Writing

Reorganizing Under The Influence

Images-1A good chunk of my publishing career, God help me, was pre-Internet. Yes, the New York Times has digital archives of the hundreds of articles I've written for the paper, dating back to the 1980s, but if you looked at my home office, you'd never know it. 

Back in the olden days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, when I published an article in the NYT, my husband would painstakingly cut and paste the paper on to one or two sheets and then make two dozen copies. I sent some to out-of-town family and friends (I'm talking envelopes and stamps -no email back then) and then saved the other copies in a file cabinet. 

Okay, I just checked and I published 443 articles in the paper before 2003. A search for articles after 2002 comes up with 844 results. Now picture all those articles, multiply by 20 copies or so, and picture the state of my office. Download-1

Slowly, I've been sorting through them - keeping one original and recycling the rest. I'm struck by a couple of things:

  1. My God, I was prolific! Some days I had two and even three articles in a Sunday section. I wrote much more for Metro than I remembered. I really worked hard and rarely took a week off.
  2. I don't remember writing most of these articles.
  3. Many of them are painfully dated, particularly the health stories (the new concept of managed care!) and the many pieces about the development of the Internet - how it was influencing medical care, college searches, etc.                

As to filing under the influence, I have had some sort of flu this week (yes, I had the flu shot) and  keeping things in chronological order between sneezing, coughing and low-grade fever is a challenge. Yes, 1994 came before 1995. I'm almost sure of it.

Anyway, time marches on, and I'm doing all this cleaning and sorting to make room for my office to double as an extra guest room. I expect grown children and their loved ones - those very kids who I used to bark at with, "Don't bother me now! I'm on a deadline."  I need to be done by Christmas. Onward.

 


Our Separate Selves

ImagesMost of us wear many hats, seamlessly transitioning from professional to mother to volunteer to cook to spouse to that woman at the gym that used to be in much better shape. (That's was me this morning.)

But there are days when these worlds seems to collide instead of blend. 

I cannot be specific on social media, but here's a major hint about my new gig: the image above is one of many things I pass by on my way into teaching my memoir class. The classroom is a world unto itself. For me, it's been like discovering an entirely new universe. Not just the millions of Americans who are locked up at any given day. I had a vague sense of that. But the humanity inside those walls has been a revelation. It shouldn't have been. But it was. 

I don't romanticize this population. Most have done horrible things. And I received a lot of training about boundaries, which I scrupulously respect. But once you've spent time there, you feel differently about your own life. The food on your table. Your movement. Your home. Download

I was just texting with my daughter, who this year will be preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner.  I'm sad she won't be home, but also excited to be walking her through the process. What a gift this is. What a gift our freedom is. 

I'm struggling to shake off the hours I spend inside those walls each week. But maybe I shouldn't try. Maybe they can help put my life into sharper focus.

 


Ghost Writing

Download-2
I'm reading "Sing Unburied Sing" by Jesmyn Ward and two of her main characters are ghosts. One appears regularly but remains silent, disapproval registering on his face. The other is less physically solid, but he speaks - in fact he narrates a few chapters.

In the last year, I've lost my beloved father, my little brother and one of my best friends. I have no visions, unless you count dreams. But it amazes me how often the three of them pop up in my writing now. They show up in pieces that seem utterly unrelated to any of them.

One writing prompt - kind of a complicated assignment involving old photograph negatives - brought up a scene of trying on maternity bathing suits while my friend Missy watched. She  laughed and laughed as I struggled to shove my ungainly body into the spandex. The dressing room was hot and crowded and I felt faint.

Missy gave me most of her maternity clothes. Today I'm having lunch with her daughter, who looks so much like her that I catch myself staring at the curve of her cheek.

When Dad and my brother Bill come in dreams, they are always healthy and well. And every time, while I'm dreaming, I think, "How did Dad get so much better? I can't believe how well he's doing." I'm confused and delighted with his come back.

 

 


Block by Block

IMG_7840
This 3 inch x 3 inch book contains 786 writing prompts. With a nod to Julie Powell, who plowed her way through Julia Child's "Joy of Cooking" (and walked off with a book contract and a movie deal),  I am thinking of working my way through "The Writer's Block" book, one prompt a day. But with no illusions of doing anything with it other than exercising my writing muscles.

I began on page one yesterday, with the prompt, "Describe Your First Brush With Danger." This led to a short piece on having scarlet fever as a baby. Of course this is a story I was told, not one I remember. The version I've heard is that no one noticed I was sick, until the pediatrician came by to attend to my older brother, who had a cold. The doctor brushed by me (I liked the double meaning of "brush" with danger and the doctor "brushing" by me) stopped, and say said, "This baby is hot. She has a fever."

Anyway, the story was always told as evidence of my sunny disposition - I was pretty ill, but too sweet-natured to bother anyone. (Those of you who know me now - please hold back your snorts.)

One more thing - though I am committed to this one-prompt-a-day exercise, I won't write about it here every day. I promise. And thank God, because I just turned the page, and the next prompt is the word "Diet." 

 


Ch ch ch ch Changes!

Download-1
It's been so long since I've posted on this blog, that I couldn't remember where it was hosted, let alone the password. Found it!

Next, I googled "Writers Block" to see if the name was taken as a website. (It is - owned by a company that produces wooden blocks that say...guess what? Yup. Writer's Block.) It's a cliche, I know, but Holy Cow, am I struggling. 

My last bunch of posts were all about promoting my book. It's been 5 years. Okay six. Since then, full disclosure, I have started and abandoned 3 book projects - a novel, a non-fiction book and a memoir. I'm wondering if public confession will help motivate me. Right now, it just feels shameful.

To any new readers, I am a writer. Really. I wrote for The New York Times for more than 20 years. I published a book with a division of Penguin. I had six days of fame, if you count fame as appearing on NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Fox & Friends" (God help me on that that last one.) 

And now...now my lovely daughter has told me to stop wallowing (my words) and get writing again (hers). I'm going to start every day with a writing prompt. And I am jump starting my blog again. And I am NOT naming it "Writer's Block." Encouragement and reality checks are welcome.