Saturday, September 30, 2006


Mary - Crime & Punishment, originally uploaded by merkley???.

...In sneakers in case you get so fired up by the prose you have to run around the block just to blow off steam...With a glass of wine at hand to sip or maybe even gulp when the plot heats up...On the front stoop where you might remind passersby of where they were when they read it, or the thoughts that streamed through their mind...or how a character like Raskolnikov infected their dreams and pulled them deeply into his obsession.

But I didn't set out to write about the classics, or the dazzling, unforgettable characters who inhabit them. Hell, I just did that the other day, and I'm trying not to bore you here. Not to mention myself.

What I really wanted to do was direct you to a little survey Jason Pinter took about why people buy books. Very interesting to people like me who love nothing better than a thoughtful poll that leaves room for extraneous comments.

I responded to the survey, but when I thought about it, I don't think my answer really got to the heart of the matter.

Why I buy a book:

First, I have to see it and know about it. That means it has to be displayed prominently or reviewed, or talked about by my friends. Or maybe I just see a young woman who looks like she has good taste, reading it on her front stoop, and I stop to say "How was it?"

Most often, however, it tends to be a tipping point phenomenon. Take my most recent book purchase: Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I think I first read about it on Dan Wickett's blog. Within days, it seemed to be everywhere.

Then I read a review--and I wish I could quote it exactly or name the blog, but I can't. Thus I'll have to paraphrase: HALF A YELLOW SUN is simply the future of literature.*

Okay, that got me. At that point, I was at least going to get it out of the library.

A few days later, the title already buzzing quietly in my head, I read a piece about the author and her book in the New York Times. It not only sounded like the future of literature; it sounded like a damn good read. THAT was my tipping point

And speaking of tipping points, it only took one review of LITTLE CHILDREN (and the fact that I enjoyed Tom Perrotta's book) to convince me I need to see this movie.

Happy weekend everyone. I'm off to another waitressing shift. I would say it was my last, but I think I said that last week. Talk about boring myself...

*It was Sarah Weinman. Apologies for misquoting.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Marseille, France, originally uploaded by HerveParisFrance.

The notes beneath this intriguing photograph, found on Flickr, say that here in the Chateau d'Ilf, "The count of Monte Cristo (Edmund Dantes) was imprisonned for thirteen years."

I like that sentence quite a lot. I like the respect it gives fictional characters. It doesn't say that here, Alexandre Dumas set his novel. It says here, Edmund Dantes lived. And to all of us who've lost days of our lives engrossed in his story, he did.

I also like that the place where Dantes grew brilliant and obsessed is envisioned by a rectangle of light. Yes, I think, that's where great characters are born. Behind doors within doors, in a furnace of mysterious light.

Some months ago, my friend Susan Messer was preparing for a trip to France. One of her preparations involved digging out some of Dumas lesser known works and reading them. Just before she left, she sent me a quote that says more about the power of story than anything I've ever read:.

"Alexander Dumas died penniless but cheerful on December 5, 1870, saying of death: 'I shall tell her a story, and she will be kind to me.'"

Ah, we can only hope it is so.


And if that isn't enough wisdom from dead French authors for one day, this morning I was greeted at Keri Smith's blog by these words from Balzac:

"Strolling is the gastronomy of the eye. To walk is to vegetate. To stroll is to live."

At first, the quote baffled me, but after I had strolled back a couple of times to look at it, it revealed its truth.

I even did Keri's homework assignment: Take a stroll somewhere and find ten versions of the same thing.

Since there's nowhere to stroll around here but the beach and the mall, and picking up say, ten black sweaters at the Gap, would push me over my credit limit, I gathered shells. I'm sure I had ten when I left the beach, but by the time I got home to document my stroll, only eight remained.


My personal favorite is #6 for its fancy black scroll work. But if I had a black velvet ribbon, I would thread it through the hole in #3, and wear it around my neck.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


green-yellow-bathroom06.jpg, originally uploaded by swardraws.

Okay, let's get the heavy question out of the way first: Does anyone actually dry their hands with these things, or do you just do what I do--give it a shot, then get impatient and dry your hands on your pants?

And who invented these dumb things in the first place?

While we're on the subject, what kind of clever marketing scam got them into every restroom in the world?

And do they have any ideas for marketing a first novel?

All right, I know that's four questions, but we're talking existential here. It's all about the questions...


Meanwhile, the sandy peninsula where I live has been getting some notice in blogland:

Grendel moves to the Cape and discovers just how exciting cable TV can be.(This could lead to another existential question, like 'What the hell have I been doing here all these years?' But we'll save that one for next week.) (While you're visiting EarthGoat, make sure you don't miss the quote by Willie Nelson.)

And Tish Cohen takes a vacation in P-town and gets noticed by THE Miss Richmond.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006



Everything I tried to write today fell victim to the ruthlessness of the delete key. My word count for the day? 9. That's right, I ended up with a single sentence--which I'll probably delete tomorrow.

I had a list of important phone calls I intended to make. Didn't make them.

Didn't get to the gym either.

Was even thinking of cleaning out the refrigerator, but guess what? Never quite got around to it.

A neighbor kindly brought me some iris bulbs last week, and every day he passes by, I'm afraid he'll notice they're still in the bright purple bucket he left behind. Of course, I do intend to fold them back into the ground and imagine spring...but not today.

So what exactly did I do? Hmmm... I'm not sure what happened to most of my hours.

But I did go down to the beach with Ted and the dogs. I marvelled at the color of the yellow golden rod amidst the sea grass, and the bright cobalt sky. I watched the Piping Plovers and when they flew away, I studied the delicate prints they left on the sand. I commented on the fineness of the day, I put my feet in the water and whenever I passed a fellow walker, I smiled and said hello.

It's not much, but some days it's all you can do.


In other news, Killer Year, a group of writers who have debut suspense novels or thrillers coming out in 2007, launched a new Website. The divine MJ Rose lent her support by posting on the blog. I am proud to be part of this diverse and innovative group. So please, come on over and check us out!

Monday, September 25, 2006


, originally uploaded by lapinfille.

Quizzes that promise to tell you who you have been around forever.

There was a time in my life when I couldn't resist furtively checking off the little squares in magazines that promised to reveal whether I was an introvert or an extrovert, a Katharine Hepburn or a Grace Kelly, a woman destined to be adored, or one likely to spend hours on the phone crying with my girlfriends over what jerks men were.

Truthfully, I don't think those quizzes have ever told anyone anything they didn't already know. What they do offer is a chance to see yourself described in breezy upbeat terms. Or maybe a fleeting opportunity to be someone other than who you are. Someone more adventurous. Someone you might envision in a little black dress, holding forth with a martini glass in her hand.

In that sense, they are all narcissism quizzes; this particular quiz from the LA Times is just more direct about it. Given to a wide swath of people, including numerous celebrities, the conclusions were far from surprising.

Out of a possible 40, most people scored around 15. Celebrities scored higher; female celebrities even higher than that. And female contestants on reality TV shows were the reigning queens of narcisssm. Of course, it's hardly startling news that people who are constantly judged on their appearance and their visibility become obsessed with it.

Nor is it news that most narcissists are riddled with insecurity and doubt. It's plain hard work thinking about yourself all day.

So why was this decidedly un-glamourous blogger, sitting at her computer in her yoga pants and an old T-short taking the Narcissism Quiz, you might ask?

I wasn't exactly planning to, but then I caught sight of the sample questions and I got worried: Was I?

The first question asked if you thought you could do a better job of running the world.

Should be an easy answer for someone who never had political aspirations; and has spent most of her life slinging hash and writing poetry, but the way things are going now? I doubt I could do worse. In fact, maybe what the world needs is an honest waitress with a heart of gold to clean things up. (Insert sappy music here....)

Not wanting to ponder this budding Napoleon complex too long, I moved to the second sample: Do you think you're extraordinary?

Isn't everyone? I said out loud in my office, only a little defensive.

So okay, I had to take the quiz. If I'm as narcissistic as the women on reality TV, I might as well deal with it now.

The good news? I scored a 9. Way below average. I might even be the anti-narcissist!

The bad news? I'm now basking in narcissistic pride over my lack of narcissism.

Some days you just can't win.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Voice and laughter, originally uploaded by Paula Wirth.

1. Live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and take stunning photographs of it. (And oh yes, it won't hurt if you write as beautifully as you see.)

2. Have lots of spicy secrets to tell. Tell them.

3. Be born with so much wit and style that you that you can turn a trip
to the hardware store into a hilarious and mesmerizing tale.

4. Narrow your focus and expand our vision. Write about one thing. How about waiting tables in New York City?

5. Leave your readers hungry for more.

6. Get a group of young writers together and create a group
blog that crackles with nervous energy.

7. Recommend books. Link to interviews and reviews. Dish a little.

8. Be controversial. Collect an abrasive following who will duke it out every time you post for the entertainment of your readers.

9. Make me feel like I've travelled somewhere wonderful as I sit in front of my computer on my big red yoga ball wearing my PJs. Maybe you could even teach me a new word when I get there.

10. Be knowledgable about something--say the machinations of the publishing industry--and share that knowledge with generosity and flair.

11. Make friends. Write whatever the hell you want. Define success on your own terms. (See my sidebar.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Schmidt's Grocery sign, originally uploaded by Joey Harrison.

NOT my favorite activity...but this piece in the New York Times did inspire me to get my beat up track shoes out and head for the store.

It's a list of treasures found in the supermarket among all the over-advertised and under-nourishing stuff I sometimes grab in the heat of the race.

I was happy to see some of my own favorites on the list: Cabot cheddar cheese (but at all costs avoid the LIGHT variation), B&M baked beans (I like the vegetarian kind, but Ted prefers the bacon and onion.), Greek yogurt (so rich and delicious you can substitute it for sour cream), and Progresso Lentil soup(The writer adds cumin, hot sauce and lemon. I microwave fresh garlic, tomatoes and extra spinach and toss it in--though I suppose I'll be rethinking the spinach these days.

I also have my own personal list of supermarket treasures: Grape Nuts, Ezekial California bread, Kraft Parmesan Cheese, Campbell's tomato soup (also good for add ins, such as garlic, spinach, leftover pasta or beans), Wyler's frozen wild blueberries, and whole wheat pasta with flax seeds by Hodgkins Mills. (Yikes, maybe I really AM earthy crunchy.)

But what really made the Times list interesting was the things I haven't tried--but will now. I've already added the Bahlsen Choco Liebniz cookies to my list and underlined it--and just in time, too. My chocolate covered cherries from Trader Joe's ran out yesterday.

Anyone else have a grocery store favorite to share?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Brains in a box, originally uploaded by abanesta.

I grew up in an old mill town that crackled with its own kind of energy. Toughness was considered the supreme virtue.

I didn’t have it.

When a girl named Pam challenged me to a fight over a boy in eighth grade, I hid in my room for days. She celebrated her default victory by cracking jokes about my lankiness for the amusement of the disappointed crowd.

“I probably couldn’t have reached her chin anyway,” Pam quipped. (She wasn’t only tough; she was a budding stand-up comedian.)

Ouch. At the time I was 5 foot 4 1/2 and suicidally self-conscious about the way I towered over some of the god-like “cute” boys in my class. If I’d known I had four more inches left to grow, I probably would have never come out of that room.

But then in eighth grade, suicidal self-consciousness is pretty much a way of life. At least, it was for me. Another thing I was self-conscious about was the “advanced” class where I’d been placed in school. Talk about social disgrace!

In fact, I was so dismayed that I went to my guidance counselor and begged him to get me out of it. For one thing, I was convinced it was a mistake; I clearly didn’t belong there. I still think I didn't.

All my friends were in the business class; and I, like them, had no intention of going to college.

College was for nerds.
For geeks.
For brainiacs.

And I was a tough girl. Honest I was.

The guidance counselor, Mr. McGowan, clucked and nodded sympathetically--then left me where I was. It took me a year to forgive him; decades later, I still haven’t run out of gratitude.

Unfortunately, things haven’t changed too much since I was in eighth grade. In far too many communities, kids are still embarrassed to be called smart. If I really was the brainiac my middle-school peers accused me of being, I’d figure out a way to change that.

But every now and then the smart people of the world win one. The day they give out the MacArthur genius grants is one of them.This years’ fellows range in age from thirty-one to sixty-four. A few are well-known; most aren’t. Their areas of expertise are diverse and fascinating. I get excited just reading about them and contemplating all the great contributions they're making.

What I like about this award is that it’s absolutely unconditional.

--You don’t have to be young.

--You don’t have to look good on the cover of People magazine.

--You don’t have to know anyone. (At least, it appears the foundation has done everything possible to factor this out.)

--You can do anything you want with the money.

--And damn, you don’t even have to be tough.

A half-million bucks just for being smart! What a deal.

AND for writers:

J.A. KONRATH writes about time and how we use it...

And SARA GRAN takes on her critics and teaches us all a lesson in non-attachment...

Monday, September 18, 2006


one would.
Originally uploaded by antimethod.

“Look, I really don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you're quiet, you're not living. You've got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively.”
-Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks. American Actor, Writer, Producer and Film Director. b.1926.

A few months ago, inspired by an obituary about a woman who drew people to her with her whispery voice, I wrote a piece praising the calm, the self-possessed, the soft spoken everywhere.

Noisy people disturb the neighbors with their ranting, shatter more light bulbs singing in the shower, blurt out things crazy things they don't mean, and are probably more likely to drop dead of a heart attack. And just who do you think starts all the barroom brawls in the world? Not the quiet guy nursing his beer in the corner.

From then on, I vowed, I would speak more softly, breathe more evenly, live at a more soothing volume. If I sat beside you on the train, you could sleep all the way to your destination without ever knowing I was there.

Unfortunately, my resolution, like all the other ones I make in the course of a week, didn't work out all that well. I'm still easily roused to the impassioned response, the flash enthusiasm, the shout of joy or exasperation. I still like to jump around.

So who's right? Mel Brooks who says that only those who make some noise are really living? Or the seductive woman from the obituary who made every conversation feel like a shared confidence?

Both probably. Or neither. But this week, I'm resolving to go with Mel. This week I'm going to flap my legs and arms.



Robin Andrea searches for the perfect rye bread and taps into the magic of childhood....

Damian McNicholl recalls a moving encounter with a truly holy man...

Andi Buchanon gives a FIERCE and inspiring reading in Brooklyn...

And Dave Bonta takes my links post a step further and dreams up some pretty innovative blogging tools...

Friday, September 15, 2006


Chain, Chain, Chain
Originally uploaded by ozoni11.

Most of the links on my sidebar I found through reading blogs and getting so excited about what they contained that I wanted more. I wanted to read everything this blogger wrote. Or at least check in on a regular basis.

Not all of them though.

Three or four were added when an enterprising blogger wrote and asked me to exchange links. I usually comply. Just seems like the polite thing to do.

Most often the link traders have no real interest in my blog; and once they acquire another link in their chain, they're never seen again.

One link was added after I got a rather irate email from a man wanting to know why I linked all his friends, but not him. I probably should have ignored the email. But I felt bad that I hurt his feelings so I apologized and added his link.

Once he got me to admit I was wrong, he never visited again either.

A few times I've linked blogs and frequently left comments on them because I loved their words, and they always said something that made me want to yell YES! Loudly!

But they never visited me back or left even a stone in the comment box.

Maybe they were too busy or had no interest in the stuff I wrote. But I started to feel like the high school outcast. I dressed all in black when I visited their blogs. I sulked and said nothing--no matter how fast their writing made my heart pound.Maybe I even stopped visiting altogether.

If they didn't want to hang out in the alley with me in my black clothes, I wouldn't hang out with them either. So there!

Sometimes I even took their links down and exorcised them altogether like an ex-boyfriend who never liked you as much as you liked him.

I know it's not very mature, and I only denied myself the pleasure of some fine writing, but that's what I did.

Sometimes I take people off my sidebar because they've stop blogging for a while or because I have so many links and I can never seem to find the one I'm looking for.

There are several blogs I visit regularly, but haven't linked to. Not because I like them less, but because I got in the habit of connecting to them through a mutual friend's sidebar or through their comments here.

My blog roll is so diverse that if we all got together for a party, it might be a weird gathering. I wouldn't know whether to serve beer or blue martinis or double expressos. Come to think of it my life is like that, too.

And I like it that way. In my alley, anyone can hang out--no matter what color your clothes are.

What was the last blog you linked to and why?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

11 things that made me happy today

Joy, originally uploaded by Pensiero.

1. Dark chocolate covered cherries from Trader Joe's first thing in the morning. Even before I had my coffee. Yes!

2. Talking to my friend, R, on the phone about the funny hairstyles we had in old photographs...even though our hair pretty much looks the same as it did then.

3. Deciding on colors for my new Website with my amazing designer, at Author Bytes. Black, white, red, blue...can you see it now?

4. Discovering a great young Australian writer named Cate Kennedy and wanting to tell everyone I know.

5. Comments on my blog! (Thank you.)

6. A nice e-mail from a very talented writer.

7. Coffee with my friend Laura who was so excited about some music she heard in concert last week that we had to go into the music store and listen to James Hunter on the spot.

8. Dancing as I listened, then looking across the store and seeing that Laura was dancing, too.

9. Being followed out of the music store by a very cranky clerk, who seemed to think we had stolen the CD.

10. Laughing about it because we were full of music and we never had to steal a thing.

11. Blowing very sincere kisses to cranky people everywhere. Maybe if they ate more chocolate covered cherries?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"in bed, he smells like a butcher."

The Red Cross, originally uploaded by magic fly paula.

Would make a great book title, wouldn't it? Just reading it, I can
feel the plot unfolding in my head--and I've already developed a strong antipathy to the man who comes to bed smelling of blood.

But in reality, this isn't a book title. It's a quote from Assia Weevil, describing her famous lover, Ted Hughes. Whether the butcher in question is one of poetry's most despicable cads or just the victim of his own lust for despairing women, I don't know.

What I do know is that we would never have heard of Assia Weevil if she hadn't been the "other woman" in the love triangle that unhinged Sylvia Plath and led to her tragic suicide.

As both a wife and an admirer of Plath's fiercely beautiful poems and the eager-for-life voice that permeates her diaries, I'm disinclined to have much sympathy for Assia. The bizarre murder-suicide she committed a few years later, involving her own four year old daughter only increases that disinclination.

Now a full scale biography probes the life of the woman whose only claim to fame was her fatal connection to Plath and Hughes. This morning's Guardian rehashed some of it's salient points. (Hughes moved his new lover into his dead wife's bed two days after her death.)

A Lover of Unreason: The Biography of Assia Weevil by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negav, it is called if anyone is interested. It remains a story so packed with melodrama and stunning ironies that if it were a novel, it would be rejected as unbelievable.

No wonder so many of us, fans of one or both of the poets, have developed such strong emotions about it. For years, Plath fans, outraged by Hughes' destruction of the diaries which detailed his betrayal, have raged against him. But Hughes, too, has had his supporters--including his and Plath's daughter, Frieda. It wasn't his fault Sylvia was crazy, the argument seems to go.

The only thing that remains certain to those of us outside the story is what we lost: the poems and novels that might have been written by a brilliant, impassioned thirty-two year old woman who had just begun to tap into her full power.

For those, I still grieve.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The Arctic Monkeys
Originally uploaded by Frida Borjeson Photography.

Actually, I don't. But that doesn't stop me from getting out there whenever I can--though these days the occasions for embarrassment are usually limited to dancing in the corner at the weddings I work or gyrating with my co-workers at the annual company Christmas party.

In the privacy of my little office, however, my inner dancing queen still reigns. When I'm first dreaming up a character or tiptoeing in the vicinity of a plot, I turn off the computer and dance to something slow and languorous. (Think Billie Holiday wrapping her sinuous voice around "In my Solitude" or Tori Amos crooning "Sleeps with Butterflies." Then when all the story synapses start to fire, I crank up something loud and triumphant. (Maybe U2 belting out "It's a beautiful day!" or anything by the GoGos.)

It also takes music to get me to clean the house. For me, freedom from dust bunnies isn't enough. There has to be a little fun involved, and that means music and maybe even an occasional dance with my bumble bee yellow Dyson (fortunately very light weight).

Currently, my favorite music-to-clean-the-house-by is The Arctic Monkeys, Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not. (In my case, that would be a housewife--though I doubt that's what this iconoclastic young band had in mind.)In case you're as out of the musical loop as I usually am, the Arctic Monkeys are Britain's hottest band, a group of young men who've won the Mercury and the Brit awards and gotten all kinds of media attention by insisting they don't want any.

Clearly, I'm not their target audience. In a recent rave in The Guardian, Alexis Petridis wrote:

...anyone over 30 who finds themselves reflected in Turner's stories of alcopop-fuelled punch-ups and drunken romantic lunges in indie clubs should consider turning the album off and having a long, quiet think about where their life is heading.

Bob Dylan said something similar back in the sixties, and lived to disprove his own words. So no, I don't haven't gotten into any "alcopop fuelled punch-ups" while dancing in my living room (not lately anyway); and I'm not looking for a drunken romantic lunge either (though I must say I admire Petridis's turn of a phrase.) As far as the suggestion to have "a long, quiet think where you're life is heading," well that would seem like good advice for anyone who regularly gets involved in alcoholic punch-ups and drunken lunges. Or maybe that's just the mom in me talking.

But music is energy and sound and poetry; if it's any good, it's going to strike a universal chord. And the Arctic Monkeys are good.


Meanwhile, in Blogland:

Tess Gerritsen defangs a bad review and opens up the discussion to writers everywhere...

Myfanwy Collins goes to the dump and makes the trip well worth your time...

David Thayer reveals why the blogging phenomenon is far from over...

And a family challenges their own materialism--and ours--by vowing to buy nothing they don't need for 30 days on Intent.

Monday, September 11, 2006


My candle
My Candle

Five years ago, I was on the phone, gossiping with a friend about a co-worker's transgressions on the job. We had a lot to say about nothing. My caller ID beeped several times--friends and family
members trying to tell me what had happened.

For a whole hour, I didn't pick up. At that moment, it seemed that nothing could be more important than our petty grudges.

Five years later, the big questions on the news shows seems to be: Have we learned anything? Are we safer now?

I don't know about our country or our leaders, but I hope I learned that some things just don't matter. And that time is too precious to waste on them.

On September 11th, 2006, I, like millions of others, remember those who died in the towers and on the planes. And I also remember those around the globe who live with the horrors of war every day.

Tonight I will light my little candle for peace in all nations and I will set it in the window. It is a small, insignificant act, but it's all I can do. Join me?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The answer is SEX

The Exceptional X / Book of Objects
Originally uploaded by magic fly paula.

And the question? Well, that's easy: What's the one thing you would never write about?


--Because my kids still think I'm a virgin.

--My mom, too.

--Because it's most often done badly--the writing, that is, not the sex. (From what I hear, that's frequently done rather well.)

--Because even some of our great literary minds have gushed in embarrassing shades of purple, producing scenes that sounded like bad porn when they tried.

There are exceptions though. Two literary sex scenes in particular come to mind:

In Sula, Toni Morrison writes a scene so charged and visceral that the hair on your arms will rise.

The second one is the famous scene in Gone With the Wind when a drunken Rhett sweeps Scarlett up the stairs. But wait, you say. That's where the scene ended. One of the most memorable and powerful sex scenes in my reading life had no actual, um, sex?

My point exactly. (Aren't you proud of me, Mom?)

Anyone else have a favorite literary sex scene? Or one that made you laugh out loud it was so bad?

Friday, September 08, 2006


Yep. I really could do it.

Really could come home at around two tomorrow morning and tell you all, I finally got the guts. Or the belief in myself. Or the willingness to let go. Whatever it takes to finally quit waitressing my job.

As you all know, I rather like the work. Not on all days or with all the people I serve, but on most.

But it's all about the TIME. Today I'm scheduled to be in at 3, and the wedding isn't over till midnight. Then we have to clean up and set chairs for a ceremony in the morning. In other words, I'm looking at an eleven hour day. A hard eleven.

Which would be okay. If there weren't so many things I WON'T be doing while I'm lifting and hauling and smiling. So many things, that it seems increasingly unwise to put off. My real work, for one thing.

If I were a bumper sticker person, I'd be slapping a variation of the most popular one on my car right now: I'D RATHER BE WRITING, it would say.

Maybe I should listen. Maybe I should stop talking about it on the blog and do it.

This could be the day...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The forein affairs correspondent was PRETTIER?

Katie Couric 2001, originally uploaded by BILLBINNS.

When it comes to Katie Couric, I'm pretty much neutral. I never watched The Today Show enough ( at all?) to become a fan. Nor do I have any opinion or knowledge of her qualifications to become a news anchor.

Thus, I've been fairly oblivious to reports about the money she was paid, what she was planning to wear for her debut, and whether or not she recently had Restylane injections--though obviously more news of Katie than I need to know has crossed my radar screen.

But when a female writer for the New York Times critiqued her first night on the job by saying she was upstaged by a pretty war correspondent in a black chador, I admit it: I was a little annoyed.

I mean, seriously, how many times was it implied that Tom Brokaw might have a problem because (uh-oh!) the foreign correspondent looked better in his Chanel glasses?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Sometimes I think the reason I became a writer is because I'm so damn inarticulate.

A writer who can't express herself in her native language? Not a very auspicious sign, you probably say. Better take up welding. Or witchcraft. Or maybe waitressing...Can I bring anyone a beverage to start?

No, I'm not always good at the pithy remark, the sharp rejoinder, the on-the-spot insight. But give me time to pace around my study, blasting loud music to loosen the thoughts in my head, and I can cough up words till I choke--or until my weary fingers curl up like claws.

Anyway, there I was at lunch with my agent and some lovely people from my publisher's office when I was asked a simple question: Who reads your blog?

Well, um, all kinds of people.

Where are they from?

Uh, lots of of them are American. But lots of them...aren't. Err, I guess you could say people from all over the world.

Men? Women?

Hmm...lots of women. And men, too. Lots of men. Men and women, that's who reads my blog. Men and women from all over the world. (Oh, I was doing good! I was nailing these questions!)

But who are they? How did they find you? What kind of books do they read?

Maybe it was the triple question that flustered me. Maybe it was the impossibility of categorizing such a diverse and wonderful group of people. Maybe I just don't know how you found me, or I found you, or why. Maybe it's a process as mysterious as finding a friend or a mate or a poet who makes you stand up and recite their words out loud in your room late at night--as I've been tempted to do with some of your posts.

But whatever the reason, my inarticulate self spoke up and this is what she said:

Earthy crunchy people!

That's right; let the stoning begin. I called you earthy crunchy people--a term that hasn't been in common usage since, I don't know--the seventies?

Since everyone at the table was younger than I am, they all looked a bit mystified--and relieved to focus on their food. Earthy crunchy people, huh? How interesting. End of discussion.

So now that I'm back in my office with my music playing in the background and all my pictures around me,I can give a much better answer. In fact, I can tell you exactly who reads my blog:

Women and men.
People from places I've visited and even lived, and people from places
I've never been and may never see or know except through your words and photographs.
Artists and writers.
People who are just beginning to dream their careers.
People who've left the work force and now have time to reflect and be.
Mothers and fathers.
People who see the world through a wide lens.
People who understand the importance of the tiniest detail.
Sons and daughters.
A rabbi or two.
People who heal.
People who work at jobs they love.
People who don't.
People who embrace solitude.
People who live amid the trial and joy of family.
People with passionate opinions.
People with open minds and hearts.
People who teach me things, and expand my vision every day.

Is it any wonder I couldn't come up with a simple concise answer? But seriously,earthy crunchy people? I still have no idea where that one came from.


And speaking of my blog friends, I was thrilled to discover these ladies when I was shopping at Faces in Northampton. So thrilled, in fact, that I had to pull out my camera and take a picture.


My friend Laini made these! I said, when the clerk looked at me askance as I photographed the merchandise. And of course, I had to buy a couple of them on the spot. One now blesses my dining room table as she swings from the light, and another one hangs right here in my office, bearing this motto:


What indeed.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


standing in the river

I have been on a long journey, most of it not measured in miles.

It began with a train ride to New York City. Facing me in the quiet car, a young woman was heading back to school at NYU. She wore a pale blue t-shirt emblazoned with the words LOVE ONE ANOTHER and the miracle of her own youth and beauty with equal ease. While we traveled she studied a thick stack of fashion magazines as if they contained a secret she desperately needed to know.

Her mother was across the aisle. In her jeans and tank top, she had the kind of bright open face that made me wish we had been friends. Every now and then the daughter found something so important in her magazines that she crouched in the aisle to share it with her mother.

Though they spoke in hushed voices, the conductor warned them to be quiet. His tone was disproportionately harsh. Apparently, their shared excitement about life created too much *noise* for his sensibilities.

When I glanced at the mother, she rolled her eyes and whispered, "The man's got problems." We both smiled.

But people like the conductor could not touch this mother and daughter on the way to New York City. And they couldn't touch me either. As we approached the city, I felt a growing sense of exhilaration.

The first day Ted and I met an old friend we hadn't seen in nineteen years. We traipsed around Manhattan, talking as if the years had no weight at all. Finally, we ended up in a little trattoria in Soho where the food was tastier--and cheaper--than a similar meal would have been at home. From where we sit, we could look through the potted plants and see the fascinating circus of life passing by.

While we ate, our friend Paula told us how she had escaped from the 105th floor of the second tower on 9/11. Her story, obviously recounted many times, began this way: It was a beautiful day and I had just sat down with my iced coffee...

The next day was a business day. From my hotel, I walked to the elegant brownstone where so many of my hopes and dreams had, through a mysterious alchemy, been transmuted to reality by my wizard of an agent, Alice Tasman. Meeting a person I knew so well as a voice on the phone, but had never met, was an amazing experience. For the first hour or so, I grinned at her like a dope. It's really you!

From there, we headed over to Dutton, and then off to a wonderful lunch at LUPA with my editor, the publicity director, and the marketing director. Over the best gnocchi I've had outside of Bologna, I heard their exciting plans for my novel. I also met three interesting people, who like the woman on the train, I could easily see as friends.

After leaving New York, Ted and I stopped at home long enough to pick up Lexi and Emma and then headed to Northampton, the small town where I spent ten years of my life, and the place where I've probably felt more at home than anywhere else on earth.

I met a friend who had been a true sister to me. For at least twenty years, we had never gone a day without talking. But somehow we too had been separated by time and distance. Reunited, we talked, we ranted, we hugged; and more than once I felt myself about to weep by some of the things life had demanded of us.

Later, we went by the apartment where I had once been intensely happy and stood staring at number on the door as if it could tell us the secret of that happiness. We walked the short distance to the elementary school where my oldest sons had walked across the lawn to attend kindergarten, their Superman lunchboxes in hand, and begun the process of leaving home.

We sat on the grass. We stared into the woods where we had buried our cat, Rainbow. We walked down the street where I had jogged hundreds of miles, inventing stories in my head as I ran; we passed the restaurant where I worked, the place where Ted and I first met.

We went to the church where we had been married, but the doors were locked. That's when I realized that all the doors had been locked. Neither the old apartment or the happiness we had felt there would readmit us. We could look into the past all we wanted, but it remained impenetrable.

That night I couldn't sleep. Around two I got up and sat in a chair in our hotel suite, listening for the sound of the train for a long time. After it passed, I went back and again tried to sleep. Failing, I got up and sat by the window where I'd listened for the train and wrote a poem. Whether it was the poem or the sound of the train that released me, I'm not sure, but when I was finished, I was finally ready to rest.

The next day we went to the river, and put our feet in the icy water and listened to its sounds the way I had listened to the train the night before. There in that chilly current, I made peace with all the things that had troubled and excited and agitated me on my long journey: the way life eventually slams all its doors on you, and separates you from people you love, the inescapable loneliness of a train's whistle late at night, the sobering truth that even on a beautiful day, when you set out with your iced coffee in hand, you might be asked to surrender your life.

I suppose the reason I couldn't sleep, the reason I took out my notebook and searched for a poem as dawn approached was because I thought there was an answer to those things. And I thought it was my job to find it. But listening to the sound of the water, I realized there was only this: standing in the river and feeling the cold water, the sun, and the wind as it all flowed past.