Happy Halloween Everybody!
April Line Writing is closed for the holiday. Stay tuned for a dozen excellent blog posts about life as a weird mom and writer, and thoughts on participating in National Novel Writing Month next week.
April Line Writing is closed for the holiday. Stay tuned for a dozen excellent blog posts about life as a weird mom and writer, and thoughts on participating in National Novel Writing Month next week.
It’s a little early for New Year’s thinking, but I find myself in a place of reflection, and with the desire to re-examine where I want to land. I’ve been doing some reading along these lines: things about how to run my freelance business better, how to get writing work from writing for free, etc.
In that vein, November 1st, an essay I wrote about my interview with Rosemary Wells will appear on Jane Friedman’s blog.
Jane Friedman is a giant in the industry I am trying to infiltrate as a freelance writer and writing teacher. I am both honored and excited to have the opportunity. Plus, she liked my essay. And said so. Both to me and to her audience.
I am also hoping, with my fingers crossed, and my eyes squeezed shut, and my spiritual observances made, that the essay yields an inquiry or two into my services as a writer.
One of the awesome things about being self employed is that I have total control over the focus of my business.
This same awesome thing can be hugely dangerous for a person like myself who has obsessive focus and drive, but can switch gears quickly and often, especially if something new is more interesting (or potentially more lucrative). For example: my present focus in writing is divided in three. I am doing some short stories, a novel, and some personal essays. I am thinking about learning graphic design. For a time, I was obsessively pursuing additional proofing and copy editing work. But the last two are not my passion. They are a distraction.
At the core of what I want to be now, and what I have always wanted to be, is a wordsmith tapping away at the keyboard for 8 hours a day (or more), journaling at the park while her kid plays, and 10-year-plan style, retreating to some secluded place in the summer for writing solace and fulfillment.
And on more levels than some other people with my same credentials, I am successful. But I’m not there yet.
So thank you, people who read this blog: those of you whom I know, whom I don’t know, whom I hope to someday know. Your consistent visits here encourage me on a daily basis. And any greater success I obtain will be yours, too. Since what I write doesn’t matter a lick without you who read.
And thank you, Jane Friedman, for lending me your audience.
We have fish tanks. We have one 30-gallon tank, and a smaller tank that gets its inhabitants today.
These little fellas:
I understand that keeping a shrimp tank is kind of trendy right now in Asia, and the Fish Tank Proprietor (henceforth FTP) in our house is kind of into (read wild crazy full of love for) Asian stuff.
I am somewhat antagonistic toward the notion of pets. I suspect that this stems primarily from the fact that I wanted pets when I was a child, but my parents said no. Then when my sisters, who are 8- and 10-years younger, were 8 and 6 respectively, they were allowed to have cats. I brought one home, too, but I was 16 at the time, and wasn’t used to it, and felt like I already missed out, and frankly, I just haven’t had time to get over it.
Still. I enjoy the fish tanks quite a bit. I think snails are super neat. So we went to petco last weekend, and they had these groovy snails:
I know they’re hard to see, but if you look closely, there’s Ellis kind of under the rock to the left, sporting the spotty, reddish shell; and you can see just a bit of Sigmund’s stripey shell to the right, behind the leaves.
I named the snails thusly: Those with stripes are Sigmund, Ferdinand (or Francis, depending on my mood), and Lazarus who is so named because he rose from the presumed dead, and is now hanging out in the will-be shrimp tank. The red, spotty ones are Ellis, Currer, and Acton. This is because of my love for the Bronte sisters.
Here’s a picture of Lazarus:
We have a loach. He’s a little bottom sucker, but he also eats the very, very tiny snails that arrive in our plants. These breed like mad, and there is constantly a population of them. The loach is named Princess, and is called so because my sweet child (who is six) named the loach. She named all of the other fish we have Castle (there are about twenty of varying types: tetras, barbs, danios, etc).
The FTP didn’t think that the loach would eat Ferdinand, Sigmund, Ellis, Currer, and Acton, but thought it was an outside possibility. Ferdinand has a little crack in his shell, and FTP said that might’ve come from Princess.
Princess used to be the underdog in my mind. He’s changed color a bit, and I feel like he’s lonely (even though he hides under the driftwood most of the time). I have often lobbied for more ethical treatment for him (getting him a friend) and special treats (freezedried blood worms), but now that he’s presenting a potential threat to my little snails, I look at him with murder in my heart. I find his behavior to be suspicious, and I am often worried about his intentions.
He’s already black-and-white striped, and I kind of want to put him in fish tank jail. This is him:
But my snails hang out with him. They feed on his driftwood cave, and taunt him with their succulent mollusk innards that he seems only-too-willing to attempt to conquer. Even though there are many, many easier meals for Princess.
I feel like I should ground the snails, make them dress less slutty and come home by 10 p.m.
Sometimes, they cluster up and I imagine they are plotting to overthrow Princess. I cheer them on in my mind. I say, “Damn the man! Kill the Loach!” I recognize this is probably irrational.
And I also recognize that our little loach is probably not big enough yet to kill my snails. He’s about 3 inches. But he’ll grow a bit more, and FTP thinks the snails are probably as big as they’ll get, even though there’s no shortage of algae upon which they may (and do) feast madly.
So I find myself puzzled by my odd, maternal impulses toward these snails, and my bloodlust for Princess. Last night, I had a dream that we got a big, ugly snail after Princess ate all my small, pretty snails. He moved fast, and was chasing Princess with murder on his feelers.
I woke up before the snail got Princess.
I wonder what it all means.
When I was a teenager and young adult, my dad took care of my car stuff. He helped me with house stuff, too, when I lived near him. Then I got a car that was too new for him to work on, but I worked at a car dealership, so I was pretty sure the folks I worked with would take good care of me. Plus, I had a good relationship with the manager, so if they didn’t, I had a path of recourse.
Recently, I became a homeowner. So I have had to have commerce with some contractors, and I also needed a mechanic. Having worked in the auto industry, I can say with authority that in many ways, it’s still the 60s in that world.
Too often, in the mechanic/contractor’s eyes, women are walking, drooling dollar signs.
Here are some tips to help you get a better deal, and to better the odds that you don’t hire a douche bag who thinks you’re stupid because you’re a girl, or to signal to potential douche bag contractors/mechanics that you’re confident, competent, and won’t stand for being taken advantage of.
Search for the sort of contractor you need, and then call a whole bunch of them for quotes. You’ll get a better deal, and you can tell a lot about a contractor by the way he handles you on the phone.
When I was calling for prices on tires, I had a guy tell me he could only do an all wheel alignment on my two-wheel drive car, and that there’s no such thing as a tire with a 60K warranty.
He wanted me to pay him twice what other garages quoted for an alignment, and he wanted me to buy tires that were 33% more than the middle-of-the-road tires I wanted.
Even if you don’t really know anything about what you need to have fixed, you’ll catch inconsistencies that you wouldn’t if you just go with the first person you get from google.
On the first call, only ask for pricing. Most mechanics and contractors are happy to provide estimates over the phone. If you engage in conversation, reference other prices (but not other companies). If you don’t, ask if they have a price-matching policy.
This will show that you’re being diligent and will signal the contractor or mechanic that you’re less likely to hold still for being screwed. I have, mistakenly, hired the first person I’ve called, thinking that the price variation would be negligible, and that the time I’d spend calling around would make up for any difference. Not only was I wrong, but that move put a big, shiny sign that said “sucker” on it right on my forehead.
If you need body work, don’t call a mechanic, call a body shop. If you need a plumber, don’t call a general contractor.
People who have a specialty can offer better deals on the work because they have the stuff they need to do the job. Also, they’ve done it a million times, so they’re less likely to roger up your car, house, chimney, or porch.
If you know somebody who uses a mechanic or contractor you’re considering, ask them. If you have friends you trust, ask them who they use. I found a great mechanic this way once.
Personal relationships can get tricky with contractors, but use somebody you know if you can. It’s more likely that they’ll do a good job if there are personal or social stakes, too.
Once you find a contractor, plumber, HVAC guy, or mechanic you like, stick with him or her. S/he will get to know your car, house, yard, or pipes, and you’ll have a person you trust to ask for advice. Plus, good business people will love your referrals.
It’s so rare that I watch two recent movies in the same week.
Due to my self-inflicted (for a large part) media deprivation as a young person, I spend a lot of time playing catch up on movies and TV that other people have already seen.
We went to see The Thing.
Then we watched Septien on Netflix at home.
Of these two films, I say: Too Much! And Not Enough! and Sadly Unmemorable! (less so Septien).
Truth of previously confessed media deprivation: I have not seen The Thing from 1982.
My movie-going companion assures me that The Thing from 1982 is a lot more psychological thriller type than The Thing from 2011. I believe that. The Thing from 2011 is a bunch of really cool special effects in circumstances that seemed to be mostly implausible. Like: Why the heck to scientists have flame throwers? And why would people who have PhDs do something as stupid as shoot a flamethrower inside a structure that is the only shelter in sub-arctic temperatures? So too much wham, and not enough slow, contemplative, scientist behavior or brilliant plans.
Septien, which my movie companion ungenerously called a wannabe Wes Anderson film, was too much with the contemplation from people who weren’t as good at it as The Thing’s Scientists should have been. There was a lot of implied pederasty, and a lot of other uncalled-for pretension. For example, one of the brothers was overtly homosexual, but closeted. Another of the brothers was maybe a little in love with the third, prodigal brother who was a gas-huffing hustler and returned from the presumed dead in the first frames of the film. These were all conveyed with longing looks, and subtly- or not-so-subtly dropped clues, and tied up in a neat little package of suspected sexual abuse. Also, a lot of penis and vagina art. Like too much. Cool looking stuff, looked a little like the sort of thing this schizophrenic used to make when I worked at a coffee shop in New Haven. But one movie only needs so much penis-dipped-in-shit.
HOWEVER, I am pretty sure I did not hate it. I also did not hate The Thing. I’m pretty sure I liked Septien a ton more than The Thing. Also, I got a little soft spot in me for the indie picture scene. Even when they’re bad, at least they’re trying to do something other than mint cash into the pockets of highly paid actors/producers/directors. I appreciate that.
Maybe you remember me. I am that woman for whom life has been slightly difficult, but who is doing her best.
I am that girl who didn’t procure a state-funded abortion and has spent a cumulative total of 2 of her daughter’s six years utilizing any sort of state- or federally-funded programs, because she is capable and smart and resourceful and good at things.
You know, the one who’s been working and paying taxes since she was fifteen? The one who bucks the statistics about women like her, unfortunate women who were not blessed with her incorrigible drive, resourcefulness, and intelligence, who have also faced some bumps in the road.
You remember me. I’m that chick who has shitty credit, but who provides for her daughter anyhow. I make my payments at their inflated interest rates and bust my ass to get better. I help my daughter with her homework, punish her when she misbehaves, so that you red tape loving, condescending wankers won’t have to do it for me. For her. For society.
I view my role as a person who lives in this country who has bravely faced and thrived in poverty, who has seen to her own education despite it, who has reached out to her community for help and contributed in ways she could as a positive one. I look forward to having an increasingly positive impact as I claim more of the success that can be mine, as I push the boulder of my standards up a long, steep hill.
But you lordly fucks just won’t leave me alone. You massive corporations with the power to exploit people without the financial chutzpah to hire the lawyers they need to stand up for themselves; you tax collection bureaus who insist on extorting another $20 from me when I have already paid you hundreds in penalties for money I couldn’t afford to pay you, but did, in full, several months ago; you school principals with rubber stamp signatures who send me letters about how much school my kid has missed when you approved the time for which I petitioned in advance; you financial institutions who can only see the fact that I haven’t been writing my own paychecks longer than two years, who think you can assess my devotion to my responsibilities by an arbitrary number assigned to me on top of another arbitrary number assigned to me at birth, who hold all the cards, who have the hubris to take my tax money and use it to write yourselves bonus checks big enough to buy two average middle class homes, and laugh as the chasm between the rich and the poor gets wider, and then tell me that I’m not credit worthy.
Leave. Me. Alone.
Take your legal jargon and your postage machine and your automated voice messages and wrap yourselves up in that red tape of which you are so fond, that you use to wrap up people who happen to be less male or less white or less rich than you are, that you use to contain potential, and scorn people who realize theirs anyhow. Get yourselves all cozy in your red tape and go hang out alone in a corner.
Leave me and all my middle class friends alone.
I don’t blame capitalism, B.B.A.s. I don’t blame our founding fathers. I blame whatever happened that let the government get so big it couldn’t see the people it was governing anymore. I blame you, B.B.A.s, for using your massive power to get bigger and forgetting that people–whatever else they are–are people who deserve fair compensation for their toil, and doing something about it. I blame us for standing for it. I blame myself and all my fellow Americans.
I blame whatever happened that let us forget our priorities. That made the power of the dollar trump every. other. concern.
But we’re fed up. Shit has gone so far, B.B.A.s, that I can’t go two weeks without some haughty message from one person or another telling me how I’ve got it wrong, or how I paid them, but they made a mistake, so now I have to pay them some more.
Suck it, B.B.A.s, and let me have my middle class life, and let me run my little under-$20,000/year freelancing business. That’s all the money I need. You can have anybody else’s money who’ll give it to you. But leave me alone. Let me toil away over here because I have what’s really important: enough. And people who love me. And a relationship with my child that extends beyond what I can buy her, or what Ivy admission letter I can instigate.
But watch out, B.B.A.s, because I–and lots of others like me–am going to come after you someday. When my boulder gets lighter and my pockets get fuller. And you’re not going to like it. You’ll get hung up by your toes and poked hourly. Your phone will ring constantly, and you’ll get enough letters about some invented fee you didn’t pay to paper every inch of your 10,000 square foot home. And we will all laugh and take pictures, and put them up on the news and talk about how sad and hippie-like you are. We’ll talk about your removal like it’s a beautification project, and it will be.
When I was a teenager, I looked like this:
When I was in college, I looked like this:
When I was pregnant, I looked like this:
Is what I looked like relevant? No. But I thought you might like to know. And Kevin Smith apparently thought we’d want to know what he looked like because he cast himself as Silent Bob in the early pictures. Just takin’ a page out of his book. Now that you’re full of my overwhelming cuteness, onward.
Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back was kind of like a 90 minute in joke, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to say it. I felt good about getting the jokes. Sort of. Then I felt annoyed that the picture was so unmemorable.
But last night, we watched Red State.
I will say, without a second thought, that it is Kevin Smith’s best work yet.
It is funny and just the right amount of disturbing. It asks some really big, important questions about law enforcement, and freedom of speech, and faith, and by extrapolation, the death penalty. There were some jokes at Texas’s expense, some at Baptists’ expense, and a surprising role played by John Goodman, a cameo by Kevin Pollack of Usual Suspects fame, and just kidding, not that kid from Dead Girl. (Which is an off-the-trodden-path Zombie picture I’d like to shout out, anyway. And I think Kevin Smith would be down with that.)
So Red State is violent, irreverent, and does not–until the very, very end with Goodman’s speech to his superiors (one of whom is played by Patrick Fischer who did a few episodes of Mad Men), wax into that Smith-esque, runon-pubescent wit, full of–what I’m sure he thinks are–poignant observations and cutting truths. But it works here, because Goodman’s character, Joseph Keenan, is distraught, and there are cutting truths, and these truths go un-pointed-out. They are left to the viewer to extrapolate.
Keenan’s just killed a bunch of people in this cult compound a la Westboro Baptist Church, and regardless of their totally crazy views and massacre of gay people, he is having qualms. Regardless of the kudos he’s suffering at his superiors’ hands, regardless of his fear for his job, his retirement, and his fancy American dream, he visibly wrestles with his scruples. And that, my dear readers, is a difficult thing to pull off. Smith casts judgement on these hate mongers, fully exposing their repugnancy, but he does not let his viewers forget they are people first. He doesn’t just let the movie end softly in a pillow of self-righteousness.
He’s saying, “Look at us! Isn’t there something wrong with this?”
With this film, I officially forgive Kevin Smith all of the self-indulgence of his early films. I will probably go forth and gleefully re-watch all of them, including Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, because, well, maybe I was missing something!
As adults, we have odd relationships with our parents. Few others have the power to reduce our wearied and wizened adult selves to the simpering, angry, victimized fifteen-year-olds we once were. I have such a relationship with my mom, who is so fearful of confrontation that she would not even confront me when I was a 17-year-old.
I have learned to read between the lines of her rhetoric to figure out what she’s really saying.
Jane Friedman is a great blogger, here’s a link to a really good one for fiction writers.