I know I told you all about this retreat earlier. I just wanted to post about it once more and include a little flyer. If you know anyone who might be interested, I’d very much appreciate you passing this along.
Take me, I want to say. I am the drug. Choose me. Not pancakes. Not T.V. Not empty flirtations with women you have no real interest in. Take me. I can get you high. We can make each other stoned. No fuzzy head. No hangover. Only rich, juicy currents down through our toes. Only loud bursts of laughter, warm chests, always reaching for the other. Old souls, familiar and still glad in our depths. Never boring. Never bored. Two only children playing, quiet in the corner. Whole worlds we used to make. Now we can play together in this one, savor everything. The bee buzzing the pomegranate. You hold one bright red seed between your teeth, grinning at me. The quick shared glimpse of the swallow’s tail. The way the wind comes in the fan palms, how we can hear it begin three blocks away before it arrives in our courtyard and chases us inside. Take me. I am the drug. Choose me. Make me stoned on you. “Choose you?” you say, one eyebrow raised. “I thought I already had.” You did, yes. Do it again. We choose over and over. Choose me now. Or I’ll choose you.
[Editor’s note: Another Two Sylvias Press advent calendar prompt, to begin with the Salvador Dali quote, “Take me, I am the drug . . .” and to use two titles of his paintings.]
You come to me in a dream and hand me an old shoe. I raise an eyebrow. You grin at me. What does this mean? Why have you brought me an old shoe? I don’t ask. There is something endearing in the gesture, I think, even though it baffles me. A favorite dog, maybe, bringing their most prized possession to their beloved human. Me. You love me, even after all these years. Even though you know me and all my ugliness. When you first hand me the shoe, I think about St. Nicholas Day. Do I fill the shoe for you with presents like my German mother did for me? But it’s too late, I think. St. Nicholas Day was more than a week ago. So what does this mean? Why have you brought me an old shoe? I hold it flat on both open palms and study it. It’s an old tennis shoe, dirty white, worn almost through at the toe. And then I know. This is the shoe you were wearing all those years ago on the day I asked you if you thought you could fall in love with me. You scuffed this shoe against the white linoleum like a kid. “Like that,” you said. I look up from the shoe, and you are still grinning at me. I grin back. You see on my face that I’ve figured it out. This old shoe is my anniversary present.
The third assignment I write for the MOOC doesn’t sing, but I feel better about it than the two that came before. The requirements are specific, a scene with three female characters with a fourth who comes along to “thwart their desires.” It’s the first time in this class I’ve had “real” characters come, and the fourth woman who arrives doesn’t behave at all as I’d imagined. It’s been a while since I’ve had characters acting on their own, and I love that part of writing fiction. My scene with these four women happens on a train, and the next assignment needs to take place after a catastrophe of some sort (either internal or external), so the train lends itself to that. I lie in bed this morning dreaming up bits and pieces of how I might continue with these women on the train. I see the two-story house in Oakland, watch Rachel working in the garden, hands in the dirt. And it comes to me that dreaming up fiction might be just as compelling as worrying about money or family, might take me away from being present with the same obsessive flair. But what a way to not be present. Dreaming up fiction beats focusing on my fears, no contest. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled to have fiction floating through me like this. It makes me giddy and grateful: for this free class, for my lighter work load, for the cooler mornings that let me lie in bed getting to know these women in my head instead of having to be out early sweeping the patio, feeding the birds, before the brutal heat descends. The southern sun sends blocks of yellow light across the wall of my room. I love winter mornings in this trailer home, look forward to a long string of them with childlike glee. All in a rush I feel the longing for all the years I might have been churning out fiction. I glimpse how it could feel to be old and know I have characters in my head who I might never get down on paper. I tally up the years. Could I have 30 years still ahead of me to write? More? I want them, every one of them. So I will need to make good use of them. I will need to savor every character, relish every story like a good, rich stew. And bring as many of them as I can onto the page before I die.
This morning I wake up thinking about my novel. I lie there drifting in that delicious in between, fuzzy with sleep, still soft around the edges. I realize Seph always dreamed of moving his wife and daughter to California, how he imagined they would stay in the cottage at the ranch when they came back to visit his family, but he never wanted to spend his life there. I wander about in Seph’s thoughts, still not fully awake. I haven’t touched my novel in long months, but I’m working on the third round of my book manuscript almost every day now. Not long hours immersed in it, as I always hope for, but good steady effort, writing in my notebook or typing up the pages, not letting myself linger much in judgment, just building page after quiet page. I think this work has woken up the characters of my novel, has them wanting my attention, too. It makes my heart happy, makes me believe in the depths of my writer self, how much this work means to me in spite of all my resistance. I let myself float where this new information about Seph leads me, and I know what happens to Molly before she dies. The knowledge just comes, all of a piece, like mist parting to reveal a mountain you didn’t know was there. And I revel in it, reassured at my core, grateful and glad. My characters are alive in me again and busy making magic.
Today I wonder if my memoir is complete crap and needs to be abandoned. I decide to make a list of the things I want to write about again for this new manuscript, this third round. I make a list, but it isn’t very long. I like the first piece in the book, so I decide to keep it. I find a zillion pages I don’t like anymore. I delete them. I end up removing two thirds of the book. It reminds me of years ago, sitting on the bed at my place on Avenida Ortega when I began culling the original manuscript, making piles of yes, no, maybe. There was almost nothing in the yes pile. This feels the same way. Most of the writing seems dull, boring, lifeless. No one would want to read it. I’m not even interested anymore. How could anyone else be? How could this manuscript have been one of nine finalists for a national book award? Did they receive terrible submissions? Was mine never actually in the running, only chosen as a matter of formality, better than even worse writing? I don’t want to be mean to myself, but I don’t evade the questions. And I don’t know the answers. I wonder if this is natural and right, that after a period of time we become more objective, a sluice to separate the sand and gravel from the gold. I wonder if I am throwing away good work. I wonder if I need to leave this book behind. I know enough to know I am not the first writer to feel this way. I tell myself it is too soon to give up. I point out I have kept more of the manuscript than last time, but this argument is weak. I am only certain I want to keep a handful of the pages I’ve saved. The rest are maybes. I’ve written two new pieces, but they don’t sing. That doesn’t mean the fourth one won’t, I insist, or the seventh. I think again about turning this into a work of fiction. I decide to keep going, to trust myself to know what is true. I recognize fear, a clenching in my belly. But I’m pretty sure there is excitement rolled up in there, too. Maybe when I get inside the writing it will open up. Maybe it will fly. I think about what an odd and funny beast writing is, what quirky creatures writers are. I notice I can breathe again. I send up quick prayers for lift off, for flight.
Off and on since the fall, in fits and starts, I return to working on the novel I began a decade ago. I am determined to finish it, still convinced I need to complete it before I can move on to embrace a new big writing project. Like pulling teeth, I revise and edit the existing typed pages. It seems important to bring the writing current. During November’s National Novel Writing Month I write new pages by hand and type them up then promptly lose them. I found them last week—they sit beside me now, await revising and editing. I cull three notebooks full of scribbles and scraps, recycling most of it. Two ancient loose sheets, folded, and two notebooks each open to a page I may want to save sit here, too, a worn red ribbon that held things together resting on top of the pile. I will type these last bits up next week. I want everything clean, no more mess for this next stretch, not knowing what I have, everything in one word document. The manuscript itself will be unwieldy enough, I think. I’m pretty sure I’m writing scenes that will never make it to the book itself. But that part I don’t worry about. I have faith in that part, certain there can be no wasted effort in this, only added depth if I am lucky. And it’s how I find out what’s going to happen—in the writing itself. Lately, I find myself daydreaming about the story. There is a sweetness in that, too. I stare at the pile and pray away my ambivalence, that my resistance might melt and undivided I immerse myself in the writing. And even as I send off that wisp of prayer I feel a gentle tug, a tiny, eager spark. I wonder what my characters are up to now.