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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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If Words Could Make Wishes Come True (redux)

Truman Capote said when god hands you a gift he also hands you a whip. I think I got two whips. Suddenly, the word “whip” looks ridiculous. You know how that happens when you worry a word? I sit at a table and meet with writer after writer and try to find one helpful thing to say, one moment of connection. But all I’m really thinking about are the stacks of Mike N’ Ike boxes in the concession stand. Concession? That’s a loaded word. Driving home from PA, I tried to visualize my screenplay as a live action movie. I try to see every scene. Sometimes I’d lose track and think about all the  men who have been mean to me, every humiliation I subjected myself to (yes, Lena Dunham, you may be the voice of your generation but you’re no Allen Ginsberg, and you didn’t invent shame, not by a long shot). I get an email from a woman I spoke with, she says I turned it all around for her, saw the forest for the trees, she is totally inspired to attack her book with the shift in emphasis I recommended.  I haven’t even showered today.

Today’s topic is low grade depression and professional envy. Discuss.

65 Responses

  1. Betsy, you slay me. I have professional depression and low grade envy. Does that count?

  2. Stewie Griffin ruined the word “whip” for me. As in, “cool whip.” As in, h-w-i-p.

    My professional depression and envy are anything but low grade. They’ve reached an intensity that feels scarily similar to fever delirium.

  3. Can genuinely happy people be writers? Do genuinely happy wannabe-writers exist and if they do what would they write about…regular periods and the joy of hormones, waitressing and retail, two excellent back-up careers for writers, the joy of sex, and the agony of doing it only once a night, a woman’s respect for the superiority of men?

    If we didn’t have professional envy we wouldn’t dig the ditch deep enough or add salt to the sauce. If I didn’t envy every slip-shod shitty writer who made it big I’d delete spell-check and say fuck-em-all. But, I wannabe better; I’d like someone to envy me for once.

    Low grade depression – a second grader in 1929.

    • Wry, you are truly wry, and very funny. Thank you.

      • Frank, will you marry me, oh wait I’m already married. At least be my therapist. I don’t get seasick and I know my stern from my aft. How about going down-below?
        ROFL, I just love nautical humor.

  4. Nobody in my MFA class had any interest in publishing. When a famous writer dedicated an entire night to “publishing” the room went dead. Why?

    I’m following Averil — are you here tonight?

    Tonight a friend arrived from Afghanistan. She’s a Colonel in the U.S. Army and has been deployed for 21 months. 21 fucking months, which I, with my cushy-assed-life, can’t fathom. She’s here in California, on vacation, deprogramming and unwinding.

    I’m so in awe I have no complaints, not even about my writing, and today I wrote the following horrific line: “I live in a Norman Rockwell painting.” *blech* If you look closely, you can see me running and screaming from the page.

    • I’m here. I’m always here, gnawing my heart out every time someone writes a phrase or sentence or paragraph better than I could have done.

      I don’t understand about the MFA class. Publishing was beside the point, or what? Did the lack of interest generate any discussion in its own right?

      • The conversation went, no kidding, “I write for myself.” I don’t know who all believed that (anyone????) but there it was. Writers who don’t want to be read. Yes. And hey, I was just as baffled as you are right now.

      • I don’t get it, either. It’s one thing to write for yourself. At least you know you’ll always have one reader. But I’m with Teri on this. Give me a writer who claims not to want to be published or even read, and the first response that leaps to my scurrilous mind is, “Yeah, right, and I’m the fucking Queen of England.”

        And then take it up another level to someone who is 1) enrolled in a graduate-level writing class, 2) working and studying to become a better practitioner of a social craft, and 3) spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege, and then that someone says they don’t want to be published or they don’t care about being published, that same scurrilous mind of mine is going to be thinking, “I don’t want any part of what you’ve been smoking, clueless writer person, because it has clearly destroyed your mind.”

    • Teri – I had to laugh at the NR reference: one of my worst habits is to sarcastically assess a situation as “not exactly a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting”. Sometimes it gets a laugh.

      Glad your friend is back in the States. Please let her know how much we appreciate her dedication and bravery.

    • Wry, we should speak to our SOs about that marriage, or maybe not. You are no doubt great crew, and going down below is part of the trip, but mind the bilges.

  5. Hi, just the other day I told my high school English students that I was convinced that they called it a “concession” stand because every time I went to the movies I “gave in” and bought popcorn and a soda. Of course, they just stared at me.

  6. Mike and Ike are splitting up. I had a hilarious press release about this from Just Born.

  7. Damn, Betsy, you trying to cheer us up? Isn’t envy something you have when you’ve decided you’re not going to make it? You’re looking at somebody’s ass two or three rungs above you and you feel you have no chance in hell of advancing from where you are. Given that, who wouldn’t be depressed. Fuck that; I’m not done. I’m short on talent and I’m too old, but I don’t care. It’s in me and come hell or high water I will get it out.

  8. If it weren’t for low-grade depression and professional envy, writers would be extinct.

    That said, Betsy, you managed to turn it all around for someone this weekend. And I doubt she was the first.

    That rates far higher than a shower, and second only to an evening in a hot tub with Jon Hamm.

  9. Truman Capote nailed it.

    I can do this one thing, see — or I think I can, or people have humored me about it and sometimes I believe them. But . . .shouldn’t I be further along by now? Shouldn’t I have finished my edits? Shouldn’t I be querying? I haven’t lived up to my potential or dropped the ball. I’m trapped in limbo with only my ego for company. . .

    Guh.

  10. I love hearing that Betsy visualizes her screenplay. I do the same when I wake up in the middle of the night full of low grade depression and professional envy. I think writers are lucky, we build the best hamster wheels. Now if we could just sell them…

  11. Low-grade depression. Is that a D- or an F+? Or is it one of the privileges of the creative class?

    Professional envy. I got a dose of that today and felt dirty. I always feel dirty when I come down with one of the seven deadlies. I scrub and scrub and scrub and some of that dirt, I just can’t get it out. Scrub myself down to my soul and I still see the grime and the stains.

  12. The logging in “before” didn’t work out too well tonight. Fucki’ wordpress.

  13. I know of an MFA-er that stopped writing because he wasn’t selling. If you are a writer, don’t you write anyway?

    It’s about switching addictions. If something doesn’t take you there anymore, you try something else. And didn’t we spend time already discussing that you weren’t unhappy?

    (Now I’ll get the little ‘option to use blogger’ box. WTF.)

  14. Wanting is exhausting.

  15. I gave the first two chapters of my manuscript to a published author for a review last week and the advice was that I needed to bring all of the tension and conflict into the first few pages. Let’s see, my guy is throwing his father’s ashes into the ocean and contemplating jumping in after them…….I thought that was the exciting part…..there should be more…..he should be a vampire…it should be book one of a trilogy…he should be into BDSM….WTF?! I’m a failure! I haven’t showered in two days…..can’t believe I’m admitting that!

  16. Low grade depression is another way of saying go exercise and professional envy won’t hold up in a court of law. For so long I was the green eyed monster’s right hand woman, looking at other people’s successes with a two faced smile. I’d light up like a glow worm in their presence and then die a slow death when alone, in the discomfort of my own home. Envy isn’t in my thread box anymore. I don’t know when I threw it out. Perhaps I just used it all up and never bothered to replace it. Nowadays I don’t care why someone is doing something. After all, when we’re all dead and buried it’ll be misinterpreted anyway. Might as well just do it. As long as you know there’s no timeline for creativity and that the grass is perfect right here, you’re on your way.

  17. This mine is deep and well shafted. Whew.

    I was told once that a constant low grade schizophrenia may be the best way to cope with reality. I’m not sure about that, but for me, the trick at times has been to keep the depression low grade, rather than letting it suck the life out of life. Being bummed is one thing, but depression, even low grade, is a dying wind that leaves me adrift and uncertain. The cure, as they say, is salt water-sweat, tears, and the sea.

    As for professional envy, I dunno. A little goes a long way, and if it helps us suck it up and march on, where’s the harm? But if it feeds our smallness and snark, wouldn’t we be better without feeding it?

    Popeye almost got it right when he said “I yam what I yam.” I’m pretty contented, but want to be better at everything, not relentlessly, but with calm certainty that the course is true.

    • To answer your question, No, we are not better people when we starve our smallness and snark. Unless, by “better” you mean “bland, brainwashed into conformity by pin-headed utopianists, and boring”, then, Yes, we are all that when we are so dead inside that we can’t even muster up some professional-grade envy and spite.

      My motto, which I stole from Alice Roosevelt, is: “If you have nothing good to say about anybody, come sit by me.” Especially if you have dirt on Marilyn Robinson. I can’t stand her.

  18. No professional envy ever. I gain every time another writer makes it – I can read and enjoy their work.

  19. You people are really bumming me out with the positive comments, but yes I probably should jump on the epileptical machine. Love ya. Gotta go sell some books. Betsy Lerner

    • Here’s one for the annals of suckage. Going out for coffee with your girlfriends, only to find a parking ticket waiting for you curbside. Shittyratassmotherfucker! Damn, I’m pissed. Yes, Tetman, anger is most definitely an energy.

      • Yup. Sucks. But at least you weren’t towed. I saw that happen yesterday. And the woman had a baby. Goddammotherfuckingmetermaids!!!!!! She was too distraught to even be pissed, so I like to think we’ve got her back here.

      • Perspective is truly glorious.

  20. I don’t get depressed, I get angry, which feels really good and fuels my creative juices.

    I wish I could feel professionally envious of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner in Fiction. Ooops… not this year, which pisses me off! Gotta go write.

    • Anger, yes! I had to give up yoga b/c it destroyed it. Now I swim. Good for the anxiety but keeps my stormy nature intact. If I don’t have fury, I got nothing.

      • Fury! I know. Me, too. Swimming’s the best.

        I pound out my anger in anonymous cyber-journals, hundreds of pages that no one will ever see, because I hide them on USB sticks. Often, that writing leads me straight into my stories, then it dissipates, which is good for those around me. One does need to learn how to manage oneself…

      • I think of anger as an internal wind that can take us many places, some good, some not. But it can destroy as well as it drives, and is always there, not good, not bad, but there.

      • singalong time…the written word is a lie…anger is an energy…

      • Love it, Tetman!!! What a crazyass way to spend a rainy afternoon!

      • Oops. Meant to reply to you here, T., but it came out above.

      • great song, tetman.

      • I could be wrong but it has a nice beat and it’s easy to dance to.
        When did Barry Manilow dye his hair?

  21. Why does a sad faced clown make us laugh? Is it the anticipation, the knowledge that clowns bring joy, so a clown looking worried and anxious, constipated with dread, will just turn the tables and make an audience feel good when the droopy flower he’s wearing pops up like a morning erection and squirts a quart of water in the face of the lampoonish police officer? But what if the character applied make-up to reflect his feelings instead of mask them? There’s no surprise when the happy clown conquers the sad clown, but the sad one should never blow away Mr. Happy because that’s just way too scary. Go with what you got and watch out for neglected mounds of dog shit and taxi’s veering into dirty puddles.

  22. Cleanliness is overrated. So is godliness. Someone sent me their WIP for thoughts, and I wrote back how funny it was and the someone said it wasn’t supposed to be. And now it’s been published. I’m not only chagrined, I’m enraged.

  23. The other day, I saw a book in the bookstore that looked like something I’d like to write. My immediate reaction was total envy and professional jealousy and thinking I’d rather die than buy that book and increase that author’s profits.

    Then I thought, what the hell? This envy is just a signal of my desire to pursue my book and of my fear that I don’t “have it.” I’m used to that shit. I’ve been dealing with it for years. It’s just smoke. So maybe I ought to buy that book and learn something from it.

    Which I did.

    BTW, I was in Motherlode yesterday. (Toot, toot!) My first byline!

    • aarrgh! I’m considering moving my blog to WordPress so got an account and now every time I comment, my name-link goes to my still empty WP blog and not to my still working blogger blog.

      any thoughts on whether I ought to switch over to WP?

      (I think I just figured out how to change this-) Stilll, would appreciate thoughts on WP vs. Blogger.

      • I love my blogspot blog. They have been good to me and they give me money. I started a WordPress blog but don’t have the energy to try and build the following. And this getting all proprietary about signing in is small of them.

    • Nice work in Motherlode, Hope. Congratulations.

    • Nice article in Motherlode.

    • Great article. Been there, I have two daughters.

  24. Bathing is highly overrated. Water on the skin can be a complex thing, best deemed “overstimulating”. Dirt is familiar, uncomplicated and comforting. We get a little obsessed with the daily shower and that’s not necessary. That said soap can be exhilarating. And it’s hard to sell someone something when you look at them and realize they are looking at you with an expression that tells you they can smell you. Not sure what I’m saying there. Just something. As for professional envy, there aren’t enough pins in the world to take care of it. And when other peoples words make me sigh or laugh or stew or talk back, well, that’s a bit of what it’s about for me.

  25. Envy, for all its ugliness, is sometimes the canary. When the D progresses from low-grade to full-blown, green is removed from the world, along with most of one’s personality (as the old SNL skit goes).

    Envy means we still give a fuck, so watch out, world!

  26. They are two must haves if you want to call yourself a writer…they counter balance each other so it works. The envy forces you out of the depression and the depression causes you not to get your work done which brings out the envy, which forces you to break out of your depression and so on. Thanks for clarifying that whole circuitous process Betsy!

  27. The low grade depression, (feeling forehead) yeah, I got that one. Professional jealousy? A hit-and-miss kinda thing for me–I wanna hit’em but I usually miss.

  28. i accept my aggression and voice it. i’m tired of people telling me i should relax about everything. namaste, my ass.

    anger drives individual action and that works for me.

  29. Sometimes, I have depression that can’t be graded. I have competed in an Olympic-distance triathlon and now I fall down and sometimes take 20 minutes to put my shoes on.

    I have multiple sclerosis and I am not capitalizing that.

    I envy everyone who has a published book. If you can or want to, help make me one of those people –

    Thank You.

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