Saturday, June 28, 2008

Making lemonade - with a paper cut

For two days I have been forcing words from my fingers, absolutely forcing them. We’re only talking about thirtyish pages here, but it’s like squeezing juice from a shriveled old lemon with a paper cut on your hand—once something finally comes out you wince. I’m losing confidence, wondering if I can really pull this off. It’s not feeling promising, but still, I grind on. I have to. I made a pact with several other writers on the Editorial Ass blog and I must finish this by July 1. Writing these last three chapters has been the hardest part of the whole manuscript. So what am I doing blathering on in my blog? Got to get back to that desiccated lemon!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Garage Band

As previously mentioned, my first reaction to the newly formed garage band next door was ****!!!!!!!!!!!!

Almost as if a sound engineer had designed the placement of my office window from their practice area for perfect acoustics, I can hear them with astonishing clarity even when they whisper, which is not often. Mostly they yell. Mostly they yell "Tequila!" three times every two minutes and ten seconds, which is how long it takes to play that song.

These are young boys, early teens, who wear their hair in the fashion of Shaggy and speak only in voice-cracking insults. They are gangly and disproportionate, with large heads and feet like puppies. They seem fairly new to their instruments but they’re getting pretty good, and fast, because they are nothing if not dogged. The record so far is 4.5 hours playing one song—you guessed it, Tequila! by the one-hit-wonders, The Champs.

They simply play until they get it right and the joy of playing does not diminish one bit between the first time the song is played and the 122nd time the song is played (I did the math).

So I’ve grown to like this garage band next door. I need a little tenacity right now and they’ve got it to spare.

Just keep playing until you get it right. And enjoy every bad chord along the way.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Champs next door.

The kids got out of school in early June and today is the first day I’ve had to work on my new manuscript. Coincidently, today is the first day my dumbass 13 year old neighbor held practice for his band. They seem to have a short playlist; he and his friends have been playing “Tequila!” over and over again for the last three hours.

While they have crappy instruments and crappy talent, somehow they’ve managed to secure the world’s best—and loudest—amp.

Addendum: Make that 4.5 hours. When will their fingers bleed so they can stop?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Soul Food

I’m leaving again for the woods. It has been a good week, a very good week, and camping along a beautiful river under a full moon is the perfect way to extend the goodness.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


When you go camping on Friday the 13th, I suppose you should just assume that you'll see either a bloodthirsty guy in a hockey mask or a rattlesnake in your campsite.
We got the rattlesnake. Huzzah!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Out of Office

In a few minutes we're heading down to the Klamath River in California to meet some friends for our annual kayaking/camping trip. Best part? Just a 35 minute drive from home. Worst part? Freezing cold water! But if you go any later in the summer the water gets slow and the thrill is gone.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Writers' Rooms

There's a really interesting article in The Guardian that features photos of rooms where writers do their thing, along with a short explanation. It’s fascinating! I was intrigued by the weird collection of stuff (including part of his own hip bone) neatly displayed beside Roald Dahl’s customized writing chair and I loved the spare tool-shed-cum-office that George Bernard Shaw used, complete with a bunk for “Napoleonic naps.”

What I want is an office like Jung Chang or Siri Hustvedt but mine is closer to Charlotte Mendelson. Piles. I’m a piler.

Of the past five home offices I’ve had, this—although by far the smallest—is my favorite. It feels like a cockpit; I slide into my chair and everything is literally within reach. I painted it Scottish Thistle, which I think is beautiful in any light. And there’s an enormous window in front of me. The view is obscured by two large bushes that are refuge to the creatures that inspire me the most right now.

Six important things to me:

1) Two framed New Yorker cartoons from fellow writer Julie that make me laugh every day. One of two bored, middle aged people on a couch at home. The man says to t he woman, "I suppose we could burst onto the literary scene." The other is of a man in a chair reading the paper while his wife types on the computer. He looks annoyed and says to her, "Joyce Carol Oates seems to have no problem coming out with book after book."

2) A small ceramic milk jug that says “kindness” on it (a gift from friend Peggy years ago) filled with Nag Champa, a scent I enjoy more when it’s fresh than when burning.

3) My Fetish Gardento the left of the computer with important bits and bobs.

4) A large cup of coffee (trying to quit, not going well) sipped from what a friend recently called a flower pot. I’m pretty sure I picked it up from the kitchen section at Ikea, but you never know.

5) Cookie fortunes taped to my printer. I started this and my daughter Juliet has continued it whenever she finds a suitable fortune. But we are very selective, they can’t the generic ones you get all the time. My favorite is: Pull the universe inside you. Make it your own.

6) A photo taped to the printer of a dolphin kissing my son Hank. Cuteness overload.

I started to tidy up, but then restrained myself. This was difficult for me but as you can tell by the photo, it is in “as is” condition.

(Thanks to Stuart Neville for highlighting this article on his blog, which I found via Editorial Ass.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Today’s non sequitur: Writing = India

I’ve been thinking a lot about India lately. Scott and I traveled there about ten years ago but my memory of it is as sharp as it was the day I left. It is a country that leaves an impression. India assaults you in every way—with its crowds, with its smells, with its heat, with its swindlers, and with its beauty.

Anywhere else in the world you can get in a cab and say, I’d like to go to X restaurant please, and you’d actually be taken to restaurant X. In India you say, I’d like to go to X restaurant please, and then you are taken to the cab driver’s brother-in-law’s parents’ restaurant. “Is much better here,” the cabbie will say, unapologetically collecting your money even though he’s taken you someplace you didn’t ask to go. “And tell them Dinesh sent you,” he’ll add before zooming off.

The one place I really wanted to see in India was Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first teaching and introduced his doctrine of peace. Sarnath is outside of intensely populated Varansi, which is, at about 3,000 years old, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. It's situated on the banks of Ganges River where throngs of Indians come every morning, descending the stepped ghats to bathe, pray, and brush their teeth. No one seems to mind if the ghat they 're using is next to a crematorium where relatives wait next to burning funeral pyres for bodies to become ashes so they can scatter them in the Ganges. There might be more DNA in that river than water.

When we got to Varanasi, Scott didn’t feel well so I set out on my own. I was going to save the big sightseeing for when he was better, so I thought I’d check out a sari silk shop. I got the name of a good one from a guy at our hotel who gave me a card with precise directions for the cab driver to follow. Of course, the cab driver ignored the address. Instead of going deeper into the labyrinthine city, this guy started driving me out of town. I leaned over a couple of times, pointing to the name and address on the card I clutched, and the driver would nod vigorously. When we finally stopped it was at a wholesale fabric warehouse far from the city. “This is best silk in India,” he said, pointing to his meter to show me how many rupees I owed him. “And tell them Pradeep sent you.”

The man in the warehouse helped me call a cab to get back, but of course the driver had other plans for me. This time, though, it was not about commerce. “To Rishipattana?” he asked. I shook my head and handed him a card with my hotel’s name and address. He looked at it and handed it back. “You have been to Rishipattana?” he asked. I said no, but I wanted to go straight back to the hotel. He started driving and in less than two minutes I understood; Rishipattana was another name for Sarnath. The driver stopped, rightly assuming I'd want to visit this sacred place, and put his palm over the meter. It couldn’t have been much—it turned out the fabric warehouse was only about a mile away—but in my experience of India, not accepting money was rare.

At last, I had been taken somewhere I had planned on going. Just not that day. Or in that way.

I suppose I’m thinking of India because it’s very much like writing a novel. You know where you want to go, you just don’t know how you’re going to get there. Or if you’ll be taken somewhere else entirely.

I’m about 40 pages from finishing my current work in progress and I feel like I’m stepping in to a cab in India. Despite having a good idea about where I want to go, I have no idea where I’ll end up.