• 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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Cause all da bitches love me

My favorite part of any reading is the q&a that follows, just as my favorite part of most museum visits is the gift shop. And last night was no different. First, that awful anxiety when the crowd is asked: do you have any questions. No hands. No questions? People all squirmy. Finally, a hand goes up in the front row. Phew. A young man begins by professing his love for this author’s work, then he talks about his own generation of writers and what they have learned from her. Finally, the question comes: is there a young artist or writer who you feel carries your torch?

The writer shoves her hands deep in her jeans pockets. Well, she says, I’m not exactly ready to give up my torch. The audience laughs. Innocence and experience. I remember an author of probably six books tell me that he felt the next generation of writers breathing down his neck, nipping at his heels. He tells me how, when he was young, he typed on a makeshift desk next to the boiler in his cramped basement just to get away from the babies and noise. How over the hours he spent typing he would strip down to underwear, but how he kept writing. Those were the days!

The writer urged the young man to find his own torch. Anxiety. Influence. She said they could share her torch. I guess what I’m thinking about is: how much do you feel the so called next generation usurping you, how much does ambition fuel your writing, is it a young man’s game, how much do you love your influences or need to kill them?

Are you the young man who sticks his hand in the air first, the middle aged woman who asks a question but needs to speak up for anyone to hear her, or are you like me, a million questions burning in my head, silent torch.

32 Responses

  1. Of course I’m first with the hand. Duh.

  2. And yeah, while I watch my young friend, Sheri Booker, whose book is due out next year, work, I feel like she will have success because she’s young and can write more books, while I, after one in the cutouts, am old.

  3. Sometimes I feel that it has taken me too long, that the ship I should have been aboard left port while I dallied quayside. Sometimes I feel that many of the stories I write come from a time so distant, from a world which has ended (a world of cigarettes and land-lines, not a computer in sight), how could I possibly expect anyone to want to read them? How can what I write connect with editors a generation younger? That I sometimes do connect is undoubted, as I do have consistent minor success in getting pieces into little litmags; but still I am sometimes feeling my heart crushed and terrible sorrow welling up within myself at thoughts that I am a man out of time and that it is too late, simply too late, and there is nothing I can ever do that will change that. Self-pity, I know. Still, there are times, such as right now on this cold and dark November morning, when I might wish I could have lived any of the half-dozen lives I sidestepped in order to keep from awaking from my writerly dream.

  4. I can’t be usurped cause I haven’t made it yet. But, I used to feel all gushy when I encountered a writer who’d made it. I know too much now (or maybe I don’t know enough) to believe there is any one reason a person makes it or doesn’t. Luck, talent, timing, luck….Yeah, I’d probably be better off if I were a thirty-five-year-old male writer from Brooklyn with an MFA (with the square black glasses, of course) but I do believe, have to believe, that good writing will trump all. There is just so much to battle in my head as it is– the needle in a haystack subjectivity of it all. I don’t need to be thinking about my appearance and age, too.

    That said, I am the middle-aged woman with my hand up–but I will only raise my hand to the writers who can really write. I admire them and I want to learn from them. However, I do want to kill the writers who write self-indulgent fiction that is wildly successful and I don’t understand why. Apparently, a lot of people want to read this stuff and it frightens me.

    I am ambitious. And I’ve been encouraged along the way. I have to believe that what I’m putting out there will be recognized, deemed valuable, some day.

  5. I like the “find your own torch” part of your post. I write mostly nonfiction, and I’m continually surprised by how many young people are just trying to hard to “be somebody” (as in: be the next Cormac McCarthy, the next Mary Karr) instead of really writing.

    On the other end of the spectrum are the ones who don’t even read the writers who blazed the trail. A few weeks ago I mentioned something about Truman Capote and — no joke — a 20-something writer in the group said, “Who’s that?”

    • Almost 20 years ago I mentioned the Beatles to a teen in Boston and she didn’t have a clue. Almost swallowed my tongue.

  6. That’s it! We need to form an “Old Hippie’s Publishing LLC.” Speaking of which I am trying to find an old hippie to edit my historical novel set in the second half of the 1960s. Seriously. Find me via my blog of the same name at wordpress.
    I spent the better part of a year on a site that helps newbies write their first query letter. To me it is incomprehensible how many young writers are into the fantasy, super powers, vampire whatever; gazillions it seems.
    So maybe we do have wisdom and experience worth sharing.

    • oh my god I feel old. I’m historical now.

    • The 1960s are now historical? Oh PLEASE can’t we find another name??

      • hysterical?

      • I swear. I was at a writers’ conference in September and asked a well connected editor if a novel about the 1960s could be historical and she said even the 1970s and ’80s could be historical.

        And now that I am finally submitting it to agents as “historical” I am getting some real feedback instead of the generic rejection. I know. But by definition a historical novel is where you interweave real people and events (think Forrest Gump) within your novel. Or so I’ve been told.

    • Sara Davidson’s Loose Change was historical and it came out in ’77.

  7. I still feel a sense of urgency, still excited by the prospect of what comes next. I’m like this old woman who appeared in a small town on a random summer day. People noticed her because she was new and she dressed in the style of a thrift store loving teenager: cowboy boots, jeans, shirt and hat one day, an electric blue miniskirt and go-go boots the next. She had long stringy hair and thick glasses, she smiled and appeared friendly, but her presence made people uneasy. Where had she come from? Mostly she wandered around, talked to herself and observed. It was impossible to drive by without her catching you staring and she responded with a nod and a smile. It’s doubtful she was sane and it’s hard to say who writes the story and who is the story.

  8. When I was trying to find an agent, with sky-is-falling news about the death of books all around me, my husband was in the process of leaving the newspaper where he had been a reporter for two decades. For a while we both felt like complete dinosaurs. My husband, wonder of wonders, eventually landed in TV news. I got a wonderful agent and sold my book, although during the first lunch my agent and I had, he said, in his patented Eeyore voice, that he thought novels were going the way of poetry. He’s probably right, but at this point it’s all I know how to do.

    All of that is to say, if young people still want to do this, instead of designing multimedia e-zines, it’s a sign of hope. Youth breathing down my neck is another thing I don’t have time to worry about.

    And I am just getting started. I get to be young a little while longer–doesn’t matter if I remember leaded gas and phones with cords. Talk to me in several books.

    • Henry Dunow has a patent on the Eeyore voice? That fucker. Will you please ask him if I can use it today? I’m feeling kind of blue.

      • One of the many reasons I love him is that, when I talked to him on the Friday after my book came out on Tuesday, to really nice attention and reviews, he asked how I was and I wasn’t afraid to say, “Awful.” (This after a week of people saying, “aren’t you just SO HAPPY?!”) And he said, “I know! It IS awful, isn’t it? I wake up every morning full of existential dread.”

        Hope the color of your day improves.

    • I love your book.

  9. I love my influences and though by nature I’m a silent torch in group settings, I can’t help but ask the questions. It’s inspiring to even have a question to ask much less hear an answer. I get weeks of motivation from a good reading and Q&A.

  10. Go see “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” She has a great attitude toward women comics who tell her that she paved the way for them with the implication that the torch has somehow already been passed from her to the next generation. Her take is this: No one paved the way for her. She did it on her own and these other freeloaders can damn well do it on their own too.

    And as for those who feel that her paving the way means that they’ve moved into her territory — ha! She’s still alive, kicking and booking shows. If you think you’re going to ride your bike on her pavement, you gotta wait until she’s dead.

  11. I am, no questions asked, a silent torch. The millions of questions swirl and I think I can do it….no, the hand still stays down.

  12. I wait until the signing and sneak my question in then, whether the writer likes it or not. Did it with Ondaatje (was the only one brave enough), Amis and McEwan. Nice collection I have! My daughters will value them with the silverfish! Oh no, let’s not go there again…

  13. The questions stay in my head because, although they sound really good to me, I am so afraid others will think they are stupid.

  14. Last month I saw Nick Hornby and Ben Folds in Washington D.C. do a book event for their new CD (Hornby read from Juliet Naked). That’s the only kind of book event I want to go to, where the author brings along a guy who can bang on a grand piano. It was awesome.

    When I have an important question I want to ask an author, I send him/her a hand written letter. I only raise my hand at a personal appearance if I think the author needs a boost. I ask, “How did you get your title?”

    At my own book events, I have a ringer in the audience in case the Q&A needs a jump start. They have to ask me, “How did you get your title?” and after that, nobody is afraid of asking a stupid question.

    • I think every reading should have a band. I saw Taylor Negron read from his memoir (um…?) and he had Lil Haydn playing violin and a Ben Folds-y type of pianist (yikes, as if anyone could touch BF) but you get my point and it was SPECTACULAR.

      Please tell me you’ve seen Ben Folds’ chatroulette youtube video.

    • i want a ringer!!!

      of course, i need to finish my book, get an agent, and then land a deal…but now you’ve given me a whole new line item for my “when i’m a published novelist” wish list.

      a ringer…i’m spending the rest of my day thinking of questions for my ringer to have on hand.

    • If I ever have my own book events, I’m totally stealing the ringer in the audience idea.

  15. I don’t think I had anything really relevant to write ablout when I was young. I’m glad I’m an older writer about to have my first book published. I’m enjoying the ride, I’m appreciating every step (or misstep) in the priocess.

  16. I was born in the wrong century.

  17. Find your own torch. I like it. Are we allowed to ask who this writer was?

  18. I refuse to believe this is a young man/woman’s game. I’m 63 and, though I’ve written all my life, am making my first foray into fiction. I’m much more interesting now than I was when I was much younger, so I have to believe my writing will be similarly brilliant. Make it so, make it so!

  19. Eco started writing novels at age 48, I believe.

    What’s the digital equivalent of a torch, I wonder.

    • There’s a Lighter App on the iPhone.

      My friend’s 13-year old daughter used hers to call for an encore at a Maroon 5 concert.

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