Monday, January 25, 2010

The Right to Write

Today, in honor of Virginia Woolf’s birthday, I would like to pay tribute to a woman who had the courage to point out the special burden that women continue to bear by encouraging all you women writers out there to…


--What? What is it?

Uh, nothing I was just wonderin’ where you were…

--OK, you’ve found me, now shoo away. I’m in the middle of something.

Where was I? OK, yes, a tribute to something or other. Oh, yes, of course. I was going to talk about Virginia Woolf and her famous essay "A Room of One’s Own." I remember reading it in my twenties, and I didn’t understand that what Virginia was talking about was the fact that even if you are lucky enough to have an office and time on your hands – neither of which women of her era ever had -- the one thing you find it hard to achieve is….



I need help!

--With what?

I can’t find my other shoe.

--Well, you found one of them, the other one can’t be far away. Just keep looking….

(Fourteen seconds pass)


--Oh, for God’s sake (stomp, stomp, stomp). Here it is. Right here. It was UNDER your jacket, which is on the floor, where it shouldn’t be. Now go downstairs with your sister and do something non-destructive. I just need ten minutes to concentrate.

All right then, back to the Woolf thing… uuuhhh...imperturbability! Yes, that’s the word I was looking for. Imperturbability is more than having a room of your own. With a door. That can be closed. What’s most important is that that door should not be knocked upon. After all, there’s no point in having an office if just anyone can walk into it, ask you for fruit chewies, and stare at you even as they promise they won’t talk at all.

Imperturbability is hard to come by. And it’s not just the outside world intruding on us. It’s our own sense of guilt that undermines us, too. How do you get to the point where you feel you have the right to not be interrupted? I guess the truth is: maybe you never do.

Of course, it might just be the case that any writer at an early stage of his/her career will experience this. Unless and until you’re earning your keep through your writing, you can’t be considered professional, and therefore you’re not deserving of imperturbability. This is probably why I have evolved a sense that I must “earn my office” by getting published. Right now my “office” is a corner of a spare bedroom with a laptop perched atop a rickety, folding bridge table from the 60s that was left behind by the previous owner of our house. It’s easily broken down and packed away in the event that we have a guest who needs the room. (My desk is so temporary, sometimes I feel like I’m perpetually camping.) In other words, I must give way at a moment’s notice to someone else’s needs. This, of course, was Ms. Woolf’s whole point. Women always had to give way to the needs of others. In her time, women didn’t have the opportunity to slink off and work on their own unless every other job, duty, and social responsibility had been fulfilled. And when did that ever happen? Exactly. Never.

Of course, I realize that times are different, and I choose to give way to others. No doubt there has been progress, but I still feel guilty about my writing time because I haven’t earned my office yet. The simple answer to this problem is, unfortunately, to be selfish. To just declare your Right to Write. To pick a day or a few hours here and there and guard it against all intrusion and interruption, foreign and domestic, no matter how cute or cuddly. It’s hard. It’s darn near impossible, especially when those intruders have the sniffles, but…


--WHAT NOW??!!!

EW! The cat just threw up on the stairs!

--Fine. Just step around it. I’ll be there in a minute.

It’s what you must do if you ever want to get anything done. Guilt is an inescapable part of the deal, and you're just going to have to endure it. I’m telling you, it's the only way…

Hey, Mom! Good news.

--Oh, yeah?

You don’t have to clean up the cat barf.

--Why's that?

The dog ate it.

There. You see? Sometimes problems take care of themselves while you’re working. Perhaps Virginia is looking out for us all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Queen of Saline

Do you know how much sodium you’re supposed to be taking in on a daily basis?

I don’t, and I don’t want to find out.

I already know that I’m coming in waaaaay over the limit. Like, way beyond whatever is way beyond the limit. You know how people get busted for DUI, and the police report says that their blood-alcohol level was two-times the legal limit? I’d probably be like that except that I’d be about four basquillion times higher than the legal limit. Lab technicians would throw off their goggles and insist, no, this cannot be. No one could live who ate this much salt. Or to put it another way, I’m sure that if salt were radioactive, they’d rope off my grave like portions of the Nevada desert.

I am a salt fiend. I wash down pretzels with shots of soy sauce. When I cook, I try to tone it down for others, but it’s hard. Never have I eaten anything that I would characterize as too salty, so I don’t really understand what that term means to normal people. "Too salty"? I ... don’t … understand.

I guess I first realized I had a salt thing when I was a kid and saw that episode of “Star Trek” where Bones thinks that blond lady who married his old friend is so nice, but then it turns out she’s this salt-sucking monster that keeps draining all the red shirts of their bodily salts. They keep finding bodies on the ship with weird, red circles on their faces where her sucker-fingers had attached to extract their salt. Totally identified with her. In fact, I used to chase my brother around and try to put my fingers on his face while I made this slurping noise. This usually resulted in his pounding me but good for being super annoying, but this did not lead to a modification in my behavior. Nor did it make a dent in my love of salt.

If you like sweets,there's Christmas and Halloween and Valentine's Day when you can indulge your sweet tooth, but there are no holidays that celebrate the joy of salt. I’m thinking of starting one and calling it Saline-o-ween. It would be in March, of course, because there’s nothing good going on in March anyway, which is why people think that March Madness is an actual, real, month-long holiday like, say, Ramadan. Anyway…anyone so inclined -- grown-ups included -- could go door-to-door and collect things like jerky, bouillon cubes, individual packets of soy sauce, pretzels, and Feta cheese.

So what do you think? Are you with me?


Yeah, it’s all right. I realize massive salt intake is not for everyone, and at times, even I have cut back out of necessity. Once, when I was pregnant, I made the mistake of eating some microwave popcorn (Some? Who am I kidding, I ate the whole bag), and wow, did I ever regret that. After a whole bag of microwave popcorn, it was like I was wearing hip waders that had filled with river water.

Fortunately I have very low blood pressure, but I tell you, if that ever changes and I have to give up salt… Man, they’re gonna pry that box of Kosher salt out my cold dead fingers. Of course at that point I probably won’t need embalming, just a little pepper to make sure I’m well seasoned for the great beyond.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Well-Organized Oxcen*

Purses. Meh. They’re like these girly yokes we women bear.

Before I had kids I carried a black tri-fold wallet in my back pocket like a guy, which is yet another reason why I should be given Honorary Lesbian status – that and because I like Kate Clinton, Dr. Martens, “Xena: Warrior Princess,” and Home Depot. So whoever’s in charge of that, give her my number, but just make it clear I’m not looking for a long-term thing.

I was forced to start carrying a purse because of one simple reason: children fall down a lot, and thus, they need band-aids. And gum. And sippy cups. And loads of other stuff that doesn’t fit in my back pocket.

Of late I’ve noticed that my purse has been getting heavier and that’s because like all things designed to hold stuff – minivans being another example -- my purse has become a haven for crap. Sometimes I feel as though I am Wile E. Coyote’s mom, toting around anvils and “Bridge Out” signs. I also fear that the seeds of hoarding spread on the wind and land in women’s purses and then we bring them home where they take root and sprout. The next thing you know, you’re featured on A & E.

So I decided that it was time I organized ye olde purse and by organize, I mean dump out the contents and separate the wheat from the chaff. As it says in the bible: “dump ye your purse that ye might find purity.” I did not make that up. It’s in there. It’s in Deuteronomy or something.

So here goes…let the dumping begin.

OK, let’s see what I’ve got in here:
• My God, it’s a coelacanth! I thought those were extinct.
• A Snoopy thumb tack
• A phone charger
• A GPS charger and the soon-to-be-stolen GPS itself. ‘Cause that’s what happens to all GPS systems eventually
• Small rubber turtle and a small rubber bear, both gotten as prizes at the pediatrician and fought over with such vehemence that I had to take them away from the young pugilists who both claimed them
• A box of matches from some bar in Hoboken, NJ
• 3 oz of premium Colombian blow (just checking to see if you’re still reading)
• A matchbox car - I think these just spontaneously appear wherever detritus collects
• An pocket English-Italian dictionary (no idea – must have been daydreaming that day)
• A state vehicle inspection receipt (wondered where that had gone)
• A single crystal from a chandelier
• These compressed tissue things that you’re supposed to add water to and they expand; I bought them because I was sure I’d find some use for them, like prepping for a tracheotomy maybe
• A Mother’s Day coupon written out by my oldest daughter, good for feeding the cat (never did do it – let me tell you, those Mother’s Day coupons aren’t worth the paper they’re written on)
• Two movie ticket stubs from “Star Trek,” May 25, 2009 (LOVE the new Spock, btw)
• A thin black dog collar (Hey, keep your mind out of the gutter. It belongs to a stuffed animal.)
• A small section of carpet (I can only guess that I was attempting to match some paint color to the carpet?)
• Ticket stub from the Liberty Science Center (maybe I got the Hoboken matches at the same time?)
• What looks like cap from a chocolate milk bottle
• The usual collection of band-aids, hand sanitizer, gum wrappers, pennies, pens (broken and non), and no less than 15 devices -- clips and rubber bands -- for pulling my hair back out of my face
• And finally, one kilo of purse dust. You know that stuff. It’s black and gritty and seems to have bits of grass mixed into it.

So there we have it. I am eliminating the above items to make room for 2010’s weird collection o’ stuff. Although I do think I’ll be holding onto the coelacanth.

*Did you know a female ox was called an oxcen? I didn’t. See? This blog is actually educational. Maybe I can apply for a grant or something.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bring Out Your Dead … and Your Queries

I just watched the city’s Christmas tree truck roll by, trawling for dead Christmas trees left by the side of the road. It’s put me in a Hamletian sort of mood, which is why I am gravely reflecting on the nature of time.

Specifically I am thinking about the way time moves when one is in the process of querying a novel. Of all the aspects of the writing life that I find most difficult, this is it -- the excruciating process of waiting for a response from the publishing establishment.

You see, there is a vast disconnect between Agent Time and Writer Time. Agents are on geological time whereas we writers, we see time the way fruit flies do. If we query and don’t get a response by the end of the week, we’re gonna DIE. For us it’s metaphorical, of course, whereas for fruit flies, alas, they don't make jokes like that because other fruit flies do not find them one bit funny.

Agents, on the other hand, at any given moment, are still making their way through a pile of queries from the Mesozoic Period and maybe sometime in late April, they might get to the queries from the Paleocene Age. Which means I’ve still got about fifty million years, give or take a million, before they get to mine.

It is the nature of the business. I understand that. Reading takes time, as well it should. There is no bad guy here except time. Unfortunately, my handicap of impatience doesn’t help matters one little bit. Frankly, I could think of ways to pass the hours, but apparently some people out there have a problem with daytime drinking. They think it’s “wrong” or that it’s indicative of a “problem,” especially when you’re “alone” or when you’re supposed to be watching “your kids.”

I would just like to point out to these finger-waggers that even A.A. recognizes certain situations when solitary daytime drinking is permissible, and querying comes it at a respectable number 11 on the their Top 20 list of Reasons It’s OK to Shut the Door and Drink Yourself into Oblivion. The problem is I gave up booze for a while – specifically my beloved Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout -- with the dawn of the New Year because it makes me fat. (That is your ONLY debit, O Beloved Stout. OK, that and the fact that you are only made seasonally, and I am high and dry from March through September, which makes me very sad several months of the year).

Well. There it is. There’s nothing for it. Time waits for no man, and it doesn’t hurry up for us women either. And it certainly is no friend to writers.

If you’ve got 'em, I would love to hear some suggestions for ways to pass the time, but please keep in mind that I hate scrapbooking, cleaning my house, and yoga. Anything else, though – I’m game to hear it.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Today, January 6, is the last official day you can turn on your Christmas lights without being on the receiving end of my scorn. Starting tomorrow, however, if those lights come on, my brow shall be knit in your general direction....

Further SCORN ALERTS will be posted as events warrant.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Two Outta Three Ain't Bad

To get 2010 off on the right foot, I’ve decided that it’s time I lifted two of the three gypsy curses I have hurled in my lifetime.

I realize that my curses weren’t really gypsy curses, because technically I am not a gypsy and admittedly that probably cut their effectiveness by at least half. Still, I believe that if your anger is righteous enough, the curses will stick to their targets. And man, did all three of the people I cursed have it coming.

Now, however, the time has finally come for me to uncurse two of the three. I believe that Barbra Streisand, for one, has suffered long enough.

Curse #1: The year was 1996. I was living in New York City, desperately trying to finish my thesis project for graduate school and not having too much luck. The seven empty bottles of Wild Turkey stacked beside my radiator bore witness to my failures (which, OK, now that I think about it, might have been the reason for my floundering in the first place). But here’s where Barbra comes in: one night, after ceasing my frustrated labors for the day, I turned out the lights and climbed in bed, desperate for some much-needed sleep. About thirty seconds later, my room was lit with a bright light. As it was well after midnight and I was nowhere near Times Square, I was a little dismayed by this. So I looked out my bedroom window – of course I had no blinds on my windows, I was too poor for fancy-schmancy stuff like blinds -- and I see that some dude is backlighting the whole of my apartment building because Babs is shooting a scene in an apartment about ten yards away, directly across the alley. Apparently they wanted it to look like daytime outside or something. These movie people, they shoot night scenes during the day and day scenes during the night. Who knows why?

Well, this was the last straw for me and Babs. I had already been shunted off the sidewalk several times that week and told to walk around her huge trailers full costumes and make-up. At least twice these “requests” to go around made me late for class. Barbra also breezed through the main campus several times, and we all had to wait behind velvet ropes like she was a head of state or something. So that’s when I did it. Right there and then, lit by the light of her own stage lighting, I cursed Barbra and what’s more, I cursed the movie she was shooting, which was, in case you’re wondering, “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” It tanked at the box office, and to my knowledge, she has not made a movie since and has had only one supporting role on film (that being in “Meet The Fockers”).

Barbra, I want you to know that I’m letting it go. I’m setting you free! I hereby publicly rescind the curse I put upon you, effective immediately. You may now return to the cinema with no further interference from me. Please choose your roles with care from now on so you won't make me look bad.

Curse #2: The year was 2006, the height of the housing frenzy. My curse was hurled at a flipper trying to sell a house in my neighborhood, a house that I wanted to buy. Me and the hubs and the kids -- bursting at the seams in our tiny 1400 square foot house, we were. Yet we wanted to stay in our neighborhood, which we loved. It was those heady days when even the worst of houses were selling in a matter of hours. We got outbid twice on really dumpy properties, and finally, when yet another dumpy fixer-upper came on the market, I was hopeful that our luck had finally changed.

I called the new owner -- the flipper -- eight times about looking at the place. Eight times! Not one time did he have the courtesy to return my call. One unreturned message I could forgive -- even two -- and truth be told, maybe even three. But eight? No. That was too much. What else could I do? I had to hit him with a gypsy curse.

Shortly thereafter another flipper bought the house thinking he'd fix it and sell it. The flip never happened, and the house rotted on the lot for a year. Then it went back on the market and sat some more, day by day becoming more dilapidated. Then another developer bought it and knocked the house down because by that point, squirrels were using the place as a meth lab. This owner then tried to sell just the lot with a promise to build a brand new home -- all the building permits were ready to go. It still sat unsold. Now here it is four years later, and even considering the downturn, everything else in the neighborhood has sold, but that lot is still for sale. People sometimes ask as they pass it, “Gee, I wonder what the deal is with this lot?” And so I tell them. Gypsy curse. Mine.

But I’m over it now. Me and the family, we moved to a better place around the corner, and in retrospect, I suppose this curse is long overdue for being rescinded. There. It is done.

Curse #3: No, I won’t lift this one. Not ever. Here’s the story: one night, several years ago, some thoughtless dickweed let his dog poop on the path between my back door and the sidewalk. I stepped in this unbagged poo without realizing it and walked into my house, tracking the poo into my kitchen, dining room, and onto my living room rug. When I beheld what that dog-poop scofflaw had done, I raised my fists to heaven and brought down my most potent gypsy curse ever. And to this day, you, sir, whoever you are, you are still just as cursed as you ever were, though I know not how this curse has affected your life. You can burn low and slow in the eternal BBQ smoker of damnation. I hope you grow old alone and have severe bunions that require you to wear extremely ugly orthopedic shoes and that even your dog – who I don’t blame in the least – turns his back on you for what you did.

OK, so there it is. I feel much better now. Anyone else out there want to share a story of forgiving, forgetting, and unburdening? Really, it’s quite liberating. I’m sure Barbra feels better, too, even if she doesn’t know why.