Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Lately, instead of actually writing, I'm just reading a lot about OTHER people who write, which makes me feel infinitesimally better about the fact that I am not getting a goddamned thing done.

Spent a few hours the other day reading everything out there on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, who, if you weren't already aware, carried on a totally fascinating train-wreck of a love affair. Not only did Sylvia kick it with her head in the stove after learning that her estranged husband was due to be the father of a baby with his lover Assia, several years later Assia killed herself, along with her 4-year-old daughter with Hughes, by dragging a mattress into the kitchen and turning up the gas, as well. Sheesh. And you think you've got it rough. Hughes's revelatory poems about what had theretofore been a very private love affair with Plath, The Birthday Letters, were published a few years ago and he died of cancer just a few weeks after their publication. Couldn't live with the information made public? Felt he could finally let go after some kind of cathartic release, after excising the demons of his own guilt? Who knows. Feminists have long harangued Hughes for killing Plath's spirit, but when you read about these two you do realize that there were definitely two loony and brilliant players in the game. A fascinating story made human by the biopic starring Daniel Craig and Gwyneth Paltrow in 2003 - great period colors and art direction and costuming, if not the most original piece of work. Made with genuine respect and interest, though, no doubt.

So, there's that. And I'm sitting here going, well, maybe I'm not doing so poorly after all; I mean, at least my head isn't in the stove (yet), right? And don't I have almost 300 pages of shit that, well, doesn't suck? But then yesterday I was chatting with a novelist from New York - author of 4 books with number 5 on the way this fall, in town for a conference this week - and he was telling me how his first books (fiction) led him to his current subject matter, which is non-fiction about the publishing industry and how hard it is to make it as an author. That books are growing obsolete. That the industry is shifting heavily toward the digital. That it's a pretty impossible way to make a life.

So, sigh. What can you do? Make sandwiches for the kids before sticking your head in the oven. Carry on torrid love affairs that distract you from writing. Shift gears and write depressing books about how old-fashioned paper and binding is over. Distract yourself with music and yoga and sunshine. And blogging.

One morning several years ago I ran across a line from the writer Richard Rodriguez, on the subject of literature. He said: "There is only one subject: what it feels like to be alive." And I've gotta tell ya, at the end of the day: that's it.


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