Monday, June 30, 2008

An Improbable World

Sometimes I am not sure how to write the things I want to write here, to give you the details and the pieces that inspire the things I write and yet to save the privacy of the people in my life. But something has been sitting with me since I left work tonight, since I came home on the train and walked the long way in a hissing summer rain and made a salad and sat on my terrace watching the rain move over the skyline. Its dark outside and its still sitting with me, so I'll tell you a story.

When we are young, and by young I mean seventeen or so, everything, I mean all of it, is at once possible and impossible. It is so easy to imagine greatness. And it is so easy to give up. Because we have no idea how its going to go. And we've barely been tested. And some of us have only been failed. And yet we have endless potential. And the fear of success, and the fear of this world cripples us from unveiling this potential. Sometimes, when we are younger, say seventeen, the sadness in our eyes can sort of paralyze the people around us because they just want to help. They just want to say, look, it passes, it gets better, you can do this, but they know they can't say a word, because we have to learn it ourselves by living it.

That's all I wanted to say. That. And this.

The Summer I Was Sixteen
by Geraldine Connolly

The turquoise pool rose up to meet us,
its slide a silver afterthought down which
we plunged, screaming, into a mirage of bubbles.
We did not exist beyond the gaze of a boy.

Shaking water off our limbs, we lifted
up from ladder rungs across the fern-cool
lip of rim. Afternoon. Oiled and sated,
we sunbathed, rose and paraded the concrete,

danced to the low beat of "Duke of Earl".
Past cherry colas, hot-dogs, Dreamsicles,
we came to the counter where bees staggered
into root beer cups and drowned. We gobbled

cotton candy torches, sweet as furtive kisses,
shared on benches beneath summer shadows.
Cherry. Elm. Sycamore. We spread our chenille
blankets across grass, pressed radios to our ears,

mouthing the old words, then loosened
thin bikini straps and rubbed baby oil with iodine
across sunburned shoulders, tossing a glance
through the chain link at an improbable world.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Life gets in the way

It's been a pretty good year... I moved back to new york. I found an apartment with a TERRACE. I started working at an amazing school. I sold a book. I stuck to a workout schedule. I played on a beach in mexico. I became an aunt. I started another book. I had all this TIME. Not being a teacher meant I had all this TIME. I came home and I wrote and I slept in late and I had long brunches with friends and then wandered 5th avenue boutiques without worrying about the piles of grading I had waiting for me at home. I read novels, many of them.

As summer dawns hot and a little bit sticky, all of the sudden the walls are creeping in on this time. Things are changing, in all good ways of course, and I need to remember being busy. I need to stick to schedules and do laundry. I need to not let my writing suffer because most of all, in the empty spaces in the lists and plans I'm making, I'm afraid that TINE is going to get lost. Remind me about it here and there, will you?

I spent the morning making a few last changes on This Is What I Want to Tell You. I have such a strange relationship with this book-- like I'm deeply in love with it but the romance is gone. So we are going to take a little break and get the romance back.

The week of July 7th I am teaching a workshop for these guys. I miss teaching writing so intensely that I just cannot wait. But refining the curriculum on this beautiful summer day. What do we want to write about in the summer versus during the school year. Don't we approach the craft differently when its hot and bright and free outside? These are the things I'm thinking...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I take back everything I said about Kobe.
So does my bro.
The end.

Why outlining is against nature

The kind of writer I am is at odds with the kind of writer I need to be just now.

Once upon a time I was the definition of organized, deadline conscious, motivated by details. With age (experience?), this has changed. The way I write now, is by scene. I have a scene in my mind, I write it. I know the characters, I know their lives, I know, in theory, where this scene will fit, when the bits and pieces are written in around it. But I am, it seems, incapable of putting a book together with any kind of chronology or order. And I am hopeless without deadlines.

What I need to be, now, is organized. TINE, as you’ve heard about here and there, is this project of passion. And I can write pages and pages of Jacob’s art and his diatribes and Rory’s quiet wonder and the details of Roman side streets… but how to link this all together around the details of a plot… this is where I struggle. And so I sat down two weeks ago to write a scene by scene outline. An outline I could follow and fill in. And what happened?

I was so bored. This story comes as it comes. I know the details of the lives inside out, how can I create the things that will happen. Don’t they just happen? This, you see, is my problem. I struggle with the idea of forcing the process and, to me, this is what outlining does. I write extensive character sketches and thematic driven narratives. I know what the story is about, yet I want the details to come organically. And so what often happens is 50,000 words of intense scenes based in the central conflicts and inner monologues, without the smaller details to fill in the spaces. The day-to-day details if you will. So I’ve started to go back to the roots of how I wrote, the way I teach my students to write, by watching… in the hallways of my school and on the steps out front and classrooms and coffee shops and overheard phone conversations… in all of this I hear the daily details and so I take a little bit and re-shape in and fill in the intensity.

I’m working on it.

And another thing… remember when you were a little kid and someone was coming to visit—your grandparents or your best friend from summer camp or your cousin from Chicago, and you’d hang out the window watching all the cars, waiting and dancing up and down with excitement. That’s how I feel right now because in 9 ½ hours Kira is gonna be in NEW YORK!!! And I get two whole days off of work.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dad's Day

The amazing thing about this year, is that there is this little girl in our lives, who is funny and sharp and beautiful and has made all of us look at every day differently. And because of her, today my brother celebrates his first Fathers Day.

And my dad celebrates this day, for the first time, as a grandfather.

Happy loving to all of you dads... especially mine.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I still Love This Game

I am still in a place, and I hope I always will be, where my years begin in September and end in June. I live on a school calendar and I mark life transitions based upon summers—where was I and how was I living and what was I dreaming about and reading and who was I in love with and where was I subletting… I also remember these transitions around one other thing.

The NBA Finals.

I remember sitting on the floor of South Union Street on a hot dusky summer night, before we had furniture, boxes and beanbags, with H and Brennan, the only light in the house the tv screen glare while my then beloved Chicago Bulls trounced the Utah Jazz. That summer we were always listening to Public Enemy's He Got Game and every night was sweltering even at dusk… I remember a dingy basement on South Willard Street, a tear-streaked Michael Jordan curled on the glossy court floor hugging the championship trophy to him (I still reeling on the joy of his return). Those LA years in the smoky backrooms of the Roost in Atwater Village eating stale popcorn and cheering on the Kings—thank god for Peja—even in this Lakers territory. I remember when I still liked Tim Duncan—I liked his compsure and his quiet command of the court and this unstoppable pair of he and David Robinson, who seemed to have been on basketball courts since before I was born.

But mostly, I remember this.

The UntouchaBulls anyone? I fell in love with basketball watching the Chicago Stadium battles against the Blazers. My summers began when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Scott Williams, BJ Armstrong, John Paxson (you get the idea) started taking over. Nothing sends shivers down my spine like that ubiquitous image of Jordan’s shoulder shrug after his 6th three-pointer in game one against the Blazers. I love nothing more than lip-reading the trash-talk between Jordan and Barkley when ESPN Classics re-runs the ’93 Bulls-Suns Finals. I feel exhilarated at the thought of these series. I’d never been an athlete. I grew up in a Chicago sports house, though, and in 1991 I started to get it.

Last night my brother and I sat on the phone together watching the fourth quarter of the Lakers-Celtics game—he in his Vermont living room, me on a 20 second delay on a live feed on my laptop (I don’t have tv…). It really was a fantastic 4th quarter. I’m a Kevin Garnett fan but don’t feel any great passion about the Celtics. And the Lakers? Despite the obvious coach connection, I have a lot of years of Laker animosity. Ok, Kobe animosity. But something really strange happened last night. I was kind of, for the first time in my life, pulling for the Lakers.

“Listen, Heath,” my brother said, as I bemoaned the MJ comparisons. “He’s no Jordan. But he really is unreal. And he’s the closest—no one has even come close until now.” And then we watched silently for a while.

He kind of is unreal.

I couldn’t help thinking, if I were 15 years younger, and I was just falling in love with basketball, would it be all about this?

Instead of this?

Either way, the finals are almost over, the summer is beginning, this one I’ll remember by a Brooklyn rooftop view, a cross-continental visitor, a sweltering week in June, a birthday party in the Park and the Celtics and the Lakers.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Brooklyn to Wichita

Last night I was falling asleep and the air was night-time cool. I had a long week and felt exhausted so when my phone rang, I didn’t want to answer it. But I looked down. It was Mikey and I haven’t spoken to him in months. So I answered.

Mikey was sitting on his porch on a sticky-hot summer night, halfway to the other side of the world in Wichita, Kansas. He was holding his son, Vincent, who didn’t seem to want to sleep.

Mikey and I talked about fatherhood and the realization, the moment of realization when you know it’s just you who has to figure it all out. We talked about making decisions when the decisions aren’t about you anymore. We talked about writing a book, and the reality that comes, somehow, with selling it, with knowing people are going to read it.

Mikey and I have been having late night talks—about the confusion we stand in and the possibility in new jobs or relationships and the theories of why it all is the way it is—we’ve been having these conversations for more than 12 years but last night, sitting on my Brooklyn window-sill and Mikey on his Wichita porch, caught me off guard. It occurred to me that the stories I write come from the possibility in these conversations. These kinds of conversations. Evaluating. Asking “what would it be like if…” and so, to figure it out, I make up characters and scenes and moments where that “if” exists.

I suppose I’ve known, all along, that this is what I do. But when Mikey asked me what this book I’ve written is about, I thought of a dozen conversations he and I had in college and I thought of the title, the new title, which I was uncertain and timid about and now, I know its perfect. This is What I Want to Tell You. Because, most of the time, in those late night whispered conversations with your closest friends, you would say some of it, but you almost never say out loud, to near strangers or the ones who are leaving your life This is what I want to tell you…