Ed: Um, birds aren’t fluffy.
I was on the phone with my very favorite second sister when she made the fateful error. “How is your book? Have you finished your book yet?”
My voice went chill. “What do you mean? Are you talking about our most recent murder mysteries [that we both read all the time] or do you mean the book book?”
“The book book. Hey, let’s both finish our books by this summer!”
Dearest, darlingest favoritest second sister [who reads this blog], somehow that’s not how this works. I keep thinking I’ve finished the book, or I’ve written all I can, when yet another person tells me it’s not ready, and I see what they mean.
I have an MFA in poetry. And minus one very very good graduate class in creative nonfiction, I’ve had to teach myself how to write a memoir. Poets just present you with three objects and allow the reader to draw her own conclusions. Evidently prose writers have to tell a story about those three objects.
I am not very good at telling stories. I get caught up in small details and backtrack and regress and tell it wrong anyway. Nevertheless she persisted.
Maybe if I got off the Internet. Maybe if I weren’t moving. Maybe if I didn’t have the attention span of a gnat. Maybe if I were better at physics. Maybe if all these things were true, my work would be done. But I doubt it.
I get jealous when I see other books published. But some of them are not thought through. Some of them have not found their form. Many of them sag in the middle.
But the only way out is through, and other such cliches. Wah, wah, wah, writing is hard.
What’s the worst question you’ve been asked?
More often than not, I work from my couch. But periodically, for example, when I’m about to move, I start thinking about office design. My current office design, and the office/bedroom designs of my past, can be best described as “how can I pack the most books into this space?” When I lived with roommates, my bedroom was jokingly called the library.
But one of my favorite distractions is to read dumb design articles and think about how I could or could not function in the space. The chairs in fancy design magazine home offices all look hideously uncomfortable. The addition of cowhide (fake or real) does not help, and does not fit house style (and I don’t mean Chicago). That said, I would love more stained glass windows, a window seat, and possibly even a ladder.
Before I worked at home, and before I worked in publishing houses, I worked in bookstores. (Ed. note: Bookstores and Indy Clause have the same aesthetic: Fit in as many books as possible.) The joke was that there are two kinds of booksellers. Those who alphabetized their books and those who spent so much time humming the alphabet song under their breaths at work that they felt no compunction to do so at home.
We all made fun of people who arranged book by color. They were Not Real Book People. But today I found the worst in anti-book sociopathy. Scroll down until you see the photo where the designer wrapped each book in brown paper for consistency. Words cannot express my horror. I am clutching my pearls. It Cannot Be Borne.
What drives you to capital letters?
Keep up with all legally prescribed psychotropic medications.
Buy a cute notebook. Buy ten cute notebooks. Get a filthy (yet legal) stationery habit. Look at your beautiful pens and pencils and the trendy Japanese notebooks. They are begging to be used. Use them.
Read. Use your disdain for the shoddily written books to write your own. Use your inspiration to scrawl something new. No one gets better at writing without writing.
Start pondering your very complicated feelings about the word “Yankee” (or word of your choice).
Bribery. Self-loathing. Reward systems. Another cup of coffee.
Louise Erdrich writes in Blue Jay Dance about how she tied herself to the chair with a bathrobe belt. She could loosen it in case of emergency, but it kept her from bounding up before her executive function could stop her.
Get the fuck off the Internet. Oops, it’s now “internet.”
How do you get to the page?
I just read an article about farmhouse kitchens. It was high on pictures (fun) and low on prose (thank god). “Modern farmhouse kitchens hark back to a simpler time,” the article gushed. This is one of my editorial pet peeves.
Have you read Laura Ingalls Wilder? Raising children in a dugout in the ground is not simple. Have you ever churned butter, butchered a hog, or washed your clothes in a river? Me neither. It does not sound easy.
The only way you can live a comfortable life as a woman is to marry well. Will you find a man that respects you? Do you even like men? And people say online dating is difficult. On OKCupid, or whatever people use these days (I’m a Craigslist find, myself), you can click on boxes that say whether you want or don’t want children, among a million other options.
Let’s keep a little history in mind when we write or read cliches. Now let me go back to my editorial work. Books don’t publish themselves, although we no longer have to set type. Thank god.
What’s your pet peeve?
I’m fucking grateful that my editing job has decided that “standard misusage” of the English language doesn’t need to be corrected. Because using “which” and “that” interchangeably has never changed the meaning of a sentence.
I’m fucking grateful that I quit Second Job, because who needs to go to awkward work parties with people you love very much and will no longer see on a weekly basis in less awkward situations.
I’m fucking grateful that my spouse is mad at me for legitimate reasons because as Tolstoy said happy families are boring. Lord knows one wouldn’t want to be boring.
I’m fucking grateful that half my facebook acquaintance is summering in Spain and the other half are having wild publishing success. They deserve to be happy.
I’m additionally grateful that acquaintance can be considered “is” and “are” in the same sentence. This is why all people need fucking copyeditors.
I’m fucking grateful that I had lunch with a friend where we talked about awkward work situations, which I made more awkward by not holding my tongue. At least I didn’t lie. (I don’t really know how to lie. This is why I’m a terrible employee.)
I’m fucking grateful that this blog is slightly anonymous so I don’t have to work on self-promotion to get jobs that I want because although I’m a pretty great editor/writing coach, I am a terrible fucking employee.
What are you grateful for?
I’ve been listening to the Decemberists. They satisfy the same part of me that listened to REM obsessively as a teenager.
Use the serial comma or pay the price.
I have a friend who told me a story about an early boyfriend who cut himself and started bar fights to show how much he loved her. She was young and from an unhealthy family, and she thought this was love rather than abuse. Here is an article about how no one believes Sylvia Plath’s story of her own abusive marriage. Biting another person’s cheek without consent may not be a sign of love. (Unless you’re my small half-blind dog, in which case, little dog, I forgive you, although it hurt like an SOB at the time.)
On the power of keeping a notebook and an example of a traveler notebook, which is one of my current stationery obsessions. Don’t laugh. The inspiration of other people’s pages send me rushing to my own.
What are you currently obsessed with?