Late last night I finished work on another collection of poems, “Thelxiepeia.” This group of poems started out with a different title. When I began editing I knew that many of the poems would not make the final cut. They seemed parts of two books jammed together in a way that didn’t fit and so I opted for a cohesive finished selection and a new title. Thelxiepeia, in Greek mythology, is one of the Sirens, creatures whose seductive songs and music lured sailors to crash their ships. Sirens were often represented as being part woman and part bird. How I happened upon this story of Thelxiepeia was that I was watching an old movie called “Xanadu”, in which a muse, Kira, whose real name is Terpsichore, the muse of the dance, emerges from a mural, and falls in love with a mortal. There are fantastic musical numbers, Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, with music by Cliff Richard, The Tubes, and ELO. I’ve mentioned this movie before as it has most everything in it that an adolescent girl in 1981, one seeking some escape from excruciating pain, could require of a movie. I still think it’s a beautiful film, though from a completely different point of view this many years gone now. In watching it again I thought to look up the names of the Nine Muses of Olympus, one of whom is portrayed, though it isn’t a speaking part, by Sandahl Bergman, who is better known for her roles in “Conan the Barbarian”, “All That Jazz”, and “Red Sonja.” This led to looking up the names of the Sirens, and the writing of the poem, “Thelxiepeia.” Thematically overall, the collection has to do with the subject of muses and myths, with the stories we tell ourselves so that we can find a way to tell our stories, and those things that help us along the way in that.
In writing these poems, in watching “Xanadu” whenever it was, these poems were written several years ago, and remembering again that time of my life, I understood again how it is that I became a poetess, a writer, and how much of that, for me, relates to, or has or is entrenched in, films and music in someway. In 1981 I turned thirteen years old. Over the course of exactly one months time, I went from being a normal, healthy kid, to being emaciated and barely able to get out of bed. Five foot eight, at that time, my weight dropped to ninety-six pounds at one point. I couldn’t go to school, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t not sleep, and after months of weeks of grueling visits to doctors, specialists, hospitals, they couldn’t find anything specifically wrong with me that they could diagnose as anything other than Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, since re-diagnosed as an adult as Still’s Disease, which is similar to Lupus. That’s back story, it took a year to recover enough, to be well enough again, to really return to school. Point being that I really couldn’t do much of anything other than watch television during most of that time. I didn’t have the ability to concentrate or focus enough to read books during that time as I was in too much pain, though I’d been an avid reader up to then. Being as I couldn’t really do much of anything else during that time other than watch television, many of the usual restrictions on what I was allowed to watch, were lifted. Nineteen-eighty and eighty-one weren’t bad years for film, though my viewing was limited to whatever cable movie channel it was that we had or whatever was making its “Network Television Premier” and that was usually about a year behind whatever was in the theaters. I’ve spoken before about watching the film “Altered States” and feeling a strange understanding of the transformation of the main character while wondering why in the world anyone would willing put themselves through what he does. ( It’s like “Jaws” in that you find yourself just wanting him to get out of the water.) Along those lines I also watched the other werewolf movies of the day, “An American Werewolf in London” and “Wolfen” and the like. The feeling that I had sometimes was very much that I didn’t want to be that, and that I was nonetheless turning into some inexplicable creature and the world was turning into a strange place that didn’t understand me, anymore than I could understand it.
Most of the time, I couldn’t hold a pen or a pencil, couldn’t do schoolwork, wore Ace bandages and wrist braces and homemade splints. I was in so much pain so constantly, the world slips away when it’s like that, for anyone experiencing anything like that I would guess. The way that everyone else keeps time is meaningless and useless and of no importance. On the better days, I’d wish I was at school, I’d think about all I was missing out on, dances, friends, boyfriends, classes I liked. I couldn’t ride my bicycle or play sports anymore and I’d always been the kid that was outside from sunup until dark, though really it was beyond wallowing. Whatever the future was going to hold for me was forever changed. My mother said, “You know, you could still write. You could try writing poems again.” I’d written poems in grade school, and for school, though I hadn’t considered “writer” or “poetess” as a job option outside of possibly being a journalist, a newswoman. And I thought, “I can’t even hold a pencil.” But she got a couple of small notebooks for me and I remember writing what I still consider to be my first serious poem, titled simply, “Alone”, while I was sitting in bed watching the film, “Private Benjamin.” That movie is a comedy, containing one of my all time favorite movie line exchanges.
“Aunt Kissy: I hope my coat’s gonna be good enough. I had no idea it was gonna be so chilly.
Harriet Benjamin: It’s November here, Kissy.
Teddy Benjamin: It’s November everywhere, genius.”
But the film is ultimately about Judy Benjamin finding her sense of self, and the strength to be her own person, there was something in that that spoke to me beyond the ribald, raunchy, comedy, because in that place, the funniest thing in the world, isn’t quite so funny. In that place of so much pain, the funniest thing in the world seems illogical, senseless, and idiotic, I guess one way to put it would be like how the food fight in the film “Animal House” (1978), might not make you laugh if you’re not from a first world country where even waste is taken for granted, and what I was looking for were things that were hopeful in some way, or strong, resilient. It also may be that it was during that time that any remaining sense of humor I had, took a sardonic, somewhat self-deprecating, turn. I looked at the poem that I’d scribbled in the little notebook and that was the beginning, and I hope I never forget that moment. Additionally, it’s become evident to me that my brain might be hardwired for rhyme to some degree, and some of that comes from listening to music and song lyrics all my life. ( My father was a musician, both my parents could sing, there was live music in the house for much of my youth.) Eventually I was allowed to use my mother’s electric typewriter sometimes, when my hands were very swollen, as I could often still move my fingers on the keys for a while even if I couldn’t move my wrists or my hands, however much it hurt. I was a writer before that, but after that, I knew that I was, whether I’d claimed it or it had claimed me, and that was that. I’ve since tried not to be a writer a couple of times and that doesn’t ever work out. I used to say that my writing was my “human’s compensation,” like … yeah there’s all of whatever else there is, but then there’s my writing. God willing I’ll be able to keep writing and writing and writing. Human beings are resilient, and strong, courageous.
Finishing this collection of poems, and it isn’t quite as long as some of the others at only fifty-four pages, I could go right into editing another collection of poems but I found that I didn’t want to, I found myself wanting to work on some kind of story again, some fiction. Though really I am taking some time to organize and edit and clear the decks for the end of the year, hopefully do some fun things, spend some time with family. 2017 has gone quickly, hasn’t it? The last several years for me, I’ve realized, have been about finding myself as a writer again, finding my groove with it all, finding balance and self acceptance, allowing myself to be this and to honor it and the gift of it, to appreciate, and accept, and let be, my own muses. “Thelxiepeia”, I think, speaks very much to all of that. I hope to release it sometime next year, in early spring. I’m so grateful for this gift of being able to write, and I do consider it to be a gift. We all find inspiration or ideas in a lot of different things, people, places, it’s important to honor your muse(s), one of mine led me to Thelxiepeia. I’m uncertain in this moment if these poems were a farewell to the girl that I was or an homage, I feel like I can write about her, but I can’t ever again be her. I’m not sad about that, only grateful for having had the chance to be that girl, and to be looking now to the future as this woman. Becoming is ever ongoing.
great song from the film “Xanadu.”
I’ve worked hard the last couple of years to get some books published, I’m thinking of them as there were “the first five,” and now there is “the magnificent seven.” I also have stories in three print anthologies, and I’m going to get those linked up with cover pictures, as well as having been published thirteen times various places online during the last six years. In the spring of 2018, I hope to release another collection of poetry, tentatively titled “Thelxiepeia”. After that, well I wouldn’t say what was next even if I had figured that out. I am a prolific writer, and that has always been the case. Even when I think I’m not really writing much, I’m always really writing something. I had a tremendous back catalogue of manuscripts, books, to publish. “Thelxiepeia” is work that was composed from 2011 to 2012 or thereabouts, so I’m getting closer to being caught up.
The books I’ve released in the last week, “Gold Mine” and “Maybelline Raven and The Wolf”, both came out of a nervous breakdown that began in 2008. Fact is, I’ve gotten a lot of writing, stories, out of that breakdown though I’d just as soon not got through anything like that again. “Gold Mine” is really, I think, something that was written, compiled, jammed together, like a panic attack during a panic attack in 2009. That book was very much the moment at the beginning of an avalanche. The title “Gold Mine” came out of some remembered fragment that life experiences are a writer’s gold mine, to which I thought “go mine your own business,” and then thinking that I might have thrown a gold mine worth of writing into a fire. “Maybelline Raven and The Wolf” was written during the first months of 2014, when I was recovering from the worst of it all and really at the beginning of sorting things out. Most people cannot put their house back in order in the middle of the storm. I’ve said before that much of my work is catharsis in that it is something of a coping mechanism, as much as it is a way to dream, it is also a way to understand things, to reason things out in some way, and sometimes, it’s very much a way to get rid of the poison. I’ve written some horror stories that aren’t anything I want to read, writing horror was way outside of my comfort zone as a writer, so if someone tells me they don’t like horror, I can respond honestly that I understand that completely. I’ve also used the “input/output” analogy on that one, the world isn’t always a nice place, all my experiences in this life haven’t been good, sometimes the writing is way to git rid of bad emotions or baggage, we’ve all got stuff. I’ve written some super hopeful, sappy, in love and in love with life stuff too. We learn to appreciate the balance between the “good” and the “bad,” to understand that sometimes those things change, and to sift the wheat from the chaff.
“Maybelline Raven and The Wolf” began as I started to sort out my own ancestry, to research my own family tree. One of the biggest lessons to come out of that has been not to jump the gun. I started out with family stories, finally got to the 100% bottom of some things, researched the actual genealogy and family tree, did a DNA test only to then further read that such a test might not tell you what you want to know or even reveal the truth of your lineage because with each generation the bloodline thins, so to speak, and people migrated and mixed and so on. I learned that the descendants a person can verify and trace are generally the best indicator. I am of English, Irish, and Cherokee descent. It was ultimately easier for me than some as my parents are no mystery to me and I did grow up with a grandparents who were interested in the family history though there were discrepancies and oddities to be sorted out. For example, I grew up with a story that we were related to George Washington, as well as to an “Indian Princess,” to which my grandfather would say, “She wasn’t a princess. That wasn’t her real name.” When you hear stories like that as a kid, it’s ridiculous. Yeah right, sure. In researching the family tree, I found a George Washington, not thee George Washington, but a George Washington. From there I thought, “Okay, what other of these stories are true, and what have I had wrong?”
On my mother’s side of the family, I am able to trace back to the 1500’s in England, to Scotland and to 1800’s Ireland and a young man named Joseph Creighton, aged thirteen years, traveling alone, who arrived in New Orleans in 1847 aboard The Berlin, to Reverend David Caldwell and the Revolutionary War, and to Civil War soldiers who fought on both sides of the conflict. On my father’s side of the family, I am able to trace my ancestry to 1500’s England to Sir Robert Bell, Speaker of the House of Commons, to 1600’s Colonial England to Thomas Burgess whose affair with Lydia Gaunt led to the first ever divorce in Plymouth and to Cherokee Chief Doublehead ( a sixth great-grand-father), whose daughter, Cornblossum (Princess) Doublehead married Big Jake Troxell and their daughter, Margaret Troxell married James Bell in 1809, whose great-grandson, William, a great-grandfather, who married Lena Burgess, one of my great-grandmothers, and the sixth great-grandaughter of Thomas Burgess and Lydia Gaunt. There were also family stories of a relation to The Younger Brothers, of the James- Younger Gang by the marriage of a cousin, connected through the Carson family, though I was unable to verify those stories.
I went on my first cross-country trip to Mississippi and Louisiana before I was quite two years old, and I remember the highlights, including getting bit by a dog. These stories were swimming around in my head as I wrote the story of Maybelline. Maybelline Raven is a woman who has witnessed and experienced something horrific. As a result, her mind has found a way to compartmentalize and deal with the trauma as she remains terrified and trying to protect her children. Set in 1762 in a fictional village along the banks of the Mississippi River, this story was an important turning point for me, it is a story about courage, about strength, about the incredible power of the mind and the heart to heal, it is a story about resilience, survival, and love. Maybelline Raven is also a story that I believed in so much that I was will to roll the dice on publishing my own books, though it wasn’t the first book that I published. Creating “Maybelline” helped me understand my own processes of coping and healing.
I’m going to be taking a bit of a rest ( I already am, caught a bug, needed to sleep, etc.) and hopefully enjoying the holidays, sober,while trying to avoid eating too many delicious baked goods. I’ll probably be working on something. I’ll probably post again before the year is out, or not. Until then, “Gold Mine” and “Maybelline Raven and The Wolf”are available on Amazon. The paperback of Maybelline should be available any day now.
I’m super tired. Is that the best time to write a blog post? Hopefully this won’t be too rambling.
I have surpassed the sixty thousand word mark on the edits/re-write of the vampire novel. I have approximately sixty-six pages of the original text, about twenty thousand words, to finish, knowing that I’ll likely add a chapter or two. I’m right on time for the schedule that I set for myself with this.
I started writing this novel in January of 2013 and finished writing and started a sequel that same year. I did not want to write about vampires. I threw numerous fits about it. I quit writing it at about twenty-three thousand words, walked away, said “I hate vampires, I’m not doing this.” At which point the rest of the book wrote itself in my head over the course of a couple of days and I had to get it all down on paper. Not only did I have to get it all down on paper, I wanted to.
In the beginning, it made me feel really sick to write it. Headaches, sick to my stomach. For me, writing has involved a lot of catharsis, thus far anyway. People might say, “Well, why would you write horror?” I didn’t set out to write a vampire novel, like I said, I don’t like vampires, and perhaps, I’m not that much of a planner?
Why do I dislike vampires and where did this idea for this book come from?
|My actual blood, actual.|
I dislike vampires, and I mean no offense to anyone whatsoever in this, but because I was deathly ill when I was an adolescent, there was a time when my blood was being drawn twice a week, every week, for several months. There was a time when I was in the hospital and they’d come in while I was asleep, take my temperature with one of those then new temperature things that they’d stick on your forehead, and if I had a fever, I’d often wake up with a nurse standing on one side of me, gently holding me there, and a phlebotomist standing on the other side of me, with a syringe already stuck in my arm. I had nightmares for a quite a while, I think that it’s a lot to have to toughen up about at any age. However, I think that being that age, being faced with mortality, the constancy of the blood work, it might have been abnormal had I not equated it to vampires at some point. One of the first R-rated movies that I was allowed to watch was during that time, “Altered States,” and the transformation scenes resonated with me because, what the heck was happening to me? Was I dying? They said I might not live. What was I becoming? Needless to say, the idea of vampires as any kind of romantic, immortal, creatures, wasn’t something that was going to fly with me.
But that time of my life passed, I lived, I went on, and it isn’t that we forget, it’s simply that we put such things behind us, we continue on in the present. I’ve been through other bouts with illness, some equally arduous. I live with Still’s Disease, rheumatoid arthritis. Suffice it say that vampires haven’t ever been my favorite thing. I felt like I turned into some strange wolf creature, was turning into that, all of those years ago, and they kept taking my blood trying to figure it out, or turn me into a vampire, one of them. But, it still wasn’t what I intended to write or would have said that I wanted to write.
But I wrote some horror stories trying to push my own boundaries and that’s something that I’ve always done, push my own boundaries, something that I’ve never need prompting to do. Years ago I knew that I wasn’t comfortable writing about sex. So I got comfortable writing about sex. When I started writing horror stories, I wasn’t comfortable writing violence or about violence. Without realizing it, I had begun to think in terms of How am I ever going to write whatever kind of book if I can’t write a sex scene? If I can’t describe a violent crime? How I am ever going to be free as a writer to write whatever if I’m holding myself back from ever writing any kind of fiction that might offend someone? If I’m not getting outside of my own beliefs as well?
From that came a story called “The Love” that was originally published at Solarcide and appears in the “Solarcidal Tendencies” anthology, a story about archangels in love with each other, having become carnal, battling a Lucifer character. It was a really fun story to write, surprisingly so.
There was also a poem that I wrote in January of 2012…
They bust the rusted meadows gate,
They wait the darkness for the dawn,
They drink the stars,
They curse the moon,
They wander on and on,
They steal away the slipstream sleep,
And purge the soul with fire,
They promise everlasting life,
And all that you desire….
I’ve been writing poetry all of my life, essentially, at this point so that for me now, it’s simply something that I can do, after decades of practice. But I looked at that poem and I thought, “They bust the rusted meadows gate…” What the heck is that? From there I think that it was only a matter of time before a longer story began to present itself because I could see the vampires from the poem trying to get in some huge gate somewhere like zombies. Sometimes the poetry that I write is “with intention,” I’ll think I want to write a poem about a butterfly, however more often than not I’ll get the first line or two and then it just goes from there. I didn’t know that it was a poem about vampires until I wrote the last line.
Other inspirations that went into it are obviously every other vampire thing that I somehow know after this many years on earth. I’ll likely get more in depth about those specifics another time though many of them are included, listed, referenced, in other posts here on my webpage. But I’d never written a full length novel before.
I wrote it, I started to write a sequel. Then I set it aside because I just felt like it was making me sick and I kept fighting it. In reality, it was making me well. In reality, writing this novel has mapped my maturation as a writer, and is the book, the story, that graduated me completely from poet to novelist. I will write many other books, but there will never be another first novel. During the course of this process, from beginning it in January of 2013, to finishing the first edits in July of 2014 and filing my copyright, to submitting it and having it ( quite nicely) rejected, to now, I’ve learned so much. Practice.
|What seventy-two thousand words, two-hundred and forty-four typed pages looks like.|
I’ve almost quit this book more times than I can count. But I’m not a quitter and at some point it became not only about the fact that I believe in this story, but about learning to to be a novelist. How do you get good at something? I decided that I didn’t want to abandon this story. I decided to type it again, to re-write all seventy-two thousand plus words, from the beginning, for my own learning if for nothing else. That’s more than two hundred pages.
I learned that not only do I love writing fiction, I love writing genre fiction. I truly have fallen in love with writing longer stories. I never would have anticipated that I would because poetry involves so much instant gratification for me. I’ve discovered that the “short-story,” from about twenty-five hundred to five thousand words, is my least favorite form/length to write. I’ve found that writing flash-fiction is another thing that I’m in love with doing. My idea of myself as a writer not only evolved with this book, it has come into being.
I look at the first poem that I ever wrote and I know that to be the beginning of all of my writing, though not necessarily my fascination with language. This is the book that made me a novelist. Far from being my first attempt at writing a novel, there have been many other tries over the years, many, I think that the first time that I tried to write a complete novel I was eighteen, and that’s important too because just like all of the poems that I was writing without realizing that I was practicing every time, honing my skills every time, all of those other attempts at completing a novel went into this one, and this is the one that I will see through. This is the one that I decided that even if I have to publish it myself, it is getting done. I wanted to take a moment and kind of think about that, savor it a little bit, before I begin the big push through the last fifteen or twenty thousand words because I hated this, because I fought it and it couldn’t be fought or I never would have finished it in the first place. I’ve come out the other side of it with the understanding, the knowing that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, writing fiction. I’ve learned so much about the value of fiction, of the emotional truths that can be expressed with it, of story telling, about how I misunderstood the limitlessness of genre writing and I feel like I’ve been given this incredible gift.
Before this, I understood how it is that I write poetry, I understood myself as a poet. Now I understand how it is that I write novels, and myself as a novelist.
When the time comes, of course I’ll be offering up the synopsis, the pitch, the what is this vampire novel about anyway? That I’ve spent three years on it?
I will always be a poetess and write and publish poetry. Now I am a novelist, a fiction writer, and really, I couldn’t be happier about that.
The original title of the book was “The Slick Furies.” I decided to change it, to “Travel Long the Night” from an old poem of mine, and then I decided to change it back, because that’s the kind of book that it is, a caper book. I may yet use “Travel Long the Night” for another book.
I’ve listened to a lot of Shinedown, Stone Temple Pilots, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry, Audioslave, over the last three years while writing this thing. Some Better than Ezra too. I’ve made playlists, deleted, made other ones, while wrestling around with this thing.
Some of those songs….
Near Dark, Love at First Bite, Blade, Interview with the Vampire, Only Lovers Left Alive, What We Do in the Shadows, Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Underworld, Queen of the Damned, Last Man on Earth.
My favorite vampire movie is “Only Lovers Left Alive.” I think that it’s beautiful and perfect, and I didn’t think that I could love a vampire movie. “Blade” is still my favorite anti-vampire movie. “Near Dark” will always be a favorite for a reason that I’ve never fully revealed because it would be a spoiler but it’s kind of fitting because like I said, writing this book made me sick, and then it made it me well.
I wanted to take a moment. I know now that I’ll be done working on this book, Travel Long the Night, this year. I know that whether or not I write the sequel, I’m going to work on and complete some other writing project first. There are so many things that I want to write, so much.
~ Teri Skultety
~ Red Smith
You tempt me with the words of others while it takes my every effort, every waking moment, to keep my own words from you. You tempt me with the words of others as though they were anything other than a poor substitute for your own tongue and the sound of your voice as it echoes through the chambers of my heart and reverberates beneath my ribs. You make yourself so scarce that I cannot keep from longing and yet you know that I am each instant only an instant away from letting go. Then there would be all of those words that we’d never know. In those spaces I begin to think that what I long for is the quiet of your embrace in a still room, in rooms away from the world, in places where we only know and find one another, again and again, in love.
“Look up in the tree,” you said to me. “It looks like a serpent, doesn’t it?”
Roll Me Away
We took to the road. The expanse of blacktop stretched out before us into the sparkling effervescence that we dared to think was the night sky back-lit with stars but was really a sideways look at a glass of Alka-Seltzer on the nightstand before we had to drag ourselves up and out through one more day of it, all the fun we were having. We took to the road. My heart in my pocket because it had taken too much of a beating on my sleeve and I didn’t want anyone to know how much I really cared, deep down in my soul, the way you’re not supposed to.
We sat in the diner while Jimmy slept in the back seat. Jimmy sleeps in the back seat because he’s having more fun than anyone can shake a stick at. We passed the houses of suburbia in the slipstream of dawn, some of their lights coming on in cold kitchens still suffering linoleum and ugly bathrobes. I look down into them and think, they’re waking up and they’re all still so asleep. I’m so smart, so blessed, so lucky. I know of these other worlds and wants and dreams and visions and places that are the same place on the map, “You can’t get there from here.” Still I know about them, those places. So I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… They’re going to have bbq’s later and drink too much beer, get in fights before they go to bed. Some of the lucky ones will have sex instead.
Cigarettes taste like cigarettes again so I don’t smoke and when I try to pretend to, that taste is still there. If it wasn’t for everyone’s paranoia about everything, they could just go ahead and make cigarettes really taste like a rum cherry-coke, have the smoke smell like roses when it stays in your clothes. I could get into that. Don’t tell me that they can’t do it. They’re crossbreeding animals that would never get near one another in the wild, don’t tell me they can’t make a cigarette that kids would really want to smoke. Oh wait…yeah, but that’s all still mostly illegal and what that it wasn’t? Jimmy might not be quite so paranoid about what’s really in that extra pack of Marlboro’s he keeps in his sock, or about always having socks with good elastic.
Last night Jimmy told me, “You’re just no fun anymore.”
So I drank more. I was the only one still awake in the morning, watching those cold rays peak over the horizon. I laid down to look through the glass of Alka-Seltzer he put on the nightstand, just in case. Alka-Seltzer, I never touch the stuff. My black glitter shirt balled-up on the nightstand, looking like the night sky through the tiny bubbles and I just wanted to not feel like that right then. I have pills for that. I wanted it to not all be so grim because to even say this much is depressing.
We took to the road. I put on a red blouse and a pair of ripped jeans, my favorite sandals. I tried to practice smiling, because I didn’t want to be the girl who wasn’t any fun anymore. Do you know how many times I’ve been her? And how much that hurts? You’ve just got to get over it, for everyone else. You’re wallowing. You’re dwelling. You’re bringing us down.
We sat in the diner, the five of us. I watched the breakfast patrons syrup up their carbohydrates, sugar up their caffeine, vodka up their tomato juice. I didn’t say anything. I watched Jimmy roll out of the back seat and stumble to the back of the car and heave over while everyone laughed shaking their heads at him because that was typical. That was so Jimmy. Amy started talking about doing a dine and dash. Amy was always talking about doing a dine and dash. I could quote the conversation about to take place as they all used too much sugar and cream and thought they were being clever, that the waitress never heard any of it before. “I’m sorry.” I said to her, kind of under my breath. She smiled and nodded. She didn’t care. She had to be there anyway.
He was sitting at the end of the counter. There was a motorcycle in the parking lot and two really cool cars. I figured one of the three belonged to him. He had that look about him, loner guy, like he would understand and all those things I read in books about loner guy. But then I thought, what would we do, me and loner guy? We’d get drunk or stoned and we’d have sex until he figured out that I was just no fun anymore. Or maybe he was one of those healthy loner guys. Maybe he would get me to exercise, quit drinking, get clean, and change my life. We’d do tai-chi on the beach at sunrise each day, then go for a jog with our dogs. We’d sit on the deck with our friends in the evening drinking mineral water with lemon wedges or cucumber slices in it, somehow be wealthy instead of me watching Derrick fish around in his pocket for the money that wasn’t in his wallet. Amy thought it would be funny to leave a Monopoly money tip again, play-doh.
“He’s no different from any of us.” Derrick snorted, nodding in the direction of loner guy. “I don’t know why you sit there and do that to yourself. That grass ain’t no greener.” He shook his head at me.
We’d broken up a long time ago. Derrick was going through his “none of it matters so be here now” phase, and was perpetually irritated with all the things that I knew better about and could thus no longer fully enjoy. He once he said he’d like to kill the fucker that ruined cigarettes for me. I think he hoped I’d get over it all and just do what I wanted but I had all that knowledge rolling around in my head. He was a proponent of “ignorance is bliss” and we’d had that argument enough times to stay away from it.
Ignorance isn’t bliss. It was like they didn’t understand the pain and it isn’t like I thought my pain was special but maybe just some understanding, you know? Like loner guy was going to wrap his hand around mine and instead of all this bullshit about doing these things in the name of having “a good time,” loner guy would get that, nah, we’re just trying to kill the pain for a while. In that maybe I could feel safe somehow, or loved, or like I wasn’t the freak girl who just wasn’t any fun anymore. Like loner guy would look out on the world with me and say, “You want to go self-medicate for a while?” Maybe then it would be okay and I wouldn’t want to anymore. Maybe I wouldn’t feel like I had to, to make everyone else happy or comfortable or feel like it was okay that they were, or whatever it was and that all the things that I knew about the world, that loner guy knew them too, and understood the same way that I did.
“She thinks she’s better than us. That’s her problem.” Amy had taken to drinking her coffee black but with enough sugar in it to literally make the spoon stand up. She never ate anything. I swear to you she never touched food and I have no idea what was keeping her alive but that’s how it is when you’re young, you don’t realize until you’re older that if you’d taken care of your body when you were young, you really might could live to be well over a hundred. Amy knew how to have fun. Amy didn’t give a shit, except that she did. She cared. She was in love with Derrick and they’d had some understanding behind my back that I couldn’t understand because I’m just no fun. She was in love with Jimmy too. Jimmy was the closest thing to anyone who understood it all at all and that made me want to save him. Sometimes I think that was why I was still around.
One of these days I was going to talk to loner guy, or he was going to talk to me. He’d say something cool like, “You want to go?” and I would just go with him. Or he wouldn’t say anything at all, he’d just hold out his hand to me and I’d put my hand in his and go with him and it would all be okay.
Jimmy stumbled in, sat down across from me, took Amy’s coffee and drank all of it. He lit a cigarette, looked at loner guy and then back at me, smiled through his swirling cigarette smoke. “See that van out there with no back windows? That’s what Studly Muffins there was getting out of when we pulled up.”
Everyone started laughing. I laughed too, nodding my head.
“You’re an asshole, Jimmy.” I said, still smiling.
“Yep. You’re our no fun girl, deal with it.” Jimmy drank my coffee too. It didn’t look like the waitress was coming back.
We left a five-hundred-dollar tip.
To speak of The Muse is to speak of The Ethereal, The Inspired.
The walls shook with the sound of cascading thunder, the windows vibrating in their frames. In a burst of light, the panes became liquid beneath my finger tips, I watched the circles fan away from my touch in circle after circle become a wave on some distant shore in a place, I’d never been before but held within my mind’s eye a shore golden, untainted and warm.
“Sit on the floor. Low, in front of the big picture window.” She turned off the lights and opened the curtains on the night. We watched the show of the gods churning the heavens to make diamonds fall in a steady rhythm that the earth absorbed into herself, every impact, drinking deep. I kept thinking, When did the panes of glass become liquid? Was it always so, and I simply had not noticed it before? Certainly it had not happened at that very moment.
Imagination, the idea that reality is pliable… I’ve used it to make myself invisible, invincible, to disappear into the branches of a tall tree. I’ve used it to grow wings to fly in dreams, rip reality away at the seems, to open those curtains on the night, over and over again. I’ve used it to hide in the shadows and escape, on a breeze. I’ve used it to slip through walls. But I wonder, can I use it, to tell you what it is?
I think, most of us, don’t like to share our Muse, or what the muse is to us, because the muse is everything. The Muse gets you there. Spark, the light you follow through the darkness, you hope, you hope, I hope. Ah…because it can be so easy , if you don’t know your way around, to think a Siren is a Muse. But that’s part of it, that maybe, maybe you don’t know your way around, maybe. You want that Muse who is going to guide you through, but in part of the beating of every heart that gives chase is the possibility of being taken down, but the hope to be saved. Hoping to awaken on the other side with the happy glow of a good dream. Because we must become completely enthralled with our Muse, trust, it is the nature of the relationship or we would not follow, because, where did she, or he, go? And all those things along the way, are part of the story. It wouldn’t be much good to follow ones muse to get the story and not make it out the other side to tell the tale, or paint the picture or take the picture or write the song, compose the music. How many different ways, different things and kinds of things, do we create? Sirens lead to shipwrecks, and Muses sometimes do too, but the intention of the muse is different. A good Muse can sustain life, when there is seemingly very little to sustain it from.
Fascination, inspiration, curiosity? Love, hate, hope, faith, belief, disbelief, wonder, awe…all of it. I’ve come to believe it is one of the most intimate relationships a person can engage in, that of the creative person and the Muse, a sacred bond. Inspiration and Imagination. The Muse is one and creates the spark of the other.
But what if you don’t get the happy glow of a good dream?
What were you looking for?
Well, you were poking around in the dark, weren’t you?
When we think about muses, typically, I think, what is thought of is the male artist, of whatever art form, and a female muse. Sort of the romantic standard, in the simplest terms. Muses hide everywhere, take all forms, male, female, mystical creature, shadow, and to be more specific than that might taint it for those of us who understand it and need our muse, or muses, or heroes, intact. Inspiration might come from the most mundane of things. I’ve heard, read, some people who say that they have one specific thing that works for them, I wonder if I envy that? Those who have a go to thing that always works for them to get the creative juices flowing, the sweet spot, as it were. Most of us use music, a lot, powerful mood changer, think of all the movies you’ve seen that wouldn’t be what they are without the soundtrack. There are certain pieces of music that I have relied on over the years that I know I can count on to help get me into the state of mind that I need to be in to set down at the keys and really fly. But those are like my secret potions and I’m superstitious. Not, don’t walk under a ladder superstitious, that’s just common sense, but deeply, in ways that I feel as protective about as, my Muse.
Women, female artists, creators, we have muses too, and, let it be said, finally, though certainly others have said it, not all male artists have female muses, and not all female artists have male muses. In terms of physical manifestations of such, for me, a male muse and monogamy as in a person of affection, or usually one muse in particular, and I think of the relationship, imagine it, in those terms, that works, for me, because it is an intimate relationship. Though certainly most anything can spark the imagination, to each their own. The most passive Muse is not at all passive, the model who sits still and never utters a word is but the all powerful source of the divine breath that sets the writer, artist, musician to work. There are those who never touch their muse, who would never think of her, or him, that way, the angelic Muse, the virgin Muse. Those who hold their muse apart from all else. Most are fiercely protective and possessive of their muse or muses, because as much as this sounds like it is about love, and it most certainly is, it is about the work, and the ability to work and create, it is about coveted sources of the ethereal. A wayward muse has devastated many an artist. The Muse relationship is nothing less than a force of nature. And not to be confused with that of benefactor, or that of those blessed souls who are not artisans themselves but endeavor to hold up the world for those who are, while the writer or artist disappears into the depths of self-expression for the sake of said art. I wonder too, if the online world, and what can only be called…what shall we call it…soft core voyeurism? hasn’t polluted the muse relationship some, with a lack of privacy afforded the artist and physically present muse who can draw those curtains on the night, shut out the world, to find it, but there is inspiration in that too. How many muses there must be who do not know that they are muses.
My Muse has to be able to get into it, the nitty-gritty of life, and understand it, because it’s the only way he can help me escape it and get me to where I need to go, where the moon turns into a glowing bead in my palm, and unfolds itself enough for me to see all the little moon creatures waiting to hatch through the iridescent membrane into the sky, and I tell you, that is how stars are born. I do tend to choose a Muse who knows his way around. My Muse also has to be able to kill monsters because I do that and I get myself into those places in my head and I can’t be having someone running for the door or hanging on my skirt when there’s a room to cut through. I am going in there, and my Muse knows the way, even if the way is to pretend to know the way, at first, until one does.
Muses are individual, personal, belonging to someone, that is part of what makes a good muse so valuable. You might think you are sharing a muse, and really only be watching the muse of another. A muse can be the fur coat that turns into the animal that it was, slides down off the hanger and leads you through the back streets for a night to some discovery at dawn. It can be a place, a sound, a feeling, a moment. For many the wonder and beauty of nature is enough to captivate them for a lifetime. But it’s personal, all of it is so completely personal. Sometimes I’ve thought that those of us who create, that we look for this everywhere, this spark, this inspiration and have realized, those are the tough times somehow, strung out maybe, because it’s so much better somehow when you begin to simply see it, when it comes for you in wonder over and over again, renewing itself with each breath. The world is changed, altered through the scope of that lens.
I’m soft pedaling this though because, I don’t want to wake up from the dream. The longer I can stay in the dream, sustained there, time stands still and the more I can write, creating other worlds that someone else might find their way in. It’s important, that state of mind, as important as actual sleep and in the same way that we don’t like to be woken from our beds when we are in the middle of something good, so it is for many of us who create. To understand that, is golden. That is also where all of the stories of writers and artists who are ‘just weird’ develop. How much more interesting the universe becomes when we fully embrace that which inspires us, what gets us there, what takes us there. It is love, and it is more.
The Muse is everything, true love, and it is even more than that.
Fitzgerald, Eliot and Joyce
The 10 Most Influential Artist’s Muses
The 10 Most Famous Muses
20 of Art Histories Greatest Muses
Famous Songs and The Muses Who Inspired Them
Top 10 Rock Muses
Elizabeth Gilbert on Inspiration
So I get dressed, put on my make up, straight seams on the stockings because I’m old enough, I know how to do this. Get carded at the liquor store on the way, which at this point means the cashier is either way younger than me, way older than me, just doing their job for benefit of the camera or, flirting with me. The last option of which I’d like to believe but usually don’t most of the time anymore, because, I’m old enough, I know how to do this. But then, I think, take it if you can get it, and dutifully hand over my driver’s license with a very direct look and nary a hint of blushing saying the obligatory, “Wow, thanks.” Note to self, You just used the word ‘nary’ in a sentence.
I hope the cashier is smart enough not to say, “Oh, just doing my job.” Because the truth is, in the right light, with my sunglasses on, on my best day…No…I don’t look like I’m under twenty-one anymore. But the truth about that is, when they say, “Oh it’s the camera’s, I have to…” which is a kind of self-defense on their part, “Hey, lady I am not flirting with you.” I don’t take that particularly personally either. I know I’m an attractive woman. Though sometimes, I do think, it’s like some kind of strange Orwellian mess of voyeurism with some snickering spy in a back room making sure all the employees do what they have to do, for the camera. The money shot. The driver’s license. A moment of flirting between two strangers viewed by the manager whilst deep in a Big Gulp and half way through a… Snickers.
How very chaste.
I don’t know why I’m even buying alcohol. That’s a lie. I don’t even really like it all that much. That’s the truth. But all those other things, read for medicinal purposes, well, no one does them much anymore because gainful employment is important. The 80’s were good for that, for all those other things. I am reminded, briefly, of the first time I ever purchased alcohol and didn’t get carded. Sixteen years old, cigarette in my hand, bottle of Thunderbird because it was really for a bunch of guys I knew who had pooled their change. I think about that, look closer at my purchase, really then, just want to go home. But, not alone, and so, on to the party. Which is not to say that’s why I’m going to the party, not at all. That would be presumptuous and I think we’ve previously discussed assumptions and what they do to you and me.
The party is the usual. Even though that usual is dependent on many socio-demographic factors, none of them relevant here. There is the prerequisite bounce and giggle crew of mid to late twenty somethings, spilling drinks. They will all find rides home if they want them. They think “Twilight” is the second coming, boob jobs are just a matter of when, and already I’ve said too much and wonder if everyone will think I’m a raging conservative if I say anything that isn’t politically correct. Because in their world it has to be one or the other, doesn’t it? We couldn’t possibly think for ourselves and refuse to be classified as… I’ve said too much.
I go into the bathroom and do that thing you’re not supposed to do as a woman, as a writer, as a human being, I look in the mirror. I’m not checking my make-up, like I said, I know how to do this, my make-up is perfect, water-proof and everything it needs to be. I re-apply the very grown up red lipstick, but not that orangey red that ages women my age. No, it’s the perfect red, the kind of red that looks tarty on younger women, and certainly that has its’ merits, but finally, just perfect, on me. In my purse a Derringer. Because a twenty-two caliber bullet will roll around in there and mess you up and me love you long time. A pocket knife, really for cutting tags off of things that can’t wait until I get home to cut the tags off them, kids shoes, hats bought at mini-marts, assorted redneck goodness. Really I’m justifying because the truth is, I’m the kind of girl who turned into the kind of woman who has a knife in her purse and a pair of flat shoes in the car.
Dumb it down, tone it down, chill it out, because it’s a party and no one cares. That’s why liquor stores exist. Why did you wear the garter and silk stockings if you were just going to show up and ruin everything with your brain? If you were really smart you’d keep it to yourself. I could cry, but I don’t.
Back to the party.
The bounce and giggle crew is doing their thing and there’s no competing with the super savvy politically correct girl whose intelligence supersedes her emotions in all things. She’s holding court in the corner. Her sparkling wit laying waste to the those looking for affirmation that we are all intelligent, charming, wonderful beings. She assures them that they are. Some of them would die for her forever after and really, who can blame them. Perhaps we are wonderful, and though I don’t know that I was ever that sparkling, I’ve believed that too. We are all joy. Still, I’ve never quite been able to get my noggin around how they do it, those ones. How they effortlessly ride the waves of ever-changing everything with nary, there’s that word again, a ruffle of their feathers at all. The true social butterflies of the world, people love them. You will not ever find any over turned apple carts in their wake or burning bridges behind them. I have matches, and a Zippo lighter set on Napalm in my purse and I don’t smoke cigarettes anymore. I can’t help it, just in case. I begrudge her nothing. Nor would I take anything away from the bounce and giggle crew. I see right through them and I suspect, some of them see right through me. We all serve our archetypal purpose and that’s certainly better than a stereotypical one, maybe. Anyway you look at it, it’s a masquerade ball.
No, not really, not at all, that’s the point. I should be and I ‘m not and I know it.
I’d probably be doing better if I was, jaded, that is. But I still believe and want to believe and all that, only I’ve got to hide it now, because that makes me an open wound around sharks, and I know that too.
I’m looking for what used to be that guy, then was that dude and now is that man. I’m looking for him.
I don’t know why I’m looking for him because I know where he is. He is where he always is and where I always end up at a party, on the edge of it. He’s outside, on the patio or the balcony or if there is no outside he’s in the corner of the room either by himself of with just a few people around him and by few, I mean, maybe one or two. It’s not romantic. He’s not the love interest, he’s not the hero. That would be too easy and doesn’t ever really work, on paper, or in real life. He’s the guy who’s rolling something that will make the party tolerable and me, perhaps palatable to the coolest guy in the room, who is the guy, the man, I, inevitably, am with. I don’t know why it’s that way, it just is. It always has been and will be. Once or twice they have been one and the same, the guy rolling and the coolest dude at the party, but that’s really rare, and maybe a dream come true when it happens because, that can work, that’s why it’s so rare. And here I say to myself, at what age do they stop being the “coolest dude” and become…yeah, saying the “coolest man” in the room, does that work? He was the coolest man in the room. Does that read too noir? ( Because it isn’t, not really.)
So that dude understands some things about the world, the man who is rolling something, and I sit down. It’s weird because it’s the few people at the party I could probably have all those conversations with that get me into trouble with every other clique at the party but no one says anything. After awhile the coolest man in the room, he finds his way outside too. By then I’ve squinted my vision enough, looking through the slider, that most of the party guests are only two feet tall. The Chex Mix is crawling with flies rising up to eat the party guests and the walls are bleeding in the glow of the tea lights and chic atmospheric oil lamps of our gracious hostess who has long since been tucked into her own bed, all the purses and jackets pushed aside, because she had never tried Goldschlager before. There’s a monster made of dust bunnies, a lost phone charger, two saltines and a lone fuzzy slipper, hiding under her bed. My purse and jacket stay with me.
I brought the Goldschlager.
I’m glad I’m outside.
The Coolest Man in the Room sits down, participates, he’s welcome everywhere, and he says to me, “What are you doing?”
I squint more, and smile, “Killing everyone.”
The Man Who Is Rolling Things makes a noise that lets me know he does not respect or support this decision. A waste of my intelligence, talent, time, something.
The Coolest Man in the Room kind of nudges the side of my foot under the table and says, “Cool.”
I look at him.
On the way to my place he’s all smoldering cooler than cool and I’m all nervous wreck wondering how long it will be before my facade collapses into reckless chatter. I like the way his hands are on my steering wheel. I like the radio station he listens to. I think to myself, Well, he must like me because he could have gone home with anyone.(After all, he’s the coolest man in the room.) And realize that’s the easy part, that’s the obvious. I don’t know if I can do it, let someone in. Like every time before, I understand what it means for me if I don’t dig down deep and find my guts. Maybe next time I’ll have someone to stay home from the party with, because that’s the sweet time, isn’t it? Does that time ever last? Maybe next time I’ll have someone to go to the party with who… Who what ? I wonder how long his list is and is it fair to have a list or is that just something we create to try to keep it from happening again? Falling in love? I decide to let him in.
Maybe he’ll stay. Maybe he won’t.
“You’re awful quiet.” He says, not awkward. He’s flirting, a side-long glance.
“I’m even worse when I’m not.” I close my eyes, realize, I’ve said too much.
Note: From the character’s perspective?
( When I was younger I’d be really insulted if my intelligence wasn’t as appreciated as some of my other attributes. Now, it’s like…You still think I’m good-looking enough not to care what I think? ~ But there’s still the want to explain the intended ambiguity of things like the comment in this story about Fox News in terms of what her politics are or aren’t because people are so quick to…..Yeah, they’re real silk. Well, if you get the size that fits then the seams don’t slide as much, but you have to position the fasteners……)
She held her skirt up like she was about to curtsy, trying to keep the edges of it from getting muddy. The tall grass scraped her legs. It swished and snapped under their feet like dry waves. He tilted his head back, howled, chugged at the strawberry wine.
“How can you drink this?” He said. He wiped his mouth and pulled a pint of Jack from his back pocket.
“Give me my wine.” She took a long swig. “It tastes better on me.” She giggled.
“Does it? Really?” He grabbed her around the waist, swung her around, kissed her deep. Someone howled from the trees. “Who do you think it is?” He laughed.
“I bet its Willie and Slim. What do you want to bet?” She chewed on her bottom lip, a habit she’d picked up when she’d worn braces in junior high and hadn’t grown out of. “I’ll bet, that you can get me in the back seat, all to ourselves, if it’s them.”
“One of them can drive us home? You gonna take your shirt all the way off this time?” He pulled at where she had her shirt tied in a knot about her belly-button. She frowned. “I’m teasing. I would never let them see you.” He said.
“Why dontcha just do it right there! Holy shit, you two are pathetic.” Willie took giant steps through the grass, trying to raise his legs high enough to step over the tops of it, a bottle of Jim Beam pressed vertical to his lips.
A long scream spilled through the space between them. It sounded female. Then the quiet was too quiet.
“You guys?” Slim said. Willie was already shaking his head ‘no’ before he could finish the question.
“There’s nobody with us.” Gary said.
“I don’t like this.” Penny clung to Gary’s neck, his arm around her waist.
“It’s gotta be somebody we know, right?” Slim took the Jim Bean from Willie. “Right?”
“Let’s go see!” Gary started for the trees.
“No! Gary, please, no. Please take me home, please. I don’t want to go out there. Let’s don’t go out there.” Penny said. She made her eyes extra big at him. Another scream split the clearing at the edge of the trees.
“This is creeping me out.” Slim looked around. It was fading daylight where they were standing next to the water. It was where the grass waved and faded into the tree line that it was already dark as pitch.
“Yeah, man, let’s go. You can’t see shit out there anyway. We parked next to you guys. We’ll race you back to town.” Willie tugged at the bottle again.
“Hey! I said, Hey, out there! Come on out and show yourself!” Gary yelled.
“Yeah! Come on out, ya chicken shits!” Willie called out too.
“Man, that’s balls.” Slim said.
Something moved in and around past their legs in the grass like a snake in the water. They took off running, dropping the bottles into the rustling, unmowed, surf. Gary held Penny’s hand so tightly that he fell with her when her skirt got wrapped around her legs. He put his hand over her mouth so she wouldn’t scream. Slim was screaming. A sound like a branch cracking came from somewhere in front of them. Slim started shouting, “My arm! My arm!”
“Ssshhh.” Gary whispered in her ear. He slipped his pocket knife out, opening it with one hand. Something grabbed her foot.
“Nooo.” She cried. Gary hung onto her.
“Gotcha!” Jimmy Gentry hooted and hollered. “You guys can come back out!” He said.
“Jimmy, I hate you.” Penny said, mad tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Are you all right?” Gary looked her over. “I ought to kick your ass, Jimmy.”
“Ah, you’re so bullshit. Couple of fraidy-cats. There ain’t nothing out here but me and my dog and those knuckleheads you call friends.” Jimmy reached out and shoved Gary’s shoulder.
“When we get back to town, your ass is mine. Don’t you forget it, man. Come on, Penny.” Gary took Penny by the hand and started for the canal, where they always parked the cars on the levee.
“Hey, man! Sorry!” Willie stood up in the grass, laughing. Gary ignored him. “Hey, seriously, man, I need a ride back in. Slim has to pick up his sister at the DQ.” Willie scrambled to catch up with them.
Gary didn’t tell him yes, or no, didn’t stop him from getting into the backseat. Penny locked her door. She pulled he knees up to her chest under her skirt, still shaking. Gary started the car. The headlights kicked on, illuminating the gravel road. Jimmy Gentry stood about ten feet in front of the car, what looked like a machete stuck deep into his shoulder. His head flopped too far in the other direction, looking like it was hanging there by the skin.
“Oh, my God, oh my God. Oh, my God.” Penny chanted through her fingers.
“Just go, man. Just go. GO!” Willie pounded on the back of the seat.
“There’s no way around him.” The road was too narrow, on either side there was water. “There’s nowhere to go.” Gary pushed in the clutch, dropped it into gear and floored it.
Penny never stopped screaming.
Teri Skultety, 2012