Old skool.

I’ve been buried in a creative writing program the last six months and had fun playing with a vignette where I tried out a male voice in the style of Nabakov. Ha! Thought I’d share:

            The summer I turned thirteen, I transitioned from boyhood during a car ride with my grandparents, my transport a dung brown ’77 Oldsmobile with stained seats and the inescapable scent of life gone stale. Papa pontificated from behind the wheel, musing on the mystical fate that led some people to fortune and others to struggle. Nana sat on the passenger side, gazing out the window, which she had cracked at the top to receive her exhalations of cigarette smoke.

            “Slow down, Rob,” she interjected, showing rare interest in her surroundings, or maybe she wanted a reprieve from her husband’s tyrannical introspection. “I want to see the yards.”

            The car itself reflected our social station. It was used, purchased from someone affluent we badly wished to emulate, someone from a posh neighborhood such as we were visiting that afternoon. An undiagnosed mechanical click announced our presence as we progressed, compelling a nervous cadence to Papa’s speech. “Goddamn engine,” he muttered. “Not like I need more problems.” He resumed his sermon on the valor of the oppressed poor over – and here he indicated the palaces around us – “those greedy bastards who take from the rest of us.”

            “Slower, Rob,” Nana insisted. “What do you think of that curved walkway?” Our pace became a crawl.

            My independent experiences convinced me I was better than all this. I was aware, for example, of the unquantifiable salience of the rock band, Rush; and had achieved mastery in “Asteroids” and “Pac-Man.” Why should I, with such worldliness, suffer the tired imprecations of those who were bitter and old? I turned away to consult my own reveries.

            I imagined living in the white Mediterranean on the corner. I would have my own room and plenty of quarters for the arcade. I would own a better bike and ditch my paper route. The curtains parted and Debbie Bristol from school stared at me from the other side.

            “Drive away,” I whispered desperately.

            “Stop the car,” Nana ordered, and our clicking was like a rainfall of anvils sent from above to crush me. Debbie raised her hand and mouthed, “Hi.” I wanted badly to disappear, to not be seen gawking from a poorly maintained vehicle in a neighborhood we clearly didn’t belong. I composed my face to reflect indifference, but Papa’s and Nana’s expressions revealed resentment, as well as naked, burning want.

            Thus I was caught, not for how I wished to appear, but as I actually was, my life in vivid dissection before a girl I liked.

             “Who is she?” Nana asked, her sharp stare reflected in the mirror on her visor.

            I half heard her, absorbed as I was in an epiphany regarding my identity, and who I might be ten or twenty years from now to a girl like Debbie. I was heartbroken over my insufficiencies, over the delta between my current state and the man I would have to become, but I waved back. “She’s just a girl from school,” I said.

Writers on Writing.

Okay, so I found this story while doing some research today for the novel I’m working on. It’s a bona fide fairy tale – read to the end for the credibility part…

There was a young man who was studying to be a writer. He wanted to become one by Easter, get married, and live by his writing. He knew it was just a question of hitting on something. But he couldn’t think of anything. He was born too late. Everything had been examined before he was born. Everything had been written about.

“Those lucky people who were born a thousand years ago!” he said. “They could become immortal! Even those born a hundred years ago were lucky. There was still something to write about then. Now there’s nothing in the world left to write about, so what can I write about?”

He mulled and stewed over it to the point that he became ill, the miserable fellow. No doctor could help him, but maybe the wise woman could. She lived in a little house by the gate that she opened up for those driving or riding on the road. But she was able to open much more than the gate. She was wiser than the doctor, who drove in his own coach and paid a tax because of his rank.

“I must go out and see her,” said the young man.

The house she lived in was small and neat, but drab to look at. There wasn’t a tree or flower. There was a beehive outside the door – very useful! There was a little potato patch – very useful! There was also a ditch with blackthorn bushes that had flowered and set berries – bitter berries that purse the lips if they’re tasted before the frost.

“It’s like an image of our prosaic times, I see here,” thought the young man, and that was a thought. A pearl he found by the wise woman’s door.

“Write it up!” she said. “Half a loaf is better than no bread. I know why you’re here. You can’t think of anything, but you want to be a writer by Easter.”

“Everything’s been written!” he said. “Our times aren’t like the old days.”

“No!” said the woman. “In the old days wise women were burned at the stake, and poets walked around with shrunken bellies and holes in their sleeves. Our times are good times – they’re the very best! But you aren’t looking at it the right way, nor have you sharpened your hearing. I’m sure you never say the Lord’s prayer in the evening, either. There are all sorts of things to write and tell about here for those who are able. You can take stories from the earth’s plants and crops, scoop them up from the running and standing water, but you have to understand, understand how to catch sunbeam! Now try on my glasses, put my hearing trumpet in your ear, pray to God, and stop thinking about yourself.”

The last part was very hard, and more than a wise woman could ask for.

He got the glasses and the ear trumpet and was positioned in the middle of the potato patch. She put a big potato in his hand. It was ringing. It rang out a song with the words – the potato’s history – interesting. An everyday story in ten parts. Ten lines would have been enough .

And what did the potato sing about?

It sang about itself and its family – the potato’s arrival in Europe, and the lack of appreciation they had experienced and suffered before they, like now, were recognized as a bigger blessing than a nugget of gold.

“We were distributed at the city hall in all cities by order of the King. Our great importance was proclaimed, but people didn’t believe it and didn’t even understand how to plant us. One man dug a hole and threw a whole half bushel of potatoes into it. Another stuck a potato into the ground here and there and waited for them to shoot up like a tree that he could shake potatoes from. And there was growth, flowers, and watery fruit, but everything withered away. No one thought that the blessing lay under the ground – the potatoes. Well, we have had our trials and sufferings, that is to say, our ancestors – they and us, it makes no difference. What stories!”

“Well, that’s enough,” said the woman. “Look at the blackthorn!”

“We also have close relatives in the potato’s homeland,” said the blackthorn bushes, “further north than they grew. Norwegians from Norway sailed west through fogs and storms to an unknown land where under the ice and snow, they found herbs and greenery and bushes with wine’s dark blue berries – sloeberries. They froze to ripe grapes, and so do we. And that country was called Vineland, Greenland, Sloethornland.”

“That’s a very romantic story,” said the young man.

“Come along,” said the wise woman and led him over to the beehive. He looked into it. What a hustle and bustle! There were bees in all the hallways beating their wings to bring a healthy breeze into the entire big factory. That was their job. From outside bees born with baskets on their legs came bringing flower pollen. It was shaken off, sorted, and made into honey and wax. They came and went. The Queen bee wanted to fly, too, but then they would all have to fly along, and it wasn’t time for that yet. But since she wanted to fly, they bit the wings from her majesty, and then she had to stay put.

“Climb up on the embankment,” said the wise woman. “Take a look at the road, and all the forks there!”

“What a swarming throng!” said the young man. “Story upon story! Humming and buzzing! It’s too much for me! I’m going back!”

“No, go straight ahead!” said the woman. “Go right into the teeming crowd. Have an eye for them, and an ear – and yes – a heart too. Then you’ll soon think of something. But before you go, I must have my glasses and ear trumpet back.” And she took both of them.

“Now I can’t see anything,” said the young man, “and I can’t hear any longer.”

“Well, then you can’t be a writer by Easter,” said the wise woman.

“But when then?” he asked.

“Neither by Easter nor Pentecost! You can’t learn imagination.”

“But what shall I do to make my living by writing?”

“Oh, you can manage that by Shrove Tuesday! Become a critic! Knock down the poets. Knock down their writings – that’s just like knocking them. Just don’t be over-awed. Hit at them without ceremony. You’ll get enough dough to support both yourself and a wife!”

“You’ve hit upon the very thing!” said the young man, and he knocked down all the poets because he couldn’t become one himself.

We heard this from the wise woman. She knows what people can think up.

(“What One Can Think Up,” written by Hans Christian Andersen in the mid 1800s!!!)

Encouragement from folks who know.

Success is the ability to move from one failure to the next with enthusiasm.
– Winston Churchhill

Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.
– Ross Perot

Every single peak performing human being, every single high achieving man or woman, has been a person who has thrown off the natural tendency to play it safe and stay within the comfort zone, and has continually tried to exceed their previous levels of accomplishment, has continually moved forward into the risk zone, to try something more and bigger and better and more important. Every single accomplishment in the history of man, has come from men and women who have had the courage to take the risks, to step out even though they had no guarantee or assurance of success…

In studying the lives and stories of the most outstanding men and women of all of history, we find that every single one of them has been a great failure. People do not understand the importance of failure in achievement. The fact is that it is impossible to succeed without failing, that failure is an indispensable prerequisite for success, and that all great success is proceeded by great failure. Every single person who has tried to accomplish something outside the ordinary has suffered setback and obstacle and defeat and adversity and disappointment and heartache over and over again as they have moved toward their goal. There is no record of anybody ever having achieved any kind of success without having failed over and over again. The only difference is that the winners continually pick themselves up and carry on knowing that ultimate success is inevitable as long as they keep on going on.
– Brian Tracy

Christmas Letters.

Okay, since I haven’t fed my blog in awhile and feel the need to – and have no other creative fodder to offer – I’m posting our Christmas letter. Lame, I know, but I do play with the vehicle some and hopefully make it a little fun. For all of you who do and don’t celebrate Christmas out there, I hope you’re having a lovely season! Here goes:

December 2012

So… Christmas letters can be tricky, I think, and I always hesitate to write one. This in spite of the fact that I enjoy getting news this way, especially from folks I don’t get to see much anymore, whom I love, nonetheless, and want to hear from. If you’re getting our card, this means you! It’s those few we get (from people not receiving this missive, lest I offend), ones that don’t really tell me anything, that, well, put me off of the whole idea… you know, the ones that feel like an application to the Bland & Personality-Free Society?

Well, none of that here! I’m being up front about my family’s blandness and aspirations to mediocrity, and, gosh darn it, I’m sending a Christmas letter that will make me feel like we’ve started a conversation, even if it is uninspiring! I acknowledge right now that I have nothing interesting to report, in case you want to set this letter aside; it might be wise. Too, you can take heart from the fact that this is the second Christmas letter I’ve ever sent out, and I make no promises about doing it ever again. So, quit complaining, already.

Things are pretty good. Mike is building his handyman services company, doing a rock star job as he’s keeping us stocked in groceries, our bills are paid, and he indulges me in all my non-revenue-producing pursuits, which are legion. Jack is heavy into what I call ‘child product development,’ which means 2-4 nights per week of some sporting activity, catechism on Wednesdays, and piano on Fridays. Plus homework. It’s exhausting, and I thank God each and every day that I only have one kid, because I flat out promise you I have all I can say grace over with just him.

My own professional focus, which began as a hobby-like pastime in 2009, has become a full-blown mental illness. Truly. Look for a new entry in the next edition of the DSM, titled, “Errin’s Quest for Publishing Disease,” a sub-category of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Functionally, it means I’ve spent thousands of hours querying agents (don’t even ask); and, unable to take the hint from the hundreds of rejections I’ve received, am writing a third novel, yea though there’ve been no takers for my first two. You have never, never in your life met anyone as serious about mermaid stories as I am, but I’m hell-bound to write them.

If you are dead bored someday and feel like reading random essays on writing and motherhood, you can check out my blog at errinstevens.com. Maybe start with “Only Crazy People Do This,” or “Little Jack.” Or, since it’s Christmas, take a peek at “Long Lost Love.” I’m sorry to talk about this so much, but I can’t help it. And, if you don’t like my writing, for God’s sake keep it to yourself.

More seriously, I wish we had spent more time with you this past year. Please know you are thought of often, and that, with this letter, my family sends you and yours our most sincere good wishes for health and prosperity in 2013. We hope you have a beautiful Christmas.

Alien possession.

So, I found a scriptwriter from my earlier post, “Coming Soon?,” and thanks to all who called to voice their enthusiasm for that project! I may even have roped in a producer…

Anyway, in chatting with John (yes, the Johnny Cal, and I absolutely feel like I’m talking to a Mario Puzo character when I’m with him) said he’s been thinking about my role in this production and how we should represent me when he’s talking with potential associates. I’ve had no ideas on this front – I’m just introducing him to folks I know and am gratified to see someone chasing such a cool dream. I’m not really doing much, but he assures me I’m needed and, consequently, has decided to call me his dramaturg. !!!

And here I thought Captain Kirk had killed all those off.  Apparently not.  I’d better go look up what that is.

Sapphire.

I haven’t posted anything from my first book, Blue, but I feel compelled to share what I coughed up yesterday in my second novel, Sapphire.  It’s how I had my romantic heroine, Sylvia, go out and catch her own personal mermaid.  Hope somebody (an agent, maybe?) out there likes it!

Sylvia was no longer calm after her walks on the beach, but stimulated, a little giddy even, and she arrived at work not relaxed, not centered, not insulated from the cacophony of the morning rush.  Whatever had happened the past five mornings – and she could in no way identify what that was – it left her agitated, and buzzing with nervous energy.  And whereas she used to attend her morning customers all composed and self-possessed, she was now anxious and quick to snap.  Once her sanctuary, SeaCakes became anything but; the sights and sounds battered against her senses, like a volley of too many ping-pong balls she had to return with her arms tied and no paddle.

She didn’t sleep well, either, and her appetite was just gone.  This morning, she’d hesitated before getting up, feeling empty and slightly nauseous, thinking perhaps she had the flu.  But the prospect of the beach and the pull to return to it compelled her to rise.  She was exhausted but she hurried anyway.  “I’m demented,” she muttered to herself.

The routine was familiar to her by now.  She walked with Soley toward Griffins Bay from the Blake house.  She sunk into a reverie she was eager to have but could not recall once she had it.  She always felt as though she’d had a conversation with someone important to her, like a dead relative come back to give her advice, except that she also had the vague feeling she’d been on a date, one where she wanted the guy to hold her hand and kiss her goodnight, although he never did.

She joked with Soley they were on their way to see her sea monster, and as she had the thought, the familiar lethargy settled over her, until she stopped at the place she knew she was supposed to and scanned the water expectantly.  She saw nothing at first, and she looked harder at the waves for some irregular movement, her breathing shallow now, her heart rate increased as she searched hungrily for… what?  Her awareness declined, but today she fought the stupor and strove for lucidity.

She just wanted to understand, to pinpoint why she was driven to return here each day, or, failing that, to recall something, anything, that would clue her in as to why she felt so nuts.  Whatever it was that drew her here, her morning meditation was now her morning thrill-cum-anxiety-attack because of it.

Twice earlier in the week, Sylvia was gifted during sleep with images that gave her some insight, a flash visual she would see like a picture viewed under a strobe light, never enough to fully recognize much less understand.  She saw the tail of a silvery green fish with a wide, graceful fluke, and had vicarious memories she could not attribute: a blast of cold on her skin, images of ice floes and sea lions, an endless desert of snow viewed from a barren shoreline.   She felt these images in a new dimension, where her senses became tangled or interchangeable.  She saw the cold, for instance, and smelled the night.  She flickered through sensations of salt and sunshine and other things, like anemones and sea shells, with an expanded capacity for experiencing them.

Sylvia.

The almost-image called to her, like a dream she couldn’t fully excavate from her subconscious.  She stopped and scanned the water again, seeing endless gray waves under a lighter, pre-dawn gray sky.  Her sea monster did not surface.

She waited.  Nothing took shape in the water, although her belief in her phantom experience did solidify, and it kept her rooted where she stood.

Whatever had occurred here – and it was something – its impact had shaken her world, and not just here on the beach.  In every part of her life, she felt like she’d been catapulted out of some foggy introspection she hadn’t known she was in, where nothing familiar to her was as it had been.  Her insistence on autonomy, in particular, took a beating, since she now felt driven to share her experiences, mundane and otherwise, with someone.  She wanted to think through her daily conundrums with another, rejoice in her accomplishments both petty and significant.

The result of her ruminating was a profound, uncomfortable expansion of how she saw herself, and the viewpoint ravaged her peace of mind.  Still, she could not stop.  On top of the physical discomfort she felt – the nausea, the sleeplessness – her self-critique left her feeling naked, and ashamed of her previous ignorance.  She longed for the relative comfort of her old, unenlightened outlook.

In the new hyperawareness that characterized her days, Sylvia looked at choices she’d once made without question, ones that had governed everything from friendships to romance to her professional life.  Primarily it was her refusal to accept help, or even much in the way of encouragement from others, that she now scrutinized.  It was not the show of strength she’d once believed, but more a way for her to feel superior, to hold herself apart.  In this context she looked back at on her relationships, and her attempts at intimacy seemed sad.  She saw how her stubborn self-reliance fed the loneliness she felt so acutely even as she strove to protect it.  Her habit of over-independence was tiresome, unattractive and, more importantly, it was making her miserable.

She gained a new appreciation for what it would mean to really share herself with someone, felt that, somehow during these morning walks she’d risked more than she ever had, and in return experienced true communion with another.  It left her wanting more.  When she envisioned a romantic partner for herself now, she dared to hope for one strong enough for her to lean on, not just someone she could prove her strength to.  She thought now that, maybe, there was someone out there who would hold her when she was unsure, and love her in spite of her deficiencies.

Yes.  She was the author of her own loneliness, and she had the power to end it.  For starters, she wanted to connect with the marine instigator of her changed way of thinking, to learn more, feel more, even if the experience hurt her.  This was the fear behind wanting to know what happened here each day, that she would find her companion was nonexistent and her new ideas would feel all the more isolating.  She did not want to find that she longed for something imaginary, or, perhaps worse, that her companion was real but did not care what happened to her, that he would leave her in this raw, exposed state.

Even considering the worst, though, she could not quash her hunger for the truth.  It was this ache that had her teetering between anticipation and dread each day, had robbed her of her appetite and prodded her even in her dreams.

She scrutinized a shadow close to shore, where a dark shape pulled at her attention.  A prickling awareness, like the brush of a light electric current, ran along her back and down her arms and legs.  She closed her eyes and breathed in, relieved.  He was coming.  Solely broke through her trance with his excited barking, which he abruptly stopped before running off.  Sylvia returned her attention to the movement in the shallows.

The shape twisted, and Sylvia again felt her perceptions narrow and her awareness recede.  Yes!  She almost remembered this.  She concentrated harder to try and force the recognition lurking within her.  She leaned toward the ocean, wanting to move into it.

Sylvia.  Wait.  I’ll come to you.

She made a sudden decision.  No.  She didn’t want to obey, didn’t want to almost know what was happening this time.  She took a deliberate step toward the tide, and then another.  The warning to remain on shore, in any case, felt hollow and false.

A silvery glint, a flash of iridescent scales.  No.  It’s a bad idea…

She disregarded his commands and entered the surf, everything in her focused on the hypnotic swirl that revealed fins and scales and… a human face.  When the water reached her knees, her yearning intensified.  By God she was going to figure out what was going on, she vowed.  When the creature next swirled below the surface, she charged it.