would still hold its shape underneath.

I am working toward an MFA. Our work is fashioned into cyclical slams, program-wide due dates that, no matter how dedicated I am, just don’t agree with my nature. But, even when I’m not delighted with the task in front of me, fear appears to be a muscled motivator, because as this due-date-ending-week got closer to certain doom, questions of academic insecurity and intellectual puzzle shivered into something like clarity. Or, at least, I found a clear way to approximate the quality of work I expect myself to produce.

Through it all, my sweet, silly dog, whose heart is at any given moment on the verge of bursting for joy at the sight of me, watched me with a face full of faith and her favorite toy at the ready just in case I looked up from the keyboard with anything like an inviting expression.

Eight and a half years ago I was driving to the school where I worked, teaching for a living but living through it by thinking constantly about escape from the classroom just as often as I had as a school-trapped child. I turned off the busy, main road to ride the last mile through a residential labyrinth. That way was safer, slower, and I was able to talk myself down inside, talk myself into one more day of bells and administrators and paperwork.

Just turning a corner, coming into the slant of morning sun that a moment later would have whited-out my windshield, I spotted a little, animated dot on the sidewalk ahead of me, moving. It jotted into the street as I slowed. Cat? Puppy! And it bounded in a coal-black streak straight under the front wheels of my car as I braked into the floorboards.

I had slowed down as soon as I’d seen it. I wasn’t going fast. But it wouldn’t take so much as a nudge to crush a tiny little thing like that. I sat there behind the steering wheel, my heart riding the vomit-elevator, feet-to-throat-to-feet-to-throat. Slowly I swung my door open. I eased out of the car, let myself down onto knees that seemed too weak to hold do more than kneel. Just as I was about to bend down and take the necessary, dark look under my wheels, out from under the shadow of tired treads burst a waggling, slobbering, panting puppy. She was just a baby. Milkspine teeth gnawed on my fingers and wrists as I tried to get hold of her.

Fitting neatly in one palm, she weighed nothing. Her sides were rounded, bloated, not with food. She was filthy, wrinkly, and I was in love before I stood all the way up. Ill-fated, I thought, because we worked too much to have a dog, rented and couldn’t risk having a dog damage anything, didn’t have enough money to feed a dog.

No one claimed her in response to ads and calls and signs. I named her Frida. My husband bought her a collar with tiny little hula dancers on it.

A few weeks went by and, growing more and more worried about the consequences of having a dog when we clearly should not, we found someone to take her off our hands, but at the last minute she said, “And she’s so cute, if it doesn’t work out, I can just take her to the Humane Society and I’m sure she’d find a home.”

That night, Frida slept on our bed and I said, “My girl.”

Funny thing, after being assured that we were unable to have children, three months after settling down to spoil our mutt-mixed babydog, we discovered we were going to have a baby, a for real, of our own, baby-baby. I have always credited Frida with opening some door in the universe through which our child traveled to find us.

Now here she was, every day of this last week, waiting on the couch just behind my turned back—50 lbs. of Frida, perfectly aware that I was not in a good mood, that I had for days rejected her attempts to play, had taken meals at the computer, greeted the computer first every morning, and outlasted everyone else in the household in the evening, still at the computer.  Yet, she was ready to turn the corner with me, her elm-switch tail lashing the air, grinning, bouncing, kiss crazy, satisfied with the perfection of life beginning at the moment that the balance of my visage changed.

When I paint, I can plainly see if what I have done fails. I know when an image isn’t right, because it shows, and I know the line of my ability’s limit, because I’ve smacked into it with my brush. It hurts, but, thankfully, it can be pushed out a bit further and a bit further with patience and practice. With writing, there is often no knowing how much further I have to go to get the impression I so want. Or if I have it in me. Or if the idea I’m working so feverishly toward has any significance outside of itself.

Experienced writers claim to know. I’m not so sure that objectivity and words work together, ever—or, at least, not with certainty. I just finished a book by a respected literary voice, a known work, that whistled its way past the graveyard, into status, riding on its writer’s name. The book itself is so much chalk dust, clothed in accolades earned by previous work. What did this important writer imagine he’d written? Something perfect, perfectly told. Maybe his impression of it and its success are plenty, and I am splitting perfectionism down to the follicle.

I debate this while I write, trying to find the right way to make denim overalls read with texture and color and that little jingling sound of brass buttons, shoulder hooks. Frida yawns loudly behind me. She doesn’t hear anything but the monotony of clacking keys. I smile at her, she becomes instantly thrilled.

Ignoring her enthusiasm, I go back to splitting thoughts. I know I’m not perfect. I just don’t want to be perfectly off. I expect the words I put down to get up off the page and tell the stories, sensibly, vividly. Right now I am working on a story about my mother, Helen. After writing a bit about her for the blog, I have decided that, by popular insistence, she is a good subject for serious exploration.

This is a big job, since she was real and there are certain feelings that have to be presented in fullness, or glossed over in haste. I have to get her gruesome, psychotic, hilarious stories right, or they will be awful. Structure, timing, voice, content, level of appeal, narrator position, it all has to be perfect. It has to say the right things.

Frida has gone back to sleep. Her breathing tells me she’s chasing birds in a dream. The birds take a bad turn. She whimpers.

I get up from my writing, pet her carefully, trying to end the nightmare without waking her entirely. This is her creative state. I do not want to interrupt it.

I feel dreamy, sitting there beside her. Her alpha waves over-wash the anxious clock.

Writing, even without the deadline, is nervy work. There is an internal hue to the elements from which a story, a poem, a creative essay are all comprised that can delude the writer, creating mirages of wonder. A writer drinks the water they’ve written into the desert at her or his own peril. Every line is a potentially poisoned well of expressive imperfections. Or maybe you’ve written something that will save you, something that will comfort thirst in a land of dry air. Or maybe you’ve written a grocery list in the sand and called it water.

I stare at the computer from across the room; sitting by my dog, her head on my lap, six hours to go before the deadline I’d set for myself. 24 hours before the actual deadline. Time sails down a jittery river without me.

Frida cares not. She dozes on the couch and waits for the sun to come out, the deadline to pass, the story to end, well or poorly.

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