Category Archives: Artistic Temperment

Ignorance is Bliss

When I was a preteen, I consumed music fan magazines like a hungry dog: Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, Smash Hits, Star Hits, and my favorite, Bop. I absorbed every detail about the men of my dreams (first and foremost Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran), memorized their birth dates and favorite colors, their parents’ and siblings’ names, and childhood pets. I read every interview I could get my hands on, desperate to know these guys inside and out. To truly understand them.*

As a teenager, I grew out of these school girl crushes and learned that the more I knew about my favorite musicians, often the less appealing they were and in turn, the less appealing their work. This was reinforced several years ago when I saw Jack White of the White Stripes at the Nashville airport baggage claim. I watched from across the carousel as an enthusiastic fan approached him, CD and pen in hand. I couldn’t hear their exchange but the body language was clear: the fan was asking for an autograph and Jack White was totally blowing him off. Sure, it must get tiring to have people come up to you all the time, and Jack White was probably not in the mood to chat. But if he had just signed the damn CD, the whole exchange could have been over in about thirty seconds. Instead, he spent several minutes rebuffing the fan, who ultimately gave up and walked away, clearly dejected. And I thought, You arrogant bastard, Jack White. Without your fans, you wouldn’t even be Jack White.

SalingerWhen it comes to literature, learning more about an author’s life can shed light on his or her work, open you up to a whole new understanding and appreciation. For instance, this past weekend I watched the documentary Salinger, and it was eye opening to learn how much Salinger had been affected by the atrocities he witnessed in World War II. A bell went off in my head when one of the interviewees spoke of how he had channeled this trauma into the character of Seymour Glass, who first appears in the short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”. Spoiler alert: After spending what appears to be a pleasant afternoon at the beach, Seymour quite suddenly commits suicide, an event that both intrigued and confused my teenage mind when I first read the story. But of course it makes sense now—Seymour was suffering from PTSD.

The Salinger documentary also revealed some less than wholesome facts about the famous literary recluse. He liked his women (err, girls really) young. At the age of thirty, he befriended a fourteen year old girl on a beach and for reasons completely beyond my comprehension, her parents allowed them not only to correspond but to actually travel together. The girl in question (now a woman in her seventies) avows that he never laid a hand on her, but come on. That’s creepy, right? Apparently Salinger stuck to eighteen-year-olds from then on. In fact, there was a series of eighteen-year-olds, whom he dated and unceremoniously dumped, until he was in his sixties. Um, ew.

Salinger was also purportedly a moody, self-absorbed narcissist. Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly rare when it comes to artists. But how many artists lock themselves in their writing bunkers and forbid their spouses and children from disturbing them no matter the reason, for days on end?

As scores of former friends and lovers recounted his temperamental nature, antisocial behavior, and neglect and sometimes abuse of the people who loved him, I was starting to wish that I hadn’t hit play on the documentary. As a teenager, The Catcher in the Rye was my favorite book. I related to Holden Caufield’s jaded view of the world, his inability to fit in, and his yearning for something genuine. Holden was flawed, but there was innocence in him, loneliness. Salinger is said to have channeled a lot of his own nature into Holden, so maybe he too struggled to fit in with society, to live a genuine life. But I don’t like to think that Holden—or his creator—grew up to be a talented yet temperamental jerk.

* I cringe at the memory of my idealistic/delusional youth.


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We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful

2014Morrissey_0306192014While Morrissey’s lyrics have never been what I would consider cheerful or optimistic, his songs about heartache and longing still resonate with the lost teenager inside of me. Judging by his song title “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”, it appears that his more than 30-year career and loyal fan base has inspired resentment and jealousy among his fellows.* Yet I wonder how anyone could possibly begrudge a friend’s success, that is if he or she really cares about that friend.

Which begs the question: Are these people really your friends?

A very dear friend of mine—someone I have known since way back when I was still a lost teenager listening to Smiths cassette tapes on my Walkman—just published her third book, a graphic memoir about trying to connect with the Japanese half of her family. Last week, I attended her standing-room-only reading at a popular Haight Street bookstore before she headed out for her multi-city book tour.

I have never been published. I do not have an agent. I have spent the last three years writing a novel that may never make it into print. So, am I envious of my friend’s success?

Yes and no.

Sure, I would love to have my book published. I would love to have a second and third book published. I would be both thrilled and terrified to read from my work in front of an eager audience.


Couldn’t resist this one.

But I do not feel even a drop of resentment toward my friend for achieving these things. I witnessed first hand the many years that my friend has practiced her craft: her drawing, her writing, and her storytelling. I have watched her quick pencil sketches and stripped down text transform into this beautiful book that I can now pull off of the shelf and hold in my hands. I saw how hard she worked to get her first book deal, and know well that she worked just at hard to get her second and third.

In short, I have seen my friend work her ass off to achieve her success.

As I watched her read from her new book in front of the packed room, I felt a swell of pride and privilege to know such an amazing person. Congratulations on all of your success, Mari!

*Or perhaps he just got rich and bitchy.


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Breaking Up the Band

It happens all the time in rock bands: one member starts turning up late for shows, blackout drinking every night of the week, and/or just being a belligerent asshole. If this member is, say, the bassist or the drummer, the rest of the band will probably kick him out and release a statement wishing him a successful stint in rehab.

But what if the problem child is the band’s founder?

The founder of my writers’ group is getting on other members’ nerves, and one in particular – I will call him Gus – who emailed me last week to ask about my feelings on the matter. Have I noticed our founder’s shift in attitude of late? Have I noticed that his critiques are increasingly condescending and mean-spirited?

In truth, I have not. He can be blunt sometimes, but it hasn’t bothered me thus far. What I have noticed is that our founder – I’ll call him Eric – takes a heck of a lot of long vacations, which results in sporadic attendance on his part. This wouldn’t be a big deal if I was a short story writer, but when it comes to critiquing a novel, it’s difficult to provide valuable feedback on chapter 20 when you’ve missed everything after chapter 5.

breakup-heart.jpgGus sited a few recent examples of Eric’s bad behavior and negative critiques, one of which had bordered on accusing Gus of stealing story ideas from other writers. Gus said he had already spoken to a couple other members, and they were getting fed up too.

I took a diplomatic approach and suggested that Eric may not be aware of his behavior, and perhaps a calm and rationale conversation would set him right. But for Gus, it was too late for diplomatic measures. He had made up his mind. He would leave the group.

I am not one for indulging unnecessary drama, and I did wonder if Gus wasn’t being a little oversensitive. But then another member, Jake – who is as levelheaded as they come – said that he agreed with Gus and would leave with him. As he said, “Writing is hard enough without people routinely telling you your output sucks.”

During my time in the group, Jake and Gus have consistently attended meetings and have consistently delivered valuable feedback. I may not have any particular issue with Eric, but majority rules. If they go, I go with them.

So we’re breaking up the band. Tonight at the end of our meeting, Gus and Jake will take Eric aside and tell him they are leaving the group. And that other members plan to come with them.

I don’t particularly like the middle school “I don’t want to be your friend anymore” vibe to this approach, but Gus and Jake are convinced he will not leave on his own. So we will dissolve and reform as a kinder, gentler version of our group, one that doesn’t involve Eric.

But make no mistake, this sends a strong message to the other members: misbehave and we will shut you down.

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The Jury is Out

Jury duty is a little like dating. You want a date to go well, but if it doesn’t, you want it to go terribly wrong so at least you have a good story to tell your friends. The “meh” dates are zero net gain. No love connection, no horror stories. You can only hope that the food is decent.

I had to report for jury duty last week. I’ve been summoned probably fifteen times in my life, had to show up five or six of them, and served twice. I am all for the “judged by a panel of ones’ peers” philosophy, however it doesn’t seem fair that some of those peers are called every February like clockwork. But I digress. 

INO PARKING took an Uber to the courthouse, and it seemed deliciously ominous when the driver dropped me off beside a street sign that stated: “No Parking: Homicide Only.” I had been summoned to criminal court. Would I be placed on an assault case? Armed robbery? Now it seemed that murder was a real option.

At 9 am, I filed into the jury assembly room and pulled out my laptop, prepared to document every gripping moment, every compelling character. But most of my fellow perspective jurors looked tired or bored. Resigned. They played games on their phones or typed away on their laptops. One or two of them pulled out real paperback books or magazines. A young woman in a hoodie closed her eyes and rested her head on the arm of her chair. A thin man with graying hair and a Where’s Waldo striped shirt walked the perimeter of the room, his hands wedged into the pockets of his bright red trousers.

We were all waiting for something to happen.

I didn’t want to serve. Sitting in that assembly room was disrupting my life. I had deadlines at work. I had plans in the evenings that I would have to cancel so that I could meet my deadlines at work.

I also kind of wanted to serve. How many movies and TV shows have I watched about crime and the justice system? I’ve been binging on The Killing for the last several weeks, trying to unravel who really killed Rosie Larsen. I have willingly handed over my free time on countless occasions for make believe crimes, and now here was the real life experience right before me.

We waited around for a while, watched the standard issue PSA video about what it means to serve on a jury, and then waited some more. At 10:30, the clerk announced that we were all free to go, that we had fulfilled our service for the year. I figured the defendant had weighed out his or her chances and took a plea deal.

I headed back to work, feeling disappointed. As storytellers, writers are always looking for the good parts, the key elements, and to trim out the fat. But much of life is fat. And my jury duty experience wasn’t really worth writing about.

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Under the Influence

This past weekend, I spent three ridiculously enjoyable hours holed up in a private karaoke room in Japantown with my pal Bill. The room was small and poorly ventilated, but a steal at $30 an hour, and the establishment’s unofficial BYOB policy saved us even more money on overpriced drinks. It was a win-win.

As a general rule, I do not sing in front of people. I am all too aware of my inability to carry — let alone hit — a note. But the combination of a private* room, the company of a trusted friend, and a couple of adult beverages helped me to overcome my hesitation. By the time we were belting out TLC’s Waterfalls, I’d almost forgotten to be horrified by the sound of my own voice.

There does appear to be some correlation between intake of alcohol and improved performance**. Over the years, I’ve noticed my pool game, dart-throwing abilities, pinball wizardry, and even my writing improve significantly after just one drink. When I was in college, I had to write a paper on a dreadfully mind-numbing topic (Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists. Discuss.) for my Political Science class. I struggled through the first half of the paper, took a break for dinner and a glass of wine with my housemates, and then returned to my room to complete the assignment. The following week, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a B+ for my efforts, and highly amused with my teacher’s comment that the second half of my paper was superior in both content and style than the first. In short, the buzzed half was better than the sober one.

As I discovered, a nice glass of wine or pint of beer can loosen me up, help me relax into the game, let the words flow uninhibited from my fingers. But while one drink improves my performance, each subsequent drink plunges my abilities further into a void from which there is no return. At least until the next day.

So how the hell did our beloved literary alcoholics pull it off? A quick Google search for “authors with drinking problems” yields a multitude of examples: Faulkner, Poe, Dorothy Parker, Capote, Hunter S. Thompson (among other addictions), James Joyce, Bukowski, and of course, the Godfather of Alcoholic Authors, Hemingway. These folks created some of the best literature of all time, yet I have a tough time getting my fingers to hit the correct keys after a few drinks. It seems unfair somehow that alcohol can heighten the senses of some while dulling the minds of others.

But in addition to being remarkable storytellers, most of the the above-mentioned writers struggled with depression and many died from alcohol-related complications. And despite the lingering noir glamour of the genius alcoholic writer, I’d still much rather write mostly sober than live mostly drunk.



*Private in that no one can see into the room. However, a trip down the long hallway to the bathroom revealed that the rooms are far from soundproof.

**Although one could make the case that when it comes to karaoke, perhaps it’s not that the drinks improve my singing so much as they temporarily damage my give-a-shit-ometer.

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The Blank Page

Nearly all of my anxiety dreams take place in high school*. I am unprepared for the final exam. I can’t find my class. I’m not wearing pants. This is pretty standard anxiety fodder.

I recently had the classic neurotic writer version of this dream after spending an evening struggling to revise a challenging scene in my novel-in-progress. In my dream, I was relaxing in a cushy chair on a wood slatted deck, basking in the glow of a late afternoon sun, when I was hit with the realization that I had a story deadline in the morning. I don’t recall if the deadline was for school or work or something else entirely, but I knew that there would be serious repercussions were I to miss it.

The parameters of the piece were almost non-existent; I could focus on any topic I wished, as long as I made a certain word count. The creative world was my oyster, but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a damn thing to write about.

Creative Process

Time was ticking ticking and every time I looked at the clock, another hour had passed and still I hadn’t come up with a topic. As my stress levels skyrocketed, all rational thought was forced out of my brain, along with any thread of creativity.

I could write about whatever I liked, yet the anxiety of having to choose a topic prevented me from writing anything at all.

I woke up feeling edgy and unrested. This was due in part to the dream, but also to the troubling reminder of how much time I spend avoiding writing even when I’m not sleeping.**

Sometimes, I can barely wait to get home to my laptop. Other times, I start by taking a hard line with myself (I will write for a minimum of two hours tonight) and then negotiate down my own terms (well, after I eat dinner…and take a shower…oh look Project Runway is on…).

Why do I avoid doing something that I love?

Because I also hate it. There, I said it.

Sometimes I hate writing. It’s frustrating, ego crushing, and lonely. I can spend an hour effing around with one or two paragraphs, only to delete them and slouch away in defeat, feeling much worse about myself than if I’d spent the evening with a House Hunters marathon and a box of Samoas.

We’ve all heard the old adage “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”, which can be applied to just about anything. But if we only write when we are inspired, that means we only write 1% of the time. Settle in, because it’s going to take about 50 years to pen the first draft of that novel. Hope it’s a good one.

So 99% of the time, writing is just damn hard work. This is due not only to the significant challenges of the craft itself; writing also demands that I repeatedly risk my sense of self-worth. And the longer I put it off, the harder it gets. Like going to the gym or filing insurance paperwork.

Doing nothing is easy, but doing too much nothing makes me feel hollow and uneasy. I suppose I could watch three hours of television each evening and save myself the emotional roller coaster that comes with any creative pursuit. But I am confident that I will never experience that glorious, all-over mind and body tingle that comes in the 1% moment of true inspiration while watching Millionaire Matchmaker. I may be able to avoid the low lows, but at the cost of the high highs.

And really, what would life be like without some extremes to help keep the in-between in perspective?



*Anyone who attended high school will not question my subconscious’ reasoning for this.

**Case in Point: I put off writing this here blog post until the night before I was due to publish it. Okay, so it was Valentine’s Day weekend and I was, um, busy with other things. But I’d known what I was going to write about for over a week. I suppose this is why deadlines were invented; without even self-imposed ones, we’d never get anything done.


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An Ode to Denny’s

Every suburb has one: that late-night, bad-coffee refuge of shift workers, frustrated poets, and bored teenagers alike. Zim’s. Lyon’s. International House of Pancakes. In my suburban hometown, it was Denny’s.

Denny's Then and Now

My hometown Denny’s Then and Now

A few days ago on my way to visit an old friend, I drove past the Denny’s of my youth. Except it wasn’t there anymore. The building remained, but the illuminated rooftop sign was gone. From across the freeway, I could see the discolored patches on the roof and walls where the cheerful signage had long beckoned passersby to get off at the next exit and come on in.

In my teenage years, I probably spent more waking hours at Denny’s than I did at home, especially on weekends and during the summers when curfews were relaxed and setting an alarm clock for the morning was unheard of. Denny’s wasn’t a place I ever planned to go to, but I always seemed to end up there. It was open. It was cheap. There was nowhere else to go. And most of my friends were already there. Countless times, I eavesdropped on conversations over the stalls in the bathroom only to realize that I recognized the voices:

“Oh my god, John Gorman is so hot in black jeans!”

“Jenny, is that you?”

“Oh my god, Lisa?” (followed by a round of echoing giggles.)

Never underestimate the power of the Mini Moo.

Never underestimate the power of the Mini Moo.

My friends and I gorged on chalky milkshakes and oily grilled cheese sandwiches. We learned how to hang spoons from our noses and build French fry sculptures. We slipped coffee mugs, long-handled spoons, and ashtrays into our purses. We had creamer fights with the Mini Moos* and on a few occasions, were asked to leave for being too loud or too messy or (I suspect) just for being annoying. We drank a lot of coffee, and then couldn’t understand why we felt so shaky and nauseous, why we couldn’t get to sleep…

I recall one evening in particular when my friends and I were a little short on cash, so in lieu of leaving a reasonable tip, we scrawled onto a napkin: Some Tips For Our Waitress, followed by such colorfully reinvented idioms as A man in the hand is better than two in the bush. Certainly our waitress was thrilled by this wit.

When we finally peeled ourselves up from the vinyl booths and made our way home, amped up on coffee and nicotine, I would smoke cigarettes out my bedroom window (sorry Dad!) and stay up until dawn writing absurd short stories about demonic rose bushes and killer cucumbers. I wrote fearlessly and without regard for others. I think it was during this time in my life that I enjoyed writing the most: unfettered by worries about getting published, wondering if my time would be better spent doing something else, or questioning if my writing was actually any good. None of that mattered. I wrote because it was fun. Period.

Although I hadn’t set foot onto my old Denny’s faux tile floors for 20 years, I liked the idea that the generations of bored teenagers that came after me were still haunting those brown vinyl booths and thieving the signature coffee mugs. But suburban teenagers are different these days, so I’m told. A friend with two small children recently complained that she couldn’t find a high school student to babysit, since they all have internships and too many extracurricular activities.

So I guess teenagers don’t go to Denny’s anymore, which makes me a little sad. We have our whole adult lives to grapple with the burdens of ambition and responsibility, but only a few short years to eat bad food, to gossip with our friends over the bathroom stall, to stay up too late. To live fearlessly.


* Prick a small hole in the center of the sealed cover and then squeeze the plastic cup. This will give you about a three-foot launch radius. Best to test this out in the backyard or the shower.

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Where Four Art Thou, Writer?

Three drunk-looking girls in bed together? Cosmo says "You're a wild animal in the sack!"

Three drunk girls in bed together? Cosmo says: “You’re a wild animal in the sack!”

I’ve taken my share of Cosmo quizzes over the years (Are you a tiger or a house cat in the bedroom? Are you ready to settle down? What’s your relationship IQ?), yet I give them about as much credence as kids give to Mad Libs. Which is to say, none. These quizzes are great for killing time in my dentist’s waiting room or at the nail salon, but the results have never altered my behavior or my opinions.

When it comes to personality tests, I approach the results with the same circumspection as I do when reading my horoscope. The occasional similarities are fun but nothing I plan my day around. So imagine my surprise when I recently took the Enneagram Institute’s personality test and discovered that not only am I Type Four: The Individualist, I really AM Type Four. Reading the corresponding description was like reading a diary I didn’t know I’d written.

I sent the link to a dear friend and artist. As I’d suspected, she was also a Four. “How can they see into my mind like that?!” she demanded.

Type Fours are characterized as self-aware, sensitive, emotionally honest, and creative, yet can be moody and self-conscious. Their basic fear is that they have no identity or personal significance, and their corresponding basic desire is to find themselves, to create an identity. Healthy Fours are “inspired and highly creative…able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.

Sound like any artists you know?

I am in good company. My fellow Fours include Edgar Allen Poe, Virginia Wolfe, J.D. Salinger, Tennessee Williams, Billie Holiday, Frida Kahlo, Anais Nin, and Amy Winehouse. Talented and tortured artists, the lot of them, although some were better able to “transform their experiences” than others.

At their worst, Fours are “despairing, feel hopeless and become self-destructive, possibly abusing alcohol or drugs to escape. In the extreme: emotional breakdown or suicide is likely.” (um, remind you of rocks-in-her-pockets Virginia Wolfe? Or Billie Holiday, who died at age 44 of heart failure due to drug use? Or Amy Winehouse, only 27 when the booze finally killed her?)

You oughta know I'm gonna make millions off of you.

You oughta know I’m gonna make millions off of you.

At their best, Fours are “profoundly creative, expressing the personal and the universal, possibly in a work of art. Inspired, self-renewing and regenerating: able to transform all their experiences into something valuable: self-creative.” Another of my fellow Fours, Alanis Morissette, for instance, transformed a really really bad breakup into one of the top selling albums by a female artist. Anne Rice channeled her pain over the death of her young daughter to create the doomed child vampire Claudia in Interview with a Vampire.

So. We can overcome.

I have written stories almost as long as I’ve been able to write my name. This seems more nature than nurture. Based on our personality types, are some of us destined to be artists? Which comes first, the artistic temperament or the need to express (and perhaps define) oneself through a creative outlet?

Or am I simply reading too much into this?


Curious about your type? Take the short form test for free at No, I am not a paid (or even unpaid) sponsor. Just a complex, sensitive writer-type.



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