Friday, April 27, 2007

on self love

I remember the day my parent’s marriage finally broke up. I was twenty, and a junior at Syracuse University. I had dinner guests over at the off-campus house I shared with three women. Putting on a dinner in those days was a huge deal, and there we were, about to sit down amid the plates of doctored Top Ramen and bottles of Gennie Cream Ale.

The phone rang. It was my mother announcing memo style that she’d just left my father. I don’t think there was an invitation to Q and A. I placed the phone back on its cradle. I said, to the little group of college kids assembled around the plywood table, “My parents just split up. Let’s have some noodles.”

Calm, calm, calm as could be. But the following year was one of the more tumultuous in my memory. Here is a partial list

  1. Worked in a hospital over the summer and decided to forget my dreams of becoming a writer-slash-anthropologist and learned instead how to counsel heart patients on eating less eggs and bacon
  2. Took up with a coke addict
  3. Got diagnosed with a mitral valve prolapse and went on beta blockers
  4. Learned the coke addict (who was 28) was married. Didn’t care.
  5. Went off beta blockers and began smoking a lot of weed
  6. Broke up with the coke addict, went back to school, and worked full time at a bar
  7. Began dating the bouncer (secretly) who was a black ex-con
  8. Took acid and flipped out
  9. Got really good grades in food science
  10. Got really bad grades in sewing (I had to take a whole slew of home economics classes for some strange reason)
  11. Began dating (not secretly) a graduate student who had lots of rattlesnakes in glass cages a few feet from his bed
  12. Stopped doing drugs altogether, stopped dating questionable men, and began dating the Italian Catholic boy who’d been pursuing me for several months

I graduated college with a degree in Dietetics Management and moved to Phoenix, Arizona because it was the opposite of Syracuse, New York and because I’d read an article about it in Cosmo during a blizzard. I dragged the Italian Catholic boy with me, much to the dismay of his Buffalo, New York Italian Catholic clan family, and set out to live a conventional, church-going life.

I began to pop out the babies as prescribed, and we moved back to New York State. Four days before my second child’s birth, the Italian Catholic boy’s head was crushed in a fatal car accident.

I was calm, calm, calm as could be. I gave birth. I moved back out West. The cycle began anew, and I repeated all the former mistakes and followed them up with band aids back to sanity.

Skip ahead, several lifetimes from my parent’s divorce and the ensuing pachinko, and I think I’ve figured out a thing or two.

Here’s the residue:

  1. Life doesn’t play by the rules
  2. Don’t trust anything that suggests there is order in the Universe
  3. Love fully
  4. If you don’t acknowledge the dark side, it’s gonna find you and it won’t be pretty
  5. To be human is to make mistakes. Make them, say you’re sorry, and do better the next time… It’s the only way to find any grace
  6. Keep fighting for who you are

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

anatomy of a train wreck

Along with the mania of spring, the other shoe must fall. Things hum along at breakneck; until they don’t. Aside from duct tape and cases of bottled water, how do you prepare for disaster? I’m talking about all the types of disasters: physical, financial, heartbreak…

The sudden failures-of-spirit, disappointments and fallout from living a passionate, whole-hearted and not particularly safe life. A reckless life? Sometimes I want to say to myself: repeat after me, Suzy: I don’t believe in faeries, I don’t, I don’t! Imagination is a powerful drug—way more potent than hash, weed, opium, any of it. The muse giveth, and the muse taketh away.

It’s April, the earth has tipped just so, and all around me entropy reigns. Which has always been beneficial to me on the page, but a disaster in my personal life. I’m worried that this sweet little house of cards I’ve constructed so carefully and lovingly might just cave in. It’s awful to feel that way, simply awful.

Monday, April 16, 2007


I’ve decided to err on the side of precocity in developing my little boy character. This is new and fun, this nod to suspension of disbelief. I’m characterizing him as a sad genius—one of my favorite types of kids, and one often exploited both for comedy relief and pathos.

The other thing this buys me is poignant and complex interaction with the adult characters, both in developing tension between the child and various adults, and the child and the larger story.

This kid, who I’ve named Aloysius, is eight-years-old, and his parents have recently divorced (sound familiar?). But unlike my own precocious 8-yr-old (for whom I’ll be attending an IEP mtg this afternoon in order to ferret out his reluctance to read), Al is plagued with additional anxieties and compensatory strategies.

I am eager to follow this rabbit down the hole to see where it leads!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

the arsenal

There are three boys playing vigorously in the next room. It’s nearly noon on a Sunday, and I’m still in my jammies. I’m working. Been writing all morning—a new project for which I feel the old mojo. Feels so. Damn. Good.

The theme of this new project includes aspects of the questions I’ve been chewing on for years, namely, how close to edge is too close? Especially when you’ve got kids you’re raising by yourself, and a livelihood dependent upon balance and sanity.

In a life-meets-art moment this morning a neighbor mom came shuffling through my mudroom door just as I was writing dialogue from a kid confronting his mom about her inappropriate choices. So here I am in the Sunday morning writing chaos, unkempt hair, pjs, dirty breakfast dishes and couch cushions in “fort” piles all about. The mudroom mom was hand-wringing and nervous. Seems she’d been meaning to ask me about something for months. Last time her son (a wan vegetarian boy she’s raising on her own) came over, he saw a gun. A real gun. He reported this real gun to his mom, and his mom was caught in that weird social anxiety place where you wrestle with confronting another mom with something that may or may not be true.

Well, it’s mostly true. Carson does have a gun. A blue rifle bb gun. But he doesn’t have bb’s for it. Here in town, anyways. I had to try and explain my (our) somewhat un-pc philosophy on guns. (I didn’t begin thus: Well, when your son’s father is a redneck… so, two points for me!) Carson has, indeed, discharged an actual firearm out at the hotsprings. But today, here in town, I offered mitigated consolation to the mudroom mom. “There are no working weapons on the premises.”

Except, of course, for Carson’s collection of knives.

In this new project, the centerpiece boy character is a kid like this mudroom mom’s boy: a sunken, raccoon-eyed waif to whom you just want to serve up a side of beef. He’s my foil. The element around which the plot hangs. I’ve just introduced another character to fan the flames, complicate the dynamics. I’m in the zone, baby. Watch out!

Friday, April 13, 2007

i'm too fucking busy

…and vice versa. (Thank you Dorothy Parker.) Well, today sorta sucked. One of those days where the devil to whom I’ve sold my soul looms menacingly close.
Here’s what happened: a small business owner who was seeking infomercial-like sales copy for her web site became frustrated and disappointed with my lack of capacity for slick marketing gimmickry. After analyzing this, I realize that I failed on two counts:

1. I believe (and generated a lack of engagement due to this belief) that her product is snake oil
2. Her aesthetic offends my sensibilities

I turned my nose up at the request for “…but wait! There’s more!” type spew, even though it appears that it’s the fastest way for this gal to make a buck selling her detoxification foot patches.

Coincidentally, on the eve of my disgrace, I attended Jonathan Lethem's lecture at the Schnitz, and got a nice dose of literary elitism that I drank up and savored. Here’s what Lethem has to say about the conundrum of sucking up to the normative world: Beware “insteadness" (his made-up term for the place we all go after we’ve outgrown the doobie and need a new escape hatch). Insteadness is why we’ll belly up to the Anna Nicole Smith paternity network, why we live lives seemingly absent of desperation, and why we keep stuffing our gullets full of salty, fatty, pacifying inertia-inducing mush.

And since I’ve signed up to grease the wheels of greed, I’m not allowed to side-step this. Even if it means writing shit like: change your hair—change your life. Even if it means adopting the syntactically challenged alliterative string of one word sentences that promote the gerund to imperative.

The other part of Lethem’s harangue was in support of psychological neoteny (which is the tendency to retain childlike traits into adulthood). Artists are wired for the playfulness, curiosity, humor, creativity, sensitivity and wonder associated with childhood, and it is this phenomenon—this acceptance—of neoteny that has kept us from disappearing (both figuratively—into the gaping black hole of insteadness, and literally—from extinction due to Limbaughesque black-and-white inflexibility where the button is all too accessible).

There in lies the rub for me. I embrace my own tendency toward neoteny until I get an earful from a pissed off client who wants me to craft a formula for success at the expense of my creative dignity, and then I become somber with the grief of a cynical adult. But hey, at least I’m writing.

Monday, April 09, 2007

child's play

So instead of writing workshop tonight I played Legos with my son. Remember Legos? If you were a boy, you probably designed and conjured battle scenes in which good triumphed over evil and the sound of war cries and buzzing artillery could be heard ricocheting off of the walls. If you were a girl, well, I don’t know…probably you weren’t the weirdo sort of girl I was.

My sister and I used to build mirror-image Lego families and then act out dysfunctional sagas. Legos in those days came only in red or black; I can’t recall who was who, but, as in checkers, we each had our own color. The two-button Legos were fashioned into babies, the three-pegged bricks of plastic into “kids,” and the largest Legos were the parents. We made them into bunnies. Think: Beatrix Potter meets the Sopranos.

The dad bunny Legos would have temper tantrums and slap the babies and the kids around if they didn’t behave. The mom Legos were sort of an after-thought. Often they weren’t even in the stories. My sister and I interacted the most with the kid Legos. We really had to stretch to convincingly anthropomorphize these critters—which is completely different than my son’s experience. My son, who was born seven months shy of the new millennium, where imagination takes a back seat to innovation. Today’s Legos have faces and modular plastic hair and grooved hands into which Lego spears may be clamped.

Carson’s room is littered with Lego war ships, planes and combat landing strips. Myriad shapes and menacing structures clot the floor necessitating tip-toe machinations to get to the dresser, closet or bed. Carson’s invitation to “play Legos” was really all about me watching him play with Legos while I built the structures he ordered me to build. (I’m old fashioned, I guess, I like dictator tendencies in my male offspring.) But, I found myself creating psychologically complex story lines as the evening wore on. The task-after-task-after got boring, so I fused together an evil ruler “W” and some henchmen. There was also Hippie Boy and Frudelsnapper—wrongfully imprisoned lads who were thought to be terrorists but were really slacker surfers. Not that I ventured too far into plot—heaven’s no! But maybe, in my passive-aggressive Mom for President way, I was stacking the deck in favor of circuitous drama over linear lock and load.

Anyway, I plan on attending writing workshop next week.

Friday, April 06, 2007

more on the disappearing muse

Walking around each day in a life I’ve created from wholesale weavings of air and promise, I should feel luckier than I do. I have to ask myself why gratitude sometimes gives way to feelings of guilt, unworthiness, narcissism and pain. And yet these feelings, which historically have led to productive creative work, are not moving me thus at this point in time.

I eek out a living playing “office” and engaging in moderate wordsmithing. What could be more fun than that? I have three wonderful, albeit challenging, children. I have a great little bungalow with a large sunny yard in a part of town where I feel very much a part of the community. The aesthetics are perfect. My neighbors are perfect. My boyfriend is perfect. And therein lies the rub? Not enough drama? Not enough misery?

For more than a dozen years I mined a dysfunctional primary relationship to fuel my passion for the page. I built several manuscripts around the impossibility of loving a man who courted disaster and chaos with a limited capacity for reality. It was a brand of love that I equated with feeling—with embracing what for me has always been elusive: the spectrum of emotion. All of the emotion, the ROYGBIV of emotion. And I got used to turning inward, examining it via discordant, self-indulgent, satisfying prose and poetry.

I come from a tradition of writing that promises transformation via staring down the demons. Resurrection by plunging through the murky, dangerous and dark water with unflinching faith. And those moments of clarity that come from that? The cracks where the light comes through? They are heavenly. If glimpses of one’s own humanity (and by extension, the human condition) are the grand prize, then the practice of writing in this vein is worth the price of admission. But. Just because you peeked at God, doesn’t mean you get to stay there.

I’m spending lots of time with a sane man these days. Someone from the right side of the tracks, as it were. And I’m happy. But, damn it, I don’t know how to write as a happy person. Where is my edge? Do I have to look in new places for it? Am I destined to become a landscape fiction writer—the type often paired with scribblings from the Pacific Northwest? Am I going to have to learn to write heavily descriptive prose about eagles, rivers, rocky coastlines and shit?

I feel as though I’ve consigned my muse to some sort of personality subversion. Brain surgery or serotonin reuptake inhibitors. My muse is on anti-depressants! She’s choosing to shed her goth clothes, her multiple piercings, her penchant for dark rooms and clove cigarettes. Suzy Vitello is being kicked out of the church basement of folding chairs and into a functional world of normative, sensible, rational grown-ups, where chaos is the exception.

It’s a lovely day out there today. Just lovely. There are no cracks—only light, and the slight ennui that's buffering my thorough enjoyment is a faint, faint shadow.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

muse, muse, where did you go?

Last night I went to hear one of my favorite performing authors, Anne Lamott. She’s touring the third in her spiritual path trilogy. This one is called Grace (Eventually). She was good. Low-energy due to a cold and probably the whole exhausting tour thing, but she showed up, did what was expected, and pleased her SRO crowd with predictable Bush-Bashing.

Still, I’m finding that my usual enthusiasm for readings is waning of late. As is my passion for the page generally, be it reading, writing or musing. I’m thinking that this little passion hiatus is reflective of a reverse sort of midlife sub-crisis. Instead of wildly pursuing an art form and acting out generally, I’m engaging in calm, warm, sensible activities replete with sanity.

After a tumultuous year which included divorce, philosophical overhaul and a bit more acting out than necessary, I find myself seeking the road more traveled. Normalcy, I guess. And because my brand of muse has typically come packed with angst, co-dependency and obsession, I’m not exactly sure how, these days, to approach my work. Here I have a garage full of works-in-progress, and I stand over them, hands on hips, head nodding before turning out the light and slipping inside for a cup of tea. Let’s not call this Writer’s Block, ‘k?

I prefer to think of this as a plateau in my creative pursuits. I’m not exactly subverting the paradigm, more like tipping it on its side, see what’s crawling underneath.

I think I do have to write more though. And I think I’ll revisit this muse thing shortly. Cheers.