I mentioned previously that I’ve been reading Charlie Jane Anders’ craft book Never Say You Can’t Survive that dropped recently. I’m finding her insight refreshingly accessible and compassionate. She believes in her characters, and she especially believes in their feelings and how those feelings drive their decisions and move the plot forward.
My expertise is mostly in memoir and poetry, but I like to read about how all kinds of authors make a book happen, whether they’re writing about a mother with unrecognized mental illness (hello!), a murder mystery set in Paris during the Belle Epoch, or mushroom-shaped aliens from the planet Gorb who just want to be friends with humans–or so it seems.
When I read the quote cited above, I underlined it with my black pen, hard, and drew a big star next to it. Big stars mean business. Big stars make it easy to find what matters to me in a book long after I’ve read it.
When I drew that star, and every time I reread the quote, my heart turns icy. For me, this is terrifying. I can’t bear the idea that I would become my mother, yet I can bear it, otherwise I wouldn’t draw a star next to Gornick’s sentence.
I feel as if I’m re-learning how to write. Or maybe finally learning how to write. Or maybe that’s what it is to be a writer–to cycle through the re-learning how to do this art for every project you have, every major life change, every significant emotional shift or growth or loss you experience.
When I began writing my memoir Terrible Daughter, about how I became estranged from my parents, I was married, had two dogs, lived in the heart of Boston, and spent most of the winter at a small apartment in Florida. In the years since then, I got divorced, my dog died, my ex kept the other dog–the loss of which I still feel keenly–had to leave my home in Boston, sold the Florida place, and moved to Maryland. And I earned an MFA.
Well. Sometimes I feel the Universe does not, in fact, want me to write. Too bad, Universe!
Here’s the short version: two days ago, while hanging out at the pool and right after I’d finished my previous blog post about wine and working and wine, I became suddenly nauseated and lightheaded. Two wonderful fellow residents helped me get into the shade and even fetched me an apple. I walked back to my studio, took a shower, and fell into bed.
I’ve spent the last 48 hours alternately eating and napping, wondering if the heat, direct sunlight, and low blood-sugar knocked me out. I can’t believe how much day-sleeping I’ve done. So I had accomplished no work since my last blog post. Boo.
Last night the visual artists here hosted open studios. I love open studios. Writers love visual art, don’t we? It’s so inspiring to immerse into a different art form. It fills me up, feeds my own creativity, and I’ve felt so deprived since lockdown began a year and a half ago.
So I walked around studios and was stunned at the amazing work happening here: acrylic and oil paintings, abstracts, portraiture with a twist, geometric imagery, sculpture with leftover plastic combined with strung lights, all sorts of things I’d never think of. What a delight.
And I get to talk to all these people about what we do and why it matters to us and how hard it is but also wonderful. We sat around afterwards and drank wine and talked until it was dark and late and hazy. I slept late this morning.
And today I’ve made progress on my manuscript. Will someone keep reminding me, please, that new writing is supposed to be crappy? To let it be crappy until it’s time for editing? Because that’s what I’m trying to do here: write and move forward and keep moving forward. No piecemeal editing here. That’s for FUTURE AMY. I’m sure glad I’m not her!
For a person who hates drama, I sure had a lot of frickin’ drama this morning.
First you should know that I have polycythemia vera, a chronic blood malignancy. I’ve had it for many years, my whole adult life. It’s well-treated and managed and I’m very familiar with the symptoms and how to deal with them.
But still. Sometimes this never-ending fatigue gets to me. I want to do The Things! I have all this mental drive and often my body cannot meet the demands of my brain. But I have many techniques for doing my work while not feeling well.