THE FOREST FOR THE TREES is about writing, publishing and what makes writers tick. This blog is dedicated to the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gather here. I post less frequently now, but hopefully with as much vitriol. Please join in! Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives.

    If I’ve learned one thing about writers, it’s this: we really are all alone. Thanks for reading. Love, Betsy

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Still Crazy After All These Years

One of Joan Didion’s friends, the writer Susanna Moore, had the best anecdotes about Joan, each one came with a withering one-line quip delivered by the tiny oracle with complete certitude. The one I can’t stop thinking about is: Crazy is never interesting. The sophisticated audience nodded and laughed with recognition. Half of them swallowing their pills at night and crying to their shrinks: depressed, imposter, impotent, sad, unloved, unappreciated, lost alone. I first found poetry and art through Robert Lowell. And Sylvia Plath. Anne Sexton. Vincent Van Gogh. Mark Rothko. Goya. Crazy is never interesting. Agree, I run from crazy writers now. I worshipped them in my twenties and thirties. I sidled right up to the crazy, the abject, the abusive, the hilarious, the cunning, the desperate, the mean. It’s not that I no longer find them interesting. I just care a little more about myself.

Are you nuts?

Get What I Want I Know How

Thrilled to share that Starry Messenger hit the New York Times bestseller list today at #3. Being a Jewish mother, I’m wondering why not #2 or #1. I can’t stop pushing. Nothing is ever enough. Is there extra credit? Will I ever be good enough? Thin enough? Smart enough? Rich enough? Rough enough? I celebrated with two pieces of pizza and a DIet Pepsi. Start spreading the news: I KNOW HOW TO LIVE. I might vacuum a little later. Or if I’m really living large, Q-TIp.

How do you celebrate a writing success ?

Blue River Running Slow and Lazy I Could Stay With you Forever and Never Realize the Time


Here’s a confession: I never read under the covers with a flashlight. Didn’t love Harriet the Spy or Little House on the Prairie. I didn’t become a reader until junior high when a handful of books were passed around: The Godfather, Helter Skelter, Jaws, The Shining and my favorite, In Cold Blood. And later in high school when poetry wrapped its scarves around me. Lowell, Plath, Sexton, Rimbaud, O’Hara, Larkin, Ashbery. Thin volumes I found and devoured, the meaning mostly out of reach but not the pleasure. The exquisite privacy, discovering a new language. Sometimes people say books find us. I’m not one of them.

Three books that changed your life?

She Said the Man in the Gabardine Suit Was a Spy


I went to a baseball game yesterday, but all I could focus on was the family in front of me. Mom, dad, two rug rats, and grandparents. At first, they seemed like the “perfect” family apart from the very sad grandpa who either had dementia or profound depression. He stayed in his own world, his mouth in a weak grimace. No one tried to engage him. The kids were kids: obnoxious, petty, cloying, demanding. The parents seemed together enough as a couple until a dispute erupted over sharing Cracker Jacks, and then battle royal: deciding when to leave. The grandma, it is noted, wanted to stay until the seventh inning when they sing God Bless America. Her patriotism was also evident in stars and stripes sweater. She was a “young” grandma, stylish hair cut, earrings, and shimmied her shoulders to the music, enthusiastically threw her arms in the air for the wave. The mom announced she was staying until the end, the dad thought this was a big mistake on account of the traffic. This escalated until no one was speaking, the kids were crying and suddenly all the little details of their life stood out: his apple watch on a leather band, the girl’s slight speech impediment, the mom’s tasteful eye make-up., her Lily Pulitzer belt missing a hoop. Then the boy’s leg got caught in the chair and he cried as if it were being amputated. Reader, the Yankees won. The family left at the top of the eighth inning, which the husband declared in a tone that was half knowing and half disgusted that it was too late.

Do you do this?

I Wonder How You’re Feeling There’s Ringing in My Ears


When I fall, I fall hard. Right now I’m talking about social media. I was doing so well, off all of it, and now I scroll in bed in the morning, on the train, on the can. I had actually gotten to page 300 in War and Peace and honestly loving it. Not the grand sweep of the thing, but all the petty exchanges between the dukes and ladies. I’ve turned my back from that masterpiece (and my stated goal to only ready masterpieces until I take my last breath) and instead I am looking at shirtless cowboys on Tik Tok, spaghetti bolognese on Facebook, Keanu Reeves on Instagram (okay let’s always make a little time for that), and pretending that Twitter is political and therefore “important.” I’m also back on Diet Coke, not doing my posture exercises and thinking ill of people in ways that rival Tolstoy.

Any advice?

All Your Life You Were Always Waiting for this Moment to Arise

I went to a memorial service tonight for Joan Didion. There were a dozen people who spoke and I kept having the nagging feeling that no one was telling the truth. Though memorial services are not for telling the truth so much as burnishing it. Joan Didion was fierce. That’s obvious. I think I was in college when I read Play it as it Lays. I found it at the Strand Bookstore and bought it because of the title. I remember that the main character Maria, pronounced it Ma-RYE-ah, was able to cross five lanes on the highway without braking. I can’t get on the highway without thinking of her.

What will people remember about you?

You’re a Shining Star No Matter Who You are

Shout out to Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose new book STARRY MESSENGER publishes this week. Neil’s mission in life is to communicate about the cosmos. He does this in many ways: as the host of StarTalk, host of Cosmos, his 15 million Twitter followers, through public appearances, and (this is where I come in): through books. In Starry Messenger he inverts his telescope and brings his cosmic perspective to life on earth. It’s challenging, enlightening, witty, and bracing whether he’s writing about race, gender, body-mind, aesthetics, conflict and resolution, truth and beauty. Come for the science, stay for the writing.

Do you have stars in your eyes?

When I Was Younger So Much Younger Than Today


Went to NYC today and had a full in-person publishing day. Publishing has always been a very social industry. Business contacts between agents and editors forged over bread baskets and tiramisu. Lots of gossip. Lots of schadenfreude to spread around. When I was at the beginning of my career, I was terrified of agent lunches. Every aspect: inviting them, choosing a restaurant, making small talk, making big talk, figuring out the tip in a timely fashion. One very fancy agent who clearly didn’t want to meet another young editor summoned me to her neighborhood place. Once there, menus before us, she put her head in her hands and said that we was going to kill herself if she had to have another Cobb salad. Now, I’m her. World weary, tired of chirpy young editors, been there, done that. But I’m not going to off myself over a Cobb. I still love the Cobb.

What did you have for lunch today?

A Thousand Miles Just to Slip This Skin


My husband floated the idea that I use my self-loathing to mask my ambition. Get to know me. I’m hugely ambitious, I’m profoundly self-loathing. It’s not a schtick. It’s not a Broadway play. It’s not the Luray Caverns. I will most certainly regret, at the end of my life, that I spent so much of it hating myself. I’m not fucking around. It’s not a Rothko, it’s not a poem, it’s not a blade of grass. Ha ha.

How self-loathing are you on a scale of One to Ten?

Don’t Give Up Until You Drink from the Silver Cup – Murmuration Part 2

I was obsessed with a middle aged couple who were constantly touching. Face stroking, leg stroking, hand holding, snuzzling, face cupping, ear tickling. More, they kept looking to see who was looking at them, and then they’d look away as if you were prurient. Then there were two women, one small and stooped over, the other big and stooped over both in a tan bucket hats. There were two friends who kept screaming about their experience last year watching the murmuration. They were swathed in backpacks, fanny packs, binocular holders, rain jackets and tevas. Mostly I fell in love with the young man from Audubon who told us where to look, one o’clock, two o’clock, directly above us. He knew every bird in our state and their habits. He had dimples and manners and lived a life.

Are writers people watchers more than most?