Monthly Archives: November 2012

Therapy

Tonight I got to meet David Lodge and get him to sign my battered, much beloved copy of Therapy (a book on my Desert Island list).

I also got to tell him  “thank you for your work” and tell him about how I first read Therapy as a 12-year-old girl growing up in South America. “How extraordinary!” he exclaimed. His eyes got bigger and bigger as I told him that relating with the main character (someone I had absolutely NOTHING in common with) in a profoundly personal way was a big influence on me, because it helped me realize what fiction is capable of. On a subconscious level, reading that book made me think, If I can read a book about a middle-aged balding English screenwriter having a midlife crisis and see myself, then fiction can truly do ANYTHING.

While rehearsing my Elevator Speech in my head for meeting Lodge, I kept trying to figure out why I am so sentimentally attached to Therapy. I think I like it in the same way that I like Return of the Jedi: it appeared in my life when I was very young and at a very formative and meaningful point in my life, so even if it’s not GREAT and GENIUS, I am still hopelessly, fuzzily attached to its Ewoks.

I first picked Therapy randomly off the shelf when I was hobbling around the house with a knee injury from middle-school basketball. It felt like an eerie, terrifying twist of fate that a book I chose at RANDOM from my parents’ bookshelves featured a main character who not only suffered from knee problems (!!) but also from EXISTENTIAL ANGST (and didn’t we all have that when we were twelve?)

(Actually now that I think about it I must have been more like 14, which means that the inscription in the book is off by two years, but OH WELL).

I like David Lodge for the same reasons that I like Philip K. Dick and Anne Tyler, Tori Amos and Bruce Springsteen: I like their work ethic, and I like how their books/albums make me feel. Reading these authors, I feel… inspired. Safe. Comforted. And also like, I can do this. Don’t get me wrong, I have mad respect and love for the Junot Diazes of the world, the Harper Lees and Ralph Ellisons, the Marilynne Robinsons. But I don’t know if I can (…or if I want to…?) do what those aforementioned GREAT authors have done. I don’t know what I’m saying. I guess I just really like the long list of books that Lodge, Dick and Tyler (and Bolaño, and Onetti, and Aira) have in the bibliographies. I find it reassuring and hopeful. It makes me think, That is something I can do. I can do that.

Life, my friends, is very very good.

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Things I am learning about myself as a writer, slowly but surely and steadily

  1. I worry sometimes that I prefer working at night. I just feel less interrupted. No chance of phone calls, no emails, not even housemates making noises. Plus if I need to go for a walk even the streets are deserted.
  2. If I do the Golden Trinity that I’ve found is absolutely essential for my health and mental well-being (1- exercise like Jillian Michaels videos or yoga, 2- meditating and 3- writing in my journal), then it is easier for me to feel happy and productive. So rather than focusing on being productive, it’s worked better for me to focus on the Golden Trinity as my #1 priority, and then being productive arises naturally from that. *
  3. It is very difficult for me to write via typing. I usually write by hand, then type it up. Then I print everything out and read through it, editing, rewriting and moving shit around again by hand. Then I repeat. If I try to write by typing, I just feel so frozen and get stuck on the same sentences, rewriting them over and over again. Maybe this will change in time but for now that’s how it is.
  4. I have to have the Internet turned off when I’m working. I use Google Chrome’s StayFocused and turn it off for 12 hours.
  5. It is important to have treats in my house to reward myself with (especially when I REALLY deserve a hard-earned reward!). Ice cream or a mug of hot chocolate is usually the best.

*This lesson is what makes me think that bullshit about artists needing to suffer or be crazy is utter crap. Yeah, you could probably wing it for a while, but it would be so unsustainable. And who wants to go through life suffering (if they can help it)? Life is so short!!

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Writing Exercise

In one of my classes we were given the homework assignment to find a story in the news that we thought would make an interesting story (it could also be based on something we overheard, or something someone told us). I chose this article about solitary confinement in American prisons, written by one of the Americans who was kept in solitary confinement in Iran. The title of the article (“Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons”) pretty much says it all.

The next assignment we got was to write the ending paragraph to the story that we would write based on the article.  We were given some freewrite time during class to do so (most of the writing we do in the class is freewrite style, which I obviously love, since that is totally my bread and butter). This is what I wrote:

Sometimes when you’re making a smear on the wall, there are times when you vomit. Then there are the times you’re so run down that you lie for days and not do anything with the maggots crawling all over you. The rain is coming in through the window and I’m lying on the floor with maggots all over the place.

The fly keeps buzzing. I look at the streaks that I’ve made on the wall. In some places it’s thickly clumped together, crumbling into pieces on the wall, thick like plaster. In other places it’s thin and streaky, like I didn’t stick my hand into myself deep enough, didn’t get it covered enough. I press my hand against the wall and smear my hand down, down, down. The trail gets longer and longer. I’m a painter; I’m a creator. The sound of steps in the hallway keeps getting louder and louder. I close my eyes and then for just that one minute, there’s just this, the streak on the wall and the light touch of the fly on my hand.

I drag my hand down, down, down until the smear is all over the floor. It’s on the metal bed legs and frame. It’s on the windowsill and the fly is on it and it’s by the hole in the wall where all the scraps of paper are kept. There is yelling in my ears and pressure on my head, fists and a black stick raining down on me, but I keep dragging my hand and the smear keeps getting longer and longer. It’s everywhere now; the whole cell is one big long brown yellow smear and there are flies and there’s nothing but brown and yellow smears dotted with specks with the concrete walls underneath. I cram my hand into the corner as tightly as possible, trying to get the smear in there as well, because I want to get at every last single bit. I want the whole walls to be covered. I don’t want a single speck of concrete looking at me.

The smear is going to get longer and longer until it goes down the hallways and underneath the heavy grey steel doors. It wil go down the gravel path that the dark green trucks roll over every morning, carrying blindfolded men dressed in orange. When they get out of the truck their feet won’t crunch gravel anymore; it’s only be the smear; it’s all there ever was and what ever will be. They’ll be sinking into it up to the ankles and knees and chest, no longer orange but now just brown. The smear will go all the way down to the highway and it’ll cover all the white and yellow lines that tell you what side of the road to drive on. It’s all over the signs and the trees are covered in it, limbs heavy, black clumps dropping down onto the ground like rotten ripe fruit. The smear will keep going and going until it goes all the way up the driveway of my house, and that’s where it stops. It stops in front of my house with the dirty white crumbling paint. That’s where it’ll linger, looking inside, at the pink and white lamps on the tables, the silver photograph frames, the china shepherdess.

Writing is FUN! The other topics that people brought to class were all fascinating. My favorite was an article about a man who discovered that his grandfather’s walking stick was made out of human bones, all Holocaust victims (apparently his grandfather was a Nazi). The son had then spent years trying to track down the relatives of the people whose bones were in the stick. Other topics that people shared included an advertisement for a job working as a human scarecrow and a story about the Nigerian president’s wife and the way she disappeared for months to get plastic surgery.

I guess the lesson (and perhaps the point of the activity) is that if you look for it and if your mind is open, there’s something to write about everywhere.

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