I’ve been feeling like a failure lately because my essay, “Claudia Songs,” has been rejected so many times. I log onto Facebook and see so many of my writer friends publishing, some often, some sporadically, but they are publishing. I’m happy for them, especially for the ones I know personally but still, that feeling of failure, “not good enough,” wants to creep into my writer’s soul. The newer versions of “Claudia Songs” are still out there with about five journals, but I don’t know if the essay will get taken. A friend said to me, “Sometimes you have to send a piece to a 100 places” before it gets taken. Well, I’m nowhere near that. I probably have only sent “Claudia Songs” to 10-15 places, and most of those places were reading an earlier version of the essay.
My friend, I don’t know if she wants to be named here, also gave me permission to stop trying to publish for the next several months. “Focus on the one project you want to work on most and write it as if you were writing to your ideal audience. Do that for six months and see what happens.”
What great advice. I’m trying to take it. It’s hard because I want to keep up with my friends. I try to remind myself that if I were to list all the publications I’ve had over 25 years it would be a long list. While not all of the publications were “creative” or literary in nature, many of them were. But it all feels so few and far between and I seem to have an emotional need to publish now to feel successful as a writer. Never mind what I’ve published since my twenties. Yesterday’s news, as they say. And I’m 50 now, and I don’t have a book.
“Focus on that one project for several months,” she said again, “and write your blog, especially if you can find a way to tie it into the project.”
It’s great advice, so here goes: I will try to focus on the “monologue” aspect of writing that I’m so interested in. In that spirit, I’ve signed up for a full weekend workshop with T.M.I. (Too Much Information) out of Rosendale, NY, to learn more about how to craft a monologue from the essays I write about my life. I’m truly looking forward to the workshop because the abbreviated version at the Woodstock Writer’s Festival was so great – one of those workshops where you are encouraged to keep going rather than having your work analyzed to shreds. And then you get to “perform” the piece at the end of the weekend to an audience.
The women’s weekend retreat is being held at the Lifebridge Sanctuary in the Catskills of New York. I will post a picture so get ready to lose your breath. It’s a gorgeous venue inside and out. If you’re in the Catskills the weekend of July 21-22, please come see the performance on Sunday night.
I will try to tie my blog entries into my focus on the monologue, when I can. Here is a draft of a short piece I hope to turn into such a monologue, when I truly learn how to do that:
She Was Just Seventeen
Plax. Red fucking Plax. I’m on a mission. It’s nearly midnight. My old lady mother wants dental rinse, red dental rinse.
“Miss? Miss?” I call. The young girl behind the counter looks up at me after a pause and an inspection of her black nail polish.
“What?” she asks.
I want to mock her and say, “What? What? Is that your generation’s shorthand for ‘How may I help you?’” But I keep quiet, afraid that any verbal conflict will lead me to wring her neck and leave her dead behind the counter.
A dead checkout girl will not lead me to Red Plax, and if I don’t come home with it, my elderly mother will sigh that sigh that makes me want to crawl out of my skin, that “I’m not happy with my life” sigh. I don’t ever want hear that sigh again, the way I never want to hear another ABBA song.
“Where is the red Plax?”
The cashier gazes at me, twirls her hair with her left forefinger and thumb, nearly assumes an intelligent expression on her face. She’s probably trying to guess my age, some middle-aged woman who is interrupting her adolescent reverie. Is she dreaming of Justin Bieber? I note a little upturn of one side of her lip. She has nose piercings. Probably not Bieber.
“What’s red Plax?” she asks.
“It’s for your teeth.” Don’t they train these people? Her long brown hair now rests on her overdeveloped bosom. She shows amazing cleavage for a girl her age.
I move my eyes from her cleavage to the countertop, blue, and then to her eyes, also blue, and wait for an answer. No one else is shopping at midnight in Rite Aid, so, we are alone. The mood is a showdown.
She twirls her hair; I twirl my anger. Who will shoot first?
“Aisle seven,” she says finally, upturning the other side of her mouth. Is she smirking?
“I’ve been to aisle seven. There’s only green Plax in aisle seven.”
She remains silent. Maybe she’s thinking about red Plax in the storage room. Maybe she’ll reach for the keys and take a look.
“Can’t you buy green Plax?” she says.
I note the cigarette display behind her, the rows of colorful Bic Lighters. I calculate the seconds it would take to jump over the counter, grab a lighter, and set her hair on fire.
Instead, I stand there, not budging.
She seems to have depleted her well of helpful suggestions.
“Look again,” is what she comes up with.
“Fuck this,” I say under my breath, but I follow her direction and turn toward the aisles. I suppose it’s possible the red Plax is hidden behind the green bottles. I head across a clean white floor. I walk past the cards and gifts, the stationary and school supplies, the deodorant and feminine hygiene displays, and again, I find the sign for aisle seven: Dental Care.
I behold a long, dizzy row of all things dental: Crest Toothpaste in a thousand variations, teeth whiteners behind locked glass cases, denture cream, dental floss, tooth brushes, and plaque removers, including green Plax. I kick a few bottles off the shelf. I see not one red bottle. I kick a few more bottles of green Plax to the floor. Oh, hell, I kick about thirty of them and the bottles lie on the white floor like dead soldiers.
Let the little cleavage-ed bitch pick up the bottles.
I turn myself around and prepare to walk up to that little twit and scream at that dumb ass little highness that there is NO RED PLAX. But maybe I should leave? Go to Walgreens? CVS? As I walk back along the gleaming white floor I look up at her and say quietly, “No red Plax.”
She shrugs her shoulders, reads a text message. I want to murder her. I guess her age to be seventeen. I guess her mother to be younger than I am, probably not even forty. I look at her brown hair leading to her breasts and wonder if someday she’ll be looking for red Plax for her 80 year old mother who insists on spending money on this shit, even though her teeth are brown and dead and nothing will bring them back. The counter chick with the cherry pop lips has no clue that she may be me in forty years.
I want to explain all of this to her, the aging, the generational evolution – or the collapsing order of things, like when you’re mother gets so old she becomes your child. If your elderly kid screams for red Plax you must find it. But I don’t think she’ll understand.
“Buy some red Plax for this frigging store,” I say to her as I approach the exit. She shrugs again. She really couldn’t give a shit. She was just seventeen.
You know what I mean?
If you didn’t enjoy theblog, maybe you can enjoy the song.