Splinters in My Platform

Every day I come across hundreds of posts on the Web that speak to the necessity of establishing a platform and not deviating from it. Mine is relationships, and I address them via non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. There’s a school of thought regarding genre singularity, though there does seem to be wiggle room in genre delivery. Thankfully.

As I approach my next piece of work, I can say that there is an attractive array of possibilities. Should I  continue the novel I started last year, Auntie Clyde’s Home for Elves, or go forward with The Liars’ Club-like memoir that began five years ago in my writing group, tentatively titled Insaneasylum.  Auntie Clyde is about all sorts of relationships that are nested primarily in a renovated Victorian house in the lower-Hudson Valley. Insaneasylum is about growing up with a Christian-Scientist mother and a Jewish father and all the dichotomies that were created out of their coupling. Oh, and then there is my outline for a play, Der Dunkler, which was inspired by a former boyfriend’s definition of his life: work, sex, and take-out.

It occurs to me that a central feature of my childhood summers were the inordinate amount of splinters that would end-up in my little feet. I grew up on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, and despite my mother’s stern warnings, I insisted on going barefoot, exposing myself to endless episodes of sterilizing needles to remove the sharp fragments. The pain eventually evaporated and the risk of another sliver was soon forgotten.

Clearly, this is still a preference.

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Independence Days

Tonight we had dinner outside at a local Greek restaurant, sitting in exactly the same spot as we did one year ago today, licking the last few walnuts off of the baklava fork as the sky darkened and the lights started flickering.

I felt wistful when the fireworks started, because it reminded me of previous July 4th get to-gethers with friends of ours…who are no longer friends of ours. They used to live about a mile down the road from us, but moved to a more rural area about three years ago.We had colorful and often hilarious bar-b-ques that took place in a backyard that was a garden of beautiful and well-cared for plants and flowers. Tim and Ivy were an interesting couple who emanated a certain austerity. One that was amusing, more than offensive, because it was such a contrast to our excess. While they may never have taken a vacation for most of their 20 year marriage, they did own their house outright, had no debt (or children), which provided a certain amount of independence that, in our view, was not enjoyed as fully as possible.

I always felt a certain kinship with Tim, because we both had grown up with volatile fathers and mothers who had fallen ill far too prematurely. He was never able to shake-off the guilt that her illness had brought about and he was committed to putting rocks in his knapsack, ensuring that every climb up the stairs would be as arduous as possible. Physical pain made him feel better in a curious sort of way, so along with the austerity thing, it made perfect sense that they never turned on the heat in the winter. Tim and Ivy were an interesting couple, because they seemed so different on the surface. In truth, I think their marriage has been able to endure because Ivy has such simple needs. She, even more so than Tim, has no desire to travel or see the world. She is content to work, read, knit, care for the house, and pay the bills.

Tonight I thought about them and wondered if they ever think about us, and miss the 4-5 hour dinners that usually contained at least 30 minutes of strained expression of divergent political views. Tim was a staunch conservative, who was paranoid and angry. Ivy, on the other hand, was actually quite socially liberal and it was often difficult to understand how two such different people could sustain a life together.

For awhile, Tim did freelance audio-visual for my company, and our “break-up” came about over a work-related  misunderstanding.With Tim, there was no middle ground. You were either friends or you were enemies, and he had a very low threshold for ambivalence. He had been in bands for many years, and one day he decided that he didn’t like the work ethic of a particular guitarist and packed-up all of the equipment that wasn’t his own and left it on the back porch to be picked-up the next morning.

Over the last few years, usually around this time, I have wanted to send them photos that I took of their house and garden right before they moved. Whenever I bring this up, my husband says, “that ship sailed.” But where did it sail exactly? Are some friendships truly of a certain vintage?

As difficult as it is, I have come to understand and accept the necessity of endings. I try not to take them personally and view them more objectively, but it isn’t easy. I think of the symbolism of the Hindu “vajra” (metal weapon or small sword). I remember once being at a seminar led by Robert Bly and Marion Woodman. He was talking about the vajra and how it separated things that were no longer meant to be connected, stressing the freedom and independence that resulted in the act of severance.

I imagine that the writing and publishing of my recent book may propel some frayed ends to finally snap. While I am saddened by this, it also confers a sense of relief, and perhaps, a subtle independence from the past, and that which is no longer relevant to who I am today.

Now it is my turn to deal with ambivalence, i.e., not being too distracted by not knowing if they miss us as much as I miss them.

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Volume Control

I am becoming more aware everyday of how important it is to not speak at number 10. This started when I was in Europe a couple of years ago with friends. We were sitting in an outdoor cafe and one friend is particularly loud, and I felt very self-conscious about our group as being tagged as the loud and vulgar Americans.

Volume is important, both vocally and visually. Whenever I receive an email that is written in all capital letters it feels like someone is screaming at me. I grew up in a family that was very loud and thought nothing of breaking the sound barrier to get their points across. If I were dating now, I would be very turned-off by someone who was not able to modulate their tone and volume. Of course, I am hard-wired for this tendency and have to monitor myself carefully to make sure that I don’t come off as a shrill and snarling bitch whenever I get impatient and frustrated (which is often). I have a friend who has the opposite impulse: the angrier she gets the quieter her she becomes. Over time, I have come to really ppreciate people who are able to be present; who don’t speak loudly or excessively.

I am a fan of the grounded whisper and softly expressed bullet points. So be courteous and remember that we don’t have to loudly express every single thought that wafts across our brains.

 

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Excuses

It has been over a month since I have posted anything and every day that I am not posting creates a knot. One that starts in my stomach and travels up to my brain, sighing, groaning, and bleating until it heaves itself against my resistance.

Actually, I do have a couple of really valid reasons for the lag. The first being that I am in the last throes of completing the book, and it is incredibly consuming task to publish on different platforms (print and electronic). This requires a patient and generous book designer who is not ruffled by the endless tweaks and re-reviewing of copy to make sure that nothing has dropped out or shifted. Oh, and they all need to be ready at the same time for when the book launches.

The second thing is that, along with my business partners, I run a company which is sort of like being a parent to a child who never gets out of the crib. As I often say, “the baby monitor is always on.”

The third thing is the three milestone events that have occupied my full atteniton: planning for my husband’s surprise 50th birthday trip to Berlin, our daughter’s college graduation, and my father-in-law’s 80th birthday– all occurring in the month of May. We’ve been travelling a lot in the last few months: Las Vegas, San Francisco, Tuluum, Mexico, Barcelona, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. The travelling has been great, but disruptive. However, I can’t wait to get back to Berlin the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg that feels so much like home.

Oh, there is a fourth thing that I anticipate will be an impediment: attending to our house and its landscaping and maintenance needs and getting one of our cats shaved for the summer. She totally freaks out when you try to groom her and it costs about $700 to have the vet do it because she anesthetizes her. So I have to figure out how I can do it at home without getting scratched-up and frustrated.  There is even more to the cat story, but I’ll save that for another time.

I welcome any/all suggestions on the above.

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H-O-R-G-Y

I just watched (for the third time) Damian Pettigrew’s wonderful documentary Fellini: I’m a Born Liar. This is a fascinating glimpse into one of the most creative minds of the 20th century. Apparently Pettigrew published a transcript of his interviews that captures all of Fellini’s marvelous quotes, eg, “I am interested in everything…I believe in everything. I think it is much easier that way.”  Terrance Stamp has aged very well, and is even more appealing now than he was in The Collector. His recounting of Fellini directing him in Toby Dammit (part of The Spirits of the Dead trilogy) is absolutely riveting. Looking at the clips from his older movies brought back a lot of memories of staying up late, way past my bedtime, watching foreign films on channel 9 or 11. What jumps out is how badly dubbed they were in Italian and in English. The audio rarely syncs up with what their mouths are saying, and there are an improbable amount  of “oohs and ahs” in many of his films that sound much the same as other sorts of exclamations that I remember hearing in Divorce Italian Style and other Italian films from the early 1960’s. Now I want to see another one of his documentaries, Balthus, Through the Looking Glass.

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Lemon Pasta

Despite the fact that I feel like I’m coming down with the flu, I somehow gathered up the energy to make lemon pasta, which is quickly becoming my favorite…alongside linguine with white clam sauce and my sugo al tonno. The simplicity of this dish astounds me. Lemons not only brighten food flavor, they brighten my mood and make things feel lighter. Because of this, eating three bowls seemed like eating only one bowl. While the nice thing to do would be to share my recipe, I don’t feel like being nice, and would rather retain my recipe ratios for selective presentation. Suffice it to say that my husband and our friend thought it was outstanding, and tasted as good, if not better, than recently taste versions at Il Buco and L’il Frankie respectively. So good and so bright, that even after brushing my teeth, the lemon, garlic, and Pecorino are tap dancing on my tongue and show no signs of exiting the stage before bedtime.

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You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up

I just finished reading You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn. It is a very funny exceedingly honest account of love and marriage and how challenging it can be to keep that love alive while being married. In some ways it reminded me of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, ie, uncomfortable/insightful personal disclosures about things that make you wince because it hits too close to home. They recount the travails of dealing with a child who has very serious health issues and the impact that this has had on their relationship. Many of us can relate all too well to the intrusiveness of life, work, laundry, bill paying, and 401(K) allocations and how they conspire against spontaneity; the only true weapon to vanquish routine. HBO take heed: give them their own talk show and thereby improve the marital health of all Americans.

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Shameless

After swearing that we wouldn’t get hooked on another television series, we have fallen off of the wagon and have bonded with the Gallagher family of Showtime’s Shameless. I like Emmy Rossum and her “Angelina-Lite” sort of vibe. While William H. Macy is a little too good and sometimes hard to watch, Joan Cusak is perfect and often seems like she could be Blanche Dubois’ towering mid-Western cousin. I also love the attention to detail of the different sets. The Gallagher house looks like that of a working-class family of 7 where cereal, more often than not, is on the dinner menu. I was a bit jolted when I was imagining myself hanging out with them there–and not feeling uncomfortable amid all the chaos.

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Biscotti for Dummies

Since my disastrous last attempt the evening of the Oscars, I decided to give it another whirl after finally figuring out what happened. Aside from the fact that the recipe did not seem like it would make 4 dozen biscotti, I erroneously put in a cup of kosher salt versus a cup of sugar. I don’t know exaclty how this transpired but I must have been preoccupied and dumped the salt over the sugar. The were horrible and had to be thrown away.

Today, I made a respectable batch with whole wheat flour, apricots, cranberries, and almonds. They are definitely not as good as my cousin Lori’s, but I am hopeful that they soon will be. I think I may add some olive oil and rosemary to the next movie. The truth be told, I am not a good baker because baking requires precision. I cook with passion and measure and assess things through my eyes, my ears, and my mouth.

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Gray Matters

My word retrieval seems to be getting worse as the days go by. After listening to the report about how cell phones can decrease gray matter, I’ve made an effort to use the “speaker” function as much as possible to preserve whatever remains. Today I was trying to think of “orzo” and I couldn’t think of the word, though I knew it began with a vowel. Exasperated, I opened my laptop, went to Google and searched for pasta shapes.

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