Archive | January 2015

Withdrawal Is Hell



I’ve done this before. Sugar. Purging. Alcohol. Caffeine. Bad boyfriends. Withdrawal is no fucking joke, but it always passes, and in its place are hard-won insights and the giddy, breathless relief that the hairy, incontinent monkey is finally off my back.


You’d think those past experiences would be shining, hopeful beacons on the horizon, proof plucked from my own timeline that I can do hard things. Hell, I can the hardest thing of all: I can change.


But that’s the thing about withdrawal: while it’s the gateway to hope, its path is pitch-black, stark.  You know why there is no Venn diagram showing the overlap of hope and withdrawal? Because the whole fucking point of withdrawal is to crawl through it even though it feels like a hope graveyard. You keep crawling even though all you want is your drug for one more night and you don’t believe for one hot second that letting go is ever going to feel as good as having the needle in your arm, the Starbucks grande, the bad boy on your speed dial.


I’m there now. I’m staring at the ceiling and sweating while my whole family is asleep wondering what the fuck normal people do when they can’t read. (Sleep, apparently, if the three people in my house are any indication.)


I ride the bus feeling half listless and half buzzed. I’m dying to pull out a book, a newspaper, a Buzzfeed article about the 23 Things Only Girls With Fine Hair Understand. God, anything with the written word on it. I settle for a quick scroll through Instagram.


I feel like I’m dying. I’m Ray Charles in that scene where he’s detoxing, thrashing in the bed, screaming about spiders on his skin. I’m Tom Hanks’ character on Family Ties—the uncle who’s so profoundly alcoholic he drinks all of the Keatons’ vanilla extract to get a buzz. I’m the Ulysses-obsessed kid from my Master’s program who had a psychotic break when he abruptly stopped drinking Johnny Walker Red.


I got here by asking for help with my writing. I guess my shrink got sick of hearing me keen about how shitty my writing is compared to, well, every other person in the world who’s strung more than two sentences together. “I’m stuck, I’m paralyzed, I hate every word I write. By the time he was my age, Salinger was done writing.”


If writing is Crossfit, then complaining how much mine sucks is my WOD.


He lowered the boom: Stop reading for a month.


“Say what?” I said. My paying job requires extensive reading; those Amelia Bedelia books aren’t going to read themselves to my illiterate children; my only sustainable hobby (other than therapy) is reading.


“Other than work or reading to your kids, no reading. For a month.”


I understood the exercise. While for most people reading is pleasurable escape, I’d turned it into something else. I’d turned every book into an indictment against my own work. It was as masochistic as the way I guzzled coffee or enabled my college boyfriend by ghost-writing his essays so he could sustain his drug habit and fraternity obligations. The relationship between me and reading had to be reset.

So, surrender.


Was he taking me off heroin? No. Did he take away running or my Costco card? No. Do I have a choice? Yes.


I choose to crawl on, forsaking my seven library books because of the dim promise that at the end of this exercise I may have something better: appreciation, love and compassion for my own stories.


On Failure


I’m failing pretty regularly this year.

I had a secret wish to go a little vegan-ish, especially after Jeff bought us the Thug Kitchen cookbook.  First dish out of the gate I substituted chicken for tempeh.  In my feeble defense, our grocery store didn’t have tempeh.  (I like to think of chicken as simply “meaty tempeh.”)  Beyond the utter vegan failure, the pozole I made tasted weird. It had a weird citrus-y aftertaste and I was starving after I ate it.


I wanted to do yoga five days a week.  My current average, 2.5 weeks into the new year, is once a week.

I vowed not to yell at the kids.  But then Simon spit in my face, and I blew a gasket.  (Is there anything more degrading that someone spitting in your face?)   That was January 1 at 10:00 A.M. Here we are at January 13: He’s still spitting and I’m still yelling.  (Seriously, why does he have to spit in my face?)  I’m pretty sure I’m going to yell EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I wasn’t going to spend any more money on books because I have approximately 12 at home waiting for me to crack open, and there’s always the library where books are free.  But then I went into the cutest bookstore EVER and well, it would be rude to not support a local independent.

I was also only going to read books I love and dump ones that didn’t speak to me.  So far I’ve finished one that I H-A-T-E-D, one I tolerated, and one that I’m still on the fence about. Fail, fail and fail.

There’s something freeing about it, though. It hasn’t killed me. It’s knocked my aspirations from lofty to manageable. I’m falling into territory that has paralyzed me for decades. I’m actively researching the answer to one of the most terrifying questions ever asked: “What if I fail?”

Oh and this one: I was going to work on my book everyday!  But there have been plenty of days (of the 13 in this year alone) when I simply could not face it.  Days when it feels too risky to open my manuscript because I’m afraid it will sour my mood and make me more yell-y, even without Simon doing a raspberry once inch from my face. On those days, I write other things– blog posts, essays, computer code for the app I’m developing (which will tell you if your outfit is cute or makes you look like a bloated soccer mom from 1989).

I’ve done a lot of things right, too, though I can’t name any right now. Oh, wait, I held the elevator open for someone I don’t particularly care for.  I bought Thank You cards (that I’ll probably never write).  I folded some laundry. I slept all night on my side of the bed. I told someone the truth about a favor she asked of me, the truth being that I didn’t want to do it but was willing to explore how much her request enraged me.

There’s plenty of good when I go looking for it.

I also read this inspirational piece. It made me think about J.D. Salinger writing stories from a foxhole in France during World War II.  Sure, he was already published before that, but he didn’t know he’d ever make it out alive (can you say “Battle of the Bulge” survivor?), and still he wrote and wrote and wrote.  Presumably because he had to.

I’m starting to think that my failures are no big deal.  Neither are my audacious proclamations that I will be vegan/a published author/a yogi/a coupon clipper.  Both are effluvium.  Not more true than anything else about me.

My working hypothesis about what happens if I fail is that it changes nothing.  Simon will probably still spit on me, there will be laundry to fold, thank you cards to not write, and a new day with a shockingly white blank screen.

Either way, I’ll be there.

Tying Up Loose Ends: 3 More Books and That Literary Agent Pitch Thingy

I thought I could just roll into the new calendar page and forget about my loose ends.  Then, I remembered who I am: a bona fide neurotic with just enough OCD for that to be impossible.  So, here’s a post that belongs to 2014, but has been written and posted in 2015 because I am who I am.

My last post extolled the virtues (and flaws) of the 54 books I read in 2014.  But, before that crystal ball fell on Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper (who should totally have a love child), I read three more.  Now it seems I can’t move on with my life without discussing them here.

I ended the year with three books by women I would love to be friends with.  I think they would really like me– if not the real me, then the me I would be to try to get them to like me. That Christie they would most definitely put on their Christmas card list for next year, if not their speed dial.


Book 55: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett. This is one of my desert island books, as it’s definitely in my top five.  Prospective writers should get this for her article, The Getaway Car, alone.  After reading this, I adore Patchett even more than I did before, which is weird, because, really, I should hate her. Not because she’s so talented at telling stories, but because she’s also so damn good-hearted.  She washed her grandmother’s hair in the sink and took her to lunch regularly.  She befriended a mean old nun who taught her to read.  She has deep connections to the animal kingdom through her pet dog(s), whom she writes about with more tenderness and loyalty than I write about my offspring.  She assisted elderly hitchhikers.  For god’s sakes, she taught herself to scale walls so she could join the Los Angeles police academy, so she’s also a complete bad ass.  She mentions her childhood without self-pity or resentment even though writers with less familial upheaval have made careers on attempting to heal those early, primal wounds.  So, I take it back: Ann and I can’t be friends. I like to be better than my friends at (at least) one thing, and I can’t think of no realm where I could best her.  She’s even helped me be a better parent. Case in point: My daughter is in kindergarten and not yet reading– which is fine, I mean, I am totally, 100% FINE with it.  Wait.  No, I’m not.  I’m dying to get my helicopter hands on a phonics book and get her reading by the time the snow thaws (even though her perfectly good school determined that formal reading should be taught in first grade).  Oh, how I want to push, push, push my daughter to read, read, read.  But every time lick my Tiger Mom chops and prepare to pounce, I remember that Ann Patchett didn’t read until third grade, and she’s the queen of arts and letters as far as I’m concerned.  So, I’ll make peace with Ann not being a friend; she can be a hero.   And some far off future day when she passes from this realm to the next, I will get into my car and drive to her memorial service to pay my respects just as she did to Eudora Welty.  If you read this book, you’ll want to join me.



Book 56: Yes, Please, Amy Poehler.  I’m in the habit of reading reviews of the books I’m reading. I start with the NYT (because if this is high school, the NYT is the most popular boy in school, then I’m the slightly overweight, pimply drama dork who would give him a blow job for free any time, no strings attached, if only he would look at me), then I move on to The Washington Post and The Guardian and  Before I read Yes, Please, I read the NYT review that positioned Poehler’s memoir on a continuum that included Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, as well as Rachel Dratch’s Girl Walks Into A Bar (actually, I may have added that myself) and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl.  The reviewer, Dwight Garner, posits that unlike Fey and Dunham, Poehler can’t write. “Even smart, hilarious people, the ones you wish were your great friends, sometimes can’t write.  The world isn’t fair that way.”  Harsh, Dwight, harsh.  He went on to “rake” into a “small pile” the things he liked about Yes, Please.  Anyway, enough about Dwight, whom I happen to disagree with. It’s not the case that Poehler cannot write.  Is she Ann Patchett? No, she’s not. But she can tell stories about living in rat-infested Chicago apartments and the genesis of the her comedy troupe, Upright Citizens Brigade.  She writes with way more honesty than her counterparts (save Dunham, but that’s a whole other story) about the messy parts of life: divorce (she talks around this), depression, baby weight that will not burn off.  Her thesis that being ambivalent about your art (i.e., not wanting it too much) was both surprising, brilliant and immensely insightful and practical.  Like her counterparts, I sense in Poehler a compulsion to make her childhood more idyllic than it actually was– in all of these books there’s an aversion to being critical of parents across the board, which feels like a whitewash of sorts.  But, as a mother who often wonders: How the HELL do mothers like Amy Poehler make it work with their hours on the set and their two small children and the book deal?  Poehler gives us a peek behind the curtain, as she praises her children’s nannies and admits to loving her job.  So, Dwight, I’ll take honesty and mess and imperfect storytelling any day. (Confidential to Amy: Don’t listen to Dwight.)



Book 57: All the Things I Never Told You, Celeste Ng.  Women in my office with IQ’s higher than mine loved this book.  They’re part of the cool kids crowd at work, whereas I’m only part of the “new kids, coolness not yet determined” crowd.  Naturally, as a needy social climber, I wanted to love the book as much as they did.  Alas, readers, I didn’t.  The trope of The Joy of Cooking as the Bible of oppression for women before the Women’s Movement seems overdone to me.  It’s very Anna Quindlen.  It bores me.  I also had a hard time relating to the parents in the story who cared more about fitting in to their respective societies than loving their children.  Believe me, I want to fit in too.  Maybe because I’m not an ethnic minority it’s harder for me to relate to how it feels to be stared at (echoes of Wonder) and to understand all the ways a good-intentioned parent might try to steer his or her child away from those experiences of “other-ness.”  And the mother who didn’t get to go to medical school and then pushed her daughter ruthlessly (to suicide, ya’ll) in some fucked up vicarious way to heal that dream deferred? I just couldn’t buy it. Or I did, but I didn’t like it.  Who sells their children out like that?  I know, I know, easy for me to say with my infinity choices and access to The Pill and my graduate school and law degree and my white skin.
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Speaking of dreams deferred, one of the literary agents to whom I pitched, sent a lovely rejection email.  She wanted to love it, she said, but she found two problems: the voice and the plot.  The way I see it, I’ve nailed the font size, title and length.  Now if I could just nail character and plot, I’d have myself a book.  Maybe one day Dwight Garner will review my book and proclaim that I cannot write.  If that’s what the future holds, bring it  on.

This entry was posted on January 5, 2015. 16 Comments