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Catherine O'Sullivan

This is a touchy area for many writers because they usually don't have any friends or the friends they used to have, they've lost by forgetting to return phone calls. Then there are the ones they've alienated, by exaggerating their negative characteristics to the point of deviance or downright villainy, then using them as characters in stories.

So that leaves your pets, who can't read, or your mate, if you're lucky enough to have one.

When you first start writing, you're like a little kid who makes a poo in the right receptacle. You are so proud of yourself, you want to show everyone. Everything you write (short of the grocery list) is brilliant, which only goes to show how advanced your psychological disjunction-- i.e. the difference between what you think is, and what really is, is. Your ego has-- of necessity, since it knows it's being set up-- pulled the wool over your eyes.

And what a thick wool it is; very warm and cozy under there. Behind the wool, there's no difference between you and Martin Amis except he's got a famous father and connections. Behind the wool you get drunk and wonder who you have to blow to get published; behind the wool you never want for company because no matter the field, there is always the potential for rejection and failure.

If you're lucky, once you've sobered up you'll awake at two in the morning and experience a moment of lucidity. The hard truth is, A) that Martin Amis is famous is he is brilliant and B) you might never be that good. You do have talent, it's just a little, ah, raw.

Right there's when the trouble starts. The truth freaks you out and you start pulling in, never showing anybody your stuff. Life becomes like that dream-- everybody has it at one time or another-- when you're in high school and all of the sudden you notice you're walking around campus naked. You are horrified. How could this have happened? What was I thinking, how did I get here? But the weird part is, nobody else has noticed a thing. And you're damn sure going to get your clothes back on before they do.

If you're like most people, the only person you allow to see you naked is your lover or spouse. It goes without saying that when they see you naked, you don't want them to notice the extra five pounds you've put on since Christmas, or the pimple on your back, the rash on your neck, the bruise on your shin, or the real altitude of your balls or your breasts. It's very simple, if you point these things out to them, you're not going to get laid. They know you know this. There's a mutual turning of a blind eye in the boudoir.

Well...when you give your mate your stuff, you are asking him to point out all the zits, bruises, cellulite, scars, moles and stretch marks. You may think your short story makes Gabriel Garcia Marquez look like Kilgore Trout, but chances are your mate ain't gonna see it that way.

See, he knows you. Knows the kind of things you might like to say and whether you've said them effectively. And, if he's ever read anything you wrote that he really liked, you are going to notice if the look on his face is different from that time.

In short, just as in the example above, he is not going to get laid. (And neither are you.)

See, you're a fiction writer, capable of, probably compelled to, read volumes into the knitting of a brow, a sigh, a shifting of position in order to get more comfortable. What you read into these common movements is probably a hundred times more than is there. In fact, they're probably the same kinds of movements he makes when he's reading anything else. But you don't look at him when he's reading anything else, at least not the way you're looking at him now, which is like this:

When he knits his brow it means the story line's confused and, fuck, you worked so hard to get all the ambiguity out of it. Doesn't he understand how hard you worked? Doesn't he care? Does he think he's the only one around here who ever works? When he sighs it's because he thinks the story's not original. In fact, it's so reminiscent of that Ray Bradbury story he read when he was twelve, you're probably guilty of plagiarism. You may not know it, the judge said George Harrison didn't know he'd plagiarized "He's So Fine" when he wrote "My Sweet Lord," but you're still a sham, a fraud, fundamentally lacking in originality of any kind.

And that shifting of position of the sofa? Well it's obvious isn't it? He's thinking about his ass when he should be thinking about your work. He wouldn't be thinking about his ass if he absorbed by the literature in his hands. You should know better than to give him anything! He's a scientist, after all, what the fuck does he know about great literature?

In short, if he doesn't glow like that time you knew he really dug something, he's fucked. If he lies and tells you it's great, you'll accuse him of being patronizing. If he tells you what he really thinks, you'll accuse him of being un-supportive.

Lord knows every writer needs feedback. Some people find writer's groups satisfying, but some are pressed for time, have family, jobs. There aren't enough hours in the day. I don't have time to sit around jawing with college students or tortured, alienated artists. Sometimes I barely have time to write; and if I get a few hours in every day I feel lucky.

I don't like to give stuff to friends for reasons similar, though less dramatic, to those given for my husband. Anyway, most of my friends are illiterate: not that they can't read and write, they just don't unless they absolutely have to. For entertainment they watch TV.

I've got to be honest, I haven't figured out what to do, only what not to do. However it just occurred to me that I saw a guy standing on the center divider of Sabino Canyon Road a while ago. He was holding a sign, said he was desperate for work, (poor chap) would do anything as long as it wasn't heavy labor (bad back). I'll bet I could get him to give me feedback, probably for a couple of six-pacs and a pack of cigarettes. For all I know he's a Joycean scholar, the only person in the world to finish Finnigan's Wake. That's how he ruined his back, too many hours spent over that damn book.

I'm outta here. It would be just my luck if he was already gone.


Catherine O'Sullivan is a compulsive writer because it seemed a reasonable alternative to taking up smoking and it's something you can manage while mildly inebriated. She studied philosophy at California State University, has worked as a zoo keeper, a planetarium lecturer, a waitress and dozens of other jobs too tedious to mention. She's a mom, lives in the Sonora desert, and is currently working on her forth and fifth novels, or will be again as soon as she can afford to get her prescription for Prevacid refilled. Her son claims that she, like, thinks she’s cool but really isn’t. Catherine is a regular contributor to Newtopia Magazine.

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