The Rumpus has a series titled Where I Write that I fell in instant love with because, like some people enjoy knowing baseball stats or follow Iron Chef, I get a spiritual zing from reading about the writing habits of writers.
The writer and illustrator Erika Marks, on whose blog I lurk but rarely, if ever, comment, mentioned the Where I Write series and the next day I got my love note from Stephen Elliott and he had a link to Chloe Caldwell's Where I Write and I took the hint.
Sucked. In. I read every word, slowly, the way I do. I savor the words like my favorite cheap, milk chocolate. I may be pretentious a thousand ways to Sunday, but not about chocolate, yo. Dove. Milk. Thanks.
The series got me to thinking about all the places I've written and where I write. Because what isn't all about me ultimately?
Up there in that photo where I am swinging hot in the pink velour and tan that I would later regret because of those fine lines and wrinkles Paul Hewitt warned me about, I wrote long hand with whatever pen my mother had "accidentally carried home" from the courthouse where she was the County Recorder. In that photo, I was fourteen and writing a horror novel that I (jump back!) never finished. One of my characters was killed when the hood of the car he was repairing came down on his head.
I still have the story somewhere in a box.
That was the summer of The Shining. I saw it at the cinema in Florence, Kentucky, with my boyfriend David. He was eighteen and had already graduated high school and had ditched college even though he'd left high school early and gotten into a really good school in Madison, Indiana. He was back in Rising Sun working at the IGA. He was my older sister's age and I thought he was amazing. He knew everything about Led Zeppelin and just about everything else as far as my fourteen year old mind was concerned. He was a great kisser.
If you enlarge the photo, you can see his enormous class ring on my finger. I had to wrap it with yarn to make it stay on my finger. David gave me my first and only diamond ring, too. He and his father went to Texas and he returned with a promise ring for me. My mother had a fit. I was too young for things to move so fast, she said. I cried and screamed that she'd just have to get used to it. I was in love.
In that photo, I was still a virgin, but not for long. As that summer of angst-ridden teenage poetry and Stephen King modeled horror fiction came to a close, we rode up to the top of the hill charmingly called The Devil's Triangle. David parked his GMC truck just like he had so many times as we kissed and made out and gotten close, but not quite. The air was still and the night peepers made their rhythmic sounds. David leaned over me and opened the door and I climbed out. He followed me to the back of the truck where we kissed until I stared up at the ceiling of the camper shell and bit my lip to keep from yelping.
I went home that night and lay next to the same wallpaper the Brady girls had in their room. I wrote in my diary using code that I'd lost my virginity. I didn't want my sister to read it and rat me out or tease me. I put the diary under my pillow and cried myself to sleep. That was not what I expected it to be like.
Some lessons are never learned. Catch and release is one that I'm particularly slow to pick up on. I get caught and released and it takes my slow mind a while to register that I was once again the quarry, the prey, the too easily snared prize.
I learned about broken promises. It wasn't long before David asked for his promise ring back. There were some things I could never get back. I never did apologize to my mother for being such a stupid girl. She never said she told me so.
I stopped writing and got busy being a kid again.
In 2003, my husband and I uprooted our children from the Midwest and plunked them down in Georgia. This desk came with us from Illinois in a truck that we loaded ourselves on a day when we didn't even know where we'd be living when we got below the Mason-Dixon. We up and moved and figured we'd find a place when we got there.
Some people have a higher tolerance for risk than others. I don't say that with any pride. It's just a statement of fact.
Between the years 1987, when I met my husband and 2003, I didn't write so much. I journaled a bit. I once wrote a list of reasons why my husband had to get a new job. He was working ridiculous hours and I was lonely in a city I didn't know. He refused to look for anything new so I decided I'd be less lonely if we had a baby. I wrote a little in my journal while I was pregnant with our first child Chloe, but not as much as I wish I had. On the one hand, that's a good thing because I had big ideas about how I would raise my child. To have those things written somewhere would be a great source of embarrassment now that I know what this parenting gig is really like.
On the other hand, I'm kind of jealous of today's crop of mom bloggers who chronicle the whole journey from being a woman to being a mother, too, on their blogs. But then I think about how my kids are past the really time consuming, hands-on parenting and I'm less jealous and looking forward to really enjoying them as they grow into adults. Yes, I'm still that naive.
I did outline a story idea back in the mid 1990s. I got this wild hair about what would happen if our government did forced quarantines for people with HIV. The main character was separated from her family when she was mistakenly reported by a doctor's office to have tested positive for HIV. The story hinged on the nightmare she'd have trying to get out of what was essentially a lepers' colony for people with HIV. It seems so dated now.
In 2006, I started writing again in earnest. Except I called it blogging. I wrote first and foremost about politics because I felt so isolated from all the liberals here in our little conservative hell. We weren't in blue Illinois anymore, Barack. Blogging opened up a whole new world for me. I was suddenly writing and reading and creating and communicating with artists, writers, poets, and people from all walks of life who shared at least one overlapping feature - the need to connect and put their thoughts out there.
I tried to create a Venn Diagram of the blogospheres I inhabited, but gave up. All I knew was that all the writing that had been pent up while I got on with the daily life of work and the traveling that entailed and being a wife, and raising children and obsessively keeping house came pouring out of my fingertips and filled the screen with more than it should have in some cases.
In the spring of 2007, I became inappropriately involved with one of my blog readers and my writing took a new direction. So did Where I Write. Before I didn't care that MathMan could see over my shoulder as I sat at the old Chicago Public School teacher's desk (using the same laptop I now use). As my secret life blotted out my real life (in my head, there's Before and After) I no longer wanted a shoulder surfer reading what may have made his eyeballs burn as I plunged the metaphorical knife into our marriage's back.
At the same time, he knew. I mean, he knew the whole time because we had an agreement, but when I said those words "I love him, I don't love you" everything we thought we knew screeched to a halt. The insouciance of our agreement slipped out the door during the pregnant pause.
I wrote fast and furious now. Politics. Erotica. Love notes. Poetry. Short stories. Satire. Anything that popped into my head. Being bad was good for my writing mojo. It may have not been good for my writing, but I was writing, if you know what I mean.
I was put into a much deserved lock down. My husband wasn't going to let me go that easily. I continued to write, but now we stayed close. Tethered. We faced each other across the oak table. We dismantled our marriage over the screens of our back to back laptops. We stared each other down, pushed the silent treatment, searched the other's face for something, anything. We swiped at tears when the other wasn't looking. Yelled, cursed. Laughed even at the absurdity of it all.
He didn't have to see the words on my monitor anymore - he knew the truth. I was leaving. The tighter he held me, the harder I pulled to get away. In some ways, I was already gone.
I wrote my way through the entire ordeal. I created a new blog titled Unglued for the express purpose of writing my way through the shattering of our lives. My husband blogged, too. Sometimes we communicated best by reading what the other had to say. It was a toss up to see who was my most avid reader - my husband, my lover or his wife. Sickness. I still feel sick when I think about it.
It was this time three years ago that it all came to a head. The irony is almost too much to bear. Then, I sent out a single resume and cover letter and got a single interview in Manhattan that lead to a job offer. Now, well, you know how it goes - I send out resumes and cover letters and ........nothing.
When I returned from my Gotham folly, my husband held me close, but this time to let me know I was safe. I was broken - broken hearted and raped. Literally. The man from whom I rented a room drugged and raped me. I made Madame Bovary jokes and figured I'd received my karmic due. I scrambled to pull my head out of my ass and my heart off my sleeve. I found a new job in Georgia and hit the restart button. Again. People needed me to be present.
My husband and I rearranged our writing spaces again because I now had to share a computer with the kids part of the time. The battery on this machine had given out. I sat with my screen exposed again and didn't worry what anyone might see. After all that, there wasn't much left to hide. We became careful and tender with each other. Our bruises were connected under the skin.
Everyone went to therapy.
I turned the story of what happened into several short stories. While we burned bright, my lover helped me develop an idea that was first given to me by my son. That's the manuscript I'm so desperate to finish now. I started working on it and finished the first draft in 2010. In that draft, my lover had a place as a character. During revisions, he's been removed and that's for the best. The story is better this way. The story of 2007 - 2009 stands alone and I work on it sometimes, too. But it's like picking at a scab. Time heals. Every day I'm a little closer to being able to work on it without it taking a toll on my mental health.
It's not just the pain of rejection or the rape that makes that story still a tender scar. It's guilt. The far reaching effects of the decisions I made during that time haunt me still. They probably always will. But like doing time, the longer we go without any disaster - real disaster - befalling us because of something I did or didn't do, the less fretful I am. The prison sentence of memory passes with each day.
April is a month of change. It was this day in 2008 when I sat in an Elephant & Castle at what would be one of my last dinners with my employers. I already knew what was coming. I'd seen it in his eyes two days before as we sat in my little white car and said our goodbyes in a McDonald's parking lot somewhere on the Island of Manhattan. It wasn't supposed to be goodbye. It was until - soon. When we would start our new life and be together forever.
His nervous energy filled the car. I was confident that I'd gotten the job. I wasn't supposed to see him while I was there for my interview. We'd had another difficulty and I'd sworn I was done with the games. I made promises to my husband that I broke. He didn't want me to go to New York and he definitely didn't want me to see my lover while I was there. He knew that however bad our relationship had gotten, my relationship with my lover was worse - toxic. I didn't care. Everything was coming apart and I wasn't about to start playing by some set of moral rules now. I'd come too far. I'd gone too far.
He kissed me, placed his hand on my cheek and looked for a long time into my eyes before looking away. I touched his wedding ring. That had been one of his promises to someone else. He doesn't wear it anymore. Not that it matters to me now. On that day, it was windy and cool. He left the car and pulled the wool hat down over his ears. He'd lost weight and grown a beard. We joked that he resembled the President of Iran, the guy whose name I can pronounce but not spell. I pulled out of the parking lot and drove toward the Holland Tunnel, my beacon, the gateway in and out of the city that would be my next home. He walked with his head down, his hands jammed in the pockets of his heavy coat. I ignored the feeling I got when he looked at me as I drove by.
I had lunch with a friend and then, amid the stereotypical horn honking and cars jammed bumper to bumper as you would expect on a Friday afternoon, my cell phone rang. I got the job offer. I was perfect for it. When could I start? I called my lover before I called my husband because I assumed one would be elated and the other would not. I needed to share my elation with someone. As horns honked all over Manhattan, I dialed the phone number that had become tattooed on my heart.
"I got the job!"
I don't remember the details of the conversation except that he said something like Okay, well, now I have some decisions to make.
The horns stopped honking. To fill the silence, I uttered a bunch of you're sures and sought confirmation that I should take the job and give notice to my employers. I was going to be with them for the next three days so the timing was right. The new job was anxious for an answer from me.
Yes. Yes. I just need to sort out the timing of everything that comes next. We were on the precipice of big changes.
His fear became an entity that rode shotgun as I drove the New Jersey Turnpike to D.C. I was to attend meetings for my current job. While his fear hummed to itself, I listened to my favorite distraction - old time radio shows and tried to ignore the growing weight next to me. At some point, I had to stop for gas and a pee. When I returned to the car, His Fear finally spoke.
What decision does he have to make? You've done everything he asked. And ask yourself this - if he's ready to jump, why did he take such great pains to hide your visit from his wife? Why didn't you notice that before?
Inappropriate as ever, I laughed at the idea. Watching him go over himself for evidence of marital foul play before he left my hotel room was like watching a C.S.I. team.
It was true. I'd done everything my lover had asked. I'd wrecked my family. I'd found a new job. I'd made plans to move to New York to be with him. I'd given notice at my current job. I'd listened to his promises of a new, exciting life. I'd kept my end of the bargain and now I sat and watched people drinking and laughing and fought my nausea in a faux English pub. My cellphone buzzed in my pocket and I excused myself to an empty booth on the other side of the restaurant.
He was staying with his wife. He had to fulfill his promise to her.
"You're sure about this?"
Later someone told me that I walked from the Elephant and Castle holding my hands against my chest like I was having a heart attack. It wasn't that - I was trying to keep the scream that was about to explode from me buried. Had I let it creep up my throat and out of my mouth, it would have shattered all the glasses of beer and wine littering the tables with a visual metaphor for my life at that moment. I was smashed and a smasher.
A year later, my family moved from our home into a rental. The bank was out of patience with us. When I quit my job and the Manhattan situation turned to shit, the financial dominoes began to tumble. Click. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclicklick faster and faster until there was nothing left to do but walk away.
Yes, I wrote my way through that, too.
This is where I write today. Since we've been in this house, I've had several different writing places. First my husband and I replicated our old desk set up with the back to back laptops on the oak library table. Then our son moved to the basement and I took over his room, sitting back at the Chicago teacher's desk once again and sharing the space with the weight bench and elliptical which shamed me every day for not climbing aboard while I thought through story ideas.
I attended a writers' workshop with Lauretta Hannon. I surrounded myself with a Dream Board and artwork by Susan Mills. I reconnected with old friends and lovers and put some closure on other old wounds. I wrote those stories, too. My former reader/lover and I continued to circle each other like animals on high alert. Forbidden fruit. Poison. A snake in the new Eden. All these dreams and nightmares became stories. I showed him some of what I'd written. He was complimentary, but I don't think he cared much for it when I subtracted his character from the novel manuscript.
Now I am a journalist reporting the facts as best I can. Or maybe I'll fictionalize that time. It's a great love story. Twisted yes, doomed, of course, but the highs were......oh so high. Like every other big event in my life, I want to keep the memory, no matter how jagged a pill it is. It's a narcissistic quality, but there it is.
I started to think of myself as a writer. I got more comfortable talking about writing. I lost my job and suddenly, writing took on a new dimension - a career?
Sometime last year, my son and I switched places again and I took a spot in the basement, sitting at a silver Ikea table. That lasted until it got cold. I can't type well with cold fingers.
The secretary is from my inlaw's house. I don't know how old it is, but it survived the Chicago Flood of 1987. I need to remember to oil the wood more often. It's as cluttered as ever. For a neat freak in all other aspects of her life, I sure can mess up a desk.
This desk was on the other side of the bedroom for about three months while I worked on my abandoned manuscript about a guy making a run for the Senate. I moved it because my chair was in the path to the bathroom and having people banging into the back of my chair on their way to the potty or to check their teeth in the mirror drove me insane.
Now those same people feel the same urgency to get on the other side of the room to look out the window, root through the closet or sit in my now permanent fixture of the reading lawn chair in the corner. I wonder sometimes if it's my magnetic quality that draws them toward me. Or is it a desire to see if I'm still here mentally, emotionally, physically? They want to keep me from breaking any more promises to them. To myself.
I like the space. I like the little niche it is. I like that I can hear what's going on in other parts of the house without leaving my spot. I can write and stay present when necessary. I like it that I can turn my head and see the big pin oak that dominates the backyard. The rotating roster of birds hopping on the branches and calling out makes me feel less alone and it gives me and the cats something to talk about when I need a break from the cadence of fingers on keys.
I know I'm breaking that rule that says it's a bad idea to work in your bedroom, but then I never was much for rules........
Show us where you write. And don't tell me you don't write just because you blog, but don't write stories. You write. Yes, you. If you do this, come back and let me know in comments so I can link to you, okay?