A Writer Like Cheever

Author John Cheever at home in Ossining, NY in 1979. Photo from nytimes.com.

I wanted to share how my thesis review went and then realized… in a way, I already did it five years ago. I mentioned here that the actual meeting went well, but only because when you’re sitting in front of the professors, it’s hard for them to say, as was implied in their written comments, “Well, it was just awful.” Continue reading “A Writer Like Cheever”

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

The irony of course, is that I’ve never blogged as little as during the past year and a half, when I’ve been in a writing program. My most “bloggy” years, 2011-2013, were those during which I (mostly) worked and took the odd trip here and there.

I haven’t blogged lately for a variety of reasons: my course and thus reading load is quite heavy, and when I read a lot, all I want to do is share great passages of great books – but this doesn’t make for very interesting posts (even though a part of me is like, “F*** popular taste! I write for me!”) Also, as I’ve mentioned before, my thesis is due this year. I signed up for the March 2nd submission date but given the current state of things, that’s not going to happen and I’ll have to turn in in August. I explained this to my parents the other day, worried they would be worried that I wasn’t graduating “on time,” and that I was going to pull another Betty (complain that “it’s hard, just too hard,” and drop out). But no, my dropping out of school days are over. Technically I’m not graduating on time – I’ll be walking May 2015 (or just sitting at home waiting for my diploma in the mail because graduations are dreadfully dull) – but I (or my parents) won’t have to pay extra tuition or be unable to take on a full time job. My parents were okay with it – never mind that they sort of have to be. Or maybe they didn’t quite understand but they hoped I understood that I was now an adult who could make my own decisions but would be careful not to embarrass them. Gotcha, mom and dad.

So…working. “The real world.” Hustlin’. Making (not) bank.

Everyone’s been asking me, “So what are you thinking about doing after graduation?” I shrug and say, “Oh you know, probably marketing or event planning or…” and here my voice trails off because I’m not really sure – those people who are sure are annoying – but then I sit up straight and say, “I am however, quite certain I don’t want to do something that will involve me writing from 9-5, or from 10-6 or whatever.”

Surprised? Me too, at first. But from my short and motley work history, I’ve learned I want stuff to write about, not to write about stuff. This means I’ll be veering away from copywriting (though it depends on industry, I guess) and any situation where I’ll be asked to churn out blog posts and/or email newsletters. I’m not saying, “No way José!” But I just know I’d rather not. Those jobs usually lead to me coming home too tired to stare at my blog, never mind write in it. The fact is I like my blog. I want it to grow with me (or plateau or get content or whatever else I decide to do). I’d like to keep contributing to it in a meaningful way without feeling like I’m pulling my own creative teeth out.

My most interesting jobs have not been ones that require me to do a lot of writing or editing or copywriting. They’re always in something I never thought I’d be doing – like being an Executive Assistant or packing boxes and reorganizing the freezers as a seasonal worker at Costco – but while I was working these odd jobs (there’s that phrase you see on the back of every best-selling paperback: “So-and-So spent many years working odd jobs, all the while writing this runaway bestseller between 1-6AM every morning..” Except this is me writing it in my own blog) I met so many interesting people and did so many eyebrow-raising things, like the time I had to move my bosses; stuff from one suite at the Wynn Las Vegas to another on a higher floor with a better view. I had to repack their bags and learned what kind of underwear they wore. Yeah I complained about the work, but I had a good time living it, and would always have an even better time writing it.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve also been thinking of how easy it is to be crushed by ideas. Mostly ideas for stuff I want to write and feeling like the narrator in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, where she feels she has the whole world dangling above her in the form of a fruit tree but she can’t decide which fruit to pick and eat first, and eventually they all shrivel up and fall to the ground. When I read this five, ten years ago I remember thinking “Don’t let the fruit shrivel!” And now, I’m not sure I’ve picked any fruit yet, but they are looking rather overripe. A few have probably already dropped to the ground.

Yeah, don’t read that if you feel like you are young and have options but are extremely indecisive. Or maybe read it and serendipitously, walk past the Nike logo and think, “Just do it.”

Blog Upkeep

Sometime in the middle of last week, I was automatically charged another ten dollars to renew http://www.veryhighbrow.com as a domain name. 
I nodded to nobody – it was an email – and returned to the task at hand: retagging all my old published posts to organize them in a more accessible way. It’s kind of like what I do best – reorganizing old clothes (stripes, sleeve length, thickness, color) – but in the digital sphere. Mostly with words. I’m not quite done, but the new “system” is more or less in place. 
That drawer I was afraid to open because I thought all my old sweatpants and badminton shirts would come tumbling out? Things are getting folded. The stuff that doesn’t quite belong, I’ve deleted or moved into other, secret compartments.

That Other Life

If you let them, some things die. Hopefully not this blog.


Edward Hopper Office at Night, 1940. Oil on Canvas

I’m two weeks into my new job as executive assistant and already experiencing doubts as to whether I’m “cut out” for it. Or any job. As a student (a time of my life which seems paradoxically distant yet recent), I had sat, curled on my bed one afternoon and read this book. In it she writes something along the lines of, “I became a writer because I couldn’t do anything else. No really. I was unemployable.” I had laughed then, wondering if I’d feel the same way once graduation came and went. And it did. That damn day crept up on me like the Lochness monster (by most accounts, the Lochness monster is quite stealthy) and before I knew it my mental bones had been ground and spat out onto the asphalt of the road I’m standing on now. I had to pick up the pieces and rebuild it to withstand the pressures of the real world. All I can say is, an architect I am not. I did so poorly. Very, very poorly.

*I will likely be reusing this painting in future posts.

Cheap Shot (and likely the first of many)

Something about my afternoon swim – a watery shadow of my former self? – prompted a desire to stroll down my writer’s memory lane. I promptly hauled myself out of the pool and still dripping wet, headed not for my diary cabinet (every writer’s got one) but for the computer in my brother’s room, which I have now re-purposed to no one’s knowledge as my “office.”

As though under a spell, I typed in the address to my very first blog, where I wrote as dharris, a name I crafted in two milliseconds by taking the first letter of ‘Demian’ (a Hesse novel I had bought at the library’s used books section for 25 cents but never read) and the last name of Thomas Harris, author of The Silence of the Lambs, with which, at one point I was obsessed. What was it I was looking for? What every writer looks for when he/she rereads old stuff she won’t toss (or hasn’t bothered to delete off cyberspace): clues from a younger self that explain or at least illuminate the present self.

Going the way of…oh wait. Gone.

According to my “stats,” I started the blog nearly nine years ago on November 3, 2002. Nine years! I wonder what it might have been (surely not pink!) had I stayed there, nursed my slender but steady following and continued to comment, as I did back then, on other peoples’ writing…

It was, in essence, not only the beginning of this blogger, but also the inception of this writer – or more accurately, this blogger who writes. Xanga gave me very first audience which in turn, gave me the high of knowing that people out there actually read my stuff. In that strange (non-pornographic) way we do in cyberspace, I made friends too – people whose faces will forever be a mystery but whose hearts I felt I knew, simply because they were shared on the same blogging platform.

 I constantly lament a feeling of anachronism. A secret admirer of Underwoods and florid handwriting in a time when ink is now digital and cursive is no longer taught in school, I always saw myself struggling against an impossible, unbeatable wave of technology.

Screen shot from “Deep Impact.” Remember that scene?

My bosses joke about my nonexistent Excel skills and I watch in awe as my coworkers effortlessly create and alter things on Photoshop and make their own web pages and alter the layouts of their own blogs – all technologies that are above me. What happened to letters? What happened to paper? And pen? What happened to islands – what we all were, at least for part of the day, until email, AIM, Gchat, Facebook, twitter, and now goddamn Google+ (a cyberspace wasteland, in my opinion, until everyone moves there and I’m scratching my head in a facebook with no faces) lured and hooked us like drugs with twenty-four hour highs on the premise of being connected all the time because all connections were worth making – after all, behind every screen name is a real, three-dimensional face and behind it, a warm, beating heart. But is that true? Yes and no.

The truth is, I’m like this man – though under less vituperation because really, my decision to blog affects only me. I ought to practice what I preach, I ought to tune in completely – and by tune in, I mean, tune out the technologies I claim give me headaches and be monk-like in my affinity for writing on paper or writing for me and me alone – but that would just be damned ungrateful of me. I don’t philosophize that what’s in my diary cabinet is not writing (it’s not like that proverbial tree in the forest – what’s written is written, regardless of if it’s read widely) but I am also addicted – in a good way, as it keeps me writing – to the connectedness a blog offers. Blogging gave me an audience I otherwise would still be searching for via agents and publishers. Blogging convinced me that one need not write for money (though it would be nice) to earnestly and honestly consider oneself a writer. So to Xanga and Blogger for supporting my development as a writer and to all the other blogging platforms that support my favorite blogs, thank you.


This post turned out to be rather long, considering it began as a re-posting of something I’d written years ago, on my old blog, because I was suffering from writer’s block. Oh well. That’s another thing about blogging – you sit down, meaning to write about one thing and then voila, something else entirely. I’ll post it anyway, for those who really fancy reading right now. But in the future, re-posting really will just be a re-posting of old posts from old blogs – just to remind myself of how far (or not very) I’ve come.

I wrote this four years ago, when I was still in JC hell (that’s Junior College, not the guy who saves people from Hell). I’m re-posting it sans any editing whatsoever (in fact, I think the title links back to the original). Let me know if you think me greatly improved. Don’t let me know if you sense this writer’s reached her peak.

to the university i (might not) go
It’s that time of year again, and no, I speak not of the holidays. Mostly, I’m not ready to speak of them yet. For one thing, the weather’s playing games, not being cold enough and taunting us with weak drizzles when really it should have rained. So blech to the holidays, and blech to the giant white elephant sitting on my brain – UC application…. round two.

Several days ago my brother wandered into my room to find me staring blankly at a screen otherwise blank save for the UC prompts assaulting my tired eyes with its cloyingly upbeat inquistion: tell us about a talent, accomplishment, achievement…blah blah blah. I looked up and gave him a woeful look: my life sucks. It reeks of sisyphean irony i haven’t the heart to appreciate and the only thing I have to look forward to is the act of turning it in. Even that “accomplishment” will be laced with doubt and fury – why the hell am i doing this year after year after year? I was THE girl who HATED college applications. hated them so much I applied to an expensive school on the other side of my known world, EARLY DECISION just so i’d know by december and be done with it. While my classmates ran around like wet chickens (I can’t stand to decapitate them) asking for recommendations and interviewing, I sat back in my chair and waited for my sure thing. A positive reply. It came. I went. I came back.

now i’m in my fourth year of these antics, and i feel like prometheus on the rock. i send in my application, they tear out my liver, only to have it grow back in the form of another semester at SCC. God help me if after spring I must spend another semester at SCC. I try to hang on to whatever levity I have and direct it towards my situation. Yes, i know there are starving kids being circled by vultures in africa. yes there are those people too poor to even consider a college education…..so yeah, I know these people exist and I know, (as you do too,) that this knowledge doesn’t make me feel better.

Thank God for my ability to see into the future. One evening in some distant holiday season, when i have grown hoary and brittle and settled into a staid existence somewhere in Vermont, I will look back on these past four years which have been characterized by their brimming with falsely enthusiastic college essays peppered with feigned passion for whatever (books, literature, writing, travel!!! I want to be a citizen of the world!!!) and say to myself, “Well, that sucked. But it’s snowing now and I’ve got a tree to decorate.” I’ll usher my grandkids, who most likely will be going through the same thing (or perhaps universities and higher education will be done away with by then and everyone will be educated in the same way: by reading The New Yorker and watching BBC Drama productions) and twisting their hair over harvard or yale (as you can see i’ve got big eyes for my posterity), into the living room where a big warm fire (burning on eco friendly fuel, of course) awaits along with their grandfather who at this moment, is a rather murky-faced man of questionable ethnicity (but seeing as it’s vermont he’s most likely white and related to John Irving).

“Were you really rejected to college three years in a row, grandma?” they’ll ask as we hang the neiman marcus special edition angels on the most prominent branches, “That’s an awful lotta times to be rejected.”

 I’ll smile and nod, and before reaching for another ornament, smack the child in the back of his head, “It’s true. But what’s also true is life is full of things you like and things you don’t. If you don’t like coal in your stocking, I suggest you shut up and finish hanging up these ornaments.”