Tag Archives: writing

caffeine, and other addictions

A year ago, my lovely doc told me to quit drinking caffeine because it can affect Crohn’s disease (which I have). “I don’t drink coffee, tea, or soda, and I don’t like hot drinks,” I replied, my smug and near-snobby tone a well-honed product of my years spent as a teenage girl.

Then, three things happened. These three things intermingled with my sporadic insomnia and genetically addictive personality . (Which can be both good and bad, for the record: it’s easy for me to develop a habit, like setting alarms for writing and drinking spinach smoothies every morning, but then I also panic when I A) don’t go to the gym, B) open a new container of Nutella, or C) accidentally overindulge on French wines or vodka.)

A portion of my daily breakfast – a blend of spinach, water, 5 frozen strawberries, and 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries. This was my St. Patrick’s edition.

The three things that damned my caffeine intake:

  1. I quit – ok, cut back – on my 5 Hour Energy dependency.
  2. I increased the hours I spend working at home.
  3. I went to Europe.

“We won’t be able to sit in cafés in Paris and drink coffee together,” my new husband says to me while we’re boarding the flight to go to on our honeymoon. He actually sighed after saying that and looked away.

Me, grumpy and trying not to act cranky at 8 a.m. Paris time. Attempting to last a full day without sleeping after a redeye from Boston. (I do not know the woman in the background.)

My trainer says that you can do anything you don’t like for 15 seconds. I like this philosophy a lot. You say to yourself, “I can do anything for 15 seconds,” latch on to the mental state, and stay there. Then, you can get blood drawn, fit in a couple of push-ups while your arms are burning, pretend to act interested in a boring conversation, sprint at the end of your run, and even touch raw chicken… only for 15 seconds. Then you’re done.

Which is how I came to drink espresso. It’s so little that my hot drink distaste is over, with about 15 seconds of discomfort.

Back in the States, I decided to apply my newfound dependency to cold beverages. I read this article about the benefits of green tea, which is mild enough for me to drink. Coupled with my insane jealousy of people who cart Starbucks around like second cell phones (which has been developing for approximately 10 years), I settled on the Tazo Zen brand of tea, which basically tastes like mildly minty water. I believe I am very lucky I’m not a decade older, because then I’d definitely have a cigarette habit. The D.A.R.E. program must have diminished the sexy “cigarettes are cool” vibe effectively enough.

And then, like a true addict, I needed more.

Single shot of espresso, trente iced green tea.

For the last month, I’ve found myself holding my nose and chugging three cups (!) of hot coffee per day , before brewing two to four mugs of tea that I ice down and consume over the next several hours, while writing and working. And I have no idea . Is this a lot? A little? Aren’t I supposed to get a headache at some point? Is it magically helping me get more work done, or is this my imagination? I’d drink espresso, but I’m pretty sure those machines are expensive, right?

Thought I might get some responses after @BostonMo threw me an RT. Maybe they thought I was joking.

the secrets to working from home, vol. one: combat zone

Every time I talk shop with anyone — family, friend, or foe — they ask how I can possibly work from home and “get anything done.” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made news last week after banning working from home. But with concepts like like “ working smart, not hard ,” companies and employees alike can save money while increasing productivity and happiness .  Not only do I write fiction/memoirs from my desk, but I also teach undergrad and grad courses online (which I absolutely love doing). It’s smart for companies, as long as they have the right workers. It’s even .

Fast Fact: A study conducted by Stanford University found that:

  • about 10% of Americans now work from home, and
  • the option to work from home increased performance by 13%.

Even though it took me a while to get into the right rhythm, I still want to retort by asking them how they can get anything done in their cubicle or work office. But, I’m polite and maniacally terrified of people disliking me, so…

…Ergo, the multi-volume post about how to successfully WFH (work from home).

Step One: Identify and eradicate your enemies.

Mine are:

1. A good book.

bookshelf, public domain

bookshelf, public domain

I am such a cliché. In grad school, I was completely against e-readers. Then I got a for Christmas and I fell in love. I download samples of books; I purchase full books at random. I read while I eat (if I’m alone), in waiting rooms, before bed, and during any other downtime I can find. It’s nearly moronic how much of an ideal consumer I am for Amazon. Reading a good book is my number one time-suck.

Solution: Put a time limit on reading during daylight hours.

2. The internet.

Specifically, Google. I’m pretty sure that if anyone I knew viewed my history, they’d run screaming. Today alone, I’ve Googled “tiny sinks,” “cool jackets,” “hernia surgeries,” “do people actually make money from eBay,” and “words that rhyme with famous.”

Solution: Unplug yourself. ( Which is the entire topic of volume two .)

3. Not going to the gym.

the site of boot camp: Fitness Unlimited in Milton

Many people struggle with the motivation to get to the gym. If that’s the case for you, then do what I’ve done here and identify your enemies. Me, on the other hand? I get cranky and moody if I don’t get to the gym. I reward myself with sweating. My brain wakes up, too. I get much more written on days when my blood is pumping.

4. Hangovers.

Gaslight in Boston

Common sense here, folks.

What are your enemies?

an evening with john irving.

I have unbelievable news.

I’m pretty sure John Irving has read my writing.

That’s because I wrote a question on an index card for him to consider answering at a recent at the J.F.K. Presidential Library in Boston. That has to count for something. Right?

My parents did not regulate my reading when I was a child, nor do I think that they coached me well on appropriate reactions to the things that I was reading. I wildly and uncontrollably sobbed in their bed after reading Cheaper By the Dozen (fair warning: the book is not the Steve Martin movie). They explained that bad things happen. I then read Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia and held all of my feelings inside, subsequently developing a lifetime of insomnia.

Consider where you’re at in your career, or you passions, even. How did you get there? What drew you to what you do (or to what you like)? Forum moderator Tom Perrotta commented that “Garp was the first writer I ever really knew.” I had a similar experience when I read A Widow for One Year at age 12. (Like I said: not so much parental supervision when it came to reading.) This book is tied with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as the two most important pieces of literature I’ve ever read, because they are what compelled me to become a writer. I felt like I knew the characters on a personal level. The gardener who was afraid of small women because of their disproportionate anger; the poor, bumbling Eddie, the sassy, yet sad and promiscuous Hannah… and even the “sound like someone trying not to make a sound” that becomes a character in and of itself. I learned that, like Ruth, child characters in adult novels can only have a partial understanding of the world, and that they’re about to learn more; they will not learn this in a good way.

A friend of a friend actually works at this library, and was able to seat me in the “reserved” section, next to friends and journalists. I landed two seats over from Tom Perrotta’s wife, Mary Granfield. I know this because I am insane, and I Googled every name around me. (I was 90 minutes early – and thus, I was front row, dead center.)

I can’t quite describe my starstruck behavior when it comes to John Irving. I once walked, head-on collision style, into Stephen Tyler at a local Apple store. I apologized to him like he was a regular person. NKOTB superstar Jordan Knight sat next to me at a bar a couple of weeks ago. Nada.

The only other comparison I can make to my John Irving excitement is as follows: While on our honeymoon, my husband and I saw Elton John eating at La Petite Maison in Nice. I was so distressed that I broke my no-media rule and, roaming charges aside, internationally texted my family and close friends immediately. I also took pictures of him that I did not publish via social media so as to not “betray” Elton John.

I was so discombobulated that I missed the fact that Madonna was there, too. In fact, my husband and I directly witnessed this moment . (Madonna has fabulous in-person arms, which is what I noticed about her before I noticed that she was Madonna.) She brushed by our table when she left and sort of “twinkled” her fingers at us.

This is what we looked like immediately after Madonna waved at us.

The wave was not as exciting as John Irving’s forum, especially when we made eye contact.

Here is what I learned about John Irving:

  • He always has 3-4 novel ideas in his head at a time.
  • He keeps an idea in his head for an average of 8-9 years.
  • Writer’s block doesn’t exist, in his mind. That’s because he never stops writing.
  • In his mind, A Prayer for Owen Meany’s beloved narrator Johnny Wheelwright is “probably a non-practicing homosexual,” with his love for Owen Meany evident on the page. (I believe this to be akin to the moment when J. K. Rowling revealed that Dumbledore is gay : unsurprising but unsaid.)

Irving knows the first and last sentence of all of his novels. His next novel focuses on a Mexican-American character, who intends to take one particular journey, messes up his medications on the way, and winds up taking a very different trip than he ever thought he might (which, because it’s a John Irving novel, was the intention the whole time).

He quoted the last line to this next novel, which is currently:

“Not every collision course comes as a surprise.”

“I like obsessions, and characters who are obsessed,” says John Irving. Me too.

tiny apartments and the six-word story challenge

A couple of weeks ago, I was editing a chapter when I got distracted because I broke one of my cardinal rules: I hadn’t banned myself from the internet while working. Thus, this tweet from Boston’s WCVB caught my eye:

Struck by a mix of awe and panic, I immediately abandoned all of my work in favor of ferociously Googling tiny apartments . I found everything from a minute and sparse in NYC, and then I found… these . These action-packed and architecturally interesting apartments are small, yes — but they certainly have a lot going on.

Like this one, a 270 sq. ft. space in Montmartre, Paris:

Photo Credit: freshome.com

Or this extra-modern, citrusy loft, which clocks in at less than 625 sq. ft.

Photo Credit: freshome.com

Naturally, once I glanced down and saw my abandoned edits, I wrestled with my guilt… and reasoned that these tiny places were a lot like bite-sized stories. Specifically, 6-word stories.

I’ve done these before as exercises after writing a short story. I take what I’ve written and rewrite it in only six words. It’s almost impossible, and very frustrating. It does help me understand what the gist of a story is, though.

For this week’s challenge, try your hand at writing a story in exactly a half dozen words. You won’t likely end up with an overwhelming narrative arc. That’s okay.

Some famous examples:

“Found true love. Married someone else.” –Author and Screenwriter Dave Eggers

“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” –Reportedly written (source is undetermined) by Ernest Hemingway

“Well, I thought it was funny.” –Comedian Stephen Colbert

“Almost a victim of my family.” –Chuck Sangster

See how much these stories are saying while using only six words? Feel free to share yours in the comment section.