A Kick in the Ass

I don’t know if it’s ADD or a very mild writerly case of being a adrenaline junkie, but I like to submit to things when I’m wildly unprepared. Then I haul myself together and do what I have to do. So I sent the first 20 pages of the Fucker to a memoir competition. You have to have the whole memoir completed, of course. And I have it, well, written (not necessarily well-written, however).

And I made the longlist.

Now I have one week to take 55,000 words of good and bad writing and make it into one coherent gorgeous whole. I probably won’t make the short list because it’s not finished. I don’t think it’s going to be polished enough to make the next round of cuts.

However, the first 20 pages, which were polished, are good enough to make the first cut. And that is the most important thing. I am somewhat sure that I can get the rest up to snuff, if not in a week, then at least in my lifetime.

How the fuck am I going to edit this thoroughly in the next week? Suggestions welcome.




Waffles are my Proust’s madeleines. There are times of year I can’t even eat them because they make me feel homesick for a home that no longer exists. But DP is a waffle fanatic, so for his birthday I bought him a waffle maker.

DP anxiously (because he does not trust me in the kitchen): Do you have waffle mix?

Indy: Withering gaze (within which a discerning partner might read “daughters of Maternal Clause do not use waffle mix”)

I pulled down my mother’s trusty Joy of Cooking circa late 1960-something (actually it might be my great aunt’s, but no one is counting [except Cougar]) and found a waffle recipe. I whisked egg whites like a 1950s housewife, folded them in, and made gorgeous waffles.

I made them again this weekend, and I wanted to call my mother in the worst way to tell her I was making waffles, and to ask her whether there really was no vanilla extract in the recipe.

I’ve been having a difficult time getting words on the page. Teaching and some connected anxiety is taking up a huge part of my psyche. Today I’m planning a lecture on creative nonfiction. You guys think I have that all down, but I am so bad with dates, numbers, and details. I know, whine, whine, whine. Get back to work. Eat your waffles. Write your damn book.

What are your madeleines?

Coming Out

All right, people. I’m half-outing myself for a good cause. The book of short stories, Easiest If I Have a Gun, written by the man I am married to is available for preorder today.

I agreed to go out with [DP] on the strength of our written correspondence. I like them smart and I like them to know their way around the English language. (This is why online dating is great for writers.) We had a very scary moment a few weeks in where we showed each other our writing. This was possibly even more scary than when we showed each other other things. For the second instance, if it isn’t perfectly great the first time, you can work on it. This is not as true for the writing. Fortunately I liked his writing.

If you like dark and funny stories about working-class adolescence, this is your book. If you have ever watched the Dukes of Hazard or a marriage fall apart or stay together, you will like this book. Can a man write convincingly about craft ladies? Yes, he can.

If I were to write a blurb, it would say:

[DP] writes like a dream.

or maybe

[DP] writes even better than he cooks.

or maybe

Reader, I married him.


[And look out for our very own Downith, who won a character with her name from one of my silly contests.]


Being Alone

In a mad quest to avoid writing, I found myself reading about being alone. Although I’m all happily married with a dog and a house, not to mention a husband, I spent most of my twenties single. I walked alone. I went to things alone. I went to things with friends. I walked with friends. Sometimes I did not walk home alone, but mostly I did. I got a lot of writing done.

The article talks about Emerson, who was alone frequently and got a lot of writing done. One of the great gifts of writing residencies is the time alone with your thoughts. It’s not just physical solitude that you have, although that is part of it. Other considerations can go by the wayside. No one wants to tell you about something interesting that happened today or go with him to the grocery store. You are there to write.

I got up early this morning and went to the computer to write. I have not been alone with my writing in a long time. Of course when I’m alone and writing, I’m not really alone. I have voices parading through my head. It is the voices of my friends, of what I am reading, of what I have seen, of my writing, of Teri asking me questions I cannot answer, etc.

Yesterday I did not run, go grocery shopping, clean out the guest room, plan my class, or a thousand other things I might have needed to do. Instead I curled up on the couch with the dog and my new 1000-page Everyman Library edition of Joan Didion’s nonfiction.

That is a woman who knows how to write and how to work. Her sentences kill me. “Outside the Monterey County Courthouse in Salinas, California, the Downtown Merchants’ Christmas decorations glittered in the thin sunlight that makes the winter lettuce grow.” So exact and thorough and yet it reminds us that we are reading a book about California, even as she talks about Joan Baez.

I realized yesterday that I am beat and I am lazy. I do not have the energy to do this thing, to get the words on the page and then (and this is the part I shy from) to polish them up until they are ready to go out into the world. This is why I took to the couch with Joan Didion and Mr. Dog.

And this morning I wrote. Eventually I get downright agoraphobic (which I realize today means literally that I fear the marketplace). I do not want to leave my room, the space where my words flow onto the page. I shut the door, and will my husband to keep sleeping. I may never get it back. And of course it’s not just him, but my own desire to leave the writing space and do something less frustrating. But today I stayed.

So here is to Joan Didion, warm dogs, and doors that close. May your final draft not be agoraphobic.

Are you alone?


It turns out that I’ve been pretty lucky in terms of gender and education. My three favorite grad school professors were men, and they were nothing but supportive and considerate. I turned in a poem with a lesbian theme as my second poem in one workshop and my (male) professor quickly squashed any discussion on subject matter. I was nervous as hell, and I could have hugged him. He loved my work and I loved him (in an appropriate teacher/student sort of way).

One of these favorite professors wrote a new book, so I ordered it from the library. The first section read “We were hell-bent to become poets…we drank and smoked and fucked as much as we could….We contemplated suicide when the world ignored our poems…[but] With women we were sensitive…” Do you see a problem here? I know he is self-aggrandizing and making fun of himself a little bit. However, it is clear here that women are not poets. Not once in two workshops and a bunch of thesis meetings did Professor ever hint to me that women shouldn’t be poets. He just didn’t see what he was saying as he mythologized his young experience. It’s a smaller fault, but it still sucks.

And it made me think of DP’s mentor. He was included in an email about order of the stories in DP’s book. I confess, I threw my weight around a little bit in the book-making process, not in a jerky way, I hope; but I wanted to make sure that people knew I worked in publishing so that when I said that the font on the cover looked like every education book anyone had ever published that they knew I wasn’t blowing smoke out of my ass. (Hate that term, sorry.) But when Mentor wrote back, “Not only is she a babe, but she is smart too,” I got pissed.

DP said that Mentor had said that because I had agreed with him. But I had been talking about an editorial opinion, about the sort of thing I do for a living. And being a babe (which I’m not at all, but that’s another argument) is completely irrelevant. But then one of my other favorite professors posted this essay on facebook, saying something about how he was proud to teach female essayists.

So I can’t read this book by my professor because he pisses me off. What, then, should I read next?

Editing for marriage and profit

1. It’s a good day when you google a phrase to see whether it should be hyphened (your English major/copyeditor brain insists that it should be hyphenated, but you have been tricked by science before), and you find the phrase hyphened in your very own journal.

2. Copyediting your beloved’s work is weird. There are things you miss because you know what he’s talking about even in fiction. It’s almost as bad as copyedidting your own work. You see things that he does that you think are brilliant, and then there are the things he does that are irritating and repetitive. Copyediting is about looking at something in excruciating detail. It is not unlike living with someone.

3. “Profit” is a bit metaphorical.

4. I might have more to say about editing if I had not just had lunch with a friend and drifted into the thrift store. I am now the proud owner of a houndstooth wool jacket. It has turned my head.

“It’s elegant!” my friend said. “And it works with both jeans and something more fancy.”

“Good,” I said. “Last week I almost wore my Carhart jacket to class, because I had nothing nicer to keep me warm.”

What’s turning your head these days?

Late Draft Syndrome

I’ve working on The Fucker for a couple hundred years, give or take. In the past month I’ve had two or three ideas for essays that are tangential to the Fucker, but as of now don’t belong in the Fucker.

There are parts of The Fucker where the sentences sing. My page or two of these baby essays? The sentences are inert and, between you and me, ugly. I hate them. But I need to put that aside and keep writing. I can make them sing later.

And even my pretty sentences I despise at this point in lucky draft #13. I printed out my last section the other day. I listened to Ann Hood’s podcast on what makes a kick-ass essay that Teri has been talking about. And it was worth the hype.

It made me mark five things in the first two (single spaced) pages that I needed to fix. And I knew the right questions to ask. Then I put the printed-out manuscript away. I’ve been freewriting in my little sugar-cane notebook because I can’t bear to look at the manuscript. The pretty sentences are shouting.

This is late draft syndrome, the inability to write anything new because it all seems like so much work, and the inability to work further on the main project. But today it’s a few pages of this essay or bust.

What are your baby steps?