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.

The littlest things that take me there

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In case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, the titles of these posts are lyrics from songs I like that may or may not be pertinent to the writing that follows. 

Now then. 

A few months after I graduated from college, the summer before my freshman year of life, I was in a place of great uncertainty. Like most of us, I assume. I had gotten a Bachelor of Arts in the ultra-employable double major of English Lit and French. No, I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I’d sort of grown up around show business and had a brief flirtation with moving to LA to work at an agency that had just opened there, but I let that one go. I was living more or less alone in the house I’d grown up in in the suburbs, a house that was an albatross for my parents until it finally sold some years later. I commuted up and down the West Side Highway (I drove!) to a job as a production assistant on a short lived talk show hosted by Dr. Ruth. The show was called “Never Too Late” and each episode featured guests who had changed the courses of their lives well into their adult years. It wasn’t about sex, yet somehow it managed to often be about sex. My job entailed things like reading “People” magazine and tracking down the world’s oldest waterskier, babysitting Al Roker’s daughter in the green room, ironing Rue McClanahan’s skirt – it was a glamour job. It would be over at the end of that summer and then I had no idea what was next. I felt lost between a college I’d never really fit into and a completely uncharted life whose purpose was a mystery to me. 

A childhood friend hosted an annual end-of-August party, and that year I had a long conversation with the host’s college friend, who was (is) deaf, very smart, and excellent at reading lips. We talked about what we were doing now that school had ended and I expressed my fears and uncertainties – they hadn’t yet manifested in the bout of depression that would take hold a few months later. I remember this conversation well. The friend – Josh – told me his philosophies on life, one of which has stayed with me over the decades. He said, “I define good days differently than most people” – this was in part, he said, because he’d had more to overcome than many people he knew. He said, “If I have a good conversation with a friend, it’s a good day. If I get to be outside in the sun, it’s a good day.”

In the spirit of Josh’s wisdom, this has been a good day thus far. I finished a draft of my dark and weird short story. I set up a few work-related meetings. I got a response to a query I put out about a project I’m sort of working on (vague enough?). Louie and I took a walk and ran into an old friend and her 1 1/2-year-old son. I drank coffee and read the paper. I had a good conversation with my sister. I gave directions to a lost tourist (it’s the little things!). I did an important errand, and … I got a library card.

A library card! Remember those?!

I can’t recall the last time I had one, but they still give them out. The little branch of the NYPL on my street, the Muhlenberg branch, has about as many books as I do, but I found some good ones and checked them out FREE and I get to keep them for three weeks. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do this, but I’m in a big reading phase right now so it makes sense. This is one of those things that the interns in my office probably have little to no concept of, like postage stamps, landlines, and albums — record and photo. 

This past weekend I climbed a mountain – to me it’s a mountain, to others it’s a gentle slope – and considering my lifelong fear of heights and of scaling cliff-like things, this is quite an accomplishment. I also went apple-picking, which I’d never done before (I know!). At the end of each calendar year, I make a list of things I did for the first time over the preceding twelve months. A few years ago the list including salsa-dancing in the street and snorkeling in the ocean. This year’s will include the aforementioned, as well as: attending a music festival, visiting Budapest, submitting a book proposal, keeping plants alive for more than a month, and making a quiche. Three more months to add to that list. Three more months of potentially good days. 

The falling leaves drift by my window

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I’m not at all sure how I feel about these posts being broadcast through Facebook as soon as I finish them, but I’m going to give it a little more time. I’m suddenly aware of everyone I might ever have alluded to in this forum in the days that it was word-of-mouth only. I think my record’s pretty clean in that regard, but I suppose time – and people with a lot of time on their hands who read back through these pages – will tell.

I had terrible horrible dreams last night – the kind that made me not want to get out of bed this morning for fear that my dreamlife was reality. Thankfully, this time, it wasn’t.

Tomorrow is October. This is one of my favorite months – one of my 12 favorite. I had this conversation with someone recently, how I’ve never really had FAVORITE anythings. Colors, food, people, music, movies, vacation destinations – I have at least five of each, I think. This might stem from childhood, when Sister and I would feel sorry for whatever inanimate object we didn’t choose if we had to choose something. Exhausting though it may be, it’s made me easier to please than some. And it’s added to my non-competitive streak, which is a good thing much of the time but which also has probably made me more complacent about getting ahead than I might otherwise be. That said, I’ve just finished reading an excellent novel, Fort Starlight, written by Claudia Zuluaga, who was my friend in fourth grade and who I hadn’t seen since, until the magic of the internets reunited us. This book embodies everything I love about fiction – complex, quirky characters, magical realism, a beautifully imperfect resolution, and a little bit of ghostliness. I highly recommend it and am thrilled that it’s given me inspiration to actually delve back into my novel-in-progress, which is in desperate need of a new title. So, thanks Claudia, and I hope that everyone who reads these words will check out your beautiful work.

I am working on my many-th draft of a very short story I began over the summer. I’ve sent a version of it to a couple of friends whose opinions I greatly value, and one of them had this to say:

Oh, fuck.  This is so cool.  I love it.  It’s so quirky, with just enough detail to stop you from making some sort of metaphorical assumption … and full of the longing and acceptance of past and cherished love, and the reverence we attach to those transitional landmarks of our lives.
 
Well done!  
 
What a nice treat it was to get lost in this world, having lunch in my truck as the mud dries on my boots!  Thank you.

Like the compliments I’ve gotten on this blahhhhhgggg, this one is motivation enough to keep writing. I’ve also gotten excellent constructive criticism from a few of my volunteer readers; this is so necessary for any writer, and I credit this thing (blahg) with encouraging me to share more of my work than I usually do. This thing and my wonderful writing group.

The song “Autumn Leaves” brings back a visceral memory of dancing with my friend Babette in her kitchen in San Francisco, singing Edith Piaf and waiting for dinner to be ready.

Getting out of the city, as I did this past weekend, is an excellent way to view the changing seasons. One might just as easily ignore them in the confines of this town – especially during an Indian Summer like this one.

Time to answer emails and schedule Important Things for this week. Happy autumn, all.

Baby, baby, been a long, long time …

ImageL’shana tova … happy new year … 5773 flew by!

I love new years – and I celebrate as many of them as I can. I think I’ve said this before, but the fact that my birthday coincides with western New Year gives me a double dose of feeling the urgent need to right all my wrongs, to make great strides, to mend my life … this is why I’ve stopped making resolutions and instead make goals. And if I fail to meet them in January … Chinese New Year is just around the corner. And if that doesn’t work … it’s almost spring! Then the summer solstice … and my half birthday … and now it’s Rosh Hashanah. And soon comes autumn, traditionally my most auspicious time of year. Another chance to reinvent myself, to change my wicked ways.

Actually, I have changed the vast majority of my wicked ways, and that is something that I am very proud of, determined as I am to not end this sentence with a preposition. This is part of what was difficult about the rumours and misinterpretations that were flying around earlier this summer; they were based on behavior and habits from my past that I have worked very hard to conquer, and I have succeeded. I still have ways to go, but I’m a thousand miles ahead of where I once was. Now I feel that my new year’s goals are less about removing toxicity and bad decisions and more about adding nourishment and richness to my life. Spending time with people who value me and being present in those times. Not accepting every invitation that comes my way for fear of missing out. Living each day not as if it’s my last but as if it’s capable of having a positive impact on my life … writing, reading, cooking, exercising, working, playing, loving … and keeping my promises, which means not making promises I might not be able to keep. Including to myself.

Remind me to write about my recurring dream. I keep forgetting to do that.

Just found this quote by the great sculptor Henry Moore:

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.

Dig it.

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.

The plan was to sweep the world off its feet …

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Lying in bed listening to the oddly comforting white noise thrum of electricity and reveling in my view – I’ve never had a view before, unless “brick wall” and “soot-covered building interior” qualify as views. Mine is a dichotomous look at present and past; at left a building that sprouted overnight a couple of years ago — with a rainbow of words that was rescued, I’ve been told, from a Burning Man festival; at right old, industrial Chelsea factories, smokestacks and water towers. I love this neighborhood. What book is it – either Henry James or Edith Wharton – where the scandalous divorcee who had the audacity to traipse around Europe returns and is relegated to West 23rd Street, that hotbed for immorality? If you know the answer, please share it.

The plan still is to sweep the world off its feet. Lots of traction professionally in this past week: finished a book proposal I’ve been working on in various iterations for many moons and began shopping it. The rest is up to the powers-that-are. Good meetings with smart, passionate, driven people regarding project in which I’ve become invested based solely on my belief in it. Nothing more, nothing less. Mentoring interns on writing and critiquing screenplays. This is all good, good, good … it’s been a longtime coming and I’ve had some self-inflicted very lean years with the creative process, but at last my spell of fear-based paralysis has been broken.

I’ve recently reconnected with someone I studied with in Paris in 1990. And though this was a long time ago and we were so much younger and things were ostensibly easier, I will gratefully take 42 over 19. Not that I have much say in the matter, but self-awareness and experience are of the highest value to me. I know it sounds a bit self-helpy, but each perceived step backward gives me tenfold the motivation I need to forge ahead. I wish everyone in my life felt this way, but it’s something we need to figure out on our own. Regret is useless. As are lamenting the passing of time and complaining about the weather, but I can’t seem to convince people to stop doing these things.

Alors.

Not sure if you can see it, but at the bottom left of the photo above is a piece of a black leather rhinoceros bookend I’ve had since 2001. At the time I lived above Washington Square and I once dreamt that I had a view of the park and that the rhino was about the size of a battleship and standing in the park trying to menace me. I need to read more.