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What to Do with "Julia Rosenbloom" and Other Characters I've Invented and Abandoned?
Communing with the protagonist of the early 90s novel I dropped has made it tempting to resume writing her. But it's also cautioned me to avoid perpetuating a sort of creative A.D.D.
Monday to Wednesday this week a friend and I are going to check out a place in Columbia County where we hope to host writing retreats and workshops together in the future. While we’re there we’re going to give ourselves some writing time, and I’ve been driving myself a little crazy trying to figure out which of many projects to focus on. Which qualifies as the best use of my creative time away from my desk?
I have the happy problem of too many ideas. But is it really a happy problem? As I realized after writing my post about all the versions of myself that I found when cleaning out my office, I clearly have a tendency to follow too many creative impulses, then only go so far with them—to start a lot of things I never finish. Plays, novels, songs, movies, drawings. It’s like I’ve been some kind of creative pinball, ricocheting impulsively from medium to medium, rarely following through on any of them, other than memoir and essays.
Back in the winter, when my friend and I first planned this little trip, I thought it might be a fun departure and something of a luxury to spend the time on fiction. In June I read a portion of the novel I’d started in the 90s and unearthed while tearing my office apart, and thought, Not bad, actually. Maybe I’ll work on this.
The protagonist of that novel, Julia Rosenbloom, is a bit of an avatar of me—well, a 20something version of me—but not entirely. For one thing, she and her family are much better off than I and mine ever were.
She’s more like the privileged girls I grew up adjacent to (and fascinated with), making it so that Julia has more at stake when she makes certain choices, such as: quitting her stifling but lucrative job at “A Rose-in-Bloom,” an exploitative fast-fashion women’s apparel firm her family owns; leaving her retrograde relationship with her rich frat boy fiancé; slumming it with a hot, broke guy who’d grown up with her, but in the blue collar next town; and, ultimately, going it on her own, finding out who she is without the trappings of family money, making her way in the world as (you guessed it) a writer, with neither help nor hindrance from anyone else. You know, blooming. (Me, I blossom.)
I’m glad I printed and saved that sample because I no longer have any more of it in my possession. I’d written several additional chapters, but sometime in ‘93 or ‘94, I spilled coffee on the ‘92 PowerBook I’d bought used, and lost the rest of the novel, plus everything else I’d ever written on that machine and the IBM clone I’d had before it, the files of which I’d paid a fair amount to have transferred. (Adding insult to injury, the coffee had been hazelnut flavored—hey, it was the early ‘90s—and the laptop never lost the regrettable stench of it.)
Falling upon those pages jogged my memory, and some of what was lost has been coming back to me—the general plot, Julia’s character arc, some of the scenes I’d either written or had in mind. For a few days, my brain latched onto that story, and I thought, Yeah, why don’t I pick this up again?
Then I remembered the other novel I started and abandoned, this one in 2016, with a main character named Liora Levy who’s a sort-of avatar of late 40s/early 50s me, but also very much not. Liora is a writer (I know) who moves upstate to “Queensburgh” with her much older Italian musician boyfriend who won’t commit, a guy who’s also in a green card marriage that’s supposedly nothing more, with a woman his age who hates Liora.
During the ever increasing hours that Giovanni spends helping his allegedly platonic wife finish her latest record, Liora busies herself trying to solve the mysterious death of “Ahimsa,” née Sherry, Zimmerman, a rich hippie who runs the Queensburgh food co-op, mostly using clues Liora picks up on the “Six Degrees” social media site.
Liora confronts her mixed feelings about newer arrivals upstate, examining her role and theirs in the cycle of gentrification, and struggles to decide whether she wants to eviscerate the rich or try to persuade them to adopt her, as in, become some kind of patrons of her work. She also grows tired of waiting for Giovanni, especially after she has a fling with a much younger guy who’s just moved to town.
That could be fun to work on, again, too, I’ve thought a few times in the past few weeks.
Then I remembered the linked short story collection I started sketching out a few years ago about a group of women in their 50s who were childhood friends, who are reunited for the funeral of another woman from their cohort. Old bonds re-emerge, ugly secrets are revealed, and differences that seemed minor in the past arise and metastasize, leading to painful confrontations, and equally painful non-confrontations.
Oh, I’d like to work on that! I’ve told myself a few times lately.
My enthusiasm about picking up each of those projects has been countered by more troubling thoughts: So many ideas for fiction, so little time, and so little commitment…How many characters and storylines have I created and abandoned?…Which are the most deserving of my time and attention?…How far could I get with any of those in just two/three days, anyway?…When, if ever, would I take one of those projects to the next logical place, or even to its conclusion? What’s the point of working on any of them right now?
And then I remembered two personal essays have been vying for my creative attention for some time now, both of which I outlined last fall. And I realized I’m working with only a little bit of time here—I want to give myself a realistic goal for this short retreat. And I should probably keep going in the lane where I’ve gained some purchase, after dawdling there for too long.
While it makes me a little sad to think about not taking a few days to just make shit up, make characters do what I dictate, make the world work the way I want it to, it’s also a little bit of a relief to choose a project that I can more assuredly execute, and publish. I’m going to promise myself that eventually, when I’m in a position to take significant time away from my day jobs, I’ll allow myself to dabble in fiction again.
The only choice left is which of the two essays to pursue. That’s easy: the New York one that I hope to publish in time for the tenth anniversary of Goodbye to All That’s publication, in October. (I mean, the other one I can’t publish until certain people die or I kill them, so, yeah, I’ll go with the New York one.)
In other news…
- had me on his podcast, .
You can also listen here.