• 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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Baby Was A Black Sheep Baby Was A Whore

How is it that my brilliant 30 page screenplay outline has turned into a piece of shit, aka a turd, a poop, a dump, a steamer, a crap? How? I didn’t even touch it. I deliberately didn’t touch it. I am of the Capote school which says to put all first drafts away for a month. You all know what I’m talking about; the disease has a name: literary vertigo.  One day, you’re Leo. The next day, you’re shit.

How is it on one day you look at your work and it smiles back at you? Who is the prettiest of them all? And then the next: Am I a buffoon? A peacock? A monster? Am I empty, ugly, borderline? Am I alive? Did you call me? Do I have anything to say? Ha! Is this the Torah? A recipe card? A phone book?  Jesus died for what, again? “I am an American artist, I feel no guilt.” I am governed by guilt. I am an exhibitionist in hiding. Don’t touch me.

My sister, my mother, my sister, my mother.

How does your work look to you?

40 Responses

  1. Nobody who writes such a fabulous blog post could write a piece-of-shit screenplay. Take another few days away, watch some crappy yet implausibly successful movies, and then pat yourself on the back.

  2. How many times have I experienced that. I slap the mirror.

  3. My work normally looks great to me until I put it away for a couple of months. Then it looks like it was written by a two year old. Then I get out a red pen and fix it up until it looks great again. After, I put it away again. It’s a vicious circle.

  4. (wheezing in wild fits of silent laughter)

  5. Writing really is mental masturbation: You love yourself until you climax, then it’s just a big letdown and there you are, alone, with only yourself for company.

    I think the trick is to only look when you’re in the mood. If you’re headachy, cranky or PMSing, assume your screenplay/manuscript/poem/grocery list sucks wind, and stay away from it.

    I was going to add something about how you can’t fake like you like it – but I’ve beaten the sexual analogy into the ground and broken it off, so I’ll spare you.

  6. Maybe you should write the novel instead.

  7. How old is too old, to get a bikini wax? Five weeks in the drawer.

  8. Maybe I suffer from what the shrinks call “grandiosity,” but I love my work…same day, a month later, a year later. Of course, I revise and edit like crazy, but the essence is still there. I’m proud of it. Now, if only everyone else would feel the same way!

    Last weekend was a huge family Bar Mitzvah with 3 major events. I survived it very well with only one major glitch with my sister…and my mother! (My mother, my sister) The Torah (which I refuse to kiss) contains all the laws for a happy, healthy life. But I believe it’s responsible for all our guilt. I could go on and on, but I’ll save it. Don’t wanna wake up with a guilt-trip on myself tomorrow. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

    • Kyler,
      (Am with you — I crack myself up…)

      • That reminds me of a playwright I know. I used to go see all of his plays at Theatre for the New City, and he’d be the only one in the audience who was laughing. So I guess there’s a danger here, but in the meantime…we are hysterical, aren’t we?

  9. If it’s got good bones I can keep loving it to completion.

  10. Nice Brazilian…

    In college I lived by a restaurant that foreclosed or changed owners overnight. For a year, it was left just as it was the last day of business; tables set with silverware, salt and pepper shakers, I imagine the food in the kitchen rotting. We walked by day after day and watched the dust level rise on the wine glasses. Really creepy.

    That’s pretty much sums up my feeling about my memoir right about now.

    Giant sigh.

  11. Betsy. Really. Suck it up. No writer worth his salt actually likes his own work. The best you can hope for is something that won’t one day cripple you with embarrassment. I suggest you pick up a copy of THE FOREST FOR THE TREES by Betsy Lerner; I can’t say that I will ever understand your fascination with all things Hollywood (I’m more the Bergman / Tarkovsky / high-contrast-black-and-white-subtitle type), but since pilfering a copy of TFFT while working at Penguin Putnam a decade ago, the book has been both a very understanding companion and a swift kick in the ass.

    • It’s written that God liked his own work. (But he wasn’t a writer…and look what he created. Perhaps he needs to revise.)

  12. I just returned from two weeks abroad to find that some rogue kindergartner had rewritten the flawless beginning of my new novel.

  13. I write the book, I read it over, I revise, I revise, I revise.
    Then I send it out…rejection, I love it but, I revise, I revise, I put it away for a month or so and come back to read IT. Who wrote this? I look in the mirror and I know it wasn’t me. I didn’t do that, I didn’t write that book! It is too good for me, my psyche has split into Mary and Jane and Lyn and Bob again. Which of me wrote that book? It is from a woman’s POV, but that Bob is a trickster…he once took me out on the town and now I’m paying for it—-and the doctor, too.
    I take a long walk, I eat a sugary snack, I pee, I pee again, I look through my library and pull out my high school copy of Nausea, say a prayer for Sartre even though he wouldn’t want it and make my way back to the manuscript and read it again and I say, IT IS GOOD, IT IS VERY GOOD. TIME TO SEND IT OUT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.

  14. It’s a love/hate. No question. But I like your description so much better.

  15. Which is why I have six novels unfinished in a drawer.

    If I could get a handle on this phenomenon — loving it while writing, hating it later — life would be so different right now.

    Guys seem to have this problem to a lesser degree, incidentally.

  16. Sorry, can’t really get past that stripe of vag in the picture. Was someone trying to say something?

  17. I have the first draft of a novel that been fermenting for two weeks now. I’ve been debating about how long to let it sit and I love Capote so that gives me a really good excuse to put off starting my revision for another two.

    Seems to me when I re-read my work the stuff that felt really brilliant coming out sounds ridiculous and the stuff that I was less certain of sounds better the second time around. Anyone else have this?

    • Yeah, the stuff that I’m absolutely wedded to, the sentences that give me that smirky little moue of satisfaction when I read them on the screen, those are almost ALWAYS the ones that never make the final, final cut.

    • Yes. I told one agent that my first 50 pages were the strongest, and then another that my voice doesn’t get strong towards the end. Now I find it all embarrassing and don’t know why I thought writing about my life would be remotely interesting.

  18. I’m not so sure I have that much angst, but your blog had me working to catch my breath I was laughing so damn hard. My mother, my sister, my mother. Classic. Hey, you oughta be a writer.

  19. I’m not so sure I have that much angst, but your blog had me working to catch my breath I was laughing so damn hard. My mother, my sister, my mother. Classic. Hey, you oughta be a writer.

  20. Oh my God. I’m so grateful that I don’t write fiction.

    Here’s a twist on the love it / hate it conundrum. I’ve had to write on the fly for decades– journalism leaves only the tiniest of spaces for revision. When I think of some of those old pieces I cringe. But when I go back and actually read them I am surprised at how agile they are. Could they stand revision? Of course. But on the whole, I am surprised at how much better the work is than I remember.

    Betsy, go back and listen to what Patti Smith said in the begining of this song, repeat one hundred times.

    “I am an American artist and I have no guilt.”

  21. I never wanted to be a writer. I didn’t become one until after I retired. I was bored, started typing, and just kept going. The fact that my work has been published by good houses and strangers read it and say nice things surprises me more than anybody. To answer the question: my stuff looks pretty okay to me. When you have no expectations, it’s hard to be disappointed.

  22. I love, love, love this post — made me want to run around the house screaming I AM NOT ALONE, I AM NOT ALONE. (Except that I am…)

    How I view my work (or how my work views me) is so wildly changeable, it makes me wonder if I can ever trust my opinion of what I write. My opinion seems totally to depend upon 1.) how much caffeine I’ve had, and how recently, or how much sleep, or the time of day, or what I’ve been reading, or the moon phase, or the weather, or my outfit, or what I had for lunch, or how many bills I need to pay. CRAP. “The inner monologue drums: I am great. I am shit. I am great. I am shit.” – Betsy Lerner

  23. some work is good, some work is shit. that’s the way it goes. i’m not afraid to shove the shit work into the files and leave it there.

    check out this link titled alone, with words:

    http://www.tnr.com/print/article/books-and-arts/75386/alone-words

  24. This is one of the fascinating phenomenons about writing fiction. It doesn’t happen to me with business writing, only fiction. This up and down, I’m brilliant, I suck, I’m the best, I’m the worst, I am master, I am slave. It can be exhausting. But it’s all part of the process, and I believe in the process. One thing, at least we’re not alone in this.

  25. It looks as you describe. Exactly.

  26. This post came along at exactly the right time for me because I’ve been SURE everyone goes through this and then the last few people I’ve asked have just looked at me blankly and said, “Not really!” I’m just rewriting a YA novel that is currently 16000 words which has mysteriously been purchased by a publisher but needs to become something closer to 40000 words in a very short period of time. It is so terrible. I cannot even begin to describe how terrible. I am filled with self-loathing and plagued by self-doubt.

    I am either going to rewrite EVERY SINGLE WORD or maybe I’ll just change my name to Catriona Von Spritz and move to Oaxaca so that a) I can escape from my own bad writing and b) when the book is published, no one knows I wrote it. Also, I’ve heard the food in Oaxaca is really amazing.

    So there’s that. You are not alone!

  27. While reading an essay on W. Somerset Maugham last night, I came across a quotation that gives one possible answer, although I suppose if you don’t have this kind of compulsion the answer won’t work for you: “What does it matter,” asks the gifted painter among the characters in _Of Human Bondage_, “if your picture is good or bad? The only reason that one paints is that one can’t help it.”

  28. You guys actually read the stuff you write?

  29. Betsy,

    You make me laugh out loud. I go through the same thing. One day I am telling my husband that he better get my autograph now and the next day he will come home to Sybil who can’t come out of the closet because she SUCKS!

    The reality is that once you walk away from it someone will put an idea in your head or something will happen that completely changes your outlook on the project. You will still do but maybe in a different way. Keep your chin up!

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