Posts tagged “Blogging for Writers

Two Deaths, A Sheriff, And A River 

Notes From Nevada

SUNDAY

I was at a little bluegrass BBQ when it happened. I was a week into an off-grid cabin retreat at Sorensen’s, the inn owned by my best friend Machete’s family in Lake Tahoe, and she and I had walked over to the inn’s cafe for lunch. They were having a bluegrass and BBQ fundraiser for a local nature conservancy. It was all string instruments and coleslaw, the smell of the grill and the fresh air of late spring in the High Sierras. I was biting into baby back ribs when someone stopped by the table and calmly asked if anyone had medical experience, because a man was having a heart attack in the parking lot.

The man and his wife were actually early investors in Sorensen’s. Machete had met them briefly over the years, and this thread of knowing led to us holding space for her through the process. She knew no one else there. We talked to her for a long time as the medics did CPR and then the AED machine on her husband there in the parking lot, as the bluegrass band kept playing and the songs synced eerily to the circumstance, like when they played “Soul Meets Body” by Death Cab for Cutie. We kept her distracted when blood started pouring from his mouth, a result of the vigorous CPR, and Machete drove her when they took her husband down the mountain to the ER in Minden, the nearest town. I followed in my car.

He was pronounced dead on arrival, and we sat with his wife as she made the necessary calls to her kids. It was hard to watch. There was an informercial playing loudly in the ER waiting room. I found the remote and put it on mute. She said more than once how relieved she was they’d recently finalized their affairs, he’d had a lot of medical problems so they were prepared for the worst. I was reminded once again how important is to organize what you want to happen after you die while you’re still living, how much easier it is on your loved ones to not have to figure it all out for you while they’re in the midst of grieving. This is responsible dying. This is letting your death inspire your life, rather than living in denial that we all meet the same fate.

Memento mori —  The ancient practice of reflection on mortality that goes back to Socrates, which translates to “Remember you must die.” A practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. In early Buddhist texts, a prominent term is maraṇasati, which translates as “Remember death.” Some Sufis have been called the “people of the graves,” because of their practice of frequenting graveyards to ponder on death and one’s mortality.  http://www.dailystoic.com

That night we made sure she had dinner, gave her several rounds of hugs, and left her to rest in her cabin at Sorensen’s. She left us a very nice note filled with gratitude the next morning before she left. I hope we’ll meet again.

The whole scenario felt very similar to how my grandfather passed away, from a heart attack in a parking lot when we were at the automobile museum in Reno. I was holding him in my arms on the asphalt as it happened, which was both traumatic and an honor. I’ve never stopped missing him.

TUESDAY

Still at the cabin, we woke up to the news that Stella, our beautiful friend since 7th grade, had passed away in the night. Breast cancer. A few weeks earlier, Machete had gone to visit her and they’d given me a call. I’m so sorry I never called when your mom died! was the first thing Stella said to me. I wanted to be there for you but I didn’t know how. Now I know what you were going through. She sobbed as she said this, not holding back, not “holding it together,” which I appreciated. I’d imagined the call would be me offering her platitudes, that we’d avoid the inevitable reason for the call — essentially, to say goodbye. Her complete vulnerability broke me. When someone is dying we commend them for things like “bravery” and “fortitude.” What we’re really saying is Make this easier on me, because I don’t know how to deal with that fact that you’re dying. I appreciated Stella being real.

We spent an hour on the phone, the three of us reminiscing about being in high school plays together, about how Stella was a legendary Marilyn Monroe impersonator around town, a legendary singer and actress, basically — a legend, a woman when the rest of us were just girls. We told her she’d always been ahead of her time, and her being the first to transcend was just another example. She watched the trailer to our movie, which is a comedy about death, she told us to keep going, that it’s important work. We asked her to give us a sign when she was on the other side, how did she want to appear to us? I’ll come to you as a star. Look at the sky — I’ll be there shining for you. I have to get off the phone because I’m catching a late flight to Hawaii. I never made it to Hawaii, always wanted to go, she says. I feel like a colossal jerk, even though I’m going for work — to write a story about the Honolulu Biennial — and even though it’s taken me a long time to get to the point in my career I get to travel to write, I feel bad for feeling bad, because it’s another level of making it about me. Throughout the trip I think of Stella constantly. Try to somehow pass her the special feeling of the air there, the plumeria flowers, to transmute moments of impatience or anxiety (i.e. being a human), into gratitude and appreciation for my life, my breath. Memento mori.

“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” Confucius

And now it’s a Tuesday in Nevada and I need to be in Nature. I go to one of my favorite spots, Hope Valley. Good memories. Good name. I used to come here with my grandfather. I drive up to two old guys in front of their RVs and say hello and ask if there are any new trails. Just walk into the meadow and you’ll see, one of them tells me. He has a beard like Santa Claus. The other wears red suspenders.

The valley. Bees and crickets and the sun like melted butter. I listen to music, dance and skip around. Even though my heart is heavy, I am grateful to be alive. Memento mori. A river cuts through the valley and there’s a little beach, so even though it’s absolutely freezing I strip naked and swim. Memento mori. I smoke a joint, dance some more. I put my clothes back on and do a workout, then bask on some river rocks and do some writing. Then I hear a voice, a voice filled with authority.

Excuse me, m’am. The gentleman in the parking lot made a report that you’re acting erratically. Are you on some kind of drug?

It’s the sheriff. He’s been called all the way out to remote Hope Valley because I’m acting like a pagan witch weirdo (at least on the spectrum of “normal” the old timers in the parking lot are used to, I can only assume). He approaches me cautiously, like I could be dangerous. I’m just enjoying a quiet moment in Nature. I’m trying not to laugh. He says he has to ask me some questions, starting with what’s today’s date. The 10th? June 10th? He looks at me hard. That’s incorrect, m’am. I explain I’ve been staying in a cabin without WiFi, purposefully trying to lost track of time, could he ask me an easier question? This is not going well.

He asks me what year it is, my name, who the president is (ugh), my address. I answer as soberly as I can and he starts to ease up. He speaks into the radio strapped at his shoulder. Suspect is just enjoying the river, not dangerous, not armed. Repeat, suspect is just enjoying the river. To change the subject, I ask if he heard about the heart attack at Sorensen’s the other day. He answers that he was the first responder. I tell him I was there too, that’s where I’m staying, my best friend’s family owns the place and we were the ones who took his wife to the ER. I thought you looked familiar, he says. His brown eyes look troubled, so I ask him what it’s like for him, as a sheriff, to deal that closely with death as part of his daily work. The way he looks at me indicates no one had asked him that in a long time, maybe ever.

What proceeded was about 20 minutes straight of the sheriff talking about what it’s like to be law enforcement in a rural area. How a lot of the deaths he sees are suicide, people who come to a beautiful place to end it all. He said he didn’t blame me for wanting some alone time in Nature, he wished he got more alone time to reflect. He talked and I listened as the sun moved behind the clouds and the temperature dropped and the frogs started warming up their sunset chorus. When finally I spoke, it was to ask if he wanted to stay at the river and take a moment, and I’d walk back? He kinda pulled himself together and said no, he needed to go tell the old guys in the parking lot I was okay. They were just making sure you weren’t hurt, they weren’t spying on you, just so you know. I nodded, knowing full well they’d have to be watching me with binoculars to have seen me from so far away. Tell them I’m fine, and thanks for their concern. 

The sheriff nods and looks around, at the mountains with snow still on the peaks, at the river forever flowing through the valley called Hope. He starts walking away, my Nature healing now his, my processing of the heart attack I witnessed and the stoic grace of the wife, the loss of my grandfather, the loss of dear Stella, now transmuted into the healing the sheriff needed, for all the death and trauma he’s absorbed over the years. He paused and looked back at me. Thank you, he said. I smiled and said nothing. I took a photo of the river rocks I’d been laying on, packed up my things and left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fear and Loving At the Key West Literary Seminar

I’m currently at the Key West Literary Seminar in Key West, Florida. My friend Ian Rowan is Technical Director of the Seminar and invited me down to soak up the presence and presentations of some of the most important writers working today. Jamaica Kincaid, Teju Cole, Joy Williams, Marlon James … to name a few.

I’m feeling intimidated … to put it lightly.

So I took a break to tour the manor Ernest Hemingway called home for 10 years here in Key West. There are 54 six toed cats that live on the property.

The house was lovely, situated right next to the Key West lighthouse. The tour guide told us ol’ Hem would use the lighthouse to find his way home from the bars.

The tour was a lot of anecdotes about Hemingway’s drunkenness and wife-hopping. Funny that’s what people are intrigued by. I wanted to hear about his writing rituals, his routines.

Maybe it’s karmic retribution for what a slog writing can be as an art form. Writers can behave badly, and it’s considered eccentric, charming even, and tourists will pay $14 half a century later to peep their bathrooms and closets. 

In the bookstore I bought Martha Gellhorn’s memoir, she was a novelist and one of the most important war correspondents of the 20th century, and Hemingway’s third wife. I feel like I shouldn’t even mention their marriage, and she famously wouldn’t talk about it in interviews, because she didn’t want to “be a footnote in someone else’s life.”

“Everyone behaves badly–given the chance.” Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises. 

 

What you can’t see in the following photo is butterflies are fluttering all around me like a goddamn Disney dreamland. Which is how it felt to be a surprise scholarship recipient for a @keywestliteraryseminar workshop. After visiting the butterfly sanctuary I read a few short stories over coffee, then went to hear luminaries such as Manuel Gonzales and Billy Collins discuss craft, poetry, and the writing life. Every now and then, life gives us a perfect day. This was one of them. 

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What am I “About”?

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I just re-wrote the “About” section of this website, and it was the trickiest damn thing to do. I procrastinated doing it for so long, because what am I “about?” I’m constantly asking that very question, and it’s only very recently (like this year) that I finally feel like I have a point of view.

The personal bio section of everything I’ve ever applied for has always stumped me. You’re supposed to list your achievements in this part, right? But is that a real reflection of what you’re about, what keeps you up at night, what keeps you going? In part, yes. Our achievements are a reflection of our life priorities. But if I really want to share what I’m “about,” it’s human connection, finding comedy in the darkness, Nature, being self-expressed, taming the voice in my head, experiencing new cultures, challenges, kisses, and cats. Not the jobs I’ve had or the awards I’ve won.

So rather than a typical bio, I interviewed myself instead. This seemed like an authentic way to lightly brag about my accomplishments, plus it’s so dumb when people write in the third person in a bio.

Me: You’re from Reno? That’s weird.  

Erin: I grew up in a town called Gardnerville nearby Tahoe, and went to college in Reno. I fucking love Reno so don’t say anything about it. 

Me: What’s LA been like for you?

Erin: Wonderful and terrible. For a while I had that job where I sat in a glass box in white underwear at the Standard Hotel. It’s like an LA rite of passage. I made my first vlog while I was in the box. Which got me fired, but they didn’t make me take down the episodes.  

Me: You just sat there? Sounds like a scam. 

Erin: I think it was “art.” The observer being the observed. 

Me: Sounds deep. 

Erin: I’m trying to frame it that way. 

Read the whole interview over in the “About” section. Obviously. And I’m curious your thoughts on this subject. How do you write your own bio? What are you “about?”

Still from “Omen 31” by The Loves

Catfishing life success.

When I got notice my script Forever Flowers had advanced at the Austin FF Screenplay Competition, I felt like I’d won the lottery. But being there in person a few weeks ago, meeting the writers who’d actually won, I felt dumb for how excited I’d been. But if you don’t celebrate the “no” that’s somewhat a “yes,” then aren’t you perpetually swimming in “blah”?

This picture is not of me. I don’t write topless, nor with a typewriter. I write in ugly sweats with a laptop that’s had a Pilates DVD stuck in it since 2013. But this is social media which is all about presenting the fantasy version of our life so yeah, doesn’t my ass look great in these jeans?

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Why I love rejection.

So much to process right now, words about to rip out of me. Been a big month, you could say. Have a lot to share. But not ready to. Instead, going to write about rejection.

I recently received what I consider “positive” rejections from Short of the Week and Tin House, and it got me thinking. I’m good friends with rejection. We’ve met each other many, many times. In fact, rejection might be the most helpful feedback one can get on the path of art and life, depending how you receive it.

Short of the Week wrote they mulled over my film quite a bit, were very close to accepting it but ultimately felt it wasn’t what they were looking for. Considering this was the darkest and most edgy film work I’ve ever written/acted in/produced, I was nervous as hell to put it out into the world. Terrified of being judged as a psycho pervert, aka terrified of being rejected. The pass from SOTW felt like a win, because apparently they rarely give more than a “thanks but no thanks.”

“This was a really tough call for us. Considering the film is about such an intensely unlikable and awful character, it’s undeniably compelling. The lead performance is fantastic and the unconventional, yet strong shot choices help convey a sense of unease, unsettling the viewer. You really do capture the “seedy underbelly” of LA.” 

Tin House, illustrious gatekeepers of literary merit, also rejected me. A much briefer “this doesn’t work for us, but please know we welcome reading your future work.” I’ve never been so excited to be rejected! Hooray! It means 1.) They actually read it, and 2.) As one of my mentors Colette pointed out This is a definitely a good rejection, especially from Tin House. Believe me, they get scads of submissions. They only send “send agains” to people whose work genuinely impresses them.”

So what it does mean, getting close to acceptance but swallowing rejection? How many other times has this happened? The novel I wrote that almost got published, then didn’t. The original pilot I wrote/acted in that almost got picked up, then didn’t. Am I good, but not good enough? The guys I’ve liked who didn’t like me back. The jobs I’ve wanted but they hired someone else. For all my work ethic, commitment, continual work on my spiritual/emotional/physical self, maybe I’m good enough, but not “right” enough. In that moment. For that opportunity/person/acknowledgement.

Maybe I suck. But that’s not for me to know. For now, I’m keeping a note card on my desk where I keep a hash mark for every rejection I get on my current project (a new pilot). I look at it like wanting to rack up rejections, because it’s a numbers game, and eventually I’ll get the YES. And it only takes one yes.

And because not trying is the same thing as being told “no.”

And here’s a brain dump from my mind:

I saw an owl at the Renaissance Faire. He had fire eyes like the red flowers on the pomegranate trees in my yard. Looking at my face and seeing it get older. The shooting star I saw Saturday night. That time we gathered to watch the blood moon eclipse and it was foggy so we drank cactus instead and laughed and I ended up in a suite at the W Hotel. The loves I’ve had. The friend I’m not going to see for a long time. Lady Fluff’s cat kisses. Realizing she’s a feline Kathy Bates. My own near misses. Hiding from the lust demon, not eating sugar or dairy or starch for a month like a real LA girl. My former Reno self is embarrassed. But it helps me think straight.


Mydeadbabies.com

I just found an old hard drive from 2009. There’s a lot of writing on it, a lot of stories that were started but never finished. I’m going to post two of the starts here, because where can you let unfinished work exist but on a blog? Maybe they were deemed not good enough, by a workshop or more likely, myself. They say in writing you have to “kill your babies.” I’ve always dreamed of starting a website, mydeadbabies.com, where writers can post sections that didn’t make it into the final draft, but aren’t half bad. Maybe this could be my first entry.

UNFINISHED BEGINNING #1

New York was hot and stickier than a honey jar. I wasn’t used to the humidity, the way it made my clothes cling, my hair curl. I took to wearing short skirts, and I was wearing a skirt the shade of celery green the night I met the Irishman. I wore the same skirt in Vegas a few years later, when a retiree in a Hawaiian shirt at the blackjack table called me his lucky charm and gave me a hundred dollars in chips, just because I was sitting next to him. I will come to call this small item of clothing, no longer than twenty-two inches, my lucky skirt.

UNFINISHED BEGINNING #2

My mom never wanted me to compete in pageants. I remember being in the grocery store as a kid and seeing a flyer for a Little Miss Hawaiian Tropic pageant. I begged my mom to enter me—the little girl on the flyer was so pretty in her grass skirt and lipstick and mascara! Mom refused. She thought pageants were creepy, weird, exploitative. In the case of Little Miss Hawaiian Tropic, predecessor to the G-strings and silicone of the sunscreen brand’s pageant for young women—she was right. I never had any family members or friends growing up who competed in pageants, nor did I ever really watch pageants on TV. I was into skiing, then horses, then dance, then soccer, then boys, then boys AND soccer, then boys, soccer, and a stint trying to save the world in which I started a chapter of Amnesty International (I guess I really did want world peace), then partying on the weekends and boys, and then finally a trio of interests that has more or less stuck: writing, partying, and boys. So I think I surprised both my mother and myself one evening my senior year of high school when I handed her the permission slip for the Miss Lake Tahoe pageant and declared, “I’m entering.”

Her reaction was simple: “You? You?” It was the first time someone was surprised by my pageant ambitions, but certainly not the last. I took the surprise as a compliment (Uhh, what else am I supposed to do, right?). I was glad I did’t fit into the fake smile, catty stereotype—and I’m also glad I got to learn first-hand that’s exactly what it is: a stereotype.

The end. Or as close to the end as these stories will ever be.


I always cry driving HWY 395.

Yesterday I drove home from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe and cried the whole way.

Countless times I’ve done that 8 hour drive, since I was a kid and we’d go to LA several times a year from Tahoe to visit family. “Scenic 395” runs through Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S., then through all the cute/weird little Old West towns that dot the journey from California into Nevada like Lone Pine, Bishop and Bridgeport. You transition from a desert landscape into the snow, passing Mammoth Mountain and the bizarre tufa formations of Mono Lake. The scents along the drive are: sagebrush, cows, crisp mountain air, exhaust, pine trees.

I was driving home for a joyous occasion, the birth of my new nephew, and my emotions were close at hand. I’d wanted to be at his delivery (I was honored my sister and brother-in-law even asked me to be there!), but he came two days early and as I packed my bag in LA he was already taking his first breaths in this world.

I was feeling down I’d missed such an important moment (though I kept shouting at myself “You’re not what’s important here! A healthy baby was brought into this world. Check your ego. He’s all that matters!”). Add in the LA malaise of traffic, helicopters, whatamIdoingwithmylife and amIevergoingtomakeitasawriteractressetcblahblah, and I was a total basket case. I cried what felt like ancient tears. But I didn’t necessarily feel sad, I just felt.

And I remembered another time I did that drive and wept like a heartbroken teenager. I was driving south on 395 that time, 5 years earlier, my big move to Los Angeles. I’d been planning to move to LA with my best friend Beth since we were 15, but now that it was happening I suddenly had a lot of reasons to stay put. I was leaving behind a life that allowed me to write prolifically, a cool cheap apartment, a job I liked, lots of friends, a boyfriend I was in love with. I had my two cats in the car with me, Chairman Meow and King Alobar, and I was all turned upside down. I listened to Fiona Apple that entire drive, sobbing and doubting and growing up by the second.

What punched me in the gut driving yesterday was how tremendously time passes. Lightning fast, yet full of life. Was that just 5 years ago that my life had an entirely different shape? The people in it were a different cast of characters. Now I have a whole new community of friends. I’ve had jobs and opportunities I couldn’t have known existed (although that’s why I was going, I didn’t know the details ahead, but I knew fortune favors the bold). Now I’m in a different relationship, a new boyfriend to love. Even the cats are different. Chairman passed away and Alobar found a different home. Now I have Lady Fluff and Kitten Coyote. But I’m still listening to Fiona Apple.

Driving toward home, toward welcoming a new life into my family, I felt gobsmacked by how much we change. Every year, every moment. I don’t know if it’s any sort of answer, but something feels connected in this: they named the baby Quest.

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