Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Grate Idea

And now for a post that's light and lemony.  With a red hot cooking tip from me. 

I have a Microplane grater/zester.  That's it, right next door there.  It is a fabulous, fabulous cooking tool of many talents.  One of which is zesting lemons without getting any of that bitter white underbelly pithy stuff in with your bright, tart essence-of-lemon stuff. 

But I have always used this grate tool in the same way I use all graters.  

The wrong way. 

That way is when (Oh grammar mavens hide your eyes.  I'm sure this sentence has just begun with a major usage faux pas and I do not care.) you secure your grater with your non-dominant hand and scrape whatever you're grating across its sharp little teeths, letting the grated whatever fall down into wherever you need it to fall.

That works.  But in my opinion it's dicey at best and kinda messy and hard to control. When you're using the Microplane to grate and zest there's Another Option. 

Lemon Example: Hold the lemon in your non-dominant hand and draw the grater across the lemon one direction. (I like the "towards me direction" which,  in my right-handed case, is left to right.) The grater is upside down.  The zest collects inside it.  Go slow.  It still zests fast. 

You can zest in a controlled area, methodically covering the entire lemon, missing nothing, but not going too pithily deep. The zest fills the plane, as shown in the photo.  You dump it out into whatever you're adding zest to and continue until you've got all the tangy, citrusy bits you need.


It works for Parmigiano Reggiano as well. 

You can thank me now.  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Little Bee, A Book

In the post that immediately preceded this one, I vowed to stop listening to the part of my self that resists the reading of books that may turn out to be painful.  As a direct result, I'm sure, the Universe brought me Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

This is not a review.  If you'd like one, the NYTimes has a very fine example at

I can foretell a Book Club Future for Little Bee because when I went to the trusty Cleveland Public Library website to request it, I found myself #72 in the queue. And the books themselves: charged out, "on hold for someone," and "being transfered between libraries."  Moving in the mysterious dance of a book catching on, catching fire.

This is a very, very good thing.

It's good because Little Bee is a book to make its readers kinder to their fellow humans.  And we are more in need of human kindness than maybe anything else in this world.   

Little Bee is a sixteen-year-old Nigerian refugee. At the beginning of the novel she is being held in a detention center in England.  She is such a lovely, fierce, brilliant, funny, courageous human being that even as her story hammers us with the cruelty and callousness she has learned to endure, she draws us inside her spirit.  She warms us, eases our pain, gives us hope.

The book isn't about just her, of course. It's about our good familiar world of workday commutes. It's about relationships. Infidelity.  Regret.  Parenting.  Making tea.  It's about comfy first world people confronting a devastating third world reality in their own nicely appointed living room.

Little Bee reminded me how we accommodate other people's suffering by secretly believing they somehow did something to deserve or at least explain it. Or that perhaps they don't really mind it so much after all.

It lays bare our secret fear that if these people don't deserve it, then maybe we aren't immune.  It tells the truth about what it's like to endeavor to make a difference when any difference you can make is insufficient.  When all a human being can do is bear witness.  With love.  And infinite respect.

Okay.  I liked it.  It's a delightful, terrible, beautiful, ugly, transcendent book.  Buy a copy.

Tell your book club about it.

Uhoh.  This may have been a review.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Watch Yourself

The contents of ones own thoughts -- by this I mean the contents of my own thoughts, but I'm being oblique for the sake of pseudo universality -- are the background music, the familiar, almost unnoticed wallpaper of the individual human life.  We (I) pay them little serious attention while at the same time taking them very, very seriously.

This can be a problem. 

Let me try to clarify this concept with an example from a  film classic:  "Men In Black."  

Remember the part where the alien who runs the pizza shop gets killed, and at the autopsy his head opens up to reveal the tiny being who's been in the driver's seat of this guy all along?  No?  Well, I'm not sure if it actually was the Pizza Alien, but I do remember the moment.  My point is that I have one of those beings in my head almost all the time.  And I'm guessing you probably do, too.

This little being is not me.  But she very often gets to play me in real life.  

My tiny automatic pilot (Let's call her Petunia for fun and convenience.) has tons of opinions:  Petunia doesn't like to fly.  She's bad at exercise and hates to do it.  She doesn't care for movies with subtitles.  She likes brownies or anything chocolate.  She's never been much of a basketball fan.  She's not terribly fond of fruit. She gets totally lost on the west side of Cleveland. She fears and despises on-ramps.  She has no patience with Dr. Phil.  She likes to think things over.  She hates to be rushed.  She's personally offended by reality TV.  If you bring something-anything to her attention, she'll come up with an opinion about it on the spot.

And my knee will jerk.

I was quite young when I started loading up Petunia with opinions. I gave her a ton of info.  Some of it quite worthwhile. The stove is hot.  The candy is fabulous.  When your mother looks at you like that, be a better girl as fast as you can.  Some of it works, too:  Smile. Be nice. Show signs of intelligence.  Develop a sense of humor. Pay attention.  Pretend you are paying attention.

Old Petunia kept me alive while I was figuring out that I was alive.

But now she's mostly an unconscious, automatic, knee-jerk reaction to stuff I'm not really paying attention to because she's already made up my mind about them.  And she doesn't always have my best interest in ... uh ... mind.

Here's an example from real life.  From today, as a matter of fact.  I need to get Petunia to let me (Let's call me "Annie.") pick what books we're going to read.

Miss Petunia likes books where people get better, overcome the odds, live well, find spiritual truth without undue suffering, solve crimes, eat in nice restaurants, and don't throw their lives irretrievably down the drain on a whim. She loves happy endings.  Left to her own devices, Petunia would never have read,  Atonement, The Corrections, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao or any other books about the train wrecks of human experience that the book club makes me read.

Face it. She wants happy, dappy Kraft Jet Puffed Marshmallow Creme in the 13 oz. jar, from now until forever.   Of course, common sense suggests this would keep Annie drifting in warm, familiar, slightly stagnant pleasantness.  And probably rot her brain.

Therefore, starting now, we are going to read A Visit From The Goon Squad, Dreaming in Hindi, Freedom (from the author of The Corrections.  Yikes.  Train. Wreck.) and any other book that people in whom Annie has confidence suggest is worth reading.  Even though something about these stories seems to scare Petunia. And when Annie starts to put one of them down (going, "Whoa, this is not going to turn out well.  I feel strangely threatened.") I'm going to take a deep, cleansing breath and look seriously and quietly into the control compartment of my head to observe who it is that's scared, bored or in some other way uncomfortable and say, "There, there, sweetie.  Shhh.  It's just a book.  I'm right here, too."

Annie is going to keep a mindful eye (whatever that might be) on Petunia.

And we'll see how it goes.

P.S. If this sounds anything like schizophrenia to you, you could be right.  Ask the little alien in your head what it thinks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Having The Last Word.

Right here in this very blog, I've administered a practically lethal dose of writerly angst.  So let's talk about FUN for a change.  Let's not talk about writing into the lonely void.  Or about the eternal "Is it good?  Is it crap?" question.

Let's talk about about "Having The Last Word." 

When I wrote for money, I wrote a lot of good stuff that got killed.  Horribly, stupidly, pointlessly killed.  Some of it was killed for good reason.  Killed to save the client/agency relationship. (I wrote a spot for KFC once -- in the narrative voices of Cheech and Chong -- that suggested there oughta be their kind of pot in the chicken pot pie. That never saw the light of client.  It was a very funny spot though.  Cracked me up.)  I wrote a ton of awful stuff, too. (That pie thing might have been awful stuff, actually.)  Some of my awful stuff didn't get killed.  I rue the day.   

Anyway. Back to my good, non-crazy stuff that was murdered.

Dead. Dead. Dead. For no apparent reason.  For selfish reasons.  For political reasons.  For all the wrong reasons.   Looking back, I had some very smart ideas.  Hey.  In the day when Nike was still a  missile and not yet a sneaker, I tried to convince some boss or other that "Just do it." was the most powerful possible tagline in the Universe. Oooh.  Killed so dead.  Nike lucked out.  And all I got was looked at funny.  No justice. 

Let's be honest.  People who are running a business may not be in the market for the most creative, most adorable, most wackily delightful writing.  They want writing that's good for business.  That, by the way, is what advertising writing is intended to be.  No matter what you may have heard.

One day when -- please, God -- I'm writing to make my &*#(&^@ agent and my &*(W^*& publisher happy, I'll probably break down and write what's good for business again and feel okay about listening to the voices of experience.

But right now?  Today

I'm the author, by gum.  I get to drive the bus.  It's my *%8#&^% bus. 

Today, I'm editing a Young Adult Fantasy novel I wrote a couple of years ago.  It's about mayhem in the time line and the utter destruction of the universe.  It's a lot of fun.  No.  Really.  It is.  I'm planning to drop it on those agents who said "I want to see some YA that's yada yada or yada yada" in the most recent issue of Writer's Digest.  My YA has yada yada out the wazoo, if I do say so myself. 

So, as I read I ask the Reader in my head, "Should I change this?  Or that?"  Sometimes the answer is, "Yes!  People will make serious fun of you if you leave that in."  And sometimes I answer back, "Oh, yeah?  You'll pry that sentence out of my cold, dead hand."  And guess what?

I am The Author.  I GET TO SAY. 

If you think it's not fun to make up stuff on your own terms and absolutely own that stuff -- at least until you sell it -- which is its own reward and time for you to move on and write something new anyhow --  you've been listening too hard to the long-suffering types.  Sure, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his own blood and died young, but his liver was probably giving him fits the whole time.

Writing to please yourself is an amazing, good time.  When it's going well, it's a blast.  And when it's going rotten, it's still absolutely in the loving arms of you and your personal, magical Muse.  When I'm not all cranky about the rigors of agent hunting, I know this in my soul.

You can know it, too.  Look.  If you don't want to write, don't.  But if you've always thought you could, or if you already did and want to do more but you're having doubts or writerly angst, don't let anybody stop you.

Writing is a joyride.   And we Authors get to drive the bus. 

P.S.   Here's another fact:  When you are writing on a regular basis, when you have finished something you've written and moved onto something else?  Listen up.  You are not a wannabee writer anymore.  You're a writer.  Period.  When you finish your first novel?  You're the author of that novel.  Do not let anybody tell you different.  Don't let them even try.  It is not necessary to sell what you write to be a real writer.  As a matter of fact, as I only just pointed out, that can be an impediment.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Bugs Are Back In Town

I have commented elsewhere about the so-called Canadian Soldiers who descend upon the lake shore every spring.

Here's the top line:

I stole this photo from that old post.  It gives you some idea. 

The bottom line, though, is that sometime around late June the bugs go away, but they don't exactly stay away.  They're sort of like a rose bush that blooms big in early summer and then pops up a few weaker blossoms every once in awhile throughout the season.

In comparison to the spring visitation, the new crop is piddling.  But definitely here.  They joined me in the car for the ride to work out this morning.  I'm not particularly a fan of insects, but these little guys are so frail, so ephemerally Ephemeroptera, that I can't get all worked about them -- at least not in their current numbers.

I hear from my friends in the Heights that they came to town up there this week.  Up there there's some signficant bug excitement.  We have a saying here on the northern edge of the U.S. that we apply to that sort of bug flurry.

Actually it's more like a taunt than a saying.

And it's actually just me that taunts it.

It goes, "You think YOU got bugs?  What you got is not bugs.  Here's how you tell if you've got bugs:  Have you eaten a bug today?"

If no. Then no.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kicking the Demon Frog

Amongst the people who know me very, very well, it is common knowledge that I am a fool for Zuma's Revenge.  ZR is a devilish seduction of unsuspecting souls and I, alas, was easy prey for the snare of The Frog.

Perhaps I should elucidate, just a tad ... pole.  Zuma's Revenge is a computer game devised by a company called PopCap.  They are cool people.  I adore them and their games.  See?  Hooked I was ... am on the PopCap mystique.  I wrote a blog post about what they and their Zuma insanity taught me.

There were truly valuable lessons in there.  For a time.

A long, long time.

When I shared my adoration with a nice guy who works in PR at PopCap, he sent me a package of Zuma stuff, including a mouse pad which I wore out (playing Zuma's Revenge, of course) and a VooDoll -- a useful tool for VooDolling your adversaries.  I have yet to stick a pin in it, but the moment could come.  It could.  Tread carefully, my adversaries.

But here's where it all got sticky for me and the frog.  I have always been TERRIBLE AT GAMES/SPORTS.  Starting with softball when I was a youngster with a penchant for ducking at the most inopportune times and proceeding through checkers, volleyball, crazy 8s, tennis, matrimonial bridge (one game; maybe two or three), matrimonial golf (over in 10 seconds or less), matrimonial racquetball (terminated too quickly to quantify), I have been just awful.  This, I believe, was partly insecurity about a certain lack of coordination and a lot of psychological bs, but what's past is past, and in the past I was pretty bad.

But not, it turned out, at Zuma's Revenge.  At Zuma's Revenge I am killer excellent.  I have beaten all the Adventures, twice.  Many of them more than ten times.  The early ones multiple, multiple times. (They're so easy.  I can just drift.) I subdued the Challenges, every one.  I crushed six Tiki Bosses without mercy.  And because the game provides a fresh batch of challenges at every playing, I lingered, still, playing it over and over.  And over again.

I had strategy.  I had (believe it or not) skills!!!  Kids, I had GAME. For once in my life I was in the enviable position of saying "Step right up, sucker.  And watch me beat this thing senseless."

So there was that.  And then there was The Flow.

According to Wikipedia, the concept of flow was discovered/invented by a guy named Csíkszentmihályi.  (Pronounced "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.")

Here's the info: "According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning."

Here's a complete list of the attributes of the flow state:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  10. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging."
Here's a complete list of the attributes of Zuma Flow as experienced by me: 1-10 of the above.  (Csíkszentmihályi neglected to mention the ability of the flow stater to go three to five days without peeing, but he was no doubt just being more delicate about the level of concentration achieved than I.)

And finally, alas, there's the matter of addiction.  If I like something or if I find it comforting or mood enhancing in any way, I like it in virtually unlimited quantities.  I know there must be folks who can "try heroin" a couple of times and go back to being nuclear physicists.  Me? I'm just lucky my upbringing and my lack of opportunity kept me out of smack's way.

So I was hooked on Frog.

Fortunately it didn't cost me $250,000 a year to feed this habit.  I got it for Christmas.  For me it was free.

But a moment did arrive when I realized -- dazed, dizzy, rendered practically paralyzed by neck pain, and suffering from mild uremic poisoning, I'm sure -- that I had spent another four hours attaining a couple of levels and making the Tiki Boss hug his teddy bear and whine.

I knew then that Froggy and I had to say goodbye.

It wasn't going to be enough to just step away from the game.  As long as it lingered in the applications folder, croaking my name, I was in its thrall.  It was time for Cold Turkey.  It was time to Put The Frog In The Trash Folder.   And Erase The Trash.

This was forever.

I did it.  I didn't cry.  Though I thought about it.  I braced my shoulders.  Hit the appropriate keys. And I walked away.  Into a fresh new world where I could probably get hooked on ... blogging or something.

Regrets?  I've had a few, but then again too few to complain about.  When I think of Froggy and his vacant, cheerful demeanor, his ability to look happy, even while suffering fatal defeat and being kicked back to the start of the level, I'm just glad for the time -- hours and hours, days and days of time -- we shared.

I say softly -- to myself now, because he is gone and I'm alone, with only family, friends and the cat for company --  "It's okay, my brave Frog.  It's time we both moved on."

And remember:

We'll always have Level 54.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Meanwhile, Back At The Pool

Who woulda thunk it!  I practically clawed my way to water aerobics yesterday.  I had a lifetime supply of excellent excuses for bagging it and I ended up bobbing happily at 6 p.m. on a Friday night.

This shocks even me.

I have decided that water aerobics at Judson is my dream workout.  I think maybe that in the equation: "Me + H2O + Working Out + Judson = Optimum Situation for Me Working Out" the Judson part may be key.

Let me say at the outset that I have only respect and admiration for every single living soul at Judson Retirement Communities.  In spite of what you may have heard about the fey coolness of the hangers on at the Viper Room in L.A. (Oh, dear.  Is it still fey-ly cool?  Is it even there?  Maura?  What's cool in L.A. these days?) these folks are cooler by half. They are smart, they are educated, they have life experience, they are fun.  And many, many of them look way better in a bathing suit than me.  But they're not duffuses about it.  Their priorities are straight.  They grew up already.

First, I know for a fact that these ladies and gentlemen are not obsessed with competitiveness in the looking-way-better-than-me department.  I can put on my mail-order suit, make sure the bottom is pulled down, the top is pulled up and the straps aren't too tangled around -- and walk out of the dressing room with No Fear.  Nobody cares.  In fact, I do believe, nobody even looks.  It seems as if people are happy to see just me.  And I am so happy to see them.

Part Deux:  I am terrible at doing the routines but nobody minds.  Nobody much notices unless only my feet are sticking up above the surface.

Part The Next:  I am getting better.  I am improving. I even stay late to practice not going feet up off the invisible water bicycle.  Me?  If I say "who'd a thunk it" again would that be twice too many?  Yes.  I agree.

Part The Last:  Water is my natural habitat.  In the water I am weightless-er.  I am agiler.  I am stronger-er.   I am a happy seal in a mail-order suit, cavorting with the other seals in the Happy Cove. 

This my progress report:  I am learning to love working out.

Who'd a thunk it?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Now That's What I'm Talkin' About.

Almost every day -- certainly every week day -- I hear from Oprah Winfrey.  She sends me emails and newsletters about all kinds of things.  Unless I'm waiting for some important communication from someone who actually knows me, I'm usually glad to hear from Ms. Winfrey.
It's important to sift through her material though.

The fashion advice, for example, is almost never pertinent to my lifestyle.  For one thing, does Suze Orman, Oprah's Financial Guru, admonisher of the frivolous, know that Adam Glassman, Oprah's Fashion Guru, has recently advised me to spend several hundred dollars more than the food budget on a nice purse?  I don't think the right hand knows what the left hand is doing in the Suze/Adam "Save-Your-Money!/But-You're-So-Worth-It!" dialogue.

However, the previous paragraphs were merely prologue to what I REALLY want to talk about.  I was just warming up.  I REALLY want to talk about Junot Diaz.  That's him up in the corner.

Today's O email was about books.  And there was an article in which Junot Diaz purportedly talks about what made him become a writer.  But if you read the article you'll see that this is not what he's talking about.  Not at all.

He's talking about how writing The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao took ten long years of what amounted to bleeding from the eyeballs over 75 pages of good writing and 500 pages of something he deemed not good enough.  It's about how badly he wanted not to be a writer during a lot of that time.  About how grindingly hard it was.  How it messed up his life.  How bad it hurt.  And how ultimately he couldn't lay the pencil down.

My book club read this book. Any book club member will likely tell you that one of the very fine things about belonging to a book club is that your sense of responsibility and shame will drive you to read books you would otherwise gently direct back to the library.  (Or shove under the couch if it was a book you owned.)  The Brief Wondrous Life was that book for me.

First of all it was about people who were seriously unintelligible to my small-town-America upbringing and my English-speaking brain.  The novel was so riddled with Spanish swears I had to purchase The Red Hot Book of Spanish Slang: 5,000 Expressions to Spice Up Your Spanish in order to make it from page to page.  (If you ever get me mad and I resort to Spanish?  I am going to call you some very mean things and you probably won't even know.)

Oscar was so lost.  His life was so ... strange, so alien to me.  His family had suffered the sort of horrible injustices that I recoil from knowing about.  Suffered them for generations.  In a country devastated and impoverished by tragedy and cruelty.

But since it was For The Club, I kept slogging, and now, although many of the details of the story have slipped away, when I think of Oscar, he fills my heart.  My heart is full to the brim with joy and sorrow, pity and admiration.  My heart is full of love for Oscar Wao.

And in ten years of incredible effort, Junot Diaz made Oscar.  For me.  And, of course, for Junot.  Because he couldn't help himself.  Because he couldn't stop.

This is what he said about what makes a writer a writer:

"You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn't until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am."

And that's what I'm talkin' about.

Junot Díaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A (Now) Open Email to a Writer

The Zen folks -- whom I love to quote though I comprehend just the barest mote of the Wisdom they speak -- have a thing about "the front of the hand and the back of the hand."

By this I understand them to mean that you can't have one without the other.  There can be no hand at all without both. No front without a back.  No yes without no.  No up that doesn't come fully loaded with an equal and opposite amount of down.  Things are defined by what they are and by what they're not.

I'm going to stretch this not-particularly-malleable concept to say that writing is composed of two things.  (To be faithfully Zenful, I think that would probably be "the writing"and "the not writing."  And, trust me, I could write and not write a BOOK about the not writing.)  But for the purposes of this discussion, which is currently being held between me and myself, let's take some liberties and say that writing is comprised of 1) writing and 2) reading.  

Without readers, writing is the tree that falls in that sad forest where no one ever camps and the bears are all deaf.

In a pinch you can read your own stuff.  I do.  And I quote myself to me sometimes.  And I quote myself in my blog header because if you can't do that there, well, where can you?  But the question of readership is inherent in the practice of writing.  Why do it if no one reads it?  Why be the falling tree? 

A while ago I had another blog and that blog appeared not to be entertaining a stampede of readership.  I knew there were lurkers.  And some yeoman posters.  And I had nice comments via email.  But if you looked at Comments, there was, very often, just my writer friend, Vivian, and me.  Viv emailed to commiserate with me about that dearth of responders and I emailed her back about how I feel about writing into the void.

Now Viv has a blog of her own and it's gorgeous and smart and only just begun.  Commenting there today, I was reminded of her email and her sense (somewhat correct) that I suffered sometimes from not knowing whether anyone was reading anything on the blog.

Since, as  I've already admitted, I read myself to myself, I went back and looked at it again.  I stand now by what I said then.  So, I'm quoting me here. 

I wrote to Viv:

"This is the thing about writing and putting your writing out where people can see it.  (You know this, of course.)  It's like laying a sacrifice before God.  You don't know if God saw it.  You don't know if God liked it.  You don't know for sure if there is a God and whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing for you.

I think this is true, even for writers of bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize winners, although they have their own problems, on a plane somewhat higher than ours.

All that silence.  We need to love it.  We need to let it in.  It's full of voices we are not intended to hear.  The relationship between a writer and a reader is one of the most intimate relationships in the world and yet it's so often not made manifest for the participants.

It's not about us.  It's not about them.  It's about a kind of magical Us/Them entity that gets formed in the reading and dissolves when the reading is complete.

When the reading is complete, though, the writing still echoes.  I have whole segments of books that come to my mind, and when I remember them I bless the courage, the love, and the pure insanity of their writers.  But they never know.  I worship Stephen King.  He's my guy.  He will never know.  And when he wonders if he's any good or not, he won't have me to cheer him up.  And I know he wonders.  Know. It.

I write all the time.  Even when I'm driving. Especially when I'm driving.  (More dangerous than texting, no doubt.)  Writing is my way of organizing and interpreting my world, my life.  I can't help myself.  And when I have my wits about me and my guts in place I understand that we write for ourselves, but in the spirit of generosity.  Like an anonymous sacrificial gift to any scrap of humanity that ever goes, "Oh, yeah.  I read that.  It sucked."

And I have to say the rewards are all mine.  We writers get to make the fire.  And even if my fire goes out without warming anyone at all, Fire Maker is still the only job I want. 

I guess it's what Emily Dickinson meant when she said, "This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me."  I think about her all the time.  And of course, she never knew I would.  Look at Stieg Larsson.  Writing and writing and dying before his books sold more than any others in 2008.  What's that all about?  He got to make the fire.  Period.

So, light some fires today, Viv."

And to you -- writers and readers out there, who knows where, who knows even if -- please remember that without you, the most human of enterprises can't exist.  It exists because of us.

Because we write.  Because we read.  Because we keep on keeping on.

For you who want a new, fun blog to read (after you get done reading every single &^%#$ post on this one, of course...just kidding) visit Viv at Wild Turtle Crossing.  The writing is wild and wonderful and the turtles more beautiful than you could ever imagine turtles could be:


Monday, September 6, 2010

An Amateur Review of The American

This is your "Trying hard not to be a spoiler, but who knows what can mess up a movie for a person?" Alert.

Also, I grabbed the poster image off Google which may or may not be legal.  Likely not.  So I blew it up all crummy and pixelated as a mea culpa, just in case.   

We saw "The American."  We don't see many films, certainly nearly none in the theater since we moved here.  We may possibly have spent way too many evenings staring at the water and saying deep things like, "Gulls." or "Boat!" or "Big boat!  Over there." instead.  But one lives with one's choices. 

Which brings me to the show.

It is a gorgeous film.  Fabulous.  Shot like magic.  Framed, like perfect.  In my uneducated opinion:  Sweden was lovely.  Italy, magnificent.  Those helicopter shots of the highways switching back and forth and the little car going?  Superb.
George looked Mmmm Mmmm.  As a matter of fact he looked so good and so terribly George-familiar that I had a hard time separating him out from Jack/Edward, his character. I kept thinking, "He must be redeemable.  He must  be secretly doing good.  He's George Clooney. Rosemary Clooney was his aunt." Not his fault, I don't think.  He can't help being handsome and famous.

And that lady, the prostitute, George/Jack/Edward got very attached to.  She is more beautiful than he is.  She has very nice ... skin.  And we got to see all of it.  Except maybe her feet.  I'm not sure about her feet.  But I'm sure she had very nice shoes.

The movie moved at a glacial pace and every once in awhile the glacier would get blown up in scenes of violence.  There was a surreal quality about almost everything.  The action was almost mystical in its single-mindedness.  I mean, there were murders and, the next morning?  No CSIs.  How is this possible?  Death happened in this film without having any lasting significance in the world.

Ah.  Now I get it.

So, in the end, I came away not having been bored; having, in fact, been caught up in the action, the drama, the conflict, the resolution.  I was entertained -- especially during the parts where we got to see almost all of George's skin.  Let's face it.  I am not an intellectual.

In the end, then, I was caught up and entertained. I came away mesmerized and woke up the next day feeling ... cheated.


It was fantasy.  There was no conflict.  I suggest that as thriller-mad we are (I am) and as lulled as we are by competence at almost anything (I am, even custom gun construction), we know, somewhere in our more cognizant minds -- maybe in our souls -- that there is such a thing as A Bad Man.

Even if he's an interesting, conflicted, unhappy, and, yes, beautiful man. Even if he was a sweet toddler.  Even if he's good to his aging mother.  (Which, in this case, I really doubt.) Even if he can build a great gun with a truly admirable Zen-like attention to detail.

A man who kills people he knows nothing about for money is a bad man.  He could maybe be redeemed by Heaven but not by Anton Corbijn, Rowan Joffe or Martin  Booth. (Not necessarily in that order.)  He can't be saved by a prostitute with a heart of gold or a priest who can actually be forgiven his own minor (in the scheme of things) sin. And most importantly, he can't be saved by me.  And there I was, trying in my role as viewer-participant, to save him.

Rooting for him to get away.  What was I thinking?  Where could a man like that possibly get to?

That's simplistic and I know it.  I did notice that the film had the earmarks of allegory and I was supposed to admire the chill, intellectual design of it.  But I wanted to play.  And, for me the game was a trick.  A set-up.  No matter how lovely the design, the story kind of sucked.  So I came away, after a bit, feeling betrayed and kind of angry. 

See?  That's what makes this an amateur review.  Would I recommend the film?  Yes.  It's worth seeing.  Especially since we just watched "Date Night" on DVD and I have a clear idea of what's a real waste of time.  Anybody's time.

Even a hit man's time.

That's it.  Happy Labor Day to one and all!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How Did I NOT See This Coming?

Fool me once, shame on you, Mother Nature.  Fool me about about one hundred thousand times?  Go ahead and make me wear the "I'm Stupid" t-shirt.

I look right at home in it.

But yesterday morning was summer.  I swear.  It was hot.  The lake was blue, if forebodingly choppy. The Tomato's top was still down.  I know.  I promised a photo of the Flying Vegetable (That's-Really-A-Fruit-But-Doesn't-Seem-At-All-Like-One.)  I will, but my heart's not in it just now.

So, okay. Who changed the season?  Give me back the remote control!

How did it get to be September?  Already?  Why don't I just make a recording of me saying this, and we can play it every year around Labor Day?  Then I can sleep in.  Go hunting for my sweater.  Take the day off from whining.

Thanks for letting me express my regret for not having spent more time -- any time? -- in the hammock.  Or on picnics.  Or windsurfing.  (Kidding about that.  Never gonna happen.)

It's merely that I feel so ... unwarned.

The summer lake shimmers iridescent, busy with boats and screaming young ladies in inner tubes being dragged about, screaming, by boats.  The autumn lake -- at least on mornings like this -- is the color of hot chocolate.  I refer to this as Hot Chocolate Lake.  Which doesn't warm or comfort me at all.

The gulls who I believe spend the summer in the McDonald's parking lot up on Lakeshore, hoping for a Big Mac, super-sized with Fries & a Shake, are back in droves.  When I got up this morning and looked into the sky (still searching for some fragment of summer, just then) there were squadrons of them.  Sailing over in what passes for gull formation.  Looking down.  Mocking me with their swift flight and disorganized brains.

And in the kitchen?  Oh look.  Overnight there was a visit from the Elves of Autumn and they left us a pot of russet mums and a bowl of red Mackintoshes.  Oh. That was me.  I must have subconsciously known what was coming. Thank goodness.  At least my subconscious wasn't in LaLa Land.  No that's not right.  My subconscious is LaLa Land.


But I'm adapting now.  I like to rush quickly through the five stages.  I'm mostly out of denial.  I think I'll just linger in depression for a minute or two and then move on.

Because, truth to tell, I can get used to the idea of autumn.  It takes a minute or two, that's all.

Here's the final stanza of one of my favorite poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  (I like her, people, and I think she is a good poet. And if I'm the only former English Major who does?  I don't care. )  I hear this poem in my head on days like this and it's one of the things that make me happy.

Gone, gone again is Summer the lovely,   
Gone again on every side,
Lost again like a shining fish from the hand   
Into the shadowy tide.

Quick!  Write down five things that make you happy today.  Feel free to do that in the comment box. 

I'll go first.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


When I started this blog, I promised to tell all about what it's like to live ten measly yards from a force of Nature.  The little excerpt from my novel in the header says it like it is for me.

Holy awe, I'd call it.  Occasionally I'd call it "Holy crap!"

But that's only a fragment of the story.

If you live in a city, a suburb, or a small town anywhere USA, you're swimming in Nature.  For sure. She's in our face -- and up our nose -- everywhere we go, one way or another.

But having lived in all three, I'd report that it's different out here.

Not in any way to discount or disrespect your passion for your own changing sky and your own changing seasons, it just that it feels like there's a lot more of Everything Nature in our world here than we had in the world we left behind.  Erie is big.  Big magnificent.  Big gorgeous.  Big scary.  Just plain big.  It doesn't quit.  It goes as far as the eye can see and doesn't stop there. If you live somewhere where the horizon stretches out around you, you know exactly what I mean.  

Out here it's ALL big. Big water, big sky, big weather, big planet, big old cotton pickin' universe.  And because there's nothing much except water between here and Canada, there's this giant screen on which we watch it all do its extremely large thing.  Really.  From our back deck you can catch a glimpse of the girders that hold the stars aloft and the love that makes the world go round.  Big.  Oh so.

Corollary to the Law of Large:  This Category 5 Bigness, makes the significance of the viewer something akin to that of a fruit fly who was scraped off the bottom of a muddy shoe in 1716.  It's a steamroller for you, baby.  You have to scramble all your jets to feel like anything at all.  

In the post about my ongoing dysfunctional relationship with The Weather Channel, I touched on how our attempt to reduce the weather to something one could actually predict lulls us into the idea that we know something about what's going to happen next.  Or about anything at all.

Lake E will dispense with this fallacy for you if you let it.  But it will do something else for you as well.

When I get all preoccupied with myself, Lake Erie will unpreoccupy me.  It will shuck me right out of my fruit fly scenarios.  It will explain to me, kindly or loudly, that the world doesn't revolve around the cosmic question, "Where did I put my silly car keys?"  Oh, wait.  I think the cosmic question is "What am I doing here?"  But the keys tend to block that out when they're missing and I need to go somewhere.  Life is so distracting sometimes.... 

All I have to do is glance out the window and the Truth is there.  It puts me in my place.  Lucky me.  The world is big and beautiful, mighty and terrible.  And I get to see it.

By virtue of better fortune than anyone deserves, I get to see a big lot of it.