Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich


There are bird people. I wouldn't consider myself one of them. Where I live, the birds are rats of the sky, teeming pigeons, sputtering their wings at my approaching bicycle wheel, pecking at scraps of lunch. They make their homes at window sills and peeling benches, in the shafts of subway platforms. They are friends with the neglected, with the sidewalk dwellers and tattered-robe wanderers. They are no friends of mine.

It is with this bias, this complete ignorance, inattention and disassociation to winged creatures that I sat down to read Erdrich's collection of essays on motherhood: The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year. I sought the book out because I am in need of friendship and understanding and I search in the pages of women writers. Women writers who also mother. Because mothers who lawyer or doctor or teach or, or, or, etc. etc. probably look for their mentors in their own fields. So I search in mine.

Erdrich, unlike me, is a bird person. She follows them in rapt attention. The dancing and thievery, the water skimming and cloud swarms. She lives, at the time these essays were collected (1995), in New Hampshire. In a place of quiet. Where creatures burrow and thump beneath her floorboards and stare back at her between trees. She carries her children over roots and untrampled earth, not cement and subway stairs. I'm certain the air she breathes is cleaner than my air, the kind whipping in torrents from the wheeled traffic of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

Despite the differences in our environments, I found we shared a geography of the self. A self split in many twos, between who we were and who we are, between the child we carried and the child who takes his first steps away. We are both a collection of many women separated between floorboards and walls and veils. 

In recent months, I have been reading a lot of written reflections by mothers and have found fellowship and understanding in the string of all their words. But it is Erdrich and, of all things, her birds that I think, perhaps, best understand me. It feels like they are all at my window, sharing what I see from here. I love when I find the books that know me as well as I come to know them.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Trip to Philly to celebrate stories in a vending machine and do my first reading


I spent last evening in Philadelphia, dreaming words on the train, sitting on the benches in Rittenhouse Square, looking up, in the wet dark, at the twinkling Christmas lights. Then, I walked down a blue lit path on 22nd street and went to the Science Leadership Academy. It's a school I've heard about and wondered about. I've seen the TED Talks and articles and the PBS stories about the work this school is doing and how it is inspiring others to relook at their own models of education and follow suit. 

I was there for the launch party of the 4th Floor Chapbook series, an awesome publishing venture from the Head and the Hand Press in collaboration with SLA's students and staff. See that vending machine in the photo? It's selling chapbooks. Snackable stories. My story, The Song Inside, sits alongside some amazing work and it was so cool to be a part of it. 

I wore flowered tights and, you guys, I did my first reading in front of a live audience over the age of six -- feeling very grateful for my friend Tracy, who used to make me read my work aloud in her living room, but only after giving me liquid courage in the form of wine. Don't worry, I was completely sober for this experience, unless you count the delicious potato chips I had beforehand. 

I was able to talk with Nic Esposito, who founded the Head and the Hand Press and told me stories of his son and his urban farm, which he wrote about in his collection of essays, Kensington Homestead. Linda Gallant, who might be the nicest person ever and it's clear, took great care with our stories. The author Jennifer Hubbard, who read from her fantastic story In Memory of Lester, and advised me where to get middle-eastern food. And Robert Marx, a senior at SLA, who is waiting for his college acceptances, no doubt to do great things wherever he ends up. He blew me away with his story, Fade to Black, which I read on the train ride home. 

It meant a lot to me, to share my work in such a unique venue. My story sits next to great talent. To pop in a few dollars and watch books fall through the machine was a great thrill. If you can't make it to the school itself, I hope to be able to point you toward the place to purchase these stories in a few weeks. 

Thank you to Beth Kephart, who told me about this series. If you haven't noticed, she pretty much points me toward everything awesome.

Now, I must return to my regular scheduled programming in our Brooklyn apartment. Little O has found the recycling bin, its contents are in a pile at my feet as I write, and I think he just tried to bite into a metal can.








Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving


On Monday, I walked along the river, looked up and found a message along the metal folds beyond the railway,

             your life is beautiful. 

Some letters were cut in half but the words were still readable. The period at the end made it fact. It secured the sentence in its place. The words could not float away.

The certainty of it made me pause. I knew that there, standing beneath those words, I could not argue, and I carried the message with me as I walked away.

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope that, no matter where you stand, you find comfort in that conviction.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Winner of Free Critique from Sharon Mayhew


Thanks to so many of you who entered to win a free critique from Sharon.

I asked Tyler to pick a number between 1 and 11 and he picked 2.

Therefore, the winner is: Joanne Fritz! Joanne, I'll put you in touch with Sharon.

This colorful photo seemed festive for the occasion.

I wish you all a very happy week.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Win A Free Critique from Writer and Editor Sharon Mayhew

Some of you may know the amazing Sharon Mayhew, our BLOM (blog Mom), friend, writer, and editor. She just started her own editing business and is giving away a free critique!

Sharon has critiqued my work and helped me enormously. When I struggled with the opening chapters of my novel (and we all know how important opening pages are) she gave me great advice that helped me re-look at it. This advice helped me land a lot of full requests from agents, and eventually, an offer of representation from an agent.

She has a great eye, is knowledgeable about the industry, and has sat on both sides of the slush pile. She's always so thoughtful, smart and kind with her feedback.  If you're looking for an editor, I highly recommend working with her.

More about Sharon's decision to start editing can be found here.

More about her services can be found here.

To win a free critique, please comment on this post by November 24th.

The winner will receive the choice of the first 250 words of a picture book critique/line edits, the first seven pages of a novel critique/line edits or a query critique/line edits.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Seeing



At my new writing desk, in its new room, I sit one window east of where my old desk used to be. I'm closer to the sill and the glass is cold. Now that the leaves are falling away, I begin to see a small piece of Manhattan's skyline. From this window, the Freedom Tower is just out of view. But I know it's there because one window west, at my old writing space, it is.

Tonight, I relish in the new view, in it's new angle. I am an impatient writer. I don't always like the pace I write at, which is to say, slow. In the month of November, everyone ticking away words, I feel especially less-than. But in the past few weeks, nothing worked, and I had to stop myself from soldiering on the cluttered path. I became slower than a slow writer. I became a writer who didn't write at all.

And it was exactly what I needed.

I cleared away some of the doubt and smudge and, this week, I returned to a story I had been working on. 

I had crowded a character with too many competing plots and I thought I was the grand puppet master. I thought I could bend anyone and anything to my will. I thought, I was the storyteller. Ha. Ha. 

Once I let all this go, I realized that she, alone, knows her story. I stand up to the microphone, make my introduction, swing my arm out in grand gesture, and say, take it away.

Holy smokes. She has a lot to say. 

I'm finally listening. I'm finally seeing what's been there all along. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea


A few weeks ago, we spent a weekend away in Maryland, and I walked with Tyler's Aunt. We talked about the miles Little O's stroller must log. We talked about my elusive writing 'career'. She asked if I had read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea. I hadn't. And so, she loaned me a small book, so love-worn, it had been broken in two. The pages smelled of must and old furniture and, like many old books, its pages hadn't faded, but instead deepened, to a rich, sandy brown.

Not my usual fare, this inspirational essay. I don't always love books of grand proclamations or extended metaphors. And yet...

It's a book from 1955 about being a mother. Or a woman. Or a person. Or one.  It's a book of quiet but astute observations and questions. Of being whole and of being half. A book written far before the simple movement of today and, perhaps, representing it better. It's about the sea's gift. A shell.  Its polished, or unpolished, or barnacled, outer un-gleam. Its true center, our true center, found alone.

I'm not doing a good job of explaining it. But it exists and hundreds of thousands, according to the course, creased, jacket copy, have found solace in it. 

I did too.

I'll share my favorite piece of it. It starts with a quote I've heard many times. But where it goes is far more interesting than the oft-repeated line. I have always dreamed awake, in the very late night, have always felt compelled to stir in the dark. Maybe now, I better understand why.

... good communication is stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. Before we sleep we go out again into the night. We walk up the beach under the stars. And when we are tired of walking, we lie flat on the sand under a bowl of stars. We feel stretched, expanded to take in their compass. They pour into us until we are filled with stars, up to the brim.

This is what one thirsts for, I realize, after the smallness of the day, of work, of details, of intimacy -- even of communication, one thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide.

And then at last, from the immensity of interstellar space, we swing down to a particular beach. We walk back to the lights of the cottage glowing from the dark mist of trees. Small, safe, warm and welcoming, we recognize our pin-point human match-light against the mammoth chaos of the dark. Back again to our good child's sleep.