"The true New Yorker secretly believes that anyone living anywhere else has got to be, in some sense, kidding."
"But it's the truth even if it didn't happen."
"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
-George Bernard Shaw
"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties."
So NaNoWriMo begins today. This week on my writing list, my beloved Tania sent out this topic. It could not possibly be any more appropriate. Here are my first 323 words.
Things My Best Friend Taught Me for 10 minutes
(actually, for the next 30 days)
Anna taught me that each time you're reincarnated, you come back and meet the same people over and over. Anna taught me that it is almost impossible for me to fall asleep to music, although I will eventually doze off when I am sleepy enough. Anna taught me about the scent of patouchli and that just the right smile and twist of your neck will charm the hell out of the old rasta man selling 100 sticks of incence for dollar on the corner of 8th and Broadway. Anna taught me about sitting in a park along the Delaware River after school and planning when we'd lose our virginity. Virginities. Anna taught me about New Age music and Fugazi, about fishnet stockings and chain link belts and thick coats of red lipstick. Anna taught me that perfectly plain hazel eyes, stripped of mascara and eye liner and coffee colored eye shadow, will bore right through me and make me feel seen, really seen, for the very first time. Anna taught me about the moment when I'd climb the stairs from the train platform into the big waiting room at Penn Station and see her standing there, snapping her gum and looking around anxiously for me - she taught me how just the sight of someone you love can bring you to life instantly. She taught me that the sight of me might do that for someone else, too. Anna taught me one person can be the bravest and weakest you ever met, sometimes in a single act, sometimes in a single split second. She trained me to walk fast on the streets of New York, to keep your eyes down so people will walk around you. She taught me how to make waiters fall in love with me and she taught me that no matter how hard I run, how fast I go, I will never, ever, ever be as beautiful as her.
Thanks to rikki for the great quote above and the ones to your left :)
Heather used my questions for the Friday Five this week! I feel honor bound to answer them. I should have thought of that before I made them so hard :(
1. Were you raised in a particular religious faith?
Yes, I was raised Roman Catholic. Twelve years of Catholic school.
Every single time I say the above to anyone, they invariably cringe. Never fails. Did you cringe?
2. Do you still practice that faith? Why or why not?
No, I don't practice. If you are Catholic and you want your kids to be Catholic, I strongly recommend that you not send them to Catholic school. As with everything, kids form their impressions of religion early, and I remember being 8 years old and wondering why I had sit with my class instead of with my family or friends; why I had to go 9am mass on Sunday and *only* the 9am mass - no other mass was acceptable; why my mother, a grown woman and head of a household, was required to write a note to the principal explaining why she chose to take her child to the Sunday 10am mass instead of the 9am - ugh, it was just a mess. The principal of my school, Father Dougherty, was a real asshole on a major power trip. He made the first eight years of my experience as a Catholic miserable. By the time I got out of his hands, I was so bitter that there was really no recovering for me.
Still, there is a part of me that feel comfortable - even at home - in a Catholic church, at a Sunday mass. I wish I could have just experienced the spirituality of it instead of all the human nonsense that really screws up Catholicism for a lot of people. I miss it sometimes.
Of course, there is the teensy weensy little problem of my complete disagreement with the Catholic church on abortion, homosexuality and women in general - but again, I think that comes more from the people who are unfortunately in power in the church than from the religion itself.
Its fucked up, man.
3. What do you think happens after death?
I believe in reincarnation. It just makes sense to me. Why come here once? What's the point of that? What do you learn? Is life really just one long audition for heaven?
Or do we come back again and again, confronting the same issues each time until we get them right, meeting the same people until we resolve our relationships with them? Life just makes more sense to me as a place where you come to learn about yourself, about how to live in the universe, how to resolve the issues that keep you from realizing everything that you are.
Anyhoo, you know - reincarnation. Yeah.
4. What is your favorite religious ritual (participating in or just observing)?
I starting doing zazen, Zen Buddhist meditation, about 2 years ago. At the end of a weeklong writing workshop, participants had the option of staying an extra three days for a silent retreat - no talking, just zazen, dharma talks and writing. I loved my Zen Buddhist writing teacher and the short bits of meditation she had us do in class, so I opted to stay. Those three days were an awakening for me.
Sitting zazen is a miserable experience. You assume a position and you don't move for at least thirty minutes. You don't scratch your nose, you don't move your leg when it falls asleep, you don't adjust your posture when the pain comes - and it always comes. You sit, you notice your pain, you notice your discomfort - and you keep going. You count your breath - in breath, 1, out breath, 2, in breath, 3, out breath, 4, - up to ten. Then you start again. When your mind wanders - and it will always wander - you just notice your thoughts, then come back to your breath. You always come back to where you are, no matter what comes up. An itch that you're not allowed to scratch is awful, but it goes away. The pain in your leg is awful, but it goes away. Nothing is permanent. The only thing that is permanent is your breath.
I don't think I'm explaining it well. There really is no way to explain zazen, I think. For me, it brings me back to myself. It quiets my mind. It focuses my thoughts.
And there is just something incredibly powerful and awesome about being a room full of silent, still people in meditation. I feel closer to myself, the universe - to God, I think.
This is a great time to move forward on any writing project that you might have had sitting on your desk for a couple years, Susan. Any large, long-term project involving communications, film, or even long-distance travel is begging you to take action. Don't delay any longer. You have a strong, activating force that is urging you to move
forward on such things. Look ahead into the future with a positive attitude instead of thinking of all the reasons why these projects won't pan out the way you want them to.
And this was yesterday. I don't know what significance it has, I just really, really like it : )
Emotionally you are feeling confident and people can't help but notice this as you radiate a loving, peaceful calm as you walk down the street, Susan. Eyes will turn your way and you may have complete strangers coming up to you and telling you how beautiful you are. Remain confident yet humble and you will inspire people just by your peaceful, glowing presence. Take advantage of this wonderful day by simply enjoying yourself for the beautiful person you are.
Identify something or someone you fear. What is the source of this fear? Where does it come from? Give it a shape with concrete details - make it an animal, a person or an object. Use only sensory perception or action. What if it were following you? What if you were facing it for the first time? What if you turned and confronted it? Asked its name? "Why are you here?"
I don't remember if it was cold or warm, I just remember it was sunny. Of course, its almost always sunny in the morning in New Mexico, so that doesn't really help. I remember it was right after breakfast, a typical Mabel's breakfast of homemade blueberry pancakes, probably a dish of quiche sliced into pie-shaped pieces, a basket full of thick slices of bacon and pitchers of fresh-squeezed orange juice. I remember as I walked carefully down the thin, scraggly path to our classroom in the next building, I saw Natalie standing on the edge of the gravel parking lot with Sean. Sean was talking, Natalie looking up at his face. She was smiling so big, and Sean - Sean was just talking like Sean always talks in that calm, Zen way of his.
I went inside and took my seat for morning class, everyone settling in around me in their chairs, balancing cups of coffee and notebooks on their laps. Natalie bounded in a few minutes later. She was in a giddy mood, which is not at all unusual. She was laughing, smiling, almost jumping out of her skin as she called for us to quiet down. "Claaaaaaaaaass...claaaaaaass..." She ran the bell three times and we all became quiet, settling into our sitting positions for a few minutes of meditation as we did at the beginning of every class.
When we were done, she began (and I paraphrase)...
"Claaaaaaaaaaaaass, I have a very special announcement to make today. As you all know, Sean has been co-teaching these workshops with me for a long time now. I don't know how many of you are familiar with his writing. Sean is a wonderful writer. This year, he finished the novel he has been working on for the past 12 years, and this morning he came up to me before class and gave me some good news. This morning, Sean found out that his novel won the Hemingway award."
We all burst into applause. The freaking Hemingway award for a first novel. Natalie was beside herself with pride. Sean was suitably humble and witty. We gathered again in the classroom that night after dinner and he read us the first chapter. It was hilarious and brilliant. We couldn't wait to read the rest.
After 3 years of revising and editing and rights selling and hair pulling and blood-letting, the novel is finally released today. It's called The Hope Valley Hubcap King.
Malachy McCourt said, "Samuel Becket ... would gladly lay claim to this rich, vast, and slyly comedic novel that leaves you laughing and weeping . . . Read and rejoice."
Publishers Weekly said, "...this book has 'future cult classic' written all over it."
Do yourself a favor and pick it up. Support a great new author. It's only $5.99. At that price, you afford to throw in his great book on Zen, "One Bird, One Stone." Besides, you'll see my name in the acknowledgements for both. Isn't that alone worth it? (And no, it ain't Susan.)
(Yeah, I know this sounds like a commercial, so sue me. How often does a friend release an award-winning novel with a major publisher? How often, I ask you??)
Congratulations, Sean. No one deserves it more!
And what a lovely note on which to begin National Novel Writing Month.
Less than four days til the novel thing starts! Quite a few of my little friends have signed up, so I'm gonna go all Pimp Daddy on their asses now and make my very first NaNoWriMo demand:
In the interest of, like, community and shit, let's all post a little bit of something by Friday at midnight. Something, of course, that you wrote on Friday around your novel. It doesn't have to be a lot, it doesn't even have to be good. It just has to be done. I think it'll be a good little momentum starter and will make us all feel that we're, like, getting stuff done! Already! On the first day!
Hmmm. Perhaps I should propose that we all post something every Friday for the month of November, just a little something each of us has written that week, as a kind of check in. I'm also gonna be posting a word count here and updating it daily. If you see it ain't going up for a few days, please feel free to kick my ass. Even the Pimp Daddy needs some slappin-up sometimes.
So who down wit me? Holla back, my Crazy Novel Writing Bitches.
1. Reading the argumentative essays my students wrote and writing comments on them.
2. Planning what the fuck I'm gonna teach them on Tuesday.
3. Figuring out what the fuck I'm gonna write for the "face your fear" exercise I have due on Wednesday night.
4. Working on the 10+ to-be-workshopped pages I have due the following Wednesday.
5. Reading the next two chapters in Writing Fiction.
6. Scanning the back pages of the "Poets and Writers" that came in the mail yesterday for contests and journals that I can submit things to and marking them with the little red sticky arrows I purchased specifically for this purpose.
What I Am Doing Today:
1. Thinking about how Angie Stone's "Wish I Didn't Miss You" is the perfect song to listen to on an early Saturday morning bus ride to southern New Jersey.
2. Thinking about the 3 really good-looking Beastie Boy wannabees who rode the same bus, who each sat in his own seat, who each yelled to the other across seatbacks, who each laughed at the others' dumb New York observations, who each planned what they would eat at the diner at 34th and Market when they got back to Philly, who each wore a piece of dumb hipster clothing - a puffy trucker baseball cap (turned sideways, of course), a pair of black wraparound sunglasses, a three-quarter length maroon leather thrift store jacket - and whose voices I drowned out by cranking up Angie Stone's "Wish I Didn't Miss You Anymore" on my headphones.
3. Remembering the way my 8-year-old cousin got up from the party table, left behind all her little 8-year-old girlfriends and her pizza and her presents to run into my arms and squeal when she saw me arrive.
4. Remembering painting tiny, palm-sized jewelry boxes with my 8-year-old cousin, my 6 year-old-cousin and the 3 kids that remained when all the others had left while all the other grown-ups sat in the living room talking about the little 8-year-old girl who had taken over the entire party and my cousin's personality during the time she had been there.
5. Remembering painting my jewelry box red on the lid and pink and purple on the bottom and the inside, remembering my cousin telling me how cool mine looked, remembering me finishing it and telling her it was for her.
6. Remembering sitting at the dining room table and picking out tiny plastic jewels with my cousin, deciding with her where exactly would be the best place to glue them onto the sides and top of the jewelry box I had painted and given to her.
7. Remembering my uncle talking to one of the mothers, pointing out that she had been at all three of the birthday parties in the last month (his, my 6 year-old-cousin's and now my 8-year-old cousin's) and saying how she should get some kind of medal for that, and me saying I'd been at all three, too, and shouldn't I get a medal, and my uncle saying, yeah, but you're family, you have to be there, and me thinking - I'm family. I'm family. This is my family. This is the place where of course I'd be, where I'm expected to be, where I'm a default guest, where I don't have to wonder if I'm invited or if I belong - I just do. I just do.
8. Remembering standing there pondering that as little girls tugged at my hands and pulled me into the playroom, thinking I belong here, who knew I belonged anywhere, who knew there was a place I could be where I didn't have to fight to get in, where there would be people I wouldn't have to convince to love me, they just would, all the time, no matter what. Who knew.
9. Remembering everyone hugging and kissing me goodbye, my aunt telling me not to be such a stranger, my crazy 6 year-old-cousin holding onto my ankle and yelling at me not to go, and laughing in spite of herself cause she knows how cute she is.
10. Remembering driving to the bus station with my mother and feeling her take my hand and hold it as we waited at a red light.
11. Remembering climbing onto the bus in the dark and sliding into a seat near the back next to a young, thin, sleeping man with his ass half in my seat and his head resting on the window.
12. Remembering the annoying noise of a movie playing the entire ride home - "Clockstoppers" - and drowning it out by cranking up Angie Stone's "Wish I Didn't Miss You Anymore" on my headphones.
13. Thinking about how Angie Stone's "Wish I Didn't Miss You" is the perfect song to listen to on an early Saturday evening as you ride a crowded Greyhound bus along the New Jersey turnpike and see the lights of New York City come into view as you head back home from an 8th birthday party in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.