Posts Tagged ‘writing’

What does the number six, a pen and Salman Rushdie have in common? Easy, they are all trending on Twitter.

And the reason is one of America’s highest literary awards, PEN’s Freedom of Expression Courage Award, was given to the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and consequently, in protest for the seemingly “gleeful” way the mag treats Muslims, six authors are boycotting the big gala. Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Peter Carey, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, and Tayie Selasi will not be present next week at the big fete, and Salman Rushdie has just one message for them:

“This is a clear cut issue,” he wrote. “The Charlie Hebdo artists were executed in cold blood for drawing satirical cartoons, which is an entirely legitimate activity. It is quite right that PEN should honour their sacrifice and condemn their murder without these disgusting ‘buts’.”

The Hebdo killings, Rushdie wrote, is a “hate crime, just as the anti-Semitic attacks sweeping Europe and almost entirely carried out by Muslims are hate crimes. This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.”     http://scroll.in/article/723627/salman-rushdie-slams-fellow-writers-for-boycotting-ceremony-to-honour-charlie-hebdo

It seems absurd to me that an award in the field of journalism, for speaking the truth, for freedom of expression and not being restricted by a country’s government, would create such a controversy at this prestigious American institution.

A Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian, has been languishing in an Iranian jail for over nine months. President Obama put his name on the national news cycle at the Correspondent’s Dinner. Gathering information as part of your job should not result in jail time, should not put you on a fatwa list, and should not get you gunned down in your office.

Yesterday I saw the Helen Mirren movie with a friend, Woman in Gold. The atrocities of Nazi Germany were portrayed in flashbacks. The Austrians never thought this could happen to them, and yet we saw sane, seemingly normal people standing by, silent, while Jewish people were humiliated in the street, had their stores closed and their artwork confiscated. In fact, Nazi soldiers were welcomed as they invaded their country. Silence and indifference.

When we start to restrict freedom of expression, we begin to silence freedom.


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Almost by accident, I bumped into an author event at the Virginia Festival of the Book yesterday.

“Searching for Home and Life: Fictional Journeys” caught my attention while I was roaming through Barnes and Noble, looking for something to read at the gym. Instead, I stayed to listen to three authors read from their novels.

LaShonda Barnett’s “Jam On the Vine” is a coming-of-age story that takes place in the Jim Crow South. Barnett wanted to depict a “normal” Black family, not some dreary, dysfunctional stereotype. She told us that before Plessy vs Ferguson there were 20 Black universities, all in the South, and she brings to life a family that revered the written word. Her young heroine becomes a journalist, moving from Texas to Missouri in the process. I loved the way Barnett spoke about her characters, how they came to life, almost of their own accord. When I mentioned her voice was so beautiful she should record the audio book herself, she told me Phylicia Rashad had just finished doing it!                              http://www.npr.org/2015/02/08/384695774/black-and-female-in-jim-crow-era-a-reporter-in-kansas-citys-vine

Hiary Holladay’s “Tipton” is about a young woman searching for her departed husband. She starts her journey at the Tipton Home, an orphanage in Oklahoma, traveling by car to Virginia with her best friend. Holladay told us she was commuting to James Madison University, a treacherous trip in the winter over Afton mountain, while she dreamed and wrote about her characters’ road trip. Her voice gave us a hint of her melodious language skills, later I found out she was also a poet, which didn’t surprise me. The action takes place in the 30s, the same time period of the Flapper’s story. I asked Holladay is she was able to speak with anyone, or knew of someone, from that orphanage. She said she hadn’t, which made me think of my half-sister Shirley and brother Brian. How poor single, widowed women had to use an orphanage like a pawn shop for their children for centuries. This is an intriguing novel I can’t wait to start.                                           http://hilaryholladay.com/2014/12/19/how-i-wrote-tipton-2/

Katia Ulysse presented us with her novel, “Drifting”, a collection of stories she likened to leaves, drifting to the ground in a haphazard way, that is also well choreographed. Ulysse is an ESL teacher who is also an immigrant herself from Haiti, At times her native language, Creole, would take over her writing; as she told us, some words defy an easy translation. Her heroine is packing, eager to reunite with her husband in the United States, and we immediately feel her urgency, and her pain. “…in their drifting, they find not only their progenitor, but themselves by way of artificially produced calamities and natural disasters. Thus, no matter how far one drifts, one will always find himself or herself back home to an ethereal world created within the solace of one’s mind and heart despite misfortune, pain, and suffering.”                                               http://www.blackstarnews.com/entertainment/books/books-katia-d-ulysses-drifting.html

What is home to you? What kind of courage does it take to risk it all and set off on a journey? And are we ever too old for a second or third act? Barnett told me her heroine was an accidental journey woman, that “…that’s the best kind.”

I thought of my “accidental” stop at this event. and I thought of my Mother, the fearless Flapper, moving deliberately from PA to NJ to be closer to me, her last child. In doing that, she ensured my vista would expand beyond the lilac tree outside my bedroom window. Home isn’t a place, it’s the smell of lilacs and the touch of Bob’s hand.


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Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers. A friend from my Rumson book club gave me my first fix of Anne. Bob and I were preparing to move to the Blue Ridge, my youngest was heading off to college, my home on the tributary of the Shrewsbury River was filled with packed boxes. I was recovering from a severe bout of West Nile, putting steroid drops in my eyes every two hours. Hard change doesn’t come easily to me, and this move was proving to be extremely hard. Polli gave me the book “Traveling Mercies,” and inscribed:

I will miss you. I have loved having you here on Buena Vista as a neighbor and dear friend. Now the neighbor part changes, but never the dear friend! Enjoy Anne Lamott’s irreverent spirituality…

Anne is a recovering addict and alcoholic, she writes about it shamelessly. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about her, the shameless part. She’s also into Christianity, and I thought nah, I’m not going to enjoy this journey so much. Look how I fought to leave all those shaming, stern nuns behind; look how I married a Jewish man and raised my children Jewish. But finding grace is nothing to sneeze about, and Anne found it living on a houseboat and carrying on with a married man.

She woke up one morning and poured the wine and box of pills over the side of the boat, got into recovery and was baptized. Then she immediately got pregnant and her best friend discovered she had stage four breast cancer – she had to raise a child and help her friend prepare to die simultaneously. And i thought I had problems.

Here is Kelly Corrigan’s epic interview with Anne Lamott. https://medium.com/foreword/w-a-t-c-h-be1a0b70368e just for you.
I’m currently reading “Small Victories, Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.” Because I need her now more than ever. She tells us not to try and fix things that are unfixable, she tells us to swim. That we don’t have time to worry about showing our upper arms or our thighs. When Kelly asks her if she could say four words to anyone, she says, “You will come through.”


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Did you know that there’s actually a certain number of days after a tragic event when it becomes socially acceptable to make a joke about it? I know, I didn’t either, but statisticians study these things, what else have they got to do? It seems that Lincoln actually joked about the Civil War while it was still going on, which if you ask me is gauche. We’ve all heard of gallows humor, but that takes it to a new level. The number is 19; 19 days after the event. We all wondered how Jay Leno and Dave Letterman would be able to do their stand-up routine after 9/11. Good comedians find a way.

One of my favorite authors, a gal I sat across from at some country club luncheon soon after moving to VA while she was touring her book around, has started interviewing writers. Kelly Corrigan has begun a new series for Medium called “Foreword” with a guy who is also a stand-up comedian and wrote for the Office, the irrepressible BJ Novak! In fact, that’s how I found out about the discreet number of days it takes for us to laugh, and begin healing just when we thought the laughter died.

It’s not as if the interview doesn’t broach serious questions. Among them: How can an artist be funny about painful subjects? The mood, however, is refreshingly light and lively, and the drinking and profanity help keep it from getting too stuffy. Novak also shows his exquisite comic timing throughout. (He is, after all, a stand-up comedian who was a member of the Harvard Lampoon.) Rather than toss Novak a series of boilerplate questions, Corrigan asks, for instance, “If your mother wrote a book about you, what would it be called?” Novak’s reply: “His Ambition Makes Me Anxious, But I’m So Proud.”

Novak talks about the “…shock of recognition and catharsis” when he tries to explain why the dark side of humor can be so funny. We think of Seinfeld and Louis CK telling it like it is, saying the things we are all thinking but too afraid to say out loud. I can’t wait for Kelly’s next interview with two other exceptional writers – NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof and California author Anne Lamott.

Meanwhile today a cow charged my car on my way to Starbucks. It didn’t seem funny at the time, in fact I was on the phone with a 911 operator for 10 minutes because it was altogether likely somebody would plow into the cow; so I turned around and led the cow up our twisty-turny mountain road. “What does it look like?” “Brown with a white face.” “Does it have a tag in its ear?” “Ummmm, no?” The funny thing is, this is the second time I’ve found a lone cow on the loose!
Switching from comedy to music, just in case you missed the Rocker’s turn on The Late Show with David Letterman, here it is! He hung out with Jeff Goldblum in the green room, and Letterman said “That was fantastic!” Nicole Atkins “War Torn” was anthemic; she did an outstanding job singing her heart out and the drummer, Chris, later thanked me for letting them practice in my garage all those years ago during high school. You’re welcome boys!! My epitaph will read, “Here lies a woman who let a metal band practice in her garage.”

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Yesterday I attended a writing seminar on the art of the memoir. Putting one’s family on the page can be a daunting task, and yet it seems I’ve been doing this my whole life. It started when I was a young wife, and found myself alone on a mountain with a baby girl. From that first published piece in the Berkshire Eagle, “Guns in the Woods,” writing has been my salvation, a revelation of sorts.

Don’t bother trying to Google it. The Bride was probably around The Love Bug’s age, a toddler in a time before the Internet. We lived such a simple life when I look back. The memoir instructor asked us to draw a map, but I was puzzled. Where was home for me? Home. It’s not so much a place, as it is a feeling. Maybe because I was never quite at home with my foster parents, always traveling back to the Flapper in Scranton.

One house alive with brothers and a sister and ideas! Another house solemn, asleep and afraid of the dark.

Another early Eagle essay described what the Flapper must have felt when she learned we were at war. I had asked her once how she found out about Pearl Harbor on December 7th in 1941. She told me she was pregnant with my brother Jimmy (Dr Jim), and she was listening to the radio on a stool at the ice cream fountain in my Father’s drug store with her stockings rolled down around her ankles. I always loved these details. Details are the building blocks of a writer’s life.

By writing, I could somehow paint a picture of that scene in the drug store.

I wish I too could have read those comic books after school at my Father’s store. I wish I could have helped him compound medicine in the back room. I wish I could have climbed up on his lap while he was reading the newspaper.

But my life, my memories of Victory Gardens are different. Being stung by a bee on the foot, underneath Nell’s clothesline. Riding down the hill in Daddy Jim’s car to Mass, and then on to Zanelli’s for a Rocky Road sundae. The dreaded tick tock of a grandfather clock in the hall. I was too young to remember that Year of Living Dangerously.

Maybe I write to reclaim it. IMG_1849

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Yesterday was Bastille Day, so happy holiday to our French friends belatedly. I love following the Instagram pictures of the French student we hosted one summer, who is now a lawyer and mother of two young boys in Paris. Her shots are miniature art works: a still life of different flowers in bud vases; a building in the south with violet shutters; the backs of her boys in shorts entering a garden with dappled light; or the colorful play of fresh vegetables on her kitchen table “Retour de marche.”

Whenever I see Stephanie’s children, I think of Madeline.

Madeline at the Paris Flower Market 1955

Madeline at the Paris Flower Market 1955

She is turning 75 this year and is currently on exhibit at The New York Historical Society. “The Art of Ludwig Bemelman” will be shown until November 19 and then travel to Amherst, MA. “Bemelmans’ grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, has continued his grandfather’s work with three more books of Madeline’s adventures. He says that Madeline is not French, but a real New Yorker.” http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28233820

Ludwig Bemelman immigrated to the USA in 1914 from Austria-Hungary. Because his mother was German, he was not allowed to go overseas in WWI, though he did serve in the Army. He was assigned to a mental hospital in upstate NY where he nearly suffered a mental breakdown.

He saved himself by creating what he called “islands of security”: “I have started to think in pictures and make myself several scenes to which I can escape instantly when the danger appears,” he wrote in a memoir, “instant happy pictures that are completely mine, familiar, warm, and protective.”

Like Bemelman, I will often see my prose in pictures first. He considered himself more of an artist and less of a writer, and like many artists he had to support himself over the years by working in the real world, and in his case it was the hotel industry. His first Madeline book was published at the cusp of WWII.

I find it fascinating that his red headed girl in the yellow hat was always the one in 13 girls who did not fit into her convent school life – she had a personality and some spunk. It’s as if he took a New York schoolgirl and dropped her into Paris to deal with an ancient regime, because God knows nobody likes what happened to France during the war. Whenever Madeline left her house covered in vines, in two straight lines of girls, we always knew she was in for an adventure. And we always knew she would step out of line. I must remember to get the first book for my Love Bug to read!

Here is a self portrait of my beautiful sister Kay, a gorgeous artist who also worked in the health industry, and sent her daughter to the Convent of the Sacred Heart on East 91st Street and Fifth Avenue. The school was founded by French speaking nuns in 1881. Thank you Kay for putting me up, and putting up with me, during Sue’s shiva. Your apartment was my island of security in NYC.

My Sister Kay

My Sister Kay

I believe we red headed girls think alike.


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I recently discovered a website called “Letters of Note.” http://www.lettersofnote.com Whoever thought of digging up old letters from famous, and not so famous, writers was genius. It all started with an obit that EB White wrote for his dog Daisy, who happened to be sniffing the flowers in front of a shop when a carriage careened into her. Most of us know White because of his spider named Charlotte; he is masterful at writing for children. I always thought that a good children’s writer had to have never really left childhood behind. There had to be a Peter Pan quality to him when he wrote about Daisy; that she was born, “an unqualified surprise to her mother.”

My Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Tootsie Roll, was extremely surprised when she delivered her brood in the corner of the living room, on the good rug, and NOT in the whelping box I had so carefully arranged in the family room. And as most doggie people know, each and every one of her puppies had a personality all its own. One was sweet and cuddly, one was aggressive and always first to dine. One loved to explore and one was always hiding. Blaze, the one we kept, was the alpha male. He seemed to know he was in charge of his siblings from the moment he opened his eyes. I was writing for the newspaper back then, but now how I wish I’d put pen to paper about the pups.

I am thinking of writing some small poems about our dog Buddha for the Love Bug. I’ve already asked my artistic sister Kay to illustrate a story or two. Buddha came from the SPCA at the Jersey Shore and looked a little like a polar bear – he was a hundred pounds of white fluffy Samoyed-mixed love! So tell me what you think of my first attempt at a beginning?

Buddha Springs into Action

Buddha awoke and stretched himself

Gently into downward dog

Looking up, he thanked the tree

Shimmering in the morning fog

The tree was full of birds

Singing sweetly, flapping wings

Dancing in her branches

A Blue Heron was the King

“Good Morning Buddha Bear,” he said

“Happy day to one and all”

The big white dog sat down at once

To hear the sea wind call

Buddha Bear in the Blue Ridge

Buddha Bear in the Blue Ridge

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