How Danae spent the gold, and why

The online journal of Susan Mosser, a writer of speculative fiction.

Saturday, November 5

Individuation Blues, Revisited

I am back, well-breakfasted on puffy Cheetos and WalMart French Roast, an oxymoronic cup, indeed, which, like flattery from a furniture salesman, serves only to remind me that it is not what it claims to be. Dragging my tiny intellectual feet, still unable to start the day like a normal person, I am driven to ramble on about Maslow's little bomb at the end of his big process. I think, therefore I am wasting yet another opportunity to find out where to go bungee jumping. Or become an astronaut. (Hey, it could happen. Old is The New Cool. Boomers invented cool, and intend to keep it snatched in our withered, age-spotted claws until our last, heavily- medicated breath(s).)

I also seem driven to write as if I were standing two feet behind my own right shoulder, dictating, while chatting from time to time with Noel Coward. Good lord. Even editing didn't help. It's so bad, I have fallen in love with it and have to leave it there. (I know, I know, murder your darlings.)

Okay. The world for what it is. The first problem, for writing and thinking, is that I cannot imagine I will personally discover anything new about the concept of acceptance. There is Buddhism, after all, not to mention Taoism, or Dr. Phil and Oprah. And let's face it, I am not a scholar. I have no idea what has been said on any topic until and unless I crash into it on the Autodidactobahn. This leaves me compelled to rely upon, examine and write about myself and my own experience because I cannot speak with true authority about anything else. It is a humbling obsession, this need to tell one's own story while living it, even when no one wants to hear the tale, but it is one in which I am, at least, in vast company.

There is so much about the world that I do not want to accept for what it is. War. Corporate monsters. Their marriage. Why do I even care about Maslow and his list? Who needs self-actualization in a world that distracts us from disasters with instant makeovers? Even Maslow doesn't make self-actualization sound appealing: along with "Accepts the world for what it is," he has included, "Can make decisions contrary to popular opinion," and "May appear remote and detached." There's a recipe for cozy social interaction. Do this in a job interview and no one will hire you. And yet...

The sun is long up now. I have checked enough news to know that thousands of protesters are disrupting the latest meeting of global kings, and we have begun some kind of "new offensive" in Iraq today. The fires of Paris have spread to the surrounding towns and I find myself shocked that France, of all places, is coming apart at the seams. Meanwhile, it is gorgeous here today, and quiet: one of those bright flat-earth mornings that the world moves to Florida to enjoy. I am in a fine mood (as I seem to be so often lately, even when I forget to take ginseng), feeling like fortune's child. "Things" have not changed; I have. In fact, I have plenty to worry about. Along with all the usual "things", I am worried about the big dead Buick in the driveway. Really worried. I hesitate, like FEMA, to declare this latest breakdown in the Mosser infrastructure catastrophic. Really, now, what's a little fire under the hood? True, it took a lot of fiddling around just to get the car to crank up, and when it did, the fire started immediately, but there was no explosion, no open flame. It could be something perfectly harmless burning under there. Right? Right. If I could work up the courage to bend in over the engine again and peer around while it's burning, I could probably figure it out for myself. Bad week to see burn victim slides, really.

Maslow says that the self-actualized person, "Is realistic, sees life clearly, and is objective about his or her observations." Meanwhile, I am enjoying brief, intense chats with those kind classmates who drive me to school and the hospital, visits for which we would not otherwise find time. Without reason, I believe it will all be okay. That I will beg for rides and kind people will furnish them until I do find a transportation solution, and finish school, and get on to my new life, and write multiple novels, and in the end, I will be okay. More than that, really. More that whatever happens, up to and including the moment of death, I will be okay. That is a much bigger, warmer, less rational belief. If I try to examine it, I get a rambling, essentially blank page. If I try to feel it, there it is, strong as ever. I am breathing with my whole belly again, for the first time in years.

So, I hope that someday I do accept the world for what it is. I have always found it difficult to do this, in no small part because I chose the world view I learned from fiction, when I was choosing, instead of the one that raged two-fisted through my childhood. This was very wise of me, I do understand that now, but I was confused for many years by the unresolved plots and badly conceived backstories of my life, which had no place in a decently-written reality. What I think today is this: the more I accept what happens around me for what it is, the more I see the truth, and the safer I am. The wider I open my eyes in an unbeautiful moment, the more likely I am to see the constant beauty behind it, and remember my priorities. The more I accept people as they are, the calmer I feel when I choose to say no to them (or yes). The more I accept the world for what it is, the more I am at home here, even with all the ugliness. Why do I care about Maslow's ideal of an enlightened, ever-evolving human? Because I want to see what is real, and know it when I see it, and act with conscious intent, even if this "may appear remote and detached." For all I know, this is the only ride I get on this pony, and I wouldn't want to miss it because I was bungee jumping, or researching bungee jumping, or avoiding bungee jumping, or pretending to have bungee jumped. I want all of my life to count, in the end, as part of awake time.

You know, like it does in novels.

I got those Woke Up in the Mornin Lyin Here Thinkin Please, Please, No More Individuation Blues

At the bottom of Maslow's own list of the qualities of a self-actualized person is this final line:

"Accepts the world for what it is."

I have been thinking about this one a lot lately. Not in that musing, meditative "For which unattainable spiritual aspiration is the Universe kicking my ass this week?" sort of way that reassured and amused me in the years before I knew what a cosmic ass-kicking actually felt like; but in that resentful, exhausted, half-grown child trying to stomp up a tantrum but just too grown to do that anymore sort of way that is simply an obstruction to understanding. (You know the one I mean.) By lately, I mean the last few years, especially the last couple of months since I quit working nights and started waking up again, and in particular the last two hours, awake before dawn on a day when I planned and oh so wanted to sleep in.


Why does Maslow's glorious human have to accept the world for what it is? This is not guarateed to bring happiness. Ask Skinner. Or success. Ask Dub-ya.

Hmm. On that very last note? I feel a little better.

Tuesday, October 25

Long Hair is Back

I must speak of my friend, writer and editor Beth Adele Long.

Brilliant, funny, sharp as knives.

Do not miss her stark (disturbing, delicious) retelling of the Rapunzel myth, online now at Strange Horizons. But be sure to bring your favorite thumb-sucking blankie, because this glimpse of life in the tower may shorten your sleep. It may also expand, by several lifetimes, your understanding of the daughters of the witch. That would be you. That would be me. Escape while you still can.

Rapunzel Dreams of Knives

Monday, October 24

40-Second Radio Moment No. 1: "Too Dumb to Learn from Dogs"

[Several seconds of rapid typing. Explosive, frantic multiple-small-dog barking. Typing stops.]


[Barking continues.]

Hey, that's enough! It's just a little thunder.

[A deep, steady roar rises in the background. Barking escalates.]

Granted, it's weird thunder, but...HUSH! Hush now. For goodness sake, what is wrong with you guys? Come over here and lie down.

[Muffled whining desperation of intelligent animals trying to obey.]

Good dogs, good dogs. Lie down nicely, now. That's it. Mama is right here, so chill.

[Typing resumes. Roar continues. Typing falters, stops. Whining breaks into yelping against one's will with desperate hope.]

That does not sound like thunder. It just goes on and on, doesn't it? It sounds more like, I don't know, a freight train?

[Hysterical dog screams. Ticking of tiny claws running for interior hallway.]

Hey, come back here!

Saturday, October 22

Wilma, Goddess of PTSD

We arose this morning from a lovely sleep to find Sister Wilma still partying in Cancun, staggering a little, expected to head home in twelve hours. The bad news is, she has been on that barstool every morning for days now, having stayed past closing time for yet another night. The new track (which looks just like the old track) says she will stumble into “south Florida” sometime tomorrow night, a bedraggled Category 2, and end up passed out in the big Atlantic bano by Tuesday.

Predictions. Ha! Spit and air.

Wilma doesn’t move, and then she does, and then she stops, and then they predict that she will stand up any moment now, but she doesn’t, and then when she finally does, just a little, they say, okay, okay, here we go, and she resettles her butt on that bar stool and says, give me another one of those big purple ones with the paper flowers.

Day after day.

Every few hours, there are new discussions, advisories, maps. She's coming. We don't know when. She'll be big. She'll be powerful. Or maybe not. She hasn't turned toward Florida yet, but we expect it to happen in the next few hours, landfall tomorrow. Pay attention, they say, day after day, because once "Dangerous Hurricane Wilma" starts moving, she will be here in hours, not days. No time, then, for last-minute gas lines or plywood rage or mass evacuation.

Mass evacuation. Nobody wants to stand at the end of that line, now that we know what we know. And yet, we wonder about those people evacuating from the Keys and other points south, invited up to Disney country for our "many hotel rooms still available" just in time to be at a new ground zero, if the models shifting the storm more to the northeast turn out to be the winners.

And then we go back to worrying about our own lives. Will Wilma be here in time to cancel our Cardiac test, we wonder? (Sadly, no.)

We try to breathe normally, while we wait for the gun to fire. We check the weather at every opportunity. It gets worse, when the eyewall moves ashore in Mexico just far enough to harm the people there, but it does not actually change. We dig out the plastic cutlery and restack our cans of milk. We eye our neighbors' tree branches, and bring the trash cans into the garage. The clouds are here to stay now, Wilma's skirts flung all the way across the Gulf to us, far to the east, just to let us know we are not forgotten. Our air has gone damp and soft, and the pale grey light makes all the green things glow. There is something about the news, rerunning footage of hotel windows exploding in Cancun, that makes us stare into our freezers, defrost a few things we would otherwise save, and serve up a preemptive feast in honor of electricity. All over town, dogs with better manners are loitering in the kitchen this week, slick and giddy in the rain of scraps. Every night, there is a new report, but there is no news. We watch it again anyway, even those exploding windows, and go to bed.

This evening, Wilma has not yet made her move, but forecasters predict she will do so within hours, that she has begun erratic movement again, that this will resolve into forward motion any moment now, that she will make landfall (somewhere) in Florida (sometime) day after tomorrow (-ish). Slowly, progressively, we are failing to react to these bulletins. Recently it has come to light that all over Florida there are survivors of last year's hurricanes whose losses are unrelieved, whose livelihoods are gone, whose homes are unrepaired. Still, we are lucky, and we know it. Our situations are not nearly the worst, not even on the list of the global truly terrible. The world has grown so full of disaster that it cannot fail to change us all, in some basic way. We grow used to a trip that is very unlike the brochures, and we learn how to pack for it. Tonight, we will watch the news again from Mexico, where the tragedy is written and not yet told; from Pakistan, where the snow has begun, while people sleep under chairs and bits of carpet; from Afghanistan and Iraq, where we are daily reminded of all that is obscene about war and ignorance and hatred; from the tsunami belt, where children are sold, and from the lost villages of Africa, where they are slaughtered by those who are charged to protect them; from empty ground on our own Gulf coast, where people were blasted into the stone age in a single day, with not a scrap left behind to rebuild; and from Utah and Texas and the other dry places to which New Orleans has gone for good, while developers snap and snarl over her soggy remains.

Wilma has not moved, but will certainly do so any moment, or not, because that is the way of things. Tonight, while the lights are still on, and some of the plumbing still works, and it has not yet begun to rain into the living room, snug in our hoarding of canned goods and bottled water, pleased that we failed to restore the yard to order after Charlie and Frances and Jeanne (which means the lawn chairs and other flying objects are still in the garage), we will bunk down between central walls of concrete block, in hallways and closets and windowless corners of ex-dining rooms, on mattresses and futons, with sleeping bags and quilts, the lantern and radio and dog crates standing at the ready, as we have every night for the past thirteen months, and feel safe.

Sort of.

Friday, August 26

She spent it on a little hero worship

Yes, you guessed it. Now I am avoiding writing about avoiding writing. Which just goes to show that no matter how clever you are, your craziness will outsmart you every time.

True, unchained avoidance energy has fueled some stellar organization of nursing notebooks and a calendar/tickler/3x5 card altar to OCD which would bring tears to the eyes of that guy who still has his old slide rule. My withered intellectual loins are girded for Advanced Med-Surg Nursing. I go forth into darkness (5:50 a.m.) to bathe, inject, and suction the unwary.

Doesn't sound like fun? Well, the really cool parts are unmentionable.

There has been recreation this summer, true. During my brief semester break, while fully engaged in not writing the novel and the blog, I have sunned and supped and hung out with friends. I have seen War of the Worlds, and even read the latest Stephanie Plum adventure. (No eye-rolling here unless you have never in your life eaten a Peep.) But now the new semester is ramping up and, if past is prologue, it will be months before I read another book for pleasure. Kelly Link's new book is here (woohoo!), but I will wait to savor that by the spoonful, and in a moment, I will post this and climb into bed with Naked, which I must return to the library tomorrow largely unread. But that's okay. When December rolls around, I will need The Sedaris Effect, that laugh that sneaks up on you and unmakes your bones. There are other ways of being unmade. For me, late summer is anniversary season, and the losses crowd in: birthday, murder, suicide, birthday, suicide, thank god it's autumn. This year, there was also Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and readings on NPR, and tapes from Carnegie Hall. I found time, made time, snipped it out of sleep and study, because these stories are the real thing, and the streets of America are not exactly paved with authenticity.

When Oprah comes to my house and says, "Susan, what is your wildest dream?" I will say, Oprah, dearest Oprah, beloved Mother Goddess of America, you are here and Einstein and Mother Teresa are dead, so I would like to have lunch with David Sedaris. He doesn't have to spend an hour at the table. He doesn't even have to order food. In fact, he can just sit in the limo at the curb and roll the window down a little, just enough to for me to whisper in that every time he makes a sad old woman laugh so hard she pees on her own feet, another angel gets his wings.

Saturday, July 16

She spent it on Ann Patchett and Judith Moore

Fatigued with not writing my novel, I am lately enjoying the financial benefits of not writing short stories, instead. Yes, I say, but a short story is not a novel, now is it? Well, I would have to counter, not writing this novel has not netted me any tiny share-of-the-profits checks, now has it? Huh? Well? Whereas not writing short stories is still bringing in the bucks. Hah! Gotcha there.

It is a wee sacred bit of gold that came in the mail last week, my share of the author goodies from the reprint of "Bumpship" and my first financial feedback from the reading public, since it is a reflection of sales. It lands like a boulder in the unraked sand of my nonwriting. To further confuse myself, I will fritter away the gold on books unrelated to nursing education. We fritter, here in the South, and lest you confuse this with waste, allow me to educate (and in true Southern fashion politely insult) you. Whole life insurance is waste. A raw ceramic head of Medusa, one shrimp burrito, and a bumper sticker that says, "Focus on your own damn family" (which you will never put on your car but could not resist) is frittering, especially if you bought it with funds earmarked for a whole life insurance payment. Frittering requires a moment of rebellion, freedom, sailing off into the future with a huge batique panel that must be carried all the way home because no cab will stop for you and the guards stand firm at the Metro. Frittered money is not wasted; it is disposed of, pleasantly, in small but steady scatterings. We Southerners fritter dollars "away" as if they were slightly dangerous, likely to gather and attack. Consider the word "amass" and tell me that I am wrong about this.

If you are an artful spender, you will rarely be faced with a dangerous mass of bucks, but it is possible to fritter away even large amounts of money. It takes style and dedication. If you inherit a million dollars, invest it in energy stocks and lose it all, you have wasted it, and tortured yourself with failure. If you inherit a million dollars, do whatever you feel like doing, go wherever you feel like going, and buy whatever you feel like buying for two or three years until you are so broke that you have to get a job waiting tables at Denny's just to pay rent--and you are not a gambler or high--you have probably frittered it away. Do you have fond memories of all the things you did with it, and do not hate yourself for it being gone now? Congratulations. You have style.

Now you will understand. To fritter away her small nugget on Truth and Beauty and Fat Girl in the face of tuition bills and unresolved plumbing issues, Danae must step forward into bliss, rake in hand, to remind herself that the ground level of being is not littered with mutual funds. Both books are autobiographical, which I did not notice until after I had chosen them. I think I get it, though. Nonfiction can be a very hard first draft. I want a little mental company while I am not writing the novel, a few gods to emulate, a little hope that all this grinding nonwriting autobiography leads to a fritterable future. I am a master fritterer. I can do this.

Okay then.

Wednesday, July 6

She spent it on cheap contraception

Obviously. And too late.

Nope. Still not writing a novel. Just checking in to see if I am an instant blog-related cure yet. Doing lots of things I hate doing, instead, today; tasks involving black plastic bags and chemicals and tough decisions about when a favorite old dress becomes a symptom. This has made for a productive day, in a traditional American "busy hands are happy hands" pioneer in the sod hut, mind-numbing, big trash day sort of way. One of the best things about writing this novel, I'm finding upon reflection, is that it has freed me up to do those things--some huge and decades overdue--I used to feel guilty about not doing while gleefully revising a sticky paragraph for the fortieth time.

You don't revise your paragraphs forty times? It is rock tumbling. Loop back, up and over and back again, dozens of times, then rest, then more dozens of times, until the shape of the story reveals itself. It is the Fool's method, a journey begun with a first misstep and a fall from a great height. I miss it so much.

So, it's good to take down the Christmas tree and put up the stacks of disaster supplies, and I feel very proud of myself, but it's still not writing. On the other hand, I know exactly where to find all the sterno, the matches, the batteries, the candles, the dog crates, the window tape, the cans of food no one would eat except in disastrous circumstances and the metal gizmo you heat it up with. With which you heat it. Up. Which, with the heat...the sterno stove. Hurricane Season is here. After last year, we capitalize it.

She spent it on ink

"The difference between a novelist and the rest of us is that a novelist finishes the book." If I could remember who said this to me, I would sell his car on eBay.

I have heard stories about novelists, but there are more stories about the rest of us. Come now, don't flinch. You know them, too. First glorious chapters, retrench character sketches, desperate plot diagrams, vague computer issues, unexplained housefires, wilderness treks in a '78 Datsun pickup with a plywood camper. Offline, off the hook, off the planet. What ever happened to Susan? I thought she was writing a science fiction novel. And wasn't there some nonfiction project, too?

Shame and ruin, ruin and shame. Chapters in a drawer, on a disk, in the glove compartment on fast food napkins. You have them, too. Admit it. Say it loud and proud: "I am a novelist, sort of." Claim your power! Stop the insanity! Make a list of all the things you need to do before you can write again, including major house remodeling and a trip to India! Don't let the negativity of that guy with no car now creep into your pristine writer's consciousness! You know that someday you will show up when those chapters least expect it and take them out for dinner and a great bottle of wine!

I have seen novel panic firsthand. I will say only that it is good to know I am not alone. I have chapters. Yes. I have titles and first lines and short stories standing in line in my head. Jostling. Throwing popcorn. Laughing out loud when I try to speak.

Nursing school. There. I said it. How desperate does a writer have to be to go to nursing school to avoid writing? I would tell you, but that would break my rule of not talking about nursing school here (just here, please, just this one little crumb of my life). If you know a nurse, ask her or him about nursing school. Say, "So, did you write a lot of fiction while you were in nursing school? No? Why are you laughing?"

News of the day from rainy, leaky, bug-ridden, brutally hot Florida: Oh goodie. Here's a brand new hurricane.

Good day to start writing again.