Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Process of Becoming......

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. ------Anais Nin

The moment I opened the door, the club’s aroma hit me in the kisser. Scents which hadn’t touched the old schnozolla since my single days—cigarettes smoke, booze, aftershave, perfume, perspiration and…popcorn? Okay, so this joint did popcorn, maybe a cheaper alternative to peanuts. Club smells. Familiar, even after my seven year hiatus from the Houston nightlife. 

Every man who hunched over the bar turned in unison at my entry. Raised brows and narrowing eyes in their previously bored faces spoke the universal club language: new dame on the scene. My legs nearly gave out under me. Fear. Unadulterated fear.

I stood on the threshold, swiped a palm down the skirt of my snazzy red dress, and gave myself only a split second to decide—turn back and run or step through the door. Nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, I walked into the joint and asked one of the men, “Is this where the Parents Without Partners meetings are?”

He took a draw on his cigarette, blew a stream of smoke, and scanned me from head to toe through half-closed lids. He jerked his head toward the opposite end of the club. “They meet back there.”

With a shaky nod, I made my way past the row of men to the back of the club. Every eye followed me. I could feel them.

I crossed the club to the back room and found the meeting place. The usual skeptic, critically appraising stares met me, but I braced my padded shoulders (this WAS the 80’s, after all) and proceeded to sit at a table. A big, amiable teddy-bear of a fellow picked up his drink, scooted over to sit beside me, and introduced himself. Chuck—my first acquaintance at Parents Without Partners—became a good friend, and he made it possible for many more new friends to cross my path.

I’d done it. I’d taken the huge step to becoming social. That horrific first step, now a thing of the past.

That traumatic experience was my first attempt at an organized social event after my divorce. And, yes, this story actually DOES have something to do with writing.

My first novel is due for release in March. I’ve seen a mock up of the cover, I’ve completed the first round of edits and sent them to the editor. Congratulations, C. Zampa, you are officially an author. 

Or…whoa, back up there, girlie. Welcome, step right up to the next phase of this author-lady stint—promotion. You’ve got to set up a platform to promote yourself and your book. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites…and loops.

Upon hearing the word loops, I was immediately transported back to the door of that nondescript club for my first Parents Without Partners Meeting. A scene that intimidates me. 

Joining loops and mingling with new faces is, for some people—especially for me—traumatic. My, redemption, I thought, was the fact that, unlike real-life clubs, loops are only in cyberspace. I told myself it would be easier, as these were merely email addresses with no faces. How hard could that be? Surprisingly, it can be just as hard. 

Fortunately, I’d already been a member on various cyber groups—mainly author fan groups and a writing workshop—and had made some wonderful friends long before my book was finished. But, no, they said, I needed more exposure. Ay-ay-ay. More groups? More strangers? 

I have joined more cyber author groups, and it’s the same experience as my initial outing into the single world after my divorce. It’s scary. Scary as hell. I stand in the doorway, seeing this huge gathering of already-in-progress chats, and I scout for my ‘Chuck’ in the group, a face I know, somebody to reach out a hand and lead me around. My fortune IS that I DO already have friends who mingle in these groups as well, and—just as any real-life club, I find myself hanging onto their coattails. 

Some groups are so busy, jumping into a chat is much like tossing yourself over Niagara Falls in a dinghy. You get immediately carried away in the rapids and disappear before they ever see your face. Your ‘Hi from a Newbie’ is quickly silenced by the force of the already-gushing currents.

How do you survive? Just how good of a swimmer ARE you? 

 Me? As a kid, I nearly drowned my swimming coach AND myself in an Olympic sized, very deep pool and pretty much ditched all hopes of swimming after that in the real world. And I’m not sure I’m a strong swimmer in the cyber pools either. I’m not sure my voice is loud. I don’t demand to be seen and heard, unless I’m very comfortable in the forum. Then just watch my mouth run ninety-to-nothing. But cutting through waters where big, big schools of fish swim is hard. Very hard for many. And, like I said, it’s scary. 

If your comments should go unnoticed, do you sit and pout or just persist? Oh, come on. Is it EVER the better option to pout? Now, now, you know it isn’t. 

But is it worth it to persist, to push though the thick crowds of other fishes until you are finally recognized? Personally, I’ve found it can be. For a skittish fish like me, the attempt has produced some wonderful friends, some of them very dear. Some of these bigger fish have mentored me, and guided me around the cyber waters until I felt comfortable swimming on my own. Some have been instrumental in helping to build my confidence as a writer, and have encouraged—even pushed me—to get my work submitted. And they were there to cheer me when I was accepted by the publisher. So, considering this? Hell, yes, it’s worth it to persist in the cyber sea. There is nothing like the warm, genuine support I’ve found through the loops. The ears to listen to my fears, my cheers, my cries, my why’s. 

Just as in my Parents Without Partners experience, groups CAN have drawbacks. Every aspect of life has its own unpleasantness. I look back on my PWP outings, and remember many of the other ladies hissing because the men liked to dance with the me, new girl. And they snickered because the new girl always wore a dress or skirts. But I toughed it out. I dressed how I wanted to dress, and faced the leering tootsies every Tuesday night. I kept wearing my skirts and dresses and—go figure—very soon the other snarling dames were wearing the same. In other words, if it’s a place you feel you’d like to be, then stick around. Ignore the negative facets that might rear up, and focus on what you like about the group.

As I said, I’m navigating my way through some very large author/reader groups, and once again, I’m terrified. But I’m trying. Because, as Anais Nin said in my opening quote, I can’t make friends by remaining in the state I’m in, constantly looking in and not moving. And I certainly can’t put the burden on the other members of the group to take me by the hand like a toddler and shelter me. I DO expect them—and all groups—to be courteous, to do their part to make a new member welcome. That is to be expected and necessary for the group itself to form a genial impression. The rest is up to me. 

Anais also said this: I will not be just a tourist in the world of images, just watching images passing by which I cannot live in, make love to, possess as permanent sources of joy and ecstasy. Get it? I have to take part, too. This isn’t just a racket where everybody has to cater to me. It’s a two-way street and I have to participate. 

Or, as Dale Carnegie said: Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
You heard the man! And I’ll be willing to bet you’ll find your Chuck-fish in the crowd, just like I did.
Now, go, little fishies! Swim!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Leader of the Pack and All That Jazz...

I want to see these bad, bad, bad, bad men come to grips with their humanity. ----James Ellroy

He stepped in the joint, and like sharks gliding silent in the deep, we smelled fresh new talent. Every female gaze, including mine, immediately zoomed in on him. The guys knew immediately—just male instinct, I suppose—he was going to be a threat, he was going to be trouble with a capital “T”. They knew he was competition because his kind always was.

Louie. His name was Louie. He wasn’t very tall. Oh, hell, he was short. Not even particularly handsome. Waves of red hair, freckles. Not the average Joe we dames usually went for. But something about the way Louie wore his jeans and white T-shirt, something in his cocky grin, the savvy glint in his green eyes shouted bad boy. Very good bad boy.

For me, it was love at first sight. Red-headed Louie—I don’t even remember his last name—stole our hearts.

Louie, the predecessor to the Fonz, the copper haired Brando of Red Bluff Elementary. The new reigning king of Mrs. Smallwood’s second grade class.

One Friday night at Jackson’s Skating Rink, bad boy Louie asked me to skate with him and—there, with the rink dim except for the romantic multi-colored lights dancing over the walls and floor—I lost my heart to him. And thus, in second grade, wearing my blue rhinestone trimmed glasses and pigtails, I began my love affair with bad boys.

My preference in fiction—films, books, to read AND to write—are dangerous men. In my opinion, Scarlett O’Hara could have saved herself so much grief and time had she only shared my taste in the wicked pleasures of rakes like Rhett Butler instead of boring ol’ Ashley Wilkes.

Hey, let me at the script for Peter Pan, and I’ll free Captain Hook and toss little Pan to the giant crocodile. I shiver and fantasize about Lucius Malfoy in the Harry what’s-his-name film. You can have your Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Give me Col. William Tavington. And—am I ever ashamed to admit this—as much as I liked good-looking Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, I’d never have thrown myself from a cliff if the evil Magua took me captive.

In the fiction world, are these bad asses REALLY…well…bad? Or are they just flawed? Are they tormented souls who, as James Ellroy suggests, we want to force to come to grips with their humanity through our writing?

Are we literary co-dependents where our lotharios, mob guys, street-wise punks, highwaymen and pirates are concerned, with an unconscious need to reform them?

In true, everyday life, are these Robert Mitchum/James Dean types really what our hearts desire? Would that kind of guy REALLY make us happy, or have we romanticized them?

If we DO lust after these menaces-in-men’s-bodies, even in our non-fictional world, what is their allure? Our own unrequited dream of living on the edge, flirting with danger, being the sensuous yet pure beacon on his dark, tortured sea?

Remember the song from the sixties, Leader of the Pack? Part of the lyrics, I think, symbolized a common conception of these misunderstood rascals: They told me he was bad, but I knew he was sad. Get the picture? the crooner asked her friends. Yes, we see, they replied. And, because he WAS sad, that’s why, she says, she fell for the leader of the pack.

Powerful stuff these scoundrels have, the angst angle. Is there room in our hearts for the guys from the RIGHT side of town, the guys who AREN’T sad and tormented?

As little Louie was an automatic threat to the second grade male population—by simply by BEING Louie—are naughty boys a threat to the real-life guys in white hats?

In one of my favorite films, Crossing Delancey, the heroine apologetically announces to the hero, “You’re such a nice guy.” His response? So pitiful, yet so true-to life—he shudders and says, “Oh, what a thing to say!” Bless his heart. She did NOT mean it as a compliment, and he knew it. In the film, she preferred the womanizing anti-hero, an arrogant ass of an author with an ego the size of New York City. Of course, in the end, our good guy won out, but it was a continuous, painful, uphill battle for him.

Crossing Delancey may have been a fictional story, but it personified a true state of many female psyches. Even mine. I related to the heroine. I, too, dig that wicked allure, that I’m going to break your heart and you’re going to beg me for more attraction which is old as time, still alive and well.

Do bad boys really reform for us? Or do we write them because it’s our only way to mold them into the sexy-attentive-obsessively passionate-romantic-good and bad at the same time-always handsome lovers we want them to be?

Russell Crowe said, and I thought this was very interesting:

I like villains because there's something so attractive about a committed person - they have a plan, an ideology, no matter how twisted. They're motivated.

Is that what it boils down to? Are we attracted to something as simple as their…commitment? The powerful drive in these bad boys, whether it’s evil, just a little mean or just plain tortured?

If you love bad boys, if you write bad boys, I’d love to know why.