It was a strange day. Ninety two degrees and June in San Francisco. You had a seven year old’s craving for a Slurpee even though your were twenty five, and I had a roll of quarters in my pocket to do laundry later. Yours and mine. We stopped at Seven Eleven, remember you kept opening the door and closing it just so you could hear the bell? You did things like that back then, things I found amusing for only a little while, and remembering those same things now I realize it’s what I hated most about you. You pulled the lever on the Slurpee machine while I looked through magazines. Sometimes it was nice to take a break from all that contemplation your twenties brought, all that thinking of what your purpose is in life, why you’re dating such a loser, and just flip through pages and pages of meaningless gossip. Other people’s problems. A hand reached over me for an issue of French Vogue. Yes, Seven Eleven carried French Vogue if you can believe it. “Excuse me,” the man said with an accent. I looked up and he was wearing an oversized grey hooded sweater. The hood slipped for a second and there he was, His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama. I wanted to get down on my knees on that dirty Seven Eleven floor under those neon lights and bow. And pray. For what? This holy man, dressed like a thug even, radiated something. A glow in his eyes, perhaps the same glow the monks who came searching for him saw too. A glow that said all is well. All is well. He looked so happy and proud reading that magazine and I just stared, I mean stared so hard he noticed. “This issue I edited,” he said. His face was on the cover with a rainbow behind him. I wanted to take his hand and put it on my forehead, to make him bless me. He smiled and headed towards the register. I followed him ghost-like. I wanted to keep him away from you. I wanted everything holy and unreal about this moment to be mine. I wanted all the blessings for myself. He paid for the magazine and the Indian cashier looked irritated by the Dalai Lama’s slowness. He handed the cashier a dollar and asked for change. Quarters. “No change,” the cashier said, “none.” I couldn’t see his face then with his back to me but I think even the Dalai Lama would’ve been dissappointed. I tapped him on the back. He turned and I handed him my roll of quarters. Placed them gently on the palm of his hand as if I was the one blessing him. He smiled and he knew that I knew. He bowed slightly and I bowed back, and that was enough. Just as the bell on the door rang and he left me I heard you slurping in my ear. I never did see you after that.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Dear Write Her-
It’s Sunday. Which means I’m slightly hungover. The sun is suprisingly out today in San Francisco, and even though the wind is knocking everything in disorder, the outside world looks so inviting. The last thing I want to do right now is write. Last night I seemed so motivated, so passionate about writing, so dedicated to the process when I was telling the handsome German PhD student about my MFA program and that I was writing a novel. “Most people spend so much time talking about writing, and not enough people actually do it. You have to just do it,” I told him. And as the third filthy martini I was drinking began to sink into my brain, I thought of the five or six pages I’d written last week. And I wondered- would it ever be enough?
I’m not going to waste this space complaining to you. I’m blessed to have the chance to even get to do this. How many people can say they really get to follow their dreams? I can. And it feels fucking fantastic. I’m grateful, really I am. But days like today when I’d rather be watching trashy television or doing some other activity that requires no usage of my brain, days when I don’t feel so focused and inspired, which happens often, even when I’m not hungover, days where I will find any excuse, whether it be scrubbing the toilet or getting that well overdue bikini wax, if it means I don’t have to sit in front of the blank page, how do I sit down and just fucking do it? How do I push those thoughts out of my head that this is all a waste of time, a selfish act, that I will never be one of Oprah’s Book Club selections and will never be able to pay my student loans back, that I’m doing all of this for nothing? How do I find patience when I’ve been brought up in a world of immediate gratification and quick fixes? I have a story and I feel it breathing and moving inside of me, but I’m 25 years old and I’m not sure if I have what it takes to get this thing on paper. And sometimes I’m immersed in my work and feel energized and like I’m on the right track, and then I step back and think it could quite possibly be the worst thing I’ve ever written. It no longer makes sense and I just want to go back to writing poems. I’m afraid I won’t be patient and thoughtful enough, that I’ll grow tired of investing so much in this story and want to move on to something that is real and makes more sense to commit to. Something noble like being a doctor or moving to Africa and making sure everyone has clean water to drink. Do I really have it inside of me, or have I become one of those awful posers who talks the talk but barely walks the walk? Am I crawling here? Help me Write Her. Help me.
After three filthy martinis I wouldn’t want to write either, except maybe if it was to write someone’s number down. We all deserve a break sometimes. And perhaps instead of getting mad at yourself for not feeling inspired while hungover, just let it go. Give yourself a break. I can tell you’re not a slacker and you deserve it. I just hope you got that handsome German guys number.
Moving on though, I want to talk about those days, I’m hoping there are many of them, when you’re not hungover. Those days that are wide and free and carry a potential for creativity, and yet you are dreading the moment you finally, after the toilet has been cleaned and your vagina is looking spick and span, sit your ass down to write. A writer is a human being, and like any human being is merely a collection of all the smart and inspiring things other human being have told her. Plus some semi-smart things she’s managed to come up with on her own. Here I will try to pass on my collection to you, with bits and pieces I’ve added on myself.
The thing that really helps me get going is to leave the house to do my work. Writing is your job, and it’s important that your brain is aware of this. The great thing about this job though is that you get to pick your own hours. Perhaps your characters are morning people, or you like working after lunch, or late into the night. My peak time, the most inspired I tend to feel, is between noon and 5pm. I highly recommend this time slot, and if you choose it I’d say get out of your sweats, gather everything you will need, and pick a coffee shop or a library if you don’t like too much noise, and go there with the intention of getting a certain amount of work done. Page limits work best I believe. The point is, make it a habit to go to a specific place with a specific goal, and thus set yourself up for the writing to happen.
Recently I spent a good amount of money to attend a seminar on publishing where accomplished writers passed on the depressing news that this was in fact harder than it seemed. And as I tried to scheme up a way to get a refund, and then as I hoarded a stack of expensive cheese onto my plate because I realized that I couldn’t get a refund, one of the writer’s actually said something useful. Something that has stuck with me ever since. First off, make sure your expectations are realistic. You’re twenty five and could possibly be the next Zadie Smith, but also you’re twenty five and probably have your head far up your ass. Meaning, your first book will more than likely not be your best book, and that getting a book deal may not happen. If you’re aware of this and honest with yourself and can somehow find a way in your lovely heart to accept this, then I believe you’ve taken the first step on the path to being a good writer. It doesn’t mean you have failed. On those days where you weren’t recovering from a night of mayhem you tried your hardest, and you will probably write something great, but just in case it doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world. You will still breathe and be healthy and find people to love who will love you back. You will have a bed to sleep on and food to eat and at the end of the day you will know that you have tried. And there will always be another way to make money. Selling your eggs for example.
He also said something along the lines of - writing occurs in mountains, and that it’s best to write from peak to peak. Meaning start at a high point and end at a high point. Don’t leave off at a low point, when you’ve run out of ideas and there is nothing left to give. It’s best to walk away on a good note, knowing that there is something to come back to the next day. This way you’ll actually be excited to return.
My grandfather, may he rest in peace, till the day he died was always telling me what a great lawyer I’d make. Every one on one talk we ever had eventually lead to this. And the truth is that I’d probably be a bad ass lawyer. I even thought of going to law school before I got my own MFA. But I would probably die of boredom in law school and hate the rest of my life because I was doing something that to me is uninspiring and too structured and realistic. I love creating complex worlds and characters, bringing forth the poetry of life onto paper. And yes, there have been moments where I’ve been beyond jealous of friends who were in law school while I was getting my MFA. They were buried in books and had to take seven hour exams, but at the end of the day they knew that with their degrees they could be lawyers. Getting an MFA doesn’t make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer. Nevertheless, there’s something alluring about a stable path, about knowing there’s a light at the end of the dark tunnel. But you and I, Shideh, both know that we are not the kind of people who get off on this. We get off on sentences that make us want to be better human beings, better writers. It’s the period after that sentence we beg for, that moment of relief when we are beyond certain that everything in fact happens for a reason. It’s a character doing something we would have never expected, our stories surprising us, taking on a life of its own, that we moan about. So when you ask me what if you’re doing all of this for nothing. I say to you following your dream is not nothing. The experience of putting love and care and patience and thought into something is not nothing. You’re taking a risk in something you believe, but the trick is to believe it everyday, to never lose sight of the beating, breathing center of why you even do this at all. Because, goddamnit, there is something inside of you, and if you let it, it’s dying to come out.
The most important thing I want to say to you is that patience is ultimately the key. Writing my first book, although was one of the most torturous and exciting things I’ve ever done, was mostly a lesson in patience. Like you, I’m not the most patient human being on Earth. I’ve spent a lot of nights getting drunk myself and sleeping with the first handsome and witty boy I met because I didn’t have the patience to let love into my life. But that gets boring, and one day you wake up next to a guy whose name you don’t remember and who’s somehow less funny when the sun is out, and you realize that you’re ready to wait it out until you find the real thing. I see writing as a metaphor for any beautiful and essential experience we want in this life. Whether it be a relationship, losing weight, kicking bad habits, creating good ones, creating something bigger than ourselves- these all require a boat load of patience. But here’s the most profound part of this whole process. You can relax and take a breath because you have plenty of time. You have plenty of time to think you’re doing an amazing job, to step back and realize you’ve missed something, and to dive right back in. Grab time’s hand, and carress it, massage it and tell it you love it, and allow yourself the privilege to take this one day at a time. The fact that you are even writing this letter to me makes me certain that you’re not crawling. Maybe you haven’t got the walk quite down yet, but baby steps, Shideh, baby steps. Be kind to yourself, and most of all believe. You’re already living your dream.