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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Writing About Not Writing


Laura's been stuck inside with Ben for a full week, since last Tuesday afternoon -- that's when he got a 102 degree fever which has gone up and down but hasn't gone away.  The fever, plus a cough, prompted a second visit to the pediatrician today for a chest x-ray to see whether or not it's pneumonia (Laura's waiting for a phone call with the results as she brants).  But the weird thing is that despite the fever and the cough, he seems fine.  He's happy and he's playing, and he's talking.  And talking. And talking. 

In fact, he hasn't shut up.

Laura doesn't mean that in a bad way -- in fact, she loves that he talks so much (Laura's husband isn't a big talker so the occasional blab-fest with Ben is a real treat). Despite the fact that he's been stuck inside for a full week -- with Laura, who herself is on antibiotics for a kidney infection -- poor him! -- he's in remarkably good spirits, and she has to admit that there are few things she likes more than sitting around with him, doing MadLibs and watching TV (boy is she lucky that they have the same taste in old Tom and Jerry cartoons and Pink Panther reruns). Obviously, she prefers to sit around with him when he's not all hot and coughing, and when she's not feeling like shit, but he's been delightful company nonetheless.

This news, of course, is not just a boring health-report but something much more important:  it's the preamble to an excuse for taking an extended work "break." Laura was going great guns last week on her screenplay adaptation of her last novel, Piece of Work -- the one that was optioned in 2004 and which is the same one that had the option dropped almost exactly two years ago.

(Wait! Look at this!  A completely unexpected but perfect example of a failure anniversary right here!  And Laura's certain that she can probably come across a failure anniversary in every single brant she writes without even trying to!)

The failure-anniversary of her option being dropped notwithstanding, Laura had been meaning to finally try to write a screenplay -- specifically, to start adapting Piece of Work -- for over a year and a half -- and right when she was going to start last fall, she got the life-saving life-changing life-improving-on-every-level call from matchmaker extraordinaire Patti Novak's "people."  It's only been a few weeks since the manuscript for Get Over Yourself! was completely finished -- she and Patti finished writing it on September 1 (exactly on deadline, Laura is proud to point out) but the editing process and the copy-editing process and the legal-vetting process and the correction making process and the waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-worried-that-all-the-changes Patti-asked-Laura-to-make-were-actually-made-by-her-and-everyone-else took another two months.

Laura's also trying to get back into branting -- hence the new brant and the spate of semi-regular branting the past week or two -- not just because she wants to get the word out about Get Over Yourself! but also because she really enjoys branting and doesn't see why she can't find a few minutes a few times a week to put down a few of her thoughts.  And yet, no matter how easy that sounds -- what's a few minutes a few times a week? -- she finds it almost impossible to sustain regular branting.  But Laura's been through enough serious psychotherapy to know that there must be something else besides the issue of time going on here.

Back when Laura started writing (depressed poetry) as a teenager, and then all through high school, and, okay, if she's going to be completely honest, all the way through college and throughout her years in New York, too -- Laura didn't really get happy until well into her thirties, but that's another brant -- people often suggested that she keep a journal.  This was way back in the 70s and 80s -- long before "journaling" became a verb and something that everybody did to process their every thought and feeling -- and every year or so Laura would venture out of whatever sad little misery den she was living in at the time and go buy a proper journal (she loved those black Chinese lined journals with the red spines that are really cheap).  She'd come back with the journal and about 20 packs of cigarettes and force herself to write an entry.  And then she'd force herself to write again the next day -- but usually by the day after that she couldn't bear the idea of writing in her journal and that's when the journal-writing would stop.  Eventually she'd put the nearly completely empty journal in a drawer or on a shelf, next to all the other nearly completely empty journals she'd started and never finished, and go about her business until someone yet again suggested she keep a journal.

The reason she kept listening every time someone told her she ought to keep a journal was that the suggestion was always followed by something like, Well, you like to write, don't you? or, That's what writers do -- they write, and implicit in those statements were:  If you don't keep a journal you're not a real writer.  And back in the old days Laura wanted more than anything to be a real writer.  (Now she couldn't care less.  But that, too, is another brant.) The only problem was, she didn't actually feel the urge to write everyday.  Or every other day.  Or even every week or month.  In fact, as the years went on, she found that she could go long periods of time without writing and she felt absolutely fine about it.

Years later, when she was working in New York as a book publicist for various divisions of Random House, she'd often have conversations with authors in the backs of cabs or limousines or between the stacks in bookstores before their readings and the authors would often talk about how driven they were to write.  Everyday. Everyday they would feel the urge and the need and the desire to express themselves, and Laura soon came to understand that this is what real writers did: they wrote every day.

The problem was, this wasn't what Laura wanted to do. She didn't feel the urge or the need or the desire to express herself every day.  In fact, she was lucky if she felt the urge or the need or the desire to write twice a year! Which is basically how she wrote Animal Husbandry -- she'd hole up in her apartment during Christmas when all the publishers would close for a week, and then she'd take her vacation in one lump during the summer, and that's when she'd write.  And once the winter holidays were over, and once her summer vacation was over, she'd pack up her pages and put them away. Then she'd go about her business -- business that almost never included writing.

Laura used to think it was laziness and a lack of stick-to-it-iveness that made her unable to keep a journal or write on a regular basis -- but at 46 she's come to a different conclusion:  she's decided it has less to do with discipline and more to do with the simple fact that Laura simply doesn't have enough material to write every day.  

This of course is the main problem with branting -- thinking of something to write about that is in some way interesting or entertaining or noteworthy to the people reading it.   Assuming anyone's even reading it.  She knows she's asked this question before in one of her existential-brants-about-branting, but If a branter brants and no one reads it, does it make any sense to keep branting?  Similarly, If a branter brants about something completely inane and uninteresting and insignificant, why should anyone read it?

Laura knows that questioning the business of branting is probably just her way of coming up with excuses for not doing it, but it's also something she really wonders about.  And the odd thing is the more she brants, the more she wants to brant -- little inane uninteresting insignificant thoughts start to pop into her head constantly throughout the day that make her think, Oooo! I should brant about this!  Or, ooooo! I should brant about that!  But at the end of the day, after she hasn't branted because she's just too lazy or conflicted, when she's had just enough distance to think things through and see them clearly, she's glad she didn't bore her brant readers with screeds about how annoying it is to have to spend $50-100 bucks on a shredder to shred junk mail she doesn't even want or how she still can't find her way around the supermarket that was completely redesigned recently.

Which makes her wonder if this entry about all the excuses she has for not writing was brant-worthy or if she should have just found an excuse for not writing about her excuses for not writing.




2 comments:

Jen Ackerman said...

Sick child and 99% empty journal twins. Hope you're both feeling better soon.

tylerjones said...

Good job with the post!
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