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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
AUG
02

Imagination

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I was talking the other day with my six-year-old nephew about a humorous card I had mailed to his house--one that featured a cat poop joke--and told him that Clementine (my cat) had liked it, too. There was a pause, followed by a thoughtful question. "When you say Clementine liked it, you don't actually mean that you know if she liked it, right?" I assured him that, no, I didn't actually know what she thought, but that I sometimes like to imagine the kinds of things that a cat might think or like. "I don't imagine very much," replied my nephew. "I'm just not that kind of person," he continued, and further explained that this is why he prefers reading books with facts in them.

Now, you'll never convince me that any six-year-old kid out there has no imagination. And I've seen this particular kid use imagination all the time--in the games he invents or the silly words he makes up. But I get what he's saying, I respect it, and, more than that, I respect that even at such a young age he recognizes this in himself. He just prefers reality. And thinking about things as they really are.

I'm a non-fiction girl myself, in that most novels leave me feeling mildly frustrated, wholly unbettered, and filled with a desperate sensation of just-let-me-read-about-something-that-really-happened. I had always planned on writing fiction, but that's not the way my mind works. Fiction is clearly the ticket in the publishing world. And if I could think up a futuristic trilogy involving an oddly-named, kick-ass heroine, I'd probably be a lot more profitable as an author than I am now. Or at least have the chance to be. I suppose in many ways I feel like my nephew in this regard, in that I don't have much of an imagination when it comes to writing. I'm just not that kind of person. Luckily there are those who are, and luckily there is still space for everyman memoirists like me. Granted, there's a lot less space for everyman memoirists, but I'll take those odds. And who knows. Maybe one day you'll see that I've broken through with a series involving a vampire going off to 7 years of vampire school (Batty Cotter?). But doubtful. I really, really am just not that kind of person.

JUL
28

Fireworks: Musings on a Small Town

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This is just a firework, and a mediocre one at that, but it's a firework that was set off in my hometown, above the baseball fields in the town park. Other than Christmas, I go home so seldom that I think this past weekend may have been the first time in over a dozen years that I was around for the annual summer festival.

It's comforting, going home. You know where everything is, for a few days you feel as young as you did while living there, and that so much seems exactly the same is a great constant amidst the fluctuations fast enveloping all other aspects of your life. But even as I walked through the booths at the small festival thinking that everything--the layout, the goods, the pre-fireworks exploding anvil--was identical to when I was a teenager and taking some comfort in that, it was also a teensy bit alarming to realize how much about this trip was, in fact, different. The golf course has been renamed. To something totally ridiculous, by the way. The Dairy Queen is about to be replaced by another franchise; some dispute over fry sauce. And when I attended my old church congregation, I saw a sea of mostly strangers. It felt weird to introduce myself. "I grew up here," I said, as if I were reaching for some kind of justification for being there at all.

It's just the way of things, I suppose. You never forget or feel less endeared to a place, but the connections you have there grow thin when you move away and never come back. Writing books about the people you grew up with doesn't really help your cause either, but I've made my choices, I suppose. I guess I just wish I chose home more often. It's hard to find good fry sauce.

JUN
03

End of an Era

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People have asked me what it feels like now that I'm a gemologist. And while it's hard to say that "the same" and "amazing" can both be valid answers, they sort of are. It's like you feel after your birthday...no older, but you'd like to think you are changed somehow nonetheless. And of course every day there is still the recollection of last week's exam, how hard it was, learning I passed, the satisfaction and amazement still fresh.

I can sum up post-gemology life in two succinct bullets:

1. I've resumed the writing of my third book. Feels good to be back in the saddle. I still have no idea really how this one will turn out, especially since it'll be my most personal book yet, so there are some jitters. But as always, I'm looking forward to how it comes together.

2. I've accepted a job. It's in the gemology field, so experiment Quit My Corporate America Job to Become a Gemologist and Switch Careers in the end has been a complete success.

Of course, going back to work can be summed up in two equally succinct bullets:

1. My time will no longer be my own. (ie. no more sleeping in, whiling away the afternoons reading in the park, doing really whatever I want all day long) And the end of such a satisfying sabbatical would make even the most stout-hearted cry like a baby.

2. I am leaving New York. Speaking of crying like a baby. I always assumed if a gemology job came my way it would be here. But it's actually on the other side of the country, which gives me only a few final days to get as much city time in as I possibly can.

So I'm going to stop writing and go outside.

APR
24

The Fashion Show

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I consider myself a decent writer. On most days, anyway. Sometimes. Occasionally. Ok, fine. I once wrote something that was pretty good. And while the photographer friend who asked me this past week to help her take notes on an upcoming couture bridal line that she'd been invited to shoot probably just needed a warm body who could tell the difference between tulle and chiffon (note to self: I can't), I went into it feeling like being a writer would really lend itself well to such a task. These notes were going to sound good

After having read my notes, however, I can confirm that not only do they not sound good, they don't even sound like different dresses. Seriously, the descriptions sound so similar ("lace overlay, plunge v neck, open back, rhinestones, beads, pearls," etc.) that the photographer will likely struggle to match my descriptions with their respective pictures...which was pretty much my only job. If anyone has ever been out of their element, it was me at this shoot. When the photographer turned and asked if I would note the "blush tulle" on a particular dress, I know I made a face. A confused face. Because the tulle (which on the very next dress was referred to by the designer as chiffon...wait, what??) looked like the exact same ivory shade as everything else.

At any rate, despite my certainty that I was 0% helpful, the line was beautiful, and it made me resolve that if I ever marry to somehow incorporate tulle into my dress. Or was that chiffon?

APR
02

Let's Talk About Writing

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I'm ashamed of how seldom I actually talk about writing on this blog. Further, I am ashamed about how little writing I've done since moving to NY period. You could say it's because I've been spending so much time studying gemology (true) and exploring the city (true), which is why I'm happy to report that since moving to my new apartment, I've gotten back into a bit of a writing groove. You could say it's because I'm ahead of schedule on my gemology studies (true) and that since Levain Bakery is now 5 minutes away from me, I really should probably never leave my apartment (true).

In any case, for my handful of fans out there who may be interested, I'm probably about 70% done with the writing for my next book. Still feels like a long way to go, but there is an end in sight. Now, before I convince myself that I need to walk down the street and get a cookie for being 70% done, I'm going to begin the next chapter. (Let's say cookie at 75%. That seems fair.)

MAR
12

B&B, anyone?

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This is the Center Lovell Inn. It's in Maine, and if you've seen the headlines that have been positively everywhere this week, you'll know that the current owner, who won the inn over twenty years ago in--get this--an essay contest, is offering dreamers the chance to win the same contest once again. Basically, you write an essay, and if you win, the whole inn is yours. Lock, stock, and barrel. Considering that it's worth almost $1MM and that all you have to commit to is running the inn for 1 year prior to selling it yourself (or doing whatever else you want to do with the property), it's a pretty sweet deal.

I know what you're thinking...because this isn't exactly like winning a vacation, now is it? The winner would be tasked with running the B&B, the tallest of tall orders. Especially considering that most of us--very close to all of us--have absolutely no business running a country inn. And yet, why is it that I think every single person capable of composing sentences should enter this contest? It's just so...romantic. So unbelievable. And for the person who wins, so life changing. So adventurous. So hands-down, bat-shit crazy. Two hundred words is not many; it's fewer than what you see here in this very blog post. And how endearing that the next owner of the inn will be the person who can be as inspiring and persuasive as they are succinct. So get out your paper and pens, everyone. There's an inn to win.

MAR
02

The Typewriter Doctor

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I've always hoped to one day own a vintage typewriter. Not because I would type my manuscripts on it or because it would have any practical purpose whatsoever, but as a writer, it's just, well, nostalgic. Plus, imagine the possibilities! I could type my to-do lists! Mail notes to friends and family not in my own uneven chicken scratch, but in a nice, neat row of measured typeface! Heck, even just looking over at my writing desk were it be topped with one of these babies would make me smile.

When I saw an old Smith Corona for sale at a thrift store over the weekend, I snatched it up for a song and immediately looked up a typewriter repair shop (reason #13948 why I love NYC...you can find anything). Of course I hoped what anyone in my situation would have hoped: that my little Smith Corona could be restored to working condition. I mean, what a steal that would have been! To have gotten it so cheap. Sadly, after spending a morning at the typewriter doctor's Gramercy office, my little machine was diagnosed as not salvageable. I mean, he could have done it. But it would have cost more than simply buying one of the already restored machines he had on the shelf. And given all the twisted mayhem inside, even if he did restore mine, it wasn't likely to perform particularly well. So I opted to buy one of the beauties on the shelf. (Happy tax return to me.)

I can only blame what I then told the typewriter doctor on my somewhat dopey state (and I can only blame my dopey state on being in the presence of so many darling typewriters), but it struck me in that moment--the customer before me having just been reunited with the machine his grandmother gave him when he was 13; "It's worth it," this customer told me when he heard the doctor tell me how much it would cost to restore the machine I brought in--that being in this line of work must be incredibly satisfying.

"This must be a really fun line of work," I told the typewriter doctor.

In my fantasy world, he would smile wistfully and tell me that it was. In reality, he raised his eyebrows a bit and stared at me while struggling to come up with words strong enough to convey just how wrong I was. I don't know. Maybe a job is always a job to the person doing it. But the way I see it, if yours somehow involves vintage typewriters, you've got a leg up over the rest of us.

JAN
31

The Blizzard that Didn't

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I was certainly hoping for more snow. Not because it would do the city any favors…30 inches would have been much more chaotic than the 8 or so that we got…but because I just wanted to see all the hype materialize. I wanted it to be something. I wanted to wake up and have to pick my lower jaw off the floor when I looked outside. I wanted to be snowed in. I wanted to have an excuse to stay home all day and do nothing but write. (I got many messages from people around the country as the storm made ready, messages telling me to be safe and stay warm, but my favorite was from a fan on the west coast who said she and her coworkers, also fans, were hoping I would use the storm to hunker down and finish my third book.)

Snow storms have always been tainted for me, in that the stress of having to commute to work regardless of the weather made me hate them. People never seem to pay attention to the words of the song ‘Let It Snow’ (“And since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow") which clearly confirm my theory, which is that if you have to be somewhere, if you have to do anything other than stare wistfully out the window at it, snow absolutely sucks.

Being sans car here in the city means I can appreciate snow in a way I never could before, and the best part about snow storms (as opposed to storms of other varieties) is how quiet they are. And I guess that’s the biggest reason why I wish it would have kept right on snowing this week. Because that night they shut the city down, that night they made everyone get off the streets by 11pm, it was unbelievably peaceful. I always sleep with my window open, and for the first time, there were no sirens. There was no honking. No yelling. No one banging doors shut as they came in and out of the building. In a city like this one, how rare that is. On a night when it would have been much easier than usual to fall asleep, I stayed up much later than I should have.

JAN
23

In Honor of National Handwriting Day

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JAN
19

Book Group

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Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a book group discussion. I don’t belong to any book groups, and never really have (other than this one time, but I only went once, when that month’s book was something I had already read, but the host’s house smelled like fish and it was hard to hear over the yappy dog being kept in a bedroom), but a book group over on the west coast invited me to participate in the discussion of their January book, which just so happened to be one that I wrote.

It’s a weird thing, listening in when a group of readers are discussing your book. It’s even weirder when they’ve got you up on the big screen TV while you’re talking. But technology is pretty cool when you think about it. And it got me thinking about how nice it would be if, after finishing a book I’d enjoyed, I could have a conversation with the author, ask her any questions, tell her I particularly liked this aspect or that.

And that’s what these ladies did. They asked questions about jewelry, questions about writing Jeweled and if it was harder or easier than writing Schooled. They asked if I visited my jeweler when I was home for Christmas, asked about conflict diamonds, giggled about my musings on old-lady veins, shared how powerful the opening scene was with the whale. They even answered a few questions for me which might help me shape the structure of my next book, which I’ve recently begun to rethink.

How grateful I am for readers, for books, for kind words, for camaraderie. I’m also grateful for the times that make me feel like a real author. I will not say that they happen a lot, but when they do, it's enough to keep me going.

DEC
07

Writer's Block

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I don't have it. Not really. True that I've written shamefully little since moving here (I have a day job, I have a new city to explore, I'm still working on my gemology certification, etc.), but the main reason for my low post-NYC-move word count, and I'm embarrassed to admit this, is that I'm stalling. Is that a thing? Writer's Stall?

The chapter I'm in the middle of writing right now is such a downer, see. And it's not even the one where the protagonist is abandoned by her love and left alone and devastatingly heartbroken. It's the one where the protagonist is making really stupid choices. And since you all know who the protagonist in all my books is, I find it much harder to relive things you brought upon yourself verses things that happened to you that were outside of your control. If he was going to leave, he was going to leave.

This book is also proving a bit slippery in terms of overall point and purpose. Crucial, I know. I just need some sort of Aha Moment about how these chapters and themes should be arranged and tied together. In the meantime though, I suppose I will press on. Continue writing. Ever grateful for the distance I--er, the protagonist--now has from some of these chapters.

JUL
22

Why I Miss Carrie Bradshaw

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Are there certain TV shows you’ll watch the reruns of no matter how many times you may have seen the episode before? I’m going to trust that no matter who you are, the answer is yes. There’s always That One Show. For me there are a handful that I’ll sit and chuckle at all these years later, but the one that most often has me sitting through seasons past is Sex and the City.

It’s a show I miss terribly. It’s not the sex. It’s not even the city. OK, maybe it’s a little bit the city, but mostly it’s Carrie Bradshaw and her literary musings about life and love…and being a singleton. Seriously, and I’m not making this up, I feel like I learned a lot from Carrie. Or maybe it’s just that so much of what she said rings true with me. And maybe I’m revealing too much about myself (or maybe it’s just that what I’m revealing is pathetic), but little Carrie snippets come to mind all the time as I go about my life. Most recently during an elevator chat with some co-workers about all the money I shell out as a single, childless person for wedding and baby gifts for other people. It’s not that I mind it, because I quite enjoy giving and celebrating the happiness of others, but as Carrie points out (remember the episode where she registers at Manolo Blahnik…for herself) life as a single girl doesn’t present any opportunities for your friends to repay the favor.

And so this is all to say that if this past weekend found me getting sucked into the SATC marathon on E! (it did), don’t be alarmed. If I come back and watch the DVRed final two episodes again before the week is out (I will), don’t even worry about it. If doing either of these things makes me cry even one time (it does), promise you won’t think me any less of a competent professional. Deal?

JUL
01

Strange Seizures Beset Us

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A side effect of writing a book about your lifelong love of jewelry is that people will begin associating you with jewelry. Any jewelry experience they have, they will tell you about. Any purchase they make, they will show you. And more to the point, any trip to Tiffany's they take, they will snap a picture outside the store and send it to you.

For the record, I love all of this.

I love that a co-worker recently sent me a note about the Tiffany gift she purchased for her daughter's 21st birthday ("Her first blue box!"), and that another co-worker mentioned that he thought of me when passing the flagship Tiffany store while on a recent trip to NYC. I love that in the past month I've received pics of people outside various Tiffany stores, pics of new pieces of jewelry that people have bought or received, even a copy of the description of a $225K ring from the insurance agent preparing its policy because she knew I would appreciate it. I love hearing a woman tell me Jeweled has inspired her to get her wedding ring fixed finally, or sized finally, or how the book has inspired her to stop in at Carlton Jewelers. All of these things have happened, and I hope they continue to happen. 

It's weird that jewelry is my thing, but I always end up back at Annie Dillard's quote, the one about our responsibility to write about the things that fascinate us, the strange seizures that beset us. "There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin." Sage advice, no matter how you look at it.

(PS - If you have a jewelry story you'd like to share, submit it on the "Share Your Story" or "Contact" links of this website. If I use your story on the homepage, you'll get a free copy of Jeweled!)

JUN
19

I want to talk about me.

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Stay with me.

Tonight I gave some brief remarks at an event geared toward journal and personal history writing. It's a topic I feel strongly about, because the things we don't write down, we forget. And as if you need any additional motivation, think of your kids. If you have a child, he only knows you from the standpoint of your parenting years. He knows nothing that happened before that unless you tell him, or unless you write it down for him to read when he is older. 

If you're like me and have no children, write about your life anyway. Writing is, at its heart, for the writer. There are all kinds of sappy quotes out there—about memories being the June roses in the Decembers of our lives, or, my favorite, how we write to taste life twice—and you can take them or leave them, but I choose to take them. I find so much value in writing about my own life, however insignificant my stories. 

To this day, my maternal grandmother* will occasionally send out excerpts from her journals, and I learn something about her every time she does this. I am moved every time she does this. I feel more connected every time she does this--not just to her, but to her parents and grandparents as well, people I never met but wouldn't exist without. Just think about that the next time you wonder if a certain memory or experience is worth writing down. Trust me, it is.

*I must have been smoking crack cocaine when I let Jeweled go to press with a reference to my maternal grandmother's funeral. My maternal grandmother is alive and well. It's my paternal grandmother whose funeral and wedding ring I meant to reference at the end of Jeweled. My (total and completely embarrassing) bad.


JUN
10

Thank You For Writing

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I got home this evening from a very taxing day at work to find a thank-you note in my mailbox. You all know how I feel about thank-you notes. (See On Thank-you Notes if you've forgotten.) A dying art, surely, but one I feel is so, so necessary. It's just the principle of the thing. And it makes us decent.

Of course, no one is unfamiliar with the concept. You send someone a thank-you note when they have either given you something or done something for you. Which is why today's mail was a bit confusing. The woman who sent it--from my hometown in Oregon--included the following note in the card:

"I loved your first book. Always enjoy reading it. Have just read bits of your new one - just want to say thank you so much. I know I'll enjoy."

Now, you'd think from this note that I gave her a copy of my second book. Not only did I not give her a copy, but I also can't even put a face to this woman's name. I'm not sure I've even met her. Or if I have, it's been many years. But she sent a thank-you note to thank me for writing books. For giving her something to read that she enjoys so much. She wrote the note in loopy cursive, sealed and put my name on the envelope, then gave it to my mother who filled in my address and sent it on its way. The whole thing has an endearing amount of small-town charm regardless, but eclipsing this is the fact that upon returning home from a day when I managed to solve exactly zero problems at work, my spirits couldn't have been more lifted.

Unless there'd been, like, $1 Million in the mailbox. I guess there's always tomorrow.

JUN
03

On Love

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The feedback from early readers is that most of them like Jeweled better than Schooled. I confess this is very surprising to me, as I figured the universality of school would ultimately leave readers more satisfied than a book about jewelry…which, admittedly, is something most people don’t know about, care about, or wish to read about.

I heard from someone over the weekend who told me he liked the new book ten times better than Schooled (praise, indeed!), but his one complaint was the back cover copy, which he felt didn’t really capture the spirit of the book. (Let me just say right now that deciding on the back cover copy is much harder than actually writing the book.) What this reader was saying is that while the back cover copy focuses on the gems and the jewelry, the book is really held together by the stories I tell about love and marriage and family.

A bit of an A-ha moment, as I hadn’t really thought about this book as being held together by love (although I do say in the book that the connection to love is one of my favorite things about jewelry). As I’ve thought about this over the days since my conversation with this reader, I suppose this might be why people are more pulled to this book than I predicted they would be. Here I thought I wrote a book about jewelry, when the overarching theme ended up being one that’s exponentially more universal.

MAY
17

Book Party Day

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Today is book party day. (If Clementine is any indication, we are clearly having a hard time containing our excitement. Actually, she has come to love the boxes of books sitting on my breakfast table so much that I haven't yet broken the news to her that they are going away.) Right on cue, the weather has taken a turn for the crappy, but that happened last time, too. Doesn't matter. It's going to be a wonderfully satisfying day irrespective of sunshine.

Amidst all the excitement, there is of course a fair amount of worry that creeps in once you realize people will actually be reading your book. And what if they don't like it? It's completely possible. Much more possible with this second book, as the subject matter is not nearly so universal. More than that, it's one that some might consider me materialistic and snobby for even being interested in. But I took comfort this week in the words of Annie Dillard:

"People love pretty much the same things best. A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all. Strange seizures beset us. 'Each student of ferns,' I read, 'will have his own list of plants that for some reason or another stir his emotions.' Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you avert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment."

And so as the first group of readers leave the party today with their crisp, new copies, I can only hope that they--and you, dear readers, whenever it is that you get your own copy and settle down to read it--come away with a mind open to learning about someone else's fascination. This strange, sparkly seizure that indeed besets me.

MAY
02

New Book, First Copy

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When the first proof copy of Schooled arrived, I remember being flooded with a "This is it??" kind of feeling. All that work, years, and this is all I get? Not that I hadn't known that the finished product would be one measly 250-page book, but for some reason I thought that initial first copy would seem more grand.

This time around, I was filled with no such feeling, and I can honestly say that the thought that overcame me when I opened the box containing the first proof copy of Jeweled last week was, "This book looks amazing." I'm not sure what the difference is, other than that I've now been through it before. Jeweled is also a book that allowed us to be more creative visually, and so there are so many things about the visual theme of this second book that I find delightful. The trim size of Jeweled is also different, which I find to be a further improvement. Bottom line: Things are getting exciting up in here.

Lest I get carried away, let me point out that I was reading Annie Dillard on a late-night flight last night, a book I will finish tonight when I go back to the airport, and I was struck by the following passage, especially on the verge of releasing a new book. "Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free. The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever."

How true this is. And how excited, in spite of this, I still am.

APR
23

What I've Been Doing

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Well I can tell you this: I certainly haven't been writing. Expression of regret. Especially since my third book is so juicy...at least I like to think it is...so sometimes it does make me sad that there's still so much left to write and that I've been so busy lately. In any case, it struck me the other day how seldom I actually talk about writing on this blog. Especially when my second book is about to be released. For shame.

I've been pretty mum about it, my second book, and I'm not sure why that is. I guess it's this whole idea of a "big reveal," like some sort of delivery room surprise. "It's out! It's a girl! Cut the cord!" I doubt many fans are waiting with such anticipation to find out the subject matter or see the cover design of my new book, but still, I'm excited.

The most important book-release activity is, of course, the book party, so if you really want to know what I've been doing, I've been stamping and addressing hundreds of envelopes. And floating above the Seinfeld-themed paranoia that I might keel over and die from licking so much inexpensive glue is pre-celebration glee so strong, you'd think I was a pre-teen. You'd also think that because I do, in fact, look like I'm a pre-teen. A pre-teen with access to a lot of stamps.

FEB
08

Inspiration at the Honda Dealership

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They didn't even have any Otis Spunkmeyer cookies this afternoon as I sat waiting for my car to be ready. Like a dork, I had packed some trail mix, so I wasn't starving without Otis, and I was also pretty engrossed in finishing the book I'd been reading. Considering I end up with such little time to read, I regret being so whiny when the nice Honda man told me it would be an hour and a half. I also regret wearing yoga pants in public for what I thought would be a much quicker errand.

I read a lot of books written about writing. Books about writing written by actual, real, profitable authors. I love hearing what they have to say. The book I finished today, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, was a particularly fine one. Her advice was so simple...so simple that most writers don't think to mention that kind of stuff in their own "writing" books. I'm talking very practical advice about the craft and practice of writing. Reading books like Bird always inspires me to redouble my efforts to write regularly. Like every day. Of course I crave the kind of life where writing was my day job, but then again, Anne is very honest about that, too. About how things really don't change much at all (and if they do, they only get worse--between the stress and the pressure and the mental breakdowns).

It's the dream, of course, but in the meantime, books like Bird make me feel like a legitimate writer. Not just because I write, but because I think like a writer. It's why I love reading these kinds of books. Because I feel I'm among friends. If you are a writer in any sense of the word, I suggest reading everything you can about the craft. And never going anywhere without a book. And trail mix. And, you'll thank me later, a pair of sweats.