In life, and in politics, perception can be everything. Smile the right smile. Have all the right friends. Wear the right dress. Say the right things. It’s all part of the game. How often do people get caught up in dating the right person, landing the right job, and adhering to all the things they’re supposed to do? As if this perceived happiness, or achievement, equals actual happiness? Or, if that’s irrelevant, that the image (not the reality, not the truth) is what matters.
But perception isn’t necessarily reality. And images fade. Smiles crack, dresses wrinkle, and friends can turn to enemies. The truth comes out. All those dirty little secrets scurry out into the light, heralded by circumstances often beyond a single person’s control. In this week’s Scandal (Defiance), we see a lot of decisions based on false fronts and a number of dirty little secrets are exposed.
For starters, Olivia hasn’t really opened up to Edison Davis. He talks about his personal past, people he’s dated, and she is walled off. She gives him nothing, except a professional suggest for his career, which is interesting. Is that Olivia working an angle for her client, or her trying to offer him something in exchange for his intimacy? Almost off-hand, he quips that the guy she dated must’ve really hurt her, and it’s clear that this wounds her, but it’s also clear that he doesn’t pick up on it. Interestingly, he takes the OPPOSITE of Liv’s advice, slams her client (who is resigning as majority leader), and uses that as a political stepping stone. Later, Olivia concedes that this is a brilliant political move, even though the move didn’t help her client at all. Tellingly, he speaks about stepping into the shoes of the majority leader using “we,” but Olivia replies with, “you.” The whole conversation, their entire interaction, doesn’t feel romantic at all. It feels like her advising a friend. And still, she refuses to go to the President’s birthday gala with him. The audience knows that this is for personal reasons, but Olivia presents it as being best for his career.
Elsewhere, James (Cyrus’s, the Chief of Staff, reporter husband) meets with David, who hands over all his research on potential voting fraud, which sends him on a wild hunt for the voting machines in a town called Defiance. A town, that we learn, turned the tide of the entire election. After a lot of digging, he finds the ONE voting machine that has a memory card in it, tests it, and discovers that it is rigged. We are, I suppose, meant to understand that Fitz has no knowledge of it, as he tells the story of Defiance at a birthday dinner party for a few of his friends. Those present who are part of the cabal of five look remarkably as if they’d like to crawl under the table, but they smile and nod in all the right places.
Fitz, newly returned from the G8 conference, looks constantly forlorn. He protested the birthday gala, but Mellie coldly quipped, “We can’t always get what we want.” And, interestingly, Cyrus seemed to be on her side. The only real emotion that Fitz shows is when he’s given surveillance pictures of Olivia, which include Senator Davis. Now, the surveillance was supposed to be stopped, and although rather creepy, this is also the only contact that Fitz has had with Olivia since they broke up in the restaurant. He says he let her go, but he also FROZE when he glimpsed half of her face on tv. But the pictures: I’ve never seen someone so emotionally devastated, flipping through evidence of their own grief. Jealousy, rage, hurt, frustration, and complete sadness are rife in his motions. There’s absolutely no doubting how his heart breaks, seeing what looks like a happy couple, seeing what looks like Liv has moved on. But again: this is perception, not reality. Every time Fitz’s name comes up, heartbreaks is alive and well on her face. These two are in the exact same position – heartbroken and missing each other – but pretending not to be. Later on, in order to ensure that Davis acquires the position he’s seeking, Fitz backs the other candidate – which is meant to signify that he’s totally over Liv. And that’s what she takes from that offered cue, finally relenting and agreeing to go to the gala with Davis.
Throughout the episode, Quinn is peppering Huck with suspicious questions about how to drug a person, how to best transport someone who is unconscious etc. Eventually, she confronts him, saying that either he or someone LIKE him was responsible for what happened to her, and MAN is she pissed. It’s pretty impressive, though, that she is beginning to unravel the loose ends of the story. There’s no telling how that’s going to play out, but it’ll be interesting to finally discover how she figures into the whole Cabal of Five dynamic.
Additionally, as the antithesis of the perception theme, is the case at the center of the episode: a respected CEO seems to have gone crazy, divorcing his wife for a younger woman, riding motorcycles in the house, and building a rollercoaster in the backyard. Everyone thinks he’s crazy and it could jepordize the company going public, which is what his son is trying to protect. In the end, it turns out that the son and the father were simply trying to protect each other – the father just wanted the son to be happy, but the son was running the company. The father say that the spent his whole life building that place, and now is when he finally having his fun. The father is ENJOYING himself, not doing what he is SUPPOSED to be doing. A lot of the characters on the show, I think, would benefit from that.
Lastly, we have President Fitz’s birthday gala. And I have questions. In the limo on the way there, Mellie seems panicky, she seems like she wants to bolt out of the limo, even though it’s still moving. When they pull up to the venue, she repeatedly grabs Fitz’s arm, pleading that she doesn’t want to go. Fitz confesses that Olivia and he broke up, that Mellie “won.” Again, she grabs his arm and says she doesn’t want to go. Just as coldly as Mellie earlier, Fitz replies, “We can’t always get what we want.” Then he exits the limo, with her behind him, waving and smiling like the picture of presidential happiness. He is then, promptly, shot. And I cannot help but wonder if Mellie knew. Because it certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? Then again, things are rarely – if ever – what they seem to be.
Okay, we need to talk about this Simon & Schuster (S&S) news. So, grab your coffee – and your rage – and come sit by me. Because I have thoughts AND questions.
Now, I realize that self-publishing in a valuable endeavor for some people. Hell, I self-pubbed a book of poetry, because I wanted to do it. I had no grand expectations of being on Oprah. I did not expect to turn into Neruda or Plath overnight. I did it, because I wanted to – not because I thought I’d take the publishing world by storm. I had certain (reasonable) expectations.
I know several authors for whom self-publishing is the right choice. They’ve carefully considered their options and jumped in with goals, expectations, and eyes wide open. These are writers who are SMART. They hired editors, people to design their covers, and beta readers out the wazoo. In short, they’re not tossing out grammatically horrendous, typo ridden nonsense, and then imploding when someone decides to play SNAKE with them. (That will always make me laugh. I am not sorry.) In fact, Denise and Trisha? They’re awesome. I’ve had the pleasure of beta reading for Trisha, and I will read her books as often as she writes them. For her, the decision to self-pub was the RIGHT one. To each, her own.
Now, S&S (through a service called Archway Publishing.) has decided to offer self-publishing packages. You pay them a certain amount of money, and they publish your book. Years ago, we would’ve called this a vanity press. With the currently publishing landscape in transition, I’m not entirely sure WHAT to call it. But it feels kind of shady.
Let’s discuss that. For fiction, the cheapest package cost $1,999. Okay, let’s assume that I’ve got two grand kicking around under my mattress. Let’s assume I have a manuscript that is a) ready and b) I don’t want to light on fire. (Hide the matches.) What is the PURPOSE of this package? Well, apparently, it’s for a writer to “share a book with family and friends.”
Um, guys? If I wanted to entertain my family and friends with my words, I’d just print something out at Kinko’s. I remember doing that — IN HIGH SCHOOL. It was called a zine. Or, hell, I’d pull a Little Women and resurrect the Pickwick Club in the attic and all of you would be forced to act out my stories. *ahem* The package seems to include quite a bit (see below), but does it really?
I…have questions. What the heck is editorial assessment? Is that the same thing as editorial service? Nope. “The Editorial Assessment is not a replacement for our editorial services. Rather, it is a preliminary diagnostic tool, examining sections of the manuscript in detail to pinpoint areas in need of improvement. Reviewers offer examples of items that could be strengthened and give critique and commentary across a range of topics.” So, they’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, but they won’t help you fix it. I don’t know about you, but that’s what a good beta reader does. “Hey, you screwed up over here!” Or “this needs more sex!” “Why is your character speaking in German? He’s not German.” So, that’s not exactly what someone might expect it to be.
For someone who understands publishing, or who has friends to pose questions to, you’d be well aware of the difference between editorial assessment and editorial service. But what about Sally Whatshername, who knows NOTHING about publishing? Picture her, a bright young thing, with a newly polished manuscript and a dream. She sees assessment and thinks differently. She thinks, “Hey, if I fork off $2,000 dollars, S&S will publish my manuscript!”
And then she does, without understanding what goes into a successfully self-publishing career. She has no idea how to cultivate an audience base, or market, or make connections. She is that person on Twitter who goes, “BUY MY BOOK! LOOK WHO PUBLISHED IT!” And it doesn’t have quite the same impact as one might’ve hoped. Because the publisher’s name doesn’t quite mean the same thing, does it? Because once you can buy something, the value of it tends to change.
Next up, I have concerns about the “classic author support.” What’s classic about it, exactly? Is it vintage? Timeless? I’m not really certain of the diction there, but let’s assume this is a person who helps you. Indeed, the website describes it as series of people who will function as your “point of contact” to assist you during the publishing process. So, essentially, a set of publishing guidance counselors. Even after reading the description, I’m really not sure how that person supports you. Do they take your phone calls at 1:00 am, when you can no longer remember what an adverb is? Buy you a drink when you are CONVINCED that everything you’ve written is total shit? Probably not. (Your agent would though, if he/she is a good one. For prime examples, see Brooks Sherman and Janet Reid.) This point of contact changes, depending on the phase of the project, which means you will have to form quick relationships with anonymous strangers in order to complete your project. How acquainted could these people BE with your project? The time frame, from signing with the S&S service to completion is…I don’t actually know. I couldn’t find the answer to that question on their website. I would be curious to know what the turnaround time is, because those in the publishing world are well-aware of the length of time it takes to Bibbity Bobbity Boo a manuscript into a proper book. There are a lot of man hours and hard work that go into it. Things that cannot be properly accomplished in a month.
This seems like a way for a traditional publisher to cash in on the changing landscape of the publishing world. In theory, that isn’t a bad business practice. Adapt or die, as Darwin says. But this isn’t about developing a longer beak to snatch a worm. This is about making art, making literature, and publishing thoughts. There’s something to be said about adapting in a smart, reasonable fashion. Right now, a good editorial assessment might cost you $2,000 alone. A writer might be better off spending the cash on that, making the book as good as it can possibly be, and then going from there. Find an agent. Self-publish on Amazon. You get what you pay for, and while I balked at spending that amount of money for a publishing package, I’m betting that what you actually GET isn’t going to be what you’re hoping for. If fame and fortune and success all came cheap, or was available at Costco, we’d all be rich, pant-less, and frolicking the Caribbean instead of working and eating ramen noodles.
I have been hiding the bodies
for years; no one bothers
to come looking. No one asks questions.
No one digs. There are no dogs
searching and sniffing. There is no
crime scene tape, no gloved hands,
and no one to witness
the newly disturbed earth.
bleach will whiten a smile
as well as a moment. Consider it
And yet, I wait for the ghosts to come,
but they do not. I open my eyes
in the middle of the night, but find
nothing. I do not know
what I expect of the dead.
I offer them coins, anyway.
I offer my own voice,
the pin pulled from a grenade,
a heart beating without a single sound.
I dance with the pin in my teeth,
tequila in my smile; my dress (stolen),
starting where hip meets thigh,
not a diamond, but a staggering belief
of what things mean, of being
thick as thieves, hiding the evidence
with the pick of a lock, the turn of a key,
and finding that there is no door.
eventually, all things
are dug up. All promises collected,
all kisses are taken or given,
all clothing is lost
as love is found. I know
what happens here,
I know what I am willing to give up,
and it’s alright, darling –
I already have the handcuffs.
You know, I think I’m having a moment. I put two things out into the universe, both of which give me pause. I always feel, in those instances, in a post-SEND haze, that I’m doing everything wrong. Life takes a lot of courage, sometimes – to share something with the world, to tell the truth, to make a phone call, to ask for what you want. Life, if you’re doing it right, is full of scary things. Like risk and feelings.
A few minutes ago, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’m doing EVERYTHING wrong. And, hang on, where did THAT come from? I’m someone who, fumbling or not, tries. That’s not wrong. That’s not easy, but it’s not wrong. So, that feeling? It’s just insecurity and fear. I know that. I also know that there is often no right decision – only what you do and what you don’t do.
So, in case you’re having this kind of insecure, what the hell am I doing? kind of day – you’re not alone. Be brave, darlings. Make art, and sent it into the word. Create and share. Lather, rinse, repeat. Reach out. And this is important: let people in.
If you like, tell me about the last thing you made. It doesn’t matter what it is. Tell me, too, about the last real risk you took. Do you regret it?
(a bit of flash fiction, born of re-reading Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things)
She waits, as dawn begins to creep over the horizon. It is the day’s first promise, the first lie. She prefers the shadows for a reason. The day offers too many avenues for capture, too many witnesses with prying eyes and busy tongues. The world will swallow anyone without hesitation. She doesn’t hesitation. She merely watches you sleep, counting the marks on your skin – the ink that turned your body into a map. You are the country under her skin, but the routes are less easy to follow.
Everything ends. The knowledge makes her bones ache, as if each kiss is a shovel full of dirt. She knows that she is digging her own grave, and yet she does it anyway. There, in the odd moments where no one will notice, she offers you a choice: her body or the knife. A knife or her body. The knife is an illusion, but the implication is the glint of moonlight on broken glass: a revelation of opportunity. Of the things already ravaged before. Always, you cast the knife aside, but passion wounds in its own way.
She loves you, and she is waiting. She offers too much, wondering at what you might take. She dreams of all the wars you don’t know she’s waged. She is a warrior. She fights for fragile things: a glass heart, a four letter word, and an honest story. Her eyes betray none of this. To you, she looks as she always has.
In another lifetime, she would’ve written you a fairytale. She would’ve woken you from your deep sleep, forgetting tradition. Instead, she stands on the edge of everything, hands tied behind her back. There is no fear in her face. She knows exactly what she’s doing, as she steps between you and yourself. This could be the moment the world explodes. This could be the train tracks, the rabid wolves, the bright flash of a silent bomb. Still, she stands there, knowing that she cannot protect herself. Moreover, she does not even try. It is not about her. It is about you.
Some sacrifices are made of money. Others are made of time. Hers are made of her own strength. All things given up, waiting to be gathered. You don’t realize that she is broken. That she stands impossibly straight to avoid detection. Her smile is a victim. And that is another lie among many.
Her intensity cuts through reason like a razor. The rain falls, and she still waits, mud clinging to her footsteps. There’s always a trail, always a way to find her. You will discover this when you wake up to find her gone.
Tomorrow is only ever what you choose.
We are, and we are not, our past. The deeds we’ve done, the people we’ve been – there’s facets of who we are. They are not the whole picture. And yet, a recovering alcoholic is always a recovering alcoholic. You carry it with you. There are things that each of us carry with us, too – little red wagons filled with crap. Some red wagons are small. Others are like dump trucks. And yet, again: that’s only part of the story. Our story.
Eventually, in some way, our past has a way of reemerging, of coloring our present, of rattling our cage. Our past isn’t our reflection. It’s the shadow you see out of the corner of your eye, the ghost that’s maybe there or not. You turn, and it vanishes – but that glimpse is enough to remind you.
Last night’s episode of Scandal (Spies like Us) is all about how our past influences our present. Olivia is dating her ex-fiancée, who verbally spar with each other, but it’s more like friends. There’s no passion, no tension. There’s the end of the date and a shut door. Then there’s Huck, who is involved with a regular girl. Out of habit, he wants to run a background check. He doesn’t know what normal is, and Olivia has to talk him down off that ledge. There’s Cyrus, whose husband is back at the White House as a writer, and James makes a serious breach of trust – quoting a conversation that Cyrus and he had in bed together, while not revealing his name. The article is about Hollis, the shady shark of a man who lords his swaggering leverage over the cabal of five (Hollis, Mellie, Liv, Cyrus, and Verna) like a malicious child. This article could be bad for everybody.
Of course, the central issue in this episode is Huck’s past – the group of spook spies he used to work with is being threatened with exposure. At first, to protect Liv, he tries to flee. Instead, Olivia butts heads with him, and says that this is HER wheelhouse. He agrees to let her try to fix it. Cue a bunch of trigger happy, trust-deficient spies showing up to Pope and Associates. I have to admit, I laughed a bit when one turned out to be a soccer mom. It turns out one of the spies is a traitor, selling their identities to a hacker. Huck sends his coworkers home in an effort to find out who it is. One of the assassins is, almost hilariously, the one who Huck went to town on last season – and who killed Amanda Tanner.
Harrison finally confronts Olivia about the emotional mess of a person she’s been since Steven left. He found her staring off into space, as per her current usually, looking wounded and doe-eyed. Her expressions are enough to break your heart. This separation with Fitz is eating away at her. It’s right there in her face. She’s doing the “right” thing, but it’s killing her. “It’s getting weird in here. What do you need?” he asks. That is what Steven used to ask. Harrison goes to bat for Olivia, as her friend. Because he sees her in pain. “Whatever’s it is that’s going on, whatever it is that you’re thinking about when you’re sitting in here by all by yourself, tell me what you need and I will do it, no matter what.” He continues with an impassioned, convincing monologue that resonated with me. Because at someone point, everyone need to hear this, “I am your family. I am your gladiator. And that is not a job to me, that’s who I am. Right now, you need me. So, no questions asked. No matter what. Whatever you need. Gimme some marching orders, Liv.” Olivia tells him that Abby and David Rosen cannot be together anymore. She cannot tell him why. But that Abby’s husband used to beat her, and he should use that angle. Again, this is where the past meets the present like a tide ugly with pollution. Harrison is ruthless, and I think that it takes a toll on him. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s not used to getting his hands dirty. He’s not used to damaging people close to him, even if it’s for the “right” reasons. Abby is led to believe that David beat one of his ex-girlfriends. And, understandably, this sets her off. You don’t get over something like that. She breaks up with David, who is shocked and hurt that she didn’t even give him a chance. Because her past is a healed wound that still aches.
Additionally, Cyrus calls up Olivia for help with James. He tells her what happened, and Olivia tells him how to fix it. I found it really interesting that he sought out her help TWICE recently. Olivia tells him to be ruthless, and Cyrus complies, because he is desperate. He invites James to the Oval office and puts on an act so convincing that there are tears. It is emotional manipulation at its best, because you can only manipulate those closest to you in that manner. Because you know exactly what buttons to push. And, as an audience member, I felt bad for James. While Cyrus is trying to protect pretty much everybody for Hollis, it’s still a shitty thing to do to your husband. It was absolutely CHILLING to see Cyrus snap right out of his emotional display as soon as James left the room. If he can act that well, I wonder what ELSE he hides. As he admitted last week, he is a monster. But damn, if he’s not a monster I’d want on my side. (And let’s face it: who, in this show, isn’t some kind of monster?)
Huck eventually discovers the identity of the traitor spy. He tries to keep the others from killing him, because Huck has changed. Or he’s trying to change. The girl he’s seeing? Is affecting him for the better. But the soccer mom spy shoots the traitor, and in a silent, almost poetic scene – they clean up. They are efficient and methodical. It’d be beautiful, if it weren’t so disturbing.
And, lastly, there’s Olivia, who is trying so hard to be normal. To live a normal life, with a man who fits into it. Edison shows up at her apartment, with all the making of a romantic in-home date. Alcohol, food, and movies. He is all smiles and charm. He keeps talking. Olivia’s silent, her face one step away from broken. She doesn’t say a word, and finally, he sees that she’s upset. It takes him entirely too long to notice. But he asks if she’s okay, and she still says NOTHING. She breaks down. They kiss, and this time, the door shuts again – but Edison Davis is on the other side of it. In that moment, Liv is broken. Her past, her choices, have swelled up to meet her – and she is alone. She is missing her friend Steven, who would’ve seen past all her defenses sooner. But the heart of the matter is that she misses Fitz. And it hurts in a way that is almost incomprehensible. It’s an inexplicable pain, that kind of separation. Sometimes, you just need to feel something. Sometimes, you can’t fix what’s wrong, but you want to forget for a moment. You want to pretend to be normal. Olivia, when she (presumably) decides to sleep with Edison, it’s not about them as a couple. It’s about her and her pain. She’s trying to fix it. But what I think she’ll come to realize is this simple truth: you can’t fix love. You can’t handle love like other problems. You can’t pretend to be normal, when you’re not. And darling, normal is vastly overrated.
Sometimes, I forget myself.
I will be watching a tv show, or talking on the phone, and then out of nowhere – a scene guts me without mercy. A remark catches me perfectly off-guard. And I either crumble to pieces or fail to find actual words in any language. The other day, I was on the phone, and someone told me that somebody else (who I don’t know personally) has cancer – in a manner very sensitive to what I’ve been through, mind you. And I fumbled for any kind of sentence that sounded right, failed miserably, and just said, “Shit, I think I am actually speechless.”
And it caught me unaware, because I DO talk about my mom’s illness. I’ve talked to friends whose other friends have cancer. I’ve given advice. I’ve offered a shoulder. So, I don’t exactly know why that particular instance knocked my verbal knees out from under me, but it did. It rendered me inarticulate and momentarily useless.
I don’t like that. I don’t like one of my favorite shows (PARENTHOOD) is like an emotional minefield, because one of the characters has cancer. And she’s getting chemo. And she wears button down clothing to chemo, for medically practical reasons. I find myself explaining how to true to life that is, and how my mother used to wear layers and button down clothing, fuzzy, soft sweaters especially. Because that’s what happens when you are pumping poison into your body. A means to an end, a hope that leaves you hurting. The truest kind of bravery I’ve ever seen. But I digress….
The most recent episode of that show totally gutted me. I realize that the smart, sane thing might be to NOT watch. In fact, after each new episode, I vow that I won’t watch anymore. Turn away from the wreck. Read a book. Put music on. And yet, that is ignoring what cannot be ignored. That is running away. That is not the brave or the strong thing. Because all demons get stronger in the dark, when you turn your back. The monster always slinks closer when you blink. Our struggles, our hardships are weeping angels: when you blink, they make their move.
I think part of the problem is that I still want to be me. I still want to be the person people come to with their problems, even if the problem hits to close to home. I still want to watch the same shows I’ve always loved and do the same things. Yes, there’s a gaping hole in my life. And no, there’s no Time Lord with a TARDIS to fix it. But that’s okay. That means there’s no Band-Aid covering a bullet hole. For a physical wound to heal properly, it heals from the outside in. For an emotional one, it’s the opposite. It’s easy to fool with a smile or a joke. You have to heal the other way, from the inside out.
Sometimes, I am softer than I expect myself to be. Sometimes, I don’t want to admit that. I don’t think they’ll ever be a time where I’m unaffected by things. But I know that I’m still me. I’m still the person who wants to lend an ear. I don’t turn away from the things that hurt, because that doesn’t make the feeling go away. It just means I’m too scared to face reality.
And that isn’t who I am.