Anyone can write a blog

I was looking back over this ridiculous manuscript I wrote last winter which I originally titled, Anyone can write a book on why anyone can write a book. That is to say, making fun of myself as well as the millions of "How to Write" books out there--anyone including someone who has never actually written one. (Bizarrely it's one of the few projects I've ever completed.) It sounds like something Michael Scott would write (he's a character from The Office, a sitcom for those of you who don't watch TV).  Really it was just advice to myself, to try to keep myself writing, even when it's dark and I'm alone, which is probably the best time to do it. Still the ludicrousness of it, the wildly misplaced chutzpah, sounds like a character in a story, like a person who would quote a book without having read it, like I did on this very blog on July 3 last year. By the way last week I found a used, giveaway copy of that book I quoted that day, Your Money or Your Life, and I did finally read it. Something funny happened when I first found it which is that the book was so badly beat up it was being held together by a rubber band, had teeth marks all over it and was actually scorched on one corner (maybe it had once belonged to Hein). Really I was so repulsed by the physical specimen I almost put it back on the shelf and thought "I'll just get get a copy somewhere else". I held it that way an old boss of mine used to handle books on my desk she didn't think should be there, dangling it between her thumb and pointer finger, the way my dad's friend held his gambling book, dropping it into his bag like it was hazardous waste.  

And then I thought -- God, that's exactly the kind of outrageous, consumer-obsessed, new-is-better mentality the book is (probably) railing against. That's disgusting. So I took the book home with me, and eventually read it in all its dilapidated glory, spread out on the floor like playing cards. I have to admit I didn't actually do the exercises. But I like the environmental message and find the guiding idea behind it--that money is  "something we trade our life energy for"--extremely useful. Even though I share my sister's habit of wearing clothes to shreds (though unlike her I don't think I'm still wearing anything from high school) and even though I've taken to cutting my own hair lately which won't come as a surprise to anyone who has recently seen me, there are still so many ways I could spend and consume less. And I will try to start doing that. 

Last month I also finally read  The World According to Garp (thanks to Jeannine, for sending it to me) which is incredibly great and really shamed me into wanting to finish my projects. If you've read it you'll remember Alice who was working on her second novel without having finished her first and in the end never ended up finishing anything. By contrast "Garp did not write faster than anyone else, or more; he simply always worked with the idea of completion in mind." But what struck me more than that was how funny it was; I haven't laughed out loud like that at a book in a long time. And how much it spoke about the writing process, the stories within a story, exaggerated twists and turns and outrageous coincidence, the mundane becoming oddly symbolic, the constant nightmare fear of losing a child, and the idea that whatever a reader doesn't believe about a story isn't "real" and has to be changed. The book gets much sadder, though, than I expected it to. There's still one thing that I can't get over. That I believe too much. 

Back to that silly manuscript from last winter, and why I was linking so much above. I did that partly because I am wondering about the coherence of this blog. Wondering about the common themes ("Pick one and stay with it." "No!"), wondering about the progress or lack thereof. What's scary is I do feel I've experienced a complete turn-around, and yet I read things written last year that sound like they were written today. I've even turned up journal entries from over a decade ago that sound like a rehash of all the same questions from now. It's truly bizarre. Maybe this is why most people don't keep journals. It's almost like there's too much coherence, too much of a common theme. 

Okay so here's one little snippet from that book that anyone could write and you'll see what I mean. They were all these tiny little essays, Natalie Goldberg-style. And I'll post again, soon.

I’m actually not too busy, that’s why I haven’t called you back
A friend called the other day.
“I haven’t heard from you in so long,” she said.
I accidentally launched into a rundown on all the things going short, "I've been so busy." She cut me off--
“Still? I thought you were trying to get better about that.”

She was right. I was getting better, and that was actually the reason I’d been MIA. It wasn’t that I was, as my grandmother Eleanor used to say, meeting myself coming and going, papers flying in every direction, people shouting, phone ringing, giant bags under my eyes. It was the opposite. I have been enjoying the evenings with Wally. Putting on the Winter Meditation CD, drinking red wine, playing “This Little Light of Mine” on the guitar while he flings himself around the room, helping him make necklaces out of those giant beads, taking note of the colors of the Empire State every night instead of simply cursing the sound of the sirens on 9th avenue.

I’ve been making tea and drinking it in little cups without handles. I’ve been trying to organize things, bring bags of stuff everyday to Salvation Army, even books I keep meaning to read but obviously am never going to. 

She was right -– I wasn’t still caught up in that maelstrom I’d been promising so long to get out of. I had jumped off (for now at least) that careening roller-coaster, the ride I wasn’t enjoying but couldn’t stop riding, again and again. Like a kid on the Cyclone at Coney Island who feels sick and hates the stomach plunge and the whole entire thing but the minute it ends, runs around to the front of the line and asks for another ticket. Why? Because I’m afraid of what happens when I stop. How can one get at the emotional truth of a story when that's the kind of truth we can tolerate the least? I’m afraid of the rest of the carnival even more than the ride I hate. The silence, the empty lots, the bearded lady, the shoot-the-freak show, the giant anaconda. I know I have to face those things, before I get out to the beach, to the swampy ocean, to that bright open view of the sky. 

Well that last part isn't really true anymore. I feel I've faced that empty lot, the silence and the giant anaconda. Faced the emotional truth writing demands--the parts that are true, like John Irving says, even if they aren't. But it also seems like I am continually pulled back into old habits, lured in by the undertow, by the dreaded Under Toad, in The World According to Garp. Maybe sometimes it's just to get rid of it, though, once and for all. And what's that saying from the Tao Te Ching, about how sometimes going forward can look like going back. I try to tell myself that, whenever I begin again, which inevitably means facing how far behind I might be from where I imagine I should be. Anyone can write a book; anyone can write a blog. That’s not a reason to do either one. But it’s not a reason not to, either.


  1. love this, rachel.

    you always hit the nail on the head. please keep hammering away.

    yes, we run around in circles and it seems we aren't making progress, but we are, we are. i agree with the tao te ching saying.

    speaking of circles, tonight was the second night in a row i had obligations, plans, and i cut out because i just didn't feel up to it. like always, i spent way too much time wavering between venturing out w/ forced energy or staying home and allowing myself to catch up on the things i never seem to have time to do. i finally decided to stay home. i've cut my hair and read your blog entry (which is great b/c i feel more connected to you when i do) and i'm going to patch an elbow hole on my favorite cardigan (those professors don't wear them just for show, you know! some of us have pointy elbows!) and fix a used pair of jeans so that they fit a bit better... or maybe i'll just relax.

    that beat up, torn and tattered book sounds like it must've been a good read. no one would go through the trouble of holding it together with a rubber band otherwise! not unlike the copy of lady chatterly's lover that i kept in my underwear/sock drawer in high school. but that was good for different reasons.

  2. "The way that leads forward seems to lead backward." (41, Tao Te Ching, The Way and its Power)

  3. Garp was my favorite novel for many years... I think I've read it at least three times.

    Keep writing!

  4. So I finally figured out who you were, Anonymous at 11:45 and the fact that you had all those plans at that late hour should have given it away I suppose but the Lady Chatterly just kept throwing me off. Thank you. What a fantastic and understanding response.

    Kristin -- thanks, you too. You are the one w/ the organic garden, right? Probably horrified by the Bok Choy entries in that case.


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