Thursday, December 30, 2010

Training Fish

I have a trained fish.  I know this brings up an obvious question: Why?

Mel is my writing companion. (After Herman Melville. Get it? Moby Dick?) Mel's a mostly pink Betta fish that lives on the bookshelves next to my writing desk.  (And don't get any ideas just because he's mostly pink. He's still a fighter.) For years now, I've kept a Betta Fish in my office. In some weird way, I feel it forces me to spend more time there. Yet, not necessarily more time writing in there. Only a writer in the act of actively not writing would take the time to train a fish.

My husband says Mel is just trying to fight with me, seeing as how he's a fighting fish, (Jeff has always been the romantic one.) but I disagree. None of my other Betta fish would ever come to the side of their bowls and kiss my finger the way Mel does. Not Sushi, not Maguro, not Unagi. None of them. Mel is special. The day I walked into Petsmart to get him (after waiting, of course, a respectable time after Unagi's funeral (burial at sea) ) I was headed toward the dog food aisle when Mel caught my eye. He was flashing around wildly in his little round container. When I came back to get him, I knew he was the one. He had the ugliest little face. If I didn't buy him, no one would.

At home, Mel continued to flash around in his bowl whenever he sensed someone walking into my office, probably from the vibrations of the floor in our old house (Although, unlike me, he's immune to the vibration of the floor that happens every time the El goes by.) So every day, as part of my pre-writing ritual, and the pre-writing ritual is a long one so as to procrastinate as long as possible before the act of actually writing, I feed Mel, but first I insist he come to the side of his bowl to say "hello." And he always does.

I've talked to other writers about this. About our writing rituals, that is, not training fish. And we all have our own quirky writing rituals. (Although I wouldn't mind hearing from anyone who also has a trained fish. Perhaps we could share the number of a good therapist?)  I don't know what it is about forcing yourself to sit down in the chair that is so hard some days. And it's way harder when you're writing fiction, I think, than when you're writing anything else. At least for me it is. Especially these days, when I'm working on a third novel and my second one is still collecting dust on a shelf, because the publishing industry is in such a state of turmoil that even published authors, even authors waaay more successful than myself, NY Times Bestseller list successful, cannot get the attention of an editor unless we're the star of our own reality TV show.

The eternal optimist in me knows the publishing industry will somehow sort itself out and that authors will have ways to get works out there, and get paid for them. In the mean time, Mel has been fed, the incense is burning, my email has been checked, my blog has been written, which only means...it's time to train the cats. 
They look at me from the armchair in the corner of my office with eyes that say, "Fat chance, sister."

So even though writing novels seems sort of like a disease, in that it's something I feel I absolutely have to do and for which there's no cure, these days it can sometimes feel as pointless as, well, as pointless as training a fish.



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