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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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I’m Ready To Go Anywhere I’m Ready For To Fade

I have a little problem, among many larger problems, and I’m going to break the news here and first on my blog, among my nearest and dearest strangers: Whenever I write, I fall asleep. Boom! One minute I’m typing and the next I’m out, nodding off in front of the monitor. It wouldn’t be so embarrassing if it didn’t also happen in front of my writing partner.  At first, I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, like the way you head snap at the movies or the opera and hope the person next to you doesn’t notice. As if.

I would label it narcolepsy, but it ONLY happens when I’m writing. Maybe it’s a subset of narcolepsy. It’s as if the power of my gift exhausts me and I’m temporarily spent. It’s as if the Gods are massaging my neck, whispering to me, readying me for the next round of thunder. It’s as if I’m under a deep spell while Aliens  implant pods in my side and thigh as a new scene comes to me in Mayan code.  It’s as if I’m a drunk on a stoop fingering change in a greasy pocket.

What do you do in front of the power of your own words?

58 Responses

  1. I put my thumb in my mouth.

  2. I despair.

  3. Oh Betsey, you’ve done it again. You’ve discovered a cure for insomnia. All those poor saps who have trouble getting to sleep it night can just take up writing and zzzzzzzz. Or, even better, try reading. It has almost the same effect I find. Open say, Parrot and Olivier in America, (a finely written novel worthy of a national book award) stare at page one and zzzzzzz. Throw away your unisoms and turn your attention to literature.

    • Betsy, your problem is both rare and relatively benign.

      It could be a lot worse.

      Be thankful that you don’t suffer from the affliction that has ended the careers of more writers than all of the other diseases combined — I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about — the one where the writer’s writing can actually lull his or her readers into a catatonic sleep or coma-like state.

  4. Well, you get a disk and you start it recording. At a minute thirty,you blow a whistle. Repeat the process, but don’t blow the whistle until one forty-five. Repeat the process but blow the whistle at one fifteen. Play back I wouldnt go beyond that. In fact, you may not need to. On another tack, have you noticed that fiction best sellers are all mystery stories? And that there are very few humorous stories these days?

  5. i suffer from writing induced ADD (or OCD, depending which of my therapists I ask).

    i run away from and then sprint back toward my words in a frantic manner until i find a stride (which sometimes doesn’t show up). i write enough sentences to assemble a first paragraph, read over it, check email, find out what the latest royal wedding plans are, mess with my sentence structure, write another, stare at my sentences, move them around to form new paragraphs, search ebay for a new writing desk, google “itchy rash along hairline”, make another pot of coffee, email my sister, write more paragraphs, move them around, delete half of them, check word count, come here, leave rambling comment of what i’ve been doing for the last two hours.

    • Ditto.

      Except for the “itchy rash along hairline part.” Mine is elsewhere.

    • I’m with you on the moving things around bit. I get one crappy idea on the page and feel that I can reorganize it into brilliance.

    • My affliction is similar to yours, amy, so to combat it, this weekend I went to a crappy motel room with shitty wifi and coffee kotex instead of the real stuff in order to rewrite two-thirds of my book.The only food I had was croutons and cheddar cheese and a lemon and some smooshed up power bars.

      The result was, without all those distractions, I had the writing narcolepsy issue Betsy described. I fell asleep repeatedly. I think, in my case, I was being passive-aggressive. Or malnourished. Or both.

  6. The first divine intervention I noticed in my life took a similar form. I had been churning towards an ivy league career goal, enduring premed courses by sniffing my fingers for the sexy scent of oil paint. I took organic chemistry in a summer school intensive to get it over with, but whenever I opened the book, I fell sound asleep, any time of night/day, any place, however loud and public. Drooling, snoring, checked out. I got the message. Doctor shows on TV have since confirmed that I was not meant to take that path.

    Your situation is different. Look forward, as always, to the next round of thunder.

  7. My two year old wants to know the name of your stuffed animal. 🙂

    • My kid had that very sheep. His came with four buttons that would play various soporific sounds: whale song, ocean tides, pattering rainfall, and Betsy’s writing partner.

      For a long time, I thought my wife did that ‘head snap’ when she came. Then I realized, no, she was nodding off.

  8. Back before I had my sleep apnea diagnosed, I used to tickle the roof of my mouth with the tip of my tongue and eat sunflower seeds on long drives. Sometimes when I’m writing alone in my comfy chair, I’ll run into a rough transition or an unexpected plot puzzle, I’ll put my mind to it and nod off. Often when I wake minutes later, the answer seems obvious.

  9. You sleep? You sleep, without even trying? See, now that just pisses me off.

  10. A weasel just killed and/or mortally wounded my entire flock of chickens, so between checking to see if I caught the fucker in a trap using a dead chicken’s neck as lure and fantasizing about twisting its little weasly neck, I’m not getting any writing done. But thanks for asking.

  11. I have the same problem–only with reading. Better than whiskey, if I read in bed, I’m out…and then I can’t remember it the next day. With my own writing, it has the opposite effect. Keeps me up all night if I’m onto something. It freaks me out and I can’t sleep. I guess that’s why we’re opposites, Betsy (Aquarius is opposite Leo), still, it’s hard to believe. Does writing your blog put you to sleep too? If so, it’ll be an early night tonight. Sweet dreams.

  12. I do the sleep thing, too. I thought it was only memoirists. Wait. Are you writing another memoir? That would make me so happy.

    • Has anyone written a memoir about reading memoirs? I’ve seen that picture of your collection; you are so qualified.

      I wonder if I could sell a gimmick book where I recreated the most horrifying moments of various memoirs, then wrote about them.

      • I have a disease. I just bought Half A Life (great), Chronology of Water (SO fucking great), Found (because Cheryl Strayed loved it, I have my fingers crossed), Mentor (like reading about a lottery winner, how could I not?), The Memory Palace (can’t remember why) and Devotion (just because). Stick it, Neil Genzlinger.

      • Isn’t that what memoir’s all about? Monetizing the disease?

        Step away from the cinderblock! Chronology of Water looks great.

  13. I sneer at my audacity.

  14. I have the same problem with reading. Betsy, it’s only because you can afford, at this point, to fall asleep. For many of us, this is not an option yet. It’s good to know there’s something to look forward to….

  15. I laugh when I write. I think my subconscious is hilarious.

  16. Every night, my husband asks what I’m working on. If it’s erotica, he gives me this demented Muttley laugh and starts circling the bed.

    Sometimes I lie and tell him I’m writing a blog post or an essay on transcendental meditation, just to get some peace.

  17. I squirm. I allow myself to only check my messages once an hour. I clip my nails again. I reword things that are absolutely fine. I self-congratulate like a crazy girl.

  18. Bottle those words and sell themas a non-drug based sleeping aid. You could call it ‘Soporific’.

  19. What do I do after the typing is done? It depends on the nature of the piece and on the mood I am then in.

    I’ve laughed, cried, masturbated, and even done all three simultaneously.

    Usually, however, I just get in my car, and go find a drifter to kill.

    • EEE-yikes! that’s one bit of news to insure NO ONE will touch your keyboard. And please assure us ‘the triathlon’ is not performed at any coffee shops offering wifi!

      • Karen, I’m slightly troubled by the fact that you were more distressed that the self-servicing may have occured on or near a keyboard that you have used, than did all of the alleged homicides of innocent drifters.

        Sure they’re scruffy, and sometimes annoying, but does that mean you’re OK with them getting whacked?

        That said, I agree that semen and keyboards don’t mixxxxxxxxxx. The keys get stuckkkkkkkkk.

        If the Starbucks people were smart, they’d sell semen-spotting black light flashlights with their lattes.

  20. The usual. We can’t discuss it here.

  21. I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
    I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
    I lean by going where I have to go.
    Roethke The Waking

  22. When my words HAVE had power, it’s a sugar rush.

    But as I still considering myself an interloper to the literary world – especially an unpublished interloper – such excitement is constrained to letters to the editor and approved work proposals!

    Pods in thighs, huh? and I thought my problem was just cellulite.

  23. You should try writing standing up like Hemingway. But maybe buy a good helmet just in case.

    • That’s great, Lyra. I’m thinking her writing partner could also spray water in her face whenever she starts nodding off. Between the spritz and the head covering her bases should be covered.

  24. the image of betsy in a helmet is the fucking bomb!

    ps. don’t tell deborah treisman but when i have insomnia, i use her New Yorker story podcasts to fall asleep to. her voice is absolutely hypnotic. five minutes in and i’m dozing.

  25. I question myself, wonder who I am and wonder what I’ve been waiting for, then I keep going because I know something good, or at least interesting to me, will come plunkity-plunking out. I sometimes don’t write because I know once I get started I won’t be able to sleep. I love sleeping. What a wonderful thing. Whatever God, or whatever you want to call it, has created in this thing we call life, he or she or it, should be scratched on the head and patted on the back for sleep. Maybe you don’t like what you’re working on? Maybe you know it’s not going to work and you’re wasting your time? Maybe your instincts are gracefully putting you out of your misery for a few moments? And just to point out a lapse in the end of your metaphor, I think it’s a metaphor, a drunk on a stoop fingering change in his greasy pocket isn’t going to be falling asleep anytime soon. He’s thinking about how to get a drink, believe you me. Sweet dreams!

  26. Wait! You have a writing partner? Am I the only one interested in this? Details, please.

    I admit there have been a handful of times when I got all gaga over my writing but for the most part I’m content to simply spit out a cohesive thought. It’s vital that I maintain low expectations. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even try.

    • I’m even thinking the writing partner might be the sleep-inducing agent — and since it’s 3:30 am and I’m wide awake, can he or she come over?

  27. You are funny, my dear. I have the same thing now, except not when I’m writing. I think it’s being perpetually exhausted.

  28. Reminds me of the Stephen Metcalf article “The Sleeping Cure” (in which he goes back to interview all the psychiatrists who fell asleep on him)

    http://nymag.com/news/features/sleeping-shrinks-2011-3/

  29. What a strange occurrence. It’s almost as if you write at a separate level of consciousness than what you perform other daily operations at. Talk about “getting in the right frame of mind…”!

  30. Sleeping is the new sex. Just further proof of your potency, Betsy.

  31. Sleeping fascinates me. What the what happens? My husband can hold brief conversations while asleep (at night, during regular sleeping hours). His subconscious is as unfailing polite as his conscious.

    Just visited my family for two weeks. There were a few times–especially when my mom was talking–that I became so sleepy I closed my eyes during conversation. So rude! And irresistible!

    Perhaps some of us are becoming allergic to words.

    • Sleeping is deeply strange. We fall into a state of suspended animation for seven or eight hours a day? And if we -don’t-, then we lose our minds? And nobody knows exactly why? I’m not sure I’m buying the conceit.

  32. Make that unfailingly.

  33. Not that I’m feeling bad or anything, but just to be clear: I love me mum I mean mom.

  34. I’m not sure if my words have power. I’m not sure what would happen if I tried to write something powerful instead of something salable, but I imagine I’d write something that was neither. I don’t know. It’s all stunts and reversals and dialogue tags with me, rising tension and raising the stakes. Is there a big concept? Is there urgency? What’s the ticking clock?

    I’m good with gimmicks. I don’t know. I need the money, I’m supposed to spend eleven months writing something powerful? I can’t afford that. I need to write something quick and marketable. That’s why I’m writing stuff for kids now. I don’t give a shit about their eager little minds, I’m in this for the word count. I’m as likely to fall asleep writing as a cabinetmaker is to fall asleep plunge-cutting a dado. I’m skimming the surface. There’s no thunder, there’s no spell or Mayan code. My greasy pocket is empty.

    Facile is the word I’m thinking of.

    • facile or afraid?

      • I have no Plan B. I’m terrified.

      • Anyone who has something worth saying is terrified. I started with 10 minutes a day on the important stuff and worked up from there. But what do I know? I’m only at 25 minutes. And anyone here (and probably there) would tell you your words have power.

    • You do know. Your pocket is full; you’ve just got your hand in the wrong one.

      And I’m not sure I agree that gimmickry and truth are mutually exclusive. Gimmickry is only the delivery method: tablet or capsule, a shot in the ass or straight to the jugular. If you’ve got that part down, you may as well dose us with something good.

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