• Bridge Ladies

    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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Still I Look To Find a Reason to Believe — A Five Part Series: Things Writers Say That Make Me Nervous

Whenever a writer tells me that he has had a realization, a break-through, an epiphany, I always have the same reaction: dread. Call me cynical, but I’d much prefer a writer tell me that he has taken a few baby steps, has slightly moved the needle, or figured out some small piece of the puzzle. Am I being too Jewish? Can you achieve greatness if you don’t behold the world and exalt its grandeur? What am I even saying? Is it possible to figure out your work if you can’t figure out your life? Or is your art a key to your life, or to life? And does it stick? Stay? Can you hold on to a catharsis? What would it look like? For me, a structure as beautiful as DNA, or an Escher print, or field of corn in late August sun.

Big leaps, small steps? How do you roll?

57 Responses

  1. I love this post. I need a lot of dream time, which is why I love writing residencies.

  2. My work is powered by small victories and dreaded learning experiences, punctuated by the rare satori and occasional plot hammers to the back of the skull.

  3. very small leaps of faith .

  4. I roll one word at a time. What comes next, I have to wait and see. Sometimes I get nifty ideas, but ideas are the easy part. I have so many ideas, ten of me couldn’t get them all done. Slightly more difficult than having ideas is executing them. One word at a time.

    Now as to your other questions:

    I don’t think you’re being too Jewish. I don’t think I would know you are Jewish if you didn’t say so. It’s hard to tell from this distance.

    I don’t know how greatness can be achieved, so I’ll have to pass on that one.

    I don’t know what you’re saying; your question implies that you yourself may not know, so I can’t help you on that one, either.

    Even if you can figure out your life, you probably can’t figure out your work. If you can figure out your work, then your work probably doesn’t add up to your life.

    Yes, art is a key to life, and yes, it sticks. WD-40 can help with that. Does it stay? My cat won’t stay, but it’s always around.

    You cannot hold onto a catharsis any more than you can hold onto an orgasm. But it’s much better-looking. There’s no part of an orgasm that bears close scrutiny. Same goes for defecation and other similar delights.

  5. I gave up on greatness long ago. Call me middle-aged, but I’m going for satisfying. Leaving the table not quite full and hours later the meal lingers just a tiny bit in your burp, but is not the cause of the gas.

    • LOL. you and tetman seem to be in the little understood Bodily Function School of writing. At least you aren’t hungry again an hour later.

  6. I take baby steps with moments of absolute grandeur that are a sure sign the book has gone off the rails.
    One of these moments has just happened. The idea is there. It’s huge and fantastic and I’m trying to overlook the fact that when the idea is such an epiphany, it never ever works.
    But this one will be different…right?

  7. Baby steps always. Their future grandeur remains to be seen.

  8. Someone told me writing a novel wasn’t hard to do–like knitting a scarf the size of a football field. I hate that person.

    • They have never tried knitting with rebar…

    • That person shows up about once a month, right CJ? Your analogy is perfection.

      As to the question, all that comes in big-ish swaths are chunks of the first draft. After that, it’s more like pushing a penny up a gravel mountain.

  9. I think the I’ve-seen-the-light moments are essential and even sacred. There’s nothing wrong with imagining you feel as pure as an Escher print or a glowing field of corn. Everyone knows the doubt and crumpling that come after.

  10. My epiphanies and break-throughs are probably other people’s baby steps. I roll slowly. And celebrate the little stuff.

  11. I’ve learned not to express them in grandiose ways–to myself or to others. Forget about even talking to others, I’ve learned not to say a peep.I think that comes with maturity. There’s always something around the corner that I need to get–that I was incapable of learning until that very moment. I suppose it will always be that way. And if I am feeling particularly confident in my own head, no doubt there will be payback where I’ll shit on myself. Don’t all writers do that? I’ve been writing this novel (my 2nd) for about three years. And the closer I get the more I realize how impossible the whole thing is–and I know the work is getting better. It might even be good. But I felt better about my piece of shit first novel because I didn’t know any better.

  12. You mean I’m not as evolved as I believed?
    Dang it.

  13. I take giant leaps. And then a few days later I tell myself, shit, I should slow down.

  14. Mostly stumbling , fall down, look around to see what happened, smile, embarrassed, pull myself up with some effort and start all over baby steps, but every once in awhile something big happens and if that Eureka! moment lingers, then I think, hmmm, I might have something here and, like trying to follow the path of an Escher labyrinth, I meander down the twisted road to see where I wind up next.

  15. I like to think that if Tulasi-Priya were back from India, she would say: ‘Before enlightenment, words on the page. After enlightenment, words on the page.”

    If I knew how to exalt the grandeur, I wouldn’t bother achieving anything. I’d just sit around exalting.

    You can’t lose a catharsis. If you could, it wouldn’t be a real catharsis. Sadly, you _can_ realizing that your major breakthrough catharsis only amounts to ‘make the butler *left* handed!’

    • Auggie! So nice to know you still think of me once in a while.<3 ❤ ❤

      I've been back from India since April. I'm not using my full name anymore, to keep my privacy. And I'm not a Buddhist, fer-cryin'-out-loud, though that twist on "chop wood, carry water" is a good one. Here's one from the Bhagavad-Gita (paraphrased):

      Krishna says:

      "Do thou write for the sake of writing, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat …"

      • Oh. Oops. Sorry for dropping the full you.

        And I know, I know–at first I wrote a whole thing about getting my faith traditions mixed up, but explained that you all look the same to me. Seemed a bit too much like talking to the voices in my head, though. (Speaking of faith traditions…)

        Write without considering gain? You can tell Krishna, next time you see him, that I said he’s a fathead.

      • Does that mean you’ve never written anything except for money? Krishna never says you shouldn’t get paid, just that you should write regardless. You don’t already do that?

        And Auggie, dear, you’ve already told him, long ago, and in so many words, what you think of him. That’s why we’re here; we’re all in a fundamental quarrel with reality. On the losing side.

        Tell those voices in your head to mind their manners, ‘kay?

  16. I have breakthroughs, realizations, and epiphanies all the time! They make me so happy! I write them down and move on.

    • This makes so much sense to me. It’s like what happens when you’re working and all of a sudden you’re consumed with the need to look up the answer to a question that will surely take you the rest of the day to track down. That’s a good one to write down and move on from also. You can always come back to it.

  17. How do I roll?

    More of a waddle really . . .

    Baby steps- followed by toddler tantrums when those baby steps don’t lead to running flying leaps.

  18. There are moments when a plot point I’ve been struggling with suddenly becomes clear to me. It’s like the light goes on and I realize the answer has been there all along, (In fact, I unconsciously foreshadowed it in chapters 2, 7 and 16. How did that happen?)

    It’s always an exciting moment, and since I tend toward the dramatic I might call it a breakthrough or an epiphany. Maybe even magic. But in reality, it’s just called writing.

  19. Writing is product. Every once in awhile parts of it devolves into art. Rejoicing ensues. Then I move on.

  20. I avoid epiphanies, enlightenment, big ideas, revelations, the unified theory, pixie dust, magic, inspiration, messages from DoG, aha moments, eurika moments, brain storms, genius, and cartharsis. I avoid anything that makes writing sound any more grandiose than watch repair for christsake. I’d much rather listen to an horologist tell me how he fixed a Fasoldt regulator than a writer explain how he patched up a plot devise.

    And, in an unrelated aside:


  21. My birthday is August 9, same as Alfred Hitchcock and the day Jerry Garcia died. But thanks for the wishes. I consider the whole month fair game!

  22. The whole creative process is an undulating force. I’ve been guilty of the blood rush, the idea flash and waking in the middle of the night with The Solution. I’ve also plodded along: revising and revising as the pages change on the wall calendar and I’m staring at the dog for inspiration. Like that comparison of observing sausage making and negotiating, the ebb and flow of a another person’s ideas is not normally a spectator sport. Agents and mentors, though, are seen as the safe havens for hearing about the wild and tame aspects of the WIP. It must be just part of the job?

    Apparently, that writer trusted you with their excitement – or maybe they were trying to impress you? I’ve watched too many writers babble away at the agents and publishers appearing at conferences. An amazing blend of benevolence and stoicism in the face of manic determination.

  23. Baby steps; ass in chair.

  24. A field of corn in the late August sun? You just wanted to see if we were paying attention, right?

    • I wondered how many of those Ms. Lerner has seen . . .I seem to recall you’re from NJ Betsy?! (I can claim uppitiness since where I come from, the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye and it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.) Thus urban writers referring to that field of corn make me notice!

      Your question sure got a lot of people today — notice how many Anonomii commented?!! Happy birthday a week early.

  25. I am the person that once told my sister-in-law I had a nativity. So let’s stay away from that subject.

    Someone said William Kent Kruger writes without revision and he tells a pretty good story. Altho his Main Character forgives his wife way too much shit. I just write and sometimes I wake up thinking I need to take something out. The other day I decided I didn’t give this certain house I liked enough attention so I went all fucking poetic on it. It stays in.

  26. A thread of unanimity running through these comments suggest the presence or real working writers. Practically speaking, a legit novel is too long to be fully nourished by infrequent hiccups of inspiration, surprise mindstorms and such. In “Palimpsest” Gore Vidal likened the novelist to a cow chewing its cud. It’s an insistent hammering that gets the thing done.

  27. baby steps…for writing, playing the piano…everything

  28. Another beautiful post, another chorus of answers to offer proof, if any were needed, that I am temperamentally unsuited to the work of a writer.

    I make big, ungainly, directionless leaps followed by cataclysmic meltdown and the inevitable collapse. It’s humiliating, every time, but I don’t know what to do with my waxen wings except flap them and aim for the sun.

  29. “Is it possible to figure out your work if you can’t figure out your life? Or is your art a key to your life, or to life?”
    I thought I’d had an epiphany yesterday when I was trying to work out the concept for my long-delayed blog. The words flew, crashed. I rewrote, crashed again, and again. And I found myself once more in my life-long dilemma: what do I want to be when I grow up.

  30. I really like the Can you hold on to a catharsis part. That is exactly what I am in the middle of fighting for my dignity over, or rather, my self-respect, or rather, my pride, or rather, my sense of survival, or rather, fuck, well, now you see it. Too Jewish? Whatever. Not that I’m claiming Jewishness, that would be a lie. But I do respect a little doubt in a person’s mind. I think it makes them more human. God-forbid you should question someone’s truth they are trying to shove down your throat—that is totally tasteless and uncivilized, and in my opinion rude, almost unforgivable.

  31. Tantric catharsis? A platform for a non fiction book. I am so glad it is August, the month, cuz I hate summer, but the leaves on my Hawthorn are turning yellow already, so there is that little bit of sadness which is what I love about everything.

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