Procrastination or Bad Excuses I Use to Justify Not Writing

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  1. The day-job/annoying boss (don’t get me started)
  2. Financial concerns that tamp down the fantasy of quitting #1
  3. Exhaustion(see #1 above and #4 below)
  4. Deep family concerns (just because children are grown and out of the house doesn’t mean they are not a source of worry, trouble, pain–and joy which means you love to hang out with them and celebrate whatever makes up the joy, mainly that they’re out of the house and we’re away from one another)
  5. The fun/ease of doing anything at all other than staring at a blank computer screen and/or figuring out what the hell I’m really writing about
  6. WHO the hell are these characters bothering me every waking and sleeping hour
  7. The sorry/hard state of the book publishing world, at least in getting any kind of advance and recognition, especially since you’re not very versatile at, say, magazine and essay writing, nor building a HUGE community on social media
  8. Self-aggravation, leading to……
  9. Bouts of deep depression
  10. Obsessive Google searches

Here’s the current procrastination episode: The husband walks into the kitchen while I wait for the teapot to boil.  It’s the weekend, two intense writing days, given  # 1 and #3. The days are just as intense for him–he has a book contract and looming deadline. He mentions that the Authors Guild’s membership fees have skyrocketed and, since I’m no longer bringing any money into the household (#2), I should cancel my membership. True enough–since I’ve stopped writing about food I haven’t contributed any hefty advances/speaking fees. This is because, within the current food/cookbook publishing world, I not only feel I have nothing to say but that I have said everything I wanted to say (#5).  At one time I could’a been a contender; I could’a been somebody and probably could have gone repeating myself, writing the same kind of book over and over again. Instead, I decided to try growing as a writer by working on a series of stories about my teenage friendship with a girl named Clare.* Given the state of the publishing world (#7), the chance of these stories ever being published rests on their acceptance by small literary magazines (I’ve begun to send them out–no response yet).

In any case, I can’t believe what the husband just suggests.  At the very least, Authors Guild hosts my website through which the paltry number of fans and reporters have found me over the years–it’s actually the only remnant of my professional worth (#8 and #9).  I say something to the effect of “Damn, that’s cold” and then list how important membership is to me, the only remnant that I’m a published writer (return to # 8 and #9).  He says he’s sorry–we’ll find the $125 by maybe reducing the grocery bill (#2 again). He’s a good man and rightly feels contrite.

The kettle boils, I make my tea and return to my computer where I spend an hour staring at page 15, in which I am figuring out how Clare talked me into a date with someone who we both found unsuitable (#6). After awhile I click on the internet and google Eleanor of Aquitaine (don’t ask) where I spend the next 25 minutes reading all about her adventurous life in the 13th century (# 10).  I pull myself back to the pages and write three more paragraphs. Finally, I’m in the groove, excited, the world blotched out, totally convinced I’m going to finish this incredibly wonderful story.

The front door opens. “Hey, Ma,” a son bellows from below. I keep typing, hoping he’ll go into the kitchen and stare into the refrigerator for a while.  He accomplishes this faster than I want and pounds upstairs.  If he turns right, he’s in my husband’s study and I’m safe. Instead he tuns left, as always, and collapses into the fragile chair beside my desk, commencing a heartbreaking lament: Why are women so difficult? Why would his girlfriend accuse him of not communicating?

I manage to type a few more words.

“I think she’s going to break up with me.” He puts his head in his hands  and I arrive at #4.

One more reason:

#11–writing a blog post about procrastinating.

He eventually leaves and I return to find where I left Clare and me:–Once more unto the breach: one more day on the fucking river (a private joke between himself and me I’ll explain another time).  I pick up where I left off and begin to write.

*I used to publish the Clare stories on Wattpad but I recently took them down–turns out a bunch of the better literary magazines consider stories on sites such as Wattpad and even you’re own website are already published, even if maybe 10 people have read them. #7 strikes again! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what the hell?!

Dunce

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So…how many of my 5 readers, you happy few, caught the mistakes in the post “Dating Mr. Strunk and Mr. White” that I put up last night? First, I misspelled Mr. Strunk’s name in the first sentence (Srunk) and then went on to misspell tore (torn) in the next to the last sentence in the last paragraph?

Turns out even one of the best guides on writing does not help a dyslexic writer…nor did the proofreading/editing feature provide any assistance. Just so you know, I wasn’t intentionally careless.  I finished writing it at noon and posted it in the evening after proofing the damn thing seven times! Not just on-screen but in hard copy.

Don’t go looking for them now. I’ve corrected both, thanks to the husband who just walked away laughing, wondering why the hell I don’t let him read my stuff before going public (because he barely looks up from his own writing–which is beautiful and error free–I loathe him).

Anyway, onward and upward as they say out there. I’m going down to the kitchen and making myself a nice cold martini.

P.S.: If you find anymore in the S&W post…or any of my posts for that matter…go ahead and twitter, facebook, blog about them. Pathetic, true, but good for a laugh. I don’t mind and we could make a contest out of it!  The one who finds the most errors will be baked a really great pie–any kind at all: at least I’m a damn good pie maker. Plus, you know, you have to have a sense of humor when you’re a dyslexic-challenged writer.

Dating Mr. Strunk and Mr. White

Always learning how to be a better writer…..

Scraps

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I first met Mr. Shrunk (Jr) and Mr. Write as an obedient English major. They wore a handsome understated gray colored hardcover and, after we spent a few days together, they retreated to a side table while I wrote an ambitious first novel to earn my undergraduate degree.  I took a look at that poor manuscript a while ago and it’s clear my relationship with the gentlemen was superficial at the least.  Like a lot of the boys that passed through my life at the time, our engagement was transitory but remained impressionable. They popped up at odd times when I tried to untangle my habitual convoluted sentences.  They embarrassed me in my misuse of lay and lie, that and which. But the years passed by and I developed my own guide that pushed against what I came to think of as S&W’s old-fashion, limiting stuffiness. My transgressions with all the other boys I’ve known made good copy…

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Dating Mr. Strunk and Mr. White

xkcd_strunk_and_white-thumb

I first met Mr. Strunk (Jr) and Mr. Write as an obedient English major. They wore a handsome understated gray colored hardcover and, after we spent a few days together, they retreated to a side table while I wrote an ambitious first novel to earn my undergraduate degree.  I took a look at that poor manuscript a while ago and it’s clear my relationship with the gentlemen was superficial at the least.  Like a lot of the boys that passed through my life at the time, our engagement was transitory but remained impressionable. They popped up at odd times when I tried to untangle my habitual convoluted sentences.  They embarrassed me in my misuse of lay and lie, that and which. But the years passed by and I developed my own guide that pushed against what I came to think of as S&W’s old-fashion, limiting stuffiness. My transgressions with all the other boys I’ve known made good copy, though I can’t think of a one I’d want to see again. Recently, because of Clare, I decided to look up S&W. I should have done it years ago.

The reason Clare brought us together is because I’m rewriting most of the stories since I’ve come clean that they’re memoir, not fiction as originally conceived. At the moment, S&W is turned to Chapter V:  An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders). I always thought I didn’t have to worry about style, especially voice. They’re the attributes readers and editors praised in me.  But the Clare stories are forcing me to reevaluate what I took for granted, not because fiction and memoir require different ways of writing (good writing never differs from genres to genres), but because I want to write them the best I can.  That’s not to say I didn’t strive for this with other works. It means I am more aware of what I am doing and what I am writing about.

In these rewrites, I am seeing how impetuous I’ve been, guided more by emotions than a deliberate plan (3. Work from a suitable design). In the five stories reworked so far, I’ve been guided by 6. Do not overwrite that required many sentences to go on a diet.  So far I’ve read 5. Revise and rewrite so much I’ve commit it to memory. I’ve revised all my life–writing is rewriting, I tell students and myself all the time. Guided by S&W, I’ve become remorseless and aggressive. I tore one story completely apart (“Moms at Rest”–it’s now “Three Houses”) to center on what the story was really about–the impact of my mom’s drinking on me, the part it played in instilling a fear of fully connecting with anyone, even Clare.  Three other stories expanded (“Barefoot Girls”, “Swans” and “The Sacred Beauty of the Unknown World”) to reveal what I didn’t fully understand about them. As S&W tells me, I’ve removed my emotions in creating them to follow the design I now know I want and have drawn out.

From Close Up

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The Brooklyn neighborhood I live in is heavily middle eastern. About forty years ago, Palestinians and Syrians arrived, then Iraqis, Egyptian, Turkey and, lately, Syrians again. The joke around here is, you don’t have to listen to the news to know what’s happening in the Middle East–simply check who’s moved in next door. From the beginning small shops appeared along the main market street–5th Avenue–maybe 4 blocks with a few dress shops, hookah cafe’s, and jewelry stores.  A mosque transformed an old furniture store next door to the Alpine theater. Movie goers continue to mix with the faithful, especially on Friday nights.

Now the community expands all the way up 5th  to about 83rd Street. Restaurants, hookah bars, sweet shops, dress stores and Egyptian jewelry stores cram together. The offerings at the fruit stands have expanded to include raw olives and almonds, quail eggs, preserved lemons, and grains and beans I have no idea what to do with but I buy them anyway.

The biggest food store is Balady Halala Foods at 71 Street and 5th Avenue. I just came from there and this is what I bought:

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Front row (left to right): homemade chicken sausages, 6 lamb shoulders, Moroccan rose blossoms, Moroccan lavender and rosemary, Syrian finger pepper green olives, Egyptian mixed vegetable salad (1/2 spicy; 1/2 plain). Back row (left to right): Turkish olives, one very fresh halal chicken (came with head and feet, which I said yes, please chop off, but next time I’ll get the feet), 6 lamb chops (cost: $11–I’m not joking–and they’re incredible), some kind of herb from Iraq that’s suppose to help my bad stomach, Turkish olives, shish kebab, kefta balls with parsley, lamb kefta burgers, and way in the back a rug from Turkey. All toll, $80, enough to feed my family for a week with the rice, beans and potatoes at home.

Here’s the really great thing, though. It’s Friday which means everyone’s out getting food before worship tonight and the customers are wearing every version of Middle Eastern dress–starting with the hijab and going down to chador and burqa. And then there is me in cut-off jeans, a faded Iron Man tee-shirt, paint and tar-smeared red sneakers, and a beat up old hat to protect my already freckled/wrinkled Irish skin.  I feel naked but no one looks askance. Standing in front of the small butcher counter in back, the women weave me into a conversation about the specials, the slowness of certain men behind the counter, and the quality of the chicken sausages (pretty good, could use a little more spices). It’s just another day in a food market, the women leaning against their carts, passing time–one of life’s little riches.

The simplistic moral of this story is: If people and products from Palestine, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, plus Morocco AND the U.S.A. can crowd into a small market on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn and treat each other like they’re one and the same, with a lot of respect and tolerance for differences, for God’s sake, what’s wrong with the rest of the world?  I’m not pointing out a half joke that we are all women, and men are the one’s on the rampage half a world away: I’m just saying it so happens we are all women, pretty comfortable with each other doing what we are doing.

In all seriousness, though, the neighborhood is no utopia. Our neighbors from the middle east have been subjected to major surveillance, may even still be, and I know a few people who think I’m crazy for shopping at Balady Market. I also have an account there, surely something the NSA probably knows already.   But, by and large, the community is comfortably absorbed into the old community. One of the reasons this may be true is that the neighborhood is used to immigrants, as most of Brooklyn is. We’re all at least second generation, some first, and the stories and trials of settling in as the newest arrivals t are very similar, if not identical, to the ones we grew up hearing in our own families.

What’s happening along 5th Avenue, is what many of our relatives did: establish stores and markets that sell what they left behind in their native countries. In recent memory, these stores have passed from the hands of Scandinavian to Irish to Italian ownership. Right before the Middle Eastern stores began to open, Greeks, Russian, and Chinese took over vacant spots. Yet, everyone of them follows the same pattern: rent a store to establish an anchor, stock it with what you know your fellow countrymen will want and need. Eventually, begin to add items the rest of  the neighborhood needs and, in a year or two, your store seems to have always been there, a part of the whole.

In Balady Market, I thought of a song every nursery school kid I’ve know has been taught a particular song for the year-end parent recital–“From a Distance,” a lovely song about how the world looks from outer space.  A counterpoint song would be from the perspective of Balady: just hours before the Friday call to prayer from the mosque, Palestinian, Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi,  Egyptian and an American look all the same, happily standing together, picking up dinner for family and friends, living their lives as we all are meant to do. 

Someone needs to step up and come up with some words and melody!

Oh, and here are the lamb chops before being grilled on top of rosemary branches over a wood and charcoal fire. That’s fresh thyme on top.

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