Archive | May, 2013

No New Friends

13 May

A long time ago, when I worked as a reporter for People magazine I had a co-worker, Leah, who used to say that her Rolodex was full. For those of you who don’t remember life before Smart Phones, a Rolodex is where we used to keep our contacts. What Leah meant was that she was at her maximum friend capacity and wasn’t interested in expansion. I took her comment as a joke, but she wasn’t joking.

It’s taken my a while, but I’m there now. There are my intimates–real friends and then there are lots of other people who I just like: my dog friends, mommy friends, couple friends, writer friends. There isn’t enough time to attend to all of these relationships, much less new friendships.

A few of the old ones friends, the too needy, too angry and too clueless about their issues, have had to be cleared from the hard drive. I hate feeling like I’m cutting people off, but it becomes about being a friend to me. Another former colleague, Jill, used to say that she wouldn’t be friends with any one who hadn’t been in therapy. Amen.

We’re all crazy in our own way. I just need you to deal with your crazy because I deal with mine. For those who don’t and just want to drop all their crazy on me makes me feel like I have a neighbor who continues to throw his dog poop on my lawn. You gotta deal with your own poop. If you poop on my lawn it’s fine, but after a while it’s too much.

Last week I ran into a woman with whom I’d been friendly with for the last five or six years. A dog group friend. I like her and we’ve had good conversations over the years, as have all of us in the group. I hadn’t seen her since her surgery and had been meaning to drop her a note, stop by, call, something, but I just didn’t get around to it. Each time it ran across my mind, the thought would get caught between 10,000 other shoulds, ought tos or gottas. When I ran into her the other day, she was a little chilly. I felt a little bad, but I had to acknowledge, I just can’t give to everybody who I like.

Another woman, whom I am sister-mother friends with, said the other day that we all have lots of balls in the air.

“Some are rubber balls and some are glass. We just can’t drop the glass ones, the rubber ones we can let fall.”

My glass balls are my husband, two children, my elderly father and two friends; several other intimate girlfriends are plexiglass, sometimes they  hit the floor but the thing about the intimates is that they don’t complain if a phone call doesn’t get returned asap or a dinner gets cancelled. Real friends understand each others heart and treat it gently.  Cliff used to  always tell Baldwin, real friends make you feel good.

I’m genuinely interested in different kinds of people. I like to know what makes folk go–especially people who follow their own path, but even the ones who seem tight and traditional, I often find that they are not what they appear to be.  I love making that discovery.

My husband, daughter and my friend Eleanore, an introvert, love teasing me about how I will ask someone I’ve just met a hundred questions. I like to think that people simply feel comfortable opening up to me.

What I don’t do anymore is pursue or allow myself to be pursued by a new interesting person for coffee, lunch or a drink. If they suggest it, I nicely, sometimes, awkwardly, decline;  there’s always something else I’m committed to even if it’s just puttering in the house, staring or indulging in my favorite sweet idle time.

But I am having lunch on Wednesday with a French woman I recently met a luncheon. Sometimes, I guess, you can squeeze in one new person. It is just lunch and I have a feeling her Rolodex is also full.

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Tell the Truth and use the shit

9 May

I teach writing at Ramapo College and yesterday was our last class of the semester. While I enjoy my students, most of them, I do not like that the things that I think are important to know about writing I have a hard time imprinting on them. I tell them repeatedly that writing is re-writing and that it’s about paying attention, about telling the truth, about ignoring the inner critic, which is usually appears in the form of mother, father or priest.

This semester I decided to build in lots more time for them to rewrite their stories. To force them to re-write. I wanted them to see how much better their work would become by doing so. For the most part, they resisted.  I quote dozens of other writers who say this and mostly the students nod and tell me they’ve heard the same thing every semester from every other writing professor. Still they resist.

One student last semester even told me that he thought re-writing was old school.

I know I gave him a dirty look and I’m sure said something like: You’re simply wrong.

One of my favorite books on writing is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. (Only a few of my students share my enthusiasm for it.) She talks a lot of the zen of writing.

These are the passages that I read to them, that I want them to take away.

When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or he life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted…

She continues:

Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you…If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work…write toward vulnerability. Don’ worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. 

I love this book, this passage, because it resonates with me. I teach from two other text booky type books for exercises and such, but for me, I think writing is about getting what’s cramped up inside out and so much of it is not about technique and vocabulary–it’s about what Anne is saying–it’s about telling the truth as you see it, about bearing your heart, it’s about being fearless.

It’s about knowing shit happens in life and if you’re a writer, that the shit is material.

Losing Everything

9 May

I exaggerate.

I don’t mean that I’ve lost everything, I lost everything on my computer two weeks and two days ago. My computer’s hard drive collapsed, broke, fell apart, stopped working. Everything that I’ve written over the last six or seven years is on that hard drive. Did I have a backup? Really, do you have to ask that? I’m so barely computer literate that I thought I was backing up because I was hitting the save button; also I have something called a Time Capsule, which an Apple guy sold me over the phone years ago, assuring me that the capsule would save everything. I thought all I had to do was plug it in.

So, now I’m coming out of my mourning period and getting over the idea that a) I can’t afford the thousands to reconstruct the hard drive and b) I don’t even remember all of what was on it.

I’m moving forward. I’m going to use my first generation iPad when the keyboard that I just ordered arrives and eventually I’ll haul myself back to an Apple store and buy a new laptop and a backup whatever that thing is called.

The good news is that I’d emailed my book to my agent, Faith, months ago. The REALLY GOOD NEWS is that the book has been sold. Welcome to My Breakdown will be published by Atria Books in May 2014.

I’d gotten the news about my book and about Baldwin getting accepted to Sarah Lawrence within the same week. It was a great three days.

Then I got sick and lost my voice for a week, we got hit with a giant tax bill, dropped…nope, I’m not going to start enumerating here for fear of tempting some Murphy’s Law god to come back around to pay me another visit, or three.

I’m really just telling you all this computer stuff as a way of explaining why I haven’t been blogging.

Keep checking though. I’m borrowing Baldwin’s laptop for the few moments she lets me pry it out of her hands.

Soon I’ll be up and running again, this time with a backup.