Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Musing on invisibility

At the age of forty I became invisible. I’m not exactly sure when it occurred, though I’m sure it was gradual like wrinkles and loss of memory. But one day I found that flirting and making direct eye contact was something I didn’t want to do because no one wanted to do it with me.

The subtle embarrassment crept over me with the fact that I was now somehow ten years older and my reflection wasn’t something I wanted to examine for longer than a glance in the vanity mirror of the station wagon. My skin had fallen, cut in fourths by lines. Years of accumulated worry had let the avalanche loose. My face had simply fallen onto itself. I had simply fallen onto myself.

My twenties had been spent in indentured servitude – working feverously because that is what one did in Manhattan in your shoulder padded magenta suit with the shiny black buttons and the high heeled patent leather pumps. It didn’t matter that 1987 saw stock brokers trying to force open the sealed windows to jump, we were too ambitious, too poor and too centered on the other end of Manhattan. My thirties was still work that melted into motherhood which was more work only a slower numbing kind where the wheels were dulled by no sleep and the fact that every meal was swallowed standing and rocking. Communication with my once lover reduced to grunts and gropes in the dimly lit hallway. Those years full of pathos too keen to recall in mass. Only sharp memories – unwanted spinal tapes of three year olds, gushes of blood down the legs and loss, triumphs of companies being sold, oxygen depleting happiness and gnawing doubt as to worth. Like a stew that simmered, your face a centimeter from the fire. No perspective. Trench warfare.

Then forty arrived. And the door to mortality stood before you. People in bars become as old as your t-shirts. The choices you didn’t make, the choices you finally understood the repercussions of not choosing, became clearer. Tired, still tired, but you could gasp a breath like a man under water resurfacing through the depth. And now what?

There is something brewing, god forbid that you consider menopause as this tectonic plate shifting your desires. The word closes more doors to your ears. But something is crawling under the surface itching, burrowing farther; reticent, scared to be above ground and recognizable and answerable.

So you stifle about, flitting upon things, unable to commit with the level of ferocity you clawed into work early on, you feel untethered and your kisses to your loving, patient husband whisper the pleas to recognize this woman as vibrant as alive as worthy of notice. You aren’t ready to become that eccentric old woman that pals around with the stock boy or the green grocer. Like some awkward Sean Connery phase of the bad toupee and girdle, you pivot this way and that trying to align your direction, trying to matter in a society so focused on youth and beauty, as if infants would soon be given lipstick and curled hair, younger and younger till at birth everything for that little girl was decided, and no spark, no tenacity, no wit could deter her from her course.

At night, when you turn and drift up from sleep, from that cave where dreams lie in cubbyholes, when you can see the light from the street lamps filter around the edge of the drape, and you feel his breath warm with sleep, the depth of his weight next to you. And you reach out so that he will anchor you to this life, the lifeline to this world, apart from the dark unknown of what will come after.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite plays, The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard.

HENRY:   Leave me out of it. They don’t count. Maybe Brodie got a raw deal, maybe he didn’t. I don’t know. It doesn’t count. He’s a lout with language. I can’t help somebody who thinks, or thinks he thinks, that editing a newspaper is censorship, or that throwing bricks is a demonstration while building tower blocks is social violence, or that unpalatable statement is provocation while disrupting the speaker is the exercise of free speech…Words don’t deserve that kind of malarkey. They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more, and Brodie knocks their corners off. I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.

Act II, Scene 5
At times I feel as if I'm that lout Henry is referring to, and maybe when compared to Stoppard we are all louts, for he can make words that children will speak for him while he is alive.  Perhaps that is the the thrill and curse of brilliant writing.  We rejoice at having found it; we experience the luxury of rereading certain passages with the relish one would normally reserve for some monsterous dessert (the kind with drifts of whipped cream into which your spoon sinks as your eyes widen) all the while nursing a not so silent hurt inside.  A hurt that tell us, "You cannot enter there.  Abandon all hope.  Adults only.  Scram."
But I wonder how much of what inspires us sinks into our skin, into our gray matter and undergoes a sea change?  Maybe not into something rich and strange, but something singularly ours?  There is so little of my own writing that I can revisit and not be struck with the feeling that I'm biting into aluminum foil -- do you know that sensation?  The piss shiver cringe of 'I didn't actually write that, did I?'
So how do you balance economic writing with a love of words?  I'm currently reading Possession by A.S. Byatt.  Would I call her writing economical, no, she drowns in words and I want to drown with her.  But there are times when her dialogues is a sparse as Hemingway's -- and it works -- perfectly.  It is a masterpiece.
The endless balance, I suppose, and all the while fighting against cliche and melodrama.  What are the books that have blown the top off for you?  Why?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Finishing a year long work

Tonight I wrote the last part of a project that has possessed me for nearly a year.  It has energized me and galled me in equal measure, and in the end I produced some decent, solid writing and finished what I set out to do. 

A warm thank you to those of you swinging over from FF.  I'm glad you're here.

Writing a serial is an exercise unto itself -- you never have the luxury of going back and editing, and even with an outline you make mistakes.  For those of you stopping by for the first time, you know what I'm talking about.  Names change (McGregor?  Ugh) and red herrings you wish swam around a chapter are conspicuously absent.  But what is done, is done -- was that Lady M?  Now that was a woman who never minced words.