“I Am A Hideous Manoctopus!” Or, How I Wrote A Novel That Isn’t (Part One)

When I first moved to North Carolina, my living situation was somewhat…precarious, shall we say.

The short version: there was a chore wheel.*

The longer version: Through Craigslist, I ended up sub-sub-letting** a room in a house with two women, Crazy and Lushy, whose shenanigans I had to put up with because, if I didn’t, they could and would have thrown me out.

Remember: chore wheel. Also, house meetings. Say WHAT?***

“We aren’t just roommates, after all,” said Crazy, while I thought, “Actually, that is EXACTLY what we are. Roommates, and nothing more.”

Look, I’m not the kind of person who cobbles together a surrogate family everywhere she goes. In addition to being solitary by nature, I have also been blessed with, I daresay, a surplus of relatives — so I neither want nor need virtual strangers with whom I must make polite, stilted conversation while we sit down to a once-weekly family-style meal. I’m just not that into mandatory togetherness.

Rounding out our fake family was Crazy’s Dog, whose separation anxiety was so bad that she’d gnaw on her forelegs until they bled**** and Crazy’s Cat, which she ended up giving away to a friend because, as she explained, “I just don’t like him.”*****

Lushy, when she wasn’t coming home at 2 in the morning and puking her guts out before passing out drunk, held long telephone conversations with confidantes in her Midwestern-accented white-girl Spanish about the various men who had broken her heart or betrayed her.

Tho’ aside from the binge drinking and occasionally straying into telenovela territory, she was all right.

After all, Lushy wasn’t the one who pounded on my door at one in the morning and — after dragging me into the kitchen and pointing to the f*cking chore wheel — informed me that the kitchen was not clean enough.

Couldn’t this wait until dawn, at least? Apparently not.

Curiously, I found those episodes — the ones where I ended up on my hands and knees scrubbing under the counters with a toothbrush — less irritating than the passive-aggressive notes on the marker board, e.g. “G. You forgot to rinse out your mug which is actually my favorite mug so I washed it for you” or “G. today was your turn to take out the recycling even if there are only a handful of items you still need to take them out to the curb b/c they will attract pests and that is disgusting

Eventually, fed up with all the notes, I scribbled a huge “F*CK OFF, CRAZY” on the marker board and walked out of the house.

In response, Crazy wrote me a letter, which I stuck straight into the paper shredder unopened. Harsh? Maybe, but she was a 35-year-old bipolar sixth-grade teacher with a more-than-strictly-recreational drug habit who made chore wheels and once yelled at me because I made a disparaging remark about the NBC television drama series, Heroes. So yeah, I was a little concerned about anthrax and/or sentences that begin with “I feel…” Besides, she’d already cornered me and made us have a “conversation” about “our expectations.” (For the record, mine were: I want to pay my rent on time and be left alone.)

In addition to house drama so inane it deserved its own series on Bravo, I’d also reached a point where I had literally filled out every job application in town. Every establishment downtown; every single store in the Mall, most of which have since gone under; every fast-food restaurant in town, even that Pizza Hut that’s almost certainly a front for something. Everything. There was nothing to do but wait.

So I hauled my battered laptop to the library and wrote a novel.

I should probably elaborate, since that sounds absurdly straightforward. However, minus the dirty details, that is pretty much what I did. I just sat and wrote.

Typically, I’d sit in a carrel close to an electrical outlet. Only one was reliably available, and I’m pretty sure I know why: on one side was a guy not-so-surreptitiously masturbating to People Magazine (Wow. Just…wow); on the other was a bespectacled gentleman who was memorizing Encyclopedia Britannica. I’m not sure how long he’d been at it, but during my drafting period, he was well ensconced in the Ds.

Jury’s still out on which of us was making the best use of our time.

And that’s how Supervillain came to be. (Isn’t that a heartwarming story?)

When I finished the manuscript, I printed it out and put it in a binder, because I wasn’t sure what to do with it. All I knew was that I desperately wanted some tangible record of How I Spent My Period of Unemployment.

At the time it seemed terribly important to be able to explain the nine-week gap in my resume — which remains the largest lacuna, to date, in my entire work history — to a team lead at Wal-Mart.

Of course, looking back on it, answering, “I wrote a madcap romantic comedy about a supervillain” was not going to impress anybody with the clout to bestow a minimum-wage job upon a broke@$$ student.

“Well done, Gill,” I congratulated myself. “You’ve written a book that no one will ever read.”

Except that it did get read. Initially by My Clone, who found it on the bookshelf where I’d stashed it for safekeeping, read it, and shared it with her friends. Who, in turn, shared it with other people. And suddenly, people I didn’t know all that well were telling me how much they had enjoyed reading Supervillain.

“You should try to get it published,” someone said, because — and make a note of this, because I really wish I’d known — that’s the sort of thing people automatically say to you when they learn that you write things. DON’T listen to them, for they have not the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

It’s like when you bring a tray of your most amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to a potluck and someone says, “Wow, these are great! I’d buy them from a bakery!” Do not, for the love of god, open a bakery.

Really, they’re just being nice.

But I was an idiot. Plus, I had this manuscript just lying around. So why not try to get it published, right?

ALL THE REASONS, is why not.

I’ll get into some of these tomorrow.

*Shoulda grabbed my $#!+ and made a run for it.
**Which isn’t, legally speaking, a thing.
***Honestly, the ad posted by the self-proclaimed Sugar Daddy who “just want[ed] to treat a young lady nice” in lieu of rent probably would have been a better bet. Ah, hindsight!
**** This occurred with some frequency, because Crazy had a tendency to disappear on weekends with the boyfriend she “just knew” she was going to marry after their second date (she didn’t; they broke up). Although I dutifully fed the dog and let her out in the yard, my presence did nothing to assuage the animal’s fears that her owner had abandoned her.
*****I can’t say I was super-fond of this particular cat, which was a creepy staring cat — you know, the kind that sits and fixes its bulging eyes on you while you’re undressing and, mewling pathetically, tries to open the bathroom door while you’re sitting on the toilet. Wait, you don’t? LUCKY YOU! Still, I wouldn’t have given him away, and certainly not after 9 years.
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