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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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Baby, You’re no Good

“We delude ourselves in the appraisal of our own works and in our perpetual misappraisal of the works of others. See you at the Nobel, writers say, as one might say: see you in Hell.”  Roberto Bolano, 2666

What do we really mean when we tell ourselves that we suck? Do we also think we are great with equal passion? Does it mean we are without talent, ego, will, drive, passion, or imagination. Is it soothing to say it: I suck. Only  you don’t really mean it. Could you go on if you really believed it? Or how about: This is shit. What does that mean?  We tell ourselves a million different things all day long in relation to our writing. For me there’s nothing worse than getting up after a few hours and thinking something is good. Wait, scratch that. For me there is nothing worse than getting up after a few hours and thinking something is shit. Back up: for me there is nothing worse than wasting a few hours examining the pores on my face. What can I say: writing is looking in a mirror, down a well, through a forest that smells. It’s bread and cheese, it’s the lower lumbar crying, the balls itchy beyond belief. How do you know if you’re good, if you’re work is good? If you’re on the cover of Time Magazine? How many, even then, cry:  am I good? Do I suck? Is this shit? And does it matter, I mean beyond the check clearing as our beloved A. would say? Lower your standards! Raise high roof beam, carpenter! See you in Hell!

Do you suck?

44 Responses

  1. Only on the hardest candy.

  2. When I tell myself that I suck, I really mean that I can’t believe a genius could write so poorly. But eventually you have to stop picking your face and make another stab at it. Not your face, the shit you’re writing. Because you can only pick your face for so long before your arms get tired.

  3. I’m walking down the street the other day and this guy jumps out and screams at me YOU SUCK! I looked at him,. he was fully clothed so I didn’t think he meant THAT. So I asked: Do I know you? He smiled: Of course you know me. I am you. I am the you that jumps out at you every time you write something like: “My best friend Pinch was murdered while I slept. ” and then go with the story….and boy is it a good one. Keep it up, suuuuuuukeeeer.
    I sighed and said Dear, dear sucker. You have been with me from the beginning, telling me I suck and suck and they suck and if they suck I suck. Then I finally realized what you are. You are my true friend, my internal editor. Quote thee Master Melville. “There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.” Say I, I suck!!! so keep writing, delete, revise, soar.

  4. ‘I suck’ is the ultimate cry of self-affirmation. You can’t dismiss me for boasting, I’m not claiming any virtue or worth. I’m just insisting on your attention–and if I’m lucky, your pity. It’s a preemptive strike. You think you can criticize me? However much you hate me, I hate me more. It’s armor masquerading as vulnerability.

    I don’t suck because I lack talent, ego, will, drive, and passion. I suck because I’m overflowing with them … and still writing crap. ‘I suck’ means that you only see the half-assed shit I produce, but _I_ see the emerald-cut perfection within. ‘I suck’ means I’m better than them, I’m better than you, I simply haven’t produced any evidence of my genius yet. ‘I suck’ is the gap between the man I wish I was and the man I actually am.

    I know the definition of every word in 2666. ‘I suck’ is the fact that I never put them in that order. Why not? There’s no trick there, there’s nothing there but sentences on a page, and every single one of them was available to me. Why didn’t I write them? Whose fault is that?

    I don’t buy that people don’t know how good they are. I know exactly how good I am. I’m not quite the hack I pretend, but I’m nothing special. I sit at my computer and there is nothing between me and genius except -me-. You are reading the quality of my mind. That is what’s on the page. So yeah, it sucks.

    But no, it doesn’t matter. Another imaginary genius suffocating inside a slab of mediocrity. What good is brilliance? You pay the bills and sometimes you put a few bucks aside for your kid’s college fund. What else is there? I’m not winning any prizes, but what if I did? There is no trophy large enough to satisfy my self-regard.

    • If I think it’s *my* genius and *my* mediocrity, I’m missing the point. Even a great writer with a huge ego is humbled before his work, because he knows it’s not really his.

      The train comes rolling down the track. We are all waiting in the station. The train does not stop; perhaps it only slows a little. Whoever is ready, practiced, and awake on the platform will run alongside the train and jump on before it leaves the station. Some of us will try and fail, panting as we watch the train vanish into the distance, the lucky bastard who caught it riding on top, giving a war whoop. The rest will glance up, then return to their newspaper and coffee, thinking the train will someday stop for us.

      We don’t create the train and we don’t drive it. We simply ride it as far as we can. Or watch others ride it.

      The train will come and go without us. Bolaño caught the train that time. Maybe next time it comes through one of us will. But we have to keep running for it.

  5. Sometimes the stuff that I think sucks the most gets the most comments from people. That’s the beauty of writing (and of life). Ah, subjectivity.

  6. Suckiness keeps me humble. And keeps me working to make it better, every day, every day.

  7. Every time I think I can’t go there, and instead go where somebody has gone a zillion times before–I suck. Cowardice sucks.

  8. Do I suck? Probably. Does that stop me? No.

  9. Oh yeah. Do I.

    I’ve spent my life trying to make things that don’t suck – photographs and stories, money and children and gourmet meals for my family on Tuesday nights – so the people around me will see only what I’ve made and not what I am: a high school dropout. A crime victim. A pretender. Someone too afraid to stop the barrage of photographs and stories and let it all settle at my feet so I can be seen.

    I make things to hide behind them. Usually my creations suck too, but I tuck the ugly bits away, like I’m making a portfolio of my own self-image. If only the good stuff shows, there must be nothing suck-ish underneath at all.

    I’m bright and shiny goodness through and through, everybody. Look at me. I’ve written my fourth book/shot a billboard/made beef wellington. I’m just fine.

    And no, it doesn’t matter if I suck. So many of us do.

  10. Wish I knew the answer to that question. I don’t think I totally suck. But that’s all I know….

  11. […] What do we really mean when we tell ourselves that we suck? […]

  12. Re: the work of others — I feel like I know good writing when I come across it / bad writing when I come across it. I also generally feel like I know the difference between what’s bad and what’s probably good but just doesn’t suit my taste.

    Re: my own work — this all gets infinitely more difficult. I definitely seem to know when my writing is not going well. If I am bored and forcing myself to write, for example, the writing is usually not going well. Ugly sentences, awkward transitions, weird dictation … I can spot these thing pretty easily if I leave the work and come back to it in a few days (which is difficult, as I tend to want to obsessively re-read what I write as I am writing it, sort of scoring it into my memory).

    Once in a very long while (maybe twice a year) I write something about which I can say with some certainty, “This is great stuff.” It usually gets written quickly, in a day or two at the most, more often in a few hours. The fabled “inspiration.” Those pieces often get published in small magazines or place in competitions, which amazes me every time.

    Unfortunately, there are days when I can’t tell if I’m writing anything even halfway decent … and there are days when I feel so bad that I hate everything I’ve ever written — I can’t bear to read a sentence of anything of mine. When those moods take hold of me, it’s no use for me to even try to write.

  13. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it depends on the goal. F’instance, I just turned in the manuscript for book two to my agent, saying I didn’t know if it was good or crap. I know it was good for me, my tastes, it hits the marks I would want to see, but the book isn’t just for me. We hope to sell it to a lot of people who are so unlike me I can’t imagine… will they turn up their noses at it?

    My personal (for my work) criteria for what is/is not crap: I don’t expect perfection in every sentence but I want to see progress. I don’t want to backslide. I want to keep trying to raise my own personal bar. But that doesn’t seem to matter to anyone but myself.

  14. When I look at something I’ve written and say that it sucks, it really just means that I know I can do better and that I have to try harder. I wouldn’t keep going if I didn’t think I could do better.

  15. i totally suck and i’m all right with that. it just means i need to re-write. isn’t that writers do?

  16. This morning I added one last paragraph to the last scene of the almost-last draft of my novel. It was so good first I cried then I had to google parts of it to make sure I hadn’t stolen it inadvertently. I printed the manuscript out and boxed it up for UPS like it was the most fragile thing on earth. It’s sitting by my door and I keep telling myself: don’t go to UPS. The book sucks.

  17. I never think I suck, because I don’t write enough. If I wrote a lot, something would eventually be sure to suck and I’d have to deal with it, but I don’t, so I don’t. I’ve let my perfectionism keep me from sucking. That sucks.

    The only remedy for that, I’m sure, is to write a really sucky first memoir or novel, not get published, then move on to the next (hopefully) non-sucky one.

  18. I just finished an article about this sort of thinking. http://hooptomyloo.wordpress.com/

    People, especially writers constantly fight that internal battle that we are no good. Finally, I have found something to help me realize that I am good and I’m truly grateful for it.

  19. I don’t think writing is such a big important thing anymore. It’s just something I do to feel creative and let the chi flow. I’m kind of over myself. I think American culture makes people think that everything must lead to being rich, famous and important. It’s important to me to be honest, have a sense of humor, and, if possible, integrity. The lack of one or more is what makes people – not sucky – just boring.

  20. Think deeply, write briefly. Verbosity sucks.

  21. I find that that is not a useful question.

  22. I suck and I’m not just being glib. There’s an excerpt of my book on my blog and I start every day with a burning face. The more visitors the more I have to fight the urge to take it down. It’s like the time I took a job teaching seminars because I was terrified of public speaking. I wanted to get over myself.

    Visual art is so much easier. It’s obvious if it works. And even if it sounds conceited I know I have talent so can forgive myself the crap in between the brilliance. If only I could reach that level of comfort with my writing. But there’s that talent thing…

  23. Yesterday I didn’t. Today I do. Tomorrow remains to be seen.

  24. Well, thanks a lot, Betsy. I never considered that I might suck as a writer. As a cook, certainly. As a beautiful laundress, decidedly so, as a painter–uh, huh.

    But suck as a writer? Hell no. I rock. 😉 Well, on some days, mostly, sort of…

  25. Oh yeah, I believe I suck. But then, when I tell myself that, I remind myself of this quote, from Bertrand Russell: The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

    It helps.

  26. Sure. There are days when I think that I suck. And not just about writing. Sometimes the way I figure things out in my life brings major suckage. But, what can one do. The only way out of hell is through it, so onward. Then, for a moment I see the light and say, “Hey, I don’t really suck!”

    “Yeah, you do,” says inner editor.

    I used to be so sweet. Learning how to bitch slap that editor. And keep on going.

    Even though I suck.

    How will I know if I’m good?

    Don’t know yet how that will happen. But I guess I’ll recognize it when it comes.

  27. There are days when I know I suck. I feel like I have been writing this book for 3 years and welcome each and every diversion. What am I afraid of? Am I afraid that I suck or am I afraid of success? Each day I pick up the paper and see someone else who has the same ideas making it to market….I suck. Each time a reader contacts me to tell me that they love my work….I am King. Go figure.

  28. Here’s what psychologists say about this I suck/I’m great thing – either way we’re just trying to protect ourselves from feeling bad.


    Self-handicapping is often operationalized as a failure to persist, especially to persist at practice or preparation for a major task. Self-handicapping by failing to practice serves to protect and enhance esteem by altering the attributions that can be made after success or failure. If one fails to practice enough before a test and then fails, the reason for the failure is somewhat ambiguous. The failure could be due to low ability, or it could also be due to lack of practice. If one fails to practice enough before a test and then succeeds, then one can claim very high ability, because one succeeded despite the handicap of little or no practice. Self-handicapping thus protects esteem in the case of failure and enhances esteem if one should succeed despite the handicap of inadequate practice.”

    Christopher Peterson & Martin E.P. Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 233-234

      • sorry- my post disappeared except for two letters. I meant to say it’s interesting how good/bad in writing is really no different than any other area of life.

      • Mary, I think one of the fascinating things about learning about ourselves as writers is just how it’s inextricably linked to every other damn thing about ourselves. If we think we suck our thoughts are strong enough to make us suck. If we think we’re great we can make ourselves great. (There, that’s cognitive psych 101!) Our minds, apparently, can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined (think about how we can induce anxiety if we’re scared we’re having a heart attack, for instance) so how about imagining we’re excellent? 🙂

  29. I really enjoyed this question because I vacillate between thinking my writing is brilliant or it sucks. I lose all perspective of my work and hope it is good and doesn’t suck, but some days it feels like it sucks big time. And then I question why I am even writing when i should be out curing cancer or helping little old ladies across the street. It is hard to hang in there past the negative self-talk or bad writing days to persevere and really believe I have something worth both writing about and reading. Thanks for asking the question.

    • Beverly – this kind of self-doubt can be crippling, for sure, and it exists in all of us, women especially (I think). What you say about curing cancer is such a female thought, I think – always comparing what we do with what could be more beneficial to others. I’m a big believer in delving into those self-doubts to see where they originated and then getting them the hell out of your system so you can do your work rather happily for a change. 🙂

      I wrote an e-book on this if you’re interested: “The Power of Deliberate Thinking: 5 Strategies for Staying at the Writing Desk (Despite Your Self-Doubts)” – it’s free and you can get it here: http://literaryliving.com. Hope it sparks some “non-sucky” thoughts. 🙂

  30. […] August 28, 2010 […]

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