Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let People Be Who They Are

You let people be who they are. I read this in Then Again, Diane Keaton's memoir (which I enjoyed, which I recommend.) Goldie Hawn had said it, claiming to have reached a time in her life when this was possible.  It struck me because of what a complex idea it is, stated with such simplicity.

I woke up thinking about this kind of acceptance, what it means to let go of my expectations of others (and myself).  There have been many times in my life when I have wanted to question people, their motivations, why they behave a certain way.  It's not something I do often (though of course I have, we all have, haven't we?)  If someone is unkind, should we not tell that person?  You kicked the puppy!  Why did you kick the puppy?!   

I wonder, how important is it to question who a person is, to fight it?

I don't know.  It's complicated, like I said.  Not so simple, right?  What do you think?

Thursday, July 26, 2012


This morning I woke up to a radio show and a question was posed: "Would you eat your own booger for $25?"

I think that set up the day, the strangeness of it, the way the sky darkened and shook and emptied.  The way I sat in a meeting and it seemed it wasn't one meeting but many, with the way conversations spun, so many at once, and then, suddenly, all eyes were on us as we stood up with our toy mechanism, with its brand new batteries, its shiny coat of paint, and the motor and the accompanying audio simply, without explanation, wouldn't work.  But it had worked. And it would work, again, of course, after everyone had gone.

Maybe she is shy today? Someone said of the motorized doll.  And there were a few nervous laughs but mostly biting lips.  Because she has to work, she must work and impress and if she doesn't then what?  I thought it so incredibly strange, so much riding on this little doll, so many millions of dollars, so many executives waiting for the right kind of 'wow' from this poor piece of plastic with tangled hair.  

When my friend and colleague carried the doll away, she clutched it by the arm, disappointed, let it hang limp at her side, the way a little girl would carry her baby doll through the world.  It didn't concern me so much as make me laugh.  I mean, how wonderful is this stubborn little doll?  This finicky, tangled little thing with its sneaky forever smile who has a mind of her own.

Winner of Small Damages Giveaway!

The winner of a copy of Small Damages by Beth Kephart is:

The lovely and talented Catherine Denton! (whose beautiful blog I adore.) 

I hope that those of you who entered will seek the book out.  It's such a beautiful, special book.  And when you read it, we must chat. :)

Catherine please email me your mailing address! thistooblog (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

New York Young- Photo Inspiration for Writers

It should be no secret (and it isn't now) that I discreetly photograph people I find interesting in order to inspire character. Look at her Converse boots!  Her hair!  I love her and I do not know her!  

I store these pictures in a folder labelled 'characters'.   Since I snap them quickly, half of them are blurred, most of them are faceless, and some of them are of a single boot (I have a thing for boots) or the perfect bracelet that I think a character might wear.

So, you can imagine, when I discovered this beautiful photo project from New York Photographer Amy Touchette which features outstanding portraits of New York City teenagers, I was like a kid in a candy store, devouring these professional portraits like I had just received a passport to character inspiration nation. 

I find these photographs incredibly inspiring and I wanted to share them here for anyone writing teen characters.

According to the Cara Buckley of the New York Times:

Ms. Touchette shot most of the photos in summer 2011, prowling the streets of Manhattan and Williamsburg looking for adolescents who were, in her words, "visually urban" -- colorful, slightly attitudinal, and the clear products of New York.

Since I don't have permission to share Touchette's New York Young project on the blog, please clickety click here if you're looking for a little character inspiration.

Where do you find character inspiration?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Small Damages by Beth Kephart: A Giveaway!

So happy-happy (because sometimes it is not enough to say it once) to celebrate the release of Beth Kephart's new book Small Damages.

My thoughts on this beautiful book are here.

The New York Times Book Review gave it this gorgeous review.

Beth has been a great friend and teacher to me, in this writing life, in this life-life. Her books are also great friends and teachers. I like to keep them on my over-stuffed shelves. I learn so much from every sentence.  I can't wait for everyone to experience the beauty that is this book, Spain and its characters, life full to bursting.

I am giving away a copy of Small Damages to one lucky commenter.  I'll announce the winner on July 26th.  Just leave a comment below!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where Do You Go?

On this Road Trip Wednesday, YA Highway asks: When you need creative inspiration, where do you go?

I like the question because place is the largest driving force behind most of my writing. I have never taken a journey to find creative inspiration. I simply walk and live and, in doing that, I am inspired.

When I stepped back to think where that inspiration most often happens, I discovered that it is both near my home and near water.  I think I am still trying to understand why water sets my imagination free.  Maybe because it is vast and uncontrollable, difficult to keep, always moving, bending, emptying, swelling.  Maybe there is something within it I can not capture and so I try.

Below are some photos of the waters that inspire me. I am lucky to live just steps away from them.

So, where do you go?

New York Harbor (I live on the the Brooklyn waterfront)

Atlantic Ocean (from Coney Island)

The Gowanus Canal

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Forever Guessing

I live in a city I love very much but it can feel loud, crowded, plastered in concrete. Sometimes I am desperate for relief. I need to see some green.

I don't have a car and escaping to nearby quiet can turn into an epic journey. A 26 mile trip to my home town, with all its various modes of transport and transfers takes just over 2 hours.  Technically, a certain Kenyan can run there faster (Geoffrey Mutai's fastest marathon time is 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 2 seconds.)

So, in an effort to find the nature I crave, I have come to accept the travel time.  I wait on oppressively hot subway platforms, stick to greasy subway seats.  I take the Sunday Times and read it cover to cover.  I devour entire books.  I make it happen.

Today Tyler and I journeyed one and a half hours to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to hike its trails.  We crossed the breezy fields, passed a cricket team clad in crisp, white uniforms.  A haze of hamburger smoke hovered over three generation family barbecues. We made it to the hare and tortoise marked trail, crossed over the highway (yes, in New York City, hikes involve crossing highways) and found complete solitude. Quite possibly because no one else in their right minds would take a the a wet-blanket soup of weather.  But I am nothing if not determined.

As we approached the end of our here we go loop-de-loop, we were greeted with the best kind of sound. Not the call of birds or the scamper of deer but a sound unique to a city full of life.  In a mess of trees and raspberry bushes and runaway black-eyed-susans in pink: a band bursting with song.

I don't know any other city in the world that can boast hiking trails complete with live concerts.  It's why I love New York.  It's what keeps me forever guessing, never knowing what I'll find.

Last stop on the 1 train

Hazy cricket

The Hare and Tortoise Trail

Sun sparkle through these skinny trees

Proof New York City is not entirely concrete


Friday, July 13, 2012

Thoughts on Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

This is less a 'review' (though I feel very uncomfortable saying I review books so please know I use the term loosely) and more of a sigh or a clutch to the heart.  Or maybe just a come-here-listen because I only want to say what a beautiful book this is.

I'd copy every line, give it to you here, so you could have it too.  But I can't. And, I don't know, to give you just a few lines...  How could I choose?

I'll give you this anecdote instead.

I was fortunate to hear Tara Weikum, the editor of this book, speak at a conference earlier this year.  She claimed to not like historical fiction or novels in verse.  She was not looking for a book about war or about a refugee experience.  This novel came across her desk and she did not want to read it.

It took just a few lines for her to fall in love.  She had to convince a team of people to publish it.  She did.  And here we are.

I like that kind of story.  I like that we were given Thanhha Lai's story against all odds.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dream Job

I've been interviewing people these past few days at work.  I sit on one side of the table with my questions. They sit on the other wearing suits and ties (we are not an office of suits and ties.) I see their brains working in overdrive.  They wonder how to answer, what to say that will make them desirable. They hope to utter the right words.

When I ask a question, I am not fishing or leading. I want to know a person.  I want the truth.

I always ask: what do you really want to do?  What is your dream job? 

They think they'll be able to say what I want to hear.  It takes them a minute of stumbling and worrying to realize I simply want to know.  All of them, as it turns out, have dreams that are bigger than a space of 9-5.  A stand-up comic.  A DJ.  A writer.  

So, I learn there is a distinction.  There are dreams. And there are jobs.

I feel as if we are all being given the impossible task of dreaming elsewhere.  That we must get a job.  Then live a dream beyond that.  





Are we allowed dream jobs?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Inconvenience of Being

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been thinking a lot about the ways we are in touch with one another, the ways we connect. Through an email, a tweet, a call, a text.  It comes in and a choice is made. To respond immediately.  Or later.  Or never.  It has become easy to dismiss a person, to save them for another time, to have them when it is convenient.

I wonder about the permanence of sitting beside someone.  The possibility of silence.  A word that falls before I can catch it. The vulnerability of a me that can not be constructed.

As a writer, I always want to arrange story in a way that makes sense.  I never want to be a stutter, an interruption, a bother.  But I also know we can take one another to the river, at sunset, that we can stand beneath ribbons of color, and still not be kissed.

It is not convenient to love or be loved.

I'm fearful of convenience.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Learning How to Write

When I sit down to write I always want words, words, more words.

I don't know if it's because it's still so hot I can not move, sitting in front of this fan, next to the blue and green and brick of the window view, not wanting to get up, go anywhere, be anywhere, but, today, I forced myself to stop.  To sit and wonder and think it all through.

It's what I needed.  I sat.  I imagined. I thought of what could be, rather than obsessed over what is.

I feel like I don't know how to write and I'm learning every day.  Today I learned to imagine better, to stop fighting for words.

(And this is the view from where I'm learning. My writing/thinking/imagining spot. This is my tree.)

Thoughts On Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer

I had been waiting, impatiently, to fall in love with a book this summer and I fell for this one.  It's not the kind of book I can discuss with long, sprawling, passionate sentences. I have no desire to nudge my way through a deep analysis.

This book is, at its simplest, good writing and good story.  It's quirky.  It's sweet.  It's sad.

It's a book with a lot to say.  In the kind of way that a quiet person becomes fascinating the more you get to know them, the more you come to understand that they are sincere, genuine, kind.  The best way to describe it?  This book has heart. And I give you just one excerpt, from the main character, a most tender, loving, flawed but funny heroine, a girl named Apron:

At the door, I looked back at all those people I didn’t know and thought about how small your heart is but how big of a space it takes up. And how, even though you can’t see it, that heart space grows so quietly across a room or up some stairs into someone else’s living room, that even if you never step foot in it again, the air in there is changed forever.

Another reason I loved this book is because it reminds me of a musical I have always loved and wanted to see but it came and went many years ago: the Tony Award Winning Falsettos by James Lapine and William Finn.  I am in love with the soundtrack and this cast of quirky characters.

Like Girl Unmoored, it features a group of people trying to find their way through love and loss during during the early 1980's and the first recognized cases of AIDS in the US.  And in each, there is a bright, beautiful young person who puts things into perspective for everyone.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Belonging Still

For a long time, I had been looking for my beautiful piano teacher, Mrs. Lance. I went on exhaustive internet searches that came up empty. Her blue shingled house had been sold.  Her phone number no longer in service.  I had tracked people down on Facebook, students I had known but not really, kids at end-of-year recitals whose parents my mother would run into at the market while I stood bored and annoyed as they chatted.  I sent these strangers messages, do you know where she is?  The reply, always the same: No.  But I am wondering too.

A few weeks ago, I was in my parents home and I mentioned my search.  My father, in a that-reminds-me-moment, went into the other room and handed me a book.  He had found it while cleaning out the garage.  Weep No More My Lady by Mary Higgins Clark.  A tattered, yellowed cover, and on the inside, scrawled in pencil, J. Lance.  

I have no recollection of her loaning it to me.  I can not imagine that she meant for me to keep it, with the way her name had been so deliberately and proudly written, there was no doubt that the pages belonged to her.  When I find her, I'll give it back to her, I thought.

So the news, from my mother, that she had run into E. did I remember her?  And of course, I could not forget E. nearly six feet tall at thirteen years old with her wild hair and crooked glasses who played piano and sang songs she had composed herself, one strange song in particular, I Can Fly, which we always remembered because she sang it at the top of her lungs, soaring boldly and confidently to non-existent, off-key notes.  The news that my mother had run into her and learned that Mrs. Lance had died three years ago comes at me with such a strange and terrible pow.  The permanence of her disappearance just doesn't seem possible.

Her children took the piano, my mother told me.  And truly, this seemed like the most important information, the biggest reassurance, that the piano had not been snatched at some estate sale, had not been left on the street to be taken away.  That it belonged to them, to her, still.

I can think of no greater gift than music. Not the talent for it.  Not even the sound of it.  I mean, the love of it. To be shown that, given that, I am forever grateful.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: A Pair

When I was in San Sebastian Spain, I came across these twins, one boy, one girl, who reminded me of 'my' twins in Brooklyn.  I walk with them every morning to the subway.  They go to school. I go to work.  We walk at the same time every day.

What a strange and perfect balance.

(Insert transition here)

Happy Independence Day to those in the states. :)

San Sebastian Twins

Brooklyn Twins

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Easy Summer

So much time in New York City is frantic, over-programmed.  I am not a huge planner. So I often get left behind.  There are times when I email or call a friend and say how about dinner this weekend? Then, I am given their calendar, the dates they have available, oh not this weekend but maybe 6 weeks from now?

It's not rude or even surprising.  It's something I've grown accustomed to, living in a place where calendars are important, where every hour is an hour to fill.  (And I'll admit there have been periods in my life where I have done the same.)

Of course, Tyler and I are in a phase where we only plan our day the morning it is about to unfold and we often find ourselves in the predicament above. 

On Saturday, however, something wonderful happened.  I had known one of my favorite friends would be in town from Boston to see a musical with her family but timing was unclear, so we hadn't made plans, and the day before, we decided we'd meet at Grand Central, we'd wander from there.

Another favorite friend had told us to stop by, the same day, to see their beautiful baby girl, who came into the world 5 weeks ago (5 weeks too early, in fact-- aha! babies don't like calendars either!) 

And, as all this took place, a text from more favorite friends: we'll be in your neighborhood, want to meet for a drink?

It never happens.  But it did.  So we skipped around and saw some of the best people we know.  

It felt a lot like being at Rosemary's house, my mother's cousin, who I adored more than almost anyone in the world, who always let us stop by, unannounced, and people floated in and out while I sat in one of her wooden kitchen chairs drinking sweet iced tea, eating crumb cake, with everyone laughing, telling loud stories.

When you were at Rosemary's it always felt like being at the best party because you didn't know there was going to be a party at all.

So I think of Rosemary and summer and friends and post these two photos. I took the first in winter.  I took the second on Saturday.  Look at the difference.

Saturday was summer, feeling the way it should.  Sun-soaked. Green. Easy.  Like running out the screen door, jumping the three steps to the grass, racing down the street, banging a fist on the door of a friend's house, wanna play?