Jordan E. Rosenfeld Live and Write Free
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Hug your animals today.
Send love to my friend Laini Taylor, who is spending her final day with her beloved dog, Shiloh, who will be going back to the great beyond shortly, rather than suffer.
Remember Figaro, the fattest, most fuzzy, personable, loving cat there was.
Kiss your kitties and dogs, chinchillas and guinea pigs, rabbits and horses. Whistle to your budgies and give your fish an extra pinch of food.
Then go do the same to your human friends and loved ones.
It's short on this planet. Far shorter than any of us realize.
Two interesting Virgo horoscopes of the day:
1. "Stay aware of your own anger, especially as you communicate with others at work. You might be feeling blocked at a very deep level and yet you have the potential to work through these blockages now. Your fantasies offer you an easy escape, but keep in mind that they won't help solve any of your current issues."
2. "If you feel like acting a bit more outgoing than you normally do, go for it! You have a good enough head on your shoulders to know what is and what isn't appropriate, so have fun. Holding back from saying what you really feel might seem like the polite thing to do, but in reality it's somewhat dishonest. You have the ability to put things in a very tactful way, so say what you mean. You have every right to your feelings, and you have every right to express them."
Last night, on that wondrous lip of near-sleep where the answers to everything can be found, I finally came up with the perfect words to speak to a situation that has caused me great anguish and confusion. The words felt as though they'd been written for me by a great speech writer, and they so accurately summed up what I felt that I was even impressed with myself.
The problem? They were words I needed over a month ago, once again proving that hindsight is the only clear vision.
I am trying not to feel frustrated at how I let slide what I really wanted to say, what was really true for me. I am trying to let go all around. And thought I had, until last night those words rose so silky true in my mind, unprotected by my habit of making nice.
I must remind myself in the words of one of my favorite poet-philosopher, Bob Marley: You can't please all the people all the time (okay, so he didn't originate the lines, but it sounds better set to Reggae music).
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
A strange phenomenon that defies the laws of physics is taking place in my home, and maybe yours too.
The weeks are growing shorter--they now begin on Wednesday, a fact I know for sure because nobody will respond to email or answer their phone until hump day--and yet in terms of actual time spent working, they are longer. That's right, I am a working machine squeezed into a condensed black hole of time that runs roughly from Weds-Sat.
For example, upon beginning work at 7 am, I will look up from what has got to have been 8 hours of work, only to find it is only 9:30 am! Do you see what I mean?
What can be behind it?
Last night I missed my fuzzy, my Figaro cat, so much I couldn't bear it. I literally ached with sadness and clutched tighter to my stand-in, Beazles, who, while he is a great comfort and a white snow leopard to boot, being that he is stuffed, he does not measure up to the ball of personality and love that Figaro was.
Monday, January 29, 2007
My mom tells me that I'm funny. I know, any sentence that begins with "my mom" can usually be discounted. But she also tells me that her friends think I'm funny, too. Of course, I don't see this, nor could I pinpoint a moment of my funniness (take that you spell-checkers!) because I'm rarely trying to be funny. Once in awhile I try to be funny with my husband, to make him laugh. These attempts don't work, yet he is often in hysterics over something I said that I didn't know was funny until he started laughing. Most of which I won't reprint here, as these statements tend to be either scatalogical or obscene.
The point here is, I am one of those people who can't be funny on purpose, only accidentally. I wish I was the other way.
I also can't seem to write funny. I so want to be like Lorrie Moore or David Sedaris.
But you can't be what you're not. This I know for a fact.
I may still make you laugh accidentally, and that would be ok with me.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
I don't usually write controversial articles, mostly because I avoid stirring up trouble, and I don't get a thrill out of hate mail. But my latest article on new anti-Semitism in this week's Pacific Sun, may just be the first (or maybe I'm being paranoid).
What makes the topic so interesting (to me) is that this new anti-Semitism, as defined by the Anti Defamation League, is coming from the unlikely source of the poltical left, disguised as criticism of the Israeli gov't/policies but equating it with negative Jewish stereotypes.
My editor gave me this assignment because we have a good working relationship and he feels I'm capable. But more than a few of the people I interviewed, when they heard my name, made vast assumptions about my "obvious" Jewishness based on my name, and came to conclusions like one man I who said, "Well I can see why they gave YOU this assignment."
Ironically, due to the way that my grandparents transmitted Judaism to my father (they didn't, too traumatized by what they'd seen in both Palestine/Israel when they lived there, and by what became of their families back in Germany), and the fact that my mother is not Jewish, I grew up as a little girl with a very Jewish sounding name, but no awareness of the religion or its traditions to back it up.
Yet all my life, my name was enough to make people want to include me in a tradition I have never had a claim to (I've always thought that was sweet).
In college I decided I wanted to get in touch with my Jewish roots, and so I turned to my grandparents who told me they were the worst source. Then I went to a lovely reform temple with a friend, where the Rabbi was female, and I had a great experience. But not enough to convert.
Despite all that, I will admit there's something about the traditions and rituals that attract me, but I can say the same for a lot of the traditions and rituals of other religions.
Mostly, I found this article so interesting to research because of people's intensity, the long-embattled history of Jews as scapegoats, and the hypocrisy that even left-leaning "humanitarian" types fall prey to.
Friday, January 26, 2007
This morning I'm thinking about mis-interpretation.
Have you ever been seen in a way you found surprising, because it did not jive with your internal experience of yourself? Have you ever found someone else to be not what you thought they were, to your surprise?
I've long been a hyper-sensitive person. Us HS's are good at hiding that because if you show too much of it, you get called names and people think you're weak and they generally go out of their way to avoid or torture you. I learned that a long time ago. To survive you must build a persona that does not appear sensitive.
My personae have changed over the years and can often morph at will. I've gotten so good at it, my own mother can't read through it.
These are the things that people have thought of me, vs. how I was really feeling:
Perception Real State
Aloof/snob Shy, insecure
Superior/Know-it-all Terrified of being seen as less than, dumb,
Braggart Feeling like a failure
Cold Hurt or angry
Bitter/sarcastic Hurt or angry
I've been thinking about how we passive-aggressively relate to one another when we are hurt or angry or any of those feelings above and can't say it, because it's rarely safe, or we perceive that to be so. Our pride, our egos get so easily jounced and pushed around, and like the children we were when we learned how to behave in the first place, we lash out. We protect ourselves. I have been guilty of this so many times.
It is my goal to stop taking things so personally. Even the worst behavior usually comes from a place of fear or hurt, something unresolved in the person. Therefore, it has nothing to do with you (or me, in this case).
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Yesterday I was exhausted. Today I'm in overdrive. What gives?
I decided after I ran out of steam yesterday that I had to just let go, go easy on myself or else I'd get sick or depressed and all my deadlines would get sabotaged. And doing that was the wisest thing I could have done and strangely, by relaxing, it all worked out. As of yesterday my pressing article still needed one more person's quotes to flesh it out and I was feeling a bit panicked, actually. So I stopped. Walked away, thought about who I could get to respond and emailed someone I thought of at the last minute. He sent back what turned out to be the perfect answers that rounded out the article just as I had hoped. I firmly believe it was the getting up and walking away that allowed this to happen.
Today I got up early today, before 6 a.m., because I really intended to get the article done and polished and turned in. I acheived that goal by 9 a.m. to my surprise.
Then I had a lovely conversation with my friend Emily in NY, who has had recent successes for the NYTimes and will be flying out to CA for an article in the Chronicle. How cool is she?
Then I made some starts at articles that are due in the near future and exchanged some emails about two writing conferences that Becca Lawton and I have been invited to present at, both in Mendocino county, CA. This feels really good.
But of course, before I could truly relish in the delightful effervescence of a deadline completed, I had an edit session with my producer of the CA Report at KQED. My review needs some radio-friendly work. It's hard to make the transition from print to radio. It's almost a 360 in terms of style. Words and sentences are better off shorter, less grandiose. I have to move from eloquent to conversational, make sure I've really let the reader into a slice of the book. It's harder than it sounds for something that will be on the air for 3 minutes or less. My producer is eternally patient with me. I've got a draft or two left to go, before tomorrow!
And speaking of tomorrow I head back up to SF for my second interview for the article on writers in their writing spaces, and then record at KQED. I dread the drive, but please send me good non-trafficky thoughts.
I'm just glad my mood improved from yesterday or I don't know how I would have gotten all this done.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Today is a crash day. That means despite looming deadlines and other unfinished projects I am simply too exhausted, mentally and physically, to do much work.
Probably I should get some exercise to stimulate these sleeping centers.
Why am I even writing about this?
To justify, since I feel guilty when I don't work at my full capacity.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
San Francisco and I have an odd relationship. Sometimes I breeze in and she welcomes me by guiding me directly to my location without a hitch, and even provides me a parking spot. Today she was cranky, and her mood interfered with my confidence in my directions and I wound up lost. Not too lost, but lost in that way where all you want to do is take a left turn but you are forbidden and so you must go practically an entire city out of your way to take the magic right that will lead you down the one magic street by making an impractical U-turn that gets people honking at you.
I was on my way to interview a very famous author. Admittedly, he's more famous to the 12 and under set--but you can't say his pen name without a knowing nod from any age. And he does write for adults, too, and as I am knee-deep in the middle of his latest and have fallen into its swoon, I'd say he shall shortly become as well known for his adult books, too.
I'll reveal his name when the article comes out if you haven't guessed it already.
I should have learned during my three years doing Word by Word that authors are just people, but still, sometimes I confuse them for leaders of nations or movie stars or great scientists, so befuddled do I get in their presences.
This fellow is easily what you would call disarming, and quick-witted, and a good conversationalist, but I was still a little bundle of anxiety, my voice coming out all funky and strange, my questions alarmingly monotone, and I was sweating like it was August! When will I get over this phenomenon of 'because you're famous, you must be better than me?" I'm not saying he isn't better than me--he is--but it's such a funny, funny condition that strikes me.
It was fun to walk around his gorgeous, spacious, well-decorated San Francisco apartment and imagine myself as the kind of writer whose success could afford me such digs. But then I got back into my car, and into my own skin again, and thought that it was perfectly okay to be the kind of writer I am, who is learning to enjoy what she does more and more no matter the outcome.
At any rate, I must go back to Lady San Francisco on Friday for a second interview with another well known writer, this one female. I hope she will be kinder to me--the city, I mean.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
I don't usually do movie reviews here, but the movie, Pan's Labyrinth was so amazing that I just have to. The movie delivered every bit of what I hoped for from it, but it's a difficult movie to talk about in usual movie terms because it must be experienced in much the same way a Jackson Pollack must be...you can't describe it later without leaving out what made it truly great.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to put this up, (and I will gladly take it down if not, Ms. Nickell) but here is my cover so far. I personally really like it. When I doodle, I always make curlicues and circles, so it fits with my subconscious mind very well. I like how one curlicue becomes a flower--represents a growing, living thing, which any narrative is, and one below looks more like paint splatter--representing (to me), the messy footprint of creativity.
I was told that this image is a bit darker than the colors are actually intended to be in print, but I'm jazzed :)
As my friend Robin Slick said, "Black and white and read all over!" Hope she's right. The book comes out in November, 2007.
Yesterday was a day of feeling very "writerly." I had just secured the second of two very cool interviews with interesting authors for a Writer's Digest feature I'm doing (more to come), when lo, the fellow I'd just set the interview date with, a best-selling author who lives in San Francisco, emailed me to say "Hey, nice review in the Chronicle." I had been waiting for that review to run, and to learn about it in that fashion made me feel ever so credible.
Then I saw my book cover.
Some days it just feels good to be legit.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I ordered a phone with them a couple days ago--an upgrade I'd been putting off for a long time. Pleased to have this off of my to-do list, I discover today that they made an error (essentially misled me) so that in order for the warehouse to send me the phone I'd have to pay another $150. On top of the $80 I already paid--$50 of which is supposed to be rebated once I get the phone and the forms in the mail.
My options? Cancel the order--which means me sitting here on the fucking phone waiting for tele-sales to answer so I can cancel...and then, go into a sprint store to get my new phone with that $150 rebate I was told I'd get on the phone that day--all for a product that actually is probably worth about $5 in parts.
Maybe someday these people will answer the phone.
I hate them.
For some reason before I fell asleep last night this conversation I had with my grandfather (Opa) popped into my head and since it is so indicative of our relationship now that he refuses to put in his hearing aids, and also regarding his ability to handle any emotional content, that i thought I'd transcribe what i remember of it:
Opa: Jordie? Hello? Jordie can you hear me?
Me: Hi Opa. How are you doing?
Me: I asked how you are doing.
Opa: Fine. Fine. How are you doing?
Me: Oh, sad. Grieving.
Me: I said we're sad.
Opa: You're what?
Me (loud, exasperated): Fine. I'm fine!
Opa: Oh. I wanted to tell you that when I called last I did not understand that you were saying your cat had died. How are you feeling ?
Me (loud): Oh yes.
Me: I just said yes, our cat died.
Opa: And are you over it?
Me: No, not yet.
Me: NOT YET
Opa: Oh. Well, what time are you coming on Saturday...
If you pick up today's San Francisco Chronicle, you will find my review of Gayle Brandeis' novel Self-Storage in its pages.
If you care to hear about some more book selections, you can hear me blather on NBC11's The Quills one more time by going here, and clicking on the SAME screenshot of me as they used the last time...only up at the top. This time I actually work for Booksmart :)
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I want to apologize to anyone whose grief I did not take seriously. Or did not understand. Or urged you to get over quickly. Or didn't make time for.
I have a deep regret along these lines that stems from my freshman year in college. The "surrogate" mother of Figaro was my college roommate Jyll. Many years before the white cat came to be, Jyll and I were both crammed in a 70 sq. foot room, and deep in challenging relationships.
I was involved with a guy who ran so hot and cold with his feelings and could be set off into a defensive rage so easily that I turned myself into a creature of anxiety, working very hard to be the kind of girl he wouldn't leave (I was only 18!). Jyll was involved with a guy who suffered from depression among other things. And one cold night, he tried to kill himself. It was unsuccessful, but when Jyll learned about the attempt, she was devastated and at that moment more than any other, she needed a friend.
But I was too much of a mess around my relationship--afraid of the silence he was so good at giving me--so I went to him, instead of her. I turned in the wrong direction, and I regret it.
I also did not grasp my mother's pain when she lost her 17 year old dog, Dylan, often referred to as "my brother."
Perhaps the only person I can comfortably say I stood present for during his grief, was my husband, when his father passed. Nothing has ever looked more painful from the outside.
I want to remind people: grief is grief. Animal, vegetable or human. I know people who have cried over a dead plant. Don't rush people through it. Don't point the way to happiness. Encourage them to feel it--so it passes through them. The happy memories, and the good feelings, return when there's room to do so.
Someday you'll need somebody to choose not to turn away from you.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
I would like to go back to blogging about fun, funny or non-sad things, but I don't have my full mojo back yet. Grief is a work in progress.
This is my life in a nutshell right now:
American Idol begins tonight, and this makes me absurdly happy
I am nearing the end of the revision of my novel, which I can hopefully get to my agent before global warming kicks a real ice age into gear.
I finally upgraded my cell phone to one that does not look like a transistor radio, and weigh as much, too.
I sent two beautiful Mary Oliver poems to some friends who have recently experienced great losses, too, and felt uplifted in the process.
I was on TV again yesterday. Same Quills program. Don't think it went as smooth, but it's not linked online, so I can't show you.
I bought myself a new dress. Leopard print. Not as tacky as it sounds.
Rebecca Lawton and my publisher sent us the edits on our book, Write Free, which looks great. It's coming into the world!
I have a good life.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Good morning. And what a freezing morning it is. Yesterday we woke up--in California, mind you--to discover our pipes had frozen. In my entire life this has never happened to me. It was short lived, maybe an hour, and having to make coffee in the french press was about the worst that happened as a result. Still, it made me think...how much do we take for granted?
We can't help it, and we shouldn't even be entirely encouraged out of this behavior--it appears to be writ in the DNA.
Still...this morning I was especially grateful for the steady flow of water. And started thinking more about gratitude...which seems to be a matter of mindfulness. You don't need to drop to your knees for every thing you are grateful about, but it's not a bad thing to be mindful of it all--and to follow it up with appreciation. It makes you feel better.
In my grief I've spent a lot of time thinking of all the things I wish I had done differently with Figaro. Especially in the last week. More cuddling, more kindness, less shooing him away and scolding him for begging for food. Damn do we miss him so. We looked through pictures of him yesterday--we took a lot!--and that helped to remember all the fun we had with him.
Last night E. and I watched a special Nature retrospective. Two of the pieces really nailed us in the heart. First, a 73 year old man who had been forced to flee his New Orleans home due to Hurricane Katrina was sobbing because he'd had to leave his cat behind. He'd already snuck in twice illegally to find her, and was going back for a third. Tearfully he told the interviewer, "She's all I've got. She's my family." E. and I promptly burst into tears. The good news was, he found her.
Second, an old Elephant named Shirley--some 52 years old, who had been in the circus of course and even survived a sinking ship--was being moved out of her home in a Louisiana zoo that could not keep her, to one in Tennessee that already had Elephants. Her first night there, the keepers of the sanctuary heard lots of noise coming from inside the elephant barn. In the morning they discovered that Shirley and another elephant named Jenny who were in adjacent pens, had bent the bars to attempt to get to each other. Turned out that Jenny and Shirley were buds from the circus more than 25 years before. They had not seen each other in that time, and Shirley had not seen ANY other elephants. They remembered each other, and what's more, they were desperate to be together again.
They became inseperable. Walking with their trunks wrapped around one another. Cuddling, standing near one another.
You see...we need the comfort only other living beings can provide. Sometimes its people, sometimes its animal...but we need it.
So I feel okay letting the grief poke me here and there. I did take Figaro for granted, there's no doubt, and I am looking around my life now and asking, who else/what else needs more of my mindful attention?
For those of you who have kindly asked how we are, well, I can tell you that we're not rushing to make it go away, because then, the next time we lose someone or another pet, it will still be there, waiting with a vengeance.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Easing Through It
It is a little bit easier today. Just a little, because E. and I allowed ourselves to grieve the past 24+ hours thoroughly. That, aided by my stuffed snow leopard, given to me by E. one winter when I was heading off to Bennington, snuggled between us for the night.
Figaro's passing has led us to muse on the nature of attachment and suffering, on self-hood and memory.
The Buddhists say that we suffer because of our attachment--the desire we have, the joy and even the discontent we feel: we're attached to the feelings as well as the people/creatures and don't want to let go. Only when we soften into the reality that death is just a change, just a shift in perspective, do we cease to suffer. This last idea, though very simple, takes a hell of a lot for the human mind to accept. It generally takes a lot of time.
We were attached to this creature who we believed and felt certain things about; things that made our own experience of being human seem better. We appreciated his cuteness, his cuddliness, even his very dependence on us. We were, in fact, ehanced, fuller, because of the many tiny details we attended to in him: the feeding, the cleaning up after, the petting and letting in/out. These little things became a part of the weave of our lives and only now that he is gone did we realize that those simple actions: running a brush down his back, or dropping a scooper of cat food into his bowl, had significance to us. (though of course, how many times have I heard his feet pattering down the stairs or his cry in these hours since his death!)
It makes me think for some reason of people who are forced to give up everything they knew--because of war, or poverty or even in order to embrace a better change, how utterly stripped we feel when we can't turn to our familiar.
It seems to me that a human sense of self comes out of two main things: Our rituals--those things we do repeatedly that are familiar, from teeth brushing to driving certain routes, to feeding ourselves certain foods, to behaviors and emotional patterns. And second, our memories. We remember ourselves on a daily basis, in a certain way. Times spent with people, experiences that hurt and invigorated us...our memories are as real as our blood, bones and tissue (and why dementia in people is so devastating as many of us know first-hand).
I think this is why animals do not have the complex kind of memory that humans do. Imagine remembering all the moments of fear in the wild where you waited for a predator to find you; the moments of hunger, the extremes of disease. Animals have to live in the present, with their instinctual memory to guide them. Otherwise, they would suffer all the time.
I hate to make a lesson out of everything, but I believe that animals do teach us how to be in the present. They teach us how to enjoy and take pleasure in the very smallest of activities, the tiny moments that, much like the "dark matter" of the universe, actually fill 90% of our lives.
Figaro taught us about the "everything in between" that is actually the true heart of our lives if we'd only stop long enough to catch it, taste it, live it...and remember it.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
It is so hard to say goodbye. This picture breaks me up but it is my favorite, too. It shows the kind of affectionate, unusual cat Figaro was.
For a few moments I have been tempted to feel silly for the depth of my grief. He is just a cat, right? Recently people I know have lost siblings and dear friends and worse. But as I told a friend who emailed me this morning, the heart does not differentiate its love. It doesn't say "only so much for this small animal"...We loved him like he was a member of our family, and my first thoughts on waking all night were for him. This morning I just let myself cry when I passed by the spot where I always feed him. When he wasn't in his little cat bed by the heater, stretching out a paw in greeting. When he wasn't scratching at his little scratch posts or following me upstairs to my office.
Figaro was almost 11 years old--too young in my opinion to go, but they were a full, rich, well-cared for 11 years. He was more than well-loved.
Figaro had many admirers too, cat and human alike. I know that others will miss him, too. My mom cried for him.
--Who at one time dug holes in the garden just like a dog
I must force myself not to dwell on his final hours, the ones in pain, because we helped him through it as best we could and let him go.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I am too devastated to say more, but our dear, beloved, precious Figaro passed away tonight, much too soon.
Please send love.
I just have to get this out of the way first: "Speculum cervix movie." A german searcher came to my site via that phrase. I don't believe I have ever used that phrase on my blog before, but I damn well plan to from now on. It will also be an ice breaker for new friends. "Care to come over Friday night and watch my speculum cervix movie? It's riveting!"
I haven't posted in awhile because I enjoyed the fact that my last post was so happy! and wanted to leave that happy!ness up. Not that I plan to change the mood around here. Chez Jordan things are still happy but also another thing for which I am seeking the proper adjective. Punchy? Pissy? (Do not go there, ye dirty minds. Do not!) Spunky? I'm not sure what it is I've been feeling but it falls somewhere between petulant and forthright.
I've been responding to situations more honestly lately, which is to say, more messily. More "this is my sloppy first reaction" and less "let me be nice to you so you will like me."
The response is, as I expected, mixed. Produces a lot more conflict! It's hard to go from perfectly polite to honestly messy. I often find myself wanting to clutch after the newly expressed truth and reel it back in. But that's the thing about truths, bottle 'em up long enough and they have the force of baking soda and vinegar shaken in a bottle (that's what I call layperson's physics!)
I've also been grappling with the little beast I keep chained below my fourth right rib at all times, where I can pinch her little neck below my armpit--my ego. She's been getting out of her chains more and more often and scrambling up to my shoulder and speaking in MY voice, the little devil. She's been asserting herself, wanting attention and validation for her perceived sense of self-importance, while I try to shove her back into a choke hold.
I guess it's inevitable. After toil, sometimes you want rewards. I'm just trying to learn how to be proud of myself and my achievements and my knowledge without coming across like a bitchy know it all. I realize that I suffer from a little bit of pride, too. I don't want to be told something I already know, which probably cuts me off from learning new, useful things and makes me seem closed off. Gotta work on that.
So this is all to say that while I'm happy, I'm also shifting into someone slightly different. Someone I'm not sure all those of you who know me will still find to be quite so nice or likeable in the future. I hope you do, but I have to let go of even that.
I have to just be myself, whoever that is.
Friday, January 05, 2007
I am a marshmallow (goo goo ga joob)
Yesterday I felt...strange. All day I tried to put my finger on what I was experiencing. I was the human equivalent of marshmallows; I was that fake spiderweb stuff you hang on halloween; I was really thin, expensive silk hung from the top of a tall tree that catches the wind.
I got lots of work done at home, and completed my project at the bookstore. I was nice to customers and didn't get too impatient. I had a nice conversation with my co-worker.
I was looking forward to things.
It took me until seven o'clock at night to realize that I felt...
Happy enough that I felt the need to point it out to E. in much the same way I might announce, "I've just won free money!"
I didn't recognize my own happiness (indeed, I kept thinking: whatever this feeling state is, there HAS to be a cause and gosh darn it, I'm gonna hunt it down and kill it!) because for the past three weeks I have been feeling shades of gray ranging from anxious to bad to downright crappy.
Of course, sheer happiness for its own sake is apparently unacceptable in Jordan's inner council of emotional scrutiny bureau--a nasty office full of red tape and men in horrible suits that can be found in my left temporal lobe--because I kept sniffing out the source. Why am I happy? Is it because I have let go of things out of my control like people's perceptions of me? Is it perhaps that I have come to the end of a very lengthy project that I felt would never end? Is it because I found my inspiration mojo again to keep plugging away on the novel revision? Did it have something to do with the brand new episode of The Office, perhaps?
At the end of the day, and here today as well, I still don't know for sure. I only know that I am still very fluffy lemon meringue pie; one of those enormous balls people use in Pilates class; forget that--people, i am a goddamn hot air balloon. And I really don't care why.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Third Day Book Club Blogs Suite Francaise, Part 1: A Storm in June
Irene Nemirovsky (image:BBC)
In a day when being a francophile is more unpopular than ever in the US, I admit it, I am one. I really do like many things French. The writers, the cheese, the wine, the country, the culture, the art and yes--even the accent. I've been to Paris three times and never once had anyone be rude to me (except the men--but that's not because I was American). I also have family there--cousins--and French is the only other language besides English that I speak conversationally.
So I was well predisposed toward the idea of Irene Nemirovsky's novel (actually an unfinished novel), Suite Francaise even though I was a little unsure if I had the mettle to stand up to another novel about WWII in the dark and tiresome month of December. I figured this was no novel about idle days lying by the Seine, or sitting around eating a luxurious two-hour meal. And while that's true, in some ways it is. This is a novel about life interrupted, the moments just before and after the interruption. This is a novel about life in the German occupation of France in 1942, about life on the run, life savored in final moments before tragedy.
Two of my favorite French writers are Camus and Rhys (okay, Rhys wasn't actually French-born but she lived there for many years) and in Nemirovsky I felt a familiar texture, a quality that I know comes from being steeped in French culture--a culture of particulars, of refinement, and yes, oppression and snobbery too. (I am all too aware of the racism and hatred that exist in France, too...)
I love the way that Nemirovsky writes about people so non-judgmentally. Her arrogant writer Gabriel Corte-- famous, bourgeois and used to getting things his way--is entirely unmoored when the Germans come to town. He is not at all ready to give up on his comfort or his attitudes about those who are lower class. And yet, rather than despise him, through her exquisite characterization and setting of the scene around him, we simply feel sorry for him. We can actually imagine what it is like to have to give up so much.
I loved the brave young sons who are determined to fight and the mothers who dont' want them to go and yet are still proud when they do. I loved the long-suffering girlfriends and the family cat, who lives in a world where death and cruelty are just part of the way it must survive. It doesn't have a conscience about the birds or moles it kills, and why should it. Such a fantastic, and unsettling juxtaposition with the other cruelty/killing going on that is so unconscionable.
Naturally, I couldn't help but think about the persecution of Jews while reading. It just so happens I'm working on an article about "neo anti-semitism," that is a new kind of anti-semitism that is turning up here in the US on the progressive left, not the conservative right like usual, couched under criticism of Israel. A lot of anti-semitism lumps Jews into one category, as if all Jews are born in one city in one location on earth, stemming from one direct lineage of people. Nemirovsky reminded me how varied and diverse Jews are, how far and wide they have and do live and how complex the issue of a Jewish homeland is and will probably always be.
Yet hers is not so much a book about religion as one about daily life, and what happens when what we take for granted is interrupted, and who becomes corrupt with power and hate, and who winds up being surprisingly brave and honest.
I love well-written books about war because they show us extremes of human behavior--the most cruel, the most humane qualities that just going to work and making meals don't bring out in us. And yet, when people are tested, it is those very mundane things--the work and the meals, the baths and the memories of childhood--they most crave.
It needs to be noted that Nemirovsky had five parts planned for this novel but only managed to write two before she was taken to a concentration camp, where she died at the young age of 39. What an amazing thing she did: to write about this as it was happening to her, in essence. I can't even imagine. Her daughters are responsible for hiding and later revealing her manuscript. I can't help but wonder what she had planned for the other three parts.
I liked this from the point of view of said writer Gabriel Corte, because I imagine that people all over the world, caught in wars and oppressed under various forms of idealism or fundamentalism or consumerism (and yes, I include us, here) must think like this:
"What would become of him? What would become of Gabriel Corte? What was happening to the world? What would be the general mood in future? Either people would think only about being able to survive and there would be no place for Art, or they would become obsessed by a new ideal, as after every crisis before. A new ideal?...it exhausted him just to think about what was to come, what kind of world was about to be born. Who could predict the shape it would take as it emerged from the harsh matrix of this war, as from a bronze mould. It would be magnificent or misshapen (or both), this universe now showing its first signs of life. It was terrible to look at himself, to see himself, and to understand nothing."
Here is a very interesting story from the BBC with the backstory of this novel.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Suite Francaise---now on the fourth day
Like most of the other bloggers participating in the Third Day Book Club, my comments on Irene Nemirovsky's "Suite Francaise" will come later--probably on the Fourth day, tomorrow. The holidays and an unexpected read that I have not been able to tear myself away from (which I'll write about later) put a crimp in my reading time of her book. However, it's brought up a lot of thoughts I want to share. So come back if you're interested in hearing more about a book that almost never saw publication as its author died in a concentration camp, and her daughters hid the book from the Germans and eventually saw to its publication.
First of all, it's cold in my office. Very cold. We had to lock the cat upstairs last night--and for all future nights--because he simply wakes us up too many times so that we feel like we have a newborn baby. I've never met a cat so needy of human attention. We felt like guilty parents, but we slept better.
The point of my post, however, is not my cruel parenting but on the vagaries of revision. Someone asked me awhile ago if I liked revision. First I said no. Then I realized YES, I do like it. But only when I know what/how I want to revise and it's still in line with my vision.
I've taken my novel, which received encouraging, deeply positive rejections (such an oxymoron) and gutted it. It went from 360 pages to 230. Now I'm trying to fill in the caulk and build extra closets and make sure the foundation is holding with an entirely new set of blueprints tossed in long after I thought the house was done (I'm not sure why but I love talking about writing in house metaphors). My agent is waiting to read the revision. A couple of publishers said they'd take a second look. I have good reason to get moving on this.
But I have a case of Writer's Blech. Yes, you read that right. Writer's block would be a welcome condition--a familiar one at least in which I could say to myself--"honey, you're drained, you're blank of ideas right now. Don't force it. Let it ride."
Writer's Blech, on the other hand happens when you look at your work and shiver in disgust because you are quite sure you have no idea what the hell to do next, if you can make it work and who will ever care.
Which has forced me to think about a writer's vision. My vision. I started this novel with a clear vision...I knew what it meant and what I was trying to do. I acheived that to the best of my ability and with my agent's supreme feedback (and some great readers). The publishers, however, they didn't see my vision. It didn't work for them. Now, I could do whatever I want--go back to what I wrote for National Novel Writing Month which has that bouncy feeling of newness and intrigue and work on it. Nobody has locked me in my room and said "Revise or die!" In fact, I could become a buddhist overnight and renounce all ties to my ambition or desire to be published.
Obviously, that's not going to happen. So I'm rethinking this whole novel, but right now I have no passion for it. I feel flat about it. When I open the document, I think "Blech"...and I don't have a solution right now. It's just the way it is.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Oh Coffee, you beautiful, beautiful stimulant.
I felt low and with a few puffs of steam you brought me back to life. You raised me up.
Oh coffee, thank you for your power of rejuvenation, your mojo-magnifier.
(and thanks to E., my beloved, for the awesome espresso maker!)
Jordan, before coffee
Lost and Found
Last night as I lay in an insomniac stupor--too tired to get up, too awake to sleep--I thought of someone I haven't thought about in a while, a friend I've lost track of and would love to reconnect with. Throughout elementary, middle and part of high school I had a very good friend named Celia Day. Her mother, who had the cool French name "Edwige," lived in the San Rafael hills, and her father, if I recall, was some sort of broadcast journalist. Celia and I both played the flute for awhile, though she also mastered the piccolo and kept up her pratice, while I went on to drop it after 8th grade. Where I gave up, Celia excelled. She was in GATE, she always won awards and did well in spelling bees and on her SATs, etc. She was smart with a capital S, and mature for her age in the same way that I was--i,e, too much to be socially popular (though Celia had more friends than I did and was WAY smarter). She, along with our friend Erin Wetteroth (another friend I'd like to reconnect with just to know where her path took her), comprised my first ever writing workshop. From fifth grade on, we wrote stories,--in pen, on lined paper--exchanged them with one another and gave each other feedback. I remember Celia's pretty penmanship in red ink crossing out words, questioning my plot choices.
I also remember a trip I took with her family to Tahoe when i was really young--maybe 8 or 9? It was snowy and cold. They took us to this place (can't remember what or where) that had a pond where you throw coins in and make wishes. There was a big, beautiful silver dollar and I asked her parents if I could reach in and get it. They told me i could, only, of course I slipped and fell into the icy cold water. But I got my coin, and her parents laughed with me, and dried me off rather than getting mad. I don't know what made me remember that. It's such a vague memory, and yet I know it really happened.
This is the stuff that comes to me when I am caught between sleeping and waking.
There are other people I'd like to find, too. I went to camp for seven years from age 11-17 and I have lost touch with almost all the people who were my best friends back then. Amy Davidson--also a writer with the most beautiful handwriting and creative talent. I picture her doing something innovative and cool for a living. Mary Bartlett, sister to the boy I lost my virginity to who was a very good listener. Dwight Gleason--what I wouldn't give to hear him perfrom, "I'm going on a Lion Hunt" in his huge baritone voice. Jarrett Topel--who proved to me that boys and girls can be friends without any weirdness. Margie Schneider. Cathy Early.
And even a few high school friends who didn't make it to the reunion this summer. Lucy Kaplan--I can still hear her in my head when I erroneously told her father that she'd let me drive her car. I had driven over a curb right out the gate, and to save face, Lucy said, "It was the wildest first move I ever saw" in this tone that was clearly meant to charm her father out of any potential anger. Gavin Bishop--just a nice guy who I always felt undersold himself. Germaine Faison...
So many people slip out of your life without you even noticing. Isn't it strange?
Monday, January 01, 2007
The last holiday card I received in the mail came just before Christmas. It was from my editors at Writer's Digest Books. Always a nice gesture, but this was came with a special bookmark:
On the back side was the following phrase and a list of people with books coming out in 2007:
I honestly did not expect to see my name on it, because even though I have been told that my book will be published in Fall, 2007, I was never given a month, and after all, I've only turned in half the book. So imagine my delighted surprise to find this (Follow your eye from "Nov" on the left directly across that row to the right):
It's really happening. I have a real book coming out in the world. Well, I have two, but this is the first hard proof other than simple email exchanges with my publishers.
It feels good.