Saturday, December 31, 2005

Photo via Grange Castle.

I'm almost human again!

Here's my year-end review. I stole it from Joy who borrowed it from another site. You should do it too:

Biggest accomplishment this year: There isn’t just one. I received my MFA. I finished a novel draft. I made a good income working for myself. I made breakthroughs in my relationship with my mother.

Places you visited this year: It was a very local year. I did go to Vermont for my final graduation from Bennington, and of course the requisite stop in New York, but otherwise, Sonoma and.

Best album of 2005: Aimee Mann, Lost in Space. But I also just discovered Bach violin and cello Suites as conducted by Annar Bylsma. OH these are outrageously beautiful. Break your heart beautiful.

What major anniversaries/events did you have this year? All of them, of course. E. and my birthdays, our six year wedding anniversary and five years of living in P-town.

Where did your money go this year? Eating at great wraps. Movies. Books.

Things you learned this year: That I could successfully work for myself; that gratitude feels really, really good; that I don’t have to blame others and it’s okay to feel good about myself and my achievements.

Best movie of 2005: Duh—Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. Then, Me and You and Everyone We Know. That is a real winner!

How did you spend the birthdays of loved ones? Good fattening meals at nice restaurants.

Best books you read this year? I re-read The Magus, by Fowles and adored it. If on a winter’s night, a traveler, by Italo Calvino. Hope & Other Dangerous Pursuits, by my friend Laila Lalami. Truth & Beauty by Anne Patchett. I'm enjoying a series right now by Phillip Pullman under the title His Dark Materials. First book is The Golden Compass.

How did you spend Halloween? Walked downtown past all the decorated homes and kiddies in costumes to get tea.

Thing you are the most grateful for this year: The abundance of everything in my life. My husband, who is the most amazing person to come into my life.

What was your biggest failure? I only failed when I let fear get between me and whatever I was doing.

What do you wish you'd done more of? I wish I’d allowed myself to write more fiction freely.

What about Thanksgiving? My dad insisted on hosting. My mom and her husband came too, as did the grandparents. It was, all in all, quite nice.

Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes. High school friend, Ingrid. Bennington Buddy, Sheryl.

Did anyone close to you die? I’m happy to say no.

Did you suffer illness or injury? Nothing worth mentioning.

What do you wish you'd done less of? Worried about things I couldn’t control.

Best TV show of 2005: Lost.

How did you spend the holidays? Xmas eve at Dad’s. A MAGIC xmas morning at home just with my honey. Christmas day and night over a delicious dinner at my mom’s. It was a very, very nice holiday.

Who was the best new person you met? That’s not a fair question, they're all cool. I was thrilled to meet Emily, my neighbor down the street ‘til she moved to New York. It was great to reconnect with Whitney. Joy I met last year, but I will still count her :)

Finally, tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005: That I want to really be present in my life, and be more open to everything: love, joy, source, friendship, intimacy, etc.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Photo via Bookshaker

That book title just cracked me up. And it seemed appropriate, as I, too, have made an oops.The Wednesday Essay was forgotten yesterday due to a number of factors, mostly that I'm under the weather. But it's okay, it will return next week, same day, same place. My apologies.

Now, back to get a little more rest and stave off more demons.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I had no idea you were all such party animals and vacation sloths! Look at you, three days after Christmas and you're still not at work! I know, I know, Hanukah is now in gear, but I the only one here?

I got four emails today. One was my horoscope, one was the NY Times top headlines I regularly receive, another was the buddhist quote I get daily from Tricycle magazine, and one was from a friend with her writing goals. These were all very readable and a pleasure to receive, but now that my spam blocker is ACTUALLy blocking out all my spam, my in-box truly feels lonely.

What is it about this time of year? If we were still close to nature in the way we originally were, would we be doing much of anything? Or would we be lying as close to the fire as humanly possible, stirring only long enough to toilet ourselves and shove morsels of dried animal flesh into our mouths?

It feels impossible to work, shop, drive, interact. I feel like the most that can be expected of me is to sit and read. I've been reading a lot. For pleasure, too, nothing whatsoever to do with the radio show or any kind of work. I read The Magus by Fowles, Truth & Beauty by Anne Patchett, and now I'm reading the first in a trilogy called The GOlden Compass, by Philip Pullman. I love reading! I think I'll pick up Didion's Year of Magical Thinking before I go on to book two of the Pullman series.

It's keeping me afloat in this otherwise dark (and wet) time of year. There are so many opportunities for despair this time of year, and I really feel like we are supposed to do little more than sleep and dream, yet, because we don't, we face off with the world when we are not properly available for it. Does that make sense? Our psyches are trying to shift into reverse but our lifestyles don't allow it.


Back to work.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Warning, post written in second person.


You know that you are loved when you develop a fascination bordering with obsession on a little book series about an orphaned boy wizard and your husband not only does not spurn you, nor drop comments that he fears you will soon become a kind of Potter "Trekkie." No, in fact, not only does your husband share your enthusiasm for the books, reading them aloud to you doing ALL the voices in accents so good that when the first movie came out you thought HE could have provided direction. Not only that, but in the middle of what's been a hard autumn and beginning of winter, on Christmas morning, he prepares for you, a "magic" Christmas, to which you respond by promptly bursting into tears (of joy, gratitude). As below:

Magic wrapping paper

My very own wand
This one has the hair of a white stag in it. Better learn my spells!

A Time-Turner

Self-explanatory, right? Third book, if you're not in the know. And believe it or not, it actually passes as quite an interesting piece of jewelry.

Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans

I gagged on the earthworm and sardine flavors. Bacon is no improvement.

There was a stocking full of HP candy, and an HP sticker book, too (among other gifts for the adult me). I felt like a kid again, in the best way possible. My husband is amazing, and not because of what he bought, but because of what he arranged for me, to have an experience of childlike wonder. I am SO blessed.

There was more family goodness too:

Mom and E. passing the salt

My mother (and her husband) prepared a spread to beat all spreads. That's her and my honey passing the salt. We ate Turkey, Alaskan King Crab, stuffing, potatoes, green beans, gingerbread and butter cookies for dessert (I helped with the cookies.)

The most awesome new Christmas hat!

You can see it better in the next photo. I love this hat. Didn't take it off all day.

Mother and Child

Mom's the one in the sexy gold boots.

And one from Xmas Eve with Dad

Friday, December 23, 2005

Photo courtesy of NASA
In this holiday mayhem that swirls about, I'm thinking of choices. Those billions of itty-bitty choices we've made along the way of our lives that equal the constellation of our selves (like the rings of Saturn, which when the satellites sends back photos, we realize is just cosmic spatter hanging in orbit, acting ring-like), and the ones we make that sometimes startle us by being so easy after we put them off for so long--like changing a bad habit, or suddenly opening up creative time in your life after telling yourself you couldn't.

I am thinking of how we choose to spend time with our families, and hoping for those I love (and all others, too) that they will choose that which feels good to them, not the obligations.

I am thinking how easy it is to blame others for choices we have made, for fear that we really have gone too far, or missed an opportunity, or done something from which we can't turn back.

I am thinking about how just last night I was tempted to go back into a darker emotional place, to stop trusting in the beautiful, haphazard patterns that I call my life, which have never let me down. But I didn't go. I stayed feeling grateful, and happy and full. Replete, is the word, I think.

Above, I used the pronoun "we" because I feel like we are really, truly all in it together. Whether we like it or not. Whether we like each other or not. This is our lot. Being human, here on this planet.

I'll take it. Damn, it's amazing, isn't it?

Seasons greetings. Spiritual tidings. Most of all, Joy.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Today's Wednesday Essay is the inimitable Leora Skolkin-Smith, author of the novel Edges, O Israel, O Palestine.

This essay first appeared at

Finding Structure
About five years ago, I was struggling to pull together three novels. What they all had in common was a sprawling, unmanageable length and structure, but a use of language in their telling which was, on the other hand, compressed, condensed, and urgently meaningful. Though some editors and agents had responded favorably to the "writing" in all three, the structure remained incomprehensibly complicated to them.

In "A Conversation With My Father," Grace Paley wrote:
"'I would like you to write a simple story just once more,' he (my father) says, 'the kind Maupassant wrote, or Chekhov, the kind you used to write. Just recognizable people and then write down what happened to them next.' I say, 'Yes, why not? That's possible.' I want to please him, though I don't remember writing that way. I would like to try to tell such a story, if he means the kind that begins 'There was a woman...' followed by plot, the absolute line between two points which I've always despised, not for literary reasons, but because it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life."

I had the gift of studying with Grace Paley as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence and then, later, as a graduate student. My arrival at her office with mounting pages all in chaos never seemed to daunt her. For Grace, it was a plight which could be made sufferable by some inner strength a writer needed those years to develop anyway. I admired Grace's work so much but I could not write a short story. I was stuck with the novel form because, simply, I could not tell my stories in shorter versions.

Here might be another reason why linear narrative and more tradition methods of telling could not work for me: My mother was born in the ancient city of Jerusalem in a Palestine not yet damaged irrevocably by war and terror. Her first language was Hebrew but she knew at least seven European languages as well as English. Later, my mother was required to identify herself only as an "Israeli", despite her more innocent moments as a young Jewish girl in a wildly sensual and exciting early, multicultural Jerusalem. The world of her childhood was presented to me in unusual, variegated impressions and allusions, a cacophony of language sounds, and a series of stories about interrupted, dislocated lives.

The news about Israel and the war there was constant through out my lifetime but after the first Infatida in the 1980's--bombings and death were being graphically shown on TV in monotonous, bloody, relentless and repeated reportage. Being political, Israel began to gain center stage in Grace's own life. She found some old scenes I had written a few years back and sent to her about early Jerusalem, my mother and her family--just about sitting around a dinner table in 1963, in Jerusalem when my mother took me there to visit as a child. I never expected any of these pages to be a "novel". But I knew I could finally offer something I had never felt as a writer. And then it became urgent to find a “narrative," a structure.

Sartre once said of the writer struggling with his or her material: "All thoughts and feelings are there, adhering to the canvas in a state of profound undifferentiation." It is that both the writer and the reader learn which ones to choose to bring into relief. Of course I was extremely lucky, as Grace eventually became my editor and publisher. Nevertheless all this makes me wonder, ask questions, imagine, perhaps, such a mentorship for others suffering through the late bloom of their writing, in an industry that certainly does not reward this kind of "lateness" or patience or intimacy with a fellow writer as editor. I wish, idealistically, for the experience of working like this again, not only for myself but for so many of us who can not seem to find a place another way.


Born in Manhattan in 1952, Leora spent her childhood between Pound Ridge, New York and Israel, traveling with her family to her mother's birthplace in Jerusalem every three years.

She earned her BA and MFA and was awarded a teaching fellowship for graduate work, all at Sarah Lawrence.

Leora is the recipient of grants from PEN American Center, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Patricia Kind Foundation, Con-Edison, The Robert Gage Foundation and Art Without Walls.

Recently Edges has been nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction. The novel will be featured at this year's "Virginia Festival for the Book".

Links for the book are:
Leora's Website
Buy her book from Powell's Books
Buy her book on Amazon
Visit Glad Day Books

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wednesday night was my twice-monthly creative process writing group. This is a group in which we do no critique, and bring no finished material. We write based on prompts and read them aloud to each other. Sounds so benign, doesn't it? Well it isn't. The group has been together with variations over three years. I took two of those three years off to attend graduate school, but not only did they welcome me back when it was time, the group had deepened with flavor and intimacy and creativity in that time and I came back to something truly magnificent. I honestly have never had a group that was so profoundly nurturing and closely knit. I would trust any of those women with my secrets, and turn to them in a time of need.

This week we wrote about traditions and family mottos, many writing about the little brass angels and glow in the dark holy family creche's of their youth. We wrote about family secrets, surprising compassion and undeserved abuse. About choosing our own punishment, about leading separate lives. We wrote about how the very accoutrements of our family's religious holidays, whether Christmas or otherwise, made magic of our childhoods, the twinkling lights and holly wreaths temporarily suspending the pain.

I haven't been so moved in a long, long time.

This is what I wrote, under the prompt, "what would your family motto have been if you had one?"

“Honestly, the first thing that arose was, ‘each man for himself.’ But I didn’t like that, partly because, as much as I cling to the idea that I am orphaned on some emotional level, there were comforts, there were routines.

When it comes to traditions, I find, in my usual self-pitying way, that I was the only one who did not bake Christmas cookies or go caroling or have a special brass angel thing that spun.

So perhaps my family motto is more akin to…well see, I can’t think of one. That’s because I lived in two families: Dad’s, half of the time—the haven of safety and order and corn/noodles/hotdogs every night for dinner (or so it seemed). A place of regular bedtime and strictly observed rules. For us, Dad and I, in those years when we were each other’s family before stepmother and siblings, our motto might have been, “All for one, and one for all.”

At Mom’s, things were in disarray due to alcohol, but also perfumed by her love of essential oils, dazzled by her magic with make-up and made exciting by spontaneous trips for ice cream and random visits to colorful (if not drug-addled) friends. Maybe for us, the motto was, “sink or swim.”

I am noticeably charged writing about my separate lives, as if I was my own twin leading two lives at once rather than one child bouncing back and forth.

There’s a lot of sadness to these years and no matter how my magic wand—this pen I’m holding—wants to prettily transform the past into something tolerable and normal, when I dip into the well, it comes up full and heavy, tinged dark around the edges.

I think much of this darkness was my parents’ and I learned to integrate it into my cells and thoughts and feelings, but now it is all mine and sometimes I don’t know where to put it. I throw it into things like Christmas, because it’s hard to be sad with so much extra light and bright colors and surprises to unwrap. But I wonder…what was it really like for her, the child I was, always grasping for permanence?

Probably like any life. It just seems heavier because it was mine.

I think I’d like to adopt a motto worth living up to, like, “Because we’re worth it,” or “Getting better with age.” Or maybe just, “We’re doing our best.”


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Today's Wednesday essay brings you not one writer, but THREE!

Three novelists –-Masha Hamilton author of, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, , Daniela Kuper, author of HUNGER AND THIRST, and Judi Hendricks, author of THE BAKER'S APPRENTICE (and others--came to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a reading not knowing what to expect. Here’s their report:

Masha Hamilton:
There is a quiet space writers must slip into if they hope to be able to hear to the voices within. The world being what it is, getting there is commonly a challenge. And because novel-writing is a marathon, we novelists must ease into that space not once, but countless times over many years, often in a variety of cities and towns.

Once the voices have had their say, we are expected not only to find a publisher to believe in our work, but then to change out of our pajamas, tug on our tap shoes and perform. It’s become a cliché, but a true one. It doesn’t matter if we are shy or overworked or our children want us home. We have no choice, they say, if we hope to publish again one day.

Though the performance is required, the audience is not guaranteed. That uncertainty demands a leap of faith, particularly the further afield we venture. Once, in a bookstore the size of my childhood bedroom, I read for my husband, one friend, an old man hard of hearing, and a mangy dog that crept in from the night.

Las Cruces was my last stop in our joint tour, and I knew we might face a scene reminiscent of that bookstore of my past. We were traveling to a town where we had no family or support system. Though Judi lives in Santa Fe, Daniela comes from Maine and I from New York City. I nevertheless enjoyed the hours spent in the backseat of Judi’s xx as she drove us toward the historic stomping ground of Billy the Kid and Geronimo. I grew up in Arizona, and love the clean, dramatic desert vistas.

On that drive, I already felt a premature nostalgia. This was, after all, the last run. We barely knew one another before the tour began; by its end, we’d shared everything from confidences to toothbrushes. People told us at each stop how different we were as writers and as women, adding that it made our dialogue more intriguing. The first time someone said it, it surprised me. I saw our commonalities before I saw the differences. We each cared about telling true stories. We each were committed to that fragile act of holding the words close for as long as it takes to get them right.

Las Cruces, it turns out, was an ideal last stop. The Thomas Branigan Memorial Library is the color of an early sunset and curved in contrast to the desert’s sharper angles. Mark Pendleton made us feel deeply welcome. And I was moved by an audience that included many who came to discuss private fears as they approached their own stories.

I only wish I could have told them what I discovered by the time we left. Las Cruces is not only a town of warm generosity. It is also conducive to the quiet spaces. It’s a place where the voices in our heads and hearts can be heard.

* * *
Daniela Kuper:
For most novelists, the hard work begins after they finish the book. Experienced novelists know this, first time novelist like me learn through months of book touring-- events that fill the room, events where my cousin Nancy is half the audience.

Still, despite the odds or how tired I am or the number of books sold or unsold, magic can happen with an audience. And it happened the night Masha, Judi and I spoke in Las Cruces at the Thomas Brannigan Library.

A former war journalist, baker and advertising CEO, the three of us stopped cold and, mid-life, turned to writing. We came together to break some tired literary rules, support each others work instead of just our own, feed people, give away baskets of comfort, speak about the unspeakable act of writing.

The audience in Las Cruces pulled the best out of us. Before we took to the stage, people had open notebooks, booted laptops, cameras aimed and ready. They were frank, generous, surprising and thoughtful with their unstoppable questions. A mother brought her daughter who, at thirteen, had already written ninety single spaced pages of a novel. Jeez. At thirteen, I was learning to floss.

Hands were up, people were yelling out questions. A mental health worker-turned writer told us she’d stuffed down her own emotions so long, she couldn’t make her characters come alive. She knew she had to open that locked suitcase, and she was scared. A man needed courage to extricate his novel from under the bed, and begin again.

An old saying kept repeating in my mind: you think you are the teacher and find you are the taught.

The three of us were dog-tired from a relentless tour that had us going from reading to interview to reading with barely enough downtime to change clothes. I watched my writer friends. Las Cruces was juicing us. This would be the loosest, most intimate talk we’d deliver together.

Paul Blevins from the Mesilla Book Center filled two tables with stacks of our books and no, he didn’t sell out. Not even nearly. It was hard to watch his face when a woman said she was waiting to buy from her brother-in-law who worked in a bigger—you know the story.

Our bottom-line friends would tell us it didn’t make sense, so much time, so many miles, so few books sold. They would be wrong.

That night in Las Cruces our backbones straightened, we were allowed a rich peek beneath surfaces, we were given the faith to go back to our rooms and start another world. And this, more than any profit and loss statement, is what writers live for.

* * *
Judi Hendricks:
It was the best of times and the worst of times. (Apologies to Mr. Dickens.)

The best was the part where three writers—total strangers, really, except for a two-hour panel in Tempe, AZ, last November—managed to pull together a coherent presentation, travel together for two weeks, sharing bedrooms, vitamins, eye drops, and on one desperate occasion, a toothbrush. And to do all that and emerge not only still speaking to each other, but as real friends.

The best part also included the public libraries, independent bookstores, the American Association of University Women chapters that filled rooms with enthusiastic, interested and interesting readers who had challenging questions to ask and inspiring stories to share.

The worst part was the big chain store where no promotion was done and so no one showed up except the boys who wanted their extra credit slips signed to prove they’d been to an author event. The constant battle to ensure a supply of all our books falls under that worst category, too.

The last place where we expected it all to come together—venue, promotion, audience, books—was Las Cruces. Some writer friends laughed or gasped Why? when we said we were going to speak at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library. After all, none of us knew a soul in the town—well, except for one old boyfriend who suddenly remembered a previous engagement. When we talked about it afterwards, we couldn’t even recall how we ended up booking Las Cruces. It was a four-hour drive from Santa Fe, down one morning after an hour-long early radio interview, do the Branigan event that night, get up the next morning and race back for another Santa Fe event to read works in progress. What were we thinking?

Whatever we were thinking (or not), it turned out to be perfect. Almost. Nice venue, enthusiastic promotion, great audience, local independent bookseller. Our presentation was spot-on (in all modesty.) The only problem was, we didn’t generate enough book sales to pay for our gas.

At a large Albuquerque bookstore earlier in the week, some of our books never showed up. The store said the distributor was out of them. Okay, it happens. And yet Mesilla Book Center managed to get them and Paul Blevins carted in enough books to make the signing table look like a Thanksgiving feast instead of the Palm Beach grapefruit diet. I felt the hit he took from the woman who said she was going to wait and get hers through her brother who worked for Big Brand X.

Greater minds than mine have puzzled over this contradiction—why some events work and some don’t. Why people who appear to have thoroughly enjoyed the evening simply disappear after refreshments. Or worse, come up to the signing table, carefully examine each book and then smile and say good night. Maybe it was too far from payday or too close to the holidays. Maybe Venus was in retrograde. Maybe some people will wander into Mesilla Book Center in the next few weeks, see our novels, and say, Oh yes. I saw these women at the library. Maybe they’ll buy a couple for cousin Doris and Uncle Frank for Christmas presents.

For all our sakes, I hope so.
Judith Ryan Hendricks

* * * * *

Masha Hamilton is a journalist as well as novelist. She worked overseas as a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press for five years in the Middle East, where she covered the intefadeh, the peace process and the partial Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Then she spent five years in Moscow, where she was a Moscow correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a newspaper column, "Postcard from Moscow," that ran in about 35 U.S. newspapers, and reported for NBC/Mutual Radio. Last year, she traveled to Afghanistan to report on the situation for women and was able to interview women in prison in Kabul and Kandahar, child brides, war widows. She also interviewed opium farmers and their families outside of Kandahar and Jallalabad. The Distance Between Us, her second novel, was named one of 2004's best books by Library Journal. Her first, Staircase of a Thousand Steps, was a Booksense pick and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. She lives with her family in New York City, where she teaches for Gotham Writers' Workshop and is a shiatsu practitioner.

Daniela Kuper recently published her first novel HUNGER AND THIRST (St. Martins) to stellar reviews from authors like Joyce Carol Oates and Terry Tempest Williams and international newspapers like The Jerusalem Post, who compared her writing to Oscar Wilde’s. Both The Chicago Tribune and The Sun Times included her among notable new fiction voices, Rick Kogan of WGN placed her on the must read list of Chicago scribes. The novel is currently up for four awards. Kuper continues to reach people across the country in bookstores, through book groups, on over sixty radio stations, NBC TV (Chicago) and venues like the West Side “Y’ (NY) whose Director of Writers Voices said, “One paragraph describing one block of one neighborhood gives us the history of a time, of a place, of its people.” Before writing fiction, Kuper started an ad agency on $350 and became a Forbes cover story in less than three years. As Creative Director and Copywriter, she won nine years worth of awards. She published many short stories, three were anthologized and she was nominated for Pushcart Prize for HOLY GHOST, telling of a husband turned guru and a wife who discovered her backbone in the process. This story is the spine of her second novel, currently in progress. Kuper lives in an old farmhouse in rural Maine and is looking for a new dog. Judith (Judi) Ryan Hendricks was born in San Jose, California, when the Santa Clara Valley was better known for its orchards than for computer chips. She grew up in San Jose and Castro Valley, St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles, where she attended James Monroe High School in Sepulveda.

Literally the morning after graduation, the family moved to Atlanta. She attended Furman University in Greenville, SC and earned a degree in journalism at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Blessed with a short attention span, she worked as a journalist, copywriter, computer instructor, travel agent, and waitress before landing at the McGraw Street Bakery in Seattle, where she fell in love with the rhythms of baking.

From this experience came her first novel, BREAD ALONE, published in the U.S. in 2001 and subsequently translated into 11 languages and distributed in more than 15 countries worldwide. ISABEL’S DAUGHTER, her second book, grew out of her love for and fascination with the Southwest. It was published in June, 2003. Her nonfiction has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle and Tiny Lights, A Journal of Personal Essay, Grand Gourmet in Italy and The London Sunday Express. Her short fiction has appeared in Woman’s Weekly and AMERICAN GIRLS ON THE TOWN: an anthology, in the U.S. and U.K. Her third novel, THE BAKER’S APPRENTICE, was published in April 2005.

She and her husband Geoff now live in New Mexico, where she is at work on her fourth book.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much? Nay!

I owe an apology to those obsessed fans of everything from Star Trek to Star Wars and all the gray area of geekhood in between. Until recently I didn't understand their single-minded love, their desire to live inside a world created by someone else to such a degree that they might learn Clingon, or buy each new action figure, never taking it from its packaging, in the hopes that someday it would be worth something. I looked down on those who built walls against reality made of Xena Warrior Princess.

Until now.

By "now" I mean both literally the recent past, since November 18th, to be precise, when the movie Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire opened, but also since about six years ago when I first stumbled upon these books, which my at the time 10 year-old brother was reading.

Even though we brought HP #4 on our honeymoon to read to each other; even though we are now re-reading each book to catch all the missing clues (having finished book 6 all too quickly this summer); even though I was blown away and amazed by the first few movies in how well they visually captured what I had imagined while reading,I didn't expect to this. I didn't expect to see the movie five times in theaters and be fully capable of going back to see it a 6th, 7th or more times. (And like it and laugh and cower at the same places each time.)

But before you judge me the way I always judged other sad little nerdling fans, I beg of you to consider something. We all want to escape. Some of us do it every night watching the crap that television claims is entertainment. Some of us do it by working too much and barely ever seeing our families. Some of us do it by having a nice little methamphetamine addiction on the side. We all want to escape once and a while, or lots of whiles. Particularly now. With war and natural disaster and stupidity running rampant in the world(perhaps every generation feels this way).

We all, also, resonate with certain characters, symbols and images we see. We are unconscious beings as much as conscious ones. So maybe for you, a monstrous looking humanoid dressed in armor, a Clingon Warrior Chief, or a couple of FBI agents fighting an alien conspiracy are what do it for you. They touch some unknowable center in you that only you really understand in yourself. But for me, it's an orphan boy who continually has to show up to face off with his worst enemy, his grief and his own limitations. An orphan boy who has friends everywhere he turns, and some nice parent-figures too. I like Harry--the written version, and the screen version. And I'm not ashamed anymore.

I now understand what Comic Book Guy says in the Simpsons' episode that spoofs how bad the second 'new' Star Wars ("Cosmic Wars") movie was: "Worst Cosmic Wars ever! I will only see it three more"


Friday, December 09, 2005

There's this thing that happens to Bloggers, as many of my more legitimate blogging friends must know, where sometimes you can't bear to blog. It isn't that you don't have anything to say. It could be a number of things. You want to blog about things too personal. You want to whine, kvetch and moan in a way that might just make your friends think twice about you, and your visitors from stopping by ever again. If you blog, you really won't get anything else done and you have deadlines for THOSe things. So you adopt little tricks to fill the days, to keep your blog fresh, like the Wednesday Essay. This has the added bonus of putting really smart, interesting writers' work up, which can on occasion make you look better...or worse, as the case may be.

Why am I talking in the second person??

A friend of mine recently said she missed my former posts, which I thought of as whiny, but which she graciously referred to as "probing." I still think she was being overly-kind, but I'm trying to decide what exactly it was that I had to say before. It feels like I was doing an awful lot of lamenting about the sad state of publishing. Or the sad state of my publishing. Or the difficulty of getting an agent or any number of things.

But I don't feel like re-reading my old posts, so instead I'll share a tiny epiphany I've had about myself. I'm wishy-washy. I like people a lot. I like my friends, but often I go into this kind of mode, a kind of withdrawal mode where the energy to go forward into the world feels so huge, I just don't bother. I think lovingly of my friends, but I don't call them. That isn't the epiphany. The fact is, that when I do start to slide into one of my cave-like funks and then I go out and do something, get stimulation, interact in a meaningful way in the world, I find that I feel better. And quickly. Like I took a pill or something. The problem is that the me in her little isolated cave doesn't remember how she will feel after she consents to engage with the world.

So I kind of wonder how many opportunities for feeling better I've missed out on.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

This is hilarious. Images that, at first glance, look like pornography, but really aren't! You must check it out. Not because I am perverse, but because it goes to prove how suggestible the human mind is, how a simple arrangement in a context usually assigned to porn websites can call to mind, well, genitals. And being that I am single-minded and draw all things back to writing, it makes me think of semantics, and mis-readings and how easy it is to interpret something in a million different ways.

Take email for instance. One of the most consistent ways I've stumbled across to convey utter misperceptions, foul up communication and generally cause problems in a variety of relationships. You can say a lot in email without meaning to, because there's no body language or intonation to communicate the subterranean truths, and, most importantly, the vast majority of emails I write are dashed off, and read with the same haphazard energy. So many times I've re-read something I read once in one way, and discovered I'd totally overlooked the very thing that would have prevented my misunderstanding of it. And likewise, I've been told by others that sometimes they've dashed off something to me that came across in a manner they did not intend.

Or take a reader's personal, subjective interpretation of a book. Numerous authors have confessed to me that myriad themes and meanings drawn from their books were unintentionally read that way. They didn't even know some of them were possible extrapolations.

Today I celebrate the vast ways that information, visual or written, can be received, understood and interpreted.

For instance, I can tell you I got a new car. I did! Picked it up yesterday from the dealership. You might feel a little jealous. You didn't get a new car. Your rattle-trap barely makes it to the 7-11 and back when you wake up at midnight with a head cold and desperately need some nyquil just to sleep perhaps. What's so great about Jordan getting a new car. Goody for her. Whoopdie do! Then I could tell you, well it's a 1992 Dodge Colt that smells like somebody left a barrel of old mushrooms to rot inside it. The dealership is where my father dropped it off to service it. But man, it runs. And because I was able to obtain this car from a family member for basically nothing, I was able to get out from under remaining car debt on my last car, which was the newest car I've ever owned--a 1998 Saturn.

See, if I stopped at new car, you'd have one impression. And of course, what about that funky mushroom impression I gave you? It turns out I got air freshener that took care of it, new seat covers and vacuumed it, so it no longer smells like fungus and the grit is gone.

Somehow I think this whole post has been one long, barely connected rambling.

Who cares. I was overdue.


Today Write Livelihood features four petite essays by Susan Henderson, a lovely writer and one of the nicest champions of other writers I know. Enjoy.


I babysat her last year, when she was four and pestering me about taking the training wheels off her bike. I saw her at the pool with her dad the summer she started chemo and couldn't stop staring. Her head was misshapen from the carving they'd done to get the tumor out. It was like a peach in back, dented in and fuzzy. I'd always thought she was like me: stubborn, usually wrong, cute enough to get away with a bad attitude. Now she teetered just trying to stand in place.

The doctors removed things that help her balance, her dad explained, and would I consider babysitting again?

I said, yeah, then called the guy I liked, and bragged about my good will. My code name for her was BT (short for brain tumor).

Summers in our town were about bikes; kids covered them in stickers, day-glow straws on the spokes, action figures tied to the handlebars. If you wanted someone to play with you, you rode around the neighborhood hoping you looked cool. BT's little sister was learning to ride with training wheels. I rode that summer, too: something I'd sanded the paint off of and steered with my forearms, dragging my toes and trying to look all "So what?" But when no one was watching, I'd fly down a hill so fast the bike would shake.

The first day I began to babysit B.T. again, I was thinking we'd do the same old stuff: Candyland, coloring, pretend-Olympics. I was there five minutes when she fell down the stairs. I tried to help her up and she yelled, "Get off, I can do it!" She could, but it took a while, and her eyes fluttered and crossed, a new glitch with her brain, something that would eventually require another surgery. I stared at her freckled nose, the part of her face that was still pretty.

Her mom stayed home while I was there, sometimes napping but usually making frantic calls to find the right doctor or medicine to save her child. Every chance she got, she'd tell me about CAT scans and blood tests and special ed. Maybe my contribution to this family was that I didn't have the maturity to be overwhelmed with grief and fear. I just wanted to get out of the house with the kids and have some fun.

The girls and I dragged their bikes from the garage and went to the cul-de-sac. We went there every day. By mid-August, BT could actually sit on the seat of her bike, leaning and wobbling, her hands reaching for me instead of the handlebars. I leaned her bike against me and held her around the waist, carrying all her weight and steering. "Pedal! Pedal!" But once she got the knack of pedaling she'd forget to steer, forget to look at the street. All this time, she was leaning into me so hard that the training wheels were interfering more than they were helping. Her sister would coast by, now out of training wheels and learning to ride standing up.

BT would yell, "No fair!" And her sister, not meaning to brag or tease, would say, "It's easy. Just push and then coast." But BT's body couldn't do it. Didn't look like it ever would. She'd shake the bike like it was to blame and we'd drag it back home, this time her little sister the one yelling, "No fair!"

The guy I liked was my boyfriend by then. We were driving around in his car until my curfew. "How's BT?" he asked. Hearing him call her that shocked me, though I was perfectly comfortable calling her that myself. I corrected him, "It's Bridget," and noticed for the first time how pretty a name she had, the way it must have sounded to her parents when they poured through baby name books and family trees and finally settled on the name. I told my boyfriend what I'd done with the training wheels, how I'd looked all through the garage for the adjustable wrench and practically beat them off the back wheel. "For what?" he asked. "She's just going to fall."

I knew that. I also knew she'd never pumped down a steep road till the pedals whipped too fast to keep her feet on. Never felt how the speed and the pavement flying by and the chance of wiping out makes you forget everything that's bugging you. I couldn't explain it so I stayed quiet, moved my finger along his seat belt. I liked to touch him when he couldn't touch back, watch him hurt for me, sometimes twitch his leg funny and swerve to get back in his lane. I was pretty that summer—the first year I looked great in a bathing suit, and just learning the power of it. It had been a long time since I sat around the pool, worrying about my tan.

Near the end of that summer, Bridget's hair had grown back in tufts, but not over the scar in back. All summer I'd been holding her bike by the back of the seat without letting go, but now her balancing—her jittery steering, way over-correcting, then swerving back—was good enough for a pilot test. I pushed her off and hoped the way I remembered hoping Santa Claus was real after my friends told me I'd been duped. The bike spun out from underneath her and Bridget fell with the grace of a dancer. She fell better than anyone I knew.

I'd spent the evening with Bridget's little sister, tucked her in and waited for them to come home from the hospital—another checkup, more shots for Bridget. They carried her in. She was asleep, band-aids over the fresh needle pricks. She looked dead.

I wasn't stupid. I knew what was going on, why they were all scared. I wanted to be the hero, the one who turned her back into the kid she used to be.
It had been a long day. A long summer. I called my boyfriend after work and we escaped our neighborhood and its troubles in a way Bridget's parents never could. I went ahead and let my boyfriend unbutton me because I loved him more than I didn't like being touched. As his hands went where they wanted, I imagined I was on my bike pumping so hard I couldn't keep my feet on the pedals. Sometimes you have to ride away from everything. With my legs out to the side, I weaved down the center of the road.


I build muscle quickly, which is a drag, because I want to have little widdly arms like Gwynyth Paltrow. But in high school and college, I gave in to my body type and built up with weights. This will become important later.

Freshman year, I dated an art student—6 foot 7, not counting his mohawk, and he painted his nails black but wouldn't tell me why. Lawrence was a sweet guy who wasn't half as bothered by the height difference as I was.

He was a local, and as I got to know him better, I met his family, including his older, biological brother named Larry. Meeting the family showed some of the differences we hadn't yet encountered in our relationship. Brother Larry (as well as Larry's friends), for example, were missing teeth due to fights they'd gotten into. And Lawrence was the family oddity and the first to go to college. In my family, graduate school was a given. Same with teeth.

One evening Lawrence and I were at a fraternity party with its beer-sticky floor and a strobe light and someone in the corner with a turntable when brother Larry and his toothless friends showed up, and following them were the genuine thugs who'd been chasing them. Shortly, we'll get to the weight-lifting connection, and I have to say it's impressive.

Brother Larry and his friends were asked to leave by one of the fraternity brothers when a fight broke out. Brother Larry was repeatedly kicked in the head and looked near death. This is not an exaggeration, though I'm certainly prone to it. It is also not an exaggeration that all 6 foot 7 of my boyfriend simply stood against the wall, crying.

Now, unlike my past memories of heroic effort, this one had witnesses who made it a legendary tale without any of my own embellishing. What happened was I grabbed the guy doing the kicking by the hair. And then, and I was kind of surprised myself, but I picked him up and threw him, I mean THREW him, on a table—unfortunately the table the record player was on. But who cared at the time, right? This allowed the fraternity boys to jump on him and carry him out of the fraternity house. After, they gathered round me and began laughing—not just for my impressive body-throwing moves but due to what I held in my fist: a big tuft of hair (with skin attached).
The secret to my strength is a silly little visualization trick I used to do at the bowling alley. I was the one always dropping the ball into the gutter. Then one time I pretended I was on Bowling for Dollars, and immediately bowled a strike. Aha! It's all about visualizing your audience. So all I did in the case of the deadly frat party was pretend I was the star of a TV show, kind of a Charlie's Angels thing, and I could have taken on anybody. It's what I choose to believe, anyway.

I offered to buy the fraternity a new turntable but they were so impressed with my skills as a bouncer, they just poured me a beer.
Later, by the way, Lawrence and I broke up over the nail polish.


I had a date with my professor. We were going to see the play he wrote; I didn't know it was a date till he added, "Wear the red dress."

I had already said yes, but now was determined not to wear the red dress because—of all the professors I wanted to think of me as hot—this was not one of them. The dress he liked was tight, uncomfortable, and unfortunately the only one clean. My favorite dress was made of denim with a round skirt that came down to my ankles. The hem was frayed. In the summer, I wore nothing underneath. In the winter I wore thermals and combat boots underneath. It suited most occasions, and with tights and smaller boots I made it suit this one.

With my dress still damp from washing it in the sink and then sneaking it into someone else's dryer at my dorm, I left my room in time to meet him around the corner, as he had requested. I carried a book but forgot my key. (I always carried a book, to look casual and preoccupied because being "non-plussed" was "in" that year.)

My hair was long then, down to where my back dipped inward, and when I left my dorm, my hair got caught in the door, and I was locked there. So I read, waving occasionally to people I knew and asking them in a non-plussed way if they knew where the R.A. was.

I was eventually released. And even with the delay, I was nearly on time for the date. When my professor put his hand around my waist, I was damp. He didn't look proud to be walking with me. I regretted immediately not wearing the red dress, realizing I preferred to blow him off rather than vice versa.


In fourth grade, my class took a train ride to New York City. We were going to see the Statue of Liberty, but my goal was to get lost from the group. You did this, too, right? Trying to lose the group and then see if you can find them again?
I was sitting on the train with the girls I planned to get lost with. Plus Mrs. Bryson, who always sat close to me, waiting to stop the fun. The moment we started whispering, she split up our group of girls and sent me and my friend Karen to another seat.

I don't know which of us noticed first, but Karen and I immediately looked at each other. She was about to crack up, and so was I. Because the woman sitting across from us may have looked normal at first in her Annie Hall suit and the silk scarf around her neck. Hair was covering half her face, sure, and it was a little stringy.

But, see, there was something else. I had to look again to be sure.

Under the stringy hair, she had one very small and wrinkled eye. And when she turned toward the window, just enough hair moved so we could see her face was burned right off. All that was left looked like pink tree bark. We were taking it in, it was building within us, when out of her pocket, this lady pulled a package of M&M's. She tore it open and poured some into her hand. Then she spoke. "Would you like some, girls?"

I don't know who ran faster. Probably Karen. I was always better at the bar hang than the 50-yard dash. We ran the length of the train until we got to the cafeteria car. No one could have stopped us from laughing.

Karen, panting, said, "I dare you to go back and ask for an M&M."

I can tell you that we did go back. Because Mrs. Bryson pulled us back through the cars, and she was so angry her hands were hot. She told us to apologize. So we did. And I took the dare. That was the worst, most burned-tasting M&M I ever ate.

We had no opportunity to get lost in New York because Mrs. Bryson held our hands the whole time and didn't take us up to Liberty's crown because there were too many stairs. When we got back to the school that evening, all the other parents were there, waving to the bus. Mine forgot to come. I panicked so much, I forgot my name and phone number and just sobbed at the back of the bus until my teacher called home for me. I could still taste the M&M, and I felt small, every bit of me.

* * *

SUSAN HENDERSON is a 2005 Pushcart nominee, a recipient of an Academy of American Poets award and a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. She recently helped judge the "20-Minute Stories Contest" at McSweeney's. Her work has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story Extra, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, North Dakota Quarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, South Dakota Review, The MacGuffin, Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies, North Atlantic Review, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Opium, Other Voices, and The Future Dictionary of America (McSweeney's Books, 2004), edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, and Dave Eggers. Her novel, "Such a Small Lie at the Time," is represented by Michelle Tessler at Tessler Literary Agency . She is married to a costume designer who, in his spare time, makes short films with their children.

Read a story by Sue HERE

Monday, December 05, 2005

I go to and from astrology (lately mostly from) because I was raised by astrology-minded parents and their friends to the degree that you could almost call it their religion. But I get one horoscope by email that about every other day rings right on. Here's mine today. Care to share yours?

You enjoy feeling needed, dear Virgo, but today even you may throw up your hands and shout, "Enough already!" You have been giving so much of yourself for so long now that friends and loved ones tend to think of your largesse as a right, rather than a privilege. Today you can remind them of the error of their thinking. Take a day off from indentured servitude for a change. Take yourself out to a fancy restaurant in town and enjoy being waited on. Don't forget to leave a big tip.

So be nice to me today, okay? I bite.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

This poem by Mary Oliver is the best way I can express how I'm feeling right now.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations –
though their melancholy
was terrible.
it was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
Through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.