Monday, November 29, 2010

"Write about a time you itched. It could be physical or metaphorical."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

It was the day before Christmas; I was five and had chicken pox. My sister had it the week before; it was the first Christmas present she ever gave me. I remember standing in the bathroom for hours while my mother scolded me for scratching as she put pink stuff all over each bump.

Friday, November 26, 2010

No. 62
On Persistence

If it seems as if a thousand people begin their first novels today, remember that a good ten thousand probably quit working on their first novels today. Remember that writing is neither a spectator sport nor a competition with other writers. Every writer who was meant to write, and who continues to write over a long period of time, will succeed.

George Singleton, Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for the laughter circling the dinner table while we discuss the mass amounts of cream we have all just ingested.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What do you see right in front of you, right now.

My eye glasses have small dirty dots as if it rained in between me and my frames.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Part Three: 
You vs. Page One
Having started, starting

You can stop right there. Sure, the blank page is challenging, but that's all. Heart surgery is terrifying; a blank page is just wood pulp. And besides, it's never really blank. Take comfort in the fact that you've never starting from zero. You're writing a memoir; you're already way ahead of aspiring novelists. You already know what happens; you know the characters, the plot, th outcome.
So in a sense, you've already started. Now all you have to do is keep going.  

The Autobiographer's Handbook edited by Jennifer Traig

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Part Two: 
You vs. Page One
Having started, starting

Eventually, however, if you want to be a writer, you'll have to write something. Yes, it's true: there's little as daunting as the blank page. There's the fear that everything you write will suck, and the dread that even if you manage one good page you'll still break under the weight of the 199 blank pages that will have to be filled after that one to make a book. And even if you do finish it, there's the dread of finding an agent and a publisher, and then the dread of bad reviews, and then the dread of follow-up, and what if the movie adaptation sucks, too?

The Autobiographer's Handbook edited by Jennifer Traig


Friday, November 19, 2010

Part One: 
You vs. Page One
Having started, starting

There may be no literary form that lends itself to procrastination as much as the memoir. When you're writing about your life, the temptation is just go live it is overwhelming. Somehow, spending half a day watching talk shows becomes research; going for a beer at 3 p.m. is gathering material. It's an awful nice day, who knows what could happen—what say you take the rest of the afternoon off?

The Autobiographer's Handbook edited by Jennifer Traig

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I do dare you to free-write for twenty minutes while listening to Yo-Yo's version of Bach. Do not tell me the details of the personal tragedy this journey with Yo-Yo may uncover, just give me one unforgettable fictional line this writing exercise produces.

I stare at the midget-sized door in the room where I hear my father spell-out why he has done what he did with his life. I imagine small clowns opening the door, and telling me "come along, this room is too quiet, down through here you will find joy."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Tell me everything you remember about kindergarten. Don't remember much? You know what to do. Begin from there."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I had a rug made out of different colored cloth woven together that I used for nap time. It rolled perfectly into my cubbyhole. There was a sandbox on stilts inside out classroom. My teacher's name was Ms. Brown, her house was toilet papered routinely on devil's night each year. I remember a reading test that I was very nervous about because Ms. Brown told our parents the results. I remember holding hands in line whenever we went anywhere in the building, and I had a hard time choosing to hold Tommy or Steve's hand.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"What is your novel about?"
Louise Doughty, A Novel in a Year

My novel is about two weeks of muddled happenstance that leads to tragedy and an unexpected recovery. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Tell me about your "romance" with chocolate. An incident with vanilla. Give me a "journal page" of your experience with tapioca—or rice pudding. Bread pudding more like it?" 
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

As a young girl, once I learned how to negotiate our electric stove, I had an infatuation with making the perfect no-bake cookie. My grandmother's recipe flopped every other time, so I made batch after batch, using up heresy's coco tins one after another, each day after school until I figured out why a batch failed. My family ate dozens of cookies, some too moist, some too dry, and some just the perfect texture, although no batch being the same. I blamed my bad batches on the level of humidity or too much boiling, but like my grandmother, my no-bake cookies are never perfect every time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"What do you think your passions are? Don't think. Make a list. Now write for ten minutes, keep the hand going, what are your obsessions? Go."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

Really good food made from scratch, writing random things, nature (especially trees), coffee, photography, art, birds, dogs, words, train rides, the fiddle, Beth Orton's voice, Andrew Bird's silly words.

I have an obsessive habit of picking at my fingernails; anything jagged must be smoothed out. I have inherited the need to be on time, which has lead to an undesired result of always being early. I hate clutter; I have tossed out all of my belongings at least a half of a dozen times. Oh, and there is healthy food; I read labels for unwanted dyes and unnatural ingredients.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I just finished Lucky, a book can alter your way of thinking, and Alice Sebold has done this twice for me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"What is the third thing? There is you and there is writing. But you can't write about writing. It's ingrown. You and writing must gaze out at a third thing.
What is your third thing?"

Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

Strangers, it has always been strangers. Ironically, I spend most of my days alone now, but I write about strangers. The ones that crossed my path at that need moment when I was lonely or just looking for a character to write about. The nice guy I shared a cab with because it was freezing rain and no cabs were in sight. And there was the time when I was fourteen and an acquaintance picked my up will I was walking alone at too late of an our in my hometown. Maybe he was the why I started trusting the power of strangers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Noise: Write about something noisy.

My nighttime ritual has recently changed to creating a silent environment in the city. I put in orange squishy earplugs, I turn on a small fan, make sure the noise and light insulated curtain is fully closed, and the final armor is a pillow over my head. I am ready to battle the snores, trains, sirens, and garbage trucks, all of the things I have slept through for the last twenty years, it is my dreams that are noisy: I am being chased, I'm driving cars that are streaming downhill too fast, I am struggling from murders and rapists.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Tell me about a funny or odd thing that has happened in or around your car."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

As a child, Brian's blanket was sucked out the car window on the interstate. His father refused to stop and retrieve the blanket that his brother recklessly used for a sunshade.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Skip the church and/or therapy, find your salvation through writing your memoir, or for that matter your fathers.

I asked my father these tough questions at our last memoir meeting. Ask your character to answer them.

1. How did I get my name? How did you get yours?
2. What do you remember most about your mother?
Your father?
3. If you had a time machine, what decision would go back to undo?
4. What are you most proud of?
5. What is the thing you always hid from your parents?
6. How did my coming into your life change your life?
7. Who’s had the biggest impact on your life?
8. What’s your earliest memory?
9. What event made you feel like you were suddenly an adult?
10. What do you know now that you didn’t then?
11. What didn’t I know then that you want to admit to me now?
12. What was your favorite age?
13. When [big life event] was going on, what did you tell your friends about it?
14. What has been your greatest worry?
15. What used to thrill you? What thrills you now?

Question from: Jennifer Traig, Part II The Autobiographer's Handbook

Monday, November 8, 2010

First or Third?
What point of view is your novel written from and why?

My novel started out in first person, then I changed it to third, felt I was too close to the character and she need to be developed further. After my five draft, I am switching back to first, truly writing an autobiographical novel. Memoir style just works in my head, now I have firm grasp of my main character, and her differences from my actual accounts of this time in my life, but I feel the reader will relate if I am speaking directly to them about these truly absurd two weeks.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Tell me about a storage unit or someplace you stored things."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

My grandfather converted his apartment basement storage unit into a woodworking shop. In the dimly lit hallway leading to his caged unit, you could see his workbenches; they had spotlights including metal reflectors. The ball jars filled with nails and screws sparkled on the floodlights. I always found it strange that he worked amongst other's unwanted belongings. It felt cold and lonely in the basement, where the laundry machines and my grandfather's whistling under his breath were the only noises.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Write about one of the things listed on your list from yesterday.

My cheese grater is from a bag of things my stepmother was going to toss in the trash. It is one of the flat metal graters with a looped handle. It is stainless steal and does not have a dot of rust on it, even though I frequently use it to drain my pasta.
This little piece of metal grates my favorite food into a meltable delight. Before my college friend, Tina, taught me to grate in one direction, I used to fiercely go up and down along its surface. The grater seems much happier now that it is only required to go one direction, and it is packed in with many other less loved kitchen utensils.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I love lists.

I am grateful in this moment for these seven places:
Ocean Beach in San Francisco
Chicago's lakefront
The green grass in Humboldt Park
The reading loft in my office
My cozy pillow-top bed
A booth in any diner
The open road along Highway 1

I am grateful in this moment for these seven things:
My cheese grater
My book collection
The stacks at Harold Washington Library
My plants
My new winter boots
My pizza stone
My computer

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Tell me some details about an uncle or grandfather."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

My grandfather Jimmie was strict; he liked rules and enforcing them. I am not sure if his profession as a principal of an all-boys school made him this way or if he chose his profession, so he could spend his days cracking a ruler on the wrongdoers. I did not fear my grandfather as much as my brother did, or maybe I had less to fear because my brother was taking all the beatings. Either way, I had it easier.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why isn't your novel done? List five excuses, then take action, and eliminate one of your answers.

1. Time management, not spending free-time writing
2. Fear of showing others my work
3. The ending is not written
4. Fear of rejection, slowly writing/editing prolongs this
5. Not writing every day

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"I want you to write a paragraph from the point of view of an inanimate object."
Louise Doughty, A Novel in a Year

As I pull the knife from the victim's chest, I can hear the knife saying,
    "How did I get here, this isn't what I wanted to do with my life in this kitchen. Now I am being stuffed in a plastic bag, and I will travel through the chain of evidence and finally end up in trial to convict some guy of murder. I just wanted a lazy life of cutting fresh bread or slicing my owners morning bagel. These groves on my blade were not meant to cut flesh, I am a bread knife for god's sake."

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Tell me how you felt about math. Don't just say, "I hated it." Write about an experience around it: counting out change, a math course, a situation in school, using division or multiplication, keeping an expense account—or maybe you are one of the rare ones that keeps a math journal."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I was not a big fan of math in high school. What I remember most is there was a rumor that my geometry teacher was sleeping with one of my classmates, I blame my bad grade on that distraction. It was not until I started dating a math major in college that endlessly tutored me for my calculus class that I remember having the joy of getting a 100% on a math test. My math skills have continued to decline since our breakup.