Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘writing’

Killing Me Softly

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People ask what prompted me to write a 430-page novel where I kill off the protagonist, the antagonist, the villain, many secondary characters, and a big ol’ list of walk-ons. Over and over again. Well, to answer the question, I have had the kind of experiences that prompted me to write that novel – a nasty, in your face, go to hell novel where someone gets killed off every 30 pages of the manuscript. You are laughing. I can hear you. Right now you are laughing because you are imagining me doing this. Yes, someone gets killed off every 30 pages in the manuscript.

A pivotal experience kicking up this urge to smack a character started kindly enough. I was explaining to a friend about my first husband. Saying the usual stuff.

“We married young.”

“The marriage went as far as it could go.”

“He is basically a good man and we had a lot of fun for a while.”

Truth be told, I was a tad relieved when my first husband moved to Chicago after we divorced. I felt a sense of freedom and let’s get on with life. The divorce happened in the middle of my master’s program at a state university. So I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and took out a loan to get through the last year. It wasn’t too horrible sleeping on a friend’s pullout sofa. What is it about that bar in the middle of the mattress? And why did I always creep towards the bottom of the bed to get my feet tangled up in the metal frame? I learned to like cereal – I will never love it. I reframed the first union as “a starter marriage,” one that should be respected, where I learned many skills essential to my second marriage. Overall I felt really good about the first marriage until the day when I learned how he explained the end of the marriage.

He said I had died. Yes, I had died.

At a coffee shop, I ran into one of his business colleagues. She looked stunned. She stammered. I kept talking until I ran out of words. She was quiet. We looked at each other. She didn’t blink so I didn’t either.

“What’s up?” I asked with a wide-eyed smile.

“Uh. You’re still alive.” Her eyes were as round as the saucers under our café au laits.

“Yeah. I think so.” I blinked to show that I was not the Undead (Twilighters will get this reference).

“He told us you died.” Tears filled her eyes.

“What?” Massive blinking on my part.

“D*** told us you died then he moved to Chicago.” She hiccupped spilling tears.

“You’re kidding?” I blinked with my mouth open stopping just before I drooled.

“No.” Both of us sat down. I shrugged, stopped blinking and drank some cold coffee. I shook my head from side to side.

I thought I may need to rethink my understanding of my first marriage. I called Social Security to check if he had accessed any death benefits. I called the advertising agency in Chicago, explained who I was and the first words out of his colleague’s mouth were, “I thought you had died.”

“No. Not yet,” I said into the phone.

I tracked him down to his house in California using the Internet. During a series of phone calls to ad agencies, I explained my live status. One person hung up the phone. Another person dropped the phone. It was hilarious. If I was dead, did I need health insurance? Would I need to pay taxes?

So that is where I get my comfort with a plot full of characters who return from the dead, again and again and again. To tell their story. Yet again.

 

 

Bad Hair Days

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I’ve had a two-year run of bad luck. Not horrific big bad luck but the kind of luck that wears away at you. I am the pebble in the middle of the roaring river eroding away into a mass of crankiness.

First there is my damnable car. Never ever buy a Fiat. Italian design does not make up for bad wiring and Hendricks Service Center. These people are incompetent. While the car does not meet the legal definition for a lemon, it makes my mouth pucker. I am on first name basis with a representative of Fiat who must regularly scour the FaceBook pages of all things Fiat for my posts.

“Emily, it’s me again.”

“Uh what’s the car doing?”

“Well, the engine shut off and I had it towed to Hendricks Fiat.”

An hour later, Emily called back. “They can’t find your car at Hendricks.”

She’s a nice young thing. I can hear her cringe over the phone when we talk. I don’t curse or yell but I am ready to drive the thing, I refuse to call it a car – that’s giving it too much credit, over a cliff.

Second, I have had a series of painful operations and medical procedures for the last eighteen months. I am not a ‘nice’ patient being the type who does extensive research beforehand. When I don’t understand something about my care, I ask for an explanation, throwing doctors’ schedules off. I will go and cry in a doctor’s waiting room alarming other patients if they ignore me. More effectively, I will write the NC Medical Board and call the insurance company when I receive substandard care. Probably wouldn’t want me as a patient either.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back, my back, was last week when my hair started falling out from all the stress. Really folks, I have chunks of hair saying ‘bye-bye’ to my scalp to clog my sink. I have learned to use a plumber’s snake. Fudsicles or other words. I’ve never had great hair except for 1998 and the first four months of this year. And today I am getting it cut off. Again.Whine, whine, whine.

This is sucky. I am in the pits except … I have friends. Wonderful crazy ass friends who commiserate and then don’t.

Friends who take me to the Angus Barn when I have two black eyes and a beard of bruises on my face. Parents covered their children’s faces as I approached. A 40ish man fell off his bar stool after one look at me. Not my problem.  I asked the waitress, “Do you have anything soft to eat?” It’s a steak and ribs place. “Can I have a straw for my Chardonnay?” My friends kept talking between my slurps of mashed potatoes and sips of wine. I guess he made it back on the bar stool. I felt Medusa powerful.

Friends who love me no matter how silly and self-indulgent I am, for a little while. Friends who care take.

“Take your painkillers.”

“No I can tough it out.”

“Take them now you’re being a pain in the ass.”

I have the ability to work, not as much or as thoughtfully as I would like but still work. I found a voice, my medicated voice sort of like Freud or Sherlock Holmes. Ergo, a 430-page manuscript full of sex and violence written last year titled “50 Shades of Meow” meets “The Mummy.”

I have a sister who talks to me. Really. Lots of families don’t talk. We don’t agree on a lot but we are connected to each other.

I have a body that I am sure somehow, someday, will become pain-free and mobile again. Soon. Maybe not in the way or to the degree I wanted but good enough.

I had the opportunity to love something, dancing tango, for years with an obsession that was quite obsessive. Did you want to know about my collection of matching satin shoes and handbags for each of my tango dresses? No I didn’t think so. I learned there is an arc for loves, things, and events in this life. I am learning to let go.

Bad luck. I wouldn’t wish it on you but if you have a streak of it, you’ll reach deep down to find a way through and that I wouldn’t give up for all the good luck in the world. Bad luck taught me to know myself.  Count the blessings of friends. Laugh at myself. Stand up for myself. Love myself in all my crankiness. I don’t wish it for you but give me a call if it happens to you. I’ll listen to you whine then kick your ass into gear.

Off to get a really short haircut.

To Bean or Not to Bean

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Life has been surreal – stranger than any fiction I could write. And if you have been keeping up with the FB posts – you know I can write some strange shit.

Like killing off my main character over and over again, diverting a river to hide a dead body (weird but true), maiming someone and having them stumble to the Nile to be dismembered by crocodiles (mild to moderate maiming so they can walk after a fashion), falling in love over a string of red beads (carnelian – I would like a love-inspiring necklace), giving birth (no experience, nada, not even watched it on YouTube), ancient Egyptian love-making practices (very little pornography available – had to make them up except for one often repeated line, “Come to me from behind”), and the importance of animal dung in making a poultice (historically accurate but very eeooogh).

I have researched herbal poisons in ancient Egypt (beware people with large rings), marital rights under the Visigoths (surprisingly good for women), bad cop-good cop techniques (may come in useful), animals of the Alps (don’t go hiking by yourself and avoid lizards spraying toxins like from “Jurassic Park”), flowers loved by men (back to the poisons), sexual hallucinations (got to get me some of these), witch hunts in the Dark Ages (just say NO to the Dark Ages), stoning versus burning (neither thank you very much), and the physical attributes of an ancient Egyptian (dark skinned, small, overweight with pot belly and bad teeth not anything near “The Ten Commandments”).

And deliberated over a bunch of How-Tos/DIY techniques; how to distinguishes Black Henbane from other poisons (always smell what you eat and drink), how to fool someone into thinking they had sex with you (lots of info here), how to cross a mountain during the Dark Ages (you don’t), how wolves hunt (in packs – don’t look them in the eyes), and which is the fastest way to bleed out – puncture bite to the femoral or brachial artery (femoral – easiest to get to – keep people away from your inner thighs).

Whoa those are some strange lists.

I am hoping Saturday was the apex of my own kind of strange. It may have to do with going back on painkillers (no, not the opiate but the inhibitory neurotransmitter type). On the meds, I imagine my brain to have the consistency of not-quite-set Jell-O. For example, if you put your hand in the black box of my mind, you could pull out one of the finely detailed topics listed above but not how to make rice. Been making rice, or more correctly unintentional rice balls, for decades.

Three nights ago, I was boiling rice in a bag – a friend suggested this easy fix. All of a sudden I knew, just knew, we needed some Sambuca to celebrate Saturday night. At least my brain did not call for adding Henbane to the recipe or to go watch a crocodile eat my surgeon, anesthesiologist, and/or wound care specialist.

So off to the ABC store, which had moved throwing me into a directional tizzy, to stand before an enormous overly lit ballroom filled with really pretty colors. Sparkling. I got a tad overwhelmed, looked down at my feet to discover, I am standing in a liquor store in my fuzzy slippers. I checked my hair. It had that just napped feeling. Sticking out all over and somewhat matted. Thank goodness all my parts were covered.

“Do you want black or white Sambuca?” I asked my friend.

“Ugh. I’ve only had the white. Black would go nice with your pink slippers … ”

“Did we turn off the rice?”

“Hope so.”

“Okay dokey. We need to get home.” I made an executive decision and grabbed the black Sambuca. Usually I go for the known but on meds I am adventurous!

Back at my house, the rice was soggy in the bag. We got it boiling. Dinner was good. The after-dinner Sambuca proved to be a dilemma.

“One coffee bean?” I asked.

“Three, I think, or seven,” my friend said.

“Gimme that iPad. We’re going with three. Health, happiness, and prosperity. Two out of three?” We looked at my errant foot then added two coffee beans to the liqueur.

“Should we set it on fire?” I asked.

“No I’m sure your foot will get better!”

“Silly Bean. The Sambuca.”

“Let’s ignite it then put it out before we drink it.”

“Or singe our nose hairs … “

“And eyebrows,” he said.

We enjoyed the Sambuca as I explained the next decision point for my almost-completed first draft of the ANCIENT EGYPT book (write on painkillers, edit when off).

“Should she die by fire or by stoning?” I asked.

“Both sound painful.”

“I have the research on how the body dies either way. You know, the timeline for cooking versus crushing. It’s kind of gross,” I said.

“No I don’t know. You did use the Private Browsing setting, didn’t you?”

Oops. Hopefully, my searches have not flagged me for a trip to the police station, with the FBI, CIA or Poison Control. Enough stange/surreal. Maybe I should lower my dosage. Please bail me out of jail if I call you. I’ll make you some rice in those handy-dandy little bags.

NSFW – Mild or Robust Sexuality?

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I am in a slump. I am all written out. My brain is mush.

So I decided to play with Andrew’s photographs for our collaboration “69 Scheimpflug Street.” I am not sure he was amused – he sent me an article on how to crop and present images. Okay dokey. The article is on my desk somewhere. Surely.

I put the cropped images up on Twitter (TrudiYTaylor) and Tumblr (Cranky Writer in adult oriented category) with little captions. No one seems to mind. They get favorited, liked, etc.

The photographs are lovely. Erotic. Playful. My stories are sexy in unexpected ways (at least to my way of thinking and from the comments of our preliminary viewers).

And we are out of money for the series. Models cost. Locations can cost. Printing papers and final prints on aluminum cost. Our time costs. Yep like so many artists we eat that cost. So many costs – so little money.

So we looked into a Kickstarter funding process. They get good results. Participants have vouched for their veracity. But Kickstarter is not too keen on sexuality or nudity. They use the terms “slight” and “mild.” I understand their not wanting to promote pornography. Neither do we.

Here’s the dilemma – the exhibit is about moving sexuality and nudity from a slight and mild fuzziness into a more robust and integrated focus (think Scheimpflug Principle). We are sick of the all-or-nothing thinking this country has around sexuality. We must be hypersexual or asexual. What?

I am going to send in one uncompromised series of stories and photographs about a couple choosing to expand their sexual repertoire. The photographs contain full frontal nudity of a man and a woman. The stories are explicit.

I don’t hold out much hope …

Taking a different tack, Andrew found a site where we can sign up for patrons (yes, really, patrons). Another dilemma – we have to make videos to attract patrons. Now I do not have a problem asking for money for my services – got over that in graduate school for counseling. If you can’t ask for money, you do not value your product (whether it is counseling, widgets, or art). The dilemma is that I look like a mangy, cross-eyed cat in videos and sound like Julia Childs. Not an enticing combo when every one else on the site looks a sleepy 26 and adorable.

So what do you think? Is there a need or want for images and stories exploring, even pushing an integrated sexuality in our lives?

Would you rather support us with a monthly gift or with one monetary gift?

Send me your comments. Below are some preliminary images with my attempts at cropping.

AYElegs

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Love Is What We Need

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This year has taught me lessons in humility and acceptance.

During this year’s multiple surgeries and procedures, people have gone out of their way to be kind to me.

A person arranged to have my yoga class bring me dinner, sent me notes, dropped by to check on me. What a lovely heart!

I love the person who sent me a Moon Pie for being “wonderful.” Love, love, love her.

Friends have commiserated with me, transported me to and from surgeries and appointments, laughed with me at my crazy outfits as I navigated an arm cast and surgical shoe, and picked me up when I fell over.

People have called to check on me throughout this time. You are my lifelines and I promise to pass this on to other people.

People have stuck by me during the goofiness of my painkiller months. The months were I had to take painkillers to make it through the day – rescheduling clients, putting off reports, and being unable to find names or words. Some days I forgot to shower … oops.

I gave my best reading of my work after falling asleep on a friend’s shoulder. Waking with a start, I stumbled up to the podium, and kind of ad-libbed my way through the piece – but with uncharacteristic animation. Thank you for the applause.

One friend said to forget the written word and just speak from the heart; I was entertaining enough. What a giggle. I’m a card-carrying introvert.

The only comment on my ten-pound weight gain has been, “It fills you out.” Yeah, okay.

The friends who tell me to “Go home, you’re in too much pain” when I limp into the coffee shop have been my tough love and caring ethics committee.

You taught me to take life as it comes and do what I can. Even if it meant sitting upfront at an art opening of my stories matched to images, plotched on Gabapentin and Trammadol, effusively saying, “Welcome to Litmus Gallery. Snacks and wine are in the back.” You came up front to check on me, told me jokes, and repositioned me on the stool when I started to slide off.

It was crazy-feeling for me – I couldn’t imagine how trying it must have been for you. You have come through for me. I am overwhelmed by your sweetness. Thank you.

I could not have survived the carelessness of the medical community without you: the surgeon and wound care specialist have never said how difficult this must be for me after almost six months of digging around in my foot with a scalpel; nurses who did not pass on my requests for pain relief; and doctors who told me not to cry.

I would have ended up in jail without your steadying influence dealing with the clueless: the bloody assholes who use handicapped parking slots for their convenience; people who walk so fast I can’t keep up; and friends who break their promises to help. I know this isn’t personal. This is their stuff.

Good lessons, painful lessons. The lessons keep rolling in. Thank you Universe but I am done. No more. Let’s get on with the living.

I guess I already am.

Live Nude Art

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“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”     – Andy Warhol

I know you are wondering what I am doing. In my most honest moments, I wonder too.

The photography shoot was an adventure, a challenge, and a chance to see naked people up close. Working with an artist whose medium is photography, we created a series of quite lovely, interesting, and at times, disturbing images. Some of the images are based on very loose ideas or story fragments and some arose organically within the photo shoot. I will write proper, interesting choice of word, stories for the images.

Overall, the models were exquisite. Every one of them perfect in some way, usually unexpected. We attempted to capture or hint at the elusive perfection.

Each day, up would drive a perfectly normal looking and behaving person asking where to park.

“Around back. You don’t want your car towed.”

“Okay,” and with a trusting nod, they would follow me around the back of the building to park behind my car. They would walk into the building. I would make sure doors were locked.

“Wow, thanks it’s not too cold,” models would say. They signed a model’s release and showed us their license, which I photographed and emailed to us. We explained what we were looking to do. Got their input. Then they would say, “Ready?”

I would take a big breath and think, “Here we go. Don’t stare.” And they’d take off their clothes. Trying to look busy elsewhere as this was happening, I forced myself to exhale, practiced a noncommittal smile.

Then we went to work. After the first ten minutes, it was fine. We put in some hours, broke a sweat, strained our eyes, hearts, and brains. There were a couple of dicey moments, more about artistic choices than about nudity.

“Did you see that?”

“Yeah, we can’t have that.”

So I walked over to the model and said, “I’m going to clamp some fabric around your butt. Strange shadow … “

Without blinking an eye she said, “Sure.”

Clamp, clamp, clamp went the fabric. The model smiled. I was the uncomfortable one.

Things were better by the second day. I felt maternally protective – walking them out to their car, asking if they needed water or felt dizzy and needed to come down from the stool.

But the third day was confusing, trying, a major leap of artistic faith. We photographed two models. Together. I kept repeating the mantra,

Thisisart. This is art. THIS … IS … ART.

Periodically, I would check in with my collaborator.

“Can they do that?”

“Sure.”

“Will we go to jail?”

“No.”

“I’m not sure this will fly in Raleigh … “

He’d smile at me and tell me to do something. Pick up a stool. Gather some clothes. I would suggest things – the placement of a hand, drape of a fabric, choice of a prop – and the models were game. It was a wonderful collaboration.

This weekend, we reviewed the images. Plugging the camera into a TV, the images took on life. The images are stupendous. Beautiful, erotic, disturbing. Quite likely, the photographs and stories won’t fly in Raleigh or will have a limited flight.

But mostly, I am proud of us. We were true to our visions.

I kept my promise to see the beauty in each model – not getting bent out of shape over every little imperfection. (Maybe one day I will see my body with the same kindness.)

More ideas are percolating. The exhibit is starting to find a shape, probably not the final shape. We will continue to work within our visions as I gather my courage and sharpen my skills. It helps that I am reading Bayles and Orland’s Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING.

But it is imperative, however you evaluate the exhibit, we will keep making art.

Writer’s Storm

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“You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms … “
(The opening words of “You Will Hear Thunder” by Anna Akhmatova)

Two events have me wondering about my writer’s soul. I am creating a working definition based upon the importance of truthful observation and expression in all its shades of black and gray (thank you Graham Greene).

Last weekend, I went to see the film Woman in Gold with a friend of Germanic descent. We had decided to go together for support while experiencing a potentially difficult movie. Interestingly we cried at different places. As a Jew, the film was heartbreaking to watch. The ghosts of my mother along with other family members sat with me in the theatre. My Teutonic friend was deeply touched by the movie, specifically the complicity of people then and today. We came to the movie with different values, histories, and cultures. Walking to our cars, we talked about how important it was to see the movie and not look away.

Two days ago, standing in line, waiting for the post office to open up so I can mail my book to a reader, I took the silly online quiz, ‘Who’s Your Poet BFF?’ The quiz matched me with Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet. Her difficult life was reflected in work. Family pressured her into writing under a pen name to avoid embarrassment. Friends and country pushed her to conform, silencing her writing for periods. I wondered why I had drawn this poet’s name.

I called a writerly friend and she said, “Maybe it’s important to think about the connection.”
While I cannot claim the mastery or soul of Akhmatova, I feel the pressure to conform. I write the personal, about my thoughts, my feelings, some adventures, my family, and my friends. My family does not like that I write. Some of my friends do not like my writer’s sensibility, my voice or choice of writing subjects. (I struggle to avoid mining others’ lives for vignettes at their expense.) I feel ambivalent and scared about putting my thoughts and feelings on paper, on the web, in stories, and in the world through my voice. But I cannot and will not avert my eyes for the comfort of my family, friends, or colleagues. Nor will I change my voice to fit the literary world’s idea of what a writer should write about and in what particular style.

This is my writer’s voice and soul. It is smart (and silly), funny (and serious), competent (and inept), sexy (and prudish). At times, I can be snarky and sarcastic (while trying to avoid cruelty). My worldview as female, Jew, widow, middle-aged, immigrant, and body therapist informs my writing. I will make mistakes and cross lines but I promise to learn from them. Help me by pointing them out – as kindly as possible. Over my life, I expect to grow and my writer’s voice and soul to echo that growth. But my essential soul is not up for change to fit somebody else’s template. Or comfort. I am fine with my writer’s soul – my honest observation of experience. If my writing makes you uncomfortable, all the better.

That does not mean that I am uninterested in your voice and your worldview. I want to struggle next to you as we experience the world.

To summarize, by reveling in Anna Akhmatova’s words, I —
“ … Hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.“
(The last words of her poem, “You Will Hear Thunder”)

Batten down the hatches or throw them open so we can dance in the storm.

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