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."