Sunday, August 30, 2009


I knew something felt kinda off this weekend, and I just figured out why: I missed a "top secret" Richmond Fontaine show at the Kenton Club on Friday. Dang! I'm almost never in town when they play, and the one chance I get... Well, maybe things will get back on track if I just keep watching their new video over and over and over....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Writing Is Hard, part 573

Here's why it always takes me so long to get anything done, as explained by Jack Hitt in the Atlantic:

If the story involves talking to people, talk to them as long as they will stand to have you around and then talk to them some more. Keep reading. Outline a structure to the piece. Set that aside for now. Realize you don't know enough. Go over all your interviews and research notes again, only this time, make a laundry list of all the great details, large and small, along with the best quotes. Look at that list a lot. Begin the process of re-reading all of your research. Bail out of re-reading all of your research by convincing yourself that what you really need is a long walk to think about "structure." Walk toward your shoes and look at them. Blow off the walk altogether. Descend into a shame spiral. Now, catch up on your HBO tivo'd backlog. After several hours, take another ride on the shame spiral. Lumber over to the desk and go over the interviews again. Make notes of your notes in tiny scrawl so that they can fit on a single sheet of paper. Look at the details. Write down the big ideas that form the superstructure of the piece. Realize you are a pompous git for thinking that ideas have anything to do with it and go back to that list of details. Set it aside. Read some blogs.

The next day, re-read the single sheet of paper with the notes of your notes and wonder, what does this shit even mean? Then outline a structure. Indulge in a nice long afternoon of intense self-loathing. Start to write according to that outline. Throw that draft away. Write a new outline. Go over your notes. Re-interview a few people. Realize, as if you hadn't realized this a thousand times before (most recently, a few minutes before) that your own big ideas about this story are pathetic, but this list of details and the more decent quotations from the interviews -- there's some pretty good stuff in there. Fiddle with writing a few more paragraphs. Microwave your cold cup of coffee for the third time. Go over your notes again. Yell irrationally at your spouse/child/dog/a bare wall. Now, kick the wall. Limp. Review all the transcribed interviews one more time from beginning to end. Paste a large sheet of paper to a wall and, standing up with a fresh cup of coffee in your hand, outline the piece in really big letters. Realize that you've misunderstood the point of the entire story all this time. Scream the word "fuck" really loud in an empty room. Do this about 40 times. Wipe off the flopsweat. Look at the notes on the single sheet of paper and realize just how brilliant they are, or moronic. Espy the grime on your bike chain -- it could use a good cleaning with some WD-40. Start writing the lead paragraph again. Set that aside. Find that single cartoon frame from "Peanuts" that you keep in a box somewhere, the one in which Snoopy is reading a publisher's rejection letter for his novel that goes, "Has it ever occurred to you that you may be the worst writer in the history of the world?" Read it and laugh. Later that day, read it again and not laugh. Feel really, really sad. Go over your notes one more time. Look at earlier drafts and passages and realize that maybe this stuff here is the lead, actually, and then if you follow that outline from seven outlines ago, it just might work. Re-read the last couplet of the first strophe of Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella. Look at those riffs in the earlier draft again and realize some are not that bad. Convince yourself that your bike chain really does need another good cleaning and what's that gunk on the inside of the rear fender? Read the latest draft-like substance and think that, with a little work, maybe this won't be too embarrassing. Feel mildly excited that there could actually be something here worth reading eventually. Look at the list of details again. Re-read the edited draft and start to feel better. Or, if not, set it aside and then repeat all of the above instructions, only this time, after each step, masturbate.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

what have i been up to

Whenever anyone asks me what I've been doing lately, or even what I did all day today, my mind goes blank. So I'm writing it down. Maybe that will help.

I have an essay about crashing motorcycles in Ploughshares this month. (On the back cover, from guest editor Kathryn Harrison's introduction, it says, "In order to write our lives, we have to be willing to see them.") I also interviewed David Small, a children's-book illustrator, about his brutal and awesome graphic memoir, Stitches, for BookPage. And I wrote a short review of a decent little beach read set in Ukraine, Moonlight in Odessa, also for BookPage. The Lonely Planet Encounter guide to Stockholm is off somewhere in the gangly stages of production; I'll be answering author queries in a week or so, and then that'll be done. Meanwhile, I'm pitching a 555 motorcycle story to various places, fingers crossed.

I've also been getting back into movie reviews. I've done a couple of episodes now of "Movie Talk" on KBOO radio, hosted by Ed Goldberg and DK Holm. The first one was terrifying (it's online, in case anyone out there needs some schadenfreude). The second one was a lot easier, partly because I phoned it in from home. (Flat tire.) After both shows, I had this lingering anxiety I couldn't place. I think it's as simple as lack of control. I'm a slow girl in a fast medium: there's no time to tidy up the words as they come out of your mouth and make sure they're saying what you meant for them to say. If things come out wrong and you sound like a jackass, that's just too bad - you are now on record (in the minds of billions of KBOO listeners!) as a jackass.

If I were just talking to the fellas about the films we'd seen, maybe I wouldn't worry - although even then I get anxious if the conversation is rushed and I don't have time to fully explain myself. But the fact that the conversation is being recorded, and that it's going on record as my Final Statement about the films in question, freaks me out. Because it's definitive, I want it to be perfect. I want it, at least, to be an accurate reflection of what I think. And because I'm a slow-thinking person, that generally requires editing. Writing, rethinking, adjusting, deliberating, editing, rewriting. I don't want anyone to see what I think until it's ready. The fluid-but-permanent nature of radio makes me a little nervous. But that's good, right? And at least in the KBOO studio there is slim chance I'll come to any physical harm.

Today I'm reading Fred Exley, A Fan's Notes. Bottom of the first page: "That the fear of death still owns me is, in its way, a beginning."

Monday, August 10, 2009


Hello, glob fans. (Hi Patrick!) Have any of you been swimming with killer whales lately? Because I have! Well, that's an exaggeration. But I did see a bunch of them, from a boat, 120 yards away. They were cute!

And very, very small.

I rode the Hawk up to Anacortes, Wash., for a week or so, to go to my cousin Michael's wedding and hang out with the fam. I'd never actually done a whale-watching boat tour before, but this one was great - maybe we lucked out. We saw two different pods, the jPod and the iPod if I remember correctly, totaling about 70 whales. All of them were sex-crazed and flirting, which if you're a killer whale involves flopping around on your back, waving your 'arms' and spitting up. Basically the same as humans, I guess.

(If anyone else is headed up there, we booked through the Mystic Sea Charter company, and it's not cheap, but the boats are small enough not to be obnoxious, the crew guys are cool, and the company has a helicoptor that goes around spotting whales so it can tell the boat where to go each morning. We were well into Canada when we saw our little gang here.)

I also spent a day in Friday Harbor oyster-shopping and drinking beer and talking about boys with my cousin Carrie, Michael's sister. It was a lot of fun at the time. We won't discuss the following day, except to say that riding motorcycles is a pretty good hangover cure as long as you're safely past the danger of needing to barf in your helmet. Also: Do not imagine that you can sustain yourself on beer and oysters for a whole day. It won't work; beer and oysters alone are not enough.

Looking back, I guess I'm not completely surprised I got sick....

Those are photos of lunch/dinner, consumed on board the ferry back to Anacortes. Other people ate more food later, but not me - oh no.

Anyway. More photos of the wedding and surrounding adventures posted here.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009