Tag Archives: Writing

Blog Vs. Book

One of the things I like best about blogging is the other bloggers I’ve met this way.   Wonderful writers, women and men, who live all over the globe, some of whom share my day-to-day routines of parenting, writing, house-maintenence (or house-neglect which is more apt these days), others whose schedules do not revolve around carpools, pick-ups and drop-offs.  I look forward to reading the blogs of the people I follow, many of whom follow me.  Through my followees (and followers) I am exposed to lives I’d never have discovered on my own.

There’s responsibility in blogging, though.  Your blog is more than an expression of yourself and your take on the world.  As it gains an audience, your blog becomes a thing of its own.  When I am asleep, someone on the other side of the planet might be reading, sharing, commenting on my blog.  When I check it again, it’s got new growth.   Like a garden, you have to care for your blog, feed it, nurture it, recognize when it’s stagnating and then do something about that.

When the bloggers I follow are silent for a while, I might miss them, but I won’t judge them.   I know we all have to live our lives and that often the blog is the piece we can leave unattended while we’re caring for a sick relative, working, hosting the in-laws or, what was that other one?–writing a novel.   For me it’s that last one I’m having trouble balancing with the blog, though it seems like everyone else online manages to do it.

(Yes I know, everyone chooses what they reveal of themselves online; some let it all hang out, others show only their most glowing selves.  Recently I read a great article about social-network envy–the perception that everyone on the internet is accomplishing more than you and having more fun doing it!)  I am sure everyone struggles balancing blog and life, or in my case, blog and book, but I find myself occasionally overwhelmed with guilt for choosing one over the other.  Not that I believe there’s a galaxy of fans who would be devastated if I took a hiatus to power through my novel.

The most regular of my followers and commenters happen to be kind and supportive and understanding (and yes, I feel like I know you and wish I could have coffee with you sometime!).   But I’m not worried about letting other people down.  Instead, I’m concerned about missing out, which I know is a piece of my character that stems directly from being an only child.  What was the sibling world doing while I was home with my parents?   With all their brothers and sisters around, would they forget about me?

If I took a month off from my blog, what would happen?  If I abandoned Twitter?  Would I have to start from scratch?  Would people remember me and still be my friends–I mean followers?  I don’t know, but I have decided not to find out, not yet.   I will slow down here, though.  I’ve actually slowed down already.   I’m giving myself until June to finish a draft of the new WIP, and will post here only about once a week for now.  (Don’t worry: I’ll still read your blogs because they are often so wonderful and mentally sustaining.)

But, as much as I don’t like to blog about blogging or write about writing, I’m going to temporarily let go of that to make this blog a better partner for my fiction.  Actually, that shouldn’t be hard, because my new WIP is all about body image and identity, which is the tagline for this blog.

I’m almost done for tonight, but first I’m going to share something about my WIP’s protagonists and why I think their struggles are relevant here.  They’re seventeen year old twins, both pre-professional ballet dancers, one male and one female.  Here I’ll just call them GT for girl twin and BT for boy twin.  Here are their conflicts:

  • BT is bullied by his homophobic father who suspects (correctly) that BT is gay.  BT’s father makes BT promise to give up dancing, but BT continues behind his back.
  • GT is bullied by the directors of their pre-professional ballet company because of her weight.  GT is a normal, healthy weight for a seventeen year old girl and the powers-that-be find this unacceptable.

I’m not going to share plot details because, though I’ve written over seventy pages, I haven’t yet finished the outline.  But these twins will face major obstacles to their dream of succeeding in ballet–all directly or indirectly related to the themes of body image and identity.  (See?  There’s my blog tie in.)

Anyway I hope to finish a draft, possibly a second draft, by the end of the school year, when I will lose a good chunk of writing time (as my angelic children will be home).  Please root for me!  Thanks!

Stay tuned …

Chasing the Dream: A Lesson From Dad

Two beautiful members of my father's legacy

It wasn’t until after his cancer diagnosis in 1989 that my dad began to focus most of his efforts on his memoir.  The writing process was different from previous works.  It was good for the family—for my parents’ marriage—because it involved less research, less travel.  He was home more, though by that time, I was living in Boston.  Fortunately, Pan Am had this great New York to Boston Shuttle which cost fifty bucks for a round-trip ticket, so I came home on weekends whenever I could.  My mother would park the car and my dad would wait for me at the gate. 

That’s one of my clearest visual memories of him, actually.  Dad’s eyesight was so bad that he couldn’t see me until I was right up close.  But I could see him.  He wasn’t a tall guy, so the first thing I always picked out of the crowd was his wide, brown dome of a forehead.   He’d be waiting there, hands on hips, face full of anticipation as I came down the ramp.  His embrace felt like home.

Of course, once we got home, the time I spent with my parents was limited.  I’d be lying if I implied that seeing them was my main reason for flying to New York those weekends.  I was in my twenties with lots of friends from high school, college and my old ballet school swarming the city.   The social scene was what drew me back each weekend.  I might have dinner with my parents or spend a few hours with them in the afternoons, but at night I went out, stayed out late and slept until eleven the next morning.  Like many very young people, I believed time was limitless.  When I woke up, my father would have already put in a good five hours at the typewriter.  He’d get up before dawn—as he did all his life until he got really sick—put up the coffee, pour himself a mug (black with loads of sugar) and begin his work. 

By then had become clear that the memoir was the thing he should have been working on all along.  This was going to be his triumph.  Dad believed—because this was the way the publishing world had worked when he was at Viking*—that he could get his “four chapters” done and would then be given a big advance to do the rest. 

My father remained idealistic about his work to the very end.  He could always imagine success waiting just beyond the horizon.  “When my ship comes in …” was the phrase I heard him use over and over again.  

Though the ship never came in, I am proud of my father nevertheless.  He left me a gift that most daughters never get: the first ten chapters of a richly detailed memoir, ten more chapters outlined.  Some people have suggested that my mother and I try to finish the book, so his legacy lives on.   It is a beautiful thought, but I know, lacking my father’s experience and perspective, we’re incapable of doing that.   Besides, I believe that his legacy lives on anyway—in me and in my children.

Of all the lessons I’ve learned from my father, the most important is: set your goals high, but don’t squander the present.  No matter how my father chased his dreams, he always had time for me.

Enjoy the love of your family, your children’s joys and wonderings.  Strive for the future, but don’t let NOW pass you by.    

*My father was an art director at Viking Press from 1959-1981

To Dance Again: Confessions of a Masochist, Part 5

Today I forgot my knee brace, the thing I call my ‘external connective tissue.’  I didn’t notice it was missing until the class was three quarters over, and only then because I bent to stretch with my hands on my knees.  Instead of thick, industrial elastic and nylon I felt … a knee, and one that didn’t hurt.   A not-so-small victory.

But let’s not push our luck, my mind said, let’s not jump.  My heart countered: But why not just try? Because now the music had started; my muscles were aching for a crack at petit allegro.  Just this once.  So I wound up jumping, carefully, but not tentatively.  Not too high, but boldly, and with épaulement—loads of épaulement!  My knee, miraculously, went along with the program.  No ginching, no sharp pain, no kidding.  Is it possible that I’ve learned to dance for maintenance and longevity after all?  That this dancing-again thing isn’t just a flash in the pan, a backward glance in an old, cracked mirror?

I think I get to keep you, after all, Ballet.  You’re part of my routine again—tights, leotard, pink satin shoes.  When people say, “Do you dance?” the answer is no longer, “Back in the day I did,” but “Yes.”  A simple question with a simple answer.

Sure, my sense of triumph is tempered slightly when I acknowledge that, at my age, this probably as good as it gets.  Performing Swan Lake, Agon, Concerto Barocco—all my favorite balletsthat part is over.  But I feel like I’ve come home to myself.

Granted, when I look in the mirror to check my line—really look, not glance or squint—what I see is something that only vaguely resembles what I once looked like.  That discrepancy could be pretty painful if I let it get to me.  But since that first day, when I chose to waste precious moments of my life obsessing about my thigh-width, I’ve banished that sort of thinking from this process.  Regardless of how I measure up to the old, professional-dancing me, I won’t hate this me or her non-twenty-year-old-sylph body.  The fact that I can still do this on any level is too thrilling to lament a loss of extension, or a gain of pounds.   So I won’t.  (Okay maybe I will sometimes but I vow to stop when I catch myself.)  When I leave ballet class each week, regardless of how my jeans are fitting that day, I’m less hard on myself, less judgmental.  One reason is the confidence that comes from being true to who I am—by letting dance back into my life.

This return to ballet class began as an experiment, something to write about.  It wound up healing a part of me that I didn’t know was wounded.

Now that ballet no longer hurts so much, I can’t call myself a masochist anymore, which is why this is the final post in the “To Dance Again” series.  Nevertheless, all this writing about dance has inspired me to dust off something I’ve had in ‘My Documents’ for some time now.  A ballet novel, for which I’ve already got a cast of characters I’m in love with, a setting and even a few chapters.  (My first novel, Birch Wood Doll, is about a ballet dancer, but it’s not a ballet novel).  I won’t say more about the new work here, but it’s calling me.  I’ll put the “Dissociative Identity Disorder” novel on hold for now, pace myself with this blog, stop worrying about my newish Twitter account and let this new book happen.

Stay tuned.

Writing is Identity

With so many great blogs out there about books and writing, why blog about books and writing?  Especially since my blog is supposed to be about body image and identity.  Well, writing is identity.

I’ll confess, ever since I got back from the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC last weekend, I’ve been struggling to come up with a decent post.  A (minor) shoulder injury has put off my next installment of “To Dance Again;” my kids haven’t done anything special to inspire a new mixed-race-parenting piece—nor have I had any ah-hah moments about my own biracial, Jewish, black, ex-dancer-shrink-ness.

Frankly, though I’ve been proof-reading, not really writing, I’ve thinking of nothing but my writing, which is itself an identity topic.  My writing is made up of all the pieces that make me myself.  (I think most writers would agree.)

I am in full writer mode this week.  My kids get it: they scrounge for their own snack and start their own homework, work out their own little squabbles, knowing that somewhere upstairs in the fire-hazard, dust-bunny haven of the study, is Mommy-as-Writer-Lady (they know I’ll be down to cook and feed and hang out later).

I haven’t posted here for a whole week; I’ve been too busy giving my novel one last comb through before sending requested pages to agents I met at the conference.  (Still insanely giddy over the fact that they were interested enough to ask!)   And now that I’m finally posting, what do I post about?  Writing!

Here’s why I write: Certain aspects of being human either vex, amuse or fascinate me.  I need to get them down in my own quirky way, ultimately to see whether or not others feel as I do.  In The Marriage Plot (which I haven’t finished yet), Jeffrey Eugenides’s Madeleine finds in Barthes “the reason she read books in the first place … a sign that she wasn’t alone.”  In Heidi W. Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (which I will post more about at another time), when Rachel says, “…the other black girls in school think I want to be white … I don’t want to be white … I want to be nothing,”  I think, yes, it’s something I’ve felt before.

So maybe you’re not biracial, black or Jewish, maybe you’ve never obsessed about whether your thighs touch when you stand with your feet together, maybe you’re not an only child or even female.  But when you read me you just might see a small part of yourself reflected back.

Now, let me take this opportunity to say what a thrilling, magical weekend I had at the Writer’s Digest Conference (#WDC12 in Twitter-speak).   I met so many fascinating people: other aspiring authors, some successful ones, editors, agents and others in this great, old, but rapidly changing field of publishing.  Though everyone says, “go to conferences with an open mind, ready to learn everything you can,” I’ll admit I went mostly to pitch Birch Wood Doll.  Once I got there, though, I inhaled information, from “Writing about Yourself in the Digital Age,” with A.J. Jacobs , to “Conflict and Suspense” with James Scott Bell, to a fantastic kid-lit seminar with Mary Kole , which convinced me to make my next project a YA venture.  Of course the Pitch Slam—60 agents, 400+ unpublished authors, 3 hours—was the high point.  I was fortunate enough to walk away with business cards from five of the agents on my top-six list.  I got home and immediately read through BWD again for typos and awkward phrasing, sent everything out on Tuesday and found myself coming down with a cold and an utter loss for words.

Fortunately, I had signed up for a Pitchapalooza workshop at Watchung Booksellers  last night.  I decided not to pitch Birch Wood Doll, since my pitch had been successful at the WDC.  Instead I challenged myself to formulate a pitch for the (as yet unwritten) YA book, just to see if “The Book Doctors” would think it sounded worthwhile.  The good news is that they did.  And with that project to look forward to (yet another novel heavily featuring body image and identity) my blogging voice seems to have returned.

Lastly, to the wonderful fellow writers I met last weekend—Grace, Joanna, AG, KSZ, Harry and others—I am rooting for you all!

A Fiction-Writing Shrink?!?

I live in a medium-sized town where I run into a minimum of ten people I know every time I go to the grocery store.  Often, these people are past or current psychotherapy clients.  More often than not, I have my children with me.  My clients have seen me in restaurants, in a bathing suit at the swimming pool, marching in the fourth of July parade with my daughter’s junior girl scout troop.  One former client was my daughter’s favorite camp counselor.  I have attended parties where clients were fellow guests.  They see my name in the paper as the new member chair for a local secular-humanistic Jewish family group.  In other words, unlike some therapists, my life is no mystery to my clients.  Seeing as my practice currently involves no individuals, and I see strictly families, this is less of an issue than it might be for some.  Families like to know that I am a mother.  Couples and individuals like to imagine I am simply their therapist.

To be fair, I’m pretty visible around town.  People know me as the biracial—black, white, Jewish, family therapist.  I’ve done talks on parenting, Multiracial Jewish Identity, Body Image and Talking to kids about Race.  People know what I think … about some things.

But a novel (un-agented, unpublished, but a novel all the same) exposes a much deeper, weirder piece of me: some form of my own reality skewed by the warped lens of my wildest imagination.   Writers of good fiction are supposed to take big risks.  How can I do that while responsibly adhering to the NASW Code of Ethics?  A fiction writing therapist opens herself up to all kinds of questions.

Are my characters based on my clients?  (Deliberately?  Never, ever.  Subliminally?  Maybe.)

Do I really think like my characters? (Some part of me has to, right?)

And what about this blog itself?  Where I’ll be writing about my ballet-dancing, eating-disordered past (which inspired Birch Wood Doll, my novel), as well as the more complicated aspects of being biracial?  In order to write at all, I’ve had to free myself from these worries.  I am not a private person by nature, which serves me as a writer, even if it presents a challenge for me-the-therapist.

My therapy practice, like everything else I do, has to be compatible with my personality.   I refuse to be fake and constrained with my clients, to answer their questions with the artful dodges we were taught in social work school.

For example:

Client: have you ever used drugs?

Therapist: I’m wondering if you’re asking that because you’re concerned that I might not be able to help you if I haven’t shared your experiences of drug use.

…Really?

As long as I’m writing fiction and blogging, I won’t practice individual psychotherapy—where your relationship with the client is the most important part of the work, where clients  hold onto their own stories about who you are.  Families generally like knowing I am a whole person with a family and experiences of my own.

The best thing to do—the only thing I can do—with my writing and my life, is be honest and open and me.

Inspired by a Productive Year Gone By

One of my daughter's accomplishments from 2006

Happy 2012!  Now that we’ve had a little over a day to test out the new year, I’ve been searching for some nice post topic to mark the calendar change.  But I’ve learned that sometimes, when your own fountain of inspiration is down to a trickle, it’s best to turn to the wisdom of others.   

Two days ago, between coming up with some New Year’s resolutions and composing a to-do list for our New Year’s Day bash, I happened to check out the blog of author, teacher and writing mentor, Lisa Romeo, where she explains a wonderful idea called the “I DID It List.”

Many people ring in the new year full of hope and possibility, setting all kinds of goals for self- improvement, some of which may be more realistic than others.    But I love Lisa’s idea of saying goodbye to the past year by acknowledging all that got done.  Read her whole post here.

Lisa, thanks for the inspiration.   As a person who tends to focus more on what I haven’t yet accomplished than on what I have, I found the idea uplifting.   From now on, whenever I find myself overwhelmed by the will-I-ever-find-an-agent-and-then-a-publisher-and-then-sell-this-book blues, I will look at this list:

In 2011, among other things related to my family, I finished revising my novel, began shopping it to agents, made a lot of headway on novel number two, drafted a few short stories, and started this site.   I also had the opportunity to do the choreography for a production of Mary Poppins at my kids’ school, as well as teach a course in musical theater where the kids performed “Tradition!” from Fiddler on the Roof.  Lastly, I perfected my turkey-brining and mastered an amazing recipe for lemon bread.  All in all, a pretty good year. 

Homecoming! Didn’t Quite Make It But …

They’re ba-ack!  Jon and the kids got home at seven o’clock last night, bringing down the curtain on what were, for me, an amazingly productive three days.  That said, I will certainly not make my finish-the-draft-by-midnight on 12/3/2011 goal, though having my eyes on that prize kept me much more focused than I would have been otherwise.

What I did accomplish was:

  • Writing over forty pages—some of which I believe is imminently usable.
  • Restructuring my outline.  The original one had grown a little stale and outdated now that I was actually realizing the characters.  The new one is pretty clear-cut and, I believe, doable.
  • Giving voice to a character who was previously mute and therefore carried around a blackberry so he could communicate by texting people around him.  Boy that wasn’t working, though I hadn’t had time to figure it out.  Little details like that can really clog up the works.  (Why was he mute in the first place?  Because of a trauma I’d eliminated from the story a few months back!)  So, nixed the mutism, nixed the Blackberry.
  • Pared down the number of alter-egos the protagonist had.  Dissociative Identity Disorder is complicated; people can have more than thirty alters.  But asking fiction readers to keep track of more than three is pushing it.
  •  Identified the need for a true psychiatric consultant who specializes in DID.  Not just schmoozing with my psychiatrist friends over coffee here and there.
  • Also, though this was not on my agenda, changed the theme of this blog, since for some reason “PILCROW” had stopped showing my tagline: Writings on Body Image and Identity.   This new theme is “CORALINE.”  The header photo, by the way, is from my daughter’s dance class when she was about five. (2006ish.)

So, all in all, a hugely productive few days.  And the best part of all was seeing my family again and realizing how much I’d missed them.  Those hugs when they came through the door, my daughter’s whispered, “I really missed you … like a lot,” were worth more than ten finished drafts!

A One-Woman Write-a-Thon

Writers' fuel ...This is it.  I’ve just packed up everyone’s toothbrushes, snow gear, Harry Potter and Redwall books, kissed my husband and children goodbye and watched our old, green Pathfinder chug down our hill, around the corner and out of sight.  Goodbye to the three people I love most in the world, hello computer.

It’s my big Chris-Hanukah gift: Jon’s taking the kids away to his dad’s in the Berkshires, leaving me two and a half totally kid-and-him free days (and two nights) to hammer away at my second novel.  My goal is to finish a really, really rough draft of this book by midnight on 12/31/11.  (Actually before, because I think we may have plans that night.)  Right now, Unnatural (working title)—the story of a guy with dissociative identity disorder who believes one of his alter-egos killed his lover—is actually miles from done.  I’ve got an outline and about two hundred fifty pages that aren’t necessarily in any kind of order (it’s told from three perspectives: the guy, one of his alters, and his shrink).  But I’ve got hope, determination and a full sack of my new favorite coffee blend.

Is this doable?  I don’t know.  I have no frame of reference for what it’s like to try and accomplish something when school pickup isn’t looming, when you don’t have to drive people to tennis, tap-dancing and piano, when your working sessions aren’t accompanied by the drone of your own inner-mom voice whispering: you’re ignoring your family; they need you; they’ve been on the Wii for three hours!  Though my belief that people without kids write whole novels in a single weekend is probably misguided, I am letting that notion fuel me.  I’m at the starting point: full of hope and enthusiasm, but realistically viewing this whole thing as an experiment.  I promised my husband that I won’t beat myself up if I don’t make the goal.  (But I’m sure gonna try!)

So … I’ve answered all emergency emails, made a last phone call to my mom to explain why I can’t talk on the phone for a few days (except to say goodnight to the kids).  As soon as I finish this post, I’ll start.  Wish me luck and inspiration.  I’ll let you know how it goes.