Thursday, August 23, 2012

Love Here

I'm taking a short break from the blog and will return in September, after Labor Day.

I'm sorry I won't be at all of your blogs to visit and send my love, so I hope you'll know that the love is here if not there and I'll return soon. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Afters

I had been pushing so hard to finish my work in progress this summer.  I wanted to be ready for fall, my favorite season, with its crisp air and the kind of blue sky that isn't trapped above a summer haze.

For some reason, my rhythm still operates on an academic schedule.  September nudges closer and I want to be new.  Like the school clothes, the empty notebooks, the just-sharpened pencils, their shavings in a curlicue.  I want to be rid of everything that came before and take off with all the afters.

Early this month, as I saw September rise up, I pushed late into the night, forced words that began to hate me for thrusting them on crowded pages.  I kept pretending it was possible to finish, all the while knowing it was not.

It was a good little run, that kind of denial, but now I know it's not possible.  I'll have to take this novel into fall.  Heck, who am I kidding?  Chances are you're going to find me making snow angels with this ratty manuscript still hidden in my puffy coat.

Sometimes I think writing is a race.  I think I'm losing.  As I wander through the blogosphere, I can't help but think all these writers are going to sleep early and waking up late and, somehow, in the time they were dreaming, they managed to write 80,000 words.  Truly.  It looks that miraculous from here.

They're winning, I think. I'm going to come in last.  Dead last.

I know it's not true.  I know their successes are not miracles.  I know it's not a race.  I know I'm too caught up in their afters: their finished first drafts, their multiple offers of agent representation, their book deals, their cover reveals.  I know that when I have all of these things, I will just get caught up in the next round: their sales, their reviews, their signings, their speaking engagements.

I used to write because it was the best place to be heard without having to speak, because I had to know the story that was in me, because it was so much fun I didn't know how to stop.  I never wrote to reach the end.

I've decided I want to write like that again. I want to walk into fall and remember what it was like before I knew what they had or what I wanted.  I'm going to write like there is no after at all.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Time I Ate Gator

I spent the weekend in Jacksonville, Florida where I was taken to Clark's Fish Camp.

There is nothing I love more than kitsch and Clark's is rumored to have the largest private collection of taxidermy in the nation.  I was in heaven upon walking in the door.  

I could have eaten yak, crocodile, llama...even python.  There were choices to be made. Fried. Or chargrilled.  Did I prefer gator tail, toe, or rib?

I settled on gator tail.  It tasted a lot like chicken.  

I enjoyed eating it amidst the twinkling lights underneath a canopy of stuffed animal skin.

I was not kidding.

I really was not kidding.

Fried gator tail.

This one time, in Jacksonville, I ate your friend.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eleven Questions and the Song of You

The lovely Faith Elizabeth Hough tagged me in an Eleven Questions Game and I liked her questions so I went for it.

What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?

It's very difficult for me to pick favorites. Particularly when it comes to ice cream.  I love the fresh taste of Mint Chocolate Chip. I love a basic Chocolate. But, there is something about a pure, perfect vanilla that makes me happiest.

What book do you wish you were a character in?

I have always wanted to know Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables and be her bosom buddy. I have wanted to live on Prince Edward Island, hang out in Marilla and Matthew's kitchen, walk with Gilbert and Diana from school.  I want to know that entire community.

White, dark, or milk chocolate?


Would you rather be a coal miner or a skyscraper window washer?

Skyscraper window washer.  Even though I'm not a huge fan of heights, it would not be as debilitating for me to climb high as it would be for me to end up in a dark, cramped space for an extended period of time.  I also love sun.

If you were an American in the late 1700's, which side would you have taken in the Revolution?
No taxation without representation, yo.

What writing tool would it be hard for you to live without?
This is going to sound crazy hands. I think I would be able to live without a lot of different tools. But I can not, for the life of me, tell a logical story out loud.  I would never be able to dictate a story to someone and have it make any sense. (I apologize to any of you who have had to listen to me tell a story at a dinner party.)

What song best describes you or the way you see the world?
Bob Dylan's 'I'll Keep It With Mine'.  The lyrics mean everything to me. It doesn't describe me but it is how I wish I could be.  It's how I think the world can be seen.

What's your favorite first sentence from a book?
To be honest, I don't have any memory of exact sentences.  I don't have a favorite sentence at all.

If you could get on a plane for a month long vacation tomorrow, where would you go?
I think Japan. Yes.  Or Australia. Or Thailand. Or Peru. Or...

Do you outline your stories?
What's an outline?  ;)

Would you rather live in a palace by the sea or a cottage in the woods?
What an impossible choice.  Certainly a cottage over a palace.  But I love trees and I love the ocean.  A cottage in a wooded area near the sea?  Yes.

I always feel strange about tagging others (I'm weird) but I am in love with Faith's question: What song best describes you or the way you see the world?  I'd love to hear your answers for that, if you feel so inclined.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mash Ups!

I wanted to blog today but felt jumbled in thought.  Oh gosh. So many thoughts.  I can't keep them straight.  I feel tired of throwing up a picture in this space.  Tired of trying to say something when there doesn't seem to be anything that makes sense inside me to say.

Since I can't seem to string thoughts together with any cohesion, I give you a Mash Up.

Today, I turned to one of my best friends, Lynn, in one of our never-ending email exchanges.  I asked her for a blog topic. Going back to school, she suggested. And I couldn't seem to conjure up any logical story.  No nervous anticipation or getting a first day of school outfit or waiting for the bus or blah blah blah sigh-y new beginning waah waah.

Lynn had a story.  Of her first day of Kindergarten.  Every child cried hysterically and then ended up pictured on the front page of the Syracuse newspaper.  One child, poor J. was, apparently, front and center in his ugly hysterics, and never lived it down. That made me think of the possible headline.  The Terrors of Kindergarten! And that made me laugh.

I learned today that the whistle in Donna Summers 'Bad Girls' is called a samba whistle. And now I think I need one because I want to toot toot and beep beep my way through life.

In order to get in a certain mind frame for writing more, more, more, (and more!) toy scripts, I felt I had to listen to Melanie Safka's 'Brand New Key' on repeat. You know the song:

Oh, I got a brand new pair of rollerskates
You got a brand new key

The lyric I love:

I ride my bike, I rollerskate, don't drive no car
Don't go too fast, but I go pretty far

For somebody who don't drive, I been all around the world
Some people say I done all right for a girl  

I just love that (especially the last line.)  I think I could write an entire book about that girl.  Maybe I will.

And speaking of people who have done all right for being girls... my favorite Mash Up ever from the show I gave up because it made me crazy:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Campus In the Rain

Sometimes I click to see the live view of the Cornell University campus. Today, I see that the sky is vaguely pink. That the sun skids past cloud and hits McGraw Tower.  A figure walks the path and disappears and my August heart aches to follow.

It rains in Ithaca. A lot. And, yet, I don't remember how it felt to clutch an umbrella on the brink of Libe slope.  I don't remember the slosh of rainboots or socks hung to dry.  I remember cold, sure. The way it itched at my scarf and left us raw.  I remember the sun's stammer, how we clung to its brief note.  But Ithaca, in its steady, constant, reliable stretch of rain. This, I don't remember.  This, I never see.

Cornell as I see it

Monday, August 13, 2012

Loving Lately

Every Monday the lovely Catherine Denton shares what she is Loving Lately and she is encouraging others to do the same. I love the idea and she inspired me to go for it.  I hope you'll hop over to her blog and share a link to what you love too. 

So here's what I'm loving lately:

Lil A. My friends daughter, who, at three months old, took her first subway ride to visit our home.  I love that she is soft and warm and new.  I love her mother-- and her father-- but especially her mother because we lived as roommates for years. We knew one another when we hoped to have the things we have now. And I know how lucky Lil A is to have her.

New York City. For making me angry and sweaty and overwhelmed. For being louder and more crowded than I like. For inspiring me to look harder, discover deeper. For being more beautiful and alive than I can ever imagine.

Summer. For being purple. Vibrant. Green.  

What are you loving lately?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Stack to Read

This is the stack (well, one of many stacks) at my bedside table. My mind has been much clearer in recent weeks. So I've been reading a lot and I'm hungry for more books.  I'm excited to see what these bring.  

I took this photograph yesterday, so I've already finished David Levithan's Every Day.  It has such an incredible and inventive premise (From the cover: Every day a different body.  Every day a different life.  Every day in love with the same girl.)  A premise that, in my opinion, would send any imagination soaring.  I had to know where Levithan would take it.  This book requires a steadfast suspension of disbelief (admittedly, I wavered a bit) but it did absorb me.  It surprised me. It made me think.  

What are you reading?

Friday, August 10, 2012


This is our friends' daughter, Little A, at the Central Park Zoo.  Truly amazed by all winged creatures. Birds. Penguins. Even bats.  Her face in total awe.  She looks at the world and it is new to her.  

Following her example, I look closer and decide it should be new to me.

I think, this is how I should write, as if I've never seen anything. As if I'm looking at the world for the very first time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Embracing Imperfection

Today, I read this post from Jamie Catto on the Intimacy of Imperfection and felt as if I had been set free.

Catto suggests that it's not imperfection that is unattractive to others but the shame that comes from these imperfections.

These past few weeks (months? years? lifetimes?), I have struggled with, obsessed over, the idea of perfection.  Most recently, I've been overly concerned about it in the online space. I've felt as if I have to constantly revise myself. Every sentence, every word.  I've been very worried that the 'me' I'm presenting to the world is not the right kind of me. With this blog, my twitter and Facebook and email accounts, I have been given too many opportunities to delete, edit, and second-guess. 

How refreshing to step back, to understand that it's not the 'terrible' me I have to hide (for I am quite terrible) but the fear behind it that I have to shed.

So, I'll start small.  I'll start with a photograph on this (not-so) Wordless Wednesday.  There I was at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with my point and shoot camera, pretending to be a photographer, trying to capture this dragonfly.  There I was, whining to myself that I did not have a good enough camera with an expensive lens, that I did not have an art background, years of photography classes, or even a basic knowledge of light.  There I was, crabby and pissed and stubborn but determined to take a picture of these delicate wings.

And what happened when I, finally, after snapping two hundred photos, captured that dragonfly in the right position, without it being blurred or shadowed or obstructed or just plain bad?

There was a freaking sign in the background.

To imperfection.  I start here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thinking of Marvin Hamlisch and Melody as Memory

With the news of composer Marvin Hamlisch's death, I am thinking of his song What I Did For Love.  It's a song I played over and over and over on my piano. The lyrics (by Edward Kleban) are beautiful.  But it is the piano intro, the steady porch swing quality of those early repeating notes-- that later come back to haunt again-- that is caught inside me.

It's interesting, the way music stays with you, how its rhythm becomes your rhythm. I always find it strange that you can hear a song in your head.  All of us can do it.  But how is it possible to hear without hearing?  How does melody replay itself as memory? 

It's been a while since I shared the Linda Eder love.

In memory of the people who give us the remarkable gift of song.

Monday, August 6, 2012

How to Discuss the Books We 'Hate'

For a long time, I've been struggling with how to write about books on this blog.  I would never call myself a 'book blogger' (though I do blog about books) and I would never call myself a 'reviewer' because I am still in an exploratory phase, trying, as I have been for years, to understand what a book review actually is (I am no closer to an answer.)

In deciding how far I wanted to take the discussion of books on my blog, I set rules for myself: 

1. I will never label a post about a book 'a review'.
2. In an effort never to be obligated to anyone anywhere, I will not accept review copies of a book. (Admittedly, I have broken this rule and it's getting really difficult to keep because I receive email pitches daily and sometimes I do want to read the book...) 
3. I will only share thoughts of books I love (or think are especially well-written.)

And the only reason that I had to set these rules for myself is because of these pitches, which I began to receive, seemingly out of no where, about a year ago.

Number three is the rule I feel most strongly about.  I see no reason to talk about books I dislike or even find mediocre on this particular blog. Since I eschew the label of 'book review blog' I feel no need to balance my blog with 'good' and 'bad' reviews (because, you see, they are not reviews.) 

And there are reasons beyond that.  Since the readers of this blog are predominantly writers, I go back to the thoughts of a screenwriting professor I once had in film school who said that we can't learn to write well by reading things that are poorly written.  Why would we ever watch bad films and spend hours talking about them?  What a waste of time. We're learning.

And then I go back to nursery school where I learned that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all.

However, 'niceness' in online book culture has been receiving quite a bit of scrutiny in virtual conversation.  And, for once, the discussion is not just about book reviewers writing about books, it is also about writers writing about books. 

Jacob Silverman wrote about The Epidemic of Niceness in Online Book Culture for Slate. Cally Jackson wonders Are We Jeopardising the Indie Book Industry By Being 'Nice'?

Lev Grossman meditates on the despair that comes from hating a book in this enjoyable piece I Hate This Book So Much: A Meditation.

And in a very charming 'By the Book' interview in the New York Times Book Review, author J. Courtney Sullivan said, "I would sooner eat glass than hurt feelings," when asked if she could name a book that disappointed her.

As someone who is still regretful about a comment I left on a blog over a year ago where I spoke poorly about a particular book and writer, the thought of publicly writing about books I dislike leaves me just as unsettled as Sullivan.

But I do wonder how important it is to the online literary community to write about the books we despise. Silverman implores us to 'think more and enthuse less':

A better literary culture would be one that's not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic. We wouldn't want so badly to be liked above all. We'd tolerate barbed reviews, some quarrels, and blistering critiques, because they make our culture more interesting and because they are often more sincere reflections of our passions.

In person and through email, I am ruthless when it comes to books.  I rant endlessly to friends about a book I wanted to throw across the room. I would never do that in this space.  Why?

I still believe in a culture of 'nice' on this blog.  I can't imagine it ever becoming something other than a space to recommend and learn from the beauty of the best books, rather than the ugly of the worst.

But I do wonder what we might lose by being nice?  Since 'best' and 'worst' are subjective is there not a natural balance out there anyway? And what does it say about ourselves that we are so fearful to publicly critique?

How private should the discussion be when it comes to the books we 'hate'?


Friday, August 3, 2012

Up and Down

The kind of day metaphor becomes real life.

This morning, I needed to ride the elevator to my office, to floor two.  Before I knew it, I was at floor six and down again. But it did not stop.  Up and down.  Up and down. To floor six and down again.  The doors did not open, the ride did not stop, and the people I shared this elevator with, who I had not given a second glance, became people.

One woman with a thick Australian accent who claimed she might be sick.  Another with beautiful, rainbow tattoos sliding up and down both arms, who turned to humor So this is the kind of day it's going to be, she said with a nervous laugh.  The other who was not going to tolerate this under any circumstances, who threatened to push any button she could, something bright red with an X.  Please don't,  I begged. A girl with huge, thick glasses and wild hair who said not a single word.

So we agreed to press the alarm only (not the bright red button with an X!) and I became the spokesperson, speaking to the booming elevator voice of God (or the security guy in the lobby) We'd like to stop, I said, On any floor.  Preferably the first.  

We continued to ride. Up and down. We passed every floor, then passed it again in reverse. I had not expected a Coney Island elevator ride this morning.  No, I did not.

We were let out eventually.  I am grateful for that. My head is still dizzy.  And I am thinking about what it means to be caught in an endless up and down, waiting for somebody, anybody, to let me out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On The City

This morning, the morning subway commute was less crowded than I am used to. I stepped on to find a little girl in a wildflower pink and purple dress.  She had huge blue eyes. Pink arm warmers wrinkled to her elbows. Dozens of light brown braids were fastened with rainbow crystal hair ties.

"We are on the city," she told her mother.

"In the city," she corrected.

"We are in the city, Gilly Gil!" She called out, fanned her arms, spun around the metal pole.  She paced the small space, back and forth, babbled incessantly, like a song. The rush of crescendo.  The whispering, skipping little notes.  She spoke to herself, to her mother, to the train, to this Gilly Gil, whoever Gilly Gil might be, until suddenly she marched up to me.

"We are in the city," she said. Her severe stare, such a sharp focus, so determined. "We are on the bus, the plane, the car."

"Or the train." I smiled.

"The B Train!" She shouted, sent her arms soaring to the ceiling.

"The F Train," her mother corrected.

"To the Central Park zoo!"

"To camp, actually," her mother said.

"Or the zoo."

"Not the zoo."

And again, that stare.  How did her mother handle this stare?  Day in, day out, this blazing blue, turned grey, turned cold, turned certain.  She was defiant.  "We are on the city."

I wondered, what she was trying to sort out in her Dr. Seuss riddled way.  Being in a city, on a train, going to a zoo, or not a zoo, speaking to me, a stranger, or to this invisible (or perhaps not so invisible) Gilly Gil.  How strange and, at the same time, wonderful, to be caught up in a trick of semantics, trying to place herself somewhere.