Thursday, June 30, 2011

Planting Seeds

While in Charleston, we went to the farmer's market in Marion Square. I'm a fan of anything pickled (stick it in a brine and I'm good to go) and I found a woman urging me on with free samples of pickled okra, cucumbers, and carrots. Try this, she'd say and stick her metal tongs into a giant plastic bucket with something new. I settled on purchasing this tub of pickled beets.

I asked the woman about her pickling method and she dipped her tongs to give me another sample, shook her head and said in her thick southern accent, Would you believe it? I got my recipe from a butcher. A New York Jew.

She went on to tell me that the good Lord had told her to plant her seeds here, rather than here, (she pointed from the ground to her stomach) because she had already raised her little brother when her mother died in childbirth and I thought it interesting that she offered up that information. That she had shared what might have been a painful history in such a nonchalent way, dunking her tongs, yet again, in the bucket to share another delicious treat with me.

Tyler and I sat on the grass in Marion square, with purple fingers and tongues. Of course, it struck me that we sat in Charleston, two yuppies from Brooklyn, eating pickled beets from a woman who spent her life working hard and planting seeds, who, somewhere down the line, had a story that fell a little off course, a story I wonder about. A pickling recipe from a New York Jew.

Photo Credit: Tyler

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Tyler and I live on the 3rd floor of a brownstone-like building in Brooklyn. For reasons we do not understand, the temperature in the apartment reaches an unbearable 95 degrees in the summer. Recently, we purchased an air conditioning unit and now we can sit comfortably in our home and, well, breathe...and think straight.

But the air conditioning unit has become a saga in our lives that will not end. There were arrangements to get the unit (we do not have a car), arrangements to install the unit (did you know that the Home Depot in New York City does not cut wood?) and, most recently, arrangements to keep the unit (the landlord is not happy that it drips on to their patio-- so now we have tubes and glues and goops and screws scattered around the apartment as we attempt to direct the flow of water elsewhere.)

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal, but we find that it is a topic of conversation we can not avoid, whether it is about the unbearable heat before the air conditioner was installed or the shenanigans we are going through to have it in our home. We talk about it with one another endlessly. We subject friends and family and strangers to the saga at dinner parties. We even (ahem) blog about it for the entire public to view.

In other words, the air conditioning unit is an obsession.

In a recent discussion with people who live outside of New York City about (what else?) the air conditioner, it was determined that this is officially crazy. Price shopping for units, renting zip-cars, having consultations with the landlord about the unit not falling out of the window on to unsuspecting citizens' heads, carrying 8 foot wooden beams throughout the city to find someone who cuts wood, redirecting the flow of water so the landlord does not feel torrential rains while bbq-ing, that, all of this, is sheer madness.

Because, the conversation continued, this doesn't happen outside of the city. This doesn't happen in cozy suburbs where central air conditioning is the norm, where there are Lowes and Home Depots on every corner, and people have cars to get to where they go. This doesn't happen in new developments with brand new four bedroom, three bathroom homes that boast luxuries like washers and dryers and dishwashers.

Of course, this has occurred to me before. When I visit people's homes and they have things like porches and patios and gardens, and grass, imagine that! Grass that is so expansive, so wild, you have to do things like mow it. Of course, this has occurred to me, that in places other than a city, or even in the city (I've put in air conditioning units with no trouble in the past) installing an air conditioner is not an epic home project, if you even have to install one at all.

And so, during the course of our conversation, it became clear to me that this air conditioning unit, and our obsession with it, is a symbol of city life; cerebral and maddening, the stuff that Seinfeld episodes and Woody Allen films are made of.

That it is a microcosm for spending $1,000,000 for a tiny one bedroom apartment in Manhattan, squeezing yourself into an insufficent picnic spot in an overwhelming crowded Central Park, getting dinner reservations months in advance in order to sit outside on a filthy sidewalk at a new restaurant, sitting in hours worth of traffic to get to a just-as-crowded beach on Long Island on a holiday weekend, carrying 15 bags of groceries from the dirty Gristedes or Met or Key Foods up to your fifth floor walk up, which does not have a washer, dryer, dishwasher, porch, patio, lawn, garden, or, sometimes, even, a closet in which to put your clothes.

All if this is, decidedly, crazy.

After several glasses of wine, I found myself having to defend my decision to live in this city, sputtering ridiculous things like but where else can you get authentic chinese noodles three blocks from your apartment? Because, I could not, for the life of me, explain why I was fighting for the right to pay thousands of dollars to live in a sweltering, miniscule apartment where it takes the better part of a month to install an air conditioner.

All I know, is that I do not think any of this is crazy. I can not adequately explain why because it will sound ridiculous. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a sunny day, she says and rolls her eyes. Walking over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and looking down at all the traffic, she tries, but, no, that is not it. The little red-headed girls, twins, who ride identical scooters across President Street the same time, every day, as I walk to the subway. Closer, she thinks.

Crazy? Maybe. And, yet, no. What do you think?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Words on a Page

It's been a while since I've updated you all on my writing projects and it's come to my attention that some of you may care, which will never cease to amaze me (thank you).

Spared sits and awaits a rewrite. After years of working on it, I realize the story is still not where it needs to be. A painful discovery but a discovery just the same. So it sits and waits. It is not quiet about it. In fact, it's somewhat impatient and rowdy and a bit of a nuisance. But I do feel the physical manuscript is in the proper place right now (Sitting. Waiting.)

I am nearing the end of the first draft of Rabbit Island, which has been an eventful ride. There have been some painful moments-- I got lost for something like...oh....50 pages and had to trash them all-- but, in the end, I thought it was a good experience. I had no idea things would end up where they are and I look forward to editing it.

And, below, Rabbit Island's first time out in public (ignore the bad hair and the poor outfit choice and the stammering. It has spent the last 6 months alone with me...which isn't good for anyone.)

Reagan stopped walking and the smell of hotdogs, the rising smoke, hung in the stale, hot air. "Don't worry. You're going to figure out the way you want to love someone," she told Adelaine. "And when you do, you're going to hatch grand schemes."

Adelaine laughed. "Let's start with you and Eric Brown and see what happens."

"What? It's a done deal."

Adelaine looked up at the entrance. Two tall tree trunks, whose branches stemmed into a giant arch. The trees were white, like everything at Dreamland, as if the entire place had been trapped inside a winter storm. The leaves sparkled, silver and glass, and the tangled branches twisted together to give the impression of a woman's face outlined with wild, flowing hair.

And when she walked inside, it felt as if she had been swallowed whole.

I hope you'll tell me what you're working on (writing or otherwise) and let me know how you are spending your days.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Falling Slowly

Lately, it seems I do not get any blog traffic on Fridays, so I've used the time to rattle on about my strange obsessions, like Linda Eder and Company.

I'll add this song, Falling Slowly, to the list. It is a few years old and I'm sure you've heard it. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2007. It's from the film, Once and is written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard and I woke up with it in my head, even though I haven't heard it in a while. (It should be noted, there is a version in which Linda Eder sings it, but I won't subject you all to any more Linda Eder. It's getting out of hand. Unless you want me to, in which case...well, call me, we'll chat...)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Golden Age

I recently saw Woody Allen's latest film, Midnight in Paris. The film is about a successful Hollywood screenwriter (played by Owen Wilson) who visits Paris with his fiance and her family.

As he wanders the streets of Paris and attempts to finish the novel he's been writing for years, he becomes completely taken with the city and swept up in all the romantic notions of Paris in the 1920's when artists and writers like Hemmingway and Fitzgerald made their own pilgramage to the City of Light.

The plot takes a surprising turn early in the film and I'd rather not give anything away because it's better not knowing but I do recommend it to all writers (and non-writers for that matter). It is smart and funny and I found myself laughing out loud far more than I thought I would.

And it helps that the way it captures Paris, the way Allen frames each shot, how it is meticulous and deliberate, yet, odd and haphazard all at the same time, is absolutely beautiful.

I like the way it dealt with time. The main character is caught up in the past while trying to figure out his present and change his immediate future. And we meet many characters with their own ideas about their own golden ages, whether it is now, or the 1920's in Paris, or the age of enlightenment, etc.

I left the film wondering about my own golden age. Thanks to books and films, I've wanted to experience so many periods of history. I love the energy and charge of the late 1960's in America. And Willa Cather always left me fascinated with frontier life, which sounds difficult and harrowing, and, lets be honest, I wouldn't last a day but, still, I have romanticized the idea of living off of the earth... Dancing and drinking with the Fitzgeralds in Europe or the Gold Coast also sounds like a rip roarin' good time.

Have you seen the film? Even if you haven't, what is your golden age?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Angel Oak

I took off for a long weekend to Charleston, South Carolina. For a long time, I had this idea that I was going to move there, without ever having been there. I had (and still have) a lot of romantic notions about the South, thanks to Pat Conroy and Margaret Mitchell. I thought (and still think) that everyone must sip their iced tea while sitting out on a veranda all breathless and sighing, I'll think about that tomorrow.

We wandered around the city of Charleston by foot and saw the gardens, the river, the grandiose homes. To my delight, I did see women with enormous sun bonnets and men in Seersucker suits. I lamented over the heat (96 every day) and sat on park benches fanning myself with my hand thinking where oh where is my lemonade? Someone pass the smelling salts before I faint!

At the very last minute of our day, we took a detour to find this live oak on John's Island. I've seen various reports of it's age (anywhere from 400 to 1500 years old) but I could not believe it's size, the way it sprang from the earth with it's mutant branches as if it could swallow up the sky. No matter how many times I have watched Scarlett O'Hara turn drapes into dresses, nothing could have prepared me for the Angel Oak. It was such an extraordinary sight.

Friday, June 17, 2011

'Phone Rings, Door Chimes, In Comes Company'

I was finally able to see the Lincoln Center production of Stephen Sondheim's Company, not live as I had hoped, but on the big screen. My love for Sondheim runs deep-- I may have mentioned the many acts of crazy I've gone through to see his work. I claim that Company is my favorite musical of all time but I had, uh, never actually seen it (oh the irony).

I've listened to the original cast recording on repeat and watched a wonderful documentary which records the recording of the cast recording, which is 'so totally meta' (long side note: an old film professor's favorite term, but picture it being said in a thick German accent while watching something like Melvin Van Peeble's 'Sweet Sweetback's Baaadasssss Song'-- no really, it's a picture me counting three A's and five S's to get the title right in this blog post...)

The documentary (which I recommend) features a young Stephen Sondheim smoking cigarettes in the booth at the studio, advising the actors in between coughs and takes. And all of this, made me feel as if I had seen the musical when I really hadn't.

What I love about Company is the way it captures relationships, the confusion and complexity, through incredible music and lyrics. It's not about the set or the stage. It is about Bobby, the only single man in a group of married friends, and his desperation to find a wife...without actually having to fall in love.

We meet those 'good and crazy people, his married friends' as they navigate confused feelings about their own relationships. How they lose themselves and find themselves through one another. How, when we fall in love, 'everything's different' but 'nothing's changed' or 'only maybe slightly rearranged'. There is fear of being loved too much or not enough. And the idea that sometimes we get on our hands and knees to beg for someone to stay and, when they do, all we want is for them to leave (the same in reverse). These kinds of dynamics are so compelling, so real, I love to see it captured on stage and in song.

It goes without saying that I recommend the musical highly. The cast is what I can only call an 'uber cast' with the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert, Patti Lupone, Martha Plimpton...the list goes on. Even if you don't like musicals, there are long scenes of excellent dialogue, more so than in most musicals, I would say. But it is, in my opinion, the lyrics to the songs that make this musical so brilliant.

You do not have to pay hundreds of dollars or go to a major city to see it because it is playing at movie theaters across the country for a very limited time. So, go! Quickly! Run don't walk! And tell me what you think if you do...

Photo credit:

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I'm going to call this blurry photo 'artsy' because that's the way I roll.

I can't imagine how many noodles this shop goes through a day. Capturing the moment through the glass, it felt as if I'd attempted to still an entire neighborhood that can not be tamed.

This is how I picture Chinatown in Manhattan, color and life moving across the gray. Carts barrelling over concrete. Food spilling out from the markets displayed on crowded sidewalks. School letting out into the streets.

There is not one empty storefront. Not a wasted piece of land. A spare corner keeps frogs in a barrel, discarded furniture, or a metal folding chair for a white-haired woman to rest.

It is, hands down, one of my favorite places in the city.

What's your favorite place to explore in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Will You Hold On To This For Me?

These past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about what this blog is. When people ask me what my blog is about, I tell them it's about my 'writing journey', whatever that means. It seems to quiet people, so I leave it be.

I don't think it's that.

In truth, I don't know what it is. I do know that this virtual space is mine. That I go to it, to write. And that's about all I know.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to draw a picture of how I was feeling because the image was so strong, so real. I couldn't draw it the way I wanted to. I still can't. But the image has stayed with me.

I wanted to draw a picture of two people. One person with a head flipped open, like the lid of a can. And the other holding their hands out.

It was not just about sharing thoughts. It was as if to say: Please. Take this. Keep this for me.

In some ways, I think this blog is an extension of that feeling. I need others to keep these stories and thoughts for me.

So, thank you. :-) Thank you for holding on to all this, whatever this is. I hope to do the same for you, if you need it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Listen To Me"

Today, I want to link to Jhumpa Lahiri's recent piece in The New Yorker, Trading Stories: Notes From a Literary Apprenticeship.

I'll just pull one quote from the article, which is about her life-long relationship to books and writing, and the 'creative stasis' she experienced before writing her first short story as an adult.

It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, “Listen to me.”

This was where I faltered. I preferred to listen rather than speak, to see instead of be seen. I was afraid of listening to myself, and of looking at my life.

These words took my breath away. As with most things I think and feel, Jhumpa Lahiri can say it better than I can.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

No Other Option

I met with a new writer's group for the first time last week. We drank wine, ate cheese, told stories, and read out loud. After just one meeting, I feel it is a wonderful thing. The three other women in the group are vibrant, funny, and wickedly smart. I feel lucky we met and I look forward to what the group will become, if it becomes anything at all.

As we introduced ourselves to one another and talked about our work and our goals, I was interested to learn how we all fit writing into our lives. Of course, it was different for each of us because we all had different commitments to writing. Some had projects they were very committed to and others were still exploring what they wanted to work on.

It came out that I work full time and write fiction on weeknights and weekends. Everyone asked how I did that. I just said, 'If I don't write it, it will never get written. And that's not an option.'

Most of them said they were not at that point yet. They asked me how I got there. And I couldn't answer them.

I say this, not to rub it in or make it sound like I'm some amazing workhorse (in fact, I don't think I work hard enough) but because I can't really describe how I reached that point.

I can tell you when. I know it to the day because it was my birthday. October 20, 2008. I walked into a novel-writing workshop and I just thought, I'm going to write a novel and it's not an option to fail. And when I was finished with that one, I told myself, 'I'm going to write another one'. And when people ask me what I am going to do after the second one, I say, 'I'm going to write another one.'

So far, that's just how it's going to go. Who knows. Maybe that will change. Maybe I'll hang up the towel. But right now, it's a point of no return. I don't know how I got here. I don't know if it's good, bad, crazy or all three. I just don't see any other option.

Do you feel you've reached that point in your writing or is it more complicated than that?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Listening to Linda Eder makes me sublimely happy so I thought I would post this video today.

The song is Gold, from a musical I would give my right arm to see: Camille Claudel.

Unfortunately, the musical is this elusive thing, that existed for three weeks and there are currently no plans for it to run again. It's about Camille Claudel, who was Rodin's lover, muse, and a sculptor herself. I search for scattered pieces of this musical wherever I can find them.

I love this song because of Linda Eder's incredible voice but, also, because of the lyrics (written by Nan Knighton) I feel it captures a lot of themes I want to explore when I write and read and live. It came up on my IPod once and I cried in the middle of a crowded subway car, it was so lovely. (Let's not count how many times Melissa has cried on a subway car while listening to a random mp3 because that would be embarrassing.) I'm also slightly obsessed with Linda's purple dress.

Summer In the City

I began the week shaken, having fallen off of my bicycle on 13th Street and University Place bright and early Monday morning. I was on my way to work and my bike took off ahead of me, the tires skidding on a wet surface I didn't see. I rose up from the ground with unsteady legs, my right side bloody and skinned and swelling.

As soon as I realized I was in the middle of the street, I was sent into a panic. Instead of lifting my bike and dusting myself off, I took off running to the sidewalk, dragging my bicycle behind me like it was a tantruming child, by the handlebars, with the pedals and spokes scraping across the grey concrete.

I knew that the city would not stop for me, even if strangers were on hand to see if I was okay, my only response to nod incoherently while my heart pounded inside my chest-- because the streets are relentless that way. Nothing stops moving. Cars and food carts and delivery trucks barrelled behind me and they did not stop. And I still had to get to work. Later still, I would have to get all the way back home.

I found myself in all kinds of minor predicaments throughout the week. Trying to place my bandaged arm and my black and blue thigh in just the right position while I slept, sitting in an air conditionless room in the 90 degree heat attempting to write something that made any kind of sense, even carrying an 8 foot wooden beam through crowded streets that did not want to make room for me.

I love this city. I really do. I see it as a my playground. My home. But sometimes I forget that it is bigger than me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Little Miss M

Here is Little Miss M in the big city, sporting her tired face, knowing, at only three months old, that chicks do indeed rock. We wait for her to laugh, to roll over, to get to where she needs to go. And she does need to get somewhere because we watch her on her little mat, huffing and puffing and squirming with all the determination in the world. And we know, like Dr. Suess does, that, oh, there are places she'll go.

"You realize she's yours, right?" I tell Lynn, who it seems just yesterday sat in Professor Shanahan's communications class with me, who lived in Eco house, who drank whole pints, and dated the DJ. The girl whose name was always uttered in conjunction with mine. And, ironically, forever will be because I am (quite literally) Melissa Lynn.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bringing the Funny

A few weeks ago I attended a live chat at WriteOnCon with literary agents Michelle Andelman and Joanna Volpe and YA editor Molly O'Neill. The chat was fun and informative and there was a point when they talked about the things they were not seeing in their inboxes. It seems there is an extreme lack of 'funny' when it comes to young adult literature.

At BEA, I talked to several school librarians and asked them what their students were looking for when they went to the library. All of them said that many teens, especially boys, look for funny books. They often have to refer them to middle grade or adult books because, again, there is a lack of humor in the young adult world.

That got me thinking.

I think funny is hard. It requires a very specific reaction: laughter. And if you can't elicit it, you are explicitly NOT FUNNY. I feel like I know a lot of funny people and I admire their quick comebacks and their wit. But they don't do funny for a living. They don't do it full time.

There are a lot of ways you can fail as a writer, but there's something different about trying to be funny in a public forum and failing. I mean, it's flat out unacceptable.

So I can see why there might be a lack of humor out there. But for those of you who do funny, the consensus in my unscientific study is: bring it.

Have you read a humorous young adult book lately? I'd really like to and I don't know where to begin.

Monday, June 6, 2011


When I was fifteen years old, I had an unhealthy obsession with The X-Files.

I wanted to marry Fox Mulder and I imagined an entire forty-five minute episode in which I played Agent Dana Scully's pregnant teenage sister. I was an artist who painted canvases inspired by the devil and I was carrying his demon baby. I'm sure this had nothing to do with obsessively watching Rosemary's Baby at that time in my life. Nothing at all.

In any case, things did not end well for me in this fake episode. There were sleepless nights of creative frenzy in which I destroyed the walls in my home with gruesome paintings (all intercut with scenes of Scully struggling with her Christian faith and her love of science.) And, despite countless exorcisms, I didn't make it, because carrying a demon baby can really take a toll.

I tell you this, not so you can go running from this blog begging for mercy (though if you must, I understand), but so you know how deep the obsession for X-Files really went.

I used to tape X-Files episodes on VHS tape on the basement television because I had a very intense TV schedule at that time in my life and this was before DVR and Tivo.

One fateful night, the night of the season finale to be exact, the episode did not tape. Do you hear what I am saying? The season finale of The X-Files did not tape.

Well. You can imagine what ensued. I went into absolute hysterics, shouting expletives no one would have ever imagined could come from the nerd girl who barely spoke, and I physically hurled a VHS tape across the room. My parents stood back wondering, My God, where did we go wrong?

I told Tyler this story the other night in case he wanted to reconsider his future with me and his first thought was not about my insanity but about the VCR malfunctioning.

He's practical that way.

We began talking about the ways in which all the tech in our lives have malfunctioned over the years and then Tyler said, 'That's what is so great about books. They are reliable.'

That was a lightbulb moment for me. Unless you physically set fire to a book, you're guaranteed a story. For a lifetime. What other products can boast that?

It's even more reliable than the story of the devil paintings and the demon baby. Which, fortunately, exists only in my mind.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I'm A Poemer

This post is to bring some sunshine to the famous Lenny Lee who always spreads sunshine wherever he goes.

Honestly, the idea of writing a poem gives me hives. Over the years I've been assigned poems to write in various classes. I've cried writing villanelles. I've had anxiety attacks while laboring over a cinquain. I don't understand how to write poetry. I am a terrible poet.

However, my friend Krista and I coined the term poemer. A poemer is a person who writes poems. And, while I would never in a million years call myself a poet, I have no problem calling myself a poemer.

I went into the Melissa Files to find some poem-y things I had written for little preschool kids. They are meant to be sung. There may or may not be recordings of me singing them. I can neither confirm or deny that.

I thought I would share them with Lenny because they are fun and silly (and pretty bad). But they make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and that's what being a poemer is all about.

Friendship Song

Friendship is magic
That’s what I think
Friendship’s amazing
And that’s what I’ll sing
Great things can happen
When you’re with a friend
All kinds of magic
Again and again
I’m feeling happy
So much I can fly
Because when you have a friend
Magic can’t pass you by

Rhyming Song

Lumpity Dumpkin
Boppity Bumpkin
I love to rhyme all the time
Put words together
And hear how they sound
That's what I call a great rhyme
Lumpity Dumpkin
Boppity Bumpkin
Doesn't make sense all the time
Put words together
And hear how they sound
That's what I call a great rhyme

You rock Lenny!

Are you a poet? If not, are you a poemer?