Saturday, December 31, 2011

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

Somewhere in the world, someone is already drinking champagne. Like, in New Jersey.

New Year's is fraught. All the commercials right now are for quitting smoking and losing weight, making more money and finally meeting that special someone. You should be thinner, and richer and younger, and adored. People make ridiculous resolutions and fail to keep them. And they should, because if everything was tempered by a cold dose of reality, then no one would ever try anything.

In middle school, my Italian pen pal, Valentina, told me that in Italy they believe if you do something on the first, you'll do that all year. It's a good idea to do something you love. Be with family. Eat good food. Read. Be in love. Wouldn't you believe anything a girl named Valentina told you? I would.

In my nervous brain I have translated that to whatever I do on New Year's Day I will end up doing all year: arguing? check. Worrying? check. Not writing? check. Being too fat? check. Wrestling a giant pile of laundry? check.

I'm going to make ridiculous resolutions. I'm going to do everything I want on New Year's Day.

I will wrestle a giant pile of language.
I will get married.
I am going to write another novel.
I will sell the other novel.
I will be a rock star.
Better yet, I will marry a rock star. We will both be rock stars.
I'm going to do better in school.
I'm going to have children.
I will lose 30 pounds.
I will quit drinking.
I will start drinking with more purpose and gusto.
Eat more chocolate.
Kiss more people. Really? Let's bring back the social kiss, and replace the stupid handshake.
I'm going to exercise more and go to bed earlier and breathe more and be outside and look at clouds and stars and trees and plant flowers and walk the dog.
I'm going to stay up later and love the darkness and write poems at midnight and sleep til noon.
I will spend less time worrying.
I will worry about the right things.
I'll get a job.
I'll quit my job.
I'll get organized and then learn to love and value chaos, the chaos that is every day no matter who you are. Everyone has it. Everyone's is different, which makes them all the same. You are not a unique snowflake of chaos. You are just human.
Have something to fall back on.
And then burn the bridge to that thing you can fall back on.

In the meantime, I'll worry about every step I take tomorrow, every word I read and write and every sip of wine or bite of chocolate. I'm going to kiss one more person than I did the day before. I will make snowflakes out of people. And catch them on my tongue.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Morpho Peleides

I've decided to sell my china. It's not a complete set, only some pieces, and I feel detached from it now. Years ago, however, after we got married, I was taken by Portmeirion's Botanic Garden pattern. It was English, and included not only butterflies and bees with the plants, but also the Latin names. At the time, I was reading a lot of A. S. Byatt, whose novel Still Life, includes a chapter called "Names of Grasses," listing both the English and Latin names. In many ways, the novel acknowledges the power of naming. Byatt says herself,
I had the idea, when I began this novel, that it would be a novel about naming and accuracy. I wanted to write a novel as Williams said a poem should be -- no ideas but in things (Byatt, Still Life, 323).


That summer Marcus had a vision of the world as a globe marked out not only by flowing stripes of water and huge nets of roots, sliding sands and towering rocks, but by a kind of human love, not grabbing, not consuming, not even humanizing, but simply naming the multidinous things to be seen, for the sake of seeing them more clearly (Byatt, Still Life, 322).

It's hard to step back and simply call things what they are, simply name.  I wasn't a china girl; I was more of a Chinet girl. We eloped. We were not in the category of couples who register and get china, or crystal, or fine silverware. When I look back, it's amazing we made it. Everything was an idea bigger than us. It's hard to enter into that, headstrong, and have the courage to simply name it. Someone might have named it dumb.

The Chapel of Love, Las Vegas
I wasn't raised in a culture of fanfare. Most of my attempts at ceremony, at celebration, at recognition were met firmly with an acknowledgment of my place: last. And in the mid-90s, I wasn't looking for a traditional wedding, in fact, had it been expected, I might have rejected the offer. I would have been happy with the rebellion of scaling back, of marrying outside the church, of wearing something not white.

But that's not who we are. My own parents were married in a courthouse, and truth be told, they probably would have advised me to do the same thing. Somehow, without much forethought, I saved us the uncomfortable You don't really want a wedding, do you? conversation, and eloped before it became much of an issue. I wouldn't trade the elopement. It was perfect. There was only us. It was only $200: pictures, flowers, limo and video included.

My rebellion is often reactionary. I wanted to go to church, and not just go -- but be confirmed, to be official. I wanted at least that recognition. I wanted to the pressure of going to college.  I wanted to rebel by going to college for something I loved, not something that was practical. I wanted someone to know that I loved something, more than anything. I want to use the good china on holidays, and dress up. I want a tree with lots of lights, or two trees, as we've done for the past few years. I wanted ceremonies for my kids. Baptisms and First Communions. So they would know just how much they matter. Because we do matter. As Phil Memmer says in his poem, "You Are Worth Many Sparrows,"

      We matter that much. We matter
      that much, at the least.

They will rebel, of course, against fanfare. want to wear beanies at the table, or eat at TV trays in the living room. (An option not yet presented to them, but boy, if they knew they could.)

It's who they are.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On the Interpretation of Naked Dreams

A few nights ago, I had a naked dream. Naked dreams are common. Usually they represent some vulnerability, something you're afraid of letting everyone see. According Dream Moods, in a naked dream, "You are exposed, and left without any defenses."

I'm listening.
In my naked dream, however, I had decided to become an exotic dancer. I don't remember exactly how this opportunity came to me, but once presented, I decided it was the best course of action. I stood to make a lot of money. And for some reason, Kelsey Grammer was involved.

I get it, right? Yesterday, I drove up to Dolgeville to pick up a puppy that is a Jack Russell Terrier. Like Eddie on Fraser. I get the connection. I also get the whole psychology thing. A voice listening in the dark, on the telephone. Kelsey Grammer was pleasant, helpful, kind of how you'd hope he would be in a dream, and probably not how he actually is in person. And as I was considering the dance proposition, I complained,

But I'm chubby, and I have stretch marks.

Kelsey Grammer replied, They can fix that. Perfect.

Turns out it was less of a pole dancing position than it was a private dancer gig. It was suggested that I wear a corset. In the end, I was ready to bare all, and Kelsey Grammer told me it would all be ok.

Nothing is as naked as writing. I have my fears about it. I am chubby and I do have stretch marks. The body of my work is scarred up with a lot of things. Old surgeries, fights, births, death. You can read the lines of pleasure and heartache right there on the skin. All of it, out there for anyone to see.

And what happens? A kind man tells me it will all be ok. He reassures me even though it's for his benefit. That they can can fix my flaws. He listens.

And I step into dim light wearing only my skin. Just a thin pulsing cover over my heart.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hanging on the Telephone

I spend a lot of time on the phone. This has probably always been true. The nature of it has changed over the years, but at the end of the day, I still log a lot of time. I hate the phone.

When I was a kid we had a turquoise desk phone with a dial. It rang with a real bell and it was the only phone we had. We didn't have an answering machine. We had my mom. My dad booked all his jobs over the phone, so it was a commodity. Still, he wouldn't answer the phone. My mom was like the secretary. She screened. When necessary, she'd book for him. Back then, if she was on the old phone with my sister or a neighbor, my dad would listen and ask questions, and sometimes say things like I wish I knew what you were talking about. It drove him nuts not to be in on it. Later on they got a speaker phone and they took all their calls that way. You had to get used to the sound of your own voice echoing into the dining room, or saying, Can you pick up? when you had something delicate to say. A second line was also put in upstairs -- or reactivated, since it was originally my sister's -- for when we threatened to tie up the line with our own calls. This meant we could take and make our own calls. When my brother moved out, it was all mine. It was tan, and it had a dial like the one downstairs, and I think we bought it used at Ra-Lin. 

I talked to my friends on that phone. Made prank phone calls. Got prank phone calls. Called in for radio contests. For a while in college, I talked nearly every day to a guy who was in love with one of my friends. I think he was gay, and he talked only to me, and never to her, which was weird. We had a lovely relationship though. I think we talked about films and music and books. Every day. I don't remember his name anymore.

When we bought our own house, I bought a black wall phone -- used at Ra-lin -- to hang on the kitchen wall. It had a real bell and a long cord you could wrap into the living room. In some rough spots, my brother would call in the middle of the night, every night, at about 1:30. He doesn't remember them and the conversations were mostly incoherent. He would tell me stories that I think didn't happen, and then kind of fall asleep, so that I would lay the phone back in the cradle and go back to bed, hoping that he wouldn't call back in five or ten minutes. After a few weeks of this, I'd unplug the phone. It was stealth: I'd go into the kitchen right before bed, and slip the jack out. I didn't want anyone to notice my fear, or the measure I'd taken to quell it. It was easier to just unplug.

Over the years, we've had phones with Do Not Disturb buttons, which sometimes Geoff calls DNR buttons. (To which I'm like just let me die already. . . ) They go direct to voicemail. Which is ok, but not as good as unplugged.

When no one can call me nothing can go wrong. No one can call crying or yelling. No one can go to the hospital late at night, or die. I'm suspended in a no-phone zone. This is best when my brood is within arm's reach, or when we're camping. I might do ok in a bomb shelter.

I have friends who lose their phones, literally, in couch cushions or the floors of cars. Or who let their batteries run out. Who don't call you back for days, or forget. If I talked more often to my sister -- instead of mostly in crisis -- I would be less likely to think that something was terribly wrong when I do talk to her. When I do talk to her, I remember how much I enjoy it.

Now, when the phone rings at night, I still assume the worst. I'm less nervous about texting, but the buzz of my cell phone can jolt me too. I won't sleep with a phone in my bedroom, unless Kieran is spending the night somewhere, and when I do, I don't sleep very well. Because despite the phone's proximity, I'm also afraid I won't hear it. That I'll miss it. Because I'm the mom I assume full responsibility for the phone -- calls from school, calls from children. What would happen if I didn't?

I might relax. I might write more. I might miss something. Something I could fix, just by knowing about it. Just by being on the other end of the phone.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Little Girls Understand

I'm a child of the 80s. All my first attempts at anything --  fashion, love, music, writing -- came out of that time period. Excess. Eyeliner. Fedoras.

This weekend we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary (late) by driving down to Atlantic City to spend a couple of nights away by ourselves and to see Duran Duran in concert at the Borgata Casino. It was a great show. Exactly what it should be: dancy, high energy, sexy, with artsy graphics and a sea of women. All those women were fortyish, but still. Mark Ronson, decked in leopard Givenchy, made a guest appearance to play guitar on Girl Panic and Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters came out to sing Safe with Simon Le Bon. 

I have a long history with Duran Duran. I've harbored a celebrity crush on John Taylor since I was about ten. He's still hard to take your eyes off of. But then I also started thinking about what this actually meant to me, as I am now. When I discovered Duran Duran, almost thirty years ago, I was impressionable, and what they were impressing worked on me: I got different clothes. I bought a pair of white lace up oxford shoes and blazers. I bleached my bangs blonde. I taught myself how to play bass guitar (no joke: the first song I learned was Save a Prayer. Later, I learned a.) some songs are easier and b.) he is a really hard bass player to emulate.) And Simon Le Bon's lyrics were the first that made me want to write my own.

Go ahead, take aim. I was also familiar with Sting and The Police, thanks to having an older brother. And while Sting taught me big words (seriously, spiritus mundi?) -- what Simon Le Bon taught me was sex and longing, desire and loneliness. One night stands? check. All night parties? check. Sex with women who are being compared to wild animals? check. Desolation and disconnect? check.

It's what Robert Olen Butler refers to as the want. It's what drives every good piece of writing. And somehow I understood this, even then. Saturday night, in the midst of images flashed on the screen behind the band, one slide that says THE LITTLE GIRLS UNDERSTAND.

It's a line from Willie Dixon's "Back Door Man," which I know as a Doors song:
The men don't know, but the little girls understand.

This week, I start teaching Lolita. I almost always answer Lolita when someone asks me for my favorite book. I've never taught it though, and I'm a little afraid I'll get stuck on what A. S. Byatt refers to as not being able to get from "I love this," to "Here it is."

I'm going to do my best to get past the initial eww of Humbert desiring twelve-year-old Lo. And while the little girls need protecting, partially what we have protected them from all this time is what they understand. We're afraid of what they understand and so we take it away from them, or we turn it into something else.

I love this. Just like I loved those sexy lyrics, the driving bass, the bedroom eyes (and lips).

Look at this tangle of thorns.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I Don't Know How Anyone Does It

I never go to the movies. We went from being those parents who never go to the movies to the parents who still never go. It's a logistics hassle. Not a nightmare, just a hassle. Netflix is so much easier.

Last night, however, I went to see I Don't Know How She Does It, with a new friend. It was an old-fashioned get-to-know-you girl-date. Afterwards, in the car, we both agreed the movie was pretty much what we expected and not as funny as we wanted it to be.

Then I said, I found it to be stressful.

She laughed. Maybe that's because you're a mom? she said.

Maybe. It's because that shit is true, I said. And I didn't like that. I didn't want the movie to have an agenda, but it did address head on the myths and truths of working women. If you act like a man, you're aggressive and difficult. If you act like a woman you're moody and difficult. Either way, you're difficult.

But there were other things -- more subtle things -- that bothered me about the movie. I wanted Greg Kinnear's character to be stronger. I wanted him to get angrier than he did. To be less of a dream boat supporter. He was a great dad, and totally -- totally -- cute in his glasses. But his near passivity annoyed me.

I wanted it to be less of a fairy tale ending when the assistant had her baby. It was a little too "babies are difficult but they solve all of your identity crises" for me.

I would have slept with Pierce Brosnan's character. Or, okay, maybe I wouldn't have. But I would have wavered a lot more than SJP did. A lot.

One of the things I love the most about the fiction I love is when the people are really real. When they make mistakes. They make bad decisions. Things are hard for them. People get hurt. When the baby falls down the stairs because you're at work, something terrible happens. Greg Kinnear doesn't pick up all the pieces. And the baby doesn't fall down the stairs while you're working, because that feels didactic. He falls downstairs while you're right there. Watching. And there's still little you can do to stop it from happening.

I guess it felt like advertising to me. A shiny commercial for having it all, a career, beautiful kids, a hot nanny, a supportive and cute husband. The strong will not to sleep with Pierce Brosnan. I hope the book is better. But in truth, I'll probably never find out. I have too much to do. At least I can cross "blogging" off my list for today.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back to School

* As of today, we are all back to school. Since last week, my life has been upside down. What began as one section of Reading and Writing Fiction at Syracuse University turned into another section of Interpreting Fiction, which meant four days a week. I'm gone every day (except Friday), I carry all my belongings with me like a pack rat or a bag lady. I have an office. It's an unexpected boon and a flurry of activity and stress.

I've spent long summer days editing, reading and goofing off.

In the past week and a half I've learned more about craft than I have in the last year, just from forcing myself to teach readings to students, from being forced to articulate what I rely on intuitively. I find myself at the end of the day, thinking about Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Anton Chekov. And covered in chalk.

One respite this week: I'm reading with poet Richard Forester at the Bright Hill Literary Center in Treadwell, NY. When they host you, they also put you up for the night. I'm looking forward to reading, and to having an evening that doesn't involve prep or grading.

Since I've been back at work we've had torrential rain. The creek is swollen and fast. It's opaque brown, and deadly. Roads are closed.

Today, in class, we discussed Chekov's darling, appropriate for a day when all it did was rain. As Kukin says, "Again!" . . . "It's going to rain again! Rain every day as though to spite me!" . . . "Well, rain away, then! Flood the garden, drown me!"

As they say, when it rains . . .

*This is a man's hand, doing math. It's hard to find my counterpart in stock images, drawing the plot arc or chalking up a storm about theme and symbol.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Power of a Good Pair of Pants

Recently, I was talking with my friend, poet Jane Springer, who was sitting on her porch, smoking cigarettes and reading some of Keats's letters. She said of the things she loves about him, she loves that when he was depressed, he would get dressed up to make himself feel better.

Oh, I said. Yeah. I totally get that.

Oh, you would, Jane said.

I have a lot of wake up or stay up and write in pajamas writer friends. I am not one of them.

I need to have things in order. A shower. Open blinds and windows. A neat workspace. And yes, good pants.

I'm walking a fine line here. It's a very tipsy point I'm balanced in. On a particularly depressed or anxious day, I'm probably more likely to put on full make-up. Eyeliner and all. Or fancy shoes. It's the same reason I need to have the blinds open, and the bed made. It's an indication of normalcy.

My dad never wore jeans. He was always dressed, usually in dress pants, until he got more immobile and succumbed to sweat pants for comfort and because they were easier to put on. And he always wore shoes. He would not take his shoes off while he was home. Why? Because having your shoes off is an indication that something isn't normal. That you're home sick. A day with shoes on is a regular day, a work day, a day to do something (even if you don't). A day without shoes, you might as well give up on.

I'm not saying this isn't crazy. But it's what goes on inside my head.

That said, I'm going to put on some gabardine and get to work.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Reading

Here's another confession, that's not really my confession: my kids don't like to read. My younger son likes to read more than the teenager, but that's not really a fair comparison. It would be an absurd comparison, like This tree likes being a tree more than that rock likes being a tree.

Both of us read a lot as kids, and as teenagers. While I did read some literature, like David Copperfield, I also read some contemporary stuff -- Bright Lights, Big City and Less than Zero -- and I didn't limit it to anything of merit. I also read my fair share of fantasy books.

In contrast, my eight-year-old really likes Calvin and Hobbes. The teenager likes soda and loitering.

I still read, but not as much as I'd like to. It's summer, and part of summer for me means long days of nothing but reading. Reading is a luxury. When I've said this to college students, who have several books to read at once, they look at me like I have two heads.

How to get younger kids to read? I've heard that you're supposed to "instill" a love of reading in your children. We read a lot to them, as babies, and still, to the younger son.

However, here's what I know about my children: they respond to humor, irony and sarcasm, and fun. They do not respond well to anything that feels like propaganda. Like this:

We love to read! Reading is the best thing ever!
You can insert other items to propagandize here, like "vegetables," "spelt," or "running."

They never have, and they never will. I cannot make them believe it with the tone of my voice. They see right through it, and have, since they were very, very little. (Like, under two.) Maybe this makes me a failure, and maybe it makes them wisely skeptical, and unlikely to fall prey to other forms of persuasion.

I try to lead by example, but even that is light. Mostly, I do what I love, along side them, without prodding or preaching. I write, and I read, and I do a lot of laundry and cleaning. They do none of these things. Yet.

Are there things we love that have rubbed off on them? Sure. The teenager is currently playing both Guided by Voices and Blind Melon on his guitar. He loves Sublime and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and still, when he's practicing, goes back to Driver 8.

The eight-year-old is a wacko. He has the weirdest sense of humor I've ever witnessed. (See recent tweet about drawing facial hair with invisible ink.) He also values quiet, and can entertain himself (with imagination) for hours. I haven't met many other kids the same age who can do quite the same.

With reading, my gut tells me that once they fall into it, they'll be in it. Once they really discover what they'll get from reading, they'll be hungry for more. Of course, they will have to discover this on their own, and not by my hand, because that will make it absolutely uncool. But mostly, I want them to think hard and carefully, about whatever it is that motivates them in this moment. I want them to love things. Even if they're not the same things I love.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Things that Stall Me

Since school has been out for fifteen days, I thought it might be time to blog about some things that slow me down, which right about now, feels like everything. Here's a short list of the biggies:

Having the kids home from school. I spend a lot of the summertime driving, and a lot of time either waking someone up, or begging someone to go to bed. See Go The Fuck to Sleep, but with my own appendix for the teenage years, Wake the Fuck Up.

Sleeping. A while ago, Julianna Baggott blogged about how she finds the time to write and when she sleeps. I sleep too much. If I got up earlier, maybe I would have more time to write. But, unlike the highly romantic practices of writers who either get up in the early dark to write as the sun rises, or stay up and write all night, I appear to be a boring ass Mid-Day Writer. Such is the work of people with children in school. (See Number 1.)

Having a clean house. I fear sometimes that this is the thing that makes me not an artist. I am uncomfortable and anxious when the house is messy -- this includes dishes, laundry, dust, clutter and random shoes. This sometimes earns me exclamations from other writers: You're such a housewife! Sometimes, though, I think I could work better if the house was just clean. So on those days, I clean. It's a meditative practice for me, so in that way, at least, it works.

Surfing for music. I like a little non-distracting music sometimes while I'm writing. I'm not writing to the big indie bands that some of my colleagues are: The National, The Hold Steady, or Bon Iver. I don't have a Metallica kick like Steven King. I will admit this: I wrote a good deal of the early pages to this novel while listening to piano etudes by Philip Glass. They're clean and precise and grab you by the gut. Anything with words distracts me. So when I need to waste some more time, I sit here with the Roku remote going through a list of things that "aren't right."

Drinking. In that same post Julianna Baggott talks about how once she's had a drink it signals to her brain that the day is over. Once in a while, I can write a bit in the evening while having one glass of wine, but beyond that, I'm no good. After two drinks, I wouldn't trust my writing not to be sloppy. After three or four, I'm probably trying to kiss you. Or sing karaoke Eagles songs.

Facebook. Everyone's Achilles' Heel, right? Where else would I keep up with who's getting divorced, who's publishing seventeen pieces of micro-fiction, or look at pictures of people's dogs, babies and vacations?

Twitter. Where I need to keep track, at the very least, of what Amanda Palmer and John Taylor are up to. And the Dalai Lama. I know, weird.

Phone calls. I shouldn't answer them, or return them right away, but I do. And then sometimes, I spend hours on the phone. So much so that my younger son has taken to writing me notes: "How's it going on the phone?"

This morning, I got up at 10. My excuse? Kids were on a soda raid at 3:15 am, then home at 6:30 am from an all-nighter. Dear friends with babies and toddlers: IT GETS WORSE. Next week, we're well into week three of summer. I'm going to try -- as my mother-in-law says -- to get my shit together. Otherwise, somebody's gonna come undone.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Some things that are not in my novel:

This might explain why I was so relieved to read this month's Poets and Writers, in which agent Emily Forland speaks about Susanna Daniel's novel, Stiltsville, which was not "narrated by a flamingo, or written in interconnected haiku."

Because these are the things I worry about, you know, when I'm not worrying about all the other stuff, like laundry, who is or isn't smoking weed, and who happens to be dating the most popular girl in school.

*I totally want to read this.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Some Thoughts about the Workshop

I've been thinking about the model of the workshop, how to make it better, what makes it work for the students, what makes it exciting. A lot of it is about trust, and even more of it is about doing the work. A careful and thoughtful reading goes a long way.

And then I came across this Ray Bradbury quote on the Advice to Writers website:

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.

Of course, he's right. Teachers do have prejudices. If you take enough workshops by different instructors someone contradicts someone else. We all mean to do the most good. What's a writer to do?

More than anything, I think, writers need to live, and they need to trust their guts. Live for real. Be risky. Get your heart broken, get in a fight. Have a baby. Go broke. Bleed a little, or a lot. Nothing's more boring than a story by a student who hasn't done anything. And then trust it. Trust yourself to know when you've tapped into that bloody pulp where the best stuff comes from.

Recently, I found a graffiti workshop offered at a local arts center, and I asked my teenage son -- who is fascinated by the artform and would like (with my blessing) to graffiti one wall of his bedroom -- if he wanted to take the class over the summer.

No way, he said. He looked at the brochure; read the description; weighed the possibility.

Why not?

Because, he said. I want to do graffiti. I don't want anyone to think that I learned it in a workshop.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Plan B

Amanda Palmer has been leading an ongoing Twitter conversation called "Fuck Plan B." If you use Twitter, think about following her. She's smart and funny; she answers tweets, and she doesn't spend all her time talking about herself.

That said, I'm going to talk about myself, and my own decision to Fuck Plan B.

As Tina Fey said, I don't have a Plan B. I do have a Plan G -- in the form of a working spouse. Still, my decision not to work makes things tight. Would it be better to work full time, or even seriously part time and have more money for stuff? For cable? For a car that doesn't have a detached exhaust system? Maybe, but probably not.

I realize that not having a Plan B is different when you're single, when you're the only breadwinner to begin with, but not having a Plan B isn't necessarily about not working. It's about not compromising. It's about knowing what you want, and then making that possible, however you have to.

I've had Plan B's: advertising, publishing, teaching. And not having a Plan B is scary. When I think about my kids going forward I want them to be safe and comfortable, and not having a Plan B is neither. They could be miserable cubicle workers. Or, they could find something they really love and go for it, fly in the face of fear or convention and step out in faith that things will work out.

They do. As Annie Dillard says, Right now you are flying. Right now, your job is to hold your breath.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I ran into a former student recently and we ended up talking briefly about a friend's novel-in-progress. I said it was great. I've read a lot of it, and I believe in it.

Well, the former student said, a lot of it still reads like a first draft.

I said something mundane, like Sure.

But what I was thinking, and what I'm still thinking is that of course it does. Of course it does, and that doesn't make it weaker, or less than what it will eventually be. It makes it a draft. A novel-in-progress.

I've been teaching creative writing for nine years. If I had been bothered by things sounding like first drafts I would have quit -- roughly nine years ago. Very, very rarely have I encountered students who probably shouldn't be writing at all. Very, very often I have students who are writing what will eventually become great, but that need encouragement. Along with the praise, they need to see the weak spots, the spots where they rested, where they didn't push hard enough, or trust enough, or bleed enough. Sometimes, these pieces could be way, way better. And when I tell you that, it's because I believe it can be. And even when these pieces are rough, it's important to look past them, at what they can be.

Annie Dillard says, "there's another way of saying this. Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block."

Not just with the writing, but with the critique too.

I try hard not to pretend I know more than my students do. I try hard to be entrenched. To be, like a war journalist, embedded with the troops. We're all doing the same thing, at different speeds, at different times, while juggling a lot of other stuff. I am my own first draft. You can stop there, or you can look past it, to what else I might be.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

New Blog, New Pashion

Look at these books in the background.
They don't have titles!

Maybe they are just books waiting to be written.