Happy Mother’s Day!
Writing a novel is like trying heroin: There’s no good reason to do it, but you’re still intrigued by the idea of it. Curiosity and bad judgment win over rational thinking, and you decide “What the heck? It can’t hurt to try it.” Once you start, you’re totally hooked. Everything else in your life falls by the wayside: the dishes, the dog, trimming your toenails, your other creative endeavors. Your compulsion affects your relationship. Your characters begin to control your thoughts, and your reality crumbles. The process wrecks you. Still, you can’t stop. You write. And no matter how many words you write (20,000 in two weeks!), it never, ever feels like enough.
The novel is why I have not been blogging, cartooning, or writing about anything other than the life of a fictitious adolescent girl. Writing about a teenager is like having a teenager move into my brain: Sometimes she never shuts the fuck up; other times she’s brooding in her room and I can’t get her to come out. Like last year, I spent January 2013 camping in Florida with my wife, and I wrote an average of 1000 words a day while I was away. Which was amazing. And not enough to satiate my main character’s addiction to herself, and my addiction to making her real. She is my Velveteen Rabbit. My heroine. My heroin.
I vacillated between obsessive and depressive while I was in Florida, finding respite only in my
hourly daily piña coladas. Now that I’m home and back at work and cleaning the bathroom and shoveling snow, all I can think is, “When will I get my next fix?”
I’ve been catering liquor like a moron thanks to wedding season, so I haven’t had time to write much. But I did attend a couple of competitive storytelling events (ala The Moth) in Ithaca recently. Here’s a video of me telling the crazy story of what happened when we first opened the Lounge and I tried to pawn my housecleaning off on someone else, who had some, um, unique ideas about what to wear when he cleaned.
HOW TO TURN WASHING THE WINDOWS INTO A MONTH-LONG PROJECT:
1. Wake up, and check your To Do list. Decide to wash all the windows in the house, with Windex, because you were born with a genetic pre-disposition to Windex based on the habits of your mother and her mother before her. Nothing else will do but Windex and paper towels. Anyone who thinks vinegar and newspaper actually clean windows has not followed such a vinegar-newspaper cleaning with Windex and discovered black ink all over their paper towels (not to mention the black smudges on your white window frames). Meditate on the superiority of your wise choices.
2. Clean two windows. Notice the eggshell-hued Roman blinds are stained with cat spit and fly juice.
3. Take down the Roman blinds. Attempt to dismantle them so you can put them in the washing machine, get tangled up, and accidentally rip them.
4. Decide that the stains wouldn’t have come out in the wash anyway. Reuse the Roman blinds by throwing them on top of the invasive lemon balm that has taken over your garden like an army of shiny green leaves, and vow to suffocate its hidden tentacles of evil.
5. Notice the other weeds in the garden. Yank a few of them out of the ground. Give up. They’re just going to grow back anyway.
6. Return to your Windex and the windows, and as you kneel on the couch to reach the top of the third window, realize the taupe couch cover is disgusting, having been half-shredded and drooled on by the nineteen-year-old cat who died last year. Choose to change the couch cover since you smartly purchased a spare at IKEA a decade ago in hopeful anticipation of the cat’s death.
7. Hunt for an hour for the strange tool that fits into the bolts on the bottom of your IKEA couch. Finally find the tool taped to the bottom of the couch.( You think you’re so smart, don’t you?)
8. Spend an hour and a half on your back on the floor dismantling the IKEA couch since the only way to change the cover is to break down the couch into eighteen pieces. Put the new cover on. Spend another hour and a half hour on your back on the floor putting the couch back together again.
9. Pull a muscle in your shoulder as you get up off the floor. Take three Advil. Conclude that you ought to wash them down with wine to facilitate the relaxation of your injured muscle.
10. Open a bottle of wine with your girlfriend and plop yourselves down on your brand-spanking-new-looking couch.
11. Sip wine, and take note that you have no curtains in the living room anymore since you ripped down the Roman blinds and threw them in your garden. Engage in a philosophical discussion regarding the potential shades and textures of new curtains.
12. Observe the exposed, chipped window trim.
13. Conclude you need to paint the trim before you hang new curtains. Recognize if you paint the trim, you really should patch and paint the abused walls, too, which have been defiled with one too many waffling nails. Engage in a philosophical discussion with regarding the potential shades of paint for the walls.
14. Point out all the wall repairs that your girlfriend needs to do before you paint.
15. Ponder that you might splash on the new couch cover while you paint. Consider moving furniture out of the room before painting. Declare you should wax and polish the floor if you’ve gone to the trouble to remove all the furniture.
16. Open a second bottle of wine.
17. Make a list of everything you must buy from Target and Home Depot.
18. If you’re going to have to leave the house, think about what else you need while you’re out. Make a list of all the other house-related projects that need to be completed, including refinishing the old kitchen cabinets and replacing the bathroom shower curtain.
19. Remember that washing the windows was already on your To Do list, and that you need more Windex.
20. Proclaim you will finish washing the windows first thing tomorrow morning.
21. Finish your wine, and settle in for a nap on the couch. It’s been a long day, and you need to rest up for all of your projects in the coming month.
Warning! The following G-rated post contains nostalgia, self-reflection, and a gross lack of sarcasm, drinking, and swearing. Read at your own risk.
When I was in college, one of my favorite classes – besides those in my major – was a drawing class. Actually, every class besides those in my major was one of my favorites. My major was social work, with depressing coursework including Economics, Social Welfare, Statistics, Grief and Loss, Discrimination, and Policy Analysis. What was I thinking?
Like many college students, I was a change-the-world-through-organized-protests kind of gal. But I secretly found the most joy in the art class that I took when I was a sophomore. And truthfully, I learned the most about life in that class:
I learned that it’s all about perspective.
I learned that while some mistakes can be erased, others can’t.
I learned that sometimes it’s okay to stare at naked people.
I learned to keep spillable liquids (like coffee!) away from my work station.
I learned that there is no ‘right way’ to do something.
I learned that an intentional (or unintentional) smudge can cover up obvious flaws.
I learned that I love the feeling of a pen in my hand.
I learned to be open to feedback.
I learned that nothing is ever perfect, and that’s okay.
My drawing professor, Jack, was in his 60′s. He smoked a pipe in class, and carried a red pen in his shirt pocket. We’d sit at our desks, bent over our notebooks, furiously scribbling, drawing, erasing, shading, painting, on a quest to capture the vase, body, tree, sky, idea on paper. Just when one of us thought we completed something absolutely perfect, Jack would walk up behind that person, reach over his or her shoulder, and draw large red lines across the landscape masterpiece to demonstrate the accurate vanishing point, or paint a red, alternate eyebrow on the face of the beautiful portrait.
We would be devastated. Some students would gasp, others would protest, many cried. One young man yelled obscenities at Jack, left with his notebook and never returned.
Jack was a man of few words. He’d raise his eyebrows and, pipe bobbing between his teeth, he would say, “Whatever you do, don’t get attached.”
And, “If you drew it once, you can draw it again. And if you can’t, well, then the first one was just a lucky accident.”
And, “Your next drawing should be even better.”
My favorite memory of Jack is the day he sat on a stool in the middle of the room, struck ‘The Thinker’ pose with his chin on his hand, and said, “Draw me.” A few minutes later when he looked at our sketches, he leaned over my desk and muttered, “I sure as hell hope that’s not what I look like.”
He was right. My portrait of him was utterly terrible; it looked like his face was melting. We both laughed, and I loved him fiercely for his honesty.
When I pass my writing into the hands of an editor now, I expect a red pen. I expect I have something to learn from them, something to change, something to write again, something better to strive toward. I try not to be attached to my words (though I always am).
And at some point, I accept that I need to stop writing, re-writing, and re-writing again, and to hand my work over to someone I trust with a fresh perspective. I need to let go. I will never be perfect, and that’s okay. Bring on the red pen.
I have a legitimate excuse for not posting anything on my website since December: I’ve lost my mind.
It’s true. Where once I was a mild-mannered, well-researched non-fiction food, cocktail, and humor writer, everything changed when I started writing a novel.
What non-fiction writer of sound mind would start writing fiction? Exactly.
It all started while we were on vacation in Florida for the month of January. Despite the best of intentions, I hardly tapped at my keyboard, except to type captions for the pictures of tiki cocktails I uploaded to Facebook. And then the novel hit me like the flu. No matter how hard I tried to hold it down, I couldn’t keep myself from vomiting words onto the page.
Now that I’m at 7000+ words, I have to admit it’s a progressive illness. A grave illness. Because I’m not just writing any novel: it’s young adult book. Like Twilight, but gay and without the vampires, or like Harry Potter, but gay and with more romance, or like the Hunger Games, but gay and no one has to kill each other.
The novel-writing bug definitely makes me uncomfortable, especially when it comes to character development. When writing non-fiction, your characters are already developed; your job is just to get to know them. With fiction, the process is much more mysterious. The characters are not pre-formed, nor can you force them to develop. I have had to wait patiently for my characters to show themselves to me on their terms, especially the teenage boy. He and I have been at a standoff all week. Most of my free time is spent trying to get to know him, and I’m sure my friends are growing tired of me talking about someone who only exists in head.
Though my mind is deeply lost, I swear I have accomplished a few other things in the past month. For example, I baked a chocolate cake on Valentine’s Day and ate the whole thing myself. (It was quite an amazing feat.) While in Florida, Leah and I (mostly Leah) blogged at www.alligatorteardrop.com. And today I spent some productive time on Pinterest.
Ha! Believe me, the words “productive” and “Pinterest” don’t belong in the same sentence. Any writer who says they use Pinterest to help them research their characters is either avoiding researching their characters, or is obsessively pinning pictures of shoes and weddings.
On that note, please feel free to follow my Shoe and Wedding boards on Pinterest. (www.pinterest.com/drinkmywords)
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A year filled with Death? Yes, please! You can preview the twelve cartoons HERE.
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THANK YOU for supporting my Sharpie addiction, and my love of fine wine and cheap beer.
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