Distract Me

Truth be told, I’ve been depressed. Just a smidge. I’ve got that dull film over my eyes that makes everything seem soggier and uglier than usual—nothing to cause alarm, nothing to write home about. Still, I’m not in the mood to skip down the street or anything.

I remember I’m maybe-depressed when I have nothing much to do, which is why keeping busy is a cure better than vitamins and should be focused on at all costs. Problem is, then I remember I am so busy that I am overwhelmed by busyness and deadlines—all my fault; I took on too many freelance projects and three things are due in about a week; did I say this is all my fault?—and then I collapse into this numb ball of dazed anxiety on the couch, but at least I’m too tired then to be depressed so either way I win.

What saves me from myself are my various distractions:

A busy day at work, going through a satisfying pile of jackets all with clear expectations—make sure no typos, make sure ISBN is correct, change Canadian price (again), check copyright year and names and titles and photo credits and review quotes—and next to which I tick off tiny checkmarks and then sign my initials in the bottom righthand corner and log it into the system and into my private (no one should see or they will think I am obsessive and crazy) color-coded Excel chart. There’s something to be said for this job when you are sad: such systematic work can be, to some people, of which I guess I am one, soothing sometimes. My heartbeat slows. I feel better. I reached the end of my to-do pile on Thursday and felt okay. If only my real life were so clearly defined.

A magazine on the subway, which last night was The New Yorker‘s Winter Fiction Issue, which can be easily held aloft while balancing with one hand on a silver pole in the midst of a crowd of cranky people. One ride home = one short story.

A spec fiction project I am working on for no money, and no assured reward, and I don’t even know if the editor who wanted to see it will even like it. (And I was supposed to give it to her before the holidays… I’m a week late.) But if you must know, I like it so very much. I am having fun with it. I would rather be writing it now than all the other things I have to do. You know what? I hope she likes it, but if she doesn’t I don’t want to give up on it either.

I have five days off from work, an upcoming holiday that causes great anxiety, and three deadlines. There is no time to be depressed, see?

This Year’s Recycled Wisdom: Writing Is Hard

It’s so close to the end of the year, I can reach out and touch it. I feel like I should update my About Me—there’s something a little giddy about that list, blasé, that doesn’t feel like me any longer as I peer ahead into 2008. Also it’s out-of-date. A decision to rewrite a certain novel was dropped this year, at least in any recognizable form, and there’s something about trying—and trying—and keeping on trying—that feels absurd because how can you spend all this time writing and not be in any discernible place at the end of yet another year? Not being negative, just honest. I don’t have the answers and the year of 2007 did not yet provide them to me.

The only suggestion I have for myself is to write more.

I’ve been exhausted lately, which hasn’t been helping. Just really tired, and in the face of all these deadlines, and work, let’s just say I’m not getting as much done as I’d hoped.

I’ve said that a lot this year.

That’s not to say I haven’t been writing this year, I have. Just not the right things, I guess. Just not fast enough, not focused enough, I spent all day writing something yesterday that maybe isn’t even what it’s supposed to be, I don’t know, I can’t see straight right now. It felt good though, yesterday’s writing spree, but when you spend all your time writing and nothing comes of it perhaps it’s like gardening when it’s very likely all your plants will die. Digging in the dirt just has to be enough for you, because you probably won’t get your cherry tomatoes. Problem is I really love cherry tomatoes…

I’m feeling intensely discouraged right now. It’ll pass, I just hope soon.

When You Really, Really Want It

Early this morning I went out into the freezing rain and slush to go write. My street hadn’t been shoveled and I have no winter boots. It took forever to make it around the corner, slipping and sliding and trying to keep a hold of the umbrella in the wind. I held the umbrella in front of me like a shield. It didn’t work so well. Sometimes I was pinned in one spot by the wind, unable to step forward or back, close enough to the curb to get splashed by cold mud. I got my fancy coffee. I went back out. By the time I made it to my writing spot, I had my coat, scarf, and face spattered with chocolate-flavored coffee and a mangled umbrella that wouldn’t close. I guess I just really wanted to write. Sort of endearing, really. If only I could be so tenacious every morning.

Vent

vent /vɛnt/ (noun)
1. an opening, as in a wall, serving as an outlet for air, smoke, fumes, or the like. 2. an opening at the earth’s surface from which volcanic material, as lava, steam, or gas, is emitted. 3. Zoology. the anal or excretory opening of animals, esp. of those below mammals, as birds and reptiles. 4. the small opening at the breech of a gun by which fire is communicated to the charge. 5. a means of exit or escape; an outlet, as from confinement. 6. expression; utterance; release: to give vent to one’s emotions. 7. Obsolete. the act or fact of venting; emission or discharge.

I am not sure what category of definition this post will fall into, #3 or #5 or #6, but here goes…

I am sorry to say that my health isn’t all that, and it has my mother and husband (who would’ve thought I’d ever have a husband? well, I have one) worried, and the doctor is even considering the thing I had been hoping it wasn’t and is testing me for it next week, and I just think it is NOT FAIR and will I have to become a macrobiotic to not die, will I have to join a gym and actually go to it, and is this what it means to grow up and get old, you have to take care of yourself and eat vegetables, really?

There.

Now that that’s out of my system, at least there’s some good news: my sample was chosen for the lower YA series I was auditioning for, so I will be writing book #1. I am concerned about time—knowing I will put this project first, what will suffer, my health more than it already has, my novel-in-progress, my stories, my day job, my opportunities to goof off? Surely at least the goofing off. Either way, I’m excited. I wanted the chance to show a range and writing the sample was a lot more fun than I expected. I was telling myself not to be disappointed if they didn’t pick me, and then they picked me so yay. Also, many other things to do on the horizon—this weekend I will be watching noir films for inspiration for another project entirely—so this is not the time to feel worn out.

Perk up.

Now, to complete the vent, I will leave my latest rejections, spread out not even artistically on the couch:

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What I should be doing is dyeing my roots for the company party tomorrow night, but I’m just not up for it. The dyeing, the party, the blood tests, not in the mood.

It is time for something therapeutic. Thus, I have snagged the latest issue of Vanity Fair. I also have this:

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It looks so very yummy.

About My Lack of People Skills and My Propensity to Lose Gloves

I lost my gloves Friday. They were a mismatched pair, gone from my pockets somewhere near Rockefeller Center. One was from this pair, one from another pair entirely. I think it was while at lunch with two people I used to work with—I felt uncomfortable with myself, and this was before I lost the gloves. I was either too boring, or too gloomy, or too cheerful, or too bitter, or too something. I willed myself to stop talking, but it didn’t work. Then I had to leave in a hurry, no time to go back to look for the gloves. (I suspect they fell under the table.) Newsflash: I am awkward in social situations, so I tend to overcompensate, and then I get a headache from the strain. It makes me wonder how this appointment really went. Or how lunch went. Or how anything goes, really. I have a lot to do, I know, but this weekend ended up being a wash for me. I felt sick physically. And beyond that I needed to recover from some nameless something. I was searching through the archives of my old email inbox looking for something and came across all these old rejection letters, so that didn’t help. I can’t let the doubt get me before I’ve even really begun.

So I bought a new pair of gloves. But I accidentally picked up a size large, and the fingers are far too long for my actual hands. They flap. I don’t fit as it is, but this is ridiculous.

Now You Know My Secret Plan

Actually, I don’t have a secret plan, or a public plan, or any kind of set “plan,” not really. BlogLily wants to see plans, how we sketch our way to a destination, as she put it. What I have is a lot of hope, and a lot of skepticism, a day full of blinding optimism matched the very next day with my bottomless pit of doubt. But something keeps me going.

I do want to get somewhere. And that somewhere, as anyone who reads this blog surely knows, is that I want to be a writer. More than anything in the world. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, so these diversions into debts and day jobs and all that only push me farther away from what I want.

At the moment, this is how I plan: I go overboard. I go psychotic! I find every deadline and possible thing I could strive for and I tell myself I will get it done before the end of the month. In reality, I finish about a third of the things I set out to do. I wish I could do more—it’s never enough.

In example, the month of December. It’s a little over a week in and I’ve already (1) applied for a fellowship; (2) applied for a master class; (3) met with that agent; (4) wrote a sample chapter to audition as a ghostwriter for a new YA series; (5) accepted another freelance writing project, a quickie, and wrote and turned in the outline; (6) turned in the outline for the writing project I’d already accepted last month. Before the month ends, I have plans to (1) turn in the first chapter of the novel pitch the new editor is interested in—it’s a company I’ve never written for before, so I want to make it good; (2) consider applying for that other fellowship; (3) apply for that residency; (4) of course get the comments on both my outlines and keep moving; (5) do a concept for turning that short story into a novel; (6) work on the cinematic project I’ve been talking about with E; and most importantly: (7) WRITE (practically) EVERY DAY. Oh and there’s going upstate for the holidays. And I said I wanted to finish the *rough* draft of the novel I started in November—it may take longer than that.

And how do I plan? Color-coding in iCal, simple as that. Here’s a screen-shot of December:

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It doesn’t look so bad when it’s set out in color, does it?

And December’s nothing. I’ve got BIG plans for January.

Appointment

One perk to living in New York City that I’ve just learned about is if a New York agent likes a story you published in a journal and contacts you to see if you’re represented and you say no and then she wants to see more work and you send in more stories and an excerpt of a novel and she likes the stories especially but doesn’t think the novel is the right one and maybe you could turn one of the stories into a novel and she wants to see what else you can do and to maybe see if you can work together in the future, instead of getting that news in a form letter, you can talk about it in person. So I had a meeting at her offices yesterday. I told my boss I had a lunch “appointment” that would run longer than an hour—and it was only on the subway headed to the meeting that I realized this veiled “appointment” language (and the new red sweater I had on) may have made it seem that I had a job interview. I did not.

I was nervous. I don’t know how well I come across in person. But at the same time I knew that nothing concrete would happen and so that was sort of freeing, just going to talk to someone who liked my stories and had advice to give me about what to do next. She had a beautiful office, a beautiful cat, beautiful chairs to sit in, the books on display beautiful, all very impressive, and her enthusiasm and interest in me were strange but exciting. We spoke about the future of literary fiction. We spoke about needing a novel in order to sell a short story collection. I liked her. I wish I could tell you that I came away from that meeting with an agent. I did not.

But it was a good meeting all the same.

Also, while walking outside, I saw a familiar face on the street: Agent Cooper. His hair was longer, and lighter, and he was not wearing a black suit, but I’d know him anywhere. When it started to snow, light fluffy flakes, the day was complete. I don’t know what will happen with this agent (not Agent Cooper; the literary one) in the future, how it will end. But on a day when it starts snowing, and you see Agent Cooper, and you talk to someone who likes your stories, I guess you’re doing okay.