Week in Review – Taxes, Navy Blue, Stop Asian Hate

The last week was a bit under a cloud. I always intend to get taxes done by the end of February, but usually find myself scrambling as the days climb into mid-March. I’m not sure why we itemize deductions any more – royalties and outside writing income have been pretty underwhelming. But there’s something I find strangely enjoyable about looking through a year’s report on each account and seeing all the stuff I spend money on. I remember reading somewhere that Virginia Woolf’s husband Leonard did not keep a diary, but his detailed records of household expenses could be considered just as revealing. Tons and tons of takeout – that’s what my ledger shows for the past year.

Feeling – Stop Asian Hate
I’m feeling so alarmed and heartbroken. Really feeling the pain of friends and people I look up to in the wider community as they talk about what they’re going through, their fears, and their experiences. Inadequate though my little gesture is, it’s still worth saying I stand with AAPI against Asian Hate.

I have lately been really into “1491” by Navy Blue, which I heard on Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” on Spotify.

Also been listening to “Moonwalking in Calabasas” from DDG with Blueface, Drake’s Scary Hours 2 (great to work to, since it feels vaguely auto-pilot). And for something completely different (thanks to one of my brother’s playlists), I’ve been playing a lot of soft rock from Ambrosia.

Judas and the Black Messiah. Aside from just being a super compelling story, this movie had some of my favorite actors. I’ll watch just about anything with Lakeith Stanfield in it. And Jesse Plemons reminds me of Philip Seymour Hoffman – mesmerizing no matter what he’s doing. Dominique Fishback was new to me, but I have a feeling she’s only getting started. This movie has a great soundtrack, too, with one song, “Deep Gully” by the Outlaw Blues Band, which I had never heard of but instantly recognized from something more my era, Cypress Hill’s “When the Shit Goes Down.”

The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi. Enjoyable, terrifyingly clever, with some very talented pastiche of Golden Age detective novels. I can see this being very satisfying if you enjoy puzzle mysteries and the gorgeous island setting doesn’t hurt, either. I’m in awe of this kind of plotting and twisting, especially since I’m terrible at it.

Took a great walk with friends along Wildcat Creek Trail on a moody Sunday afternoon. We saw cows, got rained on, and I made very minor contributions to a discussion of the current NBA season.

Not very much because of taxes, absolute squalor in the house, and hiking commitments. But I did find this odd note on my phone: what you learn about characters from how they act when they try to fight the fact that their world has changed. Now if only I can go back forensically into my thoughts and figure out which character I was thinking of and what I meant by this.

Week in review – Nomadland, Jack Harlow, Too Much Noticing

Just a quick update because it is 11 pm on a Tuesday night and I am still working. Or rather, I’m stealing a moment before setting my alarm early so I can get up early and work. I used to think of ways I could fill little gaps of time with writing. Now I strategize how to find more time for email.

I saw Elliot Wilson tweet something about Jack Harlow and remembered I had put “Tyler Herro” on one of my playlists. It’s a fun song. But who is Jack Harlow? Actually he’s appearing on SNL and in GQ and now he’s got a song with DaBaby and another one with Big Sean. Turns out he is quite well known, with a sweetly scruffy look like he could be Post Malone’s younger brother without the face tattoos.

Nomadland. I feel conflicted over this one. It’s absolutely beautiful with a great soundtrack and every little moment is riveting. I fell under its spell, even thinking, well maybe I should try being a camp host in a van somewhere in South Dakota. Looks great! I started watching thinking I would feel torn apart by a wrenching look at the displacement of American elders, families, vast numbers of unhoused being forced on the road and exploited by Amazon. And instead, found a bit of an advertisement for van life. Side note is this great article from the LA Times on the real star: Swankie.

I’m reading a book by a writer who’s talented beyond belief, but it’s not quite doing it for me. The problem is too much noticing. It’s exhausting. Every moment noticed perfectly. But who can tolerate such sustained attention? Especially when it’s clear right away these middle class people are the worst. There’s really nowhere for them to go except some sad, exquisite realization that their modern lives are built on illusion. I know from jacket copy that some plot does occur – but don’t know if I’ll be able to stick it out. Even if something bad happens, they’ll probably just notice it to death.

Ah it’s so easy and enjoyable to diagnose the deficiencies of others… In my own book, I’m really stuck. These last chapters are terrible. Part of the problem is I have scenes I’ve written, and I want to save the work because I’m tired. From my writing diary: I think part of the issue is I need to throw stuff away. I need to clean slate it, and I don’t want to because I think, aww, I wrote all this stuff, I should be able to use it. But every time I step into one of those files, it’s like I’m stepping into a straightjacket or padded room. And I beat my fists against the padded walls, waaah, I can’t see a way out. But the answer is right in front of you. Make the room disappear. Step into white space and make the bridge appear under your feet as you walk it. It’s actually easier with nothing there.

Week in review – Albany Bulb, Troubled Blood

Little bits of life and pleasure from the past week…

Cassandra Jenkins, “Hard Drive” – how I love this. When she says “We’re going to put your heart back together” I tear up. The last week of February was the end of an era for my brother, who closed his cross-fit gym and is now off to other ventures, but not before leaving a great, nostalgic wrap-up playlist, which has been helping me work.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith from Berkeley Public Library. Actually, this took me two weeks to read, it’s quite a monster. Overstuffed, very comforting despite the dark crimes, and like all of JK Rowling’s books, always a touch of the old fashioned.

Call My Agent! I am in love with Andrea Martel.

I’m still struggling to write the last bits of this draft. Very little accomplished in the last week due to work, and also the problem of somehow having failed to write anything interesting. From my writing diary: Just re-reading chapter 16. There is no tension! You’d never know you were in the final quarter of a tense psychological thriller (haha). What does she have to lose? Nothing! What’s at stake? Who cares! Good Lord.

Troubled Blood has some fun moments around perfume and a running issue is Robin’s struggle to find a new scent. JKR takes it seriously, which I appreciate. Although unlike Robin, I adore Fracas.

Took a wonderful walk around the outer edge of Albany Bulb with my friend Kate. Picked our way along the crumbling rind of smashed asphalt at the edge of the Bay. Just challenging enough footing to force attention to where I stepped, so it felt like a wonderful exercise in presence, noticing sun, water, and a great variety of rocks – all slimy and mussel crusted.

A weekday lunch of falafel sandwich and spicy sweet potatoes from Fava on Vine St.

Remembering a night earlier in February when we had rain. A Thursday, on the couch at 8:22 pm still at work, and hear a very loud owl from all the way inside the house. Step outside, smell the woodsmoke, rain, and hear the owl insistent and unseen. Think of my friend CJ who loved owls and books, she died of cancer younger than the age I am now.

Last week in review – Valentine’s Day, The Assistant

Casual update for the last week. What I’ve been doing outside of nearly all-consuming work.

Bartees Strange – “Boomer” and “Mustang.” I’m so into Bartees Strange!
Also played while writing or working: Madlib, Sound Ancestor, Roisin Murphy, “Something More,” Nirvana, Nevermind

Snow, by John Banville from Berkeley Public Library. Atmospheric, masterful prose. But the shape of the crime is quite obvious and some of the characters are stock.

The Assistant – Julia Garner is fantastic. And it really captures the mundane hellscape of office work.

Rose et Cuir, Frederic Malle. I ordered a bunch of samples from The Perfumed Court. Love a tougher rose, but some days felt too much leather

I’m still in a bit of a tough part. From my novel diary for this book:
Sometimes I think plotting a book like this is an exercise of making lists. Make a list of what’s true. Now what are the clues for those truths? Make a list. Now what are things that are true but they aren’t clues. And now, what are things that aren’t true at all. Sprinkle in liberally and stir.

But how do I get to what’s true? I don’t have that yet. And that I don’t know how to do except go blindly by feel.

High point
A drizzly, misty coastal walk on Valentine’s Day with good friends up from Muir Beach to the Coastal Ridge Trail with Green Gulch on our left and Tennessee Valley on our right, then down to Green Gulch, through the farm, back toward Muir Beach. Capped off with takeout shepherd’s pie from the Pelican Inn. Heavenly.

I’m judging a novel competition for Write the World!

I’ve just been so impressed by Write the World–an online community of young writers. Every month there’s a new writing competition, complete with prompts, advice, peer reviews, and guest judges. In the spirit of National Novel Writing Month, Write the World is holding a novel writing competition, and I have the honor of being their guest judge! I’m working through the final entries right now. In the meantime, here’s my Q&A in which I try to dispense writing advice!