Dear Diary, General, Journal

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

Heart Love
Heart Love by Sophie

Reading my very old diary seems like a perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a time for nostalgia and love. Diaries go along with flowers, candy, lace-trimmed red heart-shaped cards, romance, passion, flirting, secrets and wide-eyed innocence.  And diaries are where we reveal our true love. But so far, reading you, dear diary, leads me to just the opposite–shame, embarrassment, and sadness.

It was June 9th, 1962 when I began this diary. I had a new bright yellow Easyrite notebook, all the pages blank. However, I wrote my first entry on the last page, following my penchant for doing the opposite, the unusual, a habit I had perfected.

My Diary, 1962-1964

“BITCH BITCH BITCH,” are the first three words I wrote and now read. The words are in capital letters, underlined three times. I’m sorry to admit that my mother is the object of my fury. Why am I so angry with her? Putting it simply, we had a love-hate relationship.

That June day I was furious because my mother had “banned” yet another of my precious books, yet again torn it up and thrown it in the garbage. The book my mother threw out three days after my high school graduation was Norman Mailer’s “Advertisements for Myself”.  In the first paragraph I made a list of the other books she’d thrown in the garbage can. They included Andre Gide’s “Point Counter Point”, Aldous Huxley’s “Barren Leaves”, Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” and something by Kahil Gibran which might have been saved because his name is crossed it out.

When I realized what she had done, I rushed down the driveway to retrieve the book. I remember those garbage cans standing in the alley at the foot of the driveway behind our newly built two-story red brick house on Fairlawn St. All along the alley were backyards like ours with only a few lawns, mostly coppery, yellow dirt left from the tractors of the construction crews bulldozing this new small subdivision in the East Hills. The street dead-ended at an open woodsy area where I walked my dog and seven years before read the complete Sherlock Holmes in a tree by a stream where violets grew.

Dear Diary, 1st sentence

Oh, I was seventeen and unsatisfied, lovelorn and resentful, rebelling against my parents and their expectations, contemptuous of the status quo. My only recourse was books, their wonderful stories, and from them I fashioned the story I desperately imagined for myself. Obviously, my mother suspected that these books were corrupting me and would not fit me for success. Maybe she blamed the books for my lousy, jaded, faux-superior attitude?  Maybe she wanted her first daughter to be as sweet as those pink, lacy, Valentine cutout cards?

But I had decided I was beyond romance. I had read “Gone With the Wind” too long ago. Now I was desperately yearning for significance, wanting to be grown-up and a real writer too. I think I was hoping that if I were angry or bitter or isolated enough I’d feel as important as the characters Dostoevsky, Hemingway or Charlotte Bronte wrote about. In the poetry of Keats and Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas,  I took “love” to mean “loss” and “desire” to mean “despair”.

Everyone knew those Valentine cards were corny, didn’t they?

After I graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school, I felt like I lost my school friends. My boyfriend, with whom I was desperately in love just like those Valentine cards promised, disappeared from my life. I thought I should leave everything I loved behind.  Angry and bitter, hard and brutal were the desirable characteristics of the new adult world I saw I must enter.

Hell. Death. Suffering. These were the important words. On the back of my diary I had printed in a quivery hand three quotes from some famous philosopher that I don’t recognize: “Hell is the inability to love. Death is the inability to hope. Suffering is the inability to believe.” I thought if I could embrace hell, death and suffering, I’d be important too!

But the irony did not escape me. I was nothing if not ironical. I confess, dear diary, all I glean from reading you now is the contempt I felt for myself then. Who dared to care about that bookish seventeen year old girl from the comfortable suburbs of Pittsburgh in no apparent danger or distress?

Dear Diary,  With shame I write in you.
Dear Diary, I write with shame.

I admit I’d love now to read more scenes like my first angry one.  But “BITCH BITCH BITCH” may be the only really compelling line in the whole diary. I don’t know because the truth is I can only bear to read a little at a time. Dear diary, I confess you are boring and repetitive, empty of any meaningful characters or memorable details. Each sentence requires that I step back and forgive myself for my unpleasantness and the insufferable righteousness I claimed for myself while blaming my mother. Such tortured, melodrama! I guess I thought I was a true romantic.

Now I promise to read you. Taking my cue from the Buddhist practice of meditation, I will become aware of all that isn’t said, all that is bungled  or disguised.  Reading you will be my challenge–my practice, like the practice of zazen. Think of me sitting on a pillow,  naming my thoughts and letting them go while I read on.  You, dear diary, hold all I have left of that lonely teenager who was myself. I want to embrace that girl.

Maybe I could fall in love with her.


Happy Valentine's Day!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Events, General, Journal

Dreamers is gone….to the Printer

Dreamers, a novelI did it. I finally sent my novel, Dreamers, to the printer.

Today, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, at 12:44 PM. ( I couldn’t help looking at the time, embed it in my memory.) I felt like crying then and do now as I write this. Why?  I’m happy, that’s why. It’s such a big deal.

Okay, it’s not the final-final, just the preview advance copy, and I’m printing only a few books to send to book reviewers to ask,  to respectfully request, their endorsements to add to the final.  “Advance Copy–Not for Sale” it reads on the back cover.

When I say I sent, I really mean “uploaded”; here in the electronic stratosphere of Northern California, I can send my brilliant blue cover file and my 374 page text file electronically to Kentucky where the printer does her magic. The printer’s a huge corporation, not a “she”, but hey, the Supreme Court ruled last year by  5-4 (Citizens United v. FEC ) that corporations are people with feelings and rights, so I think of my printer as a “she”.

So I sent my book to Kentucky with a click of my keyboard. But this techno-miracle is nothing to the miracle of Dreamers itself. I don’t want to talk  too much about this as I’ll lose it here tonight, and have to stop writing here at the computer. Like with the cryingg – Look at that, I just misspelled a word. So what, you say? Spelling matters in the book world. It’s like dropping off a high wire if you’re a squirrel. It’s like this feat of Dreamers at the printer.

You see, Dreamers is a novel that took too long to write.

Yeah, that’s right. I started it in 1969 in New York where I was teaching 6th grade at a private school in the East Village. One weekend or another, I wrote a few pages in my studio walkup on West 96th Street. It wasn’t called Dreamers then. I don’t think it had a name but it had a trolley  (remember trolleys?) that crashed into a brand new Impala during a snowstorm in Pittsburgh, PA the town where I was born. And that’s still the way the story begins, more or less.

I was twenty-four and dreaming of becoming a great female writer, a combination of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, or maybe James Joyce and Tolstoy depending on who I was reading at the time. I have to add “female” because it didn’t escape me then or now that all my writing heroes were men.

This would be my second novel. My first, “Hobbyhorse”,  was written in college, and I had 5 copies typed out on onionskin, one I had left on a toilet in an art gallery on Waikiki Beach.

A little later, I was reading the New York Sunday Times book reviews when I saw a small boxed notice of a winter Writer’s Workshop at the Provincetown Fine Arts Center on the tip of Cape Cod. Norman Mailer was one of the participant mentors. Reading that, I applied, sending in my few beginning pages in right away. Norman Mailer was shocking, prolific, a rebel, and a successful literary bad boy. I wanted to be part of whatever he was doing.

It’s still 1969. Come the 3rd of August and I’m in San Francisco now, having migrated out of New York on a romantic whim, when I get a telegram saying I’ve been accepted at the Provincetown Fine Arts Writing Workshop and what’s more, have been offered a full scholarship from the American Federation of the Arts to go there.

What a miracle! It’s out of this magic that Dreamers was seeded. I had an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of experience that winter in Provincetown and left the following spring with a seedling, half of a first draft. “Momma’s Old Clothes” was the title, after the dirty laundry that fell out of the Impala when the trolley crashed into it.

But oh, how long it took for that seed to bear fruit. I’m too exhausted to think about it. I need a rest after conjuring up these old stories. You can imagine how much more there is to tell.  It’s too much for one night–how long it’s been, 42 years from then till now. I’ll write about it some another time. Tonight I’m going to watch an old movie and forget about it. But tomorrow I’ll be checking my email to see if the printer got the files and if they’re alright–as in, all right. Oh my god. What if it all disappeared? Oh, sure I have backups. That’s not what I meant. You get it, don’t you? Disappeared, as in dreams that are lost forever.