• 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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Words Can’t Bring Me Down



You all know by now that all I truly believe in is hard work. That the moments of serendipity, or grace, or “inspiration” are borne of hard work. Steady work. Daily writing and hopefully for a few hours each time you sit down. That great line, image, simile, active verb doesn’t drop out of the sky. I don’t believe in luck when it comes to writing. That said, there are those rare and beautiful moments when a perfect phrase just seems to appear, when the perfect cliff hanger ends a chapter, when a canny transition gets you out of tight corner. And it’s those moments that make the whole fucking thing worth it.

Tell me about your transcendence.

14 Responses

  1. It is as if someone else guides my hands. I read the words and wonder where the hell did they come from?
    But, when I read them out loud, when my voice gives the mix life and inflection and tone, the music of their perfection convinces me, that for a moment, I am brilliant.
    From the top of the ridge it makes wallowing in the swamp worth the the mud between my toes.

    Recalling the time my mother told me of her rape was one of those moments. They still take my breath away.

  2. I feel different when that moment comes. I’ve worked to get there—the early rise and artful, zennish focus, inhabiting the scene, moment, character—but that combination of cinematic with an expanding emotional space, the keen “rightness” of the phrase a moment ago tying into this here—and what it says to me, what it explains that I didn’t know I knew—the giddy surprise of fit—it gives me zizzy shivers. I confess being a hopeless addict to it. Coming so late in life to this kind of writing—I was first a technical writer and designer for decades—I never tire or feel blocked. It is the hardest work I have ever done but my true art, at last, so it is work I often do in a fever, as if a great ecstatic machine rumbled under ancient floorboards, the ka-lak-alak of Whitman’s typesetters at work in me, aligning lead into golden lines, o sooty pigment, o sacred compressidue of pulp.
    In editing my first long work I experienced that other kind of hard work, the kind that produces such pissy, pithy, aphoristic complaint. I understand what it means to remove thousands of words, to be a special kind of ruthless with one’s own earnest work. But to my surprise some of the most profound sensations of zizzy and thrill came during those rounds of polish and edit on the long work. I heard, saw, felt, whole sets of chapters fall into place with the finesse of a single phrase, and knew what I meant, for true, and knew exactly where to go, backward and forward in the text, what to adjust or remove, in order to fulfill that new phrase—and suddenly the book was right, the whole first half, the entire arc of a character emerged from the murk and beauty. The froth dried, the too-clever burnished away, so that the naked story was, as Merton called it, a trembling soul before me.
    It is knowing my duty to the reader to clarify in this way, but done right it is a surrender to art, one’s own and the shared and infinite space of art. The hoot across the divide to one another is heard at last because a sentence is more compact, and she pauses, and the part about the tree is gone, and the way she turns is the thing. The way she turns. Of course.

  3. It’s quite funny when it happens. I almost can’t believe when it does, but I recognize it as a moment and God forbid my husband walks in and asks a question. He’s gotten used to “the look.”

    What all writers know is those moments can happen often (to your point, Betsy) if one sits and writes – hopefully for hours – every day. It’s funny how our brains are wired. It reminds me of watching ants find their new route to a meal. They’re sporadic at first. Slow, searching, checking things out. Soon there’s a stream of them, all very productive and busy getting things to where they need to go.

    It works sort of like that – for me anyway. I’ll sit and peck. Peck, think, peck, peck. Then it’ll hit, and I’ll lay down a sentence that I somehow know is right. The One. And then I think, sh*t, I’ve got to do that a few more thousand times. Sit. Peck. Think. The cycle begins again.

    Writing is not for the tenderhearted.

  4. I’m too moody and chaotic to be one of those writers who writes for hours every day. I’ve tried over and over again. But I’ve become better at luring my subconscious out when I do manage to sit down. Once it comes to trust me, and I it, it’ll throw me the good stuff. Sometimes it’s just the right word here and there, other times it’ll take over. But it resists routine, goddammit.

  5. i write in short sentences. sometimes i think this is limiting, that it’s a form of quipping. i don’t know. i’m in doubt about my style lately. so every now and again i model my writing on a “longer-sentence” writer and, man, shit happens. the rhythm makes me dig deeper and by that i mean emotionally deeper. that’s transcendence for me. the emotional hum from a meaningful piece of writing. writing is hard.

  6. Walking, weed and the woods.
    If I remember to bring a pen and paper, all is well. Often I have to recite lines like a mantra so I can remember what’s easy to forget as I follow the path back home, alone,
    in a cloud
    in the woods.

  7. No, it’s . . . it’s work. It’s staying open for business. It’s not giving up. That’s the transcendence. It sometimes takes me years to get a piece to a finished place. Other times, not so long, but sometimes . . . sheesh. Glad I’ve lived long enough. I’m not a natural. Not as a fashioner of quality work. Spew I can do naturally. Writing something worth reading, worth remembering, that takes work. Takes time. Takes commitment. That’s where my transcendence comes from.

    Sometimes I’ll have a piece that just bugs me. I thought it was pretty good but later I’ll see that it’s maybe not so good, and it needs something. What does it need? It has the seed, right? I mean, it has something, there’s something there in its core, its kernel, its germ. It won’t let go of me. I don’t know what it is, but I know there’s something there. I don’t know how to bring it out. It’s an obscure object. I can’t see it, but it’s there. How do I find it? How do I let it find me? How do I get out of its way and shape its passage so it can be in the world, apart from me, in one way sprung from me while in another way existing always, from before it became, independent of me and sufficient unto itself?

    The dancer dances the dance until the dance dances the dancer. That’s the transcendence. You have to be there for it, for it to happen. You have to be there when it’s not there so that you are there when it is there.

  8. I just had one of those, and it came from listening to my character. She was in a room full of people, behaving herself. I thought the scene would end with a quiet, interior revelation. But she spoke. And out came the F word, in a completely inappropriate setting. It stunned me. It stunned the characters. It was perfect, and it felt like victory.

    The next day I rewrote the whole damned scene, of course, but that line stayed.

  9. Work is the catalyst. Work. Work. Work. Legs curled under the knees and the back hunched in the chair by the scawny desk and the blank screen taunts at first, taunts and then invites. MInutes morph into faceless chunks of timelessness and one’s ego disappears into a beautiful oblivion and then discovery happens, and then a satisfaction of a sort. There’s something tangible now. To work with. Or disassemble. Or resculpt. Or discard. Or maybe it’s just right.


    Something spontaneous happens in the depths of a walk, or the confluence of thoughts in the night, and a word appears as unexpected as skywriting. Just floats there. Here I am. This is what you’ve been searching for. This is the word. Catch me! Savor me!
    But ultimately, its the subconscious still at work. Work=word.

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