TFAOAFGND Outtakes, part 1

Not everything you write goes into the novel, especially if, like me, you take 10+ years to write a novel. Sometimes you write a scene and then decide that the scene is more efficiently alluded to than actually in the novel. I’m going to post some of the more interesting (in my mind — you may think otherwise) bits and pieces here. So here’s a start….

What Did It Feel Like When You First Saw Yourself on TV?

What did it feel like, the first time you ever saw yourself on TV?, Hanna said. The show, I mean. They were on the beach in North Carolina. Michael was asleep on the sand.

Ellen didn’t want to admit it, but she remembered when the show premiered. Where and when she had seen it, and how dismally disappointed she had been in herself. Compared to her standup days, she seemed so fucking bland. Funny, yes—but so fucking normal. Like some nice Iowa girl. It was the start of her disillusioning. And then the fan mail started coming. The invitations to parties (rich people having an entirely different idea of ‘party’ — weird notions of guest lists with feng shui; seating arrangements designed for laughter). People started recognizing her on the street, in shopping malls. I know you, they often said, or, Aren’t you? And you had always wanted this, but it was never the way you thought it would be. And the ugly thing about that was that you hated it when it happened, but were secretly more afraid of it  not happening. And there was pressure in it that made you want to retreat. Hide, even. Or just drug yourself into a kind of I-don’t-give-a-shit numbness. She could see why certain people punched photographers.

Where someone else might have just retreated into drugs or weird religion, she ran. Going from her normal four to six miles a day to ten, eleven. Half marathons in an afternoon. Three or four a week. At night sometimes she ran the perimeter of the back yard of the house she rented in those days, wore a path like a dog. The failure of sleep. A sensation of disassociation from herself. Waking moments becoming permanent out of body experiences.

She didn’t say this to Hanna. It was nice to have illusions about the wonders of celebrity. Finally, she said: It was strange. When I saw myself in the show for the first time, I looked like everything I had tried not to be. And then I went home and cried.

Hanna seemed shocked. No way.

Way. I was in a show that got critical raves and I felt like slitting my wrists.

Really? I mean seriously-really.

No. Not really. I was just, like, you know, you dream about something and you work your ass off and maybe you get there but when you do, it’s like somebody else’s dream. And you’re like, Hey, whoever lost this brass ring, you can come and get it at my house. The brass ring is something that’s sort of supposed to me — in my mind, anyway — sort of permanently out of reach. And if you get it, you’re like, What the fuck? What is this?

Is that the way it’s been? I mean why you left?

I don’t know.  I guess. I do my best not to, you know…. Ellen stopped. She looked at the sea and then at Michael, then at Hanna. I don’t, I can’t be like too self-examining. It wrecks the comedy. It helps to have a lot of weird garbage floating around in your subconscious. Dr. Ling, my therapist, says that I like the conflict. That I thrive on conflict. Conflict makes me feel alive.

Hanna said: Do you feel that he’s right? Veins stood out on Hannah’s slender arms. Her hair had that straw-like look that people get when they’ve been in the ocean. The sun had darkened her nose, and her cheekbones had a flecking of freckles. One of the straps of her top had gone slightly astray and you could see the white stripe.

No. Conflict with myself, maybe. With my ambition. When you’re so used to competing, to struggling, it’s hard to figure out what the next step is in your grand plan when you actually get to what used to be the totally unreachable plateau. What do you do when you’ve conquered all the frontier?

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About Steve, i.e., him

Stephen Stark is an award-winning novelist and bestselling ghostwriter. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, Poets & Writers and in many other journals. He has been a fellow and taught at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and won an NEA Literature Fellowship in fiction. His novel, Second Son, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1992, and a New and Noteworthy Paperback of 1994.

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