Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Change The Names
My first fiction effort consisted of a story about two kids that decorated a Christmas tree out in the country every year, and my narrator goes to the tree one year to find out her friend has died of spinal menigitis. Everyone was all poor in that story, covered with ringworm scars and freezing in "clothes not fit for the season, thin and frayed." Mind you, this was Texas and it almost never got cold and after years of living in Detroit, I can wear a halter dress in December in the great Lone Star State. So the setting didn't really hold up all that well. All of twelve years old when I started this masterwork, I based the narrator on me, the boy child on the boy I was madly in love with, a real hellion who would eventually break all sorts of laws, both social and moral, before becoming a cop. But I digress. I didn't want anyone to know about the boy I was in love with, didn't want my readers to know it was him, so I changed the names, changed the looks, but surprise, surprise, everyone knew. Is this S, my friends asked? S himself was flattered. Man, I died. That must be pretty fucking cool, he said.
And so began my career of working real life into fake life into something else entirely. I read a lot in those days, thank God, so I stole ideas from other writers and thank the Lord because given all the time I spent training as a gymnast, I didn't have a lot of experience with the affairs of the human heart. Gymnasts are notoriously nonverbal and stunted in many ways -- years of being yelled at by very mean coaches will do that to you. "If you so much as move after your routine, I will slap you," our coach warned us, making reference to the point deduction one would get if you got off the mat too quickly. She was a young, bitter woman with a complicated Russian last name (her married name -- she herself was not Russian) and had a troubled marriage which she'd speak about with her assistant in muted coded terms. I'd listen and listen hard -- this was an adult education, one that would serve me well when I hung up my leotard for good. When she wasn't bitching about her pregnancy fear (of being, that is) or her wretched sex life, she was yelling at us with such gems as, "Michelle, you have a loser mentality. Is that what you want? You are never going to win another red ribbon on floor again." Second place was as far as I'd ever been. And she was right -- I had a lot of fear in my heart, a lot of height that wasn't going to help, and a waning interest in doing the same thing over and over, the calling card of any great athlete. But I put her in a story, and I didn't change her name, not her first or her last, and damned if I didn't get from her what I wanted -- a troubled character, a set of complicated motives, a world I could understand if I wrote long enough.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If I had a bad performance in a particular leotard, I threw it in the trash. "Mary Lou Retton
Drinking journal suggestion: Bullet
Benedictions and Maledictions