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    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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Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?

Cher Madame Lerner,

Until July 3rd of this year I never wrote anything but prescriptions albeit good ones like valium and prozac. Since then I have been writing about my recent mid life crisis which involved me walking away from a big career as a psychiatrist in Canada to clean toilets in rural France (seriously). Now every single day someone tells me that my doodles would make a great book. I imagine this falls into the same category as everyone thinking they have good taste, a great sense of humor and excellent driving skills.

My question is this. I have discovered that I love writing beyond all things but I have no idea if I’m any good or ‘marketable’ in any way so how does one test those waters? I know that you likely get a million emails like this every day but if you answer mine I’ll quid pro quo ya with 1 piece of free psychiatric advice. Desperate ploy I know.

Anyway, I really enjoy your blog and thanks for your time.

Regards, (Name Withheld)


Often at writing conferences, when we are talking about the fine art of query letters, people ask me how I like to be addressed. Cher Madame Lerner is how I like to be addressed. I knew I would answer this letter long before the promise of psychiatric advise. Here’s the deal. You are smart to recognize that everyone thinks they are good at driving, etc. You are also in good company: Eat Pray Tampon. Under the Tampon Sun, A Tampon by the Sea. There’s lots of precedent for women doing mid-life, peri-menopausal walkabouts. I think I’m about to embark on one myself. I think I’ll call it Moby Tampon. IDK. All that matters is the writing. And if you evoke that universal feeling of being stifled, of loveless marriage, of desperately craving to change, and hungering for something that might be called spiritual, along with a good Fourme de Montbrison and Pinot Gris, who knows you might have a major bestseller on your hands and a  movie that grosses 44 mil domestic unless Meryl Streep plays you, in which case bump that to 112 mil.

Dude, write your heart out. Delete half of it. Get it into the hands of a writing workshop, class or freelance editor. Work on it more. Repeat. Send it to moi and five other agents. See what happens. If you bottom out, try again. Revise. Start a new project. Revise, etc. Never give up. Self-publish. Just keep writing and developing and living. That’s the most important part.

If you comment today, please leave one free piece of psychiatric advise,  either for me or the other mental patients who hang around this blog. And to to our French wanderer: Thanks for the question and Bon Chance!

43 Responses

  1. Don’t forget that books exist to entertain and enlighten. Channel honest feeling, string clean sentences together, and create an interesting plot. Don’t think so hard about it, and don’t stop thinking about it. Don’t fall in love too hard with any word/phrase/chapter/character, because you may have to snip it.
    And for Christ’s sake, be original.
    As far as psychological advice: Depression makes awfulness and emptiness seem perfectly real, but it’s an illusion.

  2. tattoo parlors, credit cards and old boyfriends are best avoided during manic highs and chronic lows.

  3. ” it would be so nice to see your / face at my door…but you’re so far away…”

  4. perimenopausal walkabouts. for fucks sake. be original.

    psychiatric advice. hmm.

    liquid anti-psychotics are best cut with flat ginger ale. the man wearing 5 hospital issue housecoats is probably paranoid.

    the woman who packed a barbie in her purse for her hospital stay–just in case–may be scattered but delightful. stick close to her in art therapy, she’ll probably glue a gazillion feathers onto a cowboy hat, cover it with glitter and, when she gives it to you, make you cry.

  5. This may not be the best psychiatric advice, but it’s excellent advice for writing and, I dare say, for life: FOLLOW YOUR WEIRDNESS (Annie Dillard). 🙂

    Thanks for the great advice–“write your heart out. Delete half of it….” Love it!

  6. If I knew the guy’s name, I’d run a background check. Something about his letter doesn’t ring true. But if he can get Meryl Streep to play him in the movie version of his doodles, it’ll be a hit for sure.

    I’m not a licensed physician, so I don’t dispense medical advice either in writing or within range of audio recording devices.

    “Revise…. Revise, etc.”–now, that’s my kind of advice. I have this book I’ve been working on for the past year. I got it into a certain shape some months ago and began marketing it, but I knew it was too long, I just didn’t know what to cut. Familiar story. I kept working on it–I’m blushing now, believe it or not, sitting here at my keyboard, a man my age, blushing to be telling this tale–I kept working on it as I was marketing it, tightening up this here, that there, still not happy with it.

    Meanwhile, I never read for pure pleasure, I read to inform my work, factually and formally. Over the past couple months, some of the things I’ve read helped me find the cold-blooded critical distancing I needed to effectively channel my creative desperation. It was like an avalanche or an orgasm, the way it built up until, yesterday, I took a printout of the manuscript, notably shorter than it had been a few months previous but still not tight enough, not quite there, and spent the day doing a line-edit. Whole pages of stuff I liked got tossed, they just weren’t necessary, not any more. This evening, before I popped over here to see what was up, I keyed the changes into the computer copy.

    I know this is self-indulgent, telling this here now, but I feel so good about what I was able to do, when just a few months ago I wasn’t sure quite what to do or how to do it, I just knew it needed to be done–I feel so good about it tonight I had to come aboard and sing about it.

    So, Monsieur Mystery Doctor and the rest of you, no psychiatric advice and nothing to add to what’s already been said about doing the work–write it, revise it, and never give up.

  7. To be correct, it would need to say “Chère Madame Lerner.”

  8. When I was a lawyer in Toronto, we had an affiliated office in Montreal. I was so jealous that I was just Dear Ms … while my Quebecois colleagues were addressed as “Maitre” – it sounds way cooler.

    My advice – self-medicate.

    “Dude, write your heart out. Delete half of it. Get it into the hands of a writing workshop, class or freelance editor. Work on it more. Repeat. Send it to moi and five other agents. See what happens. If you bottom out, try again. Revise. Start a new project. Revise, etc. Never give up. Self-publish. Just keep writing and developing and living. That’s the most important part.”


  9. If you love it, pursue it. But be cold-blooded enough to know when you can’t follow it any farther.

  10. How committed were you when you lit our for the mere-land? Did you sell the manse in Canada or just sub-let? Do you clean toilets free-lance or did you join the toilet-cleaners’ union? What do you brandish when you go on strike and march in the streets? Why toilets? (Don’t most people run off to France to work in high fashion or astrophysics?) Do you have a thing for merde? Now, THERE’S a book.

    Seriously: get a hook, an arc, a plot twist, and be able to describe it all in one sentence. Write it without ever using the words “mid-life crises”. Start a blog so I can live vicariously, please.

    Psychological advise: Interesting people don’t have interesting hair. Remember that.

  11. I don’t know much about modern psychiatry. Back in the days when I worked in a halfway house, I’d get frustrated by the tendency to increase the dosage rather than diagnose. During short sessions people often say what they think the shrink wants to hear and psychiatists like to flex their omnipotence at times. Any good manipulator knows it’s easier to pretend to be better than deal with problems. I’m not saying medications aren’t important; schizophrenic
    thoughts need to be held together with mind glue meds. and nearly everyone experiencing the high end of a chemical imbalance is ready to chuck their meds. because they feel so good. Don’t do it. The depression is too deep and dark. It’s always good to have someone to talk to, especially those times you just want to be alone in your depression. Identifying the problem is the first step and, as the saying goes, the first step is a doozy. Okay, that’s more than one piece of advice, but there are no simple solutions.

  12. “All that matters is the writing.” Plot or not the wattage of the writing would keep me reading through a tale of scouring the toilets of France. Keep it existential but essential–Hell is other people for sure.

    Psyche advice–chemicals are not a character boost. You still got to check your motives.

  13. My advice: remember to look up. Tops of the buildings, tops of the trees, the sky. Get your eyes off the ground.

    Works for me.

  14. I always fear that if I delete all the shit parts, nothing will be left.

    Psychiatric Advice: The statute of limitations for blaming your parents is ten years tops.

  15. Unqualified to give psychiatric advice, but here’s some advice:

    Don’t ignore the basics because they don’t interest you–the basics don’t care if they interest you, really, but they won’t be ignored: Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Drink adequate water and green tea (the kind that is really green). Get natural light everyday. Move around a lot. Love people even when they’re tough to love. Don’t take this life for granted. Express affection, mercy, gratitude. Sing. Dance. Play. Study. Work hard. Reach out to people who are lonely, cast off, ill, suffering–even saying hello can make a huge difference, even smiling, bonus points for hugs. Walk your way.

  16. Buddha or God could give a toss about your make-up or jewelry. Wear what you want to wear. Make-upping and dressing up can be fun–for you and other people.

    Train conductors: If you don’t like what you see, look away.

  17. Re make-up, use the stuff with nourishing ingredients–no need to rub petroleum products into your skin. Health is more important than beauty.

  18. Create some kind of high-cheese factor Pandora radio stations (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “What I Did For Love” and “Pretty In Pink” are my drugs of choice). Watch 80’s movies over and over (it’s impossible to feel sad and believe that a man like Nicholas Cage’s Randy in “Valley Girl” could possibly exist). And drink lethal amounts of coffee.

    As for writing…just try not to die, and nature will take it’s course.

  19. An aside —

    A quick shout-out to Betsy: Changes can be good, but I like your topsy-turvy interesting and funny mini-confessional prompts better than lettres from faux french housekeeping doctors.

    • Jesus, tough room!

      Let me say that first I am not a man.

      Nor is there anything ‘faux’ about my folly or my lettre to Madame Lerner. I was a doctor and quite a successful one but I felt I needed a change so I ran away to France and now I work cleaning vacation houses.

      Like it or not that’s the deal.

      • The photos on your blog are terrific. Hope you consider including them in the memoir.

      • First, let me apologize for my clueless comment.
        Reading your blog now.

      • Your blog is lovely, Bobbi, and CJ is right about those photographs. Good luck.

      • Add me to the admirers of your blog. I’m looking forward to reading the back posts. And congratulations for making such a big change!

      • Bonjour Bobbi.

        Again, apologies and a bit of explanation. With an anonymous note it’s sometimes tough to tell who’s on the level, so to speak, and who isn’t. And tone can be difficult to gauge, especially in a short note such as yours. Your blog is good, as are the photos. For me it wasn’t a question of liking your decision–I do, in fact, like it or at least admire it, not that it matters. What tripped me up, I think, were my own ideas about what’s likely or possible (walls closing in a bit these days, am just beginning to push back. seems you’ve knocked the old walls down and are building anew!).

        Bon courage!

  20. Always remember and never forget. And if you can’t, just forget it.

  21. Curious group of followers here. I can tell you, there’s nothing faux about this lovely doctor lady now cleaning vacation houses in France… I’ve never seen her so happy.

    Advice: Assume the best in people, you’ll be happier for it.

    • Personally, I enjoyed both the content and the tone of her letter. But yes, we are a tough and strange bunch. I hope lovely doctor lady develops a thick skin; one needs it in order to pursue a writing career.

      • What Sherry said.

        Sometimes the black and white tone of the comments makes them seem harsher than they are. Obviously Bobbi triggered a lot of thought which is what any writer wants, no? Assume the best etc etc

        That said, if someone loves writing beyond all things and it makes them happy, why care if it’s marketable or if someone else thinks it’s good?

  22. Psychiatric advice: don’t embrace isolation.
    Artistic advice: embrace isolation.
    Mix, and set to the side.

    Betsy: suppose the dude’s thing is good NOW? Suppose all the writers’ workshops and other comments work to neutralize it? I mean, just suppose.

  23. Or not dude. Suppose this person’s writing is good NOW etc etc.

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