Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Kindergarten Driver Safety Class

Last night my husband and I completed a six-hour driver's safety class, taken in order to receive a discount on our auto insurance. It was an eye opener, and I don't mean the content of the course. I guess I'm naive, but I tend to assume that the majority of people in my town are educated, more-or-less healthy, clean themselves regularly, know the basics of polite discussion...but events like these really make me wonder.

I've surmised that there must be a lot of people in the world who have no one they can talk to. The instructor would ask if there were any questions and time and again someone from the class would raise a hand then launch into a long, rambling description of their own experience of hitting a deer, or some obscure feature of a car they once owned, or their fears regarding all the bad, other drivers on the road (not them, of course). I could just hear my mother the Kindergarten teacher (after asking for questions) gently reminding an overly talkative student: "Have you got a question for me, Johnny?" or "Can you make that into a question, Abigail?"

And the guy who sat beside us? It was a miracle he was even alive, much less driving around. He sounded like he was drowning when he exhaled loudly, which he did often. The rest of the time he was either breathing like Darth Vadar or snoring in his chair, slumped down, hands resting on an enormously round, distended beer belly. Oh, and he also smelled very much like cat piss. Old cat piss. The woman on the other side of him kept moving her chair farther away and holding a tissue up to her nose.

There was a truck driver there, who really couldn't contain himself and kept blurting out the answers that he knew before the instructor could say them himself or even ask a question. Often he'd get so ahead of himself (Kindergarten class again) that he'd start to blurt out the answer that he knew he had somewhere back in the recesses of his mind, only it wouldn't come, so he'd interrupt the instructor with, "Oh! Yeah! The clutch--but the--and then---yeah..." and run a hand down his face and over his beard. Amazingly, the embarrassment didn't stop him from doing the same thing every five minutes or so.

And I don't know if it was my bored mind "going there" or not, but all of the sudden everything the instructor said was sexual. He kept talking about pumping and pumping harder on the brake pedal, then repeatedly rubbed two fingers side to side in a hole created by his other hand to show how to pump gas properly, and then kept referring to the transmission as the "tranny." Example: "You'd be better off stripping your tranny than crashing." But, yeah, it was probably just me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Negative Scripts

I've passed a good couple of weeks as a writer. The writing life (at least for me) most often involves alternating periods of boom-bust, feast-famine, mania-depression...choose your metaphor, but the fact is we writers often go through long periods of working away quietly at the desk with nothing from the outside world, followed by intense bursts of activity, publicity, and scrutiny.

Summer was basically my "fallow" period and now things are ratcheting back up. I like both states, but I've had enough of being fallow for a while so the activity suits me. At the beginning of October, my co-author Andrew Bienkowski and I had a great book club meeting in Niagara Falls. Great food, great discussion, and some really engaged and astute readers. We also sold a lot of books, which always amazes me at book club events, because all the people attending have already purchased and read the book. So it means they liked it enough to buy copies to share with others. Truly, we are blessed to have such supportive and generous readers.

Later that week I was on a panel at the Erie County Library discussing the influence of Poe on popular culture. Poe's work influenced me a great deal, so it was wonderful to have a chance to talk about the man and his work. Oh, and we even received an honorarium from the library. A very nice surprise, that.

I had to order more books this week, always a good sign. :)

A piece of historical fiction of mine (about a devastating forest fire in the Adirondacks in 1903) just went live at Lacuna: A Day for Burying.

My short story Christmas in Phuket which Literary mama published earlier this year was nominated for Dzanc's Best of the Web 2011, an honor, for sure. And especially heartening as it's part of the marine ecology themed collection that I'm hoping to find a publisher for soon.

I attended an amazing lecture by Her Deepness, Sylvia Earle, Ocean Ambassador. What a generous, expansive, clear-eyed speaker. And she spoke completely without notes. When I grow up, I want to be her. Okay, a cross between Margaret Atwood and her. That's my plan, anyway.

I had a story accepted for an ocean anthology, the proceeds of which will go to help fund the ocean studies of SCRIPPS--excellent, that.

But amid all of these positive accomplishments, I find that I still have negative scripts perpetually running in the background of my brain. It's all too easy to highlight the rejections and downplay the acceptances, the affirmations. And McKenna Donovan talks about this very tendency in a series of ongoing posts at her blog: Negative Scripts--Part II. I participated, as did a number of authors whose work I admire. It's a good reminder that no matter how successful we writers may appear to the outside world, there are always demons we find ourselves are forced to confront.