• Bridge Ladies

    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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Here We Are Now Entertain Us

Two dog hand puppets?

Many people who read my memoir said it was “brave.” Every time I heard that word, I immediately translated it to “crazy.” Isn’t that what they really meant, that it was crazy to expose so much of my life? I used to cavalierly say that the only thing people knew about me after reading the memoir was whether I could write. But I’d feel embarrassed and exposed and not brave. Not too long ago, my shrink wondered why the people in my family felt a need to make their stories public. Because we’re whores? Because we didn’t get enough attention? Because attention was, at our dinner table, love. Because love was food. And food was a weapon. And writing is a weapon. And sex should not be a weapon but sometimes it feels too good to resist. And if writing is shit on a stick, how can you not wave it around?

I am lost today. I have no idea why I write or what I want to say. I am angry and distressed and cannot locate the grid. I gave my shrink my books and she never said another word about them? Do you think she’s read them? I’m painting her as a jerk, but she’s actually the best person I’ve ever worked with. Her name is Betsy! Talk about transference. Talk about a room where you can say anything. Where what you say and what you need say are like the distance between you and the page. What does it take to get there: courage or skill, need or craft, desire or discipline? Brave or crazy?

54 Responses

  1. Two fat dancers dancing over the dead body of their mother? It’s a happy picture!

    When I gave my shrink my book, she said she had to hide it so her family wouldn’t ask about it. Still can’t figure that out.

  2. Betsy, it’s the end of winter, that endless little dark spot, like the thing growing in the far corner of the refrigerator, that traps you and won’t let go. Spring is coming and bringing fresh breaths with it. Don’t give up, don’t let go. Most of all don’t doubt so much. We are who we are, born of all our experiences. Some days it’s just harder to get what we want to say on paper than others. So that’s why we slog, waiting for that one glorious moment of liftoff when good thoughts fly on the page. Hang in.

    Re the pictograph: lamina reaching out from the spine

  3. during my 18 years with the same therapist (i started seeing her when i was 18 and i took YOUR book into her office to give to other clients) anyway, during my 18 years on her couch, i’ve always been my most lost just before a breakthrough. i think of it as metaphysical growing pains and try to just feel it. of course, i usually end up on the couch with ben and jerry watching gilmore girl reruns.

    thanks for sharing. i’m glad you (and your family) make your stories public. i think that’s what our stories are for…to make public so we can make others feel better during their own metaphysical growing pain sufferings.

  4. If crazy is what the rest of the world is not, then I’m gladly that.

  5. Two flying elephants fighting over a toy. When I was first in therapy my therapist suggested I write a memoir. I wrote it, sent it out and got letters back from agents. It was a book full of pain and hurt, but I got a lot of stuff out in the pages. My pastor suggested it be rewritten now that I am more healed. The book needs to be rewritten – less from the victim standpoint and more from the victory pov.

    I think whenever we write, and especially if it is very personal, it is with great insecurity that we give it to someone that we respect, for it contains too much of us.
    Heather

  6. it takes risk. who cares what you write, how you write it? just write it and see what comes next.

    fuck everyone else.

    and quit apologizing.

  7. No, your shrink has not read your stuff. It’s in her slush pile.

    Send me thirty pages and a synopsis, and I will read it. If it’s as good as your two books, we’ll talk. Maybe do lunch. I’ll have my people get in touch with your people.

    I guess being 30 pounds overweight is not a mind bending experience for me, so I did not feel the depth or your personal exposure as did those with similar psyches. I thought it was good, useful information for readers.

    I get the impression that writing tops your current list of “rather dos.”

    • Ummm…DANG…did you dribble some of your daily cup o’acid on the keyboard this morning???

    • Dude I think I might like you from your previous posts but when a man diminishes or trivializes a woman and her weight issues then the man sounds a little clueless and unfriendly. Plus, Betsy’s book and her experience is not correctly distilled into being 30 lbs overweight. But obviously you’re a Betsy fan and a reader and a writer so consider this a friendly fist bump and not a major hostile freak-out.

      • Dude, I notice you are a counter puncher, prefering comments on others’ comments to posting originals. That’s good. The world needs counterpunchers (or in this case, fist bumpers)

        First, I thought there was an element of Ironical humor in an editor/agent agonizing over wheither or not her shrink has read her stuff and what she thinks of it.. We writers spend our lives agonizing over wheither or not agent/editors have read our stuff and what they think of it..

        Second, I was not trivializing her historical weight problem, what I was saying is how sad it is when someone with so much talent and so much to offer loses fifteen years of her life consumed by how she looks.

        Third, It seems that most of her blogs since returning from LA have dealt wit her problems trying to write. Selfishly, should she take up writing fulltime, that would be a loss to the writers of the world.

      • Have I been going on and on about my own writing struggles? Shit. You’re so right. And as far as losing 15 years, let’s make that 30 and going strong. Dudes, thanks for taking it to the mat. I wish we could play poker. Or go to a movie. No butter on my popcorn! And I’m going to use the blog for more worthy purposes, like complaining about my agenting life.

  8. Oh come on, it’s the bone structure of the pelvis (although with ilia like that, I wouldn’t want to be hipchecked by the woman who owned that pelvis).

    And, no, the reason that’s what I see in that inkblot is not because I’m obsessed with sex. It’s because I used to teach childbirth classes. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes brave is just brave.

    Isn’t everyone who writes brave? It’s kind of like public self-evisceration. Hey everyone, how do you like my guts? It was really painful pulling them out for you to see, so please, please don’t run away puking.

    Come to think of it, never mind brave, we must all be crazy.

  9. Therapy and writing. Two bastard siblings. They go together well but their parentage is suspect.

    I think writing is therapeutic, it can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy. There are differences.

  10. What’s brave is not that we expose our crazy, but that we deal with our crazy at all. We bring it out, obsess over it, put it on the page and now, we can see it. Admire it, loathe it, understand it, ponder it. Who else does that, but a writer?

  11. Hi, Betsy. I have quit writing about 200 times since my book came out—as if. It’s like quitting your right knee or your left earlobe. I don’t think any of that shit is brave. I think all the people who don’t share, who have their thoughts neatly pressed and hanging on the best hangers, so as not to crease them, are afraid. It’s the normal people and the scaredy cats.

    My therapist once buzzed his receptionist and told her to bring in the gun. He couldn’t have done that with a crazy person. Actually, he was the crazy person. He didn’t even have a receptionist. And the gun was for himself.

  12. The thing about this blog is that you are writing about how you get your hands on the clay. That is what keeps me reading it and I have never read anything like it.

    The Potter’s Apprentice? When you work with clay you know what the clay is; you mix it and make it and there your hands are, on it from the first. Writing starts with something that is not palpable and you put your hands on it with the pen but also with your breath and feet and the rest of you moving in the world, and that is what this blog takes up. You are making visible what is very hard to see, the thing we all are trying to get our hands on, clumsy as we are.

    And the distance between writer and page and what it takes to get there? That is part of the clay too.

    You connect things in a profound way.

    Thanks.

    Seve

  13. You are not alone.

  14. Writing, when it goes well, serves to erase the crazies for me. Transferring pain into words makes it feel less tawdry and everyday, gives it a purpose. It allows me to be more than my fractured mind, my anger and anxiety and depression.

    But I write fiction only. I can see myself in the pages, but no one else can. It’s a game of hide and seek I play when I allow others to read my work, one only I know we’re playing. Memoir doesn’t allow that wiggle room.

    My answer to brave or crazy? For me, it is brave to write honestly, but to write otherwise (or not at all) is to feel crazier, so it is necessity and not courage that drives me forward.

    It’s easy to get lost in the dark places from time to time. Thank you for being honest about it.

  15. Uterus, et al…

    According to Jonah Lehrer’s article in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine on the evolutionary purposes of depression (“Depression’s Upside”), it takes the ruminative/analytic/melancholic thinking style depressives are prone to…

    excerpt: “Forgas said he has found that sadness correlates with clearer and more compelling sentences, and that negative moods ‘promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style.’ Because we’re more critical of what we’re writing, we produce more refined prose, the sentences polished by our angst. As Roland Barthes observed, ‘A creative writer is one for whom writing is a problem.'”

    • That was an awesome article, especially the bits about depressive writers.

    • There’s something to this. But Peter Kramer (from Against Depression) is spitting out his coffee and banging his head on his laptop right now, telling all of us to take our antidepressants and keep writing, and that we’ll write even better and will be prolific.

  16. The picture is the poster for a 50’s movie called The Tingler, which was about these outerspace insects that got into people’s backbones and ate them and then they went up to their brain and ate that, too.

    Fuck Tinglers and the rockets they ride in on.

    • I had a similar thought except that the insect was poised to enter Betsy’s vagina (Sorry Betsy, it’s the truth).

  17. Bravery is relative, I think. And other people cannot tell you when you have been brave – not without knowing you extremely well. An act that, for Z, would be brave, for Q is effortless. It all has to do with comfort zones and intimacy thresholds, in my theory. I am called brave by some but what they are really saying is that it would take bravery for them to do what I have done. The truth is that I am not particularly brave; only robust.
    Also, if people think you are crazy, they do not call you brave. They avoid eye contact and they do not finish reading your book.

  18. I think your post pretty much says why you write, or want to: “I am angry and distressed and cannot locate the grid.”

    I was reading an article in the current issue of Poets & Writers while I had breakfast this morning, a dialogue between Danzy Senna and Porochista Khakpour. I have to admit I barely recognized their names and almost skipped the article. What a loss it would have been. I’ll be reading both of them as soon as I get my hands on their books. If you haven’t read the article, do. It touches on your post today (as well as much more).

    The line in particular that struck me–that made me go immediately to my desk and jump into the writing that last night had been too difficult–was this from Danzy Senna: “…my books have been frightening in some way, whether creatively daunting or personally frightening. And I think the fear is part of what makes me want to write it. I wouldn’t want to write something that didn’t scare me. It wouldn’t feel like the stakes were high enough for it to matter.”

  19. The ink blot? Acid-tripping Batman. How did everyone else miss that?

    You’ll know your shrink read your books when she bills you for the time.

    I gave up soul-searching for Lent. Sometimes you just need a break from it. If you step away, maybe you’ll discover what you’ve been missing.

  20. It’s a really bad-ass butterfly.

    My friend Chris made a movie and his shrink said he “Didn’t care for it.” I think if you take a crap and bring it in to show your shrink she should say it’s the most beautiful piece of shit she’s ever seen.

    You mean I’ll still be insecure even if I get published?

    Sorry to make this about me. Feel better.

    • It is brave. Promise. Just need a healthy dose of f-u world! And you know…tons of people are closet wanna-be writers (shrinks included) and them be dangerous peeps.

  21. Just before I vomited on myself last night in the bathtub I was having a similar crisis in faith – feeling all vulnerable and sick – trying to understand why in the fuck I’m writing my story, as it’s all fucked up, and doesn’t quite paint me in the best of light. But afterward it felt so good to have that stuff out of my gut, and even though I was covered in the stench of my own vomit I felt a whole lot better. And I realized then, that that was why I was writing my life – to vomit it all up. And even though I may be covered in the stench of it afterward, at least I’ll have it all out of my system.

  22. Ink blot = Twins fighting over one milk bottle.

    Read Tillie Olson’s Silences and wait out your saddness.

  23. Wait – are you really asking or are these rhetorical questions?
    “The Forest for the Trees” is book that gives my little writing soul hope — especially the first chapter. Whenever I get down on myself, I re-read it.

    My marriage is not well because we are broke – yet, I refuse to stop dreaming of getting published one day, and I refuse to stop trying to write something that might be decent. And it’s all because of your damn book – so OMG, if you have self-doubt then I’m either in big trouble or totally normal.

    Either way, I’m just thrilled to see you have a blog.

  24. I once had a step father who was a shrink and let me tell you, they are all fucking nuts. Betsy you are sane. Stop worrying about it. Just write.

  25. Give sorrow words.

  26. “What does it take to get there: courage or skill, need or craft, desire or discipline? Brave or crazy?”

    I think you’ve pegged it. It’s all of it, in the balance that makes the writing work for you. I imagine everyone’s different — I can’t find the desire to write without disciplining myself to write somewhat regularly, for instance. They’re dependent on each other, those things. Brave and crazy — I am brave for writing about how crazy I sometimes feel and crazy for being brave enough to put that stuff out there. And that’s okay. Both of those feelings have to exist for the writing to happen for me.

  27. Two flying pigs standing on the back of a giant beetle (insect, not automobile)

    Feeling the same way today, I dug out my copy of Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. He describes what you (and the rest of us) are feeling is RESISTANCE…..which has a sole purpose to kill your dreams. Not bend them, or misdirect them. Obliterate them. And it is diabolical in its efforts. Do not let it win.

    I suggest a wee bit of perspective by renting out a cozy stone farmhouse on an Alpaca farm in Umbria for a week or so. Bring knitting needles. And your laptop. That’s what I’m planning on doing in a couple of weeks.

    If I was in your neck of the woods though (I’m in Croatia), I’d hop a plane to Maui and spend a week whale watching. Humpbacks frolicking in the ocean are pure inspiration. Plus a steady supply of Kona coffee, pineapple chunks and mai-tais can’t be bad for you either.

  28. Betsy, the end of February / beginning of March is the biggest anti-climax of the year, in terms of transitions. It is the arm-pit of the year. The deal I make with myself on days like this, for my kids’ sake, is the basic Hippocratic oath, as applies to myself, “first, do no harm.” And then, if it really is a dead zone day, I accept it and read something simple, sleep, gaze mindlessly at the walls. I agree, the days before a breakthrough are unbearable sometimes. Can’t focus. Nothing feels right. Nothing appeals. The one salvation can be music and if Chopin floats your boat, it’s his birthday. Of course, somebody told me it’s also “Wave the leeks day” in Wales.

  29. There’s some kind of code of conduct among therapists in which, if you give them your stuff they can’t comment on it. Or she’s trying to drive you nuts so you NEVER LEAVE THERAPY!

    But really, I remember giving my therapist some of my best stuff ever and the result? Dead silence. I figure (and this is the grown up me speaking) being a book critic or book adulator is not actually what I was paying her for. And, all joking aside, I do believe there was some professional reason she chose not to clutter up our counseling relationship with her commentary.

    As far as why I write such personal stuff? It’s like the story is that monster in the first Alien movie. Either I’m going to cut a hole and let it out, or it’s just going to bust through.

  30. The answer is, of course: internet porn.

    Brave or crazy doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting words on the page. Write a thousand of your shittiest, and wave ’em around.

  31. Urm, that pic looks to me like one of those pink (but it’s black) elephants off of Winnie the Pooh. What did they call them? Oliphants? (Or was that Tolkein?)

    Sorry you’re feeling low, Betsy. If it helps, remember that all geniuses are tormented and unhappy at some point. That gives me some small measure of hope.

  32. Have you been outside today? Spring is coming. You will rise.

    It’s two chickens dancing on a fire extinguisher, by the way.

  33. The ink blot’s obviously a picture of my mother. You fuckers are all crazy.

  34. I’ve just discovered your blog, via a tweet by Maud Newton, and may not know how to take it yet. With your comments and questions on the “brave or crazy” theme, it looks like you’re sharing something with your regular readers that gives them a way to share something in return. A well-chosen tactic, because participation is something that’ll keep people coming back. But it was unclear to me how seriously to take your remarks. It seems to me that there are two opposed tendencies in American social life: a traditional one that inclines most of us to conceal our difficulties, under the old principle that dirty laundry need not be aired in public, and a newer one that inclines many of us to share, in order to advance openness and understanding and reduce pretense, maybe even hypocrisy. I can imagine that you might belong to both these trends. But considering that your memoir was published a few years ago now (wasn’t it? Amazon indicates so), I wonder whether you’re really still grappling with it and trying to decide how to take yourself. I suppose that indicates that its content is still a difficult subject for you. Still, might it not work to say “It was hard to live through that, and it was hard to relive it while writing about it, but now it’s done with, and if people think it was brave, they may be right, because it sure wasn’t easy”? Maybe you’re there already and I don’t know that, because as I said I haven’t read anything else here yet.

    As for the shrink and the books, seems like the practical thing would be to ask the shrink ahead of time whether she would read them. Since you’re past that point, can’t you just ask?

    As for feeling lost, humor helps me. I imagine it does for you too, considering that reviews quoted on Amazon praised the humor in your memoir. If you don’t have any of your own today, look for it elsewhere. The Onion is part of my therapy, and I never have to make an appointment.

  35. As I know you know — but just to reinforce that knowing — her job is you, not the work. Her adjustment to her job (like my own therapist’s) will be her own — and most likely opaque. And aren’t you glad? I know in your heart you are. Whether or not she’s read the work, whether or not it speaks to her, she’s keeping you both focused on you. That takes discipline. That takes loyalty to you and your quest. On the other hand, your longing for her resonant YES to the barings and brilliance of yourself, your story, your writing — oh, how familiar that is. Every one of us responding to your post knows that longing keenly. Here’s to your therapy inviolate. Here’s to your persevering in doubt. Here’s to that outpouring of YES to your work for which you long, toward which you write and write and write.

  36. Sorry, I didn’t realize we were guessing the picture. (That’s a lie.) I’m pretty sure this is a picture of my Death Knight’s helm.

  37. Sorry, I would have commented sooner but I’m reading your memoir, right now. I came up for air and here was this post. The writing: Fucking awesome! Awesomely fucking awesome! The way you lay it all out is crazy brave!! Forget the inkblot, I’m going to keep reading.

  38. Wow. I’m glad you posted this. Kind of kicking myself in the bottom though. A while back a friend wrote a book on motherhood and depression. I’m quite certain I used the word “brave.” I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. I truly thought it was brave. I didn’t think of her as crazy. I haven’t been in touch with her in a while. Maybe it’s time to shoot an email and let her know I thought it was awesome. That the subject material was so intense it was hard to put words to it – but I was blown away with what she had to say and how she said it. It made me think a lot. It made me feel a lot. I should have expressed that more openly. Next time I will.

    I read an excerpt of Food and Loathing. It’ll be in my next shipment of contraband from the States. Sorry I commented earlier without seeing it.

  39. A giant beetle straddling two land masses.

    How about courage AND skill, need AND craft, desire AND discipline? So I guess….brave AND crazy?

  40. inkblot: two stuffed Dumbos hanging off a stuffed moose.

    I have come to the conclusion that all writers who are true to the ‘voice’ are batshit crazy.

    I’ve never considered writing to be an act of bravery. It is just something we as writers have to do. Putting what has been written up for consumption by others, that, is indeed an act of courage, which most readers have no appreciation for.

  41. Your shrink doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand that people, writers especially, have a compelling need to share that which is painful and personal. My guess is that she thinks we should all keep our feelings–crazy or otherwise–tucked neatly inside little boxes, and that the appropriate time and place for retrieval is during therapy. Perhaps she could learn a thing or two from you about bravery.

    Obviously, you’ve upheld the three most important tenets of writing: you’re honest, you’re vulnerable and you’re not seeking praise or approval from anyone. Plus, you write for the right reasons (i.e. lost, angry, distressed…) for you in this time and in this place, even though you doubt your motives.

    So keep writing. For you. For catharsis. That’s what matters most.

    As a side benefit, we get to connect with you on the page, to crawl inside your darkness and touch the pithy core of your being. As a reader, it doesn’t get any better than that.

    The inkblot? Of course it’s the Big Bad Wolf. Nostrils flared. Maw agape. Snarling at the world, methinks.

  42. I world for a BBC radio programme called World Have Your Say. Today (5th March), we are discussing the article mentioned about “The Upside of Depression” which was in the New York Times. I would like to speak to people who have an opinion on this article and/ or have depression and speak about living with it. If you would like to take part please e-mail me at Helen.Richmond@bbc.co.uk here is a link to your blog http://www.worldhaveyoursay.com

  43. Writing to me has always felt like alcoholism, poverty, or a giant mole on my face, something I’m totally ashamed and embarrassed about and wish would go away. I’m convinced it’s what keeps me single and that I would be much more desirable and functional person without. And, yet, when I don’t write, I feel like I’m not really breathing deeply enough to get adequate oxygen.

    I don’t relate to therapists. They are a different breed, but I don’t know what I do without mine.

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