Tag Archives: The Andy Project

Have I abandoned this place altogether?

Oh, go on with your fabulous self. Ben Hassett for Harper's Bazaar UK Magazine, IMAXtree

Oh, go on with your fabulous self.
Ben Hassett for Harper’s Bazaar UK Magazine, IMAXtree

I don’t want to de-blog, but it is one of the few things I have going at this stage in my life that seems fine to let slide. And so slide it must.

Once in a while, I think of something that seems relevant to capture here, but putting together a post means forgoing work on the novel, and that’s just not something I’m keen to do right now. I am so ready to be finished with the novel and ready to be working on other projects. The next novel is lurking in the background, poised for me to give it shape. But I am determined to get this one wrapped up first.

Earlier this week I came upon this quote from Cate Blanchett, from Harper’s Bazaar UK:

“I was trying to explain to someone yesterday that the decisions you make as an actor have to be instinctual, it has to come alive between you and the other actors. Maybe because I am a goldfish, when a shoot ends I leave behind the reasons I’ve done what I have done. To come back six months later and dredge all that stuff up for publicity is difficult.”

So there’s no obvious or direct parallel between her response to publicity and my private writings, but this did feel like a familiar sensation to me – being fully immersed in a project as it unfolds and releasing it completely when it concludes. Then later – submitting it in a workshop, for example – feeling detached from the work. Once enough time elapses, my stories begin to feel slightly alien to me, like, that came from me? The incredulity is sometimes positive, as in a story seeming better than I thought.

Of course there are also stories so very bad that I am not sure anything could induce me to revisit them. And yet, I can’t bring myself to delete them. Why? Their continued presence on my hard drive seems optimistic, or perhaps delusional – one day, when I am gone, someone will find them and…

…what? They will say, my god, this person sure wrote a lot of crap. And if they hold me in any esteem, they’ll do me the favor of deleting it all, unread.

Fighting/abiding

What was that about abiding?

What was that about abiding?

I can’t remember where I heard it, or if I heard it anywhere at all, but there’s this thing that happens sometimes, where writers mistake a fight for conflict.1 By fight, I mean argument. And most of the time? Fights are not that interesting. I think this is because anger is a one-note emotion, and while it’s bound to reveal what’s ugly about a character, it’s not going to reveal what’s true about that character’s nature, in the way that finely crafted conflict is supposed to.

I think about conflict and tension a lot within the context of my novel, but nothing comes of these thoughts.

Everything I “know” about conflict has the stale, airless aspect of something I internalized after reading, I don’t know, that shitty Donald Maas book on writing the breakout novel. Somewhere I got the notion that a really great conflict pits two irreconcilable things against each other, for instance, two competing desires within a main character (by which I do not mean the competing desires for two equally hot manimals, the province of subpar YA material such as the Twilight books).

That line of thinking is tantalizing because it positions conflict as a formula of sorts, as if you could sit down in your little writing hut one day and brainstorm a situation that demands a collision of two diametrically opposed worldviews (conveniently contained within a single character). Obviously, that in no way resembles my experience as a writer. Brainstorming within the context of my fiction has produced so little useful material as to render it completely irrelevant.

Drafting is the only answer for me. Draft, draft, draft, and then try to intuit my way to a shape that suits the material. And there’s this, via an interview with George Saunders:

A writer knows the problems with a piece as she’s working on it, I think. That’s what she’s doing in that writing room for all of those hours: trying to figure out how to minimize the inborn defects of the fictional construct.

Sigh. And here, still more Saunders:

…I guess the main catharsis is just the satisfaction of inventing a situation, abiding with it, and then feeling like you’ve shepherded it into the best version of itself – that feeling of having unearthed some non-random surprises in the process.

Abiding2 with it. This is such an apt description for the process. It’s hard to believe that it was 2007 in which I wrote the short story that has grown into my novel. And I’m still abiding with it, hoping for more non-random surprises during this year of its life.

1This observation comes courtesy Girls, which I do enjoy, but come on. Sunday’s episode was a series of fight scenes. I forgive a certain amount of fight scenes when they are well-written or quippy or necessary, but I think in this case that it was the least interesting choice to make for a handful of key shifts in the story arc.

2This is one of those words (like “inconceivable”) that has been permanently altered by the culture. And I guess because of the Saunders context, it is impossible to not point out the Jeff Bridges book?

Back from whence I came

Click for source.

It’s time to blow the dust off this blog, seriously. I had this self-mandate that I would spend the latter portion of my maternity leave on actual leave, and this blog is one of the things I let slide.

I’ve spent the past three weeks adjusting to my new reality of work and baby management, which is best represented by a visual of myself tottering around in heels with a ginormous bag over each shoulder, lugging an infant carrier and swearing as only the parent of a pre-verbal child can. Add to the picture: two dogs galloping along with me. This morning, as one of my bags slid off my shoulder, threatening to crush poor Otto in his carrier, I told some guy at the ECE center that I was falling apart, but actually? I feel pretty together, all things considered. I was a mess two weeks ago, but now I’ve upgraded myself to frazzled.

I have even managed to do some writing, and once we graduate Otto into his own room, I should be able to get a reasonable amount of work done after he goes down for the night. It’s an exciting prospect, especially since I’m itching to get back to my novel. My writing group was really kind (and not just out of pity) about the last chunk I submitted, and the other night I sat down at my laptop and spontaneously solved a structural problem I’ve been wrestling with. Huzzah!

Because my writing time is so very limited these days, I’m also the victim/beneficiary of the feast-or-famine phenomenon. This means that because I have next to no capacity, I’ve been deluged with story inspiration.

It’s such a pleasure to have stories to chase again, but a bitch to not be able to chase them. Soon, soon.

Silver Convention

Well, I have two false starts on a blog entry and am going nowhere fast today. I really need to work on my novel. In the spirit of 1975, I present the following, which includes brief golden nudity (not silver?).

Manuscript complete!

…as always, I turn to the great women writers for inspiration.

Spotted on The Hairpin.

Fear of pppffftt

Miss Jong if you're nasty.

I’m reading what I think of as second-tier research for my novel: things relevant to the periphery of its setting (mid-70s NYC). So naturally I landed on Erica Jong and Fear of Flying, exactly the sort of book a teen girl would be reading in secret if it was the kind of thing her parents would be apt to censor, and it almost certainly would be.

It’s kind of funny that I didn’t read the book years ago; in retrospect, it seems like something I should have picked up after The Valley of the Dolls, which I read in high school. I was born three years after Fear of Flying came out, so my associations with it were more along the lines of feminist classic rather than landmark book about sex, though the two things are of course related. I didn’t read it because the title metaphor didn’t appeal to me in the least. I felt like I would find a message therein, that I knew what that message would be, and that the telling could only be cheesy.

So at first, I was pleasantly surprised. Erica Jong is witty. She can be funny. But then the pages add up and add up, and it turns out our narrator – our “anti-heroine” as the inside flap has it – is so profoundly self-centered as to be hard to spend time with. I grew so weary of her angst. I got so tired of the cultural insensitivity/casual racism that she wields with the authority of being raised in a liberal household and being married to/in-law to a global pastiche of men. I got frustrated with her inability to see the way her alleged fantasy life (with its ideal of the oft-cited “zipless fuck”) in no way connects to the sex she pursues. Through much of the book’s beginning, for example, she wonders if the object of her sexual obsession is her longed-for zipless fuck. But instead of ziplessly fucking him, she seeks out a relationship with him instead.

This is because, Suzie Mackenzie noted in this 1999 Guardian interview/article:

…it is adultery, and not sex, that is [Jong’s] subject. She’s been writing about it for 25 years. Adultery, which she dressed up all that time ago as sexual liberation, without ever seeming to recognise that adultery depends for its existence on the ultimate bourgeois convention, marriage. She always had marriage on her mind. If sex within marriage is de facto dull as she claims (‘Sex by definition is something you have with someone other than a spouse…’), adulterous sex is premised on precisely that same structure. But, according to Jong, it is the transgression that defines us. ‘Forbidden sex gives us ourselves because selfhood is still forbidden to women.’ Like the little girl ticked off by daddy, she needs the disapprobation to feel complete.

There’s a passage in the book, near the end, where the narrator rebuffs the come-ons of a French train conductor. At the beginning of the book, she fantasized about sex on a train between two strangers (the scene fades to black as the train…oh, sigh…please forgive me…disappears into a tunnel). But at the book’s end, the narrator is not interested in living out this fantasy with the conductor. This is positioned as some kind of psychological growth, and I couldn’t believe that the narrator failed to see that the difference was an unwanted advance vs. a mutual fulfillment of lust.

There’s a series of dull conversations between the narrator (oh, fine, I’ll call her by her name: Isadora Wing) and the guy she leaves her husband for. There’s even a long conversation between Isadora and herself. The subject of all these conversations is Isadora, and her struggles with decision-making and self-knowledge et cetera. Her own contradictions come up many times, and this starts to feel like intellectual laziness (“That sounds different than what I described earlier? Well, I’m a contradiction! I said so myself.”).

The writer quoted above, Suzie Mackenzie, wrote many unflattering things about Jong in her article, and I’m inclined to be sympathetic, if only because I found Isadora to be poor company over the course of the book. And then there’s the fact that the particulars of Isadora’s life so closely resemble those of Jong’s. It’s hard to separate the two. In the articles I read online, Jong was cagey about the degree to which the book is autobiographical, but I can’t help but think that in today’s marketplace, she’d be pushed hard to publish it as memoir.

From David Shields’s Reality Hunger:

When Frey, LeRoy, Defonseca, Seltzer, Rosenblat, Wilkomirski, et al. wrote their books, of course they made things up. Who doesn’t? Each one said sure, call it a novel, call it a memoir: who’s going to care? I don’t want to defend Frey per se – he’s a terrible writer – but the very nearly pornographic obsession with his and similar cases reveals the degree of nervousness on the topic. The whole huge loud roar, as it returns again and again, has to do with the culture being embarrassed at how much it wants the frame of reality, and within that frame, great drama.

Those pieces are all there in Fear of Flying. The mode of memoir in which it would fall today is confessional, the sort of self-focused thing that, say, Elizabeth Gilbert has published. But is this mode of memoir bad? I struggle with this. I am longing to say that yes, it is bad. Because the lens is so relentlessly fixed on the self that it seems to deny the existence of a wider world. But I think such memoirs could have utility to people struggling with a similar set of issues…and I am loathe to deride the project that any writer is driven to complete. I can’t say why I write what I write. But it is kind of bad, isn’t it? I’ll give Mackenzie the last word.

There is nothing in this I want or need. She calls herself a feminist but I, who also call myself a feminist, find no common ground.

Punk

Patti Smith by Gerard Malanga

I love this photo of Patti Smith waiting (posing?) on the platform at the 68th Street/Lexington subway station. Gerard Malanga took it in 1971.

A friend recommended Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, where I saw this photo and just pored over it. There’s something so appealing about Patti Smith’s look here. One thing I’m really hung up on these days is how modern some of the early 70s and early 80s looks are. For instance, and I’m hardly the first person to remark upon it, but these “lost” 1982 shots of Madonna from OUT magazine are strikingly contemporary in feel.

But back to Patti Smith. She doesn’t come out so well in the book, funnily enough. In the memories of her contemporaries, she was a very different Patti Smith than the one she seemed to be in her memoir—which of course you’d expect. It seems she pissed off a lot of people, and a lot of time has passed. I found this nice interview with her by Thurston Moore from a 1996 issue of Bomb Magazine.

TM The only other time I saw you was in Bleecker Bob’s in the ‘70s. You walked in eating pizza and wearing aviator glasses and Bleecker Bob showed you an Ian Dury picture sleeve and you said, “I don’t listen to music by people I don’t wanna fuck.”

PS (laughter) Yeah, that was me.

TM One time I went to see you at CBGB and it was totally packed and you guys were wearing these black leather pants, you were totally bad-ass. It was a pretty intense scene, I was standing there biting my lower lip and you looked at me and bit your lip right back at me like, “I’ll show you how to bite your lip. Kid.”

PS I was kind of mean. I’m so glad I’m nice now.

TM Well, I didn’t think you were mean.

PS Well, I spotted you.

I’ve been reading the book to get more flavor for my novel, and have picked up many useful things. For instance, details about the music scene in 1975 that my character’s brother would be involved in. So, you know, vivid descriptions of where/how people bought drugs, the mix of venues apart from the obvious, etc. The fact that it’s all delivered through interview transcription is just fabulous. I highly recommend it, even for people who, like myself, don’t identify as huge punk fans generally.