Endings

imageI have always struggled with the endings. Sunday evening always felt hard.  The end of the weekend’s relative safety, and the prospect of another day in school. All the homework deadlines rushing at – and past – me, like runners with furious kicks.

Summer vacation was the same thing only an order of magnitude worse. A whole month of being with my friends who knew and understood me and appreciated me…turning over to 10 months of something less.

I feel these things now, even when I could fit three of my younger selves into the time that has past.  Even when the situation is so much different. But the transitions are still painful, even if the cause of the pain has changed.  Now, I think it’s more about my sense that each sweet moment could be the last.  Will my parents be there next year to hug me goodbye? Will my sweet child still want to hold my hand on the ferry?

Even my sense of what and when an ending IS has changed.  “Vacation” isn’t as firm a line from work, and anyway the duration is so much more limited and the relief less total. One never leaves behind the obligations of one’s work life with that blissful totality of having wrapped up all the final exams, cleared out one’s locker. FINISHED.

Now. truthfully, I don’t even WANT to be “finished” in such a complete way.  My sense of the fragile impermanence of things makes me tie little strings to everything I might leave behind.  And so I pull on the strings, follow them back, and then unravel them again until I’m a bit further along again…closer to the end of the transition despite myself.  It’s not as clean as it was before.  And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  I still have the heaviness about me of the end of summer, but without the relative lightness preceeding it.

So, here are some things I am actually looking FORWARD to:

* Dinner at my favorite local Italian restaurant where I plan to have one final carb-loading dinner before returning to eating like a sane person.

* THE U.S. OPEN – here’s to binge-watching tennis and stumbling through work with eyes the size and shape of tennis balls.

* Celebrating the 20th Wedding anniversary.

* Getting back to my wonderful books at work

* Starting the first week of continued-contact with my novel. I’d like to prove to myself that this time I CAN do it!

Thanks for following me everyone. Happy vacations to those of you who are on them or planning them. And to those that aren’t? May your transitions be smooth.

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Thank you from the Island

At some point this morning, as I drank my coffee on the porch, I thought of a whole blog post that would be big and analytical and cause all kinds of debate.

But then, after getting the house ready for departure, doing a couple of loads of laundry, and heading out to this secluded spot where I’ve been so happy writing this week, I instead leapt right in to the novel. And I started with a description of a view I’ve loved all my life…a view and a love I decided to give to one of my main characters.  And the pleasure of describing it just wrapped me up for a few hours, wherein I plum forgot what the whole point of that blog was supposed to be. 

So – how well. No controversial blog this morning folks. Sorry. No insightful meditations on publishing, where it’s going, what I might do about it if I were King.  :)

Instead you get just the vaguely contented few paragraphs of a guy who might actually one day be a writer if he can make himself continue in the weeks ahead, when it’s much harder to find the time to warm into his creativity. 

I wrote more than I’ve every written before in these past two weeks. I’ve BLOGGED more than I’ve blogged in all the previous years of my blogger-dom combined. (I think. I haven’t added it up.)

I hope those of you who are reading this have gotten something out of it. I’ve enjoyed talking with you. Hope the conversation continues.

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Book Browsing

The other day, before seeing Blue Jasmine (which I found completely depressing) I went shopping in Book Hampton, a small indie. I didn’t have anything in particular that I wanted to buy. I was happy to browse and see how and if I was inspired.

The first thing I did was insert myself into a conversation between an enthusiastic, very young sales clerk and a lady my age looking for a book for a 14 year old boy whom she didn’t know. The three of us got into a discussion of what she DID know about him (he was a good reader, he was experiencing some bullying, he liked fantasy) and which books might appeal: WONDER? THE GOLDEN COMPASS?  I hope it was helpful. The customer didn’t know me, nor did she know the sales clerk. But from our brief conversation I imagine she got a bit of “personality context” to judge whether our recommendations made sense, beyond what she could have gotten from reading the titles in brief posts on the internet.

Then I shopped for my son, and found some Tin-Tin books (later he would grab one and climb the stairs to his grandparents’ cozy room to read one, and would not even make it beyond the top of the stairs where he settled, book open, to read the entire thing uninterrupted!)

For myself I found a mystery whose title and author I would never have remembered, but when I saw it I said, “Yes! I’ve been meaning to read that!” (I’m sorry, Watchung Booksellers, I felt a little guilty buying at another store, but at least it was another Indie…?)  My husband stumbled onto a book that explored the slave-owning history of a local family of which I was not aware.   And there were a couple more “finds” that actually, at this moment I cannot recall, but will be happily surprised by when I look into the BookHampton bag when I get home.

Now, I feel a little self-conscious writing such a baldly old-fashioned paean to the physical book store experience.  But honestly, as a consumer, I just can’t capture that same thing virtually.  I OFTEN don’t remember the title or author of the book I heard someone raving about the week before, or of which I read a review three weeks ago.  Handling the physical book reminds me. And inspires me to buy. I also, OFTEN,  find posted consumer reviews lacking in context, and just plain insufficient to convince me to buy a book. Plus…I don’t know…I just like to SHOP in bookstores.  Would our time waiting for the movie have been as much fun if we sat in Starbucks, each of us scrolling through our tablets?

I worry that these feelings and opinions of mine are like particles of dust in a cloud stirred up by a roaring truck that sped by two minutes ago.  But I also worry that folks don’t know how urgent it is that they support their local physical store if they themselves want to preserve this same shopping experience. Yes, some are holding on, thank goodness. But it is a battle, every day.  (It’s kind of like voting, in some ways. I know so many people who have the same political points of view that I might have, and yet who don’t get out there to vote because they assume their town, or their state, or the country will vote overwhelmingly one way or the other and render their vote insignificant. It’s true that one vote may be insignificant. But those votes add up. Sometimes to a landslide.)

So here I am, being a little sentimental about bookstores today, before I turn to work on a novel that may or may not ever have a shelf to sit on.

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Focus

It’s mostly a great privilege to keep friends and traditions over the course of one’s life. No, strike that – it’s TOTALLY a great privilege. But it has its emotional dangers.  Riding my bicycle on a path I’ve ridden thousands of times, under an August sun that registers the time of my life in increments too small for notice. My feet on the pedals, my legs knowing just when to speed up so that I’ll make it up the next hill…and when to coast.  The salty brine of low tide wafting up from under cattails.  I could be 50. I could be 15.  There is no one beside me to comment on the fact that on this ride I’m riding a helmet over the fragile smooth egg-dome of my head, whereas the teenager would have had long straight hair blowing back like a flag.

I also played tennis this morning with a friend I’ve known all my life. When we were teenagers we used to compete in the local island tennis tournament, where we would lose with regularity to adult players with far less athletic ability.  Ilena’s father, a psychologist, offered once to give us pre-match subliminal messages that it was “Ok to beat our parents” to see if that would help.  We didn’t take him up on it.  And we kept losing. :)

I’m not sure if it was in fact that we had a deep-seated reluctance to best our “parents” on the tennis court. I think (speaking for myself) that I just didn’t know how to compete.  I didn’t know how to keep my mental focus where I wanted it to be and so it would hover uncomfortably in a place of anxiety and self doubt.  After many years of competing (as an adult, in USTA leagues) I have actually finally learned how to compete and now that’s one of my strong suits.  (I have BECOME one of those intensely focused older players that used to bother me as a teen!) When I’m on the court I try to keep my attention on what will help me — where my opponent is moving, where I’d like to hit the next shot, what strategies have been working, etc.  When I start thinking of unhelpful things — say, how obnoxious my opponent’s personality is, or whether I feel tired, etc. — then I just try to nudge my brain back on track.

Playing doubles with my friend Ilena (against OUR husbands) of course reminded me both of who we were and how far I’ve come.  At one point I (unhelpfully as far as tennis was concerned) started to think of how cool it was that my childhood friend was now a well-established journalist/editor, and that he husband is a renowned literary agent…that we were having a little publishing tennis party right there on the court.  But then I brought my focus right back to where I wanted to hit my return. :)

Focus has actually been a theme of my conversations with my friends this week. Walking with Ilena and another friend, Sarah, on the beach yesterday we were talking about “mindfulness” and the practice of being AWARE of where your emotions are pushing you, being kind to yourself about that process, and reminding yourself that you have the ability to make choices about how you REACT to those emotions.  This mostly came up in the context of trying to balance home/family and work. How we don’t want to let work tension ruin the time we spend with our loved ones.

It’s harder than it sounds. Knowing you CAN make choices about your mental processes doesn’t instantly translate into instant results — kinder responses to stress, improved productivity.  Witness writing.

I HAVE the option to put aside my doubts and inertia and just get out a draft out of my #@#$%^ novel.  Thinking ABOUT it doesn’t help me at all. Thinking inside of it could. What will happen if I just open up the document and work on it for an hour or so? What if I just push aside thoughts like, “I have no idea what should happen next in this novel?” Or “This feels TOO OVERWHELMINGLY BIG for me!!! MY IMAGINATION IS NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR THIS TASK.” What if I just instead try to do something small, like figure out what’s going on with my main character and write a bit of that?  

Let’s see….

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Alternative Self

This post is dedicated to “Dr. Art Levine” of Los Angeles.  Wordpress informs me that a good portion of the people who landed on my blog were searching for him and they found this instead.  I’m going to go google the guy now…ok that was a weird exercise. There are SO many Arthur Levines on Linked In alone (I myself am NOT on Linked In thought I get “invitations” to sign up all the time) it’s like looking in a fun house mirror of alternative lives.  There’s a pretty good-looking Arthur Levine who’s a “Financial Executive” in Florida. And there’s the always affable-looking Arthur Levine who is a leading Educator.  Seems to be a pretty wide variety, though alas, no Arthur Levine the gorgeous bodybuilder.  No Arthur Levine playboy-billionaire. No Arthur Levine reclusive head of an Island-state somewhere in the Caribbean, last seen here in this photo with Colin Farrell.  Oh wait — there ARE pictures of me with Colin Farrell; he helped us launch the book CLICK – a collaborative novel that was to benefit Amnesty International.  That FEELS like an alternative me (did I really get to stand next to Colin Farrell with his arm around me??) but isn’t.

This is in fact why I included the “A.” in my Imprint name: Arthur A. Levine Books. At the time of my imprint founding I belonged to  a synagogue in New York City where there were three other Arthur Levines beside me.  So I could only imagine how many other generic Arthur Levines were out there in the world.  

It’s a strange sort of twinning, really.  One that it never occurred to me to think about as a child growing up without the internet.  Back then I wondered what it would be like to have someone ELSE to talk to who looked like me, who sounded like me, who had the same sort of brain as I did, but who maybe had different experiences.  There was no one like that, of course. But there WERE all these other people with the same name, growing up with different families, having different experiences, making different choices.  If I met these other Arthur Levines would there be ANYTHING familiar about them?

I’ve reached a stage in life where I am struggling to make conscious choices.  How do I want the summary of my career to read? What would I like people to say about me in general?  I don’t want to coast in anything I do — not my job, not my marriage, not my friendships.  Too often coasting leads to cessation.

So I’m heading out for a ride, folks, doffing my hat at all you other Arthur Levines out there, all the many versions of my ACTUAL self smiling at me from Google’s search engine, and of course, to any of you who might be reading my bloggish nonsense on this beautiful August day.

Please be nice to any Arthur Levine you happen to meet.

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Tough Day Still Wrote

Writers often speak of the need to put your tush in the chair and WRITE.  Clearly this is inarguable. No writing can happen if…um…you’re not writing.

I guess the problem is that even if you force yourself to write, you can’t force yourself into inspiration. So the vast majority of what comes out is going to feel pedestrian. It’s gong to skirt the heart of the matter. It’s going to cling to the surface, and you won’t necessarily see the way in or below. And by “you” I mean “me” of course.

I am just going on faith that if I do ENOUGH of this sort of determined WRITING that I will stumble onto a promising vein and then MINE it (BLEED it??) for all its worth. I don’t think I found that today. But I still wrote. So I’m giving myself credit. 

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Rain, Rain come and get me!

Third day of being a writer. Third day of rain. Are the dark clouds of my inner thoughts expanding out into the universe in such a literal way?? Sorry folks. :)

One difference: Today I was really HAPPY to get to work. Maybe the rain is washing off my outer layer of resistance?  Maybe the coffee is better? Maybe it really helps to establish a habit of writing? Ack! I know the last one is true. But I’m not going to angst about it right now. I’M NOT. I’m going to enjoy it and tear into something creative…RIGHT NOW.

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