Author Topic: If I Were A Bird--a cnf/memoir. Excerpt, 1894 words of 3669  (Read 830 times)

Offline aureliajean

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If I Were A Bird--a cnf/memoir. Excerpt, 1894 words of 3669
« on: January 19, 2011, 01:32:37 PM »
I am considering submitting this to some creative nonfiction/memoir/essay contests.  I'd like to know what you think of both the writing and the subject/its treatment.   Ellipses, obviously, represent edits for brevity.  Full text gladly available to anyone who has the time. Please be gentle, I am not a professional.  Ahem, here goes:


If I were a bird, I'd be a rare one that can only eat fruits that don't grow here, and whose wings are not made to beat these skies.  I probably wouldn't be more beautiful than any other, but probably more fragile, and less resilient.  I might be skittish and prone to fits of melancholy, difficult to keep in captivity for temperament and a dearth of available mates.

Not only would it be nigh upon impossible to locate and entrap the male of my species, but he would be of volatile character, equally averse to captivity, aloof and exacting in his tastes.  Whether either of us would survive an encounter with our egos in tact would be anyone's guess, torn feathers and bald spots possible, cold hostility and simple rejection likely.  Ornithologists would cringe inwardly while reading journal articles about various efforts to unite us, and for god only knows what reason, prove that more of us could be made.

Were they to meet with success and I find myself with a nest full of needy chicks,  it would be no surprise to find them cheeping hungrily while I fluff out my feathers, hunker down into a warm, feathery ball, and try to go back to sleep.  In addition to cantankerous, vocal, and demanding, I'm also lazy.  You can see why mating and the subsequent, resultant duties might be problematic.  When the time came for them to stretch out their wings that first time and attempt to take flight, I may or may not be there with a camera and I don't see myself pacing as fretfully or as sincerely as some of the other mothers, strutting importantly below while awaiting the opportunity to break a fledgling's fall and their own ribs on the altar of motherhood…

In my real, human life, I am wise enough to know that making more people is not what the world needs, especially not more obsessive, objectively sensitive, and selfish people like me, and I am not a good enough person to make a careful mother.

Before I bought a car, I read every article published in the last few years in every car magazine about the class and type of car I was looking to buy.  By the time I bought the car I knew more about it than the people who sold it to me.  I did the same thing when I had a baby.  I read and read and read, and I'd already taken my health degree of course.  I knew exactly what to do and what the results would be, I'd taken developmental psych.  All that was wonderful because I knew what he should eat, how certain realities should be explained, and what was safe, but I make a stifling mother…

I myself want to be stroked and petted and cared for while I think my deep thoughts, and apparently was, and am, only too willing to allow those desires of the id to usurp my more salient duties.   The unfortunate fact is that I am admittedly too often busy pursuing that which will provide me with repeated, all-consuming pleasure, and suffering the withdrawal in its absence, than it would take to do a proper job of what should really be my first priority.  A more sympathetic person might suggest that my actions are justifiable tough love, that modern parenting is too coddling to begin with, or that I suffer from depression rather than unforgivable selfishness and inexcusable immaturity, but I err on the side of self-condemnation in this case.  While women of great accomplishment and eccentricity may be excused from their Bad Mothering in exchange for their genius, I afford myself no such reprieve from admonition.

How do I earn the right to the protection from judgment behind bright, glass fronted glare of Ayelet Waldman's home for Bad Mothers by feeling terrible about myself? What entitles me to take shelter in the glaring and frank acknowledgement of the failure of motherhood itself to fill the startling void centered in my actualized soul?  My conscience is elevated, but I realize that loneliness is a condition of consciousness, of life, that is inborn and incurable?  We are all connected, surely.  But so are we also separate.  I didn't expect motherhood to be a remedy for that, because I'm not partial to children to begin with, and as I said I have some other contraindications to it.  However, I think some of the women who seem to be fully immersed in mothering are pretending.  Some of them have to be.  I have no proof of this, other than it is not that much fun to make snacks and go to parks and watch baseball practice.  Is it okay for me to say that because I'm a smart woman and obviously need more than a simple child to engage with?  Is it really not okay, but like the trainwrecks on Maury Povitch, I'm welcomed and permitted to say what I will while women are recoiling in horror that such a creature as me exists, and soothing themselves with the knowledge that they are not me, at least…

In addition to these discouraging facts, it is also clear that the peacock currently strutting ignorantly and needlessly around the periphery of my life, marveling at his own reflection in my embarrassingly moony eyes and driving me to distraction with his intermittent mating calls (or text messages, really) is both common and diseased, and likely ultimately damaging in more ways than one to my fragile composition.  I've come to the realization, through very subtle hints like his not calling for a week, or contacting me on Sunday evening rather than Friday night, that even the current situation of occasional, intense, falsely intimate feverish physical affection has tipped the balance decidedly towards unfavorable.  Considering the two of us do little now besides pace the cage, wary of each other and growling for hours before we engage in fervent, almost angry coitus, it may not be that much of a loss, but it is a disappointment because I am back to square one, an unwanted, unclaimed woman of questionable value as partner or housemate.

The result of this particular ill-fated attempt at mating for life is no wonder considering how it began.  For one thing, there were no bird scientists involved here; nor any algorithms nor mind-numbing messages, we just landed on the same mahogany branch downtown one night after crossing paths (but not speaking)  months before.  I thought it was fate.  It's true but it's not an excuse.  I don't feel that I need an excuse, really, though I'm not proud of being That Girl.

My track record for sleeping with guys on the first date is deplorable.  I think at the time that the sex is a sidebar to whatever else might be developing between us, but in fact it obscures and consumes everything else.   Perhaps to the right man, it would not matter.  I have more than a few friends that can attest to the same, having met and kept a quality man from such an encounter.  But how many more times do I need to see that it doesn't seem to be working for me?  I need to learn that a man's ability to wow me with brilliant feathers and a fancy dance has nothing to do with our compatibility, and even less to do with his willingness to commit me in an exclusive, romantic, devoted manner.  I want an arranged marriage!  I am no good at this; I've made a terrible mess!  I was never a spring chicken and I am rapidly approaching tough old bird, bitter and sickening…

It makes me wonder, if of any of those that succumbed to fatal exhaustion there in the cage with me, or any of those that darted out through any open place they could find were what I was supposed to have, only I was too rough and eager with them, like Lennie with his mice and rabbits.   Maybe the problem isn't what I am, but what I am doing instead.  That thought alone fills me with an impersonal sadness, wherein I relate to myself as though separate and think of the poignancy such loneliness, desire, and disappointment imparts.  I know I project what I hope a person will be onto who they actually are, I stifle their expression of themselves and what they want with my exaggerated expectation and cause an anxious aggravation to the atmosphere with my anticipation.  I've imagined myself married to every guy I've ever met.  I never learned to be cool.

What once may have been a rare creature, composed of unlikely characteristics in a sensuous form, difficult to parallel but worthy of the effort such a desire entailed, becomes an exhibit that cautions us against fates we have little or no bearing on; we can't help who we are, and by the time we know what influence our unique history may have on us, it is sometimes too late.  I didn't build this ragged cage, but I crafted a sturdy door and latch, and I pulled it shut.

I began writing this essay because I wanted to write a short story for a writing contest.  Already aware that writers do well to write what they know, I naturally considered episodes or realities about my own life which could be fictionalized in a meaningful way.  A basic truth of storytelling is that the main character must be someone that the audience can identify with; they must be sympathetic, meaning literally that the reader should be able to feel with the character.  The reader should not only want your main character to win, but understand their pain when they meet failure or ridicule.

Am I such a person, if I am to write what I know and base a character on myself?  Given the recent circumstances of various aspects of my own life, would an unknown peer plant themselves firmly in my corner to root for me as I faced crusty, calciferous dragons?  I had my doubts, considering the few real friends I had and the even fewer who seemed to feel this way about me in real life and I began writing to ferret out an answer--am I a person less worthy of support from my fellow man than the average imagined person, crafted purposefully with flaws, but not so flawed that no one will care what happens to them?  I wrote this all out, and I still don't know.   I suppose only you can say.  For myself, I know what my flaws are, and I've laid them out bare.  I've faced my own judgment and yours.  But I still don't know if I am unique in my distinctive predilections, in my willingness to act on them or speak of them openly, or some or all of the above.  There it is, illustrated isolation in ingress, keeping me from settling on whether I am a good person or a bad one, because it depends on what's average, like the IQ scale.  One hundred is normal, am I meaner, more callous, selfish, petty, and demanding than that, or less?  I am taking a survey.  I want to know how many of us think we might be less worthy of love, compassion, and forgiveness than the fabricated two dimensional counterparts presented to us in fiction.

Offline Hugh

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Re: If I Were A Bird--a cnf/memoir. Excerpt, 1894 words of 3669
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2011, 05:17:19 PM »
Hello Aurelia, and welcome to MWC.

You say please be gentle, but I expect you also want honesty. For me, combining the two is difficult in this case, as I am used to being blunt when critting, hoping that the recipient will take it as intended — trying to help in any way I can.

The first time I read this I nearly gave up — all those long, obscure words. But I persevered, trying to suss out what it’s about. I cut through the waffle, ignoring phrases like, “crusty, calciferous dragons”. . .

. . . and sentences like, “I stifle their expression of themselves and what they want with my exaggerated expectation and cause an anxious aggravation to the atmosphere with my anticipation.” (Frankly, I didn’t even try to untangle that to try and work out what it meant)

So, what is it about? I’d suggest that you go through it and cut out every word of more than three syllables. Get rid of all the long, Latinate words and see if you can find simple Anglo-Saxon words to replace them, at the same time losing all the qualifiers. I’ll bet the reader will then have some idea of what it is about. At least, it will be easier to read.

Perhaps it should start with the sentence that opens the tenth paragraph: “My track record for sleeping with guys on the first date is deplorable.”

Not only would that provide a hook to get the reader interested, but it would set the scene for what the story appears to me to be about — sleeping around, getting pregnant, not being equipped for motherhood, still fancying any guy who plumps up his feathers, and feeling sorry for yourself.

You could write that in clear, concise, simple language and, I submit, have a better chance of a place in an article/essay competition.

But this is only my opinion, which you are, of course, welcome to take with a pinch of salt, and chuck out of the window, cursing, if you wish.

Best wishes,

Hugh  
« Last Edit: January 19, 2011, 05:19:26 PM by Hugh »

Offline aureliajean

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Re: If I Were A Bird--a cnf/memoir. Excerpt, 1894 words of 3669
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2011, 10:56:11 PM »
Hugh,

Thank you for your critique.  I think it's interesting that the big words were a problem.  I'm going to consider that but am unlikely to change it. That's how I talk, and it's how I write also.  I think my target audience is not going to be afraid of big words, and I don't think they are archaic.  I'm still using them.  Cut out every word of more than three syllables?

I do think I will try rearranging it for more clarity and impact also, I don't feel sorry for myself, I'm just trying to understand where I fit in a spectrum of what sort of people there are.  I want to know if I am a potential hero or clearly a villain.  I'm going to work on it so that it is clear that is the topic.  Thanks again for your time.

Offline Hugh

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Re: If I Were A Bird--a cnf/memoir. Excerpt, 1894 words of 3669
« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2011, 06:46:36 AM »
Interesting. Perhaps I should clarify what I meant by cutting out most of the big words. If the essay is to be judged by, say, a professor who himself (or herself) eats dictionaries for breakfast, then by all means demonstrate your wide vocabulary.

But if aimed at a wider, mainstream readership, then I stand by what I said about using simple language that the average person will easily read, understand and, we hope, enjoy.

Going back to a phrase I mentioned — crusty calciferous dragon — calciferous means (OED definition) containing or producing calcium salts, particularly calcium carbonate. I’m afraid I can’t see how the two qualifiers create an image in the reader’s mind that is relevant to the context of the story.

Hero or villain? To me the question doesn’t arise, because I was struggling to cut through what looks like an attempt to appear literary, erudite, writerly, whatever, to get at the story itself. 

All that said, I don’t want to further ruffle your feathers, and wish you luck with the competition you are aiming it at. If it wins, the drinks are on me.

Hugh

Offline Journey

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Re: If I Were A Bird--a cnf/memoir. Excerpt, 1894 words of 3669
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2011, 08:28:12 AM »
Aurelia,
I'm sorry to have to agree with Hugh. At first glance I thought you wrote beautifully, however the more I read, the more it became "work" rather than enjoyment. Unlike Hugh, I did give up before the end. I'm really unsure what your story is all about, it is buried in a mountain of long descriptive words.  Your sesquipedalian style may deter many readers.

Ella
Writing takes me to places and times that Air Miles doesn't cover.