August 7–9. Celebrate the e-book release of Christine Rains’ Fearless (out on August 7th) by blogging about your childhood monster. Sign up on her site. And be sure to swing by here on August 9th when I interview Christine!
We of the Dramatists Guild of America wholeheartedly support playwright David Adjmi who has been facing pressure to silence his play “3C”. His work is a darkly comic parody of the sitcom “Three’s Company”, intended to critique the show and the social mores underlying it. The copyright owners of that work have written a “cease and desist” letter, which would, in effect, require him to stick the play in a drawer forever. But works of parody are protected under the “fair use” doctrine of copyright law, because such works serve as valuable social criticism. Corporate interests may prefer not to have their properties targeted for mockery, but artists have the right to do so, regardless of the best bullying tactics that corporate profits can buy. And more than having the right to do so, artists have an obligation to critique the vestments of our culture. So we stand with Mr. Adjmi, and are in discussions with him to see what assistance he might require. We hope others will show their support for David as well. Because, by so doing, we demonstrate that culture is too important to be controlled solely by the corporations that claim to own it.
Stephen Schwartz, President
Dramatists Guild of America, Inc.
Being Creole, my natural skin color is a kind of caramel. I grew up in the sun and the heat, you see, and was always some toasty shade of brown. But then I spent more than twelve years living in the Northeastern United States, a very unnatural place for me and one in which I never felt quite settled or at home. Honestly, I spent those years waiting for the day I would leave. I knew I could not stay, had in fact decided I would not “celebrate” another anniversary of having lived there, and was able to move shortly after making that promise to myself. Hooray!
While living in the Northeast, my skin color faded to a sort of jaundiced yellow. Sallow. I didn’t look unhealthy—at least, I don’t think I did—though I felt it. And my state of mind was showing through my skin.
But now, after just four months on the West Coast, I am once again my natural, lovely shade of tan. And yes, I do wear sunblock! When I was a kid, most people didn’t worry about that kind of thing, and not being at all prone to burning, I worried even less. But I’m much more conscious of and conscientious about it now. I wear sunblock and try to limit my exposure. But I am myself again, and healthy and happy and glowing for it.
It feels good.
Though I cannot write it myself (as we have so recently seen), I do enjoy reading poetry. I’ve done so since I was young, and I have a tendency to quote it at random as well. Or really, lines of poetry have a tendency to spring to my mind at random.
One poem that comes to mind often is “The Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. For example:
Isn’t it where there are [plural noun]? But here there are no [plural noun].”
I could say ‘Elves’ to him, but it’s not elves exactly and I rather he said it for himself.
And of course:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
Good fences make good neighbors.
What’s funny is “The Mending Wall” is not my favorite Robert Frost poem. That honor goes to “Once by the Pacific.” And on top of that, Frost isn’t my favorite poet. I don’t think I have a favorite; it more depends on my mood. Frost does hold a special place for me, though, being that he was one of the first I could read and really comprehend thanks to his rather frank style.
Later I would come to prefer the more ornate lines of the Romantics. “Lara” and “Daffodils” and “Ozymandias” and all things Blake, among others. And then there would come the requisite affair with Poe’s dark words. All so quotable and handy, lines kept in the mind like tiny books can be kept in a pocket. Quick reference. Though how useful? Not very, perhaps, except at pub quizzes.
I’m going to show my underskirts here a bit. I’ve said a few times that I’m no good at writing poetry (though I have had a couple poems published in very nice journals—these were the exceptions that proved the rule). Now, as I continue to unpack the boxes stacked in my office, I have come across an old notepad wherein I used to scribble bad poems when bored with my editing job. Since my editing job was mostly very busy, the notepad is mostly filled with notes about the books I worked on and not many poems. Count this as a mercy. And to prove to you that my poetry is quite terrible, here is something dated 5 June 2004:
several small universes inhabit
your eyes, I see them when I peer
at the photograph of you, the one
where you’re leaning against the brick wall.
impossible, I call you, understanding
if I insisted on thinking of jam
as what you would call a pencil—if
we could not agree on even the words—we would be
unable to name our feelings and they would be lost.
I do not use love lightly.
small universes, I say, and the stars there
are winking out.
WTF? I really don’t know what was going on there. I’m not even sure whether I was writing about an actual photograph or something imagined. There’s a second page, but I’ll spare you; in any case, it’s not clear if the next page is part of the same poem or is something else again.
In the same notepad I have a series of notes titled “Blogging the 77th Annual Academy Awards.” It’s very surreal to read out of context.
Now here, in modest defense, is a poem I wrote while an undergrad, and because my poetry instructor really liked it, I feel less self-conscious about posting it here:
to the Requiem.
Would you care to sit
On the left
Or the right?
This is the panegyric,
And then the reception
at the mausoleum.
You will be attending,
Then I shall save you a seat;
You can eat
next to Rey and Dawn.
(They were in the fire
of 1863 and may
Bore you with their stories.)
Or perhaps you would rather
Dine with Cousin James, although
you may find his company
(His fall from grace
upset him greatly.)
I suggest you take tea
at Davida’s table. (She
is not cheerful but
her scones make up for it.)
What’s that? Oh, you
won’t be able to stay
for tea, you say?
Well, give my best
to the firmament.
Looking at it now, I’m not sure why my poetry instructor was so enthusiastic. Unless it’s simply that, confronted with my other efforts, she suspected this one might be as good as she could hope for. (Though her exact note was: “Wherever you got this, go back for more.” If only it were so easy for a writer to do that!)
Okay, I first have to admit to a bizarre little habit—a curious tic in my nature that probably stems from the compulsivity of my Asperger’s. But every evening I absolutely have to look at Wikipedia on my iPhone or iPad and see what the featured article is. And maybe two-thirds of the articles are anything interesting and I’ll skim the provided snippet. Less than half of those are so interesting that I bother to click over to the full article. But every now and then one comes up and I just go, “Huh.”
Tonight’s is about a Nature Fakers controversy from the late 1800s to early 1900s. I had never heard of this, and I have to say I find it both strange and intriguing that there was a six-year fight in open media (newspapers) about it. Basically it had to do with the romanticization of wildlife and nature in popular literature at the time. Some actual naturalists didn’t like all the stories about the friendly grizzly bears or whatever. So they denounced the stories, and then the authors and their fans fought back, and then Teddy Roosevelt got involved . . . Seriously. You can read all about it.
I suppose we still have open debates of this kind, usually in the form of dueling reviews and comments on blogs or whatever. And maybe the naturalists ended up doing themselves a disservice by getting readers interested in the books they were publicly arguing against. That’s how it works a lot of the time.
Still, there’s something to be said for keeping up with a nightly Wiki entry. Though you have to wonder who in the world sat down and said, “I need to write an entry about the Nature Fakers controversy. People need to know about that.”
An Internet friend of mine recently lost a loved one, and it started me thinking about what it is, exactly, that prompts us to mourn. More than love, or family connection, I think the sorrow comes from the knowledge there will be no new stories to add to the ones already hoarded—that is, no new memories will be made of or with the person who is gone.
Life is, after all, a collection of experiences. These are the things you carry with you always. Not things, no matter how much you love them: books, photographs, your nice car, your big house. That’s all lovely, but none of it is forever. You will get a new car. You will move some day, or the house will age and become outdated and constantly need work. And unless you pack your photo albums for every trip . . . But no. The things that stay in the mind are the things you will always have (you hope, at least; this is the deep trauma of dementia, but that’s another topic for another time).
Experience defines us and our lives. At a funeral, there will always be stories of the deceased person, the things they said and did. Pictures too, but mostly stories. We like to think of ourselves as the protagonists of our own epic novels, and death forces us to confront the fact that there will be a last page, a THE END. When you come to that part of someone else’s book—when you lose someone you love, someone who has figured in your life—your story changes, too. A character goes missing, perhaps a much beloved one. The dynamic of the story changes.
Go back and reread those passages, then, the best moments in the book in which this person is featured. You can always look back, you see. That’s what memories are for. And then turn the page to the next chapter in your life. This person will not be there any more, but they will always be part of your backstory, and you can always reference them in your mind.
Bonus Holmes content for those who enjoyed “The Mystery of the Last Line.”
The mind of a woman is very different from that of a man,” Holmes was lecturing as we left the cab and started up the stairs that led to our brownstone on Baker Street. “So different, in fact, that it would prove extremely difficult for the average male to follow.”
“Well, Holmes, you are certainly far beyond average,” I supplied as we ascended the 17 steps to our rooms.
“You flatter me, Watson, in as much as you are correct,” my friend responded. He threw open the door to our flat, and I followed him inside.
“You know, Holmes, I am rather surprised you never married,” I went on.
Holmes stopped near the mantel of the fireplace, turning his head only slightly in my direction, as if he was not sure he had heard me rightly. “How’s that?” he inquired sharply.
I dropped into a favourite chair. “Only that one would think a woman could do no better than to find a man who understands her way of thinking.”
“Do not mistake understanding for approval,” cautioned Holmes.
“Come now,” I went on in hopes of lightening his humour once more, “you can’t tell me there was never some dainty country girl, or perhaps someone you met abroad who caught your eye?”
Holmes did round on me then, his expression making several things clear: that such an idea was absurd, that the conversation had taken an inconvenient turn, and that Sherlock Holmes resented such familiarity, even from the man who could be counted his closest companion. But he spoke only one word: “Hardly.”
It was also the last thing he said for three days.
He goes to bed wanting. He wakes up wanting. He spends his days wanting, except when he is able to distract himself with work or other people.
He is hungry, and though he has no lack of choices the one thing he craves is not on any available menu. He has tried satisfying himself with alternatives, but they do not suffice. And so he begins to think he may need to go—travel—to get the one thing he really desires.
He can be bold when necessary. Inside him lies the heart of a lion, though he is sometimes reluctant to roar. But now he is tired of spending his nights dreaming, only to wake hollow and unfulfilled.
And so, on a morning when he is expected elsewhere, he calls for a car to the airport instead. It will be hours before they miss him, hours more before they figure out where he’s gone. And, with luck, by then he will be sated.
I was asked why I thought “St. Peter in Chains” darted up the charts like that yesterday. (Last I checked it had gone to #5 in gay fiction and #36 in suspense.) Honestly? It’s because people like free stuff. I mean, right? It was selling in mediocre fashion, but make it free for a week, and voilá! Those curious folk who didn’t want to waste 99 cents on someone they’d never heard of decided to give it a free spin.
The other thing about “St. Peter” is that it’s about a gay person without being about being gay. Because I don’t think gay people’s lives are all tangled up in their homosexuality any more than straight people’s lives are all about how they’re straight. Human experience is universal in a lot of ways: desires, motivations. Sex is an issue for everyone, in one way or another, regardless of gender or gender preference. And so, yeah, Peter has relationship issues, but they’re not because he’s gay. He could have the exact same issues if Charles were a Charlotte. And I think—and this is just garnered from what my gay friends have said and things I’ve read here and there—gay readers would kind of like to have some stories about other gay people without the whole story revolving around the gay bit.
And before you point at me and yell, “Marketing ploy!” let me tell you I didn’t plan for Peter to be gay. In my original idea, he wasn’t, except when I started writing him, he made it quite plain to me that he was.
ME: And you and Miranda . . .
PETER: Oh, but I’m gay.
ME: Oh no you’re not. You are not gay. You cannot be gay. I need you not to be gay.
PETER: But I am.
ME: Well . . . fuck. Back to square one then.
Simple as that.
But really? “St. Peter” did well because it was free, I think, and because people finding my Sherlock Holmes story also saw this other free one and snapped up both.
At least, that’s what I think happened.
As for “The Mystery of the Last Line” (which has also done very well, #2 in British detectives, I would guess mostly because Sherlock Holmes has a large following of readers in general), fun fact: that story was the writing sample I submitted to get into graduate school. And I did get in. Not that I think the story is the reason; I think I have the letter of recommendation from Dr. Douglass Parker to thank for that. He was one of the best champions of my writing. In any case, the published version is much edited, and the better for it, I would hope.