THE FOREST FOR THE TREES is about writing, publishing and what makes writers tick. This blog is dedicated to the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gather here. I post less frequently now, but hopefully with as much vitriol. Please join in! Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives.

    If I’ve learned one thing about writers, it’s this: we really are all alone. Thanks for reading. Love, Betsy

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Girl, Girl, Girl, Girl

I have about sixty diaries from 1976 to the present. They all are variations on a theme: I hate myself, I hate my body, I hate my friends, I hate my shrink. I’m depressed, blue, melancholy, lonely, lonely, lonely. There are the requisite injunctions: write every day, lose weight, accept people for who they are! There are the requisite recriminations: be better, nicer, kinder. Exercise! Meet new people (to hate), send out poems. Go to a poetry reading! I wrote in cafes, on trains, in parks. Mostly I wrote in bed at night in the pre-scrolling era. Smoked and wrote in a steady drumbeat of remorse and complaints. Now, I’m faced with a question: to shred or not to shred.

What do you do with your old diaries?

I Can Never Leave the Past Behind

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Someone once described writing a novel like walking into a forest. At first, it’s a fun adventure, then you get completely lost and have no idea where you’re going, and if you’re lucky you get out alive. Whatever you want to call it, the light at the end of the tunnel, the darkness before the dawn, the serial killer sitting beside you, it’s so fucking hard to write a book. I’ve been midwife, doula, nursemaid. I’ve been personal coach, personal trainer, armchair shrink. I’ve gotten writers into rehab, into therapy, into jobs and relationships. It’s this monster of a thing and it doesn’t even matter how many times you’ve done it. It’s like holding the phone book in your head, or juggling with organs, or biting the head off a monkey. All who enter beware. Okay, it’s not that bad. It’s just a slog and a half.

Where are you in your project?

I Caught You Knocking at My Cellar Door

People keep asking me if I’ve gotten vaccinated. Do I look like I’m 70? Jesus H. I’m sixty, people, but still a child at heart. Still I child in so many ways. Or perhaps more accurately, childish. Or immature. Or let’s just say it: obnoxious. So now, here we are, the sixty-somethings are teed-up for the vac. Where’s my AARP card? Where’s my Depends? Where’s by senior citizen discount. Arm, meet needle. Here is my fear. My fear is that having been at home for 11 months that I have a little Stockholm Syndrome mixed with my natural desire to say in my office at my desk staring at a screen that is destroying my one good eye. I was afraid of dinner parties before now. I don’t like to socialize. I’m happiest on my two hour train ride into NYC and I’m not doing that for a while. I’m happiest in a movie and until they make a mask where you can shove popcorn into your face, that isn’t happening. I will get vaccinated, but I wonder if I’ll be able to step outside.

Did you get it?

The First Thing I Met Was a Fly With a Buzz

I know it’s February. I know it’s Covid. But you can’t keep asking me if you should quit writing your book. Of course you should. Er, um, I mean of course you shouldn’t. I mean what’s it to you? Literally, what is it to you? Should you quit caffeine, sloe gin fizzes, on-line masturbation, toe surgery, gluten (I’m still waiting for a satisfying definition of gluten and why some people don’t eat it). Should you quit shaving your pits? Quit giving bad advice? Quit thinking how much you hate other people. I mean what can you give up? We all know one thing, we pencil pushers, no one give a shit. No one. Maybe your mommy. Your work is a pile of sand in the desert, if that. Please don’t quit! Really? It’s like breaking up with someone who isn’t there. (God, I’ve done that enough times.) You have to will it into being. You have to water it. You have to stay handcuffed to the basement pipe and write the fuck into the night. Should you quit? Maybe the question is should you have ever started. You’re a writer. You can’t quit.

Are you a quitter?

We Know That There’s Always Tomorrow

I think the usual feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair that are the writer’s toolkit are exacerbated by Covid-19. My writers are developing new symptoms including rashes, impulsiveness, excessive weight gain, loss, nail and cuticle biting, skin peeling, zit squeezing, and a marked loss of table manners. Writers are sending me pictures of cookies they’ve baked, pasta with a flourish of parsley, empty ice cream containers, a phalanx of dust bunnies with ten LOL’s attached. Some people are drinking a whole lot. I hate the way some men say the word “bourbon” as if they are about to mount a Palomino or castrate a bull. Some clients have taken to calling, emailing and texting JUST IN CASE. People are not getting dressed. Not grooming. Not sleeping without sleeping aids. Define sleeping aid. And fucking around with their meds. I, too, am tired. The silken white parachute goes up and we all run underneath and laugh like god had his arms around us.

Are you going to be okay?

You Came and You Gave Without Taking

Is god in the details? Do writers see more than other people? Are you more sensitive, more attuned? Do you have a thin skin? Do you dream about people and they appear the next day with cherry pie? Do you think of a friend and suddenly she calls, out of the clear? Did you leave the number of a psychiatrist in your black cashmere coat? Or find a rock with a ring around it? Why do you need to write things down? Why do you act more needy than you are? Why do think you’re different? Did you fold a poem into a book of poems from a young man who lied to you? Are you a writer or a shed?

Do you think you’re better than other people?

The Land of the Brave and the Home of the Free

Everyone does it, though people still deny it. I’m talking about skimming and you know who you are. Is it a nasty habit, a survival strategy, a lost art? I didn’t start skimming until much later in life. I know I run my mouth a lot, but I’m a goody two shoes and skimming always seemed, well, wrong. I’ve always been convinced that I would miss the most important plot point or insight into the main character’s motivation. Colonel Mustard with the wrench. Skimming FOMO. Plus, retention has never been my strong suit, and I still sound out words when I read which also makes skimming difficult. I guess the question is why do you read? How do you read? What do you read for? My mother believed skimming was a war crime.

When do you skim? Come clean. This is a safe space. LOL

We’re Only Dancing on this Earth for a Short While

We are living on the edge. We are riding on the rails. The nails are loose. The roof blew. How can you run when you know? I was a Watergate baby. Deep throat and wire taps. The spiders from Mars. Last tango. So moist and creamy. Four dead in Ohio. Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold. The world he left behind not so long ago. I bet you squeal like a pig. Here’s the story of a lovely lady. I like the moment I break a man’s ego. The lovers cried and the poets dreamed. Not a word was spoken the church bells all were broken.

Got any favorite 1970’s references?

I Hate Myself For Loving You

I’ve been trying to work up my annual hate list, but I keep hitting a wall. I think this year has been too devastating to dick around. I definitely hate it when I get caught masturbating on Zoom. And I hate it when everyone uses the word “drop” to mean released, such as Taylor Swift dropped her new album. I hate the deep divisions in our country, I hate the virus that is ravaging the nation, I hate that people can’t be with their loved ones when they die, and that too many are dying and dying alone. I hate that bookstores are shuttering. And I hate the word shuttering for closing. I hate that a house has fallen on us. I hate that the year of perfect vision became a blur of pain and suffering. I hate that I still hate myself. But there it is.

What I really want to say is that I love all of you who show up and leave your sleekness on the blog after all these years. I wish you a healthy healthy healthy new year. Please never stop writing. How else will hold each other up?

And if you feel like it, tell me what you hate. My misery loves your company.

Will You Still Need Me?

I wrote every day until I was thirty, or almost every day, in diaries. I’ve saved every letter I’ve received and most ticket stubs and assorted clippings. I’ve always hoped that I would sit on the front porch of a nursing home in Pennsylvania or upstate New York and read it all and chain smoke.

Anyone else have late life plans?