Humbled by my Humanity

Now that my time is parsed, sectioned, subdivided, and carefully annotated to account for every one of my multiple (and seemingly endless) obligations–I have to confront the obvious, which I love to pretend doesn’t apply to me: I’m human.

If I can reconcile myself with what might seem like an obvious proposition, then, what does being human require of me? What are my human obligations, rights and responsibilities?

And importantly, why do I shy away from being human?

Also, if I think I’m not human. What Do I think I am?

1) Requirements (inherited in silence, sometimes found in science or faith): Humor, Love, Passion, a dose of patience, a notion of hope, a heaping ladle of curiosity, a kind center, a practical turn, a Glass (neither full nor empty- realism tempered with thoughtful optimism).

2) Rights/Responsibilities: ecstatic moments; a longing for intimacy-sometimes beautifully fulfilled by forest, friends or lovers; the quiet solitude of pain; the quiet peace of reflection; knowing moments of perfect sun or rain. Long dimness in fogs-bodily, intellectual, heart generated, or atmospheric.

3) The shying away–I shy away because the weight and wonder are troubling to encompass.

4) What do I think I am? I do not know, but I enjoy it.

Human–a term I sometimes equate with great failure, and yet a term that trembles with generous potential.

I don’t feel sufficient for my humanity.

And yet.

As another human helped me see: So it goes.

Final question: is this a poem?

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The Business of Writing: A New Hope

I’ve been quite the bee tonight. I sent off my query letter and memoir excerpt to several agents. I also finished a short, 12-page, book proposal to accompany my query, should an agent require this.

I’m expecting a flurry of thanks but no thanks, which is as it should be. But I have to start somewhere, and I’m starting to look for that place tonight.

I should be a) reading about the New Deal for class, or b) packing for my one week work trip to New Delhi, but instead I am c) blogging, while what I really wish I were doing is d) watching a new episode of the BBC’s Sherlock.

No wonder I feel so tired.

PS: yes, the Star Wars reference in my title is totally deliberate. My geek credentials are Platinum.

PPS: Reasonable Girl demands that I get my act together and read. While Grad School doesn’t worry about me, I must worry a bit about Grad School.

Archeological time

Today I started tackling my Countess of Paris story, which is about my father’s family lore, and how people perceive me, and what it’s like hanging out in 5 star hotels for one week a year. I’m in archeological dig mode, where I see what I’ve written and I try to perceive the story beneath the words, the emotion that was surging in me when I picked a particular phrase, and to make sure that this emotion properly animates and is captured in the language. So I did a bunch of rewriting at the beginning of my story, and I think I need to string a couple of themes through, and then totally redo my ending, and then poof. Done. Sounds easy, right?

So I’m back to stealing Stephen King’s metaphor, because he desperately needs the publicity, which is writing as an archeological dig.

Or maybe this kind of writing and editing is more of a distillation process. You start with watery fumes and you try to obtain a purer essence, one pass at a time. So wish me luck. I feel like I’m on a roll. Or at least I’m faking it until I attain it.

(So much so in fact that in a fit of 7:49am delusion I signed up for NaNoWriMo, which is a yearly challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s a lot of words, and I don’t think I have the time for it, but just imagine, how fun it would be if I actually pulled it off!)

75% Freaking Done

As of tonight, I’ve got 21 chapters in my memoir, and I’ve got 5 stories to revisit and improve upon. This means I’m 75% done with this revision. That’s either incredibly close or impossibly far.

Tonight I rewrote my query letter to give some background on what motivated me to write the book. I was able to take a piece of my foreword, which came from a piece of this blog, and tighten it. I love re-purposing.

I also answered some questions readers had about my old darling, Bed Stories. It is easier to answer questions and expand on a topic than it is to restructure a piece from scratch. It was fun to add color.

I feel a bit guilty for going with the easy way out, but I don’t want to do my major rewriting in my Scrivener software manuscript draft. I want to try it in Word, see what happens and go from there.

I know you’re supposed to sacrifice your darlings as a writer, but really, why not indulge them instead?
Bed Stories is admittedly a lackadaisical, sideways piece. A bit shapeless, but a chapter I can’t bear to totally rewrite because I love all its weird bits and pieces. Having read it for a decade now, probably explains why I’m so attached to and slightly immobilized by it. Oh well, old loves die hard.

Prayers Answered

Life is very exciting in these parts. I just tackled my second memoir chapter rewrite, and it felt downright successful. That’s two pleasurable chapter rewrites in a row. Inconceivable. (“Are you sure that word means what you think it means?”). Miraculous.

The experience is good because I can read feedback on particular chapters that tell me I’m currently failing and take the critique in stride, and when I re-read the chapters, my X-ray editor/writer vision is in full force. I can see when this empress has no clothes. And I have the gumption to make my own cloak and fix the problem. This is a very empowering process. I can be pointed to a problem, and I can tackle it. Oh sweet rewrite siren, how sweetly you sing.

Tonight, I also rewrote my intro to my book using language that I first plunked here. It’s been tweaked, but it’s still good and evocative (thanks Blog!). I also started re-organizing the order of the memoir chapters. The memoir order is not exactly chronological, but it’s now more thematic. Kind of.

I have to do homework, so i have to leave well enough alone for now, but I may have found a new technique: I get an hour (on nights when I have five hour homework stretches in front of me) to work on my memoir (timer and everything) and then I have to attend to homework. This creates a positive kind of force. I am compelled to face my fears, write, and be efficient, because my precious minutes are tick-tocking away. Oh the precious!

And with that. Good night.

The Gazillionth Rewrite

“I feel stupid and contagious” allows me to a) honor Nirvana belatedly (jumping on media bandwagon), and b) succinctly express how I feel when my writing group critiques my work. I have been working on my Frenchness and Identity piece for a while. I must be in my fifth major re-write/re-org at the very least. Last night I had the audacity to share the piece with my writing group, and those lovely wizards clarified the million different ways in which my piece is limping along on crutches, with a bad case of…(I don’t know. I want to say charlie horse, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong) broken ankle. They rightfully exhorted me to simplify, streamline, focus, deepen, add fuller scenes, and feel the rage. These are all excellent suggestions. I’m going to need to put on my small cape to tackle this mess. It’s not like it was a revelatory session, it was a session of dread. I hate being told that what I suspected all along was right–my nagging doubts are totally warranted. My piece doesn’t suck, it’s too tentacular. Tentacular spectacular. Apparently I have the outline of a book buried in an unevenly paced essay. Oh me oh my, I’m gonna have to work like the dickens to figure this out (again), after having worked so hard to figure it out (before) because nothing is damn linear for me when it comes to writing (darn).

“I’m worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed”

Smells like teen spirit.

One Hour of Reading Explains Two Years of Writing

Tonight, I’ve been reading about (big words coming, so don’t freak out and abandon me here) Applied Symbolic Interactionism. It’s a social work theory formulated from 1890 to 1910 (stay with me…) and it freaking answers every question that drove the writing of my memoir. Okay, I’m exaggerating. It only answers or speaks to half the chapters. The chapter where I write in the second person, and my story about Frenchness and Identity–this theory can handle these questions. This theoretical framework specifically deals with multiple identities–internal and external, past and future, and across multiple clubs (e.g., France/America). Holy shit. That’s what my memoir is about: The imaginary, and the differences between the labels you inherit or are given and those you select for yourself. It’s deeply weird to have my narrative, story-based pieces explained in a structured theoretical framework. In one hour of reading what took me two years to write was explained. Can you guess how weird I feel right now?

Maybe I should be relieved that practitioners have been refining the theory for 120+ years. Does the existence of an explanatory theory nuke the need for a storytelling work? I don’t think so. But it’s a little bit like living in colonial Philadelphia with some back pain and being handed an x-ray of my spine. Several social work theorists can explain in elegant symbolic grammar what my brain has been toying with. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

It does confirm my decision to undertake these studies–I’m studying the right field which asks exactly the kinds of questions my brain likes to toy with. That’s a terrifyingly sexy turn of events. I have been enjoying the intellectual, moral and emotional stimulation of my schooling. But tonight I feel a little bit like Moses reading up on Exodus in the King James Bible.

I’m not sure what to with all this, or how it will impact my revision process, but I’m pretty freaking psyched and amazed, and with that, I’ll go read some more.

Writing’s other face: Submitting

So I finally got around to doing what I probably should have been doing all along–tonight I sent in three chapters from my memoir as submissions to literary mags. I can expect resounding rejections, but at least I’m doing what I think I’m supposed to do–which is opening myself to criticism and rejection by letting total strangers read my work. It’s kind of the walking-in-the-park part of being a flasher, if you’ll forgive this tawdry (perhaps unfortunate, but amusing to me) analogy. After spending all the time carefully hand sewing the exact model of my London Fog raincoat (i.e. my body of stories), I am venturing out into the world, displaying my wares, waiting for the horrified screams of bystanders (or their silent equivalent, the form rejection letter). Luckily, I’m happy to say that law enforcement, common morality, and decency rules don’t have to come into the mix of my literary submissions. Has this metaphor gone too far? I’ll let it rest for now.

So there. I’m not doing any major writing, but at least I’m doing the better part of the lazy lady’s alternative: forcing other people to read my writing. Maybe this is the best aspect of Reasonable Girl. I’ve got limited time and patience, but I’m making do with what I’ve got.

Imagined Universes and the Christmas Letter

You know how families send around those Christmas letters detailing the year’s accomplishments and memories for the family as a whole and for its members? I got jealous. Single girls don’t send these letters. So I tried to write one (but maybe that’s already been done and it’s called Bridget Jones’ Diary) and it’s harder than it looks. I determined that in order to qualify for Christmas letter writing, I needed to have a family. So I concocted the only kind of family I could–an imaginary baby. Once I went through the process of imagining my family, it occurred to me that my life was full of imaginary things, or at least my mind was in constant dialogue running amok between my dreams, my perceptions, my past, my imagined future, my desires, and my realities. This was rich terrain. I wanted to write about identity, my identity, but I wanted to capture the influence of my multiple internal dialogues, including the very strong relationship I had with the imagined future.

Where did that realization come from? I knew about the imagined future because I had realized that the one aspect of breaking up (many times, over several decades) I found most difficult to deal with cognitively was the loss of my imagined future. It was an imagined possession that I truly missed having stolen.

So that’s where I got started. Also, I’ve had a small, but potent relationship with the idea of multiple universes, in a very self-serving way. Whenever I feel constrained by my lived life and current choice sets, I like to imagine multiple other universes where I made radically different choices at critical junctures. There’s the me that spent a year abroad with the Rotary Club, the me that went to Bryn Mawr, the me that never left New York City, the me that got an MFA, the me that married young and disastrously, the me that is a junkie, the me that is a professor. They comfort me. And they remind me of my possibilities.
So those are the seeds of the memoir. The imagined. The possible. My identity. And my history (though I am more interested in the future than in the past, as a life philosophy).