Tag Archives: #amwriting

Setbacks and surgery…

New Year’s Eve, let’s try venturing out, sure! In the spirit of cliff diving and taking chances, and sometimes you soar and sometimes you crash land, the test of my resilience arrived via a proverbial slap upside the head, out of nowhere.  We’re at a Santa Barbara resort party, chatting up a table of friendly Northern Cal folks, on a break from the 4 months of construction dust at home. I’m wearing those shiny black ‘f*ck me’ stilettos from a decade ago. The warning sign was there:  on the way into the party I hang heavy off David’s arm, those suckers were slippery.  No amount of scuffing those bottoms on the sidewalk makes them any stickier.

In the lifetime before this one, Dave and I took Latin dance classes.  We were so dedicated we sought out a weekly venue to practice our moves.  (And let the negotiations begin! Why, I ask, does the man always lead?! I’m uneasy with capitulation.) I have a selection of “sticky” bottomed shoes at our Florida place that still haven’t made their way to CA. 

You know where this is going, right?

Ah, yes.  Combine our rusty middle-aged minds and muscles with an overflow crowd and a DJ that adds a ‘salsa’ beat to every single song and the resurrected ‘who’s the leader here’ minor league arm wrestle and suddenly I’m spinning from an insistent turn of his arm but so is he, in the opposite direction.  

When I reach for him, whoops, he’s gone.

Suddenly, I am splayed on the dance floor. Shoulder in excrutiating pain. No recollection of the journey  from upright. Those goddam shoes! 

Doctors and MRI and Xray and finally, 3 weeks ago, I end up with surgical repair of the torn tendons, no choice in the matter.  Recovery, however, is my payback, my slap upside the head, my wake up. 6 weeks immobilized, 3 months of PT, 6-12 months to recover range of motion and be pain free.  No, I’m not frigging kidding. (And yes, you hear that right, house under construction for another 6 months, no kitchen, 600 sq ft of living space…)

There will be setbacks on every road, uh, huh.

Most disappointing, I’ve had to postpone an 8-week novel workshop with Joshua Mohr.  (Yes, my Stanford mentor and 1st novel editor, but also all-around-macho guy who advised my Stanford thesis, like, I don’t know, weeks after his stroke and heart surgery. Google Josh Mohr, read his memoir Sirens. Explain a few little tendon tears to guy like that?!) 

I was once macho! 2006 I had my cancerous left kidney and adrenal gland removed less than a month after my total right hip replacement! Sure, a few extra liters of blood required, but I paid our biweekly company payroll on time. In 2014, when I was hospitalized with a mysterious infectious disease and dangerous blood levels, I did payroll from my hospital bed via my cellphone hotspot. (It was anaplasma, a tic-borne illness. Antibiotics to the rescue.)

Anyone who’s had this damned shoulder thing will tell you the post-surg is worse than the injury. My sister urges me to give myself a break. The night-time “discomfort” brings me to tears of frustration. I refuse oxy, it just ain’t worth it.  And each bleary-eyed exhausting day seems to crawl further from full recovery.  I hate, hate lack of productivity.

This is my test.  

I have had the illusion of satisfaction, jobs well done, perfection (nearly) reached, and then…exchanged my life, world, home and vocation for another 3,000 miles and eons away.  Keep moving, keep striving, reaching for the brass. No, nope.  Stop.

It was different somehow, when my work was for others; that 25 years was an uber personal obligation but I wasn’t on my own. Now, the everyday is a fight for the motivation, an exhortation to myself and to no one else, to summon it, summon up the courage and the inspiration and the words, form the sentences and the thoughts and build a world on the page. No one waits for it.  Except me.  

To fight past all of that and THEN have to grit my teeth and stretch my arm and tethered tendons and pop another 800 of Advil and 1000 of Tylenol and wonder if the hurting is the good kind or the bad, doing too much kind, and the niggling “what are you doing? Who says you can write” mice start peeping.  

If I give myself a break, will I ever go back?

And after quitting my job, uprooting my life, and at last, at last finding the thing I love-and-was-always-meant-to-do, my heart breaks and I cannot bear the thought.  I don’t have any choice.

So I get up off the dance floor, paste a smile on my humiliated face, yank my hemline south, and utter no regrets.  Those shiny black “f*ck me” shoes?  F*ck them.



Get ready, set…Fail!

I love me some comfort: the sensibility of routine, my favorite worn-in sheets, the predictability of the sunset and the tides outside my window.  And especially now, the particular feel of the keyboard, the sticky space bar and silent clicks; the opening up of the document and return to my characters; the way my uber chair feels like coming home every morning (yeah, totally worth every single dime:  after three years, no sags or creaks or scary tilts.)

Seven weeks in the new seaside house.  Comfort level soaring.  I still can’t find the damned box of light bulbs, and the first floor-needing-the-renovation smells funny, and right above my writing desk there’s this scratch-scratch-scratch mid-morning, but most everything is in it’s place, and man, oh man that view, holy cow.

We did it.  We sold, moved, sorted, stored, bought, moved again, settled.

In the most terrifying moments (so far), when I’ve squeezed my eyes shut and prepared to let out a scream, I grab onto David’s hand.  One could argue that he has the most to lose, right?  He’s given up a sure thing.  So, how come he’s the calm one?

I, on the other hand, have arguably finally found my mojo, my path to artistic fulfillment. I’ve finished with the responsibility of bringing to fruition Dave’s great vision, justifiably proud of an organization I built and ran for 25 years.  I’ve done it: screwed up the courage to study my craft, finished a novel, and most significantly, call myself a writer.  What have I got to lose?

Next stop, Commerce.

For three years I’ve told myself that what really mattered were the words, the story, the very real pleasure of working it all out on the page.  Now that I’ve done my first collaboration with a developmental editor, someone to intimately share the intricate puzzle of the novel with, I’ve discovered the particular joys of revision—of unearthing the words, and style and ABC of Jenn and Polly and the story arc.  Jazzed just to type those words.  Amazing.

For three years I’ve told myself that if I could start and then run David’s (highly) successful business based on his vision, then surely I could do the same for myself.  Right?!  The book just needs to be ready.

Well, sure.  Except for the No’s! of Book Commerce.  Getting published is a one-in-a-million shot.  As in, 999,999 No’s and one Yes.  That means hundreds of No’s (and maybe one yes) from literary agents, bunches of No’s from acquiring editors (and maybe a yes or two), only to write and revise Novel #2 and/or Novel #3 and start all over again, and if somewhere in all of that, one of the books comes to the light, you sell a few hundred, maybe a thousand copies (because a lot of readers say No!)

Sound like a set-up to Fail? Yep!

This is wise David’s philosophy:  Give yourself permission to fail.

I’m invested.  I want to start this new business of Gail’s book-commerce and run it successfully.  It’s comfortable, succeeding.  I know that feeling:  working really, really hard and being good at something and being rewarded for my savvy, my talent, my brains. Odds are not good for the new business.  It’s bound to fail, maybe not ultimately, but in the interim.

In this business, if I don’t get a No, then I’ll never get a Yes.

The story may never pass the vetting of the professionals—and I need that to screw up the courage to let the book out. It may never see the light, may never have the transformation seen through your eyes, or his eyes, may never be discussed in a book group or be dissected by a reviewer.  It could fail.

But, wait!  I have the most incredible fall-back plan.  The writing!

Intensity. Immersion. Whoa.


Ever wake up and wonder how you got yourself into this situation?! You know you brought it on yourself, you chose deliberately, your instinct led and you followed, and yet here you are, overwhelmed and blown away and crazed.

10 days to go on the novel edit. 40? 50? pages more. 3 weeks in the new house. 20+ boxes still unpacked. Zero contractors booked for the reno.

There’s part of me that LOVES the hormone rush of too much: too many piled-up deadlines, too many amazing choices, too much to do. But, then there’s the moment of breath, the little break, and I remember the loveliness of just contemplating. Allowing a little space.

How awesome is it that I can have both?!

I’m in the final push of an 8 week editing stint with the incisive and brilliant Joshua Mohr. Since January 4th, I’ve revised 150+ pages of the nascent novel about two sisters. The last section begins today. This is my few hour break.

Revising a novel is like directing your huge, extended family of cats—squiggling, hungry, demanding, petulant, joyful. The calico just turned up his nose at the canned food, the kittens are tearing up your favorite down comforter, the mangy one won’t stop his damned yowling (hisss, stop!) the siamese winks in silent judge-y condemnation.

Live, sleep, eat, breathe, dream Jenn and Polly. (Well, not much sleep, actually.) And then, every now and again, the cats all lift up their faces, the sun shines, and the chorus sings. The story hums. The words coalesce.

And then there’s the move. Smack dab in the middle of what requires intense concentration, 24/7 focus, we close on a complicated escrow, extract ourselves from faculty housing, retrieve belongings packed in May from storage (oh, that’s why one should copiously label the boxes…) and then proceed directly, don’t pass Go, to the Move From Hell. “It’s a 45 minute drive from Palo Alto to Moss Beach. It’s been 3 hours. Where the f*%K are YOU?!” “No, man, the beach is west. west. Not east.” “It’s been 4 hours. What the hell are you doing in Richmond?!”

David thinks they’re selling our belongings out of the back of the truck. I’m noodling on how I’m gonna get Jenn and Polly to do what I want. Trying to get David to stay calm.

Five and half hours later, as the movers arrived with our stuff in the pitch dark, the power went out.

Oh, did I mention the 45 mile an hour wind gusts?

When the lights flickered back on soon after, the entire neighborhood’s bundle of communication cables lies over our driveway and across the moving truck. The already tearful driver completely freaks out. Jenn and Polly gotta wait. PG&E is “aware of the problem.”

So, it’s the end because it all works out. The GPS-inept driver doesn’t get a tip, but he gets a hug, our stuff is safe and sound, and I live in the most amazing place in the entire Bay area. We’ve bonded with the neighbors over the Comcast cable re-wiring week long debacle. David loves having a commute again, and the drive “over the hill” to Palo Alto is one of the most beautiful on this earth. The weather ranges from sunny to foggy to rainy to windy and back again. The ocean and El Nino produced “big waves” and Mavericks surfing dudes converged about a mile from us.

Every day here has the potential for intensity. Eyes wide open.

So, I have both: an intense emotional and intellectual immersion in writing a novel, and a physical and spiritual intensity in my real world.  Yep, I choose this!

OWC Endings and Beginnings, Happy and Sad…

I graduated!

As thrilled as I am to say that I’m now the proud owner of a Certificate in Novel Writing from the Stanford online writing program, more than any other graduation in my life I’ve much sadness, too.

My fellow cohort members are remarkable artists, friends, supporters.  These few dozen women (and Roy!) cheered my move across country, gave impeccable critical feedback, understood like no one else the tribulations of being “writer.”

Our teacher/mentors created a rigorous yet warm environment, full of craft and aha’s! and intellectual stimulation and holy cow’s.  I’m still drop-dead amazed.  How do you do that online (with a few in person meetups?)  The whole of academia needs to take a lesson from this program.

So, that leaves me a bit bereft.  Done.  A year of saying goodbyes, I guess:  home, work, friends, now OWC.

But…all is not lost!!

We’ve formed at least two writing groups (the Happy Quartet below–online video chatting weekly; and the Bay Area Meetup—in person monthly.) And, Stanford has provided us a chat room to continue on for another while.

And that will be the legacy of OWC, that life goes on, that writing community once found is worth nuturing, that we are all writers, ass-in-the-chair artists with something to say worth saying.  What a friggin’ transformation (as my main novel character, Polly, would say!)

Yip, yip, yip, hoorah. Choice and such.

The downstairs neighbor quit her law practice because the two little ones couldn’t be without her (her words), over-coddled into an anxiety disorder (my diagnosis), so now I walk up the stairs past them when she dare go out and hear Yip!YIP!YIP!, close my door YIP!YIP!, cough YIP!YIP!, car drives by YIP!YIP!, any tiny noise or movement, you got it: YIP!YIP!YIIP!YIIIIIP!

Did I mention I work from home? Writing? Love quiet and silence and…quiet? 

I love Kim-Kim, Pauline’s exuberant and happy-to-be-alive, delighted-it’s-you Peke, but not many other d.o.g.s.  Especially not chiwowhays (sp intentional) whose every little yip says: no one else should exist but mom. 

grrrrrrr. Ruff.

But, these small irritations probably blown out of proportion by Sharon’s wise observation that I have my own wish to be blissfully alone on this planet for some hours of the day and my own resentment that I’ve not yet settled into a permanent place.  Why not take it out on what anyone (even dog luvahs) would find exquisitely over the top annoying. YIP, indeed. Distract myself from the real discomfort.

BUT!  David and I have narrowed the search.  Stanford West was never going to be the landing spot, despite it’s awesome proximity to his work.  We want Ocean.  It’ll be a commute for him, but we think the tradeoffs worth it.  Another Cliff Dive in the works! Relief on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Jenn and Polly, my novelistic sisters, live alongside me in the crisises of an unwanted pregnancy from rape, in all their flawed complexity.  All everything fades when I open that laptop.  I’m too superstitious to say too much more about how it’s going (because then it won’t.)  Thanks to Rachel from my Stanford writing group, I’ve clued into the social media stuff around abortion and Planned Parenthood, which confirms one of the several major motivations for writing this particular book. 

While I have a mad, driving desire to  introduce Respect for opposite passionate beliefs into the mix, I have an equally mad desire to represent our common belief in the very core of our existence as a culture, a country, a democracy, a human race:  individual determination.  Choice, man.

Which brings me back to yip! yip!  I’ll not call the Management office, not bang angrily on her door, not slyly offer dog treats filled with Xanax, not make any (more) secretly snide remarks to their mom (“Oh! they don’t bother me, I just feel bad for them!” ha, ha.)  Those little guys don’t act the way I want them to.  If it were my choice, they’d be in dog therapy, on dog anti-depressants and my neighbor would be in mom-dog training school.  But it’s not MY choice!  My choices are many (headphones, um, moving…hey, let’s move to the beach!) but key among them is not to tell her what or how to do it.  Unless she asks.  Which she won’t.

It’s a flawed argument on both sides, I suppose.  Where do we draw the line? How can I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but not believe in a person’s right to choose to own a gun?  How can they believe in carrying a gun and/or capital punishment and the “sanctity of life?”  

It’s a conversation worth having, but I’ll acknowlege right up front that my particular baggage comes along with me, if you’ll do the same.  And that’s the extremely cool thing about writing a novel, the discovery of the complexities of two women with opposing viewpoints on the world and what’s underneath the surface, and then below that layer, and the next and the next.  

The fun stuff, now!  Drop dead amazing, right?! I want to live there!  Pillar Point, Half Moon Bay, CA.