I feel I need to tell you something. I loathe your voice. It isn’t because I do not value what you are saying. It is because you Like to Hear Yourself Talk.
I picture you a Grace-Kelly-like ice queen; frosty; sure of yourself. “You have run .01 miles,” you say. And then, because you are so deeply enamored with the sound of your voice, you go on. “Pace, 10 minutes, 12 seconds per mile.” You say this smugly, as if you know that this is miserably slow. A little later, you will say, “You have run .02 miles,” and then you will say something ridiculous: “You are halfway to your goal of 1.8 miles.”
You see? Now I know you are just talking for the sake of talking, because you are just spewing nonsense. Seriously, who runs for 1.8 miles? And who the f*** wants to know their total distance every .01 miles? Crazy people, that’s who!
You were really bad this morning: you spent so much time talking to hear yourself talk that you made me miss a critical clue that the detective in my book on tape had discovered. There is no good way of rewinding while I am trying to jog, operate you, and operate my e-audio-book (???) all at the same time. So I still don’t know what the clue is, or even whether it matters, although I kind of think it does: You sounded extra smug.
It’s not that no one likes you. You seem to have all these friends. All these professional athletes keep on popping up to wish me well, or say things like, “Keep it up!” or “That’s the way to do it!” Who ARE these people? Tell ‘em to go away. I don’t need their kudos. They tell me their names, but I am too busy trying to hear my detective hero while they are telling me. What he is telling me is so much more important that their “Attaboys” (Seriously? Are you off your nut???)
I have proof of this: See? When I go to this little “settings” place? It says I’ve turned you off.
It’s true. I have. And yet, like a bad houseguest, you keep on turning up. Really, how hard can it be to just go away?
I know, part of this is my fault. I seem to be unable to delete you. I like some parts of you. I like your little maps, your points tally, the fact that you show me when I have pulled ahead of this friend, and even when you tell me I have fallen behind. I even like your idiotic little badges, which as far as I can tell mean nothing. But part of me likes to collect these meaningless trifles, I guess.
Anyway. Every relationship has its ups and downs. I like you most of the time. I just hate it when you–or your friends–talk to me. Okay?
So I turned in my revised thesis to my adviser a little while ago. A little under a week ago. Since then I’ve felt adrift, kind of like I did after Ironman, like I’d been training forever for something and then the thing happened and suddenly I had nothing to train for and nothing to worry about.
Which, really, isn’t very true, because I still have to pitch the thing and write query letters and I still have to go back to school and my second reader has to approve it. But–the bulk of the work is done.
Since I turned the thing in I’ve been twiddling my thumbs insofar as new work goes; I even kept the big thermometer chart and all the index cards that were my thesis outline up on the wall, just in case–what? just in case I had to rewrite the whole damn book?
Right. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Still, I couldn’t stomach taking any of it down. I have another idea I want to write about, even, but–anyway.
But then I went to the Lake Tahoe area for a writer’s retreat. There were great editors there and other writers, folks who have published or are working on publishing, and there was this:
And I got to talk to an editor and other writers about this idea of mine, which actually has a first-draft manuscript attached to it, and I got to meet Ami, who is awesome and who I’ve previously only known because of the Interwebs, and that was awesome, and then I got stuck in Reno overnight.
And I was annoyed.
But I called it research, because part of my thesis takes place in Vegas, and I had forgotten about the noise the clinkety clank jarring of the casino machines, and also the weirdness that is a casino on a Sunday night and then, subsequently, on a Monday morning at 8AM. And then I went for a jog along the Truckee River:
and saw these guys:
and then even when I got to the airport and I realized that my flight was going to be delayed by 2.5 hours, I still felt okay, because I was antsy for the first time in a long, long while; antsy to start something new.
So when I finally got back home and I had had a shower and a nice night’s sleep and I could see straight, I went to my wall and I took down all of the index cards and my thermometer chart and tapped all my notes and marked-up MSs into a pile and put it all away. This week and next I’m reading novels in the vein of the one I’m getting ready to write, and the week after that I may start writing the outline.
Maybe it’s something about being near the water. (Now that I live where I live, being around water–pools of it; good rushing streams of it–is really nice, and rare.) Maybe it’s something about being in great company.
Or maybe it’s just about it being time. Any which way, I’ll take it.
Falafel, so plain
Until fried in surprise form,
Cooked like a doughnut.
In other news, I am headed off this weekend to what promises to be a most rewarding writing retreat. Aside from the great editors and agents I’ll get to meet, I’ll also get to finally meet a person I’ve already worked with and spoken to on the telephone, the fantastic Ami Hendrickson. Two other writers I know are going, as well, and the whole thing is masterminded by an editor I know via my MFA program, Melissa Manlove.
I can’t wait. Except for the enormous pile of work I have to do before I take off on Friday morning. Yuck!
Okay. More later.
Mr. Gooddirt is incredibly good at nicknames. He comes up with them on the fly, and they’re always accurate and evocative and appropriate to the situation. There’s no profession for this, I don’t think, otherwise we’d be living large.
He comes up with the best ones when he’s half-awake.
A few examples:
The other night I went to the bathroom and bumped into the laundry rack on the way back. It made a metallic rattling noise, and I, an angry whimper. From the bed:
“What’s happening over there, Jinglebanger?”
When Sprocket is feeling happy, he trots just ahead of Jim and me and looks backwards, over his shoulder, at us, while he’s walking. The combination of movement and situation makes for a funny walk.
Mr. Gooddirt: “Well, hello there, Wobbles.”
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night feeling very displaced. The automatic reaction is to reach for my phone or my ipad and find out what time it is. I duck over the side of the bed and turn it on so the LCD doesn’t disturb the light-sleeping Mr. Gooddirt. This is usually a totally failure, because he snorts awake and says something like:
“Whatcha doing, Glow worm?”
I cannot figure out how he does this. It seems to be some kind of formula:
Noise or action
Try as I might, I can’t reproduce his results. Gah.
NB: This is on my mind lately because my next work, I think, is a resurrection of the MG novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo a while back. There are talking animals. I would like some of them to be well named.
These are the things which addle my brain.
Today in southern California, it’s brisk with a stiff breeze. If I closed my eyes I could imagine myself back in a New York fall again.
The mountains are really busy, making a ton of clouds, which in turn are busy dumping snow on the mountains.
The sun, trying to keep pace with the clouds and the stiff breeze, disappears and reappears when it can. At the moment it’s grey out in my front yard, while in my backyard there’s plenty of blue sky.
Days like this drag me right back to Aix-en-Provence, where I spent the first month of a semester studying abroad. It was our immersive month, where we’d speak French as much as we could before diving headlong into an attempt to live a life in Paris. We arrived in January, just ahead of the mistral season, which rivals our Santa Ana winds here. My roommate Julia and I sometimes ran together in the dark mornings, getting up at five, jogging for half an hour and then scrambling to get ready in time to make the three-mile walk to our campus.
We lived in a room that I’d later learn was pretty much the size of a bedroom in Manhattan, my later home, and our host mother was a single woman with one child and an unruly boyfriend who smoked like gangbusters. It was nearly intolerable, but I’ll always remember our month there with fondness, if only because it was the first time we were truly, truly self-sufficient. Julia and I parsed the directions to school ourselves and fed ourselves in the morning with madeleines dunked in milky black tea that we served in massive cafe-au-lait bowls.
While our host mother slept off another late night with her boyfriend, Julia and I ate by the one weak light in the kitchen, struggled into our coats, grabbed our bags, and stepped out into the brisk early morning. It was always just getting light as we walked out of the apartment, and I remember watching the tops of the cypress trees move as they fought the wind.
The other thing I remember is the clemetines we ate each morning on our way to school. We each always grabbed three, cramming them into our pockets and eating them on the way to school. We put the peels back into our pockets until we could pass a garbage can.
By the end of our month there, my fingers would regularly find white strands of dessicated pith in the seams of my coat pockets, and I imagined my hands smelled like orange at any given time.
Of course, by the time I’d moved to Paris, it was warm enough to not need my winter coat. I bet, if I dragged out that coat today, it might still smell like orange peel and a brisk winter in Aix-en-Provence.
Funny how the brain works. Early this morning, as I was writing a letter to a friend, I was thinking about how much I missed the morning post that came in Paris. Letters. First thing in the morning, with some crusty toast and more millky tea and the fresh butter and jam that went around and around the table on the tea cart my geriatric host parents used…
Our good friend Tim came to visit. We had a packed weekend that somehow managed to include some downtime on our couch and four episodes of American Horror Story, before it jumped the shark. It was fantastic.
It also gave us an excuse to go visit Cousin Richard at his incredible sushi joint. And that gave me an excuse to think about another food-based Verbagram. Because, you know what? I am sick of people describing sushi-grade fish as “like butter.” People. That’s disgusting. Seriously, would you ever eat a stick of butter? Or a pat, by itself? This description makes no sense to me.
Sometimes, you eat something and it tastes like the place it came from. By this I do not mean that when you eat a piece of steak, it tastes like a barnyard smells. I mean that sometimes you eat something and you get an evocation, an impression. Piece of steak, again: Big, open fields, as far as the eye can see. The occasional tree, and a few lone cows, standing here and there, with a bird of prey streaking across the sky. See? Steak tastes of largesse, of generosity, and even maybe of excess, depending on whether or not you get the crumbled blue cheese on top.
Take sushi: The texture: creamy, practically, even though the fish is arguably solid, sitting there on its rice. It yields to the bite easily; maybe because it’s ribboned with fat, if you’re eating a nice piece of salmon. Or maybe, if it’s yellowtail, just because that’s the way a good fresh fish should be.
You don’t get any flavor at all, really, in that first bite. If anything, the vapors of wasabi and fine rice vinegar are the first to hit your palate; and then, finally, an absurdly clean finish, a little bit like you’ve rinsed with really cold seawater.
Your salmon should evoke the day you spent on the banks of a river in Maine, with the early-summer sunlight dappling the current. And your tuna will take you back to the day you spent on a party boat in Brooklyn. Your uni will remind you, briefly, of the time you got washing-machined by the wave you weren’t expecting, that afternoon in Rhode Island.
…Okay, I have a confession. I’ve never used Instagram. And I’ve never had even the slightest urge to. Partly this is down to the fact that I know I take crap pictures. Also, I have no desire to make my crap photos look like more than they actually are, which is … crap photos.
I haven’t given this too much thought, except this weekend I had the following Twitter exchange:
gooddirt: After incredible pea, poached egg, and crostini lunch @littledoms, have terrible craving for smashed peas!
See, here’s the thing, okay? Even more than taking crap photos and passing them off as “vintage” or whatever, I hate amateur food photography. It makes me squirm to see folks taking pictures of their food at a restaurant. I don’t understand it, however I might appreciate the results, or “like” them on facebook or retweet them, or whatever.
So I have an idea and a challenge for myself: Each time I come across a dish I like, I will, instead of taking a photo of it, take a verbal snapshot of it. That is, I will write a little ditty describing the dish. I will post the results at my Tumblr as well as here, starting with the aforementioned Little Dom’s dish, above. Here it is:
From a purely literary standpoint, there was no music to it. Even the manager of the joint couldn’t be assed to dress it up: “It sounds really weird,” she said, grimacing apologetically. “It’s peas, poached egg, and pea tendrils on crostini.”
“Hell,” I thought. “Sounds just ugly enough to be right.”
“Right” it was, like a dame in heels and seamed stockings, or coffee, black. The “pea tendrils” were wilted into the crevices of the crostini, much as the yolk from the poached egg sank into those same crevices, and the peas were smashed enough that they fit neatly over the fork tines after you’d loaded the thing with egg, bread, and veg.
For an old hand like me, sustenance could be an art form. But when flavors work well, quotidian matters like “art” disappear.
Why? Because every residency, we have something along the order of five readings. That’s five nights during which students spend another hour or so listening to valued fellow students and guest faculty read from their works. We do this at Whidbey for several reasons:
Reading to a group is a professional skill, one which every student should have well under their belts.
Reading your work out loud is yet another way of getting to know it, inside and out.
Reading your work out loud is a gift to the audience: It’s rare that folks get to hear an author’s words from their own lips. It’s a gift that shouldn’t be taken lightly on either end.
Getting to hear the pros gives us something to aspire to.
The flip, less-sexy-but-equally-important side to each of these reasons is time limits. Each reader is given an allotted amount of time, and each reader should stick to that allotted time, regardless of whether or not the readers feels the need to make a tremendously long explanation to his or her work. Here are the reasons why:
It’s only fair to the other readers, that you each get the same allotment of time.
If you need to explain your work and the explanation takes up the bulk of your allotted time, then the piece needs more work.
Readings are meant to whet the listener’s appetite for more from the writer, that’s all. Complete stories are nice, but hardly necessary.
At NILA, it’s students who run the readings. We’ve come up with several ideas, some of which were submitted by faculty, to encourage folks to stick to their time limits. They are:
Burp guns (both ping-pong and marshmallow)
Gigantic “Gong Show” type gong
Big hook, a la the old vaudeville shows
Swelling music that eventually drowns out the speaker, a la award shows
Hm. I like all of these. What’s your choice for encouraging folks to keep to time limits?
What is that? It’s my office wall, and it’s also something I’ve never tried before. It’s outlining. [Please ignore the fugly wood paneling. It is not my fault and soon I will be painting it something else, since my life has become a DIY show.]
Here’s a close-up:
On each of the yellow index cards is a full scene. On each of the white, is, dur, the MC’s location at that point in the book. My thesis adviser thinks this is going to be a one-month draft. I think, okay, I’m game for that.
And the other part of me thinks, oh, hell, it’d better be a one-month draft. Otherwise I’m might close to deadline.
So let’s just see how this goes, shall we? Two scenes a day. Let’s just see.