Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Writing Is Like Sculpting

Everyone is different, but for me, writing is like sculpting.

First, come up with the point of my story, and write my top, really tight. I really hone that, until it is sharp and clear and I can return to it like a roadmap whenever I get lost in the mess that I know will follow.

Then, I vomit everything in my notebook out in one giant, messy regurgitation that verges on incomprehensibility. The only thing I make sure I get perfect is my quotes. No sloppiness. I go long so I can cut them back later, but I have everything down. I have completed that stage on the story that is now plaguing me and giving me nightmares, and that I am literally using this blog to procrastinate from.

Then I wait a few days (if I have the time) for my mind to clear, and sort, and organize on auto-pilot, without any input from me. During those days I am jotting down points I do not want to leave out, and details I am afraid I forgot to put in, and larger themes that I think need to be enhanced. I also agonize. A lot.

Then I wade back in, with a giant cup of espresso and cream, and read through the run-on mess that shames me to death, right through to the end.

Then I take notes again, on what each section is supposed to do, the function it is supposed to perform in this story. I weed out redundancies and move things around. I start whacking away at all the verbal weeds, so I can see my story more clearly.

And then, like a sculpture emerging from rock, it begins to show its form. When it does, like right now, I start to get really excited. I can see it. I can see the form. I think it is going to be beautiful. I get a rush of energy. I drink more coffee. I also get depressed. My God! It is going to take so much work to hack the beauty and meaning and truth from this hunk of verbiage!

I realize how lazy my words can be, how ill-conceived many of my steps. I beat myself up a little, for not being one of those people who writes out a perfect outlines, then sets to work and creates a nearly perfect draft.

But I also start to have fun. I cruise through and see some sharp little phrases and surprising emotions that glitter like little gems in the mess. I pluck them out and polish them and try to build around them.

I am starting to see a little beauty, a little sense, a little logic.

I have so much more to do. I am still whacking with large clumsy instruments trying to get to the form, the big, beautiful form that will carry the whole narrative. But I know it is there. I can see it and I will not lose it again. This part is actually fun, even if it takes forever, and it pains me to think of what my time is actually worth on a story like this.

How about you?

What is your writing process?

Please do tell, because I really am so curious, and would love a break from my own neurotic writer's mind.

Posting It Here!

...So I will be accountable.

I am taking the plunge. I am going to try to run the L.A. Marathon.

Every year the runners go by and I clap so hard and so long my hands are still beating for hours afterwards. I cry with the emotion of it all and pledge that yes next year, really, next year, I will do it.

But I never do.

Part of it was that I always knew I could. It was not a serious challenge in the way that I wanted a challenge. It would just hurt. A lot.

At 44, it will still hurt a lot. But now I wonder if I really can do it. And the truth is, I don't know.

I trained when I was 33 and I pulled my hamstring a month before the race. At that time I had never injured anything in my life, so I was quite surprised. Now I have injured a lot of things, and I do not want to injure more, nor destroy my body for this. So my pledge is that I will train consistently, gently, but not to excess. If my body is breaking down, I quit.

In my mind I am still a kick-ass runner, but I have realized in the last year that many of my images of myself are woefully out of date. This is the misery of middle age. I think I am a cracker jack reporter and an awesome athlete. I remember myself at my peak, the day I dropped out of whatever it was I was doing to move onto the next stage of whatever it is I am doing in my life.

But re-entry is hard! Bumping up against the truth is brutal!

The reason for my marathon training is not just a last gasp of clinging to youth, however. There is a larger purpose. I am doing this to discipline my body, and my mind. I am doing it to teach myself to keep plugging along, keep putting in the time, keep going when I get tired, or depressed, or worn out, or discouraged. I am doing it for the metaphor.

You see, I have a bipolar approach to life. I like the high highs and the low lows. I like the maniacal bursts of energy followed by the collapse that comes from putting everything you have into a project and then falling in a dead, worn out heap. I really like that. That is why I travel, do journalism, create strange, masochistic deadlines for myself.

But, I know from the vantage point of middle age, of motherhood, that life is more of a marathon. And, for what lies ahead of me, I need to cling to the marathon image rather than the Mt. Everest image. I need to wake up, put one foot in front of the other, keep on keeping on, and stick to the schedule, all emotion aside. If I do, good things will happen. I will finish the marathon.

If I don't, I will pull a metaphorical muscle, injure a metaphorical part of myself, or, worst of all, give up. And so I dive in, pledging to not run too fast or too slow. To pace myself. To stick to my schedule. To run beautiful places and reward myself with weekend runs that uplift my soul (and wear out my body).

I am doing Hal Higdon's Novice Program. It is the easiest training program there is, designed for people who literally have never run in their lives. But for now, that is perfect for me. I just need to get to the finish line.

I bought my new running shoes (turquoise, with foam form soles) and set out for my maiden run around the reservoir this morning.

Wish me luck. Eighteen weeks to the big day!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dino is Dead

Yesterday Dino DeLaurentiis died. He was 91.

He was born outside Naples in Torre Annunziata and lived through the poverty of post-World War II Italy. He had his own studio in Rome, and then built a movie empire here in Hollywood.

I never met the man but I feel like I did. Jonathan worked as his assistant and producer for two years and I have lived off crazy Dino stories for years. When I am sad, or in need of diversion, I still turn to Jonathan and say, "Tell me a Dino story."

I have, of course, also seen many Dino movies.

I even feel like Dino made Jonathan love having just a little Italy in his life, a niche which I am happy to fill--because I am just a little Italy.

I can't tell you Jonathan's Dino stories here, because they are his. But I can tell you this, Dino's influence lives on in my life. As a result of Dino, when we went to Italy the first time together I told Jonathan to dress casually, and err on the side of pastel-colored cotton shirts, like all the young Italians in Naples. Instead he wore a well-cut Italian blazer, and nice button-downs. When we got to Rome he realized something: He was dressed like a 60 year old Italian man. Why? Because the only Italian he knew was Dino, and that was what Dino wore.

When we got to Naples we went to a great, but also totally ordinary little ristorante in Spaccanapoli. On the side-board, near the antipasti was a spaghetti pie. Jonathan went crazy. He said he had been looking for those ever since he left Dino, when the Italian cook would sometimes make them. It made me laugh. They are the quintessential Neapolitan leftover meal--made with extra pasta, eggs and parmesan cheese all whipped together and fried up as a warm pie. But I have made sure to cook it for Jonathan lots of times.

But more than that I know that Dino DeLaurentis lives on as a man who was hard-working, daring, and willing to risk everything he owned to finance a great movie. Sure, sometimes he was slimy, or crazy, or mad, and Jonathan had to sue him to get his final pay check, but he loved movies and his passion for great stories, for movies, infected my husband.

Yesterday, the day Dino died, Jonathan got preliminary funding for a movie he wrote from a movie company that is small, independent and bold--a lot like Dino. The producer and director are both cut of the Dino cloth.

Symbolic? Who knows.

I wish I had met the man. But I love the version of Dino that lives on in him through Jonathan.

I mourn his passing.

If you can: Have a perfect afternoon espresso in his memory.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Election Update

For all you election watchers--no hanging chads--just at home licking our wounds.

Theo did not win for Student Council.

I think Jonathan and I were more devastated than he.

Life goes on.

Obama lost his first election, too, so there!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

Take your kids and vote today. Teach them it matters. Remind them that no matter how bad the candidates and, in California, how corrupt the props, this is our chance to educate ourselves and have a say. If we do not step up our state, and our country, will be hijacked by angry people and corporate interests. Vote.

Meanwhile, down LCW way, there is an election today, too, for Student Council. Above is the picture of Theo that he put on his campaign poster. Something like 10 kids in second and third grade will be elected.

When Jonathan and I heard there would be student council races at school we inwardly groaned. Isn't this too young? They always turn into popularity contests, no one ever does anything, and it brings out the Tracy Flick in everyone. Save our sweet children a little bit longer.

But here is what I love: out of 88 kids in second and third grade, 38 of them ran for student council. They all designed posters and they all wrote speeches. Yesterday they all read/spoke them from a podium made of a cardboard box, with a real microphone.

There were rules. No negative campaigning, no promises you can't keep. Focus on what you can do, not what you can't. That means concrete ideas (Crazy Hat Day! Pajama Day! A Trip to Somewhere!)

If only real politicians had to follow those rules!

Theo wrote his speech himself, and at Jonathan's urging practiced it nearly nightly.

It was good.

It went like this:

Hi. I am Theo. I am running for Student Council and I was thinking it would be fun to go to Descanso Gardens to see the nature, the flowers, the trees, and the animals. I love LCW. Do you love LCW? I can't hear you. Do you love LCW?
If you have any ideas or concerns I will listen and I will bring them up in Student Council.
Vote for me. Thank you.

On election day I worked lunch and there was a palpable buzz. One boy was wearing a white button down and a red and blue striped tie. He looked like a real politician--third grade style. I felt a pang in my stomach. I hoped my boy would be OK. I did not want his heart to be broken, his ego damaged. OK, a little projection here. But I worried for him. I prayed his speech delivery would go smoothly.

When I drove up to get the boys yesterday the principal, who has trained all of us not to talk in line to any of the walkie-talkie clad herders, spotted my car and rushed up to me.

She stuck her head in my window.

"Theo had the whole school cheering," she said, giggling for joy.

"What?" I was disoriented.

"During his speech! He got the whole school cheering!"

Theo climbed in. I asked him how his speech went.

"Good," he said. That was it.

"Did you get the whole school cheering?"


He does not even know how cool that is.

I think I am just from a low self-esteem, uncool generation. I never could have done that in second grade. Not what any of them did.

I told Jonathan about Theo and he was so delighted he asked me to tell him the story over and over and over again. I should add here that my brilliant husband is a rousing speaker and does have some latent political ambitions. I think he felt pride in Theo's speech the way I felt when Theo got up on a surf board. A little "That is my boy! He got that from ME!!!!"

And there is no doubt about that.

At dinner, just like all the weary politicians across America, we toasted Theo for doing his very best in a tough field.

Now there is nothing to do but wait.

I will keep you posted as the votes come in! Polls close at three, Pacific time.

Stay tuned. You will hear it first here!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Words to Live by

...via my Life Coach. I know not who to attribute them to...

"Vision without action is daydreaming. Action without vision is chaos."

Someday It Will Be A Good Story...

Saturday night we went to a party in Malibu.

We felt so cool.

We stood on the veranda, looking out over the ocean. It was a perfect fall day in California, when everything seems lit from within the air is perfect, and you remember that at its best, California really is the most glorious place in the world to be.

We ate dinner at long table filled with beautiful people. Our children played somewhere. We sipped our full-bodied red wine from big glasses and blissfully ignored them.

Suddenly our older son ran up behind us.

Benji fell in the hot tub!

Good God!

This super cool couple had a gorgeous hot tub on their deck overlooking the ocean. When we saw it we knew someone would fall into it before the night was through, though I was betting on a tipsy woman in high heels, not one of my nimble billy goat boys.

I leapt up from the table and rushed inside.

"Oh, it was YOUR kid who fell in," someone shouted as we rushed by.

There was Benji, wet from head to toe, still warm from the jacuzzi. He was crying and crying. He was surrounded by a tribe of wailing and soothing Greek women (the party was held by a Greek family and we were eating Greek food and it was very dramatic like a Greek tragedy). He was wrapped in towels and crying and crying as this band of maternal women held him and dried him and loved him.

I grabbed him and took him into the bathroom. He had hit his head going in. The only thing not wet was his face. He was mortified because he had no clothes.

The hostess, who happens to be a designer of cool, comfortable surf clothing, which she sells in Malibu and Paris (I can 2) , swept in with a super soft T and a cool woman's-sweat shirt (Live, Love, Malibu, it said on the back).

Benji cuddled in my arms, warm from his dip in the hot tub.

And I wondered: Will this be part of his mythology? When I was five my parents were drunk at a party in Malibu and I fell into a hot tub with all my clothes on??? They didn't even notice??

Now that it is over, and the bump on his head is gone, and the Greek women have all kissed him and said good night and cooed over how cute he is, and he has a new super soft T from a Malibu clothing designer, it all seems good. Funny even.

But what a crazy night.