07/2/15
dorothyranier

clap along if you feel that it’s perfectly reasonable for rooms to have roofs.

So much has happened since January that we might as well not even talk about it. Jobs, am I right? I spent four months in a basement for broken families and then another month chained to a desk in a terrible brain sucking factory. I don’t think it’s wrong to always hate your job so long as your job is always awful, and what job besides “revered author” isn’t awful? Eventually you just have to throw up your hands and go back to dog walking.

The merciless disaster of a relationship. My precious woof and our many homes. The moon, the sun, the moon, the sun, again and again and again.

What’s the expression? Working hard, hardly working. But things have improved. My big head is back, which you need to be a successful writer, I’m pretty sure. Last week I went to Missoula and hung out with my old friend Alice Bolin. She is so regal now, like a statue you leave gifts for on a silly superstition of good luck. I couldn’t stop laughing at her jokes, it was pretty embarrassing. Tim and I lost our hands at the Oxford’s poker table. Never mind who is Tim. We floated the river four times and saw one of every animal. I talked to Skylar about a new feature at the indy, although I wouldn’t hold my breath. Don’t Tell Mom The Flat Tire On the Way Home Overdrew My Account.

In July we work on tans and letters. When I hear my name I think Irish-German, but when I look at my red-brown arms from the sun reflected off of last week’s river, it’s German-Irish. It doesn’t matter where your parent’s parent’s parent’s came from, of course.

I am excited and eager to make new art. Here’s some of the things I’ve shared lately.

1. Doghatesfilm.com

dorothyranier

Hark the dog and the films she hates. The site is in beta but what can I say, you get busy. This piece about 50 Shades of Grey is probably the best literature to date.

2. After the Rose Podcast 

My friend Megan and I made a podcast about ABC’s hit romantic reality series “The Bachelorette.” Many wonder: Do you have to watch the show in order to understand/enjoy the podcast? At least one source besides myself says no. You may find that a good podcast feels very much in the brain like finding great new friends.

3. Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good 

I have a story in this collection with Joyce Carol Oates and Aimee Bender, no big deal.

4. David Gates interview

I read his book with my mouth hanging open. All other writing is made of garbage. When I finished the last story in the collection I sat in one place and stared at a wall for two straight days.

5. Oh, Canada

A 3,000 word personal essay about an okay time I had with a girl.

6. okey-panky

A 1,400 word personal essay about a fun date with a cool guy, and an interview from the aforementioned editor Alice Bolin to follow.

7. Twitter @MollyL  

 

09/4/14

I’ll gaze your navel.

It’s starting to become a problem. (“Your looks have become a problem!” #namethatfilm) I get in these funks where I wait too long in between blog posts, and pretty soon every day I just feel sick and sad that I haven’t posted anything. It really gnaws at me! It causes a lot of undue suffering. Like one week of not writing equals one dead cat in my backpack, and then one day I wake up and find I’m carting around 5 or 6 dead cats. Then I try to write and I’m hypercritical and self-conscious about what I’ve written, I throw everything in the garbage—anyway, it’s this whole gross, boring cycle.

Long story short, I solved the problem by finding this inexplicable list of free interview questions on the internet. For a change of pace, I tried to answer these questions as plainly, honestly, and un-sarcastically as possible. Next week: My novel, in its entirety. ha ha ha. l o l. It turned out really long! All free! Enjoy!

GENERAL QUESTIONS

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR PROFESSION?

Walking dogs is mind numbingly easy. I’m good at it. I like animals. My job burns calories. The pay is okay.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE LEAST?

I have a fucking master’s degree; this shit is humiliating. Particularly when I see my friends publishing their books and/or talking about writing their class syllabuses. It makes me feel sick. Every day I feel like I’m wasting my life.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THIS?

A little over a year.

SHOULD YOUR PARENTS HAVE BEEN MORE OR LESS STRICT?

I chose my parents before I was born. They got divorced when I was 4 which I don’t think is good or bad, contrary to what we’ve been brainwashed to believe. My mom wasn’t strict at all and I turned out okay. I do wish somebody had told me to brush my teeth and sit farther away from the television, cuz now my eyes and teeth are fucked up.

HOW WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD?

My hair was snarled; I was always covered in dirt. We took the boat out to the lake. I played a lot of soccer at my best friend Dylan’s house. I used to stay up late at night and write fake reports from topics in our world encyclopedias. I idolized my brother and was mystified by my sister. I had the feeling that everybody thought I was special, in both the good and bad way. We rode our bikes to the woods. In my memory it was good, but I'm sure at the time it felt like the present moment, which usually feels bad, or at the very least, uncomfortable and incomplete. I know that as I got older I had more and more social problems in school. I was often sullen and at night I would make myself sick with worrying about why there was something instead of nothing. It scared me and still does. 

ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?

If I’m happy, then the word happy has no meaning.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?

I’d be more careful with men’s hearts. And I'd try to not be an obese teen.

IF YOU HADN'T BEEN BORN IN THIS CENTURY, WHEN AND WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE LIVED?

I’m a woman, so anytime before say, 1968, no thank you.

WHO ARE YOUR HEROES?

Any artist who overcomes their depression enough to make good art. No specific names come to mind. I see a person who’s smart and kind and cool and I think: I want to be like you.

WHO DO YOU HAVE NO RESPECT FOR?

I think everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.

WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?

Beat myself up.

ARE YOU POLITICALLY ACTIVE?

Nah. I think the best thing anybody can do is to develop her spiritual self/moral compass. Policy is actually very nerdy and complicated. People imagine there are malevolent forces out to get us when in reality I think it’s just a big dumb machine and the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. I’m resigned to just keep my head down, stay out of trouble and try to carve out the best life given what I have.

DO YOU DO ANY VOLUNTEER WORK?

Not unless you count this circle jerk of a website. You’re welcome.

HOW HAS AMERICA CHANGED IN THE LAST TEN YEARS?

We’ve pretty much come around on the gays; that’s nice to see. Looks like video games and computers keep getting better. Good job, America.

HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED?

I haven’t that much.

WHAT'S THE SIDE OF YOU THAT THE PUBLIC NEVER SEES?

I think in real life I can be very sweet. I don't know if that comes across as much on the internet. And maybe it's not even true.

DO YOU SOMETIMES FEEL THAT THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT

________________? (SUBJECT'S NAME, PLURALIZED)

Yeah. There’s the Molly that is me and the Molly that is a dumb ass drug people say dumb shit about that my brain won’t let me do anymore.

DO YOU WISH YOU HAD MORE PRIVACY?

If I did, that wish could come true.

If you haven't figured out by now, these questions are written with celebrity in mind, so. I will say that I don't think I would mind if my tits got leaked on the internet. (See Morgan Murphy's hilarious stand up on this topic.) But of course, it's also totally okay to mind.

DO YOU THINK THE PUBLIC AND CRITICS EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM YOU?

No. I’m flattered whenever anyone expects anything of me at all. It’s a compliment.

HOW HARD DO YOU PUSH YOURSELF?

Not very hard.

WHEN ARE YOU COMPLETELY SATISFIED WITH YOUR WORK?

Never really. I come close when people compliment me a lot.

WHY HAVE YOU SUCCEEDED IN A FIELD WHERE SO MANY OTHERS HAVE FAILED?

I genuinely consider myself a failure. As for my few piddly successes: They were because the work was really good. That’s the only explanation. It’s not because I’m good with people or networking or any of that shit.

WHAT'S THE MAGIC FORMULA FOR SUCCESS?

Work really hard + be really talented + know the right people.

I don’t know if that’s the right order or not. It’s more like a circle than a linear line.

GENERAL QUESTIONS, PART 2

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT REINCARNATION?

I totally believe in it. I feel it in my bones and I’ve seen it in my dreams.

HOW ABOUT ASTROLOGY?

Bullshit. Or even if it's not, most people don't know how to decode it. The enneagram rules!

WHAT ABOUT LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS?

Lots but far away.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX?

Weed.

IS THERE A BATTLE OF THE SEXES?

Only in people’s heads.

WHO'S WINNING?

Depends on the head.

ARE WE RETURNING TO A MORE ROMANTIC TIME?

I don’t know about this “we” business. I know I’m not. The older I get, the less romantic.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE MACHO?

Anybody who can carry me on his or her back is macho.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE TRADITIONAL ROLES FOR MEN AND WOMEN?

Nah but there’s something to be said for division of labor. One person chops the wood, the other peels the carrots. Shouldn’t matter who does what of course.

IF YOU WERE A MAN (WOMAN) HOW DIFFERENT DO YOU THINK YOUR CAREER WOULD HAVE GONE?

It’s hard to get hired in this city as a dog walker if you’re a man. People think women are more trustworthy, which in my case is hilarious. If I were a man I’d probably be some sort of day laborer. Maybe somebody would have taught me a goddamn marketable trade when I was a kid.

If we’re talking about writing, I don’t know. I think it bodes well for me that I’m a woman because I don’t think I write like most women. I think people give me a harder time for navel-gazing because I’m a woman, but I mean. I can’t really deny that I do that. I’m interviewing myself on mollylaich.com right now, for example.

WHAT'S THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE RUMOR EVER PRINTED ABOUT YOU?

I wish. Closest thing I can think of: Somebody once wrote in a comment section on one of my indy articles something like “Molly must be sleeping with the editor in order to keep getting work” which I found, you know, incredibly insulting (and really untrue, I should add, if anyone was wondering. Robert and I are great friends but we don't fuck, christ.) That same person left a comment on another article. They were all…wait, let me get this verbatim: “Great interview? I don't think so. The interviewer insinuated herself nearly a dozen times in this brief dialogue with the words I or me.” I often jerk off at night to an image of this person hunched over their free weekly paper counting the number of times I used the words I or me.

WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF YOUR LIFE?

I don't know.

DO YOU WORRY ABOUT WHETHER PEOPLE LIKE YOU FOR THE REAL YOU, OR BECAUSE YOU'RE A CELEBRITY?

Haha. No.

DO YOU MAKE FRIENDS EASILY?

Also no. I don’t think I’ve ever successfully pursued a friendship on my own. If we’re friends, you did the work. Thank you. It means a lot. Unless we’re talking about the internet, in which case, I consider myself wildly popular.

WHICH DO YOU ENJOY MOST: A NIGHT ON THE TOWN OR STAYING IN WITH THAT SOMEONE SPECIAL?

To answer this question would imply that life is one way or the other when we all know it’s always both and neither. Side note: I'm enjoying the inverse of "special someone" here.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE PIG-OUT FOOD?

Gross.

WHAT DO YOU DO FOR EXERCISE?

All kinds of boring stuff.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM?

My fantasy football team “The Detroit Lions.”

DO YOU THINK AMERICANS PUT TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON COMPETITION?

Every American is different.

IF YOU WERE PRESIDENT, WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU'D DO?

Resign.

SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT __________________(SUBJECT'S NAME) HAS IT ALL. WHAT DON'T YOU HAVE?

It all.

QUESTIONS FOR AUTHORS

HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU STARTED WRITING?

I was really little. In first grade I wrote this thing about how I wanted to be God. Everybody thought it was cute and wise. I remember filing that away under “This is a way to get attention and love.”

WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT THIS WOULD BE YOUR PROFESSION?

First of all, I don’t “know” anything. But I decided to make a go of it and take it seriously around the end of undergrad when I realized I thought I was better than everyone else in my workshop. So far I’d say I’ve pretty much failed.

WHO'S YOUR FAVORITE AUTHOR?

David Gates.

WHY?

I worked with him in grad school. He helped me publish several stories. He called me shallow once. His writing is really smart and good. On the sentence level: calm, poised and true. Funny but not annoyingly witty. It's like every line winks at you under the surface with the knowledge that the world is bullshit but we still need to carry on and try to love one another anyway. His writing is like if David Foster Wallace understood the virtue of brevity. Seriously, read one of his books if you haven't yet. I'm mucking it up trying to explain it.

ARE THERE ANY WRITERS WHOSE SUCCESS MYSTIFIES YOU?

It would be unwise of me to name names in a town this small, but a lot of people seriously bore me.

DO YOU READ MORE FICTION, OR NON-FICTION?

I used to read way more non-fiction but that flipped once my heart died and I decided I knew all I cared to know.

WHAT ARE YOU READING LATELY?

Wild by Cheryl Strayed and some garbage novel I won’t mention by name.

WHAT ARE A COUPLE OF YOUR ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOKS?

The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante, Jernigan by David Gates, Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill, The Catcher in the Rye by you know who, and so on.

CAN AN AUTHOR WRITE FOR THE PULITZER AND THE PUBLIC AT THE SAME TIME?

Any author “writing for the Pulitzer” can fuck right the fuck off. I know people like that. They’re gross.

PUBLISHING HAS BECOME BIG BUSINESS. HAS THAT HURT?

It has? Oh god yes, it hurts. It burns.

WHAT INSPIRED YOUR LATEST BOOK?

I’m going to cry.

DO YOU THINK TELEVISION IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ILLITERACY?

I’m not a doctor, but I think literacy rates are at pretty much an all time high. I just looked it up; the internet says literacy rates in America haven’t changed in 10 years. It also says Seattle is the most literate city in the US. I thought it was Boston. Anyway, that would explain why everybody here is a smug fuck.

WHEN YOU GO TO SEE A MOVIE, DO YOU TRY TO READ THE BOOK FIRST?

You know, sometimes. Particularly if I think I might be assigned to review the movie.

MANY SCHOOLS HAVE BANNED CERTAIN BOOKS FOR VARIOUS REASONS. WHERE DO YOU THINK THE LINE SHOULD BE DRAWN?

No line. Leave it up to the librarians. They’re some of the raddest people on earth.

HOW DO YOU OVERCOME WRITER'S BLOCK?

I look up bullshit interview questions on the internet and answer them.

HAVE YOU EVER WRITTEN ABOUT YOUR OWN BAD HABITS?

Oh lord, yes.

DO YOU EVER FEEL FORCED TO WRITE?

Like there’s a fucking gun to my head pretty much all the time.

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF A PUBLISHER WANTED TO CONDENSE YOUR WORK?

Good.

12/23/12

words are spells.

mollylaich.com, both the website and the girl, need a little alone time. we’re expecting a full recovery in 2013. (maybe even before; I might want to tell you what movies I hated this year. I know. season your admiration.)

Meanwhile, I love self help/hippy spiritual books, and I’ve been reading one in particular called The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Luiz. Just do what he says and you’ll be happy, okay? The four agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

Here’s a succinct explanation of number four, from toltecspirit.com:

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Here’s a passage from an as yet unpublished story I wrote back in 2010 called “Get Well Soon.”

The nurse wrote a recommendation for her to see the psychopharmacologist across the hall, where they would do their best to help her. He thought about how that’s all anyone can ever do: their best. He thought about it the whole way home, driving in his car: “We want to do our best.” It’s not enough to want to do your best. You have to know what that means, and the definition always changes. Your best might not be someone else’s, and so on. He didn’t think it was likely that Emma would get better.

Eh. I was startled at first, but maybe it’s not actually that similar. I’ve just always felt that when I’m writing—when I’ve caught a current and I feel like I’m really nailing down what I want to say—it’s not coming from me. It’s coming from the little boy who lives inside my mouth! i.e. the netherworld. You’ve written about things and then watched them come true, right?

Mostly I just wanted to say hello and please don’t forget about me. Here’s the second part of that paragraph. And do let me know if anyone is looking for an 8,000 word story about pain.

Some people just have a sunken in look to them, and they will always talk to you from that void. The nurse came home to an empty apartment and made sloppy Joes for himself and his neighbor, who wasn’t home and didn’t want one. He went to bed and had the same reoccurring dream, the one in the meadow with his favorite food: pancakes, drenched in syrup and stacked to the heavens.

I love you. Merry christmas.

08/23/12

Missoula is for lovers.

LAST NIGHT

I met David Gates for dinner at the Depot around 6:30. I heard he was back in town and I wanted to talk to him about literature and maybe ask him what I should do with my life. David wrote two books in the 90s called Jernigan and Preston Falls. These books are so good they make my heart ache to think of them. He’s probably my favorite living author, so it’s pretty lucky for me that he teaches in Montana and we’re friends.

I asked him how his summer was, and he said it was terrible because his girlfriend broke up with him and he didn’t write anything. I told him to shut up and write a new novel. He said, “What the fuck for?” or its equivalent. “It’s hilarious how unambitious you are,” I said, and he said that it was worse than that even, that he wished people would just forget he ever wrote anything. He talked about never wanting to finish another story because one more story would make enough for a collection and it would be terrible to publish another short story collection. If I’m making him sound grumpy, know that he said all of this with a great deal of charm.

I told him how everybody in town keeps telling me to shut up and write a memoir. Even people who hate everything I write and wish I would die tell me to shut up and write more embarrassing non fiction. But I have this unfinished novel, also, so I just wanted to ask David Gates if he thought I should abandon the novel for a collection of personal essays or what.

He said there was no point in writing either things, but he implied that a novel is more salient in the long term, and who cares about people like David Sedaris or Sarah Vowell? “My god, the last thing we need are more personalities!” But really, the last thing we need is more of anything so this point doesn’t mean much.

He concluded by saying that I should just write both. Why wouldn’t I just write both? He said, “Why are you asking me when you’re just going to do whatever you’re going to do anyway?” No bullshit, this guy.

We talked about all kinds of other stuff, like how good The Godfather is and how Toni Morrison is very sexy and flirty in real life. My ex boyfriend Cody was in David’s non fiction class the fall after we broke up, so we talked about him for a second. I said that Cody was a super talented filmmaker but I had to break up with him anyway, and when we broke up he said “never talk to me again” and it’s been over a year since I saw him. And David said, “Of course you broke up with him. He’s not hot and you’re shallow.” What a card, that David.

I let David buy me dinner because he’s got way more money than I do. I suppose that makes me a really shitty person. Somebody should take me out back behind a building and beat the shit out of me with hammers for doing this awful thing.

After dinner I went to karaoke with people who I know and love as well as some incoming MFA students. I’m a fourth year MFAer at this point, which is to say I fucking graduated and what am I still doing at these kind of gatherings, but whatever. I sang “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse, then “Dancing in the Dark” by Springsteen and finally “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder.

I was going to sing “Welcome to the Jungle” but a nice girl named Rachel wanted to sing it and I let her because I’m such a kind person.

I was surprised to see my friend John who I used to be in love with was at the Golden Rose next store, because he’s been in North Dakota for weeks making tons of money on an oil rig. He’s still handsome, which is annoying. We hugged twice and made plans for coffee. I’m not in love with him anymore but if he asked me to marry him tomorrow I’d probably say yes.

I talked to the bouncer about my writing and we smoked cigarettes. I forget his name, but both times he said, “thanks for the conversation” which is a nice and weird thing to say, I think.

My other friend John asked me if I felt okay about a fake problem and I said I did. I said, “Don’t worry about me,” and he said, “Why would I not worry about you?” I said that I didn’t want the summer to end because I love my friends and I’ll miss them when they’re busy with school and I don’t want anything to change.

My friend Kurt told me again how much he liked it when I said “No yolo!” on Facebook, and I agreed it was a great thing to say, because I emphatically do NOT believe you only live once. I told my friend Kurt who is having some relationship problems that he’s handsome and smart and funny and women will be lining up to date him soon. I hope that wasn’t weird. We also talked about rap music but that wasn’t as fun for me because I had no idea what I was talking about.

Jeff the karaoke DJ tackled me toward the end of the night, in a fun friend way. I rode my bike to my new place on the west side. I had been sleeping in a tent out back, but I’ve decided to become an inside dog and move in for good. I don’t have a bed yet so I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor and it was just fine.

TODAY

I woke up with the sun and read some stuff on the internet. It looked cold at 9 in the morning so I put on fleece sweatpants and elected to take the bus into town instead of my bicycle. There’s a bus stop right in front of my new house, it’s really convenient. Waiting for the bus, I saw Jeff the karaoke DJ and his beautiful one-eyed dog across the street. It was neat because I didn’t know he lived there. He gave me a ride into town. I mean, why the heck not.

Jeff dropped me off at the corner of Higgins and 3rd. I started to walk down the street, but then in the distance I saw my ex boyfriend Cody, the one who said my love was like a loaded gun. I got scared when I saw him and ducked around the corner like a moron. I quickly realized that was a moronic thing to do and tried to recover. I came back around the corner and approached him as normally as possible. I said hello and he took out his headphones, begrudgingly. He looked pretty good. I said, “I hid around the corner when I first saw you, that was stupid.” He didn’t say anything. I said, “I didn’t know if you were still in Missoula,” and he said, “I still have two more years of school, why wouldn’t I be?” I haven’t seen or talked to Cody in over a year, but I still know him, and I know that he was seething with rage and I certainly ruined his day. I said, “Okay, I’ll let you go,” and he said, “See you later.”

I headed further down Higgins to the Hob Nob and my friends Greg and Kirsi were outside eating breakfast. “I just saw Cody,” I told them. They told me they watched the entire thing unfold, including the part about me getting scared and ducking around the corner. “If I saw you do that, then Cody definitely saw you,” Kirsi said. You can’t do anything in Missoula without 5 of your friends seeing you. It’s great. My friend Brian walked out of the Hob Nob while I was talking to Greg and Kirsi and I said hello to him.

The line was too long at Hob Nob so I walked down the street to Bernice’s, where I sat outside with a coffee and a not ripe banana. I tried to read a book but an old man reading the paper started talking to me about the weather and wolves in Wisconsin, how they’re getting along really well with the elk. Then Jeff came by with his one eyed dog and we talked about people in the neighborhood we both knew.

I walked down the street to Shakespeare and Co. to see my friend Garth who owns the store. My friend Erika who is also the arts editor at the Indy was there shopping and we all talked about something for a minute. Erika asked me if I would write the movie review this week and that made me happy because I love writing movie reviews. I made plans with Garth to have lunch next Wednesday and then I left.

I decided to head back downtown and see about finding something to eat besides the not ripe banana. There was an osprey flying circles over the river and I stopped to watch him. The osprey landed on a pole, and then both me and the osprey watched a crow circle around for awhile. I wanted to know what the osprey was thinking, and it drove me mad, to stare at an animal knowing that I can never ever know what they think about.

To be a bird for a day. I’d give anything.

It wasn’t even noon yet and I’d already been in so many awesome adventures and seen so many cool people. I thought it would make a great blog post. I thought about how much I like my life in a very real and uncomplicated way, and the idea felt fragile in my hands, like something too good to be true. I walked to the christian coffee shop to write this blog post, and here we are.

03/9/12

try to think of no one in particular.

Right after the Virginia Tech shooting, I was at a laundromat in Detroit, working on a little something while I waited for my clothes to dry. The attendant asked me what I was all about, and I said, “I’m a writer.” “Uh oh!” he said. “I’m scared of you!”

That’s right! He should be.

A lot of writers are just bad, which is a comfort. It’s the ones teetering on mediocre that are so upsetting. I imagine them spending hours alone, hunched over a desk in a lonely attic spitting out hackneyed prose, pitifully disconnected between their own ambitious thoughts and whatever magic spark it takes to engage an audience. Then one day they leave the attic, and snap! It’s finally time to share, and the audience is not moved. This is how people get killed.

Never mind the obvious fear that I’m the person I just described.

I remember this story from an undergraduate workshop I took at Wayne State. We’ll call the author Tom, out of respect or whatever, but also I can’t remember his real name. Tom was around 30. He was trim with short dark hair, forever clad in pastel polo shirts. He was a real blank canvas. He was the kind of person you picture when you’re trying to picture no one in particular.

The story’s protagonist resembled someone very much like the author who had a conspicuously close relationship with his sister. The workshop conversation went something like this:

“Does anybody else think it’s weird that he brushes her hair for a really long time in this scene?”
“I don’t think it’s normal for grown up siblings to brush each other’s hair at all.”
“There’s definitely a sexual undercurrent between the brother and sister character. I wonder why it’s here or what it contributes to the present action of the story.”
“I don’t think the incest is doing anything for the story and should be removed.”
“Nay, I think that without the incest, the story is nothing, and if anything, it should be amped up or made more explicit.”

As it turned out, Tom had not intended for us to read any funny business into the sibling’s relationship. What we’d done instead is shine a flashlight on deep-seeded perversions in his psyche for 45 uncomfortable minutes. This was only the first round of workshop. He never came back to class after that, although his spirit lived on in our memory.

Say your brain is a big house with many rooms. When you write a story, you’re saying,  ”Come take a tour of my house.” Maybe you’re not prepared for brats in your workshop to go exploring beyond the parlor, kicking doors open down hallways you thought you’d made clear were off limits, but that’s what brats do.

I envy people like Tom. I bet he went home, boarded up the room filled with creepy thoughts of fucking his sister, and he’s never been back to it.

I wonder if he still writes. Eh. Who knows. Maybe we were wrong about everything and the brother and sister really were just good friends.

03/5/12

things fall apart.

The writers conference I went to in chicago last week started off on a high note, and then everything began to unravel. Here’s a list/summary of what I learned at AWP.

  1. I went to the conference for two reasons: To read my stories into a microphone and to meet my twitter friends. All told, I hugged around 15 new people, which is beautiful, which is the point of life, which is meaningful and true. More than anything, I discovered that really, I already knew them. I am a very affectionate person and it meant a lot to me to express my inappropriate love for Internet strangers in the physical. To love and be loved, this is the point of life. Duh. Everybody knows that, even if they don’t know that.
  2. As for the readings, one was pretty good and one was sweet but terrible, which averages out to okay. They were just fine.
  3. It’s fun to go to panels and muse on the writing process and everything, but ultimately, for myself, School is Out. At one of the panels I went to, somebody in the audience asked a question about “theme.” What are your themes? How do you stay true to and interweave themes into your novel? I have a masters degree in writing and I don’t know what a theme is. It’s an issue of too much craft and not enough soul.
  4. Sometimes I heard myself trying to casually interject my piddly credentials into conversation (I was published here, I got this fellowship, I know this person, puke) out of a made up need in myself to make it clear that hey, I have a right to be here. Whatever, I’m an asshole just like everybody else, but what I hope to learn from that is, in the future, don’t fucking do that.
  5. I spent the whole last day of the conference walking around on the brink of tears and not knowing why. Emotional exhaustion, probably. You don’t believe in magic, blah blah blah, but whatever; physics agrees with me that thoughts are things and we’re all one. By the end of that debacle, we were swimming in each other’s feelings, which, in a sea of writers, are complicated and many.
  6. Ambition is the worst, and from now on, I’ve decided to abstain. I’ll keep writing fiction and trying to get published, but I’m over worrying about what caliber of journal I can get it into, whether or not I can get paid, who will read it and whether or not I can make some kind of lasting impact on the literary canon before I die. None of that really matters, right?
  7. I always say that a writer is a person who hates writing, which is cute and sometimes it feels true, but it’s not true. I love this shit. I love it so much. I would die without it. When I’m able to express a hard to reach idea through words, and people take it in, and I feel like I’m understood? That’s all that matters. None of the other shit matters. And finally, obviously:
  8. Write from your fucking heart.

Friday night I went out with an old friend from grad school, a writer I met from twitter and a couple of his friends. I’ve been sober for almost 6 months now, maybe you heard, I don’t know. It’s tiresome to always talk about not drinking, but whatever. (To quote Margaret Cho: “If Richard Pryor had a period, he would talk about it.”) What is drinking but a contract of cowardice amongst friends?We’re afraid to get close so we agree to go on a voyage together. Not drinking is like treading water alongside the boat. Or maybe I’m in the boat and everyone else is in the water. Metaphors have their limits, let’s move on.

Over the weekend I thought a lot about how it would have been if I were drinking. I feel like I might have gotten lost or hurt. I feel like it would have been unsafe, and it’s hard to imagine that I used to hurl myself into danger so often.

I worry that people who drink are afraid of me. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to get close to anyone ever again.

Around 2 am, I got on the train and went back to the couch I was surfing in Wicker Park, and the party continued on without me in a hotel room with party drugs and Romanians. What would it have been like if my old self had attended? Here’s what I think: I would have felt closer to them at night, and then farther away in the morning.

Since then, nothing has gone right. I figured I’d mosey on out of the city on Saturday afternoon, but I was too chill about making train reservations and I missed the $35 train out of Chicago at noon, leaving only the 6 PM train for $93. I felt that dumb, heavy regret of knowing I’d lost a lost of money and it was my own fault. It will take me two hours of watching a dreary holocaust film and another hour or two of writing up the review to recoup not even half the difference.

Money is depressing. Wasting it is depressing. Whenever this happens I have a trick where I project myself a month or so into the future, when it doesn’t matter anymore, and it works, sort of. But I always know it’s a trick.

The train broke down somewhere outside of Kalamazoo. The conductor came on to say, “Well, the computer is on the fritz. We’re going to try to shut it down and reboot.” Apple+Q the train computer. That didn’t work. He came back on and said, “Well shoot. You know, this doesn’t happen very often.” They got the rear engine working and we travelled backwards to a rondevu point.

Here’s the best joke I could think of for the occasion, maybe I texted it to you or you read about it on twitter: “How long was it before they all started eating each other in that Mark Twain story?”

Another train came along and we swapped engines? I don’t know, it all seemed insane. The whole thing took about three hours. I spent the time feeling lonely and thinking about friendship. The signal on my phone was bad and for a few minutes, I started to consider that it might be the start of a national or global apocalypse, and I wished I had a man around who was good at building things with his hands, or even just a friend to make jokes with. It was a tragedy of boredom and inconvenience. It’s not like we were on a boat or an airplane. There was basically no chance we would die, which to me, almost made it worse.

A couple hours later in Detroit, the train hit an abandoned car on the tracks. The conductor came on the horn and gave an impromptu speech filled with pathos and insecurity. “You’re probably wondering why we’ve stopped,” he began. I wasn’t, actually. We didn’t feel any impact. He assured us that no one was hurt, and he told us to stay calm and try to be patient. It was the “please stay calm,” part that was really unnerving. We waited another two hours on the tracks for the railroad police to come. All told I spent 12 hours on the Amtrak, but what is time?

Like I said at the beginning of this very long blog post: everything is unraveling and falling apart around me. My sleeping schedule is a little messed up. Sunday night I spent a few hours preparing my class lesson for Monday morning. I went to bed at 3 am, but I forgot to set my alarm. I was having this long, ornate dream where I took acid and engaged in all kinds of debaucherous lesbian sex. I do this all the time in my dreams. I drink or take drugs and I fuck women. What does it mean, Freud?

My Monday afternoon class starts at 1. I woke up at 2:13 PM, and that wave of disbelief followed by overwhelming despair and regret washed over me. I had spent the last 11 hours partying and fucking women in my sleep, which made it doubly wrong.

My students communicated with me through email that they left their papers on the desk, so I had to drive the 40 minutes to campus to retrieve them. My 95 Saturn won’t stop gobbling up oil. The oil isn’t leaking, it’s just burning away. Where does burnt oil go? It has gotten to the point where I have to fill it up around every 30 miles. The 95 Saturn is my ticket out of Purgatory, Michigan, and I find the troubled engine troubling.

I bought three quarts of oil at the gas station, and the attendant said to me, “Have a day.” That about sums it up.

02/27/12

even more on writing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and how it’s done and where ideas come from. Stephen King, in his book On Writing (which we all agree is a national treasure) says that writers don’t know where they get their ideas and that it’s all very mysterious and we can’t possibly explain how it’s done and everything. Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear! That’s true, I guess, but I think I can be a little more specific. This would be way more interesting if I were famous or widely read. It would be very, “Where does Molly Laich get her ideas?” It still is that, I guess. You know what I mean.

Here. I’ve broken it up into the various categories of writing that I do.

Fiction

Most of my stories start with a single idea or image. I fall in love with one idea and I want it to be in a story, but there’s no plot or anything to go with it and that makes me depressed. So for a few weeks, I walk around feeling sad that my idea has no home. Then I think, “well, you might as well just write down the idea.” It can be something very kinesthetic and mood based, like standing on a hot street corner in Phoenix staring at a billboard. Or it can be a little more fleshed out, like “What if my friends got drunk and drowned a dog.”

I’ll start with an example from a story I wrote when I was around 18, called “There’s Been a Bear.” I just had this idea that there had been a bear, so I wrote down that sentence. Then I built a little story around it about a kid who wakes up and finds that her family has been replaced by grizzlies that read newspapers and wear eyeglasses and stuff, and voila. The characters are born out of the situation. I remember Kevin Canty telling us in workshop that in a short story, the character’s personality is defined by what they do, so I think it works out to do it in this order.

One thing that gets me into trouble with short stories is that I often use people that I know as real life templates for the characters. I imagine what they look like, and then I put them in the scene, so it becomes this thing of, “for this scene, Dustin will be pretending like this thing has happened to him.” I’ve been irresponsible in the past using my friends in stories. People are all “Hey, I’m not gay!” and I’m all, “No no, you’re playing a gay in the story,” and then they get upset and try to kill me. (That only happened one time, and it turned out fine. He didn’t know that I had moved.) I’m getting better at at least changing their goddamn names, though. Geez.

Sometimes I’ll use real life events as a springboard for the plot, but it inevitably works out that the details get rearranged and monkeyed around so much that it scarcely resembles the original event and the “fiction” is preserved.

As for writing a novel, I don’t know. I still don’t get that. So far I guess what I do is that I go to a colony in the woods for two months, I write 30,000 words in various MS Word documents, and then I put those in a drawer and feel bad about them.

Non Fiction

By this I mean creative non fiction personal essays or features, a la the kind of stuff I’ve been writing for the Missoula Independent for the last year. The weird thing about these is that the process is completely different from fiction. Working on these stories runs me through the emotional ringer in a fresh, new way. For “Forgetting Mary Jane,” (a story I wrote about using marijuana) I would say I’d been working on that piece in my head for around 10 years. I got the idea that it might make a compelling non fiction essay about a year before I ever pitched it at the paper, and then from there, it became a collaborative work with Robert, editor at the Indy.

The collaboration aspect is mysterious and interesting. I think I’m very lucky to have fallen into working with an editor who turned out to be such a good fit. He’s very swift and exacting. He reads my bad sentences out loud to me in a way that is so gut wrenchingly painful that it makes me never want to write a bad sentence again just to avoid it. But more than that, he gives advice on where to direct the rewrites in ways that I never could have done on my own. It’s weird to work with someone else on writing. That’s all I can say about that. Workshop is like that a little bit, but in the end, you take the advice or leave it, and you do it in isolation in the privacy of your own home. I have had some good experiences with edits for published fiction as well, on a smaller scale.

When I write non fiction, I tend to vastly overwrite, meaning that I’ll write 10,000 words for a 3,000 word essay. This is something that doesn’t happen in fiction. I tend to have a lot more self doubt and anxiety about the final product, and with good fucking reason, because thousands and thousands more people read it than any piddly little fiction piece that ends up in a journal. Puking into a bucket the night before one of my stories comes out in the paper is not an uncommon occurrence.

Then I wrote “Abacradabra” about using magic and addiction recovery. From start to finish, the gestation period in my head for that one was around four months, although the magic aspects were still years in the making. The constant with these non fiction pieces is that I’m thinking about them ALL THE TIME. They ferment in my head like a fine wine. I’m writing the sentences in the car, in the shower, in bed, etc. Around a month of this before I ever start actually writing anything down.

Right now I’m working on a story so earth shattering and mind blowing I can’t even talk about it. I can’t even begin to mention it or say anything about it for fear of making all of your hair fall out with the sheer electricity of the subject matter.

Film / book / music criticism

I consume the media and then I think about how I want to talk about it from the time the media is consumed until the deadline, which tends to be a pretty short turn around. During the film screening, I think about jokes I might tell about the brilliant or terrible shit I’m seeing. When I’m reading books, I underline stuff that’s either really good or bad and then I write about that. This is boring. You get the idea. It’s a matter of taste. I believe I have great taste, but doesn’t everybody?

Blog Posts

Blog posts are Facebook status updates and tweets with a prohibitively long word count.

So there you have it! I would be really interested to know what you guys think and how my experiences relate to yours. I wonder if we are similar or if it’s different for everyone.

11/6/11

The Woods, Week 1.

Dear Diary,

Hi. Remember me? It’s me, Molly.

The MacDowell Colony is pretty weird, I’d say. The living all alone in a studio in the woods of New Hampshire is the best part, probably. The worst part is that all the other people are strangers and it’s scary to have to talk and get to know them. It’s a rotating door with people coming and going always. I almost said, “like rehab,” out loud to someone but I’m trying to do things differently this time and not say weird, alienating things right out of the gate. Trying and failing, I suspect, but oh well.

Here is what my days are like:

I wake up every morning around 7:30 AM, which makes every morning a christmas miracle. You have to get up early because you can only get eggs for breakfast between 7:30 and 8:30 and after that it’s continental, which, you know, that’s cool, I’m not fussy, but they only have cows milk for the cereal, and pardon me, but that’s disgusting. Do I look like a baby cow? I am a baby almond, or coconut, or rice or soy bean, thankyouverymuch.

The communal meals have a way of seriously stressing me out, because it seems to me that the other people just love to be in each other’s company, whereas I am terrified of them and only ever want to be alone. Once at breakfast I thought I was very lucky to find that the one table everyone was at was full up. So I just sat at the empty table, but this always makes people flip out. People always flip out when you try to sit at an empty table, like I was crying and feeling so lonely and unpopular when really I was so, so grateful, but they said no, pull up a chair, come sit with us. I know that they’re just trying to be nice and making sure that I behave normally, and I’m not trying to complain. I just always wish I could do whatever I want without worrying about other people’s feelings, and you can’t. Not even alone in the woods at an artist’s colony can you do that.

On another morning, the people with tortoise-shell glasses motioned me to their table, but there were all these hearty, amazing men at the other one, and I thought, yes! The salt of the earth, blue collar writers are here! So I sat down and they were very friendly and easy to talk to, reason being that these were all maintenance men and groundskeepers.

The only thing that would make this place better is if it were me and a bunch of homeless people. Then I would feel really good about myself instead of weird and terrible.

In the time between breakfast and dinner we do whatever we want. What I usually want to do is hang out in my studio writing, or reading, or playing the guitar or eating out of the picnic basket they leave at my doorstep around noonish. Sometimes I walk around in the woods. The woods are filled with little creeks and moss covered stones. There was a lot of snow when I got here but it’s beginning to melt. It’s all really fucking inspiring and beautiful and shit.

Mollybear loves picnic.

I’ve seen 5 deer total, and they seem like very fast, happy deer. Today I walked by one who just stood on the side of the path staring at me. Temple Grandin has an entire chapter in her book called, “Fear is Worse than Pain” and so it’s very important to me that I am calm and make deer in my path feel as safe as possible. To do this I tell my heart to tell the deer’s heart, “I am your friend and I will not hurt you,” and I walk slowly and keep my head down and look deferential. It’s a serious sacrifice because I’d really like to look at the deer. I walked by her twice and both times she didn’t run away and that makes us both happy, I would like to think.

At dinner, again I have to see all the people, and I really don’t mean to complain about the people, they really are nice, they are just such terrible reminders of what a weirdo I am and how poorly my social skills have developed that I can’t help but resent them. On my first night I gave a brief intro where I said that I was from Michigan and had arrived there from school in Montana, so most conversations start with “Where in Michigan.” A girl who is a really nice person and sculptor said to me, “I went to graduate school at Cranbrook,” and she said it sort of apologetically because it’s such a good school. And what did I say? I said, “Cranbrook is a really great school. I used to work as a custodian there,” which is, you know, true, in high school I worked in the bloomfield hills school district and I cleaned the toilets at one of Cranbrook’s satellite locations, but who am I, Good Will Hunting? I mean, it was a Humble Brag, big time, and I can’t even pretend like it was an accident, I pretty much do feel that way. So that sentence has been echoing in my head for the last 5 days or so, plus other stupid things I’ve said that are too horrible and numerous to go into further.

There are plenty of young people here and almost all of them come from Brooklyn. If I want to feel poor, insecure, meek and weird, not just for the next two months but for forever and all of time, I think I should probably move to Brooklyn and try to distinguish myself as an artist there.

My favorite person so far has been a shy, gentle man with a killer mustache and a tattoo on his neck. I thought for a second he wanted to have sex with me, which I love about a person, but then when I asked him if he was happy about going home he said, “mixed feelings. you know, I’m homesick. I miss cooking and I miss my boyfriends.” I told him that I didn’t miss any of those things, and we had a good laugh about that. “I miss my boyfriends!” Oh my god. The best. That night he performed an autobiographical monologue in the library that included a lot of dick sucking. It was pretty great. Of course he’s leaving now.

Most nights they put on a talent show and a couple people present what they’re working on. It’s fun. It’s great to see people other than writers who are very serious about and excellent at their craft.

I miss the internet but it’s not that bad. I have one bar on my phone so I can get text messages in my room and I can check my email. I don’t get enough email and it makes me mad. I would very much like to know if they are utilizing James Spader’s character more on The Office because I very much like his character. I miss The Biggest Loser and The Daily Show, but those are the three shows I watch, and you know what, it could be worse. If things are going badly in politics or whatever, I am happy to not know that stuff.

The library has internet and it’s about a 5 minute walk through the woods from my studio. People at home have been scolding me whenever I check Facebook, like I should be some sort of writing slave who has given up their Facebook privileges. Well fine. I am (mostly) taking it to heart and try not to interact much so that people are content that I am sufficiently suffering.

Not to belabor the point, but I mean, you do know it’s not “Facebook” that I love, right? That it’s the people and the relationships that it allows me to maintain and nurture? Whatever. I’ll try not to use Facebook.

The writing is going really well. I feel good about my progress. The fact that every correspondence I have with people from back home usually contains something akin to, “We expect great things from you” scares me a little but not as much as you might expect.

Here’s what I do: I meditate some, or I just sit still on my bed and think for awhile. I try to very literally get into an unconscious, trance like state. Then I write in my notebook as fast as I can and for as long as I can. At night I type it all up on my laptop and marvel at the sheer number of words I’ve created and I try very hard to delay the fear and panic that the words are all wrong, arranged in the wrong order and amount to all the wrong ideas and sentiments.

I really do think it’s going well and I’m so grateful to be here.

Here is my little house.

Love,
Molly