That story is the scariest story I have ever read -- and in context, I probably read this around the same time as Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," and I still vote "The Yellow Wallpaper" a million times scarier -- basically because I relate to it so strongly. I mean, she wasn't even allowed a pen and paper ... I, too, would go incredibly and irredeemably nuts.
Here's how I know:
I take one week off writing-writing -- the real writing, the work -- and I become a total bitch. Even if it was my choice to stop writing -- even if I decided to pack, or clean, or be Volunteer of the Year at my kids' school.
I take two weeks off writing-writing -- and I descend into a self-worth-questioning morass of chocolate-consuming, late-night weepies.
I take three weeks off ... the shit hits the fan. That's basically where I am now. Consider this:
6 weeks ago I finished the first draft of the screenplay for / with Mr. Lovely and Hilarious. I also started packing up the house for our move into the Dream House.
A week later, I started the second draft. And I ramped up the packing. Mr. Lovely and Hilarious and I started sending pages back and forth, which was a pretty decent system, until The Move began to consume me ... at which point my writing slowed, his sped up, and he decided he might as well write Draft 2 "on his lonely," as we say around here.
That sounded good at the time. I had to pack. I had to move. I had to incubate twin boys and care for toddler girls and hold it together somehow. And I had a lot of apartmenttherapy.com to catch up on.
But here's the rub:
We moved into the Dream House three weeks ago -- and I promptly went on bedrest. It's hard to really complain about bedrest when you have a nanny and husband who works at home and can basically sit on your ass and make them do all the diaper changing and grocery shopping and errand running and meal providing while you, well, sit on your ass.
HOWEVER -- sitting on your ass in the middle of your household is no way to get any writing-writing done, especially when your actual active PROJECT is being done by Mr. Lovely and Hilarious and you're just waiting around on it (not that I could concentrate on it if the situation were reversed, I mean, I'm sitting here in the middle of my loud friggin' household where there is no way I could get anything done ... especially as I stew over the fact that no one is doing anything the way I would do it myself if I weren't on fucking bedrest, but that's a subject for another day). Regardless ... I am not writing-writing. And I am going a little insane.
I was doing okay, really I was, until my husband walked in last night and said he'd finished unpacking his office. That was sort of the last straw. See, the whole point of the Dream House, for me, was a pantry, a laundry room, a guest room, and my own "DO NOT DISTURB" office space. I have spent the last six years thinking about that office space. I have designed every spare inch of my smaller-than-9x9 refuge -- I have done drawing after drawing of the furniture plans, I have gone over and over the cabinetry, I have surfed the internet for file cabinets for hours at a time, I have sat on dozens of sofas smaller than 51 inches long. But my office remains a mess of boxes because I am on fucking bedrest. My files are not in those file cabinets, because I have to depend on the kindness and priorities of other people to take my file cabinets to the body shop to be painted before I can file my papers. I still don't have a desk. I still don't have the couch. I still don't have my fucking OFFICE.
This is a dumb thing to complain about, it really is. I mean, even if I had my office, I couldn't hang out in it, I'm on bedrest, cooking the twins, and that is literally the most important thing I need to be doing right now. But the problem with bedrest is that I am never alone. It doesn't matter if the door is closed, people are in and out all day. My kids are the loudest tiny people on earth, apparently, and my husband likes to sing to himself. All. Day. Long. And make calls on speaker. Which apparently he believes doesn't work unless you are SHOUTING into the phone. And I am stuck here, in the middle of it, with nowhere to be alone.
Which is not, it turns out, really just a "Yellow Wallpaper" problem. I mean, I have TV, I have internet, I have the Huffington Post and the pre-eclampsia boards, where I am killing ridiculous amounts of time. And I have the constant, whether-I-want-it-or-not, human-interaction.
And THAT'S the problem -- I'm really climbing the walls because I have a "Room of One's Own" problem. I am never alone. Pre-Dream House, I had no private space either, but I could escape a few hours a day and go write in a coffee shop. And that was fine. But that's all gone now, and I am losing it.
I am fairly certain that the number one reason I am a writer is that I am, by temperament, someone who craves being alone. I don't get lonely when I spend a few hours writing-writing -- I get jazzed. I get re-charged. I don't feel cut off from other people, I feel more connected to them, when I spend a few hours alone. I like to eat alone. I love to go to movies alone. I just like to be alone.
And I am getting desperate. I literally broke down CRYING when my husband walked in here a minute ago to ask me what I want for lunch. I almost killed the nanny for coming in to get the laundry this morning. If I don't get some space soon, I don't know what I'm gonna do.
Which is fucking hilarious, considering as of a few weeks from now I am going to have FOUR KIDS. FOUR KIDS. Which makes it incredibly unlikely I will ever be alone again.
Not until they're all in school, at least -- which, and yes, I've done the math, is the fall of 2013.
Here's hoping I get my office unpacked before then.
Way back in March, Big Shot Manager introduced me to Lovely and Hilarous Actor, and since then Mr. Lovely and Hilarious and I have been working on a screenplay that I am literally two hours of work away from completing the first draft of ... which explains what I'm doing suddenly blogging after all this time. Yes, I am my own worst enemy.
Anyway, more about the screenplay and Mr. Lovely and Hilarious if / when it becomes a movie. On to the other stuff I can dump here for now as a record that I really was, um, working, since last I posted here, and not just gallivanting about.
Around the same time as I was meeting Mr. Lovely and Hilarious, I was trying to figure out if the magazine that had bought a short story of mine, "Dirty Darlene," was, in fact, ever intending to publish it, or had just closed up shop for good. Eventually, I decided it had closed up shop for good, but then a couple of weeks ago the editor re-appeared and apparently "Dirty Darlene" will be up on the mag's site Oct 16. I will believe that when I see it.
Then I placed another story, "James Dean, My Love, My Copyboy," with a new mag called Armchair / Shotgun, out of Brooklyn, which believe it or not, is actually printed on PAPER. And BOUND. Like a real, live LIT MAG. That should be out later this fall.
And I got a little more serious about sending out "Nothing Will Prepare You," which involved, for about two weeks, employing a Virtual Assistant in India. This was not a great experiment -- apparently fiction loses a LOT in translation, and my goal of off-loading the soul-killing work of FINDING VENUES was never met. Instead, I spent twice the time trying to explain to the VA that I was not writing sci fi, or porn, or horror, that I would have spent generating my own venues lists. So that killed a bunch of time ;)
Oh, and I eventually got a truly wonderful rejection letter for "Nothing ..." from The New England Review, which was actually pretty thrilling because it was so personal and encouraging and made me think I might not be the hack I was beginning to think I was. (See "sudden interest in writing screenplays.")
Oh, and I got knocked up while all this was going on, too. Twins. Boys. Like I wasn't already intent enough on tanking my own career.
Anyway, because I at least KNOW that about myself, I am going to go try to finish the first draft of the screenplay now. But first, the reason I started writing this post in the FIRST PLACE ... (aside from the obvious attempt at procrastinating):
Today I was reading the Oct 11 issue of The New Yorker, and I came across Nora Ephron's piece "My Life as An Heiress," which is about the weeks she thought she might be coming into money, and would be able to abandon the screenplay she was struggling with, and that she was just writing because it was a job. I would just reprint it here, but I can't now, because The New Yorker has a new digital edition that makes that too difficult, so I'll spoil the ending for you. Basically, she doesn't come into much money. Which turns out to be a good thing, because it forces her to finish writing "When Harry Met Sally."
Go figure. And with that, and the obligatory, "Because of GOD," or even, "It was this cold, Spanish tile," I head back to work.
** UPDATE! Two hours later: first draft screenplay complete! Woo-hoo! **
So, too, I hope, for the writing. I keep writing it, and slowly slowly slowly it finds homes.
Or nearly does.
By last count:
One Master's degree eventually completed, with professorial mentoring raised to the "meet my agent" level -- which was exciting at the time. One story published, and honored with a prize. One essay published, and honored by a call-out in a magazine review. Another story bought by an actual paying magazine ... (let's ignore the fact that this mag seems to have ceased operation in the time between purchase and payment). One TV spec co-written, and championed by professionals in the biz, some of whom are complete strangers ... woo-hoo!
But getting there is mostly a story of learning to open the SASEs without the trepidation of a high school senior ("Is it thin or thick? Thin or thick?") Generally, I can read the form letter rejection and forget it rather quickly. Every once in awhile, though, I get one that's just plain rude.
Today, for instance, I received a rejection from a magazine that I had submitted a story to ONLY BECAUSE, when they LAST rejected me, they encouraged me to try again! Literally wrote, "please try us again" at the bottom of the form letter. So I tried them again, and got a rejection today at the bottom of which some jerk had added "I don't know who encouraged you to try us again, we never publish work like yours." Which is funny, because that was exactly the OPPOSITE of what their last note had said, and it's not like my writing changes so dramatically from story to story ... whatever. Suffice it to say, I was a little peeved.
(Almost as peeved as, when working as a lit scout, I brought a manuscript to the agent I was working for which she described as typifying "lazy writing" -- a phrase she actually then INSISTED I relay back to the writer. Who, by the way, had written A NOVEL. Which, no matter how bad, is not LAZY. I know. I write not particularly special novels myself, and it's still fucking hard work.)
But back to my own rejections:
Maybe an hour after I got that rude "no" this afternoon, I got an email from another magazine. A better magazine. A magazine I have actually read and rooted for since it started publishing. A magazine you can actually buy in bookstores. This magazine didn't want the story I'd sent, either. But the editor wrote this:
My apologies. Your submission was misplaced in our system--the second time this story went astray on our end. As with your last story, I admired the quality of the writing, and though I don't think A Public Space is the right magazine for this story, I'd be interested in reading more of your work. You mentioned a new story on your blog that was the best thing you'd ever written--“Nothing Will Prepare You." If it's still available, perhaps you'd consider sending it here?
Umm, what? She read my blog? She did? Really? Cool. Wow. Talk about the best rejection ever (yes, it actually rivals the "no" I got from The New Yorker a thousand years ago, across which some intern had written "I really liked this -- sorry to say no").
All this to say, not all rejections make you want to jump off the Hollywood Sign.
I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in a big field of rye and all. ... Thousands of kids, and nobody big at all, nobody big but me. And I'm standing on the edge of this crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to come and catch them. If they start to fall ... and don't look where they're going. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all.
I used to relate to JD Salinger because Holden Caulfield was a dissafected prep schooler, just like me. Then I related to JD Salinger (through the Joyce Maynard lens) because I was the sort of 18-year old Yalie who just might, under the right circumstances, have moved in with a 50+ man ...
Now I'm the sort of Mom who can't read or hear or watch anything about kids in harm's way. (Seriously -- NOTHING.) So those lines about Holden catching kids on the edge of a crazy cliff ... I literally wept, cried and cried so hard I nearly ran off the road.
And the little girl in the ocean before Seymour blows his brains out ... oh, that little girl! (See what I'm saying? It's not like she's the one who's about to go upstairs and pick up a gun ...) And Esme ... more love, less squalor, kid. You're the one I'm worried about, making it through with your faculties more or less intact.
Every year, I have really high hopes for my work. Not necessarily that I’ll sell any of it – I am a realist, a pragmatist, first and foremost – but that I’ll write it. That I’ll get my butt in the chair, and the words on the page. And I try to be specific about my goals – which projects I’ll focus on, and what the true, achievable goal for each project really is. And I write all these goals down, too (a practice that isn’t just a work thing, for me, but a family thing—Husband and I make a one-page goals list for our work, our health, our family, our finances, and post it on the mirror in our bathroom).
Anyway, sitting down to make a NEW goal’s list requires reviewing the old one. Here’s the play-by-play of WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO DO IN 2009:
* Complete 2nd draft of the novel by TAX DAY
Status: Absolute failure. Didn’t even LOOK at it in 2009. In the wake of Baby Gaga’s birth, the plot just started to seem totally empty and dumb. I did spend a little time completely re-imagining the entire structure, and considered turning it into 3 linked novellas … does that count as progress or procrastination?
*Complete 3rd draft of the novel by LABOR DAY and send to friends.
Status: See above.
*Write one more script with Co-Writer / advance partnership another level.
Status: Sort-of / Yes! We didn’t write one more script. But we came up with two concepts, for two new scripts. And we got our Big Shot Manager. And we took some Big Shot Meetings—one in studio bungalow! So that was fun.
*Complete Client’s sample chapter.
*Write Client’s book if offered contract.
Status: Client didn’t pursue contract, so this stalled out totally NOT on my watch ;)
*Submit “DIRTY DARLENE” to 60 venues.
Status: Sold (sort of). Went out to 57 venues. Finally bought by Carve Magazine, for the Fall 2009 issue. That said, there seems to have been no Fall 2009 issue … hmm.
*Submit “JAMES DEAN, MY LOVE, MY COPY BOY” to 60 venues.
Status: In Progress. I’ve sent it out to 23 magazines, and in December I employed a Virtual Assistant in India to come up with 40 more. So we’ll see about that …
*Re-write “ALBERT & NANCY” to completion.
Status: Abandoned. I tried, I really did. But nothing I did fixed it. And then I started to lose hope. So at the moment, this story has been abandoned, despite my sister’s liking it. Sorry, sis.
*Re-write “MAYFLOWER IS A TRUCKSTOP” to completion.
Status: Complete! It’s now called “Nothing Will Prepare You,” it’s in submission, and it’s the best thing I have ever written. Ever.
*Re-write “SEVEN” to completion.
Status: Abandoned. I tried. But there was no “there” there. There just wasn’t.
* Re-write “HONEYMOON WHERE THE SUN NEVER SETS” to completion.
Status: Back in play! Ok, so I didn’t work on this last year … but I’m already nearly done with a new draft of this story, 8 days into the new years … so that’s something …
... and it’s not a bad segue into next week’s post …