Friday, July 19, 2013

It's back-to-business time

Writing is hard, but it's extra hard after honeymooning in Italy, not writing a single word for nine days, and flying home to Canada in a full-blown carb coma. (The gluten-free gods have blessed the Amalfi Coast, let me tell you.)

I've been back for a while now and while my pants are still tight, the writing -- finally -- is feeling loose and comfy again. It's also frequent.

This, more or less, is what my schedule has been like. (Not including weekends and Friday nights, which are a bit more -- ahem -- unpredictable.)

6:45 am: Wake up. 
7:45 am: Take subway to work. Edit manuscript on my iPhone on subway. (My best editing discovery ever, btw. A must-try, if you can read small.)
8:30 am - 1:00 pm: Work. I eat my lunch while working. (I'm really into smoked-tofu sandwiches again.)
1 - 1:45 pm: Edit/write in Starbucks on laptop (while drinking that morning's cold coffee).
1:45 - 5 pm: Work.
5:30 - 6:00 pm: Edit manuscript on my iPhone on subway.
6:45 pm - Eat dinner. Catch up with very patient/understanding husband.
7:45 pm: Write new scenes. (No editing of old stuff allowed!)
9:00 pm: Watch Orange is the New Black or Under the Dome. Do back exercises.
10:00 pm: Read. (Currently: The Bell Jar)
11:00 pm: Sleep. 


I know now that I have to write every single day to keep the ideas flowing -- and to stay in touch with my characters. Every writer with a full-time job (or family or both) knows how hard it can be to find balance, but when you love it (even though you also HATE it) it's worth it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A book that will make you better

Screw Eckhart and Deepak. If you're feeling dulled by everyday life, unmotivated, unmoved, unfeeling towards your common man, uninspired, skip the self-help aisle and head straight for the literary fiction. Because A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is the book that will make you better.

Marra takes on the subjects of loss, love, loyalty, innocence, deprivation, pain -- so, life -- with such glorious sensitivity, such appreciation for the minutiae caught up within each, that he's going to rub off on you. He'll make you want to write better than you ever have before and to be better, too.

Marra has a remarkable talent for what I'm going to call "extreme noticing." A wire, condensed milk, a pack of dogs, snow, a stranger. All of these things are elevated so artfully it makes you want to weep that you've spent so little time considering them, both as a writer and as a human being.

You're probably thinking "Duh. All authors notice stuff. That's how pages get filled." But I'm telling you: Anthony Marra notices better.

Until Marra's novel (his first, by the way, the bastard) never have I once made use of the highlighter on my Kindle, a tool that quickly became redundant. I mean, what was I going to do? Highlight every single word? So I let go of the menu button and I let his prose wash over me, cleansing my brain of that fucking Maroon Five song, how bummed I am to be home from vacation, and from the mental graffiti of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Finally, a cure for the aphorisms of NeNe Leakes. Oh how they ail me!

He's incredible with the big stuff, too. The horrors of war, the complications of sisterhood and fatherhood, the wisdom of a child who has seen too much, which he pulls off without making that wisdom saccharine or annoying as hell. 

Every line that flows from Marra's brain is brilliant and the depth of his observations makes me wonder if the man can ever relax. Can he take a walk without having to pull over to a bench every few minutes to take notes? Floss his teeth? Eat a beet chip? And, my God, dream?

I don't know how nature churned out a human with this much empathy, heart and talent all wrapped together. It seems like mad luck, the happiest of accidents. However he happened, I believe this planet of ours could use more souls like Anthony Marra. We could definitely use more writers.

Monday, July 1, 2013


I’m home and I don’t want to be. I want to fly back to Italy, to board a train that snakes through the graffiti and garbage of Naples, to stay in a hotel room with a toilet that runs and an elevator next door that makes thumping noises as I sleep. I want to wake up late and live only for lunches and dinners like the gnocchi in a sauce so perfect that I dream about it, the marinara in my veins instead of blood. I want to speed down roads so narrow that my driver, his hair wavy as the Mediterranean, makes every turn a three-point. I want to wander through a town murdered by volcanic ash and meet the people living above it today, denying that it’s their turn next. I want to curl up in a ball near the feet of my Amalfian gondolier as he hurls me through a hole in the cliffside and into a pool of water that condensed sunlight and dumb luck have transformed into a wild aquamarine light show. I want to dive into this electric-looking water like the Japanese tourists who braved the jellyfish and the jagged rock and the question that was on my mind: How the fuck will you get back in the boat? I want to sing with the pirate, a refrigerator box of a man with a wine cork in his ear, who took our captain's bribe and got me into this beautiful hole in the middle of the sea near the middle of the planet and so far away from my home.  I want to go back.

The Blue Grotto off the coast of Capri, Italy.