If you don’t count photography and cookbooks, the ratio of fiction to nonfiction on my shelves is about 3.5:1. My fiction stories outnumber my essays, the two books I’ve written (and all the ideas backed up behind them) are fiction, and I’ve only started writing a biography because one of my best friends likes to read them (working title? For Kim).
Something shifted as my marriage ended. I began devouring memoirs. I started writing non-fiction pieces. I’ve poured my misery and triumphs and self-loathing and anger and hurt and desires into long entries in my . . .what do you call an MS Word document that’s your journal? Not a journal. Not a diary. An E-journal? Ew. It’s a file called Mind Pissings, so let’s go with that.
My self-esteem is low. I need outside validation to pump myself up, so I’ve put my efforts into things which have gotten me attention. Sweet with Fall and Fish, for one. It’s great when friends tell me they’ve read and enjoyed my blog. It’s also amazing when complete strangers (two, now!) visit and find something worthwhile for themselves. The third pass at my first book, Scratch the Dead Places, has stalled at 319KB while I whine about my life in Mind Pissings, or gussy those whinings up and put them on my blog.
To put that in perspective, the second draft of Scratch was 1,000KB, 210 single-spaced pages with no chapter breaks. If I want to get back to what I’ve always considered my real work, I need to ease up on the nonfiction.
Before Sweet with Fall and Fish, there was Lip Service. I decided to pony up after their last showing at Books & Books some months back. Of the ten shorts I wrote, some were new, but most were edits of older pieces I’d written as palate cleansers between fiction. I submitted four, and Andrea Askowitz and Esther Martinez picked “Kelly Cook” (what I called “We Are More Than These Pale Shells” on the night of the reading). To get four good pages, you start with ten to twenty. You pare the excess and leave the image. You pass those four pages so often you have them near to memorized. A lot of effort went into sixteen pages, four stories I felt were worth sharing, effort that part of me wishes I’d spent on Scratch.
But the result! Reducing total strangers to tears! Total strangers touching my arm as I walked by, wanting to speak with me! Oh, sweet, anonymous admiration, filling the void leftover from childhood. Full disclosure, I had the benefit of two humorous performers before me, a laughing audience vulnerable for my poignant piece. I doubt my reading will hold up to the scrutiny of being on Andrea’s website. That’s part of what makes a live performance special: the magic is on the night. But I’m glad I worked toward it, I’m glad I was chosen, I’m glad it was successful, and I’m especially glad to have been given the opportunity to workshop with people who respect the craft.
Before Lip Service, there was Book Junky, my column in Moxxi Magazine. Another nonfiction avenue which garnered more attention, even on the scale limited by its short run, than all of my fiction combined.
I guess if I really wanted attention, I’d submit a story for publication. But that’s a topic for a different day.
I’ve retreated into fantasy my whole life. Books, art, and stories are much better than a family dynamic built on abuse and alcoholism, or being ostracized by my peers, or working ten hours in the steam of a dishwasher, elbows deep in people’s leftovers. Marriage done, living alone for the first time in my life, what better time to escape into the odd corners of my head, where people I’ve never met lurk and ask me to talk about them?
It hasn’t happened. Instead of losing myself in stories, I’ve held the mirror to myself and my life. I’ve found it embarrassingly self-centered and unbelievably helpful. But I am honestly afraid. I’m afraid my imagination has gone on permanent vacation.
Reality can be beautiful, but it’s a lot more fun when rules don’t apply.