Friday, March 31, 2006

I am here to write my way out of a pit that has mysteriously sunk in the middle of my room, trapping me at the bottom. That's right, I'm at least four feet lower than usual, requiring the use of very long chopsticks to reach my keyboard.

I dislike psychobabble phrases such as: "you're afraid of your own success," because, well, who would be afraid of success? I mean what a stupid thing to say. Success is good, coveted, desired.

Yet. It's true.

Here, poised at a stage in my life (and my husband's) when all is going better than it could possibly be imagined, the earth tried to open up and pull me down, and to help it, little black flying demons of negativity came to step on my head and pry my fingers free from the rim so I would fall.

In layperson's terms, all this great stuff happening has kind of scared me. I'm not supposed to be this happy. I'm not deserving of this success. Surely someone is going to come by any moment and revoke my right to all this bounty! Why even bother to enjoy it when it's only going to be snatched away?

You see the problem? Not exactly a great way to pay back the universe for its generous gifts of goodness.

So I'm writing it down here as a public confession, hoping that by doing so I can climb up and out and realize that sitting in a big old funky stinkhole of fear is really not better than walking into the bright light of success. In fact, it's far worse, and a gurantee of keeping success out.

So I'm going to stop it now. Right now.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Today I am my own featured essay, but not my own grandpa.

Daily Fidelity

There are rumors among us younger writers of a time when all a writer had to do to be successful was write and some savvy editor at a publishing house would find you scribbling on a bus or subway, recognize the talent oozing off you like stink lines, huddle you under his wing and say "Kid, I'm gonna make you somebody. Stick with me." And the wide-eyed, trusting writer would spend even more time in front of their Underwood, food crusted to their t-shirt, a fog of cigarette smoke encircling their head, being sloppy about punctuation and knowing that a little plot confusion or flat character development was no big deal. The editor would take care of that, would fold the writer's creases into smooth, public-worthy lines. These editors of lore took raw material and helped shape it into perfection.

Rumors are dangerous.

I embarked on the long, lonely road to publishing my novels at the age of 21 with visions of being ushered just like that down a special corridor to fame once somebody recognized my talent. I celebrated each small 'zine publication, each public reading in dank watering holes where confessional poets and performance beat artists and I shared the stage because surely, surely, that moment of discovery was just around the bend. I have been writing, after all, since the age of seven. And there's all that talk about how persistence pays off. I was persisting, wasn't I? I wrote a novel. I rewrote it. I sent it out for feedback. I scrapped it and rewrote it from scratch until I was sure I had it "right." But how to get this precious thing out into the world? How to get it under the eyes of those who would rocket me to fame and fortune?

Fate had my back. Fliers turned up at just the right time in my mailbox. A writing conference! I attended the Mendocino Writer's Conference on a scholarship. This was good. Scholarships come to those who are Worthy of Being Published right? There I met literary agents.

Let me detour for just a second for the non-writers among you: When trying to explain to non-writers and family members how one gets published, there is always a need to explain about The Literary Agent. "Do not be fooled," I tell my family "that this title means someone who fosters literary pursuits, or even someone who believes in literature (many do, but not all!). Think more of the agents in the Matrix movies. The agent is the formal go-between, spawned to stand between writer and publisher, created to navigate the world of contracts and business-speak. It means for the writer that she need be less savvy, less worried about the fine print, but it also means, no more sloppy punctuation or haphazard plot lines. Your agent demands a finished manuscript. And publishers demand that writers have agents."

So, back to the conference: there I was, Meeting Literary Agents, pitching a 350 page novel in a five second breath to a hurried agent as we walked from workshop to workshop. "Sounds interesting," she said. "Send me a sample."

So of course, I sent her the requisite query letter and sample chapters. I was So Sure this would be That Moment when my fame arrived. I could almost see the warm down of her wing as she stretched it open to usher me into it. We were going to be best pals. She was going to love every word that dribbled out of my pen and champion me to the stars. Fast train to publishing here I come!

Eight months later I got an apologetic rejection. I quickly become more realistic, but no less persistent.

I wrote another novel. And another. And rewrote them. Polished them. Bled myself dry, stopped speaking to my loved ones, holed myself up and away from humanity while I finished my novels.

Then I scrapped the clunky, first attempt query letter that had garnered me a rejection on my first novel. This time I spent nearly as much time writing a stellar query letter as I had my novels, and I simply did…not…give…up.

Like the writer Albert Camus said, novel writing requires "a daily fidelity." But so does submitting and agent seeking and the long, lonely road to publication.

The result is that I got an agent and a few long months of yearning ever more fervently for glory that alas, has yet to arrive.

Said agent and I did not have successful sales, therefore parted ways amicably and I'm back in that whirlpool of seeking an agent. There will be more to this story!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Good News

With my belly laden full of incompatible but tasty hors d'oeuvres served at my sister's 15th birthday party today, I come to share with you my good news.Good news seems best served on a full stomach, don't you think? Plus, I feel that I need to write this news down as many places as possible to convince myself that it is real.

Friday I received the good news from the fine folks at Writer's Digest Books that my proposal for my book titled Master the Scene has been accepted for publication in Fall, 2007, and will be included as a feature in their Book Club.

It's been an interesting journey. The idea for the book had been percolating for months as I edited novel after novel (freelance editing is one of my main gigs). Even some of my best writing clients have trouble with the purpose, texture, concept, etc of the scene--that lovely little foundational unit of energy, action, information, among other things--that brings a story alive, draws the reader right on in. As I stumbled across the lack of scene writing in my clients' work, I realized that I had only become conscious of the scene as a "thing" to be employed in my writing about six years ago myself. I'd managed to intuitively use scenes pretty well, but not always, and with some trouble until I met Stephanie Moore (who passed away this year to my great sadness), who brought the scene to the forefront of my writer's consciousness. I owe her a lot, and the foreword of the book recounts my first meeting of her, so that makes me doubly excited.
Another precious bit of synchronicity is that I've just completed an article for Writer's Digest Magazine on Writer's Retreats--and it was at a writer's retreat in January organized by my pal Susan Bono that I wrote the bulk of my proposal for Master the Scene.

Here I am working on THE proposal!

Then, the very fine editor at Writer's Digest Books who has worked with me on this project from the beginning helped me refine and tweak and tune my proposal until it met both our visions of what the book can be.

While I always dreamed that my first publication would be a novel, I feel no less elated that it's this book. This almost feels more right. I can't explain it.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

In yet another ode to the HBO show Six Feet Under, I ask you, how is it that a show about death, and people struggling in their relationships and facing pain and grief be so uplifting? How is it that I come away feeling better, happy? (with the exception of that one episode where David gets held up by a psycho all night--that was just traumatizing).

I know what you're thinking: it's a distraction from my own pain, or a vicarious living through others. But I tell you you're wrong.

It's so real that it's validating. There aren't any heroes or saints, just people trying their best to cope, to improve, to make it through somehow. I like it when people are real. Oh I know there's drama spiced in and a few implausible situations, but more often than not when a character is making a totally bad choice, E. and I look at each other and say, "This really happens. People DO this stuff." Maybe, I also like to see characters surviving the seemingly worst thing--the loss of a loved one.

Maybe on some subconscious level I do believe (and have always believed) that I had to "get it right" or the tiny tinfoil world of my reality would crumple in on me. Maybe I have always feared that I could make no mistakes, that the consequences would be too big, and thus have always worked a little too hard to "be good." I have never gotten so mad that spit flew from my mouth; I've never cried really openly, those deep belly sobs in front of most of my family; I've never had to beg for someone's forgiveness.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying those are the better way to be, but I know why I like this show.

Today's Wednesday Essay brings you something a little different, but still, one of my favorite writers, Rebecca Lawton.

This essay was first published in Orion Magazine, under the title "In the Company of Rocks" in the November/December 2005 issue, and then aired as a featured column in Word by Word on KRCB Radio.

A Reluctant Geologist Writes About Rocks
by Rebecca Lawton

I’m going to the creek to look for rocks, and I know I must go alone. Otherwise, whoever comes along will want to know what we’re seeing. You’re a geologist, they’ll say. What type of rock is this? How was it made? I may know the answers, or I may not. If I do, I’ll have a false sense that the earth is simple, and a rock’s story can be written off to mere name or process. If I don’t, I’ll feel that my education and years of technical experience have been squandered. So I go solo in my search for rocks.

I scramble down a steep path through snarled blackberry that’s far past fruiting. It’s late fall, the heavy winter rains yet to come. The creek, its waterline still near summertime lows, flows past bars of cobbles that feel as crude underfoot as old alley stone. Cobbles, in the geologist’s definition, are bigger than pebbles and smaller than boulders. They’re just about fist sized, ranging in diameter as fists do. These cobbles lean downstream together, like riders in a car negotiating a sharp turn. It’s the water that leaves them that way, first setting them in motion when the creek is high, then ditching them like a bad date when it falls too low to carry them farther. The abandoned cobbles tilt in predictable angles, as if positioned in ritual—say by Druids—rather than just dropped.

Cleansed and brightened by recent showers, the cobbles pulse in vibrant hues of sea green, scarlet, bone white, and jet. Out of habit, my mind calls up labels: basalt, full of vesicles, holes where trapped gases expanded as it was cooling; welded tuff, consisting of fused particles of airborne ash blasted sky-high from an upwind vent more than eight million years ago; rhyolite, whose pink-and-slate stripes are minerals that stretched lengthwise while still molten, burning hot and about the consistency of toothpaste. These rocks were forged in a land of fire, when these hills were volcanoes, alive and breathing smoke. And the dull red ones that look like bricks—well, they’re bricks.

Given time and silence, I relax and listen deeper. That flat rock that’s light enough for skipping was carried by the creek from a place on the mountain frequented only by the Ohlone people. That one eroded from an indurated cliff of paving stone that escaped the quarryman’s pick, but just barely, when he quit early on a day his team of oxen balked. See how it looks like the eyeball from some stone giant? This one’s life has grown too long. It’s as worn as tumbled gemstone. It bore witness to saber-toothed cats, woolly mammoths, and salmon by the thousands, but it’s outlived its spouse, friends, and children and doesn’t want to last another million years. And look: The creek has incised all the way to bedrock and is now cutting a wider bed. It's dug into a bank of silt and gravel mixed with shards of porcelain. They're pieces of dishes broken 150 years ago by the wife of a logger who felled the ancient redwoods far upstream.

As the light fades, shadows begin to obscure the detail at my feet. Looking up, I see the water’s riffled surfaces have gone gray and indigo. Hours have passed, and I’ve covered only a small bit of ground. The rocks have led me into geologic time, in which hours are measured in millennia, seconds in the span of enduring civilizations, and milliseconds in human lifetimes. There’s grace in such leisure.

Rocks change so slowly they often pass for dead. But like us they begin without form, engage oxygen, and break away later from mother or country rock. Like us they wear down with age and become dust in the end. In the meantime, they make good company.

Rebecca Lawton, M.F.A., is the author of Reading Water: Lessons from the River and other works. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers Award for 2006. She is co-leading the Second Annual Creating Space Retreat for Writers at the Wellspring Renewal Center, on the Navarro River in Philo, CA--May 12-14th, 2006.

Monday, March 20, 2006

"What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart. What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow." --The Dhammapada, trans. by Juan Mascaro

How apt that on the Vernal Equinox, this first rainy day of Spring, when I sat to write this morning specifically about re-establishing my discipline of positive thinking, I found the above quote in my in-box courtesy of Tricycle Magazine

I recently posted about re-reading some old journals, a process that did not make me feel very good. I was not surprised to realize that following periods where I wrote about what was going wrong in my life, well, things continued to go wrong. And when I made a shift and somehow got myself in a good mood, and then wrote about how I felt, the entries that followed were on an up-note.

Over the past two years as I've been playing with this work of attracting your life by focusing on your feelings, I've noticed that emphasizing positive thought requires daily mechanics. I'm hardwired to slide into anxiety and despair, hopelessness and victimhood. They are my default settings. So staying positive is like holding a valve open manually; I first have to take my strongest wrench or prybar as the case may be, and once it's open I must strive to keep it there against the deluge of foul negativity that wants to flood through it. Positivity is like exercise; it doesn't happen if you don't make it happen at first. It takes a long time for it to become second nature, so the only other way to stay positive is to work at it every day. I'm willing to do that because the results are worth it.


Friday, March 17, 2006

When you think nobody's watching...

In the wake of Frey-gate, JT Leroy's shenanigans and as articles like this suggest, I must ask the question: Do writers really believe no one is watching, checking up on or paying attention to their work? Or do they figure they'll ride on the hype, the scandal and the fury of the masses to their great literary career in hell? I just don't get it.

It's one thing to have "your side" of the story; I'm all for "he said/she said," but as Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass most recently proved, making stuff up in the public sphere creates irate bosses, friends and general public, and leads to job loss, reclaiming of advances and the need for a shield to block gobs of spittle spat from the mouths of angry mobs when going out in public. It also just makes you look bad, even stupid, or in the worst case--crazy!

Is it worth all that? Am I just too staid a writer, too straight and narrow to engage in this kind of tomfoolery? Not living enough for my art, not taking enough foolish chances?? Actually, come to think of it, I do write outlandish tales and fabricate to my heart's content. It's called Fiction.


In other intellectual lines of thought--why do I persist at eating at my desk when I ALWAYS end up flinging food? I ask you!


Thursday, March 16, 2006

There are so many causes in the world that to try and consider even a few could lead to unspeakable overwhelm and despair at the levels of suffering. But when one comes to my attention, I like to spread the word.

This article illustrates the struggle of one family to pay for the care of their 8 month-old daughter who has a rare breathing condition and needs constant supervision. In this day of health-care crisis, these stories are painful reminders of how many people struggle in ways that most of us don't have to even think about.

If you can make a donation to the Carousel Fund on behalf of baby Maura, I'm sure this family would appreciate it.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A confession and a quiz

When I'm feeling blue, or flat-lined or having a hard time motivating myself to do anything meaningful, there are a few tried and true things that instantly improve my mood. I suspect we all have these little mood-ticklers, and many of them, as mine are, might be just a tad bit embarrassing to admit. So come on, join me. I'll show you mine if you show me yours!

Instant mood-lifters

--Talking trash about American Idol!
--Checking Veritaserum for Harry Potter book/movie/celebrity updates.
--Anytime a new six feet under disc arrives in the mail (formerly it was the X-Files)
--Reading good pulp fiction in one fell swoop. Most recently, Tess Gerritsen's Body Double.
--A NEW email! Oh Joy! Oh, damn it's nothing interesting. Wait, another NEW email! Oh damn, it's just another announcement. Yay, there's that little gold envelope icon again! Damn it, who cares about a flipping coupon for Alibris! And so on...
--Eating almond butter from the container with a spoon (or that good dulce de leche goo my cousin sent me. Yum!)
--Praise! (this is in the category of "don't hold your breath.")
--Checks in the mail! (Same category as above).
--Communing with the neighborhood gang of cats-- Scout, Wally, Punkin and our very own Figaro.
--Reading articles about naked men causing traffic jams...
--Shirking work!

Hmm. These seem neither very exciting nor very shameful after all...


Today's Wednesday Essay comes from a writer who takes my award for the best champion of other writers.

1,000 Words a Day
By Myfanwy Collins

Britney Spears does 1,000 abdomen crunches. Every day. It's true. I saw it on one of those shows. She said one thousand crunches a day. Or almost every day. She thinks she might sometimes miss a day or two. Imagine if she wrote 1,000 words a day instead? Better yet, imagine if I wrote 1,000 words a day?

Well, I do actually--often more, much more. It's just that not all of them are on paper. The majority of the words I write stay somewhere else--in between thought and fingers and keyboard, waiting for a chance to be spewed onto the page.

For me, it is something like speaking. There are times when I don't speak because I'm writing what I want to say in my head instead (or worse, I think I've said something and only thought it). Typically, it sounds much better in my head than it does coming out of my mouth anyway. Same for writing, better in my head than on the page--much.

It's all about anticipation of the reaction--will there be fame or shame?

Say you are in a classroom. The instructor has asked a question. You know the answer. You alone—you're sure of it. No one else could possibly know this answer and when you say it, when you WOW them all with your brilliance, it is going to be great. The teacher will be impressed with you, the other classmates will hate you and yet you hesitate. The time is not right for you to speak, maybe the instructor is still speaking (and you wish he would shut up so you could say what you have to say. Just shut up, would you? Let me speak! I know the answer!) and the pressure builds and your face gets hot.

Or maybe it's your fear, your doubt. Do you really know the answer? You? Come on! Don't be so stupid. You are going to open your mouth and the words will come out and everyone will laugh because you are such a fool. They will all know that you never should have been allowed in the class anyway. It's a fluke. You are way out of your league.

But the words are pushing to get out and yet for whatever reason you are mute. You can't open your mouth. Your mouth will not open. You are waiting for just the right time. The right moment when everything comes together and your answer or statement is thrown out to the rest of the class and relief. And satisfaction or humiliation.

So you speak and your answer is the right one and the teacher winks at you and your classmates hate your guts for knowing what they did not know and you sit back all smug and satisfied and feel for once in your life that you might be on the right track.

Or you speak and it comes out all wrong and hackneyed and stupid and all of that hope you put into your answer plops to the ground under your desk. Everyone can see it. Some people might even laugh at it—maybe even laugh behind your back, later, which would be worse. The teacher seems embarrassed for you and quickly changes the subject. You can no longer make eye contact. You may never speak again and think that becoming a cloistered monk doesn't sound so bad after all.

Or you just never say anything and wonder for the rest of your life what would have happened if you'd spoken. The others might have lifted you up on their shoulders and carried you around the room. You might have won a car. A Nobel Peace Prize was not outside of the realm of possibility. If only you had said something.

Or you are Britney and you do your crunches regardless. You grunt them out, day after day until they are like breathing. And you do it because you want killer abs. You want abs you could bounce a nickel off of.

Bio: Myfanwy Collins lives in the woods with her husband and her dog. Please visit her at: or

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I'm just plain grumpy today. Astrologyzone says it's the "penumbral eclipse" plus mercury in retrograde. I think it has just as much to do with the days of rain, my obese cat and his incessant hollering for food every time I pass his bowl; the state of our home, which is in boxes as we pack, and the fact that my brain continues to feel full of cotton batting at a time when I really need its neurotransmitters to step up to the task of getting work done.

God I'm such a whiner.

Actually, I also noticed that after re-reading old journals (see entry below)I felt kind of depressed. It's sort of like I don't relate to my old selves anymore, and even feel slightly embarrassed about some of them. There were years when I let other people shape my identity, tell me how to be; other years when I fought being myself for less clear reasons--old shame, fear of being alone, etc. But the worse part of these journals is that I typically only wrote when things were going bad, or I was feeling down. There is so little of the joy of my life captured in my journals and now I am sad for that. Maybe the joy got channeled into my fiction.

So I'm trying to capture more of my joy these days. The more I write about what's good, the more of it there seems to actually be. And there is a lot that's good right now!


Monday, March 13, 2006

Inspired by Myfanwy's recent blog posts, I've been re-reading through some of my old journals (they go back to age 11...I have nearly 100 of these suckers). I'm going to post three entries going backwards in may find yourself busting a serious gut. I laugh so hard I cry when I read the older ones.

July, 29 2004 (beware, I was reading a lot of Camus at the time) 29 years-old.

"I'm thinking of that crow we saw yesterday on the beach, which had a broken leg and was clearly in pain--by the way it stretched its mouth open and closed without a sound. It could still fly, but this wasn't full consolation for it.

"E and I had a hard time watching it suffer on the beach there, and could not continue swimming there. But, I thought, not only was our unwillingness to see it suffer selfish and very human (animals are a lot more indifferent), but if that same suffering crow decided to attack us out of fear, we would quickly lose sympathy for it. It's hard not to reduce this down to the fact that we are all animals vying for our own survival.

"Last night a three-quaters moon spilled its light on the river that is just below our campsite and I stood watching the lit water wiggle and move, and fell into such a meditative state I felt like I was in amniotic fluid again. I wonder if it is also instinct that where there is water, there is safety and life and so we keen toward it and feel better in its presence."

High Drama Warning! This next post was written at summer camp between the end of high school and the beginning of college where I was a junior counselor... Comments in italics are added by me now to clear up certain things.

July 29, 1992. 17 years old.

"I don't know what to do about the pain that has been welling up inside me and is continuing to well up. I feel too full for one person and very vulnerable. I feel like my whole world and anything I may hold dear to myself is in jeopardy of being ripped apart. What's going on? I'm afraid to be angry but I have to let all of this anger loose soon before I drive myself insane.

"Camp has seemed to last forever. I dont' know what to do with myself anymore. Mary (a co-counselor) is pulling a serious power trip and it is hurting me. When I'm sick she gets mad at me. When Claudia is,s he takes care of her. She thinks I take control of her things too often but she won't say it to my face, she'll just hold a grudge and get bitter and treat me like shit.

"I feel like she has the capability to ruin my relationship with Bryan (Mary's brother, and the boy I, ahem, gave up my womanhood to). I feel like she wants to and she might. Why is she so malicious?"

October 2nd, 1998. Age 14.

"Have you ever had that feeling like a sudden realization of something has just hit you? I was just sitting here listening to the song, "Then, When," by Tracy Chapman, fiddling with my alarm clock while looking at myself in the mirror and I saw the window behind me. There is a tall green bush behind my bed and a sort of green-gray light was being shed into my room and it made me sad, confused, lost, nostalgic for something I can't determine. "

July 28, 1988. Age 13. See if you can follow the 'who's who'...

"I do like Kevin, but not the way I thought I do. I realize that I like Ben still after all and I just can't turn off my feelings for him, and now I realize that if I went out with Kevin I'd be using him to get back at Ben and that's called "use abuse" (my words!). However, since Ben told Debbie that he didn't like me, he's been ignoring me and won't talk to me although his best friend Taro assures me he doesn't hate me but simply hasn't gotten over it yet. Tonight was 4th of July. We all had a campfire and had sparklers and the staff sent off little fireworks, but nothing special. It was depressing and I am depressed. I don't know what to think."

There you have it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Now THIS is a Natalie Portman I'd like to hang out with :)

Ode to the Familiar

Something New

We are moving. I mean, for real. We found a place and paid a deposit. This geographical move south, for at least half of you reading this, will not mean a thing, as you live on the east coast, or in the south, or in Uruguay. And by now, if you're a local buddy of mine and you don't know this, then I've been a terrible, guess what, surprise! we're moving.

Moving is a funny thing. As the crow flies we're looking at about two hours drive south of where we live now. The scenery is very similar (see color photos), and there is in fact more of it, with fewer tall buildings to obscure it. We'll be closer to destination spots for hiking, accessing the ocean, and a variety of outdoor activities. We'll also be in a more culturally and ethnically diverse part of the state, which I look forward to.

As we drove back home today after a weekend of scouting a place to live, I suddenly saw how shabby parts of my own home county are. I started to see beyond my "familiar" eyes with my real eyes. It occurred to me: I love this area because it's familiar to me, and because I've built a community here, not because it is inherently more perfect than anywhere else.

I'm so interested in the psychology of the familiar, and especially that of place. It was clear to me when we visited Northcentral Montana that we were outsiders in a way so deep it could not be adapted out of us in a mere two years. We didn't own or relate to the history of that Montana town. The area was so "other" that it was going to require radical immersion, which, we realized, we weren't prepared to do. Our new town, however, is like a fraternal twin of where we live now, so similar that from a certain angle you couldn't tell them apart, but up close, quite different. All the same essential types of services are available, and there's a sweet downtown in walking distance of our new abode (with a bookstore!). The west side feels like the well-kept area with pretty neighborhoods, while the east side is relegated to pop up malls and pop up communities of behemoth beige developments with fancy names. I know this layout. It's very familiar.

North or South of San Francisco?

And yeah, I like what's familiar. 5 years ago I was braver, had less fixed desires. Now, I want to ease into warm water, not plunge into icy depths.

Both of my parents (who have not been married to one another since I was three) said the same thing when I told them the news that we found a place and actually know when we'll be moving. "Wow, it's moving so fast!"

Now, since E and I have been looking for a place to live out of the area, even out of state, since January, I found this statement to be amusing and blatantly false. What I believe they each really meant was, "Wow, I didn't really believe it was going to happen! I thought you'd be at arm's length forever!"


We are under no illusion that moving is some light and airy thing to do. It's big. Your life changes immeasurably. We will miss our quaint town with its pretty iron scrollfront buildings; its funny little tidal slough that passes as a river; its quaint eateries--Aram's, Hallies, Dempseys; its amazing literary community; it's Moose Lodge and Classic Car-lovers; its history of chickens and its tribute to dairy products in the annual Butter & Egg Day Parade. Oh yes, we will miss it. But I'm excited to learn the history and secrets of our new town, since this is about all the adventure I'm up for.

Good 'Ole P-Town

One of our biggest concerns about moving was that we have so much where we live now that we feared we'd only be trading down. Now, I feel like at the very least it's pretty equal. Maybe this taste for the familiar has something to do with the sudden appearance of gray hairs on my head. Yes, hairs. More than one.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Remember the Wednesday Essay? Well it's back!

I bring you Ellen Meister, author of two forthcoming novels by William Morrow: Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA (August, 2006) and The Smart One (2007).

On Writing & Chocolate

"In the beginning, the Lord created chocolate, and he saw that it was good. Then he separated the light from the dark, and it was better. "

I go into a zone when I’m writing. It’s a very intense kind of focus and, as I’m in it, I’m madly in love with my words. It’s when I go back later and reread that I decide it’s utter crap. Or not. Either way, I find that treating myself to a few bites of dark chocolate—either as reward or solace—is a valuable part of the process.

Show me a writer who’s 100% confident in his or her work, and I’ll show you a dreadful writer. I think it’s the nature of what we do that makes us second guess our own judgment. If we’re not constantly tormenting ourselves over whether or not we’re good enough, then we just don’t get anywhere.

A long time ago I posted a very short story on Zoetrope, my online writers’ workshop. The style was a departure for me, so I was insecure about it to begin with. Then it got terrible reviews from my fellow workshoppers—some of the worst I’d ever received. I was about to yank the story from the site and throw it away when another writer I greatly respect put the brakes on. She said the story was wonderful and that if readers weren’t getting it, eff ‘em.

I’m glad I listened to her, because it got published and remains one of my favorite stories. The lesson here? I’d like to say it’s to believe in yourself, but this is writing, not a Disney movie. The lesson, I think, is that we have to accept the fact that we can’t be all things to all people. Even our best work is going to be hated by some. There's no accounting for taste, as they say.

I've even heard there are some folks who prefer milk chocolate to dark, though I suspect that's some kind of crazy urban myth.

If you're curious to read the story in question, check it out

BIO: Ellen Meister grew up in the PTA-enriched heartland of suburban Long Island. She graduated magna cum laude from S.U.N.Y. Buffalo with a degree in English, and spent her early career in publishing and advertising. She later used her copywriting and marketing skills to open her own boutique agency. Upon the birth of her first child, however, she left it all behind to raise her family and chase her fiction writing dreams.

Her short fiction has been published in numerous print and online journals, many of which can be found on Google. She is represented by Andrea Cirillo and Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Visit her
Blog, "Diary of a New York Lady."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Which side to believe?

I was just talking yesterday with my dear pal Susan Bono about the nature of essay writing, and how if you claim your experiences, as Anne Lamott suggests we all have the right to do, and write about, say, your boozy uncle with the lecherous fingers, so long as you tell the truth as you remember it and don't go out of your way to slander or libel ole pervy-phalanges, then in all fairness, he could write an essay about you, and what a Lolita you were, and how you purposely misinterpreted his slightest word and gesture with malice. There are two sides to every story, and each of us has a hazy filter.

So it's with more than a little empathy and reasonable doubt that I paste the content of this admittedly hilarious Modern Love Essay from the New York Times. The essay is written by a spurned woman about a man I interviewed twice, and who will be the feature of a second article from This Publication in April. I firmly believe that there are two valid, worthy sides to every essay, and so I don't believe for a minute that Xeni Fragakis, the author, is guileless, or that she fully revealed her own failings, but I confess, it's a hilarious essay. (Though I'd love to read his "rebuttal"). I'm even pasting it in its entirety here because I know most of you are just too busy to sign up for the free registration at the NYTimes.

A Girl Could Get Cornered in a Tiny House
Modern Love Essay
New York Times

Published: March 5, 2006

A FEW years ago I embarked on an ill-advised romance. From the start I had significant reservations about the man: not the right reservations, it would turn out, but reservations nonetheless. For one, he held a part-time job at the local food co-op as a cheese cutter, and how long could I go without making a "Did you cut the cheese?" joke? Oh, not long. Not long at all.

He was also an adjunct assistant professor in the local university's art department, and, as everyone knows, there's no one in this world more bitter than an adjunct. In addition he lived in a house he had built himself.

There was nothing wrong with his living in a house he had built himself. What was wrong was that the house he had built was only big enough for him. It was 8 feet by 12 feet. It had wheels and would therefore be easy to flee town in.

To make matters worse, the tiny house had a name. And that name was Tumbleweed.
All this normally would have bothered me. But none of it did. Because, I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a pretty face, and the Tiny House Man's face was very pretty, delicately featured yet masculine. Unfortunately it was bearded in the soul patch style, which can make any chin look vaguely pudendal, but that was nothing that a persuasive girlfriend and a lovingly applied coat of Nair couldn't eventually take care of.

So the Tiny House Man and I made plans for dinner, and we agreed to meet first at the tiny house, so that I might see how tiny it was. Once at the house, which was tiny indeed, I was greeted by the Tiny House Man. I saw that he was wearing Teva sandals. I hate Teva sandals. He opened a bottle of wine, and it was not long before I forgot that I hated Teva sandals.

THE Tiny House Man and I drank and laughed and drank some more and laughed some more and forgot completely about going to dinner. At one point he excused himself to go outside. (The tiny house was not equipped with a working toilet; its builder and owner was, it appeared, a big proponent of composting.)

While he relieved himself, I sat on the tiny floor of his tiny house and looked at his one bookshelf, which was stocked exclusively with books about tiny houses and a good number of tantric sex manuals.

When he returned from communing with or, in this particular instance, insulting nature, he sat by my side. Very close by my side. I wondered whether our proximity was a function of limited real estate or genuine romantic interest. But soon our shoulders touched. And then our hands. And then our lips.

The angels sang.

And then the angels all of a sudden stopped singing.

He pulled himself abruptly away.

"There's something I have to tell you," he said.

I wondered what this something might be: I have hepatitis C? I'm a preoperative transsexual?

Tumbleweed isn't up to code?

"I have a girlfriend, but she cheated on me, and I told her that I'd break up with her as soon as I met someone else."

I liked the idea of being someone's someone else. I didn't like the idea that that someone had a girlfriend.

"I'm flattered," I said. "But it might have been nice if you'd broken up with her before you asked me out on a date."

"This isn't a date," he said. "I don't know where you got the idea that this was a date."

Now, a person who was smarter, and not so hard up, would have left the tiny house as soon as she heard the word girlfriend. But I was not so smart, and quite hard up, and the Tiny House Man was saying such nice things to me during our nondate — how pretty I was, how intelligent, how witty — and I grew more and more smitten with each addition to the apparently endless catalog of my wonderfulness.

He said he wanted to see me again. I said I wanted to see him again, but what about his girlfriend? He said he didn't want to hurt his girlfriend, so he couldn't break up with her right now.

When was he planning to break up with her? I wondered. Next week? Next month? Next year?
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe never."

I had met the girlfriend at two or three parties we both had attended, though at the time I hadn't realized she was such.

I announced to the Tiny House Man that I could not date him under these circumstances. I could, however, meet him for dinner in two weeks. A platonic dinner, we both insisted.
FOR the second of our two nondates we met at my comparatively palatial apartment. Again we drank wine. Again we failed to make it to dinner. Again the angels sang. And this time they sang longer, more technically demanding, generally more satisfying songs than they had the first time.

Thus, it surprised me when the relationship ended, which it did about 10 minutes later.

The Tiny House Man said, "Maybe we could do this again."

"Maybe if you stop having a girlfriend, we could do this again," I said.

He let out a world-weary chuckle. "I don't think that's going to happen."

It appeared that the Tiny House Man didn't want a new girlfriend. He wanted two girlfriends.

I said, "I'm not some car that can be taken out for a test drive" (when what I really meant, of course, was "for yet another test drive").

He said: "Well, I'm sorry. That's all I can offer."

I can't say that I dealt well with the news.

"I feel so used," I wailed to my best friend, Peyton, and I felt a little disappointed in myself: couldn't I come up with something better than "I feel so used"?

To anyone who would listen I argued for my worthiness, enumerating all my good qualities: that

I was smart and funny, that I didn't cheat on my boyfriends (or hadn't recently).

"I don't know why he stays with that tramp," I declared to Peyton. "I mean, I'm better than she is. Aren't I? Aren't I?"

"Of course you are," she said, proffering the only right answer.

"Then why does the trampy girl get picked and I don't? It's not fair!"

"It's not fair": someone had failed to remind me that the moratorium on pouty declarations of "it's not fair" had been in effect since the day I turned 7. Instead I became convinced that the Tiny House Man needed to know how unfair it was. And then I became convinced that it was he himself who could explain the unfairness to me.

I dialed his number, and when he did not answer, I dialed his number again. And again. And again. And again.

On the one hand I knew that my behavior was obsessive. On the other hand I was prefacing a majority of the calls with *67, which, it was my understanding, caused a phone call to be purged from the space-time continuum, as if the call had never existed.

A few days later the Tiny House Man called and asked, "Why do you keep calling me?"

"I don't understand what you're talking about," I said.

"You keep calling me. The number comes up 'not available,' but I know it's you."

"How?" I said. "How do you know?"

"I know," he said, "because you called, like, five times, and I saw your number on caller ID. And then you called, like, five times, and there was no number on caller ID, and so I thought it was pretty safe to assume it was you."

"Well, I don't think it was pretty safe to assume," I said, even though I knew that, as assumptions went, it was about as safe as they got.

I was even about to admit as much when he said, "Look, this is all getting very 'Fatal Attraction,' " and I was so taken aback by the carting out of that cheesy misogynistic cliché that I hung up. I mean, couldn't he come up with something better than "This is all getting very 'Fatal Attraction' "?

A COUPLE of weeks later I was exiting the unfortunately named but tasty Whitey's Ice Cream when I came upon the Tiny House Man and his girlfriend. He said, "Hi," as if to assure his girlfriend that I was a mere acquaintance, but I refused to acknowledge either of them.
My head held high, I passed them, noting, with satisfaction, as I did, that they were neither holding hands nor standing particularly near each other. I thought about happiness, about how shared misery wasn't the same thing as intimacy.

I had yet to entertain the much more radical notion that perhaps they weren't miserable, that whatever their difficulties (and clearly they had them) there might be something there worth preserving, that relationships were complex, imperfect systems. And that people were imperfect, that you might not have to be perfect to be loved, that you could be loved in spite of your imperfections or sometimes even because of them.

Of course none of this had occurred to me, nor would it for a long time. And as I kept walking, my head tilting ever higher, the ache in my upper neck numbed only by my sense of superiority, it was this one thought that offered me any comfort, that lent my own tiny world some order: I look way hotter in my jeans than she does in hers.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Humbug

I liked John Stewart, though I felt the whole time he was humoring the audience, telling his jokes with a grain of fear that those "hollywood types" just wouldn't understand.

I'm not afraid to admit that I was NOT rooting for CRASH in the Oscars. Not only was I not rooting for it, I was rather surprised it made it in and such fantastic movies like TransAmerica and Junebug did not. Oh I know...but it had such an important message, you say. People need to be made to think when they go see a film, you say. Yes, fine, that's all well and good. But the movie still has to be good in order for it to achieve that. In order for a movie to be good in my humble opinion, it needs to be well-written and well-acted, and well-directed.

As a writer, I found the dialog and writing cliched. As a viewer hoping to make emotional connections with the characters, I found the acting over-done, and an entire cast of talented actors turned into cliches because the writing they had to work with was so bad. There were a few powerful scenes, but mostly it was a bunch of people yelling at each other, having very little compassion for each other, and trying to prove their points with bad consequences.

Directing wasn't too bad, except that for at least half the characters (Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Ryan Phillipe), I had to suspend disbelief; i just did not believe their characters.

I know that if you say you didn't like a movie like CRASH you're liable to be accused of being racist. "It was the message that scared you. You just couldn't handle it. You know, racism still thrives in this country!"

Racism still thrives, it's true. And I probably have as much internalized racism as any character in that movie, which did seem to be the point of it. But so thrives sexism and violence and rape and suppression and I still wish Brokeback or Goodnight and Good Luck had won. I don't like a movie just for its message; and I've gotten the message from more even-handed, subtle movies before.

So. Can we still be friends?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Synchronicity? Serendipity? Pure magnetics? Hippie-ism?

Recently I was turned on to an intelligent fantasy series, by writer Robin Hobb. I'm almost finished with the third in this first trilogy (The Farseer trilogy), called Assassin's Quest. I like these books very, very much. The fantasy is very subtle, not overly done and reads more like historical fiction than anything. As I've been reading, I started noticing similarities to the work of a client of mine who has written (and is still writing) a series of fantasy books that I think are very good and deserve to be published. I edited this client's work long before I ever came across Hobb, but suddenly it occurred to me to ask this client if she had ever heard of Hobb. It turns out she had, indeed and I was not crazy to find tiny echoes--nods, if you will--to Hobb's work in my client's. I felt rather smart for making the connection. Then, today I find a blog entry by someone else who has just begun reading Hobb.

Oh I know, this doesn't seem like much, but I have had other, more powerful episodes of synchronicity that illustrate what I've referred to before as The Law of Attraction. That which you focus on begins to draw to you other things that "share" the same "vibration." I know how it sounds, but to me, it's physics, not new-age self-help.

Recently I finished the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, by Philip Pullman in which his characters endeavor to understand the meaning of "dust" a substance which seems to give and have life and is possibly dark matter. Pullman bases all his fantasy work on real physics, and his books are as much a quest to understand the nature of the universe as they are a treatise on adolescence. They are truly marvelous books. Just after finishing the third of the series, I read Ayelet Waldman's new book right after, and lo, the main character's stepson is a fan of Pullman's books. Then I discovered they're making a movie of the first of Pullman's book...all this happened one step after the other.

Wilder things have happened though. This summer I began thinking of my friend Whitney, who moved to the East Coast two years ago, and whom I hadn't kept in the best of touch with, but I really missed. I kept thinking I saw her on the street, only to realize these lookalikes were not her. Well in late July, my friend Emily, who was, herself, moving to New York took me to a cafe in town that I never visit, and minutes after we ordered, in walked my friend Whitney. We would never have met if not for being there that day, since the one mutual friend we have in town told her that he thought I had moved (I didn't) so she didn't come by my house.

When you put enough focus on something you really do attract it, or hints of it, or things like it. It again proves to me that if you apply this same logic to the larger things in your life, that which you really want, they too can start to accumulate and move towards you in time. They may not show up right away, but focusing on the idea that you will have them is better than focusing on the idea that you don't have them.

Or else I write these posts just so my brother-in-law can have a reason to continue to refer to me as a "hippie." I'd hate to disappoint him.


Change is Strange

Change is good. Change is hard. How we deal with change depends entirely upon timing, I think. If you are forced into change faster than you had hoped, it causes stress. If change comes after you've given up on it, it can be a welcome thing.

We're moving soon. Not so far away as Montana, but not so near as to be able to retain the exact same parameters of our life now. I find this change exciting and full of promise. I want to retain my important connections with all those and all that I love where we live now, but I confess to a great brew of excitement at the possibilities that open up when you do something different or new.

But we're giving ourselves a few more days not to think too much about changes. We're making soup and having friends over to watch the Oscars. It's raining and quiet today. For this moment, everything is exactly how it should be.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Image via Deviant Art

A story of mine, "Breathless" is live at Spoiled Ink magazine. Although there is only one part, so don't be fooled by the "Pt II" note.

**Warning, disturbing content in this paragraph**
As I was scanning for accompanying art to this entry, using searches like "teen girls hold breath" to come up with a google image, I came across the most disturbing image of a girl's body laid out on a table, a victim of a jihad somewhere in the Mid-east, and her head laid out to the side of her. Both her body and her head were in good shape, only they were separated from each other. SO disturbing. Imagine being the parents of that child come to identify her? I mean...could you ever sleep again? Could you live?


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Image via Purple Moon (How can you not love a site that sells "fairy stickers"?)

My mind feels like it has just been swabbed with novacaine. Dull and focus-less. I used to get this way once a week--usually on a thursday--but now I find I come to this point of incapacity much less frequently, maybe once a month. So when I do arrive at this juncture where I feel I can't think about food choices much less word choices, editing, writing or the like, I like to consider why I've reached this brain-dead place. Have I been working too hard? Is it physical (there is a tickle in my throat)? As a last resort, occasionally I turn to my horoscope.

Longtime readers will know that I was raised by the Astrology-minded. By which I do not mean dabblers, but those who speak the language of the planets fluently, and turn to their astrologer before their therapist, doctor or other practitioner. As an adult I've come and gone from astrology. I've got a couple sources from which the horoscope is always surprisingly accurate, and others that are about as accurate as the messages inside fortune cookies.

Yet as I sit here with a brain that feels like it's doing a fox-trot through melted fimo dough just to write this blog entry, and I encounter the fact that Mercury has gone retrograde today, well, I can't help but wonder.

Mercury rules the mind, communications, details and thought. My sign of Virgo is ruled by the planet Mercury (I don't know what that all really means, mind you). Therefore, we Virgos are supposed to be more affected than other signs when Mercury goes retrograde (and no I don't really know what a retrograde is, but it sounds bad, doesn't it?). Merc retrograde is a time of communication breakdowns (and mechanical ones), and is supposed to be the worst possible time to sign contracts, make commitments, life changes and the like. And yet as we speak that's exactly what's going to take place this month. Life changes, contracts signed, commitments made. Yet the astrologers all say "don't do it!"

So despite that I can FEEL this retrograde on my very brain cells, despite that communications have already started to go awry I am going to pretend that Astrology is a crock, or that there is a higher order at work that wants us to make changes, commitments and sign contracts and that it will all be for the best.