Now I wanna be your dog

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Yesterday, I had the following conversation at the vet’s office.

The scene: a man was encouraging his dog to “say hi” to Louie.

Me: Oh—he’s not great with other dogs!

Man with other dog: Are you sure? He was sniffing mine before.

Me: No, he wasn’t—I think it was that guy (pointing to third dog).

MWOD: Well let’s just test it out. (releases more slack on leash)

Me: Oh trust me, I wouldn’t—he’s not great with other dogs.

MWOD: So you don’t socialize him?

Me: Actually, when he was-

MWOD: Because you really should socialize them

Me: I know, and I used—

MWOD: The vet says it’s very important..

Me: Yes, of course it is, but—

MWOD: How old is he?

Me: 15.

MWOD: Well that explains it. Have a nice day.

Me: You too.

My reaction brought you by the makers of Transcendental Meditation. There was a time when it would have been super important for me to interrupt the interruptions and reassure this man that yes, I socialized him from the time he was a few months old and he used to be quite social, then he had a bad experience with a couple of dogs but was still okay, then he got injured in the dog park and needed surgery, so we stopped going to the dog park, and his tolerance for other dogs faded. But since he’s turned 15 he seems a bit more tolerant, though as it’s not something I can depend upon, it just seems easier to say that he’s not great with other dogs, even though I feel badly saying so because that verbiage makes it sound like it’s a deficit on his part and it is not that. But sometimes it’s easier to just smile and nod and say, “You’re right, I should have socialized my dog.”

When you have a dog in this city people like to tell you how you should have a dog in this city. My dog has arthritis and his back legs shake; therefore, people assume he is a) cold and I’m not dressing him properly or b) scared, and I’m not comforting him properly. In fact my dog is warm, brave, has arthritis and is not great with other dogs.

Last night I dreamt that I was going on vacation and I stayed over at Tom Petty’s house because it was closer to the airport, natch. It was a bit of a mess but who was I to complain? I commented to Tom that many of his songs are quite literal, that he doesn’t use a lot of metaphor, at which point my mother walked in and said, “What about ‘Last Dance with Mary Jane?'” and I was impressed because I didn’t know my mom knew that song.

I’m trying to get back to this 500+ words a day in the new book by way of plowing (or  plodding) my way through the “shitty first draft.” Must resist the urge to edit and must doubly resist the urge to give up. Got another “I like the premise and the voice but just didn’t connect enough with the story” email today from a literary agent about my first book. I’m not sure at this point if I should keep sending it out or if I should, once this other one is a bit more under way, go back over the first one and do another round of revisions. Or the third option, which would be to tuck the first one on a shelf and forget about it for a while. If anyone wants to weigh in with advice, I’m open to it.

I’m currently taking a beginner’s American Sign Language course and it’s very interesting. It’s intense—we are learning a fair amount of material in a short amount of time. And it is a lot of body language and facial expression, which I hadn’t realized but yeah, of course it is. I’m learning it because it’s something I’ve always been curious about and because one night, when I couldn’t sleep, an ad popped up on my computer for inexpensive ASL classes. I’m learning tiny bits of many languages, mostly self-taught through some of the many programs available online, and I wonder if I should pursue any one of them more thoroughly? Focus is not my strong suit. But every where you turn these days you hear about mindfulness and the power of now (and The Power of Now) and all evidence points to doing one thing at a time and not multi-tasking. I can’t recall the last time I did one thing at a time for any extended period of time … which is why writing is a good exercise for me because I can’t really do anything else while I do it, can’t listen to music or eat or pet that freezing, anti-social dog of mine. So if I write more every day perhaps I’ll get better at Doing One Thing At a Time.

I would like to end this post on a note that is either profound, witty, charming, or thought-provoking, but I got nothin’. One of my goals for autumn is to write in this more, too, so if the muses allow, I’ll regale you soon with profound, charming, thought-provoking wit.

Until then, au revoir, arrivaderci, adios, auf wiedersehn, tchau, Прощай*.

*I actually hadn’t yet learned how to say it in Russian. The More You Know!

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Right back to where we started from

IMG_0530 (1)Not exactly, but I’m working on a new book. These are words I did not think I would be saying anytime soon, but as the querying process for the other one got under way I had a mini existential crisis, à la “Now what? What if nothing comes of this? If I’m not working on it anymore, who am I?” and a friend who is a prolific songwriter (and very talented musician, I might add) said, “You set out to write a book  and you did. Great. Now write another one.”

And so I am. Writing another one, and it’s entirely different from the first (which is really the second but for these purposes we’ll call it the first). The book I’m writing now is sort of a comedy-noir, which are two of my favorite genres of film. The protagonist is male. It takes place roughly today. It has been such a very long time since I began the first book that I’ve forgotten what writing a first draft is like. It’s hard! But, as anyone who’s ever taken a class or tried to write a book or read a book about writing knows, you have to write what Anne Lamott calls “the shitty first draft” in order to get to the decent one. Or, as another talented writer friend says, “You write the first draft to figure out the story you want to tell.”

I think because the first book is a tough sell, I’m determined to write something more accessible and salable and this is making it difficult to really dive in. But that’s the only way to approach it, diving in, so enough with this procrastination. Right? Right.

I am returning to my beloved Nola in a couple of weeks and that town inspires me. This will be a combo writing retreat/holiday, as I will get to see some of my favorite people. What I need to do is get better at writing at home; what I want to do is travel the world and write elsewhere.

Much more to say but I’m tired. My sleep has gotten weird again but one interesting thing is that, in the month or so since I started New Book, I’ve dreamt about it several times. Dreamt about the characters, dreamt about the writing of it, dreamt it was a series. So it seems my subconscious wants me to work on this thang.

I’ve been reading a lot more lately, I’m happy to say. Fiction again—I took a long breather from it while I slogged through those last several rounds of First Book because I didn’t want to compare my writing to anyone else’s or be accidentally influenced. Right now I’m reading Zadie Smith’s “Swing Time”— my first time reading her though she’s been on my radar since “White Teeth.” I saw her speak at the Girls Write Now gala in the spring, and she was awesome and inspiring.

What are you reading?

Someone asked me recently if, where writing is concerned, I have a fear of success. I responded that I think what I have is an expectation of failure—which sounds much darker and more dramatic than the way in which I mean it. But she, an intuitive person, to say the least, suggested that it really is what she suspected, a fear of success. So this is something I have to think about, what that means and why I would have it.

The Jewish New Year is upon us; l’Shana Tova to all. My resolutions goals for the new year are many.

Beautiful jewels of wisdom

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The title of this post comes from one of my favorite quotes:

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

That’s from the British philosopher and writer James Allen, and I came across it during one of the more challenging times in my life. This was before I started my meditation practice and so I did not yet know my capacity for true calm. I understand it a little better now, though like most things, it is a work in progress.

My (second) cousin asked me, and several other people, to write a letter to her daughter who recently graduated high school and is off to college. She asked me months ago and it took me a while to compose something in part because I don’t write quickly and I edit obsessively and in part because, as I said in the letter, I don’t feel terribly wise these days. However, I managed to cobble something together.

I think many of us have a lot more wisdom than we realize. That wisdom may lie beneath the surface, but when we need it, if we trust that it’s there, we can learn to access it. A large percentage of our problems stem from our getting in our own ways, and more often than not we know just what we need to do to fix certain aspects of our lives. Of course there will always be things over which we have no control, but I do believe that most of us have far more control than we allow ourselves to acknowledge. Because having control over things is scary. Because if we have the power to improve our lives, does this also mean that when things go wrong we have ourselves to blame?

No, it doesn’t. It means that many of our challenges are in our control, and to me this is comforting. Again, there will always be plenty of things over which we have no control. How refreshing, then, that what we can do is learn to change our behavior, and our responses to our often messy (and always valid) emotions. That is where that beautiful jewel of wisdom comes into play. One can’t cultivate it over night, but with practice and determination, one can develop it. And learning how to better respond to our negative emotions is the cornerstone of wisdom.

The day after I sent my cousin-letter I was talking to someone whom I know casually. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I’m in a creative rut.” He said, “Okay—so get out of it. Set small goals. That’s how you win.”

And so I did, I decided to start working on a new novel that has been marinating in this (occasionally calm) mind of mine for the past month or two. I am not abandoning the other one, I am just stepping away from it for a little while so that I can get back to it with a fresher perspective. I told myself I would just set out to write 500 words, and I did, and then I wrote 500 more the next day, and then I had more ideas so I jotted those down. I’m going to take a very different approach to this project then I did the last, going to make every effort to bang out what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft.” Perfectionism kills creativity. Or, to paraphrase a writer friend of mine, I’m going to write the first draft so that I can tell myself the story I want to write.

Will be spending the next week at the beach, thereby cramming an entire summer into seven days, and I hope to get more writing done there. I am also looking for some freelance work to support my book-writing habit; if you know of anyone or anything that needs writing, editing, copyediting, proofreading, and so on and so forth, please keep me in mind!

Namaste.

Let’s get together and feel alright

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“Wherever you go, there you are.” Somebody said this to me recently while I was talking about an issue I’m having, and how I will address it once x, y, and z are in place. At first I dismissed it as one of those hollow, placeholder clichés, akin to “sounds like a plan” and “at the end of the day.” But then he elaborated and I realized, shit, he’s right.

He went on to say “the one thing all your problems have in common is you.” Right again. Then he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear.” No, he didn’t. That part’s not true. But the rest of it is … I often fantasize about living somewhere other than NYC, because NYC can be a tough place to live on many levels (she says, scrounging through her purse for five dollars so that she can get an iced coffee). It can also be an easy place (she adds, realizing that she can keep writing and order a cup of coffee in*), but there are much calmer, more beautiful, kinder parts of the world. However, for many reasons, it does not make sense for me to live elsewhere right now.

And so I am instead working on what I can do to be more comfortable anywhere, to make “wherever you go, there you are” a positive thing. One of the ways I’ve been working on this is by getting back to my meditation practice.

I was a skeptic for many years, had tried various forms of meditation here and there, and decided it wasn’t for me, that I wasn’t the right kind of person for the job. Then two years ago, thanks to a generous birthday gift from my mum (one that took me seven months to get up the nerve to use), I went through the Transcendental Meditation training program. It was easier than I’d expected, and I felt like I was getting benefit from it, though I wasn’t really sure what that benefit was. I was fairly consistent with meditation for a while, then I forgot a couple of times and then I fell completely off the wagon. Got back on toward the end of last summer, then November 8 happened and the last thing I felt like doing was being alone with my thoughts for 20 minutes, twice a day. Because, unlike other forms of meditation that I’ve tried, in TM you are allowed to acknowledge your thoughts. And my thoughts were dark in those days. They are slightly less so today, a day that many of us woke to very good news (it’s not about celebrating a victory, it’s about being relieved that people we know and people we don’t know will be protected if they get or are sick or pregnant or take medicine or are human). But I digress.

I had a bout of the blues in early June and decided to throw myself back into TM, as well as to work more with essential oils, which are wonderful for mood support—if you want to know more about this, message me. At the same time, a VIP in my life expressed interest in learning TM, and I highly supported this idea. So I started practicing regularly again and this time around I am absolutely aware of the positive impact it is having. It is making me calmer, lighter, better able to focus. It is helping me creatively, as I gear up to begin a new chapter (ha HA!) in my writing life. It is making me more patient, less irritable, less reactionary. I am very grateful that I decided to dive back in. Sometimes we need to take a break from things to recognize their worth. If I could, I would gift this practice to many people in my life who I think would benefit from it. But as I can’t, I will say this: do good things for yourself. Whatever issues you are facing, approach them from as many angles as might be helpful. Realize the strengths in yourself and in your circumstances and build on them. If you are reading this, I can almost guarantee that something you possess is the one thing that someone else on this planet thinks, “If only I had ____, my life would be so much better.” A job, a home, a loving partner, an enriching hobby, willpower, musical talent, perfect skin, physical strength, intuition, a sense of humor, intellect, empathy, wit—if you possess any one of these things, you have a foundation that others aspire to.

Speaking of aspirations, here’s something nutty—I’ve been taking voice lessons for a couple of years, basically because I like to sing and wanted to get better at it, and I’ve kept going because I love my teacher. However, the idea of singing in front of others makes me want to evaporate. I have tremendous stage fright, as well as paralyzing fear of public speaking. My lovely teacher informed me a few days ago that she is having a recital sometime in the fall and that she’d like me to prep for it. Holy smokes. This would involve singing in front of other people. In semi-public. But it’s good to have a tangible goal, and so I will focus my efforts with this in mind. Stay tuned. No pun intended.

*I didn’t order a cup of coffee in.

 

 

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I’m going to attempt the possible … I’m going to try to write this post in one sitting.

I’m inspired to write these days and that is a beautiful thing. Though the process itself is daunting AF (as the kids say), the fact that I am now in the querying stage of my novel is kind of liberating. It means I have paused the revision process and can start on something new, or at the very least can think about the next thing.

I’d like to take my writing more seriously; no matter what becomes of it, this is what I do. This afternoon I got together with a new friend, one who has been wanting to write a book for years and who has been collecting material by living her life—that’s how we do it, writers like us. She has felt blocked lately and when we first met a couple of weeks ago we talked about our projects and, she told me today, this opened her up a bit to the possibility of finally sitting down and starting to write.

I started my book a decade ago because I wanted to try to write a novel (of my own; I’d ghostwritten one once before) and because I had the germ of an idea. I worked on it a bit and put it away for years. Then a couple of years ago I realized that whenever someone asked me what was new in my life, I responded by telling them what was new in my boyfriend’s life. I needed something; I was in a deep and deeply rooted rut.

So I signed up for a novel writing workshop and started a second writing group (short lived but very valuable) and some months later I started working with my writing coach and I wrote and wrote and deleted and deleted and second guessed myself, then wrote some more, chopped off half of what I’d written, filled in lots of gaps and then revised the shit out of the thing over and over and over. And over. The cows have yet to come home, but I’m done for the time being.

It’s all fodder—the overheard snippets of conversation, the quirky people you see on the subway, the places you’ve been, the heartbreak and demons, the absurd dreams. The name you make up because it sounds funny and you decide you need a character named ____. The thoughts you have that are so wise and profound that they must be shared with the world and so you will assign them to a character who happens to share your deepest childhood fears. The ridiculous thoughts that make you laugh but that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else in the moment you think them. The piece  of blue sea glass you find in the sand that you decide is from a bottle of Saratoga Spring Water that was broken on a yacht during a heated argument … a yacht that never made it to its destination. The photo lying on the sidewalk for which you invent a story.

If you want to write, write. It’s not easy, but it can be. It’s not always fun, but it can be. A percentage of it is extremely cathartic. You’ll be filled with self-doubt, it’ll never be perfect, but not a word that you write will be valueless. The drivel will clear the way for the good stuff and the good stuff for the great and every now and then you’ll craft a sentence so hauntingly perfect that you know it will have an impact on at least one other person.

One of the very best things about writing is that it’s never too late to do it. You can publish your first novel at 83 and your first op-ed at 100.

I’ve been contemplating starting a blog based on the exercises we do in my current and longstanding writing group. Each time we meet we come up with a prompt and the interim assignment is to write a piece—doesn’t have to be polished—inspired by the prompt. The results are rarely mundane, sometimes brilliant, often funny, and it’s really cool to see the wildly different directions that four very different writers can take from the same starting point.

Maybe I will start this blog. The best thing about deciding I’ve finished the novel for now is that, no matter what becomes of my novel or future projects, I finally feel like a writer, and not just like someone who says she is one and hopes it comes true.

 

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.

Here by the sea and sand

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This photo was taken at the Montauket during what would become the most brilliant sunset I’ve seen in quite some time. I have a feeling this couple wound up in many photos from that day. They were summer’s end personified,  and were it not for his unfortunate man-bun, they could have been of another era. Timeless.

We spent the week in Montauk, a perfect way to celebrate summer—the ocean and shooting stars. So many stars—Montauk is aptly nicknamed the end of the world and when you’re out there, looking up at the night skies and listening to the symphony of crickets and tree frogs and things that go chirp in the night, it feels like the most remote spot on the planet.

Then you drive past the Surf Lodge and realize it isn’t.

I did a lot of reading and a decent amount of writing while there—fell short of my writing goals but made progress, and more than that, I was inspired. I seem to have written myself into a corner in terms of the relative ease with which I write anywhere but home. My writing retreats to New Orleans, my time in the Berkshires earlier this year, Montauk … one of the speakers at the conference last month advised that we “not be too precious about our writing environment” — and that is good advice. It’s important to have sacred writing space, but it’s equally important to get words on paper when and where inspiration strikes.

To that end, I scrawled some notes on a piece of paper one evening while enjoying an exquisite sunset and a decent cocktail. I had just read The Alchemist on the recommendation of a very young man who, much to my delight, reads books. The kind with pages. I understand why this book is not to everyone’s liking, but I enjoyed it—and it’s a story, an allegory, about finding one’s true purpose in life and pursuing it, while remaining open to change. About trusting the process. So this is what I scrawled:

If we can remind ourselves how vast and unknowable the universe is, we can better enjoy the ride. We can weather misfortune, even the greatest of all, the death of those we love, because it is all part of the process of being alive. We are all on a pilgrimage toward the same place, and that is really the only fact about living that there is. Complaining, lamenting, manifesting conflict, all become futile, then. Let it wash over you and know that there is not a single experience from which we can’t somehow become richer and wiser.

I was reminded of someone I met shortly after college, when I was having a tough time and was overwhelmed by the responsibility of being human. This was long before we were bombarded with messages about “living in the moment” and “being present”. I met a friend of a friend at a party, a guy who happened to be deaf. I don’t remember much about the conversation, though I imagine I was dwelling on the malaise of “the real world” and the days I’d wasted, and he said, “No day is wasted. If I have a good conversation with someone, or see something beautiful, the day was not wasted.”

I try to maintain that outlook and I often succeed, but I do need to be reminded of it from time to time.

Autumn is a good time to be productive. I have another draft to revise by the time I go to my next writer’s conference in October. And then, soon, I’ll be calling on those of you who’ve offered to be beta readers.

Happy end-of-summer, friends.