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.

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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.

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.

 

 

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).

 

 

Mon coeur qui bat …

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If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. -Ernest Hemingway

It is impossible to return from Paris unchanged, no matter how many times one has visited. This was my sixteenth visit of the past 24 years and still I saw things I’d not seen and learned things I hadn’t known and fell in love with the city anew. It’s a city that loves you back, one of its most beautiful qualities. 

Still can’t figure out the tipping thing. 

It’s wonderful to experience Paris with someone who is visiting for the first time, to share the bits that I know and love and to see it in a way I never have before. My lovely travel companion showed it to me through a photographer’s lens and I learned from the moment we landed why it is the City of Light, how the skies are different and more luminous, how the streets are lined with language and pictures. Even the vulgar graffiti – and there is much – somehow looks prettier when written in French. 

We did many of the things I’ve done before and never tire of – La Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, Montmartre et Sacré Cœur, aperitifs at Les Deux Magots, lunch at La Coupole, la Marché Bastille – and we did some amazing things that were brand new to me. We went to a match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bastia (PSG won 4-0), to Sunday mass at Notre Dame, to dinner on a boat on the Seine. We rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower and drank Champagne. And we explored the Louvre – on my previous visits I’d basically run from Point A (Mona Lisa) to Point B (Venus de Milo) to Point C (Winged Victory) to have had the experience; the immensity of the palace, while too small for Louis XIV (that guy), overwhelmed me. This time we spent hours in its hallowed halls and it was formidable. We visited in it the apartments built for Napoleon (another tiny, humble Parisian) and Josephine. On this visit to Paris I also learned that I had a great aunt named Josephine, thanks to a distant cousin with whom I just connected who loves the city as I do. 

There still remains the paradox of incredibly rich food and a finely appointed populace, despite the fact that gyms are in short supply. The Parisians do smoke a lot less than they used to, and there are electronic cigarette boutiques partout. The city absolutely evolves, but just when you think it’s not what it once was, it will remind you it’s still Paris by throwing in an off-duty mime sipping RIcard in a cafe, or a beret-wearing poodle wielding a baguette on a bicycle. 

There is so much more to say on this visit, so many memories and observations to share, but I am going to save them for a different forum, a project I am very excited to begin. 

Alors, mes amis, we’ll always have Paris.

 

Here by the sea and and, nothing ever goes as planned

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Some merry prankster has taken to writing the words “Bad Luck Spot” in chalk on the street corners by my house. Thanks, buddy. I’m way too superstitious for that. It’s a bizarre little enclave Lou and I live in; the gas station down the road has been temporarily usurped by an “art” installation – there is a white picket fence around it, a few dozen metal sheep, rams and lambs (are these one and the same? I do not know) grazing on astroturf, and a man in head-to-toe black holding a clipboard. The man is real. Maybe the grass is, too. The farm life is definitely not.

This has been a week of things not-quite-going-as-expected: shifted plans, chance encounters, interesting strangers. Today I escorted a visually impaired man to the Verizon store, where I was headed as well; this is the third or fourth time I’ve had occasion to do this. Once it happened while I was fortunate enough to be visiting Paris, beautiful, magical Paris; a blind woman asked me to escort her out of the metro. As we’ve established, I’m afraid of heights and, much to the dismay of anyone who’s been to an airport or shopping mall with me, terrified of escalators — I much prefer the stairs. This was one of these metro stations with a fifteen-story vertical escalator, and the woman grabbed me and asked for assistance just as I was bypassing it. I couldn’t summon the French for “debilitating, irrational fear of moving stairs,” and so I clung to her for dear life and made petite-talk for the 12-minute ride. It was all at once a good deed and extreme sport.

A friend used to tease me that my greatest fear would be riding an escalator without mascara. Which is ridiculous; I’d be fine with just eyeliner. 

So … I might be published in the New York Times! Yep. In the past couple of days I’ve submitted a question/complaint to the Social Q’s column and a found haiku to Metropolitan Diary. Hey, a byline’s a byline – even if every grandparent-of-a-precocious-child-who-takes-public-transport gets one in the Diary.

I am learning a tremendous amount, this year, about how to live in this world. And, as I’ve said aloud to a couple of people in the past few days, my life has been infused with a lot more color than it used to be – in my decor, my wardrobe, my experiences and relationships. What a difference it makes; I spent April 2011 – April 2012 in a series of casts for a fractured scapula (look it up, too tired to explain); because I was x-rayed regularly my cast was changed regularly, and the day I opted for a fuchsia one instead of the standard bone-white, my mood improved dramatically. You learn a lot about human nature when you spend a year in a cast – particularly how intrusive strangers can be. I can’t imagine seeing someone with a broken bone (or black eye or gaping wound) and asking for an explanation, but an amazing number of people NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!!! At first I would explain, in painstaking detail, my official version of events, but I soon learned that if I just said “accident” people would seldom ask me to elaborate. I also learned in that year to type very quickly with one hand (insert obligatory internet porn joke). 

Alright then. I had intended to write about something entirely different, had been thinking about it since this morning, but here by the sea and sand …

Buenas noches a todos.