It’s summer: WRITING MODE, ENGAGED
I love the summer, and my ability to devote hours to writing. The problem is that I’ve been doing this for multiple summers in a row with nothing solid to show for it. I have about 7 different versions of my Copper novel, all with big gaps in the middle and other pacing issues and a dearth of imagery and UGH. Whenever I try to finish and revise my other novels, Copper always takes over my mind, so I know that I need to focus on it, that it’s my strongest and most coherent story, before any of my other ideas will be allowed to flourish.
With Sam, it’s been more difficult to immerse myself for hours. I get about an hour and a half, during his morning nap, to write with intent, and that’s it. By the time I actually begin, that really leaves an hour. It hasn’t been very effective (though some writing is better than none). But I’m not writing a first draft, I’m revising from the multitudes before this one, and I need more time.
Best Twilight Zone episode ever, amirite
All that to say this blog isn’t being updated regularly, because I don’t have much to update about. “I’m still writing. It’s still the fantasy novel Copper. It still sucks. I don’t want to post any scenes here.” etcetera
I’m going to try harder to get my short-form stuff on the blog so I feel productive in the midst of lonely noveling. Also tiny tangent I GET TO TEACH CREATIVE WRITING NEXT YEAR!!!! So I’d like to have a collection of things I can share with my students, potentially, since my novels aren’t ready.
In that vein, here’s a short story I wrote last year. It will not be one I share with my students, since many of them (bless their hearts) are pro-45, and this story is not. [But you’ve probably already found this blog, haven’t you, ya little stalkers? I admire your tenacity and request that you transfer this energy into your actual school work. Haha.] It’s inspired by Sally Yates–remember when we were SURPRISED that Drumpf fired her? And now we literally can’t keep up with the firings and resignations going on over there?–and the idea of mourning one’s career when it’s ended unfairly, too soon. I don’t like talking politics but it’s become super duper unavoidable these days. It’s not spectacular, but I had fun with it. Sometimes we need to channel our emotions into art, right?
I just call this one “January 2017.”
“You can’t hold a funeral for your career.”
“It’s a double funeral. One for my career and one for the country.”
Rory frowned at his friend. “You can’t do that either.”
“Yes, I can. It’s like the double wedding of Elizabeth and Jane at the end of Pride and Prejudice, except the lousy version, because they had two beginnings and I’m mourning two endings.” Annaliza took a deep draught of champagne and set the now-empty glass on the nearest surface, despite that being her expensive mahogany cabinet.
“You know, I never realized how dramatic you are, Ann. Who pays for an entire funeral for inanimate objects?”
Ann motioned him into the kitchen, where the catering staff were supplying refills on champagne. She picked up a new glass, the golden liquid catching the light, the cool glass beaded with condensation. Then she poked around at the fancy cheese and artisan bread plates the staff were putting together. Rory stayed quiet, hoping she’d continue to talk if he gave her the space.
It worked. She spoke through a chunk of cheese. “The severance pay feels… wrong. Evil. I don’t want a ‘sorry not sorry’ paycheck, I want my regular job and my regular salary. But I can’t have those, so I might as well spend a chunk of the blood money on something we’ll all enjoy.” A waiter swung open the kitchen door; a cursory glance through it revealed a still-empty home. “People are coming, right?”
“No way to tell. This is why most invitations include directions to RSVP,” Rory said drily. He slipped his phone from his pocket and began a new note in his Notes app, feeling the need to keep track of Annaliza’s alcohol intake throughout the day. This was her second glass before the 4:00 pm official funeral start time.
“I left that off on purpose; I couldn’t be bothered to answer my phone that many times. Remember when I used to live on my phone? Because of my career?”
“Yes, dearest.” He returned the phone to his pocket so he had both hands free to place on her shoulders. “But this is not the death of your phone, either.”
She brushed him off. “It may as well be. Every time I open it, it informs me of some new disaster.” She touched the pocket of her black dress, where a small lump hinted at her phone’s presence. “I mean, how could so many people find him worthy of running our country? He’s–he’s–” she trailed off, unable to put so many hot emotions into words with a tongue already twisted by champagne.
Rory finished the thought on her behalf. “An incompetent child, a raging lunatic, an idiot with no understanding of history or nuance or consequences–”
“–or reality,” she chimed in, “despite having started life as a reality TV star–”
“And yet quick to attack any non-politician who dares to question him while he panders to dangerously partisan citizens–”
“–outright racists, a lot of them, driven only by fear and misinformation–”
“With all kinds of hypocrisy about what being pro-life consists of, because it apparently doesn’t include education or healthcare or basic human rights–”
“Yeah, you’d better not be brown or have a pre-existing condition!”
The duo’s ranting was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“The guests await,” Annaliza said, raising her latest glass. “How does my hair look?”
“Impeccable as always,” Rory answered honestly. Her smooth brown locks were pulled back in a high ponytail. She’d kept her jewelry to a simple set of pearl earrings and necklace.
She grinned and sashayed toward the door to greet her fellow mourners.
Things were a blur for the next quarter of an hour as everyone arrived, decked out in black clothing, bearing bouquets rich with the cloying scent of rose.
Rory hung back to observe. Annaliza’s friends seemed to be in on the joke, which relieved him–he didn’t want to see Annaliza mocked, when she already had enough of an emotional burden riding on her shoulders. Their faces expressed genuine sorrow at what she’d been put through in the past week.
Slowly, everyone migrated into the living room, where Annaliza planned to give her speech. A shiny black coffin–she swore to Rory up and down that it was just a rental and wouldn’t cost much or actually be buried–took up most of the room. It was banked on either side by tall funeral sprays of white flowers, including roses, carnations, and–Rory racked his brain for the right term–babies breath? A strange flower name. The center of one spray held a photo of Annaliza’s former desk, piled high with organized papers, where she’d spent fifteen successful years. The other side bore a matching golden frame with a map of the United States within.
Three rows of folding chairs faced this display. The guests arrayed themselves here while Annaliza scooted a wooden podium across the floor.
She motioned him over. “I didn’t arrange to record this, because I didn’t think I’d want the memory. But you know what? I do. I have to embrace this brokenness and if I have a video of my rock bottom then it’s going to make my next peak that much sweeter.”
“All I’ve got is my phone.”
“Yeah, a fancy phone. That’ll do.” She kissed him on the cheek in thanks and straightened her dress. Rory took a seat in the back corner so he could pop up to record as soon as the shindig began. His friend made a loop of her guests, greeting those she’d missed upon entrance, before heading to the podium and retrieving her folded speech from her pocket. Rory headed into position.
Ann made eye contact with her guests in the rented, flimsy white chairs, and began.
“Thank you all for being here. My mourning is made easier knowing that you all stand here beside me, supporting me, believing that my career lived a long and happy life, murdered too soon by a crazed wannabe-dictator.” She gestured to the coffin beside her. “Here it lies, and shall never be resurrected.” She paused; Rory wondered if he should try to zoom in, to capture the emotions riding across her face.
“That career achieved a lot. It defended the Constitution, which–those of us who cracked open a history textbook back in our school days–know is the essential foundation of our democratic, independent country. It fought for the rights of every citizen, regardless of economic status, or skin color, or gender identity, or level of ability, because every single person matters, every single one has a right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ regardless of what anybody else believes or tweets. It required a lot of practice, hours, effort, reading, knowledge, critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, training, and more–and yet, look how quickly all of that can disappear, stripped away by one rich bully who disagrees with the Constitution.” She shook her head in disbelief. “The Constitution!”
She paused to compose herself. Rory caught her eye and provided an encouraging smile. She winked at him gratefully and kept on talking, with a swing of her hand toward the coffin once again.
“So in this funeral we grieve for our country, too. It isn’t quite dead and buried, but every day has brought a new threat to loom over us: the murder of the arts. The threatened murder of national parks, sacred reservation land, and even the institution of public education set up for us long ago by the Puritans who sailed over on the Mayflower. The strangling of all of the progress made for equality, that silly little principle that people deserve rights even if they aren’t white Christian males. The poisoning of our courts as the man who takes over this dead career begins to implement his racist, sexist beliefs over all the decisions that will follow, passed down from the supreme orange spitwad who gets, for some reason, to make decisions.”
Annaliza paused again and glanced around the room. “There’s more I could say. There’s always more any of us could say, as we list all the reasons that these deaths are so painful. But I don’t want to drag on what has been the worst week of my life. Let’s look toward the future and end on a note of hope before we eat all the lovely food I can smell wafting out of my kitchen.” She received a few appreciative chuckles for that. “So: keep resisting the changes that don’t make any sense. Keep reading everything that comes out from Washington–and maybe from Twitter–and be critical in your reviews of them. We need to be aware of the way everything is worded, look for every crack and potential avalanche that could result if we don’t prepare. Encourage the people in your life to vote, because getting this narcissist out of office is going to take a surprising amount of work. And, while we’re at it, you probably ought to cover your laptop camera when you aren’t actively using it.”
She paused long enough that Rory almost turned off his recording.
“Look, friends,” she said, breaking the silence, “it’s like a really long book you thought you were enjoying, that ends unhappily–Gone With the Wind, maybe. Have any of you read it? One thousand pages and she doesn’t even get the guy–but she ends with hope anyway. Because tomorrow is another day. That’s what I’m going to hold on to, too: the hope that comes with a new day, and friends, and the eventual, hard-earned triumph of good over evil.” She gave a half-curtsy and turned off the microphone to roaring applause and whistles.
“That was lovely, my dear.” Rory gave her a side-hug.
“Thanks. I’m famished.” She snuck a strawberry off a passing guest’s plate.
“We could tweet it to the pres, even.”
“Like he’d watch anything longer than two minutes. And that might be pushing it, if it’s not golf.”
Rory watched her devour the strawberry. She was handling it all far better than he’d expected, champagne and all. “I brought you a present,” he said. “I’ll show you, if you don’t mind leaving your guests for a moment.”
“They’ve got food and alcohol! Lead the way.”
The pair wove through the crowd, ending up at the inner door to Annaliza’s garage. “I hope you like it,” Rory said as he swung open the door.
She squealed with delight. He’d had a punching bag installed, which hung down from the ceiling. It was twirling slowly clockwise.
“I love it!” she said, and pulled him in a genuine embrace. “Now I can get buff while waiting for my job applications to gain traction.”
While she spoke, the bag continued to twirl, revealing the laminated, Alec-Baldwin-esque face Rory had pinned onto it.
Annaliza doubled over laughing.
“You’ll get really buff, eh?” Rory asked, and they returned in high spirits to her funeral party.