It’s October 28th and there’s a Nor’easter raging outside my windows bringing us a windy batch of slushy wet gray weather, very raw out there. Very gross...I took a picture of this male ring-neck pheasant in my flower garden looking for something to eat, he got lucky, I always leave plenty of seed heads for the birds.
I spent much of this day feeling ill from my monthly good grief, which always goes well with my daily chronic pain yuck-foo. For much of this quiet day of down time, I’ve been milling around on my laptop contacting agents to hopefully entice them with my manuscript The Fractured Hues of White Light. This is a complicated book—not for the faint of heart—very Joyce Carol Oates in inspiration. I adore it, I absolutely loved writing it, and I love the characters that I spent the last few years chatting with inside my head—each one had a story to tell, their side of the story. The main character, Samantha Ryder, an autistic artist, who was exploited by her father, Whitley Ryder, to create miniature paintings of the greatest hits of art history. Yes, it’s absurd, even Sammy thinks so, but people bought them and Sammy became famous at a young age because everyone loves the Mona Lisa, right? What a novelty, a little kid painting precise copies of the masters in miniature. Sammy creates one exactly like the original, only smaller, and each subsequent rendering is smaller than the last, none of them are the same. It’s her prediction that she’ll make a copy of the Mona Lisa the size of a postage stamp one day and some fool will buy it for a ridiculous sum of money. Her father encouraged Sammy to use this “gift” of copying after his young wife, Lenore (Sammy’s mother), was murdered by her former fiancé who she had jilted to marry Whitley. By the age of twenty-eight, she’s in a routine rut, overcoming her disability relies on set routines, no variation in schedule, it’s a rigid existence that is comforting for her, but she’s not content. At the same time that her gift saved her, she feels trapped. She wants more, she wants to paint something of her own, her sketchbooks are full of “doodles” of abstract, stream of consciousness that occupy her busy mind during idle times when she isn’t in the studio doing work on the commissions. As an artist, I can totally relate to this need for practice, study, discipline, and then more practice—and patience. An artist is always searching for that sweet spot in their creativity where they feel fulfilled and happy. Some find it, some don’t, even the ones who have “made it” continue to flail their medium of choice in search of more.
Part of Samantha’s desire for autonomy is trying to have a fulfilling life, she thinks she wants the same things as everybody else, but she fears that her preoccupied nature will be emotionally unsatisfying for the recipient of her affections. She does feel love, and has been in love.From the time she was a baby, Samantha was surrounded by people who love her, and are willing to do anything for her—and she loves them, although she has difficulty with the social graces and fumbles emotional responses. In spite of her withdrawn demeanor, she’s self-aware, and aware of others, only her responses to the feelings of others are not on the money if she reacts at all. Sometimes she’s an emotional bull in a china shop—overwhelming the person who she feels affection for. At the age of sixteen, she seduced Sylvester Hayden, a grown man who has been her friend and tutor since she was six. Their bond had been built on trust, and she trusted him to be the first one to make love to her. She fixated on him and bowled him over, and because he was lonely, chronically depressed, and insecure, although wracked with guilt, he never said no. After three years of this secret affair, in which, she would sneak out of her house every night to visit him, they never addressed their feelings, and just as he was pondering marriage, she ended the relationship just like she started it. Although he wanted to marry her, he was never certain about how she felt—and although he moved on into a relationship with Samantha’s half-sister, Helena, he continued to foster the feelings he had for Sammy, but as an unhealthy obsession that has an adverse effect on his relationship with Helena (who had been the woman of his dreams at one time). Of course they eventually get together, it’s part of the journey, and just as you think it can’t get any worse, it does…it’s gotta get worse before it gets better, that’s just how life is…I wouldn’t have a good story if everything was okeedokie…
Sample from Chapter 1
"...until death do you part?"
“I do,” I said with meek shyness, the words spoken barely above a whisper. At least, I think I said it—though I can never be too sure, so my gaze went roaming beyond the veil for a sneak-peek at Preston; he is smiling at me with so much pride, he might pop his shirt buttons. And then I slyly checked Judge Nadine Ardyce who had just made the inquiry regarding my promise that required me to answer “I do”; she’s still tying up the loose ends—uninterrupted by a Sammy disaster, so it seems I actually articulated the proper reply loud enough to be heard.
I dropped my veiled gaze to stare at our joined hands; Preston’s large, too perfect hands are damp with nervous energy as they gripped my small ones so tight that it nearly hurt. I wiggled my fingers just a little to ask for relief, but he didn’t loosen his grip, almost as if he was afraid I’d float away if he did anything to relieve my discomfort. Giving up, I struggled to remain quiet—to be good—my overwrought mind wandered with my gaze away from the intertwined pale pink flesh to look out the window just past Judge Nadine’s left arm. The imperfect old glass with the undulations and bubbles soothed me, I loved the way it distorted the daylight, making the landscape beyond into green abstract expressions. Relaxing, I’m glad that I didn’t fuck it up, I said what was required of me, and no one groaned, “Oh Sammy, blah blahblahblahblah blah.”
“You may kiss the bride.”
Silence. It seemed everyone sucked all the air from the room.
Preston raised my veil before I was ready for it; although I twitched, I stayed calm because I knew he wasn’t going to hurt me, this is what he’s supposed to do because we rehearsed it yesterday. What a happy man, he’s just so happy today—I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile so much as I have today; his thin, strangely pale pink lips drawn back from those perfectly white teeth, smiling—oh, happy day! His smile is contagious, so I smiled back. With the poofy illusion netting finally off my face, he bent forward and pressed that wide grin on my mouth. I relaxed just like I have practiced since I first let him kiss me, trying so hard—sohardsohard—so hard to be good as gold. I’ll just let him kiss me—he likes to kiss me.
Then there was applause—how weird, why are people clapping? I didn’t expect this. Are they clapping because I didn’t fuck it up, or are they just happy for us—I guess. Turing around, I nearly screamed—don’t clap, stop it! But I didn’t, I held my anxious tongue, and refrained from picking up my lace and hauling ass—I’m blowing this popcorn stand—I’m outta here, I want out of this dress—I want—I wantiwantiwantiwant—I want! Peace and quiet.
Smiling to disguise my unsettled guts, I focused my attention toward the window again, the wavy glass calmed me; I took a deep breath and sighed. Two tears dropped onto my cheeks.
People are surrounding us, laughing and smiling—Whitley, Helena, and Sylvester—they took turns hugging me. Sylvester caught my tears in a hanky that he pulled from his pocket—he understood—he knew—he knows me better than anyone. He said nothing as he dabbed away my emotions with tender discretion and tucked them in his pocket once he was sure he got them all.
I smiled. Happy day.
* * *
Oh, happy day—what have I done? My life, my life, my life—what is happening to my life? How much longer does this have to go on? Too long. There has been so much change in this one day; I need a little time alone to wrap my mind around it. Thankfully, in spite of everything that could confuse me or set me off, I’m having a good day—I am grateful for this good day, for everyone’s sake, not just my own. But it is also a bad day, because I’m so tired—being so tired makes me feel out of sorts; I can easily tip-over into being bad. Although, I suppose I am being bad right now because I’m hiding in Guthrie’s old bedroom—I really, really, really hope no one comes looking for me. I just want to be alone; I haven’t been alone since the last time I peed about an hour ago, and that was a fleeting moment of privacy while I sat with my fancy accoutrements bunched up around my waist, hoping that I didn’t dip any trailing lace or puffy illusion netting into the toilet bowl. It was also a frustrating moment because I was feeling rushed—rushed by Helena’s plaintive voice pleading, “Hurry up, Sammy, the photographer doesn’t have all day.” So, my finicky bladder held its breath until she went away. I just wanted five minutes alone to do my business and relax—is that a lot to ask? For now, I just want to be quiet—I need another five or perhaps ten minutes alone. It is just too loud with all of those voices talking at once—and the laughter is just too much to bear. The noise makes me feel so confused, I just want to scream, but that would be bad—that would be embarrassing—so I won’t scream; I’ll be good—I’ll be good as gold.
* * *
Good as gold. My mother, Lenore, had always put my goodness in those terms, although my tantrums were always a factor to reckon with, she appreciated my efforts when I tried hard to be good when circumstances cast the expectation for an emotional detonation. So, here I am today, a grown woman still worried about being good—how absurd. A woman my age pitching a fit would be accused of being on the rag, or have the predisposition toward bad behavior due to a certain heritage; my excuse, however, is autism. Although sometimes when I should know better, I pretend to lapse on purpose, especially when I’m over-tired—no one knows the difference, they just say that I’m having one of my episodes, so I’m not considered liable when I really do go off the deep end. If anything, I’m consistent when I’m being weird.
My being autistic was just an obstacle that my family worked around; often their over-protectiveness set up the circumstances that would trip me up and ruin a good day. But without them, I would never have come so far. With the diligent help of Lenore and Whitley, Guthrie and Helena, and then Sylvester, I learned what I needed to do to behave accordingly. They all took turns talking to me, reasoning with me, explaining to me: “We don’t understand what you want when you throw things or scream—look at me and say what you want—say what you mean—come on, Sammy, you know the words.”
To this day I still laugh at my misinterpretation when the doctor diagnosed me as autistic—I thought he said “artistic”—so I laughed, “I draw just like my Daddy!” But my mother cried, my father became indignant, and the doctor defensive. As my gaze rolled over the adult reactions, it became clear that I needed to adjust my response to reflect theirs—be serious. So, I mimed turning the key to my lips and flipping it over my shoulder just like Guthrie had showed me—be seen not heard. Then my pencil went about the business of drawing—after all, I am artistic.
And so it goes on from there...I'm a little bit partial to this manuscript, it was a tough one to write, and perhaps the one I'm most proud of...it's the "BIG BOOK", every writer has one, this one is the one...but then I always try to write all of them BIG, not necessarily page or word count, but I don't dumb down, I don't short change, nor will I pull my punches...I tell it like it is, as I see it from my size 6 1/2's...today my little feet are in toasty warm socks and have been warming by the woodstove...I feel sorry for the poor bird out there in the snow, (he lost his tail feathers, maybe a coyote almost got him, it's a tough world out there...)