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Without going into unnecessary detail, the past several weeks have been a fucking shitstack. Painful doctor’s appointments (everything’s fine), aforementioned relationship reassessments, an ugly legal situation with a family member. Cake icing: the other day, I thought the frisky mambo my dog was doing in his sleep was just a new and charming quirk. Nope. Fleas. Hundreds of them, blood-swollen and voracious, a plague in my bed. Cue the horror movie soundtrack and smash cut to me, naked in the bathtub scrubbing one profoundly unhappy dog with people shampoo (because that was all we had). One flea pill, one dog bath, three human showers and five loads of laundry later, crisis averted.

If only everything in life was so easily resolved.

In my last post, I had a confessional moment about a bad day I had last week. A couple of close friends, people I truly adore, reached out with words of comfort and wisdom. So valuable. Equally valuable was an ongoing e-mail exchange with a writer I haven’t met yet, who shared a little bit about her own struggles—a moment of intimacy I’m so grateful for.

I clipped my Facebook and Twitter accounts last month, mostly because I was spending entirely too much time worrying about who liked me or what everyone else was doing without me. Social media is a hamster wheel of comparison and envy I just don’t have the constitution for, at least not right now. It’s freed up a lot of brain space, which is great/scary, but the added benefit is that I no longer have access to the fuzzy, distant connection with my friends and acquaintances that keeps me from reaching out to them in a more personal way.

I’ve sent and received more phone calls and emails over the past month than I have in the previous six. And they’re so much more meaningful, so much more direct than reading “Just got back from an idyllic trip to Croatia” or “So, this happened: [insert humblebrag or adorably self-deprecating incident recap here].” Which is fine and all, but there’s something about knowing a tiny bit about what’s going on in someone’s life—through social media, I mean—that creates inertia in me, that ramps up my already sizeable unwillingness to reach out and make a more personal connection. Personal relationships are already fraught and difficult for me. The last thing on the fucking planet I need is something that makes me feel less inclined to be connected.

And, re: connecting, I’m in Santa Barbara right now, finally putting a face to a writer penpal I’ve been conversing with for over a year. It’s weird, and sometimes awkward, and mostly kind of awesome. He and his wife—I’ll call them John Gregory and Joan because they are, indeed, a whip smart and very amusing writer couple—have been remarkably kind and gracious to me, plying me with dinners, cocktails, a comfy townhome to stay in.

I’m still feeling battered, bruised, sad. But today there will be a fried egg sandwich at Renaud’s, a slow walk on the beach under a perfectly overcast sky. Later, I’ll go to their house, pet the soft ears of their adorably liver-nosed Jack Russell, maybe another visit to the bookstore.

Someone asked on another blog recently if it was about the journey or the destination.

Today’s it’s the journey.

 

I can’t stop thinking about Hedy Zimra. I didn’t know her. I’m not even sure what happened to her, but now she’s dead. Hedy wrote beautiful, weird short stories that I bookmarked in online literary journals and read again and again. There was just something that I wanted to keep. Like this and this.

After she died, I read every tweet in her Twitter feed, looking for clues. Where’s the tipping point? I couldn’t parse it.

Her daughter wrote a diary post for Rookie just a couple of days after she died, and it makes me cry every time I read it.

*

Yesterday the doctor who did my preliminary interview at the sleep clinic kept circling back to the psych questions.

“Do you think about harming yourself or others?” he said.

“Yes. Don’t you?”

“How often?” he said.

“Every day.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Mostly others,” I said. “Does that help?”

“Not really,” he said, without even a hint of a smile. “What about thoughts of suicide?”

“What about them?” I said.

“Do you have them?” he said.

“I thought this was a sleep clinic,” I said. “I have a therapist.”

“I’m a psychiatrist,” he said.

“Really?” I said. “How’d you end up here?”

He didn’t want to answer, muttered something about the brain-sleep connection, looked away.

Fair enough, I thought.

*

There’s a big hole in my heart from scooping things out of it:  my mother’s ashes gone, finally, from the trunk of my car; a five-year friendship I cherished, scattered to the blowing winds of insecurity and judgment; another, longer relationship I should never have called a friendship in the first place. All gone, wrenched from my body with words sharp as an ice pick, with silence loud as a scream. Last night I stood in my bathroom and hit myself in the face until my knuckles hurt worse than the hole. It’s as bad as it gets, and then hopefully it gets better.

Because the worst thing about living a lie is just wondering when they’ll find out.

 

 

 

I finished the PEN Mark program a couple of weeks ago. I’m one of those people who needs time and space to process intense experiences and I’m still too up close and personal with this one to be able to speak comprehensively about it. I wrote my final blog post for them last week. You can read it here, or you can just listen to this Blackfield cover and you’ll get the gist.

 

I blogged at PEN today about my sordid childhood reading list. You can read it here. It got me thinking about the literary caste system, which I didn’t even know existed until I started writing. It’s kind of fucking me up.

When I was a kid, I read what I could get my hands on. Sometimes it was relatively highbrow (Look Homeward, Angel, for example, when I was wayyy too young to be reading it), sometimes not (book I can no longer remember the name of that featured a girl giving a blowjob in every single chapter, ditto). Honestly? They were pretty much indistinguishable to me at the time. My only requirement was a deep well of elsewhere to fall into.

I picked books in the library by wandering the stacks of fiction and pulling titles that appealed to me. I’d crouch down right there in the musty aisles and read until my legs got sore or I got bored, whichever came first. If I read long enough to need to stand up and stretch, I’d check the book out. I was only allowed ten at a time, so I chose carefully.

When I started writing in 2006, I had a lot of makeup reading to do. The recommendations poured in like rainwater. Stacks of partially read books accumulated on my bedside table and spilled over into piles on the floor. I started to feel guilty about not being able to get through some literary darlings. I bought and gave away Housekeeping several times. Ditto The Corrections and Infinite Jest. For the first time in my life, reading started to feel like a chore.

Concurrently, I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of prestigious residencies.

“Oh, you write memoir,” the PhD poet said one night at dinner. “That’s…[glacial pause]…interesting.”

A similar story is better told here. It’s endemic.  

And another writer acquaintance told me the story of a lout at a fancy colony we’ve both attended who cocked a eyebrow and said, in that voice, when he heard she writes YA, “oh, are there vampires in it?” Bitch, please. I can’t out her here, it’s not my story to tell, but believe me, her book is stone fucking brilliant and his is…well, thus far his is unpublished. And I’m not unhappy about that.

I’m all over the place today, but my point is that there are all kinds of great books in the world. I read everything. Don’t you?

The silver lining in meeting people who openly display their disdain for genre writing is that it makes it easy to choose a different seat when I next find myself in a room with them. Life’s too fucking short. Also, the conversation at the Untouchables table is SO much more interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, I know some amazing highbrow writers who are earthy and funny and kind and real. My litmus test occurs when I say I haven’t read [insert any of the numerous classics from the pantheon here]. If there’s a slight nostril flare or a raised eyebrow, they’re dead to me. The real literary gods light up like I just gave them a present.

“You haven’t?” they say, eyes gleaming. “Oh, you’ve got such a treat in store.”

Those are my people.

A Better Version Of Me

I was going to post a video of Fiona Apple singing “Better Version Of Me,” but I found a live version of “Extraordinary Machine” that was so spectacular I wanted to share it instead. They’re both about dealing with adversity, so I felt like I was covered. And she’s so fucking brilliant. (I, on the other hand, am not, because I couldn’t even fucking figure out how to embed a video, and I finally gave up. It’s here.)

Over here on the PEN blog, I’m talking about Google self-diagnosis, perfectionism, and my ongoing quest to drag my fucking book across the finish line. And there’s a great Bukowski video, because they’re pros over there. They also get really excited about comments, and I’d love to hear how you transcend your sabotage-y impulses. If you have any. Hahahahaha, I can’t even say that with a straight face.

There Is No There There

 

 

I went to a fancy writer’s salon last week. I brought a shitload of wine and cheese and I spent an hour helping set up beforehand and I still felt like a fucking imposter.

Someone got shitfaced and sang Joe Walsh into a microphone. A woman asked me if writing my blog was fun. I was supposed to have dinner with a writer I deeply admire, but the night slipped away and it didn’t happen. There was a long conversation where several writer women professed to have big, thick writing cocks. I’m guessing at least one of them didn’t remember it the next day.

In quasi-related news, I had an email exchange with a young writer about fellowships and writer’s block and what can really fuck us up and I wrote about it here. It wasn’t fun.