• Bridge Ladies

    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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Still I Look To Find a Reason to BElieve

Let’s talk about the blank page. Let’s talk about the Shining. Let’s talk about senior year at NYU and my Milton paper. How you can quilt a perfectly fine legal yellow pad from writing the same opening sentence over and over again. I used to have zero tolerance for people who feared the blank page. Why the hell are you a writer, I secretly thought to myself, while nodding empathically. Same thing with writer’s block, which is a version of death by blank page. You don’t know what to say, you don’t know how to say it. Or, you’re afraid to say it. Or, you have no tolerance for your own limitations. Or, you a coward. Full stop. Or you know what you don’t know. And care. Or you think you’re better than the blankness. Or you are unworthy. Or you are not in therapy. Or a page is a mirror is a stone is a flower is a sesame bun.  I studied with the great Charles Ludlam, playwright, actor and founder of the Ridiculous Theater. He said that he always  wrote a few sentences into the next page of whatever he was working on so he never had to face the blank page. That’s the best advice I ever heard apart from cod liver oil and a pack of Lucky’s.

How do you deal with it? State secrets?

42 Responses

  1. I’ve been in revision for 2 years. Best thing? No blank pages. Worst thing? 2 years and counting. You know you’re feeling bad when a blank page sounds good.

  2. I read my favorite lines from the last pages. They’re probably/usually little darlings but it makes me say, damn you’re good. Write some more.

    • ps nothing like the 21st century: Betsy post, ipad, utube reason to believe cover by a band I approached groupie status with, and giants 8-1. And final pages to edit tomorrow.

  3. Don’t know what to say. Don’t know how to say it. And I’m a coward.

    Damn, you’ve nailed me.

    Care to give me my horoscope for this month, too?

    • I love to buy blank pages. No matter what, they always seem to be in short supply. My wife used to make fun of me when I would stop in the grocery store by the aisle with all the school supplies. Did I have a notebook with me? Okay, but is it good enough? Perhaps I should buy another one that will sit unused, even though I thought it looked like The Right One at the time. I’ve all but kicked that habit. Now I end up using legal pads. Nothing fancy, just the paper. When I’m out and about, the Moleskin. A reporter’s notebook when it’s all that’s around–story ideas written clearly among notes and quotes even I can hardly read. But always I feel like there’s not enough. I have about ten Moleskins I bought on sale in one drawer. Another is full–literally full–of legal pads. I leave them in bathrooms and my wife thinks it’s by accident. You just never know.

      • Oops, this was meant just to be a comment, but I was reading yours, Sherry, and replied to you. Which is fine, since I was thinking of replying anyway to tell you that if you don’t know what to say, or how to say it, you’ve had me fooled. And isn’t that sort of the whole idea?

  4. Perhaps THIS is my problem: I don’t fear it. The blank page, the uncut fabric, the open parcel of land, the empty building – all tempt me with their potential and I willingly jump in. Immersing myself in activities towards those projects prevents me from acknowledging what I really fear. And allowing no time for that-which-will-remain-nameless robs it of any power. So far.

  5. Write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write. Just write.

    And revise.

  6. I don’t think it’s writer’s block as much as writer’s choke hold. All this shit you let get flung in front of the writing.

    So, an interface then. Sage smudge your writing wall. Or take a scalding bath. And if that doesn’t work, read some kickass stuff you wished you wrote. And if that doesn’t work go out on a godforfuck fitwalk with five pound weights clamped to your palms and don’t allow yourself go back home until a new idea attacks you.

  7. I just discovered timelines for characters. It’s like doing a really good sanding-priming job and just being able to paint, or prepping the hell out of some vegetables and just flying through the cooking, or spending months alone on your Kegels and then, well, you get the idea. I feel like Christopher Fucking Columbus.

  8. I love a nice, clean blank page to write on.

  9. I’m with your teacher. Finish up on the next page, with the next set of ideas waiting to be grasped. I love having blankness ahead, and half-knowing what I will do with it. Such a rush.

  10. I like that, writing a few sentences onto the next page. The blank one is like choice. Sometimes too much of it is a bad thing, paralyzingly you into submission. Put up constrictions and barricades and life flows forth without strife.

  11. Ass in chair, cup of coffee, eyes staring out the window, back inside, out, in, white screen. Across the room from me, a kitchen island and beneath it, on a square black stool, a basket holding newspapers; my eyes have paused on that basket a million times.
    Every inspiration which has not come to me outside of my home has risen from that basket of newsprint, an apt well of words I think.

    Huh, I just faced a blank page and now I know where almost all my ideas come from, a stack of papers I’m either recycling to become something else or to use as fuel for our next fire.

    How’s that for inspiration and I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee yet?

  12. Great questions, but how did you find that picture of my ex?

  13. Ha. Always the weirdo, I’ve discovered this time around I am more productive starting with a blank page every time I sit down. Otherwise, I get caught up in reading and micro revising what’s already there. I make excuses. Other things that help me: taking the time to plan and write a good outline up front (for me this means the framework of the story, not too strict), having a rough idea of what I’m going to work on before I sit down, and if I’m stuck throwing in a bunch of asterisks and moving on to the next part. No looking back. It’s all about forward motion. My state secret is listening to movie soundtracks while I write.

  14. A blank page isn’t a sacred space to me, exactly—it’s an infinitely renewable resource. A vacuum that my imagination abhors.

    Plus, to misquote one of Carrie Fisher’s characters, I love having written, and the only way to have written is to write.

  15. I stop mid-scene. I was having trouble with the blankness until I read somewhere (Hemingway, perhaps? Lots of opinions so highly likely it was him) to stop right when the energy is high and you know just what happens next. I’ve been doing it ever since. I have such condensed writing time that if I stepped away, my time would be gone. Well, that and the fact I’d be stepping off a moving train which, come to think of it, would resolve the issue one way or another.

  16. Since I do columns of 1,100 words or so, and can rarely get away with a two- parter, I usually start with a blank page, and usually have some idea of what I want to do.

    Sometimes, though, nothing seems to work, so I sit, stare, write, erase, holler “FUCK!”, get up, sit down, repeat. Sometimes, I escalate into a fuck-hollerin’ contest with myself, which is always a disappointment, since I always win and lose. Fuck-hollerin’ is much better if it involves another person.

    Sometimes, somehow, during the sit-stare-write-erase-holler “FUCK!”-sit-stare routine, I amuse myself, sometimes by dribbling coffee or knocking something off my desk. In the pro forma name calling that follows, I am reminded of just how silly I am, how flawed, lazy, dumb, and all that other human stuff. Then things start to happen, but they happen from right there, right then. Leave the chair and all bets are off.

    Thirsty? use your spit. Nature calling? don’t answer. Hungry? you ain’t gonna die, pussface. Sit.Laugh.Write.Cry if you want, smoke ’em if you gottem, but you’re here now, so write now.

  17. Two things: I outline (in my head when the idea first comes) and I fall asleep while thinking about the next twisty–unless one of those other important things weasels its way into my dreams.

  18. Sometimes a walk helps, but other times I overthink and it all gets muddled. I like Tetman’s advice above — after writing paragraphs and pages there might be sentence or two or an idea that emerges and you have something that wasn’t there before. If I remember correctly, if my memory serves my Long Island iced tea at the proper temperature, what Jack wrote over and over again in The Shining was All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Something to be said for that, although my idea of play is not of the homicidal maniac variety.

    • Mike, when I was in grad school, I once ended up with three finals on the same day, and was just finishing up the required papers and such. Things were getting blurry, and I would read, note, and then realize that I had no idea what I’d just read; I was zombied.

      I put it all down and traced a daisy onto a piece of pine, and started to carve. I cut and chiseled and blew the cuttings aside, again and again, until my fingers hurt. No school, no tests, no problems, just the wood, the knife, and my hands.

      Four hours or so later, there was a nice little flower in the wood, and I was ready to work. I got back to it, and smoked ’em.

      Good on you for those walks, Mike.

      • Sometimes I’ll see branches on the ground that would make fine walking sticks or maple or yellow birch burls, big enough for deep salad bowls. And sometimes I walk and just see trees, other times, nothing at all. Here’s to the beauty in a tree, Frank, and a daisy carved delicately in wood….

  19. My trick: Post-its.
    In the car, in bed, in the kitchen or subway. Wherever. It’s like fake writing. By the time I get the little pile of colorful papers to the keyboard I usually have a decent sentence or two.

    Didn’t Romy & Michelle say at their high school reunion that they invented Post-its? Hmm… Maybe they’re my inspiration.

  20. I follow that rule I read somewhere – “allow yourself to write badly,” because like Dan Kapsner said above – you know you’re going to revise it anyway. I also do most of what everyone else here has suggested – read something I wish I’d written, exercise, stop at a clear path to the next scene, but there is one thing no one else has mentioned – my state secret – have a DRINK. There’s nothing like the nice flow of words along with the nice flow of alcohol. Of course this means I might be floundering through bad writing until 5:00 p.m. My southern raising dictates no liquor before then, you see.

  21. Good stuff, Donna, but have you tried gummi bears soaked in vodka, or cherries soaked in tequila or rum? Great snacks. I wouldn’t put them in the kids lunchbox, though.

    As far as that 5:00 p.m. thing, sailors often use the “sun over the yardarm” thing, which, with the sail lowered, is about 10: a.m.

    Just trying to help.

  22. Okay so I have reread many of the comments and I have come to the conclusion that we are a bad-ass bunch of sorry writers AND I mean that in the most complimentary way.
    From my stack of newspapers in a basket which just happens to be in my line of vision when I’m thinking, to drinking at sunrise over the yardarm, to post-it’s, to time-lines and kegels, I love that one, I’m practicing some right now as I type, whoopie, anyway, we got wood carving fuck-hollerin’ and Tetman’s just write just write just write ditto ditto ditto, whew.
    Since I am old enough to have screwed Christopher Fucking Columbus I have a piece of advice…sit your asses down with a drink, a knife, a fallen branch, a post-it and a picture of Frank’s ex. If that doesn’t get you to write… well then GFY.
    Have a nice day.

  23. I pop over to your blog, read, read, read, and then figure out how I can take the idea,make it my own, and run with it! LOL. Great Post.

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