Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Birthday Loot

This year I have received all things I can use, and even things that make my life better and easier. It is hard to say what item I am most excited about. The cool printer/fax/copier/scanner my grandparents helped fund the purchase of, which prints so smoothly and quickly that I want to cry tears of joy; the gorgeous brushed metal cross fountain pen my husband gave me; the speakers that attach to my ipod, the arm band for running (not shown) also by my hubby, or the gift certificate to purchase new running shoes from my mom. It's hard to say. But I have photographed them anyway.

It's my birthday, though I'm not sure if I'm actually born yet. By which I do not mean enlightened, but rather, I can never remember if I was born at 3:56, or 6:53 a.m.

For my birthday I received a wonderful nighttime gift...A dream in which Colin Firth was my boyfriend. It was sort of like we were in a movie, but sort of not, because he didn't go by "Colin" in the dream, yet it was definitely him, and I even had to entertain the thought at one point, "wow, he could have any woman he wants, but he's selecting me!" There was also this whole other thread about somebody poisoning the teachers at school (It was set in a kind of parallel Bennington world), and for a moment I was suspected because everytime one of 'em went down, I was nearby, but then we figured out it was laced on the little school desks we were sitting in, and we all managed to wash our hands before Sven Birkerts died.

But then, in the waking world, I went to let the cat out and nearly was beheaded by some kind of dangling paper object. Upon flicking on the light, I discovered that my husband had strung a bunch of streamers from the living room ceiling, dusted the floor and couch with glittery balloon-shaped confetti and laid out my birthday presents.

Now HOW cool is that? He often gets up from insomnia so I thought nothing of it when, after another chapter of Harry Potter, he went to watch TV. Having barely slept the night before, and having taken melatonin, I crashed pretty hard. That's love I tell you. Staying up late to decorate the living room with confetti and streamers. There 'aint nothing else it could be, unless your spouse is an interior designer, I spose, which mine is not.

But let us move from buttoned-up, sexy Colin Firth and streamers (and my equally sexy and not quite so buttoned-up husband) to reflections on this, my thirty-first year:

Last year, I wrote this on my birthday in my journal:

"I feel myself at thirty with relief and surprise. I got here! How did I get here? I want this next one to be a decade of integration, of putting the unruly edges of threads under nicer seams, or snipping them. I can take the psychologist's approach and look at my writing as just a byproduct of a trouble upbringing--an adaptation to circumstances hard for me to navigate--or I can tackle it from a metaphysical point of view and say that this was given to me to navigate the world with, and navigate I have."

I think that is a good thing to have written. I am glad I wrote it and thought it. This year?
I am no longer under any illusion about whether or not I am an adult. I feel as responsible as I've often been put in the position to be without choice. I feel like I could be somebody's parent, or even guide. I heard someone say, when I was still in my twenties, "I hated my twenties because there was still all that grappling to know myself, and struggling. But by my thirties, those questions went away." And at the time I thought she was being simplistic, and a little disparaging of that important decade between 20 and 30, but now I see how right she was. I'll be honest that, while I have stuff to sort out at every age, I don't question who I am anymore, I don't want to apologize for it, and I'm glad that this life has led me to this place, this person that I am.

In this year I can't believe I have done all the following:

Stopped working for The Man
Started cooking
Planted a garden
Began jogging
Wrote and turned in a Master's Thesis
Wrote and delivered a Graduate Lecture
Graduated with a Master's Degree in Creative Writing! (Grandma would have been so proud!)
Finished a novel draft
Interviewed more than 20 authors
Nearly finished a draft of a non-fiction book
Began a meditation practice

Oh...it's too much to put down. Suffice it to say, it's been a momentous and ultimately wonderful year.

--Master 31

Monday, August 29, 2005

Win a prize? Be my 5000th visitor!

I had a goal, a silly, pointless, only-for-me-to-understand goal: to have 5000 hits at this site by my birthday. Well here it is, the day before my birthday, and I thank you, oh 5000th visitor for making my goal a reality. If you could only identify yourself I would send you a prize. In fact, if you suspect that you might have been the 5000th person to hit my site, and can convince me in a witty anecdote or sophisticated vignette, I WILL send you something. You can send your address to my email: writelife@earthlink.net but you must post your reason here at the site. Since I have no way to verify, I will go on the most convincing, amusing or absurd post.

Meanwhile, here is a photo of something, probably not what you will win:

It is two a.m. TWO! as I am writing this. Lately it has been hubby who is the insomniac, but just when I was getting cocky that my old nemesis sleeplessness had fled me...boom, here it is. This is the kind too where I feel like I shouldn't even bother going back into bed since I am so wide awake, but should simply stay up all night tinkering on projects and sleep when the sun rises. Still, why am I awake? It couldn't have been the one cup of black tea I drank at dinner...I can drink coffee and still sleep, usually. My family (mom) threw a little "surprise" dinner for my birthday (two days early) at a local restaurant with some friends. It was fun, and I felt rather blessed to have such wonderful friends and glad that the crisis which recently erupted in my family has calmed to a simmer so that we could have a nice dinner. Having a head cold, though, which I fought to stave off for a week and a half, is not fun. No sir.

Mostly this insomnia is of the sort where all the good and exciting things in my head are racing around like excited little monkeys, with a pinch of anxiety about forthcoming projects that fall more weighty on my shoulders because they are new sources with whom I have no track record. Why must I, at midnight, begin writing new story ledes in my head; try to place Idea A with publication B; and figure out the new plot of my new novel idea? Why? What kind of dumb gray matter sits in my head after all? Nighttime is for Sleeping, silly brain. Turn off!

E. and I are reading 1 chapter of the new Harry Potter to each other every night. We're up to chapter 18. Is it just me, or does this book seem slower, with less conflict so far? Either she's going to throw one doozy of a whizbang action chapter later on or she just kind of lost her knack for conflict. Her new life of luxury has perhaps softened her to the hardships of the orphan child who made her so rich. She's too well-fed and manicured to care about bloodloss and battle scenes. Maybe she's having the change of life and her hormones are interfering. I'd much rather see some dark magic Voldemort action than Ron and Hermione hassling over the fact that they both want to get into each other's pants but can't admit it. Shit,I lived THAT story. Adolescent sexual tension is about as exciting as watching flies lay eggs, and about as sexy too.

Anyway, I want so much to blog about my in-person interview with a certain head of a certain well-endowed arts organization, but that would just not be right. Nor would it be right to blog about the other folks in attendance, and the details that led to my lower middle-class epiphany about how unschooled I am in the world of money, shmoozing and networking. But I can't. So you'll just have to start your imagination firing here.

So...you'd think that the muses would deliver something extraordinary at two a.m. but they have only given you more dreck, I'm afraid, just long enough to hopefully make me tired enough to sleep.

Nighty Night. I hope.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The gardens in my neighborhood range quite a lot, and I thought you should have a bit of a sampler today. Whether you like southwestern cactus, plastic flamingos, or dahlias the size of my head--bigger actually--my block has 'em all!

In one of my novels--one of those that my former agent shopped to a small pool of publishers and did not sell--has a mother/daughter relationship at its core. The novel is at its heart about how people hold onto the past and why, and how forgiveness and amends can go a long way, especially as this mother is a former addict/alcoholic, who is long sober. Mother has done her part, and is the character I like best. Daughter, however, can't let go, but likes to pretend she has and then come to a slow boil and throw fits. All the scenes of flashback or memory for the daughter halt on the edge of intensity because I was paying credence to some dedication to silence. I thought somehow that the more bleak and ruined the character's life was revealed to be, the more she would seem like a whiner, a crybaby. But I've since come to see, after the rejections, and with some distance, that she comes off as a whiner after all, precisely because we DON'T see in full enough detail just how bad things were for her.

Then, recently I read Martha O'Connor's The Bitch Posse, which I very much enjoyed, and was completely thrown to realize that you could write as raw and painfully about sex and drugs as you wanted and still get the reader to keep reading. I felt almost stunned, like, "I didn't know you could DO that."

And as much as I will be the first person to say let's keep our personal history and our fiction separate, I know also that all writers work is indelibly shaped by their history/experience, and that experience oozes through whether in very abstract imagistic ways, or directly, in loosely-veiled fictional accounts. What I'm getting at is that I held back in my fiction in the same way I hold back in life. "No, it wasn't so bad." Because nobody suffers a complainer. When you tell about your childhood, people get prickly if it was a "bad" childhood. People aren't sure they know what you are asking of them when you admit the nature of things that happened.

And yet I see that if I ever hope to make that novel saleable, the darkness has to come through. And I suppose the same goes for my life, the darkness can't be kept at bay, and though I don't have to come running to my blog to shout the nature of family problems, I can at least no longer deny that stuff is going on, if only for my own sanity.

I'm happy to say that my latest latest novel, the one I'm scratching out notes for (after Strange but Familiar), is not a family saga, not in the usual sense, but a kind of dark, twisted love story. There's hope for me yet.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Out of the ether of a suburban night they came... Posted by Picasa

On my daily jog I passed my very conservative-seeming neighbors only to stop in shock...their lawn populated by not one garish flamingo, but a gaggle!! What the? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Whose Literary Life Turns You On?

Dear listeners, current, potential and past of Word by Word, Conversations with Writers on KRCB Radio:

We have some questions for you as we continue to grow our little show into something bigger and more beautiful.

1. What types of people would you like to hear talking about what they’re reading? Whose literary life interests you? Politicians, dancers, professors, someone who volunteers their time or someone who has overcome great odds…? We want to know!

2. Do you know of people doing remarkable work in the world who also happen to be great readers of literature? Might they like to answer some questions about reading on radio? Are you such a person? If so, please contact me via email at: writelife@earthlink.net

And don’t forget to tune in to one of the few literary radio programs on the air these days. Word by Word airs the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month at 7 pm Pacific time. We are also live online via streaming at www.krcb.org, and we are archived for your on-demand listening pleasure at: http://www.pcmg.tv/krcb/wbw/wbw.htm

Upcoming Shows!
September 7th: Lynn Freed (repeat) and Michelle Richmond.

September 21st: Aimee Bender and Marsha Mehran.

Monday, August 22, 2005

An orgy of symbols

So I just watched the movie Donnie Darko after hearing about it here and there, and stumbling across some references via the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), which I am addicted to. I had the vague notion that it was a horror flick but once I got it in my DVD player, I just had a sense, a gut feeling that it was something else altogether. I was right. It did for me what some of my favorite books have done for me, the movie equivalent of a great Borges short story. It is chock full of symbols, metaphors and themes that make you lust for understanding. That is the power of the symbol--visual or otherwise--it cannot just stand alone in all its symbolness; it begs to be interpreted. That's one of the deals about being human; we are built to make meaning and derive understanding, and so we do. Albeit, if you ask me, we often get all screwed up with each other over whose meaning is more important/useful/relevant, but nonetheless, there you have it. Humans do this. Butterflies, dogs, goats, and rabbits, apparently, do not.

What is so satisfying about a movie that is heavy on symbolism is the same thing that makes it frustrating...you aren't sure, when the movie is done, if you got it, or what you got, and it leaves you chewing on what you are unresolved about. That, to me, is a beautiful thing. That's art. It's what I've been appreciating about writing lately as I talk to more and more writers for the show. Writers sit down with a certain toolkit of craft elements at their disposal, and unless they're blatantly surrealistic or Beckett-esque, they draw on reality or simulacra thereof. BUT, I think at least 50% of the writing is happening on an unconscious level; that is to say, WHERE exactly ideas come from, how motifs rear their consistent little threads, and from what ether these worlds are drawn, is very, very symbolic, deep, almost primal territory within us. The universe within for lack of a better phrase. I mean the literal cosmic stuff of being that we can neither control nor fully understand.

I love to ask an author about something I think clearly must have been foreshadowing. For instance, in Charles Baxter's novel Saul and Patsy, there are two scenes in which an animal is found dead preceding the death of a major character. I asked him if this was conscious and he laughed and admitted that it was not, that he wasn't even aware he'd done so. And that to me is the pure magic of fiction that keeps me coming back for more.

Interviewing Aimee Bender took this to a whole other level because she writes much less realistically, and her ideas continue to get more magical and even absurd, as if her imagination must reach farther and wider each time she writers a new story. I asked her about one story in particular, a must-read in her new book, called "Fruit and Words" that really left me feeling a mixture of emotions but no clear sense of the truth of the story--though I was okay with that. When I asked what it was about she turned it back on me, and together we wove together a possible explanation of the story and its meaning. I loved so much how unattached to the meaning she was. It could have been this, it could have been that...

So something about watching Donnie Darko (a movie that seems to ride at all times alongside the phrase "cult classic") elicited this same symbolic resonance in me, and reminded me that I write to extract this mystery from inside myself, lay it out on the page, organize it in some fashion, and call what I've made of it meaning. I allow that others will make their own meaning out of it too, and I think that there is nothing better than creating something people will feel compelled to interpet, understand and divine after they've interacted with it.


Quote of the day!

"And here I notice the most obvious negative side-effect of over-exposure to literature. It makes real life seem like a tediously prosaic intrusion on fiction, and everyday speech sound like a honking affront to the language..."

--From an article by Stephan Phelan in the Sunday Herald about attempting to read all 17 of the books on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

One (w0)man's trash...

At seven a.m., this cold and misty morning, not at all like the bright, blue-sky summer morning I had expected, shivering in hat, sweatshirt and even gloves, I began to arrange the boxes atop the table in my carport. I had spent the previous day organizing, tagging, sorting and preparing these items that I had made peace to part with.

I had placed a civilized ad in the local newspaper announcing that the sale began at eight a.m., a reasonably early hour for a Saturday. We went out with friends last night and I barely got four hours sleep, so I was not my usual morning self full of cheer.

I lugged out my last satchel of goods--a heavy plastic bag of clothes--and then ran back into the house to make the signs to put up on the end of the street where traffic went by. Five minutes later I returned.

They had descended.

In a strange cluster like something ominous out of a good macabre horror movie (the kind with no blood or screaming teenagers), they hovered around my table with weighted blank expressions. The kind of face on someone who is going to scream or hyperventilate in just a few more moments.

In the FIVE minutes it took me to make signs, like naughty toddlers they had pulled things from bags, disorganized things I lovingly tucked into price-specific compartments, scattered pairs far across the table from one another, and overturned easily-breakable items.

"I'm not open yet!" I said with a hint of hysteria in my voice. A smidge of violation.

"We know!" said one, a lady with a head of wild curls that bounced with her unhinged anticipation.

I didn't stop to ask, "if you KNOW, then why are you still pawing through my boxes?" I had this urge to slap their hands away from my stuff.

"I'll be RIGHT back, don't touch anything," I said, and then bolted for the end of the street with my signs flapping in the misty wind.

Of course they touched. One lady pointed a jagged fingernail at a box of beads I used in my jewelry making business. I had nicely organized these beads--semi-precious stones and beautiful crystal and glass--into bags priced at $2 each. There were at least thirty bags in there. "How much for this whole box?" she asked.

Because she was pushy, and I wasn't feeling friendly yet--having not had the allotted time to get coffee even, being that it was a whole hour before I was scheduled to open--I told her "I fully expect to sell every one of those bags. So $50." That did the trick. She shrunk away from the box glowering and began to paw through a selection of earrings that another vulture had scattered.

"There's no pairs here!" she cried.

"Yes there are," I said. "They've been..." I paused, scowling at the bouncy-haired lady likely responsible for this..."dislodged."

Meanwhile, the cars continued to arrive, screeching up hostilely, leaving their cars running, sending the neighborhood cats who had come to sniff my belongings fleeing. 'Don't you people know how to tell time?' I wanted to yell. 'Would you have banged down my door had I not yet been out here?' I tried to lay out books in rows as they shoved past me to get closer to items they clearly HAD to have, or so said their primitive, animal brains.

By eight o'clock, when I would have opened, I'd made $100 on odds and ends. Men came seeking military paraphernalia, which I did not have, only to leave with broaches made out of belt buckles and other things I couldn't imagine what they wanted them for. I sold Israel glass baubles to a man who thought they were Mexican glass (he would not be disabuse), and who told me I look like Julia Roberts (no, it didn't earn him a discount)

In the later hours of the day the civilized folks came, offering reasonable prices and calmly weighing their decisions. They made actual conversation, asked if they could hold/touch certain objects.

I learned a lot today about the value of items, the high of the hunt, that moment when, rummaging through someone else's personal pieces of history and habitation, you stumble across something you do not know why you need it: a little plastic toy kaleidescope, or a glittery silk bag that holds barely more than a lipstick, a box containing a few tiny, cracked crystal spears and a mysterious polished stone of tiger's eye...they come, they tear apart, they try to beat out the person next to them for the deal, and reluctantly buy all that five dollars will allot, and then they creep back to their cars, peel out and go on.

I imagine that these people's homes are full of tchotchkes gathering dust, shelves littered with ceramic elves and matryoshka dolls, plastic pigs and little pin cushions without pins. I imagine that their garages and cars, their desks at work and their bedsides tables are also strewn with these cheaply-bought objects, and I wonder, do they really love them, need them, notice them, or is it just to fill up the empty spaces that would be there otherwise?

Friday, August 19, 2005

In the photo is my father, the Jewish mother. No, Dad, only kidding. My sister(whose gorgeous head of golden hair is pulled back, as usual) at his right (and J. off in the distance). He would hate this, I bet. Ah well.

Secret Confession

Sometimes I check my email (manually that is, because it's already set to automatically download new emails every five minutes) every thirty seconds. Yup. If you didn't know what I was doing, you'd think I have a nervous tic, finger poised over the mouse to click "send/receive." I've become an email junkie. I turned down the sound on my computer so that I wouldn't be totally pavlovian, a slave to the little techno "ding" the envelope icon makes when something new slides sweetly into my inbox. This way too, it's kind of like a surprise...when I come back from getting a glass of water or letting the cat in and out...will that glorious golden envelope be waiting for me? (Okay, that was neither a secret, nor a confession. I lied).

The envelope icon is a fabulous pictoral representation of all the waiting in a writer's life. I am equally always waiting for my snail-mail. Will there be an acceptance? A check for my freelance work? A request to speak or read (hey, one can dream!). Will that editor respond to my query? Will the person reading my novel think it sucks? Will we get the interview with (insert big name author here) for Word by Word? Will Word by Word get syndicated? Will the anthology I got grandfathered into arrive? Will my portal-key to an alien civilization in which authors are gods be plopped on my doorstep today, transporting me through the fabric of the universe into an adventure of mystery and intrigue? Will it, huh, will it punk???

The problem with all this waiting is it has a funny way of suspending me in a kind of inertia. The waiting breeds and becomes funk. No news=depression. No responses=loneliness. I think I've figured out the answer to my mood swings. I am addicted to my anticipation, it gives me a little high not unlike jogging or sudafed cold and sinus formula. And then, similarly, it crashes me.

Today I talked my program director's ear off after an interview at the station because, I realized I have been keeping so much to myself, since I'm mostly alone all day long, and nobody pities someone who works from home, and people stop asking, "So how are you anyway?" because they figure it's all lesiure and lunch breaks and sitting around in your pajamas. I realized how much has happened lately, both on the literal/physical plane, and inside me. Fortunately she humored me, which is good, because I think I may have averted some kind of freak case of hives.

So anyway...I'm having a weekend garage sale, and tonight I am going to have a good time with friends. The kind of good time you'll often find me blogging about later as having involved one or two too many...but that's okay. My temple is otherwise pure.

Eleven days until my birthday. I had one of those existential moments in the mirror today, realizing, hey I still feel essentially 22. I will always feel 22! Even when I'm 40! and 65! How frightening. I have always believed our self-conception stops at a certain age, and mine is hovering somewhere between being able to drink legally and that hormone shift that happened right after I finished beauty school, and I just can't seem to eke it up higher, so that's it. I'll be 22 forever, trapped in a body that continues to age. How sci-fi.

I already have this little chill when I interact with my teenage siblings and realize that I am NOT one of them anymore. Not by a long shot. I have finally slid into that weird little groove where technology now advances faster than I can keep up with it, styles of the younger generations confound me, and I'm happier staying at home on a Saturday night than going out (Okay, who am I kidding? I have always been this way. Since the age of two).

I got E. a mini-ipod for his birthday, by the way, so now we are two self-contained music units passing each other in our house bopping to our own individual rhythms. I like life better set to music, I admit it.

This post was very much like the kind of frothy, non-directed one-sided conversation I just had with my program director. God help you.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

First things first, Aimee Bender rocks. I normally eschew that choice of word, but there isn't any other way to describe her. She came to do our interview in-person in a fabulous red linen dress (I missed the literary luncheon put on by Copperfield's that I was supposed to attend for reasons out of my control). I found her accessible, completely unpretentious, generous with her answers and her willingness to engage in conversation, and the person she is is as fascinating as her stories. If you haven't yet picked up a copy of Willful Creatures DO IT!! Sometimes just when I think I've hit the wall...that there are no more questions to ask, and that all the conversations will die an early death as soon as I open my mouth, good conversation occurs again and redeems my faith in the show, in writing, and in writers. And in the public who buys good books. She had some really great points about why books can never be replaced, because of that profound intimacy that occurs between reader and read words...and I had never thought of it precisely like this. It's true. She said how this is what makes meeting a writer so awkward, because you've made this deep connection with them through their words, but it's a connection you can't share with the actual writer in person, it happens across time, between the reader and the book after it's written.

Willful Creatures is so compelling, so haunting, so heartbreaking and funny and everything a book should be. She improved my mood greatly, which had hurtled back toward dark today.

What is with my moods, while we're on that subject? Do I have some kind of mental issue? Have I been harboring a condition that is only now rearing its head? Could it be the sudden onset of overcast days here mid-summer? Is it just stress from the anxiety of waiting for decisions in our life to be made? Is it still post-graduate funk or post-first-draft novel-writing blues? I don't know, but it's irritating me precisely because I can't figure it out.

In other news, my novel draft is now in one reader's hands (or email inbox, rather) and will be printed and mailed to another trusted friend this weekend. I'm casting about for a third reader, because it feels like the right initial number. Any takers? Criteria will include knowing you personally, and preferably that you are a novel-writer yourself. I am nervous, I admit, but I actually have some other stuff coming through me that I very much wish to get out...

That's all for the moment. Happy birthday to all the Leos I know, which are MANY...and then us Virgos are next.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Don't miss Word by Word tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific Time (10 EST).

I spoke with:

Lydia Millet, author of the splendid and astonishing, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, (Soft Skull Press ) in which the fathers of the atom bomb--Oppenheimer, Fermi and Szilard--are resurrected in the year 2003 and begin a pilgramage of disarmament. A serious, yet funny, poignant and thoughtful book, and an interview you won't want to miss.

Also, we re-broadcast the interview with Sue Miller, author of the most recent novel, Lost in the Forest, since she will be appearing at the Sonoma County Book Festival on September 10th, in Santa Rosa. Yours truly will be moderating a panel on literary blogs with the fabulous Colin Berry ,Martha O'Connor (author of The Bitch Posse) and Michelle Richmond (The Girl in the Fall Away Dress, and forthcoming Ocean Beach).

And look at me and my HTML going to town!


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My recipe for dealing with a crappy day...

When you've woken up in a foul mood despite your best efforts at meditation, coffee, proper eating, followed by eating junk food when eating healthy doesn't work...when your cat wants in the second you put him out for the eighteenth time in an hour, and nobody who is supposed to email you emails you, and everyone you don't want to talk to calls you and you get more spam than usual...when your stepfather has one accident in his car, then his motorcycle, which he takes to the doctor after the car accident craps out on him and you must help him arrange to get his rental car...when you must cancel an interview, but possibly because it is Mercury Retrograde, or possibly because it's just your luck they didn't get your two phone messages and sound very irate with you because you're flustered and tired and were already cranky to begin with...when you're owed more than $2500 from the service you edit for who has reliably paid you in the past but who stretches those payments out further and further over time...when you've got a novel to begin editing but can't bear to open it...when some of your friends who you haven't seen in awhile are planning a get together that you can't make...when your husband's big licensing test results won't be in for another month and so you have yet more time to stress...and when somehow turning 31 in two weeks seems way more wacked out and old than turning 30...there is only one thing you can reliably do that will solve this whole, godforsaken, should be forgotten day...

People magazine.

How can you feel bad when Christopher Reeves' widow is fighting lung cancer and their son is probably about to be orphaned? It's hard to feel crappy in sight of Gwyneth Paltrow's shining mug (and doesn't she look great so soon after a baby?) It's hard to be grumpy when Paris Hilton's marriage to that other Paris might be up in the air, and GOD, what about Brad and Angelina?? And is Sienna really going to take Jude back? And has anyone noticed that Courtney Love has been sober a year? (No, we can't tell the difference, Courtney). And those three year-old phillippine twins that were joined at the head...they're living happy lives, separately! And there's a family in Atlanta, GA that has adopted 18 down syndrome kids and are giving them a better life. I mean, come on...how can I stay in a mood after this?

Try it. You'll feel better too.


Writers, Sign up!

Creating Space: A One-Day Law of Attraction “Play-Shop” for Writers
Saturday September 24th, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Library Room. 6780 Depot Street, Sebastopol.

Now that the busy days of summer are winding down, take time to focus on your writing goals and desires. Attract the writing life you aspire to lead with writers Rebecca Lawton and Jordan E. Rosenfeld, co-authors of the forthcoming book: Creating Space: The Law of Attraction for Writers.

Writers of all genres and forms welcome.

Join the authors for a day-long “Play-Shop,” using games from their book designed to open channels, inspire creativity, and create the blueprints for the writing life you deserve.

Creating space for the writing life need not be hard; in fact Rebecca and Jordan invite you to experience how having fun is crucial to getting what you want.

The day will consist of two sessions, morning and afternoon, with a 1-1/2 hr writing assignment during lunch on your own in Sebastopol.

Course fee: $75 (includes instruction & materials).
Early registration: $65 for those who sign up by September 10th. Send your contact information with check made out to: Write Livelihood, 635 ‘E’ Street, Petaluma, CA 94952.

For information: Rebecca Lawton, becca@beccalawton.com, or me, writelife@earthlink.net.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Our six year wedding anniversary today (and an early celebration of E's birthday and test-taking). Damn if we don't look exactly as happy as we are! Comfortable and happy. Posted by Picasa

I can't remember the last time I actually just did nothing. The sweet taste of nothing that I got on Saturday was so blissful I nearly slapped myself over the head, saying, "Damn! A person could get used to nothingness of this sort. Why don't you do more of it?" Now don't worry, I wasn't having some sort of existential drug-induced crisis, I was basking in the powerful Garberville sun on the grassy bank of the EEl River just outside the Benbow Inn ("Once quite the haunt for celebs like Clark Gable and Basil Rathbone, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover," E. read to me from the brochure and then quoted repeatedly each time we entered a new part of the spacious, old-tymey, dark-wood and european brocade Inn).

It was quite magnificent, the grassy river-side I mean, despite the opulence of the Inn. We took this respite as a way to bring E. down after taking his grueling licensing exam, and also in honor of our six year wedding anniversary (officially today). I'm amazed at how just one day away from the stress of life, my internet connection and the routines of our life at home can short circuit the stress-censors in the brain. We had a delicious meal (I had the best scallops ever! And one of the waiters, a kid who could not have been more than 17, appeared to be quite high, and would say things like, "sweet!" and "that's awesome!" when we assented that yes, he could indeed take our plate/cup/bread crumbs away) on the lovely outdoor patio. I noticed that E. was the ONLY man NOT wearing loafers on that table (and the only one under 55) and I applauded myself for my good taste in men. I have long held a suspicion about men who wear loafers, and I apologize if any of my loyal readers are loafer-wearers, but you should hear it from someone like me: It's not a good look. It says: "I am arrogant!" Trust me on this. When E. and I first began dating I told myself that if he wore loafers I would have to seriously reconsider our future together. Thank god. Then we stayed up late sipping sherry and reading Harry Potter, book Six. Good stuff. I'm not ashamed to say this.

Anyway, I proscribe nothingness as a major cure for just about anything non life-threatening if you have a chance. Nothingness with a touch of sun, and preferably some kind of water body.



Friday, August 12, 2005

The draft is done!

Yep. 350 pages, more than 91,000 words. The draft of my novel Strange but Familiar is done. So what exactly do I mean by draft? How complete is it, how much work is left? I taught a novel-writing evening class last September (Novel Writing for the Commitment Shy) as part of Susan Bono's Writer's Sampler at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, and I pulled my favorite definitions of the word "draft" (also: draught) out of various dictrionaries and came up with this: a first catch of fish, a gulp of beer, a creative gust of air.

My point in finding these whimsical definitions was to point out that a draft is a "first" thing. As for a novel, hopefully it contains all the elements, most of the characters and a good idea of the plot. It has paid more than a cursory attention to language and you've written some scenes, god help you, rather than narrating for chapter after chapter. In this book, the first 150 pages were written over a period of about six months or more, revised and fine-tuned for my Master's Thesis with my mentor, while the final 200 were written in two months. I don't normally revise heavily as I go, but I was in a graduate program and all I wanted to write was this novel, so I had no choice, and I'm grateful for some of the directional spins that Alice put on it. Still, you can probably guess that there are a lot more holes and problems in the final 200 pages. Although, sometimes the amazing happens, and a chapter writes itself in a state of near wholeness and needs very little work.

My main concerns for this book are: Are the characters distinct, unique, complex and interesting? And...is the plot intriguing enough to keep the reader from getting bored? I'll be working on both issues here as I revise. I love these characters, truly, and I want the reader to love them too despite their mistakes.

But there is a sense of accomplishment of a kind. The hard work is behind me, actually. Even if I wind up adding new characters, cutting whole chapters, writing whole new chapters, I'm not guessing anymore what happens to these people, just whether it happens in the right chapters, for the right reasons, and with the right people...


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The truth of things

When my Mom and I had breakfast together last weekend she told me that of all my writing, she loves my essays most. She didn't mean to insult my novels (I've only allowed her to read one anyway), but she said that when i write about the truth, I do so in a way that really packs a punch (for her). I appreciate this on one hand because I so rarely write an essay. On the other hand it's frustrating because the few essays I have written have come out of me as a matter of urgent process and less about actually crafting something. Plus, every essay I've gotten published has required an insane amount of revision. Draft upon draft. I told my Mom, "I hate writing essays because I have such a difficult time writing facts. I keep asking myself, 'did this really happen?' 'Is this lying?"

It got me to thinking about the manuscripts of clients I have edited that are non-fiction, particularly memoir pieces. This is the touchiest, most difficult, painful, messy stuff to write, but seems to yield the most powerful results when done well. Book buyers flock to buy good non-fiction, confirming what I believe to be the equation of: "I trust my feelings most when what I read really happened." Readers trust a writer more when they think that the events are true. And readers will fly into a snit, worse, a rage of disgust, if they learn that a writer fabulized, fictionalized or tweaked the truth but still called it "memoir."

Still, let's face it, life itself has very little cohesive structure. Meaning is imposed later, in memory, in retrospect, when we embellish the story for our friends in the retelling. Not a single one of the essays my mother has read and loved happend "just like that." They are refracted through a lens or a few even. I have to keep my audience in mind. I have to put the events in an order that delivers some kind of "punch" as my mom described it, or else, the reader will come away feeling like, "So what, another bad day in a life. Big whoop." But do I lie? No, these are facts as I experienced them. Would the other people involved remember the evetns in the same way. Not likely. Perception is powerfully varied among people.

This is the hardest thing to communicate to new writers of non-fiction. Just because it happened does not good writing make. Truth must be crafted, rearranged. This is why I write fiction predominantly, because then I have the liberty to do whatever the hell I please with it. This is what I have been trying to teach my parents about my writing. "Just because there's a bad/angry/complicated/sad/drug-addled parent in my story or novel does not mean I've based it on either of you!" I gave my dad this bad analogy: "If I made a snowman, and borrowed your jacket to put around his shoulders, would you come look at that snowman and say, "it's got such a big nose. Do you think I have a big nose?" No, of course not. Well my fiction is molded beneath the real jacket, say, of a person I know, but the rest is interpreted, taken from the stores of my own knowledge of human behavior, with the occasional patch that may look characteristic of people I know, but not wholly so.

This is because I am cowardly. I do not want to tell it like it really was, for fear of hurting those who haven't yet been able to look at parts of the past completely. Because I still intend to have relationships with these people. So I fictionalize the truth, obscure it, reinvent it, which also allows me to find other kinds of meaning in it. Yes, I'd like to write more about what really happened, and I encourage my editing clients to do so bravely, fiercely, because it is only bravely that one can write about the truth. If you dance around the truth or brush only up to the surface, readers will not be sold, and they won't care. We read non-fiction, I think, to hear other people say the things we cannot. And anyone who can write it honestly and boldly should be praised, and should keep at it.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Mamma Mia

It's difficult to be a human. You're challenged by the relationships to people who comprise your family, you're challenged by being alone...there's not an equation of in-relationship or out of relationship-ness that is without problems of some kind (though many would opt for the out-of kind). Yet somehow we press on. Just watch a few episodes of Dr. Phil and you can really want to give up hope on the human race ever learning to communicate (No, I'm not a regular watcher, I'm a fair-weather watcher when I'm in the mood for drama and egotism).

It's no secret that I've been doing therapy with my mother for over a year. Just the words "therapy with my mother" make most people get hives, and the rest of people I know scratch their heads and wonder why I would waste my money. Well it's not a waste, but it's not easy either, some days a lot not-easier than others. Like today, for example...I come away from a session, in which I express my feelings and admit my needs, feeling guilty, like I need to check in with her to see that she's not going to beat herself up and hate herself for trying with her ungrateful wretch of a daughter.

How can we stand in two places at once? The place of being mad at our mother for things she continues to do that are hurtful, and grateful for the fact that she keeps showing up week after week, determined to have a better relationship?

I wish some days that she would just give up. That would be better. Then I could just feel sad and hurt and go on with my life. But she won't. She really wants to be better, and to try, and sometimes she wants it so much that she runs right past me. It's not all her fault, either. I'm a fucking boulder in there. I don't like to be vulnerable, I hide my feelings. I resist. I'm a good actress. I'm hard to read.

Today the whole thing just makes me sad. If I were her, I'd cut my losses, is how i feel today.

It bears the question again. Do I have the stamina to be a parent? I really don't know. And I know someone out there is likely to respond to this post with: "let the past be the past, move on, blah de blah..." Just so you know, I've already tried that route.


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Me and You and Everyone we Know

Oh...I just love going to the movies, whether it's to see some eye-candy that doesn't change your life but was a fun way to kill two hours, or whether it's to see a movie as poignant and surprising as Me and You and Everyone we Know, written/directed and starred in by the frail-looking, bewildering and captivating Miranda July (who is my age). I must say, as a side note, that I can't stop looking at her. She's beautiful in a way that defies beauty. She's often described as "luminous" and "childlike" and those are both compliments to her, and she is both and they work really well for this movie, in which the kids are either adultified or simply cut off from the joy of childhood, and the adults, as I've found adults are most of the time, are struggling to get their shit together.

It's not a perfect movie, but its imperfections mirror those of its characters, who are beguiling and sad and worrisome. I don't want to do a movie review here, because you can look up six thousand of them online (all, I found, appreciative)...but I want to see if I can mark how good I felt coming out of this movie. I have always been drawn to write about people who are searching for what they want and not quite finding it, or closing in on it. I'm much more interested in the journey, and could almost care less about the denouement. I couldn't help but reflect on the novel I'm writing and see all its faults and how many things have been left untouched, the inner lives of my characters unprobed. But that's not a bad thing, believe it or not. This movie reminded me how many possibilities there are, paths to take, ways that people can mess up and still be redeemed.

And then there's the funniest scene with a six year-old boy discussing poop that I have ever seen. I've never laughed so hard in a movie before, ever. Where they found this boy I do not know, but I loved him as much as the little kid in the movie Rushmore who, upon being prompted by Bill Murray about what he's painting replies, "That's, uh...a jellyfish." (It was all timing and juxtaposition, nothing inherently funny about the jellyfish, but the delivery and the absurdity made us laugh so hard.) Poop is a bit more directly funny to some, but the kid is priceless.

This movie is priceless too. At moments it edges into the absurd, but that's what makes it great. Just like the books that move me the most, there's a moment where you know you are suspending disbelief, you know that people don't REALLY talk like THAT, don't really remember the profound moments that add up to good fictional imagery...but that doesn't mean life is all mundane either. It's got some magic.

Go see this movie if you're not one of these types who needs explosions, overt narration or explicit character motivation...it may just change you a little.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

I've just been too...overworked to post. I know, I know, you're saying, how can a person who sets their own schedule, who has time to exercise, cook meals and have a meaningful relationship with her husband possibly be overworked? It's more of that mental drain I was talking about earlier. I'm up at six, sometimes earlier, if I'm not stuck in a dream about being impregnated by strange test-tube babies that looke like cabbage patch dolls (sorry). By one, I've worked seven hours straight at my computer, stopping only long enough to eat some oatmeal or yogurt. In that time I've likely edited and written and my eyes are bloodshot and my neck kinked.

Okay, wait a minute...I didn't come here to whine.

I came here to report on all the great things of late...the Night Train reading, which, although the audience wasn't as packed as I had hoped, was a fabulous slate of readers including novelists Bruce Bauman, Michelle Richmond and Sue Henderson, and the funny, wry Dave Fromm, whose work appeared in Night Train Three. It's funny though how I find myself drawn less and less to hosting in this public way. It's not that I can't pull it out--I can--but I used to crave it, and now I do it when I have to. I would like more opportunities to read my own work, though.

Then of course, the episode of Word by Word I FORGOT to post about, but which will be archived in the next two weeks featuring Ingrid Hill and Roxana Robinson. It's one you won't want to miss! It was

My good friend E. moved to NY on Tuesday and I already miss her. She lived down the block from me, and so now when I pass by her place I get rather sad. But I know she's going to have a blast and become a world-famous journalist, so I can't be too sad, because she's going to be so much happier and she's the type who stays in touch with her friends no matter where they are in the world. Then, coincidentally, the last day E. and I went out to lunch before she left, to a joint I almost never frequent, I ran into my friend W. Now what's weird about this is that I haven't seen W. in TWO YEARS, but I think about her all the time. And, I'd been having hallucinations, thinking I saw her all over town but "she" turned out to be just another person who looked like her. So when it really was her, I couldn't believe my eyes. And she's turned up just as I was feeling lonely, and we've been taking walks and having those good, soul-satisfying deep talks that I crave so much. It's really good to see her. She's in town for another two weeks and staying in walking distance around the corner from my house, which is really cool. I'm remembering how important it is to have these soulful friend connections. It's also making me think how strange timing is, and how hard it is not to believe in some kind of providence or created reality.

My article in The Writer magazine is finally out on stands now. It's the September issue, but it's out now. This is my first national publication.

Becca and I are making steady progress on our book for writers and will be teaching our first workshop with exercises based on the book in September at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts (September 24th, 11-4). It's very exciting to collaborate on a project that feels like it really could have wings. We're already setting up dates for next year's Wellspring retreat (May) and I am so looking forward to seeing where this all leads.

I've been forcing myself through crappy chapters of my novel just to get finished so that I can start shaping it up and let some smart people read it...

And that's all for today's boring update. Except that yesterday I hiked in what appeared to be dry, dry woods, and W. and I were attacked by mosquitos the size of bluejays. We couldn't figure it out, and then we rounded a bend and there was a huge, festering lagoon of standing water. We broke into a run, but I literally have mosquito bites the size of quarters...it's horrid!