You know what’s nice about rewriting a manuscript?
Oh, come on, there has to be something
nice about rewriting a manuscript. It…puts a gunshot wound into perspective? It allows you to tap into feelings of self-loathing and paralyzing self-consciousness you haven’t felt since eighth grade? It means you’re one step closer to publishing, at which point everyone can know you wrote the worst book in the world?
People are kind enough to ask me how the book is going. Frequently, they say things like “Is it out yet?”, because it seems as if I have been working on the book since before the advent of movable type. But no, it isn’t out yet. It will be out February 1, 2009. Publishing has its own pace and it is a measured pace. There is plenty of time booked in for taking the notes your editor has given you and incorporating them into your work. Days on end can be dedicated to polishing a paragraph your editor has noted is awkward and lacks a transition. More days can be booked in for deciding your entire writing style is awkward and lacking in transitions. Nights can be given over to obsessing about how your entire life is awkward and lacks transition. Fixating over your overuse of adverbs is a nice palate-cleanser.
And then the person who has so kindly asked if the book is done yet and has been rewarded by me looking pained and rubbing the bridge of my nose tries to atone by asking a perfectly reasonable question: “What did you decide on for the title?” They are rewarded with me putting my head down on the nearest horizontal surface and crying long hopeless sobs.
I still lack a title. I have come up with a few but Marketing at the publishing house hasn’t felt that special mix of humor, accessibility and shocking profit-margin they like in a title, so I keep getting sent back to the mines. Not only do I have to have a title
, I have to have a wacky, appealing and even more audience-pleasing subtitle
. My online friend Jen Lancaster is deliciously gifted at both. It now appears I am gifted at neither. Let others decry how bad the American school system is; how our students think the three branches of government are Kevin Jonas, Nick Jonas and Joe Jonas. I am only interested in decrying that a "Title Creation" class isn't a prerequisite for graduation.
So of course I am focusing deeply on anything but the book and its missing title. For instance, I am fascinated by the contents of our shower caddy. There are three human beings living in this house. None of us are hair models. Our follicles are not insured by Lloyds of London. So why do three people have eight bottles of shampoo? At the very worst, shouldn’t there be something like…three?
Let’s examine this mystery more closely. First, there is Consort. Consort likes this particular shampoo which makes my hair look like seaweed, so he has his own bottle. But Consort also has a habit of seeing the bottle of shampoo get below the half-full mark, thinking “I’m almost out of shampoo!”, buying another bottle and starting to use that one, while leaving the first bottle alone because it’s half-full, so in his mind it’s empty. He then works the new bottle halfway down and thinks “Zoinks! I’m almost out of shampoo!”
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
And then there are my shampoos. There is the organic shampoo which promised me shine and body but actually gave me new cowlicks and a peculiar smell. I keep it in there because I spent good money on it and I can use it on Daughter, but only periodically, because the smell draws possums. I also have the cheap shampoo which works well, but only on me, and then I have another bottle of that shampoo, because what I thought was conditioner turned out to be shampoo. I then have a shampoo which describes itself as “Color-Enhancing” which actually means “Hair-Dye”, and I only use it if I remember to wear surgical gloves to shower, because it will leave my nails and palms sort of a coral-rust color for a day. Also, it tints my ears. Mostly, I don’t use it, but still it stays and why?
I spent good money on it.
And then there’s Daughter's shampoo, which is organic and sweetly scented and not tested on animals and more expensive than anything which removes poster-paint should be. It sits in the shower caddy, but slightly apart, as befits its stratospheric price; it’s lobbying for its own caddy, with a plasma-screen TV and a publicist. And what is this next to Daughter's shampoo? Why, that’s the dog’s shampoo. I wash the dog about once a month, and damp trial-and-error has taught me that it’s just easier to put on a bathing suit and wash him in the shower.
I’d store his shampoo and only bring it in when I’m washing him, but then I run the risk of again getting both of us in the shower and only then noticing I’d forgotten the shampoo. At which point, I slipped out of the shower to get the shampoo, but the dog followed me and raced around the house in fragrant wet-dog delight at having escaped. He then raced outside, tap-danced in the dirt, and flew back in. Twenty minutes later, when I finally caught him, the only places in the house without muddy footprints were the crawlspace and a few square inches behind the fridge.
Yeah, his shampoo stays in the caddy.
The next mystery is the teapot. Correction: the next mystery is the last three teapots I’ve owned. Not a complicated bit of engineering, teapots: they boil water; they make a noise when the water boils; they have a hole through which you pour out the boiling water. I’m not exactly sure how the noise is created from steam but since I’ve never seen Microsoft enter into the teapot marketplace I’m guessing it’s pretty straightforward. So why is it that I cannot buy a teapot which works? Two teapots prior to this current one, I had a model I called “The Strangler” because the sound which indicated my water had boiled wasn’t a whistle as much as the sound a chicken would make if someone were cutting off its air, slowly. It’s not fun to have a kitchen device which makes guests think you’re making money on the side dressing poultry. Still, I kept that stupid teapot for years because beyond that hellish death-rattle there was nothing wrong with it and…
Right. I spent good money on it.
Eventually, it developed a leak and I could discard it with a clear conscience. I decided the reason the teapot made that awful noise was because I bought the cheapest one I could find. So I went up-market and bought a slightly better one. I brought it home. I boiled water. It peeped sweetly at me. Gladdened by how my extra money was well-spent, I threw away the receipt. The teapot, sensing it was now home forever, never spoke again. Whenever I boiled water I would have to hang around the kitchen like a stove stalker because the only indication this teapot gave that water was boiling was an intermittent, asthmatic wheeze. We had gone from the poultry slaughterhouse to the ICU. In any living thing, this sound would have been a reason to summon a priest but this teapot beetled along, gasping and boiling, for years.
When I could finally justify the length of time I had owned the wheezer (Consort once accused me of "amortization fever"), I bought my freedom from the kitchen by getting a new teapot. This most recent one is an evolutionary step forward in some parallel universe because not only does it not
make a whistle, -- preferring instead to make a sound I have dubbed “the whispering retch”whenever I use it -- it slops hot steaming water all over my hand, the tabletop and generous lashings onto my legs. Where it doesn’t
pour water is in the cup. Nevertheless, I’m keeping this one, and not because I spent good money on it but because these things seem to be learning and I know the next one will go for my eyes.
My most troubling mystery, however, is Ken. The name Ken is in the top twenty of 20th century’s most popular names for boys, but just barely. James is the most popular, and Consort knows two of them. John is the second most popular and, again, Consort knows two of them. Robert, Michael, William, David…they are all represented in our social circle in reasonable sprinklings. However, if Consort says “I’m going to see Ken this afternoon…”, I am instantly at a loss. The man knows at least nine men named Ken. None of them go by Kenneth. If any of them have a nickname they’re keeping it quiet. It doesn’t help that Consort, seemingly forgetting that we’re surrounded by a clutch of Kens, dives into anecdotes without illuminating which Ken he’s talking about:
CONSORT: Ken brought his new girlfriend to the office today.
QUINN: Oh my god, when did he break up with his wife?
CONSORT: He was married?
QUINN: We had dinner at their house. Her name was Sheryl. They seemed so…wait. You’re not talking Work Ken, are you?
CONSORT: Sure I am. Wait, you mean Other
Work Ken. This is New
QUINN: I met New Work Ken. I'm, frankly, a little shocked that he has a girl
CONSORT: No, that's Gay New Work Ken. This is another guy.
QUINN: Did none of their mothers have imaginations?
I’ll let you in on a secret: sometimes, when Consort is talking about something and my mind drifts, I cover myself by asking “So, what did Ken think about all this?” Works every time.
And with that, I have to go back to title-birthing, a process only slightly less taxing and unsanitary as the regular kind of birthing. As with the regular kind, I have to assume it’s all going to come out right. February 1st, 2009, head into your local bookstore and glance at the “New Books” table:A THOUSAND MEN NAMED KEN AND ME: A life of crowded showers and empty teacups