• Archives

I Love All the Things You Say and Do

Just want to mention that I spent four hours in Temple and forgot to atone. Spent the entire time thinking about writing, my writing, the writing of others, the cover of the NYT book review, a new client I shook hands with, the way my eyes feel most of the time which is dry and achy and sometimes slightly pulsing. The lady in front of me had a lace doily folded in the shape of a piece of pie and pinned to her head with a bobby pin. But it came loose and the pleats on the doily were hanging precariously off her head, the bobby pin also hanging on for dear life. Really, pray for my sins and pray for the dead with all that going on? Please, ladies, attend to your doilies! I beg of you.

What distracts you from yourself?

But When You Talk About Destruction

Did you finish your memoir, your novel, one lousy stinking poem? Did you read War and Peace? Rescue a dog? Yourself? Did you jump on the Yonana craze? Lose a notebook with all of your best work? Did you pick peaches? Fuck your wife? Fuck up your life? Did you take up cycling? Wonder why you couldn’t write. Did you talk to a woman at the farm stand? Was your family trapped by a rabid raccoon who attacked your dog and bit off half your finger? Did you think about everyone who died? Did you imagine their airless life? Did you give money to the guy at the entrance to the highway because his sign said he was hungry and for once you felt more compassion than fear? What does it take to write the sentences of your life? To live inside the mole hole? And come out with that grin on your stupid dirty face.

What did you do on your summer vacation?

Just Give Me a Reason Just A Little Bit’s Enough

Dear Insane People Who Write: Why do you like being dangled by your feet from the twentieth floor of a down-on-its-heels Marriott in a bankrupt city? Why do you like the feeling of your eyes being peeled back like the film inside a hard boiled egg? Was it worth removing your baby toe? Or turning a pimple into a mole?  Yes, I’m back for more Immodium; what’s it to you? Yes, I take sleep aids.  So what if you find me walking down a dark street in my nightgown? It was just a dream that lasted seven months and then I awoke. Why do you torture yourself unnecessarily, my father used to ask. Because necessary torture is for lightweights? You can no longer remember the name of the first boy you fucked. Or what you paid for your first house. If you had chicken or prime rib at your own wedding.  Why do you like to get punched in the face, apart, of course, from being a writer?

Got milk?

I Thought That I Heard You Sing

The other day I read a quote in the NYT that stopped me. It was from William Zinsser, who wrote the classic “On Writing Well.” He’s nearly blind at 90 and still coaches students, who read their work aloud to him. “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not,” Mr. Zinsser says. I totally get that. I mean I hear everything I read. Am I being too literal? I think it’s a profound observation about reading. And, by the way, still having the interest and stamina to help writers at 90. That’s just crazy for loco. God bless you, Mr. Zinsser.

What do you read with?

I’m Ready For To Fade

Can writing be taught? Can lovemaking be taught? Forget lovemaking. Can you teach someone how to kiss? How to stand on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 44th Street and to all the world appear as if you are not contemplating the curb and its elegant heel. Can you teach someone how to properly sponge around the faucet when you finish the dinner dishes? Can you teach someone to appreciate sleep? To understand the perfect weight of a heavy head meeting a soft pillow, the body forgetting itself, a cotton nightgown swimming up? Can you teach someone to punctuate? Probably. Can you spell hopeless? Can you teach someone to write funny? To cook a perfect hard boiled egg so that the shell comes off in two perfect cracks. Can you teach someone how to cry, softly at first, and then in rivulets like rain down a Texan window. What about cliche? Can you teach it, beat, eat it, fuck it? Can you teach someone how to make something satisfying, to withhold your tongue for as long as possible?

What can be taught?

Just A Memory Without Anywhere to Stay

Got another query letter from prison today. It comes stamped on the back with a notice about what to do if you are receiving unwanted correspondence from an inmate. This particular prisoner quoted some of the best bits in The Forest For The Trees to impress upon me why I might like his work. Many writers have done this, but when it comes from the incarcerated it is unbelievably touching and a little scary. The letter was also hand written in the neatest imaginable block letters. Maybe I’ve seen Dead Man Walking too many times, but it amazes me to think that my book has found its way into a prison and a person there who wants or needs to write connected with it. I once read that a prisoner who was denied pencil and paper wrote sentences on the roof of his mouth with his tongue.

Did everybody write today? And if not, why not?


All You Need is Love

I want to talk about being selfish, about being a selfish bastard, about boundaries and limits and the hard bark of an elm tree. I want to talk about waking up in a cold, empty house. Outside, gnarled gray branches electrified the sky. The plan is to work all day. Reading Poets & Writers to procrastinate, you see the face of a poet you once loved, followed to Baltimore; a failure in courage when you didn’t say hello. Later, a fruitless trip to Staples, forgetting the kind of toner you need, standing in the aisle like Ruth amid the alien corn. Can I help you, ma’am? Yes, dear man. Can you cover my body in toner and set it on fire? I spent the vacation writing. Writing!

I was hoping to do something new with the blog this year, to be positive and affirming and full of love, but I can’t. I can’t. I can’t and I won’t. Resolution: eat shit and die.

And your resolution? Whatcha got?

Either Love Me Or Leave Me Alone

Let’s talk about a subject near and dear to my gall bladder. The way writers talk about their own work. Often they tell me that they think their work is good, quickly followed by a caveat, “but what do I know,” or ” but you’ll tell me.”  Some will go out on a limb and tell me that they think they are better than Franzen or (insert the name of the author about whom you are most envious). Other writers tell you their work is crap, shit, etc., and you are meant to rush in like a wave and banish that thought. Though some, even highly decorated writers, do believe their work is crap, and it is a sign of mental illness. I love it when someone says they are not great, but they are good. And we are meant to understand that good, in this context, is somehow better than great, somehow more real, more honest. “I’m not saying I’m the best,” means “I’m the best.”  “I don’t care if I win a Pulitzer” means “give me a god damn Pulitzer.”

I think how you feel about your work is an extension of how you feel about yourself. Does this make sense or am I blowing more Lerner smoke? Better yet: tell us how do you feel about your work?

Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?

This is a post about something very difficult to come to grips with that no one likes to talk about — it’s about hitting the wall. And by that I mean when you are stuck, whether you’re crashing into the wall or the wall is crashing into you. I’m not talking about a bad day or even a few months of writer’s block. I’m not talking about a string of rejections or seeing your book on the remainder table where no one wants it, even for $5.99. What I’m talking about is something deeper and more terrifying. It’s when you realize you’ve been writing the same book over and over. Or when you can no longer stand writing in the register you’ve been writing in and don’t know how to get out.  This isn’t a slump, a bad patch, a bush-league case of writer’s block or stage fright. This isn’t about not being able to come up with a new idea. This is bad. It’s when you understand the limits of your imagination, intellect, creativity, skill, or drive. It’s when you no longer know when you’re faking it; when you’ve succeeded at fooling yourself. I’ve seen it in writers over the years. You can’t say anything. It would be cruel, like waking a sleepwalker. You know the writer is in agony even if he can’t admit it to himself, even if he’s on the couch five days a week, it’s almost impossible to admit.

What I want to know is: have you  hit the wall and what did you do?

Don’t You Ever Ask Them Why

I’ve  always been turned off by people who say they can’t write certain things until their parents die. Does that mean they go around hoping for mom and dad to choke on a pecan at Thanksgiving? I don’t think you can hijack your writing for the sake of people’s feelings. And who are you really protecting? And I’m not just talking about confessional or autobiographical writing. All writing has something at stake, or should, in my humble. You don’t have to engage in character assassination, or pen a Mommy Dearest, but you have to take me there. I want a manuscript to take me somewhere I’ve never been, or somewhere I’ve been a million times and show me something new. I don’t like polite writing, polite conversation, or conversation about weather. I want a writer to be fearless because I’m a pussy.

Who are you protecting?