Gustave Flaubert famously coined the term mot juste. The idea of finding the right word and avoiding synonyms to vary the language was famously seized upon by Ernest Hemingway in his autobiographic tale of boozing and writing in Paris, A Moveable Feast.
I always appreciated the idea and tended in that direction but have come to wonder if it is more so mot paresseux (lazy), just sticking in the word out of habit, rather than some kind of idealization. I still prefer the idea to Mot SAT, but it’s something to consider.
First, I dream up something in my head, a moment or a line like “I like that they like you.” That’s where I feel like a baby shaman. I make it into words, a little doll house as it were. I am proud of it. And then I think about it and kill it. It stinks.
I dream another thing like “gun laws around here”, and build again. I feel a better shaman now, almost through adolescence. I kill it again. It’s worse than the first, a foul mutant.
I think more about the dream of the thing, the essential little lines and light and capture what I can of that. I mean, I’ll kill it later. Just not now.
The recent obsession with a multiverse existence is not surprising, given the surge of the sad and lonely scrolling to the next seven-second moment.
I think about a moment when I was 25 where I had to make the call between working as a caption editor or assistant book store manager. I chose to edit captions and did that for several years before stumbling into education. Why? I don’t know. I could have made a publishing contact at the book shop and been a dozen or so books into my career. Or I could have been fired for yelling at customers for reading the Penthouse magazines. Or I could have murdered someone for losing the only draft of my first and great work. Who knows.
Where would we be if Trump had died of food poisoning as a boy? If Hitler had been aborted? If Paris had just kept his hands off Helen? Or if, as Gunter Grass posited in The Flounder, women had never told boys the secret of procreation and therefore held onto their super power. Yes, sadly, this verse is it, kids.
The difference between the morning and evening edit is day and night. I am methodical in the morning, sorting through scenes like cupboards and drawers, matching the colors, straightening everything out.
My brain is loose in the evening, searching for the magic and music more than anything else, adrift, catching at the flotsam.
It’s a balancing game, getting those two to work together, always interesting to see which gets the last word.
I like the bathroom for its clean lines and tight confines. I like closets and storerooms too. I think about staying in there for days and days, the rest of my life in this safe little place, the opposite of claustrophobia.
That’s where I leave the orphans from my book, alone in their room where they must stay:
They watched the ranger and two of the others amble toward the dead moose, the other one vanish from view, and then moments later, a pickup truck come careening through the grass.
“These boys are up to this tomfoolery? The ranger boy included.”
“I don’t like this, Tommy.”
“None of it is good, my love.” They moved quickly down the path, across the beach and were just getting to his camper truck when the pickup appeared behind them on the road.
“We’ll just keep walking, Deirdre. Same pace and that. We know nothing of them.”
“You’re the one who has to keep his cool, right?”
“As the Bay of Fundy.”
The truck pulled alongside them, the ranger in the passenger’s seat. “Glad to see he’s back on the leash.”
“Just like you said,” Tommy replied quickly.
“What the hell is that?” A high-pitched voice called from inside the truck. “A goddamn leopard?”
Dee walked just ahead of Tommy, her eyes on the ground; they were almost at the camper.
“Seriously.” The truck stopped and the man got out. He wore dark sunglasses and had close-cropped hair. “What is that?”
Dee looked at him briefly. “A serval.”
“A what? Never heard of that. What is he like? African? Looks a hell of a lot like a leopard. Or maybe a puma-like. Can I pet him?”
Dee pulled Apollo close to her legs as Tommy unlocked the back of the camper. “He doesn’t do well with strangers.”
“You come here from Newfoundland?” Another had got out and stood by the first. He was taller with a thick head of hair and beard. “Quite the place, I hear. Hell of a lot of moose up there, right?”
Tommy opened the door, and Apollo jumped inside.
“You two on a trip?” The first one moved closer, rifle in hand. “Driving up the coast?”
“What’s your hurry, huh?” The second man leaned toward Dee. “Have a beer with us before you head on.”
“We would like that,” she replied. “But we’re supposed to be somewhere.”
“My name’s Steve, all right?” He turned to the man beside him. “This is my buddy, Dale. And that’s Carter driving. You already met Alex. He’s the big ranger.”
“Nice to meet you fellas.” Tommy nodded back.
“You see ourmoose?” Dale waved to the back of the pickup where the hind legs and antlers were visible above the brim. “Nine hundred pounds easy.”
“Have a beer with us.” Steve turned back to Dee. “We’ll carve you up a steak.”
“We have to go.” Dee pursed her lips. “Like we said.”
“Who breaks camp at the end of the day?” He leaned on the camper. “We can chill and then you can split.”
Dee went down the side of the camper and climbed in the passenger seat.
“Hey, you can be polite, right?” Steve had followed her down; his face got hard, stupidly so. “Aren’t you Canadians supposed to be friendly?”
“I’m from Pittsburgh,” Dee replied.
“You all right?” Alex, the ranger, held onto the driver’s door of the camper as Tommy climbed in. “You seem upset about something.”
Tommy stopped, one leg in. “No.”
“We just have to get going,” Dee added.
“There’s nothing going on here,” Alex replied.
Tommy tried to close the door but Alex held on. “I’m not getting your meaning.”
Alex sighed. “Maybe I should impound the cat.”
“Why would you do that?” Dee demanded. “We’re leaving.”
Tommy started the engine.
“I’m sorry.” Alex leaned toward the keys in the ignition.
“Listen, b’y.” Tommy elbowed Alex’s hand off the door and put the truck into the gear, gunning it down the rutted road, his teeth clenched, getting the door closed as he glanced in the side mirrors. “Is he coming? You see anything?”
Dee turned back, waiting to see a cloud of dust. “I can’t see anything.”
“Fucking hell.” Tommy laughed angrily. “Fucking hell, those boys. Up to no good, that’s what they were. No good.”
It took me ten weeks to process Tennessee’s notes, but at long last I have begun my eighth (ninth?) draft of Anori. Tennessee (my editor) made excellent suggestions related to killing characters – a terse goodbye to Valerie and Robi – as well as complete restructuring, which means sideways, headache-inducing thinking and no more scenes in Newfoundland like this precious little one:
Flagstones, newly dug, and boards bent into the red earth, led down a narrow path, following the base of a rocky ledge to a meadow. Fitz walked ahead, his windbreaker too small, pants heavy and large. The archeological site was deserted, a wheel barrow with shovels and picks lined up at its side, standing by a row of tents, the one at the far end with its front entrance unzipped and flapping in the wind.
“A bit of sloppiness that.” Fitz bent down to the tent, head-first into a man, middle-aged, as he backed out. “Watch your—Unh!”
“That’s the irony,” Eileen whispered behind Dee.
“You all right there?” The man zipped the tent shut before standing up.
“Looking about for Tommy Baines.”
The man adjusted his glasses. “He must have gone with the others, an hour or so ago.”
“Off to the pub, that it?”
“Don’t know about that.”
“We’ll just show the girl around before he makes his way back.”
“You’ll need Tommy to take you through for that.”
“We’ve been around the heath, seen the pit, the chunks of slag,” Fitz replied. “We know where not to put our feet.”
“That a leopard you got there?”
“He’s a serval. His name’s Apollo.” Dee smiled at him. “He won’t bite.”
“Aim to keep my hands intact, thanks.” He gave them a wide berth as he headed up the path. “Evening to you.”
“That’s his spot.” Eileen pointed out the yellow and blue flagging tape in the distance. “They’re saying it was an iron ore camp, set up to make their nails for the ships.”
“A lot of theories about the Vikings could be gutted with a place like this,” Fitz added. “They’ll be looking up and down the coast and across to Nova Scotia next. See what they can find.”
Dee watched the wind churn the distant water into a wash of whitecaps, each chasing after the thick grey clouds low in the early evening sky.
I will myself to believe that there is someone who understands me, not a true love as much as a Dopple Bro.
I cling to the idea, a spasm in my thinking, as I call everyone I can think of from the fire escape, thinking this might be the way in through the razor thin thing to that other monstrous, astonishing thing on the edge of the galaxy, that somewhere that I know not to be true.
It can be imagined in a moment and maybe even felt, but it is nothing, like the dream of wholly loving your child and believing they might feel the same way back. Temporal is such a nice and refined way of saying fuck this place
I did get back to it today. And a scene from Baller was expunged.
INT. INSIDE MAX’S ROOM – NIGHT. Dark room, dim light through a gap in the curtains. A gecko clings to the stalk of a mangled plant. Max lies under clothes and covers in the corner of what used to be a water bed. Baz walks in the doorway. BAZ Hey, Max. We got to go. The light turns on. The gecko scurries to the bottom of the plant. BAZ pulls the blanket off the ruined bed, revealing Max lying against the wall in his boxers. BAZ You can sleep in the car. (Pause) We got to go. Baz leaves the room. There is a long pause. The gecko peeks over the planter edge and then vanishes as Graham’s voice comes down the hall. GRAHAM Max! Max moans, his arms draped over his face. Graham stands over him, arms crossed, and then raises his hand, holding a Roman Candle firework. GRAHAM Last warning, Max. (Lighting a match) Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Max opens his eyes and peeks around, almost like the gecko. The Roman Candle firework flares to life. Graham points it at Max, and a fire ball launches just above his head. Graham aims the tiny fireballs, one after the other, at Max. The sheet begins to smoke. MAX (Scurrying off the bed) Are you crazy!? A pile of papers catches fire. Baz appears with a bent pail of water and douses the room and bed. Max jumps away, knocking over the plant. GRAHAM (Jamming the Roman Candle into the pail) Let’s go, Max! Graham and Baz leave. Max, still gasping, stands still for a moment and then picks up his pants and goes after them. It is silent for a moment and then the gecko finally crawls out of the planter and perches atop the mangled plant.