The Bird

Yesterday I got a tattoo. It’s bright and elaborate and it’s right there on my forearm: a bird stringing beads as I do with words, beads escaping the ends of the string but ready to be picked back up and eventually restrung. The bird is masked, and there are three rhododendron blossoms, which, according to the farmers almanac, indicate a warning. One which that fierce little bird is clearly disregarding.

It’s hard to explain why this tattoo was important to me. Maybe it’s part of an ongoing search for identity. Maybe it was just for fun, or an indication of a midlife crisis. Maybe I wanted something to regret, or brag about, or hide. It’s not an accident that I’m keeping it up my sleeve.

After I got home late last night, my arm sore and beginning to swell, I lay in bed a long time thinking about what it felt like to cross this arbitrary divide. I felt unfamiliar to myself. I mourned my virgin skin. I wondered what it will be like to talk about my tattoo while it’s new, and what it will look like later when my skin begins to loosen, how the beautiful colors will fade and crease like fabric—and how that will be okay, because I have decided to make this artwork a part of my life experience and that includes the mixed emotions art tends to generate. I want to accept other people’s opinions on my appearance the way I’m learning to accept them on the stuff I write and publish. I like the complication, the mixed emotions. I think it’s healthy to continue to surprise yourself as time goes by.

The tattooer, who played a raunchy podcast for almost the entire four hours I spent with him, said we all should die at forty. But I am forty-five. And by god, I want to live.

How do you surprise yourself?

Plenty

My husband and I took a drive along the Sound this weekend. Today is our 13th anniversary, so to celebrate we got a room in Silverdale and spent a couple of days together, exploring the area and getting silly. It always feels festive to me when the leaves brighten and explode all over the sidewalks, when the tea roses surprise us with a final bloom and the geese start in with the party horns from far overhead. Everywhere we went this weekend felt like exactly where I wanted to be.

Now, home again, I’m in a nest-fluffing mood. I’ve got plans to reorganize my office, corral my wayward shoes, dig out the pantry and see what the hell is actually in there. I went vegan over four months ago, so my staple items tend toward dried chickpeas and farro and French lentils, with a small metropolis of canned tomatoes, beans, and coconut milk jammed together on the shelves. I’ve also been gathering recipe books:

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97815692426439781607746478Those first three are the most splattered and annotated in my kitchen. It seems like I’ve always got one spread open on the counter, ready to guide me dinnerward. The holiday book arrived recently and hasn’t gotten the full-on drippy spoon treatment, but judging by the contents I’d say it’ll be a little worse for wear by the time January rolls around.

Actually, I have more cookbooks in my collection than novels. I like the kind with pictures: the artfully arranged crumbscape, the cutlery placed just so. (Veganomicon, sadly, has only a few photos wedged into the middle, and these are poorly lit and unappetizing; it’s a testament to the authors that I can overlook this fatal flaw and love the cookbook anyway.) It’s wonderful to look through a new collection of recipes and be so eager to try them that you don’t know where to start, or to happen upon a stew or curry recipe that will use up both the leftover butternut squash and those four enormous leaves of kale abandoned at the bottom of the produce drawer. I like the homeyness of cooking and the generosity; I like placing a bowl of something yummy in front of someone I love. Cooking makes me feel connected, nourished, creative, alive. And grateful, at the end of the day when gratitude tends to elude, for having plenty.

What was on the table at your last meal?

Traffic Jam

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media these days. All the different avenues we take to reach one another, all the winding, twittery roads. The pins and pages and blogs and links. We’re all looking for ways to connect—and for people with something to sell, I suppose we’re looking for buyers. Isn’t that the point, underneath it all? We’re supposed to build a platform that will raise us above the crowd and the noise of all that traffic, and to do that we need to have something to say as well as the charm and wit to deliver a nonstop patter of observance and self-deprecation, with just enough bitchiness to endear us to the crowd. That’s how you get it done. That’s the golden ticket.

What’s harder to accept is the fact that social media requires a particular skill-set (mindset?) that few writers possess. It’s not a matter of willingness. God knows, if I were as charming as Chuck Wendig, I’d never stop talking. I’d be here, there, and everywhere, thrilled with my own ability to inspire the emoticon. I really would. But what I am is a surly, darkish chick who spends five days out of seven in an office, who has three kids in the house and a hell of a lot of shit to get done in a limited amount of time. Writing books takes up most of it. And writing for me is such a solitary, untweetable occupation that it seems to eat up both the desire to communicate and the raw material that would give me anything interesting to say.

Maybe we writers need to give ourselves a break. I realize the current wisdom holds that you must engage with social media if you’ve got a book to sell. But does a lackluster presence really help? Can internet adorability be taught? Or could it be that the noise is too loud, the avenues too crowded, that if you lack navigation skills it might be better to park the car and just go to work? Is it a cop-out to suggest that the best way to sell a book is to get your ass in the chair and write another one? That social media is just something to do, to look like we’re doing something? Could it be that selling is not the end-all, be-all in the first place, that we might not all be traveling to the same destination.

Do we really have to put it all out there, all the time?

I’m just asking.

Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

Twenty More

  1. Who’s the last person you spoke to?
  2. What’s the farthest you’ve ever walked in a day?
  3. What color are your eyes?
  4. Favorite breakfast food.
  5. Labels you assign to yourself.
  6. The name of the first album/tape/CD you remember buying?
  7. Ever been to a doctor or hospital in a foreign country?
  8. Do you like piña coladas?
  9. Getting caught in the rain?
  10. Pocket inventory.
  11. Can you whistle?
  12. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
  13. Other than whatever you’re typing on, what’s the nearest object to your hand? (Note to boys: not that one.)
  14. Who’s your favorite superhero?
  15. What would the 8-ball say to you right now?
  16. Have you ever swallowed the worm at the bottom of the tequila?
  17. Your favorite name for a girl.
  18. If you could punch one person in the face, who would it be?
  19. Is there something you want to get rid of?
  20. Why don’t you do it?

Peas and Chocolate

When I started writing, I marveled at the words. I’d jot down a few paragraphs, go back and play with them, write a few more and so on. I was having fun with it, just messing around. There were no word counts or fast drafts. There was no pressure. I loved writing a page and then immediately rewriting it, over and over sometimes, with the whole story still in the background waiting to be discovered. I’d go for long walks when I got stuck and I’d think about what might happen next, imagining the possibilities and inventing the story as I went along. It was a nice way to work because it kept the tasks fresh and intertwined: a little writing, a little revising, some plotting thrown in for good measure. But because this process felt like a jumble and also like fun, I convinced myself that you really couldn’t do it that way. The instruction manuals are against it. I suppose the thinking is that you might be wasting time by revising scenes that won’t make it to the final draft, or that you run the risk of meandering off-topic somewhere along the way. It’s good advice for a novice writer and I was grateful to receive it.

But I’m not a novice anymore, and I feel more confident reverting to my original muddly methods. It’s wonderfully freeing to jot a few pages in my notebook on Monday and spend the rest of the week playing with them, figuring out what I’m trying to say and making it happen on the page. And if Saturday morning I decide to spend some time shuffling my index cards, that feels pretty okay as well. Actually it feels like fun. And what’s wrong with having a little fucking joie in my vivre along the way, right?

How do you keep it fun—or is that just crazy-talk anyway?

Photo via MANYA

Photo via MANYA

Frailty

A woman came into the clinic yesterday. She was beautiful once; I scanned her driver’s license and saw the photo. Though she’s still very young, her teeth have gone pewter and she fills the room with the chemically scent of a new sofa. She’s cut off her hair, scraped at her skin, she’s lost inside her clothing: she’s breaking my fucking heart. Tweaker, someone says of her, and this is undeniably true. Daughter, also. Sweet, frail human being whose mind must surely have been wrecked somewhere along the way and taken her poor body with it. What horrible event or series of events or sheer unbearable uneventfulness has caused this? I want to rail against it. I want to mother her. Buy her clothes, mend her teeth. Repair her somehow and return her to the girl she used to be.

What I do instead is take her twelve dollars, keep my eyes off her terrible mouth, and ask her to have a seat. And I pray—though there’s no Being in my mind to address and if there were I’d be cursing Him instead, hating Him as much as I hate myself for wishing I hadn’t seen this girl, for doing nothing to help her and knowing that I never will: Please, not my child.

Canyon

ambition |amˈbiSHən|
noun
a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work: her ambition was to become a model | he achieved his ambition of making a fortune.
• desire and determination to achieve success: life offered few opportunities for young people with ambition.
ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin ambitio(n-), from ambire ‘go around (canvassing for votes).’

I’ve been thinking about ambition. What it means, how its presence or the lack thereof defines us. I have always rejected the notion of myself as an ambitious person, since I have taken no interest in formal education or moving up the ladder at work. I don’t fight for the boss’s recognition, ask for extra tasks to prove my team-worthiness, demand raises or upgrades in title. Truly, I don’t give a shit. I have a job because I need the money, and because I believe in work as a core element to feelings of self-worth and sufficiency. I work because the act of working nourishes me. It’s not ambition; it’s survival.

But creatively? Is it possible to be a creative person without ambition? Maybe, if you don’t care about coming up with a finished piece of work, if you’re in it to plug a smallish hole in your psyche. But a writer who wants to be published is likely to find a canyon-sized void in her life, the kind that might not seem so big until you find yourself at the bottom of it, looking for a foothold. And I’m not talking here about publishing ambition. I’m talking about ambition for the project itself. At the moment I am overwhelmed by the thought of what this next book could be, how much the idea has going for it, how small I am in relation to the story. I keep thinking, Who am I to write this? then, Who’s to stop me writing it, if I want to? It feels big and scary. And exhausting, already.

It also feels like something I have to give myself permission to write. Three hundred pages of thickly curtained opinion. ALICE was that way for me as well, and the only way I could get through it was by believing the book would never see the light of day. So it goes with this one. Every day is a simultaneous damping and exalting of ambition: do this, say this, there is no consequence unless and until I decide to accept one.

It’s gonna be a long year.

What role does ambition play in your creative life?

Unfurl

I am writing to you from the lap of luxury—aka, a brand new bed. Two burly men delivered this baby yesterday morning and hauled off our old two-trough backbreaker, which often left me so twisted after a night’s “sleep” that it would take me an hour or more just to unfurl. Not so this morning. The new bed has a movable platform underneath to raise and lower the head and feet. It’s made of firm but smooshy foam. It’s guaranteed to last twenty years, starting now. It’s making me so fucking happy.

Also new? This laptop. Not as exciting as the bed, except if you’ve been without one for a while and have been stuck behind a desk—not an ideal place to perch during the writing hours, though I didn’t realize how much the desk was damping my mojo until last weekend when I brought the laptop home and transferred my writing files over. Hot damn! I’m on fire! I may never leave my bedroom.

What’s good with you?

The Empress Chronicles

Congratulations to my dear friend Suzy Vitello. She’s written a fantastic new YA novel called The Empress Chronicles (and by YA, I mean that it’s the sort of book you buy for a young friend, then fall in love with yourself so that you have to purchase a second copy just to keep around the house for moments when you need a dose of writerly inspiration). Suzy has a wonderful knack for voices, and in this story she really gets to let it rip. I loved both halves of the alternating narrative but was particularly charmed by the voice of Sisi, who sounds like a character Judy Blume would have written if she’d rolled back the setting 150 years and moved her story to Austria.

But the thing that’s so smart about the novel is the subtext as we move back and forth between the narratives. Each girl is trying to get control of her life. Not an easy thing then or now.

Here’s the back cover copy:

When city girl Liz is banished to a rural goat farm on the outskirts of Portland, the 15-year-old feels her life spiraling out of control. She can’t connect to her father or his young girlfriend, and past trauma adds to her sense of upheaval. The only person who seems to keep her sane is a troubled boy who is fighting his own demons. But all of this changes in one historical instant.

One-hundred fifty years earlier, Elisabeth of Bavaria has troubles of her own. Her childhood is coming to a crashing end, and her destiny is written in the form of a soothsaying locket that has the ability to predict true love. But evil is afoot in the form of a wicked enchantress who connives to wield the power of the locket for her own destructive ends.

When Liz finds a timeworn diary, and within it a locket, she discovers the secrets and desires of the young Bavarian princess who will one day grow up to be the legendary Empress of Austria. It is in the pages of the diary that these two heroines will meet, and it is through their interwoven story that Liz will discover she has the power to rewrite history-including her own…

 

Huge hugs and high fives to you, Suzy! And thank you for this beautiful book.

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Needle (Needful)

Do you laugh when someone asks if you’re enjoying all this? Do you offer the weary smile of the knowing? Do you become earnest, try to explain that it’s work. Mime the act of hair pulling, zombie typing, an invisible noose jerking at your neck? Oh, the agony of seeing your characters float above the landscape because you don’t know where to set them, or how to introduce them to each other (Gwyn, meet Dermot, he’s going to fuck you over in chapter 33), and can’t seem to winkle out their opinions or focus your inner lens on the parts of them that matter. You immediately sound unhinged. You become the lunatic stuttering about her own particular form of madness. I opened my mouth yesterday to try to explain that I know how this story should feel but not how it should look, that the distance between one and the other is a field of mental sludge, and it’s not fun, and it isn’t easy, and no one who writes can deny the exhaustion that ensues when nothing is going right. This is what the block is. Not laziness or apathy or purism but haze, indecision. An imperfect understanding coupled with the desperate and stultifying need to put black on white. It’s incapacity. Fatigue. You are an addict without a needle, the drugs piling up on the coffee table beside you and no way to get them into your system.

Any other shitty analogies we can toss at this one?

Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

Broomstick and Buckets

I used to hide my work. All my notebooks, my pink and yellow post-its, the cryptic phrases I’d jotted on the back of receipts or torn envelopes. It all was so precious to me and so imperfect, which shamed me in some way, as though I could only call myself a writer if the words sprung brilliant and fully formed from my head, as if grappling were not part of writing except as an exercise for the poorest members of the tribe. I had this notion that writing involved leather-bound journals and fountain pens and page after page of gorgeous script, the chapters later typed and stacked face down beside a neatly docked keyboard, ready to submit.

The reality, four years later, is unromantic and noticeably less contained. On my desk now are twenty pages of printout, heavily marked. Four scribbly spiral notebooks. Pens and totems and dozens of index cards scattered face-up on every available surface. I’ve got three pages of outline ripped out and taped to the bookshelf—and not neatly torn, either, but with the bits of paper still clinging to the edges like so much construction debris. And everywhere, all over the house, are books. Stacks of them, seriously. Under, over, behind. It feels like an infestation.

At some point it seems that I stopped giving a shit or simply lost control. Sometimes I worry that this messiness is part of a general decline that includes the fact that I no longer like to shop, hang pictures on the wall, or straighten my hair. As my desk goes, so go I, or something. I am Lucy in the chocolate factory, Mickey with the wand and buckets. Writing feels unstoppable, unbounded. I am holding back the tide with a broom.

How do you keep a lid on it?

Fancy

Here’s what happens: I have a good idea for a book and start to write it. Then I read someone else’s (better) book and think, Hmm… This story has some interesting elements, maybe something similar could work for mine. And so like a magpie I add this or that idea to the scrapalanche, this or that type of character or voice or structure or tense, and I put them all in an enormous idea-pile until whatever nugget I began with is buried in miscellany.

Steampunk art by Santiago Caruso

Steampunk art by Santiago Caruso

Which is where I am now. (*shoves hand up through the scrapalanche, waves furiously*) I have the germ of an idea for the kind of suspense novel I tend to write, with a small personal crime at its center and a lot of psychological shenanigans between the characters, but it’s buried under so many other (better) ideas that I’ve almost lost sight of it altogether. This is the time when a story can really go sideways, because to mask your insecurities you try to get fancy. You try to use all your tricks instead of only one or two, and at that point your pretty-good story turns into an irredeemable fucking mess.

So I’m adding only one more item to disaster zone that is my desk: an old index card with my friend CJ’s advice on it, now clipped to my lamp like the white flag of surrender that it is: Don’t be afraid to tell the story.

That’s one piece of advice that never gets old.

Are you telling the story or hiding it under a collection of great ideas?

Stew

It’s time, I think, to go back to my previously sporadic posting schedule. The danger of not-writing has passed. True, I had planned to blog every day for a year, but what are goals anyway except as a means to an end? The end in this case being books, of course.

So here we are on a Thursday morning, and even with a few days between the last post and this one, I don’t have much to report. I’ve been writing, working, eating peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwiches. The other day I made pasta with an avocado-basil sauce, and before that was a revisiting of the fruit-and-lentil salad. We are very strange in our eating habits—and by that I mean I am strange and drag the rest of the family along with me. But at the moment I am experiencing creativity overflow so it’s either going to be sweet potato stew or I’ll start knitting sweaters for the dog.

What have you been up to?

No Mas

At the office last Friday, I was talking to a patient about our artwork: her painting, my writing. She used to paint tote bags and sell them at the farmers market. It was hard work, she said, because so many people would walk past, shaking their heads, saying they have plenty of tote bags and don’t need another. Other times she’d sell one and realize afterward that it had been her favorite; it saddened her to lose the art she had made. That’s interesting to me, because as writers we don’t ever lose access to our work, though our relationship to it may change according to public perception. I told her about Alice Close Your Eyes, and admitted how difficult it is to see a stack of one- and two-star reviews on GoodReads, or uncover some bitter diatribe on Amazon, or hear your husband explain how his friend’s wife threw the book across the room in a fury. You feel your pride at the accomplishment eroding, and in its place…regret? Apology? Shame?

The conversation brought to mind a scene from Chef—a terrific movie, by the way—in which the title character reacts to a scathing review of his cooking by going on a rant, yelling, “It hurts when you say those things, because we’re trying to do something good. We’re trying…”

I remember being sort of shocked by the character’s outburst. That he would admit to being hurt, out loud, right in the critic’s face and with a crowd of people to witness it. That isn’t done! If you make something, whether it’s food or tote bags or a book, and that thing requires a creative effort, then you’ve got to take the criticism and shut up and deal with it. You don’t talk back. You don’t admit to hurt feelings. Your vulnerability is irrelevant, and if you want to play the game then you have to rub the mud out of your eye and get on with it. He wasn’t doing that. He was saying no mas!

To be fair, the harsh criticism did spur the character on to bigger and better things, so clearly it has its place. He found a way to use the pain—first by acknowledging it, then by reassessing his creative process. In the end, he emerges triumphant, reborn and revitalized. Of course he does; this is the movies. But the lingering question for me concerns the culture that’s evolved around art and critique:

Why is criticism always one-sided? Why are we not allowed to defend ourselves, or even admit when it hurts?

Small Death

It’s been an odd week and I’m in an odd mood, with too many things going on to get anything done at all. I’m going to try to pull myself together this weekend and at least make some progress on my endorsement request letters. (So, SO awkward to ask a stranger to read your book—can I get a hell yeah?)

I have managed to make some decisions about the new project and I’m plunging ahead. I’ve been back at the café and the Tofu Hut before work, carving out a quiet hour or two every day to slam down a draft. Yesterday I wrote three quick pages in my slouchy notebook, brought them home after work and cried a little while typing them up. Surely that’s a good sign.

How do you know you’re on the right track?

(The WIP playlist is growing.)

Take Me to Church

My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshiped her sooner

If the Heavens ever did speak
She is the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week

‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it

My church offers no absolution
She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you

I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen

[Chorus 2x:]
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice

To drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful

That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

[Chorus 2x:]
Take me to church

Look Ma, No Hands

I have no words of my own to share this week. Maybe I’m in intake mode, maybe I just need to rattle around in my own headspace for a while. I’ve tried several times to formulate a question around this guy’s message, but you know how it is. Sometimes the topic is too big, the questions too intrusive, the brain too addled to make sense of it all. So tonight I’ll let the video speak for itself.

(I love you guys. Have I told you that lately?)

 

 

 

Seven Questions

  1. What’s the most physically dangerous thing you have ever done?
  2. What are some of the nicknames people have for you?
  3. Where did you most often play as a child?
  4. What was your favorite toy?
  5. Who among your friends and family knows most of your secrets?
  6. Who would play you in a movie?
  7. Where would you go if you could travel for a month with no companion?

Boulders

Yesterday our friend Tetman posted a comment in which he referred to Denis Donoghue’s three levels of writing: self-expression, communication, then exploring the form of the language itself. I’m not sure this is a linear path, but I do think there are times in writing when you meet an obstacle that can only be overcome by a great heaving effort, after which you find yourself suddenly with a better view of the landscape. Blackbird was one of those obstacles for me. It taught me about structure, and perseverance, and the surprising malleability of a story. It’s given me a better view of the form.

The new book is presenting a different sort of obstacle. Because the story is so simple, it seems to be inviting some other complexity that I’m not seeing at the moment. It’s something to do with tone, with maybe moving my writing from the body where it usually resides to the head or the heart, or some combination of the two. Which all sounds so fucking pretentious and artsy that I can hardly stand to leave the previous sentence in place. But I just mean that we all have to make choices about where we’re going and what would be most satisfying to write; at some point, Anne Rice decided against a Twilight tone and wrote Interview with the Vampire instead. And Stephenie Meyer did the opposite. There are times when those decisions seem to mark a turning point, and this is one of them for me.

What have been the big over-and-up obstacles in your writing life?

via rippedandfit.tumblr (You're welcome.)

via rippedandfit.tumblr
(You’re welcome.)

Tone

This really struck me as familiar and true, especially what he says about tone. I have always framed this in terms of finding a ‘voice’ for the work, but I like his word much better. It’s about how you want to feel when you read the paragraphs back to yourself, about the mood you want to settle into as you write and read the story, and whether you are writing for the head or the heart or the body. (And I do think a book is usually written for one of the three over the others.) That’s the tone. Once you get that, you know you can proceed.

I’m not there yet with the new book. Not even close.

Skin/Trade

The wheels of the big machine are starting to move. Blackbird is coming out in a little more than five months and I’ve got a ton of work to do on its behalf. Right now I’m sweating out a blurb-request letter, and after that I’ll be making the rounds with my ARCs, trying to convince some hapless bookstore owners to let me crash their party. (I’ve got wine and cupcakes…anyone?) Of course this is not my favorite part of the writing gig, but I have to say it’s a lot easier when the book you’re pushing is not filled cover-to-cover with violent sexuality. Poor Alice really suffered from her author’s sexual hangups. But Blackbird is a different story—less physical, more intellectual. I have a healthier relationship to this book and I think that’s going to help a lot when it comes time to promote it.

I’ve been thinking about this in a more general way as well. Some pieces of work seem very close to us, so much so that we almost don’t want people to read them. Others come from a different place, inspired by a set of experiences that we may find easier to talk about openly. I have noticed in the early days of this new project that it feels really close, the way Alice did. I have been consciously trying to push back by writing in third person, present tense—to me, the most distant of all POVs—but I’m not sure it’s going to work. I may have to let it sidle up to close third or even first person, which would make the fucker a good deal more intimate than I’d planned for it to be.

It’s like deciding whether to befriend or observe a new acquaintance. Hard to know, hard to figure. And impossible to undo once you let her get under your skin.

What are your best and worst relationships to various pieces of your work? Or have I lost my mind and no one knows what the fuck I’m talking about?

Unlovely

I’ve been thinking about beauty. Physical beauty, that is. The kind that other beholders bestow upon us or that we claim for ourselves, and what it means to be a woman in our culture when physical beauty is altogether absent. The protagonist I’m writing is alone and unlovely, lost in a world of images the way Vivian Maier must have been in her attic bedroom after a day of caring for another woman’s children. I wouldn’t have been able to write about this character twenty or even ten years ago—not because I was beautiful, but because I still could get what I wanted out of life, even operating from behind a less than compelling facade.

That isn’t the case for everyone. There are some women for whom physical ugliness is the defining feature of their lives. These are the girls who are never kissed, never desired, who are teased in school and probably later as well, whom even the most kindhearted lovers despise. They dwell in the margins of society, guilty of what for an American woman is the ultimate, unforgivable sin: ugliness, accompanied by eternal virginity. Nothing incites male scorn so much as an unfuckable woman.

It’s a lot to think about. What part does our physicality play in shaping the people we become? What resentments build? What entitlements? How can we learn to love ourselves when we are unloved by others? What happens to sublimated desire, what chain reactions are ignited? The questions go on and on.

How has your subject matter changed over the years?

Self-portrait by Vivian Maier

Self-portrait by Vivian Maier

Doorstep

I guess it’s time to start writing this thing. I could probably do some research, add to my playlist, and get more detailed with my outline, but all of that is just procrastination and nerves. I always imagine the first page as the moment when you arrive alone at a party and pause outside the door, smoothing your skirt, twisting the strap of your purse or bra or fidgeting with the back of your shoe because what you really want is to turn around and run back home to where your slippers are waiting by the bed. For a shy person, even a fictional crowd is intimidating. Every character is a stranger. Every situation is awkward. The things you want to say are too fucking big for this small talk; you can hardly face the banter when the weight of the story is rushing up your throat.

How do we ever begin?

Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

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