Life these days is good. Real good. I have what my friend Michael calls his "favorite problem"...aka "artistic/social over-abundance". There are three to three hundred things I want to attend. Tonight. Every night. Recent events: Opera in the Park; Cyndi Lauper (and company) live at The Greek Theater; Don Giovanni at SF Opera (left at break to have a photo shoot on my motorcycle with my friend & co-Cyn-fan Mark); a lit reading with the youth writers from LYRIC along with Vanessa Lewis and Anne-E Wood;
(here's a pic of the LYRIC READING:)
the G/L/B/T Film Festival and Gay Pride (which I hadn't attended in YEARS); and hearing Pocket Shelly perform at The Make Out Room. I've gone to listen to both Tony Kushner and Joyce Carol Oates at The Jewish Community Center; saw Joe Goode Dance Company's Humanville; and let's not forget the highlight of my summer so far: Sing-Along Grease at The Castro Theater (to name a few). (see pics)
Sometimes I wish I could split up my inner-twins (I'm a Gemini), sending each of them each out into the world to see/experience twice as much. Since school ended, I've been rather indulgent. I feel like one of those supine ladies being fed by some buffed bearer of fruit. Films, opera, dance, readings, concerts, art exhibits, etc. I'm reading novels and stories for the best reason of all: because I want to.
I had to learn the hard way that it's my own responsibility to show up for outside stimuli that requires nothing other than my audience membership.
I'm a very lucky person because my work is mostly satisfying most of the time. There are those writers who teach because they have to. They do it, they say, because it enables them to write. (Frankly, I don't understand this strategy at all. Teaching hasn't been exactly "practical" in my experience.) I teach because I love teaching. Characters in novels and short stories go through things that mean something. They realize stuff and change. They live and die for good reasons. Or at least for plain old reasons. It's so refreshing, comparatively speaking. I want to be in a constant conversation about stories with people who are different from me.
I watch my most-engaged students change. Not just as writers. They look at the world differently as a result of the conversation. They teach me to see and embrace the messy and sometimes overwhelming contradictions that abound. Their compassion, expansiveness and generosity enables me. But teaching also requires work. Lots and lots of work. So does writing. So how do I manage it all?
It used to be when I was angry about the world or depressed and therefore reclusive, I could write and write. But that stopped working when I was living in Italy post 9/11/01. It's no secret that anger and depression turn inward-- and if left untreated--destroy. Having experienced a wide Without a "me" there is no story.
Gratefully, I haven't been very angry or depressed or reclusive in about three years now—so they no longer provide the energy I need to work. I now rely heavily on outside inspiration.
I recently went to hear Joyce Carol Oates give a talk at the JCC. That brilliant woman seems to have an inexhaustible amount of internal energy to direct toward her writing. She told us that she reads a lot and is an avid runner...but she also loves to write, loves to spend a lot of time in her office. She has probably written an essay, compiled an anthology, written an editor's note, and a novel in the time it has taken me to sit down and write this blog entry.
I admire her but know that my process is different.
I need films, dance, concerts, plays, festivals, readings, lectures—even the occasional date. I need conversations with people who aren't writers or artists. I need to hear about what it's like to breast feed, to hang glide, to get evicted, to start a business, to make your own diesel, to break up with your husband because you found a future wife, to take a loved one off of life support. I need to hear about that stuff not because I need to know how to render it accurately on the page (though sometimes it helps). I need to hear about it because I'm interested in people. It makes me feel connected. Alive. Part of something bigger than my own little life. Sometimes I need more than to hear about it. Sometimes I need to experience it.
Then there's family...How do writers juggle their careers and family? I'm single, and have no children of my own. "How lucky you are," my writer-friends with marriages and children say...
I'm expecting the birth of my forth niece. Paul, my younger brother and tied-for-first-place favorite-person-in-the-world and his wife are having their first child, a daughter. I left home when Paul was ten and we've lived with considerable geographic distances between us ever since. It's always such a shock to hear his manly voice on the phone. My emotional memory has him as that nine-year-old kid with missing teeth and grass-stained jeans in Westford, Massachusetts. I still picture him rolling on the grass with our dog Jesse or kicking a soccer ball or both. It's such a joy to see him as an adult, a homeowner, a husband, soon to be holding his own daughter. My older brother Jon and his wife have three daughters. The five of them are always on my mind. We try and get together at least once a year and to combine it with seeing one of our parents.
Speaking of parents...mine are very important to me. But again, it's a challenge. Each member of my family lives in a different State. It's not enough for me to write to or about my parents. I want to physically touch them, look at their faces, feed them food I've prepared. Watch them chew.
I'm also a yoga person, a runner, a phone-talker, and more. All of these things—all of the stuff that gets me out of the office and into the world triggers my desire to write. My biggest professional liability is that I want an interesting life more than I want a three-book-deal. I know it's entirely possible to have both. Because I know plenty of people who have book deals and fully-engaged lives.
I don't lack a single bit of inspiration—but I've struggled with finding the right strategy to manage the time it takes me to turn inspiration into art. Luckily the struggle has paid off. Now my friend Rick who wears many hats in my life (including business coach) says I should have a blog. I'm a big fan of struggle as learning tool. Because of it, I sometimes know who I am and who I'm not. I'm not Joyce Carol Oates. I require tons of stimulation when generating new material for a story or book. That shifts once I have a draft. Once there's a draft I can totally "JCOates out" and disappear into my office until the sun goes down. But that's rare for me and I've finally come to accept it. Once I worked on a novel for three years. It taught me a lot, but I gave up on it. I had to. It brought me to a very dark and ugly place. The novel I wrote before that took 5 years. I'm still collecting very polite rejection letters from editors who seem to like the writing but can't imagine a market. What can you do?
When I work with a new client or student, I encourage them to pay attention. To get to know themselves. Then we come up with a plan.
I just signed the paperwork for a Cultural Equities Grant I received, thanks to my friend Truong who encouraged me to apply. I've been waiting for the check to be cut while preparing to go to New York for my last month of summer. What am I going to be doing there? I'm going to be writing & researching the parts of my novel-in-progress set there. My cousin/friend Greg and his partner Michael offered to house me in their beautiful apartment in the East Village. I'm taking them up on it. The grant requires that I finish a draft of the novel and put on five public readings in the next year and a half. I've already had one of the readings, which was a blast. (I'll keep you updated on the ones to come.)
I have notebooks full of material on my protagonist. I'm often writing it when I'm out there "living." I even excused myself on a recent date and went into the bathroom to jot something down. But at a certain point I need to get away from my day-to-day life so that I can concentrate wholly on my project.
So I hope this entry gives you a better idea of who I am and my process. I'll be posting some of my fiction soon, too. And other pictures and small observations. That's what blogs are, right?
Hope to see you soon.