That Funny Moment

A couple of weeks ago, on my way to work to co-facilitate a group, while I was walking to the El and talking on the phone, a little fruit fly circumvented the shield provided by my glasses and flew straight into my eye. I was feeling a bit emotional before the fly thing happened. As I had left my home, I had noticed within myself my intention: I wanted to do a particularly good job of facilitating my group that night.

When the fly got suctioned into my eye by the swirling currents therein, I was on the phone, and holding bags, so I had to announce my predicament to the person on the phone who wanted me to note their phone number, and put the phone on speakerphone while I flipped the camera so I could see my face as I moved my eyeball around, hoping the fly would make its way back to the front of my eyeball where I could pluck it out. A few tears and long seconds later, the fly showed up under my eyelid, and eventually floated down to a snatchable location, like the worst biological contact lens breakaway piece.

I had never had a fly in my eye before, though I had written a short story based on that premise (foreshadowing?) years ago.

I got on the El, which promptly came to a screeching halt at Market and Fifth Street, the light were low and it seemed like the whole system had powered down. So I got off the train, went to the street, and got on a bus. At 9th and Market, there was the beginning of a terrible traffic logjam due to the NFL Draft road closures. I felt that my commute had already been hard enough so I toughed it out (kinda lazy) for another two blocks. I walked from 11th and Market to 13th and Sansom.

By the time I got to work, and at each slight mishap, I was wondering whether my troubled commute was some universe-driven warning sign. Or signs. I’m not superstitious, typically, but sometimes I start noticing that I’m getting the same message over and over again and I wonder if I’m ignoring the obvious. So I gave myself a brief talking to in my head. I decided that my commute did not have to impact my intent. That I could still summon my skills as a professional, and do my job the way I wanted to. That power to chose the theme of my life, is a kind of brilliant freedom. And I was glad that I had the inner power to be amused by my minor travails, but not overwhelmed by them, and still had the bandwidth to step into my professional mindset and do the work. That space to move through my thoughts and feelings, in a kind of mindfulness, is one of the big gifts of being a therapist, and perhaps that gift was born of the gift of being a writer first.

The Death of Procrastination

I have finally killed procrastination for good. Allow me to qualify this statement by adding some specificity.

I have finally mastered a student’s enemy: schoolwork-related procrastination. I’m still quite the procrastinator when it comes to several other important life arenas (cleaning, you know who you are and i curse you), but I feel that as a student, I’m making rapid headway.

Here’s my trick. I love being done with assignments ahead of schedule and not having to worry anymore far more than I love goofing off until the last possible second. I rather be calm. I rather feel a bit smug and have a cool summery beverage. I rather watch TV with lovely boyfriend in state of relaxed joy and indulgence.

It’s kind of amazing how different I am as an adult student compared to how I was as an undergrad. I think this is due to several factors. The most important factor being: I know exactly what I’m giving up in order to pursue my studies: All that time with friends and family. All that time at the movies. All those Center City Sips outings I’m not going on. All those story slams I can’t participate in. All the Free Library author events I can’t attend. They have a price. So I’m going to be as responsible to myself as I can be, and I’m going to try to reduce the stress on myself and all those I love as best I can by getting ahead whenever I can. Plus, it’s kind of fun. Yes, I also happen to be a total nerd.

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.

Publish and Prison

I’ve had both excellent news and one devastating experience this week. Maybe this is the shape life is supposed to take: part dream, part nightmare. Anyway, the good news is easy, I heard another piece of mine will be published–three times published makes me feel legitimate. Three times sounds like a streak, like it wasn’t an aberration or mistake. This is comforting. The devastation has to do with prisons. What should be a relatively low key experience–a class visit to a prison museum, screwed me up.

I hate the idea of prisons. I hate the fact of prisons. I hate prison architecture. I hate the notion of retribution. I hate punitive measures. I hate cages. I hate life in cages. I must have been a zoo animal in former life.

At any rate, I refused to visit Alcatraz when I lived in San Francisco, and here in Philadelphia I have refused to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary (except for once giving in to the Halloween fest activity they have there, where you’re too busy dodging made up ghouls to reflect on the nature of imprisonment.)

Being given a clear eyed, highly informative account of the life of the prisoners of Eastern State did nothing to improve my sense of dread. I learned a lot. But I was filled with grief. I was filled with grief at the way ideas seize imaginative people, and how they then make reality bend to the idea, regardless of the shape of life. In this case, well intentioned Quakers thought the prisoners needed more reflection–while I typically respect the desire to encourage self reflection and insight, it seems obvious that imposing close to total human isolation is a bad idea. And yet, the idea was pursued, despite the consequences. Humanity’s ability to creepily adhere to ideas, regardless of evidence, is what terrifies me the most.

Anyway, I’ve been carrying around a grief stretched heart since my visit. The flowering trees are helping reverse my grief, but not the grief of those who are currently incarcerated.

The Fairy Tale Craze

Timing. It’s a killer.

I wrote a novella-length feminist adaptation of Rapunzel in 2004. I’ve been trying to write complementary stories ever since. It’s been slow work, but now I’ve got close and far adaptations of Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood. And then I’ve got Stan, my devil story, which is an odd tale that doesn’t fit comfortably anywhere, though he is very interesting. If I put all these stories together I’ve got a slim, but compellimg volume that makes me feel like I’m close to finishing another short book of writing.

Here’s the problem. I’m obviously neither prolific nor fast, and my little volume is not quite finished even as fairy tale retellings become the rage on TV and in the movies. I’m watching my thing get played out in the commercial arena and I’m not quite ready for prime time. This is an odd feeling. Like if all your life you’ve loved persimmons and no one talks about them and in your spare time you’re slowly working on a persimmon cookbook; then you wake up and you start seeing persimmons on all the menus in all your favorite restaurants and in all the newspapers. Yup, that’s what this year feels like.

There’s also a bit of Tantalus in this tale. Success (or its attempt) is not quite within reach.

I guess, and here goes further proof of how slow I am, that it’s time to redouble efforts and concentrate on what I can do to get my work to market sooner rather than later.

Not my best time of year, frankly

So there are times, let’s say hypothetically November to March, where I dwell in a mild state of perpetual existential unease. December and January are the toughies, because I face the holidays, my annual self assessment, my family’s gaze, and my approaching birthday. I’m age-indifferent, and yet …

So in this precarious period of the year, I have to seek out small pleasures to keep me afloat on a moment to moment basis. Today, these pleasures have included coffee, napping on my office floor before class, a brief walk in the blazing noon sunshine, bourbon on ice, slices of hot sopressata, half a chocolate brownie, red berry smoothie, 1/3 of a toblerone bar, mint green tea, vinegar sea salt chips, Mozart’s requiem, goofing off, and writing a blog post. (You notice the food angle; I do too.) Last night it was watching endless movie trailers. The night before it was a viewing of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with repeated viewings of Diamond’s a Girl’s Best Friends. (I don’t like diamonds, but I do love Marylin’s flirty choreography, the pure girlishness of it all.)

The energy level, generally, is so lackluster that tonight my professor gave up in defeat at the lack of response from my classmates and sent us home 45 minutes early. I don’t have a good metaphor for this one. A last minute stay of an execution would be too dramatic, and winning the lottery equally improbable, yet the experience was delicious. We sat there and stared at him and he had to clarify and repeat, “Yes, class is over.”

I’m finding the stretch between Thanksgiving break and Christmas break unusually relentless this year. I’m trying not to throw the towel in, exactly, but it is soggy and moldy and I kind of want to get rid of it.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for imaginary hugs and imaginary cocktails with my gchat friend during work hours. The notion of an imaginary massage does a lot to relax me, visualization really is everything.

Hugs to all through the holiday season. Whirled peas and whatnot.

Root Canal

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the words Root or Canal, the same way there’s nothing inherently wrong with the phrase Up All Night and the word Working.

I’m not going to spell it out, but trust me, it’s bad.

On the plus side of the equation, I found the most awesome blog: Feminist Ryan Gosling.

I finally located my perspective somewhere under a pile of weep. I realized that I tend to have my little meltdowns well after the crisis has passed. Like many children my age, first things go bad, then I handle them, then I realize what I went through and suffer from emotional hiccups. Then I calm down and see that everything is going to be okay.

So there. Everything is going to be okay. Plus a little helping of Feminist slogans: Hey Girl.

Reasonable Girl Vs. Buzzee Bee

So I have a new alter ego in my life: busy bee, or for marketing purposes, Buzzee Bee. Buzzee Bee is frantically roaming the world, going from project to project, trying to suck up all the inspiration before the season’s up.

Reasonable Girl, who would like to take a measured, polite assessment of what’s doable and get a good night’s sleep, is still in there, but she’s getting shouted over by Buzzee Bee.

I was trying to embrace Reasonable Girl, but I find myself staying up later and later, pushing myself to get more and more done, and constantly feeling preoccupied, slightly overwhelmed, and often (and most lethally): unfocused.

I’m hoping that my assuming the guise of Buzzee Bee for Halloween will somehow be an act of healing exorcism and that on November 1, I can cut off my wings, put my Reasonable Girl cape back on and get a bit more sleep.

The best surrender

I (triumphantly) snuck in some writing tonight because I realized that strictly speaking I didn’t have to do my assigned reading because class was a general assembly lecture. It felt naughty. It felt good. Writing soothes a part of my soul that nothing else can get to. Also, it felt really good to give up on something mandated and grab something else more important (and alluring) to me.

I watched the Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement speech last night, as a memorial, and he discussed his philosophy of looking in the mirror each morning and trying to assess the day in the lens of “what if this were my last day?” If this were my last day, I would definitely want to spend part of it writing. I’m going to have to get more creative about finding time.

Also, it felt great to try to tackle some pointed feedback I had gotten about going with more emotion in my writing, and trying to cover less ground. I was scared, but I opened up my document, printed it, edited, and I started expanding my favorite sections. My rewrite process felt good. I felt focused and lucid, I could clearly see and cut the fat. And I’m proud of the final product. My piece about Frenchness is finally starting to work. Huzzah.

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.

Delicious Rejection

I got instantly gratified, or nearly so, with a rejection two days after submitting my work for consideration. This kind of turnaround in the zine industry is rare stuff. So I’m delighted and honored to know where I stand, at least with this one publication.
I am not however disheartened, probably because the best advice I ever got about writing was to submit often and fearlessly and expect numerous rejections, and count each rejection as taking one step closer to getting something accepted.
The advice giver, my friend Nina, is an abstract painter, so she knows a thing or two about the brutal marketplace of art and esthetics.
So every time I get a rejection slip, I stick it to the wall as a reminder to keep going out into the world. I have my NO pile, nice and thick and chaotic, and my Yes pile, two pages deep. But I’m cool with that. Because I’m not nearly systematic enough about submitting my work. For example, my last rejection came on August 29, and the one before that in May.
People this is a wake up call! I need my work to go out and about into the world. The marketplace of ideas.
Also, I am being held in a lovely cold embrace as I write this post. It’s perking me right up.

two of my favorite things, together

Delicious, nutritious, loving

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.

Buzzing Mind

I’ve been waking up and realizing that I’m mulling over the findings in my readings and how they are altering my world view–for example, the best predictors of decreasing poverty rates for African-Americans? Lifting out of poverty correlates to having more AA’s being employed by the government and their having greater political representation.(That’s tonight’s homework–email me if you want the reference.)

Or I wake up feeling deep guilt about not having written anything other than this blog, and ruminate over all the chapters I need to revisit and improve when I start the memoir revision process in a couple of weeks. Here’s My Big Problem: I don’t have a quick snappy way of explaining how/why I ended up writing my memoir, or what the memoir is about. I guess that’s Two Big Problems.

And with my new schedule I’m constantly negotiating my priorities. Right now, for example. I really wanted to nap between work and my evening lecture. But I decided I couldn’t nap until I finished the class reading, and then I decided that if I finished the reading I was allowed to blog (still no nap in sight.)

I realize these are trivial problems–it’s like complaining about being covered in whipped cream–so messy, so sticky, and so delicious. That’s really what’s happening. My life is overfull with wonderful developments, but I’m not used to all this stimulation and activity. It’s great, but it’s definitely an adjustment.

Fighting the lure of revision

I’m quite fortunate in that two friends have already given me comments on my memoir collection. (I only distributed my memoir a week ago.) Interestingly, the piece I consider my weakest was rated among the favorites and the least favorites, respectively. The world remains a place of diverse sensibilities.

I’m already faced with a pile of prospective edits, clarifications, corrections, amplifications, amendments, and changes. I’m really tempted to go in and just work on the typos. Even as I consider doing so, it’s clear that it would start innocently enough with typos, and next thing I know I’d be writing and rewriting whole paragraphs.

So I must resist the ultimate editing gateway drug–fixing typos.

Why? Well, I’m trying to let the language cool down. I want to regain a measure of perspective on what I did, both good and bad, and the only way to do that is to leave the text alone for a while. Steven King recommends six months. I’m not possessed of six months of patience. Thus, I’m aiming for a more modest period. A 30 day cooling month.

I have to pray that this time away from my language will allow me to renew my stamina for new edits and rewrites and give me the clarity of vision necessary to move the narrative further along the absurdist humor curve.

Meanwhile I have to live with myself. I’m full of vague regrets and recriminations at all my suspected failures. I had so many (semi articulated) writing goals. It’s going to be a good month for humility.