Friday, April 29, 2011

Coming Soon: A New Piece in The Rattling Wall

I like how things connect.

Here I am at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts finishing up a month-long residency. I was here, also, back in the fall of '08 just after Mr. Ex and the Little Missus got married. November 1st was my last night, and I posted THIS. I still love that Tony Hoagland poem.

May 1st will be the last night of this residency, and May 1st (or maybe it's the 11th?) is the day a piece of mine comes out in THE RATTLING WALL. Tony Hoagland will have some work in that issue too.

There will be a sampling of writers from the May issue reading at The Hammer Museum on May 11, and again at the Silver Lake Jubilee. I will not be reading at the Hammer, though there is a small chance that I might read in Silver Lake. The title of my essay is "Stones and Bones."

Mr. Ex and I used to live in Silver Lake. The more I think about it, I'd say there were problems, even then.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What? This is My Last Week at the VCCA?!

The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts is paradise for both Chuck and me.
He gets to stay, but I'm going to have to go.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Truth of Memoir vs.The Truth of Fiction

When I say that my ex-husband told me, all in one conversation, that our marriage was over, that he was getting re-married to another woman, and that he wanted the two of them to live in our house because it was a good place to raise a family, I don’t mean that the emotional punch of that news was such a wallop that it felt like one conversation, and that, in reality, those facts were wrenched from him over a matter of days. I don't mean that in order to convey my “personal emotional truth” I needed to conflate those events to translate the magnitude of my devastation to the reader. No.


What I mean is that it was one conversation.

Certainly there is truth in fiction. Or why the fuck would we read it. There’s truth in poetry, too, and in music, and visual art.  But when I read a memoir like Alice Sebold’s Lucky or Abigail Thomas’s Three Dog Life, I don’t think Alice means that the guy who attacked her in the tunnel frightened her so badly that it was like rape. I don’t think Abby means that it would be nice to imagine sleeping with her dogs after the death of her husband, but really, she can’t stand the dog hair.

I started a new short story this morning. It’s a story about an ex-wife who breaks into her Mr. Ex’s house and takes 5K in cash that she thinks she has a right to pocket as her own. She drives a mini-van, turns right on red when the sign says, “No right turn on red….” Any of this sound familiar?

This woman in my story, let’s call her Brenda, also has a target in her car from a shooting range and a To Do list that says, among other things, “Kill Michael and The Tart.”
She gets in a whole lot of trouble.
And yes, while some of this story is made up, much of it is true. In bits and pieces. Some of it happened to me. Some of it happened to people I know personally. That doesn’t make it memoir.

As for you, Greg Mortensen, I won’t pronounce you guilty without a trial. But if I see you in the next five minutes, before my hot little head cools off, I’m gonna punch you right in the nose.

Monday, April 18, 2011

After Two Weeks at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts

A lot of people brought bottles of wine to dinner the other night. Wow, I thought, everyone’s in a pretty festive mood for a Tuesday. Turns out it was Friday. I’m not sure where those lost days went; that’s the way it goes here at the VCCA. Life is so streamlined that the writing just runs away with you, and the next thing you know half your time is up. One day you walk in the woods and it looks like this:

And the next thing you know, there are about three times as many leaves on the trees, and you think, that was quick.

Here’s what’s working in my streamlined writer’s life:
Laughing at breakfast.
Walking from the residence to my studio alone while dawdling as much as I want. 
Firing up the laptop and the electric kettle.
Sitting in my comfy chair and meditating. (Which for me is kind of like chasing a wood chuck  around the barn and through the pasture.)
The wood chuck insists on no more breathing in and breathing out.
I shuffle through my new system of index cards.
I start writing.

This past week, I’ve been looking at the cards that say, “Tidbit” and “Short Story” and when I find something that gets my attention, I begin a story. I’m on my 4th story—which is to say I have a very shitty first draft of four stories.

And also…..I’m proofreading….the memoir…..manuscript two…words at….a time.
Ten pages…. at a…. crack twice…..a day. Again.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
FYI a woodchuck is the same as a ground hog. Another name for that cute little critter is “whistle pig.”
As they say, "You can't teach a pig to sing," but I guess whistling is something else entirely.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 6 at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts

Spring is unfurling here in Virginia and so is my ability to concentrate and work. 

Now that the notebook project is finished (see previous two posts,) 

I have been dividing my time three ways: working on a short story, polishing my memoir manuscript, and sending out sample pages and/or a proposal—or at least a query letter for my memoir. My A list submissions are ready to go.

In a couple of months, I will move onto the B list if need be. There will be plenty of time while I’m here for digging into my next manuscript, too--the divorce manuscript. Working titles: His Big Fat Indian Wedding, The Geography of a Divorce, Flying Blind (since I flew around to be with family and friends because after 32 years in L.A. with Mr. Ex, I could not tolerate being there.) Suggestions? Feel free. I also like The Marriage Museum or the Marriage Mausoleum because he’s living in “our house” with the Little Missus and raising his new family there where we raised our girls. A little creeeepy. There’s something wrong about sleeping in the same bedroom, occupying the same space with the Little Missus that he occupied with me. Even the same bed—though at some point, they got a new one, I heard. There’s only one wall in that bedroom that will accommodate a queen size bed—so the two of them are right there where he and I used to be. The only way to change it up would be for him to sleep on my side of the bed…..which is even creeeeepier. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts/Day 2

Do not be alarmed--I do not plan to blog every day while I am here at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. BUT… I am still primarily in digging mode and I’m un-earthing things that need daylight. I feel like the ground hog next to the horse barn outside my window who pops his head out occasionally for a paranoid peek around. I, too, am mostly underground, getting ready to pull my head out of this pile of notebooks and write.

But meanwhile there is this:
It seems that, years before I became a writer, I bought a pretty hardbound notebook. The cover is a detail from a painting of Venus and Adonis by a French painter named Charles Joseph Natoire. I have no memory of what purpose I had in mind for this pretty book. It contains lists of things to do—gardening projects and home maintenance chores, a roster of people I sold tickets to for my kids’ school fair, a list of jobs for the rummage sale I was heading up for a non-profit, phone numbers for people I don’t remember, a Christmas shopping list. 
Here's what I got for Mr. Ex that year:

On a page in the middle of the book was this:

“Let’s say we’re sisters.
“No triplets! We’re all identical.”
“No I’m adopted.”
“Well, I’m a princess.
“No, no—let’s be cheetahs. I’m the fastest in the world. Let’s say I’m a lost cheetah and you found me.”
“Can I be the owner?”
“I know! You can be a princess with a cheetah.”

Oh, these little minds content in the back seat, oblivious to the freeway. I change lanes while they exchange their crowns for spots. I plan dinner and they plan their lives in their jungle palace. The traffic jam of domesticity has closed all roads while they soar from place to place with plans so much grander than mine. I took the reality exit. Warning! Do not back up.

I have no idea why I wrote this down.
My daughters were very young then—judging by C’s contribution to the book.  (She wrote some letters and numbers backwards when she was really little. ) 
And I have no idea why, when I began to write, I could not write dialogue. I’m sure it took me forever before I opened a story or an essay with a conversation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Writer's Residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts/Day 1

My writing life has been in need of some serious repair.
So here I am--just 24 hours since I arrived at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Already I feel the blossoming.

I brought 21 little notebooks with me to the VCCA.

Disorganized paper versions of my disorganized brain. Each one filled with ideas for essays, short stories, stuff for the memoir and stuff for the novel. All completely un-findable when I want to find it.
I'm half-way to fixing that.

Which is not to say that I'm shredding all of it. Much of it I've already used. Some of what's left no longer interests me. Some of it was useful in the short story I started today.

Other things are a revelation. Like this personal note from 2005 or maybe 2006. I found it in one of the little notebooks that I began keeping when my first real writing teacher, Barbara Abercrombie, said that a writer needs to carry a notebook and write things down.

Mr. Ex frequently came home from his office at 9 or 10 p.m. in those days and some nights never even said hellohowwasyourday, and sometimes I worried that he would leave me. I never confessed my fears to anyone.

A year or two later when he did leave me, I told everyone I'd been completely blindsided.
And I had been.
But I also felt insecure enough to wonder what I would do if he left me. Worried enough that I took out my writer's notebook and wrote it down.