To be cool

I met someone unbearably cool on Thursday night. She had dyed silver hair with purple streaks framing her lovely face. She was middle aged, perfect smile wrinkles around her eyes. She had a bass guitar strapped to her back. She oversaw a software development team and she knew my friend because she also plays ice hockey. She was in an adult rock band.

In my twenties, I deliberately cultivated certain skills that I believed were critical to becoming the kind of person I wanted to be as an adult. These skills included kissing, playing pool well, drinking whiskey on the rocks, cooking, writing, fearlessly (and indulgently) following my heart, working on the craft of repartee and generally doing things I had a sense women weren’t supposed to do (like driving taxis). Many of these skills have stayed with me, some have dropped away. I now suck at playing pool: I used to carry a roll of quarters in my purse. For a moment I could, from time to time, put sexist presumptuous persons in their places. At least with cue in hand.

In my thirties, I decided that making lists and having top tens was a bit silly. Life was nuanced and complex. I was satisfied with whom I had become. (Perhaps I grew complacent, or smug, or just plain happy.) I had certain goals in mind, but they were focused on scholarship, writing, and my romantic life. They were not about the craft of becoming. I know what I look like and how I present, and I suspect what people think when they behold me. “A very nice, conservative lady” as one of my former clients put it.

On Thursday, Purple Streaks reminded me that there are choices to be made. I am faced with the becoming of middle age. And questions about coolness. Hipness is out of reach (and, honestly, not exactly desirable). I have some culture. I have opinions of taste. I have a sense of being worldly. I don’t want to be cool to others, but I wouldn’t mind being cool to myself. That’s a kind of cool worth working toward, and my reach needs exceed my grasp if I wish to keep growing. Plots and lists are to be made.

Frank Lloyd Wright: Beginnings

In keeping with my new-found passion (to visit as many Frank Lloyd Wright [FLW] buildings as I can), I went to Oak Park a week ago to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s first home and studio. I found the experience both anticlimactic and bracing.

As an artist preoccupied with words, languages, and story telling, I often take nourishment from other forms of art–looking for particular narratives or themes, or the emotional resonance of the work, or the intellectual energy of specific choices. In my life, I have been greatly moved by painting, poetry, theater, architecture, landscapes, dance, textiles, and pottery. I’m very receptive to beauty, movement, light and joy, and also melancholy.  Thus my favorite seasons are Spring and Fall (could I call them renewal and maturity?).

I very much enjoyed my afternoon in Oak Park because it encouraged me. In museums, we typically encounter artists at the height of their powers, when they have worked out their concepts and executed their master works. Retrospectives allow some insight into the creative process over time, but the works selected remain the most polished and impressive. Seeing Mr. Wright’s early accomplishments reminded me that the person who would later author the amazing FallingWater had his own slow creative evolution: Refining ideas, tuning concepts, using an iterative approach to his work. Mr. Wright seems to have had sophisticated taste from an early age, and to have collaborated with master craftsmen who excelled in their own right. I believe that this dialogue between artists invigorated his work–it certainly invigorates mine. But I was reminded that even great geniuses have moderately sized successes in the beginning. The homes I saw were lovely and impressive, but they were first steps in a very long journey. Stamina and dedication over time are key ingredients–it’s helpful to remember these aspects for my own creative journey.  OakPStudioHere are visitors on a tour of his studio, which is next to his first home. I enjoyed visiting the studio more than the home because it was a working space, but also a marketing space, so he had made it clever–with modular stations that could be moved around–and a bit grand, with lots of natural light, high ceilings and low hanging ceiling pieces that were anchored by an interesting pulley system.

Having been so impressed by the work of his late career, it was instructive to see work from the beginning of his career and consider the through-lines, the preoccupations and themes, that withstood time.

Some themes (according to me):

  1. Light versus dark–where light is allowed and where light is limited in his spaces.
  2. Containment versus expansion (this the tour guides emphasize as compression and release)–narrow hallways leading into large rooms or outdoor spaces.
  3. Privacy versus view–setting high windows in busy neighborhoods that only show trees and sky as a view.
  4. Geometry and order–lots of repeating themes and patterns.
  5. Spaces within spaces–creating little rooms within larger rooms–like the high-backed dining room chairs he preferred, creating a center of intimacy during dinner. Or delineating sub-spaces within larger rooms, so there is a reading/library corner, and a music corner within a larger living room.
  6. The primacy of the living spaces over the bedrooms, kitchen, or bathroom spaces.
  7. Finding the right furniture for the space and the theme of the space. There are story-telling murals on the walls of his Oak Park home, which influence the rest of the furniture, colors and patterns in the rooms.
  8. A dislike for clutter. Working after an era with more elaborate decorative patterns and fabrics–FLW’s style is relatively sparse and geometrical.
  9. Fitting homes into their landscapes, creating a dialogue between man and nature–Organic Architecture is the term Mr. Wright coined, with FallingWater as the preeminent rendering of this philosophy.

Mr. Wright belonged to a Unitarian Church in Oak Park, which was a relatively new suburb to Chicago in the 1890s.  He built many homes for others in his congregation–there are about 30 FLW homes in the area, and there are about 20 on the walking tour near his studio.FLWFirstMayaYou can see the rapid evolution of his taste through his early houses. This grand home was at a time when he was experimenting with Mayan decorative themes.

FLWFirstJapanThis private home illustrates his interest in Japanese temple architecture.

FLWFirstPrairieThis private home is considered the first of his prairie-style homes–which feel to me Japanese influenced, with an added concern for the privacy of the family, protecting them from onlookers. (Strangely prescient considering the number of visitors to Oak Park circling the streets scavenging for his legacy.)

Visiting FLW’s home helped me understand why his later designs have such limited and oddly placed windows. When Mr. Wright moved to Oak Park, it was mostly plains and dirt roads, with very few houses. However, over his ten years in the neighborhood, the lots started filling up with new houses, and he soon had a next door neighbor, uncomfortably close to his dining room windows. He filled in his original windows, and installed high windows in his dining room, so he would still have light and privacy. This experience must have been formative because privacy for homeowners really influenced his architectural choices going forward even for homes with many acres of land in rural areas like the Kentuck Knob house.

I can’t wait to discover more of his mid-career designs like Taliesin in Wisconsin.

OakPInsignia

The Thought of India

Even though it was six months ago, I still get asked “How was India?” The question is so huge, it leaves me either rambling or wordless. The scope of the question might be, “What are your thoughts on being a woman?” Or perhaps, “Tell me about your childhood?” (Childhood I could tackle, that’s a narrative I have shared and shaped again and again throughout my life.)

I keep hoping my seven weeks in India, or the country in my head, will finally become manageable, just an epic travel experience. But the flashes of color and feeling that rise up in my mind when I hear the word India aren’t so easily packaged for external consumption.

So here’s what I’ve got, just a few more reflections that I hadn’t yet articulated, or that have crystallized further.

1. I have never left India. It has been inscribed within me. My emotional relationship with what I know of the country reminds me of my first love. There were many beautiful and many terrifying moments. I know this is all cliche, but cliche is sometimes the best way to express something universal: All that is left are my memories, and the way my senses and perspective were transmogrified. I resemble my prior self, but I am someone else.

2. Intellectual and emotional humility. There are many forms of wisdom, many of which do not issue from formal learning.

3. It’s okay not to know where I am going. I have hungered for states of certainty for a long time. India obliged me to become a bit more flexible. I may not trust the road, or the driver, but I can trust that the journey will maintain my interest, and charmingly, most outcomes will be harmless or at least manageable (and some enchanting). Near helplessness is a very uncomfortable state to inhabit for seven weeks, of course (if necessary) I had a privileged kind of relief at my disposal–my wallet.

4. The state of understanding another being is not to be taken for granted. Neither the being, nor the understanding. There are many ways of being understood and many ways of being misunderstood. These are in constant flux, even within a lasting relationship. Triangulating meanings across languages and cultures exposes the many gaps between us. It also exposes how amazing each moment of rapprochement really is.

5. Resilience, resourcefulness and desperation are all incestuous cousins. They are awe-inspiring and they distasteful. Making use of very little can be really moving. It’s also awful to witness because it proposes a reality that cannot be argued with.

6. Whatever can be done with a human body is being done. Yay. Boo.

“Yay. Boo. Yay.” would be a fitting (highly reductive) three-word answer to everything I witnessed: 7. My moral self was never at rest. I was constantly trying to assess, understand and evaluate both my experience and the experiences of those who were around me. I was trying to give it value(s). For example, as a westerner, beautiful things could be bought, but the buying and the beauty were both imbedded with multiple other meanings–colonialism, US imperialism, privileges of race and class, my astounding amount of education and its basic uselessness in this context, the smugness of my wallet and its credit card contents, plain commercial lust, my responsibilities as a tourist, my responsibilities as a human being towards others. What each of my gestures, commercial or non-commercial, said about my identity and my intentions, about the countries I come from, and how I perceived the country I was visiting. What each gesture from Indians also represented as a comment on our interaction.

I have never felt more morally sketchy. Being back in the U.S. is so much more comfortable. Here I can nurture an illusion of living more or less as a “good” person. In India, walking down the street, I stepped over bodies that might have been (but I dearly hoped weren’t) dead.  In the U.S., I have a slightly better sense of the boundaries of what I can and should or might do in any given circumstance, and what the basic order of things is supposed to look like among my countrymen… I step over fewer literal bodies.

8. There is hope. We will each have to find our own.

The Manuscript(s) in my Drawer

For kicks and giggles, I pulled together all my finished and unfinished (but promising) short stories into a manuscript back in 2011. (I included everything that wasn’t a fairy tale that I had written). I wanted to find out my total word count and whether I had enough for a book. This story collection currently clocks in at 50,000 words, which is a bit short, but not terrible.

After I found out I had a viable amount of material that needed a gentle spit shine and once over, what did I do?

Nothing.

Getting my writing act together has always been tantalizingly possible. But my inertia rules the day. Admittedly, I had solid excuses. I was working full time, in graduate school and completing an internship all last year. I worked 6 days a week.  But I have not touched these stories since November 2011. Months have swooshed by and I have done nothing.

(In fact, I have three short manuscripts that need revisiting. My other two are my fairy tale collection and my memoir project.)

It is July 30, 2013. I’m taking the Heinlein and Hemingway admonition that writers finish their work seriously. Dear internet, it’s time for a solemn vow. I’m going to polish/edit/finish at least one story in my manuscript each week. I have 13 more stories to go. If this works out, come mid-October, I should have one competed manuscript. Then starts the hard part, I will look for an agent. No more swooshing time. No more doing nothing. I have a simple plan to execute. (Execute sounds lethal alright.)

Back to (Creative) Writing

I started writing this post last week, and then abandoned it as my doubt made it too hard to move forward with such a smug tone. I’m back at it again today, pondering life, writing, and, most important, finding good writing habits that lead to being published.

Last week’s beginning: I edited two stories today.  It came naturally. It felt really good. After months and months of guilty hiatus, using my creative writing brain was glorious.

So good in fact that I felt like I had special x-ray glasses on–I could see what bones were missing from my story’s skeleton. Looking at my story’s body, I could see what needed thinning down and what needed plumping up. I tend to repeat myself, so I cut a bunch of those redundancies out. I clarified. I threshed. I wove in a new layer. I reconnected beginning and end in more concrete ways.

This week’s conclusions: Last week, after having one beautifully productive day followed by a day of submitting one completed manuscript out, I’m back in my non-writing, non-editing slump. I am perpetually struggling with making time to write. I keep saying to myself, just 15 minutes a day will get you a book by the year’s end. It sounds plausible. Those 15 minutes don’t (yet) exist in my life. I’m just not that consistent. In search of motivation, determination, and a steely resolve, I go to other writers’ advice to try to find a model I can live with. The inspiration is useful for a good 10 minutes–Kurt Vonnegut had a great routine I can’t duplicate. Still, reading how others organized themselves, I feel invigorated and purposeful for a moment, and then the daily worries set in–I should spend my time trying to earn an income. I need to focus on this or that class project or reading. My drawers need reorganizing. I should call my grandma. The list is endless.

The other major battle raging is between writing new stories and finishing long lingering pieces that need to be edited and reworked. Part of me wants closure, part of me wants evasion into brand new skies, wants to see what’s under my creative hood–what will my mind seize upon today? And so here I am blogging instead of editing. Another momentary soother of my itch to write. Suggestions are welcome.

Undiscouraged

Now that I’m more diligent about sending pieces out, I’m getting volumes of rejections–several a week in fact. Most don’t say much, but a few say things like, “We enjoyed reading and discussing your work; in fact, it made it to the final tier of the editorial process. Although we are going to have to pass this time around, please don’t let that discourage you.”

Relative to the typical rejection letter, this note is great. But what’s missing is the information I need as a writer. What did my story do or fail to do? How can I make it better? (Okay, I’ll concede that making my work better is my job, but still, I thought I had it worked out or I wouldn’t have sent it–obviously, outside help is needed!)

In fact, I’m getting so many rejections that my tape-rejections-to-the-wall project had to be discontinued because the sheer weight of the paper was making the pile crumble down the wall onto my printer.

I’m full of hope though. I still haven’t heard from 40% of the places I sent the piece–this means my story still has a shot. I’m also learning, again and again, that the editorial review process needs must occur at geological speeds. I’m hearing in late June about stories I sent out in early January.  Imagine how many life changes I could make in six to ten months! I could have mastered a new hobby, like knitting, by the time the last rejection for my January submission gets to me.

I remain, yours, undiscouraged. (Furthermore, nine days from now my summer classes will have ended and I will finally take up writing again.)

Small Compliments & Small Signs of Progress

One of my coworkers took a look at me today and was like “you’re losing weight.”

I was like, “thanks for noticing.” In fact, I’m not losing weight, but I am losing width–the exercise is making a difference. Sporadic small bits of encouragement keep me motivated, and get me thinking, “Hey, if I actually put more energy into this health initiative of mine, I might get more noticeable results.”

I have been a bit of a slacker since my delicious trip to France, but it’s nice to be reminded that change is possible, incremental, and there will be some results.  Occasionally, the casual bystander will gaze at you and remark upon a change you’ve been trying to enact.

In a similar, not quite success but better than the alternative, vein–I’m getting a lot of semi positive rejection notices. The tone of the rejections is changing, for example this closing: “However, we are intrigued and would be interested in seeing more of your work in the future. Onward with the battle!”

So I’m going to put this development also in my small signs of progress column. And pick up that motto: Onward with the battle!

New Editing Eyes, Old Writing Sins

here’s a quick list of my writing sins (likely incomplete):

  • I say all cool things I think of twice, or more.
  • My narrative pacing requires tuning–I either rush or linger too long
  • My plots (do they exist?)
  • I underwrite certain key points, or bury them
  • I leave awkward phrasing lying around
  • I like ideas and have too many extraneous bits

and here’s a quick list of my fixes (still under development):

  • I have to pick my favorite image (sometimes, I just toss a coin)
  • I’m cutting down that which does not move the story forward
  • I focus on introducing conflict, or at least suspense, and unforeseen developments into the story
  • I try to make evident the central point(s) of the story
  • I read and reread and make others read out loud, each iteration, so I can figure out what language is confusing or awkward
  • By having a storyline, and focusing on momentum in the beginning and end, I can kill the extras

I’ve massively revised three stories in ten days. It’s been a luxurious stretch — I’ve been indulging in a slight, but growing feeling of mastery over my words and storytelling. Ladies and gentlemen, this is as exciting as writing gets.

Here’s a bonsai metaphor–as a writer, you keep trimming and guiding the growing thing and you hope you don’t end up with a horrifying shapeless garbled web of a bush, and you try not to trim down until you have a stick, but both are tempting avenues. The big trick is to somehow visualize the emerging shape before it’s actually there and then encourage its emergence — on paper. [You have to imagine a ghost of a story into being.] (You have to terrify the page into surrender.) I’ll stop my metaphors here, but you get the picture: Gardener, warrior, Voodoo priest, these are the components of authorship. Let’s throw in monastic novice as well, because although this post is lofty, my writing experience is one of extreme humility and short lived aha moments.

The turning point was watching a brilliant editor, in my case Ellen Parker of FRiGG Magazine, edit down my sleeping beauty story–she helped me increase the narrative speed, cleared the brush of unnecessary ideas, and unburied the ending. It was great observing someone else at work on my text. It liberated me to rework my other texts. Her approach to polishing my story gave me insight into my writing sins and how to move beyond them. I’ve been frantically practicing these skills, and now school starts again.

 

The Tyranny of Endings

My partner accuses me of only writing sad stories. Why does he think this? Because of my endings. I say nay, I write bittersweet stories. Life itself is a wonder of bitter-sweetness, what other endings could I write that would still feel true? This tendency of mine to err on the side of hopeful melancholy probably limits my choices.

Endings. Writing endings is an art I have not yet mastered, and frequently it is the story mechanism with which I have the mightiest struggles. Version after version, new ending after new ending, never striking the right note.

It is a heavy burden. How can I give a satisfying close to my readers? How can I bring earlier themes back but synthesize them or introduce a new idea that builds upon all that has gone before?

Perhaps it is time to devote myself to the problem. Let’s say that over the next month I will study other writers’ techniques for tackling this conundrum. (I might end up where I started, as, let’s face it, my favorite authors also go for the bittersweet in their stories.)

I could also go the simple route and try to write a story with a happy ending. If I keep up with the theme of Matisse’s Paires et Series exhibit, I could write several versions of the same story, striking different notes in each iteration, experimenting specifically with the path to the ending and the conclusion itself. I sense a project in the making.

A Good Week for Editing

After working for ten years on a piece that was almost, but never quite, satisfactorily finished–I decided, inspired by the Matisse show “Paires et Series” I saw in Paris, that if I couldn’t get my story to behave as I had written it originally, and rewritten it countless times, perhaps it was time for a radical rewriting. I opened the existing word document, then opened a new word document next to it, and got to writing, occasionally re-purposing small amounts of text that still worked in version 2. Aha! Working fast over two nights and two days, I’m pleased with the final result. The narrative finally makes sense, it is cohesive, the images have been pared down to the necessary few. The character’s emotional journey has a beginning and an ending and a melancholy swath of a middle.

It was a good week. I significantly reworked two pieces I’ve always loved but never brought to ripeness. They had hung around, rotting green mangoes of work, and I felt angry for not being able to bring them to their full sweetness. Rotting no longer. My shiny new fruit is off to market. I wish I had more weeks like this.

The Terrible Thirst Produced by Just a Taste

My lack of time generally, and my surging ambition specifically, make me feel like I’m in a kiln, being slowly baked by my desire for further publications. The terrible truth–now that I have an inkling that I might occasionally produce publishable work, is that I’m desperate to hit that quality level more consistently: I want to work harder and get further with my writing, and I resent anything that takes away from that project (like being a student). Furthermore, I want new publishing credits and I want them right now. My impatience is rearing its head. I’m angry for having waited so long in my life to get to this point.

The remains of my rational self hold to the proposition that I should be able to celebrate the small measure of progress I’ve made. But my tiny taste of success gnaws at me, a reminder that I could do and be more as a working artist. I guess the good news, despite my ego problems, is that I think I’m slowly getting a touch better at my craft. This week, I picked up two old unfinished pieces that dragged about like spinster aunts sharing an efficiency studio (the cramped cement backyard of my writing archives), and I finally have a wealth of ideas as to how to “marry them off” to publishers.

Rejection Calluses

I’ve gotten dozens of rejections from literary journals aver the last two months. Here’s what’s fun about wholesale volume ixnays having to do with my attempts at artistry: I’m getting more gleeful with each new “thank you, no.”

Each rejection indicates at least one person tried to read my work. Each rejection is just another sign that my work is really out there in the world.

Now that I’m in the rhythm of getting those politely phrased kicks in my ego’s face, I’m kind of amused instead of slighted.

I should acknowledge that part of my glee stems from having published at least one piece as part of this process–so work submission has revealed itself as a process, full of defeat certainly, but also occasional, abrupt rays of sunshine.

My ego’s face is bruised, but also smiling. Calluses are good sometimes–they’re signs of use, which is a kind of bravery.

Dread

This is what I wrote 15 minutes ago: I need to add Guilt as one of my main tags. I’ve procrastinated my way through this evening, and now here I am, bloated with pent-up self loathing. Maybe that’s the new tag: secret self loathing. I do not do new year’s resolutions, and yet if I have one resolution it’s to set aside 15 minutes to write each day. Blogging does Not count. 15 minutes. It sounds so doable. I guess I could close out this page and spend 15 minutes writing about how I have nothing to write. I’m an empty vessel. I’m a buoy. Floaty and hollow. I hate how angry I get with myself. Are you suggesting self acceptance might be a more productive use of my time? Don’t be so mature about it! I’ve got more self loathing to tap into: the supply is stupendous.

I will now take myself by the scruff of my neck and try to work on a story. I’m listening to Adele and I’m setting my phone’s timer. Start.

15 minutes later: That wasn’t so bad. I got some writing down. I need to counter my procrastination impulse–it is strong, like a black hole’s gravitational pull. I did some editing and wrote 400 words in 20 minutes or so, which is fine. I haven’t finished my story, but I am weaving in a new strand, developing the relationship between snow white and grumpy and how that affects grumpy and the evil queen’s relationship. This should be fun. My brain’s just not magically leaping about. I like those magical leaps. Instead I get earnest work which brings its own satisfactions, though they are a bit more quiet and shy. I’m going to see if I do better trying to write in the morning. I’ll say this for getting writing done–the phenomenal Guilt now seems ridiculous. That’s an important lesson to learn (over and over again): Stop feeling guilty, start writing.

Conflicting feelings/Imaginary Cat Bonding

I would probably feel better about being so lazy today if I had a cat. The cat and I could nap together, in solidarity, and awake and eat together in solidarity, and engage in some light grooming, a few stretches, some prancing about, and finally, more triumphant, self-satisfied napping. This is basically a summary of my cat-less day one of my luxurious two-week vacation. I haven’t been away from work for two weeks in a year. It feels weird and full of potential.

Maybe this imaginary cat idea is a fantastic notion–if I come to terms with my cat-like irresponsibility/laziness, I will be able to enjoy my professional grade goofing off without the typical guilt. Also, as a non cat with catlike tendencies, I get to enjoy great things like reading novels. Cat-like humans really have it all.

Maybe I need to get more structures and schedule my goofing off? Make it an official part of my vacation time. What would a good ratio be? 2/3 goofing off, 1/3 productive use of time/chores/writing/visiting with friends?

I’m entitled to goofing off. I’ve earned it. So why do I feel so guilty? Perhaps it’s because my xmas presents are un-wrapped. Maybe it’s because my final xmas package has not visited the post office yet. It could be that I’m under attack–my dormant, on-hold to-do list has awoken from its slumber and is acting like a starving angry Godzilla in need of attention.

The Godzilla is roaring while I nap. My napping powers are strong, and To-do Godzilla is ambitious, but has a mute button that I’m pushing repeatedly.

Some of the guilt (of course) is writing related. I got excellent feedback from my clever writing group on Monday on my latest iteration of my fairy tale retelling of snow white, and I have a lot to do. So much to do. I’m looking forward to tackling the revision, while being full of apprehension. Nothing fills me with so much excitement and trepidation as the looming revision process. For now, my proactive focus on napping means I’m going to let my trepidation fill me up, like a battery, and then deal with it.

It’s all about the diversion processes (at which I so excel). Good luck to all of us in facing off with the holidaze and our December To-do Godzillas.
Merry merry.

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!)

The Rebalancing Act

I’m here to tell you how much I love working on my memoir manuscript. It engages a whole other part of my mind in a truly delightful, relaxing way. Okay, I may be lying about the relaxing part. Editing my memoir fills me with teeth grinding fear and hopeful gases. Yes, editing has physiological effects.

At any rate, I reread, in a state of pleasant surprise, my latest iteration of Bed Stories, which goes through various romantic and family anecdotes that are linked to the presence of beds. It’s always been my sweet, slightly broken darling, but I think it may have finally found its rhythm. Because writing is about finding, varying, and sustaining rhythm. (Did you know the word Rhythm had so many Hs? I did not.) But yes, this story is cooked. It is done. It smells like, well it smells like the vapors of Michter’s bourbon in my empty glass, which is a slightly smokey, slightly sweet, very boozy aroma.

This evening of delighted discovery of finished products in the rubble of my ever unfinished memoir is brought to you by the letter S. S for Surrender and Serendipity. Surrender because it seems that, like me, the students in my classes have basically given up on the readings. I have come to terms with drastic skimming. Serendipity because tonight I figured out that the deadlines for my next research papers weren’t quite as dire as I expected. So I came home and, instead of plunging into research, I got to plunge into my very own personal writing project. My personal writing project makes me feel at home in the way the best vacation I have ever had made me feel at home in a strange place. There’s sun, there’s discovery, and there’s a sweet satisfaction experienced between swims and naps. I don’t get to nap when I edit, but I do get to swim in my mind’s flow.

I’ve vowed to myself that I will rebalance my time> more time writing, less time reading homework/researching. I want to do it all, but doing it all must include my writing. There. I said it.

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.

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).