Just like starting over

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“Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” -James Joyce

Granted I’ve not tried to write much in other languages, but this book writing thing (did I mention I wrote a book?) can be maddening. Maddening! And yet so many books get written and published and a fair amount of them are really good. How do these people do it?

I’m in the mountains celebrating Father’s Day and then taking a few days to, as I keep saying for some odd reason, as it’s not an expression I’ve ever used before, “bang out my revisions.”

I saw a friend last week who comes to town a couple times a year and he said, “Wait—weren’t you working on revisions when I was here in December?”

WHY YES, I WAS!!!! And then, based on those revisions, I needed to copyedit, which led to further changes. Then I submitted my draft to my editor and my writing group and my beta readers and more revisions stemmed from that … and so on and so on and so on.

I found a metaphor for this today. I love metaphors. Not in writing per se, but in life. I took a longer walk this afternoon than I’d set out to … this is a hilly walk and is decent exercise and exercise is something I wish I loved more than I do. It’s a walk where, once you reach a certain point, it’s silly to turn back, you might as well just keep going up that road and take the long way back—you’ve gotten this far. So I kept bargaining with myself that I didn’t have to do the whole thing—I just needed to do something, which is my general approach to exercise. I would turn around once I got to the bend in the road, which I could see many steps in the distance. Only I’d never get to the bend in the road because once there I’d realize it wasn’t a bend, it was the suggestion of one. So I could never really catch up and I had to keep going. And that’s what this revision process feels like. I’ll revise until I finish this draft, only once there I realize the draft isn’t finished after all.

However, I want to move on to new projects, and so I must finish this one for the time being. In so doing I will start pitching to agents—in fact I already have begun this process, and it is a long and arduous one that uses a very different part of the brain than the writing does and a different part than the revising and maybe I should go back to school and learn a trade or follow a new pursuit?

But since I’m not going to do that, I’m going to “bang out” these revisions, continue my agent research and querying, and move on to my next writing project.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do set goals at other times of the year. This feels like a starting point. My goals for the second half of 2017 are: to become a better writer, to read more, to spend less, to finish revisions (for now) and move on to the next thing, to purge a bunch of stuff that is cluttering my apartment and mind, to meditate and exercise regularly, and a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t want to put on record.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all.

You may say I’m a dreamer

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but I’m not the only one…

I know this to be true because of the incredible number of people I’ve connected with in the aftermath of the recent election. I have not been to this page in quite a while—nor, I’m afraid, have I devoted as much time to my novel as I’d intended to—and that’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time with the group I started, Action and Empathy. I don’t think the link will work if you’re not on Facebook, and for this reason and many more we are building an external site that will hopefully accomplish the same goals as the existing page.

I started the page a few days after the election because I, and most of the people in my life, were angry, disappointed, worried, depressed—all the stages of sudden grief in no particular order—and I wanted to create a space that was about action, not just ranting. There was plenty of ranting going on on Social Media, traditional media, and in person. I wanted a space where we could take action against perceived injustices and conflicts of interest and all the rest AND where we could express our empathy by actively supporting the groups that will need it most under this impending administration: women, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, people of color, the LGBTQ community, tax-paying New Yorkers, people on Medicare, the press, and on and on and on.

And I’m thrilled that the small part I am taking in all of this is having any impact at all. What began as a group of about 7 of us has grown to over 900 members, most of whom I don’t know. I’ve gotten letters of appreciation from people I’ve never met and that is enormously validating.

I have been complacent for most of my life, and this time around I had no choice but to change that. In a strange way I feel as though I am finally finding my purpose in life. I know my strengths and talents, but purpose is an entirely different thing. My other purpose, at present, is to finish my novel, and that I will do. Creating this network has taken priority.

This will be a long road and will begin in earnest after January 20. And while it’s been argued that these forms of silent and vocal protests won’t change things, in fact they will. They will prove to the world that not all Americans accept what this administration intends for this country. This will get many of us involved on the smallest, most local levels such that we can change the course of things from the bottom up. We will all pay a lot of attention to the 2018 elections. And we will support one another, we will do everything  we can to maintain the things that make this country beautiful, and those include its ethnic , religious, and cultural diversity. Those include freedoms that are now being directly threatened.

I’ve been accused of co-opting other people’s causes. I am not doing this. I am simply doing my best to do my part, and I mean it when I say that I am learning on the spot. I will make mistakes and I will seek the knowledge of others, as I’ve been doing all along.

Today is Christmas and I am with family and loved ones in Paris. Despite all that this city and country have been through in recent years and despite its current political strife, Paris still offers me the timeless beauty and romance that claimed me the first time I visited.

The Seine still flows, the Eiffel Tower still sparkles at night, the gryphons and gargoyles still guard Notre Dame. The sights and sounds and smells and tastes that I associate with this city remain, and this is very comforting.

Peace on earth is a tall order these days. So instead I will strive for as much inner-peace as I can, and though there will be slip-ups along the way, I will remain on an upward swing. I wish the same for all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate and, whatever ideals you most value.

On the topic of tranquility, which is one of my favorite words, the British philosopher James Allen said,

Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.

Whatever calmness of mind means for you, I urge you to practice it in the coming year. My goal for the new year is to become stronger and wiser.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Diwali, Kwanzaa, none of the above, all of the above, I wish you peace and joy.

Until soon, my friends.

Where did all the blue skies go

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I started to write a post on the 4th of July and decided not to publish it, didn’t finish it. I couldn’t find the words to express what I was feeling, couldn’t quite figure out how to acknowledge a celebration of our country’s freedom when so much of the world is not free. I don’t usually get political here and it felt inauthentic somehow, though my feelings were 100% sincere.

That was four days ago, and I think had a fair amount to do with a new friend I’ve made, through my cousin – a fellow who lives in Iraq. I reached out to him after the latest spate of suicide bombings in Baghdad and he was, of course, devastated and angry. He asked to see photos of the mountains and woods where I spent the long weekend; he wanted to see beauty and positivity and freedom. He sent me a photo collage of the victims of Sunday’s attacks, and it was a collection of beautiful, young, vibrant faces.

The next day there were attacks in Saudi Arabia. This week two young black men in the US have been killed by police for the “crimes” of selling music and driving with an allegedly busted tail light. Last night, snipers shot and killed five police officers in Dallas and wounded several others.

I do not know how to react to any of this. I am infuriated and saddened and tired of feeling helpless and I don’t know what my recourse is.

I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Donald Trump is not the answer to any of this. Hate begets hate. Intolerance begets intolerance. Ignorance is dangerous and hubris does not a successful leader make. And I do not want to speak his name more than absolutely necessary, so that’s that for now.

I am in New Orleans again, working through the final third of the book. And it is hard to concentrate on what at times seems such a trivial pursuit in light of all that is happening in the world around us. But this is my job, and so I will do it.

Since I was last here about six weeks ago, there have been terrorist attacks in Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia, Israel, Yemen, Pakistan–and that’s just off the top of my not-terribly-informed head. Since I was here, a monster shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

There is so much to grieve in this world. And there is so much to love and admire, to those of us who are fortunate enough to live in places where we are allowed to love and admire who, what, and when we choose to.

I’ve been accused of having a Pollyanna-like outlook on things. I don’t. I’m more realistic than I let on. But there are many people who can speak of the world’s atrocities much more eloquently than I can, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from these people and their words.

I have long been saddled with a need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to believe that people are inherently good. I am fortunate to have many good people in my life.

But it’s a scary, uncertain world, and I am aware of this. So if I veer toward light and love in the things I write and post and choose to talk about, do not mistake it for blindness. I can’t fix all the bad, and so I choose to try my best to contribute more good.

Time for coffee and Chapter Ten.

Biting the hand that feeds you

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What a long, strange week it’s been.

I’m tired, more tired than I’ve been in a long, long time. There are many reasons, mental and physical, for this, and in response, I’ve taken myself on a self-imposed writing retreat for a week … I can not tell you how much I am looking forward to this. How much I need it. And how much I appreciate the opportunity.

New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town … I have had a very New York-y week. I saw music and theater and art. I had Thai food, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, and a horrible midtown salad for lunch yesterday. I saw a bunch of old friends, unexpectedly and on purpose. I worked a lot. And best of all, I got semi-ready for my week out of town.

Yesterday I saw the Picasso exhibit at MOMA; the person I saw it with, an artist, commented that double-P (my words) demonstrated in his sculpture his skills of observation. I don’t know if it was this comment or my meditation or a combination of those, but walking home from work yesterday, the snippets of conversation I overheard registered more than usual: “I’m a human compass” “Picture me, now picture Miranda Cosgrove” “Dude, I did four sets of ten to fifteen reps with, like, a ten-second break between” “looking at all the pictures on the wall and boom — there’s Mick Jagger”. One of the exercises we do in our writing group entails taking a piece of overheard dialogue and building a story around it. The four I quoted are pretty much complete stories on their own.

One of the reason I’m especially tired these days is Dog. I love the guy … I love him so much it hurts, and I want him around for a very long time. But, between you and me (and anyone you forward this to) … he’s not very easy to deal with these days. Our early morning walks have turned into borderline late-night ones, though now that we’re in the country I’m hoping he’ll want to sleep in a bit. He has taken to snapping at me, seemingly out of nowhere, which absolutely sucks. The vet is incredibly sympathetic about this, which is nice, but it doesn’t do a damn thing when petting my beloved beast turns into wrestling my hand from his jowly grip. The vet thinks he has a bit of dementia, which would be funny in a short story but is fairly tragic in real life. Yes, he’s “just a dog”, but he’s my j-a-d and I’m his whole world. And so of course I bear the brunt of whatever he’s going through physically and emotionally. He loves me — that’s not in question — but he is not very gentle with me anymore. He is with other people, but he’s a teenager and I’m his mother. I imagine this is not dissimilar to what my parents went through when I was a teenager, so perhaps this is my comeuppance. As I don’t have a co-parent, I don’t really have anyone with whom I share the burden of loving an angst-ridden kid.

Le sigh. My problems could be worse. Having just watched some of tonight’s Repugnantcan debate I know that they could be much, much worse.

Wednesday night I spoke at a meeting for Girls Write Now, the wonderful organization I work with. I helped create the style guide for our annual anthology and gave a tutorial on grammar … being a word nerd, this was heavenly for me. We talked about some of my favorite things: the Oxford comma, the em-dash, the italicization of ship names. The fact that compound words in adjective form take hyphens when their noun counterparts do not. Riveting stuff.

What else.

I’ve set a lofty goal (I’m certain I’ve said the exact same thing in an earlier blog post) of getting through Chapter Ten of Book while I’m here on my writing retreat. Ask me about it next weekend, will ya? Being accountable helps.

I am not where I thought I’d be at 45. I didn’t have specific ideas of where I’d be, but this certainly wasn’t it. I’m not implying in the slightest that I’m in a bad place or am unhappy … I’m not. But I’m not where I thought I’d be.

Someday I will elaborate on that. On how the things we thought were foregone conclusions sometimes turn out to be anything but.

I spent today and tonight with my parents and some of their friends. I am blessed with amazing people in my life, and with grownups (people 60 and older) who have no intention of slowing down or stopping. Who are as vibrant now as ever before and who, for the most part, take better care of themselves than they did at my age. People who, like my parents, continue to expand their minds, to learn and grow and cultivate new interests (the fact that I first wrote “knew interests” means I need to wrap this up and get some sleep before Dog the Biter wants out in the morning). I want to emulate these people. I want to continue to learn (k)new things and enrich myself, and my life, for my remaining days. That is living. There is no giving up, no throwing in the towel, no deciding you’re done. If you still have any say in the matter, you’re not done.

Love you. Thanks for reading. Vive la France et le circonflexe (about which more later).

 

 

Sweet emotion

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Well hello, and Happy Father’s Day to all who identify as fathers.

I have been remiss in posting here, and a major part of that is that when I sit down at my computer to write I feel compelled to work on the novel … I am in the homestretch of this draft and really hope to finish it within the month, so that I can move on to the Herculean (but hopefully not Sisyphean) task of rewriting. Quite a process, this … and finishing this first draft will be a huge milestone and one that I feel might reverberate into other areas of my life. I have notes for the project all over this apartment, in notebooks, on index cards, on the backs of envelopes and scrawled on my whiteboard. Because my approach to getting through this draft, per my writing coach, is to just plow ahead and not worry about editing at all, I’ve amassed a sizable collection of thoughts and ideas to consider when I do begin the editing process. More clutter — not what I need — so maybe when it comes time to collect and consolidate my every fleeting notion, I will by extension organize my space a bit more.

But I digress, which I’ve been doing a lot of in trying to get through this draft. My writing group has been invaluable, as have the couple of writer friends I can bounce ideas off of … but ultimately, I alone must complete this process.

My downstairs neighbors are very unhappily married. I know this because, more mornings than not, I hear evidence. I hear the wife shrilly berating the husband through the vent in my bathroom, and sometimes I hear their toddler daughter crying in the background. Apparently I am not alone in registering this; my doormen call them with noise complaints on a regular basis. It doesn’t seem to be working.

This morning, Father’s Day, I heard her shrieking over and over and over, “Nobody likes you! Nobody likes you! Not one person!”

My doorman told me that he’s heard through the grapevine that she threatens that if he tries to leave her, she’ll take his money and his kid and he’ll “be miserable”.

It is very difficult to listen to this on a regular basis. It is stressful. I feel sorry for all parties involved — the husband and kid, obviously, but also the woman, who is clearly not a balanced person and who seems to have no regard for the potential psychological damage she’s inflicting on her daughter. No regard for the fact that the daughter might well grow up with a false sense of what households sound like, of the dynamic to expect and accept in a relationship, and of how to express herself when she’s upset. Of course, damage is not a foregone conclusion, so hopefully she’ll be one of the lucky ones and rise above it all.

They’re moving to San Francisco at the end of the summer; maybe my new neighbors will get along famously.

Today in the Styles section of the Times is an article about ghostwriting services for people who need to deliver toasts and speeches at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and so on and so forth. I’d be good at this. I’ve delivered a few wedding toasts in my day and they’ve gone over well. I’ve also ghostwritten personal documents for friends — breakup and makeup notes, sorry-you’re-offended-but-this-is-how-I-feel emails, I-know-it’s-over-but-I-want-to-leave-things-on-a-positive-note missives. I’m pretty good at putting feelings into words and at distilling the truth from a multitude of messy thoughts. So why am I having such a hard time with the emotional aspects of the characters in my book? Maybe because a novel is antithetical to the distillation process. Finding new and compelling ways to describe hope and fear, the two dominant emotions in my book, is tough.

Now I’m not sure whether “hope” and “fear” qualify as emotions. Which gives me something else to Google while neglecting Chapter 19 of draft one of the as-yet-untitled project.

Chapter 19 is a biggie — it’s where the reveal happens. One of them. It also takes place not-in-New York, unlike the rest of the book. When I was doubting my progress to a friend today, he made a comment about how I’ve already written 18 chapters that take place in New York … I guess that’s something.

I went to theater a couple weeks ago to see Dr. Faustus at Classic Stage Company. There was a party after with the cast and theater staff, and I met the artistic director, who is a lovely man. He asked what I do and I mentioned The Novel and he said something to the effect of, “That’s impressive — it must be really difficult work,” to which I replied something to the effect of, “You run this theater company — that’s difficult, impressive work!” and he said “Yes, but everything I do is a collaborative effort. I rely on the input of a lot of other people. Writing a novel is such an insular process.” I really appreciated this because he’s absolutely right, and that’s one of the most challenging aspects of it for someone like me, who would much rather spend time with others than alone. So that’s where the writing groups and the coach and the friends I can bounce ideas of of and even this blahhhhg are helpful — I’m accountable to people for this. I’ve voiced my intention to complete this draft and so I must. I will.

Recently over dinner, a friend paid me one of the dearest compliments I’ve received. He said, “You’re one of the few people who, when I spend time with you, I don’t feel like I’m alone.”

That is one of my missions in life, to make others feel less alone. My other mission is to write.

Back to Novel. Until soon.

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.

 

When autumn leaves start to fall

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And just like that, summer is the stuff of distant memory. Much as I love the beach and need the sun, this is traditionally a good time of year for me, a fruitful, productive time. It’s the back-to-school mentality combined with the fact that we’re in the last quarter of the year (I had a conversation with a tax attorney last night; I’m thinking in quarters), and by year’s end I’d best have something to show for the preceding 12 months. The holidays-birthday-New Year trifecta is one of taking stock, so I tend to cram an awful lot between October and December.

Autumn and winter can be cozy seasons – my experiences from this stretch of time are among the strongest of my childhood memories.

I’m taking a respite from drinking booze for several reasons, most notably that it bears mention that I’m doing so. It’s not the easiest thing I’ve ever attempted, but it’s not always as difficult as I’d anticipated. It turns out there are many people in my life – people who I’m used to going out to dinner and drinks – or just drinks – with – who are perfectly happy to take a night off here and there. And that’s incredibly helpful in this process, though I find that even on the nights that I’m out with someone who is having a drink or four, any craving I have is fleeting. A momentary, wistful admission that their glass of Malbec would beautifully complement my entree. Someone told me recently that, physiologically, such cravings last a maximum of 20 seconds. Ours is such a culture of immediate gratification and of all the conveniences that afford this immediacy that we don’t often allow this theory to manifest. I don’t plan to never drink again, but I needed to hit reset, and in so doing my goal is to not rely on wine (or the occasional martini) as I once did. To actually adhere to the maximum I’ve often set for myself and ignored. So much of the drinking I and the people in my life do is by rote – breaking this pattern is something many of us don’t do until we feel we have to.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m sleeping much, much better lately. Not waking up in the middle of the night once the booze wears off. And vividly dreaming, though that could be the Melatonin.

During this self, social, and anthropological study I’ve realized a few things.

  • This city is full of incentives to drink – until you decide to take a break you don’t realize how many half-price-Mondays/unlimited-Mimosas/Cosmos-with-your-manicure/Happy Hours abound. Le Pain Quotidien now offers Happy Hour from 4 – 7pm every day. Le Pain Quotidien. Yep, the bakery where my mother buys her favorite multigrain bread now has Happy (Three) Hour(s).
  • Restaurants instruct their servers at dinner and, in some cases, lunch, to ask, “Can I get you anything from the bar, wine, beer, a cocktail?”  The power of suggestion.
  • Drunk people can be really annoying; conversely, annoying people and things don’t bother me as much when I’ve eliminated the elimination of reaction time.
  • Drinking things out of stemmed glasses is nice.
  • Restaurants ought to offer more nonalcoholic choices; ginger beer should be ubiquitous.

Much more to say about this but I’m running late for Pilates. Turns out the running-late thing is a preexisting condition that has little or nothing to do with how much wine I drank the night before.

Cheers!