I get a call the other day, automated, VISA randomly checking up on possibly suspicious credit card activity. I call back, a little leery, phishing expeditions rampant these days.  After pressing one touchtone key after another, I finally get a live voice, a sweet woman who tells me she can’t get into my account without my password.  Whichever one I came up with was the wrong one. Not to worry, she said. She’ll have someone call me. A security thing. 

A few minutes pass. No call. Of course now I’m worried, at the same time a little glad I forgot my password.  I go online, Google the number I called, mildly reassured that it really is from VISA.  To ratchet up the reassurance I call the customer support number on my credit card. Yes, the representative tells me, it was a legitimate call.  He asks me for my password. Again it escapes me, not being one I use regularly, and it’s nowhere in that secret place where I write down passwords. I tell him this is no silly senior moment, and maybe it’s a sign I should reset my password anyway. Not a problem, he says. He has the power to override the password, but only if we hang up and he calls me back at the phone number I give him. I’m starting to feel a little like a bit player in a spy movie. The only thing missing is the telephone booth.

My head is spinning now, all those passwords painstakingly constructed from very precise instructions: four-to-eight characters, all lower case, for one site; must be eight-to-forty characters long, only alphanumerical characters, dashes and underscores allowed, for another site; birth dates not advised. Then the password hints: first car, first pet, favorite movie, mother’s maiden name.  Now the conundrum: the very same consistency that makes for easy-to-remember passwords is the stuff of hackers’ dreams. Am I lazy if I decide on a password I’ve used elsewhere? Maybe.  Or am I just counting on odds? So many people to pick on in cyberspace, why bother with me?

I’m still waiting for my callback, time-traveling now, Allen Ludden on the TV screen, how quaint it all seems, two celebrity-contestant teams trying to outsmart each other with clues, a linguistic, charades-type endeavor, guess the password.  Whoever concocted the game was clearly ahead of his or her time.

The representative is back now, the questioned charge a very small one. I suppose I should be thankful for this random checking up; but before sending out an alert you would think someone might have noticed that there are two names on this credit card account, and this is hardly the first time a charge issued from the city where my daughter lives.  So be it.

Now it’s time to get to the matter at hand, changing my password. The one I have in mind is an unusual one (even a hacker would be hard put to crack the code) so I spell it out, which brings a peal of laughter from the representative. “That’s the password I thought I forgot – right?” He’s very amused, not a hint of condescension, and in total collusion when I suggest this is a password no one will ever guess, a little too good to give up.

Photo courtesy of Christine Boyka Kluge





The Passover Games

It was in reading chapter 23 of ‘Catching Fire’ (otherwise known as Book Two of The Hunger Games trilogy) when it hit me with the full force of a plague of locusts: Lightning. Blood rain. Fog. Monkeys.

This modern, dystopian tale has the markings of a recast Passover story. Think about it: there’s oppression, enslavement, hunger as both a reality and a metaphor. The death of children. Katniss may not exactly be Moses, but her first presentation at the games is a fiery one, indeed.

We need our heroes. We need our children. We need our stories  . . .

Evolution is a funny thing. The human mind’s capacity to conjure hail and locusts, an all-knowing, all-powerful God that can part a sea just long enough to let the good guys get through and the bad guys drown now conjures forms of torture that stretch the imagination.  The ten plagues recited during the Passover seder  – blood, frogs, locusts, darkness, etcetera, etcetera – pale in comparison to what the Capitol powers-that-be in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy put the young tributes through. And, yet, it speaks to something as powerful today as in biblical times, namely, the will to survive and the endurance of the human spirit.

In the Passover story, we have a God who ups the ante each time the pharaoh, his heart hardened, refuses to let the Israelis go – until the final plague, death of the firstborn, takes his heart past anything it can handle. What could be worse than that? – except maybe a world in which games are premised on children killing each other to death. In the godless world of Panem, risen from the ashes of a civilization that destroyed itself, it’s left to the inhuman heart of President Snow to keep upping the ante. There is no letting go of his grip, no softening the stone that is his soul.  Only conquering.  Goliath is ultimately brought down by a girl with a bow and arrow.

As archetypal heroes go, it doesn’t get much better than Katniss Everdeen.  She heeds the call, questions it, retreats, comes back with a vengeance underscored by her inherent humility: “Power. I have a kind of power I never knew I possessed.” She walks into the fire, one too many times perhaps, and emerges with just a little more wisdom than a teenager can be expected to handle.  Too much blood is shed, too many people suffer.  Those who manage to survive will have a lot of scars, both physical and emotional, to heal. No one says it better than Katniss: “Something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences.”

So here we sit, between the dark futuristic world of Panem and the Biblical world of the past, held together by the power of stories and a collective unconscious that spans time and cultures. Yesterday I watched a real president make a pitch for something that should need no pitch, namely  common sense and decency and keeping politics in the political arena where it belongs.  Today I watch tractor trailers flying through the air in Texas, no special effects for a twister of a movie, the real deal.

Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, burns on.  Moses is never the same after his encounter with the burning bush.

Each year, Jews around the world gather for seders. The more traditional ones take hours. The condensed ones cut to the chase – drinking wine, breaking matzoh, asking the key four questions, reminding ourselves we were once slaves and now we’re free.  Traditional seders read through the entire Haggadah. Less conventional ones turn the telling into a dialogue – about hungry children around the world and families left homeless by war and natural disasters.  The fictional President Snow may be the embodiment of every evil dictator humanity has known – and more.  But we all know that truth is too often stranger, and darker, than fiction.

More and more I think that stories are what we live by. We may be curious about the facts that give rise to them, dig around for what really did or did not happen, question why we tell the same ones year after year, a kind of hunger all its own. It’s never the same, though, if we’re really listening.  Just watch the delightful movie about a Passover seder gone awry,  When Do We Eat?  Or read The Hunger Games if you already haven’t. Then sit down with friends and family, sip wine.  Share stories. And, eventually, eat.



I’m standing (im)patiently in line at my local Barnes & Noble, my attention riveted by a woman at the checkout counter.  Putting aside the Blackberry she’s fiddling with while the cashier, polite and as efficient as she can be, does her best to move the transaction along, it is her pencil-cut white shorts, halfway down her narrow hips, that have me wide-eyed with wonder. “You think she knows?” asks the woman ahead of me in line.  I shake my head. “Too much multi-tasking.” Exposed black undies (in a bookstore, to boot) speak volumes about obliviousness. The woman behind me chimes in, maybe it’s a style. We are patient, curious, no cattiness here, just chit-chatting our way to the next open register.  “If it were a guy with his shorts hanging out, would we give it a second thought?” posits the woman behind me. “Should someone tell her?” asks the woman in front me, though she admits maybe she wouldn’t care if she “had a butt like hers.” Subsumed in her query is simple consideration, the kind you would give a woman who leaves a restroom with her skirt inadvertently lifted or toilet tissue stuck to her shoe.  At the same time, it is hard to resist the measuring up, woman to woman, about the same age, fifty-ish.  I nod in the direction of the register, open now to the next customer, throwing out one parting query before she heads over.  “Would you tell a guy his fly is open?” She gets my point: “If it were my son, yes I would.”

“Did she have a good body?” asks my husband when I relate the story over dinner.  He wants details. Bikinis? Lace or cotton? How low-cut?  “Not the point,” I point out.  He is relentless.  “Admit it – if she were fifty pounds overweight, the conversation would have taken a decidedly different turn.” I take a sip of wine, Jumilla, ask him to please pass the salad. He continues to bait me. I decide to indulge him.  “The point is not weight or body type.”  The hint of berries in the wine washes over my palate.  “It’s about not caring – or being aware of – how you present yourself.  It’s about being a grown woman and adopting the style of a teenager.  And yes, it’s about taste .” Or the lack of it.

The fashion police (aka my daughter) are out in full force when I reach for my denim jacket.  Didn’t I know (duh!) it’s a big no-no, denim jacket with jeans? Maybe I did (I shrug), maybe I just didn’t care. It’s a roomy jacket, vintage design, a remnant of tapestry pieced into the back.  I remember buying it, a crafts fair years ago. I had my choice of designs but this one, a tapestry of books, appealed to me most. Tongue in cheek, I think of it as my book jacket.  I have another jean-style jacket, soft green, more cropped and form-fitting, something I picked up at Anthropologie, shopping with my daughter.  I hang up the ‘book’ jacket, put on the green one. Out we go.

“Cute top,” says my friend.  H&M, I tell her, two for the price of one, a mother-daughter moment. How could I resist? “Isn’t it great,” she goes on, “that we can still dress cute at sixty?”  We are long-time yoga buddies, dressed for vinyasa (Lululemon for her, Be Present for me), minutes before class.  We are both sixty-ish, spirits (in training) in a world gone more material than ever.  Is there something of a paradox here, grown women enticed by a marketing culture that encourages us to dress like our daughters?  Is it the ‘sixty’ that gives me pause? Or the ‘cute’?   Tell my mother she looked cute in something, at any age, and she would bristle. No woman should ever be called cute, she insisted. Girls are cute. Boys are cute. Little dogs are cute (she hated cats).

There’s a photograph of my mother, long disappeared, now a picture imprinted in my mind.  It is New Year’s Eve, early1960s, and she is wearing a shimmering white sheath, silver threads running through it, a mandarin collar, hair done in the style of Elizabeth Taylor.  She took pride in the way she looked, welcomed those occasions when a little more than day make-up was required. I loved slipping into her shoes. There was one pair I borrowed (permanently), in my twenties, a sexy high-heeled mule, black suede with accents of gold leather, open toe. The base is a slight platform made of two different types of wood, and the heel is a skinny ziggurat of brass. Putting aside the sheer, original beauty of the design, the shoe reveals something about my mother’s sense of style.  Even Christian Louboutin would be impressed.

Things have a way of coming full circle. I’m walking around my house, breaking in a pair of satin pink-wisteria-orange-toned slingbacks. There is a tie-dye look to them,  summer Manolos, a smashing complement to the gorgeous pink satin dress my daughter will wear to the wedding of a good friend. It was my daughter’s idea, get mom a pair of spiffy shoes, let her borrow them. Not that she wouldn’t love them for herself, but a working girl on a budget knows her limitations, and it is indeed the thought that counts here: ever since the day she herself was granted entry into Manolo world as a rite of a passage, twenty-one years old, a gift card with the insistence that she treat herself to that special pair of shoes, she has wanted her mom to walk down the same runway. A year later, another passage, some of that graduation gelt would be put aside for another pair of Manolos, one last treat before leaving the safe haven of college for the insecurity of the real world, overworked and underpaid.  There was hesitation (should I? shouldn’t I?) but weighed against the impracticality of the purchase was the sense of self and style the shoes brought.  Act confident, I would say, you become confident. Look great, my mother would say, you feel great.

“Cute,” remarks my husband, hearing the clomp clomp before he sees me, a mismatch of Gap khaki capris and la crème de les chausseures.  He does not say a word about this maternal indulgence (collusion, he would call it, secretly amused at what it is that mothers and daughters do with, and for, each other).  Nor does he say what I know he’s thinking (yes, they’re elegantly designed, beautifully made, even if wildly overvalued).  “Don’t you think they’ll look great with jeans?” He nods, sure, whatever. Not that he wouldn’t appreciate seeing me in fitted jeans, my legs elongated by sexy tapered heels. Even better a skirt, preferably a mini. I can pull off the look, I have the legs, why not? It is the rationale of a dare, the crux of defiance. And yet, for all that it reveals, a mini skirt insists on keeping something masked. You’re making too much of this, I can hear my husband say.  You should feel good, you can still look hot. At least he doesn’t say cute.

Times change, styles (and Attitude) evolve, disappear, return.  It was a mod mod world when the mini skirt came on the scene, the lid on repression knocked off its hinges, freedom of expression in full flower.  If the mini never really left, just got pushed to the back of the closet in the decades that followed, it left its mark in the youth culture that has us in its thrall. Irony of ironies: Gap-lore has it that the iconic store was named to mark the generational gulf that existed when it opened in 1969, San Francisco becoming the first jeans-only retail outlet. Who could have predicted that it would spawn more than 3,000 stores worldwide, in essence becoming the pioneer for a way of shopping, Baby Boomers and their Gen Y offspring in adjoining dressing rooms?  Or that fashion, dominated by the monkey-see/monkey-do mentality of market forces, would become so homogenized? The chains may do a good job of making clothes affordable, but we all pay a high price in the loss of originality.

Which brings me back to my Manolos and the mini skirt. For all the mother-daughter bonding that shopping brings, my daughter has her own sense of style and I have mine. Yet somewhere between her Vans’ sneakers and my sporty Arche, her Steve Madden and my Cole Haan, there is common ground.  It may be the Stuart Weitzman pumps or Sigerson-Morrison boots we both try on. Those Gap tank tops and Banana Republic tees for everyday wear, the occasional American Eagle button-down, those French Sole ballet slippers and Victoria’s Secret leggings. But I draw the line at very low rise jeans and boots with shorts, pajama pants with the VS Pink logo and, yes, dresses or skirts that make me tug at the hem when I’m seated. Maybe it’s simply a question of taste and comfort. Or maybe it has something to do with being a little more true to the person inside the persona.  In Carolyn Heilbrun’s eloquent book, Writing a Woman’s Life, there are pithy epigraphs beginning each chapter, among my favorites this one from a poem by Maxine Kumin: “When Sleeping Beauty wakes up/she is almost fifty years old.”  It may have been Carrie Bradshaw who brought out the Cinderella, Manolo-longing in my daughter, but there’s something to be said for having a mother who knows it doesn’t take much to acquire a taste for the feel of a cashmere sweater or the suppleness of a shoe designed to last. A mother who’s been there/done that – Hippie bell bottoms, Annie Hall la-de-da trousers, fitted vamp jumpsuits – and knows that the way we dress is but one of the many ways we tell stories about ourselves.

I’m in a funky clothing store, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with my two dearest friends, one a month older than me, one almost a year younger.  We look young for our age, feel the pinch of youth even more shopping together in a store that’s as close to retro East Village hip as you can get in New Hampshire. There is everything here from glitter to linen, more low-brow than high, no brand names I recognize. We browse the racks, hold things up for each other’s approval, decide which might be worth trying on.  One of us has experienced the loss of a husband, one has never married. The one who has lost a husband, only a year ago, is trying on a new life,  cooking meals in a new home for friends old and new. No need to dress for success (telecommuting for years now) except for the occasional business trip, and I take pride in personally having helped her divest, items of clothing no longer worth keeping even for the sentimental value.  The three of us are having a ball, in and out dressing rooms, reminded of a time, just yesterday it seems, when we all lived in the place John Lennon called the center of the universe, NYC, a place only one of us still calls home (though living in an exurban town only an hour north, and going in as often as I need, sometimes makes me feel as if I never left).  The friend who is too young to be a widow tries on a baby doll top (colorful bra peeking through) and leggings. She looks fantastic, all smiles, even if uncertain whether this is the right look.  The other friend and I nod – yes yes – don’t give it a second thought.   We continue picking through the racks – everything from Cher to Grace Kelly here, both reminders in their distinct, iconic way that it is not styles, changing with each season, that define the woman so much as it is the woman who defines her style.

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.