Monday, December 17, 2012

Here's the question I want to ask all the giants.  Alice Munro, Ali Smith, Anne Enright, William Trevor.    Do you ever love something that you've written as much as books written by others?  I fear I will never, ever love anything as much as I love reading a book that was NOT written by me.  As a result, there is always this dark, let-down feeling that torments me at the end of a project.  Just as it's all coming together--and, yes, there are parts that I like, even moments that I sort of adore--I basically want to toss it all in the fire.  I'd rather read a book in which I don't know the ending.  A book whose sentences don't remind me of all the sweat and tears and cuticles that were destroyed in pursuit of them.  Alas, here I am.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I am not quite sure how to begin.  A draft is finished.  It's already being revised.  I love it and I hate it.  I think it might a tragic waste of time and also a kick-ass book.  I stand in the shower and try to think about what different people would have to say about it.  I imagine the coolest guy from high school, the doctor who is planning two son's weddings, my father, my mother, the exterminator.  None of these images reassures me.  Will anyone like it?

A word on perspective...

I was having a culinary day, roasting a chicken in the dutch oven.  Often enough when I do this, I make stock.  The jars occupy the freezer until needed.  This act feels so utilitarian, so resourceful.  I am wasting nothing!  But last night, long after dinner while the stock is still simmering, E--still in the throes of homework--says, as only a thirteen year old girl can, "Ew.  What is that?  Are you making dead chicken juice?"

Voila.  To some, an artful, resourceful use of a roasted chicken.  To some, dead chicken juice.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

it's election day.  which means i will try my hardest not to listen to the endless programming created as a grand finale to this gigantic billion-dollar industry.  i only want to hear good news.  i only want to hear that everyone has come their senses:  they can tell a huckster when they see one, regardless of his hair gel, his religion, his portfolio.  he is still just saying whatever he needs to say to move his product.  so i want to turn on the tv tonight and see that barack obama has been reelected by an overwhelming majority.  not just because he's smart and serious.  but because he speaks the values this country is supposed to speak:  equality for all people.  opportunity for all people.  the belief that we are only as strong as our weakest link.

until then, i will reach for my own finish line.  a draft before november 16.  it is close, so close.

Monday, October 29, 2012

when i was ten or so, i imagined that one of the glories of becoming an adult was the freedom to stop by the circle k anytime to buy as many marathon bars as you wanted.  i dreamt of buying ten at a time and eating all but one.  i also imagined staying up late, drinking soda and watching R rated movies would sustain me.

now, however, the candy that sits on the kitchen table doesn't tempt me at all.  no, i want pie and cake and buttery pastry filled with fruit.  i want homemade cookies and bread.  thick pads of salty, cold butter to spread on muffins or scones.  i yearn for an earlier bedtime, dislike soda and never notice a movie's rating unless my own children are involved.

last night e asked me if i would enjoy going back, knowing all that i know now.  would i like to revisit eighth grade and study ancient history and algebraic graphs?  would it all be easier and more enjoyable with the perspective of my adult life?  i couldn't lie to her.  hell, no.      


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Guardian asked Zadie Smith to contribute her 10 Rules For Writing.  I think they're terrific.  

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

sometimes, on a sunday evening the bedroom is blessedly cool and it seems that life will never be better than it already is.  the sun shone hot that day, like the blazing furnace that it is, but then it sank and the silhouettes of the tree branches against the navy blue sky conjured thoughts of cold winter nights.  there were kisses--all kinds--small triumphs, feats of courage, blasts of creativity, and warm bowls of goodness.  someday the cool sunday evenings may be full of mourning and loneliness, full of illness or pain.  at least, when reminiscing, it won't be a shock to realize how beautiful it all once was.

Friday, August 17, 2012

here's the thing:  i had a brilliant idea yesterday.  that is not a sentence i frequently get to write.  i was working at home, trying something new, trying to write my way out of the fog that has become the book and it hit me!  it was a whole new way to give the book structure, to give the book a raison d'ĂȘtre.  truly, from wherever those strokes of genius come from, it had happened to me.  but then i realized that i have to have more than the brilliant idea.  i have to implement it throughout the entire manuscript and make it live up to its divine inception.  ugh.  i am really hoping that i am more than what you see.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I've been adrift.  Lost.  Looking for direction.  The ideas that want to save you may, in fact, be your undoing.  But the trying may get you somewhere better.  Or it may wreck you.  Make you want to take a match to the pages that have piled up so far.  But since there is no way to tell, no diagnostic that will make you more certain of your method, you must try.  This is what I tell myself, anyway, as I begin to cut a new path towards the end.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

There is a hollowed-out feeling that I've only ever felt through reading.  It's like there is a vegetable peeler contoured perfectly to the shape of my stomach, and it is working working working its blade against my flesh.  Why, you ask, would this feeling be so pleasurable as to be among one of the very best sensations I can imagine?  I have no idea.  But it does seem like when it happens, when the words begin to carve at my belly, I have a sense of getting closer to something primal.

Some piece of the very basic places where I began:  My little girl fingers, thick and clumsy, my little girl knees, bruised and knobby, my little girl heart, fresh and plump and eager.  

I read The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo this morning.  Cover to cover in one great big heavy sigh.  It is one of those books.  It began in the very first page to work at my stomach and by the end I was crying. Not because it is sad--though it is--but because it was so right.

Then I found these images, created by theatre artists Watoku Ueno and Makoto Takeuchi for the Long Island City Community Library in Queens.  They are beautiful, don't you think?  Ah, happy hollowed-out day.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

sometimes the very best summer day is not one spent in an exotic locale, or even at the beach.  sometimes the very best summer day is one that is surprisingly cloudy; a saturday which you've assigned to the heap of days without work; a day in which the white cover on the bed stretches out alluringly, but you resist; a day in which you can read an entire book about cooking and marvel at its beauty; a day in which you have time to make exactly the meal your littlest has requested; a day in which nothing seems hurried, but the hours are sweetly precious and already you feel nostalgic that it's over.

Monday, July 2, 2012

John Jeremiah Sullivan (what a name!)  had a piece in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine about Absalom! Absalom!  I have always been drawn to the dark, violent messiness of Faulkner, so I read with interest. As I faced diving back into work, a couple of items from the article seemed to holler at me.  Here they are:

1.  The rules Faulkner doesn't ignore in this novel he tends to obliterate.  {Me, on my feet, cheering.}  The plot, for instance.  There is none.  He tells us on the third page (in italics) pretty much everything that will happen in the book, action wise.  {Right, on.  What happens isn't ever the point, is it?}

2.  Sullivan quotes the writer Paul Metcalf, which seems like a rebuttal to revealing your plot all too soon:  "The only real work in creative endeavor is keeping things from falling together too soon."  {Of course!  Suspense involves withholding.  But this is so perfectly put.}

3.  What we discover, though, on advancing into the novel's maze, is that Faulkner has given nothing away, not of the things he most values.  He's not concerned with holding us in suspense over the unearthing of events but in keeping us transfixed as he goes about excavating the soil beneath them. . .

And so, the point is made.  Faulkner did not use the plot to create the necessary suspense, but, rather, the ramifications of plot.  So guess what I'm reading?  Yep.  And as I look at the passages I underlined, it is clear that I was reading with the knowledge that I would have to be writing a paper.  I am hunting for thesis ideas and evidence to throw behind them.  How strange to remember what that kind of reading was like--trying to excavate the excavation.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

i pursue no objectives, no system, no tendency; i have no programme, no style, no concern.  i like the indefinite, the boundless.  i like continual uncertainty. - gerhard richter

gee.  i've been so far away.  on alabama beaches, the thames and the seine.  living near water is a whole different way of life.  bridges and boats and cool, water-borne breezes.  one of my favorite things was a gerhard richter exhibit at the centre pompidou in paris.  his work is beautiful in a very perfectly modern way.  it is not obtuse or pretentious.  and this quote of his--man, it is how i wish i could exist.

images found here

Monday, May 21, 2012

did you hear robert downey jr. made nearly a hundred million dollars from the avengers movie the first weekend?  he can afford to do whatever the fuck he wants.

i went to see lydia davis read this week.  she was great.  i think she's doing whatever the fuck she wants, too.  i loved being in her presence for just that reason.  i even wrote a story called at the reading, inspired by the evening.

sometimes i wish that my almost 13 year old would listen, smile and agree.  then go do whatever she was gonna do.  she is so honest (mostly).  just agree with me, i want to tell her.  nod and make me think you agree.  she had friends sleep over.  i said, go to bed by midnight, please.  she didn't smile and agree.  she wanted permission to stay up later.  fuck permission.  lead a secret life.

uh-oh.  i will live to regret those lines, won't i?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

sometimes when i live amongst the words, when it's just me and the music in my head and the keys under my fingers, i believe.  i really do.  it's all real to me.  as though by writing it down, it becomes true.  and, oh, what a frightening world that would be in which to live.  luckily, by the time i've packed up the computer and walked out into the day that asserts itself as--REAL, HERE, THIS WORLD, MOTHER FUCKER RUNS A RED LIGHT AND IT MIGHT JUST KILL YOU AND THEN THAT OTHER WORLD YOU'RE LIVING IN WILL BE ABSOLUTELY NO CONSOLATION TO THE KIDS--i remember.  i get it.  i know that i'm making it all up.  but then i feel a little sad.  like someone has just wrecked my sandcastle.  like the dream has been interrupted.  the candy snatched from my hand.  and i can't wait to return to the words.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

they say children love routine.  i was better at that when they were smaller and i was trying hard not to ruin them.  but all weekend my ten-year-old has been raging against routine.  everyday is the same.  morning comes.  breakfast, school, soccer, dinner, homework, sunset.  repeat.  i think he'd like it better if everything weren't so damn predictable.  as i tucked him in and listened to this diatribe one more time, i had to keep myself from saying the following:  nothing is guaranteed.  just because you've always had dinner when you're hungry and a bath when you were dirty, clean clothes when you wanted them and sneakers that fit doesn't mean that you can count on anything.  even the fucking sunshine.  aren't you worried about a nuclear holocaust?  you may look back on this cycle of doldrums and wish for them.  right? as adults we know that everyday may be our best.  or our last.  it may be the very one.  and sometimes it seems like no matter how reliable the planet's path is, our own is anything but.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

is it beautiful when you look up and see a whole bunch of people going someplace else?  i haven't disappeared.  haven't even left the ground.  but work makes me private and what's the point of privacy here?  nobody likes to listen to whispers they can't quite understand.  i must tell you that reading THERE BUT FOR THE by Ali Smith is the very best kind of reading.  it makes me laugh, it makes me tremble, it makes me certain if she'd been a vicar and i her congregant, i would have been an almighty believer.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

things of beauty.  bright stars on dark nights.  hunger in front of a plateful of lasagna.  word after word on a once-blank page.  your beloved's body filling the space that once felt so empty.  it's all about contrast.  opposites.  and if you run all those sentences backwards, they become things of pain.  a dark, starless night.  an aching hunger without any chance for food.  a terrifyingly blank paper.  the vacant place where your honey once was.  is it like this for you?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

as you move through the world, do you wonder who you would be in another place?  born to greek parents in rural turkey, where olive trees pack the vistas and goats roam in your yard, would you still have the youness that exists now?  how much of yourself can you guarantee is really you and not some coincidence of time and place?  would you still pick at your cuticles if you spent the day shoveling horse shit in kentucky?  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

i have no training in this field.  no experience with being so desperately in love with such a wretched adolescent creature.

do not remember your own self, dark and passionate and angry.  it will only make the job harder.  it will only make you love her a little bit more for her grand pronouncements and vitriolic moods.  though you must catch her in her lies, you would like to turn away.  catch a movie, grab a sandwich, drive through the car wash with the radio blasting.  but you live beside the fear, the memory, of how it could all go bad.  really bad.  on your watch.

i want too much from the job.  i want her to like me.  i want her to be good.  but sometimes she hates me.  and sometimes she's rotten. 

you still have to feed her and love her and let her spill the messy contents of her heart all over you.  and you have to pretend that it doesn't faze you.  that you're not bothered by the gore.  and when it's quiet, when the coast is clear, you can make a mad dash for mexico. . .

image found here

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

we are such beasts.  really.  just a good rub down and a clean bowl of water.  a convivial smile and a leisurely walk.  nice bright patches of sunlight in which to nap and plenty of time to poop.  rewards for good work and a dinner on time.  who are we kidding?  happy new year.