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write handed

For anyone who thinks that being a writer is glamorous, I have two words for you: as if. Being a writer is a lot of things — challenging, all-encompassing, sleep-reducing, stress-inducing, and, if you’re very, very lucky, satisfying and well-received — but glamorous is not one of them. On the days when the words just elude you, when the next idea is not even a seed but whatever precedes the seed, when it feels like your imagination needs recalibration — those are the moments when, to quote the advice that Edward Norton’s character (a young priest) receives from his mentor, played by Milos Forman, in Keeping the Faith: “if you can see yourself being happy doing anything else you should do that.”

I once worked with someone who would say to me each time she came into my office, “I don’t know how you keep coming up with new creative ideas. Don’t you ever run out?” My response — “I can’t worry about that. If I do, I will run out” — was somewhat disingenuous. Of course, I worry about that. Every. Single. Day. Because my words are my living. Fortunately for me, for every moment I wish I had gone to law school instead, there are more times when the words show up and writer’s block has been blocked. At least for that day.

The other tough thing about being a writer is the price it exacts from you. Your time and energy. Your self-esteem and self-consciousness. Your heart. And your soul. Because, as a writer, you leave a piece of yourself behind on the page. You open yourself up to your readers and trust that they will not trample all over your way-too-sensitive feelings. You fight back the fear of being so vulnerable and hope that your readers get you. You play the game of devil’s advocate with yourself — it is / it isn’t good enough, funny enough, clever enough, touching enough, smart enough — because you cannot play anything but yourself to your reading audience.

A good writing day is like finishing a marathon. Like landing a quadruple toe loop on the ice. Like swinging for the fences and watching the ball go up, up and all the way over the Green Monster.

A not-so-good writing day? Let’s just say that you spend so much time hitting the “delete” key that you hope it doesn’t portend your future — and doesn’t end up tattooed on your forehead.

So why do it? Because for all of the scary, what-do-I-do-now moments; for all those impasses where I have no clue as to what exactly my point is and where exactly the piece is going; for all the time spent cleaning out a closet, or color-coordinating my crayons, or trying to determine whether bangs are a good idea (alas, not for me) instead of staring at a blinking cursor that is making me feel cursed — for all of that, there is the exhilaration of finding my way, of discovering the exact words I need, of crafting a piece of writing that I absolutely fall in love with.

Because that’s the other thing about choosing the writing path. It’s an act of love, of commitment, of faith.

Until commas do us part.

 

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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illumi-nation

There used to be a TV commercial for a margarine product that supposedly tasted just like butter — so much so that even Mother Nature was fooled. Not happy about that, she then used her power to inflict all kinds of misery on the world (thunder, lightning bolts, etc.). The spot’s tagline –“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” — feels particularly apt right now.

In this past year, especially, it seems that Mother Nature (or God or Goddess or Higher Being or the Universe or whatever you call the source from which you draw your faith, if indeed you do) has had it. Life-shattering natural disasters — hurricanes, fires, mudslides, blizzards — have abounded in number and severity to the point where it often feels as if the world is about to end. The wrath of God (or God-like power) in response to the state of our nation seems like a terribly real thing — even to someone like me, who is still trying to figure out my own belief system.

Feeling helpless cannot be an excuse; “ignore it and it will go away” is wishful thinking; turning a blind eye to the hatred, a deaf ear to the cries of injustice, a silent voice to the need for change are all non-actions that only add fuel to the blaze of ugliness.

Of course I know that science can explain the tragic natural occurrences. I know that the logical answer involves global warming, changing weather patterns, the shifting of tectonic plates. I know that inhumanity does not cause hellacious fires, deadly rivers of mud, or life-erasing earthquakes, hurricanes, or tsunamis. But I also know that the more we see the natural world in an uproar and the more we become aware of our own mortality, the greater our urgency to set things right, to do the right thing, to protect human rights.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness,” the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King said. “Only light can do that.”

The time is now. Illuminate.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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play innocent

About a million years ago, I had a client who made a children’s toy designed to teach reading and spelling. The marketing message was that play is about more than fun and games; it can also tackle serious stuff, like learning basic skills. Makes sense.

But what about playtime for adults? I love to play like a kid (the fact that B. and I often act as if we’re six probably helps), although, clearly, learning to read and write has been checked off my to-do list. For me, then, play is all about fun and making nonsense. To wit, my perfect play date:

Color with abandon. Nope, not one of those made-for-adults coloring books. I’m talking freestyle coloring — extra points for using all the colors and for creating blooming blobs, shapeless shapes, and amazing mazes. You’re going to want the big box of crayons for this. Note: Do not let the dog eat the crayons to see what color poops out — you’re a grown-up, for heaven’s sake.

Skate in your socks. Okay, this is a favorite in our home, even if I’m not really good at it. The premise is simple. Wearing socks, push off on one foot and slide all the way across a room, attempting to crash into your playmate at the other end. Some caveats — only skate on a floor, not a carpet; and make sure you’re not barefoot (trust me, bare feet do not slide well). B. tells me that the look on my face while sailing across the floor is a mixture of absolute joy and utter terror. Once I reach him, I hold on for dear life, always somewhat surprised that I made it. (Based on her performance holding on for dear life in Titanic, I think that Kate Winslet should play me in Sock Skating: The Movie.)

Swing with friends. No, not that way (yes, we live in southern California, but still, ugh). I’m talking about going to the nearest playground or park and spending some time on the swing set. You can get really high. No, not that way (yes, we live in southern California, but still, no thanks). There’s nothing to match the sensation of soaring in a perfect arc, the wind in your face, the world streaming by, the … wait, are those the monkey bars? Race you!

Act out with shadow puppets. Especially enjoyable when your playmate is attempting to read in bed and you discover that making shadow puppets on the ceiling is unbelievably amusing (for you) and annoying (for said mate). You can make all kinds of creatures  — dogs, dragons, bunny rabbits, butterflies. Really fun when your playmate joins in and you enact “my animals can take down your animals” matches. Winner gets treated to breakfast out — animal-shaped pancakes optional.

When it’s hard to forget the day-to-day drama, try to remember that the play’s the thing.

Share your toys.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

 

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beyond a reasonable doubt

Something odd happens when you live with a lawyer (at least it did to me). Your reasoning skills tend to sharpen. Your arguing skills (not as in fighting, as in making a point) may become heightened. And your ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat can become both more frequent and more satisfying. This post is not about that. While it is about my having to make a compelling argument to B., it’s really about how he made my argument for me. Score.

When B. and I began seeing each other 20-plus years ago (after having known each other since we were teenagers), it took us both only a short time to realize that this was “it.”  I moved out to California from New York to be with him and marriage was something we mentioned occasionally. About two months after I moved in, B.’s instinct to question, his endless curiosity, and his need for a reasonable rationale (redundant?) kicked in. And the conversation went something like this:

Act I

He:  So why is it that we need to get married?

Me:  (Diet Coke snorting out of my nose) Excuse me?

He:  No, really. I love you. I’ll always love you. We’ve already decided not to have kids. So why exactly is it that we need to get married?

Me:  Huh?

He:  I’m not at all opposed to marriage. I just need a compelling reason for why it’s necessary. I know lots of couples who have been together for years without being married.

Me: What?

He:  No, not what. Why?

Me:  Who?

He:  Not what, not who, not when, not where. Why? What’s the compelling reason?

Me:  Uh … because I want to be able to call you my husband, not my boyfriend at this point?

He:  Not good enough. You can just introduce me by my name.

Me:  Because I want us to be a family — you, me, and the dog?

He:  Nope. We’d still be a family; in fact, we are one already.

Me:  (pivoting) Want to order in Chinese?

He:   Not yet … let me ask you one more thing.

Me:  (Oh no, the man who questions the meaning of life in the shower each morning has yet another question.)

He:  If I told you that I was committed to you forever — and I am — but that I was opposed to marriage for some reason, would you leave me?

Me:  (waiting less than a nanosecond to respond) Of course not.

He:  (looking like a delighted little kid) Really?

Me:  It’s you I want. Everything else is secondary. But I do want to get married because I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. It’s a feeling thing.

He:  That’s an emotional reason; I’m looking for logic.

Me:  (running out of the room screaming, in dire need of chocolate)

Act II

A few days later, we were visiting a friend of B.’s who happened to be newly divorced and didn’t hold marriage in the highest esteem at the time. B. laid out the entire “compelling” case to his friend, who was only too happy to jump on the “marriage sucks” bandwagon.

All of a sudden, B. had an epiphany. I know this because a) he said so and b) a lightbulb went on over his head (okay, the ceiling fan, but still.)

He:  Wait, I’ve got it. I’ve got my compelling reason.

Friend:  No, man, what are you doing? Marriage means nothing. You’ve won the argument. Stop talking now.

He:  No, I’ve got it.

Me:  (peeking my  head out from under the chair where I’ve slunk down, thinking I don’t have a friend in the room).

He:  (turning to me) The compelling reason is I’m not opposed to marriage, it’s important to you, and I love you — I would do it for those reasons alone. Why are you under the chair?

Friend:  (dubiously) That’s it?

Me:  (excitedly) That’s it?

He:  That’s it.

Me:  (pivoting before B. changes his mind) Can we order in pizza now?

I couldn’t have asked for better evidence of B.’s love for me than that. And if you ask him, he’ll tell you that my commitment to stay with him — marriage or no — was Exhibit A in forming his compelling reason.

In life, we do things for lots of reasons. Love is the best one that I can imagine.

No doubt about it.

 

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

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a revisit from st. nick

In the spirit of holiday classics, today I’ve decided to revisit one of my very own — a blog post from a few years ago that I think is particularly necessary right now.  For all those times you just want to tell the world to go fa-la-la itself, here are a few movie remakes wrapped in fun. 

There are lots of reasons to love the holiday season — and lots of reasons to dread it, too — but one constant is the holiday classic.  Whether it’s Charlie Brown and his tiny little tree or Rudolph with his big red nose; that so-ugly-he’s-adorable green Grinch or that so-adorable-she’s-annoying little girl from Miracle on 34th Street, these movies are a big part of the season’s culture. But what if I were to take a holiday from tradition and change them up just a little? To wit:

The Three Scrooges. The madcap adventures of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, and that wild and crazy guy, Ebenezer.

It’s a Wonderful Wife. The true story of how George Bailey’s wife coped. Do you know how hard it is to live with a delusional lunatic? And with those bells ringing constantly?

Frosty the Snowplow. How our villain, disguised as everyone’s favorite snowman, manages to plow in an entire neighborhood’s driveways.

Jingle Sells! Or, how to sell the crap out of the holiday season, now starting as early as July at a store near you.

Randolph the Brown-Nosed Reindeer. The untold story of Rudolph’s kiss-ass cousin (and his plot to win the reindeer games).

How the Winch Stole Christmas. The hilarious account of what happened when dad tried to string holiday lights from the roof and the fire department crane had to get him down.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow — Let It Go Already! A heart-wrenching drama that follows one L.A. woman through therapy as she seeks to get past her (sob!) unrealistic hopes for a white Christmas.

‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah. A retelling of the classic bedtime story wherein “visions of sugarplums” are replaced by “dreams of Bubbe’s latkes,” and that damn mouse is eradicated by pest control. (A mouse in my clean house? Oy!)

Santa Claws Is Coming to Town. The nail-biting thriller about the cat that takes revenge on Santa for always drinking its milk. Now who’s your Santa, baby?

Yes, Virginia, There Is an App for That. The heart-warming tale of one little girl and her quest for the truth: “If I see it on an app, does that make it real?”

This holiday season, may your hearts and tummies be full, your lights be bright, and your stockings be coal-free.

And remember to practice safe mistletoe. (Especially you, Vixen.)

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

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beyond 34th street

Anyone with a sentimental bone in his or her body has seen Miracle on 34th Street, the charming, heart-warming film that reminds us that believing is seeing, that Santa really does exist, and that miracles happen. Starring an adorable, little-girl Natalie Wood, the 1947 film is as much a holiday tradition as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Charlie Brown Christmas. For good reason. Whether it’s the miracle birth on Christmas or the miracle of light on Hanukkah, ’tis the season.

Which brings me around to miracles in general (can a miracle really be described in general?). Of course, there are the major life-saving miracles that truly evoke awe; those are in a category all their own. But what about those other “I-can’t-believe-this-good-thing-happened-it’s-a-miracle” moments?  To wit:

There are yesterday’s Alabama election results. Truly a miracle of hard work, determination, and the belief that good must win out.

There are the tickets to Hamilton that B. procured a few days ago as a surprise early birthday present for me. The fact that he found tickets — aisle seats, no less — and that we got to go to this extraordinary show that I’d nearly given up hope of ever seeing (its LA run ends at the end of December) qualifies in my mind as nothing short of miraculous.

Want more? Just yesterday I sold an essay of mine to a national magazine for its spring issue. Each time this happens, I’m as surprised and amazed as the first time. Fairy godmother, anyone?

And today, while browsing in my library’s used-book store, I found the new, best-selling novel that I have been longing to borrow but could not because the library waiting list is weeks and weeks long. There it was, just waiting for me for just four dollars. Title me wonder-full.

Sure, one person’s miracle is another person’s coincidence; someone’s magic is someone else’s random luck. In this season of possibility and hope, I choose magic and miracles and Tinkerbell.

I choose to believe.

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

 

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meet cute

Good news, bad news. The bad news is that stress rules these days. Stress over the the state of the world, the state of politics, and the state of who exactly is steering the ship and where are we going? It’s tough to meet each day feeling positive when so much negativity bombards us on a 24/7 news schedule. But — and here’s the good news – I’ve found a little bit of a solution, an escape if you will. It’s fun, it’s clever, and it’s the perfect antidote to these toxic times (and to the stories in the Washington Post and The New York Times). It’s — and I’m going to use a word that we hear so little these days — delightful.

I know what you’re thinking — “dear blogger, what in the hell are you talking about?” Okay, settle down. It’s a little movie called Down with Love that came out in 2003 — and it’s as much a terrific distraction as a creative gem. All it asks of the viewer is to sit back and enjoy, with no commitment to following a story that is filled with angst, has impossible-to-understand twists and turns, and is just a major downer, man.

Down with Love is a bit of a madcap romance, set in the 1960s, with lots of I-fooled-you, you-fooled-me details. In short, Renée Zellweger plays a best-selling feminist author named Barbara Novak who aims to teach women to forget about love and instead aim for professional success as well as a casual attitude in the bedroom. The bane of her existence is writer Catcher Block (Ewan MacGregor) who is out to expose Ms. Barbara as a fraud with a few ploys of his own.

The brilliance of this pic lies in its send-up of the Doris Day / Rock Hudson romantic comedies of the late 1950s and early 1960s. (If you’re not familiar, check out Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back.) The ingredients are a pretty girl meeting a handsome guy, some zany mix-ups, lots of flirty romance, and a wink-wink to sex. Down with Love takes it to a more sophisticated level (including being more suggestive in its wink-winking), and the overall effect is slick, sleek, and pure money in the bank.

The movie’s color palette — the sets, the props, the costuming — pops, right along with the dialogue. And in a particularly clever bit of casting, Tony Randall, the foil for Rock Hudson’s heartthrob hero in the old movies, appears as well (albeit in a different type of role), while the immensely talented David Hyde Pierce picks up Randall’s mantle of wingman and lovable-nerd-in-residence. Sarah Paulson plays Vikki, Barbara’s editor and requisite best-friend character, to fill out the fabulous foursome. Hilarity ensues throughout, but don’t leave early. The musical number that plays over the closing credits is totally worth the price of admission.

After watching a couple of hours of bleak TV news last night, finding Down with Love on HBO was like coming home from a tough day and finding an unexpected gift waiting at my door. A big, bright, happy gift. Tied in ribbons.

No strings attached.

 

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

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