Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Are You Writing?

I do not like this question.

I fumble and falter when asked what I'm writing. I try to scrape together the plot from all the frayed pieces that never seem to make the right leap from heart to head to lips. I leave the conversation red-faced and hot-eared and all armpit-sweaty.  The only thing I really want to say is I'm sorry I'm a writer. I'm sorry I've got this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book in me but if I buy you a cookie, will you still be my friend?

I don't know.  This question.  This what are you writing question. It makes me bridge jumpy.  I think I would rather hold up an excuse me for one minute finger, apologize to a tree, print out the 300 page novel itself, and place it in confused hands before I ever answer this question.  Then I could say: This.  This is what I'm writing. Have a lovely afternoon. 

Before a conference, where the answer to this inevitable question is far more significant than it is at an awkward dinner party, I sat on my couch, late into the night, practicing the answer.  Out loud. I repeated it to the window, the desk, the bookshelf. Over and over. I had a one-sentence pitch. I had a two-sentence pitch. I had a few-sentence pitch.

This, I decided, is how people with extreme social anxiety, people who have not yet kissed the legendary Blarney Stone, must get through a writing life.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New York Alive

Chinatown is bustle and movement and wind-swept red. It's my favorite neighborhood in Manhattan. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I used to write in the dark as if it were a secret.  I used to write without wondering what the words would mean to anyone else.  Long, wandering stories that dipped and ran and swelled. I'd swagger in the breeches of revolutionary soldiers. I lay in moon-lit meadows, my tears stroking the blood-soaked fur of wolves.

I'd seen nothing beyond the concrete streets of my suburban childhood. I daydreamed in the coat closets of classrooms.  I didn't know war and the kicked-up dirt beneath the swingset was my only meadow.  Fribbles was a hamster we kept in the basement and I'd teach him acrobatic tricks as he hung from the rungs of number two pencils. But I knew I was a child of musketed revolutions, of forests and wood and rain-stained bark.  I knew, even with my stomach on the buckling rug, with my hair draped next to the bed's dust-ruffle as I scribbled, that I spoke the language of wolves.

Somewhere along the way I lost all knowing.

Many people think I write a lot.  Even though most of my work remains unpublished, many friends know I have drafts and pages and dark-circled rings beneath my eyes from writing late into each night.  What they don't know is all I don't write, all I am too fearful to say, all the stories I will not try to put to a page because I question them, shake my finger at them, trample them before they can even get there. And what I don't know has become too vast and overwhelming.  It cripples me.

Every part of me wishes to be the girl who knew how to stand on the soaring cliffs she'd never before seen and look down anyway.  Every morning, I think, maybe today I'll be brave enough to write all I can't.  Every night, I whisper to a burst of star I no longer see, how did you know? 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thoughts on The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I'm grateful to the ever-lovely Amy Sonnischsen  for letting me know about Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child. This book kept me reading late into the night and had me obsessively reflecting early the next morning.

The story is about a childless couple, Jack and Mabel.  They build a child out of snow.  The next morning, their creation is gone.  But a child of the woods, who calls herself Faina, finds her way to them.

It's a simple tale, based on a fairytale in fact, but not so straight-forward because it is rendered with a veiled simplicity.  The story is as harsh and beautiful as the wild Alaskan landscape Ivey paints. She walks a thin, ice-crack line between magic and realism.  It wind-soars with the beauty of childhood itself, then reminds us how fleeting childhood truly is.  Questions haunt and linger, keep our hearts beating with wonder. What is real? What is imagined?  Does it matter, really, in the end?

This book, for me, was magic. Some books create a stirring within me, a whisper in my heart. I wish I had written this, I think.  It's not jealousy. It's a feeling hard to express. An ache that says, if only this book were mine, not just as I read it or hold it or think of it tomorrow or next year or forever. But if it were inherently mine.  I felt that way about this book.

I read The Snow Child before and after a snowy hike of my own.  When I reached the peak and turned around, there was, I kid you not, a little rose-cheeked girl with white-blonde hair sitting in the snow.  She leaned against a birch tree.  She held a sandwich in her tiny hands. She was chaperoned, of course.  Not the wild wood creature I wanted to imagine.  But I couldn't believe the strange and wonderful way this book had come true for me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snow Hike

I had an extraordinary weekend hiking up to the clouds in the Catskills. I had never hiked through snow before but it turned out to be one of the most beautiful, satisfying hikes I had ever been on.  When I reached the peak, all breathless and red-cheeked, the trees were bare, the sky was blue, and the snow was a perfect, untouched white.  I didn't feel cold at all. 

These ferns were so pleased with themselves.  Like two miniature trees in an open field. I don't know that I've ever seen snow so soft and pure. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

I Hope You'll Read This

I don't know what else to say except that it's rare I find a post that speaks to me the way this post from Stephanie at Read In A Single Sitting spoke to me. I hope you'll read it and share it:  

The Story Girl and Anne: or why we need more quiet books

If you don't read the intelligent thoughts that come before this excerpt, at least know that the piece ends here:

Not all readers read to escape, nor do they necessarily read in order to live vicariously as action heroes. Sometimes readers read to identify, to make a friend who’ll remain with them forever, and to be charmed. Sometimes they want to be able to read a book that gives them the space that they need to think about the questions posed by the book, and to answer them themselves.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New York Alive

I've walked past this blackened window, each day, for years.  Tonight, for the first time, the lights were on, and I found these leaning frames, a backwards canvas, and one sideways sculpture.  It felt a bit like magic to walk the same sidewalk, to look up and see.  How had I not known?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Crowded Subway

I'm on a crowded subway, clutching a heavy book that requires two hands not one, but where to place my fingers?  On the warm metal pole, or balance, maybe lean, against a door or a railing where the puff of a stranger's coat already peaks through.

I'm lost in rolling sentences, in the rain of words, and my scarf is warm, too warm, for the scratchy wool on one side of me and that backpack strap slapping at my wrists, with my messenger bag smashed between her angry stare and the dull hum of his headphones.

When she comes on, I'm pushed by someone else and then I'm flailing, slipping from the grip of memory where the period had nudged up against a space. I wonder which word had come before it, which might come next, because suddenly the page is a mash of words I have to puzzle together, like the time I lost a fluttering bookmark to the water on the tracks and there went my place.

She talks of the goodness of God and I would mind it if she was yelling, like the others do, but she's just talking, like we're listening. She likes a crowded train, she says, and God is still good, and maybe that's where I've found the extra o, the roundness of it, in the sentence I have had to let go of, because the train has tossed me again, and my hands are tight to the crinkled binding of the book, not at the slip-away railing, where they should be, and as I falter, then find footing between one crooked-heeled boot and a tattered shoelace, she says, It's okay. You can fall on me.

And, usually, I wouldn't say a word, not so early in the morning, not to someone basketball squeak dribbling, dribbling about the goodness of God but she's just talking, like I'm listening, just that way, so I say, and I don't know why I do, I say, Thank you.

You can fall on me, she says again. I've got nowhere to go.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A New Movement

I've had to slow down in recent weeks, due to an injured foot that is almost completely healed.  Against better judgement, I did take the ten minute walk to the subway each day (don't tell the doctor, don't you dare.)  But I couldn't ride my bike or go to the farmers market or spend my weekends, as I always do, exploring by foot.  My evenings could not be spent, as they always are, running or spinning with Dominique, my tell-it-like-it-is, funny, wild-haired co-worker, gym buddy, and friend, who has recently announced what I've known would be coming, she's found new work and our nightly trips to the gym will end soon, anyway, regardless of my silly, holding us both back, foot.

The walks I love to take have been replaced with staring out my writing window.  From my spot, with my legs flung over the arm of the small blue couch I held on to and lugged from my old studio apartment, I have seen the way the sun hits the silver buildings of downtown Manhattan.  I have watched the way they reflect and burn orange, then melt towards dusky pink.

The office of my day job has moved to a new floor and light pours in from windows now and if I lift up just slightly from my chair, for the first time, I can see right over the new cubicle walls. I can make out the bump of Bert's headphones and I realize, besides Bert forcing me out of the house to drink beers on the beach with him in Coney Island or sending me off some late Saturday night to a strange warehouse or cavernous bunker to watch him DJ,  he and I have talked, every day, through the old walls, for years.  And now they are gone.

So, without the biking, tread-milling, walking, I have been sitting and reading and writing and thinking.  I have been looking out through windows and over walls and I've accepted that things are different.  I've tried to imagine my own new altar in which to stand.  I have dreamt of so many new possibilities.  In just a few days, some beautiful opportunities have been given to me, as if by magic, and as I cautiously whisper and wish for them, no matter where they lead, I feel a shift.  I have slowed down enough to see that things can change and I want to be part of a new movement of me.

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's Not What We Create But What We Share?

Something I've been thinking about.

This: At a publishing conference I attended in November, a panelist said that people used to create funny content and this is what made them 'funny'.  A recent shift has shown a new psychology. People now share funny content that someone else created and this is what makes them 'funny'.  For some Madlibs fun replace the adjective with 'smart' 'thoughtful', etc.

I've got to tell you all.  This just about. Blew. My. Mind. 

I've noticed the shift. In others. In myself. I see in my facebook and twitter feeds less and less original content, a greater impulse to 'share' or 'retweet'.  I see people commenting less and 'liking' or 'favorite-ing' more.  I wonder what this means.  Is there just so much content and information out there that we see no room for more? Are we less secure in our words, our thoughts, our ideas?  Simply pressed for time? Is who we are no longer tied to what we create but what we share?

I've become hyperaware. I've thought, perhaps, I should scroll through fewer photos, take more of my own. Make a video instead of consume one.  I'm worried, I think, is what I'm saying.  Are you?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Quartet

The first long work I ever wrote (a screenplay) took place on these waters. It was the fate of the computer Gods that I lost everything I'd ever written between a five year period, including the backup to the backup, so I have no physical proof that the dozen drafts of this story ever existed.

Still, I think of the characters often.  My memory has erased a lot of extraneous plot. What I have left inside me is only a set of two homes, side by side on this harbor.  Inside one: two friends who come from very different backgrounds.  Inside the other: two sisters who do not leave.

When I saw these twin trees, the stillness of these unbreakable waters, I thought of this quartet of characters, how they wait for me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reading In the New Year

Though we're days into the new year, I am still thinking about my last year in books and how I plan to move forward in this one. I have never felt right creating a best-of list because books touch me in such a deep, personal way.  I take the time to reflect on certain books on this blog and still feel that I can not express what they mean to me.  Others I prefer to keep only in my heart. I could never pit them against one another, arrange them before or after or in between. So, I'm not reflecting in that way.  But I do want to learn from my reading habits and move ahead.

Last year, I made the decision to leave many books unfinished. I don't know whether this is good or bad.  I used to push myself through a book until I came out the other side.  Sometimes, I'd be truly grateful I did.  Last year, I didn't leave that option.

Still, I've decided to carry this habit forward with me in 2013.  It sounds like such a minor allowance but, for someone who often creates obligations where they don't exist, it actually provides relief. Oh, I don't like this book?  I don't have to read it!  Such a simple thing...but you can't imagine how long it took for me to get to that place.

Last year, I read just seven non-fiction books (all but one was memoir.)  I've decided to change that this year.  I'm dreaming a new novel and I'm just not smart enough to write it.  It's going to require a lot of research and I hope to find the right kind of narrative to take me away.  First up: The Big Oyster: History On the Half Shell.    

I also took a bit of a drastic step in my reading life this year.  I deleted my to-read list.  It had become too overwhelming and, last year, I spent a lot of time reading books and feeling as if the pleasure was not in the read but the fact that I had simply checked it off.  It just didn't feel right.  I'm starting new.

My final thought is about books and this blog.  I have struggled to understand how I want to write about books in this space.  Since I don't consider this a book review blog, I made the decision last year to write only about books I, didn't merely like, but, loved.  (It should be noted that I don't write about every book I love because of my inability to express that love.) Sometimes I highlighted books I didn't love but appreciated for a certain style or structure or theme.  I plan to continue that way this year.  And I hope to make a proper distinction between the head-over-heels kind of books and those that impressed me for other reasons.

Do you have any reading goals for the new year?

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thoughts on Out Of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I had held on to Out of the Easy, kept it in a too-large pile for too-many months, and as I made my way through the toppling stack, I finally reached this jungle green cover and packed it in my suitcase for the holiday.

It seems I (mistakenly) hid it from myself for far too long.  I started reading on the last day of my trip and from the minute I started I didn't want to stop.  I had to race through in fits and starts because there were all of these family obligations and cookies to be eaten and I felt the way I feel on those bad work days when I just want to crawl under my desk and cry very dramatically, Whyyyy? Whyyy will no one just let me read?

I tell you all this for a very specific reason.  Because the final wah-wah-stop-when-I-don't-want-to-stop came when I boarded the plane home.

I don't read on the plane.  Most bibliophiles, they love the plane.  They read multiple books on the plane and are all gleeful with their neck pillows and overhead lights.  Not me. On a plane, I become sulky, motion-sick, dramamine addicted, try-to-stay-zen so I don't barf.

Words. Printed words. While soaring. They make me sick.

I am here to tell you. I read this book on a plane.

As in, the plane was taking off, and I would rather throw up than stop reading this book.

As in, I was experiencing vertigo, and my hands were so clammy I think I stained the cover, and I did not want to stop reading this book.

I know you come to this blog looking for deep thoughts and analysis (humor me) and I'll say there's an extraordinary sense of place in this book, sparse but crisply purposeful sentences, a world of characters and plot lines that move together in both measured and syncopated cajun dance, and a heroine you love for being practical and hard-nosed and still idealistic enough to yearn.  I hungered for these characters in many ways. I wanted to be with them and read their stories when I couldn't.  And I wanted for them what I, always, want for myself, for everyone.  To dream bigger and bolder than we should, to go farther than anyone ever expected.

But, quite honestly, the greatest endorsement I can give this book? I read it on a plane.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tall Dreams, Trees and the New Year

I think it's impossible to capture the grandeur of an oak tree in a photograph.  You'll have to trust me. These tangled branches of the Cummer Oak in Jacksonville, Florida are far-reaching.  They extend towards blue and they plunge back into the earth, root themselves where they began. 

Trees are my favorite, favorite. I love them.  The way they reach, it's like racing towards a dream.  A kind of restless hunger.  I have it too.  

It's a new year and, like the goddess statue below, my hunt points toward the moon.  I've never been good at resolutions so I make only one each year.  Some years I meet the goal.  Some years I don't. But, each year, January comes and I make it mine again:

Write a book.

It's my forever-goal. It's my version of dreaming.  

Happy New Year to all my friends here.  Keep your dreams tall.