Friday, June 29, 2012

Thoughts on Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

I almost forgot that I had seen Moonrise Kingdom (written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola) last weekend, Wes Anderson's latest quirk of a film.  My boss saw it and came in the next day, very adamant that I must see it because, he said, and I quote: 'I left the movie and thought, this is a script Melissa would write.'

It's true, my boss has seen me come in with some very strange proposals throughout the years working at the 'toy factory.'   Perhaps the most eye-brow raising character, an ocean wave monster (but, really, not such a monster, just having fun wiggling through the ocean, just misunderstood, as any wave would be.)  And, so, now apparently I have a reputation for a Wes Anderson brand of weird.

I love the premise of the film. Two young misfits, one a restless orphan and Khaki scout stuck at summer camp, the other a misunderstood girl who sees the world through binoculars and fantasy books, run away together just before the biggest storm in history.   

It's classic Wes Anderson, the entire film choreographed with a perfect staccato rhythm, characters who speak only what's on their mind with expressionless faces, each shot strategically and geometrically framed.  After a while I got a little tired of the rhythm of speech and the story went to such a ridiculous place, I, personally, couldn't stay with it.  But, I guess when you take a film to such an extreme weird, this is what you allow for: total suspension of disbelief.  It was fun, in a way, but I just found it a little tiresome.

To be honest, I love the trailer (below) SO MUCH that I want to suggest you just watch the trailer instead of spending money on the movie. But I also think the first twenty minutes and the two main characters are wonderful and might inspire some middle grade writers out there (or really any writer writing characters) so I can't say it's not worth a little escape to the theater.

Has anyone seen Moonrise Kingdom?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

You Are

The always honest, always intelligent Meg at Write Meg! wrote about jealousy and the way social networking sites like Facebook allow us to see into more lives to measure ourselves against. Her post spoke to me because I have always struggled with that (have expressed it many times here.)  I've gauged my progress against others (particularly when it comes to publishing), desperate to catch up, feeling so far behind where I want or need to be in many aspects of life.  I still feel behind. I don't know if that feeling will ever go away. But, recently, I have been just a little more accepting about where I am (that is to say, behind.)

Over the past two years, there has been a lot of construction work on my train, the F train.  It often leaves me stranded on weekends, forced to take a bus that sits, stalled in traffic, along a very crowded Smith Street.

Once, I stood next to a couple I think of often.  The woman was frantic about needing to get somewhere or maybe just wanting to and there were loud sighs and glances at a watch and a lot of what is happening and why are we sitting and wouldn't it be faster if we just walked?  I understood her frustration.  If I had someone to voice my concerns to, I would have whined just the same.  But her companion was perfectly calm.  'You are where you're meant to be," he said.

That's easy to say. Perhaps, harder to believe.  Or maybe not. Maybe it really is as simple as that?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Coney Island / Playing From Memory

He sat at the old upright, drenched in sun, on a too-warm January day, just below the Coney Island Museum.  The fractured story of a place hummed above him.  He played from memory, just as we did, running our fingers along the slide of banister, drumming the floorboards, peering into the coin-operated telescope of time.

Maybe I have an urge to play an instrument I can not fit in my apartment.  Maybe I wish I was not at work but on Coney Island's beaches or riding the rickety Cyclone.  I don't know. But I think of him today.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Read it, Read it, You Have To

There is no more room in our bookshelves so I haven't been purchasing books (but I'm rethinking this, one more can't hurt right?)  I wait, impatiently, for new titles from the New York Public Library. Specifically, Richard Ford's Canada, Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone, and Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  I don't think I'll get them any time soon.  It's more likely, I'll be reading them 6 months from now.  There are a few others on hold but no word... (I feel as if I'm in a library blackhole.  Where are the books!?)

I'm currently reading a book that I've stopped and started five times.  It was clutched in every palm on the New York City subway two years ago. I'm drowning in it, wondering how on earth I'll ever get through.

I have an epic long to-read list and I just feel it's failing me, over and over. I have read so many books these past few weeks where I close the last page and think quick, on to the next one.  I just haven't fallen in love.  Sometimes I haven't even fallen in like.

I'm reading book blogs, book reviews, feeling meh, about everything.  Feeling that I can never quite understand how the reviewer truly feels.   Where are the books where there is no logic, no rhyme, no reason?  It's different than like.  It's different than, oh, yes, that was a good book.  It's even different than that was well written.  I'm talking about pure, inarticulate, head over heels in love books where you just scream Read it!  Read it!  YOU HAVE TO.

So I'm reaching out to all of you.  What's your Read It, Read It, You Have To recommendation?  What's your I will pay you to read this book book?

Since it's only fair I reciprocate, here's three off the top of my head, without thinking: Three Junes by Julia Glass, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

So, what say you?  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Obanos, Spain

It was the round-abouts that sent us veering.  You couldn't drive the miles on all that newly paved gray without coming to the ease of a circle. To go straight required taking the bend of a half-moon and sometimes it felt that having to curve at all meant drifting away entirely.

So we followed sturdy signs to empty villages, parked on silent streets, watched backpackers jab the pavement with poking metal poles.  They travelled El Camino de Santiago, or the way, we later heard it called by the Canadians who rolled their eyes, believing that the trek had become too popular because of a film we'd never heard of.  I made a note to find the movie, to see it, to understand what was so compelling that people were desperate to take the ancient pilgrimage through a place we thought we'd simply stumbled upon.

Everything in Spain felt vaguely yellow and grey but Obanos was lemon, steeped in sun, hung out to dry against all the blue above.  It was a version of the Old West, hazy and vivid at the same time, with the smoke of dirt under our feet but, no, it wasn't dirt at all, just hot, smooth, yellow stone that looked like dirt that had been kicked up under hooves and there was the clip-clop sound of nothing or was it the swing of a saloon door but, of course not, because Obanos is stern masonry and brick and one medieval bell-tower that did not ring its fists at the sky.

We walked so as not to disturb.  Peeked around the painted angles of each home. Passed the lipstick red blossoms in thick clay pots.  Dared not follow the creep of technicolor vines.  There was just one home in rounded, Easter pink.  It's arched windows and painted shutters slipped down the slope, made way for lush, eager green.

In my mind we saw no one or we did but it was like looking through.  Like having to take a turn to go straight.  Like knowing you were somewhere that never saw you.

For more Spain posts, go here

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Yesterday, we left our cubicles for an endless meeting.  On the status of our business.  On the future of our business.  What sits at its core.  I couldn't sit still.  My mind wandered. I looked out the glass windows at my city's skyline, a city gasping for air.  The heat here is extreme.  It's trapped between buildings.  It hovers over concrete.

Afterwards, we sat in a windowless room.  We were put in groups, told to come up with ideas.  We were given prompts and tasks, post-its and markers.  There were facilitators and easels scrawled with notes. I don't thrive in these situations. Being told to think leaves me empty.  In my opinion, this is not how good ideas are generated. But there was no choice.  Ideate or bust. (Or look out the window.  Oh. Wait.)

As a warm up to the idea vomit that would ensue, we were challenged to think of a child's 'firsts'.  The first day of school. The first time riding a bicycle.  These kinds of milestones.  Eventually, it became tedious. Isn't everything, in it's own way, a first?  First birthday party.  First movie.  First pancake even.  (I wondered, in all this ridiculousness, how dark we could take it: 'First time I was picked last in gym class' 'First time I realized Daddy didn't love with me'  but, no, this is not what anyone wanted to hear.)  And so our facilitator, our fearless hunter and gatherer of ideas!, asked us to think of our own firsts.  Not then.  But now.  What firsts do we still have yet to experience?

This is, perhaps, the only time I chimed in before retreating to my wallflower status: My first Safari! I shouted.

I don't know where that came from.

But out it went and I'm thinking, still, about firsts.  This, to me, is worth thinking over.  Not for five minutes.  Not to plaster on a giant notepad so we can say we've accomplished something rather than actually accomplish it (Look!  We wrote it down! We are masters of innovation!)  A concept to actually sit with.  The possibility of first.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In Touch

Last September I had posted about balance in our digital lives.  Lately, I have felt the pull of the digital universe and I think it's time to find ways to step aside.

Yesterday, my mother asked me if I was in touch with an old friend.  Well on Facebook, I replied.  What does that mean? My mother asked.  I did not know how to answer.  I am able to follow this person's life, to rattle off statistics.  I am not in touch.  

This afternoon, I hit a breaking point.  It had been maybe my 100th scroll through my Facebook news feed that day (or maybe...that hour.) Very little had changed from the last time I checked.  Perhaps another baby photo appeared for me to quickly smack a 'like' button.  

I didn't know what I was looking for, what kind of connection I was trying to make.

It is a death sentence, in the toy industry, to make what is called a 'watch-me' toy.  A toy that may be technologically advanced, that may cause oohs and ahhs but, in the end, does not allow for any sort of real interactivity, any real play.  I am starting to think that Facebook, for me, has become a bit of a 'watch-me' toy. 

So, I've decided to lay off Facebook for a while.  I'm not using it well and I'm not sure what I am gaining from the hours I clock there, scrolling through.  I love a lot of people. I email with them. I talk to them on the phone.  I meet them face to face.  These connections feel truer, deeper.  I gain a lot from them.  I think it is enough.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Same Sun Here by Silas House & Neela Vaswani

Yesterday morning, I read Silas House and Neela Vaswani's Same Sun Here, a book about Meena, an Indian immigrant living New York City's Chinatown, and River, a coal-miner's son in Appalachia.

The story is told in alternating voices, through a series of letters.  It shares the vastly different experiences of these two unlikely friends who develop an intimate understanding of one another through their written correspondence.

The book is not subtle in its agenda.  It is clear House and Vaswani have something to say: about acceptance, about ignorance, about race relations, about the immigrant experience, and about our land, our resources, our environment.  Sometimes it's unfair to be subtle. Given the importance of these issues, perhaps it's not appropriate to be so tenuous.  

While I do realize this book is not written for an adult audience (but really, what does that mean? the book was written, does it matter who for?), I did wish for less of a beat-over-the-head message.  I believe, very strongly, in the intelligence and ability of young people to make connections and figure themes out for themselves.  Despite that, I found the book refreshing.  And really important. There are some beautiful images that struck me, that will stay with me for a long time.  A story of Meena's father and a bride who peels potatoes is one that comes to mind (you'll just have to read it to see.)  And I am a sucker for beautiful descriptions of my city, even those that come with a one-sentence-extra nudge:

"We could hear the sound of cars on the West Side Highway, but somehow it was so far away and mixed with the river's voice that the cars sounded like trees swaying in a forest.  I had not seen hills or sat on a big rock in many years.  The city, the skyline, looked blue and distant.  It made me feel like we are all very small and unimportant.  It is just when you are inside something that you forget that.  But when you are outside of it and looking from far away, you can see.  Kiku says that's called "perspective.""

Perspective is something we could all use.  I read a wrap-up in the New York Times about this year's college commencement speeches and, as Condoleeza Rice told the graduates of Southern Methodist University, "At those times when you're absolutely sure that you're right, talk with someone who disagrees.  And if you constantly find yourself in the company of those who say 'amen' to everything that you say, find other company." 

Same Sun Here is about the beauty of finding company in that 'other company'.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Child, A Woman, A tree

I've mentioned before that I don't know anything real about photography. I only have a point and shoot camera. I don't know how to use a flash so I avoid it at all costs. And I have no idea how to edit a photo once it's been taken.  But I love, love to take photos because they help me see the world so I can imagine it better when I sit down to write.

Most of the time, when I see a photo I took, I don't like it. I think, it doesn't look the way it really looked.  I often find that dissatisfying. Very rarely do I think, this is exactly how it looked.

While in Spain, we discovered that I love to take pictures of three very distinct things:

1. Children
2. The elderly
3. Trees

So...I give you three photos that I think look the way they really looked. My medley.  A child. A woman. A tree.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's 11pm. Do You Know Where Your Tomatoes Are?

I just felt like I needed to capture the strangeness of my life as it existed moments ago. Emergency gardening. Indoors. At 11pm.

The tomato plant tumbled off of the fire escape in a storm.  Our downstairs neighbor kindly brought it up. There I sat, sprawled out in skirt and shoes, still dressed for work (WHY was I still dressed for work?), with a bag of soil spilling on the living room floor, clutching a shovel, desperately tying my drooping tomato stalks to a sturdy branch, all the while crying: But they have to be okay!  They have to make it!  

And though there are six more plants, (six more, Tyler groans) I can not bear the thought of these not making it.

You guys.

I don't know.

They came to me flopped and flattened with their roots sticking out.  I tried my best but they are looking shaken, disturbed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"It's much more important to be kind than it is to be clever..."

In our home, we get a physical newspaper delivered, listen to the radio, and most of our music, these days, is purchased on vinyl, played on a record player that skips if we walk too hastily across the floor.  When we're not obsessively tweeting, blogging, facebook stalking, or swiping, we are, ironically, a bit stuck.

I can't explain why.  But I like ink smudged on my fingers. I like having to shift the antennae of the radio for the optimal signal. And I like a scratchy recording of Ella Fitzgerald found only in a musty-smelling record store.

When I read that the Magliozzi brothers (known as Click and Clack) the famously funny, generous hosts of public radio's Car Talk, had decided to retire, I wanted to share a quote from the article here. You can't share print with the masses.  Or can you?

Take a picture of the quote, Tyler suggested. A bit backwards, perhaps, but here:

Peter Sagal, the host of another weekly program on NPR, "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!," said in a blog post on Friday that getting to know the Magliozzis over the years "made me realize that in radio, maybe in life, it's much more important to be kind than it is to be clever.  And that instead of being different every week, it's more of a challenge, and more of a reward to your listeners, to find a way to be yourself."

So, from Peter Sagal's blog, to the inky pages of the New York Times, to a photo in my iPhone, transcribed here, I quote something I feel so strongly about, I'd shout it from a rooftop, if I could get to mine. If the landlord didn't lock it, I would. 

I don't need clever.  In radio, in life, as Sagal says (and in books, I say...especially, especially in books) I don't need it.  I need kind.  I need true. I'm always looking for that.  Out there. Within myself.  I just thought it was perfectly articulated by Peter Sagal.   


Yesterday, something prompted me to click on the never-published draft of a blog post written weeks ago, only to discover there was one measly line. A completely unfinished thought I can't, for the life of me, decipher.

It seems that a switch has flipped. 

I began to scroll through to see what other words had been abandoned and discovered that, in four years of blogging, I only have five unfinished blog posts.  Each with just one line. Each just about to become ridiculous, no doubt.

[Insert transition here. i.e. There is no time for me to think up a transition]

It's the morning I forget my book.  The morning my music player dies. 

The weather here in the northeast is just right.  

I consider myself a fairly calm person.

Maybe it's vain to wonder where I was going with each of these but I do wonder.  Sounds like they were about to become rants or melancholy reflections (And  I've never posted a melancholy reflection before. No Sir. Never.)  I do tend to stop myself from rants (though a few have crept in over the years.)

Do you stop yourself from writing certain blog posts?  Any drafts you'd like to share here? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lois Lowry, Gary D. Scmidt, and Fixing What Is Broken

On Saturday, after I saw the inspiring sky in the photo above, I listened to Lois Lowry's speech at Book Expo America.  It can be found here, through a series of clicks I hope you'll take (first click Author Breakfasts & Editors' Buzz, then choose Children's Book and Author Breakfast, the 10th video under latest videos.  Scroll through to her speech or listen to it all.)

I thought the speech was absolutely beautiful.  Simple.  True.  She spoke of her son, a fallen soldier, and the characters in her quartet of books in The Giver series.  She talked about what binds them: an inexplicable need to reassemble what is broken, to fix the world. She said this desire is a trait of young people but her speech implies that it extends past young adult-hood, that it is, perhaps, the reason she writes at all.  Fixing, even in the awkward, stumbling ways we know how, is tendency, need.  It's helplessness turned to hopefulness. 

While in Spain, I managed to read just one book, Okay For Now, by Gary D. Schmidt.  The voice in the novel is terrific, pitch perfect, and I fell in love with one plot strand running through it: finding and replacing the torn pages of a book.

Today, I'm thinking about how incredibly powerful all of this is. How beautiful the smallest acts of reparation can be.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ten Years

It's been a restless, strange week. The kind of week where I just wanted to get my bearings and life came at me instead. I find myself knee deep in a bunch of work I took on before I left for Spain.  I am re-writing my novel and re-inhabiting a world I thought I'd left.  And it's summer.  When did that happen?  Hot, sticky days.  Late afternoon thunderstorms.  The fan is whirring and my tomatoes are epically thirsty.

It's reunion weekend at my alma mater, Cornell University.  I won't be there.  But my heart is caught.  It's been ten years since I graduated.  I'm trying to process that.  So much has happened in ten years.

I have no idea why...but I'm thinking of these stairs I used to take from Collegetown to West Campus, along the rushing waters of the Cascadilla gorge, past the law library, or was it Hughes?  I am desperate, suddenly, looking at online campus maps, trying to find the exact location of these stairs.  I had taken them so many times.  More than I can count. It's like I took a photograph that doesn't exist, of all of us, laughing, in the middle of the night, walking these stairs.  I could find them, without any effort, if I was there.  But placing it, arranging it next to one building or another...I can't.

So. Ten years.  Where were you ten years ago?  I was taking those stairs.  And now I'm here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Laguardia, Spain

We climbed and the sun hit sideways from its corner in the sky, so that we were still sweating late into the evening.  It was a place that never seemed to meet dusk, that slipped into night the same way you became a shadow, one step forward and then gone. The concrete stairs were deep, the sloping streets just slivers, a mere taste of all we couldn't know.

Brown sandals strapped across my ankles and I felt every slant of cobblestone. It kept me alert. I was afraid I'd falter, afraid I'd tumble backwards, down, to where I belonged.  But we met the top, found its center, and each slivered street became the fingers of the plaza's open palm.

Someone had told us there would be music there at eight o'clock sharp. La musica, she had said, the only word we knew among so many more.  We waited against the walled Plaza Mayor for someone to appear with an instrument strapped to their backs, slung over their shoulders or squeezed between two hands.  We waited for a concert.

Plastic-wheeled tricycles hammered across concrete.  A football leapt towards the wobbly tables of the surrounding cafes. Ice pop-purple lined the boys mouths, graffitied their tongues. The girls sat in a deliberate circle.  And I understood, in a way I could not understand the language of anyone else in the village, that the pale, blue-eyed, red head was their fearless leader.  Her hands tacked to her hips.  Her grim pout.  I had known her once.  Had known the girl beside her, who hugged the stone column with a strange sideways glance.  Her perfect, bright, blue-ribboned bow stuck out from tangled black hair.  They were girls who would have caught fireflies, run across the suburban streets of my childhood with green-stained knees.

We heard the sturdy chime. Heard the cuckooed bellow of eight o'clock. The bells clanged one after the other. Then I felt their easy side to side as they plunged into a fanciful melody.  "I think this is it," I said. I no longer waited for someone to arrive, no longer wondered what the spectacle would be.  We listened.  We shrugged.  "This is la musica."

Just as we were about to turn away and wander further into the depths of the yellowed, lazy slices of street, everyone stopped.  The tricycle wheels slowed.  The football sat in the clutch of a protective arm.  The girls' chins yanked upward. Everyone's gaze shifted, then settled. The doors of eight o'clock whirred open, mocking our premature dismissal.  Above the arches, against the stone, the giant clock with its proud golden hands became a music box. Three molded dancers marched and churned in their dizzy, wayward spin.

When the minute ended, the dancers retreated.  The doors to the clock closed and the plaza found its sway once again.  Frenzied feet on the pedals of the tricycle.  A football soaring overhead. The girls fell back into their easy chatter. This is their summer, I thought. This is eight o'clock in the Plaza Mayor.

Monday, June 4, 2012

On Becoming (And Being) A Bride

Now that all is over, all dress fittings, food tastings, and talk of flowers.  Now that I must utter the words my husband and wear a gold band, I finally feel ready to talk about a role I have felt extremely uncomfortable with: bride.

I didn't make a good one.

People squealed a lot.  They reached for my ring finger to see it sparkle, thrust endless questions upon me about dresses, hairstyles, and centerpieces.  They gave me bridal magazines and cake platters and monogrammed napkins for a last name I never planned to take.

I couldn't seem to match people's enthusiasm, couldn't seem to climb up to the pitch of anyone's voice.  Early on in our engagement, I sat in the back seat of my parents car, because I suddenly found myself a teenager again, being driven to possible wedding venues like being dropped off at the mall, living under their budget for this strange event, and my father asked, Well what, exactly, do you want?  

I had never envisioned a wedding for myself. I was one of those girls with green-stained knees and uncombed hair trying to swing high enough to kick the leaves of a tree.  Not one with visions of lace and tiered cakes. I reached as far as I could towards a fantasy I never owned. I don't know. Wouldn't it be fun to just get an ice cream truck?  My mother motioned the sign of the cross.

Yes. I was a disappointing bride.

I don't like the idea of people looking at me.  I don't like the thought of any kind of  fuss.  I don't believe in spending thousands of dollars on one day.  And I don't think marriage is about cake fillings, flowers, the length of a train.

All throughout the planning for that day, nothing about it felt like us.  People were going to look at me.  A fuss would be made.  Thousands of dollars had already been spent. I had chosen a cake filling, a centerpiece, a too-long dress.  There was going to be a wedding, a real one, and I felt guilty, ungrateful, confused, and finally certain that I should have had nothing more than an ice cream truck.

As I discovered, weddings involve a lot of buts and have to's, an endless amount of can'ts.  People told us that these decisions were up to us, that we were the bride and groom, that it would be our day.

But it wasn't.

It was not our day. It was a day that sat under a sky everyone hoped and prayed would be blue.  It was a day when people traveled great distances and had delays and got caught in traffic and forgot that their suit pants were not on the same hanger as their jackets and were there anyway.  It was a day when people I loved told me I looked beautiful and the only reason I felt that way too was because they had come.  It was a day that was special not because we were there but because they were there or weren't there but were thinking of us somewhere else.

It was not our day because it was never meant to be.

It can be shocking to discover that people love you.  You think you know it and then it comes at you in a way you never thought possible and you realize you had no idea what it really meant to be loved and you wonder how you will ever return it.  That's the kind of day that is supposedly yours, the kind of day you can't possibly claim as your own.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mostly Here

I'm back from Spain, gone from narrow, yellowed streets, lazy cafe days.  I'm married.  In a daze.  But mostly here.  I have many stories to share, on being a 'bride', on all I saw in Spain, on writing, on books, on life. I will share them in the coming days.

After that short break, I'm writing again, with more energy than I have in months.  They say writing is re-writing and that is what I'm up to.  And it is refreshing to leave the blank page, re-write with characters and places I know deeply, the ones I already have in my heart.

I have many photos to show you (you'll all kill me, I know, if I don't post one of me as a bride and I will) but this is the one I most wanted to share.  The very first thing I saw in Spain. This carousel in San Sebastian. These trees, which I call dancing trees, with the way they link arms, lean, and swirl. It reminds me of my book, my book, (a book I've all but abandoned in recent months) Rabbit Island.  So I wanted to share.

Tell me. Where are you...with your writing, your life, now that summer is here (or almost here)?  What did I miss?