Kathryn and Me

Over the weekend, I engaged in a heavy dose of self-torture by reading about literary genius, Jonathan Franzen, and how he came to be so god-like to book critics. This followed with a dream in which I met Franzen, who refused to speak to me HDU_Lovebecause he was disgusted with my writing.  It was, of course, a metaphor for my secret fear about my own work.

On productive days, I am happy with my progress, the shape of my story coming to me with consistent pieces.  On unproductive days, I question what to write next or is it time to print it all out and start massaging, or worse: the story doesn’t make any sense and I need serious guidance with pulling it all together.

I used to think that my greatest fear was that I’d get to the end of this writing sabbatical and have an unfinished novel.  After being snubbed by Franzen-in-my-dream, I realize that writing a mediocre book would harm my spirit more.  So I decided not to do that — to write a crappy book.

Then I read about Franzen’s partner and fellow writer, Kathryn Chetkovich, who wrote a beautiful essay a few years after Franzen’s first bestseller, The Corrections, sold over 3 million copies. The memoir essay, “Envy,” haunts in its honesty as Chetkovich describes living under those victorious years with Franzen while she plugged along, her feeble attempts to finish a book in the overwhelming shadow of her lover’s success. Reading Chetkovich helped me to understand that there would be something far grosser than to write a substandard novel: to live with Jonathan Franzen while I wrote it. Writing rumor has it that Franzen is less prickly than he used to be, now that the world has acknowledged his literati greatness, but the thought of having him as a live-in critic would be enough to make me break my no-alcohol-for-Lent vow. So I’m not going to do that either — go live with Jonathan Franzen.

I will never be a Franzen.  I would need to redo childhood, probably attend a different school system; read more books, read the right books, not that that wouldn’t be fantastic but it’s not reality. I can be a better writer than I am today, though. I’ve seen improvements in my own work over the last four years before I hit the road and opened the sabbatical up to more than only writing.

That enigma of a story, “From Down Under,” (renamed In The Land of Oz) which I began in late 2014 is already being reshaped since I kicked off my writing journey.  I am doing most days what I set out to do until I compare myself to great novelists, or other non-Franzen writers, ones whose content is not in the same genre as mine or even literary fiction at all. But I compare.  I compare because they’ve finished and I haven’t. They’ve published and I haven’t. They did what they set out to do, and I’m still a work in progress.

So I pull inward, reminding myself that Rosemary-time is not Franzen-time, and I let go. I let go of Jonathan Franzen and allow Kathryn Chetkovich to be my guide. Sometimes I spend more than six hours a day with the novel (Franzen), but sometimes significantly less, and yes, sometimes no actual writing at all but pondering and thinking and reading (Kathryn), always the reading of those writers I would be honored to emulate.

On this made-up adventure-by-highway, purposefully solo if one isn’t counting the cat, I continue to do my best to address those hidden fears and unacknowledged insecurities so that they are not barriers but motivators, pushing me into a realm of doing what I do not already know how to do but doing it anyway.  Most of all, and this is the best part, I am humbly reminded of why I am writing in the first place:  Because I live for the flow of the words and with each sentence that I write, especially the run-on ones, I am able to love my husband all over again.

If Kathryn can live with Jonathan and still produce the lovely essay, “Envy,” and eventually write two books on her own — in the face of Franzen’s fifth novel and second blockbuster, Freedom — then this soothes my yet-to-be-published self.  And I thank her, I thank Kathryn, for reminding me that all writers struggle, that to be a better writer, one must be willing to put in the work, even if you’re living with Jonathan Franzen.

Kathryn Chetkovich’s essay, “Envy,” published in 2003.  Truly touching:  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/jun/22/extract

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Vices in Week Two

HDU_LitLast Saturday, I created a dinner out of organic peanut butter, leftover chipotle sauce, and two scoops of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream that had been forgotten in the back of the freezer in a decaying container.  As a dessert, I added a freshly peeled carrot – a real carrot and not one of those tasteless baby carrots that dry out within an hour and start to whiten with what looks like toe jam.  If you’re wondering, the assembly food line looked like this:  Scoop the peanut butter, pour on some of the sauce, dip both into the ice cream, lick the spoon dry then bite the carrot.  Fresh carrots have that slight, earthy taste which balanced out the processed sugar I was shoveling into my mouth.  The limited protein reflected my refusal to hop into the Jeep and drive 1.5 miles to the grocery store.  That would have required a shower or at the very least, contact lenses in the eyes instead of my outdated, see-into-the-future glasses.  I was much too busy dreading my still unfinished taxes by tending to my vices of which the over-consumption of sugar is only oHDU_booksne.

My second vice is actually only a vice when I give into it on a non-stop, 24-hour, no showering or brushing my teeth basis. (Always, personal hygiene is the first to go.) Because I’m trying to up my writing game, I’ve checked out from the library books in twos and threes.  Telling myself that I have to read is like telling myself that I have to eat Godiva milk chocolate salted caramel bars. There is a danger with both, because I don’t read and I don’t eat — I inhale — and if I’m in procrastination mode, I run the risk of either overdosing on words or passing out from a sugar coma.  That both would find me in the same state — laying on the sofa, mouth open, dribble flowing and the cat perched on my chest causing me to gasp for air while trying to sleep — shows my consistency in all matters vice.

To avoid my taxes which I finally dropped off to the CPA yesterday morning which is why this Monday afternoon blog is posted HDU_taxpaperworkon a Wednesday evening, I checked out five books from the library while putting two more on “Hold.”  I started out with respected memoirist, Mary Karr, and two of her triology memoirs, The Liars’ Club and Lit, switching over to (some say) the 21st Century’s great American novelist, Jonathan Franzen, and his novels, The Corrections and Freedom.  Franzen once snubbed Oprah unintentionally-on-purpose saying her book club wasn’t where you’d find his readers, the literary elite. I’d inadvertently checked out his book in LARGE print so that it felt as though HE WAS YELLING AT ME THE ENTIRE TIME I was reading which, if he was snubbing Oprah, this self-proclaimed “unashamed elitist” probably was.  My literary jury is still out on Franzen but I’m sure he’ll still sleep soundly at night.

It was Karr’s writing that Gatita and I curled up with.  Her writing pulls you in like a child’s hand reaching for yours during the scary parts of a movie, leading you through the icky parts of her memories so you’re not overwhelmed when she does share.  You can hear her small, east Texas girl’s voice as she writes, “My nickname was blister tits,” or “My daddy’s Pete Karr.”  How do you read the words “my daddy” without automatically hearing a dialect from the south?

On any given day before I would give in to Mary Karr on the sofa, I’d exhaust myself through exercise so much so that I dreamt about three roaches in my house-in-the-dream.  Cockroaches in a dream symbolize being fed up with ourselves, annoyed at our own stalling of whatever it is that we’re putting off.  I had walked by that table full of tax paperwork for so long that I’d taken to running or swimming or walking five to six days a week in avoidance, sometimes occupying myself with two forms of cardio in the same day!  And I’d be 10 pounds lighter if it weren’t for the processed sugar. But you know, now that I’ve dropped off the paperwork, I congratulate myself on being two whole months earlier than I was this time last year.  So yes, I did drink a margarita today and I was damn proud when I did it and my daddy’s name is Lou!

The Writing Projects

What was originally written in memoir form might become fiction but the title probably will not change.  Without Flag (WF) is about an American Hispanic woman who leaves her home in the United States to live and travel throughout Mexico so she can learn Spanish and maybe even a little about how to embrace her Mexican ancestry.  Instead what she discovers is how to accept her Mid-western, American roots.

Is that the story I start with or is it Down Under (DU), currently written as fiction with Daniel and Ava as the lead characters whose lives are turned upside down by tragedy. The obvious autobiographical tones cannot be ignored except the story begins with five young adults standing in Waterman’s Bay in Perth, Western Australia, facing the Indian Ocean.  One is reading a poem while another is holding a canister of ashes, Ava’s ashes, and the rest of the troop are wondering what it all means … while I wonder in real life how the story will turn out.

I know I will not begin with the how to, career book, The Mystery Behind The Masters (MBM), targeted at back-to-school professionals and which already has an unreadable first draft to it.  It’s still a worthy write but not this year and maybe not next year either.  The sabbatical will definitely not start with Noisy Neighbors (NN), a fictional comedy about Hank and Lucy and the wacked-out, eclectic neighborhood they moved into.  Because Hank has difficulty remembering people’s names, Lucy dubs each of the houses by their owner’s personalities.  In NN, you meet the young couple, the gay guys, the single lady, the weirdos in the green house, the surveillance freaks, penis boy’s mom and dad, and of course the noisy neighbors.  NN is both comedy and drama because these neighbors are actually connected by more than just their zip code only they don’t know it.

HDU_Gatitahomeless

Gatita in the front cactic bed of the Hook House. Apparently, I’m not scratching her enough so she’s taken matters into her own face.

Even though With Love, Big Lou (WLBL) isn’t on the short list, I can’t help jotting notes into the biographical WLBL files as memories spill out about my father and a series of letters he wrote to me over three decades.  Nor is 30 Days in The Jungle (30 Days) on any list except my hard drive one, about my online dating experience prior to Hook when I dated 12 men in 30 days and tiered the dates based on where I was in my 30-day menstrual cycle — the jungle.

Are these short stories, essays, books, or novels?

It’ll be interesting to see how and when each of these writings reveal itself.  Oh, and I almost forgot the last writing project titled, How I Survived in the Austin Wilderness After My Sucky Owner Deserted Me.  I could never desert her so you — whoever you are that is reading this post — you call me, okay, and say you’d loved to take my cat for a year.  Like Hook, she urinates outside.  Unlike Hook, she also defecates out there relieving me or anyone else of the litter box hassle.  (Actually, I can’t say Hook never defecated outside.  Let’s just say there is a hand-held spade in the garage that I never touch.)

My goal before July 15th is to choose only one of the stories above, to accept that as my calling and to resist “should” or “need to” or “must” and devote all of my energy and carrot-eating ways to writing that story.

“… someday if my life flashes in front of my eyes, it will at least hold my interest.” – Gregg Levoy, Vital Signs

Until next Monday …

Rosemary

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