Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Yodog, originally uploaded by myhappylittleplace.

It has chocolate! It has make-believe! It has skeletons rising from the grave to walk through the streets one more time. You'd think I love it.

But I don't.

I know it's curmudgeonly; it's practically unpatriotic; and what's worse, it's probably a sign of being too old and jaded to remember the joy of traipsing through the streets in the cold, nose dripping behind your plastic mask, with an increasingly heavy bag--or even a pillowcase, for the truly enterprising--laden down with an assortment of tantalizing, teeth rotting, commercially made junk food--but I hate Halloween. There I've said it!

And what's more I've got good reasons for it. Ten of them, in fact.

1. Animals in costumes. Seriously, have you ever met a cat who would enjoy getting dressed up as Batman or Bridezilla?

2. It exposes my inadequacies as a mother. I can't sew, and even if I could, I could never come up with the creative costume ideas that the "mother who does everything better than you do" has. As a result, my kids were always dressed up in last minute, hodge-podge costumes made from stuff found around the house. Sheet ghosts and funky princesses were my specialty.

3. People who don't even wave to you on the street bring their children to your door demanding candy.

4. The candy's not even good.

5. I eat it anyway.

6. The prime trick or treating hour is just when you're having dinner.

7. Bad people put razor blades in the candy. Or at least, some sick Halloween Grinch (not me, I swear) did once ten years ago, and the Organization of Paranoid Parents, of which I'm a charter member, has been worrying about it ever since.

8. The dogs don't get it. The doorbell ringing every five minutes? Little people dressed up in furry costumes who haven't even done a trick get treats from their master? What the hell?

9. Fifty dollar costumes! How silly are we?

10. Someone always steals my pumpkin. This year the bold band of thieves came right to the doorstep while we sat reading in our armchairs only feet away, and while the dogs barked madly in the background. Fortunately for them, we were too lazy and curmudgeonly to get up and see what was going on. (Besides, I was reading a really good book.)


The good news? This year, the thieves left something in return. And though I don't think it would make a very good soup, it's almost pumpkin colored.


The bad news? Now I've got to get up out of my armchair and get rid of that cone. Can you make it eleven reasons?

Monday, October 30, 2006


Jeepers. I just start my new, convenient blogging schedule and I'm already off track. I missed my Saturday post because of a wind storm
that left us without power all day; and then on Sunday, it was Jake and
Laura's annual oyster and champagne party so I never got around to my
Sunday scribbling.

But that's okay. While I fell behind, some more great links accumulated in the comment suggestion. I love that you didn't limit yourselves to blog posts. We have a film trailor, and a couple of book recommendations in the mix, too.


Peter reminded us of the quiet resonance frequently found in Steve's writing over at On the Slow Train. His latest piece on Writer's Envy particularly hit home for me.

Blue Poppy left a great link that will inspire Scrabble aficionados everywhere. (Are you around, Colleen?) And she also got me excited about
Pan's Labyrinth, the haunting fairy tale by Guillermo del Toro that will be released as a film in December.

In the book department: Anne Bauer is reading Julie Orringer's dazzling collection of short stories, How to Breathe Underwater, and thinks that if you haven't checked Orringer out, maybe you should. I agree.

And Sara recommended The Artist's Handbook, which should be particularly helpful to those of us planning to MakeArtEveryDay in November. I ordered my copy this afternoon.

In the "unique concept for a blog" category, Carmen directs us to a site that prints the kind of tongue in cheek reviews that Amazon won't.

And since both Zhoen and I are doing a Ten Things day on our blogs, she pointed me to Ten Things We Didn't Know Last Week.

Friday, October 27, 2006


news hub, originally uploaded by Lorrie McClanahan.

Plenty of good reading on Blog Street this week. A few pieces that stuck with me:

--Jane Goodall goes to Beijing and speaks about the environment with an almost "pathological optimism". Clearly something the world needs more of.

--For the legions out there planning to participate in Nanowrimo, Patricia Highsmith's words might give you some inspiration when you're hunched over the computer trying to eke out the last words of the day.

--Jane Austen knows a thing or two about getting a novel written, too. (Note to self: it doesn't involve surfing the internet all day.)

--And for those who don't want to write a novel but don't want to be excluded from November's creative frenzy, there's the blogger version: NaBloPoMo.

--The artistically inclined--or even those like me who can't draw for beans but hope to resurrect the joy they felt when they got out the crayons and drew a house with an apple tree in the front yard, can sign on for ArtEveryDayMonth.

--And speaking of disciplined activity, Anna David writes about "exercise addiction" and has me pulling out the yoga mat to do a few crunches at one a.m.

But the Blog Discovery of the Week Award goes to Meg Fowler, writing at a Website of the same name. Not exactly sure how I found her, but I'm sure glad I did.

Now what about you? What did you read this week that excited, inspired, stimulated, made you laugh or think or cry or get up and do a little twirly dance all alone in your room? Leave a link in the comment section and I'll post it over the weekend!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"the best moment of my life..."


The best moment of my life--and I suspect of yours--isn't strictly a moment. It's an accumulation of them, a light that flashes brighter and brighter until it blinds you with its beauty.

It also can't last; and like autumn or first love or a sunrise, that evanescence is no small part of its magic.

This week on Dilbert blog, Scott Adams wrote about the return of his voice after disease had robbed him of it for eighteen months. It was, he said, the best moment of his life. But it wasn't one moment. It was the all the moments and all the years when he had taken the wonders of speaking for granted. And it was also the months when he had gone without it. It was a moment of culmination, and it was amazingly, preciously temporary. Scott couldn't be sure how long he would have the use of his voice, but he knew one thing: it wasn't forever.

For me, there have been a lot of best moments. The moments when babies were born. When love was incited as quickly and mysteriously as tossed match, the moments when shadowy stories that had lingered in my subconscious for months or years finally took on solidity. But Scott's story made me think of another kind of moment.

It was this time of year, late autumn, post harvest, the time of shortening days and increasing chill, and my father was dying. He had been in a coma for two weeks the night I found myself alone with him in his hospital room.

As I did every night, I talked to him. I told him the old stories that bound us together. They seemed incredibly few and thin. The night we snuck out together to buy a puppy after my mother forbid it. The Saturday afternoons when he took me out for chocolate milkshakes. The beach we went to when I was little, and how he always made us walk for miles, until we had escaped the crowds found a place of solitude where we could hear nothing but the sound of the surf. Yes, they seemed few and thin, but they were anything but.

I also told him that I loved him. But on this night, he opened his eyes and spoke in a tremulous voice. "I love you, too."

I picked up the phone and called my mother.

"Someone wants to talk to you," I said. And when I handed her the phone, my father said, "Hi honey," like he had done every night when he came in from work.

But this time we all were weeping. This time we finally understood that we'd been imperviously living the happiest moment of our lives for decades.

Two weeks later my father died, but the bliss of that moment remains. And the truth of it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Order please!

Order please!, originally uploaded by lapidim.

As I've told you before, I like to hang my clothes on the line in a feat of engineering precision, meant to maximize the use of sun
and wind and to present a pleasing and efficient picture of order. Underwear goes with underwear, socks with socks, things that will be put away downstairs do not mingle with clothes that go upstairs.

My kitchen cupboards are also maintained in strict order, and so is my dishwasher. And that, my friends, is where order ends both in my house and in my life.

And truthfully, I don't think a little happy chaos is a bad thing; in fact I advocate it. Get too orderly and the next thing you know you're pissed off at everyone in your life because they're messing with your systems. In my family, for instance, no one touches "my" dishwasher. Nor would they consider going near "my" clothesline. Not at bad deal when you think about it. For them.

In fact, I'm starting to think that they've learned from the masterful human-training my cats have accomplished. Jasper and Berlin know exactly what I don't want them to do, and whenever they want my attention, they do exactly that. Then, when I jump up from my chair, yelling and flailing my arms, they artfully lead me to the food bowl, tails pointed triumphantly upward. It's a cat technique that has never been known to fail.

You see what I mean about my disorderly mind? I start off talking about my desire to live a more orderly life and the next thing you know I'm pontificating on the feline art of human training.

Anyway, what I really was getting to was this blog. I want to make it neater. I want the socks with the socks, the underwear with the underwear. I don't want to be sitting at the computer at midnight thinking "maybe I should post something," and feeling exactly like Meg Fowler in this spot-on reflection about silly blogger angst.

So this the plan. This is the structure, the order, the system I intend to implement...starting, of course, tomorrow:

Monday: Shameless Imitation Day. I'll find an idea that a really clever and creative blogger is doing, and then--I'll do it too! Is that brilliant, or what? (With proper attribution and linkage, of course.)

Tuesday: 10 Things Day. Whether it's ten poems, ten ideas, ten complaints, ten shouts, or just ten acorns, Tuesday is going to be all about the number 10 around here.

Wednesday: The existential question of the weak (and yes, I spelled weak that way on purpose.) An idea absolutely all my own. Well, almost. Over at Litpark, Susan Henderson asks a question every Monday. But hers are really good, serious questions that never fail to provoke an chorus of thought-provoking answers. Mine, on the other hand, focus on dumb things like who uses the automatic handdryers in the rest room.

: The Best Thing that Happened all Day Day. (Love the use of day-day) Or if it's been a particularly crappy twenty-four hours, and absolutely nothing good has happened (are there ever really days that bad?), I reserve the right to make it the best thing that happend this month.

: Great things I read around the blogahood day. I'll link to a few things that made me think, made me mad, made me laugh or inspired me to try something new. Then I'll invite you to do the same in the comment section.

Saturday: I'll put up the links, if any, you posted the day before.

: Well I'll be scribbling, of course!

So all right, I can already see a couple of flaws--and probably, you can, too. For one thing, there are no days off. No sick days, vacation days, too-much-to-do-days or just-don't-feel-like-it days. We all know every week contains at least a couple of those, and some weeks consist entirely of them. In that case, the rule will be iron fast: I won't do it! If the sun shines and Ted wants to go hiking on say a Wednesday, the existential question will just have to wait till the following week.

The weekly schedule also leaves no room for spontanaeity, for the little encounter or thought process or experience that leaves you breathless and makes for the very best blog posts. They are the grace moments, and when one lands on us or we land on it by some accident of serendipity, it would be a travesty not to go with it. Life, after all, will never as as neat as my clothesline. Nor would I want it to be.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"Be quiet, still, and solitary."

The Garden of Shimmering Peace

In the comment section of the last post, Laini asked a question about the origins of the name of my blog, and led me to a wonderful artist's site. The Kafka quote, which uses the words simply wait was only one of the marvels I found there. Though I hadn't read it before, I love the quote so much that if my blog didn't already refer to it, I would have to rename it in Kafka's honor.

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Franz Kafka

Garden of Standing Tall

Interestingly enough, it was another German writer who first haunted me with the words simply wait. I have written about Goethe's "The Second Poem the Night-Walker Wrote" here before. It is a poem that confronts us rather starkly with the silence that will claim us all--and "soon". But it doesn't seem at all morbid to me. Instead, I read it as a reminder to sing now while we have a voice, to sing with gratitude and joy, to sing until the trees chant in response to the power of our voices.

Over the hilltops,
Among all the treetops
You feel hardly
A breath moving.
The birds fall silent in the woods.
Simply wait! Soon
you too will be silent.


Saturday, October 21, 2006



In recent years, the country where I live has been so polarized that it seemed we would never come together on anything. My despair over our disunity reached a peak a few months ago when an apolitical post about an art exhibit somehow sparked a virulent exchange of red vs. blue rhetoric in the comment section. The animosity expressed was dispiriting to say the least.

I don't want to fight that particular war.

I don't believe that squabbling in the back alleys while the real battle goes on elsewhere benefits us as individuals, the US as a nation, or the world that is impacted by a superpower, for good or for ill.

But this week, energized by Bill Moyers' special on Net Neutrality, I felt a resurgence of the idealism and energy that are and always have been this country's greatest assets.

There is still so much we disagree about; and because the stakes are so high, the disagreement is and will continue to be a passionate one. But I believe that there are at least three things that the overwhelming majority of us agree on:

1. We want a free internet where all voices can be heard, not just those who pay large sums for the privilege of entering, and ultimately controlling the conversation.

2. We want a congress that represents the people, not the corporations, special interests, and those who pay for their lunch, their junkets and their campaigns.

3. We want to know that our votes will be counted fairly and accurately.
All of them.

Can we come together? Can we get off of our couches and onto our front porches? Can we start talking to each other before it's too late?

Thursday, October 19, 2006


sunset on the beach, originally uploaded by I, Puzzled.

The other night, we had our traditional end of the season party at work. Though I don't show up on the job anymore, I was there for the party. My friends loved pointing that out.

But the truth is I'm the kind of person who has to be dragged to a party--and then, once I start talking and laughing and drinking my beer, I'm the last to leave.

"What--so early? We were just getting started here... " I say as the door slams behind me.

The other night was no exception. I'd agreed to my friend's cajoling on one condition: we would stay no longer than an hour. A quick drink, something to eat, and we'd be out of there.

A sneaky little smile appeared on her face as she promised we'd be home before nine. Friends who know you better than you know yourself can be so annoying.

Anyway, it was great to be with my co-workers, to see them in their jeans, looking unharried by crazy kitchen stuff, beer in hand. The theatrically lit sea behind us felt like a visceral reminder of the great drama that underlies the most ordinary lives. Lives like ours, for instance.

When I first started working there, a boy of about fifteen washed dishes after school. Michael. He was quiet and polite, and in the five years, we worked together, I only penetrated that reserved exterior a few times.

A couple of years ago, he brought his younger brother in for a job. And shortly thereafter, Michael appeared in the kitchen in a Navy uniform. He looked proud and happy.

There was nothing for him on Cape Cod, he said. He was going to get a skill and begin a real career. Somewhat trepidatiously, we wished him well.

"At least, he won't be sent to Iraq," we said after he left.

I loved the younger brother from the start. He slouched perpetually, as if to deny the lanky truth of who he was becoming, and turned crimson if you said so much as hello to him.

When people gathered in the "break area," which consists of a picnic table by the dumpster, the younger brother was always standing at the periphery, looking uncomfortable.

His was a stance, a way of being in the world, that I understood all too well. I would always go over and try to pull him into the conversation. When he reddened and fled, I understood that too.

By this year, however, the younger brother had taken possession of both himself and who he was in the work place. He joked. He initiated conversations. He loved to give hugs.

It was great to see him the other night on the dance floor, flailing his arms and legs wildly in flagrant celebration of the cliche "white men can't dance" .

When I ran into him near the bar, he gave me one of his famous hugs.

"Thanks for being so friendly to me when I first came here," he said. "My first couple of weeks, you were the only one who talked to me."

I asked him if he'd seen the "free hugs" video, and told me it always made me think of him. He hadn't, but promised to check it out.

Then the talk drifted to the subject of his brother. By then, we all knew that enlisting in the Navy was no protection from being sent to Iraq.

Michael is now in his second tour. People at work have written to him regularly, sending him goofy pictures of the antics that go on in the kitchen, cartons of Cape Cod Potato Chips, and socks. He always seems to need socks.

"We haven't heard from him in over a month," the brother said. "We don't even know where he is."

"Your parents must be so worried," the mother in me blurted out. It was probably the wrong thing to say.

The younger brother's eyes changed, but he didn't look away. "It's all they think about. Really, it's all any of us think about."

Then he hugged me again. But this time the hug felt different. This time I could feel the anxiety that this high school senior lives with every day.

It was still with me when the party ended. Sometimes the war in Iraq is not what you hear about in the news, not a bumper sticker sentiment, not a political sound bite. It's one kid, who hasn't been heard from in a month. One worried family.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006



A while back I told you about Sadie J, the character I came to love so much that I grieved, seriously grieved, after I wrote the last story about her.

Now that story, "My Women", is available on Amazon for a price not seen since the days when Woolworth's flourished--49 Cents!

Out of that 49 cents, I think I get about a dime. So please, read it--because it takes a lot of dimes to buy a cup of coffee these days...and I have a kid in college...and because someone just told me that oversized acorns like the ones I pictured yesterday mean it's going to be a cold winter. But mostly I hope you read it because Sadie J is a woman you're going to want to know.

When I first sent the story to my agent, this was her emailed response:

" Rip my heart out and tear it to shreds... this is so powerful!"

Yes, I know--she's my agent; it's her job to love me. But it's also her job to tell me when I'm off the mark. And believe me, she's not afraid to do so.

All right, now that I've given you my pitch and maybe even earned myself a shiny dime toward the college fund, on to other breaking news:

Swirly Girl
has a secret project going on over at her house, and she needs you to answer a question on a subject that's dear to all of our hearts. If you haven't entered her world before, prepare to be captivated,
delighted--and to leave a better person than you were when you arrived.

Susan Henderson, who likes to get things started with a great discussion every Monday, also has a question. This week she wants to know what you do when the art you create doesn't fit within a particular commercial label. It happens to be an issue I struggled with for years.

Meanwhile, I'm about 100 pages from the end of Half of a Yellow Sun, the book that the Third Day book Club will be blogging about on November 3rd. It's been a long time since I've read a book that I really don't want to end, but this is one of them. And by the little hints I've gotten from other Third day-ers, I think they feel the same way. So if you haven't yet begun the book, don't despair. The book may be 400 + pages, but once you start, you will FLY through them.

I've also designed a banner for the Book Club, and the generous and kind, not to mention brilliant Melly from All Kinds of Writing has been helping me to get it onto my sidebar where it should appear soon.


Monday, October 16, 2006


DSCN1874, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

A week or two ago, the wonderful and amazing blogger known as Blue Poppy announced that she might have to take a break from blogstreet. Real life was full and happy, and the virtual life threatened to encroach.

I sat there in my little office nodding in agreement and understanding. Then I joined the rest of the commenters who begged her to reconsider. She was part of a circle that had gathered around an ephemeral fire. She couldn't just leave!

I wasn't surprised when Blue Poppy returned a few days later to report that she had underestimated the urge to relay the details of her day, accompanied by photographs.

Once again, I nodded in recognition. Ah, the blogging life. Like the nunnery or a chocolate factory, once you enter the gate, it's not all that easy to get out.

Take yesterday. I had just returned from my weekend in Western Massachusetts and I was bursting with good feeling, the centered calm that two solid days of relaxation brings--and nascent blog posts.

I had collected another ten things--this time (drum roll please) acorns! I couldn't wait to begin my project. Before I'd even taken the suitcase upstairs or fixed my afternoon cup of tea, I was arranging my treasures on
a piece of blank paper.

The only time I ever thought much about acorns in the past was when the neighborhood boys had an acorn fight, and my son Gabe got hit in the eye with one. But now I was all about the acorns. I had acorn theories, and lines of acorn poetry; if I were more musically inclined, I might have even written the world's first acorn song. Or what about a video? Was there anything on You tube about the secret life of acorns? If not, there should be.

I wanted to know what they tasted like; and thinking of Robin Andrea, who recently suggested that we should all be aware of what's edible in our native environment, I wondered how to cook them.

A little internet research produced a recipe for acorn soup, that still is used by some Native Americans. Labor intensive and consisting of nothing but, well, acorns, it didn't sound all that appetizing. But still, you never know until you try it!

For my first Very Scientific Study Ever, I set out to prove that acorns in Western Massachusetts were both much larger and more abundant than they are on Cape Cod. For evidence, I had to look no further than my own yard. Though we have many oak trees on the property, there were scant acorns on the ground--probably because so many of my neighbors have cleared their land of trees in a quest for a more spacious yard.

After I had compiled the photographic evidence for my comparison and made the necessary diagrams, I decided to treat the Cape Cod squirrels and jays to the fruits of my experiment.

"I bet these acorns will be gone within a week," I told my beleaguered family, as I dragged them away from homework and other Sunday afternoon activities to look at the cache of acorns I'd strategically placed in the dirt. I hoped to lure them into a wager on how long it would take for the acorns to disappear.


"See!" I said, excitedly.

"You've really lost it now, Mom," my son said, not interested in joining the acorn pool.

Even my mother, who'd just arrived for dinner, was no help.
"Actually, she was always like that," she confided, as she, too, slipped inside.

This morning I got up earlier than usual. Even before I had my coffee, I went outside in my pajamas to see how many acorns were left. Unfortunately, no one was around to witness the outcome but the dogs, who never miss an opportunity to go outside and sniff around. They were the only ones to hear my whoop when I found there was nothing left but an empty acorn hat, and the little unripened green one.


Of course, now I want to know how the who took them--squirrels or birds, where they stored them, and how the hell they get the damn things open without a nutcracker in sight. Honestly, I haven't had this much autumn fun since second grade when we used to collect leaves and press them in wax paper. Who says my life isn't exciting?

Sunday, October 15, 2006


DSCN0003_1, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

Twenty-five years ago this Saturday, Ted and I went on our first date.
It was a bright blue day when he picked me up in his old Ford Falcon. He told me proudly that he'd paid twenty-five dollars for it.

Ted still loves to tell people I wasn't sure I liked him--at least not in that way.

He was right. But it was just a mountain hike and lunch, and he was clearly a sweet guy. What did I have to lose?

Rattling along in the twenty-five dollar car, I wondered if we'd make it to the mountain. But we did. At the top, we sat on a rocky ledge,
and looked out over the Connecticut River, the patchwork of fields, the blazing trees of autumn.

We talked about the books that had influenced us most, and our deepest beliefs, our all-time favorite bands, and the number of children we hoped to have (separately, of course.)

Ted also loves to tell people that despite our pleasant afternoon, I thought the hike was the end of our story. He claims to have known better, even then.

Though I'd lived in the area for many years, I'd never been to that mountain before. And in the intervening years, I've never returned--until Saturday, exactly twenty-five years later.

By then, we'd not only forgotten the way, we could no longer recall the name of the park or the mountain. We had driven all over the valley and were about to give up when we saw a farmer loading pumpkins onto a truck.

We bought a pumpkin for 75 cents and asked directions.

"That sounds like Mt. Holyoke in Skinner Park," the farmer said, happy to solve our personal mystery.

Once again, it was a perfect day when we ascended the mountain, and found the ledge where we'd talked, really talked, for the first time. But this time, taking in the spectacular view, everything looked different. Twenty-five years ago, gazing out over the valley, I didn't know what I was seeing; I had no idea that the marvels spread so abundantly before us were nothing less than the future.


The other day I asked if anyone had read a blog or post that demanded to be shared:

C-love directed me to Quiero Round Egg a post that reveals the amazingly simple secret of getting what you want.

Meanwhile RDL mentioned the writerly inspiration she finds on a regular basis at Just Write, a site I frequently visit myself.

And Swirly reminded me that I was overdue for a trip to La Vie En Rose.

Friday, October 13, 2006

10 THINGS: LITTER by Susan Messer

litter 001/susan messer, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

I'll be away for a couple of days to celebrate a particular anniversary. (More on that when I return.) While I'm gone, I leave you with my guest blogger and co-creator of the Literary Blues Pie, Susan Messer, who takes on the assignment of collecting ten things that are alike, but different. In an interesting and illuminating choice, Susan chose litter.

"It is estimated that 40% of the litter in the Borough is smoking related, be it wrappers, cartons or cigarette ends."
-- Gedling Borough Council, England

“Studies show that areas which are allowed to remain dirty are prone to becoming more dirty, i.e., litter gives ‘permission’ to litter.”


Well, I can’t confirm the 40% (I wasn’t that scientific), but I can confirm that once you start paying attention, a lot of the litter you’ll see as you go about your business has something to do with cigarettes, and an awful lot has to do with eating and drinking. I can also confirm that litter gives permission to litter, because I’ve now started to notice that these pesky discards tend to occur in clusters, sometimes in extremely heavy clusters.

I can confirm, too, that as soon as I got the idea from Patry’s blog to collect litter while strolling, I started to see litter everywhere: Right on my front lawn, a Hostess snack cake wrapper. At the corner, a Kool cigarette butt.. Across the street, a cluster—a turquoise plastic cup, a Red Bull can, and a Nestle’s Crunch wrapper. All along my way, tucked into bushes, lying in parkway grass, bunched up in gutters, I saw litter: water bottles, soda cans, candy wrappers, potato chip bags, Styrofoam cups. Cigarette packs, more cigarette butts. Scrunched-up newspaper pages. Pens and pencils. Coffee cup tops. A high-heeled boot.

It didn’t take long to see that I couldn’t pick up everything I saw, so I set limits, established guidelines: (1) nothing too gross, (2) nothing too big or heavy to fit in my bag (no car parts, for example; no rain-soaked shirts or jackets), (3) nothing that would require me to step into mud puddles or walk across a stranger’s lawn, and (4) no duplicates (e.g., one Aquafina was enough).

At home, I took my collection down the basement, divided it into two arrangements, and went back to work, slightly forgetting that I’d left it all there, and not bothering to check whether the photos were any good. A few days later, my husband asked me how long I was going to leave those things lying around in the basement, so I said "I'm throwing them out right now," and I did—sorting the garbage from the recycling and disposing of them properly.

Another thing I can confirm: Once you start noticing, it’s hard to turn the noticing off, which can be kind of sad when the thing you’re noticing is litter.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

ELEPHANT GRIEF...and some other things I read this week

Elefante / Elephant, originally uploaded by Omar Junior.

The elephants seriously broke my heart this week when I read about
how their loving society and nurturing family life is breaking down due to habitat loss and human poaching.

What struck me most was the way these once gentle beasts grieve for one another. They carry out elaborate funeral-type rituals, and often return to the site of the bones for many years, displaying behavior associated with mourning.

Since it remained one of the New York Times most emailed articles all week, apparently a lot of other people were thinking about and sorrowing for these marvelous animals. It's a long article, but well worth your time and reflection if you haven't seen it.

Other things that caught this reader's eye on line this week:

A piece in the Washington Post by Stephen King, revealing the secrets of the writing life, which I found through Jennifer Weiner's blog. It was published almost two weeks ago and probably everyone who's vaguely interested in it has already read it, but I tend to be late to the party. Anyway, it was worth showing up after everyone's gone home for this line alone:

"Dig this: The so-called writing life is basically sitting on your ass."

Yup. I dig it.

And then I discovered Neil Kramer's blog--a site that was so good, so laugh out loud funny, so all round fantabulous, that I lost a day of my life in his archives. Then I went out and told everyone I knew about it--only to find that they'd all been reading Neil for years. What was I saying about being late to the party?

What about you? Has anyone discovered a blog or read a post or an article on line that knocked your socks off, that made you laugh, or mourn, or opened up a previously dormant pathway in your brain? If you did, leave a note in the comment section and I will link to it, and of course, to you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Moon Rising in Grasses, originally uploaded by MontanaRaven.

On the cover of Sunday's New York Times Book Review, William Kennedy wrote about Cormac McCarthy's new appocalyptic novel.

"McCarthy has said that death is the major issue in the world and that writers who don't address it aren't serious."

I'm thinking about that.

I'm also thinking a lot about The Road, a novel that takes on the end of civilization in McCarthy's blade-sharp, unflinching prose. Basically, I'm of two minds about it: some days I think everyone should read it so that we'll work harder for peace. Other days I think the vivid post-nuclear war world McCarthy creates so vividly is just too dark and terrifying a vision.

A few weeks ago I put in a request at the library for it. But Ted got his hands on a copy first.

Every night he's been reading it in bed wearing my reading glasses and his own furrowed brows.

Occasionally, I look up from Half of a Yellow Sun, the novel I'm reading for the Third Day book club, and say, "How is it?"

Then, before he gets a word out, I put my hand up. "No, don't tell me. I'll never sleep."

"Okay, I won't," he says, but he does anyway. Then he rolls over and falls into a deep and immediate slumber while I stay up worrying about things like where we'd get food if nothing was growing from the earth, if the sea was empty and the animals all dead.

Fortunately, Ted whipped through The Road quickly because by the third day, I was strung out and exhausted from a book I hadn't even opened.

Tonight, he brought it downstairs and to put it in our library return basket.

"Well?" I said. "Should I read it?"

"It's a great book; sure to get some major awards" Ted said, hesitating, the book still in hand. "But should you read it? Probably not." He tossed it in the basket conclusively

"Why? What could possibly be worse than the parts you already read to me?" I asked, slightly offended, and ready to go right over and dig that book out.

Then, realizing it was almost bedtime, I stopped myself. "Nevermind. Don't tell me."

But of course, he did. Looks like it's going to be a long night...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"something to do with the blog"

DSCN1844, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

The other day, I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling and listening to my family as they moved around downstairs. Now that I don't have to jump out of bed at 5 a.m. and go serve breakfast somewhere, I enjoy spending a few extra moments lying among the tousled sheets. Thinking. Contemplating. Listening.

"Did you happen to notice that Mom's waitress shoes are hanging in the garden?" Nellie asked.

I pictured her standing by the window in her tank top and shorts--the summer uniform she's reluctant to abandon. But the air was already feeling cooler. There was the sound of a spoon clinking in a coffee cup.

"Yup," Ted said.

I pictured him, setting up for his morning routine. Opening the paper. Looking around for a pair of glasses, then when he couldn't find his, reaching for mine. The ones he calls the "goofy red ones," though he wears them when no one's looking.

"What's that about?" Nellie asked, still focused on the Sketchers hanging in the garden.

"I don't know," her father replied, already distracted by the front page. "Must be something to do with the blog."

And it was. Something to do with the blog.

And I thought to myself, this is peace. Smiling to myself as my family talks to each other below. Knowing that anytime I want to, I can go downstairs, pour my own coffee and join them. I can sit at the table on one of the most perfect, golden days of the year and read the paper and allow myself to be teased about the shoes in the garden.

Yes, this is peace and it is the most sacred and holy thing on this earth. It is also what I was thinking about before I was called back to my life by the voices in the kitchen. I was thinking of the wonder and fragility of peace. And of all the people in the world who don't have it. And how today, with yet another member in the nuclear weapon club, it seems a little more imperiled for all of us.


In today's obituaries, I was inspired by Buck O'Neil, who died at 94, the last survivor of America's segregated baseball leagues. "It never occurred to him to be bitter," someone said.

For the rest of the day, I thought of Buck whenever it might have occurred to me to be afraid. Or angry. Or envious. I thought of Buck, and didn't let it occur.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Supermarket Sweep, originally uploaded by Ѕavvo.

That was today's prompt from Sunday Scribblings. Take a notebook and actively observe another person; then record what you see.

It sounded like fun, but I didn't have time. We had a family birthday party, and as always, I was unprepared. Guests arriving at 1:30 and there I was rolling into the grocery store at 1:22.

Fortunately, as I said, it was family. People who will go in and get themselves a beer or a cup of tea. People who don't mind if the house is in a bit of disarray. People who know my bad habits. But still. Did I always have to do this?

So no, there would be no Sunday Scribbling for me. I had neither a notebook, nor a spare moment to people watch.

I raced through the supermarket in track shoes, tossing a few items that might constitute a meal--or might not--into the cart.

I saw no one and nothing. No, wait. I saw Pat--my favorite supermarket lady.

I immediately got into her line. Since the weather was very fine, I asked Pat when she was getting out of work. Would she have time to enjoy the day?

"Not till six," Pat said, uncharacteristically grumpy. "And I'm already tired."

I muttered something about the holiday weekend. The store being busy.

"That's not it," Pat said. She stopped in the middle of packing my groceries and gave me a long, serious look. (Maybe Pat was planning to write about me for Sunday scribblings? I waited for her to take out her notebook and pencil, but the cashier had other things on her mind.)

"It's my family," she said. "They just expect so much from me. They won't even replace a roll of toilet paper when it runs out. Just go upstairs and use the other bathroom."

"Oh yeah, mine do that, too," I said, figuring the least I could do was concur. "Is it too much trouble to take the hair out of the drain after a shower?"

Pat smiled, obviously enjoying my complaints. "You have a nice day now," she said, handing me my receipt.

"You too, hon."

I glanced up at the clock. 1:35. I'd been fast. In fact, for the amount of stuff in my cart, I'd probably broken a couple of supermarket records. But I was still late. And fifteen minutes from home. Damn.

I put down my head, intending to charge for the car when I came face to face with the woman I was meant to see.

She was with a man, but I didn't notice him much. He wasn't the one I needed to look at.

The woman was breakably thin, but there was no sign she was going to break any time soon. I put her age at about forty. Her stringy hair was streaked a harsh gold; and her face was what my mother used to call hard, but she had astonishing green eyes.

While her man hung back, she moved efficiently to the trash can outside the supermarket and began to hunt for cans. When she found one, she tossed it to him, and he stuffed it into a back pack. Obviously, they did this often, and had gotten it down to a smooth operation.

They seemed oblivious to the shoppers who were weaving their way around them, and to me--watching a little too nakedly.

Her jeans had that slick look jeans gets when they haven't been washed in a while, but her eyes were lined with dark pencil. Obviously, however difficult her life was, she had made an effort to look nice.

I wondered what they were hoping to buy with the money. Alcohol? Drugs?

I wondered at their presence among the busy shoppers who were pushing laden carts toward their SUVs .

Then the woman looked briefly back at me, and I realized that however her life looked to me from the outside, it felt different to her. Her face seemed to say, whatever you think you know about me, you're wrong.

I pushed my cart away thinking of how impenetrable the world sometimes is, even when you look really closely. In fact, sometimes the only respectful attitude toward other people is admitting how little you know of their hearts. And how often your assumptions are wrong.

I got home at just about two. Everyone else was pulling in at the same time.

"We knew you'd be late," my son Josh said.

Then we all went inside and had a party.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Striped, originally uploaded by Delineated.

As we all know, blogland is a teeming, dynamic city. You may think you know your way around pretty well, but one false turn and you're in a new and alien country where everyone is doing a dance you've never done, and talking about things that aren't in your lexicon. Some of them make you angry; others cause you to laugh so loud you scare the cats.

There are people you feel like you know, people who are unlike anyone you've ever met, and a few you hope you never encounter. They come and go with a click of a button. How strange. How very, very amazing.

So today I decided to take a walk down blogstreet. I made it a game, and these were my rules:

I started with the third blog on my blogroll. Then I chose a link from her roll that I had never visited before, and continued on in that way till my head spun with all I'd seen and read, and my virtual feet were weary.

From each blog, I visited, I chose one sentence that seemed to capture the spirit of the place, and in the end, I chose one, which I'd like to visit again and added it to my blogroll. (On this particular trip, I suspect I'll be checking out a few of them again.)

1. Blog #3 from my blogroll: Bloglily:

"I wrote two scenes today and it was so much fun."

2. From her blogroll: The Book of Marvels: (Who could resist that name?)

"The Plain Dealer ran an article that made me weep about the tiny and intimate details that are recorded in logs of death row inmates' final days."

3. From her blogroll: My Novel on Toast:

"Writing is an extreme sport."

4. Then on to the exciting world of cabby blogs with New York Hack:

"Have I mentioned that I hate not only driving a cab, I hate driving at all."

5. A few streets over, The Hungry Cabby was dealing with a different challenge:

"I couldn't tell if he was on coke or he just had the kind of personality that makes a guy seem like he's on coke all the time..."

By then I was getting a bit weary of all the driving and was grateful when The Hungry Cabby dropped me off at The Paupered Chef:

"I'll have to admit the real reason I bought a ten pound ham was to have enough meat to make as many ham sandwiches as I could possibly stomach in a week."

If the idea of eating ten pounds worth of ham sandwiches doesn't appeal to you, the photograph of the French ham sandwich, called a "Croque-Monsieur" surely will. It almost made me crave one and I haven't eaten ham in years.

So that, friends, was my Saturday night stroll on Blogstreet. If anyone else wants to brave all the clicking and linking, you could even call it a meme!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

ON LOVING YOUR WORK...Whatever it might be

working and walking, originally uploaded by lince.

Most people who've ever waited tables agree that "tea" should be a four letter word. While serving coffee is a one-step process, a cup of tea involves several--and in most of the disorganized kitchens where I've worked, some hunting as well. Has anyone seen the teapots? The doilies? The bleeping tea box?

Oh yeah, it's a common scenario.

It usually goes something like this: The cranky party in table six wants their check right now. Table four's food is up, and the chef has called your name three times, in increasing volume. Now his head is poking through the service window, revealing his flaming nostrils, and that charming snarl. "Where the bleep is Patry? This hamburger's been under the lights for ten minutes!"

So you're already not just running; you're jogging in two directions when someone from Table 2 puts a finger in the air, and mouths the dreaded word: "Tea?"

By the time you return with it, you've got second degree burns from sloshing hot water on yourself. (Running with pots of boiling liquid is not a good idea, she says from experience.)

So you set down the pot of tea and the cream, and you're off to do the next lap when Table 2 stops you dead: "I'm sorry. I wanted decaf tea."

By then the chef is out of the kitchen, with his hands on his hips, and in your face. "Do you intend to pick up that food some time today?"

After you deliver it, and get the check to Table 6 who are already annoyed and clearly going to factor that annoyance into your tip, you get the decaf tea.

But by then Mr. Decaf tea isn't all that pleased either. His dessert is half finished, and his pot of once hot water is tepid.

Of course, you replace the water, apologizing profusely as you do. (Your specialty.) Then just when you're about to get away, decaf tea remembers that he prefers milk to cream in his beverage, preferably fat-free.

"Why sure! Right away!" you say, smiling. Never mind that Table four is now flagging you down. Before you reach the table, you know what they're going to say: their rare hamburger is dessicated shoe leather. You also know who the chef is going to blame for that one.

So you drop off the hamburger, take your dose of abuse from the chef, and umm, what were you doing? Oh yes, getting milk! Milk for the decaf tea...

"There you go, sir," you say as you deposit the little silver pitcher at the table, still hoping for the clean getaway.

But on most days, it's not to be had. "You know, a cup of tea sounds good right now," Mr decaf's friend drawls. "What kind of herbals do you have?"

It might sound extreme, but as anyone has ever waited tables can tell you, it happens every day. And what's more, when you can't smile and say you'll be happy to check (even though you're not sure if there are any herbal teas in the kitchen) it's time to hang up your beautiful orthopedic black shoes and find another way to make a living.

Why? Because Mr. Decaf isn't on a mission to make your life difficult; he just wants a damn cup of tea! And what's more, he deserves to have it. Any way he wants it. With non-fat milk. Organic honey. Or fresh lemon cut in a wedge, not a slice. The day there's no one in the dining room asking for tea, is the day you go home with an empty apron pocket.

Have I ever been a little annoyed by guys like Mr. Decaf or the chef or the people who are so impatient for their check they can't see I'm moving as fast as I can? Of course--probably every day. But seriously annoyed? Never. (Okay, almost never.)

What does annoy me is people who hate their jobs and are proud of it. People who despise the individuals who are directly or indirectly responsible for paying their salaries.

I was particularly bugged by this rant in Gawker, written by an editor who claimed that authors were the craziest, meanest, strangest, cluelessest people in the world. Ouch. (Crazy and clueless, maybe...but mean? Did she have to call us mean?)

What's more, she castigates writers for being too poor to afford a decent coat from H & M. What about an author who cares more about literature and ideas than about the fashion statement his or her coat makes? I guess that would put us even lower on the food chain.

Fortunately, both my current editor and her predecessor genuinely seem to enjoy both their work and their authors; I can't imagine what it would be like to work on something closely with someone who so clearly disdains writers.

The prevailing wisdom worries a lot about what we owe ourselves. I'm sure a bevy of pop psychologists would be quick to say that this editor deserves to find a job she truly loves--for her own sake. I agree.

But what about the courtesy, the grace, or just the benefit of the doubt, we owe to others? Whether it's serving decaf tea with milk, or taking yet another call from an anxious author, the people we work with and serve deserve the best we've got to offer.

If you're somewhere in life where you can't deliver that, then maybe it's time for a change.

half of a yellow sun

Meanwhile, THE THIRD DAY BOOK BLOG which is now reading Half of a Yellow Sun already has 18 (make that 19!) unofficial members who plan to blog about the book on November 3rd. (I know several of you are definite maybes, but I'm an optimist...)

1. colleen
2. RDL
3. Jordan Rosenfeld
4. amishlaw
5. ruby
6. tarakuanyin
7. Tish
8. sustenance scout
9. laini
10. robin andrea
11. bill cameron
12. chiefbiscuit
13. gerry rosser
14. debra
15. tinker
16. left-handed trees
17. lorna
18. steve
19. me (currently on page 67 and completely captivated)
20. Bloglily
21. Kate
22. You?

Anyone else?
P.S. If you don't have a blog, don't let that deter you. You can post your thoughts right here in the comment section.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


1. If I'm going to do boring domestic chores, I might as well do them outside in the air and sun.

2. The cats come around and rub against my legs.

3. The dogs get drag out their balls and bones. Playtime!

4. When I'm finished, the fluttering colors, carefully grouped by size, category and proximity to the sun, feel like my own little work of art.

5. It's a great time to think about my latest writing project.

6. I smile when I open the electric bill.

7. It connects me to my mother and grandmother, both of whom I remember standing in the wind, as they pinned a dazzling white sheet to the line. Nana in her housedress. My mother in the changing fashions of the twentieth century.

8. No need to buy expensive exfoliants! A scratchy line-dryed towel rubs away dead skin and makes the new glow like nothing else.

9.It's good for the environment (but you knew that).

10. Sometimes, like yesterday, I even see a Monarch butterfly fluttering nearby. Ah, it's the simple things...


Meanwhile, the 3rd Day Book Blog, happening right here, has already attracted the kind of members who are sure to make for a great discussion. Anyone who wants to read HALF OF A YELLOW SUN and share their thoughts, please join us.

And if there's any kindhearted, technologically advanced soul out there who can tell me how to make a banner announcing the book blog pick for my sidebar, I desperately want to hear from you.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Three Peppers, originally uploaded by R80o.

Every now and then I get a big idea--or three. For some mysterious reason, big ideas usually arrive here in colorful trios. Three hot peppers sizzling in my brain.

Once the peppers take over, I go around ranting and raving to random strangers about how I just had the most amazing idea ever. Sometimes they even believe me. If they know me well, however, they just smile and tell me to have a nice day. I try to comply.

My agent already knows that if she gets an e-mail with "my most brilliant idea ever" in the subject line, the best thing to do is delete it immediately.

Within a few days, one of three things usually happens:

1. I realize that my most brilliant idea ever has already been thought, tried and done a million times before.

2. I realize that it's never been done in the history of the world--and for a very good reason: it's totally impracticable.

3. I still think it's a great idea, but alas, I don't do anything about it. See, I'm really good at idea generation (aka dreaming), but I'm an absolute failure at follow through--or what some people quaintly call action.

Anyway, yesterday was a big idea day. The first one I unveiled on an on-line forum. At first, it was met with vigorous debate--and not a little disdain. Then when people realized that it doesn't pay to argue with someone who has hot peppers frying in her brain, the thread grew silent.

I talked myself out of the second big idea before it had time to start much trouble.

But the third, which involves this blog, is still cooking. What spurred it was a book. (Doesn't that spur everything in my life?) In this case, HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, which I blogged about the other day. Well, I started it last night and I loved it. From the very first paragraph, I loved it.

And I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful if a group of us read the same book, and then committed to blogging about it on the same day?

It would be the first ever blog book club! (Okay, not the first; in fact, it's probably been done countless times. But I don't care! I still love the idea of a group of us--okay, even two--reading the same book and sharing our thoughts.

It wouldn't be a forum, because I know there are a ton of those.
In fact, one of the rules would be that you wrote your post before reading anyone else's. That way all the views would be totally fresh. Of course, after you posted, you could bust out in the comment sections all over blogland. It would be like those old Parisian salons. Maybe we could even call it...No, forget it, I think that name's already taken.

So here it is, my most brilliant idea ever: THE THIRD DAY BOOK CLUB!

On the third day of every month, we choose a book; then exactly a month later, we blog it. It's that simple.

If anyone wants to join me in reading HALF OF A YELLOW SUN and writing about it on November 3rd, jump in and I'll post your link.

Now if only I could figure out how to get the THIRD DAY BOOK CLUB onto the sidebar before the idea fizzles...


In other LIT NEWS, Marcus Sakey, another member of the Killer Year team, had himself a great day. His novel, The Blade Itself, won't be in the stores until January, but Marcus is already being compared to classic crime writers like Dennis Lehane and Elmore Leonard. Today Publishers Weekly upped the excitement around this book with a starred review, calling it "brilliant" and a "must read".

And over at Lit Park, Susan Henderson (who always comes up with the best questions) asks her readers to name their obsessions, and generates a lively discussion.

And a writer's first day in an MFA program requires meditating to a bell. Will it work to get the creative juices flowing? Is it something you and I need to know about?

Sunday, October 01, 2006


alexandra bernardo, originally uploaded by extrapolar.

Last year, my friend P. who believes that an unvarnished nail is a crime against womanhood, treated me to my first manicure.

The manicurist was Asian and wore a pained expression as she looked at my stubby nails.

"What color?" she asked, obviously weary of all the variations of red and pink. I pointed to the bottle closest at hand--a pallid color that caused my friend to wince and shake her head. Clearly, I was going to need a lot of coaching.

The weary woman soaked my nails in what looked like dishwashing soap and water, then painted them pink like my mother used to do when I was little.

All day I fluttered my hands around, ridiculously impressed with myself. But I didn't return to the salon. I figured if I wanted my nails to look like the inside of a seashell, I'd paint them myself.

But this year, when I planned my trip to New York to meet my agent and editor, I decided I was going to be fashionable for a day--if it killed me. To that end, I listened to all kinds of advice: Wear black. Accessorize. Save on the clothes, but splurge on the shoes. I haven't try on so many clothes since I went to the prom.

I bought three pairs of shoes--all torturous to the feet, and every black item in the store. Then in a fit of despair and credit card panic, I brought nearly everything back.

I looked at my blunt cut nails in horror, and decided to let them grow. My one day as a fashionista clearly required painted nails. And I wasn't having any washed-out color either.

This time the manicurist was a Latina with thick dark hair that curtained her face as she worked. She worked in silence, refusing even to look at me. All her focus was on my hands.

While she soaked and filed and shaped, I studied her obliquely and wondered about her life. Where had she come from? Was she homesick? How much was she paid? What did she think of the women who sat in the chairs fretting over a chip in their nails?

Did she think we were spoiled and pampered? Or did she know that most of us worked as hard as she did, that we were often consumed with worries about bills, children, the future?

And what did her customers see when they looked at the taciturn woman who worked on their hands? A stranger, who apparently spoke no English. Maybe an illegal. Did they think of her at all?

I noticed that her own nails were short and unpolished.

After she had trimmed my cuticles, she massaged my hands for several luxurious moments. Her touch was both deft and gentle. Despite her obvious intention to remain unknown, anonymous, she communicated much about herself with her touch.

I closed my eyes as the overused muscles and tendons in my hands responded to her skill.

In the end, she only spoke one word to me. Pay.

And so I did. Being both grateful for her work, and a long-time service person myself, I tipped excessively. But the manicurist appeared unimpressed. Wearing the same impassive expression she had throughout the manicure, she tucked the tip inside a drawer.

I had the distinct feeling that she would never be allowed to keep it.

While my nails dried, the young woman returned to the seat in the corner where I'd first seen her. Her eyes remained resolutely down.

I didn't say good-bye, but once outside, I stopped and glanced back at her through the glass. As if feeling my gaze on her, the woman whose name I will never know, looked up; and briefly, in the same instant, we lifted our hands to wave.