Nicola earned sweetie points over the holidays by watching two Johnny Depp movies in a row (I know!), and I earned sweetie points by watching 17,000 hours of Antiques Roadshow and then, Thursday night, Toy Story 3. Those Pixar folks sure do know how to
reduce a person to jelly tell a story.
Massive spoiler alert. MASSIVE. If you have not seen the film, please please please do yourself a favor and just don’t read this part, okay? Assert some adult discipline and go on to the next section. Go on…..
Okay. So, I thought the storytelling was just brilliant. I was terrified by the Junkyard Spiral of Fiery Doom; I honestly thought for about five seconds that they were really going to kill them all, even Slinky Dog and Bullseye the horse! I couldn’t see how they would be saved… then the perfection (!) of the three little green guys and the Giant Claw. Perfect setup, perfect payoff.
And then the last three minutes…. oh, I wept. Don’t you remember the times you left part of your childhood behind? It’s a thing we do in small ways without realizing, of course: ask any parent watching a child grow about all the childish things a small person can simply seem to forget in the whirlwind rush to the next grade, the next inch of height, the expanding world. But then there are the ritual moments of leaving, of putting away, of letting go, that we cannot help but realize are final. Watching Andy play with his toys one final afternoon before driving away to college, watching him abandon himself to an old joy one more time, just gutted me. To know that we are doing something for the last time is… jesus, someone pass me the kleenex. The fucking movie made me want to go up to our attic and find my teddy bear and my stuffed bunny and my beanbag frog and just hold onto them, just love them.
And then what? Put them away again? Give them to a stranger child who might beat the stuffing out of them and send them off to their own Junkyard Spiral of Fiery Doom? This is the power of story, my friends — to ask us questions we can never answer right; to remind us of what we cannot bear to remember, to teach us what we cannot bear to know, and to make us fucking laugh right before we cry. To make us like it. To make us want to go back to the well of human stories and find another one and do it all again.
I took yesterday off of editing and read Stephen King’s latest collection Full Dark, No Stars. I bought the book with an Amazon.com birthday gift card from an anonymous reader, so thank you once again, Anon.
King is the living writer whom I most love. I really mean it that way: I do not love everything he has written equally, and a small bit of it I do not love at all, but I love this man as a writer. I love his clarity, his rock-and-roll vibe, his forays into gleeful grue. He has so much fun! And for my money, he’s the best writer of American character on the planet. He is, as I hope I am, a writer who goes down deep into the well and brings back what he finds of being human. I love him for his honesty and his brutal compassion and his joy.
And I love him for the Afterword to this book. At one point, King quotes writer Frank Norris: “I never truckled; I never took off my hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies. By God, I told them the truth.” And then King goes on to say:
But when it comes to fiction, the writer’s only responsibility is to look for the truth inside his own heart. It won’t always be the reader’s truth, or the critic’s truth, but as long as it’s the writer’s truth — as long as he or she doesn’t truckle, or hold his or her hat to Fashion — all is well. For writers who knowingly lie, for those who substitute unbelievable human behavior for the way people really act, I have nothing but contempt. Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do….
— from the Afterword of Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
On New Year’s Eve, Nicola and I did what we always do: we drank champagne and ate tasty food, and talked about the year that was and the one that will be. We try in these conversations to tell the truth about our experience and our disappointments and our “must do betters” and the things that were fantastic. We try to tell what we actually did. It’s an interesting conversation to have year after year, because part of the truth of a long-term marriage is that people don’t always have the same year. We travel together and we always will, but we are not always on the same journey. This does not bother me or even frighten me anymore, although it can be pretty fucking inconvenient sometimes. But it’s important to tell each other the stories of where we have been and where we think we might go next, so that we don’t lose each other on the way.
Nicola has distilled her year with her usual brilliance and brio. Me, well, here is some of my 2010:
- I became the board chair of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. I love CW and the people in it — staff, board, volunteers, donors, students, the incredible community here in Seattle and around the world. I know the workshop does good for students and for the world of speculative fiction, and I think I’m doing some good for the workshop. It pleases me deeply to pay forward in this way.
- We’ve had great response to Sterling Editing, and a wonderful batch of clients. As a result, I have clarified the particular skills and perspective that I can bring to another writer’s work. I’ve always been a very good editor; I am now well down the road to becoming a great one, and that’s not a thing I say casually or take lightly. I will take your book apart if I must, but I will never hand it back to you in a bucket of broken pieces.
- I got the chance to see Nicola being brilliant in lots of ways this year. I love that. It makes her happy, and that makes me happy too even when my own road isn’t so shiny. She did an amazing job at the LLF Emerging Voice Writers Retreat, and I thoroughly enjoyed being a Guest Lecturer, and having meals and beer with the wonderful, talented students. They enriched a week of my life.
- Nicola was also brilliant this year by leading the charge to build the LLF website, and writing a novel that is going to be scarifyingly good. She can tell you all about it. Even more than those wonderful things, she was brilliant about life stuff, about herself and me, in ways that mattered a lot to me personally. I love you, honey. Thanks.
- We have the good fortune of new friends, people who love their lives as much as we love ours, who are exuberant and smart and talented and funny and kind and unafraid to be themselves. We have the good fortune of old friends who have taught me over and over this year the value of love and perseverance and who can make me laugh no matter what. And for probably the first time in my life, I actually believe that people will help me if I need it. We don’t need to get all jiggy with the psychology of Me, but let’s just say that this is a pretty big deal for me.
- We are 50! And since we shamelessly strong-armed our friends into a series of celebratory events (dinners! wine! parties! And best, the wonderful conversations), we got to string it out and out and out (we still have one gift certificate to use, and thank you Ronnie and Dan — it’s going to be special and amazing). I like celebrating. I am grateful that so many people cared enough to want to help me make this one special.
- I have stepped up my writing game, my friends. You can’t see it because it’s all in process, but I will say that I got a lot of joy this year out of feeling the gears tighten a notch in both fiction and screenplay. One of my great successes of the year is that I am more conscious of my craft than ever before.
- And although you can’t see new work right now, you’ll soon be able to see the old again. Small Beer Press will reissue Solitaire any second now, and I’m delighted to have the book back in print and in the hands of such a fine publisher, and honored by the care they’ve taken with it. Beautiful cover, beautiful internal design, and a chance for Jackal’s story to find new friends. Available in print and DRM-free from Small Beer Press, in print and on Kindle from Amazon.com.
- I taught a six-week writing class at Hugo House, the Northwest’s premiere literary writing center. Great students, including one person who I am delighted is becoming a friend. But I won’t do it again. I am not persuaded of the value of a classroom experience. Workshops, yes — absolutely. Lectures and reading and exercises — meh. And I am certainly not persuaded of my own value as a teacher in this context. There are better ways for me to share what I know.
- Some people bailed on me this year in ways that made my life harder. It happens, and it wasn’t a tragedy, but it certainly wasn’t any fun. I understand that we can’t all cope all the time, but I am getting a little tired of people assuming that I will take care of things just because I am good at it. Look for more Sorry, not my responsibility, good luck with that from me this year.
The Really Would Rather Not Have
- Our neighbors cut down the beautiful tall thick laurels that gave us total privacy. We now have total nonprivacy, and the guy who lives behind us seems to believe the backyard is where a person is supposed to keep all their ugly shit so it can get rained on and rusty. We are taking steps and it’ll be okay, but the loss of privacy from someone I actively don’t like is the sort of thing that can make me crazy. In one of her moments of brilliance, Nicola said, Well, we’ve been relying on other people for our privacy. Now we’ll be taking charge of it ourselves. And suddenly I didn’t feel so helpless anymore. Isn’t she great?
- Nicola has MS. There is nothing good about MS. MS keeps her from doing things, and it is worse for her than me; but it keeps me from doing things too, sometimes things I really care about. Many of the Gosh, can I send this back and order something different? moments this year have been off this menu.
- I wish the economy weren’t so bad. I wish people I love wouldn’t keep having to dust themselves off and cope with one more hard thing. I wish so many people I care about weren’t struggling and scared. I wish I hadn’t felt at times this year like I was struggling and scared about money or career or Nicola’s health or the losses that we experienced, or at least had to face as possible, someday.
Ah, and here we are back to the joys and the losses. Here we come full circle to Toy Story 3. And you thought I had lost the plot of this post (grin). I have not. I know now more than ever that the plot always takes us back to the joys and the losses, but never in a straight line. And so although I usually have goals for the year and yes, goals are good, yay goals, this year…. well, this year I think I am going to live my life with less concern about the straight-line-ness of it all. Love and life and hard work and those trips to the writing well inside me, those are my toys. I am going to play with my beloved toys as long and joyfully as I can.
Thank you for being part of my new year. Enjoy your 2011.