Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Good Morning

I turned in the preface and first three chapters yesterday morning. And now we wait. My subject and I worked on the pages together, and she pronounced herself very happy with the result, but now we would like the editor and publisher to be happy with them, too. It definitely helps that my subject has approved them. Perhaps that means the additional edits will be lighter, we shall see. 

I don't usually turn in any pages till I have a full draft, so it was interesting to note the different approaches I have when drafting the story versus when I'm preparing the manuscript to be turned in. I'm rough and ready in the former stage, forcing myself to just get down the words, to tell the story plainly, trusting lyricism to find its way in, if not in the first draft, then later. There's a forward momentum to the process, an energy to keep going, knowing that you will be able to improve what's there in subsequent passes. 

It's different when you're trying to get a piece to the level of polish needed for its release to judge and executioner. You're reading in an entirely different way, literally weighing every word, listening for the rhythm of the sentences, the pacing of the narrative, figuring out how much telling you can do before showing—building actual scenes with dialogue, allowing the reader to see, hear, touch, smell, and relate emotionally to the action. 

I swear I read those first twenty thousand words more than a hundred times, until it all began to seem incredibly flat (fortunately, I now know this is a real stage, the conviction that everything you've written is drivel). And then, on Sunday night before I was to email the chapters to the rest of the team, I suddenly realized why I couldn't stop fiddling with them. It was because the very first paragraph kept bothering me. It was okay, it was serviceable, it did the job we wanted it to do, but something just never felt quite right to me. And suddenly, on maybe the one hundred and tenth reading, I knew exactly what I needed to do the fix it! 

Honestly, it was a thrilling moment. It simply entailed changing the paragraph from the present to the past tense and pulling a sentence from the middle of the first page to be the opening salvo, a far more immediate entry, set in the consciousness of my subject, rather than in the consciousness of people in the room looking on. It was internal emotion and wonder versus external description, and it reminded me why, as hard as this process often feels, I love what I do. There will be further changes of course. I am also an editor, and I understand the value of the editing process, a necessary collaboration. How many times have you read an almost brilliant book and thought, if only it had been more bravely edited?

So I'm talking about writing again, because this is how my days are being spent right now. It's all consuming, really. But yesterday I went for a walk with my friend Jane. We call these walks our bench tour (as in "Fancy an afternoon bench tour?"), because we walk the garden paths from one bench to another, sitting for a while on any bench that is drenched by sun (it was below freezing out) and chatting about our lives. She is heading to London for a solo vacation today, and was feeling a lot of stress about that. She shares my travel anxiety, which probably means she will be just fine once she actually arrives. Steve, I told her I have a friend in London who I could reach out to on her behalf in a crisis. I hope I didn't overstep! I'm pretty sure there will be no crisis, and that she will have a wonderful time, with no one to please but herself. 

In other news, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Biden's standing to authorize student loan forgiveness this morning. On the day applications for forgiveness opened last fall, my two kids and my niece immediately applied, so that when my husband and I, hearing on the news that the portal was open, called to let them know, they reported, oh, we already sent everything in this morning. Their diligence put them among the 16 million applicants who got the proposed portion of their loans approved for cancellation before the legal challenge to Biden's program was filed, though the actual forgiveness is on pause pending the outcome of the litigation. In my daughter's case, this would wipe out the remaining portion of her federal student loan entirely. I do hope everyone else who stands to benefit will be able to do so once the court rules. But with the current composition of the court, that is hardly a given.

It's currently snowing in New York City, the first real snow of the winter. I'm imagining being in a room with a stained glass window as serene as the one in the photo up top. It reminds me of when I spent two charmed weeks at Yaddo twenty-three years ago now. My children were babies then, and my mother came to stay to help out while I was away. I remember my cousin Karen joked to my husband, "I hope my niece and nephew are being cared for to the same standard as when their mother is there?" "Oh no," my husband told her. "The standard is much higher. Their grandmother is here." 

He wasn't lying.

Happy Tuesday, my dear friends. 

I'm off to visit you all.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Notes from the week


Our friends Lisa and Ozier brought us those lovely tulips last Sunday when they came over to watch the Super Bowl with us. We all enjoyed Rihanna's half time show in the sky, her swollen belly front and center, setting off a flurry of coast to coast texting: Is she pregnant again? She definitely looks pregnant. And so she is. More power to her and hers. All day Monday I kept photographing my tulips as the light played across them through my kitchen window. The colors were so delicate as the buds opened and bowed their lovely heads. They gave me hours and hours of joy.


All my wordsmithing mojo is going into work right now, but I don't want to neglect writing here. It allows me to keep in touch with you dear friends, while also affording me writing practice. Nothing will go very wrong if I express myself inartfully here, though it will help to keep the connection between mind and fingers-on-keyboard, staving off the dreaded writer's block. If I'm being honest, I don't really believe in writer's block, at least not for myself. Writer's block is really fear of being judged and found wanting, but my parents buried even more deeply than that fear (which I do possess in abundance) the idea that one must honor one's commitments, and so if I have a deadline, it would actually be worse to blow past it than it would be to turn in a piece of writing that still needs work. Writing, after all, is always in process. I once read that a book is never truly finished, only inked. And indeed, in every book I have had a part in, even after it is inked, I still see edits I wish I could make, ways to make the narrative flow more effortlessly, carrying the reader along. That is the goal anyway. Writing is a kind of progressive sight, as new things rise into awareness that you hadn't thought of before. That's why those books that take ten years to finish end up being so brilliant—case in point: Isabelle Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. And look, I have banged on about writing again, when that is really not what I intended to do when I opened this page. 


I've been thinking a lot about Senator John Fetterman, the new Democrat from Pennsylvania, who checked himself into Walter Reed Hospital this week to be treated for worsening depression. I admire so much that he did that, despite being a public figure, knowing all the vitriol it would draw from right wing doomscrollers, who have said and posted the ugliest things about him since he suffered a stroke at the height of his Senate campaign. He won the seat anyway, because voters saw his humanity. I want to wrap this big, huge man with his valiant heart on his sleeve in emotional safety. I wish I could protect him from the world. A story by Jennifer Senior in The Atlantic reflected on what the senator has been dealing with since being sworn into Congress in January. The piece might be behind a paywall so I'll quote part of it here.

It is said that he was unhappy that he missed out on (and still hasn’t gotten) the time he needed to properly recover from his stroke. And now here he is, in one of the most public-facing jobs imaginable—possibly even more so than the presidency, where you have the luxury of retreating into the antiqued seclusion of the White House, away from reporters and constituents.

On top of this, Fetterman was spending his weekdays alone, apart from his wife and three children, who are still in Braddock, Pennsylvania. For most of the week, he doesn’t have his loved ones by his side, the people with whom he could safely pull off the mask. Instead, he had to perform all day long, then return to an empty home.

Illness, too, can be cruelly isolating. Fetterman was trying to adapt to a demanding, high-intensity job with closed-captioning at his desk and audio-to-text transcriptions of committee hearings; he carries a tablet that converts what his colleagues say into text. This technological wizardry might make his work easier to do, but it also sets him apart, accentuating how different his lot is from everyone else’s. I’m guessing it isn’t easy to experience this difference during every interaction he has—not when his condition is so new, not when he hasn’t had ample time to adjust.

Fetterman has basically been forced to contend with the effects of a severe brain trauma while working an absurdly demanding job in one of the most polarized and toxic political climates the country has ever known.

It breaks my heart, thinking of what these past months have been like for him. I pray he takes the time he needs to heal and gets everything that he requires medically and emotionally, including renewed immersion in the life of his beautiful wife and three children, who seem to anchor him.


Bathroom update—it's finally done! It was a lot, especially since the first tile I chose for the floor looked wrong. What I thought would be gentle watercolor swirls of gray in the 6-inch white hex tiles, ended up being hard black slashes in every direction on random tiles, and most of those tiles happened to end up in the middle of the bathroom. In a larger area, it would probably have been okay, but in that postage stamp-sized space, it was jarring. It had been laid when I was away in D.C. for work, and when I got back and saw it, I realized I couldn't bear to live with it, that after already spending so much money to renovate that tiny bathroom, we needed to just go ahead and spend more to have the tiles drilled up and new ones laid. Here's a picture showing the tiles I hated, and the ones I chose to replace them.

My change order put everything back two weeks, but the contractor remained gracious, even as I worked myself up into a frenzy to express how much I needed to have the floor changed, as if I was afraid he might refuse me if I wasn’t emphatic enough. He reminded me that the goal was for me to be happy, and so if I needed the tiles changed, then of course he would make that happen. I felt so guilty about making him do the work twice, my husband merely rolled his eyes, but now I am indeed happy with the new floors, simple white 2-inch hex tiles with platinum gray grout. 

I'm happy with the rest of the bathroom, too, though it is true what my friend Lisa said, it is still only a bathroom, nice and clean and new, nothing rusty and broken in there anymore, yet it changes nothing essential about my life. But it has been accomplished, this thing I have dreamed for some years now, and I am relieved to no longer be looking at woefully discolored grout and grungy looking, worn through enamel in and around the bathtub. I am planning at some point to also redo the other bathroom, though I think I need a good long break from construction happening in the background of my life. The tiny hallway bathroom ended up taking two weeks longer to complete than the kitchen. I suppose that's just how these things go.

Here are a couple of pictures, but they don't really reflect what I see in real life, as the bathroom is so small it's hard to get a good perspective. But it's done at last, and I'm grateful.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Dinner with my beautiful girl

She comes into the city to be in person in her office on Tuesdays and Thursdays, working remotely from her home in Brooklyn the rest of the days. In New York, “the city” generally means Manhattan. All other boroughs are called by their proper names. Anyway, since she was already going to be in the city, we made a plan to meet up for dinner in Battery Park. Her office windows overlook the reflecting pools where the two World Trade Center towers used to be. It’s a fairly fancy part of town, with wall to wall cops on every block because of what happened there 22 years ago now. Everything has since been rebuilt. It’s all even shinier than before. My girl and I sat in a cozy round booth and ordered our usual margaritas and also scallops and mussels and she was as radiant as always, even though she’s working through some hard life stuff. She also doesn’t love her present job, but she’s doing well there anyway, managing corporate tech crises like the boss she is. Her old boss from her last job reached out to her and said, “Let’s start a business together. But seriously.” They’re actually going to meet to brainstorm this week. They had such a good connection when they worked together, and they’ve forged a full friendship now that they’re no longer in hierarchical roles. We agreed one can make new and true friends throughout life, as evidenced by how close I have become in the past couple of years to a neighbor whose son and mine played together growing up. We were fellow parents then. Now we’re irreverent besties who don’t have to mince words. My daughter and I also raised our spicy margaritas to toast the fact that I’ve completed the three chapters I need to turn in to the publisher soon, phase one of my contracted delivery dates, but first my subject will need to engage with the pages, and give me any changes she might want to make. I’m ahead of the schedule we agreed on (always under promise and over deliver my dad used to say), but I went ahead and told my subject I’d get the chapters to her this coming Wednesday, so I’d have to honor my word and not back out. It never gets easier to turn over a piece of writing and wait for the verdict, but one has to be brave. I’m now twenty-two thousand words into the narrative. Roughly eighty thousand more to go. This is utterly disjointed and stream of consciousness. I’ve been deep in the work trenches, missing you all. But seeing my girl on Thursday evening, that was like all the light in the world breaking through. Just being in her company brings me such joy. She is wise and complicated and loving. My world spins easily in the sun of her smile.