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.

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.