I’m writing a small book about beer. What I know about beer mostly fits into a pint, so I am reading like mad to learn the things I should know already. So much has been written about beer that I have to figure out how to make the content my own (and conveniently to avoid plagiarism). So in keeping with the style of the book series and to my own proclivities I’m writing a book that I’m calling (to myself) A Small Book of Beer Sass. Indy has come into her own, although I’ll be writing it under my real name.
There are other things that I need to write, including a possible revision of The Fucker. But this one is going to get me a few dollars to last me through January. It does not bother me that The Small Book of Beer Sass is going to be a very light read. It is frivolous by nature. It will be funny and (I hope) well written. It’s a job and (I hope) I will get paid.
The other writing is harder. I hate our current political world and I hate the depressive effect of the morning news. Rage can warm me up and get me to the page, but I falter. What do I know? One relatively privileged person? But the answer is not not to write. That idea is as ugly as the double negative.
I’ve been struggling to write political poems since graduate school. It’s hard to incorporate politics into poems. Is it too topical? Too ranty? How much explanation is needed? Anna Akhmatova wrote about pine trees with raised boughs, or were they people, rising up. Forgive me [grad school professor redacted], I’m too lazy to look up the actual poem now.
I know what Toni Morrison said about the role of the artist. But what does that mean to those of us who have astronomically fewer readers and less intellectual and writing power? What does that mean to the everyday artist who is struggling to get to the page?
How do you get to the page?
When I’m not delicately editing other people’s scientific articles, tearing apart my friends’ writing, or crying into my laptop as I try to write my own work, I help college kids with their writing projects. In fact, it has gotten to the point where if I hear someone say, “I’m not sure how to say/write this,” I go into full-on writing tutor mode and cannot rest until I help them come up with a viable solution. I practically have to restrain myself at coffee shops if I hear someone at the next table trying to write a paper.
Yesterday I heard a colleague tutor a woman about a creative writing project involving four alternating first-person points of view. Colleague carefully suggests that this is difficult to pull off and advises Student to differentiate the voices well. I could tell from the words Colleague used that the Student was not differentiating very well.
Colleague told the student about an acting trick where you walk across the stage in one character and then walk across the stage in the other direction as another character. (She said something about grid lines, but this poor former English major had no idea what that meant.) I recalled that during a Schlock-Novel–Writing Winter, I would walk the dog and try to see the world and comment on the world the way my character would. It seemed like good exercises to get into someone else’s head.
This past Thanksgiving week was a test of people and boundaries. My sister treats Spouse with the same lack of boundaries with which she treats me. There was a lack of empathy as some people were too busy defending their own interests to imagine what it was like to pull together a meal for 16. I had to corral my antisocial guests who were hiding to talk to the people they actually knew. I love my weird friends, but sometimes they are a pain in the ass. They couldn’t imagine what it was like to be in a different viewpoint.
And of course we are living in a time where empathy seems lacking entirely. Our new America is the same as our old America, except the masks have been ripped off. It seems like no one knows how to understand someone else’s voice, and people pride themselves on their intolerance. But it’s the writer’s job to put ourselves into each other’s heads and get the words on the page. So much of what I learned about empathy, I have learned from books. So keep writing, my friends. Write the hard stuff. That and call your state representative.
And as my dad used to say when I called home to complain about writing a college paper, “Get in there and fight.”
I had family here all week and Houseguest remains. I hosted 16 people for Thanksgiving, and although Spouse did all the cooking, I still had to make sure everyone had a drink and no one felt left out. Or hungry. God forbid. To say I hate most people right now would be an understatement. [Ed. note: Indy Clause acknowledges that it would be an understatement at the best of times, and this year could hardly be termed the best of times.]
The good news crawling out of the wreckage of my mental health is that I have a new medium-sized writing project. For the past few months, I’ve written a few mismatched paragraphs for an article and poems that don’t go anywhere. It’s been a needed break, but it turns out that not writing is nearly as bad as writing.
This is my first ever professional writing gig. I’m going to take the writing project into the holidays. I’m going to hole up at the Micky Mouse porch table in my sister-in-law’s attic, and I’m going to write. The goal is to be smart, brief, and funny. The word “I” isn’t going to appear once in the whole damn manuscript. Huzzah!
How do you make it through the holidays?
Fuck 2016, by John Oliver, courtesy of Scholarly Kitchen
Gillian Welch, Boots No. 1, on First Listen
One of the (many) benefits of having smart, interesting, creative friends is that they can teach you things. My friend J talked on facebook about how what we needed to do in this horrible world is to talk to people who we would not ordinarily talk to. I live in a little liberal bubble (as does J). J walked into his local food pantry and talked to them about how he could help. Food is important to me, one might even say an ethnic imperative. I may do the same.
My friend L has made it her personal mission to call her state representative on a weekly basis and keep their staff on the phone discussing issues that are important to her and also issues that are important to common human decency. She challenged her friends to say what they are doing to help.
It’s hard to know what to do when you are “not a joiner,” to quote one of my former roommates. I’m not a person who will travel into my nearby city and knock on doors. I hate the telephone. But I can do things locally. This week I’m going to look into possible places I can help people with resumes or getting food. I’ll let you know what I find.
What are you doing?
The last time I dazedly checked in with all my friends like this was September 11. I’ve been walking around feeling sick. At Second Job I sat with my colleagues and we stared blankly. There were hugs and tears.
But really Allison K Williams said it best:
We woke up and everything was different. Maybe we woke in the middle of the night, tried not to check our phone, checked our phone anyway, and spent the hours before dawn in a bleak haze, waiting for the moment it was late enough to decently call someone. Maybe a call came—your mother has died. Or, it’s time to let the cat go. Or, our country has elected a demagogue.
Read the rest of the post here.
My grad-school-age friend is going to march. My preacher friend is going to preach. My friends with children are raising kids who will know better. I’m going to write, and maybe step up some local volunteer work with immigrants.
I’ve had dry spells various times since I decided to write on a regular basis. Although I am not in a dry spell right now, writing is more of a struggle than it used to be. Not having my regular project is hard, and quite frankly the writing part of my brain is still tired. What to do?
Don’t panic. The state of not writing is not permanent. Even Junot Diaz, with his ten-year writing block, came back from it and wrote The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And we’re glad he did. You will write again.
Read. My friend in grad school calls this filling the bucket. Your word bucket is empty and you need more. Your idea bucket is empty. You need more. Read in the genre in which you are trying to write. But be easy on yourself and read some schlock fiction too.
Keep trying. Don’t put that notebook away in a dark corner and then never enter the room again. Go to that notebook every day or so and try some freewriting or just stare at it for a little bit. Stop staring at it before you want to burn it and yourself.
Figure out the underlying cause. Do you hate your book? Did the plot die on the vine? Are you depressed? Do you need to move to Vermont and start a goat farm? Did you move to Vermont to start a goat farm and then regret everything? You get the idea.
How do you survive the drought?