Friday, March 30, 2012

The Loneliest Number

I'm not going to indulge in self-pity now that Matt has gone to California as of this morning. Women send their husbands to war zones every day; less dramatically, there are lots of long-distance relationships out there, many of them lasting for years. But I am having a very hard time concentrating on my work right now.

There's this (thanks to Tiffany):

I don't think music actually gets much better than this. It's the best new thing I've heard in eons, knocking me over the head with itself. Some elements are thieved rather shamelessly from "Cecilia", but aside from that (or if you can get over it, which I can), this song reinforces all the stuff about which I rant without cease about how much value pop has for us as a culture.

Listening to the rest of the album, they also steal from Queen (duh) and Elton John, among others. Watch me try to care. The melting pot of influences and larceny is how we get stuff like David Bowie and Beck, after all.

I'm not sure if I'll put in much of a workday, after all. My brain's not working that efficiently.

I submitted a couple of stories this morning, and I've got my book sitting next to me. The proofs came yesterday. I've more or less read it again, and found a bunch of errors I need to fix for the next round, and there's really no reason for me to pick up the paperback and read it yet once more. But it's so appealing, sitting there.

In book form, by me.  

I just want to pick it up and flip through it over and over. But there's no reason to. Can you imagine how I'll be when I'm actually published, when I've got a book in real bookstore format? I'll strap it to my chest like a sack of flour and carry it around with me. Yeulgh.

Here's the blurb I wrote about it, below. Comments welcome. I still need to do the elevator pitch, etc.

But not today.
All Available Time: a novel about relationships and regret through the lens of malleable time. Pushing thirty and disconnected from much of her life, Elaine Robinson travels with her five best friends to a remote lodge in central Virginia for a week of quiet and camaraderie. But the lodge has an unexpected resident: an old and heartless Timelooker, a being with the power to manipulate time and bend it to her whims. As they struggle to outwit this creature, Lainey and her friends must also confront matters of time and loss that they haven't laid to rest. Long-dead family members refuse to be consigned to memory, and long-buried emotions erupt in the present. A journey into the murkiness of the human heart, as well as across two centuries, All Available Time is a supernatural thriller that is nevertheless deeply felt and redemptive. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

One is Silver and the Other Gold

This week I've been caught up with petty drama, saying a drawn-out byyyyyye to Matt (he leaves in, like, 36 hours and won't be back for, at the earliest, another 1008 hours after that), e-mailing back and forth with old friends and miraculous new ones (more about that shortly), and wanting to do nothing else aside from read this book. It's a library book right now but I'm definitely going to buy it sooner or later.

I am troubled by the book, for numerous reasons: 1) it feels like a cash-in on DFW's death, which is irredeemably shitty, if true; 2) it has a stupid deckle edge, and having read a few of them in the last several months, I now officially hate reading deckle-edged books, they feel horrible in my hands; 3) it is edited in such a way that it's very difficult to read, if you ask me, with many stops and starts and notes from the author [interviewer] that you can't tell when they were written, and which sometimes refer to a sort of inner dialogue the author [interviewer] is having with himself and only partially lets you in on; 4) it is dude-tacular, in an unsurprising but sort of depressing way. But it's also jammed with fascinating little paragraphs about DFW, writing, and life in general, and all of that specific and exceptional good outweighs the general issues I have with the book.

Prior to this I read Meghan Daum, like I said I would (and was disappointed by her book in a way that sort of took me aback. I thought she was a lot more like me than she turned out to be, and it felt weirdly like she disdained me, which is impossible since I was reading her previously-created work), and I got about halfway through Edna O'Brien's most recent book of short stories before I had to stop. I got to working full-bore on revising the [non-]horror novel and reading any fiction other than my own would have fucked me up. But I also had to take my mind off of the book so I could sleep, hence the DFW interviewesque book. Which, as I noted, is addicting. So I'll go back to O'Brien after I'm done with the Davids.

Re: new friends. I read an essay on the internet some weeks ago that just blew me away in its awesomeness. It was about a mother who advised her daughter, a new college grad just getting her feet wet in the adult world, to quit a well-paying office job that her daughter truly hated. The job was sucking her soul away, and Mom, although nervous about the economy and whatnot, told her daughter to go on and quit the job, take a barista job, and things would just have to work out from there. I thought this was such exceptional advice--advice that I had to give myself when all the authoritative voices in my head were screaming from the opposite side of the balcony, and I felt sure they were dead dang wrong (and six months in, they certainly have been)--that I wrote her an e-mail and told her thank you for being such a good mom to her daughter, and how much I wished I had an adult like her to have confidence in me.

To my great surprise, she wrote back very rapidly (that day, as I remember), thoughtfully and touchingly, telling me to consider her one of those adults, and to keep her posted on the things that go on for me. I thought it would be stupid to let an opportunity like this one get away and told her that I was planning to flog my book at the writers' conference in April, so if something big happened there, she'd be on the e-mail list. Several more missives went back and forth, and the other day I attached the PDF of my [non-]horror novel to her in an e-mail. I told her it was in beta stage (her (perfect) word, actually) and that I'd love any feedback.

She's the first author I've been significantly in touch with (more than just one e-mail back and forth, I mean) who has an agent and a platform and everything. She's both self-published and traditionally published, and is also a ghostwriter. It's kind of daunting to have a pen pal like this, but I'm finally not too deaf to hear opportunity when it knocks, even if it's a soft knock, so I'm awfully glad I wrote that e-mail.

Another good thing about having done so is that she asked me in her second e-mail to "send me a blurb", and it forced me to actually write a blurb for the horror novel. And I think it's not terrible. Maybe I'll post it here, next time I'm able to actually sit down and pound out a post. On Saturday, perhaps, when the house will be really, really empty, me by my lonesome on the last day of March.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Well. The open-door draft of the horror novel is complete, the formatting is done, and 10 copies have been ordered from Lulu. Of course I noticed several errors this morning when doing my one-last-chorus roll through the proof version, but they'll be fixed in the next round, if I need a next round. I am so relieved to be done, and really proud of myself for steaming through it in four days.

Although I don't know what else to call it here for the sake of quick reference, calling it "the horror novel" doesn't feel too accurate anymore. When I was first writing I envisioned it as a sort of genre-toasting romp, with delightful gore and a monster under the stairs and calls coming from inside the house and whatnot, but it just didn't come out that way. (I never even managed to put in "I'll be right back." Sad face.) It has a few horror elements, but it's a lot more about the relationships between the characters, and includes a few tablespoons of philosophy about time. Not terribly gory, either. Matt suggested "supernatural thriller", which is about right. He said he was never scared while reading it, but I reminded him that he knew the whole plot, and so knew what would come out okay and what wouldn't.

It's tight. It's ready for an audience. And since I've taken most of a week off from paid work to do it, I'm really pleased to be finished.

Since the poll below has resulted in a dead split, I decided to go with Version 2, the version I wrote originally. I still see Matt's point, but I wrote the danged thing and I liked it the way it was. Thanks to all who participated.

I think I'm going to hold off mostly on further composing until things settle out with our geographical situation. The next pieces of work in front of me are revisions on the Greenland book, which I can't really do until summer because of a grant I applied for (it would be dishonest to do the work the grant is supposed to fund before finding out if I won the grant); plotting out the Marilyn book, which I'm not very enthused about for various reasons; revising a couple of short stories that ended up not winning anything or being accepted, so I can send them out to more places; and writing a few essays and/or stories I've sketched out in my little stained-glass notebook. And the unhappy task of promotional material for the [non-]horror novel - query letters, synopses, elevator pitches, etc.

The Marilyn book is the big project. It stems from a short story I wrote about five years ago, intended to be the first chapter, and while I'm reasonably proud of the story, the idea is really the 24K gold of it. I think it might have been done before, but not by me, and it's an idea wide enough that it should be okay. The thing about it is, all I have is a faint shape of what's going to happen in the book, and I need to come up with a whole cast of characters and a context in which to put the thread of plot I have in mind. The last two books, the Greenland book and the [non-]horror novel, both had tens of thousands of words plunked down, about the first third of them written in years past, and I only had to go back and finish what I'd started. This one has about 2,000 words, tops. So it's a bit overwhelming to think about getting started. It may not make sense, but it feels like I'm heading into an actual different job than the prior one. Like I was a car mechanic for the last two books, and suddenly I'm being asked to work on jet engines.

Revising the stories is not an encouraging prospect. Much as I dislike revising in generally, I really hate revising stories - it feels oddly like a waste of time, and it's so intricate and fiddly. Like watch repair, or bomb defusing. Writing the essays isn't appealing either. I've become intimidated by how much astonishingly good creative nonfiction there is out there, and I feel like my essays make small and inessential points.

Whine, whine. The upshot is, I'm going to leave off new writing except for a few little projects here and there until probably mid-summer, and just bend my head to the money-work for the time being. I might try to plot out the Marilyn novel, but probably not, not until I have to. I sincerely hope that something will happen at the writers' conference in April to kick things into gear for me, but I'm not relying on it. I will have to take the promo stuff for the [non-]horror novel there, though, so I'll be working on that for the next few weeks in between money-work. It is very very hard to write summaries and pitches for your own work, I'm here to tell you. I mean, I wrote 90,000 words because just a paragraph about this topic and characters simply wouldn't do, and now I have to go back to a paragraph? And write it in engaging but non-salesman-y language? Shyeah. Harder than writing the book, dammit.

I am going to take today off of all work except the class I'm teaching. Get back to the grindstone on Monday. Yesterday was a long day; I revised straight from about 12:45 p.m. to about 11:15 p.m. Towards the end I kept yelling down to Matt that "Formatting is FUN!" Because it is not. Not.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Revising (Like a Boss)

Yesterday I gave up entirely on the idea that I could work productively, meet my teaching responsibilities, meet my interpersonal responsibilities, and still find large chunks of time to revise the horror novel. I did $16 worth of contracting work (I try to do $80-$100 per day normally), and after lunch I plunked on the couch and put on Joanna Newsom and dug in.

I wrote a good book. I'd like to qualify that with "I think", but it would be false humility. I'm sure I wrote a good book. It took me 6+ hours to get through it completely, keeping in mind the one big piece of feedback Matt gave me as well as the few smaller ones, and at the end of it I was dazed and optimistic. I really have faith in this one; I remember a great deal more uncertainty about the Greenland book than I have here. I'm planning to take today and implement the revisions I found I need to make, possibly spilling over into Friday. After I sleep on the revisions, I'll take some time this weekend to reformat it, send the PDF to Lulu, and have it printed. Then the few of you who've enlisted will start getting copies in the mail.

I had started to feel, yesterday, as if the book's progress was slipping away, and I was forgetting that this is the work, this is the important stuff. Work for money is required, but to go back to thinking that it's not the important work of my life is not something I want to do. That attitude is in the past, I'm finished with it.

I do need some help with the first paragraph. Matt suggested that I reorder the sentences in the paragraph to put the stuff with the emotional punch first, and I edited and read it over both ways and I just can't decide. I like locating the punch at the end, and the first sentence was one of those poof inspirations so I hate to move it, but I can't shake the feeling that he might be correct. It's the first paragraph, the first sentences of the book, so out of everything in the not-quite-90,000 words, it needs to be the most perfect. I'll excerpt it and embed a poll below, so you can tell me which you like better. (I won't say which is which.)

And now, to revisions.

Version 1:

There was a picture on the bureau that Elaine never looked at. She left it turned at an angle, so the light through the blinds bounced off the glass obliquely, and there was no way for her to look at Lucy's eight-year-old smile unless she picked up the frame and wiped the dust off of it and looked. She kept it on the bureau because she was sure it was the right thing to do, because the little red-haired girl in the picture had been her sister. But Elaine didn't want to think about Lucy, didn't want to acknowledge the coming and then going of Lucy even in quick glances as she got ready for work. So she never did.

Version 2:

There was a picture on the bureau that Elaine never looked at. She kept it there because she was sure it was the right thing to do, because the little red-haired girl in the picture had been her sister. But she didn't want to think about Lucy, didn't want to acknowledge the coming and then going of Lucy even in quick glances as she got ready for work. So she left the picture turned at an angle, so the light through the blinds bounced off the glass obliquely, and there was no way for her to look at Lucy's eight-year-old smile unless she picked up the frame and wiped the dust off of it and looked. And she never did.

Which one do you prefer?

Monday, March 19, 2012

An Afforded Opportunity

SO. Writers' conference.

I have a wary relationship with anything geared directly toward unproven writers - conferences, MFA programs, Writer's Digest contests, enthusiastic agents, nondenominational groups that meet at Barnes & Noble twice a month. I fear that, more often than not, these things are designed to take your money and leave your head swimming with feedback that may or may not be of use. Beyond this, a common perk is the dreaded networking opportunity, which, for a writer like me who pines for the garret and the publisher reached by post, is not so much a positive aspect of such situations.

Once upon a time, a blogger whose posts I used to read went to a writer's conference, and I read about his experience. I had a middling opinion of his work; I had never read any of the writing he was trying to flog at the conference and thence had a likely unfair opinion of what he wrote, but I thought his blog posts were fairly pedestrian and undeveloped. He talked about the agent pitch meeting he went to and the people he met and the events he attended and whatnot, and I was burning with such terrible envy that I knew then my days reading his blog were numbered. He could afford the conference, you see. He had the money for it, and I didn't, and hence I would never get the opportunities he was getting.

There's a lot wrong with my reaction to this blogger - way too much to parse in this space - but the point I'm trying to make is that I never thought I could afford a writers' conference, and hence never really wanted to go to one. It was a toy I was too jealous of to try and acquire. I also found the concept of conferences essentially unfair, because if writing is really a matter of being afforded opportunities once you can...afford them, this is extremely wrong.

Now I'm in the position of being afforded this opportunity whether I can really afford it or not, and I find myself still kind of tangled about it. I feel resigned, as if okay, I guess it's time to do this, I've been avoiding it (whether because I genuinely couldn't afford it or just didn't want to afford it) for a long long time and now I really can't say no to this friend of mine who wants me to go and I actually have a decent book to flog and it's TIME TO FACE THE MUSIC.

There's a lot else that contributed to my decision to go on and do this - the location, a part of the country I've always wanted to see; the friend, whom I've wanted to meet in person for going on four years; the fact that Matt will be away in California and I will feel ever more empty and achy without him by late April and will want distraction very badly; and the fact that I actually sort of can afford it (which for various reasons has knocked me flat, emotionally, that I can sort of afford it). Mostly I keep seeing this:

Yeah. When? Huh, genius? Now's the time.

I travel so rarely, and enjoy it so little, that my net reaction is to view the conference with trepidation. There's happy excitement, and there's dread, but mostly just "what is going to happen? what is it going to be like? is anything going to change or will I be the same person, with the same confidence and the same relationship with Dame Fortune, on the plane ride home?"

Most times that I go on and go out with friends, rather than begging off because I'm too shy or home is too appealing for me to agree to go out, I have a good time and don't regret it. All the times I've gone running in the past couple of weeks, I have not once wanted to, but have never regretted it. I'm not sure I'm really getting across why I am reluctant to go to this conference, nor why I decided to go anyway, but I'm more than sure that this will be another one of those times, when I didn't want to, did it anyway, and everything was hunky-dory.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Better Than Nothing

I've been meaning to write this post since Thursday, just to keep that insecure mess from being the first thing you see on this page, and to keep on writing every other day as I had been. But I've also been meaning to answer e-mails to three or four people and write e-mails to at least two more. I'm having difficulty doing anything much except what I have to do, i.e. work and make meals and run on the treadmill (literal and figurative) and teach yoga and keep going. I don't know how it happened, but there don't seem to be enough hours in the day, anymore, again. I think I'm going to have to knock off my copy-editing job one day this week to catch up on e-mails and get a damn grip.

On one of the last two evenings, I don't know which one, I opened up this New Post window to type in a note about what I would absolutely for-sure write about the next day, to motivate me to say something, for sure and certain. This is what I typed:
i'm a fraud, not a grownup 
I don't actually know how I was going to turn that into a coherent post that had something to do with writing, and wouldn't just be a sad admission before bedtime. So now it's kind of a curiosity. I remember thinking something about there being strength in this admission while I was typing it, not weakness, but I really have no idea what subject matter I was kneading at the time.

I still haven't started revising the horror novel! That deserves an exclamation point because I can't believe I haven't done it yet. It now has a deadline for revisions, because Maleesha somehow snake-oiled me into going to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference (WHERE ARE THE APOSTROPHES, YOU'RE WRITERS, GAAAH), and I set up a pitch meeting there, and the finished book that's closer to ready for a pitch meeting is the horror book, and I really really need to get 'er ready. Really. It's only just over a month away. Why haven't I started?

The decision that I made to go to the writers' conference should be a post in itself. Which I think I'll save for my next post (tomorrow? if I knock off work?), because right now I have to go and teach. Where did my hours go?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Normal

It's okay that you can't sleep. Dealing with big, difficult things is...big. And difficult.

But I have to get up in, like, five hours. And to teach yoga to a bunch of stubbornly unsmiling adults about whom I can't stop wondering why they're not at work. 

That doesn't mean you can just turn sleep on and off like a switch. Some people are wired up with switches, and you're not one of them.

Maybe you should get up and do something else. Take your mind off it.

Like what? If I read, I'll have to turn a light on, which will disturb Matt (who does have a switch). And that book I'm reading is so addictive I'll probably just be up all night reading it. If I write, I'll have to type, which will probably disturb him, too. And what could I have to say? All I'll write about is the anxiety that's keeping me awake, worrying over what's ahead like well-thumbed beads in a rosary. Anyway, it won't take my mind off it.  

Have you tried relaxing your shoulders and breathing at the ceiling?


Have you tried letting the thoughts drift like clouds? That thing you repeat over and over in your restorative classes?


Tried the heating pad? Tried reminding yourself how comfortable the bed is?

Yep and yep. Nothing's working. I'm awake and I can't sleep. 

You could always try working through the revisions you need to make, mentally, or trying to do math in your head.

I don't have any math that needs doing. And trying to do revisions mentally sends me around in confusing repetitive circles, like the teacup ride, and I never have any insights worth remembering. 

Why don't you get up anyway? Matt will forgive you for waking him with your keyboard.

I know. But he's dealing with this big shit too. It's awesome, but it's big and it's scary and we're in the same little boat, and the tide is rocking us both awake. It's not nice of me to whine on about my own trouble coping. 

Can't you come to any conclusions that will satisfy you temporarily? Just to get those five hours, before you have to teach?

No. It's too big, too new and foreign. And anyway when I think about relaxing I worry about the groin muscle I seem to have pulled today. How will I teach through that? 

I'm asking the questions here.


It might not be a bad pull. You might sleep on it and find it's nothing in the morning. Just like the rest of this: in a year, it'll all be old news. There'll be a new normal.

I know that. It doesn't stop now from being a white-knuckle sleepless night. 

Heard that, sister.

Bed will be warm. 

Bed will be comfortable. 

I'm going to try again. 

That's the spirit.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Although "Completism and Infinite Jest" Sounds Like a Decent Thesis

In the same day, I finished episode number 45 of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and page 981 (the last page before ~100 pages of footnotes, which I also read (except for the one about Pemulis's calculus equation, no, sorry, but no)) of Infinite Jest. Marathons, both, and now completed. And not entirely dissimilar, for what it's worth; interesting to consume in tandem. There's a little sadness in my heart for both completions. I'll never watch any Monty Python sketches for the first time again, which is a little sad. And I'm finished with a Big Literary Project - certainly the biggest and most difficult single book I've ever read - which, while frustrating, had moments of great transcendence that I'm sorry to let go of.

My mom asked me if it was good, if I enjoyed it, and I said that I couldn't really answer that. I told Matt that I enjoyed it immensely on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph basis, because the writing is so utterly unlike anything else in its virtuosity. So enjoyable to read Wallace doing that work - like watching Baryshnikov dance, I told Mom. But on the whole, it was a slog, and I won't pretend that it wasn't. I'm not smart enough as to have picked up everything that went on, and I think ultimately I am not smart enough not to be frustrated by the lack of conclusion in the book. I think Wallace had a real intention and purpose in beginning and ending thoroughly in medias res, without starting a story or ending it in a way that makes linear or traditional narrative sense. But I like to read, and I do not like to be a literary critic, and I wanted a conclusion.

See here for some reactions of readers upon reaching the end of Infinite Jest. I identify most strongly with "Ongoing"'s two sentences. I also listened to this half-hour interview with Wallace, done in 1996, about the book, and felt on the whole much more settled about having read it, less of a love-hate rage, after hearing his nice measured articulate voice and foul mouth. Despite the business about having actually structured the book mathematically, to which my reaction was "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?" However, smart as he is (and popular as he apparently is), I found the interviewer intolerable to listen to, and I don't know how he got into radio.

Next on my list is Then We Came to the End, which was a seriously hot book a couple of years ago and which I'm just now getting around to. 50 pages in it's pretty good and lots of fun, and maybe I'm seeing phantoms, but I see some annoying Wallace influence in it - the sort of bunch-of-random-sentences-squashed-into-one-paragraph thing, which I am not really in love with as a style. I thought it would be a relief to read something NOT written by someone brilliant beyond the ordinary realm (sorry, Joshua Ferris, but I hope you know what I mean), and it is, but Edna O'Brien is next, and then Meghan Daum. I'm tired of dudes.

As for my own work, a couple of lovely people got back to me about the Greenland book, and their feedback was helpful. One reader had this very interesting approach to certain aspects of the story, one that I never, ever would have thought of, not if you'd given me a hundred years to sort through potential reader reactions. I wish I could be more specific. Take my word that I was flummoxed and amused.

Also, I think I'm finally ready to stop fucking around and revise the horror book. I bought a red pen especially, and more than one person has agreed to read it. This process is so frustrating, y'all: writing, then revising, then reader one (Matt), then more revising, then additional readers, then hounding them all for feedback, then MORE revising, and then putting together the materials to begin hounding agents/editors, which I'm not even ready to do yet. I find myself wondering (wistfully) how people even wrote good books before the present day, when it was all typewriters and garrets and letters by post.

I read a book last fall that was set in the early 19th century in Britain wherein the main character wrote and then sold an adventure novel. It was all so simple. She wrote it, longhand, exactly as she intended to write it, and when finished, read it through once without doing much of anything to it. Her local bookshop-owner read it, loved it, and sent it to a publisher-friend. With some mild edits, it was printed and published and she received a draft for a few hundred pounds in the mail. *snap* Like that. Now I'm all wrapped up with revisions and platforms and the rules for writing a winning synopsis, and ensuring that I get enough reader feedback to make sense out of my draft, and serious novelists taking four years to write a book, and blaaaaaaaah. Can't it be more simple than this without questioning oneself? Or is it actually better this way, with more committee action and extroversion?

I wanted to write a post relating the experience of reading all six books of the original Dune saga to reading Infinite Jest, but this post just didn't turn out that way. Maybe another time. For those of you who know what's involved: yes, I really did read them all, every page. And it taught me an excellent lesson about being a completist, namely that being a completist just is NOT worth the trouble for certain aspects of life. Which is part of why I may not ever read The Pale King.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Into Each Life a Little Rain Must etc.

Lately I've been schooled repeatedly in the notion that in all experiences, there are necessarily both positive and negative elements. This comes forward in the places I work, the place I live, the people I love, the technology I use...I'm starting to believe there is no unalloyed good in the human experience.

I suppose exceptions would include enjoyment of arts; I've recently discovered some incredible music, and rediscovered a good bit more by transferring all my CDs to an external hard drive I bought. The pure joy of laughing at Buster Keaton, perhaps. I'm not sure, though. The way the universe seems to balance begs to me the idea that there will always be some negative hidden in any apparently pure positive. The best example that springs to mind is God. (Go ahead, disagree, and we'll talk about the Crusades.) 

In other news, after doing too much at the gym on Tuesday, I'm still suffering. (Good = stronger muscles; bad = owwwww.) Also, I have about three different essays in mind that I really need to get out of my head and into pixels. They're complex enough ideas that I don't think they're going anywhere, but they need to come out and stop bugging me. Also also, I have been seriously putting off revising the horror novel; it's been something I need to do all week, and I've found all sorts of amusing things to do instead, including watching a messed up movie about teenagers called The Quiet (great performances, showy direction, difficult script) and breaking into the final 150 pages of Infinite Jest. Which I think I might just head on through this afternoon.

But that delay leaves me without much to write about here, despite how much more enjoyable it's been. See? A mongrel good or a mixed bad. No wonder I'm a particularist

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You Will Die a Million Deaths

So, I hit a story point in Infinite Jest that's really giving me pause. I'm going to presume those of you out here reading this are either never going to read the book or have read it already (or have started and given up on it (them's statistics I really want to see)), because SPOILERS AHEAD.

A character's talking to another character in a bar. Remy and Kate. Kate has extreme clinical depression, and Remy is legless and has all kinds of weird complicated shit going on around him plot-wise, too much to explain. His wife was born without a skull, which we've known from way back, but here around page 780 he explains how he came to marry a woman born without a skull. (Yes, it's absurd. Just roll with it.) The story is long, but at its essence, Remy was very, very depressed and on the point of suicide when he met his wife, a creature even more pathetic than he, and his mission to love her and care for her became the center of his life. He isn't romantically in love with her (I gather), but he's in love with the purpose in life that she affords him. Throughout the book, we've heard often about his willingness to do various things for the sake of his wife, presuming all along that it was for love of her. But it's really not; she has to stay alive so that his purpose in life stays alive. If she doesn't live, and continue to need him to care for her, then he has no meaning in life.

I should add at this time that this is all my interpretation of this aspect of the book, and I have no idea if it's correct. In theory, I should have added that at the beginning. Oh, well.

The fact is, his motivation is selfish. He doesn't want to slip back into the blackness of depression in which he existed prior to meeting and appointing himself savior of his wife. It is too much for him to comprehend, going back to that. This is something I understand, and something Kate in theory should understand, as she gave an exceptionally cogent account of exactly how bad it is to be depressed early in the novel. (She doesn't understand; she provides the counterpoint of this discussion.) However, it gave me a lot of food for thought about our motivations for doing the things we do. The noble wish to nurture and rescue a woman with a ridiculously crippling [and unrealistic] disability, for this character, has at heart a thoroughly selfish motivation.

Is it very different for the rest of us? Aren't most of us just feeding the monkey? I've been following the implosion of Anusara yoga with some interest, and although I don't begrudge John Friend his characteristics as a flawed mortal, I do think it shows us adequately that no guru is devoted to his followers without saving some of that devotion for himself. Is any human a saint?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Revision (un)Ready

Matt has now read the first draft of the horror novel, and he has helpfully told me about all sorts of lovely difficult revisions I need to make. Yay. In the meantime, I made an absolutely humiliating admission on Facebook, that I've never been high (from marijuana), and needed feedback about a sequence I wrote wherein my narrating character gets that way. Several people immediately jumped up to offer their expertise, kindly not making me feel stupid at all for not knowing whether I'd written it right or not. Matt says they were just happy to offer expertise about something they'd never thought they'd be able to offer expertise about. As usual, he's probably right.

I'm rounding third on Infinite Jest. It's approaching easy to read at this point. I told Matt the other night that part of what's keeping me going is that I really want to know if Wallace's going to create an actual whole out of the sum of this book's many, many, many parts. Thus far, when things get tossed together and a connection makes itself known, it's extremely satisfying; like Magnolia, if a little less visceral. It would be nice to know that everything's really going to hang together, that it's not just going to be a big tangle.

The book is also inspiring. Although I do not in the least want to write like Wallace, I am inspired by him to toss some rules out the window when composing. If on a reread what I've said isn't clear, I can backtrack, but there's no need to work through that clarity on the first pass. Often what comes out raw sets me to something better and clearer, if not quite formal.

I've just started and stopped two different approaches to filling out this post, and was happy with neither of them. This blog is about writing, right? So why am I going on and on (and on) about other stuff instead?

I think it's because the only things in front of me in my writing life right now are revision. Revision of the Greenland book (eventually...), revision of the horror book, revision of a difficult short story. Revision of my original idea for my next book - it's still going to be what I thought it was, at bottom, but I'm thinking of seriously reworking my main supporting character from what he's been for four years or so. I don't want to do any of this revision. I look ahead and I see this slog, this long and yucky process from which good results are not guaranteed and opportunity for despair abounds. Literally every task to which I've set myself when it comes to writing fiction has taken a shorter time than I have budgeted, and all revisions have ultimately been a good idea, so I don't know why I can't just get over it and do what I'm supposed to do. I believe I can sell this horror book, more credibly than I believe I can sell the Greenland book, and I'm all enthusiastic about query letters and synopses and whatnot. But first I have to revise it, I have to get it in shape for test readers, and I'm stuck there, at that idea.

What I'll do is, on Monday I'll sit in front of this very laptop and I'll just get to it. No whining; just action. But on this Sunday morning it feels better to wallow and worry.

Friday, March 2, 2012

My Life in the Sand

Did you know my first declared major in college was politics? My husband didn't, either, until the other night. I was telling him how infuriated I was about various issues of the day, and told him that I was reminded of the sensation I had in college, which was the last time I actually paid attention to what was going on in the world.

I learned not long after Matt started being at home all the time that his habit was to watch the previous evening's broadcast of The Daily Show every day on the internet; presumably he did this at his job while on break, and now that he's at home, he does it at home. It mutated to DVRing it rather than watching it with obnoxiously repetitive commercials on the internet, and then I started watching with him. It's a show I've always liked, but I am not in the habit of watching first-run television at all.

I strongly believe that Stewart provides the least biased journalism in America. He makes jokes, no doubt, but he makes jokes about everybody. And I sincerely believe that he's not beholden to any other interests than his own. Of course we've been watching The Colbert Report after Stewart's finished, and I'm torn about which one is more effective. I think Stewart has the harder task, but I also believe Colbert has done more actual activism, more to attempt change.

Both of them attest to being comedians, not commentators. Even though they are more than aware of the environment effected by the 24-hour news cycle (because they would not be capable of their jobs without that environment and a high level of awareness about it), I think they are not quite cognizant of its extent. I trust no television journalists at all except Stewart (and dead ones like Cronkite and Murrow), and I think he would be surprised to hear that. The reason is simple: the "real" ones are more farcical than either of them, and appear too dead-eyed and well-coiffed for my taste. Col-bear may be a character that Col-birt is playing, but he is absolutely no more ridiculous than certain commentators.

Case in point: this. I find myself speechless at this story. Like, I can't even construct an argument in this space to talk about why this story makes me so angry that I'm dizzy and my heartbeat is irregular. I thought, well, surely Limbaugh isn't going to be taken seriously on this. And then I scrolled down and read the first dozen or two dozen comments, and my mouth got dry from hanging open. Who are these aliens, who fail to understand what paying for prescriptions entails? Who have no conception of hormonal medicine? Who...gaaaaaah.

This is just one of the stories bouncing around our national political scene in the last several months that has gotten me riled and furious about What's Going On, as Marvin Gaye had it. Women's reproductive health is obviously the biggie for me, but everywhere I look I seem to see corruption and greed, about which I feel horribly impotent. I can laugh, at Stewart and at Colbert, but laughing doesn't fix it.

This is how I feel about it:

And it was how I felt about it back in the early 2000s when I was in college. I was inspired by an incredible professor to become a politics major, but I lasted less than a year. I was depressed, horribly clinically depressed. Due to other factors as well, but partly due to the ugly discovery that the political cycle hadn't changed at all, across the world, throughout organized history, and that in all likelihood it never, ever would. Politicians would continue to be corrupt, the media would continue to be partly a freedom but mostly an accomplice and a palliative, and the system would churn forward with very little actual change.

During my sophomore year I took a 101-level class in film studies, and to my surprise I kept getting As on the papers without really trying (I have never been a natural A student). I discovered not only that I was really good at film studies, but that I really liked film studies; it was more interesting to me than pretty much any subject matter I'd ever studied, and it got me excited about learning in a way politics no longer did without my inspiring professor. So I switched majors, and I stopped paying attention to the news and to current events, and for many years my life was happy. I stayed absorbed in fictional media and left entirely alone the media related to politics.

And now Stewart and Colbert and their exceptional wit have brought me back to being angry and depressed 9 hours a day. Because once you start paying attention to the stuff that satirists draw your attention to, it's pretty hard to stop. You stumble across Monsanto, you read some of the egregious things that our government has passively endorsed, you see the balsa-wood structure behind it all. You start to really think about courageous bozos vs. well-intentioned cowards and who's likely to come out on top and whether it even matters and why the job of the politician, to represent us, has gotten pressed and reprinted as greenbacks and styled and gelled as TV-ready hair.

And you get really, severely depressed.

Matt was amazed I used to be a politics major. His exact words were "You were? Really?", and we agreed that it was for the best that I changed to film. I'm presently trying to decide whether I should bury my head back in the sand. The world didn't end in 2002 and it's likely not going to end in 2012, and it didn't hurt me to be politically ignorant for all that time. In its individual-level way, it helped me, in fact. The question of whether it's better to be willfully ignorant and happy with your little life, or to get informed and be fucking miserable, is one that I've been struggling with on and off since my sophomore year in college, but never at such a dramatic peak as I am right now.

And the thing is, Colbert is really really funny. He leaves me with a residue of joy, even when I'm angry. I was waiting for someone to make the perfect joke about the contraception flap, and he did it:

But I don't know. My life in the sand was untroubled. Quiet. Filled with art and music. This way, I either channel my rage into a non-profit and never say die, or I sit in my house screaming at my clenched fist until I can move to Canada (if Canada ever gets warm enough for me to move to). Neither is a Middle Way as satisfying as ignoring it all.

Of course, following the Oscars isn't too satisfying, either.