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Archive for January, 2008

A Look at Some Books

Well, it’s not even the end of the first month of the year and already I’ve read some pretty amazing books.

“Divisadero” by Michael Ondaatje
This is the first book I’ve read by him and I was utterly transported into his world. The prose is basically hypnotizing and the way he weaves the present and the past and all the different characters is truly spectacular. I slowed down as I neared the end, not wanting to leave the story.

“Embers” by Sandor Marai
I received this during my writing group Christmas book exchange three years ago. I can’t believe it took me this long to pick it up because once I did I could not put it down. It’s a very quiet but intense book. I loved the structure. Much of the story takes place in a dining room and a conversation between two old men who have not seen each other in over forty years. As the dinner unfolds we are dipped back in time, their histories revealed. It raise many questions regarding friendship, loyalty, love. A book to be read again and again throughout a lifetime.

“Cell” by Stephen King
Another first for me. Until now the only book I’d read by him was “On Writing”. I was pleasantly surprised. I am kind of a voyeur of end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stories. What I enjoyed was reading a story where so much happens. The stories I write and the stories I tend to read involve characters where small things happen physically. Most of the happening is internal. So it was great to see a writer literally move his characters from one place to the next and have big things happen to them and then see how they respond.

“Paint It Black” by Janet Fitch
This book did not disappoint either. I felt totally absorbed into Josie’s world of grief, punk rock, art, L.A., movie making and so much more. Many many layers to this story which I think make the best stories. And there weren’t easy moments. Everything felt earned the hard way. Just when I thought I knew what was coming the story or character swerved, keeping me on my toes which I appreciate.

“You’re Not You” by Michelle Wildgen
I am amazed by this first novel. At first I was leery of Bec, a restless college sophomore sleeping with her married professor but the story is anything but cliché. She takes a job as a caregiver for a woman with ALS. We get a gritty glimpse into the details of living with and caring for somebody with this disease. But so much of the story is hopeful and incredibly sensual.

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Yes, I slipped off the radar again. Just as I fell into an amazing writing and exercise groove, what happens? I throw out my back. The worst I’ve ever done it. For three days I lay on ice and heat and watched “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Snow Cake” and the first two seasons of “Weeds”. I’ve been reading a lot. Writing a wee bit. Mostly just taking it real easy. It’s been interesting. I’ve always seen myself as this fairly laid back person but really, that’s not the case. I am an all or nothing person. My house is spotless or a mess. I write everyday or not at all. I workout like a maniac or not at all. So, since I hurt my back I’ve become acquainted with the concept of “enough”. The house is clean enough. Walking for thirty minutes at a slight incline on the treadmill is good enough. Writing for fifteen minutes is better than not at all. The realization that enough can actually be truly enough has been worth it. Yes, I’m all about finding the silver lining…

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This book  has been on one of my many bookshelves for several years. For some reason I just never read it or finished it. Using “war” in terms of “art” felt wrong somehow. But now here it is the third day of the new year and while I am showing up to my story, I am not getting a page done a day. That may have been a bit unrealistic considering we are still on vacation around here until Monday. But still, I find myself totally resisting going to me desk to write on my story. I find it so much easier to write practice pages or morning pages. Hell, I find it ten times easier to work out every single day than to sit at my desk. So I’ve actually been questioning whether I am even meant to be a writer. I mean, who in their right mind would succumb to this constant tug of war (hmmm, there’s that word again) every single day? Write or don’t write?

Then I pick up this book tonight and read this:

“Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. I you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.

The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you– and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.”

I’m not sure where I got the idea that because it can be so hard for me to sit down and write that that invalidates me as a writer when it fact it is the trademark of a writer. It’s why there is an entire section in bookstores devoted to writing and most of them are about motivating you to sit down and write. Believe me, I’ve read most of them and they all say the same thing. Writing begets more writing. Show up and the Muse will come, not the other way around.  The only secret is the butt-in-chair method. It’s work. It may look like playtime to the outside world. Oh look at her sitting at her computer dreaming up stories. How fun . How sweet. What they don’t see is the grim determination as we stare at the screen or the page. Or the drop of blood on our brow.

But it’s not just that it’s work. I can make myself work out 275 days of the year but sitting down to write is a whole other animal. First there is no immediate gratification, no immediate results. With exercise I know that endorphine high will kick in and I see my body and health improving everyday. With writing the results are, shall we say, less substantial and less obvious. Sure, I feel good if I eke out even a paragraph, some days seven a sentence. That can be a major triumph but it is really in no way shareable with the outside world. Wow, ten whole words? Twelve entire sentences? Yay you! Hmmm. I don’ t think so.

Beyond immediate results, creating art of any kind is disruptive. It disrupts our own ideas of who we think we are. If it is read by those we love it disrupts their notions of who they think we are.  All in all, lots of disruption going on and we are a culture who goes out of its way to avoid disruption of any kind. No wonder we avoid our art. Who knows what might emerge? What may be revealed?

And all writers go through this. Seriously, every single one. So why do I imagine I should have a pass on this particular aspect of the writing life? Why do I feel it disqualifies me from being a “real” writer, whatever that means anyway. It’s Resistance talking. He’s a sly one. Had me convinced and ready to toss away at least sixteen years of practice. Insidious fellow.

So here’s my plan. To just show up. I think I freaked myself out a little by declaring a thousand words a day. I just need to spend time with my story every day. Some days it may be ten minutes. Some days four hours. Most days something in between. Showing up will become the habit the same way flossing and exercise have become. Showing up will lead to more pages which will lead to more stories being finished which is what my resolution was going for in the first place. The second part of my plan is to develop a curiosity about Resistance. Curiosity is better than dread. It’s lighter. It’s productive. Looking at Resistance, observing it, being aware of it will most likely lessen its hold on me.

That’s the plan anyway…

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Well, this is the scene we woke up to this morning. Kind of gives new meaning to a clean new slate and rather appropriate for the the first day of the new year.

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We’ve been on a cleaning binge around here. Both girls rearranged their rooms and organized them. I did the same for our basement. We managed to see the ball drop at midnight but then we all went to bed and slept until ten this morning.

Writing Progress/Process
I wrote for an hour on my novel today in between all the cleaning and cooking and playing games. I am stuck on the POV and tense. Some parts read so well in third person then another parts of the same chapter fell into this really strong first person voice as I wrote the first draft last year. I am trying a new version of chapter one in the first person to see if that can fall into some kind of strong voice for that particular character. It’s hard though because my writing group has already read it and really liked it so it’s tempting to just leave it alone except for the few suggestions they made. But I really can’t see the chapters working in different POV. They all need to be either first or third. I really really need to pick one and just go with it. But the good news is that I wrote today when I didn’t particularly feel like it and didn’t have much time for it. I just showed up.

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