Who Are You Writing For?

Over the past couple of years I have been in an active and deliberate state of physical change. I wake up early every morning, drink my kale smoothie, swing my fitness hula hoop around my hips, strap on a bra and attack my day. I recite the mantras of an independent woman in her thirties. The platitudes that keep the beasts at bay. I’m being the change I want to see. No one can love me until I love me. I love me. I’ve shed stupid amounts of fat, gained stupid muscle, and have managed to, if not protect, embellish the little indications of youth I have left. I want to attract others, and yet there is no other time in recent history where others have repelled me more.

I don’t want to write about dating, which is impossible (dating not writing about dating), or even about the power differential between men and women and aging. I don’t even want to touch on how confusing queerness has gotten, (partly because, it seems to me, that the more and more transgressive the language and labels are the more and more traditional and conservative the community manages to seem. Everyone’s getting married! Everyone’s getting divorced! No one cares!) I have a lot of complaints about the way we communicate now, being that I am a teacher of young people who can’t spell, don’t punctuate or elaborate on an idea, whose own ideas are a plagiarized amalgam of ‘funny’ they stole from somebody else on Instagram. For the record, everything they say about millenials is true, but what they haven’t told you is that it’s contagious. We are all millennials now. The body snatchers won.

It is the spiritual blight that I now feel in my soul in reaction to and in accordance with all mentioned above that I want to address. It is my curmudgeonly opinion that we are living in an especially anti-academic, anti-intellectual age where the average American subscribes to the idea that it’s every man for himself, and that island of a man is a brand, and that brand is a lie, a lie he probably stole from someone else on Instagram. We should be stimulated constantly and praised for our pithy cruelty, rewarded for our ability to hide any suggestion that we might care about anything, especially the feelings of others. Also, everyone is a media specialist? I can’t blame the Alec Baldwins of the world who go a little too far on twitter–being a dick is where it’s at right now. It’s what the young people want! I went on a date with a twenty-something recently who unabashedly voiced her hatred of Jews and then pointed and laughed when a girl with untamed, natural curls entered the bar. This was in NYC! And, no lie, this is now the second time I’ve had this identical experience! Is bigotry hip again? I also made it explicit on my dating profile: no anti-Semites and no meanies! WTF?

I’ve taken to the cure that all the women my age have, yoga with a splash of veganism (I cheat). And you know what? For all its peace and love and core strengthening, it really just seems like another way to get me not to care. Stay positive. Think happy thoughts. Manifest, manifest, manifest. But I swear to you, the more I get to know my instructors the clearer it is to me that those girls are super negative, super repressed, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. These are the ways to survive I guess: Be a rancid jerk or a petrified Buddha. So now we have all these jittery Buddhas using magic Sanskrit spells on themselves all day. Really, these girls do yoga all day, every day. They have no other job. They don’t even have other pants. I prefer them though. They take the yoga off the mat, meaning that they take a breath before they react. In the face of cruelty, they absorb it, and then spend the rest of the day twisting all these toxins out of their muscles.

Having grown up in Boston in the eighties, I was raised very PC. And still, I choose political correctness over this Neo-bigotry I keep taking to bed. I believe it’s the right choice too. In general, I believe a polite world is a better world. This might not be the person you know in private, it may not be the girl I was a decade ago, but it’s my professional and public self now. To me that means that when in public I show a consistent regard for my fellow citizen. Don’t be too loud, don’t be too gross, and don’t be too mean. When appropriate, show extra care when you can. I try to live this way, and I am naive enough to expect it from others in return. My attitude did not protect me when an SUV of cackling young men cut me off during a snow storm and then mooned me out their windows. It doesn’t protect me from the public spitting of both actual spit and racial vitriol of my neighbors, students and romantic interests. And it doesn’t protect them from my holier-than-thou dismissal of their humanity. And here also is where my hypocrisy shines bright. On the one hand I insist that we be more ‘human’ to each other, and yet I require clear delineated boundaries between our public and our private selves…

…so this is a personal rant. And, as I criticize my students for not being able to stay concise and focused in their writing, I manage to be just as bad most of the time. But what I’ve been meaning to get to, if anything at, is how all this has affected my writing. To summarize everything above, I am having a really difficult time relating to others. I’ve never been one to worry about who might someday read me. In fact, this line of conversation among writers always turned me off. It shouldn’t matter, and how can we even predict such a thing? Well, of course we can now. There is no mystery on what sells. Whether or not anyone of us is willing and/or capable of writing what sells is a separate issue. I think what we all secretly, magically believe is that our true expression of self through writing would be interesting enough, valuable enough that there would be a readership for it. A little heaven somewhere of like-minded literates. But I’ve seen the future, and it’s not looking hopeful for me. First of all, people don’t read. Second, a lot of them actually can’t read. It’s a failure of our school system and major coup for industry. As a teacher, I’ve gotten past the point where I want my students to be lovers of literature, I just don’t want them to get swallowed up by advertising. As a writer (person), I’ve also given up the dream of ever finding a reader (lover) that I appeal to. I just can’t imagine it, not even when in full-pigeon. And so, more than ever, I have been writing strictly for me. I have been writing selfish, lewd, cruel, masturbatory little indignities. I escape to a fantasy world that is an amplified version of the world that has alienated me. I don’t have the energy to defend it.

One more little anecdote:

A fellow teacher complained about a student during a faculty meeting the other day. Apparently, this student was writing poetry in her notebook during down time. The teacher wanted to bring this odd behavior to the principal’s attention. “I don’t know, she’s writing love poetry, it’s weird.” People nodded in agreement. The principal said she’d speak to the girl. I asked if there was other work the student should be doing instead, assignments she hadn’t finished? No, no. It was just weird, she said, that she was writing poetry. I felt crazy. Is this what people are saying behind our backs? Find this girl a home where water is not thirsty!

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I posted this as a reply yesterday, but I wanted a new post. Sorry for the redundancy.


I just finished chapter XLI of Moby Dick., pg 156 in my copy. As I’ve written before, I’ve had this book since 1971 or72 and have tried to read it 4 or 5 times, never getting past pg 125 or so. This chapter is titled “Moby Dick” and it could as well be called “Ahab” as it outlines some of Ahab’s madness and obsession. It was exquisite. Beautiful writing that evokes what for me, felt like a theorem of the futility of existence. Melville’s words, (Ishmael’s narration) explained the eternal burn within Ahab, the hatred that was in “the race since Adam” (I paraphrase) but gave me the sense of how utterly helpless we may be against time.

I had a thought that I should actually never finish the book, but keep reading it on and on, over and over for as long as my eyesight works. Though I am excited to break through my previous barrier, I had a certain sense of doom, of the finite-ness of life, that will be clear and present as I delve deeper into the book. It saddens me, in a sense, and points to the ultimate termination we face. Perhaps if I never finish the book I can forestall, at least, the feeling. Happy Memorial Day — kind of contradictory, I suppose.

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Out of all of my writer friends I…

Out of all of my writer friends, I consider myself one of the laziest. So, this week, when I spent $150 dollars to get my 10 year old, hoopty, computer out of computer nirvana and back to the land of the living, I was shocked to find a treasure trove of writing.

Now, nothing is longer than a few pages of wild notes, but looking through them reminded me of a time when i wasn’t preoccupied with a fear of writing. I was excited to try something new. It’s like the time I tried to learn how to do a backflip at 17. The gymnastics teacher at my high school refused to teach me. He said you have to start when you’re fearless. He never taught anyone older than 13 or so how to do one. Well, i tried to do it anyway and ended up breaking my foot because i pulled out of my tuck too early. I was scared.

Writing can be like that. It’s easy to write when you know nothing, when you are fearless. It’s harder now. For me at least. And i’m not really lazier than my writer friends, but I am more scared. They have learned to keep their knees pressed to their chests all the way through the tuck. I’m still breaking my own feet.

However, and back to the point of all of this. There once was a time when I was fearless. I had forgotten that. So, I have a writing goal for the next week. Write a first draft, as reckless and messy and sloppy as necessary of a short story. And to do it fearlessly.

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Monday Check In

I’m working on a chapter of my book and some travel-related pitches. Deadline for both projects is Monday. Also working on some photography for my class – which is fulfilling in a very different way than writing. What are you all up to? Sound off writers!

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Random Thoughts

Tuesday this week was a blur.  I was head down at my journal from 7 am until 2 pm writing the last forty hand written pages of the third draft of the meta-meta novel I’m had underway for a little over a year, and I discovered in the deep cave of my mind I found some completely unexpected aspects of the protagonist’s character that surprised me, and gave me a mental flashlight to wander out of the darkness and into daylight, which happened when I lifted my head from the desk mid afternoon.  I was pleased I had no idea how I would solve  the problem of finding an emotional heart inside the plot driven ending, but I think I did.  Then I went to the gym to release the throbbing purging that was my brain afterwards, and prepared for my reading of “Falling Girl,” my short story, at the Bulgarian Consultant on 62 street where I was paired with Ivan Dimitrov, another fellow from my residency at the Sozopol Fiction Writers workshop in 2010.

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Restless Legs Reading Series

And speaking of writer resolutions, here’s a link to the Restless Legs reading I told you about: http://www.facebook.com/events/133581423437254/.

Monday, April 11, Lolita Bar on the LES, 7 p.m.

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Thanks to Amy KW for recommended a weekly check-in for what we plan to do writing-wise this week. My head hatches a long list of things to do: check out another chapter of the Burroway book, read this week’s New Yorker story, read a few writing blogs, add to my vocabulary list, submit work, continue work on the novel, revise an existing short story and think up a new one. When I rock the babe early in the morning, I get dizzy thinking about all I’m going to accomplish that day and then, then he dozes off and that looks pretty good to me so I close the blinds and join him. I lose two hours, but gain in terms of outlook — sleep deprivation brings all the negative Nancys on my block to play in my head.

Realistically this week I will begin to read Moby Dick, revise this past week’s story and add 10 pages to the novel. That, to me, would be a good week of writing.

During our meeting on Sunday night we mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert‘s Ted talk about creativity. She has an interesting take on the idea of creativity, but the one notion that sticks with me is the “idea” that enters your realm and you’re either open and ready to write it or it moves on to another writer who is ready at that moment. I get these story storms at 5 a.m., the little one rouses, I go to shush him and head back to my pillow and the furniture of a story begins to rearrange itself. Then I drift off, half way, like on an airplane. The sleep from 5 to 7 a.m. is fitful, so wouldn’t it be better if I just reached over, grabbed my pen and jotted a few notes about the story storm? To catch the story by the tail and pull it back to me. Maybe I’ll give this a whirl, too.

Annoying WordPress things: why does WP remove/change the headline every time I edit this post? Why has it inserted a blue background color behind each paragraph?

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