Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing Life: My Own Baggage

The night before last I couldn't sleep. I can't remember what I was thinking about but I know I wasn't worried about not having a job. Sometime in the night I started thinking of my three exs. I've been hanging on to these men because of what they represented not because I missed them or had regrets about not seeing them anymore. Frankly if I never saw any of them again it would be a wonderful thing. What these men represented to me was three-fold: permission, support, and inspiration. This all has to do with writing, of course.

As most of you know I've been wanting to write since I was a child but I only started working regularly in the last seven years or so. Part of the reason I waited so long is I held this belief that I couldn't be a real writer without being in a relationship that nurtured me as one.

I'm going to pause right now because this is huge. I'd always been somewhat aware that I held this belief but it's impossible to overstate the impact this belief has had on my life.


Okay, I'm back and feeling, well, a lot of things but I'm going to plow ahead with this post. I started out believing I had to be with someone who was creative, who had a lot of interests, and who would encourage me to write and support me in all those endeavors. This person would have to have his own creative outlets. I had this belief that we would merge together, become more than the sum of our parts, and together we would be unstoppable.

The primary reason I fell in love with my ex-husband is because he actually encouraged this belief. He would articulate it regularly and talk about how we would work on writing together. He is a good writer but I can safely say that I'm a much better writer, by my standards, than he will ever be. His sentences might be prettier but the man chokes when it comes to telling stories. I drafted my first novel, a young adult story of about 150 pages, when I was with him. I did it simply because I wanted to see if I could. I finished it in three months, and it was a real story with beginning, middle, end, plot twists, character development, and surprise after surprise. Three months of difficult work because at the time I had no concept of the idea of endurance. When I was done I asked him to read it. He said he would, he never did. He was jealous that I had managed to complete this draft, and he was angry about it. I was looking for support from him and never got it. Writing while I was with him was tremendously difficult but I managed to do some of it anyway.

The second ex had so much going for him. I was enthralled with who he was and what he'd done. I actually wanted to be like him because I found him so fascinating. I longed for his acknowledgment and encouragement. The breakup was very painful and drawn out. The reason? I felt that in order to progress with my writing I needed him to give me permission to write so I was holding on to him as tightly as possible. Ugh. I know. That's bad but I can say he started me on the current course with my writing, gave me those initial pushes. Now I know that's all he did.

The third guy was artistic, tormented, and lived in a beautiful house with amazing murals on the walls that he'd painted himself. I thought I could provide him with some grounding and he could provide me with inspiration. Never happened. We spent six weeks together at most and I'm sure he's forgotten about me by now. The relationship only stands out in my mind because of these misguided hopes I'd placed on him.

At least I can be honest about my misguided hopes as childish as they are.

While sitting in the dark in my room listening to my dog snore next to my bed, I realized I've come to define myself as a real writer with a body of work. People I know think of me as a writer. I'm firmly on that road now and have been for a few years. I've had help from plenty of friends, family, my writing group, you good folks who read my blog, etc.

And I did all of that by myself, without a significant other to give me permission, support, and inspiration. Instead, I figured out how to find all three of these things on my own. I sat in the dark and I said out loud, "I did everything without you. I don't need you anymore. I'm a WRITER and I got here without YOU!"

I can't put the blame on these guys. All that baggage I placed on them was coming from me and my fears but it took me this long to figure it out. I feel so far ahead of these guys now. Though I was still holding on to them, I could look behind me and see they were fading in the distance. Now I'm not looking back for them at all. I feel light and even more relaxed than before. The weight is gone. Ahead is the promise of more stories and more characters. I've proved to myself that I can supply the elements necessary to make those things happen, I don't need to insist that someone else give them to me. It's been a tough, years long lesson but I'm grateful for it anyway.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ego-Driven Weird Note

*Note: I first wrote and posted this on FaceBook, hence the references about locations.*

It's a skewered, burnt toast of a day with only 34 minutes left. I heard the sounds of some screaming kid outside a few minutes ago but all I could think of was, rather uncharitably, isn't it way past that little guy's bedtime? I should be more compassionate but I'm held prisoner by my own self-centered love-ins so there's no helping me. Now I just embrace the fact that I'm impossibly self-absorbed, completely in love with my own words and thoughts. And the rampant ego that passes for my humanity just keeps clicking along fooling some of the people some of the time, but definitely fooling me all the time.

This must be a new phase in my life. Or maybe just a continuation of the same.

Yesterday I couldn't find my copy of "Naked Lunch" so I settled for reading the first few pages on's "LOOK INSIDE!" feature. Burroughs always was a cheeky guy. There's never been enough New York City for him, that much is true. After reading the first few pages I amused myself by reading one star reviews of the book but that got tiring after while in much the same way staring at the bathroom faucet while waiting for it to turn itself on gets tiring.

Last night, I watched my $5.95 used version of "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence," a sequel to the groundbreaking anime film "Ghost in the Shell." I can safely say GITS 2 is the most beautiful film I've ever seen in a glittery, enameled, bejeweled way complete with semi-automatic weapons. It's also slow in parts, much to the chagrin to folks with short attention spans, but better yet to admire all that animated beauty. It's also rife with philosophical quotes, she said rubbing her hands with glee. Oh and the plot is incomprehensible too but only in the same way that "Inception" was incomprehensible. That is, a head scratcher for some movie critics but most of folks didn't seem to have a problem following the story. At least I don't think so.

Locations. Does FB now tell everyone where I'm at? I'm still trying to figure out what that's about. Normally I wouldn't be concerned but my phone is the sassy, sexy equivalent of implanting a chip inside my head so my whereabouts can be determined. (Heh. All my former co-workers: remember when I used to joke that we needed to implant location chips inside the attorneys' heads so we could find them when we needed them? No, you don't remember me saying that? I must have dreamed it.)

Far be it for me to project people's attitudes and knowledge on this poor Note. Forgive me. I have no idea if you even saw "Inception," even know what "Naked Lunch" is, and more likely, have no idea what "Ghost in the Shell" is. I should just stick to the usual, boring crap that permeates my life. Wait!...There is no boring crap in my life! How lucky is that...?!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Back On The Market

Yep, I'm out of a job again.

It's so ironic. The last time I went to Europe I lost my job right after I returned and the same thing happened this time around too. This time I'm determined to use the time off more productively. I'm also determined to enjoy myself more. It took me 6.5 months to find my last job and it could take longer to find the next one though so far all indications are that this isn't the case. We'll see. I'm still going to diligently search for a job but I've learned that finding a job in this economy is about being in the right place at the right time. You still have to work at it and get yourself out there so you can be in the right position when the opportunity comes but it's not going to happen until it happens so why stress?

Of course, I'm thinking of the usual things such as downsizing and wondering if I should do something else with my life. I'll be pondering that stuff like everyone does when they lose their jobs.

Most importantly, however, I'll be doing a whole hell of a lot of writing. Yippee! I'm so looking forward to all this extra time to work on my novel and short stories. Yay!

Thanks for reading and wish me luck.

2010 Europe Trip: San Francisco vs. Amsterdam

While visiting Amsterdam I enjoyed speaking to some of the locals. The first thing everybody asks if you tell them you're from San Francisco is whether you really live in the city. When I tell them that, yes, I live and work in San Francisco they are always impressed. I'm not sure why that is.

Inevitably, the person mentions that San Francisco is a lot like Amsterdam in that the city is an open, liberal place. It's true that San Francisco is probably the most open, liberal city in the U.S. but make no mistake San Francisco is not like Amsterdam.

San Francisco is part of a society whose values are based on Puritanism. Like it or not, Puritanism is one of the foundations on which the U.S. was built. Everything from the infamous Puritan work ethic that only gives us 2 weeks of vacation a year to our closed-minded view of pleasure and sexuality (and our rebellions against those views) permeate our daily society. Most Americans don't seem to realize how incredibly uptight we are.

I had a conversation with a couple of people when I returned and they insisted that San Francisco is as opened minded as Amsterdam. One of them pointed out that people smoke pot on the street in San Francisco all the time and those people never get arrested. I have no idea if this is true but it's completely beside the point. The fact is, there are no "coffee shops" in San Francisco where you can walk in and choose from a whole menu of pot and hash to smoke. These coffee shops feature early morning hours, food and drink, some have pool tables and other minor entertainments, and all of them offer free WiFi. Lastly, there are no girls in the window. There's no city designated Red Light District here in San Francisco.

Is this a good thing? That there are no "coffee shops" in San Francisco and no legalized version of the Red Light District? Maybe, maybe not, but I'm pretty certain that such things will never be made legal here.

2010 Europe Trip: Amsterdam - The Red Light District

De Wallen, or the world famous Red Light District in Amsterdam was a must-see place on my list. I was having difficulty finding it until we floated through the District on my canal cruise. The boat captain pointed out the Oude Kerk (Old Church) as we went by and I was able to find the location from there.

De Wallen is located in the oldest part of the city, the historic center, and is the best-known red light district in Amsterdam. As you can see on the map below it's not far from the train station.

The area within the red circle is generally where De Wallen is located. Walking one long block from Dam Plaza (Square) down the narrow alleyway next to the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky and then turning left will get you to the bottom of the District. The area is a network of alleys, streets, and canals.

The view of Dam Plaza (Square) at a cafe next to the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky narrow alley. The alley is about 10 feet to the right. You can also take the major street to the left (Damstraat). Make a left when you get to the street and take another left when you reach the end of the long block.

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands with the exception of street prostitution. Prostitutes rent tiny rooms with glass windows or doors (typically illuminated with red lights) lining the alleys and streets and offer sexual services.

I was hesitant to go alone since I read that while the District was safe in general, a woman should never go there by herself. I went anyway and didn't encounter any problems, though I wouldn't be surprised if a young woman walking around by herself was subjected to harassment. First off, there were so many people walking around and gawking that I felt safe. There were people of all ages, ethnicities, nationalities, etc. There were groups of men and women, couples of all ages (from the very old to the very young), groups of men, groups of women, tour groups walking the streets and on boats, there was a heavy police presence (both men and women), and even the garbage collectors were out in force. Also, there were the bouncers in front of the sex clubs and if things got really alarming there were the bouncers who watch over the girls themselves.

The District full of bars, restaurants, sex clubs, sex/souvenir shops, cafes, and coffee shops. Coffee shops are where it's legal to buy and smoke hash and pot. People who weren't walking around were sitting outside having a drink or sitting inside and smoking.

I was there on a Wednesday evening and it was plenty crowded. I couldn't help but wonder what the place is like on the weekend and/or during a special event or holiday. It must be a madhouse. I started around 5:30 pm and spent time wandering the streets, gawking at the girls like everyone else, and taking pictures. It was too light out and I didn't get the good night shots until much later. I went back to Dam Square and sat at a cafe where this old Irish businessman kept hitting on me. Afterwards, I walked around near the university and stopped in a couple bookstores before walking back to the District a couple of hours later. I was waiting for it to get dark enough to take some pictures. Really, that's all I was doing.

De Wallen at around 5:45 pm. This was the only time it wasn't wall-to-wall people though all the surrounding outdoor cafes and bars were full of folks.

I haven't mentioned the girls themselves yet. Several people asked me if they were naked. The answer is no but they weren't wearing much. Most were wearing lingerie, though some were had on very skimpy swim suits. The girl wearing the most clothes was a young blond woman dressed in an indecent version of a school girl outfit. The girls were of all ages, races, and body types though most of them were young and slender. There were some chubby girls and some older ones too. All of them were beautiful.

One of the many alleys in the district. The windows with the red lights are where the girls are standing.

I didn't take pictures of the girls. Apparently, it's considered bad etiquette to do so. The girls hate having their picture taken and more importantly, the bouncers don't like it. There are stories of people's cameras being thrown into the canal.

Most everyone wandering around the District, including me, were mere gawkers or "window shoppers." We just wanted to what the District was like. Since I was waiting for it to get darker I spent a lot of time walking the alleys and streets in the area. During the first couple of turns the girls smiled but did little else. While I strolled I observed how transactions were negotiated. If you smile at a girl, she'll open the glass door but just a little. The next step is the guy pushes the door open and steps inside but not all the way. The guy remains in the doorway and negotiations for services start. You can tell when the negotiations are nearing their conclusion because the guy has stepped inside the room and closed the door. I read that prices for services start as low as 50 euros but I have no idea if that's true.

Another alley. Right down the street from here is the Oude Kerk (Old Church). There's a semi-circle of windows with girls that surround the church. Very strange.

I got tired of wandering and spent time standing on bridge in the 5:45 pm picture above. A couple of cops were standing next to me, many young couples walked by and asked me to take their picture with the red lights in the background even if it wasn't dark enough. I noticed there were a few lone men who were not looking at the girls, they were hanging around in conspicuous areas like the bridge I was on. I assumed they were drug dealers.

Drug dealing and human trafficking are a fact of life in the District and in Amsterdam, not surprising. The city has taken steps to clean things up in the last couple of years. These realities counter the cheery image the District puts up. I wasn't scared, though. In fact, I was completely relaxed and feeling very self-confident.

I spent some time in the alleys near the Nieuwmarkt (you can see it written in blue on my map above) which is a huge square surrounded by cafes and restaurants. The Nieuwmarkt is not considered part of De Wallen and is on the edge of the District. There were more restaurants and cafes in alleys. A suave, well dressed older man stopped me and tried to get me to go out with him. I gracefully declined. I'd seen him a couple of times earlier that evening standing outside his restaurant.

I realized quickly that while there were a lot of ordinary people walking around, someone like me, an older woman by herself, really stands out. After the first few turns through the alleys the girls started assuming I was doing more than window shopping and began flirting heavily with me. As I strolled past they would crack open the doors and beckon me to come inside. When I've mentioned this to several people, they were shocked but they shouldn't have been. Women have money too and obviously there are some who buy these girls' services.

The view from the same bridge looking in the other direction. You can see one of the main sex clubs on the left there.

A little later I was on the same bridge and an adorable young man, probably no more than 19 or 20, approached me. He was sweet and did a good job chatting me up. He said he worked at the hotel around the corner, had just gotten off work, and wanted to take me there for drink. I politely declined but I still enjoyed speaking with him. It must be tough being a male prostitute in that town unless you cater to other men. The girls get all the attention and I'm sure he or whoever had seen me walking back and forth all evening. I couldn't blame him for trying.

The District at 10:15 pm right after the street lights were turned on.

I finally got the picture I was looking for. I'd waited all evening. It seemed kind of silly to wait that long but since it was my last night in Amsterdam, I didn't care.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Writing Life: Tips For Beginning Writers (Part 3 of 5) - Learning

I went on about the importance of experimentation during my last post. And I've talked about learning from reading all the time. I've read many books on writing but have not fully immersed myself in one for a long time (such as diligently doing the exercises, etc.). I think doing such work is very worthwhile but I find myself just wanting to write rather than take the time to work on learning how to write. It's the same attitude I have about writing practice: worthwhile but I'd rather be spending time on my WIP. Still, I've been telling myself lately that I really do need to go through one of my many books to see if I can make my writing better.

I've only taken one class on writing. It was at City College here in SF and it was an okay class. The most valuable thing I got out of it was I wrote a short story and read it out loud in class, something I'd never done before. It was surprising and gratifying. Surprising because people were coming up with different ideas and interpretations of the characters and their motives than I ever dreamed up or intended, and gratifying because my story, even though it was written on the fly and only a first draft, had enough depth and emotional complexity to elicit such a response. Other than that, I didn't learn anything new about writing at all. Out of all the students, I had the most writing experience which I found surprising. The rest of the students had only completed a short story or two at the most. This was probably seven years ago when I first arrived in SF and before I started blogging.


Speaking of which, I highly recommend people start blogging if you want to attempt to integrate writing into your life. While it's difficult to keep posting regularly, the experience of blogging is very useful for learning about writing in general. I've said it before but it bears repeating: for me, blogging is a completely different animal than writing a short story or novel (even my personal short stories are different from "regular" fiction that I write). To me, a blog post is just straight writing and minimal editing. It's always written with my very small readership in mind even if I write for myself.

Below are the many valuable lessons I've taken away from blogging:
  • This is an egotistical thing to say but I love reading my own entries. Blogging has taught me to really love my own writing and to savor the process of coming up with a post, writing, posting, and getting a kick out of it.
  • On some level, it seems I've developed my own blogging and writing style. It wasn't intentional and I never thought about it but I've enjoyed the process of developing my "voice" here on Mock Turtle's San Francisco Life.
  • This is the first place where I realized that I could move myself and others with something I wrote down. Some of the posts I've written have made me cry and from some of your very kind comments I've seen that I can move other people too.
  • Lastly, I love all my characters (Mr. Gryphon) and this crazy, weird multi-verse I've come up with on this blog.
You may not get as much of out blogging as I have but I still think it's worthwhile. One thing almost everyone talks about with blogging is they want comments from people. They want feedback (presumably positive feedback). Blogging is not about feedback. If you get comments then that's fantastic but don't blog just to get feedback because comments tend to be few and far between. I'm very fortunate that I sometimes get comments from you but no one should blog solely to fish for comments.


An MFA is a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing (and other things). From what I can gather, MFA programs are very difficult to get into and tend to be expensive. I'm always eager to talk to anyone who has been through the program and/or majored in Creative Writing in school because I'm curious about what they learned over the course of 4-7 years.

I talked to a young woman who was the roommate of a guy I went out with briefly and she acknowledged that her writing was beautiful but that's all it was. She was in the middle of her MFA program at SF State. She had no body of work as of yet. Part of her class assignment was to draft a novel, something she'd never done before. She was blown away when I told her that I had drafted my second novel and was pondering how to revise it (this was about three years ago) when I'd only taken one (sort of) writing class. She kept saying "but you have a novel! YOU HAVE A NOVEL!" even as I protested that it was unfit for publication and needed serious revisions. I asked her if she thought it would be a good idea to take writing classes, she said, "Not really. I think it's far more instructive for you to keep writing, to keep doing what you're doing."

More recently, I spoke to a guy who had completed an MFA program at a prestigious private college. I asked him what he learned and he said all he learned to do was write sentences. He was working on his first (!) novel and wanted to write a bestseller so he could make a ton of money. I shared some of the tips I've learned about writing bestsellers such as writing down to a high school level, writing short chapters that get shorter as the action progresses, and making sure there's plenty of white space. This doesn't guarantee your novel will become a bestseller; there are PLENTY of great, difficult to read books that make the bestseller list but this is a formula that some people follow (by the way, I'm not following this formula). I explained to the guy, "Think about the folks on MUNI who read during the commute. Most of them probably check to see how long the chapter is before they decide to put it away or keep reading. If the chapter is short they will probably keep going." Unbelievably, he had never heard of such ideas before. I was also surprised that he had never written a novel but maybe you don't write novels during MFA programs. What do I know?

As most of you know, I haven't really been to school. All my writing has been self-taught. It occurs to me on a regular basis that my writing could be so much better if I had gone to school for it but then I stop thinking about that and just concentrate on my WIP. On the other hand, while it is important that I try to keep improving my writing, I don't see myself as someone who will ever write "beautifully" or will ever write "literature." That's something other people do. My job is to tell stories and try to tell them well.

I love my stories and I love my characters but sometimes I worry I don't have the skill or education to pull this off. Whenever I feel this way I just tell myself to keep going. The only way I'm going to know if I can pull it off is to do it. And if I don't pull it off then the process will be instructive anyway.


As you can see on the sidebar there I've participated in the NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The NaNoWriMo takes place in November and it challenges you to write 50,000 words in one month. I drafted my current novel during it and will definitely be participating in this year's upcoming NaNoWriMo so I can draft my third novel. Your novel most certainly will fall into the category of "1st Draft" and will likely require plenty of tweaking and rewriting but the experience of participating is invaluable. You may not think you can write 50,000 words in one month, much less a coherent story, but I'll bet you'll be surprised with what you come up with. When I last participated, I had no endurance for writing at all so I was literally running to catch up each week to make my word count. There was no time to think about whether my novel made sense or should be edited. I just kept going and the story took on a life of its own. The characters started doing things on their own and I was REALLY surprised at the end. The novel is quite a bit different now but I've still maintained the general structure even if the characters have all "matured" into themselves.

Since I have very good writing endurance now I'm curious to see how it goes this time. Will I finish early? How will I approach it this time? I'm really looking forward to it.


Fan Fiction or FanFic is taking well-known characters and writing stories about them. There are numerous blogs and websites where people are writing fanfics all the time. Some popular examples include Harry Potter, Star Trek (I believe the original Star Trek series spawned the first known fan fictions in the 1960s), and not surprising, Twilight. Fan fiction is also based on movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. I'm working on one myself, just for fun and to test drive Scrivener, and it's turned into a serious project. The most instructive thing I've learned so far is the importance of immersing myself in the source materials. I felt it was important for me to learn about the characters and the story world so my story "felt" right. This showed me how important it is to immerse myself in my own characters to the same degree. I may have made up these characters but that doesn't mean I know everything about them. In fact, they're starting to emerge as "real" people only very recently.

This is a difficult concept for some people to understand and is largely dictated by your writing style. How can you make up a character and not know everything about him/her? Maybe other people know everything about their characters but for me it's all part of the writing process. When I was writing my novel during the NaNoWriMo I mentioned to someone I was working with at the time that I didn't know what was going to happen next or how the story was going to end. She said, "How can you not know what's going to happen next when you're the one who's writing it?!" She clearly thought I was an idiot. I felt stupid at the time but now I know it's entirely possible to not know about your story or characters until you've been able to spend more time working on it. There are plenty of famous writers who say it takes them several drafts to even begin to figure out what the story is about. This woman clearly knows nothing about writing even if she is a voracious reader.

Next post - Fuel