I have some very annoying house guests right now.
The first is a young woman named Sarah. With an “h.” She gets mad if you forget the “h.”
The other morning after breakfast I said, “I have to go do some work now, Sara.”
She crossed her arms and looked at me. “It’s Sarah. With an ‘h.’ Why do you do that?”
I shook my head. “You heard the lack of an ‘h?’ How is that possible?”
“It’s my name,” she replied. “I know the difference between ‘Sara’ and ‘Sarah.’ Duh.”
Sarah with an h is not the kind of person who says “Duh.” When she does, she means it sarcastically, or as an insult. Sarah with an h is in her late 20’s, and she’s from the east coast. She hates LA. She went to a small liberal arts college where she majored in English, and she has worked as an assistant at a major publishing house. She just finished writing a a book based on her blog about her dog, Franny, who had an art show in Soho. She doesn’t understand why it’s taking me so long to write my book, or to get an agent. She doesn’t understand why I’m not successful, and why I keep deluding myself that I ever will be.
My other house guest is in his early 20’s. His name is Jayson, and he grew up in Minneapolis with a loving family that totally supports his various artistic pursuits. He majored in philosophy and art history, and after graduation he toured with a theater troupe that performed Shakespeare entirely in Pig Latin. Now he writes for one of those websites that recaps TV shows. He’s very funny, and always has the perfect witty retort, as well as an amazing wardrobe that makes him look effortless chic and hip without seemingly like he’s trying at all. Whenever I ask him how he pays for it all – he makes hardly any money writing for the website – he gives a vague answer about an aunt of his mother’s who left him some money. He’s out every night at gallery openings or clubs in Hollywood. He keeps telling me I should write a blog about sandwiches named after famous people.
My third house guest is Bill. He gets very annoyed if you ask him his age. He worked in the entertainment industry for years, but hasn’t been able to find work lately. He likes to pretend that he’s English, although everyone knows he grew up in New Jersey. He is very vain, and constantly uses my computer to goggle things like “best Botox in LA” and “celebrity eyeglasses.” He thinks I should write a spec script about a fundamental Christian vampire who falls in love with a quirky New York waitress.
It’s hard to write with them around. Sarah with an h is always looking over my shoulder, rolling her eyes and saying things like, “Really? A book about your life? What’s the market like these days for historical novels?” Jayson sits across the room clicking away on his laptop, laughing hysterically at his own clever writing. And Bill reclines in the big easy chair, flipping though Entertainment Weekly. He has the ability to read a magazine and hold a conversation at the same time. “Stakes? You’re working on your character’s stakes? The only stakes you should be thinking about are the stakes your vampire needs to avoid.”
Sometimes I manage to make them shut up and leave me alone for a few hours, and then I actually get some work done. But most of the time they’re here with me, in my head, yammering away as I try to work. Except Jayson, of course. He completely ignores me at all times, which makes me even more paranoid.
Do you have house guests who live in your brain and drive you crazy?
I keep hearing that people will only read blogs with short paragraphs. I certainly understand this – I’m completely overwhelmed with all the amazing blogs and websites out there. I barely have time to keep up with my favorites.
How about some haiku?
I was able to sneak away from my massive project (which is turning out not to be as massive as I had feared) to have dinner with a few friends the other night. I had a great conversation with my friend Mel, who is a terrific writer. Her blog, Teaching Will, is about her adventures as a former actress who now volunteers, bringing Shakespeare to under-served kids in Los Angeles. She tells wonderful stories about what happens when the kids experience the Bard for the first time. It’s amusing and often quite touching, especially when she shares her feelings about her past as an actress who never quite found what she was looking for in Hollywood. She is now finding more than she ever imagined from a bunch of kids learning not just about acting or saying fancy words, but also about what they themselves are capable of. And that’s a pretty satisfying thing, forsooth.
Mel also talked about a new manuscript she’s working on – her third – and I talked about the book I’ve been working on for a million years – my first – and we compared notes on the struggle to figure it all out and somehow turn it into story.
We’re both veterans of Hollywood and the “industry,” with the corresponding dreams and disappointments, and we’ve both had to let go of old expectations, and find new passions. We’ve both discovered a great love of writing, and we talked about structure, and the search for interesting characters doing unexpected things, and my love for witty dialog and her love for finding the exact right word or phrase. We’re both excited by the projects we’re working on, and struggling with the challenges they present.
Of course, it’s tempting to leap ahead, past the sitting and writing and figuring it all out, to the point where the manuscript has become a published book. Maybe it’s actually selling, and people are enjoying it. And maybe Hollywood comes calling, wanting to turn that book into a screenplay. It’s a fantasy of course, but it’s right up there with the fantasy every writer has of appearing on the Oprah show to talk about their book. Not that I’m holding my breath for that to happen, but I already know what I would wear. Although, I suppose I should actually write the book first.
Because I have a little bit of experience with how things work in Hollywood, I’m convinced I know what would happen if Hollywood ever came calling. if I ever manage to publish my book about being a 40-something woman who triumphs over years of poor dating choices and Match.com to find true love and get married, there would be some producer who’d say “We really love the story! It’s so relevant. We’re just wondering if there’s any way you can make the lead younger. Say, 25?”
I’ve decided that, at this imaginary meeting where I’m selling the movie rights to a book I haven’t even written yet, I would say yes, sure, why not. Because like Mel, I never quite found what I was looking for in Hollywood, and I really don’t care any more. I’ve let go of those old expectations. At that point, if I ever get to that point, I’ll have accomplished something hard earned, and I’ll have learned something about what I myself am capable of. And that would be a pretty satisfying thing. Forsooth!
You know Tim Gunn? From “Project Runway?” He helps the design contestants as they struggle to complete each new challenge – his motto on the show is “make it work.” I was reading an interview with him on the BlogHer site, written by the fantastic Susan Wagner:
“Gunn’s basic philosophy boils down to his recognizeable tag line: “Make it work!” In A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style, Gunn writes about the evolution of this philosophy. He watched students, stumped by assignments, abandon the designs they had started midway, in the hopes that the next design would be better. “This practice unnerves me,” he writes, “because it’s like playing roulette with one’s work….Important learning occurs when a struggle is examined and analysed, diagnosed, and a prescription offered. Ergo, make it work.”
The rest of the article goes on to explain Gunn’s philosophy about fashion – that ordinary women can find their own style groove by paying attention to their own inner voice, trusting their own instincts, critiquing themselves, and not giving up.
I think this is fabulous advice, and not just in terms of fashion. I’ve been struggling with the book I’m writing. In the past few weeks I’ve been feeling like I want to give up on it. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t where where I’m going with it. But I can’t let it go – I know there’s something in there, somewhere. I know I had an idea when I started, and there’s still something I want to say, something I’m trying to convey. I keep reading a million blogs about writing, about other people’s books, about what they think or what they did and how they did it. I’ve let a million voices into my head, all giving me conflicting advice about what’s wrong with what I’m writing, and how to change it, and what it needs, and what it is, and what it isn’t. I should turn it into a novel. No – I should make it a serious memoir. No – I should make it a screenplay. No – I should make it a how to guide. NO! NO! NO! There’s so much babbling in my head right now that I can’t hear myself think.
I need to forget about what everyone else is saying – expect maybe Tim Gunn. I need to be quiet, tune out all the voices, and listen to myself. I need to stop trying to change it into something else that someone else wants, and figure out what I want. And I shouldn’t give up. I don’t want to to give up. I want to make it work.
Today I had lunch at an Italian cafe. It was a tiny town in the countryside, with views of the Tuscan mountains in the distance. The weather was very pleasant – warm, but with a light breeze. I had a chunk of fresh bread, not long from the oven, and a small dish of olives – green and black – with fresh feta cheese, all sitting in light olive oil. I piled some of the cheese onto the bread, then dipped it into the olive oil. I ate the olives alternately – one green, one black, one green, one black. From my table I watched an old Italian woman slowly make her way across the town square, holding tightly to her string bag as she headed to the market in search of tonight’s dinner. I followed my bread and cheese with an iced latte, which amused the group of old men a few tables away from me. They sipped their cups of espresso, occasionally dabbing their lips with white napkins as they offered each other the solutions to the world’s problems, as they did every day. I closed my eyes and just sat, living the moment, letting go of any agenda or expectations or thoughts of anything other than being in that cafe, sipping that latte.
Now I have to get back to today’s work. There are some workers banging hammers and sawing something at the house next door, right next to the window where I sit typing. Los Angeles is upwards of 90 degrees today and my non-air conditioned house is stifling. But the iced latte still tastes good.
Yesterday I received my second rejection for my book, a humorous non-fiction story of getting married at an older age. The agent called me personally from New York to tell me that he didn’t want to represent me. Which, hey – the agent called me personally! How special am I!!! (And don’t be thinking he’s some schlump with a cell phone working out of Starbucks. He’s a real, legitimate agent with authors who have actual books on Amazon and everything.)
I’m not exactly sure why he called me personally to give me such disappointing news. He did say he really liked my idea and thought it was very well written, if totally lacking in any importance or profundity or anything at all that would ever make anyone ever want to read it. But other than that, he liked it! I’m pretty sure he realized it’s supposed to be funny, although I think I heard the word “fluffy” being uttered. However, my mind might have momentarily strayed to my hair which is reacting badly to the humidity at present, so I can’t really be sure.
Anyway, I’m over it now. Sure, I was slightly taken aback and called my friend Belette and sobbed on the phone for twenty minutes, but honest, I just had something in my eye. She reminded me that he was merely one person with one opinion, and told me I was pretty and that brownies help. (She was so right.) (About the brownies.)
So, today I feel good. I have decided that you have to be in it to win it, and nothing ventured nothing gained. Also, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. In addition, winners never quit and quitters never win. (HA! And the agent told me my writing is not profound?)
I am preparing to send the proposal out again, to another agent. And then another. And, most likely, many more after that. Because this agent wasn’t right or wrong – he just passed. It wasn’t for him. Nothing to be done, nothing to see here, move along please. I like what I’ve written, and until every single agent tells me no, I want to keep believing that I have something to say and that people will be entertained by it. And maybe even a little bit moved by it. If every agent says no, I’ll go back to the beginning and start again. Because, really, what else do I have to do with my time? It’s just me, the computer, and a box of brownies.