In a fall cleaning frenzy, I tackled my kitchen junk drawer. I chucked expired coupons, dozens of plastic bread ties that I’d saved in case of a severe bread-tie shortage, and handfuls of dried out rubber bands that broke when stretched. Then I ran across a box of old keys.
Hmmm? I lined them up on the kitchen counter. There were nine car keys, which was odd, because in my life, I’d only owned four cars.
I found the spare key to my 1968 Ford Falcon. Three on the tree, pull-out choke on the dash. I bought it used for $200, drove it for three years, and sold it for $250. I couldn’t find the spare key for the new owner, so I’d had a copy made. It cost 35 cents. Today a new key is $200—the same price as this entire car.
I found the key to my first new car. A 1976 Toyota Corolla, which ironically, got keyed the first day I parked it at work. It was Rah! Rah! Bicentennial! Buy American year!
Here was the key to my old boyfriend’s house. We broke up two decades ago when I ‘d found another woman’s underwear tangled in the bed sheets. “Oh, those belong to my fiancée,” he’d said, having never mentioned a fiancée before. It made me wonder if saving this key qualified me as a masochist. Continue reading “The Key Graveyard”
Judy Tenuta once said, “My parents told me I’d never amount to anything because I procrastinated too much. I told them, ‘Just you wait.’”
Procrastination is a skill that takes decades to properly master. A childish amateur might miss a deadline and attempt the old cliché, “I tried to do it, but the dog ate my homework.” But it takes a really skilled writer to bring procrastination up to the level of a fine art form. As Roy Peter Clark says in his book, Writing Tools, “Never write today what you can put off until tomorrow.” With that mantra, I’m surprised he ever finished his book. Harold Ross of The New Yorker said, “Like many people, I started blogging out of an urgent need to procrastinate.”
The word procrastination is derived from the Latin cras—meaning “Tomorrow.” This tomorrow does not have the same hopeful, uplifting message Little Orphan Annie belts out with her show-stopping song. Many famous writers suffer from procrastination and have taken the word tomorrow to literally mean tomorrow. Mañana. The day after today. Or maybe the next.
Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide fame says, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” On missing a deadline, Dorothy Parker remarked, “Somebody was using the pencil.” Robert Benchley said, “Anyone can do any amount of work providing it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” The New Yorker writer Susan Orlean not only confessed to being a procrastinator, at the recent Long Beach Literary Women Conference, she gave a few tips on how to do it at home. Her first tip was to organize your bookshelves by color, then to move on to your clothes closet. Her theory being, “I’m organizing, I’m accomplishing, so how can I be a procrastinator?”
Continue reading “The Art of Procrastination”
At this year’s Literary Orange, I learned many tidbits to help inspire writers. Did you know that only 4% of people who start to write a book ever finish it? So if you have finished a book, congratulations, you are in rarefied territory.
Here are a few memorable quotes from the conference:
- We write to make sense of the world.
- We don’t know how strong we are until we need to be.
- If you don’t work on your dream, someone else will hire you to work on their dream.
- Stubborn writers make it.
- If you write books about yourself, you have enough for one novel and three poems.
- Nothing in fiction actually happens, but it’s all true—emotionally.
- In a book you only have to give instructions to a kid once.
- Everyone experiences a family differently. You and your siblings have the same parents, and yet you don’t.
- Torture your characters without forsaking them.
- Failure is the key to success.
I also learned to never give up. That seemed to be a running theme of the conference. Best-selling author Jonathan Evison, who was wearing a T-shirt that said: “Careful or You’ll Wind Up in My Book,” never did. He wrote eight books before being published, and continued writing despite a major setback– his agent quit to go to clown school. Mr. Evison was so desperate that he asked his agent if he could still represent him when he wasn’t studying pratfalls.
Keynote speaker Fannie Flagg had her own never-give-up story. She started by revealing that her real name is Patricia Neal, Patsy for short. (She had to change her name because the Screen Actor’s Guild doesn’t allow two actors to have the same name, and Patricia Neal was already taken.) Ms. Flagg then told this anecdote. Someone once said of her, “She writes those feel-good books.”
She smiled, but a friend told her, “I don’t think that’s a compliment.”
Continue reading “Literary Conference Wisdom”
I just watched the National Spelling Bee and was mesmerized, no, the correct word is shamed, by the contest’s youngest-ever entrant, six-year-old Edith. She and her bouncy, blonde curls made it all the way to round three before being eliminated.
At our grade-school spelling bee I was always eliminated in the first round. I could never remember which letters were doubled or if it was supposed to be “intro” or “intra.” And to this day I still have to recite, “I before E except after C.” That’s why I rely so heavily on my computer’s Spell Checker to correct my spelling before my words go out into the world and embarrass me. Which, ironically, is one of those words I can’t spell. When I use Spell Check—that magical I-won’t-let-you-look-like-an-idiot feature, I only have to type in a close approximation of a troublesome word and a box comes up with alternate suggestions. And strangely, looking at the choices, I can tell which one is spelled right.
Spell Check became my best friend. But it also became my worst enemy when, one day, it said, “I’m tired of fixing your stupid-ass mistakes. Let’s have some fun.”
Continue reading “Do You Know the Way to Cupertino?”