When It Gets Challenging

It’s a tough time of year — the weather is hot, in the way that August is always hot, and the way that portends the ever-nearing climate apocalypse. The autumn is nigh — in the way that August always precedes the too-fast downhill slope into the holidays and the end of the year.

We’re housesitting for a few days — in a beautiful house with air-conditioning and a calm, well-behaved dog. An ideal writer’s retreat… but I am not being the ideal writer, and it makes me feel ashamed of passing hours lacking in accomplishments, and it’s too easy to make the mental jump from passing hours to passing life.

I have my reasons for minimal output, as maybe writers always do. So far, it has been yet another year of almosts, promises, feigned excitement and “contracts on their way from business affairs,” that in the end… turn out to be lies. Some innocent, others intentional — plentiful enough to have some of each. the. Another year of “free” work — which, of course is a misnomer, since it’s paid for by me…

So what should I be writing? I have two stories, a feature in need to a rewrite, and three feature outlines all begun, and I find myself in a state of paralysis, unable to make a good dive into any of them.

There is the pervasive Hollywood myth, that I am realizing is much the same as myths perpetuated by abusers everywhere, that there is some right choice, some story, that if you execute it in a way that’s transcendent– that will make the relationship healthy, that will make the abuser act not act like a sociopath. If you can just be GREAT ENOUGH, then THIS TIME all the promises will be made good on, this time you will be pulled from indentured servitude into the rosy future. if YOU can pass all the tests and reach it.

I don’t believe in it anymore, and yet… and yet. Like a seven-year-old coming to some certain conclusions about Santa, I’m still like, but WHAT IF? What if there are awesome presents that you get because you’re good? So, there’s still this irrational weight placed on choosing which project to invest in — what if one of them has the potential to be a project that CHANGES EVERYTHING and I choose another one instead? Or, what if NONE of them will change everything, but there’s a project that will give me personal satisfaction, and instead I’m choosing to chase promises and pots of gold at ends of rainbows again?

At this point, my compass is so messed up (or because it’s impossible for anyone to predict) I’m having difficulty even choosing what will give personal satisfaction. Which project will be worth the frustration of finishing a draft and realizing I need to tear it down to the bones and build it yet again?

So here I stand at a fork in the road, unable to choose which way to walk forward, waiting for clarity.

 

 

 

Beth Ann

Beth Ann (not her real name, for privacy) is the homeless lady who lives in our neighborhood. She used to perch on a brick planter near the entrance to the parking lot until the CVS asked her not to sit there as customers didn’t like. Then she moved across the street. And then, when the doctor gave her some “water pills” that make her pee a lot, she crossed another street to a bus stop bench in front of the McDonalds. The bench is probably more comfortable than the planter, but there’s no shade of any kind, so she is in full sun for the entire day.

When I come to see her she says, “Oh hey, darlin,'” and we sit and chat for a few minutes. She tells me a little about her health and doctors’ visits now that she’s approved for Medi-Cal, what the mysterious construction site on the corner is going to be (she knows from making friend with one of the workers) and how she was born in the same hospital as Mayor Garcetti and about the time that Mayor Garcetti got our of his limo to talk to her, telling her she might want to go to a shelter for the night because there was going to be a hard rain. She told him she appreciated the advice but I don’t know where she slept that night.

When I go to visit I take a few bottles of frozen water, and whatever I have on hand for food. Today I had cut melon, a slice of pizza and some thai noodles and a Snicker’s bar. Usually I try to do something more nutritious like eggs or cheese sticks or a salad, so I added three dollars rolled up in a rubber band, and resisted the urge to apologize or make excuses when I handed her the bag.

Before I knew Beth Ann by name, I would sometimes see her reading a book next to her pile of belongings, and I’d think, if I were a homeless person, that would be me. A white woman, off by herself, reading a book. I spoke to her once or twice, maybe offered a dollar, but didn’t engage too much. The reasons seem both obvious, but also are not that easy to articulate. Maybe the responsibility seemed too much — maybe I was worried I would find out things she really needed (like a room in my house!) and I wouldn’t be ready. to go that far and I’d feel guilty. Maybe she was a reminder of the overwhelming problem we have of homeless everywhere you go or look in Los Angeles now, and I didn’t want to think about it.

But then, in the era of the NextDoor app, a woman I’ve never met in our neighborhood posted that she was starting a “Lotsa Helping Hands” calendar for Beth Ann, and that if we got 14 people, everyone could stop by only once every two weeks and we would still cover every day. And that drew me in, even though we only got as high as nine and not every day is covered. I’m really grateful to that neighbor for the rather brave thing she did, courting the ire of the NIMBY’s to make the request. When I see a Beth Ann on the bench, I see “Beth Ann” and not just a problem. Even though I still feel sad for the situation, I feel hope too, that things can get better for her.

Words To Drive By — “My Panda”

EPISODE 4: “My Panda”

Feeling stifled by her household and her giant panda, a woman contemplates escape.

I brought this story into a writing workshop early in my MFA experience, and the professor hated it. However, other people encouraged me, and “I” liked it, so I polished and submitted it anyway, and it found a home at Sycamore Review with people who loved it. It was a good lesson to learn — that everything is a matter of taste! One of the encouraging people was my classmate at the time, the multi-talented artist and writer Katie Burgess, who later made me the cover art you see above.

If you like short fiction, you should download Katie’s recent award winning chapbook for free!

Barrington Smith-Seetachitt (that’s me!) wrote and read this story.  Greg-Gordon Smith composed and engineered, and Ted Giffin created the lovely show art on the player.

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Words to Drive By — Monster Leaves Dog

EPISODE 3: “Monster Leaves Dog”
(After the Storms, Part 3)

As a long-married couple prepares to part ways, the husband tries to convince his wife to change her mind.

This story is the third of three interrelated stories called After the Storms.
As with “Room” this story originated with a prompt:

Two characters part ways forever.

We were asked also to think about the questions: “Who and when and where?” “Do they know it’s forever?” “Do they have different feelings about it?” and “What causes the parting?”

I let years pass — literal years! — before I came back and finished this one. As the third story in the trilogy, it felt like writing a flashback episode of television. I enjoy flashback episodes, but they present their own set of challenges to the writer. Often a flashback episode needs to incorporate information the audience has already knows from regular episodes and that can change the source of dramatic tension in the story. If this story stands alone, the main question that unifies the narrative is “can Jerry change Beth’s mind and convince her to stay in the city?” But someone who reads it with the context of the previous stories already knows the answer. So for them the the question is not “what happened?” but “how and why did it happen?” Which tends to be a “weaker” dramatic tension…

… but hopefully still worthwhile! For me, the appeal of a flashback episode is traveling back in time and seeing characters I already know as they once were — before I knew them. In this case, seeing Jerry in “Room” and Beth in “Tribe” each reminiscing about the other made me want to see them together for a little while, and witness the moment that sent them on their separate trajectories.

Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs this and every episode. Ted Giffin did the show art.
And Barrington Smith-Seetachitt (that’s me!) wrote and read the story.

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Words To Drive By “Tribe”

EPISODE 02: “Tribe”
(After the Storms, Part 2)

SUMMARY: In a dystopian future, a woman juggles memories of her former life with her growing feelings for someone new as she and her nomadic tribe face a dwindling water supply in the desert.

NOTES:
This story was first published in an anthology, *Turning Points: Stories About Choice and Change*.
The story was published singly, but is the second of three interrelated stories called “After the Storms.”

Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs this and every episode. He has a website. Ted Giffin made the show art.

You can SUBSCRIBE to this podcast on your favorite player:
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