Thursday, September 29, 2005

I am so tired my eyeballs are sore. Even closing my eyelids doesn't really help. But that's not what I've come here to tell you. I re-joined a gym! The same gym I quit some time ago because I couldn't afford the dues and because, as seems to happen to me every year when winter passes into spring-- a time that always has me acting rashly. I can't really afford the dues now either, except I've come to accept one of the hard realities of being in my thirties. I can't not exercise. Yes, you read that double negative correctly. If I do not exercise all manner of bad things happen, from the sour dipping of my mood to the strange creaking of my joints when I rise from the bum-to-chair position I maintain until my limbs turn to solid planks of wood. I have never liked exercise, EVER, but now at least I am compelled to do it for the sake of my body and mood--and those who must be subjected to either.

The fellow who sold me my membership was a very good salesman because he was able to whip papers in and out under my nose, convince me of things I wasn't sure of, and leave there with two memberships in hand (one for my hubster) wondering just how much money I had actually spent and when it would be debited from which account...

I hate paying "processing fees" and "joining fees" because jeez, how much skin off their back was it for me to bring my own damn business straight to their door and hand over my money? That shouldn't cost me $129! And a processing fee?? For the kid they pay minimum wage to to input the data entry? I swear to god...but anyway, I had to bite the bullet. Supposedly I waived the costly "enrollment fee" by coming in on a special, so thank god for that because I don't think I could have handled yet another fee.

There are a lot of problems going to a gym, such as the way you can compare your body to others' bodies; the sore lack of privacy when you are doing less than attractive poses to further strengthen muscles you have only learned you have when the cardio you did makes them hurt, but I will benefit from the variety of not having to only run because once I've got my ipod strapped on, I can do at least an hour of cardio vs. the 25 minutes I get on my own.

Oh god, I'm boring you, aren't I? I'm sorry.

Perhaps you can help me solve the caper of the strange poison oak that appeared on my arm suddenly. I haven't been NEAR poison oak in ages. So it either came from the bowling ball at the bowling alley over the weekend, one of the children at our niece Daphne's third birthday party, or one of the neighborhood cats...but I don't even think there is poison oak anywhere in this 'hood! Maybe it drifted in on the thick cloud of smoke from a controlled burn in Tomales the other day. The last time I had serious poison oak, i had it so bad I had to take prednisone. I was 11.

More soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Risk (not brought to you by Parker Bros.)

I've had almost 24 hours to assess what happened yesterday and a nice little kernal of insight popped out of the boiling hot mess of my mind this morning. This is what I do not say enough of:

Writing is risk-taking.

It deserves to stand alone up there, because it's really true. f you write for any kind of audience, keeping in mind that wonderful quote--(best heard in a Bob Marley song) "you can't please all the people all the time"--at any given time that you put your words out into the world, you are opening yourself to criticism, opinions, judgments, emotional ire and a variety of other things. Words seem so innocent all in their own self-contained textual spaces, standing neatly next to one another like rows of kindergarteners. How can my harmless little j, or a perfectly acceptable p come together to form phrases that piss people off and move them to tears? Well, now I'm dumbing it down, but you get where I'm going with this.

So writing for the public, be it journalism or creative writing, be it an article on garbage dumps or a novel, is taking a risk because people very often cannot separate the writer from their words. Say I wrote an article on a heated political topic like health care and I included one more quote from the uninsured elderly parkinson's sufferer than I did from an official assuring everyone that solutions were being taken. You could easily call the article biased, slanted. And our biases do slip in, it's true. But even still, no matter how hard you as the writer try, there is always someone, somewhere who will find fault with what you've written and how you've written it. Say I wrote a novel in which a character behaves badly, and someone says, "I don't think anyone would act like that in real life!" Whatever the scenario, however lame the criticism, it still has the power to cut.

Here is the thing about risk. When you take risks, people around you do not say, "Bravo for your risk taking. Bravo for that interesting piece of art you've made, or that fabulous thing you've written. Think of the world of critics. They say: "You got it wrong!" or "How the hell does that relate to anything?" or "I don't believe this character!" It's so easy to be a critic. It's so easy to exert power over something created and tear it down.

So maybe you might say, "But wait Jordan, writing risks are not like taking physical risks. You're not hanging off a high cliff, dangling by one hand and awaiting death. You're not jumping from an airplane or putting yourself in the saddle of a bucking bronco!" And I say to you that you must not know any artists. We're tightly wound, emotionally heightened creatures. When you exist in an emotional place, when that is your entry point into the world, then yeah, actually, it's a lot like dangling over a cliff awaiting death when someone says you aren't good enough. Lots of artists kill themselves (don't worry, I'm not one of those).

Still, as a writer, or an artist of any kind, you know that the risks of criticism and rejection are a hell of a lot higher than the rewards, and yet you still do it. Sometimes you run into an encounter like I had yesterday, where your best is not good enough, where all your failure buttons are pushed. And you have to remind yourself: I took a risk, and sometimes a risk is just a risk with all the inevitable consequences, while other times, the rewards spin out exponentially, changing your life.


Monday, September 26, 2005

No cheese with this whine

I read somewhere, I think over at Miss Snark's blog , that no blog surfer likes to tune into blogs where a writer just vents or whines about how difficult and frustrating the writing process is. Of course not! You want brushes with celebrities and drug-filled outings where I get high on cocaine and call some critic a didactic ass before a gushing nose-bleed has me fainting in my expensive French food! But of course, that would require connections, money, an addiction and a few other things I don't really have. Which is the long way of telling you, that what you'll find here is a lot of venting and whining about how difficult and frustrating the writing process is. With the occasional moment of glory, satisfaction and success, which I will be sure to exaggerate and blow out of proportion for your reading pleasure.

I've come to discover today that my ego is still a bit weaker than I'd like. And the tether of my patience much looser than I expected. Let's talk theoretically here, so as not to indict anyone, especially myself.

Let's say you got a well-paying gig for a new publication and you were both excited and nervous about it because it meant showing your chops for the first time, impressing, all that jazz and you were particularly eager to do a good job. And let's say you turned in an assignment that you'd worked hard on and felt good about, got some edits back that were totally manageable, which you then worked even harder on, turned it in, got a "good job" from your editor and someone even higher up than him, only to receive a phone call a week after you finished your last edit AND three days before the final copy needed to be complete...let's say this phone call came from someone very high up on the chain, the highest up, actually, who, you find out at the last minute, gets the final say though you were not aware of this until the moment he called you, who tells you that this story you turned in is not what he had in mind, that he wants you to do a total rewrite and can you do so by Thursday? Even though he is very sorry and has of course learned something in the process with you as the guinea pig.

Say you also had two other major assignments due by thursday, and one due on Friday, plus a boatload of editing and some other projects you've let simmer too long on the back-burner already because you made this project a priority...

How would you feel? Theoretically?

You might feel as though the great energy that you woke up with, which was going to draw you effortlessly through the draft of an article you needed to write that very day had been completely drained out as if someone had opened a little valve just below your tailbone and it had run down the backs of your legs. You might find yourself saying things to yourself like: "I should be tougher than this." But you're not. "I should expect this. "But you didn't. Sometimes, you might conclude, it just doesn't work out in your favor and there 'aint a damn thing you can do about it except ask for more time and hope that you've made the right decision to try and come through on this assignment when every fiber in your body feels frustrated and disappointed and rebellious. Perhaps.

You might start gazing longingly into Peet's coffee as you passed by, wondering how much minimum wage is these days. You might understand ever more clearly what your friend Invisible Girl means when she says some days she wishes she collected bugs instead of writing (and who has the bitchin'-est Sylvia Plath quote on her site).


Thursday, September 22, 2005


I read a wonderful column recently by my new favorite at the SF Chronicle's online magazine ( for the uninitated) by Mark Morford. To paraphrase crappily, he was responding to readers' responses that he had the audacity to go and make merry at Burning Man while Katrina's victims were suffering. His point was, in essence: yeah, well, sometimes all we have is the merriment while its there, and we damn well better live and love and party and make merry when we have the chance. Next time, we could be in the devastation, airplane crash or fall prey to life's simple tragedies. I believe this. I believe the best those of us who are far far from the crisis can do is to live meaningful, happy lives.

Still, right now one of my best friends in the world, who recently got hired by the now much-reviled FEMA (and believe me, she's a straight shooter who is as frustrated with the red tape and ineptness as anyone outside the agency), and is now in the first week of a possibly 6 week stay in Jackson, MI. She sent us a nine-page missive today about what it's been like. It sounds like tensions are high simply among those there to help, and there are just as many scam artists as there are people helping. They've had their hands tied, they've been hurrying up and waiting, and then they've been doing all they can. Point is, it's not a rosy situation, and it's going to get less rosy, and she too is preaching the message of self-reliance. We've got to learn how to take care of ourselves, learn to ask for help when we need it, and probably, keeping a disaster kit is not a bad idea even here. We all know California's going to break off into the ocean or disappear into an earthquake sooner or later anyway.

And then I received a letter from a man whose family I donated money to. It wasn't through the Red Cross, (though I gave to them too, which might have been a mistake if my friend's rumors of careless spending are true). I read about his story through a friend's blog. I was so moved to have an actual name, an actual story that I asked for his contact info and sent it to him directly. And you know, I wish it had made me feel full of humanity and power and gladness, but it only felt like a drop in the bucket. Still, he and his wife wrote me back and had this to say...(they've lost everything, a family, of I think seven):

"Jordan we have been touched by so many good hearted people taht we really feel that we are blessed and we know that God does not put anymore on you than what you can handle..."

That's food for thought, eh?


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Drowning in the Competition

Yes, I admit it, I feel a little threatened by all these new internet-based forms of radio from general podcasting to Powell's Books now offering interviews.

Word by Word is two and a half years old. Which means it says "no" a lot, has a very independent streak and doesn't like to be told what to do, but ultimately it relies heavily on the care of its parents. Who are its parents? Well, I seem to be, if not its parents, it's very highly-needed and often-used nanny. Though ultimatley, in a Terry Gross world of idealism, the host is merely the sonorous, languid-voiced figurehead with a team of producers waltzing about like those women in the Wizard of Oz movie matching Dorothy's eye color to her dress and stripping the Cowardly Lion of his dreds. But that's not how it works in public radio, in which I am still technically a volunteer (i,e. =I do not receive money). But volunteer in this capacity is also a kind of understatement, for I am not one of these breeze in once a week or once a month types who gets to do a little data entry or answer phones...the show is contingent upon me in so many ways.

This is not to discount the incredible help I do recieve, nor the aduitory talents of Miz Katie Stohlmann, my engineer, the unfailing support of my program director, my perspicacious audio columnists and the host of editors, voiceover artists and temporary producers we have had (though none will ever replace our own Jennie Orvino...).

The point is, we are fledgling, despite having received one small NEA grant and being poised to apply for another. If you could spend testimonials, we'd be rich. We've got great support from the authors interviewed and the audience who listens to us either on the actual radio dial, via streaming or through our archives.

But still, when I hear about Powell's staring up this new "bookcast" I feel a sense of despair in my heart. I believe the more literary radio the better on one hand, but on the other, there's the whole idea of diminishing returns. The more of us out there doing it, the more the consumer has to decide amongst us and must reject someone. If both of us, for instance, happen to be airing an Aimee Bender interview, how will you decide who to listen to? People have heard of Powell's. Maybe they've heard of Word by Word...either way, it's hard not to feel a bit like Wal-Mart has just moved in on my dial. Not that I am equating the wondrous bookstore Powell's with a greedy, right-wing freak-mart but rather, if being an American has taught me anything it's that people like brand names and big names, even if they don't get a better product. That's just the way it is.

That said, we ARE airing an interview with Aimee Bender tonight. Her new collection of stories, Willful Creatures is astonishing, and she is paired with debut novelist Marsha Mehran, whose multi-cultural novel, Pomegranate Soup is receiving much acclaim. Listen via streaming at or wait a week or so for the archive (link in my links section to the right).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My Ego, A Sleazy Hollywood Agent?

I'm going to admit something I might later regret admitting, but that's the beautiful thing about confessions, you do them spontaneously and then later reap the consequences. And though, I could go in and edit my confession if I felt the need, I promise not to do that. This is not one of those confessions that could make anybody but myself look bad.

The novel I have just begun writing--and no, I'm not talking about the one I most recently finished a draft of, which pulses at me on my harddrive daily, waiting to be revised--but a brand new one...I think it is the one. You know what I mean? The one that gives you an endorphin rush, where you can't wait to write each new chapter because you're buzzing with the thrill of it all. The one you think about when you should be working, dream about when you should be sleeping, dash down future chapters for before you've written the plot points that come next because it's all being delivered like one great big needle to the vein of your consciousness and who are you to deny the high?! Yup. I just look at the title and swoon. My ego straps on leather pants, swaggars across the room, tips its sunglasses into the mirror and winks, saying, 'baby, this is your career-maker!' My ego has become a smarmy hollywood agent!! It would sleep with you in order to sell you its ideas! My ego has become this guy:

So if you've followed this blog, or know me personally, you must already have made the leap to--so when's she gonna crash from THIS one? There was a time, Jordan, when you were pretty jazzed about your last novel. And what about the two before that? You were downright cocky!

To which I reply: That was before an agent represented the first two unsuccessfully (I always like to point out that each novel saw less than 10 publishers!). That was before I learned what I needed to learn in each of those books--which still have the potential to be rewritten successfully when the time comes. That was before I realized I have to either wait for two relatives, maybe three, to die, or else significantly alter my characters in this latest book if I still want to have a relationship with them.

And actually, the truth is that I've really no idea when this one will be done, as in finished-in-all- its-drafts-ready-to-get-me-an-agent-again-done. I don't know when, and I don't feel like I can predict it with the same anal proscription by which I've written other things. Maybe this will be the novel that I work on for ten years. Maybe this will be that project that people stop asking about because they're embarrassed to have me answer rudely, "Maybe it'll be done around the same time that you win the freaking lottery, bub!"

I only know that it's been knocking at the door for awhile now. Banging at it actually, as if it has been running from an axe-murderer in a cheesy teen horror flick, even as I was trying to shush it so I could finish the other novel. And I'm glad I did finish the other novel draft, because when the time comes to revise and fine-tune it, hey, the template is all there, the blueprints more than sketched out.

I'm also glad to be letting this one through, because it feels like it contains all the ingredients that interest me, and for god's sake, there's even sex in it! And murder! And moody, symbolic dream imagery! And abandoned children! Whoopee!


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Writing is to work what a lifelong hater of exercise is to suddenly becoming a jogger.

Although I have never been good at ratios or approximates, or really any numbers other than phone numbers and how much money I might be owed at a given time, I decided today to do something practical for you today. I am going to attempt to quantify what different kinds of writing by comparing it to jogging. Now, this still may not equal an intuitive scale, as you may not jog at all; or you might think jogging is for sissies, and you’d rather take a nice little trek up Mt. Everest. So try to find your best way into understanding my ratios.

Straightforward fact-based journalistic writing = doing one lap, first thing in the morning when you’re full of energy, the sun isn’t your enemy yet, and you’re not even worrying about how much flesh is being revealed from your new jogging shorts.

Feature Writing (in which you are able to use a little style, a little flair, occasionally even in the first-person) = doing a mile at the track before the jocks get there to show off, hardly getting red in the face and being so high on endorphins afterwards, you aren’t even sore.

Cover Stories. For some reason, whether your cover story falls into the straightforward journalism category, or the looser feature writing category, the fact that it is the first thing people see when they pick up the paper has a bigger impact on the writer as she works and is = jogging that same mile in 100 degree weather, your legs like rubber, your arm fat chafing against your sides painfully, while some teenage show-off runs laps around you and talks on a cell phone at the same time.

Fiction Writing is like running that one lap above, only it FEELS like a mile, your legs weigh eighty-five pounds, saliva is pooling in the back of your mouth but you can’t swallow it, and your nose is running even though it’s warm out; an entire soccer team runs past you and laughs at your red face; the fire department stops to ask if you’re going to be okay, and between each rib a slow, steady pinching ache develops. On top of it, your underwear has slipped firmly up into the crevice of your cheeks and will not be removed, you’re developing a sudden aching shin splint, you narrowly avoid being bitten by a dog, splashed with mud and run down by a bicyclist, and a host of new blisters are developing because of the new shoes you spent a mint on.

So why do it? When it’s all over, it was worth it, your mood is greatly improved, you feel productive even if you’ve done nothing else in your day, and you’ve got a basic ground level start that is a lot better than nothing.

Actually, you do it out of necessity. You can't NOT do it, no matter how bad you feel, no matter how much you loathe yourself on any particular day. You write because you must (and some of us jog for the very same reason).


Thursday, September 15, 2005

I'm glad in light of all this devestation and scary judge confirmation hearings and the long, stupid road toward accepting that gay and lesbian people deserve the right to marry, that Somebody has got some good news.

In other news, normally I don't talk in much detail about the interviews I do...that is to say, I won't tell you what I really think of a writer if what I think isn't purely positive. That's because it's tough enough in this culture to interest people in reading, and I don't want to dissuade anyone, nor do I want to make enemies before I've even stepped into the playing field. But I interviewed T.C. Boyle in person yesterday and came up with some insights. I was shocked actually that he agreed to come to little 'ole KRCB, since usually we have to fight to geteven the slightly-knowns to come up. I figured he was probably confusing us with another bay area station, which shall remain nameless, but I wasn't arguing. I don't really have anything bad to say about Mister Boyle, though I am confident that he could handle anything I could fling if necessary. He seems quite comfortable in his own skin, in his career. He's written enough books and seen enough success that he doesn't really have a whole lot to worry about now. Even a terrible review at this point might actually work in his favor.

But I have to say...I was raised by hippies, many of whom transitioned quite seamlessly into yuppies or suburbanites or corporate yuckety-yucks, or just regular people who watch a lot of tv, buy stuff they don't need and take regular vacations once a year. But there are a few, most of who drift on the periphery of my life now, who never quite made it into normalcy, who pride themselves on being able to spout Bukowski-isms, can tell you exactly how many times they dropped acid and what they saw when they did, who have the privelege of either living on the fringe, or comfortably on their duffs due to inheritance, drug sales or a well-to-do spouse. These folks have the luxury of being eccentric. Perhaps they have suddenly taken up a new art form, or they live on a boat and only wear cowboy boots. Perhaps they are learning a barely-spoken ancient language, like sanskrit or aramaic.

The point is, I think TC Boyle is one of these. I'm not sure, and he's well-spoken enough to make me question how much of his persona is just that...persona. But I'm glad he came in studio, because I've heard him interviewed before and I drew him in my mind's eye to be a sort of haughty intellectual, not the converse-wearing, necklace-ensconced bohemian with quite possibly the most interesting hair since Don King. This is to say that people surprise me, and I'm glad of it. How dull if TC Boyle was exactly what I expected him to be, not the goofy, sweet-faced, prolific writer who does not seem to suffer from the same lack of confidence so many writers do. I'm not calling him arrogant, because I don't think he is. I think he's so sure of himself he CAN wear red converse and a necklace and do that do. If he wanted to, I'm sure he could tell me how many times he jacked up heroin or learned a nearly dead language. And why shouldn't he?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Yeah, I'm a hypocrite.

We all have a little pocket of hypocrisy somewhere, but here is mine:

I harp on my editing clients to revise. I chastise them for thinking they're done after one, two, and sometimes more drafts. I feel vindicated when someone's hard work at revision pays off and they come out with some surprising little nugget of brilliance that only the revision succeeded in pulling up.

But I, I am a lazy sonofabitch when it comes to revising. I fight it, eschew it, revolt against it. I mean, I DO it, but generally only because something, or someone presses me to. This is what journalism is good for. An editor gives me suggestions, I take them, I hand back in the product and runs.

I was just having a conversation with a good writing friend yesterday who has been writing steadily, daily on a "thing" she can't even allow herself to call a book. She said, "I can't even let myself think of what I'm going to do with this hulking thing when I'm done." I completely understood where she was coming from. I can barely look at my most recently completed novel draft. It feels so frought with problems, so full of holes that to look at it is like looking at a lpartner who you know you're going to have to break up with but haven't yet figured out how to say it. Their very face makes you feel mad/guilty/sick/trapped.

The solution, I believe is to form mini-societies amongst your writing friends, write little contracts or pacts with each other that essentially promise to push and drive and nudge you to finish things that you have started, to never give up on them. I cringe when I hear stories where someone rewrote an entire book from scratch. I mean, I've done it--I did it with my second novel (not that it got published as a result, heh heh)--so in a way I'm even more well-positioned to know exactly how much work it is. But then I hear about other people who put something down for three years and then come back to it. Three YEARS? I hate everything I wrote three years ago. NO WAY!

So, as you can see, I'm in the market for one of these contractual nudges...if you want to sign up to crack the whip over me, generally push and prod and force me to revise, well, let me know. I need you.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Everything is Illuminated. Well, my mood at least.

I'm savvy to the fact that not many people care to hear about menstruation, even those of us who experience it. And honestly, I'm not that keen to talk about its more gorey details. But I think that men are often sadly under-educated about its effects, and I'm trying to think of what nature might have given men that is equivalent to having a rash of hormones and symptoms that approximate everything from appendicitis to psychosis onset into your life one week out of every month. EVERY MONTH. Most people couldn't handle a week of vacation every month!! Do you guys get some kind of regular invisible symptom you keep from us? Some kind of horrible itch or muscle cramping? I'm not one of these women, believe me, who think that because men don't menstruate they are somehow less than, it's not that...but think about this, men:

Imagine that you're going about your usual day, whether you're that odd fellow at Starbucks who looks as though he doubled up on his lithium, or you're that guy who cut me off on the freeway in his beemer, cell phone in one hand, espresso in the other, driving with his knees. Or anyone in between, maybe my favorite checker at the market, or that funny old guy with the cheesy words of wisdom who owns the Mexican restaurant downtown. Say you're getting up for work, you're making breakfast, showring, you're transacting business, having conversations, making appointments, flipping tortillas, banking bucks just like any other day...only THIS day subtly, almost without warning, a slow, steady prickling feeling is rising under everything, like a live electrical fence has just been turned on beneath your skin...or for a better analogy, you know those little burrs your cats bring in sometimes that get caught in their fur? Imagine doing your day with those taped inside all your clothes: your underwear, down the legs of your pants and up your spine, under your armpits. Stop to really feel that. Okay, you got it? Now...

...imagine that your brain, impaired by a thin layer of water on the brain--yes that's right, water actually accumulates around the gray matter-- suddenly stops being able to conduct its motor skills with quite the same acuity. Not bad, mind you, just enough so that a crack in the cement is enough for you to hallucinate a tree root and trip over your own feet, cause you to have difficulty navigating the corners of tables and bookshelves that were never a problem before, up-end any container that goes into your hands so that the contents of what you're eating or drinking on your shirt, and to burst out in tourette's like phrases that sound meaner and more rude than you intend. (I have gone so far as to poke myself in the eye attempting to do something like remove an offending hair from my cheek, or pour hot water into the paper cereal box rather than my tea cup). Okay, got that...? This is not a good day to take the stairs over the elevator.

Now imagine that this is all happening while you're trying to get facts right for a delicate piece of journalism, or you're trying to talk a raging client out of suing you. Or maybe you have a big promotional meeting or the president of your company is in town, or you're supposed to give a speech. So, add in the next ingredient: a measure of pain, kind of like a giant has grabbed you at the belly button and at the mid-back and is squeezing, in and out, in and out, steadily all day, with increasing pressure.

Now for the whammy, the part that has found its way into crude jokes about wounded animals that don't die and her "aunt flo coming from Redding"... imagine any part of you--say your elbow, or a little patch of your ankle, or a cut you got from shaving on your chin--bleeding for 4 to 7 days straight. Yeah, I don't have to say more do I? You see where I'm going with this.

But do take a second to imagine how you'd feel if on top of all that you had to change your nice Eddie Bauer khakis at the office because a product that a certain hygiene company sold to you did not come through on its promised absorbency.

And if I have to see another sexist commercial like that milk ad where the men are fighting each other to buygallons because it's proven to stave off PMS, I think I might just start spontaneously lactating...acid.

Try me next week if you want to find me agreeable. Right now I'm going to eat a hostess pie. You heard me. I don't care what you think!

Monday, September 12, 2005

I think I've risen out of the funk, or whatever it was exactly. I don't seem to have come down with the flu I was sure I was getting. I think I just needed a good night's sleep. Oh, and E. passed his big exam and THAT makes me so happy. I'm so proud of him. He's worked so hard and with such singular focus and determination for the six years that it has taken him to get his doctorate, (in which time, his graduate mentor was killed suddenly...and of course he had to write a dissertation and hold down a job) and go through some truly hellish work experiences on the road.

Yesterday we went to a party of some dear friends of ours. They are parents to just about our favorite child, (except of course for children in the family...ahem) Olive, who is not quite two, but is quite a hysterical, darling child. We went to a bbq at their house and by the end of the evening there were about ten other couples there, all with children. We were the exception. Our friend Michelle joked, "I swear I didn't invite you guys to put any pressure on you!" I laughed. As if there isn't enough pressure everywhere else anyway. I'm particularly pleased that Olive's parents have agreed to stop at one. If we have a child, and I stress child--singular--that's as far as we see ourselves going, save freak twins or something. It's so much work and money and time to raise a child, and I still don't know how I feel about the world I'd be bringing one into, that I feel like one is as big a commitment as I am willing to make. So who knows...

um...crap...these days I don't have a lot to say. Go donate some money. Go kiss your loved ones. Go make something. Read something. DO something!


Sunday, September 11, 2005

I feel spectacularly bad this morning. I came home exhausted from the enjoyable, though long, Sonoma County Book Festival, so beat I could have and probably should have gone to sleep at seven p.m. I made it to bed at 9:30p.m. and then proceeded to have one of those horrible nights where I COULD NOT FALL ASLEEP. Or rather, if I did, it didn't seem as if I was asleep because I was dreaming so much. And it seemed as though I dreamed all night.

When you dream, you aren't resting all that much. Not the kind of restful sleep in which your little battered and abused bodily fibers are getting the spa treatment, your cells marching into their regenerators, getting new coats of amino acids, your DNA chain-links repaired. Dream sleep--REM sleep--is a specific kind of sleep, and anyone who is aware of their nighttime shenanigans, I think, will have noticed that the more you dream, the less you rest. I'm bothered by a function in myself, natural apparently, since we all seem to do it, that science hasn't yet been able to understand. They can hook people up to electrodes and have them write down their dreams, but they can't tell us why we dream, what biological function actually produces dreams (is it a hormone reaction? A chemical?). Some of the great philosophers believed that to become evolved we should stop ourselves from dreaming. And after a night like last night, I tend to agree.

I don't know if this strange aggregation of dreams last night that have left me today feeling as though I never slept at all, are a result of the fact that I'm writing about characters who dream in unusual ways, or if it was just something I ate.

Still, a night of bad sleep for me is worse than the worst hangover.

So please, keep your voice down...


Friday, September 09, 2005

A Question of Sucking

I feel like whining. Oh I know, you say, what’s new Jordan? That’s what you do here at this blog. You whine, then you bitch a little, then you return to whining.

Fine. Well, at least we’re on the level here.

Today has been a strangely up and down day. On one hand, new and exciting writing assignments have come in, ones that make me happy and challenged and pay well too. On the other hand, I’ve just finished an article for a new market, one that doesn’t yet know my writing and pays quite a bit better than most, and I’m terrified to turn it in. The two words I really don’t want to hear anytime soon are: “Kill fee.” Now, of course to get a kill fee is better than not to get one, but still, it’s nervewracking. What if they hate me?

Then, an editor of a publication I write for on a semi-regular basis, with whom I have good rapport, and who has often said things to me like, “nice story,” or even, “good job,” sent me a sheet of “writer’s tips” they supposedly send to all freelancers. Now how should I interpret this seeing as I’ve written for them for nearly a year without said tips? She hasn’t taken a whole lot of my pitches of late, but the first time she does in ages she sends along this tip sheet. Okay, maybe it’s because I was pestering her and she was having a tough day, but she doesn’t strike me as the lashing out type. She strikes me as the fair and reasonable type. Pragmatic even. So, considering that she made a point to mention that opening paragraphs should not be a “flat recitation of facts,” well, you can imagine how my critical self went to work. I write terrible flat recitative opening paragraphs. I SUCK!! it cried.

I’m also still chewing on the wonderful feedback I got on my novel from a fellow writer. He had great points, good questions, useful directives. And of course what did I hear? I SUCK!! Or more realistically, oh god, the work I have ahead of me. What I want to do is pretend I never wrote that draft, forget about those characters who I love but who are deeply imperfect, their plot lines unsteady, and go on with this NEW novel I’m writing. Yeah…great plan, right? Novel-writing by denial. So in a way this post is kind of the apology for my last post. When I’m in editor mode, I’m serious and critical, uncompromising and even a bit sarcastic. When I’m in writer mode, I’m rolled over with my soft white belly showing to the world, begging for mercy.

As if that wasn’t enough, we read all the way up to the last chapter of Harry Potter last night (1 to go) and the events were so upsetting that E. and I, fairly well-adjusted adults that we are, both had bad dreams and feel deeply upset by what we read. As Napoleon Dynamite would say, “Gosh!”

What I keep coming back to in the midst of my up and downs though is from a book I first wrote off as being gobbledygook but which I have since come to realize is pure genius: “The Four Agreements.” Right now I need to remember 1. Not to take anything personally and 2. I’m doing my best.

A little sunlight wouldn’t hurt either.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

On second thought, I do have something...

Here's a list, based on this past year of editing novels for a living, of things I wish writers would not do:

--Use cliches over and over again that would make those Hallmark schmucks cringe.
--Write unrealistic, cheesy dialogue that sounds vaguely like a drunk trying to remember early Shakesepeare "Whatever for, darling dear, did you buy this can of cheese, so easy squeezable?"
--Sum up a person's character by saying someone is "even-tempered" or describe a man as being of "medium build." While I'm at it, don't bother with "well-mannered," or "easy to please" either. I have no idea what any of those phrases say about anyone. If they do say anything, I don't give two shits about people who fit those descriptions.
--Write about sex as though it were plumbing, or an obstetrics manual. There are plenty of things worth probing; a woman is not one of them. That is not sexy.
--Write in such a way that an entire group of people thinks, sees or does the same thing all at the same time as if under the grip of some crazy over-mind like the one at the center of Stephen King's book TommyKnockers, which was not only creepy, but gross, especially when all their teeth started falling out.
--Have a character reminiscing about winning a track pennant while an assassin is at her door. Plot people. PLOT! It doesn't write itself.
--Have people fall in love in less than a week. At first sight. With their best friend. With their best friend's boyfriend or boyfriend's best friend.
--Write super evil villains and sickly sweet nice guys. Complexity, please! Reality.
--Take a reader's suspension of disbelief too far. See if you can keep purple genies and talking dogs out of fiction.
--Believe that your book is going to be published in six months for a six figure advance and that they'll let you design the artwork. At the very least, have the humility to WONDER if it's even publishable.
--Moan about having to do "a" revision. People, WRITING is WORK. Why do you think I'm editing for a living???


Sometimes, you're just out of material. All those clever little images and funky lines that rush into your brain, jotted down for later fleshing out, well, sometimes they are just gone--you can almost see the smoke trails where they fled your sorry brain. Like a comedian out of jokes, time to refuel. Sometimes I worry that my not having a job in an office with the irritating yet sometimes strangely enjoyable traffic of co-workers contributes to a lack of material. I don't go anywhere, I barely interact with anyone... sometimes i forget how to respond to the guy at the post office. But then I think of the first fifteen years of my life and realize I will NEVER run out of material.

So though I've done lots of writing today, this is my way of saying, "I got nothin'"...I'm watching Extra! for chrissakes...stuffing my face with this delicious caramel stuff that my cousin sent me from Uruguay. It was actually made in Uruguay, which I find deeply cool...because I have lots of things in my home made from a very few places in the world. There's probably more China, Taiwan and Mexico in my house than there is America...but now I have Uruguayan "dulce de leche."

Even this blog doesn't have a theme. I just figured I better cough up something...

why does my office smell like cat barf? It was the living room where he did the deed...



Tuesday, September 06, 2005

We always think, 'X can't happen to me or those I love. It won't.' Often we are flooded with relief when something terrible happens to someone else, not us. We're sorry for others' tragedies, but grateful that we dodged that particular bullet. I am not saying we should be anything but grateful. And I don't wish anything terrible on ANYone, not even those I think are awful, terrible people (are you listening G.W?) but, it's hugely important to remember that things can and do happen to people we know and love, including ourselves. All the more reason not to be living in a bubble of uncertainty. BE in your life. Really be in it. Don't put off joy. Don't suffer through something you can choose not to do. Be creative. Don't stop dreaming. Do take an extra day off to spend with your spouse or kid, or alone with yourself. Do keep playing guitar after hours even if you have no idea what "the use" is of it all. I don't know jack about God or about the Universe, but I do not believe for one flash that we were thrown into being to sit on our asses worrying about bills, staving off entropy and tucking our desires on a shelf for some day down the road when we have finally worked ourselves into the ground and can retire. No. Life is happening now.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Are you counting your blessings?

You know what I really hate? How it takes planes flying into buildings and an entire state to be submerged under water for Americans to remember that we are one big community, that we share so much human nature in common, that we should rise to our best selves and stand up and do the right thing and stop squandering our lives and live meaningfully with integrity and care and right action.

I interviewed a wonderful man, the founder of something called Green Sangha, a Buddhist-based environmental organization which believes in putting their spiritual practice behind a movement--in this case the environment--taking the approach of love rather than the standard dueling activist fighting with rage. Now, you might say, 'oh what chance do they have' or even think it's a little woo-woo, but its founder, Jonathan Gustin, says, "Solving the environmental crisis means solving the duality crisis, a crisis of misperception."

We talked a lot about that "duality crisis," and how we, at least Americans, but there are plenty of other cultures, believe ourselves to be separate from, other than the rest of the world, each other, ourselves even. Though I am not a practicing Buddhist I have always taken truths out of the tradition, and I couldn't help but feel that electric signal inside me of "pay attention to this" as we talked about this emphasis on separation.

We aren't separate from anything. But maybe the idea that you are not separate from the refugees in New Orleans is too esoteric a concept, how does that help anything? Or perhaps the idea that you are not so separate from George W. Bush is too unsavory of an idea, but on some level we are all made of the same stuff. Literally. We all came busting out of the Big Bang together and we all contribute to each other's lives/behavior/values/fuck-ups. You are a tiny bit responsible just by existing. I am simply going to spend some time attempting to not feel separate from everything that is. From that which I think I detest, and that which I love. From those who are suffering and those who have more than they need. I'm going to act out of love and I'm going to remember that even when there is no hurricane or terrorist attack, people are always suffering. In slums, and in mansions, in silence or not. Sooner or later, it will be someone you know. Maybe even you.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Warning: Contains Rage

It takes a lot to get me truly angry, but the one guarantee is injustice, as I see it. And right now I am seething, the kind of anger that makes me want to kick something or howl in fury. And I'm not even going to be fair or nice at this moment, I'm just going to tell it like it is:

Last night, my father, playing the role of 'good son' organized a birthday event in honor of me, and my 90 year-old grandmother whose birthdays are two days apart. If you've been following my blog, you know that she (known as "Oma") has been suffering from a kind of vascular dementia for the past couple years, finally culminating in us moving them out here to CA where they wouldn't be alone. That in and of itself is a story, one in which my Opa, at his wits end, begged and I do mean begged me to do something. What I did was convince my father that the time to move them was THAT INSTANT as they were threatening suicide pacts and other drama. Both of them improved greatly initially, considering neither of them was eating or sleeping properly back in New York. But eventually over time, life became as dissatisfying as ever, and his family appeared as ungrateful and uncaring as before with our time (a load of bullshit, I'm sorry!). My father has done so much for them it isn't even funny, and they are not easy people, let me tell you . My Opa is very controlling, and very afraid, but I have always maintained a relationship with them, made efforts to communicate and done all that I am capable of doing for them. If that wasn't bad enough, one of th ways her memory is impaired is that she no longer remembers certain members of her family, like my father and I. Ouch.

Anyway, it's a fairly regular routine after a get-together for my Opa to call up and say how dissatisfied he was with the event we organized for one reason or another, sometimes pertaining to how we didn't do enough deep meaningful conversing, or the presence of some friend of my father's he doesn't like...but it gets to be such a broken record, and his negativity so profound, I have found myself learning to treat him like he has a mental illness, like he can't help himself.

So back to last night. To compensate for her feelings of confusion as the dementia makes life more complicated for her (she's still remarkably lucid all considered), Oma makes a lot of jokes and acts very silly. And because none of us know how to deal with this any better than anyone else, as none of us are medical professionals, we go along with her jokes, and sometimes we laugh heartily because she can be quite funny. It's our defense mechanism too. We do what we must. And yes, it seemed she was a bit more goofy than usual last night, but I'm not going to respond to her jokes with a dour face and refuse to laugh. Sorry. No way.

Well, today my Opa calls and asks to speak to my husband, E. --Let me interject that E. sat beside my Oma, helped her open all her gifts, read her cards to her, and was probably the kindest, most loving person in the room to her all evening. Because he has a psychologist's approach, he knows how to treat people in these situations--Well, Opa proceeds to lambaste E. and the rest of us for how we were contributing to degrading her by laughing with her, that we made things worse and her feel bad, and that we should all somehow know that she was over-compensating. We should have been serious, he said, like my visiting uncle ( whose card to my Oma contained no less than three jokes about her age).

Well...after E. kindly navigated my Opa's shaming, hostile, controlling diatribe, a deep, powerful rage filled me. Nothing will satisfy this man. Everything we do is wrong. There is no good enough, we are all failures, now even my husband, the sweetest, most kind, generous of his time and spirit person...I have had it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wrote a vitriolic email but didn't send it. I am, however, going to write a new letter, and print it on the fucking printer they bought for me and send it to him. I know he's suffering. I know he's afraid. But he is alienating the very people who can help him, and I have had enough. I have just had enough.


Friday, September 02, 2005

Spam Violations

Due to the recent onslaught of a-hole spammers now linking to their cockamamie scams via comments posting, I have added another layer of complication to posting a comment. (Though I'm sure it will take about five minutes for the spammers to crack through that layer) I hope it doesn't deter you who like to post. You have to go through word verification, which, unless you have some kind of neurological condition, shouldn't be a problem.

I feel violated by those jerks. Can you imagine trying to envision something like spam in my grandparents generation? The concept is so outrageous! Just like there should always be a firm separation between church and state, so should there always be a firm separation between privacy and advertising. Telemarketers should not be able to call me at home. Spammers should not be able to post false comments on my blog. There are plenty of other intrusive ways they can reach me: when I pump my gas, for instance, some stations have little screens; at the movies for fuck's sake! I used to have only bad previews to suffer through, now I have to sit through army recruitment and Hummer ads too...So, there are plenty of places where I can be tracked down, assaulted and intimidated with advertising to leave me plenty of room in the places I thought were, if not sacred, at least rightfully mine.



Thursday, September 01, 2005

Happy first of Sepetember. I love the firsts of any month, they feel rife with promise. I guess, that is, unless your home, loved ones and livelihood have been washed away by a hurricane. Six months or so ago, a very dear friend of mine got a great job working for FEMA, that's one ofthe government agencies that is called out in times of emergency like this. Other than being told to expect that FBI agents might show up at our door as part of regular policy to background check all government employees (they haven't turned up yet, but hey, if you guys are reading this: she's GREAT! A stand-up gal!) I wasn't expecting much. I thought, "I doubt she'll see any catastrophes in her first year." I don't know if it was that I didn't want to envision her going into such a situation, or that I was just being naive to nature's ironic timing.

But just like national guard soldiers waiting to be deployed to Iraq, my friend is waiting to be deployed I believe first to Mississipi for up to 4 weeks where she can expect to sleep in one of those pitched-up Army tents, and that she should be prepared emotionally as well as physically for what she is going to see in the way of devastation, both structural and human. Wow. I mean, wow. Most of us will never get up close and personal to this kind of disaster, but my friend will be in there doing what all of us want to do, but won't be able to, actually providing direct assistance.

I will try not to worry too much.