Thursday, February 28, 2008

A change is a-comin'

Sometime here in the next couple of months, Jordan's Muse is going to undergo a change. Thematically I'll be changing the look and feel of the blog, and possibly its url to be more geared towards offering you practical information based on my two books, Make a Scene and Write Free. I won't entirely lose the informal chatty aspect, don't worry, but in order to make the most of the world of blogging, I think it's important to offer a service to one's readers.

So, keep your eyes peeled for changes. If the blog url does change, this blog will remain live with a reminder of the new location, so don't worry.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

There was a time I respected Ralph Nadar. Or I could say that I still respect the Ralph Nadar who put consumer safety first and stood behind his ideals. I entirely dislike the Nadar who believes he is achieving progress by entering the presidential race again and again, splitting voters. If you are even considering with one nose hair voting for Nadar, I implore you to see the documentary An Unreasonable Man first.

I admit it. I believe that large scale change tends to happen incrementally.

I want to relish a little change in the near future.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Coming Out...make that Bulging Out

For more than six months now I have resisted writing about the single most momentous event of my life for a number of reasons ranging from the superstitious to the absolutely practical. But I find that by not writing about it, I have less and less to say because it's like not writing about your amputation, or your Pulitzer prize, or finding your birth parents. By not talking about the fact that I am pregnant, I am not talking about what is most on my mind and what is most changing me. Frankly it's been terrifically hard to do.

Some people believe that you shouldn't talk about your child-to-be before birth because of all the things that could go wrong. I wish that I had such a noble reason. For me, the single driving force has been something I'm a little bit shocked to find myself admitting: I am afraid of not being taken seriously anymore. (And in the freelance world, of becoming disposable). Before you scoff, or talk about my suppressed gender issues, hear me out.

I come laden with my own prejudices to parenthood. I am gunshy of "mommy culture" as I think of it--a vortex of shopping and anxiety that seems all too easy to be sucked into. I'm irritated by the consumer message that crows into our ears that good mommies (and daddies, of course, but women are the target 99% of the time) should never be afraid to use the credit card on shiny plastic things that will make your children safer, smarter and more productive. I don't like talking about products for very long beyond getting practical advice before I spend a huge amount of money on something like a car seat or a stroller. In fact, this whole paragraph is starting to bore me already.

But the fact is--I am now a member of a club, whether I like it or not. Even though we put a lot of thought into the choice to become parents, and we are one of the last of our gang of friends to do so, it is unavoidable--Mommy culture is calling and, like any good representation of the Devil, it always comes in a pretty package or makes you feel guilty for not buying in, or creeps into your unconscious at night and gets into your skin. Must. Resist.

But the thing is, in joining up this new club I don't want to revoke my membership to the other club I've been a part of for a very long time. That of person who is taken seriously for what she thinks and says, not just because of her procreative abilities. I think this is the dilemma that "career women" have faced for as long as women have had careers. How to have both? Initially, you put the career on hold--even I believe in that. Babies need undivided attention and a strong, loving container for their very health. I have every intention of providing that. And I also know that the life of the mind, of the word, will have an equally powerful pull on me. I am curious and slightly afraid of how I will balance both.

But at least I'm talking about it now. No secret anymore.

I believe in the end that all works out exactly right.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Freelance life: Love it AND leave it

Sorry to leave you hanging with that last post. A few of you have jumped in with interesting things to say, though. For some, there's a satisfying "changing of hats" that follows when you switch from article to novel, as reader Josi commented. Tracer suggested that maybe some dispositions are more suited to doing both--and I do think that's true, though I know some people who are ill-suited but do them both anyway :) Maryanne admits that the teaching life is definitely a drain on the creative life--to which I agree (even though I only teach 1ce a month and she teaches five days a week).

My ruminations led me to this: if you do indeed make your living as a freelancer you have to love it, and leave it both.

First strive for balance so that in the mad dash for work you aren't saying "yes" to more than you can handle, or to so much that you don't leave room for the creative. In January, for instance, I didn't say no to a single project that came my way. Result: overwhelm and an inability to even read, much less write. When I had a full-time job, in contrast, was in graduate school, doing a radio show and writing freelance articles on the side (yes, all at the same time), I got more fiction writing done than ever before. Why? Because I knew that if I didn't carve out the space for it, I would not do it. Since working completely for myself, no longer in school or doing a radio show, dedicated fully to all things freelance, I waste far more time. Time that could be spent writing fiction.

I have never lacked for self-motivation. I always knew I was a good candidate for working for myself because I prefer the spontaneous, volatile world of juggling projects to the security (mundane) of a position in which I work for someone else's goals entirely. I guess I'm typically right-brained in that way. But the other side of the coin is that the structure of the security model seemed to allow for more creative time. Now I have to really work at it.

So, treat your freelance life seriously--do the work, don't be lazy, plan ahead, research, network, etc, but if you also write fiction, remember that seeds won't grow without water. Sometimes turning down a project that pays, but one you know is going to be especially time-intensive or frustrating--is worth it. I am learning the fine art of saying no to money and discovering that that money always comes back to me in another way (project). On the same token, all the work I took on because I was feeling greedy for cash ended up taking longer to get to me than other money I was owed. So there you go.

(Yes, I think this post is more for me than for any of you reading).

* * * * * *

And on that note, the Write Free E-letter, edited by Rebecca Lawton and me addresses these kinds of issues every month. And subscribing is FREE. February's topic was Replenishment. Each year’s subscription brings 10 issues full of insights, activities, and open-hearted inspirations on how to attract the creative life. The issues come to subscribers’ email in-boxes each month for 10 months a year. If you missed any of 2007's issues, you can also subcribe for the low price of $9.95 to the Archives, and have access to all 10 back issues.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Today I'm mulling this question: Does the freelance life kill the fiction writer (in the same writer's soul, that is)?

Anyone have any experience?


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I am going to buy this T-shirt for myself. It is just my kind of snark.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Surviving the Bad Review

I would like to update an old axiom today. It will now go: "Into every writer's life, a bad review must fall."

Naturally this is not something we writers want to hear. As we construct our opuses out of fairy-wings and vodka shots, we all secretly hope to be catapulted not only to fame and vast wealth--but to be canonized. I don't care if you write trashy romances with badly stitched plots--I'll bet you want it too: to be loved, idolized, held up as the standard to which all other books in your genre should aspire. You're only human after all--which means, ruled by your ego,that sleazy little car salesmen in all of our souls.

The bad review, I have come to believe, is the universe's way of trying to reel us in. And no matter how plainspoken or thoughtful said review is, ultimately, to the one who is on the receiving end, it is inevitably the meanest thing ever written by a clearly inferior person.

Still, it makes you feel like crap.

And yes, I've just gotten one this week. Fortunately it wasn't from Kirkus or Booklist (as if they would ever review trade books on the craft of writing anyway), but from some anonymous member of the masses at With democratic forms of marketing come democratic forums for voicing opinions--it is par for the course, in other words. Like Bob Marley sang so righteously: "You can't please all the people, all the time."

Aside from the fact thatt he reviewer got my gender wrong (even though the bio clearly states that I am a SHE) I ask you to look at the contradictions contained in said review.

How can he say THIS:
"Make a Scene is packed with helpful concrete suggestions and information..."

and at the same time, say THIS:
"His passion for state-of-being verbs and qualifying adverbs turns the the book into a 270-page drone in which nothing is more important than anything else."

If the book is indeed "packed" with "helpful concrete suggestions" in what reality can it also be a true that "nothing is more important than anything else?"

My only answer is that the reviewer is a quantum physicist and comes from the point of view that a particle exists both somewhere and nowhere at once. Therefore, my book is both helpful, and not helpful at all to him. This is the only way I can understand it.

Either that, or my conspiracy mind thinks that maybe one of my "competitors" in the field of scene writing (who shall remain nameless) hired someone to write a nasty review of my book to make it seem less palatable. Therefore, perhaps he never even READ it! Yes, maybe this is it!

What you are seeing are the stages of reconstruction that the sleazy-little car salesmen of my ego must go to in order not to feel like a total hack. Who cares that a publisher felt my book was worthy of being published, or that many others have had very nice things to say about it. I am a writer--therefore I hear the worst first.

The only thing that saves me from looking for a full-time gig in some soul-sucking retail mall is humor. And the knowledge that for every bad review, the good ones still balance out the scales.

(That, and imagining force-feeding my entire book to the reader while he is tied to a chair.)

I remain open to suggestions.--Jordan

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Shades of Grief

People expect to be wracked with grief right now, and I feel funny telling them that I am okay, even though my Oma (grandmother in German) has just died. My father says he is experiencing a similar thing. So I think maybe it warrants an explanation so that I don't just seem like some kind of unfeeling person. I AM sad. I AM disoriented. I feel that something in the world is different, off-kilter. But she has been leaving this world for years now, and has been quite miserable in her body for the last year especially. Her death was easy, peaceful even--so how can I be sad that she has left, when she is free?

The truth is, I did a lot of grieving for her (well, for myself, really) in the last four years as her memory declined. One day she went from being my quirky grandmother to being a woman who knew me, and my name, but couldn't believe for the life of her that she bore any genetic relationship to me, or to my father. She thought she knew me from the Kibbutz. She thought I had lived in NY with her. She didn't seem to even notice the 59 year age difference between us, because I think she was flickering in and out of different times.

That was hard. That was tragic. I cried then. I wrote a novel about a character much like her and her effect on her family. I felt like I'd lost a significant part of my childhood--those summers spent on Shelter Island, nearly wordless, making crafts.

In light of this, I am pasting in the text of two things I've written about Oma. One was published in The St. Petersburg Times--their Sunday journal. The second is an informal piece I wrote during my writing group. The published piece feels truncated to me now, like it only just begins, but it's an interesting snapshot of her four years ago.

*I feel a slight hesitation to put them here only because they also reveal things about my relationship to my father, and I don't know how I feel about that, if only because there are two sides to every story.

The leaching of memory (original title: Borne)
Published August 1, 2004

I left Oma and Opa with relief and dread and headed for the slate, spare ice of Vermont in January. My first time in the snow and it was record cold, where you could feel your body make preparations to shut down if you stood too long in one place. I was not the only one fighting to keep myself alive.

My grandparents spent 45 years in New York. After that despair-filled visit, I saw them again in California, no longer on the verge of death, but abutting a new verge, one in which all that came before them - the Orthodox Jewish parents, the children's homes in Germany, the kibbutz in Palestine, surviving the war that birthed the state of Israel, the immigration to New York - was scattered in chipped mosaic about them like the tchotchkes left in boxes too long.

In a period of a few months she had stopped eating or sleeping much back home. A stroke? Loneliness? She began to fall out of bed at night. She needed, suddenly, a cane to walk with. She wanted to throw herself into traffic. She forgot where she was. Who she was. She asked, "What do I have to live for?" It was move or die, though she fought us every step of the way. My father, who had left them more than 30 years before (fled them really, as if they were a war) now closed the 3,000-mile gap to move them next door to him at my urging.

Somewhere between getting on and off the plane, my Oma forgot that my father was her son.
He has since become "a nice man." "The manager" of their house. He shares a name with her own lost son, Ilan - changed to the spelling "Elon" for American eyes and tongues - but he is not that golden-haired child she used to tell me about, the one with the beautiful curls that were cut off by a babysitter when he smeared them in rationed jelly. She lamented those curls to me throughout languid, hot summers I spent with her and Opa in their muggy New York home.
This "Elon," my father, is not the swift smart kid who learned English so well and fast when they came to the states in 1956. She remembers only her eldest, my uncle Joe (Joaf), who has trekked the states himself, now in Florida, moved perhaps by some reawakened immigrant spirit, trying to find a place of peace and home.

"You don't forget who you have borne!" she cries when we try to explain the family matrix. "How can you forget such a thing?"

"It was just a bundle, barely a person, perhaps you have just forgotten," my Opa counters, always pained, always in disbelief that a brain can betray such an intrinsic reality.

"A baby is not a bundle!" she cries. "Only a woman can know this."

It does seem impossible, even at 88 years old, that you can forget your son. But clearly, sometimes you do. Not only sons are forgotten, and not only by mothers. What about when you are a father, with a daughter? You did not carry the child in your tissue or feed her with your blood. She grows up to be 20, then 30, and you let her drift away and out of your life, trust her to continue to bear her burdens silently. You don't feel the need to reconcile the past, your own '60s-inspired wanderings and damage inflicted by neglect. You have a second family, and then, watching your mother forget you, do not realize that your daughter has begun to wonder (this grown woman who doesn't need you anymore), "How long before you forget me, too?"

Writing Prompt: Silence

My Oma is is 90 years old with the softest skin and the same generous forehead and lips you’ll find in my face.

For a moment I thought that I had drawn a blank, but then I remembered with Oma we didn’t talk so much, we worked with our hands: origami, macramé, needlepoint, rugmaking, bead-stringing. We had a special language of fingers, hers strong and well-knuckled; hands that could just as easily have plucked a child out of the face of danger as fold a delicate origami crane. There is so much she did not talk about that she never needed to suggest a subject should be avoided; with a particular frown or pursing of her lips, entire continents seemed silenced.

We never spoke of her childhood yet somehow I learned that she was the chosen child of three, the only girl, sent to a children’s home after her father died and her mother went broke.

We never talked about the way my father made a living, but somehow I always knew that she knew.

We didn’t talk about her brother’s family in France but when I was 23 I tracked them down and visited.

And yet my Oma could surprise me, always asking strange, unanswerable questions as if I were an oracle, not her grandchild:

“Why is there always this fighting in the Middle East? Why do the young ones listen to this music so loud? Why do you think your parents divorced?”

Perhaps I was too young to understand the power of the rhetorical question—questions meant to be spoken with a raised fist to God. But her childhood erased any faith in God. Instead, she gave it to my Opa, a man she would repeatedly refer to as “so very clever” as if to say she was not and never could be.

Still, her demure silences and shying away from topics of emotional intensity did not prevent her from asking the single most shocking question ever posed by a family member. I was 21 and visiting NY for the summer. Absolutely without any preamble she stopped me on our way to the car, out of Opa’s earshot and asked, “The boys, if they say they do not want to wear a condom, how do you answer them?”

First there was shock, then humor. Awkward as it was, I respected her curiosity. I doubt she had many lovers or any opportunity to use a condom.

Now that dementia has stolen all the bonds of memory that tell her how it is that she and I know each other, now that all those silent summers where we worked at a craft side by side, I regret all the questions I never asked her and their answers, which are simply gone.

Sorry for the absence. My last living grandmother has died. I will return.