Lit Hub Essay: The Power of Never Giving Up
The passage of time is relentless. We all know it. Whether you’re having fun or not. Whether the years are filled with sublime happiness or utter sadness, or, like most of us, with a combination of both. It just goes, and sometimes, our dreams go with it. We turn around and 10 or 20 years have whipped by and we are left to wonder what else we could have, should have, done.
As a lifelong reader, I admired writers above all and I’d always wanted to write. But it seemed there was never the time or the space or the confidence, to begin. Plus, I’d been married to a writer, which works for some, but not for me: not enough air and patience for two of us. Then everything changed: divorce, business shuttered, remarriage. Though well past 40, I finally sat down to write nearly every day. At first, it was a kind of journal, but after a year I decided it needed to have form, to tell a story, and I started a novel. I had no idea what a difficult goal I’d set for myself, didn’t know enough not to do it. And, so I kept writing until I found the heart of the story that later would become my first novel, Time Is the Longest Distance.
A year into it, I got sick. The kind of sick that alters your day-to-day existence and threatens your life. However, I was one of the lucky ones, (21 years later, here I am), and more than anything, once I got through to the other side, I just wanted to finish my book. I kept writing for another year until I had what I thought of as a first draft. But the real turning point came when I happened into an extension class at UCLA with the best of all possible teachers—someone who became a mentor, a guide. It’s likely I wasn’t always the oldest person in his class, although, sometimes, I might have been. But it didn’t matter, and I didn’t care. I rarely divulged any personal information, wanting to be as anonymous as possible to avoid any preconceptions. I threw out everything I’d written and started over, changing the story’s perspective from third person to first. Writing, as every writer knows, is rewriting. Fortunately, I had fallen in love with the process. I was hooked, and years later, after my mentor’s sudden and devastating death, I kept at it. I thought I couldn’t write without him somewhere in my life, but I discovered I could. He was that good, his wisdom became a part of me. I couldn’t not write. After a few more years and multiple drafts, I had a finished manuscript to send out—miraculously, it found an agent in New York. I thought my troubles were over. I was wrong. The agent did nothing, and I was beyond discouraged. After holding on far too long, I realized the wrong agent might as well be no agent, so I fired her and worked on a new book, although in the back of my mind I kept returning to my Australian story.
Yes, Australia. As an American, born in New York, raised in California, I’d always been intrigued by the most far-away places. Australia, Botswana, Patagonia, and I’ve been fortunate to travel to some of them. A number of years ago, I was told the true story of a man from Australia who, having spent most of his life in the United States, returned home for his father’s funeral only to find that he had a whole other family living on the other side of the country. It is, of course, a big country. But it got me thinking about families and secrets, and all the spaces where we can hide ourselves in a vast and solitary land, the distance between us not always measured in miles. I realized, too, that whenever I’d traveled to remote places, especially outside of cities, it was usually the sky and the air that made the greatest impact on me. And so I was drawn to the openness of the Australian outback, particularly to the old stock routes where cattle once ran. My interest grew as I learned how these routes were established, (by explorers on camels, with wells dug a days’ drive apart), and decided to set my story along the famous Canning Stock Route that runs from Halls Creek in the Kimberley of Western Australia to Wiluna in the mid-west. Crossing both the Gibson and Great Sandy deserts, 1,900 kilometers through some of the most isolated wilderness on the planet, the Canning is still considered the roughest outback track in the country. In thinking about my story, I wondered what it would be like for an American woman, a New Yorker, to find herself out of her element in a place she never expected to be.
In the early days of my research for the book, I connected with the flying doctors, those magnificent aeromedical professionals who offer emergency and primary health care to remote areas, and I was in touch with them when they rescued the famous art critic, Robert Hughes, after a near-fatal accident while filming in the way outback. “Yup, that was me,” my guy said, after swooping in and picking up the crew. “Notice we didn’t get any credit.” And, it was true, news reports rarely referred to the flying doctors, unsung, everyday heroes. I had conjured up a fictitious doctor in an early version of my novel, but he got lost in the dust of later drafts. It happens.
I read everything I could about Australia, visited museums, discovered the deadliest of snakes, the oddest of animals, a multitude of flora, and virtually stalked bikers from the Netherlands as they attempted the Canning Track. All the while, I listened to the beat of the great dead heart of the desert. What I discovered about research was to do it and forget it. Simply let everything you’ve learned become a part of you so that it seeps into your story. It certainly did for me, and, frankly, has never really left.
After I’d fired my original agent, I made a number of attempts to connect with the right person, until I finally gave up. But I still believed in my story. Meanwhile, I worked on two other books. . . for years. Finally, encouraged by the wonderful writing of an Australian friend, and still obsessed by the country itself, I pulled out my manuscript, looked it over, did a bit of sprucing up, and sent it off to a small Australian publisher. They loved it. I was thrilled. For an American writer to find a publisher in Australia, where my heart had traveled for so long, was perfect. My publisher didn’t change anything from the original story.
So, now, hardly a debutante in life, I am making my debut with Time Is the Longest Distance. It’s been quite a while getting here, and like most books, it went through many changes, as did I. But I truly believe in the power of never giving up, and I like to think it took just as long as it was supposed to. I write to be read, and hopefully this story will find an audience. But the most important thing I’ve learned, beyond the extraordinary joy of writing, was to never stop, to always make time to do what you love most, and above all, power on.
Short Fiction: Flight
Short Fiction: Carol and Brute
Carol put in her application to adopt Brute.
“Really?” the attendant said. “We thought he might be too much dog for you.”
“In what way?”
“He’s very strong, you know.”
“That’s okay. I could use some strength around here.”
The attendant, a young woman with hair twisted up in a messy mop, gave her a skeptical look. Carol stared her down. She’d made up her mind. Nothing was going to keep her from Brute.
“It’ll be a couple of days for us to process the papers.”
“Fine.” Carol wrote a check to the shelter and went straight to the pet store where she bought more dog food and treats and a few sweaters although L.A. in September was still warm.
“Maybe we can have a playdate with the dogs,” Dan, her ex, said when he called and she made the mistake of telling him about Brute. Dan had rescued a dog named Big Black after their old dog, Dog, had died under his care.
“Playdate,” Carol said. “You’re a riot.”
“You’ve never met Big Black,” he said. “You might like him.”
“Maybe you forgot, it’s you I don’t like.”
“I put your name down as next of kin, if something happens to me you would get Big Black.”
“I’m not your kin. Maybe you also forgot you have a son.”
“Hardly. He’s coming to visit me.”
Carol felt hot. Fucking shit. Their son was flying across the country and she didn’t even know? “Go fuck yourself,” she said, and hung up.
She was afraid the horrible truth was that Dan and their son were more alike than not, and she hated Dan. But she could never hate her son. Unless maybe he turned out to be a Nazi or something. She imagined there were mothers during the war who hated their Nazi sons. Mothers who had to pretend their sons were dead when they were still alive. Don’t be stupid, she thought. Her son wasn’t a Nazi. Still, she had a nightmare of him with an evil smile and wearing that dreaded uniform. She woke up sweating from the ordeal. She took a cold shower, dressed, and went to work. Continue reading at: http://www.assignmentmag.com/onlineonly/2022/3/6/carol-and-brute-a-short-short-story-by-janet-clare
Short Fiction: Old Friend
(Appeared in First Stop Fiction)
The man isn’t dead as I’d thought, but the woman, the wife is. He’s in trouble though, besides a dead wife there’s something about a terrible injury he’s had, a foot. He’s younger than the last time I saw him and I’m not sure how that’s possible, but it’s the foot that’s the problem now. They, the doctors, want to take this foot off and there’s been a family meeting to discuss it. A meeting at a restaurant I just happened to walk by when we spot each other after so many years apart. We, the man and I, leave, get into a car. He’s driving, which he can do because it’s the left foot that’s affected. That’s a blessing which hadn’t occurred to me until now. He holds onto the wheel and hands me an article torn from a magazine about another man, a stranger, who, suffering from the same foot condition, jumped off the roof of his building. The doctors have advised him to do the same.
I tear up the article and crumble it to bits as we continue to drive, now through inexplicable gunfire, a bad-guy-cop situation in progress and out of the blue in this small village within our city. It used to be quiet here many years ago, when the man and I were together. But nothing’s quiet anymore. And now there’s this foot trouble. And the gunfire, although we make a fast left, he does, the driver, the man suffering with this foot and avoid the bullets. But still, there’s a decision to be made. My advice, because I don’t trust doctors who suggest a man remove a body part or jump off the roof, is to ignore them. I suggest we have a drink instead. Let’s go have a drink, I say. For old time’s sake even though we didn’t drink in old times. The man stops the car and we walk, he awkwardly, of course, with the offending foot in multiple layers of bandage. It’s in there somewhere, the foot, under all of that.
It’s still a part of him, although it makes him hobble. I don’t think you should jump, I say. Life without a left foot is tolerable, I don’t say and only imagine although I can’t imagine. You can still drive, I say, and you’re a man and never have to wear a skirt and high heels. Which, I can’t help thinking no woman should ever have to wear, either. The man rests his left leg with the bandaged foot on a chair next to the table where we sit in the back of the dark bar. Bars are always dark or used to be or should be. It’s still light outside and our eyes adjust as we stare into our glasses. If color was an emotion, the liquid would be brooding. We are silent. After the foot talk and the dead wife talk we have nothing to say. I am helpless as this man with this sorry foot sits across the years from me and slowly starts to cry, saddened beyond repair.
Essay: In Africa
I went to Africa alone. No companion, no tour, just an American woman of a certain age on her own. I had read Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham in high school and, like so many others, I wanted to be Jane Goodall; I was completely enthralled with the idea of this mysterious continent and the women who made it their home. Continue reading at Boomer Café.
Essay: With Mom
(first published in anthology Spent)
One of my earliest memories of shopping is going up the escalator of a local department store with my mother gently poking me in the back to make me stand up straight. I’m not sure how old I was, maybe ten or eleven, old enough to be embarrassed and none too happy about it.
My mother wasn’t mean, although perhaps a bit insensitive, but she’s ninety-six now so I’ve pretty much left that particular incident in the dust. I think. However, I do recall most shopping trips with her as a kind of endurance test. She was fond of weaving in and out of the aisles looking at everything while I trudged behind, uninterested and bored, wanting nothing more than to go. Please, can’t we just go? Continue reading at Boomer Cafe.
Manifest Station Essay: Notes On Not a Memoir
The black hearse crossed in front of our car on the way to my first chemo appointment. “Think it’s a bad omen?” I asked my husband, “like a black cat?”
That was nineteen years ago so it wasn’t a portend of things to come. I was, and remain, one of the lucky ones. And, don’t worry this isn’t a cancer-survivor memoir. This isn’t even a memoir. I didn’t have a rotten enough childhood to write a memoir. Not perfect, mind you, but it wasn’t a locked-in-the-closet, raped-by-my-father, thrown-from-the car by a drug-addled-mother kind of upbringing. No alcoholism, no overtly deviant behavior. Misunderstood? Certainly. It was the ‘60’s. Everyone was misunderstood. Continue reading at https://www.themanifeststation.net/?s=notes+on+not+a+memoir
Short Fiction Elm Leaves Journal, The Blackout Edition
More to Come
Turn yourself inside out. Pretend your heart, your lungs, your brain, every slimy organ that holds you together, that makes you who you are, is on the outside of your body. On the inside are your skin and hair, the color of your eyes, your clothes, and certainly those pricey kicks on your feet.
So, now who do you think you are? Not so hot, right?
This is the kind of thing Teddy says to me on a regular basis.
I’ve had worse boyfriends than Teddy, but it’s only high school, so I’m sure there’s more to come.
Want to drive over to the hospital and watch the ambulances pull in? He asks. It’s cool.
That’s sick, I say. But I also have nothing else to do. And, the stars are out.
He picks me up in his father’s truck. His father installs mirrors and windows for a living, and there is always stuff in the back, which makes driving around extra perilous. In case of an accident, there’s the danger of all that glass shattering in addition to other potential damage to the truck and either one, or both, of us. It isn’t exactly a comfortable ride. I keep telling Teddy to slow down because I don’t want to wind up with shards of glass stuck all over my right-side-out body.
Teddy thinks I’m funny. He never says I’m pretty, and maybe I’m not. Probably not. He just says I’m cool. That’s about as far out on that limb he’s willing to go.
We sit in the truck across from the hospital. Teddy has snacks for us, a box of Ritz crackers and two cokes. Sometimes, I wonder why I can’t go on a normal date, then I remember because it’s usually boring.
We hear the ambulance before we see it. Then lights are everywhere, whirring around, the ambulance screeching on the last turn, pulling up and stopping short. It’s exciting and scary and awful. The attendants jump out and nurses run double-quick from the hospital, shouting, get ‘em out. It takes six people to pull a big guy on a stretcher who is bleeding so much we can clearly see he’s dying.
I stop chewing crackers. My skin feels creepy, my hair itches.
Teddy drives me home and when I tell him I can’t go out with him anymore he doesn’t ask why.
You know your life has changed forever the first time he climbs out of the crib and scares the shit out of you by turning up in the kitchen. And, later, when he’s learned to drive and shows up unexpectedly, and you think, wait, how did you get here? Then, later still, when he’s taller than you and you’re hugging him goodbye one night near his college campus and someone walks by and says, “heh, heh, heh.” And you rush to call out, “no, no, he’s my son.” Don’t you see? He’s just my little boy.
Short Fiction : This Might Be True
When Carol’s son grew up and went away to college and later married and had children and they, her grandchildren, grew up and went away too, Carol found herself spending time thinking about being old.
She briefly succumbed to trying new potions and creams and even dipped into the dermatological world of the quick fix—line erasing and crevice filling shots —that wasn’t. Finally, she settled begrudgingly into self-acceptance. She cut her hair short and went for long walks. She would have liked to have Dog with her, but Dan—her ex who had left her for his secretary, Ivy Shaw—had taken Dog when he moved out. Carol had been too exhausted at the time to protest and too happy to be Danless. Later, after Ivy Shaw ditched him, Dan told Carol he wanted to come back. As if they’d never been divorced, as if her front door had a turnstile. She laughed in his face over the phone, then had a moment thinking about Dog. Continue reading: https://www.redfez.net/fiction/dog-this-might-be-true-1044
A TIME NOT NOW
“A Time Not Now” by Janet Clare
A month ago, I was in Los Angeles and my husband was in New York on his way home from Madrid and Paris. He’s a writer, fancied himself a poet, though he’d been working on a film. Or so he said. It wasn’t long before I discovered he hadn’t been traveling alone. His companion was a young, married Italian woman. Sooner or later, often without any research, we find whatever we need to know. Whether we want to or not.
He wasn’t supposed to return when he did and the surprise weekend erupted in a marriage-ending war of words during which he deftly quoted Hemingway. He should have known I’d recognize his habit of often quoting without credit. Upon the breakup of their marriage, Hemingway said to his first wife, Hadley: “I wish I had died before I loved another….” My ex paraphrased, but only slightly. It should be noted that Hadley, bless her heart, went on to another life and lived to be 90-something. Hemingway, as we know, eventually blew his brains out. My husband ran the quote by me and I reacted by throwing things across the room. Dramatic? Damn straight. The things I tossed were mostly unbreakable, and nothing I really liked. But during my controlled frenzy, and in a moment of startling awareness, I realized that life was more complicated than the word love. It turns out love really isn’t all you need. Certainly not all I needed. There were those other words— respect and kindness—that got lost in the years. Words impossible to live without.
While my husband was busy fucking up our lives, I’d been working hard at my business. Which he resented, and which, by the way, supported us. So listening to him giggling over his new love and quoting dead writers just put me off ever-so-slightly. He would always love me, he repeated, then left again for Europe to be confused. Confusion was his métier.
I changed the locks on the doors and my life and thought about getting out of town. I didn’t have a lot of time or money, but Cabo San Lucas wasn’t far from Los Angeles. I’d bring books and wallow in aloneness. I didn’t want to go anywhere I’d been with my husband. Don’t go back. Go different.
Out on the edge of the world, the view was spectacular. Cabo San Lucas sits on the southern point of Baja California where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. Blue ocean smacks up on a barren desert landscape with stark serenity.
Three hours in I met Shirley and Ray. They’re also Americans and talk about the land they’ve bought in Washington state and their plan to build and retire. Shirley is 45. So am I. Retire? Who thinks about retiring at 45? It sounded almost obscene. They’ve noticed I’m here alone, but don’t ask questions and I soon discover I’m the only lone woman in the entire resort. I didn’t care. Determined as I was to maintain my death-defying optimism.
With the sea as background music, I write every morning on hotel notepads. Ramblings. I wasn’t a writer, never kept a journal. Maybe that would change. I eat breakfast on the terrace where waiters smile politely at my limited Spanish. In school I’d studied French, never considering that I lived in a city where over fifty-percent of the population spoke Spanish. Ray and Shirley at the next table. Shirley leaves for a swim and Ray brings his coffee to join me. He’s a nice man. I could survive about twenty minutes with a nice man like Ray. I load film in my camera. A real camera. It was the ‘90’s. I want proof I was here. I even snap a picture of myself on the beach. Now, with the proliferation of selfies, perhaps not as pathetic as I thought.
In my hotel room, the overhead fan soothes. Like the waves and the stirring of the palms, everything moves in a mesmerizing rhythm, slowing the heartbeat and bringing peace. My life waits for me and these few days are a way to help me get on with it. But what if I just stayed? Thoughts of every city person visiting paradise. My husband ran away and left the door open. He was incapable of closing it. So I would have to do it. Meanwhile, the sun glowed and my skin slowly turns brown. Traveling alone had sharpened my senses, forcing me to notice everything. There is no backup. No one to say, look, over there, see that.
One evening after dinner, Benji the headwaiter stands near my table speaking halting English. A handsome face with startling white teeth he tells me about the weather at different times of the year. He says he will bring me coffee at 6:30 in the morning. Because I was up early and he’s kind. The next day, Roberto from the hotel drives me into town. He talks about his young daughter and I tell him I have a son in college. The child of my first marriage. Roberto is surprised, thinks I’m too young to have a grown son. I have no trouble understanding his compliments in Spanish. In a hurry to get back to the sea, I don’t stay long in the small town of San Cabo.
The following afternoon I head to a nearby cove and snorkel in crystal clear water. Remarkable for me, because, though I’m a good pool swimmer, I have a healthy respect for the ocean. Knee-deep in the water, equipment in hand, I try to figure out the best way to get the clumsy fins on and the mask adjusted. A plump woman, expertly navigating the waves, swims over and shows me what to do and, amazingly, I do it and stare at the glistening fish at my feet, imagining the magic beyond the small circle of the cove. I have a new confidence as I put one webbed foot in front of the other.
From the balcony of my room on my last night, I watch the phosphorescent laced waves aglow in the light of the moon. Tomorrow I will go to the airport and go home. This side trip isn’t a wild adventure, neither far away, nor dangerous. But a journey nonetheless. And a beginning.