Saturday, September 29, 2007

I'm Obsessed With This Book: STOPLESS by Wanda Lee Robinson

I'm not usually a memoir reader, but people keep on passing me their books and I keep on reading them. If you're the same way, consider this my passing a book onto you...

The author's story reminds me a lot of my mom's. I won't go into details because I don't want to embarrass my mom (who you don't know and who doesn't read this, so maybe it's not a big deal?). If you read the book you'll learn more about my mom. And I think learning about my mom should be a priority.

So, STOPLESS: A lot of hard drugs, making it in the underworld of seventies New York, stripping for a living, run-ins with celebrities like Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger, etc. Sounds like your normal run-of-the-mill case study, right? Right, but there's something great about this one. I read it right after I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. If Wanda Lee Robinson had the same pull in the publishing business as Jeannette does, her book would be just as widely read. (Nothing against Jeannette; her book is excellent and she's a nice lady according to an email she accidentally sent to me instead of her editor one time).

Since I'm obsessive, I did some research on Wanda and found out that she's self-published and looking for an agent. Anyone out there? I want to take her under my wing and nurture her after reading this (even if she is twice my age). This is how I feel about my mom sometimes, too. My guess is that Wanda self-published because she didn't know how to go about it any other way. I'm making it my job to build her a cult following, starting right here!, and get her an agent/publisher.

I stole a mini synopsis from her website since I'm not a good book-summarizer. And I'm lazy:

From CBGB's to Billy's Topless, the book recounts days of a bygone New York City, punctuated by run-ins with Sid Vicious, Andy Warhol, Pia Zadora, Mick Jagger and Art Carney. In a city reeling from a serial killer nicknamed Son of Sam, Robinson recounts a seedy side of New York City that, while very much still alive, has since been Disney-fied with chain stores and franchise restaurants.

Cursed in the womb when her father beat her pregnant mother, Robinson becomes a target for her mother's hatred. Sexually abused by those she trusted—including her mother's boyfriends—and ultimately abandoned, a 16-year old Robinson runs away to New York City to fulfill her dreams of becoming an actress. After being fired from a corporate job, Robinson turns to cocktailing at a strip club to make ends meet—and is exposed to a dark side of drugs and sex.

When a run in with Bob Dylan cost Robinson her job, she starts stripping. Her tainted childhood, need for acceptance and addictive personality are no competition for the vices she encounters. She turns to crystal meth, valium and cocaine to deal with the pressures of stripping and memories of her painful childhood. What begins as casual drug use evolves into a full-blown addiction. In the end, Wanda is left with a lethal ultimatum: change or die. Despite the gravity of its content, Robinson manages to instill STOPLESS with humor and priceless insight.

So yeah, I definitely recommend it. The prologue is eerie but the first sentence of the first chapter is where it's at. And from there, it's all good stuff. You can buy it on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Fainted in The Middle of a Restaurant. Sympathy?

Wink, Wink...

That’s pretty much the gist of the story. Here I am at OTTO waiting for my table, drinking no more than a glass of wine, blabbing on and on as I often do, and then all of the sudden I faint. The Skeeze caught me, which was to be expected because he’s one of those friends that’s, you know, always there when you fall. (That’s a saying, right? Because I’ve made it a goal to use more clich├ęs.). That reminds me; I should put him as my emergency contact on those forms at work from now on.

Possible Reasons for me Passing Out (In order of Probability):

  • Overworked – seven days a week
  • Received Bad News that Day – I internalize everything so I guess this would make sense. The mental affecting the physical and so forth.
  • Pregnant – Could be, but doubt it. If so, I’ve decided I’m at the age where it wouldn’t be necessary to kill it.
  • Girl in Bathroom – See details below.

Prior to fainting, I went into the small little bathroom and got stared down by some chick. I’d asked her if she was waiting to use the restroom, and she gave me a look as if to say, “Obviously.” But you never know in that bathroom—she could have been waiting to use the sink.

From the time she went into the stall until the time she came out, these are the things that I figured she was thinking:

  • “Umm, why the hell else would I be standing here if not to use the bathroom?” (As discussed, to use the sink)
  • “This girl looks like shit. I can’t believe she’s out in public.”
  • “Nice shirt, is she pregnant? I wish I could get pregnant but I can’t. My poor uterus/ovaries.” (I don't know why I thought she might be thinking this, but it seemed to make sense at the time.)
  • “She should wear her hair down.”
After all of this, I decided that if she wanted to take it outside, I’d be down. Just say the word. Bitch.

When she came out, she looked at me again and said:

“I like your necklace. I just bought a similar one. Who’s the designer?”

Avon, I think.”

“Oh, you should tell people you got it in France because this lady makes similar pendants.”

“What’s wrong with Avon?”

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty convinced she’s to blame for me having fainted. Either way, I've been on a massive sympathy campaign since. People feel very sorry for me. And why shouldn't they?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hi, I'm Writing a book but where to start??

"Writing is so relaxing I can do it on the beach with my eyes closed. Ahhh." Poser.

My friend is jumping into a new book project and is looking for motivation on how to actually get it underway. How do I concentrate? [speed]; should I join a book club? [no]; go to writing circles? [no], etc. I wrote her back with all of my advice. Some of it's practical, some of it is just a product of my bad attitude. I thought I'd share in case anyone who's reading this is writing and cared to hear my thoughts on it. Yes, I realize that my blog has turned into a self-help group for writers. Don't worry, though, realizing the problem is the first step. I'll be back to writing about poop and pee on toilet seats soon.

As you can imagine, I started off my email to her with a disclaimer:

I don't know if I'm any good at writing or if my novel will ever see the light of day, but I'm pretty certain that I can give good advice on how to write one. I'm like one of those people who sit in front of a football game yelling at a player for not catching the ball (as if I would have caught the ball). Or, yells at an ice skater for not adding a triple lutz into her routine. "You could've taken the gold, bitch..." So yeah, I can tell you how to win even if I'm not a great player myself. Some lame metaphor like that anyway. That said...

First off, you're at a good spot right now because it's hard to go straight into the writing process. You can't jump right in and start writing 10-12 hour days. It's impossible. At least it is for me. Everyone's different. I imagine that most people start off slow, especially when they're not sure where they're going with it. Maybe two hours a day--and even those two hours are full of distractions and a ton of self-doubt. Then they start getting the hang of it and seeing that the book has a common thread that ties it together.

At this point, you'll (yes, yes, I'm aware that I switched from the plural third person to the second person) start getting excited but there's still self-doubt (tons of it, as it turns out—and if you don't have self-doubt, then rest assured: your book sucks). Cocky writers write shitty books. I should know, I used to be one and everything I wrote was shitty. Once I was humbled, I was able to recognize the crap I was writing and improve upon it. You have to realize that you might have to rewrite your book quite a few times. I used to get so discouraged; now I just tell my sorry ass to stop sulking and keep going. It’s like I’m an army general AND a discouraged soldier. I get down, then I yell out myself to get up.

Anyway, getting to the advice part. This is all based on what works for me:

-Treat writing like a job. Casual writers = bloggers...which is fine, but novels and other long form projects are totally different beasts. When people say that they write for relaxation, I’m totally baffled. To me, writing is anything BUT relaxing. Apparently these people aren’t trying to bust out 300-400 pages of coherent material.

-Don't write at home. Too many distractions. Easy to give up. If you go to a cafe or bookstore that's somewhat far from your house, it's easier to not give up. I used to find it easiest to write at my house, but times have changed. I suggest finding that place that you really get work done, and continue to work there until you get sick of it. You know how they say that when you study for a test while you’re high that you should take the test high? It’s kind of the same thing. Environmental stimuli should remain consistent.

- Set a time goal for yourself.

-Don't give up because you're stressed (and if you're not stressed, there's something wrong with you).

-Make an outline of your various chapters. You probably won't stick to it, but at least it will give you something to go by.

-Turn into a hermit. You have to. Writing a book is a personal process and involves quite a bit of isolation. I interviewed at a magazine a million years ago and the editor there told me he wanted to write books, but he wasn't ready to go into hiding yet. He said that he liked talking to people, so now wasn't the time. I didn't really understand what he was talking about until I got into the process. I figured I could have it all: a life and writing. Turns out that this isn’t really true. The more I go out and drink and bla, bla, bla, the more clouded my mind is. I get distracted from my goal. Again, that's just me. Early to bed, early to rise and all that. Words to live by. Oh, but I do drink, even if it is under the covers with a flashlight. Keeps me sane.

-One of my personal favorite pieces of advice is: don't talk about your book a lot. There are a lot of different reasons people suggest not doing this. For one, the more you talk about it, the less you do it. People find so much satisfaction in getting positive feedback from others on the mere idea of their book that they never get to writing it. Also, when you talk about it, you put yourself in danger of listening to other peoples' advice on it. Everyone has to throw their two cents in. It's annoying. Especially when it's someone who has no idea what their talking about. Finally, there are so many writers in
New York that it's almost cliche to talk about writing your book. People all but roll their eyes when you (well, not you you, but you in general) mention you're writing. It's a downer and doesn't add to the creative process. From my personal experiences, I've found that the most dedicated writers don't share their ideas as much as the more casual writers do. There are writers and then there are people who think that acting and dressing and talking like a writer, in fact, makes them a writer. Not so much.

-Attend readings, media panels, etc. This always motivates me for whatever reason. I like to surround myself with writers (so long as they resist speaking about their projects, we're good). I just like their general presence. I like to witness successful writers reading their work.

Anyway, writing will never fall into anyone's lap. It's a lot of work even for amazing writers. The fact that you have three agents interested in your book is good artificial motivation. It should get you started until you start building your own internal motivation (if that makes any sense).

Feel free to bug me any time. I think when you called last night I was promising the bartender that I could launch his modeling career for him. I do these things from time to time. That's why I really shouldn't go out.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My Paranoia

I've always been a paranoid individual. When I studied psychology and neuroscience in school (because despite what my resume says, my major was neuroscience psychology and my minors were biology and Spanish)—I was not coincidentally fascinated by drugs' effects on the brain, especially cocaine causing paranoia and other schizophrenic-like symptoms. I used to come up with little theories about cocaine—a drug I’ve never touched in my life—and talk to professors about them whilst telling them that their experiments were in fact incorrect (“your study isn’t measuring alertness, it’s actually measuring anxiety”). Anyway, where I’m going with this…

When I first went to my psychiatrist to get Adderal, I prepared my little speech, came up with a back story about how I’d been on Ritalin all my life until college and then got off—now, I want to get on something again, etc. I added that I knew all about this stuff because I studied it in school and yes, I know it’s nothing more than legal speed and I'm okay with that, and bla. He told me that the side effects were weight loss and insomnia. I asked him if that was supposed to be a warning or a sales pitch, because I’ll take it! But, about my paranoia.

He prescribed me 10 mg extended release to start (this is nothing, by the way) and after taking it for two days, I was convinced that he'd actually given me a placebo. I called him back pretty immediately and made another appointment. At this second appointment I accused him of the placebo thing:

“You prescribed me a placebo, didn’t you? You wanted to see if I really needed it? You thought that if I called back and complained, then that meant I really needed it and it wasn’t all in my head?"

“Maybe you should be here discussing your paranoia instead of your ADHD."

“Oh. Yeah. Maybe. You should hear the stories I come up with when someone doesn’t respond to my emails."

“Yes, maybe you should make another appointment and tell me about those.”

"Ha. Ha.”


Another recent bout of paranoia involved my gym. I work out at a hotel gym where a friend of mine works. When you consider the price of joining a gym in Manhattan and divide it by the amount of times I actually work out in a month, I end up paying about $30 each time I want to run on the treadmill for 20 minutes. At the hotel gym, I look out the window over the city, use their towels, watch their tvs, steal their fruit and don’t pay a thing for it. Just my style. The hotel is so large that my friend says they’ll just assume I work there, if they question it at all, which is unlikely. Still, I’m always a bit paranoid about the situation when I go in. Last week I went in, scribbled my name and went to grab some water. I saw the girl look at the notepad, look at me and pick up the phone. I told the Skeeze that I had to get out of there. She's onto me. She's calling security. He told me I was a nut and that he was staying. “Okay, but I’m out of here.”

If the Gestapo came after me, after all, I didn’t want to throw my friend under the bus. I told the girl at the front that I wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be working out. She looked at me weird but didn’t seem to care. I texted the Skeeze, “Let me know what happened.” For a couple hours after that I called him incessantly, wanting to know if security came up. He didn’t answer. I was convinced he was in some little cell in the hotel under a bright light getting interrogated. What would he say? How would he say I got the gym card? Would he out my friend? Would they hold him overnight?

Finally, a few hours later (because the Skeeze didn’t realize how urgent my calls were), he called me back and said, “Oh yeah, security came up and made me pay for the day. No big deal.”

“Really? I knew it!”

“No, psycho. Not really. Nothing happened.”

I found this pretty unbelievable considering everything that happened in my mind.

I’ve decided to face my fears and return to the gym today. I spent the whole morning coming up with excuses to give the security guards when they come to escort me out. I think they’ll believe me.

Friday, September 07, 2007

And I'm Back...

Hey B, Can you tell your mom to keep it down? I'm trying to work.

Not that I've been anywhere—just working and writing and fending off those readers who are not loyal enough to check this page every day. Even more, hoping that some of them (colleagues) would go away.

Since I've all but moved into the coffee shop where I get my work done, I think I'll go ahead and talk about it a lot. I tried auditioning a couple new places, but I'm a creature of habit and it didn't work out so well. As Dave would say, "I require a certain environment to cultivate my genius..." He says this, of course, right after he fails a practice GMAT or something like that, so the irony is not at all subtle. Anyway, two weekends ago I convinced myself that I was not above bringing my laptop to the Starbucks by my apartment. If all went well, it would save me the 25-minute commute down to my regular spot. Now, I've got nothing against Starbucks—the company in general that is. They hire thousands of people, provide a service, and do it with consistency. But, their chairs suck. I've got tons of padding on my ass and still I left numb. (I guess they don't want people to sit there all day with their laptops.) Beyond that, though, the people who come in there tend to have too many babies. And on the Upper West Side, where I live, the high-pitched mothers have taken a liking to outscreaming said babies, telling them things like "Mommy has to go get her nails done," or "Mommy doesn't like the green tea latte." Sorry lady, but little Beethoven doesn't understand you (kids on the UWS have the worst names). Also, Starbucks doesn't toast stuff—at least not this one—and I'm definitely too uptight to eat my bagels un-toasted. All of this is to say, Starbucks is not my new favorite spot.

After dealing with some adulterous-like guilt, I decided to return to my original coffee shop. I'd mention the name of the place as a public service announcement to those looking for a great place to get work done (and I have before), but quite frankly, it's been too crowded as of late and I don't want anyone else to discover it.

In an unintentional act of narcissism, I asked the Skeeze, "Do you think they at least noticed that I wasn't there last weekend?" ("They" being the people who inhabit/work at the coffee shop.) Skeeze said probably not, and added that the girls who work there kind of hate me. Shucks.

I've got my Table Nazi skills down to an art. In my lazier days I wouldn't get to the coffee shop until about 10 am on the weekends. At this time, every table was inevitably taken so I would just stare at people until they got so uncomfortable that they would have to leave. Now, I just get there at 8.

My coffee shop isn't quiet. Usually I hear a ton of conversations that break my concentration. Considering I'm on speed half the time, this is saying a lot. Two of my all time favorites:

-Guy and girl. He's obviously some type of life-consultant and she's a hometown girl who moved to the city to act:

Hometown Girl: I'm not getting any call backs and when people ask me to go out, I'm afraid that if I say yes I'll be out drinking when I get a call back. My mom says that I should say 'No' when people ask me to hang out. If someone asks me to go out on a Wednesday, I should just say 'No, I might have an audition on Wednesday.' It's, like, positive thinking.
Life Consultant: "Don't say 'I might' have an audition. Say, 'Sorry, I can't make it, I have an audition on Wednesday.'
Hometown Girl: That's sooo true.

-Two writers (By the way, there's nothing I loathe more than writers who sit around talking about writing):

Girl Who Stutters Like a Very LOUD Porky Pig and Can't Spit it the Fuck Out: I always sit down and try to write here but I end up listening to other peoples' conversations. I mean, two girls are sitting around talking about their night and who they slept with—it's like I can't not listen. It's really hard to concentrate when other people are talking and you're trying to work.

[Here I almost turned around to say, "Yeah, no shit," but for some reason I needed to know what dumb shit they were going to talk about next. Sorry I asked.]

Guy Who Looks Like a Blond, Converse-Wearin' Tim Allen: Yeah, so in the next scene the guy's going to look in the mirror and see his reflection and has a revelation.
G.W.S.L.A.V.L.P.P.A.C.S.I.T.F.O.: I can so totally see your book as a movie.
Guy Who Looks Like a Blond, Converse-Wearin' Tim Allen: No, I'm writing it more like a sitcom. Writers always make the mistake of writing novels like they're movies. It doesn't work [note: um, really?]. They should be writing books like they're TV shows not movies.
G.W.S.L.A.V.L.P.P.A.C.S.I.T.F.O.: I want to give my main character a Ph.D. but I want her to be young, like right out of college. You know, I want her to be smart, though.

When he can't take this chick's voice any more, the Skeeze texts me: "Ba-dee-ba-dee-ba-dee, that's all folks"

I have so many other little anecdotes-if-you-will that I want to puke all over this page right now, but I can see that this here post is getting long. I'll update again soon with some other stuff, like maybe about how my old roommate—The Diablo—has proposed ten totally unrelated new career plans in the last month. Or maybe we could talk about his new website (you're going to die) or how he has acquired a new group of cronies whose sole purpose is to pump him up and agree with his schizo ideas (do I smell a pending suicide?) On that note, I'm so glad that my cousin and I had the gumption (yes, gumption) to hook him up with her friend before I moved out of his place last year. Now we still get all the dirt with none of the pain.
As a sneak peek, because really, I can't help myself: The Diablo decided he was going to be a surfer after watching John in Cincinnati (yet, went to California a few weeks ago and didn't get on a board once). As you can surely see, he's from Ohio himself and what could be more of a 'sign' that he should also surf than seeing a show—no less loving it—about a guy from Ohio who loves surfing?? He's such a nutbag I could write an entire blog based entirely on him. It’d be interesting, too. Okay, I'm done blabbing. Swear. More soon.