Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Get High ( Part 2 of So What Do You Do?)

I get high all the time with this new job. The feeling, for those of you who haven't experienced it, makes you hyper, energized,  like you could run a marathon even though you usually can't make it to the end of your block without your calf cramping up. It can be embarrassing when it happens in public, because when I'm high, you can totally tell; my hands shake, I sweat, and I can't get the goofy smile off my face. And today, I want to tell you about my source- well, sources, because I'm hard core.

It's happened more than once that someone will say something in passing that is one of the underlying themes in my novel. This gets me so high because I strive to be real, relatable, and here is the universe telling me I am because it happened to this person. Now this is a tricky area, because sometimes, it's something unpleasant or even traumatizing that happened to this person. Yet there I am mentally going, YES, I KNEW it, I knew that was how that scenario would have gone down. Then I feel bad because this is a friend's pain we're talking about. 
But recently, I met a new friend, also Parsi, who said something about his relationship with a particular aspect of our culture which is a theme my novel dabbles with. I leaned forward and asked why he felt that way. And the answer he gave matched the exact scene in my novel almost verbatim. I literally jumped up and down in my chair with joy (not easy or dignified to do while wearing a sari). I was high all night.

Legion of Honor
Last week, I got to the end of my to-do list and the thing I'd been putting off stared me in the face: find a curator to interview (my main character wants to be a curator but who the heck knows what a curator does off the top of their heads?). Why the procrastination? Because I've called more than one person who has told me with exasperation to go look at their website instead of bothering them. Well, sometimes the universe is on your side, sometimes it rewards you for previous hardships by arranging it so that the first museum you call has a friendly receptionist who puts you in touch with a friendly curator who invites you to the museum the very next week. What a high.
Over coffee (which was so strong and gave me a whole different kind of high), the curator answered all my questions, each response getting me higher and higher because it was so relevant to the core of my story. And also because in procrastinating, I'd made up a lot of stuff. And here the curator was confirming that what I'd invented was not far from the truth, was actually quite spot on. The high I experienced (at lethal levels combined with that coffee) made it hard to connect my fingers to the keyboard as I tried to make notes, and I'm pretty sure my wild hand gestures as I related my own stories to her had the sedate museum going crowd clutching their purses a little tighter. But I was under the influence, what could I do?

Who doesn't have a crush on Al Young?
I may not have a writer's fame and fortune yet, but one thing that's already well established is the writer's ego. Having it stroked is the ultimate high. Being complimented by really legit people (no offense Mum) is just out of this world. At last year's writing workshop,when my group was nit-picking trivialities in my piece, the facilitator, Al Young, novelist, poet, professor, and one mean jazz musician, turned to me and said in his voice that is like warm caramel sauce, "I want to keep reading". This poet/musician, succinct by trade, gave me a five-word gift that sent me flying that morning and still keeps me going in my darkest hours.

Over the last few months, I tweaked my novel, attacking persisting problems and finally ridding myself of them. The bigger the problem, the more intense the resulting high. I felt like I was playing Tetris, you know that video game where different shaped pieces fall from the sky and you have to arrange them into lines before they pile on top of each other and you're out? That was my novel, with bits and pieces that had fallen out of my mind over the years, laying in a wasteland of Word docs, refusing to fit together in a way I was happy with. But over the past few months, I've been making them fit and like in the game, each problem I solved was like a row of puzzle pieces that went poof, and I went to the next level. On those days, I was as high as a kite.

Finally, my greatest and most consistent high comes from checking my blog to see how many hits I've had in the past few days (or past few hours if I'm having a particularly distracted writing day). And I need my fix, man, so read, read now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

So What Do You Do? Part One

My "Office"

It's been nine months since I quit my job, converted my dining table into a writing desk, the wall in front of it a personal floor to ceiling white board, and began writing my novel. Continued writing, I should say, since I began writing it five years ago. But I began writing "full time" last July. Since then, my second least favorite question in the world has been "So, what do you do?", which ranks smack in the middle of "So when are you having kids?" (number three) and "So what's the book about?" (number one).

Question three is none of anyone's business (though if my parents or grandparents ask, it's right after this book) and question one just gets me tongue tied (I still haven't mastered the 30 second elevator pitch that should make a potential agent/publisher swoon and beg me for exclusive publishing rights). Question two is most manageable, in a least-of-the-evils kind of way. Interestingly, I've gone, in the last nine months, from saying "I'm uh...writing a book?" to "I'm a writer" with a bit more confidence- though I still brace myself for the inevitable follow up question (you know what it is) and babble a convoluted answer that makes the asker back away slowly.

When I first said I was quitting my job to write, many people heard "I'm married now so I don't have to work for a living". They imagined me sipping poolside margaritas, wearing a wide brimmed hat and ogling my pool boy's six pack from behind my Jackie O sunglasses (our complex does have a pool but the old man who cleans it keeps his shirt on). I was asked slyly if this writing thing was an excuse to stay in bed till noon. I smiled and let them think what they wanted.

This sign  hangs front and center in my "office". It has become my mantra and the key to being self-employed.

Granted my workday, which began at 9 back in July now starts closer to ten, depending on who posted what on Facebook, but begin it does. I've only taken two days "off", one for a cold and one because of a Gray's Anatomy marathon, which my boss forced me to conduct so I could get them out of the way and get back to work. My boss is a slave driver, but I trust her (also, she's a bit scary).

Now that I'm an expert on being a self-employed writer (self-employed, unemployed, whatever), let me share my wisdom with all of you.

1. Find the Perfect Work Space

The dining table-cum-office didn't last long, and after months of careful experimentation with coffee shops up and down the Bay, I have settled on the Red Rock Cafe in downtown Mountain View. This magical haven allows you to stay all day, for as much or as little as a half-caf extra-hot non-fat latte, and it's a Godsend.
On the second floor, the literal heart of Silicon Valley resides, and in the eye of the storm, surrounded by flip-flop-clad men and women discussing their start ups and smartly suited business people tapping their iPads for their clients, I waltz in  promptly between nine and ten, with my clunky HP laptop (it is the only one without the little glowy apple, gasp), adorned in a t-shirt from Target or a kurti from Karachi, depending on my mood, and take my place at the second to last table, facing the wall, close to an outlet, with plenty of natural light.

In the cradle of time between the end of my play list  (the group, Ba Cissoko, sing in an African language I don't understand, providing perfect drown-out music) and my finger hitting the replay button-I have yet to figure out how to set my iPod to repeat- I overhear techy-type conversations that I don't understand, though they are conducted in English. I'm often struck with the realization that I'm a complete outsider on the second floor in terms of what I'm doing there. But writing this, I also see that in another way, I fit right in with this crowd. I, too have a dream, a start up of sorts, and I too am here to develop it.

That got long. Now you know the answer to Irritating Question Number Four: Why don't you write short stories, Phi?

My Oasis: The Red Rock Cafe (that's my spot: second floor, second window!)