Thursday, December 4, 2008

Word of the Day

Here's a doozie Word of the Day, from the Tuesday, December 2nd NY Times crossword puzzle.

ingle: noun, Chiefly British Dialect.
1.a fire burning in a hearth.
2.a fireplace; hearth.

Even with all the letters filled in I stared at it, searching my brain for the slightest flutter of recognition. None. New word!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Word of the Day

Here's an interesting and little-used word I learned, compliments of the NY Times crossword puzzle.
olla: a pot, esp. an earthen pot for holding water, cooking, etc.; a stew.

I imagine it's nearly impossible to use the first defintion these days, unless it's in regard to gardening. I'm going to order an olla the next time I'm in a restaurant, for sure!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's All Downhill from Here

Today is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The last day before we are forced to accept THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. Stores, especially drugstores, have had Xmas decorations, wrapping paper, candy canes and all the other superficial trappings of the holiday stocked for weeks. But on Friday, the CHRISTMAS SPIRIT will emerge in all its commercial glory.

Not that I don't enjoy the holiday season. I do. My birthday is part of the holiday season. And I love giving presents, especially to my nieces. I just wish it wasn't so cold! Although, one of my favorite Christmases in recent years was in 2002 (I think, or maybe 2003). It was freezing, and it snowed. It snowed, and kept snowing. My sister and brother-in-law had driven to my house in the Hamptons on Christmas Eve (I was working on my MFA at the time; I lived in Hampton Bays, had 2 jobs and wrote when I wasn't catering or in class.  So it was just that--a house that was located in the Hamptons, because that's where my grad school was). We had dinner (probably ordered in) and I gave my brother-in-law a present, something I had heard him talk about for years; it was a DVD called WARRIORS. He was thrilled and my sister and I were curious about this "awesome" movie neither of us had heard of. We watched it.

We laughed our asses off from start to finish, but for all the wrong reasons. WARRIORS is about two rival gangs in a very dark, abandoned city though what they're warring over is never really made clear. The dialogue is so over-the-top, every time someone spoke I could not help laughing. Throughout the movie, whenever the rival gang is searching for someone in the Warriors gang, the person shouts "War--riors, come out to pl--ay!" in this very high-pitched, exaggerated, drawn-out voice. We laughed and laughed! Needless to say, WARRIORS was stuck in a time capsule for my brother-in-law, so he remembered it with the same affection he felt decades earlier.

In the morning, it was still snowing. My parents could not get to the East End for Christmas breakfast. We waited for the roads to clear a bit so they could maybe join us for Christmas lunch. in the meantime, we watched other (better) movies. And then we started to play the "Let's just each open one present" game (my family has always exchanged Xmas gifts rather than Channukah gifts). My sister and I are particularly good at this game. We can barely keep our gifts to one another a secret, let alone stare at them, all piled up near the fireplace as in a holiday postcard. My brother-in-law wanted to wait for my parents, but together, my sister and I can convince almost anyone to do almost anything, so it wasn't long until he was shaking boxes, feeling their shapes and their weight, trying to figure out what was inside.

Within an hour, we had opened all our presents. It was still snowing. My parents called--there was no way they could drive to us. My sister and I shared a pint of Ben & Jerry's (purchased from the Quogue 7/11, the only store within ten miles that was open on Christmas) while my brother-in-law napped. I can't remember what we ate for dinner. We watched more movies, but none as funny as WARRIORS. It was a terrific Christmas, despite not being with my parents.

Crossword update: I sprang for the $39.95 and joined the NY Times premium crossword site. Word of the day: tyro. It's a noun, and it means: a beginner in anything; novice. Never heard of it.

And has anyone played hinkypinky? It's apparently a rhyming word game. Never heard of it.

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope to see some of you at my next reading for CLOSER TO FINE, on Tuesday, December 2, at SUNY New Paltz. 7 PM. JFT 1010.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Potpourri on Wednesday

Two personal notes:
Happy Birthday, Debbie! And Mazel Tov to Jamie and Mike!

It's cold in New York. Damn cold. Freezing. Wasn't it balmy about ten days ago? I hope Obama addresses the climate issues sooner rather than later. . . between the ever-expanding extremes of summer and winter and the confused, exhausted, starving polar bears, I don't see why everyone (and Sarah Palin) doesn't understand how dire the situation is in regard to Mother Earth.

And I'm sorry, but I refuse to shed a tear for the owners or employees of GM, Ford and the other American car companies. I went to college in Michigan--I understand the enormity of the car industry in that state. But I am also an educated person/consumer, and American car companies have had years to improve their poor emissions, to catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to cleaner, greener cars. Did you know you couldn't even drive an American car in China if you wanted to? American cars are years behind the rest of the world's autos when it comes to emissions and the environment. Years! Behind China! (remember those "clouds" hanging over Beijing before the Olympics?) It's pathetic. The CEOs of GM, Ford and the others could have adopted a proactive stance, could have made their cars more popular abroad, but instead they opted for the status quo. They reacted only if they had to, and they fought every inch of environmental improvement along the way. The employees could have spoken up, too, but they (or their unions) went for the "eyes wide shut" approach. And now they're all screwed.

Really...someone explain to me what is pleasurable about this weather. The cold sweat that invades your skin as you walk as quickly as possible to and from your chosen transportation? The burning sensation in your nostrils and sinuses when you're both outside (freezing air!) and inside (superficial, dry air!)? The chills that attack your skin as soon as you step outside, but don't go away as soon as you step inside?

I hate winter, you can tell. If there was a city/state as amazing as New York but with warmer weather (I'm good until about 50 degrees), I would move there. But there isn't. San Francisco and Santa Barbara and Monterey are awesome, but I'm not a fan of earthquakes, fires or mudslides either. So I stay in the New York area and amuse myself from November to March by complaining about how cold I am, how much I hate the winter, how drinking hot tea all day makes me pee. A lot.

Today is the last day of my Winter Stage 1 jacket. Tomorrow I'll whip out the Winter Stage 2 jacket. And tomorrow will also welcome a Real Scarf, although I won't put away my cashmere, namby-pamby indoor scarf; I'll just wear it underneath the Real Scarf.

I haven't done a NY Times crossword puzzle in a few days so no new words today. I'm jonesing for a puzzle.

A week from tomorrow is Thanksgiving! Carb coma for all vegetarians! Yay!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Learn Something New Every Day

I learned a new word the other day: viragos. Definition: shrews, nags, or shrewish sorts (of people). I've recently reignited my love of, and addiction to, crossword puzzles. I was doing any and all puzzles for a while, but now I focus on the NY Times crossword puzzles because, well, I'm a snob, and they're the best, and I want to conquer the best! I fly through Monday, cruise through Tuesday with a bump here or there, and stumble through Wednesday. I don't even attempt Thursday because my fragile ego cannot handle the frustration, confusion or implied rejection. My colleague/friend from work, Andy, belongs to some sort of special online crossword puzzle club, and he prints them out for me, on 8 1/2 X 11 paper, so the puzzle is bigger and cooler. Andy also listens to me vent needlessly about the lame clues (I particularly hate it when the answer is an abbreviation but you're not prompted to think in abbreviated terms!). I figured I'd share my new knowledge with my blog readers. So try to use "viragos" in a sentence this week. Or write sentences in the blog comments section! Fun with vocabulary!

It's almost Thanksgiving; can you believe it? And now it's cold out--I hate the cold. I truly do not comprehend how anyone can love (or even like) the winter. The only two things I like about winter are: #1 my cats are more cuddly and #2 BOOTS! I do love wearing my boots. And I am a hat person, so I also like wearing hats in the winter. But I would gladly trade all my hats AND my boots (not my cats) to live in more temperate weather and wear flip-flips month after month!

How amazing/great/exciting is it that people are selling/buying/wearing T-shirts and buttons and hats carrying the picture and/or name of our President-elect Barack Obama? I love it. . . it feels like change actually is on the way!

PS--I totally knew about Wanda. . . been saying it for years! Go Wanda Sykes!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mountain Time

It has been an inexcusably long time since I last blogged. Inexcusable, but not without excuses. I was working and teaching, of course, but I was also bogged down by the need to find yet another place to live, seeing as how the "writer's retreat" we rented was left in filthy, deplorable condition; I didn't know something so unsanitary and dirty could exist in tony Westchester/Putnam County! It was inhabited by a plethora of bugs, and then a vicious, mysterious smell. The fridge was broken (who thinks to open a fridge to check its status when renting a house?), there was mouse poison everywhere, and then the washing machine broke. More on that next blog.

I was also out of town for a week, visiting the lovely state of Colorado for the first time. My very good friend Renee, who is one of my favorite writers and one of the nicest people on planet Earth, lives there while her husband works on his PhD in music. She teaches ESL and Creative Writing at the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. Renee put my debut novel, CLOSER TO FINE, on the Fall 2008 syllabus for her Advanced Creative Writing course; Renee was also amazing enough to set up a public reading for me at the College.

I spoke to her Advanced Creative Writing class about CLOSER TO FINE's publication process, starting back in 2001, when I first started the novel as part of a Writing Workshop taught by Kaylie Jones during my MFA program. I also visited her Introduction to Creative Writing class, and workshopped about 8 short stories. I miss workshopping! I had so much fun and I'm so grateful to all the students for welcoming me to their classes.

The reading went superbly well, and was my most populated to date (no, it wasn't just her students! There were over 50 people in the audience). The Q&A session was interesting and lively, with really great questions! I'm not sure if it was due to the academic setting or the non-East Coast locale, but there were some really unique questions!

I saw Denver and Ft. Collins for the first time, as well as the Rocky Mountains! I've posted Renee's lovely introduction here, so you can read her words about me, our friendship and my novel, which she edited (draft after draft). Enjoy!

"Thank you to the Neal Cross Lecture Series committee and to the School of English Language and Literature; special thanks to Karen Janata and Dean David Caldwell.

I met Meri Weiss on the first day of our graduate studies at Southampton College on Long Island, New York. It was there at our brief meeting that I learned a fundamental difference between our American coasts: I, a wide-eyed girl from the Wild West effusively asked Meri, a wizened, cautious New Yorker, where she lived. I hadn’t gotten to know anyone yet. I needed to know who was nearby. Meri skirted my question, and I was left wondering if I had found a friend.
It turns out I had; not only did we have all the same classes and work as graduate assistants in the same office, but we just happened to live on the same street. Meri became one of my truest friends and most trustworthy associates during our time in the Hamptons; we discovered, through her organizational brilliance and my attention to detail, we could accomplish much—including double-handedly publishing a literary magazine and collaborating on a two-week writers conference. In our time as students, writers, and teachers, we edited each other out of pockets; we swapped lesson plans; we endured 9/11. It was the time in our lives—when we were still in our twenties—when, despite monumental individual or global catastrophes—our vision remained intact.
It was there where Meri wrote her way through workshops to a master’s thesis that, now, six years later, is a published novel. In Closer to Fine, Meri provides solid story, compelling conflict, and appropriate wit—despite the ominous theme of recent and impending death. She does this with remarkable speed and clarity of pace. The crux, however, of her novel is character. The people of Closer to Fine—Alex, Jordy, Jax, Tucker and Carchie—aren’t just deftly rendered elements of fiction. They are real. They are us. And we love them because of this. As Simon Van Booy, a friend and former classmate from Southampton, writes, “You'll spend the rest of your life looking for them on the streets of Manhattan.” Meri creates a world in Closer to Fine that is not perfect, and her characters understand this, but they recognize a more valuable, a more true, fact: friendship is important—we benefit when we’re surrounded by those we love, those who make us better. I am pleased, and proud, to introduce you to a person who makes me—and so many of those around her, including her readers and her students—better, my friend Meri Weiss. "

Monday, September 22, 2008

The End of an Era

It is cliché, I know, but still the most appropriate title for this blog, written on September 21, 2008, soon-to-be-known as the day the last game was played at the original Yankee Stadium. It is a significant day for all New Yorkers, all Bronx-ites, all Yankees fans. It is a day that marks change, as well as the passing of time. It is a day that heralds the future, and holds up the magnificent past.

One of my most vivid, early memories is this: It is August 2, 1979, and I am playing Star War figures on my front porch with my neighbor/playmate, Eric Miller. My mother comes to the front door; talking through the screen, she asks us, “Do you know who Thurman Munson is?”

“Of course; he’s the catcher for the Yanks,” we answer.

“I heard on the radio…his plane just crashed…they’re pretty sure he didn’t make it.”

Eric looks at me. “I guess I should go home now, he says.” I nod.

It goes without saying, I hope, that I am a born and bred Yankees fan. So is my sister. When we were young, my father encouraged us to play whichever sports we wanted, read whatever books we wanted, and choose whatever careers we wanted. But there was no choice for us in regard to baseball teams; there was simply no reason, no rationale, to be a fan of any team but the New York Yankees. Showing up at home with a pierced nose and pink dyed hair would have been more acceptable than a Mets T-shirt. By the time I was ten years old, I was able to articulate (read: argue) the superiority of the Yankees to anyone silly enough to insist there was any comparable team in Major League Baseball. I did like, and respect, other players on other teams; that same childhood pal, Eric, idolized George Brett—I could not help but like Brett as well. I loved Rollie Fingers, a pitcher for the Oakland A's who had the coolest handlebar moustache in the world. I still think of Rollie Fingers on the rare occasion I see a handlebar moustache. I wouldn’t trade a George Brett or Rollie Fingers baseball card, but I wouldn’t trade ANY Yankees baseball card.

Every year, for most of my childhood, we attended Old Timer’s Day, as a family. My father made mysterious marks on the scorecard (it took me years to learn how to fill out the scorecard—too mathematical for me to retain); my mother ate all the candied peanuts from my box of Cracker Jacks and then dozed off; and my sister and I used binoculars to see our favorite Yanks as closely as possible. It was a terrific day, always.

I grew up listening to John Sterling shout “The Yankeeees win! The Yankeeees win!” Every time my family entered the car while the Yanks were playing, we listened to the game. If we were in the car while the Yanks weren’t playing, we listened to Mike & the Mad Dog. During Billy Martin’s tenuous tenure, my father ranted and raved, either to the radio or the television—even if I didn’t understand exactly why Billy Martin was such a “*#%*!,” I hated him anyway. When I played Little League softball, I pulled my socks up and wore black stripes under my eyes, just like Bucky Dent. I tried to steal bases just as the speedy Willie Randolph stole bases. I played third base, just like Graig Nettles. When all the neighborhood kids played Wiffle Ball on the cul-de-sac on which we lived, we took turns pitching; we all pretended to be Goose Gossage, closing yet another game for the Yanks. I was watching the Yankees game with my father and my sister when Reggie Jackson hit three (3!) homeruns in one game of the World Series in 1977. I was watching when Ron Guidry, my favorite pitcher, struck out eighteen (18!) batters in one record-breaking game in 1978. I was watching when the Yankees sadly took the field after Thurman Munson’s tragic death.

From 1995 to 2000, I lived with my sister in Manhattan. With a few exceptions, our TV was permanently tuned to a Yankees game. We watched David Wells’ perfect game together. We watched David Cone’s perfect game together. We stayed up until 2 AM once, hooked to an extra innings game that would not end. We screamed and jumped in celebration throughout the ALCS and the World Series again and again in the late 1990s. When I worked at a talent agency in 1996, I traded a few favors for the opportunity to sit in Michael Kaye’s seats behind home plate. My sister, who works at a law firm, took me and my parents to many home games during the Yankees’ reign in the 1990s; the firm’s seats are located within spitting distance of first base, on the good side of the velvet rope, where waiters deliver food and drinks! I have close-up photos of Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada, Chuck Knobloch and Scott Brosius. We were at the first home game pitched by Roger Clemens—the stadium shook with boos. On a blistering August day, my father, my sister and I arrived early and strolled silently through Monument Park—we had not visited since we were all much younger. I took a picture of my sister in front of Thurman Munson’s plaque. It remains one of my favorite photographs.

A friend took me to Game 3 of the 1999 World Series—I had chills the entire night and hugged strangers when the Yanks won. I cried at the beginning of the first game after 9/11, and was so proud of the Yanks for steadying the rest of us. I was devastated when they lost to the Diamondbacks that year (I still despise Randy Johnson). I screamed and jumped in celebration, this time on the phone to my sister (I had moved out of Manhattan) when Aaron Boone hit his clutch home run. Last year, on a beautiful spring day, I took my friend Steven to a Yankees game for his birthday—I wanted to sit in a blue seat one last time, to sip overpriced tap beer one last time, to eat a warm pretzel and a box of Cracker Jacks one last time, to try to catch a foul ball one last time. I can’t remember if the Yanks won or lost that day—it didn’t matter anyway.

As Robert Frost wrote, “Nothing gold can stay.” Yet the inspiration, the sportsmanship and the memories of Yankee Stadium have affected my life in a way few other institutions, and no other sports teams, have. Nothing can change that. The Yankees remain a significant part of my family, though my parents have moved out of New York and my sister now has two daughters to whom she can pass along her affection for the Yankees. In a strange but perfect twist of fate, I now teach at a college within walking distance to Yankee Stadium. The school, the block, and the entire neighborhood stand within the shadow of Yankee Stadium. I cannot see it from my office, but I pretend I can. The House That Ruth Built in the South Bronx has, in many ways, defined the major chapters of my life. I am certain the new stadium will be beautiful, and we’ll still reach it via the 4 train, and when we walk up the ramp toward our seats, I’m sure we will still lose our breath, or gasp, or stand in stunned silence, when the field suddenly appears, green and glorious. It will be a new field, upon which new memories will be made, new miracles will occur, new history will unfold. I only hope the new Yankee Stadium has more stalls in the Ladies Rooms!

Farewell, Yankee Stadium of my youth. And thanks, Dad.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Country Mouse or City Mouse?

I have been quite lax in regard to blogging lately because I am in the midst of moving; the lease on my apartment is up on August 31st.  For the past few weeks, I have been packing and looking for an apartment, two of my least favorite activities.  I don’t have a lot of extra money and, truthfully, I could have saved better since last summer, but I like my overpriced protein bars, and I needed new work clothes, and I wanted to throw myself a Book Party, and there were a handful of new CDs to buy this year, followed by concert tickets.

 I live in New York City.  I work in New York City.  I love New York City.  So for about $1,100 a month, I could have lived in a studio in Washington Heights or Inwood.  I originally thought I could find a one-bedroom apartment in East Harlem, the last affordable neighborhood below 125th Street, but that did not happen.  I looked at a few apartments in West Harlem, but since West Harlem is now uber-cool, I can’t afford an apartment roomier than 8x12 feet.  I am not willing to subject myself, or my ten-year old dog, to life in an 8x12 box.  I am 35—I don’t want to put half my belongings in storage, even if it means a fifteen-minute commute to work.

 I had nothing against Washington Heights; in fact, I am not familiar with most of it (I’ve never been to The Cloisters; I know, I’m a lame New Yorker).  I even know a few people who live there and love it.  The first problem is that I work in the South Bronx, which is kind of parallel to Washington Heights but separated by the Harlem River.  The second problem is that the #2 and #5 trains run near work/campus, and the #1 and A/C trains run through Washington Heights.  Unless I took a bus (prone to traffic issues), I would have to take the local #1 (i.e., slow) train to 96th Street and then transfer to the #2 train heading back uptown through the Bronx.  This would take much longer than 30 minutes, and I was trying to decrease my commute by at least that much (my 65-minute commute from Queens to the South Bronx has undoubtedly shaved at least a year off my life!).

The third problem is that although I can afford to live in Washington Heights, I would not be able to live in a spacious, doorman-secure, recently renovated one-bedroom apartment.  I would be spending a ton of money and time, yet still stacking my books to the ceiling and using space-conserving hangers and storing off-season clothes in odd places—all for the privilege of living in New York City.

After a particularly annoying and exhausting day of looking at apartments, I collapsed on my treasured Tempurpedic and reminisced about my house in Hampton Bays.  I realized I loved living in the Hamptons not only because I slept five minutes from the beach, or stargazed on a nightly basis, or read/wrote every day.  Much of what I loved about my three years on the East End revolved around my house: I could host a dinner party for more than three people; I could leave laundry in the dryer overnight; I could sing and dance to loud music whenever I felt like it; my dog had room to run around in silly circles; and I could live in the same place as all my books and all my clothes!  The daily writing cannot be discounted or underrated; I don’t feel inspired, and I lack motivation, in Queens. I don’t get much writing done in Queens—I’m not sure if it’s my dreadful subway commute to/from work, or the dirty sidewalks near my apartment, or the rude people who stare at/run away from my dog as if she’s the Chupacabra.  Part of it might be, I admit, my full-time teaching and advising schedule, not to mention committee work, hiring new adjunct instructors and departmental administrative work, all of which are typical of full-time teaching positions.  Yet I love my job, and many writers teach and write.  My students, and the literature we discuss, do stimulate my creativity, but by the time I arrive home, to a neighborhood I dislike, I lack the energy to engage with anything other than The Discovery Channel (or my new favorite, Nat Geo).  I’m beginning to think my ability to create fiction is tied to my geographical location, and thus my overall contentment.

 So does that mean I am a country mouse rather than a city mouse?  I used to think I would be one of those lifelong New Yorkers, like Woody Allen or Nora Ephron.  And definitely would be, if I could afford to live where (and the way) they live (neither stands around for fifteen minutes, sweating profusely, three levels below the street, waiting for the R subway at 59th Street).  I have recently realized, however, that I can spend thirty, forty or even fifty minutes on Metro-North, the same $1,100 on rent, and live in a one- (or even two!) bedroom house, with a washer/dryer, fresh air and visible stars in the sky at night!  Commuting by Metro-North (the train) is vastly better than commuting by MTA (subway); the former is more comfortable and runs on an actual timetable.  I would still need the useful but aggravating subway, but only for two stops.

So…starting in September, I will be living outside the city, in a rented house surrounded by trees, grass, bugs and who knows what else.  It will no doubt take me a few weeks (months?) to acclimate to the darkness, and the silence, of the suburbs, but I plan to use both to inspire and motivate my next novel. I’m giving myself ten months to write the first draft of my next novel.  And I’m so excited to begin a new book, and a new chapter of my life (pun intended) in a beautiful, woodsy refuge!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Closer to Fine, Day One

Here's the first bookstore at which I read, McNally Robinson (soon to become McNally Jackson) in SoHo.  My novel was in the window.  Imagine that--something I created featured in a store window in SoHo! We switched the chair for a stool.  I was nervous all day, but as soon as I stepped into the bookstore, my nerves disappeared.  The reading went really well--a lot of people showed up (some excellent surprises--friends from high school!)--and I enjoyed signing books and chatting with people.  If you live in NYC and have not yet visited McNally Jackson, step into SoHo and check it out.  It's a large, organized, independent bookstore offering a terrific variety of books, and yummy snacks at the cafe!  

Closer to Fine Hits NYC!

Here I am, proud to see my novel in the window of a fantastic independent bookstore, Oscar Wilde, on Christopher Street in the West Village. (Closer to Fine is in bottom row, second from the right.) 

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Closer to Fine in bookstores!

Here is my novel, CLOSER TO FINE, on the "New Fiction" shelf at Borders Time Warner in NYC.  In some stores, it may be on the "New Fiction" or "New Paperback" shelf; in all stores, it should definitely be on the "W" shelf of the "Fiction/Literature" section.  If your local (indie or chain) bookstore is not currently stocking CLOSER TO FINE, please ask an employee to order it for you!  Here is the ISBN #: 978-0-7582-2690-7.

If you are in a Book Group, please suggest CLOSER TO FINE as your next Book Group title.  It is a terrific book; it is a quick, fun read and no one will have trouble getting through it, I promise.  There are good Book Group discussion questions at the back of the book (I know this because I wrote them) and I would be happy to join your Book Group discussion for a Q&A session.  Fun all around!

One last thought: CLOSER TO FINE is the perfect beach read!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Today I was a Guest Blogger at a terrific website for readers and writers called Fresh Fiction.  To read my short blog, go here:

And if you have not already purchased CLOSER TO FINE in a bookstore, please do so!  You will enjoy my novel!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Today is the day!  As of today, I am officially a published novelist. Forever.  No one can take that away from me, ever.

I am proud of myself.

My world won't shift just yet.  Only in the movies does life change over night.  I must go sweep the floors of my apartment.  I may now be a published novelist with a novel for sale in bookstores, but the floors of my apartment need to be swept.  I will sweep them.

But I shall sweep with a smile!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rearview Mirror

Remember when you had a bedtime? Remember when someone carried you when you got 

tired of walking? Remember when you wiped your nose on your sleeve?    Remember metal 

lunchboxes?  Remember when you didn’t have to plan or even pack for vacations?  Remember 

when you would run—really sprint—for no reason at all?  Remember when Smurfs and 

Matchbox cars were children’s entertainment, and actually entertained us for hours? 

Remember when someone had to remind you to take a shower? Remember when you used 

phonetics and mnemonics to spell words?  Remember when staying up until midnight was a 

special treat?  Remember when you made a Chanukah or Christmas list?  Remember when you 

had a birthday party every year?  Remember when you were always a passenger in a car?  

Remember when you chose foods based wholly on smell and/or appearance?  Remember when 

you traded brown-bag lunches with a friend?  Remember when you didn’t know (or care about) 

the monetary value of things?  Remember when you had to be dropped off and picked up in 

order to see a movie?  Remember when you had to ask to eat candy?  Remember when you 

routinely forgot to brush your teeth? Remember when you actually wore a bathing suit with 

socks and sneakers?  Remember when you played hopscotch or kickball or wiffle ball for 

hours?  Remember when sundown signaled the end of your day?   Remember when you stored 

your money in your sock drawer, or a piggy bank?  Remember when growing up seemed the 

ultimate goal?  Remember when you built your first snowman?  Remember when you didn’t 

know what the words calorie or carbohydrate or protein meant?  Remember when you had to 

get up to change the channel on the television?  Remember when summer meant more than 

warm weather? Remember when you didn’t want to sleep late? Remember when you tried to 

catch your dolls and stuffed animals talking, or having a party, without you?  Remember when 

you played House?  Remember when you played Bank? Remember when you intricately folded 

notes to friends?  Remember TV Tag?  Remember when you needed permission to chew gum? 

Remember when the arrival of the ice cream man was cause for celebration?  Remember when 

you used to get reprimanded for sliding your sneakers on without untying the laces? 

Remember when getting dressed up for an occasion was exciting?   Remember when you 

jumped into puddles rather than walking around them? Remember when you danced in a 

torrential downpour?  Remember when a snow day meant no school, unlimited hot chocolate 

and watching The Magic Garden?  Remember when you went sneaker shopping twice a year?  

Remember using oaktag for school projects?  Remember when you sent—and then had to wait 

to receive—letters in the mail?  Remember when a phone call cost a dime? Remember when 

you didn’t know how to drive and, while you were learning, it seemed like a skill you couldn’t 

conquer?  Remember how free you felt when you passed your driver’s test?  Remember when 

homework and an extracurricular club meeting seemed like a busy night?  Remember when you 

didn’t attempt to interpret your dreams?  Remember when you spent hours creating mix 

tapes? Remember when you fell in love on a weekly basis?   Remember when doing laundry 

was a total mystery?  Remember when you didn’t know too much about the celebrities you 

liked?  Remember when you had to stop at a gas station to use the pay phone so you could 

call someone?    Remember when you thought college was as great as life could get?  

Remember the first full meal you cooked? Remember when the thought of having a child was 

merely abstract?  Remember when you didn’t pay attention to (or understand) the economy, 

the environment, the state of health care or what the U.S. government is up to?  Remember 

when you only thought about yourself?  Remember when you realized life is so much fuller, so 

much more exciting, and just so much better now that you share it with others?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ways of Seeing

“Seeing comes before words.  The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.  But there is another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.  The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. [. . .].  The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe.  [ . . .].   We only see what we look at.  To look is an act of choice.  [ . . .].  We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.  Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are.”

   - John Berger, Ways of Seeing

 John Berger’s Ways of Seeing is a very cool and interesting book I had to read in college and have since re-read several times. I consider it philosophy, though I think it falls under the category of media studies.  I have been thinking about it a lot lately.  About a month ago, my bestest pal Steven won 2 tickets to see Madonna at Roseland Ballroom.  Roseland Ballroom is, literally, an old ballroom; its standing room audience capacity for a concert is only 3,200 people.  The only other person who loves Madonna as much as I do is Steven.  Love is really the wrong word; revere, appreciate and adore are more appropriate words.  Steven and I both entered a Verizon Wireless contest, and out of 35,000 people, Steven was one of 15 winners!

 He invited me.  For a week I referred to him only as my hero.

 On Wednesday, April 30, 2008, I was within 25 feet of Madonna.  She sang for about 36 minutes.  The concert was amazing—her new songs are terrific, she looks fantastic and the energy in the room was electric.  I couldn’t see much, because there weren’t any of those huge screens we’re used to from stadium concerts, but at the time it didn’t matter—it was me, Steven, Madonna and only 3,197 other people rocking out!  I was breathless for the rest of the week.

 After the adrenaline high wore off, I started to ponder something I had observed but not processed during the concert.  Although I’m kind of short (OK, totally short, I admit), it wasn’t just my lack of height that prevented a view of Madonna on stage.  Nor was it a plethora of tall people in front of me.  The reason I could not see Madonna (or Justin Timberlake, or her dancers) very well was because there were hundreds of cameras, attached to hundreds of arms, in front of me.  Even after the first song, people continued to hold cameras in the air, shooting picture after picture of Madonna. 

 I am still thinking about these cameras, and not just because they blocked my view.  If all those people were watching the concert through their cameras, did they truly experience the concert?  Did they feel the heat in the room increase when Madonna took the stage?  Did their bodies register the thunderous, floor-quivering applause when Timberlake made his surprise appearance?  Did they dance?  Clap?  Scream?

 At least once a week I encounter tourists in New York City viewing our sights through digital eyes of cameras or camcorders, and it bothers me.  First, because they seem to pick the worst spots to stop and snap photos, like the entrance to the subway, or on a busy street corner, or directly in front of the building I am trying to enter.  Mostly, though, it bothers me because these tourists don’t stop to stare at a landmark, they merely take pictures or shoot video of it.  I have to wonder: are the tourists, and the Madonna fans, forsaking a visceral memory for a great photo?  If people do not really see—literally see, with their own eyes—are images ingrained in their memory?  Or will they only remember the image as they saw it, and continue to see it once they have returned home, through a camera?

 I do not think cameras are bad; in fact, cameras allow us to share magical moments as well as mundane monuments with our loved ones.  They also encourage us to study details we may have missed in person.  But when the camera eye begins to replace the human eye, I worry.  Memory can be extraordinarily strong, but it is a muscle, and like all muscles, it must be utilized to stay strong. 

 It wasn’t until the Madonna concert that I fully developed these thoughts; however, for the past several years, without knowing exactly why, I have not taken pictures of stunning sunsets, riveting rainbows, fascinating fireworks, or mind-blowing music concerts.  Instead, I stand very quietly and let the images wash over me, into my memory.  I open my mind and try to encapsulate the moments that very often leave me speechless.  I look.  I observe.  And then I see.

 I would rather remember these moments of beauty and perfection myself, without the aid of photos.  And if the memory fades, well then, it was meant to be.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My First Blog!

I’ve been undergoing some blog performance anxiety, so today I decided to stop torturing myself and keep it simple; I’m going to write about what I think I was put on this planet to do, what has defined my life thus far: writing.  I have been writing, and reading, for as long as I can remember.  When I was young, my mother used to have to take away my Nancy Drew book at bedtime, so I wouldn’t stay up, reading through the night.  As I grew up, the book she tucked under her arm after kissing me good night changed—after the Nancy Drew series, it became V.C. Andrews, then C.S. Lewis, then Tolkien, then Danielle Steel.  What remained the same was that I would rather read than sleep.

I started writing early in my life, and even in elementary school, English was my favorite subject.  With the exception of sports, there was nothing I relished more than losing myself, entirely, in a story.  I loved endings, but I hated the end.  In third or fourth grade, I was invited to join some special class, in which the goal was to write.  A lot.  I wrote a storybook, complete with atrocious pictures (I still find it difficult to draw a straight line; I amuse my literature students with pathetic illustrations of Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory).  My storybook was called THE PILLOWCASE FIGHT.  All the characters were named after my friends, and the plot was, I admit, fairly stupid.  But the teacher sewed us each a cover, and she bound our books.  I created a book!  Over twenty years later, I still have it.  It lives in my fireproof safe.  I consider it a testament to my future, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Later, in high school, when my journal captured all my thoughts and I embraced my intense moodiness far too easily, I adopted the family typewriter as my own and started writing a novel.  I’m not kidding—I actually planned to write a novel.  Recently, when my parents moved out of the home I spent half my childhood in, I was called upon to sift through years of crap piled precariously in my closet (ironically, I was doing the same in therapy!).  It was there I found the pages—there were twenty—and laughed out loud.  First it was the onionskin typing paper that amused me.  Then it was my blatant, teenaged attempt to re-create the style, mood and typical plot of the very-prolific writer whose books I reserved on a regular basis at the library: Danielle Steel.  I didn’t do a bad job, really—the melodrama bounced to life on the page.  I did create a terrifically stupid plot (again); I merely inserted all the pieces of my limited but nonetheless puzzling teenage life—tennis, failed romances, friends and cliques, family issues and, of course, the one source of true agony in my youth—math. 

I decided to re-read my unfinished opus once, and then destroy it.  At the time, I was halfway through my MFA in Creative Writing, and producing pages on a daily basis.  I was thriving in an artistic, creative environment and surrounded by people who share my need to live life through a pen.  I didn’t want the weightlessness of the onionskin pages to weigh me down.  I read my homage to Ms. Steel once, and then I ripped up the pages.  It was easy to do because I no longer needed them; I know who I am, and I know exactly how I got here.  My writing skills are (mostly) learned; they may have resided within me, nascent and numb, for some time, but they were certainly nourished and prodded.  They are skills I twisted and turned and tussled with; they are skills I cried over, deflated or dismayed some days, elated and encouraged other days.  They are skills that were fostered by all the right people (see CLOSER TO FINE, Acknowledgments), and they were also bought and paid for (250 dollars, once a month, to student loan payments, probably for the rest of my life).  While the skills (and the money) are significant, it is the recognition I am most grateful for, because I have a feeling some people never connect with their one true thing.  It wasn’t until college that I realized I wanted to be a writer—just a writer.  As a kid, I wanted to be an ambulance driver or a private detective (just like Pat Crispi, the PI in town).  I don’t think I realized I could be a writer, literally, and only a writer.  I think I thought all writers had day jobs, and then at night, they wrote (the irony that I now do have a day job and write at night is not lost on me).  In my twenties, however, I finally crossed over to the Dark (or Light, depending) Side and recognized the spirit that rests within me; I am a writer, and all I want to do is write.  I process my life (and yours) in words, in descriptions, in metaphors.  I understand the written word in a way I don’t understand the world in general.  I can’t explain further, except to compare it to how I feel when I hear “Shriner’s Park” by Melissa Etheridge or “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn or “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits or “Virginia Woolf” by the Indigo Girls or pretty much anything by Bob Dylan.  I feel an ache, an acute longing.  I wish I had created it—I wish that it were borne of me.  In college, when I read (or re-read) A SEPARATE PEACE, THE TEMPEST, THE GREAT GATSBY, THE SUN ALSO RISES, O PIONEERS!, THE AWAKENING and so many other books, I felt possessed, not just by the stories and characters, but by the actual words.  When it came time to write papers about the literature that was changing my life, my words fell onto the page, tumbling over one another, with ease.  I still longed and ached to have created these literary masterpieces, but with books, I realized, as opposed to music or painting or, god help us all, singing, I could create the emotions and the tension; lovely, perfect sentences could be borne of me.  This is not to imply writing—whether it is fiction, non-fiction or poetry—is easy; it is not.  But after years of composing academically artful papers; long, graceful letters; and promising, neophyte fiction, I pushed myself to learn, from living writers, from writing instructors, from peers who write, from long-dead masters of the craft and, finally, right around the time I found the onionskin pages, the last piece clicked into place: confidence.  Without confidence, skill is useless.

And so, many years after that surly teen sat down at a typewriter to purge whatever troubled her, listening, no doubt, to Depeche Mode, I now present to you my novel, CLOSER TO FINE, a story that has nothing and everything to do with my life.  It is, without a doubt, the greatest achievement of my life.  It was, without a doubt, the most difficult accomplishment of my life.  It is, in every sense of the word, my baby. I am extremely nervous about its debut in the world.  I want, very badly, for it (not me) to succeed.  It is worthy of success, I am certain.  I honestly believe it can appeal to and engage just about any reader.  It will make you laugh, and it might make you cry.  This time, I promise, the plot is not stupid.  Not at all.