Broken things

The Broken PlateThe mirror in my upstairs bathroom medicine chest almost fell on my head. The mirror is separated into thirds, with each third opening when you push it, screws holding the turning mechanisms together, and  magnets holding the doors closed when pushed. Personal things are hidden behind the mirrors: antiperspirant, several tubes, half-used, of anti-itch cream, for a variety of uses, expired, floss, gauze pads, band aids, and items I am unable to recognize after 12 years of storage in this medicine chest. It’s just one more area that I need to purge of uselessness.  One of these mirror doors almost fell on my head  because the cabinet is stuffed to the gills; technically, the leftmost mirror popped out. Talk about potential bad luck. I was having trouble closing the mirror against the chest, and I pushed too hard one day. (Oh, the metaphors for life that come to mind based on mirrors, pushing too hard, useless items stuffed inside, etc.)  I could feel the mirror falling and was able to catch it before it broke my skull. The mirror is still whole and sits beside the vanity, with the screw that broke off the hinge on the floor. My orange and white tomcat likes to play with the broken screw. He does this while I pee. I watch him and wonder when will have the energy to fix the medicine chest. Do I even have the skills?

I’ve been able to superglue the screw and hinge together with great success; however, every time I try to re-install the mirror in the vanity, the top screw breaks off again. You see, there is not enough room to fit the bottom and top into the grooves with both screws in place. In other words, I am taking the wrong approach, trying to squeeze this thing in and breaking it over and over. (Why do I feel as though I am somehow discussing my romantic life here?) I need to come up with a more creative (and less lazy) solution. I have one in mind. I will spare you for the moment.

Speaking of broken things. I wrote an essay while I was a student in the Solstice MFA program in creative writing of Pine Manor College entitled, “This Time I Fell in Love with the Daughter.” The essay is essentially my coming out story between the ages of 18 and 24, the longing and struggles I faced in the 1980s, and the eventual revelation that I was a lesbian. The essay is about broken friendships, broken hearts, and broken people, so I find it apt that the essay has been accepted for publication by The Broken Plate, the national literary journal of Ball State University.

For some people, this is an uncomfortable essay because it is raw and vulnerable. Yet it has done well out there in literary journal land where 95% of my work gets rejected, with the venerable Gertrude Journal writing to let me know the essay reached the finals and that they saw much promise in my writing. Please continue to submit, etc.  I think there were some other “good” rejections for this essay. I’m thrilled, however, that the students of Ball State University have chosen this essay for their publication. Thank you very much.

“This Time I Fell in Love with the Daughter,” is the sixth of eleven standalone essays from my final creative thesis at the Solstice MFA program. There is a final chapter to the thesis, but I don’t believe it is standalone, so I can safely say I’ve published more than half of that thesis. The thesis is all about broken things — parents, lovers, friendships, sex, hearts. I keep trying to finish it, as it could be a full length book. I keep changing the name of the book based on my mood. Right now I’m calling it Marcella Songs: Essays on Valiant Failures in Love.” It’s all about shattered mirrors.

There is a lot broken in our society and around the world these days. I don’t have to tell you if you read the news or the pseudo news on Facebook. Part of me would like to jump into the fray and the arguments, but I cannot. I get too angry and I alienate people. So I don’t discuss politics much, but I continue to think of myself as a writer and hope my personal stories somehow achieve a universal theme and make a tiny dent in improving something in this world, any little thing.

I did get the third of the mirror back in place. It took extra effort, not something I’m known for these days, as my workouts wane, my writing production is in the toilet, and my performance at work is only mediocre. Still, I brought a step-ladder into the bathroom and had to glue the broken pieces while I held them in place where they belonged, rather than trying to squeeze something in a space it couldn’t squeeze. (“I held them in place where they belonged,” again, ripe with metaphoric possibilities, but I suck at metaphor.) So, the mirror is back up and functional (to a degree), chipped a bit in one corner where I had manhandled it, and not fitting exactly as before. It’s still broken, but it got up again.

Thank you for reading about broken things.

 

 

Is the MFA Worth It?: Guest blog by Message from a Blue Jay Author Faye Rapoport DesPres!

Message from a Blue Jay was written one chapter at a time, starting in the early days at Solstice when I started practicing the personal essay form. Slowly, over the two-year period of my studies, I began building a body of work I could be proud of. Still, the essay collection that became my final Creative Thesis was not the end of the road – not by far.

Blue-Jay-Cover-10.2-for-webuseToday my friend, Faye Rapoport DesPres, is guest blogging! Her book, Message from a Blue Jay, was released just yesterday, and it sold out on Amazon in half a day! It’s a fabulous and beautiful read about one’s woman’s journey home. You can still order on Amazon as more copies are being shipped ASAP. Below, please read Faye’s guest post, then enter the giveaway by leaving a comment after the post!

Faye Rapoport DesPres

Faye Rapoport DesPres is the author of the new memoir in essays titled Message from a Blue Jay(Buddhapuss Ink, May 2014). Faye was born in New York City and raised in upstate New York, and she has also lived in Colorado, England, and Israel. Her personal essays, fiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Fourth Genre, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, and the Writer’s Chronicle. Faye earned her MFA from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College.

The MFA in Creative Writing: Is it Worth It?

 By Faye Rapoport DesPres

It is appropriate that my first guest post for the Message from a Blue Jay “blog hop” (or virtual book tour) is being published on Cindy Zelman’s blog. I have been a fan of The Early Draft since Cindy began publishing her lively, insightful posts here several years ago. That was before she was stolen away by larger blogging venues like the Huffington Post – I hope she shares more of her writing here soon. Check back when she does – you won’t be sorry.

Cindy and I met as Creative Nonfiction students at the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College, so I thought I would use this space on her blog to address an often-asked question: Is earning an MFA in Creative Writing worth the money, time, and commitment?

Before I began my own studies at Solstice, I posed this question to several friends who are writers. Two of the people I spoke to had graduated from well-known MFA programs, and one held an MA in English Literature. Perhaps predictably, the two MFA grads recommended that I apply, while the third friend did not.

The writer who felt that an MFA wasn’t necessary basically told me this: “If you want to write, just write.” Armed with a strong background in literature and the experiences he’d had in his MA workshops, he felt motivated enough to read and work on his creative writing on his own. He noted that there are writing workshops, writing groups, and plenty of other opportunities to practice and perfect one’s craft without making the commitment (financial and otherwise) required to earn an MFA.

I have seen this work for some writers. I have a friend, for example, who has published five novels and a memoir with several independent presses. She even owned her own press at one point – and she never studied creative writing in any formal way. She was simply an avid reader from a very young age, and writing comes naturally to her. She is also highly disciplined, and because she loves writing and reading so much, both are a major part of her life.

On the other hand, the MFA grads who I spoke to felt that their MFA programs contributed in important ways to their experiences and eventual successes as writers. One person is still writing regularly as part of a writing group, and his MFA qualifications helped him land a job as an adjunct writing instructor at a state university. The other grad won a major poetry prize a few years ago that resulted in the publication of her first book; since then, she has published several chapbooks and a second book-length manuscript. She also teaches creative writing at a well-known college.

In the end, I decided that the discipline and experience of a Creative Writing program would help me – and that decision proved to be the watershed moment that propelled me toward the publication of Message from a Blue Jay. Before I studied Creative Nonfiction at Solstice, the bulk of my writing experience included a few poetry-writing classes I’d taken years before and my ongoing work as a professional journalist and a business/non-profit writer. I read a lot of classical literature during college and the years that followed, but I was out of touch with contemporary literature and the literary community in general. Most important, I had never learned some of the basic aspects of creative prose-writing craft.

I chose the Solstice program because it is a low-residency program that allowed me to continue with my professional freelance work while I pursued my interest in creative writing. Solstice is a small, more affordable program with an incredibly talented faculty, and it is located in the Boston area, where I live. As I had hoped, my creative work improved leaps and bounds during the two-year period that I participated in the program. I also met other writers and became part of an unexpectedly supportive community of writers and teachers.

Message from a Blue Jay was written one chapter at a time, starting in the early days at Solstice when I started practicing the personal essay form. Slowly, over the two-year period of my studies, I began building a body of work I could be proud of. Still, the essay collection that became my final Creative Thesis was not the end of the road – not by far. I revised the essays many times after graduation and continued to produce new work. I also struggled through the process of submitting to literary journals and wrestling with the standard rejections, which came far more often than the acceptances. Through it all, my teachers along with fellow students and graduates encouraged me by believing in my work.

It wasn’t until two and a half years after graduation that I finally felt my essays merited inclusion in a publishable collection – the manuscript that eventually evolved into the memoir-in-essays that is Message from a Blue Jay. The study, the revision, the persistence, and the waiting were all worth it. I finally have a book that I’m proud of.

As to the argument that MFA programs produce robotic, unoriginal writers, all I can say is that Cindy Zelman, whose blog I’m posting on today, and I couldn’t be more dissimilar writers. Yet we graduated from the same MFA program and had many of the same instructors. We’re different people with different perspectives and different voices – yet we enjoy and respect each others’ work. We’ve celebrated each others’ successes over a hot cup of coffee and we’ve encouraged each other to keep going after the sting of rejection. When one of us says, “This is it! I’m done! I can’t do this anymore,” the other listens patiently and then says, “Okay. Now get back to work.” Having colleagues like that on your side is priceless.

So – is an MFA worth it? I think the answer to that question is different for different people. All I can say is that in my specific case, the answer was definitely “yes.”

 

This was the second stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres’s Virtual Book Tour.

Don’t miss the next stop on 5/16 at Chloe Yelena Miller‘s blog!

The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway.
We invite you to leave a comment below to enter.
For more chances to enter, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab!

The week when “I was supposed to be at Lambda.”

This week, I was supposed to be at the Lambda Literary Foundation Writing Retreat in Los Angeles. I was supposed to be a “Lambda Fellow,” which holds a little prestige (at least in my mind) as one of just a few selected to attend this competitive writing conference, the only one in the country designed exclusively for LBGTQ writers. I am not there this week because I was rejected – the competitive admissions process threw me into the slush pile of applicants. My own “community” spit me out and said: Not good enough.

So, in mature fashion, I unsubscribed to Lambda‘s email communications. I mean, I didn’t need to read for the next two months the bios and profiles and activities of the chosen ones, those Olympian gay writers who made the Lambda cut. Fuck that, I am truly not that big of a person nor do I wish to be.

In 2011, I was accepted into the Lambda writing retreat, but turned down the acceptance, to attend the first ever Wet Mountain Valley Writers’ Workshop held in Westcliffe, Colorado. I wanted to work with one of my writing idols. During that week, my idol fell and my dreams of her turned ugly, nightmarish. The thin air and high elevation in Wet Mountain Valley may have exaggerated our perceptions, but she and I didn’t like each other. She criticized me too harshly. “Get rid of this flat, essay-ish writing.” Then she read a few lines, looked slightly disgusted and said, “This sounds like a an old political slogan, not a story!” It’s an essay, you idiot, I didn’t say, and I’m allowed some leeway to reflect, you jerk, I didn’t say. Obviously, you are a pure fiction writer and know nothing about creative nonfiction, I didn’t say. More than once she cut me off when I read out loud in class while letting her favorites read on over the time limit or talk incessantly about themselves or their own work. I hated her. I glared at her. It was like a bad online dating experience – all build up and in person no chemistry. I left the Colorado workshop in 2011 muttering “bitch” under my breath and “You haven’t written anything good in 20 years,” and other assorted, horrible, let’s bring on the bad karma type statements.

My own fault, all of this is my own fault.And so I brought on the bad karma, manifested in one way by being rejected from the Lambda Conference in 2012.

I don’t know if I should feel like a loser because I was rejected by Lambda this year, or like a winner, because I was accepted last year. Am I good enough? Am I not good enough? Perhaps I should feel like loser for my bad attitude at Colorado last summer? After having earned an MFA, I couldn’t take some harsh criticism from this author? Or maybe I should feel like a winner for standing up for myself, at least in my own mind?

Which brings me to the point: rejection and acceptance and how one navigates these waters as a writer and as a human being. I am not an authority on the subject, but I do have experience. I don’t always know when to feel good or when to feel bad when I’m rejected or accepted. That’s what I’ve concluded. See, I’m not really going to help you figure it out. I’m just saying…

Those of you who are regular blog readers know I’ve faced a lot of rejection in 2012. I won’t list all the rejections I’ve received. A good majority of them were for an essay called “Marcela Songs,” for which I now have about a thousand versions, and as of yet, no literary journal is interested in any version, no matter how I spin it. I may have to accept that “Marcela Songs,” is a failed essay. “Marcela Songs” is the essay I sent in to Lambda in 2012, further proof, I suspect, that it just ain’t that good. That’s hard for me. I’ve been trying to write this essay since I was 35. I turned 50 this year.

I’ve had other rejections on a smaller scale for other pieces. Overall in 2012, I had come to expect that every time I heard back from a literary journal for the email to say, “Thanks but no thanks, go find somewhere else for your work.” Because of the negative state that the rejections threw me in, I failed to truly acknowledge the positives, even within the rejections – for example, I received some form rejections that encouraged me to submit again. And although they were form rejections, I don’t think form rejections always encourage you to submit again. Or do they?

More important, my blog readers (that would be all of YOU), continued to encourage me with your comments and praise of my blog, month after month. By June, I’d started to think, “Hey, I have a readership that likes my work; maybe, just possibly, I’m not a shitty writer. Maybe, just possibly, I can be an effective writer without ‘being accepted’ in the more traditional fashion.”

Such support helped to renew my confidence. As did the support of individual friends. At dinner recently, a friend of mine said the mansuscript (not the single essay) Marcela Songs should be submitted as a book. She felt very strongly about this and now that I’ve looked away from it for awhile (after madly revising for a year and a half), I’ve looked at it again. I’m going to give it a shot. The manuscript is currently in the hands of a wonderful writer, Bridget Bufford, who is editing the book (in between bouts of poisoning herself on her landscaping “day” job and trying to survive the drought in Missouri.)

Candy Parker, my former editor at GAY e-magazine, recently asked me to contribute blog entries to lesbian.com, a world-wide resource for lesbians, a website that is receiving hits in the hundreds of thousands. She asked me, unsolicited, to contribute my work because she thinks so well of my writing. Lambda is not the only game in town. Neither is a bunch of “Marcela Song,” hating literary journals. Candy’s opinion means a lot. She’s a talented writer. So I should feel good about myself as a writer, right?

In July, the writing energy started to turn from negative to positive. I think this is a typical cycle for a writer, to go from negative to positive (and back again) in how one feels about one’s work and in how it’s received. I don’t believe that energy just makes itself up out of nothing, but we guide it based on our actions and attitudes. That doesn’t mean we control it or conjure it despite my claims of bad karma – just gently guide it, and hope it picks up the right wave.

The turn toward the positive started in July when I visited at the Summer Residency of the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. I graduated with an MFA from that program in the summer of 2010. And as always, I was welcomed back into a community that continues to think highly of me as a person and as a writer. As always, I was re-motivated as I listened to readers, took classes, and mixed with current students and other alumni.

Next, I attended a very supportive writing retreat weekend with T.M.I. (Too Much Information), led by Eva Tenuto and Sari Botton. The retreat focuses on writing monologue, providing encouragement (not glaring criticism) and then on performance/reading of one’s work. The T.M.I. workshop is one of the best I’ve ever attended. I knew no one there would reject me or tell me my worked sucked. In fact, the atmosphere and experience were in opposition to that. The weekend was about encouragement, about unabashedly letting your story out and then shaping it into a reading or performance. We worked hard, but we celebrated our stories and our writing.

And since those events, everything has turned around. Perhaps I was able to guide my energy wave toward the positive after these experiences. Regardless, during this week when I was “supposed to be at Lambda,” this is what has happened instead:

The literary journal, Cobalt Review, has accepted one of my essays, “Stuck in the Middle” for publication in their print edition in October and has named it one of three finalists in the Cobalt Writing Contest. I don’t know yet whether it’s won but this is a first for me – to be a finalist (or even place) in a writing contest.

Two days later, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, named my essay, “A Smirnoff and Coke,” one of the 10 best they’ve published in the last year and reprinted it in their August retrospective issue. Another first for me, to be named one of the “best.” My friend and fellow Solstice graduate, Faye Rapoport Despres also had her magnificent essay, “No One Watches the Old Lady Dance,” included in that best-of list.

A few days after THAT, Candy Parker informed me that one of my blog entries, “What’s in a Butch’s Purse?” would be reprinted in The Huffington Post Gay Voices Section. WOW. The Huffington Post is big-time exposure and therefore, big-time platform, especially since there may be more opportunities for blogs I contribute to lesbian.com to be picked up by Huffington.

That’s three pieces of good news in just a few days. Keep in mind that last year at this time, I had three essays accepted within two months before all the rejections started. So, I’m thinking this may be my cycle: 3 acceptances (of some kind) per year and dozens of rejections for the next 10 months. Should I feel good about this or bad about this? Some people never get their writing accepted. Some people get their writing accepted on a much more regular basis.

I have recently been invited to submit by two editors, and so I feel good about that, right? Absolutely. But I have learned that even when you are asked to submit, even by a friend, or a friendly acquaintance, that is no guarantee that you will have your work accepted. Late last year, a friend and acquaintance asked me to submit some short pieces to a journal she edits and she ended up rejecting all three. I should feel bad about that, right? Um, I’m not sure. Because what this tells me is that even if someone you know is making the decision to publish or not publish your work, she or he is not going to take it unless it’s good enough. This same person has published my work in the past and asked me to read at AWP in Chicago. So, it’s about my work being good enough, and I should feel good that she thought some of my work was good enough to publish and read aloud and be thankful that she showed me (by rejecting other work) that she’s doing this based off quality.

While I ride a wave of positive energy, even the rejections are getting better, or I perceive them as better.

Recently, I got a very personal rejection from The Missouri Review, one of the best literary journals in the country. I was so excited to get such a personal rejection which said, “I highly encourage you to submit more work,” and which was signed by a REAL PERSON, that I sent the rejection off to a friend and said, “The best rejection yet!” And she agreed. And then we both researched who wrote me that personal rejection. Turns out it was a senior journalism/English major at the University off Missouri and not one of the editors – an intern, a 22 year old. Should I feel good about this personal rejection from one of the best literary journals in the country? Or should I feel bad that it came from a kid? A nice kid with great taste, mind you, but a kid.

And just yesterday, I received this rejection (for a piece of fiction I wrote in the 1990s, believe it or not):

Dear Cindy Zelman:

Thank you for sending us “The Cross Dresser.” Unfortunately this particular piece was not a right fit for Slice Magazine, but we were very impressed by your writing.

We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else during our next reading period.

We look forward to reading more.

Sincerely, The Editors of Slice Magazine

I am choosing to feel good about this rejection, because it will likely be another year before I get my annual quota of three acceptances. 🙂 It’s a long wait for that next wave.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog and my FB page for all of your support.

Take Two Megs, Huff It Up With Joy, and Mix in a Yoo

So what do you get when you take two Megs, Huff it up with Joy, and mix in a Yoo? You, my friend, get some of the best summer (or anytime) reading you will ever find. I am so proud to say I know each of these amazing, award-winning authors: Meg Kearney, Meg Tuite, Steven Huff, Joy Castro, and David Yoo. I don’t know how I got so lucky to get in close to these talented people, but I did. If you love to read, please keep reading this post to learn more about their books and other works available to you now or soon this summer.

Product DetailsMeg Tuite is one of my writing idols. You think Facebook is good for nothing? Think again. Somehow, along my cyber travels through the writing stratosphere, I bumped into Meg, who is a prolific fiction writer, and wonderful editor at two journals, the amazing Connotation Press and The Santa Fe Literary Review. Meg’s fiction has been published widely, in too many places to mention here. Her first full-length book, Domestic Apparition is a masterpiece. Her prose is a jungle safari through the English language, a wild, rare and colorful ride. I had had the pleasure of meeting Meg in person at AWP in Chicago in March. She has called the kind of creative nonfiction writing I do “warrior writing” and said she wants to do more of that herself. I felt so honored that I would be someone she might admire. Well, Meg has done a masterful job at warrior writing with this piece, “Her Mother’s Daughter,” one of her first memoir pieces, recently published on the Psychology Today Blog:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/one-true-thing/201206/her-mothers-daughter

Next I highlight the the fabulous and multi-talented Meg Kearney, Director of the Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College, one of the best low-residency creative writing programs in the country. I know, because I spent two years there earning my MFA. Meg has become a great friend and inspiration to me as a writer and as a wonderful positive spirit. Her poetry is graceful and accessible (to us regular non-poet types) and yet her poetic sensibilities are deep and edgy. Not only can she write a poem and run an MFA program, but she can create a series of YA novels written in lyrical verse and journal entries. You see, not just one random poem, but poems that narrate an entire book, two books, in fact! The first of the series, The Secret of Me, is breathtaking, and you do not need to be a young adult to love this book. The second book in the series, The Girl in the Mirror, was recently released and has received a great review in Publisher’s Weekly. Both books take you through the life of Lizzie McLane, an adopted girl who seeks to know more about her birth family. Meg’s musical poetry and narrative will mesmerize you. Read the Publisher’s Weekly review of Girl in the Mirror here:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-892-55385-3

Product DetailsAnother writer associated with the Solstice MFA Program – Joy Castro – will be a guest lecturer and reader at the Solstice July 2012 residency. Joy’s brilliance is evident in the numerous essays and other works she has published in myriad journals. I was honored to work with her in my third semester at Solstice as she guided me through a thrilling and challenging critical thesis. She said my writing was elegant! She should know, as her own writing is gorgeous. Her first memoir, the critically acclaimed, The Truth Book, will blow you away with its honesty and beautifully crafted prose. Joy Castro is a writer to watch, and she has two books soon to be released, Island of Bones, a collection of essays, available in September 2012, and Hell or High Water: A Novel, available July 17th. Pre-order them, or begin with The Truth Book. Joy is one of those writers people will be reading and studying for centuries; her work is powerful, relentless, original, and always elegant. Here is a recent review of her collection of essays, Island of Bones, in Publisher’s Weekly:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8032-7142-5

Now for two very talented and funny men….

First, Steven Huff, author of poetry and prose, whose book of flash fiction, A Pig in Paris, helped me to survive a recent 5-hour delay at the ludicrous and horrifying Penn Station. Steve’s short fiction is a showcase for the ludicrous and horrifying – as well as the hilarious irony of our everyday lives. He is a born storyteller and his understated delivery is second to none. For those who love a good story, especially those stories where life is awkwardly and charmingly off-kilter, read A Pig in Paris. For those of you who love poetry, well, Steve has plenty of that to share, too. Check out More Daring Escapes, due out this fall.

And if you haven’t yet heard of David Yoo, you will. A writer of YA prose and creative nonfiction, David is an amazing talent. I have had the pleasure of hearing him read more than once at the Solstice MFA program where he teaches and mentors graduate level writing students. His writing is incisive, dry, witty, and often hilarious. One of the greatest moments of my own writing life came when he walked up to me after I did a short reading at Pine Manor and said, “You’re very funny.” I looked him in the eye and said, “You’re very funny,” and we went back and forth like this for quite a few minutes. Trust me, David Yoo is VERY funny. His first collection of essays, The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever, epitomizes David’s self-deprecating humor. Read the review on The Daily Beast. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/11/this-week-s-hot-reads-june-11-2012.html

Meg Kearney, Steven Huff, Joy Castro, and David Yoo will all be at the July 2012 residency of the Solstice MFA Program of Pine Manor College, so if you have the time, check the schedule to attend free and wonderful readings. To check out Meg Tuite’s reading schedule, as well as her numerous publications, please see her blog at http://megtuite.wordpress.com/ or her website, www.megtuite.com.

For me as a writer, 2012 has been a bad publishing year, with rejection after rejection coming my way. The five authors I’ve just highlighted make me want to trouper on. They are each uniquely gifted. I feel lucky to know them personally and through their writing. Thank you to each.

2012 So Far, 50 So Far

This post is mainly photos, just wanted to share some of 2012 with you all, as you so kindly share it with me.

Sadly (or not) the pic below is what got my blog traffic up by a catrillion percent in 2012. Is it art or is it porn? Say the key words Continue reading “2012 So Far, 50 So Far”

Woodstock Part II – Dorito in a Dish

At the Woodstock Writers’ Festival this past weekend, I participated in a workshop on “page to stage,” led by two of the founding members of T.M.I. (Too Much Information) out of New York. This is a group of three women who have started a monologue troupe where they, as well as others who join them, perform shows based on original work they write and turn into performance pieces. They also conduct workshops throughout the year.

Nacho Cheesier flavor Doritos
Nacho Cheesier flavor Doritos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve asked them to come to Boston, where I know of nothing like T.M.I., so I’m putting it out there – Does anyone know of any venues where these women could put on a show or hold a workshop? I’m hoping they will have some weekend workshops in New York so I can learn more and get better at this. I want to do what they do. I want this to be my retirement career.

Below I will post the first part of a brief monologue I wrote during the workshop. You need to imagine me not just reading the piece out loud, but “performing” it. Beyond just a good reading, monologue demands that I become a character in my own work. Ideally, one generates new work or takes part of a story from an essay and adapts it for performance. Usually, the truer and more personal the story, the more you will connect with your audience.

So here it is, “Dorito in a Dish.” Remember, it’s a first draft, so be kind.

I don’t tell my family that I’m gay, or in the language of my 1980s coming out, I don’t say, “I’m a lesbian.” My mom is 82 and lives with me. Over the years she’s seen woman after woman exit my bedroom, bumped into them on the way to the bathroom – there’s just a small foyer between rooms – and her usual response is, “Good morning X, would you like some breakfast?”

My mother has lived with me for years, and over the last decade, I’ve become her caretaker. She grew up an only child and in her old age she reverts to only child.

I love Dorito crumbs.

“Eat over a plate!” I tell her as her bedroom becomes laced with Doritos crumbs. “This is why we have mice.”

She looks at me with her mouth half open.

Did she hear me? I never know if she hears me.

“DID YOU HEAR ME?”

Yes, I heard.”

“Well, could you say something because otherwise I can’t tell if you heard or not.”

She says nothing. She also never uses a plate. The crumbs gather around and under her bed. I can’t vacuum under the bed because she’s piled a lifetime of cheap framed artwork she bought at Marshall’s. Timmy, my boy cat, keeps catching mice who find her crumbs.

Sometimes, I want to threaten her, like this: If you can’t put a fucking Dorito in a dish while you sit up here watching TV, maybe I should put you in a home.

But I keep it to myself. At least she’s not drinking anymore, and I’m not picking her up off the floor.

And all these girls she’s seen leave my bedroom, and all she’s ever done is graciously offer them breakfast.

I’ve never said to her, “I’m a lesbian,” but how could she not know? At this point in my life – I turn 50 next Friday – I’d have to say, “I’m kind of a failed lesbian because I’m 50 and still on my own. I’m still on my own in part because I take care of you, my kind, gracious, former drunken mother.”

A whirlwind of women and in the end, I’m married to her.

She’s home right now while I’m in New York. She’s eating Ruffles Chips in her bed. Timmy is looking for mice.

Mom, I’m a lesbian.”

I can only say this to you when I’m 200 miles away in New York, halfway up a mountain, in some stranger’s house in the Catskills.

The women I work-shopped with were fabulous and the workshop leaders were amazing. You can find performances by the workshop leaders on YouTube. Here are two links to get you started:

Gifts That Are Hard to Take: Trip to Woodstock, Part I.

Portrait of Vita Sackville-West
Portrait of Vita Sackville-West (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a new week. Time for one of those I’m-turning-50-gifts that I’m giving to myself  in April. This gift comes in the form of a new challenge – to drive 200+ miles to New York to participate in a page to stage writing workshop because I don’t know what the hell else to do with my life. Here’s a quote from Vita Sackville-West (she’s the chick who did it with Virginia Woolf):

“It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?”

I came across this quote in Dinty Moore’s wonderful new book, The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life.

All of this is to explain why I ended up on Mass I-90 today – because I want to be a writer who claps the moment with a butterfly net, although for much of the trip, I felt like someone in a white coat should throw a net over me.  To keep driving in the direction of New York, I had to employ a lot of self-talk, and sometimes, self-inner-scream-and-banshee-cry.  All necessary so I would not turn around and go home. My self-talk was impressive, the way a natural disaster impresses in its relentlessness. That tsunami will scare you and probably kill you, but damn, look at it, how can you not see the beauty of that disaster, that big beautiful deadly wave coming at you? I think the only thing beautiful about me is that I’m a natural disaster that I keep living through, year after year, decade after decade.

I'll get to that freaking workshop if it kills me.
 

As I drove and fought anxiety, I made plans for my imminent medical emergency. These plans formed and grew in layers of depth and sophistication.  At first, I thought I might just need a couple of Advil. By the my fourth pit stop, I frantically tried to figure out where I could find a hospital to admit me in a strange new land called the Catskills of New York.  I was astonished at my propensity to feel this fucked up by anxiety, after a lifetime of living with it and learning to manage it. You know, year after year. Decade after decade.

This is how it started. (I often tell stories backwards.)

When I left my house this morning, I noted that my lower back ached. I didn’t think too much about it. I made my first pit stop in Framingham, along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Boy, my lower back is really hurting me, I thought, as I exited the Ladies Room. Well, humph….I carried on.

Forty minutes later I turned off the turnpike at the next rest stop. I had to pee again.  This is not so unusual for me. But damn, by the time I left the second ladies’ room my lower back was killing me.

Last week I took antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, one discovered at a physical and for which I’d had no symptoms. As I headed back to the turnpike, I was convinced the infection had returned and had traveled up to my kidneys and I would need hospitalization if I didn’t figure out a way to get more antibiotics and this whole fucking trip would be a disaster. It didn’t help, I’m sure, that when I walked outside after the second pit stop, I noticed part of the plastic shield from the front end of my car was hanging down, and I wondered if it would fall off, pulling the entire front end down with it. I’d recently spent a fortune to get the front end repaired, have other car repairs, and four new tires put on after a recent 2-hour drive over 15 miles to Cambridge only to get dumped by the lady who was not the one of my dreams. It’s just the tires blowing out that broke my heart.

What the hell, I thought to myself (inner scream) as I re-entered the Turnpike, I felt fine yesterday, just fine, strong and fit and a great specimen of a nearly 50 year old woman. And in less than 24 hours, I’m in so much pain I’m sure I will not be able to make that writer’s workshop. I’m not sure I can make it to the hotel. Fuck.

I will need to find a pharmacy near my hotel. I’ll need to call my doctor and let him know the infection is back and what if I can’t find a CVS?!!??!!??? OH MY GOD….

I drove on, many more miles down the Turnpike. That Mass Turnpike is effing long.

This is just the beginning. Or is it the end?

As I sat in the car, the pain in my lower back lessened, but I had to pee again. I stopped at the next rest area. This was my third stop and the last one on the Massachusetts side of the turnpike. By the time I returned to my car, I thought: Turn around and go home, you need medical care, urgent care, emergency care. You are dying.

My lower back was throbbing. The infection was eating up my kidneys. I would only live if I turned around and traveled back home.

Oh, fuck, Cindy, are you kidding me? Really, dying? Just fucking cut the shit.

I’m a mean self-talker. Sometimes I’m a rational self-talker:

Cindy, your AT&T Navigator says you have 63 miles left to the hotel, but if you turn around, you will have 160 miles to drive to get home.

Panic at the moments of indecision:  keep traveling to New York and die because you can’t find a CVS, or turn the car around and travel 3 hours back just so you can panic in your own bed. Well, eff that. Home is where ever you make it.

I repeated, Home is where ever you make it. Got that Cindy-girl? Got it??? Now fucking DRIVE.

Maybe it’s the Mass Turnpike I don’t like. I don’t have the greatest memories of traveling to western Massachusetts or Vermont. Years ago, in my early twenties, I left what was then the Bennington College summer writing workshops after two days. I actually made it to the Green Mountains in my old yellow Datsun (now Nissan, look it up), and I was just about to acclimate to being so far from home. So, why did I rush home? The workshop leaders tried to get me to stay, but home, equal to safety, a grand illusion if there ever was one, beckoned, demanded, downright insisted, that I make that long ride back to Boston after only two days. The workshop was a two-week event. What a schmoe I was. I wonder what kind of illness I thought I had then, more than 25 years ago.

But a quarter of a century has come and gone and here I am, traveling to New York, with my lower back in pain and the need to pee at every pit stop.

What do you call this strange planet?

When I turned onto Route 87 South in New York, a change came upon me.  I found the scenery on either side of the highway and far down the road mesmerizing. From many angles, I could see the Catskill Mountains, or maybe the Adirondacks, silhouetted in gray against the sky. They weren’t as high as the mountains I saw in Colorado last summer, but they were high enough, and beautiful. Farmland occupied much of the green spaces on either side of the highway. I saw cows. I love cows. I saw farm buildings. Why is it that seeing farm buildings and farmhouses and cows makes for a serene experience? Is it some kind of weird, nostalgic, sentimental emotional illusion that brings me back to what I think was a simpler time in life or in the history of humanity? Yeah, the history of HUMANITY. If I’m going to drive this far, I will think BIG thoughts.

I stopped at the first rest stop on the New York highway. This was stop number four or five. I’d lost count. I dreaded getting out of the car and panicking all over again as I figured the pain in my infected kidneys would roar once I stood up. I was so far from home. And what if I couldn’t find a CVS for that next round of antibiotics? I was forty miles from my destination, so I figured I should pee one final time. You know, urinary tract infections make you pee a lot.

You know what else makes you pee a lot? Anxiety.

Why doesn’t my back hurt anymore?

I stepped out of my car at the New York rest stop. Certainly it will hurt by the time I get out of the Ladies’ Room. And yet, miraculously, my kidney infection-pain-imagination-fantasy-illness was gone. I was almost at my destination, so my anxiety was almost gone. Coincidence? I think not!

It’s taken 35 years to understand how to both suffer with the anxiety and all of its crazy symptoms and manage it through self-talk, inner banshee screaming, losing the will to go on but going on anyway, and through multiple bathroom breaks along major state turnpikes and thruways.  I haven’t taken any Xanax because I save that for the BIG stuff, and as hard as this trip may have been, it’s not the big stuff. The big stuff is landing in Colorado and trying to breathe thin air. You know?

I am not actually in Woodstock right now, although the Writer’s Festival starts tonight. The one event on the calendar is sold out and it would have been too much for me, anyway. I’m staying 15 miles away in a Courtyard by Marriot in Kingston, NY. In the morning, I will travel to Woodstock for my workshop and hopefully, for some sightseeing after the workshop, unless my kidney disease returns via my anxiety tsunami.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Happy 50th Cindy. How many more of these gifts must I accept between now and April 27th?