Friday, August 16, 2013

She can't stay away

Almost a year later, the thoughts are bursting forth too much to keep them inside. 

In the coming weeks we will explore exciting topics, such as 
-Writer's Groups!
-The next generation of oldies!
-Anxiety, depression, and general malaise!
-Domestic violence!
-Cultural appropriation!
-The crisis in anthropology!
-Beautiful doors!
-The problem with art scenes!
-Identity politics!
-How to scare away a man!
-The new athleticism!

Writer’s Groups.

Writers are naturally reticent when it comes to sharing their work. “I’ll show it when it’s published,” is an oft-thought, if not cited, phrase among fiction writers. They know they’re supposed to share their work, but it is difficult to part with one’s baby. Especially after toiling through birth. We don’t squat in fields, but very nearly.  The birth of fiction is slouching over computers and notebooks, picking the dry skin off our lips and choosing each precious word. 

As an adolescent I considered myself a poet. I hated writing fiction. And a part of me still does hate it. Fiction is SO MUCH HARDER than it seems! Grr. Just this morning I considered abandoning my ‘novel’ that has been written stop-start for the better part of a decade (oh god, how awful) and for that blessed 20 minutes I felt free, weightless. The thoughts began to flow:

         “Maybe I will be a potter and move to Jay, New YorkMaybe I’ll buy a house in the Garfield and get a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Maybe I will move to France with my cat and work on an ethnography.”

And before that token reader says, “You can still do all of those things,” my reply is no, no I cannot! This is a life’s work. Yes, it is theoretically possible, but who can plan that much? I need down time. I’m no James Franco. 

After the euphoria of releasing my project into the ether subsided, I returned back to the point. I’ve worked on this novel for too long to give up. To quote a former co-worker, “I’m not a quitter” (though in the past I have definitely been a quitter. Ask my photo teacher in high school, ask my former co-managers at Campus Design and Copy, ask my former friends in Mexico City, ask the brave people at Long Way home, ask my former advisor in the Commonwealth Honors College… I quit my quitting streak upon moving to Arizona, but that’s a tale for another time.)
Comedian Patton Oswalt has a bit that talks about a movie from the 70s which had just been released to DVD. It is called, “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People”. He riffs on how this is the dumbest idea ever, and poses the question, “Did the writer of the screenplay ever have a moment’s doubt?” Patton ties this into his own work writing screenplays, and how it is difficult to overcome that itch of doubt he sometimes feels. Either the writer of “Death Bed” never doubted his idea, or, and here Patton identifies this possibility as ‘even worse’, “He had that moment of doubt and he worked through it!” Basically, if “Death Bed” is a movie then my novel will be a novel. And to really produce something worthy, ya gotta join a writer’s group.

I have gone to one in South Phoenix…not the scary/sexy South Phoenix, the Ahwatukee SoPho. It was good for the first two weeks, but then one night I woke up out of my sleep and said, “This isn’t working”. Later, yes, their feedback will be vital. But for right now I have so much more work to do. I am a Cancer, so a scavenger by nature. Take what you need and keep it moving. Writer’s groups, man.

Initially I was so relieved that everyone was nice and they were good writers. But seriously…I can’t even use that nitpicky sentence-structure stuff yet. It is valuable, but you cannot teach a 5 year old algebra. Here goes the fretting: I need a manuscript that is all together. I need so many more pieces to fit. I need to comb every page and insert emotion, clear up my protagonist’s motivations. Already this is exhausting. The hesitancy to share work is not just because writers are afraid of criticism---I would argue the opposite. 

Most good writers I know are extremely open to hearing feedback. It’s that writer’s groups have a bad rep. We’ve heard there is a lot of posturing. We’ve heard so many nasty rumors. But this was such a positive experience, a group of middle-aged strangers and me. So what was the problem that interrupted my sleep?
I write for message, not to make each sentence grammatically correct and hit every paragraph break. Yes, attention to and respect for details are essential qualities of a good writer. You need to prove you know the rules to break them. And I get that. But my developing novel is rooted in a belief that emotion is ultimate motivation. This novel is a testament to unfulfilled obsession or some sort of twisted love. And I only went two times to the group, so one can’t be sure…but I have been trying to trust my intuition more. This has been encouraged by my day job. I work at a domestic violence shelter, and it is amazing. One of the many mantras I repeat to the residents is, “You are your own expert”. A tenet of our empowering-dynamic philosophy is our ultimate trust in a woman’s ability to make good decisions for herself.

In the spirit of this, my next endeavor is to form a writers group within walking distance to my home. Our focus will be on theme, on the function of the fictional world within our modern literary context.  Writers, much like comedians, need to struggle through ‘the scene’ until they find their voice. To do this, authenticity is required. However embarrassing, us fiction writers must write boldly until the words align with the heart of the message. Hopefully grammar will follow.

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