Saturday, December 30, 2006

an end

This feels strange to write, to some degree, but maybe you won't think it's so strange to read...?

I'm a little weirded out and disoriented by Saddam Hussein's death. He was a fixture in my childhood--some of my earliest memories are the Gulf War soldier coming to my second grade class to talk about his war experiences (although maybe this is due to my overwhelming lack of early childhood memories?). And I know he did terrible things, and a death sentence made sense when they assigned it, but I think that was because I assumed "death" would involve rotting away in an international political prison of some kind until he died of heart failure in a couple of years. I can't even decide what I think about this and (sorry, Allan Bloom) I don't even want to make myself think about whether "my" politics condone or condemn this. It just makes me feel uncomfortable.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

a little holiday sass from your favorite editorial ass

I hate some of our authors. First, there's Dr. Ben. Dr. Ben's book went into production last Thursday, before I left for vacation. I kicked my ass and stayed late to get all those materials done because, as it was pointed out to me, it would reflect poorly on myself and both my bosses if this project wasn't finished. Whatever. But I spent hours coordinating Dr. Ben's disorganized art program and formatting his manuscript correctly, all the while intercepting his neurotic emails and assuring him everything was fine. I got to go through page by page and hand-number the illustration callouts and the endnote citations.

When I got back into the office today, I see an email from him--on which he hasn't carboned my boss--saying that he found some egregious errors in the previous manuscript (wait...didn't HE write that manuscript?! Why find the errors now?!) and that it was absolutely essential that this new copy of the manuscript has to go into copyediting, instead. Since none of my supervisors are here, I can't tell them how stupid this is and ask for them to tell the author no (which is not an appropriate author communication for me). In the meantime, I must remember my imperative--that is, it will reflect poorly on me yadda yadda if I don't yadda. So I re-format, re-load, re-save, re-number, re-photocopy, re-log the illustrations, and re-sneak into the production director's office and sub in all the new materials for all the old ones. There goes two and a half hours of my day.

As a side note--Dr. Ben emailed me the new draft on Christmas. It's Christmas, for fuck's sake--why rewrite your stupid book NOW?

The second author I think is just being sneaky. My boss asked me to make up 25 copies of a bound manuscript to send out for endorsements before the holidays. Dr. Pete was late in getting his endorsement letter to me--he too sent it on Christmas Day and wanted everything turned around by close of business (alas, I wasn't in until today. Poor Dr. Pete. Christians triumph and oppress yet again.). But anyway he has sent me not 20 (as promised) but 51 endorser addresses (with a hint of more to come). He knows that my boss isn't in to tell him this is an unreasonable number of endorser copies (which cost about $15 a pop, plus postage fees, plus my time in addressing and fake-signing all those letters). Furthermore, he has asked me to use a DIFFERENT verion of the manuscript--one small tweak in the cover wording--so I have to have all the old ones printed all over again anyway. And for a final indignity, he has asked me to personally hand-write notes (disguised as being from my boss) on the title pages of each of the manuscripts so the endorsers will know whom to contact in the event that they lose their letter. I think if they lose their letter a) they're too stupid to deserve publicity from us, and b) they can all rot in hell.

Meanwhile, I have about 16 big projects to do during my "quiet" (ha) "week" (can we say 2 DAYS?!) off. Among which are a large reader's report and an "extremely important" comp title research project that I should have started last Saturday if I were ever going to finish it.

Folks, if you ever write a book, be advised that it's going to be the editorial assistant who's going to clean up all your shit for you during the week between Christmas and New Year when all the more important people are off galavanting in the Hamptons. Be advised that she is getting paid around $14 an hour (that's right) to do a purportedly high-level job that she probably had to obtain some form of Ivy League degree in order to secure (and she probably speaks at least 3 languages she never gets to use because she can't afford to travel to places where those languages are spoken anymore). She probably came to work today wearing raggedy used clothes because she can't afford to pay for her rent AND her student loans AND to buy new clothes and she's probably panicking about how she's going to cover her credit card payments--you know, the credit cards she used to buy her groceries this month--until her last freelance check, which was lost in the mail, is redrafted and resent. Be advised she has no choice but to sit alone in her little cube until she's done with all the shitwork you decided to redo over Christmas and that she has no means of modifying her work flow because she knows (and is repeatedly reminded) that hundreds of snappy young pups are barking at the door and dying to take over her job if she slows down even a little bit. Because of the...glamour of the job. Yay glamour.

What does Lizzy's aunt say? "Be careful, my dear. That savours strongly of bitterness." But then if I recall correctly they ride by Pemberley manor and Mr. Darcy scoops Lizzy up and installs her as Missus and she never has to take down another pink message for as long as she lives. A reasonable end to an unreasonable story. All right, Mr. D. I've decided I'm at peace with the idea of being a kept woman, after all. Any day now...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas, one day late

Whoever is reading this, I miss you and hope you've had a really nice Christmas!

Here are some of the things I've had:

Carrot soup, cinnamon buns with pecans, stuffed pork loin, asparagus, buttercup squash, fried eggs and sausage, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, creme brulee, brocolli, duck, cranberry relish (despite the cranberry shortage in New England!), Junior's cheesecake, pear and peach stuffing, Coke-basted turkey, chocolate mousse cake, pasta salad, Filipino fruit salad, mini almond tarts, celery sticks, potato latkes, egg rolls, avocado dip, melted brie on crackers, lots of coffee, lots of tea, and boatloads of wine. I'm sure I'm forgetting something.

Love and lots of yummies,


Friday, December 22, 2006


My roommate Chris just told me that he has received an email from Tom, the boyfriend of our third roommate, Sarah. Tom heard from Sarah's mother (not from Sarah herself) that the exploratory surgery went smoothly and that she's not going to be coming back on time, after all. She'll be staying with her parents for further procedures. What does that mean? Chris asked Tom. Tom hesitated and said, I think it means she has breast cancer.

Sarah is 33. She never smokes and she drinks a beer or two a week (if that). She is a dancer and goes to five or six classes a week--she's in excellent physical shape and she's very trim. She has long beautiful black hair down to below her butt and I wonder if she has to have chemo and whether it will all fall out.

Chris has been friends with Sarah forever and I have only known her for about 8 months but we've gotten along fabulously (at least from my perspective!) and I really like her a lot. I don't know what to say to Chris so I sit quietly at my computer and type away.

Hey, he calls from the other room. Do you know anyone who's had breast cancer that could, you know, maybe act as a mentor? Someone she could talk to?

I frown for a moment at the computer screen. No, I say after a moment. I'm sorry. I wish I did.

I call my mother and tell her about this. She knows that it's not that I've never known anyone who had breast cancer.

I hope that Sarah comes home soon. I hope this is one of those experiences that is a big scare and turns out to be a cautionary tale for us all and then as a result saves a bunch of lives. Or something like that. I hope she has a nice Christmas.

small Christmas goal

This seems a little more reasonable than the original goal of 50 pages by Christmas: my friend Will and I have set each other goals and mine is 10 pages by January 3rd. This means, however, that I have to start writing.

Book report: Seierstad/The Bookseller of Kabul

My dad recommended this one; it was another book he pulled from Barnes & Noble during my time of waiting for my Amazon order to arrive.

This is a nonfiction narrative (slightly storified, although the author owns up and provides her rationale in her brief introduction) of four months in the life of an upper middle class Afghani family. Seierstad, a Norwegian woman who lived with the bookseller's family in 2002, says that her foreignness acted as a kind of masculinity and allowed her to be a rare female who could transcend the gender separations and see both sides of Afghani life.

She writes well and tells many facets of the household story. As a narrator her voice is almost inaudible and always sympathetic, but her undisguised agenda (sympathetic though she sounds toward the men in the house) is to reveal the indignities--subtle and not so subtle--that the women are subjected to from sunup to sundown, birth to death. The author's favorite story is that of Leila, the 19-year-old daughter and invisible family lynchpin. She rises before dawn to prepare eggs and tea before the men of the house can wake up and complain, and she stays up long into the night after everyone is asleep cleaning up like a slave after every other family member. She is marginalized, ridiculed, and abused verbally, psychologically, and physically. She is victim of not only of men but also of women--gossiping housewives, neighbors, cousins, etc--who, though politically and publically powerless, exercise fantastic negative social influence by viciously maligning women who do not suitably observe the strict protocol that has ruined their own lives.

This is a highly readable book (Seierstad's prose is light and pretty). I'd say this is one of the better choices among the recent glut of "revealing the Middle East!" books on similar topics.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

nine rings of hell (three rings of friendship?)

People have inevitabilities in their lives and one of my inevitabilities is England.

I don't know why; I can't help it. I always end up there, even though it leaves me with a horrible sour taste in my mouth. Like sucking on a dirty sock. Yes, that's what I imagine it's like.

Anyway, I manage to delude myself each time and I put the sock back in my mouth, thinking this time it's going to taste like a lollipop again. But no. It never does. It probably never did--socks rarely taste like lollipops, even when they're clean. Which means I must have been suffering some kind of distorting mental illness the whole time I lived over there, because I remember every moment in psychadelic Oz colors and soft warm music and soft hugs and red wine, bottles and bottles and bottles. (Therein might lie the key.) But what I wouldn't give for a new sock to suck on.

I'm not being fair. My friends were very good to me--I was only there for two full days and they were all dispersed already for their Christmas holidays. Keri took a train and Suzana suffered a delayed 5-hour bus ride just to see me for a few hours. People who hadn't really been close friends for two years got together on my account and Dave tore himself away from his college tour and fundraising obligations to hang out (and ask me sweetly would I mind if a fine upstanding Englishman were to come stay on my floor for a few days? Of course not, I said. All right then, he said. But would I mind about him? Aww.) and Seb cooked a huge and comprehensive dinner that included a huge side of shivering beef, brocolli, green beans, and carrots, and his famous roasted potatoes. We pub lunched and pub crawled and coffee shop hopped and looked for snowglobes in lots of nice stores. People hugged me and patted me and confided in me as though there had never been a break of many months (or years) in our friendship. Naturally there was an unfortunately (but maybe inevitably) timed Hugh-related incident toward the end of the whole jaunt but aside from one brief interval of hysterical sobbing and then a rather silly feeling to endure the whole plane ride home the trip was a smashing success and reminds me how lucky I am to have people who both care for me and tolerate me in many parts of the world (hard-pressed though I am to understand how I manage to retain them).

The proverbial fly (if only it were not ointment but martini!) of course was Ann-related. Ann-related issues are always the most debilitating because they are the issues about which I happen to be the most deluded (and, as a result, the disappointments are always disappointingly disappointing). Silly me; I thought it was all right. They invited me to stay, and they called me home from a cocktail party (where everyone else I knew was) to hang out specially with them. Of course after calling me home we sullenly watched a TV special on Courtney Love for about 45 minutes and then they were off to bed. That was my last night there with them. They said they would make me lunch and walk me to the bus stop but in the morning when (by their request) I woke them up to say goodbye neither one even got out of bed to give me a hug. The morbid part of me hoped the plane would go down so that they could go to their graves thinking "it was her last human contact with friends and we didn't even hug her...what miserable people we are...after all of our good times and our true love..."

I was terribly, terribly disappointed that night of the cocktail party, after they went to bed and I sat alone on the couch, sleepless and miserable. I thought of how it was my last night before having to go home and back to work, and instead of drinking with friends (which had been an option) I had, out of loyalty to these formerly beloved dear friends of mine, come home from one party only to be left alone with my moodiness.

About ten minutes after they got into bed I thought to myself that it was worse to go to bed myself with these horrible feelings so I went and knocked on their door, determined to say won't you mind and stay up just a little longer with me, we can catch up, we can drink some beer, I changed my mind and I want you to pack me that lunch you mentioned, anything, or just give me a hug.

But when I got to the door they were already naked and under their covers and Ian in particular was so cold and made me feel so ridiculous for waking them up ("What time is it?" he said, and I answered "Ten minutes later than when you went to bed," and he snorted into his pillow and let Ann do all the talking from that point) that I couldn't get it out. Instead I apologized for my moodiness and Ann said it really didn't matter and I felt dismissed so I left.

I didn't get it until on the plane home, and when I did I stopped feeling hurt immediately and I went cold inside. All weekend when they had been talking about how they are so self-sufficient as a couple, how they've shed all those unnecessary annoying former friends who still think things are just like the old days, how they wish people who have fallen to "casual acquaintance" level would realize that a history of friendship didn't entitle them to all the privileges of a current and active friendship, and how as an adult you don't need all the friends you thought you needed when you were an approval-seeking college first year...they were talking to me. I didn't get the hint. And it wasn't one conversation, either--it was at least one long conversation with Ann and one long conversation with Ian that I can remember clearly. I just didn't get it. How could I have been so foolish as to think I am beyond and above all of those inferior friends whose contracts have been terminated? Clearly I am in fact the furthest of the friends and thereby the least necessary, by far.

The next thing to clarify was the nature of our relationship--purely utilitarian. But hers was an honest economic utilitarianism and mine was a greasier emotional leechy variety. Yes, I am fearsomely codependent, and she was lonely and a little insecure, so we fed each other's friend-need. It was very simple, since we each needed someone. She was unhappy in love, and I, though not unhappy in love, continued to be fearsomely codependent, so our relationship thrived. Then she was happy in love, and I, although still fearsomely codependent, was no longer strictly speaking "necessary." Then, when my heart was broken (just like hers was the year before when I had nurtured her and held her hand) but she was happy in love, I became for her not only unnecessary but a bit of a downer. And in her defense she gave it an OK shot, but in the end she decided to cut ties. To save herself and her happiness. So although I was there for her when I was happy and she was sad, due to the differences in our personalities she was unable to be there for me when she was happy and I was sad. I can't hold that against her, at least not anymore. Actually, I can. And I do. But I want to be a good and warm-hearted person so I fight it. But now, since our history separates us even further, I am an even less utilitarian option than I was for her then. I understand it. I don't relate to it, but I understand it. And in the end I'm most disappointed in myself, since I lost years off my life worrying over a friend who didn't turn out to be the kind of person who would lose anything at all worrying about me. But I see the world through moonrat-colored glasses, and everything looks like a piece of cheese. Until I put it in my mouth and it turns out to be a dirty sock.

I'm a little confused about why Ann sent me that email just before I left for Paris--"Are you excited to see us?" it said. "I miss you. xxx." Did she miss me? asks the curious lump in my throat. But my hardened heart asks, Who gives a fuck?

Melanie says that she and her friend Angel were talking about this the other day. They came up with a theory of three rings of friendship--rings like a vendiagram? I asked. Melanie laughed and said she couldn't believe I had just used the word "vendiagram" in a real sentence--to establish a rule for what endures. The three rings are chemistry, history, and exposure. The top-tier, top-eschelon friendships are the ones in that tiny center triangle of overlap among the three; the second tier have two in common; the flimsiest and least durable have one ring. For most of us, our beloved second-tier friends are our hearts and our souls and they know our lives and our stories and they care. For most of us, the first-tier friend doesn't actually exist. We replace (or attempt to replace) the first-tier friend with a lover or with an ideal.

I think this is a brilliant defining aid and I shall go about from this day forth applying it liberally to my life. It explains everything--the flare-ups and burn-outs of those hot-button friendships that die harder than Bruce Willis, the inexplicable pen-pals you still write to after thirteen years even though you've never met and have nothing in common, the dear old high school friends who stay close even when you see them only once a year, and the on-going quest for the near impossible to find (now that you're an adult and you have been broken and innured by inhibitions and self-preservation mechanisms): the new friend who will spark you like flint and has time for you everyday and who, instead of burning out, will not let us down. Someone who will complement our life and our lover(s) and dreams. Will be like those incredibly passionate junior high school friendships we had. Except not go away after a couple of years.

I think most people do give up after awhile. Because the fallout of a failed attempt is just soul-shattering. Much like love in general. But I suppose the heart can break over many things.

I am proud of my second-tier: my far-away friends whom I love and who are really and truly there for me even though I can't and don't see them everyday; my close-by friends who are wonderful and dear to me although we don't (yet) have the time-tested history to bridge the third wheel. They may not be that thing I think I'm looking for but they have time and again proven to be the thing that I need the most. And they shake their heads and forgive me at each abortive attempt to fill the dusty first-tier pedestal. Bless them and keep them and bring them back to me so I can recover from my own protracted foolishness.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Book Report: Anita Diamant/The Last Days of Dogtown

I really loved The Red Tent. Of course I was a foolish 17-year-old when I read it so my remembered opinion means nothing at all but I was very moved by that book and I cried when it was over (partially because the ending struck me as melancholy, but also just because it was over. And also a little bit because I like to cry about books).

I didn't realize Anita Diamant had a new book but my dad pulled this off the shelf at Barnes & Noble one night over that ill-fated hair-yanking Thanksgiving holiday weekend (and yes, he did buy me a cappuccino...for those still following the story). We had asked the lady at the desk to recommend a good book for me and she made about ten recommendations and I had read all ten. The "brand new" books she tried I had read before they were even published. She decided to go for older titles, hoping that was my weakness, and the last title she recommended was The Red Tent. I told her I had loved that one and my dad went off in search of other titles by that writer while I pondered glumly the fact that I'm an incredibly main-stream reader with a taste for corn-fed white commercial bestsellers. This seems incredibly sad and humiliating and hypocritical for a wannabe protobohemian like myself and at the same time like a skill I should be able to parley into at least one hundred thousand dollars a year. Hmm. Musetta and even Mimi bellied up for the cash cow so why shouldn't I? Being only a protobohemian and all.

So anyway my father brought me The Last Days of Dogtown, and the cover was very nicely laid out and had a nice glossy inset, and I flipped to the acknowledgments and saw that Amanda "Binky" Urban is Ms. Diamant's agent, and I'm friends with Binky's assistant, so it seemed like I had to buy the book. But also because of my history with Anita and how much I had loved her first book.

And this one was all right. Simple and sad, I guess. Lots of desolate people living mediocre and marginal lives and denying themselves the things they want most for reasons they don't really understand. I'm always devastated by stories of lovers who never get up the guts to talk to each other about their problems and both end up dying broken-hearted or such. I never do that. Instead I sacrifice myself on the alter of humility (was that Shakespeare or Joseph Gordon Levitt? Who, I just learned yesterday, is gay. Alas for women. He was so cute walking around campus with his little cheeky grin.). It seems from the evasive cover copy that Ms. Diamant found some kind of 19th century pamphlet or newsletter from/about Dogtown (Cape Ann, MA) and constructed this book around some of the stories she gleaned from that source.

I admit I wasn't a big fan of her wandering third-person limited narrator, which is one of the points I always edit out of my freelance fiction manuscripts. I always make a big to-do about how it's not very professional and how "maintaining a constant narrative voice contributes to readability and thereby increases potential readership" yadda yadda and I have to say it did bother me how she would wander unceremoniously in and out of a character's head. I think she was more successful with the first-person narrator of The Red Tent.

But anyway. I think this was a pretty good read. I can't say it was inspirational, or one of my favorite books. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned here about offering readers some small hope at the end of your book. 360 pages of bitter somehow turn out to be less memorable than 359 pages of bitter and one page of bittersweet.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Book report: Philip K. Dick/Ubik

France is a lovely country and the most unfortunate part of my trip has been that my train ride from Paris to Provence is taking place in the absolute black of night. It seems like a slightly missed opportunity to have seen basically the whole of France from north to south. Next time I'll plan accordingly. I'll admit that part of my lack of interest at the time of booking in the time of day for the journey was a lack of concrete knowledge about where exactly Provence was (or Paris, for that matter) or what exactly France looked like. Proud to be an American.

Anyway the positive aspect of a long journey in the dark with nothing to look at is one gets a great deal of reading done, despite the fact that one is on holiday. My friend Susanne left Ubik with me at the youth hostel so I decided to give it a go. I realized that Philip K. Dick is an [interesting and memorable] name that I am familiar with and yet that I hadn't read anything by him (nor was I really aware of what he stood for). Yes, I am a disgrace in the eyes of self-respecting sci-fi readers everywhere. Thank goodness my father's not reading this. I hope. For multiple reasons.

Anyway, Ubik is Dick's delightful probe into the future and what life will be like as the world turns toward consumerism and mechanization. Ok, by "future" I meant "1990s" and by "delightful" I meant "ridiculously unrealistic, poorly written, and thinly charactered" but I'm sure that you followed right along.

I think Mr. Dick's biggest problem here was one that many a sci-fi writer has fallen victim to before. He got so caught up in his conceptual architecture that he abandoned some of the tiresome conventions of old-fashioned event coherency or believable characters. I don't want to give away too much of the book, since it's not an unentertaining read, but I will say that it is too bad Mr. Dick (I like referring to him that way; get used to it) bowed to the sci-fi trend of cramming too many high-concept ideas into too short a space. For example, Mr. Dick's envisioning of this now-past future involved a whole caste of people who are able to use telepathic powers to interfere in corporate and government affairs, not to mention a whole other caste of people whose talents are "anti-psi" (that is, they are telepathically talented at stopping all the telepaths). But this whole complex scheme isn't even what the story is about; nor is the story about the communization of the world or the new global and space communities that have arisen. No. Instead, this book is about a different and utterly unrelated concept--cryogenically preserving dead bodies in a half life that allows them to be revived periodically to communicate mentally with their beloved(s). All this in a slim volume of 182 pages. Plus a plot (although minus any respect for chronology) and a cast of 18 main characters.

Hey. At least Robert Jordan takes 24,500 pages (roughly) to develop each of his worlds. (And that doesn't really include the prequels or fan fic.) Sorry, sci-fi. This is why I'm a fantasy loyalist. It's just easier for me to believe in dragons.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Book report: John Kennedy Toole/Confederacy of Dunces

This was one of those books that I was reading on the subway and which caused me to get stopped by a petite and well-dressed middle-aged stranger who gesticulated and exclaimed, "Oh! This book is wonderful! I hope you're enjoying it!"

I do enjoy New Yorkers like that--it's nice to be reminded that there are other people in the world who get so excited about seeing someone else reading a book they enjoyed that they are unable to observe the non-negotiable cold-shoulder protocol of the New York subway social conduct imperatives and end up blurting out something like that to a complete stranger. It's nice, although it then makes for a slightly awkward subway ride, since you've acknowledged another person, had a brief and perhaps soul-revealing conversation with them, and then have to go back to pretending for the remainder of the ride that you've never met and that you don't know they're standing with their briefcase unfortunately but irrevocably shoved into your lower back. Awkwardness. Yum.

But anyway the sad part is I didn't enjoy this book. I knew right from the beginning that despite whatever the editor might have glowed about the posthumous author in his foreword and despite the raving rollicking review blurbs on the back cover, I'm not that into satire (perhaps I'm just too lowbrow) and I find it difficult to grow attached to utterly unlikeable characters with no redeeming qualities (like Ignatius). I found the whole thing cringe-worthy and not particularly funny. Perhaps it was over my head.

Sorry, subway stranger friend.

Thursday, December 07, 2006