The WIP That I Put Away: Grief, Shakespeare and telling stories

I set out to put fiction out in the world here, but there hasn’t been as much fiction on M&W as I’d like. Even though I still hope to finish it someday, Innogen and the Hungry Half stalled out when my mother received her terminal diagnosis, and I haven’t been accomplishing original short stories like I’ve wanted either. This doesn’t mean I’ve haven’t been writing, but sometimes you start a project and realize that it’s just too painful to pursue, even if you go in with open eyes.

What follows is the beginning of a novel whose working title was Kate and Harry Fight the Devil. Some of it has been cannibalized into Coldspur, which I also promise you all should see someday, but that one is more of an adventure story. This WIP is about grief and cancer and spouses. I started it on a visit home the month my mom died, in August 2012. Ever since she got sick in early 2008, I’ve been writing these reverse Eurydice stories. Take one dead Shakespeare protagonist, give him an indomitable wife and shake vigorously. What wouldn’t we do to bring our loved ones back? It’s a kind of war story too — what will we brave for each other? What do we have when we come through to the other side?

This story probably comes closest to expressing what I was feeling in that last month. I was trying to anticipate what it would be like once we lost her for good. Reading it again puts me in a very vulnerable place, but I also have the distance to know that the work is good. I’d like to put it out there. Someone else might need it too, but I also need for people to see it. Sometimes you just need witnesses. If you get that, I’m sorry we’re both in this club.

The plan here was that there would be no single victory, no crowning triumph and reunion: Kate Percy would get back her cored-out husband, and fight tooth and nail to recover him, piece by painstaking, incomplete piece. It would be ugly, and hard, and slow. But it would be about things gained rather than things stolen away: the hideous battle could, in the end, be won by people and not tumors.

I got down 7,000 words before admitting that I couldn’t do this to myself, that it was too painful, no matter how much I liked the idea of my villain, and of Kate Percy, witches’ champion, and of the weirdness of Macbeth stealing into a history play. No one will want to read that kind of resurrection, I told myself. And I’m not comfortable with that kind of body horror, to write about cancer the way it really looks. That’s still too close and private.

We’ll see. Thank you for reading.

If you don’t know Henry IV Part 1, all you need is that Harry Percy rebelled against the king and lost, far away from home.

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softerpercys

In a cold bed, she still hears him, drunk on her name, good Kate, gentle Kate, my loving Kate, my wife. His shamefaced father has left them alone with the echoing castle, fled to Scotland, where all his allies are captured or killed. She huddles on her side of the blankets, watching the door, waiting for the shadows to flicker, for her Harry and his raging and his flights of imagination to approach. His voice comes back to her in the dark: Will this content you? She has wept herself still and dry without him.

The king’s guard will come. They will ride hard from the battlefield to seek out the rebels and revenge themselves on them. His mother Northumberland is mobilizing the household, dispatching family treasures, sending friends into the wild. King Henry’s men must find nothing at Warkworth Castle, no trace of her Harry, and Kate knows it cannot be done, when he is in every stone and worn path in the marches.

She does not care that the king is still Bolingbroke, she does not care that the Prince of Wales did the slaying. Her Harry’s pillow has not lost its dent; the sheets still smell of him, the goblets he left on the table are where he set them, and she must leave. Would that someone had saved his jacket, a lock of hair, a letter from the front! She would beat him bloody herself if he only would come home. Continue reading “The WIP That I Put Away: Grief, Shakespeare and telling stories”

Daylight: Saved, apparently

I promised everyone I’d dance in the streets if Chicago made it to 50 whole degrees, and holy cats, on Monday we hit 56. So, off I went with my camera in just a sweatshirt and tennis shoes, although rain boots probably would have been a better plan, considering that all our snow and ice is now melting into gigantic pools of standing water, much of which is congregating on sidewalks and at street crossings.

Of course, it’s supposed to dump more snow on us again this week, which makes Chicago Magazine‘s musings about whether the City That Works is too cold to compete with the sunny South particularly apropos. But I assume you’re not here for me to endlessly talk about the weather. (In my hometown, you didn’t start conversations with remarks on the weather, you filled dead air with a comment on the height of the Hocking River.) I could ramble about treadmill desks or Amtrak’s actually sort of scummy terms and conditions for their writing residency, but let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?

By which I definitely mean Scottish Plumber, (888) MAC-CLOG, tagline: "The Pipes are Calling"
By which I definitely mean Scottish Plumber, (888) MAC-CLOG, tagline: “The Pipes are Calling”

Continue reading “Daylight: Saved, apparently”

A Field Guide to Formative Albums and Gut-Punch Love

I never do those Facebook memes. I don’t even have to explain them — you know the ones. But I surprised myself when my A+ friend Megan, who has a lot of amazing feelings and opinions about music, posted the following:

In your status update, list 12 albums that have stayed with you over the years in some way. Don’t take too long on this list. – Just a few minutes. These don’t have to be great records, or critical darlings, just ones that mean something to you personally.

For whatever reason, this one became a compulsion. So, here’s my list, with a whole bunch of videos. I think it’s very revealing in interesting ways, and not just because 1995 to 1997 were very big years for me. Oh, and I couldn’t stop at 12. But 18 is a nice number. So. Continue reading “A Field Guide to Formative Albums and Gut-Punch Love”

Don’t tell anyone, but I have two paczki left.

I moved to Chicago in 2002, but it was only yesterday that I tried paczki for the first time. For anyone not living a city completely obsessed, these are basically Polish doughnut-and-jam sandwiches that are a Fat Tuesday specialty in any self-respecting Chicagoland bakery. (You pronounce them “pooch-ki,” which I love.) If I’d ventured out a little earlier I could have enjoyed them in plum and rose flavors from my local paczki-providing establishment, but the raspberry one I scarfed yesterday afternoon was definitely up to par, and I’ve still got an apricot and a cherry-and-cheese to sample.

With the promise of spring marginally closer than it has been, I’m starting to get covetous. The photo above is from a recent trip to the Fluevog store in Wicker Park; along with Doc Martens, these are my favorite shoes, and dammit if there isn’t a sale and a gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket. (Naturally the most sublime, comfortable, unique pair is also the most expensive in that selection, but — I don’t know, I love a good splurge every few years. And those colors! I really need those colors in my life. We’ll see if I’ll have somewhere to wear them soon.)

I’m pretty flush with links, at least. Who wants ’em? Delicious budget recipes, Jurassic Park viruses, comics as a perfect vector for the art of translation, Lupita Nyong’o’s Academy Award, perfume, ladybeards and Prohibition but with spells instead of spirits: Continue reading “Don’t tell anyone, but I have two paczki left.”

We need vacations.

Everyone’s talking about Amtrak’s publicity gold writer’s residency program (some more skeptically than others) this week. I was super for this idea at first — I really love trains, after all — but on further contemplation, namely during a weekend visit to Ohio I took by way of Megabus — I’m not so sure I’d be a good fit. It turns out that the worse the free wireless, the more determined I become to bend it to my will, so I spend a lot of time glaring at Tumblr or cursing at slow-loading news sites rather than writing.

The vacation part, though, the quick getaway — that worked out very well. We’re pretty bad about allowing ourselves actual breaks in the United States. Even with firsthand proof of how good it is to get out of your head by just getting out, sometimes it’s not easy to convince ourselves we need to skip town for a while. But Megabus came to my rescue with outlandishly cheap tickets ($35 round trip) to Columbus, and I hadn’t seen my dad and my dog since Thanksgiving. It was time.

Eerie and beautiful most of the way to Indy
Eerie and beautiful most of the way to Indy

Megabuses, if that’s the proper plural, are double-decker. I am pleased to say I snagged an upstairs front-of-the-bus seat both ways, which afforded me an awesome view of what turned out to be some really weird, gorgeous weather between Chicago and Indianapolis: miles and miles of fog over thick melting snow. It was like driving through a Swedish detective novel. Continue reading “We need vacations.”

Portrait of the blogger writing cover letters

I live about a block from some El tracks, but I can’t see them right now: the snow, which today is thundering, is too thick for any kind of visibility, period. Someday I’m going to be able to open one of these posts without an update on the weather, but to quote Aragorn, son of Arathorn, it is not this day.

"Honorably fulfilled all the requirements prescribed," look at that!
“Honorably fulfilled all the requirements prescribed,” look at that!

Beyond that, this week has had some bright spots. For one thing, my diploma finally arrived! I don’t entirely know why I decided not to use my full middle name — maybe it’s some inadvertent co-branding with J for Journo, my media and news literacy Tumblr, which you should feel free to follow! — but hey, either way, I guess I’m now officially a master. So that’s nice.

I’ll also be visiting both Dad and dog in Ohio this coming week, which should be a bit of a balm for the news I received from a very nice sports medicine doc at the Northwestern student health center, which is that I’ve got something called patellofemoral pain syndrome — basically, my left knee has been buckling for the past month and I now need to strengthen a whole group of muscles I strenuously avoid using. The downside is that I can’t get back into running just yet, but joke’s on you, equally nice physical therapist: would I really run outside in all this?

As for links, I have a handful of long pieces that I have not read yet but plan to, perhaps as a reward for finishing more cover letters and applications. They tend to get swallowed up in my One Tab page — which, by the way, if you are a tabaholic like I am, this Chrome extension will save your life in ways you can’t even believe. So, to wit, beyond stories about a lifetime of photographing bats, angsting about tattoos in middle age, desk tweaks to maximize creativity and the latest updates to TED’s Top 100 Websites, here’s my reading list:

  • Chris Jones, one of Esquire’s great treasures, has a new profile of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
  • BuzzFeed, as has been often noted, is moving into long form. Here’s a profile it’s just done about Donald Trump and his aspirations for public office.
  • NPR has put together what looks like a super cool interactive story about wolves. There’s a post going around Tumblr asking you to stand up if you were the girl who was really into horses, really into dragons or really into wolves. Guess which one I was.
  • FastCompany profiles Hale County, Ala., a rural community that serves as a testing grounds for “social design” architecture, which is supposed to create innovative affordable housing. How much has this helped the people who live there?
  • WYNC has an archive of Kurt Vonnegut’s audio reports from the afterlife, which later became God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian.
  • The New Yorker asks whether Amazon is good not just for the book industry, but for books themselves.
  • Rebecca Solnit writes about the Google bus protestors in San Francisco, and the wider implications the protests have about poverty and wealth in the Bay Area. I did read this story with interest; I lived in San Francisco during the summer of 2006, just after graduating college, and the inequality I saw then troubled me enough that I didn’t want to stay. This essay does a good job of tying together a lot of important threads about the issue.

Beyond news stories, I’m having some trouble finding fiction I want to spend time with. On a friend’s advice, I recently tried picking up Connie Willis’s Blackout again. You have to understand, Connie Willis is one of my most beloved formative authors; my copies of Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog and her short story collection Impossible Things are in tatters. I want so badly to love or even like Blackout, but I can barely get through a paragraph or a frustratingly circular bit of dialogue without wanting to track down her editor and ask why she wasn’t doing her job.

So, what are you reading and what should I be reading, fiction and nonfiction alike? I just happened on a recommendation for Rachel Neumeier’s YA werewolf novel Black Dog, which sounds like it’s concerned with pack dynamics and character in really interesting ways. I also just finished AAN’s Best Alternative Longform ebook, which has kept me in love with the possibilities of the genre. What’s tickling your bookish fancy? What should I bring on the bus to Ohio, other than my pile of unfinished cover letters?

Special thanks to Wonder Woman #28 (1948) by William Moulton Marston & H.G. Peter for so clearly illustrating what seems to happen whenever I try to tell someone that they’d have a decisive win on their hands by hiring me.

This time, something’s different.

Another day, another -6F on the mercury. Chicago remains cold and covered in snow. One upside, at least, is that it’s too cold for cloud cover, so the light is gorgeous and the sky a crystalline blue.

We’ve got something going for us now, though: birds are singing. I don’t know what kind they are, but there’s a nest wedged into the roof beams of my back steps, and I’m thrilled to hear some life out there each morning.

Inside the apartment, things are trucking along. I’ve done some applying, interviewing and networking, all of which I believe is going to bear fruit in some way or another. I’ve also rediscovered my fiction groove, and am reminding myself of my own words, that writing fiction is also something I want for myself, and it’s not just okay but necessary to give myself time to do that.

I’m giving myself other projects too. Radio was something I always wanted to try more of in grad school, but time constraints and course availability meant that I was mostly focused on written storytelling. Last week I put out a call for audio story prompts, which I am still taking — if you’d like to suggest something here in the comments or over in my Tumblr askbox or on Twitter, I would find that super exciting! Yesterday, on either side of a less-than-successful trip to the Apple Store, I spent my train trip collecting natsound — the rumble of the tracks, the squeaky door, the automated announcements, the click of the turnstiles. I remember one Medill professor calling radio “the poetry of journalism,” and in trying to get more practice with it, I’m starting to understand that a little more.

The day is young, and I’ve got emails/cover letters/fiction/cover letters to write, so — on to the link party!  Continue reading “This time, something’s different.”