Category Archives: Music

Until You Crash, What Have You Done

2011 was the year of the crash.  My crash.  With my manuscript.

And here’s the kicker:  It’s taken me a full 12 months to the day to realize this crash was assuredly, if painfully, needed.  I hit a necessary obstacle.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  The book that existed this time last year is not the book I intended to write.  It was the starting line.  It needed work.  And not just the work of sitting my ass in this chair and writing for the sake of filling up the pages, but the kind of introspection and attention where every section, every paragraph and sentence, needed to be fleshed out and filled back in; the kind where my best ideas came when I was not actually in this chair, but somewhere else.

Sometimes the big crash comes to make you stop, to snap your brain, to force you to put down your pen with it’s bleeding blue ink and give the thing a chance to breathe.

I’m breathing better, too.  I’ve been back to jogging for 7 weeks now.  Today was the first time I chucked the jog and ran sprints.  Today was the first time I ran the entire way with my eyes trained forward, on the distance, instead of with my head ducked down, wary of the rocks and obstacles that might trip me up.  Today I came home with two sentences I didn’t even know I was looking for.

In a 1965 interview, William Styron said, I’ve always thought that time was a challenge.  I have a feeling the good writer will set up obstacles for himself.  He will try to make his story as difficult to write as possible, to see if he can leap over these obstacles with grace.  I’ve always felt I had to do this with everything I’ve written to give the work a sort of tension.  If I’d ever written anything in a simple and straightforward way, it would have lacked that tension.  The use of time is often the most convenient way to set up these obstacles.

Hey Bill, I was born in 1965.  Last night, 12 months to the day, I heard this song and felt something shake loose.  I was listening to it this morning, running, when I found those two missing sentences.  What are the chances?

Let’s Be Frank

If there’s anything better than watching an artist at work, or a an athlete at play, I’m not sure what it is.  These are my joys.  If you have 7 minutes, check out this video of Frank Sinatra singing It Was A Very Good Year in the studio, with his (and his producer’s) side commentary.  This has always been my favorite Sinatra song.

And speaking of Frank, if you’ve never read Gay Talese’s essay from Vanity Fair (April 1966, the same year this song won a Grammy), give yourself a treat.  Talese was sent to do this interview, but Frank had a cold and wouldn’t talk to him.  So Talese tailed him, shadowed him, took notes.  For days.  The interview that never was turned out to be one of the best essays of the century.

If you have even the slightest fear of writing nonfiction, this will help to cure it.  The essay itself is off-the charts fabulous, but the rhythms of the writing — the shifting of perspectives, the complexity of emotions it evokes, the smooth movement through time — is a writing lesson.  I’ve read it no less than 10 times and I still want to read it again.

Here’s an excerpt:

Sinatra had been working in a film that he now disliked, could not wait to finish; he was tired of all the publicity attached to his dating the twenty-year-old Mia Farrow, who was not in sight tonight; he was angry that a CBS television documentary of his life, to be shown in two weeks, was reportedly prying into his privacy, even speculating on his possible friendship with Mafia leaders; he was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC show entitled Sinatra — A Man and His Music, which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice that at this particular moment, just a few nights before the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain. Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.

Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel — only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.

Batting Cleanup

Your resident list-maker has, today, a short list of follow ups from recent posts.

1.  Based on Erika’s recommendation, I ordered Roseanne Cash’s memoir — COMPOSED — and can’t wait to read it.  In fact, I read the first 2 chapters last night even though I’ve got about 8 books on the fire at the moment.  Maybe even more than 8.  Geez.

2.  My book club is one week away and I still have not started Wally Lamb’s THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED.  I feel so guilty.  It’s 800 pages and seems, at this point, to be taunting me.  “Some things never change,” it says.  “No matter how much you pretend to be organized and on top of things, you’re still the girl who waits until the weekend before it’s due to write that 20 page research paper.  When will you ever learn?!”  Uh, never?

3.  After reading Tom Grimes’s MENTOR, I sent him a short note telling him how much I enjoyed it.  How surprised was I to get the nicest e-mail from him which said, in part, “thanks for taking the time to let me know what you felt after reading the book.  As you know, for any writer that’s the most sought after thing — connection with someone else.”

4.  Last week I recommended Vivian Gornick’s THE SITUATION AND THE STORY for nonfiction writing guidance.  I ended up re-reading it and making more notes.  It was exactly what I needed — thanks to Downith for bringing it back into the light.

5.  I’ve got dogs on the brain.  This is not unusual (ask my husband) but this month I have a dog-ish essay coming out in Redivider which I promise to hoist shamelessly upon you the minute it hits the press.  On a related note, yesterday Jess tried to post a photo in ‘comments’ of her muse, Abby, and ended up e-mailing it instead.  Blasted technology!  But Abby’s picture reminded me so much of a photo of Lea, I had to post them side by side.  Check out these gorgeous girls — a couple of wet and happy labs, at attention!

Jess's Abby

My Lea

Face Down in a Memory

This is for Erika and reading Roseanne Cash’s memoir, and for all of our e-talk this week about memory, aging, aches, and poetry.  Who else but a poet could write “face down in a memory but feeling alright”?

Here’s the NYT review of her memoir.



You act like you were just born tonight
Face down in a memory but feeling all right
So who does your past belong to today?
Baby, you don’t say nothing when you’re feeling this way

The girls in the bars thinking, “who is this guy?”
But they don’t think nothing when they’re telling you lies
You look so careless when they’re shooting that bull
Don’t you know heartaches are heroes when their pockets are full

Tell me you’re trying to cure a seven-year ache
See what else your old heart can take
The boys say, “when is he gonna give us some room”
The girls say, “god I hope he comes back soon”

Everybody’s talking but you don’t hear a thing
You’re still uptown on your downhill swing
Boulevard’s empty, why don’t you come around?
Baby, what is so great about sleeping downtown?

Splitting your dice to be someone you’re not
You say you’re looking for something you might’ve forgot
Don’t bother calling to say you’re leaving alone
‘Cause there’s a fool on every corner when you’re trying to get home

Just tell ’em you’re trying to cure a seven-year ache
See what else your old heart can take
The boys say, “when is he gonna give us some room”
The girls say, “god I hope he comes back soon”

Tell me you’re trying to cure a seven-year ache
See what else your old heart can take
The boys say, “when is he gonna give us some room”
The girls say, “god I hope he comes back soon”

Lyrics found at:


Erika Marks got me started on the song lyrics track this morning and … well … it’s almost 4:00 pm and I’m still here.  Funny how that works.

Erika’s blog post (and particularly Downith‘s response) set me to listening to songs from the 1970’s, which coincides with the biggest timeline in my memoir.  You guys triggered a rash of note-taking today, and I thank you. Who ever said blogging is a waste of time isn’t doing it right.

I found this video of Janis Ian singing AT SEVENTEEN live.  I’ve always been able to belt out the chorus, but listening to it here I realized the poetry, and the shot in the gut, of so many lines in that song, lines I’d completely forgotten if I ever knew them at all.  And in related news, I couldn’t help but imagine Emma Bovary when she sings “and high school girls with clear-skinned smiles, who married young and then retired.”

Don’t you love it when your day goes nothing like you planned, and it’s a good thing?

March Madness Begins

1.  Isn’t this the sweetest little house?  It looks like a place where Atticus, Jem and Scout could live, where you could run a stick along the picket fence, or sit on the front porch and wait for Truman Capote — I mean Dill — to come over.

2.  Finally finished LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN.  I came across one paragraph (on page 248) which, in my humble view, encapsulates what it’s all about:  “[Judge] Soderberg wasn’t one to sit around and decry what used to be.  The city was bigger than its buildings, bigger than its inhabitants too.  It had its own nuances.  It accepted whatever came its way, the crime and the violence and the little shocks of good that crawled out from underneath the everyday.”

3.  Don’t listen to me, though.  I’m not big on stories about New York, the center of the universe.  A silly hang up, I know, but there it is.  But Colum McCann, you are a brilliant writer, you are, lyrical and passionate, and I will give your next book a try if it’s set somewhere else.

4.  I strolled into our soon-to-be-closing-Borders to rape and pillage the place, but there were so many red and yellow 20% and 40% off signs you could hardly see anything else.  It was dead in there.  Maddening.  So maddening I didn’t even buy a book.  Not one.  How sad is that?

5.  One of the most heartbreaking scenes in a movie is the final montage in PHILADELPHIA.  Black and white film / Andrew Beckett as an innocent, sweet, little boy, standing there with his baseball mitt, squinting at the sun / that Neil Young song.  My god, the song.  I bawl like a baby every time I hear it.

6.  One of the most joyful scenes in a movie is the final montage in FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL.  Tell me, who didn’t jump up and down when the nutty, endearing sister donned cowgirl boots and married her big Texan?

7.  Texas?

8.  The George Bush memoir — my free (emphasis on ‘free’) autographed copy — has been retired to its permanent place on the Carter Library shelves, right next to his wife’s.  Between the two, there might just be too much massaging of the details, the Washington DC ones and the Texas ones, too.  Oh those damned, dickety details.

9.  After I took my fat ass (yes, it’s still fat from last year’s writing lollapalooza) to the trail for my 3 mile slog in the rain — don’t we get extra credit for slogging in the rain? — I needed a hot bath.  While the water was running I spotted Valerie Plame Wilson’s FAIR GAME and slipped it off the shelf.  I’m only on page 22, but I want to be her.  She’s that cool, like Nancy Drew for grown ups.  Even with all the blacked out CIA-sensitive info, her story is intense.  Check out this Vanity Fair article about this woman who is “good with an AK47.” And I don’t even like guns.

10.  This house is just down the street from the house at #1 above.  I walk by it everyday, and I swear Boo Radley lives here.  Doesn’t he?