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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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You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman

Dearest, darling readers of this blog: I neglected to mention that I’m jetting off to LA for the book festival for two days. While I’m sipping Arnold Palmers  at the Chateau and doing blow at the Viper Club,  I’ve finagled a couple of posts from the most wanted man on this blog, our august August. Please don’t hate him for being beautiful.

Books might sell in clean well-lighted places, but they’re written under the floorboards, where mushrooms grow and centipedes crawl. I despise all the twee bullshit about how we “can’t not write,” the mystical jerkoff writing guides about Bones and Birds. Still, I think that’s the great divide. That’s why all the chipper Facebook updates are lies, why the happy how-to blog posts are bullshit. That’s why giving talks at the local birdwatching society isn’t just good marketing, it’s also bad writing. That’s why lurking in the foyer of an elementary school looking like you cut a slit in your trenchcoat pocket is worse than merely uncomfortable.

Writing is private, publishing is public—hell, the words probably have the same root, publishing and public—and the motherfuckers keep trying to drag me into their world. Of course the sunlight burns, but that’s not what bothers me. The cliché is true: sunlight the best disinfectant, and I prefer to stink of mildew and woodrot. Self-promotion and blog tours and library talks don’t just piss me off because they’re worthless. They don’t just piss me off because they’re distractions from writing. They’re the opposite of writing. They’re unwriting. Maybe you’re the kind of freak who gets off on that shit, fine. At least giving a speech costs less than a fursuit with a built-in diaper. But how is this anti-writing crap the default?

I’m working on a story about a talking mailbox right now, so it’s not like I’m in love with my literary purity, but this is like telling a Republican that she’s gotta care about poor people even when they aren’t white. This is like judging fashion models by how much they can bench. It’s like training a dog not to sniff assholes.

I read a blog post recently where a cheerful novelist said, “Do what comes naturally. Say ‘yes’ a lot.”

What comes naturally to you?

97 Responses

  1. Not leaving the house, crying in public when I do, telling people to fuck straight off, wasting time/money/potential/electricity/paper/printer ink/my life/away again in maragaritaville. Okay, not the last one.

    Ooh, look who got the coveted guest post spot. Well, goody for you. xoxo

    • That’s my business model, Overwrought Rants on Demand. Give me twenty minutes, I’ll give you 200 words. The same 200 words over and over again, but sometimes I’ll even believe them. (At least I cut the bit about Amanda Hocking pulling a train for St. Martin’s.)

      My agent called last week and recommended that I ‘engage with book bloggers.’ Have you read other publishing blogs? Everyone has the smartest editor and the kindest agent, their publisher is more like a masseuse than a business partner. It’s such an undeserved honor to get published–heck, I’d pay _them_ for the privilege! All sweetness and no honesty. So I go careening the other direction, losing complete track of my mantra that it’s just business, and the only shit that matters comes with a decimal point and a dollar sign.

      • I especially hate it when book bloggers talk about their kids. But I REALLY hate it when the your publisher’s marketing rep puts you on hold during a discussion of how hard she’s promoting your book because she’s “working from home” and her kid needs to know if there’s cucumbers for his salad.

        But then again, it WAS almost lunchtime.

      • Vivian,

        What I hate is when kid bloggers talk about the books they’ve already published.

  2. I’m naturally annoyed. If I hear the expression “personal branding” one more time I’m lose it. Whatever is gained monetarily from shameless self-promotion doesn’t seem worth the fact that you leave a trail wherever you go.

    This kind of made me nauseous today.

    Even “highbrow” culture has sort of deteriorated into this Tony Robbins-esque persona.

  3. What comes naturally… bitching and whining, thinking that the worst is going to happen, eating too much, inadvertently insulting people, barfing out the first stupid thing that comes into my head… But I’m really, really trying not to go with what comes naturally! Um, except eating too much. Well, and also the insulting people and saying stupid things. Ok. I’m not really bucking up against what comes naturally at all.

  4. Lying, thank god, or this writing schtick wouldn’t go at all well.

  5. First of all, I’m a Republican woman who does everything she can to bring social justice to those who, like me, struggle every day to make ends meet, feed their children and keep them healthy, and actually HAVE a dream or two. I also travel to third world countries to do the same for HIV + children.

    So cut out the shit about Republicans not caring about the poor. It’s old, it’s cliche, and numbingly stereotypical and intolerant of you.

    Secondly, Um, Are you going through the Menopause? Just trying to come up with a reason for your vitriolic tirade of a post.

    Finally, my FB posts are happy because I’m a happy person….genuinely happy, and I’ve never lied in a single post. So, get over it and go crawl back under your own floorboards!

    Geez. Lighten up! It’s ONLY writing….or was that your point? Sorry, but even when life sucks, it’s still LIFE and it’s an adventure every single day, even when you’re on your face. Been there, done that, scars to prove it! That’s where good stories come from.
    And I’m looking forward to the story about the talking mailbox.

  6. Lurking comes naturally. And sometimes I make myself un-lurk.

    The idea that writing is pure and getting your writing in front of eyeballs (marketing) is dirty, that’s just old and boring. Why can’t it – for some people, if not you – be a genuine part of writing? I don’t agree that it’s un-writing, like some anti-matter evil thing from bizzarro planet. It’s part of being a writer. It’s neither good or bad, just is.

    • Some people like fursuits. That’s fine, but the fact that dressing like a bunny and frolicking at a LARP is becoming a professional requirement doesn’t sit so well.

      Marketing’s great. I love marketing. Adore marketing. That’s one reason I’m happy to give a publisher the lion’s share of the gross. Not so fond of people telling me that marketing is my job. First, because it -is- antimatter (okay, for me). But second, because nobody knows how to sell a fucking book. If your publisher knew how to sell books, they’d sell them. If attending FurryCon sold books, they’d write that into the contract and pay for your fursuit. If dragging your ass to readings at nursing homes sold enough books to cover gas and minimum wage, they’d pay for that. If yapping on Twitter and FaceBook, if showing your doll collection on YouTube, if ranting in the comments sections of online newspapers actually -paid-, they’d be on it.

      They’re not. Because those things don’t pay. They’re like buying lottery tickets. So when a publisher says, ‘Get out there and self-promote,’ what they’re saying is, ‘buy scratch-off by the roll, with your own money, and if you get lucky we’ll split the take.’

      This isn’t about marketing or eyeballs. This is about telling writers to fly a kite in a storm and praying for lightning to strike.

      I enjoyed ‘V Is for Vitriol.’ I suspect I should read it a few more times …

      • August, I think some of the lads and lasses on this comment thread should read “V is for Vitriol” a few more times…
        I’m giving it one more try to be a happy, shiny writer: Can we see being told to fly our own kite in a storm as a positive because it’s a measure of control? I like control. I wish I had some in every color. I understand that for some who hate it or don’t feel that they are good at it, self promotion can be onerous, but it can also be an opportunity. I’m going with that view because, as I said before, I like control and also because there doesn’t seem to be another option.

        by the way, the talking mailbox story? I want to read it, sounds awesome.

      • Perfect.

      • Can you come with me the next time I have to tell my publisher that their idea for my book cover sucks? Or that the typo on their ad copy sucks almost as much as the crappy ad copy?

        Because I get in trouble when I do it on my own.

  7. Naturally? Buggin’. And you, dear guest blogger, are in the unfortunate position of believing your own bullshit. Do you really believe that what you just wrote means anything to anyone but your close-knit little clique who apparently can’t write for shit, or you wouldn’t use a pseudonym like August. A time in nature that can’t really be measured. Now, that, is lame. It makes my skin crawl. A talking mail-box? Why don’t you shove yourself into that box, you can become the next super-spy intellectual that sees into the minds of all his grand gaze falls upon. You’re a critic, through and through. Shame on you. A niggardly post, to say the least. And you guys wonder why you are so poor in more ways than one. Comb through your post and see all the non-sequiturs and then fuck the fuck off. You are reminding me, right now, of Donald trumps son, who, it appears, so desperately wants to look like a vampire. Yes, I watch that show. Why, oh why, does he want to appear as one? I’ve noticed you keep ranting that “You can’t write.” You’re a critic or a book seller. I can’t figure which. But, I know this, you will never get your hands on my stuff. Your intentions, as I’ve written before, are niggardly, if not worse. Eat it!

    • Bullshit, clique, niggardly (twice), fuck off, eat it. Somebody’s cranky today.

    • August is funny. You are not.

      • I meant to post that to Jeff’s screed.

      • Actually, both these guys could use a good shrink. One nutter against the other nutter. Sort of like watching two train wrecks get into a train wreck. Neither of them are funny ha ha but funny strange.

      • The best thing–and the only thing that really matters–about August is that we read him. I always want to hear what August has to say. Does anything else really matter in writing?

    • Jeff, judging from the vitriol displayed in your remarks, I can only surmise that there is a back story here between you and August.

      That said, as much as I get pumped-up and turned-on by watching other people’s battles (from a safe distance), I’m still just a slack-arsed lay-about who is far too ..uh … busy … to go back-slogging through the archives in order to gather the facts on my own.

      Is there a fully-informed, unbiased observer here who can briefly summarize the action thus far, so those of us (who arrived after the show was already well underway) can be quickly brought up to speed?

      Given that I’ll not be wagering on the outcome, the description offered needn’t be all-inclusive — a brief paragraph that colorfully encapsulates the action in each round should suffice.

      I would have gotten here sooner, but the alarm on my i-phone is flakey.

      • Ha. Guess you want to do the slow drive by and get a good look at the wreck. See if there’s blood and guts and such. Only apparently you’re too lazy to do your own research.

      • Since no one is going to bother filing me in, I’m left with no option, whatsoever, other than speculation.


        I’m going assume the reason no one offered a blow-by-blow is because this conflict not only goes back to pre-tFftT blog days, but that Jeff and August know each other in real life.

        Based on that assumption, here are a couple of realistic scenarios as to how this all came to pass.

        1.) August and Jeff are both military veterans. One of them has been wounded in combat. The other is a decorated bed bath boy at a veteran’s hospital. They both have the same slight speech impediment, but each mistakenly believes that the other guy is mocking him. Eighteen months later, they cross paths at the local community college’s night school screenwriting workshop. Each is now slightly freaked-out by the mistaken realization that the other is stalking him. They both enroll in the same martial arts class. Quit. Move far away. Take up writing. And then they find Betsy.

        2.) It was a role they each felt “born to play.” The character’s name was Thomas Leroy. He was the artistic director of a New York City ballet company, and his life — just like the lives of our two protagonists, Jeff and August — pirouetted solely around dance.

        J and A are both veteran dancers. The toll of age on the dancer’s body has convinced each of them to spread his artistic wings a bit wider and pursue an acting career.

        When the possibility of getting this role appeared, they were both ecstatic. Each had an outstanding audition. The film’s director called them back and had them stand before him. He slowly circled their leotarded bodies, not uttering a sound. Abruptly, he turned and exited the stage. Jeff and August remained standing, as if waiting for the other to make the first move. A couple of minutes later, an intern from Juilliard emerged. Peering off into the distance, she shouts, “Mr. Aronofsky has announced that one of you will play the part of Leroy!”

        J and A squeal like two freshly-birched school girls, hug, and air kiss one another like a pair of valiumed-up woodpeckers.

        Prior to auditioning, Jeff and August had never met.In the weeks that followed worked together tirelessly and unselfishly, earnestly striving to bring out the best in one another.

        Then, when they learn that Natalie Portman will also be appearing in the film, everything changes.

        They both know that the film will be big and that this role could be a game changer, career-wise.

        Rehearsals no longer embody the playful spirit of innocence, optimism and grace, but instead have devolved into a Darwinian struggle of one-upsmanship, guile and passive-aggressive sensuality.

        Either will do anything to get the role, and as the dark sides of their personalities come to the fore, they bitterly destroy one another.

        At the last minute, Aronofsky tells them he’s bringing in Victor Cassell for the Thomas Leroy part.

        He thanks them for their work and says he’ll call if anything comes up.

        Jeff and August both descend into madness for a brief time, and then decide to spread their artistic wings by writing novels.

        In the process, they run into one another at Betsy Lerner’s blog. Other readers note the tension in their interactions with one another, and begin speculating on the causes for it.

      • Oldschool: Don’t know their background, either. And really could give a greasy. But the reality couldn’t be better than what you have surmised. Nevertheless. Both are nutters. A diarrhea of words spouted and strung together in a tsunami of stream of conscious bullshit is still just that…a bunch of nutter crap signifying nothing.

    • Our first schizophrenic! Isn’t he cute!

    • Poor Jeff is hopelessly in love with Betsy.

  8. Marketing myself as The World’s Most Neurotic Self Help Guru. Wanting to hear from other writers they are also nuts and then creeping out in the middle of the night to delete my Tweets asking “Is anyone else eating cold beans from a can and not showering?” Thinking I’m brilliant and then no, I’m not. I suck and everybody knows it because nobody has told me I’m wonderful on Facebook today and none of my Tweets have been retweeted for days… and, no really. This isn’t brilliant… I’m a tortured coward. Later I’ll think, “I shouldn’t have written that comment…”

    • Any therapist who recommends the mantra, ‘I don’t give a fuck what you think,” is brilliant by me.

  9. What comes naturally to me is hiding under a rock. I’m an agent’s/publisher’s nightmare as far as self promotion. There’s no way I can sell my own stuff. I used to feel like I was begging when I went door to door collecting for The Red Cross. Asking people to buy my books? No way!

  10. I read a blog post yesterday by a guy who had a newspaper story written about a work in progress.

    A work in progress!

    And the story was touting his upcoming reading from that manuscript.

    A public reading of an unfinished manuscript!

    What the fuck is that all about?

    • At least the newspaper story didn’t state that he would be appearing at an upcoming event to share with his audience something that he was thinking about writing.

    • Did you see who won the New Yorker’s caption contest this week? Maybe not quite as bad as ‘unknown guy reads from unfinished story,’ but still.

  11. I was going to say what Janice said.

  12. What comes naturally to me is using words like niche and genre in the same paragraph and then wishing I had a needle to stick in my arm cuz I did that. And telling almost everyone to fuck off, but I see that is taken. Popular. My blog oozes sweetness.

  13. What comes naturally is trying to sneak out of the party before I have to talk to too many people. Or any people. And then walking home alone in the dark. I spend a lot of time fighting what comes naturally, but then sometimes I think: What exactly is so wrong with walking home alone in the dark?

  14. avoiding wankers.

  15. sorry – can’t nibble on this hook today. I’m emotionally reeling from having a dear friend tell me she is out of remission. As I watch her attempt to parcel out her remaining days, then read today’s posts, I marvel in the wastefulness of everyday living. Keep a good thought for her, be kinder to yourselves.

    • Karen, I am sorry to hear about your friend, sorry that life always ends in death and from time to time we are cruelly reminded of that, but you do know how to clear a room. Scream “Fire!” in any crowded theaters lately?

      • (smile) Thanks for the gentle nudge – hope there were no injuries in the stampede to the fire exits, er, push-backs from the screens/keyboards…

        Apparently, though, I answered the question “what comes naturally” in it’s most basic form: a response. And with a few more hours of accepting Bad News in my pocket, I can still marvel at all these posts, both for their extravagance and for the variety of expression.

      • Tetman,

        If you ever have the urge to see an auditorium filled with baffled faces, go to the the firefighters union national convention that is held annually, and yell “theatre!”

        You’ll wait in vain for the roar tear-squirting laughter. They all just sit there … looking around bewildered.

        Even when the private security guards frog-march you out of the hall, the fire-fighters just sit there passively observing your departure — as if YOU are the one who doesn’t see the lighter side of this situation.

        Then, when you’re booked at the police station, you’ll immediately notice how the cops share a similar “nose to the grindstone,” heavy, world-weary attitude with the fire-fighters.

        I honestly believe that our first-responders need to do better at not taking their jobs so seriously.

        This is especially true in our largest cities, where cops and fire-fighters have become so obsessed with protecting people that they’ve lost the ability to even appreciate the fun that can ensue when the people of your city are engaged in raucous hi-jinks, playful rough-housing, pun-slinging, or even just a bit of slap and tickle.

        By all means, put out the fires, arrest the bad guys, but have some fun in the process.

        And, by the way, fining people or throwing them in jail isn’t a great way to go about making yourself overly enamored by those same folks.

        It’s just common sense.

    • Karen, sorry to hear about your friend. Keep her fire burning in your heart. Peace.

  16. Flatulence, both rectal and verbal.

  17. Defending your right to say whatever you want to say.

    Being castrated for being honest about your thoughts, seems somehow more unwriterly than the thoughts that offended some to begin with.

  18. Ew. Just…ew. People consistently disappoint me.

    August, I adore you. Sometimes you make me think, sometimes you piss me off, occasionally I don’t relate to your sentiments, but you always, ALWAYS make me laugh. So valuable.

  19. What comes naturally? Is there such a thing? In the time it takes you to fall in love with your own truth you realize that you made the whole thing up. Auntie Em is staring pathetically down on you. And there’s the medical form where it asks how much you drink. And don’t get me started on the lie called the personal essay. Natural schmatural. Fake it til you make it. And that includes happy facebooking.

    • Nicely put. And right you are about those dastardly medical forms. I sail through them, check, check, check! until I hit the how-many-drinks-per-week line and then I freeze, deciding that I can just pick an arbitrary week, can’t I? I pretend I don’t see the “average” in the question.

      I try doing the same when my dentist asks how often I floss and the shame is unbearable. I was going to give myself points for saying every other day instead of EVERY day, but it was for naught. I don’t kid myself anymore. He just looks at my gums and they start to bleed.

      • Flossing! Another set up. Did you ever think that as an adult your days would be spent inventing new the-dog-ate-my-homework scenarios?

        That said, I’ve solved the particular medical/dental dilemmas by never going to them.

      • I love it: new-dog-ate-my-homework-scenarios. That’s exactly what they are. Honestly, I think I devise more now than I ever did as a child. Only I suspect I was better at them then. I’ve grown slow and forgetful in my old age which is murder on a good fib.

  20. […] You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman « Betsy Lerner You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman. Posted on April 27, 2011 by betsylerner. Dearest, darling readers of this blog: I neglected to mention that I'm jetting off to LA for the book festival for two days. While I'm sipping Arnold . […]

  21. Cleaning. Although I might argue that it’s more of a compulsion than a natural proclivity.

  22. I just love love love where words come from. My job as an English teacher AND Latin teacher is just too perfect. It’s what comes naturally to me. Writing about it like the frosting – creating language about teaching language? Hell, yeah.

    “Publish” comes from the Latin “publicare,” to make public, out of the noun “publicus,” public. Betsy was absolutely correct.

  23. What comes naturally to me is saying “I don’t want to.” But depending on what it is, doing it anyway. And sadly, I do not consider myself a better person because I do.

    But, Betsy, all your toad and mushroom talk gave me a laugh because I have finished two of Jeff Vandermeer’s excellent Ambergris novels, wherein the City of Ambergris is being taken over by sentient mushrooms. “Unsettling, erudite, shot through with unexpected humour …” China Mieville. “Hallucinogenic,” another reviewer said, and he’s right. I would add “hypnotic.”

    As an additional coincidence — I love writing coincidences — Vandermeer has written a book or a blog or something about how to promote yourself in this new world of publishing. Maybe I found out about here, I don’t remember.

    I checked it out a little, but it depressed me. It’s not enough that writing gets done after the day job, but now I have to start the self-promotion before I’ve even finished my novel? Which I don’t have enough time to work on already? WTF? It makes me so tired. I don’t want to do that.

    And now that I think about it, I do not think that I found Vandermeer through any efforts of his own. I think I saw the book cover by chance on amazon.com and liked it — I’m all into pictures of decaying mushrooms draped over ancient typewriters — and read the description and took a chance on it after it sat in my wish list for a few months.

    So phooey on you, Jeff Vandermeer, and your personal publicity machine. I found you my ownself!

  24. I wasn’t anonymous! I just forgot to put my name on before I pushed send or whatever.

  25. I don’t necessarily agree with you, August, but you write like a rock star and I look forward to reading your talking mailbox story.

    A (mostly) cheerful novelist

  26. Instinct.

  27. Debasement and deification, mainly. Is it too late to crumple my blog and hide it under my tongue?

    • Yes. I’ve bookmarked all your posts and I revisit them often.

      Please don’t take them away.

      • No worries. Self-indulgence is number three on my list.

        Also, August is right. There are only so many goddamn hours in the day. If I had the time, creative resources, and, let’s face it, the predisposition, it might be worth considering the fursuit. But I always thought the point of publishing was to create a marketable product and a team of people to package and sell it. Clearly I have misunderstood.

        What I do know is that I’m writing this comment from my office at work, with my mouse hovering over the red X in the corner. When I leave after a 10-hour day, I have three kids waiting to be carpooled and fed, potties to be scrubbed, a husband to be fucked, and a day just like this one that begins at 5am tomorrow. Jesus Christ, I’m only one woman.

  28. Reading magazines in the crapper.

  29. Sitting on my ass, thinking about what to do next, and then sitting there some more.

  30. Fence riding. I do believe it’s my one natural tendency.

  31. I think as writers most of us are obsessed with making the interior exterior, putting it on the page where we can try and make sense of it, which makes it an extraordinarily private enterprise that’s carried on in a public way. Putting your words out there is a public act and it is an unfortunate paradox that writers are expected to go it a step further, parade around in the fursuit. I agree with August. That’s antithetical to writing.

  32. Unfortunately, the truth comes naturally to me. I wish I could believe more in bullshit, put trust in my elected officials (Dems and Republicans are pretty much the same, the promises are different, but the results never change. I never thought a candidate could be worse than Sarah Palin until along came Donald Trump; Barack Obama pandering to the idiots and providing his birth certificate makes as much sense as feeding bacon to a pig. They’ll eat it up of course, even though it might be mom…) and believe that all will work out in the end. I wish I wish, I really do, hope that all your dreams come true. Reality? Just keep doing what you do and love those you truly care about because nothing else really matters.

  33. Unfortunately, writing does not come naturally to me. I write on purpose. If I could hang out with the -pedes more often instead of in the blaring sunshine I would write a lot more.

  34. What comes naturally to me? Self doubt. Fear of failure. Self deprecation and my biting sarcasm that I use to hide those things. What’s hard for me? What hurts the most? Trying to overcome that which comes naturally.

    I’ve read the books. I’ve followed the blog for a long time. It used to make me laugh. It used to be funny, but it has morphed into something that has culminated in this. Why? If I wanted to feel the way I do right now, I’d start watching TV again.

    I get it: it’s all a waste of time, it’s all bullshit, writers are brainless lemmings, self-promotion=loser, Amanda Hocking=loser. The sicker the better, the more base the better and fuck me if I’m not hip enough to hang with the cool kids.

    It’s easy to rubber-neck. I’m tired and that’s what comes naturally to me. I’d rather do what’s hard and what hurts the most, so….

  35. HELLS YEAH!!

    If I wanted a job in marketing or customer service*, I’d get one.

    *Though if I had fans, I’d probably enjoy them. It’s just this notion of desperately spamming oneself to the masses that is so hateful.

  36. Absolutely naturally, with no educational, parental or media influence at all? A solo endowment that you just… have and did? Touching my nose with my tongue. Which I do not think is the type of natural thing that you should say yes to doing all the time. Especially if that time is an eating time.

    Everything else is an acquired endowment by some force, and like ticks, freckles, and skin tags, some endowments you should get rid of, some endowments become a part of you, and other endowments aren’t going to go away without some serious pain on your part, so you better decide if its something you can live with without always having to wear a turtle neck.It would be nice if writing were like a freckle, easier if it were a tick, but most of time… its skin- tag city.

  37. What comes naturally to me is talking about the book I just can’t seem to write and quite frankly it pisses me off. I’ve told myself I’m not going to do it anymore.

    Myself has not yet listened.

  38. I believe in being unnatural. I believe in not being me. I believe in growing into an entirely different person in this lifetime, instead of waiting for the next one.

    It gets exciting.

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