Sunday, June 27, 2010


When I first started writing, I enthusiastically read every how-to book, blog and website, I could find. 
But soon they began to be repetitive
and not useful. I felt I had wasted a lot of time.
This is the most useful advice for writers I’ve found:

1)    Read widely and well so you know how to write.
2)    Live wildly so you have something to write about.
3)    There is no advice for writers, you have to figure     it out for yourself. John Steinbeck realised this and he turned out all right.
At some point, a writer must assume responsibility for her writing and express her own thoughts, in her own way. Some writers don’t ever have the courage to do this, they hide behind popular themes and formats and write unsatisfying books where style and formula are more visible than the characters or the plot.
    So-called “creative writing” courses are another form of advice-for-writers. I took a few courses and felt frustrated and irritated by most. We were asked to go out and sit in a cafĂ©, observe and return to class to write a story. Another teacher played a piece of music and asked us to write about what it evoked. We were also told not to write what we knew but to make it all up (deliberate sabotage?). Another teacher mocked a student who tried to talk about Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz. “Who?” he asked with an ignorant curl of the lip. Only the course where the teacher assigned reading and gave us plentiful reaction to our writing was valuable. The fact that this teacher loved my writing and laughed out loud at the funny bits naturally made it my favorite. 
    I don’t think good writing can be taught, anyway. It has to be lived, observed from real life, ripped from the gut. Somehow, I don’t think FLAUBERT, NABOKOV, SHAKESEARE, MORRISON or PINTER based their writing on advice. 
    The practical stuff like formatting a manuscript and how to write a query letter can be figured out in a day or two, no need to follow self-appointed advice-givers for years or, worse yet, pay them.
    Too many new writers follow advice too humbly for too long. If you don’t trust your own writing, nobody else will either. Stick your neck out, jump in, take a chance. Refuse to make a career out of reading how-to books and advice blogs.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


"It doesn't matter who my father was;
 it matters who I remember he was."
- Anne Sexton

I never gave my father a tie. 
I gave him crossword puzzles.
He was creative and intelligent with a fine sense of humor. 
A tall, slender beautiful Viking of a man.

He and I enjoyed the same things (except fishing), laughed at the same jokes, 
did crossword puzzles and enjoyed creating things. We were very much alike but never really close. When I was little, he made me a tree house, later he planted peach trees, grew strawberries and grapes in our garden and worked very hard to give us a nice home and a good education. He made wine from his grapes and built his own workshop where he polished gemstones (tawny topaz, milky jade). He raised chinchillas and chickens and built elaborate trellises for the grapes and flower boxes for my mother.

As a child I’d go to the end of the drive and wait for him to come home from work. We’d drive back to the house in companionable silence. He never took me to an art gallery, a museum, never taught me to drive or write a check, never came to any school events. He was always working.

Sometimes he took the family fishing. We all hated fishing, especially me. 
Yet I think he loved me in a faint, unstated way. 

Do we really need the words to know we’re loved? I knew by the look in his eyes when I told him about things that were important to me, when we shared a moment on the backyard steps eating yogurt which my mother and brother didn’t like, when we watched cricket together, which my mother and brother also didn’t like.

When I left home to go college and subsequently, work, he never came to visit me. But he was always thrilled to see me when I went home for a weekend. 
I think he was terribly shy. And lonely.

His was a pale, ethereal type of love. Very distant, not demonstrative, barely perceptible, really. Nowhere near enough, but it was there.


Sunday, June 6, 2010


Have you noticed that your groceries still cost twice as much as they did last year, that people are still moving out of your neighborhood in droves, that you still can’t get a loan at your bank, that many of your friends are still unemployed, that whole countries are now going bankrupt?                     
     So why do news sources and business commentators keep talking about “green shoots”, “signs of recovery”, "we’ve hit bottom” and “the worst is behind us”?   And why do others optimistically suggest that the recovery is reassuringly near and mention “U” shaped, “V” shaped and “W” shaped recoveries?  They’ve been doing this for two years already. 

     Politicians and economists have made no definite statements about a recovery, they talk ever so delicately about the "recession" as though this were just another business cycle, caused by a widespread drop in spending.  Hogwash.  It’s a big fat global crisis created by greedy crooks on Wall Street that continues to cause worldwide suffering.   
  • Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says: "Even after a recovery gets under way, the rate of growth of real economic activity is likely to remain below its longer-run potential for a while ... businesses are likely to be cautious about hiring, implying that the unemployment rate could remain high for a time, even after economic growth resumes."       

  • “It’s going to be a slog,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s “What we have been through is an abyss.”   

  • “Housing is the most affordable it has been in 40 years because of the decline in prices and low mortgage rates”, says Richard DeKaser in Washington, who is an expert on house prices. “The stringency of credit will diminish as lenders become more confident they are not at risk of losing their equity.”           

    You don’t say.  And when exactly will we be able to borrow money from the banks who’ve used our taxpayer’s bailout money to make profits and give fat bonuses to themselves, but who still won’t lend us money to buy a house or a car?    
    More honest prognosticators are talking about a "Bathtub Recovery", where the rapid economic descent is followed by a long, flat period scraping along the bottom before an eventual upturn.  But even this is just another way of saying there are more bad times ahead.
    Is all this pussyfooting around to lull us into a false sense of security?  For fear that we will rise up and riot in the streets, like the Greeks did recently and rightly so?  Do governments think we haven’t noticed the signs all around us that economies are still in trouble?  How long can you keep mentioning “green shoots” without any sign of them?  We recognize a dead cat bounce in a bathtub when we see one.   
    And when I think that Wall Street quants and greedy banksters still have the vast sums of money they made from their global-financial-crisis-causing instruments, while we still struggle with the consequences of what they did, I do want to go and riot in the street.  Why isn’t their bonus money being used to bail out the banks and giant corporations instead of ours?