Words, Even When There Aren’t Any

An essay about my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is on The Rumpus today.

It took me a long time to write the essay. I started it twelve different ways and nothing I wrote seemed to express my experience with any degree of emotional truth. But sometimes when words aren’t enough, we have to write them anyway. Because silence isn’t the answer either.

Happy Hanukkah. It’s a holiday about bringing light into the year’s darkest days. I wish light and love to you all tonight.

New Leaf, Same Old Tree


Today I’ve lit a new candle, washed my hair, reorganized my files, prayed, stood on my head, made coffee, made tea, made a gross diet shake, washed my hands twenty-six times and wiped everything in my office down with alcohol. I keep waiting for them to come out with an industrial sized Purell with a hose attachment (Ghostbusters style), but apparently they don’t think that the Obsessive Compulsive market is worth targeting. Probably becasue we don’t leave the house too much.


The thing is, I’m way, way, way overdue on my deadline for the revisions on my novel, Pretty, which is scheduled to come out next spring. I wasn’t able to complete it before starting the insane press for Some Girls, so I had to take a break and focus on promoting for a couple of months.

Now my back is against the wall and I’m having a hell of a time time transitioning from marketing mode to creative mode. The thing about transitions is that they never feel clean. I want to have some epic psychic Master Cleanse and I’ve tried everything I can think of to facilitate this, but every morning I still wake up wracked with anxiety and distracted by a million zinging thoughts and unable to find the kind of focus that it takes for me to write anything longer than a blog post.

So right now I’ll wash my hands one last time and then I’ll try to reconcile myself with the fact that there were ten places that my hands picked up germs in between the sink and the keyboard. Because I’m not a surgeon; I’m a writer. Nobody dies if things get messy.

And as I ask my doubt and anxiety to kindly step aside for a few hours so I can get some work done, I will try to keep in mind this beautiful passage from Steve Almond’s “One Over Forty” essay at The Rumpus:

Your job as a fiction writer is to focus on your characters, and to ignore – to the extent you can – the rest of the bullshit…

But the real life of a writer resides in showing up at the keyboard every day, with the necessary patience and mercy, and making the best decisions you can on behalf of your people. It’s a slow process. It often feels hopeless, more like an affliction than an art form.

Most of us will have to find our readers one by one, in other words, and against considerable resistance. If anything qualifies us as heroic, it’s that private perpetual struggle.

Put down the magazine, soldier. Forget about the other guy. Remember who you are.

Blonde On The Inside


Here’s a copy of my review of Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, posted at The Rumpus this morning in “The Last Book I Loved” section:

My framed, original Marilyn calendar has been glaring at me from my den wall ever since I finished Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde.

When I look at it now, I feel as if I was there when it was shot. I’m not sure if I was the camera, the photographer or the desperate, naked girl- doomed and luminous and ashamed of the soles of her feet. Whomever I was, I was so close to the action that I could smell the dirty fifty dollar bill that the blonde was paid for the job. And now the calendar itself, formerly one of my most treasured objects, seems like an odd piece of taxidermy.

Blonde is Oates’ fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe. Written in five parts and traveling a somewhat circuitous route from Marilyn’s awful childhood to her worse death, the gorgeous and grisly prose is comprised of voices channeled from a host of spirits, some famous, some not. Oates assembles her Marilyn collage from a constantly shifting collection of perspectives and moments. The most entrancing voice in the book is Marilyn’s, breathless and heartbreaking and almost audible. However, the perspective always shifts back to an omniscient narrator, who has already seen the film through to the end and beyond. The presence of this narrator reminds us, lest we become too hopeful, that Marilyn’s end was there from her beginning.

Not only is Blonde a success in its searing and constant poetry (over 700 pages worth), it’s also a triumph of humanism and feminism, in spite of its ghoulish finale. It is a profound feminist statement to take a woman who was owned by all and cared for by no one, who was the ultimate sex object to a public that both adored her and tore her to pieces, and give voice to her soul.