distraction no. 99: 2006 in Review

I started posting sporadically in this blog in 2006. I started by carrying some older posts from another anonymous blog over here as a tease. Then I deleted that anonymous blog and stayed here for good. Now, apparently, I can’t stop. So here’s to a new addiction, or, I should say distraction… I tell you—it’s loads better than watching TV.

Both Litlove and Charlotte inspired me to dig through my archives to see how this blog followed me through the year of 2006. Here are snippets from the first post of each month:

January 2006

In Which the Universe Revolves Around Me: I was telling a coworker today that I think I am being tested. She leaned in, eyes wide, By who? she said.

*

February 2006

Today: is my birthday. Today is also the day I received (via email, via the account of her assistant) a rejection for my novel from a prominent agent who I had tangled myself up in hope thinking perhaps-maybe-you-never-know-i-could-be-lucky that she might like the thing this time.

*

March 2006

Something to Make Me Laugh: I came home to a rejection letter in the mailbox. This one to a short story. Which one, who knows, I haven’t checked yet. Anyway, it’s one of those tiny little slips, like they squeezed as many as they could onto one sheet of paper and cut it up again and again.

*

April 2006

There Must Be a Metal Plate in My Head: Or a scrambler. Or some kind of forcefield around me that blocks radio waves. Or [insert scientific explanation here]. Because apparently telephone calls do not reach me. People must not be calling me back because they cannot call me back. If they do, the messages are eaten by the black hole that surrounds my body. And everyone knows that once you step into a black hole, you fall endlessly in nothingness and can’t get out.

*

May 2006

View from My Desk Last Year: This was my desk a year ago, when I spent a month at the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ colony in New Hampshire and, I suspect, the most incredible colony in the entire country. My studio was much, much bigger than my apartment in Manhattan. There was a chandelier that couldn’t fit in this photo. Sometimes I paced the large red carpet in the middle of the studio, trying to find my next line. Then it would come and I’d rush behind the desk to write it down. Also, there were spiders, and I was afraid to sleep in the total silence at night—I missed the horns honking and bar noise of Manhattan—but I look at this image now and remember only how productive I was. Will I be that productive again?

*

June 2006

It Rains: Thunder directly above our building, cracks and flashes in the airshaft. Then the patter of water hitting the air-conditioning unit; when it gets heavy, I wonder if it will fall. I love the rain.

*

July 2006

After Running to 6th Avenue to Catch the Public Library Before It Closed: I came away with five books. Here are the first sentences of each…

*

August 2006

The Life Coach: I was witness to a life-coaching session at Starbucks this morning. Sitting beside me was a woman and her coach, talking openly about how to move forward her life and her career. I know she needs an apartment (that’s step one). I know who she needs to call for dismemberment insurance and for a job. I felt like I was hiding in the curtains during a therapy session. Then I wondered, might the coach know my own next step and who should be on my list of people to call?

*

September 2006

Jumbled Thoughts on a Saturday Morning: It’s raining faintly, the kind of rain that’s just wet enough you think you need an umbrella but also the kind that when you put the umbrella up the wind grabs it and turns it inside out so really it’s better to get barely wet with no umbrella than think you’ll stay dry through the struggle. I once lost an umbrella this way—it flew away. Someone could have gotten hurt.

*

October 2006

Finished: I finished the 1st draft of the freelance novel late last night, emailed it in to the editors, and then opened the file to find a mistake on page 1: I’d noted (X words) on the front in big block letters to announce the word count, and forgot to fill in the X. Oh well.

*

November 2006

Something Different: I’ll be attending a literary writers conference starting tonight. No, not hack writers who write for tiny bits of cash under fake names, but real writers, the kind I’ve always wanted to be.

*

December 2006

Urgent Announcement: *Seems I Have a Double!*: I took myself out to lunch at a place I’ve been to before. The waitress saw me come in and looked at me strangely. She said, “Sit anywhere you’d like.” So I took the last table along the wall of windows, even though a discarded tip and old water glass was still there, and I stared out at the street for some time.

*

Finally, here is my first-ever post on WordPress, titled Sunday Morning:

Out walking Sunday morning before most people are up. Few cars in the streets. The firemen spray the sidewalk in front of their firehouse with a hose. A broken bottle on the corner maybe from a drunken fight last night. The park is being cleaned by women in matching blue T-shirts and garbage bins on wheels (some kind of community service?). They discuss men as they wheel the bins around, commiserate with each other. The fountain is on and a few silent people sit watching. On the bench beneath the knotted tree a man and woman sleep, a giant suitcase by their side. The man sleeps sitting up, slumped forward over his knees. The woman sleeps sideways on the bench, her head as close to him as she can get it without actually touching him. I saw them yesterday morning, too, same bench, same grubby suitcase. The man was yelling at the woman yesterday, telling her to listen, did she hear what he said? Now, this morning as I pass they both snore. Wonder if they live there on that bench, have nowhere else to go. This is the same tree under which some mornings people meet and shake hands a lot. Don’t look too closely, don’t want to know what they’re handing off. Past the park, every restaurant is closed. Chairs up on tables, gated windows. Two boys swaying drunkenly as they walk down the block, passing me loudly, their night not yet over. The newsstand is boarded up. The light is green when I reach Broadway, but there are no cars so I cross through the Don’t Walk sign. There is no line at the coffee shop. In the display windows of the clothing store all the models have had their clothes removed. They stand there, posed plastic, naked. One window contains only naked torsos, perfectly smooth, blank heads. The others show the naked bodies reaching out toward each other, saying nothing. An old man walking a dog stops and looks. In the far window, a store employee slowly dresses the models. She has three more wide windows to go. I reach my building, sign in at the guard’s desk. Each morning he watches a movie on a tiny portable screen, doesn’t even look up. This morning he has let a strange woman use his telephone. She cries. He looks at me helplessly, as she is holding his pen. I sign in with my own pen, up the elevator, and here I am.

 

Today, as it happens, is Sunday, and I am in the same building as I was then. I want just what I wanted then: to have a good writing day, simple as that.

Now a whole new year is set to begin. I hope to keep writing in this blog. I hope to keep writing, period. I hope to look back on the year 2007 and feel like I accomplished something meaningful, whatever that may turn out to be.

I won’t make a “resolution”—not out loud, not yet. I’ll just hope for things, and keep moving ahead.

Thanks for reading me. Happy 2007!

On the Last Day of the Year…

I slept in.

When E suggested this idea to me last night—to go to bed without setting an alarm clock—I’d looked at him in confusion. What, like sleep IN? I’d asked.

Yes, he’d said. Sleep in!

The thought balloon above my head looked like this:

?!%&%%@$%(*(&*%&%???*&!##!@@@!!!&%!!?

But still I made a good effort. I did not set the alarm. I went to sleep and at one point I woke up around 8am (forgive me, I checked my email), but then I still climbed back into bed and slept some more. It is now 12:34 pm. I feel like I’ve been naughty. The truth is, though, that I didn’t have anything waiting for me today. No freelance projects to work on. No deadlines. No set plans. Nothing of concern, really, except the bed. I don’t remember my dreams, unfortunately. I remember drifting in and out, aware that I was trying to keep myself asleep and that it was somewhat of a farce, because I wasn’t really asleep, but that it could seem that way if I kept my eyes closed. Then I did sleep some more, so I guess I tricked even myself.

And how does it feel to have slept “in” as they call it?

My head feels a little more mushy than usual. And I keep thinking about coffee. Other than that, I wonder if the experience could have been better served by instead getting up waaaaaay earlier than usual and just reading a good book.

Faint

When I was very young I was prone to fainting spells. I have multiple memories of standing upright one minute, fighting that dizzying wind that fogged out all feeling above my neck, thinking I could do it, feeling the hot and the cold and the pins and needles crawling upward until they blotted out my eyes, then realizing I couldn’t fight it, and—splat—I was down. I don’t know how long I’d stay out. The next thing I invariably remember is being crumpled on the ground, blurry faces inches from mine, asking if I was all right. I fainted in math class. I fainted during a fire drill. I fainted in an ice-cream parlour while visiting my parents’ friends. I fainted in my own bedroom, while putting socks away in my dresser drawer. I fainted in the car.

Fainting didn’t feel like going to sleep. My brain just went dark, stopped. I wasn’t dreaming. The pins-and-needles effect made me think my head had gone numb. It felt like I was taken out of myself for however many seconds, minutes I was out. And in that time, where was I?

In the past year, the feeling has come back. It happened once on the subway. But I escaped the train, found a seat on the platform, and held on until it passed. A few mornings ago I felt a faint coming on. I had just woken up. I sat on the couch. I scrunched my eyes. I waited. And it passed me by.

Before I felt it coming, I’d been thinking something important. It was about something I was writing, I don’t remember what. It was a spark, a moment of high importance, I’m realizing, but I just can’t get back there. Maybe it was the perfect way to fix my novel and my whole world would be different had I known it. Maybe it was just one word. I don’t know. But it makes me wonder… what else have I missed? It’s like a record that’s skipped—one note, or a whole verse, who’s to know?

Crawling into the New Year

I haven’t been feeling too well physically. Combine that with my usual aversion to the end of the year + the impending start to a new year makes me maybe a little moody. I’ve started three posts here that I haven’t finished. I’ve stared at a blank white screen for many minutes and then turned with a huff to a magazine. I’ve finished a short story, but I haven’t done anything with it yet.

My thought process is like this: … we need to move … we can’t afford to move … what time is it? … if i were skinny i’d wear that outfit … ooh, shiny … HOW MUCH do we owe on the Amex? … i want to write that story and this story and i have an awesome idea for a new story and … i’m cold … i’m hot … what time is it? … i didn’t accomplish what i wanted to this year … i suck … hey, do we have any of those grape tomatoes?

You get the idea. I’m just not all here at the moment.

Home

We were upstate for the holiday, there where the road signs were hard to find, where the directions to the house included such gems as “this road twists and turns a lot” (huge understatement) and “the road sign says the road ends, but don’t believe it—keep going” (true). We’d picked up the car left behind for us in the commuter train parking lot. We drove for some time in darkness. There were no streetlights. If we burst a tire on this part of the road, we would have been in pitch-dark, in a narrow passage where only one car could get past at a time, not sure which gravel drive was the one we wanted. We got there early, and so pulled in to darkness. When walking toward the door, I did it by feeling with my toes, step by step, my hands held outward. Standing before the wide patch of darkness—in which were trees, and I didn’t know what else—scared the shit out of me. The motion sensor went off and what wasn’t in the pool of light felt darker, worse than before. The door to the house was unlocked. That freaked us out, the unlocked door. We had locked up the car even though it was parked at the end of the long, winding, private driveway. Once in the house, we scoped out the rooms, making sure no one was hiding in there. Then we wanted to put on the TV, but there’s no reception. We were hungry, but there wasn’t much food and the closest stores—not close at all, mind you—were closed. No place delivered. We discussed driving back to the gas station, where there was a convenience store, but realized we would probably get lost and we weren’t that hungry anyway. So we stayed in the dark, quiet house. I turned some lamps on. I missed the city like crazy.

Lately I’ve been wanting to leave the city, as some of you know, to start fresh somewhere else. But when our train back to the city at last entered the dank, tagged tunnels of Grand Central I felt relief. The 6 train came just as we set foot on the subway platform. It was bright, and filled with people, none of whom I knew, and I felt relief at that, too. We’d decided to take the 6 all the way downtown without doing the shuttle transfer. We emerged in the rain, without umbrellas, wheeling a suitcase of presents along Houston Street. On Mercer Street, we turned uptown and found a camp of people with nowhere to go on Christmas, huddled in a dry spot with plastic tarps and blankets. It pulled at my heart. It pulled, as we wheeled the suitcase past them, filled with things we didn’t need, on to our own dry apartment. It was Christmas night, but the local Chinese restaurant was still delivering—a boy on a bike swept past us in the rain, an order tied to the seat. On Bleecker Street, the bars were lit up red and green, as was the Empire State in the distance. I felt lucky to have somewhere to sleep. I felt lucky to have E, who held my hand in the rain as we crossed the intersection. I felt lucky to know that if I suddenly wanted Szechuan tofu in the middle of the night on a bona fide holiday I could have it. We were home.

Read Me (or maybe you’d better not)

The short story that recently got accepted to a lit journal had me thrilled, as you know, and pretty much bouncing off the walls for a few days, but there is also a sobering detail to the whole happy-dance. You see, the story is about my mother. It is fiction. (It is! I swear!) And yet it is based on real people, real places, real events, if shifted and exaggerated and warped to fit what I wanted as I wrote it. Even if changed, the emotion of the whole piece speaks to the emotions I had a long time ago, when things were different, when my mother wasn’t where she is now, which is in a good, happy place, and much better off than she was then.

While cooking Christmas dinner (we celebrate, in our own quirky way, even though she is Jewish) E told my mother about the story getting accepted. She was so proud. She said she wanted to read it—when could I send her a copy? And that’s when I realized, upon grating the mozzarella for the lasagna… she may not want to read this story.

You see, fiction allows me to say the things I can’t say in real life. I might feel an emotion for a single minute, one searing piercing emotion, and then it might be gone. We move on, physically and mentally, things get better, people change, circumstances change—nothing is the same anymore. Except I remember that feeling, and the way I get through it is to write about it. Now I must face the consequences of it being read, and it makes me nervous.

At Thanksgiving, my mother read another story of mine that was published in a different journal. That one was about my stepfather, her ex-husband. But it was fiction (I swear!). Really—the events in that story, most of them, didn’t happen. And yet I suppose the emotion was raw enough to make it seem like they did happen, to the point that after my mother read it she asked me if one of the scenes really happened. I got adamant. I was like: No, it’s fiction! But she smiled and she shook her head and she said: But it’s also real.

And I don’t know… can a story be both?

My mother, it must be said, is my biggest fan. I know she is proud of me. She has even read—voluntarily—one of the YA novels I wrote and left me a voicemail message saying how much she loved it. She is the most amazingly supportive mother I could imagine. When I was a teenager, my friends wanted her to be their mother. They confided in her, she helped them with their futures. Today she does something similar on a professional level, with much more troubled people. She’s amazing. Will she know, when she reads this story, that it is “fiction”? That I am not angry, or bitter, or upset anymore about what may have happened?

I wrote it down, and now I am fine. So selfish, I know.

This is why I wrote the other novel. I wanted to write something that no one could deny was fiction, that didn’t guest-star any of my relatives, and now… where am I with that book of pure unadulterated fiction? Not anywhere. It’s the less-than-fiction fiction that keeps pulling me back. The story I finished last week was about my father. I don’t know if there is anything that could shut me up. And worse, I don’t want to shut up. Not yet, at least.

Clean

Yesterday was a day in which I didn’t write. Not a single word. I didn’t think of writing, didn’t even make an attempt. I was another person yesterday, one who slept late, who shopped, who cleaned, which involved getting rid of the old manuscript pages that had been clogging up the bedroom, and putting clean clothes on actual hangers and stowing them away in the actual closet, where—it has been said—clothes belong. I was about to do the dishes when I felt too drained to continue and decided I was done for the day, even though the presents have not yet been wrapped.

I woke up this morning and looked around the clean bedroom. It’s amazing: the floor can be seen! I have a hard time letting go of my old drafts, but right now it feels good to get rid of them. When I was shoving them in the bag, I saw my line edits, my cross-outs, my different versions dated and numbered to infinity. I won’t need them. Thinking of them gone makes me want to go home now and pitch all the old drafts from other projects out of my closet (and shelves, and under the dresser, and under the couch, and I think I have a tower of old novel drafts acting as a table in one spot…) to start fresh for 2007.

All this waste of paper makes me want to work differently. I’ve been working through drafts of that short story, but this time emailing it back and forth using “Track Changes”—it feels somehow cleaner this way. I can view the changes, or make them invisible. I don’t want to be a walking advertisement for Microsoft (although I would for Apple—love you guys! if I tell everyone, will you send me that new Macbook?), but it’s better than cutting down fifteen trees just so I can revise freely.

Part of me wants to get rid of everything in the apartment—except E, who looked especially adorable this morning—and start completely fresh. On occasion, I think I could even live without my books. Oh, wait, no. That’s crazy. What writer can live without her books?