Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Submissions

I recently submitted some poems to a fancy magazine with a glossy cover. The photos are artsy and writers deftly place their adjectives in exactly the right places and I admire that. I also emailed two short snapshot pieces about my relationship with my sister and mother to a writers’ group.
I wrote these vignettes while they were both alive, so it’s strange to revisit the two most important female relatives in my life only on paper and in dreams. Editing scenes between us now gives me a sense of wanting to grasp each detail and hold it until I re-remember what each woman said and did. As I read about the dead, my mind polishes fragments of memory, so I can take a closer look and see the white hair framing my mother’s face and my sister laughing as her fat cheeks turned red.
The three of us had an interesting synergy: my mother was often exasperated about something, my sister was always mischievous and I attempted to be a mediator, even though no one asked. Reading through pages I hadn’t seen for a while helped me be slightly more objective and I was in awe to see myself left to tell their stories. In writing nonfiction, I make an effort to be understanding and compassionate in order to have a balanced view of people — writing with compassion is much more challenging than a flat dismissal of people and the hard work that may have been their lives. I’ve often heard writers speak about how writing about the dead proffered a sense of liberation because they could ‘write things as they really were,’but I feel a deeper sense of responsibility to tell stories about the dead. As I write about complex and painful experiences with certain people now deceased, I also have a desire to show each person from as many angles as possible; in their lifetime, a multitude of perspectives told their stories.
In telling of the flawed and wholly human time a person spends on this earth, forgiveness, compassion and understanding allow for a more compelling portrait.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Documentaries Make Me Happy

Vibrationally speaking, documentaries really rev up that whole invisible system that fills your subconscious with joy and excitement. I just watched Filmworker, a quiet, low key doc about one of my favorite filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick. The film focused on Kubrick’s relationship with a humble man named Leon Vitali. Vitali left an acting career to work as Kubrick’s shadow. He handled highly technical work as well as taking care of Kubrick’s cat.

Vitali left center stage, where he had been a respected Shakespearean trained actor, to work in the service of someone he considered an artistic genius. To Vitali, Kubrick’s work was more important than his own family and health. I say this without judgment; Vitali’s behavior showed where his priorities lay.
His children played in the office while he worked diligently in the background to provide all the necessary assistance to insure a Kubrick film would be made in the filmmaker’s very exacting way. Kubrick, like Vitali’s father, had a bad temper and Vitali learned to step back when Kubrick was having a meltdown. Sometimes, we work out confusing childhood relationships with coworkers or bosses ...


Listening to versions of a story in a documentary is always the most fascinating form of storytelling for me - multiple perspectives and to hear the exact details others notice about the subject. I wonder how much time we would save in life if a documentary could be made of our lives every five years.
A documentary is an epiphany for its participants and viewers and, for some reason, this kind of film makes the audience feel like participants.
And if you haven’t seen Barry Lyndon, do it now!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Watching to Write Visually

I have been watching a lot of Tv, doing my TV writing Masterclass homework, and I see a strange theme in ‘family’ shows. The old formula of innocuous parents who at 40 already had no clue about how the world works and the smart-ass teenagers who never look at their parents as human beings is disappearing... but maybe, this still exists on network TV, which I don’t watch.
But on the streaming channels, there is a prevalence of dystopian parenting in which family members live like roommates with the occasional reminder that some of the humans are parental units (to quote Saturday Night Live). The Family Ties, The Cosby Show and Family, which were stalwarts Of family normalcy and unity have been replaced by Transparent, Ozark and Girls — and in all these shows, the parents haven’t figured it all out and, in some cases, major parts of their identities are still up in the air.
The ‘Father Knows Best’ Type Of shows with nuclear families, family meetings to discuss issues concerning the family and making big life decisions was meant to be prescriptive. And it was an idealistic goal for families that most didn’t even attempt. Families sat together to watch shows in which families never sat down to watch families on TV because they were too busy being families. Real families really admired fake TV families and nodded in agreement at the lessons in the end.
So, I think TV families, unless you’re talking about a comedy, have become descriptive — taking cues from the most nightmarish headlines about family dynamics.

The new Tv families are definitely not prescriptive.
There is enough struggle, misery and disaster in each episode to yell ‘Don’t do what we do!‘

But in the new family dynamic, we see the family version of a breakup - whereas a lover might say ‘let’s just be friends,’ Tv family members say, ‘Hey, let’s just be roommates and if you want to be an emancipated Minor, just let me know what I need to sign.’

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Write Like No One is Reading

I carry a notebook and pen everywhere I go, which is a habit I've had since childhood. It's often the case that a sentence or character will come to mind while I'm on the elliptical or doing squats at the gym. Snippets of people and places can be fleeting, so I take notes and put the sweaty pieces of paper in my exercise tights.

There are times at which the day flies by so quickly that it would be easy to say I had no time to write, but if I don't write, the day is lost -- ingesting information without a product seems like a waste. Pun intended.

I’ve studied writing in several colleges and really enjoyed the workshopping experience because the writing was private and critiquing was public.

In the ‘group-write’ classes, writers would sneak glances at each other as they tried to decipher how each other’s process worked. I listened to the click of a keyboard, the scratch of pen on paper, loud nervous gum-chewing and I wondered how I had ended up in a room of competitive writers. It was a private act made public.

And as the sharing time came around, there were people who refused to read. After they listened to someone else and decided to allow self-centered insecurities to open up a sink hole in front of them, they leapt in. The sinkhole people interrupted the flow. Writing needs listeners and viewers to be fully realized. Looking at the audience’s faces, one can see where the beats are and should be and if the jokes and irony is landing.

Writers have to own their authority and embrace it. Readers won’t follow a writer whose authority is in question. But, in most cases, the authority thing is easy because we love the sound of our own voices, in our heads, and sometimes, out loud.

I love process, discussions of a character’s possible trajectory and analyzing data for the love of process. And my people are out there — overthinkers And overreachers...

Right now, I’m focused on writing scripts and studying in order to improve my talent in this area. For me, writing dialogue brings a character into being. In a script, unlike short story, you have the help of an actor to add necessary nuances, gravitas and special sauce to mere words. A script is the garden without the interesting weeds or background foliage.

The script is an underdressed story, so it’s a lot less work than short stories. Someone will disagree with the idea of writing scripts as being easier than writing fiction. But, that’s how playing with language works. What’s easy for one person is torture for another.

I'm considering the need for balance on a daily basis. Although I would love to read for 8 hours and write for 8 hours, I'm still on the road to that magical place: lying on a couch in my office as I wait for an idea -- that's the dream.

I slip out of this dream as bedtime nears and considers how writing happens - magically without constant scrutiny, learning to compartmentalize in order to write after you’ve suffered a loss or had someone scream at you for being selfish. When

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Writing about Nothing

As a writer, self-acceptance is, at times, on the run with self-doubt nipping at its heels. And the beautiful thing is too few people really care about what you’re doing because everyone else is fidgeting in his or her own way. I was talking to a friend about the nature of work and being kept in one small place like calves raised to become veal and agreeing to an exchange of time for money. Internally, a worker wonders what the price tag on an hour of time should be and begins to yearn for hours back — those sold too cheaply. When I was in high school, I would listen to Howard Stern talk about his sex life, marriage, In-laws, parents and his child-rearing methods as he chewed a bagel with cream cheese into the microphone. His vitriol was very much a part of New York City life because we lived and talked the same way we rode the train - the person with the sharpest elbows won. I remember the realization of how his radio show tone and topics affected my perception of my little part of the world from The Bronx to my high school in Manhattan and the in-between Of interacting with people while walking to the train station and onto the train. All the faces seemed more meancing and fed up. I also noticed I cursed a lot more while listening to Stern. And one day, I decided to take a break from listening and took back my lens. I was very interested in how one’s thought processes could be so easily influenced and how easily the Koolaid was undrunk (I invented a word because I’m a word professional). As I walked down the street and took the same train, people’s faces were more expressive and not as intimidating as before. I was also a teenager. Impressionable teenagehood can last for a long time for some people or forever for others. When I listened to Stern on the radio again, his words weren’t entertaining anymore. Which makes me wonder how a spell is broken and broken for good.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Deep Dive

I took a break from caring about writing and getting published, but kept writing. I said I wasn’t a writer and wrote even more. Teaching was helpful because I had the prescribed amount of interaction with the humans. I love the humans but can’t spend a lot of time in big gatherings because it’s exhausting to introduce myself so many times after I reach the point at which I want to be home, reading a book in bed. I had a short-lived editing gig; one of the assignments was writing about a very famous celebrity I had never heard of and lipgloss. And this left me thinking I needed to find out who was famous and important and although I am addicted to lipgloss, I had higher aims than to write about it... Unless, there were free samples and then, I might have caved. My fantasy life continues — it really started in childhood while watching musicals and discussions with my sister about Our goal to work together as adults. My sister Rebeca and I were going to open an all-girl detective agency. And In retirement, well into our seventies, we were going to ride the bus to museums in New York, competing to see who could prepare the worst smelling lunch. Sardines, hard boiled eggs and tuna salad seemed the best offering to unwrap on a bus to the horror of fellow bus passengers. I miss my sister every day. I miss hearing her chuckle. And I will miss watching her get old. So, the deep dive into writing has a lot to do with her. We were both striving for something else beyond the ordinary we had seen pass for life in our early years in New York and Puerto Rico. I’m diving in to get the sunken treasure, so sunken I had forgotten it was there. Thank you for reading.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Listening to Many Voices and None of Them in My Head

I haven't visited this blog in a long while. My adventures have been of the nerdish variety -- teaching writing, math, research methods, professional chit chat, social media managment and overusing the gerund. I quit teaching as a full-time gig and decided to do other things as I keep up what makes me me. I know life is about experimentation and a slip into fantasy is part of that experiementation. I just ordered E.F. Benson books from Amazon because my local bookstore hasn't been built yet, and I ordered the books to do research on my childhood. These books allowed me escape from a culture that always seemed foreign to me. My childhood was full of noise and unexpected catastrophe. Benton allowed me to slip through a secret escape hatch to daydream about being a 1920s woman whose only concerns were the guest list for a party, what flowers to put on the table and to whom she should send 'thank you' notes. Without having looked at the books in decades, I may have forgotten any allusions to World War I, its suffering, privations and aftermath. But, the human memory is always convenient like that. I finished a novel, mainly by hand, and like a sweater, I unraveled it -- I pulled a string of words and changed its direction. I plucked a character out of some cruel troubles and placed him on stable ground. How magical to be able to pluck someone out of a landfill, allowing him to shake off the gruffness of experiences I put him through to start again down another road with a new pair of shoes, a new suit, a new past and a new trajectory. I love the power of us powerless little writers to make magic even if for an audience of two.