Happy Equinox!

I am not feeling terribly happy, but from today on, the days will get longer, and since it’s actually spring, I will try to not get so mad about the unseasonably warm weather that makes plants bloom at the wrong time. It’s not just, “Oh, my poor crocii”; it’s “holy fuck, crops are not getting fertilized at the right time or are getting damaged in the cold, we’re all going to die.” As you can see, I am a tiny ray of sunshine.

I wrote a plot treatment for the fucker. Yes I should have done that years ago, but I couldn’t have. I needed to write it all out to see what I really knew and what I really had. My brain hurts, but I am cautiously pleased with my process.

This spring I hope to finish the Small Beer Book. I want to make some real process with The Fucker. Right now I am in research phase, which is a pretty good place to be. There is a whole new chapter I have to write up, and I know nothing. Fortunately the librarian at Second Job and I are members of the mutual admiration society. She ordered me a book about a store my grandfather worked at in California (take that, Cougar).

What are you doing this spring?

Reengaging with the Fucker

The first rule is that there are no rules that are not fit to be changed. A few days ago I bravely claimed on this public forum that I would write 2000 words a day. Well, almost every day. Well, maybe not really. Here’s what happened between then and today.

After working on Chapter 3 and writing my last blog post in a flush of new writing, I decided maybe I should go to Chapter 1. So I sat and my desk, opened a new document, opened the old document, and cut and pasted a few things. And it sucked. It began somewhere in the Depths of Boredom and then meandered through a deep grove of No Fucking Plot At All, wait have some Pretty Sentences!

I despaired. But because I am an optimist without a current paper to edit, I persevered. I checked out Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story. I have mostly stopped reading writing books, because I understand (at least intellectually) how to get to the page and how to get words down. I understand the basics of the craft of poetry. But something clearly is missing in my understanding of the craft of nonfiction.

Ms. Gornick does not disappoint. She talks about how you have the situation of the book. In H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald loses her father and adopts a goshawk. But that isn’t the story. The story is that Macdonald, in her grief, tries to rid herself of all humanity and live wild like a hawk. (This is a brutal simplification. Please don’t decide not to read this book based on my description. It is such a good book.) Then she finds her way back to being a feeling, hurt, complicated human. That is the wisdom.

This is why Julie Powell’s memoir Cleaving sucked so bad. The situation was amazing. She cheats on her husband in what appears to be a perfectly happy marriage. She goes gets an apprenticeship as a butcher. Excellent! But by the end of the book Powell still does not know why she originally cheated on her husband in what, according to her, was a happy marriage. There is no story. The narrator is not to be trusted because she doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing. This is why you don’t write a memoir in a year even if you get a fancy contract after the sale of your first book (Julia and Julie). Maybe she fucked up her marriage in order to have something to write about.

Gornick insists that you have to know why you are telling the story and thus create a persona that is able to tell that story. The persona is not a lie, it is the character that is you. “In each case [of the books she mentions earlier in the chapter] the writer was possessed of an insight that organized the writing, and in each case a persona had been created to serve that insight.” Powell does not know her insight, so we don’t really arrive anywhere. We get that she likes rough and/or dangerous sex (thus the affair). We don’t know why or why at that moment of time did she begin on the affair. (For a good review, read this.)

Macdonald knows she is writing about her journey into wildness and back again. She does not mention details that are not closely related to that story, even if they are related to the situation (the author, her dead father, the hawk).

I am hoping I can take my story and tattoo it to my fucking forehead keep it in my brain long enough to fashion myself as a persona. I might come up with some key words. Maybe this is how the ADD memoirist figures out finally what is important to the story and what is not. Does this tidbit fit my key word? No? Delete. (The ADD memoirist can’t figure out what is not important to the story because the gaps in her executive function give her no ability to discriminate.)

What books do you hate and why?

End of February

I gotta come up with some better blog post titles, but for fuck’s sake have mercy. I turned in my beer book yesterday. After that I walked my dog, and then went out and bought one of my very favorite slightly expensive, but not embarrassingly so bottles of bourbon. No beer was drunk last night.

This morning I looked at the ten index cards that contain notes for each chapter of The Fucker Remastered. My plan is immerse myself in my own private nanowrimo (thanks, Downith, for not suing me for plagiarism. Yet.) There are some rules.

No writing on the weekends unless I feel moved to.

No reason to be formal. Get the ideas down on the page, write notes to myself. Make dumb jokes I can delete later. Or not.

Don’t use Scrivener! Although I love it as a program, I am tired of looking at it. Plain old Word. 2000ish words per day or so. Before you become too impressed, remember that between one-thirds and two-thirds of the manuscript is written already. Cut and paste is easy and fun.

Print out every day. Carry to Second Job to edit, add notes, doodle, or use to start one-match fires (Thanks, Paul, for not suing me for plagiarism. Yet.)

Be disciplined, but don’t kill myself over this. Work hard, but do not despair.

Try to be a nicer person to my spouse. Keep walking my dogs as it is good for all of us. Do dishes every once in a while.

What are your rules?

Feel the Fear, and…Go Back to Bed

Things I Am Afraid Of, In No Particular Order

Beginning edits on my last(?) draft of the Small Beer Book

President Agent Orange’s blatant disregard of our government and our people

Spiders

Heights

Debt

Ignorance, my own and others

Turning in the edits on my last(?) draft of the Small Beer Book

Alienating my family because of my views on Israel (not you, Cougar, obviously)

Alienating my family because of my book (not you, Cougar, and not you either, should I have another relative reading this blog)

Death of people I love

Putting out my back while shoveling

Running out of coffee

Not understanding the joke

Disappointment

Group activities

Cruise ships (see above, also this)

Disney

What do you fear?

 

All Praise the Index Card

So unassuming and seemingly old-fashioned, the index card. My father used them all of the time and so I have some lying around. (The thing about going through his papers is that I am helping myself to his unused office supplies. This is not unlike how I treated his office when he was alive.)

I am a disorganized, forgetful lecturer. So while teaching classes, I rediscovered the joy of index cards. I kept my lecture notes on them with examples and quotes. And then I told my students that it was part of [Last Name]’s first law of research writing, which is know thyself. I told them I knew I would forget important details if I did not have them at hand, and thus I use index cards to keep me on track.

I began to write my new outline on plain old paper. But fear set in. This might not be the right order. I don’t want to flip back and forth in my notebook. So I remembered the mighty index card. I have ten chapters on ten cards with ten working titles (really sophisticated, literary titles such as “Childhood” and “Education”).

I have notes on what could go in the chapter. Periodically I pick up the cards and shuffle through them, just to reassure myself that there is an order. I have yet to get that order to the page. But it’s just a matter of time.

The sun is shining. I sent a letter to my senator against confirming David Friedman as an ambassador to Israel. I should have called, but I sent an email instead.

How are things in your neck of the woods?

February is Awesome!

Why is February awesome? Let me tell you. There have been three snowstorms in about five days. Normally I enjoy a snowpocalypse as much as the next person, or at least more than the next person, but our snow plow dude did a no show. No big deal, thought the former Southerner. I’m good with a shovel! By a miracle of air flow our side driveway stays pretty clear; it’s just the end of the driveway. How hard can that be?

Well, let’s just say I can move a good deal of plain old snow. Crusty, refrozen iceberglets left from previous road plowings? Not so much. Fortunately I am on the way to work for about five different colleagues, and I phoned around until I found one who could give me a ride.

I didn’t have to worry about going out (after I got home from work) because of the snow and the weekend, and the Spouse was at AWP. So—how fantastic!—two whole days to do nothing but work on the beer book. And then today, another snow day! More work on the beer book!

Now there are gale-force winds (I think), and blowing snow, and although I am profoundly grateful I don’t have to be anywhere, I am stuck. With my beer book. As my house creaks and rattles around me. It’s a morass of first world New England* problems up here (*Let’s just say I have more sympathy with Ethan Frome than I used to). And if I don’t finish this damn manuscript soon, I’m going to lose my damn mind.

How are you guys dealing with winter or writing? (Note: Today, please don’t tell me about your pleasant spring weather, OK? Thank you. My psyche is delicate.)

On Resistance

This article by Damon Young stuck with me.

Our country, which was never as just and moral and righteous as we claimed ourselves to be, can no longer even feign that those concepts have any sort of singular and practical application here. And the only takeaway from the week-and-a-half-long reign of Darth Cheeto and his band of nihilistic chickenhawks—the only useful and pragmatic takeaway, rather—is that this is on y’all. And by “y’all” I mean “white people.”

After a certain time the “how can this [electing Darth Cheeto] happen? to us??” rings false. People of color said it rang false from the beginning. People of color have always known this country is racist. This country was founded on “We the People” and “We” was very specifically land-owning (rich) white men, some of whom held slaves. That paradox defined and continues to define our society.

Perhaps white writers can weather criticism better than white nonwriters, because we know we are, at our core, defensive. It’s natural. And we’re used to overcoming that defensiveness. It’s part of the critiquing process. Someone criticizes a piece of writing and we say, “No! You’re wrong! Or you don’t understand!” at first. Then after some reflection, we often come to realize the other person is right. So let’s use that skill, of keeping that defensiveness on the inside until we fully consider the other person’s viewpoint, to make us better allies.

In writing news: I have taken some new criticism to heart. I’ve written a new possible (very brief) outline. I am afraid to look at it again. Books are hard, y’all. Resistance is hard. But if writers know anything, they know persistence. Be persistent, my friends.