Tuesday, February 14, 2017

HEARTY WISHES

Is there anything more beautiful than a heart?

Is there anything greater than giving your heart?

Yes, Sweetheart—

When combined with hearty chocolate—

I’ll be yours
And you’ll be mine
Happy Valentine
 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Bio, About Me, and Stuff

Having just read yet another Bio page on someone’s website, it got me thinking.




Confession #1— that page is, invariably, my favorite page when I look someone up. I’m not referring to the people so famous there’s a Wiki page on them and books written about them. I’m thinking about the self-composed, let-me-tell-you-about-myself part of most folks’ websites. I get a lot from the personality of the narration (=voice) and the details chosen. Much more than a list of facts.


Confession #2— I’m disappointed if the page doesn’t contain a photo. Let me see your face, and you get to choose which picture you share. This is not a beauty contest. It is about revealing and sharing. Even what a website owner chooses for a bio photo tells me something.


Confession #3— I’m disappointed if instead of sharing pertinent and relevant information, you choose a list of “fun-facts.” The likes of “my favorite jelly bean flavor is cherry,” and “I once almost met the Queen of Sweden,” and nothing else, is not really a bio-fact, nor much fun. I conclude that you do not intend to give a real glimpse into what matters to you, and what makes you tick.


Confession #4— I’m never disappointed if while you told the truth and nothing but the truth, you didn’t tell the whole truth. The whole truth includes boring details and really, some things are not my business.




I tried to write a bio on my site that fits what I care to see on others. This, also, doesn’t make it right and the only way to do things. But it helped navigate this awkward task. I wrote it as if I were not the writer, nor the subject. I wrote it as if I were an interested reader.



Come to think of it, it’s how I write my stories and my blog posts.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The BEING of the Writer

A friend who is also a writer, maybe the most gifted one I know personally, was lamenting about all the things a writer must have. As she has taken care to have most of these things, her lament was born of experience.


She is, yet, unpublished, although if there is any smidgen of justice in this life, she will be. She has a website, a blog, a backyard cottage with a dedicated writing room, a critique group, and an agent. She has gone on writing retreats, some rather costly. She has attended workshops. She has travelled to conferences in New York (also costly) and has a taken a two-years-long MFA course resulting in a master’s degree.

And she’s got the most germane thing of them all of all— the time and means to dedicate to writing.
And now, she told me, she has realized that while all of the above have given her this thing called the writing life, none of them is necessary. Great novels were written and published without their creators having these.


We broke it down thus:

WEBSITE— Good to have, but not absolutely necessary.

BLOG— Ditto

WRITING COTTAGE— a dedicated space is really nice and helpful, but not a must

CRITIQUE GROUP— this isn’t for every writer, and many never belong to a group

AGENT— Helpful, but, again, not an absolute must

WRITING RETREATS— Lovely and romantic, but the act of writing requires only a periodic inner retreat, not an actual cottage in the woods

WORKSHOPS and CONFERENCES— Helpful for some, not a must

ACADEMIC DEGREES— these never make a writer, but they could make a teacher

TIME and MEANS— many have managed their first books without having either


All these are helpful, and some are immensely so. But not one makes a great or even fine writer. The “business around The Business” will make you think otherwise. But they are selling the above.


As we talked about it, and wound up dismissing one item after another, we found ourselves laughing giddily at the energy expended on the periphery of the creative vortex. It’s lovely and interesting to “be a writer,” but no substitute to, ahmm, writing.



It’s a funny thing about writing. Whether it’s cute ditties or the great American novel, we don’t need much, nor should we use not having much as a reason not to. We only need to buckle up and do it.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Game of... What?

I was walking with a friend, for a “walk & talk,” i.e. exercising the body and the mind.  We just had our mid-session coffee and were headed back. On a winding street, right next to their trash, neighbors had put some of their discards for the garbage folks to pick up.

One of those discards was a cat-perch & scratch contraption. I marveled that anyone would throw out a clean, unused looking and solidly built cat dream. I couldn’t afford such a delightful gift for my three humble felines, and they make due with cardboard circular scratch-a-ma-things. They’re happy anyhow, being of humble stock and having spent too much time in a shelter before we became their parents. But this could be a Cinderella story. A mini-palace just for them.

My friend and I carried it for two miles back home. There, I placed it on the porch, shampooed it just in case it contained some hidden vermin, and let it air for a day before bringing it in. As I worked to make sure it was indoor house-proper, I imagined the sad circumstances that might have caused someone to put it with the garbage.

The shortest story, one consisting of only six words, came to mind. Some say Hemingway wrote it when he wagered he could write a complete story in six or less:
For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

You can imagine the sad circumstances I was conjuring as possible back-story for our “find.”

But this one has a happy ending. You never know with cats, especially ones not used to fancy-froufrou, if our hauling this heavy tower, made of a plywood core, would appeal.


Since then, it’s been a revolving Who’s-on-top—




DD called it “our very own GAME OF THRONES.”



*We honor discards. One kitty’s garbage is another’s throne.*



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Do You Need an Agent?

 
 
Do you need an agent to publish?
Time was, in kid-lit, when the answer was that you may want an agent to provide the editorial support, submitting work, negotiating contracts, and general hand-holding, but you didn’t need one.


Do you need an agent nowadays?
Today you can self-publish and even launch a small press at a fraction of the cost of what it would have been in “olden days,” only a generation back. E-books and online book retailers have made marketing a possibility. The stigma of self-publishing is also receding some, and many traditionally published authors have done well moving that-a-way. You don’t need or want an agent to self-publish.


Do you need an agent if you want to be published by a publishing house that pays you?
You don’t need an agent for many of the smaller and self-started publishers who still accept unsolicited submissions directly from writers. Medium and larger houses may still accept submissions intermittently, or through personal contact with an editor after attending a seminar or conference with them. You need a great story and persistence, and an agent would be helpful. But you don’t absolutely need one.


But do you need an agent to get a traditional contract with any imprint of a large and established publisher if you have no contacts or the budget for conferences?



Yup. You pretty much do. You need an agent to even have a smidgen of a shot at that.



Grateful for my agent. She’s the definition of persistence.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I’ve Died and Gone to Heaven

Almost ten years ago, when my daughter (though only ten years old then) already set her path as a pianist, I told her what I wanted her to play at my funeral. It was not a morbid conversation, but rather my way of pointing an exquisite piece of music to her attention.


You can hear it on this link, played with beautiful restraint by Dinu Lipatti—






Fast forward ten years, and DD, back home between semesters, had a recital scheduled in Berkeley for the last day of her break. She had programmed this chorale, J S Bach chorale prelude bwv 639, to be included in the concert. 

She polished it on our piano, and for ten days, it seemed that every time I walked into the room, my funeral music was playing. 

On Saturday January 7th 2017 she played it for the audience, and it was magnificent.

I figured that now I don’t have to go to, or even be at, my funeral. I can skip it, because I got to hear it already.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Letter P

Two-thousand and sixteen has been a challenging year for me. Personally, professionally, and politically.

I got through it with persistence, perseverance, and prayer.

The first two are second nature to me. I’m a stick-to-it person. 
The last is hard. I’ve never had a home with ritual prayer, though the creator knows I’ve tried.
Attempting proscribed prayers left me emptier and feeling like a phony. Personal prayer leaves me feeling like a false friend—one who talks to you only when they have a need. prayer, like this whole last year, has been hard for me.

So here goes, anyway:

May two thousand and seventeen be the year of personal courage, professional clarity, and may our leaders be not clever and smart, (a given, if they got to where they are) but wise.


       * As they say on Sesame Street, this post was brought to you by the letter P *

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sharing Light of Yesteryears, and a HAPPY *NEW* YEAR!

Gather, embrace
sing, and then preen
For all that has been
and all we have seen
Bye and goodbye 2016




HAPPY 
*NEW*
YEAR!


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

HANUKKAH IS RATHER DROLL AT OUR HOUSE

That was the day before yesterday---

Photo of candle lighting second night taken by DD, so she’s not in it. The guys (DH, DS, and DD’s boyfriend) properly covered their heads and donned hats for the blessing of the candles—
A mad hatter’s party^

The night before that one was the first night of Hanukah. DD is vegan now, so I worried about how eggless latkes would pass for the real thing. I needn’t have. The vegan latkes were successful, maybe better than ever.



DS and DD had just returned from a wonderful all-day hike in Point Reyes. DS then proceeded to put on a Santa outfit and head with a sack of gifts for the little kids in the house next door. He does it at the neighbors’ request, and from the fact they ask him to please do it every year, he must be a good one. Nothing like a Jewish Santa! Only after DS’s Santa duty could we all light the Hanukkah menorah, sing songs, and EAT.


The only thing that went wrong was that DD came back without her wallet. She thought she might have lost it on the second of three buses they took, but couldn’t be sure. It had her bankcard, her ID, her Juilliard student ID card, her dorm room key, and some more things... Oh, and there was money also. All the cash she had.


The office for Marin Transit Bus Company was already closed, (Christmas eve) and would be for the next day. (Christmas day) We thought it might be closed Monday. (Christmas Day observed in offices) We had no way to call their lost & found.
We figured that if it isn’t located by the time we call on Tuesday, we‘d have a lot of work to do to replace everything. What a shame.
As my grandma would have said, “it’s always something.


Now for the rest of the story---

DD called the bus company Monday just in case someone would be there, and a woman answered. DD didn’t have to say much, only that she may have left a purple wallet on bus line #68, when the lady asked, “do you go to Juilliard?”

Yup, they had her wallet. That afternoon we drove to san Raphael to the central terminal to collect it, and everything was in it.

But there’s more---

DD said there’s twice as much cash inside than she had before. All her IDs are there, and someone added some $$$.


Well, that’s our Hanukkah story, and we’re sticking to it.


Here’s hoping your holidays are joyous,



Sunday, December 25, 2016

HOLIDAYS OVERLAP

Although they fall roughly on the same month, only a few times in every century do Christmas and Hanukkah actually occur at the same time. That is-- the first day of Hanukkah (beginning the evening before according to Jewish tradition) is also Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is also the evening of first candle lighting. 
This is one of those years.


If you celebrate both, or either, this one’s for you—

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Bad, the Competent, the Good, and the GREAT

I took the title of this post from Stephen King’s book ON WRITING, a Memoire of the Craft.
Confession: I’m one of the few who has yet to read a Stephen King novel, though I know I have read one of his short stories a long time ago. This very good and uber-successful author writes horror stories. I don’t read horror. Ah, the horror!

But I got a strong recommendation to read his book on writing, and it turned out to be a delight. The writing advice is solid if standard fare, but the memoire parts are a testament to why he is the Stephen King— a vivid story teller of the first order.


Mr. King puts members of his profession into four categories.  He sees this classification much like the government’s food pyramid, with the bottom having a larger mass than the pinnacle top.
At the bottom are the Bad Writers. Mr. King hints that a few are commercially so successful they live a life of luxury in the Caribbean. (Who could he be talking about? I have my list)

Above them, in smaller numbers, are Competent writers, who comprise much of the work-for-hire, journalistic, and other pretty decent writing we encounter. Competent writers have the ear for cogent expression, but their stories lack wings.

Above the competent are the Good writers, and Mr. king suggests he is in that layer. Good writers have solid technique and tell good stories.

At the very top are The GREATS.  Think Shakespeare, Yeats, Faulkner, or Eudora Welty.

Mr. King believes that no amount of teaching will turn a bad writer into a competent one. They lack the ear, or they wouldn’t have been bad to begin with. He insists that no how-to course or mentoring will make a good writer into a GREAT. The Greats are divine accidents.

The teaching and coaching have a place in the middle of the pyramid. There, the competent, who, if they listen well, try hard, and work at it, could become good.

I tend to agree. I see this in all fields, though it’s most pronounced in artistic pursuits. It fits with a certain perception, one divergent from Malcolm Gladwell’s and his ten-thousand hours of work to any expertise.

But then I wonder: how wise or true is it to have rigid classifications? It organizes the mind, and is fun in its way, but how deeply true?



Here is my other confession for today: I really don’t know, and I know that I don’t. Organization and classification (like these pyramids) make for easy, comprehendible and jauntier stories.

I don’t know about the substance of King’s notions, but trusting some of the best readers I’ve known, Stephen King is nothing if not a Great storyteller.  Maybe his system is just another one of his stories, cooked for easy digestibility.





Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Take the Day

In the Jewish Home, where my mother passed her last eighteen months, I met one of most magical people ever. Ben was a marvel. He was a resident who, by the time my mother moved in, had been there a few years.

On set days and times, Ben played the pianos on every floor for other residents. It wasn’t official, but he had a job—making music for those who were not mobile and couldn’t leave their floor. Sometimes he played the grand piano at the common area on the first floor, right next to his room. He’d shuffle over carrying his sheet music, sit down at the keyboard, and make marvelous music just for himself, with the whole house watching.
He shared my mother’s birthday month, and at the luncheon for all the residents who had a birthday then, he sat next to my mother. She glowed. I did, too. Ben was not only handsome; he was radiant. Ben was beautiful.


Wanting to make conversation, but already suffering from dementia, my mother made a valiant effort to connect with him and make a friend. It must be a Jewish trait, for he answered every question with first repeating it. The conversation went something like this--

My mother: “Are you very old today?”
Ben: “Am I very old? Just old enough.”
My mother: “What is that?”
Ben: “What is that? Ninety-two.”
My mother: “That is too old.”
Ben: “Too old? Yes, it is.”
My mother: “How long will you live?”
Ben: “How long? They give me a day, I take it.”


This last line stayed with me. My mother lived for another year and four months, and passed away eight years ago. Ben still lives. He is one hundred-years-old.

 I try to begin each day by saying what he said. I’ll take it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Word

A friend was rejoicing at the sale of her first manuscript to a publisher. The joy of being able to say my editor for the first time brought back memories.
Yes, there’s nothing like the first.

The first my publisher. The first my editor. The first my book. The first my agent. These can come in a different order, but that^ was mine.

But really, none of these is really mine. I don’t own them.


What writers have are stories. Stories we make with chapters we construct with paragraphs that we make by joining sentences. Sentences we make with words. It boils down to this: the only thing that we own are the words.

My word!


Even the words are a gift.
The opening verse from the gospel of John rushes in:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The meaning of this enigmatic phrase, for me, is that all comes from thought. Thought extended outward begins with words, and words begin with one word.

As I sit and contemplate this, I realize nothing is mine.  I rejoice at having nothing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Deus Ex Machina*

*a.k.a. G_d from the machine


There’s a literary plot device known in Latin as deus ex machina. Originally from the Greek apò mēkhanês theós, and used in Greek plays, we have many examples from Judeo-Christian stories. I’m thinking of the biblical story of Job, where the philosophical discussion and events are resolved by the appearance of G_d from the whirlwind, and all is resolved and restored. It is not resolved by the main character, nor by any of the other characters’ actions. In fact, that is the very point the book of Job is making.
In literary analysis this has come to stand not so much for divine intervention as for the addition of an unexpected event or character not organically coming out of the story. Such things do, in fact, happen in real life. But in modern storytelling, where the heroism depends on humans conquering life’s obstacles, it often feels contrived and unsatisfying.


In the how-to circles  it's a no-no. If I read or heard it once, I have heard it many times. We don’t do it anymore.

Oh, really?

I suggest we do use it, and use it everywhere. This is where fantasy comes in. A whole genre devoted to coming up with world building rules that zig-zag between life as we know it and fantastic elements popping in conveniently to work their magic
You need the main character to get in somewhere where they can’t possibly? — Introduce, and then give ‘em, an invisibility cloak. Voila! Harry Potter, anyone? Why didn't we know about this magical invisibility thingy all along? Because we just needed it now, silly.

The same for magical realism, a genre I am partial to as a reader and a writer. Think of the uses of time-travel, not in the form of scholarly research, but a device where the main character actually gets to hop in a few centuries back and even retrieve a long-lost object.


Deus ex machina hasn’t gone away. If anything, it is used more than ever. We just have other names for it.



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thank YOU

It’s that wistful time of year, when I am giving thanks, or trying to.

 Thanks for what I have. That is obvious: a roof over my head, something to eat on my plate, something to cover my nakedness, and something to do.


Thanks for what I don’t have, which would not have been good for me:  various health issues, loss and desolation, and many more things I feared that didn’t materialize.

Thanks for being here, still. Like a wise old man once told me: “They give me a day, I take it.” Last I heard he is over a hundred years old, and just got a birthday greeting from the president.

But most of all—
THANKSGIVING Week, and I feel propelled to thank you.
Thank you for reading this, and thank you for comments you have made in the past. You let me know I was not alone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

My Life as a Torte*

*Inspired by Nora Ephron’s
MY Life as a Meatloaf
Re-reading Nora Ephron is a treat, no matter how many times I’ve read her before. She didn’t blog, per se, but she is called “the original Blogger” by some.
Turns out that a friend who opened a restaurant named a meatloaf dish after her. It bore no resemblance to any meatloaf she had made or eaten before, but it was fantalicious, and people complemented her on this gourmet version of a down-home lowly staple.
Then the chef changed, the dish changed, was moved to Tuesday nights only, and eventually disappeared from the menu. Ephron saw an analogy to her life, and life in general. You have your day, your heyday, your recognition, the fade out, and then you’re gone.
Four years after her death, Ephron still lives, and some meatloaf recipes carry her name and are still googled daily. But what didn’t quite apply to her life, turns out, does apply to mine.
I, too, had a dish named after me.
Long ago I managed the storefront of a gourmet pastry shop. The owner-chef was a genius, and while she insisted on never making a down-home cookie (no chocolate-chip) and never calling a cake a cake (she only made tortes, please!)  the cakes, ahmm, tortes, were as incredible tasting as they were gorgeous. Tasteful in and out.
She made some classics, but also came up with original concoctions. One of those she named the Mirka Torte.
It was not my favorite, but it was up there. Layers of Cake (torte!) speckled with shavings of dark chocolate and orange rind hugged an orange sabayon cream, a sort of fluffy custard, and a thin strip of cark chocolate ran in between. It was light, beautiful, and as it turned out, quite popular.


When I married she made our wedding cake, and of course it was The Mirka Torte. When my step-mother asked her why she named this composition after me, the answer was that it is both a simple and straight-forward, as well as a subtle and complicated composition. Just like its namesake.

“You really know Mirka well,” my step-mother said.


Two years after its debut, and long after we had worked together, I ran into this cake on a dessert menu at a fancy restaurant. It was still named Mirka Torte. No one knew why, but that was just fine.

And then it was gone. Like all ephemeral things, it had its day, and then it slipped into the night.

Which is as it should be, to make room for others.

But for a moment there I had a whiff of the Nora Ephron thing. It was nice.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Voted

Just this--
 
 
 
P.S.
Not only am I all right with your voting differently from me, I'm all right with your choosing not to vote. Choosing to not choose is also a choice.
Just sayin', because plenty of people think it's their place to shame you. I don't. I just try to do what I hope is the right thing every day, and keep on keeping on.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

SEASONS and SEASONINGS

Where I live, the seasons are barely delineated. Call it year-round spring, and you wouldn’t be far off. But we do our best to pretend to have, at least, two seasons.


Winter is ushered with a change of bed quilts, from the light colored and thinly stuffed to the heavier, darkly rich hued kind. 


When my kids were little, the content of their dresser drawers would change— with lighter clothes placed at the bottom and sweaters floating to the top. New pairs of socks would replace the odd unmatched singles of last year, and sandals got pushed to the back of the shoe drawer.



In truth, we can just about wear any of the clothes any time, and the bedding would not make a real difference either way. But we pretend we can’t, really, in order to have the illusion of change. Unlike folks who have what we here call “real weather,” we don’t change our tires to snow tires, and we don’t use antifreeze. We don’t need to get the snow shovels from the back of the garage, and we have no use for thermal underwear. For those who go on ski weekends— their gear is specialized, but this was never part of my life in California.


But one seasonal thing is not a pretense for me. One word sums it up: SPICES. Specifically— Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and that thing we call allspice, which isn’t all the spices mixed together but a kind of pepper from a West Indian tree.


Sure, you can use these in summer, and people of “real weather” think of these seasoning as ushering Fall. But in some mysterious way I find a strong urge overtakes me to start spicing and baking and stewing and sprinkling with the above as soon as November comes.

That’s today. Can you smell it all the way from my kitchen?

As the gingerbread is baking and the pumpkin soup is simmering, I reflect on how this relates to writing stories. I don’t want to write the same story over and over. I mark a new story with new and distinct words and expressions. In this way I know I am entering a different territory. Words, used like seasoning, tell me I am here and not there, and should address perception differently.
 Just as I will now dress differently.


If this sounds like a stretch, just come over and get a whiff. I’m not kidding.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reflections on Clueless Notions

I’m still clueless about many things. But I’ve learned a few things about the world of publishing, and specifically-- kidlit publishing.
Cleaning and clearing some old Emails from way back in ancient times of ten years ago, I found some amusing testaments to clueless thinking.


Clueless evidence #1: my first beta reader asks why proofreading is necessary as, surely, editors at publishing houses do that after a book is acquired. He’s seen it in many movies. (By then I knew a manuscript needs to be pretty much typo-free, and my response was educational.)
Clueless evidence #2: same beta, bless him for he was fantastic with spot-on feedback, congratulating me on my first acceptance and advising I copyright all the characters as they can become major commodities. (He’s seen that in movies, also.)
Clueless evidence #3: my response to another beta who suggested some how-to books, was to say I didn’t want to read anything that would make my writing formulaic. Of course, not long after, I did read a few of the suggested books and more. Re-inventing the wheel is for geniuses, and I’m not one.
Clueless evidence #4: writing friends who suggested we writers wait too long for cursory responses, no responses, and otherwise unacceptable behavior from business professionals. We don’t put up with such in the rest of our lives, do we? I already understood this is apples and lemons. There are more of us knocking on doors and fewer of them to answer the doors. It’s called reality, and yes, we do put up with it.
There's so much more, but you get the point. There are a lot of misconceptions, and the school of hard knocks hammers us into shapes that fit the indentations.

But here’s the kicker: it hurts sometimes, but we don’t have to do it alone. These old Emails are the evidence I had beautiful walking partners, and occasionally even been one.



I’m still clueless about so many things I glibly talk about. What do I confidently really know about global warming? Preventing lung cancer? Personality disorders? It if am honest, I would have to say that I know close to nothing, and mostly echo what I’ve heard, or think I may have heard, or maybe I, too, saw it in a movie. But I still jabber about it.



Occasionally I get a peek into my cluelessness. Even more mercifully, I am not alone. Everyone of you who’s reading this is walking along, and I hope you can hear my footsteps as I’m trying to catch up with you.