I was going to update Creature Feature the first chance I got but I felt that I had to write about the other night, and why it made me spend my first waking hours this morning writing on a dirty pile of clothes.
The other night I went with a friend to hear Claire Keegan give a reading of her novella Foster. The handy-dandy link of which will take you to an abridged version of it in The New Yorker. Please try to forget the fact that you haven't read The New Yorker in years because they haven't published any of my work yet. It's the reason I haven't been reading them either, but we're going to have to get past that sad, sad fact and just keep reading and I will keep trying. Deal? Deal. Good talk, friend, good talk.
Anyway, Ms. Foster was reading at Loyola University and the only reason I knew about it was because my friend Stacy works there and helped arrange her appearance. I expected to get there, hide inconspicuously in the back somewhere and listen, and maybe do some writerly thing like take notes. Claire Keegan is Irish, so my notes would read something like, "1) Be foreign, 2) Develop charming Irish accent, 3) Publish award-winning novella in The New Yorker." After thinking this through, I decided not to take notes and just listen.
So not only did I not take obvious, superfluous notes that night, I wasn't able to hide myself in a crowd. When we got there, right on time, there were two other people besides Stacy and myself - a math professor and Claire Keegan. We were sitting outside of the door to the room where the reading was to be held (which I think was a chapel). Ms. Keegan was sniffling, dabbing her nose with a tissue and apologizing in advance if she had to blow her nose during the reading. She looked lovely, with her long red wavy hair and black clothes that I don't remember well except that they was black and draped around her. And I clammed up at the sight of her. I remember that too. It was the kind of clamming up that I would imagine I would do if I ever met Susan Sarandon, or Tom Hanks, only worse. Published writers who give readings are my superstars, and I have no idea what to say to them other than, "Nice to meet you. I love your writing." As far as I'm concered that's all I should have to say to them, because I should never have to drag out the conversation beyond that, ever, ever, ever, ever. And/or ever.
Because after meeting her and saying, "It's nice to meet you. I read 'Foster', I thought it was beautifully written," my friend Stacy SAT DOWN.
"Stacy," I thought, as she got comfotable and asked Claire Keegan something intelligent, "what are you doing? Why aren't we going into the room to sit and wait? Shouldn't we be going into the room to sit and wait? Please?"
But she kept sitting, and the math professor kept sitting and commenting intelligently on Stacy's intelligent observation, and Claire Keegan replied intelligently in an Irish accent which also made it worldly, and so I sat down, and in the moment of silence that followed I felt pressured to say something.
"That's awesome," I said, and they looked at me and blinked. More silence.
"Have you ever been to New Orleans before?" I asked Claire Keegan.
"Yes, actually I graduated from Loyola in 1992."
"Oh wow. Awesome."
More silence. Another professor walked up.
"There aren't too many people in there yet," she said. "Maybe we'll wait another fifteen minutes. I forgot that tonight was the talk on human trafficking."
"Oh," everyone said in unison.
"Human trafficking is a tough business to compete with," I said, and there followed ten seconds of the loudest silence I've ever heard.
So in case you've never experienced this personally, just know that the next time you're at a party and there's an uncomfortable silence, human trafficking jokes do not make good ice breakers.
For the next fifteen minutes, the the three of them talked about things like reading and traveling. So even though I've never been out of the country and the most exotic place I've ever been to is the buffet in Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, you would think that I would atleast be able to participate in half of the conversation because I'm a reader. But NO because they only talked about things I've never read. Like Chekov, which Stacy brought up.
Claire Keegan brightened. "I love Chekov. What were you reading?"
"Chekov," I thought. "I've read things by Chekov but only assigned readings in college. He's good but he doesn't blow my mind, not like....like....oh my God. I can not think of a single writer I like...Carson...something? Flannery...is it Flannery? Flattery? Cannery? J.K.....wizard?...vampire?....do I know how to read?"
During this time where I couldn't rememeber if I was literate or not, the conversation turned to travel.
"When I was in Belize..." someone said.
"It's Dr. Thomas's turn to go to Paris this summer..." another said.
"I came to school here to experience somewhere different outisde of Ireland," Claire Keegan told me, when I asked why she chose New Orleans to go to college.
"That's awesome," said the girl who chose to go to The University of New Orleans because she didn't think her grades were good enough to get into anywhere else and she was afraid to leave home. And then she graduated 13 years later only, it seemed, to be able to use the word "awesome" in any given situation.
After that, the professor whose turn it wasn't to go to Paris told Claire Keegan that she should get started and I was relieved to get up and go into the room that I think was a chapel. I don't know. At that point I'd lost my ability to observe or describe anything, but it had stained glass windows and portraits of priests on the walls. There were folding chairs set up, filled with students who had decided not to learn about human trafficking and who were all beautiful because they were twenty.
After a brief introduction, in which Claire Keegan's awards and other notable honors were mentioned, she began to read from "Foster." And it was beautiful because she's a beautiful writer, which is why I'm posting the link again in case you missed it. I hope it works. If it doesn't, google "Claire Keegan Foster," and you'll find it.
In the time she was reading, I was able to forget all of the doubts I had about myself as a writer and a human in general, and the fact that I'd failed to be charming. But afterwards, she closed the book and the questions came. I was glad because there was more about the story I wanted to know that I hoped someone else would ask. I didn't want to open my mouth and risk saying something with "awesome" in it. People did, but one of them also asked something unrelated to the story, and his question is the reason I wrote for two hours on a pile of dirty laundry.
"How is the writing scene different in America as opposed to Ireland?" a guy asked.
"Well," she said, and here I am paraphrasing a bit because I don't remember what she said word-for-word, "I'm not as familiar with the writing scene here. More familiar with Canada. But I can tell you that when you boil it down into groups of writers there's a lot of jealousy, but also a lot of support. I've gotten so much wonderful support from other writers and editors," she went on to list them and then said, "I will also say that I don't know if I could do what I do if I lived in America. In Ireland I have the support of The Arts Council, and there's nothing like that here. I don't think I could make a living, and I don't know how writers here do it. But I will say that I believe that any writer, no matter where they live, will be published as long as they don't give up."
Soon after that the questions stopped and Claire Keegan said, "Is it champagne time yet? It's champagne time."
We all filed out and since, not only was I striking out in the conversation department, but I don't drink, I told Stacy I'd be right back, and I stepped outside.
I thought about what she'd said about jealousy. I was jealous, if you couldn't tell from my comment about The New Yorker in the beginning of this post. And I was jealous of her. Award-winning, well-traveled, full-time writer, supported by her government who recognizes her work as a significant contribution to the world. And also, thinking about those 20-something or younger than 20-something year old faces, I'm 37 years old. I'm not old, but really, I don't have much time. And what am I doing? Writing in bursts of energy? Sending out work to be published in bursts of courage, gettting a few rejections, and stopping again, hiding under the covers and avoiding reading sometimes because it's just a reminder of what I'm not doing. Going to my day job every day and hating it because it's not writing.
I don't have time to be afraid anymore, or jealous of other people's success. No time for berating myself for not being smart enough, well-traveled enough, or charming enough. No time to sit around resenting the fact that it's hard to be a writer in my country and make a living at it UNTIL you can make a living at it. Writers are either nobodys or superstars. Has anyone reading this even heard of Claire Keegan? Now, how many of you have heard of Stephanie Meyer?
Anyway, I bought the latest version of Writer's Market, which I haven't done in a few years. And I made a schedule for myself, which gives me 20 hours of writing a week, which includes the business of sending stuff out. If I don't approach this as a part time job, it won't happen. I'll just keep starting and stopping, starting and stopping. And I'm going to get rejected A LOT. In fact, I got a rejection in the mail the day before yesterday and I pinned it to my wall because that's what they say to do. It was a good rejection, I'll tell you about it later. You will be happy to know that part of the 20 hours includes blogging :)
So this morning, I sat on a pile of dirty laundry on my bedroom floor instead of washing it because if I focus on housework I won't write. And it was comofrtable. I wrote for two hours. It felt good, free, and terrifying because I had moments where I looked back at what I wrote and I thought, "Who would publish this crap?" or worse, "is this something an agent or editor will make me change?" because I've had that - it's great! Change it. It doesn't matter. I love it, it's what I want to do and the 20 hours a week of my time does not include sitting on my bedroom floor frozen in fear.
When I went back into the building, after thinking about all of these things and knowing I couldn't afford to ever give up again, I looked for Stacy and found her talking to Claire Keegan. I gulped - I know that's cliche but sometimes a cliche is a cliche because it's true. I really, actually gulped. Stacy was thanking her for coming and giving her a business card. Claire Keegan smiled, thanked her in return, and shook her hand.
I said, "It was great to meet you. It was a great reading," because I'd substituted the word "awesome" for "great" and found it necessary to stutter it ever other second. I shook her hand and practically pushed Stacy out the door.
"Well!" Stacy said. "Wasn't that wonderful?"
"Yes," I said.
It was wonderful. Thinking back on my life I can't think of many other moments that were wonderful, beautiful, enlightening, awkward, and awash with insecurity all at the same time. There have been some but not many. They tend to change things though, to set me on a clear path. So here I go.
Oh, by the way, you're in this with me. Awesome.