Thursday, September 17, 2015

In Process

In a time of a lot of uncertainty, waiting on all matters of things (both personal and professional) to right themselves, I'm feeling at peace inside my own stories. When the freelance work doesn't call, I find myself with pockets of time to lose myself in the real work (a shift in thinking from a time when I thought only the paying work was the real work) of trying to tell a story.

I have to work hard at this. Maybe I can kite-run off with a pretty sentence every now and then but, beyond that, I learn my limits every day. I have to fight to find a plot. I have characters that arc into broken rainbows, no pot of gold at their ends. I struggle to find rhythm. I forget the point I'm trying to make, if I ever had one to begin with.

But I'm learning, every day, to put my faith in the process and recognize that, for me, that process is going to be very messy and long. I used to think I was losing time. I used to think, without a book deal or an agent, I was lost in some writing blackhole, never to find my way out. But, a few weeks ago, I had a nice conversation with a writer who simply said in a voice so mild and zen I thought maybe I'd found God, "What's the rush? It'll happen someday."

What is the rush? I don't know.

So I sit somewhere between the possibility of someday and the reality of now.

The reality of now is, maybe, a little harsher than I'd like. But, in terms of writing, now is a process and 'someday' relies on it. I have wrestled with so many things inside stories, tried to bend characters and plots to my will, let them all go their very-wrong-ways and turned around again and again.

Maybe this is what I love about writing, the practice of it, the mess of it, being in a place where there are a million second chances, a million possibilities for a plot or a person or a relationship. Sara Zarr spoke in her This Creative Life podcast in an interview with John Corey Whaley about a tweet that made her recognize a possible reason she writes to begin with: it may be the only place she has any control at all.

I related to that.

This morning I decided to take two characters and make them one and I laughed, because I had to, because the only place it's possible for that to happen is while writing fiction, or maybe when a twin is absorbed in utero, I don't know (I'll leave that to the science fiction writers). Maybe it's a bad idea. Maybe it's a good one. It's a possibility, at least. And whether it's good or bad - I can live with the consequences. Either I move forward or I try again. While in process, there's always another way to go.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Givng Myself the Time to Reflect Here

On a run through Brooklyn Bridge Park, I stopped for a sunset

Even though there are still technical days left of summer, the start of September is always the start of my 'fall'. And fall is when I begin my new year. This September I'll begin a brand new novel that's been edging its way into my heart and mind. I'll confess, these days, there's hardly time to stop and let a a story find its way. But I'm trying to find moments to slow down.

I realize, the lack of time to reflect is what pushes me away from this space. I wake up to my son 'chirping' (as we call it) and there's barely a moment to wipe the sleep from my eyes. I'm immediately thrust into the day, as he squirms up to our bed, and I'm in game of 'catch', to keep little hands away from the lotion on the nightstand, the lamp, the hardcover of a book, or the iPad I've left to close to the edge.  

Before I know it we're dressing, and eating, and I'm swiping a cloth against the tray of the high chair, dipping to the floor 1,000 times and back up, filling straw-cups and snack containers, setting off to playgrounds and gardens and pop-up pools. On the two days a week that Little O goes to daycare, the day flies away from me, consumed with freelance work and correspondence. I'd clip the day's wings if I could.

Occasionally, I sorta-stop. For a run in the morning or a podcast on the walk to the grocery store. Three times for a yoga class squeezed between the hours of here or there. I savor the words of books (the latest, Thirteen Ways of Looking by the great Colum McCann. More on this, I hope, soon.) But rarely, a moment to reflect. To look. To take stock. 

I'm working on that. 

I'm working on coming here, to the blog, to understand where I am. To tell it as it is. To, maybe, snap a photograph, in order to see what I've actually seen. The days are full and rich. I am more content and at peace with my life than I've been in a long time. But, it's nice to step back and see things for what they are or, maybe, more importantly, for what I wish they could be.

I've wondered why I can't let this space go. Many times I made the decision to, simply, walk away. But then I'd think, hold on to the space. Not because of social media platforms or personal brands (neither of which I have.)  But because I miss the conversation. The record of an ordinary day. I miss being able to say, this here is a thought I once had, whether it be naive or insightful or too raw to be understood. And I miss someone saying, me too. This September, this year, I'd like to give myself permission to spend more time here. 

All I can say is, I'll try. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Words From a Novel in Progress, Inspired by the Bodega Cat

Yesterday, this beautiful creature stood ahead of the refrigerated meats and cheese at the local butcher, looked stoically at me as I stood bedraggled after a long day of work and I was reminded of a scene I wrote. One that was inspired by cats like this one, maybe not as impeccably groomed as this regal puff, but roaming Brooklyn bodegas and shops just the same. This is from my novel, THE TREE BOOK, my first attempt at middle grade. A book I've dreamed my way through the best I could. Now I'm dreaming for it.

Not much to set up except that my main character, Cora, is chasing her little sister, who chases a cat.

I slink on over, slow, to Miss Li’s, and stand at the swinging bell door. Adare crouches at the beer refrigerators, where the cat is pawing at the silver and steel. Adare giggles and the cat stretches its front legs out like it might leap away but instead it starts licking its gray fur down and Adare’s cheek falls to her shoulder, mesmerized.
            “No animals allowed!” Miss Li shouts, sticking her arm out, to her handwritten signs behind the register, something about IDs and cigarettes, and no animals, and a big red X slashing through American Express.
            “It’s not ours,” I say but Miss Li’s arm swings back again and one long, wrinkled finger looks like it’ll poke the sign straight into my eye.
            “Out.” She says and her lips sag to her chin, like always, except for the one time Adare reached over the counter and touched the gold bracelet on her bone-thin wrist. Real gentle, with just one soft finger, but I still thought Miss Li would slash her across the store quick. Of course, Adare’s smile, the way it has a habit of knowing people and calming them down, made Miss Li smile too. A gift from my son, she said.

             I look at her gold bracelet now. It’s made to look like a ribbon, looped in a perfect bow. She wears it so tight, so close, her skin bunches up, tries to take a breath from behind it, but never quite lets go.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Brooklyn Summer

It's been a long time since I've updated. Busy with the stuff of life. My professional freelance life has picked up a bit and O now adjusts to part time daycare, a balance that feels much better for us both.

The business of writing and publishing has set me back and I struggle with where I have landed, somewhere far-far-away, or so it feels, but I have a finished novel I love, a new idea ready to run where it runs, and I have my cautious optimism. Some days, it feels, what is there to say about this writing life? Except that it goes and goes and has its carousel-way with me. Maybe that's why I've been so quiet here.

I've been walking through this hot and rainy summer, the air hanging low and wet. I take Little O to various playgrounds. I hide in the shade, against the curl of the red slide. O's better now about getting up and down the stairs. He holds on, his toes hanging over each step and, one at a time, he lets one foot meet the next. He totters, like a penguin, down to where he came from and back.

I find myself in a Brooklyn summer as if for the first time, experiencing it with O. The kind of summer when children's laughter and wet braids slash through the spray of fire hydrants. Kids dangle from their parent's wrists and popsicles drip in rainbow lines to their elbows. O walks round and round our block with his push toy. He wrestles with the gates of the community garden, stomps in mud pits and sprinkler puddles, dipping watering cans and pails in the muck. We wait with braceleted wrists at the city Pop-up pool and he blows bubbles in the water. I consider, over online shopping carts, which swimmies might be best for a road trip lake vacation (puddle jumpers, anyone?).

Visiting my parents, I remember, as the little kids in the house next door send their bare tummies along their slip and slide, how summer was wet and restless and racing, with legs and arms pumping. I dunked my head in water, clutched at the grass in handstands, ran after the ice cream truck.

I am thrilled to discover that Brooklyn summers are similar. We may trade grass for concrete, but all the wet spray and breathless laughter and running toward the steel drum bell of the ice cream truck remain the same. I am reminded that summer, when done right, is barefoot and sticky and slick with sun cream, no matter where it takes place.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Celebrating Lauren Gibaldi and The Night We Said Yes

I'm writing in celebration of the lovely Lauren Gibaldi who releases her debut novel The Night We Said Yes on June 16th. I have been waiting for this book and I know it's one you will want to read, so I hope you'll check it out. 

Lauren asked about a time I said 'yes' and it got me thinking about a lot of things. Dates, jobs, engagements and, then, this...

For a long time, I waited for someone else to say it first.

I waited for graduate schools to decide what kind of writer I was. A playwright. A screenwriter. A novelist. (For a few years, at Boston University, it seemed, a screenwriter I'd be...and yet...) I waited for sights-set-too-high literary magazines to say 'yes' to the stories piling up in my heart and in my hard-drive. They sent back rejections on printed slips sealed with 'no'.

I waited because I thought a 'yes' held the weight of all my writerly worth.

In 2007 I signed up for a novel-writing workshop at The New School at the last minute. I ended up on a waiting list. I sat through the first class and, in the end, walked up to the professor:

What are the chances I'll get in this class? 
You won't.
But I need this.

He stared me down, this pale, skinny thing, with hair in his eyes. It felt like a challenge. Like, if I gave him a good enough reason, maybe he'd find room for me. But it also felt like a statement. You don't need this class, or any class, to be a writer. You know that. 

Maybe I could have answered. Maybe I could have said what I felt, that I needed someone to let me in. To tell me it was okay to sit with stories, to weave words, to let go of whatever mess might sit inside me making sense of itself through tall-tales.

Can't you just let me in? I asked.

And then it came, an answer I was accustomed to hearing, the inevitable no.

I walked away, out of the building, crossed the city, west to east, to the one room studio on 18th street with the blue couch and a window that sat on the street. A place for watching.

I was tired of waiting for everyone else to decide for me. Tired of standing outside of where I wanted to be. Between each no, stood my drumming yes. I wrote that night in secret. I told my stories in the dark, at a wobbly white desk, when the day was done, the real work finished, the work of dreaming begun.

In the years since, I still wait for yes. Sometimes, it comes through in an email from an agent or for a flash fiction story or a chapbook. More often, it is just out of reach, beyond the folds of maybe or if or next time or never. It sits far away from a not what I had hoped.

But I know my own hope. I have my own yes and it's the only one I need.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Thoughts on One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart

(Florence. April 11, 2001. Me in the first of a string of purple coats. Lynn and Ponte Vecchio.)

I sat with this exquisite book late at night, my husband snoring beside me, a dim light keeping watch. When I read a Beth Kephart book, I make sure the hours are there before me, uninterrupted. I knew, about thirty pages in, there would be no stopping mid-way. I had to get to some kind of end.

One Thing Stolen is about Nadia Cara, who, on a research trip with her mother, brother, and professor father in Florence, has begun to lose her ability to speak. She's snatching pieces of memory, of her elusive now, searching for a boy who may or may not be real, stealing pieces of a city and weaving them into elaborate nests. 

She lives in a room once occupied by twins and she fixates on the might-be disappearance of one of them. We watch, as if on high or below or behind or across, the weave of two Nadias. One, through memory, as part of a plea for us to know her as she was in her home of West Philadelphia, the whip-smart planner, witnessing miracles, leading her best friend Maggie to hidden pockets of her city. A girl with a future. The other, a shadow of her former self, whose everything is uncertain.

I can't tell you how much I love this book, how in awe I sat of this story, an elaborate nest of its own. I'd copy every beautiful sentence from this novel and leave it here for you, but that is the gift of Kephart's book, sitting with its soft feathered pages. This book is not a tangle. It is an incredible, careful, deliberate weave. Ribbons and strands of story coming together to create something exquisite and beautiful. Like Nadia's very first steal, which involves taking apart the words and language she is losing her grip on and braiding it back together in pieces, this book is a similar, spectacular creation.

The broken Nadia is what captured my heart as it pulsed and raced through these pages, what broke it and put it back together. I don't, that I know, have a neurological disorder, but perhaps I understand what it is to mourn someone I used to be. To feel that I have unravelled, lost pieces of myself, chasing through the streets of a foreign city, desperate to find myself whole. 

There is time, in our lives, to seek out, to remember, and to hold tight to the people who remind us, every day, who we are and who we can be. In this book, that person is Nadia's best friend, Maggie. We meet Maggie throughout the book but we know her and come to love her as she wrestles with Nadia's story for us. She, like the Mud Angels who rescued the city of Florence after its 1966 flood, is steadfast, certain, hopeful, and loyal, willing to see past the muck and mire, to the rare relic of us all. She is someone we should all aspire to be. To one another. To ourselves.

I am lucky, so lucky, to have many Maggies in my life but I could not help but close the pages of this book and remember my own time in Florence with my very own Maggie, my friend Lynn. Lynn held tight to our Let's Go Europe guide book and led us through cobblestone streets, teetering gelato cones, yanking my chin up to the Duomo, waiting with me in an endless line at the Uffizi, standing above and beside the almost-but-never-will-be (S)Arno river. I was reminded, as I looked at the photo above, that I was designated map girl. Me, hopeless with direction, a person who never knows where she's going until she's there, but, like Nadia, so certain, so sure, I had a future.

This book holds tight to hope and I held on with it. A really stunning, masterful work. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Back In Spring

It's spring and the ants are invading, lining the windows, zagging the floors. I wash the counters with vinegar and sprinkle cinnamon like pixie dust. All at once the pear blossoms bend their branches to form a canopy over Columbia street and, now, Little O and I are no longer caught indoors, wishing the cold away, instead we circuit playgrounds in a wide loop around our corner of Brooklyn.

Some playgrounds are crowded with rows of nannies rocking strollers, shushing infants to sleep in a back and forth, push and pull, while their siblings streak and tear through the narrow spaces of play. Others sit tucked beside the various entrance to the BQE, invaded only after school. The children come in waves of screams and O doesn't understand why he can't toddle with his tentative, bumbling, Frankenstein walk when they come through.

The playground I like best is on the waterfront and it's for the smallest of the littles. Even O, who only began walking a few weeks ago, can climb the broad steps of the slide and make his way down alone. Sometimes I overestimate his capabilities and he's tumbling across the blue ground, arms up and wondering and waiting for love while he pouts.

This spring finds us in the swimming pool at the YMCA in Manhattan, navigating subway stairs and stroller wheels through clogged streets to get there. Sam is the bare-chested, gold-chain wearing swim instructor, who sings nursery rhymes like he's sauntering the stage of a cabaret, while we swirl the babies on our hips, and it reminds me of my childhood in our above ground pool that always looked vaguely green with its dented walls. My friends and I used to churn water to make a soft, singing whirlpool.

But now I am the mother carrying childhood memories, reciting Humpty Dumpty over and over, from 'wall' to the 'fall', from the tile to the water and back again. O was the only child to cry for twenty-five of the thirty minutes. But he smiled through chlorine and tears and kicked his way through the last five.

As if he recognized the thrill of his experience, too late, he wailed as we exited the pool, wanting only to go back in.