Friday, January 11, 2013

I Am Spartacus

So far, 2013 has been full of tiny horrors, some of which I'd love to share with you.

1. Spartacus, the television series: Have you seen this godawful thing? Honestly, it's some of the worst television I've encountered, and I have a high tolerance for bad TV. My brothers swear up and down that if we can just make it through the first five episodes, we will fall in love with it. So we watch it with our hands over our eyes, the husband and I. I keep imagining how the writers brainstormed this show: I picture two unshowered brothers, stoned on weed and beer and porn and video games, essentially having the same conversation over and over again. I imagine it goes something like this:

Bro #1: In this scene, Spartacus should totally have sex with his wife while CGI flowers fall around them and we see her tits a lot.

Bro #2: That's exactly what I was thinking. And we should see her tits.

Bro #1: I love that idea. Definitely tits. And then . . . the Romans come!

Bro #2: Yeah, tits, Romans. Then there should be like a big scene of punches and blood, and the wife's tunic gets ripped so we see her tits. There should be yelling, and someone says something about honor.

Bro #1: Great idea. I think we should have some blood in this scene, like, big splashes of CGI blood and punches that are done in slow motion and also swords. Then, let's get some sex in there, but dirty this time.

Bro #2: Yeah, okay, so we need slaves to have sex then. Slow motion sex. Then they're interrupted by punches and there should be, like, blood splatters that like, hit the television screen. I think the punches should be in slow motion.

Bro #1: Can we get some tits in that scene?

Bro #2: We can do that. (Reaches for bong.)


The husband and I have taken to calling it Shitticus. But we are people of faith. We will suffer through to the fifth episode.
2. While watching the first episode of Downton Abbey Season 3, I kept imagining what it would be like if the writers of Spartacus got their hands on the darling of Masterpiece Theatre Anglophilia. Tidal waves of blood and boobs . . . and Maggie Smith.

3. I am back to work on the new memoir and it is kicking my ass. It's taken me over a year to be ready even to consider returning to memoir after promoting Yoga Bitch, which involved talking about myself endlessly for many months. But now I'm back to cringing and sighing and wishing I could hide under my desk most days, writing about some of the absurd things I've done, said, thought . . . Oh, memoir. That said: I kind of like the pain, because it gives me so much to complain about! And you know how I do love to complain.

4. We're doing one of those wretched little cleanses again. This time I'm allowing myself to have butter. I'm a grown-up, a decider, and I decide that on this cleanse, I can't have booze or sugar or whatever the hell, but I can have butter. This makes all the difference.

5. I had a tiny epiphany that freaked me out, and that's that this work is never going to get any easier. Memoir is hard, always, because I am dealing with the messy, complicated material of my own life. But fiction's no easier. When I'm working on shorter pieces (2012 was the year of the short story) I often feel like I've got a wicked case of ADD and mania and dilettantism. But the older I get the more aware I am that while my work habits are deeply, deeply fucked up, they are my fucked-up work habits, and somehow, they work. But they look nothing like an orderly person's.

6. I also (re)discovered that discipline isn't everything. I mean, discipline is important in this business. In the beginning, discipline meant getting my ass in the chair and slogging through my requisite three hours, or 1000 words, or two pages, whatever the goal was at the time. That discipline has become almost --almost-- second nature. Now I have to remind myself to relax. To space out. To be a conduit.

In November, I started a writing retreat to draft the remaining third of the new book. For four weeks I worked every day, grateful for the rain and the cold to keep me focused. By mid December I found myself with nearly all of the chapters drafted but a growing despair that the structure was somehow all wrong. I could either keep going in this potentially-wrong direction or I could surrender to the holidays and the not-knowing and give myself a few days off.

So I sat by the tree and read Maria Semple's delightful Where'd You Go Bernadette in two days. Ate my body weight in truffles. Moved on to Ellen Forney's marvelous Marbles. Ate bowl after bowl of buttery popcorn. And then I went to bed one night around two in the morning, and the moment I closed my eyes, the book's structure-- the flaw in the structure, rather-- revealed itself. I mean, it was like a quill writing a new outline in the air above my head. Like a revelation.

7. Surrender and revelation are often linked, and I seriously hate it. I wish I could just decide to have a revelation and then have one. Well, I surrendered to the mess, and lookie here: this gift of revelation. I'm not in control of this work, not really. I'm not in control of Spartacus's blood and boobs, either. Ah, and here we've arrived at the Meaning of the Blog Post, the Lesson: With both my work and my relationship with Spartacus, I must be patient. Sometimes things suck. But sometimes you must surrender to five episodes or more of suckiness before you get to the good stuff. Or to reach that moment when you decide that ridiculously staged sex scenes and even more absurdly choreographed acts of violence are the good stuff.

Heading into winter, into this new year, that's what I will try to remember. Happy New Year, y'all!