Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

You’re A Writer

December 26, 2012

You’re a writer, Jonatha said, as if I had asked.  Although maybe I had, not directly, but with that sappy ass look I had been displaying every day since we arrived.  Do you like me, the look asked, as if that’s what’s I was here for to begin with.

Esalen.  A summer camp for adults.  Complete with the ice cold glasses of milk poured from white plastic utters of stand alone fridge at the side of the dining hall.

There’s a darkness around you, she said.  I feel bad for you, but it’s good for your writing.  And then she was gone leaving me standing next to a toasting machine in constant motion as if waiting for someone to feed it a slice.

There had been lots of lonely that week.  Those pacific coast cliffs carving out endless space around me, tearing up the edge of the ocean and raising up into the night holding up that endless matt of stars.  My mouth gaping open that first night, head cracked back, like I could catch one in my mouth as it fell, splattering bright marks across the sky.

I talked to everyone but got to know no one.  Except Sam. I had wanted to braid my hair with hers the instant she spoke up in our group.  I’m throw up in my boot nervous, she had said by way of introduction.

We sat in that fish bowl of a room, all twenty-seven of us.  One set of windows pointing out onto the ocean, the other up into a small sharp shooter poking lodger set in the hills. It wasn’t unusual to walk into a room like this one in the evening and find a figure communing with the dark.

I had driven up with a thin gray-haired woman, small and stylish, with a fresh flower set in her tightly wound bun.  The car had no AC and she did not give a damn.  I was late meeting her and so was the other woman who drove up with us, a cafe owner.  The fourth woman was just married and enthusiastically signed up for courses, first this one and then one at the French Culinary Institute of New York.

When we arrived on the campus our driver unpacked the trunk and told us all to have a good week, even though we were bound to meet each other again on the expansive sun covered deck where everyone from all classes would meet for lunch, to drink garden herbed water from palm sized glasses with salads of lettuce and figs grown on the grounds.

It was that kind of lunch that made me hungry.  Drew me to that late night snack table to begin with.  Something feeling scratchy and unsatisfied, yearning for comforting foods, pasta, pizza, things that get at the surface level of hunger but never underneath.

So I had walked into the dark dining room late at night, through which one would pass on their way to the moonlight sulfur baths set on the side of the mountain.  I had skulked around that snack table and slathered some peanut butter on whole grain bread with a mini-spatula made to pull alternative butter out of buckets when Jonatha had arrived to do the same.  She in her Emily doll like outfit, her black rimmed glasses, her dark banks heavy across her forehead.

I’m sorry, I think I said, before she left.  Feeling like I must have been a burden to them, the real writers, who I loomed around, in hopes that I could lap up the edges of their confidence by sitting next to them in the heated pools.

Trust me, I’m not wrong about these things, she had said over her shoulder. On the last day of our workshop she left in the morning.  Something about a cat who would need an appointment on the same day when we would sit together on the floor on those oversized pillows and say our thanks to each other, and our goodbyes.


Write Like The Wind

November 5, 2012

Heads up everyone,  it’s Nanowrimo!  That’s short for National Novel Writing Month, for those of us who haven’t already taken the 50,000 word challenge. And for those of us who have, let’s everyone have another go this year.

The call for professional writers to commit to finishing a draft of their novel in thirty days started over ten years ago with a mere 140 people.  In 2011 over a quarter of a million people participated in the event.  But not everyone ends up a winner.

In order to win you must log into the NaNo website and make yourself a username and password.  Use NaNo’s super fun word counter to keep a running tally of your progress throughout the month. That’s 1,666 words every day to you, Mr.

Getting stuck?  Try out the community forums and talk with other members who are well on their way.  Ask them anything from character tips to plotting techniques or just get some extra support if you are falling behind.

Even NaNo knows that a draft is only the beginning.  Don’t just send that sucker out with a agent query until at least the start of 2013.  And if you spend December congratulating yourself for finishing a draft, you may have to wait just a little bit longer.

I had a stand off with a man who came to the library and not for the books

September 7, 2012

First I found out how easy it is to reserve a book. Just enter the name of the book you’re looking into a form field on the internet and click to hold the book at the library closest to you. The all you have to do is go to that library and head on down to the hold section and the book is waiting there for you. With your name on it. This is a regularly scheduled public service announcement.

Then I was reminded that there are not just books at the library, oh no.  You’ve also got access to you lastest magazines  wrapped up in plastic covers and red bindings out on display, like in the subway station, only you can look inside. I picked up whatever latest dish there was on Suri and Kate and trekked it along with me into the philosophy room just for a little peak before I started writing. Did she sign a contract to keep quiet about scientology in exchange for a quick and easy divorce?  We may never know.

Finally, it was nice to learn that the library is up date, technology wise.  Can I plug in somewhere, asks a woman standing at the info desk with a laptop and an ETHERNET cable coming from the side. No, you have to use the air, says the man behind the desk, giving a little wave with his hand around his head to demonstrate.  Ok, it’s a little spotty, but who needs the internet when you’re surrounded by knowledge already!

But just as I was getting comfortable downstairs in the fiction section, sitting on some cozy cushioned chairs I found over by the circulation desk, a guy sat down across from me. Or not across from me, rather, but across from the girl that was sitting next to me, also in one of the six cozy living room like chairs. And when he did, he started to moan like there was something down his pants and he liked it.

My neighbor seemed to disagree. Did you hear what was going on, I asked him, after the man got up and left. The man shifted in his seat and seemed like he wished I would go away. Because I wasn’t sure what to think about what was going on, I said. So I was wondering what you heard.

He was talking to himself, my neighbor said, and he shrugged.

Like, no big deal. The moaning didn’t really distract him like it distracted me. For me, I started feeling gross at the bottom of my stomach like I needed to find a new room. When I got up to leave, the moaner got up too, and gave a little laugh like he had won.

Listen. I went back! Because when you need inspiration, and not the kind that involves a sinking feeling in your gut, they’ve got shelves and shelves of the stuff. On one break I picked up Eckhart Tolle’s, A New Earth, from the shelves and found the perfect quote to start a post on my addiction to knowing the future before it’s arrived:

But also because the library is a place I can go to hear myself think.  And for someone who likes to listen more to what people say about me than what I think about myself this is a gem of a situation.  So much so that I’m not going to let a little moaning get in my way.

Here’s the quote for those of you who can’t wait for after the weekend.  The gist of the story will be something like how I started reading Susan Miller one day and ended up as one of the people who would justify your crazy stories by telling you that’s just what someone with your rising sign would do.  That’s right naughty Scorpios, I’m talking to you.

Gnothi Seauton—Know Thyself.

These words were inscribed above the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, site of the sacred Oracle. In ancient Greece, people would visit the Oracle hoping to find out what destiny had in store for them or what course of action to take in a particular situation. It is likely that most visitors read those words as they entered the building without realizing that they pointed to a deeper truth than anything the Oracle could possibly tell them. They may not have realized either that, no matter how great a revelation or how accurate the information they received, it would ultimately prove to be of no avail, would not save them from further unhappiness and self-created suffering, if they failed to find the truth that is concealed in that injunction—Know Thyself.

Did you make it to the end of these five paragraphs or more?  I’m dying to know.  Leave me a note to say hi, or tell me the NYPL you like to visit best.

What is Real

August 1, 2012

Pam Houston, Lidia YuknavitchMarion Winik.  These writers all new to me.  But since I came back from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir writing workshop, I can not help but want to know them intimately.

All three of these books are punch you in the gut good.  Like someone making you tea and sitting you down to tell you a big truth.  And when you understand that something you knew to be true actually is you drink the whole cup of tea in one gulp and then ask for another.  And then another.

In these five paragraphs from Contents May Have Shifted, Pam Houston tells a story of woman who was led to her new husband by the ghost of the man’s son from a first marriage.  The two later have a son together who also can communicate with the dead.  When a widowed man comes to visit, the woman asks her son to check in on the man’s wife from the other side.

Because I remember that Pam Houston’s says her books are 82% true, I think of this book as a memoir.  I imagine that this episode, with the couple and the bereft husband, might very well be true.  Even though the book is categorized as FIC on the New York Public Library tag.

It’s no accident that the protagonist is named Pam, just like the author.  I’m pretty sure both Pams are telling us something about the difference between fact and fiction.  Or about how important it is to tell your story especially if there are parts that others might find beyond belief.

Spend the first hour of the day offline

July 24, 2012

Today the NYtimes profiled tech companies who feel kinda bad that they bank on the surge of dopamine we get when we use their products.  After a week of limiting my own daily dose, I found out that spending time any other way felt like an incredible chore.  The W, it turns out, sucks your time not because you don’t want it to, but because giving up your time to something that wants it desperately is part of what feels good.

I realized that when I check my email in the morning I usually get disappointed.  There are some times when I have one, maybe two emails that I care about in my inbox.  Some of those require responses that are hard and so I don’t respond right away.  Then I start the day dreading how I’m going to respond and when.

So tried out spending the first hour of the morning without my trusty devices.  No email, no text message and no blogs either.  Just me and a bunch of blank note cards to fill in with ideas about how to spend my time in other ways.

By lunchtime I had actually done something I cared about instead of  just committing to events and projects I probably wouldn’t have time to complete.  By afternoon, getting back to emails felt fun.  And by the early evening I remembered that the internet is, like, for entertainment.

The nighttime was pleasant.  As I lay in bed, tucked in under my covers, I felt as if the day had come to a natural end.  And there had been so much of it that I had been present for too.

Some people will find this crazy because their lives depend on emails from others as soon as they wake up.  Other people will find this crazy because their lives depend so little on what happens online.  I’m curious to know – are you either of these types of people? Or is an hour of no W every morning just right for you too?

What Big Sur Writers Do and Do Not Care About

July 18, 2012

They do not care about your publishers, your advance, the number of books you sold or the name of your agent.  They do not care about where you did your writing, what room, on which computer and how many times you printed your manuscript out on paper.  They also do not care about whether or not you have changed your name, or the reason the name of your book is printed in lower case on the cover.

The mostly care about whether you can see the whales in the ocean, their spouts, their tales, their bodies turning over in the waves.  Will you take them swimming into the pacific without tops, without bottoms in water cold enough to make your brain freeze. And can you see the way the poppies head straight down into the ocean?

They care to measure the softness of the space around your heart.  Can they reach in there directly, through the skin and chest bones without having to chip away?  Or do you make them take a more indirect route, through the armpit and up through the color bone before descending down to the heart.

If you offer the ugly beating thing to them, messy, running over in your open hands, they will cup them back together.  They will move your hands back to your chest.  They will stitch the open wound together with their stories.

You will miss the chance to spend your last night with them.  You will be in bed in your room missing them before they are gone.  You will regret this even in the moment.

Stay Friends, Critique Well

October 12, 2011

It’s not every day that a friend trusts you enough to send you some of their writing for review.  If you’ve been put in this privileged position, congratulations – you’ve earned a deep level of trust.  Now don’t mess it up!

On first read you’ll most likely get distracted by where your thoughts and feelings are different than the thoughts and feelings of the author.  Keep those to yourself. Now, read through a second time to find the parts where there’s a dissipation of difference – where they made a connection with you – and highlight those parts instead. The challenge for the writer is admitting where she’s just like everyone else.

When you start your critique, note the greatest strength first.  You’ll want to tell the writer that you see their creative voice so that they trust you when you tell them what’s not working – in the next step.  But we’re not just buttering up – we use what we’re good at to compensate for what we struggle with the most.

Next up, be specific about when are where you felt confused when you were reading. Pull out a part, extrapolate for the writer and see if you’re right.  The writer will have to refine in order to say what they really mean, even if they slay you with curses under their breath a few times first.

If you think the work needs restructuring, ask questions that will help the writer rethink how they’ve presented material – instead of suggesting specific structural changes.  Unless the writer has asked for specific structural changes that is.  If that’s the case suggest a few possible ways of approaching the structure instead of explaining what you would do.

Your written response is only your first step.  Your writer  will likely not want to make the changes you suggest, especially if you’re right on.  Offer to read the next version and follow-up till you get the next draft.

Now you’re friends for life.

Today’s News

October 11, 2011

Gerard spends Sunday evenings in the tub.   The length of time he spends in the bath is equal to the length of time that has passed since he last enjoyed his work: a long time. Tonight, just when he’s lowered himself down into the hot water, complete with bubbles and a glass of port by his side, the phone rings.

Darn it, he thinks, lunging himself back out of the tub with a sigh, the water shallowing out beneath him.  By the second ring he wraps a fluffy white towel around his waist and tucks a corner into the top.  In three ring he’s bounding toward the phone, leaving wet spots in the shape of feet trailing behind him.

The interruption bothered him less than the listening of his voice on the machine echo through the house when he was in fact at home.  You’ve reached the Darkly’s, please leave a message beep.  Gerard, Gerard dear are you home, was usually the sound of the voice that followed.

Yahello, he says before the sixth ring.

Mr Gerard Darkly, says a low but robotic sounding voice at the other end of the line.

Speaking, says Gerard.

I’m calling from the St. Methodist Manner hospital. We received a patient to our ER unit tonight at 8:32pm – Jake Darkly.  Is this your son?

What happens now is a jumble of things: Notes on the location, instructions on which door to enter through, the name of a doctor. Repeating the details back to the voice on the phone and then hanging up with a beep with receiver nestled back into the cradle.  In the next moment he feels an urgency to call out for his wife, for what seems like the first time in years.

Warning, Fiction tk

October 7, 2011

I started fiveparagraphs so that I could publish an idea every day. It turns out that it’s hard to do writing when you don’t know exactly what you’re writing about. You spend lots of time reading other people’s blogs about writing and do little writing of your own.

At some point I will transition the writing here to fiction writing. But I’ll keep writing about the craft of writing. And the craft of making things in general – like great installation based performance work.

There are lots of blogs dedicated to the craft of making things though. So in order to offer something different,  I’ll write about the cast of characters that sometimes speak up if I wake up early in the morning.  When they are unhappy I’ll try to quell their fears, put them at ease on the page and deliver them to you.

I’ll also read or listen to a piece of fiction, a poem and an essay every day; as prescribed by Ray Bradbury. Live in the library, he says. And also: if you complain about how hard it is to write, than do something else.

If you stay with me, I’ll be happy. If I lose you, I understand.  But when you’re still here I’m looking to know, with each post whether you think:

Good for you, who cares, save it for therapy?
Fun, thanks, I feel better now and not in a misery loves company kind of way.

Voting functionality to come.

Today’s Ray:
Playboy Interview: Steven Jobs (1985) From Longform

Audio file of Flannery O’Connor reading A Good Man is Hard to Find

The Journey – By Mary Oliver









Grantland – For Guys with Half a Brain

September 22, 2011

But just because you’re guys doesn’t mean you don’t also find yourselves curious, to the point of obsession, about Ryan Gosling’s white satin Scorpion jacket in Drive.  It’s not like you have anything to hide just because you stay up late at night wondering about the inspiration for the design, the number of jackets used throughout film and whether or not you’ll be able to buy a version for yourself soon.  So, if there’s nowhere else that will print smart sports and entertainment commentary for you, you just have to go do it yourselves.

But let’s get one thing as clear as the shape of Elvis Presley’s pompadour – you’re making a guys site.  So you’re not going to spend precious dude-filled hours considering whether there should be more than two women on your staff of twenty-six columnists.  There’s room for more women writers but why go on an internet bender trying to find them when you already know enough guys that write well.  Besides, women write about women things, and it’s not your job to put men in the kitchen wearing aprons and high heels.

You know you’ve lucked out big time by getting Molly Lambert, former editor of and author of the widely passed along piece on How To Be A Woman In A Boys Club, to play on your team.   Who cares if her current stories finger Cindy Crawford as the model of vanity or sends us off to “go home and make love to your man” after watching Sade’s performance at the Staples Center?  She’s just Molly being Molly, writing about whatever it is Molly wants to write about, just like any of you on staff do over at Grantland.

Because really.  Do guys actually care about what it’s like to be a woman? And you’re not just talking about menstruation, child care or buying the right sized bra – but the extra work we do to confront people’s messed up ideas about what it means to be a women, each and every day?  You don’t even need to answer that.  You’re just guys, being guys.  Hangin’ out.  Writing.

Another time though, when your current New Yorker look starts to feel limiting, you’ll hire a female designer.  You’ll all go out to lunch and she’ll start talking about her homeschooling hairdresser who left her gambling husband to take her kids on a year long trip to walk across America.  You’ll all have a good laugh and a short convo about your own family dysfunctions and your back to the farm dreams.  Then you’ll go back to the office and you’ll recruit like mad.