What? It’s not a book.

Very few people know about this, but I’m working on a…well, let’s just call it a “thing,” because I’m not sure what it’s going to be. I hate saying “I’m writing a book!” because

a) There’s always a 5% chance of me actually finishing it and being okay with the thing to the point that I’d want the public consuming it.
b) It just sounds kind of dopey when I hear myself say “I’m writing a book.” Like who the heck am I? Stephen King? That lady that wrote “The Help?” Certainly not.
c) I’ve started this same “bookything” probably four or five times and it always ends after two chapters – which, oddly enough is how far I’ve gotten into it this time before losing my way, getting distracted, and generally going “Um…what am I doing again?”

So you see, I’m not writing a book. But I have this thing I’m working on. For now, it’s called “A Cormorant Line.”

Right now, ACL (as it shall lovingly be referred to from here on) is in its infancy, and it pretty much reads like it. Like a babbling, aimless toddler who doesn’t know how to tie their own shoes or feed themselves. Okay, maybe not that bad, but when you’re a writer, your job is basically to hate everything you create until you finally get to something that is “Eh…good enough.” That’s usually when you have something on your hands that someone might want to read or – gasp! – might even like reading. But even then, the whole time you know someone has your work on their hands or before their eyes, you’re all sweaty palms and darty eyes and paranoia until they look at you and squeal “I loooooove it!” And when you don’t get that reaction, you’re apt to question everything about your writing, to go back and re-read everything you’ve ever written (starting with the really crappy elementary school exposition and high school lovelorn poetry and moving upward from that ridiculous low). You criticize and break yourself down, ask yourself “GOD, how did you get to be SUCH a crappy writer?!” and theorize that everyone you know is actually laughing at every period with which you punctuate the drivel that flows forth from your twisted and inept mind. For all my writer friends…amirite? Let’s all say a prayer for that meme, because I just killed it. Not in a good way.

I should also say that someone cautioned me against giving away too much of the story, lest someone steal my idea and run off into New York Times bestseller land with it. I don’t see that happening. It would be something akin to reaching into my underwear drawer and grabbing the dingiest, stretched-out, post-baby granny panties and then hanging them on your clothesline. Why would you ever want this mess?

So anyhow. This ACL thing has been kind of a work in progress and an impossibility all at once because here’s the premise in a few snippets – not in its entirety, because again, I’m really not that far into the thing and I’m still in that stage of going “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” (Stimpy, you eeeediot!) Did everyone get the 90s reference there? Moving on.

  • ACL is based upon/inspired by a series of poems and letters written by my late grandfather while he was in Europe during World War II and for years thereafter. I have the originals now and they are kept under lock and key in a lead-lined basement 40 feet below ground. Okay, that’s kind of a lie. Let’s just say I’m really protective of them, though. I find the grammatical errors in them kind of charming, but more than that, the stories behind them pulled me in and I wanted to know more. I never knew the man, but let’s just say he is my writerly kindred soul. His words reveal a very emotional and sometimes irrational (but still deeply good) person. I didn’t have to craft this character. He did it all for me, from beyond the grave even. Did I mention I never knew him? Never knew him. He survived D-Day only to suffer a massive heart attack that ended in his death sometime during a September night in 1971.
  • ACL is written from an alternating first-person point of view, but always in present tense. It skips around decades. Which is stupid in a way, I know (or at least, could read “stupid” to a lot of folks whom I’d prefer found the darn thing “brilliant”). Like I know some people would read this and be like “WHAT IS SHE DOING?!” I get that, I really do. I’m not sure how I’m going to line them up – it might or might not be in actual chronological order. I need to at least get into a bit more and see how things “flow.” And let’s face it: I’m weird, and this thing is going to be weird. But then again, aren’t most books weird in a way? Isn’t that what lets us relate to them? Except I’ve already said it: this isn’t a book. This isn’t a book (but it could be…). 
  • So chronologically, what you end up with is sort of a bounce-around of several narrators, across several lifetimes – myself and my grandfather included, as well as my late uncle Ric/Rick (more on that later), who passed in 2006. Some of it is based in the years during which my grandfather wrote the pieces which I mentioned before. Some of it is based on the years in which my uncle and my dad were still on good terms, during the last few years of my grandmother’s life (the late 80s), going through Hurricane Hugo, etc, and on into my adult years and how these various things have affected me in the way memories so often do.
  • You find out a lot of new things you feel idiotic for not already having known when you decide to write a book about people in your family – like that my Uncle Rick always spelled his name “Ric.” Who am I to question this? Nobody, that’s who. But still, I’m kind of like “Why the opposition to the K, Ric?” Just a funny thing I’ve picked up thus far. Probably not funny to anyone but me.
  • One challenge I can already see myself having to deal with is that this is a book written by a South Carolinian which will probably appeal greatly to a lot of South Carolinians. Which is weird (oh, more of that!) because I’m not one of the South Carolinians who plasters everything I own in Palmetto trees and state flag stickers and…for the love of God…confederate flags (Bleh! Barf! Meeeeh). A tangent: one of the main reasons I dumped my high school sweet heart was this disgusting, slutty confederate flag bikini that he gave me – no really, to wear, on my person – when I was about 18. I made up some lie about it being too big (because what’s worse than a confederate flag bikini? A confederate flag bikini that is too small) and trashed it. I dumped him shortly after because I just could never, ever get over it. So gross. Couldn’t he have just settled for a Budweiser bikini? A bikini plastered in Playboy Bunnies, even? But anyway, there’s a lot of imagery, locations, events, historical features to the story (what measly amount of it I’ve ill-conceived thus far) that I hope will really appeal to people native to this weird insane asylum/state. Which leads to another issue…
  • I feel the same way about imagery that Charlie Sheen feels about prostitutes and cocaine. Which is to say, I really, really like imagery and I use a lot of it. Like I can get so caught up in these descriptions that suddenly I go back, re-read it, and I’m just flat embarrassed by how heavy the stupid thing gets. The narrative can get clunky, if that makes sense, and I have to stop doing that crap. I have to get picky. I don’t want to treat this thing like the Pittsburgh Steelers fans do with the teams from the 70s and 80s, always recounting “How good the old one was!” and thus getting bogged down in these ornate descriptions of beautiful places that I love, or beautiful people whose tics and eccentricities basically have crafted a lot of these characters for me. I mean, so much of the work is already done in that regard. Which probably makes you go “Sounds like this book is gonna suck!” To which I would say “Why yes, most likely! But it’s not a book yet. But it will probably suck. Go read one of those Twilight books or some Harry Potter or something less weird and with far more commercial appeal, and spare yourself this pain.”
So that’s pretty much all I can say at this point. Or I could post for you this snippet of one of the early chapters, and you can tell me yourself how much work it needs. I won’t disagree with you, for once – scout’s honor.

***

The surface of the lake doesn’t look like a lake, but rather a sea. Too choppy, too grey.

If you couldn’t see the houses in the distance, the smoke plumes coming from the Santee stacks , or the lapping waves at the edge of the dam, then that’s where you’d think you were. Lost at sea. But it’s a shallow sea, dotted with rolling catfish exposing their yellow bellies. They tease avid fisherman who venture out here before the dawn, with thermoses full of coffee, zipper bags of sandwiches, buckets of cut bait, and wire baskets loaded with chirping crickets. By the end of the day, all you have left is the rolling lake-sea, the sunburned skin, the putrid scent of rotting cut bait, empty bags and stomachs, and the symphony of the crickets that escaped the cage.

It’s a sea that sparkles blue-grey in the morning, black before sunset. It’s surface is broken by a thousand jutting tree trunks, with a few old telephone poles that seem to ask the question of whether anyone from the first World War is even still alive here in Clarendon County. Anyone from my grandfather’s generation. This was land he walked before the New Deal, not water. These facts lie a mere 40 feet or so under the water – deep enough to keep them well-hidden, but shallow enough that anyone who really wanted to look could find something. Farmland. Road beds. Graveyards.

And that’s how we came to be here.

***
I can jabber on this stupid blog all day long, but when it comes to writing something that really means this much to me, I feel simultaneously like a wimp and a fraud. Who am I to tell this story? Who am I to speak for voices silenced by time? All I can do it offer this up to the God who gave me a pen (err…laptop) and too much imagination and say to him “God, please help this not suck. And if you could, get my grandad to send me some inspiration.” I think it might work out, but I won’t know any time soon.

He’s already made a difference.

Yesterday was my 28th birthday, but as many of you know, after about age 21 the birthdays get a whole lot less exciting. Well, there was that pause at age 25 when I recognized that I had no reached the insurance age of accountability, when my plan would start to cost less. But other than that, it’s pretty much a “meh” affair most years. That said, I think birthdays should be celebrated in that, hey, you’ve made it another year right? That’s good. If I make it to 100, my plan is to throw an enormous party and brag a whole lot. Probably won’t happen, but it’s nice to plan ahead. So yeah. I’m 28. Big whoop. ;-D That said, it was a wonderful birthday and I enjoyed it. Jonathan and I both got new phones (for free!), and we finally replaced the broken CD player in my car. Turns out the broken CD player had some sort of short that had been drawing power and causing the battery to die – who knew that could happen? Not this girl (not really good with car electronics, it turns out). We went out for a great date night Saturday, and overall it was just a nice, relaxing birthday weekend. Couldn’t ask for more.

Anyhow, I realized something this past weekend about my little guy, and it sort of choked me up. Russ isn’t even 18 months old yet, but he is already making a difference. Russ’s work is in the way he communicates with other people and brings a smile to their faces. Granted, it helps that he’s little and toddlerish and adorable. It makes it that much easier for him to get by with being social to an extent that would just seem awkward and creepy in an adult.

On any given excursion – be it to the post office, grocery store, the gym, the park, anyway – Russ is talking t people.

“HEY!” he yells, smiling and waving like he’s SO happy to see them. He doesn’t even know these people, but he acts like he’s so excited to see them. It’s so precious. It also scares me a little inside. Like is he going to get at some point that you can’t just automatically trust people, and that you don’t talk to strangers, etc.? Until that point of understanding comes, I’m going to have to really keep my eye on him. What’s really funny is when someone wants to be the cool guy and just ignore him. Russ will not have that. In those cases, he yells “Hey! Hey! HEY!” over and over, while smiling even bigger and waving even more enthusiastically.

Russ blows kisses, too. In the past week alone, he’s probably blown about 200 kisses – to the cashier at Publix, the mailman, the FedEx delivery guy, the entire staff at the Verizon store (who showered him in balloons, of course), and even to a dump truck driver who was next to us at a stoplight. Do you remember any time in your life when you loved the world this much, that you just blew kisses and sent out love to everyone, whether you knew them or not? It’s incredible. It brings tears to my eyes. This little boy is such an amazing person because this world hasn’t messed him up yet. I haven’t messed him up yet. Reality hasn’t gotten to him yet. He’s all about it right now, and I keep thinking to myself “I am definitely going to miss this.” This point in time is so beautiful because Russ’s life is so basic and so uncomplicated and so…just innocent.

When we have kids, we think about all the things WE have to teach them, but Russ is teaching me so much stuff that I really need to learn. We all need to learn this. While I would struggle not to flip the bird at someone who cuts me off in traffic, Russ’s first instinct is to run up and give them a high five and a little dance or a couple excited jumps in the air. Where do kids get this stuff? I can only assume it’s a God thing. A complete purity when it comes to being contaminated by all the nastiness and hate in this world. I’m a part of that nastiness – we all are in some way or another. But boy…this kid sure makes me want to get better.

Statistically, the 20 or 30 people Russ yells “Hey!” at, blows kisses to, or high fives in the grocery store come from a lot of sad walks of life. Statisically speaking, one of them has probably battled cancer. One of them has probably been abused or neglected in some way. At least one of them has probably been assaulted or raped. Many of them are probably struggling financially. Some of them might be struggling mentally or emotionally. God…when you think about all the hurt in this world is when it really starts to overwhelm me. What if that smile from my little guy is the only one they’ve seen today?

That is freaking powerful stuff. Notice these things our children do. They don’t last forever. This world will get to them – in a way that’s pretty normal and pretty typical, one can hope. But they won’t keep blowing kisses to everyone they see forever.

In ten years, he’ll be all about rolling his eyes and getting his voice to stop cracking. Right now he’s little and sweet, and he wants to say hello to everyone and blow them a kiss.

Yep. I’m gonna miss this.