Keep Going. Tell My Story.

I recently read a Paris Review interview with the author Ann Patchett on the subject of making time for writing despite life’s innumerable distractions. She spoke about having to ignore the pull of these distractions, for example when you realize you need, say, mustard, and you drop what you’re doing (or don’t even start) to go to the store to buy the mustard. Resist this urge, she argued. She explained how her family had gone many meals without mustard. This anecdote has stayed with me. Substitute mustard for: mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, paper towels, shin guards, printer ink, Reynolds wrap, rinse aid, thumbtacks, nose spray, birthday gifts, overdue library books, Mallomars, Halloween decorations, hangers, socks. The running list is endless. There are always errands we create to avoid writing.

What I’ve realized in the last few years as I’ve made writing a priority in my life is that we will always come up with reasons to leave the house, to not sit down when we’re tired, and the difference between those who leave and those who don’t is people who finish and people who don’t. Now as I’m on my way to my desk and I see toys that need to be put away or a book that needs to be re-shelved or an ingredient I need for a meal, I think: mustard. Mustard. Mustard. I tell myself to keep walking, to ignore it.         [Read more…]

A Short List of (Unrelated) Thoughts

  1. The other night I was reading a book, and I was almost to the end, when my five-year-old son asked, “When you’re done with that book, are you going to put it up there?” and he pointed to our built-in bookshelves. This made me think about reading and books and how he views reading at this point – is it merely a group of items gathered and displayed on shelves? Is he possibly on to something? Would I be better off having, say, ten or so books up there that I just keep rereading over the years? As it stands now, I often have trouble recalling certain plots, some characters. Sure, the strong ones will always remain, but then – I want to reread them.
  2. To do: read through novel draft and edit out all cliches.
  3. As I enter my third year of getting weekly allergy shots (it’s not supposed to be that frequent at this  point, but I consistently miss so many weeks that they have to keep bumping my dosage down), I think about how similarities between building immunities against my allergies and writing my first novel. I’m playing the long-game in both scenarios, and if I think about how long it’s going to take, sometimes I want to quit. But I’m two years into the shots already, and over 200 pages into my first draft, so then those years and pages would be a huge waste of time, wouldn’t they?
  4. I like living in a place where you hear one person say to another, “I heard you were back, but I haven’t seen you around.”
  5. As of now, my daughter does not like to read. She has asked me to stop talking about books. Did I do this? When did I fall in love with reading? No one else in my family read like I did. I know for certain that no one ever pushed it on me. Does it matter? Didn’t Gibran say in The Prophet something like: “Children come through you not from you”, so then why should I expect her to come out of the womb loving books as I do?
  6. This morning I tried to read Joan Didion’s three-and-a-half page essay “On Self-Respect” for nearly two hours, despite being continually interrupted by my various family members: “Mom.” “Mom.” “Liz.” “Mom.” “Liz.” By the time I reached the last paragraph, I had no idea what Didion was trying to say, and their calls for me had fallen into such a rhythm that I felt like I could sing along to the chorus by the end.
  7. When my daughter was six-years old: “Honey, you have to do your homework,” I call in to the playroom. “Not yet. I’m still teaching my lesson,” she answers without looking up. The dolls are lined up neatly in a row. She has taken attendance, answered a few questions, and is now teaching her students about the use of an ellipsis in stories. You know: dot, dot, dot. To build suspense, in her words. It’s a very busy imaginary world she’s living in, and her real homework sheet sits there untouched. But I don’t judge. Though I know I’m the parent, I’m busy thinking about an essay I want to write about how her view of childhood differs from my own, in more of a global way. You know – the way we are on our phones and computers way more than our parents ever were? I’m still hashing out my thesis, and actually I probably won’t figure out what I’m writing until I start writing it, but the point is that I’ve recently realized that both my daughter and I lead very busy imaginary lives. I also constantly avoid my “homework” – that to-do list that feels so insignificant, but if those things don’t get done the big things start to fall apart.
  8. Because when you turn this number on its side, it stands for infinity, and has always been my favorite number.

[Read more…]

The Case for Paper

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“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Here we go again: it’s time for me to pack up all my books as we are moving: just across town, but still, every single object, piece of food, lingering dust bunny, must be transported. The kids are having an interesting reaction to this idea: “Will this chair come? Do I get to bring my bed? Will we have lights there?”

Since, like many creative types, I lean towards being both impulsive and compulsive, I look at my shelves and shelves of books and think: of course, those are so easy, I’ll begin with the books. One narrow shelf per small book box. They stack perfectly and neatly next to each other. There is no scheming or planning for those boxes; it’s instant gratification.

And yet. And yet. Here I am just a few days after the boxes have been taped and stacked, and of course, I need a few of those books. For what? Why? Well I’m working on a blog post for someone in which I reference that scene in Cather in the Rye when Holden asks the cab driver where the ducks go in winter, and I can’t remember how the cab driver responds. And, my mother-in-law told me that her favorite book is Stuart Little and I’ve saved my copy from childhood and want to begin reading it with my daughter, but – you got it, it’s packed up. And, I just read an interview with George Saunders (one of my favorite writers) and he recommended a story that I want to read and I’m pretty sure I already have it one of my collections.  This is where the impulsiveness parts settles in. I’ve come to terms (partly by reading other writers’ memoirs) that a lot of fostering creativity is about these moments which we feel the need to answer the questions, or continue the study, or sit and peruse, immediately. It’s not so much about instant gratification, but allowing your mind to swell over a sliver of an idea that takes hold and begins to sprawl. [Read more…]