Rented a house in Taos, NM for the weekend with a group of friends
from grad school. Needless to say, it was heavenly.
My husband took our girls to his parents’ place last Friday and I spent the weekend alone—reading, writing, watching really great films I knew Dave wouldn’t want to see (Her and Before Midnight, both of which I’m still thinking about days later).
Sunday morning, I was feeling energized and adventurous and decided to take a walk along a nearby trail I kept hearing about. I followed the signs to the place, parked, and then spent 20 minutes looking for the trailhead. I couldn’t find it. I had no one to ask. There was no one around to cooly follow. Dave wasn’t answering his phone. Google searches failed me.
The map near the parking lot inferred that I need only step forward to begin. But there was no where to step. It was one of those moments where I felt like the world’s dumbest person. Across the arroyo, on a wide and straight road leading to a water tank, I saw a retired couple walking their four dogs. And, determined to walk somewhere, I drove across and began up the hill, thinking that all dummies like me are destined for the old-people paths. Still, it was a nice enough walk. And a while later, I saw a biker in a neon yellow shirt crossing ahead. The paths—the one I had wanted and the one I was on—intersected. I followed the former back down and finally found the trailhead.*
I’m a believer in life’s intersections.
*For the record, the trail began on an unmarked dirt path next to a water tower that very much gave off a “no trespassing” vibe. So, not the world’s dumbest person. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Write every day. Duh. Of course I mean to write every day—I always mean to. But usually, I don’t. Usually, I delude myself into believing that my guilt for not writing somehow counts as partial writing credit. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t).
The other day, though, I read this anecdote about Jerry Seinfeld telling an up-and-coming comic to mark off on a yearly calendar each day he composes jokes so that he could see his chain of progress. His advice, put simply: “Then just don’t break the chain.” For whatever reason (probably something to do with my insatiable urge to check things off, thereby giving my life the illusion of quantifiable meaning), this triggered a serious response in me.
I printed off a yearly calendar and decided to write 1000 words every day. So far, my chain of X’s is unbroken. I’m on day 21. Most of it isn’t pretty. I mean, this stuff is in for some serious revision. But the words are there. Existing in the world. And every day I know what lies ahead of me. I’m not sure if it’s the chain or the word count, but I’m onto a very healthy compulsion here.
I don’t like subscribing to magazines because they end up piling up on the back of my toilet (and sometimes falling into it), unread. And I can’t bring myself to throw them out because they look an awful lot like books and throwing away books is evil and I’m typically too disorganized to donate them to the library and also, there’s the chance that I might one day read an article in one of these magazines. Usually I never do, but there’s the chance.
Last night, I took advantage of such a chance. In the bath. Sometimes, for 30-min increments, my life is really heavenly.
Anyway, I read the recent Writer’s Chronicle interview of Joan Wickersham. She had so much wisdom to offer. And now I want to read her new novel The News from Spain, which I had heard good things about and already wanted to read, but now I really want to read it.
I’ll leave you with some of her sage writer-parent wisdom, for those of you who, like me, rarely get around to reading magazines:
“I’m glad I had two [children], but you know that cliché about doing it all? I think you can do it all, but you just have to do it sequentially. I wish I had understood that when I was younger. I spent a lot of time beating myself up about not writing. I wish I had just accepted that that’s how it is right now. It won’t always be that way.”
My friend, Audrey, and I came up with a brilliant idea: Let’s pretend we haven’t graduated our MFA program by interviewing every awesome writer we know.
So far, so good. Check it out!
We are living in an era of screen addiction and capitalist pornography. As a species, we are squandering the exalted gifts of consciousness, losing our capacity to pay attention, to imagine the suffering of others. You are a part of all this. It involves you. This is the hard labor we’re trying to perform: convincing strangers to translate our specks of ink into stories capable of generating rescue.
–Steve Almond, This Won’t Take but a Minute, Honey
I’m pretty sure the only way to get a copy of this book is to pay Steve Almond cash for it. So my advice is to track him down immediately. You won’t be sorry.
I love my work with a love that is frantic and perverted, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt that scratches his belly. Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don’t come, when I find I haven’t written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, bogged down in a swamp of despair, hating myself and blaming myself for this demented pride that makes me pant after a chimera. A quarter of an hour later, everything has changed; my heart is pounding with joy.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about one of my first mentors, Diane Freund (pronounced Friend), who died of brain cancer in 2010. And I guess I want other people to think about her, too. So, here she is.
My dear friend, Robbie, introduced us at a small writing conference in Southeast Arizona, where Diane was a frequent presenter. I wasn’t actually attending the full conference that year. I’d had a baby the week before and had slipped away for an hour or so to hear Diane speak.
Later, she agreed to work with me on my novel, offering what turned out to be two years of invaluable critique and encouragement. Her own first novel, Four Corners—the frightening, beautifully-written story of a young girl’s life after her mother is admitted to a mental hospital—won the Pirate’s Alley/Falkner Prize but was ultimately overshadowed by the events of September 11, 2001, four days prior to the book’s publication.
Still, Four Corners eventually aided her in receiving an NEA fellowship. When I wrote to offer congratulations, she gave me this:
This was the third time over the course of six years that I’d applied. When I was denied the grant in 2005, it came on the same day that I was diagnosed with cancer, so it seemed especially hard to receive that news. Now I realize that it wouldn’t have been a good time. I was sick and heart sick. This is just to say that I know how hard it is to be passed over, but you must persist against all odds. I am certain that with your incredible talent, you’ll one day be recognized for your achievements, that the stars will align just so, over your house.
During our first interaction, moments after we’d only just met, she gave me a book—a guide to writing poetry. A gift. She made me feel important. Special; of course, this was her true gift—she made everyone feel special.
At her memorial service, a familiar gathering inside a Bisbee restaurant, I looked around at her friends: a group of poets and artists and activists, each one hunted out from beneath the rocks of this remote small-town cluster in the desert. Diane’s power was drawing out beauty from every well.
*To donate to the Diane E. Freund Memorial Writing Celebration Fund—offering financial assistance to writers unable to afford the referenced writing conference—click here and specify Diane’s name in the donation scholarship space.
Outside Porter Station on my way to AWP.
A week filled with blizzards, books, and the best kind of friends!
“I didn’t become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn’t until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.”
- Junot Diaz
Steve Adams on the importance of location:
“Finding an environment where one can consistently tap into a creative state is no small matter. It’s the ground level of establishing a regular practice, and a regular practice is how large works get written. Nothing happens, or will happen to you as a writer until you find a way to bring pages upon pages, both good and bad, into existence.”
“This is what I believe in, what I trust will ultimately distinguish those who want to write and publish from those who do write and publish: work.”
–Bret Anthony Johnston