Every time I pick up Poets and Writers magazine to look through the DEADLINES section, I freeze at the chance of $1000.00 for a poem or an essay or a short story.
An essay? I don’t have that length in me these days. I suppose I could pull it, stretch it, pump up the word count with images. Then there’s the matter of subject. I haven’t been doing anything awesome. I haven’t been having awesome thoughts. I’ve been painting the house.
When I scraped the shingles, I thought, “This is what it’s like to be a dental hygienist.” When I primed the bare and rough spots, I thought, “It’s freeing to be reckless and sloppy.” When I started painting for real, I thought, “Oh no, I’m painting the house orange.”
Where’s the poetry in that? A little alliteration, maybe, but no crash, no resounding shiver like Mary Oliver’s “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
I’ll tell you what I plan to do. I’m going to push the ladder over the fence and extend it up the side of the house to the place where the roof peaks. I’ll straighten it and wobble it. I’ll put that folded over piece of birch bark under the gimpy leg and, with my wide paint brush and yellow PlayDoh bucket filled with paint, I will climb.
I will call on Mary, (Not Mary Oliver but the other Mary.) because I don’t trust the electromagnetic vibe machine or the faeries to keep me safe.
While I am up so high, painting, I will think about stories, about villains and victims in stories and I will think about divorce.
I suppose in every divorce there has to be a villain and I am she. I’ve never been a villain before and I think I’m doing it all wrong. I still peel and slice up apples for my children. I still wash and fold clothes. I haven’t taken up thieving or deceiving. I yield to bikes and buses.
Wait! This story is not genre fiction! There is no villain because there is no victim!
This is the story of a person who is out of her element, like a saltwater fish swimming in an inland sea. That’s the big story. The little story is of a person who has painted the house orange and hopes someone will say, “That orange house, I must have it!”