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Hoo boy, back in the saddle again after a weekend trip to my Fair New Mexico. Let me tell you, it’s hard to get into the ol’ groove after being back in my homestate.
I found myself in southern New Mexico over the past four days for the occasion of my goddaughter’s sixteenth birthday. She is amazing, beautiful, smart as a whip, sassy as hell and genuinely caring.
She has been easy to love since the day I first met her tiny little self. She was barely a month old when her mom brought her along and met me as I came off the plane at the El Paso airport. My world has not been the same since.
The occasion of her birthday celebration meant that I also got to see quite a few people I hadn’t seen in years.
The thing that really sticks out to me from this past weekend was not just seeing a lot of dear friends who go back quite a few years, but getting to know their kids.
Time has marched along and many of these kids are now teenagers or older. So much more than a fun lump of baby or a capricious toddler. They are getting to the age where you really start to see who these kids are going to be.
What a lot of fun to see what so many of my now grown up and responsible friends have created. Look, back then I would have voted some of my tribe to the sidelines in the game of propagating mankind, and yet, their kids have turned out pretty damn awesome.
As I hear about these kids moving into their adult lives, getting married, graduating college, being responsible members of society, I also had to sit down for a moment and contemplate just how fast time marches on. And on. And on.
So many times I found myself saying “Really? Working a full time job? Getting married? Graduating college? Wow. I remember the day you had that adorable baby. Damn.”
One old friend summed it up when she told me she’d just moved her youngest into her own place. “My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘Now what?'”
Now what indeed. Friends who are around my age, kids raised, possibility of retirement on the horizon and a new life awaits.
Wait a minute, aren’t we going to a Corbett Dance tonight?
Oh no, Karen, that was twenty-five years ago.
Nina Karen needs to sit down. Bring your Nina a piece of cake, would you dear?
Those old hands on the clock keep pressing forward, ever onward, whether I’m ready or not.
Image found on freeimages.com
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Since I am a native New Mexican, it seemed mandatory that I watch the television series “Breaking Bad,” which is set mostly in Albuquerque.
I missed it during its first run on AMC but found all five seasons are available on Netflix.
The Good Man watched some of the pilot episode with me and found it just didn’t work for him. Okay, fair enough. This meant I was on my own to get through it.
If you are part of a couple that shares a Netflix account, you know how hard it is when one of you wants to watch something and the other doesn’t. You have to carve out time to watch when the other isn’t in the mood to be watching TV.
I had to look for times when either The Good Man was off doing something else or I had to set up my iPad and watch it while sitting in the same room with The Good Man. Which, let’s face it, seems kind of silly.
Breaking Bad is not the kind of show one can really binge watch. I found that after getting through a single episode I had to step away from the television and go out into the world and remind myself that nice things still exist.
So it ended up taking me a really long time to watch all 62 episodes, but finally a few weeks ago I did it. I summited the mountain. I reached the peak. I got through the final episode of Breaking Bad.
I have to admit, the last five or so episodes are pretty hard to watch. The whole story and its characters are unraveling and there is a lot of violence and ugly things happening. I found it hard to finish, but I prevailed.
And now that I am on the other side, I broke through, so to speak, what is my final analysis?
As a writer, this is genuinely some of the best writing I have ever experienced. The character development, the original ideas, the pacing, the language. All of it. Genuinely amazing and enviable. Easy to understand why the show won so many awards. And easy to see why it’s been hard for Brian Cranston to find other projects to work on. He’s said he wants projects where the writing is as good as Breaking Bad, which has to be a real challenge.
As a New Mexican, it was at times really hard to watch. I’m not blind, I know there is a lot of bad happening in my homestate. That said, a lot of dramatic license was taken for the sake of a good story. It’s possible to live a nice life in Albuquerque without encountering meth. It really is.
I cringe when I see posts on social media where people say they moved to Albuquerque just because of the show. To each their own, I guess.
I did often have a chuckle when I saw familiar places in the show. The carwash that Walt and Skylar own? I lived about two blocks away from it. The dark restaurant with candles on the tables where Walt and Jesse would often meet? It’s over on Gibson (closed now) and my boss and I used to go have lunch there when I worked for Sandia Labs. Saul’s office? Used to frequent the liquor store in the same strip mall.
The list goes on.
However, seeing all of those locations in the show didn’t really make me homesick. They seemed so out of place in the context of what was happening.
Anyhow, I guess in summary, I can say I have mixed feelings. The writing and acting are profoundly good. And I am glad I watched the show so that I at least understand all of the cultural references. I do kind of wish New Mexico could have gotten a better shake. It’s a beautiful state with a lot to offer including a unique culture and way of life.
Nevermind. I take it back. It’s awful. If you aren’t already a resident, you don’t want to live there. Seriously. (Much love to the 505!)
I am glad that New Mexico got its moment in the spotlight, and I think the story, writing and acting changed the game for television. Hard to believe something so culturally groundbreaking came from a deceptively simple story about a cancer stricken chemistry teacher and his ne’er do well former student cooking meth. It’s a fine though challenging show.
And now the big question……
Do I start watching “Better Call Saul?”
Image found here.
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When I began to seriously focus on submitting my writing to literary journals, I was schooled on the concept that it takes about one hundred rejections to get an acceptance.
Since submitting to one hundred journals takes a lot of research work, I began working with a really awesome service that helps me target submissions and keep track of rejections. Over the past several years, I have found that the one hundred rejection rule is pretty much true.
What this means is that I now get A LOT of rejections. In those first years most submissions were done by regular mail so I’d often have a mailbox crammed with rejection notices.
Now most submissions are done electronically and it is my email inbox that is filled to overflowing with rejection slips. They tend to come in waves. None for a while then six or eight at a time. Rejections usually show up when I’m having a really crappy day.
Receiving a pile of rejections just makes everything SO much better.
When I started getting that many rejection notices, it hurt at first. Each one was a tiny “ouch” and made me sad. Who could reject my perfect little carefully crafted babies?
Over time, I became immune to the sheer volume of no-thank-yous. The skin hardens a bit, the outlook toughens and now I just shrug and say “okay” and move on.
It’s what makes those occasional acceptances that much more sweet. A barrage of no and then a glowing, shiny, joyful yes.
Since I have had the good fortune to receive quite a few acceptances, my submission service has been trying to up my game a little bit.
By up my game, I mean in addition to the regular submissions to a lot of fine magazines that no one has heard of, they have been adding a few more well-known and highly regarded journals to my submission list.
I’m not quite up to the point of hitting up the New Yorker for publication, but names on the list recently include McSweeney’s, Harvard Review, Zoetrope and The Paris Review.
I always giggle just a little when I hit “submit” on those queries. That’s because the odds of my work seeing the light of such highly regarded and high circulation magazines is pretty slim. That said, you don’t hit a home run if you don’t swing at a few pitches. So I swing away.
The Good Man has a different view on the rejection process. He is always happy to see the rejections in the mailbox. His firm belief is that if they are saying no then at least they considered my work, if even for a moment.
He especially loves the so-called “good” rejections. The slips that have a personal note from the editor, or say something like “while we were unable to use this particular story, we’d like to see more work from you.”
Those good rejections are a tiny bit of bread to a starving writer. Those few words are enough to keep me working hard to get to yes.
Anyhow, all of this was on my mind as this morning I sorted through a stack of mail and opened a couple rejection slips. I can recognize them right away because when I do paper submissions, I include a self addressed stamped envelope.
When my own envelope returns to me, it’s almost always a no. Almost. I did get an acceptance one time in my SASE. I’d neglected to open it for almost two weeks and couldn’t believe it when I did open it. That was a nice surprise.
Anyhow, this morning’s envelope had a postmark from New York and inside resided the tiniest sliver of paper. What I estimate to be about one-eighth of a sheet of paper.
It’s from The Paris Review. A highly revered title.
They were able to spare just a tiny sliver of paper to tell me no way, Josephina.
And for a moment, I’d like to think about some low to no paid intern reading my story, considering it and then thoughtfully sending this slip.
I’m sure they LOVED my work, it just didn’t fit the themes on their literary calendar. Right?
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I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write.
Oh, I know, I’ll try my old trick of using a random word generator.
Okay here goes. *click*
The word is: carnival.
Ooh a juicy word. Yes. Okay. Great. Here we go.
Heeeere we go.
My mind is like a carnival?
Nah. It’s like a carnival that’s left town. Quiet. Dead. Bits of trash floating around.
That was almost lyrical and then it wasn’t.
So goes the ongoing wrestling match with my demons. Well, not demons. That’s an unfair characterization. My Muse is not a demon and my demons are not Muses.
Both are an essential part of the creative process.
In seeking advice from my mentors for my utter Jornada del Muerto** of creativity, I was reminded of the old advice: Just start writing. Anything. Just write.
And so I am. Writing. Something and nothing. I know if I can keep writing something and nothing it soon becomes a something about something and the wind fills my sails and I glide along that literary ocean, making progress. (metaphor much?)
But until that happens, I am thirsty and hungry and yearn for pretty words and meaty thoughts and the satiation I can only feel after feasting on a good turn of phrase.
Until then I wander the Jornada del Muerto of my mind. Am I off the trail? Am I still headed west? Will there be water soon?
I make the journey to find the story that flows from the word carnival. I’ll carry it around in my virtual backpack until I figure out where it goes. Somehow. Somewhere.
My carnival awaits.
The copyright on this amazing photo belongs to Laurent Chehere who is a profoundly creative artist.
**With a nod to fellow New Mexicans. For the non New Mexicans, the Jornada del Muerto is a really long stretch of fairly bleak desert in New Mexico that contains no sources of water. It was not such a nice place for Conquistadors and settlers back in the day. Many legendary tales are told of travelers suffering the journey.
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It began with a photo of fish.
The photo was published in the online edition of the Albuquerque Journal. I often read the Albuquerque Journal so I don’t feel so far away from home.
A glance at the file information for the photograph gives a date of June 2002. I find that so hard to believe, and yet it’s true
The photo shows three fish that got stuck when their river home dried up. A rapid New Mexico drought took all the water.
I can’t recall which New Mexico river this happened to, I probably should have kept a screen shot of the newspaper article, but even as I know that New Mexico has struggled with drought for years (and today), I was amazed and shocked by this photo.
It is difficult to believe that water could evaporate that quickly.
Here is the photo:
The image didn’t leave my head, it rattled around in there and said so many things to me. My brain worked it over and a story began to form. The feeling of trying to draw a breath but only getting New Mexico mud.
The first draft of the story “Sangre del Toro” took shape in October 2002. Wow. Thirteen years ago.
Over the years I have submitted that story off and on to contests and literary magazines. I’d dig it up, edit and polish and try again with no luck.
I believed in the story, in the character, in the image, so I kept trying. And trying. And editing and trying and so on.
I did another edit and submitted it again for another round in the publishing meat grinder this last December. I have come to understand that publishing is as much about timing as it is about quality. And that’s why I kept trying.
On February 26, I finally got a yes from a literary journal named Jet Fuel Review.
It was almost surreal to finally hear a yes in response to this story and it’s even more surreal to announce that the Spring 2015 edition of Jet Fuel is live.
You can download the entire edition here: Full Edition
Or you can read just my story here: Sangre del Toro.
Woo! Whatta rush. Very excited about this one finally seeing the light of day. It was only by searching my hard drive to find that fish photo that I realized this published piece was thirteen years in the making.
Thirteen years of believing in a kind of sad story about a little girl caught out, just like the fish.
The editors of Jet Fuel told me they thought the metaphor was a little too obvious, which is probably true. I guess they still liked it enough to publish.
And so please give it a read and support Jet Fuel. They are a great group and I am forever indebted to them for taking a chance on little Adelida.