A little of this and a little of that

So, I have totally not gotten the hang of this blogging thing. I am amazed and seriously impressed by writers who manage to keep up their own work (not to mention day jobs and family lives) and still put up blog posts (entries? What does one call each individual piece of blog writing? And why must the word for “blog” be “blog”? It’s one of the ugliest words I have ever encountered).

I find that I keep waiting not only for the time to do this (time when I am not writing–“really writing,” as I suppose one must say–or coming down from writing and thus in no mood to, well, write anything…or catching up on the emails I’ve let pile up while writing, or traveling to promote the last book I wrote, or reading because I never have enough time to read, or cooking (because you’ve got to eat, right? And if you have a family to feed,  you’ve really got to cook) or doing laundry (OK, I don’t do that very often–I let it pile up for months and then do ten, twelve loads, which is disgusting, I know, but still…once I DO do it, it takes time) or making a gesture toward weeding the garden, or going to the gym (and now that my daughter is at home, however briefly–more on that in a minute–I have been doing that every single day, with her: amazing what I’ll do just to spend time with her) or playing with the dog or walking the dog or watching the TV shows I am constantly DVRing with the idea that I’ll watch them one of these days…or watching episodes of “Buffy” with the daughter home from college (see above)…or, you know, just doing life) but also waiting for The Thing that I should be writing a blog post about.  I find myself thinking: well, here’s something I have to say but it’s not something I would actually write about…so I post a status update on Facebook (because I don’t have enough to say about it “to blog” about it). (If I REALLY don’t have much to say, I’ll “tweet.” I hardly ever tweet. I hardly ever have anything to say that can be said that tersely.) But if it’s something I have more to say about than a FB status-update’s worth of words, well, then, it’s most likely something I want to “really write” about. That’s the crux of the problem.

Which is probably why I resisted “blogging” (ugh–I’ll say that again; but honestly, one needs a verb!) for so long.

But today–here I am. It’s a quarter to 6 on a Thursday. I have cataract surgery in the morning and I am anxious as hell (though everyone keeps telling me “it’s nothing.” Don’t send me an email telling me it’s nothing, please. It’s not nothing. It’s my EYES). I have no idea if I’ll be able to write–or read–during the two weeks between Eye #1 and Eye #2 because I am so severely nearsighted–and I don’t wear contact lenses, I’ve never been able to–and when they do the surgery they are going to correct my vision…so I’ll be completely lopsided for two weeks (if all goes well, that is: I’ll be able to see out of my left eye and not out of my right eye). I’ve prepared for this by buying a pirate’s patch to put over my right, unoperated-eye. So I should be able to see out of ONE eye. But it’s possible that they won’t get perfect correction on that eye–that I’ll still be somewhat nearsighted–and I won’t have a way to correct my vision on the “good,” operated-on eye. And in any case, I’ll need reading glasses for the “good” eye, because they can’t correct both near and far vision, and I’ve opted for far. AND I’ve been told that I’m going to have to cover the operated-on eye at the beginning anyway. So I am very confused, as you can tell. There’s not much that’s worse for me than not being able to see. If I can’t read, I honestly don’t know what to do with myself.

But then, I will have my daughter on hand to drive me around (I definitely won’t be able to drive till after the second eye is done–at least two weeks later–and after I have a new prescription if my vision doesn’t turn out to be 20-20). Grace is home for a little while now before she heads off to New York to study at the Stella Adler Studio for the summer. She’s going to turn 20 while she’s here (the day after my surgery, in fact; I will be celebrating like a pirate. I plan to wear my patch and put our cockatiel on my shoulder). (For those who don’t know me in real life but have only read about Grace–in particular The Middle of Everything–it will no doubt come as a shock that she is about to turn 20. Trust me: it’s a shock to me too.)

In other news: I spent last weekend in New York, where I participated in that great rarity: a truly charming literary event. It was the One Story Literary Debutante Ball (one of the “debs” was my former student, Doug Watson, whose first book, The Era of Not Quite, came out this year, and I was there to introduce him to literary society–which, in practice, meant that I escorted him into the ballroom, where he took a bow).  Everyone was dressed up, there was great music, there were “cigarette girls” selling punctuation marks (I bought a pair of parentheses, of course), there was plentiful wine and snack food–and the Ohio State presence was heavy indeed (one of the other debs, Claire Watkins, was another of my former students–in fact, my grand-student, as her undergraduate teacher was my own former student Chris Coake, whom she chose to introduce her–and as both Doug and Claire are engaged to be married to writers they met in the MFA program at Ohio State, and one of One Story‘s editors is Will Allison (who was one of the first people to graduate from the then brand-new OSU MFA program, back in the mid-90s) and he is married to Deborah Way, another OSU MFA alumna [we are thinking of “rebranding” our program: Come meet your match, maybe, or Be alone together], we pretty much dominated the ballroom and the night). The next day I gave a reading uptown, and more of my former students turned up, so the reading and dinner afterwards turned into a reunion, and the day after that I dragged Chris Coake (We’re in Trouble and You Came Back) on the Michelle Herman autobiographical tour, and my longtime friend Ellen Holahan, otherwise known as Hula (there’s an essay about her in the next nonfiction book), came along. I like to visit Brighton Beach (where I was born) and Sheepshead Bay (where I lived from ages 3 to 11) whenever I can manage it. I’ve never had tourists along for the trip before, though. It was swell. (Swellest, maybe, was the stop at Rendazzo’s for calamari–actually, that’s calamah–with hot sauce.) A

Otherwise (this is beginning to feel like a letter–a letter to an unknown audience of I-have-n0-idea-even-how-many-people) (and maybe that’s what “blogging” is supposed to be? A substitute for letter-writing in an age when we’re used to communicating with large numbers of people at once?) (and not a diary, as opposed to the way “blogging” used to be talked about–and I never understood the comparison to diary-writing, since by definition diaries were supposed to be private, which is why I NEVER KEPT ONE) I have nothing much to report. I’ve written a new essay (maybe; maybe it was just me blowing off steam for 9000 words–the jury is still out) and now I’m back to working on the novel I’ve been working on, on and off, for so many years I am embarrassed to say how many. I’ve taken breaks to write two nonfiction books and numerous essays besides, and even a couple of stories that went nowhere. I’m glad to be back to the novel and am determined to set aside all other projects now until I get this one done. I find writing fiction much, much harder than writing nonfiction (I know that for some writers it works exactly the opposite way) and while that doesn’t seem on the surface to make sense–I’ve been writing fiction for practically my whole life, and publishing it for thirty-five years; I only started writing essays in my mid-forties–I understand, really, why it works this way for me. As this blog post would suggest–as talking with me in real life for half an hour would tell you–I like to ramble around, stop and think about this, move on and think about that, chase every idea all the way down to where there’s nowhere else for me to go. That kind of thinking and writing works very well (or anyway I think so; not everyone agrees) in the personal essay. I have to be very disciplined and very, um, narrative in my fiction. That doesn’t come easily to me. The language does, and the characters do, but I have always felt that telling a story roundabout makes more sense than telling it straight on–and I have never been much interested in story per se. In life or in fiction. So getting a short story or a novella or a novel told requires me to sit up very straight and focus, dammit, and stick to the goddamn story and stop taking detours. (Perhaps my favorite-ever line in literature is from John Barth’s Floating Opera:

Good heavens, how does one write a novel! I mean, how can anybody stick to the story, if he’s at all sensitive to the significances of things?

And my second-favorite line, from Thomas Mann, from the Magic Mountain: Only the exhaustive can be truly interesting.)

What more do you need to know? Today, anyway?

(Wish me luck tomorrow. )

(To accompany this post, I am offering a photograph of me in my favorite eyeglasses–taken just this past weekend in NYC, right after my reading–with the hope that I will never need them again.)