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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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and the moon rose over an open field

This motherfucker doesn't empty itself.

I think one of the worst parts of being a writer is trying to appear normal. Especially at grown-up gatherings such as holidays, dinner parties, gallery openings. I really like the self-check out at the supermarket; cuts down on one more human interaction. What is normal? How would I know? The thing is, I pass. Most of us do. We don’t live in Morocco, or Prague, or wherever the hell Denis Johnson lives. We are among you. Observing, sizing up, spying. Listening in on your conversation and writing down your best lines. We are having an affair with the grad student at the Blue State Cafe, telepathically of course.We are searching for a pen in the bottom of our bag. We are doing our jobs, checking our balances, emptying the dishwasher, again. Why do I feel so desolate?

I want to understand how it is that being by myself with my keyboard is when I feel least alone. Not connected to others, per se. I’ve never understood writers who say they write to help other people. I write to hurt them. Just kidding, sort of. I write to feel normal.

Can anyone relate?

64 Responses

  1. This post was very soothing. I’m only a shred as perky and interested in others in real life as I am on my blog. I’m sure it is whiplash for people who read me AND know me. (shrug)

  2. the only thing ab-normal about me is that i do abs on occasion. after loads of cheeseacke and guilt. oh…damn that’s normal…okay only after i imagine great trials and tribulations on all mankind (never womankind).

  3. Once again, you’ve got me doing some self-questioning. I definitely don’t write to feel normal; I wouldn’t want to. But I say something on my site about a piece of mine helping someone — and I realize I don’t really mean that. I’ve got to change that word. I don’t want to help people with my writing, I want to shake them up, make them think.

  4. If this were anyone else’s blog, I’d tell them to read Forest for the Trees. That book, and Anne Lamott’s, helped show my silent/observant/note-jotting ways weren’t to be ashamed of, but simply put to use.

    The wizards represent all that the true “muggle” most fears: They are plainly outcasts and comfortable with being so. Nothing is more unnerving to the truly conventional than the unashamed misfit.
    – J.K. Rowling

  5. I’m empty and aching and I know exactly why….

    I’m still making sense of our wicked little hearts and I most likely always will be. That’s why I write and brood and mull and ponder. It takes time and it takes solitude. It taxes friendships and confounds relatives. It turns loved ones into points of reference. Oh well. I don’t care if it’s normal or likable or bankable or polite. It’s the only thing that keeps me somewhat honest and halfway sane.

  6. Oh I write to hurt people too, at least to make them cry. I like there to be at least one “bawl your eyes out” moment in every story.

    I’m not writing to save the world or help anyone else, I’m writing because I have way too much fun in my little imagined worlds. It’s all about me, I’m afraid.

    I love what Maine Character said. I too, am an unashamed misfit. I’ve never worried about whether I’m normal or not, I just love that I’m not. My kids love that I’m not. I can’t imagine anything worse than being just like everyone else.

  7. We should look more Picasso-like, maybe a dashing beret, some pince-nez glasses, a twisty little moustache (especially on the women) – that would make us stand out as artists.

  8. What is normal? I do what’s normal for me. Then other people tell me it’s not normal at all.

  9. I think one of the worst parts of being a writer is trying to appear normal.

    Amen.

  10. I write to find out why I am compelled to write. This is normal, isn’t it?

  11. I think one of the worst parts of trying to be a writer is the more you do it (write), the more intense your inner life becomes, the more surreal the world outside you becomes which makes it that much harder to react normally, because you’ve spent so much time inside your head (and time outside your head is spent rummaging through real-time experience for the pieces that somehow fit into the thought patterns that feed your inner life) you lose all sense of normalcy and so everything seems absurd

  12. “Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping

    I write because it soothes me and makes sense in wild chaos of my life. My mind can relax and stretch and everything is clear. In other words, it’s the one time in my day (if I am lucky) that people will leave me the fuck alone. It is mine.

  13. All I know is I feel abnormal when I don’t write. Irritable. Off-track. Like my clothes don’t fit right.

  14. There’s such a thin line between “wanting to write novels” and “dissociative personality disorder.” I find sometimes it’s easier to think as other people than it is to think as myself.

    I read self-help books in order to figure out how real people think (which was why Forest For The Trees was so awesome: it told me how I think) and frankly, after my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s, I began to wonder if some of those quirks I’ve always had aren’t themselves symptoms of the same thing.

    Someday the world will rip off my mask and expose me as the fraud I am, pretending to be human. It will probably be the nice women at the bus stop, who up until now, just think I’m a little odd.

  15. Can I relate?

    Well…since it feels like you are painting the whispers in the periphery of my brain…I’d say I can.

    Sometimes I feel out of sync with the moving world. In tune with my own motion instead, moving through intricacies.

    It’s hard to transition back to dinner parties.

    Thanks for this.

  16. “I’ve never understood writers who say they write to help other people. I write to hurt them. Just kidding, sort of. I write to feel normal.”

    I totally relate, except you can swap “people” for “writers” and end that first sentence right there.

  17. Have you ever noticed that people who say things like “I don’t give a shit what other people think” are ALWAYS the ones who care the very most?

  18. i write for validation…and to tell you to change the underlying link (not the display name) on the right hand side of your website from rapexegesis.com to rapgenius.com. thanks betsy!

  19. I don’t see myself as any more freakish than the average person believes himself to be. That said, I believe Normalcy is an urban legend.

  20. Normal is…I have no clue what normal is…but I feel at home when I’m lost in my writing. Sometimes that is a happy home. Sometimes it’s sad or angry, or a little crazy. Maybe all that is just normal.

  21. Truer words were never typed.

  22. Can I relate? You have no idea how much. Writing saved me in every essence of the word ‘save’. I’ve always been creative with a love of reading. My deafness however introduced me to how words can remove my silence.

    In some ways I might even say I have that hidden advantage, as I’m always watching the details. It’s the details that fill in the blanks when you watch someone’s lips move, the hand movements, the eye contact, and the body language are all spoken.

    As a writer? I’ve had more than my share of readers tell me, “When you write, I forget your deaf.” As comforting as that is at times, when I’m writing I’m the most comfortable in my skin, I’m not alone and at times I’m not even deaf. (Hugs)Indigo

  23. I absolutely adore this post! I’m totally like that. The only ‘normal’ thing about me is how abnormal I am… just like every other writer…

  24. I like to call it a colorful inner landscape – maybe not quite technicolor, but close. Or maybe it’s an overactive intuition. Or maybe we’re just crazy.

    Who knows, really? I write because it’s the only thing I can stomach doing day in and out (and i’ve tried many, many other things). Now I just sit back and feel lucky to be able to get up every day and love what I am doing. I don’t dread the alarm, the commute, the billable hours, the strategic plans.

    And it’s kind of funny to see the perplexed looks on people’s faces when you tell then you’re writing fiction. I can’t help but giggle.

  25. Can anyone relate?

    You mean to the way the worlds in your head and the people who populate them are more real and vivid and compelling than anything that happens in the “real” world? And writing is the only way you can communicate, both *with* those worlds and *from* those worlds. You can’t discuss it. Never. Ever. Not even with people who love you and try. They’ll never understand. It’ll just lead to a half-hearted and embarrassed discussion that leaves you feeling an outcast and that much more alone.

    I am coming to believe that God is a writer and we are His (Her?) characters and co-authors. Story is everything. We are immortal beings who hunger for tragedy and comedy and drama just as these corporeal bodies hunger for water and food and air. There are as many worlds as our imaginations can populate and every story that *feels* real, is.

  26. Yes, I can relate, is so many ways. I sometimes wonder if my gift for writing isn’t sometimes a curse. I mean, I’m out with friends, having a good time, and then suddenly my mind clicks into writing mode. I’m no longer just at a restaurant, drinking, eating, and laughing, I’m at the potential site for some grand event in some novel I’m currently working on or yet to write. I’m still there with my friends, but, really, I’m not. I look at the world through different eyes. I don’t just see a lone man on the dance floor, the ones the younger people are snickering at and making fun of, no, no, no, I see a man living his life to the fullest, not caring what people think, because . . .

    So, gift or curse, I wouldn’t give up this writing life. I wouldn’t give up my times of solitude, cup of coffee or glass of wine (depending on time of day) next to the laptop, when I delve into the psyches of the characters I create and get them into and out of so many messes!

    Great post. Thanks.

    S

  27. After years of feeling completely anti-social and weird for preferring observation to interaction, it is nice to figure out that I am not alone. The statement “I write to feel normal” completely resonates with me. Thank you for putting words to a feeling.

  28. Yes, yes yes!
    That’s why I love writer’s conventions so much. Meeting people who know that staring into space means that you’re working is such a relief!

  29. One of my first observations about the world that I made to my mother at the age of two was “I don’t like people”. 🙂

  30. Holy cow, yes I can relate.

    I laugh at jokes made off-page by my characters. I scribble plot points and dialogue during church services. I’d rather write than eat chocolate—and I am the Godiva poster child. The biggest high in the world is when the words come just right and make my beta (who is a kindergarten teacher) use inappropriate language (in awe) as she reads them. The lowest low is when they don’t. My children have paper siblings, and sometimes ask after them.

    Yeah–I can relate.

  31. I also can soooo relate. But I do love a good party. Love sharing stories, pulling at other people’s. Husband hates it. Especially when we’re the last one there because someone is telling me about the most important day of their life, and are talking non-stop for two hours, only because someone is just letting them.
    And when I go home, back to my laptop, that story is there with me.

  32. “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.”

    Writing helps us name the craziness. Once it’s named, it’s not crazy–right?

  33. I feel a vague sense of normalcy when I write. But I’m becoming increasingly more concerned about how mostly abnormal I feel when I read.

    I just finished Mary Karr’s LIT. I am almost positive she didn’t write this book. I’m pretty sure Yoda did.

  34. I always keep spare pens and paper in my bag. Yeah, for a writer, everything is potential story material. That’s what makes a writer a writer 🙂

    Thanks for putting it in amazing words.

    Pallav

  35. Yes. But I wish my relatives would stop warning me that what they just said (to the entire family at yet one more family gathering) better not show up in one of my books. Uncle Norman, honestly, what you say ain’t all that interesting. LOL

  36. This came at the right time for me. I was thinking this very morning that I don’t get writers who talk about the torment and the angst. I feel as if I’m falling short by not suffering enough. Yeah, sometimes I feel inadequate and wretched. Sometimes my brain gets fried and my neck gets torqued. But when I’m writing, I’m almost always happy. I’m with my characters and I love it in there. When I’m not writing, they talk to me, tell me where they’re going, secrets I didn’t know about their lives, and they call me back into their stories. Oh, wait, maybe that’s schizophrenia… rats. I hope not.

  37. First, I have to say that I think that line is one of the best sung among all of Simon’s work. As a singer, I pause every time and admire the quality of his Os.

    Second, I can’t imagine “writing to help others.” I’m not that altruistic. Writing takes too much effort to do well for me to make that effort on someone else’s behalf And that heady feeling when the words escape from me in a flood of honesty is too orgiastic for me to pretend I’m doing it for anyone but myself.

  38. Uhm. Your post made me tear up. Honestly. I am sitting alone in my dorm room alone in the dark with tears in my eyes. Your words are exactly, EXACTLY what I feel.

    Thank you. SO much.

  39. Great post… the words ring true.

    But, I have to admit that I often avoid the self serve line at the grocery because half of the time the barcode reader is spent and a snobby teenager uses the moment to bounce from their rampart like kiosk and rescue the “old guy” from technology. I usually opt for the machine-like cashier with the insincere smile.

    Munk

  40. No.

    ‘The wizards represent all that the true “muggle” most fears: a secretive race of superpowered ubermenchen with a slave-based economy.’
    – J.K. Rowling

  41. I feel like if I keep relating to all these comments, I’ll no longer feel connected to my writing self!

    All I know is if I don’t write, I’m someone else. I don’t write to hurt people or help them, just to try and understand all those strangers that inhabit the world outside my room.

    oh–and to quote one of your authors (I just discovered), I write because “I just wanna be pure…”

    I’m kicking myself for having to look up the song quote– first time. (The very first story I ever wrote was titled “She Has Funny Cars”.)

  42. Beautiful post. I could really relate to it.

    Thank you for sharing.

  43. I began writing a year ago at the age of thirty-eight. I wish I had found it years ago but to be honest I was scared of writing. It can be a little intimidating when you come from my background.

    When a writer picks up the pen or pecks away at the keyboard they expose themself. Or at least I do. Raw emotions and unexpected worlds emerge when I write.

    I don’t write to hurt or to heal anyone but to entertain and to inform. (Think Twilight meets DaVinci Code! Ha!)

    Even if I never get published, I’m okay with that, because writing in its self is fulfiling. In all my thirty-eight years of life I have never been so passionate and in love with what I do. My husband says I’ve become a little obsessed with it. I just tell him, “Hey, I’m a writer it’s normal!”

  44. Oh, so perfectly! I was just considering this a successful weekend because I almost managed not to talk to anybody, but was able to spend most of it inside my head / writing (and then wondering if I was slightly diagnosable for enjoying my ‘solitary confinement’!).
    I’ve been at events and wondered why other people find them so entertaining, as what I have in my head is so much better, and I’d rather be there. When I write well or am “in” a story it’s like being in love (actually, as far as that’s concerned, it’s been better).
    I’ve managed to become more discreet about staring into space, although a coworker did catch me last week and ask if I was praying. I discovered at college that people don’t like it when you totally block out their conversation to go into your own world.
    It’s nice to know none of us are alone in this.

  45. i think part of the reason you feel least alone with your keyboard is because you know the people you’re writing about better than you know anyone else in the world, and you know that if you were to actually have a conversation with any of your characters, they’d understand you better than anyone else in the world. they open their hearts and souls to you, they live or die by your hand, and they depend on you. apparently for most of us, it works the other way around, too. at least that’s my theory.

  46. I was sent over here from Janet Reid’s blog, and am so glad I was! Yes, yes, yes! It’s so affirming to know I’m not the only one. I try to remain invisible in supermarkets, and hate it when all the self-serve checkouts are full. Quick in and out before someone engages me in conversation (although my eyes and ears, especially ears, are on high alert). My sister keeps telling me I need to step away from my computer and play in the 3D world … saysI need a social support system. (sigh) OK, I’m off to subscribe to your feed now. Thanks!

  47. Yes, I get this. I scribble notes while in line at Target, in the car wash, and while sitting at church.

    Fab post, thanks for this!!

  48. Yeah, I read the first two lines and wondered whether I told you about my short post-Christmas-trip depression and wondered if you were ripping me off. Haha.

    I whittled it down to, “I’m not like those people.” (My eight siblings, two parents, assorted inlaws and their spawn . . . )

    I was conflicted about whether it was more about being a homo or a person with a job/life so different from theirs. I wonder why I didn’t put “writer” to it.

    That’s the only place I try to act kind of normal: because they beat me into submission. I couldn’t take being the black sheep anymore when they actually told me I was the black sheep a few christmases back. They said they didn’t mean it in a bad way–seriously–just that I was as different as if I came out a different color lamb. Yup.

    I was also ecstatic when they invented the self-checkout line and the gas pump where I don’t even have to go near another person. And I love hanging out with people, just not that forced interaction with nothing actually exchanged.

    And I love the spy part. Laurie Anderson has some song or story where she says her job is basically spy, and airports are one of her favorite listening posts. I heard that 15-20 years ago and it was like hearing my name. I yelled, inside, “Oh, THAT’S what I do!”

    I did some other crap to pay the rent for a long time, but that’s always been what I really do. I’m not sure I was supposed to tell anyone, though.

    • Anais Nin’s Spy in the House of Love did it for me. It was also the title of a song by Was (Not Was), I think.

  49. I want to vomit at the idea of writing as therapy, but I guess I do it partly to vent.

    This afternoon I got robbed again–fuckers!–technically burglarized; someone got into my writing studio and stole my laptop, the good one, unfortunately, but also the room with ten years of files for my book, notes, etc. I felt like crap, and deeply conflicted about what the hell was gurgling around inside, and could not wait to get home from the gym to just write about it on my facebook page. that helped.

    Partly, I write to figure shit out. I don’t know what I think until I figure it out on the page. And it bugs me not to know what I think.

  50. Oh, heavens, can I relate…. I used to get emotionally hammered by this awful teacher in grade school for staring into space. I can’t even explain the trauma, it still runs so deep.

    Everything I write in some way deals with loss or yearning- loss of people, time, places, some form of nostalgia, innocence, need for love & acceptance, and so on. I feel like I’m not doing right by myself if I’m not working that out. I escape, and it is my most desperate need. I love the self-check lines, but I’ve gotten really good at making people think that I give a damn. I wait tables, and everyone thinks I’m an actress, since I’m so animated. Heck, I’m so good that I half convince myself that I’m happy, and then I’m reminded of my true self when I write.

    There are only two places where I am one with God, the divine, the universe, or whatever you want to call it – when I write, and when I dance. One is by nature introverted and the other is generally public. Makes for some interesting personal shifts, I can tell you. Most people are confused by my rapid swap from dance floor dominator to silent-bubble queen. I have a really cruel 1000-yard stare that I give to people when they interrupt me reading or writing, and the aftereffects are not pretty.

    So, yeah, I’m with you. You are not alone. You have a pantheon of voyeurs arm-in-arm with you, and together, we will detail the beauty and horror of human existence.

    @Indigo – thank you for your beautiful post. It makes my hearing impairment easier to bear – I feel less alone. You said everything my heart has cried for years. Thank you.

  51. Writing distances and that’s something I’m grateful for, but I sometimes worry its taking me further away from ‘real life’.

    That said, even if I could write myself normal, I doubt I would.

  52. The writer persona radiates even when I think I’ve got it hidden.
    At work, I can be jacked up on an elephant-killing dose of caffeine and chattering away, but will still be read as “quiet” and my evaluation will chide me for not being perky enough. Apparently my (forced) extroversion, when turned up to 11, is only a 2 on the normie scale.

  53. I’m with Chancey Gardner; I like to watch.

  54. I’m less “normal” when I write than in person, but I like it that way. And so, it seems, do others. In my tradition we call it writing for self-purification, i.e. to cut the fat, skim the dross from the ego, but not to abolish it. I write to free myself, but also to discipline myself. This is NOT therapy, about *feeling* better about myself, but simply *being* better. As far as “helping others” goes, I figure if I’m free, than it gives others tacit permission to be free also. That’s what reading does for me.

  55. I relate a million times over. I feel safe in front of my keyboard, comforted, like I’m important and in control. In daily life however, I feel like I’m always watching everyone pass by, carefully noting their actions. Sometimes I wonder–do writers only live vicariously? Can we never separate ourselves from need to relate everything back to the creative process, to we never disassociate and allow ourselves to live our own lives, instead of watching everyone else’s?

  56. I know why I feel so comfortable when sitting at my computer writing:

    * No-one is invading my personal space. (Why do people feel like they have to stand so close!)
    * No-one is yelling at me, glaring at me or trying to flirt with me. (Okay, I wouldn’t mind if someone was trying to flirt with me, but hubby might not like it.)
    * There is so much peace when writing. No phone, no chitter chatter, no distractions to pull you out of your creative bent.

  57. Betsy, I think only we writers can relate. To us the world is a whole other thing. It is not the grinding, sinewy, stuck to the rocks of life that others live. when we are writing we are aloft, out of our physical sense and into an expansive knowledge of existance. One-on-one human interaction limits us to one sense of being. we are not comfortable in that skin. we, as writers, are able to see beyond one person. we see everyone, feel everyone all at once. when our senses are pulled back down to the basest and hardest of existance, we squirm. we don’t like it. We are different. But at least we have each other to make us feel like we’re not alone.

  58. I love to write, but I think these people are taking themselves way to seriously.

    I read the postings and couldn’t help but say,

    “Oh brother.”

  59. This is so well said. It puts into words something that I’ve never yet been able to articulate. Yes, I absolutely relate.

  60. This post truly resonates with me. I used to wonder why I never felt more alone than when I was out with a group of people.

    Writing made me realize that I will never be like everyone else. I will never fit in, and I will never be more myself, than when I am sitting at my desk writing a story.

  61. i so totally get this. i force myself to interact while longing to be back at my keyboard. like yesterday, going to a super bowl party and just barely hanging in there.

  62. […] O Ye Oddball Lot, start with this post, then read all the others. Leave a […]

  63. I write out of joy, out of hate, and out of the need to inflict what’s in my head on the rest of the universe.

    The trick is not finding myself boring.

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