Page Twenty-three, website outline
The Pygmies Keep Dancing is the name of the only chance I ever had at some success — success as neurotypical human society defines it; success as those who believe that you are nothing if you don’t earn money define it (but not as I define it). It’s the name of a novel I wrote in 1994 and 95, when I was 41 and 42 years old. It’s a largely silly book, and was intended to be so. Midlife crisis? Sit down and write a silly book? I don’t know.
I do know, though, that those who knew me took it for granted that if anne nakis ever wrote a novel, it would be serious and literary and probably too la-di-da for anyone I knew to want to read. That’s what I myself thought. So it surprised me as much as it did anyone else that when finally I sat down to write a novel, it turned out to be a silly one.
About six months into it, I sent the first five chapters out to some agents, and heard back from two of them (one in New York, one in Toronto) that they’d like to see the book when it was finished. I was as baffled as I was delighted: What do they want with this silly book? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There were those who thought the book was funny, including a brother of mine and a friend. And judging by the way the Toronto editor went on for a paragraph about the experience he had marketing humor, I guess he thought it was funny too. I didn’t quite know what to make of all this funny. I myself regarded the book as primarily an allegory on the human subconscious, set in a very fanciful future, and only secondarily somewhat humorous. But I kept my mouth shut. If others saw it as first and foremost a funny book, and had interest in reading it only because of what they saw as humor, then I wasn’t going to debate it. The humor I used I saw as sardonic at times, tongue firmly in cheek at others. Serious humor, to use an oxymoron, but I kept keeping my mouth shut.
I rushed to get the thing finished, knowing that rushing was probably not a good idea, but I couldn’t stop myself. Excitement was only part of it. The other part was a lifetime of experience watching neurotypicals change their minds from week to week, if not from day to day. I had always found people so inconstant that, although both agents had told me to take my time and send the manuscript along when it was finished, I didn’t believe them. I feared that if I took too long, and then sent the book off, I’d get a letter back saying: Who the hell are you? I never asked to see your book. I had started it in mid-May of 1994, and mailed it out on 3 May 1995. I was forty-two years old.
May 3 had been chosen as mailing day at least a month in advance, so that I would have a deadline to work for and thus keep myself on task. But the damnable randomness of living decided to rear its ugly head on that particular day, and three hours before I was planning to be in the post office putting my first novel into the mail, one of my cats was killed by a human driving a car. The sudden death, the sadness, nearly kept me from doing the mailing. I honestly don’t know exactly how or why I went on with it, considering how devastated I was. To this day I don’t understand how I could go through with it. Except for the time I was xeroxing the last few chapters, and then doing the mailing in the P.O., the rest of that day and night were spent in a blur of sadness.
I’d wanted to go with the Toronto agency, since it was the Canadian branch of a very big amerikan agency, and I figured that richer and bigger and possible distribution in Great Britain was better. But, like so many things, it came down to money. Big agent charged a hefty fee (for me) to read the manuscript, and the smaller agency in New York charged nothing. New York it was. In June I got an answer: the manuscript needed to be edited, after which she would read it again. A good argument against rushing. She gave me the name of an editor, I talked to him, didn’t like him one wee bit, and his fee was ridiculous. A few months later I found another editor on Cape Cod who would do it for half the New York guy’s price, and my mother gave me the money. Randomness struck again: some emergency or other happened, maybe with the car, and the editor money got spent. After all of this, I was completely depressed and discouraged concerning the book. By the end of 1995, the manuscript was planted on a shelf and never looked at again.
Jump ahead two years, to the fall of 1997. My depression over the book has begun to lift, and I find myself interested in it again. I am living back with my parents in a miasma of mental illness and psychological abuse, for both me and my father, that I never imagined would be waiting for me when I arrived. I decide to edit the book myself, and see this project as one way I can attempt to stay grounded in something solid amidst psychological chaos all around me. The book and the animals are my compasses.
But even that went south. My mother became so jealous of any time I spent writing, and any time I spent gardening, or being with my animals and her animals, that she would just ratchet up the bullying. I gave up, telling myself that when my situation got better, I’d go back to the book.
My situation never did get better, but only worse with every passing year. My mother’s changing a certain legal document and taking from me my future rights to the family home thrust me back out into the rental market with a lot of animals, and no more rent subsidy. Every year the finances were harder, the physical illnesses got worse, as did depression, anxiety and PTSD. Each landlord was more mentally unbalanced than the one before, with only one exception. From 1999 to 2003 there were many animal deaths, as happens when you have a large family, as well as the deaths of my father, his brother, my nephew and my housemate. All the fiction I had ever got started on — the finished novel, other unfinished ones, short stories and plays, got packed into a big plastic bin, never to be looked at again. That very bin is moldering now in a storage unit for over three years, and if I ever see it again, will I even open it? I don’t know. Since the stealing of my animals, the killing of them, the tossing me onto the streets in my fifties, I have only been able to write truth: journals, memoir, and much less poetry than I ever wrote before.
The only inner force that tries to compel me to promise to get at the novel again is one that comes strictly from the heart. I consider the novel to belong to the animals who watched me write it, just as much as it belongs to me. One cat in particular sat or lay beside the word processor nearly every time I sat down to work on the book, as if she were supervising the work. She died five months into the writing, and ever after that the time spent at the word processor was poorer, emptier. In honor of this cat, and of all the others who shared my life while I wrote, I’d like to go back to the novel someday. But it doesn’t look good at the moment.
jump ahead again, to august 2012. manuscript found. pygmies has begun. read… the pygmies
read… Mugsy’s book… Scealta liatha…