Tag Archives: Draft

Scratching a Spine

I’ve got an idea coming together at warp speed and I’m electrified by it.

Though I’m not sure I can fully explain.  I’ve been reading (sneaking, much like candy) Twyla Tharp’s treatise on creativity and suddenly I’m exploding with new thought patterns, processes and more.  In the book, Tharp speaks passionately on the need for scratching together a whole and the need for spine in an idea.  I’ve got the itch and the spine and the boxes of notes and information and reminders and lightening impulses – now I just need time.

Ignore the man behind the curtain for a moment – the story I’m writing is a cross between the myth of Narcissus, the Wizard of Oz, and the death of David Foster Wallace.  Throw in a little bit of ‘you only see what you want to see – and little more’ and a dash of exploding obsession and a hint of revolution along with a few spoonfuls of generational angst dedicated to Carl Solomon – and we have a book.  A book built on the construction, destruction, and renovation of a dream in the present grasp of the fetishized generation.  Falling in love with a vision of yourself can only lead to an obsessively brilliant death.  Simply, from Dostoevsky:

“She looks at herself instead of looking at you, and so doesn’t know you. During the two or three little outbursts of passion she has allowed herself in your favor, she has, by a great effort of imagination, seen in you the hero of her dreams, and not yourself as you really are.”

It’s time to write.

Act Two: At the Sea

I came to the little house on the sea about four pm or so after driving – how long now, four or five days, maybe. Small little houses lined the rough asphalt road, forlorn and empty, longing for the summer sunshine, families and kids, dropped ice cream cones, barbecue grills, sand in the bedsheets. Instead the salt sprays blew against the exterior, warping the siding and etching the paint. I’d followed my nose, that prickly salty seaweed scent from the highway, turning the car down long stretches of houses, the leaded windows rolled down to catch the breathy breeze. I’d never seen the ocean, but knew its smell instantly; there was nothing else ever like its funky clean odor.

The little house sat at the end of the road, its front door bathing in winter light, its back porch sitting tall on stilts. Any of the houses would do, I supposed; I hadn’t seen any sign of people for the last half hour, and this one, just like the others, had wooden shutters hiding the windows, no newspaper at the foot of the drive, no flowers or shrubbery. Just a wind chime hanging precariously at the front door. I turned the car into the graveled drive, pulling it as far from view as I could, around the side of the house, a thousand points backward and forward. And then I sat, I don’t know, maybe ten minutes, just staring out over the dash, the sea shining gold in the afternoon sun, waves tickling the shore. I thought I’d gone deaf when I’d turned the key, silencing the car motor; I thought I’d lost all my senses, my body numb from the vibrations, my knuckles no longer white, my nose crusted full of a salt, my eyes glazed in awe of the water everywhere, drawing and pushing itself in and out again and again. It was the tinkling of the wind chime to restore faith in my ears, the touch of sand just outside the car door to restore touch to my fingers, the final exhaustive sigh of the car to crinkle my nose.

I opened the car door, slid from the seat and stood on wobbly legs at the head of the boardwalk leading down to the beach. Already sand irritated my skin, caught under my watch. I removed the watch and my shoes, rolled up my trousers above the knees, unclasped my bra, discarding it in the back seat. How long since I’d walked more than a few steps from the car – five or six days, maybe – as I stepped onto the creaking boards in my bare feet, my heels only grazing the splintered wood. It was twenty-two steps downward to the sand, another sloping eighteen to the cold wet slush. I hesitated, bracing myself for the unknown. Four tentative steps and water caressed my ankles as I gasped, my feet covered with icy water, goosebumps electric up my legs, across my arms, shivering in response. I stood there dumbstruck with the slushy sand sucking my toes, looking out, an irrational voice cajoling me to another step and another step, and one step more, as the water raced around my legs pushing toward the shore, sweetly singing for just another step into the depths. I couldn’t feel my legs or feet as they took another step, soaking my trousers with the next great rush, again grabbing my breath as they stuck to my thighs.

It was then I turned just slightly back to the sand and the speck of a little house, happier now with the tiny car in the drive, all of it rising above the dune, above the waves soon to overtake my hips. I waddled out, my mind now racing with glory – how incredible the ocean! – shivering uncontrollably, my legs heavy and stupid with cold, my feet thudding up the boardwalk. I peeled the trousers from my legs, tossing them haphazardly atop the car hood, searching insistently for an open door or window, a blanket or towel. One window, the last I’d tried along the back porch was unlatched and I, with the grace of an elephant, crawled through, my body hitting the wood floor with a bruising thump, laying there for just a moment to take in precisely where I was – and for the dust to settle.

Though the exterior of the house was uniformly plain, the interior I can only describe as a forgotten mausoleum by the sea. Pristine dust layered across each surface, yards of cobwebs laced the low ceilings; furniture vintaged by age overpowered by mold; orange and green rust pocked metal hinges and appliances; the walls pale blue – maybe? – decorated with water stains; beams of light seeping in from cracks in the shutters . Vacation houses and time-shares were supposed to line these the beach, yet no soul had crossed the threshold in years, only the wind, the rain, and the sea. It was then I worried: would I find earthly remains in the adjoining rooms? I reconsidered everything, from taking the car to the trip to stopping here and breaking into this house, close to tears for the obvious insanity of it all, my heart pulsing through the floorboards with untempered fear and unwilling curiosity. “What happens now,” I whispered, a grain of hope for no reply.

Bar Scene, Travels with Molly

“A nickel for your thoughts.”

“That valuable?”

“Inflation.”

She looked through the wall, slightly upward, in a moment of personal reverence. The windows across the room had clouded due to the incoming humidity and body heat in the small cafe. “Opportunity.”

“Opportunity?”

“Yep.”

He gave her his lop-sided grin. “See, that’s why I love you. You can condense the last two hours of thought into a single concept. An amazing ability, and now I’m even more interested in whatever it is going through your mind. Mostly ’cause it goes straight across your face too.”

She protested. “We’ve been sitting here listening to jazz – three incredible musicians – which is why I can say, in a single idea, what I’m thinking. It’ll cloud up, it’ll get messy, but I can bring it all back to a single theme regardless of whether I have other people along for the ride. A full knowledge of the rules with the impetuousness to break them. So,” she said authoritatively, “conclusion first: opportunity.”

“Break it down for me.”

She almost sighed. “Okay. Opportunity asks two things: that you listen, for one, and for two, that you then accept or reject it. I’m good at the listening part – maybe too good. The accept/reject part I really need to get straighten out. Look at us – we’re both drowning in potential. It drips from our pores constantly. But we need to either accept or reject the opportunity that comes from this potential as it shows itself. The mealy-mouthed, half-assed, one foot out the door isn’t gonna cut it anymore, or we’re never gonna get anything accomplished. We just need a little courage.”

Her voice gained smokiness. “And lately I’ve been in a ‘chase the dream’ mentality, maybe because everyone around me are all so unhappy with their present condition. Dreams deferred in the face of opportunity? I can’t do that anymore. Opportunity should be second fiddle to the dream. Not the other way ’round.”

He sat there in the black leatherette booth, his arm across the back, eyes narrowed, looking upward to the tin ceiling, thinking through the thought.

“Or maybe I just need to grow up. Somehow though, I’ve lived my life with opportunity coming first and I don’t think I can live like that anymore. I envy those who can, don’t get me wrong. I get that I’ve slapped in the face with the silver spoon. But I can’t force myself through this life anymore.” She looked through him, her eyes fiery. “I just can’t.”

Welcome to the Revolution

Another excerpt from one of my trademark ‘what the hell is wrong with you’ moments:

“Best of times, worst of times – between the two, we’ll really get to see what humanity is.”

“How can you call this mess a ‘best of times’?”

“Because it’s never felt so good to be young, vibrant, smart, full of ideas. This is one of those mish-mash times dreams are realized and accomplished – simply because everything else has drained away. Think about it: prices are at generational lows; interest rates are very low; ideas have to be really good to get any funding right now; there are no shortage of problems that need solutions; the world is quite literally at everyone’s fingertips; and well-laced social networks are abundant. It’s the recipe for success.”

“Or disaster.”

“Yeah, could be disaster if you don’t know how to harness the opportunities right here in front of you. And when people don’t have anything left for themselves, there’s no telling what they’ll do to make it better. Just gotta be vigilant, try to catch those about to jump off the cliff to take the rest of us with ’em.”

“Huh.”

“Yep. Welcome to the revolution.”

Prologue or Epilogue?

“Yeah, but what was so special about the place?” He asked genuinely, honestly, looking plainly at me, awaiting response.

It was a Tuesday, no, Wednesday morning now, cooking dinner together. I, as usual, offered nothing but the best emotional support in the affairs of the stomach.

“I’m sorry, did you miss the part where I wrote a book about the place?”

He turned away from the stove, his blue eyes smiling at me. “Sweet girl, I didn’t ask the effect – just the cause.”

This caught me off-guard.

“Well, I guess,” as I stumbled through my words and thoughts, “its something about the people who inhabit the place, frequent the place. Though it’s the walls too. I spent two hundred pages trying to figure out just what, exactly, made it special. Remarkable really.”

He continued to saute with one hand as I fumbled the question. I knew the answer, but didn’t want to give up the punch line. Not yet.

It was his long look, blue-eyed bullets into the cerebellum that told him better. Silence choked the kitchen as I sat squirming on a bar stool, toes tapping the underside of the bar. I took a short swig of beer straight from the bottle, disregarding his insistent gaze.

“It’s…they saved me,” as my throat cleared through the beer, static and sultry air between us.

“Saved you.”

“Yeah, they saved me. Just let me be me. Didn’t have to figure me out, didn’t ask about my story, just let me be. Me.”

“So its a love story with heroes.”

“Maybe. No. Not really. I mean, they didn’t know they were heroes nor would anyone ever consider them as such. It was the first place I got to be a writer. First place to accept – though not agree with – my radical ideas about life.”

He stepped toward me fully his time, his frame lumbering over mine, the saute pan abandoned, and pulled my beer away from me, setting it well out of reach. “How old are you?”

“Old enough to drink beer. Give it back.”

“No, not with the way you’re talking.” With a half step he was back at the stove, my beer warming in the heat of the summer stove, far away from the comfort of my hands.

“What.” My voice raised a bit, wavered, but never hit questionable status.

“It’s a bar. There are bars everywhere. They serve the same things – ”

“But not the same people – ”

“And you could have gone anywhere for the same result. Created whatever you wanted to create.”

“Darling,” rolling my eyes in high fashion, “that’s simply false. Lemme have my beer.”

“No. Why are you emotionally attached to this place.”

“You’re bordering on cruelty to both of us.”

He laughed loudly, booming pressing through the thin apartment walls. “Answer the question.”

I was running out of defensive maneuvers. “Why are you emotionally attached to me?”

“Because you have an amazing ass and a great vocabulary. And,” said pointedly, “you know who Helen Thomas is,” his lips twitching against one another. “Don’t avoid the question.”

“State secret. Matters of national security. Fifth Amendment.”

“A criminal affair then.”

“Some might say.”

“Bullshit.”

Again, my eyes rolled, this time nearly emptying the sockets. “What restaurant or bar do you know of to keep things fully on the up and up? Mister “I have twenty-five years experience” and you want to tell me there was nothing criminal going on under your ever-growing nose?”

“Objection: relevance. And you’re avoiding the question, counselor.”

He had pushed the final button in the nuclear sequence.

I took a deep breath, annoyance across my face, both elbows on the counter as I leaned over the sink. “Look. When I came back, I didn’t think I could love or be loved.” I continued quickly, feeling the laser scope of his eyes on my forehead. “I’ve lost everyone I’d loved, whether by accident, purpose, genetics, god’s will – whatever reason people come up with to comfort themselves. Really, I’ve heard it all. I thought I was completely tapped out, unable to open my heart ever again. In a figurative sense,” I added as an afterthought.

“And so when I came back, I slept for nearly two weeks, came to the realization that maybe I just didn’t know what it was. So I surrounded myself with it. In times of loss, some go through self-destructive streaks, and I had several moments of brilliance there. Some isolate themselves, and I had plenty of quiet time to reflect in the face of sterile hospital rooms. Still others wither away with whatever grief they have to overcome. There was some of that as well. But instead of burying everything inside of me, I wanted to find my reflection in everyone else’s love, hate, pain, hope, fear – whatever it was they were carrying deep inside, just like me. That isn’t found everywhere – how many blithering idiots have walked into your restaurants, unable to see beyond the shell of their own ignorance? Now give me my damn beer back.”

He wanted to smirk, his dimples desiring to dance. Silently, he handed back the bottle. Stepping back in front of the stove, his voice dripping with sarcasm, he remarked “the Robert Frost of love. I’m dating ‘the road less traveled by’.”

“And that makes all the difference – ’cause I found lots of things. Love, hate, jealousy, lust, gluttony, some of it in me, some directed to me, some in my presence, some just in the old stories.” The beer had warmed considerably, moreso now that it was locked in my palm, fingers wrapped completely around.

He wasn’t convinced. “Heroes because of it?”

“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things?”

“Here we are again: what was so extraordinary.”

Finally, a flash of light in the dark night. I stood up, leaving skin from the back of my legs on the seat of the stool, walking over to the little red backpack I always carried with me, rifling through it. “Find out for yourself,” tossing the manuscript across the counter. “It’s an easy read, you’ll be done by daybreak. Then I’ll take you there, you can see it for yourself, see if I’ve got it right.” I kept my voice even and airy, almost prancing, willing him to take the bait.

He snorted, feigning disinterest. But he couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste. A unique chance to find the way to my young sutured heart and into my reticent mind wouldn’t be passed up. He switched off the gas, transferring the pan to a cool burner. “Serve yourself then. We’ll eat on the balcony, I’ll read until I get bored.” I simply nodded, my turn to hide a smile.

We didn’t go to bed that night. Nor did we speak a word once he was reading.

At daybreak I went for coffee, and on my return, a wry smile and bright eyes met me. “Amazing, my love. When are we going?”