Un-Still Life With Kleenex

I caught a cold over the weekend, and stayed home from work on Monday. It’s not bad as these things go, so I went to the IPRC for class in the evening. I was scheduled to talk for five minutes about a zine I like. Hmm. I had hoped to dig up an exquisite mini-size fiction zine like the late lamented Lunch Hour Stories, one story per issue, since we’re focusing on fiction and that’s the sort of thing I’d love to put out. But in the time-and-germ crunch I ended up going through my shelves and pulling down Beer Frame. Every writer needs to consider the origins and strangeness of everyday objects like the Brannock device, right? And think about marketing campaigns and slogans like “America’s Favorite Banana Milk”?

It was received politely. I have no idea what other people will bring in when it’s their turn. Fun! When I was scanning my shelves, I realized how many of my zines, even the big names, are now defunct and getting onto a decade or more old. Dishwasher. Zuzu and the Baby Catcher. Beer Frame, too– there were ten issues. (Now the author writes Uni Watch, a blog about sports uniforms. Go look if you want to know what comprehensive means.) Zines are supposedly ephemeral, but once they make it to someone’s collection, they stick around– because if you let them go, you may never see them again, Amazon/eBay or no.

I think I need to lay off the Nyquil. It used to make me delightfully sleepy when I had a cold and took it before bedtime TV, but this week I found myself playing Plants vs. Zombies on Sanguinity’s computer until one a.m. Then I slept on the couch until my alarm went off so I could catch a bus at 8:20. It’s been a long time since I was that groggy. It was REALLY HARD to make myself sit up, make coffee, find clothes. And yet, of course, I did it.

It made me wish I could bring that kind of will and discipline to writing. And kind of mad at myself that there’s just no way. I’ll do that to keep a job, I’ll do it if someone is counting on me. But if it were just for myself and writing, I’d have been sleeping. Could be rebellion, could be a short-term/long-term glitch in my brain…whatever. That’s how it is. SO, I need to make getting up for the job do double-duty, and sneak writing in on top of my workday. I’ve decided to make a habit of staying on campus until it’s time to catch the 5:10 bus, which will still get me home by six p.m. I’ll feel more free to do home stuff when I’m home, and when I’m working well I can do that thing I love of writing three times a day, with sessions before work, after work, and in the evening.

I tried it out today. It’s the first week of classes. I had done my usual thing of skimping on lunch because I was busy, so I went to get a bowl of glorified rice and beans by the MAX stop. I quickly realized two things: students order and pay one at a time, not in groups, and they all do it with credit cards. It’s like no one under 21 knows what cash is. It took forever. But then I got some good work done.

Also, last night while Sang was teaching I let myself play as much Plants vs. Zombies as I wanted (hours! set off my first cob cannons!), and then I deleted my account. Its thrall was starting to fade anyway, and it doesn’t fit with the writing. And now I have told you all and cannot go back.

My new diligence comes from this: KFC meeting next Wednesday, and I need to hand out my story to the IPRC class the following Monday, in zine form. So really, I need to write the story by the end of the weekend. Right now, it is a handful of tentative fragments.

And, my IPRC teacher emailed yesterday to say I’ve been assigned a mentor, and it’s Moe Bowstern, who writes a zine about working in commercial fishing in Alaska, and looks so incredibly cool. I so hope I have something worth working over with her by the time we meet in November! It is not that far away.

I am baffled about where running will fit into all this. I feel like I’ll have to adopt one of those “eight minutes a day” exercise plans. But I’ll let the germs clear out before I worry about it.

Happy October, everyone!

How to Tell If You’re Lazy

I grew up lazy, and I’ve stayed lazy. I’ve always liked to eat ice cream and cake, and the line of least resistance for me has always been close to the border of sleep. When I was nine or ten, I kept an enormous mound of comic books on the floor of my bedroom, and my favorite thing was to burrow into my mound, find myself a comfortable position there, and in this wonderful swamp, which was also readable, I would reach a state that fell exactly midway between reading and napping.
Wallace Shawn, “Myself and How I Got Into the Theatre”

This post title and quote have been sitting in my drafts folder for a few weeks. I even drew a mind-map on 9″x12″ newsprint in an attempt to figure out what to say. “Lazy” is in a circle in the middle. There are other Wallace Shawn quotes, questions, phrases, reminders of anecdotes, solid lines and dotted lines all over the page to connect them.

It’s all an artifact of a couple of days when everything I thought of seemed to connect to everything else. If it had all come together, wow, what a great essay that would be. But it didn’t, and now I’m pretty sure the moment has passed. (Maybe because…I’m lazy?)

So I thought I’d just post it now, because I love the quote, and because I’m still wandering around in the fog, trying to think about discipline, willpower, schedules, rebellion, whining, stress, fatigue, time, failure, change, and laziness. And then trying not to think about them, because none of it seems very useful. I guess I’ve had a week of mostly failure. Writing time comes, and I sit there doing whatever I was doing. The hour for writing shrinks to the half hour, then is gone like the last bits of moisture from a cast-iron pan when I dry it on the stove. I just want time to stop. I have difficulty wiping my mind clean and focusing. I resent the things that steal my time, but considering they’re things like “earning a living” and “procuring food,” who do I think I am that it should all be handed to me? And when I have a chunk of time to write, I am not writing anyway!

You see how it goes, round and round. “Fighting tofu,” Writing Down the Bones calls it. (Hmm, in 1986 Natalie Goldberg felt it necessary to explain that “tofu is cheese made out of soybeans.”) I feel worn out with making myself do stuff, and with fretting. I feel like that horse in Glen Balch’s Midnight Colt that’s too high-strung to race. (Hee– the remedy for that was making him walk and walk and walk around an Idaho ranch all day, never allowed to run. He wore out three halter ropes with all his fidgets and fussing, then became a solid racehorse and won it all! Woo hoo, sign me up! Oh.)

Next week I am going to nail 12 hours of writing. I may not reach my ultimate goal of 21 hours/week until after next month’s 50-mile race. Because oh boy am I behind on that too. On Saturday I pulled on my running clothes in slow motion…sat on the couch and did nothing…filled my water bottle…sat…couldn’t force myself out the door until noon. I think I felt defeated already, and didn’t want to go through the pain and make it real. But then I did 20 miles with no knee trouble. Go figure. Now if I can just do some hill work in the next couple of weeks…

After a long stretch of kidlit and YA, it was jarring to open China Mieville’s The City & the City (the last “M” book in my alphabet project!) and start in on a murder-mystery opening much like The Black Dahlia, with a murdered woman’s body providing everyone’s investigative fodder. Not sure how I feel about that genre convention. Still, I liked some of his descriptions of police work:

Corwi did not try to disguise her police clothes because that way those who saw us, who might otherwise think we were there to entrap them, would know that was not our intent; and the fact that we were not in a bruise, as we called the black-and-blue police cars, told them that neither were we there to harass them. Intricate contracts!

And, more simply, of the lab at the station, “There were notice boards on the walls, from each of which grew thickets of papers.” Ah yes.

Birthday Weekend

My forties are pretty great so far. I took the day off work Friday and went to breakfast at Bar Carlo with Sanguinity and LeBoyfriend. Breakfast sandwich on brioche with avocado and egg, yum! We walked home by way of the dollar store so Sang could get birthday candles. LeB and I did the Friday NYT crossword while she got started on cake. The crossword was perfectly calibrated for us– we didn’t think we’d finish it, but then we did. How’s that for a narrative that’s boring to read but satisfying to live!

LeBoyfriend caught a bus back to his part of the city, and I headed out for a ten-mile run. My idea was to do 10 miles each day for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, then a one-shot 30-miler next weekend. As it turns out, Friday’s run at the college track was awesome, but Saturday’s was cut to seven miles for knee pain and Sunday was three miles out of time crunch and conservatism about the knee. At this point, I’m feeling fatalistic about the 50-miler. Whatever happens will happen, and there’s no point in pushing an injury in an attempt to train. I’ll still try for a good long run (and/or walk) next weekend.

The cake was a flourless chocolate number baked in ramekins and muffin cups. It had a souffle thing going on, very puffy but falling after it came out of the oven, leaving a chocolate meringue-like crust on top. Perhaps not county fair material but SO GOOD. Rich. Buttery. Dark. Chocolate. And I successfully blew out my candles, thank you. I didn’t wish for what I thought I would. But I will say no more. (I have the hardest time not discussing birthday wishes!)

On yesterday’s run I saw two large turtles in the Reed Canyon, sunning on a log, as well as a mallard pair with a very late brood of two tiny beeps. This morning on a dog walk, Sang and I watched a woodpecker (flicker, probably) go to town on a telephone pole. Can you imagine those incredible neck muscles! (say I of the fragile neck that needs daily yoga to avoid pain).

Also, fifteen minutes from now I will have met my writing time quota for this week. (I started counting on Friday, my birthday, and gave myself a head start with hours from earlier in the week. But still.) It’s a big jump. A big, big jump, and I do worry how it will cut into other parts of my life. But I’m already feeling a freedom and expansiveness because now there will be time to work on more of the ideas I’d have given up on before. I can take time to really fix things, and think about them. I’m revising a story with a deadline of June 30, and I can actually try different things without panic. I have time to tinker. Having plenty of time and plenty of work both, now that’s happiness.

Finishing off the weekend with another birthday celebration, Evan’s belated birthday sushi! I need to figure out the laundry situation too. The kitchen is in sore need of attention, and it’s so much more pleasant when Sang and I can tackle it together while reading aloud, but I guess that might have to be another day.

I hope all of you had a wonderful weekend too.

How to Write a Lot

I have what Anne Lamott might call a teeny little addiction to how-to-write books. Yes, I am aware that many of them strongly resemble each other. But the one I’m reading now is different, and it’s fun! It’s How to Write a Lot, by Paul J. Silvia, Ph.D. The reason I don’t roll my eyes at the degree in the byline is that it’s published by the APA and written for academic writers in the social sciences.

I skipped a few sections, like the chapter on style and the overview of the different parts of an empirical article, but the main thrust of the book, i.e. how to write a lot, applies perfectly to me. What’s more, unlike hand-waving books that make similar points, this one backs up its claims with inline citations. So appealingly nerdy! The author even tracks his writing time in SPSS. My day job is with social-work researchers, but this book is the first thing that’s actually made me want to learn SPSS.

In case you don’t share my quirks and don’t read this book, the message is simple: make a writing schedule, then carry it out. That will pretty much solve your problems. There are tips on setting goals and priorities and staying motivated, but they won’t help you if you don’t make a schedule and stick to it.

How to Write a Lot is more bossy buddy than anything else, but sometimes that’s just what I need. I appreciate the cheerfully opinionated: “Instead of writing review articles, people who don’t outline should drive to the local animal shelter and adopt a dog, one that will love them despite their self-defeating and irrational habits.” (Awright, a puppy! Just kidding. I outline…sort of. Sometimes.)