28 Months

2 August 2002

Why do people say "ravenously hungry?" It's not like you can be ravenously tired or ravenously happy.

So. I woke up ravenous this morning. This is a good sign, as I didn't feel good enough to be hungry much for the second half of yesterday. I ate anyway, fun things like soup and toast. Didn't get to see my "uncle" Bill, but he sounded optimistic that he'd return to town on business again this year. Luckily he had caught up with me early in the day, before I even started the chili, and he wanted to take me out for dinner. I was contemplating taking him from Oakland up to Berkeley on BART for pizza or something. Maybe next time. And I can make the chili for tonight instead, and Mark will get chili, which is a happy thing. And I think I feel better. Well, I feel better. I just hope that it lasts and turns into feeling good. Yesterday Timprov looked over at me and said, "Today is just no good." He was pretty much right.

Mrissas get woolly. It's like in "Bull Durham," you know, when Tim Robbins' character is singing, "Women get woolly, man, they do get woolly, because of all the stress...." And then Kevin Costner gets annoyed and corrects him and teaches him the real words, says, "Nobody gets woolly!" But we kind of picked it up. "Ohhh, I'm woolly." "Mrissas get woolly." Etc.

It rained a bit last night, so now it smells nice with the windows open, and it sounds like someone is playing ping pong behind me. We have awnings over our dining room windows, and there are just few enough drops that it sounds like someone is hitting the ping-pong ball where one awning is, then the other: pit, pittpittt, pit. It probably won't rain again until September.

We have a mosquito in the house, and I can't kill it where it is right now (the paper would just squish and the mosquito would fly away), but I'm watching. Also waiting. We don't usually have mosquitoes out here, but my duties as an expat are clear. Kill.

I'm not sure this mosquito is all right, though. It appears to be using three legs and one wing to scratch itself? Or contort in some way? Do mosquitoes get itches? Because I really doubt that they do yoga in the morning, and that's my other explanation.

We have no newspaper again.

But the mighty mosquito hunter triumphs again. Rrrahh.

Ahem. Anyway. In yesterday's newspaper, they had pictures of people weeping as the Pope went by, just clinging to each other and weeping at his very presence. Are any of you that kind of Catholic? Do you know what it's like to just sob with joy because you're half a block away from someone you've never met? Can you explain it to me, or at least describe what it feels like? I really would like to know. It's so foreign to me.

I read F&SF yesterday, and Robin McKinley's A Knot in the Grain And Other Stories. She went and wrote it while I was being too grown-up to concern myself with her stuff, and now that I'm not any more, I have catching up to do. The title story was more than a bit anti-climactic, but in the way that Pamela Dean books are. It was about a teenage girl after a move, and the magic thing she found was pretty beside the point -- mostly it was about how she settled into her new place. Good for what it is, as long as you don't expect it to be more. Back to MI6 today, I think, or the Anne Sexton poems Michelle and Scott gave me for my birthday. Or both.

(I realized I still have a surprise coming for my birthday. Cool. I had almost forgotten.)

David and I were talking, on the way to the BART station on Wednesday, about how he's only known me as a science fiction writer. He never knew Physicist-M'ris. A lot of the people I'm around these days are like that, too. And especially in a context like this, I do present myself very much as Writer-M'ris. So the things that I used to do a lot of, the things that I've given up and what it cost me to give them up, that's not always clear to the people who have met me recently. I think it's especially hard because my grad school experience was so negative that when I talk about it, leaving is going to seem like the obvious choice. But that doesn't mean that it was obvious to me at the time, and it doesn't mean that it was easy. It certainly doesn't mean that it was nothing, but I think it's pretty easy for people who meet me now to underestimate that part of me.

Then I have a different kind of disconnects. One old friend almost didn't try this page in a google search, because he saw references to writing and science fiction but no references to physics grad school, and he reasoned that it could therefore not be the right Marissa K. Lingen. (I can come this close to guaranteeing you: I'm like a Highlander. There can be only one.) It was that obvious before. It was that much me.

Do you know how long ago we're talking about here? 28 months. I have journals and my submission log, so I can give you exactly the number: August is the 28th month since I quit grad school to write. It's the 28th month that I've been sending out stories and getting rejections on them. I have 293 rejections in that time period.

So when I read Finley a few days ago, despairing that we're the same age, it shocked me. I feel like such a kid. I feel like I haven't been doing this for very long, like a rank novice. Not that I feel that my work is amateurish, although of course you're free to disagree, and of course I hope to improve over the next 80 years or so of writing. I feel like I'm just two steps away from programming Franck-Hertz tube data collection, just a half a blink from the girl who ran around with the black electrical tape trying to make the room totally dark for the photomultiplier tube, still wearing the same shorts or flannels I wore to do image charge problems out of Jackson or Wangsness. And sure, I was writing then. Of course I was writing then. But I didn't believe in it then.

That first month, that late April or early May, that was the first time I had to mean it when I said I believed in my work. That was the first time I relied upon it. And as I think any kind of a convert will tell you, 28 months from total disbelief is not that long. And it's certainly not that easy.

And I think it's pretty easy to see that intellectually. I think it's easy to assimilate as a fact, one on a list. It's the difference between knowing that a friend has siblings and having a conversation with his sister. They're just different kinds of real. But no matter how vague the hypothetical sister seems, to the friend she's not only real but often integrally important to the fabric of reality. The world is unimaginable without her. Some people have a hard time imagining me as anything but a writer. I just have a hard time imagining me not writing. I know what it's like for me not to publicly self-identify as a writer and pursue it, because I was there.

And 28 months is not that big a data set. It's two and a half books, a bunch of short stories...it's not a long-term pattern. Joe Haldeman can now say, "Oh, well, after I do such-and-such, I need to do thus, or I'm likely to feel this-or-that way." Me, I'm still finding out which ways this, that, and thus are.

I don't like to make a big deal about the age thing. But I'm 24, for heaven's sake. I haven't done much of anything long enough to really know how it goes. A few things. Not many. I think it's easy for the people I deal with to lose sight of that, because I have such a firm idea of where I am and where I'm going, and a lot of 24-year-olds don't. But I'm working from somewhat limited data here, so when things aren't going well on the book, I can't say, oh well, it's always like this at such-and-such a time. Because I don't have an "always" in that direction yet.

Yesterday the work on the book was not going well, so I worked on some short stories instead, "Family Leave" and "Rock, Paper, Scissors." The latter was inspired by an invitation to a chapbook project, for which it grew too long. The former -- the former is Minneaporn. You know, Minneapolis-porn, She smelled wet. I gently caressed the smooth, calm surface of her lake, admiring the way the ripples spread across it. Okay, so it's not quite like that, but it's very definitely a love song to that city in a lot of ways. It has a plot and all. (Same characters as "MacArthur Station" and "Glass Wind" -- plots practically follow them around asking for spare change. Oooh. Um. With those characters, actually...hmm. Anyway.) I had originally thought that I might take it up to the Boundary Waters, but I'm not sure it needs to leave the Cities. In late April, with the last of the snow melting grimily in the Ridgedale parking lot and a warm breadstick from Fat Lorenzo's in the main character's hands and mouth.

I don't like wish-fulfillment fantasies where the wish fulfillment is the plot or the excuse for everything in the plot. But I have no problem with wish-fulfillment fantasies as detail. In The Grey Road, I gave Nate a puppy because I want a puppy. So in "Family Leave" and "Glass Wind," I can get Toni on a plane at SFO and dump her off at MSP, and as long as that's not all there is to it, I think that's okay.

So. I'm going to try to finish up "Rock, Paper, Scissors," today, because it's short and I can and I want to. I may work on "Family Leave," or the book, or a story of Loki and Sigyn, number two out of the three planned there, totally different stories for totally different audiences. Or I may work on all three, a little bit at a time. Who knows. I'll see what works, I guess.

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