Friday, December 29, 2006
When I was young, I was a figure skater. I started when I was five, and skated like a fiend until I was thirteen. My sister and I were in two ice shows every year--The Nutcracker on Ice every December, and a big revue in the Spring. We also competed in local and regional competitions and came home with our fair share of ribbons and trophies. Skating was a huge part of my life; for a couple of years, we skated almost every day after school and some days before (for some reason, I have a very clear memory of waking up for an early session one morning, crumbling some chocolate chip cookies into cereal bowls for me and my sister, pouring milk over them, and telling my mom we were eating Quaker 100% Natural cereal. I recall thinking that the extra sugar would help give us more energy for our skating.)
Every session of skating club would start with an hour of figures (or "patch" as we called it, since each skater was assigned a patch of ice to practice our figure 8s). I enjoyed the hush of the rink during figures, the slice of the blades on ice, the whir of the scribe (the big compass that we used to trace circles on the ice that we'd try to follow with our blades--or that we'd use to measure how close to a circle we were able to get on our own.) After the quiet, focused hour, we'd change into our freestyle skates (which had different blades, with an extra toepick) for an hour of jumping and spinning and footwork, for practicing our routines, and working with our coaches, and going as fast as we possible could, the air cold and sharp in our noses, eyes watering, hair flying back like streamers.
I can't begin to do the double jumps and intricate spins of my youth, but getting on the ice still feels like home to me, like freedom. You can see my edges blurring in this picture, my skates edging me toward flight.
Mess is robust and adaptable...as opposed to brittle, like a parent’s rigid schedule that doesn’t allow for a small child’s wool-gathering or balkiness. Mess is complete, in that it embraces all sorts of random elements. Mess tells a story: you can learn a lot about people from their detritus, whereas neat — well, neat is a closed book. Neat has no narrative and no personality (as any cover of Real Simple magazine will demonstrate). Mess is also natural, as Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson point out, and a real time-saver. “It takes extra effort to neaten up a system,” they write. “Things don’t generally neaten themselves.”I used to think that one day I would be more organized, more neat (and therefore more "grown up"), but I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that that's not going to happen.
I am a fan of entropy. I like to see how things unfold, evolve (sometimes devolve) over time. I remember my Physics for Poets professor said that entropy is very powerful because it's the way of nature--things fall apart, then find a new sort of order. It's the whole cycle of creation and destruction. "That's why it's so hard to keep your room neat," he told the class. "You have to work against entropy. It's a losing battle." I prefer working with entropy. It's much more interesting and comfortable (and it definitely saves time.) Not that I live (or want to) in squalor and filth--I just don't mind a cozy jumble. Every once in a while, I get self-conscious about clutter--especially if someone shows up at my house unannounced--but the feeling tends to pass pretty quickly.
I know some people who find cleaning to be meditative, relaxing, empowering. And that's wonderful for them. It's like with writing--everyone has to find their own best process, their own path to bliss. It's so individual. And I know my own personal path to bliss (and health) doesn't require a feather duster.
Happy birthday, my sweet, smart, funny, beautiful, talented girl.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Life is B-A-N-A-N-A-S right now (thanks to Kit Stolz for alerting me to this wonderful image!) but I thought I'd take a moment to touch base and wish everyone a joyous and decidedly non-banana-like holiday season (unless, of course, that is what you are hungry for!)
Some fun Self Storage news...You can also find the book in the January issue of Redbook (recommended on the same page as my friend Laura Ruby's new book, I'm Not Julia Roberts!) Here is what they have to say
Self Storage doesn't hit stores until January 23, but Bookreporter is giving 10 free advance copies away to people who would like to preview the book and comment about it on their website. You can find out more here.
Flan Parker's Children and friends mean everything to her, but she still yearns to find her own place in a confused, fearful post-9/11 world. Guided by the words of her favorite poet, Walt Whitman, Flan sets off on a surprising journey of self-discovery in Gayle Brandeis's witty and heartwarming novel, Self Storage.
Happy holidays, everyone! Hope they're warm and delicious and meaningful for all of you.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Here's the text (under the headline 2 LOST WOMEN, 2 MUST-READ NOVELS--the other novel mentioned is Vendela Vida's Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name):
Self Storage by Gayle BrandeisPretty cool, huh?!
Flan Parker's life has spun out of control. But when she hides a burka-clad neighbor from vigilantes post-9/11, she finds the strength to help herself.
(And for other burqa-related writing, check out this cool essay at Nerve.com; it finds parallels between burqa-wearing and recent celebrity waxed-nether-regions flashings!)
Friday, December 15, 2006
The poem, Sheridan Square, honors the street I grew up on in Evanston, IL, right on the border of Chicago. You can see it on Google Maps here.
It wasn't a square, really,
just half of one,
the L-shaped street
I grew up on.
I loved saying I lived
on an L-shaped street;
maybe that's where my love
of letters grew from,
living on the forearm
of those two perpendicular lines,
lines that instantly lulled me
as I turned the corner
at the green mail box
on the way home from school,
the L bent like an elbow,
holding me close
to the heart of my life.
I've lived in the "Inland Empire" for 20 years--it is a much-maligned, misunderstood part of Southern California. I doubt David Lynch's new fever dream of a movie, Inland Empire, is going to change that in any way--a review in the New York Times made reference to the "bleak Southern Califonia region" of the movie's title. And yes, the Inland Empire is bleak in places, but it's also beautiful and wild and complicated and growing, and, as the back of Inlandia notes, it's a "breeding ground for passionate literature." The book features a diverse mix of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction, from Joan Didion, John Steinbeck, MFK Fisher, Mike Davis, Laura Kalpakian, Susan Straight, Alex Espinoza, Michael Jaime-Becerra, and many other voices (including an excerpt from my novel, The Book of Dead Birds.) I am very grateful to Heyday Books for honoring this adopted home of mine, for celebrating it through the written word, for helping people begin to understand the majesty of this often misread place.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
Arin had to take off his long sleeved shirt to accomodate the cast. We were in a room divided into two exam areas; the two women--one probably in her late 30s and her mother--waiting in the adjacent area couldn't take their eyes off Arin's bare chest. The older woman actually took a few steps closer to get a better look. So interesting to see women staring at him that way (although I don't blame them; he is a gorgeous 16 year old guy.) I looked at Arin's shoulders, and remembered a portrait of him from when he was about 6 weeks old. A photographer came to our house to take pictures, and propped Arin up, his little arms crossed on top of the cushion in front of him. His shoulders looked so burly for a baby as he rested on his elbows, so well muscled and defined, lightly feathered with hair. They look almost just the same now, only on a much larger scale. My baby, almost all grown up.
I think of Arin's hand bones, shoulder bones, forming inside my belly, and it makes me dizzy again to think of anything happening to any sweet part of him.
I was recently asked to read two novels in manuscript. In both of them, women lose their sons when they are young men (one dies of an overdose; the other dies in an accident after being kidnapped in Africa.) I have been feeling such sharp stabs of loss as I read these beautifully written stories. They remind me that Arin's skateboard accident could have been so much worse. Still, his injury can't help but drive home how fragile life really is, how the world as we know it can change in one swift moment, how we need to hold those we love close to our hearts because we don't know how long we'll get to keep them there.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
2) Every scene has a mood, and everything in that scene should contribute to that mood. Just as in poetry, where each word counts, each sensory detail, description, and image should work to evoke the mood you intend. Nothing you put in a scene should be arbitrary — every word should count towards creating the overall tone.Yes (although these issues come in to the picture during revision for me, not during the initial writing, when I am usually not very conscious of what I'm doing). I am not sure how I feel about the next item on her list, which talks about manipulating the reader's emotions. I try not to think of the reader as I write. I try to not have an agenda or be manipulative in any way (although I often do feel manipulated by my characters--they toss me all over the place.) I am in awe of writers who have a handle on the tone and effect of their work; it tends to be a big mysterious mush for me.
I still haven't read Newman's book, Mary. I am very eager to do so.
For another perspective on writing, here is an Author's Prayer from Ilya Kaminsky. I especially love these lines:
I must write the same poem over and overI went to my montly poetry group tonight. I love meeting with this group of poet women--all of them are so talented and insightful and fun to hang out with. One woman, Lavina Blossom (an amazing name, yes?) shared a prose poem that holds one of the greatest sentences I've read in a long time: "As for me, I seemed to be slipping into something comfortable that felt like infinity."
for the empty page is a white flag of their surrender.
If I speak of them, I must walk
on the edge of myself, I must live as a blind man
who runs through the rooms without
touching the furniture
That's how reading and writing often feel to me, like slipping into something comfortable that feels like infinity.