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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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Never Never Never Never Never Never Be

Last night, when I sat down to write my post, something happened for the first time since I started this long and loving ballad about life and publishing: I was stuck. I couldn’t type a word. In part, I was reflecting on all the comments of the day and thinking about all the thousands of rejection letters I’ve written, cringing to think how many were inadvertently hurtful. Or stupid. In part, I was thoroughly demoralized by a number of work situations that have nearly paralyzed me. In other words, I had what some people call a bad day, followed by a worse night, waking every hour. 2:00 a.m. free floating anxiety; 3:00 a.m. shoulder and neck pain; 4:00 a.m. wishing I had another baby and could spend these pre-dawn hours in her room knowing that all I had to give was the rise and fall of my chest, the cradle of my arm. 5:00 a.m. scale, shower, teeth, hair, tastefully applied make-up; 6:00 a.m. I’m Steve Inskeep and I’m Renee Montagne.

Please do tell me what keeps you up at night.

33 Responses

  1. Where do I begin? It almost feels like a full moon. One of the dogs woke me at 1:40 am, needing to be let out. My husband is out of town, which makes for a restless sleep anyway. I’ve just begun work on a new novel and I’m hearing voices, thank God. I’m so distracted that I leave my coffee mug in the linen closet. I can’t even sort laundry properly. I keep running back to my computer to type in another sentence or look up something on Google. I’m reading your blog and writing my comment. Meanwhile, dog hair blows like tumbleweed into the corners of the living room. Guests are coming for dinner. It’s going to be a long day.

  2. I’m one of those people that turn off every night like a light. The only thing that keeps me up is a book that I’m into or writing or some catching up on tv. Try not to sweat this stuff and all the comments, books you’ve rejected, etc. We can all deal with it. I don’t have any bad feelings about the various agents thus far that have passed on my book. It’s all a gamble, people have finite time and resources and have to set limts all the time. And we all have different likes and dislikes when it comes to books and movies and food, etc. I mean, look at the beating Laurie Moore (sp?) took yesterday. I do have a question, though. I wonder if there are any agents out there that approach their work like this, sort of like what Vivian was talking about yesterday. Agent to book publisher: ” Hey I have this book that personally I don’t like that much but it’s one of those books that a lot of other people will like and buy. “

    • Lester, what did I miss about Lorrie Moore?

      • If I remember correctly someone mentioned that her talents at oral sex might have played a role in her success, which of course is a ridiculous comment. (Unless Betsy knows something about book publishing that contradicts my more professional assumptions.)

        Someone else also criticized her writing although now I’m wondering if I’ve confused August’s remark re Anne Lamott’s (?Imperfect Birds) book.

    • I can’t believe that Sara Palin’s agent actually loved going rogue in NYC. Ditto goes for any and almost all celebrity memoirs, diet books, and cookbooks; however, I read Steve Martin’s memoir “Born Standing Up” and that was an exceptionally fine exception. I’m sure his agent LOVED that book.

      And of course, Patti Smith’s memoir, a totally loveable reading experience: I totally believe each and every conversation she transcribes (she kept journals, noting the cost of a Horn and Hardardt dinner, etc: I love that). And I tell workshop people that ONLY the one and only Ms. Patti Smith can use the verb “partake” when it comes to breakfast — all the rest of us have to “eat” it. I think I’m digressing.

      • That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Excellent example re Sara Palin. I know I know, I realize I’m no Sara Palin but surely this rule could also apply to numerous other books out there written by non-celebs. Sometimes it seems to me that agents approach projects in too precious a fashion but perhaps that’s what they need to do to to enjoy the profession more fully as opposed to simply approaching each manuscript as something that will potentially sell regardless of whether they like it.

    • I was out of line with my Lorrie Moore remark. She has legions of fans and inside the cover of the novel I wasn’t keen on, Edward Albee gave her a compliment. Edward Albee! I don’t think she is losing any sleep.

  3. What doesn’t keep me up at night. Thoughts of having to go to a perfectly pleasant French class and wondering if I’ll be up and at’em by that point. At 1:40pm. Having freelance success. In my short but lucid dreams and having the comedown when I realize that en route to the bathroom (on one of my “if I just go to the bathroom one more time, I’ll be able to go to sleep” trips). Mentally composing scenes, professional emails, projected outcomes. Or listening to my husband, son or dog snore – only one of whom (once sleep) I can control with the power of my voice. So…I’m afraid I’ve kind of forgotten what I’m talking about.

  4. Every night at 2am, the lady who lives in the apartment above us does her laundry. She has no rugs on her floors. And she wears wooden clogs.

    Other than that, I sleep ok.

  5. Actually, from yesterday’s entry, I was wondering about what exemplary rejection letters people have gotten . . .

    • Total, complete, eternal annihilation. I don’t know how anyone can sleep knowing that’s coming, especially when sleep is such a close replica of death.

      But I just found out that Don Delillo told Harold Brodkey that the way to stop worrying about death was to watch a lot of TV. As if I needed a reason, but now I have a GOOD one.

      • Yeah, but you can’t be inadequate at -death-. Nobody’s looking over your shoulder saying, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ My corpse will be exactly as talented as Philip Roth’s. I find that heartening. Fuck you, Roth. Watch me decompose.

      • Right on, August.
        I’m coming back with long legs and small teeth …

  6. Trying to figure out the proper spelling and divisions of NPR reporters’ names. Mandaliquedelbarco? Joanneselburner?

  7. Lately what’s keeping me up at night is a recent question you posed: Are you always who you were?

  8. Nothing keeps me up at night.
    Or during the day.
    I am always desperately sleepy.
    ‘Likely menopause,’ says my kind and endlessly patient doctor, who even ordered an MRI to make sure there was not some sleep-chomping tumor taking over my brain.
    My also-kind shrink gave me a prescription for ProVigil, which I take every morning.
    I cannot get up in the morning to save my life.
    All of you who get up at 5 am to write brilliantly for 2 hours before you go off to work — I loathe you.

  9. haha. i just yanked myself out of bed because it was pointless to try sleeping anymore when my head refused to shut off.

    for me, it’s all about the zillion things i have to do, that i’m behind on doing, which i feel so energized about cranking out in theory while i’m lying there, but avoid actually doing during the day. (all the soul-crushing small stuff, the mountain of them.)

    i’m not plagued by the should-haves of the past, or the might-have-beens, just the soon-to-be might-have-beens if i don’t get my ass in gear and do them. that’s overwhelming enough for me.

  10. i felt very bad for agents reading the responses yesterday. (i slept on it and reread them this morning and just commented over there.)

    i’ll remind you of some great advice you gave me after i read a brutal 13-page editorial letter in response to my awful early draft of my book. you said, “Right now, you’re a heat-seeking missile for negativity.” (or something close.)

    my first reaction was astonishment. what? i am craving positives, not negatives. but then i stepped back and looked at what i’d just done. craving positive, yet focusing on the negative.

    i was angry, fuming, because i’d been rejected–not canceled, but told i was doing terrible when i’d been expected deification. the shock and the pain of being told that my last several months of work were a failure and i needed to start over overwhelmed everything else. i was in no position to deal with all the particulars of the (very good) guidance in the letter. you told me to put it away for a few days and then read it with different eyes.

    i did, and it was very different in a few days. once i accepted the gist of it and made it MY opinion that it wasn’t working it wasn’t so bad reading that from him, and i could get to the rest of what he had to say.

  11. Your rejection letter for my first novel (circa 1995) was as instructive as any one of my graduate level courses. It was smart and true and kind. But most of all, it was encouraging, which is how I came to be sitting here, 15 years later, with two published books and a new one on deck. The past decade and a half has been filled with countless rejections–countless–but the best of them (the ones I save) are those that let me down with dignity.

    What keeps me up at night is the fear that you’ll have no fucking idea who I am.

  12. Excitement.

    And, once in a while, indecision.

    Not that those things are mutually exclusive.

  13. Re yesterday’s post I can echo much of what has been said above in that I received many more helpful rejection letters than hurtful ones. Some of what was in those letters helped me to carry on and start writing the next book. I really and truly appreciate that so many of these extremely busy people took the time to read carefully and comment thoughtfully on my work when they knew it wasn’t a project they were going to take on. It made me feel like not all was lost even though I walked away without a deal. I had to resist the urge to email a couple of them to thank them for their kindness. One even went so far as to name an intern who’d been given the book to for a second read and who, as the editor put it, ‘fell head over heels for this and will probably never forgive me for not buying it’. I will never forget that girl’s name: it’s become a sort of mantra for me that I call upon when I have those dark moments of wondering if anyone will ever read my work, ever care that I wrote it.
    I think that something all of us who work in the industry (especially those who also write) struggle with is the feeling that we are responsible for someone’ s dream and we cannot escape how fragile a thing that dream is. There is no way to avoid sometimes being a part of the process that crushes that dream a bit but those editors and agents who take the time to write thoughtful rejections and to give encouragement where they feel encouragement is due should sleep soundly.
    Betsy if you’re looking for ideas I’d love a post on what helps us all keep keepin’ on despite the many set-backs. I’m sure there’s some good stories around here.

  14. I like night after everyone has gone to sleep for peace and quiet, but lately I have been worried about my middle son – who assures me at 19 he is an adult and I should not worry that he drove an unregistered car, got five tickets, and is going to court next tuesday, Won’t listen to advice and I am afraid he is entering the school of hard knocks. Sigh. Sometimes I wish our teens did not have to reinvent the wheel.

  15. Now that I’m on Synthroid, nothing. Lovin’ the modern medicine.

  16. before 3 am: wondering when this grief will let me go.

    after 5 am: birds. dawn chorus, my eye. those birds are bastards.

  17. What a loaded question.

    Loss of control. Absolute helplessness. Watching my daughter suffer agonizing pain. Every. Single. Day. The compulsion to fix it. Researching and learning. Planning. More helplessness. My son at war. Living in hell while enduring the mundane; oblivious friends complaining about carpooling and cooking dinner. Fear. Knowing something really bad has happened. Praying for the lesser evil because there are worse fates than a quick death. Guilt. Wondering what kind of mother thinks that. Fear again because my father (with guns) becomes psychotic and needs a hero. Residual anxiety after the worst is over. Working to gain control over anxiety. Contemplation. My optimistic self finding voice. Being grateful. Back to residual anxiety.

    And I also wonder why the music in the Iron Man trailers speaks to me.

  18. What keeps me up is waking too early, in the dark, fearing I won’t quite be able to muster the optimistic will to fully wake up and enter once again into life. The light gradually suffuses the sky, and I know my time to escape back into sleep is shrinking. . . but I can’t fall back into the little pocket of sweet forgetfulness left me. . .

  19. I wrote one of the rejection comments. But I remember that when I worked in publishing I sometimes became paralyzed by certain mss (I worked in children’s books) and held them for like 3 years. Then I was too embarrassed to send them back. So don’t feel so bad. Also, I’ve received some very helpful and friendly rejection letters from agents.

    I’m kept awake by thinking I’m having a heart attack (I’m healthy), finances, the novel I’m writing (I write chapters in my sleep), the women’s high heels in the apartment upstairs, and basic generalized worry about everything..

  20. That nagging feeling that I’ve left something terribly important undone or that I will if not careful that’s what wakes me shakes me and keeps me writing as well

    like you I loved the 1am feeding of my one and only child now grown and very gone

  21. I know we’re supposed to be commenting on ‘what keeps us up at night’ – but I wanted to mention something about your rejection letters. You declined representing my novel twice (once when you were at Gernert in ’04 & again after you joined Dunow & Carlson). And in neither response were you mean; just curt and professional – like any agent who gets dozens of queries per day.

    And I still read this blog & recommend “Forest for the Trees” (the book) to all my writing friends… so you must be pretty alright even when you’re rejecting!

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