My Writing Process Blog Tour

I herewith enter my work into a blog post relay, invited to do so by a wonderfully talented and generous blogger by the name of Thelma Adams. You can see Thelma pictured here, in a photo I pilfered from her FB post, showing her with MoMA film curator Rajenda Roy at the Provincetown Film FEstival. thelmaandroy

You can read her blog here: http://www.thelmadams.com. The first part of the process is to answer a few questions about my process.

To whit:
1. What am I working on now? Oh, dear, that is a convoluted question. Is it ever not a convoluted question for writers? It looks like we’re doing nothing but staying home and grazing, avoiding the telephone, shunning family and friends, being insular. But in fact, we have several projects at work in various stages, and everything out there is a distraction, every loved one an unwitting saboteur. Okay. So I’ll attempt to answer the question. I am at present accumulating research notes on life in Vienna and Zagreb between world wars, especially in the assimilated Jewish community, for a book I am writing about my mother’s generation, the losses they endured, and the devastating effect of that loss on my generation. At the same time, I am interviewing people, visiting sites in NYC for my column in Catch & Release, the Columbia Journal online (http://catchandrelease.columbiajournal.org/2014/06/12/get-real-robert-schenkkan-helps-unpack-the-paradox-of-all-the-way/), which I file every other Thursday. So far, I have posted stories about Hilton Als, Robert Schenkkan; a look at the Leslie-Lohman Museum will debut Thursday, and I am working on my post for the week of the 10th of July. Stay tuned. When it comes to my blog, I try to write my own observations. Sometimes I review film or theater or literature, sometimes I’ll describe a character or characters, other times I’ll comment on a social condition. Often, I reprint articles that I have published elsewhere.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Like most skillful writers, I have a distinct voice, a specific point of view. I am a story teller, and I try to infuse some of my sense of irony, even my dark humor, but I am not a comic writer; I tell stories with pathos, but I am not a dark dramatist. I let the story mirror its own emotion, keep it as non-manipulative as the story allows me to be. I am more interested in the people I write about than the plot of their story, so there will always be more detail about the life my characters live than the blow-by-blow of the storyline.

3. Why do I write what I do? I am compelled to write about moments I believe will shine a light on other people’s circumstances. I hope that there is a universal nugget in every story I tell, a portal to understanding some aspect of the human existence that had been hiding under a different point of view. I am especially interested in why and how people survive, what survival costs and what it earns, how survival redirects lives. I am less interested in heroics than I am in the more difficult task of surviving in the face of powerlessness. There is more acknowledgement for the survivor who rails against fate and wrestles it to the death than there is for the survivor who flees. Sometimes escape takes more courage, more strength than any kind of pushback, and I want to tell stories of people who endured, carried on, lived with the knowledge that they did not turn things around.

4. How does my writing process work? As you can plainly see from my first reply here, I am an inveterate procrastinator, but that procrastination is integral to my process. I must take walks, wander my apartment investigating the contents of my cupboards and refrigerator, flip tv channels, crunch chips or cucumbers or cauliflower, play a few rounds of Scrabble while my thoughts gel, and then I can begin to formulate the words on a page. I am a good excuse fabricator, but in the final analysis, I can get down to business pretty efficiently, especially if I know I have a deadlines,  to which I am very responsive. (One reason I returned to school last year was to impose stricter deadlines on myself.)  Mostly, I think the hardest thing I have to accomplish is giving myself permission to write. I grew up being trained to see my duty to family, house and community as far more important than the simple accumulation of words, and I a constantly reminding myself that writing is my work now, writing is my obligation, writing is my reason for being.

I have invited three writers to join me on this tour, and I am awaiting confirmation from two. But fortunately for everyone, Caroline Gerardo, the author of several novels, including Toxic Assets and The Lucky Boy, has agreed to join. Besides being a novelist, Caroline is a performance poet, a photographer a blogger (http://carolinegerardo.blogspot.com ). Caroline lives in California and Wyoming with her children, and you can learn more about her here: http://carolinegerardo.com/home. I am posting today, and she will post her tour blog next week. Coming in the next day or two, the names and bios of my second and third partners in this venture.

My newest blog post, entitled LA MISERABLE, will appear here tomorrow at 8 a.m.

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Schedule Yourself a Playdate

Until I read Thelma Adams’ Playdate, I thought it was a woman thing. . . .

When I was staying home with my kids — there are a few of them, and they are very closely spaced — people used to ask me pointedly and with no small modicum of condescension, “So, what do you DO all day?”  As though caring for small children, running a home, even just keeping the toilet paper stocked were not taxing enough.  I worked outside on a variety of projects that generated some extra cash, but I didn’t have a “steady job.”  Consequently, I was a nonperson.  Ask Social Security.  They’ll show you just how little I am worth as a result of those years outside the FICA pale.

Adams’ Playdate features a stay-at-home parent, a handsome young beefcake  and former weatherman from Barstow named Lance.  His life is spiced by the honest satisfaction he derives from watching his daughter blossoming into womanhood and healing his belly chakra through the variety of tantric sex positions he studies with yoga instructor, who happens to be the wife of his wife’s business partner.  The book is funny and entertaining, and the characters range from Barbie -and-Ken shallow or slightly loopy to downright and absurdly insane; based on my year of living reluctantly in California and my frequent visits to the La Jolla area where the book is set, they rang true.

But besides being a quick, fun read, the book scratches at a dark veil that shrouds two issues and renders them rarely talked about: human beings are threatened by choices others make, and child rearing is regarded as a part-time endeavor that demeans those who choose to devote their lives to it.

Lance is a “househusband.”  His wife Darlene is a wheeler and dealer, so Lance manages the cookie sales for his daughter Belle’s girl scout troop, drives her to and from her various activities; he spends his days washing, drying and folding the laundry, shopping for, cooking, and baking the food or scrubbing, scouring and polishing the house before he finally manages to catch a break over coffee and some community gossip at the nearby Starbucks before he jumps into his car to retrieve the child.  The men in his circle consider him a loser, and they call his wife a sucker for having married him.  “At my house,” brags the next-door neighbor, “I earn the dough. I’ve never met a woman who makes as much as I do. Never.  Nunca.  If a man earns less than his wife, he must be really low paid.  What kind of freeloader would let this happen?”

The observation is shared at the requisite revelatory party scene, the one where all characters’ secrets are discovered, set as a rather slapstick dinner honoring Robin, the sister of Lance’s playmate, who has written a sociological study called Househusbands and the Women Who Love Them, which has become a runaway best seller.  Darlene and Lance find themselves defending their choice to live as they do, but they also find themselves seriously questioning whether their critics might actually have a point.  Have they chosen wisely?

It’s a funny moment, made funnier by its poignancy, augmented for me by the resonance.  I lived through parties like that one, and my life was then and ever after of questionable esteem.

After thirty-three years of tending my marriage and that crop of delightful children, I left my husband to pursue the writing life I had postponed.  In one of our divorce mediation sessions, my spouse asserted, with absolute conviction, “You really don’t deserve to have half of everything, you know.  Because even when you worked fulltime — and you only did that for the last twenty years — you made less than a third of my salary.”  No one batted an eyelid in consternation, and I was blind-sided, but I should not have been.

In those years, the world had concluded that since women were liberated, they should not be allowed to sit at home and eat bonbons anymore.  In society’s eyes, I had not accomplished anything measurable — except, until I finally got to the gym to work it off, a substantial amount of baby weight.   If I had had, in those days, a good offer to engage in an independent yoga/tantric sex project with a willing man, I might have accepted gratefully.  Truth is, however, where women might find househusbands sexy — “oooh, they have such a prominent feminine side!” — men are not so enticed by housewives whose clothes smell of baby farts and whose bodies lumber from the strain of spending the day as a jungle gym.  Even when men appear to be bottom feeders, they are higher in status than the women toiling next to them.

No kidding.  We should talk about this.  Women and men should have options, and society should reward them for making bold choices.  Instead of criticism, both men and women who stray from the accepted norms should be applauded for having identified what they want, decided what they are willing to do to get what they want and then for going after it. Whatever it is.  It’s what we love about good acting; it’s what we should relish about good living.

And frankly, someone should be minding the kids!