Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Le temps perdu

I've been in the cave. Caught up in building the foundation for my new book, and the idea of breaking away to write something for actual human consumption has felt tantamount to being ripped out of the womb four months early. But today, I'm ready. The first chapter's about launched, and I think I know where it needs to go, and now it's time to rub my eyes and look out at the world again.

Ah, but I'd rather think about the new book. I've spent the last month holed up in my room reading old journals, listening to old music, looking at old pictures. My friend Erin gave me some letters I wrote her from the time I'm writing about, and I've spent much of this morning reading them.

There is something oddly moving about peering into the past like this. I'm revisiting my eighteenth to twentieth years of life, when I left my parents' house in order to work and travel around Europe before I came home to start college at twenty-one. It's moving-- and it's mortifying. Absolutely excruciating to revisit my obsessions over boys and friends, my pagan-feminist revisionist histories. There was a lot of talk of goddesses. Erin called me a goddess, I called her a goddess, we had long conversations with our girlfriends about whether we were an Athena or a Hera, a Hestia or an Artemis. (I considered myself to be a rich and easily misunderstood stew of all four, natch.)

Then there's the confusion. God, I was confused. And frustrated. It's easy to forget, in my advancing thirties, how frustrating it is to be a teenager, to forever be told you know nothing, that you must follow the leader to college, to work, and back to the suburbs where you belong. To be treated like a child when you feel like an autonomous adult, ready to live on your own terms. It was awful to know so little and sense so much.

I wanted to write so badly. I wrote poems (more of that feminist-pagan thing, ouch). I wrote stories (based on myths and fairy tales and bible stories turned on their heads, like the one about an "immaculate" conception between a girl and her contortionist boyfriend) but I rarely finished them. When I was living in Munich I worked on a novel inspired by Hermann Hesse. But I still thought that writing was supposed to be an operatic act of inspiration, all orgasms and jelly beans. I thought that if I wasn't feeling inspired to write, I couldn't write. It wasn't until shortly before I left Europe that I began to understand that writing was work.

I used to wander around Munich's central plaza, Marienplatz, watching the tourists, waiting for inspiration to strike so that I could find my way to my favorite cafe in Heidhausen and finally write. If inspiration didn't hit, I just wandered, a spirit in limbo.

Last year, I was back in Munich for the first time in thirteen years. On my third day in town I took the train to Marienplatz with my friend Cathy, and we parted ways. I had about fifteen minutes to collect my thoughts before meeting my German agent for the first time. Yoga Bitch had recently been sold to a German publisher.

Thinking of writing as my job, as work, has gotten me through many years of setbacks. It takes a long time, and a lot of suffering, to get launched as a writer. I'm still in the thick of that launch, and so I rarely allow myself to sit back and enjoy the small successes along the way. It feels like bad luck to do so; also, I'm trying to stay busy actually working. But walking around Marienplatz in those fifteen minutes before my meeting, I felt so buoyant, so lucky. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to bump into my nineteen-year-old self. I know she would be confused and frustrated and unsure of what to do next. And I would tell her not to worry. Just get working.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Saul Bellow on Augie March

 From a letter to Bernard Malamud:

"There are times when I think how nice it would be to edit a new and better novel out of it. But I can't allow myself to forget that I took a position in writing this book. I declared against what you call the constructivist approach. A novel, like a letter, should be loose, cover much ground, run swiftly, take risk of mortality and decay . . . Having brought off my effort as well as I could, I must now pay the price. You let the errors come. Let them remain in the book like our sins remaining in our lives. I hope some of them may be remitted. I'll do what I can; the rest is in God's hands."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Library Lust

My husband and I share a library fetish. Which sounds rather tawdry, but isn't. We just really love libraries. I would live in one if I could. Here are seven gorgeous libraries for all my bibliophile friends, including my city's extraordinary contribution.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Looking for Sex in Victorian Lit

Here's my latest blog post for the Huffington Post Books Section. And for what it's worth, I'm still reading Wuthering Heights. I was complaining about it to the husband last night and he said, "How long is that book, anyway?"  I told him it was around 350 pages, to which he replied, "Oh. Feels like you've been complaining about it for 700."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nietzsche sez

"Good writers have two things in common: they prefer to be understood rather than admired; and they do not write for knowing and over-acute readers." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reading, Writing, Rehearsing, or: The Post-Book Blues

1. I turned Yoga Bitch in to the publisher nearly three weeks ago. Final draft. No more changes. It's done.

2. Since then, a publisher in the Netherlands has decided they would like a Dutch Bitch. I am very happy about this.

3. I have been writing, sort of. Notes and notes and notes for the new book. These notes are staring at me right now. Notes that read: "The burden of history," and "Failure as a noble pursuit," and "Sex should be funny." (Still trying to remember what I meant by that last one.)

4. I have been reading, sort of. Here's what:
A. C.S. Lewis: what a man!
B. Colette: what a voice!
C. Christopher Isherwood: God, I love him. I was thinking about him the other day, and it occurred to me that I finally had an answer to that question: If you could have dinner with anyone famous, alive or dead, who would it be? I've never been able to answer that question-- too much pressure. I mean, it would be fascinating and all to meet Cleopatra, or Jefferson, or Tolstoy or Shakespeare, but over dinner? I don't know. I think I would get heartburn from the stress of thinking up intelligent questions to ask them, and then I wouldn't enjoy my dinner. Plus, what would we eat? Drink? Who would do the cooking? Certainly not me, so would we have to hire caterers? And what if Tolstoy has disgusting table manners? Would that ruin Anna Karenina for me? Couldn't we have a coffee or a drink first, and then see if we want to progress to dinner? But dinner with Christopher Isherwood would be like meeting an old, dear friend. We could talk books, or not. But I think we'd enjoy ourselves. I'd start smoking again just for the occasion.

5. I've started preparing for meetings in New York in a few weeks. Now that the writing of Yoga Bitch is done, it's time to start thinking about the selling of Yoga Bitch. August 23rd, my book will be on the shelves. That thought is exhilarating and terrifying and, for the moment, ever-so-slightly paralyzing. New York will be just the shot in the arm I need: I must journey to the land of shameless self-promotion and drink of its waters. When I come back, I'll be slicker'n cat shit.

6. I've been staring at the cover of my book! I must say, I have a bit of a crush on it.

7. You know, turning in a book must be rather like sending your child off to school for kindergarten. On the one hand, I wonder how my child will do in the big mean world, where I can't protect it from the bullies, and on the other, I wonder how I will ever fill the hours that have been devoted to its care. I'm a bit adrift. This book has taken up room in my head and heart for a long time, and I long to be engrossed again.

8. Ah, but here's a final note-to-self staring at me, written at some point in the last two weeks, perhaps on my first day back at the desk:

"Guess what else was hard?" it reads. "Writing and revising and rewriting and revising again until YB was done. You didn't always know where you were going or what you were doing. If new stories feel hard, it's because ALL WRITING IS HARD. Keep working."

On that note, I will try.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's Fall, Fuckers!

This is great. From McSweeneys.

Carving orange pumpkins sounds like a pretty fitting way to ring in the season. You know what else does? Performing an all-gourd reenactment of an episode of Diff'rent Strokes—specifically the one when Arnold and Dudley experience a disturbing brush with sexual molestation. Well, this shit just got real, didn't it? Felonies and gourds have one very important commonality: they're both extremely fucking real. Sorry if that's upsetting, but I'm not doing you any favors by shielding you from this anymore.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The End's in Sight

The final draft of Yoga Bitch is due to the publisher in one week. Saying goodbye to this project feels a little like this:

And a lot like this:

I'll be blogging more soon, but for now I've got seven days to make it flow, make it glow, and let it go.

See you on the other side.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


This poem, "Howl" reimagined for our generation as "Tweet," is brilliant.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by brevity, over-connectedness, emotionally starving for attention, dragging themselves through virtual communities at 3 am, surrounded by stale pizza and neglected dreams, looking for angry meaning, any meaning, same hat wearing hipsters burning for shared and skeptical approval from the holographic projected dynamo in the technology of the era, who weak connections and recession wounded and directionless, sat up, micro-conversing in the supernatural darkness of Wi-Fi-enabled cafes, floating across the tops of cities, contemplating techno, who bared their brains to the black void of new media and the thought leaders and so called experts who passed through community colleges with radiant, prank playing eyes, hallucinating Seattle- and Tarantino-like settings among pop scholars of war and change . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Jean-Michele sent me this quote yesterday:

"Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet." ~William Butler Yeats

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Patenting Yoga Poses

Here's an article from the Guardian about the latest attempt to patent yoga poses. This time it seems less about self-aggrandizement than when Bikram Choudhury did it with his hotbox yoga, and more about protecting yoga from the vultures of the West who want to brand their various dogas and facelift yogas and the like.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Juneuary is for Writers

Greetings from the cave, friends.

It's Juneuary here in Seattle, that lucky mixture of the grey, rainy days of January and the long, bright days of June. When I first moved back to Seattle I resented this month the way rich kids resent their parents; I was entitled to my sunny summer, and where was it? I couldn't believe I had ever professed to like Seattle's pewter skies. But it's been an astonishing five years since then, and with each passing year-- and 4,000 iu of Vitamin D a day-- I now remember why I loved this weather so.

It's perfect weather for staying inside and writing.

Seattle's summer is damn-near exquisite. Once it gets going, it's so pretty a puritan would think the devil had a hand in it. And as soon as that mad ecstatic gorgeousness is let loose on us wriggling Seattlite cave worms, something happens. We freak the fuck out. The streets flood with half-naked people, each one of us with a pasty winter skin trailing from the bottom of her heel until a kindly person steps on it like so much toilet paper. There's music in the streets, jugglers, a rainbow extends from one end of Lake Union to the other. Queen Anne Hill reaches its arms out to Capitol Hill, and we offer perfect strangers bites of our sandwiches.

In the morning I wake up to egg yolk sun and robin's eggshell skies with fluffy scrambled eggwhite omelette clouds.

(I'm eating eggs right now!)

I wake up in this eggy splendor and then I freak the fuck out. I can't sit still. I can't focus for longer than a sentence. I walk around the house with eight hundred million trillion kajillion ideas for stories, essays, blog posts, novels, memoirs, sexual positions, yoga positions, political positions. I write long lists containing all the pieces I want to work on this season and then, when it comes time to work through the list, I realize that what I really need to do is re-write the list in a different pen color, on a smoother sheet of paper, and this time I need to number the items instead of bulletpoint them. Meanwhile the drums from Capitol Hill are calling everyone to leave the house, come to the park, get your coffee on ice. Talk to other people. Do this drug that is Seattle in summer.

I've tried to understand and remedy what happens to me in the summer, and I think this is it: the sun is precious here in the land of the 3pm winter sunset, and when it shines on us for so many hours in a day-- by July we'll have light till after 10pm-- it provokes an existential crisis. This crisis is both instantaneous and ecstatic, as if Robin Williams were hollering CARPE DIEM through every vent in the house while the sun shines through the window like the face of god, reminding you that god was invented so you wouldn't fear death, and that you fear death because you have a sneaking suspicion that death might be the real end of you, and if you will really end then you'd better get the hell out of the house and get carpe fucking dieming before then.

It's like Seattle has been told it has fifteen weeks to live. It's very hard to write in the midst of such a thing.

But bless you, Juneuary. A week of madcap summer antics and then the grey returns. Suddenly I'm in full-writing mode, working every morning on my new book, one I've been wanting to write for years. When that work is done for the day, I get to my research, my emails and the business side of work. Later I might take a bath, or go to yoga, or for a walk. I might meet a friend for a drink or see a play or just settle in with the husband to eat dinner and watch horror movies. I don't feel that I need much more. It's as if I am living every second of every day as I was designed to-- not seizing the day, that implies too much will and clenching of fists. It's more like I'm sort of holding the day. Or being held by the day. Or maybe just being the day.

My days fold into night along the same creases: writing, reading, dinner, sleeping. Wake up, unfold. There are better days and worse days, but my work feels like silver threads weaving through the grey, and that is all the beauty I need.

July is coming. I have no solution for that. So instead, I think we're going to throw a party. Give in to it, be the hot yellow day. October will be back soon enough.

Monday, March 29, 2010

End of an Era

I'm happy that Elliott Bay Book Company is moving to my neighborhood, but it still makes me sad to see them leave their original Pioneer Square location. I worked in Pioneer Square off and on for seven years, and Elliott Bay was where I spent my lunch hours. It was there, at age eighteen, that I fell in love with Walt Whitman and Nikos Kazantzakis, where, at twenty-one, I developed crushes on Jeanette Winterson and Mary Oliver and also a literary trustaffarian named Devon, who was a great conversationalist and a bad kisser. Till I was twenty five, I went there bleary from break-ups, dizzy with inspiration or infatuation; I went there when I was looking for research materials for plays I was acting in, then plays I was doing dramaturgy for, and then eventually for books that would help me to write: John Gardner, Anne Lamott, Vivian Gornick. I would take their books with me to New York as I started to write my first solo show and first book, Yoga Bitch. My bookshelves at home are the result of so many lunch hours spent in that treehouse of a bookstore, wondering if I could buy all the books I desperately needed and still pay my rent.

Oh, deep sigh.

(I can't resist-- that 'Oh deep sigh' is a line stolen from a Ginsberg poem. I bought the book containing that poem, "Elegy for Neal Cassady," at Elliott Bay.)

So, yeah, deep sigh. But also . . . hello, old friend! Welcome to my neighborhood! I can feel myself getting poorer with every day that brings you closer to my house!

More details about the move here, on the Slog.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I love Seattle

And here's today's reason why. Also, it's effing gorgeous out and has been for weeks. Love. It.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rules for Writing Fiction

I love pieces like this one from the Guardian. Much of this applies whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction. Some highlights-- these are the pieces of advice I found utterly true and sometimes (or often) difficult:

Elmore Leonard: "My most important rule . . . if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Margaret Atwood: "You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you're on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine."

Helen Dunmore: "Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need."

Anne Enright: "Only bad writers think that their work is really good."

Richard Ford: "Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea."

Jonathan Franzen: "The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator."

Esther Freud: "Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life."

Neil Gaimon: "Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong."

PD James: "Don't just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style."

AL Kennedy: "Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact."

More AL Kennedy: "Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence."

Everything Geoff Dyer says here is a gem, but I especially loved these: "Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov." Ha!

"Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire."

"Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Seattle Times Review of Your Own Personal Alcatraz

Misha Berson of The Seattle Times calls my short piece "sly and understated." You can read her review of my show and the rest of the shows on offer at the Solo Performance Festival here.

A note for future audience members: the title of this show has changed. It's no longer called Your Own Personal Alcatraz. The more I've thought about the stories I want to tell, the clearer the show's focus has become. So from this point forward, my new show is called Optimism.

I'm headed to Atlanta to workshop the new show in a week, with a culminating performance on April 6th. If you're going to be in Atlanta, or you know anybody there, send 'em my way!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Devil's Club

I put the finishing touches on the Bitch today, and tomorrow I'll send it off to my editor at Broadway Books. Yesterday I read the entire thing out loud to hear how it sounds. The book sounds pretty good, but now I sound like a frog. And I'm singing in my cousin's wedding Saturday.

Ah, well. I'll just pretend I'm Bob Dylan singing Panis Angelicus.

The first thing I did after confirming for the twelfth time that yes, the chapters are in order and no, I didn't lapse into gibberish in the epilogue, was to read S.P. Miskowski's story, Devil's Club. I've been waiting to read it until I could give it my full attention and it was the perfect way to celebrate the end of many months of writing and revising.

It's the story of a boy, Winston, who's been lured out of the house in the middle of the night by a girl who says their missing classmate is being held captive by a witch who lives in the woods.

The writing is lovely:

Once they were past the fence, Winston stumbled along a dirt route so narrow it was nothing but a footpath scuffed up between the trees. He took hold of leaves and branches along the way and pulled himself forward, up inclines and around swollen roots protruding from the earth like the knuckles of giant fingers. As he approached a big-leaf maple, he caught hold of a licorice fern sticking out from its mossy trunk. He pulled himself forward with all his might. As he did, his right hand stripped the fern bare, leaving a slender, jagged cut across his palm. It stung so bad his eyes watered, but he didn’t complain.

If you like scary stories, I highly recommend it. This one is creepy and wonderful. (And if you like S.P.'s style, check out her collection of stories, Red Poppies.)

Now, I rest.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Frederick Seidel sez

From The Paris Review Interview:

I will say that learning how to write has to do in part with learning how to accede to yourself and your object, instead of writing what you think you ought to write, or what at that point in time the world thinks poetry is about. Or what you think you ought to be about. The moment comes, if it ever comes, when you have enough strength to give way, to give in to being who you are, to give in to your themes. Giving in to your obsessions, giving in to the things that you will be writing about over and over. And sometimes the things you'll be writing about over and over are things that some people don't find very nice.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Just In

Husband: Whatcha been doing?
Me: Writing a post about how writing makes you crazy.
Husband: Ah, yes, something we've learned a little about this week.
Husband: How are your cancers?


Failure, Exhaustion, Madness

I love this essay by novelist Rebecca Brown. It's about failure.

I have a few things to say about it. But until the book is done (in two weeks) I can't seem to write about anything else. The posts I want to write will have to wait. Yoga Bitch has got me by the throat.

It's almost done.

And you know what?

I'm tired. I am bone tired. I'm so tired my eyes ache and my throat hurts and I have this little throb that comes and goes at my temples, as well as a few cases of psychic cancers in various parts of my body. Today, and last night, I was fully convinced that I actually have three different kinds of cancer, all brought on by periodic bouts of smoking and low self-esteem. I even tried one of those stupid visualization exercises where you envision your body filled with golden light, but you know what? That's such bullshit. There's no golden light. Even if there were, that golden light would do nothing but illuminate all those tumors.

Also? I'm lying. I didn't try that visualization exercise. I thought about that visualization exercise, and then I ate a bowl of ice cream.

Tired. When the phone rang just now I considered throwing it out the window just in case there was somebody on the other line who might want something from me, and I cannot give anyone anything because I am too tired. I'm tempted to wear the same clothes every day just because the thought of having to launder them makes me feel crazy, like my brain has split into twelve parts, one for each item in the laundry basket.

(Actually, I do wear the same clothes every day. But that's another story for another time!)

Writing makes me nuts. It makes everybody nuts. We're all fucking nuts. What does it, what makes you completely balls-out insane, is that even when you're this tired, even when you think you can't bear to look at the four million sentences sitting on your desk, waiting for you to improve them, you must. Because there is still work to be done. There is always more work to be done, and no matter how much you put into it, no matter how many drafts you do, how painstakingly you go over your sentences and how solidly you build your structure, it still might not be good enough.

But wait! There's something even crazier! The craziest thing of all is that I want to do this for the rest of my life. There's nothing else I'd rather do.

Except, perhaps, sleep.