Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘writing group’ Category

Blow and Suck

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“Blow and suck!”
“What?” I said, red in the face and dripping sweat from exertion.
“I said, blow and suck.” She wasn’t red in the face. She wasn’t breaking a sweat. Things were happening on her end.
“Are you sure?” I asked as I caught my breath.
“Yes.” She said demonstrating easily. No panting. No dripping. No wasted effort. Calm face like the Madonna.
“Okay,” and I did exactly as she said.
“Aren’t you glad you followed my directions?” she asked.
I nodded with my mouth full. She looked on with pride, a small smile on her lips.

Those were my friend’s instructions for enjoying a pineapple milkshake through a straw. Despite the mostly creamy goodness, little chunks of pineapple would get stuck halfway up the straw. Blow and suck. Doesn’t it make sense now?

Her words sound vulgar out of context but I love the precision and brevity. Clear, pithy directions are few and far between. They are difficult to write. But when I screw up the courage to face what I honestly need or want or desire, the words come easily.

This is how I feel about writing. I can be all red-faced and stumbling, wasting time with trying to make it pretty or I can put myself out there. Concisely. With chunks of acute vulnerability. Sometimes my writing blows or sucks (depending on your generation) but I keep trying for clarity, for the honest words that could be off-putting but are true and direct.

At my writing group of many years, I read a story around the repercussions of my mother’s adolescence during the Holocaust. It’s not a pretty story. Neither my mother nor I look loving or smart or kind in the narrative. After reading the last sentence, I looked up from the page – into silence. Within a minute, one member rushed to the bathroom to throw up. More silence.

I put the piece away for a year but the value of the story kept pulling me back to it. I submitted the piece to an anthology for children of Holocaust survivors. The editor loved it but the anthology folded. He said that his authors had difficulty being brutally honest about their families’ histories. I submitted the story to other anthologies and publications. A flurry of rejections arrived.

Two years later, I tightened up the story and submitted it again. I believe in the story – a good story but dead of night dark, scalpel sharp, and so honest, my teeth ache, scraped raw. Waiting for a reply, I am gobbling down pineapple milkshakes. The calcium can’t hurt, it might be a long time before it is published, but mainly to remind myself about the need for and value of honesty, directness, and clarity in my writing (and life).

Now go out there and practice on your pineapple milkshake. Once you have that, risk honest words on paper. Blow and suck.

Writing A Love Story

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Back at writing group, the consensus changed. I could write a love story but only one love story – my personal love story.

“You are lyrical when you write about loving Rod,” said one group member.
“It flows,” said another.
“This book isn’t Rod’s story,” I said.

They looked from one to another. I could feel my brow knotting, my throat tightening. An urge to hurl things through the glass table bubbled up. I pushed down the urge.

“What if you ran it as a parallel story to the main story?” one said.
“You could do it in Italics,” another said.
“Yeah. A bad example is the book Everything is Illuminated.’
“Hey, I liked that book but now I’m into magical realism. Shit. That’s tons of extra work,” I said.

Feeling overwhelmed and blue, I went to lunch with a friend who reads. She gave me a copy of Barnard’s Death of a Mystery Writer. How apropos.

Back at my computer, I thought, “Love is a mystery. What do I know about it? Can I, or anyone, only write about what one knows, literally?” I have loved, fiercely, loyally and with my whole heart. When I let myself sail in my sea of love memories, it was the little memories that would rise up again and again. The spontaneous, poignant beats of our hearts.

My husband was getting on my nerves. For weeks, he had been agitated about some computer problem at work. Mumbling to himself. Pacing. Absent to the dogs and me. The moment he sat down, the cat jumped on his lap purring, making biscuits.

“Get out of here. Grab some friends. Go to Atlanta,” I said.
“I don’t want to leave you,” he said.
“Leave me, leave me. I’ll be here when you come back,” I said handing him the phone.

That weekend, he piled a bunch of his friends into the van, checked an engine hose was properly connected with a towel and duct tape, and tootled off to Atlanta. I had the house to myself. Everyone settled down.

I thought, “Yes. I get the bathroom to myself.” Our house was a 1910 bungalow with one heated bathroom and a structurally unsound, basically unusable add-on bathroom in the back. We were afraid to use it. We could fall through the floor to the basement or some plumbing fixture could explode. We were convinced something bad had happened in there before we bought the house.

Rod complained about the main bathroom continually. He would say, “I sit down and my knees hit the tub. It’s ugly. It’s claustrophobic. Yada yada yada.” He was right. In the quiet of his trip, I saw the bathroom was ugly and claustrophobic. I had a brilliant idea and drove to the paint store (not a mistake). From there I went to the craft store (a mistake).

That weekend, I painted a sea mural on the bathroom walls. Working from sunup to sundown, I stenciled, yeah, stenciled, seashells on the bottom part of the walls, many types of fishes in a rainbow of colors with air bubbles working up to the surface, and waves capped with tugboats. To top it off, I painted clouds on the ceiling. I was impressed with my artistic abilities and intoxicated with paint fumes. Sitting in the living room, beaming like a Buddha who had missed his Lithium dose, I waited for my husband’s surprise and praise.

“Honey, I’m home,” he shouted bursting through the door. He took one look at me and said, “What have you done?”
“Nothing. A little something. Maybe it’s not that noticeable,” I said starting to feel foolish.

He lumbered through the house, peeking through a door before he stepped foot in the room, checking floor to ceiling. The animals followed discretely while I sat in the living room beyond foolish, now acutely embarrassed like the time I gave a presentation with my blouse unbuttoned in the seventh grade.

He opened the door to the bathroom. Gasped. Silence. More silence then he walked back to stand in front of me. “I love it. The seaside. When I take a crap, I will think of you painting the bathroom for me. I will want to go.”

He took my hand lifting me to my feet. We raced down the hall to the bathroom, pulling off each other’s clothes as we went.

After he died, I would go sit on the floor in the bathroom. Counting seashells. Tracing air bubbles. Even with the mural, the bathroom was still ugly and claustrophobic. Airplane sized really. But no matter how big or luxurious another bathroom, nothing could compare to the love knowable in each brushstroke and echo of praise.

I will let my characters create that love space without forcing, tweaking, paralleling, or massaging the manuscript. A love space no matter how tiny or silly. But I have the stencil – it will happen in its own time. My writing must be patient. Courageously waiting for the colors and shapes of love personal to each character and story.

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