Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I feel I have been too dismissive towards Joan Didion these past few years. My disdain grew slowly, although punctuated with sadness. From my early 20s on, I read everything I could stand by her, including her novel Play It As It Lays. I gifted The White Album to several friends whom I hold truly dear. I count Slouching Toward Bethlehem a book of the Bible, my bible, the one I have created for myself. When I read After Henry, I practically had to spit the experience out of me. In this book, she accounts her loss as a writer after the death of her beloved and devoted editor Henry _________. Her loss is utterly convincing, especially when she describes her debt to him as an editor, and one can see that, in fact, he seemed to have co-written all her books. The writing Didion does in this book, without her now-dead editor, is so terrible, clunky and pitiful, I felt like, "Shit, woman. You can barely write." I felt like this because as I said, the writing style was awful; i.e. not Joan Didion in the way I had come to know her as a writer.

However, just now I read a quote by her -- she's quoted everywhere! -- where she says, "I wrote stories from the time I was a little girl, but I didn't want to be a writer. I wanted to be an actress. I didn't realize then that it's the same impulse. It's make-believe. It's performance." *

That's right, I think. She's absolutely right. And I feel connected to her again, deeply, like I did when I was younger. And I remember that she is human (always was), and a great one at that, one who has left a legacy of storytelling and life experience so textured and vibrant, so dark and dramatic, so mundane and pedestrian, few can come close to her brilliance. I want to apologize to the universe for having held her up to ridiculous standards. I'm sorry.

* Quoted from The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Social Networking

The Gypsy and I go out to wherever to pay the UHAUL bill today. She has been illin since an anuerysm burst in her middle finger on her left hand. Her finger is black and blue, but not as swollen as before, when it happened. The doctor told her she was lucky that it hadn't happened in her head or heart.

"I know," I say.

"I thought about calling you, but I didn't want to bother you," she says.

"You wouldn't be bothering me," I say.

"You never answer your phone!" she says. It's true that I'm not a slave to my phone, so sometimes I don't check messages until the next day. But she doesn't even call that often; and I always call her back.

"If I couldn't get a hold of you, who could I call?" I ask. I'm trying to make sure her greatest fear doesn't happen -- she will die and no one will know. I want to know when she dies.

"There's no one," she says, and I know that's not true, even though at the moment it might feel true for her. She wants me to write her story so that she will leave her mark on the world. It's hard for her, because she wasn't educated in school. Her education happened elsewhere, and it's very powerful and interesting, and makes for a great story, but I can't even hardly get the writing I do for work done -- the grant writing that supports my family's bread and butter: spacetaker.

I invited the Gypsy over for dinner on Friday night. She wants to teach me how to make Gypsy Co-zine, specifically cabbage rolls. I am thinking of inviting my new neighbor, an elderly Argentinian woman named Aida to join us. For wine, cabbage rolls and conversation.

Friday, November 09, 2007


I recently met with a friend who was once a student of mine at an elite high school. This friend is writing a novel. I'm so proud of him. He's trying to balance his feeling of guilt about not wanting a J-O-B in finance with his intrinsic need to write stories. Don't get the job in finance, I say. But then, hell, what do I know? Maybe he should get the job in finance; what's to say he won't end up writing an even better novel?

Is there a cross between a memoir and a novel? I think there is. I'm thinking of Michael Ondaatje's Running with the Family or The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Neither of them is a novel-meets-memoir, per se, but they're multi-genred, both of them. Interesting...but I'm not sure how satisfying they are. I mean there is nothing like a good story, one with a beginning, middle and end; where a group of people go out into a timeframe together and cause each other to change, deeply and irrevocably. These changes are painful, but they are interesting. This, we writers call conflict.

I have seen really good multi-genre works of artful non-fiction: my old students' for sure. Some of them were gifted with understandings of juxtaposition, with turns of phrases, with "seeing" eyes. Real deals: I have taught some of these people. For some, writing out of the formal authority of genre -- that tyranny! -- liberates their ability to see. Let me be specific.

I taught this boy named Peter who was probably one of the most normal guys I ever met, but who could see into his normal world, and with one to five sentences, show the dirty, pimpled butt of that normalcy: horrifying.

I am in love with the colon tonight.

I'm am trying to decide if my story can be real and imagined. I know the resolution for my querulousness sounds obvious, and of course it is obvious: the story can be real and imagined. All stories are. But, I don't know how to say this: my story will be unlike anyone else's. I understand I'm being ridiculous. I should shut up. But I can't.

But back to the question of the multiple genres telling one story -- doesn't work so well. What's happening here is that multiple stories are getting told at once. Different effect than a novel. Not to say that there aren't novels who tell stories in the kinkiest of ways. There are, and they are novels loved by the same people who wanted Kinky Freedman for Texas Governor. "He's not Kinky, he's my governor," the bumper stickers said. Hmmmm....sounds like a bunch of sex fiends. Those are the types of people that like those experimental novels: sex fiends.