Drew, the narrator (I guess I don’t ever even actually mention her name in this particular story), is a character I’ve gotten to know closely over the years. So much so that if a guy intentionally broke her heart I’d pour sticky things on his truck (what? they always drive trucks) and say mean, vulgar things about him on my Facebook page. THAT’s the kind of relationship Drew and I have.

She was the original heroine of the novel I started three or so years ago, but I was still in desperate pursuit of my voice back then and so I shredded all her stories and burned the shreds in a bonfire (not for dramatic flair, but just because that’s what we do with paper scraps). She is now a secondary character in the novel I’m currently working on. But she’s no less dear to me.

It still feels a little vulnerable and unnatural for me to share my fiction, but I want to share this piece because I like it. The refrain that truly makes it what it is also makes it so that it doesn’t fit well in the novel, but for some reason I just can’t stand to leave it in the back of a desk drawer with the other misfits.

The lovely comedian, Sarah Silverman, said in an interview I saw one time that your glitch can also be its own superpower. I think she’s a neat lady so I believe her.

Here is my novel’s glitch:

You’ll Understand When You’re Older

I feel the glass shatter before I hear it.

Mama’s shrill goddamn it rings out from the kitchen. She’s always telling him to damn something.

Annalise rolls her wooden train across the living room carpet. She is silent, but I shoot a look that says try to be quieter, and bookmark my page to see if Mama needs any help. She doesn’t, of course, and I must be the glutton for punishment Daddy says I am because even after she yells at me I kneel down to pick up the bigger pieces. That is until she sweeps me out of the way with the broom.

She rambles on about broken glass and my bare feet, but I know she just needs to yell. And since Daddy’s not here, and the bowl is already broken, I apologize insincerely (in the snotty tone she hates). I exit the room before she sees the smirk tugging at the corners of my mouth.

When I return a half hour later she’s a brand new person, humming into a pot of white chili. She bends down to let me try it. I nod and give her the thumbs up. The cilantro, she says, is fresh picked from her vegetable garden- well the garden that had almost been able to pass for a vegetable one until the dogs ate the broccoli and tomatoes. But its fate was sealed when Mama mistook the corn sprouts for weeds. Daddy teases her about it often. She plays along coolly, but I can tell the smile hurts her cheeks. *

She told me a story one time about how she tried to revive a carton of eggs. She laid them out on a bed of grass carefully selected from the softest parts of the yard, and picked some of her mother’s elephant ears to cover them. She ran an extension cord through her bedroom window, plugged up a hairdryer as a makeshift incubator, and warmed them up, waiting for baby chicks to pop out. Then the neighbor girl came over with her new puppy.

By the time Mama remembered the eggs her mother had cleaned it all up and sat her down to have a talk about wastefulness and respect for other peoples’ things. After she grew old enough to know that it never would have worked anyhow, she decided it was better she didn’t find out on that day. Somehow it was easier to think she’d let them down, than to accept that she hadn’t been enough in the first place.

Mama sets the pot to simmer, looks at me curiously, and asks if I want to talk about anything. I don’t, of course, and she must be the manic depressive Daddy says she is because even after I tell her I’m fine she hovers over me like I’m the volatile one. That is until I shrug her off.

I ramble on about how I’m really tired, that’s all, but she knows I just need to sulk. And since Daddy’s not here, and so many of her own thoughts remain unspoken, she apologizes sincerely (in the anxious tone I hate). She exits the room before I can see the tears tugging at the corners of her eyes.

*This paragraph was taken directly from my own life. I love to make white chili, and I used to add fresh cilantro until our dogs ate my garden. My husband, however, does not tease me about it because he’s the one who rescued the dogs. And also he’s the husband…so naturally it’s all his fault no matter what.


Set it Free

At some point in the middle of the summer I entered into a contract with my husband that bounds me to five consecutive days of fiction writing a week, for one hour each day. It doesn’t matter what kind of fiction, so long as it’s fiction (although, ideally, I would utilize that time to work on my novel).  

This happened for two reasons:

One, I read about the idea of a writing contract in an article from O Magazine called “A Contract of One’s Own” by Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake…one of my favorites. Holla! Also, the template for the contract that Aimee and her writer friend used was provided on the magazine’s website, and since those exact guidelines were right in line with my goals I didn’t have to actually put any real effort into writing a legitimate contract, which brings me to my next point…

Two. I love love love talking/dreaming/ worrying/obsessing about my stories (among other things). And I LOVE writing them…eventually, when it’s convenient for me. What I don’t love is being consistent, following through on overwhelming projects, sitting still, or practicing any other form of self-discipline. I also don’t love working out or looking people in the eye when I talk to them, but it’s better for me if I do. My husband is more aware than anyone of these charming personality traits I possess, so when I told him about the article, he was all, “Well I check my email at least 200 times a day, and I think you write a lot less than you think you do.” (I should note here that Aimee Bender and her friend held each other accountable through quick daily email updates)

So this contract thing got off to a smashing start because my husband took (and continues to take) his role as “mentor” seriously (which is awesome, except for when I wanna be lazy and feel sorry for myself instead of work…and then it’s seriously annoying). Also, my little brother was visiting for the summer and he’s a huge fan of all my stories that he never reads (on principle, because he has this idea that unfinished work should be secretive, and he maintained that position even after I more or less shoved the manuscript in his face, yelling “Look what I can do!”), and he was more than happy to corral the kid and the dogs so that I could enjoy an uninterrupted hour of writing. Of course, now that he’s back in Kansas I write amongst the daily chaos because with two kids under the age of five there is no such thing as uninterrupted anything.

I think the most unexpected benefit is the shift in priorities I am experiencing. When that hour is up I can usually put the work aside and get on with living. Knowing that I’ll be writing again the next day lets me off the hook. I can jot down notes when I need to, put them on my desk, and forget about them until it’s time to get back to work. Whereas I used to spend hours, days, weeks probably, worrying about when I would find time to write; worrying that I might not find time and that it might be selfish if I make time; worrying that I was spending too much time in my head and neglecting everything else; so much worrying, in fact, that whenever there was plenty of time to write I was too exhausted to do anything except feel guilty because I didn’t even want to write at that point.

 I took the joy out of something I love. Ironically, the joy returned when I signed the contract. Treating it like the important work I want it to be keeps me from abusing it. I can’t stifle it in my brain, nor can I use it as an excuse to not be present in my life. I can no longer tell myself that it isn’t as important as teaching the phonics lessons, or nursing the baby, or preparing the meals because, it too, is a part of my daily schedule.  By clocking in every day, I give this project the attention it needs so that it can transform from a collection of indulgences in my head to something tangible that can be shared with others. By investing my time I give it life, and, therefore, set it free.