WINTER 2018: REFLECTONS ON WRITING “SEDUCTION OF THE MUSE” by MINDY OHRINGER

It’s a frigid January night and I’ve been hibernating for days. My cupboards are nearly empty and tonight’s dinner combined tofu with Italian breadcrumbs, tomato sauce (last jar), whole wheat pasta, and frozen peas. A bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream from my late mother in law has bitten the dust. Gusts of wind seep through old windows and doors. I want to believe the plumbing and electrical systems of this old house can handle whatever winter demands of it…So far, so good.

Hibernation also means endless writing, editing, and listening to rock music. Each session opens with “Gimme Shelter”, “You Can’t Always Get Want You Want”, and “Layla”, shifting into “Surrender”, “Liza Radley”, “Tell Me” (covered by The Dead Boys), “Tiny Dancer”, “Heroes”, “I Wanna Be Sedated”, and concludes with “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Rock Anthems make me write. Rock Anthems keep me sane, especially as my hours are spent in circuitous conversation with ghosts, painful memories, unspeakable desires, improbable hopes, and tremendous fears. I don’t know if my life or my writing will ever live up to lyrics, but I’ve crafted 253 pages and 55,000 words of my novel “The Wife in Winter: Seduction of the Muse”and seem to be living to tell the tale. There’s TONS more to edit, this will be a “big swinging dick” (to use Tom Wolfe’s phrase) of a novel. These days, I refer (tongue in cheek) to the novel as a “Mistress Piece” in oblique homage to Thornton Wilder’s “Stage Manager” and Tom Wolfe’s other famous phrase,  “Masters of the Universe.”

This morning began with sunlight streaming onto my dining room table while I sought to sustain a #continuouspractice #wildlyimperfect effort to write for twenty minutes a day without intention or goal. I’m doing this as part of a community of creative folks, most of whom post photographs of their daily practices on Facebook. Their neat homes, adorable cats, and serene personal spaces fascinate me. My house is a total mess, the pet chinchilla sleeps all day in the den, and there’s more loneliness than serenity in the difficult world-creating work I do. But the shared visual depiction of their lives offers me an odd sort of companionship. We are mostly women of a certain age shedding the perfectionism expected of our gender (and often required for our survival) while thriving on a certain degree of healthy compulsion. As the daughter of a soldier, I know how to march…and keep marching forward…This time, the real campaign is for my novel while growing my life as writer and poet.

The greatest gifts I’ve been given are stories, beginning with those of my late father, who put me to bed at night with tales of the Iliad and Odyssey. I was blessed to have a father who recommended wonderful books (“Shogun”, “Marjorie Morningstar”, “Papillon”, “Exodus”), who  let me order as many as I wanted from Scholastic, and never told me there was anything I couldn’t read. Yes, my mother hid her copy of Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying” and both my parents refused to include me when they went to see the movie of  “A Clockwork Orange.” But the Anthony Burgess novel could also be found on the parental bookshelf, so I eventually made sense of the “Zipless Fuck” and “The Old In and Out.” However, my parents did take me to see a production of “La Ronde” when I was in seventh grade, during our trip cross country. In retrospect, it probably was their best attempt at sex education. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone my age I could talk with about sexual exploitation in capitalism but that was par for the course. If you have parents who take you to see “Our Town at the age of five, “Mephistopheles” at the age of six, and “The Zoo Story” at the age of ten, they’ve set you on a path that few will share…

Books have enabled me to endure everything in life that has given me pain. A good novel can provide a magical place where readers can be  immersed in the interwoven lives of compelling characters and renew their strength for the challenges they face. Hopefully “The Wife in Winter: Seduction of The Muse” will embody an antidote to loneliness, providing comfort and empowerment during dark times.

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LET A THOUSAND HELIOTROPE BLOOM! BY MINDY OHRINGER

The final phase begins! I’m re-reading “The Wife in Winter: Seduction of The Muse”, relentlessly editing each chapter. Each day starts with questions:

Have I conjured epiphany or revelation upon the page?  Will my writing meet John Gardner’s Standard of “sustaining the vivid and continuous dream?” Are the themes and motifs enigmatic and engaging? Will my fledgling literary edifice be worth deconstructing? How much of a gap must be closed between my vision of the novel and the current level of technical execution? Will reading “Seduction of The Muse” be a captivating, empowering, and inspiring experience in these troubled times?Despite the complex challenges at hand and a profound fear of failure, cautious optimism prevails.

Today’s small literary victory involved heliotrope, the moonlit flowers of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” For decades, I’ve wondered what heliotrope looked like. To my delight and with gratitude to Google, I discovered that heliotrope can be blue and purple, thus dovetailing with the Laurel Valley (a.k.a. “Louis Vuitton”) High School official colors. HOORAY! I’ve knotted together the prosperous Long Island town of Laurel Valley, where much of my novel takes place, and Grover’s Corners New Hampshire!

The prosperous fictional suburb of “Laurel Valley” was born in the company of my treasured friend and muse, the late Doreen Davidson. We were attending a revival of “Angels in America” and had grabbed a quick dinner during intermission. Before the production resumed, I turned to Doreen and declared:

“I know where ‘The Wife in Winter’ takes place! The town is Laurel Valley!'”

A synthetic mind had slowly woven Lake Success, Locust Valley, and the leafy circlets granted to winners at the ancient Olympic Games. Voila! Such a realization only took over half a decade…I’d known my characters, their interrelated phantasmagorical stories and destinies, but this particular setting had remained unclear. To have used a real Long Island suburb would have curtailed my creative freedom and limited the imagination of the reader.  Laurel Valley serves as my Grover’s Corners. Consequently, I’ve taken the one local institution that’s only mentioned on the fringes of “Our Town” (the local high school which Emily Webb and her husband to be George Gibbs attend)  and placed it at the heart of my story. As Grover’s Corners denizen Mrs. Soames states during Act III:

“I remember Emily’s wedding. Wasn’t it a lovely wedding? And I remember her reading the class poem at Graduation Exercises. Emily was one of the brightest girls ever graduated from High School. I’ve heard Principal Wilkins say so time after time.”

Despite her considerable gifts and talents, Emily Webb marries young and dies in childbirth. Her “Everywoman” legacy haunts “Seduction of The Muse.” Will ambitious women writers, especially those struggling with an acute awareness of mortality, succeed in giving birth to their best literary selves? What form will their creative efforts take during the presidential campaign of 2008? What will be the fate of their teenage children? What will be the fate of America? Please join me on this unfolding journey of exploration…

#WE QUEST #BEST YEAR #DENY THE DEFAULT by Mindy Ohringer

“A VISION IS LIVED AND ENACTED EVERY DAY”

“POLITICS IS NOT WHO YOU VOTE FOR. IT IS HOW YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE” 

“AND THE DAY CAME WHEN THE RISK TO REMAIN TIGHT IN A BUD WAS MORE PAINFUL THAN THE RISK IT TOOK TO BLOSSOM” 

“THE WAY YOU GROW IS BY STEPPING OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.”

The first quote is from Jeffrey Davis of “Tracking Wonder”, founder of the annual #WE QUEST experience that engages scholars, artists, writers, healers from around the world. The second quote comes from Abbie Hoffman. The third quote is from Anais Nin. The fourth quote is from my son, Noah Ohringer.

As a “friendly introvert” who has battled shyness her entire life, I’ve found the courage to step outside of my private world and connect with a broader community of creative individuals that want to do their best work and make our world a better place. By participating in Quest 2018, I’ve made a commitment to exploring how the personal, political, and artistic facets of my life can be more deeply developed and better integrated. This means learning new skills, breaking old habits, and staying focused on strategic priorities.

If I work hard and engage in sustained, self-disciplined learning, 2018 will be a year of collaborative political activism, literary publication, artistic endeavors, greater personal pleasure, and spiritual growth. My goals include learning how to be a more effective advocate for progressive ideals and programs. It is also my hope to become more knowledgeable about songwriting, finish the script for my musical “The Adult Program” which I started in June, and be ready for a staged reading during 2019. Work will continue on “The Wife in Winter” trilogy as I seek representation for “Seduction of The Muse” and move ahead with second solid drafts of “Oaths of Fealty” and “The Price of Creation.” It’s time to act bravely and pursue representation for my novel “Apollonian Summer” and short story/essay collection “The Slumber Party: Meditations on Love, Mortality, and Marriage.” This means reflecting on the quality of my queries and pitches and trying to make them more persuasive.  

Other projects include formulation of a poetry collection, finding a home for a children’s book (“Noah’s Question”) that I wrote almost twenty years ago, a draft syllabus for a mini-course in media and politics, and advancing my studies in collage. There are writing conferences to attend and writing residencies to apply for. A top priority will be maintaining a cultural calendar (theater, museum visits, opera, concerts) that doesn’t break the bank or run me ragged. I’ll continue active membership in my Greenwich Village writing group and anticipate reading in public during the coming year.

If the body is the container of the soul, then it behooves one to take proper care of the container. I intend to swim regularly at an indoor pool this winter and build back my stamina. When my recent injuries heal, I’ll return to the tennis court. For now, I’m walking as much as possible and experimenting with more a more mindful approach to food consumption. Buying new clothes remains an unnatural act but I’m going to make some purchases this year. In my mind, I’m still a young woman taking home $166.78 every week, paying off a student loan debt of $116 a month, and struggling to survive…The reality is that I can buy myself some new clothes and enjoy wearing them. In 2018, I intend to live in tune with my physical needs and pay greater attention to them. To only focus on the mind is to be half alive…

In conclusion: When December 2018 arrives, I will have kept these promises and made significant progress on all fronts. My year will have included time with cherished close friends, more new friends and collaborators ,as well as greater professional and creative satisfaction. How exciting to become a stronger, more fulfilled and accomplished person while trying to change the world! And, if timely impeachment or “resignation on the grounds of ill health” come to pass through renewed and sustained political activism in the company of my fellow citizens – that will make the journey complete!

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRITING POLITICALLY CHARGED FICTION: SOURCES OF INSPIRATION BY MINDY OHRINGER

There’s that awful moment when you discover the brilliant scholar, whose review of “Local Deities” in “The Nation” (“Staying on Alone”, 2/12/90) changed your life, has died. You read his 2005 obituary in cyberspace, note that he passed of cancer at the age of fifty-six, and cry, because in a few keystrokes you’ve found and lost an entire world.

How can a book review change one’s life? Without reading this article by the late Professor Fred Pfeil, I never would have discovered “Local Deities”, the incredible novel by Agnes Bushell. Her book builds upon the activist journey explored in Marge Piercy’s “Vida”, juxtaposing the experiences of American radicals remaining in their conventional lives with those who chose to make revolution and headed underground. The superbly written “Local Deities” seamlessly integrates the political and personal, capturing the moral dilemmas of American left-wing radicals during the 1980s as they navigate the challenges of living ethically in advanced capitalist society. This novel, published during the Republican interregnum, examines the limits of working within the system and the consequences of principled dissent.

“Local Deities” portrays the deep friendship Erika and Annie forged during the upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The novel conveys their mutual loyalty, idealism, despair, and implications of their decisions to embark upon divergent political paths. Annie and her husband Paul go underground, conducting carefully planned attacks against corporate targets, aiming to raise class consciousness without taking innocent lives. They are raising three children while in hiding. Erika and her husband Simon, a left-wing attorney, find their relationship disintegrating as alienated labor and the demoralizing impact of Reagan’s America weigh heavily upon them. As Simon turns inward, Erika, now the mother of two young children, begins drifting away from the marriage. After Paul and his children are apprehended by the F.B.I., Simon agrees to defend him in the first of several trials, the verdicts of which are likely to keep him behind bars indefinitely. Erika decides to change the direction of her life and focus on the fate of Annie’s children. Will Annie resurface and raise them? Will they be given to Paul’s aging mother, Annie’s sister living in the Bible Belt, or an urban collective of ideologically pure activists? What place can these children truly call home?

“Local Deities” fearlessly explores what living as a revolutionary entails. What makes the novel so wonderful is that love, not didactic political prescriptions, serves as the fulcrum upon which interwoven stories of women’s lives spin. Indeed, one could argue that “Local Deities”, like Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”, is a Great American Feminist Novel.  It’s a lost gem, meriting recognition and discovery by a new generation of readers.

For the past fifteen years, I have been thinking about the politics and the historical trajectory of women’s stories, dating back to “The Trojan Women”,  “Medea”, and “Scheherazade.” Like the aforementioned epics, “Local Deities” has been an enormous influence upon “The Wife in Winter: Seduction of The Muse.” If anyone reading this blog is acquainted with  Agnes Bushell, please let her know that her novel is remembered with awe, affection, and eternal gratitude. 

The Wife in Winter: Seduction of The Muse by Mindy Ohringer

It’s the final countdown! After ten years of drafting, crafting, and editing, (all of which were continually interrupted by child-rearing, eldercare, friend care, and other profound moral obligations) I’m almost done with the first book, “Seduction of The Muse”, of my “Wife in Winter” trilogy.

In the autumn of 2007, I began exploring what it might mean to write an epic novel about women writers, love, politics, feminism, history, heartbreak, and the specter of mortality. A close woman friend had died of Ovarian Cancer that summer and I decided that attempting this project could not wait any longer. I had already written a novel, “APOLLONIAN SUMMER”, but set it aside. This project was calling me…and I answered. I’m writing this blog in order to share the creative, literary, and political journey behind my novel. Perhaps my experience as a writer and activist can also serve a source of empowerment, comfort, and inspiration during profoundly sad and challenging times. The current right-wing Administration will not break my spirit – I have lived through Nixon, Reagan, Bush,  Bush, and the betrayal of progressive ideals by some who consider themselves Democrats. A burning desire to close the gap between the world as it is, and the world as it might be, keeps me moving forward.

Each day, I awaken with a heightened awareness of place and time and an awareness of elections past (1968, 1972, 1980) . My mornings begin in 2017 but most of my time has  been spent wandering the terrain between late Summer 2007 (when my novel begins) and Winter 2009, when President Obama was inaugurated (and my trilogy concludes). I hope you will join me in these travels. I am grateful for your company.