A Work in Progress

A-Cthonic-Key

I held the cabinet while my husband used the socket wrench to undo the screws that fastened it to the wall.

“Okay?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said.

With the last screw undone, the cabinet shifted and came away from the wall. Together, we started to bring it to rest on the floor. A splash of color caught my eye. I gasped.

“Are you okay? Don’t hurt yourself!”

“No, it’s not that…look at this creepy wallpaper!”

It’s like an insidious riddle written by H.P. Lovecraft. Insect, jelly, man, note, octopus? Have we stumbled upon the key to release Cthulhu from R’lyeh? Surely the insects refer to his minions, and man discovers the note—you know the one—that “bloop” sound recorded by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that is roughly where Lovecraft claimed the sunken city of R’lyeh was located? And the octopus, well, of course that’s Cthulhu himself!

Or maybe it’s just creepy wallpaper.

My home office is quite Spartan at the moment. Just the desk, my chair, and the computer, and a big pile of junk from when we ripped down the drop ceiling to see what kind of renovations were needed. The room is the color of a peach dropped in the dirt. New windows are on order, and I’m talking with contractors about the work that needs to be done.

A-Work-in-Progress

It’s not my writing space yet. One could argue that the lack of distractions could make it a perfect writing spot. Just me and my dark ambient music. But without the artwork I love, especially that self-portrait my brother painted that has served as a sort of Muse for 21 years, it feels like the soul of the room is missing.

I’ve been mostly getting my writing fix through flash fiction: Describli and Chuck Wendig’s weekly writing challenges. And then I got stuck in the editing loop. The one most people in the writing biz tell you to avoid. It’s one of the tenets of NaNoWriMo: Do not go back and edit while working on the first draft!

And yet here I am, in round five of editing the first nine chapters. I have a good excuse, I tell myself. I had to drop writing around the holidays, when the hubs and I started to look for a new house and prepared to stage our little condo in Somerville for sale. Five months later, now that a daunting stack of papers has been signed and boxes packed and moved from one place to another, how could I remember all the little nuances of the novel? Must refresh my memory!

Fair enough. At least for the first round. But we’ve been unpacking and figuring out room layouts since the beginning of April, to say nothing of all the stuff that happens at the day job. And getting used to the new commute. And the volunteer gig. And just being tired. Sigh.

So I haven’t been able to concentrate. If I just edit this next round, I’ll easily pick up where I left off.

Part of the issue is that ninth chapter. It didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the novel as it currently stands. Whether I need to omit the whole thing and start over or just edit down the chapter and keep the best snippets, we’ll see when I get there tomorrow, when I finally enter in this last round of edits…and move forward with chapter ten.

At least in the near future, I won’t have this creepy wallpaper staring down at me.

my-creepy-wallpaper

 

Flash Fiction Challenge: X Meets Y

Who can resist the X meets Y challenge? Though this week has been absolutely bananatown on the work and home front, I had to make time for Chuck Wendig’s latest writing challenge. It was my only solace of the week. Herewith, a mash-up between Twin Peaks and The Matrix.
Portals

After the walls melted away, Ryland stood alone in a forest. A dense fog settled among the tall pines. A soft lapping of water came from the right, but the body of water wasn’t visible. A crow cawed in the distance, ahead of her on the wide path.

Gone was the labyrinth of skyscrapers she had known all her life. The absence of sirens disoriented her. Ryland turned slowly in a circle. The portal was gone as well. So jarring was the sensation that she wasn’t sure which world was real—the one she believed she was a resident of, or this one, rich in earthy smells with soft ground beneath her feet.

The lone call of a crow came again, this time more urgent than before. Though she couldn’t see it, Ryland was certain it was aware of her presence.

“Damn her for talking me into this,” she said.

Only minutes ago, she was meeting Wren, an old friend, in a bodega near the theater district. She wanted to go clubbing. Wren had other plans.

“You need to help me,” she implored. “I’m trapped between two worlds. I don’t know how much time I have here. Everything flickers—then I’m suddenly elsewhere.”

Ryland reacted calmly. The virtual reality business was a 3-trillion-dollar industry, consuming all forms of media, and all too many impressionable people were overly susceptible to its lures.

Despite safety measures to alert those unable—or reluctant—to come out of a virtual world, many people disabled the alarms on their own devices, preferring to neglect their own needs, often resulting in death. Regulators shrugged off the reports of disturbing trends in starvation and neglect. The benefits were too great—a pacified population and enormous profits. “People should be free to make their own decisions,” they said. “We aren’t in the business of being a nanny state.”

“It’s a portal to the multiverse,” Wren said, sliding the device across the table where they unwrapped their sandwiches.

Ryland rolled her eyes. “So says the ad campaign.”

And yet here she was. It was unlike any VR experience she ever had.

When the crow called again, she began to walk down the path. The fog enhanced the scent of pine needles and moist earth. The scant park in the city was nothing like this. Those trees are fake anyway. Pollution had long since choked plant life into extinction.

The path rounded a corner. Long benches made of split logs stood to the side of the path. A crow swooped down and landed on a nearby tree stump. It regarded her with its head tilted to one side.

When she blinked, the crow had transformed into a tall man wearing a silver suit. His black hair was combed to the side. His grin was wolfish, and his eyes seemed to reveal a cosmos that lay beyond this world. “It’s about time you arrived,” he said in a mellifluous voice.

Ryland cast a skeptical eye over the handsome man’s figure. “Who are you?”

“Your host,” he said. He bowed deeply, sweeping one arm out as if to hold a top hat.

“What’s your name?”

“Ah, well…people find it easier to name what they don’t know on their own terms. Being presented with a title puts many people off.” He paused mid-bow. “I am at your service, however you choose to name me.”

Ryland stopped short of using her favorite swear words. She bit her lip, the unease of this world sinking into her skin and to her very marrow. The beauty of the forest darkened with a creeping fear. The man staring at her didn’t waver.

Unwilling to come up with a name for the crow who apparently transformed into a man, she decided to change the subject. “What am I supposed to be doing here?”

“Didn’t the little bird tell you?”

“Little bird? Oh. Wren.” Ryland smiled in spite of herself.

The man nodded.

“What is happening to her?”

“The answers cannot be revealed outside of the cabin.”

“What cabin?”

When Ryland next blinked, the man was gone. The crow paused on the tree stump next to the bench and flapped its wings. It cawed once and flew down the path. She had no choice but to follow.

The disorienting feeling of being in such a remote place was amplified by the fog. Movies never had the sounds of the forest. There was always dialogue and music. Things rustling in the distance and branches clicking together high above rattled her nerves. Her mysterious shape-shifting host had disappeared, but she was certain he observed her every move. He’s probably in my head, too.

The path wound down to the right, bringing her closer to the water. A crescent of mirror-gray water appeared. Most of the lake was obscured by trees and fog. A low cabin, shaded by trees, rested next to the lake. The cabin was weathered and sagging slightly. Its shuttered windows revealed nothing within.

Ryland approached, stepping onto the porch with trepidation. She put her ear to the door. Strange sounds from behind the door were faint.

The door swung inward. A young boy wearing dark sunglasses held it open, waving her inside with a sense of urgency. “Don’t let the light in,” he said. “And don’t let the truth out.” His sandy blond hair was combed to the side, and he wore an outfit that reminded Ryland of films from the early twentieth century.

As Ryland entered the one-room cabin, she saw Wren, who was dressed in the fashions popular in the city where they grew up—clothes for clubbing—black boots and a purple-blue dress with a black vest. Wren sat in a leather chair, arms straight along the armrests. Her eyes were closed.

The cabin door closed behind her. The room darkened. A bare lightbulb danged from the center of the ceiling. When Ryland came to stand in the center of the room, it began to flicker erratically.

The shape-shifting host in the silver suit leaned in the corner of the room, picking his teeth. “Ah, she’s here. Very good. You see that, son? Have a little faith in the ways of chaos.”

“The ways of chaos?” Ryland asked.

The boy put his finger to his lips. “Shh. Learn your place.”

She scowled at him and went to kneel by her friend. “Are you okay?”

The horror sank in. Wren’s wrists and ankles were bound by iron shackles. Ryland shook her by the shoulders. “Wren!” There was no response.

The lightbulb continued to flicker—maddeningly, incessantly.

Obscured by an increasing volume of static, jazz from a bygone era filled the air. Shadows danced along the walls.

“Why are you doing this?” shouted Ryland. “What are you doing to her?”

“Time for the truth?” asked her enigmatic host with a wry smile. “Life is energy.” Shadows flickered over his silver suit. “Energy must be directed to secure the portals. You see, my dear, no reality is real…and yet, all realities are real.”

“So she was right about the multiverse.”

“Indeed. You see so few universes with your technology, but we’re working to change that.”

“We?”

The host stood and straightened his lapels. “The virtual reality industry, of course! Silly girl. Try to keep up. Some realities are more predatory than others, but all entities must sustain themselves and their worlds. We reach in, we take what we need.”

Ryland shook her friend by the shoulders again. “Wren, wake up. We have to leave.”

Wren’s eyes snapped open. Her mouth opened in a silent scream. Her eyes were windows into an endless cosmos. Wren’s voice blended in with the jazz. The static cleared momentarily to let the lyrics though. Let your heart go and let it drift/Clear the shoals or your soul falls in a rift/The void takes all and each precious moment is a gift

The static rose and devoured the words. Wren’s mouth closed and the jazz continued without lyrics. Her eyes stared sightlessly ahead.

“The little bird is gone,” the boy said in a lilting tone.

Ryland sank to the floor and cowered at her friend’s feet. Rough planks shifted beneath her. Grit coated the palms of her hands. “I want to leave.” Tears crept down her face.

The host swept down and his face hovered in front of her. A smattering of galaxies swirled within his inky-black eyes. “You want to leave?” He sighed, planting his elbows on his thighs as he crouched. “Oh, but where to go? Where, where, where? If you’re trying to hide, understand there is nowhere to go. I’ll let you fly for a while, just like the little bird. But we will always find you. When time runs out…” his mouth made a clicking sound and he snapped his fingers.

The boy behind him chuckled. “Through time, at any distance. We know every place to hide. No one is better at hide and seek.”

The host extended a silver arm and held out an onyx orb to her. “Choose your world, but choose wisely.”

An Evening with Laurie Anderson

Big Science Cover

1982: My mom comes home from work, raving about a song she heard on the radio. The next album we purchase is Laurie Anderson’s Big Science, and so begins a lifelong fascination with unusual music for me. I was probably the only preteen in the audience for the concert we went to that year. I had no one to talk to about this kind of music/performance art outside of family. At dinner, we listened to Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, Shadowfax, and a host of obscure New Wave/New Age LPs that are still an important part of the “soundtrack of my life.” Kids in school were bonkers about light pop like the Culture Club and an array of big hair bands. Laurie Anderson made me feel welcome in an alien world, though even at the time, I understood it wasn’t an alien world at all. Her performances were about our world, seen through keen observation, wit, and a tremendous amount of creativity.

As a family, we went to her concerts whenever possible. I can’t tally the number, but it was a lot. We went to French films and my dad and I revered every Werner Herzog film we could find. Being a teen raised in an alternative cultural environment shaped who I am today, as a writer, an artist, and someone who loves an unusual view of the world.

Laurie Anderson is enchanting on stage. When I saw she was giving the Louis C. Elson Lecture at Harvard this March, I was determined to go, regardless of my intense schedule. Honestly, she can talk about making grilled cheese sandwiches and it turns into an amazing tale. She has a dedicated following, and I swear, even after all these years, I still recognize the regulars from the audience. We never spoke, but certain people stand out. It’s a silent inner circle that gathers to appreciate one of the most amazing artists of our time.

She opened by polling the audience about their own interests: who’s a musician, who’s a painter, who’s a writer. She preferred “multimedia artist,” because it prevents the “art police” from pigeonholing her. And really, it’s impossible to do so. She only considers herself “a dedicated amateur musician.” She’s a master of storytelling. She sees the stories within a stories, and talked about a childhood diving accident that sent her to the hospital with a broken back. She was put in the burn unit, and the dark nights with were filled with tears and sounds of suffering. Over the years, the body and memory change and cleanse some of that imagery, and it took her decades to realize some of the empty beds she woke up to were the result of children dying in the night. The creepiest parts of then stories are the ones that go forgotten for time, she said. And as Anderson puts pieces of them together, and even the saddest or most disturbing of stories have a positive note. It’s part of her philosophy of life.

Home of the Brave

Anderson described her early years as a “self-righteous minimalist,” who delighted in creating spare components of performances. Though it was never explained to me growing up, this concept clicked with me as she talked about stage design for her concerts. The epic concert film Home of the Brave is probably the best example. People dot the stage in small groups or individually. Some wear costumes. Others move in an erratic dance. A film of animation and/or words plays in the background. There is dance, lighting, movement, none of which seems to fit together in a linear way. It’s all part of her master plan. Everyone has their own rhythm, she said. You have your own way of constructing stories, and you put together the components in a way that suits you best. It was an epiphany that tied together years of seeing her performances. Whether you watched the musicians, the shadows of people on the screen, or to see what unique item she’d use in the center of the stage—be it a glowing violin or goggles with lights like high beams, there is no one precious single meaning she wants you to take away from it. It’s all about how you want to enjoy what she offers.

Experimentation takes many forms, and “I appreciate the feeling of not being sure.” Getting out of your niche is key. She plays with tones and pitches of voices. Anderson has created countless films and art installations where the experience of sound is the feature of the work. “I love broken things,” she said as she described the studios where she uses old analog equipment and digital technology to fuse styles into experimental works. She used carpenter’s level to create a speaker system, depending on how it was tilted, you heard a male voice, female voice, or both. When setting up for a performance once, she told the crew to use the most broken-looking but functional equipment they could find. A photo of a keyboard and decrepit microphone stand that looked like it was set up in an old basement appeared on the screen behind her. “I loved it,” she said.

Ever the traveler, Anderson shares a wealth of experience from installations and performances around the world. Her stint as the first (and only) resident artist for NASA illuminated the connection between art and science. Truth and beauty are much more present in science than most people realize, she explained. Even Einstein didn’t accept some of his own theories because they were not beautiful enough.

Though she had many things she wanted to talk about, and surely the audience would have gladly spent the entire evening with her, time ran short. She shuffled her notes and decided which stories she wanted to tell the most before she opened it up to the audience for questions.

Book Cover

When asked about collaborations, she talked about working with Peter Gabriel on “Excellent Birds.” Each respective version has its own bass because they couldn’t agree on one together, she said. A perceptive member of the audience noted how a portion of one of her stories reminded him of Spalding Gray. She nodded, acknowledging they were close friends. “I’d like to think we keep the people we lost in the back of our minds,” she said. “You don’t lose the texture of someone’s voice.”

With time being finite, one person asked, how do you decide on what to work on with so many varied interests? The first criteria, she explained, is “Is it fun?” It’s best to enjoy as much as you can. Have the best time doing whatever it is at the moment. Everything else falls into place. “I choose to believe in progress because it makes for a happier life,” she said.

I walked home feeling lighter. It had been a stressful few months, and that brief session made me feel so much better. Art heals, it helps us reflect and learn, and while the pieces of the story shift, as she demonstrated with great eloquence, the story is ours according to how we want to make it. As I enter a new era of my own, I’m deeply appreciative for the artsy life my parents gave me, and that I’ve been able to carry this particular treasure with me for more than three decades. Laurie Anderson’s amazing work has become part of me too, and like her friend Spalding Gray, you never lose the texture of voices, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

The Manipulative Phantom

[100 words, Chuck? Well played, sir. I tend to write long, but okay. I accept this week’s extra challenging writing challenge in this tweet-dominated world. Herewith, a story of 100 words.]

Photo credit: Abby Lanes, "A Postcard from the Edge," Creative Commons 2.0

Photo credit: Abby Lanes, “A Postcard from the Edge,” Creative Commons 2.0

Sorry—I found your letter behind the dishwasher. Thinking of you. Too busy to write.—Dad

“Impossible,” Beth muttered as she read her father’s stark all-capped words. “You always put the mail by the door. Either you’re lying, or that new lady in your life is sabotaging us to keep you away from your past.”

Beth sparked a match and held the postcard over the sink. The stench of the glossy paperstock blossomed.

She looked at the portrait of Anaïs Nin on the wall. “Kindred spirits. We have too much in common. Your diaries bear too much of my soul.”

 

 

 

Farewell, Somerville

Davis Square

1990: A series life-changing events brought us here, like refugees from our own respective storms. My mom transitioned to a new career at Boston Children’s after a divorce. To say my first three semesters at UMass Amherst were turbulent would be an understatement. When my mom found an apartment in Somerville, she suggested I transfer to the UMass Boston campus. No dorms meant less chance of getting swept up in the chaotic high drama that was devouring any sense of well-being I had. In an amazing coincidence, my best friend from childhood was moving to Somerville the same weekend.

Our first walk into Davis Square felt alien. We had spent lots of time in Cambridge and Downtown Boston, and at the time, Somerville felt kind of desolate. Not many people were around. Pockets of old guys hung around dive bars and smoked. On that first night, we found ourselves the only customers in an Indian restaurant. The apartment we shared was small and didn’t get a lot of light. Our hyper Labrador, Tessie, was all the more anxious now that she away from the bucolic, slightly run-down farmhouse she knew as a pup.

Tender from our respective personal ordeals, we were eager to explore the Boston area as residents rather than remote suburbanites who visited often. A Wiccan shop in Porter Square called Arsenic and Old Lace quickly became one of my favorite havens. My new space was redolent in incense and cluttered with stones, amulets, and books on mythology and witchcraft as viewed by many cultures. Countless nights were spent making mix tapes. Kate Bush, Nick Cave, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and many others were my musical solace.

Somerville Dragon

In the UMass Boston café, where I consumed vast amounts of orange-flavored coffee, people joked about living in “Slummerville.” Though the Somerville Theater was a hidden gem, there was little draw to the city other than cheap rent.

The move to Waterhouse Street had been hasty, going to the first vacant place we could find. A friendly elderly gentleman with a salty sense of humor sat on the porch of the nursing home at the end of the street each day. He always greeted me as I turned onto Broadway to head to the subway, and on occasion, I’d go sit with him for a while. His family shuttled him off to the home because they didn’t want to deal with having him around, even though he was sharp as a tack and got around well. So well, in fact, that “the hookers in Davis Square give it to me for free,” he announced with a happy smile one day. Indeed, they clustered around a brick wall outside of Papa Gino’s—their business as open as any store next to them.

My mom and I eventually settled into a bigger place on Sycamore Street near Winter Hill. With my 21st birthday came an ideal college job: beer brewing. The owner of the homebrew shop wanted all staff to know the craft well, so all supplies and ingredients were free to everyone who worked there. Soon, I stacked cases of every type of beer imaginable in my basement. I specialized in mead, and had a carefully tended witch’s garden to grow lemon verbena, rosemary, and other fragrant herbs for my infused concoctions.

Somerville phone

My best friend worked at Rounder Records down the road from the homebrew shop. There was a lot of social cross-over and in five years, and my friend and I even traded jobs. She became a beer brewer and I became the assistant international sales rep. Together, we drank more free beer and attended more free concerts than we can reasonably tally.

Meanwhile, the nascent hipster culture began to arrive in Somerville. The Burren was new, and my boss at the homebrew shop worked out a short-time deal with Someday Café—free beer in exchange for free coffee for employees of each establishment. (The closing of the Someday Café was much-mourned. Many refused to enter Mr. Crepe on principle.)

My first post-college apartment that I shared with my best friend on Broadway was $600 a month. Not each—total. We lived on Ramen noodles, watched Ren and Stimpy, and were ridiculously happy. It was an artist’s life. We were delighted to see the evolving hipness of Somerville, Davis Square in particular. ArtBeat and the flourishing arts culture made us feel like it was really becoming home.

The wheel of fate turned. My friend got married. My brother died unexpectedly, and a ravaging depression sent me back home to mom. She had bought a home on Alewife Brook Parkway, and my grandmother moved in with us because she needed our help. Troubles at Rounder led me to find a “real office job” outside of my artists’ realm, and I eventually made my way to Harvard, where I picked up a career in publishing and two graduate degrees. I began writing my novels and short stories in earnest. My own first marriage brought me to a money pit on Lowell Street—a large two-family that went for $249,000 in 1998. Neither the house nor the marriage lasted long. Both were naïve decisions, but I recovered quickly and in 2003 found a lovely little condo that became a perfect writer’s garret. I knew it wouldn’t be forever, but it didn’t last as long as I thought it would.

Somerville graffiti

In 2009, a fateful message on Facebook changed it all: “Do you remember me?”

Indeed I did. We had mutual crushes on each other in high school, but I was too shy to date him. After finding me more than 20 years later, he invited me to visit him to celebrate our birthdays, which fall on the same day. The rest, as they say, is history. He relocated to live with me in my once-perfect condo. It was now far too small. When we began looking for a place of our own, the real estate prices in Somerville skyrocketed. What were once multifamilies selling for $249,000 were now million-dollar homes. Single family homes like we wanted were equally out of sight.

Malden, Revere, Lynn, and surrounding areas felt like frontier territory, but were our only options for commute and pricing for the space and style we wanted. We found a home we loved and well—yet it seems strange to say goodbye to a city where I’ve spent 25 years. Of course, yes, I can still visit, and will. But as I walk down the streets now, I’m haunted by what once was. Each store front that has been more than one venue…I alternately forget its past or present name…and each apartment where a friend lived (or, in another amazing coincidence, multiple, as when aforementioned best friend moved into the apartment my grandmother lived in when she was first married, cheerfully telling me and my friend about passing out on the floor from drinking too many boilermakers. Having indulged in occasional boozy fun in the same space, we giggled.) Ah, the circle of life.

Getting off the subway at Davis during rush hour was nothing like the crushing zombie horde you experience now. However, my sentimentality is hardly steeped in flowery nostalgia. Davis Square had its creeps back then. There’s a ton of cool stuff happening in Somerville today. Though I won’t miss the bureaucracy of the City with a capital C—it’s as challenging as it ever was. But in that past lies so much of my own evolution, as well as the city’s. Reading the diaries of Anais Nin years later as a writing instructor and teaching assistant at Harvard Extension reminded me of the divorce that brought us to Somerville. She too struggled with an unavailable father. My career at Harvard was amazing, but I lost a bit of my artist’s soul there. This latest turn of fate’s wheel has given me back some of what I lost and taken some of who I have been. My family is a lot smaller, but a lot happier. I am free to embrace my artist’s soul to the fullest now. Many new novels and stories are underway. I’ll miss being near the last vestiges of what I knew in 1990—like McKinnon’s, and the many places I’ve grown to love, like Five Horses Tavern and the Painted Burro.

Tres leches

When my old high school flame and I got married, he called ahead to the Painted Burro and arranged to have a rose delivered to the table with each course and drink, and a rose garnished the tres leches dessert that served as out wedding cake. It’s a fine memory to say farewell to, because it leads us forward into the future.

So farewell, Somerville. It’s been real. Time to watch another “frontier” town change and evolve.

March 22, 2105

Sunset Icicle

#FilmHerStory, #WriteHerStory

CF Cover Banner

As soon as I saw the trending hashtag, I wanted to write volumes. After all, this is what I do. Looking up #FilmHerStory on Twitter is inspiring, but alas, I’m no filmmaker. I am, however, an author, and #WritingHerStory is exactly what I’ve been doing for years. To the left of my desk stands a list of dozens of extraordinary women who have been marginalized by history. It’s a race against time to see how many I can get to.

It began with Dracula’s wife (well, consort, really). When I told people about the story, everyone had an idea. “You should write about Granía O’Malley. She was known as the Irish Pirate Queen,” said my mom’s best friend. I added her to the list. While researching Granía, I discovered a story about a woman who disguised herself as a man to accompany her lover into war, when Spain sent its armada to England in 1588. A visit to the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson introduced me to May Woodman, who, for a time, was the only female inmate in Yuma Prison, after shooting her lover on the same corner in Tombstone where Virgil Earp was shot after the infamous gunfight at OK Corral.

The women I write about cross every era and every culture. Some ruled empires. Others were solitary nomads. Others were strategists and warriors. As each story I write comes to a close, the voices of the unwritten clamor for attention, all wanting to be next. They’re often underdogs who achieved great things despite the odds. Plenty of authors have told the tales of grand ladies such as Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. True, they’re fascinating, but I like to look deeper for the forgotten voices. This misheard and misunderstood. The unusual.

Writing novels about real women in history wasn’t necessarily the theme I set out for when I started writing, but the more I read, the more lost voices I found. I’ve even gotten to the point where I wince a bit when I see a subject line in an email, something along the lines of “Have you heard about her?” “I found a new novel for you to write!” This of course, followed by a links and photos to another fascinating woman from somewhere in time. I wish I could get to them all. That’s why I was so glad to see the trending hashtag on Twitter.

FilmHerStory

I’m glad to see so many other people thinking about this. My only hope is that if they do get filmed, or novels written about them, that their story won’t be diminished by the Hollywood formula that can corrupt the essence of so many amazing personalities. Don’t make it a love story because you think it’s marketable. If the woman preferred solitude, embrace who she was. Make sure these stories pass the Bechdel test. Audiences are far more diverse than Hollywood gives them credit for, but fortunately, there are many indie avenues to explore and share. The Guardian recently reported that women who self-publish are finding good success, maybe better so than in traditional publishing. That may be so—it’s worked well for me so far.

I look forward to settling into my new home in two weeks and diving back into the fourth novel, which features Enheduanna, poet and priestess in the Sargonic dynasty of ancient Mesopotamia. I also look forward to seeing what happens with #FilmHerStory, to see if anyone makes good on the suggestions. And I also suggest #WriteHerStory as well. Let’s bring some of those forgotten voices into the light.

A Room without Books…

Brattle Books landscape

A room without books is like a body without a soul.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero

Let’s set aside the fact that this beloved quote which adorns countless magnets, tote bags, posters, etc., is falsely interpreted. Yes, Cicero said something like this—sort of—but the attitude toward books and who handled them was very different in ancient Rome, and really cannot be compared to our modern sensibilities.

But I digress. Which is easy to do when your personal library is packed into boxes (my apologies to the movers who have to haul them) and put into storage. There have been so many times in the past few weeks in which I started to work on a story and thought, “Oh, I need to verify that fact,” and reached over…to be reminded the bookcase was missing. Or I decide to make Saveur’s French farmhouse chicken in vinegar sauce. I walk to the kitchen to get the cookbook, and oh yeah, those are gone, too.

Sure, much of it can be looked up online, such as the Saveur recipe. If my writing is connected to history, I can find the complete writings of authors of the ancient world online. It’s not a huge deal, really, in the grand scheme of things. But with all the complications that come with buying and selling a house at the same time, and six weeks to go before the moving extravaganza occurs, it can feel disorienting, frustrating, and, at times, overwhelming.

The Muse has been fluttering about my imagination, impatient to return. There have been a few pages of scribble in my journal—though horror upon horrors, my fountain pen ink was packed, so when this cartridge runs dry, I have to (gasp) use a regular pen. Or maybe buy more cartridges, if I can find my way through the labyrinth of seven-foot snowbanks to get to Bob Slate Stationer in Harvard Square.

Living in a perfectly staged house has been fun. It’s clean all the time. Over time, though, finding the simplest of things: hairbrush, slippers, laundry basket, all tucked away at the last minute before a showing, go missing and recovering them is a challenge on par with the memory game played by so many kids. It gets tiresome. Buying and selling homes simultaneously tests your problem-solving skills on an intense level. All too often, I’m distracted by the next challenge that has popped up: something needs to be fixed and we need to get bids for the project immediately, or a form needs to be signed and filed right away and I have to dig for some obscure bit of information.

Photo credit: Christine Frost

Photo credit: Christine Frost

So what do I read these, other than The Economist? Only 5 actual books remain: Two old Norton anthologies of literature looking for a good home, an out-of-date atlas from 1990, and a massive dictionary. I eased into the realm of ebooks easily enough. Half of what I read—at least—is in the form of ebooks, the dragging commute of the notorious MBTA being the main supplier of time to kill. Immersing yourself in a good read is an excellent pastime when surrounded by your fellow crabby commuters. Like many avid readers, though, I still appreciate the feel of a real book in my hands. George R. R. Martin’s World of Ice and Fire is a treasure to hold. This Silmarillion-like tome is the only “actual” book left I’m actively reading. The dictionary, like the atlas and anthologies, will wait for some spring evening, when they can be placed on the stoop for passersby to pick up—a common fate for many books in the Greater Boston area.

As much as I love my real books, some have fallen from favor. My stained and tattered Roget’s Thesaurus seems feeble compared to PowerThesaurus. Online dictionaries are updated frequently. When it comes to reference books, the online versions have won.

Several times I’ve seen an announcement of a new release and thought about whether I’d prefer the paper version. I meandered around Porter Square Books and had a long internal debate about picking up a signed copy of Neil Gaiman’s latest short story collection. Then I thought, “It’s one more thing to pack.” The book stayed on the shelf.

The Great Purge of Clutter which led to the Perfectly Staged House was a great exercise in getting used to living without things. I have a tremendous appreciation for the open space, but living without the books has proven to be one of the biggest challenges. Even when I don’t need them, just passing by a shelf and seeing a favorite title makes me smile.

I’m looking forward to that day (well, days—let’s be honest) when I’m unpacking books with my husband in our new dual-library at the new house. We’ve already decided to name them and get plaques for them, á la Harvard endowment style—the Frost-Garcia Library and the Garcia-Frost Library. It will be a new, sun-filled sanctuary.