4.29.2010

Crossing the ravine.

It hit me the other week as I prepared for our brunch guests to come. "I never see my old friends anymore," I said to Chris. "I never see anyone that I studied with - the lit people and the French people and the Muhlenberg people."

It was a crappy thing to realize, especially since it has been a quiet social shift.

Last weekend while Chris was home in Wisconsin, I went out to dinner with my college friends. Becky came over for cookies and Kelley stopped by for dinner and hanging out. It felt like a breath of fresh air from the past, a reminder of sturdy friendships to push up against and rely on. I had needed it.

*
We attend a weekly Lost dinner party with a small group of friends. Have I written about that before? I can't remember. We're all somehow related via our work, though the group also includes spouses and fiancees and friends. Every Wednesday we gather for potluck dinner at one of our apartments. We eat appetizers, we have the meal, we watch that week's episode. Then we gorge on dessert while we brainstorm theories and catch up on life.

Last night we hosted and since Lost was a repeat, we sampled another show. We've all agreed that we'll continue our weekly tradition after Lost (somehow) wraps its crazy self up at the end of May. After our guests left, we spent a few minutes cleaning up the kitchen and then we crawled into bed.

"I'm so glad we have this reliable social interaction every week," I said to Chris. He agreed.

I thought about it more this morning as I walked to work. It felt good to feel another sturdy friendship plank solidifying, strong enough to stand on. It's as if we build social bridges throughout our lives; each new social group starts as green wood and we learn with time if it will hold our weight. It's important to maintain the strong planks that came before, but the new building... that's the only thing that's going to get you further out across the ravine.

*
I've been thinking a lot about vacation for this summer. I essentially have two options: a trip to Europe and... wait for it... a trip to Iowa. Europe trip is obvious. London or Paris or Budapest to see old friends, to continue my connections with the whole foreign part of me. A week of catching up, of investigating English history now that I've discovered a new obsession with Queen Elizabeth, of crepes and Nutella and demi-peches.

But Iowa with its summer writing festival. I'd go for a week, 7 days of workshops, stay on the campus and meet other writers. It reminds me of Middlebury, of a summer spent on an empty campus, of uniting with new friends who match me. There's a large part of me that wants to keep rolling on this writing thing, that realizes that my opportunities to drop my life for a summer week will become increasingly more difficult the longer I wait, both financially and logistically. If I want to go, this seems like a good summer to do it.

A new plank? Fortifying the old ones? How do you decide?

4.25.2010

And go.


The past two weeks have passed quickly. Wake. Write. Shower. Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to work while listening to a history podcast. Work. Work more. Social obligation. Sleep.

This steady rhythm of writing is soothing, deeper than it has been before because of its regularity, and you might imagine that the story is getting longer and more finished. How can I explain how hard I'm working on it and how the length and its level of finished is moving like a frigid snail?

Here's what I'm writing about on it's most basic level: I'm writing about a woman who leaves her family. That's simple, right? Nope, no it's not. Because that one fact, that one idea is like this powerful combination of a ton of social interactions that I'm interested in exploring. Here's a sampling:

I'm interested in mothers, motherhood, what happens when you give birth, if you lose the self that you've known your entire life, if there's any hope of holding ground when the beings you birth try to take advantage of you.

I'm interested in partnerships, in husbands and wives, in the ways in which there might always be tiny secrets (or very, very obvious secrets!) between people. I'm interested in how those secrets are dealt with and how that dictates the future of the relationship.

I'm interested in suburbia. I'm interested in women that don't leave their home to work, women whose identities get very tangled up in food and children and home decorating. I'm interested in how those women make and retain friends and what might lie beneath those social interactions when stay-at-home-women are all competing against each other.

I'm interested in the ability to change fundamental truths about yourself once they've been committed to. I'm interested in people who change religion, who reject the people that raised them, who try to escape. I'm interested in people who have a need to escape and people who can never, no matter how hard they try, even fathom escaping. And how that can be to their detriment or not.

So it's a story about a woman who leaves her family. And alllllll that other jazz. Cue some very emotional and intense feelings on my part. Because when I try to write about a woman who leaves her family, I need to understand why and how she could do it. And to get myself to that place, I need to understand so much about her relationship, about how she grew up and how she sees being a parent.

I don't know if this is how everyone writes. I don't even know if this is how I write. But this is how I'm writing this story and it's been a little draining. Hence not many posts on this blog and a bunch of flower photos on the garden blog.

The good news is that it's due this week and then I'll have a week to choose which parts I'll be reading out loud on the 5th. Somehow I'll have to get it wrapped up as best as I can to shoot off to the publication editors by Wednesday. I have a feeling I will think there's more work to do.

My goals are to have a slice of the story finished so that someone who reads it online is not confused by what's going on. I also want it to read well, to sound good when read out loud. These are two very different types of work. First plot, then polish.

Will aim for William Trevor. Will settle for coherent and non-ESL. Go.

4.20.2010

Les livres de 2010, round 3

Yesterday I finally finished my 8th book of the year and added it to my official list. "Boo," I thought to myself. "When the hell will I ever finish my 9th book?" I was in the mood to write another one of these book reviews and my golden rule is to publish those in groups of threes.

Then I picked up some stuff at the library on my way home from work and got into one in particular. I read 25 pages in the subway on the way home. Then I sat on the couch and read a bunch more pages. Then I made ravioli and read more while it was cooking. Then I spent the last part of my evening reading until all 261 pages were done. And suddenly, I had finished #9.

7. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Dave Eggers has a great quote on the back of this book, something like "leave it to an Irishman to write the best book about New York." And you know what? That's kind of true. This novel flips between a bunch of characters who all live in New York in the 70s. There are hookers and drug addicts, mothers whose sons fought and died in Vietnam, Irish immigrants and famous tight-rope walkers. It's really, really good.

Let me also take this opportunity to say that it's masterful in the way it deals with narration. The same characters appear in different sections (as a reader, it's fun to realize "hey! that's him!") and the book is broken into several sections, each that serves almost as its own mini-novel.

8. What You Call Winter by Nalini Jones
Nalini was my teacher for the class I just finished at the 92-Y and I got this book from the library when the class started. For various reasons (other things I was reading, minor concern about being intimidated, etc), I didn't start reading this collection of short stories until the class was almost over.

There's some fun cross-story character recognition that goes on here too and I liked that a lot. I also felt as though I was back in India reading these stories. I pictured every story happening in Tejal's family's home, which has been my only Mumbai home experience. I found it interesting that I often forgot these were written by someone I knew; the stories themselves sucked me in so that I was able to avoid thinking about how Nalini approaches perspective or character or flashbacks. Long story short, if you like Jhumpa Lahiri and India, you might like these.

9. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I don't know what it is about awesome Irish writers and New York history, but here we go again. Colm Toibin wrote this great little book about a woman who immigrates to Brooklyn from Ireland in the 50s. We follow her as she gets a job, takes classes and meets an Italian boyfriend (whose name is, obviously, Tony). Colm Toibin succeeds in making me fall in mega-love with Tony, who is funny and kind and smart.

One of the best things about this book was how much I learned about what Brooklyn was like 60 years ago. One of the department stores started carrying darker-colored stockings (thus catering to the non-white crowd), the main character takes a boat from Ireland to America (travel time = 1 week) and the mix of Jews and Irish and Italians in Brooklyn just rang so true.

But my favorite aspect of this book is how well Toibin writes about the experience abroad. Certain passages in the book reminded me of the first few lonely nights that inevitably come with moving somewhere totally different. For example:

She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything. The rooms in the house on Friary Street belonged to her, she thought; when she moved in them she was really there. In the town, if she walked to the shop or to the Vocational School, the air, the light, the ground, it was all solid and part of her, even if she met no one familiar. Nothing here was part of her. It was false, empty, she thought. She closed her eyes and tried to think, as she had done so many times in her life, of something she was looking forward to, but there was nothing. Not the slightest thing. Not even Sunday. Nothing maybe except sleep, and she was not even certain she was looking forward to sleep. In any case, she could not sleep yet, since it was not yet nine o'clock. There was nothing she could do. It was as if she had been locked away.

He also totally nails the feeling you get when you're home, the place you've been yearning for, and it's just not right anymore:

Eilis loved closing the door of her old room and drawing the curtains. All she wanted to do was sleep, even though she had slept well in the hotel in Rosslare Harbour the night before. She had sent Tony a postcard from Cobh saying that she had arrived safely, and had written him a letter from Rosslare describing the journey. She was glad she did not have to write now from her bedroom, which seemed empty of life, which almost frightened her in how little it meant to her. She had put no thought into what it would be like to come home because she had expected that it would be easy; she had longed so much for the familiarity of these rooms that she had presumed she would be happy and relieved to step back into them, but, instead, on this first morning, all she could do was count the days before she went back. This made her feel strange and guilty; she curled up in the bed and closed her eyes in the hope that she might sleep.

NAILED IT, Colm Toibin. Nailed it.

4.19.2010

Brunch and a boho cat.

Yesterday we opened our table and used the leaf for the first time. Betsy, Bob and Meg (of the Muhlenberg clan) came by for brunch and brought a couple of extra interesting friends with them. Per usual, I totally forgot to take photos once they got there, but here's our lovely spread before we devoured it:





It's been a while since I just sat around with a bunch of people and talked; most of our social interactions with people have time limits lately. It's one of the things I miss most about Maddy and Katie and, even further back than that, college in general. You can never recreate dorm life once you've left, can you?

On another note, here is Oscar in a scarf. Now he is ready to stand outside the Sorbonne smoking a cigarette with the other chic Parisians. Or survive a sandstorm. You know, either one.

4.15.2010

My first reading.

I've been trying to write this post for three days. It's funny how some mediums of communication are easier than others. I called my Mom immediately after my writing class on Tuesday night, I sent a tweet out into the universe, I posted this on Facebook. But I struggled with how to make this announcement here. Here goes.

I'm going to be giving a public reading of my fiction on May 5th.

It's so, so exciting. At its most basic level, it's a natural step for people who take classes at the 92-Y. One member of each class gets selected to read and to be published in the 92-Y literary magazine. But to me it feels like such a huge opportunity, such a motivator. Such a chance to invite friends and family (finally!) in to listen to a story that's been banging around my brain since Nanowrimo in November.

If you are in New York on May 5th and would like to attend, I would love it. The only thing getting me through the nerve-inducing daydreams of the event is the prospect that there will be some friendly and familiar faces in the audience.

I'm so excited. Did I say that already? Did I say how this feels like an opening, how yesterday in the subway just the mere knowledge of this upcoming date helped me to plan out an entire collection of short stories? Suddenly a strong wind comes through and lifts me up the slightest bit, lifts me up so I can see what might lie two months, two years down the road.

Good things are coming. I'm almost sure of it.

4.13.2010

Away poor buddy!

My new phone arrived last night. It's a Nexus One (aka Smartphone), which means that there is a slightly lower probability of me getting lost on the way to meet you for dinner. I wrote about it at work this morning - check it out.

It made a funny noise a few minutes ago and I took it out of the case to inspect the situation. A text message! From Mom! It was an update about our cat Toby, who is getting older and we've just learned has a thyroid problem. "Aww poor buddy!" I typed and sent. Then, a moment later, another text message from Mom.

"Huh?"

Oops. Turns out I am not good at typing on touch screens yet. The message she received was "Away poor buddy!" AS IF I WAS SHUNNING MY BELOVED FAMILY PET TO THE UNDERWORLD.

Le sigh. Auto-complete text fields, you challenge me.

4.12.2010

Fun project: Oscar the Cat book

Sima's daughter Lila turned 2 last month and I knew I wanted to make her a fun project for the occasion. Behold my first kid's book, published with Shutterfly.

Luckily I'm just the kind of crazy cat person who has photos hanging around depicting Oscar's entire existence. It was a snap to organize.

Oscar the Cat has been a great success and apparently even the nanny loves it. I plan on doing this more often as people we know have kids... such a creative and fun to make gift!

Click here to view this photo book larger

4.11.2010

Feast de Voyage: Seattle

Hey! Seattle is rainy. But it's also lovely. If you're headed there, check out my Seattle tips in the Feast de Voyage section. For now you'll have to scroll past Paris, but I'm working on some anchors to help you skip around that page. Enjoy!

New York, New York.

Well, that's it. You take me on one colonial walking tour and I'm suddenly contemplating a PhD in history. The past week has been spent filling in any and all gaps of time reading this book right here. And in case you don't get a sense of how big that book is? It's 1236 pages. When I try to read while standing in the subway, I feel like I'm weight-lifting.

I am a little addicted to the history of New York.

It's been a very interesting week here. Spring has come to New York in all of its glory. I've been reading all of the DC folks commenting on Facebook about their cherry blossoms and chuckling to myself. Ohhh you have cherry blossoms, do you? How about a little of THIS?

Blam.

That's a picture of City Hall. I took it this weekend when I marched myself over the Brooklyn Bridge and down Broadway and Wall Street to revisit the places I've been reading so much about. I'm only up to the late 17th century in Gotham, so the scope of New York at that time is much more walkable. Bowling Green to Wall Street walkable.

Of course, I did not lug that heavy book on my walk. Instead I caught up on my reading when I discovered this awesome time line in the City Hall park:


I never went through the New Yorker tourist phase because I grew up so close to the city and because, frankly, I wasn't interested. New York wasn't Paris and I was pissed about it. Lately I've been a lot more at peace with that old issue and maybe that's made me more ready to be interested in America at all (see: trip WITHIN the country for Easter).

One final nerdy recommendation. I've been downloading some pretty interesting podcasts. They're called Stuff You Missed in History Class and the girls that do it sound a lot like that old SNL skit where two women have a super-nice radio show. But if you can get past that vibe, you'll learn some cool stuff about the Stamp Act of 1765 and Pocahontas.

Is anyone else into American History? Have any of you been good NY tourists? What kinds of stuff do you recommend?

4.06.2010

We are back.


We're back. We went straight to work after our red eye flight yesterday morning and crashed about 9:30 last night. It was a little much to go straight to work from one's vacation. Some of you saw that coming. Well, now we know.

Kelley was an awesome house sitter and baked us a berry tart to enjoy in our comatose state. She also filled our house with tulips and hyacinths so it smells like an Easter party all over this apartment. She is the best.

I'll do a little breakdown of the trip soon, but for now... here are the photos!

4.04.2010

Coming home.

Last night we had coffee with a friend that I studied abroad with in Aix-en-Provence. Hard to believe that was almost a decade ago. Hard to believe how much has changed since I saw her last. Hard to believe that we were catching up around a table with her husband from Nebraska and my boyfriend from Wisconsin. Ah, the stuff of Facebook, the moments when you feel like having a FB profile is worth more than sifting through people's Farmville and Mafia Wars updates. (HIDE THEM, PEOPLE! FOR THE LOVE OF YOUR REPUTATIONS. Sheesh.)

"So are you thinking of moving here?!" Stephanie squeals. I look at Chris.
"I mean, it was something I wondered when we first got here," Chris admits.
"But now??"
I step in. "We're always thinking about moving somewhere, no matter where we visit."

This is the truth. We're always perusing cities and states, wondering "is this us? Do we fit here?" I think I still believe that the perfect place exists, though this idea seems more juvenile as my travels pile up.

We have a weird mix of nostalgia for Brooklyn here. Chris even admitted in our conversation that he thinks he'll miss Brooklyn when we eventually go. I will too. But I can't (I really can't!) see what more than a few years of a life looks like among the skyscrapers in New York $ity.

*
Today has been an odd last day in Seattle. We had to check out of our hotel this morning, so we've been homeless all day, stuffing the luggage in the rental car and wandering the chilly streets. Now we're huddled up in a Starbucks with free wifi, my love and I. We're ready to get going.

I have lots to share about Seattle, but the bottom line is this: I love traveling for how inspired and re-energized and excited I am for getting back to my real life. I have so many ideas for new things to make and cook and grow and visit. I suppose this is what five restful days does for your mental state. Walking different streets and navigating different transportation is so refreshing.

And yet, I'm so done with eating out. I'm tired of being cold and carrying an umbrella. I miss friends and my cat and my garden. Brooklyn, we're coming home.

See you soon.