When I was a sophomore in high school, I had this English teacher, Mrs. Parker. She did not particularly care for me and I hated her with the fire of a thousand suns, because she sneered at my writing. When you’re a 14-year-old girl who has only ever wanted to be a writer and your English teacher essentially makes fun of you for writing poetry and consistently gives you C’s, it stays with you and no, I no longer hate her but if she and my ex-husband were both on fire and I had but one bucket of water, it’d be a hard decision.
One of the things she did that makes her fire-worthy? The grading criteria for our weekly composition papers. If, in our composition, we used any instance of passive voice (be, being, been, is, am, are, was, were, has been, have been, had been), she gave us an “F” on that paper.
This scarred me for life, or so editors and colleagues tell me. I, along with fellow Parker survivors, still unconsciously edit out every instance of passive voice in my writing. I have since accepted that in rare instances, a writer may use passive voice, but I am in no way OK with it. I realize I could probably benefit from some sort of therapy.
Which is why I find it so amusing that when I received the final edits back for my book’s introduction, my editor included rewording the second paragraph to read:
“There was a time when not only could you find such a book, but the presence of such a guide was considered so crucial to the nation’s economy that our government sponsored such guides.”
The editor for the University Press of Florida – the same people who published Carl Hiaasen’s column compilations – inserted passive voice into my book. Delicious.
I can’t remember Mrs. Parker’s first name so I don’t know if she’s still alive, but if she is, I would love to send her a copy of my book, with the second paragraph highlighted.
Some days you go for the little victories.
Oh, and also, the editing process of my book is done and we are moving onto the next process: External review. I don’t know what that means, but it sound both scary and wonderful.
So, you know, kind of a big victory day, too. The editing process sucks. It took me longer to make the edits than it took me to write the book.
But either way… I’m going to have a book. It’s starting to feel real.
Suck it, Mrs. Parker. I am a writer.
Hello, abyss, old friend. It’s me again, at your edge. I’m ready to jump in again.
I probably should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. I have a tendency to get too inside the mirror. Which is funny, in the way people say funny when something isn’t funny at all: I was so introspective I didn’t see what was happening in my own life, and it was clearly going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.
I’m a big believer – huge, actually – in “we do what we want” so I can’t change philosophies midstream now and say I didn’t want this. I am certain I could have avoided this, of course, but I just didn’t want to avoid it enough. Apparently.
And so, for the first time in almost 12 years, as the Gabber staff plugs away at a deadline for Thursday’s paper, I am not a part of it. Oh, I’ve submitted a final Hard Candy, which you can all read tomorrow, and they have a few nondescript things of mine to run over the next month (not the sort of thing one includes in their portfolio, but the sort of thing that keeps the machine part of the newspaper going) , but for all intents and purposes, I no longer write for the Gabber.
The wherefores and whys really, really don’t matter. It became clear to me my time there was at a stopping point. I would never have been able to separate on my own; I needed a push. I didn’t see it coming, I really and truly didn’t, but when I started talking to El Cap about “what next” this past weekend I of course went through the whole postmortem, I realized yes, this has been coming for a while and of course I didn’t see it because I couldn’t.
It doesn’t matter. I will be forever grateful for how the Gabber changed my life. Over the years, too, the Reichart family was exceptionally good to me. I am the writer I am, in part, because they allowed me to be that writer.
Endings, however, often suck. (Yes, that’s the best word right there, unless I want to describe it as “eating a suck burrito” which is a phrase I’m
stealing borrowing from these guys.)
This is one of those times.
I’ve spent the past days surrounded by friends who have buoyed my spirits and told me only good things. I needed that and am lucky to have those sorts of friends, the ones who support you without question and encourage you and tell you, yes, buttercup, you’re going to be OK.
At El Cap’s encouragement, I will take the rest of this year and finish three books I’ve started and mostly finished. He suggested the parting was perhaps a gift and the thing that was breaking my heart so hard was also the thing that would propel me to a new chapter of my life. He told me to freelance, yes, because, well, bills, but please focus on publishing something larger (I’m paraphrasing) than a city council report (Although, as much as I bitch about those meetings, I enjoy government reporting. It’s an illness.) He wants to see me write what I love, not what I need to write, to see me find something to stretch against the walls of my talents in new ways.
And I want that, too, actually. The idea of taking a year (OK, 11 months and 17 days, give or take) to work within my own little fictional world, pitch my second print book to a conventional press, and maybe even start trying to get feature work with magazines? That sounds incredibly, awfully, amazingly appealing. Most people don’t get that chance, and, without El Cap’s support, I wouldn’t either.
The last time I left a job, I did not have a plan except “write” – and I learned wishes work best with a touch of specificity mixed in to them. Last time wasn’t bad, not by a long shot. I found more than I ever imagined by simply following the direction “write.” This time, I have that specificity, but not too much, I hope, that I’ll miss something good. And, the same as last time, the grand plan includes sucking breath in and pushing it out again, and, if all else fails, I’ll just keep swimming.
To be continued…
So this morning I went to a llama farm in Pinellas Park. For those of you playing the home game, because it’s my job. I get to do unusual things and write about them, which, when compared to some of the things I have to write about, is actually pretty cool. So when I ran into a guy selling llama beans at the Tuesday Fresh Market, I thought it’d be a cool thing to write about: a llama farm.
Before we go on, though, let me clarify: llama beans are NOT IN ANY WAY SIMILAR to lima beans. Llama beans are fertilizer. Yes, boys and girls, llama shit. This is why I tell people it’s important that we be very specific in what we wish for: when I was a child, I wished to be a writer. This is the Universe’s way of saying, “Specificity, bitch!”
Back to the llama farm (which I totally swear is real even if they don’t have a web site): I pictured genteel camels, which they kind of were. To me. They’re assholes to each other, but apparently once they sniff your hair they know you forever. I’m uncomfortable with that; I don’t know how, but I feel like once the government gets ahold of this information it may mean very bad things.
Anyway, these mostly docile fuzzy creatures were disconcertingly aware of me. I don’t mean like a cat or dog; think “velociraptor with fur” and you get the picture. I did not one bit care for how their eyes followed my every move.
Paranoid? There were, at any given time, six sets of llama eyes following my every move. Then I noticed the females in the field were all tracking my movements as well. Do you know how female llamas show dominance? They spit their cuds at each other. Whoever gets the LESS direct hit gets ostracized for up to three weeks by the other females, thus proving that females across the globe, irrespective of species, are little assholes.
It still beats how the males show dominance. Llama keepers have to file down the conical teeth on the males. Why? Because to show dominance over the other males, they BITE THE OTHER LLAMAS BALLS OFF.
That’s information I think we all can use.
Also, my friend Kelli has a sick sense of humor. Not like me. So she posted this video, the audio of which I swear is a bastardized Pirates of Penzance, on The Most Interesting Dog in the World’s Facebook page. That’s Calypso’s page, and she has a lot more fun than I do, so you should totally “like” it and follow her on the Twitter. I’m hoping to get her a Dos Equis contract…
I am not the sort of person you see on the street and think, “Wow, now SHE looks approachable and friendly. I am totally going up to HER.”
I am also not what is thought of as a “traditionally hot woman,” which is to say I wear grown-up sizes, have spent a lot of time in the sun, and long ago lost the battle of the curls with my hair. In case I’m NOT painting enough of a picture here, I am almost 40, barely 5’4″, pushing 150 pounds, and have hair that doubles in size with every tropical depression.
Don’t misunderstand; I am totally OK with how I look; I actually think I usually look pretty good, albeit I’m a tad on the “healthy” side. But I am NOT the sort of person men – or anyone, really – will approach on the street. Not only am I *not* Christie Brinkley (or whoever the kids think is hot these days), I’m not exactly – what’s the word? Oh, yes – pleasant. I am not pleasant to strangers, unless you have a puppy or are an old person. And since I live in Florida, that means real old, not “gee-60-is-the-new-40” old you guys from Wisconsin count as old. I spend enough time interviewing people for work that I enjoy being alone with the voices in my head. They don’t expect much and rarely want me to talk back, so things work out well between us. Which means that when people take more of “live and let live” attitude with me, which they often do (must be something in my aura, I suppose,) it suits me fine.
Unless, apparently, you pedal a pedicab on Clearwater Beach.
Pedicab Man: (pedals up to me while I’m waiting for the trolley) Hey, you can smile. Smile!
(Those of you who know me in real life, please explain to those of you playing the home game why this never works with me.)
Pedicab Man: Where are you going?
*See, this is where I look up and realize that since I’m waiting for the bus, maybe he’s trying to see me a pedicab ride. In what I swear is my nicest voice, I respond.
Me: Indian Rocks Beach. I’m meeting a friend.
(I say this in as nicely a tone as I can muster, but he doesn’t leave. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to pedal my ass almost seven miles to my imaginary lunch date, so I’m not certain why he doesn’t just pedal along)
Pedicab Man: (tries again) Well, don’t worry, it’s not going to rain.
Me: Oh, I don’t mind if it rains! (realizing I sounded a bit harsher than I meant to sound, I try again) Excuse me, I’m just… my mind is in another place right now (this said as nicely as I possibly can.)
Pedicab Man: Hey! Hey! Where I’m from, people are nice! (He could not have been angrier at this point. I’d like to point out that this transformation happened in seconds.)
Pedicab Man exits stage right.
So, there you have it. I was just sitting there, minding my own business, waiting for the bus, when I either get hit on or targeted for some sort of minor psychopathic episode. I swear, the shit just follows me home like a puppy with herpes.
And I spend my days interviewing people. Swell.