Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Strange Combination

Perfect Writer's Spouse
In many ways, the Butler is the perfect spouse for a writer.  Besides the fact that he does all the cooking, he’s also an incurable info junkie.

So imagine this.

You write realistically, value getting your facts straight.  Your next scene involves stalking someone through the streets of Paris (you live in North Yorkshire), then kidnapping and drugging the target, followed by psychologically informed torture interrogation.

Hours of research? 

Nope.  I go on writing, my needs submitted to the Butler.  Not only does he get to feed his habit, he later gets to tie me up so we can see exactly how much mobility the kidnap victim has.

The downside to the Butler as a writer’s spouse is that his professional world has a different social etiquette than mine.  Basically, he thinks writers should be treated better.

What’s bad about that?  Well, in order to survive emotionally as a writer, it’s not helpful to be told you’re a marginalised aspect of the overall process, because you can’t really opt out.  A writer will write regardless.  In fact, in my highly ill informed view, writers (and other artists) have a different way of perceiving and processing information in their environment than let’s say, someone with a  scientific approach to their world. 

A writer can say, ‘I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,’ stop putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, but the brain’s still going to be working in the way a writer’s brain works.  End result => less emotional equilibrium than when you were a mistreated, undervalued artist.

The writing life
Those of us who continue to write and get rejected, ignored at best, publicly ridiculed at worst, who have learned to thrive on the slightest bit of encouragement . . . imagine what that says about us.  If I had a client who presented in that manner, we’d be doing some very serious self esteem work.

Here’s the thing that amazes me.  A writer must be acutely aware of her environment, the emotional interplays and sensitivities of people, yet be tough as fried horsemeat about whatever return she gets for her work. 

I think that’s the strangest combination in the world.  I’m not sure I understand it, even as I live it.  Do you have thoughts?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Big Deal

Fat, dumb & happy.
Right before the BIG DEAL happens, there I sit fat, dumb and happy, trying to decide if it’s harder to know or not know.  Fiction writers do this all the time.  Wonder WHAT.  WHICH.  HOW.  WHY.  The wondering of the moment is, as a novelist, which would be worse:

Worseness Option 1:  To know what you’re writing now isn’t as good as what you wrote the last time and there’s no way to drag up something better from yourself.  The point where you know it’s over, the snap of creativity gone, is that worse than =>

Worseness Option 2:  What you’re writing now is leaps and bounds better than what you wrote the last time, so you don't know why no one wants it.  The bug flying against the window experience.

So anyway, I’m thinking about this when notice of the BIG DEAL comes and swipes all Worseness Options off the table.  My leaps-and-bounds-better pleased someone in an office far, far away.  The fact that nine other writers have pleased the same office doesn’t matter.  

Last century (literally) when another BIG DEAL happened to me, the people at work threw an impromptu tea party, complete with cake.  This century, my office mates are a cat and social media.  If you have a cat, you know there are only cat BIG DEALS.  Social media, it is, so.

By the end of the day, all congrats are done and dusted, pushed out of the way by what Ted’s cooked for dinner and the latest jab at men, women, the conservatives, the liberals, and a video of a juggling hedgehog.  Virtual life lacks appropriate rituals to celebrate and cleanse the emotional palate.  Not being the sort of person to whine about the good old days, I go to bed.

The next morning, two of the other nine people loved by that office far, far away have followed me on Twitter.  How cool is that?  So I look up all nine people, find five of them and friends of two others, send my congrats, Google for anything that any of them have ever written since pre-school.  While I’m stalking them, they post congrats back to me and this is all very civilised for a battle to the death via BIG DEAL.

And then that’s over because this is virtual camaraderie.  I, who used to spend my day giving witness to people’s most intimate secrets, I’m on my own now. 

Tell me it ain't so!

That evening, there’s a Tweet from one of the others =>  Is anyone writing

It made absolute sense.  Here we all were, ten recipients of the BIG DEAL, our 15 seconds of virtual celebration over – who else knew better what we were feeling than the people we were in competition with?  And none of us able to focus or write – I, myself had spent the day in a hammock with the Edinburgh Book Festival brochure.  After jokes about becoming an instant therapy group, the virtual friendship ended.  The inevitable, I suppose, because only one of us wins. 

Four hundred people submitted for this BIG DEAL.  Four hundred voices with four hundred stories so powerful, they couldn’t give them up, draft after draft after draft.  Four hundred voices who dared sing out loud; three hundred ninety-nine will go quietly into the night.

I only know ten of those four hundred.  Here are the other nine.  Read them.  Follow them on Twitter.  Check out their blogs and websites.  Keep them writing.  Let them know we hear them singing.

The Dundee International Book Prize shortlist:

Under the Tamarand Tree                             
Rosaliene Bacchus, California                       

Daughters of the House of Love
Veronica Birch, West Country
She’s evaded my stalking efforts.

The Open Arms of the Sea
Jasper Dorgan, Wiltshire

Sea Never Dry
Ben East, Virginia

Some Things the English
Rachel Fenton, Auckland

A Village Drowned
Sheena Lamber, Dublin
Out Like a Lion
Robin Martin, New York

Amy Mason, Bristol

The Dreaming
Suzy Norman, London

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Butler’s Gift

‘Sometimes I fear for your immortal soul.’  The Butler said that early in our marriage before he’d fully grasped what living with a writer meant.  

The morning walk
 And that’s what I’m thinking about while Big Nose sniffs grass beside the path in hope my attention will lag long enough for him to sneak into the verboten copse.  Verboten because local gentry feed pheasants there so they can later blow them to smithereens.  Local poachers feed deer there for the same purpose but tend to leave carcasses behind for Big Nose’s pleasure.  The latter is more a deterrent to me than the former.

My attention is diverted to the other side of our path where a track runs through knee-high crops.  In the middle of that track, what looks like a large bird.  Not the right colour for a pheasant – about the same shade of L’Oreal that I use.  We’re a bit far afield for my neighbour’s chickens, but the oval shape and colour, a chicken is what my brain tells me it is.

Said chicken turns its head and transforms into a fox, oval because it's sitting down.  A cool metaphor, but my optical prescription’s a bit hefty, so I give the image a moment to settle and yes, it’s definitely a fox scanning the field, unaware we stand thirty yards away.

Big Nose's moral dilemma
Big Nose catches the scent and tracker extraordinaire that he is, dashes into the off-limits copse.  A cue for any responsible dog owner to bring her Big Nose into line.  Right.

Sometimes I fear for your immortal soul.  

Granted, I was plotting someone’s murder when he said it, but even so, not what you expect from a lay person. I laughed.  Not in derision, but in the pure joy of how wonderful that remark was.  Kinda sweet that after the long years of knowing me, he still believed I had a soul. 

More remarkable that he believed in any god, let alone an all-loving one, because his work routinely had him with a weapon between his legs and the hope between his ears that his aircraft wasn’t shot out of the sky a la pheasant before he could help put Humpty Dumpty pieces of young people back together again.  Or watch Afghan children die. 

So the two of us together, the Butler and me, I knew my compromises, all the pheasant and fox hunts I didn’t moon, all the plants in neighbours’ gardens untouched by midnight relocation, all the people who’d caused him pain still taking in air when I knew of places on the moors . . . what was the Butler’s experience, sharing space and a life with someone like me?  And if a wife’s plotting turned into murder, how would the Butler respond?  How would anyone?

Fortunately for the loathsome in my life, I explore these type questions via my writing rather than scientific method. 

Conor (played by Gary Goodyear, Cats in a Pipe, 2013)
Photo by SiniHarakka Urban Photography
 I created Conor O’Donovan, Irish Catholic ex-pat in a country where not his skin colour but his accent makes him a target.  Where being called his nationality equates roughly with being called stupid.  He’s the second of nine children, his mother’s favourite until his youngest brother dies.  Then he becomes the sin eater for the family.  And he continues to be the sin eater for the rest of his life because hard as he tries, he can’t be heterosexual, he can’t meet his children’s expectations, he still believes in immortal souls and an all-loving God who says if only he were a better son, a better doctor, a better officer, a better father, a better partner, everyone else around him would actually stop all this sinning.

Bert (played by John McMahon, Cats in a Pipe, 2013)
Photo by SiniHarakka Urban Photography
Enter stage right, Bert Statler, Conor’s shadow.  Bert’s also gay, but from a US military family, in the Navy himself during the death throes of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, so still living stealth.  His long-term partner has recently transitioned male to female, and though they’re still together, Bert feels abandoned.  But to Bert, that’s life, isn’t it?  You’re created by a fuck, spend your whole life getting fucked, and your funeral costs fuck someone else out of their inheritance.  The world doesn’t suck because of Bert, but because the world sucks.  Sometimes to dilute the suck quotient for someone else, you have to sin.

Conor is who we’re all told we should be.  Bert is the part of us we never admit out loud, sometimes not privately to ourselves.  Their friendship in some measure, represents the polarities between the Butler and myself, but also a polarity intrinsic to me as well – my struggle to be socially acceptable (stay out of jail), contribute to society (be able to afford the things I want), continue to grow as an individual (find new ways of staying out of jail and getting what I want).

The irony is that, before I married the Butler, I wrote about other people, my keyboard the conduit for stories gifted to me as a trauma therapist.  Once my life was shared, my writing became about me.  Disguised as a tall, lanky gay southern male who cuts people open for a living, I finally tell the truth.  And I’m able to do that because one day a long time ago, the Butler feared for my immortal soul.

The Butler & Big Nose, on the fox track headed toward the Verboten Copse