New Writing, Old Editing

My latest piece for Read it Forward:

The Book You Love That No One Else Has Heard Of

(You should seriously all check out this book by Venedikt Erofeev, “From Moscow to the End of the Line.” It’s a weird, hilarious, unique, insert other positive adjectives, treasure.)

Now onto other stuff:

Editing is hard, and unfortunately, it’s the not-so-glamorous part of a writer’s life that doesn’t get talked about much outside those in the writerly trenches themselves. Here’s the part we all love: you get in a zone, write something astoundingly magical, you’re pretty sure this piece will not only abolish world hunger via the power of its narrative, but you also managed to write it in prose that can only be described as “Tolstoy-Franzen floral hybrid.” Then you wake up the next day to find it is a horrible steaming pile of garbage and you consider law school for the bazillionth time.

So you have two options. You chalk up your first draft to the .docx graveyard, or you lick your ego wounds and take a stab at editing. It’s not easy to do. It ain’t famously called “killing your babies” for nothin’.

But we should make a distinction here. It’s different writing for a publication under a deadline than it is writing for yourself, and thus, the editing process is different. I happen to be more productive when I am given the constraints of a deadline, potentially because years of school trained me to work under this model, but it also probably has something to do with a certain, je ne sais quoi, extreme laziness. If you suffer from the same affliction as I do (“I could write, or I could paint my toenails and watch “Arrested Development” reruns for the 700th time while stalking the Domino’s pizza tracker.”), then editing your own work takes some artificial constraint-setting.

But sometimes, between a full-time job and tracking Domino’s all the live long day, some of the stuff you work on for your own pleasure slips through the cracks. One of the few positives to this is that I occasionally reap the benefits of one of editing’s closest compadres: time. Remember “killing your babies”? Well, having distance from a piece means that you’ve had time to grow apart from your children, stop loving them, and you can now properly shove them off a cliff without a second thought. Maybe you’re even sporting a grin while doing it!  (I’ll stop working off that metaphor.)

The point of the editing shpiel and the Domino’s reference is this: tonight I edited a really old piece of mine from 2011! I haven’t written in this style in a long time, and I rarely get a chance to entertain this type of voice these days. This is originally an assignment I received from a dating editor, who supplied me with topics and gave me free rein in terms of letting my fiction go nuts(/a bit early 20’s emoish in this case.) It was originally titled “1:00am Ramblings, the Day After Dreaming of an Ex.” It’s a pretty bad title! Some other parts of it are still pretty bad, too, even after tonight’s editing! One of the comments I received back then was, “Are you talking about real love?? People don’t do that on the internet!” OKAY here we go!!

[Come up with a new title that’s not the original title here, future self looking back on this]

There were a few moments the other night when my heart was tugged by the kind of invisible wires Jake talked about. He said they connected people at parties in subtextual undercurrents, or even across wider distances, like state lines.

I dreamt of him, and that’s why the lines came to mind. I want to confess it with a smirk, “Yes, yes, so I dreamt of you!” with the gumption and sass of an old movie star. But I cannot, and I do not, it is just what happened, and I deal with you in facts.

At first the dream didn’t make me sad, though, and I called that progress.  At first it was just odd, like seeing another side of the moon. You, the stranger, with a foreign panache. I dream of you.

The sadness came the next night. I was cleaning my room and listening to records: Nat King Cole and Ella and Billie. And something became an encasement. The sounds that came through the stereo, even the sappiest or simplest songs, seized me like a thing underwater. The music unfurled so languidly until it was an environment, that cumulus nature of melody.  A billowing out like a smokestack to fill the crevices of old places I thought were erased or dried beyond resuscitation.

I turned towards my bed and like an echo it said, “Empty. Empty.” And I could so imagine you there. I could so see myself through your gaze, watching me as I folded my summer dresses to pack them up for winter, shoving them in my suitcase, awkwardly jamming it under the bed.

I missed the security of someone I knew romantically for years and as a friend for years and all that soul level shit that’s not shit for what must be infinite years. At least, that is how we discussed ourselves with ourselves.  That’s what we believed.  I become melancholy when I think of belief as something so malleable that time and place dis-harbor it. So I looked down at the suitcase, a fallen tree limb, a grotesque bulge, a growth under the bed frame.

It’s probably a weightiness that was nestled in my thin golden curtains all along, if I had been paying attention. Starting from the place where the fringe is torn across the valance, it meandered down the serpentine way. “Gotcha,” and when it hisses I don’t know from whose mouth it is hissing.

I was mistaking bread for a kiss.  I was trying to capture the meat of someone’s pupils like two birds’ shadows.  It was a frail thing but it had an endurer’s heart, and I felt it pumping for years, tracing across so many widespread veins, and now: a landscape viewed from an airplane.

What comes to mind?  The black studio theater.  The cough syrup.  Go Home #2 and the sweater you gave me years ago, which I saved, and the first time you frightened me (your eyes were black, your grin went too far).  Your poetry, those words, the timbre of your voice–I was honest about that.  I always told you how I loved that.  The living room in your parents’ house where I was excited over you and, you know, you know, I cried, too.

Orange goo low as a brow.  We both liked The Misfits t-shirt and Howlin Wolf records.  We thought it would be cute to the point of nausea to get our mothers together for an embroidering club.

I was a dog circling back twice, not knowing his name.  The love, whatever it was, a contamination.

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