B and I were texting about the latest (awful) season of Orphan Black.
What IS it about television writers and islands? I texted.
B texted back: Well, you know, as a very good writer once wrote: “The thing about an island is that it’s a long way from home, and you have to cross water to get there.”
Good line, I thought automatically.
Then two seconds later, it hit me: OhmiGAWD – that’s my line! From a story I wrote in 1993 called The Hidden Ecology of Islands about vampires who take over an Indian casino .
I didn’t even remember writing it.
On the current writing project – I got sidelined after I wrote a close flashback into another close flashback that had nothing whatsoever to do with my outline. Thus wrote 700 words that were completely useless though not inherently bad or anything. But they had to come out, which left me with a sinking, despairing feeling: You are wasting what little life remains on a story that nobody will read when you could be watching The Real Housewives of New York!
Short stories are much, much harder to write than novels.
Anything goes in a novel. You can dump in the kitchen sink! But with a short story, you aren’t describing or even conjuring so much as you’re sculpting empty space (if that makes any sense at all.) It’s not what you write that’s important in a short story, it’s what you choose not to write.
I excised the offending 700 words and put them in the prose burble-over file.
Umbrella phrases, I thought: Expeditions were organized on the days following… The next day, Papa took the children to the pond… Etc.
Stick to the outline.
Snowball fight; Nell gets beaned. Skating party; Nell falls and twists her ankle. We need one more example of Winter Sports Gone Wrong.
Then it was time to scuttle off to the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress’s memorial service.
Huge turnout. There must have been 400 people.
And it was a very nice memorial. The fantasy her daughters concocted for public consumption was that the Candidate had died with a smile on her lips while they gathered round her bedside singing If I Had a Hammer (Pete Seeger version not Peter, Paul, and Mary version.)
But. Having been the instigator of one such Death Myth myself – when I told reporters Tom died listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony instead of the hiss and sigh of his morphine pump, a fantasy that made it all the way into his Wikipedia entry – I have my doubts about the truth of that bedside performance.
And I didn’t recognize the person whose virtues were extolled throughout the memorial at all. I liked the Candidate a lot, but she wasn’t particularly saintly. In fact, her Serious Bitch Potential was one of the reasons I liked her.
I suppose this was the fantasy the daughters felt safest with. Offspring rarely want to invest the time in learning what their parents were really like as human beings: It’s too threatening; it’s much easier to view them as some sort of primordial monster hunkering down over those deeply repressed feelings at the bottom of the psychic well.
I toasted the real Candidate in my heart as I listened to various speakers eulogize some saintly milquetoast I did not know.
When I slipped out to reclaim my car, there was a crisp $20 bill lying right next to it.
Huh, I thought. The Candidate knew I was hurting for gas money (‘cause the Asshole still hasn’t paid me!) Thanks, Doris!
Then I went out exercising. Mid-80s and so humid, I broke a heavy sweat even on the level pathways.
Staggered home and instantly fell into the deepest, deepest sleep.
Dreamed about my mother.
Never dream about my mother.
But there I was in a house, waiting for her. It was not her house, and I had no idea why I’d decided to wait for her there…
Woke up around 9pm. Decided to go back to sleep.
Maybe I needed 12 hours of sleep.
Because when I woke up again this morning, I felt fine. That awful funk I’ve been in lo these five days past completely gone.