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
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
Cruise ships (see above, also this)
What do you fear?
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?
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.)
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.
I’ve known for a while that there is a serious problem with the structure of my memoir. I’ve stopped sending it out to agents. I don’t look at it on my computer. I’ve been pretty much pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Then last week I got a rejection that actually explained in words that penetrated my thick head what the book specifically needed in order to be successful. Angels sang. Well, no. There was cussing, despairing, groveling, grieving, and then the angels hummed a little beneath their breath. Out of tune.
I’m cutting and expanding. But not just a scene here and a scene there. No. I’m clearcutting and planting new species of trees. I’m changing a forest into a meadow. Please stop me before I plow this metaphor to the ground.
I’ve been pantsing it (writing by ear, seeing how it goes) for six years. It’s time for a fucking outline. I know I’ve said it before; but this time I mean it. Are you tired of writerly resolutions? I am. And yet, that spark is keeping me going.
What keeps you going?
The spouse and I went north for a long weekend, then two days later I went to visit friends a state or two south of us. There was a lot of time spent in cars on country roads, a rented cabin, subways, commuter rail, Amtrak, cars, friend’s apartment, a random university where my friend suckered me into teaching her class for her.
“Talk about what you do.”
“Uh, what part of what I do? Editing? Writing about beer? Nonfiction? Sonnets? Poodles?”
“Do that poet thing.”
“What poet thing?”
“You know, poetry/language intelligence.”
Well, this Clause is a sucker for flattery, so I did it. It went OK. I was tired though, and could have done better.
While I was slightly south of my current locale, I was not on social media. I did not see much of the Dumpster Fire that is our executive branch. But I had a good talk with my two dear friends, whom I had gone to visit. We talked politics and writing and race and writing and books and nature and relationships.
In the coming weeks I need to refine and put into effect my acts of resistance, and set up a system so it’s doable. Same with editing the Fucker. And I have to finish the first draft of my beer book.
What do you need to refine? Also are any of you going to AWP?
It’s been a weird little January. Ever since I went freelance, January has been a month of writing and editing, because my academic Second Job is on break. I think it was two Januaries ago that I did some major book work, which was great. This January has been the Small Beer book.
If it weren’t for the destruction of the progressive image of this country, I would be fine. On the one hand, now that the veil has been removed, it is obvious to the mainstream that there are deep inequalities and abuses that this nation has not atoned for. One of my friends was born in Germany right after WWII. He talks about the deep shame of knowing that his male relatives, people he loved, had been Nazis. He almost moved to Israel to work on a kibbutz to atone.
The governor of Maine said that John Lewis should thank him, a white Republican, for what the white men (Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, etc.) did to free the slaves. I laughed until I cried. White America has never reckoned with the impact and reverberations of slavery the way Germany has with the holocaust. Nor have we (for I am part of white America too) acknowledged the ways in which we have benefited and perpetrated white supremacy. I used to think I was off the hook because my family didn’t own slaves. But I know as a white woman I move in a privileged space.
I’m rarely considered to be a criminal, uneducated, or poor (at least now that I don’t dress like a grunge waif). My being in a room or a group is rarely considered a political act. My friend S. once said that every time she walks into a room, people have an opinion of her as an African American, a woman, and a writer. That is a weight I rarely feel.
I’ve gotta keep thinking, keep working, keep meeting new people. What questions should I be asking?