Tag Archives: Writing

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!

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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!

Waiting Mode

You know that feeling when you’re waiting for it to begin? Waiting for the holiday, or waiting for an arrival (or departure) or a new start or a new adventure?  Kind of a shivery excited, maybe no small amount of obsessing—imagining and scripting the scenarios or the place—a little nervous even if you’ve done it before?

We’re in Waiting.  We wait to close escrow on a permanent house in Moss Beach, we wait for flooring and painting estimates to set a move-out-move-in date, we even wait to leave FL to return to Sabbatical Housing in Palo Alto to start packing and planning (always, planning.)

And, I wait for significant feedback on the current Novel Draft from my Stanford mentor, Joshua Mohr; I wait to begin perhaps the final 2-month

 revision on the major artistic work of my last two and a half years.  (That, in particular is a great big wait—filled with trepidations even though we’ve done this before.  But, that’s just normal writerly angst.)Yet, here I am.  Two more days, three more nights in sunny 80’s, ocean and sand.  A few more days with my daughter before we’re separated by a continent again.  Less than 72 hours before David and I go our separate work-day ways. A book to finish reading, another to start (and finish) before next week.

As much as I exhort myself to enjoy the journey, be in the moment (you know), and am certain worrying doesn’t help (um, yeah, “Bridge of Spies” good movie!) there’s always the next, and the next and the next.  Being in perpetual motion, mid-Cliff Dive, uncertain climate ahead, can be a tough place to reside.  Exciting though it may be.  

What always helps, though, is having glimpses into your motion machines, the moments you (yes, you!) make still for examination.  And so.  I’ve joined the (dreaded) Facebook! And, already, I’m rewarded:  today was Chel’s mac and cheese (and really, the new countertop upon which the mac resides…a tantalizing glimpse, will she post more of the move and the place and the man?!) 

Though it’s not conscious (I wouldn’t think, anway…) those particular posts:  the cat (hatlike on her head), the delirious high school friend with her diamond Christmas, the baby face close-ups (whoa, really, really close), but especially the Dad lost, and the Mom lost in 2015 —felt all the more strongly for their absence, their ethereal online presence—these all reflect the heart of your life.  Would I say the cat or the mac or the ocean is the definition of my (or your) self? Nah.  But, the details, and the stories behind each of those moments, rich with memories and associations, are the palpable now.

So, thanks, everyone! Thanks for sharing your moments, I am richer (and quieter) for them.

xxxooo

gail

   
   

California Writing…Surfing to Nirvana, Baby!

It’s official, my car is a Californian!  Am I?

I haven’t wanted to jinx it by actually putting it out into the ether, but another ticked box this week on the road to buying that house near the seals in Moss Beach, wahoo!  We’re scheduled (crossed fingers) to close escrow at the end of January, with a move-in date a few weeks later.  The location—ocean waves, eclectic neighborhood, great walking and near enough to civilization but far enough from distraction—is amazing.  The house’ll need some updating. 

Yup, another renovation for Gail and David!  So, last weekend we toured kitchen and bath showrooms and that old excitement lit me up…just 18 months after we finished the Boca condo reno, here we are facing another.  That one went so unbelievably smoothly I know I’m fooling myself (aren’t I?  This is California coast, they do regulations really, really thoroughly here.  Really, really.)

So, to some extent I’m floating a foot above the earth, waiting it out in the “sabbatical” apartment (so-called to elevate the experience), waiting to put both feet on terra firma.  The cliff dive ain’t over yet.

The real cliff dive—the “I’m a writer” transformation—well, yes, that’s a soul-clenching, joy filled ride that is my tether, my life-line, my wholly certain, shout-it-to-the winds (no jinxing) Hallelujah! 

xxxooo

Gail 

  

  

Rain! and Realization.

Like a miracle, we were wakened by wet stuff beating down on the metal clad air conditioner so thoughtfully  placed in the wall next to our bed in Faculty housing.  As most everyone knows, California is in the midst of an historic 4-year drought…parched yellow grasses, trees shedding autumn leaves in August, exhortations to Conserve! Re-use Grey Water! Turn in your water-wasting neighbor! (just kidding, sort of.)  

Hooray, awesome timing that we now call CA home, today is but a tiny taste of the winter to come:  El Nino and driving, drenching, floodwaters are expected in the Bay area.  For whatever reason, the serious-faced newscasters intone that this won’t be the magic solution, no, the water will roll off the sun-hardened clay earth instead of penetrating to the roots and reek havoc on the traffic and hill-dwellers (Megan up in La Honda is in full-on prep mode for the closed roads and mudslides.)  For such an incredibly optimistic place, it’s hard to reconcile the good news is bad news interpretation going on.

We marked 90 days in California this week. I also finished another revision draft on the novelistic sister saga—Polly and Jenn are now resting a bit.  We’re all talked-out.  The moving tasks done, markets and new doctors located, David’s new job ramping up, and the driving structure of the work on the novel put aside for a week or more, these gray skies coincide with a rising inner gray wall to contend with.  How does a good place turn so quickly to bad, in such an optimistic time in my life?

Well, well, well, for crying out loud. This is the stuff courage calls for:  physical distractions waning, I’m alone with myself and the choices we’ve made. Everyone says to me, it’s so amazing what you’ve done, given up a carefully constructed life, decades-long friendships, business, home, things, and then started anew, how gratifying to have found love in telling stories. To which I think, nah, the decisions were taken one step at a time, an accumulation of left fork, right fork, new paths and wanting to know what’s just beyond the bend.  The scary part is now.

The rain is here.  More is on the way.  Time to invest in a raincoat, right?! 

We saw Anna Deveare Smith at a talk last week and I was struck by her down-to-earthness, her sheer presence.  When she mentioned Studs Turkel, one of the great storytellers of our time, I thought how apropos, because she is surely in that class.  What a powerhouse. She interviews people at or just after a moment of crisis, partly because (sorry, paraphasing badly here) “People talk themselves into realization…” and she just brilliantly captures that elusive essence, those fleeting moments of our lives when we are fully present.  Working it out. Not yet understanding what has just gone on—a doctor at Charity Hospital abandoned by FEMA during Katrina, just one example—but telling Anna the story brings “realization.”  Her resulting performances bear witness, raise up the voices we wouldn’t otherwise hear.  And the thing of it is, she’s incredibly grateful, she knows the gift people offer her (and us) to allow her in.

So, aha! Outside, the rain has ended.  Blue skies are off in the distance. The sun may yet shine.  

Writing is realization, too.  The stories clamor to be told, little sparks waiting for elucidation. Is it too much of a stretch to say that artists that capture those fleeting moments, the essence of human experience, are the ones that I should be reaching for when the gray wall descends? A reminder that it’s just an accumulation of left fork, right fork and realization could be right around the next bend. No, not could be there, surely and most assuredly will be there, waiting.

xxxooo

gail 

 
   
 

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!)

On an Explore…

So, here we are.  What an extraordinarily beautiful place, almost an assault on my sensibility. I seem to be in a constant state of awe, especially on our weekends road trips; the week days are for grounding-time, or at least an attempt at some kind of regularity and routine.  If there could be such a thing at this point in the Cliff dive!

(A cloudy day or two, but mostly I’m on the upswing of a big draft, caught the wind, amazed I’m still flying.)

After 25 years of routine…a comfort in so many ways, that email routine, the downloading of banking transactions routine, the working ridiculous hours at the business-I-founded routine, you know, we all do it, settled and stifled all at the same time…I still relish a good daily habit.

So, every morning, coffee, goodbye to David, my relocated desk facing the Stanford West greenbelt, astride (well, okay, that’s a bit horsey) settled into my awesome too-expensive desk chair that David gifted me, writing computer opened, I write.  

The current project is Revision of the novel (as yet, unnamed, I’m waiting for the inspiration, the exact turn of phrase to leap out of the depths of the book) and this phase, the phase I truly dreaded with a soul-deep sigh, oh, ugh, those words again, that story again, so sick of Jenn and Polly, sisters and their poor choice of men and unwanted pregnancy, all that drama, turns out to be PERFECT!  After my two-month mentoring with Joshua Mohr, the final phase of the Stanford OWC two year journey-finished in June, this book has a structure!  Holy Cow!  Everyday, the book leads me, everyday I have a place to start.  And then a place to go to.

And if that isn’t the biggest awe-inducing thing of my life, even bigger than that amazing view of the Bay atop Portola road, the wide expanse of the Bay from the Bridge across it, that fog tinged sunset rolling in across a sudden break in the redwoods, or even (really) the fact of my being in California (!!), then surely the idea that it’s my story that leads me, me leading me, instead of me following, well.  

I’m speechless grateful.

And the pics? I know, right?  All you MA and FL and across-the-country family and friends, you just gotta come out and visit, they just doesn’t do it justice.

First weekend, over the Bay bridge to meetup with David’s brother Daryl for a native-tour of Berkeley. Then, over the hills in the opposite direction to Half-moon Bay. Second weekend, down to the Santa Cruz area (yikes, sorry no pictures but really amazing…next time) and back over the mountains at sunset to Palo Alto.

   
    
    
    
    
    
 
So, you’d think, after 5,000 miles in the friggin’ car, I’d be like, “no, nope, nada” but actually….this is me hell-bent determined to avoid the insularity of the routine world, to embrace the Northern Cal “sure, why not?!”  At least for the moment…

xxxooo

g