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. "