Camels, Kitchens, and Executions

In most of the pictures I’ve seen, the camels look like they’re smiling.
I found this image at Wikipedia, and its rights for use say: Approval for the use of this photo can be found at Dubai construction update Part 7 Page 12 at Post 223. Imre Solt’s exact statement is: “I, Imre Solt, put all my images found on the Dubai Construction Update sites on the GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License). I agree to the terms that my images may be freely redistributed and used, that they may be freely modified (and modified versions may also be freely redistributed and used), that any redistribution must include the full text of the GFDL itself, that the work (and modified versions of it) must be attributed to me (the creator), and that the images can be re-used for commercial purposes (as long as the use is under the terms of the GFDL and that the full text of the GDFL goes along with the work). I acknowledge that I cannot withdraw from this agreement.” He gave this statement on 17 August 2007.
There, I’ve fulfilled his wishes, I think.  Thanks, Imre Solt.

The novel I’m currently working on screams for more information on various subjects, and not just in the sense of underlying metaphors, mythologies, or fairy tale roots.  The following are just a few of the things my book and characters insist that I’m woefully naïve about, need to experience, or better inform myself of.

  1. Sometimes the fact that I seem to have a passion for characters that live through disturbing circumstances leads me to grisly places.  Lately it’s taken the form of reading books like Public Executions and watching videos on the holocaust and other atrocities.  I find this simultaneously depressing and inspiring.  I also think my capacity for the morbid might be going out of bounds.
  2. Some experiences can’t be gained by reading about them, especially if one is seeking a novel description or understanding.  How does a camel’s fur feel or smell?  Do they have slitted eyes and how do their pupils respond to the light?  What does their gait feel like?  Do they yawn or have any other movements or expressions I should know about?  I know I can’t afford to put off my book until I can arrange an expedition across the desert, but the most I can summon from my “knowledge” about camels seems to be that they have humps for water storage and that having one spit on me isn’t desirable.  Then there are all those questions about the desert itself.  I lived somewhere that was technically desert once, but that hardly included miles of rolling sand dunes and blistering heat, and my family stayed in one place and had the bonus of running water and electricity.  The best I’ve been able to do in terms of authenticity so far is give myself a case of mild heat stroke at work before going home and writing the account of my character’s experience with it.
  3. Safran’s father was a culinary expert/genius in his time, and he passed his love for the craft and some of his knowledge to her.  This might be the stumbling block that breaks me.  Sure, I can console myself with my first hand experience of the way kitchen crews gossip and play, and the basic principles of how cooking works, but today’s kitchens and food stuffs are a poor representative for what I’m trying to create.  Think for a moment about the differences in food availability, storage possibilities, and wood burning stoves (I’m guessing) of long ago vs. the flat tops, gas powered burners, ovens, and fryers of today.  Also, how does one scrub a pan if a soup or sauce burns or crusts?  Would the scrubber use a piece of hide, some sort of brush or sponge?  What would the dishes and pans look like and be made out of?
  4. “Feral” children.  See my blog post A Perspective on Feral Children for a rambling explanation on why this is so important to me.  In brief, when I pursue this topic I feel I not only have to be aware of things like critical periods of development, the different circumstances which create feral children, their role in previous media, and not only the length of time the child was deprived of normal society, but when in their lifetime the deprivation occurred.

My list isn’t comprehensive.  These little issues are only the beginning, and I can’t even begin to express how much admiration I have for authors who actually write historical novels, science fiction, or thrillers with legal and psychological ramifications.  My mind boggles at the idea of writing a textbook.  How do you do it, writers?  I must confess I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Long-Winded

I have a confession to make.  I’m long-winded, as in, verbose.

What?  You noticed that already?  I don’t know how…

It’s always been this way.  I don’t remember a single teacher in elementary through high school saying, “Now kids, make sure your story/essay is less than a page.”  Instead they always said, “Make sure it’s at least a page”, with the specification that the font, if typed, couldn’t be larger than 12 pt. and by the way, tab is definitely not a space key.  For other kids, writing was a chore; I woke up an extra hour before school and tossed off four pages of something that fit the requirements.

In fifth grade my teacher told us to write a fantasy story of at least five pages due in three weeks, and I started my first novel. Strangely, my teacher thought it was fine when I announced this plan, and as a result I handwrote my first 56 pages in approximately a week or less (although I never finished), and had about a hundred when I turned it in.  As a freshman, my teacher demanded that we rewrite the ending to Romeo and Juliet, in any style we held dear at a minimal 2 pages.  I handed in 20 pages of poetic verse and received no objections.  In all this time, it never occurred to me that being brief and concise might be something to strive for.

My college professors made it quite clear that there was a cap on space, because they had no desire to increase the hours spent grading, but alas, most of those requirements were for papers, not essays or fiction.  I wrote them, dutifully, and perhaps prior planning for paragraph layout and citations kept me in the proper page length naturally, but I still never learned to be brief, not when it came to anything “fiction”.

Many people blanch at novels; I shudder at the thought of even trying to write a short story.  It’s hard enough to keep that first novel between 80,000 and 120,000 words.  At last word count, I was at about 51,000 words, and from my outline estimate, I’m only a little over a third of the way through.

My comments are long, my blog posts are long, my stories, and usually my poems, are long.  Only a few days ago, after typing a comment and hitting the post button, I recoiled in horror at its length.  I know the people behind the blogs I follow, no matter how kind they’ve been about it, do not need to wake up to an essay in their comment section, just as I know that my followers have other blogs to read and posts of their own to write.

This is the point where public promises come in, because clearly my efforts to contain my wordiness privately aren’t working.  I’ve been trying for at least a year now, and I’d bet no one could tell that I was trying.

Disturbing fact of the week: it could have been far worse.

I hereby promise to write shorter blog posts, comprising no more than 600 words.  We’ll call those posts bite-sized.  I’ll get to tackling my comma obsession, other punctuation issues, and convoluted sentence structures sometime in the near future, I hope.

You’re welcome.

Choice

Ambivalence, that overworked device

Springs and cogs, stressed and wrought, imprecise

Mounting pressure as grit clogs the gears

Choices grind against the thrall of massing fears.

 

Armies marching toward the eve of dread war,

Clashing on bloody field reap injuries sore.

Still specters rise among the dead, seek hallowed light:

A haunted mind, besieged, knowing not rest or flight.

 

Perhaps if this barren land were just a dream

I could rip out the thread that binds the seam,

Separate the scraps and find peace in between

A haven where none would dare to intervene.

 

Treaty implausible, so it seems, for contending ideals,

Fractured dreams.  Yet if to one I grant the prize, the other appeals,

Oh, with fervent cries!  Can I suppress this other wish, stand steadfast;

Please, might I deny, forget…accept that now the die is cast?

Deadlocked

I’m standing on the other side of the door, trying to reason with my mind, which always seems to have at least half a dozen reasons why it won’t do what I want it to do.  I want my mind to grant me access (It’s my mind!  Come on, already!) so I spend considerable time arguing with it, constructing logical arguments, and building creative keys from scratch so that I can barge my way in.  Most keys only seem to work once; winning a debate usually results in ominous silence.

I imagine my mind’s part of the conversation is something along the lines of:

What’s that?  You want to actually write something?  Well, that’s too bad.  Haven’t you heard you’re closed for construction?  Why?  We had to replace the lock after the last time you broke in.  Oh, and did I mention that tomorrow I’m taking a mental health day?

Curse you, brain.  I’m not a victim of a writer’s block, not really.  The logical part of me knows that if I sit down and write something, even if it’s crap, eventually the crap will get better.  I’m a victim of myself and my perfectionism, complete with constant questioning and self-doubt.  Being a victim of myself seems silly, but there it is.  Why can’t I just kick myself in the pants?

I think about writing all the time, but lately I haven’t been doing any.  I could whinge on about being sick, or all the things I keep trying to do instead, because they are, after all, really important, doncha know?  My old self wouldn’t have bought it; heck, my old self wouldn’t even be in this mess.  Old me would have ignored the pile up of dishes and trash, if not the paying of bills.  She would have told Mr. Wonderful she needed half the evenings in the week just to write and that he’d have to find his own something to do, would have called off sick even though she wasn’t just to get a writing day, and would have a notepad or laptop with her anytime she could have been writing while doing something else—and then she would have forgotten what the other thing she was doing was.  Now I go outside for a cigarette and rehash the same plot points in my head, search hopelessly for a meaningful blog post.  I don’t write a word, and if I do manage to sit down and start something, I wind up scrapping it for one of the following reasons: incoherent, stupid, potentially offensive, boring, and where is this going anyway?

At some point, I confess, I became disgusted with old me.  It’s not that she was a bad person, but she was a little arrogant, at least when it came to writing.  Old me would never have plotted or outlined or researched something she wrote or even recognized that those things could have utility or apply to her.  When old me wrote, she would look back and be reasonably satisfied with what she wrote, maybe even elated.  A few days later old me would decide she could do better, oh yes, but she hadn’t found something loathsome in every word she wrote, sometimes even before it spilled on to the page.  Old me thought she could figure everything out on her own, and blast advice and planning.  She had a story to tell, and she was going to tell it.

I loved that story too much to continue destroying my storytelling through hubris, but I curtailed my pride so sharply that I let my perfectionism take control to the point of inaction.  I’m so afraid of failing my story and characters that I can’t even toss out a sentence, but if I don’t write, won’t I be failing them in the worst way of all?

At least this blog post is something…about not doing something.  Heh.

Shameless Free Advertising

An Edit:  When I wrote this post I was apparently reading too much into one of the contest runner’s comments.  The news is the contest doesn’t actually start until March 10th.  I apologize for any misinformation or confusion.  Now there’s more time to practice, right?

I thought I’d let my fellow writers in on an opportunity.  Tomorrow, probably sometime in the afternoon, NPR will be announcing its Three Minute Fiction Contest (3MF for short), Round 8 on All Things Considered.  You’ll probably have about a week, maybe two after the announcement of the contest to get your entries in.  There is a new challenge each time, and there are rules and guidelines, so pop over to the highlighted link above for details.  If, after reading through the information, you still have questions, pop over to the Facebook page, where your lovely fellow contestants and 3MF will do their best to answer any pressing queries you might have.

Dear readers, you may be wondering why you would bother doing such thing.  For one, the contest is a fun way to challenge oneself and stretch one’s writing muscles.   Writing a short story may take less time than a novel, but there’s the added issue of choosing the appropriate words, dialogue, and squeezing a meaningful message or image into a much smaller space.  In short, writing a short story can be an excellent exercise in pruning superfluous fluff or developing any writing skill one feels might be lacking.  Ah, intrinsic motivation!

Of course, if you’re a finalist, your story will be published on NPR’s website.  If you’re the winner, it will also be read on air, and (this is just a guess from previous rounds) you’ll probably get a copy of the judge’s book and an interview with him.  This time the final judge is purportedly Luis Alberto Urrea.  I know, I know: it’s not exactly cash is it?  When I entered the contest the last round, all I really wanted was to set a goal for myself to write a piece, to a set criteria, edit, hone, and submit it well before the deadline.  Winning wasn’t really a dream of mine; I just wanted to write a short story for once and limit my tendency to ramble on.  I should tell you, though, that despite what I believed initially, a follow up piece on previous winners of the contest revealed that they’d reaped unexpected rewards, including, in at least one case, a reputable agent.

I really do suggest, if you’re looking for a positive, helpful, and enjoyable writing community, that you stop by the Facebook page as well.  I’m very fond of that charming mixed batch of strangers (and no, they don’t mind newcomers or healthy competition), so make sure you’re nice!

Ahem.  I may have gotten a little excited.  I’ve been waiting for this a while, you see, but I do hope to see some of you there.  Hey, I think the contest is open internationally, to published and unpublished authors.  Did I mention that?  Or that I might not be around as much as usual for a week or two while I weep tears of frustration over my keyboard?

Okay.  Shameless free advertising accomplished.  Have a wonderful day, people!

Update: I appear to have been mildly misled or confused.  They do usually announce these things on the weekends, so I’m thinking they meant Saturday afternoon.  I suppose we’ll see, but it’s soon either way.

Everyone Else is Doing It…

Originally I had no intention of making a New Year’s Resolution.  Why wait for that one day a year to roll around only to inevitably fall behind for a day or two, beat myself up for it, and then glibly excuse myself entirely within a few days or weeks of making the resolution in the first place?  I can do that anytime!  I already have, in fact.  Whatever happened to three blog posts a week?

5 months ago, my laptop screen decided it had a pinched or breaking wire somewhere and refused to display unless it was held at an exacting inward angle, requiring this unfortunate writer to slouch, hunchback fashion.  Not being the sort of individual who enjoys having my nose brushing against my fingers as I type, I decided it was time for an upgrade.  Sure, I could have handed my laptop off to a tech-savvy family member for a week or two and gotten this little problem fixed free of charge.  But no.   No one takes my favorite writing tool away from me.  Ever.  I’m particular that way.  I once cried for two hours because I lost my favorite writing pencil.  I was fifteen.  To be fair, it wasn’t exactly a pencil I could replace.  Luckily for my suffering mother, who had to listen to my incessant whining all evening, I found it the next day and I still have it.

So, because I’m a bit quirky, and maybe a bit of an obsessive control freak, especially when it comes to my writing, off I went to peruse the internet for a financially sound, sane purchase that met my needs without being too glitzy.  My computer must meet one criterion: transportable word processor.  I don’t care about how quickly it can compile code, if the graphics are pretty, or what the video and audio card specs are so that I can play the latest PC game.  Although…RAM is nice.

30 minutes later, I was suffering from a massive case of buyer’s remorse.  I’m not exactly sure how I found myself in this state, but I know now how the advertising department at Apple earns their paychecks.  I never made it past that first internet page of glossy photos and alluring descriptions.  They’re good!  I’m normally fiscally prudent and violently resistant/skeptical when it comes to advertising, but this time, oh, this time I needed that computer.   My thoughts, roughly, at time of purchase:  “Oooo…shiny!

Now I had a ridiculously expensive computer, far beyond what I could actually want or truly need.  I did try, before Enheduanna (the laptop) shipped, to convince Mr. Wonderful that I should cancel the order.  “Oh, but you deserve it,” placated he who hasn’t been in charge of the checking account in years, even though I explained in deep, depressing detail the sort of financial trouble I might have just gotten us into.  I think he thought he’d get to play with my shiny new machine.  Hah!  I’ll share a great many things, but tools of a craft are personal.  Besides, he has his own computer.

Having obliterated my savings account, I naturally had to get my money’s worth out of Enheduanna to justify my ludicrous spending binge.  I explored every application.  My favorite, besides the word processor, turned out to be of the generic, life organizing program variety: iCal.  I have fond memories of sitting down on a daily basis with a sibling and scheduling every moment of my summer vacations to their utmost capacity (of course, we used scrap paper).  We accomplished an extraordinary amount that summer; we were happy.  I am always happiest, and at my most productive, when my life is rigidly scheduled.  Normally I am a messy house, scattered, chronically tardy, disorganized, completely ADD, “Mr. Wonderful, have you seen my glasses, keys, phone, etc.,” kind of person.  Schedules help me function like a typical human being, and the more exacting they are the better.  Oh, how I love iCal.  I have it set as a start up program, so it greets me the second I turn on my computer.  For the first few weeks I made fantastic progress on my goals, but then I stopped using it.  Every time my little life changing program pops up, I click the close button.  Of course iCal was the first thing I saw when I turned my computer on today, and suddenly I was reminded of what a big difference such a little thing has always made in my life.

My New Year’s Resolution is to stop clicking that close button.  I’ve found that scheduling encourages me to be cognizant of how much time I have and how realistic I’m being about my goals.  Even if I slip sometimes or go outside of the scheduled time frame, I’m still accomplishing more than I usually do.  I know when the last time I did x important thing was.  I know how much more time to allot for next time so I’m not disappointed that I didn’t get everything I thought I could accomplish done that day, and I waste a lot less time.  I get more housework, writing, and other hobbies done.  I am more organized, more punctual, and less dissatisfied, all because I took ten or fifteen minutes a day to plan out a framework for action.  This is a New Year’s Resolution I can actually keep, and even if I forget for a day or two, it’s easy to get back on track.  Besides, Enheduanna will remind me.

An Excerpt

The following is the first part of Chapter One of my untitled novel.  The story is raw and young yet, despite having danced through my head for the past fourteen years of my life.  I will not be posting the entirety of the work, unless, of course, having finished it, and gone through multiple rewrites and edits, it fails to find any favor with the publishing and editing “gods”.  Before anyone reads further, I owe those who stumble across the blog a DISCLAIMER: this is not a pretty novel.  It is a dark fantasy, and as the word dark suggests, its nature often tends towards the shadowy ends of life that some brighter spirits may find unpalatable, depressing, or even morbid.  There will, at times, be descriptions of a bloody or violent nature, or representations of psychological turmoil, and if things of this sort tend to upset you, please skip this post.  Those of you, however, who enjoy fantasy or fairy tales may also be aware that fairy tales were not originally meant for children as they so often are today, but were actually often gory, visceral, very adult affairs.  The fey themselves, originally, were far removed from the tiny, sweet, pixie-dust spraying creatures represented in popular children’s cartoons today.  My novel was not originally intended as a salute to these old tales; I had diagramed the plot and was several chapters into the effort when I finally realized that I was rewriting a classic plot.  I had created such convolutions that at first the pattern was unrecognizable even to myself.  I knew I had borrowed from mythology in the overarching theme that an attempt to thwart destiny very often creates the destiny that was so feared in the first place, but I was not aware that I was recreating one of the first fairy tales I ever read.  It’s ironic, perhaps, that my efforts to avoid blatantly stealing a plot led me to a more couched, hidden one, but there you have it.  I spent a tremendous amount of time second guessing myself but ultimately decided to run with this unforeseen development.  If I am going to exploit one fairy tale, I might as well pay homage to some others in the meantime.

Deep breath.

—1—

            There was a monster, her grandmother would begin, and that monster lived all alone, walled in by stone, circled by sand, and magic, deep magic, for only the very best and brightest of magicians could hold such a savage beast at bay, away from the fragile world, and if their magic ever failed, and that monster got out, why, that would be the death of them all.

The monster had skin like rotting onions, and its fangs and claws perpetually dripped with the blood of hundreds of maidens, for that was what a monster like that liked to eat best of all.  The monster did not just eat its victims, no, it tortured them, and when it had tortured them, it drew out their entrails while they, too exhausted, too badly used to scream, simply watched, and when it had done that, it drained their blood and slaked itself on it.  The floors of that place where it lived, cried her grandmother, the very courtyard, lay thick with the dried out husks of its victims, so that with every shift of the monster’s feet one could hear the crunch of brittle flesh and bone.

“It pains me to talk about it,” her grandmother would insist, but she would tell the tale to anyone who would listen, and she would tell it often, as often as she cried for more tea to sooth her listeners’ souls and warm their fragile hearts, and her granddaughter would bring it, and pour it into the little porcelain cups that her grandmother’s daughter, her mother, had given her when times had been better.

Today the granddaughter gently set her cakes, delicately iced and resplendent in roses and vines on the lace tablecloth, and let tea cascade, a steaming, fragrant waterfall, to a rippling pool in the company’s cup.

“I’m such a gentle person, you know,” murmured her grandmother apologetically, while lifting a stray handkerchief to blot elegantly at her eyes, “and this story does pain me so.  But you ought to know, dear, you really ought to know.  Having daughters of your own and all.  I’ve heard there’s a man who pays extravagant prices for young girls, pretending to offer them honest work, so that he can slake the monster’s bloodlust.  And you must know the truth, the whole truth, so that you and your daughters never fall prey to such a dreadful fate.”

“Why, how horrible!” gasped the guest.  “Can such a thing really exist?  And to think of…of, well…to think of someone actually feeding it.  People, I mean.  It’s so crude.”

“Oh, yes, my dear, I quite agree.  But apparently it’s the only way to appease the thing, to keep it from testing the limits of it’s cage.  And there are so many greedy low people willing to accept the money and look the other way, you know.  People not quite so refined as yourself.”

“Or yourself, of course, Ebba.”

Ebba, the grandmother, smiled and nodded sagely in acknowledgement.  “It’s very kind of you to say so.”

“And yet I still don’t understand.  If such a thing exists, why not simply kill it and save us all?”  The mother of young girls, aroused at this news of a new threat to her children, insisted, it seemed, on being skeptical in hope of defending her small progeny by the simple act of denial.

But her host had other ideas.  “Exists? I assure you, Charlotte, this creature is as real as you or I.  Nine years ago, in the most hostile and barren of the king’s land, he had a fortress built, so hastily and out of whatever stone he could find that it looks, from a distance, like a mottled vase botched at the pottery wheel.  He surrounded it with three walls, and covered the outer one, too, with so many spines and needles and blades that it bristles like a porcupine.  There are no doors, but I’m told instead that the laborers who built it were commanded to seal it while still working within, and when they brought the monster to it’s prison, the laborers were still there.  Well, you can guess what happened to them.  My son was…”  Ebba stared, mournfully, at a pink rosette that beckoned cheerfully from a confection on her plate, and Charlotte, struck momentarily speechless, waited helplessly for her to continue. “…But I’m sure you are wondering why anyone would do such a thing.  Some say that they were sealed in to distract the monster long enough to bind it still further with spells.   As to why they don’t kill the thing, well, it simply cannot be killed.”

Ebba’s granddaughter, returning, unnoticed in her absence, and disregarded at her reappearance, offered up a tray of miniscule cucumber sandwiches and fluffy pastries to Charlotte’s elbow.

“It cannot…” whispered the guest, oblivious to the child at her side, “…die?”

Ebba sniffed, fidgeted uncharacteristically with a silk napkin, elaborate with azure embroidery.  Finally she conceded, “Perhaps it can die.  But no one has ever been able to destroy it.”

They were all silent for a moment: Charlotte, suddenly seeing shadows at the base of her tea cup, and Ebba’s clouded eyes fixed intently on her guest’s face.  The child’s arm trembled, her fingers quivering with exhaustion, but her eyes saw only night growing in the cracks between the floorboards, sliding out from underneath the tablecloth, growing in the folds of her grandmother’s skirts.

Belatedly Charlotte recognized the dimness gathering in the hollows of her saucer and realized what it meant.  “Why, me!” her voice did not sound like her own, it was so forcedly gay, “But I’ve completely forgotten the time!  It’s quite late, and your tale so engrossing I didn’t notice the dark creeping up on us.”

“Oh, but you’ll stay for supper, I hope?  An old lady like me, by herself in this house, gets lonely with nothing but spiders for company.  I’d be delighted if you would stay, my dear.”  The tiny plates on the shaking tray rattled ominously, and Charlotte glanced over at last, surprised, to be transfixed by the oddity of a small shivering being entirely swaddled in cloth, and clinging desperately to it’s tray.  It bends it’s head, she thought, as if readying itself for the blow of the executioner’s axe.

“I…”  Charlotte appraised the mysterious creature again, forgetting for the moment the question at hand.  “Who, may I ask, is this, then?”  And hearing the distressing chatter of plate and glass, she swept the platter and its contents from it’s bearers grasp to a safe resting place on the table.

“A servant,” Ebba replied briskly, and did not mention blood, as she had so often that evening, or the way it drew, in this case, bonds between her and the child she spoke of, “who is now dismissed.  No doubt she has other duties that need looking after.”

Ebba watched her daughter’s child only long enough to insure that she turned around and headed for the door, but Charlotte saw the child peek over her shoulder as she passed the door jam, and guessed that the child could see less of her than she could see of it, despite the billowing linen, like a shroud, that held it together.

“Her face…”  gasped Charlotte, a few moments later, when she thought the apparition was out of earshot.

“Yes.  So unfortunate.  Deformed from birth, I’m afraid.  And clumsy with it.  She falls often.  She keeps hidden most of the time.  Out of shame.”  Ebba was empathy personified.  “You won’t gossip about her, will you?  It must be so hard, to have such a countenance.”

Charlotte nodded dutifully, disoriented by the horrors she had glimpsed that last hour.  “Of course.  I wouldn’t wish to hurt anyone.”

“Thank you, my dear.  But won’t you stay for dinner?  I don’t believe you’ve given me an answer.  You hold me in exquisite suspense.”

Ebba smiled, but the darkness caught in the folds of her chin and the cracks of her teeth so that to the eyes of her guest she frowned and grimaced at the same time. I’ve gone morbid, Charlotte guessed, from that sordid tale.  First the child and now this.  She found she was gripping the leg of the table in an effort to keep herself from bolting out the door.

“I…I appreciate your offer, but…my family is waiting for me.”

“A pity.”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps another time?”

“Of course.”  The reply, a moment too late for courtesy, and Ebba’s cloudy eyes became thunderheads.

“Allow me to show you out then,” coaxed the gracious host.

I’d like to blame…

myself.  Gluten-intolerance.  Random bouts of illness.  The restaurant industry.  The chaotic nature of fate.

Does it matter?

I haven’t been keeping up with this blog like I said I would.  I haven’t been doing much writing, either.

When I started my novel for what felt like at least the hundredth time, I wrote the first four chapters in a month, one a week, a page or four a day.  I wrote the next two chapters the month after that, and chapter 7 was finally finished sometime that August.  I think.  I started the current rewrite in December 2009.  I “finished” chapter 12 last week.  Less than thrilled by my lackluster progress, I’m now back to trying to buy a ticket to forward my novel along by plane.  This covered wagon nonsense is getting stale.  So are the hard-tack biscuits.

If I could eat biscuits.  Sigh.  Well, that’s one explanation for why everything in my life seems to be on standby.  After the first 15 years of non-stop headaches and stomachaches, my body realized I still hadn’t gotten the message and decided that, hey, maybe organ failure would be a more pertinent clue.  I remained oblivious, so my body escalated its tactics.  By the time I finally got the idea that, hey, something was seriously wrong, I was doing my utmost to simply remain upright at work without passing out and tumbling into a fryer or landing on a flat top.  Mr. Wonderful was carrying me to bed, propping me up while I took showers, and putting up with the fact that I was too exhausted to brush my teeth despite my “delightful” descent into cigarette and coffee addiction, because hey, funny thing, smoking helps mitigate some of the symptoms of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance (even if your body is still destroying itself from the inside out).  Smoking was the only thing holding my wildly swinging mood in any sort of check, and coffee was the only way I could function at work.  I frequently couldn’t walk without limping because my joints kept swelling up.  It was a daily struggle to remember where I was and what I was doing, never even mind why I was there.  I couldn’t play video games, or look at a television, or even read a book, because I couldn’t concentrate and it was too exhausting to hold a book open or push the buttons on the controller.  Besides, bright light was excruciating, and staring at a neon screen even more so.  Mr. Wonderful kept having to grab my hands to keep me from itching all of my skin off.  I spent all of my days off staring at walls for hours until I heard my husband’s key turning in the lock and started wondering where the time had gone.  I couldn’t sleep despite the exhaustion, and when I woke up I felt worse than when I had gone to bed.  Eating was almost impossible.  I ate once every seventy-two hours, watching my body distort into an emaciated wreck and hating it, but food tasted terrible, and swallowing and chewing were only achieved by conscious effort.  Besides, I had to plan for an extra half hour after every meal just for the after effects.  I’d look in the mirror and see a pregnant skeleton, protruding belly and ribs.  I wondered if I was anorexic and didn’t know it.  How could my stomach be so out of proportion with the rest of me, especially when I hadn’t eaten anything?  Surely I had to be seeing things, but I always felt even worse after I ate.

My doctors were as clueless as I was.  Worse, they thought I was a hypochondriac, because they’d ran me through every battery of tests they could think of, and I’d come back with praise worthy blood pressure and blood tests that looked like they were taken from a medical text book for the ideal numbers.  They recommended that I get some more exercise.  I began to believe it was all in my head, too, or that I was simply weak, and my job was too demanding.  “My job is killing me,” became my favorite joke, and then I started repeating other little phrases: “I think I can,” to myself, “I’m fine,” to inquiring friends, coworkers, and neighbors, or to my husband when he found me passed out on the floor a few too many times.  There was “You’re just lazy” and “Just get up and do it”.  Honestly, though, I wanted to know why I couldn’t find a single speck of joy in anything I used to love or care about, and that was probably the worst thing of all.

If you think this sounds like an excuse, it’s because it is.  I’ve been gluten-free for about eleven months now, and every day seems like a miracle.  I’ve done more in these past eleven months than I did in the five years of my life previous to that point.  Everything except writing.  If you look at the dates above, you’ll see I wrote over half of what I’ve written of my novel so far while I was still ingesting gluten.  Part of that was because trying to work was so painfully aggravating to the condition that I was reaching for even highly improbably chances of escape.  Ah, motivation.  The other part was that writing was the only thing I had ever cared about that still gave me any sort of satisfaction, and I needed that “fix”.  Oh, yes, I did.  The point remains that, despite the fact that writing was a struggle, I still did it anyway.

The past few weeks I’ve had a cold.  So what?

The restaurant is still a grueling, exhausting environment, getting more precariously stressful, it seems, with each passing day.  Every Tuesday, I’m honored with the dubious task of making pizzas and breathing in the swirling flour clouds.  Every workday, one of my employees will inevitably ask me to taste some sauce or some other something whatsit that has been thickened with roux.  If I’m lucky I can usually find a way to bow out, but usually, foolishly, I accede, only to reap the consequences later.  My job, and my own stupidity, are quite literally killing me.

I got roped into this job because I listened to a story character, who insisted that I needed to learn to cook and exist in an industrial kitchen environment if I was going to write my novel with any degree of authenticity.  I can’t quit, because I thought it was a great idea to go to college at one point, and now I have a great deal of crippling student loan debt that I can’t pay if I accept a lower paying job (which is all that’s available at the moment), even if it’s for my own health.  I went to college because gluten intolerance was wreaking psychological havoc, and after I learned quite a few things about dealing with that havoc, I decided that I wanted to share the relief with other people if they were willing.  Besides, knowing basic human psychology has got to be great for writing convincing story characters, right?

It’s days like these when the threads twisting throughout my life, interconnected and overlapping as they may be, feel like a noose closing in around my neck.  Writing gives me a sense of euphoria, accomplishment, change.  It doesn’t matter if I am ever published or if my novel ever nets me so much as a dollar (although both would be nice, no denying); I simply like the work and the way I feel afterwards.  Ah, there’s my ticket.  Best prepare to board the plane.

The Well

There is a glass

Towering above,

Perfectly centered in

The middle of the table—

An oasis—

Dwelling among desiccated

Mahogany;

Its depths make

Lustrous the hues of

Worn magnificence

Cracked seams

Creaking joints

Bowing under sleight weight.

Ripples trembling

Across the water’s surface,

Unceasing miniscule wave;

Despite breaths caught

Fluids quake:

Spillover imminent.

I am parched

But the vessel

Tastes of ocean,

Sea spray,

The collective flow of agony…

Personal anguish,

Well of tears.

Shall we drink

To brighter times

The illusion buried in

Salty deeps

Or dive in

Wallowing among

The slosh and slap

Sinking beneath

Undulating aqueous mass

Questing for meaning,

Grasping at the rim: that

Continuous circle,

Repetitious pain.

Poem, Untitled

Do you deny me even now

  my lips declare

    this hasty vow?

Be aware

  my supplication

     is curs-ed hope

Wrenched, thus broken.

Molten pyrope

  drip thee down

    in passion’s inferno

I must drown

  as sweet notturno

    beckons deep

Wax moon floating…

Time to sleep.

Mired betwixt

  rapture and pit,

    I slink amidst

False graven writ;

   must this be

     my epitaph,

All of this, lamentably?

Words suffering thine autograph

  ages passing raise the mask,

    shroud perjured lines:

Permit to bask

  in veiled crimes,

    flagitious past.

Empyreal pearl…

Play is cast.

Son of ignobility

  dashing he, his artifice swayed

    pensive geniality,

from daughter of none, unwitting cade;

  never perceiving all the while

    pyrite aglitter

In his smile.

Bound fast by sacred scripture,

  cord-looped wrists

    I bore the future,

Ignored his trysts

  denied the rumour

    followed his call

Crescent waning…

See them fall.

Then the wee ones

  lying down

    wary of the blade he hones

Quite oblivious to my frown

  beg, have mercy

    take these crowns

Ah, but he was much too thirsty!

All is lacking, all I gave

  fractured cries

    cannot save

Though I see ‘neath his guise

  Flee in vain

    I must comply

Sinking moon…

Tonight we die.