Google+ The Bluestocking Firefly: February 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ramblings of a confused and creative mind

I've known since I was eleven that I wanted to be a writer. According to my mother, I knew that was what I wanted to do earlier than that, but that's the earliest I remember knowing that that was what I wanted to do with my life.

I'm twenty-two now, and I guess I've spent half my life kinda-sorta working my way towards that eventual goal. I majored in creative writing at uni - went to the university I went to specifically because of reputation it had for its creative writing programme - but I can't say I walked out at the end of four years feeling like I'd learnt very much. Looking back, I think I probably should have majored in English Literature; I think I would have learnt more about writing from studying the work of others. In any case, I learnt far more in my year abroad, working intensively one-on-one with a tutor with whom I clashed excessively and who more than once made me absolutely furious (somewhere in the depths of Gmail lurk the emails between me and a good friend of mine, recording the many rants I sent off directly after tutorials, expressing my frustration with said tutor). And yet despite all that, I learnt far more from him in that one year than I did at my home uni. I think there's something to be said for being pushed to your limits: you learn what it is you really care about in your work. I figured out what I was willing to let slide, what I was willing to compromise in order to clash with him a little less, and what I absolutely refused to let go of, what I had to stand up for, because it was important, to me, to the story, to the characters occupying that world inside my head. I don't think I ever got that kind of challenge from my creative writing professors at my home university; there was general feedback, and some criticism, but the feeling I got from them was that they were too wrapped up in their own work to push us in ours. I did get that challenge from my English Literature professors, particularly my honours supervisor, and in retrospect I've realised that at times we clashed in much the same way that my tutor and I did when I was abroad. I think it's part of the process, and I don't think it's a bad thing. Someone should always be there to challenge you to do more, to challenge your assumptions, to argue with the way you've decided to do things. The drive to challenge ourselves should really come from within, I know, but sometimes we can be too close to our own work to realise that that thing we love about a piece, that we've held on to since the start of it, has no place in the work it's become. Sometimes someone else has to batter down the walls we've built around a beloved story and knock some sense into us, and it's only at that point that we as writers can figure out what it is that's really important, what to keep and what to lose.

I'm not saying I walked out of that year abroad with a clear idea of who I was and what my writing had become. Quite the opposite: I'd compromised a lot of who I was, in terms of my writing, in order to get through the year, and I came out of the year uncertain of where exactly my style as a writer lay. I'm still rediscovering what kind of a writer I am. I also came out of that completely burnt out; I didn't write for months. My imagination was shot; it took months for the glimmer of a story idea to even flicker across my radar. I'm not sure I'd care to repeat the experience, but neither would I erase it. One of the things about being a writer is that every thing I do, everywhere I go, every moment I experience, contributes to who I am and the wealth of knowledge at my fingertips: knowledge that is infinitely valuable to me as I think about how to write, who to write, where to write.

I think one of the most depressing things about the computer age (something supremely ironic, as I sit here writing on a computer) is the fact that we write, erase, and write again, and nothing of what we wrote the first time remains; it disappears forever. There's a whole process that the writer goes through that just disappears. As I've got older, I've started to save successive major drafts as separate documents, to avoid this, but 'minor' changes are still impossible to track (unless one turns on the track changes option, and who does that?). I never did this with my older work, and consequently I have things like my first novel (eek) that has about four places where I started to rewrite it...and there's no way of knowing what was originally there. With that one, I do have the benefit of having the very original draft in manuscript form, because in middle school and high school I wrote everything in notebooks first. I'm sure my teachers despaired; I'd sit there in class with a notebook on my desk, scribbling away. I have a whole shelf of notebooks at home. Some of them are actually completely full. Some of them actually have complete stories in them (that would mostly be the really, really appalling sci-fi series of stories from middle school). Most of them are only partially filled, and as best as I can remember, only the later ones are dated. It's still possible to track my progress through the improvement in my writing, however, and since I can remember where I was when writing some of them (sixth grade, 'Orphan's Magic': end table in the library by the doors), I can sort of date some of them. Sometimes I go back and look at those old pieces, and as much as I cringe at how bad the writing is, it's still encouraging when I realise how much I've improved.

This post has kind of got away from me. I suppose I've been thinking a lot about writing lately. I'm halfway through my MLitt in Shakespeare Studies, and I'm in the process of constructing a research proposal to apply for a PhD (also in English Literature...not creative writing). I did my senior honours in Shakespeare, because, as my supervisor pointed out, if I was planning on going on in English Literature (as I obviously have), doing honours in English Lit would be more helpful than doing honours in creative writing. She was right, of course, but I can't help but feel that I'm getting further and further from what I want to be doing with my life. This is probably prompted in part by the fact that I had some free time in January, and I spent a lot of it working on El (see Rebecca and Rebecca, again). I started El last summer, at the end of July, and when I picked it up again in January, it was sitting at around 21,000 words. In about the first week I worked on it, I more than doubled the word count; at last count, a little over a month after I picked it up again, the word count stood at 70,823. That's over 50,000 words, over half of which was written in about a week. I think I realised what I'm capable of when I really try, and I think I'd forgotten how happy I am when I'm writing. It's like all the missing pieces just slot into place. El's more or less done, insofar as the story is basically complete; my goal for the next couple of months is to restructure and rewrite it into something resembling publishable material, and then see if I can make that happen. I love academia, but it's not where I want to spend my life. My heart lies in my writing. It's what I've wanted to do since I was eleven, and I don't want to spend the next eleven years walking in place. I'm not the best writer in the world, but I can only improve by working. I know I don't spend as much time writing as I should, and I could spin a dozen excuses as to why that is, but in the end I think the real reason is that I'm afraid that I just won't be good enough. I think I keep doing other things to avoid the inevitable, because one day I'm going to have to learn whether or not I have what it takes, and I'm terrified that I don't have it. And if that's the case, I'm afraid I will break. But since I'm rapidly running out of options (academia's all very nice, of course, but I don't really fancy spending my life in the academic bubble), I need to get moving. I talked about challenges. I guess this is where my challenge really lies.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spence IV

Felt like writing. Wanted to write Faye going to see her father. This is what came out. I'm not thrilled with a lot of it, but oh well. Writing's a process, and this is raw and hasn't been edited. Meh.

You can find the rest of Spence here.

Music: "Broken" by Lifehouse (the cemetery scene)

Conway leaned against the doorframe and studied Faye, his eyes dark with an emotion she couldn’t identify. His jaw worked, and his gaze dropped to his sunglasses, dangling loosely from his hands. At last he said, “Have you gone to see your father yet?”

Faye stared at him, at the way his hair curled over his ears and brushed along the edge of his collar, and shook her head. “No,” she said. She swallowed and looked away, out into the garden. Barney was sprawled on the lawn in the afternoon sun, one ear draped over his eye, the other twitching occasionally as the breeze set the blades of grass tickling against it. His paws twitched in his sleep, and the corner of Faye’s mouth turned up slightly.

“What’s got you smiling?”

She nodded at the sleeping dog. “Barney,” she said. “He never fails to make me smile. He’s such a happy dog.”

Conway hung his sunglasses from the front of his shirt and hooked his thumbs in his pockets. “You do love that mutt.”

“He’s a good dog.” She watched as his back leg kicked out, and her smile faded. She pushed off the edge of the couch and stood still for a moment, working her toes against the thick carpet. “I guess I’ve been avoiding it.”

It took Conway a moment to realize she’d returned to the previous topic of conversation. He hesitated, and then said, “Any particular reason?”

Faye walked to the window and leaned her head against the glass. “Every time I see that gravestone, it just reminds me again that he’s never coming back. And I hate it. I hate thinking that that’s all that’s left of my dad, some rotting corpse six feet under, slowly being reduced to nothing more than bones. I hate it. It’s an awful feeling.”

“Hasn’t stopped you from visiting every year,” Conway said before he could stop himself.

Faye lifted her head and slowly turned around. “Who told you that?”

“No one. Forget I said anything.”

She crossed her arms tightly across her chest, hunching her shoulders. “No one knows about that. No one knows I come back. How did you find out?”

He eyed her warily. “I didn’t mean to pry,” he said. “Honest. I was just talking to Ed—you know, he’s the groundskeeper for the cemetery, and he said you’re there, every year, on the anniversary of his death. I didn’t even know you’d been back in the state.”

“No one was supposed to know,” Faye whispered, her eyes glimmering with tears. She slowly sank to the ground, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “No one was supposed to know.”

Conway took a hesitant step towards her. “Spence—”

She looked up at him, and he was appalled by how fragile she looked. He quickly crossed the room and knelt by her side, putting his arm around her, and said,

“Spence, if you don’t want anyone to know you’ve been here every year, I’m not going to tell anyone. But if it’s been that important for you to visit your father—why haven’t you gone yet this year?”

Faye blinked against his shirt, leaving black smears of mascara against the blue plaid. “It’s different. Everything’s—different.” She pulled away and looked up at him. He gently reached out and wiped the mascara tracks from beneath her eyes. Sighing, she continued, “I’ve had enough of death, Conway. I’ve had enough of cemeteries, and gravestones, and corpses floating in my mind.”

Conway sat back. “He’s your dad.”

She smiled tightly. “Yeah. I know. And Sarah was my aunt.” Shaking her head, she got a grip on the windowsill and pulled herself to her feet. “I’m just tired of death, Conway. I feel like I’ve got the Reaper dogging my heels, hiding in my shadow, haunting my footsteps. I feel like I have seen Death, and he has become me.”

Conway leaned back on his hands and stretched out his legs. “You keep drinking like you have been, you might see Death sooner than you like.”

Faye nudged his foot with her own. “Cute,” she said.

He got to his feet and put his arm around her shoulders. “Life sucks sometimes,” he said, squeezing her for a moment. “But you’re a big girl. And you’ve got me. You’ll get through somehow.”

Faye laughed weakly. “Smartass. Thanks.”

Conway looked down at her. “Hey, Spence,” he said, serious again. “It’ll be okay.” He pulled her to him and deposited a kiss on her forehead. “I think you’ve got an appointment at the cemetery,” he added, releasing her.

“Yeah,” she said, taking a deep breath and expelling it in a rush of air. “I know.”

He tipped up her chin and looked into her eyes. “You want me to come?”

“Thanks for the offer, but it’s my dad,” Faye said. She grabbed a jacket from the back of a chair and the keys from the table and headed for the door. “It’s my deal.”

“Dinner later?”

She paused on the porch and glanced over her shoulder. “I’ll let you know.”

Conway watched as Faye strode down the path, her flip-flops thwocking against the pavement, and swung into the pickup. It roared into life and rumbled away down the street, and he looked around the house. Barney whined at the back door, and Conway smiled as he went to let the dog in.

“Interested in a walk, boy?”

The keys hung loosely from Faye’s hand as she walked through the cemetery, up the hill towards her father’s grave. Conway had been right; she’d been coming every year since the first year after her mother had moved her away, the year after her father had died. At first, it had been because she missed her daddy so much and she thought that somehow visiting him would bring back part of what she’d lost. Later, she thought maybe visiting would convince her to go back to Darrington, to return to the town and the people she’d left behind—but it never had. She’d never gone back to see her aunt, even though she’d only been a matter of miles away. Instead, she’d rented a car, driven to the cemetery, stood at her father’s graveside, and driven away again. Faye didn’t like to think about the kind of person she’d become.

There was a small plant sitting next to her father’s grave. Dahlias. They were Aunt Sarah’s favorite flower, and Faye felt tears pricking her eyes as she realized that the little plant had probably been from her aunt’s last visit to the cemetery before she flew to New York. Someone had been watering them.

“Hi, Dad,” Faye said, stopping in front of the gravestone. There was silence, as always, and she smiled sadly. “It’s that time of year again.”

For a moment she stared down at the stone.

John Spencer Murray
Loving Father
3 April 1947 — 22 August 1997

“You know,” she said, sitting down cross-legged in front of it, “I never really know what to say when I come. Because the thing is—” Her voice broke, and she swallowed hard. “The thing is, Dad, if you’re in Heaven, you already know everything about my life. I mean, I hope if you’re in Heaven you’re keeping an eye on me. I’d hope you’d want to know what’s going on in my life. Except, see, the thing is—” She stopped again and shook her head sharply. “I don’t know if I want you to know everything going on in my life.” She reached out and touched the tombstone. “I’m not real happy with my life right now, Daddy.” A tear trickled down her cheek, and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. “I guess if you’re up in Heaven you know all about Aunt Sarah. I didn’t mean for that to happen, Dad. I didn’t. It just did, and so did the other thing, and now I feel like everything’s just falling to pieces and I just don’t know what to do.”

She got to her knees and crept close to her father’s grave, and then sat down again, hunched into her jacket despite the sun. “You always used to tell me what to do,” she said into the stone. “What do I do now?”

There was no answer, and although Faye hadn’t expected one, the silence reminded her how alone she was. She began to cry, to really cry for the first time since before Sarah’s murder, and that was how Ed the groundskeeper found her two hours later as he did his rounds, huddled against her father’s tombstone and shaking with silent sobs. He quietly gathered her up into his golf cart and drove her to the groundskeeper’s cabin, where he made her a cup of tea and called Conway to come get her.

“Do you know what’s wrong?” Conway asked when he arrived. Ed shrugged.

“You see all kinds of things, this job,” he said. “But I’ve never seen her like this, in all the years she’s come here.”

Conway looked at Faye. She sat at the table, a blanket wrapped around her, a cup of tea clutched in her hands. She stared straight ahead, her eyes red and puffy and her hair tangled. When Conway crouched down in front of her, her face only registered a flicker of recognition.

“Hey,” he said. “It’s time to go home.”

“Okay,” she said listlessly.

“Come on,” he said, taking the cup from her hands and putting it on the table. He picked her up and carried her out of the room.

Previous: Spence III
Next: Spence V

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spence III

Next section of Darrington. This part, I like. You can find the rest of Spence here.

Music: "How Far We've Come" by Matchbox 20

She had a map and directions sitting on the dashboard, but as she drove out of the parking lot, Faye found she didn’t need either. She drove automatically, and as she went through the neighborhoods, she could still point out the houses of people she had once known. Sometimes she saw someone moving inside, could see someone drawing a curtain or putting dinner on the table as a car pulled into the driveway, and wondered who lived there now.

When she turned down Tamara Lane a flood of memories washed over her and her hands tightened involuntarily on the steering wheel. She hadn’t been back to Darrington in years, not since the summer she turned sixteen. Not since the summer her father died. She swallowed. Beside her, Barney sensed her agitation and whined.

Faye rubbed the faded fabric on the wheel with her thumb; this old pickup was a ’92, the same year as her dad’s old truck. It would have been new then. Her mother had sold off pretty much everything after her dad’s death, including his truck. Faye stared at the Ford imprint on the steering wheel. She would have liked to have had her dad’s truck. Her mother had said no.
What would you do with a truck in New York? she’d asked. The truck and everything else that had connected Faye to her dad had gone, a long time ago.

As she drove down the street, Faye was struck by how closely Tamara Lane fit her memories of it; she felt as though she’d been catapulted back nearly twenty years. Most of the houses had retained their original paint colors, and a lot of the cars in the driveways were older models. Her truck wasn’t as out of place as she had thought it might be. A couple of girls, maybe twelve or thirteen, rode their bikes along the side of the road, and across the street she spotted a group of boys of about the same age, leaning casually on a ’99 Honda Civic plastered with bumper stickers. Nothing changed. When she’d been twelve, it had been her on one of those bikes.

The sight of an unfamiliar truck distracted the kids from checking out each other, and they turned their attention to Faye as she passed them by. As she reached the end of the street, she slowed to a stop in front of a one-story house with an overgrown yard and peeling paint and put the truck in park. For a moment she just sat still and stared at the house. The rhododendrons in the side yard, from what she could see of them, appeared to be dead. The lawn also appeared to be deceased. It was certainly brown enough. At least the dandelions appeared to be thriving; there were yellow blooms all over the grass.

Taking a deep breath, Faye climbed down from the truck and let Barney out. She gathered up her groceries and headed for the door, ignoring the girls on the bikes and the boys who had been watching them, all of whom were steadily inching closer and watching curiously as she picked her way through the masses of overgrown vinca that threatened to obscure the path. The vine sprawled all the way up to the front porch and over the step; Faye glanced back over her shoulder at the devastation she’d left behind and shook her head before turning her attention to finding her keys. It took some juggling, but she managed to balance the bags on one knee and finally get the door unlocked.

And then stood on the doorstep and clutched the groceries to her chest, trying to work up the courage to open the door and go inside. This was Aunt Sarah’s house. She had spent every summer here until she was sixteen, including two years of high school when her father was sick in the hospital. She had never been here without her aunt. Faye knew the house was hers now, but somehow the idea of living here without Aunt Sarah seemed—wrong.

She turned and whistled for Barney, who had been making friends with the neighborhood kids. He perked up his ears when he heard her and came trotting over. Faye crouched down, setting aside the bags, and gripped him by the ears, staring into his eyes. He stared back, his tongue hanging out and breathing into her face.

“Phew,” she said, standing back up. “I should have bought you breath mints. Come on, then, Barney, I guess we can’t stand on the porch forever.” He looked up at her and wagged his tail. Faye gathered up her bags again and pushed open the door.

Someone had come in and covered the furniture. Faye wasn’t surprised. No one in town had heard from her in years, so she doubted anyone had expected her to actually turn up. Probably the most recent conversation she’d had with anyone from Darrington was the brief phone call with the lawyer, acknowledging she understood the contents of Sarah’s will. Faye frowned as she looked around; the house wasn’t entirely as she remembered it. Aunt Sarah had had the painters in sometime in the last decade. The living room wasn’t that awful seventies green any more, and it looked like she had bought a new coffee table.

Faye pulled the sheets off the couch and armchair and bundled them into the corner, relieved to see that Aunt Sarah hadn’t gotten rid of her old furniture. It was the most comfortable couch Faye had ever slept on—and there had been many sleepovers spent on that couch. She sank down in the corner, feeling the comfortable sensation of being enveloped, and tucked her feet up underneath her. The TV turned on when she tried the remote, and she was pleased to see that it appeared that the cable had been activated. She had called before leaving New York to set up the TV cable and the internet and phone connections, but the person she’d talked to hadn’t promised anything. Nice to know something had gone right.

There wasn’t much on. As she flipped through the channels she found reruns of
CSI, Law and Order, and Bones, and finally turned the TV off.

“Jesus,” she muttered. “Aren’t there any shows on TV anymore that
don’t have to do with crime?”

Barney barked from the kitchen and she froze, one hand clutching the remote, the fingers of the other hand digging into the arm of the couch. It was suddenly difficult to breathe, and Faye had to concentrate on taking deep breaths.

“No one knows you’re here,” she reminded herself. “Well, no one except Jim. And that girl. Christ, the entire town knows by now.” She managed to detach her hand from the couch and ran it through her hair. “No one important knows you’re here,” she amended. “It’s fine. It’s fine.”

She felt something against her knee and opened her eyes to find Barney pressing against her, his eyes big and concerned.

“Okay, fine,” she said, pushing herself off the couch. “I know. I have stuff to do.”

She picked up the abandoned groceries from the front hall and went into the kitchen. Barney followed and stood forlornly at the sliding glass doors that led into the backyard until she opened them and let him out. She watched him running happily around, sticking his nose into everything, his ears flapping, and then sighed and started putting things away.

She hadn’t bothered bringing most of her stuff from New York. She didn’t know yet if she was staying in Darrington, so there hadn’t seemed much point in moving her entire life. Dealing with two suitcases, a tote bag, and a dog had been enough of a hassle. Never mind that she probably could have hired someone to take care of everything for her; god knew she made enough money. It wasn’t the way she did things.

It only took two trips to get everything into the house, and then Faye stood in the hallway between the bedrooms, her tote slung over one shoulder and her bags sitting at her feet. The bigger bedroom, with the walk-in closet and the bathroom with the bathtub, was—had been—Aunt Sarah’s. The smaller one across the hall was officially the guest bedroom, but since Aunt Sarah’s most consistent guest had been Faye, it had always been her room. Now that this was her house, Faye didn’t know which bedroom to take.

“Oh, whatever,” she said, and dropped the tote to the floor. She went back out to the kitchen and found a bag of chips and a jar of salsa, opened a beer, and settled herself on the couch to watch the Mariners play the Angels. In the middle of the third inning, halfway through her fourth beer, she heard Barney scratching at the door and went to let him in, swearing at the TV as the batter hit a ball past Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson.

“Christ,” she muttered as she came back into the room and saw the hit had turned into a double, “this team has gone downhill.” She curled back up on the couch, setting the beer she’d brought from the kitchen on the table and picking up her half-finished one. Barney gave her a reproachful look. “Come on, mutt,” she said, patting the space beside her. He lifted his ears. “Yeah, that’s right.”

He hopped up and settled down on top of her leg, resting his nose on her knee. She balanced her beer on the top of his head and settled in for an evening of swearing at the game.

By the time the game ended, Faye had gone through the bag of chips, the six-pack of beer, and she thought she might have drunk two or three vodka and sprites, but she wasn’t quite certain because her memory was getting a little fuzzy. She stumbled down the hall and tripped over her tote bag.

“Oh good,” she mumbled. “I was looking for that.” She dug through it until she found her pajamas. Feeling lazy, she stripped off her jeans and top and pulled on a tank top in the hall, hopping on first one foot and then the other and crashing into the walls, and then staggered back into the living room. Barney stared up at her as she came towards the couch, and decided it would be a tactical move to get off the couch. Faye narrowly missed landing on him as she tipped forward.

“Barney,” she said, lifting her head as she reached out and patted blindly at the air. “Barney, remind me. Remind me to brush my teeth. I shouldn’t go to bed without brushing my teeth. Aunt Sarah never let me go to bed without brushing my teeth.” Tears pricked at her eyes. “Aunt Sarah always said…” Her head dropped down onto the pillows and she was asleep before the tears could spill over.

Previous: Spence II
Next: Spence IV