New digs

Come on in

About 2 days ago it looked like this:

which mostly obscured it’s amazing qualities.

It took two days of unpacking and rearranging, buying a few things and repacking all the stuff I had brought over and didn’t need (“furnished apartment” is a very loose term with a very wide range of possible furnishings…).

But now it looks like this from the front door:

With St. Camille in residence.

I’m calling it Hemingway’s hideaway because the leather furniture and wood/rattan accents make me want to drink bourbon and write the next American novel. I figure I’m capable of at least one of those things.

The door straight ahead goes into the bathroom, which has a beautiful though perpetually tarnished copper sink:

And this back towards the front door-ish. The mirror makes everything slightly distorted:

There’s a wee kitchenette – emphasis on wee:

That I can hide when I have guests:

While I distract them with views of my (equally wee) patio:

Did I mention the pool?

I love this place. It rained last night and the roof leaked in my “bedroom” and I still love it. I’ve woken up both mornings happy. I feel like I can do some solid work here and it’s making life in Tucson in the summertime very bearable.

Come visit. I’ll have a bourbon waiting for you.

Between boredom and suffering

My horoscope for this week, per Free Will Astrology: “One must choose in life between boredom and suffering.”

!

As if I don’t have enough on my mind.

There are further references to “pain-free excursions into high adventure” and “a fascinating riddle that taxes your imagination.” When I put all that together, it rather accurately describes my day/week.

I’ve been in a weird place with this book I’m writing because I’m having trouble developing the main character, which is a rather large problem. I’ve spent the week doing writing exercises to figure her out and they may have worked (which is good news) because I wrote some stuff today that was different and maybe good. However, I can’t really tell anymore what might be good (which is bad news) so I’m not sure if I’ve gone a new and different direction or if I’ve just gone off the reservation for a bit and need to find my way back.

Like I said, strange place to be.

After writing, I tried working visually and came up with very little inspiring and most of it a weird mish mash like this

The collaging took forever and involved so many magazines and so little material that worked, that by the end I just wanted one of these:

So I went to the gym instead. But afterwards I may or may not have eaten something like this for dinner.

Turns out boredom and suffering can be alleviated by cheetos. That’s probably why the tiger/leopard/cheetah thing on the front looks so excited.

And then I tried drawing, which I endeavor never to do because I’m terrible at it. It’s bad enough that I won’t post pictures but I think it speaks to my willingness to do anything to break this creative deadlock.

So, that was my day. I figure I have the suffering and taxing fascinating riddles all covered so I’m looking forward to any kind of pain free high adventure excursions that might be coming my way.

Jen’s coming to town tomorrow. Maybe she’s bringing adventure with her? She does that occasionally…

Keith Richards and Life

I’m listening to Keith Richard’s autobiography Life right now.

Audio books don’t usually work for me unless I have something to do while I listen. I can sit and read but I can’t just sit and listen. And I don’t spend that much time in a car these days but today I got in my car and drove around for an hour to think and look and listen to Life.

I love listening to this book because of the British accents; and I know Keith has a ghostwriter, so I’m not sure whom to credit, but I love the writing in Life. Keith’s writing voice is so calm and straightforward, even when talking about the most dramatic situations possible and I can see the strength of character that helped form one of the premiere rock and roll bands of the 20th century.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people get good at what they do. It’s weird to think that a band as gigantic as The Rolling Stones was once a collection of broke musicians, stealing food from grocery stores and playing 15-minute gigs between more popular bands because no one cared about their music. I know there are a lot of factors that affect fame, including some free floating zeitgeist that certain writers, artists and musicians find a way to tap into, but I loved hearing about the early years of Keith’s musicianship because I think it explains how the Stones got where they are today.

In addition to several previous years of regular guitar practice, Keith says that he spent at least 2 solid years spending most hours of the day with the fledgling members of the Stones listening to records by famous musicians and trying to unravel the music.

2 years!

730 days spent in his flat listening to records, trying to play his guitar like these other guitarists and picking apart the other instruments to figure out how a band comes together to play a great song and what each person needs to do to make that happen.

Imagine spending 2 solid years doing something to the exclusion of just about everything else. Of course you’d get really good. But what’s funny is that you can spend all that time and effort and get really good but still never get recognition because of one distinction that Keith makes:

“There’s some people looking to play guitar and some people looking for a sound. I was looking for a sound.”

But without knowing how to play guitar, without all that time spent learning to play like other people and shaping the band’s output, the Rolling Stones could never have been good enough to unravel the music and form the basics of their sound. The sound that made them world famous. And if they’d stopped at just learning to play like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, they might be the best cover band of all time but they wouldn’t be the Rolling Stones.

It seems all of it is necessary. All the time spent practicing the basics, all the time spent imitating, all the time spent breaking the rules and all the time spent persevering in the face of detractors and believing that their music was important and they were the next big thing.

Practice. Imitation. Breaking Free and Belief. All of it. Together.

Fascinating.

Pick up this book. It’s great.

Sushi and Conversation

I’m in a weird place where I’ve decided to do something I don’t know how to do (write for a living) so I’m figuring it out as I do it. This probably isn’t weird, all things considered, because I don’t think anyone knows how to do this until they do it. And I’m also pretty sure that everyone does it differently, which makes advice and examples useful only in a limited way.

However, there are a few things that help and in that list I’d put “sushi dinners with my friends who are doing similarly difficult things” right at the top. Jules is in the endgame with her dissertation so we got together for a “lady date” tonight to catch up and problem solve together.

For your edification, here’s the dinner we had and our collected wisdom regarding our various projects.

1. Just get it down on paper – sometimes it’s less about quality and more about doing it. Sometimes the beginning part is going to suck anyway so you might as well get it out so you can get to the part that’s better. Sometimes you just have to do it so you have something to edit later.

2. If you are afraid it will suck, it’s better to get there faster so you have more time to deal with it – Jules and I discovered a mutual tendency to put things off for fear that they might be terrible once we’ve done them. I guess the thinking is that it’s better to think it will be terrible than to do it and know it is.  On a deadline, this is death. It’s much more efficient to get to the terrible part faster so you have the time to fix it or change it or deal with it. If you push it off and it is terrible, you might get stuck with it.

3. Small deadlines make work possible – a large looming deadline of finishing something is so daunting. Break it into small pieces. Daily pieces if possible. Filling the daily quota of work allows you to “rest completely when you rest.” See how I referenced the last dinner I had with Jules here? The practical practice of resting completely is something that we’ve both worked at ever since that dinner.

4. Find a diversion that doesn’t break the flow of work – this is very tricky. There are times when I need a couple days away from writing but I’ve discovered that I lose extra time because it can take me an extra day to get back into the swing of things. I’m still learning how far away from my writing I need to stray in order to be refreshed and how far is too far because it takes me too long to get back.

5. You won’t feel like it so don’t wait – no matter how I feel, I’ve discovered that if I pick up a pen and a piece of paper, the words will come. For sure. But if I wait until I feel like it, I get very little done because I have an infinite bag of distraction tricks. Occasionally you feel like it. Mostly you don’t. Do it anyway.

6. It you’ve ever done something hard and accomplished it, this thing is just like that thing – incredibly difficult things have similarities to them. They’re conquered by habit. You will spend a certain amount of time doing stuff that doesn’t seem to make any difference while you don’t seem to get any better.  But then one day you wake up and it’s easier. Writing is the same way for me. I know it’s hard now and will get easier later. It’s how difficult things work. The progress is glacial, but it is progress.

But mostly (and mainly) sushi helps. So does conversation.

Meet Virginia

I met Virginia last summer in Silver City, New Mexico.

I had gone to The Curious Kumquat for dinner by myself, intending to write about it and sell the article to the New Mexico Magazine.  So, I sat alone and ordered the chef’s tasting menu.

The first course came out; the waitress described it to me and left. 10 seconds later I saw her bring that same course to someone whose table was in the next room and describe it to them.

The waitress delivered the second course to me and I had a few questions that she didn’t know how to answer. She delivered the second course to the other person and then came back to me and asked if I could do a better job describing it than she did. So I poked my head around the partition and described the course to lovely Virginia sitting by herself at a table in the next room. When the third course arrived, Virginia and I were trying to compare notes about the food while sitting at two different tables in two different rooms so I asked if she wanted to have dinner with me and she said yes.

We finally left 4 hours later after a long conversation covering every topic imaginable. Both of us are writers, both of us are working on our first books, neither of us live in Silver City and we both love food. With those topics alone, we could have talked for 4 weeks but we didn’t have that much time. As it was, we stayed for so long that we left a big tip and felt that even that wasn’t enough. So Virginia drew a picture of me:

And I wrote a thank you extravaganza about her and we left them for the chefs of the Curious Kumquat who subsequently posted them on their blog.

In the year since then, Virginia and I have kept in touch and shared our writing back and forth. This summer, almost exactly a year from when we first met, we’re both unexpectedly back in the Southwest for the month of July to focus on our writing. Virginia drove through Tucson on her way to Silver City and we had dinner tonight. It was such fun to have dinner  and know that we’ll be geographically close for the next month and be able to follow each other’s writing path.

Sometimes fate throws people into my life. Virginia is one such person for me. Greta is another. I love meeting people by accident. I love even more when those people are doing interesting things. It’s so fun to watch the evolution of creative projects and creative careers. It inspires me in my own projects and makes me feel very fortunate.

As I said before, keep an eye on Virginia and remember her name. You’ll see it in print soon enough.

The most important question you’ll ever answer

My friend Michael sent me this poem. It perfectly illustrates my state of being right now, as well as the questions I’m asking.

I think if we can answer the final question, we receive the key that unlocks doors beyond our imagining.

The Summer Day
By Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Getting Unstuck

Those who’ve known me a long time were surprised when I went on a road trip. Probably the most common question I got was “Doesn’t it bother you to do all that driving by yourself?” and they were even more surprised when I said “No. I love it.”

I didn’t get my driver’s license until I turned 27. And I’m not a New Yorker. Really I only got my driver’s license because I lived in Tucson, which is an almost impossible town to get around in unless you have a car. Between the weather, the abysmal public transportation and the lack of sidewalks on major streets, it’s dangerous sweaty work to walk in Tucson. So, I learned to drive. But I never liked it.

I reluctantly drove around Tucson after I got my license and bought a truck but made an effort never to go anywhere out of the city. Highway driving made me nervous. My best friends and boyfriends have always liked to drive so I took up residence as navigator/conversationalist/music changer/burger unwrapper in the passenger seat and loved every minute of the rides where I didn’t have to drive.

I’m not sure when that changed. Probably on tour because tour changed a lot of things about how I feel and what I like and what scares me.

The road trip I took in April was exhilarating. I loved getting in the car every day with only the idea of where I would end up but not the route I’d take. Getting lost was fun, making all the decisions was fun, driving down 2-lane highways in the mountains with really loud music on was super fun.

After 5 weeks of driving almost 10,000 miles, I got used to driving and learned how much it sinks into your body and frees your mind to think about other things. I got great writing ideas while I drove. I learned to drive and write quick shorthand on a legal pad at the same time (Dad, you didn’t read that. It was only for short periods of time and I was careful.)

Today I got incredibly stuck writing. I wrote and rewrote and edited and hated it and added things and started new drafts and looked at the blank white screen full of sentences I despised and didn’t know how to stop. How to unstick myself. But I remembered the experience of driving and hearing words play through my head so I grabbed my keys and got in my truck and just drove for about 45 minutes. I drove in silence. Then I put on some music. Then I got to the end of that album and I drove in silence again. And I started to hear those ideas in my head again. I could feel the logjam in my chest break up and let words out. And I thought, “thank God it worked.”

It’s crucial for me to figure out how to unstick myself. That’s crucial for anyone but I feel it keenly right now because I have a finite period of time in this golden hour where I have time and money and ideas and a place all at the same time. I have to make them count and I don’t have time to be stuck.

You know what else unsticks me? Spring rolls.

Spring Rolls

And Thai kha nang panang -red curry with chicken. The hotter the better.

Thai Red Curry What unsticks you?