Back from another excellent reading tonight, this time at Bookcourt with co-reader Jami Attenberg -- great venue, great crowd, including friendly faces Stana Weisburd, Will McKinley, Cheryl Burke, Joyce Hanson, Lauren Cerand, Jillian Medoff and Sarah, and Patty Park and crew. Tomorrow's part one of our epic apartment move; we're just putting the finishing touches on packing tonight. Hard to believe that this is the last night we'll spend here at this apartment where we've had so much love. I'm sad, I'm sentimental, but so it is. I'll be offline most of the day tomorrow, but I'll update when we're safely on the other side. Looking forward to hello again.
Thurs. Feb 17, 2011
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Best of the blog
- "I have to think of something before I die"
- Dear "books on how to not kill yourself"
- Mommy, tell me about the war.
- Questions for the Author
- How do I get to Ground Zero?
- A Flaming Asteroid Hits My Ex-Boss In the Nuts
- Book review: Wuthering Heights
- "Feminist Men": Oxymorons, or Simply Morons?
- Random facts about the book
- Amanda Cudy Swavy
- Amanda Stern
- Anne Elliott
- Anne Fernald
- Ariel Schrag
- Ashley Davila
- Ayun Halliday
- Beehive Hairdresser
- Bridgit Antoinette Evans
- C. Brooks
- Cheryl B.
- Claire Cox
- Clio Bluestocking
- Dana Piccoli
- Dorothy Parka
- Geoffrey Ian Bara
- Janet Reid
- Jen Bekman
- Jen Dziura
- Jess Zaino
- Judy McGuire
- Koren Zailckas
- Lauren Cerand
- Lea Jacobson
- M. David Hornbuckle
- Maud Newton
- Melissa Febos
- Michael Stuart
- Nathalie Hardy
- Rachel Kramer Bussel
- Satia Renee
- Sharon Mesmer
- Tayari Jones
- Virginia Vitzthum
- Wendy McClure
A great reading tonight at KGB Bar, thanks to Kelly McMasters, host and curator of the Tuesday Night Non-Fiction series. On the bill were John Marks, author of Reasons to Believe, Neal Pollack, author of many books including the recent Alternadad, and me, reading from my new book, Have You Flounder, with my usual spastic, hammy arm-waving:
(Photos courtesy of Bill Scurry and his iPhone.)
Here's me thanking Kelly for her amazing review of Flounder, which was reprinted in today's Miami Herald, which nobody saw because they were all too busy being without electricity. In the foreground: our friend Edward, mentioned on page 129 of the book.
Thanks also to the many other friendly friends who came out tonight: Michael Stuart, Rick Patrick, Carsta and her crew, Heather and Tan, and Rachel, who wrote the loveliest blog post to me today. Let's all do it again tomorrow night at 7 at Bookcourt!
Here's me on ThePublishingSpot.com, jabbering as usual about writey write writer writing, blah blah pontificakes, this time about keeping a journal (I'm taking the very controversial "you might probably want to" position). I'm interviewed on the Publishing Spot every day this week, with a video tour of some of the sites in the new book to be posted on Thursday or Friday. I urge you to watch it, though I probably won't be able to, because -- is that my voice? Is it really that deep? -- I have a funny voice.
In the meantime, I had one final thought about that last post, which was that I could have erased it and replaced it with:
Something is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing.
The other day, I claimed to be suffering from “block,” which is a word I usually try to avoid. I prefer to call myself “stumped,” or “stymied” – I don’t know why, since all those words pretty much mean the same thing, which is that you’re sitting in front of the goddamn blank page and you can’t seem to make any words come out and stick to it. But I feel like people over-rely on the idea of “writer’s block,” like it’s this outside force that’s attacked you, like it’s a disease that you can’t do anything about, so you just shrug and say, “I’m blocked,” and that’s it. And I don’t want to give it legitimacy as a phenomenon; I don’t want to give it any more power than it already has. I don’t want people to be able to point to it – “Oh, it’s block, every writer gets it sometimes, you can’t control it” – and use it as an excuse for not writing.
Because there is no excuse for not writing, except that you don’t want to write.
So what is this thing that people call “block”? Block is an overwhelming emotional state that occurs when you are trying to write that prevents you from doing so in the moment. That’s it. It’s just a feeling. It’s not a state of being, it’s not a condition. It’s a temporary feeling that gets in the way of you expressing your creativity. A temporary feeling – unless you feed into it by claiming it, cherishing it, telling everyone about it, giving it credence in your mind. Then it can become a permanent part of your life.
Often, the emotion that’s temporarily preventing you from feeling like you can write is fear. I think this is what I was dealing with the other night. There were many things on my mind, but I didn’t think I could write about any of them, because I feared the consequences. Some subjects were too personal, some were professionally inadvisable, so none came out. Which is fine – sometimes fear, like anger, can be a helpful guide. Sometimes it inhibits you, but often, it helps to steer you away from dangerous situations. So rather than saying, “I’m blocked,” it is more helpful to say to yourself, “I am afraid to write about what’s really on my mind.” This is when you go get out your notebook, the one you keep only for yourself that nobody else ever gets to read, and you write down the feeling of fear. I’m afraid so-and-so would be hurt if they read it; I’m afraid of talking about her death because I will lose my shit with grief. Just a few sentences to answer the question: What are you afraid of writing about, and why?
And that’s it. You’re done. Unless you feel like writing more about it, in which case, go right ahead. But you don’t have to. You’re not obliged to write about anything you don’t want to. You just have to be honest with yourself about what’s stopping you and why, so you can move on to something else.
Fear of writing can take so many forms. There’s the fear of being personally exposed (“I can’t write this because then people will know this about me”), the fear of not being good enough (“This first sentence sucks, so all the rest of them are going to suck, and I am a sucky writer, so I should just give up”), the fear of disappointment (“Who cares what I write; it’ll never find an audience anyway”), the fear of revisiting painful situations (“I don’t even want to think about it, much less write about it”). Then there’s fear masquerading as other things, like boredom (“I don’t have anything interesting to write about”), or resentment (“All successful writers are sell-outs and hacks”). It’s all fear.
Some of these fears are more valid than others. If you really feel you can’t risk personal exposure, then don’t write publicly for now – write for yourself, and worry about who to share it with later. If you fear not being good enough, join the fucking club. None of us are good enough, but we do it anyway. Because the worst writer is the one who never writes at all, and you’re never going to get better without practice. So stop judging yourself and start writing, and don’t reread a word of it until you’re got fifty pages finished. If you fear disappointment, then recognize your ambition – “I want to be published, damn it,” or, “I want to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay” – then recognize that your worst fear is already realized, because you’re not getting published or winning an Oscar right now, and you’ve got no shot at it until you write something. Use your ambition to work for you, not against you. And recognize that you will often be disappointed in the writing life, but never while you’re sitting at your desk working.
The fear of revisiting painful situations is valid. It’s going to be painful. Do it anyway. You’ll feel so much better when you’re on the other side of it. Things that caused me serious anguish are no longer as painful for me, now that I’ve written about them. The pain leaves your body and sticks to the page; you are rubber, the page is glue. Boredom is not valid. If you can’t think of an interesting subject, then something else is going on that you’re not acknowledging – anger, or fear of the real subject matter you’re avoiding. I always have people in my memoir seminars who say, “My life was boring,” and then they tell me some story about their mom dropping dead in the supermarket that makes my hair curl. Birth, death, illness, love, betrayal – subjects everyone has written about before – they’re all interesting. They’re all we have in life. As for resentment, get over it. It’s just anger, and fear of failure. Yeah, it sucks that Posh Spice can get a bazillion dollar book deal in ten minutes, while you might slave away for ten years on your novel. But at the end of those ten years, you will have written, you will be a writer, while Posh Spice will still just be tits on a stick.
Look, I know it’s not all that simple. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ve seen me struggle with “block” again and again. I’ve written about the fear, the ennui, the thwarted ambition – I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m not saying it’s not debilitating. What I am saying is that you’re not alone in it, and it’s not hopeless. Block is fear, and fear is real, but it’s not a mystery. It’s not a voodoo curse that someone laid on you that you’re powerless to resist. It is temporary, and it is navigable. The first step is calling it by its real name: Fear. The second step is identifying what the fear’s about. The third step is confronting it in a safe way that doesn’t make it worse for you. And then you’ve taken three steps, and you’re walking.
Ladies, and now also gentlemen! I present to you a development in interactive technology three years in the making: The sexual integration of the Girlbomb blogroll.
Friends of mixed gender, once, a callow young(ish) sexist named Girlbomb presided over the blogroll, but as the first act of the new Janice Erlbaum regime, I hereby end the sexual apartheid and decree that men are no longer second-class citizens! No longer will Bill Scurry toil alone in his ghetto as the "token male" of this site; men will finally be recognized for being the awesome people they are! Specifically, my male friends:
M. David Hornbuckle is the author of the new book The Salvation of Billy Wayne Carter, available as an e-book from Cantarabooks. In David's words: "Billy Wayne Carter is a rock star who becomes the public face of the rebel movement in a second US Civil War, a war based on art. There's lots of Southern gothicism and sex and paranoid po-mo rantings. Fun for the whole family...except the kids...and the old people." Oh my god, wait...is that ageism? Because that has no place on this website!!! Anyway, this old person liked the book -- check out the excerpt on the site.
Jeff Mac is the Man behind Manslations.com, a site where women are invited to talk about their relationships with a nice, sane guy who has their best interests at heart. Is that the craziest shit you ever heard of? He totally comes up with great advice, too, and dispenses it in the gentlest fashion. His Manslations book is coming out this fall from Sourcebooks, and he is currently available online right now for free.
And the Beehive Hairdresser, my favorite young man about town, is blogging damn near everyday about his life as a dude. I expect a book from him sometime, if he decides to write one.
Just...don't get anybody pregnant.
Once again, I find myself a little bit too overwhelmed to sit down, collect my thoughts, and post something meaningful-with-a-lowercase-m. I was thinking while packing today, "Packing to move is like writing a memoir, I should post about that." You know, you unearth a bunch of shit you forgot about, and you decide what parts of your past are important to keep and which ones you can dump, and there's the things you go back and forth on, like, maybe they're not so important, but you just have to have them in there, and you wonder how you accumulated so much crap that needs to be thrown away, and then you arrange all the stuff you're keeping into some kind of categories, and then you put it in boxes, and that's where the metaphor ends, because I don't know what the psychic equivalent of having a bunch of guys come in and move your shit to storage would be, memoir-writing-wise.
Maybe I could just look at it like, "We're moving our belongings from one place to another," rather than get all dra-motional about it. But that would hardly be me, would it?
Oh, nothing much. Just everything I've been waiting for these past seven months. And more. And less, strangely enough. I must have forgotten, since Girlbomb came out in 2006, that nothing much really happens on publication day, except you buy the book at a store and you're happy for as long as that lasts, and then it's back to checking your email and wondering if the book is going to tank or not. Which is like standing over a days-old infant and saying, "Do you think she'll get accepted at Yale?"
Fortunately, the early signs are good: lots of nice press, and wonderful reader reviews on all the social book sites. I've got an agent, an editor, two publicists and and a publisher I have faith in, who have faith in me. We're still a long way from Yale, but we made it into Redbook:
Which is at least, like, Mount Holyoke, right?
Here's a picture of me last night at Amanda Stern's Happy Ending Reading and Music Series. (We didn't take any photos, so I drew this one.) Thanks to all the great friends who came out to show the love, and all the great friends who sent love from home. I'm still in that crazy, fragile, new-book phase, still a little bit emotionally overwhelmed and administratively swamped, but a lovely tea with friends this afternoon and a night alone with Bill have helped to calm me back down. I kind of can't wait to get back to writing one day...maybe May? In the meantime, more packing of the apartment and promoting of the book and thanking of the yous. Thank you, yous, for your comments, emails, and support.
Weary today, trying to dig my way out from under a pile of shit to do, but excited to see so many of my dear friends tonight at Happy Ending (302 Forsythe St. at Broome! 8pm, but come early if you want seats!). Maybe it will even stop raining by then! Or, you know, someday!
In the meantime, thank you for the many lovely comments and emails -- I am heartened and buoyed by all the support. And thanks, Satia, for posting all those links. Here are a few more:
A playlist for the book, on the excellent music site LargeHeartedBoy.com
A fun little interview with me on Jami Attenberg's site
More niceness from super-publicist Lauren Cerand
A "real" post coming soon, as soon as the hubbub dies down, and we're on the other side of our epic move to our temporary apartment. In the meantime, I hope to see you tonight; if not, I'm feeling you in spirit!