Today is a good day. I’ve been alone all day and right now I’m eating blueberry cake I made myself a few nights ago, and I’m listening to Patty Griffin and emailing my accountant. He asked me to “remit” payment but I never got the bill. “That would help,” he said so I won that round. I don’t often win with these men, these mathematically-inclined husbands and fathers of people I know, though in certain moods I can’t help but try.
Earlier today, before the cake, I climbed out the kitchen window into the backyard and stared at our plants growing. I touched the peas and cupped the tomatoes (heh) and picked a few flowers and put them in a vase, knowing I’d get reprimanded for it later tonight but not really caring. Flowers die and I want to bring them inside where I can look at them up close before they do that.
I wrote for at least a few hours and there were moments where I felt like I was onto something so good I had to get up and walk away. This happens once in awhile, though of course I wish it did more. I switch tabs or get water, I get too excited to concentrate. I should learn to ride it out. Today I felt so good about a transition I got dizzy and walked into the kitchen and started crying a little bit. Then I realized it was around 2:30 and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, which sort of explained the crying over sentences. So I warmed up leftover soup, soup that made me feel like the most prepared person in the fucking world though I didn’t even make it. I plugged in my computer at the table and probably ruined whatever I was doing but will go back and fix it later. (Then mess something else up, then fix it, then mess it up, and never finish anything, forever and ever amen.)
So that’s how things are.
Oh, and this thing I helped with is up and running today. It’s a sort of universal style guide for the internet. Anyone can add their own writerly or grammatical pet peeves — words and phrases that are commonly misused or jargon or just annoying. Then you can scan in your own writing (or, ahem, someone else’s) to check it against the style guide(s). It’s potentially useful, and fun. Or at least I had a lot of fun writing for it, spending hours and hours coming up with pithy little reasons you shouldn’t use “synergy” and whatever else.
It was nice to help someone with something in this small but significant and measurable way. Nice to use my brain and be met with gratitude and then be done. So this is what work is for some people! I can barely fathom it.
Anyway you should mess around with it. It will certainly be more of a thing down the road but it still works as-is.
This video makes me cry. I suspect for most women it touches a nerve. There’s something visceral to the refrain, something innate and familiar and true. “Let her speak.” Maybe because those words are words that have been repeated in our heads in countless boardrooms and classrooms and town halls and dinner parties. A quiet, inner chant to soothe us. An angry thought turned over and over as our blood boils. “Let her speak.” The thing we wish we would have said, or tried to keep ourselves from yelling, or maybe finally just blurted out and then were met with blank stares — all screaming now, together. Finally.
And to see that good ol’ boy motherfucker raise his gavel and then put it down, knowing better than to try, makes me grateful and emotional and proud. I feel relieved.
HA. I love the ridiculousness of this tweet. I mean in a way it’s completely unremarkable and standard trolling fare, we barely notice it. And the review is interesting (and, it’s worth noting, never once uses the word “against”). I like Alice Munro but certainly have never sat down and read all of her work at once, or interrogated it too much. I can imagine its potential to be tiresome, and understand the (relative) value of examining work that is deemed “unquestionably good” or whatever it is. (Speaking of: I’m reading Leaving the Atocha Station right now and I want to punch it in the face. Shut up already! Grow a spine! Stop whining! I hate this book, and yes, I hate this “unlikeable character.”)
But anyway, I love the underlying notion of this tweet, the bald-faced sincerity of it, that purporting to put work out into the world is entering into an argument w the reader over the worthiness of your work. As if when you publish work people are either for you or against you, and this critic has decided he is “against Alice Munro.” I don’t think he ever says that in this tweet, who knows who constructed this tweet, I’m sure people say this all of the time. But it is beautifully absurd, or lazy, or honest. Meet Alice Munro and her entire body of work, a big question mark standing before you, a shrugging of the shoulders, asking you what you think. “Are you for us or against us? Please tweet your answer!”
Ha, actually that sounds pretty right on. Maybe this is less reductive than a distillation.
I’ve been having a recurring dream, where I go into the office, sit at my desk, and start working. No one says anything to me, and I think nothing of it. I notice after awhile that most everyone is avoiding me, and if I speak directly to them they answer very delicately. In last night’s dream, it wasn’t until I was standing up at my desk and trying to corral people into going to get lunch with me, that I realized I didn’t work there anymore. I had left weeks ago but had forgotten, and by force of habit, through the near unconscious following of routine, I ended up back there at my desk.
In the dream, and now, I am struck by how sad this makes me, how I cringe at the thought of it. The thought of being a fool, of not belonging.
It is strange after all this time to not belong to something. I haven’t learned to not say, “we” when I refer to the company. I imagine people laughing at me in their heads when I do this. “She just can’t let go.” As if people care at all. I quickly correct myself. “They” or “you.” When we were a little bit drunk in the middle of the day over the weekend, I accidentally referred to D’s dad as “dad” instead of Will. IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. Which is hilarious but recounting it now makes me want to scream. But there was that same split second — that beat between the misnomer and the possibility for correction when you do a panicked calculation: does correcting the mistake only bring to it more attention? But you cant resist it.
"We, uh, they…" "The look on Dad’s face — uh, WILL! WILL!"
How embarrassing it is to sit here, my brain subconsciously tugging me back toward safety.
The strangest thing lately is the time between things when I am deciding what to do next. I don’t mean on any grand scale, oh god. I mean in the smallest way, just the order of things (on many levels). I chant soothing things to myself as I go about my day now, small pep talks that go over and over how I would like to go through my day. “Okay now you will get up. Okay, or in a minute you will get up. You’ll get up and put on shoes and go to the coffee shop. Just go get a coffee. Bring a book. It’s okay, you don’t have to write anything.” Then I’ll go to the coffee shop and I’ll write my daily entry on 750words.com and I’ll get antsy and anxious and then I’ll say Okay you’re (we’re?) going to go home and make lunch and you’ll make this and that and then you’ll go to yoga. After yoga you will read in the park if it’s nice and then you will come home when you get sick of it and you’ll clean the kitchen and take a shower.” I’ll have my daily smallish thing I want to get done around the house and I will tell myself it’s okay if I don’t do it. I tell myself that if I write my words and go to yoga or go for a run that’s good enough. That is enough. And I take the next step and sometimes, after the shower or between places I’ll sit on the bed not knowing what to do next. I will walk over to the closet to put on shoes then stand still there not knowing where I should go. I stand there with my hands clasped in front of me (my “nun hands” as D calls them — a sure sign of discomfort) and I’ll walk back over to my computer, half lying in bed, propped up on an elbow and I’ll tab back and forth in a panic, and get distracted by something, and time will go by and I’ll notice and then stand up and pace around not knowing what I should do. The post office, a museum, the gym. This is probably when I should be writing. When the pacing sets in I should be sitting down to write. Running abates the anxiety — I come home and feel new and spring into action — cooking, the dishes, putting clothes away. But then I get back to where I was.
It was Dustin’s birthday this weekend so we went camping at a hike-in place. That’s the sort of thing he loves. It’s funny because sure I went camping a few times as a kid, for family reunions on the cheap and Girl Scouts and the like. I have some fond memories I guess but most of the memories involve scary walks in the middle of the night to go pee. This weekend of course was no different. I got what I think might be the worst night of sleep in my life. I sleep pretty well as a rule but still. I heard people unzipping our tent probably five times. I peed twice, not knowing where to flash my flashlight while I was doing it, because I damn well wasn’t going to turn it off.
Peeing outside though, while terrifying, remains a huge thrill. I guess that’s like any transgressive act. You approach the boundary and having this running thought about how this is not something people do and you are not “allowed” to do it and then you yank down your pants and everything is fine — thrilling even. You might have a little urine on your leg or in your shoes, but freed of the burden of having to pee and freed of the fear that you’ll get in trouble, it’s no doubt worth the price of admission.
We had so much fun this weekend. How to say that so it’s not so banal. We went for the five-hour hike but somewhere mid-downpour we missed a turnoff and never got back on the red trail. We laughed and laughed, marching through the rain, completely soaked through, stomping in the mud and staring at rocks and rocks and rocks, trying not to slip, imagining all of our heads hitting rocks and ankles twisting, estimating how long it would take to get one of us out there. My anxiety gave way to waves of euphoria and calm (they sort of feel the same to me at this point) and there was not much to say but, “wow.” Part of why, or how, Dustin and I love each other, how we manage to entwine our lives so effortlessly, (okay maybe “effortlessly” is a misnomer/fate tempter, but I mean to say it works, despite ourselves) I think, is that we both love to be quiet. We joked with his dad and sister on and off and Dustin led us and cheered us on again and again, but for long stretches we just quietly followed each other, punctuated only by my sharp stops, staring at wet rocks and trying to devise a way through. We found a pattern wordlessly, him going ahead of behind me, whichever way I needed, and putting out a hand. I don’t know why I freeze up so much, or if it’s tied in some way to my personality, if that is ‘the kind of person I am,’ or if it’s just that I’m afraid to die on a hike, but no one let me get far, or hang back.
When we went the wrong way for over an hour and ended up at the bottom of the mountain nowhere near our camp, we all just stood there in the rain in disbelief. We searched each others’ faces for a clue as to what the other person wanted, at the edge of four different losing-it’s. We walked into town and sat on the sidewalk of some neighborhood and ate pistachios. Somewhere in the middle of that the sun came out. Dustin threw his shells down the drain of a gutter. I hid mine in my pocket. His dad called a cab while cars slowed down at the stop sign and we looked the other way and looked for any dry spots on any parts of our body. We closed our eyes in the sun and laughed a little and were mad we didn’t finish. Dustin turned around, pointed to the mountain we just came down from and said, “Hey! We just climbed to the top of that thing and down from it, for no reason whatsoever!” It was a really weird thought. I laughed despite myself, impatient for this cab, who would drive us to the right spot and let us out so we could climb back up the fucking thing again, but from a different angle. We finally made it, though. I strung a happy birthday banner up and we put on party hats while Dustin was off buying bug spray. Arranging our campsite just so, surrounded by trees, made us feel calm and proud and together and powerful. What did we climb the mountain for, if not that.
“I regard novel-writing with a heady combination of awe and dread, so when debut novelist Ted Thompson wrote about his book’s eight (eight!) year journey to completion last week, I opened it in a tab and walked away from my desk immediately. ‘The Evolution of a First Novel’ is as fascinating as it is generous, and takes us along as his book about a retired Connecticut divorcee went from plausible deniability, to short story, to MFA application, to self-doubt, despair, long dog walks, and longer grant applications. The story ends as all real stories should, with an air of peaceful resignation and a book deal. The people mentioned (Thompson most of all, I suppose) seem to be from a bygone literary era, but aren’t—or so we’ll keep hoping. I took from it what is either a reminder, a threat, or a revelation, depending: that people will forgive you when you get in your own way, and make way for you when you get out of it.
Okay my bio looks a little more sad than funny here — but if you haven’t already, check out Ted’s post about his novel, which Longreads let me blurb for their newsletter.