Humanity Inside Vanity

I don’t consider myself to be a superstar or celebrity. I’m an ordinary person.

What’s different is that I dared fight for my rights. I challenged the status quo. I rebelled the role of mental patient way back in 1990 when I dared to think I could have a better life than the one I was presented with. I didn’t want to collect SSI and live in a dangerous apartment complex on the edge of town for the rest of my life.

I was a creative, quirky young girl who listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain drowning her ears in Psychocandy until and after the day I needed real mind candy.

In the Zadie Smith link I offered last week, Zadie alluded to how an author sees each book in the rear-view mirror of her life when she was a different person writing it.

At 50, I’m drawn to the humanity inside the vanity.

Now I’m more interested in the beauty inside of us all. I wake at 3 a.m. and scan a fashion magazine. The Dolce & Gabbana dress reads per la mamma piu bella nel mondo. I know it is Italian for the most most beautiful mother in the world. At 50 I think it counts more that you can translate Italian into English than whether your face is wrinkle-free or you wear sunscreen every day.

I’m interested now in the stories of how women (and guys) put themselves together; like an author composes characters and their lives.

I also think: the goal is to get to 50 and be at a point where your illness doesn’t continue to dominate your life.

Now I differ from pop psychologists who urge everyone to “get happy” all the time every day. I’m the number-one fan of acting true to yourself. A person can be rude or crude and that could be who they are. So be it. That’s who they are.

Crafting characters in a novel is a gift. And like I wrote in here before truly seeing and observing and accepting and understanding how people are inside is a gift that we must hone.

The greatest gift we can give another person is to honor who they are.

The greatest gift we can give ourselves is to honor our nature.

Seeing the humanity inside the vanity: I’m all for this.

Zadie Smith on Writing and Writers

Thursday I was unable to write a blog entry so I’m going to post one today. I’ll focus on the writing life again and back track in the coming week to other topics.

Zadie Smith is famous for writing the first novel White Teeth. While I did not read that novel I read 50 pages of her novel The Autograph Man. The book bored me and I didn’t find it to be exceptional so I quit reading it. Also: the main character had no redeeming features that would’ve allowed me to like him even though he was repulsive in his behavior.

Though this has been my experience I can say that Zadie Smith redeems herself by talking about the craft of writing on the Internet and by giving readers her 10 rules of writing. She defines writers as Macro Planners or Micro Managers.

I’m in the macro planner camp. Yet more than this I can see the scenes of novels in my head like I’m a director filming a movie. I can visualize the action of a novel in my head clear as real events.

It also helps to cut out photos from magazines that can give you a visual cue as to how a character looks or what a room looks like or of other images in a book.

I have also gone to bed at night and in my sleep I’ve dreamed of the plots of novels. Ideas for plots of novels have come to me in my sleep. Like any macro manager I don’t write a book from beginning to middle to end: I write the scenes that resonate with me at that particular moment.

I also find that dialogue pops into my head at random moments during the day or night, on weekdays or on the weekend.

To be fair I most likely have to read White Teeth or NW to see if I can adjust my view of Zadie Smith’s writing.

Read Zadie Smith’s views on two types of writers.  Her style of crafting a novel might be different. Each style is rightfully useful on its own. One style is not any better than another.

Last of the Independents

In the 1980s disc jockeys played the music of bands signed to indie record labels instead of major record labels.

I liken this to self-publishing a book circa 2015 today. Major publishers aren’t willing to take a chance on a great work of literature so they routinely turn down books they think won’t make millions of dollars for the house. James Patterson and other writers of so-called formula fiction do get book contracts with Random House and other publishers.

I say: take a chance on the last of the independents. Be not afraid to read a self-published book that is well-written not cobbled together with poor grammar and dangling sentences or run-on streams of paragraphs.

My other two books are self-help books I hope to publish within five years. I have a fourth non-fiction book I’d like to bring out too.

Today: mainstream publishers aren’t willing to take a chance on first-time authors. I urge readers of books to take this chance on first-time authors.

I’m most taken by Kim Gordon’s traditionally published memoir, Girl in a Band, because she limned the downtown New York City music scene that paralleled my own stint as a disc jockey on the FM radio.

It comes down to making beautiful music on your own. Self-publishing a book is like producing an album with an indie record label.

Most people would rather read a book Nicole Richie or Kim Kardashian wrote.

I say: give your hard-earned money to ordinary writers not celebrities who make millions just by rolling out of bed.

The whole indie do-it-yourself ethic is alive and well and thriving.

Why not join in?

No Comment

As a writer, I was told I don’t have to read the comments posted in response to the Internet news articles I’m quoted in. If you want to be a writer or are a writer, I can tell you this: don’t read the comments section below an Internet article you’ve written or were quoted in.

Eva Chen, the editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine, talked about these “tip-tap” judgments other people make online because it’s easy to attack a person because you’re anonymous.

Any writer has to develop a thick skin to withstand this barrage of vitriol. I recommend you do not read the comments section of any Internet news article.

Recovery is often a via dolorosa taken as we move towards having hope and health. It doesn’t help that this journey is often distressing and painful because other people stigmatize us. We don’t need the added burden of having others inflict their tip-tap hate onto us.

No elevator to success exists. And if you speak out, you’ll be attacked because you’re successful. You’ll be attacked because you challenge the status quo.

In the comments section, I was accused of being a liberal when I’m not. Simply by speaking my mind, a guy or was it a gal insinuated that I was anti-conservative. Yet by doing that this person is besmirching themselves, because I wasn’t attacking conservatives. Small minds are always on guard against anyone or anything that disrupts their ego.

Attacking “liberals” has become a knee-jerk reaction for people who live in fear of other people. It’s almost humorous to read these comments nowadays.

One guy–and it was a guy–stated he didn’t want to date women with mental illnesses long before he became a psychiatric worker. This is interesting to me: that another person has a stereotype of what a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia would act like. We don’t need those kinds of “providers” acting like we need their help because we’re defective.

The point of the Yahoo Health dating article was to dispel the ignorance about dating a partner with a mental condition. Yet even though I spoke clearly and passionately, most of the people who commented below the news article offered the usual ho-hum stigmatizing attacks.

That’s OK. I’ll speak out again. In my memoir I wrote in one scene that “I want to see justice served for the last forsaken lot of misunderstood crazy people.” That’s an actual comment I made in 1998 when my first psychiatrist died. Seventeen years later I refuse to be silenced.

I’m doing my part to fight the stigma because I have nothing to lose. I wish more people diagnosed with mental illnesses would lift their cloak of secrecy and speak out. Like Tim Cook of Apple admitting he’s gay. The other woman interviewed in the Yahoo article used a fake name.

It’s scary that by speaking out against stigma I incurred the wrath of people who stigmatize us. As if society is their dominion and how dare I or anyone else with a mental illness try to infiltrate their fortress of hate.

I wish more people who have a mental health diagnosis would’ve posted comments in response to my quotes. I can only hope that someone diagnosed with a mental illness who read the Yahoo article was cheered on and feels better now about their prospects in the dating world.

Tip-tap indeed.

Write Where You Are

I recommend plotting in chronological order the key events of your life.

Take the event that resonates with you the most and start writing about that time in your life.

The goal is to have 50 pages of writing. I recommend joining a writing workshop that is comprised of supportive, knowledgeable, and educated individuals from diverse walks of life.

The first memoir workshop I joined in 2001 was for Italian American writers. The next workshop I joined had four women and was at first lead by a published fiction writer and playwright. Then we met on our own at each others’ houses.

I was not afraid to tell my story to unknown strangers in 2001 and then again with the women. At some point, you’ll have to get feedback for your writing. You can’t rely solely on your own eye or ear.

There is no formula for writing memoir. I told my story in chronological order and tightly edited it to include only certain scenes that followed one into the other in a cohesive, linear narrative.

You can’t bridle up what you have to say when you first start. It might take two, three, or more rounds of editing to polish and perfect your story.

So write where you are. Keeping going. Listen to other people’s feedback with an open mind.
You want to publish only the best possible version of your story. Regardless of whether you get an editor to buy your book, or you decide to self-publish, you have to bring out a great, engaging story.

I will talk more in the coming blog entries about how to see your life with new eyes to uplift your narrative. Or as one woman in the first workshop told another woman, “Be Irish” even though she wasn’t from Ireland. You have to fully become the character whose life you’re crafting.

Sometimes this will be unsettling. You’ll have to go to the root of the narrative and pull up the weeds so that the gorgeous flowers show through. What you write might be about something sad, about a horror, yet there should always be something elegant and beautiful about it. (That’s what I think.)

Indie Girl

I’m ticked up that most publishing houses only want to publish authors who write formula bestsellers like James Patterson and Douglas Preston.  The houses are only willing to sign authors who can sell a million copies not 950,000 copies of a book.

In this climate, great works of literary merit are routinely rejected. I side with Amazon in the Hachette dispute.  You can Google  Amazon Hatchette dispute   to read the story about the legal brawl.  In short, Amazon wanted to reduce the price of Hachette books sold on the website. And Hatchette wouldn’t comply so Amazon delayed the shipment  by a week or two of every Hachette book sold on the website.

Though Amazon shot dirty pool in doing this I do side with Amazon as opposed to the big publisher.

As a disc jockey on a college radio station in the 1980s, I played bands that were signed to indie record labels.  The spirit of this DIY ethic is alive and well in the publishing world today. Defying the conservative, money-grubbing big publishing houses is possible and necessary in today’s literary climate for a lot of authors.

I read between 30 and 35 books every year.  Thus I’m confident in my judgment of what makes a book good and what books shouldn’t be published. Plenty of great books have to get self-published because their authors don’t write formula thrillers like James Patterson or Douglas Preston.

Just like rock bands had to sign with indie record labels in the 1980s, a lot of authors today have to sign with independent publishing houses or go totally out on their own to bring out their books.

I will write in the coming weeks about how you can craft your own narrative to tell your story.  You might want to get published or you simply might want to write things down for your own review.

Either way, if you have a story in you, you deserve to tell it in your own original way.

Stay tuned for what I think is a great way to start to write the story of your life.

An Alternative Writing Life

I was 22; I had graduated college with a BA in English in June 1987. I had no idea what I wanted to do, I only knew what I didn’t want: to have an ordinary life as a suburban breeder who stayed home with the kids while her husband worked on Wall Street.

You could say there was something left of the dial about this tendency even then.

The knee-jerk reaction was to think I could be an editorial assistant at a magazine or publishing house.

Fate decided for me: I had a break, and was shunted into a community mental health system for close to four years: the worst time of my life, ever, even accounting for high school.

I knew since I was seven years old that I wanted to be a writer. How does a kid so young already know something like that? I did; was it an intuition?

As a young person, I didn’t want to birth babies; yet I didn’t want to be poor, so I deluded myself into thinking I could become a corporate superstar. I bombed out of that gray flannel first career with smashing success.

It wasn’t until 2004 that I began writing professionally. Seventeen years later. I started writing my memoir circa 2000, and joined my first writing workshop then. About five or six of us met every week to critique our work. It was free advice, read my lips: free. Out of all of us, I got a literary agent who obtained a book deal for Left of the Dial.

The book impressed the editor yet the deal didn’t go through. I wouldn’t quit, so chose to self-publish because I believed in my story. Self-publishing can lead to a book deal with a house down the road.

The wind-up:

Be brave. If you want to write more than anything, Just Do It like Nike proclaims.

Write because you are a writer, with no regard to whether you get mainstream accolades. Write because to not write would drive you mad. Write because you must.

Keep your eyes open to opportunities: submit your work, and submit it again.

Yet remember this: you are a writer because that’s who you are, not because so-called arbiters in society confer that title on you.

You’re right to write. Just Do It.

I will talk in the future about other writing life topics. Stay tuned.

MFA: Boon Or Boondoggle?

From time to time I will talk about the writing life in a category of blog entries under the title the writing life.

It might interest readers who have the urge to tell their story or write a book.

I recently read in the book Happiness, a collection of essays taken from the critical literary journal n+1, a chapter by Keith Gessen, a guy who was a penniless writer forced to teach fiction at a college. He does have an MFA, and sold a book for a six-figure advance (advances are always against future royalties.) Yet for most of his writerly life, he existed on $15K to $20K in yearly income.

This will be the first writing myth I bust: that a traditional avenue for a writing career is the only one a would-be writer should aspire to.

First: I’m not a fan of most MFA fiction (or fiction for that matter), so I’m biased against having a job in an “ivory tower” academic institution where you teach writing to students. I read a fine column in Poets & Writers about how real-life experience is vital to have as a writer, instead of going the paper-mill route.

I make an exception: certain MFA writers are good–like Danzy Senna. And it’s a matter of preference, because Heidi Julavits is a famous MFA-writer, and I found nothing spectacular about her first book, The Mineral Palace. (I read it when it first came out.)

She was on a panel discussion I attended titled: “MFA: Boon or Boondoggle” easily over 10 years ago.

The myth of having to write full-time, the myth of most writers being able to earn a livable income solely from writing, is just that: a myth.

The wind-up:

To get an MFA, you have to think of your R.O.I., or return on investment: if you’ll recoup the expensive tuition by getting a book deal with a decent advance.

I will return on Thursday with a more hopeful scenario to combat this common dilemma.