Tuesday, November 29, 2011

All bets are...

Okaaaaay. So, it's been, what? Six weeks since my last post? Ooopsie. Where does the time go? Contrary to what you might think, I haven't been spending all my blog-posting time filing my nails or playing spider solitare (though I do kick butt in two suits...). Nay, I have actually been working. Srsly.

I think I mentioned eons ago--you know in my last post--that I'd gotten a freelance job and that started in earnest a few weeks ago. Very exciting stuff and I'm happy to be working on interesting topics and actually getting paid to do it. I also kinda sorta made a bet with a friend back in September--one that I'm sure I'll come to regret in about 60 days or so--that I would finish my novel by my next birthday (which is a milestone. IF you consider 39 the second time to be a milestone! Ha HA!  Aawwww). We agreed that I actually had until the end of January (which is my birth month) to do it. Part of the deal, I should mention here, is that my friend (Timmy!) promised he would not give me sh*t about working on it until the end of the month. So far, he's been holding up his end of the deal--I haven't heard a peep out of him (not even to heckle me about my lapsed blogging duties). Now I have to make good on my end. Because if not, I am so totally getting tsk-tsk'd from Tim (and it's MUCH worse than it sounds. Trust me).

I've made some progress, and good progress at that. Substantial, even. I just hope it's enough.

So, I just wanted to check in with the blogosphere before heading back down to the notebookosphere to make novel magic.

Here I go.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Now I get it...

So, first, getting clipped by a car stinks. It hurts, too. Last Thursday I was trying to cross the street (in the crosswalk, with the light), when a driver started to make a left turn onto the street I was crossing. Since she nicely yielded to the two other pedestrians who were not three steps ahead of me, I (foolishly?) assumed that she was yielding to all pedestrians, and not just a lucky few. Wrong assumption. At any rate, my left side, especially the arm I landed on when the car's bumper knocked my legs out from under me, has been smarting a bit. Typing has been a challenge. But things are better today, and I feel like I can get through a post pretty well.

I haven't been idle while recuperating, though. In fact, I think I've really gotten some good solid work done. I just had to do that work with paper and pen and my good arm.

A few years ago, while I was doing an independent study, my instructor mentioned that the larger piece I was working on was very "Sebaldian" (referring to a writer I've mentioned here before, WG Sebald). I was flattered, of course, but kind of bewildered as well. I didn't understand what he meant. I think part of my confusion was due to the fact that the manuscript I was working on was heavily influenced by Michael Ondaajte's Coming Through Slaughter. I must've been too consumed with that novel to see anything else.

Fast forward a few years. I've read more Sebald. More importantly,--I think-- I started reading Teju Cole's Open City, a novel that feels very Sebaldian in its own right, and Cole has pretty much fessed up to the fact that he's influenced by Sebald. Cole's novel is slightly more accessible than, say, Austerlitz, or Rings of Saturn, and perhaps that's why I recently had a wonderful little epiphany regarding my manuscript.

I realized that my protagonist is wanderer (or a flaneur if you're James Wood), just like Cole's Julian, just like almost all of Sebald's protagonists. She's walking around a city trying to sort things out. Just like the main characters in The Emigrants, or Vertigo. That's what she's doing and I didn't even realize it. And suddenly, I have a focus (and trust me, focus is kind of what I've been lacking with this manuscript for an embarrassingly long time). It makes so much sense to me now and I feel as if there's direction and shape to it. I'm excited about the story again, which is a huge relief. I was getting worried that I would never finish it. I was getting worried that I would never want to finish it. Now I'm excited. Now I'm consumed again. I'm waking up in the middle of the night and scribbling down ideas. Pieces of the story are coming faster than I can get the words on the paper sometimes.

And that's the real reward of writing. This kind of I'm-not-in-control-of-this feeling. The way the story is just emerging, whether I'm ready for it or not. Not all of it is Pulitzer-worthy. Some of the ideas and storylines and scenes are going to be crap. But, boy, does it feel great to feel like the well is full again.

Whew.

Okay, off to rest my pitching arm.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Borne back ceaselessly into the past

"Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an ├Žsthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Nothing really profound or interesting to say tonight. But I do wonder how many contemporary writers have the above, the last page of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, in their minds every time they sit down to write. I know it creeps into mine all the time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

With best wishes, Sasha Hemon

I believe I've mentioned I'm kind of a fan on Aleksandar Hemon, no? And that I was headed to a book festival in Scranton where he was to be a panelist, right? I was hoping, since I knew one of the festival's organizers, that I might manage to get a special introduction, either right before or right after the book-signing part of the panel. Or something. Anything, really, would've been great. Exciting. Blog-worthy.

But Bill, the aforementioned organizer, my former instructor, and the person who got me reading Hemon in the first place, did me and my friend Betsy, who made the epic journey with me (Side tip: Don't travel I 81 N through Pennsylvania on a Friday evening.) one better. Bill actually palmed Hemon and his co-panelist, Teju Cole (another amazing writer. Open City. Read it), off on us. We were in charge of getting them lunch.

So off we went, while my brain sang with terror, anticipation, excitement, to a little cafe down the street. Just the four of us (by the way, I think I've previously described Hemon as a polar bear of a man. I'm kind of happy to say I was dead-on accurate in my description. Cole, on the other hand, looks like Mos Def's little brother. Which is actually meant as a compliment).

We spent the next two hours steeped in a remarkably deep and philosophical conversation, mostly about religion. We talked about Mennonites and Pentecostals and miracle working. We talked about the absence of faith and the strange ways we justify it when we have it, the way some of us cherry pick to concentrate on the beautiful parts and conveniently ignore the ugly bits. We talked about how some people can derive great and pure joy from organized religion, and how sometimes, you should get your kid baptized, just in case. Someone mentioned Kierkegaard. Then Dawkins. Hitchens made an appearance, I think, and Catholic priests. Miles Davis came up a few times (certainly a holy man in some circles). We talked about Bosnia and Nigeria, the intimate act of sharing a cup of coffee and the way war ruptures not only physical life, but psychological life, too. We talked about the motivation to write, the ways in which that motivation manifests itself. And I couldn't help but wonder if these two men thought like this all of the time. I couldn't help but wonder if either of them ever did or said anything mundane, or stupid. Or if they ever shut their big big brains off for a second and just watched Glee or something.

And yes, I told Hemon (who I think I am now able to call "Sasha") that I'd named my dog Bruno, after his first book. He seemed strangely pleased.

To characterize it as an incredible experience is to fall laughably short. I'm still processing the whole thing. I feel fantastically lucky to have spent a few hours with a dear friend and two literary powerhouses who seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves, too (perhaps they are good actors?). I suspect I'll have more to say as time goes on.

Post Script:

The most delightful moment of the conversation came, ironically enough (for me, at least), when Hemon had excused himself to the restroom. While he was away from the table, I asked Cole if he'd grown up speaking English, or if he'd learned it later. He replied that he began learning/speaking English at about six.  Then he said, deadpan, "I think our friend Sasha is coming along beautifully with his English language skills, don't you? I'm sure one day he'll master it."


Thanks, Betsy, for snapping this great photo!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Scranton-bound

I'm trying not to get too excited, but I'm headed to Scranton PA this weekend (wait for it--the seeming contradiction of being excited to get to Scranton will be sorted out...here): The Pages and Places book festival is Saturday and I'll get to hear A. "Sasha" Hemon speak (at the very least. I might get to meet him, too. Like, meet him meet him. Not just stand in a line and have him sign my book while I fumble for some not-crazy-sounding conversational words).

So, yeah. Pretty psyched I might also get a chance to chat with Teju Cole, who wrote Open City. He's the other novelist on the panel with Hemon. He's been compared to Sebald, so I'm fairly sure I'd like the novel. I just wish I'd had a chance to read it before this weekend. Hopefully I'll pick up a copy when I'm there. The panel they're on is called "The City as Literary Influence" which might be relevant, given that I'm working on a large project that takes place in NYC and the more I write, the more the city seems to be as much a character as the humans. Maybe even more so...

There's also a lecture on coal region writers which I'm kind of interested in attending. Being a coal miners (grand)daughter, and having written a story or two about some miners myself, I'd like to hear what the three panelists have to say. The moderator is from Camp Hill, too. Interesting.

The festival should be fun and exciting and informative, and northeastern PA is pretty pleasant this time of year. So, I'm going to run now, and obsess over every.single.word. Hemon has ever written (is it tacky to bring photocopies of all his New Yorker stories and make him sign all of them?) and dig out my book on St. Clair so I have something to talk about with the coal miners.

I can't wait! <squeal!>

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hello, Progress, my old friend

Dear Progess:

You never write, you never call…Are we breaking up?

Progress (nickname: Headway) and I, we are estranged.  Or at least we were. I don’t want to get too hopeful here, but, things seem to be looking up for us. This summer was rough, though. I hardly ever saw Progress—we always seemed to miss one another. Mostly because I was spending more with Time Waster and Boredom (they’re cousins). Terrible of me, I know. Seeing as they are arch-enemies of Progress. But, they were so easy to hang out with. They never demanded anything of me. Nothing but time. They didn’t care if I sat around in my sweats all day in front of the television, watching episode after episode of 30 Rock or Arrested Development. They didn’t mind if spent hours surfing the interwebs—I mean, those kittehs with the funny capshunz? Hilarious!

I tried to keep in touch with Progress. Really, I did. We’d get together every now and then, but…I don’t know. We just couldn’t communicate like we used to. I pretended like it didn’t bother me; told myself that even the most solid and productive of relationships needs a break every now and again. But sometimes, as I climbed into bed after an evening alphabetizing the canned goods in my pantry, or flipping through photographs from my college days, I’d think about Progress. And just before shutting off the light, I’d catch a glimpse of a notebook or some research information or a manuscript—you know, all the great things Progress and I accomplished, and, well, I’d feel a little bit guilty.

I finally came to my senses a few weeks ago. Finally realized that Time Waster and Boredom were just no damned good and I kicked them out. Swallowed my pride and got back in touch with Progress. I was welcomed tentatively, and I guess I deserve that. I could put some of the blame on Progress—never sticking around long enough when things got rough, but really, it’s all on my shoulders.

Oh, sure, Time Waster and Boredom come around sometimes. I’ll see them—I mean, I can’t cut them off completely. After all, they were a big part of my life this summer. But it won’t be the same between us.  No, I’m determined to make it work this time with Progress.

Besides, I’m already midway through Season Five of the Wire.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Your memory is a monster

W.G. Sebald is one of my favorite writers, and, as luck would have it, I picked up a copy of Vertigo this weekend (we talked about this already).  Vertigo is a story so very concerned with memory and the strange evolution of our recollections (hell, Sebald is a writer so very concerned with memory and the strange evolution of our recollections) so it’s pretty fortuitous that I picked up a copy at a time when I’ve started to seriously think (again, finally) about my own motivations for the way I write. When I finally decided to dive back into the strange and satisfying and frustrating pool of writing after lounging on the beach for much of the summer.
Of course Sebald’s grappling with his past is much different than mine; to say it’s much more fraught is to be woefully understated. With a father who was a member of the Wehrmacht  during the Second World War, Sebald certainly had horrifying and confusing demons to contend with and those specters cast a long shadow over all his work. But it’s the way in which Sebald treats those memories, or rather, does not treat them, that interests me. When his father returned from the PoW camp where he had been held until 1947, the family never spoke of his father’s role the war, in the Holocaust. Apparently they never spoke of any aspect of the war and Sebald could only draw conclusions the way many of us did—from the outside looking in. He saw the physical ruined remains of this country—the destroyed buildings, the ravaged countrysides. He saw images from Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. He read history books in school. And so imagine what that kind of circuitous journey does to one trying to piece together one’s past. THAT past. Then, imagine trying to actually articulate it. To describe not only what happened (and you could read every single novel in the canon of Holocaust literature and realize that no one, even the most gifted and eloquent  and brave writers have come close), but your own strange and uncomfortable relationship to it. So, I think to deal with a very charged past, Sebald had to come at it slanted. His stories, littered with images as blurry as the lines he draws between memoir and fiction, are often meditations on the unreliability of memory. The protagonist in most, who goes by the not-terribly-disguised name of WG Sebald (sometimes he’s referred to as “Max” which is the diminutive of his second middle name, Maximillian), is peripatetic,  wandering, rucksack slung over his shoulder, over England and parts of continental Europe. (It’s hard not to see the wandering as a kind of necessary movement, the way a shark must keep swimming.) He visits historical sites and old friends. He takes trains and re-traces the steps of long-dead family members. He includes photographs, hazy, black and white ones, as if their inclusion would somehow make whatever it is he’s trying to access clearer. It’s not clear, though. At least it’s not well-defined (is that the same thing?). But his intent, I think, slowly starts to emerge from the words on the page. He’s clearly a man who was trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.
But isn’t that what recall is, in a way? Our memories are tricky things. We think we have a hold on them, but really, it’s the other way around (like John Irving wrote in A Prayer for Owen Meany, “You think you have a memory; but it has you!”). No matter why; our memories have a mind of their own, so to speak. Our recollections twist and contort, all the while as the light that shines on them dims. It’s so hard to see them clearly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Strand is my crackhouse

I just got back from a great weekend in NY/NJ with some very dear friends. It was both exhausting and restorative, I have to say. It's always a bit draining for me to be out of my element--I'm sleeping differently, I'm eating differently, I'm generally moving about differently. But being around those you love, those who care about you, especially after a long absence, can be good for the soul. I kinda needed that.

I arrived at Casa Decker ( le Maison sur Concord?) in Jersey City on Friday afternoon, and after a brief pause (in which I unpacked my car, brushed my teeth and got a parking ticket), Tim and I headed into NYC--first to an Italian market (Eataly--you should go, it was pretty awesome. I got a chocolate bar covered in pine nuts) then to my own personal crack dealer, the Strand.

"Is there anything in particular you're looking for?" Tim asked on our way there.

I shrugged. "No. Not really. I'm sure I'll find something."

That "something" turned out to be five books in about 10 minutes. Maybe less. I'll have to check with Tim, but I think this is a record for me.

I don't know how it happened. I saw a sign indicating books under $10 and it just happened. I mean, how can you turn down Gogol's Dead Souls for $7.25, or Rivka Galachen's Atmospheric Disturbances for five bucks? I also managed to snag a copy of James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain for about the same price and Orhan Pamuk's White Castle (it's about teeny tiny hamburgers, I've heard), too. Found WG Sebald's first novel, Vertigo, and I'm halfway through it. I had to stop there, though. That's the problem with spending time in CrackBooktown--you've got to haul your books all over the city for the next few hours. Of course in my case, it was Tim who schlepped them around. He came prepared too, Brought a backpack and everything.

I left New Jersey with six books, however. When we back to the apartment Friday night, my friend Simon gave me William H. Gass's In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. 


A weekend filled with music, friends, and books. I wish every day could be like that.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Breakthroughs are fun!

I've been busy the last few weeks with side projects--a few essays here and there, and I've been trying to work out some things, writing-wise, outside of this blog, but boy, it's been tough. I'm not sure what went wrong, but writing had lately felt like a chore. A Sisyphusian chore. I just kept pushing that boulder up Mt Everest and then I'd watch it roll aaaaaaaaalll the way back down again. And that's pretty discouraging, wouldn't you say? Discouraging enough that I just felt like taking a break, the gods be damned. And I guess in a way, that's what happened. I'd avoided any meaningful writing for the past few months. I can't say why--maybe fear? Laziness? A feeling of being overwhelmed? A good solid mix of all of the above? Possibly.

A few days ago, though, I decided to do something about it. (I think I've come to realize that I function better when I'm organized, which is weird because when I think of adjectives to describe myself, "organized" is not one of them. It's not anywhere on the list. Does this mean I am task-oriented? Maybe. But that's a digression.) Anyway, I realized that I needed some way to fit in all the things I need/want to do (i.e personal writing, the blog, reading etc) but to get motivated so I don't just stick to the easy stuff (like "research"). I used to aim to write at least three pages each night before I went to bed. Three pages of anything--it could be a brain dump of all the crap that had happened that day, or something that had been on my mind--a screed, a soapbox--or it could be working out a story or an idea for one. But I'd gotten away from that in recent months, and even though I've been trying my hand at this blog thing, it's not the same. Here, while this is pretty informal, it's still public. And I don't always want to air every little piece of fluff that floats around in my head. But I kind of sacrificed one for the other (I hope you people are happy...heh heh).

So I made the effort to start again last night. And it sucked. I couldn't concentrate, but I kept at it. It was frustratingly more of the same crap I'd been sloughing through over the past few months. A bunch of words on the page, but nothing really to show for it. Ugh. I kind of felt like a failure. An even bigger one than before. But I made myself write again tonight, and it was much better. Really really better. In fact, I think I was able to get a handle on a story. That felt pretty good! And not only because it was a breakthrough--not a ginormous one (huh, "ginormous" made it through spell-check...), mind you, it's not some sea-change/turning point that will have me producing reams of fiction in the next few weeks, but it'll do--but also because it reminded me of the fact that I need to be fiddling around on the page to capture those breakthroughs when they happen. It just sucks that sometimes I (we) have to slog through so much  wordy worthless sludge to get to the good stuff.

Ah, I know. shut up and keep writing. I get it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The art of dialogue

Wow. Hey. I'm still here. Been a cuh-razy week or so. But. It's been filled with writing, just not stuff that's good blog material. The good news is that I done gone an' got me big ole paid freelance gig. Yup. It's not official *official* yet (I was, ahem, recruited for this position), but hopefully it will be soon and I can talk all about it. It's public health-related, and--did I mention this?--I get paid. For reals.

My monthly writer's group starts up again in September, too,so hopefully I can squeeze some blog time in-between everything. Because, you know, I've been so good about it so far...

Anyway(s), I have been reading, too, and recently dug into some Welty, as I'd said I would a few weeks back. I remember reading "Why I Live at the P.O." and "A Worn Path" from years ago, but this week I started with "Petrified Man", because it's what I have in an anthology.

Wow. I'd forgotten that Welty gives great dialogue. I think that's what impressed me the most about the story. I mean, dialogue is tough. Real, authentic-sounding dialogue is an art unto itself.  She not only manages to get the accents and slang/colloquialisms and natural speech patterns down without making those dropped "g"s or regional expressions stand out, but she also gets the personalities and agendas of the speakers out on the page. It's amazing. In fact, "Petrified Man" is nearly all dialogue between two women. It's damn near unbelievable. The story is ostensibly about the shenanigans of one Mrs. Pike, but, instead, the reader gets a peek into the personalities and motivations of the two women who are gossiping about her (Mrs. Fletcher and Leota). It's an incredible feat to be able to create such an expansive story based almost entirely on subtext; nearly an impossible thing to give so much information by what is not said. I'm still kind of blown away by it.

I think my next foray into Welty will be her collection, The Golden Apples, which is series of stories that center around one particular (fictionalized) community. Since I keep wandering around my own neighborhood and picking up bits and pieces of things that I hope will eventually turn into stories, I'm really interested in seeing how Welty treats interconnected tales. I'd love to try something similar with the great characters I have here in my own backyard.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A disorganized mind

So, it's all Hemon all the time here, lately. I know what you're thinking and this is different than most weeks. Most weeks I just kind of talk about how great a writer he is and sometimes I lament (if not on this blog) how I will never write like him (though, truth be told, few people ever will). But this week, I actually have to produce some ideas of consequence about him.

One of my former writing instructors organizes a book fair in Scranton, PA, each October (have I written about this in the past? I can't remember because: Please re-read title of this post.). This year, the festival managed to snag Hemon and I volunteered to write a few essays for the blog. And by "volunteered" I mean I told Bill that I would be writing some essays. I think I might have used phrases, in the course of our conversation, like "incur my wrath" "won't leave you alone until you say yes"--that kind of thing. Happily, though, he agreed and asked (diligently) for a personal essay and a "critical but accessible" one.  The personal one is pretty easy. I can pretty much just cut and paste a bunch of these post and--viola--done and done.

The critical one is a bit trickier. I've already decided that I would focus on Hemon's second publication Nowhere Man, for a few reasons: 1) In terms of favorites, it's second only to The Question of Bruno, which will most likely never be unseated as My Favorite Book.Ever. 2) It gets overlooked. Sandwiched between a stunning debut /MFB.E and the Lazarus Project, which nabbed him a National Book Award nomination (he was robbed), Nowhere Man gets short shrift. 3) there's a crap-ton of stuff going on in the book, so it's full of possibilities to examine.

And that's where I'm getting into trouble. I can't focus on what I want to talk about. I can't go all fangirl on it (my first impulse), but everything I manage to scribble down just slides right down into overly-effusive, starry-eyed goo.

But why? I mean, the story isn't flawless. In fact, I'd thought about discussing exactly what about the narrative wouldn't get past a typical workshop. I mean, there are at least three different narrators who tell the story of Jozef Pronek, as he meanders from a childhood in Bosnia to adulthood stranded in Chicago, which isn't unusual, but at least two of them are so undeveloped as to be nearly non-entities. And one defies logic completely. Is it a mouse? A spirit?  A god? How is this narrator in Pronek's head, yet speaks in first person? What? It works, though. Somehow, Hemon pulls it off.

There is the language itself, which could take up considerable essay space. Laura Miller, in a piece for Salon says "...and then there's the way he wrenches English words into previously unknown yet alarmingly fitting configurations" and uses his description of a "throng" of "wizened" carnations as an example. The NYT Book Review claimed that Hemon "can't write a boring sentence" and boy, is that true. In the bathroom, Pronek sees "the toilet bowl agape, with a dissolving piece of toilet paper in it throbbing like a jellyfish."  I'd be perfectly happy spending the next few hours simply going through the text and showing you examples.

Of course, when examining Hemon, one can't discount the way the writer deposits himself within the story. Pronek's bio mimics Hemon's almost exactly. Both are of Ukrainian decent but grew up in Sarajevo, in Tito's Yugoslavia, both came to America in 1992, intending to stay only briefly, both were stranded in Chicago when war broke out, both survived with a passing understanding of English and took menial jobs to pay the rent. Is that the angle I want to take? Or is that low-hanging fruit? Too easy?

Then, there are the themes of loneliness, isolation, of a stranger in a strange land, of guilt of separation that inform nearly everything he writes. The non-linear narrative, the weird narration--it's all pieces of the collage that create the character of Pronek. Another rich topic.

Of course they're all related. The quasi-biography/alter-ego, the isolation/separation, the off-kilter yet gorgeously appropriate language, the fractured and unconventional narrative. They all go together to create a novel that is at once cohesive and mysterious.

Argh. If this post sounds a lot like someone who's just throwing out random ideas, that's exactly what it is. Sorry it couldn't be more elegant. Grace will come another night. I hope.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Geeesh

It's been a rough week (and yeah, I know, it's Tuesday).

It started out well (thankfully!)I had a wonderful meeting with Betsy and Nancy (my Panera Bread crew!)--I got to discuss the unbelievably gorgeous short story Betsy wrote called "Trajectories" (look for it soon--any journal that turns this gem down is not worth the paper it's printed on or the...uh...the website thingie stuff it's taking up...you know what I mean) and Nancy turned in something new. So I have even more good stuff to look forward to reading.

But it kinda went downhill after that. Nothing that I need to discuss here. but just an FYI, I guess.

At any rate, I'm working on making it better. In the meantime, I've decided that Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor are the next contestants on "Finding a New Author to Obsess Over" Lucky girls, that Eudora and that Flannery. And save the pearl-clutching. I have read some  of both,  just not as much as I'd like, or as much as I think I should read, especially since I fancy myself a short-story writer. And besides, I like saying the word "Eudora." And didn't O'Connor write that story about the man who steals a woman's fake leg?! How can you go wrong with that?!

My point here is: What's your favorite story from either of these Southern Belles? I remember loving A Worn Path and of course A Good Man is Hard to Find, but what else? Any suggestions?

(Don't worry, I'll get back to getting into Baldwin shortly, I am sure).

PS: Thanks to Eddie for the Sebald article!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Searching for the perfect white noise

Okay, so I still can't find the stupid Baldwin short story. One day I will. Or I'll just break down and buy the collection it's in and be done with it.

Anyway, I've decided I need to retire ocean side (I'll go "downey ocean" as they say in these parts of Bawlmer). Really. I seem to get a good deal of substantial writing done while there. Amazing, since usually when I'm there longer than a few hours, it's in a condo with nine other people, all of whom are related to me. Which is not exactly the best environment for quiet contemplation. I also tend to do things like eat M&Ms for lunch, which, I'm guessing, isn't conductive to creativity either. But who knows. I actually kind of think it's because I'm usually in a state of sensory overload that I'm able to retreat and concentrate (it's a defense mechanism, I'm pretty sure).

I can't write in complete silence, but too much noise or noise that's too familiar is just as distracting. My ears are too spazzy, too easily seduced by an interesting topic or a much-loved melody to be able to concentrate on the task at hand. I've tried playing music that's completely foreign as background noise. It works for a while. Until either the music becomes more familiar, or I hit a wall in the writing, and I start looking for distractions.

But here's the thing: Waves, like the kind you commonly find at the beach, don't have that effect (affect? I can never remember which. I'll look it up later) on me. I can sit by the coast all day and not once will I be distracted by the noise from waves crashing on the beach.  It's a damned-near perfect white noise machine. It's a hell of a lot more pleasing to the ear (in an unconscious way, naturally) than tv static (and way less little-girl-with-long-hair-in-her-face-is-going-to-jump-out-and-kill-you, too). Which I can't get anyway now that everything's digital (and that silent blue screen you get now is just creepy. Like HAL 9000's weird older brother, Todd. It just stares at you. <shudder>). The other eleventy billion people on the beach with me don't really bother me, either. Which is strange, if you know me. Because even really nice and conscientious people bother me most of the time. But for some reason, when I'm there, I'm focused. I do tend to write about the beach more--I mean, there's tons of themes in there, right? Themes that have been written to death, mind you. But I write when I'm there. The details are insignificant. :)

The key is the waves. They're perfect. They're pleasing to the ear, but not intrusive. They're constant, but not really rhythmic (so there's no pattern for my ears to latch on to). And, you know. it's the beach. I think I should retire there. Like tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Go tell it on the mountain

I've been tearing the house apart for the last thirty minutes or so, looking for my copy of James Baldwin's short story, "Going to Meet the Man,."  To call it a harrowing and explicit examination of the mingling of racism and ignorance, sexuality and violence in the mid-60's south is an understatement. It was brutal, but somehow beautiful, too. I wish I could find my copy so I could give you some examples of how elegantly mesmerizing he could be while describing the most savage and sadistic depths of humanity.

I've been thinking about that story ever since I realized that today would've been Baldwin's 87th birthday.  I didn't know much about him before the story was assigned in an identity class, and I'll shamefully admit here that I've not read much else of his. That'll change shortly, however. Funny, I've been floundering a bit lately with my reading; I just haven't really found a writer that I can get excited about. Sure, I've read some great stories here and there, but I really need a writer who will provide me with endless hours of obsessive and compulsive reading; I need a writer to keep me company. Someone to latch on to, like the desperate literary spinster I am. Basically, I need a good literary boyfriend. Past romances include the oft-mentioned Hemon, William Faulkner, JD Salinger, Joanna Scott and WG Sebald. I had a minor fling with Chang-Rae Lee a few years ago, too. I tried hanging out with Barry Hannah after reading "Testimony of Pilot," but either he or his protagonists don't care much for women. And even if it's the latter rather than the former, I'm still not interested in reading stories that are just chock full o' misogyny.  Bolano is great, but...wow. He's a commitment--I mean the man's been dead nearly a decade and he's published more since than most writer's who are still breathing.

So, what say any of you? Baldwin? Should I give him a shot? "Going to Meet the Man" was definitely impressive; I know that in some circles he's lauded for his non-fiction over his fiction, but I'm not exclusive. I think I could get into a good bildungsroman, I think.

Any other suggestions?

PS: I'm going to find that story and talk about it one of these days. Promise.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Horse angels and the future king of Heaven

I'm back. I was vacationing on the glorious Jersey shore last week (where all good Italian-Americans go to flirt with sun damage). Surprisingly, I had a fairly productive writing week. Did some reading, too. Finished the previously mentioned "Bright's Passage" by Josh Ritter. And the verdict on it (for Tommy) is, uh...meh. It was beautifully written (as expected. As I said before, he's an incredible lyricist), but  I think the biggest issue here is that he liked his protagonist too much. Ritter saves his main character so many times throughout the (very short) novel that he essentially renders the tension impotent.

The novel opens with the death (in childbirth) of the title character's wife, Rachel. Bright, who has recently returned from WWI, has an angel following him, giving him orders (the angle takes the form of Bright's horse) and declaring his newborn son is the "future king of Heaven." It works on the page much better than it's rendered here. And, really, the problem isn't the ability to suspend one's belief---Ritter is a deft enough writer to pull off that kind of set up--but the angel's commands put Bright in harms way so many times, yet each time, Bright manages to right himself (with and without the angel's assistance). This neatness might be forgivable to some degree, but much of the action, much of Bright's motivations seem to hinge on past atrocities (either experiences in the war, or dealings with Rachel's family), but none of those things are fleshed out, which makes it difficult for the reader to truly understand why Bright does what he does. For example, Bright calls Rachel's father (the Colonel) and her brothers "cruel," and the angel tells him to "save" Rachel from living in the house with them.  Yet the reader is never clued into what, exactly was so terrible about the house in which she grew up, nor what made the boys so cruel. Another example:  The angel commands Bright to name the child (nearly three quarters of the way through the novel) "Jee-roosh" which is a phrase uttered repeatedly by a not-particularly well-liked fellow soldier. Why? Is there a connection between Bright's fallen comrade and the child? Does the nonsensical phrase "Jee-roosh" have some esoteric significance? So many questions, important ones, that go unanswered. The ideas, the half-formed ones feel so weighty, but they're never really given the attention they feel like they should get.

Reading the story, I got the distinct feeling that Ritter was holding back. And at just under 200 pages, he certainly could've explored and expanded the narrative and really dug into his characters. The story has a tremendous amount of potential--the premise is wildly interesting and the characters feel weighty, even if they are woefully underdeveloped. Honestly, the book feels like a draft, one that needs sketched out, filled in a bit more. I almost wish he'd take another crack at it and really roll up his sleeves.

That's it for tonight. I'll talk a little bit about some of the writing I did later this week.

Oh, and while on vacation, I got an email with the galley proofs of my story "Cecylia" which should be in the next edition of the Journal of War, Literature and the Arts. Not sure when the issue is coming out, but hopefully soon!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Workshops vs. Therapy Sessions

I met with two of my lovely writer friends this weekend. We try to get together on a regular basis, but it's never as often as we'd all like. Talking to them is restorative; I feel new energy after our meetings. We "get" one another, too, I think. I think--because our meetings function more like therapy sessions than workshops--we know one another so well that the advice we can give one another is so much more helpful than the standard workshop here's-what's-no-working-in-your-story stuff. It's real and useful and given by people who can see where the advice-seeker is trying to go, sometimes better than said advice-seeker. I don't think Nancy or Betsy has ever once tried to impose their own personal tastes on whatever I've given them to critique.They're pretty good at figuring out what I'm trying to accomplish and assessing whether I'm on the right track. I'd like to think I'm doing the same for them. It's not easy--for anyone--to do that. It's an acquired skill (and one I know I'm still a little shakey about). It's so much easier, and it feels much more natural to view some manuscript through one's personal lens. "I like this/I don't like that."  Eh. Who really cares what you, the critiquer, like or don't like. Is what I have on the page working or not? If it's not, why?

Sometimes, though, the author's intent isn't so clear. I once had to read a short story for class in which the writer described, in brutally sadistic detail that bordered on pornographic, a sexual assault. It was difficult to read, for numerous reasons. Imagine the class's surprise when the writer, when given the opportunity to explain his ideas, he claimed the story was part of a larger work in which the protagonist and her guests were recalling memories on her wedding day. Oh. I see. So just a typical scene at a wedding reception. The happy couple, surrounded by family and friends, recall the most harrowing moments of their lives. Heartwarming. Or something.  It's hard to judge those kinds of works, the ones in which the writer's not really sure of the intent (and I have to say, I'm not convinced the above-referenced writer was being completely honest. I think instead that he was caught off guard by how very poorly the piece was received and quickly tried to come up with some kind of explanation. That's what it felt like to me. I still can reconcile what he wrote and his explanation for it. He failed in his explanation, of course, but that might be beside the point. If there is, in fact, a point...Sorry. I feel all over the place tonight. I think my thinking cap is dented.)

Maybe my point is that you can't beat having talented writers who are willing to help you work out all the stuff that's going on in your head. The stuff that ends up on the page, and more importantly, the stuff that gets stuck up there. The stuff that gets stuck because we throw up too many stupid obstacles in our own way. We purposely leave our shoelaces untied and end up tripping over our own feet. There's nothing so great as having people around you who are willing to pick you up and dust you off after you do. They get out there and help you take a sledgehammer to all those brick walls that somehow end up in your way. Invaluable, I say.

Thanks ladies. :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I drank beer called "Verboten" this weekend

First mistake.

Actually, I had a great fourth; I got to spend time with people I don't get to see nearly enough. But my first day back at work was frantic, and I'm brain-dead. So this post will be criminally short. Which may not be such a bad thing.

Anyhoo. I like Josh Ritter. If the name doesn't ring a bell, that's a shame. Josh Ritter is a singer-songwriter/folky kind of fellow who can really write the hell out of a song. Seriously. He makes songs that can be spare and arresting and/or catchy and joyous. All of them are beautiful and smart with a strong literary bent. I mention this not only because I think he's a musician worth checking out, but because he recently wrote a novel, Bright's Passage. I haven't read it yet (it's on the arm of the couch beside me, just waiting to be cracked open), but if his fiction is half as engaging as his lyrics, I'm in for an enjoyable read.

This weekend, I heard an interview with Ritter on NPR. The interviewer asked how he managed to write an entire novel in a few years while touring most of that time. And Ritter's response is really the impetus for this post. Ritter said that he had to make a conscious effort not to be precious about the writing process; to find and make use of any little bit of time.  This is good advice and something I'm going to try for myself.

I'll admit, I tend to be a bit precious about the whole writing thing myself. And, honestly, I don't necessarily thing that's such a bad thing. I think--especially for those of us who don't get to be full-time writers, for those of us who constantly get dragged away from "writing time" by other things, being a tiny little bit precious about it is okay. It's okay to ritualize the process a bit. To take a bit of pleasure in arranging the desk, finding the right notebook, the right pen (for those luddites among us who still write drafts long-hand. ahem) etc before sitting down to the task of writing. But on the other hand, life does get in the way sometimes and sometimes the only time you get is what you carve out in between meetings or appointments or general obligations. Sometimes, if you insist on waiting for the perfect time, the perfect conditions under which to write, you'll end up waiting too long.

Here's to very belated New Year's resolutions. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

That stinks!

I've come to the frustrating conclusion that I don't know my protagonist. Sure, I could describe her physically. I can tell you where she went to school, what she studied, what she eats for breakfast and what kind of car she drives. But I can't tell you how she feels about certain things: life, whatnot ("Life is not whatnot and it's none of your business"). I can tell you that she's sad inside because her brother up and killed himself, but most people wouldn't take the death of a sibling very well (self-inflicted or not). I don't know who she is. And that really kind of sucks. Because for all my yammering about writing without consequence and freeing myself up to jump the curb and go off-roading, I can't very effing well do that if I don't have a clue who my effing protagonist is! I mean, I can write about all sorts of things going on in the story, but it all feels pretty insubstantial when I look at it through this new epiphany. Damn you, insight!

I know what you're thinking--this is exactly when I need to buckle down and keep writing. I get it. I know it. Betsy once said, when we were talking about the hurdles we needed to clear to get to the good stuff, "You have to be present for those moments."  Those eureka moments. The moment when you finally break through all the gray, cloudy, empty, directionless crap you've been writing and get to the rainbows and unicorns and roads made of lollipops.  It's true. I won't figure out who Maggie is by watching the Wire (or maybe I will). I'll only get there by spending some time with her (sorry for the Tori Amos-like personifications. It even unnerves me a bit as I write it).

And I guess just as I have those unwelcome insights about what the story is lacking, I'm sure to have more revelations about how to get where I need to go.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Quirks and Idiosyncrasies

I've started working (again) on the novel (yeah, it's about time). It happened quite by accident, the other day. A section in Maggie's voice (the protagonist) just kinda popped into my head--not fully-formed, mind you. Mostly it was just a general idea of what she wanted to say, the information she wanted to explain or examine.  So, I started scribbling it all down. It's ugly right now (most initial drafts are--the brain, while usually functionally elegant, sure can be a crap-pile at times), but it's there. I'm hoping to get more written this evening--that is if I can get through the crap.

Methodologically, I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm a quirky writer (it's not easy to stand out as one in this circle, believe me).  My early drafts are never typed--I shamefully admit to having a stack of handwritten, hand-edited manuscripts in a filing cabinet that are downright Joycian.  I'm a terrible typist and a scattered thinker. It's hard to maneuver around a keyboard when my thoughts are pinging all over the place. So much easier to scribble in margins or on napkins or sticky notes and synthesize it later.

Once I have most of a first draft done (or, more accurately, I've stalled out/hit a wall), I start typing all that chicken scratch (I have terrible handwriting, too.Which means I've never had to hide a private journal. I'm confident that if I have trouble deciphering my own handwriting, no one else is going to waste time trying either. Besides, I keep a boring journal. You know, when I keep it...But, as I was saying, the translating of handwritten stuff to the laptop is pretty goddamned challenging when the lines on the page look more Cyrillic than Roman.). As I transfer what I've written into Times New Roman, I'm also editing. Odds are the process from pen to PC has taken a few weeks, and so I've gotten a different perspective which I'll happily take advantage of. Once that's done (i.e. I've typed in all there is to type) the process starts again. Except this time, I print the newly typed manuscript and work directly from that. Usually with a red pen.  Then once that gets too messy, I am forced to go back to the computer ("The files are in the computer!") and make those changes. Sigh.

Well, I've done all that with the novel (I'm calling it "A Different City" mostly for the purpose of not calling it "The Gabe and Maggie Story" anymore), but I need to really make some huge edits.  The problem is I can't. What I mean is, I feel terribly hemmed in by the boundaries of what I've already written. I can't seem to think beyond what's already there--the trajectory of the story as I've already written it--and right now I really really need to get the hell away from that story. Right now I need to get beyond the little universe I've created, because I'm just spinning my wheels in the muck and mud of that world.

That's where the tablet paper comes in. I have a bunch of tablets--the yellow kind, with the glue at the top. Now I start writing on those. I print the manuscript (yes, I know, I am an awful paper-waster. Sorry.), then I work through it, tablet at the ready. When I get to a section that needs help--more help than I can fit into the margins, more help than I can possibly make on the page, or when the whole damned thing needs to be completely trashed--I start working on the tablet paper. I don't know why. For some reason, the physical act of moving off the manuscript is freeing. I'm physically removing myself from the now-claustrophobic space I created and I've got more room to wander. If feels less consequential. And I mean that in a good way.

One of my former instructors said that writers need to learn how to write without consequence. And at this point in the story, that's what I need to do. It's incredibly difficult, though. More difficult than it sounds, this act of exploring on the page. Why does it feel so downright Augean to break away, to pick my feet up and allow the current to take me where it will? Why is it so frightening for me to let go? Am I afraid of wasting time? Pffft. Hardly. If that were the case, I'd have picked a different hobby, fer crissake. Am I afraid of ruining something? Why do I treat the edits as being some kind of permanent, carved-in-stone commandment?

That's dumb. I should stop that. I realize this, I do. I realize how very illogical, how very idiosyncratic my attitudes are.  And so part of the whole writing process for me is wrestling with those weird creative ticks, hence the yellow paper. It seems to work for me, and I guess that's what's important.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

First the gods smack me around, then they smile on me

Publishing is such a funny business. And by funny I mean "bizarre" and "arbitrary." And let's not forget how unforgiving it can be too. Oh and rewarding. Um..what?

Getting rejected is tough. It doesn't really get easier the more it happens, either, at least not for me. It still stings. The best ones, in my opinion, are the rejections from publications that I know didn't even read my manuscript. I get an automatic email within days of submission, or I get my manuscript back, in my neat little SASE, with nary a crease in the corner--a crease that would indicate that someone, somewhere had at least turned to page two. They're usually the big journals, the ones that publish literary stars on a regular basis. The ones that won't even open an envelope or an attachment if the name sending it doesn't ring a bell. I don't ring bells.

I least like the personal rejections, the ones that took the time (about three seconds) to send me a personal note--"while we thought you had some nice touches, we felt the story took too long to get started..."--effectively letting me know that they actually did read my manuscript....aaaand they still rejected it.

I know not everyone agrees with me; some people like to know that someone took a moment to really consider their work...before tossing it into the dustbin.  Some people hate the idea that the results of hours of toiling in front of a laptop screen, of months eating/sleeping/breathing a protagonist, of countless sleepless nights could be tossed aside with such cavalier casualness.

Whatever your preference, it still sucks. No getting around it. And when it happens, it's difficult, if not impossible to remember that even if your manuscript was carefully read and contemplated and debated over before finally being put, however regretfully, into the 'reject' pile, it's still an arbitrary decision.  Consider this: the New Yorker--a publication that's showcased an author or two over the last few decades, and that had previously given a young upstart writer by the name of JD Salinger some space--decided to pass on  a new manuscript he was working on about an alienated, angsty young man named Holden Caulfield. Ooopsie.

See? Don't make no damn sense. So it's no wonder that sometimes the logic gets buried in the emotion of it, in the WTF-ness of it. That's what happened this afternoon when I got the email that began "Thank you for sending us "Marble." We appreciated the chance to read it."  I didn't really have to read the rest. I've read emails like that before. I know how that story ends. Boo. Rejection. It gets under your skin if you let it. And I let it. It bothered me.  How dare they! They wouldn't know a good story if it jumped up and punched them in the face! Harumph. Fine. I guess I'll go find some other journals to query. Fine. Fine.


Then something funny happened. A few hours later, I arrive home after a weekend with my family. I can see from the curb that there's a package in my mailbox. Weird. Did I order something and forget about it? Did the mail carrier accidently give me my neighbor's mail again?  Do I have a secret admirer? Nope. None of the above.

Instead, contained within the manila envelope is a copy of the most recent edition of Echo Ink Review, containing a short story of mine that had been accepted for publication nearly a year ago. I knew about it, of course. This wasn't news, but it wasn't rejection, either. This was the opposite of rejection. This, my friends, was a check in the "accept" column. A win, if you will.

I can't help but think that it showed up on my doorstep when it did for a reason. I know it might sound stupid, or corny, but I kind of took it as a sign. Yeah, I got rejected today, but I totally forgot that I've also gotten accepted. I just didn't get "Marble" to the right reader, that's all. But I will, eventually, I'm sure. And I'll get accepted again. Maybe not at the next attempt, but maybe the one after that, or the one after that. It'll happen, sooner or later. It'll happen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I'm Still Here, Just as Unfocused as Ever

Well, hey there! I kind of fell off the face of the planet, didn't I? At least the blogging planet (not that my posts were all that regular anyway, ahem). Meh. It happens. My apologies.

Never fear, though. I have been doing other, writerly things, which is good. I started another short story (actually, I think what I really have are just a few really good scenes, but I'll take it), got some critiques in for other writers (hope they were helpful), spent some time scribbling some for-my-eyes-only ideas in a private journal, etc. But it's always a struggle, this parsing out of the extra time that I have. A friend of mine, a writer (a damned fine writer), mother of two pre-teen girls, calls this battle--between the time spent doing what we have to do to earn money to pay the bills and the time we have to do what we want to do--the new math. Twenty-four hours per day minus eight to ten for the "real" job, minus six or eight for sleep minus a few more for some miscellaneous stuff (eating, showering, playing tug with the dog, posting photos of said dog on Facebook. You know, the important stuff!) and poof! day is almost over. Sure, I have time to do something each day. But just one something most days. I can either work on the blog OR write in a journal OR work on a manuscript OR read something OR OR OR...I find it frustratingly difficult to juggle everything or work on anything with any worthwhile regularity. I guess I could jettison all kinds of crap from my brain on these pages, just to get something up, but that doesn't really feel like a good use of time or this space. One of the reasons I started the blog was to try to make sense of all that detritus that's built up in the ole noggin. It takes me a considerable amount of time to edit that stuff into (somewhat) coherent essays.  I don't know if that's more a commentary on my weaknesses as a writer or on the sorry state of my brain...Regardless, the point here (somewhere), is that this is the new math and I kind of suck at math (thanks a lot Mrs Murdocca)

Wah wah wah. I know. Want some cheese with that whine?

Seriously, it is frustrating. What gets the attention? What deserves it more? I absolutely loathe the idea of mapping out a schedule (i.e Mondays I post, Tuesdays I work on manuscripts, Wednesday I go completely nuts from following some stupid and arbitrary schedule) like I loathe a new Coldplay single. Ugh.  No. That won't work.  Know what else isn't really panning out for me? My quest for a Medici-like patron (or, in more current parlance, "sugardaddy"). Nor are my lottery numbers hitting. So...I'm left with this problem of subtraction.

Maybe I'll get better at it. Maybe I'll suddenly become an expert in time-management. Maybe I'll find the kind of discipline that one needs to be able to grab a minute here or there and accomplish something.  For now though, I have to go with whatever feels right, I guess. I guess if I'm really hot on a manuscript, then that's going to be my focus until it grows cold, posts be damned, right? You guys understand, right? Right?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nostalgia is a Four-Letter Word

My grandmother, Elizabeth (Betty), had what seemed like a billion siblings, all flung throughout northeastern Pennsylvania (where she was raised) and the boroughs of New York.  Two of them, my (great) Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill, lived in the afore-alluded to Queens, NY and, as my grandparents settled in South Central Pennsylvania when my mom and Uncle Ted were children (they migrated down here with a few more of my grandmother's siblings--my great uncles Dave and Joe), she and her brother Dave (she called him "David" or, as she pronounced it "DAY-vit!") often visited Peggy and Bill, bringing various combinations of her children and grandchildren with her.

I remember these trips in a vague way. I was young--seven or eight. And while I think what I am remembering are moments form a dozen or so trips, what my mind is most likely doing is chopping up recollections of maybe three trips and tossing them around so they feel as if they cover a much longer span of time.  This was the mid-to-late seventies. It was Ed Koch's New York. Before the Guilianification of Manhattan. This was when you didn't even so much as look in the direction of 42nd Street; it was Saturday Night Live and Saturday Night Fever ("don't touch the hey-ya!"); it was Son of Sam and the Sugarhill Gang.

Funny. I can't honestly say that I have fond memories of that time, but only because I was far too young to really have many meaningful ones (even the few things I mention above come not from direct experience, but from somewhere else, sometime after the fact). What I remember is vague, a little fuzzy around the edges. I remember not going up to the top of the Empire State Building because I had to pee and no one could remember if there was a bathroom up there or not. I remember a hot and claustrophobic climb inside the Statue of Liberty, the zoo in Central Park, Penn Station lockers, a man on the subway with a gun in a holster, another man, obviously in drag (even to my young eyes I could tell she was a he.  "And the colored girls sing Do da do, da do, do da do, do...") our waitress in a restaurant with an enormous black beehive and a long, almost unbelievably long, thumbnail, painted a glittering gold, that was clamped over the edge of the plate she was carrying. Of my aunt's house--a standard three-story brownstone carved into apartments, I remember the back staircase that connected her second-floor space to her son's third floor abode.  I remember a clothes washer in the kitchen and my great Uncle Ralph's very progressive record collection (He liked Pink Floyd!)

What I can say is that these memories--as gauzy as they are--fill me with a sense of both longing and satisfaction. It's the same feeling I get when my ear catches the melody of a long-forgotten yet much-enjoyed song. The same feeling I get when I stumble upon Ponyboy and Dally do it for Johnny! For Johnny! while I'm flipping through the channels. The same way I feel when I read the Giving Tree, or hear the late-August cicada chirping after dark.  I believe that feeling I'm describing is called "nostalgia" and that's a dirty word in literary circles. Nostalgic writing is treacly and cloying, overwrought and ham-handed and should be avoided at all costs.

The other day I was looking out my bedroom window.  It's something I do often, because I like the view. The view, however, is not spectacular. It's just the backs of my neighbors houses--two long rows on either side of an alley. I see their backyards in profile.  That day, while gazing on this less-then-impressive landscape, I realized why I like it so much. It reminds me of my time in New York. And I get--gasp!--nostalgic. I can't help it. I look out my bedroom window and see the backs of my neighbors' homes--the brick rowhouses identical to my own--with their long, narrow (sometimes completely concrete) backyards, the mashup of fences that look like row after row of crooked teeth, the fans spinning lazily in windows--and I see Queens, circa 1977.  I see Jamaica Ave and the white tee shirts hung on a laundry line that spanned two houses, strung across an alley, three flights up. I smell the hot, musty, urine-tinged air blasting up through a subway grate, I feel the grit of the city in my eyes, on the back of my neck, feel the stick of it under the soles of the shoes my mother bought me at Murphy's.

I could stare for hours out of that bedroom window--indeed, I've lost a few lazy Sunday afternoons doing just that.  At least I thought that's what I was doing; just mindlessly staring at brick and aluminium and tar paper. It occurs to me now, though that what I've really been working on is trying to find a way to talk about the feelings that this view churns up inside.

I read over what I've just written and realize, with disappointment, that I'm not there yet. That this is just the surface of the surface. I haven't even made a mark on it. I have a long way to go.

As I was writing all this, I was watching a spectacular electrical storm from that very window. It both frightened and fascinated me, and that's exactly how I feel about the writing tasks that lie ahead of me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Shape of Things

I like structure. At least I like it as it relates to fiction. I like playing with it,  mucking around with it, seeing how the shape of a work can inform its meaning, or add another layer to it. (Structure, in the general, life-sense, seems to elude me, however.  Perhaps I like fiddling with in in my fiction because it's the one and only place I seem to be able to control it.). Much of the fiction I read--or, more accurately, enjoy reading--uses structure to add texture or meaning or tension. This is not a gimmick, at least not in the stuff I prefer. The twisting or confounding of structure in the fiction I most enjoy is not a contrivance, or doesn't feel that way. And I spend a great deal of time trying to take apart those kinds of stories to see why and how they work. Stories that I'm sure I've mentioned previously--Hemon's The Question of Bruno, Anton Shammas' Arabesques, Joanna Scott's Arrogance to name a few. And now I have another novel to add to my growing list: Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red.  (If you've never read it, do yourself a favor, drop everything and go purchase a copy. You won't regret it. Come to think of it, that directive applies to all the writers I named above. Seriously.)  I'm not deeply into it, but already I'm hooked. The story--a combination murder mystery/love story/treatise on art--takes place in 16th century Istanbul and centers around the murder of an illustrator (a miniaturist who was working on a secret, and possibly blasphemous book, for the sultan).  I believe the story takes place over nine days--beginning with the murdered man narrating from the well in which he was dumped.  Each subsequent chapter is told by a different narrator and the narrators can range from the aforementioned corpse, to the man trying to unravel the mystery of the artist's disappearance, to a mongrel dog, to an illustration of a tree. It's a sprawling, complex work of art and I'm falling deeply in love with it. It's not an easy read, but then I'm drawn to work that takes effort to unpack. (While reading Arabesques, I had to create a kind of family tree to keep track of all the intertwining stories and relations. I loved it. I think I still have the charts). It also may very well have won Pamuk the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. At least it didn't hurt.

I love the story for another reason--it's a wonderful little template for me.  I read it and it gets me wondering what I can take from his technique and use in my own writing. By the way, I've discovered I do this a great deal--I read, not for the story, not for the pleasure of reading, but for what kinds of things I can glean from a work and use. Is that bad? I mean, I read for pleasure, of course. For the pure joy of the words on the page. But I do find that I end up reading with a particular goal in mind--i.e. figure out how this writer did this or that because whatever s/he did is exactly what I am trying to do.  I think I've mentioned this previously, but I'm all but certain that ever since I read Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, every single thing I've ever written has been my attempt at re-creating that story. I think that's why I tend to gravitate toward those novels and short stories that use structure as part of the storytelling experience.

But I digress. Back to My Name is Red (I keep typing "Read" instead of "Red". Oh homophones, you tricky little devils) and its structure. Or rather, how it's structure can help me figure out what the heck I'm doing.  I think I've talked a bit about this novel that I'm working on. It too is a bit on the sprawling side (or will be) and has a sh*t ton of different narrators. But I'm getting overwhelmed working with all of them. I'm having difficulty keeping it all moving forward in one piece. Sometimes it feels like I'm trying to float it on a cork raft and bits of it keep floating away and the cork breaks off and disintegrates. I can't seem to gather all the pieces that want to drift off. And I'm worried that it's too much. That a reader won't be interested in trying to keep track of so many people, so many voices.

And yet here's this gem. Countless people have thought it worth digging into (of course a kick-ass story helps keep them interested. And an even kick-assier talent for writing doesn't hurt, either. Whatevs.). And that gives me a bit of hope. I can do that. I can figure out what makes that work, what holds all those little bits together for him. And if I can do that, then maybe the success of my own writing won't be so damned elusive. Maybe if I can harness whatever it is that he has, figure out why what he's doing works so well and somehow make it all fit into what I want, the story I need to tell, I can finally tell it.

Sigh. Maybe.

At any rate, I am sure you'll be hearing more about this book as I work my way through it (Thanks to Betsy for the loan of it, by the way).  It's absurdly well-written and I'm eager to dive in.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Sun has Set on this Empire, Or Why VS Naipaul is such an Asshat

Perhaps some of you heard that Nobel-prize winning charmer and all-around curmudgeonly scamp, VS Naipaul gave a splendidly tone-deaf interview to the Royal Geographic Society recently wherein he delightfully expressed his charming, old-world views about womenfolk and their confounding insistence on getting out of the kitchen and birthin-room because they want to be all writer-like. Pffft. Women. When will they learn?  Never! According to Naipaul. (In case you missed it, here's the Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/02/vs-naipaul-jane-austen-women-writers)

Oh ha ha. That Naipaul.

Seriously, once I realized the pot-bellied septuagenarian's comments were made in earnest, with a straight face and everything (I had to first be sure this was not another Onion article), I was puh-lenty pissed. And, my buttons being sufficiently pushed (if one considers being hit with the force of a sledgehammer being "pushed"), I did what any appropriately outraged person does in the 21st century.  I posted my disapproval on Facebook.

And then I seethed about it. "What a jerk!" I thought. "Who does he think he is?" I fumed. I read Enigma on Arrival and it sucked! Really. It did. Could not finish it. In fact, I hated it so much that I take every opportunity to remind the instructor who assigned it for a class how very much he missed with that selection (apparently, I have a bit of the ole VS charm myself!).  Enigma, for me, committed one of the seven deadly sins of writing: It was, above all else, boring as hell.

Why, you ask? Well, aside from being glacially paced--in no small part because the writer insisted upon suspending all progress while he lingered, descriptively-speaking, on the maddeningly mundane minutia of his surroundings (Here's a tip, novice writers: Lots and lots and lots of adjectives and other descriptive language does not automatically equal good or important writing)--it was also unfocused and meandering (in scope). And, (wait for it) it was sentimental. Yup. Ironic much, VS, buddy?

Honestly, though, unlike my paunchy friend, I can't go into much more detail about the book--in part because, as I said, I could not bring myself to finish it (I believe I opted instead for the more exciting and dynamic act of watching my nails grow), but also because I believe my natural defense mechanisms have blessedly blocked much of the offending and traumatizing memory.

Thank you defense mechanisms!



As I write this, it's the end of the day. I've had time to get all uppity about it; now my ire is slowly deflating.  The more I think about what he said, the more he starts to sound like someone's grandfather who is wistfully remembering a long-ago overly romanticized ideal. You know, the good old days.

Look, Naipaul is of another era. Born in Trinidad to Indian parents, he was educated at Oxford. He's a product of British colonialism. That's what he knows and that's what he's clinging to.  So, really, his comments shouldn't come as much of a shock (they now seem to me, mere hours later, more quaint then incendiary); they are of another time, too. No, it doesn't make his attitude right, but, when taken within the context of his upbringing, they almost make sense. Almost.

His comments call to mind the fading glory of an empire weakened by time and age, propagated by a doddering old writer decades past his prime. They call to mind--not hostility or distaste--but pity.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Irregular Writer

I was never a diary-writer. Even as a kid, I did not keep regular track of the goings-on in the Barbie and Ken crowd. I wrote when I was moved to, when something excited me, or bothered me, when I felt like I had no other way to communicate.

Remember the made-for-TV disaster movie, The Day After, about a nuclear attack in the midwest (Kansas? I think it was poor, unlucky, home-of-the-Westboro-Baptist-Nutjobs Kansas)? I was in sixth grade and I remember much ado about broadcasting such a relentlessly real movie about the horrors of nuclear disaster on network television and what it might do to the children (will anyone think about the children?).  The network (I think) strongly suggested that parents watch it with their children and make an effort to talk about it afterwards. Being a good mother, my mom dutifully watched it with me and when it was over, just as dutifully asked me if I wanted to talk about it. No, I was okay.  I don't remember the exact exchange of words (Obvs. It was darn near 30 years ago, fer crissake!), but I do remember going up to my bedroom and getting out a notebook. Again, I don't remember anything I wrote, but I do remember I was trying to figure it all out on paper. For whatever reason, that felt more comfortable to me (and to my mom's credit, she let me. I remember her checking in on me. I am sure that she would've wanted to be the sounding board for whatever I was processing, but she didn't push. She let me work it out on my own).

I wrote about it that night, dumped whatever feelings and thoughts I had about it on the page, then moved on. I don't think I went back to the topic, nor did I sit down the next night and write about whatever it was that was happening in a thirteen-year-old's life. Rollerskating parties? Biking to the Rite Aid to buy Hit Parade magazine? Going to the mall?  Whatever it was, it wasn't important enough or interesting enough to move me to write about it. Writing was never a habit for me, it was a need (Blerg. That sounds terribly self-important and eye-rollingly melodramatic. Sorry.)

I suppose that's still true for me now that I'm an adult. I've tried to write regularly with fair to middling success. I've tried to keep regular pages (three a night) and I go for respectable spans of time before I trail off. It's not that I don't enjoy the process, but I do find that when I'm constantly trying to force myself, the tedium can outweigh any benefits I might reap. Though I do understand that the only way to get through the tedium is to keep writing. But it also breeds frustration. Sitting for what seems like an eternity writing page after page of nonsense (sometimes it is, literally, nonsense), waiting for a breakthrough can be as detrimental to the writing process as not writing at all, or at least it feels that way to me. But still, I try. I sit and I fidget and I scribble and grasp at straws and cross out and start again. Sigh. 

The blog is helping, I think. Yeah, I know--I'm lousy at posting regularly. But this is all part of my process. It's all part of me trying to figure out who I am as a writer, what kind of writer I am, what I need from my writing and the circumstances under which I write the best. It's not an easy road to navigate. On one hand, as I said, I understand the necessity of regularity. On the other, I know myself, my personality and the kinds of ways I am motivated. And I have to somehow figure out a way to make those two things fit together. How much of the non-writer me needs to change to accommodate the writer me and how much can I change to fit those needs and still be the person I need to be? 

Um, what? 

I can't even make sense of that last statement. And that's not a good sign!  Perhaps the heat is getting to me. Perhaps I should quit before I get too overheated. 

I'm sure I'll revisit this topic again, I feel like there's more to discuss, more insight to try to glean from it. I'll come back to it. At irregular intervals, of course. :)

Until then, I'll be hanging out by the window unit. That is, if the dog moves over.   
 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I am not a Poet

Generally speaking, poetry makes me feel stupid. I'm often intimidated by it (I don't think I'm alone in my assessment). It can be inaccessible. Sure, there's the typical stuff--the daunting Homeric epics, or the overwhelming verses by Milton or Dante, the impenetrable blocks of Gertrude Steinery ("all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain" really, Gertrude? What?).  But there are much more simple, more straightforward writers that I'm still so baffled by. I'm so intimidated that I won't even venture a guess. Heck, I may not know everything about fiction, but I'm willing to fling myself out a bit to figure it out.  But not with poetry.  And that frustrates me sometimes. I have a visceral reaction to it, but I can't always articulate it. And sometimes, I'm just not sure. One step outside the canon and I have no way of discerning good from bad. Heck, even within the canon it can get a little fuzzy for me. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock? Yup. Absolutely (though don't ask me why or how) The Red Wheelbarrow? Uhhh. Maybe?  Should I like this? I don't know!


Then, there's Dean Young. (If you've never heard of him, here's a recent NPR story about him and his recent heart surgery: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/23/136358656/the-heart-of-dean-youngs-pre-transplant-poetry)


Dean Young writes the kind of poems that punch all manner of holes into what I just wrote above.  No, I don't always "get" him. But often, I don't care. Often, the joy of reading the words on the page--the way they are placed, the order, the rhythm, the juxtaposition--supersede any need for explanation. The dark humor, the charm, the cerebral wit.  Take, for example, the first three stanzas of "My Work Among the Insects"


The body of the lingerneedle is filled
with hemolymph unconstricted except
for a single dorsal vessel. A ventral
diaphragm bathes the organs of the head,

undulations drawing the fluid back through
tiny holes called ostia aided by
 the movement
of a Napoleon within each abdominal segment
pacing his Elba exile, muttering la Russie

la Russie as the snow squeaks beneath
his boots. All through the night
the temperature drops but no one
knows where the lingerneedle goes.


"Aided by a Napoleon within each abdominal segment/pacing his Elba exile, muttering la Russie/La Russie as the snow squeaks beneath/his boots...." Are you kidding me?! That's effing brilliant! Or how about this, a few stanzas later:



Often in July,
one finds them collapsed in the tub, unable
to gain purchase on the porcelain that seems

to attract them mightily. It is best not
to make everything a metaphor of one's own life
but many have pressed themselves against cool
and smooth, in love and doomed.

Aaahhh! "...but many have pressed themselves against cool/and smooth, in love and doomed." I have never read anything so perfect in my life. I want to run outside, shouting, nailing copies of this poem to the doors of my neighbors' homes like some kind of Martin Luther of the MFA crowd.
See? I don't know how to really, smartly talk about it. I don't know exactly what it is that makes me want to do cartwheels over this thing. But I don't care, for some reason. I'm happy just to point to it, drooling like the idiot it makes me, and say "Isn't this phen-effing-omenal?" But maybe the fact that I have no real vocabulary is because the work is so great. 


Maybe that's what great art should do--make us stupid with happiness.



Monday, May 23, 2011

WriteAnon and a Thank You

Writing is, ostensibly, a solitary endeavor, but I think that any writer who keeps to herself all the time is doing herself a deep disservice. Getting together with the right combination of people to talk (some might say commensurate) about this silly little idea of a writing life can be a soul-renewing experience. That's usually how I feel after an evening talking to Betsy and Nancy.  (The three of us met while in the master's program at Hopkins; we'd all had several classes together and I personally thought they were two of the most articulate classmates and among the strongest writers in the program. I honestly can't remember how we three came to form this little alliance--a triumvirate, perhaps?:) --but I'm grateful for it nonetheless). We meet when we can: When kids and horses and the general detritus of life doesn't get in our way.  Sometimes we have manuscripts to read and comment on; mostly we just get together and talk. It's like a support group for writers. "Hi. My name is Bobbi, and...I'm a writer." "Hi Bobbi."

We met last Friday in our usual place (the Panera in Hunt Valley. Don't knock it. What it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in free coffee refills). This week, we spent a considerable amount of time talking about instinct. I know I've written about this before--that elusive gut-thing that writers are supposed to listen to. Do we listen, though? Nooo. Often we don't. That's what I learned Friday night. We doubt our guts and that kinda sucks.

A few years ago, Nancy wrote a phenomenal story. Just an incredible story about an injured horse and the two riders who had to make difficult decisions about getting it down off the trail.  What I remember most about it was the way she managed to convey the paradoxical nature of horses--on one hand, they are sturdy, strong. Beasts of burden.  But they can be delicate too. Their skin is so fine, it tears so easily. Their legs--while the muscles are strong, the bones are fragile. I'm still kind of in awe when I think about how she did it. And the escalating tension was magnificent. I loved reading that story.  But when Nancy workshopped it, she was told it "wasn't a story."  WTF??  I really don't care that the person who told her that little gem is a published author. Writer-lady was wrong.  I know it. Nancy knows it. So how could one person convince her otherwise?  How is it that we let someone (often it's anyone and not just those who we look to as authorities) tell us that the opposite of what we know deep down to be true and right is actually false and bad? It can be devastating--not only to your ego, but to that voice in your head, that feeling in your bones that you're right. Gah. How do you get around it? How do we learn how to trust our guts?

Well, for me, talking to Betsy and Nancy helps. And I hope I help them (I'm hoping that Betsy and I convinced Nancy to query journals for that piece. It deserves a second chance!).  It helps to know that I'm not alone when I doubt myself, that's for sure. And getting encouragement from fellow writers--people who want you to succeed and much as they themselves want to, is, as I said, good for the soul. It gives me renewed energy and the strength to keep trudging through, even when it feels like I'm trying to run through knee-deep mud.

 Writing has to be solitary, at times. I have to wall myself off to get things done. But when I get to spend an evening with talented and articulate people, talking about craft and about our struggles and successes, I feel energized and ready to get back to work.  So, thanks ladies!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Admissions Committee Doesn't Really Smoke Crack

When I first started my masters program, I was fairly certain Hopkins had made a mistake. I'd even had my sister re-read the acceptance letter, because I thought I'd somehow forgotten all the definitions of every word in the English language and was misreading the "Congratulations! You've been accepted..." I sat in my first class that first semester--in Maryland Hall with its clanging heaters that I swear were always on, even in the summer months--scarlet-faced, with the sound of my pounding heart galloping in my ears. I was in way over my head and the moment I was forced to open my mouth and contribute something in class, everyone--my classmates, the instructor--would know what a fraud I was. I didn't belong there! I gripped the edge of the desk, convinced that at any moment, the program's director would materialize in the doorway, summon me into the hallway and, in an even, businesslike tone, inform me that the admissions committee had been hungover, or smoking crack (or something similar) when they read my application and once they'd sobered up they realized what a terrible mistake they'd made. He would then smooth  his hair back, tug at the bottom of his sports jacket and, with a nod of his head, bit me good day ("I said good day to you!").

Of course that never happened. Nothing even close to that ever transpired.  And I learned pretty quickly that I wasn't the weakest link.  Was I the best student in the class? Uh, no. Was the the best writer? Most emphatically, no. The most experienced? Most well-read (well-readest?)? The most insightful or articulate? No. Nope. Nuh-uh. No. No. No.

But as one semester ended and another began, as I got deeper into the program, I worried about those things less and less.  I actually feel kind of silly admitting to them here. The logic part of my brain (which is a very very small part that's buried very deeply in the center. It's also kind of dusty and probably smells like mothballs or my great-great Uncle Bill's attic) knows how pointless it is to go around comparing one's ability (or lack thereof) to another person's.  Especially in something so subjective as creative writing. But I'd be lying if I said those anxieties about being good enough are gone forever .  They still make themselves known; I don't think they'll ever truly disappear, but... I don't know. My attitude toward them has changed, I guess. Yeah, I'm insecure as hell (about a lot of things). That's a fact and it won't change. But I feel now, two years out from graduation, as if I might just know what I'm doing most of the time. Or at least I feel like I will eventually arrive at certain insights about my writing. Eventually. Oh, I still need the map, but I feel pretty confident that I can navigate most of the way with only desultory glances at it should I get myself really lost.

Take, for example, the critique I had last week. I'd turned in the first 6500 or so words from this novel I keep referring to. As you might recall from earlier posts, I've been working on the thing for, oh, I don't know, eleventy years (and that's dog years, BTW). And being neck-deep in it since Moses was in knee pants, I'd lost any kind of perspective drafts and drafts and drafts ago (I believe around the "paleolithic" draft).  This I knew going into the critique. Despite my lack of orientation within my own damned novel, I suspected I knew, generally, what worked and what didn't. I had a feeling I knew which were the creaky steps in the staircase.  I was only a little bit surprised at the feedback. My fellow writers were insightful, as always, and I found myself agreeing with nearly everything they had to say (not a terribly common occurrence).

Now, getting feedback that you knew you were going to get might seem--on the surface--like a small victory.  Some might even think that kind of feedback is unhelpful, useless. But it's actually the opposite. It's actually huge and significant and useful in the way a lifeboat is handy to have around when your ship sinks.  Because, if I know what they're going to say, it's because I know what my story needs.  And that's really quite freakin awesome. I know what my story needs. No, I might not know at just that very moment how to fulfill those needs--that's really the insignificant part--I'll figure that part out eventually.  But I know. And that's half the battle.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Here it is, Tim. You can stop bugging me now.

My last post, the one I wrote waaaay back last week about overhearing my tipsy neighbor and making a story out of his (shouted) conversation, struck a nerve with my friend, Nancy. A good nerve, by the way.

You see, about a year ago, a very similar thing happened to me--I was walking through Johns Hopkins Hospital (because that's where I work) and I overheard about five seconds of a phone conversation. for whatever reason, my ear caught it and then my brain went to work. I just happened to be walking back to my office and by the time I got there, I pretty much had a (very) short story written.  I scribbled it down and over the next week made a few minor edits. That was it. Sent it off to a few journals and it should show up in Echo Ink Review one of these days.  Simple as that.  When Nancy read my post from last week, she reminded me that I've done this in the past and suggested that this approach might be something to explore/think about. . I hope she doesn't mind, but I'll copy a paragraph from her email here:


Not only will it help your writing because it really gets you writing, but it also raises some of the questions you want to confront with your blog. I mean, why can you sit down and immediately write a 4-page first draft when you overhear something that catches your imagination?  Why do these stories come to you so quickly?  Do you see the whole story quickly?  or do you keep your pencil moving and the story is just there?  Think about what's going on and why?  Maybe it will lead to a greater understanding of your writing.  And I also think you should exploit this ability you have with taking pieces of overheard conversations or just a snippet of a spoken sentence and then sitting down and getting the story down.


As you can see, she asked some great questions that I've been thinking about lately.  The thing is, I don't know why it happens the way it does. I really have no idea why my ear latches on to certain things and not others. For example, just last week, as I walked past an elderly woman who was chatting with one of the guards at the hospital, I heard her say "...and then the Holy Spirit spoke to me."  And I kept on walking. I thought it was a bit curious and slightly amusing and I thought "I'd love to hear the rest of that conversation," but I didn't push past people waiting for the elevator to get to my office to write down my next short story.

Nancy suggested that I work on a collection of stories that originated as overheard conversations.  It's appealing, for sure.  It would give me a goal, a framework, a method of organization (and I could certainly use more of all three in my life). But I worry--will I start to overreach? How will I know which conversations to use?

The key, I think, is instinct. I think that might be what's going on when I pick out those meaningful conversations. Let's face it: Nearly every decision I make in life (be it choices in my writing, or choices for dinner) comes down to a visceral reaction. Maybe, after so many years of letting my gut make all the decisions, it's finally started to develop a discerning palate.  (And, quite frankly, it's about time, right? I've fed you well, gut. Now you're working for me.) I think that has to be it. Specific to the idea of overhearing conversations, like anyone, I overhear tons of conversations in any given day. Many, like the little old lady with a dedicated line to Jesus, are merely interesting/amusing/unnerving.  Something in here has to be picking through all the detritus and making the decision, right? And broadly speaking, that's what instinct is, right? That mechanism, that thing, that whatchamacallit that filters out all the crap and focuses on what's important.

I'm hoping that's what it is. Because if my instinct is guiding me through all the unusable stuff to get me to the stuff that works, then that means that I have learned something, that I've grown, right?

I think that's it for tonight. I should get a good night's sleep. I have a full day of eavesdropping ahead of me tomorrow.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Little Sigh of Relief

No, I haven't recovered from the lost post yet (but I will); but I did just scribble about 4 or so handwritten pages of what I hope will be a nice little short story.

I was sitting in my backyard this evening (this lovely, mild, Mother's Day evening), minding my own business, when I overheard a neighbor. Well, "overheard" might be slightly misleading, though. It implies that the conversation was meant to be private. And perhaps my neighbor intended it to be that way. Except he was kind of shouting. Bellowing, one might say. The air rushing out of his lungs, I'm guessing, was propelled by a teeny tiny bit of alcohol. So, I really couldn't help but hear, if you look at it that way.

Semantics aside, though, I was inspired. Thankfully, I had a pen and paper nearby and just like that <snaps fingers> four pages. Of course it's not complete. It'll need polishing, tweaking, some fleshing-out. But it's something. And it floated over to me on the cool evening air. Simple as that. It doesn't always happen that way--jayzus knows it hardly ever happens that way--but when it does, it reminds me of why I do this. Why I feel like puking, as Nancy said (I actually liken it to a bit like throwing yourself off a building, but the puking comparison is certainly accurate!). The payoff is incredibly satisfying. I'm smiling as I type this I'm so happy. I feel like I could run a marathon uphill and in hip-deep water I'm so energized by it. Surely some endorphins have kicked in and I'm all blissed-out on them.

So, no insights tonight. No musings or attempts at philosophic waxing, no frustrated prattling on. Just a shared moment of good news.

Have a good night, all.