• 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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All The Other Kids With the Pumped Up Kicks

I was at a dinner party over the weekend with a group of people I was mostly meeting for the first time. One of them turned to me at one point and said that she had read my memoir. She wanted to know if it had been difficult to write. It wasn’t. In fact, it was easy. Even the parts I sobbed through. I knew what I wanted to write. I had over twenty diaries from the time period I was writing about. I had an in-depth outline, but more than that I knew every key scene I had to write and the way each one connected  to the next like the stars in the big dipper. I knew what I would say and what was off limits. It was all clear to me, there for me.

What was hard were all the terrible false (fictionalized) starts I had attempted over the years. What was hard was the outsized jealousy I felt reading one memoir after another, believing I could do better while unable to write anything at all.  Funny how that works. I had made many mountains out of my little mole hill.

WHat’s more difficult: writing or not writing?

36 Responses

  1. The moment of writing, when I’ve reread what I’ve just written and have a decision to make is the worst. I dither about which way to go and in the end it doesn’t matter which way. It matters that I start because once started the second guessing stops and it’s just me writing. If it’s wrong I realize it down the road, and if it’s right it just flows, but either way it’s always better than analyzing it.

    Sometimes I just can’t think. So what, you waste some words. There are far worse pastimes than wasting words on paper. Ruminating about potential words is one of them.

  2. Not writing is like not eating the vanilla ice cream in the freezer because you want dessert — just not THAT dessert. You keep thinking that you’ll somehow get dark chocolate almond bark instead, but none comes your way. Then you cave. You scoop out a scoop. And then another. And it’s really, really good — so good, in fact, that if someone waved a chocolate bar in your face you’d laugh as you continued to pork out on the vanilla ice cream, but then the next day, it’s back to — “nah, I think I’ll wait for the chocolate.”

    This relearning that not writing is dumb and futile and dishonest –that’s what’s hard.

  3. Worrying about what to write or what you’re not writing is exponentially worse. But that doesn’t mean I’m cured.

    Last week you asked if we get jealous of other writers’ successes. I’m jealous in that I figure they sat their ass in the chair longer and said what they wanted to say instead of just thinking it to (an excruciating) death.

    On a completely unrelated note, I spent this weekend watching the first season of Dallas from 1978. They were still dialing phones back then, and when someone needed to find someone, the lack of cell phones adds much drama. Also, the women all had real boobs (shocking!), Bobby is not as cute as I remembered, and I’d forgotten that Lucy was so damned short. Interestingly, many of these early episodes were written by women. Which makes me happy.

    • This made me laugh, that bit about the lack of cell phones. Of course! So much creative and dramatic tension gone…

  4. Not writing is far more difficult. It’s like being dead while still being alive. The worst of both worlds.

    • I believe that’s got a DSM III listing found under “Zombie Writer’s Syndrome”. Most often the symptoms of the infected are expressed by mindless wandering searching for a plot.

    • For a second there I thought you were going to finish with “like Leonard Cohen.”

      A line from The Young Ones. Sorry. I’m having flashbacks.

  5. False starts are stinging, jealousy is cruel, editing is awful, but not writing is a sort of numbness, fodder, grieving, from which it is a joy to escape.

  6. Not writing is worse. Except for when the right words want to flow after my collapsing body starts to scream for sleep. Or when my daughter needs me.

  7. I don’t know nothin’ about no writin’ but that pumped up kicks song is now on permanent replay in my head

  8. Not writing. Nothing makes me feel more fucking despair than not writing.

    When I’m not writing it feels like all is lost, like my mind is slipping.

    It probably slipped a long time ago, but still.

  9. Some time in the near future, scientists will discover the neurological dog leg in the brains of writers that makes them need to write, and they’ll be able to tell us what (life-event, chemical flood) triggers the neurons to mesh up as they do, and they’ll be able to show us how to prevent the misery of niggly, nailchewy need.

    And probably no one would take them up on the cure.

  10. The answer to the question is Yes.

  11. Not writing is harder. It nags at me. Words nip at the edges of my mind, making it hard to concentrate on anything else. That said, writing the first few sentences of a blog post can involve many torturous hours of staring at the screen. But at those times, at least I’m engaged in the process.

  12. Trying to figure out what to write is the worst. Once that’s decided, peace comes. My new novel is on submission now so that means I need to get busy on the next one. But what’s the next one? There’s nothing in my head but blank pages.

  13. Anyone who finds not writing difficult just isn’t masturbating enough. Pick a scab, read a book, hate the other parents at the bus stop–there are plenty of ways to fill the time. Get therapy. Writing isn’t therapy, writing is indulging in the reason we need therapy in the first place. I write obsessively. I resent wasting time with my son, reading books, playing games, having what they call ‘fun,’ because his fucking childhood is interfering with my schedule. My father is fading fast, and the thing I dread most is the funeral. Not only because it’s going to be my mother’s masterpiece–think Guernica–but because I won’t get any writing done.

    It’s not because *not writing* is hard, though. It’s because *moving in with my mother-in-law* is hard. I need money. Every minute I spend not writing is another minute I spend not taking care of my family in the most fundamental way. Giving my kid a childhood is great, but giving him a glimpse of financial security is better.

    Ten bucks says she’ll ululate at the funeral.

    • I understand this, I do. I may not be making money with my writing but I resent every moment that interferes with it. I wish I could be as pure as you, August. If only my anger were wrapped up in my kids’ financial security, my case would be better heard. No, my frustration simply comes about because my mental space has been invaded. You see, I come from a long line of wild mutts. We don’t look well upon muzzles.

      Sorry ’bout your dad.

    • Sorry about your dad too, August. I think I’d rather prostitute myself on the streets of Amsterdam than move in with my mother in law. I’d get more respect on my knees in front of a stranger with a crumpled twenty in my fist.

    • As a Resented Child, I hope your abilities to shield your son from this frustration are well-tuned and successful. It is a terrible burden to be blamed for a parent’s derailed career.

    • I’ll give you ten bucks if you write Guernica, the novel.

    • All writers aren’t skint.

    • Everything that fades away was never meant to last. Best of luck with all that remains.

  14. not writing is harder thanks to the extraordinary (you have no idea) lengths to which I go to avoid settling down to do it…

  15. Both. Just at different times. When the writing flows, yahoo. When it sits there like a turd, boo-hoo. When not writing, I’m in the moment of whatever is going on in my life. Maybe in a quiet moment I may think about my WIP and a scene or plot point or especially neat sentence which I will dutfifully be unable to recall when I get back to the computer. So, each has its challenges and its pleasures. Good days come, bad days come. I just hope I can get off. Or at least breathe hard.

  16. Not writing.
    It means I’m stuck, not resting. And boy am I stuck a lot of the time.

  17. Writimg. I meander along, caught up in life’s dramas, dealing with a job I don’t like but still try to do my best at, and then an idea hits and I’ll think it over, over, over until it won’t let me alone. So there I am peacefully (sort of) existing in my cave, physically exhausted, but mind at ease (sort of) and this thought is knocking at my brain’s door, tentatively at first, like the FedEx guy who doesn’t care whether I answer or not because he’s going to leave the package anyway, then the knocking becomes more persistent, like a Jehovah’s Witness inspired by a higher power to do his duty and convert my sorry ass until finally the idea is banging like an angry neighbor at 2am demanding I turn down the volume and I say okayokayOKAY, I’m coming. But really I’ve just been faking it and it’s time to really get to work. It must be hard because I put it off for so long.

  18. Not writing–like not scratching the roaming itch in the center of my upper back–flip side of my disloyal heart.

  19. Not writing. Strangely this has been true not for my novels, which I’m happy to plug away at, but for smaller things like blogging and writing shorter pieces for websites, magazines etc. I have a million ideas for these but until recently I never actually put them out there. Once I began to I couldn’t figure out what on earth had been holding me back.

    I think there is a huge inherent value in just doing something instead of doing nothing. But writers get really nervous about putting something out into the world with their name on it, afraid it might haunt them later. I think we could all stand to get over that.

  20. I’m voting that the Not Writing option is more difficult for the person who wants to use words as their expressive media. My favorite metal artist, on the other hand, would prefer a trailer full of flat bar to any keyboard, notebook or pen.

  21. Not writing. Ironically, I just wrote a blog entry (my inaugural post in fact) about how scary it was for me to start taking my writing seriously. And once I came to that realization, it was harder for me not to write than it was to write. I hated every second that my day job stole from my writing time (not to mention it was a miserable job anyway) so I’ve decided to take a temporary break from the corporate world while I finish up the first draft of my YA novel.

  22. Writing. It’s hard, it’s work, and no arrangement of words is adequate to the task at hand.

  23. Not writing.
    When life and the people you love require almost constant attention and the thing you must do, or die a little, waits quietly in the corridor, the good girl always, making little mewings in the back of your brain so you won’t forget, long to be there, but turn back to life and those you love because you will, eventually, be back in that corridor and always the work that waits allows you to return.
    I am about to burst.

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