Posts in 20 Lines A Day
20 Lines a Day, Genius or Not
harry mathews.jpg

My unwritten dissertation is punching me in the face. I've submitted, revised, and resubmitted my proposal to committee members and beyond, so all I have to do now is start writing. I told myself. In December. Two months later, I'm desperate. So today, I have decided: I'm going to do as Harry Mathews did when he attempted to write at least "20 lines a day, genius or not." Just now, when I went to Amazon to get the link, I was reminded that Mathews borrowed the idea from Stendhal. It concerns me that my first public post in years, my first attempt at writing daily again, has been inspired by Stendhal and a writer whose first name is a man's name and whose last name is also a man's name. Since winter break, I've been designing hypothetical syllabi. "Women & Power," a craft course on dialogue, is inspired by Mary Beard's Women & Power: A Manifesto. I'll have more to say about that soon, but for now I'm still just thinking my way through it. I've been trying to read more every day, too, to get back on the schedule I was on while studying for exams. This afternoon, I finished two more chapters of Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. Lindsey gave me this book a few years ago. I loved the first chapter then, and I loved it all over again yesterday, when I plucked the book off my shelf and decided to finally finish it. I also read some poems from the latest Tin House. While eating pizza I stared at the cover of this issue of The New York Review of Books, which is on my ottoman. Right now I'm wondering what, if anything, the following novels have in common, besides the obvious: I Capture the Castle (Smith); We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Jackson); The Castle (Kafka); The Castle of Crossed Destinies (Calvino); The Man in the High Castle (Dick); The Castle of Otranto (Walpole), The White Castle (Pamuk). This is the worst post in the history of worst posts ever. I guess that's where the "or not" comes in. 

"description is an activity in which the writer can begin to resolve the irreconcilability of the written word and the unwritten world"

My parents like to tell the story of how we went to Disney World and all day we looked and looked for Minnie and all day we never saw her until after hours and hours of grudgingly accepting other Disney characters' autographs in my Minnie Mouse autograph book, I finally saw her!

My parents tried to take a photograph of me and Minnie, but I wouldn't stand still. I kept peeking around behind Minnie looking for something. Later, after Minnie left me with a big hug and kiss, my parents asked, "What was that all about? What were you looking for back there?" 

I said, with a huge crooked-teeth smile, "That was the REAL Minnie Mouse!"

They said, "How do you know for sure?"

I whispered, "No zippers!"

True story.


And this is pretty much the same happiness I feel every day right now. 

(*Today's post title comes from Harry Mathews's Twenty Lines a Day.)

"My mother loved diamonds, wore them everywhere, collected them the way other people collect crystal unicorns, or those weird ceramic Japanese cats with the one paw in the air."

Today's title comes from the drugstore paperback I bought when my dry, damaged cuticles demanded I take a detour to Walgreen’s for a tin of Burt’s. Don't ask me why but I like to look at those little paperback books with the gray newspapery pages on the shelves by the magazines. I flip them over and read what they're about. Mostly I put them back but if a premise grabs me I buy the sucker and look forward to reading it in sweats, I swear, either on the couch under a blanket or in bed. So last night I bought the one about the little girl with the imaginary friend that isn't so imaginary after all but is actually the ideal and perfect man who of course does not age a day while she grows into the adult woman that will rediscover her old friend at that time of her life when she needs him most. And anyway so my cuticles are in slightly better shape now and I’ve finished the book — terrible dialogue, awful mother-deathbed scene, the most self-conscious heroine ever who seriously frets over her weight and hides Oreos behind the cleaner under her kitchen sink but suddenly finds later in the novel she just isn't hungry anymore after reuniting with the man of her dreams and . . . she loses weight to boot! and at this point I hated everything and wanted to slam the book to hell but the thing about page turners is that you want to keep reading to find out what happens and so but, at the same time, I felt there was something to be learned about commercial success from the novel's dependence on obvious foils, plot sleight of hand, and the wanting-to-be-in-love and maybe-falling-in-love storylines. I’ve had my peanut M&Ms and strawberry Pop Tart midnight snack now and Doggers is dreaming of something and twitching and whimpering, and after also reading Like You'd Understand, Anyway, I guess I’m slightly less interested in the fantasy of being a bestseller but then I think about how great it would be to stare at the ocean all the time and hear it to the point that it becomes my daily life and like a sort of background noise or a pulse or something and I think I could definitely write a sentimental ocean romance. So see if I don't. Ha, yeah right. No, seriously, it'll even end with babies. I mean, because, like, all the sentimental drugstore romances I buy always start with emotionally distant career women who think they have it all together except when they go home to their empty but amazing New York City high rise penthouse apartments and feel so lonely and miserable until morning when you know, like, their super adorable old man doorman like calls them by name and remembers it's their birthday or whatever, and then some cutiepants new client or coworker at work or something comes along and like sends the wrong message or leaves the wrong impression and there's all this terribly awkward tension for the first half of the book but then ultimately they will just go ahead and do it after a forced night out together drinking or maybe if there isn't booze there is definitely a rainstorm with thunder and the lights will go out and of course they get caught in the rain, which is why their clothes are wet and need to be removed and thrown in the dryer (before the electricity goes poof) and of course this is why they are both under the same roof in the sudden darkness, which of course is very convenient for candles, which are even more convenient for doing it, and then there will be a miscommunication maybe and a weird few days of uncertainty and misery but then, ah!, everything will work out and in the epilogue there will be babies. It sounds terrible, but it won't be obviously because for some reason I guess like the readers worldwide who have bought over 205 million copies of James Patterson's novels I can fool myself into believing in that stuff and can probably even write it like I believe it, lord help me, because I mean I feel like sometimes I really do know and understand those crazy neurotic heroine types, which is not to say I know or understand those soulful sensitive super rich hottie client types but who's to say I can't conjure one up in the ol' imagination tank. My sentimental ocean romance will be available in every drug store across America and some soulful sensitive super rich hottie type will ring to tell me he wants to make it a Lifetime movie of the week and then there will be late-night meetings and la la la babies etc. and jeez I mean I'll have to like write my real-true memoirs  or something and probably after all of that I’ll actually like get a jillion checks and then another jillion checks and I will not even know when my assistant embezzles millions from my Scrooge McDuck money tower because like being rich is great you know and so tonight I’m just going to keep fantasizing about how I can be the best greedy capitalist I can be for the sake of art because remember all of this is only so I can actually support myself as a serious artist who writes weird books nobody gets. Sometimes I think Harry Mathews didn’t have this problem when he did his twenty lines a day. His were probably all good all the time and not ever stupid garbage like this.