Monday, June 28, 2010

Cahabitating Is Not a Word

But cohabitate is; funny language, this English.

Becky and I have been cohabiting for a number of months, but only on a part-time basis. She has the Monkey from Tuesday night until Saturday morning; her ex has him the rest of the time. I’m not sure when her mother began saying “See you Tuesday,” when Becky left for work on Saturday, but Becky’s been spending her weekends at the Treehouse since December.

I knew sooner or later I would need to address the wisdom of sharing so much time so quickly.

It started with a toothbrush, permanently installed in my medicine cabinet. It progressed to a razor, living in my shower. I buy half and half (or heavy cream so I’ll have something to whip into fresh cream for berries, French toast, or espresso) even though I drink my coffee black. Five pound bags of sugar used to last the better part of a year. Since moving to the Treehouse in October, I’ve bought two.

Becky’s emotional impact has been less subtle; Akimbo knew me before Andi, and says she’s never seen me this happy.

The flip side of that happiness is the deferred misery I’ve felt the last few weeks. I keep coming back to Matt Prior, Jess Walter’s protagonist of The Financial Lives of the Poets: “It is the only unforgivable thing, really…to feel sorry for yourself.” I’ve quoted it at SwF&F before, and I quote it again to make you aware that I’m aware of it, and hope you’ll forgive the unforgivable. We’re coming up on a year since she said I think we should separate, and it’s certainly time to move on.

Tuesdays have been fraught with misery for some months. Becky and I wake, cuddle, and make breakfast, knowing we’ll be sleeping alone when night comes. I worked later and later every Tuesday, but I had to go home eventually. As months passed, my solitary doldrums stopped being about the loss of my marriage, and started being about the loss of Becky. I went from wallowing on my own to being unable to function on my own. That’s cohabiting’s only real loss; the realization I can function on my own after so many years of making every decision communally. I know I can, so I’m free to move on from that, too.

Becky’s parents are traveling the mediterranean, and we’ve decided to spend three weeks together in a house that isn’t ours. The end of a few weekend nights led to a sadness that made us question whether to keep them going. How difficult will it be to face the end of a few weeks?

Wise or not, I'm loving every minute.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some Like It Hot

Miami blog collective The Heat Lightning has decided I'm worthy of inclusion. I will have more to say about the mighty David Mitchell in future posts, but for now, check out this link.

If you're a SwF&F regular, you know John Dufresne's seventh rule of revision from Lie That Tells a Truth:

Challenge every exclamation point. Like adverbs, they are intrusive. You get, let's say, three exclamation points in your life. Use them wisely. Using an exclamation point is rather like laughing at your own joke.

Upon editing, The Heat Lightning used two of my three. Other than that, I'm pysched.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Luck is Opportunity Plus Preparation

I had an agent’s attention a couple years back. Before coming to Books & Books, Marissa had ghostwritten a couple of biographies with famous folks and had also interned at several agencies. When she found out I’d written a book, she demanded to know why I hadn’t approached her before. After asking about what I was working on and what I’d completed, Marissa suggested I contact Courtney Miller-Callihan at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, Inc.

Not only did Miller-Callihan accept email submissions - quick and easy - Marissa had seen her in action and knew she was good at her job.

I emailed Courtney Miller-Callihan at SGA the second draft of Scratch the Dead Places (horror of horrors; at least it wasn’t the first draft). She passed on it, of course. At the same time, she told me she liked my writing and would look at something different. I sent Ming and she responded enthusiastically. I sent a version with some revisions she suggested, along with an outline for parts one and two. She replied with a tremendous email that was two pages long when I printed it out.

I made the changes she suggested immediately. Then I sat on them.

When I sent Ming back, along with a short story collection called Whistling Past the Graveyard to apologize for taking so long, I was shocked to find that a year had passed since our last correspondence.

I’ve since learned how rarely this kind of feedback happens, and how well it portends. I’ve also learned that from an agent’s perspective, when there’s a long period of silence after so much back-and-forth, the agent assumes you’ve used their advice to improve your work, attempted to sell it to a different agent, failed, then come crawling back like nothing ever happened.

Timing is everything. There has to be a reason I didn’t just send it off immediately, right? I had to deal with my marriage breaking up, after all. Cheap excuse. The fact is, I wasn’t aware of those problems until a couple of months after the revised Ming was ready. The breakup prompted me to send my work out, to try and make something of my life.

Am I so afraid of failure I sabotage every opportunity?

When we first corresponded, Courtney Miller-Callahan was not listed on the SGA website. Now she is. I can only assume her plate is fuller than it once was, or (uh-oh) she’s lost interest, or (worst of all) she’s forgotten Ming. Do I follow up? Do I use divorce as an excuse? Do I take it as a learning experience and move on?

I think yes, no, and yes.

I've been preparing long enough; it's time to create an opportunity.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Blog vs. Blog

What makes publishing folks want to turn a blog into a book? Julie Powell decides to record her experience of making every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the course of a year. The Julie / Julia Project becomes Julie & Julia. Julie Powell launches her writing career, and eventually the story inspires a movie which gives Meryl Streep the excuse to embody Julia Child.

Powell was so successful that it made other authors get gimmicky. The Year of Yes. Yes Man. A.J. Jacob's began with reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in Know-It-All, progressed to following every (EVERY, not just the Big Ten) rule in the Bible in The Year of Living Biblically, and moved on to a variety life experiments in The Guinea Pig Diaries. But as good as these books are, they're off-topic. None began life as blogs.

Being an asshole is another way of getting a book deal. Not just any asshole; you need to be an asshole on a scale so grand that you could smuggle illegals over the border in your rectum and they would thank you for the experience and remark on the luxuriousness of the accommodations.  I’m speaking of Maddox, techo-geek-craptastic-testosteroney-self-aggrandizer behind The Best Page in the Universe and eventually, The Alphabet of Manliness.

More recently, I’m speaking of Tucker Max, whose online recounting of partying and fucking became the bestselling I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. I don’t know what happened with the movie, but when I saw they chose a cozy-looking actor who is actually less good-looking than the author, I decided to take a pass. I’m going to judge the movie sight unseen and say it tanked because they tried to soften the prick’s personality by going with an affable guy. Who’s interested in a soft prick?

Really, the most successful way to get your online baby reborn in print is by using a business axiom you’ve heard before: Do One Thing; Do It Well.

Think of high-concept fare like Hot Chicks with Douchebags (yes, I'm using high-concept correctly; not to be confused with highbrow, high concept is all about the idea). HCwD posts pictures of sexy women next to guys who make you wonder how the coupling came about, then he ridicules the guy and drools over the woman. That’s it. But it’s huge.

Do One Thing, Do It Well. Justin Halpern’s dad is good at dispensing off-color wisdom. Justin is genius at boiling these bits of advice into hilarious Twitter updates. Not a blog, but Sh*t My Dad Says still emphasizes my point.

Do One Thing, Do It Well, and why not put other people to work while you’re at it? Send me pictures of crazy things people will stick in their faces and call food. Send me passive-aggressive notes. Send me odd portraits of your family. Send me embarrassing text messages. Send me pictures of hipsters. Send me pictures of cute animals. No, I mean really cute animals. The list goes on and on.

I'll publish a book one day, but Sweet with Fall and Fish will never be a book because I write about what I feel like when I feel like writing about it. I could have compartmentalized. I could have called it My Sudden Single Life, written exclusively and obsessively about the break-up of my marriage, then dated my way through Miami and shared all about it.

 I could have called it Racial Profiling, asked for photos of cigar store Indians, black-face salt and pepper shakers, Mexican caricatures on cable TV shows, then categorized by race and type.

 I could have called it Cooks with Books, written about the process of choosing a new cookbook each month Bottega Challenge-style, coordinating chefs and a menu, and inviting folks to the Biltmore to eat a fabulous meal.

 I could record my attempts to be a published author. I could anonymously trash retail, or bookstore customers, or the book business (I actually did this once after a particularly harsh day; I wrote one or two posts, couldn’t remember my password, and decided the site was too bitter to continue anyway). Instead, I’m just me, writing about stuff.

At least I’m good at being myself.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It Could Always Be Worse

Clichés are the bane of a writer’s existence. They are also comforting for people in turmoil. In titling this post, I asked the writer version of me to turn aside in favor of plain old Aaron.

I just re-read a scrap of diary I titled Dark Night of the Soul, a perfect piece for putting my current misery into perspective. I’m frustrated over how long losing the defining relationship of my life has hurt. Understandable. But think about Tuesday, October 6th, 2009, when I came closer to suicide than any point in my life since 1980 [Yes, I tried to kill myself when I was eight years old, but the difficulty I’ve had editing this proves it’s more than I can explore here. In the end I removed that experience from this post. Suffice to say it was a genuine attempt, and it caused my parents to finally look at what alcoholism was doing to our family]. It’s a common experience for the third-born Child Of an Alcoholic, called the Lost Child, to attempt suicide without knowing why. Last fall, I knew exactly why I wanted to end my life.

A David Foster Wallace character said you kill yourself for the same reason people jump from a burning high-rise. He’d know, of course. I might not be able to describe the exact mix of emotions which leads to the point of desiring oblivion, but the Wallace quote does a decent job.

Although I’ve contemplated suicide often enough over the years, I’ve never forgotten how God spared me as a child (to clarify, I use God and Satan metaphorically, as shorthand to express myself, not to imply a biblical faith or a religious belief; human thoughts can not measure or define God). Even on my worst Dark Night of the Soul, I still believed that God never tests us with more than we can handle. You promise yourself the burden will become easier to bear, so you’ll carry it another day.

Then it gets better.

You’re humble enough to ask for companionship, and your friends surround you like campers nurturing a lick of flame into a fire, and it gets better.

Your family listens to you ramble, and it gets better.

You find a group of amazing women, ostensibly to discuss books, and it gets better.

You see a soul-fueling concert, and it gets better.

Your cat comes home, and it gets better.

The frangipani blossoms fall, Coldstone Creamery serves a Milk and Cookies shake, you write, you drink, you bike, you work, you think, you breathe in and out, and it gets better.

You meet someone special, a Queen of the Nile who feels like finding shelter after months wandering a storm, and it gets better.

I promise, it always gets better.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sangria + Tequila = Blogzilla

I am better than this.

I’ve never been one to define myself by the amount of money in my bank account – hence the sorry state of my bank account – but lately, it’s hard not to. In the classifieds of my old hometown newspaper, the Post-Standard, I saw a three-bedroom, two-bath home leasing-to-own at the $650 I pay for my studio apartment. Teachers making twice what I make are leaving in droves because they can’t afford to live here.

KRS-ONE says: “Make sure you got what you need. Put at a safe distance all those things that you want.”

Chuck Palahniuk, via the character Tyler Durden in Fight Club, says: “The things you own end up owning you.”

Buddha says to let go of ego and desire.

KRS-ONE spent some time homeless.

Chuck Palahniuk is a homosexual.

Buddha sat under a bodhi tree for a good long time.

All of them offer sage advice.

Why can’t I take it? I am not in debt, I’m paid decently for someone without a degree, I enjoy my job more hours than I hate it, I travel often enough, and I dine out as much as I like, and I don’t need to trade name-brand cat food for generic. So why, when I look around the Treehouse, do I feel sour?

This is the best I can do for myself? I think. That’s all? I was supposed to do something. . . important. Something national. No one told me this, I always knew I’d be a famous artist.

Then why aren’t I?

It’s bad when drinking alcohol becomes an activity, an end instead of a means to celebrate or a social lubricant. It feels like you’re doing something with your night, though, which is what makes it so dangerous. Like, I think I’ll get drunk when I get home. There’s your evening. I know I should be blogging, or polishing my inquery letters, or writing the column I promised The Heat Lightning. Instead, I feel the sting of tears that accompanies my unoccupied moments. One drink will make those tears flow like a wronged girl in a teen TV show, two will make me maudlin, but three, three will push those pesky feelings aside in favor of the buzz.

I remember being told again and again how my separation gave me the right to alcoholism. A lot of the people making that observation didn’t know my family history.

Walking home in the rain, plucking cockroaches from my drains, surrounded by the pretty people of Coral Gables, it all makes reaching for a bottle when I get home so, so easy.

And getting up the next morning to write that much harder.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bicyle Thief

My bike was stolen yesterday. The Rusty Nail was a gift, a garage sale hulk that weighed a zillion pounds. I bought two new tires for $50, a new seat for $90. I’m not sure what I spent on a pump and a red and orange safety light with three settings. The halogen headlight with three settings was also a gift.

After I wrote the above paragraph, I researched prices online. If I only paid $50 for two new tires and tubes, then that was the deal of a lifetime. At the same time, I couldn’t find a bike seat that looked like mine at $90.

Maybe that’s how memory lies, $50 a way of saying the tires were cheaper than I thought they’d be, $90 saying that I spared no expense on a seat that would keep the blood flowing to my penis. Then next time I buy tires and they turn out to be $40 a pop, I’ll be like, “Fuck, these are way over-priced.” My next $65-dollar bike seat will be like, “Wow, what a bargain.” As David Mitchell's Ogawa Uzaemon observes in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, “Memory is tricks and strangeness.”

Anyway, a ballpark of the bike’s worth is $192. What it’s saved in gas and burned in calories over the last two years, I don’t have the inclination to measure or guess. I’m sure it’s impressive.

I’ve been airport run-man lately, taking Becky to the airport and keeping her car while she was out of town, taking Akimbo to the airport and keeping her car while she was out of town. With all this motorized transportation at my disposal, the loss of the bike hasn’t really hit me.

I've missed the ride from my old place, nice and long so I had plenty of time to think my thinks. Walking to work once and a while has been my replacement. Walking to work because I have no choice makes me question my whole existence.

A pause.

Before I rant, I want to make it clear that I have options. Friends have proven more than willing to chauffeur me around. Friends have also offered indefinite loans of brand-new bikes and gifts of old bikes. But it’s been a shit walk home and I’d like to vent, you got a problem with that?

Rant on.

Wet from the constant drizzle, covered in spiderwebs from industrious arachnid workers who string the sidewalks from bush to tree (and taking refuge inside passing umbrellas), dodging oblivious drivers who pay more attention to their cell phones than pedestrians at the ends of their driveways or near stop signs, wet ground stealing my flip-flops every tenth step because Old Navy decided to do some weird wavy shit with their cheap flops this year which creates suction more than cushioning, this has not been the most pleasant forty minutes of my life.

Picture me in the dark, standing on the sidewalk in the drizzling rain, staring into these palatial Coral Gables homes. Am I so unworthy? Have I lived my life so poorly? It’s getting to the point where I want to walk up to the biggest house I pass, knock on the door, ask the owner what they do for a living, and start doing that- be it biomechanical engineering or high-yield bond speculation, drug dealing or white slavery, corporate law or political lobbying.

I’ve always been an A student, excepting a few partying semesters of college. I could live in my sister’s attic, attend Syracuse University for free, and see what the job market is like when I’m forty-five.

Normally I tell myself how young thirty-seven is in a literary career, how all my life I’ve been a late bloomer, and I sleep the sleep of the hopeful.

Brushing webbing out of my hair when I get home from work makes it a tougher sell.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It Doesn't Matter if You've Got a Fresh Bentley

No matter how early you got up, someone always got up earlier.

No matter how talented you are, someone is always more talented.

No matter how rich you are, someone is always richer.

No matter how good looking you are, someone is always better looking.

No matter how driven you are, someone always has more drive.

No matter how disciplined you are, some is always more disciplined.

You have to let a lot of that shit go, the comparing yourself to others, self-doubting, wanting shit. You also have to work a whole lot harder.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Writing My Heart Whole

I’m editing, deciding if I want to replace the file last saved on February 9th 2009 with this morning’s file. Have I been out of the game so long? Blogging and journaling have kept my writing skills limber, but being pulled along by my imagination is a the feeling I started writing to pursue. Has it really been over a year since I got off on making stuff up?

Ah, a fresh reason to be angry with my ex. I was worried for a moment there.

In all seriousness, lately I find myself almost constantly on the verge of tears. Any time I have a moment to myself, when I stop reading, writing, working, or watching TV on DVD (pabulum I love such as Friends, Seinfeld, and South Park), the lining of my throat gets thick and the back of my eyes sting.

How long does it take for the misery to end?

Longer, I suppose, when you’ve buried the hurt in new love. I was too cowardly to face my pain all at once, so I’ve decided to dole it out over a period of…who knows how long…and compound it with the guilt of making Becky feel like she’s not enough to keep me happy.

Of course, no one is enough to keep another person happy; ask a suicide. The only person responsible for one’s emotional state is one’s self. Yet if I allow myself to be miserable, it’s tough for Becky not to take it personally. And I don’t want to hurt her, so I keep it inside.

I’d like to be over my marriage, over Andi, over the hurt, over the anger. I’m not. Knowing when I will be would be nice, but the heart is not a wind-up toy.

Crying doesn’t help. Drinking doesn’t help. Writing my stories, much as it pains me to admit it, doesn’t help. It’s been divine losing myself behind fiction lately, remembering there’s more to pushing the cursor than hashing and rehashing the past, or worrying about the future, or decrying the present, but it’s no different than watching a Sex and the City marathon. It’s doing so I don’t have to think.

My not wanting to be in pain has no bearing on whether or not I am. The only thing that helps me feel better is writing about my feelings. For a Child Of an Alcoholic – and this is psychology talking, not just me – it’s tough to even know what I’m feeling, let alone articulate those feelings or explore their origins.

As frustrating as it is to have lost so much time being miserable, and writing about being miserable, these weeks of getting back on schedule have taught me I’m not ready. The number of stories I had running all at once before my life changed, it’s overwhelming. I can’t work like I did. In some ways, this is good. I was being pulled in so many different directions at once that I never moved. Focusing on just one story, I have the chance to move forward and finish something new.

In the meantime, there’s still some crying to be done.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You Should Check Out Lip Service

Before I began submitting stories for Lip Service, I heard tell of them from my co-workers. Books & Books always underestimated the turnout, rarely having enough chairs, cramming far too many people into too tight of a space. This is a better event than the alternative, of course.

Usually the only person with a book to sell at Lip Service is its co-founder Andrea Askowitz, author of the hilarious and moving (and far less trite than that descriptor) My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy. She always sells a few copies, but I wonder what all those bodies mean for business in general. I spot a few wine glasses and beers, but not many books. Nearly everyone snags a parking stamp, each stamp paid for by Books & Books.

Well, so what? More than money, the main event is the community, coming together, supporting each-other’s truths.

I watched number 12, featuring Heartbreak Pill author Anjanette Delgado and Secret Names of Women author Lynne Barrett. As an audience member, I didn't need to worry about when it was my turn. The evening was moving, funny, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking. I had a great time.

Esther Martinez is Lip Service’s other co-founder. Telenovela, her story of her mother’s infidelity, was simultaneously as funny and poignant as the best of David Sedaris.

My favorite of the evening was Jonathon Irpino’s hilarious Cuddle It Out. We always love the things which make us laugh more than what we admire. You can probably say that for people, too.

These stories I’ve mentioned, along with Lynne Barret’s perfect The Borges Cure, seem complete in a way my work never is. Probably because, as they say, the hard part of art is knowing when it’s finished. I’m sure if I spoke with the writers afterwards, I’d hear about the parts they hated, how they wished they’d taken more time, about how it was supposed to end this way but ended up another. I wasn’t feeling social, so I’ll never know.

I identified most with Andrea Askowitz's story. She’s written a book, she’s working on her second, she’s given a lot of local writers play they wouldn’t otherwise have through Lip Service, she’s directed a non-profit organization, she has a lovely wife and two children, but it’s not enough.

“I want to be famous," she said. "I want to be a great talent. I want my work to be recognized.” I want, I want, I want. Her words embodied my own insecurities and desires.

The piece was mostly about her mother, who sat in the back row. When Andrea read the part where her mother says “How did the time go so fast?" and "gets a little tear in one eye," those of us a row or two away clearly heard Askowitz’s mother respond by saying, “bullshit.”

I identified with that, too. Writers are completely full of shit, so why should memoirs be any different? Truth, what’s that? You mean, how I saw it? We were both there, but I wrote it down and you didn’t. I’m right (write?) and you’re wrong because my words are in print.

I quote the narrator of John Dufresne's honey and broken glass Requiem, Mass:

“I’m sorry if you’re offended, but sometimes a writer needs to bend the truth to fit a more efficient and attractive shape. And sometimes a writer finds that he has to flat-out make things up because that’s the way he wants or believes his life to have been. So he changes the truth to change the facts because he’s trying to make sense of his life, and the life he knows he lived is not always the life his fallible memory recalls.”

You’ve been warned.

Now keep your eye out for the next night of Lip Service, because it’s well worth the price of admission. Which is nothing but your time, and your attention.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

You Should Read Brock Clarke

Brock Clarke has a new book coming out in October. Here’s an excerpt from 2007’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England which proves you should care:

     I took my leave of the women (mostly) and the café and began wandering through the bookstore proper, making my way to the memoir section. It didn’t take too long. The memoir section, it turned out, was the biggest section by far in the whole bookstore and was, in its own way, like the Soviet Union of literature, having mostly gobbled up the smaller, obsolete states of fiction and poetry. On the way there, I passed through the fiction section. I felt sorry for it immediately: it was so small, so neglected and poorly shelved, and I nearly bought a novel out of pity, but the only thing that caught my eye was something titled The Ordinary White Boy. I plucked it off the shelf. After all, I’d been an ordinary white boy once, before the killing and burning, and maybe I could be one again someday, and maybe this book could help me do it, even if it was a novel and not useful, generically speaking. On the back it said that the author was a newspaper reporter from upstate New York. I opened the novel, which began, “I was working as a newspaper reporter in upstate New York,” and then I closed the book and put it back on the fiction shelf, which maybe wasn’t all that different from the memoir shelf after all, and I decided never again to feel sorry for the fiction section, the way you stopped feeling sorry for Lithuania once it rolled over so easily and started speaking Russian so soon after being annexed.
If you don’t find that passage a delicious appetizer which leaves you dying for the rest... what's your problem?