Monday, June 29, 2009

Flying's Da Bomb

So I'm standing in line at airport security wishing I were somewhere more pleasant, like maybe the Siberian tundra, when a whole mess of beeping wakes me out of my dog-sledding vodka-swigging trance.

Airport Guy: Excuse me ma'am, what's in this metal box?
Me: A camera.
Airport Guy: (eying me warily) A camera?
Me: A camera.
Airport Guy: What kind of camera?
Me: A video camera.
Airport Guy: For videos?
Me:... yep.

Airport guy is clearly not satisfied with this description and so he asks me to open the camera case, which, granted, is bulky and reinforced with metal and locks and all sorts of things which someone might want to surround their delicate video equipment with. Airport Guy does not wait for me to open the camera case before he grabs it back from me and bangs it down on the counter five or six times.

Airport Guy: Why's it rattling?
Me: I think because you're banging it.
Airport Guy: Are you kidding me?
Airport Guy: You think I don't know what a camera sounds like?
Me: What?
Airport Guy: What's in the box, ma'am?
Me: My camera!
Airport Guy: (opening the box) And what about this, huh?
Me: Padding.
Airport Guy: Padding for what?
Me: Padding. It protects the camera incase it gets all banged around.
Airport Guy: Banged?
Me: Banged.
Airport Guy: Bang?
Me: What?
Airport Guy: Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to step over here.

So I step over there, a little gray room with no windows, where I am introduced to Airport Gal.

Airport Gal: A camera?
Me: A camera!
Airport Gal: Please turn the camera on ma'am.
Me: I can't, it's out of batteries.
Aiport Gal: That's pretty convenient, don't you think?
Me: Not really.
Airport Gal: Where are you traveling to?
Me: I'm going to Florida to visit my publishing company
Airport Gal: Like, books?
Me: Books.
Airport Gal: You said this was a camera.
Me: It is a camera.
Airport Gal: How do you know?
Me: I... what?
Airport Gal: Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to step over here.

So I step over there, and I am acquainted with Airport Man, who is distinguishable from Airport Guy by a massive belly and an even more massive mustache. I wait for nearly a half hour for Airport Man to get off of a phone call, and now he wants to know what's in the box.

Me: A camera! Look! Listen, my plane is leaving in like 15 minutes and I really can't miss-
Airport Man: This will take as long as it needs to take ma'am. What's this?
Me: Lens cleaner.
Airport Man: Lens cleaner?
Me: For the camera.
Airport Man: We're going to have to confiscate this.
Me: But it's under the liquid limit!
Airport Man: Would you be willing to taste it?
Me: What??
Airport Man: Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to step over -
Me: Don't you think if I wanted to transport a bomb I'd pick something more discreet to transport it in? This box is plated in shiny metal with huge rivets and locks and it's massive! Who would think this was a good place to hide a bomb!? Duffel bag, sure. Baby stroller, very inconspicuous. But this? I mean, you might as well rollerblade through customs dressed as a giant stick of TNT.

And that's how you get you get your lens cleaner confiscated and your red sweatshirt triple x-rayed in the special back office in a little grey windowless room next to airport security.

God Bless America.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Party Off.

I went to a party recently, and it sucked donkey balls.

I cannot attribute this to not knowing anyone there, because there were at least two dozen familiar faces. And I cannot attribute this knowing but not liking any of those familiar faces, because among them were loved ones and dear friends. The food was pretty good, the dessert was great, mohitos and cosmos flowed like (insert your favorite flow metaphor here. Water/wine/tears/lava... it's that time of the month and I don't want to forcefully subject you to the metaphor that comes most readily to my mind. (Oops, too late.))

So anyway, lots of booze, lots of food, lots of flashbacks to me in middleschool hiding in the bathroom stall of some fancy catering hall.

I went to a "reform" temple on the wealthy side of town, which meant that people whose families had lots of money but not so much piety or tact invited me to a lot of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs where latkas with caviar on top were crucial religious celebratory ingredients. According to the 50 or so lavishly catered affairs I attended between ages 12-15, an ancient coming of age ceremony is simply not complete without novelty Groucho Marx sunglasses, miniature roulette wheels, caricaturists, fountains of chocolate, and sometimes three brand new ponies (no kidding.)

But hey, who am I to complain? I got 50 sweet goodie bags filled with personalized shirts, chocolates, light-up-pens, Tiffany bean necklaces, and sometimes even Bar Mints-vahs (because who wants to visit the holy land with a dirty mouth?)

I also got hours upon hours of awkward 7th grade dance antics, where the girls and boys treated eachother like a hostile enemy species until some coked-up professional "dance motivator" in a sequined vest skipped over and insisted that everyone join in for a mortifying game of "Coke and Pepsi."

Did you guys play Coke and Pepsi? Does anybody else think that having middle school girls repeatedly perch on the laps of middle school boys in the hopes of winning a giant inflatable saxophone borders on inappropriate? Was this just the ingenius plot of some horny group of 12 year olds? Have we been fooled into lap-perching submission for generations at the hands of a pervy pubescent patriarchy?

I didn't really have time to ponder these issues when I was 12-15 because, as I mentioned before, I was usually in the bathroom. These fancy catering halls usually had really fancy bathrooms that weren't even called bathrooms but rather "powder rooms," and the powder rooms were full of perfumes and hairspray and complimentary bouquets of tampax. They were also very quiet, and I found them a welcome escape from the blaring ear-assault of 3 hours of Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin ickiness, or whoever the terrible pop idol of the era happened to be.

I have tried to be awesome at party socializing. I have tried to steel myself against the blaring music and sweaty handshakes and vapid chitchat about the weather and that yummy guacamole over by the bar. I have tried to imbibe half the contents of said bar in an attempt to enjoy myself more, but then I usually end up right back where I started- in the bathroom- and this time it's not because I'm a wallflower.

It's not that I don't like people. I mean, I don't like a lot of people, but I don't discount them as a race entirely. I think it's just that people were not meant to socialize in massive sweaty hordes of anonymous shouting.

But maybe that's just me.

Am I alone here? Are there other fellow bathroom-dwellers out there who couldn't wait for their Mom to pick them up from the 7th grade dance so they could go home and eat pizza bagels and watch old movie musicals with their cat and-

Well I think I've said too much.

Just to let you know, this candid admission only serves to underscore my allaround social excellence, because only the coolest person you know would willingly tell thousands of people about how she'd rather stab herself in the eye with a salad fork than go clubbing. Right?


Hope all is well, folks. Party on. Or off.


P.S. I'm in the process of editing the very last FINAL FINAL FINAL four pages of the book- a little "special features" section if you will, and I'd love a few more opinions. If you'd be willing to give me your two cents I'll send you the sneak preview. Email me at

Monday, June 8, 2009


How do you write a book?

As I mentioned on Youtube, a lot of people have been emailing me questions about the writing process lately. I figure now is as good a time as any to answer writing questions, because for the next month I will be an Author- a real live, true blue, pen-to-paper author, and after that my family will almost certainly re-dub me "get-a-job-and-move-the-hell-out Friedman."

The first thing that I learned is that writing is a job. It's not just that fun thing you do on the subway when you have nothing better to think about, or that indulgent hobby you store in a diary under your bed for all those times you're feeling très très heartbroken and poetic, or that rusty skill you dust off every time you have some bullshit homework assignment due. Writing is a job, and if you want to make it your job, you have to treat it with respect.

This means a few things:
1. You cannot wait until whimsy beckons you to your keyboard, because whimsy is a fickle muse.
2. You have to get used to the 1/10 idea. Nine tenths of what you write is going to be, according to you, total crap.
3. You have to wallow in a lot of supposed crap before you figure out what it is your subconscious is really trying to express. Don't give up.
4. In terms of raw creativity, your subconscious is valedictorian and your logical, literal mind, rides the short bus. And drools. And eats its own earwax. Leave her out of this.

To expand upon these ideas:

1 : Make yourself a schedule. (I will be the first one to call shenanigans here.) I will tell you that I work best under pressure of a deadline, but really that's a lie. I work only under pressure of a deadline, and if there hadn't been the possibility that I would get sued if I didn't finish this book, I probably wouldn't have gotten past chapter two.

But I knew I had to finish, and I knew this was a big project, so I set lots of little goals. They add up. All you can ask of yourself is to dedicate a little time every day to your project. Every single one of my favorite passages in the book came after at least five minutes of doodling around writing nothing very interesting. I'd write my name. My address. I'd write "I have nothing to write I have nothing to write I have nothing to write." And by and by, my mind would quiet and my fingers would take over and these awesome pages came totally out of nowhere. If I had waited until I "knew" exactly what I was going to write, nothing exciting or surprising would have been written.

Set aside time each day. No page limit, no word count. Just set a timer, and keep your fingers typing (/strumming/stirring/dribbling etc.) for exactly that amount of time. And no matter what you've accomplished by the end of it, you've succeeded. I promise that by the end of a week, you'll be seeing results. It is the hardest thing in the world to start working, especially when your goal is to finish a whole book. But if your only expectation is that you sit down and write for half an hour a day, you'll accomplish it easily. You'll feel accomplished. You'll start to accomplish amazing things. Day by day. You have my word.

2: If I had waited for everything to be perfect in my head, I would have gotten frustrated and stopped months ago. It's happened a million times, with songs, with poems, with short stories- I have a hundred half-finished projects festering in the nooks and crannies of my motherboard. But guess what? Things don't finish themselves, and there's no such thing as a brilliant stroke of insight that fixes every plothole and character arc. Even if you do stumble across a really great idea, you're going to have to work and whittle and move things around before everything fits.

And here's the best part: everything will fit. The reason that you're having such a hard time finishing is the very same reason that you'll be able to finish. If you had absolutely no standards, if you could pull strings of incoherent words out of a barrel and be fine signing your name to them, you'd be finished with all of your projects by now. But you know what you're capable of. You know how great it feels when, on that rare occasion, you write something that's just perfect. That you're proud of. That you want to share with others. Your high standards are often what gets in the way of your finishing a project, because you don't allow yourself the freedom to muck through the ten crappy sentences it takes before you find the good one. But the good news is that these same high standards will allow you to know, to really know, when you finally hit upon something great. So you don't need to worry about whether or not your work will be good. You only need to worry about doing enough work to get down to the good stuff.

3. There is no wrong way to start writing, except to not start. As a die-hard procrastinator, I was not used to the idea of drafts when I began this project. At Yale I would usually not look at my assignments for months, then spend the entire night before a paper was due agonizing over every single word until it was perfect, then print it out never to be seen again. I did not leave room for growth- I just wanted to finish the damn thing. But if you have a project that you care about, you're going to have to nurture it. It won't be perfect the first time around, or the second, or the third. Not only is that okay, that's the only way to really achieve your creative goals.

For a perfectionist like me, this idea was hard to get used to. I wanted Chapter One to be perfect so that I could move on to Chapter Two. I wanted to check it off on my little anal-retentive checklist. But that's not how creative projects work. They evolve from all angles at different speeds. Sometimes your very first chord or lyric or sentence will be influenced by your very last, and you won't know how it all ties together until you get to the end of the process. Things reveal themselves bit by bit, and if you give yourself over to this process, its like solving a fantastic artistic mystery every single day.

This is liberating, people. I used to be Ms. Thesaurus, and I'd sit and stare at my computer for half an hour making sure I had the perfect word. This is NOT the way to write. It will kill your creative spirit and wear you down. It's a waste of your time. Through this process I've learned to trust myself enough to leave things loose. Sometimes I'll know that I need a very certain word, but I can't put my finger on what it is, so I'll leave myself an asterisk in the text and come back to it later. Or I'll make up a fake word as a placeholder. Sometimes I'll reach a spot where I want to touch upon a very broad idea, an entire philosophy which needs to be artfully distilled, but I know that it will take me a long time to find the perfect format, and I'm in a good story flow and I know that wrestling with it will just trip me up. I leave myself a little note, one or two words which will remind me of the big idea I was intending to grapple with, and then later I'll come back.

This approach seems very messy, but it's actually quite relaxing. On the first pass you can just let yourself go crazy- you can write down every single thing that comes into your head without having to insist that the inner critic/editor have approval over every line. The inner critic/editor will be very helpful around the fifth or sixth draft, but in the beginning she only serves to make you feel like crap. When you feel like crap you don't give your ideas a chance, and very soon after you give up completely. Then you don't write anything and you feel worthless. Then you feel worthless so you don't write. Sound familiar?

My best advice is to trust yourself enough to have fun during the writing process. When you stop fixating on what your project should be, you get to discover what it is. And it is NEVER the same thing. Never. Your creative ideal is just a flagpost for the direction in which you'll begin to search, and once you begin to think about it as the search for Tut's tomb instead of the construction of a pyramid, you'll start to feel more sane, have more fun, and get more done. I promise.

4. You know way more than you think you know. I have never come up with a great idea banging my head against a wall willing myself to produce one. It just doesn't work that way. Most of the messages and information we absorb are not processed by our conscious mind, and the reason dreams are so nifty is that they weave together all sorts of snippets which affect us, but which we aren't completely aware of. When I was really "in the zone" while writing the book, it felt very akin to a dream. Things were unfolding in real time, and I recorded my narrative experience as I went through it in my head. And every single time my conscious mind got pissy and started to tell me "that's not funny," "that's not relevant," or "that just sucks," I would totally jar myself out of the zone and into self-doubt and panic. It wasn't fun.

I've mentioned it on the blog before, but I think I should reiterate this because it's such a fantastic writing tool. Get a Suck Jar. Mine is a sugar bowl with a little slot for a spoon. But instead of a spoon, I slide pieces of paper into the slot with every writing insecurity I come across. If I think a passage, paragraph, or project sucks, I write down why, and I put it in my Suck Jar. If I think I'm not funny, I put it in the Suck Jar. And then it's out of my head and I don't have to think about it anymore. I can just move on.

The jar is full of dozens of notes, and when I look back at them now, they all seem ridiculous and hyper critical. If an editor or a friend were to tell me a fraction of those things, I would never let them read my stuff again. But we're all our own worst critics, and we can't get away from ourselves. Which is why it's so important to delineate between pure creative time, and hardcore editing time. Don't start poking holes in your quiche before it's even in the oven.

The best thing I've learned over the course of writing this book is that if you give yourself the space to play out all of your craziest ideas, a judgement-free-zone, you will surprise yourself.

Please let me know about all of your other questions, and do keep me posted on whatever you're working on. Was any of this helpful? Hope all is well!