Journal 2008: The Writing Process (whole book)

Description

This book chronicles the life of a writer, mainly his thoughts on the writing process and self-publishing.  It also gives a picture of the United States in the year 2008, when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on, when the Great Recession wreaked havoc on the economy, and when Barack Obama was elected president.

Friday, January 11, 2008Selling a Book

Life for a man who is a writer, who works at home, who has just self-published his first book, who works out almost every day, life is very busy.  I don’t have time to write much nowadays since I’m doing everything possible to sell 500 copies of Write Now!, my little book to inspire writers to write.  My wife Joan and I are going to throw a very big Book Party Sunday.  We’re expecting maybe 60-70 people.  We’re going to have finger food and drinks and I’m going to read a few pages from my book.

I’ve got Write Now! on consignment in ten bookstores in San Francisco.

Monday, January 21, 2008Book Party

I was sick all last week.  Joan and I went to Calistoga last Monday and Tuesday.  I thought the hot water pool and a mud bath would help cure my cold, but it didn’t.

Two Sundays ago, on January 13, Joan and I threw a Book Party, the biggest party of our lives.  Sixty people came.  The Party played a big part in my getting sick.  I was already weak the day before when we went shopping and I got weaker as the day wore on, in that I used up so much energy cleaning, carrying things, and moving furniture.  The Party was a great success.  I sold 55 books.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008A Different Point of View

I was taking a streetcar downtown last night, and it dawned on me, more than ever before, that what I was observing was different from what everyone else on that streetcar was observing.  From my seat, from my perspective, I only saw what was going on in front of me.  But a person sitting in the opposite direction, or standing up, or sitting on the other side of the aisle, was observing something different than what I or anyone else was observing.  In other words, we all see a part of what’s going on (reality, the truth) but never ALL of what’s going on.  So, because of our varied experiences, because of where we sit or stand, because of what we do or where we live, we all see things from a different point of view.  I guess you can say that this is what makes the world go ’round.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008Write for Five Minutes

I’m going to cast my vote for Obama in the upcoming primary.  I think he can get the country moving in the right direction better than Hillary can.  It’s going to be a battle to the end of the primary season with those two.  Whoever wins will satisfy me.  Both have forward-looking ideas, although I wonder what corporations or interest groups they’re beholden to?  Politics—such an unsavory business.  It seems that money instead of reason usually prevails.  So I’ll end my writing about politics and say to either Obama or Clinton, “Good luck against John McCain, the likely Republican candidate.”

Last week I sent out a whole bunch of emails about Write Now! to those people who didn’t attend my Book Party and to those living outside the Bay Area.  I told them what the book was about and how they could purchase it, either from my website or by mailing me a check.  Out of all the emails I sent out, seven people bought my book.  Not a good percentage.

I’ve been very busy promoting Write Now! that I’ve forgotten what it is to write in my journal.  I have no regrets, though, for how else is a self-published writer going to get his book into the public’s eye?

Outside of my wife Joan, my son Ray, and stepson Sol, writing is the most important thing in my life.  It’s like exercising—you feel much better after doing it.  Julia Cameron, in her book, The Right to Write, offers a simple tip to motivate writers to write.  She wants us to say to ourselves, “Write for five minutes.”  What a fantastic idea, because once you sit down to write it’s always longer than five minutes.

Sunday, February 10, 2008A Weekly Blog

I’m starting to write after a long dry spell.  What has prevented me from writing?  I’ve been busy with Write Now!, busy working in the garden, busy working out, and busy querying agents and publishers about two unpublished novels of mine, A Class of Leaders and Highway Sailor.

One of my stepson Sol’s employees in Chicago has given me the idea to write a weekly blog on my website about the writing process.  I wrote my first blog tonight.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008Chew!

I write, I bite, I chew.  I came across a quote by Gwendolyn Brooks today, who said in a speech to a college graduating class, “Be careful what you swallow.  Chew!”  I think what she meant was, “Don’t swallow everything that’s fed to you, chew on it, think for yourself.”

Joan and I saw a movie last night called The Reader, with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes.  I thought it was a damn good movie—the acting, the directing—but I read in the paper today where a reviewer rated it only fair.  Well, it just goes to prove that we human beings will never totally agree on anything.  Just like I thought Slumdog Millionaire was great, but the same reviewer also thought it was just a fair movie.

Joan is in the kitchen cooking.  I still love her after almost 29 years of marriage and 31 years of knowing her.  Boy, I sure lucked out in life.  Thank God, if there happens to be a God, I’m glad I’ve lived the life I’ve lived.  Oh, I sometimes wish I could’ve been a more successful college football player, and a more successful writer.

Is it that I’m just a fair writer, like The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire were “fair” movies?  Is anyone’s writing better than mine?  My answer to that is, Who the hell is anyone to compare my writing to someone else’s writing?  We all see and feel things differently.  Every writer is different, unique.  Screw it, man, my writing is as good as any other writer.  William Shakespeare, William Saroyan, Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Doris Lessing, Maxine Hong Kingston, James Baldwin, Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, E.B. White, Joseph Heller.  Name any writer and I’m as good as any of them.  Why?  Because they had or have their own style and I have mine.  I’m not saying I’m better than them, what I’m saying is, I’m their equal.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008HOWL

Last night I attended a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s famous 1955 poem Howl at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.  I’d say a crowd of 300-400 (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the great poet and original publisher of Howl was amongst us) came to hear the present and two former poet laureates of San Francisco give a stunning 45-minute presentation of Ginsberg’s poem.  Not all of the poem was about Ginsberg’s Beat Generation friends, parts of it vehemently attacked America’s conformity, materialism, and war machine of the 1950s.

Which leads me to want to HOWL at the Bush Administration for its abuse of power and for having no respect for the Constitution of the United States.  What follows is the damage this administration has done to our country:

* They have lied America into a war with Iraq that has caused the death of over 4000 American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

* They have wiretapped the phones and monitored the emails of American citizens without a court-ordered warrant.

* They have made torture official government policy.

* They have undermined efforts to address global climate change.

For all the above reasons and many more, it is time for us to shout out a loud HOWL across this land by turning out in droves this coming November and voting for a reversal of what we have had to endure for the past seven years of the Bush2 administration.  What we need is a government that will genuinely get us moving toward renewable energy sources without having to rely as much on fossil fuels.  We need a government that will begin rebuilding the country’s infrastructure instead of producing more wasteful weapons of destruction.  We need a government that will stand for all Americans and not be bought off by lobbyists, corporations, or special interests.  We need a government that will be respected around the world for being fair and just instead of being loathed for its bullying and arrogance.  We need a government that will be transparent and democratic, not secretive and plutocratic.

Come election time in November, I hope my HOWL will be America’s HOWL.

Thursday, February 14, 2008Sending My Work Out

I looked at my email today and found that an agent in New York wants to read 100 pages of my teacher novel, A Class of Leaders, which I started writing in1969.  It’s been rejected more times than I’d like to admit, but I recently rewrote it because I still think it has great worth.  As a result, I’ve been querying agents about A Class of Leaders and Highway Sailor.

I spent most of the day going over the manuscript for any mistakes and printed 100 pages.  I wrote a short cover letter, thanking the agent for requesting to read a large chunk of my book.  I printed a one-page synopsis of it.  I printed a half-page biography, telling her what I’ve done in my life and what I’ve published.  I double-checked everything.  Even though she rejected 100 pages of Highway Sailor a couple of years ago, she complimented my writing.  Because of that rejection, it gave me something to introduce myself to her again.

That’s a major part of writing—sending work out.  If I get rejected, I keep sending it out and out and out.  I don’t know about other writers, but I write to be published.  Every once in a while I get an answer that says, “Send me 50 or 100 pages.”  That’s all I need to keep going as a writer.

Friday, February 15, 2008To Write or Experience Life?

I saw a movie on TV the other night—Ask the Dust, starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek—about a young writer in early 1930s Los Angeles, the city where I was raised.  The writer, Colin Farrell, received a check of $250 for a story he submitted to H.L. Mencken, the editor of American Mercury Magazine.  Included with the check was a letter from Mencken advising Farrell that a writer has two duties to fulfill:  to work on his craft every day and to experience life.  That’s the dilemma I’m always facing:  whether to write or get out of the house and experience life.

There have been many times I’ve looked out the window of my study and said to myself, “It sure would be nice to get outside on a beautiful day like this.”  Oh, I’ve played hooky a number of times over the years, but most of the time I do what writers do, and that is to sit at my desk and work on a story, essay, or novel, write in my journal, post something on my website, send my work to magazines, or compose a query letter to an agent.

Today I broke away from my desk to be with my longtime friend and fellow writer, Gale Kaplan, who I met at the San Francisco Writers Workshop 20 years ago.  She writes short, funny, thought-provoking essays about the everyday things in life that we all do but don’t think much about:  farting, picking our noses, killing spiders, and not being able to get to a bathroom on time.  She’s a renegade, a rebel.  She’s always stating her philosophy to me:  “Rules are made to be broken.  Break them.”  Over the years we’ve gotten together many times to write in her favorite Oakland coffeehouses.

Before I drove over the Bay Bridge to visit with her, I received an email from another agent in New York who wanted to read the first five chapters of Highway Sailor, my novel of traveling around the country in a VW bus.  I had queried this agent a year ago about A Class of Leaders, of which he asked to read the first five chapters.  Although he rejected that book, he said some positive things about the plot and my writing style.  In the query letter I sent him for Highway Sailor, I quoted his feedback.  It can only help to include something personal to an agent in a query letter.

In one week, two agents have responded favorably to the many queries I’ve sent out this month for both novels.  That, for me, is unusual when it comes to getting the attention of those impenetrable gatekeepers of the publishing world.

But back to experiencing life with Gale Kaplan.  We lit up a joint and sat in her apartment for an hour bouncing our latest ideas off one another.  She said she would like to make a movie of her life as a writer with multiple sclerosis.  I told her about my project of writing an essay once a week for a whole year on the writing process.  We then went to a restaurant she frequents.  We are now at one of her favorite coffeehouses.  We’re sitting at separate tables, she to revise one of her quirky essays and me to write in my journal.

And that’s where I’ll end today’s writing—except two young men just shuffled by outside the coffeehouse window, their pants just below their crotches, their underwear showing, all this while holding their pants up with one hand.  Why are they making it so hard on themselves to walk?  I sometimes see young men do this sort of thing nowadays.

Thursday, February 21, 2008Write, Revise, Advertise, Exercise

I have a mantra that goes, “Write, Revise, Advertise, and Exercise.”  Write means to write in my journal or create a story.  Revise—to rework an essay, story, or novel.  Advertise—to get the word out about my website and my latest book Write Now!  Exercise—to move my muscles and keep my blood flowing so I won’t be a burden to my family in old age.

Just the other day a story idea came to me about a 97-year-old man who found out, at the age of 67, the secret to a long, happy life:

Our man is sitting in a YMCA sauna in San Francisco when an old man of 80 named Avram, a man who emigrated from Russia, a man who looks like Buddha because of his bald head and huge bulging stomach, says, “How are you feeling today, my friend?”

“I’ve just gotten over a very bad cold, Avram.”

The old Russian Buddha says, “Whenever I feel weakness or sickness coming to me, I drink a magic elixir.  It cure me of all ills.”

Our 67-year-old man is intrigued.  “What is this magic elixir you’re talking about?”

“Hot pepper and wodka,” says Avram in his thick Russian accent.

“Did you say hot pepper and water?”

“No, no—I say wodka…wodka.”

“You mean vodka?”

“Yes, yes—wodka.  You cut up hot pepper and let it soak in bottle of wodka.  You live a long, healthy life if you drink this when not feeling well.  It work just like a magic elixir.”

As the years roll by, whenever our man starts feeling weak or sick, he goes to the refrigerator and takes out a bottle of vodka with pieces of hot pepper marinating in it.  He pours himself a shot of this magic elixir.  It stings when he swallows it, but at the same time he feels it warming his insides and killing any germs it comes in contact with.

Thirty years have passed.  Our man is now celebrating his 97th birthday with his entire family.  During the festivities, he goes to the refrigerator and pours himself a shot of the magic elixir.  Since finding out the secret to a long, healthy life, it’s become a ritual for him on each of his birthdays to toast his long gone Russian friend.  He pictures the old Russian sitting in the sauna and a smile comes to his face.  He raises his shot glass and says, “Thank you, Avram, for the wonderful advice you gave me,” and he downs the magic elixir.  All of a sudden our man collapses and dies—strong and happy to the very end.

For this 67-year-old man, this writer, it’s important for me to “Write, Revise, Advertise, and Exercise.”  My mantra, like the magic elixir, gives me strength to live and to write.

Friday, February 22, 2008A Ramble in the Woods

I stumbled across a website today that quotes writers on writing.  Three quotes stood out for me:

(1) “Most of my essays have no plot structure, they are a ramble in the woods, or a ramble in the basement of my mind.” —E.B. White

That’s exactly how I write.  I have no idea what I’m going to say when I sit down to write.  I just put words on paper as fast as I can, trying to unleash my subconscious to see what comes out of me.

(2) “First drafts of anything are shit.” —Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway was right.  I am constantly revising until I’m completely satisfied with what I’ve written.

(3) “You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.” —Jack London

If I wait for inspiration to write, I might have to wait weeks or months, but if I start somewhere, anywhere, as soon as I sit down, I let the words just gush out of me.  I then have something to mold and shape to my liking.

A writer has to get to his workplace, sit his ass down, and write.  There’s no other way to do it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008Heaven on Earth

As Mr. Rogers would say, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” the sun is out and it’s warm, except I’ve been sick for the past few days with a congested chest, a cough, and feeling run-down.  I tried the “magic elixir” with hot pepper and vodka that my Russian friend Avram at the YMCA told me about, but it didn’t work.

This is the second time in 1 1/2 months that I’ve caught this cold bug that everyone has been catching.  Even my doctor at Kaiser, Barry Bugatto, has it.  It’s like an epidemic.  But I believe I got this second cold because I overdid it last week.  I worked out every day and stayed up to 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. five nights in a row.  All this led to a breakdown of my immune system.  I’ve got to get to bed at a decent hour from here on out.

I wonder how many people are reading my “Writing Process” blog on my website.  Probably a small number, maybe no one at all.

But I still write because I’m a writer.  I write to help people who want to write but don’t have the confidence in themselves to write.  I write to bring pleasure to my soul.  I write to chronicle my time here on Earth.  (Gas in San Francisco, by the way, is $3.57 a gallon.).  I write to find out who I am and to find out where I’m headed in life.  I write to get my thoughts straight.  I write to extol life, to show how fortunate it is that we humans can think, feel, create, and communicate.

I sometimes think what it would be like to be a writer in a strife-torn country, where there is never a peaceful day to sit down and write.  We Americans are so lucky that there’s no war going on inside our country, like what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, although we’re the most warlike people in the world.

I wonder if we humans will ever reach the 22nd century, what with all the weapons, poisons, pollution, and crazies in the world.  I wonder if there will be enough water for everyone in this overpopulated world at the beginning of the 22nd century.

The world has got to get together at some point and figure out that weapons and wars are not the answer, that we have to figure out how to make the world peaceful, habitable, and fruitful for all living beings.

The first thing we have to do is reduce the population.  We have to educate women in third world countries about birth control.  If the world is overpopulated, where are people going to get their food and drinking water?  Population and the environment, these are the most important issues that a world body has got to start focusing on.

In today’s newspaper, for instance, there are conflicts going on in Africa, the Mideast, and South America.  It’s so depressing.  Have we humans become killing machines?

I sit here on a quiet, dead-end street in San Francisco, the sky a cloudless blue, the sun shining, peaceful surroundings, young voices emanating from Hoover Middle School up the block.  Right here, now, at this moment, I live in a heaven on Earth.  I wish people in this country and other countries had it as good as my wife Joan and I do.  I wish, I wish.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008Are We Human Beings Inherent Killers?

I finally got outside today after a very bad cold kept me housebound for three days.  I’m now parked at the edge of the North American continent, looking out over the Pacific Ocean.  It’s a cloudless day, there’s a slight breeze, the sky is blue.

The ocean looks calm; the tide is low.  A lot of people are taking in the sun like I am at Ocean Beach.  People love the sun after a long winter.  I’m staying out of the cool breeze by sitting in my car.  I have the present that Joan bought me the other day—a lap desk to write on.  It’s the second day I’ve used it.  Yesterday I did it while sitting in my favorite living room chair, and now I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my 1999 Toyota Corolla.  The sun’s warmth feels good.

Hillary Clinton won primaries in Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island yesterday.  Obama won only in Vermont.  If he had won Ohio or Texas he could have sewn up the Democratic nomination.  But Hillary won, and so the race will continue for a couple of more months.  Too bad.  I’m an Obama backer.  One of them will run against John McCain.  Any of the three would be a great improvement over Bush2.

There are so many things to do in this country and around the world to make life better for people, so what do we humans do?  We fight and kill each other.  Are we genetically coded to fight and kill?  My friend in Los Angeles, psychologist Roland Frauchiger, thinks we are.  He once said to me, “Joe, we humans are inherently killers.”

I got into a fight in the second grade at Selma Avenue School in Hollywood, in the boy’s bathroom, and it ended after one blow was thrown.  I was on the receiving end of the blow.  I remember getting hit in the head and crying and that was the end of the fight.  It was the only fight I ever got into in my whole life because I didn’t like getting hit.

A year later, when I was 8 years old in 1948, a new playground and pool was under construction a few blocks from where we lived on Homewood Avenue and Wilcox in the heart of Hollywood.  Dirt was heaped high all around the construction site.  Somehow a whole bunch of boys in the neighborhood gathered there one Saturday morning.

Someone brought up the idea of playing war.  About 25 of us boys were at the unfinished playground and we split up into two sides.  Both sides were about 10 yards apart behind a hill of dirt.

The war began.  It didn’t last long for me, because in the first barrage, dirt clods came flying overhead and one of them landed on top of my head.

I was in shock.  Is this what war is likethat at any second you can get killed?  I got on my bike and rode home, tears flowing down my cheeks.

I know we humans are aggressive.  But are we “inherently killers” like my friend Roland thinks?  I would like to hope we’re not.

Thursday, March 6, 2008My Son Ray

I didn’t sleep well last night but I have more strength today than I had yesterday.  I just might go to my water aerobics class tomorrow and get my blood flowing again.  It’s been a whole week since I’ve done anything physical.  Boy, the two colds I’ve had this year have taken me, and everyone else I know, so long to recuperate from.

I just talked to my son Ray on the phone.  He’s going to be interviewed at San Francisco State University in the master’s degree program in psychology.  He wants to be a counselor instead of a sound engineer.  He’s 27 now.  He now knows what he really wants and is making his big move in life.  It kind of reminds me of me in a way.  I was 29 when I decided to quit the teaching profession and become a writer.

I’m writing in my journal for the third day in a row, which is rare.  It’s this lap desk that Joan bought me earlier in the week.  Such a nice gesture on her part.  She saw how much I liked it when she bought one for her cousin John Rothmann on his birthday last week.  I can now sit in a nice easy chair or my car and write on it.

It’s been a quiet week of recuperating, writing, reading the newspaper, and reading Bill Moyers’ large and extremely interesting book of interviews with authors, historians, filmmakers, scientists, and poets called A World of Ideas.

Sunday, March 9, 2008Write Anything

A lot has been written about the writing process, so who the hell am I to write about it?  Who’s going to read my words about it?  I don’t know, except I keep writing because it’s fuel for my soul.  It’s the only thing I know anything about in this world.  I’ve been doing it for almost 40 years now.  I know it doesn’t make me an expert, but I’ve found that in those 40 years the thing I write the most about is writing.

So what can I say about writing process that hasn’t already been said?  Everyone has their own unique way of writing.  No two people ever wrote the same way.  We all see things from a different perspective.  I can’t tell people what to write or how to write, that’s for each individual to figure out for him or herself.  What I can do is give writers, or anyone interested in writing, a push to write.  If a person wants to write and doesn’t know what to say, I want to push that person to at least put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and start writing something, anything.  Just start.  It’ll be good for you and your soul.  It’ll be good for humanity.  It’ll be good for the universe.  Write the words, don’t stop, don’t look back, just write.  If you do that you’ll eventually start making sense.  There’s nothing in the world more satisfying than making sense.

Sunday, March 16, 2008Making Myself Better

I’m about to quote my friend Jerry Lipkin’s wife, Cathy, a very special and spiritual person.  She once said something to me that I’ve never forgotten:  “What am I doing today to make myself better at what I love to do?”

Me, I love to write.  What am I doing today to make myself a better writer?  I’m writing.

A writer has to keep working at his craft.  He has to keep practicing, just like athletes, ballet dancers, actors, and musicians.  What if a musician played only on the night of his performance?  He’d be out of sync with the rest of the orchestra is what would happen.  The more you do something, the more you’ll improve.  Regular exercise of a skill or activity helps you become better at it.  I do a hell of a lot of writing in this journal, not only to write down my thoughts, feelings, and ideas, but to practice keeping my hand, eyes, and brain working in unison.

Monday, March 17, 2008Tom Paine

I’m reading Harvey J. Kaye’s biography, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America.  What a visionary Tom Paine was.  He foresaw a confederation of Europe, steel bridges, a United Nations.  He demanded the end of slavery and pressed for the equality of women.  He campaigned for working people’s rights and for the separation of church and state.  Here’s my favorite quote of his:  “The world is my country, to do good my religion.”

Tens of thousands of his books sold like hotcakes during the Revolutionary War period.  He was read by almost everyone in the 13 colonies who could read.  People didn’t call him Tom Paine; they called him “Common Sense,” because his ideas were so right on, so commonsensical.  He came from the people and never gave up fighting for the people.  He was a true democrat.

I sometimes wonder, though, why he thought there should be no political parties.  It seems so natural today to stand for one political ideology over another:  Conservative or Liberal.  I’ve chosen the liberal side.  I have more trust in humankind than a conservative.  I’m willing to share rather than hoard.  I believe in negotiation and not the barrel of a rifle.  I believe women are mature enough to decide whether they need an abortion or not.  I believe there’s global warming going on and that we have to start doing something about it NOW.

Sunday, March 23, 2008A Pen and Paper at All Times

Everything I do is part of the writing process.  For instance, I’ve gotten many an idea or solved some writing problems while walking.  I could be doing the laundry, washing dishes, talking to someone, taking a shower, gardening—and a writing idea or solution will pop into my head.

But here’s the thing:  I have to write it down or else I’ll forget it.  That’s a must.  I have a pen and paper in my shirt pocket at all times.  I even have a notepad on the nightstand next to my bed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008Fame

You know, in a way I’m glad I’m not a well-known author.  The reason being, Joan told me a story about Garrison Keillor last night.  Keillor, the host of A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio, was sitting in a coffeehouse typing on his laptop when a woman walked up to him and asked for his autograph.  He kept typing away and the woman wouldn’t budge.  She didn’t understand that he was hot onto something and didn’t want to be disturbed.

The upshot of that was that Keillor, seething in anger, packed up and left the coffeehouse.  The woman even followed him outside.

That’s why I’m glad I’m not famous, because I like to go to coffeehouses and write.  Famous people can’t live normal lives, whereas 99.99% of us can.

Monday, March 31, 2008Drudgery vs. Fun

For the last couple of years, I find it hard to write in my home office.  It’s drudgery, it’s work.  But it’s fun if I write at a coffeehouse, library, or even in my car.

Today I’m in my car.  It’s a beautiful spring day, I have my window open, the sun is shining, I’m sitting in a comfortable cushioned seat and not a hard chair.  My car is my office.  No robocalls, no refrigerator to grab a snack from, no radio or TV to turn on, just fresh air, a view of the Pacific Ocean, and writing on my lap desk.  What could be better than this?

I had a good workout today at the Y.  I ate my favorite lunch dish—chicken with mixed vegetables— at my favorite Chinese restaurant, the Szechuan Taste on Taraval and 19th Avenue.  $4.95 + $1.00 tip.

Thursday, April 3, 2008I Like It When I Don’t Know What to Write

I’m ready to write but I don’t know what I want to write.  If you can believe it, not knowing what I want to write is much easier to do than knowing what I want to write.

“What?!” you say.  “Are you out of your mind?”

No, I’m all here.  Being that I don’t know what I want to write, I’m going to write what comes to mind:

The day was nice and sunny.  I was waiting for the stove repairman to show up, so I spent an hour in my front yard trimming a few bushes and searching for snails that might be in those bushes.  I found about 20 snails and crushed them.  Snails are my enemy.  They eat the leaves of my plants and bushes.  It’s my duty to search and destroy them.

There was a message on my answering machine when I came inside.  The stove repairman said to call him back and schedule an appointment for another day.  This was the second cancellation this week.  The name of the company is Reliable Appliance Repair.  I think they should change their name to Unreliable Appliance Repair.  Joan and I had to use their services two months ago and paid $323 for an electronic part and labor.  It’s the same problem all over again.  I swear, after the man finishes his work, I’m not going to pay him for his unreliableness, his labor, or for any part he might replace.  I’ve never had a stove problem in my life.  I never knew a stove problem existed until we purchased a new electronic-gas stove 1 1/2 years ago.

Friday, April 4, 2008My Knee

I just saw my orthopedist, Dr. Curtis Kiest, who’s done hip replacement surgery on both my hips.  He took x-rays of both my knees because my right knee started swelling up on me about a month ago.  We looked at the x-rays together and he showed me the cartilage or cushion inside both knees is half of what it should be.  He said it’s nothing to worry about, except maybe 10 or 15 years down the line I might need a knee replacement.  He said to take Ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation.

My body is wearing down.  What condition will it be in when I’m 75 or 80?  I cringe at having major surgery again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008Citizen Sutton

“My name is Joseph Sutton and I represent the people of San Francisco and all of northern California in support of the five bills before this committee.”

That’s what Joan and I and 300 other people said individually to the Assembly Committee on Agriculture in Sacramento today.  The five bills had to do with prohibiting the state from aerial spraying a poisonous spray on urban centers to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth.  Spraying took place on the Monterey Bay peninsula and hundreds of illnesses were reported.

Joan and I and the other 300 did our citizen’s duty for our state.  It was a good feeling to be amongst so many who took the time to travel by bus to Sacramento to protest the insanity of poisoning large populations so as to rid of the Light Brown Apple Moth.  It was democracy in action.

Sunday, April 20, 2008Vertigo

I had a dizzy spell Friday in the late afternoon.  I was washing my hands in the bathroom when all of a sudden everything started whirling around like I was on a merry-go-round, except twice as fast.  I had to hold onto the wall for balance.  I tried to get to my bed but couldn’t.  Everything was spinning, spinning.  “Joan!” I called.  She heard an urgency in my voice and came quickly to help me and led me to bed.  Soon after lying down the dizziness subsided.  I haven’t felt it since.  It was the first time that such a thing has happened to me.  Scary.  I called Kaiser and was asked a bunch of questions by the advice nurse.  It was decided that I see Dr. Bugatto tomorrow at 10:20 a.m.  The nurse said it was probably a mild case of vertigo.

I didn’t exercise yesterday or today.  Yesterday I spent most of the day at the YMCA Creative Arts Faire and sold seven books of Write Now!.  Today I read a large chunk of the Sunday New York Times, took out the garbage, and watered the front yard.  I didn’t go for a walk because of that bout with vertigo.  I find that I have so much reading to do—books, the newspaper, magazines.  I’ll never catch up.  I want to read about John Adams, after watching a seven-part miniseries about him on HBO.  I want to read Tom Paine’s works.  I want to read about Jefferson and Lincoln.  There is so much to do with so little time to do it, because this writer has to write, too.

We learn about ourselves when we write.  We can see into the future or look back into our past when we write.  We can dream, we can make up stories, we can build ourselves up or tear ourselves down when we write.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008Slow, Man, Slow Is What I Am

I’m a slow writer.  Sometimes it takes me 5, 10, 20, maybe 40 or 50 drafts to finish a piece until I’m satisfied with it.  Slow, man, slow is what I am.  But at least I feel great satisfaction after finishing a piece.  Why does it take me so long?  I want the reader to understand what I’ve written.  I also want my piece to flow smoothly, giving the reader the impression that this writer makes writing seem so simple.

Revision is so important.  Anyone who considers himself a writer revises, for as Ernest Hemingway wrote, “First drafts of anything are shit.”  If you’re a writer, you truly know what Hemingway meant.  That’s why revision is so important.  Revision makes a piece flow, it makes writing seem simple.  It is those writers who make their writing seem simple who are the real writers.

Thursday, April 24, 2008Sharon Murphy

I’m sitting in my car in El Cerrito, about to meet with my editor Don Ellis.  I’m parked on a hill with a view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.  I used to live in El Cerrito.  It was in 1969 that I moved to 616 Elm Street.  Before parking on the hill, I walked around the old neighborhood.

El Cerrito brought back memories of Sharon Murphy, who at the time was 21 and a student at UC Berkeley.  She also worked at the El Cerrito Library.  I had just moved from Los Angeles to El Cerrito to begin my writing career.  In all my writings I say I moved to Berkeley because anyone who lives outside of the Bay Area doesn’t know that El Cerrito borders Berkeley.  But to get back to 1969 when I met Sharon at the El Cerrito Library.  I just happened by the library for the first time, walked in, browsed around in the fiction section, and decided I wanted to read James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.  I couldn’t find it.  I noticed this young, sexy-looking librarian putting books back on the shelves, went up to her and told her I couldn’t find Joyce’s book.  She went through every conceivable way to search for the book and still couldn’t find it.  I asked what her name was.  We got to talking and found out a little about each other.  When I found out that she wasn’t married or going with anyone, I came out with, “Would you like to go out to dinner some night?”  To my surprise she answered in the affirmative.  I wrote about our four-year relationship, from start to finish, at the beginning of my novel Highway Sailor.  After the break up, I experienced great heartache.  I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep for three months.  It wasn’t until I hit the highways of America in my 1964 VW bus in the spring of 1974 that I got over the loss.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008My Treasure Chest

There are many things I have to do:  sell my books, write new stories and essays, revise old stories and essays, find an agent for my novels, read more, exercise every day, lose weight, write in this journal, and lastly, live life.

So what do I do?  I dawdle.  Like yesterday, I kept falling asleep at my desk because I was tired after my water aerobics workout.  Before I got out of bed this morning, I was debating with myself whether I should go to my water aerobics class or take a three-mile walk in the afternoon.  I went to my water class.  Water aerobics always tires me, but I keep doing it so no one will have to take care for me when I’m an old man.

I have to write more in this journal so I will have new projects to work on.  My journal is like a treasure chest.  All my books and most of my stories and essays are gleaned from this treasure chest.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008Deadlines are Lifelines

I once knew a poet, Sid Lyman, who was the Poet Laureate of Portland when I lived there for a few years in the mid-’70s.  It was my idea or honor to dub Sid “The Port Laureate of Poetland.”  Anyway, the two of us were talking about deadlines one evening, when Sid said, “I don’t understand why people call them deadlines.  The word should be lifelines.”

Sid was absolutely correct.  Lifeline is surely the more appropriate word, but since deadline is so prevalent in our society today, I’ll stick to that word for now.

My favorite writer of all time, William Saroyan, always set a deadline for himself.  He churned out a story a day.  He wrote his famous play The Time of Your Life in six days.  Each of his novels or memoirs was written in approximately one month.  Deadlines made Saroyan an extremely prolific writer.  I met him twice in my life.  In our first meeting, he explained his philosophy of deadlines to me:

“I was talking to this writer and he asked me how I wrote The Time of Your Life in six days.  My answer to him was, ‘How did you write your book in six months?’  Time is relative.  If you set a deadline for yourself, then the same thing will come out in six days as it will in six months…or even six years.”

I’ve set a deadline for myself to write an essay on writing once a week for 52 weeks.  When Tuesday rolls around, I know it’s time to finish a piece and post it on my website.  Deadlines are a godsend—they give me life.  They force me to concentrate, really concentrate, on the goal at hand.  Deadlines have made me produce more stories, essays, and books than I could have ever imagined.  That’s why deadlines, as Sid Lyman once said, should be called lifelines.

Sunday, June 1, 2008Our Chicago Visit

Joan and I have been in Chicago for five days at our son Sol and his wife Jang’s condo.

One day Sol and I walked a couple of miles to Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs play the Colorado Rockies.  We had great seats, right behind home plate.  The Cubs fans, I found out, really know their baseball and are extremely enthusiastic.

Joan and I spent a couple of days at Sol’s new place of business, a graphic design business.

Another day Joan and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago.  I love the collection of Impressionist painters the museum has.

And one night the four of us went to see Chicago’s Second City improv group give what I thought was a middling performance.

The double air mattress that Joan and I slept on didn’t work out well.  We had Sol drive us to a futon shop where we bought two single futons for us and any visitors Sol and Jang might have in the future.

I’m reading Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father.  The man is very observant, intelligent, has lived a full life, and in my opinion deserves to be the next President of the United States.

We’re leaving for San Francisco tomorrow.

Monday, June 2, 2008Noise

Joan and I are presently on a flight back to San Francisco.  Noise.  That’s all I’ve heard for the last two days.  Last night for three straight hours there was snoring and talking coming from a couple who live in the condo below Sol and Jang’s.  The woman’s voice sounded like she was holding a megaphone in hand.  Also last night sirens were wailing away in the big city of Chicago.  The sirens were unending, as was the couple below us on a very hot, sticky night with their window and our window open to get some semblance of fresh air.

Did I get a respite from noise on this plane we’re sitting in right now?  Hell no.  A 6- or 7-year-old girl and her mother, sitting behind us, haven’t stopped talking for the past two hours.  The girl has the shrillest, most piercing voice I’ve ever heard.

So how am I able to write with those two chatterboxes still going non-stop behind us?  Earplugs!  I couldn’t think straight until Joan (listening to her iPod the whole time) dug into her purse and handed me a clean pair of earplugs.  I was almost on the verge of getting out of my seat and telling that mother and daughter team, “Shut the fuck up already!”  Because of these earplugs, I don’t have to vent my anger on them.  Instead, I’m venting my anger on this page, which is the only course an angry writer should take.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008All I Really Want

Last night I was reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, and in it I was struck by one sentence.  “It is the act of writing that calls ideas forward, not ideas that call forward writing.”  She’s right.  When I sit down to write an entry in my journal I have no idea what I’m going to write, therefore I’m going to rely on my writing to call forward ideas.  In other words, I must have faith, like Cameron, that ideas will come to me as I write.

Joan and I went to a luncheon today, where Maya Soetoro-Ng, Barack Obama’s half-sister spoke.  It was at a house in Marin County, right on the Bay, with a beautiful view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Maya is just like her half-brother:  self-assured, confident, down to earth, and no B.S. emanating from her mouth.

Thinking makes me sputter and think about what people will think if I truly let loose, not caring what I write, letting it all hang out, and that’s what I’m doing now and no ideas have come forward yet, but I still keep writing swiftly because I’m a writer and I have an urge and need to write.

Yesterday I went for a walk with Joan on a beautiful day, her 68th birthday, and June, June, June was bustin’ out all over.  Today was again my kind of day.  Weather is so important to me.  When it’s cold it’s hard to write.  When it’s hot it’s hard to write.  But when it’s in the 60s or low 70s it’s just right.  Or is it?  Because if it’s a beautiful day, it’s so tempting to want to get outside and enjoy the clean air and the sun.

Yesterday, after our walk, my right knee swelled up on me.  I know there’s very little cartilage left in both knees.  That’s another thing I have to contend with as I get older:  my body wearing down.  I don’t need a new knee, or I should say, I don’t want to have to go through another major operation.  I’ve already gone through two hip surgeries.  Oh, God, what am I to do?  What kind of life should I choose, a continual sore knee or have knee replacement surgery?  I don’t know what I want right now.  All I really want is to exercise every day, write unforgettable stories, and write unique essays about the writing process.

Thursday, June 19, 2008Writing Quotes

“You can only learn how to write by writing.” —David McCullough

“Writing is like everything else:  the more you do it the better you get.  Don’t try to perfect as you go along, just get to the end of the damn thing.  Accept imperfections.  Get it finished and then you can go back.  If you try to polish every sentence there’s a chance you’ll never get past the first chapter.” —Iain Banks

“Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write.” —Robert Penn Warren

“Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.” —Sharon O’Brien

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in the human condition.” —Graham Greene

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” —James Thurber

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” —James Michener

“The writer’s duty is to keep on writing.” —William Styron

“My writing is careless, but all through it is something that is good, that is mine alone, that no other writer could ever achieve.” —William Saroyan

Saturday, June 21, 2008Opera at the Ballpark

Today I want to write about an incident that took place last night with Joan and me at AT&T Park, where the Giants play.  It wasn’t a night for baseball, it was a night for Opera at the Ballpark.

It was hot, in the high 80s, after San Francisco went through its hottest day of the year, 97 degrees.  Joan and I got off the streetcar and came upon a long line of people.

I wanted to butt in line somewhere after I saw that there was a bottleneck at the one and only open gate of five gates, near Willie Mays’ statue.  Thousands of people were lined up for about a quarter of a mile.  I wanted to sneak in up front somewhere but Joan wouldn’t let me do it.

“You’re not a democrat if you’re going to cut in line,” she told me.  “You’re an elitist.”

“I’m not an elitist, I’m only trying to get into the opera earlier than standing way back in line.”

“That’s not being fair,” she kept on.

I started feeling bad that I wasn’t a democrat in this incident, but I wanted to get in so as not be late for the show.  I started thinking if I really was an elitist.  I love democracy and fair play and everyone being equal, but I ain’t stupid.  I wasn’t going to stand in a slow moving line, where they were checking people for bombs and such, for maybe a whole hour and miss the opening of Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor.  “I’m a democrat except for tonight,” I told Joan.

She was adamant that we go to the back of the line.

I thought of a Larry David scene in his series Curb Your Enthusiasm where he, his wife Cheryl, and their friends Jeff and Susie are waiting in a long movie line and some guy with muscle spasms cuts in front of everyone and no one says anything because they feel sorry for him.  The guy buys a ticket and goes into the theater.  Before the movie starts, Larry notices the muscle spasm guy is just a normal man carrying a large tub of popcorn to his seat.  In other words, he faked having spasms to get to the front of the line.  That image came to mind, but I didn’t do it because that would really be cheating or being an elitist or being unfair to my fellow human beings.

My wife prevailed.  I was still a democrat.  As soon as we got to the back of the line, more gates opened up, and we were inside within five minutes.

I can’t thank Joan enough for keeping me on the straight and narrow.

Thursday, June 26, 2008How to Love Writing

I’ve been a bachelor for three days, ever since Joan left town to attend an eight-day storytelling workshop in Oregon.  And so what does a bachelor do?  He works long hours at his desk, drinks alcohol, smokes a little pot, and eats his meals out.

I had a treadmill test at Kaiser today.  The doctor said, “You passed with flying colors, Mr. Sutton.  You did better in this test than most people your age.”  Well, that was fantastic news to hear.  Now, all I have to do is lose weight.

I’m keeping to my word about writing an essay a week about the writing process.  I’ve written 22 of them since February and have 30 more to go.  What I find myself doing is writing about incidents in my life, for instance, hearing a young girl’s piercing voice on the plane back from Chicago, standing in line at AT&T Park, and quoting Portland poet Sid Lyman about deadlines being lifelines.  I do my best to connect these incidents to the writing process.

Some people hate writing because they feel they have to be perfect.  They feel like they’re in school taking a test.  But a person would love to write if he felt free and loose and could write anything that came to mind.  It’s called stream of consciousness or, as I call it, swift writing.  After I’ve let it all hang out, it’s time to revise.  It might take me maybe 10, 20, 50 revisions to complete an essay or story.  When I finally do finish, I feel a glow of great accomplishment.

Saturday, June 28, 2008The Pursuit of Happiness

I write whatever suits my fancy because I’m an independent writer. I’m not bought by anyone. The words in my books have reached many people.  The essence of those words are peace, democracy, love of family, love of the laws of this land, love of freedom of speech, assembly, the separation of church and state, equal rights for all, plus life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A Russian immigrant at the YMCA, Mikhail, asked me the other day, “Joe, what do you think of a man marrying another man?”  I asked Mikhail, “Does it hurt you that a man marries another man?”  He said, “No.”  And so I said, “In the American Declaration of Independence, it says, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’  If it doesn’t hurt you, then why not let gay people pursue their own happiness?”

Mikhail turned and walked away in disgust.

He is a staunch conservative.  I’m a staunch liberal.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008Death

Death:  No more thoughts.  No more the smell of a rose, no more wife to hold, no more son to groom to be the best possible, no more nature, no more ocean, no more puffy white clouds in a blue sky.

Death:  No more tension, no more striving for fairness and justice, no more anger at greed and abuse of power.

Death:  No more observing the beauty of women, no more physical movement, no more smelling the aroma of turkey thighs roasting in the oven.

What will the world be like when I’m gone?  Will there be enough nature to enjoy?  Will peace ever take hold or will there always be war?  Will we humans ever live on other planets?  Will the weak be cared for?  Will we ever stop polluting the Earth and exploiting others?  Will the Giants ever win a World Series?

My son, what will he think of me when I’m gone?  Will he ever know how deep my love for him is?  Will he ever think he learned something from me?  Will he respect me when I’m gone?

Death:  No more brothers, no more cousins, no more friends, no more joking, no more laughing, no more poker games.  No more the sting of bourbon.

Death:  No more wife to love.  No more sharing our joys and sorrows.

Friday, July 11, 2008My Longtime Friend

Today is my longtime friend Nate Wirt’s birthday.  He’s 68.  We’ve known each other since we were 12 years old.  We met in the seventh grade at Bancroft Junior High in Hollywood.  Nate loved sports as much as I did.  He was as ferocious a competitor as I was.  We competed against each other almost every day after school, but we were also teammates on the Eagles, a junior high sports club that he was the founder and backbone of.  It was Nate who recruited me and the other good athletes in our grade to be members of the Eagles.  We played other teams in the three major sports in the YMCA league.  We Eagles held weekly meetings at a church on the corner of Fairfax and Fountain.  We had a wonderful coach, Mel Wopner, who called me his “money ballplayer.”

I called Nate this morning and he told me he’s going to have a birthday pool party at his house tomorrow night.  He lives in Houston with his wife Candy.

You know, sometimes I wonder if there will ever be peace in the hot spots of the world, such as in the Middle East and Africa.  I can see why people hate.  I’ve hated in my life and still hate at times.  Hatred leads to violence, war, and killing.  How stupid we human beings are to hate, or are being taught to hate, either by propaganda or tribal feuds.

Saturday, July 19, 2008Nancy van Gelder

All I can think of right now is my water aerobics instructor.  She was fired after giving every ounce of her soul to her water aerobics classes for the past 20 years.  Just like that.  Fired.  Instead of the YMCA bowing down to her for all she’s done for us in her water classes, they fired her for reasons that are unknown to me.  Nancy van Gelder.  I’ve been in her class for nine years.  And poof, she won’t be there anymore.  What kind of way is that to treat a human being, one who cares passionately for all in her water classes?  Damn.  I’m fighting mad.  The class I’m in, we’re going to do something about it.  We’re going to sign a petition and take it to the YMCA director.  If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to a higher authority.  Just like that, a wonderful instructor thrown to the gutter like a cigarette butt.  That is not how a human being should be treated.

Sunday, July 27, 2008The Fire Man

I have one topic I would like to write about today:  a poem to my friend and editor Don Ellis on his upcoming birthday in ten days.

What is it about Don that makes me want to team with him?  Is it that he listens?  Is it that he seems interested in what I write?  Or is it that he puts a fire under my ass that makes me want to jump and shout and be a creative writer?

I worked all day on the poem.  Here’s the final version:

The Fire Man

What’s the clue

That makes me want to team with you?

Is it that you listen,

That you make me want to glisten?

Or maybe it’s because you light my ass on fire

So as to rustle my spirits from the mire.

Instead of moping and stewing

You make me want to jump, shout, and start doing.

In the time of your life live is a philosophy you possess.

It’s a great belief system to have, I must confess.

“Give it all you’ve got to the very end,” you say.

Well, when all is said and done, it’s the only way.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008The Writing Process

What is the writing process?  It can be summed up in four words:  SIT DOWN AND WRITE!  What am I doing now?  I just sat down and I’m writing.

Can it benefit the writer to know the writing process?  Yes, I believe it can.  If the process is to “sit down and write,” then those words are the secret to writing.

I’ve taken my journal entries over the years and have, in one way or another, made something of them—creating books, short stories, poems, and essays.  All of what I’ve published has come from my journal that I’ve been keeping since 1970.  That’s 38 years and counting.

Here’s what I’ve learned.  (1) To write, I have to first sit my ass down.  (2) I can take all or part of a journal entry and make something of it, by either coming up with a short story, poem, or essay.  (3) I can take a whole bunch of journal entries and make something of them, such as writing a novel or memoir.

Thursday, August 7, 2008Gotta Write!  Gotta Write!

Gene Kelly in the movie Singin’ in the Rain, before he began a sexy dance scene with Cyd Charisse, sang, “Gotta dance!  Gotta dance!”  Well, I “Gotta write!  Gotta write!” or else I’ll go out of my mind.  Lately, I’ve been taking too long to write my writing process essays.  I’ve been striving for perfection.  It’s not good for me to be a perfectionist.  Don Ellis, when I saw him today, said, “Joe, you’re clogged up.  Open the spigot.”  Well, I’m opening the spigot.  “Gotta write!  Gotta write!”  I’ve been spending too much time revising and not creating.  It’s time to start writing swiftly, without stopping, to unclog my creative spirit.

Next week I’m going to hand Don two novel manuscripts, A Class of Leaders and Highway Sailor.  The process of self-publishing will begin next week.  I’m gonna self-publish, not 500 copies like I did with Write Now!, but 250 copies of each novel.  And then I’ll write an essay in a day or two for my website instead of taking a whole week on an essay, as I’ve been doing.  Gotta write…gotta produce…gotta let loose.

Don is a gem.  What would I do without him?  I’d be moaning and groaning and griping about agents and publishers for not accepting my work.  I don’t have to do that anymore.  I now have the means to publish my own books.  Or I can go the print-on-demand route which, for writers, is democracy in action.  I don’t have to rely anymore on picky agents or publishers who think they know the country’s pulse.  I’m a writer, and a writer should get as much of his work out into the world as he can, in any way he can.

Monday, September 1, 2008My Friend’s Wife

I just finished reading the account of a woman’s life.  She is the wife of a good friend of mine who I knew very little about until I finished her 50 typewritten pages.  As soon as I finished her autobiography, I went up to my wife Joan because I felt a need to talk to her after what I had read.  It was a very sad tale of a woman who has been married five times, four times by abusive husbands, abusive physically by one husband and mentally by three, and finally, her fifth husband, my friend, who now treats her like she’s always wanted to be treated, like a woman.  Today she is happy, but for most of her life she was abused by her father and four husbands and survived to tell the tale.

I asked Joan if I ever abused her.  She said no.  But there have been times over the past 29 years that I’ve gotten mad and yelled at her.  I told her that, to which she replied, “I’ve yelled at you, too, Joe.”

Thursday, September 4, 2008All Writing is Connected to Writing

There’s a quote staring me in the face, taped just below my computer screen, from my favorite writer of all time, William Saroyan:  “All writing is connected to writing.”

What do those words mean?  It means if one writes a letter, a note, a journal or diary entry, an email, anything, all of these things are connected to writing.  If one thinks about writing but isn’t writing, then one isn’t writing but only procrastinating.  I’m writing right now.  It doesn’t matter what I’m writing, what matters is that I’m writing.  All writing is connected to writing—even revision and proofreading.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008Writing and Sickness

The country is in dire financial straits.  The Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, says the government needs close to one trillion dollars to bail the country out of the mess we’re in.  Money, money, money.  But I didn’t set out to write about money today, I set out to write about a writer and sickness.

I’m sick.  I drove to Berkeley earlier today to see my editor, Don Ellis, and picked up the galley proofs of A Class of Leaders that I’m going to self-publish next year.  When we were eating lunch in a small sandwich shop, I started feeling weak and achy.  I knew I had to write something about the writing process today, and so I had a conversation with myself when I got home:

“Should I write or not?  I’m really not up to it.  What I want to do is get in bed and sleep.  But I made a vow back in early February that I would write an essay a week for a whole year about the writing process.  Why not just take a day off and take care of my health?  On the other hand, I promised myself I would write an essay each week and put it on my website.  I have to keep to my word.”

Which brings me to the subject of writing and sickness.  Should a writer take a day off if he’s feeling sick?  Well, a writer should not take a day off even if his health, like the country’s financial health, is in the pits.  I learned this from two writers—William Saroyan and Ernest Hemingway, both of whom wrote every day no matter how sick they were or how bad their hangovers were.  And so that’s what I’m doing, I’m writing, feeling like a dirty rag, but writing.

You can be sure, though, that as soon as I finish this piece, I’m going to get in bed and hope that my health will return to normal by tomorrow, just like I hope the country’s financial health will return to normal.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008The Hypocrite

When I was a history teacher at Fremont High School in Los Angeles, the principal called me into his office to tell me he didn’t like my exchanging notes with a student who was having problems with his sexuality.  I didn’t care what the student was, homosexual or straight, the boy was my student and I wanted to help him as much as I possibly could by answering the questions he had in his notes to me.

Was the principal implying that I was thinking of having sex with the student?  Did he think I was leading the boy on?  I was only trying to help the student with his problems of sexuality, I surely wasn’t out for his body.

Also, when the principal found out I was living with a woman I wasn’t married to, he disdained that, too.  Who the hell was he to talk to me about my student and living with a woman I wasn’t married to, when every faculty member knew he was having an extra-marital affair with the art teacher?

Sunday, October 12, 2008Current Events

The sun is out today, just like yesterday, except it’s not as windy.  October in San Francisco is a great month for sunny days, just like the month of May is.

Our country is going through financial hard times.  The stock market keeps plummeting.  It’s lost about 5000-6000 points in the last two weeks.

The presidential election is coming up in three weeks.  Although Obama is ahead in the polls, the McCain campaign is constantly hitting below the belt, inciting hatred, fear, and racism.  It makes me sick to think of the mindless minds so many people in this country possess.  There is so much anger and bitterness, especially on the Republican side.

Thursday, October 30, 2008We Have to Think of the Future

I’m sitting in the West Portal library, my neighborhood library.

I see a young baby playing with his mother’s key chain, sucking and chewing on it, making small baby sounds, a baby, like all of us were at one time, a baby who may someday be my age of 68, a baby who has a whole life of experiences ahead of him.

We adults have to start thinking of the future because we’re not conserving Earth’s resources as much as we can for future generations.  We’re going to have to recycle, which we’re learning to do, but surely not fast enough.  We’re going to have to use renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.  The use of coal and gas is causing global warming.

Last night I heard John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, say that we have great reserves of coal in the U.S.  The Republicans are still being bought off by the oil and coal industries and they’re trying to make us believe that oil and coal are still the future, those greedy, stupid bastards.

Take Barack Obama and Joe Biden—they’re at least into knowing some truth because they’re not bought off as much as the Republicans are.  It boggles my mind that so many people vote Republican when it’s in their best interests if they voted Democratic.  That’s how much people are brainwashed by the Republican party that is run by the moneyed interests.

Come this Tuesday, November 4, we’ll find out if the people will be fooled again by the Republicans, like they were when they voted twice for Bush2.  I hope the country wakes up this time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008Write Every Day

Nothing should hold back a writer from writing.  I instinctively knew when I first started out as a writer that a real writer doesn’t write when he feels like it, he writes every day because he’s a writer.  So to future writers who someday might come across these words, here’s what I want to say:  If you write every day, or at least five days a week, you’re a writer.  You’ll produce books, stories, articles, and poems where, if you stick to it, you’ll someday be rewarded for your efforts.

Sunday, November 2, 200850th High School Reunion

I made a note to myself that I would write about my 50th high school reunion that took place in the middle of October in Los Angeles.  It was an extra special evening for me to meet classmates that go as far back as grammar school.  Ron Granite, he and I started kindergarten at Selma Avenue School back in September 1945.  And Neal Miller, who I knew at Gardner Street School.  (I had transferred to Gardner in the fourth grade after we moved from Homewood Avenue and Wilcox to Fairfax Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard.)  Both Ron and Neal looked regal.

Being that I’m a Syrian Jew, I talked with three of my fellow Syrian Jewish classmates at Fairfax High:  Faye Sasson, Maurice Attie, and Jeannette Barry.  Jeannette wore a stunning red dress.  I told her she was the best looking woman at the reunion, and meant it.

Steve Ginsberg, a good friend of mine in our senior year, reminded me that I saved his life one day.  The two of us were talking near where the shot putters were practicing when all of a sudden I saw a 12 pound metal ball about to hit Steve in the head and deflected it with my hand.  Thank goodness nothing happened to my hand.

I talked to Penny Kaplan and gave her my novel, Morning Pages.  I talked to Stan Silver, Dan Zipser, and Shirley Schultz.  Shirley said she had a crush on me our senior year.  There was Lou Berman, Fred Fineman, Phyllis Dinovitz, Ray Balbes, and Nate Wirt, my good friend then and still my friend, who, born a Jew, is now a born-again Christian.

Marty Biegel, the most popular teacher at Fairfax, talked to the crowd for a half hour about his accomplishments and the beauty of the women at the reunion.

Neal Shapiro told me he was to blame for our football team not winning the league championship our senior year.  He said he tackled me in practice before the last game of the season and injured my ankle.  I told Neal he did not tackle and injure me like he thought, that it was my own fault for not playing in the last game of the season.

The injury that ended my high school football career was a thigh contusion.  It happened in the game before the last game of the season against Hollywood High.  We beat Hollywood by a whisker, except I made a huge blunder.

With time running out, I threw a beautiful 45-yard pass to Eddie Lingo who caught the ball on Hollywood’s three-yard line and was immediately tackled.  Because I was so hopped up throwing the greatest pass of my high school career, I said the most stupid thing a quarterback could say in the huddle:  “I brought us down here; I’m taking it in.”

I called my own play so I could score the winning touchdown and be the hero against our crosstown rival.  I took the ball from center, faked a handoff to 6-foot-4, 240-pound Bill Peters diving into the line, and tried following him.  A Hollywood High lineman tackled me in my right thigh with such great force that I went down before I could reach the promised land.  I barely made it back to the huddle to call the next play.  Just before the gun sounded, I handed the ball to Big Bill who bulled his way into the end zone.

We won, but that thigh injury kept me out of the last game of the season.  I had to sit on the bench in my street clothes and watch us lose to Hamilton High.  It was payback for my wanting to be the hero in the Hollywood game.  If we had beaten winless Hamilton High, we would have been league champions.

Penny Kaplan, who has kept her beauty all these years, was my almost first woman.  We were parked up in the Hollywood hills after the senior prom, overlooking the shimmering lights of Los Angeles, making out, both of us getting each other sizzling hot, almost to the point where I was about to slip it in her, when two goddamn cops approached our car and shined their flashlights on us.  It was such a traumatic experience that I never saw Penny again until the reunion.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008A New Day, A New Dawn

It’s 11:45 p.m. and Barack Obama has just been elected president!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It’s a new day, a new dawn.  Our country and the world just took in a great big sigh of relief.

George W. Bush was just the wrong person to be president because we’re experiencing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression due to the deregulation of banks that were set in motion by the his administration.  It was Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell who started an unnecessary war in Iraq in 2003 that is still going on.  At least Colin Powell had the courage and character to admit his mistake, but the others still think it was the right move.

Obama and his administration have so much to overcome.  I wish them all the luck in the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008Penny Kaplan

I received a letter from Penny Kaplan today, her last name is now Freeman.  She wrote that she felt embarrassed after reading the chapter “My Almost First Woman” that I wrote about us in Morning Pages.  (I had given her the book at the reunion.)  I didn’t mean any harm to her, I was just trying to put my heart and soul into that chapter, as I do in everything I write.

Penny said in her letter that I went to the senior prom with her because I heard she was an easy lay from a guy named Ronnie Separsky.  Yes, it was Ronnie Separsky who kept telling me in a class we had that Penny loved sex and that they had gotten it on several times.  I admit it, I went to the senior prom with Penny because Separsky kept bragging to me about having sex with her.  Hey man, I was 17, never had intercourse, and was absolutely starved for sex.

I didn’t ask Penny to the prom, it was she who asked me.  In her letter, she said that she and Separsky had set me up.  To make sure I’d go with her when she asked me, she had Separsky tell me of his sexual exploits with her.  I’d say that was quite an ingenious plot on their part.  In her letter, she said she never had sex with Separsky nor anyone else in high school.

So what boy in his right mind wouldn’t accept an invitation to the senior prom from a girl who was hot to trot?  After the prom, we drove up to the Hollywood hills in my mother’s car.  I didn’t know what to expect from Penny, but I was surely going to give it a try.  We started kissing and feeling each other up.  She straddled my lap facing me.  Wow, I’d never met a girl so passionate!  She let me unfasten her bra and I started kissing and sucking her breasts.  She clumsily slipped out of her panties.  I unbuckled my belt, unzipped my pants, and rolled them down to my ankles.

I had a condom in my wallet but was too much in a hurry to use it.  We were ready to go.  She was sitting on my lap, the bottom of her dress pulled up.  I was about to enter a girl for the first time in my life, when suddenly two flashlights shone through the steamed up, passenger-side window.  “Roll down the window,” we heard a voice say.  Penny and I were startled out of our wits.  It was two cops from the L.A.P.D.  It was like a fire extinguisher had put out two hot fires in an instant.  The cops’ flashlights blinded us.  They told us there were people in the Hollywood hills who broke in on lovers like us and took advantage of them either sexually or financially.

Those two cops left such a bad taste in my mouth that I never got hold of Penny after that, even though in her letter she said she would have gone out with me again if I had asked.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008It’s Time For Me To Publish My Own Books

Here I sit in my car at the very edge of western United States overlooking a very rough surf on a gray, overcast day two days before my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving.

I’ve been writing about the writing process for eight months and I’ve succeeded in finding a subject to write about each week, although each week I have a fear of not coming up with a subject.  I have twelve more essays to go.

One facet of the process I haven’t written about is my relationship with my editor, Don Ellis.  He’s read all my books and stories except for these writing process essays.  Last week we went over the corrections I made to the galley proofs of A Class of Leaders.  I do most of the editing myself, but I still need Don’s input to see if I’m on the right track.  We’ve been working, on and off, for two years on two novels, novels I wrote many years ago that have been rejected many times.  The rejections haven’t deterred me from reworking them because I believe both novels are well written and have something to say.  Someday, in another year or two or three A Class of Leaders and Highway Sailor will be on the internet and on the shelves in San Francisco’s bookstores.

I’ve spent thousands of hours on each novel, so why not self-publish them if no publisher is willing to do it?  I’m proud of those two novels.  I’m finished querying agents and publishers and trying to sell myself and my books to them.  It’s time for me to publish my own books.

Thursday, December 18, 2008I’ve Kept My Vow

A lot of what I’ve written in this year’s journal entries are located in “The Writing Process” category on my website—greatly revised, though.  This journal contains many first drafts that I eventually made something out of that anyone in the world can now read.

I have seven more “Writing Process” essays to go.  I’m feeling good that I’ve kept my vow of writing an essay each week for a whole year.  It’s taught me a lot.  It’s taught me that if I stick to a deadline, no matter if it’s an essay, story, or book, I can do it.  A deadline (or lifeline) has given me discipline.

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