Here’s a piece of fun news, in case you missed it on Facebook or Twitter: I have finally hit that certain zine girl milestone and published a short story over at Storychord. It’s called “The Professor and the Bikini Waxer,” and I have my former compadres at nogoodforme.com to thank — the lovely Elizabeth Barker and Laura Jane Faulds, as well as their ace illustrator and partner in crime Jen May — since it’s part of a special issue curated by Strawberry Fields Whatever. I hardly ever submit to publications because my stories don’t ever quite fit and I honesty have no idea where to even begin, but this one did fit into the mold of a “literary fiction.” (Lack of goofball elements like werewolves helps.)
But it’s always a trip to publish anything, no matter where it ends up. It’s always very mortifying but the best part is: it’s truly done. The story is out there, it’s in the world and is ultimately completed when it’s in the imagination of people other than you. And that’s really why we fight so hard to publish as writers, I suppose — nothing ever feels truly complete until it’s being read by other people.
Now that my little story’s journey is complete, it’s nice to finally trace its arc from beginning to end. Usually I’m like a shark with writing; it’s easy for me to jump into the next project without looking back. But in the interest of growing as a writer and not wanting to commit the same mistakes again and again — or just being able to diagnose patterns as patterns, if you know what I mean — it’s nice to remember where a story began, the turns it took and how it finally rounded the bend. Whether a short story or an epic novel, it’s always a struggle in some way or another, no?
Like a lot of my ideas, it began as a joke…this one was a crass half-joke on a shoot during film school. I was brainstorming ideas we could make with very few locations, and I thought it’d be funny to do a short or even a web series about a bikini waxer — a kind of wisewoman-savant that ladies would line up to talk to for her advice on life and men and everything else. I just thought the idea of this love and relationship guru existing in such a profession was a funny, fascinating concept. We never made the film, though I did outline it quickly. I think the outline still exists somewhere in Google Docs or Dropbox or whatever cloud service I was using at the time.
The idea of a bikini waxer as a central character stuck with me, though, even long after I left the film industry. At some point, perhaps about a year ago, I decided just to write it in short story form. It initially began as a lark, just a “see where this character takes me.” I thought it’d be a lighter story, like the genesis of the short film/web series idea, but then as I wrote, I thought about the profession itself: how does one end up waxing bikini lines for a living? What would it be like if you discovered that this was one of your talents in life? And what if no one in your immediate sphere recognized it as legit and valid? I thought it was such an odd yet dramatic conundrum. What kind of person would this be? Maybe slightly embarrassed? Maybe trying to compensate in some way or another? Maybe a bit recessive and shy? I didn’t know. I basically wrote to find out, cheating on my novel by drafting the short story. And of course, being me, it went into slightly darker, more alienated territory, because that’s how I roll when it comes to me and writing. And: I have a pervy, fucked-up sense of humor, and that always seems to come out in a weird way.
I’m embarrassed to say, though, that this story went through a hella amount of revisions — it only took a few days to write, but almost a year to revise. Embarrassing! But it’s like any matter of the heart — sometimes you need to let the truths settle in before you can approach anything at a new angle. And honestly, I thought the story was weird and I couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be. This weird ingredient — the lost Germanic warrior tribes my little bikini waxer dreams about — kept popping up and wouldn’t go away. And so did the image of these intellectuals floating above the sprawl of Los Angeles, swilling wine and talking Greek and Latin classics in some crazy modernist house nestled in the Hollywood hills. That image, transposing a weird East Coast sensibility into a denuded landscape devoid of history but full of a Didion-like glamour — kept lingering as well. I had all these elements that wanted to be together, but I couldn’t figure out how they related to each other. So I wrote and wrote and wrote until I kind of figured it out.
There was initially way more action, and in an odd, subdued way, it became slightly “Heart of Darkness”-y but in a Hollywood spa. (There was even a “Heart of Darkness”/”Apocalypse Now” moment where Nina, my waxer, smears her face and body with mud mask and stares into the mirror in a very Travis Bickle kind of moment.) I finished it, and then I left it alone for a good long awhile and basically forgot about it as I finished up revising my novel. But then I’d remember it, and I’d pick it up and take a stab at revising it every now and then — and slowly each element came into its proper place and proportion. I realized it was basically a “shift in consciousness” story — like so many of my short films! (Talk about tracing patterns!) Once I realized that, I stripped away much of the action, until the story focused on just those moments that considered her thoughts and feelings, and the incidents in the story that created the changes in consciousness she goes through. Sometimes you have a wide lens working; this one was a very tight macro one.
It’s a tricky business to write a character like this. She’s essentially a passive person, though she does act and make decisions — but those actions and choices generally preserved her status quo because she feared change. I actually had some weird residual film school guilt about her not being more “active” of a character, but then I realized: it’s writing, not film, and especially on a short story like this, the change in point-of-view and perspective is the fulcrum of the action. She actually doesn’t make any changes in her life in the story, but the tale is really about laying the groundwork in her heart and mind before she makes concrete changes in her life It’s just a moment, just an inhale before you leap from the precipice — but so much can change in a breath.