Modern Love

My husband does not own a cell phone. This is no Luddite, holier-than-thou holdout. He doesn’t need one, he insists, case closed.  He has a two-line phone for his business and only recently made a big technological leap, from an old-fashioned answering machine (the tape was beginning to crackle) to the state-of-the-art answering services provided by Verizon. Anyone wants to reach him when he’s out of the office doing errands, tough luck.  I forget something on the list of grocery items I gave him, too bad. He has nothing kind to say about drivers on their cell phones, except that they’re accidents waiting to happen.  The proof is in the telling, a woman who shot past him in her SUV, into the left-turn lane at an intersection, cell phone glued to her ear, a near-miss with an oncoming car. He bristles if a cell phone rings in a restaurant (I don’t like it myself). And yet . . .

My daughter and I switched to AT&T so she could get her first iPhone a few years ago, now we both have them. I couldn’t help myself. It’s that encroaching technology thing. Or do I mean enticing? My first cell phone was basic, no frills, family plans making two phones (almost) more economical than a single-user plan, especially with my daughter going off to college;  next came the picture phone (like, why not, even if I almost never used it?).  Texting took me some time to get a handle on. Then there was the simple question – do I really want to be that available 24/7? – which turned itself into a twisted logic, Mad Men doing what they do best: you need a cell phone, I’m told. Just in case.

Need? My husband smirks. We did just fine, maybe even better, before cell phones, thank you very much. He thinks my daughter calls too much. Only when she needs me, I explain. (Let me say it again, need.) It makes him edgy, the beep of a text message while we’re watching a TV show or movie.  When do we let go?

All of which places me smack in the middle of a modern-day love triangle. I love my tech-wary husband, he’s the one I live with. I love my tech-savvy daughter, so far and still so near.

My husband believes that cell phones will be the downfall of civilization. He is convinced that dependency on cell phones is going to backfire one day, turn us into a nation of nervous wrecks. Watching him use mine, when we’re in the car together and a friend of his (or our daughter) really really really needs (ha!) to talk to him, is always good for a laugh. He speaks loudly into it, as if it’s more toy than phone.

My daughter e-mails me a list of must-have apps for my iPhone, among them At Bat Lite (for dad, she says).

My husband says he can just as easily check baseball stats on his computer, no need to have them on-the-go.

My daughter e-mails me a link re: updates in ebook publishing. She consults with me via text messages re:  TV shows I should watch, fitness classes she is considering, dogs she thinks I should adopt, and calls me when the stresses of health maintenance, car maintenance, moving to a new apartment, and generally trying to make it on her own get a little overwhelming.  Also for some recipe and shopping advice.

We’re too dependent on gadgets, says my husband. Forget the GPS. Look to the sun for direction.


Measuring Time

Like most people, I have several clocks in my house. One may tell me it’s 11:30 a.m., another may say 11:35. This drives my husband crazy. I kind of like it, the notion that the measurement of time is only as accurate as the device. Some clocks like to run fast, others slow. Just read Alan Lightman’s exquisite Einstein’s Dreams, with its rich imagining of different theories of time via a brilliant patent clerk’s dreams before his awakening to the one that would forever change our perception of the time-space continuum.  In one world, there are no houses in the valleys or plains, everyone having moved to the mountains once it was discovered that “time flows more slowly the farther from the center of the earth.” In another place, time stands still. Everything is relative, isn’t it?

I went out for a walk a little earlier than usual this morning, to beat the inclement weather that tells me is on the way.  Rain is coming  at 11:00 a.m., snow a little later.  I can monitor its progress in fifteen-minute increments. Know before you go.

I’ve long had  a certain fascination with the notion of a Leap Year. In some traditions it’s considered an unlucky day to be born. In astrological circles, ‘Leapers’ (or ‘Leaplings’)  have “a general magical and  reputation as being lucky.” To my own thinking, how could it be anything but special (even if confusing) to (technically) celebrate a birthday once every four years?

I have nothing but great admiration for those who spend their lives in search of precision and what their own curiosity about the inner workings of all things, both in the natural and man-made worlds, makes available to me. At the same time, we’re all only human and I do smile at the suggestion of vanity that left February short a few days. Here’s what David Ewing Duncan writes in his well-researched and delightfully written Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year:  It was under the reign of Julius Caesar that January  came to mark the beginning of the year (formerly it was March). Accurate as the new calendar was, it was not free from errors, and, centuries later, another emperor (Augustus) came up with some reforms.

“But either out of vanity or because his supporters demanded it, the Senate decided that Augustus’s new month, with only 30 days, should not have fewer days than the month honoring Julius Caesar, with 31 days. So a day was snatched from February, leaving it with only 28 days — 29 in  leap year.”

The Jewish calendar, a lunar one, has a leap month. For Native Americans, the concept of time encompasses much more than its linear component.  And who knows what the Mayan calendar has in store for us this year?

All of which is to say: Time is nothing short of what you make of it.

What becomes a blogger most?

Sometimes (maybe more often than I might admit) the universe does give you the perk you need just when you need it. On the very day I posted my thoughts on finishing a novel, Ashley Barron, a rapid-rising, gracious presence in the world of self-published, indie writers, delivered a virtual bouquet of roses to my inbox.  My first encounter with Ashley was pure timing and chance (isn’t that the way it is so often Cyberspace?): with several degrees of online friendship between us at that point, I had stumbled on her call for writers who had done book trailers for a post she was planning. Mine was hot off the press.  She included it, along with an innovative assortment of other book trailers in a post, Book Trailers: This Is Fun!, which also included a link to an interview with Sean Biederman, an advertising/marketing/digital production pro.  All of which is to say, Ashley’s curiosity about and interest in writers doing their best to do it on their own is matched only by the story she tells about her own evolution as a writer.

When the notion of blogging began, I could barely say the word (weblog?) without admitting to my technological ignorance of why/how/where one even begins. It wasn’t until other writer/friends — C.M. Mayo (a pioneer if ever there was one), Christine Boyka Kluge, and Pam Hart — began blogging that I took note. The proverbial bee had landed in my bonnet.  A writer needs an online presence. Even if it does feel a bit like ships passing in the night at times,  I trust that the same curiosity that makes me drop anchor at the blog of a writer I’ve come to appreciate will bring visitors to my blog. We are not in this sea alone.

It’s a fascinating thing, indeed, the recognition bloggers devise for one another, chain-letter style. At its best, and done with integrity, it’s a chance for any blogger nominated to take stock of the company she keeps, let a bit of gratitude sink in. So thank you, Ashley, for taking note in ways that are as much an expression of your generosity as an appreciation for the nuanced timbre of a writer’s voice.  Now I get to pay it forward, but first, a few (generally unknown) things about me.

1.  I stopped eating pastrami (something my husband loves) after getting sick from it too many years ago to count. I don’t like hot dogs either (something else he loves) though I do love sauerkraut.

2. What is it about the raspy voice — Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits — that gets to me?

3. Pink is a color almost nonexistent in my wardrobe.

4. I can finally admit what social pressures made me uncomfortable saying back in eighth grade: I loved George Eliot’s ‘Silas Marner.’

5. In the years when I first began thinking ahead to whether I might be a writer by profession (i.e., my college days), I was focused on writing poetry.

6. In my fantasy life I imagine myself riding a wave on a surfboard. Maybe that’s why I write.

Why stop at six? Well, let’s call it poetic license Besides, with so much being made of the Mayan calendar this year, and my birthday auspiciously falling on 12/12/12, you do the math, six things about me plus six of my favs . . . and why they strike me as Kreativ Bloggers par excellence.

Becky Green Aaronson, The Art of an Improbable Life. In a recent post, The Art of Faux-tography, Becky reminds us of that hard-to-resist impulse, phone camera at the ready, to stop everything for the sake of capturing a moment.  What Becky manages to capture, with flair and, yes, love, is a sense of being both in the moment and looking back on it — so many rich, multitudinous moments in weekly posts drawn from the extraordinary photographs of her husband, whose career as a photojournalist has been a charmed one, indeed. Not that it didn’t take  a touch of savoir faire and pure, unmitigated courage to place him in the right place at the right time nor a certain savvy and skill on the part of his life partner to render so beautifully a life story drawn from ‘events of rare coincidences’ (Becky’s words, not mine).

Maureen Doallas  clearly needs a lot less sleep than I do. With its immersion  in both the worlds of poetry and art, Writing Without Paper is an endless, rich resource about  everything you need to know (and more) about writers and artists on the rise (not to mention  familiar ones).  Maureen’s presence on Twitter and Facebook is no less inspired/inspired. Without her, would I have known ‘How to enjoy Leonardo,’ with its eye-opening look at the Mona Lisa, on my iPad or the interactive haiku app, ‘Chasing Fireflies’? And, best of all,  she still manages to find time for her own exquisite poetry.

No surprise, really that it was Maureen Doallas who brought Hannah Stephenson into my radar.  What is there to say, really, about a gifted poet who posts a poem a day on her site, The Storialist?  Well there is this to say: lots of people call themselves poets and post their work, and there is something to admire about the earnest effort.  Hannah Stephenson, true poet that she is, makes the effort seem effortless in the way she links her poems to online images and has allowed her blog to evolve from its original sartorialist-inspired poems to its more expansive incarnation. But let me stop before I wax too poetic here.

So many book blogs, a fair number of good ones, Claire McAlpine’s Word by Word at the very top of the tier.  Her posts, peppered with delightful graphics,  are first and foremost about the book she’s chosen to write about, but so often she brings in some elucidating tidbit that connects the world contained in the pages of a book to the world at large. Without ever pinning a book to its ‘star’ value, she conveys, with intelligence and heart, what it is that will make you want to read a book, or not.

Mercedes M. Yardley, A Broken Laptop.  Full disclosure. When I embarked on a campaign of sorts to interest bloggers in reviewing my book, Mercedes was one of the early takers. The banner photo on her blog, a woman in sexy pumps, made me think she might be a kindred spirit. What she wrote about my short story collection was beyond gratifying, but more important was that it made me a follower of her blog. Mercedes puts herself out there, with grace, skill, style, and wit. Whether she’s writing about painting the kitchen or her tiny daughter or her approach to a dark story she’s working or making it into the ‘Best New Writing of 2012‘ anthology, she makes you feel as if it’s all just part of another day in her life. An extraordinary one, I might add.

Madam Mayo. C. M. Mayo has the distinct honor here of being named twice by me (first for the Versatile Blogger Award and now this) for the recognition she so deserves. With her insights into all things literary (and otherwise), fantastic graphics and podcasts, links to intriguing blogs, guest-writers she brings on board, C.M. Mayo continues to impress me with her ever-evolving presence on the Web. If you don’t know her wonderful body of work (bilingual, to boot), this is the place to find out what you’re missing.


The Finish Line

There are so many ways to say something has come to an end, each with its own nuance. Kaput. Conclude. Terminate. C’est fini. C’est bien fini. No más.

Finale, grand or otherwise.

The end of a war is always a good thing, the end of a life dependent on the circumstances.

Coming to the end of a novel one is writing feels more akin to a whimper than a bang.  Even before the final words are set down, an air of urgency kicks in. Almost there. I can see the light eking into the tunnel. A novel is a world constructed with heart and mind, populated with individuals drawn from flesh and blood. Readers who know the writer may see resemblances, hear echoes, their own transaction with the fiction.  Readers who know nothing about the writer may ask how much is true, autobiographical.  What we take away from a story is intertwined with what we bring to it.

Many years ago I ran the New York City Marathon. A friend of the family sent a note: ‘Congratulations on making it to the finish line. That kind of experience lasts a lifetime.’  A dear cousin finagled her own celebratory surprise at a family Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks later. It was 1981, a good ten years since I’d left the fold, single in the city now,  where Thanksgiving had evolved into a friends’ affair. This year, my cousin insisted, was for family. I could do that, change things up a bit.  Score one for nostalgia and family get-togethers. Score another point for sentiment, the cake she had for me, two candles, the numbers 2 and 6. My mother had her own surprise, my marathon photo laminated and set in a frame alongside the program listing each runner’s time, 3:48:57 for me. Some numbers you never forget, down to the second.

Running a marathon, like writing a novel, is an accomplishment, indeed. But momentum, more than the distant goal, is, for me, the driving force, which is why I confess to being a little surprised when I’m congratulated. I ran. I write. It’s what I do. Not that I’m anything but grateful for the woohoo!  It makes me stop and take stock.

“I have a book in me,” people so often say. “If I only I could sit down and write it. “Of course, those of us who write know there’s much more to it than sitting down. With a novel especially, there are characters with me day and day out, a life of their own, cuing me to their next move. Waiting to jump off the page. Days go by, distractions take hold, weeks pass, other obligations get in the way, then months, maybe years,  later a novel nears completion.

Now what do I do?

And maybe that’s the point here.  Let others revel in my accomplishment while I immerse myself in the day-to-day revelations I look to each morning, today the first snowstorm (putting aside the Halloween surprise) of the season.  I’ll start by weeding through the files and clippings that never made it into the novel even if they gave some insights to character and place.  Then I’ll read through the novel, one more time, before I watch it take flight, hopefully landing (sooner than later) on the desk of an editor who simply can’t put it down once he/she starts reading. Knowing that the more likely scenario will be a a bumpy ride, swells and dips, hanging on to words of praise as if I’d been handed a major award, reading between the lines of those ‘encouraging’ rejections (an oxymoron?) in the hope that I might glean something — anything — to keep me from falling down.

Every Picture Tells a Story

Mother and Child, James Litaker

Back in 2010 I had the pleasure of participating in an art exhibition premised on the Greek notion of ekphrasis,which is essentially a written representation of a piece of art, a response of sorts. Stare at a picture long enough and a story may well take shape. If not a story, then a poem maybe. Representational or abstract, a piece of art can strike an emotional chord. Memories are jarred. Images become words, which in turn become images all their own.

No Moment Will Ever Be like This One

after James Litaker

Ouch! says the girl, to herself. If she complains, her mother will only pull harder, hurting her more. It’s the nature of the comb, her mother will say. Something to be endured. Just for once she wishes her mother would let her go to school with her hair loose. A classroom is no place for unruly hair, her mother will say.

Already nine and hungering to be nineteen, says the mother, to herself. She runs her fingers through strands of her daughter’s hair, a soft tangle that reminds her of nothing so much as the swift passage of time. The more impatient her daughter seems, the more the mother is inclined to slow down, teach her a lesson about beauty, the kind that comes with precision, the rhythmic comb and weave, comb and weave of a perfect braid. Now she stops, just to savor the moment. To the girl this feels like punishment, maybe even torture, a braid that gets longer with each twist. To the mother it is a kind of release, a morning ritual that gets her through the day, each and every one the same, with its hopes for her daughter, maybe a teacher or a secretary or a beautician; anything but standing behind the counter of a delicatessen, dishing out macaroni salad or ladling soup into a container, slapping slices of turkey or ham onto bread slathered with mayonnaise or mustard, sometimes both. She feels like a surgeon, cutting through the bread. There is nothing so unnatural as making sandwiches through a filter of latex.

She picks up the pace again, comb and weave, comb and weave. Pictures her daughter at nineteen, braids gone, hair cascading to her shoulders.

Secret Circles

I learned recently that the moon wobbles. Observing a simulation of that rocking motion – libration, it’s called – via a NASA app on my iPad is a cheap thrill indeed. Connecting this mottled image in my hand with the glorious, full orb in the sky tonight is a stretch . . . .and yet.

I can’t say whether the moon in my hand is in collusion with the moon in the sky, but I can say I feel wired, jittery. Wobbly. The sense of time passing grounds me.  The possibility that so  much still lies ahead lifts me.  I loved coming of age in the Sixties, for all the personal and political strife it presented. I am now in my sixties, the full moon coinciding (give or take a day) with my birthday this year. Next year, astrologically speaking, may be a big one: 12/12/12.

You Reading This, Be Ready . . .  A poem by William Stafford  would be welcome any day of the year,  but I take the timing of this one’s appearance personally, a gift as mysterious as the moon itself, with its reminder of waxing and waning and, yes, wobbling.

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

My understanding of the phenomenon dubbed moon wobble is that the face I see in the sky tonight is ever-so-slightly different from what I saw yesterday or what I’ll see tomorrow.  Of course, this is not visible to the naked eye. What ever is?

A few weeks ago I sat across a table in a light-filled NYC restaurant, looking into the face of my longest, dearest friend. BFF, yes, even before (and without) the short-hand.  Sure, we both look (a little) older, but the smile I always recall when I think of her, the one that taps at a heart as golden as it gets (and gives), has not changed.  We talked as if we had seen each yesterday, not  years ago, when she relinquished to me that cherished volume,  ‘The Sherondas.’  Inside the pages, a little fragile now, is a weekly record of our club meetings. We collected dues. We argued. We planned parties.  We watched “American Bandstand.” We cried about boys. We were preteens caught up in the music of those great girl groups. It’s hardly a stretch to hear echoes of the Shirelles in the circle we became, the letters of each of our names strung together to form the Sherondas circa 1961.  My stint as recording secretary would never lead me to believe I had the stuff real writers are made of : “We were eating and eating till we decided we needed some good, rude arguments.” Then again, it wasn’t my job to comment, just record, though each of us, in turn, did manage to bring a little of her own flavor to the minutes, my BFF the most spirited of all.  We let the memories roll as we sipped our drinks and nibbled on food.  I handed her the treasured record of a very innocent time. She wants to share it with her daughter, recently married. She plans to make two laminated copies, one for each of us. The information it would retain, for someone’s future curiosity, is less important than the fact of its existence.

My daughter, it so happens, works on a TV show about a group of teen witches, “The Secret Circle.” Innocence may not be what it once was, and, yes, birthdays have a way of making me feel “captive on that carousel of time.” And, whether or not Marlo Morgan’s account of her walkabout in Australia, Mutant Message Down Under, was a hoax, one lasting impression it made on me was the suggestion that the nomadic Aboriginals she wrote about do not celebrate getting older each year. “We celebrate if we are a better, wiser person this year than last.”



The Sound of One Tree

October 31, 2011. I’m sitting in my living room, two sweatshirts over a long-sleeve shirt and a tank top. The only sounds I hear are a buzz saw and a neighbor’s generator.  This is a Halloween trick, no treat at all.  The first snowstorm on record in October hit two days ago.  At its height there was the sound of clumps of snow falling, tree branches snapping off, trees toppling under the weight of heavy snow and leaves not yet fallen.  It reminds me of the avalanches I would hear in the distance when I visited Mount Cook, New Zealand, with my daughter.

No power. No Internet. No heat. Fortunately the sun is strong, streaming through the windows.  It feels warmer outside than it does in the house, a marker of autumn,  especially those days when you’re not quite ready to turn up the thermostat, that winter mindset (not to mention the oil bills) just beginning to take hold.

Without power, and with bright sunshine,  I can read. Books. Earmarked articles from magazines. I can also write. And yet something makes me want to do nothing but listen. This is no zen acceptance of things as they are. Living in a part of the Northeast where overhead power lines still rule, I’ve grown used to the power outages, typically in summer and winter, with the extreme weather those seasons is prone to bring. I almost welcome the silence, not even a hum from the refrigerator.  Until too much time without makes me impatient for the expectations I’ve grown to live with.  There’s something to be said, too, for the normal rhythms that give rise to a productive workday. A walk. Errands. Reading the newspaper, in print or online. A conversation with my daughter. Yoga. A workout at the gym.  Without them, am I feeling a little lost, maybe even unable to focus?

Besides, there’s this tree – a huge one – that has fallen across my driveway.  I can walk around, or under, the tree, which, admittedly, awes me with its sheer magnitude and beauty, even toppled as it is.  Mother Nature has dropped a sculpture at my door, an earthbound treehouse. But walking around, or through, or over – even owning up to its enchantment – will only get me so far.  How long before I begin to feel trapped by its presence?

I keep listening, as if the very listening will make the refrigerator begin humming, force the heat to kick in, the
sound of the buzz saw chopping away at the tree to recede into the background.  It’s an unpleasant sound, yes, even if rhythmic in a way that resounds with that methodical piece-by-piece elimination of tree branches that shaded my house and that full, once-sturdy trunk that stood like a regal reminder that something exists in spite of itself. In spite of me. A process of elimination that fascinates me as I watch three men, salt of the earth, move like bees in and out of a hive: sections of the tree chopped by one,  placed in a wheelbarrow by another, branches cascading like peacock feathers off the shoulder of still another.  Yes, there is that story I need to e-mail someone, and all those Tweets and e-mails and Facebook feeds I want to catch up on. If I can’t (yet) have that access at home, at the very least I can find myself a WiFi hotspot, or go to good friends who have power and provide the kind of warmth that goes way beyond a heated house.  But for that I need my car, to take me to the other side of the downed tree.

Shoot to Kill

Once in a while, around dinnertime, I need to tune in to TV news. For all that’s available to me via the Internet, sitting on the couch and watching a news anchor deliver the top news of the day, condensed for easy consumption, is, oddly, a tuning out of the 24/7 mentality. I like Brian Williams for lots of reasons — his repartee with Jon Stewart, his appreciation of Bruce Springsteen, his resemblance to Peter Jennings. His intelligence and empathy.

Tonight’s top national story (October 19) was more human interest than politics, reporters on the scene in Zanesville, Ohio, where dozens of exotic animals were let loose by the very man who kept them in his own private wild kingdom.  Why he did it will never be known (unless he left a note not yet made public). He shot himself after releasing them, the dozens of lions and tigers and bears left to fend for themselves in a heartland that was no real home to them.  “Shoot to kill,” police were instructed. As one of them pointed out, this was not a situation they were ever trained for.  At least 49 animals were killed, among them Bengal tigers.

The local news, a half-hour earlier, was my real reason for watching tonight, curious about a story I had gotten wind of the night before and was still having difficulty processing. In this Northern Westchester community where I live, upscale by most standards, a man bludgeoned his wife to death, shot his two young children in bed, then killed himself. This is not a family I know (though I know exactly where they live), and all I keep trying to fathom is what rage or mental derangement it must take to commit this kind of murder and suicide in one fell swoop. Divorce proceedings were in the works, but even the most acriminious of family break-ups do not end in such violence. Having raised a daughter in this (mostly) wonderful exurban part of New York,  I keep imagining what it’s like in the local elementary school today (and the days to come), how teachers are trying to conduct classes and what’s going through the minds of those friends of a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old they’ll never see again. Just the thought chokes me up.

Zanesville, Ohio, and Cross River, New York, are dots on a map, hundreds of miles from each other.  Animals running in a wilderness not of their choosing, connected in some curious way with two children lying still as stone in a bloody, forever unmade bed.