Did you ever fall off the writing or blogging wagon?

Well, as Jimi Hendrix says, ‘I have.’ It looks to me like there hasn’t been a post here for two weeks.  So what went wrong?  Summer happened and then I:

  1.  Thought up a lot of interesting blog posts ideas but failed to write them down.  Really.  I had them.  Now they’re gone.
  2. Entertained my young adult son and his girlfriend, who we are meeting for the first time.  Charming people.  It makes me wish I was their age again. They don’t blog either.
  3. Now here is the big one:  because we are moving, I went through my files, many of which, because of our frequent moves, were not very well organized.  Actually a lot of them are not in file cabinets.  They look like this:

    This is just a few of the boxes.  There is more in the garage and also a 5 drawer Steelcase file cabinet.  Of course those are my feet.
  4. The phrase that comes to mind is: down the rabbit hole with the filing system.  There are various types of papers:  journals, letters, childhood papers for the kids, old tax returns, (Leo says I can toss those after 7 years, really) my clips of published work, all in magazines and newspapers, and of course, the big one:
  5. Writing designed to be published that isn’t or wasn’t.  This is not counting my two WIP’s.  This is stuff that I should have finished years ago.  Two memoirs and a novel, incomplete.  Multiple drafts and no system for which one is the most recent.  Are there digital copies?   Nooooo!!! That computer was stolen.  Okay.
  6.   “You have to let go of the past, Susan!” Leo said.
  7. Yes.  That last one.  That’s why I had to go to Bikram Yoga for five days in a row and am now on the 30 day yoga challenge.  Because I have to decide if I am ever going to get the writing that I want done, done.  And whether doing that would mean finishing the old manuscripts or if it would mean throwing them or at least most of them away.  And if so, how.

As Captain Piccard used to say, “Suggestions?”

So do you have to be crazy to be a writer?

grayscale vintage typewriter
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I was thinking about this for the 1,000,000th time the other day … it all started when I was in college and we were going over the biographies of the poets.  There were the crazy ones, Dylan Thomas out in his poetry shed in the woods, howling at the moon and at his father telling him not to go gently into that good night, and Ezra Pound going insane while suspended in a cage by the Allies after WWII because he became a fascist in the quest for artistic freedom, and Hart Crane, jumping off of a ship in despair after writing his masterwork on the Brooklyn Bridge — and we all wondered, do you *have* to be crazy to be a writer?  And if you aren’t, does that mean that you’ll fail?

And if it is true — if we really do need to be crazy to make our mark on the writing world — which would you rather?

  1. Be a real writer and be crazy or
  2. Not be crazy and not be a real writer.

The whole thing resurfaced again a couple of months ago when I real Leslie Jameson’s Does Recovery Kill Great Writing in the New York Times Magazine. In this article, Jameson was thinking particularly about alcoholism, and how it has been linked with great creatives like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Also her own trajectory as an alcoholic writer, and whether, having given up alcohol, she could ever hope to create the transcendent work she had planned while drinking. 

The question, of course, is whether being crazy is only correlated with great writing creativity, or whether there’s a causal relationship.

I have to tell the truth:  I mostly write when things are tough.  Garrison Keillor said that “No happy man writes his memoirs” and neither did I, when I was happy.

But going so far as actually being crazy is taking it one stop further.  Perhaps the problem is the way the literary writer must deal with the subject of evil, and how, as Nietzsche said, “When you look too long into the abyss, it looks back into you … ”

Perhaps in order to really get a good look into that abyss, you have to look a little too long, and it drives you crazy.  Now, if you just want to write bodice rippers or cowboy novels probably you won’t have to look very long into the evil mist, and as such, you will not wind up being crazy.  But for some who want to write about the dark truths of life, perhaps insanity is the result.  Once you’ve seen a truth too painful to hold onto with comfort, too dearly bought to let go of, maybe insanity is the easiest possible solution.

In which I have a dream about my ex-husband’s new girlfriend or wife

This image is from pxhere … not the real “Jin!”  But she approximates in my mind what this girl *could* look like …

On Thursday I went to be early — 9:15 — and then I woke up at 4 and went back to sleep and had a dream about my ex-husband, John, and his new girlfriend Jin.  In the dream, my house’s back yard was long and thin and seemed to comprise a whole city block, and way in the end of it was a swimming pool.  I went out for a walk in the back yard, past outbuildings and fences and went I got to the pool they were it, Jin with her hair all wet and she looked incredibly young, and she wouldn’t even speak to me.  I looked at John.  “She can’t do this!” I said.  “She can’t come here to my house, get into my swimming pool, and then refuse to even acknowledge that I am speaking to her!”

The John in my dream just shrugged.

Now to be fair, I haven’t spoken to John since the new wife/girlfriend (it’s a little vague what she is; John claimed to our children not to be married to Jin but there are vague and strange intimations that they may be, and they have wedding rings) came on the scene.  It was a little unclear when she came on the scene, because John disappeared for months and then showed up and got a house hundreds of miles from where he’d lived before and mentioned to my adult daughters that he now had a “roommate.”

Well, roommate, girlfriend, wife, it’s never been clear since.  What is known:  she comes from China, cannot really speak English, and has no job, cannot drive a car, and can only cook Chinese food.

For these reasons, the term “Chinese Mail Order Bride” became attached to her name.   But since I haven’t been married to John for 25 years, and have no legal, financial or other relations with him, except being parents to two adult daughters, the whole thing was more of a snicker — told you he was a creep, sneaking around, not being forthcoming about his marital status, possibly paying cash for a foreign companion — than a real problem.

Or so I told myself.

There was however, no doubt I was discomforted somehow.  Now there is a rumor (from the daughters) that Jin is pregnant.  The term “replacement family” was bandied around.  A new will was drawn up including Jin and her one currently-born daughter.  My daughters were put out.

“Look,” I told them, “if your dad and Jin are married, him making a will including you as half-heirs would prevent her from getting everything if he were to die.  So making a will is actually better than not.”  And then I added, perhaps more than a little lamely, “It’s not going to be a lot of money anyway.” As if it were that which they cared about.

Of course the girls are mad because they don’t know if he’s married or not, they have been pushed back in importance in his life, and there is apparently some obfuscation of some sort going on.  And I am left with an uneasy feeling.  It’s like the feeling I had in the dream.  I wanted to say “listen, Jin, you get out of my swimming pool, I don’t know you, I don’t want to know you, and you have nothing to do with me whatsoever.”  And yet … I knew if I told her to get out in the dream, she wouldn’t have done it, and then John would have defended her.  I knew that.

That’s why I said nothing in the dream.  And pretty much, I’ve said nothing in real life either.

Reblogging an Interview with FURNISHING ETERNITY author David Giffels

This long blog post about writing professor and memoirist David Giffels has some worthwhile notes about the process of memoir and using place in your writing, along with a very unusual story about a coffin …

Rust Belt Girl

David Giffels is the author of Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life, published by Scribner in 2018.

“…when he enlisted his eighty-one-year-old dad to help him with the unusual project of building his own casket, [Giffels] thought of it mostly as an opportunity to sharpen his woodworking skills and to spend time together. But life, as it usually does, had other plans.” (From the book jacket copy.)

Giffels’s father, Thomas Giffels, passed away three days after this book on loss and grief was released. “The book is so much about him, and mortality, and thinking about aging parents and all these themes that were directly connected to him,” said the author, who spoke with me earlier this month.

Furnishing Eternity continues the Akron, Ohio, author’s award-winning literary career. Giffels’s previous books include The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches From the…

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Should I still be writing YA fiction?

As I went to writer’s workshop on Monday, I had some trepidation.  I had to meet new writers, comment intelligently and simultaneously helpfully on their work, and then share something from my own work in progress.  And as I walked across the parking lot, I wondered to myself:  why are you writing YA novels anyway?  I mean, lots of people are writing about adults.

Is this some kind of sign that you’re spiritually or emotionally immature?

Well, I’ll tell you.  When I was a teenager, 16 years old, actually everything went wrong very suddenly.  It was a kind of self-separation, where I had started with a normal, integrated view of myself, my family, and my world, and in the space of 18 months my home was gone, my family was gone, and I knew no one I could trust.  I had lost any footing I could feel was a safe and secure possession, even my own integrity, and in that free falling period of 1982 and ’83 all I had was a ratty boyfriend who turned out to be … well, I don’t know how to put this.  A bad person, okay?  He was bad.  And a small allowance with which I was expected to attend college.  And with that I was told to remake myself.

No I didn’t do a very good job.  It took me until I was 25 to even begin to live appropriately (some in the family say it took much longer) but this means that I always want to go back to teenagerhood and Fix the Problem.  I keep thinking that if I had just made different choices, everything would have been different.  And so, on a couple of occasions, I started writing novels about young women who transcended similar circumstances more successfully than I.

Sometimes I tell my own kids, “I’m really still 17 in my heart,” and they don’t understand, but when you’ve had a severe trauma, it can happen.  You can feel this need to go back, to relive, and to fix.  And that’s why, I think, I’m still writing a YA character and novel.


The weekend artist’s retreat with my daughter begins

img_20180113_170239353136979.jpgAh, Morro Bay, where have you been all my life?

The truth is, we spent most of the day driving.  Now that we’re finally here, just steps from the Rock and the beach, I make a cup of coffee (Colombian, Don Francisco’s) and ask myself, “are you sure you couldn’t you just do this at home?”

img_20180113_1709051095772060.jpgNo, I couldn’t.  There’s something about traveling.  Once we arrived here, to stay in a teeny-tiny house we’ve rented in a small tropical garden with figs and bananas next to a motor home park, I said “we’ve clearly made a mistake. We need to stay here not two days but about a week.”

My daughter agreed and then promptly lay down and fell asleep, leaving me time to write this blog post.

So these are the projects I planned to work on this weekend:

  1. My YA murder mystery
  2. A blog post about teaching
  3. A humor piece about the Antichrist (yes, it’s going to be funny)
  4. (Already did this) have coffee in LA with a wonderful writer friend that I met through Twitter.

One needs to say loud and clear, to one’s self and anyone else who will listen, “my art is important to me.” And going away for the weekend to write is one way you can do that.


Flash Memoir: Unanswered Questions

Flashes of childhood memory come to me these days, incomplete and with questions:  Like this one. I am aged five. I am in the backyard of a neighbor’s house when we lived in Berkeley.  There was a pebble paved side yard, surrounded by bamboo with an indentation that suggested a fish pond, but no water, and no fish.  My question: Where was the water?

Or this:  my brother and I walked down a winding, divided road, on the way to the variety store, and saw some friends from school.  They let us in their house, a rambling, two story building, with shadowy but friendly halls and hardwood floors covered by rugs, and showed us how upstairs in the back of the house the bedroom window let onto the branch of an old oak, and you could climb onto the branch and down the tree into the back yard.  My question:  Did this really happen or did I dream it?

Or this:  a sunny hillside in Grizzly Peak Park.  A green, green hill slopes down and the sward is dotted with softball players. The sun is sinking low.  The earth itself seems to hang in the sky, suspended, and in that second I could feel our infinitely beautiful, infinitely small place in the universe.  My question:  Where were my parents?  I remember being alone.

I’ve been reading that can use such questions to create stories, so I am beginning a catalogue of childhood memories with unanswered questions.  What about you?  Do you have memories too? Do they raise questions?