The Life of Johnston

Tag: writing


19 November 2016

Dear Max,

Enzo and I went on an overnight school field trip. It wasn’t that bad this time—hardly hellish at all and often fun.

On the second day, the class went on a long walk and eventually got strung out over some distance, so the feeling of being in a big group went away, and I ended up walking mostly with Dahlia and Amelia.

They were so conversable—easy, good talk, funny, surprising. And we’re interested in the same things: writing, reading, food. We talked about day dreams and night dreams. I felt as if I could say anything in the world except a lie, and they’d understand it from top to bottom and all the feeling behind it.

I didn’t have any means of taking notes, and, as usual, I remember a lot of what I said and very little of what anybody else said.

I told them that the night before, when I couldn’t sleep, I’d had a long daydream (that is, a night time daydream) about Enzo, Pete and me coming back to Fort Ross to go camping, and at night we were attacked by a bad guy, and I told Enzo, “I am the mother. You must do as I say. Take Pete and run and get help. I will stay and fight.” And I fought the bad guy while Pete and Enzo stayed together, scrambling through brush and bushes in the dark. They made it to the road and got help, but it was too late, I was dead, and everyone was really sad and really impressed.

Amelia said, “I didn’t know grownups had day dreams like that.” I felt the glow of being understood and approved. She said she has daydreams about saving her little brothers, but she always lives and then she’s famous.

We talked about how daydreams and night dreams can be funny stories afterward, but they’re serious while you’re inside them. Like Amelia dreamed that some of the characters from Frozen were in her bathroom, and they were zombies, and even though it was ridiculous to describe, it was one of the scariest dreams she ever had. (Frozen, for those lucky few who’ve escaped this information, is the Disney animated movie that set in motion a tidal wave of princess power rah-rah insanity that is still breaking, years after the movie came out.)

We talked about writing. Amelia said that she can write a whole story in her head, but when she puts it down on paper it doesn’t come out right at all. We talked about different projects she’s working on. At one point she said, “I don’t know if you knew that I was a writer.”

“I think I’d heard that that was kind of your thing.”

“It isn’t kind of my thing. It is my thing.” (Those words I remember exactly.)


Reading this over, I see how partial and unsatisfactory it is. I can’t remember anything that Dahlia said, but she was fully part of everything we talked about. What Amelia said about the story in your head and how it comes out on paper—that’s true of non-fiction too.

I do remember Dahlia’s ideal sandwich: white bread, Brie, black figs.


I told Enzo I was writing in my diary about the field trip and asked if there were any details I should include. He thought for longer than I expected and then told me the number of canons, the direction each was aimed, the names of some of the buildings and his estimate of their dimensions.

Maybe the word details was a mistake.

Writing Problems

This is my unsatisfactory solution to the blog problem: Write my diary as if the blog didn’t exist and say whatever I want, then go back later and find stuff I can put in the blog. Enzo doesn’t want me to write about him, and I’ve decided that’s too bad, it’s my life too. But I won’t put in stuff that’s just straight quotation from him. I have to be in it.

I don’t think it’s the fact that other people read it that bothers him. He doesn’t like me writing about him at all. He doesn’t like being reduced to my idea of him. Fair enough. It’s the job of all kids to get out from under their parents’ stupid ideas about them. Now if I could just figure out what the job of all parents is. Maybe to not make their children into an extension of their own ego.

January 14

Dear Max,

At the parent meeting on Monday, Mr. Larson was telling us about the writing they’re doing in class. He said they’re working on punctuation, parts of speech, capitalizing proper nouns and most importantly getting their thoughts on paper.

Rising panic as I pictured all Enzo’s classmates punctuating away. And what about the most important part, transferring mind to page? I remembered how, one time, Enzo dictated a long story to me, which I typed word for word with no corrections, and how it was instantly recognizable as writing. And I thought we should do that more often.

I began my campaign by talking about Winston Churchill, who Enzo knows from the 39 Clues books. I said that some writers write by talking while someone writes down exactly what they say, with no changes, like Winston Churchill.

“But he wasn’t even a writer! I was like—a person in parliament.”

“Yeah, and a prime minister”


“Prime ministers and presidents write all the time. They write speeches, so they can talk to the people.” I don’t remember what he said, but the feeling in the room was skeptical. “I’ll show you what I mean.”

I got out my computer and looked up Churchill’s beaches speech. I figured, It’s war, his favorite thing.

“Mom. I do not care about this.”

“I know. Just humor me.”

“Can I play the Jeremy Wade video game on your computer?”

“Hang on.”

I found the speech, gave a short background—Nazis bad, France occupied, America not yet in it—and read aloud, feeling a little stately and a little silly and a little moved:

[W]e shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

“We shall fight in George Washington’s underpants!”

I laughed but couldn’t help adding: “He wrote that by saying it. You can write like that if you want to. I’ll type what you say, and I won’t change anything.” And then I took a shower and he played the Jeremy Wade fishing video game.

I had writing and talk on my mind more than usual because that morning I’d read this in My Brilliant Friend (that unbelievable fucking masterpiece):

I tore open the envelope. There were five closely written pages, and I devoured them, but I understood almost nothing of what I read. It may seem strange today, and yet it really was so: even before I was overwhelmed by the contents, what struck me was that the writing contained Lila’s voice. Not only that. From the first lines I thought of The Blue Fairy, the only text of hers that I had read, apart from our elementary-school homework, and I understood what, at the time, I had liked so much. There was, in The Blue Fairy, the same quality that struck me now: Lila was able to speak through writing; unlike me when I wrote, unlike Sarratore in his articles and poems, unlike even many writers I had read and was reading, she expressed herself in sentences that were well-constructed, and without error, even though she had stopped going to school, but—further—she left no trace of effort, you weren’t aware of the artifice of the written word. I read and I saw her, I heard her. The voice set in the writing overwhelmed me, enthralled me even more than when we talked face to face: it was completely cleansed of the dross of speech, of the confusion of the oral; it had the vivid orderliness that I imagined would belong to conversation if one were so fortunate as to be born from the head of Zeus… .(Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, Chapter 34)

If I were still a teacher, I’d read that to my classes and then try to scold them into doing it. Homework assignment: perform a miracle.


New Year’s Eve

Dear Max,

I’m trying to figure out how fat I’m willing to be. Pretty fat, I think. The problem is that buying new clothes under any circumstances is a loathsome chore. (I used to like it—what happened?) And shopping for fatter clothes just seems intolerable. I’d rather diet. Horrible word. It reminds me of parent, another noun that should have stayed that way. Instead, they both turned into verbs and ruined everybody’s lives. Dieting and parenting. How grim can you get?

Looking that over, I see how unhopeful it sounds. And I started this year by writing, “Of course I adore resolutions. They’re so hopeful.” Anyway, back to my fat. I’ve been writing about it a bit, but not including it in this online diary because it seems so boring and unfeminist. I totally believe in Fat Power! Woman Power! Butt Power! And yet…

Anyway, on December 18 I wrote: I know it’s unseemly to write about my fat, but there it is. I’m forty-seven and putting on weight at roughly the same rate as during early pregnancy. My butt is like a special effect. It’s like HeLa.

Also this: Enzo measured my girth. (His new fish book gives length, weight and girth of record-breaking fish.) I sucked in my stomach and lifted up my robe and pajama top. Cold measuring tape on skin. Thirty inches. “Next, your butt-girth.” He measured around my butt, this time over pajamas and robe (why even try?). “You’re literally four inches away from a four-foot butt-girth.”

To get that story out, I had to break my attempted new policy of not putting Enzo stuff online. Fuck it, it’s my life too.

I see I haven’t arrived at any resolutions yet. All right. I resolve to get up early every morning so I can get some work done. Early means five at the latest. It’s my only hope.

I resolve at some point this year to take some days off work and read my lawyer crime books all at once and figure out what to do with them. I can’t take time off for the next few months, but I hope I don’t forget this one. I made brownies for a snow trip tomorrow, and it made me think of a scene I wrote of two women sitting around eating the long trimmed-off edge pieces from a tray of brownies and talking shit about a judge who wouldn’t dismiss some light rail tickets. It seems sad to abandon them.

And what if I dump my law books and devote myself to my diary, my record, my dear? That’s probably the best plan. But if Enzo really doesn’t want me writing about him—even privately—what am I supposed to do with that?

I understand why he doesn’t like it. Even straight reporting has a feeling of ownership. As Hemingway said, You belong to me now, and I belong to this pencil.

What I’m Made To Do

4 December 2015

It would be wrong not to record that two days ago was Pete’s one-year-old birthday. Good boy! Big dog! His present was something that looks like a slightly old-fashioned surface-to-air missile launcher (think Mujahedeen against the Soviets) but it launches tennis balls. Enzo loves this. Teresa got Frosty Paws for the dogs and Gunther’s eggnog ice cream for the humans. We lit a candle and sang Happy Birthday.


Enzo and I went fishing on Sunday. At Broadway Bait, Rod & Gun, they persuaded us to try fishing with live minnows. Two guys who work there and one customer talked to us for a long time about where to go, what kind of hook to use, how to thread the minnow onto the hook (though both lips). We were the center of a lot of manly-fishy attention. Enzo said, privately to me, “I like this place. It’s the ultimate hangout.” The minnows were a size that we’d be perfectly happy to catch. Enzo measured one at five inches.

Later, at the deep water channel, Enzo said, “Do you think it’s fair, before these minnows die, do you think it’s fair to feed them some salmon eggs? To plump them up?” I said okay, and he dropped some salmon eggs into the bucket, but they didn’t like them. We caught no fish and eventually set the minnows free.

Then we drove to a pond in town. As I got our fishing stuff out of the car, Enzo was starting off toward the pond. “Hey wait a minute! You need to carry something.”

“But I have to run my very fastest. It’s what I’m made to do.”

11 December 2015

I’m at work in my office at lunchtime trying something new.

Usually I don’t do any writing work in my office. It’s too full of other obligations—and they’re real obligations, that is they have a genuine pull. Instead I walk to the library at lunchtime, the best place in the world to for writing. But with a ten minute walk each way and only an hour for lunch, that doesn’t leave a lot of writing time. So here I am.

I’m trying to get to the embarassing part. In order to cue my subconscious and fool it into thinking that I’m not at work and that I have a lot of super-creative things to say, I’m playing fake rain sounds on my computer, I’ve cleared my desk and put my beautiful quilt over it as a table cloth, and I’m drinking coffee—something I associate with my morning writing. So far it’s not working. Maybe I need a writing scent (a candle would be perfect, but they’re not allowed), also, perhaps, a writing outfit, or maybe a special hat. I’m serious.

I remember way back in grad school, one of the better writers in the class told us all how she would light candles and burn incense and put on special music before writing. At the time I was brimming over with ridicule, though I didn’t say anything. (I liked her.) Now I’m inclined to think she was onto something. It can’t hurt, right? And if I have to cross my eyes and jump up and down three times and then do a line of cocaine to get in the mood—okay.

It’s nice to have so little pride left. Very relaxing.

I guess I should say that I’ve never even seen cocaine in real life—not even as a court exhibit. I don’t want to be accused of trying to sound cool.

Extra Credit

25 November 2015

Dear Max,

I want extra credit from the universe because I’m still working on that damn fish book. It’s a pain, but at least I have writing problems to write about. Such as: The World! People! Coming! Going! Shit! I feel like it’s all stage directions. I’m talking about my attempt to write a crowded courtroom scene instead of just writing more and more of my favorite thing: witty text messages between the two heroines. (There’s nothing more depressing than non-stop wit.)

Anyway, here is my attempt at a crowded courtroom chapter:

An Unknown Female

Even with his grey-streaked head bowed and reading, Pete Baranek towered over the crowd of lawyers in Department Nine. He nodded hello and held the paper lower so that I could read it too. It was the list of judges who were available for trial. There were only three: Hellman-Zweile, Bell, and a new judge, Adams, an ex-DA from another county.

I pointed to Adams and looked up at Baranek. He shook his head no. Baranek pointed to Bell. I shook my head no. I pointed to Hellman-Zweile. We both nodded. Then Judge Fester, who was presiding in Nine that day, called a five-defendant gang murder and assigned it to Hellman-Zweile. Baranek and I exchanged a glance, and I silently mouthed, Fuck.

“No talking! Quiet in the courtroom!” Fester was looking at me and Baranek, even though our conversation had been silent. Baranek glanced behind us, as if to see who the judge might be scolding. Then, seeing no one, he turned back to Fester with an air of astonished innocence. The court reporter smiled and shook her head. Her fingers hadn’t moved. It was all off the record.

The lawyers and out-of-custody witnesses on the gang case were slowly filing out. When they were gone, the courtroom felt roomy and exposed. Fester called a few more felonies—all continuances—and then called our case last because it was only a misdemeanor. Thao and Cheng were sitting in the audience. They stood up, hesitantly. Baranek waved them forward and then stood with them at the rail that separated the lawyers from the audience, the official bar. Galina stepped into the cage for in-custody defendants, and I walked over and stood next to her. Just a moment before, that cage had been crowded with the five defendants in the gang murder, all kids, but big kids, nineteen, twenty, shoulder to shoulder. Oblonskaya looked tiny with all that space around her. And the cage. I was used to it now, but when it first went up, it made me think of a slave auction. I wondered what price Oblonskaya would fetch. Not much. She was small, and she didn’t look all that biddable. Or maybe I just thought that because she never did anything I said.

“Pete Baranek on behalf of Mr. Cheng and Mr. Thao, who are present out of custody.”

“Maggie Hodge on behalf of Galina Oblonskaya who is present in custody.”

We all looked around for Cross.

“Who’s the DA on this?” said Judge Fester. We didn’t answer. “You,” said Fester to a young DA was standing nearby. “You’re standing in.”


“I’m sending this case out for trial, and you’re standing in. What’s your name?”

“Henry Ortiz.”

“Very good, Mr. Ortiz. Please let Mr. Cross know that this trial has been assigned to Department 22, Judge Adams.

Baranek said, “May we pass this matter for counsel to confer?”

“No you may not. You’ve been conferring all morning in open court.”

“In that case I will exercise a challenge.” We could each do that once, paper a judge we didn’t like with no questions asked. Pete must have had a trial against Adams out of county and not thought much of him.

“Very well. The matter is assigned to Department 15, Judge Bell.”

Bell. The last time I’d been in his courtroom, he jailed me for contempt, and he wasn’t entirely wrong. The few remaining lawyers in the room looked at me. No one had forgotten. I could paper Bell, but then Fester might assign our case to himself, and I would never let Fester sentence a client of mine again, not even on a misdemeanor.

I glanced at Baranek and then saw Jill sitting in the audience just beyond him. She’d dropped off Josh at school and come straight here. She shrugged and raised her upturned palms as if to say, What can you do? I glanced at Oblonskaya, then picked up my briefcase and headed toward the door.

Before I could get there, Cross came in. You might almost say he burst in, and he wasn’t a bursting kind of guy “I’m sorry, Judge,” he said. The court reporter glanced up at Fester, who looked thoroughly annoyed, but he nodded to her, “Let’s go back on the record in the matter of Oblonskaya, Thao and Cheng. Mr. Cross, thank you for joining us.”

“The People wish to file an additional complaint.” Cross gave some papers to the bailiff who handed them to the judge. Then Cross handed copies to me and Baranek.

“Wait here,” I whispered to Oblonskaya, who was still in the cage. I walked over to Jill and we read together. As usual, Jill read much faster. “Oh shit,” she said, so quietly that I wasn’t sure she’d said it at all. My mind was saying the same thing over and over and over.

Judge Fester said to Cross, “Do you want me to arraign her now?”

“Yes.” I hurried back to the cage and stood by Galina. Fester read over the fresh complaint and then said, “Galina Oblonskaya, is that your true name?”


“Between the approximate dates of May 3, 2015 and May 7, 2015, in the city and county of Sacramento, the crime of MURDER, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 187(a), a felony, was committed by Galina Oblonskaya, who did unlawfully, and with malice aforethought murder Lida Smyshkova, a human being.” Fester looked up at Galina and me. “You have a right to an attorney. Ms. Hodge already represents you on the misdemeanor, so I’ll appoint her on the felony matter as well.”

I whispered to Galina. “Don’t worry.” She looked at me incredulously.

“The People have one further matter,” said Cross. He handed more papers around. “Judge, we’re requesting a court-ordered DNA swab from Ms. Oblonskaya. Officers located a tracking device under the car where the victim was found shot. Our lab tested multiple swabs and obtained a partial profile from an unknown female.”

“Ms. Hodge?” said Judge Bell. “What is the defense position?” Clang, clang, clang went my head. If the cops really believed that the DNA on the tracking device was from the killer, then comparing it to Galina’s DNA would exonerate her. Because it had to be Jill’s DNA on that device. I ordered myself not to turn around and look at Jill, but I could feel her eyes on me.

“I have no discovery on this,” I said. “I have no idea why the DA even connects my client with this Lydia Smashnova or with this alleged tracking device.”

“Lida Smyshkova,” said Fester, looking down at the complaint.

I turned to Cross, “Give me some discovery and I’ll give you a position.” Cross handed me a stack of paper a few inches thick. It didn’t look like a murder’s worth of police reports.

Fester said, “I’m going to put this case over to next week, back in home court for settlement conference. You can take up the DNA issue at that time. So, May 19 in Department 63 at 8:30. The misdemeanor will trail.” (A trailing misdemeanor is just want it sounds like—a minor case that’s trailing behind a major case, like a little brother or sister tagging along, unwanted but persistent. Unfortunately it’s spelled a lot like trial, which must be a trial for court reporters everywhere.)

Galina whispered to me, “Trail? What trail? What about my speedy trial?”

“On the caviar case—the misdemeanor?”


“The DA will probably just dismiss that eventually. If this murder case has any legs.”

“Well it doesn’t. And I want my trial.”

“Judge,” I said, “My client has never waived time on the misdemeanor. Today is the forty-fifth day. We want to go to trial now.” I tried to signal with my eyes, Actually, Judge, we don’t.

Pete Baranek said, “On behalf of Mr. Cheng and Mr. Thao, I join in counsel’s request to go forward with the misdemeanor.”

Cross said, “The People will be filing a motion to join the two matters, as they are factually related. And I assume counsel does not want to go to trial on the murder charge today.”

Fester put both cases over. Out in the hallway afterward, Jill whispered to me, “Nice touch pretending to forget Lida’s name.”

“Thanks,” I said, though in my panic I really had forgotten.

So that’s that.

But what about biddable? It’s correct but confusing, since I’ve just called up the image of an auction. “She didn’t look all that obedient” is flat, but I’ll probably settle for it. “She looked like trouble” is a snappy cliché. All unsatisfactory.



Drip Drop

4 November 2015

Dear Max,

My diary is going straight to pots. I’ve been working on my fish book, a little every day—well, most days—trying to be like the drop of water that hollows a stone. But what if I’m like the drop of water that just goes drip?

A few days ago I started reading The Folded Clock, by Heidi Julavits, and I liked it pretty well. It’s a diary—sort of. And she’s funny—often. But I’m better. And then she mentioned some detail of her life that made me want to know more. I think it was that she has blond hair. I turned to where you’d expect to see an author photo, but there wasn’t one, so I looked her up online.

Turns out we were born the same year and graduated from college the same year and got our MFA’s in creative writing around the same time. Only she’s what most people would call a writer, and I’m not. She’s published several novels and edited a little magazine and lives in New York and teaches at Columbia. She met her husband at an Arts Colony. During the summer she lives in Maine where she has a writing studio that used to be a chicken coop.

I don’t want that life. But I envy lots things that I don’t really want in the end, and a literary life is one of them.

I had to return the book to the library before I finished it because it was overdue and someone had a hold on it. Another spurt of envy. Because doesn’t that mean that her diary is popular? And I long to be popular.

(next day)

My head is full of a case I’m taking to hearing this morning. I woke up at three thinking about it, all these plans for what to do if the evidence comes this way or that or some other way. And I was thinking back to my envy of the published life. How wrong. It’s a privilege to have your head full of anything. (So often my head is just busy and bored and full of nothing at all.) And I don’t have to worry about making money off my writing.

I still envy that woman for her summers off work and her writing studio. But my time off work never gets filled with writing anyway, and I doubt it would be any different in a chicken coop.

Polishing My Dick

8 July 2015

Dear Max,

I’m wanting to throw a scold into myself for acting like such a prissy perfectionist. I keep re-writing the beginning of my fish book—eight times the charm! And I can tell you it’s ended up pretty charmless. I’ve polished the life right out of it. And in the meantime, what is this story about? (And by the way, it’s not very polished either. It has mistakes, things that don’t make sense.)

I need to remind myself that lawyers and journalists often end up as writers because, for better or worse, we’re professionals. We write for work, and we complete things. So—get on with the story and stop fussing. But I resist the idea of being a professional. It sounds so uninspired. And I know inspiration doesn’t have such a great reputation—at least I’ve never respected it—but I’ll take all the inspiration I can get.

And so I’ve fallen–fuck!–between two stools: too artistic to get any work done; too professional to do anything really surprising. I can’t seem to find the life of the thing, and I’m pissed. Maybe I should take some of this anger and use it to put some life into the book. Anger is a force. It’s energy. It moves. Who cares if it’s destructive? I could use a little destruction right now.

13 July 2015

Dear Max,

I’d have a crisis if I knew how.

I took an Oprah Magazine quiz on Joy and totally flunked it. It seems I can’t tell the difference between Joy and Satisfaction.

Then I took the quiz on Worry and scored in the Chronic Wallowing range. The quiz was full of trick questions, or just things I didn’t understand: “I don’t believe my thoughts.” Strongly agree? Strongly disagree? On a scale of 1 to 5. Does this mean, “I’m aghast at my thoughts—I can’t fucking believe the shit passes through my mind”? (Strongly agree!) or “I think my thoughts are total lies”? (But how would I know that?) But the stumper was, what are my thoughts? I couldn’t remember any. Next question: “I believe life is full of danger.” I’m sure the correct answer was: 5, strongly disagree, which just seems delusional. I gave myself a 3. I know life is full of danger, but I’m distracted enough not to feel scared most of the time.


27 June 2015

Dear Max,

I just read the Obergefell majority opinion (striking down state laws that ban gay marriage) and found myself having ungrateful thoughts, like, why does he have to write that way?

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.

Or: “Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.”


We just want to be able to die without getting screwed. We don’t respect marriage. We need it. (I say “we,” but I don’t know if Teresa agrees with any of this.) Kennedy should have said more about debt, inheritance, community property and taxes and less about transcendence. And why was this decision all about fundamental rights (no one knows what those are) when it could have been about equal protection of the law, which makes sense to almost everyone? (Kennedy mentions equal protection but doesn’t pursue it.)

Then I read Roberts’s dissent. He summarized the embarrassing history of fundamental rights with lawyer-like efficiency. (Today’s fundamental right is tomorrow’s discredited social trend. It’s an area where the Supremes have had to overrule previous decisions.) Then I read Scalia’s dissent and I found myself in uncomfortable agreement with him when he said he’d rather put a bag over his head than sign an opinion written like that, even if he agreed with it. Which he does not.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, there was noise outside, two young men riding by on their bikes, wearing rainbow shorts and no shirts, hooting and hallooing down the street, waving a rainbow flag.

They’re right and hurrah! Who cares if Kennedy is a blow hard? Who cares if you call it equal protection or fundamental rights? (I do because equal protection is sturdier.) But anyway, it’s a great day.


I’m trying to understand my mostly-sour response, and I can’t. I’ve always been irritated by the cult of marriage. There’s a smugness about it that I can’t stand. Looking around at my friends, I’d say that a good divorce just as important as a good marriage. But if it weren’t for marriage laws, you couldn’t get a good divorce, that is, a fair one. The most important time to be married is when the marriage is ending.

I just looked at our Certificate of Domestic Partnership from Santa Barbara County in 2000. Somewhere we have our Certificate of Domestic Partnership from the State of California, dated whatever year they started giving those out. And our marriage license from San Francisco County in 2004. And Enzo’s 2006 birth certificate with both our names on it that Kaiser didn’t quite know how to do, but I showed them. (They wanted to list us as mother and father, and I made them change it to parent and parent.) And our marriage license from El Dorado County in 2013. We’ve lived this every step of the way. I probably have diaries of all of it. Maybe I should read them and remind myself of what’s at stake.

27 June 2015

Just read over what I wrote yesterday, and it sounds awfully refined. I don’t want to conclude that I’ve become incapable of joy. Or that bad writing can be separated from bad thinking. Kennedy could have made this decision about fairness. Instead he made it about marriage and how great it is and how everyone has a whole bunch of super-important feelings about it. The sentimentality shows. It weakens the decision.

Writing Problems: Goody!

Dear Max,

Volume II in my Rumpolina of the Bailey series is coming out awfully slowly. It feels like, my God, do I have to do everything? Place, people, plot, weather, food, law. But I am having fun using my real life enemies as minor villains in the story. It’s a harmless, private revenge—invisible and satisfying.

Anyway, writing problems:

Names. Jill and Josh. Too chime-y, like Mother Goose. One of them has to change. But the names have come to seem real to me, so that a change would jar my sense of who they are.

Do you dial a cell phone? Or is dialing just for old rotary style phones? And if you don’t dial, how do you call someone on cell? Do you punch in the number? Tap it in? Poke it? Maybe you just call.

I have one made-up character that I’m very pleased with, and it probably shows, and not in a good way. Anyway, I keep re-describing the character to make sure she’s still there. With the characters that are based on real people (me and my lawyer pals), I just have us talking and doing stuff, no description necessary, we’re already there. I’m not sure which way is right, but they can’t both be right.

In a series book, how do you take care of the reader who hasn’t read the previous books (or book) and also the reader who has? Patrick O’Brian is so good at this. Toward the beginning of each book he finds a way to reintroduce the characters and give a bit of the plot that’s come before. Those passages have to be there for new readers, but they also have a special satisfaction for the long-time fan. You see a familiar world and old friends with fresh eyes.

Writing takes a lot longer than reading, so I spend two or three days writing a page, and it feels like it’s going on forever and must be so boring, but it’s not really going on forever, I’m just taking forever to write it. A few days later, I read that poor labored-over page, and it feels rushed, anxious to please, full of jokes, afraid of slowing down (because that might be boring).

And speaking of pacing—shouldn’t chapters be roughly the same length? I picked up Persuasion to check how long the chapters were and ended up reading it. And the economy, the speed with which she gets through the story, is unbelievable. And never rushed.

Also, does a chapter have a subject? Or does it just have to get through a recognizable chunk of plot? If I had to name a subject for the four pretty shaky chapters I’ve written so far, it would go like this: Chapter One: Hopes and Delusions (Getting Older); Chapter Two: Food and Loneliness; Chapter Three: Courage—Someone In Trouble; Chapter Four: Duty and its Consolations.

Now I have to go write Chapter Five: No Fucking Clue.

Chalk & Cheese

2 February 2015

Dear Max,

Are there any non-trashy self-published Kindle books that sell well? I suspect not. And you know whose fault that is? Mine!

One of the really good secretaries at work reads all the time: in the elevator, walking to lunch, at her desk when she’s on break—always on a Kindle. I asked her what she was reading and she said it was a trilogy that started out as a Dystopian Futuristic Thriller and ended up turning into a Space Opera. And guess what I’ve been reading lately? Nothing. During the time that I would once have read, I write and watch a little TV.

I’m going to Fresno for work for a few days, and I’m going to read. I’ll be in hearings all day, but at night: hotel, alone, glorious.

But it’ll take a little bit of that famous discipline not to just binge-watch The Good Wife or listen to podcasts and go to sleep. The idea of disciplining yourself to read is so depressing. Appetite is so much better than discipline. It’s chalk and cheese!

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