Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I killed a darling yesterday. I worked all day long (with a few breaks, of course), from about 10:00 to about 9:00, reworking the first third of the novel. As I went through the paper draft a few days ago, I drew brackets to mark spots where the writing was sound, but would probably have to be integrated elsewhere. I managed to preserve many of these spots, but discarded several others upon reflection. When I had to delete pieces like this from the electronic draft in order to make sense of what I was writing, I kept the physical page (otherwise I've put the prior-draft physical pages in the recycle bin to cut down on the clutter), so as to retain what I thought was good, ill-fitting work.

One page stuck around through the whole day's work, with a few sentences on it that I really didn't want to let go of. It was a darling. The Fictator mindset has helped me be more merciless with my darlings throughout my writing process in the last months, but this one just didn't want to go. I read it again and again, this little passage, and genuinely could not find a place for it in the sixty pages or so I edited today. So, finally, when I was setting aside the manuscript for the day and hitting play on Pride & Prejudice (I have a book to read before it's due on Friday, but I just couldn't look at any more words), I read it one last time, and then chucked it into the recycle bin. Goodbye, darling dear, I had to murder you.

I can't even express how useful the Fictator-hat has been in the course of all this. For the majority of my life I've been a reactionary, not wanting to let go of things that are past, whether old books, old pictures pulled out of magazines that used to be pasted on my wall, old knowledge and ways of life (it's why I learned how to can preserves), old slang. I value the past and its quirks and turns, and I believe we can always benefit from its existence, even if it's just learning something like the fact that teen-pop groups have been assembled by heartless record executives at least as far back as the sixties. At any rate, the same reactionary attitude always went for my writing - if it wasn't preserved exactly as it was first concocted, with changes only for grammar and awkwardness, its value was diminished.

Of course in writing this is foolishness. It's the way of editing to throw out reams of work and start all over, to tinker and alter until maybe what you have barely resembles what you started with. I had so much trouble with this until I began approaching my work as if it was mine, not something that had already been conjured up by the Muses in the Creativity Dimension and transmitted to me for transcription. Until I started thinking of myself as the Fictator, the person who has all the rights and powers to decide what will stay and what will go, I felt hampered and hostile about the editing process.

Now I'm much freer, and less afraid. Words are cheap, is the thing. A good paragraph is easy. There are a hundred ways I can write any given conversation. There's no guarantee that what I've thrown out won't end up being better than the newly-written stuff, but the old stuff doesn't have inherent value just because it was my first idea. This isn't the SATs; the first answer isn't always (likely) the right one. Besides, I save versions. Nothing is really lost.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"I knew I wanted to be a novelist"

Got a rejection from The Sun over the weekend. Not terribly surprising; it's a very difficult market. I really believed in this essay, but hey, I'll just try again somewhere else. Que sera, sera.

I'm hard at work on the first edit of my book, and it's slow going. Every word is accompanied by uncertainty. And often there are cascading changes that have to happen - if I change one thing, fourteen other things have to change on down the line. But I have a vision of everything hanging together, of it all making sense, and oh, it's beautiful.

In my day-to-day life, it's rough. I still haven't started paid work for the company that hired me nearly four weeks ago, and if things don't change in the next 48 hours I'm going to have to give up the dream and do something else. Having been at home for a month, I am so loath to go back to the outside world - it's so nice in here, with all my stuff, all the safety and happiness of home and sweatpants. But I am feeling 200 pounds of guilt on my shoulders, moving around with it every moment, that I'm not contributing my part of the income to make our household run. We can't live without me making an income, and I can't live with the guilt of that for longer than a few days more, even if circumstances keep appearing that they're going to change any day now.

I admit to being sort of captivated by the vision of this, writing, being my job. Plenty will scoff and say that what I've been up to isn't hard work, and I'll grant you that I haven't had my nose to a grindstone, exactly (or I would have opened up my working draft and gotten to it by now this morning) but what I figured out here still holds, that when I do put in a workday on the fiction, it's hard. Not to be sniffed at.

A few weeks ago I read an interview with Jeffrey Eugenides, whose epic book Middlesex I was alone in not enjoying, but whose earlier book The Virgin Suicides I liked a great deal. The interviewer asked him if he had a lack of direction during the years after college, and he said he had direction "because I knew I wanted to be a novelist". He went on, but I got stuck on this phrase, I knew I wanted to be a novelist. As if  "novelist" was a professional career you could just decide to do, get enough training and experience and have that be your job. Like being a lawyer, or an electrician.

There seemed to be such naivete wrapped in this phrase of his. Like he wouldn't be hampered by people who didn't like his work enough, or have to pay any bills while he was writing the first novel that sold. Like the capacity to be a novelist doesn't depend on anything except your decision to do it. I see the field of writing fiction as one from which only fools and angels attempt to make a living; if you can't get into the gate, if no publisher likes what you've done, you don't have a living. You have nothing. Nothing but work that's not good enough, a dream that won't come true, and bills.

But the thing is: he became a novelist. He found success. I don't know the story of it; maybe he worked really hard and was good enough, maybe he had a friend who had a friend who had an agent, maybe he made a deal with the devil. The point is, he wasn't naive. He was correct. Novelist is his career.

I've been using the word "writer" when thinking of the career I want to build. I already am a writer; I've had things published in print media and been paid for my work with the written word. It's not what I do on a full-time basis, but I think that calling myself that isn't trespassing. But to me the word "novelist" implies vocation, professionalism. And striving for that, calling my desired career "novelist" - without all the equivocations involved in "writer", since textbook authors and short story authors and people who create content for spam blogs can all fairly be termed "writer" - seems like a firmer choice, one that feels more accurate to what I want to do. I don't think I'm a particularly good writer of short stories, but I think the longer stuff I've written is better, so it's a more comfortable fit anyway.

But I'm not a novelist yet. I may be a writer, by hook or by crook, but novelist isn't something you can be until you've been paid for work that's bound and sold at a store. At least, that's the way I see it. I don't know what Eugenides would say.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


For the last couple of weeks, I've been waiting to start an at-home job, one which I hoped would solve several of our problems at once. But my start date was delayed, and then delayed again, and then delayed a third and fourth time. So I started to worry, like crazy, that in fact it wasn't going to work out, that I would have to return to the outside world and legal work. But I got some solid data about it yesterday: yes, I was actually hired; yes, the work does exist (even if it doesn't really exist this week). There is a big IT transition going on, which is the reason for all the delays, and that means that there might not be much to be paid for in the first couple of weeks. But it seems real enough, the job and my ability to do it. I think - I hope - that it's going to work out all right. There are things about it that aren't as...solution-oriented as I thought they would be, but I'm going to hope for the best. This is the third time this year that things have turned around at my blackest point of despair, and each time was accompanied by a spate of new ideas and greater hope for the future.

In other phew-related news, I did a complete read-through and first skinning of the novel. (It took me about seven hours, all told, which is not encouraging moving forward.) Oh, my dear Lord, what work I have to do. I have to rewrite and rework the whole opening, two or three chapters, and I suspect I'm going to end up adding another quarter of its length to the danged thing in new scenes and greater depth. But inconsistencies were helpfully apparent on this read, and I wrote them all down in the margins with my red pen, making notes on the backs of pages. Now it's on to write a detailed timeline and adjustment of ages, events, and spacing as needed. I also have to come up with a few more names and vocabulary, and start writing a sensible Luquenora glossary. I had suspected that I'd need to put an actual glossary in the back of the book, and yeah, on this read I determined that I do. Feels kind of like a failure, that I didn't make the language clear enough. Oh, well.

Yesterday I finished up editing a story I'd written and submitted it to a publication that's probably way over its head. (I made up my mind to reach for better publications in the future, to just grip writerly arrogance by the neck and continually presume I'm better than I am, so that eventually I'll become better. ...I think I'll write a whole post on this conflict another time.) The story was inspired by something in yoga class, as I mentioned a while back, but what's interesting to me is that the story in its finished form has no reference at all to its inspiration.

I was lying in savasana and the teacher came to give me a little thai-massage head-rub, and I used my neck muscles to "help him" lift my head. This is not helpful to the masseuse, as he needs you to be untense to give you a decent massage, and he whispered "Relax."

This gave me the idea for a story about a woman in this exact position whose reception of "Relax" was to remember a date-rapist whispering this to her as he did the deed. (Am I the cheeriest writer you know, or what?) After I thought through the story a few times, it became a man with this memory, and then I added some other elements and had a pretty good setup and conflict, I thought. I still had the yoga class in there as a framing device for the first few drafts, but when I came back to the story a few days later, it didn't fit. At all. Just cluttered up the raw experience of this poor character. I wanted to add more about him and his situation, but I wasn't writing a novel, just a little story, so all the fat got excised.

It's still really interesting to me that all elements relating to the inspiration for the story got tossed. I'm pleased with my results, but where it came from would be really convoluted, were I asked to explain.

I've been listening to Joanna Newsom almost exclusively for the last 24 hours, while I read and edited and worried over my new job. She has this strange ability to make you forget that there are other kinds of music than her own. Her music is so indubitably odd that you wouldn't think she'd have this quality. But it all seems so normal after a few spins, the harp, the voice, the symphonic construction, the appallingly poetic lyrics. What would you even need an electric guitar for?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

And Opera for All

On Monday last I went to Lucia di Lammermoor at the Kennedy Center. I hadn't seen the opera before, and although it turned out I'd heard more than one of the arias, thanks to movies, I didn't really know what it was about. I like to enter plays/movies/books/whatevers this way, without knowledge, because it means I wind up being surprised by their pleasures, and rare is the piece that requires foreknowledge. (Some movies in recent years have obviously been written as if the audience member already knows certain things about it, or has seen the trailer, and I find this weak art.)

In this case I'm especially glad. Had I known that "the mad scene" in the opera (act III, scene 2), was so famous, or had meant so many different things to so many singers and critics and stage directors, I would have been waiting for it the whole time. As it was, I enjoyed the rest of the opera just as much. The staging was ooky and fascinating: the sets were chilly and rundown, like a Victorian orphanage; Enrico was played as a balls-out sadistic psycho creeper, whose interest in his sister was...not so brotherly; and Lucia herself was girlish and easily sympathized with.

And the opera was so beautiful. The theme of my life right now is melodrama, it's coming at me from all corners and I'm forced to think critically about it, and this was another example. Thus far every opera I've seen has been melodramatic, with emotions and situations blown all out of proportion, stretched and lengthened and belabored for two or three hours. So I suspect it's kind of a tendency of opera in general, melodrama. I find it easy to understand why opera is disliked by so many, because the way characters waffle back and forth between really silly emotions, singing on and on about them with such verve and concentration when the spectators are already so over it, is a particular set of demands on an audience that not everyone can set aside for the sake of the enjoyment to be had.

But I can. I kind of love how intensely every emotion is felt, even if it's kind of really overbaked. It's like entering a world where life doesn't seem so small, and emotions aren't the things you process and put away in order to go about your business. Everything is about the emotions. It's overblown, but it certainly validates the feelings that the music stirs in your own heart.

And the soprano who portrayed Lucia, Lyubov Petrova, was well and truly capable of stirring up astonishing feelings. She was so glorious that I very much wanted to go back again for another three hours at shocking expense to see her sing again. She was strong even at the very highest notes, and she was always singing, never screaming. She gave me chills. And her face was as expressive as her voice. After the mad scene, Lucia wound up standing on a chair with her arms raised in a "Touchdown!" posture, laughing through her madness, and poor Lyubov had to stand there for probably six or seven minutes through the clamor of applause that would not stop. She transfixed me, utterly.

(Here she is in Romeo and Juliet. It gives you a good idea of her voice, although her shocking range isn't fully in evidence there.)

The performance also featured a glass harmonica during the mad scene. My understanding is that Donizetti originally intended the aria to be accompanied by this instrument, but was talked out of it, and I'm here to tell you that although the flute arrangement is likely easier to perform, it does not compare to the eerie, unworldly effect of the glass harmonica. Recordings of it are simply not the same. I really felt like there was something wrong with the sound when I was hearing it, and it seemed to be floating from nowhere - I couldn't at all tell where in the room it was being played. (Supposedly, players of and listeners to the instrument have gone crazy due to its weird sound, and I'm surprised to find that there's actually a reason for the effects I noticed.)

I have tried to listen to recordings of opera to enjoy it. It's unlikely that every opera I want to see is going to be performed convenient to my location during my lifetime, and so I really should be able to accept opera on CD as the best thing I can manage. But I didn't enjoy it at all. I was bored. Something about seeing the people on stage utterly changes the way I consume opera, makes me totally mesmerized. I know it's partially because I'm seeing humans, in the flesh, do something extraordinary, reaching heights of beauty and ability that belong in the space capsule to represent our species to the rest of the universe. I can see and hear them breathe before they let go of that extraordinary note, and while it may seem obvious that they have to breathe, it's still kind of a miracle to me to witness it. They're alive, standing right there, reaching out to me through their talent.

Something else like this happens during the curtain call. The mask of the character is set aside, and the incredible evil of Enrico vanishes to leave this very nice-looking opera singer smiling and bowing at our applause. That's a relief, and a pleasure. It's so satisfying to applaud that man for his good work, and to see that he's just a man, after all, even if he has a capacity to sing that I'll never have. It's not something I get to do for a recording, and it's a shame, because I feel so much more distant from the music.

I chatted with the guy sitting next to me before the show started, and I mentioned I'd seen Figaro done by the Annapolis Opera. He asked me if it was any good, and I told him I thought it was great, but I really couldn't tell him if it was actually great. "I'm not a critic," I said. "I just like it." Since I can't help but keep my critic hat on for the area of my life where I consume the most media (film), and it hampers me from blind enjoyment a lot of the time, I'm really happy not knowing a damn thing about opera. Except that I like it. I love it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Long, Long Exhale

At 84,719 words, I have called a halt: I am finished with my Greenland novel.

Any writers reading this are probably snorting back laughter. Well, no, it isn't finished. It will take me probably half a year of editing and rewriting, resting and attacking again, before I can consider the book finished. And of course my inner philosophy major is asking whether a creative work can ever really be finished when the potential for different character arcs and repaired comma splices will always exist.

But I have written the last paragraph. I have wrapped up all the ends. It's over.

I don't actually remember when I first had the idea for this book. It might even have been before I moved back to Maryland in 2005. But I wrote the first 25,000 words or so in 2007. That was four years ago. The amount of time I've actually spent putting words on the page probably amounts to less than six months all told (a great deal less, probably), but I'm greatly accustomed to thinking of this book as an albatross - as something I don't know how to finish, and which has sat unfinished for so long that I despair of it. But now it's done. It's really done. I can't wrap my mind around it.

It looks at this time like I won't have anything to do with my day, so I'm trying to figure out what I should do. There's a story that I wrote enough days ago (and with enough Greenland words between then and now) that it might be ripe for revision. There's laundry, and e-mails, and administrative junk that I could do. Or I could go back to what I wrote in Greenland for the last week or so, while it's still malleable, and reshape it. I think I have to come at the big stuff fresh - did I really need all sixteen of those subplots in the last forty pages? - but the little stuff, the way things are worded and the Luquenora words I need to invent, I could get on that.

Conversely, I'm also tempted to do absolutely nothing relating to words (...after I'm finished writing this post) at all today. Maybe watch TV instead. I've put down about 20,000 words in the last week, not counting the blog or my non-creative endeavors. I could, maybe, take a break. Step awaaaay from the laptop.

But that's not really me. I'm not a compulsive writer, certainly, but I couldn't even wait until lunchtime to open up this window and plunk down my thoughts about the insane amount of writing I did yesterday.

I think I'll take the middle way, and just read. I'm in the middle of a terrific book by Joan Aiken. And if I happen to doze off, so much the better; I'm going to a midnight show tonight of...uh...a Bergman film (certainly not this, I don't know what you're talking about), and I would like to not be insanely tired tomorrow.

Champagne and expensive cheeseburgers on Friday. To celebrate. When I finally believe that I'm finished, I'll be so relieved that I won't even want to start my next book.

Yay me! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Exhaustive Creativity

Yesterday I worked, doggedly, on the Greenland novel, stopping only for food, Freecell, and Facebook breaks (and, yeah, obsessively checking the comments on my Escapist article), and I wrote about 7,000 words. I had hoped to get in 10,000, to get up over 80,000 words total, but I was utterly pooped by 10:00, so I just went to bed.

This morning I woke up wondering what, exactly, made me so tired. Why did 7,000 words of fiction coming out of my brain, into my fingers, and onto the page exhaust me? I can write a blog post about a third that length without batting an eye, usually just with the effect of feeling refreshed that all that information is set forth and no longer rattling about in my head. I felt a little whiny and foolish that I was so tired after sitting on the couch with my laptop all day, but really, I was. I felt hollowed out. This led me into wondering whether you can measure the work of creative endeavor, whether comparing the sleep depth of dock workers and fiction writers would yield any interesting results, whether the complaints of those who invent for a living can be taken seriously against those of, say, maids.

I, for one, didn't sleep particularly well. When I woke up, little snatches of the plot I'd written yesterday were floating in my mind like algae, nothing ordered or helpful, just flotsam. They kept re-cycling through my thoughts in an annoying way - yes, I've already thought about you, can't we just lie here and enjoy the soft bed?

For the last week, there's been a weird multi-phasic quality to my life: feeling as if I'm either living totally by rote, or standing outside and watching myself live, or feeling like the people I meet are just an extension of the dream I'm having and aren't external to me at all, or actually existing in the moment so vividly that I feel Sartrean. It's like being edited, like going from camera angle to camera angle.

I'm pretty sure this freakiness is because I'm daily immersing myself into a thoroughly fictional world. I think the overwhelming opera I went to on Monday night, the surreal fact of being in The Escapist and having people I don't know actually read and remark upon what I have to say, and the fact that at the moment I'm not going to work and coming home every day as I have been accustomed to do for such a long spate of years, contribute to the effect.

But I wanted this post to be about the work of creative endeavor, and whether squeezing too much fiction out of your brain means that you wind up with an empty tube, without two wits to knock together. Is it fair to call it exhausting? Is it on the same level as manual labor, just entailing a different kind of tired at the end of the day? Do different kinds of creative work have different effects? I often feel not exactly tired, but satisfied, after I work on nonfiction; I'm ready to quit putting words on the page for a while, but I don't feel - as I felt last night - that even composing a sentence to say aloud to Matt is just too damn hard.

I'd love to know what people who do other creative work all day think. Advertising writers, art directors, etc. Doing activity of any kind for a day's work can be tiring, I don't care what you do, but feeling as empty as I did last night - is that normal?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Open Up the Spumante

Two big big pieces of writing news today. And I thought today I was going to get to write a leisurely post about the opera I saw last night. HA.

First: I cracked 70,000 words on the Greenland novel this morning. I'll give you a moment as you stagger back from your monitor with your hand clutching your heart.

In all seriousness, this is a book that I've never been sure I'd finish, the idea was so ambitious and weird, and now I'm rounding third on it. There's an obstacle course, with tires and a chain-link ladder and a mean drill sergeant and everything, between me and home plate, but now I know, as I've never really known before, that I'm going to get there.

Second, and MORE IMPORTANTLY: The big news I couldn't talk about last week is, well, this. My essay on Sleep No More was accepted, and now has been published, in The Escapist. Ordinarily I would downplay my excitement about being published in an internet magazine, but as far as gaming magazines go, they don't get a whole lot better than The Escapist. They were a good enough source for the Washington Post to quote them the other day about Skyrim.

I am excessively pleased. And I think the essay came out really damn well, too, one of the few that I consider has said exactly what I wanted it to say. I had a good editor who narrowed my field a bit, which I chafed at, but ultimately she was quite right.

Come back soon for that post on opera, y'all. I promise I'll write it. Aren't you lucky?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bread and the Old Wine and Dine

Last Sunday, I had an interesting experience.

I have been a spiritual person since teenagehood, choosing to believe that God has a place and a hand in my life, but I have never been a religious person. I can count the number of times I've been to church in my life without using my toes. I believe religions tend to twist God to their ends, or restrict God to the limits of their own worldview - even the well-meaning ones do this last, I believe - and I don't understand why people are content to hear about God through others, rather than experiencing God for themselves. A few years ago I met some devout and lovely Presbyterians who explained that church is a community built around God, rather than a channel for communing with God. The community aspects of church in their lives are just as important as the God aspects (I think, if I'm not putting words in their mouths). This certainly helped me understand church, but I still didn't think I could get beyond the ritualistic and the God's what I say he is and nothing else aspects of any given church in order to worship somewhere outside my head. (I often think of a Sunday School scene in the Simpsons, when the teacher, who has asked them to draw pictures, pauses by Ralph's desk and says "Ralph, Jesus did not have wheels." I say Jesus could have wheels if you wanted him to. He's Jesus, he's everything to everyone, right?)

I have read, all over the place, that church for people who don't like church is embodied in the Unitarian Universalist church, which is open to people of all faiths and not very traditionally churchy. I have been recommended to this church in the past, but I resisted it because I didn't see the point. I am happy with my faith in God as it stands, and I don't really want to add another to-do to my weekend. Especially not if it means dressing up in church clothes and listening to someone I don't know and don't necessarily trust talk about faith, which to me is a highly personal topic.

In the past couple of months, I have experienced big emotional upheaval. I have done a lot of thinking and a decent amount of what I guess you could call praying. (I don't really think of it that way, as it's not on my knees and it's not to Jesus.) I have been unsure of what the universe wants from me and for me, and I've felt shaken, uncertain that life has the order and logic that I had thought it had. Maybe it's all just chaos, and we're trying to make sense out of it because that's what human brains do, they try to find patterns in places where there really is no pattern.

I started thinking that maybe the way to feel solid ground under me again was to go to church, to see if something would happen, if a thunderclap would help me figure out what I was supposed to do or if there was just something in the sermon that would speak to me. Maybe there were seeds to be planted. Maybe there were people who could help. Who knew? I was reaching, deeply in need, and I figured that people who reach have found help in religion for many centuries; it might work for me, too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Things Are Happening

Yesterday I started work on a story at about 1:00, and although I took time off in between to eat, watch pieces of Office Space, go to yoga class, and fuck around on the internet, I was still working at about 9:30. I'm not very happy that it took me so many hours to produce 4,000 words in draft form, but I guess it's better than producing nothing at all. I'm kind of beating my fists against the ending, and wondering whether the framing device will or should hold up, and I feel like there's something else I have to say in the story, on the tip of my tongue, and can't quite get it out. I think I need a few days or weeks to let it rest before cutting it open again.

I have been given the gift of a week to do nothing but write, and although I'm nervous about the source of the gift, it's still overwhelmingly a good thing. Today is the day I need to get down to business at it, so as not to waste the gift, and I've already procrastinated away two hours on Jon Stewart and Slate and, now, this blog. I have something to do at 1:00 that will take an indeterminate amount of time, and I'm pretty sure I'm just going to take a book with me instead of my laptop - that would be really pretentious, right? - but if I can't get the machine clanking away between now and then, I might compromise and take a notebook. There are always more characters and storylines to be brainstormed, always more Luquenora words to be conjured up.

I've mentioned before that it bothers me how I tend to get excited about certain things in my life, effuse about them to others, and then have to downplay that excitement when my life takes a turn in another direction. In the last few months I've made a concerted effort to change this. Because there's no changing the dilettantish aspect, I've just started to shut my damn mouth about things, tried hard not to blurt out everything going on for me to everyone who asks. This isn't particularly hard, but I think it adds to the general theme of standoffishness that colors much of my interaction with the world of late. I'm in a position of not having to consider this standoffishness a problem for the immediate future - a blessing - but for a long time now it has been one.

In the last couple of weeks a lot of things have happened that, on my old anonymous blog, I would have burst forth about in great geysers of melodramatic prose. But the situation is still enough in flux that I'm embarrassed to say anything, really, only to have to retract it in a few days when I have more information. I don't think anyone would blame me for the uncertainty or the change-and-change-again aspect of this information, because it's all external, not me being flaky. But I'd rather just say nothing until I know more.

At this point I feel like I'm being deliberately cryptic, but I think that's a jerky thing to do on blogs, so I assure you I'm not. I'd rather tell you that I feel muzzled than write short posts that don't hint anything is happening at all. THINGS ARE HAPPENING. They're just not happening with consistency or speed or transparency.

Transparency would be nice, actually. In a couple of weeks, when all of this uncertainty passes, that's going to be my keyword for this blog.

Something I want to tell everybody but I'm afraid to, because they'll judge me for taking such an action when I am not actually working at a paying job: I bought a new laptop. I am still mourning about it a little because I needed a new one and just plain couldn't afford a Mac. So I bought an HP with Windows 7 for, including the cost of Office software and after rebates et al, just under $500. Less than half as much as a comparable Mac.

And I really like this one. It's got everything I need and some extra bells and whistles besides. I'm sorry, Apple Gods! I wanted to buy my third Mac laptop. I just couldn't manage it right now. And for various (legitimate!) reasons, I needed a new laptop.

Plus, it's shiny.

OKAY that's enough procrastination. Off I go into the wild.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Writing from the Brain Stem

I had some really good news yesterday as regards writing, but its specifics are going to have to wait. It hurts me more than it hurts you.

Today I have the following plans: take car in for oil change and painful gouging alignment/brakes fixing, possibly get haircut, and write short story. I mentioned that I came up with an idea last week at yoga class, and seeing as it's been marinating a week with only a couple of paragraphs actually put on the page, I think it's time for me to stop procrastinating and write the damn thing. I'm intimidated by it, though, because it feels like the successor to my most successful story to date, and I don't want to fuck it up. Worrying about that before it's on the page is bound to do nothing but paralyze, but there it is.

I also really must go back to Greenland. My cousin-in-law is doing NaNoWriMo, and as I watch her page count climb via Facebook, I start to feel ashamed that I've stalled at 59,000 words for my own novel. I'm just a couple of scenes away from the end of the middle third of the book, and I'm incredibly uncertain that the third third should go the way that I've intended it to go for the last five years of having the book in mind. I feel like that last third could go a number of other ways, and I feel...scrambly, like I'm running out of time and should be putting together an outline or just a plan of some kind, hurry quick before it's too late. (This is a total fallacy, because as I sit here and don't write it only becomes less urgent for me to come up with the ending.)

But the best ending I think I've ever devised, for the science fiction novella I wrote a couple of years ago, was a complete and utter surprise right up to the fateful sentences. I had no idea that was how the book ended until I wrote it. So I'm trying to kind of stay loose with the ending of this one, to write through it and just see what happens. Maybe not the smartest solution, but my anxiety about it isn't going to magic a plot out of thin air.

Maybe brainstorming would be of use. Jot some possible endings (or all possible endings I can think of), just to put them in my mind, so my writing-brain can draw on them on the point of writing it all.

The writing-brain. That's a useful concept. I believe both that stories come from somewhere, from an interdimensional muse, and come from the hard work of kneading through one word at a time. A lot of the time I'm writing through the Fictator, through the me that plunks down one word at a time, painfully, Frank Conroy-style. But some of the time I'm writing in that zone of nowhere, through the me that composes sentences and paragraphs without even consulting the Fictator and has no anxiety or procrastination in her heart at all.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Kinder, Gentler Overdose

When I first hear a song that I really love, I tend to over-listen to it. I listen to it in the car both to and from work, I listen to it at home on repeat, I pound it into my brain for a week or more before I've had enough of it. All manner of songs have been subject to this treatment, from Paul Simon to Lady Gaga. A couple of years ago, that song was "Come to Me" by Wah!, a kirtan artist of great repute and popularity.

The world of kirtan reminds me a lot of the world of Christian music; it's a whole subculture of people buying and selling and sharing music and attending concerts that goes on more or less entirely under the radar of people who aren't aware of it. I believe there's probably good music and unfortunate excess in both genres. There certainly is in kirtan. At its worst it's repetitive and kind of self-indulgent, with no value to a wide audience unused to its negatives. Ganga White said to us at teacher training that there's something funny to him about chanting to excess - Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Hare Krishna over and over and over, every hour of every day, gets worn into your brain such that your brain maybe can't develop new patterns. As long as your dominant pattern is Hare Krishna, you may not wind up growing very much in your spiritual journey. I'm paraphrasing very badly, but what he said made good sense to me, that chanting in great extremes leads to a failure of imagination.

That said, part of what I love most about "Come to Me" is about six and a half minutes in, when she switches to Sanskrit. The Amrita chant she does is so lovely, and so understated, that it always makes me feel consoled. (Appropriate for a song that's about Amma.)

On Tuesday, I attended the yoga class at Whole Yoga that I enjoyed so much three weeks ago and subbed for last week. I hope I can go to it regularly. One of the songs on the mix for class was a re-do of "Come to Me" that Wah! released on a more recent album - it's slower and shorter than the nine-minute version I love so much from Hidden in the Name. But it reminded me that I hadn't listened to the song in probably over a year. I had over-listened to it on my old iPod, and had never put the song on my new iPod when I bought it in 2009. Hearing her lyrics on Tuesday night made me feel old, loved, held, tired, mournful and rejuvenated all at once.
Come to me
I will take away your sorrow, come to me
I will open your tomorrow, come to me
I will open up your heart, come to me
We will never be apart
Not, perhaps, the most creative lyrics on planet Earth - kirtan lyrics rarely are - but her melody is simple, convincing, full of free-floating love. I couldn't find the long version on YouTube, but this website will play it for you via MySpace.

The following morning, I paid $0.99 to download the song to my iPhone so I could listen to it on the way to work. I sang along. I over-listened to it for most of last week. Then, on Friday, when I was full of jitters and loose ends and terror about my last day of work and what it held for me, I just kept the song in a little pocket in my mind, murmuring "Remove all fear, come from where you are to here," when I felt sad or anxious. It helped so immensely - it's a great debt I have to this song, now, for its soothing powers during the past week.

Even so, I think the song helps to demonstrate what Ganga said, because when she makes jai ma into the chorus toward the end of the song (jai ma is perhaps the most basic and widespread of all chants, and the one most likely to be irrevocably patterned into Wah!'s brain), it feels like a bit of a creative failure. I'll still sing along, but it seems like overkill that she put the Sanskrit in there at all. She could have just repeated the earlier lyrics. But instead, she's got to work jai ma in there somewhere, because everything comes back to jai ma, jai ma, jai jai ma.

I still haven't managed to insert this song into any of my class mixes. It's too soft for the majority of the music I use in vinyasa classes (which is stuff like Thievery Corporation and Cafe Del Mar), and it's too bouncy for restorative or yin classes. I'll figure out a chill mix to put it in, because others deserve the gift this song gave me, but it'll have to be next week, when I have time enough at last to pick through my music as I've been wanting to for months. I'm thinking of putting together a mix called Inevitably Makes Me Feel Better (or something rather more catchy), with "Rocket Man" and "When I Come Around" and "Enter Sandman" and "Come to Me" and others on there, songs that never, ever fail to fix whatever ails me for four or five minutes.

Friday, November 4, 2011


For three years, I blogged anonymously, elsewhere, and I let it ALL hang out. There were virtually no subjects that I didn't tell the truth about, even when no one asked. I talked about my relationships, wrote at great length about what was in my head, griped about work, let loose my perspective about all kinds of issues. Anonymity was a privilege, and I respected and enjoyed it enormously.

Now that I'm using my real name, I feel a great deal more limited. This evening, I was putting together a post in my head about something that I was feeling and experiencing that was benign and harmless and mostly about me, and I realized that in order to say what I wanted to say, I'd have to give my opinion about an aspect of the yoga world (kirtan, specifically), and that I might offend a small portion of the population in doing so - or at least let them know, in definite terms, what that opinion was. If we've learned little else from the last five years in America, it's that opinions can be dangerous, can pigeonhole people in damaging ways. Even if this particular opinion isn't going to get me arrested, it's a block about me that people can check off in their heads: that yoga teacher feels that way about kirtan, so I'll never go to one of her classes. So I'm hesitant to let my opinions out for air, here, because I'm trying to make this blog as public as it can be, and I don't want to offend or turn anyone away. That is the very last thing I ever want to do as I go about my life.

The problem is, that leaves me with only the most generic personal things to say. My worry about pigeonholing and rejection extends to just about every subject imaginable, and that means that this blog doesn't have any teeth, any personal edge that might keep you reading even if you disagree with me.

I'm going to try to open up in the future, starting with this kirtan thing - I'm going to write the post as I wanted to write it (maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, but it's coming!), and when the world doesn't explode, I'll try to write some more. I'm just gun-shy, concerned that now, because I don't have the protective awning of anonymity over my head, I'm going to be subject to kangaroo courts and the judgment of strangers, all of whom know who I really am. I recognize that I am not exactly a prominent defendant in the court of public opinion, so perhaps I'm worrying over nothing. But as Aaron Sorkin reminded us so eloquently in The Social Network, the internet isn't written in pencil. It's written in ink. And who knows what the future will bring to me?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vice Versus Om

Over the last several months, alcohol consumption gradually became a nightly thing for me rather than a few-times-weekly-if-at-all thing. Every night I was so frustrated by what had happened during the day that the mental and emotional smear resulting from a glass of wine or a bottle of Leinenkugel became something of a crutch. I never went beyond two drinks in an evening, and didn't frequently go beyond one. (It also helped me get over my fear of the empty page so I could ease into nightly writing.)

This worried me, as I watched it happening. I knew that I wasn't exactly in wino territory (and that it might be a little absurd to worry about one drink per evening), but growing dependent on that mild smear was troubling, nevertheless. When things changed again a few weeks ago, I stopped drinking altogether - didn't have the time - and I was glad to find that the crutch wasn't actually a dependency.

What I did do a few weeks ago was smoke a single clove cigarette. I had had a few left in a pack that I kept in my glove compartment "for emergencies" for the five years that I haven't been a smoker, and one night when I really desperately wanted one, I smoked one. I wrote a very good essay about it and quashed my guilt as best I could. Matt and a friend have insisted that it's all right for me to let loose some stress by smoking once in a very great while, and I'm choosing to believe them. Unfortunately, clove cigarettes were outlawed during the five years I wasn't smoking them, and now you can't get them in this country. You can get clove cigarillos, which I'm guessing are virtually the same product, and yesterday I went to a tobacco shop in downtown Annapolis and bought a pack. (Of 12. For $8. Gaaaah.)

Last night there was a yoga class I had planned to attend, but all I could think about as I was leaving work was the pack of cigarillos in my purse and the lone Leinie's in my fridge at home. That was what I wanted to do with my evening. I'm 90% over the cold that's been dogging me for over a week, and I wanted to smoke a clove on the way home and then make dinner and drink a beer and get going again on the Greenland book. I didn't want to go to yoga and purify; I wanted to consume chemicals and toxify.

I went to yoga. Despite traffic, despite hunger, despite the crowded room, I went back to the mat. I knew it was the right thing to do.

It was a good class. I really like this teacher. He's not obsessed with strength, he has a good presence and a good voice, and his adjustments are great. I might have even gotten a story idea out of class; time and drafting will tell.

This evening, though, nothing is going to keep me from my vices. I really want to know what these cigarillos are like, and that one beer in the fridge has to be lonely. I'll happily end its suffering.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Opera(ting) Alone

I just bought meself a ticket to see Lucia di Lammermoor at the Kennedy Center in two weeks. I really do like opera - not universally, not to the point where I forgive its many shortcomings or can say that I "love" opera - but to the point where I don't want to miss a world-class performance of an opera I've never seen if it's reasonably convenient for me to go. The last time I went to an opera (The Marriage of Figaro, and I loved it deeply) I felt like I'd run a marathon when it was over, so if I'm not exactly excited, I'm pleased and looking forward to it. I got a (shitty) orchestra seat, and I like being able to see the faces, so yay.

I only bought one ticket. Matt's father is sometimes my opera buddy (his wife and my husband are not so much fans of it, so this often works out), but I thought it would be just too much trouble to coordinate both of us going, and I wanted to go ahead and get a ticket before they were gone.

I don't mind going to things alone. The first time I did this was when The Little Mermaid came back to theaters in 1997. I was a teenager. At the time, Pixar had not yet made animation cool, and I was so embarrassed by my desire to see it on the big screen (hadn't seen it on its original release when I was seven) that I didn't even ask any of my friends if they wanted to go with me. I just went alone. And I had the most marvelous time. I wasn't the least bit ashamed of going by myself because I'd enjoyed myself so much.

I've been to lots of movies by myself since: Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Royal Tenenbaums (I walked out of that one, and if I'd been with somebody I probably would have suffered through it instead), This Is It, Bridesmaids. I went to The Lion King rerelease a few weeks ago by myself; Matt wasn't interested. I'm explaining this at length because it seems like the normal thing in America is for movies to be a social event, and I don't always see it that way. If I go by myself, I can enjoy the movie without self-consciousness, and I can leave if I don't like it, and I can sit wherever I want to. For me, the only negative, honestly, is that I can't go to the bathroom because I have nobody to tell me what happened while I was gone. But I think it's pretty awful to go to the bathroom during the movies anyway, since you're drawn out of the experience - which is virtually the only advantage the cinema has these days.

Anyway, I have no real problem going to the Kennedy Center by myself in two weeks. I had Matt with me the last time I went there, a few months ago for a strange dance concert, and I'll miss his company during intermission, but I don't want to subject him to Lucia di Lammermoor when it's not really his thing.

I didn't write last night. It's over a week now since I worked on the Greenland book, which makes me feel guilty and anxious, but my life kind of collapsed on itself in the last two weeks, and I'm having to pick through the rubble and do things like laundry and grocery shopping that didn't get done while I was imploding. I'm coming out of it with a new Thursday night yoga class, which is good, and a lot more optimism about what's ahead. But there's a good deal more rebuilding to do.