Monday, November 07, 2005

Me, You, and Every Word I Count

I know I keep raving on and on about how much I love Me, You, and Everyone We Know, but I want to remind all the artists out there who read my blog, but for whatever reason still haven’t seen this movie: It’s out on DVD and totally worth watching.

Actually, I was watching it again last night, and got hit with a sudden wave of inadequacy, because right now, I most certainly am not like this movie.

That is, I don’t find art in every single thing I do. In fact, I’ve been feeling lately that I’m not even finding heart in anything I do.

Lately, an idea hits me, and I immediately think, “What markets would that be good for? Would I be able to sell that? Is it even worth my time and effort?"

And I wonder, when did I become so very stingy about my art? When did it become a chore as opposed to a medium of self-expression? And how do I get back to that time when I wrote about whatever interested me with total disregard for market?

The word count on my National Novel Writing Month novel is about 4,500 right now.

That’s about 25 pages. Double-spaced.

And I still have 45,500 words to go.

I’d be further along, except my main character is kicking my ass.

You see, I find the story of an ugly black teenager growing up in the South with a tragic crush on the most popular boy in school and a really sad obsession with Molly Ringwald movies vastly interesting.

But the main character wasn’t so sure. In fact, this weekend I swear to God, she sat up like a corpse in a scary movie and asked me:

“Who the hell will want to read this, Ernessa?"

"I don’t know. I mean . . . I'd want to read it.”

She stared at me. “Okay, you and who else? Because last time I checked, there was no African-American fiction like me anywhere."

And I was like, “Dude, I’m just trying to reach 50,000 words. Please shutup."

I mean anywhere. You are going to spend a whole month of your life (before rewrites), working on something no one but your friends will ever see. Again. Aren’t you over doing that yet?”

At this point, I’m like hyperventilating. But still, I’m trying to defend myself.

"Other people may like it, may read it. I mean you’ve got that universal ugly duckling thing going for you.'

“Yeah, and that would be cool if I were an actual universal ugly duckling. The completely nice victim of all the beautiful people’s cruelty. That’s what people want to see. I’m just exceedingly odd.”

“Yeah, well, the main character in Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble, which everybody loved, including me, was exceedingly odd.”

“I can’t even believe you just let them words come out your mouth. You know that bitch is white! Them folks can get away with anything. When’s the last time you saw an exceedingly odd black character?"


"And if you say Urkel I’m going to slap the taste out your mouth. You know I'm not talkin about caricatures.”

I hang my head. “Okay, never then.”

“That’s right never. So what are you doing?”

Jesus, I’d had some fights with my main characters, but I had never had one put forth such a persuasive and concise argument. I mean, she cut me in all my weak spots: race, career prospect – I can’t even bring myself to quote what she said about my writing ability in comparison to Alice Walker’s when I tried to cite The Color Purple.

Let’s just say I crawled into work this morning, deeply depressed and seriously bruised.

I reread what I had written so far and wondered how I could retool it for mass consumption, and got more depressed.

Then I listened to the “Books” NPR podcast, while white author after white author passionately extolled the virtues of their books -- many of which actually seemed to be written for reasons outside of market share.

A black female author was introduced at one point, and my heart sped up – but then it turned out to be a book about race, written from a fresh angle. She catalogued many of the white men she’s encountered good and bad. It seemed interesting and therapeutic -- for her -- but alas, not what I was looking for.

I sighed, and began composing a “Why I decided to give up on National Novel Writing Month” blog in my head, and decided to write it up during lunch after I returned my books to the library.

And as I drove to the library, I was just so over writing. I wanted it to be fun again, like when I was a teenager and wrote about whatever I wanted.

I asked myself, how can I get there? How can I get back there? I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

Then it occurred to me: I could just keep on writing.

I mean, maybe my lost writing innocence is in this unpublishable wonder of a book somewhere. Maybe it’s hiding behind word 33,463. And wouldn’t that make it all worth it?

Then I heard Judy Garland say to Mickey Rooney, “That idea’s so crazy, it just might work.

Because in the end, I suspect part of being a true writer may be hearing a really good argument against a thing and writing it anyway.

Anyway dudes . . . I’ll keep you posted.


RB Ripley said...

Darlin', just write it. Your writing's always fantastic. And tell your main character that a slightly overweight, pre middle-aged fag would LOVE to read about her. If she still feels the need to mouth off to you, tell her to come see me...

sallie said...

yay, netflix is finally sending me Me, You and Everyone I Know! hurrah.

midwesterntransport said...

Ernessa, it's Johanna. From Smith. Hallo!

Octavia E. Butler is a great black female writer who creates fantastic stories and excellent female characters. Most of her stuff is sci-fi, so if you're not into that genre, it might not be overly appealing, but I really love her stuff. Race is part of her work, class is part of her work, gender is part of her work...all part of the stories. Her website is here, in case you're interested:

Rock out!