Friday, May 25, 2012

A girl stood on a bucket in Pike Place Market in the rain.

She was either very young -- no more than six, if that -- or she was tiny for her age.  She wore a dirty pink parka with the hood pulled up, and her hair stood out from the hood, a patch of wiry black flowers all around her face, each pigtail decorated with colorful plastic barrettes.  The bucket was upturned and white and she stomped her feet as she sang; it gave off a muffled thud, the rhythm reined in.  Behind her, her father played an acoustic guitar, but neither could it compete with the girl's voice.  Her singing was as bright and charismatic as an entire gospel choir.  I was caught up in the press of the crowd and I couldn't push my way through to drop a dollar in her cup.  But I turned my face to watch her for as long as I could, until the crowd, eager to get out of the rain, had carried me beyond where I could see her.    She saw no one in the crowd; her eyes never left the red lit market sign and the clock far above our heads, or perhaps she looked even higher as she sang, at the grey sky, at whatever was beyond it.

Oh, I've seen fire, I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end

It has been at least ten years.  The girl would be fifteen or sixteen now, maybe a little older.  This sounds ridiculous, because I only saw her for a moment and heard a few phrases of her song, but I think of her often.  I hear the drum of her small feet against the bucket.  Each time I am at the Market I look toward the green metal staircase where I saw her and hope to see her again.  I wonder what kind of fire and rain she's seen now.  I wonder whether her voice, her confidence, have kept her from the troubles that fall on too many Black girls.  I wonder whether her talent has been worth anything to her.  I wonder whether she wears a cleaner coat now, or whether she only sings these days to put her baby to sleep.

Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.

I wish I had pushed through the crowd and given her a dollar.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I pulled up the blinds in the bedroom for the first time since we moved in so I could watch as you mowed the lawn.  It is mostly moss but you cut down the wispy grasses over in the shade of the aspen, and you finally got those dandelions you hate, though too late to stop them from going to seed.  There will be more, many more, in a few weeks.  I will watch again, leaning on the cool window sill, as you push the mower with your jaw set, the lines of the muscles of your arms flashing distinct in the sun, the warmth of the blood in your veins that stand out across the backs of your elbows where the skin is golden.

At night you fell asleep too fast and left me with nothing, but when you woke for just a moment and rolled against me, laid your arm over me, pressed your wide mouth against my bare shoulder I forgave you.  I am too in love with you to not forgive.  Under the blanket I traced with my fingers the fine, straight line of hairs down the length of your stomach, soft and light as dandelion seeds.  You spoke to me in your sleep.  I couldn't understand a word.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Torrey House Press. Are you listening?

I am officially courting you.  Yes, you, Torrey House Press.  I have a crush on you.  I want to go steady with you.  I want to writer-marry you.  You're my publishing soul-mate.  You with your mandate to protect the West, my place, my home.  You with your mission to make people love the land I came from as much as I love it. 

I've been searching for an agent to represent this book I recently completed and just haven't had the interest I expected.  For a while I thought that's because I'm a terrible writer, even though I'm no stranger to working with agents (plural!) and no stranger to rejection.  This kind of thing has never gotten to me in the past, but this revolution on the query-go-round just about did me in.  I'm not sure why.  Well -- I am sure why, and I wrote out a few paragraphs detailing why, but I deleted them because they felt too digressive and too unprofessional.  So I'll just leave it at "I'm not sure why."  Anyway, not the interest I expected from agents, and I took several days to examine why from as many angles as I could fathom, and what that means, and where I go from here.

Here's what I came up with.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Mom told me, "Your dad never wanted to paint teepees.  He hated painting teepees.  He did it because that's what all the art dealers wanted, because that's what would sell.  He called them 'tricky little paintings'.  He decided he'd paint the landscapes for himself and put the tricks in to make them sell."

I have a few of his paintings, including a few with teepees, hanging on my wall.  I had to fight to get them.  In some cases, I had to pay.  An artist never thinks he's going to die at 49 in his bed in the summer heat with the TV still on, be found when the single mom upstairs has a spider in her bathtub and sends her eight-year-old boy down to get the nice artist in the first-floor apartment to come squash it.  Still and dead in bed for three days.  That poor kid, just looking for somebody to kill the spider.  Dad didn't plan to die young, so he left nothing to my sister or to me.  We had to salvage what we could find in his filthy apartment when we came to cart his things away.  She got the best of the paintings that were in his closet, but they weren't much anyway.  All his best had been sold years and years ago, before the heroin, before the crazy.  And I didn't argue with her.  She shut me out of the apartment in the end, set bags of my father's life outside his door for me to haul to the dumpsters.  I remember the dumpsters were school-bus yellow and patched with rust.  I remember how the lid clanged every time I'd throw in another bag.

So I had to find them where I could, the bits and pieces of his life, the small legacy he left for me.  I used eBay and I sent emails to art dealers with my sob story.  I gathered a few here and there.  I found some in relatives' attics and under beds, forgotten, and took them when nobody was home.  I read up on how to strip and restore varnish so I could restore them to the way they were supposed to look, but I haven't had the guts to try it yet, and I don't have the money to hire somebody to restore them for me.  Most of them are unframed.  I won't put them in anything less than a Ricks frame, carved and gilded.  That's the legacy I have, and I will tend it.

A few paintings, and some with teepees, on my wall.  I look at them and it's hard to believe he hated to paint the tricks.  They fit so well into his world, the structures grouped in twos or threes, the tiny figures of men in Hudson's Bay blankets standing near smoldering morning fires.  And in the background, the part he loved, the Idaho sky, the flat dun-scented sagelands, the foothills rising pale and blue and distant.  Birch trees and herds of elk.  And in nearly all of them, the tiny angular specks of blackbirds crossing.  The tricks blend in.  And all my life I've been proud of his reputation as one of the finest painters of teepees, and all my life I never knew how he hated it, or the concessions he made to make it bearable.

I tell my mom all this, and I also tell her, "But a painting takes a few days to make.  This book took me two years.  I worked on nothing else for two years of my life.  How can I put tricks into something that takes so much out of me?  If I hate writing it, and I spend two years hating it, how can I live with myself?"

She got that, at least.  "That's true.  And also a painting doesn't take much to appreciate, for most people.  You just look at it.  A book has to be read."

"A book has to be read by agents first, and then editors, and then more editors, and then readers.  It's such a lengthy process.  I wish I could force myself to go through it with something tricky, but I'm not sure I can."

"You got this all from your dad.  I've never felt this conflicted about anything.  You're so high-strung.  But I always wished for creative kids.  I hoped you'd both be like your dad that way."

"Crippled by my own desires?  Thanks; you cursed me."

"You won't be able to stop.  You're just like him."

I was crying now.  "I want to stop.  I want to turn it off.  It's making me miserable."

"But you won't be able to.  He never could.  You just have to find the tricks."

How do I make this tricky, then?  Zombies?  Baptism for the Undead?  Fuck.  The idea has about as much appeal as cutting up all his canvasses.  I don't think there are tricks.  Not for this stuff.  Too much time invested per image.  Too many people to please to get it sold.  Too many tricks to pull.  Not even Houdini could be so tricky.

I recalled the stuff we found way at the back of his closet, the one that had the angled wall, that ran under the stairs.  They were painted with scenes of farmers in blue overalls, close up, bending over plows, old men with bent backs in broken fields.  Thick impasto paint, and bright, impressionistic, on tall canvasses.  Nothing like what he was known for.  Most of them had been slashed with a razor.  One big angry rent through the middle.

I don't see an answer here.  I know how to paint the landscapes but I don't see a way to work the teepees in.  I can't even fathom the teepees, what form they may take.  Outside my window a blackbird is clinging to a swaying fir branch and singing, singing in the sun.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


I've been neglecting to write to you.

I've been so distracted and upset, so busy looking for work.  Writing anything has become a chore and so I've put it all off, but I should never put this off, telling you these things.  I can't tell you any other way.  I'm bad at talk and you're awkward and embarrassed when I try.  No matter how much it pains me to write I can't put this off.

The moon is immense tonight, forcefully present, as colored as a street light.  I left the party and sang to the moon as I drove.  I remembered the night we lay in the field.  I hoped you would kiss me.  You talked about the stars, nervous, about navigation by starlight, about the constellations in Cuba.  I let my hand fall into the coolness of the field and plucked the first stem my fingers touched.  I twirled it between my fingers as you talked, felt its ridged frail form, the way it bumped unevenly as it spun.  I repeated in my head, "Sedges have edges.  Sedges have edges."  Just to keep myself quiet.  I liked the sound of your stories.  The moon rose over the pines on the ridge.  It was as large as this moon, but white, not golden.  When it came up I interrupted you.  "The moon," I said, as if you couldn't see it too.  But that's how bad I am at talk.  I meant to say, This is a singular moment.  We will never see this moon rise again.  You smiled and held your breath and it pulled itself up, away from the tips of the trees as we tilted toward it slowly on an Earth that would never be the same again as it was that night.

Tonight the moon lights the sky with a green light, eerie and lovely, crisp.  I am watching it move like a moored boat across the highway, slow and resigned, confined to its orbit.  Hit the line at the end of its orbit and rock back across the earth again, slow, in another month, when everything will be different and everything will be the same.  That green light.  There was a green curtain hung across the hatch on your boat, lit from behind by the backcast glow of the Locks.  In that pale light your skin was as golden as the moon.  I kissed you.  The bell at the Locks rang like neon in the rain.

Come home soon.  I want to stand on the deck with you and watch the moon, before it falls behind the trees, cushes into its fenders, creaks against its lines.


Blogger's new format can suck my ovaries.

Have not been having a good time of things lately. Several attempts to find work that pays better have ended in bait-and-switch interviews, where the job that's advertised, the job I'm told they want me for, is not the one they interview me for. Do you know how hard it is to maintain a professional demeanor in the middle of an interview when they tell you you're actually here to interview for something minimum-wage? When they tell you you shorted your already limited sleep by several hours for nothing?

On top of that, querying is not going as well as I'd hoped it would. I've looked into some small presses and have been compiling a list of ones that seem worth submitting to. I like that small presses take more risks and publish more art rather than just more of what we've already seen before. I have great respect for small presses and their forward-thinking authors. what I don't like is that small presses don't have capital, so I can expect nothing as an advance, and I can also expect a wait of up to two years before the book is published and before royalties start to come in. Two years is a distressingly bleak span of time to face when you already can't keep your head above water. I'm not foolish enough to think I could have expected anything major for this book from a Big Six publisher, but a simple advance of maybe $10,000 seemed like a reasonable hope. Even $5,000 in the bank would have kept us from panicking, would keep us from losing our home and our minds for another year or more. The money situation is so dire. We're both stretched so thin. And I see shit like Twilight fanfiction getting big money, while I will count myself lucky if I see a few hundred bucks from two years' worth of work...two years from now.

Everybody tells me not to get discouraged, to just start on the next book. Why? It will be just as impossible to sell as the others. It will bring me more years of torment and nothing in the bank. What's the point?

I've got to go to a friend's birthday party. He's one of those friends who always tells me what a great writer I am, yet he's never read anything I've written. I hate being treated that way by the people I love. I know they mean well so I never call them out on it, but I hate to hear those words from them. They're just patting me on the head, just smiling and nodding at this little hobby of mine. Libbie likes to write books; isn't that cute.

Dad used to hate it when he'd set up his French easel and paint en plein air, and hikers and tourists would come up to him and say, "Hey, my aunt paints!" He hated it when people told him that, hated it. Because they couldn't see the difference between the awful crap their amateur aunts painted and the beautiful, nuanced, skilled things he made. It made him feel like it was pointless. Why keep painting at all, if every painting was the equivalent of aunt-painting?

So these people who love me, they mean well and they want to support me, but I'm just playing to them. I'm just a hobbyist with no real potential beyond that. Shit, they're not even interested enough in my "hobby" to READ what I write. They tell me it's good and think I won't notice that they've never even tried to find out whether it is.  It doesn't occur to them that maybe I'm doing something worth more than Twilight fanfiction, so they pat me on my head and say, "You're a good writer, Libbie. Don't worry. You'll get published."

My aunt paints.

This friend -- he just got his acceptance letter to the university he wants to attend. I'm so happy for him. He's worked so hard, and he and his wife have both sacrificed so much so that he can achieve this goal. And I love them both like crazy. They're the best people. But now I've got to pull my shit together and go celebrate with them. His life is coming together. Mine is stagnant. I am thirty-two. When I was younger I thought of my thirties as that decade when I'd have my life on its track, when I'd be writing full-time and maybe not making great money at it, but getting by.

So I guess now the conventional wisdom is that I start the next book. For whatever good that may do me. I can't muster any enthusiasm for it. I don't see the point in trying to make something good and real when that doesn't matter to publishers anymore.