Feel free to judge me by my colon

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On my summer vacation I read two books that turned out to be related for unforeseen reasons. The first is Amy Schumer’s Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo. The second was Roxane Gay’s Hunger. The two books strike remarkably different tones. Amy Schumer, as you might imagine, goes for hilarity in her essays, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much substance was mixed in with the laughs. Her words and life decry the rigid standards of beauty and “acceptable behavior” for women. Her writing is a celebration of her body; the pleasure and comedy it brings her through food, sex, and other random awkwardness.

Hunger; A Memoir of my Body by Roxane Gay is about a woman who is very much a prisoner of her body. It’s a beautifully written and deeply painful history of a body violated and then protected in flesh.  Both authors write about the connections and interactions between our self perception, our corporeal selves, and society.

If you follow me on social media you might remember that as I was reading my second-hand copy of Schumer’s book I got a surprise bookmark. The previous owner had left her detailed and full color colonoscopy report in the back of the book- though I wouldn’t put it past Schumer to include one of these in each copy.

As I pored over this random woman’s report (and come on, who wouldn’t? ) I approached these pictures with a mixture of curiosity and revulsion. So that’s what a colon looks like. It’s kind of a weird mix of reds, pinks and fleshy yellows. It reminded me of the Sarlacc pit in Star Wars where the characters are trying to avoid being sucked in and digested for all eternity. (Yes, I had to look up what it was called, and yes it gave me nightmares as a kid.)

The colonoscopy report made me think about Gwyneth Paltrow, because, yes I read that looong New York times magazine article about her health and beauty empire devoted to things like 5,000 dollar yoga retreats, vaginal steaming and anal bleaching. The thing is her colon looks like a Sarlacc pit just as much as mine, or Roxane Gay’s or Amy Schumer’s.  It also got me thinking about our bodies and how they are more similar than different and how a hole in your body is ultimately just that. All the other stuff we attach to it is mostly just a bunch of socially constructed hoo ha. So go ahead, cancel that anal bleaching you had planned and the next time you find yourself staring at someone and judging them for the size or attractiveness of their body, remember that your colon looks like a Sarlacc pit too.

 

 

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Grinding gears

Actually, I’m a rather accomplished driver when it comes to stick shift. I had the advantage of learning (out of necessity) on a dark Ohio road in the wee hours of the morning when the two other drivers were out of commission. Too drunk to drive, they were still excellent at hollering directions from the back seat.

But it’s not driving I’ve revived the blog to discuss.  It’s the many gears and speeds involved in writing a book I’ve come to discuss. The first two thirds of any novel I’ve written have been the easy part. And by easy I mean some days the words flow and other days I’m lucky to get a sentence. The last third is always a challenge. This is when I’m required to pull together all the various plot threads and character arcs I’ve been developing without more than a loose idea of where it might end up.

My most recent draft is YA science fiction about a girl on Earth who dreams of being a Mars colonist. I’m still unsure about the last third but I’ve recently sent a draft to my agent to peruse. So now I’m idling in neutral with a couple weeks off from that fictional world. I know that my brain needs the break even if it feels weird not to be making progress.But making progress doesn’t always mean moving forward, at least not in the writing world. Sometimes it means being still and allowing your brain to percolate.

The other day I was on my way from a summer teaching gig to pick up my daughter at camp and I had a half hour to kill. Luckily, I was 5 minutes away from the beach. I fashioned a pillow from a few choice items in the back of my car, lay back in the sand and closed my eyes for a few minutes. It was one of those rare times when my over-active monkey mind was still. I was tired, drained from teaching all day, nursing a head cold. The warm sand felt delightful pressing into the backs of my legs and arms.

I found myself rolling the final chapters of my recent work in progress around in my mind like marbles in a glass jar.

And then, “Pop!”

An idea.

What if you did it this way?

I can’t lie. It’s like freakin’ magic sometimes. It might be my favorite part of writing; the part that feels so much like me and yet totally out of my control. And I know this can only happen when I let go, of the plot, the writing, the long drawn out driving metaphor. I don’t know if the idea is good yet, if it is the answer I’ve been looking for, but it’s appearance gives me the excitement, energy, and faith to get back on the road even if I still don’t know how I’ll reach my destination.