Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Dawn Treader Book Shop

I once again have the keys to The Dawn Treader Book Shop.  After a fourteen year hiatus, I have returned to work at the best used book shop I have ever known.  The name, of course, comes from C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Narnia series.  One room is dedicated to speculative fiction alone.  It is a maze, with 70,000 books to its name.  Smelling of crackling old book paper and dust, it is the scent of my dreams.  I have been frequenting The Dawn Treader Book Shop since I was too young to look over the counter.

The first time I applied there I was given a dauntingly long book test, which I failed in humiliation.  The owner, Bill Gilmore, called out my mistakes--books I should know the authors to, authors who I should know what they had written, only for the other employees to fire back correct answers without stopping working.  I just laughed and shook my head at my mistakes, and at the end of it, Bill told me that if I could get through that grilling still laughing, I had a job.

My main job them was to stock the floor.  I shelved new arrivals, restocked the books we had sold, and organized most of the time, though I also worked the front desk.  The back stock room that holds popular books we buy more than one copy of so we will have them at the ready when one is sold is more of a labyrinth than the store itself.  Sliding sideways through a cornucopia of books, it has the entrancing effect that you expect at any time to come to a magic grimore or a portal to another world around the next corner.

By the time I left, I could reel off authors and books with the best of them.  As one of the main floor workers, I not only knew titles and authors, I often knew what shelf I had put them on.

There I am among my own kind--book people.  The other workers stay for the love of books, often having other jobs, but unable to give up this one as a second home.  Of course, part of that is the undeniable lure of having an employee discount, though that makes it even more likely you spend your paycheck before ever leaving the store.

When I came back to Ann Arbor, I craved working there again.  I stopped by on a regular basis to bug Corby Gilmore (His name means "crow".  How cool is that?) for a job.  Finally a few hours opened up.  And while I will need a second job to fill my time card, I won't be able to leave this one.

I have moved from organizing and culling the children's and young adult section back to spending the time at the front desk.  Yesterday I earned my key to open and close again.

In the rare book room's glassed in, locked cases, you find everything from hand illuminated texts to uncorrected trade paperbacks by Stephen King.  There customers run their fingers over books reverently, and speak of them as "pieces".

There are never enough shelves, and books line the isles and stack the floors.  Leading lost customers to the section they seek is one of the employees' main jobs.

To contribute to the other worldliness, Bill buys a variety of items besides books when going to people's houses to look at their collections.  In the process of walking through the store, you are confronted with pictures of ships and nineteen twenty damsels on the walls, never leaving a space bare.  You may turn the corner to meet an African wooden statue as tall as you are.  The Millennium Falcon flies overhead the speculative fiction section.  Corby lovingly sets a stout leather pig in a new isle every morning.  In theory, everything in the store is for sale, but I don't think anyone will ever offer enough for that pig.

Corby is Bill's son, and I envy him the experience of having grown up in a world of books.

In the Internet age, the store lists books on line.  Manning the phone, I encounter breathless customers asking if the book is really there.  Of course, we have to go check and get it off the shelf before promising to ship it to them.  The grad school students have their own type of desperation, often asking if the book is there over and over again as you promise you are looking for it on the shelf.

Customers arrive to ask if you have that one book--you know.  The one where the cat talks and there is a magical Bed and Breakfast.  I find a magic in itself when I am able to answer, "Summon the Keeper by Tayna Huff?  Let me show you where we keep it."  And, always, the customer who asks if we by any chance stock C.S. Lewis.

Bill is an ex jar head who spent time in Viet Nam and grad school as well.

I marvel at the fact Corby has settled in to being a manager, and I can now hear him when he speaks.  The last time I worked there, he had only been a manager for a short time.  My training consisted of following him around as he mumbled ahead of me.  "What?"  I would ask, trying to sound competent.  After the third or fourth "What?" I would feel I sounded stupid, and answer "Yeah, I get it," only to flee and ask another employee what I was supposed to be doing.

Last time I worked there I met some of the best friends I have had in my life--Lauren Herckis and Rebbecca Biber.  Lauren lured me into their world of trivia nights at the local Irish pub Conner O'Niell's and long lunches at the Raja Rani's buffet.

Bill is irascibly inappropriate at times--to many people's minds.  To me his off the wall and sometimes off color comments feel like home.  Corby is a puzzle that I can never quite figure out.  In other words, they are archetypes of used bookstore owners.

The intoxicating word of The Dawn Treader Book Shop leaves me hungry to go home and write a book that one day, I pray, may grace it's shelves.

Monday, April 27, 2015


For the third time, I examine the story of Beauty and the Beast in Robin McKinley's Beauty:  A retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  As I've said before, this fairy tale is near and dear to my heart.  A large part of it is that the decision, the movement in the fairy tale belongs the the girl.  My other fondness comes from the fact the story involves no violence but the Beast's initial threat that if the father doesn't send one of his daughters in his place, he will be killed.

Beauty follows the original story closely, once it gets to the Beast.  The first two sections of the book follow Beauty's story before she ever reaches the Beast.  Notable and a nice twist--Beauty isn't beautiful.  Her name is Honor.  When she was young and learned her and her sister's names meant something, her father succeeded in explaining Grace and Hope, but had trouble with Honor, leading her to comment she would rather be called Beauty, which stuck.  However her youthful beauty did not, and as she grew older she grew into an awkward, undersized, sallow creature while her sisters grew beautiful.

She still is the youngest of three sisters of a wealthy merchant.  However, her two sisters are far from bratty, and are well rounded, likable characters, as are all of the characters.  The first part of the book introduces you to her world when her father is rich and she is the youngest, bookworm child.  At the end of that section, his fortunes take a turn for the worse, and they become poor.  They follow Hope's fiancé to the wild north country, where magic is said to still exist.

It is here, in a cottage at the edge of town, that she first comes into contact with the enchanted forest, and is told to stay out because there is a monster within.

What I love most about this book is that very little happens.  Other than the threat of violence in the enchanted forest before she goes to the Beast's, and a suggestion the castle might be dangerous to her at night, the book is a quiet, every day affair.  Beauty is a strong willed, eccentric character.  The Beast is a gentle creature, most haunting not by his claws or fangs, but for the fact his eyes look human.

McKinley sticks close to the original fairy tale.  Instead of needing to proclaim her love to the Beast, a common change in the story, Beauty must agree to marry the Beast.  As in the original fairy tale, he asks her every day after dinner.

In the enchanted castle, Beauty is attended by two "breezes" who bring her food and clothes and take care of her.  The castle has its own way of moving around, making it difficult for her to find her way at first.  When she arrives, no animals live on the entire estate.  The Beast worries that she has brought her horse, who will be terrified of him.

Changes to their lives happen slowly.  Beauty goes from fear of the Beast to acceptance, to friendship, to a realization of love.

The true beauty of the book is that it is a character study, mostly based in every day life--in small details and changes.  We get to know Beauty in her every day circumstances in the first two sections of the book, and how she grows to be strong.  In the section with the Beast, we see a strong and open minded young woman, who is willing to adapt.  It is a fantasy book where much of the book follows every day circumstances of getting to know a small community.  Of coming to terms with having to wash her own floor and clothes.  Of moving from avoiding the Beast to actively search him out for their afternoon walks.  Magic changes in the moment she gets sparrows to come eat seeds off her window sill.

I first read this book when I was eleven.  I come back to it often.  I was early in my own experiments writing a novel then.  It taught me that my characters did not have to be thrown from one extreme circumstances to others to keep the tension up.  Beauty helped teach me the character driven novel.

Monday, April 13, 2015

cleaning up

I have finished another draft of Will-o-the-wisps Warp.  Now I just wait two weeks to get a proof and start all over again.  Sigh.  The life of a writer.  No, really.  I enjoy this stage of editing.  I've gotten through most of the crazy of making it make sense.  Now is the time to go through and make it pretty.  To work on the quality of the writing instead of just the big picture.  Both of them are exciting in their own way.  But this one was a real mess to clean up to this point, so I am hoping this next time through will be more fun.

Of course, even if I wasn't waiting for a new proof, I would set aside a version for a couple of weeks before starting over again.  The mind needs to lie fallow so that when I go back to it I can see it with as fresh eyes as possible.

That, and finishing a draft comes with an incredible crash.  That first draft is the worst, but every time I get through with a draft I have this adrenaline let down of having worked so long for so hard and really pushing it as I get near then end.  I feel wasted tired and washed out.  I usually get sick.  This time I watched three X men movies in one day.

Of course, there is the other side of finishing a draft and that is that I return to my own world.  It is a family joke that I am a slob.  My sister-and-law Evette once asked me when did I ever clean.  I told her, "when I'm not writing."  She took that in for a second and then laughed, "Bets, you are always writing!"

And I am most of the time.  But when that crash comes I come back to this reality and there are some things that just need to be dealt with.  The deeper into a writing project I am, the worse it gets.  I will wash the same set of dishes over and over rather than fill the dish washer.  The laundry has gone undone.  Most of all, my project has spread all over my house.  Scraps of paper with notes.  Piles of journals with different ideas in them.  Flurries of scenes with corrections on them have made it all the way through the house, from piling on chairs to falling on the floor and getting stepped on.  Reference materials pile in teetering masses.

And it is time to clean up.

It is time to return to other normal things as well.  Such as watching movies, reading, beading or drawing.  For a few short weeks, I work from other parts of my brain.

Other than the fact that at this stage of the editing game, there isn't much creation going on anymore.  It is all refinement.  Which is dandy by itself, but I can't last very long without creating.  Which means by this stage of the game I am already at least mentally and sometimes somewhat guiltily on paper racing on to the next project.

So by now I have Wooden Weft pretty much mapped out.  The next step would be to actually start writing scenes, but I hesitate there as I don't want a new project to take time away from getting Will-o-the-wisps Warp done as soon as possible.  I don't want to begin a new book that I will then want to continue working on when I should be editing my little behind off.

At this point my brain is still a little too taxed to get into anything new and creative anyway.  Finishing that beading project or starting that picture I've been setting up for still sound a little ambitious.

So I am off to do the laundry, and the novel idea of getting to wear clothing that isn't my back up, back up, back up wardrobe.  Hell, I might even fold some of it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

writing partners

There is nothing as valuable as a good writing partner.  I've had a few stand outs and a lot of mediocre mistakes.  Being a great critiquer is, of course, a valuable asset in any writing partner.

However, I find what is more valuable, as I talked about a couple of blogs ago, is the idea of being able to feed off each others' ideas.  The writing partners who have truly inspired me, gotten me through the rough spots and the discouraged points, have been those who had the kind of imagination that allowed them to enter my world as I entered their world.

It is a particular skill.  It doesn't mean that we have to be each other's audience.  It may be that we would never read each other's books if we weren't working together.  But a partner that can see what you are trying to do with a book, rather than what they would do with your book, is invaluable.

Michael, my current writing partner, and I have seen little to nothing of each other's work.  What we do do is talk about our books together.  I will start in on what is going on in my book or what I am stuck on in my book, and Michael will go off the top of his head on his impressions.  Once instance, working on this current book, Will-o-the-wisps Warp, I was stuck on a scene between Laurel and Jamie--my vampire work partners who own the organization Death Watch.

In Death Watch, they have made a pact that if they must damage humans, they will do it where it does the most good.  They started out freeing slaves in Africa, sinking slave ships, and killing off slavers.  In this current scene, they are going after the New Orleans mob, which was one of the oldest mobs in the country.  It was eventually hounded out of existence, supposedly, but rumors persist it has gone underground.  I use that in my book to show the mob as still functioning, mostly off drug sales.

This is all slightly beside the point.  What matters in the scene is that Jamie is angry with Laurel.  Originally, I had them arguing as they pulled the job.  They are so used to their positions in their partnership and their work that they do talk through jobs.  However, in this case it just wasn't working.  The job and the conversation clashed and clunked together in an ungainly mess.  All Michael suggested was that Jamie be a little more of a guy and refuse to talk about his anger until he explodes after the job.  I was dubious as Jamie has lived a long time and pretty much gotten over himself, but I rewrote the scene the way Michael suggested, and it ran smoothly.

With both my old writing partner RoseAnna and with Michael, one of the most valuable assets was to keep inspiration fired up.  I can describe a scene I am currently working on and how it fits into the series, and Michael will question me and go off on his own thoughts on things that don't happen for books ahead of what I am doing now, and the course of my series will take on a slight shift.

For instance he has helped me work a lot with the character Other that comes into the fourth book.  Other is a vampire wolf.  When his mother was in heat a male vampire taking the form of a wolf got a little distracted.  Usually this would come to nothing as vampires are sterile.  But the trickster pookah Charlie, who runs through all of the books, changes the game a little so that Other is conceived.  His name comes from the fact that wolves know that he is not of them, but do not know what he is, so they simply call him Other.

Charlie twists Other's fate even more as he describes my band of good guys to Other, and suggests it is his mission in life to join them.

Originally, I hadn't thought much beyond the fact Other would be a more cognizant character than the wolves generally were.  He would be able to communicate thoughts and ideas to the vampires.  But Michael became fascinated with the idea and dug.  His digging made my mind go a thousand different places as to where I could take Other, and what kind of arc Other himself would have.  Without Michael's interest, Other would have gone on being a severely underdeveloped character for a much longer time.

RoseAnna and my book styles didn't always mesh, but our imaginations did.  We could spend hours on one or another of our books.  One comment on how I might write Alex, the protagonist in Sheep that Stray, as the popular girl who was nice, which was her original character, would lead to hours of spewed imagination as we took every avenue on how to build Alex into a deeper character.  This is what RoseAnna and I spent our junior high and high school years doing together, and many years since.

Essentially, the good writing partner asks the essential question of speculative fiction:  "What if?"  What makes speculative fiction speculative fiction is that speculation of "what if?"  Fantasy, horror, science fiction--the genres all bleed into each other in a way that makes these sub classes almost meaningless, but they all ask the essential question.  "What if all the myths of the world were real, and they formed a society underground to our own, now exploding in a rebellion to no longer hide, and teach the humans where they really stood in the pyramid of species success?", for instance, is the question of my current series.

What a good writing partner does, is ask you over and over again the question, "what if", while you develop and write the book.  This is what has made the stand out partners to me.  The fellow writers who looked at my writing, looked at what I was working on and what I was going to make the book into farther along the line, and ask me "what if?"  What if I changed Alex's character to start off not quite so nice?  What does the difference in Other mean to Laurel in their relationship?  What if I took a character in another direction?  If I have created the Recess in Sheep that Stray, a place where teens congregate in an old school that Robin, the secondary protagonist in the book, created when he was younger, how does that change the course of his life up until that point?  How does it change the way the other characters view him from there on out?  What if?

Of course, the other part of being a good writing partner is knowing when to praise.  We all need a little ego stroking, and the ability to get excited about how a character is developing with you helps you stay invested in that character's development.  Michael's excitement about Other helped me get excited enough to spend that extra energy on him.  RoseAnna's fascination with the Recess shaped Robin's character and that section of the book for drafts to come.  Comments like this let me know I am going in the right direction.

These two qualities, knowing when to praise what someone has created in their lives so far, and knowing how to ask "what if?" in any given situation are not segregated to the writing world.  These qualities create a supportive and challenging relationship in area of life.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Art of Asking

On the recommendation of my friends Kim and Marci, I have been reading The Art of Asking: or how I learned to stop wording and let people help by Amanda Palmer who up until this point I have willfully believed did not exist because I should have married Neil Gaiman.

The book is obviously, how to ask.  It begins by examining how artists don't know how to ask for help with their projects.  She raised millions of dollars for her album after leaving her major label by using Kickstarter.  Kickstarter, and programs like it, are for people to raise money on creative endeavors from music to films to inventions.  She was wildly successful in her attempt, but she already had a following and had just publicly broken away from her major producer.  She also knew how to ask for help.

She watched too many artists on programs like Kickstarter in their fifteen minute pitches apologizing for wanting help as if they didn't deserve it.  It made her cringe.  A career everything, from living statue to stripper to rock star, Palmer always knew how to ask.  She asked not apologizing for herself, which engenders shame on both ends.  She didn't ask with arrogance.  She asked with gratitude.  Asking requires being able to be vulnerable.  It creates a moment of connection between the asker and the askee in a moment of humanity that does them both good.

Her later chapters cover other asking situations such as how to ask for emotional help.

By the time I got into the first chapter, I began to ask myself, how do I ask?  The answer is, until recently, I didn't.

I have received the patronage of my parents my entire life, and I have always been grateful for it.  They have always been proud to give so that I can work on my creative projects.  They consider themselves to be something that Palmer talks about--patrons.  Until fairly recently, artists had patrons in order to be able to focus on their art.  Patrons were people with money to support these artists and pride in being able to further an artist's career.

Part of the reason my parents have always supported me has nothing to do with art.  To put it bluntly, until recently I have not been functional enough to support myself reliably.  At first I was unstably bipolar--manic depressive.  I stabilized long enough to decide to get my Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, which doesn't sound like the most practical thing for someone with the ambition to become self sufficient.  But of course, I was sure I would publish a book and then be hired by a university as a creative writing instructor.

As it turned out, I fell apart at Mills College.  I still consider it to be one of the most amazing and challenging experiences of my life.  I only wish I had been in a better position to take advantage of it.  After stubbornly staying through trauma, a bad theraputical team, and a serious down spiral after I graduated, I finally returned home to my parents until I was well enough to get a Masters for my next career.

There I stayed stable and excelled, but rolled my car in the final days of the program and had to once again rely on my parents' generosity to stay off assistance.

By that time I had learned to do some asking.  I asked to be put on disability at school to take my two weeks extra to finish my work at Mills College if necessary, but I despised using it.

But I grew up not asking.  Palmer begins the book by using the example that she will loudly ask for a tampon if she needs it in any situation in any company.  She always has had the experience of having women shuffle in their purses until someone comes up triumphant and gives it to her in a moment of connection with the women in the room.  She cannot imagine there are actually women who make do with wadded up toilet paper because they are afraid of asking.

I didn't grow up being too ashamed to ask.  I grew up being the girl who always had tampons in her purse so that if this situation came up, I would have that tampon to lend.  I carried pain killers, safety pins--anything someone might suddenly need.  In my relationships I was always the one there to lend emotional support, but didn't ask for it.

I haven't had great luck asking for help.  Too much of my help has involved asking if someone will help me emotionally when I am depressed or manic.  The situation is overwhelming, and the majority of people I have asked back away from the situation.  Of course, I have also asked while apologizing for asking, which for Palmer brings about shame.

Since I have learned to ask I have had some amazing friends help me along the way from everything from learning to be a girl in high school to my manic depression to a trauma I experienced as well.  And I love and respect them for it.  I am grateful.  I succeeded there because I often didn't ask for help.  I asked for connection, and help came along the way.

But to get around to talking about being an artist asking for help, I have certainly done my share of asking in clever and respectful queries and book proposals.  I have had more trouble asking for help in my indie career.

According to Palmer, there are three parts of the creative process, collection information and impressions from the world, then making these connect into a work, and then sharing the work.  I get stuck on sharing with my writing.  I have had no trouble asking people to come to shows I am in, but it gets a little more complicated when you are asking someone to read a book.  It is a time consuming process.  Most of the time I get brushed off.  The longer I ask for help in my indie career, the more apologetic I get.

I get shame faced about asking someone to join my blog, much less read it or comment on it on a regular basis.  I do recommend my own books to people I think would like them, and do so with every understanding the answer may be no.  But I have had little luck in getting people interested in helping me publicize.

I don't see me using a program like Kickstarter to finance a book.  Certainly not mid series.  Though I am considering taking a break after this, and I could see myself asking for money to put out and publicize, even more, the memoir I would like to return to.  The thing is, I want to work.  I like the extra collection.  I don't want to not be able to collect enough information.

Plus, being bipolar sort of ended my dreams of being a starving artist or joint the Peace Corps.  I need insurance.  I need therapy.  These things cost money.  I am stuck finding something that is reliable and has insurance.

I started writing because I love collecting and connecting images and emotions into metaphors and stories.  But now that I have been doing it for a long time, I find myself wanting to share.  I want people to experience my writing.  I ask with gratitude.  I am a good writer.  I think many people will find it a different and fun activity, but I accept no.

I ask people to join and comment on this blog with gratitude.  I love getting comments.  I am grateful for each one.  It means you have found a moment of connection in my writing, and that means I have found a moment of connection with you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Walking Ideas

Sorry I'm late again.  I had another deadline yesterday.

I went to a new writing group last week.  They function almost solely on writing exercises.  You know, get the prompt:  "Why is he leaving?"  and then have three to fifteen minutes--somewhere in there--to write off the top off your head a situation where some guy is leaving somewhere for some reason.

I haven't written a writing prompt since I left school.  And I can think of few times during any college experience where I wrote a writing prompt.

Free writes are more common.  That's an exercise where you spend about five minutes either writing on anything or writing on a specified subject, which is a bit like a prompt.  However in the case of a free write, you are supposed to write whatever comes off the top of you head as fast as you can.  The idea is for your pen to never pause.  It's free association.  It isn't a story.  Or usually coherent.  Or sentences. It isn't to craft a very short scene, or a cohesive beginning to a scene.

This group obviously were well honed in the process.  They were good writers in general, but they were also scary good at crafting a tiny something.  Of course, I didn't find out till afterwards that people use characters and other parts of a writing piece that they are already using sometimes.  In that case, they are further exploring character's relationships in novel situations, for instance.  Which makes a little more sense to me.

We went out to dinner afterwards.  They were a largely speculative fiction crowd.  Among average dinner topics like travel, I asked them why they did it.  Some answered that sometimes they got ideas for short stories or flash fiction that way.  Or even novels or the like. They become inspired to write something else when they get home.  Or that they have learned how to close up a scene that way.

I'm trying to come up with how I come up with my ideas.  Three of my novels came from the kernels of dreams, although one in the end only very, very vaguely.  I used to jive with my old writing partner  RoseAnna.   She's the same one the My Little Pony book came from. We would take these long walks and toss around ideas.  Usually it would start with a character, or a couple of characters.  Sometimes we would lend characters to each other, though they usually changed almost beyond recognition in another writer's voice.  We created the same way.  Characters first.  Then worlds.  Then plot.  We would steal characteristics from people we knew.

When we were teenagers we would so intermingle our ideas to create a book concept that we would own it together.  Originally we were co authors, but our styles varied too much.  But we would actually assign a book to one or the other of us.  At one point we both had five books ahead of the one we were writing.  I wrote three of the books we used to walk around and talk about.  Shining in Darkness, the ex My Little Pony book, of course.  Sheep that Stray and Incarnate both came from dreams, but we certainly spent enough time walking around and talking about them.  Especially Incarnate.  If I had my preference, I would like to walk book ideas with someone.

Right now my massage therapist, Michael, is also my writing partner, so we talk out ideas while I get a massage.  Which is always a little weird because I am not looking at him.

These days, I still get ideas from characters that get stuck in my head.  Then they collect things to them like other magnets.  Other characters.  The world forms from how it has effected my characters. Eventually I start working on the world by itself.  Somewhere in there the plot appears out of things I want my characters to do.  The character scenes usually come first.  The battle scenes come towards the end.

Developing characters I use my crazy sick comprehensive character worksheet I got from Leonard Chang at Mills College in his novel writing class.  Inspired by it, my old writing partner Anne created a crazy sick comprehensive world worksheet, but I use that less.  However, I use those once the process is well underway.

Sometimes I will have a scene stuck in my head.  Usually it is the beginning or end scene of the book, though in Incarnate one of the foundation blocks comes in the middle, and does not exactly include any of the main characters.

Music matters a lot.  Sometimes I will come up with a character from a person a song makes me think of.  Sometimes a song becomes emblematic of a scene or theme for a character.  Occasionally the song is a scene.  Back in the RoseAnna days we used to listen to music for hours on end.  When we were younger we were obsessed with the sixties.  But as we got older we became somewhat more contemporary.  We would listen to a song and ask each other, "Who does this song belong to?"  The song wouldn't have to represent something that happened to the character, but how the character or characters in the song would react if they were put into that situation.  I still do that, listening to the radio.  Listening to new music.  Especially when I have new characters.

I can spend hours jotting notes to myself, or playing with Inspiration software, or often just staring vaguely and imagining.  I am ashamed to admit this, but I may be busy imagining a scene or character while talking to friends.  Sometimes I'm even rude enough to get out one of the little notebooks I carry around and write down notes.

But writing exercises puzzle me.  There is no time to delve.  I may go back, though, to experiment.  I have never been able to write speculative fiction short pieces.  I write literary fiction short pieces.  I write memoir short pieces, which you think would be harder, because you have to separate out and encapsulate something from the stream of life, but I create my life out of stories and themes.  But I suck at speculative fiction short pieces.  They always end up as novels.  Or, lately, series.

So perhaps I can learn something from writing exercises.  If nothing else, I will enjoy good company in an extremely cold coffee house basement.

But I'm in holding for someone who will raid the quarter jar with me so that we can go buy candy down at the party store.  And then walk, often wearing holes in the sidewalks on the same paths, or letting it get too dark on some trail up north.  And talk a book.  Until then I listen to musician's ideas and the dogs put up with hearing mine.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Living in the Woods

I grew up in the woods.  Not the real woods.  The woods of Into the Woods.  My post before last discussed some of the differences between the movie and the play of Into the Woods.  One of the things I missed from the movie and loved about the play was the sense of the woods not just as a fairy tale world, but of a place of liminality--it is the place of the in betweens in life and the place to change.  It exists outside our world but heightens our lives.  It is a place of moments.

I grew up in a liberal, artistic household in a city renown for great parks, the world's largest man made waterfall, and symphony and a community college the largest walled prison in the world, and currently the growth economic industries are pot and happy ending massage parlors.  It was a conservative place in the real world.  But I didn't live there.

My parents created a world where we had school chalkboards on the walls and dry ice for our games.  I had a trapeze swing inside.  My mother wrote novels and poetry.  I went to art classes.  The world breathed creativity, intellectualism, and good natured debates.  My father worked at and eventually became the regional bank president all while running around town in a flannel shirt and a pink bandana on weekends.  We had pets from dogs and cats to birds to a four foot long monitor lizard with mouth rot.  We brought home stray animals.  We brought home strays.

When I went out in the world, my mother and father had taught me etiquette and how to work the school system so that I functioned.  I was bright, and never aware there was a box to think outside of in the first place.  I collected the odd friends.  The ones who didn't quite fit.  Maybe they read too much.  Maybe they played elaborate pretend games at lunch.  Maybe they were the ones who had to eat alone at lunch.  I enticed them home.  Most of them never really left.

My parents made our house a haven for neighborhood kids as children to all my brother and my friends as we grew into our teen years.  They talked to us like we were adults.  Unlike the outside world, gayness didn't matter and masturbation was a positive concept.  My mother spooled worlds of feminism.  The world was at once a haven for childhood and experimentation for adulthood.  My parents left us alone in the evenings as we grew older, retreating to their room so we could "have our space".  We ran our own world in that house.  It was a place to change.  It was a place to come to in times of trouble.  We were generations of local theater brats.  We experimented with drugs and alcohol.  Those who ended up with problems found them in reality.  We experimented we sexuality like Little Red Riding Hood.  We learned ourselves.  So many comings-of-age happened there.

The difference between the woods and The Davies House was that the woods were dangerous.  And yes, what we worked through there was dangerous.  But the Davies House supported us.  My parents were accepting and generous to a fault.

Once they went to bed, I became the overseer of the House.  You want food?  Go find it for yourself.  I'll guide you through the kitchen the first time.  You lost your hat?  Here is the lost clothing basket.  You get a little too forceful when drunk.  I smash the tension if I have to.  I take care of you in all of your problems.  I might not be good, but I was nice, and right, whether or not I was listened to.  I picked up.  I stayed sober so that I could stand between my friends and drunk driving.  My parents didn't want anyone driving home drunk, though anyone was welcome to stay anytime.   I mothered so much I felt like a den mother instead of a friend sometimes.

But of course I fought my own demons as I came into my bipolar disorder.  My depressions I felt so guilty about.  How could I be unhappy when I had the perfect family?  The manias I did not have the vocabulary to explain to anyone, including myself.  I kept my pain to myself but felt safe that when I needed it, people would return the favor and help me out too.

Eventually, a friend helped me fuck picking up and taking care of everyone else.  I had a summer of mania and tequila and pot and a friend who listened to me talk of depression.  I talked of wanting to kill myself.  He talked of how his father killing himself had effected his life.  I swore no matter how bad it got, I would never do that to the people I left behind.  I lived in a summer of moments.  I fell in love.  Too bad he was gay.

The Baker's wife sings in Into the Woods "If life were made of moments / even now and then a bad one / But if life were made of moments / Then you would never know you had one."  I grew up in moments.  The only reason I knew anything different was because I had to visit the outside world.

The Davies House wasn't just a place to party.  My parents challenged our thoughts.  We dissected plays and music and movies together.  Though everyone was welcomed into the Davies House, my friends were discerning about who they brought over, whether they lived up to Davies people standards.  They appreciated and respected my parents.

No one ever wanted to hang out anywhere but at our house.  That group of friends still holds onto each other today, though we are spread as far away as Italy.  Late night conversations still return to the Davies House (it was not me or my brother that our friends visited.  They visited the whole house, as a concept).  They use it as changes in their own lives.  They remember the changes it wrought then.  Some of them even use some Davies House concepts to raise their own children, as their own children visit, on occasion, the Davies House.

Not to say we didn't have our bad moments.  One of my friends used to joke that to hang with us, you had to be fucked up somehow.  Together we dealt with substance abuse issues, grown men dating teenagers.  Love, and loss of love.  On more than one occasion someone truly came to live at our house for a while after their parents had kicked them out for being gay or were being abusive.  On one occasion when one of us swallowed a bottle of pills in a suicide attempt, all she wanted to do was come the the Davies when our friends found her.  It was our bad moment to talk her into going to the hospital.

Leaving for college is supposed to be a liberating experience, but I was horrified.  All of the freedoms the dorm bequeathed on newly freed youth, I had already had at home, and I didn't live in a cell.  I have never gotten used to reality.  I always will belong in the woods.  Perhaps that is why I write.