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.
Yesterday I woke up and finally reckoned with the fact that I probably have a UTI. If you don’t know what that is, you are lucky.
I drove to a nearby town to locate an urgent care center. It was Saturday, a holiday weekend, and even the urgent care centers in this part of Virginia were closed.
Except for the CVS clinic. Let me tell you, I am now a big fan. There I found a nurse practitioner who told me even though they generally take walk-ins, they were fully booked with appointments that day. I wasn’t surprised. It’s the weekend, there’s COVID flying around, and lots of people are not masking.
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.
I don’t even know where to start with last night. I’m in Virginia, a fellow at an artists residency, where sometimes we share what we’re working on. Visual artists have open studios, composers play either live or recorded original music, and writers have readings. Last night, I read from my memoir-in-progress, Terrible Daughter, sharing the stage with another writer.
It went really well! I truly enjoy reading my work for an audience. It was gratifying to hear that people enjoyed it. If you’re a writer and the open-mic thing scares you, take the leap and try it anyway. It’s okay to be scared. This is the only way writers can get immediate feedback and engagement with their craft. And the writing doesn’t have to be perfect or even polished to be a good read.
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.
Woke up at 3 am with a raging tension headache–radiating from the back of my neck down into my shoulders. Or vice versa. It was brutal. And I still have it. Go away, headache! Don’t you know who I am? I’m Very Important and I have Very Important things to do!
So I took it easy today and worked on being okay with taking it easy today. It’s my first day of this residency. Of course I want to work and make myself feel good about working and workity work write write. I’m a writer and stuff with stuff to get done!
I have arrived at my writing residency and all is well. When I was here before, I had a separate room and writing studio, which is the case for most fellows. This time I’m in a small apartment so I’ll work and sleep in the same place. It’s quite spacious and I have a mini-fridge. Score!
Listen, I don’t know what I’m doing. I just want to say that up front. I know what I’m doing, as in I know how to write. But I’m having a tricky time figuring out my psychology right now. I did not thrive under quarantine, as I mentioned before. Creatively it was a really tough challenge.