Years gone by

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I think about 9-11, in some capacity, every day. I still dream about it, but certainly not to the extent that I did those first several months after the fact. That day and the day my friend Laura died nine months later are the two most acutely traumatic experiences of my life. Though the pain and shock are diminished and the sadness muted, neither is ever terribly far from my thoughts.

I remember details of both days in stark relief; I could piece together the events of 9-11 very accurately, as all of my senses were on high alert then and in the weeks and months that followed. The day Laura died was different—the shock phase of that grief process cycled quickly into profound heartache, and though I recall who was around me, the details are foggy. But as to that clear September day the autumn before (technically late-summer … why must I be so damn literal that I can’t let the poetry of “the autumn before” stand without an editorial note?), I recall what I ate, who I spoke with by phone and in-person, tones of voice, snippets of conversation, and so on.

I wasn’t sure I was going to write an anniversary post this year, but it’s become one of the few rituals since I began this blog in 2013. So here we are. I wasn’t sure I was going to write because at this point I don’t know what to say. I don’t think anyone wants to hear my version of the sequence of events, or my experiences on that day, because everybody has their 9-11 story. Sure, I was here, so that puts me closer than some, but it really doesn’t matter; we were all here.

With the exception of a relatively tiny handful of people on this earth, 9-11 succeeded in bringing people together across the planet and regardless of race, religion, socio-economic factors, education levels, stations in life, and any of the myriad ways that we divide ourselves. That is the collateral beauty* of that horrible day.

*This phrase, which I recently encountered, is apparently the name of a 2016 film of dubious merit. I like it, though, and am keeping it.

On a macro- global- historical- political- level there is much to be learned from 9-11. On a micro-level, there is this: we actually really, truly only have THIS MINUTE. The old “I could get hit by a bus” maxim has been upgraded to “I could get hit by a plane,” but the point is the same … this is all we have. We can not count on “some day.” There is no “I will get it together once _____” or “I just need ____ before I ____.” That is bullshit. That is not being kind to the you who is here today. What an existential shame it would be to deny today’s you her/his full potential because you were waiting for tomorrow’s you to show up.

I could go on and on and on and on about the importance of living life now and loving yourself always and being in the moment and believing and learning and caring but I am so tired of having to convince so many of the people in my life to live their lives that I am going to give myself the rest of the night off. I’ll be back to it soon enough.

May whomever is in charge of these things bless those we lost on 9-11 and those who remain.

Love yourselves. You know you deserve it.

 

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Don’t believe the hype

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I’m back, and fully recovered from last weekend’s conference. Thank you to everyone who’s asked me about it and expressed interest in hearing more; I will not bore the rest of you with the details.

I left there feeling as though I had to completely reinvent my book, from the year it takes place (1999) to the structure to the plot, in an effort to make it more commercial (e.g. sellable). The fabulous Ginger talked me down off that ledge, as I knew she would.

She reminded me that this was my first time really going out into the world as a Writer, my first conference, and the one that happens to be the biggest, most overwhelming, and most commercial. She told me not to get bogged down in parsing all 0f the conflicting advice that I received, or to weigh the feedback of each of the agents I pitched with equal importance.

“The way to not survive the writing process is to listen to everyone else,” she said.

How liberating. (That, and I needed a tie-in for the photo above.)

So, the aspect of this conference I was most anxious about—actually, the only aspect I was remotely anxious about—was the “Agent Pitch Slam”. This was speed dating with literary agents, only unlike real speed-dating (what the hell did I just type?!), we had decent information about the people we were meeting well in advance. A few of the agents I met expressed interest in my project and asked me to send them pages when the thing is ready.

One of them asked me why my book takes place in 1999, and for that I have an answer—unlike “What are the stakes in this novel?” for which I have about 12.

I’ve set it in 1999 because I want it to pre-date 9/11, but for 9/11 to be looming. I wrote the book’s first sentence (or a variation of it, anyway) in 2006, and at the time, it felt inauthentic to set any book—let alone a ghost story—in downtown New York without 9/11 somehow informing the plot. When I picked it back up years later, that day was not as fresh in our collective conscience. But it still felt like the right year for it to take place.

The other reason: I did not want technology to be as ubiquitous as it is today. I got my first cellphone in December of ’99—I was late to the game, but not the latest. In 1999 we still wondered about things. We didn’t have an electronic dossier on everyone in the world at our fingertips. My protagonist, Josie, couldn’t just Google the guy she was dating and find out the truth about him. She could have Ask(ed) Jeeves, but he wouldn’t have known much, either.

Another agent asked me why, if Josie is so frustrated with her restaurant job, she doesn’t “just quit”.

Anyone who’s ever had a job they didn’t love want to field that one?

I read fiction today for the first time in a while. I’ve been reading a fair amount of nonfiction but it’s been hard to read novels while attempting to write one. We went to the beach today—my first time all summer—and I brought and read Joan Didion’s Play it as it Lays. It’s a tight and fairly short novel, recommended by the aforementioned wonderful Ginger—and wow, I want to take a master class with Joan Didion. Before this I’d only read her memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which I was drawn to out of title-envy. Now I want to read everything she’s written.

I’m going to my second writing conference in October in Richmond, Virginia. If you know anyone down there, please let me know. I’ll have a couple nights to myself and will be researching great restaurants to take myself to; I’d love recommendations.

Thanks for reading, friends. Until soon.

 

 

I bought a ticket to the world

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On the advice of the wise and wonderful Ginger, I got myself a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine. The first issue arrived and, despite the fact that it looks like it was delivered by bored, rabid ferrets who were building an addition to their nest, it’s exactly what I need right now. It’s all about the beginning … the first sentence, the first chapter, and so on. Since I’m pretty much reinventing the book, I have the opportunity to craft a stellar beginning. I liked my original one, but I absolutely understand why it was bogging this thing down.

In beginning my story on what was once page 129, I have the incredibly challenging task of incorporating back story — which was once, simply, “story” — into my new beginning, and there’s an article on that, too. The main takeaway from this article is that back story needn’t be spelled out as explicitly as one might think; it can be hinted at in the way characters behave in the present, in their motivations, wishes, fears, and so on.

I’ve written before about “killing your darlings” — and in this case, I’ve outright massacred mine. But this does not mean their lives were in vain: I needed to write out 129 pages of ponderous, stagnant back story in order to learn who my characters are and why they are that way.

Now my task is to tie it all together into something that bears vague resemblance to a book. With a plot. And an arc.

What have I gotten myself into?!

In addition to the print version, a subscription to WD includes access to a wealth of content on their website. One of today’s pieces was on fact in fiction, on how, if one is well-versed in a particular topic, and a fiction writer has not done his/her research, it can be hard to accept the rest of the world that he/she has created.

A lot of creative folk had a hard time writing/painting/sculpting/dancing/singing about 9-11. I read a fair amount of contemporary literature in the years after it happened, and it was quite a while before I read a book that referenced it. The first one I did was The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud, which came out five years after the fact.

I loved the way she touched on 9-11 … nothing gratuitous, nothing repetitive to those who lived through it. She wrote elegantly of the mood in NY in the hours and days after the planes, and I appreciated the way she handled it.

However … there was one “fact” she ignored, and I hesitate to say that because there is no wrong in fiction. But it struck me then and has stayed with me.

The night of 9-10-01, one of her characters goes on a helicopter ride around Manhattan and sees the lights and the city and I don’t recall what else. Anyone who lived here then will recall that on the night of 9-10 we had a torrential downpour. A deluge, the kind that upends umbrellas and ruins shoes and is enchanting to those of us who love rain, no matter how inconvenient. And so it was especially stunning how perfect the next morning felt, how crisp and clear and bright the skies. And then, they did their thing and you know the rest.

So add to the myriad reasons it takes me so long to get through a paragraph in this book I’m trying to write the fact that I do not want to take such a liberty. I’m already doing so by making the summer of 1999 a particularly rainy one and throwing a massive power outage in for good measure. (and to further the plot). But where very tangible specifics are concerned, I’m getting in my own fiction-writing way.

Any excuse to keep from churning out another draft from which to create the final one.

My bestest friend and I are writing a tv pilot loosely based on our awkward, misfit selves in the 80s. This is a breath of fresh air from the book. It’s work, it’s challenging, it requires letting go of ego and perfectionism and impatience and indulging in the process. And we’re doing it together, which is the best part. There’s strength in numbers.

Book-writing’s a lonely business. Bear with me while I figure it all out.

 

 

What would you do if I sang out of tune?

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Hi.

As I mentioned the last time I updated this thang, I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately, and a few days ago I made the executive decision to claw my way out of it. In so doing I’ve been reminded of the restorative power of friendship. I’ve reached out to, and spent time with, some of the important people in my life, in person and on the phone, and it’s been therapeutic. It’s allowed me to have optimism and plans and to stay busy. What’s that quote about idle hands? Whatever it is, that. For me, being idle is the easy way out, and in my experience the easiest ways out are almost always temporary salves. So much easier to stay in bed than to face the world, to not try lest I fail, to cancel plans so I don’t have to talk about what’s happening or not happening in my life. I’d been doing that for a stretch and it was not working and by the time I really realized that it was absolutely, positively, time to do things differently.

So I begin a new approach to my life. I’ve done so many a time and they’ve not always taken, though along the way I’ve picked up pieces of wisdom and the right kinds of habits.

I had a writing workshop yesterday for Girls Write Now, the awesome (do we still say that?) mentoring program I work with, and in this one we worked on author bios for ourselves, among other things. The topic of the workshop was online presence for writers; apparently I should be tweeting more. Or at all, really. We were given writing prompts, such as describe yourself in three nouns, then three verbs, then three adjectives, etcetera. Because this would be shared with the group I wasn’t as brutally honest as I might have been  — not that I was DIShonest, but my responses were more user-friendly than raw. I wrote “aspiring polyglot” and in trying to figure out the new WordPress interface so I could update this thing, I noticed that I’ve described myself this way before. Muy interesante, n’est-ce pas? Nyet.

We also wrote down ways other people might describe us; one of my dear friends has described me as an “acerbic marshmallow”. Perhaps that’ll be the name of my next blog.

We then wrote about what we write about and this made me realize that I need to write more, in more forums. I’m writing my novel — and am astonished to report that I hit word 60,000 on Friday. It’s a ghost story, as I’ve probably mentioned, and at present it has no title. It’s set in a restaurant — acerbic marshmallow friend and I bat around fake titles for it, and yesterday I came up with, “Waiter, There’s a Ghost In My Soup!” to which he replied, “Ghost Custards”. (Say that one aloud if you don’t get it; I didn’t). It takes place in New York in the summer of 1999, a decision I made so that I could avoid both the specter of 9-11 and our inextricable bond to technology, particularly so-called smart phones. I got my first cell phone in December of ’99, so for me that summer could still be a time when we had to wait to hear from people, when we still got to wonder and guess, when we weren’t just a few keystrokes away from knowing everything we needed to know about everyone and everything. My writing coach told me about a recent interview with a mystery writer who said that the advent and widespread use of The Google and its friends has made mystery-writing more challenging. Who needs to hire a private detective when we have Instagram?

Because novel-writing is so solitary, and because I’m prone to bouts of loneliness, I have been craving more collaborative projects to supplement my writing habit. So if any of my talented and creative friends — which is all of you — feel like collaborating on something, do get in touch.

I had a lot more I planned to write today but I’ve just spent about twenty minutes wrestling with my WiFi connection so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

 

To my colorblind troubadour

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It’s time now, my friend, to acknowledge the thirteenth anniversary of the day your last words were, allegedly, “Oh fuck!” The rest of the mythology of you after the fact is more than I can put into words in this forum.

So, how do I do it this time, Jon? Tonight I realized that you’ve been dead longer than I knew you. But I think we know one another, still. Your parents met my parents this past weekend, at Drew’s wedding. My mom didn’t give great details except to say that your mother spoke kindly of me. I remember the last formal you ceremony I attended – I think it was 2011 because it was a big(ger) deal (anniversary-wise, than usual). I remember your mom said, as we sent balloons into the sky, that she liked to think of you in Hawaii.

Hawaii has come up as a possible upcoming journey friend-and-family wise.I have a feeling, dear, that perhaps I’ll see you there someday.

In one of the final days of Charles Keating’s life one of the boys asked if he was afraid to die. His answer: “Wherever I was before, I’ll be again.”

I recently went through a bunch of boxes that had been in storage in my dad’s office and I found paraphernalia from the early 90s: your roach clip, a – JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO ROACH CLIP – a couple of photos of you, your then-business card and two handwritten notes you’d sent me. Jay suggested I send copies to your parents’; the card, sure. The rest is actually far more personal and “us” than I think I ever realized existed.

You were so handsome, so imperfectly perfectly handsome. And you were nice to and tolerant of my early-20s friends who probably tacked Hibiscus Margaritas onto your order of Bud. And you made me feel like a smart, kind, interesting and important person.

I remember going to dinner with you at Etats-Unis, which had newly opened, and we had a really good meal.

I remember ordering sushi at your apartment on 70-somethingth street and having you answer my question about what the exact content of meat is as I choked down some eel.

I don’t know what I “own” of this, babe. I know I was way too young to spend the right time with someone like you when we knew each other. But you had an impact on my life that would exist regardless of where you worked that day.

We didn’t have music – we listened to a lot of music – and, of course, you played music, my favorite instrument, actually. I had so many more things on my 23-year-old-brain than what constituted good music. Things you fulfilled, beautifully. Yours were the conversations for which connections exist.

Damn Jon – I wish you’d met Louie! You guys would have gotten each other. I’m grateful he was born 8 months too late to experience 9-11. We’ve been through an awful lot, all being relative, which I know it isn’t.

Sometimes I think you are around, else how would I remain so protected despite my propensity to forget to remember what to do?

The song that makes me think of you is “Santeria” by Sublime. A few years ago I stayed at Sean and Ivy’s – they’d had a holiday party the night before and when Sean, Jay and Dave played, they set a chair for you, for the celestial bass player. The next morning while walking around the kitchen making coffee Sean was singing that song along to the radio – no other reason than that, but I love it.

I have so much more to say to you, my sweet, but I feel like I need to sign off for now and continue to speak to and about you tomorrow.

I love you, my dear friend, and I know you’re in my life.

With only dreams of you …

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In the night sky is a perfect crescent of a moon and two blue beams reaching up for the stars. On this night 12 years ago it rained hard, so hard that the clear blue skies and perfect feel of the following morning were a delightful surprise. That Monday we went to a fundraiser, then sloshed through the puddles to Cedar Tavern for a late-night burger. When the skies open up in the city the city comes together. In blizzards strangers offer strangers rides. In hurricanes dogs have more options. I’ve never been as grateful for this town as I was in the aftermath of 9-11; twelve years later I sit in Bottino with a glass of wine and watch the people stream in from Fashion Week and gallery openings and hear them get incensed by the tiniest glitches and in my building neighbors ignore one another and feign ignorance as the elevator doors close too soon.  Every [wo]man for [her]himself it’s a dog eat dog world look out for number one blah de blah blah. Oy vey. Tomorrow night twelve years ago we went to Gus’s on Waverly and Waverly, then (no longer) the spiritual vortex of Manhattan, according to Nicholas Christopher. We went despite it all – we needed to eat – we needed companionship – we had no idea what the fuck to do and all around us was kindness and shock and the stages of grief personified and amplified. Then we met friends at the pub up the road and “rallied” around the one who hadn’t yet heard from her mother, who worked in one of the towers. The towers. I visited them once, on a class trip in second grade; they were new to the skyline. I needed my mum to come with – I was (am) terrified of heights – and she did. Two weekends ago twelve years ago we hosted a surprise 30th for a friend – Yankees/Red Sox then El Parador then plans to go to Windows on the World diverted at the last moment. At the last moment. My lost former love’s last words, “Oh fuck!” from the 96th floor – he was on a conference call and this was reported to his then-wife. Sweet you you’re forever in my heart.

So much more to write – so many Fashionistas and Galleristas in my lines of vision and hearing. I knew this walking in here, but I needed to be around people tonight.

Live, love, laugh.

And, in the spirit of all three, please follow this beautiful project.

See the sky in front of you …

ImageI try not to talk about the weather; it makes me self-conscious. BUT … it’s been awfully strange lately. After relentless heat and humidity for several days, it was autumnesque yesterday. Beautiful, but I was underdressed, and it smacked of that bittersweet change-is-in-the-air turn-of-seasons thing that makes me nostalgic. Not that most things don’t. I could feel, though, that tremendous transformation is taking place in and around me. The last two nights I went to bed early and had hours of pure, unadulterated sleep. It was blissful, and while I know we can’t catch up on sleep, I feel somewhat restored after two weeks that were far from tranquil. Which my friend who is an amazing Tarot card reader had foreseen when she read for me two Wednesdays ago. She told me to  brace myself for two difficult weeks, and she assured me that a new phase would follow them. Right on schedule – this past Wednesday was promising. She gave me a reading in late March, right before my vacation to Europe, and saw a couple of people who would come into my life – or rise in significance – one a few weeks after our reading and one the following month, and both proved accurate. She saw their age-ranges and the purposes they would serve. If anyone in New York is interested in a reading with her, I will happily put you in touch. She’s the real deal.

That change of seasons thing has always impacted me – not in a seasonal affectedness disorder way, but in a way that evokes decades-long sense memories. The summer-into-fall transition is about reinvention, starting over – probably from the school years of yore and the fact that I’ve started many new jobs in the autumn months. When it’s cool and sunny I also think of 9-11 (I know, I know, but I do), which was a beautiful and crisp day, and I think of studying in Paris in autumn 1990 – trying to get my bearings and wandering around the city looking for unoccupied phone cabinets so I could call home. Scary things were happening at home and I needed to be in touch. Those two years aside, though, it’s an optimistic time and I’m determined to capture and hold onto that optimism this year. Though I’m nowhere near ready for summer to end; yesterday was a brief reprieve. I plan to spend more time at the ocean and to soak up the sun as much as I can before the season fades.

If all goes according to plan, I will be seeing music tonight, a lineup that includes Bob Dylan, whom I’ve never seen live and always adored.

Happy birthday, Mick Jagger.