Wrapping up the 30 submissions in 30 days challenge

Well, I have to admit that I didn’t make it.  I only made 10 submissions.  Of those, one requested more material (agent query) one was responded to with a personal rejection, and I also got two time-stamp rejections, by which I mean, they said if it takes longer than a couple weeks to respond, it’s no, and it did.  Six items are still awaiting responses.

I spoke of my challenge-failure to Leo.  “Well, what made you think you could make so many submissions?” he asked me.  “Especially when right in the middle of it we went on vacation to Florida and you were babysitting Emma also?”

Uggggg.  What indeed.

Now we are moving to Colorado in five days, no, wait, a day has gone by since I originally drafted this.  Four days.  The house is full of boxes, I haven’t been on Twitter in about two weeks, and what is on my mind?  I’m worried about my submissions challenge?

Have I not got my priorities straight?  Well, maybe not, but one needs to have hope!  Writing makes me feel better and in the midst of moving, you have to feel better.  By this time, generally, I’ve emotionally reached what we have long called “the horse latitudes of moving,” that is, the point when you’re so sick of moving you just want to throw everything away and run for it.  So, as I pack another box, I determine:  as soon as I get started in the new house, I’m going to do the submissions challenge again.  This time, it’s the fifteen submissions in 30 days challenge.  And we’ll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, we’re having the leftover frozen dinners that have to be purged from the ‘fridge.  Smiley.  Not.

In which Scarlett and I discuss the Internal Editor and how to shut it up when you need to

vole sleeping in flower
This image has become the logo for the mother/daughter artist’s retreat

This morning Scarlett and I, the two participants in the mother/daughter writer’s retreat of last January, had coffee. She wanted to discuss the script she has been working on for an animated fiction short about a family of dragons.  Scarlett wondered if adding another character was advisable or not.  Clearly it would broaden the tale, but on the other hand, with animation, every second adds work to the process.

I agreed that the new character would add a desirable depth to the dragon family’s situation, but her concerns about extra time for animation on an already challenging project were valid as well.

“You just have to decide whether, in your vision, the addition is worth the extra development time,” I reasoned.  “Use your judgment.”

“Sometimes I just don’t feel like my judgement is that good,” she said.

“Ah, the Internal Editor,” I replied.  “Yes, Judith Cameron talks about that person.  Sometimes it’s good to have an internal editor, but sometimes it gets out of control and destroys or causes you to abandon good ideas.

“You need to believe in yourself, and also you need beta readers or a writer’s workshop, to shut up the Internal Editor sometimes.  And sometimes you have to just accept that not all of your work is going to be first rate, and that sometimes the only way to find out if it is, is to write it, let it cool off, and then decide.”

I asked her if she’d read Charles Johnson on the Craft of Fiction from this blog.  He says that the fiction structure is in all of us, it’s our job as writers to work until the structure develops its complete shape.  For Middle Passage, Johnson wrote about 3000 pages, but only kept about 300.  He said it took years.  Then he finally had it done, and it won the National Book Award.

Meanwhile, Scarlett asked me why I’d taken out one of the characters in my novel.  She thought the character added something important.  “Oh Scarlett, the way I had it was too close to home,” I said, referring to the real life murder that had inspired the novel.

“Maybe so, but there’s an important doubling between the two murder victims and your protagonist and her boyfriend,” Scarlett said.  I began to think that, regardless of the extra work, I might have to put the character back in.

Beta readers.  There’s indispensable.



Of the Long Distance Drive and Easy Rider

We just drove back to Texas from Florida over the last two days, a drive of 17 hours made worse by the fact that the battery needed to be replaced in Port St. Lucy.

Yesterday, as we powered through Alabama, Leo made a comment about traveling on I-10, and Easy Rider.  Adult daughter Tiara asked “What is that?”

“It’s this movie with Henry Fonda,” I say.

“Peter Fonda,” Leo corrects.   Easy Rider is an interesting case for writing reflections because Peter Fonda cooked up the concept and then they shot, basically without a script, using people they met on the way.  It’s an interesting idea for how to spark creativity:  Get yourself on location, and record.

“What happens?” Tiara wants to know.

“Well there’s these guys, hippie guys, they go on a road trip.  There’s Peter Fonda and this other guy … ”

“Jack Nicholson,” I say.

“No, the other one.”

“Dennis Hopper.”

“Yeah.  They made a cocaine deal.  They stuff all the money in the American Flag gas tank of a chopper … ”

“A helicopter?” asks Tiara.

“No, like a motorcycle with ape hanger bars … ”  Leo demonstrates.  “They go east until they get shot in Alabama.”

“For what?”

“Flipping some guy off, one of those red neck guys.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, yeah, that’s the movie.”

“You really only have to see it once,” I chime in.  “They do meet some people on a commune, and a guy who married a lady who won’t use birth control … and then they pick up Jack Nicholson but he gets killed pretty quick.”


“It’s not clear.  He’s a lawyer in the movie so maybe that’s why.  Or maybe it’s just the lifestyle … waking up and someone’s dead.”

Leo tells Tiara about when we were in New Orleans, when we went on the cemetery tour.  The guide said when he started doing the tours, he had never seen Easy Rider.  People kept mentioning it, asking about it.  So he watched it, and told the story, “So they’re right here, in the cemetery, and they’ve picked up these prostitutes and Dennis Hopper is shagging this chick right here in this alcove.  And then I’m like whoa,  what is this, and I ask ‘how’d they get permission to shoot this in the Catholic cemetery? And then I find out the Archdiocese of New Orleans says ‘we never knew they were in here.”  And that’s why to go in the cemetery now, you have to have a licensed guide, and pay an entry fee.”

Well, the movie was shot in 1969.  What do you expect?

Leo loads up Easy Rider on the cell phone, the opening credits.  “Get your motor running … head out on the highway … “sing Steppenwolf.

“Why are they dressed like that?” asks Tiara.  “Look at that fringe on his jacket!”

“Yeah, they’re hippies,” says Leo.  “Peter Fonda admitted that he couldn’t remember most of the shooting of the film.”

“Why, because he was taking so many drugs?” Tiara asks.

“Yeah,” Leo concluded.

“It was the time.  That was the way it was,” I finish.  “it’s lucky your parents survived it all.”

And we get the motor running.  And we head out on the highway.


The query challenge, the yoga challenge, and the rewriting my memoir challenge

The yoga challenge?  I’m on Day 26.  I have to make two workouts in one day on one of the next three days, because we’re leaving Tuesday morning.  So I’m wondering how to handle that.

The 30 day query challenge — I’m on day 13 and I’ve only sent 7 queries.  That said, one of those was an agent query that resulted in a request for my memoir manuscript and now I’m working rereading it before sending it off.  I’d call that a success.  Although it’s slowed down the querying process even more.

Working on the memoir has been bringing up issues.  Like this one:  If it actually were published, would certain people who appear in it ever speak to me again?

When I was at DFW Writer’s Conference in early June, memoir teacher and author of Shimmering Images Lisa Dale Norton encouraged us to find our own truth through the memoir process.  That’s good as far as it goes, but  I’ve already had experiences with my truth not matching other people’s truths in the family.

“You have a right to your truth,” Norton told us. That’s true, but the people I’ve told the truth about have the right to never speak to me again.  I’ve got my pen name ready.  But it seems risky to trust a pen name to protect you from a possible mob of angry friends and family.

I tried to double back and re-focus on my own truth.  I read part of what I’d rewritten to Leo.  I went to yoga and thought about where I was going … I realized I completely skipped over my feelings in this part of the story.  How can you have memoir without your feelings?  Feelings are half the point.  So, tomorrow, I will continue with the rewriting process.  And put in my feelings.  Tonight I’ll be thinking about what they are.

Finishing Benjamin Lorr’s Hell-Bent, a Yoga Memoir

Hell-BentI am in mourning because yesterday I finished a book I was totally taken up with, totally lost in the author’s tale.  And now it’s over, I can never visit that world for the first time again.

Benjamin Lorr was at one time, if you like, a Bikram Kool-Aid drinker, who went to two 90-minute classes a day for months before joining the Backbenders advanced yoga workshop, before becoming an itinerant yogi-journalist, before attending Bikram’s 9-week long instructor’s training, and finally, before visiting various studio owners and early Bikram insiders and dragging out some intimations about the hot yoga founder’s indiscretions, some time before the big-blow-up of Bikram (a ‘la Bill Cosby) that began in 2016.

This book is both memoir and investigation, journalistic interview and a yoga history lesson.  Lorr describes his own progress from yoga-zealot true believer to yoga-realist, and suggests at the end of the book that yoga is, like life itself, what you make of it — not a panacea.  He tells a bit about yoga’s Indian genesis, yoga’s physiology, yoga’s different branches — of which two, ashtanga, a predominantly meditative tradition from around 200 AD, and hatha, a twist-your-body tradition created by crazy yogis of the Indian woods dating from about 1000 years later, strike me most powerfully. He talks about Bikram Choudhury’s teacher, Bishnu Ghosh, and the original 91 posture series of yoga asanas, or poses, that Ghosh documented, from which Bikram took his own rigid prescription of 26 for his beginning workout.

It was the efficacy of the 26 posture workout, undertaken at over-100-degree heat, that led to Bikram’s taking Hollywood, and then the rest of America, by storm, starting in the early 70’s.  Bikram’s own self-narrated story, in which he claimed being the yogi who taught President Nixon yoga in Japan, and to have worked with NASA training astronauts, had to be toned down after the internet made fact-checking possible, but nevertheless, Bikram has never stopped being an iconoclast.

Lorr’s strategy here is to present Bikram as he claimed to be and was, and let the reader judge what to make of it.  Lorr presents the yoga and yogis through journalistic reporting and does the same.

The most poignant part of the book is where Lorr visits previous practitioners of Bikram’s inner circle who have modified their practice and backed off from their close associations with the yogi.  For various reasons.  When questioned why, the answers are muted but seem to infer too much absolutism, paranoia, and controlling behavior, plus certain largely unmentioned examples of exploitation of the inner circle.

I don’t remember Lorr using the word “cult” to describe the Bikram inner circle, but the suggestion of cult-like behavior is there.

This has been a phenomenal book to read while doing a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge.  As I come home, sweat soaked and bleary eyed, and wonder why I am doing this, Lorr’s narrative presents a comforting and engaging diversion.  Obviously, the path I am treading is one many have trod before.

Still, after Lorr’s description of Bikram’s teacher training program, I know that I could never do that part of the deal.  Apparently, it involves not only dual daily yoga workouts and posture clinics, but staying up until 4 a.m. to watch movies, with Bikram, who sits on a throne as a kind of “prom king of the apocalypse.”  The apocalypse being the absolute burn-out and burn-down the student-teachers undergo to be qualified Bikram instructors.

The book ends with Lorr visiting Tony Sanchez, one of the guru’s best-known students, someone who has his own instructional videos and association.  Sanchez was told to leave the Bikram entourage years before, at his own birthday party in 1984.  “No hard feelings,” Bikram said, after firing him from his job.  Years later, when Bikram discovered that Sanchez was making his own set of yoga videos, he became hysterical, yelling that Sanchez would “die soon.”

Sanchez went forward with the project, moved to Mexico, continued perfecting his practice, and refused to become negative, suggesting that each yoga practitioner must follow his own path, and find his own practice.  The book ends with Lorr admitting that he practices his yoga at home now, by the bookshelf, but still sneaks off to the hot studio nearby when he can.  There is something in that hot room — putting yourself through the gauntlet,  feeling you’ve survived, I don’t know what.  Part of yoga is being in the yoga, the yoking of mind and body.  Perhaps the “error” of the western yoga practice is in the belief that through perfection of asana we can achieve perfection of character.  We are yogi, perhaps, but we’re still humans.  We should never assume that by doing yoga we can find the fountain of youth, the meaning of life, or any other terminal transcendence.  The joy is in the journey.

I feel a peace of understanding Lorr at the end of the book.  We need a journey, and we need stories.  The journey and the stories are the yoga, the work, of our life.  If Bikram’s yoga, or Bikram personally, is part of the journey, that makes it relevant, that makes it real and true.

If the feeling of transcendence is only partial or temporary, well, what did we expect?  This like what my old friend S.L., from college, memorably said to me one morning in LA back in the 90’s, when we were talking about life being basically good.  “How is everything, S.L.,” I asked.

“Well, fine.  But you know, there are always issues,” she said with a wry smile.

There you go.  Yoga or no.  Thank you Benjamin Lorr for sharing the beautiful journey.



Now I can barely move — Day 23 of the 30 Day Bikram Yoga Challenge

Husband and daughter have dropped out — they said it was “just too much” but I am still on the wagon.  The problem is that getting our house ready for sale is taking up a lot of time, and energy.  And then hot yoga on top of that.  It’s one minute at a time.  My Sylvia Plath reading and writing project has fallen off; the library books are due and I’m still somewhere around essay word 6000, wondering what my conclusion will be.  I suppose I could slap a re-write of the Sylvia Plath Post I wrote last time on the end of the essay; that might make a good conclusion.  Will think about it.  Meanwhile, as for making thirty writing submissions in 30 days — I’m still at four.  The only hope I have of making it is some kind of multiple submission. Writing 30 individual submissions? Forget it.

Our house has to be photographed at 4:30 this afternoon and we people who live here are staring at coffee cups and screens and silently uttering a collective “noooooo!” to putting stuff away so the photography can go on.  It’s almost 11 a.m.

Yoga is scheduled for 6:30 tonight.  Then I have #wholechildchat at 8 Central Time.  Will have to stagger out of yoga studio and attend chat on my phone.  Not my favorite way to do it, but will not be able to get back to house in time otherwise.


In which I have a vision of Sylvia Plath during hot yoga class, and realize that she believed that she would live after death, not as a spirit, but in us

A sketch of Sylvia from a photograph

I feel behind in my 30-day writing challenge yesterday but not in my 30-day yoga plan.  I went to a hour long class (Bikram Express) but the instructor forgot that is was an hour and gave us the entire 90-minute workout.  I was exasperated but if there is one rule of Bikram yoga it’s that you stay in the hot room no matter what.

I hadn’t pre-hydrated enough for the longer class and I was thirsty and tired.  I looked up at the ceiling and in the layers of insulation which had been sprayed in to keep the room hot, I made out a figure of a girl’s face.  I thought about Sylvia Plath, who I had been studying.  It looked like her.  The eyes of the girl were looking into the distance.  The nose was indistinct — you had to use your imagination — but to me it was clearly a young woman facing down at me while I did my workout.  When I turned around and lay the other way, of course, she disappeared.  But when I turned back, there she was.

Earlier I’ve seen other figures in the ceiling — a skull, just a couple of days ago, and a baby’s navel — sometimes I just focus on a bump or a screw in the rafter — but of all the things I’ve seen in that ceiling, this girl was the most clear.  You lie down to rest on your back after all the poses in the stretching series (6 of them, twice each) and just about every time we lay back down, I saw her.

I remembered what I’d read from the book Mad Girl’s Love Song, that Sylvia perhaps believed that when she died, the essence of her humanity would go on in all the living people that remained, as was suggested by one of her favorite books, Buddenbrooks, in which the author, Thomas Mann, wrote: “Where shall I be when I am dead?  I shall be in all those who have ever, do ever, or ever shall say ‘I’ .. .”  Wilson notes that she expressed similar thoughts in her journals and letters.

“That means she believed that she would live in you, Susan,” I reflected.

The girl on the ceiling’s expression seemed benevolent, yet looked toward the future.  What would she have wanted to say, if she could speak?  What would Sylvia tell us modern writers, if she were still here, an 80 year old woman, with all the experiences of life she missed due to dying so young? There’s no way of being sure, but I’m convinced she’d tell us to write, write and write.

The yoga instructor tells us at the start of class, “look at your face in the mirror, concentrate, meditate and set your intention,” and this phrase echoes in my mind throughout the day.  It reminds me that I am constructing my future.  Sylvia believed this too, and I suppose one could saw she was constructing herself not just for the English Departments and libraries of American and the world, but for us, writers of all stripes who read and remember her.

So, friends, let us set our writing intentions, knowing that she and other writer-ancestors we’ve read are most certainly with us, mystically and practically, in the great genealogy of writerdom.