Where I Am When Summer Ends

I am about to have a cavity drilled. I am behind in my deadlines. I am settled, pretty much, in my new job. I am on the verge of writing something real. I am reading two magazines and four books, which has meant just carrying one of each around with me since I don’t have time really to read any except on the subway. I am enjoying the subway, though maybe I shouldn’t admit that. I am expanding—physically, mentally, as is the shelf where I keep my papers of things that need attention, things I need to take of, things I really want to do, each day more than the last. I am exploring my options. I am peeking at new cities. I am considering leaving a city altogether and what that might be like. (I don’t know if I could hack it.) I am wondering what I should do with myself, just like I was all summer, it’s almost fall now and I am wondering still.

I have always loved the fall. It’s when school starts (I wish I were still in school; I love school); it’s when the weather cools (or is supposed to); it’s when I met E.

The cavity is one from my childhood. It’s falling out and must be replaced. I always thought cavities were forever, but nothing is forever, and I should have learned that by now. Fall brings change. It brings new fillings, new challenges, a new outlook on life?

Ideas are cascading over me, but we all know that’s not enough. The ideas must meet paper. This fall they will, I hope.

A conversation last night with the other half. He sees something in me, and I see something in him: what we’re each capable of, that potential. Could we trade that faith, one for the other? Imagine the confidence, if I had his, and he had mine.

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Traveling Ideas

I keep getting these ideas when I’m traveling. I don’t have to be traveling far. They come when I’m walking the sidewalk. While crossing the street. On the subway. In an elevator. Climbing flights of stairs. Last week, they were flooding through me while I traveled in a crowded train on tracks running north alongside the Hudson River.

The ideas are moving, you see. If I don’t go running to catch them, they’ll leave me behind. They sure do not want to wait until the end of September, when I’ll be free of deadlines and ready to pay them attention. They’re trying to get me to chase them. The thing is, I don’t want them to stop. Each time I get closer and closer into the novel. The next one could push me over the edge and I want to be pushed, I want over this edge. How can I keep them coming? Clearly we should book that trip to Vancouver.

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My Long-Winded Way

It is apparently impossible for me to escape. I write long. Always, every time, I write too long. For example, I told you I write long twice, when all I had to do was say it once. Why? Why, I can’t help it. I wish I could be pitch-perfect and precise, but I’m a rambler.

My writing method is:

• Describe a thing somewhat eloquently.

• Describe a thing perhaps more eloquently.

• Describe a thing exactly eloquently enough.

• Add one more description just for the hell of it.

• Look back and panic at the sprawling paragraph.

• Decide to deal with it tomorrow.

• Move on to the next thing.

In this way, I write at least two pages for every one.

Once I’ve written to the end of the story, I go back and hack violently at the sentences. I cut and cut and cut and cut and then I write some more in the middle and then I cut some more and then I add seven more sentences I shouldn’t have added so I go back and cut three and then I try to cut more, I do, but I can’t, there’s a point at which it becomes painful, and so I leave it alone, until the next day when I go back in and start hacking again.

I guess it can feel sort of exhilarating.

Even when I try to keep myself to a very set page count—when I am not ALLOWED to turn in more than 20,000 words, for example—it is likely that I will write 40,000. I will then need days to get it down to a passable length for fear of horrifying the editors and jamming up their printers.

I have made it through a weekend of cuts and am now on to the next thing. I realize that I could have finished the project a full week ago if I’d just written shorter, but can I stop myself, can I? No, I cannot.

I could go on and on about this, but I will stop this post right now. Right before it’s—

(finished.)

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Sketches from an Identity Crisis in Progress

identity1.jpg

* * *

It’s not that I don’t know who I am. I do. I am in this body; I walk around in it; this is me. It could be that I don’t know who I’m supposed to be. That I think I should be different, could be different, would have been had I not fallen asleep at the wheel. It could be that I don’t like who I am. It could be that I’m afraid it’s too late to change that. It’s not a crisis, it’s more like a slow dawning of fact.

What do you do when you do not want to be who you undeniably are? I suppose you could read a book. Which reminds me: My library books are due.

* * *

So I have tried to write this letter. The letter was supposed to be about how my college changed me—a plea to keep it open—the letter meant to show how I’ve lived up to the legacy that is taught there, showing what good the experience did me.

Yet I’ve lived up to nothing.

When I tried to write the letter I realized what a failure I am in the eyes of that school. To send the letter, to have people read it… I couldn’t do it.

So I didn’t write the letter.

I am angry at myself for not having a life worthy of that letter.

* * *

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* * *

Sometimes I feel sure no one can see me. On a crowded sidewalk. In a restaurant, at a table alone. On a subway train. In this room.

But people on the street do see me. They do; they step aside to let me through in the narrow aisle of the bodega; they say sorry when their elbows bump mine on the corner.

I once had a very beautiful friend and I think I felt comfortable beside her simply because she was that beautiful. I could be invisible.

I think other people pretend they can’t be seen, too. The two women in all black with the big black suitcases and the bright circles of rouge on their cheeks, always reapplying it, today I saw them on a bench I’ve never seen them on before, out in sunlight, where are they going, where have they been? The older woman, her cheeks fuchsia and getting darker by the second as she rubbed more makeup on, garish really, I don’t want to say it but yes it was scary and awful and I don’t know why she thinks that looks good, she applied her makeup as if she were alone before a mirror, just her and her reflection, as if she wasn’t on a sidewalk in a busy city where anyone walking by could see.

* * *

You see, people have these lives. They go out to lunch. They talk. Such animated conversations. I’m sure they’re bantering about philosophy or music or something brilliantly avant garde—if the avant garde is worth bantering about anymore, I don’t know—anyway, they talk about heady things, I think, or else they talk about parties, I always think everyone is always talking about parties because I don’t go to parties. I would have nothing to contribute to a conversation like that. They do things, people. They go places, have experiences, have days worthy of recounting to others.

I sit at a table across the way and read a book.

* * *

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* * *

Now I have a seat near a window overlooking Broadway. I can’t see pavement. What I see are windows, just rows and rows of windows climbing upward into the sky. Actually I don’t see the sky. This window looks out only at other windows—no ground, no sky, just glass and glass and in between a whole lot of air.

The game I play is imagining myself inside one of those windows. Would I be happy in that one? Or that one?

Would I cry in that room? Would I stand before that sink looking out across the way at the person who would be sitting here and brush my teeth even if I knew she was watching? Would I water that plant, or would I be clumsy and open the window about to water it and knock it off the sill and watch it fall?

* * *

When you reach a certain age, you cannot just say never mind I am starting over. Though people have. My mother has. You may not recognize my mother if you knew her before and met her now, and it’s not just that her hair color drastically changed. It’s that she found herself. She went back to school when I was in college. She left. She started new. We say: It’s never too late! I believe it for her, but do I believe it for myself?

* * *

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* * *

All this said, I cannot do a single thing about it for almost four more weeks. I have these deadlines; these deadlines have me. For instance, all weekend I am working on this one thing due Monday. My mother asked me why I keep saying yes to writing these things—she said this while driving, while I stared out at the road—and I said I think it’s the idea of being published. Sometimes it feels like this is the only way I can get published, even if I publish the books under fake names.

I am that insecure.

Believe in yourself, she told me.

I heard her, but at the same time it’s like I could barely hear her—it feels that impossible, that far away.

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On Miranda July, Workshop Slams, and the Novel of My Dreams

I am reading the stories of Miranda July.

Last week I saw her movie. It was an odd film; I liked it so very much.

But back to the stories. They’re absurd. Raucous. Very brief, perfectly brief. They’re odd, and yes, you guessed it, I like them very much.

Elizabeth at Fluent mentioned this: they are not the kind of stories that would fly in an MFA writing workshop.

Some of the stories remind me, in fact, of an experience I had with a story I brought to an MFA writing workshop years ago, my first year there. This was in in a program not known for community and commiseration but rather fierce competition and suck-up sessions with professors. It could be cold, and workshop slams that year were frequent. A girl could bring a story to class and then watch it be torn apart piece by pathetic piece. The professor could start it or a student would, and soon everyone would attack. Afterward, the girl could be found crying in a bathroom stall; I remember comforting one or two. Now, though I might be known for hiding in bathroom stalls (see me circa junior high), I didn’t get slammed in these workshops. Maybe one time I got semi-slammed, not brutal enough to make me cry in a stall, but I’ll count it, and I agree with what happened, the story wasn’t working. Even so, one semi-slam in the face of all the other slams I witnessed seemed good, like I had something to brag about. Really, I felt lucky, like I kept catching people in good moods, escaping unscathed.

Then I brought this story. It was maybe 10 pages, or 12. It could have been 8. I don’t know, shorter than most of things I write. The story was ridiculous. It bordered on the absurd. And it was very, very unfinished. I felt as insecure about it as if I’d arrived in the room for workshop and realized I had a pair of underwear attached thanks to static-cling to the leg of my pants, which happened to me once, though I discovered it while walking down Broadway. Anyway, I wasn’t sure of this story.

This was the kind of workshop—each professor ran them differently—where you were not allowed to speak while your story was being discussed. You could not utter a word of explanation. You could not say thank you. Or defend yourself. Or ask questions about how to fix a thing that is broken, or answer questions if posed to you. If the discussion went on for the full fifty minutes about how no one understood this one pivotal moment in your story and all you had to do was say what the one pivotal moment meant, just say the words, just that… it didn’t matter, you could not say them. You could only listen in suffering silence while everyone else got confused. Only at the end could you say a few words, and it showed a lot about your character if you went on the defensive, or passively dissed yourself, or held your tongue in a quiet shell-shocked reserve.

So the workshop began.

Someone didn’t like the voice of my story; it was so flighty. Maybe even annoying. It wasn’t a “story.” It did not have a working plot. The character’s “change” was not so obvious. The story was too short. It was fantastical without being fantastical at all, which is sort of boring. There was barely any dialogue and all good stories should have lots of dialogue. It didn’t make sense. Besides, we never even learned the narrator’s name! How can you connect to a story if you don’t know the narrator’s name?

Then another someone spoke up. He loved the story. It was his favorite thing of mine he’d ever read; in fact, it was the best thing he’d read all year. He went on to detail what he loved about the voice. The story was saying so much more than it seemed to be saying, you just had to read into it. It was experimenting with form. It was throwing out the usual shape of a story. It was breaking the rules in all the right ways. He made me sound like a genius, and I know I’m not.

The discussion got heated. There were raised voices. Insults thrown. The professor let it go on, encouraging the debate. All through this I could not speak. Not a word.

The class was soon split down the middle. There were those who loved the story with a passion that shocked me, and there were those who despised it with equal passion that didn’t shock me as much.

At the end I was allowed to say something.

What did I mean by that story? (I don’t know. I was young. I was experimenting not so much with form but with what the hell I was going to write for all these workshop deadlines. I hadn’t even finished it yet. I didn’t think it would cause a fight.) I have no idea what I said out loud. I left that room in a daze. I have tried on numerous attempts to do something with that story, but I can’t, I don’t think I ever will.

So I thought of that experience while zipping through four of Miranda July’s stories in a row this morning, sitting there in public, laughing out loud, sighing, getting choking up, getting grossed out, a smile of pleasure, a gasp of shock. These stories that wouldn’t fly in that workshop… they’re great stories.

But this has nothing to do with Miranda July’s stories, does it? She’s getting praised all over the place so she needs no defending; she’s not sitting in an office underlining italicized text with a red pencil and measuring cover mechanicals instead of writing the novel of her dreams. She’s done everything right. In fact, sources say she hasn’t worked a day job since she was 23. Miranda July can do anything. Me? Right now I just want to finish reading her book. The novel of my dreams will still be here when I go to sleep. In my dreams it’s an odd shape. It wouldn’t fly in that workshop, either. I don’t know if anything I feel like writing right now would.

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Elevator Confessions

I arrived at my weekend writing spot late this afternoon. No makeup. Messy hair, roots in desperate need of getting done. Enormous backpack housing laptop, script pages for current freelance adaptation, book for other freelance adaptation, notebook for notes, magazine for procrastination, big bottle of water.

I will get a lot done tonight, I vowed. I headed for the elevators.

The building also houses other companies, one of which is a prominent record label known for hip-hop. I stepped into the elevator and the doors began to close. Then an arm reached in to keep the doors from closing. A guy decked out in lots of bling stepped in. Sideways cap. Enormous brand-name jeans. What looked like one glitzy tooth; I’d say platinum. I figured he worked, or was an artist for, the record company. In fact, for a second there, I wondered if I recognized him, maybe from MTV.

When the doors closed and we were alone, he turned to me. “Life sucks,” he said. “It’s too hard.”

“Yeah,” I said. We met eyes. He looked vulnerable. He looked young. He looked overwhelmed.

“It’s a tough time,” he said.

“I hear you,” I said, because I did. “Did you have a bad day?”

“A bad day?” he said. “A bad week. A bad month. A bad two years.”

I nodded.

“I worked like mad all week,” he said. “So I took today off. And now it rains. I can’t get a break.”

“That sucks,” I said.

His floor arrived—one of the record company’s floors, as suspected. He stepped out, and turned back to me. “Life’s too hard,” he said.

“I hope it gets better,” I said. “I hope you have a good weekend.”

“It’ll just get worse,” he said. It seemed like he wanted to say more, much more. To hold the doors open. To keep me from leaving so he could express how deeply screwed this life has made him, how he’s going nowhere, how he knows it will only kill him, someday, the disappointment, how unfair it is, what you want as opposed to what you get.

Or maybe that’s what I wanted to say.

I don’t know. He started to say something else, then the doors closed. The elevator brought me to my floor and let me out.

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Flickers of Nonsense

I have been watching terrible TV. Yes, amid complaints of not having enough time to write my own fiction I am taking the time out of my life to sit before the flickering box and watch reality shows about nothing. It’s the people in them that fascinate me. I like people-watching and eavesdropping on strangers, says my excuse, but really the fact is that after a morning of writing on deadline and a day of working toward more deadlines and then the subway ride home I just want to lounge around and do absolutely nothing. I deserve as much, don’t I?

This one particular show that I forced E to sit through last night involves a father and daughter. The father is belligerent. The daughter has not spoken to him, until now, for years. Everyone blames her for her father’s behavior—they see him in her; and she can’t get away from it.

I, myself, have not spoken to my own father for years. I want nothing to do with him. But I would probably be seen as his, no matter how far or long I separate myself.

In the show, the father chooses to save his daughter from a game eviction instead of saving himself.

I turned to E and I said: My father wouldn’t have done that for me, would he?

And E said: No, definitely not. He would have saved himself.

And I don’t know why this bothered me—like my father and I would ever be in the same room, let alone on a reality game show together—but it did.

* * *

Speaking of mindless entertainment, I am reading a fun book at work. It is about vampires. Teenage vampires. I don’t tend to read fantasy or whatever-something-about-vampires would be in real life. I like literary fiction. I haven’t even read Harry Potter. (Please don’t reprimand me about that! I’ll read the series someday, I’m sure.)

But reading this manuscript at work has become a guilty pleasure. I am reading it over the freelance copy editor, entering my own edits, prepping it for the editor and author to see. It’s work. It’s due soon. And yet…

And yet all I want to do is read it! I have other work to do aside from it, and I keep getting interrupted with more urgent things, but all I want to do is close the door and keep reading. It’s addicting.

Who am I, this person dying to get to her desk to see what happens to the vampires, feeling sorry for reality-show contestants, not writing anything worth showing to anyone else?

It’s an odd summer.

* * *

I like my new boss. We had a conversation about books once—he was reading Miranda July’s short story collection and I was asking questions because I wanted to read it—and lo and behold he came into my office yesterday to lend me the book. I was excited because I still have it on hold at the library, and with the queue of people ahead of me it’ll take MONTHS before the book is in my hands. To anyone who knows me, really knows me, they will know that I adore short stories. (They are so delicious.) So, borrowing a short-story collection can easily make my day, and this one did.

I’ll start reading this weekend.

* * *

I have goals when it comes to this current freelance project. The comment on my last post was right: I need to stop this. It will be over by the end of September. In the meantime, I have to be focused to make these deadlines. My goal for today is to finish chapter 3.

I have not yet finished chapter 3.

The scene takes place in a circus.

And here is where I’m stuck: riding around in a clown car, juggling sticks of hissing dynamite, unable to get to the next page.

It’s an odd summer indeed.

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