Wednesday, July 29, 2015


To capture is mine
The pearl, the gem, the crux
Washing over me isn't enough
Your words so heady, to listen alone just doesn't cut it.

Your big heads have a safe.
A lock box, a lid snapping shut,
For me, the commoner, the external hard drive
My hands my keyboard my camera, my list
My beloved, cherished executive assistants
Thank you, old friends.

I despise the slow sieve, the free fall, the loss
I can't have it, I won't have it.
It's what I do so I don't have to

Mine is the keepsake
The one raindrop
The neat turn of phrase
As compact as it is deep
The way the folds meld the color
The first kiss of the wood burning stove or the grill
The way you're gone but not gone
Thank god I saved you while I still could.

If you see me staring
That's me etching, imprinting, encoding
July is important, our trip to the store, the laugh
The freckles will never look the way they did today
I'll need to memorize the curves
Before the lithe lines take over
I'll ask for grace
For that which flits away while I'm not attending

I did it just now
While you were reading
I do it all day keeping what I love
Letting some of it evaporate
In spite of what I said before.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I Changed my Mind About: Shakespeare

I am happily surrounded by The Intelligentsia.

My husband Jeremy is extremely bright. So are all members of our extended family. My friends are also highly intelligent.

I always befriend people smarter than me.

When I say smart in this context, I mean book smart and IQ smart. I'm smart that way too. However, in a nutshell, I need more support than my friends do around learning stuff.

It may seem that I am putting myself down.  I am not.

There are multiple intelligences. What I may lack in numerical skills I make up for in the humanities. I have a little more street smarts. The common sense I possess is an endlessly applicable skill. I think I am off the charts for creativity. I have emotional intelligence. I am a deep thinker. I think well on my feet. If you have an emergency, you want me around.

I am self-aware. I don't imprint things as quickly as Jeremy and some of my peers. I use notes and organization and electronics to help myself so that my level of functioning is high. I call this scaffolding.

All of that said, I am often blown away by the sheer brain-power of those I spend time with.

It is no accident that I surround myself with smart people. Most of the time this is a good thing. But there are small things about it that present some issues.

If you have enough smart people in one place, it is inevitable that there will eventually be a movement afoot to go see some Shakespeare.

Oftentimes, extremely intelligent people like nothing better than going to see Shakespeare. If you are this smart, than chances are that Romeo and Juliet is not your favorite Shakespeare play. In fact, every extremely smart person I have met says that it is their least favorite and most problematic.

There are things that happen before the Shakespeare play. There are things that happen during the play.

Before the play, smart people like reading a synopsis. They are reading the synopsis either to refresh their memory because it's been quite some time since they’ve read A Midsummer Nights Dream, or because it is a rare, obscure work that no one has read.

If smart people are together before the Shakespeare play, they will often gather around while one person reads the synopsis aloud.

During the actual performance, smart people pay close attention and seem rapt. They will laugh uproariously at a witty turn of phrase or the bawdy women. They don't mind the difficult plot turns. They don't mind what looks like overacting. They don't mind the weird fake, shrill laughing the actors are doing.

The most intelligent among us quote from Shakespeare spontaneously from an enormous bank of memorized phrases to fit the real life situation. It can be a bit startling because one minute you're having a normal conversation about dinner and the next someone is speaking very fancifully.

I'm going to come clean. I am not a fan of Shakespeare. But there is one play of his that I really like. That play is Romeo and Juliet.

This was assigned reading in 10th grade English. When I read it at home, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. But when we read it in class, with discussion and livening up from the teacher Ms. Hughes, that really made a connection.

The English teacher was also the drama teacher. She'd get up on the desks and act out all the parts. We got to go on a field trip for a screening of Zefferelli’s screen adaptation. Since we were watching with a Catholic school class, the projectionist covered up Romeo's naked butt.

There is nothing like going to see 15 year old Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet when you are in fact 15 years old. She is my age and she is having a relationship.

I have built up an extremely positive relationship with Romeo and Juliet because of school and other reasons.

On the same day as the field trip, my next-door neighbor who became our across-the-street-neighbor had a baby girl after having three boys. The dad was driving down the street a little recklessly with excitement and pulled over to tell me the news. He said that the doctor played a trick on him and initially told him the baby was a boy.

I knew my life was about to change because every time our next-door/across-the-street-neighbors had a baby, I'd spend as much time at their house as possible.

I think that more smart people probably love Romeo and Juliet but no one wants to admit it.

You will never see me more bored than before and during a Shakespeare play. It starts during the reading of the synopsis. Sitting in a chair while someone reads about the play already has my eyes glazing over and it hasn't even started yet. I know I'm in trouble because the synopsis will seem interminably long.

The mind crushing boredom continues as I watch the play and pretend I don't hate the wenches and wonder why everyone is laughing. All of this laughing until you cry and knee slapping  looks a little like Shakespeare play posturing.

If I want funny I'll watch something with Amy Schumer in it or, reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

You'd think that with my abiding and somewhat confounding interest in British Royalty I'd have more connection with Shakespeare. Unfortunately, my interest begins with Queen Victoria and ends right after Princess Diana.

I am common.

Early in my relationship with Jeremy, I got roped into more Shakespeare than I do now. I wanted to impress him.

Some time after we were married, I admitted that I did not like it. Jeremy did not divorce me because of my other more irresistible qualities.

The one bright spot was when Jeremy and I went to see a Shakespeare play put on by Shakespeare & Company at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in the Berkshires. There I saw a young Keanu Reeves, flitting about and jumping on the lawn right in front of me. The whole thing sparkled. It was a beautiful day. My mother in law packed wine with a sweet effervescence and some really amazing cheese and crackers.

But all other times, no.

So recently some extremely smart friends of ours suggested going to see some Shakespeare at a nearby park. They were performing Henry IV, one of his lesser-known works.

I agreed to go. I agreed to go because I really wanted to see our friends. I agreed to go because my imagination was being used up on other matters and I didn't want to have to suggest alternatives. I agreed to go because it was a 10-minute walk from my home. I agreed to go because it was free. I agreed to go because afterwards we would go out for dinner and have actual fun.

I agreed to go because of something I do once in a while. It's an activity I call taking one for the team. I can take one for the team. Once I have identified that I am on fact taking one for the team, I feel better about it.

Also, a couple of times I took one for the team and it really worked out. I enjoyed the movie about Moses and the action film with Tom Cruise much more than I thought it would.

It was a lovely evening. Jeremy and I got a great spot. Rock music was playing on the sound system. The weather was beautiful. But I began to worry about the boredom factor.

I asked Jeremy to do something very specific. While we were waiting for our friends, I asked him to read the synopsis silently to himself. Then he was to give me a very brief overview, in layman's terms and lasting no more than a minute or two.

He began reading the synopsis aloud. I reminded him firmly that he was to read it silently to himself. Jeremy did, and then did a beautiful job of summing things up. He even modernized it a bit. I felt like it sounded okay.

As I leafed through the program I perked up when I realized that a neighbor of ours who we are acquainted with would be in the performance. This acquaintance already has British accent, which puts him ahead of the game. He has cut quite the figure as the MC of the nursery school live auction. He also showed that same bold presence, as his booming voice said be quiet to my then three-year-old son at the aforementioned nursery school that his better-behaved daughters also attended.

I then proceeded to cultivate a positive attitude toward the play or pretend to look forward to it depending on how you want to look at the situation.

A few minutes into it, I felt myself changing my mind about Shakespeare.

Some mind changing that I do is big and spectacular. This was not one of those times. I would call this mind changing the beginning of something, a slow burn or a slight spark.

I'd love to say that the power of the acting or the production took me to a new place. This was not the case.

The acting was uneven. Some was good. Some was labored.  It made me realize how difficult it is to act in a Shakespeare play. Even going off book is hard. The production was stripped down and could have used a bigger budget.

The bawdy women bothered me. Can't they just be natural? What's with the shrill Hahahahaha that's way too loud and mannered? Is this necessary?

The setting and the company were indeed lovely. But it wasn't that either.

Jeremy's brief synopsis helped me follow the story but I wasn't slavish about it. Since I was taking one for the team, I made myself as comfortable as I could. I did some subtle yoga moves to keep myself from getting too bored or too stiff sitting on my blanket.

Since I wasn't trying to follow too closely, I let the words and the language roll over me like I do when I read poetry. This seemed to be key.

I am a person who loves words. Words are my palette. When I look like I am searching for a word, that isn't so. What happens is that often five or more appropriate words will come up for something I am saying. I need a moment to sift through to find the best one.

The part of me that is like this, liked the language I heard. It was often aesthetically pleasing, and sometimes that was my sole focus. Other times, it would be like the sharp sound the bat makes when it hits the ball. It would make something clear and brilliant and meaningful the way regular English cannot.

I'll so offend to make offense a skill. Like light refracting through a prism, this phrase opened up another world for me. I also enjoyed the concept of the Bawdy House, a place referred to many times.

There was one passage so filthy dirty, so raunchy, so R-bordering-on-X-rated for language and sexual content that it left me both shocked and enamored. It was nasty. Good nasty.

So I found that I was mostly not bored.

Part one of the play was very long. There was an intermission. I geared myself up for more Shakespeare. I hoped I could keep boredom at bay. I hoped Shakespeare could.

Then a wonderful thing happened. The play was deemed too long by the three intelligent people! So we left and went out for dinner!

These smart people showed some remarkable common sense.

Leaving on a high note, a technique I use with my son Noah, works it's magic for me too. Two hours was enough Shakespeare. I liked what I heard. For the first time, my curiosity was piqued for more.

I see my future self on a picnic blanket with cheese and crackers. Instead of wine, perhaps it will be a cocktail, poured cold from a silver shaker, since Jeremy doesn't like wine. I am outdoors, not in Central Park, which sounds like its own set of problems, but maybe in the country. I'll skip the group synopsis, but have Jeremy do a quick, to the point overview just for me. A synopsis of a synopsis.

We will choose something preformed by a top theater company, with actors steeped in craft and near the top of their game. I'll let the words wash over me and see if anything sticks.

I'll try to ignore the wenches. I'll shift, stretch and accommodate. Hopefully those small moments will happen, when the cream rises to the top and washes all the ennui away.

This is the latest in a series about things I have changed my mind about.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I Wish This Book Could Have Lasted Forever

What Comes Next and How to Like It
A Memoir by Abigail Thomas

I am a memoir expert.

I don't say this lightly. I read a lot. I think I've read more memoirs than anyone I know.

There was a period of my life lasting many years, when I struggled to live with what happened to me. I read only non-fiction. I read nothing fictional. A friend in the publishing industry finally got me started with the fiction again. You can read the story of that here.

Out of all of the non-fiction I read, a lot of it was memoirs. If it was a memoir, I probably read it. Some were good. Some were amazing. Some were very bad. Almost all of them were engrossing. That's what I needed at the time.

My reading has changed somewhat, but it's still slanted toward non-fiction. Even though I will read works of fiction, I still read a lot of memoirs.

Somehow in all of my single -minded memoir reading I missed the writing of Abigail Thomas. This is a mystery to me. I learned of her latest book on Facebook. I put it at the top of the To Read list I keep.

What Comes Next and How to Like It is a masterwork.  Not just of memoir. Of writing in general.

The good news for anyone reading this is that I've done a lot of reading. You can consider that legwork I have done on your behalf. There are a lot of books you can go ahead and skip. I strongly suggest you read this one.

I'm not going to tell you what the book is about. You can read about that anywhere. Abigail Thomas can tell her own story. It's not easy to classify anyway.

I will say that this book captures things that are true but difficult to write about. People and relationships and life are messy. It's all complicated. Things don't fit neatly into boxes. The space that lives between people can be ambiguous.

In the hands of a master this is illuminating and consuming. It's a cliché but I'll say it anyway. It was hard to put the book down. My husband and children were out one day and I'll always remember this snapshot of myself, eating the rare dinner alone and reading - consuming - this book. I was as happy as a person could be in those moments.

It made me happy but it wasn't easy. Like the Olympic skaters I love to watch, what seems simple on the outside is not. I felt like I was steeping in this book. Then after it was over it stuck with me.

There was this chatter going around for a while about a New York Times book review of What Comes Next and How to Like It. I purposely didn't read it until now. The review came out right before I read the book. I heard it was scathing.

Even with advance notice, I was not prepared to read what amounted to a literary version of a classic schoolyard bully incident. My review of this review is bad. I apologize in advance.

Katherine A. Powers has her head up her ass on this one.

Katherine A. Powers writes for The New York Times. I do not. Katherine A. Powers has won awards for her reviews. I have not. She gets paid for this. I do not.

But make no mistake. In spite of everything and all of these differences, let's not forget who the real memoir expert is here. That expert is me.

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

30 Minutes A Day: The Summer Edition

This past spring I stumbled onto a new resource for stress reduction. I take a leisurely 30-minute walk every day. I go out each day, regardless of weather.

I've skipped a walk here and there due to tightly scheduled time or unexpected circumstances. On those days I clearly missed the walk. So I'm prioritizing it.

The walk is no less or more than 30 minutes. It's not meant to be exercise. Errands don't count. I can stop whenever I like to take photographs with my iPhone. Sometimes that means I don't make it very far from my apartment. That's fine. Distance isn't the point.

You can read about how I got started here.

When I wrote my first post about this topic last spring I was just beginning to take this walk each day. I liked what was happening and decided to continue. I wanted to see if it kept on helping me with stress. I wanted to see what would happen.

Here's what happened.

Spring turned into summer. Daffodils and tulips made way for roses. Many of those have drooped then died. Lilies are everywhere. Lilies are having their moment.

There was something of the miracle in spring. The flowers did their delicate dance, poking through like it was the first time ever.  There was something pure and primary about it.

I'm a city dweller but the natural world has a way of jostling through the concrete. And so it is with summer. This summer is good and settled in now.

Where spring was young and gay, summer is languid and a bit sexy. The flowerbeds are a jumble of just bloomed, slightly sour and gloriously cloying. It's like too much perfume only good.

There is the hint of the exotic in this summer. Everything I see has been around the block and back.

The heat and humidity slow me down. I don't complain. This walk is only 30 minutes long and there's no need to exert myself or hurry. Given a choice I walk on the shady side of the street. I'm a shade-seeking individual. So is my camera.

I take photographs every time I'm out. I keep some, delete others. One of the reasons I find these walks relaxing and rejuvenating is there is no real agenda except to stay out for 30 minutes. There's something meditative about it. Walking slowly and looking around, taking photos, some good, some bad.  This might really be my version of meditating.

In practical terms, my walks serve as a much-needed break or incentive when I am working on things that are demanding and require discipline. It seems to help with stress. It's free. It's available.

I keep doing it because I enjoy it. I keep doing it because it's working.  I keep doing it because it's something I can count on.

Most of the time I go out for my walk at a predetermined time, based on what else is happening that day. I don't choose my 30-minute block when it's "nice" out, because it's sunrise or because it's cooled down. It's more of a process of elimination. I can't go when I have a meeting. I can't go while I'm cooking. I can't go when I'm taking care of my children. I can't be in two places at once.

So from 9:00 - 9:30 or 2:30 - 3:00 or 7:40 - 8:10 it is. It doesn't matter. Whatever is out there is out there. Morning rain shower, late afternoon sun with long, inky shadows, hazy miasma, warm, forgiving dusk light. It's all good.

My thirty minutes are up. I walk into my apartment after my tiny journey. My air conditioner and iced coffee with soy vanilla greet me. I left the meandering outside and I snap to, smart, sharp and ready to take on whatever it is.

I took the photographs below during two thirty-minute walks on July 7th and July 8th.

I was attracted to the rare coloration of this saturated and fragile bloom.

I don’t know what kind of plant this is. It sure is orange.

It’s unusual for me to go inside during my strolls. I’ve been eyeing this lobby for a long time and saw an opportunity. This is the latest addition to a series I am working on called Mid-Century Modern. I love the clean lines, optimistic looking palette and whimsical tiles paired with the poignant wear and tear.

This might be one of the last Hydrangeas to bloom. This is but a section of the giant white orb, drooping ever so slightly in the heat.

Mid-day light and shade on the weathered wall of Park Terrace Gardens.

I almost never see anything representational in my abstractions. This time, I saw an eye in the knot of this tree bark.

The same sun and rain that nourishes the cultivated flowers also supports the weeds. My latest in the series I call Hardscrabble Plants.

Another view of the elegant and mysterious plant bearing exotic red flowers.

These lilies are heavy with their own loveliness.

A mess of daisies.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I Changed My Mind About: Finishing Every Book I Start

I've said this before. I'm a serious reader. I love to read books. I love to read about books. It's one of my favorite things to do.

I keep a list of books that I want to read. When I read about an interesting book in a blog, Facebook or a book review I love adding it to my list.

I usually put books I want to read on reserve at the New York Public Library. Sometimes I just know that a book is something I'm going to want to live with and refer to often. Then I buy it. Occasionally I'll be in an independent bookstore and this happy browsing will lead to a purchase.

However, the library is very important because if I purchased every book I read I would be in the poorhouse.

I have a couple of friends in the publishing industry and they have sent me books just because they know I will like them. To receive a brand new, just published book in the mail from someone who spends all day long working with authors, manuscripts, and books - a book this individual has selected for me -is a great thing. That is when it's exciting to open the mail.

A typical scenario goes like this. I'll get an email from the library that the book I've reserved is in. I'll take an enthusiastic walk there at my first opportunity. I find my books on the reserve shelf. I'll also take a look at the shelves of new releases to see if anything strikes my fancy.

I'll take the books home with happy anticipation.

Usually the book will be engrossing.  Oftentimes I'll say that it is hard to put down. If I'm reading on the subway I have to be careful not to miss my stop. A book like this makes waiting on line a fine experience. Reading in bed before going to sleep is my reward after a day of hard work.

Some books are just as good, but are more taxing. Maybe it's the flowery, fancy language, the meaty information, the dense storyline. Maybe it's exceptional in some new way. Perhaps I need to stop reading it for a bit in order to process it, then go back in a day.

A few years ago I loosened up one of the reading rules I had for myself. Previously, I'd always read one book at a time. I don't know why I had this rule. I just did.

Then I realized that I could have more than one book going at the same time. Once I tried it, I loved it. So now you'll find me reading the deeply thought provoking We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication, the paradigm-shifting Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and RelationshipsThat All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward, and I can't wait to see what happens next in a book called Girl In The Dark: A Memoir. Each book feeds different parts of my reading mind. I dip in and out of them. Some books are great when I'm at my peak of energy and brainpower. Others are perfect for winding down and forgetting the cares of the day.

Some excellent books are best read a little at a time. Others are enjoyed quickly, single-mindedly and exclusively. There is room in my life for all kinds of books.

Once in a while, a book enters my life that sets up a conflict in my own mind.

It will be a book I really want to read. I've read intriguing reviews. It has all of the elements of a book that will engage me.

The book will be surprisingly slow going. At first I don't think anything of it. Not every excellent book is a page-turner. Some exert demands. Some do their work more quietly. Many a book pays their dividends later on.

I stick with it. I stick with it no matter what. I am a reader who finishes the books I start. I've always been this way. I thought I'd always be that way.

Until I wasn't.

I started noticing that even with two or three books going at once, there would be that book I wouldn't naturally pick up again. It would feel like a trial to read.  The book seemed to have the logical elements of engagement. But it wasn't connecting.

It was like having a romance where every piece was in place except for the spark.

I started admitting that there are books I do not like. In retrospect, I wonder why it took me so long.

My reading life took a turn. I got to be both kinder and more ruthless at the same time. I took two partially read books back to the library. It didn't change everything. But it changed a lot.

I am liberated from my own rules.

I suddenly had all of the good parts of reading without any self-nagging. I read more now. Books move in and out and sideways. Letting go of the books I thought I should like but didn't opened up some good floodgates for me.

I'm a fan of author Gretchen Rubin's blog and podcast. I enjoyed reading The Happiness Project: Or, WhyI Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right,Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun and am looking forward to delving into her new book, BetterThan Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. On a recent podcast, Rubin spoke eloquently about her struggles with the finish every book rule and her liberation. I then searched her blog for more on the subject and found this. 

Once again, it's fun and gratifying to know it’s not just me with long held belief systems begging to be loosened.

So now each book is an audition. The book has to grab me within a window of time. I'm not going to fire a book after one page. But I'm not making a lifetime commitment to it either.

This post is part of an ongoing series about things I have changed my mind about.

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