Don’t believe the hype

IMG_2196 (1)

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.

 

 

Wait a minute Mr. Postman …

ImageI have spent part of today searching through boxes of personal memorabilia in search of one specific photograph. These boxes have been in storage at my father’s company for decades, and though I haven’t found the photo, I have found some interesting souvenirs of days gone by. Apparently I was the news editor of my high school newspaper. (I do recall that I was on staff but I don’t recall editing any news.) I found the program from my elementary school’s singalong in 1978, when my sister was in sixth grade and I was in third. My class performed “California Kids” (“Well east coast kids are hip, I really dig the styles they we-ear…”). I remember what I wore. I was, in fact, part of the East Coast Kids group, so compared to the Midwest Farmer’s Children and all the rest, my costume was not terribly gimmicky. I wore a denim jacket, t-shirt and jeans and a pair of brown rain boots with black fake fur at the top. I loved those boots.

I also found many relics of the lost art of letter writing, a practice that played a major role in my life up until the bitter end of its reign. I loved writing letters from the time I was able to write. My granny and I wrote constantly, and she kept a carbon copy of each letter she typed on her sky blue Smith Corona, which now lives in my closet. It needs work. I’d like to get myself a refurbished portable typewriter; I’d been toying with the idea, forgot about it, and then read this essay. But before I purchase any heavy machinery I must purge some of the stuff that I’ve semi-hoarded over the years.

Reading through some of these letters has been like finding a time capsule from the late 80s/early 90s, when I was in college. I’ve come across gems like these:

  • There are a few people that you’ll be glad to hear that I didn’t keep in touch with, namely Evan and Randy. I didn’t call Randy even though he owed me 25 dollars for the Who tickett [sic]. That’s how much I didn’t want to talk to him.
  • Take care, hon, and find yourself a “nice boyfriend” – good luck and I hope to hear from again really soon.
  • I lost my proof so the bar scene has been even more interesting b/c every night I have to think of new scams to get in. I borrowed my housemate’s proof. The name on it was Mandy Fiddle …
  • I am going to the travel agent today to make some arrangements 4 spring break. Yeah! Jamaica!
  • Now don’t think I’m turning lesbo on you, but I thought the front of the card was rather appropriate. Your card to me was hysterical, talk about appropriate.
  • You should definately [sic] come home for a weekend we’ll be total townies. one night we’ll go to the “Aft” then to “Cooks” – another night we should go hang-out in the village. 
  • Actually you see, I think I fell in love in Spain. I met this Spanish guy in Marbella – he is older, 27 is my guess (I never bothered to ask) he is so lively and so crazey [sic]. He’s a real estate agent & a part owner of a bar/nite club & I have this feeling he might deal coke or something on the side. … he has really ruined my desire for Laurent … I’ve decided French guys are dull.

Good stuff. I miss writing letters. I don’t miss being 19 and 20.

Love somebody real

IMG_0689

I’ve cycled through the emotions this week – most of them – and while it’s been a bumpy ride I have managed to stay intact, productive even. I feel, as I said earlier, understood and appreciated for the things for which I’ve longed to feel understood and appreciated for a very long time. I’ve made some decisions that were out of character and the world hasn’t spun off its axis. I’ve been temporarily displaced from home for quite a banal reason, and in the course of this I’ve found safety and comfort. And trust. Lou and I very much enjoyed our vacation in the west village, our old stomping ground, his very first home in New York.

This has not been the epic week of art and music that last week was, straight through Sunday, but it’s been an important week in many ways. Trusting myself is a very good thing. Being able to pour my surplus of love and nurturing into the right people, as opposed to expending that same energy trying to get the wrong ones to see me as I am, has nourished my mind, heart and soul–three things that remained malnourished for decades. Cutting myself some slack and recognizing my limitations, allowing myself to say no to things that I needed to say no to, this is new territory for me. This is out of my old character and into my new. In time those who need to see this and are able to recognize it will. I am separating the wheat from the chaff.

This is a very self-indulgent piece, which was not what I’d intended. This is also the first time I am writing this on my iPad, and if I let autocorrect take over it would be the work of typewriter-banging monkeys.

The Vanishing Man did me such an enormous favor it’s hard to put into words. He freed me from his clutches and in so doing, he freed me from myself.

Hearts can heal.  This is to you – yes, you – you told me how similar you and the lovely twin are emotionally, how you’ve bonded over this fact and how comforting it was. She has found happiness, and so will you. I promise you. I promise.

Tomorrow may rain

Image

…so I’ll follow the sun.

The summer of 1994 was the first one I spent living full time in Manhattan … and I hated it. I had been unceremoniously dumped by a boy I’d fallen in love with on first sight – on a train from DC to New York. We’d started talking as the train pulled into Penn Station and met later that night at a restaurant in Soho – Boom – I think it might actually still be there. We “dated” long distance for several months and had just come back from a vacation in Sedona, where his mother lived. She owned a bead shop and had befriended a group of Hopi Indians, with whom we spent part of the week. Sedona was beautiful; this relationship was not. And it ended shortly after we returned to the east coast. That summer I had a share in the Hamptons with two of my then equally miserable girlfriends and a group of people with whom we had very little in common. I lived on East 86th Street with a roommate and worked in ad sales for a now defunct women’s magazine. Suffice it to say, I had not yet found myself, and I was miserable. 

Nineteen years later, humidity notwithstanding, I love this town in the summer. Restaurant reservations are easy to come by. Warm weather makes me happy. Ish. Montauk is still pristine in parts and as I make my own hours I can escape the city during the week when the beaches are less crowded. In theory I can – I haven’t been there or to Fire Island in a couple of years, but maybe I’ll change that this year. The beach where I spent much of last summer did not fare well in the hurricane, so I’ll need to find a new one. I love the ocean, though it overwhelms and terrifies me; seeing the movie “Open Water” did nothing to assuage my fears. Neither did attempting to learn to swim in the Pacific last year. 

My nephew and niece have both asked me, separately, “Titi, why do you always look like you’re about to laugh and cry at the same time?” (Titi is short for Tia, which is Spanish for aunt; my Italian-Russian-Chinese-German nephew and niece speak Spanish.) I do often look like I’m about to laugh and cry at the same time, which can cause confusion. I need a more relaxed resting face — I’m expressive, I suppose. There’ve been a couple of instances when women have walked into public restrooms while I’m washing my hands and said things like, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you!” Once, while watching a friend play music in a bar, I turned around to see what was going on behind me and a frat boy type kicked my chair and said, “What was that look for?!” to which I protested, “It’s just my face!”

I’d be a terrible poker player. 

Lately people have been lamenting that this year is “flying by”. I don’t like thinking this way, because time moves at the same pace it always has, and the alternative to accepting this is much less appealing. My birthday comes at the very end of the year, and so I’ve had to stop putting so much stock in New Year’s/birthday resolutions. My family has always acknowledged Chinese New Year, which buys me at least another month. 

This time around my year began on April 1, which is when my mom and I took our trip to Budapest and Paris. April 1 was when I began to extricate myself from my most recent and least healthy relationship. I haven’t seen or spoken with that gentleman since then, and this is an absolute blessing (thanks again, sweet friend, for helping me through that; I would have made it through regardless, but you were so incredibly helpful and comforting through it all and for this, and more, I will always, always appreciate you). I am so much better now than I was on March 31. Despite however emotionally chaotic I might look and seem at times, the serenity I now feel is like nothing I’ve experienced before. A few weeks ago I ran into someone I hadn’t seen since my birthday, and he commented later that I seem completely different now, calmer and stronger. And that my eyes sparkle again. And yesterday at the office someone commented on my “positive aura” – not sure what that means exactly, but I like the sound of it. 

I’m figuring out, finally, how to stay in the moment. This has never been easy for me; like so many of us, I get caught up in regretting the past and worrying about the future. But now is all we have, and as Vanessa and I discussed, the better able we are to appreciate the present, the better equipped we’ll be when the present is difficult. Right now things are good. So I’m raising my (not proverbial) glass to NOW. 

Cheers.

Bright eyes

Image

My dear, departed friend Mark Enger used to call me Bright Eyes. He was exceptional. Though he has an identical twin, somehow they broke the mold when they made him.

I’ve had some excellent conversations in the past several days, with people who have turned out to be more likeminded than I’d have thought. Among them are the conversations I had yesterday with this guy, who has come so far in the years I’ve known him where letting go of cynicism is concerned, and with whom I spent Saturday afternoon and evening; we were in the west village, which was my home for ten years and is one of my favorite places on earth. We were both so appreciative of the slightly off weather and of the fact that we are in New York. And we talked about love, the importance of it in all its manifestations, how, ultimately, nothing else really matters. It’s not all about romantic love. By that token, you must visit this, a project by a brilliant photographer friend we ran into yesterday. His photos, here, are visual manifestations of the things I try to write about. 

The loneliness I felt last Sunday is, I think, an extension of my addictive personality. I’d become so accustomed to having a fellow in my life that, despite profound evidence that my last two situations were likely going nowhere, I held on as long as I could; at times nothing is more terrifying for me than sitting with uncertainty. And now I can say without a doubt that moving forward from those defeating relationships was the best thing I could have done with them. Wow. How lovely it is to enjoy the silence after so many months+ of the dissonant thrum and shrill banter of misalliance.

The liberty is intoxicating. The future is boundless. 

Though the poem itself is macabre and tragic, and the associations with Play Misty for Me (great movie) chilling, some of the language in Annabel Lee is pure romance. There is one phrase that runs through my mind on a regular basis: “…we love with a love that [is] more than love”. Various iterations of this have become nicknames for my sweet Louie, who is turning 11 next weekend. This boy has been by my side through so much sturm und drang and remains sweet and sensitive and kind; strangers often remark that he looks at me with incredible love. And he does. I know it. It’s not just that my pockets are lined with dog treats …

Alors. I must get ready for the dinner I planned last week because the thought of being unmoored again on a Sunday night seemed unbearable. Actually, I’d be fine, and I have the people who’ve been part of my last several days to appreciate for that.  

I leave you with this, which I am determined to memorize. I’ve got the first few verses down.

Annabel Lee
 
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
 
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.
 
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
 
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
 
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
 
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
-Edgar Allen Poe

Tranquility

Image

 

Tranquility is very satisfying to say; it hits each part of the palate and has good mouthfeel, a word more often used when describing wine and chocolate. It has become one of my mantras; the night that I waited several hours for Vanishing Man to appear, I repeated it in my mind, along with Graciousness, Generosity, and Strength. Be it the power of suggestion or otherwise, I was able to channel these things when he showed up, and this is something I should do more often when I’m under stress or duress. Like now, for instance, as my dear dog releases his staccato bark at the counter, because he’s certain it’s filled with things he should have. There’s a pile of mail, my purse, a remote control and the remnants of an iced coffee. 

He’s quieted down. As I was saying, mantras have worked for me in the past. Some years ago I took a meditation workshop with a woman who moved at a frenetic pace and travelled the world with her dog, Shanti. I actually got a lot out of the workshop, though I still don’t really “know” how to meditate. The mantra element was incredibly helpful that fall, when I went on a two week trip in southern France with my parents, some family friends, and a boyfriend who was very unhappy and argumentative the entire time. I dealt with the situation by taking long walks in the rainy countryside and repeating a mantra that now eludes me. It worked, in that I was able to keep calm and carry on.

This past weekend, I attended the wedding of a very dear friend who has earned his happiness and then some. I reconnected with several old friends, one of whom I emailed with today. We’re going to get together Wednesday morning (because I now have mornings to plan), and he asked if [###] was still my phone number. It was, in fact, the phone number my ex and I had on Christopher Street when we moved back to New York in 1998. I asked him to call it and offer my under-30-year-old self advice for getting through the next decade. He told me that he did, and that he advised younger me to “not take it all so seriously”. Maybe that would have helped, not having taken everything so seriously. Maybe I “should” have taken some things more seriously. Either way, the notion of going back to advise and comfort my former self is appealing and perhaps worth writing about, in fiction form.

So much heartbreak in my world right now — not my own, for I realize now that I mistook narcissism and false notions of superiority for attractiveness and one from whom I could learn – and WOW was I wrong about that. Seeing the truth is brilliant at times.

I’ve posted the Vanished Man’s remaining items on Craig’s List and gotten a bite – and whether or not it comes to fruition, I have unequivocally moved beyond him. And false notions of superiority and attractiveness helped in a very big way, so for that I thank the one who helped. I hope someday you’ll realize how I helped you, too. But your current attitude only solidifies my sense of self, so for that I thank you too.

I had an excellent meeting tonight. I have a new and excellent professional prospect that I’ve not yet shared with any of my nearest and dearest. Above all I am moving forward; I’d meant to write about my Sunday in the rawest of terms; perhaps I will in a little while. Perhaps not.

Namaste, L.

Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way …

IMG_0071
That’s a line from “Moon River”. I mean it to be comforting, not stalker-like. 

This one’s for you, dear L, who makes me certain that my writing is not in vain. Breakups are difficult in so many ways that we can lose clarity to sadness. In some cases, like yours, the grief process was already in motion when the actual act came to fruition, and now it’s a matter of untying all those things that seemed like knots but were, in fact, loose ends. The returning of items, the unmaking of plans, the re-imagining of the immediate and distant future, these steps are traumatic in and of themselves. The wondering what you might have done differently (absolutely nothing), the wishing he would just see the light that you so clearly see. I’ve been there–we’ve all been there, which doesn’t always help but perhaps on some level it does. When I’m in romantic pain, the truth is that “he” is both the problem and the solution – the only person who can provide the particular brand of comfort that I think I need at the time. It seems impossible, sometimes, that two halves of what seemed an imperfectly perfect whole just aren’t going to fit together, but there are myriad factors that have to be in place for a connection to work–chemistry and compatibility you have; to quote Mark Knopfler yet again, “It was just that the time was wrong”. 

And that sucks. And, as is the case with most relationships — friendships too — that I’ve had, this one seemed to be born of great kismet; the celestial bodies aligned just so and you walked into that bar (or boarded that train, or sat down in that dog run) and BOOM – there he was. And while it’s good–while it’s blissful–you think, how did I get so lucky? What if I hadn’t walked in or boarded or sat down — he never would have found me.

But he did. He found you, he swept you up, and he put you back down, forever altered. In a positive way, for now you know some of the elements that are not negotiable for future relationships (and there WILL be future relationships). When I think of what I’ve accepted in the past, how I’ve let myself be treated, the second, third, fourth, nineteenth chances I’ve given,and then I spend time with people who actually like me and behave accordingly, I realize that much of my romantic history has been predicated on feelings of being inherently flawed. Still, every relationship I’ve had has given me something (such inappropriate comments could be made here) of value. Truly.

There is no quick fix for heartache; unfortunately it takes time, and fortunately, we can not will time to move faster. But we can waste it, so let’s not. Let’s make plans. Plans are good. 

If I could take the pain of everyone I care about and repurpose it into something of beauty, I would.