This all started when Cooley decided to drown his sorrows in gin. He had broken his own heart — taken it out of his chest, held it out for a dame, and then pulled it out of shape in front of her when she sneered at it. After witnessing these two months of vulnerable stupidity and stupid vulnerability, a friend recommended they go out for an evening of classy cocktailing. In the darkness of a speakeasy, the kind with a hidden door, no windows and a high risk of splinters from the bar, he finally felt at peace. His heart still hurt, but the four martinis and club chanteuse’s rendition of “Glad Rag Doll” numbed it so it could start to mend.
On this American holiday of Thanksgiving, I find myself with a lot to be grateful for this year. I hit a number of writing milestones that I didn’t necessarily expect: my short story Septimus is in an anthology of emerging Illinois writers; I finished and submitted my first manuscript to an agent; TZLA agreed to represent me and my book, Omaha; and I received my first rejection from a publisher.
A lot of changes came this year, too. New job, new apartment. The Man with Time on His Arm started off as a couple of dates in December 2017 and January to become a solid part of my life — not a muse, but a partner in shenanigans (I ate oysters for the first time!). I finally let go of some of the regret I was keeping around under the guise of “for my writing and my humility” despite not being good for either.
But what I’m most thankful for is having another year to create, and this week I got started by reaching out to my friend Cody:
“2019 is going to be the year I think we should start actually creating the crazy shit we conceptualize over boozy brunches,” I wrote, fully sober at my desk in corporate America. “I just saw a comic called Exorsisters and was like ‘that seems weird enough for Cody and I to have come up with at the Bongo Room,’ the only difference being that someone actually made it instead of laughed over it while wolfing down a sidecar pancake.”
Look up “writer quotes” and you’ll find an abundance of advice telling you to just write. Or, as my new favorite Dorothy Parker would say, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” Sometimes you just need to start creating instead of waiting for the idea to be perfectly clear — or already brought to life by someone else.
I kind of wish Frankenstein’s monster had been missing a finger or something when the good doctor brought him to life: It would have been a better metaphor for writing if Victor had just said “Eh, we’ll get him a new thumb eventually.” Ideas don’t have to be whole for you to start working them — that’s the very point of National Novel Writing Month.
So I’m thankful for the progress I made in 2018, but I’m even more excited for what half-formed monsters I bring to life over the next 365 days.
My playlist-prodigy friend Hannah Burkett sent me the link to “Snow Girl” by Staygold on Monday with the simple message, “I’m OBSESSED with this song.” Seeing as she’s the reason I listen to about 37 percent of the music I do (rough estimate), I tuned in.
Seriously, I don’t think I’ve stopped listening to it since that first play. The song came into my life at a perfect time. Right now in Nobody’s Hero, my main character has a come-to-Jesus meeting with the only other person in on her secret when he gets tired of her making decisions without taking him into account.
“So selfish, can’t help it, I know,” Staygold’s song says. “I should think of myself / ‘cuz you never ever thought about me…Acting like I am emotional / wonder why I should stay when I know you won’t change / only happy when you’re in control / you’re always getting your way.”
I know how the argument has to end, but this song just put me in the mood to write a good confrontation.
Lester Ranovich hated working the custodial dayshift — not based on the work, which was easier than nightshift cleaning, but because of the way the fancy people at the fancy 111 East building would either be over-friendly or pretend he didn’t exist. The latter was what he preferred, honestly. He knew that none of these designer suit-clad desk jockeys were remotely interested in how his weekend was or how he was doing.
Sometimes he liked to play a game to see if they were paying attention. “How are you?” he’d ask. “Fine, you?” they would always fire back. Always replying to a question with the same question and hoping they’d get the same answer back, “Fine,” and then move on. But this was when he’d get tricky. His granddaughter had just gotten a dictionary for her birthday, and every night after dinner they’d pore over it looking for a word for the next day that they would each have to use in conversation. She was 10. He was nearing 63. Both took immense joy from the challenge.
Today’s word: “Splendiferous: extraordinarily or showily impressive.”
So whenever anyone asked how he was doing, he would answer with “Splendiferous.” Depending on the word, he either came off as the harbinger of morbidity or just a crazy old loon.
The sculpture garden had exactly seven lifesize clay statues, donated to the gala by a nephew of one of the board of directors. His name was Matthew Gimley Solomon IV — a curse of a name handed down from grandfather to father to son to grandson — but the underground art world knew him better as Epsom. It was a little science joke he had created when he learned his initials, MgSO4, were also the formula for magnesium sulfate, better known as epsom salts.
It wasn’t that his work for the Gladstone Gala sculpture garden was particularly good. All seven statues were of humanoid creatures — an angel, a demon, a little girl, a little boy, a sorcerer, an archer, and an oracle carved from stone and each possessing a single rusted-metal feature — and while they demonstrated his talent for sculpture, they didn’t showcase any of the creative spirit he put into his other work, which was too avant-garde for this crowd. The board wanted to show open-mindedness by spotlighting the work of a one-name artist but not alienate their more traditional — and generous — donors, so while they allowed Epsom to go by his art name, they asked that he refrain from his usual melting-wax statues of screaming refugee children or towering spires made of tarnished wristwatches with broken glass faces.
Matthew Gimley Solomon IV had put up a fight for appearances sake before publicly acknowledging that in the spirit of hope and healing, he would be creating something “new and fresh for the gala that aligned with the foundation’s values and hope for a better world.” What he really did was go into the old storage unit he rented for unwanted work and taken a feather duster to a seven-piece collection he completed in his second year at art school. Some repairs should have been made to the metal embellishments, as a couple pieces had submitted to time and rust to loosen from their clay holds, but Epsom couldn’t be bothered. A bitter taste flooded his mouth as he remembered how the professor had given him a passing grade with a neon yellow post-it note that read “Great technique, but no heart.” On the upside, those five words had inspired him to make his work all heart, with very little technique. On the downside, that approach had gotten him kicked out of the school.
Epsom had refused to attend the gala, insisting that he had another appearance priorly arranged. He was present for the installation of his seven clay-and-metal creatures but left under the cover of a hoodie and jogging pants before the guests had arrived. The only appearance he had to make that night was a date with a former Calvin Klein underwear model at his penthouse where there was always a bottle of Moet in the fridge and box of condoms in the nightstand drawer.
So he had no idea that his mediocre art school project was about to become the focal point of a vigilante-villain showdown.
When your book’s hero goes by the monacre “Nightfire” and can spark flames using the flint in the heel of her shoe, “Arsonist’s Lullaby” becomes a must-have on the writing playlist.
Then again, all of Hozier’s work is writing-appropriate. Try “Nina Cried Power” if you need an uplifting cry later before penning your pledge to the resistance.
I’m writing this on top of a door that’s now a table wrapped around a pillar.
There’s a metal plate with a spot for a doorknob and keyhole to my right, a couple nasty scratches to my left, and a latte with honey and cayenne pepper just behind my tablet. Someone with my name just ordered a slow-drip coffee, and I could hear the barista call out for them, even from back here. I started thinking how the first thing I’d do with telepathic powers would be to transmit a drink order from my spot here at the door-table so I don’t have to stand in the long line at the front.
A woman behind me just explained the show Friends to her friend, who kept insisting she knows the show but just didn’t ever like it (I can relate). There are two students studying for an exam on Marriage and Family Therapy — at least, that’s the textbook sandwiched between the coffee table and a blue mug while they scroll through each other’s Instagram accounts (I can also relate).
A woman in a stained ivory coat sits on the same bench as them, styrofoam cup on the table next to her and white plastic bag of belongings on the floor. Her New Balances are clean white, I notice, as she gets up to leave after having sat, either contemplating the room or getting lost in her thoughts of what could have been.