• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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There’s Flies In the Kitchen

In Miami over the weekend, I got together with Campbell McGrath. Campbell and I were in the same MFA program. The only difference is that when we attended, I was an amoeba and Campbell was a complex organism, at least where language was concerned. The guy was writing circles over everyone’s heads whether we wanted to admit it or not. Shortly after he graduated, his first book, Capitalism, was published. Over the years, he has produced eight volumes, a series of arresting and beautiful books.

I felt tremendous nostalgia visiting with him, Liz and their two awesome sons. Had it really been twenty five years ago since he casually sauntered around Dodge Hall, ripped bandanas tied around his wrist.  Since we first witnessed the poems that would comprise his first book. Twenty five years since I took writing more seriously than anything else in the whole world. Twenty five years since I had no idea how things would turn out. For Campbell, there was clearly only one way. For me, well let’s just say my portfolio was more diversified.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not in awe of that kind of resolve, intensity, passion, calling, instinct, single-mindedness, thrall, vision, what have you. People, when they find out I have an MFA in poetry, often ask why I stopped writing. The answer: because I did. I didn’t plan to, I didn’t expect to. If you told me then that I would have quit, I would have begged to differ. But I did. I stopped working at them, or I worked at it but didn’t get better or find satisfaction. And eventually I gave up. Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

What have you given up?

31 Responses

  1. white flour, being emotionally evasive, gin (sadly), spicy wings, backpacking through any country on the cheap, stupid conversations with superficial people, kissing people on both cheeks, holding my tongue, feeling bad about plans i made when i was 25 because i’m not that chick anymore, baking cakes, inhibited sex…shall i go on?

  2. I once took a poetry class in college. On the first day the professor had everyone write their favorite word on a piece of paper to show the class. So I wrote HORSES.

    When he asked me why it was my favorite word, I replied, “Because I love horses. “

    “That’s wrong,” he said. And he moved on.

    I didn’t know you could be wrong at picking your favorite word—I laugh about it now. But he sought the student who found something in the word itself and not what stood behind the word. Though I can’t recall the actual word he favored, I do remember it being an odd choice in the pronunciation department.

    Never in my life did I want to be renowned for my poetry. I did, however, love horses and always wanted to be successful with them. That is, until 2003 when I acquired PTSD. Since 2004 I’ve been working toward my writing goals.

    Thinking about your blog and this post, Betsy, I just have to smile. You see, I gave up horses.

    • Mel, you should have dropped that class right then. HORSES is a great, great word. And you can’t divide a word from its meaning — that’s nonsense.

      • Teachers pull that crap all the time here (small Scandinavian country). An art teacher kept yelling at the kids and making them erase and redraw a daisy because they weren’t putting the correct number of petals on it. It’s supposed to be art. And maybe a bug ate the petals. So there. Stupid ass. And horse is a good word.

  3. Saying yes to things I don’t want to do.

  4. Dangerous men.

  5. I gave up being a painter after years of hell bent, get out of my way, ego driven art making. It cost me too much and I don’t mean money.

    Still all that intense looking wasn’t lost. It shows up in my prose

    As for you—From the books you rep, the ones you write and the tone of this blog I’d say you haven’t lost your poet’s eye, heart or nerve.

    • Yeah, there are many ways to be a poet, and you certainly have inspired me. I “gave up” on acting, but there are many ways to be an actor. The most challenging role is to play oneself with honesty.

    • Many thanks. I did always try to work a little iambic pentameter into my jacket copy.

  6. I gave up comfort but mostly, I gave up my pride. Though it’s hard to say. It depends on whose perspective.

    I graduated NYU for my BA; even had a latin honor attached to it. Now, eight years later, I work in a hospital as one of the entry-level clerks. Some of my colleagues barely finished high school. Almost every time I go to work, someone who knows a bit of my past shakes her (it’s usually a her) head in dismay. When asked what is it that I do, such a smart girl like me wasting away in that place, I usually say, I’m writing on my spare time. The head shaking doesn’t stop. Then the whispers behind my back or in front start.

    It’s as if writing is a frivolous thing. It’s as if I have to measure my existence with something tangible and by this I mean published with accolades. Maybe I’m just in the wrong place.

    • Thanks. I’ve been looking for something positive to say, and you gave me the opportunity to lay three happy messages on you.

      1) God bless the head-shakers–they’re giving you the fuel you need to keep going. Take all their smug superiority and self-satisfaction, all the schadenfreude at your expense, all the short eyed bosses and the demeaning tasks and boil them down to a thick gruel of bile and jealousy, and consume it. It will feed the fire.

      2) Eight years is nothing. If you can’t sustain the misery into early middle-age, you’re a wannabe. Don’t expect to get better or find satisfaction. Don’t expect to prove anyone wrong. Know that you probably suck. I couldn’t get into an MFA program if I was jerking off Jonathan Safran Foer, but fuck that: talent doesn’t determine success. I’m on the cusp of selling a project I find profoundly tedious, but it’s money and it’s writing and what else is there?

      (Speaking of talent, has anyone managed to get through this: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/books/21mash.html. Who is Michiko Kakutani, and how did she make an interesting topic so deadly?)

      3) Stop telling them you’re writing in your spare time. You’re -working- in your spare time. You’re writing.

      Well, that’s my quota of positivity for the day. (Plus this bonus: Is your name really Cherry Lou? I’d buy anything from a person named Cherry Lou.)

      Also, when I was in my 30s, I worked as a receptionist for my wife’s high-school-boyfriend. One of my proudest moments. Taking dictation from

    • Screw the haters! People like that always have first drafts, old ballet shoes, instruments they haven’t touched in years and other assorted broken dreams in their collective closets; they want to validate their own choices in life by telling themselves they chose right by choosing safe. It’s much easier to have a job that you can feel proud of when you talk about it at cocktail parties than to have the humility and courage to do something less flashy in order to have a job that gives you time to write. Lean on the people who get you; the ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ crowd can fuck off.

  7. Publishing a great book. I’ve ramped down to just publishing a book.

  8. Drugs, booze, and academia, which really go hand-in-hand.

  9. I gave up intellect , words – an overall divorce from any and all philosophy. Why? Shrugs shoulders. Life. Wrong choices and company. Before long I talked and acted and did the whole survival of self working bit.

    These days I realize I gave up me. I’m an intelligent, well spoken, imaginative individual. It’s come alive in 3 books. The latest is a revival of all the above and it feels so right. Fits like a glove and I wonder why I ever gave them up to begin with. (Hugs)Indigo

  10. I used to be a portrait painter. Commissioned work can be a bitch. Everyone’s an art critic. Sometimes I think of all those beautiful Sennelier pastels tucked away in their wooden box and feel a profound sense of guilt and longing. And then I remember how much more I love writing, which is harder for me but infinitely more involving and satisfying. It’s like loving a particular dog best because he was the most difficult to train.

  11. First I gave up writing for marriage and various aspects of security (non-financial). Nearly three decades later I gave up marriage for writing. Everything’s cyclical, I think.

  12. The closet, security, fear.

  13. Sleeping in.

  14. Being here now–I’ve given that up. I live less in the moment and more on the page. I’ve given up paying minute attention to my post-teen children (both of whom could use my advice, right?) Maybe I should pay attention to, for instance, the sun coming through the clouds on a Sunday morning. I think, am I writer or am I dead? I should look at that freaking sun.

    All the chaff is getting winnowed out, that’s what’s happening. I’ve done all the cute things I was meant to do, and the only thing left is work.

    Also I can’t use toilets in third world countries anymore. I have so totally given that up.

  15. When I was in college, I had but one goal in life: I was going to be a TV reporter. I ate,slept and breathed it…and I di become one. But then I gained 100 pounds and that was that. Sure, I always resolved to lose the weight and get back in the game, but for many reasons, that didn’t happen. It’s hard to believe that something I had hoped and prayed for so long is now just a memory. Luckily, I have replaced it with other goals, just as dreamy and wonderful.

  16. Not sure. Had no idea what I wanted back then. But I suppose it was my writing. I took to burning journal pages after a friend found some and showed her mother. Yes, they were dark – and personal. Then a college professor told me I was gifted after reading my work but said I had to get my head out of the clouds. I didn’t write a creative word for 23 years. Funny thing is, I still remember walking around with a constant narration in my head of the sights, sounds and smells going on around me. Probably talked to myself like a lunatic, too. But you know what? No regrets. Anymore. Too much life is wasted looking back on things you can’t change.

  17. My first wish was to be a writer- well actually, I was one. I wrote all through my childhood. Then I got sidetracked by music, which I loved but wasn’t suited for in terms of the public aspect. I was meant for quiet, contemplative work. Now, I’m back to the writing, but there’s a universe of difference between the solitary act of writing and the very public process of getting it out there to the world: just as hard as playing music publically.

  18. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. In a word, suffering.

    I tried to give up writing for a while, but it won’t let me go.

  19. I’ve sort of given up reading the NYT’s. I still get it delivered everyday but my wife is the primary reader. I’m starting to give up on news and journalism in general, the notion of trying to really figure anything out at all. As I’m sipping my expertly brewed Keny AA, I look over at her reading the paper and I’m at complete peace. This is probably how I’ll die, as a narly huge anuerysm explodes inside my skull and drips out every orifice onto the kitchen table.

  20. Doing things because I think I have to, and also not doing things because I think I have to (out of resentment) and so not doing cool things. Imagining that the grass is greener everywhere but here.

  21. I gave up ambition and said so in a job interview a few weeks ago. Two masters degrees (one from Columbia as well) and am grateful finally, after two years’ job search in Paris, to have an offer to work as a secretary. A secretary!! I was Phi Beta Kappa, etc. etc. I was always supposed to be Someone Brilliant. I think I doomed myself years ago by cutting out a New Yorker cartoon where the woman said, “I’m haunted by potential.”

    Looking forward to the day job. Hoping this can motivate me to write, as I always keep intending to do.

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