Words To Drive By “Superman Falling”

EPISODE 06: “Superman Falling”
To save his marriage, a New York advertising exec reluctantly accompanies his wife to the Midwest.

Superman Falling lives near to my heart, first because it came from an emotional place, and second, because it I learned so much working on it.

The emotional origin was years ago. I was recovering from a major abdominal surgery – the removal of a cancerous tumor that had been discovered as during tests as I was trying to get pregnant – and I had a dream.

In the dream, I was standing near a window on a high floor of a building, holding a baby. The baby slipped from my hands and fell out a window. After he fell, I started running as fast as I could down a stairwell, desperately hoping… for what? That all wasn’t lost – or that I would make it to the ground first and somehow catch him? But as I ran and ran, the realization sank in that there was no saving this. The sorrow and guilt was overwhelming.

When I woke, I felt compelled to write the dream, which I did, making up some of the circumstances that weren’t clear in the dream, but leaving its core – the child falling and someone running down flight after flight of stairs, hoping desperately, and at the same time knowing what waits at the bottom.

A couple years later I had gone back to school for writing, and I took a version of the pages I’d written after the dream to a writing workshop.

Where I learned something important. Just because you feel certain emotions when you’re writing, doesn’t mean readers will feel those emotions when they read what you’ve written.

The folks in my writing workshop didn’t feel what I felt. Instead, they were confused. They floated different theories as to why the story “wasn’t working yet,” and offered advice on how to possibly fix it. But the killing blow was the instructor’s note. He said, “The moment you’ve written about isn’t the real story, the real story is what happens after this moment.”

Notes that are versions of “go write something completely different,” are tough to swallow. I’m sad to say that I have entire projects sitting on aging hard drives after getting similar notes. So kudos to my past self — determined and energetic and a little bit dumb — because she went off and actually wrote the “after this moment” story.

Which still didn’t work.

My instructor read it, and gave me a new note: You want to have two stories, not just one. There’s a present-tense story, then there’s a chronic tension born of the past that puts pressure on what’s happening in the present.

These weren’t words I was ready to I understand completely, but something about them resonated. And when I went back to the page and bludgeoned my way through another draft—I began to experience a slow-motion epiphany: The past shapes the present and adds meaning to it—and there are different ways weaving this into a narrative. Later, I’d study screenwriting, and recognize this more clearly. Even today, I often find myself thinking about how what I’m watching or reading is a “two-story” story.

In the final version of Superman Falling, the plot is entirely fictional, the protagonist is not me—his guilt has different roots, the situation is different – my own experience mostly replaced. But somehow the act of replacing almost everything, and transplanting my sense of grief and guilt – made the story “work” more effectively—not perfectly at all, but the best I was capable of then!

And the process of crafting the story was part of a transformation in my life. Those flashes of understanding and fleeting moments of control I’d felt whet my appetite for learning more… and that hunger is something that has given my life purpose and meaning for more than a decade.

“Superman Falling” was first published in Colorado Review.

Cover art by Ted Giffin. Sound design by Greg Gordon Smith.

Another Poem

I must be feeling poetic this morning.

Good Bones

By Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

According to this bio from Maggie Smith’s website, everyone else read this poem back in 2016. Also, the article answers my immediate question about whether Maggie Smith the poet is also Maggie Smith the actress (spoiler: she is not).

Thanks, Part 1

In exchange for all the sacrificed minutes, the Twitter occasionally offers a gift.

Thanks

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
W.S. Merwin, “Thanks” from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by W.S. Merwin.  Reprinted by permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc..
Source: Migration: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
(Don’t know W.S. Merwin? Neither did I. Here’s a Wikipedia link, and better, a New Yorker article written after Merwin’s death in March of this year.

Random Questions About AOC’s Haircut

It’s been a few days since this Washington Times article about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spending $300 on her hair came out. Most of the furor has died down, but I find myself still plagued by questions. 

First, what is this “government-subsidized Capitol Hill barbershop” the article speaks of? Are taxpayer dollars subsidizing Jeff Session’s haircuts? Does he also get food stamps? (And who else goes to this barbershop? Did Obama go? What about Trump? I think I’d like paparazzi pics please!) 

Second, to say the cost is $20 for something “government subsidized” is like saying your co-pay is the total cost for your healthcare. How much is the subsidy? Does Sessions tip on the $20, or on what the full amount would be? Enquiring minds want to know!

Is Session’s barber an employee or a small business owner? How much time and money did said barber invest in acquiring the accreditation hours required (2000 it looks like?) to be licensed in Washington, DC?

And how many $20 dollar haircuts will it take to reach a return on that investment? Because education and jumping through hoops isn’t free!   

AOC got lowlights and a cut for her long hair, which takes hours longer and more chemistry knowledge than a ten-minute clipper cut. Chime in, what is a fair hourly rate for a craftsperson? 

By implying that the cut and lowlights are a frivolous expense, is it also being implied that a woman in AOCs position could rock Jeff Sessions hair with no color augmentation and operate just as effectively in our world? (Could she also forego SMILING?)

Or are we just saying that AOC needs to do everything she does now but less obviously, because women have an obligation to perpetuate the myth that we “just wake up like this” and that living up to society’s attractiveness standards is not expensive and time consuming?

Speaking of which, the article says she could have “save $100” by using the Capitol Hill barbershop. From which I can calculate that services at the morally-superior subsidized barbershop would still have cost her $200 — or TEN TIMES the amount that Jeff Sessions has to spend on a haircut. Can we agree there’s a female tax?

(I wonder what it would cost JS if he wanted to cover the gray. I’m NOT suggesting he should try to cover the gray.)

AOC used part of her salary to support the local economy. That wealth is “trickling down,” is it not? Isn’t that the ideal?

Finally — a little about my life. For years, I’ve been doing my own color and getting my hair cut in K-Town, where my stylist, who I love, gradually increased her prices from $25 to $50. Then she got her own chair in Pasadena and raised her price for a cut to $75… I started reeaalllly stretching out the time between haircuts.

When I decided that going blonde was probably beyond my skill set, I found that my stylists base price for color is $180 (exactly the amount of AOC’s lowlights, by the way.)

As an aspiring writer whose hourly wage is compliments, I couldn’t afford to be loyal. In lieu of a government-sponsored option, I decided to go to a hair school.

Going to a hair school is a real experience!

All said and done, they took about 20 hours to do what I think my stylist would have done in four or five. Because I had to arrange an unforeseen second day (to “fix it”) around work, I spent about three weeks with apricot-colored hair. This wasn’t that bad since I wasn’t getting ANY meetings for work (see the silver-lining there) and also,

I’M NOT A CONGRESSWOMAN.

If you’re my congressperson, I don’t want you distracted by a clogged toilet because you were trying to save $15 bucks on a plumber, or waiting in line at the the grocery store during rush hour to save a delivery charge for dinner.

You have my full support to use service-providers who can do the job in a good amount of time, and hopefully do it right the first time, because your time and energy should be spent running the country.  Thank you for your service.

Words to Drive By “How to Write Your Own Biography”

EPISODE 05: “How to Write Your Own Biography”
When her best friend is diagnosed with cancer an empty-nester takes a road trip, leaving her husband at home.

This past Thursday, I came home to the treat of this copy of Chariton Review in my mailbox. Lest you be misled by the 2018 date on the cover, it is actually the most recent volume that just came out. Apparently they got a little bit behind. I’m interested by the choice they’ve apparently made not to skip any issues. I wonder, will they henceforth be a year behind?

chariton review journal

But I’m not one to talk, I guess, since it took me years to get around to doing a second round of submissions with it.

The characters and events of this story are entirely fictional, but the layout of the home where Jean and her husband Bradley live is based on the home I grew up in. I can see them moving around each other in that house of my memory.

As always, thanks to Greg Gordon Smith, who composes and sound designs this and every episode, and Ted Giffin, who designed the cover art!

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