your instructions

In 2008, vow to be more creative
And less work-a-day.

* * *

It was coming ‘round time for the annual solstice puppet show in Portland and my friend Moe gave me a call.

She said, The people, they need instruction going forward into the new year. Will you give an astrology reading before the show?

Now, I’ve asked Moe for a favor or two in my day. And my friend Moe has never refused me. Well, I guess she has. But she’s always been very polite about it, so it’s not like I could say, Why don’t you go ask one of those bitches who didn’t just give birth?

So I said, All right.

I’d give the new year’s astrology reading.

But then I awoke the day before the show and I said to myself, I said, I AM NOT AN ASTROLOGER. I mean, if Moe wanted an astrologer, why didn’t she call Rhea Wolf?

I…

I mean, what am I?

I closed my eyes.

I said, God, What am I going to tell these people? They need instruction, going forth.

And when I opened my eyes there was this sort of impish woman standing in front of me, with grey hair. And when she opened her mouth I swear she sounded like she was from the Bronx.

I squinted my eyes, because you know I don’t see so well. I said, God?

She said, No, Grace Paley.

I said, Grace! You’re not God.

And she said, Jesus Christ, Ariel. God’s busy. But I brought you the instructions. And she handed me this piece of paper.

This is a famous poem, she said. Maybe they’ve heard it before. But it’s high time they heard it again. Only this time, tell them they oughta listen.

Because in these times of dire beauty when truly everything we do matters, these are your instructions.

* * *

Responsibility

It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet.

It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman

It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners
giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets
also leaflets they can hardly bear to look at
because of the screaming rhetoric

It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy to hang out and
Prophesy

It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes
It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory
towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C
and buckwheat fields and army camps

It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman

It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman

It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the
Quakers say

It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the
Powerless

It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no
freedom without justice and this means economic justice and love justice

It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original
and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems

There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no
freedom unless
earth and air and water continue and children
also continue

It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on
this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be
listened to this time

* * *

In 2008, vow to be more creative
And less work-a-day.

Vow to be a responsible poet.

If the bald eagle
can make a come-back

why not you?

look! there’s a nice review/interview over on the Chuck Palahniuk site…

Ariel Gore is an adventurer, the Indiana Jones of literature. Full-time author and part-time teacher, she’s a novelist, a memoirist, a journalist, a zinester, as well as the writer of the brand new How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights.

And how does one do it? Ariel asked Marc Acito, novelist and Palahniuk protege, who got his big break because Chuck had read his newspaper column. She asked poet and memoirist Michele Tea the secrets to spilling your guts on both page and stage, and got them. Reclusive Dave Eggers offers fresh insights on both writing and publishing. DIY demigod Jim Munroe of www.nomediakings.org tells how (and why) you should take your word show on the road, and Pulitzer-prize winner Dave Barry talks with honesty about how hard it is to be funny… read the interview…

pregnant dream

The baby is born and immediately he insists on make up and nail polish. He can talk, I think. Or he is communicating telepathically. I tell him he’s too young for make up and nail polish. “Make up isn’t good for newborn skin,” I tell him.

But then Krystee comes to babysit. She takes him to the mall. And when they get back they are both wearing sparkly gold and blue eye shadow and red nail polish.

38 1/2 weeks pregnant

Walking down the street and an old hippie slows her car, leans out her window. “Do you need a ride?”

“No, thanks, I’m all right.”

She looks puzzled, pushes her long white hair out of her face. “Honey,” she says. “You’re about to deliver.”

“I think I’ve got a few more days,” I try to assure her. “But thanks–“

She shakes her head. “You’re going to get varicose veins if you keep walking like that!” And then she shrugs, sort of half-waves, and speeds off.

* * *

38 weeks pregnant

Thirty-eight weeks pregnant and the nasty indigestion is back. Papaya enzymes don’t work. Or maybe it would be worse without them. Starving but I can’t figure out what to eat. Feeling whiney about the whole thing. A thousand disorganized contractions.

“You make it look so glamorous,” Sia says.

I’m inspiring I.U.D.s all over town.

I read stories on the internet about women giving birth on trains, in department stores. I remember the girl who had her baby in the movie theater where I worked when I was a teenager. She didn’t seem to know she was pregnant, let alone in labor.

I am all too aware.

I can’t go anywhere without someone gasping wide-eyed, “Are you going to have that baby TODAY?”

I recount my strange daily symptoms over nonalcoholic beers and wax nostalgic about how simple my pregnancy with Maia seemed. I think it was because I was a teenager, had that strong teenage body. Maria thinks it had more to do with blissful ignorance. “We are suffering from too much information,” she says.

This may be true, but I am also suffering from too much indigestion, too many contractions.

I was born two weeks early. I remind the little sprout of this fact, tell him it’s not so bad. You don’t have to wait for your due date, I tell him. Still, he waits.

Last week, Maia’s friend crashed into Maia’s car. The insurance company wants to total it, but they’re taking their own sweet time. Not sure how Maia is supposed to get to college. I’d drive her, of course, but the baby is due that day. Not sure which scenario sounds less wise: Driving 1,000 miles 40 weeks pregnant or driving 1,000 miles with a newborn. It’s not going to happen.

But I have a new column in Skirt Magazine. Maybe you’ll like it.

i write in the laundromat

From How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead

Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.
–Rita Mae Brown

Everybody knows it because Virginia Wolf said it: You need money and a room of your own if you’re going to write. But I’ve written five books, edited three anthologies, published hundreds of articles and short stories, and put out 37 issues of my zine without either one. If I’d waited for money and room, I’d still be an unpublished welfare mom–except they would have cut off my welfare by now. It might be nice to have money and a room–or it might be suicidally depressing, who knows?–but all you need is a blank page, a pen, and a little bit of time.

Maybe it goes without saying that if you want to become a famous writer before you’re dead, you’re going to have to write something. But the folks in my classes with the biggest ideas and the best publicity shots ready to grace the back covers of their bestselling novels are also usually the ones who aren’t holding any paper. They’ve got plans, lemme tell ya, and their book is going to be better than yours. Too bad it’s written entirely on the sheaths of their imagination.

I don’t know all the reasons folks pay good money to take my classes and still don’t write, but often it has to do with their own high expectations of themselves and wild notions about genius. They think stories should spring fully formed like goddesses from their Zeus-heads. They read novels by masters and imagine their own books snuggling up with the classics at the bookstore. They can’t fathom the reality that all these masterpieces were once messy scrawls across ripped pages. First drafts of masterpieces are rarely recognizable as such–and good writers don’t leave the price tags on their work. Inspiration comes mythic-magical, but an annoying thing happens in the transmission from inspiration to worldly draft: Things come out a little fuzzy. Introductions are clunky, transitions are awkward, dialogue sounds forced, and sensory details are wholly lacking. A writer’s privilege is that she can fix it later. And then fix it again. There’s magic in the first raw draft of a story, but the real alchemy happens in rewriting.

It doesn’t take a world of discipline to put words to paper–plenty of writers are famously undisciplined procrastinators–but it does take a commitment bordering on obsession, and it takes some humility.

It’s Thursday evening and my dreamy student walks in, takes her seat, empty-handed.

“Didn’t get a chance to write anything this week?” I ask.

She shakes her head, looks down at her lap. “I didn’t have time.”

And I nod.

“When do you have time to write?” she asks.

And I answer as honestly as I can: If I’m on deadline, I write furiously. A chapter a day. One of my best writing teachers, Ms. Sarah Pollock back at Mills College, taught me that it isn’t the most talented writers who are widely published, but rather the ones who meet their deadlines. So I’ve always met my deadlines.

Left to my own inspirations, I write in spurts and stops–sometimes every day for hours, and sometimes not at all. Weeks pass. I think I’m blocked. What does that mean, “blocked?” I decide I’m empty. With some relief and some nostalgia, I think it’s over—this need to put thoughts to words and words to paper. I consider other jobs, like carpentry or bartending. I romanticize more physical hobbies like weight-lifting or cooking. I forget all about it. I get distracted. And then one day I wake up from a strange dream of elephants stampeding over bridges and I sit down to a blank page and see what comes of it.

That doesn’t answer my student’s question, of course. The answer is that I write when I can.

As a teenager, I traveled all over Asia and Europe, almost never enrolled in school, almost never punctuating my days with a regular job. I didn’t have much money, so I slept in hostels, squats, train stations, and doorways. I had all the time in the world. Sometimes I sat in near-empty cafes, bored out of my mind. Aside from a cork-covered journal that took me four years to fill and an hour to burn, I wrote nothing.

I’ve never been more productive than I was in my early twenties. I had a baby, took a full load of college classes, worked part-time, spent a day out of every week dealing with bureaucracies at the welfare office, the financial aid office, or family court. Still, my daughter’s infancy lent an urgency to my days. I wanted to be a writer. Even if I produced nothing publishable or otherwise presentable to the world, I had to write. Something. Every day. Sketches. Observations. Whatever. I wanted to be a writer, so I became one. How? I wrote things down.

Later, when I finished grad school and my daughter started elementary, I wrote every day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Four hours seemed a goodly chunk of time, but I kept my pace at a leisure. No mad rushing computer key banging scribbling across a blank page just to fill it dash through the night towards the inevitable moment when the baby would wake, hungry and demanding a tit, pulling me away from the kitchen table and into the bedroom we shared, forcing me, finally, to lay down, to feed her, to fall asleep. And dream. Nine a.m. to 1 p.m.

Then I invited a partner to come and live with us. Nine a.m. to 1 p.m. But wouldn’t it be nicer to go out to breakfast than to write? Wouldn’t it be just as well to sit and talk?

I’ll write nights, I decided, before I go to bed. Night: The sun sets, painting things orange. My daughter needs help with her homework. She needs to be tucked in. Kiss me good-night, Mama. Tell me another story in the dark. At last, she’s asleep. Or she’s not asleep and I leave her with instructions to count porcupines. From the dark of her room to the flickering light of the living room… there’s a trashy Lifetime movie on TV and we’ve got some cheap wine. My neck hurts. The chiropractor says it’s because I use the wrong muscles to move my arms. Oh, well. Weary eyes, tired of focusing. I’ve seen this movie before. I take out my contacts and change into my pajamas, jot a few blurry lines across the top of a yellow legal pad. Should I get my glasses? No. Turn out the light, dear. You can write tomorrow.

And so it goes. There are children to be raised, money to be earned, wine to drink, movies to watch, lovers to kiss.

When do I write? I write when I can. I’ve learned that I work best on deadline, so I invent my own closing dates and trick myself into believing something bad will happen if I don’t have twelve pages by Tuesday. I write during the day when my daughter is at school. I write nights when everyone else is sleeping. I write in the mornings before they get up. I bought a blue velvet couch at a garage sale and put it out on the covered porch and it became my office. I write afternoons when my daughter is on the phone. I’ve picked up the pace. If I get an hour, I can write five pages. It’s nothing Kerouac would have been proud of. Fuck Kerouac.

I write while I’m driving. This is probably rather dangerous. Worse than being on the cell phone, really. But I try to be careful. I write in my head and then I speak it out loud so I won’t forget and then I jot it down at red lights.
This is why I do not take the freeway.

I learned to write driving when my daughter was small and the car seat provided the only respite before sleep. Later, she got a plastic car and tooled around our concrete backyard muttering half-lines of poetry as she turned the wheel because she understood that this was how to drive—you drive muttering and then you write at red lights. I don’t even look down at the notebook in my lap as I scribble because the person behind me inevitably starts raging on his horn when the light turns green and I don’t budge. I keep my eye on the signal, hoping it will stay red just a little bit longer, and I write in a shorthand that’s part English, part Chinese, and part random symbolism. Arrows and circles and plus signs and ankhs and a cursive that would make my third grade penmanship teacher weep serve as my first draft. It’s pretty hard to decipher it all when I get home, but I do the best I can.

“But I don’t have any time to write,” my student says. And I don’t ask her how it is, then, that she has time to come to class. I’m glad to have her, even empty-handed. Instead, I offer some suggestions: If you don’t have time to write, stop answering the phone. Change your email address. Kill your television. If you don’t have a baby, have one. If you have a baby, get a sitter. If you work too much, work more. If you don’t work enough, work less. If there’s a problem, exaggerate it. If you’re broke, go to the food bank. If you have too much money, give it away. If you’re north, go south. If you’re south, go north. If you don’t drink, start. If you drink, sober up. If you’re in school, drop out. If you’re out of school, drop in. If you believe you have a year to live, imagine you have a hundred. If you believe you have a hundred years to live, imagine you only have one. If you’re sane, go crazy. If you’re crazy, snap out of it. If you’ve got a partner, break-up. If you’re single, find a lover! The shock of the new–shake yourself awake. There is only this moment, this night, this remembrance rolling toward you from the distant past, this blank page, this inspiration yielding itself to you. Will you meet it?

You don’t need money and a room of your own, you need pen and paper, and you need to read Marcy Sheiner’s most excellent poem, I Write in The Laundromat:

I write in the Laundromat.
I am a woman
and between wash & dry cycles
I write.

I write while the beans soak
and with children’s voices in my ear.
I spell out words for scrabble
while I am writing.

I write as I drive to the office
where I type a man’s letters
and when he goes to lunch
I write.

When the kids go out the door
on Saturday I write
and while the frozen dinners thaw
I write.

I write on the toilet
and in the bathtub
and when I appear to be talking
I am often writing.

I write in the Laundromat
while the kids soak
with scrabbled ears
and beans in the office
and frozen toilets
and in the car
between wash and dry.

And your words
and my words
and her words
and their words
and I am a woman
and I write in the Laundromat.

Preggers Proust

“Who does Ariel Gore think she is? A preggers Proust?”
–Anonymous Post-it Note bandit quoted on gawker.com

“Gore’s guide is laugh-out loud funny and full of practical tips on how to push yourself.”
–Ghost Word

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead is out now! Booklist says it’s “one of the snappiest, most useful books a writer for hire is likely to read.”

Includes interviews with Julia Alvarez, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Cho, Dave Eggers, Michelle Tea, and many others.

Ayun Halliday emailed to say: “I think it’s fantastic, for aspiring and established writers alike!”

Susie Bright says: “Your book is WONDERFUL–encouraging and funny and right on.”

Erika Lopez says: “This book is kick ass! The next best thing to sitting down with some of these folks over beers and talking shop. I love it!”

And Susan Ito blogged about the book here.

booklist

Booklist thinks How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead is rad…one of the snappiest, most useful books a writer for hire is likely to read!

“The best thing about this writers’ guide is that it doesn’t sound like any other writers’ guide… Sure, you can waste time making yourself a lovely little space to write in, but how’s that going to get your name on a published book? What you need to do, Gore says, is just be a writer. If you have a story to tell, tell it, and once you’ve told it, promote the hell out of it. Publish it yourself, if you have to, and then sell it. Check the local papers, find a spoken-word open-mike night, and go read your material in front of an audience. Send out press releases; publish your own magazine. And, most important, learn real fast that nobody out there will give a damn about what you have got to say until you make them pay attention to you. One of the snappiest, most useful books a writer for hire is likely to read.” –David Pitt