Wednesday, June 13, 2012

[uncensored]: Whatever Happened to RMD?

As salaam alaikum,

Mo’s so light he feels like flying yet he knows better than to grin wildly at this point. This is no smiling matter, less a laughing matter, and he finds himself another night trekking home with clothing improper for the chill of the evening, his mind fixed on her.

He slipped a while back because they’ve had a freak ice storm and it’s hard to tell the black of the ice from the black of the asphalt and the sidewalks are even worse. He steadies himself and resumes his resolute pace. 

Mo stares at his feet and about four feet before him to ensure that he doesn’t slip on yet another ice patch. He also notices that he swings his left foot out farther than his right when he walks. He forgets the ice and finds himself zeroing in on his left foot and contrasting its swing to that of his right.

Nisreen’s laughing at him. “What is it?” he asks, turning back. It’s one of the warmer days, and she’s wearing a light-weight pink blouse with a neckline low enough that it’s showing her chest a bit whenever the wind blows her scarf. She’s standing near the front door to her apartment building, and he can hear her cackle despite the whirring of the wind that is whipping about them. 

“I’ve grown accustomed to your stride,” she remarks as he returns with her mail in one hand, her mailbox keys in the other.
“How’s that funny?” he inquires, as she holds the screen door open for him. She follows closely behind him.

“I don’t know.  It’s just so characteristically you,” she answers, giving him a halfway grin. “You kind of have a clumsy way of going about it, like you’re involuntarily throwing your left foot from beneath you.”

This is an excerpt from RMD that I may or may not have posted before. For my readers who have come along post-RMD mention, RMD, A Rose Much Desired, is the first novel I've actually competed as an adult. I try to get my family members to read it before I do my next round of major edits, but no one seems to get through it, so I've nicknamed it "The Brick."

To give a little bit of background of the story, I first dreamed up the plot for RMD during a creative writing class my senior year of college. I was struggling writing short stories for this course, partly because of a teacher who brought her own personal opinions on the character's motivations dominate during the discussion of the writing. RMD started out as an assignment to practice writing enthralling first-paragraphs of stories. I thought, what if I wrote a first paragraph for a story in which a practicing Muslim wakes up from a one-night-stand.

Thus was born Mo, afraid of the woman that he'd just slept with as he recognizes that she's awaken and is staring up at him.

After reading the paragraph out-loud (which was difficult for me, as a then-hijabi and one who doesn't curse in public, to read aloud the word "shit"), my instructor questioned the motives of the female involved. Why is she angry, she asked? She did it, didn't she?

Seriously, professor? You do not think that anger is a probable emotional outcome of a one-night stand? The character is not you, after all.

I ignored that comment, but began imagining the story more. Who is the woman behind the one-night stand? Who is Mo? What led them there? What is their story?

I began sketching out the short story, which I called, "Agent," as a possible short story for the second half of my semester in creative writing. I didn't get "Agent" done in time enough, so I instead wrote a story called "Drinking Water," a play off of Tom Jobim's "Agua de Beber," but it was a story based in the DR, with a character, Jannah, based on me, trying to figure out where her morals lay, from her mode of dress to whether she dances in public, while on the island of Hispaniola, while being courted by a friendly Dominican man.

It was okay at best.

But, it was the first semi-autobiographical piece I had written. As I'd noticed in my freshman year creative writing class, the story that I wrote in which one of the characters was closer to myself got more of a response (Gloria in "Garota" was both me and my best friend, who had recently come out to depression and my best friends attraction to women). There was something more authentic about the whole piece if at least one of the characters was real, in a sense.

And so I went back to the drawing board on "Agent," after the class was over. I began writing scenes, while flying to medical school second-looks, while taking a trip with my parents to Disney, during the break between lectures...anytime I got. I was beginning to fall in love with the story of Mo and the difficult woman that he made the mistake of sleeping with.

Except, the character I chose to make myself was that woman...

I put myself in that woman's shoes, the woman who awoke angrily to a Muslim man after a one-night stand, and wondered what I would have done. The story blew up after that, took on a life of it's own. "Agent" became a novel and "Agent" was no longer a proper name for a novel, so I brainstormed before I came up with the perfect name: "A Rose Much Desired."

I think I came up with the name only after I began outlining the plot of the story, only after a blogging friend of mine recommended that I do National Novel Writers' Month in November of 2007. Since RMD was growing, I took that as an opportunity to push myself to write my first novel. It grew to three narrations. "Agent," was the story of Mo, "Desirée" was the story of the woman he was sleeping with, and how she became so enamored of Muslim men that she specifically sought Mo out, and "Muslimah" is the story of Nisreen, the Muslim woman who sees Mo's distress and embarks on a journey to help him out of what she feels is a spiritual deficit.

I "won" NaNoWriMo, writing over 50,000 words in one month (while learning anatomy), and added bits and pieces to the novel (I really was in the last quarter of the book and got writers block). I wouldn't finish RMD until November 2010, three years after I began.

I had declared a "Center of Awesomeness," that can be seen in my journal at the time. I was going to finish the story! Around the same time, I met who would become my notorious ex, Ex the Prototype. He was gentle and kind, and passive in his attraction to me, and I think that was why I let him in. He didn't have the underlying voracious sexual energy that other guys who liked me had, so I was less threatened by him. Honestly.

And let me not front, we had a lot of other things in common...besides, of course, religion, which I worried about.

But while that was worrying me, I finished RMD, finally. I printed it out at the medical school, while we still had unlimited printing, I edited it by hand and then edited it on the word-processor. This was not my first of may edits to the text.

I prepared my family to read it, and my best friend...and then Ex the Prototype wanted to read it.

It required a lot of trust to email him that manuscript, but I did.

Meanwhile, my mother declared that she couldn't read it after only getting past the first chapter, that she didn't like Desirée and if it weren't my writing, she wouldn't care any more about her to continue reading. And, she said when she read Desirée, she just saw me, and it was distracting.

Which is effective, because Desirée is me.

And other comments that were marginally constructive criticism. She then pointed me to one of her favorite authors, Eric Jerome Dickey, and I was a little taken aback. She didn't get far enough into the story to realize that that was not the kind of novel I was going for, but okay.

Then none of my cousins and friends could complete the story.

The final sinker was the ex. And this was in a time (while he was still with me) that I really hung on his every word. He said he was distracted because the guy didn't sound like a guy in the first chapter, that it was "weird," but he'd try to keep reading. Then, a few days later, he told me, regrettably, that he wouldn't be able to read it.

I was sad. I didn't really mind that my mother couldn't read is awkward to read a story about a character that seems like your daughter in a sexual situation. Sorry, Mom. But my ex, who usually liked my writing (campy things like my skit for the Second Year Show included), couldn't get through RMD?

Maybe I didn't write Mo realistically. I really needed people to get through half of the story to realize what I was trying to do with the three narrations, the three central characters...but no one ever did. And Ex the Prototype's comments were the most paralyzing.

...even though he also made these comments before getting through the story.

And then he broke up with me about a month later (no, not because RMD was that bad, haha), and I was devastated for a long time, mainly because I had wasted my time on him, had been so ambivalent about him and how being with him would affect my faith, making so many compromises and then he just made the unilateral decision that he was no longer satisfied with the relationship, no longer attracted to me, and bounced.

But for months afterwards, I still took his criticism of RMD seriously.

And I haven't touched it since.

I told myself it was because family members couldn't read it, that I was waiting for someone to finish it, but honestly, none of them ever will. Over a year and a half has passed since I emailed them the manuscript. The beginning of the story is harder to read than the second part because I wrote that part in one month, and while I did the most edits on that part, there are major things that need to change, I recognize.

It's just hard, because the story gets so much more dynamic after that...I really needed people to get to the turning point and tell me what I can do to facilitate the reading of the first part.

I guess I need non-related reviewers, as well.

But if I'm honest with myself, I also didn't touch RMD because I started applying to residency, and since then, I've been busy interviewing, wrapping up medical school, and now moving across the country.

Even though I don't care for Ex the Prototype anymore, and have successfully cut him off from all contact, I still took his criticism seriously.

But then, I think about other things he's said.

Although he claims that he respects women and many of his political and activist role models are women (one of the thing that initially endeared him to me, despite my initial lack of attraction for him), he also made gender-divisive comments through the course of the relationship. Things like, "Well, I'd expect you to say/feel that way, because you are a woman."

The sinker was actually after our relationship, when I was, against my will, flying next to him to our mutual friend's wedding in St. Louis. He was reading, for the first time, Chimamanda Adichie. He talked about how he usually doesn't like reading fiction about women or written by women. It doesn't appeal to him, but he was able to read Chimamanda, maybe because she wrote about Nigeria, but she was just...different.

That gave me insight into his being unable to read RMD at the time...because it was written by me, a woman, unapologetically woman with what could be considered stereotypical female tendencies and sensibilities that are also evident in my writing. My characters are introspective. Mo is, yes, minimally introspective and tries to interpret female's faces, but so did the man that Mo was based on, a man who wrote once that he was struck up a conversation with "the girl" sitting next to him in the computer lab, and as she sorted through her album, she had that "crooked smile that girls get when they're looking at pictures of people they love."

(We used to read each other's journals, back in the day...this is how I had access to things like that).

So while he was unable to connect with Mo because he was not introspective, not particularly empathic, all of which allowed him to break up with me so awkwardly...he also was one of those men who insisted that women didn't make sense to them. Men who don't try hard enough to see the humanity in their female counterparts.

He was not my audience. So why did I worry so much about what he thought?

Because I once respected him. And even after he told me mean things about my body, I still held on to that part that I respected. It took me a long time to not internalize his criticism and give up RMD for shelved, lost, still my baby, but maybe not worth the fight to perfect it.

And maybe it isn't worth the fight, but it damn well won't be because of that ex.

I'm still reading this Jennifer Weiner piece about supporting women writers, but as usual for me, I'll read something, get a sudden inspiration, and have to write it immediately. I can't believe that I internalize a feeling of inferiority about the issues that concern me as a woman, and what I write about, in comparison to the writings of men. There are other men, authors, who have, similarly to my ex, proclaimed the superiority of male writing, saying men have more depth than women. As an unabashed writer of chick lit, she speaks out for the right to write as she pleases.

That's right!

Would the world be a better place without chick lit? Only if you consider those who read chick lit dispensable. And though, admittedly, I don't think I've ever read anything that could fit into that genre (probably, as a preteen and teenager, I've read enough young adult novels that would grow up to be chick lit), I'm not mad at it. To express distaste and disdain about someone else's writing as a fellow author is either ugly pretentiousness or just straight hating.

For example, I tend to be a little hipster and I don't like reading the most popular series. I tried Harry Potter, and it was okay to me. Just not my thing. Heard about Twilight. Not into that. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and etc? Not where my interests lie. But I don't go around dissing the authors.

There's something out there for everyone, and nothing is for everyone. RMD may insult male sensibilities because it's driven in parts by introspective monologues. The man that characterizes something as inherently female and thereafter relinquishes all attempts to understand it are not my audience and besides basic cordiality I have nothing to say to them, either. They obviously don't see me.

I'm reading this in the wake of reading the piece in the Atlantic about not being someone's wife but being perceived as such in the workplace (which makes me wonder if some men just have five schema for adult women: slut, wife, mother, grandma) and how that impacts women's ability to be promoted. I also read this piece about how women physician-scientists are paid markedly less than their male counterparts, and it's not all about being wives and mothers, either.

And, after talking to a friend of mine who reminds me of Ex the Prototype in the way he always is sure to define for me what is a female sensibility, and therefore what he doesn't understand.

Some of the things are not that hard. Seriously, like, "I don't understand why females are so into clothes." Really?

So, for reasons other than it needs a lot of work, haha, RMD is going into hibernation. If I have downtime while I'm a resident, I'll revisit it, make some drastic rewrites in the first half of the story, try to get my fam to read it again. Maybe I'll find someone else who'll want to read it, but I really need to fix some of the writing before I send it off. But I shouldn't be ashamed any more that I write female-centered stories, of my "feminine" sensibilities, or anything else. Yes, my blog is kind of pink and only women seem to read it, but so what?

The worst thing that could happen to any of my writing is me changing it up so I'd think a man would want to read it as if seeking validation.

Now! time for me to get ready for my day! I'm going to the mall to buy some new flats and some dress blouses to make up for the ones that FedEx lost.

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