Write Where You Are

I’m not a Hipster. I don’t follow trends.

What I write about might not make the bestseller list like James Patterson. It’s called a bestseller list for a reason–those books sell millions of copies.

Yet I’ve always been a Visionary in thinking that you can have your own version of a full and robust life living in recovery.

To this end I’ve formed a business and I’m set to publish a second nonfiction book.

That’s what it’s like to be a writer of left of the dial topics:

You’re not Danielle Steele. You won’t live in a building on Central Park West.

You prefer the hidden streets and neighborhoods that no one else wants to explore.

You toil away every day on your writing. If you’re lucky, there’s no writer’s block.

You have something to tell the world so you say it loud and clear.

You create a blog when the New York Times won’t publish you.

You won’t quit in your goal of championing recovery for everyone.

Here’s the scoop:

The writing life is not for everyone. It’s for those of us with an artist’s temperament.

It helps if you have a head for business too so that you can sell tons of copies of your books.

Having a mission for what you want to accomplish by writing a book is imperative.

My goal is to help mental health peers succeed at going to school and finding and keeping a job they love.

In a perverse way, this would satisfy the Republicans and Conservatives who would like to see that no one uses up “entitlements.”

Yet riddle me this: isn’t the mortgage tax deduction on an income tax form a kind of entitlement?

My goal is to help mental health peers live full and robust lives.

A J.D. is not required to have this kind of life.

Hungry Heart

In 1999 when I was an assistant in a law firm library I told a coworker: “I want to win a Pulitzer.”

She responded: “You have to write a book first.” In a tone that seemed mocking or incredulous that I could do this.

We shall see what happens.

I’ve known ever since I was seven years old that I wanted to be a writer.

Ever since I was only five years old I had been bullied by the neighborhood kids and the kids in school.

Coincidence? I think it’s not a coincidence that I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was only seven years old.

Run out and buy this book: Jennifer Weiner’s memoir Hungry Heart.

In it, the New York Times bestselling author boldly asserts that it’s the freaks of the world, the ones from f*cked-up homes, the outcasts, who are destined to become great writers.

Jennifer Weiner was strong enough to row on a crew team at Princeton University.

Yet all through her life before achieving this Ivy League feat the other kids and teens called her fat.

I’m engrossed in Hungry Heart totally. I”m going to continue reading it at the speed of light.

Easily nine years ago I’d go on Jennifer Weiner’s author website. I’ve revisited the website today. Her advice to aspiring authors is some of the greatest advice you’ll ever read for free.

Writers, click your pens and get writing. Those of us who are writers write because we must. We write because to not write we’d have a breakdown of the soul.

I stand in solidarity with Jennifer Weiner. Go on her website and read the articles she’s written for the New York Times on women and body issues.

Years ago–too long ago to count–I logged on to Match.com for about five minutes and quickly logged off.

The featured profile on the homepage of that dating website was that of a guy who wrote in these exact words:

“I won’t date a fat woman.” No kidding he used the word fat.

As soon as I saw that I refused to join Match.com.

That’s interesting, right, considering that I fit into a size 2 Petite not a 14 or a 3X?

I urge you to buy and read the book Hungry Heart.

Jennifer Weiner is anti-MFA. Like I do, she knows that if you’re a writer you don’t need to spend all your time in a classroom learning to write.

Those of us who are writers will do our editing of a manuscript on a crowded New York City bus we’re lucky to get a seat on.

We’ll write in a notebook on the subway, or at a table in a public library, or at any number of indie coffee shops in our neighborhood.

We scope out the layout of the living room dining room area when we want to buy a co-op or rent an apartment to verify there’s room for a desk and a file cabinet.

I’ve been remiss in blogging here because yes indeed I’ve started writing a third novel. This is the one I want to publish first within three years.

Jennifer Weiner tells it like it is.

I tell you this:

There is something about being bullied, about being called fat, about being an outsider in the Popularity Contest of Life that endows a person with great writing talent.

I’ve been listening to alternative music ever since I was in high school–long before I was a disc jockey on the FM radio.

I tell you this also:

I’ll go to my grave–a 90-year old woman–listening to the Beastie Boys.

Thirty years after my disc jockey career ended I’m still listening to alternative music.

Thirty years after having a breakdown I stand in solidarity with those of us who are outsiders–who don’t fit in–whose difference threatens to mark us with an externally-inflicted stigmata.

Listen up loyal blog readers:

You have nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about because you have a diagnosis of SZ or whatever challenge you have in life.

Let’s refuse to be hurt when a dude tells a potential lover he won’t date a fat woman.

Would he then divorce a skinny woman who gained 10 pounds because she was no longer desirable?

Think about this. Think long and hard before you submit to feeling guilty or ashamed because of who you are.

Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore

authors clothes

Now you see my focus on fashion and music wasn’t so far-fetched in my memoir Left of the Dial.

A book has indeed been written about authors and clothes. I’m now not the only one linking our sartorial bent to our creative success.

That is Joan Didion on the cover. She is the author of The Year of Magical Thinking, a best-selling memoir.

The ultimate truth about fashion and aptly individual style has been corroborated on the Visual Therapy website.

Co-founder Joe Lupo wrote there:

“We stand by the idea that style isn’t just about the clothes–it’s about the people in them. Using style and clothing to express the most authentic superstar version of yourself will give you the confidence you need to reach for your dreams and goals.”

Co-founder Jesse Garza reinforced:

“We always say that when image (the outer) and identity (the inner) are aligned, the result is clarity that will bring you places and help you reach your goals in all spheres of life.”

From firsthand experience I’ve seen that when you’re at odds with your clothing, it could be because you’re at odds with yourself.

Hiding behind your clothes is a way to hide you from yourself.

Finding the items that fit and flatter is like coming home to yourself.

Research non-traditional careers if you’re loathe to wear a suit and pumps to work.

I’m revising and editing my second non-fiction book.

I will return here in the coming weekend if I’m able.

Why I Detest Stereotypes

I abhor stereotyping people. As a writer, I wanted to publish a schizophrenia memoir where the illness was in a way almost secondary. I wanted to craft original characters that had real lives.

Long-term research indicates that about 15 percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia have a refractory form of this illness: unremitting symptoms. And 10 to 15 percent commit suicide according to the long-term studies.

This causes doctors and family members to extrapolate from the minority of patients and loved ones that NO ONE with schizophrenia can have a normal life or a better life.

I understand how a person can feel when their loved one has a refractory illness. I make the case for better research and better treatment for schizophrenia for individuals who have a severe form. I make the case for seeing who the person is as a human being not a mental patient.

My contention is that stereotypes are lies. Viewing everyone the same way because you interacted with one person who behaved that way is stereotyping.

And often it’s the mothers and fathers who stereotype their loved ones by saying: “My son’s a schizophrenic.”

Stop that. Right now.

Jill Bolte Taylor in her brilliant memoir My Stroke of Insight wrote that she needed everyone to believe she would recover when she had a stroke that paralyzed her.

Believe that your son or daughter can recover. Believe that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia can recover.

Know that you don’t have, I don’t have, no one has the right to judge another person. We don’t have the right to write the end of their story before it begins. Neither do we have the right to think: “You were supposed to become a brain surgeon and now that you work at Rite Aid I’m disappointed in you.”

I abhor stereotypes of any kind. I’m writing a novel with an African American character so I’m set to read books written by and about African Americans.

My point I’m getting at is that no one’s a cardboard character. To quote Jodi Picoult from a radio interview: “People are more than the sum total of their disability.”

It’s a choice: we can focus on illness or we can focus on the beauty inside as well as outside of a person. And I think sometimes only seeing the symptoms and focusing on the hell blinds others to that beauty.

What I’m saying is two-fold: we can’t view recovery as the total absence of illness. Yet we can’t view the illness as the person’s identity in life.

I’m a writer: I’m interested in the contradictions inherent in everyone’s personality.

I’m a person in recovery: I’m interested in destroying stereotypes by writing about real people not about pathology.

And yes, I salute cashiers who work in Rite Aid just like I salute people who have other careers.

I’ll quote the title of an earlier blog entry that quoted the X song title:

“See who we are.”

See possibility in our pain. Break bread with us. Get to know us as people first.

There’s a word for this.

It’s called dignity.

Untold Stories

If memory serves it was Zora Neale Hurston who is quoted that there’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. If you listen closely to what my Uncle Joe is saying in the video you’ll see he makes this point too in his own words.

We have to honor our veterans. The statistic is that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

You might think we had no business starting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (I do not think we should have started these wars.) Yet that is beside the point when Americans join our armed services to serve our country. We have to honor our veterans and regard them with the highest esteem.

You can watch the Joe Bruni documentary here on CNN.

Our veterans deserve better. They deserve better than to be cooked to death in prison like Jerome Murdough who had a mental illness and was homeless and was sent to jail.

The time is now to get real: our veterans deserve better.

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?

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.)