Sunday, April 11, 2004
Rainy and cool
My day started with getting yesterday’s mail (which, by 6 PM yesterday had yet to arrive). The news disheartened me. I did not get a grant for which I applied last October.
The grant wasn’t for much money, but it would have taken some of the financial pressure off of me.
Letters like that always bring a mixture of feelings – disappointment mixed with anger and resentment. There’s that feeling of , “why doesn’t anyone whose work I actually know and respect ever get this grant?” Sad, but true, I have never seen a body of work come out of the grant. Yet, someone, somewhere is getting the money and truly needs it in order to fund even a few months of work without the bill collectors’ interruptions. I can’t begrudge any working artist from receiving aid. I simply don’t understand the criteria this particular organization uses – it seems to be that the person be as obscure as possible with no hope for a self-sustaining career. And yet, that could well be an unfair assessment. I’m hardly acquainted with every artist in the region. And the value of work is purely subjective, not objective.
Still, it makes it difficult to face the page this morning.
And face the page I must. I’ve had a rough few days. I haven’t accomplished everything I need to before leaving for Maine. I need to get several episodes of the horror serial out. And I need to do my taxes.
I truly struggled with the ranch feature. I knew what I wanted to evoke – the wonderful love of the land they have, and the wonderful job they do as caretakers. It’s a busy, happy, active place. And there’s a deep sense of history and commitment.
But the editor wanted quotes, snappy Q & A stuff, and it didn’t work at all for this piece. They’re doers, not talkers. It’s not about self-involvement. There are always animals that need to be fed, stalls that need mucking out, horses to train.
I put in a lot of history, and I think I may have gotten carried away on the Captain Kidd stuff. Finding out that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a short story, published in 1870, about the search for Kidd’s treasure, and connecting her, via her father’s four years as a minister in East Hampton to the piece was important to me, but I don’t know if it’s something that needs to stay in the piece. The entire Captain Kidd section could be its own article.
I finally built each section separately, then worked on the transitions so that they could flow into each other. That required a good bit of cut-and-paste, rearranging paragraphs, and reworking sections because once they were rearranged, it didn’t make sense to keep them intact.
This is where working on a computer comes in handy. The cut-and-paste function saves an enormous amount of time.
And yet, when one has to retype an entire page due to a single mistake (or many mistakes or revisions or whatever), you keep inside the entire flow and it’s more of a piece than fractured bits fit together like Humpty-Dumpty.
I tried to articulate what I had problems with on a couple of writer boards. On one, primarily composed of fiction writers, they had no idea what I talked about. They were supportive of my frustration, but didn’t have the tools or the experience to give me suggestions. On the other, there were several people who had experience in journalism – they understood how and where I got stuck, and gave me some good tips for organizing information and writing my way out of the holes I so beautifully dug for myself.
Hopefully, the editor will be happy with both the Lighthouse piece and the Ranch piece.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition out there on the East End. The weekenders do nothing BUT talk, and the locals say very little – except when they’re in their own space, away from weekenders, such as in the diner I like to frequent. I like the locals. They’re what I call “real” people. I always dismissed the Hampton area because of all the weekenders – they’re not people I choose to hang out with here in NY, so why would I drive three hours to hang out with them – especially when the majority are even more drunk and obnoxious than in Manhattan – on the Island? But the year-rounders are an interesting bunch. The area has its own energy, very separate from the frantic energy of the visitors – and it’s a solid, earthy energy without being stolid.
Traveling in to NYC to pick up my check a few days ago enhanced the feeling of fracture in me. I resented the time spent on the train. I resented fighting my way through tourists to get to the theatre. I was happy to see everyone at the show, but couldn’t wait to grab my money and get out. I’m a part of the show, yet not. And that’s not due to anything anyone else does to me – it comes from within. My sense of displacement is entirely my internal struggle. Making sure I don’t spew it onto anyone else is important. No one should have to suffer because I’m having a dilemma. It’s one thing to be able to sit down and discuss with friends and colleagues what works and what doesn’t. It’s quite another to punish one’s co-workers because you have trapped yourself. I’m trying to make sure that my time in the theatre is not a trap, but a pleasure. And when I get frustrated – at this point, even when I enjoy my work, I’m frustrated whenever I walk through the door – I try not to punish anyone else for my decisions.
I need a slow transition process. Part of me wants to leap off the cliff in this instance, but that is the wrong choice. I have to take this slowly, plan each step, and execute it in a rational, adult manner. And I can’t let frustration sabotage that.
At least there’s hockey. The Stanley Cup playoffs have started, and as long as I can watch hockey, life is mostly good. The Islanders lost the first game to Tampa Bay, but won the second. Since some former Bridgeport Sound Tigers are Islanders, and I think the coach is brilliant, I’m rooting for the Islanders. However, one of my favorite players in the league is Tampa’s Martin St. Louis, and I’m also rooting for him. I just like watching a good game.
I want Toronto to do well because Brian Leetch is now with them – after 30+ years as a Rangers fan, the final nail in my fan coffin was the trade of Leetch out of NY. I could write an entire volume on my anger and frustration with the way the Rangers have been handled under this ownership. I like the Devils over Philadelphia, again, because Ray Giroux, one of my favorite players, is over there. I’d prefer Colorado over Dallas (because of Kariya, Barnaby and Aebischer). Don’t much care about the match up between St. Louis and San Jose. Prefer Detroit over Nashville – although Tootoo and Upshall of Nashville are among “my” players. I don’t even know if Upshall’s there for the playoffs, and it’s great for Nashville to finally get in, but give me Detroit any day of the week. I’m evenly rooting for Boston and Montreal – both Original Six teams, so whichever one advances, I’ll be happy.
Of course, if I end up moving to Massachusetts, I guess I’ll have more at stake with the Bruins!
When I’m settled in my house, I want to make sure I have hockey channels on my cable so that I can have as much hockey from everywhere as possible.
No such thing as too much hockey.
Four episodes of the horror serial written, rewritten, edited, rewritten again and sent off. I should do four more to get completely caught up, but I’m written out for today. The interesting thing about this serial is that it works better if I write it in chunks of at least four episodes (approximately 4000 words) at a time. It flows better. Tapestry
can be written in short chunks – probably because I have a lot of material for it, and it’s more revision and opening the piece out while tightening the plot line. The Widow’s Chamber
always feels better when I hit a groove, but even then, I can stop and start to an extent.
But the horror piece needs long stretches of uninterrupted work time to really enter the otherworldliness of it.
I searched for an “otherworldly” term to describe one of the characters. I thought Latin might work, but no luck. Tried Scots Gaelic, couldn’t get the shade of meaning. Finally, in a Manx dictionary, I combined two terms and got what I wanted. Don’t know if it’s completely correct, but I like the way it sounds, and that’s what I’m using. Call it “occupational fiction freedom.”
One fear I have with it is that there are large stretches between bouts of “horror.” And, since it’s a horror serial . . .however, I do build tension in each episode, and I’m tossing in some interesting herrings. I’m not sure if they’re red, silver or black at this point, but there’s some stinky fish in there to lead readers astray, yet circle them back and surprise them without making them feel cheated. I’m also using a lot of humour – not that I think terror is funny, but I think you can make a point about what doesn’t work in the world via humour, and much of the basis of the horror is rooted in the real world and then jumps off from there.
This piece is such an experiment, such a stretch for me. I’d say it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written.
Yet I still think fiction is much easier than non-fiction.
Jumping back in immediately made me feel a lot better about the grant rejection. That refusal hit me a lot harder than it should have. Especially since yesterday I received word that several of my essays will appear in a Conari anthology next February, and the editor asked me for more.
The editor for “Tears & Coffee” in the upcoming issue of Rose and Thorn
sent me her edits – only two lines. And she’s right – the minor change in those two lines smoothes out the rhythm of the piece. I like it, and I have to not only tell her, but thank her for the sensitive editing. I appreciate it when an editor can inspire me to look at one of my pieces from a different angle and get excited about it again.
I am a published author, a continually working writer. The decision of an anonymous grant committee should not make me doubt myself. Paying markets think I’m worthwhile. One of my writing board buddies compared getting a grant to winning the lottery, and she’s right. There’s luck, timing, and all sorts of personal factors involved.
My focus needs to be on professional submission. When I have time and see a grant that might be suitable, I can allot appropriate time and effort towards it, but I can’t let it take over my life and m work. I am a working writer. I’m building my foundation for my writing fortress, my writing castle, my writing abode, on both a physical and psychological level. The work and the jobs are what will build this home. Grants are wonderful, but I need to think of them as a joyous surprise rather than a necessity or a right. The necessity is to face the page every day and do the best work that I can. The necessity is to build the business savvy to get my work out there to the widest audience possible without falling into the Fame-and-Desire Trap. The necessity is to let the work drive me, and listen to my soul and my gut, who will lead me true.
Basically, it’s getting my butt into that chair every day and writing until I run out of words. Then honing them and finding the right match. I’m on my way, and I need to learn and enjoy from every step of it.