Monday, December 29, 2008

Words, words, words...

I know I haven't written in awhile, and there are all sorts of topical things to cover I'm sure, but I found this in my composition book just now, and I know I wrote it for you, Ms Blog, and far be it from me to deny presents in this most giving of seasons.

I stayed in bed all day. My throat was sore and I felt a general weakness in my body, but mostly I just hate my job. We musn't dwell. I'm working on a life of quiet resignation more and more every day.

Kurt Vonnegut called (calls) short stories "cat naps." In sickness, I alternated between the short stories of John Cheever and Mary Robison, cat naps upon cat naps. Presently I want to talk about some things I've been reading and why I like them.

John Cheever is, tragically, dead. He died in 1982, the year of my birth, which I'd like to think means everything. I heard about John Cheever via the New Yorker podcast of his short story Reunion, read by Richard Ford*. (I have helpfully provided a link to the podcast episode. scroll down to the bottom. It's the last one.) Reunion is pretty much my favorite short story ever written and it takes minutes to hear so I really recommend it and I'd love to know what you think.

I got into Mary Robison because my writing workshop teacher likes her, and of course he knows her. (Here's my best Chris Leland impression: Now, the thing about Mary is, she's an absolute genius...) I am comforted by the fact that she's alive and teaching at the University of Florida. I've developed fantasies of completing my MFA in her department, and sort of one day brushing shoulders with her at the chalkboard, where I'll say something really casual and spontaneous that explains exactly how I feel, maybe something like "GIVE ME A LOCK OF YOUR HAIR, YOU WORD SORCERESS! YOU SHE DEVIL! SO THAT I MAY FASHION A LIKENESS TO FUCK." I'll hammer out the details later, because like I said, casual and spontaneous. She wrote this paragraph in a story called In Jewel.

Jack's a miner's best friend. He has a case pending now about a mammoth rock that's hanging near the top of a mountain out on the edge of town. And the mountain's on fire inside. There's a steam of coal in it that's been burning for over a year, breaking the mountains back, and someday the rock's going to come tumbling straight down and smush the Benjamin house, it looks like, and maybe tear out part of the neighborhood.
The whole Benjamin family has seen this in their dreams.
"Hit the company now, " Jack says. "Before the rock arrives."

I can get a little emotional/damn near creepy about writing that really strikes me. John Fante has this one sentence in one of his novels that slays me, just hanging in the space of my head. Every time I think about it I want to die, in the most Shakespearian sense of the word. The sentence: "I got a job pulling weeds, but it was hard and I quit." Big fucking deal, right? Not to me.

The point is John Cheever and Mary Robison humble me. They make my pen feel heavy and clunky, like I have no business reading, writing, eating or drinking. I'm ashamed of my last post. What rude unthankfulness. Not to be dramatic, just saying.

I'm still trying to work on my new website, but trying just means thinking about working on it and not, so we'll see. For now we have each other.

*And I was drawn to Richard Ford's selection because of a short story I heard by him called The Communist, audio link unavailable. It's long, 40+ minutes to listen, but the combination of prose and William Hurt's somber reading of it broke my heart in half on the long stretch of highway between Waterford and Westland (two sister cities if there ever was one) and to conclude, I recommend this story and the hobby of listening to short stories in general.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

When Characters Attack!

The truth is I love you, like I want to crawl inside of you, eat your heart and grow wings, like the only thing worth dying for is watching you live, work, laugh, breathe -

and of course by you I mean me.

That is why I'm working on a web page for myself with my own domain name. I want to share my stories and be professional and get noticed and use writing to make lots of people like me. I don't know what will become of blogspot once the transition is complete. Starting a new blog on my new "selling myself" domain brings up all sorts of logistical, artistic, existential problems. I'm already completely out of line here at MollySays, where I remain moderately anonymous. I mention co-workers by their real names. I call them retards and fucking cunts. I can't do that on Molly's-first-name-Molly's-last-name-dot-com. I need to find a way to curve my bleeding heart.

This reminds me of an incredibly long story I'd like to now share with you.

You would think I would learn. I get myself into trouble all the time. In 2007, I wrote a story about a girl named "Mary," very much like me. (It's called "sweep me up", you can find it on my myspace blog.) "Mary" had friends, based on my friends, whose names I didn't bother to disguise for no other reason really than I hate inventing names. I had them doing all sorts of humiliating, illegal, self revealing things. The story gained a brief, literary celebrity via myspace and its "award winning" status. As is the pre-requisite for most anecdotes, things got out of hand.

The character named "Tim," for example, apparently has heard of the internet and found the piece. I described him as "short, surly, and full of muscle." Furthermore, he played a homosexual, murderous, drug addicted meth/coke addict. I thought I'd only borrowed his physical description, name and temperament, but little did I know, in the months since I'd known him and since falling out of contact, Tim had become a real fucking coke addict, and not one that took too kindly to being characterized as gay. (I will state for the record, I never really thought Tim was gay- and he never seemed to have a problem with the murderous maniac part.)

So he called me all coked out one evening. The story gets even better, because I was super stoned on ganja at the time. It might be worth repeating the experiment in a laboratory setting. The ensuing paper might be called: "The Effects of a Marijuana Smoker when Confronted with a Cocaine User under Stress." That would be fun to know.

But I forgot to mention, the night before, he'd climbed through the window of my old house and wrote on my dry erase board with a black, permanent marker, "TIM WAS HERE." Alarming, yes, but I knew not exactly how concerned I should be- did he realize the marker's permanence, for example? Was he really trying to destroy my shit or was it a simple error?

So he calls me and says: "MOLLY. Did you write a story using my name?"

I confess that I did.

He then reads back what he considers the most offensive passage about his personage. "His skin was the color of a light amber beer and he had no body hair anywhere. This made me guess that he was a fag, but not the nice kind. The kind that really could possibly be child molesters. And he had the damn hunting knife in his left hand."

This doesn't sound so bad to me, and I told him so.

"Did you collect money for this story?"

"A paltry 200 dollars. Do you want a cut?" I'm not sure why I said this, because I don't give money to Salvation Army Santas at the mall, let alone maniacs.

He begins speaking as though he has a law degree, with this slight tinge of totally-over-the-edge-fucking-crazy-about-to-snap, but controlled, calm. "You have rendered a profit by slandering my name. I will be suing you."

Take care to remember that I am stoned and in no mood for bad vibes. Observers opined to me later that I should have handled my end of the conversation, I don't know, some other way, but Instead I just said what seemed obvious. "Tim you're being retarded. You can't sue me. First of all, it's just your first name. You're not the only Tim in Detroit. Secondly, no one could ever reasonably come to the conclusion that you, Tim LastName, is a child molester based on one line that you've misinterpreted anyway." (If I really had my wits about me I'd have cited "The People versus Larry Flint.") Third, I doubt my fucking college writing workshop fiction has cost you any personal suffering, defamation of character, or financial loss." Snap!

The madman paused, just long enough for me to consider my glibness and its possible consequences. "I see that my warnings are not being taken seriously. Therefore, I have no choice but to take a different course of action. -CLICK-

Oh my. A character from my story (remember, a murdering, homosexual, drug addicted maniac) has leapt off the page and is coming to kill me. I have to tell you the truth - I was absolutely thrilled. I thought to myself "this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me."

The rest of the story is only mildly interesting. There were built in safety measures on my side. By sheer chance, by random serendipity, I'd moved not one week prior from the house I used to share with two friends to my own apartment a block away, unbeknownst to Tim. We were safe in the knowledge that he was headed -murderous weapon in hand and insane, cocaine eyes- to the wrong address, where he would, I don't know, fuck with my dry erase board some more.

We called the campus police, who politely informed us we were out of their jurisdiction. (If you've ever wondered how Wayne State keeps their crime rates low, it's because they don't tiptoe anywhere outside tether ball range of the UGL.) We did call the Detroit Police, but really, just for the fun of it, and no, they didn't come either. 911 really is a joke in this town.

Quickly (or as quickly as my long-writing ass can manage): Tim did come to the house. He did smash down the door and frantically call my cellphone all night, but unlike Drew Barrymore in Scream, I solved the problem by not answering the phone. I believe a glass was broken. I overheard my friend Andy say to him at one point: "I'm scared Tim!" and then, in a scolding voice, "And I shouldn't be scared of my friends!"

In the end I made some concessions. I replaced the name "Tim" with "Tom," which might not seem like a big deal to you, but it really hurt me. Tim really rolled off the tongue, and "Tom" still seems like a ridiculous, non-murderous lie. I did not, per his demand, take down the story or write a "correction," whatever that means. In the end he called me to apologize, offered me a mountain of coke, and said he enjoyed the story. I told him that I never meant to hurt him, which really is true, and no hard feelings persist.

The lesson of the story is that I haven't learned any lessons. I almost wish he'd have killed me so that it would make a better anecdote.