29 January 2009


I'm getting my groove back and man! it feels good!

I haven't known what to do with myself since submitting, last week, the story I've been working on more or less for the past 6 months. I was glad to have been able to submit it, because I really thought for a minute there that I couldn't, because it was utter shite. But then I saw how it might not be shite after all, that it might just work, and it's a shame that I was so close to it that I just couldn't tell anymore. And now it's gone, sent off, good-bye, and I'm relieved. Ta-ta, little story. Go off and see if you can make your own friends in the world! Maybe you will, and maybe you won't. Let me know, will ya?

And then the empty space opened up, and I fell in. What was I going to work on? What would consume my thoughts now? It's been strange because, since I really started writing about 8 years ago, I have never been at a loss for material or ideas, and always have had a couple of things at least that I wanted to "get to". But not this time. And on top of it all there was life, and life stuff, and I couldn't seem to get a grip, and I didn't want to read, and nothing appealed... It was a real loss of literary appetite.

So what to do when this happens? Well I tried the usual tricks:
  • No writing -- leave it completely (That was OK for the weekend)
  • Journal -- just freewrite and freewrite
  • Walk as much as possible
  • Spy on other people as much as possible
  • Do yoga
  • Practice cello
  • Treat self to Perle Noire coffee
And I have to tell you that... it works. All the tricks work! Not overnight, not immediately, no lightning bolts, but.... Something started to trickle, very slowly, into the empty space. A small but steady trickle. And I started thinking, "well, maybe there's something I want to do... Something I can work on. Yeah, why don't I take a look?" So I took a look and I thought, "hey, that's not too bad. I can work with this"... And then, this morning, I worked with it and ....

It feels good!

And I am not going to ruin it all by asking myself lots of secondary questions. You know the ones. The primary point, first principles if you will, is to be writing. That's all I'm going to concern myself with for right now.

27 January 2009


At last night's writer's workshop, I read a short piece about finding Night by Elie Wiesel in a second-hand bookshop and how I was unable to leave it there.

If there were 3, 5, 12, or 100 copies, I said, I would buy them and give them to people. I would not be able to leave them to rot in the shop.

But I didn't think I would have to start with my friends around the table.

There were 7 writers, including myself, attending. None of the other writers had read the book. One said he had heard of it, but had never read it. Others were noncommittal.

One had never heard of the book.

23 January 2009

Saying Amen! -- Inaugural comments

Yes I know a few days late but I'm one finger short and have a Virus. Two things re the inauguration that are not about Obama (who, I'm thrilled to see, is getting down to business). One, that poem. Two, the stupid BBC.

I'll start with the Beeb. Commentators, are you ignorant asses? Why did you go all silent and reverent for Aretha Franklin and all the prayers, yet start discussing bugger-all when Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, two contemporary gods of classical music, began to perform? You kept it up for at least 2 minutes. It was like someone had to tell you two, or three, at last, to the f* shut up! The link above has the whole performance sans BBC idiots voicing over. 

PS I did not know Anthony McGill before but as someone who's about to get a seriously good, overhauled flea market clarinet (and hasn't played for at least 5 years), I am in considerable awe of his tone. 

Now, the poem.

Composing an inaugural poem has got to be right up there with the Queen's Birthday composition for all-time pressure and absolute lack of poetic-ness.  You want it to be good. You want it to say something. You've got to do it in front of an audience of millions, all of whom are on your side but have sky-high expectations. This is a recipe for poetic disaster. 

I had flash-backs to Maya Angelou doing Bill Clinton's (first, I think) inauguration, going on about a rock, and a root, and the earth, and a rock, and then another rock.... and on and on.

Apparently the "praise song" is a widely-used African poetic form (got this via Carol Rumens in the Guardian Book Blog). I didn't know that. When you look at even the basic example given in the link, you can see that it has potential. I wish Elizabeth Alexander's poem had lived up to that potential.  I wish I had gotten at least one or two tingles down the old spine. Some humour might have come in handy.

I will not go so far as to say that it might have made more use of rhyme, but you saw (did you not?)  the effect of Rev Joseph Lowery's benediction ... To me, that benediction contained many moments of poetry:

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.

(the opening - gorgeous -- reminiscent of 'If I forget thee, o Jersusalem", Psalm 137:5)


Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.
(the ending)

Did you hear everybody say "Amen"? We were saying it! We were saying it, and we were at home, watching on the BBC !

22 January 2009

Post-fever musings

One of the best things I've ever done by accident was to lose the internet connection on the PC where I do my writing. It's a wee bit inconvenient sometimes (for example I have to blog from my daughter's computer, with its azerty keyboard), but most of the time I am glad to not have the temptation of the internet at hand. No spur of the moment 'research' involving Facebook. No losing myself in tangents on Wikipedia for an hour. I'm not about to go back to typewriting but I definitely appreciate the separation of technologies.

Saw a story in The Times that said Obama would be the first president to use a Blackberry and email routinely.   Can this be true? Was GB so out of touch with reality? And what about other world leaders? You can't run a household without these things these days.  How do they get away with it?

I officially have a virus. This doctor-speak for 'sorry, we can't help'. I have slept for more hours today than I have been awake. But that's not all! I also have a minor injury. I cut off the tip of my index finger while chopping leeks yesterday.

Cooking -- now that'll learn me. I cut the nail right through, and some layers of skin. The doctor said it was "a very clean wound." We pondered the fact that there was no need for stitches, because there was nothing to stitch up... I'd picked up the little piece of myself off the cutting board. It was a little like 'Blue Velvet'.

But let me tell you, it hurts like hell, especially if I try to use the finger. I'm waiting till tomorrow to resume cello practise. In the meantime I am sporting pink Barbie band-aids.

What's that Sylvia Plath poem? "Oh, what fun, my finger instead of an onion" ... Well, she would say that, wouldn't she. 

21 January 2009

Sick again...

And now Daughter the Eldest is sick too. I have precisely 120 minutes before Little Dancer needs collecting from school (usually they come home together on a Wednesday). There is no food in the house apart from, perhaps, 3 eggs and some 2-day-old sugarbread (kind of like brioche only with lumps of sugar in it. Actually not too bad). I am still sneezy and disgusting, though more rested. A trip to the local grocery store should cure that.

If I could bother to search for an image for you today, it would be a giant box of kleenex. We are currently hosting both "Ultra Soft" and "High School Musical" varieties. 

Now, off to score some chicken soup.....

20 January 2009

Tuesday, 20 January

Hello, I'm sick, I feel like crap, I'm sneezing and snuffling and my throat hurts and I'm starving. What a combination.

I've stayed home from work and am padding around the house, trailing kleenex. 

The only thing I'm looking forward to is Obama's inauguration. Since we're 6 hours ahead of EST, the girls will be home from school, solfege, etc, in time to see his swearing-in.

I can't remember any swearing-in of this magnitude -- not Ronald Reagan, not Bill Clinton, certainly neither of the Bushes or Jimmy Carter.

I'd better lay in a reserve of kleenex  -- I doubt I will make it through 5 minutes without blubbing.

16 January 2009

We must we must we must

decrease our tendency
for girly stuff

Garrison Keillor thinks so, anyway....

Thanks, Vincent!

Wax and wane

Going off for some necessary hair removal. Sorry -- TMI, I know. I'm typing on my elder daughter's keyboard, so if there's a few letters out of place, blame it on azerty. It's the downside of living in a francophone country. OK, so there are many downsides. OK, so it's also a nederlandophone country. No, I don't know why it's so hard to get a qwerty. All I know is that they don't want to sell you one here. Even if you pay them.

Weird, isnù't it?

I've been editing my story. My head is totally swimming. I tried to give myself a break, and so looked at another story. C O L O S S A L E R R O R. I thought that story was pretty much done, but in fact it pretty much isn't. Now I don't know which end is up. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

Just back from the waxing. Collected the children. Now they're making crèpes. Little Dancer has a friend over for the night, so I have to speak to them in French. In fact I am cracking them up with my incredible erreurs. Can you imagine, I thought paire was masculin !

In fact I have been writing a letter to the decretlotto. This is a group of angry parents who are fighting the "decret" under which we had to enroll our kids in secondary school. Daughter the Eldest was effected -- under the rules she did not get to move up automatically in to her school's secondary school, and although I signed her up for a place at five schools, she is on the waiting list at all of them. She's not the only one like that. It's a huge mess and no one can give me any concrete advice. I have written to the parents association at our school, and talked to the directrice and have heard from someone "in the know" that the schools themselves are powerless to do anything like make exceptions. SO WHERE AM I GOING TO SEND MY DAUGHTER TO SCHOOL? This is one f'd up country. The french community has messed around with school inscriptions for the past two years.... When will it end? In the meantime I am desperate. D the E does not deserve this. I'm writing letters in my crappy french and don't know what I am doing!

15 January 2009

There will be something for supper tonight besides toast

Thanks to all who joined in on BMT. Mine was rather extended into Wednesday. I don't know if today is looking more up, but at least there is likely to be something for supper tonight besides toast. Personal experience note: the satisfaction potential of fish fingers is seriously overrated.

Some people were asking about seeing some work (ok, maybe one person was), and I've been thinking about the pros and cons of posting some. Some of the cons have to do with presentation... Deciding whether it's OK for me to share in manuscript form, or whether I'd prefer it to look more polished. This also touches on a question I've been asking myself lately, which is, do I want to produce a "limited edition" book. Maybe I do! Why not, I even met someone not so long ago who either made paper, or bound books, or something like that (Happy? Bunny? Sunshine, perhaps? If you're out there, get in touch!).

Have I previously shared how stupid it feels to talk about writing stories that no one may ever see? If not let me assure you now. It sure feels stupid! However I'd just like to say that I'm about ready to submit a story. I finished the last big round of edits and am re-reading it now for "flow". And typos. And general idiocy-proofing.


Daughter the Eldest: Mommy, you look tired. What did you have for lunch?

Me: I didn't have any lunch. I was too busy.

D the E: Poor Mommy! That's not good. You have to eat lunch.

Me: (fainting) I have no strength, but you are wonderful....

(Later I ate cold crusts of toast she had left on her plate. How fortunate she had not cleaned up! Now there's a lesson....)

13 January 2009

Bare Miniumum Tuesday

Hi, and welcome everybody to B M T, Bare Minimum Tuesday, in which I invite you to join me in doing -- well, the bare minimum. Come on, it'll be fun. Read on for more information...

B M T - FAQs

Q. Why should I participate in B M T?
A. Where have greed and blind ambition gotten us? I'll tell you. Long commutes in traffic jams, religious fanatics, Scarlett Johansson auctioning a used kleenex for $5000 on Ebay. I've had enough, haven't you?

Q. What is the bare minimum?
A. The bare minimum is having toilet paper, and tea bags, and I guess, milk. Maybe some cookies. There's no need to go hungry.
What it is not: putting on make-up, achieving anything work-related at work, doing a supermarket-sweep en route to collecting children from school, standing in line for an hour to replace daughter's public transport ticket (that she lost, because she was careless), returning overdue library books, cooking any dinner that does not involve toast....

Q. When should I do the bare minimum?
A. I'm suggesting that you do it on Tuesdays. Or just this Tuesday. That's today. To see how it goes. If you like it, you can always join me on Fridays, when I go back to bed because I need to and because I can.

Q. Where do I begin?
A. The beauty of the bare minimum is its simplicity. Wherever you are, you can start right there.

Q. How do I know I'm doing it right?
A. Oh, you'll know. And you'll totally stop caring!

Q. How can I help other people who do too much and are far too responsible?
A. Send them this post. They'll thank you later.

12 January 2009

For the insatiably curious

And if you want to know more about why I can't stomach the Guardian, I can tell you that the nausea started with their coverage of the US after Sept 11, 2001 and developed along with the paper it is today, as described in a very well-timed piece by Norm.

Viva internet serendipity....

Changes at the Observer? Bring 'em on...

I urge you to read Andrew Anthony's piece from yesterday's Observer, How one book ignited a culture war, about Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses.

I have been rather surprised by the Observer of late, as I had more or less written it off along with the Guardian, which I used to read regularly when I first arrived in Europe and now simply cannot stomach. But a couple of weeks ago the Observer ran a fair editorial in which it actually expressed understanding of Israel's reaction to Hamas in Gaza ("For all that the international community might wish for Israeli restraint, no government in the world would tolerate an enclave on its border run by an organisation ideologically motivated and heavily armed to kill its citizens"). And now yesterday's piece on Rushdie. I don't know who's moving and shaking over at the O but I for one am pleased to see this sort of thing in a big Sunday paper.

Of particular interest to anyone concerned with free speech and literature, begin reading at
Who would dare to write a book like The Satanic Verses nowadays?
and carry on to
.... open criticism of Islamism, religious censorship and violence is often automatically viewed as an expression of "neocon" or "imperialist" politics... ;
take in the Christopher Hitchens quote

[W]hat people haven't noticed sufficiently is that now people who are not Muslims, like the Danish cartoonists, have been threatened with violence for criticising Islam. That's sort of new, and ought to be more controversial than it is. ...

and conclude with a summary of the state of affairs we have carved for ourselves by allowing a certain kind of mutliculturalism to prevail in our society-- that is, a mutliculturalism that respects and supports all cultures save our own.

I'll be keeping track of this and related topics during 2009.

08 January 2009

Myths about writing debunked (no. 1 in a potential series)


Your writing only counts if it gets published.


This myth gets number one status because I detest it so much. Maybe it's only me, but I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time around people who believe this. It is wrong for many reasons, and I'm going to lay those reasons out like a geometric proof. Ready?

First, this myth condemns a writer to output, regardless of input. Quel pressure!

Second, it puts the focus on external recognition entirely. Why should a publisher's taste be the arbiter of worth?

Third, this myth disregards beginning work -- most writers do not publish their first pieces, but could not get to Work F without getting through Works A-E.

Fourth, it dismisses the internal joy of making up something out of nothing.

Fifth, think of those writers (so many poets!) whose work is not widely published until after they die. What if they had stopped, because of this myth's lame precept?

Finally, what is it, publication, anyway? Individual copies? Something to give out to friends or family? Electronic distribution? A big-name commerical printing? Oprah book club? Open-mic poetry reading?

What if the goal of the writer was simply... to write?

Sufferers of myth no. 1, repeat after me: It counts. It counts. I may not know how at this moment in time but it counts.**

* etymologists, see interesting history of this word
** non-Americans, you are welcome to disregard this portion of the post, if it is too touchy-feely.***
*** You may also disregard "touchy-feely".

07 January 2009

New blog

No, not by me. Silly. By Leila, who writes children's books, and I have mentioned on more than one occasion on these virtual pages. (So google and find her ok? I am too busy to link you up when I know you can do it yourself.)

Leila is in that position which so many writers envy (caveat: I am not among them at the moment, actually, I am seeking balance), i.e., she has found herself in a position to give up her day job. And she's started a blog to prove it.

So please join her adventure at BookChildWorld. I will install it momentarily in my sidebar, for your convenience. Because I'm nice, mostly.

06 January 2009

pursuant to previous post

Read TJ Hirst on Filling in the Blank

manual thinking

Better this morning. Freezing cold always good for kicking ass into gear. I've decided that it is pointless to whine about lack of motiviation, or blame Motherhood for interfering. I have considered the positions of several writers, living and dead, with whom I am familiar. Some have children, some do not. Some are successful, some are not. Some have/had wives or housefuls of servants, others do/did not. Conclusion: resistance is futile. There's nothing to do but do it, and be glad that my dynamic darlings would be as thrilled as I would, should anything come of what I do.
Utlimate outcome of all this manual thinking: yesterday evening, edited four pages of hard copy. This morning: made the edits on the computer.

In case you're curious, I came up with most of this on the bus yesterday afternoon.

05 January 2009

Motherhood 1, Jeannette 0.

I was wholly unable to resist having my life for the past two weeks being defined by the school holiday. If only I was the selfish bitch I so often dream of being! Then I wouldn't care, and I'd be so much happier. And productive. And how did I get so servile?

Maybe if I work hard enough, and practice, it will happen.