Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Andrea Portes.
I get the feeling they are all there, just waiting for me. Which one will I pick up? It’s an important decision. Whichever one I pick up. That is the one. The other ones vanish. It’s a Sophie’s Choice for ideas and it’s not easy.
This is the brewing time. The time when everything stews and gets ready to take the path from wherever it’s coming from into my head, through my hands and onto either a notebook with pen and paper or the computer.
The computer is dangerous.
The computer could lead to… the internet. The internet could lead to… the rabbit hole.
No, no. Best to stay off the computer just yet.
This is Monday in LA. Crisp bright October sun with a little hint of something dying on the trees. But not much. Things don’t die in LA. They go in a different direction.
Let’s be honest. I am working on too many things.
First, there is the ANATOMY OF A MISFIT movie deal with a certain studio. That is all very exciting but nothing I can do just yet. I’m just happy the kids are liking the book. The joy to see them on twitter, to interact with them. To thank, to joke, maybe even to inspire.
Second, there is the first draft of RICH KIDS for HarperCollins. It’s a first draft, so it carries with it all the misgivings and excitements of carrying a plate of jello over the Grand Canyon. I have loved it. I have hated it. I have wanted to dive into it. I have wanted to throw it against the wall, spit on it, and feed it to the dog.
Rascal will eat anything.
Even a first draft.
He has no taste.
The good news is that this morning somehow, by some miracle of the gods, I have finished my first draft. Yes, the very last word to the very last chapter to the very last page. I am free. I can now do things like brush my hair, eat my breakfast, put clothes on my body. Wonderful!
The worst thing about being me is how insane I look when I come out of my writer’s bubble. I’m supposed to look like a normal member of society but Christ it is difficult to put a brush through my hair or pick out an outfit after these fits and spasms of scribbling away. I just want to run out into the sun and say, “I’m done! I’m done! I did it!” But instead there are these pesky morals and social conventions I’m meant to follow. Like putting on pants.
By the time I make it out, I realize the amount of phone calls I have to make today is daunting. There is a big hullabaloo about my next project and I am going to spend about three hours on the phone, at least, figuring out what is the best course of action.
When I was just a young jerk-face wandering the streets of Echo Park, I never had to worry about anything because nobody cared I was alive. Sure, there was a manuscript tucked away in my bedside table but I rarely looked at it and I think the general expectation of it, from the outside world, was that is was probably horrible.
Looking back on those decadent days, when HICK was tucked away beside me in those three ratty journals, I become a bit giddy. I want to reach back and tell myself then, “Don’t worry. It’s going to be fine. Just enjoy yourself. Trust me.”
Of course, one could make the argument that I could say that to myself now, with the wisdom of the years. But no. Present me will never listen to imaginary future me. Present me is so stubborn.
But back to the point, I never used to have the privilege of a morning of phone calls “with New York.” Or an afternoon on the phone with agents or lawyers or anyone else wearing a suit. I don’t think I ever even saw a suit until about three years ago.
Oh, giddy days!
But now, this is part of the day. Part of the deal. These are people who have decided I may possibly actually be worth it. And I am grateful.
The good news is… I like them all. I truly do. It seems like, for the first time in my life, I am actually comfortable on the phone with people who are not crazy. I can talk to them, ponder, analyze, laugh and come up with solutions without feeling scared.
Before me could never have had a conversation “with New York” without steeling herself first. I was so afraid. What if I say something crazy? What if I blow the whole thing? What if they realize I’m a loser?!
Present me doesn’t even think about it. Actually enjoys it.
I think it still is the same me. I mean, the features are the same, at least.
Wyatt is at school today. All of these phone calls have to be wrapped up by four. I can’t wait to see him. Maybe I will bring him a cupcake.
In the shower, an entire paragraph comes swooping in about ROUGHNECK, a literary fiction novel I am writing. It takes place on the high plains of North Dakota, in the middle of an oil boom happening there now. My protagonist is a male. Squinty. There is something wrong with him. But there is something oh so right about him. I want to meet him. I see him, there, at the top of a rolling plain, peering into the distance. Down the hill, somewhere, the town somehow sinister.
I am falling in love with him.
One day maybe he will come to life and squint at me.
Somehow I have found myself in my car, en route to getting Wyatt. It looks like I remembered to get dressed. Praise Jesus.
I stop to get Wyatt a cupcake. It’s tricky because the best ones, the ones with the skeletons coming out of the ground, are chocolate. Wyatt does not like chocolate. The mummy will just have to do. White with white frosting. Red eyes. I guess this mummy is sort of an albino.
Wyatt and I will meet my fiancé, Sandy Tolan, for dinner. Sandy will be so goofy with Wyatt he will hardly be able to eat. I will look on, exhausted but so grateful, infinitely grateful, that my day gets to end with my heart across the table in the form of a four-year-old boy and a man making faces.
AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
- Well, I wouldn’t say it’s the best but it’s the most fascinating. I read PROOF OF LIFE, the non-fiction book about the sceptic surgeon who had a near death experience, and I became obsessed. It has sparked further research into the subject but I find his take to be the most intellectually satisfying.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Your voice is the most important thing about you. It’s your contribution. There is no one else on earth like you, in this place and time, only you. Your words, your experiences, your soul… is singular. That is what someone in the future would look at and think, “Ah! that was what it was like to be a human being back then!” Story is important, yes, but it’s not what makes it unique or essential.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- There’s all the usual stuff like writing on napkins and receipts and anything else that is around when inspiration comes. I’d say it’s more the things I like to do to jar myself. Sometimes I just like to step away from everything and take myself on an artist date to someplace unusual to get inspired. Chinatown. Little Armenia. A thrift store. A comic book store. A Russian hole in the wall. A Jewish diner by myself. There are a trillion little hidden jewels in Los Angeles. The places many Angelinos ignore. Those are the places I get my inspiration. I love this city. Where else can you encounter Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, Armenian, Thai, Yiddish, Japanese, Mexican, Brazilian, Middle Eastern, Argentinian, Greek culture all in the course of a day. What a blessing. The city just feels like it is made of dreams.
By Andrea Portes