Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Worst Day Ever: More Perspective Than You Wanted, Guaranteed

07 May 2013

51 Richard in Loughcrew]

I occasionally hear people saying things like: I had the Worst. Day. Ever.

It’s not for me to judge how good or bad your days are, truly it’s not. But sometimes I think that people have no perspective on how bad a worst day ever can possibly be. So, for the record, here’s mine, as accurately as possible, from November 1996.

I’ve gotten several condolences from a recent post: I should clarify that Rick is very much alive, thankfully. He’s my second husband (my first was named Richard), but some people were confused and thought I was recently widowed. Thankfully, no.

Those of you who know me well know that I have a superpower: I can throw a fragmentation grenade on almost any conversational topic. This one is uncensored, it’ll be damn uncomfortable for you to read, but rest assured it was far more uncomfortable for me to experience. I have never before told this story in its entirety, though many people know pieces of it.

It would give me perverse joy if people would share this link when people are being stupidly dramatic about small problems.

The most important part? Not only did I live through this day, I’ve lived through about 6,000 more days.

A Tidge of Back Story

Richard and I met in 1993 in college. We moved in together in 1994, married in June 1996. He was a lot older than I was. I’d never been married before.

How many times had Richard been married? Good question.

I’ve decided that the only way to answer that is to say that I was wife n where n >= 4. It does seem n probably was 5 and may have been 6. During the time we were together, though, I was told, and believed, that n = 4.

Two wedding tips I’d like to impart: 1. Never get married on a hill cursed by a saint. No, I didn’t know that at the time. 2. Never exchange your vows over the Stone of Destiny if you have a bad one. Probably best to assume that you do.

The Stroke

Some time after midnight, my husband and I went to bed. Now, who did what to whom first was subject to whim, but on this particular night, he got to go first and I never got my turn.

No way to sugar coat this: the stress of the orgasm from the blow job burst an aneurysm, causing a hemorrhagic stroke. What causes the real damage in these kinds of strokes is that the brain will signal it’s not getting enough blood, the body will raise the blood pressure, and then the blood just pushes out of the site of the burst, causing more damage by compressing brain structure and depriving part of the brain of oxygen. Lather, rinse repeat.

When he tried to get up, he stumbled and then sat down on the bed. This is where I should have possibly realized something might have been wrong, but I didn’t.

I’m not sure how long elapsed between that moment and when I was intending to turn the light off and he urged me not to, his speech suddenly garbled. Probably it was somewhere between two and five minutes, but subjectively it feels like an hour. It couldn’t have been that long, though.

I remember the hair standing up on the back of my neck, because I suddenly knew exactly what was wrong: Richard was having a stroke.

I called the ambulance, and they did the quick diagnosis. Blood pressure of 260/160, severely hemiplegic (loss of almost all movement on one side), and complete inability to speak by the time they got there. He could answer questions with a hand squeeze, though.

The Scarily-Appropriate Quote

A week before his death from a blow job, my husband wrote the following post to alt.angst as a followup to someone who said they hated sex.

Maybe, at the end of the day, it really would be best for all concerned if you did go and blow your brains out. I mean, if I hated sex, I would. Guaranteed, iron-clad, no-fooling, take-it-to-the-bank promise.

Getting to the Hospital

To this day, I don’t know why I drove instead of riding in the ambulance myself. I had the very practical thought of ensuring I had a ride home, I remember that much. It was snowing lightly, the first snow of the season, and I was drawn in by the patterns of the flakes as I pondered outcomes on the drive to the hospital.

Richard had once said that, should anything happen to him, he didn’t want to be taken to the local hospital, but I had vetoed that. He might not survive the trip to another hospital. We lived in rural Vermont, not a place with a high density of hospitals.

But it’s what we had, you know? So that’s where we were going. Better than trying to get through a mountain pass through the snow to the hospital twice as far west.

I worried. He wasn’t someone who could handle stroke recovery well. It was clear to me that it was Very Serious Indeed, and I feared how much our lives would change. Would I have to give up my job? I loved my career.

So, when I arrived at the hospital, they called local clergy for me. They’d asked about denomination, but the truth is, I was a Pagan at that point, and I didn’t know any Pagan clergy in the area. They sent a local Christian minister, and she was wonderful. She held my hand much of the night, and was there when the doctor came out to give me the prognosis.

Short version: he was clinically dead, but, because of how they had to manage declarations of death, it would take several tests over a period of 24 hours to declare him so. He was not responding in any way to pain. I actually felt relieved. I had a relatively easy decision to make. I went in to see him, and saw the bruises where they’d tried to provoke a response. Saw that there didn’t seem to be anyone “home” as it were.

“Have you considered organ donation?” the doctor asked.

The minister said that her father had always wanted his corneas to be transplanted after his death, “so he could continue to look at pretty women after he died.” Sounds like a good reason to me.

Organ Donation, The Process

Now, I personally have always been pro-organ-donation. Most of the ways people die don’t permit donation: cancer, heart attack at home, any infectious disease, etc.

The process of organ donation, from the donor family perspective, is done as a phone call with a local medical person, a phone volunteer at the organ bank, and the donor family member.

It is a horrific phone call to be a part of. There’s no way to sugar coat the difficult questions about travel history, sexual history, etc, and what the dearly departed’s disease risk for the transplant recipient is. The hospital is going to put that organ in that body. You think sex carries disease – think of cutting a person open and dropping someone else’s bits in there with only a phone call and a few lab tests to try to make an educated guess about go/no-go. Of course, the alternative is certain death, so possible life sounds pretty good about then.

Because a transplant can kill a recipient right quick. There’s no way to screen for everything, so they do as best they can in as little time as humanly possible. Every moment spent, the organs are more and more likely to become unviable.

It’s an hour, maybe two hours, I can’t remember exactly. It’s so many questions and such weird questions. Because I read so much immunology for fun, though, I got that these questions weren’t intended to be rude or nosy. They were necessary, but difficult. Tough, but fair. There were just so many of them.

And you couldn’t just say you wanted to donate everything. Apart from the major organs, there were requests for other parts for experimental transplant or transplant research that, by law or custom, had to be specifically enumerated separately. I remember discussing saphenous veins, but that is one of the few I recall.

Let’s make this clear: I apparently didn’t know how many times my late husband had been married, let alone have accurate information about his sexual history. Given that the liver transplant recipient is, apparently, still alive, one hopes that the history I provided was accurate enough.

The Exes and Kids

One of the other things I believe in: Richard’s three kids should have the opportunity to say goodbye in person while he was still technically alive.

I called Beth, wife n-2, first. She was the mother of the eldest two, one of whom was an adult and I didn’t have contact information with me as he was at college. So I called her, and we reached the eldest, and she brought the middle kid along.

Then I said I was going to call Barbara, wife n-1. It’s one of the few things I remember verbatim from that day. Beth asked, “Are you sure you want to do that?”

I replied something along the lines of, “I’m sure I don’t, but I feel I should.” And she said okay. But I got her point: she knew, and I knew, that I would regret having done it. But, as I said, it wasn’t about what I wanted. I wasn’t going to deny the youngest son the opportunity to say goodbye, and whether or not he came was up to his mother. Barbara.

I can’t really get into all of how difficult that relationship was (nor do I wish to waste any more of my life on it), but let’s just say that I never fully appreciated how much my parents tried to act like adults until I met Barbara and saw her tactics. Therefore, I’ll pick one incident that kind of encapsulates the sort of relationship we had.

Whenever Richard and I bought presents for the kid, she’d want them sent home with him and then they’d never come back. So she wanted us to basically supply her household, then the kid would have nothing when he came over. Not happening.

Tired of the arguments and knowing how much Barbara hated bugs, I got an idea. I went and bought a Creepy Crawlers set for the kid, and, dutiful stepmother that I was, I sent them home with him.

(evil chuckles)

Yes, the toy came back! Surprise.

So despite the fact that she’d moved out and they’d gotten a divorce, Barbara was frequently trash talking me where other people we knew could hear. I was constantly hit by a barrage of this within a few days of any new event, usually from several different people. She was Richard’s one true love, yada yada.

Had it just been her and no kid, I wouldn’t have called to suggest that she come to the ICU, trust me. But there was a kid and he had a right to say goodbye, and she was obviously going to accompany him. So she did take him into see Richard, and I sat out there in the waiting room with Beth.

At some point, the kid came out, and she was in there alone. And Beth asked if I was okay with that.

“The beauty of it is, I’m in shock. Let her say her goodbyes. I’ll be pissed off about it later. I can’t process it now.”

I wasn’t, however, expecting to hear keening like a Wagnerian soprano come out of the ICU room from the waiting room where I sat. Beth and I both rolled our eyes at Barbara’s drama.

Me, I’d been Scandinavian (not obvious from my name, but I’m half Swedish/Norwegian ancestry; my grandfather’s first language was Swedish) stoic pretty much all night. I had cried some, but not as much as you might think as I was mostly in shock. “You’re taking this really well,” the doctor had said. Well, yeah, only insofar as I was glad that Richard wouldn’t live a life he’d be miserable with, and also that my choices were pretty clear to me and thus relatively easy. I had to make a metric ton of decisions at a time when I was least capable of doing so, but, weirdly, they were not difficult decisions for me to make because the “right” choice seemed clear at all points.

The weekend before had been one of the kid’s visitation weekends. There had been a show about cryogenics on TV, and Richard had watched it while the kid was in the room. “Do you think that’s a good idea?” I asked.

“He won’t understand it,” Richard said confidently.

I gave up on the point. I just didn’t want the nine-year-old to have nightmares, you know?

So there we were, about a week later, and the kid sits on my lap and looks up at me. “Are they gonna freeze daddy like they did on TV?”

What do you say to that, you know? So I explained that cryogenics was really theoretical at this point, and I explained about organ donation and that we were going to do that instead.

Meanwhile, the snowstorm had gotten worse, some of Richard’s friends had come by to hang and say their goodbyes, and the eldest son was still trying to make it up from Middlebury.

The Helicopter

So I’d been through several rounds of calls with the New England Organ Bank about logistics. Basically, they had to figure out what transplant hospital to transfer Richard to.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the process of declaring someone dead depends upon what equipment they have. Essentially, this hospital didn’t have either an MRI machine or a CT scanner at the time, so they had to rely on a series of EEGs given over a 24-hour period.

However, the organs would degrade too much by then, so they wanted to know: did I mind if they airlifted him to a different hospital so they could declare him dead sooner?

I can’t make this up, really.

Truly, I understood. The entire point was to be able to save someone else’s life or health, and that meant doing it as quickly as possible. So I gave all the permissions needed. The helicopter would be coming from Dartmouth, but they were not yet sure if they were going to transfer him to Dartmouth or Burlington, Vermont. They were still working on potential matches for the transplant list and to see who could be contacted and available. Meanwhile, the snowstorm was getting worse and worse.

In the end, the eldest son did make it in time to say his goodbyes before the helicopter came, and I’m glad of that. It wasn’t a given, though.

I remember watching the helicopter taking off, wishing I could be on it and could be there with him for those last moments. There would have been no room for me given all the equipment. I knew, given some of what I’d been told and my ability to read between the lines, that he was in far worse shape than they were telling me: his heart was failing, and they’d had to work to keep it pumping enough to keep everything going so the other organs didn’t fail. They had to sacrifice one organ to have a chance at the others.

Frankly, that depressed me more than anything else.

Organ Donation, The Result

So, the only major organ I know was donated was his liver. I received a letter from the son of the transplant recipient. His heart was enlarged and was probably gone. They didn’t have a match on-list for his lungs. He had early stage kidney disease and a pancreas infection. They were looking for a cornea recipient.

Still, a liver’s a big deal, and I’m really truly glad I could help someone.

What Hurt the Most

A friend drove me home and other friends drove my car home for me as I was obviously in no shape to drive after such a stressful night of no sleep. I think I got home around noon.

I sat down at my computer, and, in doing so, saw the yellow stickie I had on the upper left corner of my laptop screen. It had the phone number of the Concord NH police department.

About a year and a half earlier, Richard had left me for someone else for 2-1/2 weeks. I’d asked for him to come back, and he had.

Normally, my view has been this: if a relationship’s broken enough that it ends, it should stay ended. However, part of his problem had been that I’d been unwilling to consider getting married, mostly because I wasn’t really big on state-licensed relationships as a concept. (As a result of the whole fallout from this day, I have done a one-eighty on this point.)

So he’d left and taken up with someone else, and she was, to put it mildly, crazy. After his return, she kept stalking us. She’d be out drunk at night and call over and over and over. There was the “I’m pregnant” ploy. The “I have a social disease” ploy (I told her to have her county health dept call our health dept). She got thrown in jail for skipping on a hotel bill. She was in the hospital for some neurological thing. I spent one several-hours-long phone call talking with her husband, who was a lawyer in Maine. I really felt for him; he loved her despite the crazy. What I’d seen was only a small fraction of what he had. I felt sad for him. I hope he’s found a better situation for himself.

So she’d moved to Concord, New Hampshire and had drunk-dialed enough that I’d practically memorized the phone number for the police department. I knew several of the watch commanders on a first-name basis.

Seeing that yellow stickie, though, brought home the fact that there had been a year and a half of difficult times thanks to her. Times I shouldn’t have had to endure.

And, at that moment, I realized that the biggest mistake I’d ever made was taking him back. It shouldn’t have been my pain to deal with. Suddenly, I wanted her to feel everything I’d experienced during the day. I wanted her to be the one who’d suffered through all that.

It shouldn’t have been me.

But it was.

And that’s what hurt the most. Still does.

The Final Guilt

Three weeks after Richard died, I happened to find his wallet in a jacket pocket. I wasn’t looking for it at the time, just happened to reach for my jacket and notice the bulge in one of his.

I pulled it out, pulled out his driver’s license, and noticed that Richard had elected not to donate his organs.

So now I got to feel guilty over not only accidentally being the proximate cause that killed my husband, I got to feel guilty over unintentionally defying his stated wishes and saving someone else’s life.

Bonus.

About that Method of Dying Fantasy

We all die. Sure, some ways are better or worse than others, and whether one is better or worse for a particular person is partly based on who they are and what they fear.

However, I will tell you that death from sex doesn’t look very fun at all. Typically, the symptoms of stroke (or heart attack) start before the orgasm is complete, meaning you get all the bad, but not very much of the good. Most of the times, you never quite get there.

Unlike many other forms of death, most people – including myself prior to this event – have never considered what it’s like to be the surviving party in this exchange. What it would be like to feel that you’d been the cause of someone else’s death, especially if it were a spouse. You can tell yourself ten thousand times (as I have, easily) that it wasn’t your fault. Intellectually, you can know this. Emotionally, you will always feel that your intellect is wrong on this point and it really is your fault.

The bigger thing is that sex is no longer safe on a really fundamental level. I’d just watched someone die, and there was no way of not fearing for my own death. I was unable to enjoy many of my favorite movies for about a year. Anything with any kind of steamy sexy scene was completely off the table. It was just unwatchable.

I don’t know if you can even imagine what it’s like to have no, and I mean zero, sexual fantasies for over a year. That every time your mind started to go there, the image of your spouse dying just slammed in, vetoing everything. Add to that that that’s the only image you can recall of him because it is the emotionally strongest moment – that slice of time after you realize what happened but before the paramedics arrived.

And I well and truly wish the phrase “mind-blowing orgasm” would die in a fire.

I have seen one. I never want to see another.

I do seriously want to thank my friend Chris for being the person who, about 18 months later, was the person who was there for me when I needed to break my fast. Because it does take a special person to listen to all that shit and work through it with you, and he was really there for me.

Coda: Getting Through It

About a month before he died, my husband made me promise that, should anything happen to him, that I would marry someone else and be happy.

There were days I couldn’t imagine it. Oh so many days.

But there were also many days when the fact that I’d made the promise was the only reason I got out of bed at all.

After I began dating, there was a point when I felt the obligation to marry and Rick wasn’t ready yet, and I was afraid that I’d have to move on despite how much I loved him. Because, somehow, the obligation carried more weight. Thankfully, we worked past that.

Overall, though, that promise is what kept me going much of the time. I had to take care of myself enough to make it to that eventual point.

So, overall, I’d urge that those of you in relationships make similar requests. All too many widows and widowers die in the first year after their spouse or SO dies. It’s unimaginably hard. Give the person something to fight for and it might help them, as it helped me, get through the darkest times.

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Artist: Art vs. Reality

27 February 2013

My dad was a physicist. He’s retired now, but when I was a kid, we’d go out to a pizza place, he’d bring a lab notebook, a slide rule and a calculator, and he’d write equations and notes in it. Sometimes, he’d write jokes.
His entire work life is in those notebooks: everything from Synchrotron experiments to the work he did on the Viking Lander’s GCMS project to the TOMS project (for which he won a NASA prize) to the Hubble Space Telescope, just to name a few projects he’s worked on.
The notebooks were a good chunk of his work product, but they’re not that comprehensible to the uninitiated. It’s not like the next-door neighbor back in Vermont, a farmer, who used to take his kid out on a tractor with him. That kind of work is far more comprehensible to outsiders.
So I suppose it’s no surprise that writing as a career doesn’t seem odd to me. After all, it’s not that dissimilar to the scribbles my dad did in his notebooks way back when. It just has a different audience and result.
There’s a funny thing, though, about both acting and writing. It can be really difficult for others to know where the work ends and reality begins because we get so used to fluid movements in and out of artistic headspace. With actors in particular, that can include whole mannerisms and ways of being. (Maybe some writers are like that, too, but I’m not. I don’t think.)
I was in the shower one morning thinking about how a male character I was writing would approach women, and a thought came out fully formed.
My first reaction thought was, “Well, I’d never think that.” Quite aside from my being straight, I found his thought process compelling but repugnant.
Followed by the mental double-take because: I. Just. Had. Thought. That.
Once I got over my initial reaction, I found that it was comforting: I’d been able to distance the character in a way that made him easier to write now that I had a point of significant difference (from myself) to hang other actions on. I had bounced out of the art and bounced back in.
Sometimes, when others see us, they don’t know what part of us they’re seeing, and that can be disconcerting. It’s also easy to confuse the artist and the art.
With other art forms, the process and result is so much more concrete. My friend James (NSFW link), well, you never know where he is. “Where are you?” I ask. “On a hilltop on Maui chasing nude women on horseback.” Now, see, that’s a far more concrete thing than “I’m laughing my ass off in front of my monitor at two a.m. because I’m writing a funny scene that 61 people will ever read and two of them are in Malaysia.”

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Four Sunday Travel Moments

26 February 2013

Confession: back in the day when I had custom-made suits, I wore men’s ties because they had better range and materials than the women’s offerings, plus they didn’t make one looked gift wrapped. I also, to this day, still covet one particular Italian silk man’s tie that a colleague used to wear.

One

As I’m getting up from the United club Sunday morning, a guy passes me and heads for the info desk, asking where his gate is. He’s dressed in a black wool newsboy cap, neatly trimmed brown hair, a grey seed stitch sweater that appears to be merino wool, nice jeans that are just a little too loose, and black short boots. He looks like he should be English, so I’m surprised by the American accent.

Two

I’ve left the club (he was still talking) and he breezes by me on the way to my gate, parting the crowd of no-status passengers to veer through to the elite line. As I’m also qualified to use that line, I follow him. He scans his boarding pass, and I see his first name’s Matthew. He’s also carrying a navy pea coat under his left arm, and in the right, he’s got a black Tumi bag with a copy of Esquire hanging out. As we walk to the plane, I have time to study his shoulders, which are awesome and broad. He probably wears an XL in shirts, but he has more of the build of a swimmer than a bicyclist. When we get to the plane, he turns left into first class, and I turn right into coach. (No upgrade for me.)

I wonder where he’s been traveling from that he needed both the sweater and the coat, because LA was cold, but not that cold. That a traveler like him had a paper ticket printed by a gate agent suggests that he’s been rerouted today.

Three

As I’m standing in the third row of coach to get out, I see him leaving the plane. Really nice tone-on-tone white jacquard shirt.

But that tie! Matthew, dear, you can do far far better than that tie. I don’t know what prompted you to wear a tie on a Sunday morning. You don’t strike me as a regular wearer of ties, which may be the problem. This one has the look of the “best a poor boy could afford for the high school prom” kind of tie, except that it at least looked like it was silk, not polyester. So it wasn’t a grade 1 fashion emergency, but it was a solid 2.

Dude, you read Esquire, how could you possibly wear a red-and-grey striped awful tie like that? C’mon.

Look, this tie is like carrying around that picture of the girl who dumped you after three dates in high school. At some point, you just need to move on. This is one of those times.

(There are nice red-and-grey striped ties, but this didn’t happen to be one of them.)

Four

Even though he got off the plane before me, I’m standing on the slidewalk on my way out of the airport. He breezes past me, brushing my hand with his as he passes. Definitely a merino sweater.

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Creeping in Film Form

17 February 2013

There are a number of examples of creeping in “romantic” films, and by creeping, I mean men who do not listen to what women say, taking no to mean yes.
It’s the Schrodinger’s Rapist problem. In a nutshell, a man who doesn’t listen to what you communicate, verbally or otherwise, is unlikely to listen in intimate situations where your consent is more important.
Ever since I read that essay, I hadn’t seen a clear film representation of it until last year, when I saw the 2011 film Rockstar on a flight. Thankfully, I was able to turn it off and watch something else.
In short, there are several times Heer, the female lead, gives JJ, the male lead, very very clear “no” responses and he keeps treating them as “yes.” When he shows up in her classroom to declare his love for her despite that, I just couldn’t watch any more.
I wouldn’t recommend the movie (obviously), but that’s a pretty clear-cut creeper example if anyone happened to need one.

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The Vacation Interview Question

06 January 2013

My former boss^3, Don, posted this article referencing this BusinessWeek article, which has some stellarly bad interview questions.
Like: what are the top five cities you want to go to, and why? And: where do you vacation in the summer?
The latter is worse than the former because it gets into illegal question area pretty quickly, like the prospective parent who wants to use the time as a part of parental leave.
But even the former is tricky, because there are people who do religious tourism, and there are people who, like me, love to visit religious places where people might overinterpret our interest.
For example, I absolutely love Islamic art because I love anything complicated and geometric. Likewise, I like Celtic art, there’s just so much less of it in the world on big structures. But people can and will misinterpret my desire to visit Istanbul, you know? Or my visit to Morocco’s Hassan II Mosque in 2011.
That’s not even getting into issues about going around the world last year, specifically my trip to Dubai. I’d been wanting to go for years, I had gobs of frequent flyer miles, and I went because the trip organizer, eightblack, sounded funny when he wrote up a trip report. Specifically, it was this post about a visit to the Ferrari factory in Maranello.
So yeah, because Rick didn’t want to go (and we didn’t have enough miles for both of us to go anyway), and because I wanted to do it and Rick didn’t, I went. So here I am trying to imagine how people in a job interview might interpret the fact that there I was, sitting in a restaurant the last night in Dubai, talking with lovely people (almost all men) I’d never met bet before halfway around the world from home, and wondering WTF anyone would think about cultural fit from that.
Especially if it involved the conversation with Khalid where he said, “You could drive the gulf states in 19 or 20 hours,” and I pointed out, “Well, you could. I could not.” (Saudi Arabia and women driving, y’know.)
Also, as a point, I generally don’t vacation in summer because it’s high season and I’m a shoulder- or low-season tourist by preference. The assumption that one is vacationing in summer implies kids and school schedules, which also implies an illegal interview question.
Someone who knew I visited Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico in 2012 might think I actually spoke Spanish rather than made half-hearted attempts at it.
Funny story time. A couple of years ago, I friended an ex of mine on Facebook. We’d dated on and off for 11 years — really, when we weren’t involved with other people. So, somewhere between “friends with benefits” and a real relationship. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a few years.
So he proposes to take me to Cancun (as an affair), rapidly succeeded by my blocking him on Facebook.
My first reaction was, “Wow, that’s the best you’ve got? No wonder I didn’t marry you.”
This is not to diss Cancun. Okay, well, maybe it is. But Cancun is really not a Deirdre kind of place. Not at all. It’s not that I couldn’t have fun there, I could. It’s just that it ranks so low on my list of places I’d like to go, it doesn’t even make the top 250.
I’d far rather stay married to the guy who took me into the exclusion zone on Montserrat for Christmas, you know?

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Lessons Learned from Writing Fanfic

05 January 2013

I started writing fiction around 1988. My best friend, Joyce, started a writing group out of our circle of friends. If I wanted to play, I had to write. All of us (who are still living) are still writing, too.
The first piece I wrote Joyce said was like “waltzing with Frankenstein” — it’s clumsy, but I got there. It was science fiction. In that future, people had beepers. Just goes to show you about failures of imagination, doesn’t it?

While waiting for a response, Gilbert’s beeper made a raspberry sound. He calmly moved his hand to silence it, and, in his haste, knocked it to the ground. It shattered with a last mournful wail. Gilbert’s faced turned raspberry, no doubt to match the sound.

And so, my literary (non-) career began.
I remember spending an inordinate amount of time looking stupid shit up. Like punctuating dialogue.
My next novel I wrote on a typewriter. Way. I started it — and given much of the slush I’ve read, this is not an uncommon place to begin — by having the character wake up. I wrote three novels of it in first person. It bit. I wrote a short story set in the same world. It also bit. Marion Zimmer Bradley said it had “no sense of wonder” back when she used to send personal rejection letters. I have always wondered if that was more her problem or mine. (I’m not an idiot: at least part of it was indeed my problem.)
Somewhere in there, I tried to write some Trek fanfic, but I really wasn’t inspired. That’s because it was before Riker grew a beard, I think, and before I dated the guy who kinda sorta looked like Riker.
Then I fell into a rough crowd, literarily speaking, and wound up with contracts for twelve adult (read: porn) westerns in four different series. Yippie-ki-yay. Wound up being half my income for that 18-month stretch, mostly written when I lived in Fort Lauderdale in a studio apartment with a roach problem, dating a guy who had a magic ability to rescue and repair televisions. I know that not all twelve wound up being published; I know at least one was, and no, I’m not telling you the names. Move along.
Oh, and my late husband, not realizing what the stash of books was all about, burned them one evening. Just. Great.
I started writing technical books and chapters after that, including a book about (Macintosh) System 7 for Que. They came with prompt checks and contracts (and really prompt deadlines; I had three weeks to write my first book), but eventually I realized it was coming at the expense of writing fiction. Fiction writing makes me happy; technical writing does not.
I got turned down for Clarion a couple of times and realized I needed to try harder. I went to Odyssey one year, but our year is sort of a lost year, unfortunately. Some of us are really only just now starting to get some success.
In 2001, I started my MA in Writing Popular Fiction (now an MFA program), and learned a lot. I was accepted for Clarion in 2002 (don’t ever do that mid-MA/MFA, it was a stupid idea), and then went on to do Viable Paradise in 2002 (see previous comment) and again in 2004.
Then I got into the doldrums, where I was lost for years. I’m not usually a fast writer and I am fairly easily discouraged when I hit a wall. Nanowrimo has been really a successful endeavor when I’ve been able to commit to it.
Last time I wrote a whole novel draft (2009), it was only in a few weeks, but I wrote it out of order and it is an unholy mess. Let’s just say that, like E.L. James, it is an erotica riff that launched from Twilight in its own way, but the resemblance ends there.

She strolled by, smelling like a hot Texas night where lovers cling under the magnolia tree wrapped in dense humid mists, fireflies twinkling with excitement. Only she was two thousand miles from Texas and blocks from even a single magnolia.

It’s not that I wasn’t writing, but I wasn’t doing enough of it. There are reasons, and some of them are good reasons. Let’s just say it’s part of the past.
In 2010, I decided to go for my F (MA->MFA upgrade), but decided quickly that it really wasn’t for me. For the first time, I felt like I knew what I was doing as an author, and what I needed was more story seeds, not more education. Instead, I set out and fixed some long-standing obstacles in my past, including mending a long-broken relationship with a good friend.
So I had an idea for Nano last fall, and I decided on a project I’d been wanting to for a few months, so I started on it on Nov 1 dutifully. In a few days, I fell over.
Why? Because my writer brain had been waking up every day for months, without fail, working on fanfic. So I said, well, what the fuck, we’ll write some fanfic then. I started doing that on the 6th or so.
I got the 50k done in November. The piece is somewhere around 70k now, but I haven’t yet taken the machete to some places that need it, and I cut 10k out of it one day.
I started posting it. Any of my Clarion classmates can tell you this: I’m really really not a one-draft writer. So seriously not. I under-write. I leave out important stuff. My first draft is really more like making clay for the final pot without any pot-like shape to it.
But this is fanfic. You can make it as polished as you want — or not. I’ve decided to mostly post first drafts, flaws and all. However, my first drafts are far cleaner than they were in my Clarion days. First, I’m not as tired. Second, I’ve grown as a writer. However, I’m aware of my limitations, but I decided I wanted to play now, not six months from now.
I’m glad I did.
I got fan mail. (As of today, I’ve gotten fan mail ten days in a row.) Fan mail is incredibly addictive, folks. It will keep almost anything going.
But that’s not what’s most valuable about it to me.
I’ve discovered a lot of things about how I write. I’ve always known I’m a plot writer, and characters don’t really talk to me except when we’re in media res together. I can’t do those character sheets ahead of time and have it mean anything. But fanfic comes with complete characters (hopefully not so complete that you don’t have room to grow them somehow), so that wasn’t a problem for me this time. Because of that, it was easier to keep going because I felt like I had a feel of what the characters would say and do that I don’t get when I’m writing the early parts of my first drafts.
So I can start characters first. I just never have been able to with original stuff.
There are spaces in between scenes where things can happen, and those interstitial moments can be very cool.
Other people are writing the same characters and using them in different ways with different moments, memories, and lines. You get to look at those choices and figure out if you agree more with them or your own interpretation — or if you want to write another piece that takes advantage of what you’ve learned from someone else’s interpretations. It’s interesting how much even four people can diverge on interpretations yet agree in the main.
Fanfiction.net also offers some very nifty traffic stats. I have a reader in Kazakstan. How cool is that?
But mostly, the other people writing in that same world will amuse you and you will learn from them — and they from you.

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Shows I Didn't Kill

01 December 2012

Ever since I posted my “The Show Killer. Me. post, people have been accusing me of getting shows canceled that they liked.
I was not responsible for the following:
The 4400: had a longer run. I only consider it a show I killed if it didn’t last three full seasons and I became a serious fan in seasons 1 or 2 and loved the show. I liked 4400, didn’t love it.
Heroes: see The 4400.
V: liked the new incarnation, didn’t love it.
Dollhouse: died an early death, true, and I liked the show, but I never truly warmed to it.
Strange World: one of my favorites, but I never saw it until SyFy reran th show after it had been canceled from network television.
Dead Like Me: another of my favorites, another I didn’t see until after it was already dead.
Six Feet Under: I’d probably love it, but never seen the show.
666 Park Avenue: Except for Terry O’Quinn, who could read the dictionary and I’d be fascinated, the show didn’t work for me. I watched an episode and a half.

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Two Movies I'm Looking Forward To

21 November 2012

First up, Now You See Me, which can be described as a mashup between The Prestige and The Bank Job with Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg as Robin Hood. Seriously, if they nail this, it has the potential to go on my top 10 favorite movies of all time.

Second, a Zombie romcom, Warm Bodies. The trailer’s really funny. Even if you don’t like zombie movies, I recommend watching this trailer.

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Gay Marriage: When My Opinion Changed

08 November 2012

I’ve never written up the specific incident that made gay marriage/equal marriage so important to me, but I think it’s time. I’ve mentioned some of the benefits I got from being married in my post How I Got Married and Donated a Liver, and allude to this story, but I thought it would be off-point for me to put it into that post. It’s true that I’m one of those socially liberal types and had no problem with gays having equal rights before, but I wasn’t really aboard with marriage (as a civil, legal institution) for anyone until after all this happened.
After Richard died from a stroke, I joined a mailing list for people with a common interest in strokes: medical professionals, survivors, loved ones of people who’d both survived and perished from strokes.
One man on the list had been living with his sweetie, who’d had a stroke. They’d had durable power of attorney for healthcare paperwork signed. His sweetie’s family was very homophobic, so they got the paperwork the couple had signed overruled and banned the man from his sweetie’s hospital and recovery.
Catch is, the sweetie had had long-term memory loss. He couldn’t, for example, remember that he needed to use a walker. So he kept asking his family over and over where his loved one was. Day after day after day, unable to remember the answer he’d gotten. One heartbreak after another.
That? Sounds like hell to me. It’s also incredibly evil on the part of the family.
It made me realize that we really did need a legal relationship for gay couples that was legally stronger than blood. Like marriage is.
So I’m incredibly happy with the four states and their ballot initiatives on gay marriage, and that the tide is really starting to turn in groundshaking ways. Thanks to all of you who support gay rights. May there be fewer situations like the sweetie’s going forward, and, one day, may there be none.

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Dead Shows: Fairly Legal

05 November 2012

Rick and I were discussing my favorite kinds of shows as I was whining about Fairly Legal being canceled. He pointed out I liked smart shows with good dialogue, complicated plots, and layers to them — and that most people simply couldn’t relate to them. I also really like a good sense of humor in a dramatic piece, but it’s not something that’s absolutely necessary for me.
My three favorite movies, in order, are: The Player, Duplicity, and Inception: all but the last have a great sense of humor; Inception probably would be my favorite movie if it were warmer and funnier.
So let’s go over those doomed series. This will be the first of a one-post-per-show format.

For this show, I really loved the writing. There were lots of places where things were left far more open than in a typical series, and I just love that kind of pointilist dialogue.
There were, unfortunately, a lot of fans of the soon-to-be-ex-husband on the show, aka #TeamJustin. Having built that up for a year, introducing Ben was bound to cause some of the fans to become disaffected, though many of us who liked Justin in the first season switched to #TeamBen. For me, I liked Ben from his first episode, though I saw his flaws, but for others, it didn’t happen until around episode 8 (“Ripple of Hope”) of 13 episodes, which was, imho, way too late to get people on board. Some people stopped caring about the show as a consequence. Side note: iTunes claims I’ve watched Ripple of Hope 192 times. Ahem.

The other aspect is that Justin comes off as a stronger male character (in the classic romance novel sense) than Ben does. For me, Ben comes off as a more modern character: he makes the fundamental assumption that women know what they want and are generally able to communicate it. There are a lot of layers in the dialogue, such as this opening scene where Kate and Ben meet.

K: (plays with rim of glass)
B: Plymouth and tonic.
K; Check, please.
B: Do you always come in the door leaving?
K: Umm, it is Not My Scene.
B: But, here you are, so you were either born on that bar stool or you came in here disguised as a woman who wants attention.
K: And you’re wearing a $3000 suit with a pocket square.
B: I believe my motives are clear.
K: Sorry. It has been a while since anyone’s offered to buy me a drink.
B: Really? Did the world go blind?
K: (Laughs) I’m married. Was married. Now I’m not. Anyway, the ex is on his way to sign the (waves hand) whatever, but it looks like he has blown me off.
B: Well, it’s just as well, or he would have changed his mind.
K: (Laughs) Nice try. Maybe it’ll feel normal some day.
B: Do you believe in fate?
K: Wow, was that a line?
B: It’s a question. Takes the edge off picking up strangers in bars.
K: I’m 29. I’m, uh, nearly divorced, recently orphaned, more recently out of a job. My life is kind of at this unexpected turning point, so yeah. I do believe in fate. And I believe she is a fickle, fickle bitch. [nice recap for people who didn’t watch Season 1]
B: You seem broken.
K: (laughs)
B: I like that.
K: And you’re a fixer.
B: No.
K: Yeah.
B: No, I tend to make things much worse, and then I disappear.
K: Well, at least you’re decent enough to be honest about it, you don’t see that much.
B: Oh, you must be a lawyer.
K: (lying) Schoolteacher.
B: Right. You’re a schoolteacher and I’m a decent guy, so (raises glass) cheers to honesty.
K: Hey, cheers. Yeah. (laughs) And good night. (gets up, starts leaving)
B: Is truth the way to your heart?
K: (turns)
B: Withdrawn, counselor, I misspoke. We have not yet established that you have a heart.
K: The way to my heart would be to do everything and to say nothing. No negotiation, no foreplay, no strategy. Just be who you are and take me.
B: (stares)
K: (whispers) Too late.
B: (stares after her as she leaves)

Justin winds up telling Kate what she wants (and is wrong) and keeps trying to assert his dominance, like in this scene from the Finale.

K: Oh, Justin.
J: Here we go.
K: Oh, God, what?
J: Nothing. I just know you, that’s all.
K: Look, this is the, uh … , right needle, wrong haystack. I’ve been fighting this feeling–
J: Oh, my, Kate–
K: …and I keep hoping–
J: Don’t do this!
K: …that this is going to feel right–
J: It does feel right. We’re not who we used to be, don’t do this.
K: I know you think that I’m running away.
J: Yeah, because you are. I knew you were gonna get scared.
K: I’m not scared.
J: (nods his head)

It also doesn’t help that Kate is the patron saint of lost causes, and while Justin has given up on her, she hasn’t given up on him. Then, to make matters worse, when she starts getting scared at Ben’s advances, she runs back to Justin, who then becomes fully engaged again. That all works as far as the plot goes, but some of the ways it plays out make Kate less sympathetic and Ben seem less strong a character as far as many women might see him, and that loses audience.
Justin tries to manipulate Kate directly, but he’s bad at it. Ben’s a far better manipulator, but he’s discovered that manipulating people doesn’t make for good long-term relationships, so he’s the kind of guy who manipulates the underlying situation and let the people cards fall where they will. As an example: knowing it’s complicated and it’ll take her days to decide, they fly to Lake Tahoe “for the day” for a case for which he’s gotten her appointed as a Special Magistrate. Naturally, with Kate, it becomes a multi-day affair, with the two of them spending two nights in Tahoe. The second night, there’s a hot tub scene where Ben’s out there and Kate comes to give him some news about the case, then a different conversation follows. I see Ben’s strategy: he’s made an advance, she’s run to someone else, and if Ben makes the next move and closes the gap between them, he will never know if he manipulated her into it or if she truly picked him. On the other hand, if he gets her close by, within inches, and she closes that last mile, that’s something else. Thus, the hot tub scene, which parallels the season’s opening scene.

K: What’s that?
B: It’s a rock. Found it up there today, it’s sort of shaped like a heart.
K: Do you think it’s ever possible to feel that way again?
B: Like what?
K: The way it feels when you fall in love for the first time. Do you remember that? It just feels like this wave just washes over you, but you’re not afraid to drown. Wow. It’s just so easy the first time.
B: Love is never easy. You don’t have to be 17, you just have to be brave. I knew you couldn’t just pick a side and then fly home. I wanted to stay the night, because I do care that much.
K: (looks up at him)
B: So do you. (crosses over to her) That’s why you went back to Justin, because he’s safe. And this you can’t control and it scares the hell out of you. You want that wave. (reaches for her hand and pulls her into the water) No strategy. No foreplay. No negotiation. You just have to have the guts to dive in. (beat) Do you?
K: (freezes)
B: Too late. (walks off)

One of my other favorite bits is when Ben’s ex Lydia is the opposing counsel in episode Shine a Light.

B: She’ll have another Tanqueray and tonic.
L: You trying to get me drunk, Ben?
B: Don’t need to get women drunk.
L: Ah, so they just fall at your feet without lubrication.
B: My cross to bear.
L: He’ll have a Plymouth and tonic.
B: You remember. I’m touched.
L: I didn’t need any help, either.
B: Except for that one time in Sausalito.
L: We were both pretty sauced up then.
B: And Alcatraz.
L: That was work related.
B: Oh. (incredulous) That was work.
(Ben crosses behind Lydia as she’s laughing)
B. I thought about your offer.
L: The $125,000?
B: Yeah, it doesn’t really work for me.
L: I could knock it down to 75 if you’d like.
B: How about a million. See, here’s the thing. Karl was so peeved about that settlement that I failed to bring him that I started to wonder: who did tell him about it? Do you know?
L: Search me.
B: It’s perplexing, isn’t it? Because whoever did would have communicated with my client without me being there — which is an even bigger ethics violation than failing to mention a settlement agreement in the first place.
L: (says nothing)
B: You spoke to my client without me being there. The bar association will be so crushed. See, it’s not fair that you’re the only one who gets to be satisfied here, Lydia. Do you know what I mean?
L: Alcatraz.
B: Exactly. (Pause) So. Bring me a cashier’s check for a million dollars by the end of the day and I’ll see if he’ll bite.
L: You’re bluffing. And I should have left you handcuffed to that cell.
B: Is that a yes or a no?
L: (turns and leaves)

They know each other well enough to have secret metaphors that are never explained, but you can almost read between the lines.

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