From Normal to Cluster-Fizzle

My former roommate, Andrea, will likely remember the Great Peanut Butter Ball Cluster-Fizzle of 2008. (As I have named it.)

Peanut butter balls are a Christmas tradition in my family. Sometimes called buckeyes, these little treats appeared every year at Christmas time, and when I was growing up, I always helped my mom roll the peanut butter in balls and then dip them in chocolate. So when I moved out and Christmas came around, I knew I had to make peanut butter balls.

I’m not sure what happened. The peanut butter would not roll. When I put the misshapen balls into the chocolate, they melted, looking more like chocolate-covered piles of dog poo. I couldn’t figure it out. I added more sugar. I cooled the chocolate. Andrea suggested I chill the peanut butter mixture. I tried that, but none of it worked. The more I worked at them, the more I ruined them.

I tell this story because today has been a Great Peanut Butter Ball Cluster-Fizzle kind of day. Except this time, I’m not working with peanut butter and chocolate; I’m revising a short story, an old one from my MFA thesis.

I was proud of this story, flawed though it was. But after I graduated, I couldn’t work on fiction anymore. I was so blocked, so scared, so intimidated, that I put the stories away and hid in the world of nonfiction and food writing and blogging.

But now I’m back. I’m working on a novel. And we are drawing close to the end of a lot of reading periods for journals. I would like to submit something before those reading periods close. So I started back to work on this story last week.

I remembered all of the things my thesis committee told me were wrong with it, as well as what they said was working. And I revised. And revised. And revised.

And just like those God-forsaken peanut butter balls, with each revision, I believe I ruin it even more. I’m beginning to feel like Dr. Frankenstein; you know it’s bad, and you know you should just stop, but you’ve stolen bodies from the grave. Once you’re that deep in, there’s no going back.

These characters are patched together, walking around in my head, and I can’t put them back in the ground again. I feel that no matter how many times I tell my story that I hate it, that I wish it would leave me alone, it responds like Frankenstein’s monster:

I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel. 

So how does a writer go back? How is a do-over achieved? How do you go from fallen angel to God creating Adam and seeing that the world was good? A fallen angel, after all, didn’t stop Him from creating man. If ever there was a reason to be trigger shy, that was probably it. Perhaps that should inspire bravery, should tell me to try, try again.

Maybe this is the point where we chill the dough, if you’ll follow me down the path of this very mixed metaphor. Maybe forget the deadlines and the monsters and try to go back to the beginning – the one kernel of truth that the story is really supposed to be about in the first place.

For today, I think that’s the best I can do:  stack story drafts on my desk, gently; go eat a spoon full of Nutella; watch TV; go for a walk with my fiancée and clear my head. That’s probably the best any of us can do when things go from normal to cluster-fizzle. And then begin again tomorrow.

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