So, these past couple months have been a whirlwind. Can you believe we’re already at the end of February?! I’m lucky that the New Year energy has actually carried through until now. Just yesterday I managed to go bouldering properly for the first time in about five years. I’m still sore, but I would love this to become a regular thing. #fitnessgoals! Continue reading
Originally published in Headwaters 2011, the UNCA Creative Arts Magazine.
When I was a child, we attended mass every Sunday, arriving early so that my mother could prepare for the scripture readings. Always as we entered, the colors and smells of the church would overwhelm me: the white altar, the golden tabernacle, the heady odor of incense and of the wine that I was not yet allowed to take—more than a metaphor, the real blood of Christ. But then we would sit and my legs would itch, and I would wonder why anyone ever bothered with church.
My father cared little for the faith. He was there because my mother was there. He only listened when she read. Her strong voice, shaped and accented with the dark tints of her native tongue, would rise to fill the nave, and while I was too young to understand the meaning of the verses in full, this was the voice that had read me bedtime stories, and it soothed me.
I left the faith when I was sixteen. It ended when my religion teacher made a comment about homosexuality—about how their love was less pure: that it was not what god intended. I asked him how he could possibly know exactly what god intended. When he couldn’t answer, I politely told him I would not be taking my Confirmation and walked out of the classroom.
Mother shook her head when I told her. I wish you could see what I see. Then she pulled me into a hug and told me that it didn’t matter. So long as I believed in something—the sky, the stars, the possibility of good—she would be proud.
I was twenty three when we found her unconscious in her bedroom. I had awoken to the sound of my father crying into the telephone, yelling at someone for an ambulance. It took a moment for me to realize what was happening; even then, I didn’t understand until I walked into the bedroom and saw her lying there, her eyes blank, not breathing.
I began to scream.
My father dropped the phone in frustration, and I could hear the dispatcher asking if he was still there. I picked it up.
Can you do CPR?
The dispatcher told me how to find her sternum, how to place my hands. Push down two to three inches, firmly. I felt her ribs break under my palms.
I never heard the sirens, but I suddenly found myself pulled out of the way by the EMT. They loaded her into the ambulance, and my father drove us to the hospital in silence. After an hour of waiting, the doctor came in to talk to us. He told us they had managed to restore her heart beat, but that her brain was damaged beyond repair. She was gone. He asked my father whether they should keep her on the machines.
Her funeral was held in the new church that I had never seen built—the church that she and my father had donated to, after I had left the faith. It was the first time in seven years I had stepped foot into a Catholic place of worship. The smell of incense was overwhelming, the carpets red as the communion wine. When time came for the sacrament, I remained seated—I was a child once more, unworthy of the saving graces of communion. I fidgeted in my seat, my legs itching with the effort of sitting.
I waited for her voice to comfort me.
This week’s trope is brought to you by truth in television.
My week’s been a lovely mixture of waiting-for-Godot -type existential angst (while recovering after last week’s maelstrom of finishing things) and more nerve-wracking anxiety concerning every and all things that are my life.
In short, I’ve ended up in the place between things, and it’s a very unpleasant place to be.
In television and serial narrative, the Filler Episode (usually fluff, sometimes just a one-off monster-of-the-week type thing) is used to pad out the series, to space out plot progression, to give the audience breathing room between the ramping stakes and escalating conflicts. They may be extremely light on plot and are those episodes which contribute little or nothing to the main arc of the series.
And yet, while filler may be an undesirable side effect of needing 12 issues per volume, or 26 episodes per season—a demand of media convention and expectation rather than a narrative necessity, there is something to be said for breathing:
“One reason that people have artist’s block is that they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly. They have a point where they go dormant. And when you are in a dormant period creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again.” –Marshall Vandruff
The truth of it is, I’ve reached a milestone at this point. And though I need to recover, though I need time to breathe and live and BE: to allow the stakes to stand, the action to calm—while I do need time to refresh, it doesn’t feel so much refreshing as frustrating.
In short: My life right now is a badly done filler episode. Let’s hope next week brings back the plot.
I spent the past week or so waiting for a response to my current draft, and it pretty much drove me over the deep end, which made it very uncomfortable for the people who had to be subjected to my presence (family, friends, writing buddies, strangers sitting at the table next to us). So, yeah, slowly suffering a Heroic BSOD over the course of a week is one of those things I wish I could avoid doing ever again.
Or, you know, less than twice a month.
But that’s not going to happen.
Still, it did make ultimately receiving the response that much better! I might’ve actually ended up on the floor, unable to breathe for the hugs, laughter, and relief. And if you think there’s any possibility that “might’ve” means “might’ve not” you are very very wrong.
(The maniacal relief laughter lasted approximately a quarter of an hour.)
So, maybe we’re not destroying evil or stopping the end of the world, but having friends to spend time with, even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye, is pretty much the only thing keeping any of us afloat.
And it’s an odd thing, how I see these tropes emerging, not only in my life, but also, ultimately, in my writing. At the same time that I’m thinking about what it actually means to be a friend—whether it’s more necessary to be nice or honest, how to show support even when you can’t agree—I see my characters playing out my struggles and realizations on the page.
In the end, I think, is the question of who you can rely on. Eventually my protagonist realizes that she can trust the friend she’s been fighting with throughout most of the manuscript—that they will be there when needed (even if, afterward, they have to lecture her on why she’s hopeless for putting herself into these situations in the first place).
I’m pretty sure there are worse characters who can show up in your manuscript (unannounced and unexpected) than the Faux Affably Evil secondary antagonist.
I just lied to you. I’m so sorry.
Anyway, spent the week working on a character who, yes, showed up in one of my newer manuscripts unannounced and unexpected. And yes, he did a lot of smiling and charming and being very affable, and really, I should’ve known all along that he was silently plotting the demise of pretty much everyone.
So that was fun.
Anyway, that’s been my week in tropes. Maybe you’ll get a second episode next week! Tune in to find out: same bat time, same bat channel. Maybe a completely different format. Who knows?