Monday, July 20, 2009

Short answer: Yes

Longer answer to previous post:
I spent the weekend thinking about my last post, what I was really trying to say and what lay behind those feelings of frustration. The conclusion I came to is that I am not writing because I. Am. Bored. It is extraordinarily difficult for me to write without stimuli. After some serious "what do I need?" soul searching, I now know that I actually thrive when I'm around other creative people, even if bad shit is going down in the office and we all have letter openers to our throats as we weep openly at our desks. I am not a loner who can sit in a quiet room all day with no company except the cats and churn out interesting prose.

Honestly, this is a revelation!

Writing is a lonely profession. It requires you to be inside your own head for sometimes dangerous amounts of time, and you can get lost in there (I know I do, and often). If you're lucky, you have an understanding and talented writing group to bounce ideas off of, but most of us toil in solitude. Or, like me, you think about toiling but then go find something to watch on TV because the house is just too damn quiet to write.

I've gotta get out of this house. My concern with not spending money has kept me in a virtual prison since February. I have to draw the line somewhere, and that's my sanity. So, I'm going to start saying yes to all those Facebook invitations (well, not all of them), take some classes and just get out there and find something to write about.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Am I a writer?

I've always made my living in writing-related industries. I started out doing mindless data entry at a newspaper, because I respected the role of journalism in our society and hoped to be a journalist myself one day. Then I got hip to magazines, and that magazine writing paid more (most of the time). After almost five years of that, I moved to another country and when I came back, I couldn't get my foot back in the door of the old company. So I started writing ad copy, which was insanely easy for me to do. But I hated myself for it being so easy, if that makes any sense. Then I quit and started freelance writing. Fell into it, actually. I didn't have to look for anything, because all my clients were word-of-mouth or friends of friends. I also didn't make much money because I wasn't willing or able to do the hard work involved in finding and keeping clients.

While freelancing, my portfolio (pretty from working with so many great designers) caught the attention of someone who put me on the short list to edit a new magazine. I'd never been a "real" editor before. I felt up to the challenge. But then I hardly ever got to write anything. Wasn't that what I really wanted to do?

This is where I'm stuck right now. Isn't writing what I'm supposed to be doing? Everyone thinks so. Any time I bring up my frustration to my mom, she says, "But you're such a talented writer!" to which I wonder, when was the last time she read something I wrote? Can I spin a yarn about my early years or highlight the absurdity of my former in-laws or reveal embarrassing details about myself? Sure, because I was born into a family of natural storytellers. And I was born in a weird place in Mississippi (all places in Mississippi are weird to an extent, but Foxworth is special) that has all the elements of Southern Gothic with more absurdity and without any of the highbrow literary leanings. Everybody's got a hundred funny and/or morbid stories.

But a talented writer can weave a story out of thin air. I cannot do this. My mind starts out in high gear but quickly shuts down when I see the illogic in what I'm going to say. I think I would have made a better lawyer than writer, because I can argue against myself and win every time. I shoot down my own ideas and nothing, nothing is ever good enough.

So, fine. I have high (-ish) standards. Most good writers do. But here's where good writers and I part company: They work at their craft. I don't know what has happened to me, but I can barely make myself tweet something and I certainly don't write in a journal any more. I'm not sure if it's just the physical nature of writing -- it does require you to be pinned down, sometimes for hours at a time, and often with little to show for it at the end -- or the fact that I feel like my imagination and creativity have been completely dessicated. I don't really have "ideas" any more. I have random, fleeting thoughts ("I wonder if the neighbor who never comes out of the house during the day is a drug dealer") but I don't act on them. I don't jot dialogue down in a notebook I keep in my purse (I used to do this). I don't write.

I have managed to make a bland blog post about my frustration, but is that writing? The ability to string words together does not make you a writer. Having a blog does not make you a writer. A writer can't imagine doing anything else but writing. It's both a career and a lifestyle. Is it possible that I ended up in a career by circumstance when I should have been doing something else? How does anyone ever know that the path they're on is the right one?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Burning love

I have only truly loved a few TV shows in my life. My first crush was Seinfeld, which I still quote in conversation and think was the best TV comedy ever. Then came the original Law & Order with its strangely hot ADA Jack McCoy and wise Detective Lenny Briscoe. My college roommate and I never missed the new episodes and would frequently lock the door and unplug the phone (oh, those grand days before cells and social media!) so as not to be disturbed.

More recently, I came to love that geriatric mainstay, CSI. For the first four seasons of CSI (the original, not those paltry also-rans CSI: Miami and CSI:NY), I was completely obsessed. Royal and I could usually guess the true killer's identity before the half hour mark, but the true draw of the show was Gil Grissom. He was a modern day Sherlock Holmes who was unabashedly nerdy, and quite open in his attitudes about sex. Rowr. Once the show started focusing on him less and the other (less interesting) characters more, our attention waned.

Then last week, we watched a marathon of Burn Notice episodes. And now I am in complete lust with this show. Jeffrey Donovan plays Michael Westen, an ex-spy who's been "burned," fired and deprived of his resources so he can never work again. Everyone seems out to get him, and he's out to find who burned him and why. He's been dumped in Miami, a city he left at 17 to escape a bad childhood and dysfunctional family (Sharon Gless plays his mother Madeleine). His only friends are Fiona, his gun-toting, former IRA ex-girlfriend (played by the gorgeous Gabrielle Anwar) and former military intel officer and current FBI informant Sam (the always wonderful Bruce Campbell).

A lot happens in any given episode. Things go boom, Fiona and Michael may or may not make out, Sam drinks mojitos (this show makes me crave alcohol something fierce) and Michael gets one step closer to unraveling the puzzle of his past. It is not the type of show I would normally find interesting much less completely absorbing, but the witty dialogue, likeable cast and intricate plots keep it from being a typical action show. Oh, and did I mention the hotness of its three main stars? This show is sizzling, and a lot of fun.

I really, really like Fiona. I love that she is played by a 39-year-old actress, and not a 20-something with little to contribute besides looking foxy in a bikini. Not that Fiona isn't foxy: this woman is incredibly lean and taut with freakin' 12-pack abs. But she's not a stock character or just a pretty face. She is deeply in love with Michael and her vulnerability with him obviously pisses her off. I like that she's tough and talks smack. BUT, in a scene in the second season, Fiona and Michael get into a fight as "foreplay." She's hitting him in the face, kicking him, throwing him down, but when he hits her he immediately freaks out and is all, "Sorry! Sorry!" Obviously he's bigger than her and she's ticked off that he hit her, but is it OK to hit a man, especially a man you love? I guess it's part of her complicated character, and we're supposed to see this as the main reason she and Michael couldn't make their relationship work. She's not a soft, anxious, behind-the-scenes girlfriend. She will kick anyone's ass who tries to mess with her man, her friends or even women she barely knows (a couple of episodes showed her getting enraged at men who had abused women) so I like that she's strong in that regard. But physical violence as foreplay... I don't think I can get behind her on that one. Still, Fiona's a great character and I can't wait to see what the next episode brings for her and Michael.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"This lady doesn't have a job"

While I was getting my hair cut today, the stylist and I were making the idle chit chat you make in salons.
"So what do you do?," the stylist asks while lathering my hair.
"Well... um, I used to work for a magazine."
"Oh, really? Which magazine?"
"Lipstick? You probably never saw it..."
"No, I remember that magazine! I know somebody who worked there. Actually, she still works there. Her name is [says name of person who didn't work at Lipstick]."
"Um, actually she works at the News. She didn't work for Lipstick."
"Are you sure? Because I remember her telling us she was working on the magazine. She talked about it all the time! She's got long red hair?"
"Well.. I was the editor, and she didn't work for Lipstick. And she's blonde."
"Oh... So what are you doing now?"
"Freelancing." I said this with a straight face.
"That's good. Hey, did you hear about one of the radio stations doing a show where you call in your resume and they help you with it?"
"Oh, really? That sounds interesting," I say, mildly interested.
"Hey, Tammy!" my stylist yells across the salon. "Do you know that show on the radio you call in with your resume and they help you with it?"
"I don't listen to the radio," Tammy says.
"Oh you know what I'm talking about. The one on 102.5? The one with Dollar Bill and the girl who replaced Patti?"
"You don't call in your resume, you post it online where everybody can see it," Tammy answers, a tad impatiently to my ears. "Why do you want to know?"
My stylist yells back, "This lady doesn't have a job and I thought it would be good for her."

Fortunately, this is a small salon and there were only 7 or 8 people in it at the time. Still, I was embarrassed. But why? It's not exactly a secret -- or a humiliation -- that I don't have a job. I probably should tell everyone I see that I'm out of work. And also that I'm creative, hardworking, a good typist and work well alone or in groups. You never know who might be the next Mark to my Rachel, with the perfect job at Bloomie's.

With so many people unemployed right now, I think there's no longer the stigma of being jobless that there once was. People understand, and don't judge you for it. That doesn't mean I don't judge myself. I still go through scenarios in my head where we could have hung on to Lipstick. I think, If only I had been a better salesperson and a better manager and If only we had had the support we needed and about a billion other "what ifs" that don't matter now and probably wouldn't have salvaged the thing anyway.

The thing is, I've never been laid off. Well, once, but I was 21 at the time and got hired back less than two months later. It was never a reflection on me because that job was just a job. I did it to have drinking money and because my two besties worked at the same place. But Lipstick -- that was not just a job. It was the culmination of everything I had ever worked for or wanted. And to have it fail felt personal and final. So it's not just that I'm out of a job -- I'm out of the job I thought defined me as a person. Now I've got to find some other way to define myself.

After my stylist got through telling everyone my business, we actually had a lovely chat about Michael Jackson, Larry Langford, why everyone in Alabama is nuts about football, how Birmingham is like Gary, Indiana and our plans for July 4. She did a fabulous job on my hair, too.