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Monday, July 9, 2012

Contributor Spotlight: Victoria Lancelotta

The Story is Always a Struggle

I have an almost pathological fear of checking luggage. I mean, there is exactly one set of circumstances under which I will do so: the direct domestic flight between cities where family members or friends currently and permanently reside. Because this way, the likelihood of lost- or delayed-luggage-related misery is minimized: no connecting flights or hotels involved in the equation mean no baggage handlers or concierges to misplace or overlook or otherwise screw up the unattended conveyance. It’s all about risk management.

And it’s not the loss of luggage (or what’s in it) per se that concerns me, it’s the potential interruption of the trip itself that I want to avoid: time spent waiting at a snaking metal conveyance watching suitcases circle is time wasted; time spent filling out insurance and claim forms and running them from desk to desk is time not spent on the sand or the cobblestones, at the bistro where the owner is a sad-eyed Basque ringer for Harry Shearer and the wine is cold and white and just a little fizzy and my husband orders the croquettes du jambon and will give me one only in return for an inequitably generous portion of my crab gratin.

Herewith, an abbreviated list of my favorite places: in a cab on the way to the airport, passport and ticket in hand; shoeless in the security line; dehydrated and folded up and neck-cricked in coach; jet-lagged and bleary in Customs and Immigration; in line at the taxi stand, or the rental car desk, or the train station turnstile.

Also, and I don’t think he’ll mind if I say this, my husband likes me better when we’re traveling—at home I’m not the most relaxed person, generally speaking; I can be rigid and rule-bound and schedule-driven, and if this means that I’m very very good at keeping the more chaotic aspects of our daily lives organized and humming it also means that I tend toward the squinchy; toward the inflexible and desirous of doing the laundry the dishes the taxes now now now. But when we’re away from home all that clock-watching and list-making gets pushed aside in favor of late-sleeping and wine-drinking. And he’s smart, my husband—he puts me in charge of itineraries and tickets and reservations and confirmations and voila!—the squinch is channeled appropriately and we don’t miss planes and we never go hungry and we don’t show up at the museum when it’s closed. And that version of me, with the passport and train schedule, is much less anxious than the version who sits at my desk, this desk, in this house, struggling to focus on words on a screen.

Because here’s the thing: the story is always a struggle. It’s a struggle, and it’s hard, and lonely, and the opposite of fun, and I’m sorry but anyone who insists on chirping otherwise is someone I am going to have to think foolish, or misguided, or deluded.

Also, I am going to hate that person a little bit. Because that person is the literary equivalent of the emaciated model-slash-actress who insists she a) never exercises and b) subsists on bacon-triple-cheeseburgers and hot buttered rum.

I have a fast metabolism! 
Writing is fun! 

Well no, actually, it isn’t. For me it’s mostly an endless loop of terror and self-doubt and paralysis and despair. (Aren’t you glad you asked?) Imagine a spectrum: on one end, there’s the red-eye into Vegas and five-inch patent-leather ankle-straps, or bare warm sandy feet and a delicious cocktail with a twirly little citrus rind balanced on the rim of the glass, or a crêpe au caramel au beurre salé, or or or.

That’s one end of the spectrum, and then there’s the other end, which is all silence and stillness, solitude and waiting for the story to become what it will, at this desk in this room that is only ever among my favorite places when I am no longer in it. And come on, is that really such an awful thing to admit? Would you even believe me if I said yeah, I’d much rather sit alone trying to come up with dialogue for a character with dementia or moving a comma back and forth than toeing the damp cold sand in November in St-Malo or driving through the Algarve in April with my husband?

I mean, I could not believe how many wildflowers there were in the Algarve in April. Or how crazy-blue they were.

Victoria Lancelotta is the author of Here in the World: 13 Stories, and the novels Far and Coeurs Blesses. Her fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Mississippi Review,, and other magazines, both print and electronic. She has been a fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the MacDowell Colony, and is the recipient of a 2009 Tennessee Individual Artist Fellowship and a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. She lives in Baltimore. Her story "So Happy" appears in HFR #50.

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