• 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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Love Is Rose But You Better Not Pick It

Do you know why you write what you write. Why you write poems, or journalism, or humor, or blog posts? Or fiction or plays or articles or works of scholarship? Is it like wearing corduroys or blue blazers or ponchos or espadrilles? What made me turn to poems in the tenth grade, why did I trust them? What do people like unreliable first person narrators?  Sometimes I think we have almost no control over what we choose to write: that it chooses us. But that sounds so douchy to me. When I was very young, I compared a field of corn stalks pushing through a bed of snow to a whiskery beard. My mother explained that I had made a simile. Did that Hallmark moment brand me? I like to think so, I like to think that I pleased my mother in that moment. And that I had a special relationship to poetry books, those anorexic volumes, with their visible secrets. If I was a mark, I was made.

What’s your poison?

53 Responses

  1. Bourbon. And Wes Anderson, before Moonrise Kingdom. If I had to describe what I want to achieve in my writing, it’s him: quirky, heartbreaking, funny, beautiful.

    • I’d like to amend what I wrote. The ridiculous truth is that I was just excited to be the first to comment, so I jotted out something quick and easy. I stand by bourbon and being an early Wes Anderson fan, but nothing else, because really, my poison is not that simple to define or even to see. I know that it’s at work with me and that it comes home again at night and then follows me around all weekend. It’s there when I’m doing dishes and taking out the trash and talking to my mom on the phone and picking out pasta at the grocery store, but it’s shapeless and colorless and odorless and really, the only thing I can say for sure it’s that it’s rather quite loud.

      It’s on my walks. A stranger’s smile transforms into a third-person account of how we met: he was running at the park; she was listening to one of her favorite songs. It was drizzling and his legs were stringy with long muscles– bare and vulnerable. Then she saw him collapse. Oh, no! Sir, sir … His face once far away, now so close, the sudden intimacy of it. No time to think of that; no time to notice how he smells, whether he shaves, when he last brushed his teeth.

      The stories, they morph like this out of fragments of near-interaction. They bubble out and pop faster than I can count them; they’re dollar bills blowing out of a fan and they’re flying all over and I’m caught in the slow molasses of sleep, my limbs refusing to function so that I can even catch one. Sometimes I do, though; I catch one and I turn it over in my hands and I stick it in the pages of my little notebook and it grows. Stories of love and loss, of birth and death and rebirth, of struggle and defeat and victory. Yes, his mother accidentally spilled bacon grease on him when he was two and then she yelled at him for playing too rough with his little brother when he was three, and yes, he has grown into an apathetic, angry man– a baby in a 51 year-old’s skin. But don’t give up on him yet; don’t give up. He might still change.

      It’s constant, my poison– like an insulin pen stuck in my side, drip, drip, dripping into my system. It follows me into my dreams and it’s still there when I wake up again, and I can live without it but not for long.

  2. i’ve long thought that i live the life i chose to be chosen by. and i’ve never douched.

    i write for the same reasons everyone else writes. ’nuff said.

    my poisons won on a tko so i retired from the ring. now i nurse grievances and pick at my scabs.

    hey, a man’s gotta have a hobby.

  3. short stories. the end.

    • Short stories, but not the end.

      Humor, dry, tongue close to cheek, because pain and fear and anger and outrage are never far away or hard to find, and laughing beats hell out of crying or screaming.

      I was recently with some old friends, and the subject of ancient politics and war came up, one in which we all participated, from inside or out, from near or far. My part was inside and near, and the stories I told were the funny ones, the unexpected ones.

      There are others.

  4. Such a coincidence you’d ask that. I’ve been thinking of connected coincidences. I was inspired but stopped by Kingsolver’s writing: realization Betsy blog. I was having trouble with my opening pages: realization Betsy blog. Woke in the middle of the night: the answer is in Kingsolver’s first paragraph. Everything is there: who is this character? What is at stake? Why do I care? Answer to my first pages: let the protagonist out. Don’t be afraid to let him show himself for all the quirkiness and coolness and fuckedupness he is. Today coming out of therapy office: yeah, that’s what my protagonist needs to do to come alive and he’s not the only one.

  5. Sugar and lots of it. In all its forms.

  6. Short stories. Simple words made tricky. Twisted people. This also sounds douchy.

  7. Memoir it seems. I was told by a colleague and professor once (actually both within the same semester of grad school) that my writing is simplistic. They both went on to explain that they didn’t mean simple, but that I had a very clear and simple way of telling a complicated or hard topic story. Both said this after reading a memoir piece. I heard it again from a friend after my recent four part blog story.

    Thing is I can’t see it. Even after having written something and reading it over a million times, I can’t see it for myself. And I’ve always LOVED fiction, so I would never willingly set out to write memoir, but that’s what my WIP is.

  8. After reading the book I wrote, a friend told me she was surprised I’d written something so dark. When I asked why, she said, “Because you’re the most emotionally stable person I know.”

    I have no idea we write what we write. I’ve always written dark narratives even though I’ve lived a relatively painless existence. Maybe I just want to explore the unknown.

    I know the whole ‘tortured artist’ thing is a cliche which means it must happen quite frequently so my question is: Can a decidedly non-tortured soul write darkly themed stories that are good? Are the two mutually exclusive?

  9. Thrillers, apparently. I’m asked all the time why I like writing thrillers, and, frankly, I have no idea. Like the commenter above, I’ve been told people are “surprised” I write dark things occasionally. But, truth be told, the people who know me well aren’t surprised at all. 🙂

  10. I am doomed. I write essays.
    To paraphrase the one near and dear, writing 101, essays don’t sell.
    Mine do. With my many bylines I am left wanting a title page.
    I guess this bitch is never satisfied.

  11. I write what I want to read and I don’t want to read about people killing their pets, people with problems, or people who have magical powers. I am insanely in love with my cats, I have my own problems, and the only magic I’m interested in is the spell that lets me not die. So I write travel memoir.

    P.S. For anyone interested in seeing Stephanie Meyer’s amazing new look (she not only lost 100 pounds but she got a make over!) here’s the link:


  12. What I like to read–coming-of-age stories.

    My forthcoming (March) novel, You Know What You Have to Do, is a coming-of-age with a twist of horror, so maybe I’m evolving.

  13. Novels are my poison. I love the modern, moody anorexic ones as well as the long & luscious epics. Inspiration, all.
    The Bronte sisters ruined me for life in middle school.

  14. Pogo Possum in the funny papers when I was five years old. The wordplay, the humor, the matching of typefaces to characters’ voices. But I wouldn’t have been hit so hard if I hadn’t been predisposed.

    • That was a great comic strip! Often on the 13th day of a month, one of the characters(probably Albert the alligator) would note that “Friday the 13th falls on a Tuesday this month.”

    • Ahhhh…Pogo…. I have a collection of the early Pogo books. Genius. Thanks for the reminder, Bonnie.

  15. I have a daughter who, when I put her to bed one night, said, “Mama, I hate reading.” As much as it hurt me, I understood. She is Skye from The Penderwicks, more interested in experiencing life first hand than reading or imagining it. I was like that, too. I played on the street until I was black with dirt and only came in after my own mama dragged me. As a parent, I have emphasized the importance of reading and each of my children do it brilliantly. Even this daughter, who is more self aware at 8 years old than I ever was, dutifully pulls out a book each night as she climbs under her covers. I don’t have to remind her or coax her or bribe her. And while it may now be part of her routine, it is not something organic. Something inside her repels against it. This is a fact.

    I think writing has the same push and pull. One moves in the direction one is called. There is no choice. I am a huge proponent of nurture but in this, the skipper is nature. It doesn’t mean you don’t have choice but if you go against your grain, you will always feel the tug-of-war.

    • Real wisdom here.
      If you go against your grain in anything in life, it can literally make you sick.

    • So true. I know writers who can write several different genres and in several different forms, but if they’re told to write something that doesn’t click for them . . . at the very least it isn’t easy and at the worst, it simply can’t be done.

  16. Analysing. Worrying that my work is self conscious and that’s what it becomes. Best is when I just write and let the chips fall where they may. Trick is to get that relaxed narration on paper.

    My poison may be a shot of narcissism chased by a short glass of self righteousness. I take pride in my keen sense of observation while failing to notice the watering hole I just wandered into is a topless bar and over in the corner there is someone holding a gun to the temple of a man with a shaved head. I guess my true poison is I write whatever helps me make sense of what I see.

  17. I hope my daughters will have a corn stalk whiskery beard story.

    Social injustice and ever changing perceptions are my poison, and I like redemption as much as I like the dark. Maybe more. Call me a hopeful sort of harpy.

  18. Every short story I write sucks. I wrote one poem but I can’t find it anywhere. I have been saddled with the friggin’ life sucking novel. Because that’s what saved my childhood.

  19. Poetry. Clean, searing poetry.

  20. Ah, yes. Thank you so much for bringing up my identity crisis. Writing The Mediocre American Novel in my basement office in the wee hours, going to the newspaper during the day. I went to college planning on majoring in English and along the way found journalism–a paycheck for writing, you say? Then I took a few classes on magazine writing and literary journalism, and thus started my love affair with things that actually happened. I was introduced to Talese, Wolfe, a Hunter Thompson not played by Johnny Depp. I thought I had found my calling. And yet I always return to fiction. In my reading and writing. I’m not sure why, but I always come back. I’m sorry baby, you know she doesn’t mean anything to me. For better or worse, I love you.

    • Treat journalism well, she is underrated, sabotaged by unimaginative investigative reporting and nearly done in by gossip masquerading as news.

  21. I flip flop between coming of age and literary. I’ve been told what I write is depressing. Like a couple others above, I guess they meant “dark.” I was surprised by that. The person backtracked a few minutes later and said, “well, I guess what you really write about is life.” I THINK that was supposed to be a compliment.

  22. Fantasy. Always, always fantasy.

    I think most sane people feel a sense of frustration when someone tells them, about one of life’s injustices, “that’s just the way it is.” In my case that emotion was rage. From a very young age, my impulse when I heard that answer was to grab a pencil and start writing. Fantasy is my “the HELL you say…”

  23. Like so many here, what I write is called “dark” but I never really see it. Other peoples’ lives are dark. The people who’s bodies scream at you passing by as they shuffle. As you try to imagine how holding yourself up as they do. The mute raisins lives are dark. Mine is full of light and love. Simplistically bad shit happened to me and I happened to bad shit and for whatever reason I need to continuously make noise about it.

    Pieces of memoir that wobbles between essay and short story. Because I love the problems the truth presents me.

  24. I am drawn, unhelpfully, to the novella. The length feels very Goldilocks-and-the-porridge to me, very just-right. I have a horror of being bored or boring, so maybe it’s that. Maybe I like a bit of poetic brevity. Or maybe I’m just lazy and can’t be bothered to spoon-feed my insights to the reader, or sit with an uncomfortable story long enough to expand it.

    I’d say more, but this has already exceeded my limit for Friday morning douchebaggery.

  25. I don’t know yet . . . novels, apparently. Essays, short biographies. Historical monologues.

    I”m not sure why my last several projects have been mysteries of one type or another—judging by my adolescence, I should be writing sarcastic dragon fantasy—but even stuff that would be shelved elsewhere seems, at the core, to be crime fiction.

    Can’t seem to keep the humor out of there, though, or the wiseass dialogue—though I figure that’s just frustrated staircase wit.

  26. Details. I’m drawn to the subtle facial twitch, the stitching along the collar edge, the dog fur that matches the color of its owner’s beard, the soft voice gossiping at a the fais do-do. My writing first caught a teacher’s interest when ten-year-old me wrote about the grasshopper that hopped alongside my shoes during a trek home from school. Thankfully, I rein-in this habit well before the molecular level.

  27. The first person narrator. I don’t care how unreliable he/she is, that’s what I most love to read, and that’s what I write.

    Favorite novels? Sophie’s Choice, Night, A Thousand Acres, Bastard Out of Carolina, Cat’s Eye. All first person. Like sitting next to a friend on the porch swing while they tell you a great story about their life.

  28. I write a hell of a to-do list.

  29. I’m a cross-trainer. Before I struck out into the world we lived out on Shelter Island (N.Y.) and there was a retired English teacher, Ruth Klein, who used to take me sailing. She was instrumental in my turn to writing and her advice to practice multiple genres “because it all sticks to ribs” has guided me for years now in my cultivation of journalism, poetry, novel writing, blogging, screenwriting, and plays. It also makes it easier to survive. I have a friend in Madrid who is one of Spain’s top novelists, but he starves in between advance checks because he can’t write a news piece or feature article to tide him over.

  30. I started in poetry, moved to short stories, then to novels. Why did I write the novels? In retrospect, because I was working on a problem in my actual life. Now, for same reason, I’m writing non-fiction. I got stuck on the problem in my third novel,and it seems like non-fiction/blog/memoir/self-help is the way to work it out. I guess I have a symbiotic relationship to my writing.

  31. I always wanted to do it all–plays, short stories, poetry, whatever. If I had a street address for you, I’d send you a copy of my Gander book–20 poems that ape Mother Goose–they even rhyme!

  32. Novels. In reading and writing.

  33. Deeply autobiographical fiction.

  34. I refuse to accept that life can’t be held in stasis.

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